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09/19/2021 03:02 PM 

Mask Off

Summary:

Gai wakes up to Kakashi's face.

In the time his long time 'co-existee' (Kakashi won't call it anything else) takes to wake up, Gai reflects on Kakashi wearing his mask during different times in their life, and ponders its significance.

Or the lack thereof.

 

Title bears no connection to any Trap songs, nor similarly named Nicholas Cage movies.

Also, when I say 'teenager', let us all think 'seventeen and up'. I know the timeline doesn't work that way but this is fanfiction and I say they're older. How about when Kakashi joins ANBU, he's like twenty, and when he leaves it, he's around twenty five; this would fit better into my headcanons.

 

 

Gai wakes up to Kakashi's face.

 

He blinks himself awake. They were up late yesterday, so he notices that it's already daylight outside. Somehow, he's surprised that he doesn't feel sad at having, for once, missed the sunrise, even though he watches it every day.

 

Other times when he's missed it—only ever because of Kakashi, as Gai has a strict routine—he's always felt a small pang of regret at not waking up sooner. Strange indeed that that is completely absent today.

 

He looks at his rival's peaceful face, maps out his features. Every time he sees it he feels compelled to do it anew, surprised of it every time, surprised of it being familiar, surprised of it being visible.

 

His jaw is shapely, very pleasant to the eye, despite it being more sharp than broad. His lips are pale, lending him a slightly sickly appearance because they barely contrast with his skin, but Gai knows not to worry; it's just part of how he looks. The shape of them he knows more by touch than by sight, any way, and he doesn't need them coloured to know how passionately they can move. His eyes get caught on the tiny mole beneath them, on the side. Again, Gai has seen it before. Just like his nose, long-bridged, slim and triangular at the end.

 

He's known this face for many, many years, even if it was one of Konoha's best kept secrets.

 

 

 

(It is natural to a human's way of thinking to see the actions of others as rewards for ones own behaviour. Education, after all, functions in much the same way.

 

It is natural, too, that based on this viewpoint, humans try to replicate behaviour that has lead to what they perceived to be a reward. To try and reconstruct ones actions in order to make sense of what was the first domino, what set which positive behaviour of another in motion.

 

Maybe this was not it, or maybe it was. All Gai knows nowadays is that he's not certain, and he doesn't want to be. But for a long time, until the theory dissolved in thin air, the explanation Gai gave himself as to why Kakashi had apparently decided he was the person to show his face to was this:)

 

 

 

When they were but children (children with an excrutiating amount of responsibility and a disposition to give their life for the village, but children still), Kakashi almost got killed during a mission and had to be resuscitated.

 

So Gai kneeled, panicking, next to what could have been Kakashi's corpse, knowing he wasn't breathing, and he had to make a choice and quickly.

 

So he'd done it... through the mask.

 

Of course he'd been curious. But more than about the face—Gai didn't really focus so much on faces, anyway, it were deeds which caught his attention the most—he was curious about Kakashi's reason to conceal it.

 

Curious, then, that in the moment where Kakashi's life was at stake, and it was possible that the mask would have put it in danger, Gai still thought it more important to respect his presumed wish than to be efficient.

 

Kakashi had found it equally curious.

 

He recovered consciousness, averted his face, and coughed pulling his mask off. Then he put it back up before turning around, and, still wheezing, asked why Gai hadn't taken it down.

 

Gai explained. He'd vowed not to violate Kakashi's privacy and comfort this way. He'd been sensible enough to notice Kakashi didn't even take it off when he was alone, so Gai figured it held more meaning than one might perhaps assume.

 

Kakashi thought it had been pretty reckless and could have cost him his life, which, Gai supposes, was the rational truth of the matter. He said his reason was rather stupid and did not thank him for it at all, instead mocking him for such an inefficient decision.

 

But still, to this day, Gai stands by his choice. And not because he'd come to see it as some sort of catalyst for Kakashi's further behaviour: rather because he saw a way to both respect what he thought were Kakashi's wishes and safe his life, and followed it regardless of the best rational strategy. He'd acted on instinct, on the feeling that this was right, and it had worked out.

 

 

 

They hadn't talked about it again, until one day, they ate dumplings together, watching the sundown after a particularly long sparring match Gai had ended up winning.

 

His reward, consensually agreed upon, was just the moment—simply sitting there, watching the sundown, the two of them still catching their breaths. And it had been perfect.

 

Gai had been waxing poetic about something. He remembers his emotion more than what he'd actually been saying, but at the time it had seemed exorbitantly important.

 

When he looked to his side, Kakashi was chewing without his mask on.

 

The look on his face was almost defiant, as if daring him to comment on it.

 

Gai had lost his wording, for just one moment. But looking into those challenging eyes, taking in the slight tension in Kakashi's jaw, he decided... whatever.

 

The moment had already been significant. Seeing Kakashi's face was sure cool, but it didn't make it any better.

