Gaara inked his name on the bottom of the parchment, indicating that he approved the C ranked mission his student and her two new teammates were to be given. He rolled up the scroll and set it to the side of his desk along with a bunch of other scrolls and papers that needed filing. He then handed Matsuri a slightly smaller scroll tied neatly with a small red ribbon. Their mission was to deliver the scroll to a nearby village, the Hidden Lightning Village. She smiled and she and her companions bowed, thanked the young Kazekage, and left.
Gaara sighed. Because the mission would take about a week, maybe six days, he wouldn't be spending any time training with Matsuri. That would have bothered him slightly but the heat was unbearable lately, even for Suna, with its hot desert wind and scratchy sandy streets. It was making him rather irritable. He was glad to let Matsuri and her friends go. The Hidden Lightning village had some trees and shade from the harsh sun, unlike Suna. It definitely wasn't as shaded as Konoha but it was bound to be cooler than here.
Gaara sipped his apple juice thoughtfully, enjoying the slightly sweet liquid as it trickled down his throat. He looked at the bottle, amused. Since Suna and Konoha had become allies, they'd been trading goods with each other. Konoha would buy special medicine that was made from certain rare desert plants and glass treasures made from the sand and such while Suna would purchase fine goods such as fruit juices, something they rarely enjoyed before the alliance, and timber to build things. Connections could not be greater between the two villages.
The door to his office swung open suddenly, gripping him back to reality. The coolness the apple juice had left behind only seconds before vanished and was replaced by the persistent, undying heat. The corners of his mouth twitched downward, annoyed that he let his mind drift and even more annoyed that someone had caught him off guard. He looked toward the door to see who it was that had interrupted him so and his expression softened as his best friend walked toward him with his teammates trailing behind. Both Tenten and Neji looked worn and unhappy, slightly annoyed even, but Lee was as chipper and cheerful as ever and skipped over to the large oak desk where the Kazekage sat.
"Good morning Kazekage-sama!" Lee exclaimed, leaning on the desk to greet his friend.
'Morning?' Gaara glanced at the clock on the wall to his right and glared at it. 10:08am. 'Great. If this heat doesn't kill me, the loss of time's ability to flow will.' He'd only been in his office for three hours yet it felt like he'd been sitting there for days. He turned back to Lee. "We're friends Lee, there's no need for such formalities." Lee looked as if Gaara just asked him never to do taijutsu again.
"Absolutely unthinkable Kazekage-sama! Not using such formalities would be of the greatest insult! I would never disrespect you like that!" Lee's right hand reached up to punch the air, 'yosh' plastered across his well tanned face. Neji rolled his eyes and Tenten shook her head sadly. Their eccentric teammate was too much even for them sometimes. Gaara didn't mind though; there was something about the green-clad taijutsu master that calmed the burning rage that dwelled within his heart. Being around him made him feel at ease. Something about it just felt right.
Gaara chuckled, a low, deep purr that sent shivers racing up the spines of the two ninjas closest to the door. Lee was unaffected; he had heard it enough times to be used to it, though he knew a rare few others ever heard it. The smaller male always seemed happier (if you call not constantly glaring happy) when Lee was around and Lee guessed he knew why. Lee was Gaara's first friend. He trusted very few people and Lee was shocked, but honored still, when Gaara told Lee he wanted to be friends. Lee gladly accepted and saw the faintest hint of a smile threatening to reveal itself on the redhead's lips before it quickly vanished and he shook Lee's hand. It was a smile that Lee seldom saw but cherished every moment he caught it, wondering if anyone else ever saw what he did. This was one of those special moments and Lee beamed at Gaara, his companions waiting for him by the door, oblivious to the silent connection transpiring between the two unlikeliest of friends.
"And to what do I owe the honor of having three of Konoha's finest ninjas in my village?" Gaara asked, looking Lee in the eyes.
"We're on vacation!" Lee blurted excitedly. "Whenever things get slow around the village Lady Tsunade allows us to take vacations. We all take turns deciding where to go. This time was my turn and I decided for us to come here!" Lee gave Gaara a thumbs up.
"Well it is truly an honor. However, I'm afraid the village isn't in its prime for tourism at the moment. The heat has been unrelenting and the people have taken to staying indoors during the day and coming out mainly at night. Our doors are open to you of course, but if you wish to stay I suggest you properly protect yourselves from the heat." He looked to Neji and Tenten who looked anxious to get out of the office.
