Whew, 's been a crazy weeks, my friends. I will finish answering the reviews for last chapter this weekend, though, and thank you so much for all the wonderful comments ^___^ They made this weird week tons better. Here's the next chapter! Fortunately I had it all written out for the past two weeks, bar a couple of lines, so the fact I was majorly busy doesn't impact on my weekend posting. Actually, I have chapters sketched or written right up until chapter eighteen or so. There's bits missing from them, though, so I'm still only updating once a week, and that's frantic enough a pace for now.
Oh, please note the following warning.
WARNING: This chapter is rated R. It contains yaoi. Oh, and Maldoror is not a conventional romantic. I should have said this before...
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.
Part Thirteen: Superficial Injuries
Lee woke up with a small start. He blinked in the sunlight, yawned, stretched hugely - and the world was suddenly as friendly as a cactus.
Lee stared morosely at the ceiling. He wondered if one day, he might wake up without any aches and pains. It was the price of hard work, and he paid it willingly, but it was frustrating to think that there were geniuses out there who woke up with nothing more than mild stiffening in their oh-so-perfect muscles, and then they hopped out of bed and had a perfect breakfast and solved the crossword puzzle without trying, or something equally annoying. He bet Neji never dragged himself out of bed like he was ninety. He bet Gaara never woke up feeling like he'd been used as a punching bag by- whoa.
Lee was staring at the scratches on the back of his hands, which were shaking with shock as the memory of the previous night suddenly assaulted him. The angry, hurt words; the knife-edge of danger; the air throbbing with raw power and pain; and a shared kiss (shared inasmuch as Lee had kissed Gaara, and Gaara hadn't killed him).
Lee stared frantically at the ceiling, but it didn't have anything helpful to contribute at this point.
As shocked as he was, Lee's instincts were still fully functional. They kicked down the door to his thoughts, shoved all his memories back into the cupboard they'd sprung from, and informed him that someone had recently been in his room. That's what had woken him up, because otherwise he'd have cheerfully gone on sleeping for ages.
The intruder hadn't radiated killing intent or been anywhere near the bed, or Lee would have been on his feet and fighting immediately, but somebody had invaded his space. His instincts quivered; footsteps were even now silently approaching the door. Whoever had been here was coming back, and now was the time to act like a Shinobi, not a love-struck idiot who'd been put through a thresher.
Lee's hand was already on his kunai holster- had in fact been there since he'd started awake, and while his brain was still playing catch-up. He'd fallen straight into bed last night, he'd not undressed, washed or brushed his teeth; but he had closed and locked his door and slipped off his weapons, dropping them on his bedside table within easy reach, the habit of a dangerous profession.
He quickly palmed a kunai and closed his eyes, relaxing his body once more. It might be nothing- it was probably nothing, but anybody who might conceivably come to Lee's room would knock, not jimmy the lock. Lee wasn't taking any chances.
The door swung open with a murmur, which was a good sign; an enemy would have been more discreet. Lee cracked open an eyelid, and started so badly he cut himself with the blade between his fingers. He hoisted himself up onto his elbows, his mouth suddenly dry.
Gaara had just walked into his room. He was carrying Lee's basin of water, a clean washcloth and a towel. He was wearing his robe of office, which meant he'd gone home, showered and changed at some point. His eyes on Lee were stern and guarded. There wasn't the slightest hint of the creature Lee had been with last night; he was dealing with the Kazekage this morning.
"What time is it?" Lee grunted, as he realized the sun was shining from the wrong direction.
"Two in the afternoon." Gaara lifted the gourd from his back one-handed and put it against the wall halfway between the door and the bed. The gesture felt deliberate, like someone putting down his weapons before a peace parley. Lee quickly slipped the kunai back in its holster while Gaara's attention was elsewhere.
Gaara stopped near the bed and stared down at Lee. He was still carrying the basin. Lee gave it a puzzled look. He wasn't sure where a basin full of water fit into the picture, but one thing was sure; Gaara was tense and tightly controlled. Lee gave him a friendly smile, to show his friend that everything was fine and that he could relax.
The smile - or rather, the pathetic attempt to move his facial muscles - informed Lee that everything was not fine. He winced and felt his cheeks with his hands. They were rough and crusted with blood and grit. He had a long scrape on his right cheek and two cuts on his left, one near the eye; from when the Sand Barrier had hurled him back, if he remembered right. He hadn't realized he'd gotten hit quite this badly. His defence and reaction times were pathetic, he was really going to have to train himself back up to-
"You completely forgot about them," Gaara stated, not bothering with a question.
"You never take proper care of yourself. Do you know what kind of damage those injuries can leave? If infection sets in-"
"Desert Rot can do more than scar you for life; it can blind you or kill you."
