[Edit the second: For those of you wandering over here from AFF.net, please note that CHAPTER numbers on that site and on my LJ are OUT OF SYNCH. So I call this chapter 19, but if this was posted on AFF.net, it would be Chapter 20. It's because of that sidestory thinger I posted...I have NOT posted this on AFF.net yet, and won't until March.]
A bit rushed on the posting (the writing wasn't rushed, though, apart from 1-2 sentences) but here it is! Short chapter. Enjoy ^_^ And I can't decide on the title, so yeah, title will come later. I wanted something that wouldn't give a hint as to what happens in the chapter, so that removed a few obvious possibilities. Will think later, have to run.
[EDIT: Added a title. It's not a good title. But I've never been good at titles, and I can't be bothered to find better :P]
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 Nineteen: Binding Ties
Lee's inner romantic had taken a severe pounding these past two weeks, but it was not entirely defunct yet. It had spent all morning trying to persuade him that, the day after Gaara had given himself to Lee like that, the least Lee could do was show up with a bouquet of flowers the next morning. And maybe a small haiku on eternal love was in order. Fortunately Lee's common sense shot both those suggestions down. Gaara and flowers just didn't go together. Gaara and love poetry didn't belong within the same realm of existence.
So he was heading towards Gaara's office empty-handed. His inner romantic was trying to make him feel like an ungrateful cad, but was having only mitigated success. In truth, Lee was distracted, and had been distracted all morning. He'd tried to work, only to be constantly reminded of the previous day's encounter by just about anything: the breeze ruffling the curtain; a loosened bandage showing a hint of flesh at his wrist; the beat of his own heart...the suggestive shape of the stapler...he'd never noticed how it looked like two bodies joined together at one point before, closing in for-
Needless to say, he hadn't gotten much work done. So not only was he empty-handed, but he was also running late. His inner romantic had disavowed him. And he was still very distracted; when Gaara's aide stepped out of the Kazekage's office unexpectedly, Lee almost bowled him over.
"Lee-san," the aide murmured and made to walk on by before the expression on Lee's face arrested him. Lee had taken one look at the man and spontaneously combusted as he remembered the aide’s shopping expedition and his unwitting contribution to yesterday's event.
"Um, hello. Hot day," Lee croaked, waving a hand in front of his flushed face.
The Sand Jounin looked at him quizzically but didn't comment. He was exceedingly professional, like all Sand Shinobi, and taciturn and quiet even by their standards.
"Go on in, he's free," was all he said. "I have a dispatch for your inspection after you've eaten lunch. I'll be in my office."
"I'll be there," Lee said, then, when the aide had left without a further word, he leaned against the wall and thumped his forehead with his fist. Hot day? Right. This was why they never gave him any undercover work. Hopefully a ferocious blush was not going to be enough of a clue to lead the aide to conclude that Lee was sleeping with the man's boss.
Lee took a few deep breaths, as if he was about to start one of his more stringent exercises. Then he knocked on the office door and walked straight in, trying not to feel so nervous. This would be the first time he'd be seeing Gaara after they'd showered and gone their separate ways yesterday. Though he wasn’t about to spring poetry on his boyfriend - who knew how Gaara of the Desert would react to that - Lee still felt odd pretending this was just any other ordinary day.
A busy day, rather; there were papers all over Gaara's workspace, on the side-table, on the floor, and there was even a powder-blue folder recklessly perched on top of the gourd leaning against the nearby wall. Gaara was seated at his desk, riffling through a stack of papers as if looking for one in particular.
- Lee remembered water dripping from Gaara's darkened red hair as Lee pretended to help him clean his back, while really just using the excuse of a bit of soap and water to indulge in that intoxicating body until he thought he was going to drown...
"Good morning, Gaara! Sleep well?" Lee said, trying to sound casual. Which would have worked if it hadn't been a quarter past twelve already and addressed to a man who hardly ever slept, well or otherwise.
Gaara nodded fractionally in greeting. He found the paper he was looking for, drew it out of the pack and set it aside.
