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14 October 2005 @ 06:45 pm
Naruto Fic: Diplomatic Relations, Part Seven  
I am sooo sorry I haven't answered all the lovely reviews left to me this week. I've been - is there a word stronger than 'busy'? This chapter of DR got half written and mostly re-read (I do a lot of rereading and fine-tuning) at work during my lunchbreaks, if that tells you how busy I was, and I don't have free internet access there. I'll answer all reviews this weekend; many of them were encouraging, funny, interesting or made me think and generally made this blechy week go by faster. And now, without further ado...

Title: Diplomatic Relations
Rating: PG15, for language and circumstances

Disclaimer: Naruto is the brainchild of Kishimoto-sama, and I am not worthy. I merely borrow the manga's characters and situations, and make no money off of them.

AN: I could write a novel on Lee's stay in Suna, and his slowly growing friendship with Gaara. Most of it would be pretty boring, as jbmcdragon pointed out :P This story concentrates on the highlights and sudden shifts, even though they are often part of normal, everyday scenes. If anybody's having problems following the timeline of the story at any point (ie, how long Lee's been in Suna, etc), give me a shout.


Part Seven: Breaking the surface

Lee considered himself a nature lover. He had a great respect for the animal kingdom and believed that every living creature deserved to be appreciated. But a hive full of bloated roaches the size of poodles was straining his principles somewhat. The smell alone would have been enough to knock a normal man down.

"I did warn you," Gaara pointed out as Lee gagged. Anybody else would have been smug, saying that. Gaara just sounded factual.

"Yes, I know. Aw man, that really stinks."

Gaara glanced back, as if to see if Lee was really about to pass out, and his chin brushed against the high collar of the Jounin flack jacket he was wearing. He flattened it with a flash of annoyance in his green eyes, shifting the gourd a bit so it pulled vest and collar back and away from his face. The gesture distracted Lee from the smell, momentarily. It was so strange to see Gaara in ordinary Sand Jounin clothes. Not that they didn't suit him, but it was just...odd. Different. He looked like an ordinary, seventeen-year-old Shinobi, to start with, until your sixth sense picked up the faintest traces of a massive and lethal power flowing through him.

Lee was dressed the same way. The Sand Shinobi outfit he’d been issued was light, tough and designed for the desert, but he still missed his form-fitting suit. He wondered briefly what he and Gaara looked like together, two young men side by side, wearing the same uniform. A pair of regular Sand Shinobi; two team-mates out on a mission...A very, very smelly mission. Lee thought the insides of his nostrils were starting to curdle.

"I told you to stay back at the camp," Gaara said, with a total lack of sympathy for the way Lee was turning green. The smell didn't seem to inconvenience Gaara too badly, but then he'd been exposed to it before.

Lee just snorted at the suggestion. He'd have said something, but he was too busy breathing through his mouth.

"I don't need any help," Gaara added.

"Course you don't." Lee waved his hand in front of his nose. It didn’t help.

"If you go back now, I won’t have to watch out for you."

"You won’t have to watch out for me anyway."

The back-and-forth was almost entirely automatic. Gaara had long since given up trying to shake Lee off of a dangerous mission. The biggest part of their attention was on the enemy, judging the best approach through the shallow canyons, rocks and sand dunes that bordered the Hive.

Finally, Gaara turned.

"We'll take them from the east."

"You sure?" Lee looked at the suggested terrain with a frown.

"Less cover that way."

"Less cover for them, but also less cover for us; they'll see us."

"They'll sense our chakra signatures long before they see us.” Gaara gave Lee’s shoulder a nudge in the right direction when Lee still hesitated. “Cover will hamper my attacks. Move."

Lee wasn’t bothered by the curt order, in fact he barely noticed it. That was just Gaara. What Lee did notice was the hand that had rested briefly on his shoulder. This was a recent development. Gaara didn't touch others ordinarily. Even back in the bad old days when he used to kill people on a regular basis, he didn’t actually go and touch them to do so.

Lee didn't mention the brief shove; neither did he comment on those occasions Gaara leaned against him to share a map, or tapped him on the shoulder to get his attention. He had the feeling Gaara himself didn't notice the gestures half the time; he certainly didn't mention them either. What had grown up between them, slowly, almost unnoticed, was a friendship between men, the kind that didn’t need any words.

So Lee didn't mention the brief touch, but it put him in a good mood, despite the stench and the creepy crawly feeling going up and down his spine.

He followed Gaara's footsteps, a few dunes between them and the outskirts of the Hive. The air was sizzling hot; Gaara had decided not to wait until nightfall to attack. The insects, scurrying and scratching in the shallow salt basin a hundred yards away, sounded like they were frying on a griddle. The smell waxed and waned with the wind, a stench like putrid flesh combined with etching acid. Lee concentrated on keeping his presence hidden as long as possible. So far the bugs hadn't spotted them.

"We'll leave the bags here," Gaara said quietly, ditching the sack he’d been carrying, the strap slung over his shoulder along with the gourd.

There was a chittering noise nearby.

"Company," Lee said softly. Gaara didn't answer, merely motioned with a finger for Lee to follow.

Four of the insects appeared on the edge of the dune as the two young men climbed. Antennas and mandibles waved and clicked in blurs, facetted eyes tilted to take them in.

They're semi-intelligent, Lee remembered from Gaara's briefing; or rather, the Hive is, and the drones are directed by that intelligence. They feed on chakra; too much chakra from too many Shinobi can cause them to swarm, which was why it was better to attack with the smallest possible force. Their jaws could cut through bone; the warrior drones were also venomous. And they were very, very fast.

Four black blurs shot like hurled kunai towards Lee and Gaara.

Even though he'd been ready for an attack, such speed in the animal kingdom still caught Lee a bit short. His first strike was sloppy. The pole arm he'd borrowed from Temari knocked one bug down but speared the other through the carapace instead of taking off its head. The mandibles scissored near his ear as the dying drone wiggled along the metal and tried to slice him. The other drone had hopped back onto its feet and was leaping to the attack again. Lee shook the first creature off of the short spear and burst into a Konoha Whirlwind that sent the other bug smacking into the sand from sheer wind pressure. It burst on impact into a gooey grey mess. Gaara had said to avoid contact as much as possible, to avoid chakra loss.

