Silence fell across the Academy training field.
All eyes focused on the two students within the sparring circle as the opponents sized each other carefully. Abruptly, without warning, one of them darted forward and crashed into the other’s hastily prepared guard.
Naruto’s superior vision showed him the contraction of every muscle, every heartbeat of the opponents. Personally, he expected Saburo to win. Shorter and lighter, he moved more quickly.
While his opponent, Maro, was undoubtedly stronger, Naruto could tell that he couldn’t keep up with Saburo’s speed.
“I still think Maro is going to win,” Hogari said, not really talking to anyone in particular.
“I see why you think that, as all Maro needs is one good hit to end the spar. However, I have to agree with Naruto on this one. I think Sabaro is going to win,” Arashi replied, causing Hogari to snort.
Arashi Umeya was a third-year Academy Student, and as of a month ago, Hogari and Naruto’s classmate. Not long after they had joined the Academy, their Sensei had decided to move them both to classes that would challenge them.
Naruto had known the decision was coming since he’d figured out that the first year was little more than a test. A glorified way to weed out students that didn’t have what it took to become a Shinobi. From his training with Kanade and his father, he was, at the very least, a third-year, if not higher.
“Ouch, that had to hurt,” Arashi exclaimed ruefully as Saburo landed a solid hit to Maro’s chest, causing the boy to stumble back a couple feet. Maro was near the edge of the sparring circle, but he wasn’t out yet. Hogari grunted.
Naruto once again tried to find a way that Maro could win, knowing that Hogari must have a reason for thinking it was possible. Over the last month, Naruto had come to respect Hogari.
They’d shared bits about their home and families, though most of what Naruto told Hogari had been lies.
I guess that does make us friends… that’s what I told Temari anyway, Naruto mused. The idea of having a friend was alien to Naruto, and he wasn’t sure what being someone’s friend meant. However, it didn’t seem like Hogari cared.
“It’s over,” Naruto commented, seeing Maro take an unconscious step backward to avoid a round-house kick from Saburo.
Saburo used the opening to gain ground and launched himself into another kick. Maro only realized he was out of the ring when their Sensei called the end of the match.
“Huh,” Hogari said, shrugging, “I thought for sure that Maro would win.”
“Maro gets caught up in the fight and doesn’t pay attention to his surroundings, and even if he had, Sabaro had him cornered. It was over when he backed up the first time.” Arashi replied as Maro and Sabaro bowed to each other, pressing a fist against their flat palm in a gesture of respect.
“However, I’d thought perhaps that Sabaro would succeed in knocking Maro over and pinning him.”
Naruto shook his head, causing Arashi to look at him curiously. “Maro is too strong, and Sabaro doesn’t weigh enough to do that.”
Arashi nodded thoughtfully, looking back toward the sparring circle. “You’re right.”
“The winner is Sabaro!” The Taijutsu Sensei, whose name was Nissho, called out. “Next up will be Naruto Edano and Hogari Sengwari. Will the opponents please come into the sparring circle for the next spar?”
“Oh, we’re gonna get to see you two spar?” Arashi asked excitedly, “this will be fun.”
Neither Naruto or Hogari paid attention to the sudden rise of hushed conversation as they walked into the sparring circle. They’d both sparred many times in this ring, and several more times outside of it. Naruto had realized early on that Hogari’s Taijutsu was far superior to his own, which often resulted in him losing.
I’m not going to lose this time, Naruto thought as he stepped across the line of white sand. Hogari used a style unique to his clan, the Sengwari. After their first spar, Naruto had attempted to find information about it in the Suna Public Libraries.
His efforts were completely fruitless, as he was only able to find the style mentioned by name and nothing else.
After positioning themselves on either side, they bowed, and Naruto slipped his hands out of his sleeves.
“First person to step foot outside of the ring, concede, or be knocked unconscious, loses,” Nissho called.
Naruto didn’t move as Hogari crouched slightly, positioning his left leg in front of him at a slight angle. Most of his weight was on his back leg, ready to push forward and launch at Naruto. Chakra wasn’t allowed in this spar, but Hogari was far stronger than he was. Like Saburo, he would have to rely on his lighter weight and, therefore, higher speed.
“Begin!” Nissho called out, and the clamor of conversation around the circle died out.
Unlike Hogari, Naruto hadn’t positioned himself in a Taijutsu stance. To the ire of his Taijutsu Sensei, he didn’t like the Academy’s basic Taijutsu style. Naruto hadn’t told Nissho that he knew how to use the Blue Diamond Taijutsu, the Taijutsu his father had taught him, not only because that would reveal his real father, but because he didn’t like that one either.
Nissho had eventually given in and told him he could fight however he liked. It was evident to Naruto that Nissho expected him to fail eventually, and then finally give in and use the Academy Taijutsu.
Naruto saw Hogari shift his ankle, and was ready when Hogari darted forward, kicking off his right foot.
