A/N: Please give love to my co-author Lucklessmallory! I wouldn't have been able to do this story without her.
In a recreation room just a floor or so above the dining hall, all of the furniture had been pushed against the walls. The linoleum floor was wide and bare, perfect for sparring.
Lee grinned, flushed and sweating as he circled Neji carefully. They'd been at it for almost an hour now, and he'd almost forgotten how much of a work out his friend could give him. Neji never missed anything. When Lee thought he was at a good angle for attack, he suddenly ran forward and brought his leg out in a wide sweep to knock Neji down from the back of his knees.
Neji leaped over Lee's kick and countered it with a graceful one of his own. The last time the two of them sparred was when they were still kids, and Neji could see new patterns in his friend's moves. Gai had been Neji's martial arts teacher back then, and Lee his partner and self-declared rival. The long-haired man leaned towards Lee and began a series of punches that seemed to come one after another.
Lee managed to dodge the kick, but grunted and threw his arms up as the first few blows hit him and knocked out his breath. He stumbled back, but Neji seemed to follow him and easily got through his blocks, leaving stinging blows throughout his midsection. Lee finally caught one of Neji's wrist and tried to flip the other man over his shoulder with one powerful pull.
Neji gripped Lee's wrist with his own, using the force of the man's pull to flip himself back. Neji's other hand shot out to grip the back of Lee's neck as he landed, but didn't squeeze. "You're dead." He said, sweat trickling down his forehead and strands of hair falling loose from his hair tie. He still hadn't cut it since the start of the epidemic, and it was even longer than Hinata's now.
He let go of Lee and yanked his wrist back. "You've improved a lot since I last sparred with you." He acknowledged.
"You have, too!" Lee grinned and turned to clasp his friend's shoulder. His breath was fast and a bit wheezy, but his words were clear. If smiles could blind, Lee's would have maimed with his excitement. "That was a great match! I cannot believe that we have not sparred here before now! Your skills are still better than mine, but I think that if we tried again I could beat you!"
"Maybe one out of five matches." Neji replied with a small smile. He'd been assigned too many missions by Temari that he rarely had time to sit down with his friend and talk. He turned to one of the tables pushed up against the wall and got the energy drinks they'd brought from the mall, throwing one to Lee. "Your hand-to-hand's well coordinated. Those sparring matches with Gaara are paying off. Gai would be proud." He popped the can and drank the slightly chilled liquid.
He still didn't like the redhead, remembering the time he'd walked into Lee and Gaara on the floor. Their relationship was no secret now, but he did not want to catch his friend with another man on top of him.
Lee twisted the top off his bottle and took a long, grateful pull with a thirsty 'ah!' He wiped his forehead with the back of his hand and sat down on one of the benches that had been pushed against the wall.
"Thanks, Neji. That means a lot." Lee took another swig and grinned at his friend. "You should try sparring with Gaara once, too. He is getting pretty good. He beat me last week with a few distraction techniques." Lee decided not to mention how Gaara had managed to distract him, but the concept was useful.
Neji sat down next to Lee and leaned back against the wall with a heavy breath. "I doubt he'd want to spar with me." He said, evading the real criticism on his tongue. He turned to his friend, observing the happy glow that surrounded him. Lee had always been a cheerful person besides the occasional moment of depression. But there was a quiet joy that lit up his eyes when he talked about his boyfriend. Neji could understand that, even if he couldn't imagine the rest. Didn't want to.
"What will you do if Naruto decides to leave but Temari wants to stay?" He asked instead.
"Oh, that is not an easy decision." Lee 'hmmed' and took another drink while he thought. "Probably whatever Gaara wants to do. I think he wants to go to Konoha, but if Temari stays I cannot imagine them wanting to split up after they already lost each other once. I would not mind staying, if we could get some of the dangers from raiders under control."
