Title: Intimacy and All That Jazz
Notes: Written for the prompt of 'naptime' on LJ's Thirtyforthree a long while back.
Summary: The highs and the lows of being a team. This is what happens when you let people in. NejiTenLee, Team Gai OT3.
Viewing the world. Walking life's road. Perspective shapes us.
Lee's inner eye looks forwards, sees a golden future. He is the optimist, the good soul, the one who sees the shining core to every problem, even if it's only an opportunity to hone himself into something better. He is the sun that never stops shining and his radiant heat is enough to sustain the earth itself.
Except when Neji pulls him down.
"You're still not focusing enough."
The breath comes harshly through Lee's nose, hands making an unwanted landing on his knees as the line of his spine distends in exhaustion, bruises and grazes visible tribute to another loss.
Neji watches with blind eyes.
Later – mutely, silently – Lee comes to Neji and maybe the slow, steady skin-on-skin would have been able to erase the feelings of inadequacy at one point, but the failure's written in his sweat and tears now.
Neji's smooth hands dull the light of Lee's soul, while urging it forwards at the same time.
All Lee can do is look to tomorrow.
Neji has his face turned towards the past, that indefinable point in time when the book of his life was written, signed and sealed by celestial hands. It's where his strength comes from, the immovability of the rock roots of the earth that holds everything steady and in place. Eternal. Unmoving. Locked in bonds of stone.
Except when Tenten turns the key.
"At least come to dinner…"
Neji's stares don't work on her anymore and she's bordering on irritation. It's funny how masculine she can seem sometimes when she's badgering him, arms folded and feet set stubbornly as her chin juts in mulish perseverance.
Sometimes he hates Tenten for being the balance between him and Lee.
He does come to dinner with the two of them, breaking his period of solitude and, later on, coincidentally breaking the celibacy he'd enforced when he had started to realise just how much he lost himself in them both.
Hate is too mild a word for the frustration he feels towards them.
In many aspects, Tenten knows that she's the weakest in their team. Mentally. Physically. Tactically. But even the smallest grain of sand tips the scales and it's Tenten who provides the balance between the past and the future.
Tenten sees the stars.
To be a kunoichi is to sacrifice gender, to be alternately sexless and seductive, to cast off any shreds of femininity yet still be able to don a cape of implied weakness. Tenten killed her heart a long while back to be the best she can be. Tenten is the faceless girl without a name, the epitome of 'kunoichi.'
Except when Lee breaks that façade.
A slow blink in grudging acknowledgement of his presence, though dark and dilated pupils never left the hospital room ceiling. Her world revolves around broken limbs, bones cast in plaster and the bitter taste of defeat staining the back of her throat.
Loss. Again. And this time, the price is seeing Neji and Lee outranking her in their flak jackets.
Lee's never seen her look so small.
His large hand covers her small, splinted one and she takes a shuddering breath. The quivering noise is the only thing to break the silence in the room as she fights back tears that shouldn't come out.
And Neji watches from the door, silent and guarding.
This is their moment.
Team Gai was strong. Team Gai is strong. Team Gai will be strong.
Team Gai is a constant in past, present and future, shaped by three sets of eyes and three views down different roads.
They meet at the crossroads anyway.
With the apparent break up of Team Seven, Team Gai is the strongest of the present generation of teams, but it's a hard burden to bear. Missions mean responsibility and responsibility requires strength.
Strength means no distractions.
They are teammates, not lovers. Sex would, should, get in the way – love would get in the way because shinobi are ice in human form, bred to kill and born to die. Neji dislikes Lee who's stronger than Tenten who's willingly given up her gender to be as rigid and deadly as the steel she carrries, or so they tell themselves.
Team Gai's not in love…
…except when they are.
"No training allowed. No arguments."
One day, Tenten kidnaps her two boys and drags them through the forest, past the training area, which nonplusses them before they break from the tree cover and only see…
Lee looks bemused and Neji looks like he's hewn from immoveable marble. Life goes on as usual.
Tenten's already flopping down to the ground, unbinding her hair and both boys admit a fascination with how the wind picks at the slightly coarse, slightly dry, but ultimately beautiful strands (because perspective shapes a person and beauty is in the eye of the beholder.)
Her smile is worryingly disarming as she looks up at them, mouth pert and eyes amused.
"We can slice each other to bits tomorrow. Just not today. Today we rest. Now sit."
Neji and Lee eye her as if she's crazy, but it's Lee who breaks first, smile blooming as her falls with long-limbed smoothness down beside her, shoulder pillowed comfortably against her own. She'll forgive him for being taller than her and for being infinitely more graceful if only he'll smile like that more often.
Neji's quiet acceptance and the warmth heating the air between them on her other side is a prize as well.
Tenten breathes. She can smell summer and grass and smoke from a few fields over where she knows academy students are practicing fire jutsu. In one of her rare moments of lethargy, she revels in just reclining backwards until the lengthy grass stems of summer cloud her vision, providing a moving, dancing frame.
The silence is comfortable.
Lee's doing something complicated with grass blades, plaiting and twining, improving and learning, while Neji stares off into the distance at something only probably he can see. Speech isn't necessary as the clouds move ahead and the buzz of grasshoppers add iron weights to Tenten's eyelids. She's drowning in the lazy warmth that comes from a languid summer and the presence of the only two people in the world who know her.
A large hand cups her wrist, callused palms and the trailing edge of a bandage rough against her fingers as Lee traces the fine bones found there. She cocks a sleepy brow at him and he just grins, slipping a braided loop of grass around her wrist – an earthy adornment for an earthy girl.
Her yawn is inelegant and she fusses tiredly as those same hands manipulate her until her head rests in a green-beyond-belief lap. Defensively, it's a nightmare – if they're ambushed, Lee'll spill her out of his lap, or she'll hinder his movements and she shouldn't be sleeping at all because a shinobi's never supposed to switch off and…
"You can sleep if you require it." Neji's not looking at her, but it doesn't mean he's not seeing her.
"Mmm…s'not fair," she tells him in a voice thickened to honey in the heat and the haze and the love.
A minute shake of a raven head. "Lee and I are perfectly capable of watching you if you are weary."
"If Tenten wants to nap, then Neji and I shall guard you with our very lives," Lee chimes in, peering down at her with cheery good nature, already working on another grass bracelet.
He'll just have a terrible time convincing Neji to wear it.
The skin around Tenten's eyes crinkles when she smiles, every time, and it's no different now.
"We need more days off," she tells them, though all three know it's an impossibility.
They are Team Gai and Team Gai aren't in love.
Except when they are
I'm slowly uploading all of my Team Gai pieces. I may have moved more into Otonin territory, but it was writing this team that really got me into Naruto. Frankly, there aren't enough pieces that are about them as a team rather than just Neji and Tenten (insert eye roll here – this pairing has been ruined by its far too strident fans.)
I like Lee. Prefer him to Neji, in fact, if only because he's easier to write sometimes. And would much rather pair him with Tenten than Neji. You'd be surprised how many people bitch at me for having this view. But, rather than any singular pairing, the team dynamic fascinates me.
PS: It would be very useful to me if you could take thirty seconds to answer the poll in my profile. I rarely ask anything of my readers, so humour me…
PPS: I did my last A level today and wrote the best damn essay on Gothic Literature that I've ever produced before. Freedom to write is a glorious, glorious thing.