Naruto Fic: Diplomatic Relations, Epilogue
Disclaimer: The usual, I don't own, I make no money off of this, only a good deal of fun ^_^
Lee bounced along the rooftops, filled with the slight euphoria of one who'd exercised a bit more than the doctors advised, but enough to knock the cramps out and get the blood running. His arm hurt a little bit, but a warrior did not stoop to notice such minor details.
He landed on the roof's parapet, a few feet above his open window. He could have just as easily come in through the front door, but he couldn't pass up the chance to practice one of his sensei's signature techniques. He leapt down, somersaulted in mid-air and vaulted into the room with a splendid Dynamic Entry kick.
And then he screeched to a halt on the hardwood floor. His room was empty! Except for the furniture that had been here when he'd arrived- but all of his things were gone.
Three minutes later, Lee was at Gaara's house, making spluttering noises.
"About time you showed up," Temari told him sternly, hanging a green uniform in the closet. "I can't believe you were out training that long. Didn't the medics tell you to take it easy?"
All his belongings were in boxes and crates stacked near the door of the large room, or else had been put away. Temari breezed past him to pick up some more clothes. Kankuro was sorting out a knot in an electrical cord, sitting in the chair by the desk. There was no sign of Gaara, but presumably he knew about this, this being his house and all.
"What are you gaping at?" Temari asked, breezing right past him again. "We agreed that you should move in here when the time was right."
"Is that now?!" Lee blurted out, finally recovering his coherency.
"As good a time as any. The new Envoy's arriving tomorrow, and we're giving him your old room. We let it be known that you're looking for a new place, but that you're staying with Gaara in the meantime because you're injured and need a bit of help managing. Everybody knows that you two are friends, so it doesn't sound too weird. It will get them used to the idea, so that when they finally figure it out, it will be too late to say anything openly, and we'll have kept up a modicum of appearance." Temari gave him a Look. "Of course, for appearance's sake, we had to put you two in separate rooms. You and my brother will respect this arrangement for the time being."
Since this was Temari, she didn't add a 'hope you don't mind', or 'play along please'. She really didn't have to.
Lee scrubbed the back of his neck, trying to fit this turn of events into his head. Sure, they'd talked about this before, the four of them; the subject had come up only a few days ago, while they were on their way back from Stone Country with the forces from Sunagakure. It hadn't been a very long discussion at all. Temari had seemed to think it was obvious that after Sound's defeat, the two young men would move in together eventually. Kankuro had whispered that she was compensating for something. Lee hadn't understood, and Kankuro had shut up when Temari had glanced his way. Lee had been a bit dazed at the suggestion, but he'd been fine with it, since he'd assumed that 'eventually' would be in a few months; not two days after they got back.
At the time, Gaara had simply said 'fine', adding that he was tired of creeping around to have sex, and that was when Temari had quickly changed the subject, and it hadn't been brought up since.
Lee didn't mind this happening now, once the shock had abated somewhat, but he was glad the siblings were putting him in this room; a guest room, he supposed, though it was bigger and better appointed than Gaara's was, in a wing a bit off from the reception room, up a small flight of elegant wooden stairs. Temari seemed to think that the two lovers would be yearning to share a bed right off the bat. Lee thought of the nights of the full moon, of Gaara's sleepless habits, of the darkness that could still lurk, savage and dangerous, beneath his control at times. No, it was probably good they had their separate territories to start with. One day, they could actually move in together and live as a couple, but this was a fine compromise for now. They had the time...their whole future, if their luck and their youthful determination stayed true. The thought made Lee a bit dizzy, as it had every time it had occurred to him since that trip back from Konoha over two months ago.
"This okay, man?" Kankuro asked, looking up at Lee. His tone said very clearly: 'I thought we should ask you first, but my sister put me up to this. Still, with two of us standing up to her...'
"Oh yes. Well no! You two should have waited for me and let me help! You did all the work!" Lee exclaimed, turning around and reaching for a crate.
The reaction was immediate.
"Put that down at once!" Temari growled right in his ear. "Are you insane? Do you have a thing for pain? Don't use that arm!"
Lee dropped the crate at once, heart thumping. When had Temari mastered the Instant Transport Jutsu? He could have sworn she was across the room near the dresser, fussing over a stain in one of his green outfits. He turned towards her with what he hoped was a conciliating smile rather than a flinch when he caught the deadly gleam in her eyes.
"The arm is fine, Temari."
"The arm is broken, Lee."
