Obligatory AN: Well, here it is. The concluding chapter. The last huzzah. My apology for the too-seriousness of the last chapter. w00t! Enjoy the Dynamic Entry-ness that is Maito Gai, and the almost permanently apoplectic blushing-ness that is (poor, poor) Lee, and the teasing silliness inherent in Sakura (she does have her silly moments, doesn't she?) Fluffiness to rival Jiraiya's hairdo, if looked at properly. Thank you for the kind reviews and encouragement – because in the end, all we really want is a little acknowledgement from those we care about.
Dynamic Wakeup Call
(Start Your Morning the Gai-sensei Way)
Lee had always been an early riser, and years of waking at dawn to get in the extra few minutes of training had long conditioned him to wake up alert and ready. But this morning, he seemed to be having some difficulty swimming up through the haze of pleasant warmth and relaxed muscles. He'd been dreaming, his sleep-fogged mind remembered. It had been a good dream, even if he didn't immediately recall the details. Sakura had been –
Lee's eyes snapped open, and it was to his credit that he did not sit bolt-upright in alarm and shock. As it was, the sudden tension in his muscles almost woke her. The head on his shoulder stirred slightly, and her arms tightened around his chest for a moment before she lapsed back into deep sleep.
Lee stared at her, letting the memories of the night hit him all at once, and then running through them one at a time. Gods, she was beautiful in the faint blue-grey light of dawn with her pink hair tangled in a strange sort of halo around her face. He felt a bizarre hollowness in his chest as he looked at her, but it was not the empty pain of loneliness that he knew too well. If anything, this was wonderful. He wanted to pull her to him tightly, bury his face in her skin and breathe her in…but he stayed still, letting the joy of her consume him as it would. Sakura sighed in her sleep, and snuggled deeper against his side. Lee wanted to laugh and cry at the same time. He'd always felt the desire to protect her, to be there for her when she needed him. But now the feeling was so strong it made him ache with the intensity of it.
Over the curve of her shoulder, his alarm clock glared red at him. He was glad that he hadn't set an alarm for three years, since he figured out that regardless of what time he set it, he always woke up five minutes before it went off. If he didn't set it at all, he invariably woke at dawn. It was amazing, he mused, how quickly the whole world could change with one sentence, one embrace, one short night. This time yesterday, Lee had woken to an empty bed, to the hope that she would accept him with the heartbreaking certainty that she would not. Yesterday…had been Monday, right? He frowned, feeling the nag of something he had forgotten in the back of his head. What was so important about Monday?
It came to him in a rush, and he wanted to smack his forehead and groan aloud. Great Hokages on the Mountain! It wasn't that Monday was important, except for the fact that it meant today was Tuesday. And on Tuesdays…
He checked the clock again. 5:26 a.m. He had exactly four minutes to get out of bed, get dressed, and either invent a good excuse or brace up and simply tell the truth –
Moving as carefully as possible, he extracted himself from her embrace, sliding reluctantly away from her warmth. She shifted, but it was a tribute to how tired she actually was that she did not wake. Lee considered his training outfit, thrown in a fit of self-loathing on the floor last night before he'd finally collapsed on his bed.
And woken to find Sakura leaning over him, smiling as she brushed his cheek. He turned to look at her again, studying the toned muscles in her arms, the soft indent of her waist, the swell of her hip, her peaceful face. . .
That settled it. He'd just have to tell the truth, and face the consequences like a man. With that thought firmly in mind, Lee pulled on his baggy black sleeping pants and went to the front door. He noticed the unusual booby trap, and smiled as he realized who must have set it. He knew it wouldn't really make a difference, but he dismantled it anyway.
Lee had barely finished removing the final tripwire from the doorframe when someone banged on the door from the outside with the cheerful gusto of a man determined to wake the entire building by sheer force of presence. "Lee!" A voice bellowed through the wooden barrier. "It is the most fortuitous and superb day of the week!" Bang, went the door. "It is Tuesday!" Bang! "Prepare yourself for vigorous and exciting training!" Bang, the door agreed. "The day is young and new, and the promise of spring is in the air!" Crash!