"We'd love to stay here!" A strange pressure tightened around Gaara's chest as Lee said this.
Ever since Shukaku had been extracted from him, Gaara had started getting these odd feelings every now and then. The only emotion he'd ever been able to feel while hosting Shukaku was anger. He reasoned that it was the demon's power that drained all other emotion out of him. He supposed it was to make him stronger. He didn't like it but he could see how effective it was. Anger made him want to fight; a constant thirst for blood kept him on his toes, kept him aware of everything that happened around him. All the other emotions would just get in the way and cloud his judgement. He didn't really understand them but he saw what happened to people when they got too caught up in them. Emotions could destroy people. He could never see why people would ever want those kinds of feelings but now he knew why. They felt good. He didn't understand them well but he knew he liked them. He had acquired a few friends; Lee being his first, a strange new thing that he liked more and more over time, and Naruto the second. He was grateful for every moment he got to spend with them, feeling more and more with every word exchanged, every shoulder slapped in admiration, every laugh that no longer annoyed him but now amused him.
All of his friendships were different though. The friendship he had with his brother and sister was very formal. It wasn't much different than it had been before but he could at least tell they were no longer afraid of him. The friendship he had with Naruto was anything but formal, as the loud blond didn't seem to give a damn about anyone's authority except his own, but he admired the knuckleheaded ninja all the same. The friendship he had with Lee, however, was different somehow. There were barriers in his other relationships that didn't seem to exist in this one and some that seemed to only exist here. He wasn't sure what they meant and felt there would be consequences for trying to pass them but was curious anyway. There was a strange tingling in his chest that he felt whenever Lee was around but never felt it with anyone else. He wanted to ask Lee about it but knew it was one of those barriers that shouldn't be crossed. He felt as if breaking that barrier would somehow upset Lee, something he dreaded more than anything, though he couldn't understand why.
"Good." Gaara stated. He would have been disappointed if Lee had decided to leave already. He pulled a piece of blank parchment out from one of the drawers in his desk and began scribbling hastily across it. Finally he signed the note and handed it to Lee. "Give this to Kire. She owns the hotel down the street." Lee scanned the note and smiled. "It's just to tell her that you are to have a nice room and to have a fan installed so you are all comfortable. I would not like it if my friends suffered from heat stroke while on their vacation." Lee quickly circled around the desk and threw his arms around his smaller friend.
"You are awesome!" he shouted. This caused Neji and Tenten to tense severely, shock evident on their faces, not knowing what Gaara's reaction would be. Anyone would be scared, knowing Gaara's temper.
Gaara's heart throbbed painfully in his chest, beating far too fast. It made him feel dizzy and slightly sick as he just stood there. He'd never hugged anyone before and wasn't exactly sure what to do. He gingerly patted the raven haired boy on the back, awkwardness bursting from his every pore until Lee released him, leaving him dazed and rather off balance. He sat down and felt the heat pouring from his face, hoping his company would link it to the heat instead of what just happened. He doubted it.
Neji and Tenten avoided looking at Gaara for the few awkward minutes that they remained in the room, Lee spouting 'thank you's' and promises of meeting Gaara later that day. He was totally oblivious to the effects of what he had just done. Gaara nodded and agreed to see him later after his work was finished and ushered them out of the office, grumbling about how many hours it would take him to finish everything. He locked the door behind him and lay down on the tan sofa between the two large office windows. He closed his eyes and put his hand to his chest, feeling his steadily declining heartbeat as it slowly returned to normal. A surge of electricity ran through his heart and down into his stomach. 'What the hell?' His grip tightened on his chest, his heartbeat throbbing against his pale, slender fingers. 'Why does it hurt but still feel so good? Why do I want more?' That was the trouble. He did want more. He just didn't know how to go about doing that. Usually he just let his friends decide how the relationship would flow but this time he felt like he needed to do something. He had to feel it again.
As soon as they were out of the office building Tenten rounded on Lee, socking him hard in the face. "What the hell is wrong with you? Do you want to get killed?" Lee had dropped Gaara's note, surprised when Tenten had hit him. He picked it up and looked at her, head tilted to the side, smiling innocently.
"What do you mean Tenten? Did I do something wrong?" Tenten looked like she was about to rip his head off.
