A/N: The second part of the relationship between Lee and Tenten. Follows "Insult Part I."
Pain was a part of life. Lee knew this. But he still didn't find dealing pain much easier. He didn't react as much as he once did, but frustration and anger never failed to accompany the times when he tripped, or stubbed his toe, or scratched his hand on a branch.
Failure. That was another thing that Lee experienced often. Everyone did, at some point, but Lee couldn't help but feel that he experienced failure far more frequently than anyone else.
And when the two common elements of his life were combined . . . well, that was just adding insult to injury.
Breathing hard, Lee pushed himself off the ground, brushing twigs and leaves off himself as he did so, grimacing at the fresh grass stains on his clothes. Determinedly, he glared up at the giant oak tree he had been trying to walk up using his chakra. He had watched Neji and Tenten climb to the very top of the tree with ease, attempting to figure out how exactly they moved up the trunk with such fluid grace.
It hadn't helped very much. Lee could only get less than a half of a meter up the tree before gravity kicked and threw him back to the ground, perhaps as a reminder that he belonged there.
Lee gritted his teeth. He could do this.
He surged forward, launching himself directly at the tree. The impact of the thick trunk on his sandals was his cue to focus his chakra, but he felt no energy pulse through him, only the pull of gravity dragging him down.
His body fell, and although Lee desperately attempted to control his movements, there wasn't enough time for him to react before his left leg scraped painfully against the tree bark. He hit the ground with a dull thud, and he lay there for a moment, the air forced from his lungs.
Lee felt hot tears burning in his eyes, and tried to clench his jaw to stop himself from crying, both from disappointment and the pain in his leg. All of this, all of his hard work, for nothing. It had made no difference.
Startled from his misery, Lee jolted up to find Tenten standing above him, gazing down at his prostrate form.
He scrambled up off the ground, embarrassed about being caught feeling sorry for himself. "Hello Tenten," he greeted her. "What are you doing here?"
True to character, Tenten did not respond right away, allowing several second to pass before she replied. "I decided to check on you," she stated in her emotionless monotone. "With Guy-sensei away on his mission, we all need to be looking out for each other."
"As much as I appreciate your concern, Tenten-" Lee began, but Tenten cut him off.
"Your leg is bleeding," Tenten interrupted unexpressively.
Lee glanced down at her leg, and realized she was correct; thin red rivulets trickled down his flesh where his ankle had scraped against the tree trunk.
"I can help you," Tenten stated. She knelt down on the ground beside him and removed a pouch from her belt. She opened it and turned it upside down, allowing the contents to spill out on the ground. Tenten sifted through small packages of pain pills, a pair of tweezers, snakebite antidote, and hand sanitizer before selecting one of several rolls of bandages, a pad of gauze, and a foil-wrapped antiseptic swab.
"That must come in handy," Lee observed.
"My stepmother gave it to me," Tenten said.
After hearing her words, Lee fell silent, the memorable conversation between the two of them in which Tenten had initially mentioned her stepmother coming to mind.
"This may sting," Tenten informed him, ripping open the package and removing the swab.
A shrug was the only response Lee gave to her, and as he clenched his fists at the sharp bite of the antiseptic, he wondered cynically if this was her way of getting even with him for his lack of reply.
"Tenten," Lee hesitantly began as she finishing cleaning the scrape on his leg. "May I ask you a question?"
"You just did," Tenten pointed out.
Lee stared at her. She stared back, her eyes completely void of sentiment.
"Today while we were training, you told me that I would never to be able to defeat Neji." Lee swallowed. "Do you honestly believe that?"
"Yes," Tenten replied flatly.
Hurt and disappointment washed over him, and Lee did his best not to allow his dismay to show.
"Hold that there," Tenten instructed, placing a gauze pad over the abrasion.
Lee complied. "Why?" He asked suddenly.
Tenten looked up from wrapping a bandage around his leg over the gauze. "Because I want the gauze to help stop the bleeding."
