Author's Note: This story has been a real labor of love. I had an adorable LeeOC story some time ago, and it hurt my heart to leave it behind...so in keeping with the changing audience and how I've grown since then, I've written what is hopefully a more palatable story of what love is supposed to be.

This story follows Lee and his wife over their lifetime, and the chapters will go backwards, revealing their story. It's a pretty dynamic idea, but I think it turned out... moderately good. Please let me know how I did!


Six-

The door creaks open a sliver, and Lee, across the room, rises instinctively. A little girl with raven hair and round emerald eyes glances in, mouth rigid with the silent confidence of one who Knows.

"Shuuko!" the tall but stooped man exclaims as he dips into a bow; the crackling of his spine as he come back up makes them both giggle, shattering the child's solemn expression. She smiles, and the world is suddenly lighter.

"And what business does my lovely granddaughter have on this side of town?" the senior asks, already pouring her a glass of unspeakably green tea; they're the only ones in the family who can stand the stuff.

"Momma wanted me to bring you this, ojii-chan." she says, holding aloft a large, vanilla-colored envelope as she dances to the table. The man's viscous face, weathered and heavy, shifts grimly; he takes the package, but pauses when he notices the lack of a chakra seal. It's not that important a document, or his daughter would have had one of the new Jounin deliver it. A clump of aged papers lands in his lap, and he begins to browse through them indifferently.

And then he sees her, in startling clarity, staring at him through the decades in glossy, monochrome youth. He slopes slowly in half with a gusty exhale, elbows on his knotty knees, holding her between his old hands. The moment steals him fully from this place, back to the verdant, mottled fields of better days; it has been so long since he's seen this photograph. And it strikes him again, in that one part of his gut, how long it has been since he has seen her.

At length, Shuuko bends over to see what her grandpa is so enthralled with. "Is that Momma when she was little?" she asks.

After a long moment, Lee tells her no, removing his thick-framed eyglasses. "This is your grandmother, when she was a Genin."

"No way," the girl says, leaning in for closer scrutinization. From across time, these sets of eyes meet, and the electricity in the moment is not lost even upon one so young; Shuuko sets down her cup and lightly removes the greasy, black-and-white picture from Lee's grasp. "She looks-"

"Just like you," he finishes, a smile slowly blooming across the entirety of his face. "The same eyes."

The little girl stares for a moment longer, before starling: "Oh, grandpa! I was supposed to meet my team! Sorry, I need to go-"

Lee chuckles, eyes crimping. "It's okay, sweetheart- I love you! Come over when you're done."

"Love you, too! Bye!" And off go the patter of her little, sandaled feet, chasing what was once his destiny.

There is only silence in her wake, a quiet less and less often interrupted by visitors of the Rock family. His children try to include him in their routines, - they really do- but the Shinobi life is prying this loving family apaprt: Ayu is crunching out a paperwork catastrophe in preparation for the coronation of the new Hokage, and Seiji is ever off with that ANBU group of his, never giving his father a moment's respite from worry. His children are in their late twenties, but Lee still catches himself missing them the way he did when they toddled on socked feet to the back door, to wave as he left for a mission he might not come back from. He feels that desperation occasionally, and needs to just hold them sometimes, to remind himself that he's here. He feels the same way about the grandchildren: Shuuko, Hariya, and Minori, who are coming up in the fashion of the Shinobi before them. Hariya will be entering the Chunin exams come this summer, for the first time; Shuuko is a recent Genin graduate, and Minori entered the Ninja Academy just last year, at age five. He wants them to be greater than he was, stronger and safer, but he also wishes he could keep them close forever.

Lee sighs, takes a sip of tea; his ashen hair has grown shaggy with unkemptness, and the five-pound tire he's so adamantly fought since his forties is back- and it's brought luggage. It's all beginning to weigh on his bones, but he's so old as to be comfortable with his own mortality. It is his wife's mortality, however, that he is finally growing accustomed to acknowledging; she has been dead for nearly five years, and everyone thinks it's about time. He's not despondent, but not who he was, either; as if some vital limb of his were missing.

Rock Lee is on the way out of this world, from training to death and just wearing out. He glances at the rutted tabletop, at her age-old gray eyes as they glance worriedly at the general clutter of his new bachelor life; at how the secret worries are beginning to show in his face, the fears that he's become useless. It's only when you're alone that you realize how much of yourself is tied up in other people. Rock Lee's identity for the past fifty years has been his passion, protecting what was dearest to him; the diminishment of his purpose in the universe puzzles him deeply; once he was a great protector of Konoha, but now he and his wife, their generation are just papers in an envelope, released to save space in filing cabinets.

He knows, in his hollow old head, that his phasing-out is just a part of passing the Will of Fire. But who he was and is cannot reconcile the idea of leaving all of this behind; his children, his reputation, the things he's fought to prove of himself.

This wonderful world that he and Rie created, together.


AN: Please, PLEASE review; I beg of you, even if it's only two syllables. Let me know that my long hours have some fruition...