Jiyuu no Hi (Day Of Freedom)

This story was inspired by the Go! opening sequence, the part where Gai's running across the screen carrying Lee on his shoulders. I've always loved that part, but only recently was inspired to write a story about it.

Disclaimer: If I owned it, didn't I say that Lee would be Hokage? ^_^

Lee sat in a cushy soft chair in his hospital room, arms folded on the windowsill in front of him, longingly gazing out of the window. A warm, gentle breeze blew through the open curtains, ruffling his hair a bit. Outside, the weather was sunny with just the right smattering of clouds to make this a perfect day for spending outdoors. Birds were singing in nearby trees, and somewhere off in the distance, he could hear the sound of children playing. His friends and teammates were probably among them, if not playing, then training to become better ninjas.

He sighed in boredom and envy, wishing he could join them. Unfortunately, because of the time he left his room to train alone, he was under strict orders not to leave his room or the hospital premises without someone to accompany him in his still fragile state, and most everyone was busy with the reconstruction of Konoha or missions. Gai-sensei was on a mission right now, and although he'd be back any day now, Lee still was incredibly bored with nowhere to go and nothing to do. Besides, his body was still in such a shape that he really couldn't do much anyway. He doubted he could even pull that stunt again, even though he wanted to try. His body was still just too broken.

Lee sat back gingerly in his chair; a sadness in his heart. Would he ever get better? His body still hurt, though not as badly as before, and he could just barely walk on his crutch without assisstance. It pained him to think that he was so weak to have been disabled so badly at the preliminaries. It wasn't even the main match. A heavy sigh escaped his lips. What was he going to do?

A quiet knock on the door, before the door slid open to reveal the one person to always bring a smile to his face: Gai-sensei.

"Hey, how's my youthful student today?" Gai spoke boisterously, but not so boisterously that it would disturb the other patients in the hospital.

Lee turned in his chair; a bright smile lighting up his face. Gai had always loved Lee's sweet, youthful smile and the energy and exuberence that usually accompanied it. But lately, that energy and exuberence was sorely lacking. And it was no wonder. The boy had barely been spared being killed during the preliminaries and had the lasting injuries to show for it. Gai walked over to where Lee was sitting handing him a present of a small tin of cookies.

"Gai-sensei, thank you so much!" Lee exclaimed, quickly popping off the lid and grabbing several in each hand, preparing to pop one into his mouth.

"Don't eat so many at one time, Lee." Gai-sensei ordered, giving Lee a stern look as the boy put a few back. Lee began eating the remaining ones still in his hands one by one as he gazed sadly out of the window.

"Gai-sensei." Lee spoke quietly after a moment, not at all like his normal self. He looked sadly back up at Gai-sensei then. "When will I get out of here?"

The sweet, innocent, and hopeful look on Lee's face broke Gai's heart and he had to desperately fight back tears. Lee had been in the hospital for the last several weeks with a small reprieve for the main matches of the chuunin exams and again for the Sandaime's funeral. But he had been here for a long time already, and by the looks of things, his stay wasn't going to end anytime in the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, the only answer he could give the boy was an inadequate, "I really don't know."

He'd asked the staff of the hospital many times, but even they couldn't pinpoint a specific date, not really even an estimate, on Lee's release.

"... Oh..." was the only word uttered from Lee's lips, though the disappointment on his face spoke volumes. He quickly turned to stare out the window again before Gai could see the lone teardrop making an unbidden trail down Lee's cheek.

But Gai had seen it, and not for the first time he fervently wished that there was a way that he could take Lee's place. Take his place so that Lee would no longer have to suffer. Lee was still a child with his whole future ahead of him. It wasn't fair that he had to go through something like this at such a young age. Right now, Lee should be training like he'd always liked to do. Or playing with his friends. Or helping with the reconstruction efforts, which he would also consider training, not sitting here, prisoner to a hospital, wondering when he'd be released. He was still so young.

Then Gai had an idea. And it wasn't just any idea, it was a great idea! The best idea!

"How about we get you a pass to get out of here, just for today? We'll take a youthful stroll around the village! How's that sound?"

At first, Lee's face lit up, but then it fell again. "I can't get around well. I'll only slow you down."

Gai smiled his signature pearly white smile, winked at Lee and held up a finger. "I know a way that you can get around easily! But first, let's get you out of here."

