Joint project BullyKilla and neonate.
Characters: Neji, Sakura, Lee, Gai-sensei, Hyuuga Hiashi, Shino, Chouji.
Summary: How does the budding relationship of Neji and Sakura fare as Gai laments, Lee investigates, Hiashi lectures, Shino still gossips, and Chouji loses sleeps?
Disclaimer: Legal disclaimer applied. Unfortunately until we learn how to make a proper one, you'll never see it here.
This wacky tale of youth and romance is dedicated to
the invaluable readers and reviewers of
It was a gloomy day indeed for one Konoha child. He woke up that day to find that his favorite toothpaste dried and done for. Most unfortunate, since his prided smile would not be as shiny and sparkly as it usually was. This troubled him greatly and he felt at unease. In his heart there was a growing dread that promised an unexpected, unwanted ominous happening that should occur that day. The child—Rock Lee as he was known to his friends and better elders—tried to shrug away the heavy feeling, but to no avail. He left home without even looking at the mirror twice.
Walking to his destined training ground, he was overwhelmed with giddy stares and reluctant greetings from passersby he met along the way. Lee's smile faltered as his forced cheerful attitude crumbled and instinctively his hands flew to his hair to check for abnormalities. Feeling none, he sighed in relief. Lee would rue the day when, ever, one strand of his bowl-cut top was out of place. Utterly confused, but still with magnificent display of youthful flare, he strode forward, determined not to let his inner turmoil affect his training.
A deafening voice—"Lee, for the love of Hokage, stop where you are!"—halted the green-clad boy. He turned and reflexively fell to a fighting stance before recognizing his beloved sensei's figure.
"Gai-sensei? Good-" he began.
Before he could finish his polite 'good morning', the older man had rushed and enveloped him in a breathless bear hug, effectively drowning the rest of the sentence. "Ooh, Lee! My darling boy, I am so glad I've found you!"
If Rock Lee were a different and less unique child than he was, this display of genuine care and affection, not to mention suffocating, might send him running to the other direction immediately. As it was, however, he relished in the thought that his teacher was such an attentive man that greeted his student in a happy and loving manner. Although it was slightly more explosive than usual, Lee admitted.
"Speak no more, my dear boy. There is something of great urgency that I must discuss with you. I take that you have not read the morning paper yet?" While saying this, Maito Gai stirred the unsuspecting Lee away from the crowd that began to form around them. Lee could not help but catch whispers and sideway glances directed to him, and instantly he sobered.
"No," he answered his teacher's question. "I have no time to read the paper in the morning, Gai-sensei. I need to practice!"
"Good, very good. Don't forget that youthful spirit of yours! Now, come with me."
"Sensei, what's so important?" Lee asked.
"Speak not of it here!" Gai whispered hurriedly. "It is best if we are alone when I tell you." The seasoned Jounin wondered how much destruction his cute, little Lee could cause when he heard about the news. Ah, youthful pains. 'Twas better if his favorite student (without any further pretense that there was no partiality from his behalf) was informed by a known and trusted figure, as Maito Gai saw himself to be.
That morning, when Gai had dazzled the newspaper boy as usual with his charming personality (and perfect, blinding white smile), the boy had cheekily implied about the impending doom that awaited one of Konoha's strongest rookie team. Love triangle, nonetheless!
The article in the front page of Konoha Shinbun that Gai subscribed to spoke for itself. But before that, above the short yet controversial piece of writing was one large colored picture of a couple, sitting leisurely under the shade of a big tree, caught in a tender moment. Gai had at once recognized the bare-chested boy to be his own tenacious disciple and Lee's teammate, Hyuuga Neji, from his coffee-colored hair.
Disbelief had been his first initial reaction, followed by a very loud cry of triumph. Finally, the spring of Neji's youth had arrived! He had began to worry that Neji was, well, behind in his emotional development, seeing how disinterested the boy was with other people. How glad Gai was that he had been mistaken. Even Neji felt the heat of youth and embraced it wholeheartedly. Look how free he is, shirtless and happy, Gai had fondly thought. But how was it a love triangle?