"Staying with family is important." Neji set his empty can beside him and crossed his arms. "I'm going with Naruto when he decides to leave. Hinata's coming with me no matter what Inuzuka says. She's safer at our clan house."
He pressed the back of his head against the wall, trying to take in the cool temperature from the structure. "Do you think Gaara would do the same for you? There's a chance that Gai's still alive."
Lee's grin faltered at that, but came back more softly as he thought about his boyfriend. His heartbeat was finally slowing down as he rested. "Yes, I am sure that Gaara would go with me. I really hope that Gai is okay after all, but... we cannot know that. On the other hand, I know for a fact that Temari is here, so we should do our best to make sure she and Gaara are not split up again.
"If we could go to Konoha though..." Lee's eyes lifted to the ceiling, unfocused as his mind wandered. "It would be nice to look for my uncle."
"Perhaps you should speak to him about it." Neji suggested. "Naruto isn't going to wait long for Temari to understand. It's getting more dangerous to venture out into the city everyday."
He was about to say more when a loud crash sounded from below the windows of the room followed by shouts. Neji sprang to his feet and looked out the window, catching sight of one of the trucks crashing into a few cars blocking the hotel's driveway before turning a corner and disappearing into the city. "Downstairs!" He called to Lee, his face scrunched. That couldn't be Naruto already taking the truck, could it?
Lee was on his feet immediately, glancing out the window to see the truck just in time before he dashed across the room and ran for the stairs. On his way to the basement a couple other people joined him, but no one knew what had just happened.
"Sai, get those doors shut right now! Naruto, help him before zombies get inside! Baki, check the other vehicles for damage!" Temari was already in the basement, giving orders and keeping everyone to task. It looked like the doors to the basement had been damaged, and someone who'd been on guard duty over the vehicles was sitting against the wall with blood dripping from his hair on one side with Sakura already attending to him.
The basement doors were already being pulled close, but the destructive sounds had already drawn zombies down the ramp. Gaara arrived with his crossbow in hand, adding long-range support as Sai and Naruto worked to get the shutter like doors shut again.
Temari spotted Lee and barked out, "Lee, we have one injured. Get Shikamaru to the clinic with Sakura. Everyone, get back! You're drawing walkers inside!" Smoke was rising inside the basement as fire licked the edge of the ramp. The zombies who were already moving down were ablaze, the stench of rot and smoke filling the air as one of them got its head between the doors.
Gaara's arrow pierced it in place, and Sai yelled out as a burning arm reached past the corpse and took hold of his arm.
"Shit! Somebody help him!" Naruto's brow was shiny with sweat as the heat of the fire outside heated the shutter doors. He couldn't even reach out to help Sai with his full weight pressed on the doors.
Lee raced across the basement until his body was pressed flush with the door on the side opposite Naruto, and threw Sai back by his shoulder, ripping his arm free from the zombie's grasp. The man cried out in pain as he stumbled to the floor, clutching at the burns on his arm. Lee shouted at him "Sai! Go to the clinic with Sakura and Shikamaru! I have the door!"
The moans from the other side of the door grew louder and the hand that had clung to Sai reached for Lee, but he barely managed to stay out of its grasp. He shoved against the door, holding the dead at bay as the pressure increased on the other side with the force of more collective bodies.
"Lee, we've gotta get the fuckers back!" Naruto hissed, shoving against his door. "If we can just get them shut, we can bolt the doors!"
Gaara's eyes widened when he saw Lee at the doors, his fingers moving automatically as he fired another bolt at the arm reaching for the men. Smoke was entering the basement as more zombies caught fire, and the red glow of emergency lights cast the basement in a hellish haze.
"I'll take him!" Choji assured Sakura as he pushed past the few stunned onlookers who hadn't moved at Temari's command. He slipped Shikamaru's arm over his shoulders and hefted the man to his feet, his friend half-unconscious from a bleeding cut on his head and bruises along his body.
