I first got the chance to write Lee in an RP. I loved the character before, but I love him even more now. This started as an exploration on Lee's take of a relationship between Tenten and Shino. The following was originally intended as a oneshot, but may be expanded to include Lee's conversations with numerous other characters as well.
I've always viewed Lee and Tenten to share a sibling-like relationship. I wanted to write something that displayed that familial understanding, not to mention a topic to which I think both can easily relate.
Chapter 1: Tenten
Characters: Lee, Tenten, Shino (implied), Neji (implied)
Genres: Friendship, Humor, Romance (eventually)
It was with some disappointment Lee found himself strolling the streets of the Konoha market district.
It was too beautiful of a day to waste on leisure! They should be back at the training grounds, with Neji-kun, honing their skills! Making use of their bountiful youthful spirit, while it was still theirs to employ! What would Gai-sensei say if he caught them…how had Tenten-san put it...'playing hooky?'
He had told Tenten-san as much. But who was he to deny his dear friend's much needed getaway? While Lee was very aware he was no Hyuuga when it came to observation, he was not lost to Tenten-san's shift in behavior. And while it may be overlooked by her female companions in Konoha, perhaps even ignored, he would not just sit by and hope all would pass.
"Tenten-san, did you purchase an elephant?"
Bright-eyed with a renewed youth only the fairer gender experience when 'shopping' (generally, it shared more similarities with 'torture,' in Lee's opinion), Tenten-san flashed a coy smile, "What's wrong, Lee? Is that bag too heavy for Konoha's Beautiful Green Beast?!"
Lee was taken aback, "Of course it is not, Tenten-san! I could run 300 laps around Konoha with this in my arms! I am just…just confused as to what there could possibly be for you to purchase that you have not already done!"
She giggled. It shone as the sprinkle of dewdrops in the morning sunshine of spring! And it provided Lee with a hope that he was, in fact, doing his teammate a good service—whether by physically carrying her bags, or by distracting her from the heavy thoughts that seemed to plague her mind as of late.
The two had long shared a bond much akin to siblings, which, in the end entitled Lee to knowledge that few others would ever hear from Tenten-san. She had shared with him her once-strong attachment to his honored rival—her attentions to him, Lee regretfully admitted, he had fought so strongly for at one time. He had learned quickly, however, that role was not one he was meant to play with Tenten-san. And those lessons had come so very in handy when she had finally realized it was not the role Neji-kun was meant to play either.
Upon her discovery—an agonizing day full of awkward confessions and remorseful refusals which Lee did not wish to recall—he had watched his disheartened teammate rise from the ashes and grow to be the beautiful flower that stood before him now.
And this, Lee mused, was likely what triggered the most happy of developments.
"Shino-kun will enjoy this delightful ladybug!" he ventured lightheartedly as he gestured to the slightly cross-eyed stuffed toy teetering precariously at the very top of the pile. He was tentative of mentioning his name for fear of pushing Tenten-san back into the forlorn atmosphere which had surrounded her since Aburame-san's departure.
Her expression became subtly glazed—hinting her mind had strayed to him. She was worried, he knew.
"I hope so! He can say 'it is the thought that counts,'" she mimicked him quite accurately, "all he wants, but for once I'd like to think he isn't pretending when he says he likes a gift!" Ah, good—just as always. Her unwavering faith in Shino-kun's abilities and that he would return from the mission in the best of health was what pulled her through his prolonged absence.
The unlikely attachment between them had come as a surprise to most of their comrades. But Lee did not find it so unexpected. Many of these same comrades had a tendency to ignore their very existence! Indeed, Lee himself was guilty of forgetting Shino-kun's presence more than once. As Tenten-san had later explained, "their friendship had come from a mutual understanding of being frequently overlooked socially; the romance, well that was none of his business."
Shino-kun brought out the side of Tenten-san that Lee often wondered if she was even aware existed! She gained a sort of peace about her that permeated beyond physical expression. She was at ease in his presence; they were equals, always on level playing fields.
He also wondered if she knew the strong, youthful, fighting spirit she had acquired, as of late! Lee hung his head; to think of the number of times she had bested him on the training fields in the past months… He was still running laps because of it!
Lee may not yet have known Shino-kun as well as he soon wished to, although upon seeing what he had unwittingly done for his dearest friend—Lee was inclined to approve of him very much.
But only one hindrance had arisen since Tenten-san and Shino-kun's attachment. A wall, so to speak, built over time. Defining the party most to blame was impossible, as, in reality, far too many factors had aided in its construction so that the borders were no longer discernable. All the feelings once harbored for their more stoic teammate, had long since diminished. Even still, her respect for Neji-kun had not once wavered, and her desire for his approval was rivaled only by Lee's own.
And Neji-kun's unwillingness to verbally approve of Aburame Shino ate away at Tenten-san deep inside.