"Only a little bit. It's a lot better now, the medi-nin have encouraged bone growth in the break, and-"
He'd illustrated his point by waving his cast around in a wide gesture. Temari's glare informed him that if he ever did that kind of movement around her again, she'd put his entire body in a splint until the bone was completely mended. Lee carefully slipped the arm back into its sling again, trying to act as if he used the support all the time, when in fact he'd been doing without it most of the day. He'd actually been hoisting weights with that hand during his training earlier, trying to strengthen the biceps without using the forearm too much, but if Temari ever found that out, she'd quadruple the size of his leg weights and pin him to the ground.
"That's why we didn’t wait for you," Temari told him, still bristling. "We didn't want you aggravating your injury, so we helped you move in."
"What she means is, I moved you in, and she told me where to put stuff," Kankuro commented from under the desk as he plugged in the lamp. Lee was actually glad to hear this; Temari had also been injured during the attack on Sound, a blow to the side which made it painful for her to lift her left arm or bend. It would have been really unchivalrous for Lee to have let her do all the work in those conditions, although it wasn't as if she'd left him much of a choice.
Temari seemed to misinterpret Lee's dubious look. "Don't worry, Kankuro can move everything around again if the order I put them in isn't to your liking."
There was a muffled "Oy" from beneath the desk.
"Are you sure about this?" Lee asked, staring dubiously at his cactus plant which had found a new home on a display case meant for a delicate bonsai.
"Of course, it's absolutely no problem. Kankuro, get out here. Is it the dresser? I though it would look nicer near the window, but we can move it-"
There was a muffled thud from under the desk and Kankuro emerged, rubbing his head. "Now wait just a min-"
"No, no, it's fine as it is!" Lee said hastily. "What I meant is-....are you sure Suna is ready? For this?"
Understanding lit Temari's eyes. "Now's the time to do it. At this point, we can still pretend that you two are just friends, and people will have a hard time questioning this arrangement openly, even if those damn rumours continue to spread."
"Gimme a break, half the village knows already," Kankuro sniffed, back under the desk and plugging in the cord from Lee's electric tea-kettle.
"What?!" Lee squawked.
Kankuro crawled back out, dusted off his knees and stood up, giving Lee a twisted smirk.
"Sorry, buddy, it's no longer a secret. Between the rumours, our spontaneous trip to Konoha a couple months back and everything- though I gotta say, what topped it off was the snakes."
"What snakes?" Lee croaked, half of his horrified mind going over the looks he'd been getting from the Shinobi he'd met recently, which he'd supposed up until now to be looks of sympathy for his injuries. Oh dear, he'd even told Izakaya-san, his neighbour, to not worry about him, that he was in top shape and exercising daily with Gaara. He'd only meant stretching and gentle callisthenics, of course...She'd stared at him and made the strangest face and said 'oh good' before turning around and hurrying off...
"The snake-things that attacked us when we broke into Sound's base," Kankuro explained, oblivious to Lee's stunned expression. "The guys who morphed into those big snakes, after Orochimaru had put the poor bastards through that lab of his. His trump cards. Those ugly sons of a bitch would have done us a lot of damage, if you n' Gaara hadn't taken them out." Kankuro was hauling Lee's weights onto their special reinforced stand with an appreciative heft. "You gotta let me borrow these some day. Anyway, the way you two ploughed through those critters together, attack, defence, one giving ground while the other pounded them like clockwork...all of Unit B was there, and for a Shinobi, it was like watching the pair of you make out."
"Kankuro," Temari growled, shooting her brother a scandalized glare.
"Well it was. Until that one snake-guy did for Lee's arm. Anybody dim enough to have missed the making-out part would have clued in when they saw the look on Gaara's face. Scared even me. A bit. That was one dead snake-guy in the end."
Lee made a strangled noise that was part embarrassment, part distress at the memory. The resistance had been stronger than they'd anticipated. He'd had to open three of his gates, but the enemy seemed to know his moves all too well. They'd waited for the moment when his strength ebbed and Gaara was shielding him to launch a concerted attack on the Kazekage that would get around even the Sand Barrier. Where Lee found the energy to suddenly be between Gaara and danger was beyond him. All he knew was that the next moment, he was slammed against a wall, his arm was broken, and there was a look on Gaara's face. The rest...well, that had indeed been one very dead snake-guy. Orochimaru's seals and forbidden jutsus had not only turned his men into monsters, it had given them an extremely advanced healing ability, but that could not compensate for being, well, 'shredded' would be an adequate word...
He hadn't actually thought of what might have been revealed by the chakra screaming through the air in lethal rage, protecting him in plain view of all those Sand Shinobi dealing with the more conventional Sound troops around them.
"Do you think they mind?" he croaked.
