A/N: The world needs more LeeHina. In support of this, I'm writing this little one shot, and spreading the love outside my Curry of Love stories. However, if you want more LeeHina fluffies, go check it out.
Cultural note of interest: 20 is considered the age one enters adulthood in Japan.
Warning: Spoilers for manga chapters 437 and higher.
Disclaimer: I own nothing and no one in this story. They are all property of Kishimoto, and I can neither claim them nor make money off them. This is simply for my own enjoyment, and possibly that of my friends.
Summary: Lee's 20th birthday is nothing like he planned, but as the blue beast of Konoha knows; surprises are some of the best things in life. LeeHina.
The Difference in Tears
"You learn to like someone when you find out what makes them laugh, but you can never truly love someone until you find out what makes them cry." ~Author Unknown
"Oh, this is just perfect." Winter was not a youthful season, Lee decided, as he struggled to free his sandal from the mud currently attempting to devour it. Guy-sensei always said there was something good in all weather and every season, and it wasn't that Lee doubted him exactly. There just wasn't anything good he could find at the moment. He was already sore and exhausted from the A-rank mission he'd just returned from, and now he had to fight his way through ankle deep mud caused by slushy November rain that was falling so hard it was difficult to see the other side of the street. It was dark, it was cold, and he was about as miserable as he ever got.
Some twentieth birthday this was turning out to be.
It wasn't that Lee had expected his birthday to be much of anything special. With his mother having passed away two years before, there really wasn't anyone in the village to remember it. At least not currently. Guy and TenTen were off on their own missions, and even under the best of circumstances Neji couldn't even remember his own birthday—never mind anyone else's. They'd all learned to expect Neji's presents two or three days late when his internal calendar caught up with real time.
He'd just always imagined that his entering real adulthood would be so much more than this. Growing up he'd pictured some sort of dramatic change. In his mind's eye he'd always seen himself a Jounin of great renown, having achieved all his dreams and loved and acknowledged by the village. At twelve he'd thought that all those people who had hated him growing up would be his friends now, and he'd have a big grown-up party that the whole village would come to just for the chance to see the splendid ninja.
The truth was that he was a special Jounin now, but he doubted at this point that he'd ever actually make Jounin since there was no way he could control two elements of chakra. He had a circle of friends now, but most were a year younger. None were those he knew at the Academy except his teammates. Outside of his friends and a handful of Jounin who knew his sensei well, nobody even knew who he was besides the spandex boy. This was not something he particularly liked to be known as, much as he enjoyed his attire.
Sighing silently to himself, Lee finally managed to work his shoe loose and take another step. If he wasn't so tired, he might try and run across it, forget his shoes, or else try and use chakra to walk over it. As it was, he was amazed he was still standing. Solo C-rank missions weren't supposed to go A-rank on you like that. Not ever.
Lee was just debating trying anyway, regardless of the consequences, when he heard a giggle from the shadows off to his right. On a normal night, in this part of town, he would have ignored it completely. Paying attention to such things inevitably lead to something he was only now old enough to deal with. Except, with weather like this, he hadn't seen anyone out since he'd passed Kotetsu and Izumo at the gate. Even they had been in the guard house, with not a soul but himself on the street.
Curiosity had always been the down fall of his team, and it came back at Lee full force as he slid his way across the mud. Anyone out in this weather needed assistance, whether they knew it or not.
What he found waiting for him in the shadows not only shocked the young man, but it also deeply concerned him. It wasn't a random stranger standing there, but Hinata. Hyuuga Hinata, cousin of his teammate, heir to the Hyuuga clan, was standing under an overhang, clad in a ripped kimono that was coming off one shoulder, her cheeks flushed, and giggling through a storm of tears.
"Are you alright, Hinata-san?" Unsure what had caused the girl to be in her current condition; Lee stepped forward with his hands raised in a surrender position. Hinata was a regular sparring partner of his since he'd made beating Neji without his gates a goal just after their first Chuunin exam. He knew only too well the damage Hinata could do when surprised or attacking with all she had.