Watching Hogari’s fist rapidly draw closer, Naruto tilted to the side, narrowly avoiding it.
As Hogari flew past, Naruto brought his hand up and jabbed at a point in Hogari’s neck that would slow his ability to use his right arm. Naruto wasn’t skilled enough to immobilize it completely without chakra, but it would undoubtedly slow Hogari down.
Hogari, however, saw the strike coming and spun out of the way. Catching himself with his hands in a push-up, Hogari thrust off the ground and out of range as Naruto attempted to kick him in the stomach. Roughly landing on his feet, Hogari blocked Naruto’s fist and bent his hand around to grab Naruto’s wrist.
Reversing his stance, Hogari positioned his leg between Naruto’s and kicked out his feet. Leaning backward, Hogari yanked Naruto toward him and thrust his knee into Naruto’s stomach.
Instead of fighting, Naruto jumped into Hogari’s attack and used his free hand to push off of Hogari’s knee. Twisting in mid air, he broke Hogari’s hold on his wrist and flipped.
He landed on the ground and immediately rolled to avoid a round-house kick to the side of his head.
Getting to his feet, Naruto brought up both arms and blocked another kick. The force behind it caused him to skid across the ground, and Naruto badly wanted to rub his forearms.
Without turning to look, Naruto could see that he was barely a foot from the white line and carefully began moving back toward the center.
“You have to work on that, Naruto. One of these days, I’m going to kick you, and you’ll stop outside of the ring.” Hogari said, allowing Naruto to move farther into the ring as he positioned himself defensively
Naruto didn’t respond, but Hogari was right. Physical strength was his worst field, and he didn’t seem to be improving despite the rigorous training exercises. There wasn’t much he could do besides attempt to gain a significant amount of weight, which he wasn’t keen on, or use chakra.
Chakra, however, wasn’t allowed in a strictly Taijutsu spar.
Attempting to take Hogari by surprise, Naruto darted forward and feigned a strike toward Hogari’s head. As Hogari moved to the side to avoid the attack, Naruto shifted targets and attempted to kick Hogari in the knee. From his observations, Hogari’s left knee was one of the defensive stance’s only weaknesses. It would hopefully throw Hogari off balance.
However, Naruto’s plan fell apart as Hogari successfully evaded both strikes. Now off balance, having been expecting to use Hogari as a springboard to jump away, Naruto was unable to avoid Hogari’s counter-attack.
Even though he could clearly see it coming, Naruto was helpless as Hogari’s fist collided against the side of his head. His Byakugan went dark as ears rang loudly, and Naruto stumbled several feet before collapsing, completely blind.
He pressed his hand to the side of his head, trying to lessen the pain, and felt something wet on his palm.
Am I bleeding?
Naruto’s confusion was interrupted by a pain-filled scream right in front of him. Forcing chakra into his eyes, his Byakugan flared to life, and the world came back into view.
Less than a dozen feet away, clutching his bleeding fist was Hogari, trying desperately to stop the blood dripping from his fingers. Without thinking about it, Naruto watched as his Byakugan honed in on Hogari’s fist, peering through the blood to see the wound. Hogari had punctured the skin between his knuckles.
He hit them… no… no no no NO!
Naruto frantically got to his feet and ran. Tightly clenching his eyes closed, Naruto tried to block out the terror and fear drowning him. I’ll be revealed, everyone will know! THEY CAN NOT KNOW, NO ONE CAN, IT WILL DOOM ME!
Naruto froze as suddenly everything stopped. Feeling something crack beneath his fingers, he forced himself to open his eyes.
Hogari’s glassy eyes stared at him, unmoving. Naruto could instantly tell he wasn’t breathing. He watched Hogari’s hands, which had been gripping his arm, let go and fall to his sides. Naruto heard a roar of triumph in his ears as Hogari collapsed, Naruto having recoiled in shock and letting go.
“He’s dead?!” Someone screamed, “Naruto killed Hogari!”
Naruto could tell someone was running toward him, but he couldn’t turn and look at them. His Byakugan was locked on Hogari, almost like he expected him to move… to get up and congratulate him for winning the spar.
“All of you! Back the fuck up!” Nissho roared. Naruto distractedly wondered why he sounded like he was hundreds of miles away.
Shouldn’t he be right here to help with this? Naruto thought, I must be wrong… this is just another nightmare.
Gaara casually watched the orange-haired Kunoichi dart across the rooftops before turning back to the scene playing out below. It was obvious her destination was the Kazekage tower.
His emotionless visage never changed as he saw Naruto stumble away from his classmates, trying to get away from them as they pursued him. He’d witnessed the entire spar, and while he wasn’t sure why Naruto had chosen to kill the boy, he also didn’t care.
What Gaara was fascinated by was how Naruto had killed the student. It looked like Naruto had crushed the Sengwari’s throat, but he knew that such a thing didn’t kill someone instantly. The boy had been dead before he’d hit the ground.
