Actions

Work Header

Warmth

Chapter Text

Once they returned to the village, they were met by the Yukikage and an entourage of his security council. It came to light that Yuya and his friends had defected from the village two years ago, and along the way they had committed a series of crimes in addition to the ones they had committed in Suna. Gaara and the Yukikage spoke at length about how to proceed, and they didn’t leave the Council Chambers until almost mid-morning.

Lee tried to get Gaara alone to talk to him about what had happened, but Gaara only insisted that he remain at the hospital until the antidote to the poison had been administered fully and he’d had his other wounds tended to as well.

Apart from that, however, Gaara was silent.

His silence stretched for the rest of the trip and the entire way back to Konoha. After spending the entirety of his way back from Snow complaining about being ‘left out of all the action’, Naruto left them with a fond but sombre farewell. Lee didn’t miss the brief whispering in Gaara’s ear when Naruto grasped him in an awkward bear hug, but he didn’t hear what was said. Naruto’s whining was annoying, but at least it filled the tense silence. Lee found himself almost missing it on the remainder of the journey. Then, finally, when they were met at Suna’s gates by the captain of Gaara’s personal guard and Councillor Saburo, Gaara gave only a curt nod, seemingly ignoring their many questions about Yuya and Akito. The messenger hawk from Yukigakure had only recently delivered the news, and it was apparent from Councillor Saburo’s frazzled appearance that the council, along with Suna’s military, was still scrambling to do damage control for the breach in their defences.

Lee watched after him as they walked into the village proper with a concerned look on his face. He wanted to follow his boyfriend to his personal chambers, crawl into bed with him, and hold him while he processed the events of the last few days. But that wouldn’t happen—their duties were too important, and any stretch of time spent away from Suna meant a colossal backlog of work for the Kazekage when he returned.

Instead, Lee decided that he would use their few hours apart to process it alone before helping Gaara through it. He declined Kankuro’s offer of accompanying him to the izakaya, where he usually drowned his sorrows after a particularly tough mission; to the point that Lee now took ‘come on Lee, let’s go let off some steam’ as code for ‘come with me so I can get irresponsibly drunk and won’t have to find my own way home afterwards’. Not that this bothered Lee; usually he would happily tag along, but he just didn’t have the energy tonight.

He headed home soon after saying waving Kankuro off with an excuse about being too tired. This earned him a funny look, as Lee tended to use fatigue as a kind of flaw that warranted an insane training routine rather than an excuse to not go out. But other than this, Kankuro didn’t question him.

Lee’s apartment was just across from Suna’s large, apparently famous library, and just down the street from the main legislative building, so it wasn’t like he was that far away from Gaara anyway. Still, even as he took a brief shower, changed and then face-planted the bed, all he could think about was his boyfriend—more specifically, what could be going through his mind in light of all that had happened over the past few days.

Gaara’s silence was troubling Lee the most. At this point, Lee would be rather comforted by crying, shouting, or even throwing things in frustration and rage—how he would expect any sane person to react to such a huge betrayal. But given Gaara’s general lack of sanity, it was impossible for even Lee – who was arguably closer to Gaara than anyone else – to predict.

Lee sighed and fiddled with a stray thread on his thin blanket, wondering how many nights he would spend here this week. These days, he spent most of his time at the Kazekage’s estate, to the point that Gaara had begun questioning why he was paying bills for a place he rarely spent two nights in a row sleeping in. Lee smiled faintly. He really hoped he could help Gaara figure this out. They’d come too far in Gaara’s recovery to let a setback like this take them back to square one—not that Lee doubted Gaara’s ability to bounce back! But still, it was worrying considering Gaara’s history with loneliness, isolation, the repeated attempts on his life by his father, and now his friends…

Lee huffed and buried his face in his pillow, searching for some lingering scent of his boyfriend from the last time he stayed there. But it only smelled of that musty, unlived in scent of Suna’s dry sandstone buildings. He sighed in disappointment.

…Maybe silence was Gaara’s response to it. Anyone less familiar with the Kazekage than Lee would probably just be grateful for the lack of dead bodies and destroyed terrain. But for Lee, who liked to think of himself as one of the lucky few people to know Gaara intimately enough, his reluctance to say anything more than strictly necessary was just as troubling.  

Lee rubbed the last of the water from his eyes and decided to take a brief nap, if only to stop thinking about it all for a little while.

*

A few days later, Lee finally finished writing his report and took it down to the administration office. On the way back from delivering it, he decided to head to the bazaar to get something nice for his boyfriend to have for dinner. If Gaara didn’t feel like talking, Lee wondered if food would cheer him up. If Lee knew one thing, it was that curry had a magical way of brightening even the blackest of moods!

…Of course, Gaara had made it abundantly clear the last time Lee served him his favourite curry dish that he would consider a ban on ghost chilli if he made him eat it again, so curry was definitely off-limits.

By the time he was on his way back, the market was beginning to pack up for the day, but the food vendors were still out. Near the bridge, Lee came across Akiyama-san and his daughters. Gaara had mentioned a while back that he had bought food from their stall several times, so Lee figured that he’d be able to find something there.

A short time later, Lee was standing on the doorstep of Gaara’s private residence with two bento boxes. He didn’t think that Gaara would be here at this time of day since he was usually at his office until the early hours on busy days, but he figured he would check anyway. When there was no reply to his knocking, he peered through the round window to see if there was any activity inside. When he saw nothing, Lee frowned. He had his own key to Gaara’s residence (something that Gaara had had to jump through an absurd amount of hoops to sanction), but Lee had never felt right using it—especially when Gaara didn’t even seem to be home.

He sighed, collected their bento and headed over to the legislative building, the only other place his boyfriend was likely to be. He waved to the kunoichi guarding the entrance – who was only there as a formality, really, as the place was being surveilled constantly by dozens of ANBU hiding in the shadows. She gave a small smile and a nod and Lee headed in.

He was on his way up to Gaara’s office on the top floor when he heard the ruckus coming from the main assembly hall. Lee walked over to the galleried hallway connecting to the huge sandstone staircase and overlooking the hall, and then peered over to watch.

At the head of the round table, Gaara looked very small and, to Lee’s surprise – exhausted. To his left, a member of his advisory committee, Councillor Kazuyo, was leaning over the table and yelling at another councillor – Councillor Isamu maybe? Lee couldn’t remember all of their names. There were various high-ranking members of the military in attendance too, including Temari and Kankuro.

Huh, that was weird. Lee hadn’t known that Temari was in town. He’d barely spoken to Kankuro since they’d returned from Snow last week, but he looked even more exhausted now than he had after several days of travelling.

In any case, it seemed as though they were all mostly just shouting at each other. Temari was rubbing her temple like she usually did when she had a stress headache, and Kankuro was bouncing his knee in annoyance. Lee had heard through the grapevine that Kankuro was on a short administrative leave; his fight with Akito had left him with a few broken ribs and a small pneumothorax, which he was predictably not very happy about.

Gaara would constantly try to regain some kind of order, which would work for a few minutes, but then it would rapidly deteriorate into more discord and shouting as soon as someone said something another disagreed with.

It was apparent even to Lee, who was not versed in politics of any kind, that this meeting was going nowhere. He tried to follow what was going on, but they were constantly referencing all kinds of statutes by numerical codes that he had no hope of understanding. After twenty minutes or so of listening to them go around in circles, he decided that he would go wait by Gaara’s office until they were done.

He swung the cloth holding their bento in it slightly as he walked down the galleried hallway, and then sat down on the cushioned bench just outside the entrance to Gaara’s office. It was much quieter here than in the main assembly hall, but there were a few people coming and going. They gave Lee some funny looks, and Gaara’s aide, who was heading out of his own office, stopped to tell Lee that the Kazekage was in a meeting and probably wouldn’t be finished for several more hours.