 

Truth be told, Gai thought to know he wasn't going to remember it any way. So what he did was give Kakashi a thumbs up, remember what he was saying, and finish his speech.

 

He didn't see him smile that day, but it didn't matter. What mattered was that it had been a beautiful, beautiful day.

 

 

 

The next time he saw his face was the time Kakashi taught him how to fish, under the premise, of course, of a challenge. Gai lost, which was comprehensible, considering he had misjudged the difficulty of fishing completely, especially since the rules were to fish with a fishing rod and not with his bare hands.

 

(A little part of him still thinks that that was cheating.)

 

They'd spent the day at the lakeshore together. After Kakashi had caught an admittedly quite impressive amount of fish—even throwing some back into the water—it was clear that Gai had lost. He was ready to sulk back home, but Kakashi invited him to eat instead.

 

Gai had felt his heart burst out of his chest. Kakashi prepared and cooked the fish. It was absolutely perfect.

 

Gai had been so absorbed in the flavour he'd barely looked at his face at all.

 

But then—again, he doesn't remember what exactly he'd been saying—Kakashi actually laughed at something, and Gai had wanted to protest to his making fun of him, and noticed the mole.

 

More surprisingly, that he remembered the mole.

 

And it must have been that that made him notice the smile.

 

But, again, he found what he'd been talking about, and insisted it wasn't silly. By the time they did the dishes, the mask was already back in place.

 

 

 

The next time he saw Kakashi's face, it was years later, and everything shifted.

 

In part, it was because they were teenagers. And, well, being a teenager at a time where you knew you could die any moment... relaxed your view on certain topics. Made some others a lot more relevant.

 

(Gai could wax poetic about the death instinct beckoning the life instinct, and about youthful passions arising after moments of great bravery. One of those, any way.

 

Kakashi has always de-romanticized it as being a horny teenager, not wanting to bite the dust without biting the pillow first.)

 

Gai and Kakashi had barely survived a mission, one that had left Gai vulnerable, recovering against a rock, after opening five gates. He hadn't known how to pace himself, and was in excrutiating pain—but there was no way to alleviate it. No painkillers. Not even a bed.

 

Kakashi was calm on the outside, but full of tension on the inside.

 

When he asked Gai about how the recovery process worked, Gai had explained as well as he could.

 

Kakashi had asked plenty of questions. He asked if Gai's pulse quickening could make it worse.

 

Gai thought he'd meant if maybe they shouldn't be talking, if he needed complete rest, and so had replied that keeping the circulation up and quick was actually not that bad an idea.

 

And Kakashi nodded, and he took off his mask.

 

Gai didn't understand.

 

He didn't, as a matter of fact, understand it until today. He certainly didn't understand it when Kakashi zipped down Gai's pants—he hadn't been, regrettably, allowed to wear his trusted green training suit that day—and put his unmasked face right there.

 

The pleasure, however, had made his pain a lot more bearable.

 

(His face had looked different from last time. The jaw was so much sharper now, a jawline there that made Gai jealous. He hadn't seen that change happen.)

 

He'd thought about that for a long time.

 

 

 

 

 

Kakashi's face is peaceful now, and although he has aged considerably better than most of them, Gai makes note of the changes he has seen happen.

 

The nose got a bit longer, not as pointy as it was when they were children, a straight line down his face without any particular curves or bows. His lips have gotten paler. There's lines accentuating the shape of his mouth now.

 

Even when he is not smiling, and not stern, just completely relaxed like he is right now. Gai thinks of touching them, but wouldn't want to disturb his slumber; Kakashi is a light sleeper.

 

As a matter of fact, maybe it's that which makes this moment so... different. Yes, something is decidedly different. Even in those lines.

 

Hard to place.

 

 

 

 

That event was both the last time he saw Kakashi's face for many, many years, and the ushering in of a time period of... another aspect of their relationship.

 

At first it was companionable handjobs, with barely more physical contact than that. They'd hang out without the expectation of that happening, but, once in a while, the circumstances just led there naturally.

 

Then, ANBU, and Kakashi had grown more desperate.

 

The first night, Gai barely questioned him, slightly overwhelmed.

 

It wasn't unheard of: a quick exchange of pleasure, the simple reassurance of someone else's touch to reaffirm that he was alive. Gai knew it could help, and Kakashi seemed unharmed, so it wouldn't be dangerous. His hands were eager, all over Gai's skin, insisting, demanding, for the clothes to come off.

 

They held each other close and used their hands.

 

It was only when Kakashi left, pretty much immediately afterwards, that Gai noticed he'd never even hinted at taking his mask off.

 

 

 

Back then, he understood, or thought he understood, Kakashi. He could push to get him to open, but if Kakashi didn't want to, he wouldn't. During his time at ANBU, Kakashi was going through more than he could possibly digest himself. So if he didn't want to take his mask off, ever, because it gave him safety, that was okay.

 

What was not okay was that, the physically closer they got, the more it started to hurt.

