Completely different style of chapter than the previous chapter. It's twice as long, but took me half the time to write, or less. What that says about me...it was a lot of fun to write, in a crazy way, and that's the spirit to read it in; just some lemony fun ^_^
Warnings: NC17. Some rough stuff.
Posted in two parts.
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 Twenty Two: Beautiful Dangerous Creature
Lee checked his equipment again. It was easier on the nerves than watching his boyfriend stand on top of an electrical pole two streets away. Not that Gaara would fall. He was a Shinobi after all, Lee reminded himself, and then reminded himself again when the gathering wind made the metal pole vibrate.
So, equipment check. Lee was wearing tough Sand Jounin clothes, gloves, and boots too; he wasn't used to the latter, his toes were complaining.
He glanced up again almost reluctantly. Gaara was still standing on the crossbar near the wire connector, straight as a sword, arms crossed, the gourd a familiar part of his silhouette. The growing wind suddenly blasted his coat out behind him. Lee forced himself to calm down and to stay hidden behind the large decorative terracotta pot that was giving him some shelter on the roof he'd picked. The electrical pole was the one on top of Gaara's house, the highest point in the bloody village no less, and the whole of Sunagakure was tumbling vertiginously at Gaara's feet, but even if he fell, he'd be able to catch himself; he was the Kazekage after all, and besides he wasn't going to fall in the first place, even if the wind was picking up something fierce.
Lee conscientiously checked his water pack in one pouch, his rations and weapons in another. He had a thick outer cloak that gave him an extra layer of protection, a veil to cover his features and brand new sand goggles. He also had standing orders from Kankuro and Gaara to not use any of the above and to stay safely in his room, but Lee was choosing to ignore those.
Well, it hadn't actually been an order from Gaara. Not directly from Gaara, Lee told himself reassuringly, as his conscience tried to prick him. It had just been a hurried note telling Lee to stay indoors and not follow him. It hadn't even come with a please. Gaara was probably expecting him to ignore it. Right.
Lee's eyes were drawn to the distant figure again. He wondered what Gaara was feeling right now. Lee hadn't seen him in two days, and he missed him more than he reasonably should for a mere forty-eight hours. Forty-eight hours since Gaara had trailed off in the middle of a sentence, stood up, made his way slowly to the window and, in a queer voice full of restraint and expectation, had said: "There's a sandstorm coming."
It was the first storm of the autumn season and it was early, so there had been a lot to organize. The herbarium had to be sealed and boarded, houses and roofs caulked, storm shutters checked, outlying patrols warned...
Lee had stayed out of Gaara's way by tacit agreement, just making sure that his boyfriend knew he could call upon the Jounin if he needed anything at all. Lee hadn't been surprised when Gaara did not avail himself of the offer. The Kazekage had been very busy, but the real reason they kept their distances during those two days was that approaching sandstorms made Gaara twitchy, irritable and a bit strange. Lee knew better now, but during last year's storm seasons, Lee hadn't always had the wisdom and knowledge to back down and leave well enough alone. It was hardly his style anyway. They'd had some pretty spectacular arguments as a result.
But despite this, when the storms struck, Lee would always go out and follow the Kazekage, 'watching his back' as he put it. There was no conceivable reason why he would stop doing so now that they were friends and lovers. Really, what were Kankuro and Gaara thinking? (Fortunately Temari was in Konoha working with Tsunade on their plans for Sound, because she would have made it abundantly clear what she was thinking, and then would probably have locked Lee in his room under guard to boot).
Lee watched the distant figure of his lover and Gaara watched the approaching storm. Lee could see it coming now. It was thundering towards Sunagakure like a tsunami in this waterless land. The wind was already buffeting him, sending forerunners of sand to gather in the folds of his cloak. The air smelt of dust, dry wind and ozone. Lee made sure that every inch of his skin was covered by the clothes, cloak, gloves and veil, and pulled on the goggles.
In his mind, he was rehearsing the various stages he'd become familiar with during the previous storm seasons. Gaara would stay on his roof for a little while after the storm hit (though hopefully not on that bloody electrical pylon), while his chakra gathered and grew wild and dangerous, reminding Lee of the Old Gaara. Then the Kazekage would stalk off into the storm.