"Some of the guys in my unit were morbidly curious," Kankuro admitted carelessly. "I didn’t actually confirm it for them, but I didn't really need to. They seemed okay with it for the most."
For the most. Great. Lee had the feeling he was going to be ruminating over that 'most' and who it might exclude for the next few restless nights.
Then Temari stepped in front of him with her hands on her hips and a stern look on her face.
"Lee, you are going to meet with some hostility. I think that's inevitable. You're mature enough to not let any provocation get to you," she said in a grim voice that was more an order than a compliment on his level-headedness. "And they'll get used to the idea. It's not like we're giving them a choice, because-"
Temari broke off, reached past Lee to pick up the last of his uniforms and marched over to the cupboard.
"If anybody gives you more trouble than you think you can handle," she said with her back turned, "you just inform me. Kankuro and I will help you deal with the matter. We think you and my brother make a good team, and we won't let anybody mess with that out of some stupid left-over rivalry between our villages or for some imagined slight to Gaara."
It had been said with her head firmly in the dresser, so he couldn’t see her face, but it still made Lee feel a bit better about the whole of Sunagaruke knowing about his love-life, or on the verge of finding out.
"You shouldn't get any grief from my guys." Kankuro grabbed another crate and made a face as he discovered it was underwear. "You're putting this away yourself, man."
"I'll just carry it over here; you can stow them away in the drawer."
"Thanks." It wasn't the placing of the crate of underwear he was talking about. But Sand Shinobi didn't like to discuss emotional topics, so Lee let it drop. One day, he would find a way to thank them for their support.
Lee wandered into the kitchen, trying to wrap his mind around the fact that, in a way, it was now his kitchen too. Their kitchen. What a revolutionary concept...Everything looked different, somehow, and Lee felt like an intruder, something that had never even occurred to him when he was just over here having lunch with his boyfriend.
Lee had all the materials out for a sandwich before realizing that, despite the cumbersome feeling of being a stranger here, he already knew where everything was, and was making plans for filling up their fridge which was starting to look a bit empty.
He started putting together a sizeable snack; he'd not eaten since lunchtime, apart from ration bars, and it was almost midnight now. The siblings had left, with most of his belongings put away. The room still looked chaotic, but Lee would have the opportunity to tidy up in the coming days.
Lee hesitated, glanced at the clock on the kitchen wall, and then stared thoughtfully at the tidy pile of sandwiches. He nodded firmly to himself and assembled some more slices, with different ingredients and a lot less wasabi and radish.
A few minutes later, he landed in the courtyard of the administration compound. He trotted up to the guards, gave them his usual salute-
- and remembered that, if Kankuro was correct, they probably knew.
The guards were giving him strange looks. But that might have been because he'd gone a strong crimson colour and had nearly tripped over his own feet, and was now balancing the stack of sandwiches on a plate like a juggling act.
"You okay there, Lee-san?" one of them asked dryly.
"Y-yes! Of course! Never better!"
The guard gave him a steady look, and then went back to scrutinizing the night around them. "He's in his office," was all he said.
"Thank you," Lee croaked and hurried on, trying to shake the feeling he had the words 'Sleeping with your boss' emblazoned across his green uniform.
Five minutes later, he knocked on the door to Gaara's office, relieved he hadn't encountered anybody else.
Lee opened the door and poked his head and the plate of sandwiches in. "I brought something to eat. Are you hungry?"
Gaara put down the paper he'd been reading, leaned back in his chair and stretched. There'd been a slight nod somewhere in there too. Lee went to put the plate down on the desk and pull up a chair.
"The ones on the left aren't too strong," he said, as Gaara reached for a sandwich.
The Kazekage selected one from the left pile and bit into it. He looked tired, Lee judged. He knew the Kazekage had not slept since their return from Sound; there were a lot of details to take care of: injured forces to tally, missions to reassign, diplomatic fallout to manage. Names to carve into the smooth sandstone wall near the village's central well, Suna's version of the memorial stone. Their losses had been light, really, considering what they'd been up against. But Gaara would rather have had no casualties, a sentiment Lee shared.
Lee, who had been merely injured - a trifle, whatever Temari said - had made it his duty to try to cheer up his boyfriend, keep him distracted, and get him to eat regularly and take as much good, healing exercise as possible. And sleep, too, eventually. Maybe he could find a way of coaxing Gaara out of the office and back home to take a nap, if the Kazekage didn't have too much work on his plate.
"Is that anything I can help you with?" Lee asked hopefully, nodding at the paper Gaara had put down. Gaara shook his head.