 

It happened a few more times, that Kakashi simply snuck into his apartment and initiated things. He left his mask on even in the shower, but Gai had seen him bathe with it before, so it wasn't odd. And it was all okay: it was stress relief, and something quite companionable Gai could give him, a little thing to make him feel better.

 

Until Kakashi whispered into his ear that he wanted to f***, and Gai said no.

 

He hadn't had to think about it: denying him had been immediate, the bad feeling in the pit of his stomach instantly overpowering the desire.

 

Kakashi had clearly not expected that.

 

He offered to be the passive part. As a matter of fact, he did so very provocatively, using entirely more words than necessary, his tone even playful.

 

And Gai had wanted to. He'd wished it hadn't bothered him. But when Kakashi threw him down into the couch and straddled him, demonstrating the flexibility of his spine in how he moved, Gai felt so impossibly wrong that he had to tell him the reason.

 

Exactly as it was. That Kakashi should never, ever feel pressured to take his mask off for him, that Gai had never expected him to, that he accepted it if he never would; but he couldn't do this after having seen his face. It was too intimate for him.

 

"You were the only one who never cared. Everyone else tried to take it off." His voice was calm. He wasn't sad, or angry. But the complete and utter lack of emotion did nothing but reassure Gai in his denial. "I... I... what I'm looking for. When we do this. It's not just. You must know it's not just sex."

 

"I know. It's the pleasure as much as it is the intimacy. The care."

 

Awful, that even simply looking into Kakashi's eye this long felt so much more intimate that their interaction had in months.

 

"Yes. But. In ANBU, it's... they all do it. With the masks. The masks don't matter."

 

"Then I don't understand why--" you don't f*** one of them, Gai wanted to say.

 

Kakashi's emotionless voice let out a cold chuckle. "I've been coming here all this time. Could have done it with one of them all along. Why do you think I'm here."

 

"Because I know you" Gai said, without having to think about it twice.

 

The look in Kakashi's eye was impossibly cold. "Because you don't ask stupid question. Because you don't want me to take off the mask. Because you get me off while calling me your rival and don't think anything's special because of it"

 

"You are contradicting yourself. If what you want is someone who won't take off your mask--"

 

"You don't understand" Kakashi taunted.

 

Gai didn't. But he was confident that, for once, he wasn't the only one. "You're right. If you explained it to me..."

 

"No." Kakashi said, if just an octave higher pitched than he'd said the rest. "Y-you're my friend. The others aren't. You're supposed to understand."

 

It was the very first time Kakashi had acknowledged such a thing. But instead of it being a joyous moment, it hurt worse than being gutted.

 

Still, he tried not to show his hurt.

 

He lifted a hand to Kakashi's face, noticing him flinch away and putting it on his neck instead. "Kakashi. If what you want is tenderness, perhaps it would help you more..."

 

And he could see that it hurt him. He could see it in the way his brow furrowed, his eye glistened.

 

"You're just like everyone else, then. You want me to—"

 

In a moment, it was all too much.

 

He felt guilty, because he was being accused; worse, because the accusation was true.

 

He wanted to give in. He wanted to comfort Kakashi in whichever way he needed it, and he wanted his body, also, wanted it just like he was—if he could at least look into his eyes, the mask didn't matter--

 

He threw Kakashi off his lap and stood up, turning around to witness him roll off the couch and to a ready squat on the floor.

 

"Listen to me, Kakashi—you won't get what you're looking for like this. You're trying to have it safe? I understand. And I have watched you do this, and let you have it. We could have trysts like we did before, and I am happy to perform as your friend."

 

"What's the difference? Just where do you see the difference?!"

 

Gai felt himself turn red in anger. "More of our bodies shared will not give you the closeness you seek for if you do not want to acknowledge what it is you're looking for in the first place!"

 

Kakashi stood up, and Gai could hear the sarcastic smile in his tone, in his posture, as he was used to making himself known through the mask. "Oh, are we going there? All I'm looking for is a friend. You are bringing something into this--"

 

"You are the one who asked for this. You are the one justifying your actions with intimacy."

 

"It doesn't have to mean--"

 

"I know, and I wasn't implying it! But you come here, you tell me that what you want is someone who sees you—a friend—and instead of allowing yourself to have that--"

 

"What's the big--"

 

"The big deal is that you might want to punish yourself with a simulation of closeness, but I want neither to torture you, nor to torture myself."

 

"F***ing me would be torture" Kakashi said, laconically.

 

"No. Being purportedly more intimate with you while at the same time being denied the easier, more meaningful intimacy we had before—that would be."

 

"We've never f***ed before."

 

"We had something better."

 

Kakashi exhaled loudly through his nose, and Gai knew his next words were going to hurt.

 

"Let's clarify things. The only reason I ever showed you my face was because I knew you were too dumb to remember it anyway. You think that was intimate? That was you, reading way more meaning into everything than it actually has. As you tend to do." He laughed. "My rival. Sure. As if you could compare. My friend. Yeah. Whatever. I just have a thing for muscle."

