A/N: Hi!  GaaLee ficcy I've been working on forever now for Land Lady, picks up right after manga 217, when Gaara and Lee are talking under the tree after beating Kimimaru.  I tried to open up Lee's character and Knight In Shining Armor (and bad hair cuts) meets The Homicidal Maniac (more bad hair cuts) angle, because I think it's funny.  Some swearing.



"He…was the same as Uzumaki Naruto…"

Lee startled.

"Only…the person that's important to you isn't always good…you don't have to take someone bad as your important person.  No," Gaara contradicted himself again.  He was the one talking—Lee was, more or less, part of the scenery to him.  "Even if you know they're bad, a person can't defeat loneliness…"

Which meant that they were just running circles. 

Lee with his busy-body teacher, Naruto with his friends…they were there, but if the people that they considered to be important didn't actually care about them, as Orochimaru hadn't cared for his servant, then the loneliness did not end.  It was back to what Yashamura had said—love had to given.  It didn't work any other way, and it couldn't be forced.

Gaara pulled the grass between his fingers.

It would take forever.

"You've really thought this out, huh?"  Lee tried to break the silence.  He had been more than a little surprised when Gaara had showed up and suddenly saved his life.  He felt awkward.  Because, really, Gaara just suddenly saved his life, after nearly killing him.  After being so enthusiastic about killing him, and coming so damn close to it too and if it hadn't been for Gai-sensei…

The silence continued without Gaara even bothering to look his way, figuring the answer was obvious.  And it was obvious, but that didn't mean the guy had to be such an absolute jerk and not even bother to look at him just because the answer was obvious.  Geez…he knew the answer was obvious—he was just trying to make conversation.  No reason to be rude.

"I'm not sure he was fighting for Orochimaru because he was afraid of being lonely," Lee tried again, talking more to himself as he stared out at the bone pillars stabbing at the sky.  The silence begged to be fed, so he did because he was still a bit too worn out to get moving.  His body was going through quite the shock—months in the hospital, then back into action without even time enough for a little fooling around.

"I mean, being lonely isn't all that big a deal…"

Lee had a family, friends, and a role model.  He had gotten teased for being chillingly honest and nerdy-looking. 

What he knew about Gaara was that he had been extremely excited to kill him.  What he knew about Gaara was that he was a little crazy, extremely talented, and far too powerful for a kid his age.  An image of the gargantuan tidal wave of dirt crashing down on Kimimaru surfaced in Lee's mind, and even while his stomach clenched with fear because Gaara was probably still a little crazy and moody after just randomly showing up to save him after trying to kill him he might very well try to kill him again for the hell of it…

Lee had to admit as his cheeks flared up, he was pretty jealous too.  Impressed, nervous, and jealous.  Not afraid, because Gaara was on the good guy's side now and had just saved his life twice so he couldn't be all that bad but he was still just as weird.

Gaara, some crazy kid who had beaten up Sasuke-kun of the Sharingan that Lee had wanted to beat, had made mincemeat out of one of Orochimaru of the Sennin's prime men and hadn't even broken out in a sweat over it…well, actually yeah he had broken out in a sweat over it, hadn't even been sure they'd win, but…really he'd made it look…

Lee tried to pull himself into sitting position.  "Guess we gotta go after Naruto-kun and Sasuke-kun now."  He climbed to his feet, using the tree as an aid--He wasn't badly hurt; just tired after racing to catch up and then fighting Kimimaru.  His body was still a little rough too—nothing major, nothing that would affect the mission because he couldn't let that happen, there was too much depending on it, but still feeling a little rough.

Gaara had made it look so damn easy.  It had taken less than half an hour—not even fifteen minutes to beat the other guy.  And the other guy might've killed him—probably would've.  And the style of attacks…were all over-kill.  Any other fighter and they would've been over-kill—and Gaara was younger than he was.  Younger by a full year, and here he was with attacks like that up his sleeve…

Lee looked to find Gaara…almost glaring at him.  Looking at him offensively, threateningly, yes, but that was how he looked all the time when he didn't look spacey.  Lee tried to smile and jerked his shoulders in a we-should-get-moving-now motion.

Being lonely isn't all that big a deal…

"What?"  Ice could've been grated out on Gaara's voice.  Lee looked confused on what he was angry about.  Gaara was confused on exactly how pissed off he should be.

"Well, Naruto-kun's going to need our help so we need to—"

" 'Being lonely isn't all that big a deal…'?"

There was studied careful silence, as generations of shinobi deduction and stealth training ran to Lee's aid…and found themselves clawing at the door.  Couldn't…get… in!

"Huh?  Oh, that," Geez he looks pissed…   "Well, it's not enough to make some guy fight—that's just crazy.  I mean he," Lee turned around to see the corpse still strung out, still ready to attack.  "He was dedicated, but I don't think he was lonely." 

Lee frowned with thought.  He wasn't used to empathizing with the enemy—they were the enemy, and it was his job to beat them and protect the good guys.  It was simple. 

"It's over now though—"

"Shut up."

Lee turned to scowl at Gaara, hurt and surprised, who in turn was staring very offensively at him.  Again.  "Then come on and let's get going—it's over here!  Or…are you tired?"  Could someone like Gaara get tired?  Was he human like that?  Vulnerable? 

Something in Lee cheered instantly danced around with this new knowledge and hope even while another part of him came crashing down with sarcasm.

Bang!  Excellent deduction genius!

 Lee frowned at himself, thinking to the massive displays of power that had slithered and flew in front of his eyes not so long ago.  He rushed through an apology before the insult could fly out at him almost instinctively.  Defensively. 

"I'm sorry I wasn't thinking we can rest a while longer if that's—"

"I'm not tired."

Nervous pause.  Possible chance of disappointment.  "Oh.  You sure?  I mean you were really tearing it up so--"

"I'm fine."

"I mean we're not," Lee twitched and corrected himself, digging himself in deeper.  "Well actually we kind of are in a hurry but there's no point in rushing off after everything you did here—"

"I'm not tired.  I'm fine."

"Oh.  Then what's your problem?"

Rarely had Gaara experienced this kind of frustration, or even this kind of person.  People other than his family had a tendency to stay as far from him as possible, especially once they got an idea who he was.  Lee probably didn't know what he was, but he still had a good idea of what he could do.   After all, he had tasted it first and second hand.  He just seemed…naturally stupid.  Or something.  With a bad haircut.

"Do you enjoy provoking me, or are you just stupid?"

"Hey!  That was mean!"


"You just—" It just was!  Have you been living in a box?  Lee reigned himself in with some difficulty.  Mission!  Think of the mission—that's the important thing.  "Look, can you walk?"

"Of course."

"Great then," he grabbed Gaara by the wrist and dragged him up, before pulling him forward.  "If you're fine and not tired like you said you were we need to get a move on, all right?  All right!" Lee answered enthusiastically for the world involved—this battle was over, he wasn't flat on his back with pain, so it was time for more!   Needed to work off that hospital and crutch atrophy badly now!

Sure Gaara was weird, but he was on their side and there was somewhere they needed to go so it was time to get there and get going and Lee continued to think optimistically as he strode determinedly forward.

Gaara didn't even pull his hand away.  He was too shocked. 

He was trying to remember the last time someone had touched him.  On the skin.  Who wasn't family.  Not in a fight.  Not a doctor.  In the last month.  Last year.  Okay, last five years.  Ten years?

He couldn't.

Lee hadn't actually touched him during the fight—he had hit him and hit the armor instead, the cut on his cheek a result of intense chakra and air friction at high speeds.  Naruto had touched him several times during there fight, the bruises that developed a message: he was not invulnerable.  There actually hadn't been physical contact, and certainly not prolonged physical contact.  Not like this. 

Examine Gaara as he's pulled forward like a broken battle cruiser by a tugboat that has billowing clouds of steam puffing out of it regularly. 

He wondered why the sand didn't act.  It acted without him thinking, without him knowing, so there was no excuse for it not defending him.  It defended him whether he wanted it to or not.  He couldn't choose to get hurt even if he wanted to.  So he wondered while his skin crawled and iced over why the sand didn't defend him against Lee—why it hadn't considered him a threat.  Especially with the intelligence Lee had that had allowed him to get that haircut. 

Why it had considered him safe.  Safe enough to allow physical contact even though there could have been weapons hidden his bandages around wrist, or poisons on his palm or…something. 