The wood finally gave, and into the apartment bounded a tall, muscular figure flashing brilliant teeth that matched with brilliant hair, brilliant eyes, brilliant (and stylish) emerald green workout suit with brilliantly brilliant orange leg coverings to match. Into the room leaped Maito Gai, in full Tuesday morning glory. If the world were anything like the movies, a flourish of (brilliant) trumpet blasts ought to have accompanied him, but as it was, he had to settle for a thumbs up and a booming laugh that was guaranteed to wake the dead and probably motivate even those lethargic beings to run a few laps around Konoha, too.
Lee winced, wishing for the first time in his life that his friend and former teacher weren't such an…exuberant person. He stepped back quickly to avoid the swinging door, catching it in one hand with the ease of long practice. "Good morning, Gai-sensei," he said politely, pitching his voice low. It was an exercise of futility though; if Maito Gai's boisterous (and rather poetic) arrival at the door hadn't woken her up, his dramatic entrance certainly would.
Gai didn't walk, he burst into the kitchen, teeth gleaming and eyes aflame. "Come, my dynamic favored former student, today we practice the glorious art of the fighting style Crane on a Golden Cloud - " He broke off, raising one ponderous eyebrow as he suddenly took in the younger man's rather informal appearance. "What's this?" He demanded, pointing a finger. "You aren't dressed for work and replete with energetic intensity? Lee! Has something happened?"
Lee opened his mouth to answer, but before he could get a word out Gai carried on, hands flying up to his face in horror. "You've become ill, or were kept up all night by the torturous hand of some enemy that you valiantly fought to the bitter end! Or -" Gai's finger jabbed at him accusingly. "You are not the true Rock Lee! You are an insidious imposter! But you fail to deceive me! What have you done with my youthful friend?"
"Please forgive me, Gai-sensei," Lee cut him off quickly, before this turned into a fight of some kind. "I'm afraid I simply can't train today. I…er…" he trailed off, turning red as he struggled to find the words to explain exactly why he didn't plan to leave his apartment today.
Gai leaned close, frowning fiercely. Lee reflexively leaned back, wilting a little under the scrutiny. "Gai-sensei?" he ventured.
"You are ill," Gai said firmly. "Your coloring is terrible, and you look like you haven't slept at all!" Lee choked, the ironic truth of his mentor's comment not lost on him. "Never fear, my boy, healing is just another skill in my varied and extensive repertoire! And if that fails, I can always fetch that lovely young medical nin friend of yours." He waggled thick eyebrows and winked. Lee wondered how the normally very perceptive man was failing to notice the strangled look on his former pupil's face. "I will have you strong and healthy again in no - "
Abruptly, he froze, eyebrows shooting up into his thick hair. A moment later, Lee heard it too. His cheeks may have been red before, but they were positively glowing now. From his bedroom came the unmistakable sounds of someone throwing back sheets, and the slight creak of the floorboards as she stood up and began to move around.
"Ah…" For the first time in years, Maito Gai seemed to be at a complete loss for words. The lapse was temporary, however; his face became contemplative as he turned again to eye Lee. Judging by his expression, he was now taking in the younger man's red face and choice of clothing with new understanding.
"I. . . see."
Lee held up his unwrapped hands in a helpless gesture.
Gai's glance flickered to the damaged skin of those hands, to significance of the missing bandages also not lost to him. "Lee," Gai said quietly, his tone suddenly deadly serious. "You can't cover old scars with new wounds."
The younger man frowned, face turning a more normal color as he tried to puzzle out the meaning of such a cryptic statement.
"Listen to me," Gai's voice was measured, as if he expected the words he spoke to injure the young man he viewed as a son. "I know you have been hurt, but attempting to forget the hurt in the arms of someone you do not love will bring only more pain. You cannot buy solace; you cannot fill the hole in your heart with a replacement girl so easily."
"Re….replacement?" Lee managed to stutter. Buy solace? Wait…was Gai-sensei really implying….?
"Replacement for what?" a new voice joined the conversation sleepily before he could form a coherent response.
Lee watched Sakura stroll casually out of the bedroom with a mixture of pleasure and anxiety. Not bothering with her own clothes, she'd pulled on one of his sleeping t-shirts, an old gray thing that on her fell slightly above mid-thigh. She made the faded cloth look remarkably alluring. Rubbing at her eyes, Sakura smiled endearingly at Lee before turning to Gai. "Good morning," she nodded to him.
