Chapter Eleven

"Gaara, it's time to get up."

No it's not, shut up. I rolled over, away from the voice.

"Gaara... Come on, breakfast is waiting for you downstairs. I even made coffee for you."

Hmm, coffee. I like coffee... I yawned and rubbed at my eyes, trying to get the sleep out of them. There was sunlight brightening up my room, burning my eyes as I tried to open them. Grumbling, I turned around again, away from the window.

When I managed to open my eyelids a fraction, the first thing I saw was green. I rubbed them one more time before opening them fully.

The green was coming from Lee's shirt; it was a familiar garment, something I saw him wear to work every now and then. A green button up, loose and faded with wear. The sleeves were rolled up to his elbows, the buttons open at the top revealing his collarbone. To top it off, he smelled like my favorite coffee.

"Good morning," he greeted me with a warm smile. I smiled back almost instantly, feeling as if the warmth in his eyes was a real, tangible sensation. Lee's smile grew wider.

"Happy to hear about the coffee, hmm?" He crouched so that he was at eye level with me. "Huh, the circles under your eyes don't look so bad anymore."

My brows knotted together in confusion. I looked down at my hands and saw that most of my eyeliner had rubbed off on them.

In an instant, Lee's hand was on my cheek. He touched the area under my eye with his thumb, staring at the skin curiously. "Huh. Well, at least you look healthier."

"You oughta get ready, or else your food will get cold," he continued on as he moved to stand. "I'll be waiting for you downstairs!"

I watched his back as he headed to the door. Before he exited, he gave me a little wave, then disappeared from sight.

With a small sigh, I sat up. I really didn't want that coffee to get cold.

My hair was still wet from my shower when I descended the stairs. The first room ahead was the dining room; I could smell the strong aroma of coffee, along with the scent of bacon and butter.

Sasuke and Lee were sitting at the table, chatting. I tried to pass by them as quietly as possible, but Lee called out my name as I moved in front of them.

"I got everything set up for you already," the brunet stated, stopping me in my tracks.

"Oh." I turned to face them and saw a plate filled with food at the seat in front of Lee. A mug of coffee sat next to it, steaming slightly in the chilly morning air. "Um- Thanks."

As I got seated, Lee returned to his conversation with Sasuke. He was telling him about breakfast and how to make scrambled eggs fluffier.

"So you learned this all from your father?" Sasuke asked.

Lee nodded. "Yeah. My mother was never around when I was young, so my dad had to learn how to take care of the both of us."

With a sigh, Sasuke leaned back in his chair. "Mmn. You're lucky you had such an efficient father."

Lee smiled and rubbed the back of his neck. "Yeah, definitely. I could teach you sometime, if you wanted."

For a moment, Sasuke looked genuinely surprised, but the expression didn't last long. "If... I get some free time, that'd be- nice."

"Great. Just tell me when, alright? Always here for you," Lee said with a grin. Sasuke smiled back, albeit with a touch of reluctance, before standing up.

"I'm going to wake up Naruto now. He's been sleeping for long enough."

He didn't wait for either of us to say a word before he left.

I kept my head down as I shoveled food into my mouth. It wasn't fresh anymore, but it was still better than I what I ate regularly. The eggs really were fluffy, and the bacon was crisp. Luckily enough, my coffee helped to combat the feeling of butter than swam in my system once I'd finished eating.

When I finally looked up, I found Lee smiling brightly at me. I quirked an eyebrow.

"You really must be a morning person," I observed, taking another swig of my coffee.

His smile widened. "I won't deny that, nope!"

This fool was laughable, really. I hid a small smile behind my mug.

I could hear his feet scuff the floor as he kicked them back and forth. I really had to roll my eyes, even more so when he sighed wistfully. Was this all really because of me...?

He's fucking head over heels for you, kid. He just sighed dreamily. That's it, the world has ended, you have officially become a dreamboat. Aren't you honored?

Doors opened in the distance, the bickering between Sasuke and Naruto chasing out the voice in my head.

"You don't have a right to complain, dumbshit. You're the one who keeps scaring them away with your constant need to talk about sex," Sasuke spat, the pair coming to the top of the staircase. They stopped there and stared each other down.

"Well, I'm sorry if that's an important part of my life right now!"

"Yeah, you should be sorry. You're so fucking pathetic, it hurts to look at you."

"You mean it hurts how beautiful I am, right? That you can't take the sight of me because it's so damn glorious?"

"You keep telling yourself that, dumbass. But you might as well save it for later, we're already running late since you slept in like the lazy ass you are."

"Oh, shut it, bastard! You love this ass!"

