Lee was blushing again. That in itself didn’t come as a surprise. Sometimes it took nothing more than a smile to set a blush creeping across his cheeks. Holding his hand would start him trying to compose awkward poetry extolling the beauty of her eyes or her smile. Kisses would silence the poetry immediately, but he would make up for it by touching her face and hair with far more care than she would have once expected of him.
Seeing how he got carried away while fighting, or training, or anything remotely physical, she had never expected him to be so reserved about touching her. Then again, she had also thought Lee was way too forward–and completely lacking in tact–at first. She could never have expected the level of restrained courtesy that he now showed her.
When Sakura considered how hard he tried to be a gentleman to her, his hesitation made sense. And, honestly, she knew Lee meant to show that he cared for her and to even flatter her with his behavior. It was just frustrating when Lee had apparently gotten it into his head that she was too fragile to touch. He had to know she was strong enough to hold her own, and yet as soon as they were alone together he started to treat her as if she was made of glass.
Now was an especially good example of his backwards behavior. If he had tried to push her into too much too soon she would have walloped him without a second thought, crush or no crush. But if she was the one who suggested it, she didn’t see why he had such a problem just moving into her room to have a little privacy. If Lee really didn’t want to do anything more intimate than make eyes at her from across the kitchen table, fine, but he could at least tell her! All he ever said was that he didn’t want to make her uncomfortable, and Sakura could only take that to mean that it was her choice.
And if it was her choice, he could at least go along with what she chose without trying to talk her out of it. If she was ready to put her pride on the line for him, not as a ninja, but as a woman, he could at least have the decency to look at her. Sakura had always been self-conscious about her body, and having Lee look away the second she started to take her shirt off didn’t help one bit.
“I did not realize you wanted to show me, uh-” Lee stopped there, apparently searching for a suitable word and coming up blank. He glanced back at her bedroom door, which was still shut.
Sakura straightened her back self-consciously, knowing even as she did that the gesture wouldn’t make her breasts any more impressive. She hadn’t had enough of a figure to begin with, and a lifetime of hard exercise and a careful, and sometimes too strict, diet had done nothing to change that. She had eventually come to terms with her own body (and if she couldn’t be curvaceous, petite wasn’t bad, right?), but how could Lee tell her she was beautiful and then not even be willing to look at her?
At least she knew she didn’t look downright horrible. If the way Lee kept peeking at her was any indication, he would agree. He kept flicking his gaze down, then back up to the safer territory of her face, then at the wall behind her, even though he had to know he had permission to look.
Smiling to show him it was okay, Sakura caught Lee by the shoulders and tugged him forward. At least he wasn’t hesitant about hugging her when asked, verbally or otherwise. One of his hands ghosted over her bare stomach before stroking along her side and around to rest on the small of her back. He ran his other hand up her arm and clasped her shoulder.
Even as he moved to kiss her softly, he was rubbing tiny circles into her bare skin. Sakura could tell from the feeling that he was using only his fingertips, the only parts of his hands not covered by the bandages. That much made her smile against his mouth. It wasn’t that he was uninterested, just that he tried too hard to be sweet. She knew him well enough to believe that.
When Lee worked one finger under her brastrap and slid it back along her shoulder and down her back she couldn’t help shivering. There was something suggestive in that gesture that she hadn’t expected, as if he was asking her permission. It was enough to make her press closer, into the warmth of his chest.
“You can go ahead and take it off,” she told him.
Lee froze. “Sakura-san?” He slowly withdrew his hands, blushing, and she felt her cheeks burn in embarrassment. She trusted that the problem was him trying too hard to go slowly, not that he was uninterested in her physically. He was a little. . . unobservant sometimes, but he should be able to understand that she was encouraging him, shouldn’t he?
Then Lee reached up to fiddle with the collar of his jumpsuit, starting to unzip it, and she was able to smile again.
“No, not that.” She caught his hands and tugged them around to rest against her back. “I meant take this off.” She could actually see the realization dawning in his eyes, and in his renewed blush, as she snuggled close against him, making it easier for him to reach. He didn’t have to strip just yet. After all, she already knew there was nothing wrong with his body.
Lee fumbled with the hooks for a minute, nuzzling her hair instead of staring at her as he did it. When he finally did get her bra unhooked, he paused, holding it in place for a moment as he finally moved so he could look into her face.
“Sakura-san, is it-”
Whether he trusted her words or her expression, Lee leaned forward to kiss her again, lips moving slowly and thoughtfully against hers as he let go and let her bra loosen. Without taking his lips away from hers he slid his hands up over her back and across her shoulders, before pushing the shoulder straps slowly down her arms.
