Disclaimer: I own Megumi, oh, and Lee's mom.
So, I decided that I would hurry and finish this one up, to celebrate Lee's birthday on Nov. 27. It's not great, but it provides a good backstory of Lee's life before Gai-sensei and Team Gai, and I like that. The next chapter will cover a long period of time; it'll be the Team Gai "Training Montage" and it should be a good one. After that comes the best part: it'll be time for the Chunin exams, and we'll see interaction between the Rookie Nine, the Sand Siblings, and Team Gai for the first time. I'm really excited.
Previously on A Kind Word: Gai-sensei's test. Megumi interacts with clan members, goes book shopping, and catches Lee training after hours.
When Lee woke up the next morning, his bedroom was filled with a cold, grey light. He looked out the window and nearly groaned. Storm clouds did not bode well for his team's first day of training and their first mission. But he shrugged and got out of bed. I mustn't think like that, he thought determinedly. I must stay positive! He prepared for training by getting dressed in his usual clothes and tying his hair back. As he picked up his forehead protector, he felt like he was seeing it with new eyes. It really was his, and no one was threatening to take it away. He grinned as he tied it securely and left the room.
As he entered the kitchen, he found it nearly exactly the way that he had left it the night before. Chairs had been knocked over the knight before, and a number of glass bottles littered the floor. The sink had been left running, and a ceramic plate had been smashed on the floor. In the midst of it all there was his mother, leaning on the low table, one arm under her head and one still clutching a bottle.
Rock Mai had once been a beautiful woman. Her inky hair had once been long and silky, her amber eyes had once shined and her pale skin had once glowed. She had been the life of every party, with a voice like a bird's. However, that was all a thing of the past. Mai's life had been upturned when she was sixteen and it was reveled that she was pregnant, without knowing who the child's father was. She had been thrown out of the house by her parents and been forced to work two jobs to take care of her son. She was a reluctant and unaffectionate mother. She was unhappy, and she spiraled downwards into alcohol addiction in the twelve years following Lee's birth. As far as Mai was concerned, the baby boy that was Rock Lee had ruined his mother's life.
Today, like most other days, Lee simply cleaned the room. The bottles (all empty) were tossed into the trash, the broken glass swept off of the floor. Gently, he took the empty container from his mother's hand and put it with the others in the trash. The spilled alcohol was mopped up with a towel, and before he turned the water off, he started a pot of tea and then began to make two omelets. When breakfast was ready, he shook his mother softly.
"Kaa-san?" he asked. "Wake up, Kaa-san. It's morning now. I have breakfast ready now." When she opened her sleep encrusted eyes and squinted at the boy, he grinned. "Good morning!"
"Eh? What time is it?" she asked groggily.
"It's a half past six in the morning, Kaa-san."
"Why did you wake me up so early?" she demanded.
"Don't you remember, Kaa-san? I have training today with my team." He reminded her patiently. He poured a cup of tea which she was handed. She grunted unthankfully.
"Oh year, that's right. You're doing that ninja thing, aren't you?" she said disdainfully. He nodded respectfully as he placed a plate in front of her. She frowned. "Eggs again?"
"Yes ma'am." There's nothing else to cook, he thought, getting his own plate and sitting across from her. I will have to go grocery shopping this evening.
He ate for the next few minutes. His mother complained, and he took it in silence. After all, he had ruined her life. Finally, he took and washed his plate. He turned back to tell his mother that he was leaving, only to find her asleep once again. He sighed and closed the door softly behind him.
He approached the village gates at the same time that Megumi did from the opposite direction. He could spot her easily, purple locks and golden eyes and her lime green jacket. She stood out in a way that he didn't, black haired and eyed and black and white clothed. But he knew that she saw him when he raised her arm and started waving, running at the same time. As they drew close, both of them smiled.
"Good morning, Megumi-chan," he said, continuing to smile at her.
"Hi, Lee-kun," she replied. "Nice weather isn't it?" she asked, her eyes looking at him in an impish light that he had never seen before.
