Naruto Fan Fiction ❯ Diplomatic Relations ❯ Season of Ashes ( Chapter 8 )
[ Y - Young Adult: Not suitable for readers under 16 ]
Rating: R this time
Disclaimer: Naruto is the brainchild of Kishimoto-sama, and I am not worthy. I merely borrow the manga's characters and situations, and make no money off of them.
Disclaimer: Naruto is the brainchild of Kishimoto-sama, and I am not worthy. I merely borrow the manga's characters and situations, and make no money off of them.
AN: Thanks for all the reviews ^_^ To answer Inarae's question, this was intended as Lee/Gaara yaoi from the start, even if it's taken its sweet time to get there, so have no fear, it's going as intended ^_^ Readers weren't able to leave unsigned reviews at one point, but they should be able to leave a review without being signed in now; that's my usual setting, for some reason mm.org lost it ^^;
Part Eight: Season of Ashes
"What are you staring at?" Gaara asked, voice barely bordering on the curious.
Lee stiffened so abruptly that the water sloshed around him.
Gaara cleared the wet dark-red locks from his eyes and looked straight at Lee, who was crouched down in the silty water. Lee felt a flash of pure panic and confusion as he glanced down at himself: hadn't he been wearing pants?!
"Were you looking at my body?"
Lee's squawk of denial could be heard clear across the desert.
Gaara shook some of the water off, lithe muscles rippling beneath cream-coloured skin. Then he moved towards Lee.
Lee realized to his utter horror that he couldn't move away. The water seemed to have turned into some impenetrable barrier, though it wasn't stopping Gaara's advance, unfortunately.
"Are we so different?" Gaara asked him coolly as he came nearer.
Lee's stutter wasn't intelligible even to himself.
Gaara moved through the water like a swan, until he was right behind Lee. He leaned his chest against Lee's back and his hand drifted down Lee's arm; his fingers covered the back of the spluttering Jounin's hand, then intertwining with Lee's fingers. He looked over Lee's shoulder at their arms, side by side (skin to skin).
"See? We're the same."
Lee stopped trying to say something coherent like I wasn't staring! Stay away! What are you doing?! Instead, his eyes widened in confusion.
Gaara's skin was still the colour of wild almonds, but now that he was closer, Lee could see that it was as scarred as his own; maybe more so. Remnants of old wounds crisscrossed Gaara's arms, roughened his fingers and knuckles. When Lee leaned away a bit, he could see that Gaara's chest was covered with scars; it looked like someone had tried to stab him repeatedly in the heart, slashing the skin and marring the sandstone-coloured nipple. It was a Shinobi's body, it was human...Lee slowly looked up into Gaara's face - so close to his own - and Gaara's eyes were no longer hard and cold and empty, they were alive and warm, as human as the scarred, imperfect body, and Gaara smiled down at him and whispered "We're the same..."
Lee sat up abruptly and blinked, dazed, at the opposite wall of his bedroom.
This was getting ridiculous. It was one thing to have wet dreams about Gaara, but that one had been just surreal; Gaara's body hadn't been scarred at all; and he never smiled like that.
Lee woke up a bit further, and carefully deleted the first part of that previous sentence.
It was not one thing to have- it was not alright to have- it wasn't even- it was the heat. Right. He was hallucinating.
For the past three weeks, ever since-
- ever since that bloody mission with the bugs. Not that that mission had anything to do with it. No sir. The only effect of that mission was that Lee tended to swat roaches and flies with a bit more enthusiasm than before.
Lee groaned and let his head drop onto his knees.
It was too hot. Lee couldn't sleep; hadn't been sleeping properly for over a week now. More. He was tired. Too tired to keep up all the internal walls and barriers which normally regulated his life into neat and beautifully strict patterns.
Yeah, he'd been having rather...involving dreams. About Gaara. And those were actually the better ones. Some of the other dreams featuring the Kazekage had been confusing. And some had been...indescribable. Lee was trying not to think about those. Those were Wrong.
But it didn't mean anything. Gaara was his friend. His best friend, actually. Lee had many good comrades in his life; he counted them as so many blessings. But he'd spent a long time in Suna and in Gaara's company by now; he was slowly beginning to understand the complex, sometimes dangerous inner territory of the Sand Shinobi. Though he was perfectly aware that there were still aspects of his friend that Lee couldn't comprehend, he now felt closer to Gaara than to anyone except Gai-Sensei.
