Chapter one. Training stings.

Tenth training ground. Just the single, expected-for shinobi training, on his own since his sensei was away in a mission near the Sand country and wouldn't be back in the following week. No pauses were allowed, no distractions, no timeouts to rest: practice and yet again practice, a routine which had mouldered his slender frame into something with such inner power that is was rather fearsome. Not just that, but also his grits, his spirit doubled his physical strength to outstanding levels.

His suit seemed to blend with its surroundings, the only non-matching element being the whiteish bandages that wrapped his forearms, that red headband tied to his waist and the strange-looking, orangeish-yellow leg protectors. Always there, most of times on his own, as the sun began to slip away behind the mighty faces of the four Hokage, standing tall and vigilant over Konoha.

- Kuso-o!

The young Genin gritted his teeth. He had been practicing a new way of strengthening his legs by pushing up a huge log with his feet upwards. Upside down, his chest and hands glued to the floor, supporting his body, he was steadily reaching the prefixed five hundred training repetitions. He was in pushup number threehundred and seventynine when the log slipped, causing him to sway sidewards and fall into a very thorny ironweed (Konoha Thunbergii) bush.

The pain was ever so acute, given the pressure the log exerted against his leg, causing him to yell. Any other genin would have tried to crawl or find a way through with a Ninpo technique, but this was Rock Lee, and you couldn't ask him that. Besides, training had to go on.

"Think as a chûnin would do... getting out with the slightest damage and noise... Think, do not act as a bâka" His thoughts had not changed: still a genin, but longing to become a chûnin. "What would you do if you are stuck like this... and you have to protect someone precious to you?"

His eyes filled with shades of pink. He closed his eyes, and when he opened threm again, there was only green around him. Trees, grass, leaves.

"If I catch those twenty leaves before they touch the floor..."

"What if I have to be in that situation again? Think... think..."

He twisted around, his hands bleeding from the thorns, but he couldn't reach his shuriken thighband, nor his backpouch, so cutting it with a kunai or shuriken was out of question.

- Kai!

A second later, his trademark shout pierced the air as he did threw the log off his body, having opened the first gate to do so. Alas, he had to curl over himself, panting: his leg tickled in pain, and, as he looked down, there was even worse...

It would take a while, but never mind: no one was around, so who could possibly see him?

- Is that you, Lee-san?

Lee's face sported two bright red circles, his eyes growing like saucers. Not now! Not... her!

He tried his best to turn and conceal the disaster, but he was caught in the thorns, and if he moved in any direction it would only make matters worse. Breaking into a sweat, he heard Sakura Haruno's footsteps coming closer.

- Sakura-san, please do not come any closer! – he urged, trying not to sound panicky. The footsteps stopped, but suddenly they became hastier, until the pink-haired Genin's face, a kunai in her right hand, appeared into view.

- Lee-san, what's wrong? Oh my, you are hurt!

Lee's blushing was so intense he could easily have roasted a Korean barbecue on it. He pulled out his head

- I-I am okay, Sakura-san! Please do not come any closer!