Lee and Neji, best friends and rivals. I always wondered more about the story behind their relationship. This is my take...
Not good with fight scenes, but I did what I could. Lee and Neji are about 11, a year before they graduate.
Disclaimer: Is it really necessary to state the obvious?
"I am Rock Lee!" the odd looking boy stood with a large grin on his face, white teeth shining through. His hair was ebony black, and shaggy. His eyebrows were the thickest set of brows planted on a face. He wore a white buttoned shirt and matching pants. He had one arm extended and a hand out, as if wanting to shake. "And you are Hyuuga Neji! It is truly an honor!"
The two boys were standing last in line on the training grounds, waiting their turn for the kuneai throwing. A girl from another class was on the field, throwing an assortment of weapons, all meeting their target in the most perfect manner. He recognized the eyebrow boy as just transferring into his class from another one. He knew him to be the Spirited Loser, the boy who could perform neither ninjutsu or genjutsu.
"Am I suppose to be impressed?" Neji asked, folding his arms across his chest.
Lee blinked, a surprised look on his face. "No, I was just making my introduction." he lowered his arm. "I have done many study lessons on the great Clans of the Hidden Leaves. The Hyuuga Clan and their mastery of The Gentle Fist Art has particularly fascinated me. I have always wanted to mee—"
"Whatever." Neji spun around, moving a step forward in line. That girl finally got off the field, he noted impatiently.
Lee took a step forward also. "I am in constant training to improve myself."he said, much to Neji's annoyance. "My specialty is Taijutsu. I plan to become the greatest Taijutsu artist the Hidden Leaves has ever seen!"
"What's so funny?" Lee pointed an accusing finger. "Do you not think I am capable of accomplishing my goal?"
"You can train as hard as you want, but nothing will change the flow of your destiny." Neji said matter of factly. "Do you really believe that someone who can't even perform ninjutsu and genjutsu has the ability to excel in Taijutsu? Not everyone is blessed with the gift of talent." Neji turned and glared at Lee. "And from what I've heard you're obviously not one of them."
Lee glared at Neji, a mixture of anger and hurt in his eyes. "If you truly believe that..." he said through gritted teeth. "If you truly believe that then you will spar with me! And I will show you! I will show you that my Taijutsu is strong enough to rival your own!"
"You're not worth my time." Neji took another step forward. He focused at the target range, ignoring the boy behind him. One more person, and then he would be next. Although he preferred hand to hand combat, weaponry was not really his favorite thing in the world. Even still, he excelled at it.
Behind him Lee was muttering "I will prove to you. I will prove to you, Hyuuga Neji..."
Neji was the last one out of the class room. He gathered up his books and stalked out. He walked outside, toward the direction of the Hyuuga compound. The students had gotten their progress reports that day. As usual he was number one in everything. Neji felt a feeling of sadness in the pit of his stomach. Number one. And no one to share his pride with. He shook his head, and pushed his feelings down, continuing on his way.
It was about then that he heard the voices from the other side of the wall.. "...yeah, my dad's going to be disappointed, but I don't care. Being a ninja isn't really what I wanted to do. It gets on my nerves though, that Hyuuga is number one again." Neji stopped, one foot still in midstep.
"Why, jealous of him?" another voice snickered.
Neji slowly let his foot down. "Jealous? NO! I wouldn't mind him being number one if he wasn't such a jerk about it."
The second voice was laughing. "Yeah, it's one thing to be better than everyone, it's another to rub it in with all that fate and destiny crap..." Neji heard the sound of steps as the two voices started to walk away.
From a distance Neji could hear the conversation continuing: "Yeah, he's got... some sister or something... class below us... completely worthless..."
Neji stared at his shoes, his face expressionless. He had a feeling that his classmates were not that fond of him, but he had never had it presented to him in such a manner. Any emotion that he tried to bury was building up within him. His mind drifted to the faces of his family... his uncle, his cousin, his father...
After the death of his father Neji was taken in by the Main House, but retained his Branch status. Even with the special treatment, Neji couldn't help the burning hatred he had toward his father's brother, and his cousins. He ostracized himself from both Houses, devoting himself to the Gentle Fist art of his clan.
Father, if you were here...
But it was at that moment that the isolation he had used as a defense rose up against him. He closed his eyes, and crossed his arms.
If you were here...
It wasn't often, if rarely that Neji let his emotions through. But when they did come through he often found them beyond his control. Tears streamed freely down his cheek.
Maybe I wouldn't be so alone...
"Good morning, Neji kun." Lee stood before his irritated classmate, self satisfaction written all over his face.
It was the following morning, and Neji had rose early to go to the training grounds and practice before anyone else had got there. As he neared the training grounds he groaned. Walking along at the same pace was the thick brow weirdo from the day before. They met in the middle of the grounds.