Lee's face lit up again as he grabbed his crutch and prepared for the tedious process of standing up. Gai successfully hid his reaction at seeing the obvious pain the boy was in and the trouble he was having with what would have normally been a simple task.

"Should I wear what I have on?" Lee asked, referring to the robe-and-pant bedclothes he'd worn to the main matches of the chuunin exams. "I might stand out..."

Gai smiled. "It's ok. You wore them to the stadium and no one gave you a second look. It'll be fine. I promise!" He winked, giving his signature thumbs-up.

Lee allowed a small grin to creep across his face as he started the laborious process of walking to the door of the room with sensei beside him.

After they'd checked out for the day, and were directly outside the hospital doors, a process that left Lee breathing hard, Lee asked, "What was it you were going to show me to get around more easily?"

"Watch!" Gai winked as he went around behind Lee and carefully hoisted the boy up onto his shoulders. Lee let out a laugh then that, to Gai, was the sweetest sound in the world. The last time he'd heard it was during the preliminaries and with everything that had happened after that, it seemed like so long ago.

"All right!" Gai shouted, making sure to keep a firm grip on the boy. "You tell me whereever you want to go, and I'll be your legs."

Just then, a loud growl from Lee's stomach signaled his hunger. He lay his hand on his belly as he gave his first direction."Ichiraku!" And Gai, having heard the loudness of the growl, told Lee to brace himself, and took off in a jog towards the famous ramen establishment.

Once they got there, Gai sat Lee and then himself down as Teuchi greeted the two ninja with his ever present smile. While Gai-sensei tried to decide what he wanted, Lee stuck his hand in his pocket and counted the money he'd brought. If he wanted to get some takoyaki later that day like he'd planned, then he'd have to just have one bowl of ramen with a few extras added.

Gai lovingly lay a hand on Lee's shoulder. "Put your money away. Today is my treat. Please eat all you want."

Lee's eyes opened even wider than they already were. Then Ayame spoke, "Yes, eat as much as you like. We all want to see you get back to full health again!"

The bright light of a smile slowly spread it's way across Lee's face, and he ordered a bowl of curry ramen with extra noodles, egg, and nori.

It wasn't too long after he finished his second bowl that Gai had paid and Lee was lifted back up to his perch on Gai's shoulders that Teuchi called for them to wait. When they turned around, he spoke.

"We heard about your performance at the preliminaries, and we want you to know that we're very proud of you and hope that you get better soon. Here is a little gift from Ichiraku Ramen. We hope you'll enjoy it."

He handed Lee a little booklet of something. That something, as Lee brought it closer to his face, made his eyes bug out.

It was lots of coupons for free ramen.

Lee flipped through the booklet with a happy laugh. He had never expected something like this. Naruto-kun would be beside himself with envy if he knew! But Lee would share with his friends, because that was just the type of person he was.

"Thank you so much!" Lee spoke shyly. "I don't know what to say..."

"Your sincere thank you was more than enough, Lee." Teuchi told him, smiling a wider version of his perpetual grin. "We hope you have a good rest of the day today, and come back anytime."

Lee and Gai bid the ramen vendors farewell and started off again on their journey.

The warm breeze ruffled Lee's hair as Gai walked, and it felt so good on a day like this to get outside. He'd just been cooped up in the hospital for way too long and he wished he didn't have to go back. Lee looked all around them at the reconstruction work being carried out and he wished hard to be able to help.

Lee looked down at the man who's head he was holding onto, not too tightly but firmly enough to help with support. "Gai-sensei." Lee spoke after a moment. "With all of the construction going on..." Gai waited patiently, as always, for Lee to finish. "Is there anything I can do? I want to help too."

Gai smiled at the thoughtfulness of his most precious student and wondered if indeed there was anything Lee could do to help. He loved his village and had pride in it just like everyone else, and most likely, felt it unfair that he couldn't help.

But then, maybe he could, if only just a little.

"Maybe there is something you can do."

Gai walked over to a building which was damaged on the side, and the repair crew were in the process of finishing up a new wall. Gai then asked if there was something that Lee could do.

"Well, we could use someone to hammer in nails." One of the men informed Gai and Lee smiled. Then, to Lee he said, "Are you sure you're up to it Lee? That hand still looks pretty bad." he said, glancing at Lee's still bandaged left appendage.

"It'll be okay for now!" a still smiling Lee held up his injured hand and flexed it gently.