“Oh, its fine, I’ll wait,” Lee said, swinging his legs a little bit and lifting the bento he’d brought. “I brought dinner.”

Gaara’s aide looked at him strangely, but forced a smile and then carried on down the hallway.

It turned out that Gaara’s aide hadn’t been exaggerating, but it was Temari, not Gaara, who woke Lee up about three hours later with a gentle nudge of his ankle with her foot. Lee woke up gradually, blinking blearily as he registered where he was.

Temari was standing in front of him with her arms folded and a raised eyebrow.

“Temari—?” Lee said, and then yawned. “Whuh time is it?”

“It’s ten p.m.,” she deadpanned.

A glance out of the window confirmed this. It was pitch dark outside.

“What are you doing here, Lee?” she asked.

“I could ask you the same question,” Lee replied.                                        

Temari lugged her fan over her shoulder and set it down against the wall. “I came as soon as I heard about those little Snow bastards from Naruto,” she explained, sitting down next to Lee on the bench. “I arrived this morning.”

“I see,” Lee replied. “How bad is it?”

Temari began counting things off on her fingers as she spoke. “Well, the Council is mostly trying to use this as leverage to diminish the influence of the military on government affairs, the military is trying to use it as an example of why they need more funding for surveillance, Councillor Isamu and his cronies want to expel all foreign-born shinobi from Suna—even the ones who grew up here and fight under Suna’s emblem—at least until the investigation is over, and the advisory committee wants more cooperation from foreign intelligence agencies rather than less. So, as you can see, we’re all on the same page,” she explained, scoffing sarcastically. “Oh, except I guess pretty much all of them want Yuya and his little friends extradited to Suna to stand trial, but that probably won’t happen. They’re already going on trial in Yukigakure for deserting their duties and a load of other crap they pulled before they even made it to Suna.”

Lee frowned. “What a headache.”

“Tch. Tell me about it,” Temari said, shaking her head. “If I have one piece of advice for you, it’s to never go into politics. It is never worth it, trust me.”

There was a brief silence.

“Temari… how does Gaara seem to you?” Lee asked.

Temari glanced at him with a frown. “Gaara..? Same as always I guess. Maybe a little more tired. He’s mostly interested in trying to get them to sign off on this new bill he wrote up that will improve conditions for children who have been orphaned by conflict. It’s pretty ambitious actually, but as I said to him, he needs to focus on the inquest first.”

Lee felt his heart do a little somersault in his chest. “I see.”

“Why? Has he said something to make you worried?”

“No, it’s just… Well, I’ve hardly seen him since we got back. He didn’t say anything the whole journey back from Yukigakure, and… I don’t know how much time you spent with Yuya and Akito, but… they were friends with him, Temari. He… Gaara trusted them. I don’t know how he’s taking it, but it can’t be good—even if he did figure out what was going on before anyone else. But I don’t know how to help him, because I can’t tell how he’s feeling. He hasn’t said anything; I haven’t even been able to catch a moment alone with him. I came by today with dinner hoping we could talk, but obviously he’s too busy right now.”

Temari listened to him with a worried expression, and then she looked a bit sheepish. “I’ll be honest, I didn’t even think about how he’s taking it. I was mostly worried about the breach. I guess I’m not winning any sister of the year awards, even after all this time,” she said with a bitter laugh.

“No, that’s… You are looking out for him, Temari, just in a different way. I just…” Lee began. “I guess I was just worried that he might… backtrack… a little. Not too much! I don’t doubt his sanity that much. But I just don’t want him to go back to how he was when we first fell in love – better, but still… jaded, still too scared to really trust anyone outside of his family and Naruto. When Yuya and Akito befriended him, and even sparred with him, he was so… happy. He didn’t show it, but I could see that he felt like he’d achieved something he’d always wanted. It was like he’d achieved his dream… I was so proud of him.”

Temari looked away, a deep frown etching her handsome features.

“Now, I don’t know where this leaves him. What if he never tries again? What if he… what if he starts to think I’m out to get him too? That I want revenge for what happened in the Chuunin Exams, and that I’ll—”

“Lee, stop it. You’re jumping to conclusions. Gaara does not think that. If he did, then he’d probably have taken Councillor Isamu up on his plans to expel anyone from a foreign village. Anyway, you’ve been his friend since you were kids—you were one of his first friends—and you’ve had plenty of opportunities to get your revenge, if that’s what you wanted. He knows you. He trusts you, I daresay a lot more than he ever trusted those little rats from Snow,” Temari said sternly, gripping his shoulder.

Lee nodded, but his face was still downcast.

“Look, I can’t stay long. I’m due back in Konoha in three days, and I’ve got some paperwork I need to go through with Councillor Kazuyo. I wish I could send Gaara home with you now, but he’s too busy setting up the inquest. He sent me over to grab some files,” she explained with a snort. “That’s an errand boy’s job, but I suspect he wanted me to take a break before I strangled someone.”

Lee nodded. “Would you… would you mind giving him this?” he asked, lifting up the bento box. He could grab some ramen on the way home – Gaara would need the energy more than him. “It’s bento with yakitori gizzard. I got it from a stall in the market he likes.”

Temari smiled warmly, and took it from him. “Sure,” she said. “Go home and get some sleep, Lee.”

*

It took a few more days for the furore over recent events to cool down enough for Gaara to get any kind of free time.

The Council was still in uproar over the assassination attempt on their Kazekage, and as expected, everyone was trying to take advantage of it to further their own agenda. Gaara wasn’t concerned over the callousness of this behaviour considering that he could’ve been killed—after all, Gaara was a shinobi and he risked his life for them on a regular basis—but the constant shouting was becoming a little tiresome. Oh well, occupational hazard.

He was sitting in one of Suna’s larger greenhouses where many of Suna’s citizens—shinobi and civilian alike—took advantage of the long hours of sunshine to grow myriad plant species. It was humid as hell and Gaara fostered a continuing concern over whether the water usage was justified considering they lived in the desert, but it remained one of his favourite places nonetheless.

…Especially in the quietest corner, where the plants being treated for pests and diseases were kept quarantined. People tended to avoid that area due to the strong smell of pesticide that permeated it. To Gaara, who was used to tending his own gardens (both indoor and outdoor), the smell was tolerable. Hidden away behind some drooping palms, there was a small wrought iron table and chair set that had seen better days. On days when he could steal a moment where no one was pressing him to read/write/send something, he would sometimes sit here with a flask of tea and do sweet, sweet nothing.  

Today, he was using his alone time to sit with his head rested on a binder that had been shoved at him by a frazzled desk clerk on his way out of the building. He was meant to read something inside it, but he was uncharacteristically shirking his responsibilities in favour of five minutes of silence.

If he wanted to, he could disappear into the desert to do this, and nobody with any survival instincts would think to follow him, and he could have all the alone time he wanted.

It was tempting, especially today. It had been tempting the moment he’d returned from that frozen hellscape to the wild emptiness of the desert. Something inside him had been hungry for the desolation. He’d missed his emotional twinning with the sandy expanse of nothingness that he’d long thought came from Shukaku, but had discovered upon having the tailed beast torn from his body, was actually just him. It made him feel at peace with the desolation he felt inside, the desolation that was borne from the enforced solitude of his childhood… As if he wasn’t truly alone when the desert was there: always far lonelier than any human could be.

Always more of a friend than any human could ever be.

Always more loyal than any human could ever be.

…But disappearing for an impromptu wander of the desert would mean being away from Lee for even longer, and as much as he craved the emptiness, it was also becoming unbearable to be away from his boyfriend.

Love was a strange emotion. At once he was ravenous for it, and too overwhelmed by the vulnerability it demanded to tolerate it.

…Especially when his efforts to embrace it regardless of the hazards were met with betrayal and pain.