Looking back at the sparring circle, Gaara noted the lack of blood that should have been spewing out of the dead boy’s throat as medic-nin picked him up.
No… Naruto had done something else.
As soon as Naruto stepped into his office, Rasa could tell something was wrong. He, of course, couldn’t see Naruto’s eyes beneath his blindfold, but Naruto’s body posture, the way the prince moved, concerned him.
He’d seen hundreds of children immediately after they’d killed the first time, and all of them had been affected by it in some way.
Naruto was just standing there, his posture as rigid and perfect as it had been when Rasa had first met him. There was nothing in his body language that showed even a hint of sadness, remorse, or even shock over the fact that he’d just killed his classmate.
Hearing the doors open, Rasa pulled himself away and turned toward Baki, who was closing the office doors behind him.
“The body has been moved out of the Academy, and a message has been sent to the Sengwari Clan,” Baki reported as he walked up to the desk.
Rasa rubbed his face, “so the boy is dead then.”
Baki nodded his attention on Naruto, he expected the prince to react in some way, but Naruto didn’t move. It was like the boy hadn’t even heard him.
“How did he die?” Rasa asked.
Baki shrugged, “It looked like a crushed windpipe to me… Nissho said he didn’t think it was that, though…”
Rasa saw the hand sign Baki formed against his own head with his hand, disguising it as merely scratching his head. Realizing that Baki felt they should continue this conversation without Naruto present, he let it drop.
Sighing, he turned to Naruto, who had yet to move or say anything since being escorted to his office. It reminded him of Gaara.
“Naruto, I’m removing you from the Academy,” Rasa stated, his tone making it clear he wouldn’t be changing his mind.
While the Sengwari’s death was unnecessary, it wasn’t unprecedented. Students had been killing each other in the Academy for as long as it had existed. The Sengwari Clan might complain about Hogari’s death, but it was unlikely, and they wouldn’t get very far.
When joining the Academy, every student had signed a waiver, showing that they understood that they could die at any time and that Suna could not be held responsible for their death.
“Does that mean this is the end of my training in Sunagakure?” Naruto asked.
Rasa was both relieved and surprised to hear the thickness in Naruto’s voice. It meant that Hogari’s death had affected Naruto… I shouldn’t have thought of him as being Gaara, Rasa realized, annoyed at himself for jumping to conclusions.
“No, you will be trained personally by Baki from now on.”
Rasa saw Baki glance at him in surprise, but he waved it away.
A moment of silence passed.
“Why did you kill Hogari, Naruto?”
Rasa saw Naruto lift his hand toward his face before hesitating and letting it fall back down to his side.
“I don’t know…” Naruto murmured, “I can’t remember.”
Rasa leaned back in his chair, relieved to see that Naruto was, in fact, in shock.
“You can go home now, Naruto.”
Naruto bowed deeply before turning and leaving. Rasa and Baki waited until they sensed Naruto exiting the tower before speaking again. Rasa wasn’t sure if he could trust Naruto to not spy on them.
“What did Pakura report?” Baki asked curiously, and Rasa chuckled dryly as he got up from his desk. Walking around it to the west window, Rasa peered out and spotted Naruto on the street below as he walked through the crowd.
“She said that Hogari punched Naruto in the side of the head during a spar, and somehow his hand started to bleed,” Rasa said, sighing. “She was understandably confused, but I told her not to look into it.”
Baki nodded, “She’ll respect that. I’m guessing Hogari hit one of the horn-looking protrusions on the side of his head that you told me about?”
“That would be my guess. However, when I saw them on the trip back from Kazedama, they were too small to puncture one’s fist on.”
Baki rubbed his face in disbelief, “So they’re continuing to grow then? I can’t help but imagine the Daimyo was aware of them, which was why he had Naruto grow out his hair so long.”
“I agree, but Torio never mentioned them to me. ”
“Why would he do that?” Baki wondered aloud. Giving up, he changed the topic. “You want me to be Naruto’s personal Sensei? For how long?”
“Until I figure out a better solution.”
Baki chuckled and slapped his knees before getting to his feet. “So forever, then?”
Rasa heard the door’s of his office shut as Baki left. Naruto was now out of sight, but he could still faintly sense the prince, who was just now reaching his mansion.
Placing his hand against the giant, elegantly carved wooden door, Naruto sighed.
I killed him… but why did I kill him? He realized he expected something to happen, but nothing did.
Flowing chakra through his palm, Naruto unlocked the door and pushed it open. He absentmindedly heard it click shut behind him. It was necessary… but why?
Reaching up to his face, Naruto slipped off his blindfold and deactivated his Byakugan. There was no one else in the mansion. Temari and Kankuro were still in the Academy and would be for another couple hours.
Ascending the stairs to the second floor, Naruto made his way to his room and collapsed down on his bed, relieved to finally be able to sleep.