"Sorry I'm late," Lee added, trying not to read anything into Gaara's attitude, because he knew that this was the way Gaara behaved most of the time anyway. "Ready for lunch?"
Gaara closed the folder on the errant form and leaned back in his chair, eyes finally resting on Lee.
"Not today," he said, a trace regretfully. "I have an appointment."
"Oh, that's okay." The fact that Gaara did look a bit put out about it was reassuring. Or at least Lee hoped it was. His inner romantic was suggesting that flowers would have bought him a better reception, but now that he was actually looking at the stone-cold reality that was Gaara, Lee knew to his core that this was nonsense. And Lee felt oddly content at the thought. It was, after all, the real Gaara he’d fallen for in the first place; the one who didn't even know what romance was, and wouldn't care much to find out.
"I'll be eating with Temari," his boyfriend added, crossing his arms and frowning at his desk. "She said she had a surprise for me."
"Some political thing in all probability," Gaara stated. "She's bringing someone to lunch with us. She wouldn't tell me who; she said he might not make it in time, so it would be a 'surprise'. I think she's been working too hard."
"You may be right." People didn't spring surprises on Gaara, least of all Temari, who should know better.
Lee balled his fist in a decisive gesture. "Right then! I'll go grab a box of bento at the cafeteria and get back to work right away, I have loads to do." Then he remembered the forms he'd filled in pretty much at random this morning while thinking of the way Gaara had arched his neck against the pillow, mouth open- "Or maybe I'll go train. I can work a double shift tomorrow. Do you think you'll have a bit of free time this evening?"
"That depends on what Temari has in mind exactly. I'll try to make the time."
"You know where to find me if you do."
"Working in your office, training, eating or sleeping," Gaara said, listing the options on the fingers of one raised hand. "You lead a very simple life." A trace of approval belied the dry remark. Gaara liked order and simplicity. He also liked to know where he could find Lee in case he suddenly had one of those dark moments, when he had to check up on him and make sure Lee was still safe. Lee had felt that creepy sensation of being watched again on a couple of occasions these past two weeks. As far as Lee was concerned, it was just one of those things you got used to.
"You know me!" he laughed, rubbing his neck, feeling inordinately pleased for no reason he could adequately explain.
Gaara nodded fractionally. The look in his eyes was the same as when they'd been in bed together yesterday. Intense, still and deep, and entirely focused on Lee, who was suddenly blushing again. And he had the urge to...This wasn't the time or place, though. But he really wanted to...and they wouldn't be spending lunch together today, wouldn't be seeing each other until this evening at the earliest...
Caution and desire had a brief struggle in Lee's head, and desire won out, as it usually did in these circumstances. Lee walked over to his boyfriend, after a cautious glance out of the open window. From this angle, it wasn't easy to see into the office, but Lee always checked. He circled the desk, put one hand on the back of the Kazekage's chair and tilted Gaara's chin up with the other.
It was just supposed to be a simple affectionate kiss. But Lee's mouth lingered as Gaara's lips softened and parted beneath his. Fingers touched Lee's hair, kept him near, as their mouths caressed. Lee didn't really think he and Gaara were all that proficient at sex yet, they still had plenty to learn, but they were getting the hang of kissing in Lee's modest opinion. Of course, more practice never hurt.
His hand drifted from Gaara's chin to cup his cheek, skin smooth and warm beneath his scarred fingers. Gaara tilted his head and the kiss got even better.
Gaara broke it first, but it was to stand up, kick back his chair impatiently and move their bodies together.
Lee had always been aware of Gaara's touch, even back when they were friends and a casual nudge to the shoulder was a breakthrough. And he knew when his own touch was unwelcome, when he should keep his distance. It still happened, though not often. When it did, Lee respected that. He had the feeling neither he nor Gaara had much of a choice in the matter. The rest of the time, though, he was free to steal the occasional kiss or a brief caress. Gaara would often give him this look when he did so; an almost scientific scrutiny, as if trying to figure out what the human wanted now. But he allowed Lee to touch; he even liked it. He'd even take the first step on occasion, if he felt like reaffirming their bond, or pleasing Lee. And maybe out of a growing curiosity to figure out why it felt so good in the first place, the lack of tactile sensation, of contact with another being that had characterized Gaara's childhood creating a void that pulled him forward...