Lee knew this because Neji-kun rarely acknowledged how his opinions and manner of speaking affected his closest friends—he was often wrapped up in his own world which consisted of thoughts and pressures Lee could only imagine. He was not vocal about his personal life, which had always served as a frustration to the wide-open Lee. And this behavioral excuse, he admitted silently, did not erase the blame on his Hyuuga counterpart for pushing his fellow shinobi away.
Her questioning tone was accompanied by a sudden shift in temperament—still said with lightness, but lacking her usual joking tone… Then, as if their minds had been traveling along the same path of thought, she voiced her concern as she had done with Lee so many times in the past.
"Has Neji ever said anything about me and…" her voice died off. She did not need to finish the sentence—Lee knew what was concerning her. She was valiantly attempting to cover her deep set concern with idle, light-hearted conversation. Had Lee been anyone else, she may have succeeded.
Slowing their pace on the store-lined walkway, he took a moment to consider before answering as delicately as he was able. "I do not believe he has ever mentioned the subject to me before, Tenten-san."
She seemed to deflate at his words, Lee began to wonder that this…dilemma…was affecting her more than he had ever even thought!
She knew all too well both parties did not seem to get along favorably. And for the life of him, Lee could not figure why! They really were quite similar in many respects! But then…they were also quite different. Both were generally quiet unless they felt the need to speak, and each garnered a proud streak. And, while both had the reputation for being distant in social circles, Neji-kun was on the inside pushing away, while Shino-kun was on the outside unsure how to enter.
"Shino…Shino won't even contribute to the conversation if I ever mention him. And Neji…seems to be even more apathetic to my personal life than he was before," Tenten sighed, then adding quickly with a self-deprecating laugh, "which, I suppose, is saying something, since it wasn't something he cared to concern himself with much anyway…"
And that was Neji-kun's way. They both had come to terms with it, and accepted him for it. He had his own ways of showing he cared. This, however, did not make it any easier on them, when his opinion still meant a great deal to his friends!
"Yes, you know how Neji-kun is, Tenten-san. He cares deeply for his friends, but he does not often verbalize it."
She gave a derisive snort. "Not often? He never verbalizes it," she added, almost in afterthought. A moment of silence followed, and then, exasperatedly:
"Why does Neji feel it's so below him to see the happiness of others?!"
Lee found himself a bit surprised by her outburst!
He slowed to a stop as they passed a messenger hawk vender, several hawks of numerous shapes and sizes perched on and around the booth. The hawk closest to him caught his attention. Chained loosely to the perch, it surveyed him with what, on any other bird, would have been keen eyes. But from the cloudy appearance which seemed to stare straight through him, Lee subconsciously recognized the bird's blindness.
Considering his words carefully (not something he commonly thought to do, he mentally congratulated himself!), he hesitantly began, "Tenten-san…Neji-kun may have all-seeing eyes. They are indispensable on a mission, and catch what yours or mine will not. But I have found that they are often blind to the most important things."
She gave him an astonished look, as though he had just said something truly profound! Did his words really come as this much of a surprise? It was an honest truth…a fact that he had come to terms with early on when placed on his team. He took her lack of response as invitation to continue.
"…Friends, teammates, even family. Are these not the important things? Years ago, we watched him as he turned a blind eye to the accomplishments of Hinata-chan, his own cousin!" Then, as if bearing his own deep wound, he added, "He has long been blind to our growth and worth as a team… It does not mean that he does not care!" he continued hastily. "Because I know that he does…he just does not show it in the same way as you or I."
Taking a free hand to stroke the feathered breast of the bird before him, he continued, "He does not recognize these things as most do. And he does not recognize the hurt that his lack of acknowledgement bestows…" The bird quirked its head to the side, finally registering Lee's presence, and recognizing he did not pose a threat. "But I truly believe that someday…whether he wishes to admit it or not...he will come to understand that we are all worthy of each other!"
When he finally turned to look at Tenten-san, Lee found her staring back. Had he…gone bald in the past five minutes? Fear momentarily coursed through his veins at the thought! He would never hear the end of it from Gai-sensei if he had…
"Is…is something the matter Tenten-san?" he inquired, his free hand flying to scratch his scalp (noting with relief the feel of his dashing locks!).
She stared at him a full minute before responding.
"You need to warn me before you do that. Really…I was worried a Yamanaka had just walked past to cast Shintenshin on you."
Lee gaped. It took him a moment to process what she had just said… "Do what, Tenten-san?" his bewildered expression a tribute to his sincerity.
She stared back, her features deadpan. She then shook her head and turned to continue on her way.
A pleasant smile spread across his face as he moved to follow.
And that was how it always was…he was pleased to know his words had helped. Her response had made that clear—her tone had shifted back to the brazen, confident quality he had come to associate with Tenten-san.
They continued on their way down the road, leaving the blind bird content to its happy perch.
Chancing a glance, a serene calm seemed to have washed over her face. And although he could tell she was still deep in thought, a small smile graced her lips…as if she had come to a conclusion which afforded some hope.
…Now, if only there were a glimmer of hope for him and the end this shopping nonsense! It seemed he may have unwittingly convinced Tenten-san of something once already this afternoon! Perhaps luck was on his side.