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Vitality

Chapter Text

Gaara tapped his pencil absentmindedly. To the average onlooker, it may have seemed like he was paying very close attention to the lecture in front of him, but his mind was drifting elsewhere. Despite his family urging him to study Political Science, it really wasn't that big of an interest to him. He understood the basics behind it, but was left wanting something more fulfilling. Something more… artistic.

Gaara recently picked up an interest in theater. Not on the stage, no, absolutely not. But in the back. Technical direction, production management, design, that sort of thing. Ever since he started living with his new Theater major roommate, something about the art intrigued him. He didn't have any experience in the field, but sometimes he sat in on rehearsals when his roommate needed a ride home. But the organized chaos behind the art was fascinating. He wanted a part of that.

The sound of notebook paper and backpacks shifting alerted Gaara. Apparently class was dismissed. He checked his phone. Twenty minutes early? He slid his belongings into his bag in one swift motion and slung his bag over his shoulder.

Gaara waited by the door until his roommate caught up with him from the back of the lecture hall.

“Gaara!” he heard the cawing voice call from behind him. There he was--Naruto Uzumaki. Gaara's less than functional, slightly overbearing, but overall very considerate roommate. He offered Gaara a friendly elbow to the ribs. “Come on, man, we gotta sit next to each other in class! You really gotta stop showing up late.”

“Copying my notes during class really doesn't serve a purpose to you, Naruto,” Gaara told him. They began their walk through campus together.

“Yeah, yeah!” Naruto said. His phone pinged before he could come up with an excuse. He fished it out of his front pocket and Gaara noticed the calendar reminder on his phone. Naruto sighed dramatically and turned to Gaara. “Aw, man. Hey, you and I gotta stop by the dance studio today.”

Gaara felt his stomach drop. “... The what?”

Naruto narrowed his eyes at Gaara. “Dude, relax, you look like you're gonna shit yourself.”

Gaara tried to relax, but his expression stayed in a tight grimace.

“Yeah, Kakashi said if I wanted to stage manage the dance show, I'd have to send him the form by today,” Naruto explained.

Gaara looked at him inquisitively. “What does that have to do with me?”

Naruto laughed.

“Well, I know you've been looking at theater stuff lately, so I thought you might like to see what's going on in the dance side of things.” He gave Gaara a sly smirk. “I think you could learn a thing or two… ever since that time I got to see Drunk Gaara dance on the table--”

Gaara glared at Naruto. “Shut the fuck up. We agreed never to talk about that.”

“I'm just messing with you!” Naruto clapped Gaara on the back, making him stumble forward slightly. “Besides. You said we'd go to lunch today.”

He did promise that… Gaara gave a curt nod in understanding.

“I really need an assistant stage manager. I know a couple of dancers. Might stick around to see if they know some first years or something that might want to get involved.”

They began heading toward a part of campus Gaara didn't usually pass through. He heard the faint sounds of music and looked around to find the source. The two walked toward a room Gaara had never seen before.

Gaara and Naruto walked toward the open door of the studio. They heard an orchestral piece playing a familiar song Gaara couldn't quite place. Naruto stood in plain sight by the door, but Gaara, feeling like he was disturbing the peace, peered his head around to see what was happening inside.

A man's voice shouted over the music as he clapped in time with the music. “Ready? And… five, six, seven, eight!”

A few students formed small lines of three along the walls and Gaara watched as they soared across the dancefloor, each moving in nearly perfect sync with one another.

“Chaîné, chaîné, and piqué! Piqué! Piqué! Turn! Watch your arms!”

Was this… ballet? Is that what it looked like? For some reason, it was a lot more casual than Gaara was expecting. They weren't wearing costumes or anything.

“Yes, Lee, good!”

The music stopped abruptly and Gaara hid himself behind the door more.

Naruto grabbed Gaara's arm and dragged him inside. He whispered in Gaara's ear, “By the way, you're gonna want to take your shoes off before we go talk to him. The tap kids get real bitchy about ‘street shoes’ on the dance floor.”

He noticed Naruto already kicked his off, lazily tossing them to the side. Gaara took his shoes off promptly and tucked them neatly by the door.

“Lee, would you come center?”

Gaara saw the instructor step forward, a tall, muscular man with shiny black hair. He was huge. His legs looked like they could crush a watermelon if he felt so inclined.

“Ah! Yes, of course!”

Lee, as Gaara learned he was named, took a spot next to the instructor. They looked weirdly similar. Their haircuts were the same, their eyebrows matched in thickness… maybe they were related.

Lee was considerably less bulky than his instructor. He wore all black, but his clothes were so tight, they defined every angle and curve of his body. He was so lean… every muscle in his body looked toned to perfection.

Gaara felt his face develop an unfamiliar warmth. Was it hot outside? He leaned toward the open door and fanned himself. Naruto raised an eyebrow.

“Can you move to a retiré?” the instructor asked him. Lee obliged. Probably. Gaara wasn't sure what “ruh-tee-ray” meant.

“Yes, Gai-sensei!”

Lee shifted his weight to one leg and lifted the other so his legs formed what looked to Gaara like the number four.

The instructor, who Lee referred to as Gai-sensei, reached down and placed his hands along Lee's body, giving slight corrections where he saw fit. “Your form is beautiful, Lee, truly a youthful dancer. But make sure you're using your arms and spotting to get yourself around. And use that core! Try it out for me.”

“Of course!” Lee replied. He returned to standing and placed one foot behind him, his arms in a new position. Gaara wondered what he was going to do next. The pose was pretty, but looked extremely impractical to Gaara's untrained eye.

Lee shot up onto one foot as his leg came up to its previous number-four position. Lee was… spinning? His silky black hair whipped around in a beautifully controlled motion that made Gaara's jaw drop. Lee’s eyes were trained to one place on the wall at the front of the room, his head whipping around so fast, it hardly seemed like it was turning it at all. He did this four times and attempted to get around for a fifth before faltering slightly, the instructor reaching out to catch him.

“Yes! Gorgeous! You lost your balance at the end, but you got a quad!” the instructor shouted, hugging and high-fiving Lee as the other dancers applauded politely.

Lee smiled and Gaara could have sworn his face went pink.

“I will get it next time!” Lee said, a look of determination flitting across his face. “If I fail to land five pirouettes, then I will land ten fouettes! And if I cannot land ten fouettes--”

“Alright, Lee, we get it!” one of the female dancers stepped forward, the two high-placed buns on her head distinguishing her from the uniformity of the crowd. She pulled at Lee's arm and dragged him back to the group, but Lee's smile never fell.

“Alright, class! Well done!” Gai called from the center of the room. “Go ahead and take five and when we come back, we'll run through pieces for the show.”

“Thank you, five!” a couple of energetic calls were heard from the crowd as they dispersed.

Naruto took that as his cue to filter through the crowd to speak with Gai. He offered a saucy “llladies” as he passed by some of the girls. Gaara wasn't sure if he should follow Naruto, so he awkwardly parked himself by the door and tried to look busy.

“Excuse me. Mind if I ‘passé’ through?”

Gaara looked at where the voice was coming from and saw Lee standing there.

Spinning Boy!

“Mind if you… what did you say?” Gaara asked.

Lee's face was dusted with a light pink. “Oh, sorry. It, um… it was a dance joke. I just need to get by really quick. So sorry!”

“Oh, sorry,” Gaara said. He shifted to the side, but Lee stayed planted firmly on the ground. They made eye contact and Lee seemed to freeze in place.

“Oh, wow. You have beautiful eyes…” Lee said.

Gaara screamed on the inside. Was this… a compliment? What the fuck?

“Thank you.”

Lee spotted Naruto across the dance studio and a look of recognition passed his face. His eyes lit up when he turned back to Gaara.

“Are you a Theater major?” Lee asked excitedly.

“Oh, no. I'm just here helping a friend,” Gaara replied.

He expected Lee to lose interest, but he remained full of vigor. “What is your major? Are you new here?”

“Political Science. And no, I'm a second year.” Gaara held up two fingers to prove it.

“Political Science?” Lee asked, feeling the words in his mouth. “That sounds really cool! I see that you know Naruto.”

“I do.”

“Very cool! He and I are also friends.”

A short silence filled the space. Gaara wasn't sure what to say, so he gave a small nod and looked away from Lee.

“What was your name?” Lee stuck his hand out and Gaara took it, giving it a short, firm shake. Lee's hands were so distinct from Gaara's. He noticed the scars that lined Lee's hands, but didn't feel right to ask about them.

“Gaara.”

“Gaara,” Lee confirmed. He grinned as he disconnected their hands and gestured toward himself. “My name is Lee.”

“I heard,” Gaara said. What a weird thing to say. “I saw you spinning.”

Somehow that was worse.

“Turning,” Lee corrected. He gave a small laugh and his shiny hair swished lightly with the motion.

“Turning,” Gaara repeated, feeling heat creep into his face. Not from embarrassment, but… something else.

What was happening to him?

“Sorry! Gai-sensei gets upset when we use the wrong terminology,” Lee explained, his eyebrows swooping up in worry.

Gaara put a hand up to stop any further explanation. “I understand. Forgive me, I am not a dancer. Far from it.”

“Nonsense! Everyone can dance,” Lee smiled.

Gaara offered a smile back and they fell into another small silence.

“Well, it was nice to meet you, Gaara. I hope to see you around!”

Lee lightly placed his hand on Gaara's arm before he exited. Gaara could feel his skin burning as Lee's touch faded. He stared after him, dazed for a brief moment before Naruto slammed him back into reality.

“Hey,” he said. “Gai-sensei gave me the okay. We gotta hand this submission in to Kakashi's office, then we can get lunch.”

Gaara turned to Naruto and the words spilled out before he realized what he was saying.

“I want to be your assistant for the dance show.”

Chapter Text

Naruto and Gaara sat across from each other in a small teahouse where they usually liked to study. Across the table lied several books, a massive binder, some pencils, and highlighters of varying colors.

After dropping off Naruto's stage management submission (and hastily scribbling Gaara's name down to be his assistant), the two headed to the library to check out as many books as they could on stage management. Not that they needed to, but Gaara felt so invested in this new world, he wanted to learn everything about it.

Gaara flipped through the pages, his mind and heart racing simultaneously over all of this new terminology. Prop list? Blocking? Paper tech? … Why did he sign up for this? He didn't know anything about the job!

Naruto chuckled from across the table. “Hey, man, you need to relax. The show's not for another month.”

Gaara realized his fist was balled up in his hair and quickly loosened his grip. “Sorry, it's… a lot.”

Naruto stared back at him, a light smirk on his face. For some reason, Gaara felt the need to defend his honor.

“Not that I can't handle it. I mean--”

“Gaara. Buddy. Pal. You're my assistant. I do all the brunt work when we're in tech,” Naruto said softly, trying to calm him down. “You write the rehearsal reports, take notes during production meetings, and hang out backstage.”

Gaara felt his head start to spin. What did those words mean?! Naruto reached a hand across the table to ground him.

“Hey, hey, it's cool. It's a big job, but you'll be fine! I wouldn't've picked you if I didn't think you could handle it.”

That didn't make Gaara feel much better, but at least Naruto was trying.

Naruto perked up and opened the massive binder, flipping it around so Gaara could see what was inside. The binder contained a massive selection of sheet music, song lyrics, and various pencil markings and color-coded notes.

“This is what I usually do. I let everyone know when the technical stuff needs to change like lights and stuff. But I'm the boss man, so whatever I say goes.” Naruto paused for a moment and waved his hand dismissively. “Unless Gai-sensei wants to be a real weiner about everything. He's super touchy about dance. It's weird.”

Gaara turned his head at the name. His mind went to Gai, which made him think about Lee. And Gaara really wanted to see Lee dance again. He thought about the way Lee's glossy hair moved when he spun.

Turned, he reminded himself.

“So you make the calls? How do you do that?” Gaara asked, deciding not to voice his thoughts aloud.

“We have headsets. There'll be a couple of us--a sound op, light op, Kakashi the technical director, me the SM, and you the ASM,” he explained.

Gaara went to ask a question, but Naruto beat him to it.

“Op means operator. SM is stage manager… Theater's rush, rush, rush, so, we shorthand everything. You're the ASM, got it?”

Gaara nodded. “Of course. What do I do? What's my job?”

“Well, we'll have to stop by the studio in about a week once the classes are all done with their pieces.” Naruto took a sip of the already-cold tea that sat in front of him. “We get to watch the whole show and mark out some key moments in the dances before we move into the space for tech.

“I don't know if you remember Shikamaru, but he's the lighting designer. He's working under one of the theater professors, so we'll probably run into him when we do meetings… Oh! And paper tech, which is when we mark out all the cues for the show.”

Gaara felt overwhelmed again. This was all so much. Did Naruto do this all the time? How was he supposed to remember all of this? He played with a page corner in the book he was sifting through, trying to busy his anxious hands.

“Don't worry. As the ASM, you get to be in charge of entrances and exits. You run the whole backstage! That way the dancers or actors or whatever don't miss their cues.” He began counting on his fingers. “So: making sure talent is where they're supposed to be, calling times till the show starts, making sure costume changes go well, that sort of thing.”

Gaara felt his face flush. Costume changes? Were people going to be naked backstage? He grimaced at the thought of being surrounded by all those naked bodies.

But then he remembered... Lee would be there! Would he… have to help Lee… change his clothes?

‘I have your costume for you… sir,’ Gaara heard himself say in a gravelly voice as a blushing, naked Lee stood in front of him, covering his indecency.

‘O-oh, thank you… Gaara. What would I ever do without my assistant stage manager?’ Lee replied. Gaara helped him into a skintight jumpsuit and Lee let out a soft moan as Gaara pulled the zipper up.

‘I don't know. Probably miss your cues,’ he quipped.

“Dude, are you listening?” Naruto called.

Gaara shook out of his embarrassing daydream. “Yes.”

Well, that was definitely involuntary.

“It's pretty easy once we get tech and dress rehearsals out of the way,” Naruto put his binder away and helped Gaara with his books as they packed their things and stood up to leave. “It's gonna be a good time.”

“Yeah. I hope so,” Gaara said, more to himself than anything.

They left the teahouse and walked toward the parking lot. The two piled their things into Gaara's car and began heading home. They sat in a comfortable silence, sans the sound of an old CD mix that filled the space. Naruto sat with his head resting against his palm as he stared out the window, lost in thought. After a brief moment, he turned to Gaara.

“Hey,” he said.

“... Hey,” Gaara answered.

“I'm really glad you're picking up this theater thing.” Naruto lifted his head and turned to face Gaara.

“Really?”

“Yeah, man. I mean, at home I like, never get to see you. You're always holed up in your room studying, or pacing the halls at three in the morning.”

So Naruto could hear him in the hall. How about that.

Gaara wasn't sure how to respond, so he didn't.

--

The next week had Gaara nervous with anticipation. But Naruto proved to be very passionate about stage management, so learning from him was a breeze. He taught Gaara the ropes and reminisced about his first time as an assistant, guaranteeing Gaara would make friends with the performers, since they would spend so much time together backstage.

When Wednesday rolled around, Gaara went to his first production meeting.

He trailed behind Naruto in the theater building, a new notebook in hand to take down any necessary notes for the meeting. He was told several times that they would simply be going over the basics of the show as well as doing introductions.

So Gaara began to rehearse his introduction.

“Hey, we're a few minutes early and I really gotta piss,” Naruto said, oh-so-gracefully. He pushed the nearby bathroom door open. “I'll be right back.”

Gaara felt extremely out of place. He looked around the hallway of the building, lined with various photos from productions put on by the school. One photo in particular stood out to him: a close-up of a girl whose eyebrows curved up in worry. She looked close to tears, clearly in her acting element. Her hands were up near her face, half obscured by the blue light that washed her teary expression. Her hair was light… it looked… almost pink? Gaara glanced down at the subtitle of the photo which read “The Seagull.” This didn't clear anything up for Gaara, but the girl in the photo looked like a phenomenal actress.

He heard laughing down the hallway and tensed up.

Oh, no.

Gaara considered running into the bathroom to hide, but decided instead to busy himself with his phone. He opened up his messages and keysmashed the screen, trying to look busy despite the gibberish he was producing.

“Oh! I remember you,” he heard a somewhat familiar voice and looked up.

It was Lee.

Gaara's eyes widened and he couldn't form a response. Suddenly his mouth went dry.

Lee was flanked by two others, a girl with two buns on her head that Gaara remembered seeing in the dance studio, and a boy with pale eyes and long, silky hair.

“Gaara, right?” Lee asked.

Gaara nodded, suddenly forgetting what words were. He stared at Lee, who wasn't in skintight dance clothes this time. He wore a deep green cardigan and dark jeans. It was a subtle look, but did nothing to ward away any of the heat Gaara began to feel in his face.

The girl to Lee's right made eye contact with Gaara, who was too stunned to break it. She turned toward the long-haired boy and whispered something in his ear before saying, “We'll see you later, Lee!”

Lee turned back toward them to say his goodbyes and Gaara quickly did a once-over of Lee's toned body. How much did he work out? His body was incredible.

“What are you doing here?” Lee asked, beaming. Gaara swore he saw his teeth sparkle under the lights.

“I, um. There's… we have a, uh…” Gaara might as well have hyperventilated. He was so flustered. “A meeting. For a dance show.”

He gasped. “Wow, really? Are you helping out?” Lee asked, stepping a bit closer.

Gaara nodded and leaned against the wall for support. His knees felt like they were going to give out underneath him.

“So, what are you doing?” Lee asked, mimicking Gaara's stance against the wall.

“Waiting for the meeting,” Gaara responded.

That made Lee laugh. And was it a wonderful sound. Gaara almost gave a blissful sigh when he heard it. “I meant for the show!”

Oh. Well, now he was embarrassed.

“I'm the assistant stage manager.”

Lee's eyes lit up and he clapped softly. “Ah! That is so cool! Congratulations! It looks like I will be seeing you around after all!”

Gaara nodded. “Yes.”

Gaara wanted to say so many things to Lee:

You're a beautiful dancer.
Your body is amazing.
What are you doing later tonight?

But he couldn't manage to say any of those. Except for one thing he regretted the second it came out.

“Did you… want my number…?”

“I already have the stage manager's number, so if I have any questions, I can ask him,” Lee replied. His smile remained. “I would feel bad overwhelming you.”

No, that's not… Alright. Gaara felt his heart twist.

Just then, the bathroom door creaked open and the two turned to look at the person emerging.

“Man, I just dropped the fattest--” Naruto cut himself off when he spotted Lee. “Bushy Brows!”

Gaara's face contorted when he heard the name. Bushy Brows? Why use such an ugly name when Lee worked just fine? Naruto and Lee hugged, which made Gaara's heart twist even more.

“Oh, dude, I see you met my ASM,” Naruto grinned, providing perfect diction as he spoke. He gave Gaara a firm pat on the shoulder.

“I did! Very exciting, Naruto. I look forward to working with you two!” Lee said, smiling between the two of them. He checked his phone quickly. “Unfortunately, I have to run!”

“Class, or…?”

“No, I actually have to run. Part of my personal warm-up. But I do have tap in one hour!” Lee said. His eyes seemed to burn with a fiery passion whenever he talked about dance.

“Go get ‘em!” Naruto said.

Lee gave Naruto a thumbs-up, then looked at Gaara. He placed a hand on Gaara's forearm and squeezed ever so slightly. He swore his vision blurred.

“It was lovely to see you,” he told Gaara quietly.

Gaara managed to squeeze out a semi-composed “You, too” before Lee headed off in the opposite direction.

Naruto gave him a look, but didn't say anything. They headed into their meeting.

In the room stood Gai, talking to a tall, bearded man with a student sitting by his side, half-asleep.

“Hey, hey!” Naruto called.

“Naruto Uzumaki!” Gai called. “And who might this be?”

“Gaara,” he replied. So much for rehearsing that introduction.

“Nice eyeliner, kid, really reflects your youthful spirit,” Gai remarked. Gaara couldn't tell if he was being sarcastic, so he just nodded.

“Where's Kakashi?” Naruto asked.

“My… rival?” Gai asked, his eyes glistening with something akin to pride. Gaara stared.

Why were theater people… like this?

A solid fifteen minutes passed before Kakashi actually arrived to the meeting, giving a poor excuse for his tardiness that Gai found incredibly inspirational. After that, the group began.

Kakashi seemed much… younger than Gaara expected. Probably, as his face was almost completely covered and Gaara couldn't see any defining features besides his eyes. But he seemed so skilled for someone his age. The bearded man, Gaara learned was a design professor named Asuma, and the sleeping student next to him was Shikamaru, the aforementioned lighting designer. This was the team. Gaara set out to take notes.

The meeting was pretty brief. The group went through introductions, exchanged contact information, and Gai gave everyone a schedule with rehearsal information and performance dates. When the meeting concluded, Gaara sent out a small email list in order to get everyone on the same page and that was that.

Gaara and Naruto proved to work well as a team--Naruto helped keep things lively and organized, while Gaara maintained reports and reminders, making sure to communicate with everyone. Little by little, he began to gain confidence.

As they left the building, Gaara headed off and realized he could still feel the burning pressure on his skin from where Lee had touched him.

He checked the calendar Gai gave him.

Two more days until he and Naruto had to sit in on dance rehearsals.

Which meant…

Two more days until he could see Lee dance again.

Chapter Text

Gaara skimmed over his notes while he typed out an assignment on his computer. He sat in his room at the small desk, which was always scattered with notes, textbooks, and pencils. On the corner of the desk was a small succulent his siblings gave him as a parting gift when he left for college. Next to it was a picture of the three of them to remind him of home.

Gaara heard a knock at his door.

“Hey, you ready?” Naruto called from the other side of the bedroom door.

He paused and glanced down at the corner of his laptop for the time. They still had half an hour until they needed to leave, why did Naruto want to go now? Gaara walked over to the bedroom door. He pulled it open enough for Naruto to see his face, but silently indicated he did not want him to come inside.

“You wanna go get food or something before we set out?”

“I still have to finish this paper,” Gaara told him. “I'm almost done.”

“Paper? For what?” Naruto asked.

“For… We have to…” Gaara couldn't believe it. “You know we have a paper due at midnight, right?”

Naruto stared back.

“For Comparative Politics…?” Gaara offered.

Naruto's face paled. “Are you kidding me?”

Gaara couldn't do anything but sigh. When it came to classes, Naruto did more than excel in his major courses, but tended to disregard the general education classes. He definitely had a knack for organization, but it clearly only existed in the theater world.

Luckily being a Theater major made Naruto really good at bullshitting.

Naruto scrambled toward his room and threw his laptop open, furiously typing at the keys. “How many pages is it?”

“Three. It shouldn't take you long if you did the reading.”

Naruto was silent.

“... You did the reading, right?”

No response.

“Naruto?”

“Hey, shut up! It's fine, dude. It's fine!” Naruto said, his voice wavering. “I got it, just. I gotta get in the zone. Half an hour, that's enough for me to get a page at least. I'll just finish when we get back!”

Gaara shook his head. “I'll let you know when it's time to go.”

They set off to finish their work and Gaara could hear Naruto slamming the keys through the wall. He sighed as he started to type again.

--

“So, what do we do for the dance rehearsal?” Gaara asked, feeling his heart race. They drove to campus in a moderate silence, but Gaara felt the need to distract himself from his nervousness.

“It's really just a runthrough so we know what to expect. You'll just make sure you can see where everyone comes on and offstage,” Naruto said, shooting what looked like a really long text message on his phone. “Don't worry about getting everyone's names and stuff.”

Well, there was only one name Gaara really cared about. And he already knew it.

“I'll show you how to make a rehearsal report, too. That way you can send them out to the production team.” Naruto smiled at him as they turned in to park.

“Thank you.”

They walked through the massive expanse of campus as Naruto explained the process of writing a rehearsal report until they rounded the corner to what Gaara vaguely remembered was the dance studio. There was no music playing this time, but several voices spoke amongst one another. Some light stomping and tapping could be heard as they approached.

When Naruto and Gaara stepped inside, the studio was a sight to behold. A huge group of dancers crowded the room. Some stood near parallel bars doing what looked like leg exercises. Others adjusted each other's clothing. Some helped tie each other's hair up. Many people stretched off to the side. Some stood in front of the mirror in small groups, dancing in unison despite the lack of music.

It was fascinating to watch. Gaara didn't understand a thing.

His eyes traveled to the floor and he noticed all the different types of shoes the dancers wore. Some he knew, like tap shoes and ballet shoes, but others were new. He had never seen the plain, leathery-looking ones before. Some dancers were even barefoot.

He scanned the room for the person he had been dying to see.

“Gaara!” Naruto called. “Remember, no street shoes on the dance floor.”

“Yeah, Naruto!” A blonde girl glared at him from the floor. She was having her hair done up into a braided bun by a girl with pink hair. “If you get dirt in my taps again, I'll punch your lights out!”

“It was one time!” Naruto countered.

“Don't waste your breath with this guy,” the pink-haired girl said as the worked her fingers through the blonde's hair.

Gaara recognized her. She was the girl in the hallway. The one on the poster that said “The Seagull.”

So, she was an actor and a dancer. Theater people really did it all, huh?

“Sakura, you're so mean to me,” Naruto said, fake-crying.

She rolled her eyes at that and finished up the blonde's hair, then patted her on the shoulders. “You're good to go, Ino.”

“Thank you!”

And with that, they were off.

The dancers continued their movements, the chaos in the room beginning to build up enough to make Gaara anxious. There were so many people here. And where was Lee? Gaara scanned the room several times, but he was nowhere to be seen. Were they in the right dance studio?

Naruto smacked a hand to Gaara's back and led him to the large mirror in front of the dance studio to set their things down. Gaara supposed they would just be sitting on the ground.

Just then, the dance instructor, Gai, opened the door to the studio. A hush fell over the crowd and the tension in the room spiked instantaneously. All of the dancers froze in place as he entered, a small binder under one arm and a cup of tea in the other. Following close behind was Kakashi, looking tired as ever. Kakashi propped the door open for him and continued walking.

All eyes trailed on Gai as he crossed the room, parting the sea of dancers that littered the floor. Why were they so quiet? Were they… scared of him?

More importantly, where was Lee?

“Dancers,” Gai acknowledged the room as he set his things down in a side room nearby. He scanned the crowd, seemingly unaware of the tension. His thick eyebrows knitted together and everyone sank farther into themselves. “Where are those three?”

No one spoke up. The room was shockingly silent, save for the distant sounds of laughter outside the studio. Gai looked toward the door and crossed his arms.

Everyone in the room turned toward the door, waiting with bated breath to see the source of the sound. Gaara realized the laughter was getting closer and was mixed with light singing.

“... but tonight I bounce back!”

It sounded like a small crew outside singing broken lyrics to a song. None of them seemed to really know the words, but they always came together on the words “bounce back.”

A girl stepped into view, clearly one of the singers. Gaara's eyes widened. It was the girl that hung around with Lee! The one with the two buns! Which meant…

She shimmied into the studio, unaware of the stares she was receiving. Directly following her was, as expected, Lee, who danced into the room backwards, hands on his knees, his bottom low to the ground.

Hel-lo!

Lee's friend shouted the next lyrics, “Knew that ass was real, when I hit, it bounce back!”

And she slapped Lee… right on the ass...

Oh, if only she and Gaara could trade places…

The long-haired boy that Gaara saw the other day sauntered into the room after Lee and the three of them danced in, singing their song about “bouncing back.”

The three of them turned around, enjoying their last few seconds of fun until they realized the room was silent. And Gai was staring at them.

He looked… less than pleased.

They stopped in their tracks, faces all flushed, and Lee stood up straight.

“You're late.” Gai narrowed his eyes at them.

“G-Gai-sensei!” Lee tensed up. “We were just--”

The boy with long hair covered Lee's mouth. “We had class… across campus. We weren't able to allot enough time to change into dancewear.”

Gai nodded, then turned back to Lee.

“Lee.”

Lee's eyes widened and Gaara swore he heard him squeak.

“If you're going to walk into my studio like that, fix your form. You're using too much of your upper back.”

Lee went beet-red.

A couple of girls snickered at that. They clapped their hands over their mouths when Gai gave them a fierce glare. The trio took a seat on the dancefloor as Gai spoke to the crowd.

“Alright, now that everyone is here,” Gai began, rubbing salt into the wound of the trio's lateness, “I welcome our cast for this semester's dance concert!”

The group applauded. Gaara felt the need to join in, but felt Naruto block his hands.

“My name is Maito Gai and I am the director of the show. This here is Kakashi, my fateful, eternally destined… rival.”

“You're too kind,” Kakashi said to Gai. He raised his hand slightly. “Hello all. I'm Kakashi Hatake and I'll be the technical director for the show. Any questions you may have, please direct them to the stage manager. Not me.”

Naruto took that as his cue. “Hey, all!”

“Not this guy…” Sakura said. A couple of other girls laughed.

“Wow, rude,” Naruto replied.

She smiled up at him, allowing him to continue.

“Anyway, I'm Naruto Uzumaki! If you're in the theater department, we probably already know each other. I'll be the stage manager! And this here is my assistant!”

Gaara felt his stomach drop. He feigned his composure and looked out into the daunting expanse of dancers. He recognized so few people and felt extremely out of place.

“Hello. My name is Gaara. I am… not a Theater person,” he shrugged. This earned a small laugh from the crowd and Gaara wasn't sure if that was a good or bad thing. “I'll be Naruto's assistant, so if you have any questions he can't answer…” Gaara's eyes quickly flitted to Lee. “... Feel free to come to me.”

Gaara looked to Naruto for confirmation, who patted him on the shoulder.

“Alright, so I guess we'll just be watching, right?” Naruto asked. “Where are Shikamaru and Asuma?”

“They came in during classes to discuss lighting. They're working on design concepts now,” Kakashi replied.

Naruto nodded. “Great! Then let's see what they've got!”

Naruto and Gaara sat in front of the giant mirror as Gai set up the audio in a side room.

“Dancers, we'll start from top of show and go in order,” Gai called. “Kurenai couldn't be here tonight for the pieces she choreographed, but I trust you know your entrances and exits?”

“Yes,” a few people replied lazily.

Gai pointed out a few spots in the room. “These are your wings and up where Naruto and Gaara are is the house. They'll be your audience, so let's see some performances! I want everyone going full out! If you aren't sweating by the end of the first group piece, you aren't dancing hard enough!”

“Yes, Gai-sensei!” Lee called out from the back.

His female friend elbowed him sternly in the side.

“If your piece is not on, feel free to sit in the ‘audience' and support your fellow dancers. Top of show in two minutes!” Gai called.

“Thank you, two!” The room clamored and dispersed.

Gaara watched as people ran outside, took sips from water bottles, continued to stretch, and swung their legs up to seemingly impossible heights. It was all so natural to them.

Gaara turned to Naruto. “Why do they say ‘thank you, two’?”

“It's a confirmation,” Naruto said, typing on his phone. “Basically when someone makes a call, others are supposed to say thanks and repeat it. It's an indication that they heard you and everyone is on the same page.”

Gaara nodded.

“Really, it's super useful when we're using fly lines and railings and whatever. That way no one gets knocked out by whatever’s falling.”

Gaara glanced over to see Naruto's phone. He sure had been texting a lot… But he realized Naruto wasn't actually texting--he was frantically finishing his essay on his phone.

“Dancers!” Gai's voice bellowed over the crowd. “Places for top of show!”

Naruto gave a wave of his finger, seemingly conducting the crowd to speak as he put his phone away. Gaara, having learned a new Theater Thing decided to quietly join in.

“Thank you, places!”

Gaara fought back a small smile, liking the feeling of speaking in unison. Something about it was… communal. It was nice.

The dancers all assumed their positions on either side of the dancefloor as the music began.

A light guitar melody flooded the room as the dancers readied themselves.

Gaara took out his production notebook and prepared himself to take notes on the pieces.

The pleasant melody filled the space and the two girls from earlier, Sakura and Ino, stepped forward from opposite sides, taking places down at the corners.

Gaara watched as they approached each other, walking slowly toward the center and circling around each other before connecting their hands and engaging in some sort of partner routine.

The two were not quite as skilled or flexible as Lee, but something about their facial expressions and body language allowed the story within the dance to come through just as nicely. They must have both been actresses, then.

It was a pretty piece just between the two of them.

As the music quieted, the two concluded their dance with a hug that made some of the other girls “aww.” They parted ways and Gaara looked off to the side to see that Lee was crying.

It was nice, but… Gaara didn't feel that affected by it. Maybe there was something in the dance he was missing.

Maybe Lee was just emotional.

“Number two, let's gooo!” Gai called as the music transitioned.

It was still quiet, but there was a fun beat behind it. Gaara jotted down some notes about the Sakura and Ino piece and perked up. His eyes returned to the performance space.

… He knew this song.

He heard the opening, the sounds of drumbeats and horns underscoring muffled vocalizations.

Nearly the entire room of dancers made their way across the stage from both sides, filtering in clean lines, walking with a shocking fierceness and intensity as their hips helped them shift through the space.

“Jazz walks are so weird…” Naruto said under his breath.

Lee's female friend took a running start and leapt across the stage in such a gorgeous way, it made Gaara's jaw drop. She jumped and did a full split in the air, her back knee slightly bent, making the angle that much prettier. She threw her arms behind her and arched her back in the leap; her flexibility made Gaara's body hurt. How did people move like that? Tenten styled her way out of the landing and posed.

“Yeah, Tenten!” Lee shouted.

A few other dancers joined in, cheering her on as her long-haired friend accompanied her from the opposite side, his hair half up, half down. He did the same leap that she did, which shocked Gaara even more. Guys could do that, too?!

“Whoo, Neji!”

Neji joined Tenten and they smiled at each other before sliding out and moving together in perfect sync, their dance grounded and sharp. The huge group of dancers behind them stood in position, each changing poses every few counts.

Neji and Tenten vamped their movement as Lee entered the stage. Gaara found his eyes glued to Lee as he swam through the space, effortlessly twisting and turning toward the center of the group as the music began to crescendo. He leapt into the air just as Neji and Tenten did, the flexibility in his legs so astounding, Gaara nearly fell over.

Naruto smiled at Gaara. “Yeah, dude, Lee's amazing.”

Gaara nodded slowly, his jaw still hanging open.

Lee placed himself in the center, forming a triangle with Neji and Tenten as the massive group of dancers ran forward, raising their arms to amplify just how much space they took up in the room.

The trio at the front slapped the outsides of their thighs quickly and did a few quick, powerful movements. The three of them worked so well together. Not a single step was missed… all of their lines and shapes were beautifully synchronized.

The three took a quick triple step and did two quick turns before the entire ensemble struck a pose and the lyrics began.

Come take my hand
I won't let you go
I'll be your friend
I will love you so deeply
I will be the one
To kiss you at night
I will love you until the end of time.

Yeah, Gaara knew this song.

Naruto screamed next to him. “That light change is gonna be so cool!”

The dance broke out into a wildly choreographed piece as various dance styles melded together. Small groups would come from the sides and perform a short part of the song at varying skill levels and styles. There was a section devoted to the quick and loose, but complicated style at the beginning (which Naruto identified to Gaara as jazz). Another section was an edgier, deeper, more grounded version that neither could define. But Lee wasn't in either of these sections.

It wasn't until the bridge of the song when one group made their exit that Gaara noticed Lee and his two friends saunter across the stage once more. They stood at the back, posed together, and side-eyed the other dancers before slowly walking forward, leading with the hips.

And Lee really knew how to move them…

Boy, come to me (come to me)
Let me turn your rain into sun

The speed of the music picked up with their swaying walks and the three spread out across the stage. Lee took the center and got into a position Gaara recognized from when he first saw him turning. He sat up straighter and Lee looked at him before breaking out into a wide grin. And before he turned, he… winked.

Holy shit, he winked. At Gaara. In the middle of the dance.

Gaara felt his face heat up and Lee maintained his focus in the mirror as his trio did turns that looked even more complicated than the ballet ones.

The three turned, but instead of their legs being in the number-four position Gaara was expecting, one leg came up in front of them before whipping out at a ninety-degree angle.

It was a very floaty, pretty turn, but it looked like it required a lot of power. Every time the three faced the front of the room in their turns, their knees would bend to shoot them around before their legs straightened and they faced the front again.

Dance looked… really hard.

The three closed their turns before landing three regular turns and met in the center to join hands, crossing arms over each other before leaping off to the side, while a small group of girls pulled forward. Gaara noticed Sakura and Ino amongst them.

The girls stomped their legs to the floor with a shocking power and a crisp, clean tap followed. Gaara eyes flitted to the ground and he noticed their shoes. This must be the tap dance section.

That was cool, but where was Lee?

Gaara looked to the side and noticed Lee watching the people onstage intently.

Gaara supposed he should do the same. The tap section was fun--it brought out new rhythms to the song that Gaara wasn't even aware of. He watched their feet as they danced, wondering how they moved to tap against the ground like that.

Maybe Lee could teach him how to dance…?

No. He wouldn't be able to handle the embarrassment. Lee would never talk to him again once he saw what a horrible dancer Gaara was.

As the tap section concluded, the rest of the dancers met onstage to do the last few counts of choreography as a unit. When the song came to a close, everyone hit a fierce pose at varying levels to create a striking tableau.

Gaara was shocked.

Maybe it was just the fact that Lee was there… or that he had no idea how to do any of the moves onstage… but dance was really cool.

--

The next piece was Lee-less, so Gaara went into his production notebook to make more notes for his report.

He noticed the tired, panting dancers taking places against the mirror next to him and Naruto, to watch the others and wait for their next pieces to come on.

“Do you mind if I sit here?”

Gaara looked up and he saw Lee hovering above him. His breathing hitched. Why was it so shallow?

“Not at all,” Gaara replied.

Lee sat next to him and Gaara felt his cheeks redden. It must have been getting hot in the room.

Gaara continued writing and inhaled to fill his lungs with the air they were clearly not receiving.

But then…

Oh.

Lee smelled really good. Especially for someone who was sweating so much.

Gaara felt like a creep.

“How are you liking the show?” Lee whispered, pushing his bangs up and exposing his forehead.

Oh, wow.

Gaara knew Lee had thick eyebrows… but he didn't know they were such a beautiful shape. They were so sharp and clean… He was envious. Gaara didn't have the most... visible eyebrows, so he tended to be hyperaware of other people's.

“I've never done this sort of thing before,” Gaara replied. “It's nice.”

Lee smiled.

“You're…” Gaara felt his breath get caught in his throat.

“Hm?” Lee's eyebrows swooped up as he looked at Gaara.

Gaara cleared his throat. “Sorry.” He returned to his production book, but realized his hands were shaking, so he put it down just as fast.

“Oh, sorry! If I am distracting you, I can move,” Lee offered, already beginning to push himself to his feet.

“No, please. Sit.”

Lee obliged and returned to his spot on the floor, his arm brushing against Gaara's. They sat in silence, but neither leaned away from the touch.

The rest of the performance was phenomenal. Every time Lee was in a dance, he would go onstage and make silly faces at Gaara during the song. When he finished, he would quickly return to his side, making small comments with dance terminology Gaara didn't understand.

Lee spoke to Gaara all through the show's intermission and between pieces, earning them a few looks from the other dancers.

But Gaara didn't notice over the warmth that spread across his swelling heart.

Chapter Text

Gaara lied on his bed early the next morning, staring up at the ceiling. It was still dark out, but he couldn't help his mind from racing. He had sent his rehearsal report out just a few hours ago, instructing the production team to get together the next Friday for paper tech. And after that, one more week until tech week.

Thinking about the upcoming show did nothing for his sleepless nerves.

Naruto had already gotten the list of songs from Gai. Gaara was given a list of the show order to hang up backstage, which had the names of dancers in each piece and found himself flitting to the name “Rock Lee” more often than not.

Was Lee really his last name?

There were no props for any of the pieces, which Naruto claimed made Gaara's job easier. That was good.

Gaara rolled onto his side and grabbed one of the pillows on his bed. He squeezed it between his arms and tried to go to sleep, shedding his mind of any more dance-related thoughts.

Unfortunately, he kept drifting back to Lee.

The feeling of Lee's toned arm pressed up against his felt branded in Gaara's skin. He could see Lee's face up close during the rehearsal, watching each piece intently as he admired the other dancers. Each time he wasn't onstage, Lee would turn to him and ask how he liked the dances, but Gaara was never entirely sure what to say. Sometimes he would just smile and nod. Others he would turn to Lee, who was already staring back at him.

As they watched each piece, Gaara would ask questions about the dance moves happening onstage. He learned the difference between a “working leg” and a “supporting leg.” He learned the names of a few basic things, like “pirouette,” “pointe,” and “battement” while Lee further explained things like positions dancers needed to pass through in order to correctly perform these moves.

Gaara could certainly think of a position he wanted Lee to pass through…

He squeezed the pillow in front of him harder.

What was his problem?

At some point he must have drifted off because Lee's closeness flooded his dreams like a memory, thoughts of him swirling past as he danced through the stage of Gaara's mind.

--

Several assignments and days of class later, paper tech rolled around.

Gaara walked with Naruto to the theater building, preparing himself for the impending meeting. Just outside, they spotted Sakura and Ino, who stood nose-to-nose, raising voices over one another. Gaara looked at Naruto, who seemed to pay the conflict no mind. Did someone need to intervene?

Gaara swore one was about to strike the other, when Ino placed a casual hand on her hip.

“I'm just not seeing your tactic,” she said, losing her ill-tempered manner in a second.

“Really?” Sakura asked, also reverting to a calmer state. She sputtered air through her lips. “Maybe we should run it again.”

“Yeah, probably. I need to check my script--I improv'd that whole last section,” Ino said, pulling a few sheets of paper from her bag.

Were they rehearsing?

“You'd think the tea scene would be the easiest,” Sakura said.

“Gwendolyn and Cecily are complex characters!”

The two laughed as they noticed Naruto and Gaara walking up the stairs.

“Hey, Naruto,” Sakura called. He raised a hand in response before stepping through the large doors of the building. Gaara followed closely behind.

They passed the rows of photographs and rounded the corner as Asuma and Shikamaru argued in a nearby office.

“Why can't I just get a crew to do light focus for me?” Shikamaru whined.

“You're not always going to have a crew. Besides, it's important to know. You can't just walk into a performance space and work with the presets,” Asuma replied in a manner that suggested they had been talking about this for several minutes.

“All I hear is nag, nag, nag. Let me just program the lightboard. It's just a troublesome dance show,” Shikamaru replied. “So what if I focus or someone else does? No one's watching the lights anyway.”

Asuma pinched the skin between his eyebrows.

“Heyyy,” Naruto interrupted. Shikamaru turned his head lazily. “We meeting in Kakashi's office or the green room?”

“Good morning, Naruto. We'll be in the green room. Gai should already be in there,” Asuma answered. He turned toward Shikamaru. “We'll come a minute.”

“Cool.” Naruto tapped the doorway and nodded toward Gaara, silently instructing him to follow.

They walked through the halls and approached a small room at the end of the hall, hearing the low sound of two men laughing inside.

“Gai, stop, they'll be here any minute,” a low voice said, stifling a laugh.

“I'll consider that a challenge.”

Gaara and Naruto stepped into the room and spotted Kakashi and Gai, who stood… shockingly close together. Gai noticed them walk in and shoved Kakashi the other way, picking up a small stack of papers on the table in front of him.

“So the cue in ‘Ave Cesaria’ should be--oh! Naruto. Gaara,” Gai said, turning to the stage management team, trying to cover up the moment.

“... Whatcha doin’?” Naruto asked, setting his bag down.

“Just, uh… getting a head start.” Gai cleared his throat and took a seat in front of Naruto.

Gaara looked around in confusion.

“I thought we were meeting in the green room?” Gaara said, dispelling the awkwardness that hung in the air.

“Yeah?” Naruto said.

Gaara looked around at the white paint on the walls. “Is it… not… green…?”

Naruto gave Gaara a look. Gaara immediately regretted asking such an embarrassing question, but was relieved when Naruto didn't laugh. “Eh, not necessarily. They used to be though. Now it's just slang for the waiting room where people who aren't onstage hang out.”

“Oh.” Gaara looked down as he took his seat. He avoided looking at Gai and Kakashi.

“Very good, Naruto. Looks like you did pay attention in Theater History,” Kakashi said, a sly look in his eyes as Naruto puffed out his cheeks. He shifted his gaze to Gaara.

Gaara met Kakashi's stare, noticing the light scar along his left eye when he was interrupted by a woman's voice in the hallway.

“Gai!”

All turned toward the doorway to see a dark-haired woman step into view.

“Kurenai!” Gai called.

She smiled at him. “Hi! So sorry about having to miss the runthrough. How did it go?”

“Oh, your dancers were great. Vigor! Youth!” Gai said, pumping a fist into the sky.

“Of course. Do you have a minute to talk now? I need to adjust the final tap piece and wanted to run something by you. Two minutes, I swear.”

A look flashed across Gai's face before he stood up. He glanced at the time and walked out of the room. Gai and Kurenai spoke in low whispers near the door.

Gaara couldn't hear what they were saying, but he could have sworn he heard Lee's name.

Asuma and Shikamaru walked into the room mere moments later. Apparently they had come to a conclusion over focusing the lights.

Whatever that meant.

“Thank you so much, Gai,” Kurenai said, heading back down the hall. “Have fun with paper tech, guys!”

Gai gave her a wordless thumbs-up before heading back into the green room.

“We ready to go?” Kakashi asked.

Gai nodded. Before they knew it, the table was scattered with pencils, colored tape, and papers as everyone prepared to mark down cues.

“So, same ol’, same ol’, right?” Naruto said, eyes flicking to Kakashi. “Lights and sound one for house open, light two for house to half, sound two for pre-show announcement, lights three and four--house down to lights up?”

Gaara's eyes widened.

“Same ol’, same ol’,” Kakashi nodded.

What… the fuck did he just say?

“Sorry, can you… can you repeat that?” Gaara said.

Naruto showed Gaara his neatly-written, color-coded cues that specified each part that needed to be called.

“You don't totally need to worry about it,” Naruto said. “It's good to know, but you'll kind of just hear me say it over the headset.”

Gaara nodded.

Gai piped up. “We'll head into sound three for the first piece.”

Naruto nodded as he copied it down.

“Light five happens when Sakura and Ino touch hands,” Shikamaru said, eyes half-closed, head resting in his palm. “Then we'll have five-a and b programmed as a follow, so y'know… don't call ‘em.”

“Yeah, thanks, I got it,” Naruto laughed.

“Follow…?” Gaara asked.

“It's pre-programmed,” the group replied.

“Do you follow?” Naruto asked, slapping the table with a ba-dum-tss rhythm.

Shikamaru sighed. Gaara shot him an irritated glare and wrote “forbid Naruto from making jokes” in his production notes.

“Light six at the fifty-second mark. Then seven at two-oh-six. We fade outta that on a follow for seven-a. Light eight on the hug for lights down.”

“Cool… got it…” Naruto said. He paused for a moment and looked up from his binder. “Ooh, shit. Back up--who's doing pre-show?”

“Hm?” Kakashi looked up. “Oh. Right. We need someone to record that for QLab.”

The room went silent. Everyone exchanged glances, but no one looked up. Except Shikamaru, who looked like he was contemplating crawling under the table to take a nap.

“We're pre-recording it, right?” Gaara asked.

“Yes, I usually provide a script. You would just go with Gai so he can record you reading it in a quiet space and then he can program it in with the sound,” Kakashi replied.

Gaara considered this. If he did the announcement, he would be with Gai… and he was the director of the show, so maybe Gaara could ask him about Lee. Besides, how hard could a scripted, pre-recorded announcement be? So long as he didn't have to speak in front of an audience and risk stumbling over words…

“I can do it.”

Naruto pretended to wipe a tear from his eye. “They grow up so fast…”

“Great,” Kakashi smiled (maybe). “I'll head down to my office after this and pull something together for you.”

Gaara jotted that down and the paper tech continued. He was shocked to see how many light cues were actually needed for a dance show. He had seen a few performances before, but as an audience member, he never thought about how technical theater could be.

Why was he still doing Political Science?

After a grueling paper tech process, Kakashi instructed Gaara to give him a few minutes to develop a script for the pre-show announcement. While he waited, Gaara quickly reformatted his production notes and sent them out to the team. Naruto high-fived him and complimented his work before heading off to class.

And there he was, sitting alone in the hall of the empty theater building, waiting for Kakashi to return.

And he waited.

… And waited.

… This guy really took his time, huh?

As Gaara started to stand, he felt his phone vibrate in his pocket and pulled it out to see he was receiving a phone call, a name splayed across his phone in a bright, white font.

Gaara looked up, realizing Kakashi might still be awhile and decided to answer the phone.

“What do you want?” he answered, trying to keep his voice down.

“Wow. Woooow. You don't talk to me for weeks and this is how you repay me?” the voice replied on the other line.

“Shut up, you're so dramatic,” Gaara said. But the small smile that formed on his face suggested he didn't really mean it.

“It's Real Sibling Hours, so you better talk to me,” his brother Kankuro said.

“I know. I'm sorry. I've been incredibly busy.”

Gaara heard a voice yell at his brother from a distance, “Is that Gaara?!”

“No, you bitch! Leave me alone!” Kankuro said.

“Hi, Gaara!” he heard his sister shout into the phone. He could picture her pushing Kankuro out of the way, as they fought over the phone.

“Hi, Temari.”

“How is school? Are you being nice to all the other kids?” she asked as Kankuro let out a stifled “get off me!”

Gaara scoffed. “Other kids? What am I, twelve?”

“Yeah,” the two of them replied.

Wow.

“Fuck you.”

The two of them laughed on the other end and Gaara was quick to join. He felt his heart hurt as he realized how much he actually missed being around his siblings.

“I miss your ugly-ass. When are you coming home?” Kankuro asked.

“I can't now. I'm, uh… doing a show.”

Oh, how he regretted saying that. The thick silence that hung in the air was palpable.

“Hey, man, gotta pay the bills somehow.” He heard Temari smack Kankuro.

“What kind of show?” Temari asked.

“It's a dance show,” he answered. Then added before Kankuro could say anything, “I'm not dancing!”

“Boooo!” Kankuro called.

“No, I'm backstage. It's a good show. The two of you should come out to see it,” he said. “There's this one dancer--”

And he's already said too much.

“Ooooh, a dancer? Does Gaara have a crush?” Temari teased.

“What? No.”

“Ooooh, give us a name!” Kankuro shouted.

They began chanting. “Give us a name! Give us a name!”

“I'm hanging up,” Gaara threatened.

“Nonono! Gaara, come back!” Kankuro started singing, “Come back to meee… My little brotherrr…”

“I really do have to go. I need to do some things for the director,” Gaara said, hearing footsteps down the hall.

“Whatever, man. We'll just be here. Wasting away,” he could hear the drama in his voice. What a mess.

“Goodbye.”

“We miss you!” Temari called.

“Me, too.”

“I love you, you little goon,” Kankuro said.

“Thank you. As do I,” he replied. “Goodbye.”

“Bye!” they called.

Gaara hung up the phone and saw Kakashi returning with a freshly printed script for Gaara to read from.

“Sorry I took so long. Turns out I got lost,” he said.

Gaara gave him a look. “... In your own office?”

“You know, in a way, it is my office…” Kakashi said, staring off wistfully.

Oh. That's why he was still doing Political Science. Because these people were so fucking weird.

“Go ahead and take this down to the dance studio. Gai should be down there now. He'll let you know what to do.”

“Thank you.”

--

Gaara went down to the studio and noticed the door was already propped open. He gave the door a slight knock anyway to indicate he was coming in when he saw Gai standing out on the dance floor, looking like he was choreographing something.

“Hello,” he said, making his way toward Gai.

Gai looked at Gaara through the huge mirror on the wall and his eyes shot open as wide as they could go.

“Don't step on the floor!!” Gai shouted, rushing toward him. “Off, off, off!”

Gaara froze in place and looked down.

Ah. The shoes. He heard Ino's threat to ‘punch his lights out’ and sat down to take them off. Of all days for him to wear lace-up boots, it had to be today… It took so long to get them off…

“Sorry, kid. These floors are just really expensive,” Gai said, helping Gaara to his feet. “Let's go record that announcement.” He clapped Gaara on the back.

If Gaara never got clapped on the back again, it would be too soon.

Recording the announcement only took a few tries. Gai helped him speak from the diaphragm to mask some of the raspiness in his low voice and they managed to finish in less than ten minutes. Gai also complimented him on his diction and vocal control, which made Gaara flush.

“You took that adjustment really well,” Gai said, a sly look crossing his face. “You're a singer, aren't you?”

Gaara tensed up. “What? No! … No.”

Gai let out a hearty laugh and Gaara attempted to protest more until he heard footsteps on the other side of the studio. Gai looked at the source of the sound and his face fell when he saw who it was.

Lee.

His cheeks were red and splotchy and his eyelashes looked thick with moisture.

“Gai-sensei,” he began, trying to hide the shakiness in his voice. “Can I practice in here?”

Gai nodded and stepped toward Lee, resting a hand on his shoulder. “Don't think too hard on it, Lee. There's still time. You still have another year before you graduate.”

“I know,” he said, sniffling. Gaara glanced into the mirror and saw Lee wipe his eyes as Gai bent down slightly to hug him.

“It's nothing personal. Remember that.”

Lee nodded as Gai pulled away and ruffled his hair affectionately.

“Feel free to rehearse as long as you like,” Gai said, beginning to head out. “Challenge yourself, but don't overdo it.”

Lee nodded and Gai offered Gaara a curt nod before he shut the door.

Lee sighed and walked toward one of the sets of parallel bars against the wall, pulling it out toward the center of the room.

“Hi, Gaara,” he said, smiling through his watery expression.

“Are you alright?” Gaara asked.

Lee nodded as took a seat on the dance floor and reached for something in his bag.

“Did you want me to leave you alone?” Gaara asked.

Lee shook his head, his thick, black hair swishing with the motion. He pulled out a pair of satin-y shoes and a small sewing kit. Lee kept his focus down, thick eyebrows knitted together and a small pout on his lips while he messed with the shoes, bending them back and forth and tapping them forcefully against the ground. Seemingly satisfied with his work, he began sewing a ribbon near the heel of the shoes.

Gaara stepped toward him cautiously and Lee's eyes shifted to Gaara's feet. He let out a small exhale and smiled.

“I like your socks.”

Gaara looked down at his feet and remembered he was wearing blue socks with little hourglass patterns knitted into them.

They were cute.

“Thank you.” Gaara kneeled down in front of Lee and watched him work. “What are you doing?”

Lee's eyes met Gaara's, the dark pools warm and inviting against Gaara's icy stare. His expression softened as he held up one of the shoes.

“Preparing pointe shoes,” he replied. “Pointe is usually for girls, but… Gai-sensei has been letting me take private classes at his studio downtown for the last two years, so I can do it.”

“Is that why you're sad?” Gaara asked. “Because pointe is for girls?”

Lee's smile faltered slightly, but he let out a tiny laugh. “No… I wanted to get my mind off of things. Plus I just wore my old pair out, so I just got new ones. See?”

Lee held one of the shoes out toward Gaara, who observed the way the satin-y fabric reflected the fluorescent lights above them. He had seen photos of dancers en pointe before, but never saw the shoes up close.

“You can touch them,” Lee said, scooting closer to tug on Gaara's wrist. Gaara felt Lee's hand trail across his own to touch the shiny fabric and felt his heart begin to race. His senses were starting to overwhelm him.

“Can I hold one?” Gaara asked. It was an odd question, but he wanted to feel them. They were so… interesting.

And they were Lee's, so that sweetened the deal.

Lee nodded, the smile on his face growing wider. He let Gaara take one of the shoes. He picked it up with the same care one might use to pick up a baby.

“They're… kind of heavy,” he said. He wasn't expecting that.

“Oh, that is from the toe box,” Lee said, showing Gaara the toe of the other shoe. He tapped it against the ground and it made a crisp knock. “There is a little block in there to protect your toes when you go up on them.”

“So, all of your weight is actually on one toe? On the box?” Gaara said, shocked.

“Yes!”

“Doesn't that hurt?”

Lee shook his head. “No, the box helps with that. There are also some protective pieces you can wear to protect your feet more.” He fished some small items out of his bag and showed them off in his outstretched hands.

Protection or not, Gaara still had a hard time believing pointe didn't hurt.

Lee slipped one of the shoes on and began lacing the long ribbon around his ankle. He tied it off as Gaara handed the other shoe to him and he repeated the process. Lee pushed himself to standing and grabbed onto one of the parallel bars in front of him, shifting his weight from one foot to the other. Gaara watched the gears turn in his head as he tested the shoes out, thinking about their fit.

“Can I watch you practice?” he asked.

Lee looked down at Gaara and grinned. “Of course.”

Lee let Gaara pick out a small music playlist and practiced various ballet exercises to songs that Gaara liked. They talked through Lee's routine and enjoyed each other's company. Gaara learned more about ballet and felt an unfamiliar warmth in his chest as he finally began to open himself up to another person.

He still didn't know why Lee had been crying, but the longer they stayed together, the more Lee seemed to forget he was ever sad in the first place.

Chapter Text

“Do you have class today?”

Gaara helped Lee lift the barre, as he learned it was called, back to its place against the wall, clearing the dance floor for the next class.

“No, I'm done for the day,” Gaara answered, trying to hide the strain in his voice from lifting the barre. They placed it gently on the ground, but it definitely hit less gracefully on Gaara's side. He exhaled. “You have tap today, right?”

“You remembered!” Lee smiled and Gaara couldn't help but return it. “Yes, in about twenty minutes. We have to… fix some choreography for the last piece today.” He paused for a moment, then started toward the center of the floor, half-dancing along the way. “What are your plans for the rest of the day?”

“I may just go home. But I'm parked over by the theater building, so…” Gaara followed Lee and watched him as he sat down to untie the ribbons on his pointe shoes. He decided to sit down next to Lee, hooking his arms under his knees as he sat.

“Oh! Very cool. I like walking, but sometimes I wish I had a car.” Lee put the shoes in a separate compartment in his bag.

“It's honestly sometimes a hindrance.”

That made Lee laugh. They sat in a comfortable silence, looking at one another for a moment as Lee placed his hands down to lean back on them. Gaara played with the hem of his shirt sleeves to avoid the temptation of “accidentally” touching one of Lee's hands.

“So, what do you plan to do with Political Science? Is that something you feel passionate about?” Lee asked, breaking the silence.

“Hm? Oh. I'm not certain. I wouldn't call it a passion. It's more of an obligation… to my family,” Gaara answered.

“I see. Where is home for you?” he asked.

“Suna?” he said in a manner that suggested Lee may not know where that was.

Lee cocked his head to the side, indicating his unfamiliarity.

“It's a desert,” Gaara said bluntly.

“Oh, very cool,” Lee said, offering a thumbs-up.

Gaara shrugged, not knowing what else to say.

Lee slid his legs straight out in front of him and folded himself in half, to touch his toes. Gaara tried not to look at the way his biceps flexed as he stretched and cleared his throat instead. “So… what about you?”