Then he read the article.
And realized that doom—for indeed, there was no other word fitting for the fate that surely would befall his much-loved team—was near.
He had, for quite some time, been aware that little Lee harbored some affection for a certain kunoichi from Hatake Kakashi's team. To be honest, he found that Lee's crush on Haruno Sakura quite cute. Secretly he had been cheering for his student because Gai remembered how it was to be young. The sweetness of youth!
But fate could be such a cruel mistress sometimes, because the girl Neji was kissing in that picture was Haruno Sakura herself!
Neji, not Lee!
Gai could not imagine a worse scenario than this. He had to be the one telling Lee that the girl of his dream had been snatched away under his very eyes by his own teammate. If this didn't ruin the teamwork that they had been building for almost two years, Gai would gladly do laps around Konoha in pink tutu a thousand times. He had prepared the tutu, just in case.
Oh, the grief!
As quick as his mind darted back and forth between past and present, Gai led Lee away from downtown area to avoid the curious crowd. When they had arrived in a more secluded part of Konoha—somewhere very sparsely inhabited, Gai just couldn't take the risk—he made Lee swear not to kill anything or anyone. Lee nodded in solemn promise, though he was confused by his teacher's request. Knowing the boy's pledge was to be trusted Gai handed Lee the newspaper to read.
Several minutes passed in ominous silence.
Then suddenly large, gaping craters were formed all around the area.
- - - - - - - -
Somewhere in the village, at the same time, one boy was being heavily scolded by a middle-aged man with eerie silver eyes. In the middle of a spacious room where they sat facing each other, the tension was palpable. Head down, the boy wished for nothing other than a pair of earmuffs to block the screeching voice of his uncle, which grew steadily worse with every passing minute.
"The headline and that picture! It's on the front page of Konoha Shinbun, Neji! Do you understand how grave the situation is!"
The boy, Neji, nodded absent-mindedly. It had become an automatic response for him since the yelling had begun an hour ago.
"A disgrace to our name! What on earth were you thinking? Haven't I taught you anything!" the head of the Hyuuga clan bellowed.
"I'm sorry, Hiashi-sama," came his standardized reply.
"Apology is not enough, nephew. You must rectify this problem immediately, or the Hyuuga reputation will be tainted!"
"Yes, Hiashi-sama." An effective comeback, results guaranteed.
"And what is this nonsense of an article?'The infamously impassive Hyuuga Neji was seen smiling and laughing along with his ladylove?' Tell me, nephew! Is this true!"
Neji frowned. Now he had to answer because there was no constructed reply for this particular question. "I do not remember laughing."
"And the picture!" Hyuuga Hiashi shrieked. "Your upper torso was uncovered! Sacrilege!"
"Yesterday was an especially hot day," Neji answered calmly, though he was actually fidgeting a bit.
"But the picture made you look like a cover boy! Oh, for Hokage's sake, I couldn't believe I just said that…." Hiashi took a deep breath and gave himself a moment of silence before continuing in a hushed, grave tone, "Do you realize what this will do to our image?"
The Hyuuga boy gulped. Somehow his uncle's soft voice sent chills down to his spine and he could not ignore it. Neji did know what the picture and the article would do to the Hyuuga clan's image.
"As Konoha's strongest and most noble clan, we cannot afford a lighthearted appearance, Neji. If other people see us like this," Hiashi flicked the newspaper with disgust, "they will stop respecting our capabilities as ninja! A Hyuuga male does not smile and laugh in public. He smirks, if he must!"
"I understand, Hiashi-sama."
"And when he is with a lover in public, he will keep his hands to himself."
Lover? Wait a minute…
"Hiashi-sama, Sakura's not—"
"Because he is in control of his own emotions, like the good shinobi he is."
"Yes, but—" Neji tried again.
"Don't interrupt me, young man!"
"There will be no public display of affection unfitting of a Hyuuga male. Is that clear?"