Something was definitely happening to Gaara's body though—his palms were damp, and his face felt…warm and cool at the same time.  He wondered what was the feeling that made him feel warm and small and jittery all at once, and would have never guessed it was embarrassment topped with confusion.

Chakra flooded through his feet to melt with the ground, rooting him there and he yanked his hand away, yanked it back.  He didn't like it.  Didn't understand it.  But he still felt it so…

Lee sighed exasperated to keep from growling and flexed his fingers while he waited for Gaara to show up and automatically winced when pain ran from his bleeding wrist straight to his spine.  And waited.  He was not going to turn around.  "You coming or what?"

"You touched me…"

"So?"  Not going to turn around, not going to turn around.

"…I didn't say you could."  So how is it possible it didn't stop you?

Lee opened his mouth, closed it, looked upwards in supplication, before finally turning around.  Yes, yes…I'm a loser, please shut up world. 

"I'm sorry all right, but we've…I mean…  Look, if you don't want to come that's fine but I really need to go help out Naruto-kun."  And I could really use someone with your type of power…I want to fight more than you do, but I can't risk Sasuke-kun over that.  The mission's gotta work…and I want to fight more, but I can't afford to lose.

"You can't fight—you're too weak."

"Don't tell me what I can't do!  I can fight just fine, and I'm going to make it there so just—" he was being rude and Gaara looked more spacey and surprised than anything.   He sure was…blunt though.  And rude.  "Thanks for helping me out, really, I mean that, but I've got to—"

"You can't."

"Look," Lee jabbed a finger in his direction and strode forward looking a controlled type of angry.  Gaara wasn't impressed—he had seen rage at it's best and at it's worst and felt it course through him until it devoured his individuality and soul and left only the aching silence of failure in it's wake.  An indignant, snubbed Lee was no great wonder.  It was barely amusing.

"Thanks for helping me, but I'm not done helping them.  If you don't want to come that's fine—you don't have to.  It'd be nice if you did, because we could really use a guy with your type of power," Lee almost managed to keep all demanding out of his voice.  Gaara would be very useful.  "But I do have to, so I'm going to."

"You're too weak to."

"That's not the point.  I've got to try."  Simple.  It sounded so damn simple, and Gaara wondered for a moment if it truly was just that simple.  It wasn't—it sounded nice, but it wasn't.

"And if you die?"

Lee looked a little surprised, and for a moment nervous.  Dying wasn't something he wanted to do, and for a moment all he could think about was Sakura and what she would do.  Gaara almost felt satisfied, but then he answered, "Then I'll have died doing the right thing.  But I've gotta try."

"Try and touch me again."

Generally, that type of request would unnerve some people or appear to be a type of sensual invitation.  In most cases, it was either of those or something else.  In most cases, the recipient of the request would be rather freaked out.

In this, case it was something else.  The recipient was not freaked out.  Lee looked surprised, but Gai-sensei and he touched each other on a daily basis without hesitation or ulterior motives—only this was Gaara, and not Gai, which was a different story entirely.  But the principle remained.

Tentatively, half-expecting to be attacked, Lee poked his shoulder.  He looked confused.  "Okay?"

It didn't hurt.  It hadn't hurt, but it had still felt hot and funny, and the sand hadn't done a thing to stop it.  Hadn't even twitched, like Lee was…invisible to it.  Gaara made his decision almost instinctively.  "What the hell are you waiting for?"


"You were in a hurry to get us somewhere?"

"Oh yeah!" Us!  He said us!  Which meant that things were looking up!  Lee threw Gaara an honest smile—the only kind he could do—and took off enthusiastically before he was yanked back hard, by sand, of course.  "Ouch!  Hey!  What do you think you're doing!?"

"Naruto's the other way," Gaara jerked his head, arms wrapped around torso and wrist still burning. 

"Oh…but he took off on in this direction!" Lee protested, trying to prove that no he had not just randomly run off in any direction, that there had actually been some thinking behind it, that he actually knew what he was doing.

Gaara shrugged, "He's over there now."

Lee looked confused.  "How do you know?"

Gaara blinked, his face a studied blank.  "I…know." 

He could sense the kyuubi's power from where he was easily; now that he knew what it felt like and who carried it, he could pick the demon out of a crowd.  Plus, it helped that Naruto was expending a lot of chakra doing whatever he was doing.  Probably fighting.  Probably Sasuke.  The irony amused him.

"Oh.  Okay," Lee agreed easily.  "Then lead the way!"

Gaara stared at him in that uncertain, cautious and not completely offensive way he had, surprised that he was being allowed to lead, before walking, and then running when he thought Lee could catch up at to that speed.  He could've used the sand to carry them easily—but that would've expended his chakra while conserving Lee's and…for some reason, he didn't want Lee fighting.  Less chakra he had, less chance of that happening. 

Gaara shrugged it off.

Never underestimate people.  Of course, then you can't estimate them at all, which creates more problems.

Lee laid back and pondered all the things that could wrong.  You could overestimate or underestimate or not estimate at all and go in attacking blind.  Sometimes, going in blind really seemed like the best thing to do. 

"You ever think we did the wrong thing?"

"If it had been wrong, we wouldn't have done it."

Lee frowned conscientiously at the sky.  "You know that makes no sense."

He sensed a shrug thrown in his general direction, and that was answer enough for both of them.  "Sometimes…I think we did.  The wrong thing, I mean.  If we hadn't…you know…jumped in and tried to force him…"

Lee fell silent—these weren't just uncharted waters to him, it wasn't even water.  He felt like he was falling down through empty air, and wasn't quite sure if he was going to hit the ground or even if he was going to hit anything at all.  In his mind, there was no reason for Sasuke to do what he did—he couldn't fathom it at all, couldn't even imagine it at all.  He could understand wanting to get stronger, needing to be better, but he couldn't imagine abandoning his friends to do it. 

If he got rid of his friends, why would he even want to be stronger? 

Lee didn't know the whole truth—about Itachi, about the massacre, about Sasuke.  But even if he had, he still wouldn't have understood why it was important to kill someone that badly.  The clan was dead—killing the killer wouldn't bring them back, and the clan wouldn't thank Sasuke for it either afterward.  And after it was all over, no matter what happened, what would Sasuke do then

It…made Lee's head hurt.

He had forgiven Gaara easily enough for nearly tearing him apart and nearly making him an invalid for the rest of his life—it was just a fight.  Nothing personal.  Lee didn't hold grudges—it just wasn't in his makeup. 

"I guess…I don't know.  But if that was really what he wanted, maybe we should have let him.  Do it.  If he wanted.  It wasn't really fair."

"Then he would've have been your enemy, and you would've had to kill him."

There was a hurt silence.  Lee shifted uneasily, sitting up and holding his knees on the bench, feeling a tad sick.  He had always known that life…wasn't nice, but cold bloody logic that stayed whether or not the sun rose had never sat well with him.  Years later, he still wouldn't be able to take facts that hurt too badly well.  Lee believed in something higher—with his whole heart.  In justice and honor and camaraderie and courage and fealty; he was a boy of the Old School. 

Gaara didn't.  If he was anything, he was a boy of the Real Old School—before the times of honor or justice, when man had been a filthy scrap huddled around a fire and things lurked on the edge of the light—unknown things in the dark. 

"There is no justice," Gaara stated.  "You…try.  You're good at that.  You shouldn't worry."

He waited for the normal bouncy and driven response that always came after some type of compliment—Lee's ego was surprisingly fragile.  Depending on the people around him, he could be easily influenced.  Too easily sometimes, but about other things he was a rock. 

"Trying seems to be all I'm good for lately.  Everyone else does the real work."

Gaara let that lie.  So. 


His sound is annoying.  Kill him.

Even for a raw rough addition to society, Gaara wasn't stupid.  There was depression in Lee's voice—that and a bit of self-pity.  He didn't understand the reasons they were there, but it probably had something to do with the fight that had broken out between Sasuke and Naruto.  No one seemed happy to find out about that.

"You do real work."


Silence.  Gaara's mind wandered for an answer, wondered why it was wandering for someone else, realized that it was supposed to try and be helpful because that would make the pain go away according to Naruto and Yashamura.  According to them.

You can't trust either.

Shut up.

You're wasting your time on him.

Shut up.

He wouldn't waste his time on you.

Shut up!

Finish him.  You started it.  He's irritating—he talks too much.

Like you?  Yes.  I'd rather kill you first.


Lee had taken the ensuing silent debate and cloud of doubt as a negative answer.