“Oh! I grew up here,” he said. “I am a Dance major and… I suppose that is all.” He laughed. “I am not that interesting.”

“I don't think that's true,” Gaara said. Lee's eyes locked with his, and Gaara immediately felt the wind get knocked out of him, despite the lack of impact. “I thought you were a Theater major?”

“A common misconception!” Lee smiled wide. “I am a Theater minor though, so I am friends with a lot of the majors. There is a lot of overlap in our departments, too. Like Tenten?”

“Yeah?”

“Tenten is a Theater major, but she likes dance a lot, so we try to take as many classes together as we can.” Lee adjusted his position. He spread his legs out to a wide “v” and leaned forward again.

“Is she an actress?” Gaara asked, adjusting his position to sit more comfortably. And also to temporarily distract himself from Lee's… flexibility.

“Nope! She does props!” Lee beamed. “So, all the things actors carry onstage? That is all her work.”

Gaara nodded. He thought for a moment how many times he had seen Lee with Tenten. It seemed like they were always together. Whether it was for the dance show or walking through the halls or that time she slapped his ass… He just said they always took classes together. Gaara felt his brow creasing in irritation.

“Is she your girlfriend?” he asked sharply, before he had time to think about it. Lee's head shot back to Gaara and his cheeks went pink.

“What? Oh, gosh, no!” Lee said. The shade in his cheeks deepened with each passing second and Gaara gave him a look. Lee pushed himself up from stretching and faced Gaara directly. He put his hands up defensively. “No, no, no. She is my best friend!”

“Oh, I thought… sorry,” Gaara said.

Lee smiled at him briefly, but looked away just as fast. “I actually… am not in a relationship… with anyone.”

Gaara tried to hide how much he perked up at that.

“Oh. That's…” He leaned slightly closer. His eyes traveled across Lee's body--his neck. His arms. His abs. His thighs. Gaara tried not to make it obvious that he was ogling him, but found his fascination hard to ignore. “... surprising.”

“Are you…?” Lee asked, a blush still spread across his cheeks.

Lee turned to look at him again and Gaara shook his head. “No…”

He couldn't help but stare at Lee's slightly parted lips. He wondered what it would be like to lean forward. If he placed a hand on his cheek. Ran his hands through that glossy, black hair. Pressed their lips together…

In a flash, Gaara imagined his own body writhing underneath Lee's.

What was that?

His focus remained fixed on Lee's mouth. Both stayed completely still, but fixated on the other. Gaara felt like his body was on fire. He tried so hard, yelling internally at himself, to just reach forward and quickly peck him on the lips. He could just say he slipped.

“Oh, my gosh, Hayate is the worst!”

Gaara snapped out of his focus and turned toward the mirror as he noticed Sakura and Ino stepping into the dance studio, their tap shoes clicking against the floor. He also noticed how close he and Lee were sitting, hands merely inches apart, Gaara leaning in close.

“I know! I can't believe he marked me down for skipping a line--” Ino's eyes locked with Gaara's through the mirror and she cut herself off, surprised. “Oh!”

Everyone froze in place, exchanging glances. Sakura and Ino turned toward each other, seemingly communicating via facial expressions before Ino smacked Sakura on the arm.

Sakura smiled at her before turning back to them. “Hey. Sorry to… interrupt. Lee? We have tap in a couple minutes.”

“Right.” Lee turned back to Gaara and gave a small, apologetic smile.

“Do you guys need the room?” Ino asked, earning her an elbow to the side from Sakura.

“No, thank you,” Lee said, standing up. He offered a hand toward Gaara, so he could help him up. Ino grabbed Sakura's arm as she watched them.

They walked toward the front of the door in silence as Gaara went to put his shoes back on. Lee picked up his bag for him and led him out of the dance studio, a hand ghosting his back.

Gaara heard one of the girls squeal, but wasn't sure why.

“Sorry to kick you out…” Lee said, turning to face Gaara, his hand resting on his upper arm.

“No, I suppose I overstayed my welcome,” Gaara said. “Enjoy your class.”

Lee smiled and handed Gaara his bag, both taking their time with the exchange. Gaara eventually slung it over his shoulder and they stood there looking at one another in silence, neither wanting to leave.

Lee took him by surprise, flying forward to wrap strong arms around thin shoulders. Gaara tensed up at first, not one for physical contact, but eventually relaxed into it and hugged Lee back. Lee's body was firm… but comforting. Normally he would have pulled away, but for Lee, he supposed he would make an exception.

“Thank you,” Lee said. His voice was so close to Gaara's ear, he nearly shuddered.

“For what?” Gaara asked.

Lee pulled away and smiled. “For spending time with me. I had a nice time.”

Gaara nodded, unsure of what to say.

“I will see you at tech,” Lee said. He turned away and went into the dance studio.

Gaara stood still as other tap students filtered out of the changing room and into the studio. He could still feel the heat from Lee's body pressed up against his own. He felt his face and realized it was hot, too.

--

Gaara picked Naruto up from class and the two drove home together in silence. Neither said a word, no music played on the way… it was shockingly quiet--only the sound of the car passing over a slightly uneven road.

Naruto turned to Gaara after a few minutes of painful silence. “You nervous for tech on Monday?”

He supposed that was a good enough excuse, but found himself shaking his head. “No.”

Oh. Wrong response.

Naruto's eyes narrowed. “It's fine to be nervous, dude. We're not part of load-in, so we have some time to go through stuff if you want.”

“I'll manage,” he said, staring straight out at the road.

Naruto shifted in his seat and stared at Gaara, who pretended not to notice. “You have a really… weird energy right now.”

“Shut up,” he snapped. “You know I don't believe in that chakra shit.”

“Okay, damn.” Naruto leaned closer. “What's up?”

Gaara turned toward him for a second, meeting Naruto's eyes. That was a mistake. There was something weird about the look in his eyes. Like he knew something Gaara didn't. He felt his face heat up after letting his guard down. “Nothing!”

“Gaaraaaaa!” Naruto reached his hand out to touch Gaara's face, but it was promptly swatted away. “What's bothering yooouuu?”

“I'm trying to drive! Would you relax?” he said.

“Would you?” Naruto puffed his cheeks out.

They sat in another tense silence as they rounded the corner to their house. Naruto sat back, arms crossed, his cheeks still puffed out. Gaara parked and turned the car off, but neither of them moved.

“I've just had a lot on my mind,” Gaara finally said.

“Like what?” Naruto asked.

“I don't really wanna talk about it.”

Naruto sighed. “Alright. I'll let you feel whatever you're feeling. But if you wanna talk, lemme know. Mopey Gaara isn't fun to be around.” He smiled, then reached his hands out on either side of Gaara's face and lightly batted his cheeks. “Mopey babyyy.”

He turned his head away and stifled a laugh. “Stop. You're so annoying.”

“I know,” Naruto said, seeming pleased with himself for almost making him laugh.

They got out of the car and headed into their house. Despite Naruto's want to sit around, eat ramen, and watch a shitty movie, Gaara headed into his room wordlessly. He just wanted to be alone.

As soon as he shut the door, his mind raced back to Lee. What happened in the dance studio? He walked a little farther into the room, replaying that moment over and over in his head.

He flopped down onto the bed and curled in on himself.

He thought about it again. And again. And again.

But why? Why did he want to kiss him so badly? Sure, he thought Lee was interesting, and extremely talented, and he thought about him all the time, and… okay, he may have just briefly fantasized about him today… well, a few times actually, but it was fine! He didn't always tune out his lectures and opt to daydream about the sound of Lee's laughter. He remembered every little detail about each encounter they had, but it was probably because he had a good memory. Theater was all so new to him, he just needed to take in as much of it as he could! He liked Lee, but they were just friends. Lee would never like him that way.

Besides, it's not like he was going to think about Lee's heavily defined physique later that night and get off to it.

… but he supposed it was worth a shot.

He heard a knock at the door.

“W-what? I'm… sleeping,” he called.

“Yeah, right!” Naruto cracked the door and stepped halfway inside. “Hey, can I come in?”

Gaara rolled over to look at him before responding monotonously, “I mean, you're already in here.”

“Oh, cool.”

Apparently that was an invitation because he promptly took a seat on the edge of Gaara's bed. Gaara didn't sit up, but he caught a glimpse of the devilish look in Naruto’s eyes. Gaara didn't like this look. It was usually followed by an outlandish or incredibly stupid request. He squinted at his roommate.

“Hey,” Naruto said. He continued off Gaara's expectant look. “So, I've always wanted to host a cast party.”

Gaara felt his stomach drop. According to Naruto himself, theater cast parties were always “batshit insane.” The last time Naruto went to one, he didn't come back for days. Gaara sat up quickly. “Are you serious?”

“Hey, I already have a plan. We can board your room up if you decide you don't wanna stick around. Tell people it's haunted, y’know?”

“I don't know if I trust people to stay out,” he said, eyes flitting to the succulent on his desk. “Who would be coming?”

“Oh! Well, me, you--if you want--the crew, Shikamaru, and the dancers. So, Sakura, Ino, Neji, Tenten… Lee--”

“What?” Gaara's eyes grew twice their size.

Naruto looked at him and smacked a hand to his head. “Oh! Right, I forgot! You and Lee have been talking, huh?”

Gaara felt his face heat up. “What? Who said that?”

“N… no one. Just. When we were at rehearsal…” Naruto's eyes widened and something flashed across his face. He smirked and waved a hand dismissively. “It doesn't matter. You guys are friends. If you're cool with me hosting, I'll make sure he shows up.”

That was enough to convince Gaara. “Alright. Fine.”

Naruto's eyes lit up. “Seriously?!”

He tried to play it cool. “Yeah, whatever.”

Naruto screamed and jumped around. Gaara pretended that it didn't hurt his ears, but was glad to see his friend was happy. Naruto hugged him briefly, but Gaara didn't return it.

“I fucking love you, man! This is gonna be the best. You won't be disappointed!”

“You sure about that?”

Naruto snapped his fingers and gave him a wink. “Believe it!”

Gaara rolled his eyes. “You're a fucking idiot. Get out of here.”

He bolted out of the room and thankfully shut the door behind him. Gaara fell back onto his bed. Maybe if he drank at the party, he could blame the alcohol for the flush that kept appearing on his face whenever Lee was around.

--

“Call board looks good. Everyone's actually here on time… even you,” Naruto gave Gaara's shoulder a playful shove.

“I drove you here…” he said as they passed through the green room and into the theater.

It was the first night of tech, a cue-to-cue rehearsal. Everyone was in the theater, getting ready to add technical elements to the show.

They walked through the wings and approached a small cabinet backstage. Gaara was given a set of keys to retrieve items needed for the show and quickly whipped one out to unlock the cabinet. He pulled out a few headsets and handed one to Naruto, who put it on instantly.

Naruto walked as he clipped the transmitter to his jeans and called out, “Remember it's on channel three. I'm gonna head up to the booth.”

Gaara nodded as he slipped his headset on. He scooped up the rest of them and went to search for the crew members who needed them. Along the way, he offered a few “sorry’s” and “excuse me's” to people adjusting the flylines. As he rounded a corner, he bumped into Kakashi, who caught one of the headsets that tumbled out of his arms.

“Oh. Hello, you,” he said through a large scarf he wore around his face. He handed the headset back. “I assume you're looking for the crew?”

“Yes.”

“Come, come. I guess it's time for introductions,” he said, walking Gaara back through the wings and onstage toward a couple of other students. “Kiba. Shino. Hinata.”

A small crew of... weirdos looked up at Kakashi. They didn't say anything, but they all stared expectantly between Kakashi and Gaara.

“This is Gaara, the ASM. Make sure to get your headsets from him when you come in,” Kakashi said. And before Gaara knew it, he was gone. He looked around, then made uncomfortable eye contact with the motley crew.

“Here,” he said, offering the headsets out.

“Hey, thanks, dude,” the shaggy-haired one said. He was the only one who thanked him. The other two offered him strange, unsure looks, neither saying a word as they freed his hands of the items.

This sure was a social crowd... Gaara really found his people…

“What is everyone… doing?” he asked after way too much time had passed.

“Well, I'm Kiba, I'm the sound board op,” he said, then gestured to the two at his sides. “This is Hinata, the light board op, and this is Shino, who's gonna help you with flylines and the scrim and all that.”

“Very cool,” Gaara said. Where had he heard that?

“It is!” Kiba beamed, slipping the headset on. “Come on, Akamaru.” Kiba patted his leg and Gaara saw a massive, vest-clad service dog get up. He wondered how he didn't notice it sooner. Hinata followed closely behind and Shino stood completely still. Gaara decided it wasn't worth it to try opening up a conversation.

He headed down across the stage and observed the buzz of backstage theater: Naruto setting up in the booth, crew members calling out, Shikamaru and Asuma going over lighting, the distant sounds of the dancers chatting near the green room.

“Gaara!” he heard a familiar voice call. He turned to see Lee bounding toward him, his hair bouncing along before he skidded to a halt. He raised his arms toward Gaara and squeezed him. He let out a small gasp and let go almost immediately, slapping his arms to his sides. “Oh! Sorry!”

“For what?” Gaara asked, a smile threatening to curve on his lips as he looked Lee up and down.

“I hugged you without asking! I remember last time you hesitated and I thought maybe you--”

“Lee, it's alright,” Gaara stepped forward and hooked his arms under Lee's to rest his hands across his back. He returned it enthusiastically. They stood there hugging onstage for perhaps a moment too long before Gaara heard a fuzzy sound in his ear.

“Um. Earth to Eyeliner. We can all see you,” he heard Naruto say through the headset. He turned his head, cheek pressed against Lee's shoulder to look up at the booth, where Naruto was.

Gaara pulled away from Lee and pressed the “talk” button on the transmitter. “Don't call me that.”

“Don't you have a job to do? Check the time, man, dancers have a warm-up call,” Naruto said. He laughed a little. Not to chastise Gaara. More like a friend reminding a friend to get his ass in gear.

“Right,” Gaara said. He and Lee walked toward a stool backstage in front of a high table. A small, flat monitor hung above it, showing everything that was happening onstage.

“Make sure to use the little intercom, ‘kay?” Naruto said.

“Right,” Gaara said. Lee watched him excitedly, his dark, round eyes following Gaara's movements. His fists were balled up at his sides. He looked really happy to be there. Gaara clicked on the button to speak over the backstage intercom. “Dancers--warm-up onstage in two.”

“Ahh! Your headset!” Lee said when Gaara finished. Gaara looked up at him, slightly confused. “You look… so cute!”

If he was prone to fainting, he certainly might have done it then. Instead his face went as red as his hair.

“Thank you…”

“You look like a pop star,” Lee said, letting out a small laugh. Gaara watched him bounce in place, smiley and excited… He radiated positivity. How did he think Gaara was the cute one when it was so clearly Lee?

“I promise you I'm not,” Gaara replied with a hint of a smile.

“How is the job treating you so far?” Lee asked, leaning an elbow on the small table.

Gaara placed his head in his hand, looking at Lee through lidded eyes. He noticed how shiny his hair looked under the grid lights. “It's good. I've been doing a lot of reading.”

“Really? Wow, you must be really dedicated,” Lee said, leaning in a bit closer.

“I suppose I am,” he said with a smile. His eyes trailed down to look at the way the neckline of Lee's shirt pressed open, exposing his collarbone.

“Lee!” Gaara and Lee turned to see Tenten waving her arms. The other dancers followed her through the green room as a few headed out onto the stage. Gaara checked his phone for the time.

“I suppose two minutes have passed,” Gaara said. He pressed the intercom again just in case. “Dancers onstage for warm-ups.”

“I guess that means me,” Lee said. He placed a hand on Gaara's upper arm and squeezed a bit. “I will see you soon!”

“I'll be here,” Gaara called.

He watched Tenten and Neji jog over to Lee. The three instantly glued themselves together, Tenten hugging Lee at the waist and Lee slinging an arm across Neji's shoulders. They headed onstage, talking and laughing together.

They all had… such beautiful hair...

“Standby sound zero,” he heard Naruto say through the headset.

“Standing by,” Kiba replied. The other ops must already be in the booth.

“Sound zero: go,” Naruto said.

A heavy beat kicked in, no doubt a playlist the dancers used for warm-ups. Gaara stood up to watch them, peeking behind a curtain until he found Lee. He watched the dancers prepare themselves before a bellowing voice scared him.

“Dynamic entry!!”

Gaara nearly shit himself on the spot. Directly behind him was Gai, who took a start and leapt across the stage, the power in his massive, muscular legs allowing him to soar high in the air into… way beyond a split. Gaara stared as Gai struck, quite frankly, a ridiculous pose and called out to his dancers.

“Alright, warm-ups, let's go!”

Gai led dance warm-ups onstage and Gaara was amazed to see him in action. He hadn't seen Gai dance before, but he could definitely see the influence in the way Lee moved. Lee had mentioned Gai wasn't his father, but Gaara had his doubts. The resemblance was uncanny.

Lee was definitely cuter though.

“Can we go into light one?” he heard Shikamaru call from the audience. The lights came on after a moment and began changing colors. They shifted in brightness and intensity as Shikamaru continued calling for cue numbers and adjusting the lights as he saw fit.

“Gaara?” Naruto called.

“Hm?” he answered, still watching the warm-ups. Or more specifically, Lee's ass as he bent over.

“After this next song, we're gonna meet in the house and we'll go over some stuff for cue-to-cue.”

Gaara nodded, but realized Naruto couldn't see him. He quickly reached for the “talk” button and gave him a quick “okay.”

When the final warm-up song concluded, Gaara called out to the dancers as they passed him by. “Places in ten.”

Lee caught his eye and he turned to give Gaara a small, excited wave. He responded with the rest of the dancers, “Thank you, ten” and Gaara gave a polite wave back.

The production team met in the house. Everyone sat in the audience seats, leaning over the backs or lying across two seats so they could all face each other. They discussed how slow-going the cue-to-cue process generally went and instructed each other to be patient when calling for cues. It came to Gaara's understanding that when working through a piece Lee wasn't in, it only gave them more time to spend together.

The team took five and split off to gather themselves before the rehearsal officially began. Gaara went in the hall to consult with the dancers and make sure they were doing as they were told, but couldn't find Lee, so he opted to head backstage again. He sat for awhile, sifting through notifications on his phone, watching what was happening onstage, and occasionally making uncomfortably long eye contact with other crew members.

Eventually, after a two-minute call and a “places” call, the show was about to begin. Some dancers filtered into the green room and some sat in the house to watch their friends perform when they weren't onstage. Sakura and Ino took their places on opposite sides of the stage for their first piece and Gaara glanced at a show order list that hung up in the back to make sure all was well.

Naruto's voice sounded through the headset. “Gaara, can you make sure the grid lights are off?”

“Oh. Yeah,” he said, flicking the switch that was next to him.

“Standby lights and sound one.”

“Standing by,” Kiba replied promptly.

They sat in silence, waiting for Naruto's call, but something was off. Naruto cleared his throat.

“Light one?” Naruto began to whisper, but his “talk” button was still held down. “Hinata, we're sitting right next to each other.”

“S-s-standing… by…” That must have been her.

“Lights and sound: go.” Gaara looked at the monitor and noticed the shift as the pre-show music kicked in.

“Standby light two and three, and sound two.”

“Standing by,” they both replied.

“Lights: go. Sound… go.”

Gaara heard the stage go quiet as he heard the pre-show announcement start up and… holy shit, the pre-show announcement! That he recorded with Gai! Is that what he sounded like?

“Oh, my gosh, is that you?” He heard someone whisper behind him.

Gaara turned to see Lee standing there, his eyes watering. He nodded.

“Light three: go.”

“That is me,” he admitted as Lee walked closer. He looked close to tears, but was still smiling. Maybe this was just another display of Lee being emotional.

“You have a very nice voice!” He gave Gaara a thumbs-up. “You should do ASMR.” Lee gasped and gave a small laugh. “I can just imagine you talking to me as I start to fall asleep.”

Gaara could imagine the same thing, but it was in an entirely different context. And they were wearing less clothes.

He mentally slapped himself. He really needed to stop thinking like that.

“Thank you, but I think ASM-ing will suffice for now.” He gave Lee a smile that was promptly returned.

“Standby light four and sound three.”

“Standing by.”

Lights and sound: go.”

The guitar melody picked up for the first song. Sakura and Ino stepped out onto the stage and began their piece, occasionally stopping and standing to run certain light cues over again. Gaara didn't have any real business in the piece, so he turned to Lee, who was staring straight ahead. His eyebrows were knitted together and he looked oddly determined. Gaara kept looking at him while he shifted in place and watched the piece. Lee turned his head and met Gaara's gaze, then quickly did a double-take when he realized he was staring.

“Oh! Hi,” he said.

“Hi,” Gaara replied.

Lee leaned in a little closer and Gaara could smell his soap, along with the natural scent that Gaara found himself fawning over.

Fuck, why did he smell so good?

“Sorry, I was distracted. I just really like this piece,” Lee said quietly. “Are you doing alright?”

Gaara could only nod. Lee smiled wide at him and looked back out onstage. He did some small stretches in place and Gaara almost jumped when he heard Naruto speak.

“Hey, dude,” he said.

“Yes?” Gaara answered.

“We're gonna run this thing with lights and stuff. Can you make sure everyone's set for the next piece?”

“Do you need me to relay that to Sakura and Ino?” he asked.

Naruto paused for a second. “No, I just… announced it. From the booth. Can you not hear me back there?”

“Um…” Gaara didn't want to admit he was really just looking at Lee. “It is a bit quiet, yes.”

“Alright, I'll shout next time.”

Gaara pressed the intercom and relayed the message to everyone backstage, as he was told. Lee smiled at him as he finished the announcement, and stepped slightly closer.

The music picked up again as Sakura and Ino ran through the piece with Gai's occasional corrective shouts from the house of “full out,” “watch your feet,” and “I know you can get higher than that.” As the piece continued, Gaara noticed that Lee was fully crying, just as he had the first time he watched the piece.

“Are you… okay?” Gaara asked.

Lee nodded. “Yes! They just… they look so beautiful. They have such a fantastic bond onstage.”

Gaara looked out on the stage and didn't see what the fuss was all about. But Lee's eyes were still streaming with tears and he felt like he should probably do something about it.

“Are you sure you don't need anything?”

Lee wiped one side of his face, then stuck his other hand out toward Gaara in response. Gaara looked between Lee and his hand, surprised, then grabbed onto it as a warm sensation began blossoming in his chest. Lee laced their fingers together and squeezed softly while he watched the piece.

Holy shit, were the only words that came to Gaara's mind.

They sat there together, holding hands, watching the piece through the monitor as Gaara tried to keep his heart rate down. As Sakura and Ino's piece started to come to a close, Gaara heard Naruto call out cues for the next piece and slid himself off the stool. He smiled up at Lee and reluctantly released their hands.

“I have to go pull up the scrim,” Gaara said.

“I will see you soon!” Lee said as he patted him on the arm. They took their places for second piece.

“Standby light nine and sound four,” Naruto called. “Gaara. Shino. Standby flyline… three.”

“Standing by,” they all replied.

“Lights and sound: go.” The music started up and Gaara could see Lee and Tenten pretending to punch each other on the other side of the stage. He waited for his cue as dancers began filtering, some in front of and some behind the scrim.

“Flyline: go.”

They lifted it fairly easily, since it was really just a piece of fabric, and the piece began to pick up. Gaara tied off the flyline and returned to his post, watching mostly Lee for the rest of the performance.

And the cue-to-cue rehearsal continued just like that. Gaara would do his job and if Lee wasn't in the piece, they would enjoy each other's company while Lee talked to him about dance. The production team decided to only do the show up until intermission, since there were so many cues to call and they had another cue-to-cue rehearsal the next day.

When the rehearsal concluded, Naruto called out over the headset, “Alright, everybody. Hit the showers.”

Gaara didn't want to admit he didn't know what that meant, so he opted to say nothing at all. He traveled across the stage, collecting headsets as Naruto locked up the booth.

“Hey,” Naruto said as Gaara finished up. “We're gonna do notes in the green room in like, five.”

He nodded.

“Good job tonight. Uh… make sure you send that rehearsal report.”

“I did,” Gaara said.

Naruto looked pretty impressed. “Okay, I see you.”

He walked back out as Gaara cleaned up the stage with the little time he had before notes.

“Hello, Gaara,” he heard.

“Hello, Lee,” he replied, turning to face him.

“Do you need help?” Lee asked.

Gaara shook his head as he checked the flylines and made sure everything was locked up. “I am alright. I'm pretty much done.”

Lee just smiled. “Okay! Would you like me to keep you company?”

Gaara nodded. Lee followed him around the stage as he double-checked everything. He turned off all the lights in the theater and they headed into the green room together for notes.

There wasn't much to report. Just reminders about another cue-to-cue and the upcoming dress rehearsals, which Gaara had already mentioned in his report. After that, everyone was free to go.

Gaara found Naruto in the crowd so they could head home, but overheard Tenten talking to Lee.

“You really shouldn't run home, Lee. It's cold! And it's late!”

“I have to build endurance somehow,” he said as Tenten rolled her eyes. “If I want to be at my peak for opening night, I have to keep pushing myself!”

“Lee,” Neji chimed in. “Look at me. It's fine. You'll be fine if you go one day without sprinting home in the cold.”

“I can take you home,” Gaara found himself saying. The three turned to look at him and he swore Lee's face was slightly pinker.

“Wow, thank you, Gaara!” Tenten said, but maintained eye contact with Lee. “That's so nice of you. Lee would love that.”

“Can't argue with that,” Neji said. He and Tenten shoved Lee forward.

“I really--”

Gaara held up a hand. “It's alright. I don't mind.”

Lee turned back toward his friends and then to Gaara again. “Thank you.”

“Come on, dude. I'm fucking starving,” Naruto said, clearly missing the moment in front of him.

Lee waved toward Tenten and Neji after they all headed out of the green room. Gaara could have sworn he heard the sound of a high-five as Neji and Tenten left. Naruto turned off the lights and locked the door to the green room before turning to Gaara and Lee.

“I gotta go give these to Kakashi. I'll be back in like, two minutes,” he said.

“Oh, here, I have mine, too,” Gaara said, handing his set of keys off. Naruto nodded and headed down to Kakashi's office.

“Thank you,” Lee said again.

“Of course,” Gaara said. “I'm happy to help.”

“So, Naruto is also coming?” Lee asked.

“Oh. Yes. We're roommates, so it's… convenient.”

Naruto ended up being back much faster than they anticipated and the three headed out toward the parking lot. Gaara and Lee stood close together as they walked, unbeknownst to Naruto, who was busy ranting about “the cute, weird girl who ran the light board.”

They reached the car and Gaara began to unlock it, but Naruto stopped him. He looked between Gaara and Lee for a minute.

“Hey, I can drive, if you want.”

Gaara looked between Naruto and the car. He trusted him, but he wasn't completely sure how much. He did want to sit next to Lee…

“I've been to his house, I already know where he lives.”

“Sure,” Gaara shrugged as he climbed into the backseat.

Lee began to open the door to the front before Naruto stopped him. “No, dude. Sit in the back. I'll be the chauffeur!”

Lee obliged with a small laugh as he sat next to Gaara in the backseat. They sat in a comfortable silence as Naruto headed to Lee's, their hands slowly inching toward the middle in hopes that they would “accidentally” touch.

Chapter Text

“Places in ten,” Gaara called from his seat backstage.

It was the second night of cue-to-cue and Gaara was trying hard to focus on his breathing. When he and Naruto drove Lee home the previous night, there wasn't much conversation between the three of them. But Gaara felt their fingertips graze in the backseat and hadn't been able to stop thinking about it since. Lee hugged him goodnight and gave Naruto a small wave before he retreated into his home. Naruto gave Gaara an odd look as he shifted into the front seat. If he noticed something, he sure kept quiet about it.

Gaara turned his attention to the textbook in front of him, jotting down equations while he still had the time to do so. An indifferent “thank you, places” call was given as Gaara heard a familiar bounding approaching his table.

“Gaara!” Lee beamed, leaning down slightly so he was eye to eye with him. “What are you working on?”

“Hello, Lee.” Gaara didn't look up from his work, as he was deep in thought, trying to finish his calculation. “Sorry, one second.”

Lee nodded and stood in place, checking his alignment and shifting his weight around. When Gaara finished, he put his pencil down and directed his full attention to Lee with a soft smile.

“How are you?” Gaara asked.

“I am fantastic!” Lee said, leaning forward to give him a firm hug. Gaara pressed into the touch as much as he could, inhaling Lee's scent just before he pulled away. “What are you working on?”

“Calculus,” Gaara replied simply.

Lee blinked at him and offered an impressed nod. He craned his neck to look down at the paper. Gaara took the opportunity to steal a glance at the way Lee's jawline met his neck. He imagined himself locked in his embrace, pressing endless kisses across his skin.

“Wow, that looks… incredibly difficult. I only recognize the x's and y's,” Lee laughed. “What class is this?”

“Applications of Calc for Social Sciences,” he answered flatly. “It fulfills my math requirement, but I'm trying to figure out if I want to pick up a minor.”

“Look at you! Politics, math, and theater? You really do it all!” Lee beamed.

Gaara looked away, glad that the dim lights backstage blocked the redness in his cheeks.

“So, what kind of math are you doing?” Lee asked, leaning a bit against the table. He seemed genuinely interested even though he didn't recognize the work.

“Implicit differentiation,” he answered, over-enunciating each consonant. Lee cocked his head to the side and Gaara continued. “Basically you find y with respect to x by taking the derivative.”

“Yeah?” Lee said, his eyes lidded. Gaara thought he looked kind of sleepy for a second. But there was something else in his expression. Something… well, Gaara didn't want to use the word sensual, but it sort of applied.

“Mhm. I guess even amongst Math majors it's…” He swallowed roughly. He felt like his throat was swelling. “... really hard.”

“Uh-huh,” Lee said, leaning a bit closer.

“Normally we would use algebra and write y as a function of x.” He shifted forward in his seat and looked directly into Lee's deep, black eyes. “If you want to solve it… explicitly…”

“Oh…” Lee replied in almost a sigh.

“Hey, I don't know what the fuck is going on, but I think we're ready to start,” he heard Naruto say through the headset. His face burned and he jolted back. Gaara looked down at his transmitter and noticed there was a small green light on, which meant…

He accidentally left the mic on.

“S-sounds good,” he said. He reached shaky hands out toward the intercom to make a call and looked back at Lee, whose cheeks were rosy. In an unplanned effort to make things worse, his voice cracked when he spoke, “Places for the top of act two.”

“I, um…” Lee began. He sheepishly rubbed the back of his neck and looked down at the floor. “I have to be onstage, so...”

Lee bolted off and Gaara covered his face in embarrassment.

He heard Naruto snort. “Standby light forty-six and sound seven.”

“Standing by,” Kiba and Hinata replied.

Well, at least it seemed like no one was gonna talk about what just happened. Gaara was at least thankful for that.

“Wait, not everyone's in places,” Gaara said, noticing a hole in the formation. He scanned the group to try and figure out who it was.

“My dancers in ‘Jeux d’eau,’ where are you?” Gai called from the house.

“Sorry, Gai-sensei!” Tenten called as she scurried out from the green room. She was moving a bit awkwardly and Gaara looked down to see she was wearing pointe shoes.

He vaguely remembered watching the ballet piece for the first runthrough rehearsal. Now that Gaara spent more time learning about dance with Lee, he paid more attention to other dancers’ shoes and techniques. For someone who had no interest in becoming a dancer, it was going far beyond a simple appreciation for the art. He found he was spending… a lot of time researching terminology, watching videos on refining basic techniques, and reading up on some of the history of dance. He didn't have anyone to share this information with and was too nervous to talk to Lee about it, so instead, he kept quiet, in hopes that he would at least be better able to understand Lee and his interests.

Tenten took her spot amongst the ensemble and Gaara noticed Lee briefly put a comforting hand to her back.

“Tenten!” Gai shouted. She flinched. “You're late. If this were a real show, you'd have missed your cue. Twenty push-ups. Go.”

Tenten looked down at the ground and back out into the audience, presumably where her instructor was standing. “Gai-sensei… my shoes…”

“Then put your knees on the floor,” he replied, not backing down.

Understanding there was no way to get out of it, she pressed her lips into a thin line and got down, assuming a push-up position with her knees against the ground. Gaara noticed Lee look around nervously before dropping to the floor to join her.

“Not you, Lee,” Gai said.

“But I want to,” he said innocently.

Neji looked up at the lights and let out a dramatic sigh. He shook his head softly.

A loud sniffle sounded from the audience. “Oh, Lee…” Gai said, his voice wavering. “This is why you're my favorite student! Everybody join them! Give me twenty push-ups, let's go!”

The ensemble let out various groans and sighs at the task before dropping to the ground and doing as requested. Gai was heard sobbing in the house, while the crew stood around, unfazed. Gaara squinted at the dancers through the monitor. Why did they fear this man so much if he cried over a push-up?

Naruto mumbled through the headset. “I fucking hate when he does this. Just start the piece.”

“Naruto, be polite,” Kakashi warned. “That's my husband.”

Gaara's eyes widened. They were married?!

Naruto went silent for a couple seconds, probably trying to find a way to save his ass. “Whaaat…? Hinata! Why would you say that about Kakashi's man? So rude.”

Hinata sputtered. “I… I--”

“Oh, well!” Naruto said, “Gotta hop off the mic and give this one a firm talking-to.”

“Hmm,” was all Kakashi said.

Dancers began to stand up, having finished their punishment, and Naruto called out from the booth.

“Are we ready?” he asked.

“Ready!” Gai called.

Naruto was back on the headset for a quick, “Lights and sound: go!” And the dancers began.

Gaara watched the piece intently, searching for Lee in the monitor each time he made an entrance in the piece. He silently thanked Shikamaru's lighting choices. There was a heavy focus on white toplight that beautifully showcased Lee's muscles through the shadows. Gaara watched him move through the stage and something about the resonance of the deep strings in the music paired with Lee's movements was emotionally compromising. All of the dancers were moving beautifully together and in perfect sync, but he couldn't take his eyes off of Lee. Every bend in his body, sweep of his leg, or leap into the air had Gaara staring in awe. As usual, he found himself struggling to breathe properly.

The piece was teched for a long time, as there were several cues that needed to be timed with the most crucial parts of the choreography. Shikamaru would offer a lazy correction and Naruto would call for a hold to run certain parts over again. Each time dancers needed to reset for a piece, Lee bounded over to his position with enthusiasm, seeming to never run out of energy. Other dancers, however, were bent over, trying to catch their breath.

“Okay, can we try to run this one straight through?” Naruto called from the booth.

“Yes! One more time!” Gai called. “Just mark it.”

They began the piece again, dancing much more lazily this time, only showing the basic footwork and occasional sweeps of the arms. Gaara assumed they were half-dancing to conserve energy for the rest of the show, but there was Lee. In position. Dancing his little heart out.

Gaara couldn't stop smiling.

“Lee!” Gai shouted.

Lee nearly fell out of a turn at the sound of his instructor's voice. He whipped his head toward where Gai was standing and lost his spotting place.

“I said mark it!”

“Y-yes, Gai-sensei!” Lee called. He jumped right back into the piece, struggling not to put in his all.

“Standby light sixty-four and sound eight.”

As the dance came to a close, everyone circled around Tenten and Neji as they ran offstage, leaving the two of them alone, staring at one another as they transitioned into the next piece.

“Keep it going! Straight into the next one!” Naruto called. Then, back on headset, “Lights and sound: go.”

Gaara pushed himself off of the stool as Lee rounded the corner from the opposite side of the stage. He made sure his mic was off before he said anything.

“Lee!” he called in a harsh whisper.

Lee's face beamed and he rushed over at the sound of his name. He practically slammed into Gaara as he embraced him. Gaara felt the sticky heat from Lee's sweat against his face and angled his head away from it. Unfortunately, that gave Lee the signal to let go of him.

“Oh, gosh, sorry!” he said.

Gaara wanted to tell him to come back--that being smothered in Lee's sweaty body was something he was really craving in his life--but he kept quiet.

“Look, look!” Lee said, leaning toward Gaara slightly, resting an arm lightly across his shoulders. They looked past the curtain to see a sliver of the stage. “Neji and Tenten are up there!”

Gaara crossed his arms and leaned into the touch. “Yeah?”

“I love them so much! They are absolutely incredible,” Lee said, eyes watering. “Ahh, I wish I could turn like Neji. And Tenten is just so beautiful.”

“So are you…” Gaara caught himself saying quietly. His eyes shot open and he felt his heart rate skyrocket.

Lee turned down to look at him. “What did you say?”

“Um… nothing,” Gaara kept his eyes glued to the stage as his face burned.

“Gaara,” Naruto said. Gaara flinched at the sound. “Can you make sure everyone's set for the next piece? After we work through that, we'll take a ten.”

Gaara sidestepped away from Lee as he adjusted his mic. “Y-yeah,” he replied, “I'll go make the call.”

Gaara waved a small goodbye to Lee as he nervously headed back to his post. He filtered past a few dancers to make the call for the next dance, then returned to his forgotten textbook on the small table and sighed.

The process continued just the same. It was slow-going, but Naruto was surprisingly good at his job, so they managed to push through with ease. But by the time they reached the final piece, Gaara called the rest of the dancers onstage and noticed something was off. He had seen the piece before, but he didn't recognize the formation.

“Alright!” he heard Kurenai shout from the audience. “So, Naruto?”

“Yeah?” he called.

“This is the one we made some changes to, but it shouldn't be too hard to work through,” she said. “There are some new solo sections, so some of the light cues might have to be adjusted.”

Gaara heard a crisp slap, probably from Shikamaru facepalming.

“Sounds good,” Naruto replied.

“Can we go from the first solo?” she asked. “Naruto, this is about the two-minute mark.”

“Gotcha!”

The dancers moved across the stage and formed a semi-circle around Ino while a few of them quickly split off to the sides. Gaara looked over to check the show order, then back to the monitor. His brow creased in confusion. Why did Lee run offstage? He had a pretty big part in this one.

Shikamaru and Asuma discussed lighting adjustments and called brightness percentages for Hinata as the different intensities washed over the dancers who waited in place. Kurenai continued calling for each new solo formation, but Gaara still didn't see Lee onstage. He reached for the “talk” button on his transmitter.

“Hey, Naruto?” he asked.

“What's up?”

“Isn't Lee in this piece? I have his name on the list.” He grazed his finger across the paper and pointed to Lee's name to assure he was reading it correctly.

“Oh, shit, did he not tell you? He got cut from the second half,” Naruto said.

Cut? Something about his tone irritated Gaara. It was so… dismissive. He was cut from the piece! Was that not concerning to anyone else?

“He's not in it anymore?” Gaara asked.

“Nope. Just the beginning and the last like, few seconds.”

“Why?”

“I dunno,” Naruto replied. His voice strained slightly, probably from stretching. “Guess Kurenai wanted to show off someone else. It happens.”

“Well, it shouldn't,” Gaara said hotly.

“Dude, it's really no biggie,” Kiba chimed in. “Sometimes she likes to show off the less experienced people. Give ‘em a chance to shine, y'know?”

Gaara grumbled at that.

“Just because he's your boyfriend doesn't mean he has to be onstage all the time,” a quiet voice remarked.

A thick silence followed. Several painful seconds passed. Gaara was glad no one else was with him to see how horribly his face was burning.

“Dude, Shino--”

Gaara cut Kiba off. “He's not my--”

“Hey, guys, knock it off.” It was Kakashi. Sometimes it was a little too easy to forget he could hear them. “They're trying to work through these sections. Please pay attention.”

The group went quiet again.

Shino thought Lee was Gaara's boyfriend? Why? Did they seem like they were dating?

… Did they make a cute couple?

Gaara shook his head of the thought. When did Shino ever see him with Lee? He was one of the crew guys, but all he ever did was hang out backstage to--

Oh.

Maybe he saw them holding hands? Or hugging? But that was stuff friends did. Maybe Lee was just Gaara's friend.

“Hey, I don't like to change my cue numbers, so they're all just called at different times now,” Shikamaru called. He muttered something under his breath as Naruto gave him an affirmation.

The finale began--an explosive, jazzy tap number that would have been exciting if Gaara wasn't stewing silently in his corner backstage. He watched Lee exit from the second half and he briefly listened to Naruto give cues as he stormed toward the other backstage wing.

Lee was standing off to the side, a look of determination on his face. He was trying to practice tap techniques quietly while the other dancers thundered onstage. Gaara must have been scowling because Lee's usual smile faltered when he saw him approaching. His thick eyebrows pushed together and he stood up straight.

“H-hi,” he said. “Are you alright?”

“You didn't tell me you got cut,” he said. It came out less gracefully than he intended, but he went with it.

“O-oh. Sorry, that probably put a wrench in things,” Lee said. “I know you need to know who needs to be on and offstage, so--”

“You're a good dancer,” he interrupted flatly. He shook his head. The headset wobbled slightly. “You're better than good. You're incredible. I don't understand why they would take you out.”

“Thank you! But Gai-sensei said it was nothing personal,” Lee said with a sad smile. “I just need more practice is all. Kurenai thought my part should go to someone else.”

“Well, I disagree,” Gaara said, puffing out his cheeks in the same manner Naruto might. They stood there staring at the other dancers for a moment and Gaara let his arms fall to his sides. “I'm sorry that happened though.”

“Thank you,” Lee said.

Gaara turned his body and felt the warmth from Lee's knuckles knock against his own. He cleared his throat in an attempt to dispel his nervousness. “It must… suck to watch it.”

“A little,” Lee admitted. His hand pushed against Gaara's a little more.

They looked back out onto the stage. Gaara was hyperaware of the closeness of their hands. His heartbeat thumped in his ears as he silently yelled at himself to take Lee's hand to comfort him. He looked up and met Lee's eyes, wondering if he had been staring the whole time. Lee smiled back at him and looked down at their hands, then back to Gaara's wide-eyed expression.

“Sorry,” Lee said. He pulled away and clasped his own hands together behind his back. Gaara sighed softly to himself.

--

After notes concluded, the cast and crew split off to head home. Gaara walked into the hallway and noticed Tenten and Neji wrapped around Lee, their faces oddly close to his ears. He pretended not to look, but occasionally stole glances at them. This embrace was lasting… much longer than it should have. It looked like they might have been talking to him discreetly.

“Hey, you!” Naruto called, jumping in front of Gaara's field of vision. “I gotta get your keys. Then we can head out.”

“Sounds good,” Gaara said. He fished his keys off of his belt loop and looked back at the still-huddled trio. “Hey, would you mind if we… took Lee with us again?”

Naruto let out a crass yawn. “Yeah, dude, whatever. Just don't be weird and flirt about math.” Before Gaara could throw any protests at him, Naruto rounded the corner to Kakashi's office.

“Gaara!” Tenten called.

He turned at the sound of his name. Hearing it from her was a bit jarring. Lee's friends weren't interested in getting to know him… What did they want?

“Come here for a second!” She beckoned him with a free arm. He looked around for anyone else just in case she wasn't talking to him. When Tenten seemed sincere, he slowly made his way over. “Oh, wow.” She gave him a once-over. “We're like, almost the same height.”

Gaara looked away. He knew he wasn't the tallest guy around, but it still didn't make him feel very good when other people mentioned it.

“So cute. Anyway! We were wondering if you wanted to come to the cast dinner with us on opening night,” she said.

Gaara looked between them. “Cast dinner?”

“Yep,” Neji nodded. “The cast usually goes to a place to celebrate the first night of the show. It's sort of a department tradition.”

“Please, do not feel obligated,” Lee jumped in. “If you are at all uncomf--”

Tenten smacked him in the head. “Everyone is invited. You have a few days to think it over, but if you want to come, we'll make sure to save you a seat. With us.”

In the two years he had been in college, no one had ever formally invited him to an event. Much less a dinner. Was it a formal event? Did he have to bring anything? How many people were going? Was it expensive? He didn't have that kind of money…

“The dinner is very casual!” Lee cut in, disrupting Gaara's snowballing thoughts. “Since the cast and crew spend so much time apart, we like to have these things to get to know each other better!”

“Right…” Gaara said.

Tenten smiled. “Give it some time. Think it over. We won't take it personally if you don't come.”

“I didn't go to my first,” Neji said with a shrug. “Anyway. Lee. You need a ride?”

“I can take him,” Gaara said before Lee could answer.

He glanced at Tenten quickly. “Alright. We'll see you tomorrow for tech then.”

Neji and Tenten walked out, whispering fiercely to one another as they went. Gaara looked around and realized everyone else had already filtered out of the building, leaving him alone with Lee.

“Thank you,” Lee said quietly.

“Of course,” Gaara said. Then, after a moment, “Naruto will be with us again.”

Lee grinned. “Right.”

“You know,” Gaara started, “if you ever need a ride anywhere, you can just ask.”

“I would feel bad bothering you,” he protested.

Gaara held a hand up. “Lee. It's fine. I wouldn't have offered unless I meant it.”

He also knew Lee still didn't have his number and was trying to find an excuse to give it to him.

“So… the… contact sheet for the crew just went out the other day,” Gaara said, looking down at the floor. “You should probably let the ASM know if you're going to be late...”

Lee's eyebrows curved up. He frowned. “But you know me! I am very punctual!”

Was he… not getting the hint? Gaara looked around to try and spark another idea, but to no avail.

“Ugh, let's goooo,” Naruto said, waving his arms from down the hall. They turned to look at him as he slumped against the wall. “I'm so fuckin’ tired.”

Gaara decided it was probably best to try another time. They walked through the halls, out of the building, and into the parking lot. They each got into the car and drove in mostly silence with Gaara at the wheel and Lee in the front, while Naruto splayed his whole body across the backseat.

Gaara and Lee talked in the front a bit between Lee giving him directions. They laughed together as they discussed their classes and experiences in the cue-to-cue process from different parts of the stage. After some time had passed, Gaara noticed Naruto had been… shockingly quiet. He was a snorer, so he definitely wasn't asleep. Gaara could almost feel him staring from the back seat.

“Thank you again,” Lee said as they stopped in front of the apartment complex.

“Of course. I can walk you to your door if you like,” Gaara said softly.

Lee nodded, then turned to the back seat. “Bye, Naruto!”

Naruto gave a lazy wave of his arm and grunted something akin to a farewell.

Gaara stepped out of the car, but was slapped by the biting wind. He crossed his arms over his chest to block out the cold… and to hide the shakiness in his hands. Lee glanced down at him just before they started walking.

“Are you cold?” he asked.

“I'm alright, it's just for a minute,” Gaara said.

Lee pulled his jacket open and looked down into the empty space. Gaara stood there for a moment and eventually sidled next to him while Lee held him close. They passed through the complex quietly. There were several lights still on, despite how late in the night it was and people could be seen through the windows studying, laughing with roommates, or doing other menial tasks in their apartments. Gaara pushed himself closer to Lee's side to evade the brisk night air as they rounded a corner and headed up a set of stairs.

They approached the door and Gaara reluctantly pulled himself away.

The wind whistled past as they stared at one another under the bright, yellow light that hung above Lee's door.

“This is… um… me,” Lee said with a laugh.

“Yeah…” Gaara replied. He flinched as an unexpected chill went down his spine. Lee jumped on the defensive as he frantically looked around.

“Here! You can borrow my jacket!” he said. Gaara tried to decline the offer, but Lee already slid it off and shoved it into Gaara's arms. The green, sweater-like material was soft against his hands.

“Oh, um… thank you,” he answered. Gaara slipped the slightly-too-big jacket on and was immediately enveloped in Lee's scent and the lingering warmth from his body heat.

“I hope you can make it to the cast dinner. But I understand if you are not up to it!”

“I'll let you know what I decide to do,” Gaara replied, a hint of a smile on his face.

“Great!” Lee offered him a thumbs-up.

Gaara glanced at Lee's lips and they curved up into a smile. He took all of his features in, landing on every soft curve and harsh edge to Lee's face. The ever-present desire to kiss him was starting to become overwhelming. He started to lean forward without really thinking about it.

But Lee leaned forward to hug him instead.

“Text me when you get home,” Lee said.

Oh, that moment could have been so sweet…

“I'm afraid I can't do that,” he said as he pulled away. He continued off Lee's perplexed expression. “I don't have your number.”

“What?” Lee looked genuinely concerned. “Oh, gosh, give me your phone! Please!”

Well, that was easy.

Gaara did as he was told and Lee promptly went to punching numbers across the screen. “I tried to ask you for it. A few times, actually.”

Lee looked up from the device and his eyes immediately watered. “What?” He looked like he was going to cry.

“It's really quite alright. I must have been… unclear,” Gaara said.

“Well, you have it now!” Lee handed the phone back, but it still looked like the oncoming tears were threatening to spill over.

“Thank you,” Gaara said, gently pulling the phone back and slipping it into his pocket. He pulled at the deep green jacket and wrapped it further around his small frame. “When would you like this back?”

“Any time! Tech works, but I will probably be in the dance studio all day. If you want to drop by, feel free!” He winked. “Just text me.”

Gaara smiled and gave him a short nod.

Lee thanked him and hugged him again before heading inside. Wrapped in Lee's warmth, Gaara made his way back to the car where Naruto was sitting, having already shifted to the front seat.

“For fuck's sake, what took you so long?” Naruto glanced at the jacket and back to Gaara, who fastened his seatbelt with an unstable hand. Naruto opted not to say anything and returned to his phone as they headed home.

Once they stepped through the door, Gaara sent Lee his first message--a simple “I'm home.” Between the time it took for Gaara to get ready for bed and get settled under the covers in the darkness of his room, he opened his phone and fought back a smile when he saw the single-worded message from Lee:

“Goodnight :)”

--

The next day, Naruto and Gaara went to the class they shared. Between thinking about Lee and catching Naruto staring at him so much, Gaara was finding it difficult to concentrate.

Gaara's pencil scratched across the clean surface of his notebook. He scrawled across the page, furiously trying to distract himself from the thoughts that pierced his mind. It was only a matter of hours before the first night of tech and he was nervous to see Lee again.

“Hey,” Naruto whispered next to him.

Gaara glanced around the room. The professor had his back turned as he wrote something on the board.

“What?” Gaara replied quietly. He didn't look at him, but continued copying notes down.

“You wanna know something weird?”

Gaara gave an annoyed huff. “Can it wait until after class?”

Naruto leaned as close as he could, but the awkward seating in the lecture hall made it difficult. “No, I'll forget.”

Gaara leaned an elbow on the desk and covered his mouth with his fist to talk to Naruto discreetly. “Fine, what?”

“So like… You know, I've never seen you outright laugh until last night,” Naruto said.

Gaara gave him a look. “You've seen me laugh.”

“Not like that. When you laugh, it kinda sounds like a cough,” he said.

“What?” Did it really? That certainly wasn't appealing.

“Yeah. Or you do that exhale thing.”

Gaara turned back to his notebook to continue taking notes. “I don't see what this--”

“I'm just saying this was different. You like,” he thought for a moment. “I dunno, it was genuine. Like, when you were talking to Lee, it was like, the first time you actually looked happy to be in college.”

Gaara didn't say anything to that. He stared straight ahead, but… Naruto was right. Being around Lee did make him happy. But that shouldn't have meant anything. Lee made him laugh and his days felt better when he was around, but Gaara failed to understand why that held any sort of significance.

“Are you like… are you into Lee?”

Gaara felt his stomach drop as his face heated up yet again. He turned away slightly so Naruto wouldn't see how red it was getting.

“What? No, I--”

“‘Cause it's cool if you are,” he said, softly nudging him, “I'll be the first to admit he's got a rockin’ bod’.”

Gaara wanted to bury his face in his hands, but didn't want Naruto to catch on. But he sure was right.

“Would you shut up?”

“Dude, it's totally fine!” Naruto said. He pulled on Gaara's sleeve. “I mean… you're wearing his jacket. That's like, flirting 101.”

Gaara glanced down at his sleeve. So, what if it was Lee's jacket? He let Gaara borrow it because it was cold outside. It's not like Gaara spent a whole half hour that morning color-matching his outfit so the jacket would complement the rest of his look.

“I have to… return it. It didn't make sense to carry it,” Gaara said. He glanced at Naruto, who waggled his eyebrows salaciously. He whispered fiercely, “Stop looking at me!”

“Gaaraaaaa. You have a crush and it's so cute! Your face is all red,” Naruto said, poking his cheek.

“I do not have a crush,” he felt his face of the growing heat. “My face is red ‘cause I'm embarrassed.”

“Dude, you have a crush on him,” Naruto said. “You were totally flirting with him last night. Just admit it.”

“I will not.”

Gaara returned to his notebook and angled his body just enough to block out Naruto. He refused to speak to him for the rest of the class and was met with a pleading “Dude, don't be like that!” which he promptly ignored. As soon as they were dismissed, he stormed out of the lecture hall without him.

Gaara stewed around in the library for about an hour, irritated that Naruto was prying. So, what if he thought Lee was cute? So, what if he wanted to kiss him? That wasn't necessarily a crush, right?

Not that it mattered. No one ever liked Gaara like that before, so it didn't make sense to harp on it.

He passed through a row of theater books and was suddenly reminded to return the stage management books he checked out. Which made his mind wander back to Naruto.

You have a crush and it's so cute!

He shook his head and passed the section quickly. Maybe Naruto was right. Maybe he did have a crush on Lee… He crossed his arms over his chest and thumbed at the soft, green fabric of Lee's clothes. It was just a crush, though. Either it would fade or Lee would stop talking to him after the dance show was over. Lee would start rehearsing for something else, Gaara would go back to Political Science, and they would part ways.

So, what was the point?

He felt his phone vibrate in his pocket and quickly pulled it out.

Lee:
“Hi!! I just got out of class! I am in the studio if you want to hang out! :)”

He hovered a thumb over the screen, trying to think of a response and smiled at Lee's perfect grammar. Of course his texts would be proof-read. His phone buzzed again.

Lee:
“Unless you are busy, which I completely understand!”

He thought for a moment. He definitely wasn't busy. Gaara went to type a response until… his phone buzzed… yet again. Gaara noticed someone turn their head to look at him and quickly switched it to silent.

Lee:
“I will be here regardless! :)”

Lee:
“Oh, I am sending too many messages.”

Lee:
“AHHH, SORRY!!!”

Gaara's smile widened and gave a quick reply.

“On my way.”

He walked quickly in the direction of the dance studio. His heart began to race at the thought of seeing Lee, but he dismissed it. Maybe it was just because he was walking fast. He probably needed to exercise more.

Gaara reached for the door to the studio, and took a deep breath before stepping inside. Lee was there, as expected, and he was alone, practicing on the barre, but he wasn't en pointe this time. He looked at Gaara through the large mirror on the wall and grinned.

“Gaara!” he said.

“Hello, Lee,” Gaara answered, placing his shoes on the side before stepping out onto the dance floor. Lee swooped in and gave him a hug, squeezing his body just a little. Gaara returned it, resting a cheek against Lee's shoulder. Lee let out a small laugh.

“I like hugging you!” he said with more affectionate pressure. “You give very comforting hugs. It feels really nice.”

“Oh. Thank you.”

They pulled away and looked at each other. Lee was beyond excited for some reason, but Gaara couldn't pinpoint any reason why. But he recalled some nights during rehearsals, where Lee would mention that he was having a really good turning day. Maybe that was it? That seemed reasonable.

“Ooh, I like this on you!” Lee paced around Gaara to look at the jacket on him. “It was hard to see it in the dark last night, but I like this color on you.”

Gaara's heart skipped a beat. His mind immediately flooded with the thought that he needed to wear more green.

“Thanks. I suppose it's yours, though.” He slid it off his shoulders, but felt Lee's hands come up to stop him.

“No, no, please! You can borrow it as long as you like!” Lee pulled the collar back up and smoothed the jacket out nonchalantly. Hopefully Lee couldn't feel how hard Gaara's heart slammed in his chest.

“Oh. Thanks,” Gaara said, looking up at him through big, awestruck eyes.

“Are you busy today?” he asked, seeming not to notice Gaara's nervousness.

He shook his head. “Are you practicing?”

“I was. I just did… four hundred tendus? So I think--”

“Four hundred?” Gaara looked down at Lee's legs. “Total?”

Lee gave him a thumbs-up. “On each side! I promise you it is not as much as it sounds.”

Gaara kept staring at the definition in his legs. Did he do this every day? They were so well-sculpted, it was hard to believe he didn't.

“Can you show me how to do one?” Gaara found himself asking. But he regretted it the second it came out.

Lee's smile faltered. “You want me to teach you…” Before he could finish, there were tears falling freely down his cheeks and he threw his arms around Gaara. “Of course! Absolutely!” Lee pulled away and grabbed Gaara by the hand to lead him over to the barre. He wiped his cheeks and assumed a starting position, but almost immediately fell out of it to turn back to Gaara. “Ahh! We have to teach you basic ballet positions first!”

Gaara blanched. Lee couldn't see how terrible he was. He wouldn't stand for it. But at the same time… he looked so happy.

“Come here!” Lee said stepping away from the barre. Lee must have seen the fearful expression in Gaara's eyes because he came back quickly and put a hand to his shoulder. “I promise I will not judge you.”

Gaara nodded and let Lee take his hand to lead him in the center of the floor.

“Are you ready?” Lee was met with a nod. “I may have to touch you to give corrections. Is that okay?”

Gaara nodded. “Yes.”

“Excellent! If at any point you feel uncomfortable, please let me know and we can stop!”

Why did he need to ask? How bad could it be?

“Okay. First position! Stand up straight for me and turn your feet out,” Lee said, in an instructor-like tone. Gaara did as he was told and immediately felt Lee's hand dangerously close to his ass. “It helps to think of pelvic alignment like a bowl that is filled with something. Like water! Remember not to let the water spill.”

Gaara nodded as he felt Lee push his hips forward.

“You have a lot of tension here,” Lee said, coming in front. “Always make sure you have space between your ears and your shoulders.” Lee gave a visual demonstration. “This--” he shoved his shoulders up to his ears and hunched over. “--is much less attractive to look at than this.” He relaxed his shoulders and pushed his chest out slightly, giving him a much more refined posture. “Try the wrong one first.”

Gaara shoved his shoulders up, but realized he didn't have far to go. He must have already been caving in on himself.

“Good! Now relax.” Lee instructed. Gaara did so. With light fingers, Lee gave small bits of pressure across his arms and chest to correct him. “For the head, you can make sure you are properly aligned by taking your thumb and index finger like this.” Lee made an L with his hand.

“That's you,” Gaara said softly.

“Hm?” Lee looked at Gaara, then back to his hand and laughed. “Oh! The ‘L’! For ‘Lee’. I suppose that is me!”

“Sorry, that was… stupid,” Gaara said.

“Not at all! We can use that because this is what I was about to do.” Lee adjusted his L-shaped fingers underneath his face. “You put your thumb at the top of your sternum and your other finger under your chin to push it up.” It looked like he was… shooting himself. His eyebrows swooped up as a discomfited expression crossed his face. “Not a pretty picture, I know. But it works!”