The brunet rolled his eyes and began to descend the staircase. "I really wonder if you're aware of the words that come out of your mouth."

Sasuke didn't give Naruto any time to respond, however, as he approached the table and gave us a slight nod in greeting. Lee stood up and gave him a bright smile paired with a thumbs up.

"Good morning again, Sasuke!" he exclaimed before turning to his blonde companion, "And good morning to you, sleepyhead!"

"Let's not start the name calling, Bushy Brows," Naruto replied as he walked into the kitchen. He ignored the table and poked around the cupboards. "We're not doing anything until I get some food into me, I'm so hungry! And it's not like anyone's waiting except for you guys, and I'm sure you can wait."

Lee exchanged looks with Sasuke, then spared me a brief glance. I didn't have much to say about it; I still felt like a guest, like an outsider, intruding in places I shouldn't be. I didn't belong here, but I was invited... And to be honest, I still don't know what to think about that. Some grave mistake on their part, certainly, but I agreed, didn't I?

Curiosity wasn't something I actively bred in my mind, but even I can't resist its claws, I suppose.

"Naruto," Lee probed, moving to stand, "I made breakfast. It's a bit cold since you woke up late, but we are running on a schedule."

Lips pursed, Naruto looked over Lee's shoulder to examine the remains of breakfast on the table. "I don't think that's enough. I need some ramen!"

Before Lee could interrupt him, Sasuke grabbed Naruto by the back of his shirt and forced him into a chair. Curses and yells tumbled from the blonde's gaping mouth as Sasuke grabbed him by the hair and began to shove food in his direction.

A prickling sensation danced over my skin as I watched them. I stared into the last few drops of coffee in my cup. My reflection wiggled back at me for a moment, then I downed the rest of it.

"I'm going for a walk," I stated, standing. I could feel eyes follow me as I headed to the sink to wash out my cup.

"I'll join you," Lee said as that brief moment of silence slid past. Naruto's complaints resumed easily, quickly, and I was glad to leave them behind.

All of these people had so much energy in the morning... I was still trying to get the gears in my head going. It's been so damn long since I've had this much sleep, it's going to take forever for the sluggishness to leave.

The sun was higher in the sky now. It beat down on my hair, the back of my neck, combating the coolness of the morning air.

I sensed Lee's presence before he made it known, his hand a fleeting touch against the small of my back. Again, my skin prickled, but in a way that was less... anxious. Actually, no, it still had the jumpy quality of being anxious, just- I could feel my heart's pace pick up a little bit.

"We're going canoeing today," Lee reminded me. He was leaning a bit towards me, compensating for our height difference.

"I've... Never really been in a boat before," I admitted. "In fact, I've never really been in water aside from hygenic purposes."

Lee's eyes widened. It was such a common occurrence it was almost funny.

"This is just a series of firsts for you, isn't it? Experiencing all these new things is just the beginning of the wonderful, magnificent Springtime of-"

"Youth, right, I get it."

Lee deflated. "It's important to take note of significant times like these!"

"Is it really that important?" Important events included graduating, but even that hadn't been that hard, surpassing both of his siblings, getting internship after internship, and...

I looked up at Lee. He easily met my gaze.

I supposed that meeting Lee must have counted for something.

"I'd say so! In fact, I see it as a fantastic opportunity. It might turn out that you really like water!"

"I..." It didn't take me long before I felt the need to avert my eyes. "I don't even know how to swim."

Lee clapped a hand to my back. "That's fine! Life jackets are mandatory anyway." He grinned. "Besides, I'm here for you if you need any sort of help. I think I'm a pretty good swimmer, plus you don't really look too heavy."

I looked down at myself.

"Er- That's not to say that you're, uh, um-"

I waved a hand. "I don't really eat much, so it's not unexpected." I'd just never really thought about it. Lee was right. I suppose he's more observant than I thought.

Despite my casual dismissal, Lee's face was colored in a blush. He rubbed the back of his neck.

"G-Gaara," he started, voice feeble, "About last night..."

Last night? I wracked my brain for the memory. Images of Lee wet and undressed flashed through the front of my mind and I could feel heat slug its way under my skin.

"What about it?" I asked, though it came out sharper than I intended. Lee didn't seem bothered at all, however, and plowed on.

"Uh-" The rubbing at the back of his neck increased in speed. "Okay." He exhaled. "Last time I brought this up, it didn't go too well, but I was thinking-"

Trigger words sent flags flying in my head. That damned voice stomped to the forefront of my brain, mixing up any words I may have had waiting on my tongue.

He's been checking you out too. Observant, sure, but that's just proof that he wants you, too. It's mutual! Isn't that nice. Can we fuck him yet? I'm dying to try it out. All those other humans out there seem to think it's such a great idea. That loud couple bunking with us seems to be nuts over it.