Lee was also Gaara's friend; his only friend to date, outside of his family and Naruto. Friends, then, and Lee was proud of it. They'd become close, as warriors, comrades, fellow Shinobi. Things got a little...confused when you got that close to someone. But it didn't mean anything. Gaara was a guy - all guy, Lee could now attest to that, having seen that lean but very male body without the usual layers of clothes. And Lee was in love with Sakura-san. So yeah. The dreams meant nothing.
Not that he'd ever dreamt of Sakura-san that way.
It was a testimony to how tired Lee was that that insidious little thought crept through his brain and he didn't react to suppress it immediately.
Lee threw back the clammy sheets. He'd stripped down to the skin, but it wasn't helping. He stumbled over to the window and opened it hopefully.
The dull, dead air outside totally failed to send a fresh, reviving breeze into his room. In anything, it got even hotter.
Lee let his head sink down to the windowsill with a theatrical groan.
The people of Sand called it the Season of Ashes. The desert's turquoise sky took on a dull grey tinge; humidity gathered into feathered clouds high above; the wind died. The days were cooler, if heavier, but the nights were hell, as the heat stayed trapped by the growing humidity. It would last ten days, maybe more - long enough to drive Lee completely insane if he couldn't get more sleep at night. Then the temperature would plummet within hours, and the grey sky would squeeze out what felt like half a dozen raindrops, hardly worth all the fuss leading up to them. The desert would explode into chaotic and frantic colours as flowers sprouted, bloomed and died. Then life would go back to normal. Lee had been through the same season last year (minus the dreams he was trying hard not to think about).
It would pass in a few days.
Until then, sleeping would be hell.
Especially when you were having erotic dreams about your best friend because you happened to bathe with him once.
Lee lifted his head up a few inches from the windowsill and let it fall back with a clunk.
It didn't help.
What the hell was wrong with him...?
And why was he dreaming of Gaara? If his mind was going to grab the first object in its vicinity to fantasize over, surely Temari - well, no, not Temari, she was scary, but some other Sand Kunoichi would be more...appropriate.
He knew what he should do, of course. He knew how one dealt with these sorts of bodily urges. He'd had them before (though the dreams that triggered them were normally not quite so precise and vivid...and he had more success in forgetting them) Having these night-time fantasies wasn't abnormal; Lee was young and powerful, and he exercised a lot and led a healthy lifestyle. Gai-Sensei had explained to him that youth could lead to such physical reactions in those circumstances. You defeated this through vigorous exercise and cold showers, and by concentrating on the purity of the ninja way.
So the ideal solution would be to go for a healthy, tiring run around the village. Or rather, that would have been the ideal solution if Lee hadn't already done so once tonight, when he'd woken up earlier after that dream in which he and Gaara had been inexplicably sparring naked in a pool of deep water-
- he'd already gone running once after that dream he couldn't really remember all that well. He could go running again, except that it was - Lee gave the alarm clock an irritated look - nearly four in the morning, and he had to get up in two hours to go through that presentation for Captain Sanada and Elder Omaku, and if he didn't get some sleep soon, that presentation was going to be very short and end with the sound of his snoring face hitting the table.
Lee wandered over to the stand with the water jug and basin. The water was tepid; practically skin temperature. What would really do the trick would be a cold shower, but you didn't take cold showers on a whim at four in the morning in Suna when you'd already had your daily wash. Water restrictions weren't so much a regulation as a religion in this place. Lee splashed water on his face and neck, washing off some of the sweat. Then he headed back to bed with determination in his step.
You could beat anything with proper resolve! Even dreams. Especially those sorts of dreams. A Shinobi should control his baser instincts lest they be used against him! For each of those dreams he'd have about Gaara, he'd do a hundred laps around Suna. With extra weights on. And a backpack full of rocks.
Lee rolled around in bed until he found a spot that didn't feel too sweaty. He stretched out on his side, one hand beneath his cheek, the other on the sheet, all ready for sleep. The sheet was a strange creamy blue colour beneath the speckles of moonlight filtering through high wispy clouds and the humidity in the air. Lee blinked tiredly; he really was exhausted.
He realized he was smoothing the sheet with his fingers and wondering what Gaara's skin would look like under that same moonlight.
Lee sat up abruptly and, with a certain amount of deliberation, made a fist and socked himself in the head.
That didn't help either.