"Oh." From the quality of his lover's silence, Lee had the feeling Gaara was planning another sleepless night, whatever Lee said about it. "Well...do you want me to go? If you need to work-"
"I need a break," Gaara said softly. "Stay."
"Okay," Lee agreed readily enough. He grabbed one of his own sandwiches and took a bite. The wasabi stung and made his eyes water, but Lee was too distracted to truly appreciate it, as he suddenly realized how naturally he'd thought of the Kazekage's residence as 'home' earlier. Their home...
He swallowed the bite and gave his lover a sharp look.
"Did you know your siblings moved us in together?"
"They did it without letting me help," Lee grumbled.
The silence that fell while they ate was companionable. Lee glanced at Gaara discreetly and felt better about the whole move thing. Not that moving in with the man he loved bothered him at all, but he was worried about other people's reactions. Ibiki's warning kept coming back to him. He wasn't concerned on his own account, but if Gaara's choice did something to damage his political influence or his reputation in Suna-...no, that just didn't bear thinking about.
It wouldn't happen! Lee would never accept being a liability to Gaara, and now that they'd done it, that they'd taken that step into the future together (or rather, been shoved forward by Gaara's sister), now Lee was even more determined! He would prove himself, he would show all of Suna that he was worthy of their Kazekage, nobody would be able to say that he was bringing Gaara down-
Lee blinked. Gaara nodded fractionally at Lee's hand. The Jounin followed the direction of Gaara's gaze, and realized that his fingers had clenched into a Fist of Resolution. Which was a pity for the sandwich he'd been holding.
Gaara wordlessly handed him a napkin. Lee could feel his boyfriend's gaze on him as he cleaned up the squashed bread and fillings as best he could with the other hand that was in plaster up to the palm.
"Don't worry," the Jounin said firmly, continuing his mental conversation aloud. "There's nothing to worry about. They'll all be fine with it. Um, you're not worried about Suna's reaction to my moving in with you. Are you?"
Gaara seemed faintly surprised at the question. "No."
"Good! Good. Er, why not?"
The Kazekage shrugged, picking up another sandwich. "We've been together for nearly four months now, and I haven't harmed you, or cracked and unleashed Shukaku or anything drastic. What should they have to worry about?"
Lee rolled his eyes. "That you've gotten together with someone from another village? That I might spy on you? That I might- might use my influence to- to-"
"Anybody who knows you will realize you are incapable of something like that," Gaara interrupted calmly. "Over the time you've spent here, my people have come to respect you. They'll understand that neither of us will compromise ourselves or our villages over our relationship; neither of us would ask the other to do so. If they don't understand this, then they'll learn."
That had slightly ominous undertones...
"You sure?" Lee asked, a bit dubiously.
"Considering how many people complained when they learned you were no longer the Envoy from Konoha, I'd say that your position in this village is fairly well established."
They didn’t know that my position involved living with you, hopefully until we're old and grey, Lee felt like pointing out. Then he remembered that if Kankuro was right, many of them did, in fact, know. "Oh."
"Several high-level Jounin have told me they'd prefer to continue working with you, when they learned you'd still be posted here," Gaara added. "You'll be doing a lot of the work, as well as regular Konoha missions."
Lee wondered if Tsunade-sama had known about the attitude of the senior Sand Jounin when she'd discussed sending her new Envoy to Suna, on the battlefield last week. Maybe that was why she'd changed the post of Liaison, making it largely diplomatic in nature now. The new Envoy would only live in Suna for a month in every four unless duty required him to make the trip; Lee was expected to be his factotum, and do some of the actual work, even if his security clearance no longer covered information on high-level diplomacy or involve him in any serious decision process. Lee didn't mind, as long as he was still useful. He would be glad to have a friend from Konoha around too, though he was just as glad, for the sake of that friend, that the latter wouldn't be living in Suna permanently; his team-mates would miss him.
Lee had nearly polished off his sandwiches, and was thinking of going to get some tea and fruit from the kitchens, when he heard noises from outside the building. The sound of running feet. Gaara turned his head towards the window. The lone runner screeched to an audible halt somewhere below them, in the courtyard.
"Hi guys! This the admin compound?"
Gaara's office was several stories up, but the window was open to the night breeze, and that voice was loud, cheerful and bright. And also familiar.
There was a small silence from outside. Gaara glanced at the clock on his desk and shook his head in faint exasperation.
"Who are you?" the guard finally asked, more quietly than the first speaker, but Lee's ears were pricked now.
