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Monday, May 26, 2008

Catching Leaves

Catching Leaves

Author: Kaminiko


We are young and we are old, we're falling like leaves...
- Lucky Love (Ace of Base)


The forest was bright with the light of the noonday sun dribbling through its branches. Though the sunlight was a welcome addition to the usually more sombre forest, none of the associated heat pierced through. It was a cool autumn day, perfect for a solitary walk through the woods to gaze at the beautifully coloured leaves, or maybe to have a picnic with friends and loved ones while the leaves fell around you.

Or, if you were a team of rookie ninja on your way to becoming masters, a day like this was perfect for training.

A three man group was doing just that, whirs of thrown shuriken, whooshes of fists flying though air, and grunts of concentration sounded as three dark haired genin trained their young bodies. The one girl on the team was tossing about a massive amount of weaponry, originating from points unknown, as if it were child's play. Her dark hair was pulled back into two large buns on either side of her head, and her pink Chinese styled shirt stuck to her body where she was sweating visibly. She trained vigorously as indicated by the flush of her cheeks, but judging by how heavily she was breathing, she was reaching her limit. Tossing a few more kunai around, she finally crashed to the ground with a huff.

"Maaah!" She said, her cute voice tinged with fatigue, "I've had enough for today you two, I'm heading home!"

From somewhere to her left, a young boy with a bowl shaped haircut stopped his vigorous katas, "Ahhh, TenTen! Why so early?" He whined, his large, round eyes turning to regard his friend. "We've only been at it for a few hours. Usually we're all together for much longer!" Tenten sighed, smiling softly at the indefatigable boy, before getting up and walking towards him.

"I'm tired, Lee," Tenten replied shaking her head, "and my mother wants me home early to help with some cleaning, so there's nothing I can do. I'll be back again early tomorrow morning."

Lee pouted slightly at her response, but waved the girl off as she lightly bopped him on top of the head, "And no fighting Neji, either, you'll just get yourself busted up again, then I'll bust you up for trying."

Lee's pout grew heavier as he stuck out his tongue at her retreating figure. 'No fighting Neji, eh? Humph. What a waste...'

"Bye bye, Neji!!" Tenten called to the other male on their team, not bothering to wait for a response, knowing that while Neji meditated there would be none. She gathered her weapons before running off.

Neji sat there against a tree, his eyes closed, the very picture of serenity. The tip of his long dark hair where it was tied into a low ponytail, fluttered in the breeze. He had his hands pressed together in some sort of seal, but he did not move a muscle. He was in intense concentration.

Lee glared at his lone companion, sitting so still. Half the time the trio trained together, Neji would find some quiet spot to mentally hone his byakugan, the other half of the time, he'd be practicing his fighting techniques alone. Or, in that last remainder of time that Lee managed to persuade him into, Neji would be wiping the floor with the other boy, proving himself a superior fighter time and time again. It didn't make a difference to Lee if he lost every time they fought, because he used Neji as a measuring stick, a way for him to get stronger. Even if he lost every time, he'd inch along every time and eventually be able to beat the other boy. 'Yoshi!' Lee thought, clenching his fists in determination, he'd keep training to kick the other genin's ass.

He glared some more at the other genin, his rival, and took the time to study the other boy's features. Lee had to admit that when Neji was meditating, he looked far less severe than he normally did. Gone was the intense light of his pale eyes, the slight furrow in his brows when he thought about his cousin, or the half-smirk he wore when he made fun of Lee. Actually, when he was relaxed like this, soft wispy hairs around his face, he was actually kind of pretty...

'Gah!' Lee's mental slap came. 'This was Neji, he was thinking about, Hyuuga Neji! The guy he hated more than anything, and swore right and left he'd defeat some day! He was not pretty! Sakura-chan was as pretty as hell, but there was no way that Neji could be thought of that way.' Lee began to smack his head with his palms. 'Not Hyuuga! Not pretty!'

"Oi, when you're finished staring at me, could you start concentrating on your own training? You'll need it." Came the voice of the longhaired boy, "Unless you want to fight?"

Lee stopped his hands in mid-slap, "I was not staring!" He yelled hotly, his cheeks flaming at having been caught, "Who would want to stare at someone as ugly as you!?" Neji arched a brow before opening his eyes to regard the other boy, a slight smirk on his face.