Lee watched with a fascinated sort of awe as Gai's face went through a rapid series of expressions, running from wide eyed shock to confusion to red-cheeked embarrassment in the time it took for Sakura to walk the five foot gap between them. He turned from Sakura to Lee, Lee to Sakura, and back to Lee again. Ignoring him, Sakura glided languorously to the sink, and as if she did it every day pulled a cup down from the cupboard and filled it with water. She drained it quickly, and over her pink head Lee met Gai's gaze with a weak smile. His mentor blinked, and suddenly a sly grin worthy of Jiraya spread across his features. "Good morning, Sakura," he said calmly. "I apologize if I woke you. I must say I am a little…surprised to meet you here like this." He looked pointedly at her outfit – or rather, lack thereof – and cast a quick meaningful glance at the open bedroom door, through which the foot of the rumpled bed could be seen.
"Mmm." Unfazed, Sakura set the cup down on the counter, wrapping her arms around her torso and yawning. She slanted her head to look up at Lee, still blinking groggily. "Are you leaving?"
Lee glanced up at Gai, mortification and pleasure warring on his features.
Gai watched him sweat it out for a few seconds before coming to the rescue. He waved a hand dismissively. "Ah, no, my dear. Unfortunately, I have just had some pressing business come up, and I came to tell Lee that I must regrettably cancel our weekly training today."
She smiled that sweet, sleepy smile again and arched her neck, stretching. Conscious of his mentor's astute eyes on him, Lee worked very hard not to look down at the way the shirt edged up along her thighs, or the way her crossed arms pulled in the excess fabric tightly against her back and waist. "Well then," she said imperturbably. "I'm going back to bed. I'm still all worn out."
Gai's jaw dropped, and Lee felt his face heat up again as she sidled past him and back into the bedroom, leaving the door partially open behind her.
"Well…" Gai coughed. "I must be going." He walked past his stunned friend, pausing long enough to say, loudly. "You had better get back to bed, too, Lee. You look like you haven't slept at all."
Lee could swear, as Gai pulled the door closed behind him with a final knowing grin, that he heard a muffled giggle from the bedroom.
She was lying on her back, head turned away from the door, blanket pulled up to her nose when he came in. He paused in the doorway, eyes tracing the distinct shape of her body under the cover and noting the small shivers as she fought to suppress her giggles. "You did that deliberately," he accused, still a little flushed.
She turned her head, peering at him with wide, innocent green eyes. Then she pulled the cover down to her neck, bursting into laughter. "You seemed to be having trouble explaining it on your own," she told him through her hilarity. "I thought it might make things easier." She wiped at her eyes with the back of her hand. "Besides, he was going to find out sooner or later. Might as well make it sooner and get it over with."
"And that last comment?"
"Well…" she grinned, winking at him and sticking out her tongue slightly. "You're cute when you blush."
To which he obliged her by promptly blushing again.
The sun was shining in around the slatted blinds, painting faint yellow streaks across her face and hair. One stray beam caught her eyes, sparking a green fire that danced inside them. She held out her hand to him, inviting.
He took in the sight of her, desperately trying to absorb every detail of the picture before him, storing it away somewhere close to his heart.
"Lee?" she asked softly. Her voice galvanized him, and he strode across the room to kneel on the side of the bed. He leaned over, pressing his lips to hers, inhaling to catch her scent, brushing his fingers across the soft down of hair at the base of her neck.
She pushed down the blanket to free her arms, twining them around his shoulders. He sighed into her hair, and then sat back up with a start as his eyes caught the shapeless pile of grey cloth on the floor by the bed. Sakura titled her head, watching him with those vibrant green eyes again. He looked from the discarded t-shirt to her, and back again, expression remarkably reminiscent of Gai's initial reaction to Sakura's presence. Then he burst out laughing.
"All worn out?" He asked.
"Well," she sat up, letting the barrier of the blanket fall away and reaching for him. "Not all."
By the by, when Gai mentioned buying solace, if you guessed that he thought Lee had hired a hooker to replace Sakura – you were RIGHT. Congratulations, you are a most excellent fanfiction reader. And like I said, all we want in the world is a little acknowledgment, so: personal thanks go to Isiri, number 18, Yoka, Sakura Kage, link no miko, Snowmane, Original-Monkey-Girl, mad-killer-bunnies-alert, and the many others who offered their reviews and advice. It was gratifying and encouraging. Rock the Lee, baby!
- the SkItZ