My own face started to heat up. Now was not the goddamn time, that "loud couple" was bound to come out of the cabin at any time and interrupt us. They'd see us, see me starting to lose control, see that there's something wrong, and-

"-Gaara?" Lee's voice cut through the raging thoughts rising and falling in my head. "Maybe I should just bring this up later..."

Though his voice trailed off, he leaned closer. Then his hands were on my face, forcing our eyes to meet. "You really seemed out of it just then. Is this-?"

"Lee," I hissed, jerking out of his grasp. He dropped his hands quickly, though he continued to hover in my personal space. My chest did that damn tightening thing, restricting my breathing. "Look, I- I think I'll continue this walk on my own. Tell them to wait up for me, okay? And-" I chewed the inside of my cheek for a while. "And that I'm sorry if I've been a nuisance."

This isn't my vacation, this isn't my trip to make, I'm intruding, I'm a stranger, I'm not human, I don't need to dabble in things like hobbies and canoeing and morning coffee and eggs and bacon. I spared Lee one last glance, but cut it short - I couldn't stand to see him looking any shade of forlorn or upset. I didn't think my ribs could take it.

Within moments I was lost in foliage, endless branches and leaves. Dirt and decaying wildlife protested under my steps as I blindly walked through. It was cooler here, out of the light, but my surroundings did nothing to deter me and the rapid, storming, endless train of thoughts crashing through the carefully built structures of my mind.

What the fuck are you doing? What the actual goddamn fuck are you doing? Get back there! You were making progress! He was going to ask you out again, you know, make it fucking official! A pause. Hah, speaking of fucking-

Look, just stop it! Stop it. Don't you fucking remember what happened the last time he proposed such a thing? It's not happening. What works is what we have now, we don't need to change anything-

It's been changing ever since he made that proposal! I know you think he took it back, but he never did. It's time to face the music, kiddo, you and him have been in a relationship this entire time.

Well- Well, of course we've been in a relationship, what else would you call this? Interaction between humans is too long, we've established this a long time ago.

Don't fuck around. No more pussyfooting. Just face the facts. He's eventually going to approach you, and I can't have you fucking- freaking out about it. Not this time. You're not going to fuck this up.

You don't want him to make that face again, do you? You know which one I'm fucking talking about.

Immediately, the exact expression the voice was referring to sprang into my head. My chest restricted again, my stomach dropping down to my knees. My body followed soon after as I doubled over, gasping for breath.

"Stop," I wheezed, "How the hell can you use that against me?"

This bodily reaction was too strong, I was relinquishing too much damn control. Fighting for breath, I clutched at my chest. My heart beat wildly against my ribcage, hard enough to feel it through the layers of skin and flesh and bone between my heart and my hands.

Imagine him crying over you. Imagine him shaking, head bowed, respectfully letting you go back to your damn studies. Your empty dorm room, your cold bed, your cold home, your cold father.

Shut up! I don't- I don't care if it's cold. It's fine. Unimportant. Insignificant. I don't understand why he needs to cry over me, I'm not- dead or anything.

The thought cuts through me nonetheless. I remembered him crying over his father and the strange somersaults my stomach did at the sight. For some goddamn, inexplicable reason my guts decided to repeat that sensation, but three times worse.


Lee. Lee, Lee, Lee, it's always about Lee, isn't it? That man has been nothing but a nuisance to me, some strange intruder barreling through each of my defenses effortlessly. How.

I didn't understand a goddamn thing about this and I was fucking tired of it.

Suddenly there were hands on my wrists. Damp and cool leaves and mud touched my skin, and it took me a few moments to realize that I was thrashing around in Lee's grasp.

"Gaara!" Lee repeated, applying weight to my upper body. My legs continued to kick around, hitting Lee over and over. I couldn't control it. My body was in a panic and his decision to exert physical force against this useless vessel of mine didn't help at all.

Eventually, Lee settled his weight over my pelvis, too. It greatly hindered my leg movements and their accessibility to his body.

"Hey, hey-" Lee whispered, his voice trailing into quiet, hushing hisses. His breath against my skin sent shivers down my spine. "It's okay. It's okay, I'm here."

My eyes flew open and I gasped for breath. As my body shuddered, I could feel him let up some of the pressure against my chest.

I stared up at him. My eyes darted over his features, searching, searching. Was there intent to kill in his eyes? Was there intent to do any harm at all? His eyes were determined, clear, but fear was buried deep in his gaze. Fear of what? I was harmless under his weight, absolutely powerless, and I could feel my breaths start to quicken.