 

"Kakashi. You are contradicting yourself again."

 

Kakashi's brow furrowed in anger. "I'm contradicting myself because I was lying before. I've f***ed half of Konoha's ANBU forces. All I wanted today was a funny little diversion, and really? You should see your face when you come. That's all. I find you amusing."

 

There was a moment. Just that night and that night only, before the morning came. It was short, but it was there.

 

In that moment, Gai believed him.

 

It certainly made a lot more sense than Kakashi wanting to have sex without even showing his face, especially since Gai had already seen it. It certainly made more sense than the half-things Kakashi had been saying before, the things he left in the open, the contradictions.

 

Then, Kakashi said it again, and what had sounded like a cohesive explanation started sounding like something a man might tell himself, desperately, in order to make it true.

 

(Gai knew those affirmations well. His father had used them, trying to maintain face.)

 

"I get enough as it is. I don't need you. You're funny, and I'm human still. I still find things funny. Body of a model, face of a goblin, fashion sense of a... of a... a bad one, in any case. What's not to find hilarious?"

 

Kakashi turned around, and Gai heard something he couldn't cathegorize. A snort, or a sniff, or a gasp.

 

There was a pause. Then something that was definitely a laugh... and his voice was suddenly an octave higher.

 

"And the f***ing speeches. Wow. The speeches, the man tears, the cringeworthy over-confidence."

 

He turned back around again, his eyes wide open, a smile stretching his mask, blatantly visible, exaggerated precisely so it could be seen. "I'm—you're a part of my childhood. Nostalgic! I'm human. I'm human. Some things are still funny. Some food still tastes good. My d*ck still gets hard. I still have memories. Distractions. Good distractions, in my time off, I can't just sleep, I need to distract myself. Porn and comedy. Porn and comedy. That's all."

 

A feeling of cold dread sunk down Gai's spine, worse than the actual threat of dying, if simply because that one he knew far better. Kakashi said all that in a tone that was so impossibly friendly, so well natured, so humorous and nice, that Gai found himself a second away from forgiveness.

 

And the worst part, Gai had heard this voice before.

 

Just another mask.

 

He couldn't bear his presence any more. "Kakashi, please leave my house at once."

 

Kakashi laughed, waving his hand as if mildly embarrassed. "Sure. Sure. Was going to, any way!" He went to Gai's window, crouched on the windowsill, and then turned around one last time. "Yo. Sorry about this, okay? No hard feelings? We're still, uh, rivals and stuff?"

 

Gai did not say anything. He couldn't.

 

He didn't have to. Kakashi's eye opened, black and affraid, and then he was gone.

 

It was the worst moment of their relationship.

 

Gai still remembers going to bed that night, and not crying, but not sleeping either. He remembers not sleeping well for nights and nights. He remembers wishing, however stupidly, that he'd just done as Kakashi had said.

 

The memory of having his body but not his face would have been a thousand times better than the pain he'd caused both himself and Kakashi, for him to have reacted this way, for him to have been like that, if only for a night.

 

Gai believed—and the belief kept him hopeful—that Kakashi simply hadn't been within his wits. That he didn't always fake his laughter, and his friendliness. That there was a person there Gai knew, or some pieces of him, anyway.

 

 

 

Kakashi apologized, not long after. It was better than what he'd tried to do when leaving, and it did leave things better.

 

He admitted his tiredness that day. Admitted 'confusing his needs', however vague that statemen was. Said he'd lied to him, took back every single one of his insults. Said he would never do it again, that he'd gotten carried away after the touches they'd been sharing. And he asked Gai if they couldn't get back to how things were before. See each other sometimes. Challenge each other.

 

Gai took it, took every single word of it, and forgot that night. It was enough. It was enough because whatever Kakashi could give him was enough, and he'd never wanted to ask for more anyway.

 

 

 

Things went back to normal. Kakashi reverted into that silent, emotionless ANBU.

 

Gai still preferred that, a thousand times more, than the small glimpse of a humorous personality that he'd seen that night.

 

Because hiding his emotions was a part of Kakashi—so much more than pretending to feel something he wasn't feeling until he didn't know what he was really feeling any more.

 

Gai was okay with the distance. He missed him dearly, but he, himself, had a person to become.

 

 

 

After ANBU, after it was finally over, Kakashi snuck back into his apartment.

 

Gai went out of the kitchen, having gone to grab some water before heading for bed, and saw the shadow on his couch. He simply turned on the living room lights and watched him.

 

The mask was on, but sitting there, slouched, with his headband grabbed losely in a hand that hung between his legs, his sleeveless shirt showing his surprisingly skinny arms, Kakashi seemed as vulnerable as if it wasn't covering him at all.

 

"I'm sorry." He said, with a heavy sigh.

 

Gai shook his head. "The only thing you've ever needed to apologize for you did long ago."

 

Kakashi looked up, tiredness in his mismatched eyes. It was strange to see the sharingan uncovered outside of battle. "Did I really? I offered no real explanation."