And Lee would follow him, at a safe distance.
The distant figure casually stepped off of the pole's crossbar into thin air, giving Lee a mild heart attack. Gaara dropped gracefully to the roof, approached the balustrade and stared out at the wave about to hit.
Lee frowned. Gaara's chakra felt different than last storm season; it was more modulated. It normally rose with the savage wind.
The early-morning sunshine was dying, devoured by jaws of encroaching dust blown ahead of the storm. Lee stared until he couldn't see Gaara anymore, but he could feel a faint pulse of chakra from that direction, if he trained his senses hard enough.
Let go, love, Lee thought, feeling a tiny flare of wild power seething from the man he could no longer see. Let go, it's okay. I'll be right here with you, and I'll make sure you're safe.
At least that had been the plan. Then the storm hit.
With an inward sigh, Lee thought of the citizens of Suna huddled inside their homes. Nobody deliberately went out into sandstorms. Nobody but their Kazekage, and an idiotic Leaf Jounin who just couldn't bear to leave him by himself.
The wind lashed at Lee, showering him with sand at high velocity. Even through the thick clothes and cloak, it stung a bit. Lee barely noticed, since it would take considerably more discomfort than that to register with him. His only concern was getting lost. Gaara had predicted that this storm would be violent and last the day, and Lee wanted to be sure he spent that time as was his self-appointed duty, watching Gaara's back, not staggering around in circles and running into things.
It was proving more difficult than last year. Gaara's chakra was flaring and leaking, but it wasn't the insane boil that had drawn an alarmed Lee out into the storm that first time. In the fury of the elements, Lee had lost Gaara twice now, and only found him through luck and by hurtling forward blindly in what he hoped was the right direction until he picked up traces of his lover again.
Lee felt something looming to his right. He narrowed his eyes through the goggles. It was ten in the morning, yet the sunlight was almost gone. He couldn't see very far, but he could sense something large and dark up ahead. He walked forward prudently, and a wall of granite detached itself from the flowing sands.
Ah, he knew where he was then, Lee thought proudly. He recognized this particular battlement, a piece of rock anchoring a brick wind-wall that directed the fury of storms away from- wait a minute, that meant that Gaara was heading towards the canyon and the desert beyond. Damn it-
Lee frowned, twisting on himself and glancing over his shoulder. The wind appeared to be blowing from all directions at once, buffeting him, ripping the cloak around his legs. Through the fury of the storm, Gaara's chakra seemed to be coming from behind him. But Lee had been following the Kazekage. Hell, he must have gotten turned around again.
He left the slight shelter of the outcropping, stretched out a hand and his senses and moved towards the sinister tingling in the air that was his lover. He didn't want to lose Gaara in all this, especially if the Kazekage was heading out of Suna's immediate defence perimeter.
The aura was behind him again.
Lee felt his skin prickle beneath the tough clothes.
The wind hissed, pushing the sluggish sand against his legs. Lee realized he could see a couple of yards ahead now. He could make out the stone outcropping to his right and the wall dropping away from it, even though he was several feet away. The wind was dying.
That meant he was in trouble.
Lee swallowed and glanced over his shoulder. The wild, pulsing chakra was all around him now. He still couldn't see much, just the dark shape of the rock a few feet away, and the wall of sand and wind around him. He did a full turn on himself-
Gaara was standing right in front of him, well into his personal space.
Lee yelped and jumped back instinctively. Gaara didn't move. Around them, the sand-heavy wind seemed to be laughing wildly.
"G-Gaara?" A shiver of tension ran through Lee's body. Gaara had always ignored him during previous storms.
"Why am I even surprised?"
Gaara's voice, barely audible above the howling gale, held an unusual edge of irony. It matched the cruel, crooked upturn of one corner of his mouth. His eyes were wide, pupils small and hard, and he didn't seem to notice the sand blowing against him.
He took a step closer. Lee took a step back, trying to make it look casual. He could feel the presence of the rock escarpment behind him, boxing him in.
"I guess I'm not surprised at that." Gaara came to a halt not even a foot from Lee. Eyes narrowed and the smirk widened. A finger reached out slowly, as if daring Lee to bolt. It touched the edge of his goggles. "You always disobey my orders."