"Alright then, but let us know when you need to stop." the man said, then handed Lee a hammer and Gai some nails.

They worked long into the afternoon, Gai holding the nails in place and Lee hammering them in. Because of his injured hand, Lee found that he had to use both hands just to work the hammer. After a while, it started to hurt immensely, but Lee didn't complain even once. It was right around 3:50 or so when Lee's hand began to bleed. Despite Lee's protests, Gai decided at that point, that they should move on.

The repair crew deeply thanked the two before Gai and Lee went on their way again.

It wasn't long after they'd moved on that Gai sat Lee and himself down on a nearby bench so that he could apply more bandaging to Lee's hand.

"Lee..." Gai started in a serious, but gentle tone of voice as he wrapped the boy's hand in a gentle but firm enough manner to make it stable. "That was a dangerous thing to do. You could have seriously injured yourself. Why did you continue when you knew your limit? I know that it hurt long before it started to bleed... so why?"

Lee spoke in a small voice. "I... I want to be useful again..."

Gai was taken aback. "But you're already useful. What makes you think you're not?"

"I'm not getting better... My body still hurts, and I can barely get around... I can't do anything... and they won't let me go home..." Lee sniffed, as a tear ran down his face. He quickly wiped it with his good hand as he averted his eyes. "I feel so completely useless." Lee said in a voice so small it could barely be heard.

Self-pity wasn't like his most beloved student. This was only the second time that Gai had ever heard something like this from his Lee. Gai lifted Lee's chin with a folded finger until Lee could no longer avoid looking at him. "You're not useless to me. I was worn out from my last mission, but just coming to see you again put the life right back into me. That's just the type of person you are. As far as your injuries go, they'll just take more time to heal than some others. And who knows? Maybe you'll be even stronger when this is over." He brushed Lee's cheek with the backs of his fingers. "You're useful even in small ways. So please don't ever speak of feeling useless again. You're never useless to me."

Lee smiled a small smile as he took a stress-relieving breath.

"Ready for some more youthful adventure?" Gai asked Lee before standing up. When Lee nodded, Gai helped him up, walked behind him, and lifted him back into position. Then Gai took off in a slow jog. Carrying the 13 year old boy upon his shoulders in this way was no small task even though, if he had to, he'd carry Lee no matter how old or big he was, if that was what he needed. He loved Lee more than life itself, and he was the one being on Earth Gai would do anything for.

"What's next on the itinerary, Lee?" Gai shouted happily and boisterously as they zipped along the various streets and roads of Konoha village.

But Lee was only half paying attention, his eyes closed, enjoying the feel of the wind against him, in his hair, and the feel of the steady gait beneath him. He opened his eyes for a second, looked down and uttered, "Huh?"

Another thing that was a quite a bit uncharacteristic of Lee. But then, he must have been enjoying his time on the outside very much to be like that. Gai chuckled and asked, "What do you want to do next?"

Lee was hungry after all that work. Very hungry. "Takoyaki!" he shouted happily without hesitation.

Lee counted himself lucky for the third time that day. He'd come to this particular restaurant on a strangly random all-you-can-eat day, and with Gai volunteering to pay again, he'd been able to eat a little more than his fill. Though, there was a point during his meal, that Lee thought that he had overheard that this particular all-you-can-eat day was actually an all-Lee-can-eat day, but when he looked up, the restaurant owner turned away, but not before Lee could see the smile on his face.

It wasn't long before they set out again on their journey. It was about 4:45 in the afternoon and slowly approaching evening. Gai was carrying Lee through a more rural-y part of Konoha when they came upon a hill. At Lee's request, Gai sat both of them down on the soft, fresh-smelling green grass and Lee gazed up at the clouds in the late afternoon sky. It wasn't long before it began to hurt Lee to sit upright for too long, so he carefully laid back. Gai followed suit.

"Look Gai-sensei!" Lee spoke as he pointed excitedly into the sky. "A shuriken shaped cloud!"

"Where?" Gai asked, looking towards where Lee was pointing.

"Right there! Just a little to the left." Lee said, pointing and giving a more precise direction.

"Ah!" Gai remarked, finally noticing the cloud. "That's my youthful student! Now I see one shaped like Shikamaru. Can you find it?"