"I know," Lee repeated, nodding contritely in the hopes of avoiding a lecture he'd already gotten from Kankuro, Temari and Sanada on previous occasions. The sort of sand-scrapes you could pick up in a violent sandstorm - or fighting a high level Sand Jounin, or Gaara of the Desert - were no joke, Lee knew that. They were superficial in appearance and easy to ignore, but they were very hard to clean, and if they got infected, well, the results weren't pretty. Lee had seen a few Suna veterans scarred by Desert Rot; they made Morino Ibiki look like a pinup.
Gaara sat down on the bed and put the basin between them. He fished a small bottle from the pocket of his robe, tipped some into the water, then picked up the washcloth.
"Don't move," he ordered, dunking the cloth in the basin and reaching for Lee's face.
He froze there, the cloth dripping water on the bed, his hand near Lee's chin, eyes widening. Lee stared back at him, his sore cheeks suffusing with red.
Last night...Gaara had said 'don't move'...inching closer...confusion growing as the distance between them dwindled...a breath like a caress brushing Lee's lips...
Lee's alarm clock ticked over, cutting the thick silence into small, embarrassed chunks. The longer it lasted, the more Lee blushed. The other memories of last night were back and throwing a party in his brain, all mixed up together: terror and longing, uncertainty and understanding, hurting and hope...
Behind Gaara's neutral mask, there was lingering flashes of that pain as his eyes traced Lee's features.
"Um. Wow. Ah, a lot to talk about, I guess-ouch! Hey- Ow! Gaara-"
Gaara had taken the cloth to Lee's face and was apparently trying to skin him with it. The warm water and antiseptic were adding their own sting to the mix. Lee knew that Gaara had to get the scabs and dirt off to clean the wounds up properly, but man, it smarted. Nowhere near as painful as some of Lee's past tribulations, but this was supposed to be first aid, not a fight! Lee loved this man dearly, but damn, Gaara's nursing skills really sucked.
The water in the basin was bloody. Gaara's eyes had gone hard and flat. Lee dismissed the discomfort of his scratched face, and reached out to gently touch Gaara's wrist.
"It's not your fault."
"Then whose fault is it?" Gaara asked, the question as precise as a mathematical equation.
"If anything, it's mine."
"How do you arrive to that stupid conclusion?"
"I shouldn't have said...well..." Lee looked at him blankly. "Actually, I don't know. I meant every word I said last night; I can't regret that, even though we both got hurt. But I can't blame you for your reactions, either. I can't imagine the week you've had, what you were feeling...I guess nobody's to blame. It just happened."
Gaara dunked the cloth hard enough to splash water on Lee's bed. He obviously didn't agree.
"Hold still," he said, after one last swipe. He dropped the cloth and put his hands on either side of Lee's face, half-an-inch away from the skin.
Lee was about to ask a question when he felt a strange, prickling sensation in his scratches. Gaara's eyes were closed in concentration. Lee twitched, trying to hold still, though it felt like tiny ants were crawling beneath the skin of his face.
Gaara drew his hands away. There was a fine film of bloody sand over the palms.
"That's all of it out. I should have done this last night. But I..."
Gaara stared down at the smear of red in his palms. Then he tensed in surprise as Lee gently took his hand.
Lee cleaned up the blood with a couple of swipes of the wet cloth.
"I know. There was a lot to take in, even for me," he said calmly. "We needed some time alone. And I'm the one who should have dressed these last night. I was too tired, I kind of forgot."
He could feel Gaara stare at him. A long, searching look, as if he couldn't believe Lee would move past being attacked and threatened like that so serenely. Well, Lee had told him often enough that he wasn't one to bear a grudge. Gaara should know that by now.
Gaara helped Lee clean up the rest of his scratches; his hands were the worst, though there was a long shallow scrape on his left foot, too. Gaara fetched Lee's first-aid kit and put bandaids over all the cuts, including the truly minor ones that Lee would have left to their own devices. In silence, he watched Lee apply his usual wrappings on his hands and forearms.
"So!" Lee said brightly, after tying the last knot. Then he stared at Gaara, completely at a loss.
Gaara got to his feet, picked up the basin and went over to put it back on its stand.
Lee scratched the back of his head. Now what?
"What do you feel for me?" Gaara asked abruptly.
...Okay, apparently they were going to start this talk by jumping in at the deep end.
Gaara was still standing near the basin's stand. His face was half turned towards Lee, waiting for his answer, but he didn't look at the Jounin.
Lee had to be honest, while hoping his words wouldn't trigger any excessive reaction; this was a rented room and furniture.