 

Gai took a few steps into his living room, strangely feeling like he was the intruder.

 

There were so many things he could have said, or asked, but the only one that made sense to him in that moment, the one he wanted to know the most, was, "Do you have one?"

 

And for all that Kakashi always seemed to be prepared for everything, that seemed to catch him off guard.

 

He fiddled with the headband between his hands for a moment, looking back down. When he next met his eyes, Gai felt, finally, really invited into the room. "Not really."

 

Gai smiled. "Then I don't need one."

 

Kakashi stood up, carefully left his headband on Gai's couch, and crossed the distance in quick, silent strides.

 

When he stood in front of him, there was nothing of his usual detachedness in his gaze: it felt like he was looking right at Gai, giving him his full attention.

 

"There are things I don't understand." Gai thought he was going to try and explain the mask any way, so he was about to interfere; but Kakashi kept talking. "Not just that. Things like... things like you. I... I tried, that night, to make sense of it. But I can't."

 

Something hurt in Gai's chest. "What do you mean?"

 

Kakashi's sharp silver brows met at the middle in what he assumed to be disconcertment. "I want you to be there. When you aren't there and I think about it, I don't understand, but when I'm with you, I don't think as much. You're... you're a lot of work, Gai."

 

Gai decided to take that as the compliment it most probably wasn't. He laughed and scratched the back of his head. "Thanks?"

 

A slight amusement crinkled the corners of Kakashi's eyes, but it was only an instant. "I mean it. Do you have some sort of problem with attention? Because you command a lot of it."

 

"Hey! Now that is not nice to say. I can't help being fabulous!"

 

Kakashi's voice was hushed, several octaves lower than Gai's own, but they were unmistakably in the same room, on the same topic—just very different intrinsically. "That's what I mean! Who talks like that wearing legwarmers? And you—you aren't even a lot of work." Gai didn't point out how, again, he kept contradicting himself. "You're the most easy maintenance person I know; I keep insulting you and you keep coming back. Do you not care about what I say?"

 

Gai thought about that.

 

Maybe, if someone else had treated him like Kakashi did, he would have cared more. But it wasn't just the things Kakashi said that mattered.

 

It was, mostly, the things he did, and how he did them.

 

Gai smiled, and his voice lowered on its own. "Do you always say what you feel, Kakashi?"

 

Kakashi's frown deepened, his eyes hardened, and he took a step back. "You don't know how I feel."

 

Gai shook his head, not taken aback himself. "No. But you're the strongest ninja I know, Kakashi. You're talented, intelligent, and possess skills I could never hope to match, like an admirable level of stealth. And don't pretend you don't know my chakra signature from a mile away. If you truly did not care about me, you would have no trouble beating me, humiliating me, or at the very least, avoiding me."

 

Kakashi put his hands on his chest and pushed him back. Gai couldn't tell if he was trying to be hurtful or playful. He simply allowed himself to fall back a step. "So you acknowledge it. After years and years of whatever the hell it is we've been doing, you acknowledge you can't win"

 

Gai frowned, his cheeks reddening. "That is not what I said."

 

Kakashi pushed him back again. "If you say I have skills you could never hope to match, that pretty much means I've won."

 

"My hope is to exceed--"

 

"What the f*** is the point of a rivalry if you know you can't win?"

 

Kakashi pushed him back with slightly more force this time, and Gai's back hit the wall.

 

"It's the other way around, Kakashi" Gai found himself saying. "What's the point of a rivalry if it doesn't teach you how to lose?"

 

Kakashi put his hands back on his chest, but this time he had nowhere else to push, so he just kept them there.

 

He simply looked at him, his heterochromia first forcing Gai to look from one eye into the other--until he forced his gaze to still, and understood how to see both at the same time.

 

It was a learned skill, to mantain Kakashi's self-contradicting gaze, from this close, for such a long time. But it was rewarding in and by itself.

 

"You've done it again." Kakashi observed, after a while, his eyes still focussed on Gai's, although seemingly much more at ease.

 

"What?"

 

"That. I don't even remember my point."

 

"Do you have one?" Gai repeated himself.

 

Kakashi's fingers splayed on Gai's chest, keeping him firmly locked to the wall.

 

He waited a moment—then, his shoulders relaxed.

 

"Not really"

 

Gai found himself laughing.

 

And Kakashi's eyes crinkled again—that same hidden smile, the one he wasn't putting on for Gai to see.

 

Suddenly, they were both laughing, in the middle of the night, without a real reason why other than to share the moment.

 

"I don't understand." Kakashi said, but he was still smiling.

 

Gai shrugged, smiling too. "You don't have to."

 

Kakashi looked up at him, his eyes so inviting that Gai felt a pull, and a need, and got carried away: he put a hand on Kakashi's cheek and pulled him into a kiss.

 

Kakashi's hands raised to his face, and he responded. Gai could feel his lips through the material, warm, his face close. It was, maddeningly, enough and not enough at the same time.

