Cutesy, fluff fic. Only warning be shounen-ai, standard disclaimers apply. I really like this - I enjoyed writing it and I hope you enjoy reading it. Please, by all means, review!
As usual, Gaara watched quietly as Lee trained. They'd spent many days, weeks, months in this manner. Almost a couple years, now. Always the same. Lee rose with the dawn and went to his little corner of the forest to find Gaara patiently waiting for him, usually leaning against what Lee came to think of as Gaara's tree or sitting in the large branch that seemed made for stretching out on, only about ten feet off of the ground.
Lee would wave, smile, say good morning. Gaara would make eye contact, smile a little (he never smiled any larger, though) and say morning. Then Lee would begin training in whatever manner he chose that particular day. He'd break for a snack around nine and they'd eat together, then he'd train again till they went into town for lunch. Back out till dinner which they went into town for again, then a last few hours before bed. Occasionally Gaara had other things to do – missions, meeting with his siblings or Naruto and some of his other friends, and likewise for Lee, but that was the general pattern.
During that time, they only spoke in the occasional breaks and the trips in town for lunch and dinner. While Lee was training, Gaara only watched silently, his thoughts unfathomable to Lee – or anyone else, for that matter. He was usually still, the only things about him that moved being his eyes as he followed Lee's movements (when he could, which was most the time, since Lee didn't usually use his top speed in training) and his chest as he breathed.
However, today, he seemed almost antsy. Granted, what was antsy for Gaara most people would still consider virtually catatonic. Still, Lee knew him well enough to notice and wonder what was up.
Generally, Lee did most of the talking, with Gaara responding here and there, saying just enough to prompt Lee so he didn't run out of things to say. But of course, now and then, when he had something on his mind, he took over the conversation. Those times he'd always been a little antsy too, so Lee prepared to listen a lot today as he called Gaara over and said he was taking his snack break, going over to the small bag he always carried up with him that held bottles of water and various healthy and fast energy foods.
He tossed over a bag of chips to Gaara – he always brought them so Gaara would have something to eat. They were sour cream and onion – his favorite. Gaara opened up the bag and sat down, leaning back against his tree, then restlessly sitting back up again, as Lee trotted over and sat in front of him. "What's up?" he asked to get Gaara started.
Gaara shoved a chip in his mouth and chewed contemplatively, trying to decide how to word what he wanted to say. Communication of ideas transcending the simplicities of everyday life was difficult for him. Lee was patient – he'd learned it was no good to rush Gaara when he needed to talk. Gaara was grateful for Lee's understanding. As usual for these rare occurrences, he started slowly.
"Lee-kun… There's a feeling… sort of a hurt… here," he said, gesturing to his chest where his heart might be, "when I look at you..." Gaara glanced at Lee, who appeared surprised and, moreover, upset. What did he do wrong? Gaara rushed now to explain, seeing the regret in Lee's eyes, the way he reached out and began to apologize. "It's not a bad hurt! Well, not mostly… It hurts worse when you're hurting, or upset… But when you're happy, it feels good… It's still a hurt, but… I kind of… like it, almost… Lee… Why do I feel like this?" he asked, almost afraid to look Lee in the eyes.
Lee was quiet a few minutes, formulating a reply. "It sounds like… longing… maybe love…"
Gaara looked up abruptly, catching Lee in his penetrating, bottomless and shallow eyes. "Love…?" the word was a hope and a fear and fervent plea voiced on a breath. "Lee-kun… do you have that hurt… when you see me?"
Lee breathed deeply. He was little better with words than Gaara oft times. "When I think of… of the things you've been through… I hurt for you. And it makes me happy to see you happy. But… I don't think I have the same… 'hurt'," he stated slowly.
Gaara's head drooped slowly, his hand slowly going to his chest. "Oh… Lee… It hurts really bad… now. I think… I think I need to leave…!" he said, dropping the bag of chips and scrambling to his feet, gone before Lee could stop him.
"Gaara-kun! I'm sorry, Gaara!" Lee called, deciding that chasing Gaara would be pointless. He sighed and went back to training, feeling very much alone without Gaara's constant, quiet presence.
After that, the pattern changed. The next day, Gaara was there as usual, but something was wrong, something sacred had been ruined. They were uncomfortable. Gaara fidgeted, and both felt there was a wrongness. They were awkward, and hardly exchanged a full five sentences the whole day. The sentences they exchanged were short and clipped, leaving long, deep silences that they felt themselves fall into, or perhaps were pulled into, like a black hole.
The day after, Gaara was not waiting for Lee. Nor was he there the next day, or the next. He did not show up for the next several weeks, and the two met only in passing now and then, brief, awkward meetings from which they both hurried away feeling empty and tense.
Gaara tried to stay around Naruto or his siblings for the most part. His nights he spent feeling caged in his apartment, rather than relaxing on the branch of his tree, gazing at the stars, plotting ancient constellations and creating his own. He paced the front room, or curled up in the fetal position on the futon, put up into the couch style, clutching his heart. He never cried, but frequently he felt a moistness collect at his eyes that burned like venom and threatened him.
It was like this Kankurou found him one night, and attempted to console his younger brother. He failed; Gaara would not be consoled. He felt as if he were alone again, despite the parade of life all around him, despite his siblings' and his other friends' attempts at cheering him and drawing him into the main flow again.
Lee spent many weeks training alone, silent when he took his breaks and longing for companionship, but unable to ask anyone: who could fill Gaara's shoes? Anyone else would either talk too much and disturb him as he trained or not talk enough and be unentertaining when he paused. In town he ate with varied groups, often Neji, Tenten, or Gai, but also with others, like Naruto when Gaara wasn't around, or Sakura-chan.