“Oh…” Gaara tried it. It certainly helped, but the visual wasn't very appealing.

“We can say… um… If I am the ‘L’... I was going to say ‘put me against your neck,’ but I suppose that visual is also, um… something,” Lee's face was visibly pinker. He cleared his throat.

Gaara was shaking. A flash of Lee straddling him to kiss his neck flitted across his mind. “I think the first one is fine.”

Lee nodded. He swished his hair to the sides to shake it off before returning to the task. “So, um, you have a really nice turnout. You seem pretty stable. Do you feel like you might fall over?”

“No.” Well, he did, but for an entirely different reason.

“Good! Um, now arms! Put your hands like this for me,” Lee said. He adjusted his hands into an elegant position that led with the middle finger. “Try not to let your thumbs come out too much. Some dance teachers like it, but Gai-sensei does not.”

Gaara copied the position, but it didn't look quite as pretty as Lee. Or as effortless.

“Very good!” Lee beamed. “Now try to round your arms out until your hands are in front of your… um… private… parts.”

Gaara did so hesitantly, but Lee only looked down for a second to make sure he was doing it right.

“Great!” He looked at Gaara in the mirror and swept his arm like he was doing a grand reveal. “This is first position!”

Gaara looked at himself in the mirror. He had seen visuals of the position before, but he definitely felt awkward holding it. Lee quietly reminded him to breathe and made small corrections around him as he stood there.

“This is just how you stand?” he asked.

Lee nodded, a light hand on the small of Gaara's back. “Yep!”

“This is really hard.”

Lee laughed. “You get used to it. It is very technical.”

“I don't think I'm suited for this,” Gaara said. He shook himself out of the position, feeling his body ache from engaging with muscles he didn't know he had.

“Ballet is not for everyone,” Lee said. He patted Gaara on the arm. He blinked and something flashed across his face before he broke out into a wide grin. “Hey, you and Naruto are having the cast party, right?”

Gaara totally forgot about that. “Oh… right. Are you going?”

“I am!” Lee said. Gaara felt a flood of relief… and then immediate nervousness. “Naruto said you have a pretty big living room, so… people will probably be dancing there.”

“I definitely will not be.”

Lee bounced in place. “I can teach you! It will not be nearly as difficult as ballet!”

Gaara didn't know if dancing at a party was something he felt so inclined to do, especially in front of so many people. He'd drunkenly danced in front of Naruto before, but he was a freshman at the time and had a lot less dignity. He had heard about college parties and seen representations of it in movies. But it was definitely not his scene. Hook-up culture, drinking in excess, grinding on others in the darkness of a poorly furnished house… it wasn't something he could envision himself actively participating in.

“Gaara?”

He looked up at the sound of his name, liking the way it sounded in Lee's mouth. With Lee, maybe being at a party wouldn't be so bad. Maybe they could slow dance together. Maybe Gaara would finally get his first kiss.

“Let's do it,” Gaara said, suddenly impassioned. “Show me.”

Lee hugged him briefly. “Oh, fantastic! Um… I have a song I have been wanting to dance to for awhile. We can just improvise to it.”

Lee ran into the side room of the studio to hook up his phone to the sound system. The beat of the song started in a few seconds. It was definitely a dance-appropriate song.

And not that Gaara was too keen on the word, but the song was… kind of sexy.

Lee bounded out of the studio and chaînéd over to Gaara, effortlessly stopping to face him. He grooved with the beat of the music. “Ready?”

“I hope so.”

Lee threw his head back and laughed. “You are so funny! Okay, we will make this simple. Just follow me. This is a two-step.”

The move was self-explanatory. Quite literally a move that was completed by taking two steps from one side to the next.

“You follow the beat really well!” Lee said.

Gaara smiled a bit and happened to catch part of the lyrics to the song.

Any crazy things you're feeling for me tonight
You can get it on out the way

He wasn't sure if this was just coincidence, but… maybe Lee was playing this song to provide some sort of subliminal message? No, it was probably just coincidence.

“M'kay, most of the movement is in your feet right now. Try and shift it up to your hips,” Lee said as he shifted the movement upward.

Gaara attempted this, but felt his face get hot. He moved a bit robotically, shifting in time with the beat, but lacked any sense of fluidity in the motion. He couldn't recall any moment he had ever moved with his hips before. Even though he wasn't great at it, Gaara thought it was kind of fun… until he heard Naruto laughing in his head.

“I feel stupid,” Gaara admitted.

Lee grinned. “Good! Gai-sensei says if you feel silly, you probably are doing it right.”

Gaara wasn't sure if he believed that.

“Okay, now you can do whatever you want with your arms. But I like to keep a bend in the elbows and just… kind of… feel it?” Lee moved from side to side. His movements were much more graceful than Gaara's and he certainly looked like he was having more fun.

Gaara tried to copy him, but it came out static and awkward. Lee was supportive anyway.

“Very good!” They moved in place for a minute, just feeling the music. “You can move around, too! Dance is rarely done in one spot. You can clap. You can snap. All of it is pretty freeform.”

Lee turned around himself and clapped. He did a few more advanced moves as Gaara stared down at his feet to make sure he kept the rhythm. After a few beats of staring at his feet, Gaara looked up and saw Lee improvising on his own, feeling the music out and gracefully traveling through space with a finesse he couldn't even dream of having.

Lee shimmied over to Gaara and gently pulled at his arms to engage his upper body.

“You can dance with others, too! Gai-sensei says that social improvisation in dance engages our inner qualities of youth,” Lee said, in a manner that suggested he was reciting something his instructor said often.

Gaara scrunched up his face at that. “What does that even mean?”

Lee looked up toward the ceiling in thought. He maintained the rhythm in his body. “I am not entirely certain. But sometimes if you see someone across the dancefloor, you might want to, um… call them over? To dance with them!” Lee said. “Try it with me.”

“O-okay.”

Lee turned away and did his own thing before looking at Gaara from across the studio. He gave him a look and body-rolled over as Gaara hesitantly beckoned him with one arm. Gaara raised his arms up and tried to feel the music out as best he could while Lee sauntered over, to stop directly in front of him.

There was a brief pause in the music as Lee stood astonishingly close. Gaara looked up to meet Lee's dark eyes and suddenly noticed how long his eyelashes were. He analyzed his features as he slowly dropped his arms to rest on Lee's shoulders. Lee pulled him by the waist and held him close, hands trailing down closer to his hips.

The song continued, its jazzy outro really helping to set the mood. They swayed slightly in place, looking into each other's eyes, and neither backed away from the hold.

Lee didn't smile or laugh like he usually did. He looked into Gaara's eyes, trailing across the jet black curves that outlined them. His lips were slightly parted and his cheeks were dusted pink.

“Your eyes are so pretty,” he said.

Gaara swallowed. He could barely hear his voice over the ringing in his ears. “Thank you.”

Lee glanced up and landed on the small mark on Gaara's forehead. He exhaled softly as his lips curved up.

“Love.”

Gaara adjusted his arms to hold himself more securely against Lee's body.

“This is one of my favorite words,” Lee told him. “I think it looks… so pretty. Is it a tattoo?”

“Yeah…”

“I love it,” he said with a small laugh.

Gaara smiled at that. “I had a weird… birthmark there. I got it covered up as soon as I turned eighteen.”

“Well, I think it looks beautiful,” Lee said. But his eyes were no longer fixed on the kanji.

Gaara pushed his face into Lee's neck without really thinking about it. But Lee didn't seem to mind. He rested his chin in the waves of Gaara's hair and moved to rub his back softly. They stood there for awhile, slightly swaying and holding each other.

“I don't think I'm suited for dancing,” Gaara said quietly.

He felt Lee's body shake as he laughed. “You just need more practice.”

They pulled away from the embrace and Lee let his hands travel slowly across Gaara's waist before they fully parted. It made Gaara's entire body tingle.

“I have some homework I need to finish before tech tonight,” Gaara started. He hesitated for a second, but happened to catch the warmth in Lee's eyes. His expression was always so soft when he looked at Gaara. “Do you want to study with me?”

“I would love to,” Lee answered.

The two headed out of the dance studio and walked to the library together, their arms lightly grazing as they talked along the way.

--

After Gaara and Lee had finished their work, they headed off to rehearsal, where they arrived a full fifteen minutes earlier than Gaara normally did. Lee was overly punctual and loved to do personal warm-ups before the rest of the dancers got there, so he gave Gaara's arm a brief squeeze before heading off to stretch.

Gaara sat on the floor and scrolled through his phone outside the green room, since Kakashi wasn't there to unlock it. He debated sending a message to his brother about the upcoming show, but was interrupted by the sound of footsteps in the hall.

“Hey, you! Dress rehearsal one! How we feeling?” Naruto's voice cawed. He made his way over to stand in front of Gaara.

Gaara's expression hardened when he looked up at his roommate. “I'm still mad at you.”

Naruto sagged his shoulders. “Oh, c'mon. Man, I was just looking out for you!” He kneeled down and gently placed a hand on Gaara's knee.

“I can look out for myself,” Gaara said, returning to his phone.

He could practically hear Naruto rolling his eyes. “Dude, you're acting like a baby.”

“Well, you pissed me off.”

Naruto gave an irritated sigh. “Look, I'm super sorry. I shouldn't have pried. I know you like to keep things private.”

Gaara continued scrolling.

“But come on, I want you to be happy!” He quieted his voice. “Plus you're super obvious when you have a crush on someone. You used to act all doe-eyed around me when we first met.”

That made Gaara give him his full attention. He dropped his phone into his lap and crossed his arms. “I never had a crush on you.”

Naruto quirked an eyebrow. “Yeah, you did.”

“No. I didn't,” Gaara said firmly. “You were my first friend here.”

“Oh, so you just follow all your friends around and hide behind them at social events because you're ‘shy’?”

Gaara smacked him. “I am shy! … I never liked you like that.”

“Whatever. Just,” Naruto shook his blond hair around. “Why are we even talking about me? Look. I'm sorry, alright?” He crawled over to sit next to him, leaning his head back against the wall.

Gaara shrugged. “It's fine.” He let out a deep sigh. “I, um… I think you're right though.”

Naruto's eyes flitted to Gaara's swiftly.

He spoke softly and slowly, eyes trained down the hall just in case someone was nearby, “I… think… Lee is… cute.” It was odd to voice it out loud. Something fluttered in his chest as he said it. “I like him.”

“Agh! See? I knew it!”

He clamped a hand over Naruto's mouth and whispered fiercely. “Shh, he's in the building!” He felt a gross wetness on his palm and grimaced. “Do not lick my hand!”

Naruto gave a dumb laugh, free of the hold as Gaara wiped his hand on his jeans.

“How fucking old are you?!”

Naruto laughed more just as Kakashi rounded the corner.

“Oh, hello,” he said, raising a lazy hand. “Ready to start?”

The two nodded, pushing themselves to standing as Kakashi handed the keys off to them. The three entered the green room and set off for another night of rehearsal.

--

Dress rehearsal, Gaara learned, was nearly the same as cue-to-cue, only with minor resets for costume changes in between. Gaara felt awkward being surrounded by so many half-naked dancers, so he ended up averting his gaze or covering his face with the nearest thing he could find so people wouldn't feel indecent or exposed in front of him. He would often offer a sharp apology as dancers stripped when he walked by, but the more it happened, the less they seemed to care.

It was chaotic. The dancers maintained such incredible composure onstage, performing with bright smiles on their faces that faltered the second they exited the stage and hurriedly threw off their clothes before they leapt on for the next piece.

Gaara had never seen so many boobs in his life.

During the second act of the show, as Naruto called for cues, Gaara rounded the corner to ensure a quick change was going as planned. But he totally forgot until the last second that it was Lee's.

He was surrounded by a trio of dancers who helped him change.

Gaara knew Lee was muscular, but this was too much.

The change was fast--hence the term “quick change.” As Lee stripped off his skintight clothes from the contemporary piece he was performing, Gaara saw his bare chest. It was beautiful. The lights onstage crept into the wing and onto Lee's tanned skin, highlighting every ripple, curve, and muscle of his torso. The sight made Gaara's mouth go dry. He stared in awe as Lee was stripped of his tights, exposing his long, lean legs.

“Gaara?” He heard Naruto in his ear, jolting him back into the job he was supposed to be performing.

“Y-yeah?” He continued watching the change as the other dancers helped Lee into his clothes.

“Quick change--how's it coming?”

Lee offered a hushed “thank you” to the other dancers as he bounded off to make his entrance.

“Complete,” Gaara offered in a small voice.

Now that he knew how he felt about Lee, how was he going to make it through this show?

--

“Am I taking you home again tonight?” Gaara asked coolly behind Lee, who was busy neatly tucking his things into his bag.

“Oh!” He turned to face Gaara. “That would be nice! Thank you.”

“Let me go give my keys to Naruto, then we can all head out.”

Gaara walked backstage to see Tenten talking to Naruto. An odd pair, but he decided not to dwell on it.

“Here you go,” he said, extending a hand out.

“Oh, cool! Thanks!” Naruto said. He gave Tenten a look and she walked away wordlessly. Naruto took the keys and shoved them into his pocket.

“Hey, um… We're gonna take Lee home, is that--”

“I'm gonna catch a ride with Sakura, actually,” Naruto interrupted.

Gaara tilted his head in confusion.

“We've been meaning to catch up!” he said. He reached a hand out, silently indicating he wanted Gaara to take it.

Gaara looked down and took his hand hesitantly before Naruto pulled him forward and clasped him into a hug.

“Shoot your shot,” he said quietly. “I believe in you.”

Naruto pulled away and gave Gaara a quick wink before beginning to turn off the lights and lock down the theater.

Gaara decided to meet Lee back in the hallway, who was giving goodbyes to the other dancers.

“Ready to go?”

Lee nodded. His smile faltered when Gaara began to walk ahead. “Is Naruto not coming?”

“Nope. Just you and me,” Gaara replied as calmly as possible. It probably came out more strained than he intended.

They headed to the car quietly, but their arms continued to brush along the way. Too afraid to call attention to it, Gaara stared straight ahead and pretended not to notice. Lee would sometimes make a small observation or talk about a dance combination he was working on, but Gaara was finding it more difficult to focus.

He turned the car on and one of his older CD's began to play.

“Hey!” Lee said, a look of recognition crossing his face. “One of our songs for the show is on this album!”

Of course it was. That's why Gaara was listening to it. He pretended not to notice.

“Oh. I guess you're right.”

Lee smiled and looked out the window as they drove off to his apartment. They sat in a small silence, the music filling the space as Gaara tried not to look at Lee and give his feelings away. His fingers lightly tapped across the wheel and he caught a part of the song.

Loving you is really all that's on my mind
And I can't help but to think about it day and night
I wanna make that body rock, sit back and watch

Well, that was weird.

The song continued and Gaara glanced at Lee, who offered a polite smile. He whipped his head back to the road and caught another section.

Tonight I'm gonna put my body on your body
Boy I like it when you watch me
Tonight it's going down
I'll be rockin' on my--

Gaara punched the CD player, abruptly cutting off the song. Lee jumped. His head shot to Gaara's hand.

“I, uh…” Gaara was riddled with anxiety. Where was Naruto when he needed him? “You can change it if you want. You can hook your phone up. Or there's a case down there.”

He leaned into Lee's space and tried to gesture toward the underside of the passenger seat, but felt his hand on Lee's thigh instead.

“Oh--my god.” He ripped his hand away and gripped the wheel so hard he felt it creak. “Sorry.”

A heavy silence washed over them. Gaara couldn't stop his mind from racing. He flitted from Lee's bare chest backstage, their moment holding each other in the dance studio, the feeling of Lee's hand in his, every time Lee had ever hugged him…

“Are you okay?” Lee asked. The concern in his voice only made Gaara feel guilty.

“Yeah. I'm just… tired,” he lied.

“Oh. Okay.”

They pulled up to the apartment. Lee unbuckled the seatbelt and turned to Gaara, who still had a hand on the wheel while the other rested on the gear shift.

“Um. Goodnight. I hope you feel better,” Lee said with a soft smile.

“Do you want me to walk you to the door?” Gaara asked. His voice shook when he said it.

“I would feel bad holding you up.” Lee placed his hand on top of Gaara's for a moment and smiled. “Let me know when you get home.”

He could only nod.

“Goodnight, Gaara.”

“... Goodnight, Lee.”

He didn't remember much about the ride home, aside from the impenetrable silence. Thoroughly convinced he embarrassed himself, Gaara understood if Lee never spoke to him again. So, he walked through the door, sent the “I'm home” text Lee had requested, and climbed into bed.

Within thirty seconds, his phone buzzed with a response that just said “Thank you.” Gaara shoved a pillow over his face and sighed, glad that Lee at least replied.

About a minute later, Gaara felt his phone vibrate against his bed. His brow creased as he lifted the pillow to glance at the screen that flashed the notification.

Lee sent him another text:

A single red heart.

Chapter Text

‘Gaara, I… have something to tell you,’ Lee said. He faced Gaara on the opposite side of the barre in the dance studio. Gaara’s vision began tunneling. All he could focus on was Lee's face. He usually felt nervous around Lee, but this was different.

‘I've wanted to tell you something, too,’ he replied, pressing into Lee's space. They stared at one another, and dissolved into a soft laughter. Lee pressed a finger to his lips and shushed him.

“Quiet. They can hear us.” He giggled softly as a pink flush washed over him.

Gaara turned to see they were surrounded by several other dancers, including Tenten, Neji, Gai, and a blurry mob of other faces. Weirdly enough, Naruto was there. He was wearing a platter tutu over his jeans. Gaara didn't think to question it.

A spotlight appeared on both of them. Gaara didn't remember the dance studio having a grid system…?

‘Gaara, I think I…’

Gaara cracked an eye open. His thoughts stewed around in his head as he tried to process what just happened. Was that just a weird dream? He rubbed the sleep from his eyes and clumsily pawed along his comforter until he felt his phone. He clicked the lock button and checked the time.

7:03

He scrolled through his messages and made a mental note to talk to Kankuro and Temari about the show later that day. Since he was up earlier than expected, he tossed his phone on the mattress with a soft thud and shifted further into bed. Gaara stared up at the ceiling as he made a mental checklist for the day. It was the last night of rehearsals before opening night… he wondered how Lee was feeling…

Lee…

Gaara's eyes shot open as he scrambled for his phone. He rapidly tapped the screen to find the message Lee had sent him.

There it was.

His eyes remained fixated on the red heart. He stared in disbelief and rolled over in his bed, as a flowery warmth filled in his chest. It was there and it was real. It wasn't part of the dream at all. He reached a hand up to feel his burning cheeks and smiled wide, alone in his bed.

The excitement, however, was short-lived. Part of Gaara thought it might have been a mistake. That Lee's hand slipped and he accidentally sent the message. Or he sent it to the wrong person. Or someone took his phone and was just doing it to be cruel.

Gaara gripped the sheets in his fist.

What if Lee was just making fun of him? If Lee knew Gaara liked him, maybe he felt weird about it and wanted to make Gaara feel bad so he would leave him alone.

He considered that for a second, but shook his head. Lee was so sweet. He probably couldn't be mean, even if he tried.

Gaara pushed himself up and glanced around the room, noticing the stream of sunlight that crept in through his curtains. He slid off the bed and began rummaging through his closet, looking for anything he could find with the slightest hint of green in it. He still had Lee's jacket, so luckily that helped, but he wanted a little more. Not that he was trying to dress for Lee or anything. Lee said green suited him. Maybe it was best to try something outside of his usual color palette.

Frustrated that he couldn't quite find what he was looking for, Gaara decided to head out into the kitchen.

He passed through the hallway and spotted Naruto splayed out on their couch with a cup of instant ramen in his hands. He was lazily watching TV on his laptop.

“‘Sup, guys,” he said, still facing forward.

Gaara looked behind him just in case there was an unfamiliar third party in the house. Sometimes Naruto had “visitors” that Gaara liked to avoid if he could. The amount of mornings he walked in on someone half-naked, making out with Naruto in the kitchen was unbelievable. For someone so gross and annoying, Naruto certainly got around.

“Guys?” Gaara said.

Naruto paused. He turned his body to peek over the arm of the couch and look at Gaara. “Oh, he's still in there, huh?” He gave a lascivious smirk. “So. Was it everything you ever dreamed?”

Gaara's brow creased. “What are you talking about?”

Naruto's face fell. He placed the half-empty cup of ramen on the coffee table and paused whatever he was watching.

“Dumbass. Where is Bushy-Brows?” Naruto said, exaggerating each syllable as if Gaara couldn't understand him.

“Lee? I don't know. Probably in class or something,” Gaara said. “Why does it matter?”

Naruto practically short-circuited. “So you guys didn't…?” Off of Gaara's look, he seemed convinced he wasn't going to get the response he was hoping for. He pinched the skin between his eyes. “… You had sex, right?”

Gaara felt like his jaw dropped to the floor. What gave Naruto that impression? He didn't hear anything weird, did he? Was he shifting around too much in his sleep? Did Gaara… moan in his sleep…?

“No, we didn't have… We didn't. Do that,” he sputtered. He stared down at the ground and quietly added, “I haven't even told him I liked him.”

Naruto gave him a look. “You're lyinggg.”

Gaara gave him a wide-eyed stare. What was he supposed to say?

Naruto pushed himself to standing. “Dude, I left the house last night so you guys could smash!”

“Well, thank you for that,” Gaara replied sarcastically. He quieted for a moment, considering the thought of being so intimate with Lee, but felt his face flush. It wasn't exactly a foreign thought to him, but it tended to be something he thought about passively. Or when he was alone. “Besides, even if I did tell him we wouldn't have had… relations. We haven't even been on a date."

“Okay, you fucking puritan, you just gonna wait ‘til marriage?”

“No, asshole. I'm just not you,” Gaara spat. “I don't do that hook-up thing! I want to be absolutely sure.”

Naruto rolled his eyes and scooped the cup of ramen off the table. He quickly shoveled the rest of it in his mouth and headed to the kitchen. “Dude, you gotta go for it. You've been spending time with him, yeah? Why don't you just ask him out?”

Gaara followed Naruto, who began to wash the reusable pair of chopsticks he was using. “What if he says no?”

“Uh, he won't?”

“Okay, but what if he does?”

Naruto shut the water off and turned to Gaara. “What's that line? ‘Sometimes the people you fall in love with fall in love with you back’?”

Gaara folded his arms over his chest. “I don't know. Is that from something?”

“Yeah, it's from a play I worked on a while back. I might be butchering the line a little, but the rest of it was like, ‘Sometimes they don't. But sometimes they do. And it's awesome’.” He wiped his wet hands on his pajama pants. “Basically like. If you love someone, say something. They might feel the same way, they might not. If they do, that's great. But you won't know unless you say something.”

Gaara stared down at the floor as Naruto began to put dry dishes away for what was probably the first time in his life. He shook his head. Sure, he liked Lee, but how could he possibly know if he loved him?

Naruto continued, “Just talk to him, man. I'm pretty much one-hundred percent sure he'll go out with you. Lee is super nice. I don't think he knows how to say no.”

“I don't want him to feel obligated--”

“That's not what I--” Naruto stopped in his tracks and huffed. “Okay, don't call it a date because then you're gonna get that dead fish look and you're gonna freak yourself out. Just… ask him if he wants to get coffee. Or lunch. Or something.”

Gaara scrunched up his face. Did Lee even like coffee? He was so heavily invested in dance training that he probably ate super well, so going to lunch would probably be difficult. The idea of being with Lee in a public place already put Gaara on edge. What if they ran into someone they knew? What if Gaara spilled food on himself? He didn't want to keep embarrassing himself in front of Lee.

“Is that not still a date?”

“Well, it doesn't have to be, you can put it under the guise of just ‘hanging out’,” Naruto answered. “Look, even on the off chance he says no, ask if he wants to go as friends. Just because he doesn't like you like doesn't mean you have to stop being friends.”

“Wait, so he doesn't like m--”

Having finally had it, Naruto threw his arms in the air. “Dude, I don't know! I'm not Lee!”

Gaara put his hands up defensively. “Okay. Fine.”

“We have that cast dinner tomorrow, so maybe you can hang out with him then.” Naruto passed Gaara and began to head to his room.

Gaara's face paled. “That's tomorrow?”

“Yeah, opening night. Oh, and make sure you wear tech blacks tonight.” He gave Gaara's all-black pajamas a once-over. “Not that you need much of a wardrobe change.”

“Right…”

“You'll be fine. Just be cool.” He cracked his door open and headed inside to get ready for class.

Perhaps Gaara should do the same.

--

“Alright, everybody!” Naruto crowed to the group of dancers who sat in the audience in front of him. Gaara stood slightly behind with his production notebook, trying desperately not to look at Lee. “Tonight is final dress and our last night of tech, so this is your last time to make dumb mistakes and miss your cues!”

A few chuckles were heard in the crowd. Sakura and Ino rolled their eyes.

“Tomorrow is opening night! And I know you guys are gonna kill it. And friendly reminder that tomorrow's the cast dinner and we are currently taking submissions for where everyone wants to go! Please send your votes to me via text.” He looked up at the grid lights, then back out to the crowd. “Anything else, Kakashi?”

Kakashi shook his head from his seat next to Gai. His arm was gently hooked in Gai's over the armrest. The visual was almost too subtle to notice, but Gaara still felt his chest tightening when he saw them.

There was an odd… familiarity there. He stared for perhaps several moments too long until it suddenly dawned on him. The similarity between Kakashi's focus in technical theater and Gai's experience as a dancer… it was like Gaara and Lee. After all, Lee was incredibly similar to Gai, both in looks and personality. And now that Gaara was developing an interest in technical theater, looking at them suddenly felt like he was looking into his own future. He tore his eyes away and landed on Lee in the audience. Gaara swore their eyes met briefly, but Lee's head quickly turned to look at the wall. He was seated in the audience with Tenten and Neji on either side of him, the three of them leaning on one another across their seats.

His face started getting warm again. Maybe Naruto was right. He really needed to talk to Lee.

After Naruto's introduction, Gaara gave the dancers a ten-minute call before they rehearsed from top of show. Having already completed his pre-show tasks, Gaara found himself wandering aimlessly across the stage in search of something to do.

“Hey,” he heard.

Gaara turned to see Neji standing in front of the stage, his long, silky hair streaming over one shoulder. “Oh… hi.”

“Have you decided whether or not you're coming with us tomorrow?” he asked.

Gaara gave Neji a once-over. He was an interesting guy. He was a bit stiff when he spoke, but he certainly got right to the point. “I believe so, yes.”

“Excellent. I'm not sure where we're going, but if you want us to take you, we can. Or you can take Lee and meet us there. We can figure out the ride situation later.”

Gaara gave a quick nod. “Of course. Thank you.”

Neji gave a curt nod back, but stayed where he was, still staring. Gaara turned to make sure Neji wasn't actually looking at someone behind him.

“So… ya like dance?” he asked.

Gaara made a face. What a conversation starter… He crouched down near the edge of the stage so he could be eye level with Neji. “Yeah, I guess I do.”

Neji nodded. “Cool.” He paused. “Lee's pretty good, huh?”

“Yeah. He's great. Very, um… youthful. Like your teacher says,” Gaara said with a light laugh.

Neji scrunched up his face at that. “Ew, don't do that. It sounds so weird when you say it.”

Well, this was going great. Gaara's first one-on-one conversation with Lee's friend and he was already blowing it.

“Yeah. You know, Lee used to be a horrible dancer,” Neji said.

That was hard for Gaara to believe. Lee was so graceful and he trained every day. Lee seemed like the type of person who radiated natural talent. “Really?”

“Yeah. I mean, he still can't do as many turns as me,” Neji said, running his long fingers through his hair. He gave it an effortless toss onto his back. “But he usually performs his best when he wants to impress someone.”

Gaara felt his face flush.

“All I'm saying is… he's been performing very well this week.” Neji raised his thin eyebrows suggestively.

“O-oh…” Gaara said.

Did that mean… Lee was trying to impress someone?

He felt his heart sink, but quickly shook it off. Lee was probably just excited for opening night. Maybe he just wanted to impress Gai. Or the audience. Or a certain someone in the audience…

Neji hopped up onto the stage. “Anyway. See you tomorrow night.” He waved behind Gaara where Tenten and Lee were shaking each other around. He heard Neji laugh slightly and mutter something that sounded like “they're so dumb.”

Gaara went to his usual spot and made sure everything was in order before the show began.

Unfortunately for Gaara, Lee spent a lot of the night trying to focus off to the side. He took great care in each piece, pretending he was actually performing in front of an audience, but Gaara couldn't help feeling like he was being ignored.

By the time intermission rolled around, Gaara announced a ten-minute break to the cast. He quickly jotted down a timestamp for his rehearsal report and happened to look up the moment Lee rounded the corner. He slid off of his seat and started toward him.

“Lee,” he called.

Lee looked up and broke into a wide grin. He jogged over and swept Gaara up in a tight hug. “Hello, Gaara!”

Gaara felt a now-familiar warmth spread across his chest as he wrapped his arms around Lee. “I haven't seen you all night.”

“I know, sorry,” Lee said, his eyebrows turning up. Light fingers traced along Gaara's elbows as Lee released their embrace. “I just get so nervous before opening night. Gai-sensei suggests I focus on centering myself so I can calm down.”

Gaara smiled at him and felt Lee's hands come up to cup his cheeks.

“Look at you with your little headset and your tech blacks! So official!” he laughed. His eyes welled up with tears. “I cannot believe how cute you look!”

Gaara hoped Lee couldn't feel how warm his cheeks were getting under his hands.

“I have to go get changed really fast, but I will see you soon, okay?” Lee said. He glanced up at Gaara's forehead and a thoughtful expression briefly flashed across his face before he broke into another small grin. He let go of Gaara's cheeks and walked away, slightly bouncing with a newfound excitement.

Gaara returned to his seat, but found it difficult to wipe the smile off his face.

For the rest of the rehearsal, Lee made sure to stop by Gaara's spot to at least say hello between his pieces. Gaara noticed that each time Lee stopped by, they ended up standing closer and closer together… not that he minded.

--

After Gai concluded notes with the dancers, Gaara wandered into the green room, donning Lee’s jacket, already having already cleaned and locked up the theater. He found Lee still inside, stretching his arms and gave him a soft smile.

“Am I taking you home tonight?” Gaara asked.

Lee bent forward and folded his body in half with ease. He tapped his fingers against the floor as he continued to stretch. “I think I will pass tonight.”

Gaara's smile fell. “Oh.”

Lee pushed himself up to to standing and wiped his hands on his lean thighs. “Sorry, I just--”

“Lee, if this is about last night, I'm sorry, I--”

“No, no, no, Gaara! Please,” Lee half-shouted as he waved his hands defensively. He walked over and placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder. Gaara felt his heart skip a beat just as they made contact. “I know you were tired.”

“I'm not tired tonight,” Gaara started. Lee reached forward to wrap his arms around Gaara's shoulders and squeezed lightly.

“You are incredibly sweet,” he said. “I just feel so nervous for tomorrow. I usually exercise if I have a lot of energy I need to get out, so I think I will run home tonight. Thank you, though!”

“Of course.”

They stood there for a moment, inhaling the other in. Gaara felt his heart pounding erratically in his chest. The timing was optimal. It was just the two of them, alone in the green room, no other dancers or crew members to bother them. Gaara didn’t know where to start, but… when else was he going to get the courage?

“Lee?” Gaara started. “I wanted to--”

Just then, the door popped open and Naruto poked his head in. “Dude, Gaara, you got the keys? Kakashi needs to--” Naruto’s eyes fell on Gaara and Lee holding each other and the three exchanged uncertain glances.

Lee pulled away and cleared his throat, gesturing for Gaara to do as he needed. Gaara reluctantly stepped away and headed toward Naruto, flashing an irritated glare. He noticed Naruto mouth the words “I’m so sorry” as he handed the keys off. He shook his head slightly to brush it off.

“Yo, so sorry for interrupting,” Naruto whispered. “I can’t leave you and your mans to make out in the car without a player three.”

Gaara stared for a second. “What?”

“I need a ride, man. Sakura won’t take me.”

Gaara rolled his eyes. Why couldn't he just talk like a normal person? “It’s fine, I figured. We’re not taking him tonight. I’ll tell you in the car.”

“Oh, word,” Naruto replied. He ducked out of the room before calling out, “I’ll meet you there. See ya later, Bushy-Brows!”

“Goodnight, Naruto!” Lee called.

“I’ll swing around the front to pick you up,” Gaara called back. Naruto gave a thumbs-up in response.

Lee walked closer to Gaara, standing possibly a bit too close for two people who only considered themselves friends, but Gaara obviously didn’t mind. “Would you like me to walk you to your car?”

Gaara looked up at him. “I would.”

Lee accompanied Gaara on the walk, their arms brushing softly as they went. They walked mostly in silence, since Gaara was now too nervous to say anything to him, but silence between them was starting to feel more comfortable than awkward. It didn't do much to calm Gaara's nerves though. The shakiness he usually felt in his hands had traveled down to his legs and, in a particularly embarrassing couple of seconds, his knee gave out under him, which made him stumble forward slightly. Luckily Lee was there to right him and Gaara just blamed it on the uneven ground, but it was kind of nice to have Lee there to catch him. He tried not to think about Lee's strong hands pressed firmly against his body. He tried not to think about all the other places he wished Lee would touch him.

When they reached the car, Gaara turned toward Lee and leaned slightly against the door for support. He feigned any sense of composure, despite feeling like he was going to collapse.

“This is me,” he offered coolly. Or, at least, he thought it was.

“Yep,” Lee said, laughing slightly. A soft cloud of cold night air escaped from his lips.

“I, um… I’ll see you tomorrow,” he said. “For the cast dinner. I’m going with you. And your friends.”

“Oh, perfect!” Lee exclaimed, clapping his hands together. “I am very excited for that!”

“Me, too,” Gaara said softly. Excited Lee was so cute…

“Alright, well…” He opened his arms and leaned forward to hug Gaara, who happily complied. His arms fit snugly around Gaara's waist and Gaara basked in the comfort of his touch. Lee’s body always seemed to radiate such an incredible warmth--a stark contrast to the bitter cold they were standing in. He wrapped his arms around Lee’s neck and sighed softly just as Lee spoke into his ear. “Goodnight, Gaara.”

“Goodnight, Lee,” Gaara replied, relishing the last few seconds he had in Lee’s strong arms. They pulled away gently and Lee trailed his hands down until they took Gaara’s. He gave them a light squeeze and let the moment pass before returning his hands to his sides.

“See you tomorrow.”

Gaara nodded. He looked between Lee's dark eyes, wanting nothing more than to express his feelings, but his throat felt like it was closing up. Nothing but a small, “see you then” managed to slip its way out.

And just like that, Lee took off running. Gaara stared after him, marveling at how… remarkably fast he was. Why did he even still take rides when he probably got there in half the time by sprinting? Gaara shook the thought away and hopped into his car. He started it up and drove around to the front of the theater building, where he sat idly by to wait for Naruto.

He felt his phone vibrate in his pocket and noticed he had a message from Naruto.

Nart:
"Sorry kakashi and gai are bein old n gay. B there in 10?"

He quickly typed out a response:
"Yeah, that’s fine."

He tapped on the wheel, silently cursing Naruto for not sending the message just a few minutes sooner. That way, he would have known he still had time to talk to Lee. Not that his physical responses were doing much to help. Despite the fact that the two of them were both friends, he felt like a blushing, shaky mess whenever Lee walked into the room.

His phone went off again.

Nart:
"Gai wont stfu about his youth. Imma fuckin scream hes like 50"

Gaara huffed out a quiet laugh:
"Let a bitch be gay??"

Nart:
"I would if hed stop using the word rival"

Nart:
"Jbedkafjkab hes talking about their passionate high school rivalry im gonna barf. Idek if he can tell im texting"

Gaara didn’t really feel like dealing with this, since he knew it would be the topic of conversation on the drive home. He tried to derail it:
"Sucks to suck. Glad I’m not there. :)"

He suddenly remembered he needed to talk to his siblings, so he scrolled through his contacts to give his brother a quick call. It had been awhile since he talked to him anyway. Another text from Naruto popped up at the top of the screen.

Nart:
"Fuckin liar u would get a big ol boner cuz he looks like lee"

Gaara froze in place. What a low blow. He wasn’t going to gratify that with a response. He clicked on Kankuro’s contact name and hovered over the call icon when another Naruto text jumped in the way.

Nart:
"U kno im rite"

Gaara rolled his eyes and swiped the notification away to call his brother. The phone rang a couple times through before it abruptly cut off. He made a face and pulled the phone away to see that Kankuro rejected it and had already sent him a text.

Puppet Fucker:
"I’m at work, what’s up?"

Gaara checked the time and grimaced. He never knew what shifts Kankuro worked, since his schedule was always so sporadic. What was the point of anything being open that late at night?

He thumbed out a response:
"Sorry. Was gonna tell you to come to my show if you’re free next weekend."

Puppet Fucker:
"Idk sounds pretty lame bro :/"

Puppet Fucker:
"I’m jk. I’ll talk to T when I get off."

Gaara typed out another response:
"Come to my show or I’ll kill you."

Puppet Fucker:
"Do it. I fuckin dare you."

He laughed softly just as he saw Naruto approaching the car. He flung his body over the hood and pretended to get hit before sliding over to the passenger side. Slightly irritated with this display, Gaara locked the door and saw Naruto stumble back as he tried to open it. He heard his muffled “dude, come on” and rolled down the window slightly. “Be nice to my car.”

“Okay, okay! It’s cold! Let me in!” he shouted.

Gaara unlocked the door and let him in as he immediately went off about Kakashi and Gai, just as he had predicted. Gaara didn’t want to admit it through Naruto’s rant or anything, but their “high school rivalry” was actually incredibly sweet and very similar to his first meeting with Lee. Once again, hearing about Kakashi and Gai gave Gaara hope that someday he could have a similar fate with Lee.

By the time the two got home and settled into their respective rooms for the night, Gaara sent Lee an
“Are you home?” text.

The reply came within seconds.

Lee:
"I am! :)"

He smiled softly:
"Cool. Thank you."

Lee:
"Mhm! Thank you for checking up on me!"

Gaara took a moment and before he could think to stop himself, he replied with the single message Lee had sent the night before--the red heart.

His whole body suddenly felt… tingly. It was an odd sensation that traveled from his chest all the way through the the tips of his fingers and toes, but it was nice. Being around Lee made him feel… a little light-headed if he was being honest, but otherwise, so incredibly nice…

Suddenly he worried himself over what Neji said earlier that night. Lee was trying to impress someone. Was he planning to invite them to the cast dinner? Gaara hoped that wasn’t the case. He flopped down onto his bed and tried not to think about how much he wished for Lee’s muscular arms to be tightly wrapped around him while he slept.

--

The next evening, Gaara timidly knocked on Naruto’s door and heard a soft groan.

“Can I open the door?” he asked.

“Mmf.”

Gaara took that as a yes and poked his head through to see Naruto face-down on the bed, taking a pre-show nap, something he often did in favor of finishing his assignments. His room, to no one's surprise, was filthy. On the floor lied heaps of clothes, multiple empty styrofoam ramen cups, various textbooks, several plays, and his backpack, which looked like it had seen better days. Even his bed was covered in random piles of shit. Gaara took a step in, nearly tripping on the pair of shoes that were strewn across the floor.

Naruto lifted his head at the sound of Gaara’s stumbling. A long string of spit tacked itself onto his face from a large puddle of drool on his pillow. Gaara wasn’t going to say it out loud, but it was pretty repulsive.

“Whattime izzit?” he asked, one eye half-open.

“We have half an hour. I’m about to do my makeup. Do I need to wear anything for this dinner?” Gaara asked.

“Nah, dude, iss cool… prob’ly gonna show up in stage blacks ‘n’ shit… Iss jus’ dinner.” Naruto lied his head back in the drool puddle, seemingly not noticing it was there in the first place. Gaara sighed.

“Okay. Thanks,” he said, turning to leave. “Please get up soon… and wash your face.”

Naruto muttered something under his breath as Gaara left for the bathroom to apply what was probably the sharpest eyeliner he’d ever put on in his life. If he was going to sit with Lee and his friends throughout dinner, he was damn sure gonna look good doing it. And hell, if he could look cuter than whoever Lee was trying to impress, that would certainly sweeten the deal. He continued applying almost… harshly while thinking about Lee. He didn’t even have concrete proof that Lee had a crush on someone, so he wasn’t even sure what he was worried about. He shook off the unnecessary jealousy as he checked his makeup for asymmetry and hastily finger-combed his hair. He felt… nervous. Perhaps it was because he was going to be with Lee’s friends and wouldn’t have Naruto as a safety blanket, but he certainly didn’t want to embarrass himself in front of Lee like he had the last time they were alone in the car together.

Besides, he would have the first performance to distract him from most of the night, so that would be helpful.

Within the next half hour, Naruto and Gaara headed to the theater, donning their black clothes as Gaara carried Lee’s jacket over his arm. They checked everyone in on the callboard, passed out the headsets, mopped up the stage, made their backstage calls, and Gaara could totally feel the spiked energy backstage. The dancers were flitting between the halls and the green room practicing, everyone was going over their pieces, and everyone was riddled with opening night anxiety.

It was stressful. But weirdly exciting.

“Thirty minutes to house open,” Gaara called over the intercom. He pressed the “talk” button on his transmitter and spoke again. “Naruto, how’s it going in the booth?”

“Pretty good,” Naruto promptly responded. ”Yamato’s the house manager tonight. He’s super chill, so it should be good. I’ll make sure to get a house count for you to put in the production report tonight, ‘kay?”

“Thank you.” Gaara felt kind of cool talking over the headset and found himself wrapped up in the moment. In his temporary distraction, he missed the sound of footsteps bounding toward him and let out a tiny yelp as he was seized by his middle and swept off of his feet. He was spun around once and returned to the ground where he turned to see Lee behind him, smiling wide. He smiled back, stumbling slightly. “How are you, Lee?”

“Fantastic, how are you?” he asked, placing a hand on Gaara’s back to right him. “Oh, sorry about that! I should have warned you!”

“No, you’re okay,” Gaara answered, turning to face Lee completely. Lee froze and Gaara saw his eyes widen. His face reddened a bit, too.

“Oh, wow,” he breathed. He smiled brightly. “Your eyes, you… you look really beautiful.”

If Gaara wasn’t as composed as he was, he probably would have screamed. Or kissed Lee square on the mouth. Instead he looked down at the floor and offered a quiet “thank you” while Lee continued to stare at him in awe.

“Sorry, is that weird for me to say?” Lee asked. “I suppose ‘handsome’ would be more appropriate.”

Call me whatever you want.

“No, that’s… um. Thank you.” Gaara suddenly felt really flustered. He also felt compelled to count how many times Lee mentioned how attractive he thought Gaara was. But he quickly dismissed the thought--he had a job to do!

“You just. You look amazing,” he said.

Gaara glanced down at the floor, then back to Lee. He tucked a stray piece of hair behind his ear. “Thanks.”

“Of course! Are you excited for opening night?” he asked.

Gaara shrugged. “I suppose I’m not sure what to expect. My job isn’t much different than any other night. What about you?”

“I am so ready!” Lee half-shouted, balling up his hands into fists, a fiery determination in his eyes. Gaara felt his lips curve up involuntarily. Lee looked back at Gaara and his expression softened.

“Do you have someone coming to see you tonight?” Gaara asked.

Lee cocked his head to the side and his thick eyebrows drew together. “No, not really. Some of the other Theater majors, I suppose, and a couple of the people on the improv team, but no. All of the people who are most important to me are already here!”

Gaara’s heart skipped a beat. “Really?”

He placed a comforting hand to Gaara’s arm. “Of course!”

Gaara looked into his eyes for any indication he may have been lying about some secret crush, but felt sincerity just as Lee rubbed his thumb across Gaara’s skin. Maybe Neji was seeing things. Lee wasn’t trying to impress anyone, he just wanted to perform onstage with all of his friends.

“I have to go do warm-ups, but I will see you for the top of the show!” he said, the warmth from his hand fading from Gaara’s arm.

“See you,” Gaara said with a light wave of his hand. He watched Lee walk away, trying to mask the smile that crept onto his face. Gaara walked back toward his spot backstage and noticed Shino standing awkwardly off to the side. He was wearing dark glasses, so it was hard to tell, but it certainly looked like he had been staring at Gaara and Lee. He tried to flash Shino a look that said, “Yeah, that’s my boyfriend, what about it?” but it probably came across as a glare. He quickly averted his gaze. He really wasn’t trying to make enemies.

Gaara spent the next half hour flitting between the greenroom and his post backstage, making sure the dancers were where they were supposed to be and making the necessary calls until they were needed onstage. By the time the house was open and he heard audience members filtering into the theater, it really started to sink in that they were really doing a show. It was a little nerve-wracking and, in the pit of his stomach, Gaara felt like something was going to go horribly wrong, but it was still strangely exciting.

After making a “five minutes to places” call, Gaara noticed Kakashi and Gai head into the green room with everyone and overheard the dancers doing some sort of… pre-show ritual? Gai shouted something to his students and Gaara heard the words “passion,” “proud,” and… well, something about dance. He wasn’t really sure what was happening, but from what he could tell, Gai was sobbing vehemently. Feeling like this was the worst possible time, he unfortunately had to interrupt the tender moment with a “dancers in places” call.

After they finished, the performers filtered into the backstage wings. Gaara noticed Gai trailing behind them as Kakashi rubbed a comforting hand across his back. His unfazed expression suggested this was a common occurrence, so Gaara didn’t think to say anything. He noticed Lee trailing behind the two, staring after them almost expectantly. Lee's concerned expression dropped as he bounded over to Gaara, back to his usual, excited self.

“Hi!” he said.

“Hey,” Gaara said. “Is your instructor okay?”

“Hm? Oh! Yes, he gets very wrapped up in opening night. But he said he was very proud of us!” Lee answered.

“That’s good.”

Lee hummed just as Sakura and Ino passed by. They gave him and Gaara not-so-subtle glances and made suggestive eyes at each other. They hip checked one another and offered a quick “break a leg” before Sakura made her way to the opposite side of the stage to take her place.

“Dancers are in places,” Gaara said to Naruto over the headset. “You ready?”

“Bitch, I was ready yesterday,” Naruto replied enthusiastically. “Standby lights two and three and sound two.”

“Standing by,” Hinata and Kiba replied.

“Lights: go. Soooound… go.”

Gaara heard the sound of his own voice kick up over the speakers for the pre-show announcement and immediately felt like he was the center of attention. Of course, he didn’t know anyone in the audience and the dancers had already heard the announcement so many times during rehearsals that they could probably tune it out by now, but it still made him feel a little bit weird. Lee must have noticed Gaara squirming a little in his seat because he extended his hand out from where he stood. Gaara looked down and laced their fingers together quietly. Lee gave his hand a reassuring squeeze and looked back out onto the stage.

“Light three: go…”

The sound of a clamoring audience kicked up as the lights shifted and the show was about to begin. Gaara felt his heart rate pick up and was pretty sure Lee could feel his pulse through their connected hands, but he bounced in place excitedly. They smiled at each other.

“Standby light four and sound three.”

“Standing by.”

“Lights and sound? Let’s. Fucking. Go!”

As the lights shifted and the sound kicked in, Kakashi piped up over the headset in a tired voice, “Naruto, please behave yourself when calling the show.”

“Sorry, Kakashi,” Naruto grumbled as he continued calling for cues.

Sakura and Ino’s piece was certainly more refined than Gaara had ever seen it before, likely because there was actually an audience for them to perform for. They connected with each other more, their facial expressions were far more exaggerated, and their synchronization was practically perfect. Beside him, Lee had tears flowing freely down his cheeks, as usual. Gaara wasn’t entirely sure how to help, so he squeezed Lee’s hand.

“Are you okay?” he whispered.

Lee shut his eyes tight and nodded. Just then, Tenten and Neji sidled up next to him.

“Lee!” Tenten whined. “Are you crying again? You’re lucky you don’t have to wear all this makeup!” Gaara noticed her eyes were smeared in a glittery eyeshadow. Her darkened eyelashes brought out her hazel eyes.

As Lee profusely apologized, Gaara noticed Neji glance down at their intertwined fingers. An odd expression flashed across his face and their pale eyes met briefly. Neji smirked to himself.

Gaara heard Naruto make another call through the headset. “Hey, you guys are onstage pretty soon,” he quickly reminded them.

“Thank you, Gaara,” Tenten responded.

“I’m heading to the other side. See you guys out there,” Neji said. “Merde.”

“Merde!” Tenten replied.

Lee’s face contorted uncomfortably. “You guys know I prefer not to use that word.”

“Yeah, yeah, Mr. No-Swears. Break a leg, okay?” Tenten said, resting her head against Lee’s shoulder.

“Break a leg,” he said to both of them. Neji smirked just before he left.

Gaara didn’t think to ask what “merde” meant, but he was sure it was some sort of morale-booster. Or maybe a good luck phrase. But he’d heard Naruto say “break a leg” to his theater friends before.

As the music kicked in for the next song, Tenten bounced excitedly in place, something she likely picked up from spending so much time around Lee. She turned around and smacked a quick kiss to Lee’s cheek. She bounded out of the wings and leapt onto the stage, her movements so stunning that the audience went wild as soon as her feet left the ground. As Neji prepared to make his entrance, Gaara turned to Lee. He wasn’t as close to Lee as Tenten was, so kissing him on the cheek was probably out of the question. Instead he squeezed his hand just as Naruto made a call for him to go pull up the scrim.

“Um… break a leg out there?” he said with a hint of uncertainty.

Lee gave a wide grin and released their hands to hug Gaara tight. “Thank you so much! Same to you!” They separated quickly, rushing to their positions on and offstage as the show continued.

Gaara felt the excitement from the audience for the entire performance. The dancers had a completely different energy as well--they were all supportive of one another and were certainly performing to the best of their ability. Everyone seemed incredibly riddled with anxiety, but managed to use it to influence their movements onstage. Gaara wasn’t a dancer by any means, but he certainly believed he would have froze up if he were in any one of their positions. The world of dance was still relatively new to him, but Gaara could certainly get used to it.

--

“Great job, everyone!” Gai boomed in the wings as tears cascaded down his face. “Notes in the green room in five.”

“Thank you, five!”

Gaara went to go clean up the stage after the audience had cleared out of the theater, along with the other crew members. The show had gone over incredibly well and everyone seemed pleased with both their individual performances and the audience’s reactions. As he fetched headsets from the crew members, Naruto clapped him hard on the back, congratulating him on his first official night as an ASM with a real audience. He headed out to find Kakashi as Gaara went to go send out the production report to the rest of the team.

After a few minutes, Gaara checked all the doors and shut off all the lights in the theater. He rounded the corner into the green room to lock up as notes concluded, where Naruto was standing in front of the cast and crew, having just made what looked like an announcement. Gaara didn’t think to question it and went straight inside to hand his keys off to Naruto in silence.

“Gaara!” Tenten called. She waved her arm for him to come over to where she, Neji, and Lee were standing. He glanced toward Naruto and back, making his way over quietly. She slung an arm over him in a too-friendly manner that made Gaara stiffen. He tried to mask his discomfort, but to no avail. Trying to act around a bunch of Theater majors was futile. “Do you mind taking Lee to dinner?”

Taking Lee to dinner?

He saw a quick flash of him and Lee in finely-tailored suits at a cloth-covered dinner table. For some reason Naruto was there, dressed like a waiter. Their hands joined across the table.

‘Thank you so much for taking me for such a romantic outing tonight, Gaara,’ Lee said through lidded eyes.

‘There’s more where that came from,’ Gaara replied coolly.

He shoved everything off of the table with a large sweep of one arm, causing several dishes to shatter on the ground. He knocked his chair to the floor and pulled Lee toward him for a deep kiss. He balled up the lapels of Lee’s suit jacket and knocked him back onto the table to climb on top of him--

“Gaara?” Tenten’s voice reeled him back in. He felt his face flush.

“Yes. I can do that,” he said stiffly.

“Great!” She shoved Lee in his direction and headed out with Neji. “We’ll see you there!”

Gaara, Lee, and eventually Naruto headed out for the dinner with Lee sitting in the front to give directions. Naruto was busy going on about… something, but Gaara was pretty sure it was about the weird conversations he had with Hinata up in the booth. He wasn’t entirely sure. His mind was elsewhere. Lee was so close to him and he’d been thinking about all the different ways he could embarrass himself in front of Tenten and Neji. The two of them were so close to Lee, it made Gaara even more afraid of confessing his feelings, since he was afraid of disappointing them.

The three pulled into a parking lot in front of a lively restaurant Gaara had never managed to venture out to before. They stepped inside to find the rest of the cast and crew members, who talked amongst themselves as they waited for a table. There were… so many of them. Gaara was aware of this in a general sense, having commanded the backstage area for the last week and been in charge of the contact sheet. But it was a little overwhelming seeing everyone without the cover of backstage darkness.

“Are you alright?” Lee whispered next to him,. His voice was clear in Gaara’s ear, even over all the boisterous yelling.

Gaara couldn’t seem to choke out a response, but even without one, Lee seemed to understand he was uncomfortable. He rested a hand across Gaara’s back and rubbed softly. Gaara leaned into him, doing his best to focus on Lee’s touch and block out the rest of the shouting.

“I’ll be with you in one second,” someone said. Gaara looked up to see one of the restaurant employees passing through quickly.

“No rush,” Naruto called back. The employee stopped in his tracks as he locked eyes with Naruto. He flipped his dark hair and his eyes narrowed--they were an interesting shade of brown that looked almost red at a first glance. Gaara was almost certain he had seen him before. Something about him was strangely familiar. Naruto did a double-take and his jaw dropped. “Holy shit! Sasuke?!”

He sighed and walked toward Naruto. Something on his face suggested he didn’t want to be talked to. “Hello, Naruto.”

“Dude, what the hell are you doing here?” Naruto shouted.

Sasuke looked down at his uniform and back to Naruto. “I work here.”

“At a karaoke bar? Why?” he prodded.

Karaoke bar? Oh, no…

Naruto continued, “I thought you dropped out of school for that music conservatory thing?”

“I did. Still doing that,” Sasuke said flatly. He glanced around, appearing to be taking a head count of their obnoxiously large party, and wrote something down on a notepad. “Do you want something?”

“Okay, wow, someone’s tetchy,” he said. Sasuke shot him an irritated glare, his reddish-brown eyes reflecting in the light fixture that hung above him. Naruto huffed. “When are you off? You should come hang out with us. We haven’t seen you since like, high school.”

“I’d like to keep it that way,” Sasuke snapped. He flicked his head to one side, suggesting Naruto and the group follow him. The cast and crew made their way to two long sets of tables nearest the stage where someone was in the middle of singing some pop song, and not very well. Sasuke turned and addressed the group with a dramatic sigh as they took their seats. He spoke in an over-rehearsed manner that suggested he had been through this routine far more than he cared to. “Hello, my name is Sasuke, I’ll be your server for the night. Can I get you anything to drink?”

After Sasuke had taken everyone’s drink orders, he walked away grumbling something to himself. Naruto shot Gaara a look that said “can you believe that guy?” There was a weird silence hanging in the air.

“Who was that?” Gaara managed to ask.

Shikamaru sighed a few seats down from Lee. “Sasuke Uchiha. He was supposed to be in our graduating class, but he was kind of a dick and dropped out without a word. Super weird.”

“Hey, knock it off, man. He was going through some shit,” Naruto cut in.

Shikamaru’s eyes flitted to Naruto’s for a second. He leaned back into his chair and spoke easily. “Oh, and Naruto’s still mad because they hooked up freshman year and he never called him back.”

Naruto’s face flushed. He grabbed a salt shaker off of the table with a “hey, fuck you!” and flung it at Shikamaru, who spiked it to the ground. Gaara never spoke to Shikamaru outside of production meetings, but something about him was interesting. He had a feeling Temari would like him a lot.

“Hey!” Gaara heard behind him. He turned to see Tenten, Neji, Sakura, and Ino walking toward the tables. Lee turned to face them as well. He rested his arm across the back of Gaara’s chair to angle his body a little better. But as Neji and Tenten took their seats across from them, Gaara noticed Lee didn’t remove his arm. He didn’t say anything, but it was kind of nice to internally revel in the fact that Lee had almost had his arm around his shoulders.

“Am I having a stroke, or was that Sasuke?” Sakura asked, taking a spot next to Naruto. The two got into a heated discussion about him that Gaara figured was best to tune out.

He saw Neji roll his eyes at the mention of Sasuke’s name, but he didn’t say anything.

“How was the drive?” Lee asked, likely noticing the irritated look on Neji’s face.

“I have so much homework to do tonight,” he responded.

Gaara silently hoped this awkward tension wasn’t going to take over the entire night. His silent prayers were answered when Tenten turned to him.

“So, first show for you tonight! How did you like it?” she said brightly. Her eyeshadow glimmered under the lights.

“Oh. It was good,” Gaara answered. “I suppose once the show starts, I don’t really have a job to do. Since you all know what to do and where to go.”

“Of course you have a job!” Lee chimed in excitedly. “The ASM is so important! Without you to supervise, the backstage would be a mess! You make everything happen!”

Gaara smiled softly at that. Sitting on a stool backstage didn’t always make him feel very important, but Lee’s validation certainly did. “Thank you, Lee.”

“Well, the ballet piece was a mess,” Neji said, slapping a hand to the table. “One of the girls in our class never gets the timing right on the tour jeté. Like, it’s not that hard.”

Naruto chimed in from a few seats away from Neji. “Dude, relax. The audience prob’ly didn’t even notice.”

Neji leaned in front of Tenten and looked Naruto dead in the eye, “I'm sorry. Did I fucking ask you?”

Naruto waved a dismissive hand and left him alone.

Tenten rolled her eyes. She cupped a hand over her mouth and whispered to Gaara, “He’s just hangry.”

“I am not!” Neji shouted. He crossed his arms for effect, but Tenten just smiled and nudged him with her shoulder.

Gaara’s eyes widened a little. He cleared his throat to dispel some of the weird tension in the air. Whoever was singing onstage had just finished their song and a small group from a few tables down give their drunken applause. Gaara turned to see whoever had finished their less-than-brilliant performance and noticed a man with long, blond hair stumble over to his drunken posse. It was probably an office party or something. One of the guys there looked vaguely like Sasuke, but with longer hair. Gaara tore his eyes away and came back to Neji, Tenten, and Lee.

“So, um,” Gaara started. “How long have you three known each other?”

“Oh!” Lee sat up straight. “About… ten years or so? We met at Gai-sensei’s dance studio!”

Tenten nodded enthusiastically. “Yep! We all took classes down there! After he got the job teaching here, we just sort of… followed him!”

“His teachings are a bit unorthodox,” Neji chimed in.

“Oh, but he is incredibly good at what he does!” Lee finished.

