Disclaimer and AN:
Don't own, don't sue

So, I secretly ship this. In fact, I nearly always ship the underdog, especially when they're as sweet and strong as Lee. Also, it's meant to be understood that you're getting the real Lee here, without all the Gai-sensei posturing. Which would explain the difference. Enjoy!

It was June 14th, and Ino was leaning indolently into Chouji when Sakura found her. She raised a pink brow at the large hand that was lazily stroking her blonde friend's arm, wondering when the hell this had happened. In response to the gesture, Ino mimicked it, raising one perfectly groomed blonde eyebrow.

"yeah, forehead? Did you want something?" Sakura waved a carefree hand.

"It's nothing really. It's just that Lee-"

"Oh, not this again-" she sighed, much to the amusement of the man she was using as a pillow. Sakura, however, didn't think it was funny at all.

"What is that supposed to mean?" Ino sighed, stilling Chouji's hand with a fond smile and moving it to her waist so she could gesture freely with her hands. The spirals on his cheeks disappeared with his blush.

"Look forehead, we've been rehashing this crap for years. 'Lee is so creepy!' or 'Lee won't quit asking me out!', blah blah blah, " She tossed another warm glance to Chouji, then looked back "Look, I get it, I really do. But you might try giving in, even if it's just one date. If it goes horribly, then odds are his enthusiasm may dampen. But then-" she rested a hand on Chouji's knee, whose blush deepened even further. "You might be surprised. It's not like the men are publicly lining up. You're kind of intimidating. Most kunoichi are."

Sakura blinked, not quite sure how to respond. She was also slightly embarrassed, because whining about Lee was precisely what she'd been about to do. To save face (and also to escape the palpable chemistry of her two friends-) she replied only with:

"Yeah, Ino-pig, I'll think about it." It was said nonchalantly, but Ino grinned like a shark regardless. Sakura, flushed and a tad shame-faced, turned on her heel and sauntered off.

But think about she did. Lee, at 21, was less annoying than he had been. Or, she should say, he was annoying in a different way. Young Lee had been prone to spouting ridiculous claims of love and protection, his devotion nearing quixotic levels. She had been annoyed then because of the attention his yelling drew, even when it was just his two teammates. Who, just last year, had gotten married. So maybe they had understood better than their bewildered looks had said.

No, the Lee of today was annoying because he was…intense. Young Lee could be ignored, or foisted off on some inane task she asked him to do for 'his lady'. Now, the yelling and posing had been traded for a fire burning in the depths of his eyes, and a deeper husk to his voice when he said her name, or asked for her notice. It was downright unnerving!

But if Sakura were honest with herself, she could admit that it unsettled her because she was drawn to it. While Lee would never be classically handsome, his differences had changed over time from strange to interesting. She'd heard Tenten say once that he was an orphan from the mainland, and that his strong brows and open, frank, eyes were partially because of a different heritage. That was an interesting concept, one she understood better now that she was older.

There was also the forbidden thought of his…ahem…physique. Most shinobi were slender and lithe, though she knew a few that weren't. Asuma (rest his cigar loving soul-) had been stocky. So were Chouji and Naruto, honestly. But it wasn't common. Lee, however, lay somewhere in the middle as far as shape went. But Sakura was a medic, and had seen at least once were his lei-lines were. Unlike many shinobi, who stopped trying to gain muscle when they had definition, Lee had pushed himself to the ultimate condition. Sakura blushed as she remembered the lines of lateral muscles over his ribs, the ridge of her pelvic bone. As a taijutsu specialist, he didn't need to be lithe. He could hammer someone until they went from lithe to limp.

Caught up in her musings, Sakura didn't realize she was at Team Gai's training ground until she saw a rain of Kunai pin Neji to the ground. His pearlescent eyes caught hers, and he gave her a tight smile.

"Always pins me where she wants me. How can I help you, Haruno-san?" Sakura blushed, smiling at Tenten as she dropped from a tree.

"I was looking for Lee. Is he…uh…around?" The married Jounin exchanged a look laden with silent conversation.

"I think he's meditating, actually. But he's been at it a while, if you want to pull him out." Tenten offered, wiping her face with the hem of her shirt, much to Neji's intrigue. Finished, Tenten shot him a look that said 'cut it out' before turning back to Sakura. "try the stump about 20 feet back from the clearing."

Sakura nodded, murmured a courteous 'thanks', and headed that way. Following Tenten's instructions, Sakura slowed at about ten feet in, blinking at Lee's bare back. She flushed as a bead of sweat jumped from his hair to sliding leisurely down his spinal column, and unconsciously drifted closer. She supposed it was hot enough to warrant this state, but-

"I was working on my tan." His voice rumbled, startling a squeak out of her. He chuckled softly, rotating on the large stump to face her. That glowing ember was alight in his eyes again. "To what do I owe the honor, Sakura-chan?" Swallowing, Sakura straightened her skirt nervously, trying to look anywhere but at his chest, but unwilling to expose the wick of her wits to the fire burning in his face.

"Well, I err…." She paused, and then sighed, giving in and meeting his gaze. His eyebrows jumped upwards. "I think I owe you an apology, for earlier today. And for…well, the past ten years." Lee's thick brows climbed even higher, disappearing under his bangs.

"You're forgiven. But what am I forgiving you for? Today at least?" Sakura flushed even more.

"I…um…ran away. When you asked me if I wanted to get a drink."

"Oh that. Didn't you say you were meeting Yamanaka-san? I-"

"Yes. But I was lying." She blurted. He blinked, then huffed a breathless laugh.