He missed Gaara, but at first, he dismissed that as the simple shock of a change in routine, or over the stress of having such an awkward moment with one he considered a friend. But as the feeling continued, even strengthened, he realized that it was not merely these reasons.
Today he was practicing punches. He slammed the log with all his might, watching as it split. Panting (he'd been relentlessly working for hours now) he leaned over, one hand propped on his knee to support himself, another going to his laboring heart. He winced, clutching slightly. It did hurt. Was it a training hurt, or a hurt like Gaara suffered from? His eyes widened as he thought how much Gaara must be hurting. He didn't want Gaara to hurt that way!
He walked over to Gaara's tree, sitting at its base where grass no longer grew in a patch that revealed where Gaara's feet usually rested. He leaned back, wiping sweat from his forehead, wishing he could hear the quiet, familiar sound of shifting sand that accompanied Gaara at virtually all times.
He looked at the sky. Judging by the sun, it was not quite midday. He stood up, dusting himself off, feeling oddly weary. He'd felt so the last few weeks. He had time – he should have enough to find Gaara before lunch, if he went in a little early. He left his little bag of water and such behind as he usually did and walked back into Konoha, searching for Gaara.
He found Gaara in a small shop with Temari, who was looking at carved wooden flutes. Gaara was casually looking over a display featuring many varieties of instruments, all carved, some plain, others so ornate it was a wonder they could be played. The Suna-nin turned curiously hearing someone else enter – a mere glance out of habit.
Temari's gaze turned cool as she went over and stood by her brother. She didn't generally have much against Lee, but she would not allow him to cause Gaara pain! Her littlest brother had suffered enough. Gaara's eyes were surprised and reluctant as he slowly went back to looking at the display – or he pretended to do so. A shrewd look might have discerned how his hands shook ever so slightly, so slightly. He and Lee had accidentally stepped into the same store on other occasions after the incident – usually the second person in left and came back later. Lee had no intention of doing that this time.
He came and stood next to Gaara quietly, wordless, pretending to look at the instruments too. Gaara was tense, his chest feeling so constricted he wondered that he didn't collapse from lack of oxygen, able to keep his breath steady and only slightly rushed by some miracle. Temari's arms folded. If Lee didn't disappear soon, she would make it happen.
Lee gingerly picked up a small, delicate-looking harp. It bore modest designs as fine as its strings. Lightly, he plucked a thread, producing a clear, sweet sound, one that, on its own, seemed to bear a touch of melancholy. He plucked a different thread. This one was slightly deeper, achieving the same overall effect, if not slightly gloomier. "It's a lovely piece, don't you think?" he commented quietly.
Gaara jolted a hair, surprised at being addressed so abruptly, glancing a moment at the harp before tersely replying, "Yes. Lovely."
Lee seemed somewhat deterred by the tone he used, yet not all daunted.
"Lee…" Temari clipped. Lee looked up at her.
"Just what do you want?" she asked boldly and almost coldly. Gaara's hand slowly rose to rest at his chest over his heart. They both noticed but said nothing.
"I was hoping Gaara would have lunch with me," he replied honestly, in an earnest tone.
"Come with me a minute," Temari said, tugging Lee away and having a stern, quiet conversation with him. Gaara glanced at them a moment then walked away, exiting the store quietly and walking down the street with no particular aim in mind.
He heard running and inhaled deeply, still feeling as though he could barely breathe.
"Gaara-kun!" Lee, as Gaara had expected.
"Gaara! Please, let's get lunch together," Lee invited, grabbing Gaara's other hand which dangled at his side. Gaara withdrew his as though Lee's was coated in mud or poison or some other distasteful substance.
Stubborn as ever, though hurt, Lee continued. "I'll pay! We'll go where ever you want!"
"Lee…" Gaara's hand clenched over his heart, every breath a struggle. Lee grew worried as he began to detect a noticeable irregularity in Gaara's breathing pattern. "Please, don't think we can just… just go back to before…I hurt too much…" the last words were weak, soft, almost plaintive.
"I don't want to go back to before, Gaara…" Gaara looked at Lee penetratingly as ever, always unreadable as he struggled to find meaning in Lee's warm, black eyes. Lee found for a moment that now he was having trouble breathing. Hesitantly, he reached for Gaara's hand again. "I didn't realize it, because you were always there… I thought about you all the time, but I thought it was just because we were close friends…"
He took Gaara's hand. "But with you gone… I have the same hurt, Gaara-kun. And being without you… everything's been wrong! It's like I got knocked off balance and I can't get straight again. I need a shoulder to hold on to so that I can get steady again… And I hate how things have been between us the last few weeks!" he explained. He squeezed Gaara's hand lightly. "Can we please have lunch?"
Gaara was silent throughout the exchange. Slowly, he looked up at Lee and gave him that small, familiar smile that was so much more vivid in his eyes than his lips. Almost wistfully, he whispered, "You have the same hurt?"
"Yeah… Yeah, I think I do, Gaara-kun!" Lee said, smiling with his usual brightness.
Gaara's eyes seemed to glow from within as he looked boldly forward, the hand at his chest sinking as he squeezed Lee's hand back a little. "We can have lunch, I guess," he murmured, the quiet, plebian words conveying depths of greater meaning.
Lee grinned and led the way to Gaara's favorite lunch restaurant, running and half dragging a stumbling Gaara behind him, both of them smiling wider than they ever had before, Lee laughing with his wild, youthful spirit and Gaara might have been best described as giggling, unable to fully contain himself.