Just when the doors seemed to burst open from the weight outside, Hinata and Kiba were crying out a, "Make way!" as Kiba fired his shotgun at the bodies. One of the remaining trucks was backing up towards the doors, Baki's stern face reflected on the side mirrors as he maneuvered the truck.
"Good idea! Keep the pressure off the doors, Kiba!" Naruto ground out.
Lee coughed roughly as the disgusting stench of burning flesh filled his nose from the zombies between the cracks of the doors, only worsened by the growing cloud of smoke. His eyes watered as his muscles shook against the growing pressure on the doors. He flinched violently as Kiba shot again, the sound of the shotgun incredibly loud in the space of the basement. Just when he thought he couldn't handle it anymore, Baki's truck reached the doors and pushed them successfully closed. Lee and Naruto stepped out of the way just in time and slid the bolts shut. Limbs that had still been caught in the cracks were severed by the pressure and fell to the floor, some still crackling with flames and emitting a sick black smoke from the fleshy char.
Hinata leaped onto the tail-bed of the truck, a heavy bucket in hand and her eyes narrowed with determination. She doused the doors as best she could, aiming for the cracks between the doors and the walls, and handed the empty bucket down to Kiba, who passed her another full one.
"We saw the smoke before we got down here. More people are bringing buckets. You guys okay?" Kiba shouted over the noise of living voices, moans from outside, and the thrumming engine of the truck.
"Yeah," was all Naruto could answer between coughs as he backed away from the smoke. Lee raised his hand in a thumbs up, his eyes still watery as he tried to catch his breath again.
"Keep those doors shut." Temari said, making way for the flow of people who arrived with buckets in tow. While they worked to put out the licks of fire from under the door and the surrounding debris, she covered her mouth with a handkerchief and made her way to Baki's side. "Check the remaining trucks for damage. Neji, see what else Sasori and Deidara have taken with them." Her eyes shifted towards the door briefly, dark with worry. "Is anyone else hurt?"
"We're good." Naruto pressed his palms against his knees as he hunched over, coughing still as he got his breath back.
Gaara still had his crossbow in hand when he approached the group. Catching Temari's worried look, he said, "Go. We'll make sure the doors hold." Temari nodded curtly in thanks as she made her way to the doors.
The redhead moved to Lee's side and ran his gaze down the soot on Lee's clothes and face from where the zombie's burning arm had brushed. He slapped Lee's back as the man coughed. There was still smoke rising to the ceiling of the basement, but the air vents were drawing it away already.
Lee shot Gaara a grateful look as he regained his breath. He asked loudly, "What happened? Who did this?"
"Fuck'n Sasori and Deidara!" Naruto walked around the truck to talk to the other men. "The assholes attacked Shikamaru while he was watching the vehicles and stole one of the trucks! Deidara was gonna blow up half the building's foundation if Shikamaru hadn't been there. They tried to fucking kill him, and drove right through the doors! Sai and me just got them back on the hinges when the zombies reached us. Sasori and Deidara are probably with the raiders by now, hoping the hotel burns to the fucking ground."
"Did any zombies get through? Is anyone bitten?" Lee asked, his eyes wide as he glanced at the severed body parts still scattered around the door and smoking.
"I don't think so. Sai got burned, but I don't know if he can get infected that way." Naruto's usually narrow eyes were wide with worry, his brow pulled together while his hands twitched.
"If Sakura can clean the burn wounds and disinfect it, I think Sai will be okay." Kiba said, slipping his shotgun in its holder on his back when the line of buckets finally put out the flames. Hinata jumped down from the truck beside Kiba and ran her arm over her forehead with a sigh.
The man turned to her and smiled, holding out a closed fist. "Good thinking on the buckets, Hina. You were great."
Bumping her fist against Kiba's, Hinata smiled back before she turned worried eyes towards the other trucks. "T-They took some of our supplies, but t-thankfully n-not our f-food."
