Naruto was beginning to think that this was all pointless.
He could see it all. Every movement, every angle, every hand seal in perfect clarity.
He just couldn’t move fast enough. His new personal Sensei, Baki, was about to strike on his left side, though he would do a feint to the right first.
Naruto could see it clearly and therefore was able to raise his guard on the left to block Baki’s arm.
The force behind the blow was too much, and he went skidding across the ground, struggling to keep his footing. He groaned at the intense pain in his arms.
Dodging was out of the question, he just wasn’t fast enough.
Hastily raising his arms, Naruto blocked another blow, and once more went sliding across the ground. He was little more than a punching bag for his Sensei now.
He hadn’t even skidded to a stop this time when Baki appeared in front of him. His guard finally broke, and Baki’s punch landed squarely on Naruto’s chest.
All of the air in his lungs raced to escape. Whatever was left by the time he hit the ground was abruptly expelled.
“That was better,” Baki said.
Naruto barely heard his Sensei as he fought to breathe, but he was watching Baki. His Sensei wasn’t above attacking him while he was down. The spar hadn’t stopped.
“It was not better, Sensei,” Naruto returned once he was able to speak. “I’ve improved in my ability to use the Byakugan, but I’m not getting stronger… I’m not getting any faster.”
Baki nodded slowly, thinking over Naruto’s words as his student got to his feet.
“If I could use Chakra in these spars, I would be able to improve,” Naruto continued, and immediately knew he’d misspoken.
“Many Shinobi have said that before, and those Shinobi are dead now, Naruto!” Baki said sharply, “Chakra is a tool of the Shinobi, a useful tool, but still a tool. You must train yourself to be able to fight without it. When it comes down to it, that’s what really matters.”
“I don’t understand.”
“The majority of Shinobi have never bothered to train without chakra, to enhance their body at its most basic level,” Baki explained, clearly switching into lecture mode. “Because of this, many have found ways to prevent Shinobi from using their Chakra, if only temporarily. It’s enough, though.”
“How is that possible?” Naruto asked curiously.
“The most common way is Chakra Restriction Cuffs. However, those aren’t used in battle because they only prevent more chakra from flowing through a Shinobi’s system, but don’t close it off entirely.” Baki paused, taking a moment to think of how to best explain it. “Chakra Cuffs only work when the target is unconscious, as that’s when barely any chakra is flowing through their system. When they wake up, they aren’t able to access enough chakra to break the cuffs. However, if you were to somehow put those cuffs on someone in a battle when a lot of Chakra is flowing through their body, they could break them immediately.”
Naruto remained silent.
“The most famous way, however, is the Uzumaki Clan’s Chakra Locking Seals.”
“Don’t seals have to be physically applied? If one were to keep their distance, surely that would prevent them from being used?” Naruto asked, and Baki shook his head.
“For most Shinobi, that’s the case. However, the Uzumaki Clan is one of the most powerful clans in the world because of their mastery over the sealing arts.” Baki shook his head as if in disbelief of his own words. “They can create seals out of thin air, and move them through the air like Kunai to hit targets.”
Naruto’s eyes widened behind his blindfold. He’d never read anything like that about the Uzumaki clan in the Daimyo’s Library. He was about to ask Baki how he knew that when the Jounin explained.
“I know this… because I’ve seen it with my own eyes. The Uzumaki participated in the Second Great Shinobi War, and they were truly a force to be reckoned with.” Baki said, his voice quiet. Naruto had never heard his Sensei talk like that, and he was almost sure that his Sensei sounded… scared.
Shaking his head, Baki focused back on his student. “Regardless, Naruto. You must learn to fight without Chakra, and Taijutsu is the first of many ways to do that.”
Naruto nodded, giving up arguing it with his Sensei. They’d talked about this exact thing several times, and he’d never been able to convince Baki to believe that he was incapable of getting stronger. I’m not even sure why I can’t get stronger, Naruto thought. After each spar, he’d peered through his own skin and looked at his muscles, and they weren’t changing.
“I’ll be back in a minute, Naruto,” Baki said, “take a break for right now.”
Naruto didn’t bother replying, Baki was already gone.
He considered walking to the rusted metal bench at the edge of the training field to take a breather, but instead choose to just sit down in the sand.
Taking a moment to calm himself, Naruto slipped off the now-soaked blindfold and laid it across his knee. The once soft and delicate fabric was now covered in sweat, and he would need to wash it later.
The feeling of his fingers on his face as he wiped off the condensed sweat felt wondrous, like scratching an itch he hadn’t been able to reach for days. As the slight breeze caressed his face, Naruto finally opened his eyes.