"You just hugged the Kazekage. Subaku no Gaara." She dragged out every syllable of his name for emphasis and was annoyed when Lee's expression didn't change. "You know, the man that has tried several times in the past to kill you? Remember that?" She folded her arms across her chest.
Lee started walking down the street to the hotel, not seeing the significance of this. "I know what he did Tenten, but that was in the past. He has apologized and won't do it again." He shrugged and Tenten stared after him disbelievingly.
"And who's to say he won't do it again Lee, huh?" He turned to her and gave her a thumbs up.
"He said so!" She smacked her forehead with her palm.
"And you believe him? Just like that?" Lee nodded.
"Of course I do. He is my friend after all." She just shook her head and she and Neji followed as he gave Gaara's note to the lady behind the desk. She was old and used a cane to support her when she walked but she was very sweet to the three young ninjas. She handed them two keys for their room and told a nearby man who was currently sweeping a section of the floor to install a fan. He nodded and reassured them he would be up within an hour to put it in. The three companions thanked him and Kire and they went up to check out their room.
There were six levels to the hotel and they were lucky that they got a room on the second floor. Heat rose and they were sure they'd die if they were all the way at the top. The room was rather spacious. It had three beds made up along the back wall, a slim round table in the middle of the room and a mini fridge with a vase of purple desert flowers placed atop it. There was an open door to their right that led to a bathroom. The walls of the room were a pleasant mint green color. It felt comfortable here, despite the stinging heat.
They were silent as they unpacked their things and chose their beds. Lee got the one closest to the left wall, Tenten was in the middle, and Neji got the bed next to the right wall. The handyman made good on his promise and was in the room in a half hour, installing a large metal fan in one of the windows. They turned it on then thanked him and gave him a tip when he left. It must be horrible to have such a physical job in this heat.
Neji muttered something about taking a shower so cold it could freeze hell over and left his friends to cool in front of the fan. The breeze was welcoming and Lee leaned into it, loving the feeling of the wind rushing through his hair.
"Do you feel something for him?" The question startled Lee and he looked over at his brunette friend, face a slight shade of pink.
"Wh-what? Who?" Lee sputtered but knew Tenten knew he was playing dumb.
"Gaara." Her gaze was stern but her eyes were soft.
"I-I don't know what you mean." He blurted out defensively, trying to avoid her eyes and preoccupying himself with the bandages around his left arm. They were perfectly wrapped as they always were; he was picky about his bandages, making sure they weren't too tight or too loose, that the ends weren't sticking out. There was nothing wrong with them but he felt the need to look at something other than Tenten's piercing stare, which he knew could see right through him. She knew him all too well.
"I'm not blind Lee. I see they way you act when you're around him. You're all smiles. More than usual! It's scary. Of all places to have a vacation you pick here, a giant hot sandbox, and you hugged him!" Lee sighed. He knew when he was defeated.
His face reddened as he stared hard at his bandages, no longer fiddling with them. "I like him. Is that ok?" She patted him on the back.
"Of course it's ok to like someone. It's not something you can control. But you have to remember. He is the Kazekage. He has to set a good example for everyone in his village. And don't forget that he tried to kill you." Lee glared at her. She was taken aback. Lee never glared at anyone except those trying to obstruct justice and they all answered to his taijutsu, willingly or not.
"I told you Tenten, that's in the past. What he did before isn't important now. He's a completely different person now." He stood up and she followed him with her eyes.
"I know Lee, but I just…"
"Just what? Want to control my life? Tell me who I can and cannot like? What I can and cannot do? It's my life Tenten so butt out." Lee was furious. He could tell she was only being kind and trying to give him some advice but everything she said just rubbed him completely the wrong way.
"No. I just want you to be careful. That's all." She looked as if she were about to cry. Lee knew he was being a jerk but he couldn't stand it when people tried to tell him how to live his life. He stalked out of the room and slammed the door behind him.
He felt hot tears prickle at his eyes as he marched down the sandy street. He didn't know where he was going but he didn't care. He just didn't want to sit still. 'I don't see how there could be a problem with us being together. We're both reasonable, respectable adults. We should be able to do what we want and if people have a problem with that they should just screw off!' That particular bitter thought led him to a small dark building. He looked at it. It was odd that he'd never seen it before; he'd been to Suna many times. He looked around him and noticed that he didn't recognize where he was at all. 'Wow, this place is bigger than I thought it was.'