“This guy writes down everything he says,” Neji told Gaara. He raised a thin eyebrow. “Everything.”

“Huh,” Gaara said, playing with the sleeves of the green jacket he was wearing. Lee’s scent had faded from it, but he still really liked the way it looked on him. He wondered if Lee would ever ask to get it back. “So, Lee is a Dance major.” He looked at Tenten, “You’re a Dance minor.” He looked at Neji, “And are you…?”

“I just take classes,” Neji shrugged. “I’m Philosophy.”

Tenten slung an arm over his shoulders. “Yeah, but he’s got such a knack for it, we keep trying to convince him to officially join the department!”

“We're third years. It’s not really worth my time to pick up a minor.” Neji shrugged. He directed his attention back to Gaara “You’re PoliSci, huh. Lee never shuts up about you.”

Gaara felt his face reddening. Lee talked about him? Gaara didn’t think Lee even thought about him outside of rehearsals for the dance show. Or meeting in the dance studio. Or asking him to send a text when he got home. Did Lee really talk about him to his friends?

Tenten stomped on the ground and Neji lurched forward. She quickly changed the subject. “Gaara, your eyeliner is incredible! Your lines are so sharp!”

“Oh… thank you,” he said, lightly touching a hand to his face.

“Of course! Ugh, I wish I was better at it.” Tenten giggled. “Oh, gosh, I tried to have Lee do it for me once--it was so awful!”

Lee waved his hand defensively. “Ahh, Tenten--”

“Oh, come on, we were kids!” she laughed. Lee let her continue, despite his reddening cheeks. “It was during competition season. We had to put full makeup on and I had never really done it before and didn’t have anyone else to help. Neji didn’t want to be held responsible!” Neji shrugged at that, but there was a hint of a smirk on his face. “So, Lee told me he knew how to do it--which he did not--and the lines were so shaky, but we had to be onstage right then. I had tears running down my face the whole time, but I was still smiling! I probably looked like this--” She contorted her face into an uncomfortably forced smile with her eyebrows swooping up toward her bangs. She couldn’t hold it for very long, as she dissolved into another fit of laughter.

Lee was covering his pink cheeks with one hand, but Gaara could see him smiling at her underneath.

“Luckily I can do it myself now, but every time I apply it, I think about that,” she said. “That’s Lee, though. Always up for a challenge, always willing to help.” She sighed and shook her head. “So, how long have you been wearing it? Not every day you see guys with makeup on.”

“I have these... awful bags under my eyes, so at first it started as--”

“--concealer?” they finished at the same time. They pointed at one another, glad they were on the same page.

“Precisely,” Gaara said. “And just. My sister wore it. In high school. And my brother did, too, for awhile. He doesn’t do it too much anymore, but he did these weird drag shows for a bit,” Gaara shrugged. He paused, then added, “A lot of guys from my hometown wear makeup, actually.”

“That’s really cool!” Tenten beamed.

He smiled softly at her, wondering why he was ever really nervous in the first place. She was so nice to him. Neji needed a little bit of work, but Gaara would let it slide until after he had some food in his system. He didn’t blame him for snapping at Naruto, though.

After Sasuke's return, everyone had ordered and Gaara noticed Naruto and Sakura staring after Sasuke, whispering fiercely.

When the food finally arrived (and Neji subsequently became more pleasant), the night continued. Gaara found that Tenten was easy to talk to and she really made both him and Lee feel comfortable. The trio exchanged more stories and Gaara learned that the three of them were actually very close to Gai, and even went as far as having monthly dinners with him and Kakashi in their home. The cast and crew filled him in on details and more stories about the theater and dance world, and they made sure he felt included. And that’s when Naruto had a bright idea.

“Dude, holy shit, who’s gonna go onstage to do karaoke?” he asked, shifting his gaze between all the faces around him. “Someone’s gotta kick it off.”

Shikamaru’s eyes practically rolled out of his head. “Absolutely not.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, I thought you were an improv guy? I thought you were all about living in the moment!” Naruto mocked, puffing his cheeks out.

“Improv isn’t singing,” Shikamaru countered.

“Alright, forget this guy. Who else?” Naruto looked around expectantly.

Sakura and Ino exchanged glances and shrugged. “We’ll sign up with you,” Sakura said.

“Finally, people with taste!” he spat in Shikamaru’s direction, heaving his chair to the side as he stood. He caught Gaara watching him make a commotion and smirked at him. Never a good thing to see. Gaara ignored his expression and returned to his newfound friends. He leaned a little closer to Lee, whose arm was still draped over the back of his chair.

“Are you feeling better?” Lee asked him quietly.

“I am. Thank you,” he replied. Gaara noticed that Lee spent most of the night looking at him, which at some points was a little strange, especially while he was eating, but it was just nice to be in his company. He leaned further into Lee’s space. “Are you feeling okay?”

Lee’s face flushed even redder, which concerned Gaara a bit. At this point, he was thoroughly convinced Lee was going to pass out. “Mhm!”

Gaara gave him a look, but let it slide.

It didn’t take long for Sakura and Ino to take their places on the stage, since the office party gang was slumped over on the other side of the karaoke bar. The large group had taken up a significant portion of that night’s karaoke slots, but it seemed they were done for the night. Sakura and Ino were trained performers, so it was no surprise that all eyes were on them for the duration of their piece. Their duet was kind of weird and probably from a musical, Gaara was guessing, because all the theater folks at their table seemed to know the song. Something about taking the other woman as they were despite their flaws…?

“What is this?” Gaara asked during a particularly climactic part of the song.

Lee turned toward Gaara. “Have you never seen 'Rent?'”

Gaara shook his head and saw Tenten shoot Lee a suggestive look. “Sounds like a movie night is in order for the two of you.”

Neji didn’t look away from the stage. “'Rent' as a film was a disgrace. Save yourself the trouble and watch the stage musical.”

Tenten smacked his arm. “Keep your purist theater opinions to yourself!”

Lee gave Gaara a look. “I suppose if you would like to watch the movie,” he put up a hand before Neji could say anything. “Or the stage musical, then we could…?”

Gaara gave him a soft smile. “That would be nice.”

Did this… did this count as a date? Was he going on a date? With Lee?

The girls concluded their song and were met with applause from both the theater folks and the employees. Even the office party in the corner was showing unanimous support. The girls pranced excitedly offstage and Sasuke hopped up on the mic to announce the next person.

“Alright. Next up, we have…” he sighed dejectedly. “Naruto.”

“Step aside, ladies,” he said proudly to the girls as they took their seats, “let the master show you how it's done.”

Sakura tripped him as he made his way to the stage.

Gaara put his face in his hands as Naruto took his position in front of the microphone. What did he think he was doing? Why did he always have to make a big show of himself? Why couldn't they just go to a nice dinner and have a normal night for once?

Gaara heard a familiar piano intro start up and his jaw fell open. Most of the cast shifted as they recognized the song and they let out a collective sigh as soon as Naruto opened his mouth to sing in a broken, cracked voice:

What goes around comes back around!

Neji pinched the skin between his eyebrows and shook his head. He mumbled to himself, “He's desecrating Beyoncé...”

Tenten shushed him. Lee laughed quietly to himself.

Naruto continued singing obnoxiously, trying to do cool tricks with the mic stand as Gaara shook his head. At least the office party in the corner seemed to be enjoying the show. They were screaming for him.

So when I think of the times that I almost loved you… You showed your ass and I… I saw the real you!

Sakura booed him.

“Hey, wait, wait!” Naruto shouted. “Is this bad? Be honest! Is my singing bad?”

“No!” a red-haired member of the office party drunkenly slurred.

“Yes!” Ino shouted, more insistently.

“I hear a yes!” Naruto shouted, pointing to Ino. “Who wants me to stop?”

Ino and Sakura whooped. Gaara swore he heard Sasuke join in.

“Okay, okay, got it. My silence comes for a price!” Naruto shouted far too loud for someone with a microphone. He walked to the edge of the stage and pulled another mic stand next to him. “Can I get my roommate up here?”

Gaara felt his heart sink. He shook his head at Naruto, eyes wide. He could feel the whole cast and crew staring at him.

“That's him! That's my roommate!” he yelled, extending a finger in Gaara's direction. “Gaara, come here!” He gestured for him to come onstage. “Please, please, please, Gaara! You guys, please force him up here.”

Gaara sank in his seat, trying to make himself disappear. That only made Naruto's singing worse.

I SAID IT SUCKS TO BE YOU RIGHT NOW!

Neji started to stand. “I can't do this.”

Well, Gaara certainly couldn't let Lee's friends be upset. If they were upset, that meant Lee would be upset and he just wouldn't let that slide.

Gaara pushed his seat back as he stood up and the office party absolutely lost it. Naruto screeched and let out an excited "that's my ASM!" as Tenten pulled Neji back down.

“Are you…?” Lee started.

Gaara gave him a noncommittal shrug and headed onto the stage. He took the other microphone and took a deep breath.

“Where are we?” he asked, noticing the monitor with the song lyrics. He took a moment to process where they were in the music before he quietly joined Naruto. “When I think that there was a time that I almost loved you... You showed your ass and baby yes, I saw the real you.

Naruto smiled at Gaara and they started to sing together. Gaara made sure to just keep up with the melody at first, but when Naruto's obnoxious, crowing voice started overpowering his, something seized him internally.

Maybe it was all the time he'd been spending with Lee, who turned everything into a competition with himself, but Gaara was feeling suddenly impassioned as they reached the bridge of the song.

Gaara suddenly felt the need to show Naruto up, even though he really didn't need to. He could afford to do a riff. “I know you want me back…It's time to face the facts…That I'm the one that's got away.

As soon as he diverged from the melody with a brief vocal melisma, he heard Sakura let out a small, “oh, shit.”

He supposed there was more where that came from. There was a pretty significant belt coming up, so Gaara felt compelled to hit the note without cracking. His voice was quite a bit lower than the original key of the song intended, but for some reason he wasn't going to let that stop him.

Thank god I found the good in goodbye, I used to want you so bad!

And he hit it. In the same moment, he heard the blond guy from earlier shriek, “Work, bitch!”

Gaara was surprised to hear so much… excitement from the cast and crew (and their unexpected third-party supporters). He mostly sat quietly off to the side, writing reports and making time calls for the dancers, so it was kind of nice to hear them cheering him on. He didn't feel very noticed or particularly important during rehearsals, but this was really nice.

Naruto had already dipped out of the lead vocals and simply went to underscoring Gaara by singing the “best thing I never had” background vocals and attempting to find the harmonies. He wasn't the best singer, but was still nice to have him there since he was positively radiating enthusiasm. They were both surprisingly into it and it was probably the most Gaara had ever poured himself into something. Especially while he was singing. He never really liked singing in front of other people very much, but with all this support from people he was now considering his friends, it was pretty enjoyable. Plus it had been awhile since he practiced doing vocal runs.

On the last “it sucks to be you right now,” Naruto pulled Gaara in and slapped a hand to his back. He heard thunderous applause and it felt… incredibly gratifying.

“I hate you,” Gaara said to Naruto with a smirk. He returned the microphone to its stand, unaware he had taken it out in the first place, and made his way back to his seat.

He tried to avoid looking at anyone, even though he knew he was supported, but suddenly felt familiar strong arms lift him.

“Why did I not know you could sing?!” Lee shouted excitedly. “Oh, my gosh, not that I should be surprised! You get more incredible every day!” He placed him on the ground and touched all across Gaara's arms up to his face, so overstimulated by his own shock that he didn't know what to do with his hands. He settled on cupping Gaara's soft cheeks. “Oh, my gosh! Ahhh!” He pulled him in for a hug. “You have such a beautiful voice!”

Tenten put a hand to Lee's arm to gently coax him off. “Come on, Lee, let him breathe!” She looked to Gaara. “Seriously though. We're having auditions for our musical theater revue--you have to come.”

“Oh, I couldn't,” Gaara said.

“Um? You better!” Tenten said, sliding a knife off of the table and pointing it in Gaara's direction. "You're filling out an audition sheet and I will see you there!”

“Please, please, please?” Lee asked, his eyes wide with excitement. “I would love to hear you sing again.”

How could he possibly say no to that?

Gaara pretended it was more trouble than it was worth. “I'll consider it.” He was swept into another Lee hug that made his back crack, breaking any composure he may have had. He hugged Lee back as other cast and crew members cheered him on and showered him in compliments.

The rest of the dinner was spent with Tenten and Lee firing questions at Gaara about himself and his singing experience. Neji didn't say much, but if Gaara was being honest, he seemed to be warming up to him. Being accepted by Tenten and Neji made Gaara feel a little less nervous about his eventual plan to confess his feelings to Lee. Not only that, but Gaara had Lee's arm around him with the promise that they would have a movie night together soon.

As far as he was concerned, everything was perfect.

Chapter Text

“Hey, did you need me to take you back?” Gaara asked.

Everyone was clustered around the front of the restaurant, saying their goodbyes and rushing hurriedly through the cold. Groups split off quickly and Gaara received a couple of pats on the arm complete with a “nice job tonight!”

Lee smiled at him. Part of Gaara wanted to believe the smile was something akin to fondness. Or pride.

"Thank you, but I am actually spending the night with Tenten and Neji,” he said.

“Oh,” Gaara said a bit sadly. He felt Lee slide a hand onto his back to pull him in close. Gaara wrapped his arms around him in return.

“I will definitely see you tomorrow though!” He pulled away to look at Gaara. “We have a matinee and a night show, so it looks like I get to spend all. My. Time. With. You!” He gave Gaara's nose a light tap on the word “you,” which made him laugh.

“Well, I hope I can claim you for the drive home after,” Gaara said with a slight smirk. He wasn't sure where the boldness was coming from, but it made Lee smile.

“I will be sure to let them know,” he replied.

They swayed a little bit in place as they held each other and Gaara ignored the sound of Naruto not-so-subtly clearing his throat.

“I guess I have to take the stage manager home now.” Gaara rolled his eyes as he reluctantly pulled away from Lee.

“I suppose the show would not exist without him,” Lee mused.

“I think we could work around that…”

Lee laughed. Naruto groaned.

They hugged again and Lee leaned in close. “You really have such a beautiful voice. I cannot believe how incredibly talented you are.”

“... Thank you,” Gaara said quietly. The two separated and gave each other one last look before actually giving their goodbyes for the night. “I'll see you tomorrow, Lee.”

“Not unless I see you first!” he countered. It made Gaara blush.

“Lee! Let's go!” Neji called out.

“Text me when you get home!” Lee gave Gaara a tiny wave goodbye and headed off.

Gaara stared after him and felt the wind get knocked out of him as Naruto's hand slapped him across the back.

“You guys are so sweet on each other, it's gross.”

“We're not--”

“Dude, don't even fight it,” Naruto sighed. They turned on their heels and walked back toward Gaara's car. With his arms resting behind his head, Naruto turned to give Gaara a sly look while they made their way back. “Y’know, I did you a pretty big favor back there.”

Gaara turned to look at him. “What do you mean?”

“With that song. Lee knows you sing and whatnot, so he's prob'ly gonna wanna bone down now that he knows you're not some boring politics guy!” Naruto winked.

“Bone down?” Gaara echoed. “Is that all you ever think about?"

“I got priorities.”

They made their way back home in a moderate silence. Or, at least Gaara was silent. Naruto would occasionally pipe up to chide Gaara for liking Lee so much. As soon as they got home and settled into their rooms, Gaara collapsed onto his bed in hopes that he'd dream about Lee. Which reminded him…

Gaara's eyes shot open and he reached for his phone to send Lee his usual “I'm home” message; he couldn't believe he almost forgot. The reply came almost instantly. A small “thank you!” complete with a red heart. Gaara covered his face in his hands and smiled wide.

What did he do to deserve someone this pure in his life?

--

He woke up early the next morning after a particularly sweet dream about Lee. The house was quiet, an indication that he got out of bed earlier than Naruto, so he got up to use the bathroom. On his way there, Gaara happened to hear giggling inside of Naruto's room. Not one to pry, Gaara padded across the hall quickly before he could make out any distinctive voices.

After flushing the toilet (and washing his hands--something Naruto never did), he heard Naruto's door open and a harsh whisper of “go, go, go!” Curious, he opened the bathroom door and heard scrambling down the hall just as a flash of pale skin and dark hair bolted out of Naruto's room. The slam of the front door echoed through the house and Gaara quickly turned to see Naruto's red face.

Naruto cut him off before he could open his mouth. “You weren't supposed to see that!”

“I sort of… didn't,” he mumbled.

“That wasn't Sasuke, leave me alone!” Naruto shouted. He slammed the door to his room and from what Gaara could hear through the walls, Naruto was screaming into his pillow. He didn't think to question it, but wasn't sure why Naruto spending the night with Sasuke was such a big deal.

Gaara decided not to dwell on it and went into his room instead. He pulled his laptop out from his bag and placed it on his desk to start doing some of the homework that had been piling up. Being so busy with tech week (and his subsequent obsession with Lee), Gaara hadn't managed to get much done the past week. Luckily he was a far better student than Naruto, so if he forgot an assignment here or there, his grades could take the hit. After all, Gaara wasn't going to spend his leisure time having hate sex with a guy he hadn't seen in over a year. No, he would just sit at his desk dreaming of having regular sex with the purest dancer he'd ever met.

His face immediately flushed. He did his best to push the thoughts out of his head and tried to focus on his assignments instead.

Most of the morning was spent that way--trying not to think about having sex with Lee, flitting back to an assignment, and getting lost in the pages of his textbooks. Not thinking of Lee was definitely easier said than done…

After a few hours of what Gaara wished was diligent work, there was a soft knock followed by the creak of his bedroom door opening. Naruto gripped the doorknob, looking slightly disheveled, but didn't say anything.

Gaara shot him an irritated glare. He turned back to his laptop and continued typing, not looking up at Naruto as he spoke. “I appreciate the knock, but could you at least wait for a response before opening my door?”

“I have had… the roughest morning,” Naruto replied.

Gaara tried to bite back the urge to make a shitty joke, but his brother raised him better than that.

“Yeah, I'll bet.” He said just as Naruto came charging toward him.

“Shut the fuck up! Don't talk about it, I fucked up!” he cried, hands uselessly flailing as Gaara shoved him away.

Kankuro's essence urged him on and he seized another opportunity. “You fucked, or you fucked up?”

“Stooooop!” Naruto crumpled to the floor. He grasped Gaara's pant leg from where he lied. “Please don't tell Sakura…”

“Why would I tell her?” Gaara scooted his chair back so he could get a better look at his mess of a roommate. “I don't know her.”

Naruto groaned as he pulled harder on the fabric of Gaara's pajama pants.

“Alright!” Gaara pried Naruto's hands off. “I don't need you pulling my pants off, too.”

They sat that way for a minute, Gaara staring down, while distressed tears threatened to spill from Naruto's eyes.

“When's call time again?” Gaara asked, glancing at the clock in the corner of his computer screen.

“Twelve,” he replied lazily. “Announcements, then warm-ups, then presets. Dancers get ready while we run cues. Doors open at one-thirty. Show is at two. Do it all over again at six.”

Gaara patted him on the shoulder. “Maybe you fucked up this time, but at least you're a good stage manager."

He grumbled out a “thank you” and sat up.

“Well, it's already eleven, so we should probably start getting ready.” Gaara stood up and made his way to the closet, where he rummaged through his things to find a clean black shirt. Once he found what he was looking for, he slung it over his shoulder and swiped Lee's jacket off his bed.

Naruto quirked an eyebrow. “Dude, you still have that thing?”

Gaara opened his mouth to say something, but Naruto cut him off.

“No, no. You made fun of me, now it's my turn,” he said. “You've had that for days, dude. Have you asked him out yet?”

“... No.”

Naruto slapped a hand to his face. “Gaara! After all that flirting last night?”

“We weren't flirting!” Gaara said defensively.

“Really? Him with his arm around you all night? All the times you leaned on him at the table? Y'all hugging up on each other when you were saying bye?” Naruto crossed his arms. “I might be a dumb bitch, but I know flirting when I see it.”

Gaara didn't say anything. Naruto did seem to know his way around flirting… maybe he was right.

“Gaara. He's into you. Believe me.”

“Well, he hasn't told me, so we don't know for sure,” Gaara countered.

That just made Naruto roll his eyes. He got up from the floor and made his way out of the room. “Dude. Please ask him, or I will die. I'm gonna go get ready.”

--

Gaara made his way into the theater with a still frazzled Naruto not long later. They were surprisingly early, but he checked the call board to make sure the cast and crew were starting to make their way into the theater anyway. As Gaara scanned the board, he heard familiar voices shouting around the corner.

“Neji, come do across the floor with us!”

That was Lee. Even just hearing his voice made Gaara smile. He ignored the coy look Naruto gave him before he headed into the theater.

“I will not,” came Neji's reply.

“Come on, we would look so cool!” Lee whined. “Across the floor makes for really great warm-ups…”

“Yeah, Neji, come on!” Tenten joined in. “Lee is gonna show you up for both shows today.”

Neji didn't say anything. He must have obliged.

“So! We will do a six-step and prep into a double. And then we will do a six-step again and finish with as many pirouettes as we can do,” Lee said. Gaara could hear his feet tapping against the floor as he likely gave a demonstration for the exercise.

“Jazz or ballet?” Neji asked.

“Ooh, jazz!” Tenten shouted. “Ready? Five, six--”

“Hey, Lee. Pretend Gaara's watching,” Neji cut in.

“--seven, eight!”

“Neji, that is so unfair!” Lee cried.

Gaara felt his heart stop. Why would his name make that unfair?

Their laughter echoed through the halls as they made their way over and the three dipped into Gaara's view. He noticed their stances change into what he recognized as a preparation for a pirouette. The three shot up onto their toes to turn and Tenten dissolved into giggles by the fourth one, effectively ruining her spotting. Awed, Gaara looked on as Neji and Lee both landed a solid seven and nearly fainted when Lee gracefully stuck his landing out of his last turn.

“Lee!” In a blur, Tenten leapt onto him and hugged him tight. She wrapped her legs around his waist and he carried her effortlessly. “That was so good!!”

The two boys began walking forward, Tenten still cradled against Lee. Gaara wanted nothing more than to be in her place

Lee's bright laughter filled the hall. “Looks like I am catching up to you, Neji! You know my right turns are worse than my left.”

“Oh, please,”Neji chided. “You only did so well because you thought Gaa--uh… um…” Neji stopped in his tracks as he finally made eye contact with Gaara across the hall. His eyes widened slightly. “Because…”

The other two followed suit and Tenten was quick to flail out of Lee's hold. “Because…. Gaa… Gaaaai-sensei! Wants you to… perform well! Because he will… treat us to dinner if we do better than we did yesterday!”

Lee's face was beet-red. He squeaked, “Hi, Gaara.”

Gaara waved to him softly. “Hi, Lee.”

“Oh, wow, a callboard!” Tenten said much too loudly. “We better sign in quick, Neji!” She dragged him over as she scribbled their initials down and the two bolted off to the green room, whispering harshly to one another along the way. Their voices faded out and Gaara realized he and Lee alone.

A beat of silence followed.

“I… I saw you turning,” Gaara finally said. “I don't think I've ever seen you do that many.”

Lee made his way over to the callboard to sign in. He smiled wide at Gaara, face still a little bit red. “Yeah?”

“It was really beautiful,” he added. Almost immediately, he felt like an idiot.

The compliment did nothing to ward off the redness in Lee's cheeks. He beamed. “Thank you!”

Well, at least his smile brightened. Gaara stared at his wonderfully white teeth and the way his lips curved up as he grinned. It went without saying that he thought Lee was a gorgeous boy, but when he smiled like that? Gaara could practically feel time stop.

As Lee finished signing in, he walked toward Gaara with open arms. Gaara gravitated toward him almost instinctually, resting his cheek on the now familiar part of Lee's shoulder. They stood that way for a while, Gaara embracing the simplicity of the hug, wishing they could do so much more.

“How are you?” Lee asked. The two remained wrapped in the hug and neither made a move to release their hold.

“A little tired. But otherwise, alright,” Gaara answered. He squeezed around Lee's torso just a tiny bit. “How are you?”

“I slept really well last night! Me and Neji and Tenten ended up watching a movie together,” Lee said.

“That sounds nice,” Gaara mused.

They finally pulled away and Gaara missed the warmth from Lee's body. Lee's eyebrows suddenly shot up, as if he suddenly remembered something.

“By the way? I have not been able to stop thinking about your voice!” he smiled wide again. “Oh, my gosh. Your singing? Absolutely outstanding.”

“Oh, thank you,” he said, face beginning to flush.

“Of course!”

Gaara checked the callboard again, noticing a few names that weren't signed in yet. Pulling his phone from his pocket, he glanced at the time. Looks like they were already late.

“Hey, I have to call some people and make sure they get here on time,” he said. “I'm not ignoring you, I swear.”

“Oh! Yes! You have a very important job to do!” He gave Gaara a little salute, which made him smile. Lee reached forward to give Gaara one more hug, which Gaara was more than happy to return.

“Warm-ups in ten!” he called, dialing the numbers in his phone.

“Thank you, ten!” Lee sing-songed after, bounding toward the green room. It made Gaara smile.

Lee was too cute for his own good.

A few hasty phone calls and one warm-up playlist later, Gaara was backstage on his headset, waiting for the first show of the day to begin. After he checked in with the technical crew and made his “house open” call, he turned his head to see Lee creeping toward him.

“Hey, you,” Gaara said.

“Aw, you saw me too soon!” Lee laughed as he hugged him from behind. “I was going to spook you.”

“Spook me?” Gaara repeated. He rested his hands on Lee's and leaned back into him. He took a moment to enjoy the feeling of Lee's stomach pressed against his back. For just a second it felt like it was only the two of them backstage, enjoying each other's company.

“Gaara, are you ticklish?” Lee asked.

Gaara was glad that Lee was behind him because his expression had revealed too much. Nothing could be more embarrassing than Lee touching him everywhere in front of the backstage crew. Memories of being terrorized by his siblings who pinned him to the ground and tickled him until he couldn't breathe flooded Gaara's mind.

“Um… maybe…” Gaara answered. He felt Lee's fingers delicately graze across his stomach and squeaked. He squirmed expertly out of his hold and stepped away.

“Oh, my gosh, you are!” Lee took another step toward him and a tiny laugh slipped out.

“Please don't!” Gaara said, putting up his hands defensively. “I promise you, I will scream.”

Lee's eyes widened and his hands lowered slowly. “Oh, gosh, I am so sorry!” Lee looked like he was about to cry. It might have been more concerning if Gaara didn't already know how often Lee cried, but he still felt compelled to comfort him.

“No, you're fine!” He slipped his arms slipped under Lee's and hugged him firmly. “You're fine. I'm just really loud. I would rather not subject myself to any embarrassment.” He added, “Plus, Kakashi will probably get mad.”

“Kakashi would be fine. Kakashi is just a big softie,” Lee said. He swayed in place as Gaara adjusted to rest his cheek more comfortably against him.

“Really? Naruto never said anything about that,” Gaara said. He grasped softly at the fabric of Lee's shirt as he listened to him speak.

“Well, I know Kakashi on a more… personal level,” Lee explained. “Gai-sensei will sometimes have me and Neji and Tenten over for dinner. Every once in awhile, Kakashi joins us. Or when all of us are dancing together, sometimes he comes into the studio to say hello.”

“Huh,” Gaara said.

“Yeah,” he sighed. This was nice. Just the two of them, talking, hugging, taking the time that they had before the performance to just be close to each other. Gaara could feel Lee press his face into his hair. “You smell really good.”

No, you smell really good.

“Thank you,” he murmured.

“Sorry, is that weird?” He laughed and Gaara smiled at how pure the sound was, especially being so close to his chest. That warmth that he felt from being around Lee was starting to come back.

“No…” he said.

Lee rubbed his back softly before pulling away. “I have to go get ready.” He tilted his head to the side. “We have some time between shows today. If you wanted to hang out or something… unless you have things to do--”

Gaara felt his face flush. “I would like that.”

Lee smiled back at him. “Great! I will be back very soon!”

“Okay!” he called.

--

The show was more or less the same as the previous night and Gaara was pleased there hadn't been any mishaps so far. But doing just one show in a day could be tiring. He wasn't sure how some people did two (or more). Not only that, but he wasn't even performing. With all the crazy, skillful moves the dancers were doing, he had no idea how they weren't wiped after just the first act.

Gaara met everyone in the green room after he finished locking up the theater and handed his keys off to Kakashi, who was luckily still inside. Gai was just finishing up.

“Thanks everyone! We'll see you back here at six!” Naruto shouted.

Gaara gave Naruto a tiny wave and turned just in time to see Lee weaving through the crowd. Naruto gave him a suggestive look before slipping away.

“Hey!” Lee grinned.

“Hey,” Gaara replied. They hugged briefly and Lee guided him out of the room with a hand ghosting his back.

“We only have a little under two hours before we have to be back,” Lee remarked. “Are you hungry?”

For you.

“A little bit,” Gaara answered, ignoring his inner thoughts that were perpetually thirsty for Lee. If they were going to continue being friends, he really needed to knock that shit off.

“I brought some stuff with me,” Lee said. “We can share it, or we can get you something on campus. Or, if we have the time, we can go downtown. I can pay for you, of course.”

“I suppose there isn't much time for us to leave. But I would feel bad if--”

“Nope! You will not feel bad! I refuse to let that happen!” Lee interrupted. He pulled Gaara in close. “You are my friend and I care about you! Now what would you like to do?”

“Um…”

“I brought seconds if that sways you in any way,” Lee added. “I would hate to see it go to waste.”

“Oh! Um… okay,” Gaara said. “If that would be okay with you.”

“Of course it is! I will take that as a yes!” Lee smiled and guided him out of the building, being sure to open the door for him along the way. “I put my stuff in the dance studio, since Gai-sensei has a refrigerator in there. Unless you would rather not walk that far--”

“It's not that far,” Gaara interjected. “I mean, I do spend a lot of my time sitting down, watching a monitor backstage. It's nice to just be able to walk around.”

Lee grinned. “Okay, then off we go!”

The walk passed relatively quickly, partially due to the fact that Lee was a fast walker and Gaara didn't want to admit he was having trouble keeping up. He asked Lee some questions about different pieces in the show so that he would do most of the talking. If he was too distracted talking about the show, he wouldn't notice the sweat that was beginning to dot Gaara's forehead.

When they returned to the theater building, they decided to sit outside on the grass. As the two ate, Lee entertained Gaara through stories about his adventures in cooking, stating that he had gotten much better since he had started college. Gaara did admit, it was better than all of the instant ramen he was subjected to at home. By a landslide.

“Did your parents teach you to cook?” Gaara asked, carefully taking another bite of food. He considered his own home life for a moment. “Or your siblings?”

“Oh, um…" Lee stared down at the grass.

Gaara placed a hand on Lee's thigh, afraid he might have struck an uncomfortable family-centric chord. "We don't have to talk about it if you don't want to."

“No, no, totally fine!" Lee rested his hand on top of Gaara's and offered a small smile. "I sort of was in and out of places for a really long time. I focused most of my time on getting through school and dancing, so cooking was one of those things I never really got around to.”

“Huh…” Gaara said.

“Yeah… I actually came here on a full ride scholarship.”

“Holy shit.”

He shook his head. “Ah, but enough about me! Tell me about you! Do you have people coming to see the show?”

If Gaara was being honest, he really wished they could continue talking about Lee. Outside of dance and Lee's love for his friends, Gaara realized he didn't know all that much about him. But he supposed he breached a sensitive topic and perhaps home life was best to talk about some other time.

“Me? Oh! Well, my siblings might come next weekend,” Gaara said.

“Really? What are they like?” Lee had already finished eating and resorted to stretching in the grass. Gaara tried to ignore the way his muscles shifted underneath his clothes.

“Well, uh… my sister Temari is the oldest. She's pretty protective of us, so sometimes she can be kind of mean… especially to someone we might plan on dating. But she's great. And my brother Kankuro is super weird. He does a lot of really cool, kind of avant garde artsy shit on the side. They both work a lot though. And I'm here, so it's hard to talk to them all the time.”

“Yeah…” Lee said. “Well, they sound great! I bet it will be really nice to see them this weekend.”

Gaara nodded. “Yeah.”

Lee leaned back to lie against the grass and made small adjustments to his body.

“What are you doing?” Gaara asked him.

“Some alignment stuff. It helps relax you by sort of decompressing your body. I like to do it after eating,” Lee explained. “You can try it if you want. I promise it is super easy.”

“Sure,” Gaara shrugged. “You may have to help me though.”

Lee sat up to help. Wordlessly, he adjusted parts of Gaara's body with light fingers, pushing down and pressing against him with a soothing softness that was as relaxing as it was unnerving. Once his body was aligned properly against the grass, he had to admit it did feel really nice.

“How is that?” Lee asked above him.

“Good,” Gaara answered, sitting still so he wouldn't ruin everything Lee just corrected.

Lee climbed over Gaara and took a spot next to him in the grass. He employed the same strategy to his own body. When he lied his arm next to Gaara's, their fingers brushed for a moment, sending sparks shooting through Gaara's arm. Without thinking, Gaara reached out and rested his hand on top of his. Lee didn't make an attempt to stop the contact, and instead flipped his palm over to lace their fingers together.

“Your hands are really soft,” Lee said.

“Thanks,” Gaara responded. “I think.”

That made Lee laugh and the sound alone made Gaara smile. It was peaceful, just the two of them lying in the grass together. Had there not been another show soon, Gaara might have been able to sit like that for the rest of the day. For the moment though, he savored and let his eyes slip shut.

He had apparently been so relaxed that he didn't realize he fell asleep until Lee was gently shaking his shoulder to wake him up.

“Gaara,” he whispered. “Time to get up.”

“Hm…?” he opened his eyes and felt his brow creasing in confusion. “Was I asleep…?”

“Yeah,” Lee chuckled. “I was going to tell you something and when I turned, you were totally out!”

“Oh… sorry about that." Gaara sat up and brushed the grass out of his hair.

“Oh, no! I just let you sleep. You seemed like you needed it,” Lee said. He offered his hands out and helped Gaara to his feet. “Besides, some good rest will help you feel more alert for the show tonight! No sense in the ASM falling asleep on us.”

“That would probably not look very good for me,” Gaara said.

They made their way inside and prepared for another performance. Gaara did admit he felt much better after Lee's alignment exercise, even if he did sleep through most of it.

The show went as well as it generally did and Gaara noticed Lee had been absolutely crushing all of his pieces. He couldn't help but smile seeing him onstage, enjoying himself to the fullest.

When the performance concluded and Gaara had finished locking up the theater, he made his way back to Lee, found Naruto, and drove them both home.

After saying their goodbyes, and watching Lee walk back to his apartment, Gaara's smile faltered, knowing that he wouldn't see Lee for the next few days. Naruto climbed into the front seat clumsily and interrupted his thoughts.

“Hey, dude, I'm hella behind in that Comparative class we're both in. Can we study tomorrow?” he asked.

He knew this was just Naruto asking to copy all of his notes down. But he supposed it was worth it since Naruto had to put up with his clueless lovestruck self.

“You know we have a test coming up in like, a few days.”

Naruto made a face. “Yeah, dude, that's why I asked.”

Gaara rolled his eyes, unsure of why he was even surprised by this, and agreed albeit a bit reluctantly. The two made plans to go to the teahouse where they usually studied. The conversation allowed the drive to pass relatively quickly and before they knew it, they were pulling up to the house.

As Gaara crawled under his blankets, part of him missed the feeling of having Lee's hand in his own while he slept, even if it was only temporary. He mimicked the feeling by clasping his own hands together, the sounds of Lee's voice echoing through his mind and lulling him to sleep.

--

The next morning, Naruto and Gaara made their way to the teahouse as promised. They sat across from each other, respective notebooks placed in front of them while an open textbook (Gaara's textbook) divided them. Naruto flitted between jumping on his phone and ordering refills of tea, which was starting to annoy Gaara.

“Weren't you the one who wanted to study?” Gaara asked.

“Well, uh… the best way to learn is by explaining the material to someone,” Naruto said, scratching the underside of his nose. “Maybe you can just explain it to me.”

Gaara positively rolled his eyes at that. Gently, he closed his notebook and looked at Naruto across the table. “Why don't you explain the material to me?”

“Dude, come on,” Naruto squinted back at him.

“Oh, I'm sorry, aren't you on this brink of failing this class?”

"D's get degrees, baby." Naruto slapped the table enthusiastically. He glanced out the window and did a double take before pressing his face against the glass. A small cloud formed against the glass from Naruto breathing against it and Gaara shook his head, silently apologizing to whoever was going to have to wash it. "Holy crap, is that Lee?"

Gaara rolled his eyes, not for the first time that morning. "Oh, ha ha. Use that against me all you want, it's not gonna work."

Naruto pulled away. "Look, stupid! He's right there!"

With an aggressive pull of Gaara's shirt, Naruto dragged him toward the window to see. The cups of tea on the table nearly spilled over. It turned out Naruto wasn't lying because when Gaara looked out, there Lee was, walking down the street with Gai. From what Gaara could make out from their muted figures, they were speaking excitedly, waving and gesticulating wildly. Gai handed him a piece of paper and the two burst into tears, hugging each other in an emotional display that was probably not very well-suited for the middle of the sidewalk, but neither seemed to mind.

"I'm gonna go talk to him," Naruto said, shifting out of his seat.

Gaara seized him by his jacket sleeve.

"You will not!"

Gaara turned back toward the window and saw Lee and Gai had parted ways. Lee was heading in the direction of the teahouse, distracted by the piece of paper in his hands.

"Dude, it's destiny," Naruto whispered.

"It is not!" Gaara whispered back, harshly.

Naruto, still held back by Gaara's grip on his sleeve, looked around before using his free hand to seize his notebook off the table. Once Lee was in front of them, he flung it at the glass, making Lee jump. The sound was much louder than they anticipated and Gaara could feel everyone in the teahouse staring at them. If they were never allowed inside again, Gaara wouldn't be surprised.

Lee squinted through the glass. The visual couldn't have been more embarrassing: Gaara halfway across the table, holding onto Naruto's sleeve as Naruto stood with one leg over his chair, body canting in the direction of the entrance. Lee's cheeks went pink, Gaara assumed from being startled, and he beamed at him, giving a small wave with one hand. Gaara let go of Naruto's sleeve to wave back, forgetting he was the only thing keeping him upright. Naruto tumbled to the floor.

Lee pulled his phone out, sliding the piece of paper under his arm so he could type out a text. Gaara's phone vibrated a few seconds later. He looked at the device and back to Lee, who pointed toward the table.

Gaara swiped up his phone and opened the new message he had.

Lee:
"Can I come say hi?"

Gaara looked back to him and swiftly sent a reply:
"Of course."

Lee grinned and made his way inside. The first thing his sweet, compassionate self did was help Naruto's dumbass off the floor. Once Naruto was back in his seat, Lee made his way to Gaara and pulled him into his arms quickly.

"How are you?" he said into Gaara's hair. "Did you sleep well?"

"Very well, thank you. How about you? I'm sure your body needed a break after all that dancing," Gaara said. They pulled away and Lee took the seat next to him, body angled to fully face Gaara. Placing his elbow on the table, Gaara let his head rest in his palm, effectively ignoring Naruto, who was definitely staring.

"Well, I still have to stay in top form," Lee said. "I went to do a barre class with Gai-sensei this morning."

Gaara noticed the paper that was still under his arm as he nodded in understanding.

"What's that?"

"Oh!" Lee pulled the paper out and smoothed it out against the table. "I finally got certified! Gai-sensei usually lets me assist him with his studio classes and now I can teach by myself!"

"Congratulations!" Gaara said.

"Yeah, dude, that's awesome!" Naruto interjected.

"How long have you been working on that?" Gaara asked.

"Oh, gosh. A couple of years now? It was bit slow-going, since I still need to finish school. But this way I can get paid and I can refine my skills by working with the kids!" He smiled at both of them.

"The kids?" Gaara asked.

"Yeah!" Lee grinned. "I just get to teach beginner classes for now. So, the dancers are pretty young."

With the amount of excitement Lee had about everything, it only made sense that he could keep up with a studio full of energetic children. Gaara could hardly imagine himself in a similar situation. Being the youngest in his family, he never really had to deal with anyone younger than him, so truthfully, he had no idea what it was like. Nevertheless, he was excited for Lee.

"That's amazing, Lee," he said. He placed a light hand on Lee's forearm. "I'm really happy for you."

Naruto's cleared his throat. "Hey, guys, I'm gonna head to the bathroom, I'll be back in a sec."

"Okay," Gaara said, eyes still trained to Lee.

Lee rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly once Naruto made his exit.

"Sorry to interrupt…" He glanced down at the table. "Are you two studying?"

"Well, that was the plan," Gaara said. He noticed the hem on one of Lee's shirt sleeves was flipped up. He removed his hand from his forearm and reached out to smooth it down. "I feel fairly confident about the material. Naruto on the other hand…"

Lee laughed softly at that. "He always did cram his studying."

"Yeah…"

Gaara returned his hand to its spot on Lee's arm and began tracing tiny circles along his skin. They looked at each other for a moment and Gaara sighed contently. He opened his mouth to say something to Lee when his phone vibrated against the table, snapping him out of his trance. He reached for the phone and read the message.

Naruto sent him a bunch of crying faces and hearts.

Gaara looked up to see the teahouse door swinging and caught the orange blur of Naruto's jacket as he made his way down the street.

"Did he just… leave…?" Gaara asked, more to himself than anything.

"So much for studying," Lee joked.

They looked back at each other and laughed softly.

"Did you want anything?" Gaara asked, gesturing toward the counter. "I can buy you a drink or…"

"Oh, I would feel bad if you--"

"No," Gaara cut in, "just like you said yesterday, you're my friend. I care about you. I don't mind."

Lee looked hesitant at first, but eventually complied. The two opted to continue sitting next to each other rather than across from each other, thighs pressing together and shoulders brushing every time one of them reached for their drink. To anyone who may have been paying attention, they may have looked like a real couple. Gaara tried to shove the thought to the back of his head, regardless of the ongoing desire to be in a perceptible relationship with Lee.

"Hey, um," Lee stared into his cup, nervously rubbing at the sides with his fingertips. "I know you said you had never seen that musical before…"

"Right," Gaara said.

Lee's eyebrows swooped up as he turned to meet Gaara's eyes. "Did you still want to watch it with me?"

"W… with you?" Gaara swallowed.

"Yeah, if that would be okay with you. We can go back to my apartment. My roommate might be there, but he usually keeps to himself… or we could go to yours if that makes you more comfortable!"

Gaara shook his head. The prospect of Naruto ruining his chance to kiss Lee during the movie was all too real.

"No, your place would be great. I'd love to."

Lee blinked like he couldn't believe what he was hearing. "Really?"

"Of course," Gaara smiled.

Lee clasped his hands together. "How perfect!"

They sat there for a moment enjoying each other's company and Gaara tried to quell his speeding heartbeat. The thought of watching a movie with Lee was a bit more exciting than Gaara liked to admit, especially as someone who didn't do much of anything. Maybe when they watched it, they could sit really close on the couch. Gaara heard that parts of the movie were sad and Lee was really emotional, so maybe he could offer to hold Lee's hand? What if Lee only had one blanket and they both got to sit underneath it? He hoped Lee's house was cold so they could keep each other warm. Maybe they would forget about the movie altogether and Lee would catch him staring and they could spend the rest of the night making out on the couch--

"What are your plans for the rest of your day off?" Lee interrupted Gaara's thoughts.

"Oh, um…" He rubbed his cheek so Lee wouldn't see the redness creeping in. "Probably some more studying for class. But if you aren't busy, I would like to spend time with you."

"That would be amazing!" Lee reached for his cup and began to stand. "Are you done? I can take that for you if…"

"Oh!" Gaara slid his cup over. "Yes, thank you."

Lee smiled as he walked away to dispose of their cups. Gaara went to clean up the table, shoving notebooks into his bag as quickly as possible, trying his best to ignore the shakiness in his hands. He reached underneath the table to retrieve the notebook Naruto had cast at the window earlier and shoved it in his bag. When he stood up, he reached blindly behind him to pull the textbook toward him. Gaara felt something warm and turned quickly to see his hand on top of Lee's as they had both grabbed for the book.

"Sorry." Gaara apologized, but wasn't sure why.

"I… can hold this for you if you like."

"Sure. Thank you." Gaara took his time sliding his hand off of Lee's just as he lifted the book off the table. They made their way outside of the teahouse.

"So when do you get to start teaching?" Gaara asked as they strolled. For a Sunday morning, the streets were fairly scarce with people, which Gaara was thankful for.

"After the show closes!" Lee answered. "Our first day next Tuesday. Gai-sensei is going to supervise my first few days, but once I have a handle on things, I can teach by myself!"

Gaara watched him move his arms animatedly as he spoke. He was happy for him and there was a new happiness that was completely radiating off of him.

"That's wonderful," he said quietly. "Where is the studio?"

"Oh! Very close! We can drop by if you like?" Lee turned to him hopefully.

"Sure," Gaara said.

Lee may as well have squealed. He seized Gaara by the hand and fled down the street toward the studio. It was a wonder how he managed to have so much energy.

"Right here, right here!"

They stopped in front of the studio's expansive windows and Gaara peered in. Even though the lights were off, he could see the barre up against the large mirror on the wall. The lacquered wood floors stretched across the whole studio; as Gaara's eyes trailed across the floors, he noticed a small side room where he could see a sliver of stairs that likely led to an upper room.

Gaara squeezed Lee's hand and pointed toward the stairs. "Where does that go?"

Lee followed Gaara's finger. "Oh, Kakashi and Gai-sensei actually live above the studio."

"Really?"

Lee nodded. "It is surprisingly spacious. But yeah, since Gai-sensei owns the studio, they both just live upstairs."

"Huh."

"Do you want to go inside?" he asked. He laughed when he noticed Gaara's face contort uncomfortably. "Neither of them are home, I promise."

"Well, in that case," Gaara shrugged.

"One moment, please!" Lee announced.

He handed the textbook and his certification paper to Gaara and pulled a small set of keys from his pocket to unlock the door. He led Gaara inside of the studio and shut the door behind him. Gaara glanced at the mirror and saw a full body view of them holding hands. He fairly blushed at the sight and was surprised to see just how much smaller he was than Lee. Just then, he noticed Lee disconnect their hands so he could turn the lights on. Gaara put his things down by the door.

"So, this is the studio where I first learned to dance," he explained. He did a couple of chaînés across the floor and transitioned into a small series of fouette turns. "This is also where I first met Neji and Tenten." He leapt out of the turns and fan kicked into a piqué turn sequence, continuing to dance around as he spoke. Gaara marveled at Lee's never ending supply of stamina. "And of course, this is where I first realized how passionate I felt about dance!"

"It's beautiful. This place must be very important to you," Gaara said, watching him sail through the studio.

Lee made his way over to Gaara, leaping into the air and landing effortlessly in front of him, down on one knee. He extended one hand forward.

"May I?"

Gaara glanced at his extended hand and walked forward, deciding to sit on Lee's thigh instead. Lee flashed a bright smile and snaked one arm around Gaara's waist and rested the other near his stomach, careful not to tickle him. They stared toward the mirror for a moment before Gaara's gaze dropped down to Lee's hand. He felt his brow crease as he picked up Lee's hand in his own, observing the scars that decorated his left arm. They were faint, but there were clearly a lot of them. Gaara remembered seeing them the first time they met and in the past month or so, it seemed he had gathered a few more.

"Can I ask about your arm?" he said.

"Oh, yeah! For a dancer I am surprisingly clumsy," Lee chuckled. "So I get injured kind of a lot during workouts and class and rehearsals. I have had some pretty scary spills."

"Really?"

"Yeah," Lee watched Gaara play with his fingers with one hand and trace a deep scar along his inner arm. "You wanna know something awful?"

"Tell me."

"My first big show, I was an understudy and the original dancer was out of commission, so I had to fill in for the pas de deux," he said. "There was this pretty big lift in the middle of the piece and I got so scared when my dance partner came toward me that I forgot how to lift her." Lee started laughing. "Her weight pressed against my arm wrong and my ulna just… snapped."

Gaara gasped.

"It was so terrible! I dropped her!" Lee laughed harder, pressing his cheek against Gaara's arm. "Oh, she was so mad at me… I cried the whole way to the hospital. I think the whole audience heard my arm break."

"Holy shit, Lee," Gaara wrapped his arms around Lee's neck and pulled his head against his chest.

"I know! But that was a long time ago." He lifted his head a little. "Now I can do stuff like this!"

Lee slid an arm underneath Gaara's knees and scooped him up easily as he stood up. Gaara tightened his arms around his neck as Lee spun them around, their laughter echoing brightly through the space. Gaara felt like he was floating for a few seconds in Lee's strong grip.

Lee gently placed him on the ground and for some reason, Gaara felt euphoric just being so close to him. Their hands found each other again and Gaara glanced at the mirror once more, seeing their reflections standing next to each other. With the lean muscle in Lee's body, complete with his gorgeous posture, Gaara thought he was the picture of perfect grace. Lee was silly, he was cute, he was sweet… Gaara felt like he didn't even compare. He shoved the thought away.

"Thank you for showing this to me," Gaara said quietly.

"Thank you for coming with me," Lee replied. "Kakashi and Gai-sensei might be back within the hour."

Gaara nodded. "Did you want to go?"

Lee looked down to meet his gaze. "Yeah."

Gaara pulled on Lee's hand and guided him toward the door. "Let's go."

They locked up the studio and made their way back to Gaara's car, swinging their hands together the whole way back.

"I should probably see where Naruto ran off to," Gaara said as Lee helped him put his things into the car. "Thank you for spending time with me. And congratulations again on your teaching certification."

"Thank you!" Lee reached forward to hug him. "And I love spending time with you!" He gasped slightly. "Oh! How is Thursday night for you?"

"Huh?"

"To watch 'Rent'," Lee clarified. "You can come over after our pick-up rehearsal. If you want to spend the night, you can."

Oh, how Gaara blushed at that…

"Thursday would be great," he smiled. "I'll have to see when my siblings plan to visit, so I'm not certain about spending the night this time."

"Perfect!"

"It's a d--" Gaara cleared his throat and corrected himself. "It's going to be a good time."

Lee smiled wide and hugged him again. "Have a wonderful rest of your day!"

"Thank you, you too."

Gaara got into his car and waved as Lee made his way down the street. He opened up his phone to text Naruto and smiled, knowing that he and Lee had officially set a date to spend time together after their next rehearsal.

Looks like Naruto was going to have to find his own ride home that night.

Chapter Text

The next few days were going to be agonizing. Gaara had woken up late for class in a tangled mess of sheets. He didn't usually sleep all that much, but that night had been particularly treacherous. He couldn't stop thinking about what he and Lee were going to do the next time they saw each other. Not even a full day had passed since they made plans, but he was already so nervous.

During class, Gaara was finding it difficult to focus, but did his best to pay attention and take notes. For a second, he lifted his phone from his pocket to glance at the time, but happened to notice a text from Lee. After making sure the coast was clear, he opened up his phone to check the message.

Lee:
"Look at these!!!!!"

The message was complete with a slightly blurry photo of a small patch of cacti.

Gaara smiled as he typed:
"Cute."

Lee's response came within seconds.

Lee:
":)"

Lee:
"Are you in class right now??"

Gaara hid his phone under his desk while he replied:
"Yeah."

Lee:
"!!!!
"Oh!!! Sorry!! Let me know when you are out!!"

Gaara decided to do just that. He stared ahead, surprised he wasn't caught texting in class despite being blatantly obvious. Either that or nobody really cared. He smiled to himself. It was nice to know that Lee was thinking about him. Gaara wondered if Lee knew how much he liked cacti, but figured it was best to ask another time. Looking back down at the scrawl of notes, he noticed something he jotted down about related rates and made a mental note to return to studying later that night.

He let out a tiny sigh. How could he focus on math when Lee was right there?

Just then, he imagined what Lee would do. Lee definitely liked to practice to the point of exhaustion. He often made a competition out of everything with himself. Perhaps Gaara would do the same. He glanced back up at the board and gripped his pencil with a new determination. If he could get a perfect score on the next quiz, then that meant Lee liked him back!

Gaara spent the rest of class scribbling notes like a madman.

--

Having been so busy with the show, Gaara felt like he didn't know what to do with all the free time that he had. Lee was a surprisingly busy person, even without rehearsals, and now that he was preparing to teach at Gai's dance studio, his schedule was even more packed. All they could do was exchange the occasional text.

Gaara sat at his desk at home, having finally finished classes for the day, and rested his head on his arms while what remained of daylight crept in through his bedroom window. He poked at the succulent on his desk, reminding himself to water it in the morning. A now-familiar sigh escaped from his lips as he mused, wondering where Lee was.

He heard a knock at the door.

"Yes?" he called.

There was Naruto's scratchy voice. "Hey, man, can I come in?"

"Yeah, sure."

Gaara shifted his head to the other side, squishing his cheek against his forearm as Naruto entered the room. He reached over to turn down the sad song that was playing through his phone.

"Dude, are you good?" Naruto asked.

"Mmyeah," Gaara answered.

He sighed again, which made Naruto roll his eyes. Naruto kicked at Gaara’s chair lightly.

"Come on, let's hang out."

Gaara rocked his head against his arms.

"Dude, you're being a sad sack." Naruto walked over and knelt down to Gaara's level. "What's up? Is it 'cause of Lee?"

He scrunched up his face. Curse the blush that always needed to decorate it. He decided to lie, even though he knew it was pointless.

"No."

Naruto shot him a look.

"... Yes… We're spending time together later this week though," he said, hoping to avoid being chastised for his reluctance to formally ask Lee on a date.

Naruto quirked a brow. "Oh, yeah?"

"Yeah," Gaara confirmed, the essence of a smile on his face. He met Naruto's stare and narrowed his eyes. "You're going to have to find your own ride after the pick-up rehearsal on Thursday."

"What, I can't come?" he said sarcastically.

"No," Gaara answered flatly. He lifted his head. "Besides. I might spend the night."

The look on Naruto's face rivaled that of a dead fish. Had he been drinking something, he definitely would have taken the opportunity to do a spit take. Naruto never passed up a good spit take.

"No fucking way!" he shouted. "Dude, there you go!" Naruto put a hand out for Gaara to high-five him, which he returned, to both of their surprise.

"I'm not sure if I will, though. My siblings might be coming that night." Gaara smacked a hand to his head, having forgotten to bring up something as important as that. He repeated a bit louder, "My siblings might be coming that night! I forgot to tell you. You don't mind if they stay over, right?"

"You can do whatever you want, man, you live here," Naruto said. "But you should def try to stall 'em. Might miss the chance to smash before it's too late."

Gaara shook his head. "I assure you there will be no 'smashing'." He added air quotes for emphasis. "We're going to his apartment. We're watching a movie. That is it."

"Oooh!" Naruto shimmied his shoulders at that. It wasn't a particularly shimmy-worthy moment, but Gaara decided he would let it slide. "Still sounds like a date."

"It's not a date," he countered. "The word 'date' was not mentioned therefore it is not a date."

"Whatever," Naruto said, resting his arms behind his head. "Anyway, I'm gonna pick up dinner tonight, you want anything?"

Gaara shrugged. "Yeah, sure. I gotta call my brother first."

"Sick," Naruto made his way out of the bedroom, tapping his hand against the doorframe as he exited.

Gaara called after him quickly. "Please no more ramen!"

The lack of response left Gaara uneasy.

He slid his phone off the desk and scrolled for Kankuro's name in his contact list. While the phone rang, he stood up to shut the door that Naruto rudely left open and flopped onto his bed. The ringing stopped abruptly and Gaara wondered for a moment if Kankuro had hung up again. He pulled it away from his ear to check.

"Hewwo…?" he heard on the other line.

Gaara deflated against the bed. "I'm fucking hanging up."

"Yeah, you'd like that, wouldn't you?" Kankuro said. "... little bitch."

Gaara rolled his eyes at that. "Anyway," he said pointedly, "I have a show this weekend. Did you talk to Temari?"

"No."

Gaara waited for a few seconds until Kankuro let out an ugly laugh.

"Yeah, I did. I was, as the kids say, fucking with you."

"Okay, what'd she say?" Gaara asked, playing with the sheets and ignoring Kankuro’s attempts at being funny.

His brother liked to spend most of their phone conversations filling empty space by any means necessary. Sometimes Gaara felt like he was bait for his stand-up act, and spent most of the conversation blankly staring ahead while Kankuro laughed through half of his own jokes. Gaara still loved him, even though he didn't like to acknowledge it.

"I looked at the site,” Kankuro said. “T said she could get time off for the Friday show, so we can bug you on Saturday morning, too."

Gaara scoffed at that. "Gee, thanks."

"Don't mention it," he said.

“You guys can sleep over at my house, too. I’ll allow it.”

“Pfft, thanks.” Kankuro scoffed. "We'll figure out the logistics and whatnot when we get there, but we'll prob'ly do some sight-seeing in Konoha. Y'know, take you to breakfast, make sure you're not dead."

"I assure you I'm very much alive."

He heard Kankuro breathe out the smallest laugh. He took a long pause before speaking again. The fuzzy sound on the other line made it sound like he was driving. "Hey, are you doing okay?"

"... Yeah."

"You sure?" Kankuro asked. A rare softness found its way into his tone. "I mean, I know last year was real hard for you. I just wanna make sure you're alright."

"I am." He nodded even though Kankuro couldn't see him. Maybe he was just trying to convince himself. "I think the show's been helping."

"Yeah?"

"Mhm. I just. I don’t know." The words weren’t really coming--not that they usually did. Gaara often had a difficult time articulating his feelings. "I like it. Theater stuff. I feel like I'm… doing something."

"Really?" There was a hint of surprise in Kankuro's voice. "Good, good... Making friends and whatever?"

"I am," he felt a smile creep on his face as his mind drifted to Lee. "I'm actually going to, um… hang out with one of them soon."

"It's not just Naruto, right?"

"No, it's one of the dancers,” Gaara corrected.

He remembered past times Kankuro chided him for making friends with Naruto purely out of the convenience of being randomly assigned roommates their first year in college. Luckily it turned out Naruto was actually a good friend and perhaps it was for the best that they got along well enough to live together again. Not only that, but Naruto’s brashness and Gaara’s tendency to shut down and avoid all human contact whatsoever made both of them very hard to live with.

“That’s good, kid. Well, I hope you have fun with your pal. Temari’s at work now otherwise I’m sure she’d beat my ass to the ground to talk to you,” Kankuro said. “No matter. We’ll see you in a couple days, alright?”

“Alright,” he echoed.

“I love you.”

“Okay, thank you,” Gaara said, hurriedly hanging up the phone.

He paused for a minute, glancing around his room, eyes falling on the photo of him and his siblings he kept on his desk. Gaara walked toward it and sighed, facing the photo away to prevent himself from thinking about them too much. Sometimes it was a nice reminder, but most of the time, looking at it made him too sad. But they would at least be coming to visit, so that would ease some of the pain he felt from missing them. Truthfully, the two of them were the closest people to him. Even though he was close to Naruto and Lee, neither of them knew anything that deep about him.