"Gaara, I'm not-" Panic flashed in his eyes and he began to draw his body away from me. I was given room to breathe but I still failed to get a sufficient amount of oxygen into me.

He settled a foot away from me, kneeling in the dirt with his hands on top of his thighs. I continued to stare at him, afraid of what he might do if I let him out of my sight.

"Are you okay?" The question hung in the air for a moment. I couldn't find my tongue. As I remained unresponsive, Lee quickly shook his head and groaned. "Of course not..."

Lee blew a long breath between his teeth. "I'm sorry... This is all my fault. I shouldn't have said anything at all. I shouldn't have forced you here." His eyes roamed the ground before he returned his sad gaze to mine. There was something heavy there, and I could feel the force of it in my lungs. "I can drive you home. I'm sorry this happened."

Quiet settled once he closed his mouth. The wind occasionally rustled leaves in the distance, and the calls of animals could be heard through the thick barriers of forest around us. My stare on him was relentless as I took deep breaths, willing my body to calm down.

There it was, that damn expression. It was somehow worse this time around and I felt responsible.

I reached within myself, desperately searching for that calm. My body was shaking, and it was distressing the growth around me.

"Lee," I croaked. His body twitched, but he was already sitting at full attention. So patient. God. "You... Don't have to."

"B-But I insist! This clearly isn't the right environment for you!"

Any place with you clearly isn't the right environment for me, but I can't stay away, I thought. I bit my lip, finally resigned to allow that piece of truth to strip me of a bit of control.

I shook my head. "I don't want to interrupt your vacation. Although this..." I cleared my throat. My voice was raspy from my episode. "This isn't how I imagined spending my break, I agreed to spend it with you."

As troublesome as this all was, I couldn't stand the idea of Lee and his friends... being upset by my reluctance to play along with social convention. It would only cause more fuss in the future, and I was already here, wasn't I?

My head swirled with thoughts. You've already established you like him. It's okay. You don't want to disappoint him, and that's okay.

While the voice in my head was speaking truth for once, it was still... strange. I didn't really want to be here, but I also knew that leaving would leave Lee in a state of disarray, and that alternative was worse, somehow. It would bring back that damn face and I would be the sole cause of it.

Lee's eyes were glassy as he regarded me. "Gaara... You..." A smile broke across his features, its presence having a foreign, calming effect on my wild heart. "I'd hug you right now if... I mean... Well, you know."

Did I? But if that was what he really wanted to do... With some hesitation, I sat up a little straighter. "You... can. If you really want to."

Within seconds Lee had closed the distance between us, leaves flying in his wake. His grip was warm, so warm. It was tight but not suffocating, and my chin found a comfortable spot in the crook of his neck. Having his body so close to mine was... interesting. As I was calmer now, I could easily identify that he was harmless. Maybe I could... enjoy the sensation? Warmth... And even a little bit of security, just as there always was when he embraced me.

"I told Naruto and Sasuke to go ahead... Turns out we're actually canoeing tomorrow," he stated with a breathless laugh. "They weren't upset at all, in case you were wondering. We can make up for lost time later."

This was the longest I'd ever let myself be held. It was still strange, but I knew that "strange" wasn't even the half of it.

"I'm... Glad." And it was true. Relief pooled in my stomach before slowly dripping into the rest of my system.

Lee was very... solid. I could rest my weight against him, and I was tired. I let my eyes fall shut. His warmth surrounded me, enveloped me, and his breaths competing with mine fell into a soothing rhythm. I think I felt very alive at that moment, and perhaps the most accepting of the fact that life and humanity were so closely intertwined than I have ever been in a long time. That was really the only way to describe it.

Just what had Lee done to my mind, my body? I didn't think reflecting on this question was something my taxed brain could handle. Eventually I felt the need to push him away, craving space once again. He let go easily, then assisted me to my feet.

I felt a little dizzy, so I leaned my weight against him again. Lee didn't protest at all.

"Are you up for walking? I can go back and get you some water," the brunet offered, looking down at me. His nose was a few inches away from mine and somehow, I didn't find that to be a problem at all.

"Walking... I can do." I glanced around us. "And water would be nice. You'll have to show me the way back, however."

Lee seemed to pick up the rest of my unspoken sentence and redirected our bodies towards what I assumed was the campsite.

"Alright! Let's do this! Let's embrace our springtime of youth!"

While I thought I'd done enough embracing for the day, I was too tired to protest. With seemingly little effort, Lee whisked me back at a reasonable pace.

A/N: coughs hello I have returned. If anyone's still around, I haven't given up on this yet! In any case, I apologize for any OOC qualities... It's been a while. Suggestions are welcome.