“Don’t-” Gaara scowled, reaching out awkwardly and then aborting the movement.
Lee’s hand covered Gaara’s before he could pull it back, bringing it to rest palm down on his chest. Gaara stiffened, flushing. “What is it?” Lee asked, sounding concerned.
Concerned. For Gaara. When he was about to-
“Don’t . . . get hurt.” Gaara ordered, thumb rubbing over Lee’s chest in a gentle arc. It felt strange, but touching anyone felt strange, really, and Lee- Lee made it easy.
Lee laughed, a warm thrum under Gaara’s palm, and patted his hand. “I will be fine!” he promised, his free hand rising with a thumbs up.
Gaara frowned slightly, but gave a shallow nod.
“I am strong, Gaara!” Lee declared confidently, but the expression cracked after a moment and he looked a little uncertain. “Do you not. . .”
Gaara’s frown deepened. He couldn’t block out the memory of Lee crumpled on the floor, crushed limbs bleeding out. Lee’s blood had soaked into his sand, adding to its stains and the scent of iron and pain it carried. Then, Gaara hadn’t cared. Now. . .
“You are strong, but. . .” Gaara paused, frustrated. “You are not to get hurt.” he ordered again. “I forbid it.” Lee laughed softly and Gaara poked the centre of his chest. “I forbid it!” he repeated. “I- I don’t- I can’t see you like that again.” He shook his head.
Lee’s hand brushed his shoulder, then clasped it lightly as he gently pulled Gaara towards himself. Lee’s arms folded around him and Gaara stiffened. Lee swayed slightly, and the . . . embrace was firm but not suffocating, much less painful.
“I will not get hurt.” Lee said quietly. “Not like that.” he qualified. “Not again. I am strong, and I have only gotten better since . . . then.” Gaara nodded understanding, though he still wasn’t exactly happy at the thought of watching Lee in this battle. “I will do my best, I promise!” he declared, releasing Gaara and giving him a bright grin.
Gaara huffed, but found a tiny smile curling his lips without even trying. There was just- Something about Lee.
“You know,” Lee said seriously, “I could not bear to see you hurt, either.”
Gaara blinked, flushing again. He wasn’t used to- Gaara didn’t get hurt - nor did people really . . . care about him in that way. His siblings were no longer flatly terrified of him, for which Gaara was glad, but it was too easy to remember when they had been. Baki might care for them, in a way, all of them, but he had never been Gaara’s sensei in the same manner he had been Temari’s and Kankurou’s, and he was still frightened of Gaara.
“I will do well, I promise!” Lee continued with a determined nod, not waiting for Gaara to respond to his unexpected statement. “Please watch me?”
“Of course.” Gaara snapped. As though he would have done anything else, even if he had not been required to oversee the matches as the hosting Kage. “I’ll be-”
“Gaara.” Lee interrupted, surprising him. “Please . . . watch me.” Lee begged quietly, biting his lip, cheeks pink. Gaara wasn’t entirely certain what Lee wanted - what he meant - but. . .
“Of course I will.” Gaara said brusquely, clearing his throat. “And if you get hurt I will be-” he broke off.
Lee’s grin returned. “Thank you!” he said, and looked as though he might have said something else before a girl calling his name drew his attention away. Gaara frowned as Lee glanced around for her. It was probably time for him to go down to the arena, then. The final segment of the chuunin exam would be beginning.
Lee turned back to Gaara. Ducking down, he gave Gaara a swift, soft kiss that left his eyes wide and his breath locked painfully in his throat. Then Lee was gone, with another bright, determined smile and a thumbs up.
Gaara touched his lips with his fingertips and stared for a full minute before he realised he needed to go as well, if the tournament was about to begin. He turned and walked out to the high box where Baki and his siblings would be waiting, fingers still to his lips.