His mind drifted back to his conversation with Kankuro and realized that he and Temari would be coming the day after the pick-up rehearsal. Which meant he would be able to spend the night at Lee’s! Gaara’s eyes widened at the realization and he rubbed at his neck nervously, feeling the erratic beat of his pulse there.

If he was this nervous when he was alone, how was he going to be during the movie?

His mind snapped back when Naruto called him from the living room. After calming his burning cheeks as best he could, he found his roommate with plastic bags of takeout and took one of the bags from him in an effort to help out. There sure was a lot of food for just two people. To Gaara’s dismay, it smelled a lot like ramen…

“Don’t worry, the ramen’s all me. I got you some rice and some of that weird shit you like,” Naruto said.

“Thanks,” Gaara replied.

“You wanna eat in my room? We can just shoot the shit, watch some dumb videos, whatevs,” he offered.

“Yeah, sure.”

They made their way into Naruto’s room, which was a bit cleaner than the last time Gaara had seen it. They set themselves up on his bed (after he knocked various items onto the ground with one grand sweep of his arm), and opened up his laptop as they let some videos play in the background. They sat there laughing, eating, and talking for the rest of the night.

It was so casual when it was just him and Naruto. Why couldn’t he feel that relaxed when he was around Lee?

--

The next few days were painfully slow and, if Gaara was being honest, he hadn’t remembered much, aside from the crazy amount of self-imposed studying he put himself through in true Lee-esque fashion. When Thursday finally rolled around, Gaara was so excited to see Lee after class, he practically ran to rehearsal.

When Gaara charged his way up the stairs and through the doors to the theater building, he heard familiar voices. He rounded the corner near the callboard and stopped to see none other than Lee standing there with his two best friends.

“Gaara!” he shouted. He got down a bit lower and opened his arms. “Jump! I will catch you!”

Tenten and Neji took cautious steps back.

For a moment, Gaara wondered how high Lee might be able to lift him, especially since he lifted the girls in his dance classes so effortlessly. Gaara was small for a guy; he couldn’t have been that much bigger than them. Lee could probably do it if he was up to the challenge. And knowing him, he would be.

He complied, sprinting toward Lee and leaping into his arms. Lee held him tight as Gaara wrapped his arms around him, settling his face into the warmest part of Lee’s neck. The two of them laughed together, glad to have finally reunited despite only being apart for a couple of days.

“How are you? I missed you,” Lee said, holding Gaara close in his strong arms.

“I missed you, too,” he admitted, hoping Lee would find some hidden meaning in his tone.

Lee set him back down to hug him more completely, lifting his chin so he could rest it in Gaara’s hair. They stood that way for awhile, but Tenten and Neji didn’t seem to mind. Not that Gaara cared. He had been missing his daily Lee allowance and was sure as hell gonna make up for it.

"Are you ready for tonight?" Lee asked, pulling away to look at Gaara.

"I like to think so," he answered.

"Ahh! I am so excited to spend time with you!" Lee said, moving around restlessly. "Tonight is going to be so much fun!"

Gaara smiled softly at him. "Yeah.”

Lee laughed as he brought him in for another tight squeeze, holding on for a bit longer than necessary. Not that Gaara minded, since he was face-first in Lee's chest and could smell him really well. Evidently he had just showered and Gaara did his best to avoid thinking about Lee taking a shower.

Just then, Naruto rounded the corner, swinging his arms wildly as he moved. He gave one large wave to the group loitering in the hallway, face brightening now that he was about to jump back into his stage management duties.

"Naruto!" Lee shouted. They grinned at each other from across the way. "Chassé to me!"

"Shit, is that the gallop thing?" he asked, readying himself without a second thought.

When Lee nodded, Naruto stuck his arms out way too wide and did a less-than-graceful galloping move toward Lee, as requested. He clearly didn't know how to do it properly, but he started making faces like he was actually performing and did an awful leap in front of Lee until both of them dissolved into laughter. Lee clapped for him anyway.

"Shit, man, maybe I'll fill in for you. You go stage manage, I got this," Naruto said to Lee.

He laughed harder at that. "I think we should stick with what we have."

"You right."

Naruto gave everyone high-fives as he passed through, except for Neji, who pretended not to see him. He ended up leaving his hand out extra long, eventually resorting to curling it into a fist and making his way toward the green room to unlock the doors.

Pick-up rehearsals were just a means of refreshing everyone's memory on the performance to prevent any foreseeable mishaps, but Gai took them fairly seriously and made sure everyone was still dancing to their full extent. Sometimes when Lee would come backstage between pieces, he would dance over to Gaara. It made Gaara smile and occasionally he would join in and dance a little bit back. But Gaara's definition of dancing was a lot less involved and usually involved him doing the two-step Lee taught him or moving his arms robotically.

But it was fun. It made waiting for cues a little more exciting.

--

"Lee? Ready to go?" Gaara asked.

Lee turned at the sound of his name and trotted over to Gaara, pulling him into his arms.

"Yes!" he said. "Let me say bye to Neji and Tenten really quick!"

He bounded over to his friends and exchanged quiet, but enthusiastic words with them. Tenten gave a few excited claps and Neji had the smallest hint of a smirk on his face. Trying not to eavesdrop, Gaara turned to look at the pictures lining the hallway of the theater building like they were suddenly very interesting.

"Gaara!" he heard Naruto call.

He turned toward him and instinctively reached for his keys to hand them back to his friend.

"Oh, I suppose I need those, too," Naruto said with a slight shrug. "I came to give you these."

Gaara looked at him quizzically when Naruto slapped something into his palm and winked. Gaara’s eyes drifted toward his open palm and immediately widened when he saw that he was holding… condoms.

"Keep it wrapped, baby boy."

Why was he surprised…

Gaara blushed so furiously, he felt like he was going to pass out. He sputtered hardly any semblance of a response before Naruto took his leave.

"Bye! See you tomorrow!" Lee called. He made his way back as Gaara shoved the newfound items into his pocket before Lee could see. "I have returned!"

Gaara smiled back nervously. "I see that."

The two made their way back to the car while Lee did most of the talking. Gaara was more jittery than ever, convinced that the condoms in his pocket were going to make a surprise appearance in front of Lee and ruin their night because obviously Lee was going to assume Gaara had ulterior motives.

So much for that movie night, he found himself thinking.

“Hey,” Lee cut in, reeling Gaara back in. “Are you alright?”

He cleared his throat unnecessarily. “Yeah. I’m just, uh… it’s been awhile since I went to someone else’s house.” He smiled weakly at Lee.

“Oh!” Lee slapped his hands against his lap as they drove. “Fear not! We do our best to make our home very inviting! So, please make yourself at home as best you can.”

He tried to make the smile a little more sincere. “Thanks.”

The drive was filled mostly with Lee half-singing along to the CD that was playing in the car as he stared out the window. Gaara smiled at the sound. There was something strangely intimate about the way Lee was singing, his voice slightly off-key, cutting in and out between vaguely familiar choruses, and humming lyrics he didn’t quite know. For a moment Gaara could envision them anywhere--a long drive across the country, cooking dinner in a small home they shared together, lying in bed while the other drifted off…

Gaara’s smile faltered as his heart churned. He shook his head as the song came to a convenient close and they pulled up to Lee’s apartment complex.

Lee grabbed Gaara’s things for him as they locked up the car and made their way in. Gaara glanced at the vague familiarity of the darkened complex where the warm light from other people’s windows poured in, just barely lighting their path on the sidewalk. The two snaked their way up the stairs to Lee’s apartment door and Lee fumbled with a growing set of keys he carried in his bag. Finding the right key took him some time. Gaara took note of the several key chains that hung off of a single ring, silently wondering if they doubled as training weights.

“There!” Lee exclaimed as he pushed the door open to reveal the darkness of his apartment. His lips fell into a tiny pout at the sight. “I suppose it is not very impressive if the lights are off. I thought my roommate would be home.”

He slid his hand along the wall and flicked a switch, revealing a tight, but comfortable space that seemed to double as both a kitchen and a living room. The inside was much smaller than Gaara and Naruto’s house, but the impeccable arrangement of furniture made it feel bigger than it was. Gaara noted the large, plush couch that sat in front of a television that was pushed firmly against the wall. Upon closer inspection, he realized the tiny side table it sat on looked like Lee or his roommate stained the wood themselves, given the minor imperfections along the grain.

“You can put your things in my room if you like,” Lee offered, shutting the door behind him.

Gaara nodded as Lee guided him down a narrow hallway with three closed doors; presumably two bedrooms and a bathroom.

Lee gestured to the side with one arm, keys still jingling obnoxiously in his hand. “That over there is the bathroom in case you need it.” He pulled the doorknob to a seperate door. “This is my room!”

He flipped on the light and revealed a tiny space taken up mostly by a large bed complete with deep green covers. Gaara felt his face flare up at the sight, feeling like he was invading Lee’s most personal space, seeing a part of his life that should be kept hidden. Lee’s laugh dissolved the thought almost instantly.

He grinned wide enough that his teeth were exposed, glinting faintly in the light above. His arm swam through the space as if he were doing a grand reveal. “This... is where I sleep.”

Gaara looked around the room, eyes drawn to a fairly large grayscale photo hanging on the wall. The photo showed Lee standing in a doorway with his hands on either side of the frame. He stood with one foot firmly planted on the ground and the other pointed straight over his head in a perfect split. A bright light poured in from a window behind Lee, washing over his skin and brilliantly highlighting the definition in his toned legs.

“Holy shit,” Gaara breathed. He walked closer to the photo and turned abruptly to Lee. “Who took this?”

“Oh!” Lee’s cheeks went slightly pink as he bent down to empty his hands. “My roommate! He was working on his portfolio and it worked out nicely that he had never taken dance photos before. The tilt is my favorite.” Lee smiled at the photo with a soft admiration. “If you end up staying the night, I could ask him for the rest if you wanted to see!” He quickly shook his head. “Ahh, but if you would rather not--”

“I would like that,” Gaara said quietly.

Lee beamed.

“Sometimes I feel a bit strange having a picture of myself on the wall,” he admitted. “But my roommate is an excellent photographer and it was just really exciting to be a part of his work.”

Gaara took one last long look at the photo before continuing to observe the rest of the room. Lee followed fairly closely behind, sure to answer any questions about the equipment he kept inside. The space was mismatched in a way that oddly suited Lee; on the walls hung the large dance photo, a tied up pair of worn out pointe shoes, and a few strings of Polaroid pictures hung up with clothespins. Upon closer inspection, Gaara could see the pictures were primarily of Lee, Neji, or Tenten, often taken at bad angles, or with Neji’s hand coming up to cover his face. Occasionally Gai would be there and, from what Gaara could see of him, Kakashi, whose face always seemed to be strategically hidden from view. Lee had a few sets of weights and elastic bands pushed up against the wall that he claimed to use for stretching. By his bedside table, he kept a small spool of gauze next to yet another photo of him, Neji, and Tenten. But this photo was different. The three of them were standing in front of Gai and looked at least ten years younger, all wearing similar sparkly green outfits and standing in front of a proud Gai. He and Tenten were the only ones who looked ready to take the picture; Lee was slightly blurry, as if he was trying to sprint off in the other direction, and Neji just looked like he didn’t want to be there.

“What’s this from?” Gaara asked, pointing slightly to the photo.

“That was our first dance competition together!” he answered, taking a seat on the bed. It looked even more plush now that he was sitting on it. “Gai-sensei choreographed a piece for the three of us and we have been a trio ever since.”

Gaara hummed in response, smiling at the photo. It seemed in the last decade or so that Lee and his friends had known each other, their personalities hadn’t changed much. Gaara’s smile fell a bit after realizing he didn’t have a stable set of friends like that, aside from his siblings, but he supposed they didn’t really count. The thought hurt in a strange way.

Lee disrupted it when he spoke up. “Did you want to get this movie night started?”

He nodded, forgetting all of his worries the second he heard Lee’s voice. “Yeah.”

The two made their way out of Lee’s room and onto the couch, where Lee had prepared an abundance of snacks, which worked out nicely, since Gaara didn’t even realize how hungry he was. While Lee started up the movie, he placed the case on the coffee table, speaking to Gaara as he worked.

“Neji was kind enough to let me borrow this stage recording,” he said, flipping through previews, “since, you know, he cannot stand the film.”

They both laughed at that.

“This one is a professional production and the quality is really nice!” he added. “Unfortunately not a lot of productions get to be professionally recorded.”

“I guess that kind of defeats the purpose of 'live theater,'” Gaara shrugged.

Lee made a sound in agreement. Once he managed to start it, he stood and turned to Gaara. “Are you cold? Do you need a blanket? Extra pillows? Anything?”

Gaara let out a small laugh. “I think a blanket would be nice.”

Lee smiled as he walked into the hallway. He returned fairly quickly with a single large blanket and draped it over Gaara just before taking the spot next to him on the couch, folding his legs underneath himself. Gaara made a point of tossing part of the blanket over Lee as well, silently indicating that he wanted them to share it. Noticing the silent cue, Lee pulled the blanket a bit farther over him; Gaara swore he scooted a little bit closer, feeling Lee's natural warmth radiating from his body. He smiled to himself as the opening monologue began.

The production turned out to be a lot better than Gaara was expecting. It ended up being a lot of singing (almost too much) and he could see Lee restraining himself from humming along. Occasionally Gaara asked Lee for clarification on different parts of the story, but for the most part, they watched in a relative silence, Gaara too absorbed in what was going on and basking in the actors’ voices. He forgot just how much he missed singing. Sometimes he would turn to Lee and it seemed like Lee was looking at him more than he was watching the screen.

During one of the songs however, Gaara found himself perking up a little bit. Given the chorus, he assumed it was called “I’ll Cover You.”

“Wait…so Angel and this other guy.” He gestured vaguely at the TV as he reached for more snacks on the table. “They’re gay, right? They’re together?”

“I mean, you find out at the end of the song,” Lee laughed. “But yes, they get together.”

He nodded. “That’s really cool.”

“Yeah.” Lee paused. Gaara assumed Lee didn’t really have anything to offer before he added, “I always wanted to sing this song with someone. Unfortunately I am not a very good singer.”

As the actors belted out the rest of the song and kissed, Gaara leaned his head against Lee’s shoulder. "I'll sing it with you."

“Oh, you would show me up so bad!” He laughed and pressed his cheek to Gaara’s hair. “But thank you. I would like that.”

They continued watching and as the story progressed, Gaara grew more invested. Once the first act had concluded, a graphic appeared on the screen, reading: Intermission.

“And that is our cue!” Lee said, standing up quickly to stretch his back with a few satisfying pops. Missing Lee’s warmth, Gaara pulled the rest of the blanket over himself and curled into a ball on the couch. “Did you need anything? Are you staying the night?”

Had he not already been so warm, he might have noticed the way that question made his cheeks heat up. He gave Lee a surprisingly nonchalant, “Yeah.”

Lee smiled. “Excellent! Did you want to put pajamas on now? I think I am about to go change.”

“Sure,” Gaara said. Regretfully, he cast the blanket aside and followed Lee into his room, heading directly for his bag. Gaara rifled through the bag for a few minutes and his eyes widened as he saw a flash of his own bed at home, where he had left his clothes. Apparently he forgot to grab them before he left. He turned to Lee. “Uh… I think I… forgot to bring them.”

“Hm?” Lee poked his head out from his closet, where he had already begun to change. Gaara could see part of his bare chest and despite the amount of times he had seen him stripped down to his underwear while doing quick changes backstage, the warm inviting light of his bedroom spread across lean muscles made Gaara dizzy.

“I can’t find them. I think I left them at home,” he told him after regaining some composure.

“Oh! Totally fine!” Lee grinned. “I have some things that will probably fit you.”

Before Gaara could protest, Lee ducked back into the closet and came out within a matter of seconds holding two shirts and a pair of sleep shorts. He was still tragically underdressed, clad only in a pair of sweatpants and Gaara tried to focus solely on the clothes Lee was offering and not his gorgeous body. How someone managed to make sweatpants look good, Gaara had no clue.

“I have a shirt from my first dance show--” He held up a black shirt with a faded logo on the front. “Or I have this green t-shirt.” He held up the other.

Gaara pointed to the dance shirt, which Lee tossed his way along with the sleep shorts. Lee slipped the other shirt on in one swift movement. Starting to feel slightly anxious, Gaara felt his face for its increasing warmth. He swiped the clothes up quickly and excused himself.

“I’m going to go change in the bathroom.”

He fled down the hall before Lee could say anything and shut the bathroom door behind him. A sigh fell from his lips and he caught a glimpse of his red cheeks in the mirror. Ignoring his face, he unbuttoned his jeans and slipped them off. As if things couldn’t get any more embarrassing, the condoms Naruto had given him earlier slipped out of his pocket and onto the bathroom floor. He silently thanked his rushed decision to change in the bathroom, not even wanting to think about what Lee would have done if he had seen them slip from his pocket.

When he finally switched into the borrowed clothes, Gaara looked at himself again in the mirror. It was strange how sensitive he was to the scent that was just so very… Lee. Like the first time he let him borrow his jacket. The shirt wasn’t too big; Lee wasn’t a particularly large person. He was quite a few inches taller than Gaara and a bit wider, but his body was more toned than anything. The shorts needed some adjusting, since Lee had wider hips (and a bigger ass), but after messing with the drawstring, they ended up fitting just fine. He wished his legs weren’t so ghostly white, but he shrugged it off and went back into Lee’s room to shove his other clothes, and the condoms, into his bag.

Lee smiled at him as he entered. “I think intermission is almost over. Are you ready or did you need another minute?”

“I’m ready,” he answered.

They headed back out onto the couch and crawled back into position leaning slightly on one another for support as intermission concluded and the show picked back up. When the actors in the production took their positions at the edge of the stage and the opening piano chord started, Gaara perked up again.

“I know this song.”

Lee turned to him. “This one is very popular.”

“Yeah, we sang it in choir when I was in high school,” he continued. “I remember wanting one of the solos.”

Lee looked surprised. “They gave it to someone else?”

“Yep. I cracked during the audition and some other guy got it,” he said bitterly, then shrugged. “Whatever. I’m not mad about it.”

“Really?” He raised a thick eyebrow, suggesting he didn't believe him.

Gaara dropped his jaw and lightly smacked Lee with a corner of the blanket. Lee laughed and pulled him in close.

“I was kidding!” He rubbed his arm. “You would be a great soloist.”

“You think so?” Gaara asked quietly. He pulled away slightly to meet Lee’s eyes, their faces mere inches apart.

His voice dropped a bit lower. “Of course.”

They stared at each other for a moment and Gaara felt his vision tunneling as he suddenly felt drawn to Lee’s lips. He could have sworn Lee mirrored his path.

Just then, the sound of jingling keys alerted Lee toward the door. Gaara mouthed a curse while Lee was distracted and after a few seconds, his roommate pushed through the door, clumsily sliding a large, black carrying case inside. Gaara had seen art students carrying those around before and wondered if Lee’s roommate was an Art major. If he had one of those and did photography, it seemed likely.

“Hello,” his roommate said, raising a hand in Lee’s direction with a stiff smile.

“Hello!” Lee echoed. “This is Gaara. He is the ASM for the dance show. And also my friend!”

Gaara have a tiny wave. “Hi.”

Lee’s roommate nodded as he slid his jacket off, revealing a black crop top and skin so pale it rivaled Gaara’s. Now Gaara’s pasty, overexposed legs didn’t seem like such a big deal. The roommate folded the jacket over his arm as he made his way toward Gaara, initiating a robotic, seemingly over-rehearsed handshake. “Sai.”

They shook hands exactly once before Sai scooped his art case back up and went into his room.

Gaara and Lee went back to watching and after a few minutes, Sai returned to the living room and sat on the arm of the couch next to Lee. “What are you watching?”

“'Rent',” Lee answered simply, gesturing toward the case that was still sitting on the table.

“Ah,” Sai said. “Would you mind if I watched?”

Yes.

“Not at all!” Lee said.

Gaara silently cursed Lee’s kindness out of pure selfishness, but felt a little better when Lee scooted closer to him so he could make more space on the couch for his roommate. Not that Sai moved or anything. They watched for a few uninterrupted minutes and finally reached the song Gaara remembered hearing Sakura and Ino sing at the cast dinner. Just as Gaara thought about bringing it up to Lee, Sai spoke up.

“So, are you two fucking, or…?”

Gaara’s eyes grew twice their size and Lee immediately started choking.

“W-what? What gives you that impression?!” Lee shouted.

“Just asking,” he said. He glanced at Gaara’s shirt with a doubtful look and turned back to the TV.

Gaara did his best to ignore Lee’s roommate and focus on the rest of the movie. As much as he wanted to lean closer to Lee, hold his hand, rest his head on his shoulder, he felt like any of his actions would run the risk of more invasive questions. That ultimately made him think Lee would never invite him over again, so he resorted to letting their thighs press against each other underneath the blanket where Sai couldn’t see.

The second act proved to actually be incredibly sad (Lee was crying, to no one’s surprise) and it turned out Gaara actually really liked the production overall. There was so much more to theater than he thought there was. After informing Lee that he genuinely liked the production, Sai stood up.

“Going to bed?” Lee asked.

He shook his head. “I’d like to watch some of my shows out here while I do some sketches. Since I don’t have a TV in my room.”

“Oh.” Lee blinked. “I thought I could, um…” He gestured vaguely toward Gaara.

Sai cocked his head to the side. “You can’t share a bed?”

Oh, fuck.

“I mean, I suppose we could--I just…”

“You share a bed with your two friends who come over all the time,” Sai pointed out.

“I guess if Gaara would be okay with it--”

“Unless you would rather we didn’t,” Gaara cut in, trying to dispel the tension.

“No, no! If you are okay with it, then I am more than okay with it!” Lee nearly yelled.

“Of course. You and me… sharing a bed… Nothing wrong with that.”

“Nothing at all!”

In an attempt to make things less awkward, but ultimately increasing the awkwardness tenfold, Lee threw an arm around Gaara’s shoulders. Sai gave him a weird look, but quickly shook it off.

Gaara helped Lee clean up and after several minutes of palpable silence, they made their way down the hall.

Lee called out, “Goodnight, Sai!”

Sai hummed a response and with that, it was just the two of them. In Lee’s bedroom. Alone.

Lee turned to Gaara somewhat… nervously. “I can sleep on the floor if you--”

“No, I mean. It’s your bed,” Gaara countered.

“Well, yes, but you are the guest.”

Gaara crossed his arms.

“Okay, how about we put a pillow right down the middle?” Lee suggested.

“Deal.”

As the two of them headed to the bathroom to finish getting ready for bed, Gaara couldn’t help but admire the pure domesticity of the situation, like their arms accidentally colliding while they brushed their teeth. Something about it was strangely intimate. Gaara pulled some wipes out of a small pouch he kept in his bag and began scrubbing at his face to clean off his makeup. Lee looked at him through the mirror and smiled as he washed his own face. Gaara did a double-take as he caught him staring.

“What?” he asked with a smirk, folding the wipe to a cleaner side.

“I just… have never seen you without makeup on,” he said.

“Oh. Yeah.” It suddenly occurred to Gaara that the only person who really saw him looking his worst on a daily basis was Naruto. He rested a hand on the counter and turned to face Lee completely. “How do you like these ugly-ass dark circles? I’ve been working on them since I was twelve.”

Lee shook his head with a chuckle. “Stop. You look gorgeous.”

That made Gaara freeze in place. He caught a glimpse of his own surprised expression, wondering if the dumb, awestruck face he just made was always a product of Lee’s compliments. Looking at his natural face, he noticed the almost purple bags under his eyes. Suddenly they didn’t seem so dark. He immediately went to scrubbing at his cheeks so Lee wouldn’t pick up on the fact that his comment made him blush.

“Thank you.”

When they returned to Lee’s room, Gaara crawled into the bed and sank down on the mattress, glad it was both incredibly soft and about twice the size of his own mattress at home. As much as sleeping with Lee was at the top of Gaara’s bucket list, he was grateful that the bed was big enough that they could spread out a decent amount without touching one another. He didn’t want to make Lee uncomfortable by something he did in his sleep before even confessing his feelings.

And it wasn’t like he could just get the confession out of the way right now. Not right before they were about to go to bed.

“Do you need anything extra?” Lee asked, always so unbelievably sweet.

Gaara shook his sleepy head and Lee smiled at him.

“Okay. Just checking,” he said, patting a comforting hand to Gaara’s shoulder. The warmth from his palm spread through the thin fabric of Gaara’s shirt. Or rather, Lee’s shirt.

That’s right. He was wearing Lee’s clothes. In Lee’s apartment. Lying in Lee’s bed. And Lee was about to crawl into bed with him.

Don’t make it weird.

Lee moved to the other side of the bed and slipped underneath the covers.

“Here we go!” he said, pulling out his pillow and slapping it between both of them. “Now we are separated.”

Gaara nodded at him, slightly disappointed that Lee followed through on their little deal.

“Thanks for watching that show with me,” he said.

Gaara nodded. “Of course.”

Lee smiled warmly at him before leaning over to flick off the lamp that sat on his bedside table.

“Goodnight, Gaara.”

“Goodnight, Lee.”

Gaara dozed off surprisingly quickly, having had such a long day between classes, rehearsal, and watching such a long production. He checked his phone briefly before he had slipped into bed and realized it was already way past midnight. Luckily he didn’t have class and all he had to worry about was the show and seeing his siblings the next morning.

Not long later, Gaara stirred awake, confused and wondering where the hell he was. He felt like he was swimming in the still darkness of the room and writhed in the plush, unfamiliar bed, turning to feel warm skin next to him.

That was alarming.

Gaara gasped and turned to his left to see Lee lying next to him, sleeping soundly.

Right.

He let out a sigh of relief, finally remembering he had spent the night with Lee. He leaned over the bed and lifted his phone from the ground, clicking the lock screen to read the time, positively blinding himself with the unexpected brightness of the screen. Squinting, he read the time.

2:45

He lazily tossed the device back to the ground and buried himself further into the bed, turning to steal another glance at Lee while he slept. As his eyes readjusted to the darkness, he could see Lee cuddling the pillow that was meant to separate them and quietly wished he could trade places with it. He shook the thought out and continued to watch the rare sight of Lee as he slept. His light snores filled the room and Gaara found himself smiling. Something about Lee looked so strangely innocent. His dark bangs had fallen away from his forehead, revealing his thick, black eyebrows and Gaara resisted the urge to reach out and run his hands through Lee’s beautiful hair. Instead, he shifted fully onto his side and let his eyes slip shut, breathing in time with Lee as he drifted back to sleep.

Chapter Text

When Gaara officially awoke, he shielded his eyes from the bright light that began to slip in through the window and caught a glint of Lee's shiny hair from where he was sitting on the floor. Gaara groaned as he sat up and Lee turned toward the sound.

“Good morning, sleepyhead!” he chirped brightly. How he was already so energetic and prepared for the day, Gaara had no idea.

“What are you doing…?” he asked in a low voice, still heavy from sleep. He crept onto the other side of the bed and peered over at Lee. The warmth from his side of the bed had already faded.

How long has he been awake?

“Just stretching. Part of my morning routine,” he answered, pushing himself to standing. He turned to Gaara and grinned. “Did you sleep okay?”

Gaara nodded, still kind of out of it. “Yeah… What time is it?”

“About nine,” Lee answered.

Gaara’s eyes shot open. “Nine?!” he repeated louder. He never slept that long... “Shit, I should text my brother.”

“Oh, do you have to go?” Lee asked. Gaara didn’t want to make any assumptions, but Lee’s tone sounded a little bit sad. He went to the other side of the bed and retrieved Gaara’s phone for him, handing it out carefully.

“I don’t know quite yet. He and my sister have a pretty long drive, but the house is still a mess, no thanks to Naruto,” he grumbled, swiping through his notifications.

“Well, if there is anything I can do to help, please let me know.”

He smiled at that as he typed out a text. “Thank you, Lee.”

After dressing in his clothes from the night before and returning Lee’s borrowed pajamas, Gaara gathered his things. As much as Gaara wanted to relish in pure morning domesticity with Lee while he browsed through the gorgeous dance photos Sai had taken of him, he couldn't help the nagging feeling that he really needed to head home. For now, he decided it was probably best to focus on having his siblings over. His feelings could wait.

He thanked Lee for having him and headed out the door to his car, quietly humming songs from Rent on the whole drive back.

--

After cleaning up the house and assuring Naruto hadn’t left crumbs in the couch cushions (again), Gaara felt his phone vibrate in his pocket. He quickly pulled it out, noticing a text from his brother. He and Temari would be there within the next few hours. Gaara headed toward his bedroom.

He sat on the floor in his room for a moment and sighed, beginning to pointlessly organize things in his closet to keep busy, not wanting to dwell too much on something potentially going wrong during the show while his siblings were in the audience. Time passed relatively quickly and he set out to shower and get ready before they arrived. Unsure why he was beginning to feel so nervous, Gaara tried to shrug the feeling off and went back to waiting around the house, already in his tech blacks. Naruto had already texted him that he was on campus, so Gaara waited at home by himself, scrolling through his phone as he waited.

After nearly dozing off on the couch, Gaara heard a sharp rap at the door.

“Let me in!!” he heard from the other side.

He sighed and let out a small laugh as he made his way to the front door, opening it to see Temari and Kankuro standing there. Temari adjusted her two high ponytails and smoothed down the sides of the navy cardigan she was wearing. Kankuro had a black hoodie with cat ears on the top. He had two stripes of black and purple eyeliner across his eyelids that came to a sharp point, adding just a slight flair of drama.

They hadn't changed at all.

A strange surge of unnamed emotions passed through Gaara's chest and somehow got caught in his throat as he looked them up and down, unblinking, as if they would disappear the second he closed his eyes

It didn’t take long before he was swept off his feet and spun around in his brother’s arms.

“Come here, you little bastard!” he said, squeezing Gaara a little too tight.

He made eye contact with Temari from where he was draped over Kankuro’s shoulder, attempting to give her a look that said “help." Instead, she just shook her head and shrugged.

“How are you?” Kankuro asked after finally setting him down.

“Well, I was fine,” he smirked.

“Oh, whatever!” He pulled Gaara in for another aggressive hug that didn’t last too long, since Temari was already forcibly prying his arms off.

“Holy shit, you’re going to kill him!” she shouted, smacking Kankuro in the head. She turned to her youngest brother and patted him on the head. “Hey.”

“Hey," he echoed. “Come in, you can put your things in my room.” As the words escaped his lips, Gaara remembered the way Lee had extended a similar hospitality toward him and flushed. Perhaps he was picking up more of Lee’s phrases and mannerisms more than he thought. He shoved it to the back of his mind.

No sense in harping on it while Temari and Kankuro were there.

After his siblings put their things down, the three of them settled onto Gaara’s bed and began to catch up after not having seen each other in several months. They spent their time discussing home, their jobs, Kankuro’s next experimental art project, and Gaara’s newfound interest in technical theater.

“I’m really glad you found something you liked,” Kankuro said, playing with the strings on his hoodie. “Shit, I can’t wait to move out. Almost done saving up.” He tilted his chin so he could see Gaara better. “How’s the major working out?”

Gaara pursed his lips and felt both of his siblings staring at him expectantly as he looked down, mindlessly tracing the wrinkles in his bedsheets. In all honesty, he hadn’t really thought about his major all that much aside from the two Political Science courses he was taking. He was doing well, but a significant portion of his focus had been on the dance show. Not that Gaara thought it was a bad thing.

“Um…”

“You’re passing your classes, right?” Temari said sternly.

“Of course,” Gaara answered. “I just… I don’t know. Feel miserable? All the time?”

They looked at him silently. Kankuro sat up and dropped a placating hand on his shoulder. “Kid, just 'cause Dad wanted you to do it…" he trailed off. "I mean, if it's taking a toll on you, stop. He's not here to boss you around.”

Temari scoffed as she folded her arms across her chest. "Oh, please, like he was ever around to begin with…"

The three sat in a slightly uncomfortable, but knowing silence. Their father hadn't exactly been the most present man in their life, only partly due to his political career.

“Yeah, I mean…” Kankuro tapped a finger against his chin in thought. A wicked smirk crossed his face. “If you really wanna stick it to him, you should just change your major.”

Gaara knew he was joking, but he tried to hide how much he perked up at the suggestion. He supposed it was always a possibility, but never considered it very strongly.

Instead, he just hummed a response, trying to sound as indifferent as possible. But the whole time the three siblings made their way to the university, Gaara couldn’t stop thinking about what Kankuro said.

--

When they arrived at the theater, Gaara showed Temari and Kankuro around with some of the down time that he had before he was needed. He showed them the offices, the locked green room, the photos that lined the halls, and was surprised that he had learned so much about theater in the last month. When they made their way back to the call board, Gaara dropped his arms to his sides as he finished the tour.

“Well, I supposed that’s about it.” He pulled his phone out of his pocket and checked the time. “I should get going.”

“Cool. I’m sure we’ll find something to do in the meantime,” Kankuro said.

“Doors open at seven-thirty,” Gaara reminded them.

“Sounds good. We’ll see you after the show, okay?” Temari smiled at him. She made her way over to Gaara and hugged him with one arm. The two made their way out of the building.

Gaara went to the call board and let out a deep sigh, hoping his siblings would enjoy the show. Luckily the second Naruto and Lee got there, all of his worries dissipated.

Once the doors opened and the production began, Gaara felt more focused than usual, assuring everyone was ready and got their cues exactly on time so they wouldn’t mess up the show for the two people in the audience who mattered the most to him.

“Hi, Gaara!” Lee whispered happily as he made his way over after one of his pieces had finished. “How are you doing?”

“I’m a little… frazzled,” he confessed, watching the stage nervously.

Lee looked down at him sadly, thick eyebrows coming together in concern. “Is there anything I can do to help?”

Gaara tore his eyes away and looked up at Lee, who had laid a hand across Gaara’s back. He started to rub small, comforting circles to soothe him and Gaara dropped his forehead onto Lee’s chest.

“This works,” Gaara said into Lee’s chest. “Sorry. My siblings are here. I just want everything to go well.”

“Oh, right! That is very exciting!” He held Gaara a bit more firmly, swaying slightly where they stood. “Well, I will make sure to perform my best just for them!”

Gaara rested his cheek against Lee’s chest. “You’re far too good to me.”

In an instant, Gaara was back to his usual self, working quickly and efficiently without so much as a hint of nervousness.

--

“Was that you on the announcement at the beginning?” Kankuro asked with a smirk. “Didn’t know we came to hear your voice acting debut.”

Gaara rolled his eyes at the comment. “You’re so fucking stupid. That was your only takeaway?”

Kankuro laughed. “I’m fucking with you. It was good. It’s been awhile since your old brother got down and dirty on the dancefloor.”

Gaara hid his face in his hands and shook his head.

Temari gave Kankuro a firm elbow to his side. “Do you ever think before you speak?”

Laughter echoed down the hall between the three. The show had just concluded and his siblings met him in the hall of the theater building. They stood there talking for the few minutes Gaara had to spare before he needed to lock up the theater.

Over their laughter, however, Gaara didn’t hear the footsteps that were heading his way.

“Hey! Good job tonight!”

At the sound of Lee's voice, Gaara's head snapped toward him. He was still wearing his last costume and was carrying the rest of his clothes under one arm as he headed to the dressing room. As he passed through, he grasped Gaara's upper arm affectionately and offered him a soft smile.

He was so stunned, he barely squeaked out a “you, too” that didn’t quite reach Lee’s ears.

Temari and Kankuro exchanged glances as Gaara’s cheeks reddened. He turned back to his siblings, who were giving him questionable stares. Gaara quickly averted his gaze staring holes into the linoleum floors of the hallway as his cheeks continued to burn. He hoped that they didn’t see the way he looked at--

“Who was that?” Kankuro asked. He and Temari turned their heads toward the dressing room and back to Gaara, who was trying to do anything but meet their gazes.

“Who was who? I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he lied. He started to crack under his siblings' stares. “Just a dancer. I know them all. It’s my job. Don’t worry about it.”

Temari arched an eyebrow.

“Stop looking at me.”

Kankuro's mouth dropped open like he suddenly had an epiphany. “Holy shit, is that the one you were talking about? The one you were hanging out with yesterday?”

“Yeah, whatever. Maybe. He’s my friend, it’s fine.”

The two exchanged glances once more. If they wanted to say anything else, they sure kept quiet about it.

“I, um… I have to go clean up the stage,” Gaara said, making a quick exit. He tried to ignore the sounds of his siblings’ knowing whispers that faded behind him as he made his way down the hall.

--

When the cast and crew were finally dismissed, Gaara left quickly with his siblings and Naruto before they could run into Lee again. Kankuro and Temari really didn’t need to know the main reason he had remained so interested in theater. He pulled his phone out to send Lee a quick apology text informing him that he couldn’t take him home, on account of his siblings being in town. Lee was very understanding. Not that Gaara thought he’d be anything less.

The three siblings opted to call it for the night, since Temari and Kankuro had such a long drive. They headed back to Gaara and Naruto’s house and ate a simple meal together while Kankuro reminisced about his “stage days,” earning him a couple of eye rolls from Temari. After settling in for the night, the three spent the night mostly talking and catching up. Sometimes Naruto would pop into the room to offer his input (which resulted in him and Kankuro rambling excitedly at immeasurable volumes while Gaara and Temari quietly shook their heads), but for the most part, he kept his distance, allowing Gaara and his siblings some space so they could hang out together as a family.

As much as he enjoyed spending time with Naruto, Gaara was thankful for that fact.

--

When morning came, the three siblings decided to head out to breakfast. They found a small place downtown where Gaara was pretty sure he wouldn’t run into anyone he knew from the show and sat inside. They talked briefly, each still tired from the previous night, but when they had reached a substantial lull in the conversation, Kankuro looked at Gaara across the table, noticing he was being uncharacteristically quiet, even for him.

Gaara averted his gaze quickly, but caught the eye roll his brother gave him.

“Alright, I'm just gonna say it," Kankuro said as he finished making origami out of his napkin. "Dude, you know we don’t give a shit if you’re gay, right?”

What an opening statement.

Temari smacked him and whispered fiercely. "Kankuro, you don't just out someone like that!"

Gaara’s eyes widened. He tried to disguise his expression with a cough. “What are you talking about?”

Kankuro made a face at Temari and whispered loud enough that they could both hear him. “He knows we’re not fucking stupid, right?” He turned to Gaara and repeated, louder, “You know we’re not fucking stupid, right?”

Despite the fact that Kankuro was probably the most dense of the three of them, Gaara and Temari didn't say anything. Kankuro missed the knowing glances that they gave each other.

“We saw how you looked at that bowl cut guy. You’re a goddamn book,” he said. Dissatisfied with his napkin origami, he began tearing it apart.

Gaara didn’t try to fight it.

“It was kinda funny to see you blush though,” he laughed. Gaara chucked an unused straw at Kankuro across the table, which he blocked with his arms. “Am I wrong though?! T, back me up!”

“Nope. You can sort this out yourself,” she said, pulling her phone out.

Kankuro groaned. They were quiet for a moment before he spoke up again. “But for real, dude. If you like boys, that’s okay. You don’t have to talk about it or anything, you can do that on your own time, but like… I don’t want you to feel like you have to hide from us, ‘kay?”

“And if this dumbass is too forward,” Temari cut in, “you can talk to me, too.”

Gaara nodded. “Thanks…”

“No problem,” Kankuro said with a catlike smile. “For the record, that other guy seemed like he was into you.”

His heart skipped a beat. “... Really?”

“I mean, he initiated contact with you,” Kankuro pointed out. “Usually if a dude does that to me I’m like, ‘square up,’ but that was something else.”

Temari nodded in agreement.

“Just don’t wait too long or he might get sick of waiting around for ya," Kankuro said.

Gaara nodded. The idea of Lee moving on before Gaara was even ready to initiate a relationship made his heart hurt. If that wasn’t an indication that he should hurry up and confess, he wasn’t sure what would be.

Kankuro and Temari must have seen the expression on his face because they changed the subject immediately.

--

Once Gaara and his siblings paid their bill, they hugged each other goodbye, knowing it might be months before they could all see each other again. After a forehead kiss from Temari and a slap to the back from Kankuro (which earned him a punch to the stomach), the three waved goodbye. Gaara watched them walk away and sighed to himself, turning the opposite way, kicking at stray leaves that decorated the sidewalk.

He still had some time before the last two performances, so he wanted to make a point to pick something up for Lee to congratulate him on completing the show. He wandered around downtown and happened to pass by a flower shop. Figuring flowers were a safe bet, Gaara stepped inside and was promptly welcomed by the girl finalizing an arrangement at the front counter.

“Let me know if you need any--” She did a double-take. “Gaara?!”

He looked back at the counter at the sound of his name and jumped back slightly. “Oh. Hello, Ino.”

Ino finished the arrangement and send the customer on their way with a friendly goodbye. She made her way out from behind the counter, wiping her hands on her apron and stopped in front of him

“What are you doing here?” She crossed her arms over her chest.

“Looking for, um… flowers,” Gaara said, gesturing toward the greenery around them. He nodded once.

“Ohhh?” Ino raised an eyebrow. “Looking for someone in particular?” She gave him a knowing smirk.

“Just browsing,” he said, staring stone-faced at her. He’d been teased about his crush far more than he cared to admit and given the strange looks she and Sakura often exchanged with each other whenever Lee was nearby, Gaara was almost certain they knew about his little predicament. He tried to change the subject. “I didn’t know you worked here.”

“Yeah, my family owns the place,” she said, following Gaara as he meandered through the shop. “I’m just here part time.”

“Very cool,” he said, forcing a smile she couldn’t see. Why was she following him? Did she really not have anywhere else to be? He looked over his shoulder at her. “Do you have anything in white?”

“White?” Ino placed a hand on her hip and looked up at the ceiling in thought. After a brief pause, she looked back at Gaara. “What kind of message are you trying to send?”

He considered that for a moment and instantly felt stupid.

Why was he trying to get Lee flowers anyway? He supposed it made sense, in a way. Usually when someone finished something particularly exceptional, they got flowers because of it. But he never really thought too deeply about it. Did giving someone flowers really have to be that complicated?

“Um… I’m not sure,” he admitted.

It looked like he was going to be here longer than he thought…

One “brief” lecture on flower language later, Gaara managed to get what he considered a good-sized bouquet to give to Lee. He made his way home so they wouldn’t wilt in his car and figured he could just pick them up between the matinee and the night show. But the whole time he drove in his car, he started feeling anxious. He knew he had no reason to be and Lee was so sweet that even if he hated the flowers, he would never let Gaara know that.

Not that Lee could ever go so far as to hate something. He was too pure.

When Gaara had made his way onto campus and pulled into the parking lot, he turned off the car and rested his head against the steering wheel. It was finally setting in that there were only two more performances until the dance show was officially over and he wouldn’t be able to see Lee on a regular basis. Lee was pretty much his only friend besides Naruto. And what had he been doing all this time? Beating around the bush and never actually telling Lee about his feelings? Now it was almost too late! And that wasn't the type of information Gaara felt was appropriate to discuss in the middle of a performance--it would be too distracting for Lee! And doing it over text was definitely out of the question.

He let out a deep sigh. Until he suddenly remembered…

The cast party! Surely he could tell Lee then!

Gaara slammed his head against the wheel again, knowing full well that a love confession was not appropriate for a party either.

Luckily Ino had softened him up enough to reveal he wanted the flower arrangement to both congratulate Lee and also profess his feelings for him, but neither of them were entirely certain Lee was familiar with flower language. They both reasoned that if Lee was curious enough, he would probably do the research on his own to see what the colors and types meant. And since Gaara couldn’t summarize his feelings in one word, Ino ended up having a lot of fun with the arrangement by mixing varying colors and types that all symbolized love and affection in some form or fashion. But it was cute and mismatched in much the same way that Lee was. Gaara thought it suited him perfectly.

Feeling slightly better, Gaara sat up and looked at his forehead in the rearview mirror, combing his hair over the pink mark that was now forming there. With yet another deep sigh, he grabbed his things and made his way to the theater building for his second to last show.

Feelings be damned, he had a job to do.

When he arrived in the building, Naruto was standing by the callboard talking to Tenten. Not one to pry, Gaara ignored what they were speaking so quietly about and rounded the corner.

“Whoa, Gaara, hey!” Naruto said quickly. “Didn’t think you’d be here so soon.”

“Well… I’m here,” he said, looking down at his body as if to verify that he was, in fact, actually there.

“Um, we’re going to…” Naruto looked at Tenten hesitantly, then back to Gaara.

“Oh, Neji’s almost here!” Tenten said, starting down the hall. She grabbed Naruto by his shirtsleeve and pulled him along as they made their way far away from Gaara.

Well, that was weird. Why did she want Naruto to go if Neji was going to come? Neji didn’t even like Naruto.

Gaara shook his head and rubbed his sweaty palms against his jeans while he waited for more people to arrive. He decided to send Temari and Kankuro a short message thanking them for coming to the show, since he was already starting to miss them. Kakashi arrived a few minutes later, allowing Gaara to open up the green room and get the show going.

Two more shows with Lee…

--

After the matinee, Gaara was quick to lock up the doors before bolting home to pick up the flowers, so he would have enough time to hide them before Lee caught him. Upon his return, he unfortunately remembered that the doors were going to be locked, which sent him skulking toward Kakashi’s office, flowers in hand.

When he arrived, Gai was there, too. He was bent forward over Kakashi’s desk with his hands behind his back, very focused on drinking from a plastic container in front of him. Kakashi sat in his desk chair reading from a book with a very suggestive cover.

“Hello,” Gaara gave a quick wave.

“Shit,” Kakashi muttered under his breath, casting a book he was reading aside. It fell to the ground with a slap. After making sure it was completely hidden from view, he looked at Gaara. The corners of his eyes crinkled, indicating what was probably a smile, but it was hard to tell, since his face was always obscured by something.

“Is he alright?” Gaara asked, eyes trained to Gai, who was very focused on trying to drink soup from a container while his hands were currently out of commission.

“He lost a bet, he’s fine,” Kakashi said quickly, patting his husband on the back. He turned back to Gaara. “What can I do for you?”

“Um, I have these,” Gaara said, raising the bouquet for Kakashi to see. “They’re for someone in the cast, I was hoping I could hide them somewhere until the show was over so… this person doesn’t see.”

Kakashi and Gai exchanged glances. Kakashi looked back at Gaara. Gai looked back at the soup.

“Ohhhhhh,” Kakashi said in a manner that suggested he knew exactly what Gaara’s plan was. He moved his hand to silently tell Gaara to come inside. “Come, come.”

Gaara walked closer.

“I can take them,” he said, putting his hands out. “I’d hate for your special someone to see these and accidentally ruin the surprise.” He cast a glance over at Gai, who was too focused on hands-less eating to notice. “I’ll be here for the duration of the show, so I can watch over them for you.”

“Thank you,” Gaara said, handing the flowers off.

“Of course,” he said.

Both of them heard Gai sniffle and looked over to see him sobbing.

“Such a y-youthful display!! Of love and devotion!!” he shouted as tears fell freely down his cheeks.

Kakashi shook his head and gently placed a hand on Gai’s shoulder to lean him away from the container. “Come by my office after the performance when you’re ready.”

Gaara nodded and made his way out. As he left, he heard Kakashi’s tired voice.

“Gai, please stop crying in the soup, we’re sharing that.”

It made him smile.

As Gaara headed down the hall, he was stopped by Naruto, who looked slightly frantic. “Dude, you gotta follow me.”

“What happened?” Gaara moved quickly behind Naruto, who stopped in front of a door he hadn’t noticed before. After pinning in a combination code, Naruto opened the door and it appeared to be some sort of workroom.

“Dude, I forget to do this shit all the time--and I totally forgot to tell you--but we gotta sign these cards for the cast and crew,” he said.

“Oh.” Gaara felt a flood of relief wash over him. That, he could do. He promptly smacked Naruto on the arm. “Asshole. You had me worried.”

Across a table lay a large stack of cards. Naruto explained that the stage management team usually gave the cast and crew small messages before the final performance as a means of saying thank you to everyone after “spending the whole show bossing them around,” as he so eloquently put it. So, Gaara went right to work, writing short, simple messages and signing his name, occasionally getting more creative with the people he had actually spoken to. He made sure to put an extra thanks to Ino as well as write something more meaningful to Neji and Tenten.

With Lee’s card, which he definitely saved for last, Gaara wrote an extra long message, thoroughly detailing how grateful he was for their blossoming friendship, and signed the end with his name and a heart.

It wasn’t a love confession, but it would have to do.

After setting up all of the cards in the dressing rooms, Naruto led Gaara back into the hallway. He looked to Gaara sadly and pulled him in for a hug. He tensed up at first, surprised since the two rarely extended physical affection toward one another, but Gaara returned the gesture.

“I’m super proud of you,” Naruto said.

Gaara blinked and felt a strange constriction in his chest. “Thank you…”

“I’m gonna miss being on a team with you,” he said. His voice was audibly tighter. “I hope you keep doing this theater thing. You’re really good at it.”

Gaara hugged him a little tighter and thanked him again. They stood there for awhile until Naruto pulled away laughing. He reached a hand toward his face and began wiping his eyes. Gaara could see that he was crying.

“Look what you did to me, you bastard,” he said. “Now I’m all emotional.”

“Sorry,” Gaara told him.

“You’re fine.” Naruto shook his head. “I love you, stupid. You’re gonna kill it tonight.”

“Thank you. So are you.”

Naruto slung an arm over Gaara’s shoulders and ruffled his hair affectionately as they headed toward the theater for their last show.

The energy everyone had coming in rivaled that of the first performance. There was a lot of nervous energy, the dancers were extra chatty, and everyone seemed both incredibly excited to give it their all and absolutely ready to discard the combinations they had been rehearsing and performing for the last several weeks.

After checking the callboard and assuring everyone was signed in for the last time, Gaara stepped into the green room. He went to retrieving and passing out all of the headsets as all of the dancers warmed up and made his way to his post backstage, relishing in the final night he had working on the dance show. It was a lot of fun when he thought about it. Gaara wondered briefly if this was how Naruto’s entire college experience had been and thought maybe he’d like to be a bigger part of that. They were certainly friends before, but he felt the two of them had grown even closer now. Not only because of their being a stage management team, but also because of their mutual friendship with Lee.

Once the dancers finished their warm-ups and Gaara made a call over the intercom, he made eye contact with Lee, who was passing through and offered him a little wave. Gaara waved back softly, slightly sad that this was their last night together.

Nope, he mentally slapped himself. Bask in it now, be sad later.

While Gaara finished his preparations and made sure everything was set and accounted for backstage, the rest of the crew went to work as well. Hinata flipped through light cues, Kiba assured the levels were suitable for sound, and the stagehands went to cleaning up the stage before the house was set to open.

Gaara gave a single nod after he assured everything was in order. Just as he turned, he saw Lee coming in, tears streaming from his eyes. Wordlessly, he made his way over to Gaara and squeezed him tight.

“What’s wrong?” Gaara asked, alarmed.

“Your note was so sweet, thank you so much,” he said. Lee pulled away and wiped his cheeks. “I am so glad that I met you.”

His cheeks positively burned at that. He stared wide-eyed up at Lee, only hearing the pounding in his ears for a moment before he regained his composure.

“Me, too,” he managed to say.

Lee grinned at him before pulling him in for yet another hug. “This is our last show. Are you excited?”

“I am, yeah. It’s a bit sad though,” he admitted.

“Yeah?” Lee leaned back and rubbed his thumb along Gaara’s shoulder. “I agree. But it was nice being able to spend so much time with you.”

Gaara hummed a reply.

"Oh! I almost forgot! One moment, please!" Lee rushed toward the green room and quickly returned, holding something behind his back. Gaara tried to peer around to see it. "I heard from someone that you like desert plants a lot, so I got you one of these!"

He carefully pulled out a tiny potted cactus with a bright red flower on top. Gaara's eyes widened at the sight as he reached out toward the pot in Lee's hands. They stood there quietly with their hands overlapping as Gaara stared in awe.

"Congratulations on finishing your first production!"

"Thank you…" he whispered. Taking the pot from Lee, he stared at the cactus and grinned.

How was Lee the most perfect person he had ever met?

“Gaara!” someone shouted.

He turned at the sound of his name and saw Tenten rounding the corner. Neji followed not long after.

“Hello, Tenten,” he said, setting Lee's gift on his table where it would be safe.

She grinned. “Your little note was really cute--thank you! You’re literally the cutest person in the world, I hope you know that!”

“What? No,” Gaara waved his hand dismissively. “... Thank you.”

“Of course!” Tenten reached for Lee’s hand and they laced their fingers together without thinking about it. “Are you coming to auditions tomorrow?”

Gaara cocked his head to the side. “Auditions? For what?”

“Naruto! That asshole!” she huffed. “Hey, is he on the headset? Can I talk to him?”

“Um… I’m not sure if you’re supposed to… but I guess if I’m still wearing it.” He angled the mic toward her and hit the “talk” button on the transmitter. “Go ahead.”

“Naruto!” she shouted. She pressed her head against Gaara’s so they could share the earphone.

After a few seconds, he answered. “Who the hell is this?”

“It’s Tenten!” she said. “You didn’t tell Gaara about auditions?”

A few seconds of silence passed.

“Shit, I forgot.”

“Idiot! You’re an idiot! How do you forget something like that? We’re on the board for the same club!”

“Be nice to me! I was busy!”

“That’s a lie,” Gaara cut in. “I spent the last hour with you.”

“Okay, I’m an idiot, I’m sorry--!”

Naruto continued spouting incomprehensible garbage as Tenten pulled away. Gaara pulled the earphone away to ignore the grating sound of Naruto’s voice against his ear.

“Anyway, we have auditions tomorrow. We’re doing a musical theater revue, so come in with like, a minute of a song,” she explained. “We’d prefer if you brought in a song you wanted to sing, unless you just want us to assign you something. But the theme this year is love songs!”

“Oh, okay,” he said, doing his best not to look at Lee.

“They’re tomorrow at five. I know the cast party is tonight, but try not to come in hungover," she said with a wink.

"People do that?"

"You'd be surprised…" She shook her head. "But please, please, please come through! If I have to sit through one more bad vocal audition, I’m going to lose it."

“I’ll see what I can do,” Gaara told her.

“Sounds good! I hope to see you there!” She looped her arm in Neji’s and the trio headed toward the green room to finish getting ready.

By the time the opening number rolled around, Lee and Gaara were in their usual spot and Gaara made a point to enjoy the feeling of Lee’s hand in his own. He took a moment to bask in the warmth from Lee’s palm and lean close enough that the ends of his hair grazed his arm. When the piece concluded and Lee had stopped crying enough, he turned to Gaara and smiled. The opening for the next piece began and Tenten gave Lee her usual kiss on the cheek before making her entrance.

“Break a leg,” Gaara offered with an affirming squeeze of his hand.

Lee let go of his hand and pulled Gaara in close, holding him tight. When he pulled away, he looked Gaara directly in the eyes and gave him a warm smile.

“Thank you.”

With that, he made his entrance and Gaara could hear the clamor from the audience as they watched the piece. Gaara made his way to the flylines to pull up the scrim. He smiled to himself.

As the show continued, Gaara could hear the sounds of dancers backstage chanting “Last show! Last show!” in hushed whispers as they headed to the green room or did their quick changes between pieces. It was nice that everyone was so excited about finishing the show, but he could sometimes hear portions of people’s conversations as he stood by to assure costume changes had been completed and waited until he needed to cue certain dancers for their entrances.

As he waited behind Sakura and Ino, he heard them talking about the cast party and felt his stomach sink to the ground. It was hard to ignore the slight pang in his chest that he felt when he heard them referring to the location as “Naruto’s house.”

He couldn’t help the lingering thought as he looked between them.

I live there, too…

Once Naruto cued the final tap piece to begin, Gaara really felt the last show nervousness kick in. He watched all of the dancers through the wings, admiring their vivacity and crisp, clean taps against the stage floor. When the solo sections began and Lee made his exit, he beamed even brighter as he saw Gaara standing off to the side. Gaara gave him the tiniest smile and was thrown back to the last time they stood in that spot together.

He had just found out Lee was cut from the solo section and wanted to take Lee’s hand to comfort him.

He could do it now. He was feeling brave.

Lee stood next to him and Gaara took a deep breath, reaching out and seizing Lee’s hand in his own. He hadn’t realized he shut his eyes tight as he did it, vision blurring as he finally opened them. Lee simply squeezed back, still staring out onto the stage as he tapped along softly with the ensemble, choreography still embedded in his muscle memory.

As the song began to come to a close, Lee gave Gaara a wide smile, letting his hand slip and bounding onstage with the rest of the cast to complete the last counts of choreography. Gaara watched him, still stunned amazed by his movements just as he was the first day they met. After a powerfully explosive ending, the audience cheered them on and the dancers lined up across the stage to complete their final bows.

And just like that, the show was over.

--

The dancers all headed into their dressing rooms while Gaara and his stagehands helped him clean up the theater. Everyone made quick work of their clean-up, which Gaara attributed to folks being eager to head out to the cast party. Gaara made his way out of the theater once he heard the dancers in the hallway saying hello to their friends who had come to see the show, he scooped up his cactus and bolted out of the green room toward Kakashi’s office.

When he got there, Kakashi glanced up from where he was seated and Gaara saw what looked like a hint of a smile playing on his face.

“Looking for your flowers?” he asked with a hint of amusement.

Gaara simply nodded, making his way inside the office.

“Here you go,” Kakashi said as he stood, handing the bouquet over carefully. “I suppose I should head out there as well.”

“Thank you.”

He let out a small, smooth chuckle. “Of course. I can take your keys now if you like. I’ll lock up for you.”

Gaara reached for his keys a bit reluctantly. “Really?”

“Of course. You kids have a celebration after all.” He briefly placed a light hand on Gaara’s shoulder. Gaara handed the keys off and the two began heading out of the office. Before they parted ways, Kakashi stopped. “Thank you, Gaara. You were an excellent ASM. I expect to be seeing you for future productions?”

“Future productions?” Gaara repeated.

Kakashi wanted him to come back? Something about that sentiment was oddly exhilarating. It was nice. It made him feel like he was needed.

“… I’d like that.”

“Good.”

And with that, he was off.

Gaara let out a breath he didn’t realize he was holding and did his best to hide the bouquet behind his back as he searched for Lee. He made his way down the hall and noticed him talking to dancers and audience members, who were all congratulating him and paying him kind compliments. Gaara took a step back, considering just giving the flowers to Lee at the cast party. Or perhaps not at all. His heartbeat sped up and he noticed his hands were warming up considerably.

Lee looked up and caught his eye from across the way. He looked at Gaara from a distance. His smile faltered for just a second before he excused himself from the crowd and made his way over.