Gaara wondered what Lee would make of his slight regression to his younger years, sans all the blood and death? He’d be… disappointed. There was something rather devastating about having Rock Lee disappointed in you, which Gaara found odd. He had wanted to kill Yuya, Akito and Kaede the moment he’d learnt that they’d hurt Lee and his brother despite the fact that until recently, he’d considered the former two to be his friends. There had been no hesitation, yet he couldn’t handle the prospect of Lee being upset with him for that same mercilessness.

He didn’t even know what to make of those urges himself, honestly.

A small voice in the back of his head told him that this proved that Lee was making him weak, but he’d stopped listening to that part of his mind a long time ago.

There was that other part of his mind that was still too loud though; the part that ached for the deeper desert, the Demon Desert as it was known. From all the emotional exhaustion of the last couple of weeks, Gaara was finding it too difficult to ignore.

Gaara lifted his head up and sat slightly slumped in his chair with his arms folded, his hair a mess from how many times he’d run his fingers through it in aggravation while working today. He wondered what Lee was doing right now. Gaara glanced up at the sky, and realised it was getting to the cooler part of the day. He wondered if he was training down by the arroyo by now. Lee had been training there a lot lately. He said the rock formations around it made it an interesting place to practice his dodge accuracy when moving at speed.

He should really go and find him, like he promised he would in these… darker moments.

The problem with this was that being in the village meant meetings and being hassled by demands. Leaving the village meant being without Lee anyway, who had his own responsibilities and did not have the luxury of being scary enough to get away with shirking them occasionally. Gaara didn’t have it in him to pull his boyfriend away from his training either, as it made him so happy.

Gaara stood up slowly and stretched his back out. He groaned and closed his eyes, before bringing his fingers to the bridge of his nose and squeezing, as if he could wring out the tension that had been building and building ever since he first suspected his friends of betraying him.

When he straightened up, he’d made up his mind: go and see if Lee was by the arroyo. If he wasn’t there, Gaara was heading for the desert, the disaster zone that was Suna’s current political climate be damned.

Because if he couldn’t go to Lee, who else could he turn to?

Who else could look the monstrous side of him in the eye and still love him regardless?

*

One of the more annoying things about working in Suna was the fact that, in addition to his usual shinobi duties, Lee was also given a lot of extra tasks to complete that he would never have to do in Konoha. Most of it revolved around diplomatic duties which usually took the form of paperwork and advising Gaara or Kankuro in certain things, but occasionally he would have to meet with important people or something like that.

Today was one of those days. Lee was trying not to think of all the training he was missing out on – or worse still, being able to finally catch Gaara – and instead focused on the bi-annual conference with all the other diplomats working in Suna he was currently being bored to tears by.

Though in all honestly, ‘conference’ was far too formal a term: they were in an izakaya, and at least half of the attendees were drunk off their asses.

He didn’t realise it of course, but according to Naoki-kun, Keiko-san was flirting with him, and Lee should know better than to reciprocate because Naoki had been trying to get her to go on a date with him for several months. He didn’t seem to realise that Lee wasn’t even remotely interested anyway. Oh, and there was a rumour that Sayako-san was pregnant by her supervisor, but she was denying it to anyone with the balls to ask.

Lee almost rolled his eyes. He never understood why the hell these things became so gossipy. Then again, it might be because gossip in Suna was generally frowned upon (the elders said it was bad luck), so the foreigners in Suna were apt to take advantage of people they deemed to be more tolerant of it.

Lee was stirring his juice with a chopstick and had stared at the poster on the far wall of the izakaya for so long that the brush strokes of the kanji seemed like they were moving. As soon as Hitomi-san started balancing teacups on her face while Natsuko-san cheered her on, Lee decided he’d had enough. He stood up without another word and slipped out before anyone had a chance to notice.

How the hell these people were ever considered for diplomatic posts, he had no idea.

Of course, many people would probably mention his green jumpsuit and orange legwarmers at that, but that was beside the point.

Lee hopped over the stone wall that the izakaya’s entrance was carved into, and began darting across the smooth round rooftops of Suna’s buildings, deftly avoiding the many electrical wires and pylons that connected them. The sun had set over the horizon an hour or so ago, so it was a little harder to see. But Lee knew his way to the arroyo by heart by now. It was currently his favourite place to train, but he hadn’t trained there at night yet. He couldn’t wait to find out how much harder those funny fingers of rock were to dodge in the dark!

It was gone midnight by the time Lee was finished. He didn’t know exactly how he could tell, but he’d trained at night enough times to get a kind of sense of what time it was despite the lack of sun in the sky.

Getting into bed that night felt like falling asleep on a little cloud, and his sleep was deep and restful.

It was just as well, because by morning, it seemed as though all hell had broken loose.

Kankuro met him at his office, to Lee’s surprise. His hood was pushed down and his hair was more messy than usual. He looked… scared. It was a look he’d seen before, but Lee had never seen his friend this worried off the battlefield.

“Kankuro?” Lee asked, clutching a pair of scrolls he’d picked up from his pigeon hole.

“Lee,” Kankuro sighed, turning away from a harassed-looking chuunin who worked in Lee’s administration building. He looked very expectant. “Please tell me you’ve seen Gaara.”

Lee felt like someone had just dropped a cinderblock on his stomach.

“…No?” he said. “Um, why? What’s happened?”

Kankuro groaned. “No one’s seen him since yesterday. According to his aide, he said was heading out for some fresh air, and then he just didn’t come back.”

“What?!” Lee replied, his eyes becoming impossibly wider. “Where could he have gone?!”

“Your guess is as good as mine. Probably better, in fact,” Kankuro replied, placing one hand on his hip and rubbing his forehead with the other.

“Oh man. This is bad. I knew I should’ve tried harder to speak to him! We haven’t been able to get any time together since we came back from Snow, and I knew something was up with him,” Lee cried, slumping down into a nearby chair.

“Lee, you need to calm down. I’m going to organise a search party. Do you have any idea where he could’ve gone?”

“The only place I can think of is into the desert.”

“Oh, well, that narrows it down,” Kankuro scoffed.

Lee looked a bit sheepish. “Have you checked the greenhouses? Sometimes he goes there to get some space,” he said.

“It’s worth a look,” Kankuro replied. “I have to keep the Captain updated, and then I’m going to personally kick the asses of every one of Gaara’s ANBU for letting him slip past them… when we’ve found him, of course.”

Lee was staring at the desk in front of him, worry etched into his face.

“Lee?” Kankuro asked.

“I promised him I wouldn’t let it get to him… I let him down.”

Kankuro looked a bit confused, and very troubled. “What are you talking about?”

Rubbing at his nose violently, Lee continued in a quiet, broken voice. “I promised I’d be there for him if he needed me, and I wasn’t, and now he’s disappeared, probably into the desert to do god-knows what…”

Shifting a bit uncomfortably, Kankuro sighed and placed a large hand on Lee’s shoulder. “Lee, buddy. I am not a pep-talk kind of guy, but you have to listen to me. I won’t pretend to know the intricacies of what you have with my brother, but I know that sitting here getting upset about it isn’t going to bring him home. So, not to be too harsh or anything, but you have to nut up. Get your shit together, and meet me by the village gate in half an hour.”

Lee shook his head and set his jaw in determination. “Right,” he said.

Kankuro gave him a pat on the shoulder and then left, muttering something about little brothers under his breath.

The search party comprised of Gaara’s personal ANBU bodyguards, several high ranking jounin (including two with ninken), Kankuro and of course, Lee. They set out towards the command post that bordered Suna’s western frontier at a quick pace, the low early morning sun making it a little easier to gain speed. Kankuro was keen to make it there before the midday sun made travelling at speed impossible. They would convene with the garrison manning the command post and go from there.

Lee had suggested taking his weights off and opening a few gates to get there before them, but Kankuro had made it clear that this was not a good idea; if Gaara was in trouble, he would need to conserve his chakra.