Sakura hunched her shoulders up self-consciously as Lee finished removing her bra, still distracting her with his tender kiss. Even after he had dropped it in her lap and broken the kiss he didn’t move, but simply looked into her eyes.
“I told you it was okay.” Sakura was used to having her breasts leered at on the mere virtue that they existed. She didn’t know what to think of Lee’s reluctance to look when she was voluntarily half naked.
Lee nodded and sat back a tiny bit. He looked down at her chest, and. . . that much was gratifying. Even though he had been trying to look politely at her face, the minute he let himself look down he couldn’t seem to look away.
When she caught his hand and pressed it over her left breast it was apparently too much for even Lee to resist. He cupped his hand instinctively around her, then leaned in to press soft kisses down her chest. It was Sakura’s turn to blush brightly as she watched him. She had wanted him interested, wanted to be sure her looks were not going to come into question, and she definitely had his attention now. . .
“What. . . what do you think?” She tried to be confident about her body, but it was too hard to be sure of how Lee saw her. Even if no one else liked her looks, she wanted Lee to think she was beautiful. Anything less would be unacceptable.
“You’re. . .” Lee swallowed hard, looking up at her face again, almost guiltily. He almost choked on his own voice as he whispered, “You’re lovely.” He massaged her breast with his palm for a few seconds before adding, “Even here. Especially here! Um, I mean everything is. Including your breasts, of course.”
Lee seemed so flustered at saying the word ‘breasts’ while cupping hers in his hand that it was all Sakura could do not to giggle. Sakura knew that Lee was always loveable in his own way, but at moments like this she found him utterly adorable. At least until he clarified, “They’re perfect.”
Perfect? That was the word Lee fell back on when he wasn’t sure what to say, and wanted to express that he still loved her. Why couldn’t it have been anything else? ‘Nice,’ or ‘pretty,’ or even ‘cute’ would have been preferable words to describe her breasts, though ‘cute’ was so demeaning it might have taken her a few minutes to forgive him. But perfect. . . she knew she wasn’t perfect.
“You don’t have to say that.”
“But it’s true. You are perfect.”
Sakura found that earnest expression of his suddenly irritated her. “I know my breasts are too small, you don’t have to lie about it to make me feel better!” And even though she knew it was irrational, even though she knew he was saying it to be sweet, she couldn’t help being angry. It was a sore point and he wasn’t picking up on it at all.
“No, they’re perfect.” Lee’s face was as red as when he opened his fourth gate, but he wasn’t letting her win, even though it was her body and thus her right to expose its flaws and he was better off just admitting it. “They aren’t going to get in your way, but they’re still. . .” he had to swallow before he could continue, “soft. I mean, it’s a practical sort of beauty and I like it.”
Sakura didn’t know what to say. Lee was obviously trying to make her happy, but it was equally obvious that he wasn’t going to let her declare herself less than perfect, even if it was the truth. She didn’t see why he couldn’t just let her win. They were her breasts, after all.
“They are not beautiful. They’re hardly there.”
Lee took her hand and mimicked her earlier gesture, pressing her hand to his chest. “Sakura-san, I don’t even have any breasts. Maybe I don’t know how you compare yourself to other girls, but I like yours, no matter what size they are.”
It was true. His chest was perfectly flat, all muscle under her hand. But that was because he was a boy! That didn’t mean anything.
At the same time, she knew he was only trying to make her feel better. Sakura wanted to tell Lee that she understood, that she was sorry for making such a big deal of it since he obviously didn’t know why it was a big deal, that she knew he loved her too much for her to need to get worked up over little things. . .
But no matter what she knew she should say, all that came out was, “You just don’t understand!” Because he didn’t understand. Even if he somehow couldn’t see that other girls had better assets than her, it didn’t change the fact that they did. She could still see the disparity.
Sakura put her back to Lee, far more angry with herself than with him. He couldn’t know how to give her what she wanted. She didn’t even know what she wanted from him in this situation. The validation she craved from him and the truth she would trust seemed to be at cross purposes with each other.
“I know.” Lee slipped his arms around her from behind, and Sakura tensed her shoulders to remind herself not to lean back against him. She still wanted to be angry, and he was making that irritatingly hard. “I am sorry.”
Lee dropped feather-light kisses on the back of her neck in apology. He had no way of knowing that she was more frustrated with herself than she was with him. She didn’t want to let Lee reassure her right now. It was too hard to believe he wasn’t just being kind for her sake. It was the sort of thing he would do, after all.
In complete disregard for her desire to sulk, Lee snuggled up against her back. He reached around her and cupped her breasts, one in each hand, pulling her back against him. “But I still think they are the perfect size.”
“LEE!” Sakura whirled to face Lee and stopped herself just shy of smacking him across the top of his head.
