Foreword: Forgot what song I listened to when writing this, but Hack Sign's "The World" or "Fake Wings" suit it quite nicely.
Rock Lee is something most people aren't quite sure what to make of.
To most of his fellow former Genin, the Rookie Nine, Neji and TenTen, he is a freak whose heart is in the right place. Sometimes a little too in the right place.
To his enemies, many in numbers and most of them unknown, he is a blur of movement; iron fists and blazing feet that symbolize death.
To his teacher, Maito Gai, he is hope. Hope personified into a youth who exists both as his unofficially adopted son and completely official successor-in-training.
To himself, Rock Lee is just someone standing on Death's precipice.
Every night for the past month now, he has walked alone. He waits until midnight, when most of his fellow shinobi are asleep, preoccupied or no longer in Konoha. When he is certain that he can move unhindered, he steps out from the apartment he shares with his teammates--though Lee is the only one who ever actually lives there for any appreciable amount of time--and moves into the shadow of the night. Sometimes, when the stars are out, that part of him that speaks with Gai's voice makes him wonder if they're just figments of his youthful imagination.
Whether they are or are not though, Lee starts walking.
With the practiced rigidness of both a pure martial artist and a shadowy assassin, he moves through the streets of Konoha in a manner that deliberately slows him down. Whenever possible, he takes sidestreets and even doubles back on occasion; whatever it takes to delay the inevitable.
When he has finally dealt with his fears, he arrives at the base of the Hokage Mountain. He brings a fist into an open but tightly straightened palm, bows his head respectfully and apologizes for what he is about to do to them. Then he molds chakra into the soles of his bare feet and begins to walk--slow and methodical, as if he were Neji or Shino--up the side of the mountain. Tonight, he treads on the face of the Fourth, and for every step he takes, he thinks an unspoken apology to the man.
Several times, he walks completely upside down. Several more, he stops and tries to keep from opening his eyes.
He wears as little clothing as possible for these jaunts; just a pair of stretchy green pants modelled after his jumpsuit, with the leg warmers and heavy weights to match. Occasionally, he adds his Leaf-plated belt. Sometimes, he even goes so far as to wear his forehead protector. He doesn't do it because of some sense of devotion to the Village though. In fact, he rarely does it at all.
Tonight though, is special, because Lee can feel a tingle in the air that lets him know that it might be tonight.
Hesitation finally leaves him as he makes his way up over the Yondaime's highest spike of hair. Even for all of his willingness, Lee continues to take his time on the way to the top of the cliff.
At its edge, he finally opens his eyes and looks straight ahead. Relativity kicks in from there, and although Lee is standing straight and rigid, arms limp at his sides, he is still standing on the side of a cliff. It is not the barren rock wall, nor the lush green forest that greets him. Instead, he is beholden to a sight more beautiful than all the cherry blossoms in the world: Heaven itself.
The stars are out tonight. Lee thinks it's fitting. Even if he fails, he'll be treated to a sight of the truest beauty. Somehow, that makes it all okay.
After moments spent staring into infinity, Lee pushes forward again and walks onto the very top of the cliff. Heaven becomes a forest; he turns and the forest becomes a view of his Village. At night, its architecture--a mix of soft oneness with nature and rough individuality from it--seems more... Alive, somehow. Though only street lamps are lit and only a select few Chuunin, ANBU and Jounin are really out at this hour, the Village seems to pulse with a kind of living breath.
The irony is not lost on him.
Lee finally wills himself to sit down at the edge of the cliff. His legs cross together beneath him. His arms first lay wrist-up across his thighs and knees, then his hands bring themselves together in front of his chest. Fingers pull themselves automatically into the Seal of the Ram. It is one of the only two hand seals he has ever been able to memorize; index and middle fingers pointing up, thumbs joined, remaining fingers layered one over the other. It is not that the Seal is truly necessary for the full extent of what he wants to do, but tonight, it will be used to make this easier. He can worry about getting it perfect later.
If he survives.
Using the Seal for focus, Lee begins to mold chakra. He pulls what remains in his feet and concentrates; everything he can bring to bear, he does. As if it were a piece of iron and his will a magnet, he draws the spirit into two starting places, each one located just behind his eyes. Then, like it were a bittersweet drink--sake, perhaps--he forces it down.
Into his throat, it all begins to gather. Between his lungs, it starts to mix. If he were moving right now, he would have felt his entire body becoming taut to the point that his bones would become brittle. His pupils begin to fade, taking the black irises of his eyes with them. Power--raw, glorious, undeniable power--surges up around him. For a few moments anyway.
Lee does not waste things. He does not waste time, food, drink or friends. He treasures it all, and his chakra is no different.