Gaara frowned, his hand still on Lee's back. The facts didn't add up. Why would Sasori leave Zetsu at the hotel and take Deidara instead? The Akatsuki usually protected each other like a fraternity would. The facts didn't settle well with him.
He stood straighter, assuming leadership with Temari gone. "We need to move the other truck away from this one in case the doors break down. Baki, move it close to the stairs. Kiba and Hinata, transfer anything you find in this truck to the other one but be careful of any explosives Deidara could have planted." He turned to Naruto, his expression easing up from the hard mask it had become. Naruto had been holding up against the doors even after the flames heated them from outside. "...You should go to the clinic. Your hands have blisters."
"I'm okay, I don't need to go," Naruto brushed off, shaking his hands as if to flick away any pain. He paused, glancing at the truck and around the chaos of the basement as he seemed to change his mind. "...But I should at least check on Sai. I wanna make sure he and Shika are okay."
"Please help Sakura and Moegi if they need it." Lee said as Naruto walked away. The blond nodded and waved before taking off at a jog. Lee glanced down at his own hands, but his bandages had protected him from the heat, and he hadn't been holding the doors for as long as Naruto had.
Everyone fell into positions to carry out their instructions and regain order. The truck was unloaded and moved, and anyone who didn't have a job to do was sent back to the upper levels of the hotel. The body parts that had fallen around the door were cleared away and thrown out of the building, though there were still streaks of dark blood and black char across the floor and walls, from both the zombies and Shikamaru.
Once the basement was clear and the streak of panic had died down, Gaara pulled Lee to the nearest restroom to brush away the soot on his clothes and face, and wash the char from his fingers. The redhead's brows were knitted with the loss of their truck and the implications of Sasori on the loose, and he'd been quiet the whole way to the restroom.
Washing his arms at the sink, the redhead stared at the swirl of dirty water down the drain. "We don't have enough vehicles to transport everyone to Konoha." He said.
Lee stepped up behind Gaara and wrapped his arms around the other man's waist, holding him gently and resting his cheek on Gaara's shoulder. "Yeah. That is true."
Lee sighed and closed his eyes. He could still taste the smoke from the burning bodies in the back of his throat. "What are we going to do?"
Lee's body was a strong source of comfort behind him, and Gaara raised his eyes to look at him in the mirror. "There are other cars out there. It's fuel that we need." He said, taking in the sight of Lee's worried brows and the soot that also powdered Lee's face.
Twisting around, he pulled the sleeve of his shirt and wet it under the faucet, dabbing at Lee's cheeks and nose to clear the dirt on it. His mind was on Temari and Naruto's argument about staying or leaving, though. "There are small towns in the desert on the way to Konoha. We might be able to use them as waypoints and transport people in groups, but they're far from the city and could be filled with walkers. I'll discuss our options with Temari. Even if we have limited fuel, we will need to risk it."
Pragmatically, he also thought that the highways along the way would naturally be full of cars- people trapped in traffic during the initial outbreak while those seated beside them began to turn.
"That is a good plan. After something like this happened, I am sure Temari will come around."
Lee leaned his face against Gaara's wetted sleeve. The gentle strokes of cold water felt good on his dirty, grubby skin. He sighed again softly, his hands moving from Gaara's waist to hold the bathroom counter on either side instead. "I am sorry I worried you earlier, when I ran for the door. You are really talented with that crossbow."
"And you're too impulsive." Gaara's voice was calm even when he was chiding the other man. He placed his other hand on Lee's neck, holding him there as he continued to clean his face. "I don't agree with Naruto wanting to take everyone to Konoha immediately, but the circumstances have changed now. We're being boxed in this hotel. This place isn't safe anymore."
His gaze fell on Lee's long lower lashes, even more visible with his eyes closed. He'd almost shot Lee when the man rushed to the doors. That had his blood freeze over anything else that happened that day. Leaning up, he pressed his lips against the clean lids of his eyes, murmuring, "Your sunburn's gone."