Lee let go the instant she shouted and held up his hands in a pacifying gesture instead, blushing furiously. “I’m sorry!”
“I’m sorry,” Sakura echoed. Lee had startled her, and it was instinct not to let anyone get away with grabbing her like that.
“Sakura-san, please forgive me.” Lee seemed to have calmed, but Sakura recognized the frenzied look in his eyes. He was tensed up, waiting for whatever punishment she decided to dish out. If she didn’t catch his attention now she knew he would be rushing off into some challenge to prove how repentant he was, whether she wanted him to or not.
“You just startled me!” Sakura put her hands on Lee’s.
“I did not intend to startle you.” Lee glanced down at her hands on his, then up at her face. “I did not mean to upset you.” His eyes were wide, his hands clenched under hers as if he did not dare even ask again for her to forgive him.
“I’m not mad at you,” Sakura rubbed Lee’s shoulder with one hand, trying to coax him to relax.
“But you should be! I should never have-” Lee bowed so low that his forehead touched the bed in front of her. “I can not even beg you to forgive me! I promised I would never do anything to make you unhappy and I failed! I saw how tense you were and I knew better and I did it anyway!”
And now Lee looked guilty and miserable enough to cry. Sakura reached out and wrapped both arms lightly around his neck. “Stop that. I was only worried because you wouldn’t even touch me before. You didn’t do anything to hurt me, so don’t-.”
“I made you feel unloved?” Lee interrupted. If he had looked miserable before, it was nothing compared to the painfully raw expression on his face now. “That is even worse! I never meant to hurt you like that.” Lee hesitantly put his arms around Sakura’s shoulders in return. “Please, tell me how I can prove that I appreciate you. I would do anything. I do love you, after all.”
“When did I tell you that I felt unloved?” Sakura told herself she should smack Lee to punish him for making such assumptions, but she didn’t want to let go of him long enough to do it. Even if she did, he would only end up feeling worse about it. “I just said I was upset that you wouldn’t touch me.”
“Oh.” Lee seemed to calm a little, though he was still breathing hard. He held her a little closer as he cautiously asked, “Then you know that I love you? I would be happy to show you.”
“I know.” He only said it every chance he got, after all.
“Oh.” Lee stroked her short hair, combing his fingers through it. “I’m glad.” After a few minutes of letting both of them calm he added softly, “I thought you wanted to be touched because I had not proved it properly. That I still love you, I mean.”
“You just don’t get it,” Sakura sighed. Boys could be so dense about some things, and Lee was no exception. Maybe it was cute coming from him, since she was already predisposed to like him, but it didn’t change the fact that he was being clueless. And besides, she couldn’t tell him that she found him appealing even when he did things she might not particularly like.
“I want to be beautiful for you. Can’t you understand that?” When Lee only blinked in surprise at her, she added, “It’s normal.”
Anyone should know that it was normal to want to be beautiful for someone she loved. When it came right down to it, she only wanted him to see her at her best, even if he would love her anyway. Even if she had seen him in some of his darkest moments and loved him no less for it. Maybe it wasn’t fair to be frustrated with him for trying to compliment her so haphazardly, but wanting to be beautiful for him wasn’t something that should need explaining.
“Even if I can’t do the same?”
It took Sakura a few minutes to figure out what Lee was talking about. She had to remember that he wasn’t a ‘pretty boy’ and he wasn’t conventionally handsome. Very different from Sasuke, whose looks had made him something of an idol. Sasuke had been unattainable by anything shy of perfection, but the qualifications to be close to Lee might be different, if only because of the current lack of competition.
Somewhere along the way she had forgotten about that. Lee looked the same way he always had, but at some point she had started looking at him differently. He ended up being handsome for his honesty and his energy and the way he fought and the way he loved her. . .
And from that, Sakura thought she finally understood. Lee wasn’t refraining from being critical of her looks because he was too polite. He simply loved her whole too much to start focusing only on her flaws. It was the same way she had started to look at him, though she had never noticed the change in her own point of view.
“I like the way you look.” Sakura lay her head on Lee’s shoulder, feeling much less shy now that she thought she understood how Lee was viewing her. If he was being honest, she didn’t have anything to worry about, did she? Even if other girls might come with better assets, as long as he was thinking of her as more than the sum of her parts, shouldn’t it be okay? She wanted to believe that.
She tugged Lee’s hair lightly. It was still in the bowl-cut she had, by now, gotten used to. When had she stopped thinking of him as being weird and started looking at every little aspect of his whole with affection? Sakura couldn’t be sure. “I mean, even your hair is cute.”
“It’s not meant to be cute.” Lee frowned, and Sakura smiled back at him.
“I don’t care.” And that was what it came down to. Never mind why, she liked what she liked. She would just trust Lee to do the same.