She looked up at him; her pale eyes blood shot and glowing eerily in the dark, reflecting light Lee didn't notice was there. "W-who? Lee-san, is that you?"
He nodded, not sure whether she could see him or not. "Do you need help for anything, Hinata-san?"
"I'm fine." And she giggled more, swaying dangerously on her feet. "I'm better than fine. Every dream I ever had came true tonight. I should be fine. Fine, fine, fine."
Should be was vastly different from am, Lee knew, so he took a few steps closer to grab her by the shoulders. Much to his surprise, and slight horror, she smelt strongly of alcohol. Now, he wasn't a genius like Neji, but he knew that drinking wasn't something Neji's eighteen year old cousin did regularly. "I'm going to help you home, okay, Hinata-san?"
The younger girl took him off guard again as she shook her head wildly, falling in to his arms as she pitched violently forward. "I-I can't! Father will be so angry with me like this."
"Well, you can't very well stay out here." Lee shifted her so she was standing again, though he didn't release her shoulders. He was more than slightly concerned now. Over the last several years of sparring with her almost weekly, he and Hinata had also become good friends. He'd come to admire the way she always managed to pull herself up and work hard, in spite of all the people in her life telling her she was not good enough or not giving her a chance. To really like the way she would always smile at those who needed her; the wicked sense of humor she kept mostly to herself, and the gentle way she gave love to everything. That Hinata seemed worlds away from the trembling girl in his arms. "What happened, Hinata-san?"
She giggled again, leaning forward and burying her face in his chest. "I'm turning nineteen in a month."
Lee nodded down at her, mentally sighing and speaking slower, hoping to get something more to work with. "Is that a bad thing?"
"Yes." Suddenly tears were falling, and she sobbed between her giggles. "Father thinks I should be m-married by twenty, s-so he can t-train his heir. A-and I should b-be engaged at least a y-year. A-all he t-talks about l-lately is getting m-me a husb-band."
Neji had mentioned this the last month, Lee remembered. Just before he'd had to go on his mission, Neji had been complaining about how Hinata didn't make his life any easier with her accepting her fate when she should fight with him. Or something like that. "Do you want a husband, Hinata-san?"
Did he even want to know the answer to that? Lee didn't honestly know. Hinata was one of his best friends, and he assumed she'd like to get married some time. What was he supposed to do if she actually wanted her father to choose the man she married, though? Hinata was shy by nature, and it would be easier, but then, she wouldn't be so upset would she? Still, it would explain why she hadn't challenged her fate, and…he was obviously much more tired than he thought, if his brain was rambling like this.
Hinata said nothing for several long moments, and Lee thought she might have fallen asleep on her feet. He was just about to pick her up and carry her back to the Hyuuga compound in spite of what she'd said earlier when she answered quietly. "I met him today. The man Father wants me to marry." Then she was suddenly wailing, rubbing her face in his vest. "I s-should be s-so h-happy. I n-never thought N-Naruto-kun w-would be h-his c-choice."
"Naruto?" Lee was surprised how quiet his voice sounded in the falling rain in spite of the anger building in his chest. He knew how Hinata felt about Naruto when they were growing up. She had talked of almost nothing else the first three months they had trained together but how badly she wanted to be strong enough to impress him. She had trained herself to exhaustion, working to keep up with him, so that when Naruto returned she would be able to achieve her dream.
She had, in a way. Naruto had seen her power and, more than that, she had told him. She had confessed to their friend how she felt in the most dramatic way possible. Lee had seen the aftermath, and it had almost broken his heart to see her on the ground, broken and dying like that. He had wanted nothing more than to take her in to his arms and fix everything. Tell her he couldn't believe how strong she'd gotten, how proud he was of her.
But Naruto, the man she had so loved and admired, had left without as much as a word to her. Had chosen to chase the past instead of embrace the future, in the way just opposite of what he'd always preached to others. He'd put Sasuke, the traitor, above Hinata's feelings. It had broken her heart, and Lee had been the one to try and pick up the pieces. To make his excuses about how Naruto-kun might have needed time to think, or was just shy about facing the girl who had given so much for him. She cried on his shoulder while he lied through his teeth with any reason he could think that would restore Hinata's faith in Naruto and save her heartache.