"Yes. But, I—"
Hiashi raised a hand to stop his nephew and sighed. "Of course, the proper thing to do is introducing your woman to the family first. We do not need to know who you're dating from the newspaper, Neji."
At that moment, Neji's brain stopped working for the first time in his fourteen years. Tongue-locked, he couldn't even utter a squeak to counter his uncle's statement.
Hiashi took Neji's stunned silence as an affirmative response, and continued calmly, "After that, according to tradition, we can discuss about your engagement over dinner with her family. Oh my, we haven't invited anyone to dinner parties in years."
Reviving slightly from the shock, Neji sensed that he'd better set the misunderstanding right before his uncle started planning the wedding.
"The engagement can take years, as in my case, but do not worry about it. As long as the family approves, there—"
"I don't plan to marry her," Neji blurted, "and we're not in a relationship."
"We just met yesterday," Neji confessed, too late in noticing the dark scowl that began to form in his uncle's face. "I don't really know her before."
Hiashi's scowl deepened. "What about that picture then, nephew?"
Neji shrugged nervously. "We got carried away, I guess." He had never lied to his uncle before, but telling an angry Hiashi the whole truth would mean a fate far worse than death. Let his uncle assume that he had been dallying with Haruno Sakura. Neji couldn't possibly let his uncle know that he had fainted because of a silly heatstroke and Sakura had cared for him while he had been knocked out. Fainting in public (without engaging in a fight) was possibly the most offensive act of weakness a Hyuuga male could do, and the consequences were unspeakable.
"So," Hiashi spoke dangerously, "you are telling me that you had indulged in an indecent behavior with an unknown girl in broad daylight?"
Hiashi made it sound like he had no scruples whatsoever, but Neji forced the lie through his teeth anyway. "Yes."
"No dinner party then?" the Hyuuga elder asked tonelessly.
Neji shook his head. "I'm afraid not, Hiashi-sama."
"Nephew," hissed Hiashi venomously, "you have exactly three seconds before I use the Divine Punishment on you."
- - - - - - - -
Three hours and three seconds since Lee's fists had made the first contact with the dry earth, the ground around Gai's hiding place was dented everywhere. He understood that Lee needed to vent his frustration and anger in solace, so the considerate Jounin left him alone. Unfortunately, the depth of Lee's rage was mirrored in the depths of the craters he made. Gai considered telling the Hokage to name the newly deformed area a volcanic attraction site, even though there was no mountain to be seen. It would surely help the village's financial problems.
But when Lee cried and his tears formed a small pool of water that quickly evaporated under the blazing sun, Gai changed his mind. Maybe a site of hot water springs would be more appropriate and profitable, if only Lee would hit around some more. Another income won't hurt.
The Jounin sighed. Konoha's economy wasn't his business, but it was so much easier to deal with compared to the problem at hand.
Poor Lee. He had just experienced his first heartbreak and how he suffered. It is never easy, but to have the girl you like snatched away by your own friend must've felt like a betrayal. How would this affect the boys' friendship?
Gai shuddered at the thought.
He didn't want to imagine what would happen if Lee confronted Neji, but the showdown would be inevitable. It would come.
Gai just hoped that he still had a team after everything was said and done.
He glanced for the last time at the still rampaging, tearful boy and shook his head sadly before going back to the village.
He's still a kid, after all.
- - - - - - - -
Crash. A crater.
Thump. Another crater.
Why him of all people?
Rock Lee dropped to his knees, sniffling.
He knows how I feel about her. He knows!
Despair soon turned into anger. Lee wiped his eyes dry and clenched his dirty fists. What does he know about Sakura-san? When has he shown any interest on girls, anyway? How could he do this to me! I thought we were friends!
Inconsiderate jerk, Lee thought of Neji while sniffing his runny nose.
His thoughts came back to the first question that came up to his mind. Why Neji?
Lee started absentmindedly picking blades of dried grass. Why does she choose him? What does he have that I don't?
Lee paused, the grass forgotten. Well, a lot I guess. But that doesn't mean that he's better than I am!