This was obvious in hindsight, but Lee’s worries were making him desperate. He trusted Gaara not to do anything stupid. Even if he was having a bit of an episode, to the point that he thought it would be a good idea to disappear into the desert without notice, Lee knew and believed in his boyfriend enough to know that he wouldn’t get himself into trouble on purpose.

According to the Commander of the western garrison, a number of their more sensitive shinobi had sensed the Kazekage’s chakra approaching them the previous evening. However, despite efforts to locate him, they had been unable to track him down and lost his signature a short time afterward. The only thing they could tell was that he was heading deeper into the desert, specifically towards the Demon Desert.

“Well, that’s just great,” Kankuro sighed, flopping down into the Commander’s chair at the head of the table and folding his arms.

“So what? We just follow him into the Demon Desert until we find him,” Lee said with a shrug from where he was looking out of the window, as if he would see Gaara strolling up to the command post door.

Both Kankuro and the Commander looked at him dubiously.

Lee turned to face them. “What?”

“No offence Lee, but you’re not exactly... prepared… to spend that length of time out there,” Kankuro replied carefully.

“What? I’ve been out there loads of times. I’ve even been out there with you,” Lee said.

“Yeah, but this is different. You’re not looking for a bandit or a missing nin or whatever asshole you’ve had to hunt down out there before. Gaara is basically in his element out there and he can mask his chakra better than anyone else in any of the Hidden Villages. It’ll be like trying to find an invisible needle in a very, very big haystack,” Kankuro explained.

 “But Gaara won’t hide from me,” Lee replied, as if it was obvious.

It was quiet for a moment while the others considered this. “With respect, Kankuro-san, Lee-san may have a point,” the Commander said.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea,” Kankuro said, closing his eyes.

“Well what else are we going to do? Do you think he’ll want to speak to you?” Lee asked. He winced immediately. He hadn’t meant for it to come out like that, but it didn’t make it any less true. Lee knew that Gaara wouldn’t show up for anyone other than him if his mental state was this bad.

If it bothered him, Kankuro didn’t show it. “Probably not, Lee. But I know he’s alright out there. You? I’m not so sure about. And the last thing I want to do is send you back to Konoha in a body bag, and then have to explain to the Hokage why I let an underprepared, way-too-emotionally-invested envoy from his village go out into a highly dangerous area of the desert that even I don’t like heading into.”

“You could try having a little bit more faith in me,” Lee replied with a frown.

“That’s not the point, Lee! I know you’re a good jounin, but you have to listen to me when I say that this isn’t a good idea.”

Lee sighed and let his head fall back against the wall. “Well, like I said, he’s not going to show for you. You don’t understand him when he’s like this. I do. I can talk him down.”

Kankuro was silent and closed his eyes.

“How about this: I will head out into the desert—”

Lee—”

“—and you follow behind with the others at a safe distance, just to make sure that there are no threats.”

Kankuro sighed and looked at his hands as he considered this. Then, closing his eyes, he spoke again. “Alright, fine. But you pull back the second I tell you to, okay? If you don’t, I’m going to personally smack the shit out of you as soon as we get back to the garrison.”

Lee was practically out the door before Kankuro had even finished his threat.

*

In Suna, children were told stories about the Demon Desert to teach them about the dangers of the place they lived. If they misbehaved, the giant snake from the Demon Desert would slither into their beds at night and swallow them whole, leaving just their regurgitated skeletons behind. If they didn’t eat all their food, the sixteen-legged tarantula of the Demon Desert would creep up the stairs and hide under their beds, ready to pounce on them when they got up in the morning. The list went on.

To Lee, some of these stories were pretty morbid and, in his opinion, fostered an unhealthy fear of wildlife.

…Then again, a giant red scorpion that could launch half a platoon of highly skilled shinobi almost a mile across the desert with a flick of its tail probably didn’t count as wildlife in the typical sense.

“Still feeling that idea to head out here alone?” Kankuro yelled, his fingers contorting as he directed his puppet.

Lee didn’t answer, instead focusing on subduing their enemy.

Once they’d overcome the beast, they regrouped, tended to their relatively superficial wounds and carried on. Lee stayed some distance ahead so that Gaara would know he was at least somewhat isolated from the group should he decide to make an appearance.

They were making their way alongside a large red sandstone bluff when Lee felt the slight splintering of the air around him, the telltale sign to a shinobi that they had company. He didn’t know if the others felt it too as they were some distance behind him, but they probably did.

He slowed his pace to a leisurely stroll, already anticipating Gaara’s arrival. He didn’t appear quite as quickly as Lee expected him to, and for a few minutes he was concerned that Gaara was just hiding away, watching him, and that he wouldn’t even show himself.

It was only when he was turning a corner to pass the northern tip of the bluff that he felt Gaara’s presence spread from a mere static in the air to a full blown torrent of chakra. Lee started a bit as he felt it, taken by surprise despite his awareness of his boyfriend’s presence. Lee immediately realised why Gaara had waited: he had taken a turn into a large cleft in the sheer sandstone wall of the bluff, where the rest of the platoon wouldn’t be able to see him for the few minutes Lee would be out of their sight.

Lee glanced around to find his boyfriend, but there was still no sight of him. Then his eyes caught sight of a small amount of sand fluttering unnaturally near a narrow crevice in the sandstone, and Lee smiled. With Gaara, this was as good as a beckoning finger.

Lee jogged over to it and slid himself sideways through the small gap, then shuffled along between walls of stone until he came into a sandy grotto. The sand getting into his sandals felt much cooler here, and it was a relief from the sweltering heat of the midday sun outside. He continued on through the dark space, which was tricky as his eyes still hadn’t quite adjusted fully to the sudden lack of light. He followed the fluttering of sand that slithered across the grotto like a snake, then through another small passage of sandstone until he came to a plateau.

What was on the other side was really quite breathtaking.

There was a waterfall cascading down from a plateau near the top of the bluff and into a pool that it had carved for itself out of the bedrock over a long period of time. It settled into the pool several feet below the ledge Lee was standing on. The water was a crystalline, azure blue, and after spending all day travelling in the desert sun, Lee was incredibly tempted to just dive in to cool off.

He glanced up to see where the water was coming from, bringing his hand up to shield his eyes from the bright sunlight that poured in from the crack at the top of the bluff. The hiss of the waterfall seemed loud after the calm of the desert outside, but it was mostly just the echo he could hear. It was such an isolated place for an oasis that much of the succulent plant life growing around the water’s edge was undisturbed by animals.

Lee jumped a little as he heard the slithering sound behind him become much louder. He turned fully when he saw the sand taking the shape of a human figure, and then gradually his boyfriend’s face emerged from the waterfall of sand.

“Gaara,” Lee sighed, somewhat relieved.

“Lee,” Gaara replied, his voice flat. “What are you doing out here?”

“Looking for you,” Lee replied, as though it was obvious. “You didn’t exactly give us a lot of notice when you decided to come out here.”

Gaara didn’t answer that. His face was impassive, an unsettling reminder of his younger days. Lee didn’t like it.

“I was worried about you. I’ve—I’ve actually been pretty worried about you since the mission to Snow. We haven’t had a chance to talk about that,” Lee added, stepping a little closer.

“What is there to talk about?” Gaara asked, his voice oddly more… robotic than usual. “We were betrayed. I discovered the betrayal before anyone was seriously hurt, and the conference was productive.”

Lee looked at Gaara softly. “You were betrayed.”

“You were friends with them too, as was Kankuro, and many others in Suna who came into contact with them.”

“Gaara,” Lee said gently.

Gaara stared at him.

Lee approached him carefully. “I know this hurts you more than it could hurt anybody else. What do you have to gain by pretending that everything is okay when it’s not?” he asked, looking at his boyfriend imploringly.

