They walked as they had earlier, shoulder to shoulder. Sweat still glistened on their skin, shimmering faintly under the moonlight. There was no one to mock them on the street, no one to protest when Lee slipped an arm around Gaara's waist.

If there had been someone, they would have noticed several key things.

First and foremost, Gaara was carrying his gourd, the sash that usually held it in place long forgotten at the training grounds. Had someone been on the street, they would have found it quite amusing sight to see the small, seemingly frail young man carrying a stone gourd, almost half his size.

Secondly, they would have noticed the Lee had his jumpsuit rolled down to his waist, and the abrasions covered part of his right shoulder blade, evidence of a scuffle- perhaps with sand. If they were to look closer, they would notice that the bandages that usually covered Lee's left are were gone, lost to the same place in the training field as Gaara's sash.

Lastly…and only if they looked closely, drew themselves close enough to risk the sand-nin's fury, and an instant funeral-by-sand, they would notice that Sabaku no Gaara seemed to be tired.

A rare sight indeed.

It was twenty minutes after their walk down the streets of Konoha that Lee fumbled with the key to his house, stuffing it half-heartedly into the keyhole, unlocking it with a click. There was a small noise from behind him as Gaara shifted the weight of the gourd in his arms. Lee turned the handle and pushed, the door opening to a dark house; he fumbled for a moment, turning the light on and stepping out of the doorway. Gaara followed him in, pausing for a moment to set his gourd by the door, leaning it against the wall, shutting the door after himself. When he straightened up, it was to see Lee twisting to look at his shoulder in a mirror that hung above the table in the entry hall.

"This…it kinda hurts." The leaf-nin winced, reaching to prod lightly at the injured area with a fingertip.

"Sorry." Gaara made his way over to where Lee stood, glancing around him into the mirror, a look of half-amused regret on his face. "The sand…"

"I know." Lee smiled, relaxing back into a normal posture, and reaching to ruffle Gaara's sweat-soaked hair. He grimaced, and then ran his hand through his own hair, "disgusting…we're drenched in perspiration."

Gaara reached up to wipe sweat from his forehead, "yes…"

"Maybe we should shower?" Lee suggested. He reached out, and gave Gaara a slight tug. The younger man stepped willingly forward to lean against Lee's broad chest. "you up for it?"

"I'm not fond of water." Gaara frowned, and then wrinkled his nose, "but I supposed that we could. It's better to get wet than to stand around and stink."

Lee laughed, the sound rumbling through his chest, and drawing a small smile from Gaara.

"well…then lets get going before you change your mind." Lee ran a hand though Gaara's hair, trailing his fingers through the sweat-soaked locks. "Because I do agree with you."

Five minutes later found them in the bathroom, Lee tearing through the cabinets for a spare towel for Gaara to use. The sand-nin merely relaxed, leaning against the sink, and unbuttoning his shirt with a drawn-out laziness. He felt fatigued, a state further than his usual amount of unrest. Yet…he felt content and relaxed in the same moment. It was a strange sensation; like floating, one might be tempted to say.

Gaara was roused from his thoughts by the towel that Lee half-threw half-handed to him. He blinked once, looking down at it. The material was soft, something that under a different condition, he might have overlooked.

Also, in a different situation, he may have overlooked the deep scrape that spread across Lee's shoulder blades.

But…this instance, this time- it was now. And so Gaara set the towel carefully on the counter, beside the shirt that he had shrugged off a few minutes prior.

"Lee…" He started, moving forward a few steps, to delicately put a hand on the older man's shoulder. Lee smiled, tilting his head to the side, a silent gesture of 'yes? Continue, please.'

"I'm…um…sorry about that." Gaara mumbled, "I never meant to lose control of my sand."

Lee laughed, slipping his hands to rest on Gaara's waist, his skin somewhat cooler than that of the sand-nin.

"Please don't worry about it, Gaara-kun. Things were rather…heated. I doubt that if I were in your place, that I could have controlled it either." Lee gave the redhead a reassuring smile, and leaned to lightly kiss his forehead. When he straightened up, it was with a wrinkled nose, "Bleh…but we are still sweaty. Standing around like this won't make us clean."

