Well, this is a bit different from my norm, but I've decided to try my hand at this pairing. I've developed a keen interest in Lee and Tenten recently, so I couldn't help myself. :grin:
Despite the months that separated his surgery and subsequent miraculous recovery, Rock Lee could not boast immunity against bouts of nostalgia any better than the next person. His past, after all, was a pillar of his current circumstances, a fever dream that never quite abated even after the hallucinogenic mist of disjointed memory evaporated.
Without his past, his future would have no foundation, no cornerstone around which the rest of the structure relied as it took shape, became, piece by piece, a whole.
Lee was not ashamed of his past. On the contrary, he embraced it, revisited it almost daily, a constant reminder of how far he had come since then, and how much was at stake if he grew indolent, complacent, comfortable.
Unique in his predicament, he could not afford the luxury of downtime, or the result would be inevitable: he'd fall behind, the recipient of the dregs of the others' advances. Oh, he had the power, he had the strength of mind, the strength of will, the unquenchable determination that made a conqueror out of a captive, but all those attributes could only sustain him so far in the profession he'd chosen.
Some people labeled him a half-ninja, about as useful as a three-legged pack mule. Such remarks, he insisted, had no effect on him whatsoever. They were drops of frozen rain on an already numb body, mere mosquito bites, annoying but tolerable.
Obviously, this was an utter falsehood, or he would have settled for second-best, a painter who, in his efforts to become a Van Gough, produced a slipshod emulation with no depth or breadth or brilliance of originality. Lee wanted the exhilarated satisfaction of a pioneer, not the mindless subservience of a drone.
So he trained. He pushed himself beyond the limit of his flesh, forced it into compliance. He wasn't capable of utilizing either ninjutsu or genjutsu, so he focused on the one thing he could hone, the art of hand-to-hand combat, taijutsu.
He would not be a failure. He refused. He resisted. He persevered.
However, he did have help. Had his beloved Gai sensei never taken an interest in him, never looked beyond the defect, his Achilles' heel, Lee probably wouldn't have made it as far as he had, would have bottomed out like a ship with a crack in her hull, drawn under by the very sea she was made for.
Maito Gai connected with the boy, saw an image of his childhood self in his struggle, and decided he would shepherd Lee, teach him all he knew, mould and shape him into a formidable shinobi capable of existing alongside his fellows, perhaps even surpassing them. In Lee, he found an eager pupil, one that soaked up instruction like a sponge, for, as he had lacked a mentor, he was very susceptible to anyone who showed even the slightest interest in making him better than he was.
Of course, there were certain repercussions involved in Lee's apprenticeship. Adoration for his sensei elevated the man to almost demi-god status, and, in spite of his vehemence to forge his own path as an individual, some of Gai's more comical eccentricities rubbed off on him. And the humorous, sometimes exasperating part was, he convinced himself that bowl haircuts, shiny-toothed smiles, flamboyant behavior patterns, and green spandex jumpsuits were the epitome of the ultimate shinobi.
In essence, he was the closest thing to a Gai clone there could be without sharing DNA, eyebrows included.
Luckily for him, Lee's personality made him endearing, or he would have encountered problems. Much of Konoha's population was convinced that one Maito Gai was enough, and shuddered at the prospect of another buffoon with a flair for the outrageous running rampant among them. As it was, the public shows of affection between teacher and student that included tearful embraces and brazen declarations of esteem were bad enough.
Good thing Lee hadn't chosen a rival, too, or all hell would have broken loose.
But the antics aside, Rock Lee, one-time dropout on a bridge to nowhere had become an asset through diligence and hard work. He proved that the underdog could in fact come out in front, that just because one wasn't born a prodigy didn't mean one would remain in a stagnant position forever.
He was at the top of his game, fired up, ready to take on the world…
And then he tasted his mortality, and the taste was bitter.
Those who rise constantly run the risk of plummeting, for the carpet can be yanked from under their feet at any given moment. He hadn't expected what played out during his match against Gaara of the Sand at the Chuunin exams, hadn't anticipated the extent of his injuries and the prospect of never fighting again.
In his subconscious, he acknowledged the fact that his way of life was a dangerous one, but he never realized just how much until then. Every single action had a corresponding consequence, one that would appear, if not immediately afterward, then at some point in the future. As it so happened, his consequence was of the immediate kind.