"No, I mean why do you believe that I will never be able to win against Neji?" Lee questioned, his heart pounding nervously.
Using a kunai, Tenten sliced the bandage from the roll, and firmly pressed the end to his skin so the adhesive would take. Then she withdrew her hand and started to gather her medical supplies.
"I don't know if you've noticed this," she said while reorganizing her first aid kit, "but Neji and I have much in common. We're very much alike."
Knowing that Tenten's method for explanation was to open with a non-sequitur and gradually reveal the relation to the topic at hand, Lee kept silent, allowing her to continue.
"The main trait that brought the two of us together is our anger," Tenten went on. "I'm not sure about Neji, but my anger has no particular cause or target, only brought about by certain circumstance."
She snapped the medical pouch shut, and to Lee's surprise, turned to meet his gaze.
"Our anger drives us," she said, her tone cavalier, as if she were commenting on the weather. "It's what gives us the strength and ambition to keep going. If you took that anger away, I'm not sure what we'd be. I don't mind being a vessel to such rage as long as it gives me my own power, but to be honest, I think the anger consumes us."
"That sounds dangerous," Lee said, aghast. "And very destructive, to both yourself and to other people."
"I would expect someone like you to react like this," Tenten replied with a shrug. "But this is just our way of coping with what fate brings to us. It's a way to avoid driving ourselves insane, wondering why tragedies occur, why loved ones are taken away."
"So you believe in fate as well, then?" Lee questioned bitterly.
"It's actually a nice thought," Tenten mused. "That our path is predestined."
"How is that 'nice' at all?" Lee stared at her.
"Would you rather just have your life be a series of mismatched, random occurrences?" Tenten returned.
"So you too believe that I am fated to lose?" Lee asked, perturbed.
"I believe that the anger that pushes Neji and I does not allow us much morality," Tenten stated. "And you are fixated upon morality. Your morality prevents you from fully achieving your goals. If anything, I believe you'll lose because you are a better person than either of us. You'll do what's right, because it's what you believe in, but Neji and I will just do whatever we want, because we can."
Lee was silent for a moment. "So you are saying that my ethics prevent me from being the best ninja I can be?"
"I'm saying that your honor can blind you in certain situations, and some solutions may not occur to you due to your ethics. Neji and I would be willing to take vastly immoral action, but you wouldn't. And I think that indicates a lack of self-preservation." Tenten began sharpening one of her large knives.
"So what would you have me do, Tenten? Sacrifice my morals and honor all for the sake of winning? I want to be a great ninja, but I will do it in my own way." Lee folded his arms across his chest stubbornly.
Tenten gazed at him. "I remember how I told you that you should only be willing to become a ninja to please yourself and not other people. At least you took my advice to heart."
"It was not your advice," Lee objected. "I always wanted to follow my own path, and not one that someone else or fate," he said the last word with scorn, "has laid out for me."
"Fair enough," Tenten responded tonelessly. "But I have to apologize to you, Lee."
"W-what?" Lee stammered, taken aback by her statement.
"When I spoke to you back at the restaurant, I told you that you were wasting your time trying to please other people. I also made several insulting insinuations about you. I'm sorry. I was unfair to you." Tenten appeared sincere despite her emotionless demeanor.
"You are apologizing?" Lee was confused by her sudden, apparent change of heart. "But why?"
"Because I would have been furious if someone had said the same things to me," Tenten replied. "And I was cruel to say those things to you when your father is dead. You're right, you should be able to make your own decisions without anyone telling you what to do. And I believe that your honor makes you a good person. That's probably something Neji nor I would understand, anyway."
Lee grinned at her, hearing only the compliments she had given him. "Thank you, Tenten!"
Tenten extended her hand, and Lee readily shook it.
"Friends?" He asked, smiling.
"Why not?" She replied. "Would you like me to show you how to use your chakra to climb trees?"
"I would appreciate that very much," Lee said. "Thank you." He offered her another dazzling smile.
In return, she sent a smile in his direction, faint but genuine.