"I love you," he said simply. "Like a friend, and also a bit more. Um, rather a lot more, actually."
He thought he saw Gaara's fingers knot into fists, but as they were buried in the folds of his robe, it was hard to tell. A searing wind of sandy destruction failed to demolish everything in a ten-foot radius. That was a plus.
"You didn't tell me before," Gaara stated, voice controlled to a fault.
"Well, no. I only figured it out recently. The 'more' bit. I knew I liked you as a friend for ages, for all the reasons I gave you last night, and others...well, what I said was really muddled, it probably confused you. But I've felt that way for awhile now; it just suddenly added up a few days ago. I...I didn't tell you, didn't plan on telling you at all, because, well, I didn't think you'd want that."
"Want...?" Gaara stared blindly at the wall. "You're right, I don't."
Lee's heart stopped.
"I don't want to feel this; not this much. It's too strong, too dangerous. I can't control it and it hurts. It hurts to think you almost died for me. It hurts to think I injured you, and that I could do it again. I've killed people I cared about before, when they hurt me. I-...It's not safe. You shouldn't be near me, and it's painful to have you around. I start to think of all the things that could happen to you..."
Gaara slowly bowed his head. "But I can't stay away from you, either. I can't stop thinking about you. I tried telling myself I'd just harm you again; then I realized you'd probably not taken care of your cuts, and I left in the middle of a legislation meeting to come and make sure you were alright."
That must have left quite a few befuddled councillors in Gaara's wake.
"I never felt this way before. It's like I have a hook buried in my body, pulling me towards you. It's alarming. You say you...feel something strong for me. I have to believe you, because I can't explain this feeling otherwise, or the way our bond has changed. But it wasn't what I was led to believe it would feel like."
Lee looked down at his freshly bandaged hands clutching his knees. "I'm sorry," he muttered. He wasn't sure what he was apologizing for, but he felt pretty sure there was something. "I bet this is all pretty confusing for you."
And possibly dangerous for Lee as a result. His sand scratches were starting to hurt now that they were clean. For a very superficial set of wounds, they could put up quite a fuss.
"Look, your instincts are probably right," he added. "About not having me around. I should go back to Konoha for awhile, give you some space, and leave you to figure out-"
Lee's upper body hit the bed with enough force to send him bouncing against the thin mattress.
Gaara's lips were pressing against his, not so much a kiss as a blunt pressure nailing Lee to the sheets. Lee's neck was bent at an awkward angle, his upper lip felt like the skin was about to split, and Gaara was clutching Lee's scraped and bandaged face too hard.
Lee distantly realized that he'd not reacted. Had anybody else jumped him like that, Lee would have punched them through a wall on instinct. But he no longer had any of those instincts in regards to Gaara, even after getting injured last night, which was rather crazy.
In fact, he had other instincts instead...His hands were digging at the robe, trying to get beneath it to touch smooth skin, and his back was arching to press his body against Gaara's as the Kazekage crouched over him, pushing him into the bed until the wooden frame groaned.
"You're not leaving!" Gaara snarled against Lee's scratched cheek. The composed, reluctant Gaara was gone; there was only raw need left in his wake. "You're not leaving! I want this too! I need it!" And his mouth crushed Lee's again.
Going too fast- this situation is completely confusing him, Lee thought frantically, while his unruly body strove to touch-feel-take. But this was wrong. Gaara was just reacting, reaching blindly for something he couldn't understand. He was completely mixed up- had no idea what he was doing- this could be dangerous for the both of them. Lee needed to-
"Gaara, wait," Lee gasped.
Gaara wasn't listening, just like last night. He was pressing his face blindly against Lee's cheek, his neck, not even using his mouth anymore. Hands fisted in Lee's top. Lee much preferred this sort of attack to being sandpapered, but he really had to apply the brakes.
He grabbed Gaara by the shoulders and lifted him away gently, trying to keep the move non-aggressive. To his relief, the gourd was still leaning quietly against the wall and not doing anything more sinister than being round and made of sand.
"Gaara, wait," Lee said more firmly. "You don't have to do this. I'm not leaving. Not if you don't want me to. You got that? I'll do what you want. Calm down."
That got through. Gaara leaned back a bit, his breathing quick and erratic, but his eyes on Lee were still steady. Good, he hadn't snapped.
"I don't want you to leave," Gaara said, as if he just needed to make that nice and clear.
"I want to be close to you," Gaara added, in the same tone.
"Um, but you said you didn't want me around. You said it's painful-"
"It is, but it's more painful to not see you," Gaara said, a frown twisting the mark on his forehead. "I want to be this close to you."