"yes…" Gaara murmured, momentarily consoled by Lee's statement. He slipped out of his arms to finish undressing, watching out of the corner of his eye as Lee peeled off the rest of his bodysuit, leaving it to lay on the floor.

"Hnn…the water's cold…" Lee muttered, flinching under the spray of icy water. Gaara leaned against the wall of the large shower, arms crossed over his chest, amusement sparkling in his eyes. Lee gave him a momentarily dark look, before simply reaching out and dragging him into the spray, earning a loud protest, and a few threats until the water warmed.

"That was cruel." Gaara growled; He wasn't really driven to protest though. There was something that quelled all arguments, and kept him there in the circle of Lee's arms. After a moment he gave up all thoughts of moving away from the older man, and with a content sigh, slipped his arms around his torso, hands splayed across Lee's upper back.

Lee flinched as Gaara's fingertips came in contact first with bruises, and then the deep abrasion that spread across his shoulders. He hoped that Gaara hadn't noticed the reaction that he had to the sudden, somewhat-painful contact. A quick glance down at the green-eyed boy contradicted any hopes that he had about his not noticing. Gaara's expression had turned from one of calm bliss to one of concern.

"You really do hurt…" Gaara frowned. He tipped his head against Lee's chest with a sigh, silent for a moment to listen to the heartbeat that thudded resoundingly in his ear. "In the least, let me clean it for you…"

Another glance told Lee not to argue.

"Ow! Gaara-kun…" Lee whimpered a few minutes later, whipping his head around to glance sharply over his shoulder. Tears welled in his eyes, mingling with the water from the shower as they spilled down his cheeks.

"I'm trying to be gentle. Just stop moving, it'll be easier." Gaara grumbled tersely, running a soap-covered washcloth across Lee's back again.

Lee flinched as Gaara paused to scrub at an edge of the abrasion, applying quite a bit of force.

"OW!"

"there was sand in it." With a growl, Gaara flung down the washcloth. "I think it's cleaned out pretty well now…in the least, it won't get infected."

Lee opened his mouth to protest, but was cut short by Gaara's arms around his shoulders. The younger man leaned his forehead against the base of Lee's neck, sighing in a warm burst of air against the skin there.

"I remember once…" Gaara started, and then paused to turn his face, resting his cheek against Lee's cool skin. "I remember I was bathing with my brother one. We were in a public bath…I'd always watched him, with the paint he wore."

Gaara chuckled, a smile turning up the corners of his mouth.

"It was strange to see him take it off. Like he was removing part of himself, taking off some mask. Kankurou was always a different person at home…different than when he was out around people, that is. He looked different, acted different…he even spoke differently."

"I feel like he did at home, when I'm around you. I can take off my mask, and show you how I feel. No one's listened to me about anything like that before."

Lee smiled softly, reaching up to tousle Gaara's hair, "please…be however you want to around me. I have never been one to judge."

"no…I don't think you ever will be." Gaara moved to nuzzle his face against Lee's neck. When he spoke, Lee could feel the sand-nin's lips moving softly against his skin. "I think that you…"

Lee shifted as the youth paused, enough to draw Gaara into a soft hug, a gentle movement of comfort.

"That I'm…?" Lee's voice rumbled through his chest, resonating in Gaara's ears, like a subtle kind of thunder. He remained silent long enough to listen to Lee's heartbeat once more, before continuing.

"That you're my reason to exist."

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Author's Note: Oh, my beautiful, wonderful fans. I love you all so, so much for following this story. Thank you for the encouragement- everyone who faithfully made comments on it, who followed the storyline and inspired me to make it go further.

It makes me both happy and sad to announce that this is the last chapter.

I hope that I was able to live up to everyone's expectations, and that I was able to make you all proud of me, to bring a smile to your faces…and to overload you with cute luvvy fluff.

Sorry of this chapter kind of fell apart at the end…I think that the style towards the very last of it reflects the way that Gaara's starting to just let his defenses fall apart for Lee.

Please, enjoy this chapter.

And thank you again. I'm grateful to you all.