He opened the door and walked inside slowly, letting his eyes adjust to the dim lighting. He was surprised when he found that it was a small teahouse. It looked nothing like the teahouse on the main street. That one had tan walls and a high white ceiling whereas the walls here were dark brown wood panels and the roof was the same color and low enough where if Lee jumped he could touch it. He sat down at a small round table in the corner. He looked around thoughtfully. This was definitely not a tourist hotspot, he could tell. There were a total of three other people in the room and they were all at the same table. One, Lee recognized, was Gaara's sensei, though he could not clearly remember his name. He didn't recognize the other two, one of which was sporting a huge sword with a hole near the tip, but they were talking animatedly to each other about what looked like something important. Lee watched in amusement for a moment until a short, smiley girl walked over to take his order. She was pretty. She had black hair tied up in a neat bun above her neck and had painted her nails black. Or maybe they were a dark green shade. It was hard to tell in this light. Her wooden sandals complimented her green kimono beautifully. As beautiful as Lee thought she was however, he secretly mused that her beauty was nowhere near Gaara's.
"I'd like a frozen vanilla chai please." He girl nodded, bowed, and gracefully strode into the back room. She came out not two minutes later with an icy vanilla chai which Lee gladly sipped, savoring the cooling vanilla as it slid down his throat. It was the most delicious chai he had ever had and it felt so good on such a hot day. He let his mind wander as he steadily devoured the refreshing drink. He thought about what Tenten said and the anger started back up again. It wasn't as sharp as it had been earlier but it still hurt. He then thought of Gaara and wondered if the young Kazekage had any feelings for him. He knew it was unlikely but unlikely didn't mean impossible. He would try to win the redhead's affection in any way possible. He was filled with passion, a new determination. He jumped up, nearly toppling the small table and startling the other three customers. The kimono girl walked over to him, a worried expression on her face.
"Is there something wrong?" She questioned.
"Yes." Lee stated firmly. "I think I may be going insane." He smiled at the confused woman. "I'm not exactly sure what I've got to do but I know I have to do it soon. If I don't, I'll miss my chance." She smiled knowingly, a distant look on her face.
"Is it someone you care about?" Lee gave her a huge grin.
"Yes." She gave him a sweet smile. "And I'd like to have a pitcher of that chai to go please!" He handed her some money and she was back in two minutes with a large pitcher of delicious icy vanilla chai. He thanked her and raced out the door. It only took him three minutes to find the Kazekage's office building. As it turned out, he had only taken an odd turn off a side street. He thought he'd walked a really long time earlier but assumed he had probably been going in large circles.
He walked up the stairs to the third and topmost floor. It was warmer up here than on the lower levels but that was to be expected. He knocked on the door and waited to be let in. There was no answer, however, so he knocked again. Nothing. He was worried that his icy treat was going to melt before he was able to share it with the man he so yearned for. He tried opening the door but found it was locked. Dismayed, he knocked once more in desperation, hoping Gaara would just pop out of the doorway.
Gaara woke up to a soft rapping sound. He stretched and looked around, wondering when he'd fallen asleep and just how long he'd been like that. The rapping sounded again and it pounded in his ears, giving him a headache. 'Why can't people just leave me alone?' He felt sick and the intruder wasn't helping. He supposed the heat was getting to him and was starting to worry that he might have to cancel with Lee later if he didn't feel better soon. They knocked on the door again. This time Gaara got up and walked sluggishly over to the door, gritting his teeth and holding his head.
"What do you want?" He snapped as he opened the door. He was surprised however when he saw Lee standing there, looking slightly hurt, and not Temari who was usually the one to bother him during the day. His heart sank when he saw Lee's expression. It was odd but he didn't like to see him upset. He quickly opened the door and stepped back, allowing Lee enough room to walk by him. "Sorry Lee, I didn't know it was you. I thought it was someone else."
The pout on Lee's face disappeared in an instant as he zoomed into the room past Gaara, who shut the door behind him. He held out the pitcher for Gaara and beamed. "I got some iced vanilla chai to share. It's nice and cold and I figured you'd be warm and like a nice break after being stuck in here all afternoon. Gaara looked at the clock and noticed it was 4:37pm. 'How did I manage to sleep that long? Shit. So much for getting all my work done today.' He looked back to Lee and the corners of his lips twitched upward slightly. Lee knew Gaara's smile all too well and didn't miss it, even if it was only there for a split second. Suddenly Gaara whirled around and wretched into the trash bin, effectively emptying his stomach of the whole two pieces of toast he'd eaten this morning. He felt horrible. 'Perfect fucking timing.'