"What?" Lee croaked, suddenly acutely aware of the way Gaara was still crouched over him, one hand sunk into the mattress next to Lee's shoulder, his legs on either side of Lee's right thigh. The other hand had settled over Lee's sternum.
"Touching you...the closer I get, the more intense it gets; it overwhelms the pain. It feels...alarming, but good, too. I feel more focused. I know it's dangerous but I can't stop. I'll protect you. When I can feel you-" the hand slowly twisted in Lee's top hard enough to cause the stitching to crack- "when I'm this close to you, I know you're here, you're alive. I won't- I won't hurt you. I'll protect you. This close, the Sand Barrier will cover us both."
Considering that they were in the Jounin barracks in the middle of Suna, that sounded a tad bit paranoid. Lee licked his lips and tried to formulate this into a coherent yet non-provocative objection, but Gaara's proximity, the leashed, somehow sensual violence of his grip, the way he was staring unblinking down at Lee, it was all very distracting.
Gaara's eyes narrowed to thin diamonds. "Don't tell me you don't like it," he added sharply. "You're the one who kissed me last night. You said you liked to touch me too. I'm not sure what the hell is going on, but I can still tell the difference between someone enjoying themselves and someone writhing in agony."
Lee made a dry little noise in his throat. That was about as intelligible as he was going to get at this point.
Apparently Gaara had had enough of the argument anyway. Lee's head was once more forced back into the rumpled sheets, though this time Gaara didn't grip his face quite so painfully.
Lee's thoughts were a chaotic jumble: 'Did Gaara just say it feels good?! But- but Gaara's not gay- hell, he's not anything. But maybe he is into guys and he's just now figured it out- no, stop dreaming. But he says it feels good. But he hates to be touched! Ouch, he's pressing down too hard. He doesn't know what he's doing- I should stop this-'
Gaara twisted down and settled his whole body against Lee's.
He was warm, his weight real and tangible; Gaara moved his legs, edged his body forward, burrowed himself into Lee's arms a bit more firmly, and Lee's thought processes crashed and burned.
One arm was soldered around Gaara and was never going to move again, ever. His free hand cupped Gaara's head, holding him back a bit so Lee could reach up to the thin sandstone-coloured lips instead of being mauled by them. He softened his mouth beneath Gaara's, moving his lips gently, a steady brushing. The contact sent something dark and warm washing through his whole body, twisting around his spine.
The very way Gaara was kissing him, as if he only had the faintest notion of what to do with his mouth, made it all the more exciting; it was savage and raw, and Lee felt that every touch of his, every little move he made to channel that intensity, was driving them towards something hot and dangerous and good. Gaara felt heavy. Lee could carry Gaara, his gourd and a few other Shinobi as well without breaking a sweat, yet it felt as if Gaara's weight was bearing down on every inch of his body, moulding them together, nailing them both to the bed. And Lee wanted it, he wanted even more.
"This feels good," Gaara muttered against the corner of Lee's mouth, lips sending odd shivers through the skin they touched. "Why...does it feel...?"
'Don't know, don't care', would summarize Lee's thoughts at that point; he just didn't want it to stop. But those words touched him, at a deep, animal level. They left a contented pleasure that Gaara was feeling the same way he did. It joined them together yet again, the same way their bodies were fitting together.
His hand gripped Gaara's hip. The play of muscles beneath his fingertips sent pulses of dark sensual current through his body.
Gaara squirmed against his hold; Lee shuddered heavily.
"Hm." Gaara arched his back a bit, then he leaned forward again. "I've seen this...I've seen people do this...is this going to lead to sex?"
It took a second for Gaara's words to penetrate the haze, but when they did, the effect was immediate.
A hand slammed into Lee's ribs as Gaara shoved himself away. Lee scrambled to sit up. Gaara was crouched further down the bed, back to the wall, his eyes on- some instinct made Lee look around quickly.
There was a glittering band of Sand arched around the gourd. In the sudden silence, the sound of the cork rolling across Lee's floor was louder than it should have been.
“Lee,” Gaara said, in a studiously controlled voice, “I’m on edge. Don’t startle me like that.”
“Sorry,” Lee whispered.
Gaara didn’t say anything, just glared the Sand back into the gourd; but he made a minimal hand gesture that ended with a brush of fingers against Lee’s knee, either an acceptance of Lee’s apology, or one of his own.
Lee took a deep breath and shook his head to clear it. His hands were shaking, he felt hot, and he had a throbbing hard-on which wasn't going anywhere soon by the feel of it. What the hell had he been thinking?! Or doing? And Gaara had said- had said-
Gaara's eyes had closed. He had two fingers pressed to his forehead and a look of concentration on his face, as if he was about to cast a complicated jutsu.