Lee had taken the two bugs coming straight at them. He knew without looking that the sand at Gaara's feet had leapt up and speared the other attackers coming from the sides. Lee had done a few missions with Gaara to date; he knew what to expect. Maybe it was because he and Gaara had been sparring for well over a year now, or maybe it was because of the growing friendship between them, but their two fighting styles seemed to mesh well. Another thing that didn't need words. Lee grinned. Despite the stinking grey goo on the sleeve of his borrowed shirt and the sudden furious scurrying up ahead, he was looking forward to this. He wanted to see how well they'd fight together against this new challenge.

They climbed to the top of the dune and looked down at a swarming black carpet coming towards them at speed.

Lee quickly unwrapped a few loops of bandages from his hands, in case he needed to use Renge on the bigger warrior drones. "Ready?"

Sand was rippling around Gaara in growing circles. "Keep a rein on your enthusiasm."

“Oh, come on, you know me.”


A short silence.

“Right, I won't take any risks,” Lee sighed, under Gaara’s unrelentingly stern gaze.

For a short while after their trip to Nasaki, Gaara had acted silent and withdrawn with Lee, only answering questions. Lee had been startled and a bit worried. It was Temari who'd dropped him a hint about Gaara's state of mind. Apparently Gaara had reacted the same way with his siblings after his fight with Naruto, when he'd realized that the three of them were, in fact, family, and that this should mean something. He just didn’t know what that ‘something’ was, and that made him cautious, as if reaching for something that could break if he touched it the wrong way.

Temari’s hints - followed by various threats about what she’d do to him if he screwed up and hurt Gaara's feelings - had finally enlightened Lee about what exactly had happened in Nasaki. It also made him cautious, seeing how drastically Gaara had reacted to the simple notion of being friends. This situation might require delicate handling, or at least something a bit more delicate than a bracing Gai-Sensei-type speech on the beauty of manly friendship, which would have been Lee’s normal approach. Unsure of himself, Lee continued to treat Gaara normally while he tried to figure out how to address the problem. Which pretty much went away on its own as a result. Once Gaara realized that Lee was used to him the way he was - abrupt, brutally honest, prone to long periods of silence - he went back to normal, to Lee's relief. In the past four months, things had settled down and they'd even started arguing again.

These days they were friends, just doing the stuff friends do, like stand back to back and face a multitude of giant insects. Lee had been in Sunagakure for over a year now, and he was having more and more fun every day.

"I can't believe you told me to stay back at the camp," he snorted, sending a powerful kick into the sand at his feet that hurled the frontrunners like missiles into the others behind them.

"I've taken care of two other hives on my own before. I'm in no danger." Gaara waved a hand in a short gesture towards the bugs scurrying towards him. The sand whipped out, following his silent order.

"I mean I can't believe you'd have me miss out on a fight like this!"

"Kankuro is right. You can be rather strange sometimes."

Sand was shooting out at the smallest twitch of Gaara's fingers, throwing bugs back, crushing them in sudden traps. Lee noted with pride how his sparring with Gaara had turned those already dangerous sand strikes into lethal bullets that required only an elegant minimum of chakra. Gaara's speed easily matched and surpassed that of the insects.

The fight was easy to start with, just a matter of squashing bugs. Then the Hive started to organize its troops. Lee and Gaara fell instinctively into their own pattern; Lee darting forward to attack one point of the enemy formations, up close and hard, while the desert sand flowed around him in defence and support. Then Lee would leap back and clear the bugs out that had been getting too close to Gaara, while the sand attacked anything lunging at his back. Gaara’s automatic defences wouldn’t let them hurt him, but he’d pointed out before the attack that if any of the stinking bugs got squished by the Sand he carried in his gourd, he would be forced to put up with the smell until the Sand cleansed itself, and that would make him one very unhappy and short-tempered Kazekage for awhile. For the good of Sunagakure, Lee was doing his best; the bloody Sand in the gourd was just fine, but he and Gaara were getting splashed with various bits, and all in all, it was getting rather unpleasant.

They were making their way towards the centre of the Hive, a shallow bowl full of discarded insect husks and the bones of past prey. The sand there was heaving and spraying upwards like water starting to boil.

"Are they beginning to swarm?!" Lee shouted, alarmed.


"But we haven't spent that much chakra!"

"I think they would have swarmed soon anyway. The patrols missed this nest for too long. We should make it in time, though," Gaara added, voice perfectly cool and measured.

Lee gripped the pole arm and redoubled his efforts, concentrating on keeping the insects away with large, fast, sweeping blows, and clearing a path for Gaara. This was serious; if the insects swarmed, they would start to run at speed through the desert, and any village, oasis settlement or unwary travellers in their path would be instantly slaughtered. The bugs wouldn't stop until they reached a stretch of fertile land in Wind country, where they would kill and eat everything, down to the blades of grass, spreading the desert before they died. Then a new hive would start to pupate amongst their poisonous corpses. The Sand Shinobi considered it a sacred duty to keep the desert as free as they could from these dangerous pests, but there was a lot of ground to patrol.

Gaara stopped his advance thirty yards from the centre of the bowl.

"Is this close enough?" Lee asked, swatting away a large warrior.

Gaara nodded silently, and extended a hand.

Lee shivered. It felt like a cloud had covered the sun. Around him, the insects suddenly paused as the Hive realized what kind of enemy it had let into its midst.

Gaara's face was expressionless. His fingers started to close, slowly.

In the centre of the bowl, the sand suddenly heaved and hissed. Chakra pulsed through the air. The insects around them started to thrum, but it was hopefully too late; by the time they fed on the chakra and got the last bit of energy they needed to swarm, it would be over with.

The sand erupted. Warrior drones the size of small ponies burst out of underground burrows and scurried towards Gaara - they were ruthlessly crushed by smashing waves of sand.

In the centre of the bowl, a massive head poked up through the ground.

Gaara's fingers twitched.

The hairs on Lee's arms and neck were standing on end. The insects around him were now scurrying towards the centre of the bowl to blindly help there, so he had nothing to do but watch Gaara's straight back and unreadable face as he slowly lifted his hand and his prey erupted, bloated, wriggling and utterly helpless, from the tunnels beneath the salt basin.

