Chapter 1: Golpe
Gaara had never been passionate about anything in his life.
He’d been passionately angry, confused, and even distressed, but never passionate about something.
“It's plants…” Temari had assured him, “It's nothing that you haven’t already been surrounded by already.”
Gaara’s position at the plant shop was managing checkouts.
A task that wasn’t exactly given to him for any fantastic social skills or charisma he may have (or might not have) possessed. But a job that was instilled upon him by Temari who was aware that Gaara knew a heck of a lot more about flora than she or kankuro did combined. And if anything was good for business, it would have to be having an accessible fountain of knowledge at their customers' disposal. If anyone needed advice on how to care for their succulents or didn’t know what color roses to get their girlfriend as an apology, Gaara would know what to do.
On the week of their opening, a general dynamic was established between Gaara and the customers, and it was something he was glad to be over with.
Initially, many were awed by the other-worldly interior design of Suna’s flower shop (courtesy of Kankuro’s fascination with art) and would come in with mouths already spilling with questions and compliments before even laying eyes on Gaara. Of course, for one, Kankuro seemed very upset that they figured Gaara was the mastermind of it all, and two, the same people who eagerly came in would soon find themselves being shut down by Gaara’s lazily thought up responses.
When they turned their heads towards the counter located at the right corner of the store, they would be unsettled to find a scrawny, hunched over boy instead of an eccentric store manager whose personality would match that of the building. They would receive a monotone answer on the lines of, “I guess we did spend a while on decor” and a tired green-eyed glance rimmed with dark circles. After a few encounters like that, people generally just spoke to him if they needed more information on a plants or were going to check-out.
Again, he was more or less grateful.
Gaara figured this was supposed to be Temari’s way of killing two birds with one stone: better business flow, and perhaps, someday, a more sociable little brother. His acknowledgment of this was enough for him to readily agree when she asked him. She’d done enough for them as it was. This whole situation was for the three siblings to move forward. Leave their old lives from Suna in Suna, and only bring what they found love for here to Konoha. Temari spent her days at the shop managing inventory and crafting up new business plans, Kankuro spent them keeping up store presentation and designing displays that could showcase the plants and his rather odd artistic infatuation with puppetry. It was a pretty smooth operation, but in Temari’s eyes, there was always room for improvement. Gaara wouldn’t be surprised if she soon started asking him to comb his wild hair into place and replace the stool he sat in with a proper chair so he wouldn’t slouch.
It had been three weeks since they first officially moved here and opened up the shop, and It had given Gaara and his siblings enough time to get used to the foot traffic of this urban shopping strip.
Wednesdays seemed to be the slowest, and people rarely bought flowers after seven in the afternoon. Right now, those two truths met with one another to create the current situation; a bored Gaara, a whiny mopping Kankuro, and a focused Temari. The music they usually played through the speakers had stopped since the CD Gaara put in earlier ran out, so only the sounds of a wet mop and the occasional conversation seemed to enter his ears. The shop didn’t close down officially until eight, so Gaara wouldn’t really be allowed to disappear upstairs into the apartment until Temari gave the clear.
In times like this, Gaara’s duties became drastically simple and plain.
He had long since finished counting up all the money in the register, properly organizing the shop's copy of customer receipts, and even rolled one of the calendar cubes on the countertop to display tomorrow's date. There wasn’t really much else for him to do now that all that was over with.
He absentmindedly now played with the dirt left on the surface of his workstation and managed to build a small mound of it off to the corner. Eventually, when it would get tall enough, he would pinch the dirt together and dispose of it inside the pot of one of the cacti many he had to adorn his space.
Why do people always slam the plants they’re buying down on the counter so hard?
Coincidently, Gaara then heard a wet slap echo through the shop and looked up to see what it was.
His older brother was a few meters away, cleaning away at a corner of the building where a plant had fallen over earlier. Gaara had made sure the plant was alright, but there was little he could do about its broken pot and spilled contents.
“Gosh, Temari!”, Kankuro sighed, “I’m telling you, I have to go meet someone, and you’re holding me back!”