Lee was not the sort of person who accepted defeat easily, and so, after Tsunade performed a risky surgery to patch him up, he pushed himself once more to the brink of his endurance, determined to regain full use of his legs and arms. He did fight again, while under the influence of sake, thus reviving the Drunken Fist style of taijutsu, which had been retired for its sheer recklessness and unpredictability.
In other words, a perfect fit for the likes of Rock Lee.
This particular clash had been seeped in irony, as he was rescued once the effect of the sake wore off by none other than the person who nearly killed him in the first place.
After that, he understood that he had not been granted immortality, and must use discretion from then on.
Starting over fresh, he relearned the value of patience.
Time passed, and many things changed once Naruto, in the company of Jiraya, departed Konoha for a three-year training session.
Their enemies were preparing for war, and it was time for the villagers to do the same. The members of the Genin teams, save Shikamaru, the only one among them awarded Chuunin rank, began their own specialized training, sometimes in the presence of a sensei, others unaccompanied or with a teammate. Lee generally favored the group approach, but every now and then, when the mood struck him, he branched off on his own.
Almost as if by instinct, his feet led him to the place it all began, the place he stumbled upon as a child searching for an obscure hideaway where no one would find him and distract him, where he could be by himself.
The clearing looked exactly as it had when he first found it, the old, solid tree-stump, a wide crescent moon hollowed out of one side by countless kicks and punches he himself delivered, still standing tall and expectant, as if, upon his departure, it had been frozen in time, waiting for him to return.
In a strange way, he felt at peace here, at home, and he came as often as he could manage, performing the exercises that had built up his stamina before the ordeal that nearly cost him his dream.
Gai knew what his protégé was doing, however he pretended ignorance whenever questioned about Lee's random disappearances, often replying with some cockamamie story that, most of the time, was highly implausible. Lee did not own a golden retriever, for instance (and therefore had no reason to visit a groomer), nor was he allergic to salt (so the last meal he ate had not made his head swell up like a balloon).
Nobody believed a word of the original Green Beast's fabrications, but they were amusing, if nothing else. Though Lee's friends finally accepted the fact that whatever he was up to, he wanted it kept private, they badgered his sensei if they were in the mood for a laugh, and then grilled the dark-haired boy later on, sniggering as he tried making his tale and Gai's fit. Sometimes it worked, others it did not.
He didn't really mind, though. By nature, Lee wasn't secretive, and he wouldn't have a mental breakdown if the others unveiled the truth about where he went. In all honesty, the only reason he didn't state it openly was because he enjoyed the solitude, just him and the tree stump and the occasional bird or woodland creature, and the breeze on his face.
In his heart of hearts, he had always been a romantic.
Sighing contentedly, he clasped his hands behind his head and fell back against the grass, exhausted. This particular day, the sun beat down on him from its niche in a clear blue sky, heat giving the air visible form in the undulating vapor that surrounded him. Sweat poured from his glands, coated his skin with a slick sheen. His chest rose and fell as he breathed deeply, eyes closed.
Behind the cover of a nearby tree, Tenten observed him as she always did, cheek resting against the bark, lips turned up in a tiny smile.
He didn't know she chose one day a week and followed him here, didn't know that it made her happy seeing him happy, didn't know that, from the time they were younger, she'd watched him out of the corner of her eye, admiring the lotus as it bloomed.
Perhaps Lee's appearance was…distinctive…and perhaps his character leaned more towards the hyperactively animated, but there was something about him that resonated with her, as if he were the musician and she the chords.
To some degree, they were similar. The fact alone that Tenten was a female in a profession commonly occupied by males put her at a disadvantage. Oh, the village could boast equality all it wanted, any village could, and would, yet the separating lines were there, even if they weren't boldfaced. Much more was expected of her, she knew. She couldn't slip and exhibit 'girl' behavior or she'd lose the respect, and the trust, she'd busted her ass for.
A weak, whiny kunoichi who went hysterical and cracked under pressure was a potential danger to all around her, and her days as a ninja were usually limited. Softies never made it far; if the sensei in charge of them did the job right, they were weeded out early.
Tenten made sure she wouldn't wind up a feather pusher, the name given the female rejects.
'So frail, can't even beat off a feather,' was the slogan.
She sure as hell could kick the snot out of more than a feather that was for certain, and she liked it that way. She didn't want any extra privileges. This set-up made her tough, made her able to take hits and dole them back out. Yes, it was a harsh system, but at least she didn't fall to pieces when it really mattered, when the blood was flying and the enemy ten times faster, stronger, more intelligent.