"You could have just said no."

"I know!" She groaned, stomping back and forth a few times. Lee, for his part, watched with a small, incredulous smile on his face, and waited. Something was going on, and he really wanted to know what.

"So…why didn't you?"

"I don't know!" she huffed, flopping with little grace so that she faced him in profile. He blinked, absently admiring the frustrated moue of her pink lips. He sighed, feeling himself caught in her magnetic pull, as he always had been. He wasn't sure why more men (or people, as it were-) weren't.

"Sakura." He sighed, leaning into her line of vision. "At least turn to face me. I want only to understand."

"I can't."

"Why not?" He sounded so earnest, that before she could stop herself, she answered:

"Because your eyes…they burn." Lee stared at her blushing profile, aware that his likely matched. Had his feelings really manifested so clearly?

"Do they really?"

"Yes." Slowly, so as not to be caught in her peripheral vision, he unfolded himself, then strode around to sit in front of her.

"Then I am afraid I must ask you to look at me anyway, Sakura-chan." As she lifted her eyes, so very slowly, he let his emotions flood him, knowing they would shine like a pyre in his eyes. Tenten had always called his eyes expressive, and said they were his best feature. Now, as Sakura's sea-green pair met his, he hoped it was true.

Sakura stilled as she met his eyes. When had he moved? She couldn't recall seeing him do it. Even still, he was there, pinning her in place with eyes so bright with fire that she felt her blood rushing faster, warmer. This close, she could see that it was a variety of emotions that provided the kindling: admiration, trust, passion, and hope. And, though she had doubted his sincerity, a wealth of love that only her parents had ever rivaled.

"Lee?" She husked, and the passion ramped the fire to a flickering blaze. "If I asked you to kiss me, would you?"

"Whatever you wish, Sakura-chan." His voice crackled like firewood in response to hers, rough but soft as ash.

"Then please do. Your eyes are making promises you never have."

Considering he'd made many promises to her, too many to count, Lee didn't quibble. He simply lifted them both to their knees and sealed his mouth to hers. He had wanted to kiss her for half of his life, and was not going to pass on her actually asking him (Him! Rock Lee! Bushy-browed nerd of the leaf!) to do it. And it was…amazing. She melted into him, sliding her mouth wetly over his, opening to him like her name-sake as he requested silently, and fingers gripping his back just under his ribs.

Sakura shivered, hardly able to form coherent thought. As she had speculated, his fire had rushed from his eyes into her, leaving her bones feeling like they had melted under the onslaught. She opened her mouth for him, reveling in his gasp as she licked at his top lip. He cautiously returned the gesture, and she eagerly met his molten hot tongue, coaxing him into her own mouth to tease it with her own. He groaned at this, rock hard arms crushing her into his bare chest. She felt like she was going to burst into flame and enjoy every minute of the fire.

Feeling this way, she drew back and gasped for breath, her boneless neck tipping backwards so that she faced the sky. Lee dropped his forehead to her collarbone, panting just as hard. Slowly, they sank back to sitting, slightly entangled.

"Sakura…?" Lee's voice was still that crackling fire, but it had banked a little, and he sounded mildly unsure. Her eyes pricked at that, and she hated herself more than she ever had. Why had she been such a bitch?

Unhappy with his doubts, she pushed the past aside, along with her restraint. Where her hands rested on his back, she drew him in, slowly sliding into his lap, knees on either side in a straddle. She flushed as she felt the hardness she had undoubtedly caused, but refused to flinch away. His head snapped up, the fire blazing back up to full strength and settling in her own core.

"Lee…I haven't been fair to you, especially recently. When we were kids, you have to concede that you were…overly eager." He blinked, then nodded, a bashful smile on his face, which she greeted with her own. "But that was then. This is now. I've been…rejecting you almost out of habit. And that was really short-sighted of me." Slowly, she slid her hands from his back , up his chest, to cup his strong jaw. His eyes were practically a super-nova now, and she kissed the space between them, then each cheek, then his eyelids as they fluttered closed. "But I want you to know that I have always loved you, even if it was only as a friend. I'm sorry if I didn't make you feel that way-" he drew her closer, his mouth trembling slightly as she murmured these things, tears gathering on his closed lashes. She kissed his thin mouth softly, her heart twisting at his surprised gasp at the initiated contact. "-But I want to fix that now, if you'll let me." She punctuated that proposal with another soft kiss, which he met with a shuddering sigh. "And I'd like to change the stakes from friendship to more, if you think we can."

Lee opened his eyes, one single tear sliding down his face. It was a conservative display, for such a passionate man. The fire in his eyes was a glowing ember, smoldering with the deepest emotion she had seen in the initial mixture.

"Any other man would have given up years ago-" he murmured, voice trembling a small bit, and she stroked a soothing hand down his face, which he leaned into. "But I will never give up, no matter how stupid anyone thinks I am. What you have said today-" he kissed her firmly, still amazed that she allowed and welcomed it- "is all I have ever hoped for. Are you sure?"

Sakura nodded emphatically, crushing him to her. She shrieked as he launched upwards, landing in a treetop and whirling her around with a happy whoop. She continued to shriek with laughter as he danced her around in the sky.

Back at camp, Tenten high-fived her husband, even as he groaned.

"Shit. I owe Ino money."

AN: So there you are. May do Chou/Ino prequel. May do Lemons! Thoughts? REVIEW THEN. Or I'll continue on my merry way, and you may or may not get anything.