 

After a while, and before they could make the mask too disgusting for Kakashi to wear, Kakashi separated. The crinkling in his eyes was gone, left only a sorrow Gai could guess, but never know, was regret.

 

"I can't take it off right now."

 

Gai did feel hurt, but Kakashi, at least, was admitting it. Telling him. Gai kept his hand at his cheek, smoothened the fabric on it.

 

His voice came out even lower than he'd intended to when he repeated himself yet again.

 

"You don't have to."

 

Kakashi's eyes fell to his lips, then wandered back up to his eyes.

 

There was barely any voice behind it, making the tone of his words practically unreadable, no emotion to be discerned from them.

 

"I want to."

 

And Gai understood.

 

With the smallest gesture, he extended his arm beside himself, found the lightswitch, and turned the lights off.

 

Funny, to think that that was the first time they kissed.

 

He didn't need to see his face to feel it, to feel his lips open up slowly.

 

Kakashi had had sex before, but he was surprisingly—or perhaps not at all—inexperienced in kissing.

 

That night they only kissed in darkness and didn't trade another word, meeting each other completely anew, each discovering how to enjoy themselves in their new joint space. He did not sleep in Gai's bed, but Gai knew he was near, and pressured him no further.

 

 

 

 

In the shower, the next morning, Gai saw the fully naked shape of Kakashi blurred through the condensation on the shower door.

 

He looked to the wall when it opened. Let him step in.

 

Naked arms around his chest, a naked chest over his back; a naked forehead on the nape of his neck and naked lips on his spine.

 

Just standing there, breathing, holding him close and in place.

 

He didn't turn around. He watched Kakashi reach for his soap then closed his eyes, breathed, and felt himself grow hard in anticipation.

 

Kakashi prepared him just enough to thrust into him, and took him quickly, without another word to spare. All the while, Kakashi's face remained pressed to his neck, hiding from his eyes.

 

The shape of him, though, was imprinted in his skin's memory.

 

After his last thrust, Gai noticed Kakashi's hands freeze on his hips—and when he slipped out and opened the shower door, he knew he was about to simply leave without another word.

 

"You will not." Gai said.

 

When Kakashi closed the shower door, Gai thought he would simply run, so he turned around with the full intention to pursue him. Kakashi, however, was turned towards him, the blurred shape of him visible through the steamed glass.

 

That made him hesitate, although he was glad of it. He turned off the shower and asked, "Would you simply have left?"

 

He saw the red blur of Kakashi's sharingan and the black shadow of his own eye focussed at him. Then Kakashi lowered his head and crossed his arms around himself. "Yeah. Sorry."

 

Gai shook his head. "Why?"

 

Kakashi shrugged. "Nothing else to say."

 

"Except 'good bye', you mean."

 

"Formalities, Gai? Really?"

 

Gai considered this. "I suppose we don't need them. But then, why did you apologize?"

 

Kakashi's shape shamelessly stole the towel Gai had laid out for his hair and wrapped it around his face. Then he opened the shower door.

 

Gai stepped outside once let out, crossing his arms in front of his chest. Kakashi scratched the back of his head. "Because you called me out."

 

Gai didn't know what to say for a second, then took his body towel and wrapped it around himself. It was an insecurity on his part, but uttering it aloud made him feel better. "I... wanted to make sure we were on good terms."

 

Kakashi looked at him, his brow strangey furrowed. But this time, he didn't shrug it off.

 

"...that makes sense."

 

"Are we?"

 

Kakashi sighed. "Yes."

 

Gai believed him. In a gesture of good will, he spread his arms. "Then, until next time, my eternal rival."

 

Kakashi looked at him. Then, he went into his embrace.

 

It was tender. It was warm. Kakashi's arms came up behind him.

 

"...Thanks."

 

Gai did not ask what for. He merely kissed Kakashi's temple and relished his closeness. Kakashi moved in his arms.

 

Gai let him rub himself against him for a moment, until it dawned on him what he was doing.

 

"I could just give you your own towel, you know" he said, smiling.

 

Kakashi laughed and let go of him. "Just lay out two next time."

 

Gai gave him a vigorous thumbs up. Kakashi rolled his eyes, turned around, took the towel off his face and threw it back at Gai before he left.

 

 

 

 

They did not talk about it. They didn't have to.

 

The ease between them returned. They treated each other sometimes as colleagues, sometimes as friends, and sometimes as rivals.

 

The day Kakashi tried, and failed, his first students, Gai tried to invite him to lunch, but Kakashi avoided him.

 

 

 

A few nights later—or the same night? Details are blurry—when Gai went to his bedroom to sleep for the night, Kakashi was already there, completely naked but for the mask.

 

Gai had tried, and failed, not to be disappointed at Kakashi's rejection—so he allowed it to manifest as playful aggression, figuring it wouldn't be wasted.