On the fly, she learned that, in order for anyone to take her seriously, she had to carry herself with confidence, or people would walk all over her as if she lie stretched flat beneath their feet. Apparently, given all the comments she'd either overheard or been told directly about how intimidating she came off as, she had the tactic mastered. It helped also that, ever since she was a little girl, she'd had an insatiable fascination with weapons, the sharper and pointer the better, and most of her efforts centered on wielding them with efficiency.
Once she picked her target, she never missed it. Never.
But even though she had proven herself, there was still pressure on her, whether her conscience put it there or her fellow shinobi. There was always pressure, and, on occasion, doubt, and doubt was deadly. The minute she started doubting, she'd be that much closer to the grave.
Just like Rock Lee.
Though some aspects of their circumstances were different, they were in essence the same. Lee, the gimp, the runt, taijutsu his only definitive skill, had the fear of becoming a liability hovering over his head, and so did she.
Lord, so did she.
And so she watched him, drew inspiration from him, was amazed time and again by his courage and his intense loyalty to the people he cared about. She may have acted like she didn't give a rat's ass, that Neji was the only worthy training partner, but that ruse was just a cover for her anxiety.
Now, she'd had time to grow up, and she understood him, she thought, better than ever before. She understood him, and…he understood her.
"No other girl's got sass like you," he told her once, flashing that ridiculous grin. "And none of 'em look half as good slicing people open with those cleavers of yours."
She smacked him upside the head after that, of course, for his grossly inadequate use of terms. Butchers used cleavers. She used knives. There was a difference.
The leaves of her tree rustled overhead while she stared at him, a shushing sound mingled with Lee's snores; he had fallen asleep, and no wonder. She was surprised he hadn't shattered that old tree stump to smithereens the way he'd been attacking it.
"Looks comfortable," she mused, already on her way around the tree. She tried keeping her footsteps light and undetectable because she'd rather him stay asleep for a while before she revealed her secret. It was much easier to leer at him that way.
And she did leer. There was no nice, sugarcoated word for it.
He had an exceptional body. Toned, sleek, muscular. Soft skin. Good abs. She liked it.
Besides, there was no harm in looking, and, after growing up in a house with three brothers she knew males liked to feel desirable.
He was definitely desirable.
Tenten sat next to him, the grass prickling her bare legs. She decided on a skirt today, since her customary breeches were too hot in this weather. She always felt weird when she wore skirts. You had to walk differently when you wore them, because they restricted movement, and your legs had to be crossed when you sat, or everyone in the vicinity would get a flash of panty.
The last thing she wanted was extreme panty exposure.
Gotta keep my legs locked together…
Her eyes honed in on Lee's crazy black bowl-head. A few years ago, he wore his hair layered and flipped at the ends, and it looked absolutely adorable on him. The attention was shifted away from those bottlebrush eyebrows, which was a good thing. Not for the first time, she wished he hadn't chosen their sensei as a fashion plate.
Fingers inching out of their own accord, she ran them through his hair, pushing it away from his forehead. A slight crease formed between his brows, though the snoring continued.
"See?" She said, half to him and half to herself. "It's so much better out of your face, you goofball."
The crease intensified, and the snoring had grown somewhat strained, but his eyes didn't open.
That she swallowed her giggles came as a marvel. Lee had never been an expert at deceiving people. He got stuck midway, and by then, his cover was completely blown. Which was fine. Tenten preferred a sincere Lee over a snarky Lee, especially since snarky Lee would be more at home in a mental ward…although she could not state with confidence that sincere Lee had all of his screws bolted tight, either.
Well, whatever. Lee was Lee, that's all there was to it.
A zebra in a herd of giraffes.
Her gaze shifted from his face, took in his sweat-soaked body, for once not encased in green spandex and orange legwarmers, but baggy sweatpants that tied at the waist and naught else.
Must've been in the adventuresome mood. She could only recall a few scattered occasions on which he'd shed the spandex for casual, real-people clothes, however this phenomenon occurred so rarely that it was…well…thrilling when he did. And a harbinger of upcoming apocalypse, no doubt.
Actually, now that she thought of it, he had been in a similar garb every time she came to spy on him, probably because of this damned humidity. And she had glimpsed his shirtless torso up close before, when he had been in the process of dumping a bucket of water over his head. The top half of the jumpsuit was shimmied around his waist; the water cascaded in gleaming rivulets down his arms, his chest, and further.
Her dreams were interesting that night, she remembered.