His brows knit together as he hits the point where everything is precisely blended. Once upon a time, this point, this Fifth Gate, almost crippled him in battle. Now, he is able to summon it up almost at will. Fear is the only thing making it difficult tonight, but Lee has conquered his fears before. He will do so again.
And again after that. As many times as it takes, he will take his fear and break it into a thousand pieces.
Tonight proves easier than before. Though his forehead is starting to hurt, his body is loosening back up. His hands shake for a moment, but he stops it with dedication alone.
He wills the chakra lower. The Limit breaks once again. Lee opens his eyes and finds the view of the Village below to be changed. Everything glows now; a wonderful mixture of reds, purples, blues and yellows. Orange dots the scenery, light inverts and somewhere along the way, Lee thinks to himself, "This is what it must be like to see through Sharingan..."
A memory mixed with a prophetic vision replays for the millionth time in his mind. Through the View Gate, Lee sees it as clearly as if it were actually happening.
Before him stands a youth who is everything he admires and hates in this world. His name is Uchiha Sasuke, the former apple of so many girls' eyes that Lee can't help but envy him. Dressed in the blacks of an Uchiha clansman, Sharingan spinning; Sasuke holds out his left hand and soundlessly screams into nothing. He runs forward, but Lee remains in place, unmoving and unfeeling.
He wonders though, at some deep and dark level...
He wonders if Sakura would be willing to hit her shattered prince to return Lee the favor for the times he has saved her life and raised her spirits. He wonders if she would do the same for Naruto. Then he wonders if she would do the same for Sasuke if the situation.
The answers he creates are ones that he does not like. So he ignores them, shifting his focus instead to the renegade before him.
The ghostly Chidori plunges into Lee's face and evaporates. As it does so, he feels the chakra drop lower still, moving to the Wonder Gate. Eerily enough, Lee can actually feel a tingle in his lower body; everything from belly button to thighs tries to twitch and convulse. Willpower alone stops them.
The chakra flow halts there. Lee feels fear again, but brazenly, he decides to push past it.
An intervention is all that stops him from reaching the precipice.
"Fifteen year olds should not be so obsessed with Death, Lee."
Were it not for the sheer focus Lee has put into staying still, he would have jumped out of his skin.
"I am a Ninja," Lee replies automatically. Though he and his visitor speak formally at this time of night, the very act of talking is enough to make his jaw ache. With no doubt in his mind, Lee believes this to be the result of how the pent up energy is reacting with his body.
Maito Gai, the man slowly taking a seat beside him, is without these problems. Lee thinks it is because Gai has had time to adapt to the process.
"But you are still young," Gai says, simple and without pomp. Here, without others, they are serious. Lethally so, to the point where Lee has the odd notion that if anyone were to listen in on the conversation, they would not actually believe he and Gai are the ones talking. "Too young to be obsessed with Death."
Lee spares him a sidelong glance. As is often the case: One mirrors the other. The only differences between them are their age, sizes and facial structures. Beyond that, the two are essentially twins. Gai is looking right back at him, his expression colder and more aged right now than Lee has seen it in years.
"I am a Ninja," he says again, with feeling this time. "This is crucial to proving that my Ninja Way is right."
Gai does not reply with words. He simply nods his head and looks forward. Lee does the same.
A few moments later, he closes his eyes and senses it when Gai's chakra warps, twisting and building until it matches his own. It is an unspoken promise. Lee reads it with ease, just like he always does. "If you die, I die with you."
That is how they have handled these things ever since Lee was almost killed by Gaara of the Desert. That, Lee hopes, is how they will handle things for at least a few years more.
They are family. They have a bond that neither Neji or TenTen can get their heads around. Where one goes, the other is rarely far behind. Gai is, in most ways, Lee's father. There is no blood connection, and there does not need to be. That they acknowledge each other as family is more than enough.
Finally, Lee inhales a deep breath. His ears register Gai doing the same, but it does little to soothe his fracturing nerves. In every way, he feels as if ten thousand angry Neji's were beating him across the chest; Jyuuken's chakra-fuelled hits are the closest he has ever felt to being at the edge of the Eighth Gate. In his mind's eye, he can see the Death God slowly rising up behind him. As if it were one with the Earth he sits on, Shinigami claws its way from the ground and stands, legs unseen and arms stretched wide.
A rosary hangs from one hand. A long knife is clutched in the other. Its black eyes shift between he and Gai, and for a moment, Lee wonders if it will strike out at him whether he moves or not.
Thankfully, it does not.
Shinigami stands its ground, and Lee can feel a long, cold shadow casting over him because of it.
He sits upon Death's precipice. His eyes are closed, but he can see into the abyss. He is confronted with every ounce of mortal fear, and knows that if he should move to do more than take a breath, he will die here. The focused chakra in his body finally pulsates. It seeks to jar him, but he holds it in place and forces it back up along an alternate path from the one it took to go down. This time it makes a straight shot up into his heart, and then...
