After four days of travel through the desert and three hours in a hot, dark room confirming their identities and reasons for being in Suna to people who must be from the local T&I unit, even Guy-sensei was ready to go straight to the guest housing and rest.
Not Lee, though. As they walked the roundabout route given to them by the last official they'd spoken to, while Neji slouched and Tenten fought not to scratch at the places sand had gotten under her clothes, Lee was all but bouncing around, looking from building to building, eyes shining with excitement. Sunagakure was different from Konohagakure in so many ways, and he was clearly eager to witness and experience them all.
And just like at home, his enthusiasm (and aesthetic) weirded out everyone who saw them.
Guy's single attempt to reign him in - "Lee, remember what we talked about earlier," in reference to the speech he'd given about Representing Konoha! and Making a Good Impression on Our Allies! - got Lee to physically contain himself, no longer running ahead to admire an unusual piece of architecture or see what was being sold at the shop around the corner, but it was obvious he was barely restraining himself. Still, it was better than nothing.
And then, just as they got in sight of the hostel, a sharp sense of being watched struck Team Guy. The sensation was maybe half a step away from the killing intent they were used to from missions, but it was strong enough to even have civilian passersby stopping in their tracks, confused by their sudden fear.
Lee, who could never react to anything like a normal person, broke into a wide smile and apologized to Guy before racing ahead. He hopped across two boxes and the top of a wheeled merchant's stall before landing neatly on the roof of the hostel to greet - oh dear - Gaara of the Desert.
Tenten panicked for a moment, but when Gaara showed no sign of killing Lee on sight, sighed. "Honestly, Lee."
Neji gave them a wary look. Of course Lee would try to befriend a ninja who'd nearly killed him once; that was practically his modus operandi. The strange thing was that Gaara had not responded to the offer the way Neji had, by ignoring it - and Lee - the best he could. (Which was not well, but at least he made the attempt.) No, Gaara seemed to almost... enjoy Lee's presence. At least, that was how Neji interpreted Gaara's neutral attitude towards Lee, a ninja who did not inspire neutrality.
"W-well!" Guy wavered for a moment, flashing back to the moment he'd stepped between the boys now chatting amiably. Well, Lee was chatting amiably. But Gaara seemed amenable to it, which reassured Guy. Recovering, he subtly picked up his pace and declared, "It seems Lee has done his part to extend the hand of youthful friendship to our allies. Tenten, Neji, I expect over the course of the exam you will do the same!"
"Befriend Gaara of the Desert?" Neji asked dryly. At the thought, Tenten made a face she was glad Guy couldn't see. "Or will any Suna nin do?"
Before Guy could respond, they had caught up with Lee, who was eager to share what news he'd gotten from Gaara. "There you are!" Abruptly embarrassed, he averted his eyes. "My apologies again, Guy-sensei, but when I recognized Gaara-kun's chakra signature I couldn't resist running ahead to greet him." At this point, Gaara nodded slightly - as much greeting as Team Guy was going to get, it seemed. "Did you know he's already a chuunin?" Lee continued excitedly. "Temari-san and Kankurou-san too! They received field promotions not long after we last saw them, and Temari-san's going to be involved in proctoring the exam."
"Is that so?" Tenten was a little wary of the kunoichi who'd beaten her so soundly, but so long as she didn't have to fight her, it wouldn't be so bad. Remembering her manners, she added, "Congratulations, I guess."
"Yes, congratulation, Gaara-kun!" Guy declared. Neji and Tenten felt briefly terrified at the thought that Guy might attempt to congratulate Gaara the way he did them - but thankfully he just smiled and gave a thumbs up to Gaara, whose expression did not change... and yet became slightly confused.
"It's a bit of a shame, though," Lee sighed, disappointed. "I really wanted to have the chance at a rematch during the exam."
All of them, Gaara included, stared at Lee incredulously.
"You would lose," Gaara said, the first words any of them but Lee had heard him speak.
Lee sputtered. "T-that's not necessarily true!"
"I am Gaara of the Desert."
"We are in a desert."
"You would lose."
Lee would have started shouting at Gaara at this point, had Tenten not interrupted them by shoving Lee towards the hostel and insisting that she needed to rest before the start of the exam the next day. Reluctantly, Lee allowed her to direct him inside, telling Gaara over his shoulder that he would see him next at the exam finals - and if he didn't, Lee would run a hundred laps around Sunagakure as punishment!
"I don't see why you're doing these laps," Gaara said as Lee ran past him. Teleporting another fifty feet, he waited for Lee to approach before speaking again. "You passed the exam."
"Yes," Lee panted the next time he passed Gaara, sweating through his new chuunin flak vest. "But you did not see me at the exam finals!"
"There were no exam finals."
"Just because only two teams made it through the second test is no excuse!" Lee paused for a breather, stretching and massaging sore muscles. "I broke my promise, and now must complete my punishment."
Gaara watched him, and the amount of water he was losing, warily. "Can you at least reduce the number of laps by half?"
"I already let you talk me down to fifty!"
"You are going to give yourself dehydration."
"Not if I drink plenty of fluids!" Lee pulled out a bottle labelled GUY-SENSEI'S YOUTHFUL RESTORATIVE DRAUGHT. "This will allow me to finish my task with ease!" He took a long sip, shuddered intensely at the taste, and went back to running.
Gaara gave the bottle a skeptical look the next time Lee passed, but didn't give voice to his concerns. Lee had had stranger reactions to beverages in the past. So long as Gaara kept an eye on the odd Konoha nin, he would be fine.
And anyway, this would be good practice. If he could not manage to protect one person from his own lack of self-preservation, he could hardly promise to protect an entire village.