If he was getting through to him, Gaara’s eyes gave no hint of it. He simply stood there with his arms folded, his face still.

Losing patience a little bit, Lee huffed. “So what? You’re just going to sulk out in the desert about it?”

“I am not—” Gaara began, but he stopped and clenched his jaw. “There is nothing to talk about, Lee. You should not have come out here.”

“Why not? Maybe I felt like seeing my boyfriend after a week of no contact, too,” Lee replied. “Did you even think of that?”

Gaara didn’t say anything. Lee knew that Gaara rarely felt any form of guilt – he wasn’t even sure that it was a part of his emotional vocabulary. But he knew that Gaara had to be missing him too.

“I did come looking for you. You weren’t where I thought you would be,” Gaara replied.

Lee frowned. “Oh? Where did you think I would be?”

“Training.”

“Where?”

“By the arroyo.”

“Oh. Did you think to check the indoor arena? What about the outdoor one? The gym? Ishizaki-sensei’s dojo? The izakaya your brother drags me to after work sometimes?” Lee asked, tilting his head to the side and folding his arms.

“…No,” Gaara replied, looking out over the oasis.

Lee looked at Gaara in annoyance. “So you didn’t look very hard, then.”

“I have nothing to prove to you,” Gaara snapped, turning away from his boyfriend.

“I wish you had tried harder,” Lee snapped back. “You promised you would come and find me when things got like this.”

Gaara didn’t answer that.

“Gaara… I really wish you would at least acknowledge that you’re hurt by what Yuya and Akito did to you… You really cared for them, I know you did.” Lee approached his boyfriend until he was standing just behind him. He smiled as he felt the red spikes of hair brush against his chin, then placed his hands on Gaara’s shoulders and rubbed gently.

It was only then that Lee realised how stiff Gaara’s body was. He could always feel tension in the smaller man’s frame, but right now it was like touching stone. He examined the small amount of flesh visible at Gaara’s nape to see if he was wearing the sand armour, which he didn’t seem to be. Lee didn’t let the rigidity of his boyfriend’s body hinder his touch. He felt Gaara’s frame loosen a bit as he worked his thumbs into his deltoids anyway, but there was still something off-kilter inside him, and Lee was determined to help him figure it out.

“Please… Please come back to the village with us. I want to help you through this. I can’t imagine how much pain you’re in.”

Suddenly, he felt Gaara’s shoulders begin to shake. Lee thought he was crying for a moment, but he realised, with no small amount of confusion, that Gaara was laughing.

It started off a silent chuckle, but it soon exploded into the brittle, deranged laughter that had once haunted Lee’s dreams. He let go of Gaara’s shoulders and took a step back.

“Gaara..?”

“Pain?!” Gaara barked. “They were nothing to me. I wish I had killed them when I had the chance!”

Lee blinked, stunned. “You… you don’t mean that...”

“Don’t I?” Gaara snarled, turning to look over his shoulder at Lee. His eyes looked darker than Lee remembered seeing them for a long time.

Lee swallowed, but he didn’t turn away. He didn’t think he knew how to.

“If you think trying to scare me is going to make me give up on you, then you’re wrong. Frankly I’m a little upset you would even consider that,” Lee replied, folding his arms.

Gaara walked away from him and hovered around the edge of the small plateau they were standing on. He was mumbling something.

Lee watched him for a few minutes, wondering if Gaara had even heard him.

“Gaara,” Lee began softly, wondering if his boyfriend had managed to get a handle on his emotions enough to speak to him properly. “Please come with me back to the village. I’m worried about you. Everybody is… and… I need you to come home with me, please. You… you need me—”

“I don’t need you! I don’t need anybody!” Gaara snarled, snapping his head around almost unnaturally fast.

Lee was silent, a little shocked.

Gaara stared at him. He didn’t seem to notice or even care that Lee’s eyes were beginning to shine with tears. Gaara’s own eyes had lost the vicious, piercing glint that they’d had before, as if he’d shocked even himself with his words. Now they were dull like sea glass.

Letting out a shaky breath, Lee swallowed the lump in his throat. He really hadn’t anticipated just how deeply Yuya’s betrayal had wounded his boyfriend. Seeing it reflected in the rawness of Gaara’s breakdown was jarring to say the least.

“He didn’t…. He didn’t mean anything he said either… Yashamaru… He… he wanted me dead too… For killing his sister… Mother…” Gaara muttered, barely audible. The sand at their feet gave a strange shuffle, as if answering a call.

Lee knew Gaara’s past all too well, so he felt a bit stupid for not noticing the parallel sooner. He closed his eyes as he felt a tear roll down his cheek.

“Gaara…” he choked out. “Please… please come back… I know it’s hard, but you have to try. If not for yourself… then for your village. Please. They need you, even if you don’t think you need them.” He wasn’t sure what he was asking to return: Gaara’s emotional equilibrium, or his physical presence in the village.

Gaara didn’t seem to hear him. Lee knew that the others were probably losing it out there, but there was no way he was leaving his boyfriend alone in this state. There was still no response from Gaara though; he simply stared out over the oasis. Lee sighed and sat down on a nearby rock.

After a few minutes, Gaara seemed to notice him again. He frowned at him, his eyes a bit more focused now.

“You’re still here?” he groaned.

“Yes,” Lee replied, as if it was obvious.

Gaara huffed.

“So that’s it then? You’re not coming back?”

“Will you please leave me alone?” Gaara snapped.

“Not until I know you’re coming back. And if you don’t and you run away from me now, I promise I’m going to keep scouring this desert looking for you. I don’t care if it kills me.”

Gaara looked at him sharply. Lee knew that his boyfriend knew he meant it.

“I’m serious, Gaara. You can’t just give up because being vulnerable got more difficult all of a sudden. You have to keep trying. I’m not going to let you just walk away from it. Gai-sensei said that the sea doesn’t wear away the cliff in one blow; it crashes against it again and again to carve more space for itself.”

Gaara growled—a strange, animalistic sound that not many people had heard him make and lived to tell the tale.

Lee would’ve smirked if he had it in him to be mischievous. He knew he’d hit the right nerve. Or maybe it was just that he was emulating Gai-sensei and his grand speeches, which often annoyed Gaara when he was in his darker moods. 

“Look, the others are not far away. Let’s go out and meet them, shall we? They’re all worried. Especially your brother,” Lee said softly.

Gaara didn’t say anything for a long moment. He seemed to be thinking.

“…Gaara?”

“I am not coming back.”

“What?! But you can’t just—”

“I’m not ready,” Gaara muttered. His voice was near a whisper, and he sounded very small and vulnerable all of a sudden.

The rapid changes in his lover’s emotional state were almost enough to give Lee whiplash.

“If…” Gaara began.

“…Yes?”

“Will you meet me by the arroyo?” Gaara asked, peering up at Lee almost shyly.

“…When?” Lee murmured.

“…Soon. I don’t know when. At night,” he replied. “I’ll be ready.”

Lee’s gaze softened. “Okay.”

Gaara didn’t say anything else. After giving Lee a long, unreadable look, he began to dissipate into his ephemeral sand form once more. Lee watched him float up and slip through the gap in the rock above them, the sand flowing in graceful arcs.

*

The days that followed seemed to drag on like nothing else. Not that Lee was ever one for administrative duties, but knowing that Gaara would return soon, and most likely at night, was making the time spent at his desk seem to go even slower.

Kankuro had been beyond annoyed with Lee for giving him the slip like that, but when Lee told him about their conversation at the oasis – albeit a watered down version of it – he’d soon let the subject go. At this point, Kankuro would just be happy for Gaara to get back so he no longer had to fill in for him. The last time Lee spoke to him, he had been on the verge of ordering the assassination of two particular Council members who would not stop antagonising each other. Or so he had said, anyway.