"You got her!" Lee gasped, as he watched Gaara’s sand heave the queen out of her underground chamber. She was fighting, her stubby legs thrashing, her thick puffy body wiggling and pulsing, still laying eggs automatically. The liquid from her jaws was dissolving some of the sand; an ability that allowed her to burrow into its cool depths to lay her young. But it wasn't enough to escape Gaara's grip. Her drones were hurling themselves against the sand as it lifted her up, but they couldn't help.

Lee's mouth went dry as the amount of chakra in the air continued to increase, pouring from Gaara's body and the sand around them.

"Amazing," he whispered. The queen was the size of ten grown men, and she was fighting with much more strength than that. Gaara's face could have been carved from stone for all the exertion he showed.

Gaara slowly closed his fist.

The queen's thrashing was buried by layers of sand, which slowly closed in with a very final lingering crunch.

Lee let out with a gasp the breath he'd been unconsciously holding.



"Step back."

Lee did so instantly, though he stayed close enough to defend Gaara's back if he needed to.

Gaara's hands whipped through five seals, then he pressed his palms together, fingers raised like a dagger between the narrowed dark-ringed eyes. Lee recognized that stance and braced himself.

Sand hissed and howled, whipping up around Gaara, and the chakra in the air became almost palpable. The desert heaved up towards the sky and started tumbling into the centre of the bowl and the disorganized drones at its centre. The semi-intelligent pre-breeder insects were struggling out of the tunnels now. One of them could become a new queen if given the opportunity, but Gaara was going to wipe them all out in one blow.

The sand rose like a tsunami, parting smoothly around Gaara and Lee and hurtling towards the centre of the bowl. With a crash it buried and crushed the swarm in the basin, pounding into it until Lee could feel the vibrations like an earthquake through the ground beneath his feet.

Power pulsed through the desert. Lee's heart was hammering in his chest. He'd seen the Desert Avalanche once before in his life; it was as awe-inspiring as ever.

At the very far back of Lee's mind, he knew that other people would find this terrifying. The raw power, the relentless crushing sand...Lee only found it inspiring. Challenging. Maybe even exciting, in a way he could never hope to explain.

The grinding sand came to a halt and settled. The deafening roar faded to a trickle of falling rocks and pebbles, then to a hushed, breathless silence. No more skittering. Lee couldn't see a single bug left, only flat, clean desert.

Gaara judged his handiwork with a measuring glance, then he sank down into a crouch.

"Hey, are you okay?!" Lee asked, instantly at his friend's side, kneeling next to him.

"Yes. The heat and the smell are getting to me," Gaara said simply. A trickle of sweat ran down the side of his face, the only sign of exertion.

"Really? I think my nose shut down over ten minutes ago."

"You are lucky," Gaara said, straightening up slowly, his voice dry. "Let's get out of here."

"Want me to carry you?"

Gaara gave him a clinical scrutiny, as if checking Lee for head injuries.

Lee laughed. The sound echoed brightly through the air that felt cleansed and crystal clear after that avalanche of power. "Just kidding. I know you can still walk, though I'm sure I couldn't after using all that- Gaara? Camp is back that way."

"If you have the energy to joke, go and get our bags," Gaara said, walking off in what Lee knew was the wrong direction.

Lee obeyed, puzzled. He hopped back to where they'd left the bags and ran to rejoin Gaara, who'd walked up the far lip of the bowl - though it was now more of a flat surface- and was heading out into the desert. He appeared to be looking for something, head down and pausing occasionally.

After ten minutes, he stopped and slipped the gourd from its leather halter. Lee waited patiently, hefting his backpack and Gaara's bag over his shoulder.

Gaara favoured the sand at his feet with a basilisk stare; it promptly hissed and moved aside, a deep basin scooping itself out of the ground at Gaara’s silent bidding.

"Now you're just showing off," Lee drawled.

There was the slightest hint of a smirk on Gaara's otherwise impassive face. Then he lifted his head, apparently satisfied.

Lee glanced at the now deep depression, and realized it was flooding with water bubbling up from below.

"An underground source?"

"They always settle near water. It will be polluted any closer to the Hive, but it should be clean here. Don't drink it though. The minerals here aren't good for you."

"Okay. Why did you dig it up then? We have water in our packs."

There was the sound of a zipper. Lee turned in time to see Gaara slip off the Jounin vest.

"What are you doing?!"

Gaara stopped pulling his shirt off to give Lee a faintly puzzled look; the alarm in the Jounin’s voice had apparently surprised him.

"We're going to wash the stench off," Gaara explained as though it was obvious.

Gaara removed the shirt, or at least Lee assumed that was what the soft noise of cloth behind him meant, but since he'd spun around to face the desert, he couldn't be sure.

"Lee, what are you doing?"

"We-I-you-you can't be serious."

"I am."

"We can't take a bath here! Out in the open like this!"

"Out in the open? There's nobody around for at least ten miles. Just us."

Lee's heart started slamming against the inside of his chest. Just us...

He opened his mouth to explain why this was not a good idea. There was a reason why this was not a good idea, because otherwise he wouldn't be feeling this- this jumpy.

There was a sound of a belt being unbuckled behind him, and Lee lost even the ability to speak in a rush of blind panic he couldn't begin to understand.

"Strip," Gaara ordered in a bored voice.

"We- we should be-" Lee took a deep breath and managed to control his voice again. "We have to keep an eye out for more bugs, we could get attacked."

"They're all dead." He could hear Gaara's sandals hit the ground.

"Why don't we just take a bath when we get back to camp?" a desperate Lee asked. He was staring out at the desert, but all he could see was the flash of a hard, flat belly as Gaara lifted his shirt-

"Bathe in clean water?" Gaara asked scornfully. Lee knew he could drop that line of argument right away. Gaara's relationship with his hometown was complex, but in one thing Gaara was a true son of Suna; he'd waste blood long before he'd waste a valuable resource like drinking water.

There was a rustle of cloth, a slither of Sand Armour tumbling off of a naked body, and Lee could hear Gaara move towards the water. The crushing desert heat, reflecting off of the clear sand, seemed to be creeping up to Lee’s face, crawling under his skin.

"Well, you go ahead!" he said. "I'll keep a watch, just in case. I don't need to take a bath, I'm fine." He was crusted in bug blood and guts from head to toe, but that was completely beside the point.