Determination. Willpower. Fortitude. Control the baser instincts, not that that really applied in this instance, because Lee loved Sakura-san. Even if he was too much of a gentleman to dream of her in that way.
Lee settled back against the pillow humid with sweat, and closed his eyes, going over everything he knew about those baser instincts, and how they should be avoided.
In retrospect, that had probably been a mistake. If he hadn't thought of that, he would probably have gone to sleep and dreamt of Gaara again. That would have been embarrassing and disturbing - and led to a lot of punishing training the next day - but ultimately it would have been more pleasant than the phantasm, half-dream, half-memory, that bubbled up into Lee's exhausted brain at that point.
The old Shinobi, face wrinkled and scarred, looked sternly at the assembly. The boys were excited. There was going to be a special course that day, and the girls had been taken away to another room. The boys didn't know this sensei, but there were rumours about what he was going to teach. Fascinating rumours, for a bunch of nine-year-olds full of prurient curiosity.
"My name is Tatsuyo Daisuke, and I am here today for a special lesson. We are going to discuss sex," the old man said bluntly.
The kids boggled at him, and the braver ones laughed. Wow, they were going to talk about That.
After a very short while, the tittering and avid whispers stopped.
Tatsuyo-Sensei had been very thorough. He'd explained the reproductive process in cold, straightforward terms. He'd told them about sex, what it was, some basic information on how to do it, precautions, how it worked between men and women and between-
(In the desert heat, Lee, half-asleep and unable to control the dream/memory, flinched and bit his lip)
- and between men and men. Presumably the girls were getting a similar talk, specific to their gender, in another room.
Then those wrinkled lips had shaped themselves into a cold smile, and the old man had told them how sex could be used against them. They were to become Shinobi. They had to look underneath the underneath.
He told them about being beguiled and distracted from a patrol. About special Genjutsu that could be worked on an unsuspecting mind during climax. About particular poisons and diseases that could weaken or kill. About seduction techniques that could turn a man against his friends and his village.
The course had taken all day.
He had a slide show too.
By the time Tatsuyo-Sensei's course was finished, the girls had already left. Sometimes Lee wondered if their teacher had really given them as much...thorough information as theirs had, because the girls in his class and the following years had seemed remarkably interested in romance, which was just a watered-down version of sex with clothes on, as far as Lee understood.
Lee and his peers had scattered in silence after the lesson; they hadn't looked at each other as they left, they didn't joke or play, or do anything but go straight home.
Where presumably their parents had softened the message somewhat. But Lee didn't have any parents.
In his bedroom in Suna, an older Lee had wrapped himself into a sweaty ball beneath the sheet. He was almost awake again, sort of. But the memories were like dreams, uncontrollable. Like water, pouring out past barriers broken by the exhaustion and the sticky heat; forming into a deep pool where things he didn't want to see were reflected.
That old Shinobi and his lessons had haunted a ten-year-old Lee when he started having sensual dreams. They'd frightened him. They were Wrong. They were a Weakness. They could lead to something Bad.
The more he fought against those dreams, the stranger and more twisted they became...
...mixing up with other desires...
Lee shook his head abruptly in the pillow, and woke himself up through sheer willpower.
That was the past. He should forget all that - most times he did, it was this bloody heat wave. He just couldn't sleep...he wondered what Gaara was doing. Working in his office, almost certainly. Maybe Lee could go-
No, that probably wouldn't help.
He rarely wondered what Sakura-san was doing anymore, whispered the insidious little saboteur in his head.
Lee shook that thought away too. Sakura-san was his special person. His Love. As Gai-Sensei had explained to him. Thank god for Gai-Sensei! Once more, his great wisdom and knowledge had shown Lee the way!
Lee settled back into the hot bed with a happy sigh. Gai-Sensei's reassuring words of Wisdom were running through his mind. They would surely protect him against the dreams.
Wonderful words...they'd shown something beautiful to Lee. He frequently remembered Gai-Sensei's Speech that day.
Lee's breathing eased, his eyes fluttered shut.
Beautiful words...words to live by...
But it hadn't started with Gai-Sensei's Speech.
Before the Speech, a paternal Gai-Sensei had given young Lee some balanced, down-to-earth advice about sex and- no, it had started before that, too.
Half-awake, Lee stirred and frowned, but he couldn't escape the memory uncoiling in his mind. He'd...forgotten just why Gai-Sensei had given him the Speech that day. Why...? What had happened that day for Gai-Sensei to start talking about Love?