Lee's eyes darted towards the window without breaking the kiss. He hooked an arm around Gaara's waist and took a few steps back, dragging his lover with him until the Jounin fetched up against the wall, out of line of sight. He'd barely settled with his back to the stucco, that Gaara's body was once more in full contact with his, one leg slipping between his thighs and hands settling warm and intimate on his hips. Lee breathed in quickly, trying to keep his heart and body under control.
He reached up, framed Gaara's face with his hands and dropped a solemn kiss on the parted lips.
"Thank you," he whispered. "For yesterday. It was...It meant a lot to me. Thanks."
Gaara looked at him oddly, but didn’t say anything and kissed him again instead, which was fine by Lee. He had probably not needed to say anything at all, but he'd wanted to. And maybe his inner romantic would now shut up and let them get on with some more making out.
Lee tried to behave professionally in the Kazekage's office, he really did. Gaara's position commanded his respect, and it felt inappropriate to distract his boyfriend while the latter was trying to work and fulfil his responsibilities to his village. And of course, Gaara's door was rarely locked, so there was always the chance someone might walk in on them.
Maybe that was what made it so irresistible. The illicit pleasure of doing something risky and forbidden. Fortunately people knocked before entering the Kazekage's office, which would give a Jounin like Lee plenty of time to be all the way across the room and innocently admiring the decorative calligraphies of Sunagakure's Laws on the wall before the door actually swung open.
One of those venerable scrolls was getting slowly pushed askew by their entwined bodies as the kiss deepened. Lee's legs were braced a couple of feet apart; purely for balance, of course, and to take a bit off of their small height difference. No other reason. The fact that this let Gaara press against him in all sorts of interesting ways was purely a coincidence.
He could feel Gaara's body against his, warm and real, and it made him think of yesterday... He let one hand trail down Gaara's back. It brushed the Kazekage's robe aside and snuck under the shirt Gaara wore beneath it. The unbandaged tips of Lee's fingers trailed across smooth skin with something akin to reverence.
This wasn't quite as nice as having their time together, eating lunch in their secluded spot on the roof. And Temari was going to show up any second now, so Lee had to go, and that was going to be a bit frustrating. But right now, right this instant...it was wonderful. Lee could feel familiar stirrings as Gaara's fingers kneaded his hips. Damn Hormones, surely one day they would be satisfied.
There was a sudden displacement of air.
"Hey, Ga- whoa!!"
A short, intense silence followed.
Everybody in Suna knocked politely on the Kazekage's door before entering, including his siblings. But apparently the latter were also allowed to jutsu in if the fancy took them. Lee rather wished he'd known about this beforehand. He also wished he'd known Kankuro was coming back today. It would have been awkward enough if it was just Temari, but Lee's bad luck had really outdone itself this time.
Gaara took half a step away from Lee, who jerked his hand out from under Gaara's shirt as if he'd been electrocuted.
"You're finally back," Gaara said, dark-ringed eyes fixed on his brother. "I was starting to think there was some problem you couldn't communicate in a report. Are you injured? Did you find that Sound HQ you were closing in on?"
"Sound?" Kankuro croaked, his eyes perfectly round and fixed on an empty spot two feet to his brother's right, a space devoid of Rock Lees or anything disconcerting.
"Yes. Did you find them?"
Temari still hadn't said anything. She was staring at them fixedly, eyes wide, jaw clenched and nostrils flaring. As for Lee, he was regretting his inability to do ninjutsu like never before, because if there was ever an occasion to disappear in a puff of smoke, this was certainly it. The only one who didn't seem disturbed by any of this was Gaara, who was examining his brother with a trace of growing concern.