Lee was finding it harder and harder to keep his eyes closed. The fingers in the hair had done him in. Sure, he was surprised when he discovered he hadn't been as alone as he'd thought, but he quickly forgot his astonishment upon the scalp rub. That, and Tenten's intense scrutiny made him feel as though he were carrion prey to a raptor.
He thought his hormones had been acting bizarre lately; now he knew why. They were under siege, and their liege lord hadn't lifted a sword in their defense.
Cautiously, his eyelids slitted, cracked, opened entirely.
Tenten smirked at him.
Her hair wasn't tied in buns, and she was wearing a skirt.
"About time," she said mischievously, eyes twinkling. "I was about ready to backhand you."
For some reason, he lost track of his voice. It just up and disappeared. That, he thought, was remarkably rude.
"How long have you been there?" He managed to croak after a lengthy game of cat and mouse with his delinquent voice.
"The whole day. I followed you." She seemed to be enjoying this a bit too much. It made him nervous.
He said, "But…I didn't see you at all."
"I was behind a tree," she pointed back a ways. "So I'm not surprised."
He wanted to reply with something really witty that would suggest he was in complete control of the situation. The best he could do was, "Oh."
By far, one of the un-wittiest phrases in any language.
Even more unfortunately, his mental volume of Gai-isms appeared to be using the same travel agent as his voice, and was currently out of town.
A peal of silvery laughter drew his attention back to the vexing woman by his side, one on whom he happened to harbor an attraction close to perilous, particularly now that she wore that skirt.
"I have a confession," she admitted gravely when he sat up, hyper-aware of his lack of clothing, and looked at her.
One of his eyebrows arched. Confessions were typically negative in some way or another. "And?"
"I hide behind that tree once a week."
His palms were sweaty, and he knew it had nothing to do with the heat. Why the hell would she do something like that? She was Tenten. She had bigger, better fish for frying than Rock Lee. Every eligible female in the known universe did, too, for that matter.
She wanted to know, "Are you angry?"
Angry? How in all hell could he be angry?
"Of course not," he answered, deciding now was a good time for the smile.
Tenten rolled her eyes. "Will you ever give that up? Yeah, you can call Gai your hero, if you want, but, for cripes sake, you don't have to be him." As soon as the words left her mouth, she regretted them.
His face fell. Normally, he would be consumed with righteous indignation over the dig at his sensei, but something about this conversation was different. No, not the conversation…the person he was conversing with. This wasn't a random bystander; this was Tenten. His teammate. His friend. His…
"Do you really—"
"Look, I didn't mean that," she interrupted, genuinely upset. "I like you the way you are, Lee, I do, and I wouldn't want you to change for anything." Her nose wrinkled. "Well…maybe I'm not being entirely truthful, there, you know…with the hair…and the spandex…Oh, shit." She bit her lip and glanced at him apologetically. "I don't know what the hell I'm talking about."
Suddenly, the entirety of this incident became so hilarious that he could not help but laugh out loud, tears streaming from his eyes, and it was not long before she joined him.
Once his mirth was under control, he looked at her again, really looked at her, and he wasn't sure if he was dreaming, but he thought he saw a glimmer of…something, the same something she might have seen when she stared back at him.
I'm an idiot, he berated himself. A total idiot. Why didn't I ever see you before now?
Because he thought she was out of his league, so he directed his desire at Sakura. Because he believed he would never be good enough for her.
Because she hadn't worn a skirt and left her hair down.
She'd rip my guts out if she heard that…
At least he was honest.
Tenten raised an eyebrow. "What?"
"Nothing," he replied, too fast.
Her eyes narrowed. "Lee…"
To the end of his days, he had no clue where he mustered up the balls to do what he did next. In retrospect, he was pretty damn proud of himself, though, even if he had signed his death warrant.
He kissed her.
"Next time, don't bother with the tree," he advised huskily after he released her.
She blinked a few times, dumbfounded, and then she smiled.
"If you insist," she said, and promptly smacked him.
No pain, no game, right?
He didn't quite grasp the reason for the slap, however.
"What'd you do that for?" The right side of his face stung.
For a moment, she appeared as though she were preparing to box his ears, but the moment passed. "Lee," she said in a measured tone, "do you know where your hand is?"
As a matter of fact, he didn't know. Perhaps he ought to check.
He became an instant albino, skin drained of all its color.
Needless to say, the world got a peek at Tenten's panties.
She knew there was a reason she didn't like skirts.
Woo-hoo! Hee-hee. I know this is random and off the wall and goofy, but…I can't see these two having your normal ooey-gooey relationship, you know. :cackles: Let me know what you think!