When he opened his eyes, Lee realized, bewildered, that the composed, controlled persona that normally characterized his friend had slipped back into place as if a switch had been flicked. It wasn't a mask, either; this was the real Gaara these days, stern, guarded, eerily calm. But that other creature...that was part of him too. Lee, who only had a single and fairly straightforward personality unless alcohol was involved, just couldn't cope with this gamut of changes.
"Was I hurting you?" Gaara asked, his voice concerned yet strangely matter-of-fact. He slipped down to sit on the bed, back to the wall, legs bent at the knee, a frown of concentration lingering on his face.
"Huh? What, you mean now? No."
"Why did you shout like that then?"
"Why did I-...Gaara, you asked if- if it was going to lead to-..."
Lee nodded savagely. It seemed wrong for Gaara to even say that word.
"I thought the question was valid. From my experience, people doing that go on to have sex. I could feel you had an erection."
Lee's eyes trailed to his kunai holder on the bedside table. But if he killed himself right here and now, Gaara would definitely be upset.
Then what Gaara had said caught up with him. "What do you mean, from your experience? You mean you've done this before?!"
Lee started to breathe a sigh of relief-
"But I've seen it done. I know what sex is."
-which turned around and choked him.
"What do you mean...you've seen it done?" Please, let him just mean he'd studied stick-figure illustrations in some manual-
Gaara gestured vaguely towards the left side of his face. "When I was younger, I used to watch the villagers in their homes with my Third Eye jutsu. I've seen people have sex a number of times."
Lee gathered his legs up and let his forehead sink against his knees briefly.
"Gaara...please tell me you don't do that anymore...?"
"I stopped years ago." Gaara's voice was indifferent. When Lee glanced at him, he was staring at the far wall, face composed, hands loose on his knees. "I lost interest in what humans did together, whether it was talking, eating, touching or anything. I didn't understand most of what I was seeing. It was outside the realm of my experience, I couldn't begin to comprehend it. As for intercourse, I wasn't capable of physical interest at that age anyway; I was only six."
"A couple of years after that, my controllers explained the basics to me. They were quite surprised to hear I already knew about it. Worried, too. They gave me a small bit of additional information, then they taught me to recognize signs of arousal when they occurred and use my chakra to control it."
"Huh? Why?" Lee asked, staring at him.
"They said that sexual excitement would be just like sleep; an opportunity for Shukaku to attack me and erode my control." A faint sneer twisted Gaara's lips. "I knew even back then that they were lying. They just didn't want me going around the village raping people at random. But I used their lessons to control my body, since it suited me to do so. I didn't know that much about it, but it had been obvious from my observations that you needed two people to have sex. I had no one. I needed no one. I needed only myself; I loved only myself. I killed to exist and I needed nothing more."
In the dead silence that followed, Lee remembered the cold, lethal boy he'd once fought, and the chaotic wounded creature that had been hiding beneath the Sand Armour.
"I'm not like that anymore," Gaara said, turning his head away.
Another short silence, this one a good deal more intense.
The way Gaara had said that, his low voice tinged with a hint of pain, of withdrawal...Lee had reacted completely on automatic, scrambling to his knees and reaching to grab Gaara's wrist in an unconscious effort to comfort and reassure.
They both stared at their joined hands, resting on one of Gaara's knees. Lee noted, in passing, that the Sand in the gourd hadn't reacted.
Gaara moved his hand away from Lee's. He felt the skin with his fingers, as if he expected to find a burn.
"People touch me now," he said slowly, still staring at his wrist. "Kankuro, Temari, Naruto...It's not always easy. A part of me still expects them to react like they used to, like everybody used to."
How would that be? Recoil in fear? Grab him in anger? Attack him and be destroyed by the Sand? Yeah, Lee could see where a lifetime of that would make a person dislike physical contact.
Gaara stared hard at his hand, then he reached out, fingers splayed, and touched Lee's cheek. It was a deliberate and completely non-sensual gesture.
"I felt the same when you touched me at first. It never crossed my mind that it would ever change. Then it did. I don't know why. It was like our...friendship. It was gradual. The first time I touched you accidentally, I expected you to shrink back. You of all people...But you didn't look scared. You looked pleased. After awhile, I didn't mind touching you at all. It didn't feel dangerous anymore. It was...oddly easy. I think I even liked it."
The fingers passed over Lee's eyelids, his lips, the side of his jaw. Then they fell back to Gaara's lap.
"When you asked me to hold you while you slept, though, that felt different. It felt..."
Gaara was silent for a spell.
"I can't describe it in terms that make sense. I felt needed. I had never felt that so strongly before. I had the feeling I was close to you, but it wasn't just because we were touching. I felt...warm. As if you were holding me, not the other way around. It felt like nothing would be able to harm us. I...can't say it."