 

He pressed Kakashi against the wall, easily taking his wrists in one arm. They were both positioned behind Kakashi's head already, as he'd been untying his forehead protector.

 

Gai bit at Kakashi's neck, and used his other hand to cup Kakashi's cock. Straight to the point.

 

"Wait", Kakashi said.

 

Gai had not been expecting that. "Huh?"

 

"F*** me" Kakashi murmured, voice monotonous.

 

He let go of Kakashi, feeling hurt.

 

Kakashi, emotionally distant, asking that of him without taking off his mask.

 

Kakashi stayed at the wall and watched him. For all that his voice had been almost robotic, his eye was focussed solely on him.

 

Gai calmed himself. Breathed through his anger, and through everything that reminded him of that night.

 

"Why?"

 

Kakashi's hands went, slowly, back up to his forehead protector. Gai watched as he took it off.

 

"Same reasons as last time. I... want to be close. Closer."

 

The same request, and the same reasons.

 

But...

 

Kakashi wasn't desperate. Kakashi didn't latch on to his touch. Kakashi's tone was calm, but it sounded real. His eyes were steady.

 

Same request, same reasons...

 

Entirely different situation.

 

Gai approached him, returning to the moment. Hesitantly, he put his fingers on Kakashi's mask.

 

Kakashi did not twitch, and he didn't jump away. He merely, calmly, shook his head... and raised his forehead protector.

 

Gai understood, and at the same time, he didn't. His mouth opened, but he didn't know how to phrase the question.

 

Kakashi's eyes dropped to his lips, then wandered back to his eyes, and lingered.

 

Just that. A shared gaze and silence. It was enough.

 

Gai closed his eyes, and let Kakashi tie the forehead protector around them.

 

He felt his lips almost immediately after the knot was tied, Kakashi's hands fast and efficient and his mouth eager. Kissing him was still not familiar; each time it felt, at first, like they had to find a common rhythm.

 

But they did, oh, they did.

 

Kakashi hummed into his mouth as his arms raised to his shoulders, and Gai lowered his core, grabbed Kakashi's legs and hefted him up. He didn't need to see to find his way towards the bed, and laughed when Kakashi, once there and on his back, remained holding on to him, using his feet to tug down Gai's pants.

 

Gai climbed onto the bed and separated his lips from Kakashi's, however staying just a moment more when the man licked after him. He bit his rival's bottom lip, then his chin, and felt the marvel of Kakashi's exposed throat under his tongue.

 

Kakashi was, by no means, passive. With each inch Gai went down his body he pressed up, his c*ck sliding wetly on his belly, between his ribs, on his chest, until it hit Gai's face and he caught it there, licking up the shaft.

 

Something cold nudged his shoulder, and he took it from Kakashi's hand. It was some sort of ointment.

 

"You came prepared" he said against the head of Kakashi's cock.

 

Kakashi convulsed under him. "I knew what I wanted. Would have done it myself but..."

 

He hesitated, for a moment, and Gai waited for him to finish the sentence.

 

His voice was quiet when he did. "I... I don't know. I don't know why. I wanted you to do it."

 

Gai had theories. Maybe he was lazy. Maybe he wanted Gai to take care of him. Maybe it didn't matter at all, because Gai wanted to do it as well... however a bit differently.

 

"Whatever you want" Gai said, kissing down his cock, between his c*ck and his balls, and then under, "You can tell me."

 

Kakashi's hand stroked his hair. "I know."

 

Gai took the ointment, swirled it to analyze its consistency, and poured it on Kakashi's hole, making him gasp.

 

Then, he licked into his rim.

 

"Holy f***" Kakashi said, and Gai pushed the liquid further inside him with his tongue. It tasted vaguely plastic, but he didn't care. He pressed upwards inside him, then took it out and licked around in shapes, applying pressure where he felt like it.

 

Just as Kakashi moaned and bucked his hips, Gai retreated to breathe against his skin, substituting his tongue with a finger. Kakashi went slack on the bed, and Gai felt no resistance at all.

 

He still took Kakashi's c*ck into his mouth before slipping a second finger in. And, feeling and hearing how receptive Kakashi was, another.

 

"Gai, I'm good" Kakashi said, his voice slightly breathless.

 

His own c*ck twitched in anticipation. He scrambled onto his knees on the bed, poured the lube on his cock, and moaned as he stroked himself to hardness.

 

Kakashi made a noise, and then Gai felt him raise from the bed, grab his face, and kiss him.

 

"You're f***ing hot." Kakashi said against his lips. "You're hot and you're the best friend I've ever had."

 

Gai moaned in response and raised his own hands to Kakashi's face. As they kissed, Kakashi took a hold of his cock, and Gai tensed as he felt him sink onto him.

 

It was not exceedingly tender; it was just intimate enough to be satisfying. Kakashi fell back onto the bed, and Gai f***ed into him on his knees, propping his hips up with both hands.

 

"I want to see you", Gai said, because it was the truth. "You don't need to—but I wish I could see you."