There was silence behind him. The sort of silence that was uniquely Gaara's; it could hold its own in any conversation. Lee slowly looked around, unable to help himself.

Gaara had his back to him, up to his knees in the improvised pool. Lee's gaze cemented itself to Gaara's face, his mind completely blank again. Gaara was looking over his shoulder at Lee, and his eyes were narrowed. If Lee’s brain hadn’t gone numb, he'd have recognized that expression and been ready for the inevitable.

The sand around Lee leapt up, gripped him around the waist, and hurled him with commendable aim into the centre of the brand new oasis.

The water had been underground; it was cold after the desert heat, almost as much of a shock as the sudden move. Lee broke the surface and struggled to his feet in an instant, the power of his movements causing waves through the entire pool. He spun to face Gaara before he remembered why that wouldn't be a good idea.

Fortunately, Gaara had moved forward until he was waist-deep in the swiftly rising water. The underground source was rich with silt, making it milky brown and pretty much opaque. Lee swallowed and recovered his ability to think, along with a good measure of indignation.


His friend glanced up from the task of cleaning out the traces beneath his fingernails.

"What the hell did you do that for?!"

Gaara gave him a 'You are being exceptionally thick today' look.

"The camp is ten miles away. You stink enough now. Half an hour in the sun and you'll be a health hazard."

"That doesn't give you the right to- to-"

"As the one who will be walking with you, I think it does," Gaara pointed out, and bent over to splash his hair with water.

Lee was panting as if he'd just come through a long fight. Something strange was happening to his mind. On the surface, Lee was embarrassed; he was also cross; he was actually willing to concede that Gaara had a point about the smell; and he was telling himself he should really turn around now and look the other way.

But those feelings seemed to scurry without further effect along the surface of a deep inner pool in which Gaara's reflection took up all the space, and Lee couldn't turn away.

Gaara's skin was the creamy colour of wild almonds. The kind of skin that would turn an even brown if he stayed out in the sun without his Sand Armour more often. His body was flawless. There wasn't a single scar that Lee could see.

Smooth muscles rippled as he moved to pour more water onto his hair. Gaara's talent being mostly Sand Jutsu, his build was leaner and sleeker than Lee's. But there was something in the economy of his gestures, the grace and measure of his movements, that seemed to speak of power and control at all times. It rippled out from him like the small waves of water ringing him.

Once wet, his hair was the rich dark red of arterial blood; it fell straighter, bleeding down onto the cream-coloured skin of his neck. The water snaked from his hair, past the startling ring of his eyes, trickled down his chest, touched nipples the colour of sand, then down to the flat plane of his abdomen.

Gaara said something. Lee's eyes travelled back up to his face. In the strange trance he was in, Gaara's words seemed less important than the fact that his lips had a hint of that same sandy colour that seemed to speak of the desert.

The part of Lee that was still connected to reality informed him that Gaara had suggested Lee take his clothes off.

Lee jerked back in physical rejection of the very notion, sending a small wave of water splashing out. He couldn't. That was impossible. He didn't want his scarred weapon of a body anywhere near that perfection. Lee knew what he looked like; his skin knotted by traces of old injuries, the bump of broken ribs, the ridge of scars crisscrossing muscles that were meant to be used for fighting, not to be looked at. He was all sinew and muscle and scars and grit, and no, just no.

In his trance, he realized he'd started to imitate Gaara's gestures, pouring water over his head, rubbing at his shoulders...there, he was washing, see?

"Take off the clothes," Gaara said, a bit impatiently.

"Why? We have to wash them too, right?" Lee pointed out, scrubbing industriously at a large grey smear on his tan sleeve.

"No, we're going to burn them back at the salt basin."

"B-burn them?!"

"...You did pack your regular clothes in your bag like I told you to. Right?"

"Oh!" Lee glanced around wildly at the packs he'd dropped earlier. "I forgot we brought those." It was why he was wearing a regular-issue uniform in the first place; it had completely slipped his mind.


Lee stiffened as he heard Gaara come nearer.

"What?" he asked weakly, pushing away through the sandy water. A quick glance showed Gaara closer than before - only four feet - and looking at him intently.

"Did you take a blow to the head?" Gaara asked, faint traces of concern in his voice. "It's not like you to forget details. And you’re behaving oddly."

"I'm fine!" Lee staggered back a few steps, the water gripping at his legs and waist.

Gaara stopped and straightened; the water lapped at the cream skin of his belly, but Lee could no longer look away. Gaara stared at Lee, who was doing a passable 'rabbit before the wolf' imitation, then he glanced at the pool around them.

"Is this embarrassing you?" he asked in slow realization.

Lee gurgled something, before clearing his throat. "Yes. A bit," he said hoarsely.

Gaara seemed to think about that. "But you use the shower rooms in your apartment building."

That was a good point. That was an excellent point. Lee was lodged in the bachelor Jounin quarters, and the showers were communal. It was true that Lee generally waited until they were empty before showering, but when he didn't have a choice, he wasn't usually this embarrassed. Why was he being so-

Just us...

"I wasn't expecting-" Lee croaked. "I-er-..."

Gaara stared at him for what seemed to be a long time, while Lee just stopped attempting to speak and stared back, trying not to notice the drops of water falling from the dark-red hair and trickling downwards.

"I don't understand you," Gaara finally declared. "But I'm done. You can finish bathing on your own. I want to check the state of this water on the other side of the Hive; there's an oasis nearby, it might have been contaminated."

"I'll come with you; we're not sure it's safe," Lee said miserably, starting to strip as duty conquered his reluctance.

"All the insects are dead, or else they'll die soon without the Hive's intelligence. Stay here and clean up properly."

Lee nonetheless took off the vest and shirt and started to scrub the gunk off of his skin. He was keeping the pants on though. He was so keeping the pants on...

He concentrated on his actions as he heard Gaara wade towards the shore and the bag containing his regular clothes. He tried to block out the sounds of the Kazekage dressing in the background. Finally Gaara left without a word, which was usual for him.

Lee wasn't all that tired. Gaara had done most of the work back there. He knew he could sprint and catch up with Gaara before the latter got too far ahead. So he took a minute to wash his face harshly with the cold, mineral water. He felt flushed, hot and feverish.

And now that Gaara was gone and his brain seemed to be working again, he realized that wasn't his only problem.