Gaara’s brother picked up the mop in his hand again and continued making awkward movements on the linoleum. Kankuro signed louder and louder with each move, and at this point, Gaara noted that his sibling was just pushing the mess around instead of actually cleaning it up.
Gaara turned his had towards his sister as he heard her stop hitting the buttons of her calculator.
Temari looked up momentarily from the back desk she was working at uninterestedly and sighed back, “oh really? Is this still about that ‘Art Guy’ you were talking about earlier?”
Kankuro stopped his ministrations once more and slouched his posture, discouragement evident in his facial features, “Yeah, yeah, the ‘Art Guy,’ we’re supposed to meet at the tofu place in twenty minutes and being here isn’t going to give me any more time to get there.”
Temari leaned over her desk and looked at the floor by Kankuro’s feet. She pointed to various spots. “There’s still dirt there, there, and alllll over there. Clean it up .”
Kankuro squinted hard at Temari and made a dissatisfied noise at the back of his through, he clutched the handle of the mop a little harder and shook it to show his agitation, “Listen Temari, this is one hell of a mess, and you can’t expect me to finish this before I-”
Temari interrupted him while copying Kankuro’s facial expression, “Listen, Kankuro, we’ve been here for only about three weeks, right? And we three have barely left the building complex in that span of time, how on earth have you managed to meet someone?”
Gaara noted a slight blush on his brother’s features as Kankuro rolled his whole head along with his dark eyes to, as Gaara figured. to keep Temari from noticing, “Hey, I found him on craigslist, but don’t think I haven’t noticed how you get along with the delivery-”
Temari’s face soon copied the same pink color at the mention of said person and slammed her fist on the counter, “FINE! FINE! FINE! JUST LEAVE ALREADY, GOD!”
A winning expression grew on Kankuro’s face and he almost immediately took off his brown apron with a excited ‘whoop!’ and threw it onto the counter. After smoothing out the wrinkles he had on the shirt he was wearing underneath it, a mop handle was soon offered into Gaara’s hand.
The redhead accepted it absentmindedly.
His brother flashed him a smile, “Take care of the rest for me will you? I’ll be on counter duty tomorrow if you want.”
“Kankuro...” Temari warned. She then got up and walked over to hand her eldest brother the car keys.
Kankuro stuck his tongue out at her as he slipped out the front door the second they were in his hand, “Yeah! Yeah! See you guys later!”
Gaara stared at the back of his brother, “Don’t be out too late.”
The door closed with the doorbells jingling in tow, suddenly leaving the shop as quiet as it had been just moments prior.
Gaara turned the brown mop handle over in his palm and looked over to Temari who was still standing over the mess Kankuro had left unattended.
“Craigslist…” She muttered indignantly as she crossed her arms, “if that art person turns out to be a murderer, the funeral is coming out of Kankuro’s dumb paycheck” Her gaze floated away from the mess and met Gaara’s. Her furrowed brows relaxed as she spotted the mop handle still in his hand and a soft smile appeared on her face.
“Ah…” She said, waving her hand at him, voice now much gentler, “Leave it be, I’ll make him clean it up tomorrow.”
Gaara stood up, figuring he hadn’t much else to do and shook his head, “No, actually, I think I’ll try cleaning up today.”
Temari’s smile turned into a smirk, and she laughed a bit, “Well if you’re good at it, I’m going to also expect you to do it around the apartment.”A buzzing sound soon filled the air and Gaara watched as Temari pulled her cell phone out from her pocket and grow red again from the sight of the contact name. She clicked the green “answer” button, and before she held it up to her ear, she whispered to him, “Lock up the place when you’re done-” Her eyes caught sight of something, “- And remember to take out the trash, I don’t want to see what another week of garbage will do to that can.”
Gaara nodded in understanding and watched as Temari whipped around to go through the door at the back of the store and head up to their apartment.
His sister’s voice echoed through the stairwell and Gaara heard the beginning of probably a long conversation with the delivery guy.
“What’s up, Shikamaru”
He liked to think that lemon was the oddest scent someone would want their trash to smell like. As Gaara pushed the door open with his right arm and held the insanely large trash bag over his shoulder with his left, he wondered if all the other trash bags were like this.