"Sasuke sort of beat you—no offense…only you beat him later, and Naruto beat Neji, and Naruto and Shikamaru and Sakura-chan…" There was quiet, almost guilty pause.  Gaara resisted the urge to roll his eyes.  "They saved the village.  And just now you saved my life, and Naruto-kun…sort of saved Sasuke.  Brought him back anyway."

Tied up and unconscious and bleeding.  Dragged him back.

"But I…"

There was more in those two little words than the whole of the last speech.  Briefly, Gaara wondered what had brought this on.  Yes, it was over.  Yes, Sasuke wasn't happy to be back.  Yes, Naruto had lost more control than he ever had before on what was inside him, and the world had had a glimpse of the Nine Tails once again, but only Gaara had realized it was just a glimpse.  The others had thought that it was Naruto's full power.

"You're wasting good energy feeling sorry for yourself," he observed pensively. 

They had been waiting outside Konoha's Administration for nearly an hour—the report shouldn't have taken that long.  Something had happened.

He narrowed his eyes, pricked his ears, and considered spying on Naruto and the Hokage woman—it would be more productive than just waiting here, and he was getting bored besides.  And besides that…Naruto had shown a bit of what he was.  Gaara was more concerned about the results of that than he would've liked to admit.

"I am not feeling sorry for myself," he heard Lee hiss in something…that sounded a bit like anger, if it hadn't been so raw.  "I'm worried about them!  I'm worried about what's going to happen, I am not feeling sorry for myself!"

Gaara looked over a bit surprised—he had seen Lee outraged before.  It was rare, but it wasn't new or particularly important.  Black eyes focused into something Gaara was felt familiar with yet, oddly enough, wasn't hate.  Still, when black eyes focused, cleared, sharpened like negative light through glass, Lee didn't look quite so…inconsequential anymore, like he usually did, though he still looked awkward.  He had been that way during their fight.  Lee looked a bit like that now.

"They're my friends and they were fighting—do you have any idea what that means?"

Gaara continued to look blank.  "No," he answered honestly.  He couldn't see the connection.  "What?"

"It means bad things are happening!"

"Bad things have been happening," Gaara cut in.  He was here, after all.

"No!  I mean worse things!  Like…like breaking things, bad things!  They're friends!  They're not supposed to fight like that!  That's…" Lee realized he had gotten up to yell at Gaara, that his body was in a somewhat offensive crouch, and he guiltily straightened up and rubbed his arms.  Not that Gaara cared either way, but Lee lowered the volume on his voice.  He was stressed out—he was stressed out and afraid and depressed and even though they had won and completed the mission things weren't better.  If anything, things were worse.

And that…didn't make sense.  That wasn't supposed to happen.  Sasuke…


It was wrong.  It was all blindingly, terribly wrong, and he didn't know what to do to fix it.  "It's…it's wrong," he looked up worriedly.  They've been in there way too long. 

"I mean…imagine it's your friends trying to kill each other—and they were trying to kill each other!  You…you could feel that, I could feel that, and they're teammates and it's…" he glanced back at the ground, watching the Jounin and Chunnin walk in and out.  They had probably all heard him yelling.  Lee blushed in embarrassment.  "Things are going to get bad."

Gaara stared at him blankly, like a statue.  Lee's blush deepened, but he managed to straighten his back.

"Sorry for yelling at you," he mumbled.  "It's…it's just been rough.  It's not your fault.  I'm sorry—I shouldn't have yelled at you.  I'm…yeah."

Still, nothing was said.  Lee coughed in his throat awkwardly, and stood to his full height as the blush went out of his cheeks.  "Okay?" he asked in what he thought was a level voice—in truth he was a tad anxious. 

Gaara stared at him stoically, teal eyes flat and face expressionless.  Finally, he said, "I don't have friends.  Naturally I wouldn't understand."  He glanced back up at the building—Naruto was on the upper floor.  He couldn't read his chakra signature accurately at this distance.

Awkwardness settled—on both parties, not just Lee.  That's not a nice thing to spring on a guy.  I was just making an example. I couldn't know that.  I…he didn't have to say it like that.  Geez…that was uncalled for.  He didn't have to do that.

Finally, he apologized again out of habit, to break the silence if nothing else, "Sorry."

"For what?"

"For bringing it up."

"It has nothing to do with you."

"Still…I didn't mean to be rude."

Gaara shrugged.

Polite, isn't he?

Shut up.

Too easy to manipulate—the fun you could have screwing with this guy.

Shut up.

His blood still smells nice too.

…Yes.  It does.

"If you want…I mean, if you'd like…I guess we could be friends.  If you wanted.  If you felt like it."  Lee thought about what he had just said.  Gai-sensei had had to save him last time from Gaara, because he hadn't been strong enough to save himself.  Then he shrugged mentally.  They were on the same side now.  Gaara probably wouldn't care either way—he was weird like that.  "It'd be cool with me."

Do I even have to say anything?


Break his throat.

He'll never see you coming.

"Sure," Gaara finally said after Lee had finally begun to fidget and think he had said the wrong thing.  "That's fine with me."

"Oh.  Okay."

Lee scratched his neck.  Like that, the deal was made.

"How long are you guys going to be here?  Not that I want you to leave or anything," Lee shoved in automatically.  "It's just that I—I was just curious.  I mean, you know, I…just…um, yeah."  Lee smiled and shrugged.

He's not afraid of you.

And the sand isn't afraid of him.


It's not a coincidence.

What does it mean?

I'm not telling you.


If it bothers you, just kill him.

It'd be easy.

It would be so easy.

So much simpler than this bumbling.

His blood still smells good.



"I don't know.  For a while.  Until we're dismissed or called back."

"Oh.  Well that's great!  I mean we could…I don't know…do stuff.  And stuff.  Or…or train!  We could train together!  That'd be great!"

Training with someone like Gaara—that would boost his ability no problem!  Lee was a fatal type of optimist—one of these days, it would kill him and he'd be thinking that death couldn't really be all that bad.  But if he could figure out how to deal with that kind of overkill…

Yes!  Whoo!  Gai-sensei would never believe it—and Sakura-chan too!



"What?  Why?"

Bastard!  Yes!

Gaara hid a wince—his head hurt.  "Because."

Do it!  Damn you brat do it!

"Because why?"

"Because."  Gaara started to get annoyed.

"But why not?  You're not going to be doing anything else important are you?"

Gaara sighed irritated and curled his back into the post he'd been leaning against.  This was irritating…

"C'mon Gaara!"

Lee was beaming with a half-pleading half-encouraging smile.  It didn't have the mischief of Naruto's grin, nor the cold arrogance of his own smile.  It was completely honest and genuine—absolutely authentic.  It was a bit hungry.  The combination was…unsettling.  Gaara shifted uneasily, his eyes looking uncomfortable and cranky.  His jaw and neck hurt—his head was pounding.  Normal pain.  Nothing new.

"I don't.  Train.  With other people."  When he did train at all.  Which was rare on it's own—it was rarely necessary.

"Well you can train with me…why not?"

"Are you deaf?  I don't train with others."

"Well…" Lee sighed.  He wasn't giving up—he had worn Neji-kun down, he could wear Gaara down too.  A week and six days later, he would.  "Fine, all right, then what do you plan to do while you're here?"

"I don't know."

Lee…didn't exactly enjoy Gaara's company.  He was unpredictable, rude, and withdrawn.  But Naruto and Sasuke…Lee sighed.  And Neji was…yeah.  The same thing.  He wasn't sure what was worse—what had happened to Naruto and Sasuke, or what had happened to Neji and Chouji.  At least Shikamaru-kun was okay, but Sakura-chan…he had tried talking to her, but that hadn't gone over too well either.  She had been…a little polite, but she was so sad it hurt, and he wasn't sure how to make it better, and he hurt too so he couldn't really help her out. 

It had been nice spending time with her—it seemed like he had made her a little happier though.  That had been nice.  Been all right.  But Ino was doing a better job than he had, and TenTen was helping her.  Something basic and primal in Lee had recognized the basic human response to group together during times of crisis at work, and he had felt better for it.  But…it was a girl grouping.  They hadn't said it, and been very nice about it, but he wasn't really invited into the circle.  After all, they were still only in their early teens.  TenTen still teased him sometimes about cooties.

"Well…we can find something to do then.  We'll find something to do," Lee ended optimistically.  "Can't be too hard."

I will give you hell tonight.

"Whatever," Gaara replied.

A year's time.