The first voice was back, as clear and flamboyant as a trumpet. "I'm the new Envoy from Konoha! Uzumaki Naruto! Uzumaki's the name, diplomacy's the game, ha-ha. Say, is your boss around? I have letters for him. My first inter-village cooperation mission. Bring him letters. Well, sir, those letters are brought. B-rank mission. I think Granny Tsunade should have made it A-rank; there are a lot of Sound guys who managed to get out of Stone Country and are forming up small bands of outlaws on the borders. I didn't see any - lucky for them - but I might have. I might have had to fight my way through twenty of them. Thirty. Is Gaara around?"
"...We weren't expecting you until tomorrow. Sir."
"Oh? Yeah, I heard that Fuzzy-brow and Gaara made it from Suna to Konoha in about two and a half days, and Fuzzy-brows can make it in two if he pushes himself. Anything those two can do, I can damn well do too! Made it in two days and, um, seven hours, I think. Left at five on Monday...it's what, midnight now...? Um, yep, seven hours! How's that?!"
Gaara and Lee were at the window by now, side by side as they looked down into the courtyard. The entrance was off to their left and in a different wing, so they could see the sentries on the steps but only the back of the new Envoy. Lee recognized the guard who'd spoken as the one who'd been on duty that night when he'd arrived in Suna, nearly two years ago. The Sand Chuunin was examining the Konoha Shinobi before him, dressed in the orange jacket that was almost as loud as he was. The guard's expression, as he turned to nod at one of his colleagues, was that of a man who's already seen it all.
"We'll send someone to warn Captain Sanada, sir. I'll show you to your office, shall I? And then you can go give the Kazekage those letters. He'll be in his office. Lee-san should be there as well, if you need to touch base with him."
"Unless you're tired?" the guard added, as if remembering a useless formality.
"Me? Tired? Nah!"
Lee thought Naruto stumbled up the steps more than he climbed them, but he was straight as an arrow again when the guard glanced back.
"You know, I still don't understand why Tsunade-sama chose Naruto-kun," Lee reflected, glancing at Gaara. "If this is going to be a mostly diplomatic position now, wouldn't someone a bit more...um, older and more..." Lee was trying to find a way of saying 'respectable' without actually saying it. He admired Naruto greatly, and he was proud to count him as a friend, but Naruto was...not exactly politician material. Though that Uzumaki's the name, diplomacy's the game motto sure was catchy; Lee wished he'd thought of that one.
"This is part of the price we're paying to keep you here," Gaara said dryly. "Tsunade is apparently serious about grooming Naruto to succeed her as Hokage one day. We all know he has the guts, the strength and the spirit, but he needs polishing. She wants him to learn to deal with courtiers and diplomats, and she'd rather not have to teach him herself. So this is another favour I agreed to do for her."
"Oh, I see. Well, I'll help you! We'll make him the- the finest diplomat ever!"
"No, Lee, you won't be helping me-"
"Don't say it!" Lee exclaimed, rounding on his boyfriend and hefting a Righteous Finger. "We agreed! Maybe you had to hammer out that deal with Tsunade-sama, but I will help you pay it! We're in this together!"
"Yes, we are," Gaara said softly, and Lee promptly forgot his speech, his Pose and even what he'd been arguing about. All his life...it felt as if all his life, he'd been waiting for someone to say those words to him in just that way...
Then Gaara shook his head. "That was not what I meant. You won't be helping me, because we're to let Temari teach him. My task...our task is to make sure he listens, and take him to the Daimyo’s court and put him in situations where he can practice. In fact, Tsunade told me I was under no account to infect him with our brand of diplomatic relations."
Lee blinked. "What's that supposed to mean?"
The corner of Gaara's mouth twitched, but he didn't answer as he turned back towards the desk.
There were some noises down the hallway. Naruto was going to be sharing Lee's office - well, officially it was Naruto's office now, but Lee would be working in it most days anyway. There was more than enough room for the two of them, and Lee felt sure Naruto would want to use his training equipment as well. The Leaf Shinobi seemed to be commenting about something in a loud voice that echoed through the empty corridors. Occasionally, Lee heard a softer voice which sounded like Sanada's. Lee couldn't make out the words, but the tones were those of politeness, respect and extremely well-practiced patience.
Gaara was leaning against the back of his chair, looking down at his desk.
"We're going to need more sandwiches. A lot more."
Lee nodded seriously, then slipped the uninjured arm around Gaara's waist and gave him a one-armed hug. "You cut up the meat and fixings, and I can assemble them with my good hand."
For all those 'but what happened afterwards' questions, please read Kindred, it's more or less a sequel to DR. Huge thanks for all of you who read and reviewed; you helped my inspiration and shaped this story with your comments. I hope you enjoyed this long and crazy ride!
EDIT: And thanks to Hercat for all the corrections to typos and grammar ^_^