Still, at least Lee could still train. That never ceased to make time pass more quickly. He’d begun working faster at the office so he could finish early and head out to the arroyo to train, just on the off chance that Gaara would show up before sunset.

Lee chewed his lip as he drew lazy squiggles in the corner of the page he was writing on. He was meant to be detailing his contribution to the upcoming transfer of a Konoha-born criminal back to Fire Country for trial, but he just couldn’t focus on anything else but his boyfriend’s return. Lee glanced up at the clock and his mood soured a little bit more when he realised that he still had an hour and a half left.

He wasn’t going to get anything done today, he realised. He didn’t usually skip out on work early – Lee was dutiful to a fault – but he just couldn’t stay here and do nothing. Besides, he didn’t want to rush his work, and he figured that he wouldn’t finish it today anyway. He tidied up his desk and collected the papers he needed to send off, making some excuse about heading over to the aviary to check if some urgent post had arrived yet. Barely anyone else in his office noticed him leaving, apparently a lot more absorbed in their work than Lee was.

Hopping over the rooftops toward the entrance to Suna felt more liberating than Lee could remember it being before. He made it to the arroyo in what felt like record time, leaving a trail of little dust clouds in his wake.

Gaara, however, was nowhere in sight.

Frowning, Lee called out his boyfriend’s name a few times just to make sure he wasn’t obscured by a cactus or a rock, and even made sure to check here and there just in case. But there was no sign of him. Lee focused his mind to check if Gaara’s chakra signature was there, even residually, but… nothing.

Oh well.

Lee began doing some warm-up stretches, and then set to going through his usual routine.

The time passed a lot more quickly now, as it usually did, and by the time Lee had completed the complex routine of kata, cardio and muscle building exercises, the sun was beginning to set.

Panting, he wiped the sweat from his brow and walked over to his backpack to pick up a rag. He wiped his face and rummaged around for a bottle of water, and then sat down to drink it while he watched the sun set over the horizon.

Lee’s eyes felt heavy as he watched the sky gradually become darker. He was still sitting upright on the ground, but as he had trained himself to sleep while running (among other things), it wasn’t long before he was drifting off to sleep.

He woke up with a start to much cooler weather, his senses prickling violently as he registered a powerful chakra signature approaching him. Lee was not a sensor type, so although he could feel another’s chakra like any other shinobi, he wasn’t able to sense it as keenly. However, when that chakra belonged to Gaara, his lover and best friend, who he had been pining for like a lost limb, it was rather impossible to ignore.

Gaara appeared before him in the same jutsu he had the other day. Like a dust devil at first, and then a waterfall of sand that gave way to his striking face, illuminated by the moonlight and the dim glow of Suna’s lanterns on the horizon behind them.

“Gaara,” Lee breathed, feeling as though a weight was rolling off his chest.

Immediately, Lee could tell that Gaara didn’t seem half as disturbed as he did the other day. His face was its usual impassive mask; the only sign that anything was wrong was that his eyes were lacking the radiant peace Lee had often coaxed from him when they spent a few hours alone.

Lee couldn’t help but smile.

He stood up slowly, stretching his back a little as he took a few steps closer. Gaara didn’t seem upset by this, so he continued until there was just a foot or so between them. He slowly brought his hands up to Gaara’s face, watching his eyes for any sign of distress. Gaara just peered down at his hands and made no move to stop him, so Lee kept on, finally bringing them up to cup his face.

Ever so lightly, he tilted Gaara’s chin up so he could look him in the eyes fully.

“Everything okay?” he murmured, his dark eyes searching his face.

Gaara looked at him wearily. It seemed as though he was trying to hold himself together, and the stony façade was crumbling a bit. He opened his mouth as though to speak, but stopped himself. He only nodded once.

“Good,” Lee whispered. “Can I…?” he began, and stepped forward to wrap his arms around his boyfriend slowly.

Gaara stepped into his arms fully, taking Lee by surprise. He wrapped his arms tightly around Lee’s chest and buried his face against his pectoral muscle.

Smiling, Lee embraced him tightly. He sighed, his breath making the short spikes of hair tickling his chin flutter slightly. “I missed you,” he whispered, and rested his cheek against Gaara’s forehead.

Gaara tilted his head up a little so Lee’s lips brushed the kanji on his forehead. “Missed you too,” he muttered.

They stood like that for a long while, simply basking in the closeness of one another. It was like coming up for air after a long time spent underwater, and Lee hummed at the warmth that was emanating from deep inside him.

“It’s okay,” he whispered, gently stroking Gaara’s head. “It’s all okay.”

A moment later, Gaara was pulling back slightly, but not far enough to break their embrace. He looked from Lee’s eyes to his mouth, and gently brought one hand up to stroke Lee’s lower lip. Then, without any further warning, he leaned up and pressed their mouths together.

They kissed gently, sweetly even, in a way that made Lee’s legs feel like they’d turned to jelly. He moaned into it softly, tilted his head to the side and deepened it.

With the first brush of tongue, Gaara seemed to grow suddenly more impassioned. He reached up to cup the back of Lee’s head, and began to suck his tongue into his mouth even more, slipping and sliding his own along it greedily.

Surprised, Lee’s eyes flickered and he shifted a bit. He closed his eyes and lost himself to the kiss, feeling as though he was being pulled along with the current. He should really—stop—they-they needed to talk!

“Wait,” Lee said, pulling away from the kiss with a slick noise that made him shiver. “Don’t you—Shouldn’t we discuss everything first?”

Gaara scowled at him and shook his head, then moved in to kiss Lee again.

Lee turned his mouth away, earning himself an even deeper scowl. “I’m serious, Gaara! You can’t just disappear into the desert for days then just—just jump me the second you come back!”

It occurred to Lee that Gaara was the Kazekage and could, in fact, do as he pleased to a large extent, but that was beside the point right now.

Gaara’s eyes narrowed. “I don’t want to talk right now. I haven’t touched you in nearly two weeks. I need…” he trailed off, as if unable to find the words for what he needed. “I need to feel… closer…”

Lee swallowed and felt his cheeks burn. Looking down into his lover’s eyes, it was very difficult to ignore the intensity that stared back at him.

It was very difficult not to get turned on by it, too.

“Touch me, Lee,” Gaara said, his voice low with need and his fingers tightening in the fabric of Lee’s jumpsuit.

Lee’s heart was pounding away in his chest. It was impossible to deny his arousal. He let out a nervous breath he didn’t know he was holding in. Then, after a moment’s hesitation, he caught Gaara’s lips in his own once more and all but devoured his mouth, moaning deeply. Gaara responded with the desperation of someone forced to sit through a week’s worth of tedious meetings before wandering the desert alone for several more days afterward.

A small gasp broke their kiss as Gaara pushed Lee up against a nearby boulder, but they were latching onto each other again in no time. Lee buried his fingers in Gaara’s dusty hair, dislodging sand particles and combing it back from his face as he cupped his head tenderly. Gaara braced himself against the rock with one hand planted against its surface for balance, but the other one was resting against Lee’s pectoral muscle and caressing it softly.

The same hand slithered down possessively and he let go of the rock to hold onto the back of Lee’s neck. Lee broke away from their kiss with a gasp when he felt Gaara’s hand at his crotch. He huffed as he felt him rubbing along the length of his cock through his jumpsuit. It was almost embarrassing how quickly Lee got to full mast when Gaara touched him…

Any thoughts of embarrassment were soon eclipsed by pleasure though as Gaara’s hand moved lower to cup his balls, and then up again to try and fully grip his cock through the fabric.

When he didn’t succeed, Gaara let out an impatient growl and fumbled for the zip at the back of Lee’s neck with his other hand. He pulled it down swiftly and Lee shuffled around to pull his jumpsuit down over his shoulders. He’d abandoned the flak jacket a short while into his training routine, finding it easier to practice his kata without it. This made it significantly easier to push the top of his jumpsuit down just enough for Gaara to free his hard-on from his underwear.