"Why do I like that?" Gaara's finger fell from the goggles and pulled the veil away from Lee's face.
Lee couldn't answer for a rather technical reason. He quickly lifted his hand to cup around his nose, to avoid breathing in sand and dust. The other hand reached for his veil to pull it back up.
There was a soft 'woosh', and Lee's ears suddenly rang.
He gasped, fingers still fishing blindly for the edge of his veil, which was hanging limply near his face instead of being blown straight out by the wind. As he gaped like a suddenly landed fish, Gaara reached over and lifted up his goggles, settling them against Lee's forehead.
Lee blinked and glanced around wildly. The sand from the storm had come to a screeching halt in a circle around them, arrested ten feet away by the massive chakra exerted by his boyfriend. The sand's unnatural immobility was acting as a makeshift wind breaker, allowing rough breezes and small dust devils to curve through their shelter, but bending the full force of the storm around them. Lee tried to imagine the kind of power that could do that and ran out of estimates.
"Hi Gaara," he said a bit weakly, focusing back on his boyfriend. "I'm sorry to have interrupted your walk." You can go on doing whatever it was you were doing, was the message Lee hoped to convey.
Gaara stared at him, as if his words had been in a foreign language that he knew, but it required his concentration to understand Lee's meaning.
Lee hesitated. He didn't know how to handle this. Last year, he'd followed Gaara like a naturalist followed a tiger through a jungle; trying to not let his presence impact on the dangerous creature in its natural habitat. In turn, the Kazekage had ignored him - though Lee felt pretty sure Gaara had known he was there - and had continued walking in the near-solid sand with that wild look in his eyes and power wrapped around him, dangerous and volatile. Lee had kept to his safe distance with utmost respect. He'd known even back then that Gaara was unpredictable in these circumstances, and might well try to wing him just for the fun of it if Lee got too close.
Gaara had never turned around and come after him, though.
Lee looked at the other man as clinically as he could. Gaara didn't look menacing; he didn't look like he was even angry at Lee, despite his first words. He was studying the Jounin and he looked fairly rational, though the pulse and ebb of chakra around him told Lee that he might not have quite the grip he appeared to. He seemed...different. His hair was wild and wind-blown, and seemed a starker shade of red in the half-light, his eyes were wide and oddly fixed, his mouth curved, more expressive than it usually was, but of what emotions Lee could not tell. He seemed brighter, somehow. Beautiful, dangerous and just...more.
Lee realized that he hadn't actually thought how Gaara would behave if they ran into each other in the storm. It had happened before, during the previous storm seasons. On those occasions, Gaara would ignore him and Lee would creep away, chilled by those traces of the Old Gaara he saw. But now...he'd not factored their relationship into this.
Gaara's fingers picked at the edge of Lee's cloak, as if he was examining Lee's protective attire. "Interesting," he murmured.
Lee swallowed, in part to clear his ears, which were aching from the sudden change of pressure and from the beat of the wind hammering air into their refuge. Gaara's power pushed upwards and let a faint reflected sunshine leak through the storm above. In that charged atmosphere, Gaara's words were utterly clear, despite the wind howling around them. The air inside the bubble was dead and hollow, and each sound- the creak of sand beneath Gaara's sandals, the flutter of his coat, Lee's quick, shallow breaths - sounded abnormally loud.
"I can feel you following me," Gaara said, removing his hand and staring at Lee, unblinking. He was still too close to Lee, closer than Gaara normally stood to people. It was keeping Lee off-balance. "It's annoying. Like a mouse scurrying under the floorboards."
"Mouse?" Lee huffed, before his brain could tell him to shut the hell up.
The ghost of a strange smile briefly twisted Gaara's lips. "Mouse," he murmured. The power emanating from him seemed to curl around Lee, mocking the Jounin with the difference between their levels. "But maybe..."
Something flickered across Gaara's face, a frown, then the strange expression was back again and Gaara's fist slowly knotted in Lee's cloak.
"Maybe we can play. Show me you're not a mouse. I know you can. That might be fun." Gaara's voice was no longer quite a monotone, but it had inflections Lee had never heard before.
"Play?" Lee said cautiously. "What do you mean?"
