Chapter One - The Wrong Place and Time
In late December, the winds here start to get harsh and angry. They whisper the beginnings of the new year, of January, and the cold weather to come. It was as if they were trying to push the old year out of the way as soon as possible, urging the late Christmas shoppers to hurry up and get gifts they should have purchased in November.
As I headed out of the coffee shop, steaming cup in hand, I realized how relieved I am that the holidays were almost over. I could get out of the house and get back to school, away from my suffocating family and back on familiar ground. The gloves my older sister gave me warded the scalding heat from the drink in my hands as I walked down the street, no particular destination in mind.
The sun still hasn't come up yet, reminding me of the early hour. It hardly bothers me; I don't get a lot of sleep as it is. According to my siblings, I'm a restless insomniac. I like to think that I merely have my priorities straight. Who could sleep when there was so much work to be done?
With a sideways glance I could see frosted signs telling me of old holiday sales. Obviously these stores haven't opened since Christmas. It was only a few days after Christmas and I wonder just what in the world these people could be doing instead of keeping their business running.
I walked up to the next store and examined the sign above the door. "Mighty Reads" it read. I never really associated the word "mighty" with literature. Perhaps it specialized in adventure books. In the window there was a crooked sign, the shadows covering the percent sign in the sale price. A few books sat open and on pedestals, some pre-owned volumes with thick pages reminding me that I still have to grab some books for my English class. Classic literature was vaguely interesting. Who could have thought that people could have lived without the luxuries we have today?
My breath fogged up the cold glass of the window as I approached it. When it faded, I could see my reflection, tired green eyes staring back at me. They disappeared for a split second as I blinked. I could see the dark bags under my eyes mingling with the eyeliner my sister claimed to bring out my eyes. They were so close together they practically blended, which was the look I was aiming for.
The window was cold under my fingertips. Jane Eyre was the book I had to get, I thought. And three more, as well. The Time Traveler, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, and... I bit my lip. Dracula, I think. Leaning closer, I tried to look over the cardboard sheltering the store inside. Just as the tip of my nose touched the glass, a body crashed into me. Next thing I knew, my coffee was no longer in my hands and my legs were not under me any longer.
"Oh my gosh, I am so sorry!" a male voice exclaimed, a little too loud for this time of day. Hell, it was a little loud for any time of day.
My elbows had softened my fall, as had my bottom. I reached up to rub my head, which had hit the sidewalk under me just slightly. The warmth from my drink had remained in my gloves, but the liquid was now residing on my coat. I grimaced; that was my gift to myself. It would be hell of a stain to get out.
As I began to hoist myself off the ground, a hand was shoved into my field of vision. I fell back down again.
"Are you alright, sir?" I looked up to see worried, brown eyes shining in the dim light of the new sunrise. My eyes drifted back down to the hand in front of me, offered in hopes to aid me up. A little confused, I took it. The stranger lifted me with unexpected strength, nearly drawing me into his body. I stepped back as soon as I had righted myself.
"I'm fine," I replied, looking at the cup on the ground. Some of its contents had spared my jacket and were spreading out on the cold ground.
"I'm so sorry, sir, I was in a rush. You see, the store opens up for the first time today after the holidays and I almost forgot! My coworker, Tenten, she would kill me if I left her standing in the cold for the third time this month. I really should get some copies of these keys..."
I stared at the man as he babbled on and on about the horrible things this "Tenten" could do to him. I merely blinked at him, wondering if any sort of words could interrupt his speeding train of thought.
He rubbed at his neck, his dark hair brushing his bare hands as he glanced away. An embarrassed blush crawled up his skin as his voice quieted down. "Ah, sorry there. I, uh, I'm sorry again, sir, if there's anything I ca-- Oh!"
The sudden increase of volume in his voice startled me and I look up at his eyes. They were trained somewhere on my chest with the way they were staring below my gaze.
"Your coat! Was I--? Of course I was," his voice seemed to berate himself as he reached over to touch my coat. I flinched away immediately; just what the hell did he think he was doing just reaching out and-- "Wow, would you look at that. Froze right in. We should probably be heading inside now, you must be freezing. Hold on a sec."
He pulled out a set of keys from his coat pocket, which was a dark green, I noted, and continued to speak. There was no stopping this man from filling the silence, was there? "Sorry again, sir. I'm Lee, by the way. This is my father's-- Ah, I mean, was my father's bookstore. If you need anything, just take a look around while I find something to help clean you up..."
As he spoke, his voice started to lower. I had caught the obvious mistake in word tenses when he referred to his father and figured that he was dead or something similar. There would be no use to upset him further by asking about it, and I didn't really want to bother with the mess this Lee would probably become if I brought it up. It wasn't worth the trouble.