His pale white, pupil-less eyes were revealed once again. Like all Hyūga, the veins around his eyes were raised, but only slightly.
Deactivating his Byakugan caused the veins to fade away, and though his eyes didn’t visibly change, his perception did.
Naruto smiled as he lifted a handful of sand into the air, seeing the different colored specks within it as it filtered through his fingers. Turning his attention to the sky, Naruto was once again amazed at its brilliant color.
Catching the familiar sound of shifting sound behind him, Naruto turned to it. He’d expected to find Gaara, but instead, he found a small rabbit looking at him curiously, its head tilted to the side as its nose twitched.
“Hello,” Naruto whispered softly. The tan-colored rabbit took a cautious hop toward him, and he slowly moved his hand to pat the ground next to him.
He expected the rabbit to run away, but rather, it hopped over to him and sat next to him, looking up at him curiously. Naruto was surprised as the rabbit nuzzled his hand, trying to push up against his leg.
Smiling, Naruto carefully petted the rabbit’s head. He knew how a rabbit liked to be scratched, having two white rabbits of his own back home. It is strange that it would come up to me like this, rabbits are very timid creatures, Naruto thought.
Feeling the small creature suddenly tense under his hand, Naruto froze, concerned he’d hurt it.
“What’s wrong?” Naruto whispered as the rabbit got to its feet and darted away.
Turning to look behind him, Naruto discovered the cause of the rabbit’s fear.
Standing a few feet away, their arms crossed in front of them, was Gaara.
Picking up the blindfold on his leg, Naruto got to his feet and slipped it back over his eyes. Activating his Byakugan, Naruto waited for the darkness to be replaced with the unnatural tones of his Dōjutsu.
“How can I help you, Gaara-san?” Naruto asked politely. For more than a month, Gaara had been living in the mansion, and during that time, Naruto had found it best to be polite to Gaara.
He wasn’t concerned that Gaara was going to kill him anymore, simply because if Gaara really wanted to, he already would have.
“Does your existence have meaning?”
“What do you mean, Gaara?” Naruto asked, confused.
Gaara’s look was unsettling. It reminded Naruto of how Gaara had looked when Rasa had told him he was free to kill the bandit camp.
“Did you enjoy it?”
“Enjoy what? ” Naruto asked cautiously, unconsciously taking a step backward as Gaara stared at him. “I… I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
It was times like these that she was glad she was the over-prepared type. Pouring chakra into a scroll seal in her hand, Pakura caught the pair of binoculars as they popped into existence.
Quickly pocketing the scroll, she got to her feet and moved to the edge of the roof. She’d been lying in the shade, but she needed a better angle.
She’d been surprised to see Gaara appear on the training field, as the Jinchuriki usually kept his distance from Naruto, but she wasn’t concerned.
The Kazekage had requested she listen in on as many of Naruto and Gaara’s conversations as she could. Since she couldn’t get any closer, lip-reading would have to do.
Pakura had just lifted the binoculars to her eyes and began to adjust the range when she was forced to leap to the side, narrowly dodging a tendril of sand.
Flipping through the air, Pakura pushed off the roof and landed on the next building over.
She didn’t bother asking the emotionless redhead staring at her why he’d attacked her. It was obvious.
He doesn’t want me listening in on this conversation, Pakura thought as she was once again forced to dodge. Rolling to the side, she avoided another tendril of sand as it exploded through the floor beneath her.
Drawing a kunai, Pakura deflected a sand shuriken and leaped to the next building. There was nothing else she could do, it wasn’t worth fighting the Jinchuriki over.
As much as it pained her to do so, she turned around and ran.
As the silence began to drag on, Naruto wanted to search for his Sensei. Baki should be returning soon, and Gaara’s… manically excited expression was unsettling.
“Killing him…” Gaara said, his face almost smiling, “did it give you meaning?”
“I don’t understand, Gaara.”
Naruto had never seen anything as terrifying as Gaara’s grin, the red-head Jinchuriki staring at him with a look bordering hunger.
“You killed him… your… friend.”
“I… I didn’t kill anyone…” Naruto stuttered.
Gaara’s grin grew wider, “You tried to forget like I did, but you can never forget…”
Naruto shook his head as he took several steps back. “I… no… I didn’t…. I… I didn’t kill him…”
“Killing is all there is in the world!” Gaara yelled, “Kill… or be killed!”
“No! I didn’t kill anyone!” Naruto screamed, gripping his head as he stumbled backward. “Gahhhhh!”
“Yes…” Gaara said gleefully, “you remember! You remember crushing his life beneath your fingers…”
“No… It… I didn’t want… It was necessary…”
“Yes… to prove our existence… we must end others…” Gaara said.