"You're one to talk."

Oh that was it. Lee stomped his foot once in anger, before getting into the lotus stance, one hand behind his back, the other outstretched in a 'bring it on' position.

"I'm gonna kick your ass, Hyuuga!" He exclaimed, before tucking his head slightly lower to his chest, his body tense for a fight. Neji only smirked wider.

"What was that I heard TenTen say before leaving? Something about not fighting me or she'd bust you up?" Lee blinked. Darn, he'd forgotten about that. He thought back to other instances in which TenTen knocked him out for fighting with the dark-haired genius. Certainly he was stronger than her, and could take her out easily, but there was something so wrong about beating on your female teammate, even if she beat on you. Besides she only really did it when he did something outrageously stupid enough to cause her to worry, which wasn't that often. Lee was a smart guy. But still, he really didn't want to hear her cute voice tinged with sadness when he disappointed her. He really didn't want to put up with the hassle.

"Ch-, fine!" Lee said, quickly turning on his heels, and stalking back to his poor beaten tree, "I don't want to fight you anyway."

Lee went back to his steady punching. 300, 301, 302... it wasn't like he was missing out on much when he didn't fight Neji. 312, 313, 314... So what if the jerk was probably laughing at him right now. 327, 331, 335... He could just see that superior smirk. 375, 382, 389... How he wanted to wipe it off his face. 426, 437, 448... A falling leaf crossed his vision.

Lee whipped around towards the other rookie, his finger pointing, a battle cry on his lips, "All right! I challenge you!!" Neji smiled, his blank eyes eerie, as if he'd been waiting for Lee. Lee shook it off.

"This isn't going to be a fight, we're going to catch leaves!" Lee exclaimed triumphantly. Neji closed his eyes briefly, before returning his critical gaze to Lee.

"What are you talking about?" Neji asked, the beginnings of exasperation in his voice.

"We're going to catch leaves! A lot! Like, 50, no, 100, no, as many as possible! And we're going to see who can catch them fastest!" Lee shouted again. Neji, once more, closed his eyes before answering the other boy somewhat sarcastically.

"Ok, I'll just start running around to grab them off the ground..."

"No, no! We're going to catch them before they hit the ground!" Neji looked at him, a bit intrigued in spite of himself,


"Yeah," Lee continued, his mind racing as the challenge came together, "We're going to pit your eyes against my speed to see who can catch the most leaves in a minute. We'll collect them in, in..." Lee looked around the forested area, wildly. Where could they... "Ah! In our belt pouches! We'll turn them so they're in front of us instead of behind, and then we'll shove the leaves we catch into them! How does that sound?" He asked, facing Neji. To his surprise, Neji had already emptied his pack while he'd been talking, and had it attached to his belt in front of his body. He had his arms crossed in front of him, looking a little bored.

"Well, I'm ready."

Lee silently fumed, his hands clenching into fists. He emptied his pack as he thought of some rules.

"We can't leave the clearing we're in, and we can't take leaves off the ground. We can only catch those still airborne, and, and..."

"What'll I get if I win?" Neji asked. Lee paused momentarily. Now that was a good question. What was the point to a challenge if you didn't get a prize?

"Umm..." Lee was a bit stumped.

Neji watched the other boy carefully, as if trying to see into his very soul, those clear eyes of his as open as they were mysterious. Lee thought it was quite unnerving.

"How about... I'll do whatever chores you have for the next little while, and you can-"

"Oh come on," Neji interjected, "I think you can come up with something a little less mundane than that."

Lee was fuming.

"Alright! If you're so smart, why don't you come up with something!?" Lee asked, hands fisted on his hips. Lord he hated that Hyuuga jerk, always making him feel so inferior. He glowered at his teammate, a million thoughts of murder flashing through his head. Neji smirked.

"How about," The longhaired boy began, thoughtful. "If you lose, you have to become my personal slave for the next month," Lee rolled his eyes, wasn't that what he'd said? "You also have to stop talking about that Haruno chick for the same month," Lee winced. Damn it. "And lastly, you must dress like a maid while you are my slave, whether you're doing something for me or not. It's only proper of course."