“Gaara, hi!” he said, once they had a reasonable distance between them. “I thought you were cleaning up.”

“Yes, but… um…” Gaara swallowed audibly. He pulled the flowers out from behind his back and held them out toward Lee.

“Wow!” Lee breathed. “Those are so pretty! Did someone get those for you?”

“No, they’re… they’re for you.” He quickly added, “From me… congratulations.”

Lee froze.

“Are you serious?” he asked softly. When Gaara finally mustered the strength to look up at Lee, he noticed his eyes were watering. Gaara nodded once and Lee gingerly reached out to cradle the bouquet in one arm. “Oh, my gosh…”

Gaara smiled. Just looking at Lee appreciating something as simple as flowers made his heart full. Lee looked down at him, tears flowing down his cheeks, but he still grinned through them.

“Thank you so much! I love them!”

He wiped his tears with the back of his free hand and brought the flowers closer to his face to smell them.

“Of course.”

Lee smiled even wider and reached his hand out to cup Gaara’s cheek. He brushed his thumb in a small arc across his cheekbone. The gesture was small, but intimate enough to make Gaara’s heart flutter.

“You are so sweet,” Lee said. He bent down slightly and Gaara wondered for a moment what was happening as Lee crowded his vision until he placed a sweet, small kiss to Gaara’s cheek.

Oh, my god?

Holy fuck?!

“Thank you,” Lee said again. "See you in a few!"

His hand fell from Gaara’s face and he turned away. Had Gaara not been so stunned, he would have realized Tenten and Neji were calling Lee’s name so the three could head to the cast party together. Instead, he stayed standing in the middle of the hall, frozen in place, and placed light fingers on his now-burning cheek.

Where Lee had kissed him.

Chapter Text

When Gaara got home, Naruto set him up on the task of making sure the house was "sufficiently decked out" for the party. Unsure of what this meant, Gaara flicked on the lights and began to make sure everything was clean and organized. Since his siblings were just over, he didn't have much to tend to. He wasn't sure what Naruto wanted him to do.

He made his way toward the kitchen where he stood in one place, cleaning the same spot on the counter as his mind drifted. Gaara couldn't help it. He was too excited. Lee kissed him on the cheek, which practically guaranteed that he liked him back, at least in Gaara's mind. He could still feel Lee's warm lips ghosting against his skin and it was getting more and more difficult to wipe the stupid elated grin off of his face.

As he snapped out of his daze, Gaara made sure the dishes were all washed and put away, so no drunken theater kids would break them… or steal them. He suddenly remembered a time Naruto came back from a cast party where he had stolen a platter that still sat in one of their cupboards.

Gaara noticed he was getting a call from Naruto. Speak of the devil. He wiped his wet hands on the tech clothes he was still wearing and answered.

"Hey."

"Dude, we're doing an alch run. You want me to pick you anything up?" Naruto asked.

Gaara paused for a moment as someone yelled sharply on the other end of the call. He heard another person laughing hysterically. "Who's 'we'?"

"Ahh, just me and the boys!"

Gaara sighed. He let Naruto borrow his car so he could pick up some drinks for the party, but he didn't realize he would have company. He wasn't sure why he was surprised--this was Naruto, who firmly believed in the philosophy of asking for forgiveness rather than permission.

"Dude, it's cool, it's just Shikamaru and Choji."

"Who?"

"Oh, shit, you haven't met Choji, huh? He's buds with Shikamaru. We gotta take you to one of their improv shows, dude, they're so good--"

"Okay, fine, whatever," Gaara cut in. If he let Naruto keep rambling, they were going to be on the phone all night.

Naruto pulled the phone away for a few seconds to yell and Gaara could hear the other two shouting in the store. He was suddenly glad he didn't go with them.

"Anyway, we got cups and beer and some liquor, baby!"

In the background, he heard one of the boys shout, "Liquor? I hardly know her!"

Naruto guffawed. Gaara rolled his eyes while he thought. He supposed it'd be nice to have something non-alcoholic. "Can you get soda?"

Naruto pulled away again and screeched, "we forgot mixers, dude, we're so fucking stupid!"

"No, you're stupid!" he heard one of the other two yell at him before they all started laughing.

"Anyway," Naruto said back into the phone. "Is the house all set up?"

Gaara looked around. Truthfully he hadn't set anything up since they never hosted a cast party before and he wasn't sure what Naruto had in mind.

"Your silence speaks volumes," Naruto said. "It's all good, we're almost done here. We'll help out once we get there, then we can start pregaming."

"Sounds good," Gaara said.

"In the meantime, can you get the big table from the garage and set it up? Push all the furniture to the walls, too."

"Okay."

Naruto shouted something again before abruptly hanging up the phone. Gaara shrugged. He set out on his task.

Less than an hour had passed before Gaara heard obnoxious honking down the street. He peered out the window and saw Naruto stumble out of the front seat, laughing. A cloud of smoke dissolved into the cold night air when his friends opened up their doors and Gaara shook his head. The three carried far too many boxes of alcohol toward the front door and Gaara opened it for them.

"You better not have hotboxed my car," he said, pinching the bridge of his nose in irritation.

"We left the windows down, it's fine," Shikamaru said. Well, he reeked of weed, so it wasn't very convincing.

"Yeah, dude, it's cool. We got like, way more shit in the back, so if you could help us, that'd be sweet," Naruto jumped in.

Gaara grumbled something to himself as he went outside to help bring in the mountains of alcohol Naruto had purchased. He couldn't help thinking about how expensive it all probably was.

By the time everyone was settled inside, Shikamaru and Choji made quick work in setting up the table off to the side and setting up some speakers Naruto kept in his room so they could start blasting music.

Gaara sat on the couch, nervously tossing his phone back and forth between his hands while the other three were being extra chummy, lining up all the hard liquor on the kitchen counter as they talked about upcoming exams for a theater class they were all taking together. As Gaara spaced out and tried to ignore just how loud the music was, he happened to hear Naruto call his name. He stood up quickly and padded over to the kitchen to see what he was needed for.

"You wanna do a shot?" he asked, holding out one of several mismatched shot glasses toward him. It had a cactus print on it.

"... Yeah, sure."

That got a whoop out of Naruto. He quickly went to pouring something clear into tiny glasses that smelled eerily similar to a specific nail polish remover Kankuro used. Gaara grimaced at the thought as Naruto handed him another shot glass filled with a sizzling dark soda. He set his phone on the counter and took it with a free hand. Everyone clinked their glasses after a small countdown and shivered after quickly gulping down the liquid, chasing it with the soda from the other glass.

"Chaser's for bitches," Shikamaru said as he reached for the liquor and poured himself another.

"Well, call me a bitch, 'cause that shit's nasty," Naruto replied. He turned to Gaara. "You want another?"

He shook his head, which had already started swimming a little bit. Gaara wasn't necessarily opposed to drinking, he just never really saw the appeal. He'd definitely been drunk before, as Naruto loved to remind him, but he had a fairly low tolerance, something he attributed to being small.

Gaara excused himself to change into something a little bit nicer, since this was a party and all. The other three, who went back to shouting at each other and taking shots in the kitchen, were wearing pretty casual clothes. Then again, Naruto always wore casual clothes. It wasn't much to go off of. Instead, Gaara went for something somewhat in-between, not wanting to feel completely overdressed. He glanced at himself in the mirror, having changed into a short-sleeved button-down shirt with a succulent-patterned print and a dark pair of cuffed jeans. That seemed sufficient. Gaara took a deep breath as he looked himself in the mirror.

Confess to Lee tonight, he told himself.

Assuring his eyeliner was straight and his hair was attractively messy, Gaara headed out to meet Naruto and his friends again.

"Whoooaa, there he is!" Naruto shouted with a toss of his arms. The crew was sitting on the couch now, each with a drink significantly lower in alcohol content. Naruto patted the couch as he scooted over. "Sit, sit!"

Gaara did. He sat between Naruto and Shikamaru. Deciding hotboxing Gaara's car wasn't enough to satiate his need for weed, Shikamaru was now smoking out of a small bong. He made sure to blow the smoke out of the window, although it didn't do much to hide the deplorable scent.

"Hey, man," Shikamaru started, turning slowly to meet Gaara's eyes, "who was that girl you were with in the hall yesterday?"

Gaara gave him an inquisitive look.

"Because damn, if you don't want her, I'll take her."

Gaara made a disgusted noise as he tried to find the words to explain just how awful that sentence was to hear.

Naruto was cackling on his side. "Dude, that's his fucking sister!"

Choji nearly spit out his drink and was quick to join in on Naruto's laughter. Gaara felt his face heating up. Despite the awkwardness in the room, Shikamaru seemed unfazed.

"Oh, my b," he said. It took him a few seconds before he started laughing along with the other two, but Gaara didn't find it very funny.

He wanted to say something, he really did. But part of him felt like it wasn't appropriate to immediately mouth off to someone before the party had even started. As soon as he began to open his mouth, the doorbell rang.

Gaara was quick to get the door and conveniently escape the situation. He opened it to see Sakura and Ino carrying a few boxes of drinks with Hinata following quietly behind them.

"Hey, you!" Ino said with a knowing wink. As the three came inside, she lingered behind to talk to Gaara quietly. "So how'd it go? You make out in the dressing room or what?"

Gaara gave her a look. "People do that?"

Ino looked toward the kitchen where Sakura was standing, then back to Gaara.

"You'd be surprised."

Gaara shook off the initial shock and went back to the topic at hand. "I think it went well. He kissed me… on the cheek."

"What! That's incredible!" Once Ino realized she was getting too loud, she quieted down. "I'm sure he likes you back. Ugh. You guys are gonna be so cute." She pulled at Gaara's wrist. "You look crazy nervous. Come take shots with us!"

Gaara considered that for a moment. He let Ino take him back toward the kitchen where he proceeded to drink once more. He could do two shots. That was fine. It would loosen him up--he wouldn't feel as nervous and he'd be able to talk to Lee.

The party carried on and Gaara managed to get along fairly well with such a small amount of people there for the pregame. He was only two shots in and found himself with something fruity enough that it didn't taste like pure gasoline, so as far as he was concerned, everything was going well.

Until about an hour in.

Gaara managed to keep any anxiety he was having at bay until what seemed like every living Theater and Dance major was in his living room, shouting and screaming over music even the deaf could hear. He tried to look for Naruto for help, but he was too busy leaning against the wall, trying to look cool while Hinata stared at him with wide eyes. Gaara pawed through a fairly tight cluster of people, wondering what the hell happened to Lee.

He said he was coming. And Lee was hardly ever late.

He looked up after hearing a loud shout from one of the theater folks about setting up the table for beer pong, followed by a lot of whooping. Luckily that was a job a drunken mass could do without him. Gaara fumbled with his pockets and managed to pull out his phone to send Lee a quick message wondering where he was. Distracted by his phone, Gaara accidentally bumped into someone.

"Oh, gosh, sorry!" The girl turned around and put an apologetic hand to Gaara's upper arm, which was way too friendly for his comfort. That spot was explicitly for Lee.

"No, it was my fault," he said, wondering why she even apologized in the first place.

She maintained eye contact for several seconds too long. "Hey, you were the ASM for the dance show, huh? Gaara, right?"

"Yep."

"I saw you a couple times in the hall," she said slowly. She took a slow sip from the cup in her hand before she spoke up again. "I'm a Theater major."

Was that supposed to be interesting?

"You're really cute." She stuck a hand out. "I'm Matsuri."

It took Gaara a few moments to process that name. Naruto had warned him of her--a girl in the department who Naruto had shared a few classes with. Apparently she had a thing for Gaara during one of the plays she was in the previous semester. Gaara had stopped by after rehearsal to take Naruto home and supposedly she never let her obsession with him go.

Gaara's phone vibrated in his hand. The screen lit up to show text from Lee.

"I'm gay," he blurted out in a moment of pure panic. He walked away before he could see the change in Matsuri's expression.

Gaara opened up the text.

Lee:
"Sorry, Neji was straightening his hair. We will be there in fifteen minutes!"

Gaara was relieved:
"Great."

Lee:
"Are you feeling okay? Are you nervous? I know you are not a fan of crowds. :("

Lee's sweetness was going to be the death of him.

He smiled:
"I'm okay. See you soon."

Lee just sent a smiley face back.

Figuring that was sufficient enough, Gaara squeezed back through the party and was nearly clotheslined by Naruto's arm on the way. He stopped abruptly and turned to his roommate, who had his arm around Hinata and was standing in front of the table. A few cups filled with a cheap, gross-smelling beer sat on the table.

"Dude, toss this, my aim's shit right now."

Naruto handed him a ping pong ball.

"Toss it where?" Gaara asked. There didn't seem to be a clear pattern to the cup arrangement.

Naruto pointed vaguely toward the other side of the table where Choji was standing before diving in and kissing Hinata tongue-first. Gaara blinked as he quickly looked away and lightly tossed the ball toward one of the cups on the other side. Shikamaru was quick to catch it before it could fall to the ground.

"Miss," he shouted, tossing the ball back and into one of the cups in front of Gaara. Some of the beer splashed out and onto Gaara's shirt. He made a face at it.

"Ohhhhh!" Naruto shouted, having finally come up for air. "Lame! You gotta drink it now!"

"I have to what?" he asked.

"Drink it! Drink it!" Naruto began chanting. It didn't take long for half of the room to join him.

Gaara sighed as he took the ping pong ball out and gave it a light shake. He lifted the cup and downed the contents with a grimace. People weren't lying when they said cheap beer tasted like piss…

The room went wild. He stacked the cup on the table with a few others and quickly walked away, trying not to draw too much more attention to himself. Luckily someone had opened the front door to let even more people in and all eyes were drawn away from Gaara as soon as someone shouted, "holy shit, a dog!"

Gaara looked over to see people crowding around Kiba and Shino, who had apparently just come in. Shino was standing slightly in front of Kiba, who had brought his service dog with him, and was trying to ward the crowd away so they would stop harassing the dog.

Eventually Kiba and Shino made their way toward the kitchen where Gaara was standing. Kiba gave him a friendly wave, which Gaara nodded back to.

"Tech crew meets again, huh?" he said.

"I guess so," Gaara answered. He looked down at Kiba's dog, who was sitting patiently by his side. "Sorry there are so many people here." He gestured vaguely to the front door. "Does that happen a lot?"

"What, people trying to touch Akamaru?" Kiba asked, looking down at the vest-clad animal. "Yeah, usually people are pretty cool about it once they see the vest." He patted him on the head. "But once people get drunk and rowdy, it can be a lot."

"That's unfortunate," Gaara remarked.

"It's all good. Me and Shino usually aren't here for long. We just kinda stop by, say hey, and dip. I'm surprised you're here though. You don't really strike me as a party guy."

Gaara shook his head. "I'm not. But I live here, so…"

"Oh, damn, no way! I didn't know you guys were roommates!"

"Yep."

"That's pretty cool."

A few awkward seconds of silence passed since the two weren't really sure what to say. Eventually Kiba gave a simple, but friendly "see ya later!" and went to say hello to some other people at the party while Shino followed closely behind.

Gaara was feeling nervous, so he poured himself a mix of dark soda and some clear, heavy-smelling hard alcohol labeled "Bacardi." The taste wasn't… great and it burned a little as it went down, but at least the growing heat in his face seemed to be coming from the alcohol. That was good. Lee would be there soon and Gaara was already starting to feel more relaxed. Once he got there, he'd be a functional, albeit slightly tipsy, human being.

As the song blasting through a speaker came to a close, there was a knock at the door. Gaara glanced up from behind the rim of his cup and saw Naruto shimmy his way over to open the door.

And as it swung open, there he was. In all his glory. In a black and green puffy jacket straight out of an old-school music video. Rock Lee.

God, he was gorgeous…

Naruto slung an arm around Lee, who was quick to right him, since he was toppling over in a slightly drunken haze. Lee smiled brightly as Neji and Tenten stepped inside and the three made their way through the crowded living room with Naruto.

Lee gave his hellos to everyone in the room, all smiles and fancy dance moves until he made eye contact with Gaara and froze before breaking out into a light laughter and bolting over to him.

"Hello!" he said, pulling Gaara in a tight hug. "You look adorable, I love your shirt!"

"Thanks," Gaara said so quietly that Lee probably missed it over the sound of the music. He smelled lightly of a woodsy cologne and a recent shower.

Lee moved away so he could look Gaara in the eyes and continued to smile at him. The sight alone made his chest tight.

"Do you, uh. Want anything to drink?" Gaara asked, pulling his eyes away from Lee so he wouldn't get too distracted. He gestured toward the counter. "We have alcohol… alcohol… and, oh, wow, more alcohol."

Lee laughed at that. He grabbed an untouched plastic cup off the counter and went straight for the sink.

"I actually do not drink!" he said, pouring water into his cup.

"Oh," Gaara said, feeling a strange sense of guilt since he was in drinking in Lee's presence. He swirled the liquid in his cup and debated just tossing it down the drain.

Lee noticed his expression shift. "Oh, no, no, no! You can drink, I just prefer to be sober myself."

"Oh. Okay."

Lee gave him a warm smile before taking a few swigs of water just as someone from the living room--probably Naruto--started screaming.

"Let's fucking rage!!"

Never a good thing to hear…

Gaara stepped slightly closer to Lee, who was also surveying the scene from a distance. A few people made their way over to the ice chest in the kitchen as they gathered beer can after beer can. Shikamaru made a beeline directly toward Gaara. Lee slid an arm across his shoulders and gently guided him away from the counter. Shikamaru swiped up the stack of plastic cups that were behind him. Gaara and Lee watched the strangely organized chaos ensue as everyone began filling and clustering cups in the center of the table.

"What are they doing?" Gaara asked.

"Setting up a drinking game," Lee replied. "They call it 'rage cage'."

Gaara noticed Lee's arm was still around his shoulders and leaned slightly against him.

"I always wanted to play, but, well. You know. There is a lot of alcohol involved." Lee laughed to himself. "It is very fun to watch though!"

His arm trailed from Gaara's shoulders to the small of his back. Gaara reached behind himself so he could take Lee's hand, interlacing their fingers tightly. He turned to Lee, who looked a little surprised.

"Let's go," Gaara said. Off Lee's confused expression, he tugged at his hand a bit more insistently. "I'll drink for you."

Lee brightened at that, but was still a bit hesitant. "Are you sure? I would hate for you to get sick…"

"It's a party, Lee. I'll be fine."

They walked toward the table together and squeezed their way into the circle of people standing around it. The putrid smell of cheap alcohol and sweat from too many bodies ran rampant through the air. Gaara squeezed Lee's hand for support.

"Does everyone know how to play?!" Naruto shouted over the music. Apparently no one was sober enough to think of turning the music down and they all just resorted to screaming.

"No," Gaara answered. He had played drinking games before, but this was new territory.

"What?! Gaara!!" Naruto screamed. He was so overexcited, he didn't know what to do, so he just turned around himself. "You guys, that's my ASM!"

"We know," Sakura said sharply. "We worked on the same show, dumbass."

"Fuck! You're right…" Naruto raked his hands through his hair. "Okay, okay! You'll figure it out as we go!" He gave Gaara a non-committal thumbs-up. "You guys, Gaara's really smart! God… I love him… Gaara!"

"What?"

Naruto threw his arms in the air. "I love yoooouu!"

Gaara shook his head and breathed out a light laugh. "Thank you."

"And is that Lee?!" Naruto slapped a hand to his face. "This is the best day of my life."

Lee placed both his hands on Gaara's shoulders and grinned. "Gaara and I are gonna be a team!"

Naruto pulled Hinata in front of him, nearly causing her to spill her drink. She squeaked as he slid his arms around her waist. "Looks like both the bedrooms are gonna be occupied tonight!" He made a cat-like growling sound that made Lee and Gaara almost choke.

Luckily everyone around them seemed to be either too impatient or wrapped up in their own conversation to realize what was happening.

"Start the damn game!" Sakura snapped, slamming a fist down onto Naruto's head. She tossed one of the ping pong balls up as she waited for him to focus.

"Alright, ready, ready, ready… Shhh…. shhhhhh!" Naruto closed his eyes and stuck his arms straight out, trying to get the group to settle down. "Okay. Ready, three… two… one… go!"

Naruto and Sakura were quick to pull two cups from the cluster in the middle and down the contents as fast as possible. They slammed the cups in front of them and attempted to bounce the ping pong balls off the table and into their now-empty cups. Sakura was quick to get hers before him and passed it to her left where Ino was. Once Naruto finally got his in, he passed it to Sakura and the process continued, each person attempting to get their ball in before the person on their right.

Neji sidled up to Gaara's right and nodded in a silent greeting over a particularly loud, bass-heavy song.

"Have you ever played before?"

Gaara shook his head just as Shino passed the cup over to Neji.

"Fucking Naruto…" Neji whispered as he shook his head. he looked between Gaara and Lee. "Ideally you would want to get the ball in on the first time."

He tossed the ball up once, stared at the cup with the concentration of a trained assassin, and got the ball in on the first try. The room went wild.

"Then you can pass it wherever you like," he said nonchalantly. He passed the cup a few bodies down over to Ino, who also made it on the first throw and grinned wide at Choji, who was standing on her left. She slammed her cup into his before he could shoot the ball in and slumped his shoulders in defeat.

"Drink, bitch!" Ino shouted as Choji passed the stacked cups to his left and reached for a new one from the center. He downed it quickly and the game continued.

"Wait, what happened?" Gaara asked.

"The point is to get all of those cups stacked," Neji said, pointing to the cluster at the center of the table. "If someone on your right gets their ball before you, they can stack your cup and you have to pull one from the center and drink."

Gaara glanced at the beer-filled cups gathered in the middle again and considered what that amount of cups might look like in a huge stack.

"Wouldn't that be really difficult toward the end?"

"Well, the drunker you get, the worse off your aim gets." Neji smirked as the stacked cups made their way back to him. "So, don't get drunk."

Despite making the ball on the first try again, Neji handed the cup directly to his left. He leaned over to Gaara and whispered, "Just so you know… Lee is a terrible shot."

As Neji pulled away, they both heard Lee try to bounce the ball with a quiet "oops!" as he presumably missed his shot. Neji patted him on the shoulder in support as Tenten sidled in on Gaara's left.

"Hey, you!" she grinned. "What! You guys are raging already? I was only in the bathroom for a few minutes!"

"We just started," Gaara said.

As she saw Lee focusing hard on getting the ball in, she leaned across Gaara to pat her friend on the shoulder. "Go, Lee!"

"Please do not distract me, I am very nervous!" he said in a strained voice.

Gaara suddenly remembered when Lee refused a ride home, claiming a need for running to release some of his pre-show nervousness.

Did Lee have performance anxiety?

"Sorry," Neji said. The sound of the cup stacking alerted Gaara.

Naruto shrieked. "Oooooohh!!"

Lee turned to Gaara. His lips were pressed in a tight line.

Oh, that's right. Gaara was drinking for him.

He shook his head of the thought and reached across the table to grab a new cup and drank its contents in one gulp. With a grimace, he handed the cup to Lee, so he could try bouncing the ball again. Meanwhile, Tenten had passed her cup to another girl on her left. Gaara looked over and noticed it was that girl Matsuri from before. She made the shot on her first try and passed the cup back to Neji. She gave Gaara a strange, almost scornful look as she passed it.

Before he could look back, Neji had already made his shot and stacked Lee.

He was so good, it was fucking annoying.

Gaara downed another cup and wiped the beer from his mouth, handing it over to Lee, who was laughing so nervously it bordered on psychotic. He tried to make his shot just as Tenten shouted in excitement and Gaara looked over in horror.

That was just unfair… They fucking trapped him on purpose!

She gave Gaara an apologetic smile as she slowly slid the cup back to Neji, who laughed softly to himself and muttered "this is so fucked up" over and over to himself as he made his shot and stacked Lee. Again.

The entire room was going absolutely insane.

Gaara took another drink from the table, but halted a bit as the smell hit his nose. He was starting to feel a little nauseous.

Lee made a strange, garbled noise as he turned to Gaara, unsure of what to say or do. Neji swiped the cup from Gaara's hand and finished the rest of it. He tossed it to Lee and clapped Gaara on the shoulder.

"That was a dick move. My bad," he said, which was probably the closest he had ever come to giving a sincere apology.

In a fit of nervousness, Lee accidentally made the ball in on just his third try and pumped a fist in the air. He passed it Tenten's way and immediately calmed down as he turned to Gaara, placing gentle hands on his shoulders.

"Oh, gosh, I am such a terrible shot! Are you okay? Do you need to sit down?"

Gaara placed one of his hands over Lee's. "I'm okay."

"Alright…"

The game continued fairly rapidly and Neji was definitely right--the more intoxicated people got, the higher the stack of cups became, and the harder it was for them to aim. Neji and Tenten were kind enough to ward the stacks away from Gaara and Lee in order to prevent Gaara from getting sufficiently plastered. When the game came to a rousing conclusion, there was only one cup left in the center, which was filled almost completely to the brim with beer. Everyone passed the cups shakily between each other, narrowly escaping their drunken demise by making each shot before the person to their right. Lee mysteriously made his ball into the high stack of cups and managed to pass it off to Tenten. He laughed deliriously as he turned to Gaara, looking so unbelievably relieved that Gaara didn't have to drink again.

Well, until he forgot there was another cup coming his way.

"Lee! Lee!!" Tenten shouted as she passed her cup off. "Get it!!"

"Oh, no!!"

Once again, Matsuri passed the cup over to Neji, who sighed. He regretfully bounced the ball off the table and into the cup and moved to stack it just as Lee bounced his ball, effectively knocking the ping pong ball clear across the table.

Naruto grabbed Hinata and shook her shoulders wildly, screaming like a fucking maniac.

"Bottoms up, bitch," Neji said quietly. He slid the final cup Gaara's way.

Gaara gave him a pleading look.

"Don't do that. Bitch cup is all yours," he said, as he placed it in Gaara's hands and patted him on the back. "Take your time."

And with that, the game was over, beer splattered all across the table. Gaara could only think about how he was going to clean that in the morning.

Over the speakers, a deep bass dropped and Neji's head snapped up in recognition.

"Oh, fuck, my queen is singing," he said, dancing his way toward the relatively clear space away from the table. Tenten and a few other dancers were quick to join him and suddenly an impromptu dance party had commenced.

Lee and Gaara looked on and Gaara stared down at the "bitch cup" in concern.

"I am so sorry about that," Lee said, slipping the cup out of Gaara's grip. He picked it up like it was infected and set it back down onto the table. "Are you okay?"

When Gaara shifted, he suddenly felt really dizzy.

All he could think to say was, "We gotta dance to Beyoncé."

Lee gave him a look. "Hm?"

Gaara glanced up at Lee and felt like his head just got dumped underwater.

"We gotta dance!" he yelled.

"Oh! Okay! I love the enthusiasm!"

Gaara pulled Lee into the crowd by his wrist and found Neji and Tenten, who were more than happy to see the two of them.

"I'm gonna fuckin'… dance…" Gaara said.

Yeah.

As music played and too many bodies surrounded them, Gaara did what he considered dancing, which was mostly swinging his arms too wide while he attempted to two-step. Not coordinated enough to do a two-step, however, Gaara mostly bounced in place while Lee danced in front of him.

It took Gaara half of the song until he came to a realization that, oh, he was drunk. He was very drunk. And he was having a grand old time.

"How are you feeling?" Lee shouted over the music.

"I'm great. You're great," he answered, shaking his body in stunted, jerky movements from side to side.

But it was true. He did feel great. Fantastic, even. Lee was here and they were dancing together. He didn't even have a hint of nervousness. Gaara could dance with Lee all night long.

Good, cute boy, he thought.

When the next song started up, Gaara was suddenly very aware of the way Lee was moving. He was grinning at Gaara, sweating slightly from the overcrowded living room and probably the fact that he was still wearing that jacket.

You know I love it when the music stop
But come on, strip that down for me

Gaara looked around, dazed and confused, until he realized that was just a part of the song. Maybe the playlist was guiding him? He reached toward the collar of Lee's jacket and tugged slightly as they moved.

Lee complied and slid his jacket off, wrapping it around Gaara's back and pulling him close as he sang along with the song.

So put your hands on my body and swing that 'round for me, baby

Gaara did what the song told him and instinctively reached for Lee's upper arms, which were beyond firm and taut. He knew he liked a lot of things about Lee, but goddamn, his arms had to be in the top ten. No, five. Three?

Gaara leaned closer and gave Lee a hazy look. He simply grinned back.

The party continued and once a few songs had passed, Gaara made his way toward the couch against the wall and slumped down. Luckily Lee had tossed his arm out to cushion it because Gaara nearly knocked his head against the wall. As they sat, Gaara curled into Lee's side and leaned his head on his shoulder, allowing his eyes to slip shut.

"It's warm…" he remarked.

"Yeah, your face is really warm," Lee laughed. He moved his arm down to rub at Gaara's shoulder.

"When I close my eyes, it's like, whoooo…" Gaara said quietly, waving a hand lazily through empty space before it dropped onto his lap.

Lee laughed softly at that. "What do you mean, love?"

"It's… spinny…" he whispered in awe. He pulled his head up as he realized what Lee said. With an uncontrolled finger, he pointed toward Lee's face in an attempt to poke him on the nose, but he ended up touching his forehead instead, dragging it down Lee's face as he spoke. "Yooou kissed meeee…"

Lee smiled softly at him. "I did."

Gaara burst out into a strange fit of giggles as Neji sauntered over and took a spot next to Lee. They smiled at each other briefly before a few bodies moved aside and revealed Naruto and Hinata who were basically dry humping in front of the entire party. Neji made a gagging sound.

“Oh, I can’t believe she would stoop so low.”

Gaara tried to maintain as much focus as he could as he turned to Neji and asked what was the matter.

“Your roommate's trying to fuck my cousin and it’s disgusting,” he said, taking a swig from the cup in his hand. Gaara gave an unfocused look between Neji and the aforementioned couple that was making out across the room.

After almost ten seconds had passed, Gaara squinted at Neji. “That’s your cousin?”

He nodded dismally.

Gaara made a sputtering sound with his lips, but didn’t remember doing it. No one questioned it.

“I have to use the restroom,” Lee said, sliding his arm out from behind Gaara, who whined since he was currently using Lee as a pillow. He looked to Neji. “Can you keep an eye on him, please?”

Neji gave him a non-committal wave as he headed down the hall. The two sat in an awkward silence while Neji scornfully stared at Naruto and Hinata, shaking his head and grumbling to himself like an old man until Tenten appeared.

“Gaara!” she said, reaching out to cup his cheeks. She rubbed her thumbs underneath his eyes. When she removed her hands, Gaara noticed the black streaks that decorated them. She wiped them away on her shorts. “Sorry. Your eyeliner was running.”

“That’s not waterproofff…” he slurred.

“You doing okay sitting down?” She kneeled down in front of him with a hand on his knee.

Gaara nodded.

“Do you need anything? Have you had any water?”

“I have not.”

“Okay, I’ll get you some water,” she said. “Neji, please watch him.”

Neji raised his arms and squinted at her. “What do you guys think I’m doing?”

Tenten ignored him and walked away in search of water for Gaara. She returned in a matter of moments and helped Gaara sit up, so he wouldn’t spill water all over his “super cute shirt,” as she described it.

When Lee finally returned, Gaara smiled wide at him and tossed his arms into the air, repeatedly shouting his name. He made grabby hands for Lee to help him up off the couch.

“Hi!” Lee said, helping him to stand.

“I’m tired,” he said, collapsing his burning forehead against Lee’s chest.

“I can tell!” Lee laid a hand across his back and rubbed softly.

Gaara shot up quickly and looked Lee straight in his big, beautiful eyes. He tugged on his hand and started down the hall. “I wanna show you something.”

“Okay.”

“Hey! Where're ya taking Lee?!” Naruto shouted.

Gaara flipped him off with his free hand and laughed. The two made their way down the hall and lightly pushed the door open to Gaara’s room.

“I got ta see your room… now you get ta see mine!”

Lee looked around at the expanse of Gaara’s room, his plants on his desk, the photo of his siblings, the mostly-black decorations complete with attractive accents of maroon. Lee grinned.

“I almost feel embarrassed,” he started, “your room is so well-furnished! Mine is mostly thrift store finds.”

“That’s what happens when your dad's a rat,” he spat. “Nice stuff, but what hole are you tryna fill?”

Lee didn’t say anything.

“Lookit me, I’m rambling.” Gaara shook his head and guided Lee toward his desk. He hadn’t remembered that he shut the door. Lee glanced at the items scattered across the desk and smiled.

Gaara lazily gestured toward the cactus.

"Look," he said. "That's you! I put it there."

"Yeah," Lee said, "It looks like you are already taking excellent care of it!"

His eyes fell on the photo of him, Temari, and Kankuro.

“Aww, these are your siblings, huh? I remember seeing them at the show!” Lee told him. “You all look so similar.”

Gaara scrunched up his face at that and took a seat on his bed. “Nuh-uh.”

He patted a spot next to him for Lee to sit, so he did, photo still in hand.

“Mm-hmm!” Lee nodded. “You each have different hair colors, but it all curls the same way. Plus your brother has the same eye shape as you.” Lee looked up as he made comparisons and locked eyes with Gaara. “You got lucky with the eyes, though. They really are such a pretty color.”

Gaara laughed lightly at that.

“And you and your sister have the same face shape. You both have soft cheeks.”

He brushed Gaara’s cheek with the back of his fingers.

“Yeah?” Gaara said. He reached out to touch Lee’s face and let his hand wander until he brushed his bangs back slightly. He grinned to himself. “I like seeing you with your hair back…”

“... Thank you,” Lee said.

"It fra-ames your face sooo well," he said in a slight sing-song, trailing off into a soft hum in his drunken haze.

He felt like everything around him was slightly fuzzy and a little bit liquified. Like he was underwater and had spent the last few hours just a few breaths short of drowning. Gaara brushed Lee's hair back with a feather-light touch until his hand trailed down and anchored itself to the curve of Lee's cheek. Lee stayed so perfectly still he looked statuesque, and Gaara wondered for a minute if he was perhaps dreaming of the man he admired so much sitting just a few inches away from him.

Lee had never looked more gorgeous.

Gaara leaned forward and, before he could think to stop himself, pressed his lips to Lee’s.

He didn't have time to think about the fact that this was his first kiss as soon as he felt Lee move in to kiss him back. Gaara followed his instincts and dove in with harder pressure, nearly crushing Lee’s lips against his own with a sort of clinging desperation that confirmed he had waited far too long for this to happen. Gaara tangled his hand in Lee’s hair as he guided Lee’s mouth open with his own and felt an indescribable burst of emotions release down his chest and into the pit of his stomach as their tongues moved to glide against each other.

A deep, hollow groan sounded, an almost instinctual noise Gaara never imagined he would hear, especially this close to Lee, in his own bedroom. Whether it came from him or Lee, Gaara couldn't be certain. All he knew was that he wanted to figure out how he could hear it again.

As he moved closer, he heard a sharp gasp before he realized his shoulders were being firmly pushed back and Lee was staring at him with a hint of hurt, concern, and… something foreign Gaara couldn't quite place.

"Come back," he said simply, starting toward Lee again. "I wanna--"

“Gaara,” Lee began, speaking in a firm tone Gaara had never heard on him before, “you have had a lot to drink. It would be…" He shook his head and looked Gaara in the eyes. "I cannot do that to you.”

It took a moment for the words to settle.

Gaara scoffed. “It's not like coulda done that if I was sober.”

Lee’s eyebrows pinched together. Gaara continued off his look.

“I mean… being around you makes me so nervous.”

Lee was quiet for a few seconds. He spoke softly. “... I make you nervous?"

“Yeah, like, I see you and something happens to me and I start shaking and… I feel like I’m gonna throw up.”

Lee suddenly looked alarmed. “Like, right now?”

Gaara looked at the ground as if a coherent answer would materialize right in front of him and noticed it had started swirling a little. Actually, now it kinda looked like it was spinning faster. Who knew carpet could move like that… It kinda reminded him of being on a roller coaster with the way it started messing with his stomach. How about that…

"Gaara?"

He put a fist to his mouth as he tried to focus on something else. He swallowed hard. That wasn't a good sign.

"I gotta go."

"Gaara!"

He busted his bedroom door open and had the sudden inclination to get to a trash can, the bathroom, anything that wasn't carpet, really. Lee was at his heels the moment Gaara slammed the bathroom door open. Naruto was standing there, just about to unzip his fly.

"Hey, dude, you really gotta--"

Gaara shoved him out of the way.

"Move--"

That was all he could get out before he collapsed in front of the toilet. If Gaara thought cheap beer tasted bad before, it certainly tasted worse when it was warm and coming back up. He heard the sound of his own vomit splatter onto the side of the toilet bowl as Naruto laughed and shouted "party foul!"

As Gaara continued emptying his stomach of an entire game of rage cage, he felt a hand to his back. Lee offered Naruto a quick apology and they exchanged some words just before he shut the door. Once Gaara had a few moments to catch his breath, Lee pulled him back a little to flush the toilet. He must have left and come back because next thing Gaara knew, Lee was helping him drink some water.

"Are you okay?" he asked gently.

Gaara shook his head.

Lee brushed a few locks of hair behind Gaara's ears and set the cup on the counter. As Gaara felt another onslaught of puke surfacing, Lee put a hand to his back and rubbed softly while he let it out.

He didn't remember much after that.

--

Gaara woke up late the next morning, expecting some form of a wicked hangover, but overall he had just a slight nagging headache. Nothing too severe.

As he sat up, he noticed someone had moved the bathroom trash can to the side of his bed. He had somehow managed to get into pajamas, but had a gross aftertaste in his mouth, so he headed into the bathroom to brush his teeth. He hadn't wiped off his runny makeup from the night before, so he decided to wash his face, too.

Gaara opened the door, wiping his tired eyes and flinched when he found himself nose to nose with Hinata.

"You were sick," she whispered cryptically.

"... Yeah, I guess I was," he said, sidling past her. She only turned her head as she watched him pass, which kind of made her look like a cursed doll. Gaara wouldn't be surprised if her head did a one-eighty.

"What a party," Hinata sighed. Gaara stopped and wondered why she was still at the house. "You threw up, Ino shaved her head, Lee went home crying--"

"Ino sh--wait, Lee did what?!"

Gaara glanced around nervously as a yawning Naruto emerged from his room in only his underwear.

"Hinata, whaddya doin'?" he asked as he made his way over to her.

"I… Where's my phone?" Gaara asked.

"Hm? Oh, I think Lee put it on your desk."

So Lee must've helped him get to bed. Then why did he go home crying? Gaara made his way toward his bedroom as Naruto shoved his face into Hinata's chest. His voice was muffled when he spoke.

"It's like two sacks of pudding…"

"If I dropped these on your head from a building, they could probably kill you," Hinata said like it was just a statement of fact.

"Ooh, deadly pudding."

Gaara shut the door and found his phone where Naruto said it was. He had a few emails and some missed texts from his siblings, but no sign of Lee. He sighed as he looked at the clock.

It was well past noon.

How long was he asleep?!

Gaara suddenly heard Tenten's voice warning him not to come to auditions hungover.

Auditions! Holy shit!

Gaara flew into the hall and bolted toward the living room, which still smelled like alcohol. Every surface seemed to be littered with empty cups and cans. He needed to clean it now.

"Naruto?"

"Yeah?"

"I need an audition song. Do you have anything I can learn fast?"

When he turned around, Naruto was grinning.

--

Gaara went about mopping up spilt beer, putting away the table, and tossing out far too many bags of trash, all while Naruto's recommended song played on repeat. Once he cleaned up and opened a few windows to air the place out, he retreated to his room to make himself audition-ready. Naruto had also been getting ready… or so he said. The repetitive squeaks of his bed told Gaara otherwise.

He went to shower and practiced singing along to the song while he washed his hair. It had to be sung down the octave, but it was in a pretty stable range and luckily it wasn't too complicated.

After changing into a suitable outfit, he pawed around his bed where Lee's jacket was usually hanging.

… Where Lee's jacket was usually hanging.

Gaara looked on his desk chair, in his backpack, under his bed, in his closet, with his dirty clothes...

It was gone.

Naruto shouted from the front door. "Dude, we gotta go! Tenten's gonna kill me if I'm late!"

He must have misplaced it. It would just have to wait until auditions were over. Gaara sighed as he slid his keys off of his desk and grabbed another jacket.

--

"Okay, just come back here when you're done filling out your form and we'll letcha know when you're on deck!"

Naruto handed a piece of paper out to Gaara and spoke with an uncharacteristic professionalism. They had just driven to campus (after very awkwardly driving Hinata home) and quite a few people were already in the hallway practicing their pieces for the audition. It had a similar chaos to being backstage for the dance show, but since Gaara was performing, it was even more nerve-wracking.

He took a deep breath and found a spot far off from everyone else so he could concentrate on filling out the paperwork. It mostly asked for basic information about Gaara: his name, major, year in school, contact information, the piece he was performing, any prior theater experience, and for some reason a fun fact about him.

Gaara awkwardly paced the halls, pretending to be very interested in the wall decor until it was his turn.

"Break a leg, dude," Naruto said before leaving.

Gaara stepped into the room where Tenten, Shikamaru, and Ino were sitting behind a small table. Hinata wasn't lying--Ino had absolutely shaved her head of its silky, blonde locks.

What the hell happened after Gaara got sick?

Regardless, it was a good look for her.

"Hello." Gaara raised a timid hand as he handed his form to Tenten.

She snatched it from his hand and Gaara noticed one of her eyebrows twitch. Without looking up, she jotted something down and said flatly, "Why don't you go ahead and slate."

"Oh. Um. My name is Gaara and I'm going to be singing 'A Guy That I'd Kinda Be Into' from 'Be More Chill'," he said.

Tenten crossed her arms and looked up only to stare daggers at him. "Whenever you're ready."

Gaara mouthed an "okay" to himself, taking a quick glance at the ground before he started to sing.

Not even fifteen seconds in, Tenten cut him off with an, "Okay, thank you."

Gaara shut up quickly and gave a firm nod.

"We'll call you after auditions to let you know if you made it," Ino chirped after an awkward silence.

"Thank you," Tenten said through a forced smile.

That was… weird.

Gaara waited around with Naruto until auditions were over since he was his ride home and all. Not long after the last person had completed their song, the three came out of the audition room and Tenten locked eyes with Gaara.

"Well, you're in," she said sharply. "And how fun, it looks like I'm gonna be your director."

It was at that moment a sudden realization from the previous night knocked Gaara on the head: he had kissed Lee. Lee went home crying. And Tenten was pissed.

Great.

Chapter Text

The drive home from auditions was hell for Gaara. Sure, he made it into the revue, and was probably supposed to be happy about that, but as Naruto continued talking, Gaara noticed he was drifting in and out of focus. Although listening to Naruto rant about flirting with prospective cast members would have been thrilling to listen to under… well, very few circumstances, Gaara's mind kept coming back to Lee.

When they pulled up to the house, Gaara bolted inside in the middle of Naruto's rant and quickly shut his bedroom door behind him. He collapsed against it and felt an unfamiliar lump forming in his throat. At first he thought he was going to throw up again, but when he felt his face involuntarily screw up, it didn't take long before his face was moistened with tears.

Crying didn't come easily to Gaara; he could probably count the number of times he cried on one hand if he ever gave himself the chance to think about it. He wasn't the type to cry when he felt particularly passionate about something, like Naruto. And he wasn’t the type of cry when someone did something sweet, like Lee. Rather, Gaara cried alone after a substantial buildup of emotions could no longer be contained and when he was unable to prevent the tears from falling. He cried when his siblings reminisced about fading memories they had with their mother and the fact that he would never get the chance to know her. He cried in his dorm room when he was sent off to college in order to eventually fill his father's shoes. He was crying now because he drunk-kissed the only person he had ever liked, and that person quite possibly hated him because of it.

Well, maybe not hate. Lee could never hate anyone.

There's a first time for everything, Gaara reminded himself as he wiped his face with the hem of his shirt.

Crying made Gaara feel stupid, especially now when it was about something as trivial as love. He never understood why people wrote so many scripts and songs about breakups and failed relationships because he always thought he'd happily skip that part of his life and live alone with his collection of thriving plants.

Unfortunately Lee had to be the exception. Sweet, gorgeous, thoughtful, wonderful Lee. Anyone would be lucky to have him.

Gaara sighed as he tipped his head back against the door. He vaguely remembered the way it felt to kiss Lee, warm lips against his and careful hands tentatively holding Gaara’s arms, almost too afraid to touch him.

If only he hadn't been so drunk. If only he hadn't kissed him so soon.

Gaara shook his head of the thought. He knew he'd be lying to himself if he genuinely thought they would have kissed otherwise. His inhibitions had been lowered past the point of no return. He didn't have the chance to think that he could have ruined their friendship, or hell, any chance of being in a relationship by drunk-kissing his friend.

Gaara's thoughts slowed on the word "relationship." It hadn't occurred to him in that context before. He had considered the idea of kissing Lee, cuddling in bed with Lee, having sex with Lee, but it never quite manifested into a desire for a specific type of relationship before. Gaara had never attributed the word "boyfriend" to himself because the sheer idea of him being romantically or sexually involved with another human being was almost ludicrous in his mind.

Once again, Lee was the exception.

Gaara let out a harsh sigh as he mussed up his hair in frustration. He quickly pulled out his phone and noticed the email Naruto and Tenten’s theater club had sent him about the cast list for the revue. He opened up the email and sniffled, wiping the residual tears away from his cheeks with his free hand. Some amount of running eyeliner left black streaks on his palms.

He noticed each name on the list had been followed by their song title and a particular director they had been assigned to. When he finally got to his name, he noticed his song was left blank along with a side note instructing him to see his director for details. Evidently, Tenten had changed it.

Gaara sighed and stood up so he could begin getting ready for bed. It had been a long weekend with the show closing, his siblings being in town, co-hosting the cast party, and heading to an audition; he certainly hadn’t gotten any amount of studying done. As Gaara changed his clothes and made sure he had everything in his bag set for the next day, his mind drifted back to his kiss with Lee. He sighed for what seemed like the thousandth time that night, staring at the spot on his bed where they kissed.

God, they kissed. Gaara could hardly believe it. It was a bit foggy, but still. They kissed. And he swore they even used tongue, oh god.

His mind flitted briefly to what might have happened under different circumstances. If he wasn’t drunk, maybe Lee would have initiated the kiss? He kissed Gaara back, so he must have liked it…? But at the same time, he was the first to pull away.

Gaara flopped onto his bed, attempting to shove the moment into the farthest reaches of his mind. He checked his phone again, but still had yet to hear from Lee. Gaara rolled onto his side and found Lee’s name in his contact list and began to scroll through all of their messages. He smiled sadly at their slew of exchanged texts: well wishes of getting home safely, sending pictures of things the other would like, and the occasional red heart.

The red heart… How Gaara had missed that. He desperately wanted to send one to Lee now and at least let him know that he was thinking about him. That he was concerned about him. That he still wanted to be friends with him. That he liked him.

Gaara’s thumb hovered over the keyboard for a moment. He hesitated.

Lee never usually kept his distance. Perhaps it was for the best if they didn’t contact each other for awhile. Maybe Lee needed to clear his head.

Gaara gripped his phone slightly tighter. Maybe their kiss was a mistake?

He clicked the “home” button on his phone, backing out of the messages and checked his calendar. There were only about six more weeks until finals started and, inevitably, summer break began. Soon, Gaara was going to have to go back to Suna and there would be a pretty substantial gap between the time he’d be able to see Lee again.

Despite everything, he still really felt he needed to confess his feelings. Perhaps now was not the best time since Lee was upset about their kiss, but Gaara’s feelings about him hadn’t changed. He loved Lee. They needed to clear the whole kissing ordeal and definitely come forward about what it meant to their friendship, but Gaara supposed it was better to do it sooner rather than later.

At least before finals week, he thought to himself with a grimace.

Gaara checked the theater revue email again and noticed the performance date was in just a month. That would give him some time to talk to Tenten, too… if she wasn’t so pissed off. He pawed around his bed to find the cord for his phone charger and hooked it up, sliding the phone underneath his pillow so he couldn’t see if it flashed him any new notifications. For good measure, Gaara rolled over and covered himself in his blankets to face away from it.

After nearly an hour of tossing and turning with his mind buzzing about, Gaara ended up relocating to the couch, since being on his bed was bringing up too many fresh memories.

Sleep didn’t come very easily that night.

--

“Late on the first day?”

Gaara froze midway into the rehearsal room. He glanced up where Tenten was seated, notebook in hand and a pencil slotted through one of the buns in her hair. Tenten had sent him a message during his applied calculus class requesting him in the rehearsal room at 6.30. Today marked their first rehearsal for the theater revue. She clicked her nails against the notebook impatiently. Gaara quickly glanced at the time on his phone. He was hardly a minute late.

“Uh, sorry,” he replied, dipping his chin in an apologetic gesture as he made his way toward her. He kept his distance after noticing the harsh crease between her eyebrows. Lee had been right about one thing: Tenten was definitely not an actress. If she was trying to hide just how pissed off she was, it wasn’t working. The expression on her face was clear as day.

“You can sit,” Tenten said, dragging one of the chairs near her with a startling groan against the floor and shoving it in Gaara’s direction.

“Um… thanks.” Gaara took a seat and glanced around the room, trying to ignore the way Tenten was staring daggers at him. The room was sparsely decorated aside from its black walls, black floors, mobile black curtain, and a few stacks of black chairs in the corner. When Gaara looked up, he noticed a small grid system rigged with some lights. “What is this--”

“It’s a black box theatre.”

“--place.”

Gaara nodded and the two continued staring at one another through the silence that followed.

“Well, no sense in reprimanding you.” Tenten shrugged and flipped through a few pages in her notebook, getting right down to business. She spoke flatly, which was completely unlike her. “Rehearsals will probably be under an hour once a week until the performance. I know you have no plans after six-ish, since we just finished working on the same show together, so they’ll probably happen around then, sometime in the middle of the week.” She looked up to meet Gaara’s eyes. “You’re a capable singer though, so I’m not really concerned.”

Gaara nodded, unsure of what to say.

“Any questions for me?” she asked.

Gaara shook his head, despite wanting to ask what crawled up her ass and died, but he decided it wasn’t worth it to further piss off the best friend of the man he was in love with.

“I’m sure you were wondering about your song?” she said in a manner that suggested she was surprised he hadn’t thought to ask about it.

“Oh. Right.”

“Well, we felt the one you auditioned with, while… cute, didn’t quite fit your vocal range. We wanted to expand upon that and give you something a little more complicated,” she said. “Is that alright with you?”

“Yes.”

“Good.” Tenten reached into her bag and pulled out a few pieces of paper and extended them out toward Gaara. Sheet music. There were three staves: one for the vocal melody and two for the piano accompaniment. “The new song is called ‘You Don’t Need to Love Me’ from If/Then. I’m sure you can see that. You can read.”

“Never read once in my life. Not sure how I made it into college,” Gaara said with a smirk. The joke went unappreciated by Tenten.

“Anyway,” she stressed, “the song is a little high, but I know you can hit some pretty high belts, so I have no concerns. Your off-book date should be by our third rehearsal.” Off Gaara’s questioning look, she answered his upcoming question. “You have about two weeks to learn the song. Should be enough.”

“Got it,” he said.

“Well, that should be about everything for today.” Tenten jotted something down in her notebook, then began to pack up her things as she summarized the meeting. “Go home, listen to the song, start learning it. Next week we’ll start singing, doing some blocking, and talking about performing the song. Any questions?”

Gaara glanced over at her as she stood up and slung her bag over her shoulder. She quickly glanced at her phone and Gaara swore he heard her mutter Lee’s name under her breath as she quickly typed something on her phone and slipped it into her pocket.

He wanted to ask her so many things, but none of them pertained to the rehearsal. How was Lee? Was he okay? What happened after the party? Was she mad at him?

“... No,” was all that came out instead.

“Alright, well, you’re free to go. I’ll see you the same time next week.” She put her chair away and made her way to the door of the black box, but stopped right in front of it.

Tenten took a moment while she stood there, repeatedly curling one hand into a fist and releasing it. She seemed to be thinking something over. Gaara couldn’t see her face, but he was pretty sure she could feel him watching her. With a graceful pivot, reflective of the skilled dancer that she was, Tenten turned to Gaara and folded her arms across her chest.

“By the way? Lee could never hate you for breaking his heart.” She paused. Her eyes narrowed dangerously. “But I can.”

And with that, she was off.

--

The following days were excruciatingly frustrating for Gaara. Everything was now a confusing mess and, in what seemed like an instant, the trio of dancers he was desperately trying to get close to seemed to outright hate him. Well, Tenten and Lee for sure. With Neji it was hard to tell--he gave off the impression that he hated everyone.

With what seemed like a flimsy rehearsal schedule compared to what was just as strenuous as the dance show, Gaara spent his most of his newly acquired free time getting bogged down in the milieu of classes and textbooks. At this point, he couldn’t care less what he was supposed to be reading or learning about, as long as school posed as some sort of distraction from the sudden drop in his social life. He hadn’t even really seen Naruto, aside from the one class they shared together. That is, on the off chance Naruto actually showed up. He had recently been seeking out Kakashi, trying to find out about the Theater department’s upcoming productions for the next year. It was less of Naruto trying to be an overachiever and more of him being a nosy busybody. But the longer it persisted, the more Kakashi was mysteriously needed for several meetings, which Gaara silently sympathized with.

Obviously life’s lack of Naruto wasn’t the problem. Sometimes it was a blessing in disguise, given his unkindly need to insert himself into everything. Luckily, as far as he knew, Naruto hadn’t heard about the cast party debacle, which Gaara had been silently thankful for. He really could stand not to have his roommate trying to talk to Lee or Tenten himself. Gaara didn’t consider himself an expert on relationships, but he was pretty sure having someone else try to patch up what had happened between him and Lee was at the bottom of the list of things Naruto should be doing.

Most days lately had been spent attempting to learn the song Tenten assigned him for the theater revue. Unfortunately some of the lyrics hit a little too close to home and Gaara needed to take a few minutes to settle the unsuspecting weight in his chest before he could make himself listen to it again. But once he had managed to get used to it, he at least felt a connection to the song. A sort of unmarked territory of now dealing with his unrequited feelings for Lee. It was comforting in a way. Part of Gaara hoped he could sing his heart out for the performance and look over to see Lee sitting there, expecting the two of them to have some sort of unspoken moment of understanding where suddenly the song becomes so relevant that Lee just knows. But another, much sadder part of Gaara hoped that he would sing to his fullest and scan the audience, where Lee was nowhere to be seen.

The latter seemed much more likely.

Things didn't get much better after that.

--

Gaara sat up and finally decided to get out of his room for a brief study break nearly one week after The Incident. He went through his second rehearsal with Tenten, which seemed to be riddled with unspoken tension.

They managed to work through the song to the best of their ability, but she seemed to mostly be looking for inconsistencies in intonation rather than emotional clarity. That, Gaara could handle. She had left him with a "sounds great" before dismissing him and immediately answering a phone call. She wouldn't say more than the words “hold on” to the other person until she was well out of earshot, but Gaara was almost certain the person on the other end was sobbing.

He was almost certain the person on the other end was Lee.

Gaara mused as he rummaged through the refrigerator, stewing around his inability to just get over himself and talk to Lee. Why did that suddenly seem so hard? They were friends. How hard could it be to tell your friend, "Hey, sorry I got drunk and made out with you at that wild party. Mind if we just move past this?" They were able to talk about a hell of a lot more. Why was this suddenly exempt?

"Hey."

Startled, Gaara nearly bumped his head as he ducked out of the refrigerator. Naruto snickered as he leaned against the open door.

"What's up? Don't think you can hide from me just 'cause we're not stage managers anymore," Naruto grinned. He ruffled Gaara's hair. It was probably supposed to be friendly and affectionate, but Gaara found the gesture kind of annoying.

"I'm not hiding," he grumbled, lazily swatting Naruto’s hand away.

"You sure?"

"Yes."

Gaara forcefully tore the door out from where Naruto was resting his arms, effectively throwing him off-balance. A few jars rattled as he stormed out of the kitchen.

"Dude, what the fuck?!" Naruto started following him down the hall.

"Leave me alone."

Gaara slammed his door before Naruto could get very far. He locked it for good measure. Footsteps stopped outside his door and there was a hesitant scrape of fingernails against the wood before Naruto eventually conceded. Usually he wouldn't stop pestering Gaara until he finally opened up about his feelings, so he must have known this was more serious.

Maybe they could…?

Gaara shook his head. He'd bothered Naruto enough about his problems concerning Lee. Another time.

He returned to studying and blocked out the rest of his Lee-related thoughts. Which was easier said than done.

--

When Monday rolled around, Gaara found himself wandering around downtown. He had planned to meet up with Tenten for rehearsal, but she rescheduled for another day, which ended up being a good thing. Gaara still had a few finicky sections of the song he needed to work out before it was completely committed to memory.

He kicked around at some stray leaves on the sidewalk, wandering aimlessly until it sounded like music was playing nearby--an orchestral piece playing a familiar song Gaara couldn't quite place.

Gaara looked up and realized this place looked vaguely familiar. A rush of all-too-recent memories filled his head at once and nearly made him dizzy. He stared straight forward as he tried to refocus and caught a glimpse through glass windows of a dance studio. Gai’s dance studio.

There was Lee.

Gaara suddenly remembered--Lee had just started teaching. And he said nothing to him! How could he have been so wrapped up in his own pity? Lee had been so happy about finally being able to teach and Gaara didn’t even bother to wish him well.

He let out a deep sigh, not realizing he had been holding his breath. Inside and unaware, Lee flitted between the children who stood lined up at the barre in matching black dance attire, suitable for beginning ballet. Occasionally he would kneel down to correct their positions and start gesticulating wildly as he grinned at them, no doubt offering words of encouragement.

He looked… happy.

Of course he did. This was dance. This was something Lee was familiar with--something he'd found a home in. Who cared if Lee didn't want to see him ever again? As long as he was happy, that was enough.

Gaara had been staring too long. Surely someone was going to notice the creepy college-aged weirdo staring into the dance studio. But it was strange. As much as he tried, he couldn’t will his legs to move.

"Looking for someone?"

Well, a spooky, familiar voice was one way.

Gaara turned around at the sound and found himself face to face with none other than Neji.

"Oh… hey."

"It's been awhile," Neji said, a tote bag slung over his shoulder. Half of his hair was up in a bun and the rest spilled over his unoccupied shoulder in loose waves. He wore fairly casual workout clothes and a massive pair of sunglasses that gave him the impression of a celebrity that was trying to “blend in.”

"Yeah, I suppose it has," Gaara said after a while.

"Looking for Lee?" he asked, getting straight to the point.

Gaara considered taking a glance back at the dance studio, but that would have made lying to Neji infinitely harder.

"... No."

Neji sighed. He jerked his chin to the side, indicating he wanted Gaara to follow him, and took a few quick steps forward. But Gaara's feet stayed planted on the ground.