Still, Lee was a little unprepared for the sudden pleasure that struck him when Gaara grabbed him and gave him one firm pump. He moaned loudly and his legs buckled below him. His back burned a little as he slid down the rock face to the floor, pulling Gaara with him until they were a tangle of limbs on the sand.

Above him, Gaara got to his knees and let go of Lee’s cock. He unfastened the buckles holding his coat around his body and then pulled open the loose, draping red fabric that Lee had become so fond of. He shrugged it off of his shoulders and then lifted the mail shirt from his body and over his head, revealing his own smooth, pale skin beneath.

Lee reached for him and pulled him into his arms. Gaara kissed him, wrapping his arms around his neck and moaning as he stroked his tongue against Lee’s erotically. Lee sighed as Gaara lie down on top of him, the feeling of their bare chests pressing together making him shiver. A warm, peaceful pleasure settled into his belly as Gaara hooked a leg over his hip and began to grind against him awkwardly.

“Gaara—” Lee gasped, and reached around his lover to grab his ass and pull his hips in closer. This close, Lee could feel Gaara’s heart thudding against his ribcage, the only indication of his desperation other than the full hardness currently prodding against his belly.

Gaara hummed low in his throat as Lee began to pull at the other belt around his boyfriend’s hips. He unbuckled it quickly and shoved Gaara’s waistband down over his narrow hips until his cock was freed from its confines. He looked down between their bodies with a deep breath and groaned. He wrapped one bandaged hand around Gaara’s shaft and began to pump him firmly.

The whimper of pleasure Gaara released went straight to Lee’s cock. He felt himself twitch powerfully and he let out a breathless moan of pleasure. Gaara’s hand was joining his now and Lee moaned as he realised what he was doing; he shifted so their cocks were aligned and then wrapped his hand around them both, humping into the tightness of his fist.

“Oh—Gaara—” Lee gasped.

“Hnn…”

Gaara’s teeth sinking into his neck was unexpected, but very pleasant. Lee let out a shuddering gasp as he felt his lover bite him harshly – it was painful, but compared to the injuries Lee gave himself when he trained, it was negligible. Gaara lapped and laved over the area as if to apologise and then seemed to search for Lee’s lips once more.

Lee moaned as he kissed his lover once more, the taste of his mouth strangely addictive. He held Gaara around the waist and pulled him close, trapping their erections between their bodies and rubbing himself against the lean muscles on his boyfriend’s stomach.

“Lee—” Gaara breathed, and pulled the leg hooked around Lee’s hip a bit tighter to increase the friction. He let go of their cocks and brought his hand up to rub a nipple with his thumb.

They both moaned breathlessly as they found a kind of sweet spot, with just the right amount of friction and pressure to rub against just the right spots. Every now and then, Lee’s fraenulum would catch on the edge of Gaara’s belt and it would send a searing hot pleasure through his body for the briefest of moments, and he would moan loudly enough for Gaara to growl possessively in response.

Once they had a rhythm going, the intensity of their movements increased. Gaara was grunting and growling every time he felt Lee pulse against him, and there was a growing wetness between their bodies. They rutted against each other like dogs, and the sight of Gaara riding him in this way after so long barely seeing each other was almost overwhelming.

Lee knew he didn’t have the patience to keep going for too long—which was unlike him—but Gaara seemed all too aware of this and was keen to get him there.

“Come—come for me, Lee—I want—I want to see it—I want to see your face—” Gaara growled, his voice jumping a little from the force of their rutting.

Lee felt the pleasure crawling up his back, his balls pulling up close to his body. He held Gaara impossibly close as he thrust his hips back and forth fiercely.

“Ooh… Gaara, I’m—” he breathed out, shuddering violently. He suddenly pushed his lover back into the sand and began to rut against him in an imitation of fucking, stopping Gaara’s thrusts completely. He screwed his eyes shut as he rubbed against him harshly, and within moments he came with a strangled grunt that dissipated into a stream of desperate, high pitched moans. His cum spilled out in sticky streaks over Gaara’s taut abdomen and Lee shuddered at the sight.

Below him, Gaara was watching, enraptured.

It took Lee a few moments to catch his breath. He panted over Gaara’s body, his head hanging between his muscular shoulders as he braced himself on his hands over his lover’s body. His hair was a dark curtain obscuring his face, but he flicked it out of his eyes and pushed it up to wipe the sweat from his brow.

He didn’t have much time to recover however, as he’d barely sat up when he heard an excited growl from the man below him, right before he was suddenly flipped onto his back. Then Gaara was above him, his legs hooked over either side of his body.

With a devious, slightly menacing smirk, Gaara shuffled forwards on his knees until he was straddling his chest. Lee glanced down to where Gaara’s cock was resting against his pecs, and then he returned the smirk with a coy smile.

“This again?” Lee asked. His cheeks were a bit pink, and not just from the afterglow of his orgasm.

Gaara bit his lip and nodded. He shifted and pulled his pants down to further expose his erection to the cool night air, and then sat down lower so the head of his cock was prodding the centre of Lee’s chest.

Lee reached forward to grasp Gaara’s hips tightly. The movement meant that his pectoral muscles were pressed together a bit more and created a tighter crevice. Gaara moaned, a ragged, desperate sound, as he began to thrust between the two firm orbs of flesh. He even reached down to rub and pull at Lee’s nipples.

The blush on Lee’s face was one of embarrassment, but it was nothing compared to the first time they’d done this. Gaara was not shy about his admiration for Lee’s muscles, and if Lee had had any doubts about it regardless, he could well and truly put them to bed once his boyfriend had asked to fuck his pectorals.

Gaara’s hands spread out on Lee’s chest to brace himself, but he didn’t press down too hard. He covered his cock with one hand and began to thrust into the tight space with ragged breaths, his hips jerking back and forth wildly as he lost himself to the pleasure. His face was redder than Lee’s own, but Lee knew there was no embarrassment there; he wasn’t sure that Gaara knew how to be embarrassed.

It took him barely any time to reach the precipice at all. Lee was stroking up and down his chest, marvelling at his lover’s beauty in the bluish moonlight. He rolled a nipple between his thumb and forefinger and stroked across the sparse trail of hair that led down to his crotch, scraping his fingernails through it indulgently.

Gaara’s hips juddered violently and Lee glanced up to watch his face contort in pleasure. He let out a choked sound and a series of raspy moans as a warm, wet feeling spread across Lee’s chest.

A few moments later, when the convulsions in his body had slowed and finally stopped, Gaara slumped against him slightly. He braced himself on the rock beside them and slowly shuffled back a bit so that he was sitting more in Lee’s lap. He glanced around, still panting, to find the rag Lee had used earlier, and gave them both a cursory wipe over before flopping down on Lee’s chest.

Lee wrapped his arms around his shoulders tightly and placed a kiss on top of his head. He stroked his hair away from his face a little bit where it was sticking to his temples with sweat, and exposed the kanji on his forehead.

It wasn’t their most graceful tryst. In fact, Lee felt sure that he’d have a few grazes and sand burns tomorrow. Gaara didn’t often get injured by sand, but Lee was willing to bet that he was going to have some nasty friction burn on his knees by tomorrow. He rubbed one knee affectionately as if trying to make it better.

“Gaara?” he said softly. “Are you awake?”

Gaara didn’t reply, but he shifted a bit.

“You don’t want to talk yet?”

Gaara shook his head fractionally.

“But we will, right?”

A nod.

“Right.”

They lie like that for a short while. Lee stroked the smooth skin of Gaara’s back and breathed in the earthy scent of his hair and his skin. He was warm with Gaara on top of him, so the chilly night air didn’t bother him as much. He counted constellations while he listened to his lover breathe, accompanied by the sound of a gentle wind blowing sands nearby. Somewhere in Suna, a short distance away, a dog was howling. It was a romantic, peaceful moment, and Lee allowed himself to bask in it while it lasted.