Lee laughed. It would be just like a cloud to be shaped like Shikamaru. After looking for a moment, he found it, pointing it out to Gai. "There! It really does look like Shikamaru-kun!"

Lee's laughter was something that Gai could never get enough of. Everytime he heard it, it was like the first time. Having Lee back by his side was the greatest feeling in the whole world. To tell the truth, Gai had missed having Lee around while he was in the hospital. He had Neji and Tenten, but without Lee, it wasn't really the same. They were like a little family. A dad, an older sister, a big brother, and a little brother. And the kids really were more like siblings than anything else.

As if sensing what Gai was thinking about, Lee asked, "Gai-sensei? What would you think if I changed my last name?"

Looking at Lee curiously, but at the same time knowing what the boy was going to say, Gai asked, "To what?"

"I want my name to be Maito Lee." Lee stated proudly, while still staring at the clouds above. "It'll match yours and I think it sounds nice."

"I think that Rock Lee is nicer than Maito Lee." Gai stated in a way that he hoped wouldn't disappoint Lee. "But how about Rock Gai for me?"

Gai's question made Lee chuckle. He turned to Gai-sensei. "I mean no offense, but that's silly! Maito sounds so much better with Gai!"

"It's a stalemate then!" Gai said with a grin while Lee chuckled with Gai following suit. They both turned back to first watch the clouds. Gai then held a sleepy, but happy Lee in his arms as they both wordlessly watched the sunset.

At nightfall, an exhausted Lee rode piggyback style on the way back to the hospital. Lee's sleepy eyes twinkled in response to the stars that were out in their full nighttime glory. His stomach was full, he and Gai-sensei had just spent nearly the whole day together, and he was content. This was one of, if not THE, best days of his life. He wished it didn't have to end, at least, not so soon anyway. He decided that just for a few minutes, he'd close his eyes. Just a few, because he was so tired...

The next time Lee was aware of anything, he was back in his hospital room in his bed and a nurse was changing him into a different set of pajamas. He noticed that he felt cleaner and guessed that he'd been brought to his room and given a sponge bath. So he'd fallen asleep then. A blush crept up his cheeks as the nurse pulled the blankets up to his chest before giving him a friendly goodnight and leaving the room. Gai-sensei, who had left the room while Lee was undressed but had since come back, walked over to Lee's bedside, sitting down in the chair that had become his favorite in the room since the day he'd had that heart-to-heart with Lee.

Lee rolled over onto his side as Gai sat down beside him. "Gai-sensei. This morning I was so bored and felt so trapped in here, I didn't know what to do. But thanks to you, I had a wonderful day today, spending time with you. Thank you so much." Lee smiled as his sleepy eyes closed themselves once more. Gai-sensei really was like a father to Lee, so he had no problem saying what he said next to his sensei.

"I love you so much, Gai-sensei..." He trailed off, then all that could be heard from Lee was the sound of his soft snores.

"Lee..." Tears that had welled up unbidden in Gai's eyes, streaked down his cheeks, dripping from his chin when there was no more skin to travel upon. As Lee thought of him as a father, Gai also thought of Lee as a son. The reason he loved the boy so much was not only simply because he was like himself when he was younger, as everyone seemed to think. But because Lee needed acknowledgement just like Naruto had and he knew that he was the one who could help Lee in the way he needed to be helped. Of course, being like Gai himself didn't hurt either, Gai thought with a wry grin.

Again, like Naruto, Lee had also lost his parents at an early age and needed some positive parental influence in his life. So, when time came for teachers to get a genin group, he made sure to try his damndest to get Lee. Unfortunately, it wasn't to hard to get him because the others didn't really want him, not being able to see the raw, untapped potential in the boy. But then, none of them had ever paid any attention to Lee like Gai had. None of them had seen the blood, sweat, and tears the boy had poured out for the sake of his dream.

Well, one thing was for sure. He sure showed everyone at the preliminaries how strong, how fast, and how deadly he'd gotten even though in the end he still lost. Gai was proud, extremely proud, of Lee even though he still felt that he should have stopped the fight long before things got as bad as they did.

Gai loved Lee with all his heart, mind, soul, and strength, and he knew that Lee felt the same about him. There was no doubt in his mind. He bent down and kissed Lee's forehead, then settled back in his chair with contentment. The lights were turned down but he could still watch Lee sleep in peace. He watched Lee until late into the night until he too, like many nights spent here, surrendered to sleep himself.