 

Kakashi removed the forehead protector from his eyes, seconds later... but had his mask back on.

 

And although Gai had been bracing himself to be hurt, he found he wasn't, as it dawned on him:

 

it had nothing to do with him. Whatever being seen without it meant for Kakashi, it had nothing to do with him.

 

He took one of Kakashi's hands, raised it to his lips, and kissed his knuckles. "You're beautiful."

 

Kakashi closed his eyes and came.

 

He did not stay afterwards, but he took his time to say good bye.

 

 

 

 

 

When it happened the next time, Kakashi had his students. They were both different men.

 

In the blink of an eye:

 

One moment, Gai was making tea, Kakashi sitting peacefully in his kitchen with his book open. The next, he'd taken his mask off to enjoy his cup.

 

Nothing ceremonious. Nothing incredible. Just an afternoon with tea.

 

Gai sat down, and smiled at him. Then he blew the steam away from his cup and closed his eyes to enjoy its scent.

 

 

 

(They talked about it once.

 

Kakashi lied nestled into the crook of his shoulder, his mask off, looking up to the stars.

 

They'd had a rather exhausting and very dissatisfying challenge—it had dragged on for hours, and in the end they stopped trying and started f***ing instead. Which Gai normally would not have allowed, but since he picked the challenge, and admittedly had not thought that it could be both frustrating and maybe even impossible for either of them to complete, he was willing to declare it a tie.

 

It was the middle of the night, they were both buck naked, and they were in public.

 

Anyone could have seen them. And yet here Kakashi lay, mask off and looking up to the heavens, completely fine with it.

 

Gai simply asked.

 

Kakashi shrugged, and gave his best answer: it depended on how he felt.

 

Whether he was able to feel.

 

Whether he trusted his emotions.

 

Sometimes it was the comfort of the material, sometimes it had something to do with being seen.

 

He took a deep breath, but then his voice strayed off, his words became jumbled, incoherent.

 

He said something about his father. He said something about others, but that he didn't care--he never cared--his father cared--he didn't care. But also, it had started before. Who knew. Who knew why or at what age. No one could remember or remind him, no one was left, who cared. He didn't care. He never cared.

 

He went silent, then. After a while he said, "I don't understand".

 

Gai, who didn't understand either, said, "You don't have to."

 

And Kakashi said, "No, I don't have to."

 

Even though Kakashi cried for exactly one minute afterwards—and then stopped, and looked up at the stars again as if nothing had happened—it was a rather nice night.)

 

 

From then on, it became normal. Some days he'd be readier, some days more reluctant. There was days he wouldn't take it off for sex, but he spoke his mind, was always clear about his limits. Gai knew, in any case, that the mask was no longer, if it had ever been, a punishment for Kakashi, and knew to cherish all the times it was off as much as when it was on.

 

It was all organic. Also the way, after the war, that Kakashi had begun to stay after sex.

 

They didn't need to talk about it. Gai would wake up to see the sunrise, and instead of the bed being empty, he'd see the familiar silver hair. The mask, of course, would have been put back on at some point during the night, but that was okay too.

 

 

 

Kakashi begins to stir.

 

One would think that after so many, many years, familiarity would be the thing holding them together, and Gai should know Kakashi, should know how he works.

 

It is not so; as a matter of fact, the greatest thing is that he knows he doesn't, and thus gets to meet him anew again and again.

 

He doesn't know the rules of the mask; every time he thinks he understands what it stands for, Kakashi will take it off or slide it back on when he least expects it.

 

But that is the greatness of their 'co-existence' (as Kakashi prefers to call it, all other words too telling): if he knew Kakashi's movements before a fight, he would not be his rival.

 

Just then he understands the thing he's seeing for the very first time today: the slight silvery glitter of morning stubble, making his face shine in the sunlight that so unapologetically floods his room. He's either always shaved when they have breakfast, or he wears his mask to sleep.

 

Finding out why he didn't this time is pointless, as it would be to try and replicate the result.

 

Kakashi surprised him again.

 

He doesn't even think to pretend he hasn't been looking when Kakashi opens an eye, and closes it again.

 

"Wow. Okay. Good morning." he says, eyes closed. He blinks and yawns.

 

"Morning, my rival. Was your sleep restful?"

 

Kakashi hums. "You been awake for long?"

 

Gai extends his hand towards Kakashi's face, lays it softly on his cheek, relishing on the sharkskin feel of it.

 

"No. It can't have been but 10 minutes."

 

Kakashi scuttles a little bit closer. "Oh. You missed the sunrise."

 

Gai smiles at him, and Kakashi smiles back.

 

Softly, Gai pulls his face close, and lays a kiss on the corner of Kakashi's mouth, another on his nose, and one last on his forehead. When he pulls away, Kakashi has raised an eyebrow.

 

"No" Gai says. "I did not."

 

Kakashi groans and buries his face in the pillow, but Gai laughs, stretches himself, and moves to start a new day.

 

Nothing else needs to be said.

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