It had been a bad day—ambushes did that.  Ambushes that nearly succeeded really did that.  Gaara was still seething.  The sand hadn't just been looking out for him.  He was jealous.  He was jealous and hurt and betrayed and really didn't want to talk anymore.  To anyone.

The smell of blood was still in the air. 

This was the last time he ever let Lee talk him into going anywhere.  Last time. 

…He wouldn't go away.  He wouldn't go away. 

He wouldn't shut up!

Gaara snarled:

"Who are you and why should I care?"

"I just wanted—"

"Get out of my way."

"Hey!  You don't have to take it out on me—we were both surprised!  You didn't sense them, I didn't know about them, so it's not my--"

"Shut up!  I don't care.  Go away."  People had been trying to kill Gaara throughout his life—it was an uncomfortable and depressing subject.  It was nothing new.

"…What's gotten into you?"

"Go away."

"There's something bothering you; you're never this ticked off—"

"I said go away!  Get the fuck away!  Do you have a damn death wish?!"

"…Fine.  All right.  Be that way."  The response was chilly for Lee.

"Just go away."

"I am going away.  And notice away by myself."  Lee looked hurt but at the same time quietly angry and dignified as he turned his back and walked away, but paused for a moment out of anger or actual goodwill to add, "…If you want to try and be better…you have to try.  Eventually.  It won't fall in your lap like fighting does."

For some reason, that got Gaara's attention, and kept it.  His shoulders relaxed in preparation involuntarily—he was still ready for blood and a fight.  And Lee's blood still smelled good. 

It had to taste as good.

"Who are you to lecture me?" he asked quietly.

"Someone who knows, remember?" Lee answered tersely.  He didn't need this crap.  He didn't.  Ooh…but Gaara was a pain!  He hadn't even known about the attack, it wasn't as if he had staged it—and they had worked together again!  Hadn't that said something?  Shouldn't they be better friends now than before?  What the heck?? 

He was such a jerk…and a freak too.  Nothing he did made any sense—ever.  And…he didn't care what he said or what he did.  Not when he got angry.  He…it hurt.

"You don't know me—you don't know anything about me."  And by the sound of his voice, he was following him.

"You never talk about yourself!  You go out of your way so that I never know anything about you!"  Lee picked up the pace until was storming away.  He didn't want to talk to him anymore.  He eyed the trees.

"Don't turn your back on me."  That was a growl.  That was a genuine growl, and…Lee was not the sharpest tool in the store, but he did know when he was about to be attacked.  He vanished into the trees.  He had meant it to be a quick retreat to get a grasp on the situation and continue yelling at Gaara, maybe get ready for another fight just to clear whatever the heck was up, but the ground exploded under him, the shockwave tearing up the trees branch like a hellish blender through a pencil.  

He flew up in the air from the explosion like a paper cup, slowly and out of control surrounded by wooden shrapnel as his eyes watered and winced from the blast.  He managed to face the ground as he started to come down, and saw the spike of dirty sand weaving straight for his head.


Gaara watched from the ground, restless and edgy, as one long brown tentacle swiftly approached one small green point…slowly…

And observed the long brown form splinter and shatter away from the small green point like a chandelier meeting a very large hammer.  The small green point was lost from view in the explosion—it hadn't been a large amount of energy, but it had been an impressive display of judicial use of.

Gaara felt his heart pick up—all this from a guy who apologized for screaming at him! Apologized!  To him!  Who offered to—

—The front of a foot connected soundly and swiftly to the soft underside of Gaara's jaw, not only welding his teeth together, but also compressing his brainstem and spine together, and another textured hard rubber surface connected with his kidneys, liver, and stomach, a well-judged surge of energy tearing off the sand armor to make sure he felt it in full

—be his friend!  Friends.  With him.

Gaara crumpled to the ground, holding his stomach while the sand swelled and hardened around him, protecting him.  The sand had protected Lee—he had barely had to coach it at all.  It didn't make sense—it didn't make sense at all.  He was grinning widely as he cracked his mouth into two separate pieces again and laughed.

All right, all right…

I'm always right.

Now shut up.

He got to his feet unsteadily—his heart was racing freely like a colt taken to the racetrack for the first time, and he couldn't wait to get his hands on Lee properly! 

So he didn't.

…It had been a long while since Gaara had felt pain and been glad for it.

Lee ran.

Lee was not Naruto, not Sasuke, not Neji, all of whom lost most of their reason, intelligence, and sanity for the sake of battle and bloodlust.  Lee was too civilized for that—he didn't have their insecurities, the fears that made up their foundation.  Gaara had come close to killing him before, and by this time Lee knew he couldn't beat him.  Lee could admit his weaknesses well enough.  He had seen him work, had some idea of how he thought.  Gaara had way too much energy, and was much too used to killing first and talking later.

Yes, he and Gaara were still friends—Lee didn't even consider that they weren't.  But he also didn't think it'd be a great idea to test Gaara when he looked that crazy and hungry and mad, so he skedaddled out.  He was being followed, he knew, and stuck to the treetops, trying to stay airborne as much as possible—Gaara had mad tracking skills.

Suddenly, Lee realized Gaara wasn't a good choice for an enemy.

Pain exploded in his right calf and he faltered a second before he was forced groundwards abruptly.  When he struggled, zillions of little pebbles pressed against him very suggestively—suggesting that they could become very intimate with his bone marrow if he struggled too much.  He could always tap his energy—open one of the lotus gates, show Gaara he couldn't do that to whoever he felt like and…

Gaara was right there.  Grinning mirthlessly, but very faintly, so faint it was barely there.  Sharp like a razor.

"You never should have befriended me.  You don't know what I am—you don't know what I want."

Crap… Lee thought intelligently.  Argue first and then fight.

"You never say!  I'd like know…I'd like to know but you always hide yourself."

"There's a reason for that."


Gaara shook his head slowly, mockingly.  "Stupid, stupid boy." 

"Don't insult me.  I'm older than you are."

Gaara shot him a skeptical, almost laughing look, but he did keep his mouth shut.  He listened.  Obeyed.  For whatever reason.  Or—at least it seemed that way.

Gaara had to look up to meet his eyes—Lee was taller than him, and very deliberately put his hands on his shoulders, his jaw still aching and his blood still jumping.  Lee didn't startle—despite his upbringing, his environment, he was pretty hard to surprise.  He adapted to changes very well, very quickly.

"So are you gonna tell me what you do want now…or are you just going to blow me off again?"

Lee had noticed it a long time ago—being stared at consistently the way Gaara had a tendency to stare at things, was often unnerving.  Gaara didn't just stare—he evaluated.  It was like being evaluated by an instructor and an enemy at the same time.  He attempted to find the strong and weak points, determined whether one was worth the effort of killing, finishing with whether or not he wanted to bother.

It unnerved many people.  Animals stared like that.

It still unnerved Lee, but he knew Gaara wasn't an animal.  He was weird, yes, but he wasn't an animal.

He kept his gaze.

Gaara put his hands on his neck, encircling it, and seemed amused.  He could feel Lee's pulse moving steadily—he wasn't afraid.  He wasn't afraid, the idiot…

"…You really think I won't kill you."

"I know you won't," Lee answered almost automatically. 

Gaara looked a bit stunned for a second, genuinely surprised, and then began to squeeze and strangle.  He didn't like it when people trusted him—Lee's black eyes panicked, gaped in surprise as he struggled—because trust wasn't something he really hadn't learned to manage yet—and finally screamed in visible betrayal and pain—and he didn't need that sort of pressure on him yet.  He couldn't handle it yet—he was still trying to learn to walk around normally.

(Power exploded from within the sand, and Gaara's own chakra answered it instinctually, muffling it and shoving it back.)

And…Lee didn't need that.  Trusting him.  He'd get hurt—he didn't deserve that.  Lee was…

Inwardly, Gaara would admit that he rather liked Lee.  He was…fascinating.  Puzzling.  He was decent, honest, courageous, and faithful.  He had faith in things that didn't exist, in things far too fragile for the world like trust and hope and justice and innocence.  He…Gaara still felt uneasy around him.  If he hadn't known Lee's strength and perseverance first hand, he never would've allowed his company as often as he did.  Weak things were too great a temptation around him.

Gaara had never been good at resisting at temptation, and weak things were never good at resisting him.

He kept his hands at an easy pace, his fingers keenly aware of the pulse running under them.  Keenly aware.  He could still hear the choked sounds, the struggle and sudden surge of energy that had…frankly surprised him.  It shouldn't have.  Gaara's own savage reaction to the energy surge had surprised him as well.  Merciless.  Lee was just trying to survive—it was what people did.  It was normal.