"Kankuro, are you alright?"
"Am I...?" Kankuro closed his eyes, shoved back his hood and savagely scrubbed his head. "Well I thought I was..."
"How long has this been going on?" Temari asked in a very quiet voice.
Gaara looked at his sister, then at Lee, then back at his sister again.
"A few minutes before you showed up," he answered shortly.
Lee cleared his throat. "About two weeks," he said, when Temari looked completely confused at Gaara’s answer.
"Two weeks? I see. Can I ask-"
"But- I mean- you're gay?!" Kankuro blurted out.
There was another silence, and then Temari reached over without looking and cuffed him. It was a testimony to Kankuro's state of shock that he didn't even try to dodge.
"Will you please keep up with this conversation?!" Temari hissed. Her hawk-like gaze was still fixed on the pair. Lee had the feeling she was trying to figure out how to tackle this. Gaara waited, unperturbed, and Lee tried to shrink back into the wall and disappear.
"You could have told me," Temari finally said. She was talking to Gaara exclusively.
"I didn't want you to worry about something else. You have enough to handle," Gaara answered, matter-of-fact.
There was a glint of fury in Temari's eyes at that, but she kept herself under control.
"I see. I'd have rather known, though."
"You know now."
The response sounded insolent, but Temari would know, as did Lee and Kankuro, that it hadn't been meant that way at all; it was just a straightforward answer.
Temari closed her eyes briefly, and when she opened them and focused on the unfortunate Lee, she was much calmer. As calm as a blade slowly sliding from its sheath.
"Lee, I need to speak with you," she said, in a way-too-quiet voice. "Kankuro?"
"You don't need me around to talk to Bowl-cut," Kankuro said quickly, hands up in a 'hold it right there' gesture.
"Right." Kankuro darted an apologetic glance at Lee, relief showing through the war paint. "I got these letters for Gaara, and-"
"Later," Temari said, her eyes like ice. "Right now, you need to have a little talk with your brother. He never got the academy seminar, so he probably has a lot of questions for you."
"A talk? Seminar? What are you- fuck no! Temari! Wait, you can't ask me to- how the fuck should I know how they’d do it, I'm straight! I don't know anything about-"
Temari had walked over, grabbed Lee and hauled him out of Gaara's office, ignoring Kankuro's horrified protests.
Her fingers were like claws on his wrist as she pulled him into the conference room down the hall. It was empty at this time of day, though Lee was ready to bet that one look at Temari's face would have emptied the room of any occupant in a second.
She turned towards him, one hand on her hip. The other was behind her back, lightly tapping a nail against her fan.
"Two weeks. Hm?"
"Yes," Lee answered hesitantly. He wasn't sure why that was the first thing she was focusing on.
"So that huge disturbance in the desert over two weeks ago...that 'misunderstanding', as you called it...?"
Lee flinched. She'd put it together even faster than he'd anticipated.
"That really was a misunderstanding," he said carefully. She was staring at him in an unblinking way that reminded him of her brother, and not in a good and happy sense. "Gaara was upset at something I'd done, at a risk I'd taken. We had an argument, and I sort of screwed up and accidentally...um, I told him that I was in love with him, and he- well, he- he didn't do it on purpose- I mean, it was a bit of a shock, considering. Um."
"In love with Gaara. In love with Gaara," Temari said as if she was trying to do differential calculus in her head with the letters of those words.
"Yes," Lee said, straightening up and trying to look serious, honest and determined, when all he wanted to do was hunker down behind the conference room table and get ready to dodge. "I'm in love with your brother."
Temari gave him a very long look, and Lee realized that the anger was a reaction to the shock, a veneer over some deeper concern.
"If it was anybody else who said that..." she muttered. "But I've known you for over a year now, and nobody's that good an actor. But Gaara...he told me years ago he wasn't even capable of-...of..."
With what appeared to be some effort, Temari recaptured the icy fury that had driven her until now.