Thank god the water was cold.

This...was a normal reaction. Lee was young and he'd just been through a fight. Gai-sensei had been very candid in explaining to his male students the sort of effect danger, violence and exertion could sometimes have on youthful bodies. Yes, good thing the water was cold. And silty. And that he was wearing pants.

It had nothing to do with - creamcolouredskin - with anything else.

It was the fight. Danger sometimes did that to a man. The battle-

- dark-ringed eyes entirely focused, fingers pressed together, red hair blown back by sheer force. Power ripping the air, breathtaking, perfectly controlled. The scream of chakra suddenly released -

Lee was breathing harshly through his nose, trying to deny the way his heart was hammering in his chest, the way the heat was pooling in his body beneath the water. No, this was wrong. To be- to be turned on by something like that was just- that was not happening. It was the heat, and the adrenaline. That was all.

- creamcolouredskin -

Lee triggered a mental exercise, the kind that allowed him to control pain when he was training too hard. His heartbeat slowed and his mind stepped forward to take control.

Gaara was his friend. More than that; they sparred together, fought back to back, relied on each other. It was a special closeness only Shinobi shared. It isolated them from normal people, it led to territory where things weren't clear-cut, but you controlled this, or it could get distracting. With Neji-

Lee's thoughts hit an internal wall. A Do Not Go There section.

It left him dead in the mental water for a few seconds, then he slowly started the exercise over again.

Gaara was his friend.

Lee was clinging to that thought as if the pool was sucking him under and it was his only lifeline.

Gaara was his friend. He'd let Lee reach him in his solitude. He sparred with Lee -

- quick blows, breathless excitement, touch of hand on hand as he helped Lee up from the ground -

Gaara was his friend. He sparred with Lee, he talked with him at midnight when they both needed a break...he even, after a lot of resistance, let Lee accompany him on this sort of mission.

That had been quite a fight, particularly four months ago, when they'd come back from Nasaki with this strange, prickly, newly-discovered thing called friendship between them. Gaara's first instinct was to protect everyone and take all the danger onto himself. It was why he regularly took these sorts of dangerous missions, and forced the Shinobi who accompanied him to stay back in a camp ten miles away. Naturally he’d tried to apply the same treatment to Lee. There had been a clash of stubborn wills as Lee had shown him clearly that he was not going to accept that. He was not going to cower in the village under the protective hand of its Kazekage, thankyouverymuch.

Lee smiled gently as he remembered the slow change in their friendship. The evolution had been gradual, almost unnoticed at times. But these days, Gaara nudged his shoulder when he wanted Lee to move. These days, both the silences and the words felt comfortable. These days, when Gaara left for a dangerous mission, the people of Suna would glance behind him, already expecting to see Lee following in his footsteps.

And that was the way it should be.

Lee nodded firmly. The heat had left him - just a by-product of battle, didn't mean anything. What mattered now was that he couldn't let Gaara get too far ahead of him. Lee quickly struggled out of the wet pants and scoured off the gunk on his skin and hair with handfuls of wet sand. Gaara had been correct; it would have been painfully smelly after a short while in the sun. He finished and waded towards the backpacks.

He wasn't terribly surprised to find Gaara leaning against a nearby rocky column, staring at him. It was a further sign of their friendship, strangely enough; these days, when Gaara ran into something Lee said or did that he did not understand, a frequent occurrence, he no longer shrugged it off or ignored it. He tried to figure it out. However embarrassing or annoying that might be for Lee sometimes. When it came to people’s feelings, Gaara still had all the empathy of a chunk of sandstone.

"You...can be a real brat sometimes, Kazekage-sama." Lee flicked water at him, while keeping the wet clothes strategically before him.

Gaara was looking him over curiously, with no signs of embarrassment or comprehension of Lee's former discomfiture. Lee sighed internally, still bothered by his appearance compared to that pristine skin and smoothly muscled form. He grabbed his backpack and stomped around to the other side of the rock formation Gaara was leaning against. He heard Gaara stir and head out slowly back towards the salt basin, then pause, waiting for him.

He dressed quickly and followed his friend.

End of Part Seven

And now Mal, who is sweetly sadistic at heart, is going to turn up the heat on poor Lee and put him through five different shades of yaoi hell...Next chapter out next weekend.

Proud_Snapistproud_snapist on October 15th, 2005 01:53 am (UTC)
Wahhh!! I'm the first to comment!! OK, loved the chapter. Especially loved the synchronization going on b/w Lee and Gaara. I can't express how much I loved embarrassed!Lee. He is so cute and his rationalization of his reaction to Gaara's godliness is just damn adorable and ::fangirl squees:: And just to comment on "I could write a novel on Lee's stay in Suna, and his slowly growing friendship with Gaara. Most of it would be pretty boring." Oy!! I don't think that would be boring!! That would be one hell of a novel and I'd be waiting in line for it if you ever decided to write that. Just a question, will we ever get to see some of those midnight conversations b/w Gaara and Lee?
Maldorormaldoror_gw on October 21st, 2005 12:33 pm (UTC)
Because I'm a very weird puppy, I tend to write it in a way that the greatest proof of friendship or love between two warrior types is that they fight well together, and instinctively know what the other will do next :P

It would be pretty boring, what with nothing much happening most times, bar a lot of deskwork and silence and the occasional 'What do you think of this?' 'Looks okay' sort of thing. I don't have any plans to show those midnight conversations, but one of them may pop up, if it's needed in the story ^_^ Glad you liked the chapter, and Gaara's godliness of course.
Trivrurounitriv on October 15th, 2005 01:55 am (UTC)
Oh, yes. They're just friends. His reaction is only due to the adrenalin rush of battle.

And Gaara's a sensitive new-age guy. XD
Maldorormaldoror_gw on October 21st, 2005 12:30 pm (UTC)
And Gaara's a sensitive new-age guy. XD

Anybody who dresses like Lee and takes Gai-sensei as his role model must be highly qualified in Denial No Jutsu.
Battle Angel Productionsalita_b_angel on October 15th, 2005 02:06 am (UTC)
Ahh, the stereotypical communal shower scene. I love it so. You always manage to turn the cliche about and still make it work in all its classical glory. Poor Lee. I'm surprised though that Gaara is so unmodest when he'd the one that usually shies away from contact. It puts an interesting spin on things though.