"Hn," Lee hummed softly, waiting until Gaara had pulled back again to catch his lips softly with his own. Compared to the fighting, the death, and the heartache of betrayal and suspicion among the survivors, something as small as a kiss felt wonderful in contrast.
"I hope everyone is okay. I am going to check on the clinic in a couple minutes," Lee murmured.
"Go on ahead." Gaara replied, sliding his hands to Lee's waist. It was tempting to pull Lee for a longer kiss, but now wasn't the best time "I'm going to check Sasori and Deidara's rooms."
Lee nodded. He wrapped his arms around his boyfriend and hugged him tightly, warm and firm against the onslaught of the outside world's neverending tests and trials. Lee had a feeling, antsy and difficult to describe growing in his gut as the day was progressing. He felt as though he were bracing himself for some final blow that would knock him down or crash down upon their haven of the hotel, yet how that could happen he was not certain. All he knew for a fact was that for the moment, for this very fleeting instant of time, he and Gaara were still safe together... but that it could not remain that way forever.
"Love you," Lee said, turning his head to kiss Gaara's ear before he let go and turned toward the door. "I will see you later."
"Stop scratching at your wound. You're just going to make it worse." Temari said for what seemed like the fifth time already since Shikamaru woke up. She fanned herself quickly while Sakura gingerly dabbed a cotton ball on medical tongs against the bleeding wound on the back of Shikamaru's head.
The tray beside her had pieces of bloody shrapnel which the pink-haired woman had taken out of the cuts on Shikamaru's body, thankfully none digging in deep enough to require intensive surgery.
"You're the one making my head hurt, troublesome woman." Shikamaru grumbled and squeezed his eyes tight when the antiseptic burned against his wound. "Ugh, can someone pass me a cigarette?"
"No smoking in my clinic!" Sakura scolded, looking over at Choji, who had thoughtfully brought a bag of chips for his recovering friend. "Please don't give him any, Choji."
Chuckling at the women taking care of Shikamaru, Choji rolled his shoulders back, making the monoblock chair under him bend slightly from the weight. "You heard them, Shika."
On the other bed, Sai's arm was already slathered with cold burn cream, his skin a sick black and red ruin from direct contact to the fire. Sai, however, had a smile on his face as he leaned against one of the beds they'd added to the clinic. "Such an ugly and loud woman." He commented, earning a glare from Sakura.
"You're no help," she growled at him, turning back to Shikamaru's injuries. She muttered to herself as she worked, "I just wish I could put you on some medical grade oxygen, but we just don't have the equipment here. Everyone who was in the smoke should breath some for a few minutes, and you especially with a head wound."
Moegi was watching with avid, wide eyes at Sakura's handiwork. It had been some time since she'd seen so much blood, since she hadn't been around zombies in weeks and the last serious wound she had seen to had been Lee's. Her admiration for Sakura's skills had shot up significantly after seeing the older woman calmly removed all the shrapnel without batting an eye, and only snapping when Shikamaru groaned or moved.
"You're lucky I don't have to shave your head. All your long hair is a pain, but your cuts aren't deep. You won't need stitches, just bandages and rest." Sakura carefully set down her tools and laid down gauze across the wounds. The bleeding had finally stopped. She gestured for Moegi to hand her a roll of long bandages.
"Good. I don't think Temari would find me attractive anymore without hair. Ow," Shikamaru commented monotonously with a grimace as Sakura wrapped the bandages tight around his head, under his chin and the back of his neck.
"Who says I find you attractive?" Temari snorted, shutting her fan with a snap as she reached out and adjusted the bandage under his chin to lay flat against it. Even with the sharpness of her words, her eyes were soft with concern. Temari knew things could have ended much worse. "You stopped Deidara from blowing up the basement. Good work."
"That's all you're giving me after all I did?" Shikamaru had a strained smirk on his face, watching Temari fuss over his bandages. The blonde woman raised a brow but her lips lifted at the corners.