"Have you both gone out of your minds?!"
Lee opened his mouth, then closed it again as he realized he couldn’t out-and-out say they hadn't, considering some of the highlights of their relationship to date. When a declaration of love left potholes in the desert the size of a garden shed, sane people would have had second thoughts about the whole thing right from the start.
"And you- and Gaara- do you have any idea what kind of position this is going to put both our villages if you two actually decide to- to have-" Temari gestured wildly, giving Lee no clue to what she might be trying to say, "-and if you get-"
Temari stopped abruptly as the door opened. Kankuro stuck his head into the room, then he got shoved forward and Gaara followed him through the door and closed it.
"You can't be done already," Temari said, ice in her tone.
"Ah. Turns out, Gaara don't need it."
"What? What do you mean?"
"Apparently they figured it out on their own already," Kankuro explained, walking over to the wall to glare murderously at a portrait of the second Kazekage, probably to avoid looking at Lee or Gaara or his sister. Beneath the paint, his face was rather red. Presumably Gaara had told him exactly how they’d ‘figured it out on their own’. Lee sympathized; in life, there was direct, and then there was Gaara, who could punch holes through a wall with his brutal, strangely naïve honesty.
"Oh," Temari said weakly. "Oh."
Lee thought she'd be furious, but the expression behind the shock was relief, which told Lee what one of her concerns had been. The quick and automatic clinical glance she gave him confirmed it.
"Um, it went fine," Lee managed to mumble, trying to meet her eyes without wincing.
Those three words hung in the air as if Lee had given them both an accurate description of the event with sound effects.
"Right!" Kankuro said loudly, as if that could banish the mental images that had probably run through his mind for a brief moment. "If you guys don't need me any more, I'm going to go home and forget today ever happened. I got a bottle that'll help. I'll either drink it, or I'll use it like a blunt instrument, but either way, I'm gettin' amnesia.” Kankuro turned around and marched towards the door. “I'll drop my report on your desk, Gaara; wasn’t anything that needed immediate going-over.”
"Oh no, sis. No way in hell. I don't know what you want, but it's no, as in N-fuckin’-O."
"Don't you have something to say to your brother?"
"Huh?" Kankuro glanced back from his sister to Gaara, who looked the same as he always did: as calm and self-contained as a kunai. "Like what? It's a bit too late for the 'don’t rush into it' speech, and there's no point to the 'don't get her pregnant'."
The absolute tumble of the temperature in the room caught his attention; it made even Gaara shift and look at his sister in alarm.
Kankuro stared at her, and something passed between them, the unspoken communication of siblings. He sighed loudly, turned and walked up to Gaara who was staring at him, still silent, arms crossed over his chest.
"Let's get this straight," Kankuro growled. "I may have gone a bit tense, seeing you and Bowl-cut clenching against the wall of your office, but I don't really care which way you swing. And Lee's cool. Good Jounin. Got guts." He reached out and slapped Gaara roughly on the shoulder once. "Welcome to the human race, squirt. Have fun."
The puppeteer stopped with his hand on the doorknob and looked back at Gaara. The latter appeared to dismiss the question he'd been about to ask. He just looked at his brother and quietly stated: "It's good to have you back after all this time."
Kankuro's look of pleased surprise was quickly covered by a world-weary smirk.
"Yeah, I'm glad that's over. Those damn Sound bastards were harder to find than sand fleas in the Greater Wastes. But we did find them. Looks like the problem goes deeper than we first thought. We're going to have to smoke them out carefully. Read my report and then we can talk it over tomorrow. We've got more work to do, and I have letters from Tsunade and others, but they can wait. Right now I need to go take a shower and get drunk."
The door closed on those last words.
Temari sighed and rolled her eyes towards the ceiling as if looking for a small reserve of patience that might be lurking there.
"What Kankuro was trying to say, and would have said if he wasn't numb between the ears, is that we're glad you found someone, Gaara. Even though it's a...surprise..."