It had started with...
Oh, he remembered! How could he have forgotten? It had started with that book! That stupid, horrid book.
"Did you want to borrow it, kid?"
"What?" Lee asked, startled. Then he remembered his manners. He was a Genin, twelve years old and still a rookie, while Kakashi-Sensei was a seasoned Jounin. "I'm sorry; what do you mean, sir?"
"My book. You keep staring at it." The visible eye creased into an amused crescent. "Did you want to borrow it? It'd probably teach you-"
"Kakashi, leave my student alone," Gai-Sensei said, from where he was doing a multitude of one-handed press-ups (he'd lost today's challenge).
"I wasn't looking at it," Lee said stiffly. Actually he had been looking, but not because he wanted to borrow the lurid orange thing. He'd been wondering how a responsible Jounin could read such unsuitable material. Dangerous material! Didn't Kakashi-Sensei know that Lust could be a Weakness that could be used against him?
Kakashi looked at him as if he could read the thoughts off of Lee's forehead. He turned towards the book again, flipping a page.
"I see old Tatsuyo-Sensei is still teaching Sex Ed to the pre-grads. That guy's better than a chastity belt," he murmured.
"Kakashi," Gai-Sensei grunted reprovingly, while Lee's mind became one huge question mark.
"Well he is. Mind you, that's probably not a bad thing. Better than letting a bunch of hormonal, legally-adult twelve-year-olds loose on the population. But some kids are more sensitive than others, and I sometimes think he lays it on a bit too thick."
"And I sometimes think it's a pity you left the academy before that course," Gai-Sensei muttered, switching to the left hand after wiping the sweat from his brow.
"Yeah, I had to figure it all out on my own," Kakahsi said with a laugh, hefting the book. "You sure you don't want to borrow it, kid? You'd learn tons. Give those nice hot dreams a bit more consistency."
Lee- the adult, Jounin Lee - was looking at the scene as if he was outside of it, half-asleep as he was. While the Genin he'd been went red and got offended, Lee suddenly wondered, for the first time, if Kakashi's offer hadn't been sincere, if not very well put. Something to undo the damage of that 'Sex Ed' course. He'd gotten to know Kakashi through Gai-Sensei, Naruto and Sakura-san these past few years; it'd be the kind of weird, off-the-wall thing the guy would probably do.
"I do not want to borrow it. Sir," twelve-year-old Lee answered, with some distaste, his tone stiff and reproving. "And I dream of only one thing."
"And that's his ninja way- and Neji," Gai said between two pants.
In the present, Lee opened his eyes, grabbed the pillow out from under his head and stuffed it over his face.
Maybe if he cut off his oxygen supply, he might forget the next bit again. Damn it all to hell! He'd managed to forget about it for seven years! Why was he remembering it now?! In all its lurid soul-searing details.
But he couldn't stop the memory.
He remembered how he'd stared at his teacher in horror. How he'd felt the blood drain from his face. Gai-Sensei knew! He knew about those shameful, twisted dreams- he knew!
"...Beating Neji. I meant," Gai-Sensei added. He was staring at the ground as he did some more press-ups. Lee looked hastily at Kakashi-Sensei, who had his face buried in his book. Good, they hadn't noticed his reaction. Of course. Beating Neji. That's what Gai-Sensei had meant. Of course Lee dreamed of defeating Neji. His genius rival. Right.
Kakashi suddenly closed his book with a snap. "Look at the time. I'm going to go work on that mission report. Sorry about that, Gai. Good luck."
In the present, Lee put his arms over the pillow, pressing it to his face and muffling his agonized groan.
That younger Lee had thought he'd successfully managed to hide his reaction. He'd repressed that part of the conversation for years, along with the memory of the dreams and other embarrassing childhood episodes. Now Lee was remembering Kakashi's last two incongruous sentences. He hadn't understood their significance when he was a young, inexperienced Genin, but now he realized just how fully both Jounin had read, from his reactions, exactly what was going through his mind.
Could you die from embarrassment, even years after the fact?
Despite twinges of pillow-induced suffocation, the memory continued to unravel in Lee's mind.
Gai glared at the puff of air that was the only thing left of his rival, then he straightened up - without even finishing his press-ups - and looked solemnly at his student.
"Lee, what is your ninja way?"