Neji stopped and turned around. He gave another heaving sigh and looked at Gaara over the top of his sunglasses.

"You coming or what? I don't have all day and I'd rather not see the two of you gaze sadly at each other once he finally realizes you're staring."

Gaara took off like a rocket.

--

Within just a few minutes of walking in silence, Gaara and Neji ended up sitting on a bench together far from the dance studio just at the edge of town. They sat quietly while Neji seemed to be thinking to himself.

Neji didn't give off the vibe of someone who was a very good conversation starter and, to be fair, neither did Gaara. But if Gaara decided to be the more proactive of the two, maybe he could figure out everything that went down at the cast party. Neji and Lee arrived together, surely they must have left together, too. All Gaara needed to do was say something. Just one word. He and Neji had talked before. That and he vaguely remembered Neji babysitting him while he was drunk.

Just say something, he thought. Anything. A single word.

Why was communicating so hard?

"You look like your eyes are gonna bust right out of your skull."

Gaara's head whipped around so fast, a few longer strands of red hair slapped him in the face. Neji snorted.

"Relax," Neji said. It was probably meant to calm Gaara down, but the word came out like acid. Gaara scrunched up his brow in response.

He turned his head back toward the street and shoved his hands under his thighs, bouncing his leg nervously through the following silence.

"Lee's not mad at you."

Gaara froze. Then his head whipped around again.

"... What?"

"He's not mad. Hurt. Upset. Maybe a little frustrated, but he's not mad." Neji rolled his eyes at Gaara’s presumably owlish expression. "Don't gawk at me, I know you kissed. You think Tenten and I didn't get the whole scoop?"

Well, that was kind of embarrassing. But what did Gaara expect? Lee probably told the two of them everything.

Neji’s sunglasses started slipping down his nose, so he pushed them up on top of his head. Gaara followed the movement of his hand and happened to catch a patch of darkened skin on Neji's forehead, only noticeable at an arm's length. Probably a birthmark.

"Tenten's pissed though."

Well, that went without saying.

"So…" Gaara paused, unsure of what exactly he wanted to ask Neji. He had so many questions, he didn't even know where to begin. He met Neji's stare. "Does Lee…? I heard he went home crying. After I got sick. Is he… Did I…”

What the hell was he trying to say?

"I guess it was something you said?" He waved a dismissive hand. "I barely remember. Didn't really seem like that big a deal to me."

"Oh."

"But you should talk to him."

Neji wouldn't meet Gaara's gaze. He looked a bit embarrassed to even be asking Gaara such a thing about… feelings. How crude.

"I know you like him," he added reluctantly. "He's, uh. Very nice… We've been trying to set you up for weeks."

We?

"Who's 'we'?" Gaara asked, narrowing his eyes. He didn’t intend for the look to be dangerous, but it probably came across that way. Not that it would have had a particularly astounding effect on someone whose neutral expression rivaled Gaara’s in terms of deadliness.

"Who do you think? Me, Tenten, your damn roommate--is he still trying to get at Hinata?"

"She's fine--what do you mean, 'set us up'?" Gaara cut in. "You don't mean… you know that I like Lee?"

Neji rolled his eyes so hard, Gaara thought they were about to fall out of his head.

"Do you think we're fucking stupid? Everyone knows you like Lee. Except for him apparently. Even Naruto knows and he's the dumbest bitch in town!" Neji nearly shouted. He shook his head slightly. "You two literally flirted backstage and held hands every single day. What were we supposed to think?"

Gaara considered pointing out that Lee held hands with a lot of people, but Neji caught the look before Gaara could say anything.

"Just talk to him. I'm begging you." Neji paused and a rare, gentle tone made its way into his voice. "Look, Lee is one of the most forward people I know. Honestly, it's a blessing and a curse... But he wants to give you space. If you really like him, you're gonna have to approach him first."

Gaara nodded. The two of them sat in another brief silence until Neji slapped his hands to his thighs as stood up.

"Anyway. I'd better go," he said, wiping the back of his workout pants. "I didn't do the dishes and if Tenten gets there before me, I’ll never hear the end of it. Such is life. See ya 'round."

"Let's hope," Gaara said softly. The two waved a silent goodbye to one another and Neji left him alone on the bench.

He certainly had a lot to think about.

--

The next few days passed in a blur and in all honesty, they were all sort of blending together. Gaara hardly stopped to eat anything, sleep started to become a mystery, and he ended up getting so absorbed in school so he could just finish up the semester and finally go home where he would at least have the comfort of being around his siblings. Talking to Neji had helped a little, but being around Naruto was hard. As someone who knew all the goings-on in the department, Naruto could often be heard through the walls, talking on the phone about next year’s upcoming production season and suddenly even the words “theater” and “dance” started to hurt.

But he knew he needed to talk to Lee on his own. He just needed to find a way, damn it. Texting seemed like a cop-out and waiting outside of Gai’s dance studio seemed about three degrees away from stalking, so Gaara just hoped he would happen to run into Lee on campus or something.

Of course, the two of them didn’t have any overlapping classes, so what was Gaara to do but wait?

And wait.

And wait.

--

Then Thursday evening came by. Gaara let out a colossal sigh before swinging the door open to the black box theater where Tenten was waiting for him. It was their third rehearsal together. Just one more rehearsal, a couple days of tech, and then they would do the performance.

It had been a mere nineteen days since Gaara had spoken to Lee. Of course he’d been counting. He hoped Lee would eventually come talk to him on his own, but Neji was right. Lee appeared to be waiting. And Gaara wasn’t sure how long he could hold out. Lee seemed like the time of person with unmatched determination who could wait essentially forever, but Kankuro’s words began to echo in Gaara’s mind, reminding him that Lee would inevitably get sick of waiting and move on.

The thought of Lee with another person put a deep ache in Gaara’s heart that could hardly be described. But he supposed it was his own fault. It’s not like Lee should have been willing to respond to his every beck and call, especially when Gaara was being as moody as he was now.

Well, “moody” wasn’t really the way to describe it. Somewhere more in the realm of “emotionally wartorn over the loss of his close friend and first crush.” And it didn’t do much to quell the thought that he was becoming grossly obsessed with Lee, since he constantly thought about him, always wondered where he was, and repeatedly thought he had done something horribly, outlandishly wrong at the cast party. Gaara knew somewhere in his mind that he was just concerned for Lee’s general well-being. But there was still that feeling that he was going to fuck it up all over again.

“All memorized?” Tenten asked, sounding significantly kinder than the last two times they met up.

“I believe so,” he answered simply.

“Good. Today we’re gonna talk about emotional tactics for you. ‘Acting the song,’ so to speak,” she said, disappearing behind the black curtain in the room. When she reappeared, she rolled out a fairly small upright piano that was likely used for rehearsal purposes such as these. “Unfortunately I can’t play this thing very well or else I’d accompany you. I just know scales, so we'll do some warm-ups and then we’ll work with a track. Choji usually does our accompaniment for these things, but he couldn’t be here today.”

Gaara mouthed a silent “ah” in understanding.

Tenten swiped the bench from where it had been resting atop the piano, flipping it over expertly and setting it down on the ground quietly. She sat down and played a couple of chords just before turning back.

“You’ve met Choji, right?” she said as a bit of an afterthought.

“Yeah, we met at the... cast… party…” Gaara said.

A tense silence washed over both of them and the two made uncomfortable eye contact, both suddenly hyperaware of the unspoken subject that had wormed its way between them over the last two and a half weeks. Gaara cleared his throat. Tenten fixed her hair unnecessarily.

“Right, so. Um… Let’s do some warm-ups!” she blurted out, just a little too loud.

Gaara nodded in understanding as Tenten hit middle C. They ran through a small series of vocal warm-ups, both opting to forget about the mention of the cast party. When they finished up, Tenten found the track for Gaara to sing along to, then set her phone on top of the piano softly as the opening notes began.

In all honesty, singing the song while she watched him was a bit awkward, but Gaara did his best not to feel particularly self-conscious. By now, she’d heard him sing quite a few times, but there was something strange about having to be in front of just one person that was infinitely weirder than performing in front of an audience. Gaara had learned that the first time Naruto heard him sing--he thought he was alone, but Naruto had been suspiciously quiet and happened to hear him through the walls. Although it was embarrassing and Gaara was reassured on several occasions that it was okay to sing in the house while his roommate was around, he did it sparingly because there was just something strange about letting loose with a particular skill he had that felt very personal to him.

Gaara managed to get through the song without error, and by the end of it, Tenten looked vaguely impressed.

“Okay. Nicely done,” she clapped a couple of times before getting right back to work, consulting the notebook she usually used for their rehearsals. “So, before you go home, I’m gonna give you a couple things to think about.” She eyed him carefully. “Have you acted before?”

“Nope,” Gaara said, a touch sardonically.

“We’ll keep it simple then,” she snorted.

Gaara felt some small amount of tension leave him, now that she was no longer giving him the cold shoulder. But he wasn’t going to call attention to it. Tenten looked toward the front lights in thought, then back to Gaara.

“Alright, so first, I’m gonna have you think of an ‘other,’ or y’know, a person you’re theoretically singing to. Doesn’t have to be a real person, but it should be something you can visualize,” she said.

Well, the song was about romantic feelings toward another guy and Gaara had only felt that way about one particular person, so obviously it had to be Lee. He looked to Tenten with uncertainty.

“You don’t have to tell me who your ‘other’ is, or even decide right now, it’s more of something I want you to think about to make the song a little bit stronger,” she said, likely noticing the slight panic in his eyes.

“Okay,” he said. Telling her it was Lee would probably make her mad for reasons Gaara was still unsure of. But they were finally getting along again, so perhaps it was best to keep it that way.

“Next, I want you to find where you think the climax of your song is and really just let the emotional part out right there. Like, make that the strongest part, sing your ass off, do one of those run things you do, whatever you need to do. Just make it obvious.”

“Right.”

“And then…” Tenten placed a finger to her chin, then popped her fist into her other hand as she struck another idea. “Ah! The end goal. So, your song is about how you feel completely inadequate in this guy’s life, right? And you really just want to be like, his number one. So, what does your character want out of all this?”

Gaara stared at her for a moment too long. It took awhile for him to realize this question was not rhetorical.

“Oh! Um… I suppose I just want him to…” he averted his gaze and looked toward the floor.

What did he want from Lee? He wanted Lee to talk to him again, sure, but what would they even say? Would they still be friends? It seemed highly unlikely that Lee would go into a wild, flowery declaration of how much he had been holding his love back from Gaara and how glad he was that now they could live out the last of their college days in enamored, passionate, youthful displays of affection. But that seemed pretty unlikely. So, what did Gaara want? Sure, he wanted them to talk, but what did he want to say? What did he expect Lee to do?

“... to like me back,” Gaara said softly.

Tenten nodded. “Can you put that into an action? Something... physical he could do that might convey that?”

“I want him to kiss me,” Gaara managed to say in a voice that sounded much different than his own.

“... Good.”

Just then, Tenten and Gaara heard the sound of the door opening and whipped their heads around to see who opened it.

“Oh, gosh, sorry--I forgot you were still in rehearsal.”

Gaara’s eyes widened in surprise as he stood there, completely speechless, staring straight ahead at the last person he expected to walk through that door.

“That’s okay, Lee,” Tenten said. She glanced at Gaara quickly, then picked up her phone to check the time. “I think we’re about done here--” she turned to Gaara and her eyebrows swooped up in concern, “Sorry, are you cool to go? I didn’t realize I overlapped some plans.”

Once Gaara’s brain managed to function properly again, he took his eyes off of Lee and gave Tenten a half-smile. “That’s fine.”

“Cool. Thanks.”

Lee came over to help Tenten grab her things and return the piano to its spot behind the curtain while Gaara watched. He offered Gaara the tiniest smile in a silent greeting, but there remained an unspoken hurt behind his eyes.

Gaara stood there awestruck, unmoving, and very obviously staring at Lee. Lee and Tenten spoke softly while she packed up her things and slung her bag over one shoulder. She backed away from Lee and grinned, holding the bag farther away from him as he reached out. He must have offered to carry it for her.

It took Gaara a moment of brushing off the initial shock of just seeing Lee to realize something crucial. When he finally noticed, it broke his heart just a little more.

Lee was wearing his green jacket. The one he let Gaara borrow during the run of the dance show. Gaara spent all that time searching for it and freaking out over the fact that he possibly lost it. But it appeared Lee just took it back.

They were halfway to the door when Gaara managed to take a step forward.

"Lee--"

The two of them turned around.

"... can I talk to you?" Gaara asked. "Alone," he added unnecessarily.

He and Tenten exchanged glances and a few silent microexpressions that only close friends could decipher. He turned back to Gaara and nodded.

"Of course."

"I'll be in the workroom," Tenten informed him. She squeezed his forearm affectionately before she turned to leave. She didn't spare a second glance, but the room stayed eerily silent until the door was shut and her footsteps were inaudible.

"... Hi," Gaara started.

Not a great start, but it was something.

"Hi," Lee said back, shoving his hands into his pockets.

"It's been awhile."

"It has."

"Lee, I… What I did was uncalled for. I didn't even think to ask… I know being drunk isn't an excuse, but. I just. I'm sorry," Gaara said.

It came out a lot less intelligibly than he would have liked, but at least he apologized. That seemed like a win in his book. Although he wasn’t quite sure what he was apologizing for. The kiss? The thing he didn’t remember saying? It seemed stupid to apologize for something when he didn’t even know what it was.

Lee shook his head. "What happened was fine, it was… You said…” He sighed. “I just felt like maybe you would rather we not see each oth--"

"Lee, of course I want to see you--"

"Do you?" Lee's voice wavered. His eyes were starting to redden and Gaara could see a sheen of tears forming at the corners. "You told me I make you so nervous you start shaking, Gaara, how was I supposed to feel?"

Gaara's mouth opened around a croak. He wasn't sure what to say.

"I don't know," Gaara mumbled.

Lee took a steadying breath and blinked away the oncoming tears. "Sorry, I just… Sorry. It was my fault you got drunk at the party."

"You don't have to apologize for that." Gaara took a hesitant step toward him. "I drank before you got there. Me being drunk had nothing to do with you."

"Then why--" Lee stopped himself, then ran a hand through his silky hair. "I made you play that game and then you got caught up in--"

"Lee, you didn't make me do anything!" Lee's eyes widened slightly and Gaara softened his voice. "You didn't. I kept drinking and I sort of lost control. I was… really nervous at the party."

"Because of me," Lee added.

"No--Lee!"

They stared at one another in confusion and a little bit of disbelief. Perhaps there was a little more than miscommunication between them.

"I should not have kissed you," Lee said suddenly.

"What?"

If there was one thing Gaara knew, it was that he definitely kissed Lee first. Sure, maybe Lee kissed him back, but Gaara definitely initiated it. He thought he should make that explicitly clear.

"Lee, I kissed you first! We just got caught up in the moment, it was fine, we just--"

"Well, I was the reason you got so drunk at the party!” Lee cut in, “I went with you alone into your room! I did nothing to stop you from kissing me, and I kissed you back even though I know I should not have done that!”

“Lee, I still--”

“I felt like I took advantage of you!" he shouted. A few tears slid down his cheeks.

Oh…

"You didn't,” Gaara said softly.

Gaara supposed he understood where Lee was coming from. If things had gone too far…

Well, he didn't want to think about that. Lee made the right call to stop things when he did. But Gaara wanted to reassure Lee that the kiss was completely, one hundred percent initiated by him and despite the fact that he was drunk, it was definitely intentional.

But how was he supposed to tell someone he felt so strongly about that he fully intended to kiss him and definitely wanted to do it again? Repeatedly? And preferably with the "boyfriend" title attached?

He supposed there was no time like the present…

But he also felt that if he uttered the words "I would like to kiss you again," he would surely curl up and die. And this was neither the time or place.

Instead his eyes dropped down to stare at green fabric and he went with, "Why did you take your jacket back?"

Sure, just rub salt in the wound, no big deal.

Lee's hand instinctively came up to grasp at one of his sleeves. He rubbed his elbow nervously as if Gaara had caught him doing something he wasn't supposed to.

"I was upset," he answered.

Gaara waited for him to continue.

"You said you would not have kissed me if you were sober. And that… hurt my feelings," Lee mumbled, which was highly uncharacteristic of him.

Well, of course he couldn’t have kissed Lee if he was sober, he wouldn’t have had the courage to do it.

"You know that's not what I meant."

Lee looked up, but he didn't ask Gaara to clarify. His eyes trailed back down to the floor. "I assumed you did not want to see me because you said being around me made you nervous. And I felt like I did something to make that feeling stronger. Then you got sick and I… I took it back because… it was mine."

It came out a bit fragmented and Lee didn't seem to know exactly how to articulate his feelings. His eyebrows came together in frustration, likely upset with himself that he couldn't come up with a better explanation.

"I do want to see you," Gaara said again, just in case it wasn't clear the first time. "I missed you."

Lee blinked twice. "Why?"

"I still want to be friends with you, Lee. I miss spending time with you," he clarified. A tiny sigh slipped out. “Look, I was drunk and things got a little weird, but look! I’m okay! We just kissed, nothing happened. I said you made me nervous because--”

Oh, fuck no, now is not the time.

“--because people. Make me nervous,” Gaara concluded, incomprehensibly. He crossed his arms uncomfortably. “I was drunk. I didn’t know what I was saying.”

Lee didn’t look very convinced.

Gaara sagged his shoulders.“Can we just agree to forget about what happened and go back to the way things were? Please?”

A slightly sad look flitted across Lee's face. For someone whose emotions were usually written on his face, Lee's expression was almost unreadable. In spite of that, he nodded softly and gave a weak smile.

"Of course."

Gaara took a hesitant step forward, but stopped abruptly. He wanted to comfort Lee, but he wasn't sure if he was going about it the right way.

"... Can I hug you?"

Lee's smile widened by a fraction and he repeated, "Of course."

They walked toward each other timidly, slowly moving to close the space between them. Gaara wrapped his arms around Lee's waist just as Lee folded his arms across Gaara's back. Both held each other softly, slightly hesitating from squeezing the other as tightly as they normally might. After a few moments, Gaara turned his head to rest his cheek against Lee's shoulder and he felt a warmth blossom in his chest, allowing all the stress he'd felt since the cast party to dissipate. Just being held like this was almost too overwhelming, and Gaara was sure he was going to cry again, especially when Lee used his thumb to trace a comforting arc across his spine.

I love you, Gaara thought. But he didn't voice it aloud.

He stayed wrapped in the embrace and buried his face deeper into Lee's shoulder, hoping the comfort he felt from the touch would prevent him from voicing his thoughts and further complicating the relationship he had with his friend.

Gaara had been waiting to say those words to someone for twenty years. What was the harm in waiting a little more?

Chapter Text

“Hey, dude, can you come with me to the theater building before we go to class? We have a couple minutes.”

Gaara turned towards Naruto as they drove onto the university’s main street, nearing the parking lot closest to the theater. He nodded.

The two blasted Naruto's choice of songs as they headed to campus, the music too loud for more than a couple of words to pass between them, which Gaara was silently thankful for. Since the whole situation with Lee had blown over, Gaara had been sufficiently less moody and if Naruto had known a single shred of what had been going on between him and Lee, he certainly hadn’t let on about it. Knowing that he was involved in Operation: Get Gaara and Lee Together (as Gaara had aptly named it in his head), he must have been at least a little bit curious about the sudden disappearance of Lee. Had Neji and Tenten even mentioned anything to him?

Gaara figured it was best not to ask. Naruto seemed happy now, dancing in his seat, singing to himself as they parked.

Gaara turned the car off and hopped out so he could grab his things from the back seat. The two made their way through the back doors of the building and headed down the hall toward the main theater workroom, where Naruto punched in an access code.

“Heeeeyy!!” he shouted as he and Gaara pushed their way inside.

A cluster of theater students circled around Sakura’s phone looked up and greeted them as they shut the door. At Sakura’s beckoning arm, Naruto bolted over to see what was up, leaving Gaara to awkwardly park himself by the door. He knew most of the students in the room, so he wasn’t sure why he was being so antisocial, but he stayed put.

He heard a few snippets of overlapping conversations and picked up something about waiting on Kakashi to send an email to the department about the new production season. That made sense. Naruto had been ranting about it ever since the dance show ended.

Gaara was busy looking at a spread of photos hanging on the walls of various theater students, complete with design concepts, ground plans, and various other projects when he heard footsteps approaching. He sidestepped so whoever was coming could get by, until the steps stopped right next to him.

"Hey, you!” It was Ino.

Gaara looked around to make sure she was, in fact, speaking to him.

“Yes, you!” She slung an arm around his shoulder and pulled him close, too close--why was everyone in this department so clingy? Her shaved hair had grown a bit in the last couple of weeks. She grinned at him. “How’s it going? Been awhile since I last saw you--how’s loverboy? He’s so busy now, I hardly see him.”

“Fine,” was all he said.

“You and I should hang out,” she said, releasing him from her hold and smoothing out his rumpled collar.

Hang out? Did that mean they were friends?

“... Okay,” he said. He looked toward the door, then back to Ino, gesturing vaguely toward her hair. "This is new."

"Oh! Yes! Do you like it?" Ino ran a hand across her head. "It was kind of impulsive, but I've been wanting to cut it forever. You know how directors can be about hair."

Gaara stared at her as she continued fussing with the collar of his flannel. "I don't."

She raised an eyebrow and took her hand away to give it a dismissive wave just as the cluster in the back of the room burst into uproarious laughter. Both turned to see what was up, then Ino continued once she realized Naruto and Kiba were just telling wild stories.

"We can't change our hair during the course of a performance for consistency, so sometimes we go apeshit after closing night," she explained. "Sakura and I always do it!"

At the mention of Sakura's name, Gaara looked to the other side of the room. She chatted excitedly, turning her head to add something to Naruto's story, but was laughing too hard to get it out. Her hair was cropped short in the back, separated from her bangs with a red ribbon.

"It's a bit of a competitive thing. We were placing bets on who could go the shortest at the cast party and I told Naruto to go find me a razor." She pretended to dust off her shoulder. "Yours truly won that round."

What a weird tradition…

"It looks nice," Gaara told her.

"Thank you!" She beamed briefly, then deflated a little. "Oh, shoot, you got sick before all that, huh? You doing okay?"

“It’s up!” Sakura shouted. The group crowded as close as they possibly could to read the email off of her phone.

Ino gasped and led Gaara over to the group. “Come on, let's go see the new season! You're gonna do another show, right?"

Gaara blinked. “I hadn’t really thought about it, but… maybe.”

Ino grinned and guided him toward the rest of the group. “Well, if you wanna SM or something, talk to Kakashi as soon as you can! I think they’re having a stage management class next semester, too, so you should definitely register.”

“... Maybe I will,” Gaara said.

Soon enough, the room was full of shrieking theater students, talking about what shows they were each planning to audition for and which projects they wanted to take on for each one. Gaara gave a small half-smirk at the sense of community in the room and how everyone seemed beyond excited to spend even more time together in the coming year.

The sound of the outdoor access code being punched in provided a brief warning before the door was blasted open.

“Are you seeing this shit?!” Tenten shouted, holding her phone open, the email splayed across the screen. Lee and Neji followed behind her and Lee took care in assuring the door hadn’t been sufficiently damaged. “A fall and spring dance concert?!”

“I know!” Sakura shouted, rushing over to the trio.

“Of course they wouldn’t start doing this until now,” Neji remarked under his breath with a prominent roll of his eyes.

“Can you be happy for once?” Tenten said with an elbow to his ribs. “At least we get to do it.”

Gaara looked past the group, making eye contact with Lee, who smiled back at him shyly.

"I'm seriously gonna cry if dance and play rehearsals conflict. Like, I will fight Kakashi myself," Sakura said.

She and Tenten continued talking about their prospective plans. Neji followed suit, casting a glance at Gaara before flicking his eyes in Lee's direction and murmuring "all yours" as he made his way toward his other friend.

Gaara shoved his hands in his pockets and made his way over to Lee.

"Hey."

"Hi," Lee said, smiling good-naturedly. They stood a good distance apart, neither initiating a hug with the other. Not even a full day had passed since they had finally begun to speak to one another again, much less share the intimate hug they had.

"So, two dance shows, huh?" Gaara started. "Are you excited?"

"Absolutely!" Lee grinned. He cupped a hand over his mouth and mock-whispered, "Gai-sensei says there is a possibility of auditioning for a solo piece." He bounced in place excitedly.

Gaara's expression softened. "That sounds fantastic. You should definitely do it."

"I will! It may be hard since I have to work on my senior thesis at the same time, but I am excited nonetheless!"

Right… Lee was expecting to graduate soon. Gaara's heart twisted at the thought.

"I'm really happy for you," Gaara said softly.

Lee grinned back.

"Gaara! We gotta split!" Naruto shouted as he made his way over. "Oh, hey Lee!"

Once Naruto got close enough, he greeted Lee with a brief sideways hug, which made Gaara furious. Why couldn't initiating contact with Lee be that easy for him? Naruto opened the door, quickly checking his phone and typing away.

"Well, we have class, so." Gaara shrugged.

"Oh, very cool." Lee cleared his throat awkwardly.

Naruto held the door open with his foot as he waited for them. Suddenly it felt like everyone in the room was watching.

"I'll see you, then," Gaara said, stupidly reaching for a handshake just as Lee opened his arms.

When did they ever say goodbye with a handshake… Gaara felt like the world's biggest dumbass, rivaled only by Naruto.

"Oh, sorry, I--"

They switched tactics, Lee going for the handshake and Gaara going for the hug. Both flushed and eventually Lee settled on giving him a pat on the upper arm with a strained smile.

"Bye," they said over one another.

Gaara walked out of the room as fast as he could, leaving Naruto to collapse on the floor with laughter the second the door shut. His face continued to redden over that spectacularly awkward exchange and Naruto eventually caught up.

"Dude, what the fuck was that?!"

"Shut up," Gaara mumbled, pushing the doors open and making his way down the steps.

Naruto laughed the whole way there.

--

After what he wished had been a stress-free weekend, Gaara was back in rehearsals. He and Lee still dodged each other a bit, exchanging a mere couple of words, but refused to open up an honest conversation. Things were weird, but it was better than outright avoiding each other like they had been.

"Last rehearsal, how we feeling?" Tenten asked as she rolled the piano out from behind the curtain.

Gaara gave a slight shrug. "Can't complain."

Tenten nodded as she settled on the piano bench, striking a couple of chords in quick succession before turning back to Gaara, assuring he was ready to begin.

They fell into a nice rhythm as they ran through scales and various belting warm-ups. Rehearsal carried on just the same. Tenten continued giving pointers and corrections as they made their way through the song and Gaara was glad to feel her softening up to him once again. Perhaps Lee had told her the two of them managed to make up for the most part. That was good. If anything, Gaara just hoped he could stay friends with Lee and, by association, Tenten and Neji. Having friends in college was nice, even if it meant they were graduating in a year.

… Right.

After they ran through the song a couple of times, Tenten patted the piano bench and scooted over. Gaara made his way toward her and sat down.

"So," she began, "tonight we'll send out the tech schedule and make sure we've got everything for the performance."

"Sounds good."

"You're doing great." She nudged him with her shoulder. "The audience is gonna love it."

"... Thanks."

The two fell into a short silence, both staring straight ahead, presumably pondering what they wanted to say to each other. Gaara glanced down at the floor, wondering if he had any additional questions about the song or the performance. He checked his phone for the time and flinched when Tenten suddenly spoke.

"I'm sorry," she said.

Gaara pocketed the device. "What?"

"I'm sorry," she repeated. "I haven't been very nice to you lately. And I wanted to apologize for acting out for no reason."

"You're fine," Gaara said.

He wasn't sure what else to say. Sure, it was a relief that she no longer seemed three seconds away from slitting his throat, but it still felt like this was coming out of nowhere.

"Well, I was pretty mad. But you made a mistake and I didn't even bother to consider how you felt. I owe you better than that. You're still my friend."

He blinked. "... I am?"

A laugh slipped out and Tenten placed a hand on Gaara's shoulder. "Of course you are! We invited you to that karaoke dinner, didn't we? You wrote us those little notes after the dance show. We watched you while you were drunk. And look! Now you're here!"

The corners of his lips quirked. "I guess you're right… Thanks."

She hummed as she pulled her arm back, setting her hands in her lap. They fell into a much more comfortable silence, accompanied by Tenten swinging her legs and making light tap rhythms against the floor. With one final scuff of her heel, she turned to Gaara again. It took her a moment to speak.

"Can I ask you something?"

"... Sure."

"Do you really like Lee?" she asked.

It wasn't totally right to say Gaara was surprised by the question. He'd definitely doubted his feelings a lot at the beginning, but after he realized just how he felt, it seemed crazy to deny it now. Especially when he was in this deep.

Lee had changed so much for Gaara from the second they met. He introduced Gaara to dance. He was the reason Gaara was the ASM for the dance show in the first place. He was the reason Gaara decided to start singing again. He was the reason Gaara was suddenly so interested in maintaining his involvement with theater. While he did enjoy what theater had to offer, a huge portion of that enjoyment stemmed from Lee's presence.

"Yes," he said. And this time, he really believed it.

Tenten was quiet for a few seconds.

"Are you gonna tell him?"

Gaara stared down at the floor. His voice rasped in his throat when he spoke. "I don't know."

He felt Tenten rest her head on his shoulder. Her voice was much closer now. "You should."

Gaara nodded to himself and let out a shaky sigh as he rested his head on top of hers. His cheek squished one of the buns in her hair, but she didn't seem to mind.

Rehearsal was long over, but they continued to sit there in silence.

--

A few days later, Gaara found himself in the black box theater for the first night of tech rehearsal. Several adjustments had been made to the space, lights were being tested, and the pre-show chaos Gaara had been missing was back. The sight alone made him smile.

"Hey, heyyy!" Naruto shouted over the group once all the revue performers had settled into the audience seats. He stood onstage in his black tech clothes with Ino at his side.

Shikamaru and Choji started booing him from their seats. Sakura was quick to join them.

"Oh, real fuckin' funny guys," he said. They laughed together and Naruto jumped right back into it. "Alright, tech night one! Whoo!"

The group applauded almost as if on cue. Gaara joined in a bit late, but managed to get a few claps in.

"Now, we want this shit to move as fast as possible, so let's all respect the stage manager," he said, gesturing to himself.

Shikamaru shouted from the lightboard, "Fuck the stage manager!"

"Who hasn't?!" Choji quipped next to him. They laughed even harder.

Ino tossed a glare their way. "Does everything have to be a 'bit' with you two?"

There was a pause before she realized she'd unfortunately given them a set-up.

"Just a bit," Shikamaru said suavely.

Naruto stifled a laugh. "Alright, let's cool the improv for a minute." He gestured to Ino. "Anyway, this is Ino. She's gonna be your ASM, so listen to what she says."

"That includes you two morons," she said to Shikamaru and Choji. They made hearts with their hands and smiled at her.

Naruto began again, "We're gonna go around the room and introduce ourselves and then we're gonna give out the show order. There's a list hanging up in the back in case you forget, but that's where you guys can hang out when the show is going on. For tonight though, just hang out in the audience so you all know what's going on."

"Thank you," a few cast members replied.

"Alright, I'll start," he said. "I'm Naruto and I'm the stage manager."

Once everyone had introduced themselves and the show order was given, the technical crew made their way to a small table in the back of the room where they began sifting through their cues. Each performer split off into their respective groups to begin doing warm-ups before the rehearsal officially began. As Gaara sang, his eyes occasionally drifted to the back of the room to watch the chummy tech crew. There was a slight pang in his chest. Performing was pretty exciting, but he did miss all the hijinks that went on behind the curtain.

Once warm-ups finished, the cast was instructed to sit in the audience and "hang tight" while the crew organized a short cue-to-cue. Since his piece wasn't until the tail end of the show, Gaara slid his laptop out of his bag and checked his calendar for upcoming assignments. He felt something shift next to him.

"Hey!"

He looked up to see Sakura standing there, offering a slight wave.

"Hello," he replied politely.

"Anyone sitting here?" she asked.

Gaara shook his head and Sakura promptly took a seat. She pulled a book out of her backpack. Something about acting methods, from what Gaara could see on the cover.

"Whatcha working on?" Sakura asked.

"Some major courses. Nothing particularly interesting," he said, flipping to another tab as she tried to peek at his screen.

Sakura nodded. She seemed to be thinking something over for a long time before finally turning back to him. "Hey, Ino wanted me to ask you, are you doing anything after tech?"

"Me? Not that I know of. Probably driving Naruto home." He narrowed his eyes and added slowly, "Why?"

"Well, we were gonna go get something to eat with him after. We wanted to see if you wanted to come, too."

Gaara was quiet for a couple seconds before shrugging and offering a, "Yeah, sure."

"Sweet!" She punched his arm affectionately, a bit more heavy-handed than Gaara would have preferred.

Sakura opened her book to a marked page. As soon as her attention was drawn to the text, Gaara rubbed his arm where she had punched him. That was probably going to bruise.

The tech rehearsal was a fairly quick run with simple transition lights as Naruto marked down cues, blocking, furniture placement, and any props used during the performance. They were getting a lot of work done and Shikamaru kept things shockingly organized despite how casual the rehearsal felt.

--

"So, how's life on the other side?" Naruto asked after everyone had ordered their food. They ended up at a fast food joint fairly close by.

Gaara turned to his roommate. "What?"

"You're a performer now--how's that going for you?" Sakura paraphrased. "Your song was great, by the way."

"Thanks," he said. After some thought, he shrugged. "I mostly feel like I'm back in high school."

"Yeah, but we're cooler, right?" Ino chimed in with an elbow to his ribs.

He gave a tiny smile and nodded in agreement.

Once their order was called, the four scooped everything up and headed to a booth furthest from other rambunctious college students. As they settled down, Gaara looked between Sakura and Ino for a second and suddenly let out a tiny exclamation.

"I finally watched 'Rent,'" he said, seemingly at random. To clarify, he said, "I remember you two sang that song. At karaoke."

"Oh, cool! It's a classic," Ino said in a slight sing-song.

"Yeah, he watched it with ye olde Bushy-Brows," Naruto added unnecessarily. Gaara shot him an irritated look, causing him to flinch, expecting a punch to the arm.

"Oh, really?" Ino drawled, scrutinizing Gaara as she arched an eyebrow.

"That's a pretty gay movie to watch with a boy," Sakura mumbled as she took a sip of water.

Oh, wonderful. By all means, let's talk about this.

"Maybe we don't talk about Lee right now," Gaara cut in, feeling heat creep across the back of his neck.

"Whaaat! Man, ever since me and Ino started dating, she's all I ever talk about." Sakura let out a laugh and slung her arm around Ino's shoulders.

They were dating? When did that happen?

"Well, Lee and I aren't dating," Gaara said quietly.

Sakura's face fell. "Oh, I'm sorry, I thought… The way you…"

"I thought you said things were fine," Ino said. "Do you still want to date him?"

"Oh, he does," Naruto answered. Gaara shot him another look.

Ino narrowed her eyes. "Did he look up those flower meanings we gave him?"

"Have you kissed?" Sakura asked.

Gaara looked up at her in surprise. Surely the only third parties who knew were Tenten and Neji. Unless Lee told other people… But that felt like a breach in privacy and it didn't seem like something Lee would do.

"... How did you know?"

Naruto choked on his food.

"Lucky guess," Sakura said as she leaned across the table to smack her friend on the back. Once he gained his composure, he turned to Gaara with a wild look in his eye.

"You guys kissed and you didn't tell me?!"

Gaara leaned in close and whispered fiercely, "Be quiet!" He sat back and shook his head. "This is exactly why I didn't tell you."

"So what happened? You seemed like you were into each other. And you're his type," Sakura said.

The group when quiet for a minute and everyone stared at Gaara for what seemed like an eternity. He glanced around nervously as Naruto and Ino nodded in agreement, mumbling "oh, I see it" and "true" and other such agreements.

"Type? What do you mean 'type'?"

"He had a crush on Sakura in like, early high school," Naruto said, as if that cleared it up. Off Gaara's look, Naruto held out his hand and put down a finger for each descriptor he listed off. "Similar eye color, similar hair color, wears red a lot, kinda shy at first, same height. Need I go on?"

"Okay, that doesn't necessarily mean--"

"There were others, dude." Naruto's eyes widened and he laughed as he suddenly remembered something. "Oh, man, this one time he came with me to do an alcohol run and the guy behind the register kinda looked like you. Oh, man, Bushy-Brows got so weak in the knees, I swear, I thought he was gonna propose on the spot!" He laughed. "Lee's got a type and you fit the bill."

Gaara looked down at his food and said nothing for a minute, despite the fact that what Naruto said probably should have been a comfort. He let out a tiny sigh and noticed Sakura and Ino exchange glances from the corner of his eye.

"Hey, Gaara, I'm sorry," Sakura said softly. "I didn't mean to upset you."

"No, you're fine," he said.

"Well, no sense in bringing you here just to bum you out!" Ino said. "Let's talk about something else. Tell me more about yourself! I hear you're from a desert, tell me what that's like!"

Gaara gave her a soft smile, something that was rare to be directed at anyone other than Lee.

Naruto threw an arm around Gaara and mussed up his hair affectionately. The small group spent the rest of the night talking and laughing together until they eventually decided to call it a night. Gaara was smiling more than he had in weeks.

--

The next and last night of tech, Gaara ended up sitting and talking with Sakura, as well as Ino if she wasn't busy flitting from one task to the next, since she had assistant stage manager duties. Sometimes Ino would come over to where Sakura was and give her a quick kiss on the cheek, which made Gaara's heart clench just a little.

He wondered… Maybe he could pick up some tips…

"Hey," he spoke up.

Sakura turned toward him. "What's up?"

"How did…" he stopped and mulled it over for a moment before asking. "How did you and Ino start dating?"

"Oh!" She looked surprised. "Well, we've actually been friends for a really long time. Like. Years. Pretty much since kindergarten."

Gaara's heart dropped a little. That long?

"Oh," he said.

"Yeah. We've kind of been dancing around the subject forever, but after awhile, I just asked and it all just seemed to make sense." She paused for a second and laughed, turning back to Gaara with a light flush on her face. "It's funny though. We used to spend so much time talking each other down and doing all these dumb contests. But despite everything, she was still my best friend."

Gaara nodded in response. Sakura tucked a strand of hair behind her ear and pulled her knees close to her chest. She rubbed up and down her shins absentmindedly.

"Now that I think about it, I can't see why anyone wouldn't want to date their best friend, y'know?" She grinned. "Guess that's why I thought you were dating Lee."

That gave Gaara pause. "Well, Lee isn't really my best friend, I think that role goes to Naruto."

"You can have more than one best friend!" Sakura laughed, a bright, full sound. Then she arched an eyebrow. "Still. Can you imagine dating Naruto?"

Gaara snorted. "He has some good qualities."

"Oh, he does. But man, is he a mess! I don't know how someone as composed as you can handle being his roommate."

"You learn to live with it." Gaara shrugged.

"Gaara!" Ino bounded into the hallway and waved. "You're on deck."

"Thank you," he called back. He turned back to Sakura and smiled at the way her expression softened when she saw her girlfriend appear. "Guess I better get over there."

"Well, you're certainly gonna knock their socks off with that voice of yours!" Her hand came down to clap him hard on the shoulder. Goddamn, she could pack a punch. Gaara wondered briefly whether she or Lee would win an arm wrestling match.

They'd better abstain. Lee had already broken his arm once…

"Thanks," he said, pushing himself to standing and heading down the hall.

As Gaara waited to go onstage, he wondered if Lee also considered him one of his best friends.

"Alriiight," he heard Naruto say. "Give me the man--"

"The myth--" Shikamaru followed.

"The legend," Choji finished.

As Gaara walked out onstage, Choji banged on the piano as Shikamaru made air horn sounds and Naruto started shrieking. Were they always this rowdy during tech? Well, it was a student-run event after all. Kakashi and his seemingly perpetual migraine weren't around to tell them to be quiet.

"Stand center, my sweet, sweet boy," Naruto called. "Tenten! Is there any significant blocking? Any props or furniture for this thing?"

"Nope," Tenten called. She was sitting front and center with the other directors and gave Gaara a tiny wave when he noticed her. "Straight and to the point."

"Look at him… gorgeous boy," Naruto said. "Alright, Choji, hit me with those chords. Play us a tune, Big Boy."

"You got it, chief," Choji answered, turning back to the piano. He glanced at Gaara. "You ready?"

He nodded and Choji began.

Gaara sang through a majority of the song while Shikamaru adjusted the lighting and talked lowly with Naruto, occasionally jotting down a note or flicking on a new light. The two continued, sometimes laughing with one another or having Gaara stop so they could make adjustments and re-run the song. But overall, the rambunctious team managed to get a lot done. And that had to be worth something.

"You're free to go, my king," Naruto said. "I love you with all my heart."

"Dude, shut up," Shikamaru said.

"You shut up! I'm tryna show respect for my friends, you fucking dong."

There was a crisp slap.

"You're the dong!"

"Gaara, I'll meet you there in a minute," Tenten whispered with a roll of her eyes as the other two continued smacking each other.

He made his exit promptly.

"Gaara, I love you!!" Naruto shouted just before he walked through the door. Gaara shouted a quick "thank you!" and waited for Tenten as the next person headed out.

"Hey," he heard around the corner.

That was fast.

"So, I wanted to go over costume stuff with you," she said. "You don't need to buy anything, I'm just looking for something kinda nice. Maybe something you'd wear on a first date."

Gaara didn't want to admit that he had a first date outfit already picked out, so he nodded instead. "I'll take a look."

"You usually dress cute, so I trust whatever you have," she said. "And I wanted to talk to you… about you-know-who."

Gaara's heart sank. "What about him?"

"Well," she started. "We picked this song very specifically for you. I think you might want to use it to motivate yourself."

Gaara tilted his head in confusion.

"Oh, come on!" She deflated a little. "You think Lee hasn't been talking my ear off about you since the day you met? And I can already see on your face that you're denying it, but it's true. He talks about you all the time! Like, when he finally got your number, he called me crying because he said you tried to give it to him before and he didn't take the hint."

Did he really?

"Lee is not good at subtlety," Tenten continued. "I gave him the information about the show tomorrow and I think you should talk to him after the performance. He told me you made up, but I have a feeling neither of you were completely honest."

Well, that was certainly true.

Gaara swallowed roughly. "Okay."

"Okay you'll do it?"

He nodded. "Yeah. If he comes tomorrow, I'll talk to him."

Tenten arched an eyebrow and leaned against the wall, a devilish smirk crossing her face. "Is that a challenge?"

A brief pause rested between them before Gaara nodded and crossed his arms over his chest. "I guess it is."

"Okay, okay," she said with a laugh. "But Gai-sensei taught me it's not a challenge if there are no stakes. If Lee comes tomorrow, you have to tell him how you feel."

"Fine."

Gaara stuck out his hand and Tenten gave it a firm shake.

"So, what if he doesn't?" he asked.

"I think you're forgetting Lee has a lot of friends in the theater department," Tenten grinned. "He's always been very supportive."

She started to take her leave.

"Well, what's in it for you?" Gaara asked.

Tenten turned to face him again.

"Lee is one of my best friends and I love him more than anything in this world, I really do. But I also love a good night's sleep and I swear if he wakes me up at three in the morning crying again because you sent him a slightly cryptic text, I will certainly lose my mind," she said in a single breath. "I love two things in this world, Gaara, but lemme tell ya, the scale is really tipping."

She walked back into the theater.

Gaara felt like he signed his own death certificate.

--

The next day gave Gaara a massive rush of anxiety, knowing that the performance was coming up. He spent most of the day distracting himself with homework assignments, doing his best to keep himself calm even though he knew he was going to be singing in front of an audience in just a matter of hours (and likely confessing his feelings to Lee). He paced the halls, waited for Naruto to come back from hanging out with a friend, and ironed the shirt he was going to wear for the performance a bit excessively.

He wasn't sure whether or not he wanted Lee to show up…

--

"Alright, buckle up, you musical sluts," Naruto shouted from his seat at the back of the theater. "Tonight's the performance, so I want you all to remember what we practiced and you'd better not fuck anything up!"

There was a grumble from the crowd.

"Any questions for yours truly?" He waited for a response. "Alright, cool, let's do this thing--warm-ups in five."

"Thank you, five," the cast and crew called back, then dispersed.

Gaara was quickly approached by Tenten who was clearly dressed for comfort in her oversized sweater. That made Gaara feel a little stiff since he was dressed up for the performance.

"Hey, you," she said, instantly bringing her hands up toward the collar of his button-down. "Why did you button this thing all the way to the top?"

Gaara could faintly smell Lee's scent on her clothes. It must have been his sweater then. He sure liked sharing clothes…

"I was going to wear a tie, but I wasn't sure if it was necessary," he said, holding up the tie in his hands as proof. He did his best to ignore the sweater and focus.

"Gaara, you sweet boy." Tenten grinned. "Go for it. But if you're gonna do that, roll your sleeves up."

"Roll them up, why?" he asked.

Tenten huffed as she fumbled with the cuff of his sleeve and started rolling it up. "Because someone likes rolled sleeves."

When Tenten finished, she held her hand out and Gaara slapped the tie into her palm. She reached around him and began to tie it.

"Wait, someone… Lee? Is Lee coming tonight?"

"Yeah, in more ways than one if you play your cards right," Tenten replied without missing a beat.

He flushed. "Why do you all have to joke at my expense?"

"Because you're one of us now," she smirked with a pat to his chest as she finished up. "You look very cute. Maroon is a good color for you."

"Thank you."

"So, yeah. Lee's gonna be here. So is Neji for that matter, even though we have to practically drag him." She shook her head and beamed. "I'll take Neji aside afterwards. Then, Lee is all yours. Told you I'd win that bet."

"In only a matter of time," Gaara muttered.

Tenten grinned in response.

"Cast, head out for warm-ups!" Naruto called.

"That's me," Gaara noted unnecessarily. He turned to Tenten. "Thank you… for everything."

She wrapped her arms around him quickly and squeezed softly. The scent of her sweater and the rare feeling of physical contact were almost too much.

"Break a leg tonight," she said, pulling away.

Gaara headed over to the piano for warm-ups. It was going to be a long night, he could feel it.

Gaara spent most of his time pacing in the hall near Sakura while she belted out nonsense phrases and made a bunch of high-pitched noises. Apparently that was a thing actors did. The two stood a good distance from the other cast members, who took their own spaces in the room to practice individually.

Gaara wiped his sweaty hands on his pants and tried to calm himself down the closer they got to his piece. It had been so long since he last sang something in front of an audience and he started spiraling, wondering if his voice would crack or if he was going to blank on lyrics. Sakura must have noticed something was up because Gaara caught her looking at him from over her shoulder.

"You wanna do breathing exercises with me?" she asked.

He stared at her.

"Come on," she said, stepping toward him. "You look super nervous."

"I'm fine," Gaara said, crossing his arms tightly over his chest. "Or, you know, I will be."

She smiled and pulled at one of his arms. "Come on, we'll run through some vocal stuff. I promise it won't kill you."

"Fine," he said, stepping closer.

They faced the wall and ran through a short series of additional warm-ups. Gaara allowed himself to get distracted for a couple of minutes.

"Lee's gonna be here tonight," he said after a while. They both leaned against the wall. "I promised Tenten I would talk to him."

The two sank to the floor. Gaara tapped mindlessly with his fingers and sighed. He felt a hand on his shoulder and turned to see Sakura smiling sympathetically.

"I just--" Gaara stopped. "I don't want to talk to him about it. But I still want him to know how I feel, I guess."

"Unfortunately I don't think you can just transmit your thoughts into his brain." She paused. "You should talk to Ino about that though, sometimes I swear she can read people's minds."

"Sakura! You're on deck!"

"Speak of the devil," Sakura said, getting to her feet as her girlfriend rounded the corner.

"Break a leg," Gaara said.

Sakura grinned. "Thanks. See you in a bit!"

Gaara watched everyone cycle through their pieces and sat with Sakura, who tried to help him calm down with little distractions. It seemed strange that they had never really spoken until now, especially since she was one of Naruto's closest friends and they had so much in common. In fact, Gaara was almost certain she had been to his house before to hang out with Naruto, while he stayed holed up, hiding in his room.

When Ino finally rounded the corner and alerted Gaara that he was up next, he felt his stomach drop.

"You're gonna kill it!" Sakura said as Gaara started to stand. "Break a leg!"

"Thank you," he replied quickly and headed toward Ino.

Once Gaara heard the audience applauding the person before him, he took a deep breath and headed onto the stage once the transition lights came up.

"You're gonna be great," Ino whispered as she guided Gaara through the curtain.

He gave her one last look and walked onstage, standing and waiting for the lights to come up. With the few seconds he had in between, he closed his eyes and did his best to center himself.

Gaara looked up and the lights washed over him, luckily bright enough to block out the sight of the audience. Most of them anyway. He hoped the lights washed him out enough so no one could see how red his face was getting because it certainly felt very warm. He resisted the urge to feel it or try to fan himself.

It felt like he was standing there for hours before Choji began to play the opening chords and Gaara was certain he was going to miss his cue, but it felt like his mouth was moving faster than his brain. Before he knew it, he was singing and it felt like just another rehearsal with Tenten. Perhaps he should just picture that.

"You don't need to love me, or tell me that you do.
Don't make me any promises. Just promise we're not through.
"

Well, that was smoother than expected. So far, so good.

Gaara continued trying to think of his friends. Tenten was probably in the audience. He had done this in front of her. Sakura was his friend now. She would most definitely have her ear pressed to the door as she listened to him sing. And Ino was on standby, so she was there to support him, too.

And Lee was there, so--no, thinking about Lee would only make things worse.

Well, Neji was there. He wouldn't offer any encouragement, but at least he wouldn't threaten to walk out like he almost did with Naruto during karaoke.

Wait, Naruto!

Gaara looked up slightly as he sang and noticed the lights shift in brightness. Naruto called that cue. Naruto was watching. His best friend was there and he was supporting him! Gaara felt his heart swell a little.

Then Tenten's words echoed in his mind: You're one of us now.

And it was true! He had friends! He had a group of people who were there for him and promised to support him!

That was all he ever wanted.

He neared the end of the bridge and prepared himself to go all out like Tenten said. He took a quick breath.

"We can keep on being lonely, but we don't have to be apart."

He surveyed the audience as he sang. His eyes finally adjusted to the bright lights and now he could see everyone in the audience, which was even more anxiety-inducing, but Gaara pushed on.

"And I'll never even ask you to let me have your heart."

He kept looking.

"So, I'll never break your heart."

Where was he?

"No, I'll never break your heart."

Just then, with the brief rest in the song, Gaara noticed Lee sitting in the center with Neji, just a few rows back. Their eyes met briefly and Gaara's mind suddenly went blank. His eyes widened, his throat constricted, and he felt a stinging in his eyes as they began to well up with tears.

From the corner by the piano Gaara managed to remember that Choji was waiting on him to start singing again, since the piano cue came after the next line.

By some heroic effort, he picked up where he left off, still making eye contact with Lee.

"You don't need to love me."

Gaara silently hoped that the pause felt longer than it actually was as he continued. There was something strange going on and the song managed to hit him hard, much like it did the first time he listened to it. Everything seemed so… relevant.

Gaara felt a tear slide down his cheek.

Well, that was embarrassing.

"You don't need to answer. I'll know before you do"

He took another breath to try and gain a bit more stability until he finished the song. At least once it was over, he could run off and cry more naturally instead of in front of an audience.

"But hear me. And believe me. That you don't need to love me."

He found Lee in the audience again and hoped it wasn't too obvious that he was looking at him.

"The way that I love you."

It felt like he blacked out once the audience started applauding. Gaara looked away and smiled weakly before the transition lights came up and he tried to exit calmly before getting too wrapped up in his emotions. As soon as he came through the door, he found Sakura and Ino standing there.

"Gaara, you did really well!" Sakura said, placing a hand on his back.

Ino smiled in their direction as she guided the next person onstage. Once they went through, she joined Sakura and started rubbing Gaara's back while he tried to keep himself from falling apart.

It was just a stupid song, why was he getting so upset?

"Hey, it's okay," Ino assured him.

Sakura wiped one of Gaara's cheeks and brushed some of his hair out of his face with her fingers.

"Do you want us to stay with you, or do you need a minute?" Sakura asked.

"I'm fine," Gaara replied with a shaky breath. "I'll be fine."

Sakura guided him back to where they were sitting before and sat down with Gaara in silence. She made sure to stay there until the end of the performance and try to distract him from his own thoughts.

He couldn't bear the thought of talking to Lee now. Not after that embarrassing display.

Say goodbye to that bet, Tenten.

After the final piece concluded and the whole cast made their way onstage for final bows, everyone was free for the next half hour or so until the cast and crew had to strike the stage and make sure the lights were reset and all of the props and furniture pieces used for the show were put away.

Nearby, Naruto was talking to Shikamaru about having a party afterwards. Gaara silently hoped it would be somewhere besides their house. He really couldn't handle any more social interaction.

He started to head out until he heard Tenten's voice shouting his name.

When he turned around, there they were: Neji, Tenten, and sure enough, Lee. Gaara wasn't sure what to say until Tenten hugged him tight.

"That was amazing!" she said. "I thought our rehearsals were good, but holy crap!"

"Thanks," he said softly, giving her a slight, but awkward pat on the back.

"Well, I gotta try and convince this one to help us with strike," she said, grabbing Neji by the elbow. "I'll see you in a bit!"

As she walked away, Neji could be heard protesting and trying to get her off of him.

Gaara looked down at the floor just as Lee coughed not-so-subtly.

"... Hey," he said.

"... Hi," Gaara answered.

"Your song was really beautiful," Lee said.

"Oh. Thanks."

There was the sound of rustling plastic as Lee held something out in front of him. "These are for you."

Gaara looked up to see Lee holding a small bouquet of flowers.

"I thought it was funny," Lee said. "When I went to pick these up today, they looked so similar to the ones you gave me."

Sure enough, upon closer inspection, Gaara noticed the flower arrangement was almost exactly the same as the one Ino put together, down to the varying colors and types of flowers. That sly woman… she knew exactly what she was doing.

"Thank you," he choked out.

It was quiet for a moment as he took the bouquet and he looked at Lee more completely, just to give him a smile to show the gift was appreciated. Lee was dressed fairly well for such a small event, in his deep green button-down shirt and dark jeans. Gaara looked up and noticed his hair was newly parted. Enough to show his eyebrows, the way Gaara admitted he liked.

"Can we… go somewhere else?" Gaara asked with some difficulty. "To the hall, maybe… I have my things back there," he added. "I just--" he held up the flowers. "I want to put these down."

"Of course," Lee replied softly.

They slipped out of the theater quietly, since everyone would be busy talking to their friends in the audience for awhile. As Gaara walked over to the wall where he and Sakura had been sitting, he heard Lee speak up.

"I do mean it," he said. "The song was incredible, I have never heard it before. But I loved it a lot."

"Yeah," Gaara nodded. "It's nice." He bent down and slipped the flowers into his bag, zipping it up just so to keep them properly balanced and poking out the top.

"You should consider acting," Lee said sincerely. "The way you performed that piece was… It just felt so real. I only ever saw you perform one other time, but that just now? That was very cool!"

Gaara set his bag down and stood up to face him. If there was one thing he needed to make clear…

"Lee, that wasn't acting."

Lee blinked. "Hm?"

Did Lee forget that they made direct eye contact? Gaara poured his soul into that performance and got so caught up in his feelings that he cried. How did he miss that?

"That song?" He shook his head. "That song has been my life for the last two months."

"... What?" Lee's eyebrows pinched together.

"Are you kidding me?" Gaara took a steadying breath.

Suddenly, it all just came out at once.

"I have been so… confused these last several weeks. I've been questioning everything, talking to everyone--does he like me? Does he not like me? Are we friends? Are we not? Are we being completely honest with each other?"

Lee was stunned, to say the least. He opened his mouth to speak, but words failed him. Gaara kept steamrolling over his thoughts that were telling him to shut up, but once again, his mouth was moving faster than his brain.

"Lee, you're driving me insane!" he half-shouted. It felt like every word he said was coming out in one heaping mess. "When you sat by me during that first runthrough, my hands were shaking because I was nervous. I didn't know what was happening, I've never felt like that around anyone before. But once we started tech week and you were so nice to me, I just--I knew! I didn't know, but. I knew. That doesn't… Oh, my god."

Gaara ran his hands through his hair. He wasn't making a shred of sense, but he couldn't make himself shut up. He was never the type of person to talk this much. What was he thinking?

"I never would have let anyone in my life teach me how to dance, but you did. You always spent so much time with me and you were so kind and considerate and… I always felt so nervous that I'd say the wrong thing and fuck everything up."

Lee hadn't moved at all. His eyes were getting wider by the second.

"Look, I know we agreed to forget about it, but what happened at the cast party… I kissed you. And yes, I know, I was drunk, and I said I couldn't have done it if I was sober, but I didn't mean it like that. I just meant that there was no way I could have done it otherwise because I was too scared. But I wanted to kiss you. I've been wanting to kiss you since the day I met you and it feels so… creepy to say that out loud, but I think about it a lot and I can't stop and I am almost one hundred percent sure it's because I'm in love with you?"

For what felt like years, both of them stared at each other in stunned silence.

Did Gaara just say he was in love with him?

Good fucking god.

Lee's face was gradually getting redder. "... Would that be okay?"

Gaara felt like there was supposed to be another question before that. "What?"

"If I kissed you?" he said, rubbing the back of his neck. "Could we do that?"

Gaara rolled his eyes. "Oh, god, yes."

In a flash, Gaara pulled Lee by the collar of his shirt and guided Lee's face down to his. He angled his head slightly to make it easier for them to slot their lips together and felt Lee's hands settle on his hips as his eyes fluttered shut.

They sighed into the feeling and Gaara thought his brain was turning to mush, but he couldn't care less. It seemed like they had both been waiting far too long because both of them were eagerly pulling at each other, pressing kiss after kiss and getting as much contact as they possibly could.

"You better not--" he kissed Lee again, "--better not be messing with me."

Lee grinned against Gaara's lips and said softly, "I promise you, I am not." He briefly pulled away to look Gaara in the eyes and brushed the back of his fingers against Gaara's face. He uncurled his hand and pressed a warm palm to Gaara's cheek. "I wanted to kiss you, too."

They were back to kissing before Gaara could think to ask the obvious "why didn't you say anything," but he didn't have much room to talk, given the fact that he had waited almost an entire semester to tell Lee how he felt.

"I can't--" Gaara tried to say between kisses, but feeling Lee so close was a bit distracting. He pulled away a touch regretfully. "The height."

Lee's lips were back to his in a second and at first, Gaara didn't think he heard him. Not that it mattered once he felt Lee's mouth guiding his open. Lee took a few steps, backing them up until Gaara was pressed against the wall. It provided a bit of relief, having something to lean on after needing to stand on his toes to kiss Lee at his full height.