And if all urban stores had doors this narrow.
It was a short-lived hassle getting through the door with his embarrassing cargo, and he had to blink a couple of times to adjust to the natural lack of light outside. It was nearing autumn, so nightfall was approaching earlier than it usually was.
When a car or two passed the street, their light came and left with them. The small business district seemed dead, and only the echoes of his rustling bag filled the soundless void.
The streetlights probably won’t come on until later, he decided.
The alley where the dumpster is was located in between the flower shop and the store next to it. It was narrow, unlit, and smelled like mildew. His nose wrinkled up in recognition. It reminds Gaara of his aversion to cramped spaces that was established early in his childhood and goosebumps begin to appear on his skin.
He’s never doing Kakuro’s share of the work again anytime soon.
The trash grows heavy in his one-handed hold, and Gaara allowed himself the luxury of a two-handed grip. He reasons the pot that had broken inside the store had been terribly massive and heavy so he wouldn’t admit to being weak just yet.
In the bustle of getting to the alley, Gaara’s ears picked up the sound of an open and closing door, adding further edge to his already creeped out mood. Sounds always seem louder when what preceded them was silence, and he had spent plenty nights awake to confirm that observation was a truth.
He heard footsteps behind him grow closer to, probably belonging to the person that opened the door, and he found that he was just standing still looking at the alley as said person suddenly bumped into him.
Gaara’s shoulder’s automatically cringed. Half in embarrassment, half in surprise. He turned around to apologize for blocking up the entrance for the other person when he suddenly saw a fist lunge towards him.
“AH!” A flare of pain immediately set a fire in his abdomen after receiving the hit. His grip on the trash and his balance were thrown out the window, and he was suddenly tumbling backward onto his backside. The gravel underneath him scraped his hands, and he automatically knew he was being assaulted.
Gaara quickly raised his arms in a pathetic attempt to try to protect himself, his thoughts rang in his head frantically as he braced for a second hit.
You should have never agreed to this,
if you had just said no to moving, you, Temari, and Kankuro could have never left Suna,
You should have listened, Father was ri-
Instead of another hit, a voice even more alarmed than his wailed out in agony in front of him.
Gaara couldn’t see anything, and it was at that point where he realized that he must have shut his eyes close the second he fell back. When he opened them, his fright was turned to confusion at the sight of another man crumpled to his knees, head down, just mere feet away. Although Gaara was now more unsettled than anything, his arms and legs still shook in tremors.
Had he? Had he hit this guy at some point? Had he somehow taken this guy out?
The street lamps came on then, and he found that he could see the man’s mop of dark hair that covered his eyes. In that same moment nonetheless, the man’s head snapped up to meet Gaara’s gaze to show a face twisted in distress.
Gaara’s eyes had widened in bemusement at the sight of unrealistically large brows, and he flinched when the man reached his arm out to him.
The man’s lip quivered, and his round, dark eyes saddened tremendously. This whole time he’d been bumbling out some gibberish on the lines of the situation ‘not being the proper use of combat skills,’ but now he then suddenly said something Gaara understood.
“I AM SORRY!”
Gaara had kept staring at him, mostly perplexed, and still on guard. He said nothing to the man, but the stranger persisted.
“I, AM ROCK LEE!”
‘Rock Lee’ had then turned and pointed to the wall opposite to that of the flower shop, “AND I HAVE WORKED IN THIS BUILDING MY WHOLE LIFE!” His point rapidly shifted onto another bag of trash on the ground behind him that must have been his, “AND I ALSO COME TO THROW OUT THE TRASH ON WEDNESDAYS AT 8:00 PM EXACTLY! YOU STARTLED ME SINCE I HAVEN'T SEEN YOU BEFORE”
Rock Lee pursed his lips, seemingly sounding unconvinced about his own apology. A spark seemed to go off in his eyes, and he returned to talking just as loudly as he had before.
“BUT THAT IS NO EXCUSE TO BLAME THE VICTIM FOR ANYTHING THAT I JUST DID”
Rock Lee then made a noise in his throat that Gaara couldn’t quite place, and the stranger suddenly yanked one of Gaara’s arms from under him, nearly causing him to lose balance as he did.