And the bugs. Few things make me more disgusted than cockaroaches, and large one have me whipping out of the room at triple time. Something so very B-grade and classic about fighting giant bugs. But still, yuck.

Hooray for the awakening of FEELINGS. Oh the otherhand, Temari is going to KILL Lee.
Maldorormaldoror_gw on October 21st, 2005 12:28 pm (UTC)
I'm surprised though that Gaara is so unmodest when he'd the one that usually shies away from contact.

Ahh, good question, but these are in fact two different things. So far, Gaara's pretty neutral, sexually, and he's also not picked up many taboos and stuff. I don't think he particularly sees nudity as something odd. He might shy away from bathing with others because he wouldn't know how they'd react to him, but he knows Lee, and trusts him, so he doesn't see the problem. The actual embarrassement factor is sitll nil for Gaara.

The avoidance of touch, however, is hotwired into his behaviour. After having people violently recoil from him for most of his life, he doesn't want to see that reaction anymore, so he steers clear of people. Plus, for a long time, some people getting near him were trying to kill him at his Father's orders. Yeah, he avoids physical contact, even when killing. Lee knows this, which is why he appreciates the way Gaaar occasionally touches him now.

There were a lot of classic elements to this scene, but I hope I propped them up well, and that they were fairly realistic, readable and fun ^_^ I haven't figured out yet how Temari will ultimately react...I'm working on that :P
Nobody puts Qem in a corner.qem_chibati on October 15th, 2005 04:00 am (UTC)
LOL Looking forward to next chapter definetly.

This was really awesome you have a really nice flow to your writting.
Maldorormaldoror_gw on October 19th, 2005 12:29 pm (UTC)
Thanks ^_^ I do try to keep the writing smooth and pleasant, leaving some of the clunkier exposition and feelings in subtext.
This feather may look worthless...silverkiiri on October 15th, 2005 04:06 am (UTC)
Embarrassed!Lee, Clueless!Gaara, and kicking ass. What did this chapter not have? Well, 'cept for the relationship, but getting there is half the fun. Especially if that half involves Lee and Gaara being all awkward without Gaara even knowing there's something to be awkward about. Poor Lee. ^_^ I can't wait to see how Gaara figures it out.

More, more, more!
Maldorormaldoror_gw on October 19th, 2005 12:26 pm (UTC)
Half the fun is getting there indeed ^_^ Though not much fun for Lee, actually. I don't think Gaara knows how to do awkward, but he's going to have his own issues to deal with ^^; Glad you liked the chapter!
Elizabeth Culmer, only a *little* bit crazy...edenfalling on October 15th, 2005 04:24 am (UTC)
Once wet, his hair was the rich dark red of venal blood; it fell straighter, bleeding down onto the cream-coloured skin of his neck. Veins cary deoxygenated blood, which is blue-purple, not red.

The combination of Lee's realization and determined obliviousness is just beautiful, especially the little hint, via his 'Do Not Go There' mental wall, that he might have had a crush on Neji back in the day.

Hey, if Fire Country can have giant centipedes in the forests, it makes perfect sense for Wind Country to have giant roaches in the desert. I like it. In fact, I think I shall add that to my personal canon. :-)
Maldorormaldoror_gw on October 19th, 2005 12:24 pm (UTC)
That's what I thought too: We've already seen giant bugs in the series, and I mentioned in the third chapter that there are monsters in the desert. Now how my mind conceived of a hive of giant roaches from that is a bit of a mystery even to me.

That hint regarding Neji was subtle but important, so I'm glad someone caught it ^_^ We'll see more regarding that in the next chapter.

(And I changed the veinous to arterial, which is the one I'd meant. Doh. I got confused between the two, once again :P)
(no subject) - ext_1993974 on June 9th, 2013 12:19 am (UTC) (Expand)
(Anonymous) on October 15th, 2005 04:26 am (UTC)
Great job
I forget what chapter you were on when I stumbled onto this fanfic, but I've been reading it since then. This is one of the few good fanfics I've ever come across, and I just wanted to tell you to keep up the good work. I really like how the relationship between Gaara and Lee (my two favorite characters, by the way) takes time to progress into friendship (and something more later on, I'm sure) instead of just instantly ending up in bed together for whatever weird reason. Anyway, keep up the good work! By the way, I love the part where Lee is watching the water drip off Gaara's body, since I was hoping a similar scenario would happen later on--you must have read my mind. :)
Maldorormaldoror_gw on October 19th, 2005 12:21 pm (UTC)
Re: Great job
I do love a good LeeGaara, but half the fun is getting there, and watching the relationship start and develop ^_^ At this point, we are going to get there fairly soon, now that we've entered yaoi territory. Hope you'll like it!
parakeet of the baskervilles: emo heat woejokersama on October 15th, 2005 05:03 am (UTC)
Actually, er, venous (venal means something else entirely) blood is actually just dark red or maroon, darker than arterial blood. It's not purple or blue; the analogy she used still holds. :)

Now that I'm delurking, I'd just like to say that this fic has been such fun to read! The pairing made me blink when I first saw it, but you're really putting the work into making it plausible, which is what I love. I'm willing to be talked into almost any pairing if the author doesn't go, "OKAY, SO HE SAW HIM AND HE WAS A POOR WOOBIE AND THEN THERE WAS SEX THE END."