Hands felt at his sides, down his hips, and behind his thighs until Gaara was lifted up, back still pressed to the wall. Lee slotted himself between his legs and Gaara hooked his ankles around Lee's waist to hold himself up.

"Better?" Lee asked as he dove in for another kiss.

Gaara nodded into it and sighed a response, tangling his fingers in Lee's hair, doing his best to get as close as he possibly could.

Why did this take them two months of dancing around each other to do? Why was Gaara so nervous to talk to him about it in the first place? They could have been doing this much, much sooner.

A small sound escaped his throat as he felt Lee's tongue slide against his. His heart felt like it was about to explode and there were a perplexing warmth in the pit of his stomach, but right now he felt so incredibly nice, taking all of Lee in at once with lips against his, body this close, holding Gaara up against the wall with hardly any effort.

It was wonderful. It was Lee. This was happening! This was finally, finally happening!

They were both breathing much more rapidly when they pulled away to look each other in the eyes. Lee grinned as a pretty pink spread across his cheeks and Gaara swore heart was going to burst.

He kissed Lee's forehead, right in the spot where his hair had been parted. "I hope you know that I want this to be a regular thing."

"Me, too," Lee replied, leaning in again to kiss Gaara more thoroughly.

They stayed there, catching up on several weeks of raw, pent up emotions, even though Gaara knew he was needed for strike. Perhaps no one noticed he was gone. Or, perhaps someone had caught a glimpse of what was happening and decided to be a good friend and leave them where they were. But for now, this was important.

Gaara wasn't particularly selfish by nature, but just this once, he was going to be.

Chapter Text

Gaara rushed toward Kakashi's office, hoping to catch him just before he left for the day. He sprinted, footsteps echoing in the nearly empty hall of the theater building. He found Kakashi and Gai inside, gathering their things and speaking lightly, Kakashi with his usual tired voice insisting he was able to carry whatever Gai was trying to pick up for him. It seemed Lee was just like him, in more ways than one.

"Kakashi!" Gaara said urgently, a bit more forcefully than intended. He'd certainly alerted the men of his presence.

In his temporary distraction, Gai swiped Kakashi's bag from him and was promptly met with a loving, but slightly agitated glare. Kakashi rolled his right eye, which surprised Gaara momentarily. He briefly speculated that Kakashi had a glass eye, but the thought dissolved as soon as he spoke up.

"Gaara, yes, what can I do for you?" he asked.

"I'd like to add a double major," Gaara said assuredly.

It'd been something that was on Gaara's mind ever since Kankuro had jokingly mentioned it. But given the friends he had made, how much he had actually come to love being a part of the crew, and the fact that he was genuinely interested in learning more about the subject, it seemed like the obvious choice. Gaara had spent the last few hours planning, organizing, and reading up as much as he could about initiating a double major and working out a way to weave Theater and Political Science together.

Kakashi blinked back at him and his eyes crinkled around the corners. He walked back to his desk.

"I'm glad to hear it," he said, ruffling through some papers in a drawer, then pulling out what appeared to be a request form. He skimmed over it, reached for a pen, and quickly signed the bottom of one of the pages. Kakashi stood, straightened the pages out, and made his way over to hand them off.

"You'll have to get your advisor to sign off on this and hand it in to admin. Then we can get things underway," he explained. He waved a dismissive hand. "Ah, but I'm sure you knew that."

From the back of the room, Gai appeared to be getting impatient, but Kakashi paid him no mind.

He lifted an eyebrow. "A double major is a pretty hefty feat, you sure you can handle it?"

Gaara nodded back. "I've officiated a summer term back in my hometown and with some of the overlap between courses, I can still realistically graduate on time."

Kakashi clicked his tongue. "Good for you. I hope to see you around more often, then.”

Gaara gave Kakashi a tiny smile as they exchanged papers.

"Alright, well, run along now," Kakashi said, once Gai appeared to be doing elaborate plié exercises behind him. "I have date night plans with the husband tonight and we have to go home and feed the dogs first."

Gaara nodded. "Have a nice time. And thank you. For everything."

"Of course."

Gaara said his goodbyes to them and headed out, the sounds of Kakashi and Gai bickering fading in the distance.

Done with classes for the day, he bounded down the steps of the theater building and made his way to the administration office to hand in the last of his paperwork, then went on his merry way through campus toward the parking lot.

Like Kakashi, Gaara also had plans later that night.

Once he was at home, Gaara decided to call his brother. There were only a couple of weeks left in the semester, so it was about time to start making plans to stay with his siblings for the summer. He swiped through his phone, scrolled for Kankuro’s contact name, and hit the “call” button. Gaara put his brother on speakerphone and set the device on his desk as he began to rummage through his closet for his cactus print shirt that everyone seemed to like.

“What do you want?” Kankuro finally answered, almost startling Gaara.

“Don’t be a dick. You’re lucky I’m calling you at all,” he replied.

“Pfft. Whatever.”

The two settled into a small conversation, the typical updates, wondering how Temari was doing, pretending they weren’t excited to see each other again. A couple of insults here and there. The usual sibling antics. All the while, Gaara changed his clothes, did his hair, and made sure he looked as nice as possible without completely overdoing it.

“So, you’re really coming home, aren’t you, you little bastard?” Kankuro asked.

“Yep, pretty soon,” Gaara confirmed. “I should be able to fit most of the stuff in the car.” Gaara walked over to his desk and sifted through a couple of pieces of paperwork. “Naruto and I have to finish renewing our lease, so I’m just going to leave most of the big stuff here, since no one's going to be here anyway."

“What, you don’t need your big stud of a brother to come lift it for ya?” He could practically hear him fake-flexing on the other end of the call.

“No, jackass,” he answered flatly, followed by Kankuro booing. They fell into a brief silence and Gaara mulled over what he really wanted to call his brother about. He swiped up his car keys and lightly tossed them in his hand as he thought.

“Hey.”

“‘Sup?”

“I just…” He paused. “I wanted to say thanks.”

Kankuro was quiet for a few seconds. “For what?”

“For telling me to get my shit together. And for being nice to me about my whole… situation.” Gaara scuffed his toe against the ground to grant him some temporary distraction from how remarkably hard it seemed to say that. “I told Lee everything.”

“No shit. Bowl cut boy?” Kankuro said. He made a strained noise, as if he was sitting himself up. “What happened? Are you okay?”

Gaara felt himself smiling through the entirety of his next sentence. “We have a date tonight.”

“A date? Gross!” Kankuro said with a laugh. Which, in their own way, was probably as close as they could get to congratulating each other.

“Condemn me all you want, you’re still partly responsible.”

“Yeah, yeah,” his brother dismissed. “Well, thanks for telling me. I’m happy for ya.”

“Thanks.” Gaara scooped his wallet out of his bag and shoved it into his pocket. He paused for a second. “Just, um. Don’t tell Dad. Please.”

“Oh, god, of course.” At least that much was obvious.

Gaara thanked him one more time before they said their goodbyes and hung up the phone. He headed out the door. In the hallway, he passed Naruto, who smiled at him, then pushed his own door open.

“Hey, I have those paper for you,” Gaara said, handing them promptly over to Naruto, who thanked him with an "oh, cool." Naruto eyed his outfit suspiciously.

“Where are you headed?” he asked, squinting.

“Um… I have a date,” Gaara answered, face reddening.

Gaara heard the papers flutter to the floor in the split second before Naruto’s arms were around him.

“Dude, what! For real?! Man, I’m so proud of you!” Naruto shouted into his ear. Despite all the noise, Gaara was still smiling. Naruto put his hands to Gaara’s shoulders and pushed himself back to look at him. “Y’know, I was really wondering where you guys were after strike and stuff. I had my suspicions, but y’know. I figured you’d tell me someday.”

The flush on Gaara’s face only grew darker as he remembered the pretty spectacular makeout session that had followed his confession. And even though he and Lee planned to go to the small, impromptu cast party, they didn’t manage to get out of the parking lot once they got into Gaara’s car, opting instead to spend the rest of the night kissing in the passenger seat. He didn’t even want to think about what kind of rumors and crude jokes Naruto was spreading to their friends. But people could say whatever they wanted, because he finally had a real date with Lee.

“Well, ya look good,” Naruto concluded, finally pulling away from Gaara completely. “I’d say ‘I hope everything goes well,’ but I know it will.” He grinned.

Gaara smiled in return as they walked toward the front door together.

“Go get ‘em, tiger,” Naruto said with a slap to his back.

Gaara made his way to the car, sending Lee a quick text to let him know he was on his way. Naruto shouted from the door.

"Oh, hey!"

Gaara turned.

"I talked to old man Kakashi about rehearsals for next year! I can't stage manage the dance show because of the overlap!" he said. "But I put a good word in for ya! Talk to Kakashi!"

Gaara nodded furiously, then stepped into the car. A few minutes later, his phone went off with a message from Naruto containing Kakashi's email address.

He drove nervously to Lee’s apartment, trying his best to listen to something soft in order to soothe his shaking hands. A date with Lee shouldn’t have been as scary and exciting as he was making it out to be, especially since they had already been out together several times before. But something about tacking the word “date” onto what they were about to do made it seem so official. Gaara had been thrilled, to say the least.

He pulled up and parked the car. After wiping his sweaty palms on his jeans for longer than he liked to admit, Gaara made his way through the complex and up the stairs to Lee’s apartment. He took a deep breath just as he was about to knock on the door, when his fist fell through empty space. There was Lee, standing with the door open. His hair was parted again, the way Gaara liked. He wore a pastel-print button-down shirt Gaara hadn’t seen before and a pair of dark jeans.

“Gaara! Hello!” Lee grinned, only flushing slightly. Which is to say, a considerable amount, given how often Lee’s face flushed.

“Hello,” Gaara said softly.

“Come in, come in!” Lee said, sweeping his arm through the space, gesturing for Gaara to come inside.

Gaara obliged, noticing Lee's roommate Sai in the corner by their kitchen table, sketching a couple of household items that sat across from him. Sai turned toward the sound of Lee shutting the door and offered a tight smile, which Gaara returned with a wave.

An arm snaked around Gaara's waist, leading him down the narrow hallway toward Lee's room. Lee talked as they walked.

“Once again, I am so sorry about being short on time,” he said, letting go of Gaara and walking further into the room. He began flitting nervously between his closet and a bag that sat open on his bed, shoving dance clothes into it and going through a mental checklist as he talked. “Just with finals coming up and having to teach a couple times a week, it really cuts into--”

“Lee, you don’t have to apologize,” Gaara said, stilling him with a hand to his shoulder.

Lee stared back for a moment, expression melting into a smile. They held each other’s gaze for a moment before Gaara took his hand away and Lee scooped up his bag. They made their way to the front door.

“Bye, Sai!” Lee called, perhaps a bit louder than necessary. “See you tonight!”

Sai waved back, but said nothing. Lee locked the door behind him after having sifted through his keys, which still held an obscene amount of keychains on it since the last time Gaara had seen it. He shook his head as Lee slipped the monstrous mass into his bag, then bravely slipped his hand into Lee’s as they started down the stairs and made their way to the car.

The two drove in fairly nervous silence, only occasionally broken by Lee asking Gaara about his day. They ended up at a small place in the downtown area for lunch, where Naruto frequented for ramen.

After having their orders taken, Gaara turned to Lee, who let out a tiny laugh.

"This is insane," Gaara noted with an amused shake of his head.

Lee tilted his head with a hint of amusement. "How come?"

"No reason. It's just…" He reached across the table for Lee's hand, running his thumb across a couple of scars that ran along his knuckles.

Both were almost at a loss for words. Gaara couldn’t stop thinking about how this was actually happening before his eyes. They were absolutely, one hundred percent on a date after so many weeks of agonizing over each other.

"I feel like we've done this before."

"We have," Lee said with a turn of his hand, interlocking their fingers. "But now you know how I feel. And vice versa."

“You know,” Gaara started. He knew he was going to regret saying this the second he thought about it, but let it happen anyway. “Awhile back, I got one of those self-imposed challenges in my head, kind of like you tend to implement on yourself?”

“Yeah?” His eyes widened in interest as he mindlessly played with Gaara's hand. The tiny quirk of his lips and the way his eyebrows lifted in genuine surprise was so adorably distracting, Gaara nearly forgot what he was going to say.

“... I told myself that if I got a perfect score on the next quiz that it meant you liked me back.”

Lee leaned forward. “And?”

“I missed one point,” Gaara said with a laugh. Lee frowned, shoulders sagging. “But, a lot of people ended up not doing so well, so about a week later, the professor curved the test and it bumped my score over a hundred percent.”

Lee immediately sat back up.

“That is incredible!” he shouted, so loud a couple people turned in their seats, making him clamp his hands over his mouth.

But it just made Gaara laugh. It was a genuine, whole-hearted laugh that took a few seconds to come back from, if he was being honest, but it was worth it when he glanced up to see Lee looking at him fondly.

“It is,” he finally agreed as a waitress stopped by and placed their food in front of them. After a few “thank yous,” they fell back into an easier conversation.

“So, how has teaching been going for you?” Gaara asked.

“Oh, wonderfully! The kids are all so eager to learn and already so flexible! Some of them even more than me!” Lee paused to take a sip of water. “There are a few who are still a bit shy, but I do my best to break them out of their shells.”

“I believe that,” Gaara said.

“What about you? Has your major been treating you better?” Lee’s eyebrows turned up hopefully.

Gaara blinked, surprised that Lee still remembered. “Actually, I’ve been filling out some forms and I’m planning to double.”

“In Political Science and…?”

“Theater,” Gaara said, the corners of his lips turning up.

Lee nearly dropped his chopsticks in excitement, practically bouncing in his seat. “Are you serious?!”

Gaara nodded. “I’m testing it out for a bit and taking some intro-level courses over the summer, but I really liked being a part of the shows here.” Lee ate happily as Gaara continued, “I’d drop my other major completely if I could, but I’ve talked to my father about switching before. He’s sort of paying for me to be here, so I have to stick it out somehow.”

“Well, you can certainly do a lot with both of those!” Lee said after swallowing a mouthful of food. “Political theater has been really popular lately. You seem like a good writer--” Lee cut himself off with a gasp. “Have you ever considered becoming a playwright? Oh, I think you would be so good at it!”

“Me? No.” Gaara waved a hand dismissively, trying his best not to remember the edgy poetry he used to write in middle school. Definitely not a fond memory and absolutely not a topic of conversation for a first date.

Lee shrugged as he picked up more food with his chopsticks. “You will have to take the class eventually.”

“That’s true.”

The conversation went on as they continued eating, as Lee made Gaara know precisely how excited he was to see him hanging around with the other theater students more and more, listing off names of people he thought Gaara would get along really well with and promising to introduce him in the coming year. Gaara found himself smiling through most of the meal.

When they finished eating (and fighting over who was paying), the two opted to walk around downtown. They walked past a couple of different stores and eventually happened upon a small park near the edge of town. Lee offered his hand out to Gaara as they made their way to a bench and sat down, their thighs barely touching. Gaara looked on, taking in all the greenery around them, knowing he would definitely miss all of the plant life that came with Konoha. Substantially more appealing than the drab desert he was from. He leaned his head on Lee’s shoulder as he thought about returning home for the summer, happy that he would spend some more time with his siblings, but he knew he was going to miss Lee, especially since they lived so far apart.

“Gaara?” Lee said in an uncharacteristically quiet voice.

Gaara lifted his head.

“I know it seems a little soon, since this is only our first date and all…” He looked down at their hands, clasped in his lap. “But I really like you. And I was hoping maybe we can be. Um. More than just friends.”

Gaara looked back up at him in surprise. He assumed making out for several minutes after Gaara explicitly said he was in love with Lee would have already put them in that box, but Lee probably needed a verbal affirmation. He nodded and leaned in, placing his free hand on the base of Lee’s neck to pull him closer.

“I’d like that,” he said, and kissed him slowly.

When Gaara finally pulled away, Lee was flushing and couldn’t seem to stop smiling.

Once it started getting a bit late, Gaara and Lee walked hand in hand down to the dance studio, talking about their upcoming finals week schedules so they could plan another date. Lee pulled his ridiculous keys out again so he could unlock the door to the studio, sure to tell Gaara that the building was unoccupied.

That was right, Kakashi mentioned he and Gai also had date night plans. As they stepped inside and flicked the lights on, Gaara briefly wondered what a date night between Kakashi and Gai was like. Kakashi didn't seem particularly romantic and the two always seemed to be placing bets against each other, so he wouldn't be surprised if they spent the whole night engaged in hand-to-hand combat. Or perhaps an elaborate game of rock-paper-scissors.

Through the mirror, Gaara caught a glimpse of Lee as he stepped toward a corner, checking his surroundings before unbuttoning his shirt. Heat immediately crept up around Gaara's neck.

“What are you doing?” he asked shakily.

Lee slipped his shirt off and turned toward Gaara. A tactical move on his part, since the broad expanse of his chest rendered Gaara completely useless.

“Oh, I usually change over here, since this corner is blocked off and no one can see me from outside,” he explained casually, kicking his shoes off. Gaara looked away once he unzipped his jeans. He could hear the denim shift as he slipped them off. Lee laughed from the corner. “You have seen me change before.”

Oh, yes, Gaara could never forget the backstage quick changes. Apparently something about working in theater gave people little-to-no modesty when it came to getting undressed. But there was something about Lee doing it that was just a little more remarkable. Probably because they were solidifying their new relationship, and seeing him undress seemed like they were moving way too fast, even though Lee was fairly casual about it. Not even a sensual, tantalizingly slow removal of his shirt.

“All done!” Lee called out, snapping Gaara from his thoughts that were just a few seconds away from entering dangerous territory. He turned to see Lee in his form-fitting dance clothes, placing a small, folded pile of his date outfit in his bag.

“I really like that shirt,” Gaara said in reference to the pastel button-down.

Lee perked up, then threw his bag back open, tossing the shirt out to Gaara, who barely caught it by a sleeve.

“You can borrow it!”

Gaara blinked, wanting to protest, but the slight inhale of Lee’s scent shut him up fast. Instead, he slipped the open shirt around his shoulders. It was still warm from Lee’s body heat.

“I still have another hour before my students get here,” Lee said, placing his bag down and making his way toward Gaara. “Would you like to help me stretch?”

Gaara nodded. Once he emptied his pockets and slipped his shoes off, he walked toward the spot Lee had taken on the floor, unsure of what exactly to do. They talked a little bit as Lee flowed through a small stretching routine and Gaara watched the minute ways his expression shifted while he explained the purpose of each stretch. After completing his first set, he looked at Gaara and smiled. Lee readied himself, spreading his legs into such a wide angle, it made a nearly straight line.

“Can you put weight on my back, please?” he asked politely.

“... Sure,” Gaara answered, a bit surprised, but smiled, standing up to accommodate the request. He rested his hands on Lee’s firm back, feeling the incredible strength in his body by touch alone. He pushed down a bit firmly, not wanting to hurt Lee.

“You can keep going,” Lee said in a flat tone. If the roles were reversed, Gaara knew he would have been struggling to maintain any sense of control in his voice; he wasn’t nearly as flexible as Lee.

Gaara applied a bit more pressure and was startled when he felt Lee’s back shift as he laughed.

“You can keep going,” he repeated. “This is easy stuff for me.”

Gaara made a small noise in response. It sure didn’t look easy...

“Actually, can you sit on my back?” Lee asked.

Gaara nodded as he accommodated the request, surprised that Lee didn’t seem to be struggling underneath his weight. But they continued working through the stretches, Gaara placing weight wherever Lee needed it. They fell into a decent groove and as they continued, grew even more comfortable with one another. Lee would move into a position and Gaara would rest on a certain part of Lee’s body, pulling an arm or a leg to stretch it, with few corrections from Lee in between.

“This is so much better than using elastic bands,” Lee noted, almost to himself from where he was lying on the polished floor. He lifted a leg, straightening out his knee and pulling back until he was in almost a full split, back pressed to the floor. “Can you hold my other leg down, please?”

Gaara shifted on his knees next to him, pressing down as instructed. He tried not to think about how remarkably close they were sitting and what someone might say if they were to walk in.

“What do the elastic bands do?” Gaara asked after some time, to distract himself. Lee let go of his leg, silently indicating he wanted to switch to the other side.

“They just help you stretch even farther,” he answered, pulling the opposite leg toward the floor by his ear. “But having you might be preferable!” He grinned at Gaara, who smiled back softly.

“Who said I’d help you stretch all the time?” Gaara asked with a smirk.

Lee looked back in mock offense, letting his leg back down and sitting up.

“Whatever!” he shouted, pulling Gaara’s arm out from underneath him. He hooked his legs around Gaara’s waist from where he was seated, effectively knocking Gaara onto his chest with a yelp. Lee trapped him there, collapsing to the floor and hugging him tight. They laughed.

Gaara adjusted slightly, nestling his face into the crook of Lee’s neck and smiling softly. He felt Lee press a tiny kiss to his head.

"Thank you,” he said.

“Of course,” Gaara replied, muffled against Lee's warm neck.

They held each other for another minute or so until Gaara shifted his weight onto his elbows, so he wouldn't be laying on his date completely. Lee did the same, sitting up and giving Gaara one more hug before helping him to his feet. He headed over to the barre up against the mirror.

"I should probably go soon," Gaara said with a sad smile. As much as he wanted to stay, he knew he shouldn't impose on Lee's class.

"Do you want me to walk you to your car?"

Gaara placed a light hand on Lee's back. "No, that's alright. Stretching is important. I'll see you again soon."

"Well, I will at least walk you to the door!" Lee decided, stepping away from the barre to help Gaara grab his things.

They took the few steps toward the door of the dance studio and faced each other. Lee took Gaara's hand with careful fingers.

"I had a really nice time," he said.

"Me, too." Gaara gave Lee's fingers an affectionate squeeze. His grin widened, already knowing what Lee was going to say before he said it.

"Can I, um…" He paused. "Can I kiss you?"

"Yes," Gaara answered in a near-whisper.

Lee leaned down, having now learned he needed to meet Gaara halfway, and kissed him once. They squeezed each other's hands at the same time as they pulled away, pressing their foreheads together.

"Text me when you get home," Lee said.

Gaara nodded. "I will."

They kissed once more and waved goodbye.

Gaara's chest fluttered the whole trip home.

--

Over the next several days, Gaara spent more and more time with Lee, whenever they had the time to spare. Sometimes they would meet between classes to have lunch together, others Lee would take the time to walk Gaara to class, but most of the time, they studied together. At first it seemed like a futile effort, since their study time was spent reading and reviewing for separate classes, but it was surprisingly nice to have a hand to hold when one of them came across particularly difficult material.

The weekend before final exams, Neji and Tenten planned their "semester-ly movie marathon sleepover" and invited Gaara along, claiming he was a "new addition to the family." Despite the fact that they were already friends, Gaara couldn't shake the thought that it felt like he was about to meet Lee's parents.

He met Lee at his apartment early so they could at least spend some time together beforehand as a couple. Lee had bought cookie dough and asked if Gaara would like to help him bake for the movie night. So they stood in the kitchen talking and laughing while the TV supplied background noise to the otherwise quiet apartment. Once everything was prepped and ready to go, Lee set them in the oven to bake and the two went to wait on the couch.

Neither was completely sure what was on, so instead they found themselves paying less attention to the television and edging closer and closer together on the couch until Gaara eventually turned to kiss Lee.

One thing Gaara liked about kissing Lee was that he always seemed to act like it was his first time in terms of nervousness. He always asked Gaara for permission and often let Gaara take the lead in order to figure out what did and didn't work. On the night of the theater revue, Gaara and Lee spent most of the night in the car establishing clear, open, and honest communication, ensuring that the other's comfort was their top priority. But when it came to kissing, Gaara soon realized that being held and touched had opened up an entirely new realm of comfort that he wasn't even aware existed.

Even though this was Gaara's first time navigating a relationship, sharing kisses seemed surprisingly natural and he enjoyed the rare times that were spent in each other's arms as if they were the only two people in the world.

He reached behind Lee as their lips brushed to lean his hand on the arm of the couch, crawling into Lee's lap. Fulfilling the silent request, Lee leaned back, pulling Gaara's hips down and deepening the kiss. With his eyes still closed, Gaara threaded his fingers through Lee's hair and swiped his tongue along Lee's bottom lip, guiding his mouth open with his own. The temperature in the room seemed to be growing by degrees.

He decided to test something new out and ever-so-slightly ground his hips down against Lee's. He felt a hitch in Lee's breath and moved to try it again, intrigued by how nice it felt just to be against him like that.

"What are you watching?" he heard someone say.

Instantly, Gaara's eyes shot open and he made quick work of scrambling off Lee's lap. Sitting on the other end of the couch was Sai, hands folded in his lap, smiling. His body language suggested he'd been there for quite some time, but Sai looked completely and utterly unfazed, as if waiting for them to answer his simple question.

"Sai!" Lee finally said, trying to keep his voice from wavering. His face was beet-red. "I thought you had a workshop today!"

Sai cocked his head to the side. "Workshop was canceled for exams. I thought I would spend some time at home." His eyes fell on Gaara, who was only hoping to blend in with the couch and never been seen in such an embarrassing position again. "I take it you'll be around more often?" Sai placed a pensive finger to his chin, eyes narrowing. "What shall I call you…?"

"Okay, I think we all have learned a lot about each other in the last two minutes!" Lee said too loudly. He shot up and gave his roommate a tight smile, pulling him up to stand. "Sai, would you mind if we had the room to ourselves, please? The two of us will be leaving in just a few minutes."

With a shrug, Sai stood up and started toward the hallway.

"You know, between the both of you, you have enough eyebrows for one person."

"Yes, Sai, thank you for noticing," Lee said politely, but the inflection in his voice suggested he was nearing the end of his tether.

"I always pictured you dating someone with big eyebrows," he continued, toward his room.

"There is more to it than that."

"Ah. Big dick, then?" Sai said just before the door slammed.

Lee came back a few seconds later, face redder than before. The kitchen timer sounded and Gaara stood up from the couch with a gesture that told Lee, 'I'll get it.' He slipped on an oven mitt and pulled the cookies out.

"I am so sorry about him," Lee said softly.

Gaara snickered as he shut the door and turned the dial to switch the oven off. "Don't worry. I was just startled, he came in so quietly."

"Yeah, he does that," Lee noted, with the tiniest hint of annoyance.

With a light laugh, Gaara walked toward Lee and slipped his arms around his waist. That softened him up just a little bit. It didn't take long for him to fold his arms across Gaara's shoulders. They stood there for a long moment, just holding each other.

After putting their cookies in a dish and making sure they had everything they needed, Gaara and Lee set out to Tenten and Neji's for their movie night.

When they rang the doorbell to their apartment, Gaara heard a shriek, followed by the rushing footsteps. He braced himself. In a matter of seconds, Tenten flung the door open and threw her arms in the air, already in footie pajamas even though the sun hadn't completely gone down yet. She flung herself into Lee's arms and was promptly spun around.

"Hi, I missed you!" she said, squeezing Lee tight. Gaara, having known Lee's class schedule, knew that they just saw each other yesterday. He smiled and shook his head. When Lee set her down, she turned to Gaara. "Hi! Can I hug you? Is that okay?"

"Yeah," Gaara said, giving her a one-armed hug since the other was occupied with the cookies.

"Well, come on in! Can't be too rowdy outside. We have this nerdy Pre-Med neighbor downstairs who always gets mad at us for 'making too much noise in the doorway.'" She rolled her eyes and shut the door behind her. "He's always like, 'I don't need to hear you through the ceiling and my window!'"

"Well, maybe if you didn't tap in the kitchen, he wouldn't say anything," Neji said, stepping into the living room. His hair was up in a loose bun and he was wearing sweatpants and an old Beyoncé t-shirt.

"Neji!!" Lee shouted.

He was nearly knocked down when Lee crashed against his chest to give him a hug. Neji placed a tiny kiss on the top of Lee's head, a surprisingly soft gesture coming from him.

"Well, hello to you, too."

"Let's get this shindig going," Tenten said. She turned to Gaara and reached for the container full of cookies. "I can take those from ya!"

Gaara handed them off. When Tenten turned around, he noticed the hood of her footie pajamas had little ears and looked vaguely like a panda bear.

The four flitted between the living room and the kitchen, setting up all of their snacks on the coffee table. Most of the conversation was directed at Gaara, asking about his home life with Naruto, apprehensions about finals, and, of course, his dates with Lee. It had been awhile since he had spent any time with them, so Gaara knew they wanted to be filled in, but part of him suspected they were also trying to make him feel like a part of their already close-knit group.

"Alright, I'm gonna shut all the blinds and make sure we have all our blankets out here. Did you guys wanna change into your pajamas?" Tenten asked.

Gaara and Lee looked at each other and answered "sure" at the same time.

"Cool!" she said. "Bathroom is over by the kitchen--don't ask me why, I don't know who designed this place. Or if you want to use my room, you can!"

They opted to change separately, Lee in Tenten's room and Gaara in the bathroom. When Gaara returned, all the lights were off, aside from the glow of the television.

"Come here!" Tenten said, beckoning Gaara with one arm.

As he stepped closer, he noticed she and Neji were curled in one corner of the couch, wrapped up in several warm blankets with their arms around each other. Lee sat on the cushion in the middle, waiting patiently for Gaara to return, but looked slightly perturbed. He had a separate blanket and lifted it hopefully. Gaara walked over to Lee and slipped underneath, nestling in the corner of the couch. They smiled at each other.

Gaara concluded almost instantly that Tenten and Neji were, with one hundred percent certainty, the types of people who talked in the movie theater. They pointed out weird plot holes, poor acting, and terrible dialogue, with the occasional shake of the head if a character was about to do something stupid. Lee was shockingly quiet, aside from a tiny laugh here or there, but most of the first movie was spent with his hand in Gaara's.

After quite some time, Gaara's eyes kept flitting back to Tenten and Neji as they seemed to sink deeper and deeper into the couch. Gaara turned to Lee curiously. When the other two started getting riled up again, he leaned a little closer to Lee.

"Can we lie down?" he whispered.

Lee turned to him and what looked like relief washed over his face. He lifted the blanket and waited for Gaara to adjust himself. Lee shifted, pillowing his head against Gaara's chest, but quickly looked back up.

"Is this okay?" he asked.

Gaara nodded, folding his arms across Lee's back and rubbing small, soothing circles. He felt his heart slam in his chest and hoped it wasn't too much of a distraction for Lee. It suddenly dawned on him that this was their first time cuddling together and he tried to stop himself from getting too smiley.

Holding Lee and watching movies together turned out to be just as nice as Gaara hoped it would be.

A few films later, Gaara heard Lee snoring softly against his chest. His heart melted at the sight and he looked over to Tenten and Neji, who stood up to stretch their limbs out, touching their toes, and competing over who could pop more of their joints, in a gross test of flexibility.

"Aww, look at himmm," Tenten said, bounding over to Gaara's side and running a hand through Lee's silky hair. "You guys are so cute."

She reached up and pulled out her hair ties, shaking out her surprisingly long hair.

"Did you guys want to sleep in my room?" she asked. "I can sleep with Neji."

"Who said you could sleep in my bed?" he asked, crossing his arms.

"Me, bitch." Tenten stuck her tongue out at him.

"Oh, I wouldn't want to move him," Gaara whispered just as Lee shifted in his sleep.

"Lee? He's a super heavy sleeper," Tenten said at a normal speaking volume, then leaned in and shouted, "I love you!" directly in his ear.

The snores continued and Tenten shook her head.

"See? Nothin'." She stood up. "Do you need any pillows? More blankets? Anything?"

Gaara shook his head. "No, thank you."

"M'kay. See you in the morning!" she called.

"Goodnight," Gaara called back and waved at Neji.

He lay there with Lee, running his hands across his back and through his soft hair, almost overwhelmed by just how much he had come to love him in the last few months. When he brushed a thumb against a soft cheek, Lee's eyebrow twitched and he shifted, curling his fingers against Gaara's chest. He mumbled something nonsensical in his sleep, then fell still in Gaara's arms. The light snoring continued. Gaara held him close and before he knew it, managed to fall asleep right with him.

--

Gaara's eyes fluttered open when a sunbeam crept in through a slit in the closed blinds, leaving a bright streak across his face. He shifted uncomfortably, a strange numbing sensation in his leg from where Lee was still laying on it, and ran his hand along Lee's arm.

"Hm…?" Lee shifted and stretched, then looked up at Gaara with a still-tired grin. "Hello, love… Did you sleep well…?"

There was a familiar twist in Gaara's heart, which might have made him misty-eyed, had he been as quick to tears as Lee was.

"Yeah," he answered quietly, unsure if Tenten or Neji were awake. Since there was no rummaging in the kitchen, he could only assume they were still tucked away.

Lee hummed a reply. He pushed himself up to wrap his strong arms around Gaara and held him close, pressing his face against his neck.

"Can I kiss you?" he asked after some time.

Gaara nodded, expecting a small peck on the lips, but Lee pulled him in to give him a sweet kiss on his forehead. It made them both smile.

They nestled into the couch and Gaara rolled onto his side to face Lee, trying to hide the grimace on his face from jostling his leg too much. Lee's eyebrows came together as he frowned.

"Are you okay?"

"It's nothing. My leg is asleep, that's all," Gaara said burying his head into Lee's impossibly warm chest. He sensed an apology surfacing and squeezed Lee a bit tighter to stop it, tilting his head to press his lips against Lee's jaw.

Lee said nothing. Gaara could feel the growing tension in his arms.

"I'm fine," Gaara reassured him. Then, he added, "I wanted to hold you last night."

There was a distinct pout in Lee's voice when he spoke. "Okay…"

They lay there for several minutes, all light touches and gentle conversation, while Lee massaged circles into Gaara's leg. They were briefly interrupted when one of the bedroom doors creaked open, followed by the sound of running water and a playlist. Gaara swore he heard a muffled "god dammit!" from Tenten's bedroom. Her door flung open in a matter of seconds and she padded her way into the kitchen, hiding her messy hair underneath the hood of her pajamas. She yawned, and greeted Gaara and Lee with a lazy wave.

"Neji got the shower first?" Lee asked.

She grunted a response, then pulled a couple of things out of the fridge.

"It's pancake time," she said in a sleepy voice.

Gaara and Lee sat up and made their way to the kitchen to help Tenten make breakfast. Neji came back not long later, and helped set up plates for everyone.

The group gathered around the L-shaped counter, seated in mismatched chairs and barstools, discussing their summer plans, annoyances with school, and the productions they were excited for in the coming year.

Gaara perked up. "That reminds me."

The three turned to him.

"Naruto told me there was overlap between rehearsals for the spring dance show and that Ibsen play you guys are doing next year," he said, noticing the way Neji tried to hide his eyeroll at the mention of Naruto's name. "Obviously he can't do both, so I sent Kakashi an email earlier this week to ask if I can do it."

Lee dropped his fork and clapped his hands to his mouth. "Really?!"

Gaara nodded. "I've been reading up a lot on the job. I've already been an assistant and by the time I finish my summer classes, I'll meet all of the prerequisites, so."

"That is so amazing!" Lee nearly fell out of his chair when he reached over to pull Gaara into a hug.

"Yeah, that's really great!" Tenten grinned, shoveling more food into her mouth. Neji nodded next to her. "That way you'll be able to see us off before we go!"

"It'll be sad to not have Naruto with me, but I'm excited nonetheless," he said. Lee scooted closer, bouncing excitedly in his seat for the rest of their meal. Under the counter, Gaara reached for Lee's hand, interlocking their fingers, absolutely thrilled at the idea of being able to watch Lee's final performance before he graduated.

--

The coming week passed relatively quickly, a heavy mix of stress from final exams and Gaara's new relationship. But having a new study partner had certainly helped. Between exam periods, Gaara spent most nights at Lee's apartment sleeping, studying, or, most importantly, "de-stressing," which really just meant making out.

Sometimes Gaara would help Lee stretch on the floor while Lee read off potential exam questions for Gaara to answer, which turned out to be mutually beneficial. The two spent many nights together, sifting through textbooks while laying in bed or, in Lee's case, rehearsing choreography. As a non-dancer, Gaara never knew what to say when Lee asked for tips on how to improve, so he usually answered him with a kiss.

Lee also quickly figured out Gaara's finals schedule and slipped cute, encouraging (albeit lengthy) handwritten messages in his notebooks before he left the apartment. He'd kiss Gaara goodbye and follow up shortly with an "I believe in you!!" text with a red heart, which had inevitably made its way back into their conversations. It made Gaara smile every time.

On the last day of finals, Lee had already finished all of his exams and Gaara only had one more test for the class he shared with Naruto. Unfortunately it was at eight in the morning, so he didn't get to stay wrapped in Lee's warmth as much as he might have liked, but when Gaara awoke to the smell of breakfast, he supposed maybe it wasn't so bad.

After eating, showering, and kissing Lee thoroughly, Gaara was ready to head out the door.

"Love, wait," Lee called.

Gaara turned, heart still twisting at the freshness of the name. Lee returned quickly, wrapping him in a flash of green when Gaara looked down to see himself swathed in the green jacket from before. When his eyes met Lee's, he felt palms cover his cheeks and closed his eyes for the kiss he knew was coming.

"I felt like I never apologized properly for taking this back from you," he said, still holding Gaara's face. "I want you to keep it."

"Lee, I can't just take your--"

"Okay, borrow it, then," Lee concluded with a grin. He gently kissed Gaara's forehead and rubbed his thumb across a soft cheek. "At least for the summer."

Gaara nodded. That, he could agree to. Over the course of just a couple of weeks, he had already acquired several of Lee's sleep shirts. Within a few months, Gaara was probably going to own his entire closet.

"I will see you and Naruto after your exam," Lee said.

"Yes."

"And then I will help you pack." He kissed Gaara before he could protest. "Because I want to. And that will be my last chance to see you before you go home."

Gaara nodded sadly at that. Lee dropped his hands to pull him in for a hug.

"Good luck on your exam, love."

"Thank you. Get some rest," Gaara said.

After just a few more kisses, Gaara was off to meet his roommate for some last-minute studying.

He'd hardly seen Naruto since he'd been spending so much time with Lee. But if he knew anything, it was that Naruto, busybody and he was, would relish any opportunity to relentlessly poke fun at Gaara for being sweet to Lee. But tonight, Lee would be coming to the house for the first time since the cast party.

Gaara tried not to think too hard about the events of that night. They were together now and that was all that mattered.

Gaara and Naruto decided to meet in the library an hour beforehand to review notes (and make sure Naruto wouldn't fail). So, while he waited, Gaara made his way over to the front desk with his stack of stage management books, setting them a bit roughly on the counter. On the other side of the desk, a man with silver-dyed hair gave Gaara an irritated glare over his glasses. He pushed them up onto his head and placed his hand on the stack.

"Returning?" he asked.

"Yep," Gaara replied as the man scanned the barcodes on each book.

"Hey, hey!" he heard from the entrance. Naruto came sauntering in, handing Gaara a couple of snacks he'd bought on campus. And of all things, he was wearing fucking pajamas. To a final. And he even had a sleeping cap on.

Gaara shook his head at the sight, then looked down at his own outfit. A brief flicker of a thought passed in his mind, wondering why he himself didn't choose to wear pajamas to his final, but it was quickly dismissed.

Once Gaara's books had been successfully returned, he and Naruto found a small table where they could set up.

"We'll start with government systems and work our way through each unit," Gaara said, pulling out his notebook.

Naruto raised an eyebrow from across the table with a smug grin on his face. "Been having fun this last week, I see."

Gaara made a face back as if to say 'what the fuck are you talking about?'

"Either that's a birthmark I've never seen before, or… you know…" He smirked, making a pointed glance at Gaara's neck.

Gaara's eyes widened and he quickly adjusted the collar of his jacket to hide what he'd only wished Lee had kept a few inches lower.

"Shut up," he mumbled, flipping his notebook open when a folded up piece of paper fluttered into his lap. Gaara lifted it with careful fingers and couldn't help the smile that played on his lips when he read his name on the front.

Last exam!! it read. Only one more exciting challenge to overcome before the summer!!! (Good luck, my love!!) -Lee

Gaara shook his head and noticed Naruto across the table doing the same.

"You guys are so smitten," he said with a good-natured roll of his eyes.

After one more glare from Gaara, the two set to work, studied hard, and headed out to their last exam.

A little over an hour later, mentally spent, and wanting nothing more than to forget about college, Gaara turned in his exam and headed out of the lecture hall, only to be hoisted up and spun around, jarring him. But once he recognized Lee's scent, he held him close.

"You did it! You did it!! You finally finished!" Lee shouted. He looked up at Gaara, happy tears glistening at the corners of his eyes as Gaara pressed a gentle finger to his lips with a laugh.

"Lee, baby, people are still inside," he whispered.

Lee smiled wide, kissed the finger pressed to his lips, and set him back on the ground.

"How long were you standing there?" Gaara asked.

"Oh, a while," Lee answered. "I scared a lot of people!"

Gaara laughed. They walked over to a patch of grass to wait outside for Naruto, lacing their fingers together without a second thought.

"Are you ready to go back to Suna?" Lee asked.

"I am," Gaara said. He pulled Lee's hand into his lap and leaned his head on his shoulder. "But I'll miss you."

"Me, too." Lee squeezed his hand tight. They sat in silence for a few seconds. "Oh! I forgot to tell you!"

Gaara lifted his head in interest.

"I auditioned for a dance company a couple weeks back and I got an email this morning telling me I got in!" he said. "They have pretty intensive rehearsals and a lot of performances toward the end of the summer and from what the schedule looks like, most of our time will be spent training."

"That's amazing, Lee, congratulations!" Gaara pulled him in for a hug.

"Unfortunately that means I may not be able to answer your texts very fast or call you as often as I would like," he said. "But for every minute I am late, I promise I will do--"

Gaara cut him off with a quick peck on the lips. "Lee, don't worry about me. I'll be busy, too."

His expression softened and they gazed at each other for just a moment. They knew the summer was going to be hard, since they had been dating for such a short time and would have to push through long distance early on, but they knew it was only temporary.

"Besides," Gaara said. "That just gives me an excuse to come visit you. It'd be nice to watch you dance without having to squint through a grainy monitor."

Lee brightened at that and Gaara could tell a grandiose list of reasons he appreciated Gaara were surfacing, but he was promptly cut off by the sound of sandals slapping against the sidewalk.

"Heyo!" Naruto said, hands in the pockets of his pajama pants.

"How'd it go?" Gaara asked nervously. Lee stood up and helped him to his feet, taking his bag for him while he was distracted.

"Pretty okay. Pretty sure I passed, that's all that matters, y'know?"

The three headed off to Gaara's car while Lee spouted encouraging words Naruto's way, sure he did spectacularly on the exam.

--

Naruto suggested that the three get lunch before heading home, since it was going to be the last time they would really get to hang out, so they did. Naruto took an abundance of pictures, which got Lee started, and most of their lunch turned into a competition over who could take the best pictures of Gaara (who really just wanted to eat quietly).

When they returned to the house, Gaara pulled Lee into his room, wanting nothing more than a quick nap and absolute silence, which was more of a relative term, since Lee was a bit of a snorer. But after several nights of sharing a bed, he quickly learned to tune it out.

He threw off his shoes, slipped out of his jeans and tossed on a pair of pajama pants in a matter of seconds, crawling underneath the covers as Lee set his things down.

Lee glanced at Gaara's desk and perked up.

"You still have the cactus I gave you!"

"Of course I do," he said. "I keep to a strict watering schedule and I plan to bring it home with me."

Lee looked like he was about to cry, so Gaara decided to distract him by patting the mattress. It worked remarkably fast and Lee crawled onto the bed when they both had a sudden realization.

"This bed is a lot… smaller than yours," Gaara said a bit obviously.

"Well, that just gives us an excuse to cuddle," Lee said, snuggling closer. He buried his face in the nape of Gaara's neck.

Gaara flipped around to face Lee, slipping his arms around his waist and hugging him tight. They lied there, breathing each other in as Lee rubbed a hand up and down Gaara's back, rumpling the back of the jacket he was still wearing.

In a few moments of careful calculation, Gaara pulled back and sat up to remove the jacket. He waited a couple of seconds, then slipped his shirt off, too. He crawled back into strong arms and caught Lee's lips with his own.

They didn't really notice the disappearance of their clothes, once they'd made it completely, one hundred percent clear what they were about to do. Maneuvering around the bed was a bit difficult if they didn't want to fall off, but Gaara felt utterly secure in Lee's arms, held tight, but still treated with the utmost care.

It was awkward at times, a bit messy, but ultimately very sweet.

It turned out to be one of Gaara's nicer afternoons.

--

Most of their final night together was spent lying in bed, embracing the simplicity of shared contact. A kiss, a small touch, taking turns holding each other. They only left the warmth of Gaara's bed if they needed to eat or use the restroom. But they decided to spend most of the night with each other until they inevitably fell asleep in each other's arms.

When Gaara woke up the next morning, a warm hand slid down his bare back.

"Good morning," Lee said.

"Hi…" Gaara stretched and yawned, scooting a bit closer. Lee's hand followed the movement and felt at his side with a faint caress, causing Gaara to flinch.

"Gaara, love, did I hurt you?" Lee asked, alarmed.

He shook his head, leaning to press a kiss to Lee's nose.

"No, I'm just really sensitive there," he said, noticing the faintest flash of a smirk on Lee's face as he pulled away.

"Oh, I remember now," he said slowly.

Before Gaara could think to ask what Lee remembered, Lee reached around his sides and ran his fingers across sensitive skin. Gaara squirmed in his arms, but was flipped back onto the mattress and pinned down, laughing too hard to protest. Lee ran his hands anywhere he could--Gaara's sides, his neck, his stomach, and tickled him relentlessly.

Gaara had been tickled before, specifically by his menace of a brother, but Lee was still careful with him, holding him down enough that he could slip free if he really wanted to. Not that he could really order his limbs to move properly, since he was laughing so much, but still. When Lee attacked his sides and leaned over Gaara to tease his neck with feather-light kisses, Gaara let out a pretty spectacular scream, which he'd warned Lee would happen.

A few seconds later, the two turned to the sound of Gaara's bedroom door being thrown open.

"What the fuck are you guys doing?!" Naruto shouted from the doorway.

They froze in place, Lee straddling Gaara, and both sat up quickly. Gaara's face already felt warm and suddenly his body did, too, since he was currently caught half-naked, alone in his bedroom with Lee.

"We're fine," Gaara said, slightly out of breath. Lee nodded.

"Well, alright," Naruto said, puffing his cheeks out. "But if I hear any more screaming…"

"We're fine," Gaara repeated, tossing a pillow Naruto's way. "Go away."

His roommate made a disgruntled noise, then shut the door. As soon as they heard the sound of the shower squeak on, they knew he wouldn't be back for several minutes.

Gaara didn't quite feel like getting up, so he thought it would be best to enjoy his last morning with Lee before going home and luckily, his tiny bed allowed him the little space to lay half-sprawled across Lee's chest in the perfect position to press tiny kisses to his jaw and run a hand through his glossy hair.

He always imagined he would get used to running his hands through that softness, but it fascinated him every time. Aside from his wonderful smile, his remarkable talent, and his beautiful personality, Lee's hair was still one of Gaara's favorite things about him.

When the front doorbell rang, Gaara sighed, knowing it was probably about time to get going. He sat up with a heavy heart and Lee wrapped him in a firm hug before they got dressed for the day and prepared to pack. From the front door, they could hear Naruto talking loudly, having just gotten out of the shower.

"I should probably say hello to Naruto's father," Gaara said, pulling Lee down for a kiss. "Do you want coffee or anything? I'm about to make some."

"I can come with you," Lee said.

They left the room, hand in hand. Gaara smiled politely as he stepped into the living room with Lee at his side. From the couch, Naruto's dad gave them a wave back, the scar across his nose wrinkling slightly as he smiled.

"Hello, Iruka, always nice to see you," Gaara said.

"You, too, Gaara," Iruka replied, then began to mock-whisper, "I hope Naruto wasn't too much trouble."

"Not at all. The regular hijinks," Gaara laughed.

"I can hear you, y'know," Naruto piped up from the spot next to his dad. He was promptly ignored in place of an affectionate ruffle of his still-wet hair.

"Who's this?" Iruka said, finally looking to Lee.

"Oh! This is, um…" Gaara looked to Lee, then back to Iruka, realizing he'd never actually introduced Lee to anybody before, since everyone already knew them before they started dating. "This is my boyfriend. Lee."

Lee stuck his hand out and smiled warmly. "Hello!"

"Nice to meet you, Lee," Iruka said, taking his hand.

"You, too!" he answered with his usual gusto.

Excusing themselves, Gaara and Lee headed to the kitchen for a small breakfast, then set off to Gaara's room to pack, all while Naruto argued with his father about whether or not he was sufficiently prepared for their vacation.

Most of the packing consisted of clothing, classwork, and Gaara's plants, so it went relatively smoothly. But Gaara made sure to take his time and triple check everything, embracing every last second he had to spend with Lee.

He took one last look in his room as Lee scooped up the cactus and succulent from his desk. A heaving sigh passed through Gaara's lips and he turned to Lee, nodding once as he pressed a hand to his lower back, guiding him down the hall.

"Naruto? I'm leaving," Gaara called.

Within seconds, he was knocked back by his roommate who'd gathered him up in a tight hug. They hugged for a good, long while, knowing it would be several weeks before they could see each other again. Gaara had been thinking all this time about how he wouldn't be able to see Lee. It barely dawned on him how much he was actually going to miss Naruto, too.

"I love you." Naruto's voice wavered slightly.

"... Me, too."

Naruto froze in place, stunned silent for a moment, so unused to Gaara reciprocating verbal affection. He gave him a firm squeeze.

"I'm super proud of you."

Gaara angled his head slightly to whisper back. "Thank you. For everything. I owe you."

Naruto pulled back with a watery laugh and slugged Gaara lightly on the shoulder. "You don't owe me for shit, dude. I'll see ya, 'kay?"

"Okay."

"See ya, Bushy-Brows," he said as Lee bent down to hug him as best he could since he was still balancing the two plants in his hands.

"See you next year, Naruto!"

They walked out to the car and Naruto stood on the doorstep with his dad, waving goodbye.

"Get the fuck outta here!" he shouted. Gaara didn't miss the way Iruka glared down at him disapprovingly.

He shook his head and grinned as he slid into the front seat and started up the car, giving his roommate one last wave goodbye. Naruto had certainly done a lot for him in the past few months and Gaara just knew he was never going to be able to repay him for helping him get together with someone as sweet and selfless and caring as Lee. As Gaara drove off, he looked to Lee, whose very presence made him feel warmer. Lee placed the plants in a small box by his feet, freeing his arms so he could reach over and hold Gaara's hand.

It was silent in the car, save for the sound of the CD Gaara usually kept on at a low volume. Gaara just wanted to enjoy Lee's company for a few moments longer.

"Love?"

Gaara flicked his eyes to Lee's briefly, then back to the road. He brushed his thumb over Lee's in a calming gesture.

"Yes?"

Lee looked out the window. "Nothing… I just… am going to miss you."

"I'm going to miss you, too," he said, bringing their joined hands to his lips and pressing a kiss there. Another brief silence passed over them.

"Gaara?" Lee said. He took the tilt of his head as an indication to continue. "Does it feel like you and I have been dating longer than we actually have been?

Gaara paused for a moment, absentmindedly running his fingers along Lee's, a notion that he'd grown so comfortable with him in just these last few weeks. They'd held hands and hugged before this. Certainly before the cast party and definitely before the dance show was even over. They spent a lot of one on one time together in and out of the dance studios and out in public.

"I was just wondering," he said suddenly, as if embarrassed. A pink flush filled his cheeks. "I just feel like it has been so much longer."

"Yeah. I do," Gaara agreed.

If Gaara was being honest, it certainly felt like they'd been dating for the last two months, even if they never put a name to it. They'd spent time together, shared meals together, shared a bed together, kissed each other, and it seemed like most of the people in the Theater and Dance departments thought they were already in a relationship.

He tried to pinpoint the exact moment they became so close, but his mind was suddenly overloaded with pleasant memories of them spending time together, soon filled with a warmth in knowing that they would definitely have more to build upon in the coming year.

He kissed the back of Lee's hand again.

"I just wonder what our official anniversary date should be," Lee said.

Gaara smiled at him. There was something so endearing about Lee already thinking that far into the future. Someone like Naruto might have thought it was too soon to be thinking of something like that, but Gaara saw this relationship of his going much farther than Naruto's many hookups.

"Well, regardless of what it is, I'm happy I'm with you now," Gaara said.

"Me, too!!" Lee beamed.

They pulled up to the apartment complex and Gaara offered Lee a tiny smile. Lee leaned over to kiss him softly before stepping out of the car so they could give each other one last hug goodbye.

Gaara stepped around to the passenger side, checking his car to make sure Lee had all of his things. Prepared as he was for everything, he tended to be a little forgetful.

"I think that is all!" Lee shut the door and pretended to clap dust off of his hands. "Be safe while you drive, okay?"

"I will be," Gaara said.

"You can always call me if you start to feel sleepy."

"I know."

"But keep both hands on the wheel. Put me on speakerphone, I know it can get very loud, but I do not mind the noise as long as I know that you are safe."

Gaara laughed. "I know, Lee, thank you."

"And make sure to stay hydrated. And to take breaks if you need to. And to text me when you get home because I know the trip is very long!"

Gaara reached out to take his hand.

"Babe, I know."

Lee took a breath. "I know you do… I just worry."

"I know, and you have every right to," Gaara reminded him.

The two stared at each other for just a moment, the weight finally setting in, knowing this would be their last chance to see each other for a long time. Gaara reached his arms up just as Lee came down to meet him. They kissed once. Gaara wrapped his arms around Lee's neck, cupping the back of his head in one palm while Lee held him close, rubbing up and down the sweaterlike material of the green jacket he was letting Gaara keep during the time they'd have to be apart.

"I am going to miss you so much," Lee said with a sniffle.

"I'll miss you, too," Gaara replied, tucking his face into Lee's warm neck.

A confusing bubble of emotions burst in Gaara's chest as he held his boyfriend close and he felt tears prickling at the corners of his eyes, but he squeezed his eyes shut, wanting to be strong for Lee. Although, truth be told, if there was anything he learned from Lee, it was that it was okay to cry.

As Gaara pulled away, he ran his fingers slowly down Lee's arms until they were joined by their hands, not wanting to lose their shared contact quite yet. He looked up and smiled sadly at Lee, who was doing his best not to completely burst into tears. With a delicate touch, Gaara reached up to wipe away the tears that managed to fall. He cupped Lee's cheek and they leaned in to give each other another kiss, this one much slower.

"Gaara?" Lee said as he leaned back.

"Hm?"

"I know it may seem too soon for me to say this, but…" He took a pause. "You were my friend before you became my boyfriend and I was going to say this to you anyway and maybe this is not the right time, especially because I have never been in a real relationship before now and am not completely sure how this works, or when the right time really is, but--"

Gaara squeezed him arm a tiny bit to ground him.

"I love you."

Gaara's eyes widened fractionally and Lee immediately set himself on backtracking.

"Please do not feel obligated to say it back, I know it may seem soon and you may need some time to think about it, I just… Oh, gosh, I am so sorry if that at all made you uncomfortable, I--"

Gaara pulled Lee down and shut him up with another long kiss, which he happily returned.

"Thank you," Gaara said softly. But he knew that wasn't the right response. He knew he loved Lee, but it was just so hard to say it. He was met with a lopsided smile.

"I do mean it though…"

He nodded. "I know."

"Can I give you one last kiss for the road?" Lee asked.

That, he could do. "Of course."

Gaara pushed himself up and kissed Lee pretty thoroughly, doing his best to enjoy Lee's touch, his scent, his taste. He held him close, still so genuinely surprised that this was real and this was happening and Lee was his.

They separated. When Lee pulled away, he looked a little uncertain and broke into a grin.

"Okay, wait, one more," Lee said, making Gaara laugh.

They kissed again.

"... Last one, I swear," he said, smiling too wide to make good use of his lips for a moment.

And Gaara let himself be kissed. It was hard for them not to laugh through most of it, even harder to know that they would have to be apart in just a matter of minutes. But he shoved that thought away, knowing that they still had other means of communication.

Everything would be okay.

"Please text me when you get home, love. Or call me. Whichever you like, just please, please let me know, okay?" Lee reminded him, eyebrows swooping up in concern.

"I will. Send me a text so I remember. I know I'll be tired from traveling."

Lee kissed him on the forehead, then guided him back to the front seat, making sure he was all buckled in and ready to go. Gaara rolled down the window and shut the door, so he could have one last moment with Lee. He knew he was taking all the time in the world, but he'd let himself have it just this once.

"Be safe."

"I will be."

They smiled one last time and Lee leaned in to give Gaara a tiny peck on the cheek.

"Bye, love."

"Bye," Gaara said, starting up the car.

Lee walked around the car and toward the apartment complex to head back to his room. Gaara watched him go, planning to take care in watching him until he was completely out of sight. But with every step Lee took, Gaara still had one nagging thought.

Say it.

He was only about ten feet from the car.

Say it.

Gaara took a deep breath and reminded himself, not for the first time that semester, that there was a first time for everything.

In a flash, he ripped off his seatbelt and threw the car door open.

"Lee!" he shouted.

Alarmed, Lee turned around, ready to fire off a million questions, always concerned for Gaara's safety and general well-being.

He took a few moments to gather himself, then looked to Lee with a small smile.

"I love you, too."

A weight Gaara didn't even know was there suddenly lifted from his chest as Lee grinned back.

He looked relieved.

They came together and made sure to kiss just one more time.

--

The drive back was long, filled with CDs on repeat, then some music Lee had recommended, and for some time, Lee's voice as he kept Gaara awake through the worst of the traffic.

Gaara observed the change in scenery from Konoha's lush greenery to the more familiar sandy desert that was Suna.

Hours later, when he finally parked in the driveway of his home, he was scooped up and out of the car, tossed over Kankuro's shoulder, and dragged into the house while Temari shook her head and helped bring his things inside.

The three made quick work of it, setting everything down in Gaara's tiny room. After being jostled some more by Kankuro and receiving a couple of head pats from Temari, Gaara shut the door to take a nap, hoping to finally take some time to relax after the craziness of the school year.

He flopped down onto his bed, clicking the lock button on his phone. The screen lit up, revealing one of the photos Sai had taken of Lee en pointe, set as Gaara's lock screen. He had one new message, as expected.

He swiped the screen, a warmth filling in his chest as he read.

Boyfriend:
"Hi, my love! Please reply to this message to let me know you have made it home safely!"

Gaara smiled, rolling over in bed to type out a reply. As he shifted, he was hit with Lee's scent, still present on the jacket he was wearing, posing as a sort of comfort before the weight of being apart could fully settle.

He hit the send button, complete with a simple message:

"I'm home."

Followed by a single red heart.