"A sparring match. You're always hounding me for one." Gaara's eyes twitched to one side briefly. Flickers of expression lit his face and disappeared too fast for Lee to follow, as if Gaara was listening to objections, encouragements and laughter on the wind that Lee couldn't hear. "How about it?"
"Or you can go."
Lee found himself pressed back against the stone outcropping, Gaara's hand shoving him back contemptuously. "We either spar, or you leave, but I will not have you trailing after me like a little mouse." The fist shoved him back again as counterpoint.
For a second, Lee was almost tempted. His heart beat faster, his fists itched in their gloves at the idea of taking on Gaara when the latter might actually really cut loose and stop being so terrified of hurting Lee- plus the 'mouse' thing burned a bit. But no. Lee wasn't that crazy, or that stupid. Fighting with Gaara in this condition would be way too dangerous, and if Lee got injured, Gaara would blame himself.
"Gaara, we can't spar, we're in the middle of a sandstorm," he pointed out in a reasonable tone.
Gaara's lips twisted and he stepped back, dropping his hand from Lee's cloak and turning away dismissively. "Then leave, Leaf. Run away, and don't stop running until you get home."
"Home- Konoha?" Lee asked dumbly, since Gaara had mentioned 'Leaf'-
The sound that erupted in their bubble of air was like the feral snarl of a saw biting into granite. Chakra flared like sudden wildfire. Lee's arms were in front of his eyes, protecting his face from the crash of sand. It hadn't been aimed at him, fortunately, but it had scarred the stone around him and knocked down part of the brick wall a few feet away. His muscles hummed, ready to wrench him out of danger- but the wild chaotic surge of power was already fading. With what sounded like a growl, the chakra-rich Sand of the gourd eased itself away and back into its container.
Lee lowered his arms prudently. Gaara's face was six inches away; he was staring at Lee unblinking, and he had both fists knotted in Lee's cloak now.
"You will not leave this village," Gaara said in a low, dangerous growl. "If you go, you will go back to my home, my bed and wait for me there."
Lee's heart was still in his mouth, but he ignored it, and the violent grip and the way the cork still hadn't slipped itself back into the gourd's opening. Because he realized that what Gaara was giving him was an out. Lee had a choice.
He'd never actually wondered much what Gaara looked for in these storms; why he let his power boil out from him like this when the wind started to blow. He didn't really know how badly Gaara lost it. It was tempting to think he walked around in this fury and let the Old Gaara loose, or maybe even parts of Shukaku, but then if that was true, he really would be dangerous, and he would not be giving Lee the option to leave now.
However strange and unhinged and wild this Gaara was - however much Lee liked to think of this as the Old Gaara...it wasn't, not really. He was as feral as his younger self had been, as dangerous perhaps, as volatile as the thing that had lurked beneath the Armour years ago, but this wasn't the child-killer who'd maimed Lee; this was the young man who was his lover. And since he was giving Lee a way out...conversely, it meant that Lee couldn't leave.
"I'm not going. But I'm not sparring either!" Lee added hastily. "I'm sticking with you though. Orochimaru might have heard that you like to walk around in storms- and I know there are often strange creatures- erm, animals walking around in these sorts of- I mean-" Dammit, he was getting tongue tied under that unblinking gaze. "Anyway, I'm not leaving. Maybe we can, um, walk around together? If you don't want me following. But I'm not leaving you alone out here. You need someone to watch your back."
"Watch. My. Back." Gaara said it as if trying to fit the words into an order that made sense. And then he laughed.
Lee went right back to feeling one hundred percent undiluted worry, because he'd heard Gaara laugh once before, pretty much like that, and Lee had almost lost the use of his limbs and his life as a result.
But the laugh became a more relaxed chuckle - still completely at odds from his usually serious Gaara. It made him sound a bit like Kankuro. The look he was giving Lee was weird, but it wasn't manic, and Lee's sense of danger crept back to somewhat acceptable levels.
"Watch my back. Lee. Lee...This is the one place I don't need you to watch my back. Not here. They can't get me here."
Lee was about to ask a question, one of many, but he hastily closed his mouth and eyes as a brisk, sandy wind broke through Gaara's barrier. Lee protected his face with one hand and glanced around cautiously through his fingers. The sand was curling loosely around Gaara in a helix, as the Kazekage took two steps back. He had one hand out, and the sand looped around it obediently.
