There was a snap as the humanoid log that the young man was hitting splintered into several pieces, shards of wood flying everywhere. The attacker fell hard from his kick, winded, his breath tearing past his lips in harsh gasps, his throat burning. His black hair was as damp as the rest of his body way, slick with perspiration, strands of it clinging to his face. His eyebrows were furrowed in concentration- he seemed to be fighting off a spell of pain, his bottom lip captured between his teeth. He stayed where he had fallen, more unwilling than unable to get up from the ground. His clothing was dirty; the green body suit that he wore was darkened in patches from both blood and dirt, the once-orange legwarmers that he wore were dingy and frayed in places from repeated contact with the practice stump.

With a deep intake of breath, the young man struggled to his feet, wincing. His expression of pain only lasted for a short instant, quickly replaced with a determined glint that seemed to flash across his eyes, bringing life and energy back to his entire being. He moved on to a somewhat-undamaged practice stump, standing a few yards away from where the remnants of the destroyed one lay. He stretched briefly, and then launched into a flurry of blows against the wood, fists and feet flying. Soon, bloody marks were left on the rough stump, and shortly, the boy's movements began to slow, eventually coming to a standstill.

It was a half-hour later that another young man walked into the practice clearing, dusky red hair almost glowing in the twilight that had settled about the area. A large gourd was strapped to his back, but he carried it effortlessly, acting as if it weighed nothing. Cold jade eyes were narrowed to slits the moment he saw the other young man, laying spent on the ground. He stopped, and reached out with a sandal-clad foot to none-too-gently prod the prone youth.

"Get up, loser." His voice was as cold as his expression, no humor in it. The boy groaned, struggling to open his eyes. The auburn-haired youth dropped into a crouch, reaching out and preparing to shake the other awake.

"Gaara…don't." The black-haired boy furrowed his brow, not conscious enough to know the presence of the other—and perhaps dreaming something, "I don't want to…lose again…"

For a fleeting moment, the air about the gourd-laden boy lightened, a look of soft pity coming to his face—and just as quickly disappearing to be replaced by the uncaring expression of moments before. His hands closed around the shoulders of the boy before him, and he gave him a rough shake. The boy's eyes fluttered open, and he looked about wildly before attempting to stagger to his feet.

He stood, brushing dirt and grass off of his green outfit, not looking at the other. There was a silence between the two—something that seemed common.

"Gaara…why do you always come and get me?" the boy paused in his actions, still not looking up.

"There's no reason." Gaara replied, he turned away from the other, "Lee, your idiot teacher was looking for you. I couldn't stand his annoying voice anymore."

"Gai-sensei isn't an idiot! How dare you call him that!" Lee's voice rose an octave, as he immediately jumped to the defense of his beloved mentor. Lee was unable to see the smirk spread across Gaara's face, the shinobi pleased at the expected reaction from the older boy.

"I dare because it's true." Gaara shook his head slightly, "get your sorry ass back to town before dark sets in."

"I still have training to do. I couldn't do a thousand punches…so now I'm going to do five hundred push-

"don't be stupid." Gaara slowly turned to face Lee, his eyes going from the boy's face to his hands; blood had soaked through the bandages, and was rolling down his knuckles to drip from his fingertips.

"It's not stupid if it's my dream." Lee's voice took on a harsh tone for a mere instant, before his face broke into a smile, "I'll achieve my dream someday!"

Gaara didn't answer. Lee watched as the younger boy walked away from him, a smile still on his face. It hardened into a look of determination once more, as he returned to his assault on the practice stump. Blood splattered with every hit he made—but he didn't seem to notice, his mind solely focused on the task at hand.

The sand-nin had reached the edge of the clearing before stopping to look disdainfully over his shoulder, a sour look turning down the corners of his mouth.

"Only idiots dream so much. How can he love that training?" Gaara mumbled, the words tumbling from his mouth in a soft murmur. He shook his head and turned to focus on the ground ahead of him, walking father from the clearing.

"Why do I find such interest in a loser like him?" were the next words from Gaara's mouth. They hung on the silence that surrounded him, and then faded. Gaara shook his head with a sigh, and continued walking. Perhaps time would tell the meaning of this strange obsession.