Then, after a few long, languid, minutes, Gaara finally spoke. “How do you do it?”

Lee was so relaxed that he almost didn’t hear him speak. “Hm?”

“How do you do it..? How do you… how can you lie here with me… like this… After what I did to you..?” he asked, his voice barely above a murmur.

“I’m not sure what you mean,” Lee said gently, his brow a little furrowed in confusion. He was reluctant to interrupt whatever it was Gaara was trying to say.

“Why don’t you try to kill me?” Gaara’s voice was unnervingly flat when he asked this.

“Gaara—!”

“I nearly destroyed your career. Your dream. Everything you’d built your life around… I nearly destroyed it. I nearly—” Gaara gasped, as if just realising something. “I… I nearly killed you... I… I tried…”

“Gaara… that was so long ago,” Lee replied, craning his neck a bit to get a better look at his boyfriend’s face. “Why are you bringing this up now?”

“I…” Gaara began, but seemed to choke on whatever he was going to say. “I don’t think… I don’t think I’m a good person, Lee… I don’t think I have it in me.”

Lee felt his heart melt and he stroked Gaara’s cheek with the back of his fingers soothingly. “Is that what’s been bothering you..? What Yuya said..?”

Gaara didn’t say anything. His eyes were fixed on a point in the darkness beyond where they lie.

“Listen to me, Gaara. Yuya is a very, very damaged person. I won’t lie; he has a right to hate you for what you took from him. But he did not have the right to take your life. And he doesn’t have the right to rule you in this way,” Lee explained firmly.

“But what if he’s right?”

“He’s not.”

“Then why can’t I do what other people do? Why don’t I have what other people have?” Gaara said, looking up at Lee with a hard gaze.

Lee didn’t know quite what to say to that. He opened his mouth to speak, but Gaara continued.

“Ever since I was a child, all I’ve ever wanted was to feel like I belonged, that I was wanted. I know I have more now than I ever did before, and I don’t know what I would do without it now, if what I have with you, Temari, Kankuro, and Naruto, were to disappear. But at the same time, I…” Gaara trailed off. “What I had… with Yuya and Akito… it was the first time that I felt like… like I was a part of something. Not just a leader, or a brute force like I am on missions, but… just…”

“An equal?” Lee suggested softly.

“…I suppose so, yes. It was the kind of relationship I imagine I may have had with my siblings if… if things had been different.”

Lee didn’t say anything for a moment, but he stroked down Gaara’s back once more and pulled him closer in silent comfort.

“I guess it just confirmed some things to me, that’s all. I just… I don’t think they were the kind of things I wanted to be confirmed,” Gaara finished with a sigh.

“What things?”

“That I can’t… that I’m not capable of normal relationships, with… with normal people. I’m too… damaged,” he said with a scowl, as if he wasn’t able to articulate what he was feeling accurately enough. “The fantasy was nice while it lasted, though.”

“Then what do you have with me?” Lee asked.

“Well… You’re not exactly normal…”

“Hey!”

“It’s hard to explain. I just… I want to feel accepted by people. I want to feel accepted by them… I want them to believe I have good inside me.”

“Gaara, they wouldn’t accept you as their Kazekage if they didn’t respect you.”

“That’s different. I took this job on because I wanted to give my life meaning by protecting people, rather than hurting them. I didn’t do it because I thought it would make me friends with everyone,” Gaara explained, flicking a stray clump of sand off of Lee’s arm. “They know I’ll protect them, because I’ve proven that I can and will. It’s not the same thing as friendship, though. You and Naruto have proven that to me.”

Lee watched him for a few moments. “Do you want to know what I think?” he asked, tilting his head to the side to look his lover in the eye.

Gaara looked up at him again.

“I think you need to make peace with the fact that this might be it for you... that you might only ever have me, Naruto, and your family. But that doesn’t mean you’ve failed. You can’t control if other people like you or forgive you for what you’ve done in the past, nor can you base your opinion of yourself on whether or not they accept you. Just like I can’t control that I can’t use my chakra like everybody else. What you can control… is whether or not you try to make something out of what you’ve got,” Lee explained.

Gaara looked at him thoughtfully. When he made no move to respond, Lee continued.

“What I’m trying to say is… the fact that you tried is a success in itself. The Gaara I met when we were kids… he never would’ve tried. But the Gaara I know now, the Gaara I fell in love with… he tries. He tries because he wants to make his life mean something more than pain and death. He wants it to mean something good. And that… That, Gaara, is a victory.”

Gaara seemed to consider this carefully. He didn’t speak for several long minutes.

“What if trying isn’t enough?” he asked finally.

“It is.”

“How do you know that? What do I do when I have nothing else to give?” Gaara asked.

Lee shifted a bit. “Gaara… if I stopped training when I was exhausted, I wouldn’t be here with you right now. I would’ve dropped out of the academy and I’d never have achieved my dream of becoming a great ninja. But I didn’t. I kept going even when my hands were bleeding and it hurt just to breathe. Gai-sensei said that this is what made me a splendid shinobi: my intentions were what defined my spirit, not the outcomes, although it was wonderful when I succeeded.”

The way Gaara was looking at him was unreadable, but Lee had the feeling he was getting through to him.

“Do you understand what I’m saying? I don’t try because I expect to succeed right away. I try because if I don’t, then it means I’ve given up on myself, and I just don’t know how to do that,” Lee explained. He stroked Gaara’s face delicately and looked deeply into his eyes. “You almost gave up on yourself, and I don’t want you to do that ever again. I don’t want you to go back to who you were when we first met. So don’t… don’t give up yourself, Gaara. Keep trying, even when it seems hopeless. Especially when it seems hopeless.”

Gaara looked at him for a long time. Lee felt a little uncomfortable under such an intense gaze, but he didn’t look away. He stroked a few locks of hair out of his boyfriend’s face while he waited for his words to sink in.

“You okay?” Lee asked after a minute or two.

“I think…” Gaara began, still frowning a bit, but thoughtfully now. “I think you’re right. Everything you said… makes sense.”

Lee grinned. “Good,” he whispered.

“How do you do that?”

“Do what?”

“You just… you make it all seem so… Never mind.” Gaara shook his head, his brows furrowed.

Lee smirked. He knew what he meant.

Gaara gave a small, weary smile in response, and leaned forward to place a gentle kiss on Lee’s mouth.

“You ready to go home now?” Lee asked, ruffling Gaara’s hair gently.

“I think I’d better. I’ll probably be removed from office if I don’t get back soon,” Gaara replied.

“That’s if Kankuro isn’t tried for treason for assassinating members of the Council first,” Lee said.

Gaara paused in reaching for his coat to shoot Lee a concerned look. “Is it that bad?”

Lee chuckled as he wiped the last of their cum from his chest with his rag. “Are you surprised? I think you and Temari hogged all the political genes in your family.”

Gaara mumbled something under his breath and began making quick work of getting dressed. Lee pulled his jumpsuit back on properly, took his flak jacket from his boyfriend and collected the last of his things while Gaara finished wrapping his coat around his body.

“What time is it?” Gaara asked as they began walking back to the village.

“I don’t know. I came down here a little earlier than usual in case you showed, so probably not that late,” Lee replied. He slipped his hand into Gaara’s and smiled as he took it without question.

“Alright. I wonder if Councillor Masa finished the draft of my bill? I asked her to have it on my desk by Monday, but I daresay she’s dragging her feet a bit as she was so sceptical when I discussed it with her…” Gaara trailed off. He muttered about work things for the rest of the journey back, occasionally asking Lee about things he didn’t know the answer to.

Lee smiled at his boyfriend. It was good to have him home.  

*