“Wait!” Gaara yelped, “ What are you doing, can you please-”
“RETRIBUTION!” Rock Lee stated firmly, “PLEASE!” He used his other hand and attempted to curl Gaara’s own into a fist, “PLEASE HIT ME BACK!”
Gaara began to shift uncomfortably, he was definitely not going to throw away the trash anytime soon.
“Rock Lee, uh, I don’t want to-”
“PLEASE, CALL ME LEE”
Gaara blinked, and he started feeling more awkward by the second. Maybe if he just asked for Lee to help him get up, he would calm down.
He voiced his request, trying to avert his eyes from looking too much at the other’s, and Lee seemed evermore willing to comply. A grin spread on his face from ear to ear, and he yanked Gaara up almost immediately.
Gaara wondered how many muscles the stranger stretched in Gaara’s arm in that action alone.
“HOW KIND OF YOU!” Lee exclaimed, “I’M DEFINITELY UNDESERVING OF YOUR GOODWILL!”
Gaara steadied himself, a little too close to the man in front. He felt his green eyes nervously bat around as he shook the hand Lee was still holding on also. Temari has told him that business formalities were to always be taken, he presumed he might as well get it over with.
“I’m Gaara.” He told him, and he bobbed his head to the right, “And I work at the new flower shop in that building. I was um…” he paused for a bit, “also taking out the trash.”
The redhead received a firmer handshake in return, and Lee smiled brightly again once more.
“It’s very nice to meet you Gaara!” His voice thankfully quieter than before, “I’ll take the trash out for us both! It seems like you might have been struggling since you didn’t get very far!”
Gaara’s brow furrowed a bit at that. He wanted to note that he had been punched before he got the chance to actually try, but Lee didn’t seem like the type of guy to be phased by things like that. Gaara settled on nodding in acknowledgment and saying a quiet, “thank you”.
As Lee took out the trash, the street lights allowed Gaara to notice he was wearing a dark green tracksuit, zipped up all the way to his neck. It was still pretty hot outside on most days, so Gaara figured he must get hot pretty fast. The way Rock Lee threw the bags in the dumpster was also a very questionable sight. He’d swing the bags over his shoulders and then swing them back into the large container with a loud boom. Gaara heard the remains of the tulip pot shatter exponentially as they hit the bottom surface.
I guess that’s it for the night...
Gaara was about to slip out of the alley when Rock Lee unexpectedly turned to face him again,
satisfaction clear on his face, “Now that that’s done,” he said, ”why don’t you come inside to fix you up?”
Gaara Felt himself physically stutter in an attempt to comprehend what the taller man offered.
The place had smelled relatively well ventilated for a small gym, the most prominent scents being leather and rubber, and the whole area seemed coated in the colors green and orange (blue in some places). It was much like any other fitness center of its type; a ring in the middle, punching bags and other equipment organized off to the sides by category, and a wall decorated with plaques of recognition and pictures of past and current attendants. Gaara was pulled a chair and was sat by the window which looked out to the now lamp-lit street. After assisting his ‘guest,’ Lee dashed off to find medical equipment in closets and back rooms.
“It’ll just be one moment!”
The fear that had been present in his body mere minutes ago had somehow vanished into thin air. The bright lights that the inside of this building offered helped Gaara study his acquaintance, and he noted that Lee indeed, did have enormous eyebrows and it wasn’t ‘just the shadows doing their thing.’
They made small talk as the dark haired boy ran about searching for medical kits, and Gaara began to realize other things about him.
For one, the growing stack of first-aid items in his arms meant Lee had probably never injured anyone in his life, or perhaps, never administered any sort of medical attention at all. The air surrounding Lee seemed to be infused with the young man’s overly energized aura, and it caused Gaara to almost believe that his personality was what was beginning to breathe life into the empty space.
The raven-haired boy would vanish in a blur of searching for a while, and pop back up a few seconds later, either satisfied with his find or lacking in what he searched for. He made comments about every piece of equipment he would pass by, and often tell small two sentenced stories about what happened by them.