For some reason, it had made Gaara angry.  He liked Lee—he should be allowed to at least fight for his life, but he didn't want him to.  Gaara wasn't sure why—he just didn't want him to.  He just…didn't.  He didn't know why.

He didn't know the why of a lot of things.

His palms were freezing, sweating, but his wrists burned.

Gaara let go of his neck and body in almost the same moment, turning his back and stalking away before the body fell.  He heard it thump on the ground when it landed, and paced sideways, not looking at Lee and keeping an even distance from him.  His movements were agitated, jumpy, and his eyes kept on shifting.

He slung off the gourd, annoyed.

Finally he snarled, "Shut up!"

His breathing heaved—not from exhaustion, but from anger.  He rubbed his arms, fists clenching, and shoulders uneven.

"I don't care…it's none of your concern."

Gaara stilled almost instantly, eyes fading in and out of focus with thoughtfulness, and perhaps fear and remorse.  It was impossible to tell.

"Not anymore."

A compromise was reached—it was impossible to do anything else.  He had to admit, there were limits to his will, his focus and control.  An example was lying a few yards away, the body still warm.

"Not right now.  Not this one.  …Because.  I don't know.  Because."

"I don't care."

"It's…I don't know.  But not now.  Not here.  Not this time."

"I don't care—get used to it.  I'm growing up…"


Sandals stopped by Lee's head and turned him over, fingers feeling his neck.  He was still breathing, his heart still beating, but it was shallow, flimsy.  Gaara had timed it, calculated it, but he hadn't been sure if he had done it right.  Lee could've died—Gaara could've killed him, and he made a point not to let himself find out about it until it was too late to take it back.

For several seconds, Gaara stared down, wondering what he was supposed to do now. 


Tentatively, he gently aligned the spine with the brain stem and tailbone, so it was more or less straight.  Then he stared down again, at a lost.  He told himself he was just doing CPR, to get his heartbeat up to par again, opening his mouth cautiously and closing his nose, his other hand on his pulse and breathed into his mouth, slow and continuous.

The sound he made when he gasped in air again surprised him—it was curiously high-pitched, and rather wild.  Then, with more awkwardness but more certainty, he leaned back down to repeat the action. 

When Lee did open his eyes, uncomfortable and feeling like he had swallowed a couple of scissors the wrong way, he saw a lot of red.  Lots and lots of red, auburn with slashes of brown and what could've been orange in the messy strands of hair.  He blinked uneasily, something warm on his lips and something wet scratching the open cut on his jaw. 

Slowly, and long after Lee realized what was happening to him and who was doing it, Gaara opened his eyes as he inhaled shakily again, the sound out between his wet lips still high-pitched.  He noticed Lee looking at him, face blank, and stared back feeling just a tad embarrassed.

At one point, the silence stretching out, Lee punched him in the face.  It was a good shot—right along his left jaw, throwing Gaara back and slamming his teeth together again.  Then he wrestled Gaara on to his back, oblivious to the hit that glanced off his temple, and continued to hit him. 

Gaara was at a supreme disadvantage for two reasons: (1) The sand was dormant—this caused momentary shock and slowness, (2) He wasn't used to hand-to-hand combat.  Lee was. 

Gaara wasn't necessarily weak physically, but he didn't train much—there had never been a need, and little motivation to do so.  He had endurance and considerable strength—he lugged around several extra pounds on his back on a daily basis, and his body was strong enough to serve as a decent medium to the vast power of the demon without coming apart at the seams and joints.  But he had never really bothered to train physically—it just hadn't made much sense.  His movements were instinctual; his power his defense and weapon…he had never been stripped bare before.  He was only vulnerable physically when he allowed it.  He was only hurt when he allowed it.

Lee, however, had trained ever since it was possible.  First just to build up his body, then to fight.  Physical combat was his thing.  It was nearly the only thing he had.

Plus, Gaara wasn't trying to fight back all that hard.

At one point, it ended.

It felt like Lee was trying to squeeze his wrist bones together, and doing a fair job at that while grinding the flats of his hand into the dirt.  One of his eyes was bruised—it was barely visible with the insomnia rings around them, but it was there wincing, half closed.  His lower lip was bleeding.  Lee straddled his stomach, dark eyes daring him to try something with his legs, to fight more, just inviting him to try something.  He wanted him to fight—he was tired of this, with whatever the heck was Gaara's problem with him.

The sensory overload made it hard to think. 

Gaara could do little more than stare straight up and keep his face impassive—he was failing at it, and he couldn't stop his heartbeat from racing or his chest from moving like ocean waves in winter, and in truth he didn't try too hard.

He could smell his sweat, could still taste the blood from the faint cut on his jaw, his own blood from his lip, mingling in his mouth.  His body was warm and heavy on top of him, slightly oppressive and strong but still fragile.  He knew that.  Gaara knew that.  Human life…the human body was fragile.  He could've killed Lee.  He could've.  If he had held on just a tad harder, or forced his thumbs through the front of his throat ripping the skin, drowning Lee in his own blood.  He could've done.  He could've.

He couldn't even think of that now.

The smell, the touch, the heat the weight…

Fuck.  Crap.  Shit.  Other assorted expletives.  I…

Gaara swallowed hard, then licked his lips.  His face felt burnt and chilled at the same time.  Involuntarily his tongue lingered at the cut on his lower lip, and he couldn't tear his eyes away.  Lee looked strained.

"Do you hate me?"

"No," Gaara didn't even think about it.  Lee tried again.

"Do you just not like me?"

"No," he answered softer.

"Then what the hell is your problem with me?"  Lee had sworn openly, surprising them both.  His voice cracked, sounding a bit strained.  He was restraining himself; not terribly well, but he was.  It showed.

Gaara didn't even try to answer, glancing away, and then back, then finally staring off to the side.

"I'm waiting."

"Nothing you want to hear," Gaara replied softly, not caring if he heard or not.  He was getting relaxed.  He was still in pain, still reeling from the overload of physical contact and skin screaming a storm under his clothes, and enjoying it.  And he was getting relaxed.  Really, really relaxed.


Told you.

You could've killed him.

You idiot.

You absolute waste of filth.

"Try me.  Try me.  Try."

Gaara glanced back up, open and slightly chiding.  Superior.  After the shit he had just pulled and he had the nerve to look superior.  "Really.  You don't want to know."

"Quit being a coward," Lee hissed, looking really upset.  His jaw ached.  "It's getting annoying."

The look of surprise and slight anger in Gaara's eyes was satisfying.  Getting him to show any vulnerability, any human emotion, was satisfying.  Not satisfying enough to make him forgive that stupid stunt, but satisfying still.  The blush had drained from his cheeks, but Lee didn't pay much mind to it—his head was too busy with other matters.

"Do you hate me?" Gaara asked carefully, the cautiousness in it it's only redeeming quality.  Not respect—no, he had never seen Gaara respect anyone, except maybe Naruto on the rare second.  But…

"I'm angry at you!  I'm furious!  You tried to kill me!!  Do you know how, how, how wrong that just was?!?"

"I…yes."  If I wanted to kill you, you'd be dead.  You realize that—you're not dead now because I didn't want you dead.  You lived because…because you're strong enough to survive when it's still your choice.

"Then what the hell was that?!"

"Do you hate me?" Gaara repeated.  He kept his voice as un-presumptuous and soothing as he could.  "I'll answer your question…I just want to know.  It's…important."

Lee was still glaring at him, chest moving.  Gaara swallowed.

"I should—after that stunt I really should.  You're mean and cruel and you never care about anything and you always think you're right and you're not and half the time I think you're going to kill me or whatever and it's kind of stressing!  It is!  I'm sorry if that screws with your day, really, but it does stress me out and it ticks me off at the same time!  The sick thing is that I was expecting this!"


"Really," Lee hissed back.  "You're not nice to anyone else besides Naruto…you're sure not nice to me you tried to strangle me right now and that didn't win you any points so…I should.  You little creep…you don't care about anything else except yourself."

Lee inhaled deeply.  Gaara could do a good imitation of a whipped dog when he wanted to, and he did now—it was instinctual.  It wasn't deliberate—he might've not even known he was doing it, or been aware of it.  He loosened his grip on his wrists, and then let go entirely, waiting for Gaara to react.  Gaara didn't even bother to move his fingers.  He looked frozen, withdrawn.  He was hiding, and Lee found he didn't feel very much compassion for him at that moment.  Surprise, surprise.

