Author's Note: I'll be the first to tell you, I am no student of Chinese. Despite my academic obsession with Asian culture, I'm more in-tune to languages without tonals (Japanese, Khmer, and Korean). But the Chinese version of 'Tarzan' had such a beautiful soundtrack that I just couldn't resist. Borrowing the lyrics from 'Ni Zai Wo Xin Li Mian' (You'll Be In My Heart, a favorite of mine in English), I fully invite students of Chinese to batter me for my grammatical errors. I deserve it, especially applying another language to fanfiction.
You don't need to speak the language, however, to understand the context of Lee's feelings. I tried to make it universally understandable...
But, yeah. Enjoy. I did.
Sakura takes a prolonged slurp of her milkshake, and meets his eyes; it's only after a moment he realizes that it isn't mutual discovery, devotion and hope in those beautiful green looking-glasses that he sees. It's aversion. Distrust.
She skirts around thanking him for the drink, and Lee sips his soda without taking his eyes off of her, without caring what she thinks. Lee is shouting in the tongue of the moon again and again. And Sakura's just staring through him, his unintelligible words washing over her like waves over apathetic stones. He'll wear her away like the water does, over centuries; but those centuries stretch before him as unlivable nights upon unlivable nights, Arabian nights in a desert that does not want him. Without her.
Bu bian. It doesn't have words in their language, the speech of the Shinobi. There's no Japanese equivilant for it, just like this feeling that's imploding in his chest. Watching the sunset-colored world exploding, silhouetting her serene and singular form, Lee grits his teeth at the crevice between them.
"Ni zai wo xin li mian!" he shouts again, to make it real if only to himself. "Ni zai wo xin li mian."
He'll just have to teach Sakura to speak Chinese; he'll just have to show her the melody of his heart's dialect.
Life goes on, hulihudu in it's relentless thrum of ordinary. Perforated by brief stretches of terror and hospital stays, Lee treasures the teasing fingers of the wind and the certain, evidencial things in life: the give of everything when challenged by his fists, warm water clearing his head, and starry nights. He nearly dies on a few missions, but comes back fine from a few more. This ninja lifestyle is so predictable that it's unpredictable, and there's nothing of Lee that doesn't feel torn in the search for both security and strength.
Sakura is away for a very, very long time; Lee wakes each day in a heimongmong- marveling at the amounts of time he is able to spend quiet, contemplating, making crystalline sense of how he feels. It's only when he starts seeing her around the Hokage's office that he loses this 'dark cloud' mentality. The effect of Sakura's presence is like water to a dried towel. Lee is suddenly sponging up life, watching and delighting in the idiosyncrasies of people which he had neglected while she was gone. People become as rewarding to him as a day of that introspective quiet, and he's hooked; he wants to be around people all the time, to never stop observing.
He offers to buy her some noodles one night. It turns into Sakura relentlessly dishing about her training, the evils a trainee of Tsunade must endure: all the minute woes of a girl who can hold a kunai but cannot hold her feelings completely together. He wants to hear it, and she knows it; she knows, but not about his promises at night (Chao yue xin zhong yong yuan-). After such an absence, Sakura could hardly be expected to understand the whole thing. But he resolves to make the first move that night, and thus begins drawing Sakura into his sanctum. By quiet immersion he shows her the gestures, crannies of his secret world; of being the stable man that every kunoichi (who lives on the razor's edge whether she'll admit it or not) needs to complete their whole self. Sakura's not told that she needs Lee; in fact, her training is determinedly telling her that her own self is the only reliable party to lean on.
But love is a universal language. Before she knows the truth of bie yong tamen yan, she can see it's meaning in the way he listens, advises; in Lee's hands and eyes, the truth and the honesty in them.
The first word she learns, truly, is bu bian: unchanging. She understands it in her heart when she is damaged beyond repair in a freak, horrible miscalculation on an espionage mission, and still Lee comes back: with the same face, the same arms. No matter what happened on that mission (no matter what she won't tell him, no matter what he'll never know), one thing is bu bian. A few weeks later, when she's certain she wasn't impregnated and she's just beginning to sleep well again, they are walking down the lane when she says the phrase with perfect tonals, perfect pitch. That's how Lee knows she's getting it, and he smiles; she returns the glance, and lets him draw her a little further from that heimongmong hell.
The years bring new vocabulary, new depths of Chinese to plumb. Sometimes Sakura doesn't get it immediately; but she holds onto her words, and never stops using them. It's the string that keeps Lee holding on to her through thick and thin, through the huihudu and the hell-days, the good and the bad. Among her most important learnings from Lee's language are:
Bie yong tamen yan; don't use their eyes to measure my dedication.
Rang ai lai zhen ming, yi bian, yi bian; let love prove itself again and again.
And xin li mian, what it truly means to be in someone's heart. Truly.
In their third year of courtship, she says it often enough: aishiteru, I love you. But it's not enough; it's not spoken on the deepest level, the one that Lee has been waiting and waiting for her to realize. So he waits: he's very good at it, at not shifting with the waves that carry her towards him, away from him; towards, away, over and over.
But the Arabian nights end one lilac evening; they are sitting on a tree branch that bends like the low, arthritic neck of a bark-covered sauropod. Her hair is clean and cloying in his nostrils, and he sits with one arm about her waist for some time. They watch the sun go down, regarding it as mutually beautiful in their private words: it's jing, a gift from Kwan Yen, the goddess of mercy, herself.
When it becomes too maroon to see any longer, he climbs down; chivalrously he offers to lift her down, as one would a child, and she laughs, accepts. But before Lee can put her down, Sakura hugs his front, clinging to him like a little girl. Her arms are around his neck, and her face buried against the leather-softness of his chest when she murmurs, "Ni zai wo xin li mian."
It's almost surreal; Lee readjusts his grip on her small, reedy back, and asks her if she is sure.
"Wu lun she me gai bian?"
"Wu lun she me gai bian," she replies. No matter what changes.
"Chao yue xin zhong yong yuan?"
"Chao yue xin zhong yong yuan." Past my heart's eternity.
"…" Lee is quiet for a long time; he feels the small of her back, gazes into the sky. He can't believe he's heard it.
"Wo de ai yong bu bian," he finally says.
"I know." He can feel her smiling against the thin fabric of his shirt. "Neither will mine. Yin wei ni zai wo xin li mian." Because you'll always be in my heart, too.
And crying out in their creole and their Chinese, Lee swings his beloved in happy circles, until she lays a long, soft first kiss of ai upon his forehead.
A/N: Yes, ai means the same thing in Chinese as it does in Japanese. ^_^ Although the Japanese koi might be a better translation? Augh. Who knows the Chinese word that corresponds to koi, the less carnal form of love???