Rock Lee opens his eyes.
Chakra ignites in his blood stream. He can feel power literally exploding from his eyes as brightly as if they were searchlights. In a similar way, a glowing vapor drifts out from his nose, mouth and ears. His skin rapidly tints green, and his hair shocks upright as if blown by a strong wind. Every muscle he has tightens a thousand fold, and Lee feels himself becoming intoxicated.
"It's... Like being drunk," he manages to whisper out from behind grit teeth, though the act is enough to make his lips numb.
"That will... Pass," Gai replies with a matching strain.
A few seconds later, Lee finds his eyes painfully tilting down to look at himself.
He is not a Hyuuga, but he can see the tenketsu as plain as day right now. They glow an intense blue against the green backdrop of his skin, forming elaborate patterns and lines that are as beautiful as they are terrifying.
It is enough to make his life flash before his eyes.
At the age of twelve, Lee began to open his Gates. At the age of thirteen, it almost killed him. At fourteen, he first conquered the View Gate.
Tonight, Rock Lee sits between the open doors of the Death Gate. He peers at mortality and knows that one day, he will walk through these doors and never come back.
Irony strikes him then. A few months ago, Neji was allowed to move out of the Hyuuga compound. TenTen and Lee joined with him to start renting an apartment. Although Lee is the only one who actually lives there for any length of time, he wonders what they would do with his room if he were to die here.
After a few mental images of Neji somehow attempting to convert Lee's room into an orgy bar, he decides that it's time to power down.
"I do not want my bed turned fuzzy and pink," he suddenly says.
"... Yes. I was wondering when you would say that," Gai replies automatically.
Apparently, their similarities are more than even Lee knows.
Some hours later, Lee finally steps into the apartment. TenTen is there to greet him; unlike most nights, she has trouble sleeping. He can tell by the scent of the tea she has on the stove. She greets his return with a quizzical expression; brow raised, one corner of her mouth upturned in a resigned smirk.
Lee dearly wants to be as ridiculous as he ever is right now. He wants to wash away her worry, because she obviously knew--or at least, she now knows--that he was never in his room tonight. He wants nothing more than to smile like Gai, give her a thumbs up and go to sleep.
But he can't.
The Eighth Gate is closed, but Lee still feels Death's hand resting uneasily on his shoulder. It's a chilly sensation, almost enough to numb him completely. Though the lines are gone, his hair has fallen back down and his eyes no longer glow, Lee can still taste his own soul with every breath he takes. In an odd way, he manages to note that it tastes somewhat minty.
Tension starts to build as he looks at her. TenTen's expression begins to droop a bit. As always, she can tell something is wrong. Privately, Lee damns himself for not being able to hide his feelings better; he essentially lives with a guy able to read his body language and a girl able to read his eyes, both of them doing it as if it were an open book with giant neon green letters.
"Is something wrong?" She finally asks.
All he can think of is death. So he tries to make a joke of it.
"If I die," he begins, suddenly drawing her attention in much the same way he always hopes to see Sakura look at him. "Make sure Neji doesn't have orgies in my room."
The tension breaks. TenTen's expression, again, mirrors that of Sakura. This time, it's the flat-faced look that Sakura first gave him when they met before the Chuunin Exams. Although Lee isn't laughing, he does manage to smile.
"Goodnight," he says. TenTen remains silent, but Lee does not give her time to gather any words.
He walks to his room, opens the door and steps inside. Then, with all the thoroughness of a proper Shinobi, he locks the door; seven times in a row, then a block that's bolted to the frame. He turns towards his bed and, with far more defeat than someone who has just unlocked his ultimate technique, flops onto it.
Shinigami's hand is still on his back.
Rock Lee lies on Death's precipice. Something tells him that he will never be able to look away from it again, and for the first time...
He really understands why Maito Gai acts like an idiot.
It's to keep himself sane.
Lee decides that, starting tomorrow, he'll start putting more effort into doing the same.
Don't go looking over
You might have trouble looking away from it.
Author's Notes: Not much to say about this one. I wrote it up on a whim over the course of two days when I had a bit of free time.
I guess the main point was the end. I was inspired by Yamisui's original fanfiction technique, the Shinkuhana. It made me want to look into what it would be like to literally stand on the edge of Death with the power to essentially kill anyone. Oddly enough, it was Rock Lee--hysterical, ridiculous, weirder-than-Hell Rock Lee--who jumped into my mind first.
Oh, and the Green Beast of Konoha? The Eight Gates turning Lee and Gai's skin green was a semi-obvious reference to that.
Hopefully, I did a good job portraying him. Same with Gai and the Eight Gates themselves.