"Delightful," he answered, and she laughed. Megumi seems to be in a very good mood today, he noted. "So, are you ready for Gai-sensei's training today?"
Her face became speculative. "I'm not quite sure," she said truthfully, "I guess it all just depends on what Gai-sensei's idea of light training is."
Lee nodded. "I feel that way as well. But whatever it is, it is sure to be helpful in our training as shinobi!" Megumi agreed, and as they conversed, Neji appeared quietly. The pair left him alone; he didn't seem to wish to talk with them.
A loud pop was heard, and Maito Gai once again stood behind him in all his glory. "Good morning, most youthful pupils! And how are we this morning?" Before Lee could answer, Gai had already continued. "Very well. As I said yesterday, we are going to do some light exercising today before our mission." He gave them a pose. "A hundred laps around the village, on the double!"
Neji raised an eyebrow. "Fifty laps? Around the entire village?" he demanded skeptically.
The oddest thing happened: Gai seemed to catch on fire, even though it was apparent that he wasn't feeling a thing. "Yes! There is no way around hard work for those who wish to truly harness the power of youth!" Lee looked at Megumi and Neji, who both seemed to be a bit surprised. "Run! Run NOW!" Gai shouted, causing the astounded students to hurry into running.
She enjoyed herself for a lap. By two laps, she was starting to find the assignment easier said than done. By three laps, she would have loved to take a break, and at four laps, she was aware that this was easily the hardest thing that she had ever done. Megumi was miserable; her throat burned, and her breath came in lung-ripping gasps, and she found herself sobbing as she went in for her fifth lap. Hitting a dewy patch of grass, she found herself hurtling towards the ground. She closed her eyes before she hit, and was surprised to find a hand gripping her wrist. The person pulled her back up straight. She turned to see Neji's white eyes staring into hers. He dropped her arm, and she smiled at him.
"Thanks, Neji-san," she panted, before leaning foreword onto her knees.
"You have to watch where you're going, Megumi," the Hyuuga replied stonily before turning and running away. Megumi continued to catch her breath. I didn't know that I was so out of shape, she thought.
Behind her, Gai was watching. "No slacking, Megumi-chan!" he called ahead.
"Sorry, sensei," the girl yelled. She sighed and straightened up, taking off again. Almost immediately, her lungs burned. She grimaced, but didn't stop again for quite a while. She had a long way to go if she hoped to complete her last forty-six laps.
As the exhausted students panted on the ground, Gai waved a thin folder around in the air. "While we all catch our breath, I shall read the profile of our first team mission!" He made a show of opening the folder to a new page. "Our first clients are: the Inuzuka clan! Our first reward is: five thousand ryo each! First mission is: ah! Dog walking!"
Neji sighed. "Can't the Inuzuka walk their own dogs?" he complained, crossing his arms. He was comically red-faced after all of the running. He reminded Megumi of a tomato. She almost smiled, until a thought crossed her mind: I probably don't look much better.
"Neji-kun! That is a most un-youthful attitude to take before the undertaking of a mission!" Gai reprimanded, rolling up the file and whacking Neji upside the head with it. Megumi suppressed a giggle as Gai once again smooth out the papers. "Do you have any idea how many animals are owned by the Inuzuka? They couldn't possibly walk every one of them, and the ones that aren't owned by specific members and whose owners are unable are to be exercised by us."
"That sounds reasonable," Megumi said. "I think that it's a great first mission." The Inuzuka are very pet-oriented. There can't be many dogs that will need to be walked, she reasoned, and smiled. How hard could this be, after all? It was only dog walking.
"Yes! We can do it!" Lee exclaimed, pumping his fist in the air.
Gai struck a pose. "That's the spirit, my students!" He shot Neji a look. "You could learn something from your teammates, Neji-kun," he said sagely. "But for now, let us make our way to the Inuzuka compound! Team Gai away!"