“That’s the punching bag my friend Naruto broke two of his fingers at! He thought he could manage without wraps, but he was both lacking in proper form and wrong!”
Gaara would hum to indicate his active listening, and would sometimes offer a sentence or so himself.
“I think I broke my ankle once.”
Gaara had never met someone so energetic, and in comparison to the people Gaara usually hung around, this was pretty out of the ordinary. It was interesting, he concluded, and he found that he liked how minimal his expected contributions to conversations would be because Lee would usually carry them himself.
Eventually, said person appeared before him and dropped an armful of medical items onto the floor (very much ruining any sort of sterility they could have had before) and yanked a nearby chair so he could sit directly in front of his ‘guest.’ The sudden movements caused Gaara to jump a bit back in surprise, and he tried his best not to look too nervous about whatever Lee was going to do to him.
“Alright! I’m going to have to take off your sweater to see if what I did, or uh-” Lee seemed to notice Gaara’s eyes widen a bit at the statement, “-or actually, I’ll just lift it up a bit if you don’t mind.”
Gaara liked the second option better, “That seems okay.”
Rock Lee proceeded to roll up his own sleeves, oddly enough, up to almost past his elbows. Gaara wondered if Lee would actually think the whole process of this was going to be messy, or if he genuinely believed that was necessary.
Lee’s hands felt rough and warm. They lifted the hem of Gaara’s sweater as carefully as the redhead would have thought possible and they stopped when the garment was scrunched up at the necessary height. The coolness of the environment and the amount of skin Gaara was now exposing to it was combination enough to have goosebumps decorate his abdomen.
No matter what level Gaara’s embarrassment was at then, Lee hadn’t seemed to mind. He laid his two hands on Gaara’s stomach and began to do as he intended, The boundless energy the florist had felt moments before was now focused, Lee’s legs no longer bounced up and down, and his dark brows were knit in utter concentration. His hands scanned him vigorously, fingers pressing in different areas until finally, one the presses caused Gaara to hiss and recoil in discomfort. A corner of Lee’s small mouth turned down into a slight frown, and he retracted his hands as to grab a small container nearby.
He apologized as his dark eyes caught the gaze of Gaara’s, and he offered the redhead a reassuring smile as opened the container. He showed the label to him and offered a small explanation of what it was.
“Salve is good for soothing bruises, and you have the start of something that looks like it's going to be painful. Sensei uses it with the other students and me whenever we get too wrapped up in our training.”
Lee rubbed a small amount of it into his hands and slowly placed them upon Gaara’s abdomen once again. Before he moved, he seemed to notice Gaara’s uneasiness when it came to coming into contact with the spot that was found to be hurting, and he proceeded with extra caution.
“I’ll make sure to be gentle.”
Gaara felt himself smile in return, letting himself relax as he did.
Gaara had never been passionate about anything in his life.
But Rock Lee seemed to be.
Lee was passionate about righting his wrongs, being concerned over the well being of a stranger, and getting to know them while doing so. He had gone through great rhetorical lengths to drag Gaara into the gym of his and was insistent on keeping him there until Lee was assured that he was alright. Gaara voiced that he knew the worst damage his body could have sustained was a bruise, maybe even nothing, but dark brows furrowed and remained determined.
Rock Lee’s passion was unfamiliar to Gaara.
Yet he wondered if there was any way it could be contagious.
Chapter 2: Preguntas
It confused him, really.
To see his older siblings bringing strangers into the house, to witness them play with other human beings, to see them share looks of fondness and excitement. Expressions that Gaara himself, had never received for as long as he could remember.
The feeling that grew in him whenever this happened sank into his chest and pressed against his brain. It was nauseating, and it was demanding for both consolement and an answer. An answer to why he couldn’t have, why he couldn’t be, and why they…
He was too young (afraid?) to be trying to find answers, and like an addict to their drug, Gaara found his relief in the backyard gardens of the house.
The flora would surround him in their unchanging peace, and his duty to them would allow him to believe he was important in some sense. He liked that they only grew, flowered, and died. Predictable things. Constant things.
Plants aren’t confusing, Gaara concluded eventually, and he accepted that as an answer (solution?) to the feelings he never understood.