"What!? You gotta be kidding me! What is this some sort of lame joke!?" He yelled incredulously, "What're you? Some kind of a perv?"

Neji glowered at Lee's furious accusations, but there was a sparkle in his blank eyes, "I find it amusing, is all," he replied, and Lee had a horrible sense of foreboding.

He flopped to the ground. 'Dress like a maid... for an entire month? How embarrassing would that be?' Lee pictured himself getting ridiculed by half the ninja in the village, particularly Team 7. He could see Sasuke's smirk, and hear Naruto's braying donkey laugh and jabs of "thick-eyebrows", but worst of it would be his precious Sakura, tittering at him, but always like an angel... with a devil's horns. 'Oh, Gai-sensei, be with me!' He prayed, tears of determination streaming down his face, and fire in his eyes. 'I'll run around the town 50 times if I lose!'

"What'll you do, if you lose," He asked finally, shaking himself from his reverie. He noticed Neji was looking at him strangely. The pale-eyed genin cleared his throat.

"How about I... run around the village nude, while singing 'I've got a lovely bunch of coconuts' at the top of my lungs," Neji began, "that way it just about evens our embarrassment level." Lee perked up at that.

"That sounds great!" He yelled, jumping to his feet. He was rather pleased at the response, and secretly thought it was harsher than his own. 'Yoshi! Yoshi!' He thought, stretching and preparing to jump into the air, 'He would laugh so hard when he won.' Suddenly, a dignified, ahem, sounded. He turned to look at his companion, knees bent in mid-leap, "Huh?"

"What will we use to time ourselves?" Neji asked, yawning. 'Damn,' thought Lee, 'I hadn't thought of that. Unless...' Quickly, he searched the pile of belongings he'd tossed from his belt pouch.

"Aha!" He exclaimed, "Here's the stopwatch I use to time myself when I'm running laps around the academy! It makes a loud ringing noise once you set its alarm."

"Fair enough," Neji replied, "Go set it somewhere, so we can get this over with." Lee gripped the stopwatch tighter.

"Alright..." Lee ground out, before attaching the watch to a nearby tree, "Are you ready?" Without waiting for a response, he started the watch and began hopping through the air.

It was exhilarating, really, this combat. Certainly it wasn't a fist to fist, or fist to eyes as it were, fight, but the thrill of the chase was still there. Surrounded by falling leaves in red, brown and gold, jumping from tree to tree, sometimes crossing each other, sometimes mirroring each other, it was like a dance among a million burning flames.

'The dance of the burning leaf.' Lee thought, and his home was brought to mind. 'The village of the Hidden Leaf, within the country of Fire...' He never saw it more clearly than he did now, burning inside, burning outside, pushing himself to new limits as he faced his challenge head on.

Suddenly, he felt a pressure at his waist, and it took Lee a moment to connect Neji's smirking face to the few leaves in his grip. 'Had Neji just...?'

"Heh heh. You should be more watchful of your property, ne?" Neji said, condescendingly.

"You're such a jerk!!" Lee yelled, enraged, "What are you doing!?"

"Well, you never said we couldn't snag leaves from each other." Neji said, as he jumped back from Lee's furious punches. He had a smirk the size of the Hokage monument on his face, as his hands continued to whip around blindingly fast. Lee gritted his teeth, and prayed to every god above and below, to keep him from breaking his promise to TenTen. He concentrated on how ridiculous he'd look in the maid's outfit, before diving into the task of grabbing leaves. This time he'd be more careful, and make sure to take note if Neji the bastard were near him. 'Besides, they were running out of time,' Lee thought, glancing at the fast ticking stopwatch. 'Twenty seconds left...? Shit, he'd never make it!'

Suddenly, Lee was greeted by another surprise as a kunai whizzed above his head and hit the branch of one of the trees in the clearing. With a thunk, another bunch of leaves came showering down, and Neji jumped above to catch them. 'Shit! Shit! Shit!' Lee thought, 'Damn you, Neji... I won't let you win!' Jumping, Lee started to grab at the remaining leaves, his hands moving in a blur, when he heard the alarm buzz.

Landing lightly on the ground, he turned to see Neji was already seated, and was pulling out his leaves one by one, tallying his total. Lee fumed.