He sprinted off into the sunset, and reluctantly, the three students sprinted after him. It was not hard to keep up; every few blocks, Gai would stop and yell at them to "keep up their youth." Only Lee responded to this cry, with a joyful, "We will Sensei! We will keep up with our wondrous youth!"
They reached the Inuzuka compound in little time, and they followed Gai through the gates. Megumi had been here before, on some kind of official clan business when she was younger. Her parents, and eventually, her sister, had always made her play with the son of the Inzuka's leader, who asked her every time, without fail, that they saw each other why she had such a funny hair color.
The leader of the clan, Tsume, was waiting there for them. She looked wild, her dark hair in disarray, and her eyes fierce. Megumi had always felt uneasy around Tsume-sama. Maybe it was the way she always looked so wild, with dark, messy hair and fierce eyes. Maybe it was the strange red marks that, on Tsume-sama, seemed a bit like blood dripping down her cheeks. She grinned her doggish smile at Megumi.
"It's about time you showed up!" she laughed loudly, causing Megumi to flinch. Tsume didn't notice and continued to cackle. "Alright. Let's get to your mission." She led them towards the compound's kennels. The room was like a giant stable, but instead of stalls, there were large cages that were closed to the outside. The dogs all pawed at the cages, barking at the team. They were huge dogs, bigger than any Megumi had ever seen, all except for one, a little white puppy with brown ears.
"Okay, so here they are. We've got a dozen dogs to be walked, not including Akamaru here," Tsume told them, indicating the little dog, who barked at the mention of his own name. "They'll need to be walked and brought back here. The walk should last a minimum of an hour but a maximum of two and a half hours. I'll help you leash them, but you'll have to get them out of here yourselves."
Each dog was placed on a leash, and when leashing them, Tsume told the team and their sensei the name of each canine. There was Natsuko, Kaoru, Shiroi, Zen, Aiko, Hoshino, Akira, Haruto, Kame, Koinu, Koneko (Someone actually named a dog after a cat?), and Tenshi. Megumi tried to memorize each name, but she couldn't match the names with the dogs. The only one that she knew was Akamaru, and only because hew as the smallest. The dogs panted and wagged, and Tsume stuffed the leashes in Gai's hand before walking away.
'So," Neji stated. "How are we going to divide them up? We've got thirteen dogs and three of us. What are we going to do?"
"Well," Lee started. "Two of us could have six each, and the other can just have one. Or one could have six, and one could have five, and one could have two. Or maybe, one can have four, one can have four, and the other can have five, or-,"
"I have a recommendation for you," Gai told them. "Lee-kun and Neji-kun can both have five, and Megumi-chan can have three, including Akamaru."
"Why does she get the lighter loud?" Neji said, motioning towards Megumi. He looked annoyed.
"Why, Neji-kun! I am surprised at you!" Gai exclaimed, his eyes wide. "Megumi-chan is a lady! She should be treated as a delicate flower, and should never have to work as hard as men folks like the three of us!"
Thanks, Gai-sensei, for that message on sexism, Megumi thought, sweatdropping. I'm not going to say anything. I'll let the 'men folks' work this one out by themselves. I'm just the kunoichi, after all. I shouldn't have to think.
They, in the end, went with Gai's plan, and the jounin disappeared mysteriously off to do whatever he did whenever he wasn't with them before telling them to be back in two hours. Megumi was given Akamaru and two of the other dogs, one brown and one black. The boys, meanwhile, struggled with every other dog. Soon, however, they were out on the streets of Konoha, trotting a long pleasantly. Relatively, they were good dogs, but they enjoyed giving their human escorts a nice run around. Neji and Lee were pulled and slammed and skirted and everything else as the dogs ran. But Megumi, her dogs being slowed by the smaller Akamaru and sheer lack of numbers, got to see every obstacle coming and had time to duck.
After an hour, Akamaru got tired. The puppy had trouble picking up his feet, and Megumi grew worried. Poor thing's exhausted, she thought, Should I take him back? No, that would mean taking the others back, too, and they're not done yet. He's small. Maybe I could carry him? She decided to try. Kneeling to the ground, she called Akamaru to her. She took the collar off of his neck and picked him up. He snuggled himself into her jacket, and she had the feeling that it wasn't the first time he had done that.