He saw Gaara speak more than he heard him, because he wasn't really speaking as much as he was moving his lips over his teeth.  Lee couldn't hear him, and in truth didn't care all that much for whatever it was he said.  He counted to ten carefully.  Then he answered the question.

"No.  I should…but no."

It took another count of ten seconds, then another count of twenty, but Gaara's flicked up to look at his.  He didn't look so frozen anymore, but at least that self-assured empty look was out of his eyes still.  He raised his voice when he moved his lips.

"Do you like me?"  …oh.

Lee gave him a severe, skeptical look.  They were his own questions, repeated and thrown back at him.  "You do this to all your friends?  Try and kill them first before deciding you like them?  Or am I just that special?"

"I don't have friends…before you.  You know that.  I just…want to know.  It's important."

Lee hated himself—sometimes, he really did.  Any sane human male would've continued to hit him after that trick, and would've marched off in their right because trying to kill people and then expecting them to be okay with it was damn stupid.  It was stupid.  Gaara was stupid—and cruel and raw and selfish and…and…

Alone.  So alone.  It was…frightening.  Especially when he was looking up at him like that.

But instead of leaving him alone, like Lee's instincts were telling him to because there was something just wrong with Gaara, the natural compassion he had always had and courage that Gai had invested him with wiggled their way out of him in strange, unnatural, and possibly self-destructive ways.  Gaara was unhealthy—he knew that, anyone could tell that. 

But even unhealthy people deserved some slack somewhere.  He was still human, after all.

"Right now?  No, no I don't like you.  I'd go so far to say I really wish you hadn't met me, and that I hadn't been stupid enough to try and be friends.  Yeah…yeah I was stupid.  But I…"

Gaara was still looking at him, waiting judgment and an answer.  Totally…clueless.  Absolutely clueless.  Lee hit himself mentally again as he melted a little more.

"Normal people don't do that!  Try to kill each other—they don't!  Not if they're friends or they're just talking—only if they're fighting or they hate each other or they're enemies and we're not!  Not that last time I checked, unless you really want to be and at this point that's fine with me!  Okay?  All right?"

He was still looking at him like that.  That look.  He wasn't getting angry or even defensive.  He was just…taking it.

"Normal people don't do that Gaara."

"I'm not normal."

"No kidding!  You're..." Lee counted to six.  "No you're not.  Your…your lip healed.  That's quick healing…even for me.  Even for you.  But…still.  That doesn't make it okay—it's not all right.  Don't do it again.  Okay?"

There was a pause, as two hundred and thirty seven years of life and survival instincts studied and gawked at the earnest, honest ragged optimist behind dark glasses, thirteen years of teenage boy looking along with them.  In the end, the 13 years won over the 237.

"Okay.  I…I'm sorry."

Lee looked…and the fight drained from his shoulders.  Sometimes, Gaara could be too raw.  He leaned back, his back straight from years of maintaining good posture.  He was still angry, but he couldn't hit a guy who wasn't fighting back, barely bothering to defend himself.

"It's…it's not all right.  Never.  But…just don't do it again, okay?  It's…it's not nice."

"No.  No I guess not."  Gaara stared up at the sky, searching.  There was never a bottom to the sky, never a limit or an end.  That…size could be frightening sometimes.  Others, it was a comfort.  Gaara had grown up in the desert—without trees or limits.  Lee started to move off his stomach.

"Do you still want to know?"


"My…problem.  With you."

"Oh…sure." Lee rubbed his arm, Gaara's fingerprints still imprinted on his skin.  "But you leave my neck alone this time—and you don't try and kill me again.  I don't mind fighting with you if it's in a spar or training, but we are not trying to kill each other: Deal?"

Gaara blinked, his eyes still on the sky.  Then he half-sat up, since Lee was still on his stomach, and balanced on his hands behind him.  His eyes were focused again, calculating and cold.  Planning.

"No.  No deal."

Lee's eyes bugged.  "Why?"

"Because.  I like your neck.  I like you.  That's my problem."

There was a moment of necessary surprise and confusion on Lee's part while he tried to make sense of that, "What?  How's that a--" Gaara watching him cold and predatorily, eye still bruised before leaning in to lick the cut on his jaw.

Lee gaped, panicked, boggled, and mentally flailed.  He didn't scream though, and didn't push away.

Things came together at rushing speeds uncomfortably—the way Gaara would stare at him, calculate him, be a royal pain one second and a godsend the next and do it all deliberately because he was always looking for a reaction, his reaction to whatever garbage he felt like throwing out in the open…

How he always twitched when he was touched.  Lee had…honestly thought it was just because he wasn't used to it, but even if he wasn't used to it, that didn't explain the, the licking going on at his neck.

Lee was naïve.  He was not stupid.

Gaara had blushed.  Just like he was doing now.  Blood had actually moved under that rock hard surface of skin, had actually made him vulnerable and displayed what he felt (he had actually felt something to make him blush??) and what he was thinking and…


Gaara's right hand kept his head in place, while his tongue treated his jaw and neck like an ice cream cone—something for him to experience, not focused on what Lee was feeling and not caring either.

Finally, Lee managed to stammer out, "You…you always do this to people you like?"

Gaara paused thoughtfully, his tongue over the carotid artery, feeling his pulse and heartbeat throb, smelling his sweat fresh on his skin and clotted in his hair.  He thought of Yashamura, and the time she had cut herself to make a point he had barely understood, and of Temari when she had been knocked out and bleeding from the head and Kankuro busy.  There had just been him to help her. 


Then he pushed Lee off, getting up unsteadily and slinging the gourd on his back, the sand sliding back in without his notice or attention.

Lee stayed on the ground in an uncertain heap, watching him while he moved like it didn't matter.  Finally, he said, "Your arms are trembling."

Gaara stopped and held one arm out, looking at it with mild disapproval.  It was shaking, and that stopped eventually.  "Not anymore."  Then he left.


Five years' time.

Lee surveyed the aftermath somberly from the grassy cliff overlooking the battlefield far away—a good deal of the men down there had been killed by him, for the sake of the village, for the sake of something greater than he was—the community.  Incidentally, a good deal of the bodies down there were people he had known.  People he had talked to. 

He felt the man approaching from behind, but didn't turn around even when an arm slid around his waist and chin hooked over his shoulder.  Gaara had always been shorter than him, no matter how wild his hair or eyes got.

Gaara looked down.  Lots of men down there had been killed by him, and he had had fun doing it.  And it was legal too, so there was nothing for him to feel guilty about or people to hate him for—wonderfully convenient.  It was supposed to be the final big battle in this Conflict, but he was looking forward to the next one.  There would always be another war, another fight—it was only a matter of time.

"It doesn't…seem fair, does it?"

He could feel Gaara shrug.  He didn't have to look to know he was smirking—Gaara couldn't hide all of it from his voice, only most of it.  "It's done.  They're dead now."

Lee let that hang.  He had never got accustomed to Gaara's way of thinking—he probably never would, and he never really wanted to.  He could feel teal eyes scrutinizing his face carefully from the side—Gaara still smelled of blood.  He was always hyper after a battle, especially if there was blood, for hours sometimes.  While the dead were still being accounted for and Lee's injuries bandaged up earlier that night, Gaara reappeared in the shadows long after he was supposed to, looking deeply satisfied and pleased with himself, a little bloodied, and unharmed.  He had even smiled a bit, and wouldn't keep still in one place.  His teeth weren't tinted pink anymore though—they were normal white.  Gaara was, very slowly and ineffectually, becoming domesticated.

"Don't grieve for them," Lee heard warmly in his ear.  "They died doing what they wanted.  They lost nothing…don't waste your time."

"I don't think like that—don't mess about.  I…  You're not good for me.  You're not."

"No," Gaara agreed easily.  He felt relaxed, and content.  He was full, and Lee was there to torture.  Things were pleasant.  "Probably not.  On the other hand, neither is a broken neck."

"You threatening me?"

"Perhaps.  I don't know.  Do you want me to?"   Lee pushed away rather hard, moving forward.  Gaara looked surprised, before grinning toothily.

"Nice boys always finish last—we're friends.  You said so yourself.  You started it…you wanted it."

"I didn't say we weren't."

"So what?  You're just cranky?"

"Death doesn't make everyone happy Gaara.  Grow up."