"I like it out here...the power..."
Gaara stepped away and turned. He idly jerked at the harness that loosened the gourd on his back, and he swung it down to the ground with a challenging thump, eyes hard on the storm around them, as if he was watching an advancing enemy. The wind blew and raged in a circle around them.
"They would never attack me in a storm," Gaara said over his shoulder. "This is my domain. They know their limits. Human limits. The sand would leech the blood from their bodies before they got within a hundred feet."
"Huh-" Lee sneezed as some dust tickled his nose. "Who-"
Gaara spun around away from Lee and threw out his hands, fingers twisting into claws.
"You should have known your limits. You shouldn't have tried to kill me. You were too weak! You never stood a chance!" Gaara suddenly shouted, and the storm and sand screamed with him.
The spike of power that ensued made their shelter ring like a bell. A momentary avalanche of wind and sand swept through it. Lee was knocked back against the rock, and he let himself fall, glad to have its solidity at his back. He stayed crouched as the wind died down; the sand drifted to the ground, curled and played at the Kazekage's feet, danced for him as he glanced at it.
"They're dead now," Gaara said. "They all died, and they never even scratched me. And the rest of them left me alone, they were terrified-...You're not afraid of me though. Are you?"
A slightly unsteady note had entered Gaara's voice as he glanced back, and Lee fell over himself to answer. "No! No, of course not."
"Good...Because...I can..." Gaara's face had gone still, eyes wide. "I can...protect us. I can protect us."
"Oh that's good, um, Gaara, who-"
Gaara spun around and was crouched in front of Lee before the latter could utter more than a startled gasp. Lee overbalanced, trying to reign in his fight-or-flight reactions, and sat down with a thump. The power roiled off of Gaara, an almost palpable thing. Lee had never seen him move so fast.
Gaara's eyes were fever-bright, there was a look of concentration and wonder on his face. "Do you understand? Lee! Do you understand?!"
"I can protect us! They will never harm us! I can protect us both! Do you see? Do you see?!"
Lee, mouth hanging open, stared at his lover. Hands grasped his shoulders and shook him sharply, making his teeth click.
"Do you see?" Gaara asked, eyes intent on Lee's face. "I can protect us both. I can protect you, Lee. I can give this to you. I can give this. They will never touch you!"
"Who? Sound?" Lee asked weakly. He didn't think Gaara was talking about Sound.
Gaara got up and spun around-
An unimaginable blast of pure power shattered the strange calm of their eye of the storm. It screamed through the still air, hurled itself out, smashed the wall of sand around them and shouldered back the winds wrapped around their cocoon, leaving a large concentric ring of roiling dust and eerie, breathless silence.
Lee felt a prickle in his sinuses as the massive chakra pulse dwindled. A heartbeat- then the wind and sand came rushing back towards them like a killing tide. Lee scrambled to get his goggles and veil on, but the power of the storm once more crashed and broke against the wall of chakra surrounding his lover. A weak wind sprinkled Lee with a few handfuls of grit and a piece of dried cactus, and then it curled up obediently around Gaara's feet.
Gaara was panting harshly. It sounded like excitement as much as exertion.
"There," he told the invisible enemy out there. "Don't come near him. He's mine! He's mine."
Thank god we weren't in the middle of the village, Lee thought, his heart still thumping with shock. That blast of raw power might have knocked a house down. Or perhaps not; the conical shape of Suna's houses protected them against the strongest storm winds, and might have deflected some of that intensity- Lee was just glad it hadn't been put to the test though.
"He's...mine..." Gaara repeated hoarsely.
Then he turned towards Lee, and apparently 'they' were forgotten, whoever they'd been. Gaara's concentration was on Lee exclusively. Lee held himself still, sitting back to the rock, ignoring his survival instincts which were telling him to get casually to his feet, edge away and then start running like hell.
Gaara walked towards him with the slow, dragging steps of a sleepwalker. The storm pressed against their shelter, sending sand and a few gusts to blow Gaara's coat about his body and Lee's cloak against the rock behind him before they were sealed off again.
Gaara crouched before him. His eyes had never left Lee's.