Also, who doesn't like fics about Lee?
Elizabeth Culmer, only a *little* bit crazy...edenfalling on October 15th, 2005 05:16 am (UTC)
If the blood they carry is maroon, why the heck do veins look blue or even blue-green?
(no subject) - maldoror_gw on October 15th, 2005 03:12 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(Deleted comment)
Maldorormaldoror_gw on October 20th, 2005 12:27 pm (UTC)
Thanks! Glad you like it ^_^ Though if you want some other good GaaraLees (COnsiderably darker), I'd point you to http://www.livejournal.com/users/gelfling8604/ (look in the archives, can't remember which ones are GaaraLee but I think they're indicated).
(Deleted comment)
Maldorormaldoror_gw on October 20th, 2005 12:24 pm (UTC)
Thanks! I do re-read my chapters obsessively, trying to get them just right, which is why there's only one a week or less :P Glad you liked it!
tokagemusume on October 15th, 2005 02:50 pm (UTC)
Better and better! At least Lee has some notion of what he might eventually want from his friend... And a real eye for beauty. *sigh*
Maldorormaldoror_gw on October 20th, 2005 12:23 pm (UTC)
Re: Hee!
Two very wide eyes for beauty, I'd say ^_^ Yeah, he's finally been hit with the clue-bat (he should have realized it before, from the way he kept noticing how Gaara was dressed...) It's going to take several re-applications of the bat before he finally totally clues in.
Illucienillucien on October 15th, 2005 05:29 pm (UTC)
Oh five more eh? Poor Lee this be very interesting. :DDD The way you wrote Lee describing Gaara's body...beautiful so beautiful musta been fun ne? And afterwards Lee not wanting to take off his clothes so funny, best part. ^^
Maldorormaldoror_gw on October 21st, 2005 12:17 pm (UTC)
The way you wrote Lee describing Gaara's body...beautiful so beautiful musta been fun ne?

It was VERY fun ^_^ I wrote and rewrote those paragraphs many times, trying to squeeze the very last bit of Hawt out of them to torture poor Lee. Glad you liked it!
Alisonsonnie_skies on October 15th, 2005 11:34 pm (UTC)
Lee knew what he looked like; his skin knotted by traces of old injuries, the bump of broken ribs, the ridge of scars crisscrossing muscles that were meant to be used for fighting, not to be looked at. He was all sinew and muscle and scars and grit, and no, just no.

i would LOVE to have a steamy description from Gaara's p.o.v. about Lee ^^ poor lee is *really* not good at hiding any type of embarrassment.

i liked this chapter a lot; i totally felt for Lee (hell, i'd be staring too, i'm not ashamed) and felt bad for him.
kiyakotarikiyakotari on October 16th, 2005 02:06 am (UTC)
**seconds that dazedly**
(no subject) - maldoror_gw on October 21st, 2005 12:14 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - sonnie_skies on October 21st, 2005 07:58 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Doewiebeledoewiebele on October 16th, 2005 09:53 am (UTC)
Poor Lee, Hehe, you torture him so! I like that!
Again, great writing ^^ It makes me squeal in delight.... O.o;
Maldorormaldoror_gw on October 24th, 2005 12:22 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the squeal ^_^ Poor Lee indeed. And I'm just warming him!
Ashimistressofrobin on October 16th, 2005 03:26 pm (UTC)
"Take off the clothes," Gaara said, a bit impatiently.

Lol, Gaara just wants to see Rock-kun naked. XD

I just started reading this ficcie yesterday, and I read through every chapter in one sitting. I like a lot. I initially shied away from it because it seemed too long, but now that I know what direction you're taking this I like that you're taking this ficcie step by step. The progression of Lee and Gaara's relationship is realistically portrayed, and it's going to be one heckuva ride reading it go past that fine line. I'm sticking to this, and I can't wait for your next chapter.

I have to agree with Wendy-san, you DO torture poor Rock-kun. But with love. And who doesn't love Rock-kun being all nervous and flustered and awkward? He's too cute. Now go on and put Rock-kun through those five shades of hell, yo!
Maldorormaldoror_gw on October 22nd, 2005 04:04 pm (UTC)
Lol, I've started with the first shade in the latest chapter ^_^ Glad you liked this one! The fine line is going to be hard to cross, it's going to take a few chapters and some extreme situations :P Now, off to torture poor Lee some more...
JBMcDragonjbmcdragon on October 16th, 2005 08:48 pm (UTC)
Damn you for posting a chapter two minutes before I have to leave! GAH!

...I actually have to wait to read this.

Also, Big Heart, Drunken Fist is up (after arguing with my 'net stuff for AN HOUR). If you'd check contact info and name and simple stuff like that, I'd appreciate it (I just linked your name to your LJ). That way, when I get to HTML'ing this (which will be later today... it should all be up tonight) I know I've got info right. ;)

Maldorormaldoror_gw on October 16th, 2005 11:43 pm (UTC)
Looks good! My email is jenn_ange@yahoo.ca, if that's an info you think might be useful, but other than that, my LJ is probably the best place to point people. I don't have a website *hangs head in technocratic shame* Thanks for archiving me!

You sure you want to wait until you read this chapter...? It's got Gaara in the buff...*dangles that like a parcel of catpnip before a cat* I really am sweetly sadistic at times...
(no subject) - jbmcdragon on October 17th, 2005 03:42 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - maldoror_gw on October 22nd, 2005 03:31 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Lrayvah on October 17th, 2005 02:02 am (UTC)
This was a wonderful chapter. Its hard to decide which parts are my favorite. I really liked this, however:

At the very far back of Lee's mind, he knew that other people would find this terrifying. The raw power, the relentless crushing sand...Lee only found it inspiring. Challenging. Maybe even exciting, in a way he could never hope to explain.

I thought that was beautifully phrased. And it reveals a lot about Lee's character in who he is and how he relates to Gaara -- such as why he isn't afraid of Gaara like everyone else is, but not because of complete recklessness. It's born out of the deeper simplicity and beauty of Lee's soul -- that will be a balm on Gaara.

I want to watch! I can't wait to see how this develops...

Also, this:

There was silence behind him. The sort of silence that was uniquely Gaara's; it could practically hold its own as a conversation.

It was funny! And so true.

Keep it up!

(waits impatiently for next chapter)
Maldorormaldoror_gw on October 22nd, 2005 03:34 pm (UTC)
Lee's lack of fear is central to the fic and his relationship to Gaara - heck, even Kishimoto-sama gave it some importance in subtext in the manga (or at least that's how I read it). That's indeed what Gaara needs. It'll just take a little while for that to filter through :P Glad you liked the chapter!

love and joy and hijinks: ::keel.joo.ded:: [ryodark_icons]permetaform on October 17th, 2005 04:42 am (UTC)
"Strip," Gaara ordered in a bored voice.