Temari was silent for a moment. One hand was still behind her back, twitching her fan in and out of its harness with little creaking noises, a habit of hers that made anyone who knew her a bit nervous. Her eyes were closed, her mouth pinched and she looked like she was trying to reorganize her thoughts and her view of the world by sheer willpower alone.
"I...We'll discuss this later. It's good news though. Yes, of course it’s good news! Just tell me when something like this happens, Gaara. Please. I was...I was rather worried."
Gaara examined her in silence for awhile, face inscrutable. "I can see that," he finally said. "I'm sorry."
"Oh." Temari made a weak 'never mind' gesture she obviously didn't mean. "Don't worry about it, and we'll talk about all this when I- I mean, when Kankuro and I have had a chance to, ah, get used to the idea. I..."
Temari looked at them both, and her expression slowly changed, from lightly dazed to serious and guarded.
"I do have one request," she said, and she sounded like the Jounin rather than the bewildered sister. "It's something I want you two to promise me. Please be discreet. Very discreet. Don't let anybody else know what's going on. Don't ask me why," she added with a small cutting gesture as Gaara made to speak. "There are reasons. Please."
Gaara glanced at Lee, who nodded quickly. At this point he was willing to promise Temari anything. She was taking it ten times better than he ever thought she would. Lee had counted on being discreet anyway. He didn't want to jeopardize his relation with the Suna Shinobi he worked with and who'd become his friends, not before he and Gaara were entirely certain where they stood as a couple. They'd been careful up until now. Except for the bit where Temari and Kankuro had caught them making out in the Kazekage's office.
Damn, they wouldn't be able to make out in Gaara's office anymore.
With Temari looking at him with that particular glint in her eye, waiting for him to say it out loud, it seemed a minor sacrifice.
"I promise," Lee said quickly. Gaara just nodded, it was almost more of a shrug.
"Right." Temari lost some of that dangerous look about her, and she smiled at her younger brother. "I was hoping to surprise you at lunchtime with Kankuro's return, Gaara, but I think you trumped me there. We'll have to get together with him later, once he's sober, and see what our plans regarding Sound will be."
"I'll go read his report." Gaara moved towards the door, but Temari stopped him with "Just a minute."
She carefully settled her fan fully back into its harness, as if this required all her concentration. Then she turned around and gave Lee a sudden hug, startling him nearly to death. She dropped a couple of sisterly pats on his shoulder and whispered: "I won’t tell you what I’ll do to you if you hurt him, because it will be indescribable. And I don’t need to, right? Because you won't.”
Lee shook his head quickly.
She released him, gave him a warm smile, walked over to Gaara and gave him a hug as well, to the latter's surprise. Lee saw her lips move near Gaara's ear. Then she was throwing the door open and marching out, muttering something about stopping Kankuro from getting totally smashed, if it meant she had to empty the bottle herself.
Gaara stared at the door, then at Lee. He'd caught the shock, tension and muted, confused approval from his siblings, but Lee didn't think Gaara really knew what to make of any of it.
Lee smiled at him. He was trying for reassuring, but it came out a bit weak.
"We did have to tell them sooner or later. That went rather well!"
Gaara frowned at the door. "What did she say to you?"
"She asked me to take care of you," Lee paraphrased carefully. "What did she say to you?"
"That if I ever got really upset, I was to come talk to her or Kankuro before doing anything permanent. Presumably she meant if I got upset with you, but in that case, wouldn't you be the one to resolve the issue? What could she or Kankuro do?"
Gaara gave him a look, the kind that requested that Lee make sense now. "Be there? They're there already, except when they're on missions. What do you mean?"
Over a year ago, the Kazekage that Lee had known had never asked that sort of question. He'd never bothered with subtleties such as figures of speech, and rarely tried to understand the finer details of the way the people around him interacted.
Welcome to the human race...
"It's a family thing. Don't worry about it. If you ever need them, you'll understand."
End part Nineteen
Next week, another side story: the reaction of the sibs through Kankuro's POV.