Lee took one look at her with the pup sticking out of her jacket and laughed. Even Neji smiled ruefully.
"Megumi-chan," Lee chortled, "Why is Akamaru inside your jacket?"
"Well, Akamaru got tired. I'm only giving him a little ride." She smiled. "He's really light, actually, and easy to carry. And this way, he won't get trampled, and-"
Neji smirked at her. "You need to get a dog, Megumi."
Megumi smiled, too. "Yeah. Maybe I do." She looked down at the dog, whose head was down and who seemed to be sleeping.
At the same time, the dogs in Lee's care jerked, anxious to move, anxious to run. When the preteens continued to chat, they pawed at the ground and strained. When it became apparent that they weren't going anywhere any time soon, they seemed to communicate with each other, each dog nodding before they joined forces and made a group attempt. It was successful, and each ripped off down the street, their leashes dragging behind them.
The students turned and saw them. Megumi was frozen, and it seemed like she could do nothing but stare after them. Then, Lee was yelling for them to comeback, tearing down the crowded street. Both the lavender-haired girl and the lilac-eyed boy stared after him. Then, Megumi finally spoke.
"Do you think that we should go after him?"
"I guess so."
They followed their teammate down the thickly crowded streets, until finally, they caught up with the black-haired boy. Lee had fallen to his knees and was currently sulking in the street. The dogs that Neji and Megumi held licked at his face, but he didn't respond.
"Lee-kun?" Megumi asked. Her brows furrowed in concern. "Are you alright?"
"No," he said crossly. "I let everyone down! Tsume-san, the Inuzuka clan, you two, Gai-sensei….Everyone! Even the dogs!" He hung his head in shame.
Megumi sighed, not knowing the right thing to say. She looked at Neji pleadingly, and he sighed, too. He directed his sharp gaze to Lee.
"Lee," he said, narrowing his eyes at the other boy. "Get up." He then looked at Megumi, raising an eye brow and nodding at her.
Oh! Megumi thought suddenly. I understand now. I need to add something to this. She searched for the right addition to the conversation.
"Yeah, Lee-kun," she added, smiling. "It's not over yet, and the only way you let others down is by not trying. Come on. Get up, and we'll help you find the dogs. Right, Neji-san?"
He sighed, obviously put-out at the idea of being helpful. Megumi frowned at him, and he crossed his arms. "Yeah, I guess we will. But only because it would look bad if we failed our first mission."
Lee ignored the pessimistic comment, and stood up, a strange fire blazing in his dark eyes. "No! We shall not give up! We will find the dogs, and then we will head back to the Inuzuka compound! We will!"
"Great!" Megumi said, grinning. She felt relieved. Thank Kami-sama that Lee's back to his upbeat self. I can handle stoic, self-righteous people and happy, determined people, but sad, listless people? Definitely something I'm not prepared for. "So, what's the plan?"
"I can use my Byakugan to find some of them," Neji suggested prudishly. His arms remained crossed. Once again, Megumi got the distinct impression that he didn't like to be helpful, but ignored it. "But we should split up. I'll go that way. The two of you should make a plan or something." He started towards the indicated direction before pausing and turning. "I'll meet you in front of the Inuzuka compound."
"Good." She continued to smile, trying to think of another easy way to track the dogs. A thought suddenly occurred to her, and she crouched next to the dogs that she held the leashes.
"You guys are ninja hounds, right?" she asked.
Shockingly, the two dogs nodded and yipped in response. Lee looked at her strangely, but Megumi had a plan.
"And you're really good at tracking things, right?" she inquired.
"Do you think that you could, I don't know, smell the others that ran away?"
They yipped again. The dog closest to Megumi, a solid golden-brown beast with pointed ears, licked her hand gently. She petted his (her? Megumi didn't think it would be polite to check) head absently.