Lee stared at him. Unsurprisingly perhaps, Gaara couldn't put a name to feelings that didn't involve someone dying messily. He could describe sensations like symptoms, but not the actual emotions that caused them. But what he was saying...It was an established fact by now that Lee loved this complex, torn creature. What Gaara was saying, though, implied he felt something in return. Lee was hesitant to put a name to what Gaara might be feeling - Gaara himself wasn't even trying to, and that was probably wise.
But there was something there alright, and it sounded like it was maybe more than just being one of the four people who'd gotten close to Gaara over the years.
Lee felt both bewildered and enchanted at the short, choppy words that etched out feelings that Gaara couldn't even adequately describe. Lee...had made Gaara feel that? How? Lee hadn't done anything that might cause Gaara to feel something like that towards him. Hell, he'd tried for years to elicit a spark of this in Sakura-san without success, and- and he hadn't even realized he was in love with Gaara two weeks ago- and-
"I want that feeling again," Gaara said abruptly, glaring down at his hands in his lap. "But it seems that it comes at a price. And you almost paid it. I broke last night. I hadn't snapped that badly since that fight with Naruto. He said bonds give you strength. I know that for a fact now. I've been getting stronger ever since I stopped living for myself alone, and started to protect others. But I guess bonds also open you up to pain. I'd gotten used to isolation, to people fearing me, to hate; but this new kind of emotional pain caught me by surprise. I completely lost it last night. You shouldn't have followed me out there, Lee. That was very dangerous. I didn't know what I was doing at all."
"I stayed at a safe distance," Lee said simply, not downplaying his own caution. "But I couldn't leave you to face that alone."
"Because I love you."
The green eyes flinched, but still no explosions of sand.
"I hurt you."
"I still love you."
Gaara didn't say anything. After a minute of staring at the far wall, he stood up and headed towards the gourd.
"I need to think about all this," he said, slipping the sling over his shoulder and chest.
“Can’t you do it here?” Lee asked wistfully, standing up as well.
“That might not be safe for you. Or your belongings.” Gaara straightened his robe and took a step towards the door.
“We can go outside," Lee suggested. "And I can duck.”
Gaara looked back at him. “No. I need to think, and your presence distracts me,” he said bluntly.
Gaara hadn't moved towards the door though. He was standing in the middle of the room, his face turned away from Lee.
"Can you stay here?" he asked in a low voice.
"Sure, I won't follow you. We both need to think. I-"
"I mean, can you stay in your room. I-" Gaara still didn't look at him. "I need to know where you are."
Lee looked at him in surprise.
"You said you wouldn't leave. Can you promise to stay here. This afternoon. So I know where you are." Gaara's fingers tightened on the gourd's strap. "Please?"
Lee blinked rapidly. "Sure. Sure, I'll stay here, if you want. Oh, except I have to go through some reports- but I'll be either here or in my office. Okay?"
Gaara nodded once, his fingers slowly releasing the gourd's halter.
"I don't want you to go back to Konoha," he said, almost to himself.
Lee hesitated, but not for long.
Gaara looked up as Lee stopped in front of him. The Jounin put his hands out slowly, making sure Gaara wouldn't be startled, and he touched the tense shoulders.
"Gaara, I made my decision last night. I promise to be with you and protect you for as long as you need me."
Then, since he was giving his word, he struck his Good Guy pose and gave Gaara a brilliant smile.
Gaara looked at Lee's extended thumb a bit oddly. Then the green eyes examined Lee for what seemed like a long time, before Gaara nodded almost imperceptibly.
"Thank you," he said quietly.
"Wow," Lee said, "please and thank you in the same day? From you? Have you been practicing on the sly?"
That earned him the familiar blank look. Then the faintest smirk twisted one corner of Gaara's mouth. It was his usual sardonic expression, but it was something approaching a smile, and the first Lee had seen since that mission in the desert had gone sour.
"I'll leave you to think," Lee said firmly, removing his other hand from Gaara's shoulder before he was tempted to do something with it. He moved out of Gaara's way and sat back down on the bed, which was as far away from Gaara and the exit as he could get without hopping out the window.
Gaara started to leave, but then he stopped short, one foot in the hallway outside.
"Before I go, we never did establish whether you wanted to have sex with me. You-"
"Gaara!" Lee yelped. "Close the bloody door!"
Gaara tensed at the shout, and looked suspiciously at the door, as if to figure out what it could possibly have to do with the subject at hand.
"Just- don’t- that’s a very sensitive subject, and you should never talk about it where other people can hear," Lee whimpered. Nearly three o'clock in the afternoon; please let all the other Jounin in the building be out in the field or on missions.