Lee paused again. Is he?
Fear crept into his heart. What does Sakura-san see in him? His…looks, probably? But what made her notice him now?
Lee's clueless mind was filled with jumbled thoughts that he desperately tried to make sense. He searched his brain for possible recollections of anything that could possibly resemble Neji's or Sakura's interests in each other. He found none. Then why the sudden mutual interests? Lee couldn't help but think that there was something curious about their relationship.
The why's quickly added, along with Lee's growing jealousy. He was not a stranger to the emotion. There were times in the past when all he could feel was envy so overwhelming he thought that he could hate the world forever for being unfair. But every time he felt that way, he was reminded that his goal to become a shinobi was never impossible. Gai-sensei had made sure that his path existed, although paved with back-breaking hard work and pain that promised no time for a petty jealousy.
For Lee, there is a way to everything.
At that moment, he wanted nothing but to kick a certain prodigy's butt to the sun. Since the literal sun was still a bit too far, Lee settled with a mental image of him defeating Neji in a fight. The bit that he especially liked about his imagination was the look of disbelief and horror on his teammate's face.
Yeah. That'll be sweet.
The problem was, it would take him years to make the appealing picture a reality and he didn't have years. Lee wanted to defeat Neji at that very moment.
(Or next week. Either way works fine, it's negotiable.)
After thinking several options thoroughly, Rock Lee came up with an ingenious solution. If he could not level Neji to the ground with his taijutsu, then he might be able to do it some other way.
Surely even Neji has a weakness.
Ah, that made things so much simpler. If Lee could find out what Neji's weakness was, then he could probably beat him in there. If Lee wanted to be more creative, he could already picture his Sakura-san gushing about his victory over the cold-hearted jerk. Perhaps, after seeing his prowess, the pink-haired angel would decide that Lee was the better man to be with.
Then suddenly a thought occurred to Lee. What if, mind you this was purely a speculation, what if she was forced into the relationship? What if Sakura-san was threatened to become Neji's girlfriend?
He'd never thought of it, but it might be possible! Neji is, after all, socially inept, Lee convinced himself. The only thing he knows in this life is how to fight.
What if, Lee's mind raced ahead, what if Neji has been harboring some feelings towards Sakura-san but he does not know how to confess the proper way?
Oh, that makes so much sense!
He probably picked a fight with her! Sakura-san had to be scared to death so she agreed to that unnatural relationship!
That did it. The matter now had become more than a mere rivalry over a girl. To Lee, it had become a mission.
A mission to save the damsel in distress! A mission to slay the socially awkward dragon who kept the princess imprisoned within its claws!
A rescue mission. Oh, yeah!
Now he had to find a way to defeat Neji.
Reinvigorated with determination, Lee started to plot.
To be continued
We started Seeking Comfort without any plan of making a sequel. As the story progresses, it acquires a life of its own and truthfully, it's impossible to fit the whole thing into the originally planned four chapters. What was once a merry, simple story has become a hybrid of a monster and a dominatrix of psychological drama. Sort of.
Thus, as we ended the first installment (pretty abruptly, sorry to say), we wanted to know the readers' opinions.
Countless revisions had been done in this chapter of Seeking Guidance to bring you the essence of what we're trying to convey, based on the story's whims. If let be, you would've been reading five-thousand-word chapter of Lee angst instead of the current one. Thank Ranier that your eyes don't have to suffer that fate! With a whip in one hand and a bottle of stolen sake in the other, he has sliced and diced this chapter into a presentable version. The still bleeding scars on our backs are proof of his dedication.
Of course, we're not perfect (because we're only slaves to the high and mighty muse, y'know) and may have made a lot of mistakes. If you spot one, you know what to do. (No, don't let the dogs out. Not that.) Tell us so Ranier can unleash his wrath upon these poor souls once again. Remember, there's always room for improvement.
Thank you for reading,
BullyKilla and neonate.
Ps: Ranier, please, please stop with the salt/vinegar treatment!