Warnings: Spoilers up to Volume 10 concerning a few phrases I took from the manga. But I'm sure we're all well past Volume 10 of the manga.
Disclaimer: Kishimoto's characters and my words.
Summary: Lee knows that losers can be heroes too.
And this is no different
Lee understands what it's like to be weak, pathetic, and a loser.
It's not easy being the hero, he wants to tell Tenten with an apologetic smile, when she finally shows her frustration through the unceasing tears when she visits him at the hospital. It's just after the Chuunin exam and he knows that Tenten is feeling the humiliation still of how easily a foreign nin from Suna had beaten her. "Sand bastards," Lee hears her mutter as she wipes away at the salty trails in a futile effort to stop. He could see in her eyes how unfair she thinks it is that he is here now, and there is pity there for his prognosis that makes it harder for her to meet his gaze. They had already waited a year to enter the exams and after having worked so hard he knows how difficult this must be for her. He also knows that telling her that next time they'll do better wouldn't be enough, because words can't reach those who don't want to hear.
It's not about winning or losing, he thinks, when he sees the bewilderment on Neji's face. His cold and distant teammate is silent and angry and perplexed. For once that presence of barely contained disdain is gone, replaced by the uncertainty left behind. Naruto had put it there. Naruto, who is a year younger, and who was still able to achieve what Lee had been working all this time to do.
But unlike his teammates, Lee is not perplexed or downtrodden. After all, Lee is not a stranger to this. He has been that loser for years now and for the first time he is ahead of his teammates on how to overcome it. Lee knows that failure can be as fleeting as success; that pride is good when it drives you but one should discard it like training weights if it ties you down. That even the depressed feeling that sometimes settles in his chest will pass if he worked hard enough.
In the past his teammates have always excelled with flying colors where Lee has failed with abysmal results. Even on simple D-classed missions he has managed to remain spectacularly incompetent and useless when it mattered. On bad days, Lee is inclined to suspect that the only reason Gai-sensei held their team back a year was because of him.
Tenten and Neji did all the things he wanted to do and they did it with an ease he could only look on with admiration and awe, if not a slight bit of envy. But what Lee has not obtained through talent, he learned through guts and blood and sweat, and all the failures in the world can't stop him now. He doesn't need their pity and he doesn't share their views on the crushing weight of reality. He knows what it means to have someone believe in you despite inadequacies and fears and not being a genius. He's already been told, over and over, how he wasn't born to be a shinobi.
He knows that losses do not measure one's true strength or even one's potential, and it's a lesson he will prove to anyone who doubts him. He is intimate with the feeling of trying your best and still failing to succeed. It's painful each time but this one is no different and he has survived them all. This is the one thing that is new and untried territory for the teammates who have always surpassed him. And, unlike them, he has already moved passed it.
He is a genius of hard work.
Gai-sensei was the first to recognize it and give it a name. Now, Lee can take pride in that genius that he never even realized he had and he won't ever let it go. Not even in the face of medic-nins, sure that he would never be a ninja again, would he give up. Gai-sensei was the first awesome, amazing ninja who clapped him on the shoulder like a real student and a real comrade, and told Lee he could do it so long as he believed he could. Gai-sensei was the first to make Lee truly proud to wear the Leaf hitate, to make Lee believe that he was exactly where he belonged.
Gai-sensei was the first to acknowledge his hard work. Because of his teacher, all of Lee's failures turned into road-blocks instead of the end of the road. And this is no different.
"Those who do not believe in themselves, even hard work won't save them." Gai-sensei had warned him. The harshness of a teacher imparting wisdom to a foolish apprentice had moved him. It had shocked him out of the depression that had followed him since his Academy days, but now Lee fully understands what Gai-sensei had meant. When he looks and sees the dejected rise of Tenten's shoulders and Neji's clenched fists as the other stands reluctantly in his hospital room, he realizes that for them this is still a lesson to be absorbed.
So, Lee won't ever give up. He won't tell them this will pass, because he doesn't have Gai-sensei's eloquence or wisdom. But he does have experience and his fists. He'll show his teammates, for the first time, a lesson he had mastered that they had yet to grasp.
Because Lee has spent his whole life having people tell him exactly what he could not do and what he could not be. He'll grit his teeth through pain and humiliation, for all the things that came with not being born to be a ninja. He'll endure it all in order to keep to his important dreams, to fulfill those important promises, and to wear his hitate with his head high. Because these things are worth more than the pride in what you should be and the despair in what you are not.
Lee sees now that it's his turn to help his teammates on the road to glory. If he never gave up, if he always moved forward and tried with every nerve and cell in his body, if he just believed - because that is the hardest thing of all - then Lee knows in his bones that he will accomplish it. Regardless of one's status as a genius or a loser, regardless of where one begins, as a can or a can't, Lee wants the world to see that the spring time of a young man's youth is as glorious as what he will make of it.
With his fists he'll show them again the miracle of a twice blooming Lotus of the Leaf.
Fanfic 100. Theme #1: Beginnings