"What are you doing here?" Neji glowered.
"Training, of course. I always come here at this time for my early morning warm up." Lee was annoyingly chipper. "And you? So you have decided to take me up on my request."
"To spar with me. To see which one of us truly is the better Taijutsu artist."
"I don't think so, freak."
Lee furrowed his thick eyebrows, his feelings obviously hurt. "And you still think I am not worth you're time?"
"I've got better things to do."
"Well," Lee took a step back. He folded one arm behind him and extended out the other one, an obvious fighting stance.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?" Neji demanded.
"I won't take no for an answer. You will fight me, Neji kun."Lee said.
Neji hesitated for a moment and the shook his head. "Pfft." he flung his backpack off of him. "Very well. I gave you fair warning. Fate has already decided who would win between us." He closed his eyes and did a few quick hand signs.
"BYAKUGAN!" The feeling of the chakra flowing to his face was instant. He felt the skin around his eyes bulge out. His iris, became more defined, opening up a whole new world of vision to him. Lee's chakra system, and all of it's intricacies was suddenly visible through the white eyes.
Lee jump at Neji's activated Byakugan, but he quickly regained his composure.
Neji extended his own arm out. "Bring it on."
Lee ran at Neji with surprising speed. He jumped into the air, at the same time spinning around. Neji raised his arm, partly in defense and partly in surprise, just as Lee's leg came crashing against it. Lee jumped away, landing on the ground. He spun around and charged again.
Both of them swung at each other, dodging and circling around one another, some blows landing, some barely missing.
Neji pulled back his hand and landed a hard blow against Lee's stomach. Lee gasped, and blood flew out of his mouth. The Hyuuga took that brief moment of hesitation and rammed his fist into Lee's face.
Lee flew back, but caught himself before he could completely go down. He regained his footing, and ran at Neji with a sudden burst of speed. This time it was Lee's fist that smashed against Neji's face.
Neji stumbled back, surprised. He lifted his fingers to his mouth and wiped off a trickle of blood. In all his time at the Academy the people that Neji had sparred with had barely been able to land a finger, much less deliver such a blow that drew blood.
Neji clenched his fist. Lee was fast.
Faster than me!
He had landed a blow.
Neji looked at Lee. Jealous anger now blinded him. "You bastard!" This time it was he who charged. Lee swung at his opponent's head twice, both times Neji ducked.
The Hyuuga punched Lee, a series of punches aimed at his face. As the fists met their target Lee stumbled backwards. Neji grabbed the boy by his shirt, punching him a few more times before opening his palm and sending it straight into Lee's chest.
Lee fell back, this time falling to the ground.
Neji stood over him, deactivating his eyes. "I... told you..." Neji breathed heavily. "Fate... has already... decided our outcome."
"I've worked hard," Lee was mumbling. "I've worked... HARD!" he suddenly jumped up, swinging at Neji. Neji pivoted around his swings, and when he saw his opening sent another open palm into Lee's stomach.
As Lee gasped Neji pulled back and landed a palm into Lee's chest. Once again, the boy crashed down to the ground.
"You can work as hard as you feel... but fate has already decided your outcome." Neji stood still as Lee stiffly lifted himself up into a sitting position. He coughed, blooding coming up.
"So you say, Neji kun... that fate has decided... the genius will always win... against the loser?" Lee gasped. For the first time since their informal meeting Neji detected a lack of confidence from Lee. A feeling of... hopelessness...
"Lee..." Neji tilted his head. "You cannot fall on your own sword... and expect others to follow."
Lee slowly rose to his feet, clutching his abdomen. He looked up at Neji, who started. The look of determination had suddenly returned to his opponent's eyes. "Wouldn't it be funny to see... the long suffering loser take down the natural born genius?"
Neji sighed, shaking his head. He looked up at the sky. "We should be heading to the Academy." He hesitated. At that moment he wasn't quite sure what came over him. Whether it was a feeling of pity or good will Neji found himself stepping forward and wrapped his arm around Lee's shoulder. "I'll... I'll walk with you." he heard himself say.
Lee looked at Neji, his mouth open in surprise. Slowly it turned into an uncertain smile. "Arigato...Neji kun..."
The sparring soon became a routine thing. It was not an everyday occurrence, but Neji came to expect a fight with Lee at least twice a week. While at school they concentrated on their studies, hardly socializing with anyone else or each other. It was in the early mornings, or the late evenings, that some Jounins began to notice the fights between the Hyuuga kid and the Spirited Loser.
Even though Lee continued to annoy Neji, he had to admit that his tolerance of him was growing. He often ignored him as they walked to school, with Lee rambling on about proving that one day he would be a fine ninja.
"If you even graduate from the Academy." Neji finally said on one particular occassion.
"What do you mean by that?" Lee demanded in an angry defensive voice.