In a few moments, the door was open and we stepped inside. It was cool in the store, a few rays of sunlight filtering in through the windows and illuminating the colorful covers of nearby books. The store was a lot larger than the outside made it out to be; aisles of books stretched on from where we stood, large, bold signs labeling the different genres hanging from the ceiling.
"I'm sure you won't need any help looking for what you need, sir. I'll, uh, take your coat and see what I can do with it."
The door closed behind us, the cold winds becoming distant howls. Lee held out an expectant hand, his smile still retaining hints of apologetic sheepishness. I held his gaze for a moment, but he would not let up. It was either he didn't notice that I had no intention of giving him my coat, or he was ignoring it. I sighed and unzipped my coat, deciding that he was not going to let me move without handing it over first.
"Right," he said once I laid in it in his arms. He had a determined look in his eyes. "Just call out if you need me; it's a bit early, so none of the other employees'll be here."
As he walked away, I glanced at my watch. It was almost eight thirty. The sun was rising later and later nowadays. It was a little gloomy, but the only thing that bothered me about it was the fact that it only reminded me of what little sleep I was getting.
Another sigh escaped my lips. I have to go through all of this simply because I happened to be standing in the wrong place at the wrong time. As if my luck wasn't bad enough.
And I had to deal with a guy like this of all people. I try to keep social contact to a minimum, but this guy seems to do the exact opposite. It just wasn't worth the trouble to talk to people, to please them and hope that they don't bother you too much, especially when I had better things to do. Only complete focus could bring to where I am in school. Besides, if you let people get too close to you, they start to become dangerous, having access to things that could hurt you from the inside and out.
I shook my head, hoping to banish these worthless, time-consuming thoughts. There was no need to relive memories. I walked forward, heading towards the classics section.
I was leafing through "Wuthering Heights", amused that this Heathcliff man was toying with a woman merely to get closer to another. This man obviously let his desire for this Kathy consume him and was paying for it by becoming mad. Another reason why relationships were pointless; if you didn't have enough power and control, they could become the sole purpose of your life, and who wants to be controlled by someone else? Who knows what another person could do with your life in their hands. With this knowledge, I reveled in having complete and utter control over my own body, knowing that no other human being would have control over my ming. I simply could not allow it, not when there was so much to be done.
Lee's voice startled me out of my reverie and I could feel my neck snap as I whipped my head up to look at him. I grimaced and tilted my head as the man spoke.
"I managed to get the stain out of your coat with a little help from Tenten," he said, grinning, "It'll take a while to dry. I'm sorry to keep you waiting, but it was the least that I could do after crashing into you and all that."
I nodded, not willing to bother to talk. I didn't really mind; at this time of year, many of my father's clients visited bringing gifts of thanks for keeping them out of the jailhouse, and I tried to avoid them as much as possible. It wasn't like it was cold or anything, anyway.
I replaced the book into the shelf in front of me. When I glanced up at Lee, he was rubbing the back of his neck again, looking away. Whatever it was he was thinking about, I didn't really find the need to ask about it. Maybe he finally realized that I didn't truly want to talk to him.
"I don't know if you noticed her coming in. You looked a little occupied with your book, so I didn't want to disturb you by introducing her. Right now she's a little busy herself, so I guess I could do it another time."
Another time? I knew I was not planning on coming back here and talking to this chatterbox yet again.
"Oh, you know, I never really caught your name, sir," he said before a moment of silence could fall. He seemed to be good at preventing that.
I bit down a sigh when I looked at his expectant eyes. Perhaps he was simply bored. "My name is Gaara," I stated, hoping to keep it simple.
"Gaara..." he murmured, as if tasting it for the first time. I resisted the urge to roll my eyes. His old cheer returned to his eyes as he went into shopkeeper mode. "So, Gaara, what are you looking for today? Something for school?"
I nodded. Pretty good guess. I must look young enough to be a student, then, because I had hardly talked at all during our encounter.
"Is it something in this section? Whatever you're looking for, I'm sure that we have it," he said, beaming brightly. His smile practically screamed trust me and I figured it wouldn't hurt to do so.
"I'm looking for Jane Eyre, the Time Traveler, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, and Dracula," I stated, glancing around so I wouldn't have to look him in the eye. His gaze was starting to become a little intense this close up.
"English class, huh?" he asked, a knowing smile painting his features. Again, I nodded. He began to walk towards a bookshelf near the wall and I followed closely behind. "I remember English well. I had to minor in it. Classic literature was really hard for me though, it was hard for me to wrap my head around that old english. Luckily, I had Neji to help me out..."