"You're mine," Gaara said, but this time the affirmation held within it a tentative question.
"Yes," Lee said firmly.
A sharp inhale parted Gaara's lips; he leaned forward and the sigh that followed was sensuous. He caressed Lee's bared cheek with the back of his fingers.
"I've never had anyone who was mine before..."
Gaara's eyes dropped to Lee's throat, his chest. His hand followed his gaze; he pushed aside the thick cloak and dragged his palm and finger's down Lee's sternum with the brash delight of a child who'd been told not to touch and was doing so anyway.
An instant later, that same hand was fastened around Lee's chin, jerking his head up. So fast! Lee blinked, more in surprise than pain, though if he'd been an average person, the wrenching gesture would have hurt a little.
"But it had to be you. You see that. Right?"
This was a different aspect of Gaara yet again. There was something cold and ancient about him now, and his eyes held the wisdom of crows on a battlefield.
"What?" Lee whispered, and wondered why he was still bothering trying to keep a toe-hold in this conversation, if it could be called that.
"It had to be you." Gaara's voice flowed easily and with undertones of steely certainty. "The others wouldn't dare. They're afraid of me."
Gaara said it with cynical satisfaction, which made Lee blink. Apparently this version of Gaara didn't worry about the fear he generated; it sounded like he enjoyed it.
"And there aren't many who could challenge me as you do. Who would have the guts to do it. Maybe Naruto. But he was afraid of me too, to start with. And he frightened me...He beat me, he broke me inside..." The last words were a mutter.
"But he's your friend now," Lee objected automatically, then spluttered as sand got into his mouth, blown on one of the faint breezes that made it through the wall of sand and power.
"And Sasuke...the first person to make me bleed...he had very beautiful eyes. So intent. So desperate. He was lucky to survive, though, because he really wasn't strong enough. I can't believe he's still alive. Something that brittle should have broken long ago."
Lee wondered if Gaara had even heard him.
"But you...Even back then." The grip on his chin tightened, possessive, and something in Gaara's unblinking stare made Lee swallow and stare back in fascination.
"Even when I was in the darkness, living only for myself, I still noticed you, Rock Lee. During the Chuunin exam. You were the first. You touched me. You made me feel pain. You were glorious."
The fingers abruptly released him. They rose to trace Lee's nose, his cheeks, his lips...
"I wanted to kill you so badly afterwards," Gaara added, his voice soft with longing and shot through with malice that was so pure it was strangely innocent.
Lee stared at him, chilled as much by the dark desire in that voice as the words.
"...but he stepped in and stopped me. He protected you both times." Gaara's face twisted into a dangerously fixed expression. "He had you, you had him. Beloved comrade..." it was barely more than a movement of the lips.
Gaara's fists had slammed into the stone on either side of Lee's head.
"But you love me more than him now. Don't you?!"
"Yes," Lee answered hoarsely, mouth dry with the sudden shock. He wondered if it was his imagination or if he'd really felt the rock crack beneath Gaara's blow.
"Yes," Gaara murmured sensuously. "Yes, you do."
Lee nodded vigorously, with a silent apology to Gai-sensei. Not that he didn't love Gaara more than his teacher. Sort of. Well, it wasn't the same thing at all, really, not the same kind of love, he did love Gaara more, but it sounded wrong to put it in those terms-
That being said, arguing semantics at this point would be calamitous. As well as really, really stupid.
"You love me." It was a straight statement, but behind it lurked a hint of awe and wonder that captured all of Lee's attention again. "And you dared. You dared to reach out and touch me again, and get even closer."
The wind and sand whispered around them; the storm's mindless fury seemed a lot further than just a few feet away. Gaara's words fell into that strange near-hush, slow, with pauses between the sentences as if other, unheard voices were whispering in his mind. "You touched me. You opened the door. I didn't know. I had no idea...how you could make me feel."
A kiss interrupted Lee's self-conscious mumble. It was hard, and teeth unexpectedly nipped at his lip. Lee started, and licked at the small sting without thinking when Gaara leaned back. The green eyes were fixed on his tongue and Gaara's mouth opened in a soundless, breathless 'hah'.
Lee suddenly had a bad feeling about this.
Link to the second part