"Would you, please? It would be a lot of help," Lee asked, catching on quickly. The dog nearest him, a medium size, white animal with black splotches on his back, barked and licked the side of his face. "I think that's a yes," Lee said, wiping the slobber away.
"Excellent," the girl breathed. She thrust the leash of the spotted canine into Lee's hand. "You take this one, and I'll take the other two. You go north, and I'll go east. We'll each get as many as we can, then we'll meet Neji."
"Okay." Lee stood, and so did she. He nodded at her. "Good luck, Megumi-chan."
"You too, Lee-kun." They went off in different directions.
Things went smoothly after that.
Megumi found two dogs in the park, where they had successfully managed to tree a cat. They bayed at the poor animal for ages, and it took all of the strength that Megumi had to pull them away. The cat meowed its thanks as she dragged them away, still howling. The noise stopped almost as soon as they were out of the park, and the dogs trotted to the Inuzuka compound with little complaint or incident.
Lee found two more of them at the pound, frisking about in the water. It took him a while groping around in the water to find their leashes and make sure that they were secured nicely. He was very wet when he came out, but he dried quickly as he was yanked all the way back.
As for Neji, he found the remaining dog playing with a small child. Though the little boy protested, his mother was all too willing to have Neji take the discovered pet and the five others that Neji was handling away.
They met outside of the compound gates, and Gai greeted them heartily. "So," he asked mischeviously, "How was your first mission?"
"It wasn't as easy as some of us," Neji shot Megumi a look, "Thought it would be. Lee lost control of his group and we had to go chasing after them."
"And how did they get away?" Gai asked, looking at the genin knowingly. There was something in the superior gaze he directed at them that made Megumi want to fidget, and she couldn't look at him. She looked at Lee instead and noticed that he was looking uncomfortable, too.
"We were talking, Gai-sensei," he admitted slowly. "And I wasn't paying attention to the animals. I tried to chase after them, but they were too fast, and I almost gave up. But Neji-san and Megumi-chan helped me." He shot a grateful look at his teammates.
Gai nodded wisely. "You're learning about teamwork," he finally dictated. "And that's good. I'm proud of you all." He grinned brightly. "Your POWER OF YOUTH is growing! Now, let's go inside! These animals need to be returned to their owners!"
The students agreed and turned to go back inside. As they got closer to the kennels, Akamaru wiggled his way out of Megumi's jacket and ran away.
"No! Wait! Akamaru!" she called, running after him. "Come back, boy!" Oh, no, she thought, groaning inwardly. It's never going to end, is it?
She was stopped when, at the gate of the complex, she found a boy lying on the ground, obviously tackled by the little dog that licked his face enthusiastically. She sighed in relief loudly, causing the pair to look up.
"Oh,' the boy said. She recognized him now: Kiba Inuzuka. "You're Megumi, right? What're you doing here?"
"I had a mission walking dogs," she explained. She heard footsteps behind her and turned to see her team there, looking at her as if to tell her that they were ready to leave. She grinned and looked back to Kiba. "But it's over now, and we're going. By, Kiba-san."
They began to walk away as a group, but before they were out of earshot, Megumi heard Kiba calling her name. She turned, and, seeing the mischievous look in Kiba's eyes, she knew what he was going to say. Feeling empowered with her teammates and sensei beside her, she interrupted him.
"Don't even think about asking about my hair, Inuzuka Kiba."
It's been a good day, she decided later that night. After filling in Takara on every part of training and missions, she had been permitted to sneak away into the library for some reading. She sighed contentedly, opening the new book on medical jutsu she had bought the night before. It's too bad that things can only get harder from here.
So, thoughts please? Not the best, I know, but please, tell me where I could improve. Also, can you tell that training is good for Megumi? She's becoming bolder at a fast pace. Do you think that it's too fast? How bold should she get, anyway? Do people like her all quiet and polite, or should I make her, you know, not so quiet and less formal?
Next time on A Kind Word: Team Gai trains, Megumi learns more about her teammates, Lee gets a wardrobe change, and Neji deals with the insanity around him.