=D wonderful chapter as usual! lovely interactions, I love the pun of the chapter title and just awwww. poor Lee!
love and joy and hijinks: ::ramenOTP:: [not mine]permetaform on October 21st, 2005 06:29 am (UTC)
btw, flyby love for the awesomeness of the villain and how plausible the 'watering hole' concept was; it was all plausible and perfectly tied into each other and the plot and very well done. =D
(no subject) - maldoror_gw on October 22nd, 2005 03:27 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - permetaform on October 22nd, 2005 07:46 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Admantiusadmantius on October 17th, 2005 07:33 am (UTC)
I laugh! 'Tis funny! The -creamcolouredskin- was just perfect for Lee's subconscious to be hitting him in the proverbial gut. Can't wait for more, I'm really getting into it! Before, I kind of steered clear of Lee fics because it's just so easy for authors to really screw up his character, but since I read all of your fics I had to read this one too. Certainly glad I am!

I've go the next page of LTM drawn, but I'm at my aunt's house with no access to a scanner. (*cries pitifully*) I'll try to get that up tomorrow.

Maldorormaldoror_gw on October 24th, 2005 12:20 pm (UTC)
Lee's subconscious is wiser than he is. ANd slighlty more sadistic. And very interested in Gaara ^_^ Lee's gonna have to struggle with it. And Gaara sweetly oblivious to it all...

*waits patiently for last (?) page of LTM*
(Anonymous) on October 17th, 2005 06:17 pm (UTC)
and what now ?
First, I loved this chapter.
Lee discovering that maybehewasattractedtoGaara was great (no, Gaara is a FRIEND !)^^, and the general setting with the insect and all too.
But now ? So, Lee is attracted, but what about Gaara ? I can very well picture Lee trying to push him away because he think that Gaara misintrepreted their friendship for love ("see Gaara, there are different kind of love...") and he doesn't want to force him into anything... After all Gaara is very novice in relational matters...
Or Gaara figures out and confront Lee (Gaara send him a long quiet glare with hint of curiosity. "Lee, are you attracted by me ?").. that would certainly be funny. ^^

Maldorormaldoror_gw on October 24th, 2005 12:19 pm (UTC)
Re: and what now ?
Lol, the last solution would be funny indeed. The whole 'Gaara' side of the equation is yet to come. It's going to be explosive :P Glad you liked the chapter!
JBMcDragon: serious facejbmcdragon on October 21st, 2005 04:45 am (UTC)
WHY ISN'T PART 8 OUT YET?! It feels like it's been sooooooooo long.

You hate me, don't you? *sniffles* I need my fix, damn you!

...okay, so swearing at you maybe isn't the best way to get a good response... ;)

Maldorormaldoror_gw on October 25th, 2005 04:30 am (UTC)
Lol, by the time Mal gets around to answering *slaps self* part eight is out. But it's nice to hear people need my fics like a fix! I'm sure I can try to sell this on the street corners now :P
fallen_womanfallen_woman on May 10th, 2006 03:06 am (UTC)
"With Neji-

Lee's thoughts hit an internal wall. A Do Not Go There section."

Oooooooh. *gigglesnort* Subtle little hints like this (I ship Lee/Neji unrequited, heh) are priceless. And the description of nakie!Gaara was -- fitting. I like how you make the narrative sound poetic yet utterly natural coming from Lee.
Lay-chankenny_kins on October 2nd, 2006 12:15 am (UTC)
Okay...I don't know if you are still enjoying comments on these stories..but i just found it yesterday and I've been hooked. ^_^
This one was my favorite so far; I would have commented earlier but I had this strange urge to keep going to find out what was happening next.
I still feel it, but this was so awesomely good (especially the description of Gaara) that I had to ignore instinct and comment before I continued.
If you haven't gotten the message by now, I LOVED IT!!!
Maldorormaldoror_gw on October 2nd, 2006 05:07 pm (UTC)
For some strange reason, I never stop enjoying comments ^_~ Glad you love it! Lol, a description of 'page-turner' is a great compliment indeed.
(no subject) - kenny_kins on October 2nd, 2006 09:07 pm (UTC) (Expand)
dragon-unni the dongsaeng!whoreevanelric on January 2nd, 2007 06:21 am (UTC)
*shifty eyes*
I hate you for making me read this pairing. But really, who can resist Gaara, with his cream coloured skin and blood red hair and the (zomg can it really be?!?!) EYELINER. I do so love the eyeliner. But I'm still slightly upset that you're making me read and believe this pairing. *runs to the next chapter*
Maldorormaldoror_gw on January 4th, 2007 12:53 am (UTC)
Re: *shifty eyes*
*snicker* sorry. Not ^_^ C'mon, it's a meeting of opposites, it's bound to be funny.
anyjenanyjen on September 15th, 2008 07:07 pm (UTC)
Boy. I always forget to not eat before re-reading this chapter. Seriously, those bugs are so disgusting they always manage to make my stomach want to empty itself of its contents. Uuurgh.
But your writing is so good and this chapter is so essential to the development of their relationship that I can't just skip it! >_<
Oh, well. I'm just glad I can't really smell the blasted bugs from here (though my imagination is unkind enough to send an approximation of what that smell must be like to my olfatory receptors. I swear I can almost smell it.) I certainly don't envy the boys for having to get so close to the stench...
Did I ever mention that this insect thing reminds me a lot of Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind? The bit about the insects swarming and spreading the desert...
Have you read that manga? because if you haven't, I'd suggest you add it to your to-read list... it's a story that I'm sure you would love. It's deep and dark (though slightly gory and somewhat disgusting at times), and the plot is awesome and totally unpredictable. The characters are simply amazingly well-developed, nothing is what it seems to be and there aren't really good and bad sides... just people with their flaws and fears. Plus Nausicaa remains one of my all-time favourite characters... female OR male.
Apparently it makes a very good anime, too, but I haven't watched that one, and from what I've heard it doesn't cover the entire story...
Erm, well, yes, back to your story *cough*.
Does it bother you that I keep posting comments on your old stories, even though you're so busy that you'd probably not get to read them? I can stop if it does... :x
Maldorormaldoror_gw on September 16th, 2008 04:00 am (UTC)
Comments NEVER bother me ^__^ In fact, they boost my muses when the little sods are down and out.

I've read Nausicaa, and seen the movie too (different, smaller dimension, but still good). It's one of manga's Best, I think. I think this influenced the bugs, as well as the way goats spread desertification in Africa, and the bugs in Starship Troopers (my inspiration is eclectic, what can I say)
(no subject) - anyjen on September 16th, 2008 01:41 pm (UTC) (Expand)