That instantly banished young Lee's worries and confusion. The words burst from his mouth with the habit of much repetition. "I want to prove that you can become a fine ninja without the ability to do anything but Taijutsu!"
"Good!" Gai shouted, finger pointing dramatically at his student, as if he hadn't heard this twenty times before. "A worthy goal! Is that more important than anything?"
"Excellent. Concentrate on that! Concentrate on that with all your might and youth and spirit, and you'll get there!"
"And then you'll find out why it's such a noble goal!"
Lee paused with his fist enthusiastically punching the air. Huh? This was new.
Gai-Sensei smiled at him. Not the sparkly smile; it was warm and a bit rueful. "You and I, Lee, we're not works of art. We're not going to build our lives for the sheer beauty of it, and have no use. Yes, your purpose in life is beautiful. But it will be truly noble when you can use it for the good of others. For the good of one other. Shape your life to your desire, then use it like a sword, to defend the life and happiness of another person."
Lee stared at him in confusion.
"You are young. But one day - not right away, of course, but when you're sixteen, or eighteen rather, so you can concentrate on attaining Jounin rank first- or maybe twenty, yes, twenty is a good age for- ahem. Anyway, one day, you will find someone you want to protect. Someone special; the most important person to you. You will-"
Gai stopped talking and sighed. "Lee, put away the note book."
"Put it away, and come sit over here. We need to have a talk."
Lee had managed to erase the circumstances leading up to that conversation from his mind, but he remembered every word of Gai's Speech after that.
His respected teacher had started by giving him some more balanced information about sex than that old Tatsuyo-Sensei had. Yes, Shinobi were wary of lust, emotions and baser instincts that could be manipulated, but that didn't mean they couldn't find a special person to love.
That one word, Love, changed everything.
Gai-Sensei had told Lee that making love to that special person would be a wonderful experience, to Lee's intense relief; in retrospect, those Sex Ed classes had scarred him rather badly. Now, Gai-Sensei was telling him about something pure, precious and warm. Lee would be able to place his heart as well as his body in that person's hands. It would be the most beautiful moment of his existence, a moment he'd be able to protect every day for the rest of his life because he'd be a strong man and an excellent Shinobi.
When he found...that precious person...
Lee, face still hidden by his pillow, suddenly realized something. The thought hit him like one of Gai-Sensei's wake-up-call punches. Harder even.
He could remember every word of that Speech perfectly. Every single word. It had indeed been a glorious Speech. Stirring, moving. A wonderful, life-affirming Speech.
It had been a speech, Lee just now suddenly realized, that carefully avoided any mention of that special person being either male or female.
Lee lifted the pillow from his face and let it drop unnoticed to the floor.
Lee could hear his teacher's words in his mind. They might sound pompous to others, but Lee had seen the real heart and valour that lay beneath them.
Always be true to yourself, Gai-Sensei said. Always believe in yourself. Live Youth to the full, and never look away.
Lee swallowed painfully, and let the barriers crack for good.
It wasn't that the idea of- of another man turned him off or disgusted him. The small part of Sex Ed that had treated of consenting, loving sex (not that the old Shinobi had ever used the word 'loving') had treated both straight and gay intercourse equally. Some villages and countries still had social stigmas regarding that, but not Konoha.
No, that wasn't the problem.
The issue was elsewhere, and it was complex and scary, but one part of the problem was that Lee had been so tired.
Some of the other boys had gotten over Sex Ed a whole lot faster than Lee, with the help of parents, friends, older brothers and a natural cynicism towards teachers and lessons that Lee had never mastered. And they were talking about girls. Not that they were doing anything about it beyond talking; they probably wouldn't for years, so maybe those 'lessons' had had some effect after all. But they talked about their dreams, laughing and joking. Breast and fantasies and long hair and pretty faces and willing bodies.
Lee hadn't been a part of that, of course. He'd been a social reject for pretty much as long as he could remember; graceless, too earnest, different from the others by his inability to mould chakra to do even the simplest jutsus. He'd been hanging around on the outskirts of those conversations. Nobody asked him to contribute. But still, Lee had been so tired of being different, once more.
So very, very different.
Neji hadn't been the first; he was just the first Lee could distinctly remember, when he let himself remember that is. They'd been thrown together on the same team, and Lee had been concentrating on him so hard-
But those dreams weren't the harmless, frivolous fantasies the other boys enjoyed.