Sensing someone approaching, Gaara turned to leave, “You’re being watched, Naruto.”
A few moments passed, only the sound of a slight breeze across the sand breaking the silence.
Looking up sharply, Naruto turned toward the voice.
Catching the handle of the wooden katana his Sensei had tossed him, Naruto twirled it through the air a few times to get a feel for the weight. Kenjutsu wasn’t his worse subject, but it wasn’t his best either. However, he knew that Kenjutsu was one of Baki’s best fields.
This is going to suck.
Kazekage Tower, Sunagakure, Land of Wind, EN.
“Come in,” Rasa called, glancing up at the entrance to his office as the doors were pushed open. “Ahh, Baki. I was wondering when you would show up.”
Baki looked at him curiously and shut the doors before hurrying over to the desk and sitting down.
“You were expecting me?”
“Yes,” Rasa replied as he crumpled up the paper he’d just finished reading and tossed it across the room into a waste bin. “I sent Gidayu to find you an hour ago.”
“I haven’t seen Gidayu today…” Baki replied, confused. “I’ve been with Naruto for the last couple hours at the training field. It shouldn’t have been hard to find me.”
Rasa waved Baki’s concerns aside, “I told him to only talk to you when Naruto wasn’t around. I’m guessing you and Naruto walked here together?”
“Why did you wish to see me?”
Leaning back in his chair, Rasa folded his hands in front of him, resting his chin on his interlaced fingers.
“Gaara talked to Naruto when you left the training field earlier today,” Rasa said, and Baki looked at him in surprise. “Pakura was watching them, but before she was able to discern what was being said, Gaara attacked her with a sand clone. She was forced to run.”
Baki covered his eyes with his hand and ran his hand all the way down to his chin, sighing deeply as he tried to process what Rasa had told him.
“So… now what?” Baki asked after a moment of silence.
Rasa shrugged, “I’d wondered if you would have any thoughts, but I have much the same feelings on the matter. There is nothing to prove that Gaara and Naruto talking privately is something we should try to prevent. If anything, it’s a good thing.”
Baki was about to reply when he cut himself short, realizing what he was thinking didn’t make any sense. Naruto was intensely loyal to the Land of Wind, so if Gaara was to become ultimately loyal to Naruto, that was the best-case scenario.
“I guess this means that we no longer have to worry about Gaara killing Naruto then?”
Rasa chuckled lightly, “So it would seem.“
Sitting up in his chair, Rasa leaned forward on the desk.
“You came to my office for something? Since my summons never reached you.”
Baki nodded, “Naruto wishes to go on a D-rank mission.”
Rasa raised an eyebrow but otherwise didn’t react.
“He asked that it be outside of Suna, as he wants to see more of the country.”
“You believe he’s ready for that?”
Baki nodded, “He’s definitely above most fourth-year Academy Students. While his skills aren’t as well rounded as I would like them to be, he’s definitely able to hold his own. I believe a mission would be a good experience for him as well.”
Tapping his fingers against his fist, Rasa mulled over Baki’s request.
“If I were to allow this… he is not allowed to use any Gentle Fist techniques.” Rasa ordered, “Yes, I know you’ve been trying to teach him how to use it.”
Baki chuckled, “Trying is the word. I’ve just been describing jutsu I’ve seen Hyūga use. Figuring out how to do them himself has been quite the challenge for Naruto.”
“Additionally, I will be ordering a team of Elite to trail you on this mission. With the concerning rumors going around and the fact that I can’t effectively prove them wrong…. I don’t want to take any chances.” Rasa said, pulling out a piece of paper from his desk.
Quickly writing out permission for a D-rank mission to be given to Baki and his student, he set his quill down and held the paper out to Baki. Baki grasped it but didn’t attempt to take it, seeing that Rasa hadn’t let go of it yet.
“I’ve got a bad feeling about this… If it goes downhill, Naruto is your first priority. I feel like he’s connected to this somehow.” Rasa said, and let go of the paper.
“Should we cancel this then?” Baki asked.
Rasa shook his head, “No.”
Kazekage Mansion, Sunagakure, Land of Wind, EN.
Naruto used to believe that one could learn all there was to learn from the seemingly unending knowledge that scrolls and books contained.
With little to do in the Daimyo’s Palace, Naruto’s favorite place had always been the Royal Library. He’d read hundreds of books, many of which he still didn’t understand. However, the urge to learn and understand had always driven him to read line after line, regardless of whether it made sense.
His belief had changed shortly after arriving at Suna and coming close to death yet again. No amount of knowledge would have saved him there.