"I am grown up, boy.  I don't waste my time on what I don't need to.  You'll catch cold out here anyway…and you're hurt."

Lee hesitated.  It was one of the…irritating things about Gaara.  His attention wasn't always a good thing, but sometimes it was a lifesaver.  Often it was both at the same time.

"They sent you?"

"Nah…they were planning to send the girl.  I said I'd do it," Gaara stretched his arms over his head luxuriously, glancing at the bodies with the air of a craftsman appreciating his own work. 

Lee delayed.  "I…I'm busy.  Right now.  They'll…the bodies'll be burned tomorrow.  It won't be here tomorrow."

"It's hygienic.  The enemy laces their dead with poisons, and if they got their hands on our soldiers they'd—"

"I understand the facts.  That doesn't make it better.  Just…go away.  I'll go back in my own time, Gaara."

Gai-sensei would've said something substantial.  Something warm…something comforting and humane that would've made it easier to bear.  Gai-sensei would've.  He…

Lee rubbed his arms.

Instead, there was only Gaara.

Lee wasn't in the habit of regretting his actions or second-guessing himself, but there were times when he would look at Gaara at wonder at himself.

"They're dead.  You're alive.  It'd be damn stupid if you died from a cold just because you wanted to lick your wounds."

"Shut up," Lee said quietly.  He meant every word of it.  It was rare for him to rude, but he was tired.  Deep down tired.  Silently, he heard Gaara come from behind again.  "Hit me," Lee added seriously, "and you won't like it."

"Or what?  You'll hit me too?"

"Maybe.  I don't know.  But you won't like it."

There was a silence, then a hand on his shoulder.  It stayed there for a second, and then tugged backwards, gently, as it left.  There were few Gaara would willingly touch on his own initiative.  "C'mon.  Don't.  You're making them worried.  The girl's worried about you."

"She'll be all right a few moments longer," Lee said quietly to his own surprise.  That wasn't like him…but he wasn't feeling very much like him right then.  He wasn't feeling….he was feeling sick.  Truth be told, he was feeling very sick.  Not in his stomach, but in his lungs, his throat, especially aching right in the center marrow of his bones.  He ached inside, and the ache went very, very deep.  So deep and strong that it didn't hurt so very much anymore.

Gaara was surprised.  He could hear that in the silence, and couldn't even take pleasure from it.  Lee let the silence hang, before letting a bit of the…swirly-ness in the dark insides of his bones come out.

"Why do you do it?  Kill, I mean?"

"…It's what I do.  It's what I'm good at, like you're good at being a nuisance.  You should be getting back--"

"Is that why don't sleep?"

"What?" the pleasure went out of Gaara's voice.

"I…  I haven't been sleeping much either.  I see too many dead people when I do.  None of them are very happy to see me, either.  They're not…they're not happy at all.  Is that why you don't sleep?"

Gaara was…any other time, Lee would've been shocked to see him looking like that, or at best, concerned.  It wasn't his normal blank, spacey look, or even the raw vulnerable look.  It looked…defensive.  Vaguely hunted.  As it was, Lee only felt a little surprise through the blanketing shock he was in.  Gaara's eyes narrowed. 

"Something…like that."

Silence.  His palms chilled and burned at the same time, along with the skin on his throat and upper chest.  It was only Lee, inconsequential, goofy-looking and weaker than him but…  "There is someone waiting for me.  When I fall asleep.  If that's what you mean."

It was more information than he wanted to volunteer, but he did so willingly and cautiously.

Lee looked away, back towards the battlefield even though he really couldn't see the faces, just dark forms thrown here and there on the grass or between the trees.  It wasn't much to look at, but he knew what was down there.  His mind was…elsewhere.

"You aren't human, are you?  Not like us…not like me.  That's why you can move like you do."  Lee paused—not because he was nervous or couldn't think of what else to say, but because right then there was nothing left to say.  "I always wondered.  It was obvious, but then it was…  I wanted to thank you.  For saving my life again.  …How's your shoulder?"


"Have you had it checked out?"

"No.  My…I don't need it."

"You should anyway.  Just in case."  The temperature dropped steadily as the wind picked—nothing romantic or breezy or even very loud, just a steady mundane blowing that made the setting's temperature drop.  Lee turned around to glance at his companion curiously.  "Did you think I was stupid?"


"You look surprised though."

"I didn't want you to know."

"Oh."  Lee looked away again—Gaara was only slightly important.  He wasn't a big deal.  Not right now.  "It's in the way you move," was the only explanation he felt needed to be given.  On the side, Lee noted he had found something that disturbed Gaara.  He only noted it—he didn't actually plan to do anything with it.

"You were only saving me though, I noticed.  I thought…since I was being, you know," Lee shrugged uncomfortably, "protected or whatever, that people near would be too.  But they weren't.  Why was that?"

There was no answer.  Lee wondered, without turning around or checking, if he was alone and talking to himself.  Gaara had one that to him before—walked out while he was in the middle of a sentence.

"I'm not going to let go of this.  Unless you plan on avoiding me for the rest of your life.  You'd do something like that…I don't want you to.  I kind of like your company…"


Oh.  So he wasn't talking to empty space this time.  "Yes.  I know," he said, though he wasn't sure what he knew right then.  "But I'd still like to know why."

"…I can't do everything.  I have limits."

"I know.  I just…thought it was a bit unusual.  You know," Lee shrugged.  He wasn't terribly pleased with himself, with what he was about to do, but he was human and tired down to the soul and…hurt.  In a way that wasn't anybody's fault really, except for the entire world, so he really couldn't hold it against anyone since it was everyone's fault, including Gaara's.  It was just Gaara's luck he was near by and slightly self-destructive himself. 

"I'd also like to know why you watch me when you think I'm asleep."

There.  The words were out in the open and now that Lee had gotten lots of time to get to know him better, nearly five years, he assumed pretty accurately that Gaara's first move would be to leave immediately or hit him.  He kept talking before any of that actually happened though.

"I mean…I'm not stupid.  I'm not.  But…I am tired.  And…"

"And I don't like what I saw today," Lee added.  "I really don't.  I mean…it wasn't okay.  It wasn't right.  It wasn't anybody's fault and the people who died might've done because they thought it was the right thing, but the deaths served no purpose.  What the Hokage-sama did…it helped us.  We're alive, so it really helped us out.  But it made them…" 

He struggled for the right word.  The correct word.  The exact description, and found he couldn't find one that fitted them with honor.

"Extra protein?" Gaara slid in without honor.  Lee hesitated, and then did nothing. 

"She did it for us.  I know that…she did the right thing, because she surrendered to keep any more of us from dying, but it wasn't the okay thing.  It was the right thing, but it wasn't okay.  And we won too—we won the battle, you were with us after all, but we had to surrender the whole war.  Everything.  Like it didn't…"

"I know…I don't know what I know anymore."  Lee hugged himself.  He had fought well—he knew that.  He wasn't boasting to himself—he just knew he had.  No posing, nothing fancy, nothing that took up too much time or would put him at unnecessary risk.  The fighting had been…cold.  Very, very cold.  Impersonal, distant, and now without glory.  He wasn't used to things like that.

"I lost friends down there," Lee continued quietly, nearly to himself.  "And more.  Everyone did."

"I didn't."

"You could've.  You could've and you know it so don't mess around.  Not now.  I don't feel like it now…"

"…You should get back."  They didn't have time for discussions like this—it was over.  "It could always be a last minute trick, you know.  A tactical strategy.  You're being stupid."

The savagery that answered him almost seemed out of place—Gaara was used to hostilities.  Just not from Lee, who still wore the funky green jumpsuit, didn't swear much, hadn't changed his haircut and talked to squirrels. 

"Does it bother you?  At all?" Lee had whirled on him, eyes cutting and hurt.  "The people you've killed, the people you've seen die…does it ever bother you or is it just another day in the office to you?  Just another part of the week, just another, another," Lee waved his hands wildly while he continued to back Gaara into a tree.  He was still frozen, to a degree, but he was also angry, "just another distraction?  Just another fling?"

Gaara hit him.

Lee took it stoically, allowing his head to roll with blow, his jaw aching as fresh wounds whimpered at the addition of pain.  He had seen it coming.  He had felt worse.  Then he struck back.  Again, the sand didn't rise to stop him.  Gaara didn't dodge it, and he was left for a few seconds just staring at the white expanse of skin from his collarbone up along the side of his neck and cheek.  Patiently, Lee waited to see if he would be hit again.  Gaara's face turned back towards him, staring at his chest and looking…strained.  The sangfroid was gone from his eyes, which were carefully controlled.  He had hurt him—strangely, Lee didn't feel guilty.  He felt…actually a little pleased.  So.  Gaara wasn't so untouchable after all.