"Hmm. Not with an audience." Temari lowered her voice in amusement as Sakura went to tend to Sai again.
Choji pulled his seat closer to Shikamaru's bed and placed the chips next to him. "What's going to happen now? I'm running out of enough ingredients to feed the whole hotel."
"We're not going to do anything rash." Temari replied. "Even if they took one of the trucks, we have electricity and water. We should clear out the ramp of zombies first. And you-" She nodded at Shikamaru, "Make sure you recover quickly."
"Yep. Sounds like I'll be able to lay in bed without moving for a few days. Bother," Shikamaru responded. Choji grinned at his lazy friend. Temari pursed her lips and narrowed her eyes, but chose not to comment for the time being.
A rustle sounded from the lobby outside, just before Lee poked his head through the doorway. He looked at everybody in turn, and seemed to relax seeing that no one was unconscious or yelling in pain. He stepped into the room and waved his hand in greeting to everyone.
"Hello. Shikamaru, are you okay? You were bleeding a lot. And Sai, did Naruto see you?"
"He was here earlier. He went back to help Gaara," Sai responded, then hissed and winced as Sakura touched his arm.
"I'm fine, too. I might have a concussion, and I'm gonna need some bed rest, but nothing too serious," Shikamaru said, holding up a hand in greeting to Lee.
"Oh, that is a relief at least." Lee put a hand over his chest and sighed. He'd been worried.
"Naruto's hand needs to be treated despite what he says." Sakura's pretty face was marred by a frown with Gaara's name brought up again. She added another thin layer of burn cream over Sai's arm, trying to be gentle.
Sai craned his neck to look at Sakura and smiled. "If you need to strip him, I can help."
"Not a chance." Sakura deadpanned, a vein twitching on her temple at her patients. She had to admit though that it was a good sign for everyone to still be able to joke around under the circumstances. "Are you okay, Lee? I heard you were also pressed up against the doors."
"Yes, I am okay. I was not there for as long as Naruto was, and my bandages protected me from burns." Lee turned and addressed Temari. "Gaara took over command after you left, and he got everything under control. The fires have been put out, and the trucks and basement do not have any bombs left behind. The smoke was ventilated from the basement, too, so there will not be any issues with carbon monoxide poisoning when anyone goes back down there."
"Good. Thank you." Temari nodded approvingly, and pressed the tip of her fan to her chin in thought. "I need to speak to Gaara quickly. Do you know where he is?"
"He is searching Deidara and Sasori's rooms."
Temari nodded again in acknowledgement.
"Oi, I'm pretty sure Deidara keeps some of his bombs and chemicals in his room." Shikamaru spoke up, trying to sit up on the bed without resting his head against the headboard.
"Gaara's careful." Temari replied as she glanced at Sakura. "I'll leave this lazyass to you. Please let me know of any problems you'll have with Sai or Shikamaru."
Sakura nodded at the woman, the frown leaving her face at Temari's support. "I will. "
"Che, do you see them ganging up on us?" Shikamaru complained to Choji as Temari headed out the door. He lay back against the pillow on his neck, head throbbing from the blood loss and his wound.
"The wounded are the most often persecuted." Choji agreed in good humor, moving his chair to sit closer to his friend.
Lee stood awkwardly next to Moegi, rubbing his hand across the back of his neck. "Is there anything I can help you with, Sakura? Anything I can do?"
"No, everything is under control now that Shikamaru's bandages are finished. He won't be leaving the clinic tonight."
"Okay. I am glad that you were able to handle everything, and more people were not hurt." Lee smiled at everyone and stepped toward the door. "I am going to check in with Neji and make sure our security is tight. I think he will need help moving the zombies on the ramp, too. I will check in again later, Sakura."
The woman nodded but didn't speak, concentrating on Sai's burned skin. Lee patted Moegi's shoulder as he left, earning a smile from the girl.