What he needed was experience and the only way to gain it was to undergo the things himself. He could read accounts of great warriors and their struggles to the end of time, but he would never truly be able to understand it.
After he’d woken up in the hospital, recovering from Gaara’s last attempt on his life, he’d realized he now understood Reto, the first Kazekage of the Land of Wind . He’d read the man’s diary in the Royal Library, and had never been able to understand the Kage’s raw determination to live.
Time and time again, Reto had come within inches of death, and every time, he had crawled his way back from the edge by pure force of will.
It hadn’t meant anything to him when he’d first read it, but now he could understand. If one didn’t live, one didn’t become, they could never understand its true value. He could learn about struggles and accomplishments, but he hadn’t overcome.
I have to survive, no matter what.,Naruto thought. I don’t know why… but there is some reason that I’m needed. There is something I must overcome.
Placing his hand on the side of the unrolled scroll, Naruto let chakra flow into it and watched the pile of supplies vanish.
The Shinobi Academy had taught him how to pack for missions, and the differences in supplies needed depending on how long a mission was. Baki had come by yesterday evening and told him that Rasa had approved his request for a mission. They were leaving today.
However, Baki hadn’t told him how long the mission would be, so he’d packed for a week.
Picking up the pristine white scroll, Naruto slipped it into the Kunai pouch Baki had given him. The Sealing Scroll was one of the few things from the palace that he’d been allowed to bring with him, and he’d been using it for everything ever since coming to Suna.
Walking across his room, Naruto opened the door and stepped into the luxurious hallway. Paintings covered every wall, and the floor was lined with thick carpet.
It didn’t take Naruto long to reach the entrance hall and make his way down the stairs.
Stopping on the last few steps, Naruto turned to look behind him.
Gaara didn’t reply, only staring at him from the top of the stairs.
Quickly scanning the Mansion, Naruto made sure neither of Gaara’s siblings was nearby.
“I can always see you, Gaara. Don’t follow me.” Naruto said calmly, “You’re not allowed outside of Suna.”
Turning away, Naruto kept his enhanced sight on Gaara as he opened the door and stepped outside. A moment later, he was on the empty street and walking toward the main gate out of Suna, where Baki would meet him.
Once he was sure that Gaara wasn’t following him, Naruto stopped trying to switch between focusing on Gaara, and the surroundings around him. He’d taken every opportunity he could to improve his ability to use the Byakugan to focus on far away things while walking, and he’d improved drastically. Still, it took a lot of concentration.
It wasn’t long before he reached the edge of the dead zone and entered a street with civilians in it. No one paid him any mind, which he preferred. For a few days after he’d left the Academy to train under Baki, everyone had been staring at him. Naruto was glad that had stopped.
Kicking a piece of sandstone to the side of the road, Naruto focused on the buildings lining the street.
Suna had been the first city built in the Land of Wind, mostly thanks to the first Kazekage. Like Rasa, the first Kazekage had been a Magnet Release user, and had used his Kekkai Genkai to cut the mountain Suna was built within, in half. A massive crater had been carved out of the mountain, and Suna had been built within.
Naruto had been amazed to learn such a thing was even possible, and that one man could possess that much power. Though, he’d always wondered what happened to the other half of the mountain.
Almost half an hour later, Naruto reached the front gate. Having spotted Baki sometime before, Naruto immediately made his way over to his Sensei.
“Ahh, Naruto, there you are,” Baki said, noticing the pale-skinned prince as he crossed the street. “We need to head out now if we’re going to make it in time.”
Naruto nodded, and Baki raised an eyebrow.
“You have a question? I can tell by your frown.” Baki said.
“Hai.” Naruto replied, “are we really going on a D-rank mission?”
“Then why are there at least three shinobi following me? I know I’m trailed by a Kunoichi at all times, but why so many all of a sudden?” Naruto asked, and Baki chuckled. Naruto’s ability to use the Byakugan was astounding. Baki knew the Kekkai Genkai gave the user superior vision. Notwithstanding, it was still possible to hide from a Byakugan user.
It’s probably growing up in the Daimyo’s Palace that helped him improve his skills, Baki mused. Trying to spot the guards following him around.
“Rasa-sama is concerned about your safety. Some rumors are going around that he’s afraid might have some validity to them, and he wants to avoid any potential issues.” Baki replied, and Naruto nodded.
“Good. Let’s get going then, while there is still time. I’d like to cover as much ground as possible before the sun reaches its peak.”
Stepping out onto the street, the pair made their way toward the vast chasm that led to the main gate. As usual, there was a large stream of civilians coming out of and entering the passageway, and it took them a bit to squeeze in.