He trailed off and I took this time to draw in a long, quiet breath. Listening to him talk and talk was making me tired. Wasn't he worried that he might reveal too much about himself? Or maybe he didn't care? It was kind of like that Heathcliff man, who just opened up to that woman and let himself be doomed for pain. Maybe Lee was lonely.
We stopped by a shelf filled with books that I recognized as a board supported publisher. Lee easily skimmed through the titles and picked up the three books I was looking for.
"Have you gotten used to university yet, Gaara? You look too old to be a freshman, but you still look pretty new. You don't seem like the talking type, so all those young people with the drinking and all that must be pretty annoying. When I was in school, I managed to find a few friends who shared a lot of classes with me. Now I know people might seem a bit insufferable when they have this new freedom, but you'll get used to it--"
"Lee," I said firmly, interrupting his long monologue. He seemed startled to hear my voice, and to be honest, I was hoping to keep my talking to a minimum, and looked at me as soon as his name had left my lips. I hesitated when he fixed his gaze on me, but continued just for the sake of getting him to shut up. "I'm not a sophomore. I'm in my last of year of law school. Hell, I'm at least three years ahead a normal student of my age. I don't need a lecture on life away from home or some crap like that."
Lee opened his mouth and closed it several times. It was as if he was trying to stop himself from talking, or trying to think of something to say. I would have appreciated this moment of silence if it weren't for the fact that it included him just... standing there. Holding my books.
Finally he decided on saying, "S-Sorry. I, uh, didn't mean to assume."
I rolled my eyes. "I wouldn't be surprised if you did it often."
He pursed his lips, as if realizing that it wasn't worth the time to talk to me anymore. In an instant his eyes lit up again and I let out a sigh. The brunet seemed to ignore this and plowed on, saying, "Wow! A prodigy, in our store! That's amazing! If you ever need a place to get away from it all, though, you're welcome to stay here. It's relatively quiet it in here, especially because some customers just stop by to read the books if they can't afford it... Besides, there's plenty of room in here, there just has to be a place where most sounds don't reach it!"
He started to move towards the front of the store, where the counter was, and I rubbed at my eyes. If I wasn't waiting for my coat I would not have spent so much time in here. I still had to review some notes on cross-examination and then I had to get started on these in order to keep up with the class, and...
As we approached the counter, an average looking brunette popped up from behind it. She wore her hair in two symmetrical buns and I couldn't help but stare and wonder how she was able to keep them in place and more around so much.
"Lee!" she chirped, holding up a bundle of dark red cloth, "That coat you brought in is dry now!"
Just as Lee dropped the books on the counter, he looked up to acknowledge his coworker. A smile spread across his lips like wildfire and he hopped over the counter to grab my coat.
"Ahh, thank you, Tenten!" he exclaimed, taking it from her rather gingerly. She merely nodded before walking away from the counter, whistling something upbeat. I bit down a grimace.
Lee rang up my items, placing them in a bag on top of my coat. I slipped it out from under the books as he began to talk again.
"Well, it was sure nice meeting you, Gaara! Good luck with school, hope to see you around some time soon!" He toned down his grin and kept his smile friendly. It was warm and welcoming, something I hadn't seen in a long, long time. When people looked at me, they either hated me for beating them in class or for being my father's son. It was easy to send the exact same look back to them, but I was at a loss of how to respond politely to Lee's beaming face.
I know that I should just thank him and leave, but I think that he'll just go on and on if I don't do something to appease him, I thought, grasping the plastic in my gloved hands. Lee looked at me patiently, obviously expecting me to reply. What he wants, though, I can't tell.
"Uh..." I started, mentally congratulating myself for being so articulate, "Th-Thanks. I'll, uh, see you... later."
God, that was hopelessly lame.
But for some reason his eyes seemed to light up even brighter. I hadn't thought it to be possible for someone to look so happy, but I tried to smile back as he waved goodbye.
A/N: Ahhh, it's been so long since I've done a Naruto fic. Now I haven't been keeping up with Shippuden manga/anime, so their personalities will be based before the time skip. It would probably make more sense to base it on the Shippuden line considering these guys are in their early twenties, but I prefer to stick to their old selves and have them develop from the very start. And also because I'm more educated (barely) in the pre-time skip characters. Hah.
This is an idea I've had since I was still in this fandom (a few years ago, maybe two or three) that's been twisted and made into something I'm more familiar with. As I am not very familiar with the canon of this series, I'll have to work to, well, make this work. Oh well, hopefully it'll do better than my other (practically abandoned) projects!
Well, here's to the first chapter. I apologize for typos and character muck ups, it's all part of the learning process. Hope you enjoyed so far!