Gaara looked at Lee for a few seconds, and then he stepped back into the room and closed the door behind him with the air of one willing to play along with some bizarre foreign custom.
"Do you want to have sex with me?" he asked, as blunt as usual.
Lee pinched the bridge of his nose hard, trying to get his nerves back in order. Then he held out a firm hand in a 'hold it' gesture.
"We do not have to go there. I know you've seen it, um, done." Which put him a yard ahead of Lee, who only had some traumatic memories of Sex Ed classes, a talk with Gai-sensei and an intense imagination to rely on. But that was beside the point.
"Despite that, I don't think you really get it. And there's one thing you have to understand, Gaara. What we share is a lot more important than sex. We're friends. And I love you. A lot. Even if we never go there, I'll still be with you as long as you need me. It's nice that you like me to touch you, and I hope you'll let me do that again -within reason of course- I won't take advantage, my intentions are honourable- but it's not what I want that matters. We have to make sure that you're comfortable with all this first. And we haven't even established if you like men that way, that's a whole new topic, but that's neither here nor there yet. Feelings are what is important here. So you see?"
Lee took a deep breath, and realized he'd lost his own point in there somewhere. He looked up past his hand and his chivalrous intentions, to see Gaara with his arms crossed over his chest and a scowl on his face.
Gaara looked darkly at the startled Lee for a few seconds, then he took two slow steps away from the door. He glanced at Lee's small desk as he drew level with it; the piles of reviews on martial arts and weaponry, a half-written letter. He took a few more steps, examining the arm- and leg-weights, the green clothes peeking out of the half-open cupboard, the spare sandals nearby, the potted cactus Lee was trying to take care of; it was the fourth one he'd owned since he'd arrived in Suna. Growing cactuses was harder than it looked.
Green eyes swept over the pile of books on Taijutsu, Lee's bedtime reading. He took a few more steps and his eyes fastened on Lee's bare feet. He was looking at them so intently that Lee did so too. They were just his feet, scratched, bandaged now, an old scar across one toe-
Gaara's gaze slowly travelled up Lee's body. And Lee swallowed nervously and fought the urge to edge back from that slow approach and that intent look.
Gaara's dark-ringed eyes were as focused as a sculptor's hands. Lee hadn't realized it, but people rarely looked at other people like that. As if they were detailing every inch of skin, cataloguing every muscle, memorising each move and quick draw of breath. As if trying to understand.
Lee sat frozen on the bed as that forceful gaze trailed over his knees, his thighs. He fought down the urge to put his hands in front of himself as Gaara's eyes travelled further upwards. That gaze lingered over his hips and the boner which, unfortunately, still hadn't quite gone down yet. Then Gaara scrutinized his belly, his chest, stayed a long time on one of his hands, crawled up his shoulders. He was staring down into Lee's face when he took the last step, their knees practically touching.
Lee's breath was quick and fast, and his muscles clenched in an effort to not shiver under that stare.
"You...love me," Gaara said softly, handling the word as if it were a dangerous but fascinating weapon.
"Yes," Lee answered, his voice hoarse but without hesitation.
"You want to have sex with me."
Lee wanted to say that that was by far not all he wanted from Gaara- the green eyes seemed incandescent, brighter than the afternoon sunshine, searching his face, his eyes.
"You. Want. Me."
"Yes," Lee answered, staring right back and trying to gauge how Gaara was taking it.
"You need me..."
Lee swallowed and nodded once.
Gaara leaned forward and put his hands on either side of Lee's face. The gesture felt natural; it was only after a second that Lee could even remind himself that Gaara was still not used to casual contact. Not that this was casual. Gaara's eyes plunged into his.
“How did you do that?” he asked.
"Kiss like you did earlier."
Lee stared at him blankly. Gaara's fingers on his cheeks felt warmer than they should be through the bandages. "Well, you just- I just touched our lips together. Gently. I'm sure there's techniques and stuff, but nobody ever taught me-”
“It felt good when you did it."
Gaara lowered his mouth to Lee's and pressed softly. Once, briefly, then again.
"It doesn't feel the same," Gaara said, and despite the control that was back in his voice, he sounded a bit wistful.
"I liked it." Lee's voice was husky.
"Being this close to you is like nothing I've ever felt before," Gaara said very softly, eyes still nailed to Lee's who was helpless to look away. "The thought of being even closer, of having you in me, or me in you, is actually tempting."
Gaara's fingers were not the only thing that were warm now. There was a real risk that Lee's sudden temperature spike was going to set fire to the bed.