That had been nearly three years ago, now, and to Lee's knowledge nothing had ever come of Hinata's confession. Things had returned to exactly the way they were before, though she talked of him a little less often. Naruto had never indicated he returned her feelings, and Hinata had never brought them up again.
"I w-was s-supposed to m-meet my p-possible fiancé," between her sobbing giggles, the rain, and her face pressed into his chest, Lee had to strain to hear her, even though he was certain she was speaking loudly. "I was t-to tell him my f-father's in-intentions. I n-never dreamed N-Naruto-kun would b-be w-waiting for me." She giggled again, but it trailed off into more of a wail of grief. Lee reflexively clenched his hands in her torn clothing, trying to comfort her as best he could.
Naruto was strong now, anyone could see that. Tsunade had all but made him her official apprentice, and had him standing in for Hokage for routine things. She was teaching him the ropes, that much was clear to everyone. Hiashi must have seen it too, and had probably hoped that aligning themselves with the Hokage would be the final push needed to reform the Hyuuga clan completely. And, for most of her life, it had been exactly what Hinata hoped for. If you'd asked him yesterday, Lee probably would have told you that Hinata would die happy if such a thing ever happened. So…why the tears?
It seemed Hinata wasn't finished with her tale as she sobbed again, tightening her hold on Lee's torso. Her speech was starting to slur, but whether that was from exhaustion or some alcohol only now hitting her, Lee didn't know for sure. "H-he smiled a-at me. Was so-so happy t-to s-see me. I-I don't know i-if he k-knew w-why I was t-there. But I d-didn't want him. No. No, I didn't. I-it hurt, his s-smile. Don't want it."
Lee sighed again, kneeling down to shift her on to his back. She was starting to shiver, and he was freezing. If she didn't want to go home right now, at least he could take her back to his apartment where they could dry off. Maybe he could leave her there while he went to go get Neji?
She'd obviously had too much to drink, that much was clear. It was the how and why that eluded him. "Come on, Hinata-san. Up you get." That was why he had to keep her talking, to find out the answers in case Neji asked him. He would ask, too; Lee could only hope it was before his friend decided to gentle fist his face. "Why did his smile hurt so much?"
Hinata 'hm'ed softly, letting her chin rest on his shoulder as he started wading his way through the mud. Once they were out from the relative shelter of the over-hang, the slushy rain started pelting their bodies, freezing them through even more. Hinata's warm breath ghosted over his neck, making him shudder at the contrast.
Finally, she spoke again, her voice barely a whisper over the driving weather. At least she wasn't sobbing and giggling anymore, which made her a little easier to understand. "Naruto-kun's smile is too bright. I-it's like the sun. It shines o-on everyone, and is t-too much for one person."
"Really?" That was pretty poetic, actually, and kind of fitting, although he doubted that was the only reason it hurt so much.
"Yeah." Hinata sighed, tightening the hands that were hanging on to the pockets of his vest. "I d-don't want h-his smile. I want a warm smile, meant just for m-me. Like Lee-san's smile."
"My smile?" Lee half-turned his head, trying to look at her, but only managed to get a glimpse at the top of her head as she nodded.
"When Lee-san smiles at me, I f-feel warm and safe." She giggled again, now clutching his pockets painfully tight. "Lee-san makes me b-believe that I am special. He tells me so."
Had she forgotten she was talking to him? It seemed she had. Curiosity was getting the better of him again. He shouldn't take advantage of the situation like this but…he could count on one hand the number of people that acknowledged him as their friend when they didn't need him for something. Hinata was his best friend outside of his team—Neji and TenTen were more like his siblings than his friends—and it would be nice to hear her, just once, say she thought of him as a friend too. "Do you like Lee-san?"