"You're not gonna cheat on the count, too, are you?" He asked, snippily, before dropping to the ground and counting his leaves with a vengeance. Neji didn't even look up at him before responding.

"I wouldn't need to. I definitely caught more than you did." Opening his mouth to retort, Lee snapped his teeth shut instead and went back to counting. He wouldn't give Neji the satisfaction of a response. Although he bet that the creepy-eyed freak was gloating over his final word... He was probably laughing at Lee right now... Maybe already laughing at how he would look in a maid's uniform. Opening his mouth to yell at the other genin, he was cut short by Neji speaking first.

"192." He said.

"Huh?" Was Lee's only response, a little confused as to what the other genin was talking about.

"192," he repeated, "I have 192 leaves." Lee glared.

"Well that's just good for you!" He said, before returning to his count. He paused a moment, before taking up his pile and counting again. When he picked it up to count a third time, Neji shouted at him to just say what he got. Swallowing thickly, Lee mumbled a response.

"What was that?" Neji asked, cupping a hand to his ear, a smile in his voice, "I couldn't. Quite. Here you."

"191!" Lee shouted, his face red, as he pointed a finger trembling with rage at his rival. "191 leaves, you filthy, cocky, gloating bastard!" By this time, Neji had his arms crossed, and eyes closed, and seemed to be completely ignoring Lee.

"Well!? No response?" Lee asked, his fingers drumming angrily against his thighs. He was trembling slightly in agitation.

Slowly, Neji opened his eyes, "I'm just picturing you all dolled up. Is all." He replied, and Lee could have sworn he saw a smile playing on the other's lips. Turning even redder, bordering on purple, Lee was about to shout another response, as he was bitter about his loss, when Neji shocked him.

"You missed one, though," the other said, indicating with a flip of his chin a spot above Lee's head, and Lee felt a faint tremble in his chest. Reaching up with agonizing slowness, he placed a hand on top of his head, and indeed, resting on top of his smooth, bowl cut, was a single, red-orange leaf.

Lee was stunned. 'How...?' and he remembered the thunk of Neji's kunai, and everything fell into place.

"Wait... You... knew how many leaves I had, knew how many more I would catch..." Lee began, ticking points off on his fingers as he stood up and began pacing, "When you threw that kunai, you knew exactly how many would fall and at what angle, so you caught enough for us to be even, as long as I found the one on my head...?" Lee saw Neji's face twitch.

"Well, no one said you weren't smart..."

"You bastard!!" Lee yelled, stomping towards him, "That leaves us in a tie! Which means..." and Neji shifted his eyes to the right, away from the other boy's piercing gaze. Lee felt a warmth tingle outwards from his chest, radiating through his body. 'Condescending bastard, making sure we'd tie...' Lee thought, and yet the flutter in his stomach, and the smile on his face couldn't be dampened.

"You're still a jerk, you know," Lee said, crossing his arms in a huff. "Who are you to decide who wins or loses, huh?" At which point, Neji did smile, hopping to his feet and shoving his hands into his pockets. It was a cheeky grin, full of knowing something that Lee didn't, and Lee was stunned if still utterly annoyed.

"What, are you laughing at me?" Lee asked, tentatively, and Neji tossed his head back and did let out a bark of laughter, before gently shouldering Lee to the side, and trotting in the direction of the village. Lee stood there staring, jaw slack.

"O-Oi!" He yelled, and the other dark-haired genin stopped. Lee didn't know what to say.

"Are you coming," Neji asked. "I'm getting hungry, and I hear they've got some lunch specials in the market today."

Lee just looked at his teammate, his rival, his friend, and shook his head. Whatever went through that guy's mind, he didn't understand, and somehow he didn't really want to. It was a rare moment to see Neji like this, just a little bit happy. Who was he to question it? He just laughed quietly to himself, a blush along his cheek, and ran to catch up.

"You know, technically we both lost, so we should both be doing our punishments..." Neji began.

"No way!" Yelled Lee, "You just want to see me in a dress!"

"Uh... Neji?"

And the other genin just laughed as they made their way towards Konoha.

AN: I originally wrote this for a challenge, but I finished it way too late (blasted summer school!), which is alright, because I wanted to do another NejiLee anyhoo. This was more of a friendship fic really, I just hope I didn't make either too OOC.

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