The dreams involving Neji were dark, violent, intense. They scared Lee. They were dreams where the challenge of beating his rival was paramount, but it was closely followed by something else, something darker, more exciting, shared between two willing bodies like a secret...
That wasn't what Gai-Sensei had been talking about though. He'd been talking about something pure. There was too much need in those dreams. Too much desire. Besides, Lee didn't love Neji. He knew that damn well, and there was no doubt in his mind about it, either then or now, seven years later. Back then, Neji had been his team-mate, even sort of a friend, but he'd also been a bit of a bastard, arrogant and dismissive and-
-and he didn't need Lee.
Lee didn't want that. And he didn't want to be different, once more. And he didn't want to feel something that intense. And he didn't want to give in to his baser instincts and fall prey to those bogeymen old Tatsuyo-Sensei had mentioned. And he didn't want to be distracted from his nindo. There were too many reasons and he just didn't want any of it.
Unfortunately, his body had different ideas. But that turned out to be a trivial problem. Lee was used to bringing the mind to bear over the body.
And then he'd seen Sakura-san during the Chuunin exams.
Pretty, popular Sakura-san...
So far out of Lee's league that it was almost funny, the normally-repressed part of his mind whispered.
Pretty, popular Sakura-san. Many of the boys in her class and higher had a thing for her. Lee hadn't. What he had was Love. But not because she was pretty and popular...
...but because at the start of the Chuunin exam, Lee had seen something in her. Something hesitant, lost, vulnerable. Lonely. The way she'd been so grateful for the smallest kind word from Sasuke...Lee had wanted her to look at him like that. With need. And she did need him. She needed his protection, and she needed a friend, and she-
-she was so in love with Sasuke that she was perfectly safe.
The part of Lee that had escaped its leash in the exhaustion and the heat was now running rampant over his tender memories of those first days with Sakura-san. He was seeing them in a much different light.
What he felt for Sakura-san was true and steady, he felt no shame over those emotions; they were tender, protective and warm. It wasn't the burning need and the twisted, intense desires he'd felt in those dreams he couldn't always suppress. She didn't like him much to start with, but that was okay. He could use determination to protect her. He could show her his valour. She was a goal to strive for. One he would probably never reach.
She was quite safe.
The part of Lee that normally lurked behind his barriers whispered 'Gaara...'
Gaara was just about as 'not safe' as you could get.
A few choice pieces of the dreams he'd been having scrolled past his eyelids. Scream of chakra suddenly released; lethal danger and a hidden pain; creamy skin the colour of almonds; power at his fingertips; fingertips on Lee's skin...
The heat of the whole night coiled into Lee's belly and slithered downwards.
Lee put an arm over his eyes, ignoring the way hot, sweaty skin met skin.
He tried to concentrate on Sakura-san.
But he kept seeing her as she'd been the last time he visited Konoha. A friend. A good friend. One who confided in him, and one he could confide in as well. He trusted her. He still felt warm thinking about her. He was proud of her progress. She was now...
A strong, independent, mature woman.
One who didn't need him anymore.
Lee's fists clenched. That...he hated that thought, and it wasn't the first time it had crept up on him either. He tried to suppress it ruthlessly every time it occurred to him. He didn't want to believe that his love for Sakura-san was dependent of her need for him. That felt...cheap. Unfaithful. Trivial. His Love was truer than that.
The rest...was just a distraction. One he could no longer fight against. Not tonight. It was too hot and he was too tired. But it was okay. He was all alone; and he was strong most of the time. As long as he kept his certainties, his values, surely it couldn't hurt...just once...
The arm tightened over Lee's eyes until all he could see was red.
Just this once...he was so tired of resisting it. And it didn't mean anything, as long as he remembered. Remembered that what he felt for Sakura-san...
...pretty, pure Sakura-san...
That was surely Love.
And what he felt for Gaara-
-cream-coloured skin, 'I never underestimated you', intense eyes ringed in darkness, complex and torn and still so very, very powerful...
Lee's free hand crept downward, towards the source of the heat...
What he felt for Gaara...
That was merely lust.
End of Part Eight
This chapter was the hardest of DR to write to date; the structure is quite complex. Feedback on how that went, and how coherent Lee's emotions seem, will be much appreciated.
And yes, I know: Denial is a river in Egypt, and Rock 'merely lust' Lee is happily paddling around in it. Keep in mind he's spent the last few years certain of being in Love with his 'Sakura-san'. He's not going to get the whole breakthrough in one clue-bat session.