"Don't.  Tempt me."

"Or what?  You'll kill me?  Beat me up?  Why should I be afraid of you?"


"I want you to spell it out.  I want you to spell it out loud and clear.  Why should I be afraid of you?"

"You don't think I'll kill you."

"I don't care."

His nerves were on end—Lee always overdid.  It was partly a habit, and partly a psychological reflex.  He didn't like being left behind—he wouldn't allow himself to be left behind, or smothered in the pack.  So he overdid.  Gai had managed to temper his own impulses, to a degree, and tried to teach Lee to do the same, but Lee wasn't as old as Gai was.  He stared hard, picking up on the steady shallow breaths he could see under the skin, but couldn't see the eyes.  Gaara's eyes had always said so much more than his face did, and were much more honest than his mouth was.  But he couldn't see his eyes.

In the end, Gaara tried to leave.

Lee had shoved him back, back against the tree, and shoved their mouths together, the teeth clinking and lips getting crushed painfully.  He was stressed.  He was really stressed.

Gaara's habit of licking his wounds—literally peeling off the bandages and licking them—hadn't stopped through the years, though it had eased off.  It always struck Lee as unsanitary—for both of them.  But Gaara didn't get sick; ever.  And neither did his wounds get infected.  It didn't make sense, but then nothing Gaara did made sense.  Not from glaring at Sakura, to the point of being visibly abusive despite her friendliness and nonchalance, to harassing Lee at odd hours in the morning and watching him while he thought he was sleeping. 

Lee wasn't stupid.  Naïve, yes, dutiful and absurdly reliable, perhaps unimaginative and decent, but he wasn't stupid.  After a while—and he had had a long time to think things over—he had gotten over his initial shock, his initial fear, and the options presented seemed…interesting.  Dangerous, unsettling, but it was an open door.  It was something to keep in mind.

And as Gaara struggled against him—not as hard as he could've, Lee knew that like he knew his own strength—and he shoved him harder against the trunk, sandwiching the skinny body—because he still didn't work out as much as he should've even though Lee managed to drag him along to train most times and Gaara almost always cheated his way out of things—and feeling only a little awkward because he was too frozen to feel self-conscious and too sure to feel bad, Lee finally opened the door a little wider.

There were nails digging into his shoulders, and it didn't hurt.  It felt…curiously exciting.  He could feel Gaara panicking, but not fighting very hard.  The blood was rushing to his head, through his arms, and now that the initial rush had gone out of his lips and neck, his tongue actually felt…quite pleasant.  Warm, wet, and very demanding, but Gaara had always had a very demanding personality when it actually showed.  Gaara was panicking, yes, but he wasn't fighting very hard.

He had never been very good at resisting temptation.

Lee's own movements were…stable.  A little slow, just a tad shy, but moving steadily forward with no sign of turning back.  He wanted this.  He wanted the knees kicking irrationally at his legs as Gaara tried to push himself higher while he kissed him back hard, shamelessly, tried to pull him closer and push him farther away like he couldn't make up his mind.  That was fine.  Lee could, and he had. 

He rubbed his shoulder reassuringly, soothingly with his thumb while his other hand just traced over Gaara's neck because he didn't quite have the nerve to do more, not yet, still not yet, feeling a bit oversized and not having much time to think about it because Gaara was trying to climb him like a tree while attacking his mouth and rubbing against him hungrily, like a cat, nails and heels digging in where convenient and scratching when Lee winced from the scratches or jabs.  Gaara's tongue stroked the back of his molars, and his head was getting dizzy, light.

It's…this is…this…wait we…this…

He tried to stay stable.  He really did.  But there's only so far a deprived stressed-out body can stay stable when another lean body has it's legs wrapped around the waist and arms wrapped around the neck of the previous one.  It didn't help Lee that hips were pressing hurriedly into his stomach, or that his jumpsuit was rubbing hard against his skin every time Gaara moved his own body against him, making him feel hotter than he really was, making his clothes feel smaller than they really were.  It really didn't help that his body had intentions of it's own—his movements were rougher than he would've liked, than what he thought himself capable of.

Finally, even Lee's endurance cracked as he startled himself and he started to push away.

"We can't we—"

Gaara's mouth latched onto the space under his jaw religiously, sucking at his skin before biting down hard.  Lee cringed, blushed darkly at the small growl of pleasure he heard that wasn't his, and bit his lip when he was bitten again and the skin licked over and groaned in his throat to his own embarrassment.

This wasn't happening.   This wasn't happening.   This wasn't happening.  

They had just…just decided they were really okay with each other this couldn't possibly be happening…it couldn't.

He heard himself whimper in his throat.

His body twitched on it's own when it was bit gently, slowly, the hairs standing on end and hands digging into the tree and through Gaara's arm, petting him gently.  His pelvis was steadily pandering against Gaara's leg, and he felt a little wet between his legs. 

Oh crap.  Oh crap.  Oh no oh no oh…oh man that's…

He couldn't back off though, because Gaara's teeth were still too close to his neck and he knew what kind of animal instincts he had, and one hand tightly gripping his buttocks and shoving him forward, examining him at spastic, uncertain intervals.  Besides, while it felt scary, it also felt good, exciting, like running on air.  He was never sure if it would end and he'd fall and afraid it would if he stopped.

He didn't truly panic, however, until he felt fingers running up his back—the tongue on his throat was still putting him to sleep, still making him gasp and moan shakily while his eyes slid closed and snapped back open—pressing into the muscles and along the spine in a way that made his skin squirm even more and…

Heard the zipper at the back of jumpsuit start to come down.

He couldn't just jump back—he had to fight his way out and was scratched and bruised for it.  Gaara tackled him, snarling, and eyes flashing and—they were green.  Lime green.  Bright green mixed with too much yellow.  They really did flash in the night, and it was a ringing in his ears that Lee was straddled with only one hand captured, most of Gaara's weight leaning on his shoulder.

His teeth were a brilliant white, eyes a brilliant lime green color, hair dark red and skin still pale.  He looked angry, but that was a normal thing for him—he was snarling too, but Lee had seen a lot of that already.  His eyes though…his eyes…

The ringing in Lee's ears dulled, but he could still hear a slithering noise besides his own thundering heartbeat.  He didn't glance away from the eyes that pinned him there like a butterfly to cardboard, but he recognized the sound.  It sounded like he would be waist deep in a sandbox if he stood up.  The temperature wasn't as cold—the space was enclosed, protected from the elements.  The sand was there en masse. 

He's going to kill me.  He's really going to—he won't do something like that.  He wouldn't do something like that.  He wouldn't—that's not what he does…

…anymore.  Lately.  Except for this afternoon.

Lee's eyes moved without him wanting them to, moving towards the cliffside that still overlooked—

And yelped when his shoulder was…shocked, it felt like.  It certainly caught his attention, though the skin didn't feel broken.  Bruised, yes, but not broken.


Lee looked up, still a little shaky, still reeling slightly from the pain, still more than a little stunned by the eyes that weren't Gaara's eyes.  Still pushy though.  Still pushing him around like it was all right just because Gaara was stronger.  Like it was okay, even though it wasn't.

Lee shoved him backwards as he sat up, shoving his weight back to him.  Gaara looked…startled.  Startled, but still angry, still possessive, and slightly contemptuous.  It was nothing new, but he also looked…nervous.  That was okay—Lee was a little upset and nervous too.  The longer Lee held his gaze…the more the yellow anger drained.  Gaara looked…a little disappointed too.

Lee reached out and touched his jaw right before he looked away completely.

This time, when he kissed him, he was in complete control.

The same wild hunger was there, barely restrained but restrained enough.  Lee set the pace—they were still young, still nervous about themselves and changes.  Gaara's first reaction was to go with his instincts and get it over with as soon as possible.  Lee's first reaction was something…slower.  Deliberate.  Daisies should be involved somewhere, but even he knew that wouldn't fit here.  Daisies and Gaara did not belong in the same sentence.  So he settled for what did belong.

A/N: End!  Well…sort of.  This is the main ending, but the fic actually goes on a bit longer to a slightly more limey ending, not a whole lot, but it does.  That version is posted on my live-journal, and you can visit it, but the most part it ends here   Hope you liked it!