She nodded again, making a happy little noise as she did so. "Lee-san is so f-funny. He makes me laugh every day. He is gentle, too. N-never says anything to h-hurt me. Nobody else is like that. H-he is so b-brave too. He never runs when it is hard, like I do. I wish I was more like Lee-san."
Face flushing darkly; Lee ducked his head as a gust of wind blew more slush into his face. Well, he'd gotten what he wanted.
"I love Lee-san."
Never had he frozen so completely from only words. All movement, all breathing, ceased except for his eyes widening in surprise. Did she just say she loved him? What did that mean?
Before he could get his thoughts collected enough to ask, Hinata was already speaking again. "When I'm with Lee-san, I feel h-happy, and I d-don't feel bad about being happy, either. I-It's like, like it's safe to be happy, and no one will tell me I don't d-deserve it, because L-Lee-san thinks it is okay if I am. I'd rather be with Lee-san more than any-any one. I want to see him smile. He's so handsome."
Hinata nuzzled her face sleepily into his neck, and Lee had to take a few calming breaths before he was sure he could speak again without his voice shaking. "You do deserve happiness, Hinata-san. Nobody deserves it more than you do."
He really needed to put her down so he could think without it all getting interrupted by thoughts of how her hair and breath tickled, or how perfectly she fit snug against his back, or how soft and warm she was.
Those were just distractions. What he had to have now was a chance to remove the physical thoughts and take a good long look at his feelings for his young friend. Force himself to forget that she was the first person to ever call him handsome, and think about her. What did he feel about Hinata?
She was his best friend, certainly. When stretching before and after matches, they had often talked, and over the years the topics had varied. Hinata knew every dream, every secret he had. She knew that is favorite color was really blue. She knew he secretly hated TenTen's cooking, though he ate it often, and that he wanted a kitten more than anything in the world. She knew he defined a splendid ninja as the one that could always save lives, in any situation, not take them. Knew that the reason he couldn't do jutsu was because his chakra system had never properly developed from a failed abortion attempt from his mother. Knew that what upset him the most about her death was how relieved he felt not having to worry about being a burden to her anymore.
He kept nothing secret from Hinata, and had received that same trust in kind. He knew her favorite flowers were snowbells and that she liked misty mornings best. He knew the dreams she thought she could achieve—being a good wife to her husband and loving mother to her children—the ones she thought she couldn't—proving to her father that she strong enough to lead the clan—and the ones she considered just plain silly—if she'd been born in a different family, she'd have liked to open her own restaurant instead of be a shinobi.
All that trust meant friendship, clearly, since you believed the other person would never use it against you. But did it really mean something more? To Hinata it did, obviously, but what about to him?
He still loved Sakura. Maybe. He'd always thought so, anyway. Whenever he saw her it made his heart flutter just a little, like it had the first time, and he thought to himself; now there is a girl who does not depend on her looks, but her talent to make her way as a shinobi. For that reason, Sakura was always beautiful to him, and he fought hard to win her admiration.
That admiration…he had that now. She told him many times that she admired his skill and his drive, and every time he'd sung her praises. Unlike how he'd thought, however, it hadn't necessarily followed that affection would come from her adoration. They were friends now, in a loose sense, but he still couldn't tell you her favorite color. He couldn't even say for sure whether or not her parents were alive. Five years, and she didn't trust him enough to even discuss that. So, where did that leave him?
If Sakura, who knew nothing about him, couldn't love him, and Hinata, who knew everything about him, did, what was he supposed to do about that?
Lee honestly had no idea. Focused on Sakura as he was, the idea of liking other girls hadn't really ever crossed his mind. Should he entertain it now, and maybe see? He desired little else more than for Hinata to be happy, what could thinking about it hurt?
He shifted Hinata's weight as he started up the stairs towards his apartment. His feelings, whatever they were, could wait until Hinata was safe and dry. There was probably a great story as to why she was in the state she was, too, which he still needed to get. His soul-searching would have to wait, but, regardless, of what it turned out he felt, this had probably been his most exciting birthday of all.