Lee was horrified. He quickly rushed over to Gaara and rubbed his back soothingly. Gaara muttered all sorts of apologies and stood up fast only to lose his balance to dizziness. Lee caught him quickly, supporting him around the waist. Gaara closed his eyes and leaned against Lee's chest, shaking his head back and forth. He was so tired. He was scared of how weak he felt and knew that Lee could snap his neck right there and then if he wanted and he wouldn't be able to fight back. Gaara knew he wouldn't though. He knew he was safe with Lee.
Lee put a hand to Gaara's forhead and gasped. He had a high fever. Lee carefully walked him over to the sofa where he'd been sleeping only minutes before. Gaara frowned when Lee released his hold on him and leaned back keeping his eyes closed. The light burned his eyes and every small sound resonated through his head like a thousand needles. He could see the light in the room grow dimmer through his eyelids as he listened to Lee scuffling through the room, drawing the shades on the windows. Then he heard the fan turn on. 'That's why it's so damned warm in here. When did I turn the fan off?' It was then that he realized he'd completely forgotten to turn it on this morning and mentally cursed himself for forgetting something so simple. With the shades drawn, lights off, and fan on, it instantly felt fifteen degrees cooler in the room, something Gaara accepted gratefully.
He heard a crinkling sound and was slightly startled when the couch dipped as Lee sat next to him. "Here." He said softly. He held the cold, hard glass up to the redhead's mouth, pressing lightly on his lower lip. "Drink this. It'll cool you off."
Gaara took the glass and tried to drink but his hand was shaking so violently that he could barely grip the glass. Lee gently grasped Gaara's hand around the glass and held it up to his mouth so he could drink. He was surprised to see that Gaara's hands were only slightly smaller than his. He was tall and lanky, so it fit, but Gaara was shorter than him by about a foot. They didn't look awkward though. They were pale and smooth and his long slender fingers were so soft, something he didn't expect. He expected them to be rough, not like his own, but still worn. He loved Gaara's hands and had to fight back to urge to kiss all his fingers one by one and his palm and the back of his hand, and travel up his arm and… 'No. I can't be thinking about think right now. He's very sick.'
When Gaara had finished his chai, Lee placed the glass by the side of the couch and looked back at Gaara who still had his eyes closed. "Thank you Lee." Gaara hummed quietly. Lee nodded, just noticing the situation that he was in. He was nursing Gaara. He knew what this meant for the young male sitting next to him and was both honored that Gaara would let his guard down around him and worried about his health.
"You should get some sleep." He cooed softly in Gaara's ear. He went to slip off the couch but stopped when Gaara gave a disapproving grunt. He weakly grabbed his shirt, silently begging him to stay. Lee sidled over to the end of the couch to give Gaara room to lie down. It was a fairly large couch, enough room for four people to sit comfortably, but when Gaara lay down, he settled his head on Lee's lap. Lee was absolutely shocked by this but his heart soared. He awkwardly looked for a place to put his arm so he wouldn't put it on Gaara but found no other option so he draped it over the small male's tiny stomach.
Gaara was out cold. He unconsciously put his arm over Lee's and grabbed his hand while he slept. There was a slight frown on his face. Lee traced over every line, every detail of his delicate, porcelain face with his eyes. Without realizing it he slowly ran his fingers over Gaara's jaw line, sliding his thumb over the man's bottom lip, loving how soft it was and wondering what it would feel like to kiss him. He debated over this a moment, lost in a haze of bliss and caught himself as he was lowering his face to meet Gaara's. 'That would be an absolutely horrible! Disgusting! Cheating! No good thing to do! I shall NOT think of it!' He mentally kicked and punched himself, reminding himself to double his next training routine. He did not let his subconscious make any more advances on the vulnerable male sleeping on his lap but he did let his hand wander, caressing every inch of that perfect face he could without waking him. Then he slid his fingers over Gaara's cheek and cupped it gently in his hand. Gaara unconsciously leaned into the touch, which startled Lee. He thought he had awoken him. Gaara's whole body relaxed as he leaned into Lee's touch. His expression softened and his lips fell into a small smile. Lee was awestruck. He'd never seen Gaara smile like this before and knew it wouldn't last forever and would probably be the last time so he savored every moment of the peaceful bliss that surrounded them while he could.