"How can you possibly be a ninja, much less a splendid ninja, when you can't do ninjutsu or genjutsu?"
"You just watch, Neji kun!" Lee spoke in his usual determined voice. "I will graduate the Academy on my Taijutsu alone, and it will be something special! I will succeed and," he turned and looked at Neji, a sly smile on his face. "I will defeat you, Neji kun!"
However, with those determined words, their sparring always ended on the same note. And even when Lee was completely beaten, he would still painfully pick himself up, and stand before Neji, ready to continue the fight.
Neji gritted his teeth. Seeing Lee, beaten and wobbly, barely able to keep his balance, angered him, for various reasons. Over the months of their fighting Lee's Taijutsu remained sub par, but his speed continued to increase, and his stamina was beyond limits. Neji was often worn from a fight, even while Lee stood before him, beaten and ready to continue as if they were just beginning.
In the back of his mind Neji was quietly asking himself why he did not have the same stamina. Jealousy was a relatively new emotion for Neji. It was not something he was use to.
"Lee," Neji growled after one particular grueling session. "All of this is pointless. As I have said before the Heavens have already decided the outcome of this fight, and all our fights to come." Neji paused, and then said slowly "I will admit... your Taijutsu... although worthless... is still better than most of the fools at the Academy."
Lee blinked. "R-really?"
"But the dropout will never win against someone like me. Fate has decided your lot in life. Lee! Listen!" Neji's voice was almost pleading.
Lee's body was quivering, and yet he maintained his stance. "Arigato, Neji kun." he whispered. "You have finally... acknowledged me. That though you may continue to defeat me... I am worth your time." Tears were welling up in his eyes. "Fate has changed her course between you and me. Before you would not even consider me a worthy opponent. And now you say I am. And one day, Neji kun... one day I will stand over you. The victor."
Neji sighed, shaking his head. "Lee, why can't you see... You hot blooded fool..."
Progress reports again. Neji pushed his chair back, and stood up.
The last one to leave the class again. Slowly he picked up his books and walked out, heading home.
Number one, again. The same feeling was boiling up in him... again. He wanted to share his progress, share his victory over the other students. He shook his head, pushing the feelings down. It almost seemed live deja vu when he walked by the wall, and heard the same voices.
But this time it was a different conversation.
"...Why do you even bother? You should just drop out now!"
"You are wrong! I will graduate the Academy and I will go on to be a fine Shinobi!"
"Yeah right!" a third voice. "You can't even transform."
"Yeah, what a loser..."
"Say what you will, one day you will see! If I work hard I know I can do it..."
"What a freak..."
"Yeah... hey, watch this!"
Lee tried to move, but he couldn't. The vine had sprouted out from the ground and wrapped around his leg. Lee pulled, but the grip was firm. Vaguely he saw his two classmates standing before him, but instead of their just being two they were all around him. Lee tried again to pull his leg out but the vine jerked hard on him. He stumbled, falling on one knee. Slowly he rose to his feet.
The classmates circled him, laughing.
"What a loser..."
"LEE!" Lee was unsure exactly which direction the voice came from. He heard the movement, and suddenly Neji was upon him, his arm extended.
Neji's palm hit Lee square in the chest.
"Pfft.." Neji looked at the classmates in disgust. Behind him Lee was clutching his chest and gasping, the genjutsu having been worn off by Neji's contact. The two classmates stood in front of Neji, their mouths open in shock. "A low grade genjutsu." Neji noted. "Something I would expect from the likes of you two." Neji glowered. "A cheap attack. From cowards who can't handle hand to hand combat."
"No, we were just having a laugh—"
"Get lost." Neji spun around, and the two quickly scampered away.
Lee stood still, staring at Neji, who stared back, an expressionless look on his face. "Once again.." Lee glanced away from Neji. "Arigato... Neji Kun."
Neji shrugged, and turned to leave.
Neji started. He turned halfway, his eyes downcast. "What did you say?"
"It is of no surprise, of course," Lee was saying. "That you would be number one again. And I applaud you."
Neji was speechless. He looked up at Lee who was smiling broadly. He lowered his eyes. Once again the emotion was overwhelming. But it was different this time. This time it was noticeably less... painful.
Spirited Loser. He was still annoying. He was still a weirdo freak.
"It is an honor to have you as my opponent... Neji."
Neji looked up at Lee again. Their eyes met, a million thoughts and words passing between them without being spoken. Lee stood, smiling. Neji, for all his emotion, kept his composure cool and aloof.
"I'll see you tomorrow." Neji said, turning and walking away.
Neji walked, kicking a few rocks that got in his path.
Fate stays true, and yet sometimes we know not where it leads us...
He shoved his hands into his pockets, and closed his eyes.
Or to who...
A faint smile crossed his lips.