As they walked in pace with the civilians, Naruto focused on the shadows high above. He’d noticed the Shinobi hiding in the shadows when taking a break from reading a few weeks ago. There were usually around two dozen Shinobi guarding the entrance from within the shadows at any given time. To the civilians, they were completely invisible.
However, Naruto’s mastery over the Byakugan had improved, and he’d gotten better at seeing through Genjutsu. Baki had tried to teach him to break them, but there wasn’t a need. It was impossible to put a Byakugan user under a Genjutsu.
Naruto’s observations of the Suna Gate Guard came to an abrupt halt as Baki stopped suddenly. The reason was readily apparent, the Shinobi in front of him radiating power like a diamond in the sand. Honing his sight, Naruto noticed the insignia for the Puppeteer Brigade on their left breast.
“Baki-sama, I must request that you turn around and report to the Kazekage’s Office.” The Puppeteer said. The civilians had pressed themselves up against the walls of the ravine, realizing something with Shinobi was happening, and that it was best to avoid it.
“The Jinchuriki is following you and is ignoring his protection detail’s orders to stop. We can only conclude he intends to follow you out of Suna. Until a solution can be found, the Jinchuriki Protection Team Captain asks that you stop.” The Puppeteer said. At the mention of the Jinchuriki, the tension in the air rose drastically. Naruto watched the civilians as they barely kept themselves in check, many on the edge of pushing the people in front of them to get away faster.
Baki sighed and nodded as he turned around. “Let’s go, Naruto, this should be interesting.”
Locating Gaara hadn’t been hard, the Jinchuriki wasn’t trying to hide.
As they walked back to the Kazekage Tower, followed in the shadows by a team of Elite Shinobi, Naruto had watched Gaara travel across the rooftops to their left. Once they reached the tower and began to climb the steps, Gaara had dropped to the street and followed after them.
Naruto was at a loss for why Gaara was following him so closely.
He’d spent a lot of time thinking about it but eventually had given up. Naruto didn’t think he’d ever be able to understand Gaara.
He was pretty sure no one would ever be able to.
A couple of weeks after he’d entered the Shinobi Academy, Temari and Kankuro had invited him to eat at a restaurant. There, they had told him the story of Gaara’s life. How Rasa had hated Gaara for years, tried to have him killed by his own uncle. That Gaara hadn’t always wanted to kill everyone.
Naruto had never said anything to Gaara about what he knew.
He’d come to the conclusion that he was still alive because Gaara had never wanted to kill him, but only show that he could. Naruto understood that and accepted it.
It doesn’t explain why he’s so set on following me so closely, though, Naruto thought as he followed his Sensei up the winding stairs to the top of the Kazekage Tower. After a few moments, they exited out onto the top floor and walked up the doors at the end of the hall.
Baki knocked twice.
Naruto didn’t hear any response, though he saw Rasa speak through the door. Following his Sensei inside, Naruto bowed to Rasa, who nodded in response. Both Baki and Rasa turned to look at the open office doors, each able to sense Gaara as he made his way up the stairs.
A moment later, Gaara stepped into the office, and two invisible Shinobi closed the doors behind him.
“Gaara.” Rasa started, folding his hands on the table in front of him. “You know you’re not allowed to leave Suna without express permission.”
Gaara stared at his father.
“Why were you following Naruto out of Suna?”
Naruto looked between Rasa and Gaara, realizing there was some sort of war happening between the two. The silence dragged on for some time, and Naruto was sure that Gaara was on the edge of attacking his father when he finally spoke.
“I wanted to.”
“Are you trying to kill Naruto?”
Naruto was surprised by the sudden relief he felt.
Rasa looked like he wanted to say more, but had decided against it.
“You’re dismissed, Gaara.”
The redhead Jinchuriki instantly vanished in a swirl of sand. Naruto followed the chakra trail out of the tower and found Gaara standing on a nearby roof, staring up at him.
“Until I can find time to think about this, your mission is canceled,” Rasa said, shaking his head. “I do apologize, Naruto.”
Naruto nodded. Baki began walking toward the doors but stopped when he realized Naruto wasn’t following him.
Looking up from the scroll on his desk, Rasa looked at Naruto expectantly.
“Will I be able to go on another mission in the future?” Naruto asked, and Rasa sighed.
“I’m not sure,” Rasa replied, shifting through the scrolls on his desk. “If Gaara is set on following you no matter what… then most likely not. It requires a great deal of time and effort to keep Gaara somewhere against his will. I can’t justify doing that for a D-rank level mission outside of Suna.”
Naruto was silent for a moment.
“Could Gaara be allowed to come with us then?”
“I’ll consider it.”
“Thank you, Rasa-sama.”