"I don't know what sex fully implies. I know what it is, but I don't know if I'm capable of it. But I have the feeling I might want to find out. I never thought I’d have the opportunity to do so. Or the desire. But now there's a door in front of me, where there was only a dead end before. Even though I know we should be careful, I still want to see where it goes. I don’t know if I’ll enjoy having sex; I don’t know if I even have the capacity for it. But if it's safe for you...I think I might want to explore it some day. And I want you to get something out of this too, besides sand cuts and bruises."
"But I don't need-"
A finger touched his mouth. "I want you to get something out of this too...if I can...if it's even possible. I don't know if it will be. Ever. If we can ever get any closer than this. Even touching could be...dangerous. At this point, I have a lot to think about, to assimilate. I need some time to figure all of this out. Do you understand?"
"Oh, entirely!" Lee nodded, ignoring the flashes of sensuality when the movement caused Gaara's finger to brush his lips. "Take all the time you need! I'm not expecting- I mean, I would be- it would mean everything to me if you just want to be a- a bit more than friends. The rest- it'd be great if you do want to one day, but I won't press you. Of course not. Some people spend months- years developing their feelings before they go that far. I'm perfectly fine with that! Great idea!"
Lee ignored the small part of himself that was screaming in agony. That bit was inconsequential. What was important was whether Gaara could accept Lee's love. Beyond that, what did it matter if Gaara took that long to decide whether they could have sex or not, as well? Lee had been a virgin for nineteen years; he was used to it by now. He didn't mind. He could stand a few more years of- of watching Gaara move about in those tightly strapped clothes beneath that long slitted coat, and- and fight and spar with him...and remember the way Gaara's body had felt when it moved against his...
Gaara leaned back abruptly and stared down at Lee with an odd expression on his face.
"I was thinking in terms of a few days," he said.
"Oh thank god," Lee blurted out.
"...You don't want to wait months and years just to touch again?" Gaara was scowling. "Do you?"
"Ah...not really, no."
Lee would wait for Gaara. Forever, if he needed to. And if Gaara decided that he could return some of Lee's feelings, but just not physically, that would mean the world to him, and he'd handle whatever triffling disapointment he felt about the rest bravely, like a man. But all that being said, it was also a fact that if Gaara kissed him like that again - or talked about 'you in me' some more - Lee would be dead of terminal frustration before he was twenty.
"Then why did you say-..." Gaara shook his head, visibly dismissing the incongruous piece of human logic. He tapped Lee's cheek. "Take care of these scratches. They aren't too deep; they'll heal quickly if you keep them clean."
The white robe fluttered as Gaara turned. Lee watched him go. Then he stared at the closed door for over ten minutes.
Finally he got up, changed the water in the basin, cleaned off the rest of the dirt, put on some fresh clothes and went to his office in the administration building, where he stared blindly at paperwork instead of staring blindly at doors; it wasn't that much more constructive, but the squiggles on the pages provided a minor distraction, and at least he looked like he was doing something while he waited.
End Part Thirteen
Little note of explanation, for the readers who aren't all that familiar with my brand of 'romance' (snort, chuckle, guffaw).
Those of you who know I'm just about as romantic as a stapler can skip this if you want.
I find it fun to write somewhat realistic characters and relationships. But it's sort of a fanfic mainstay that 'you shouldn't even think about having sex before you figure out your True Feelings'. It's even a mainstay of our society's culture, at least on the female side of it (I just read a very interesting rant on that subject - but that's neither here nor there).
If the characters were older and more mature, that might be valid. But they aren't. They're eighteen and nineteen and in a considerable emotional mess. They're also Shinobi, who've been responsible for their lives and actions and, like, killing people, since they were twelve. Or younger, where Gaara is concerned. On that level, they're way too mature. It was absolutely fascinating for me to try to reconciliate these two states, and figure out how the characters would behave. Especially considering Gaara's character: icy control over remnants of mania, brutally honest, no embarrassed self-image, no self-knowledge of his own feelings either. That's why this and the next chapters were so hard yet so absolutely entertaining to write.
All I can say is, I think that when it comes to sex, they'll have all the patience of a couple of cats on a hotplate. This won't solve any of the problems they're having (one of which Lee should have spotted in this chapter - but he didn't, because he makes mistakes, like the very young adult he is. It'll come back to bite him in the ass in the next chapter). Neither do I think it's Wrong for them to have sex while they're still trying to figure out what the hell is going on. It won't really help, but hell, at least they won't be sexually frustrated while they're trying to figure things out ^__^ In my book, sex is not the Holy Grail that recompenses True Love. It's pleasant fall-out. If this bugs anybody...then I should have put my usual warning - 'Maldoror is really not a conventional romantic' - at the very start of this fic, like I did in The Arrangement. Oops :P Oh well...