The Perfect Jutsu


Disclaimer: Don't tell the warden that I own Naruto or a Molotov cocktail made out fermented prison food.


Chapter 9:

A Ninja's Tool


It was a beautiful morning. The sun was clear, and the surrounding valleys were incredibly scenic. Everything was quiet in the field as dawn slowly settled over the horizon.

Well, mostly quiet. The sound of grunting did somewhat distract from the picturesque view.

"…Well, damn," Kakashi said finally, folding his arms.

Sasuke's face was frozen white, stiff and unflinching. By contrast, Hinata's cheeks practically glowed bright red, hidden in the collar of her jacket. Naruto stood opposite her, eye's bulging and mouth hanging open.

Kakashi was the only one who seemed to be enjoying himself. Honestly, Kakashi was wishing he'd brought a camera.

"I mean, seriously, damn," Kakashi muttered with a low whistle. "He really wasn't kidding about the whole nine inches thing, was he?"

Nobody replied. From this distance, they were far enough away that the scene was blurred. Still, it was absolutely unmistakeable what they were seeing.

The stone horse, which once stood proudly on the main road to the village, had been completely rammed off its pedestal. Kakashi tried to imagine the situation as its crafter had envisioned; proud, noble and dignified. That craftsman would probably be having a haemorrhage around about now.

The horse had fallen, snout-first, into the dirt. One of its legs was cracked, and its ear had been broken off. Its side was scraped and battered from hoof scratches. Still, despite everything, the moose was still there, mounting the statue from behind and thrusting with guttural grunts. The sound alone was enough to make Naruto need a shower.

The minutes passed slowly. The grunts were a dull, consistent drone in the background. It took a long time for any of the genin to recover from the sight.

"That's a big moose," Naruto muttered finally, scratching his head. The bull moose was much bigger than a man, a huge hulking goliath of a fur, muscle and antlers.

"I know, right?" Kakashi said with a cheeky expression as he peered in closer.

Hinata gulped. They had been specifically forbidden from killing the moose. Much to the village's appalment, the animal had been declared something of a local mascot. "…This might be more difficult than we thought," Hinata admitted, sheepishly.

"Yeah, it looks pretty hard to me," Kakashi commented cheerfully.

Sasuke shook his head slowly, staring incredulously at the moose. "Why the hell is it even doing this?"

"Maybe it's a racial statement?" Kakashi suggested happily. "… 'And that's what I think of your species, horse!'"

Sasuke twisted around. "Are you just going to stand there are make moose sex jokes!?" He snapped.

"That was pretty much my whole plan, yes," Kakashi admitted. He pulled out a sheet of paper from pocket. "Look, I made I list of them."

Sasuke's jaw clenched. Kakashi could see his patience rapidly burning away. Perhaps, just this once, I won't push him, Kakashi conceded.

Kakashi sighed. "Alright, consider this your big teamwork challenge, then," Kakashi said brightly, standing up straight. "I will leave it totally up to you three to decide how to get the moose off the statue."

Hinata bristled. "Wait, you can't just leave us alone–"

Her voice seemed to falter. Kakashi raised his eyebrow slowly. "We're two minutes outside of town," Kakashi said simply. "The area is secure, and that's a moose. It seems perfectly reasonable to expect you to handle the situation."

Hinata's eyes flickered. She had become very nervous after the recent ordeal, sticking close to Kakashi at all times. By contrast, Naruto had seemed to be trying to keep his distance. Kakashi didn't really mind; everyone had their own ways of working through matters.

"Work together, and you can get the mission done by lunchtime," Kakashi said encouragingly. "If you're really fast, we'll be able to catch the next coach back to Konoha. Good luck, by the way."

With that, the jounin simply turned around and walked away, waving cheerfully. The sound of grunting in the distance seemed to increase in tempo. The three genin stared at the retreating Kakashi, and then towards the moose, and then back to each other. There was a quiet moment where they were all lost for words.

Naruto shifted uncomfortably. "Well then," he muttered finally. "What do we do now?"


Meanwhile…

The other Naruto clone groaned as he limped down the road. His head was woozy, his whole body sore and sluggish. The midday sun was torture to his hungover eyes. The morning had been hell, but he still had to move before the innkeeper chased him out.

I will never drink again, Naruto vowed quietly, staggering like a zombie down the empty road. His body was raw, and his wallet had been devastated. Honestly, at this point he was seriously considering just jumping off a cliff and writing this body off altogether.

Nevertheless, he kept on heading towards Hannobe village, and it was well past noon by the time he saw the village sprawling along the coast. It was a fairly backwater village; quite small, but with a relatively large harbour with small boats dotted around the water.

Naruto was just about to head towards their hotel room, when he hesitated. He had lost his mask, and the last thing he wanted was the landlord to wonder why there were two identical boys at different parts of the village. Unfortunately, the ninja had stuck out quite badly in the small village.

But I really need a shower and a drink, Naruto thought with a grimace. His body stunk of old booze and sweat. After a moment of hesitation, Naruto relented, turning away from the village and heading off the beaten road, towards where his other body had noticed a freshwater stream trickling through the forest at the edge of the village.

It took some time to scramble through the bushes, but eventually Naruto found an old animal trail leading down towards a small stream. He almost collapsed when he saw it. The woods were lovely and shaded, with only the faint sounds of birds in the distance, yet there was a little clearing with a pool that was absolutely perfect. The water tasted slightly sweet, but it was still enough to wake him up properly.

Naruto smirked as he slowly rested himself on the dirty ground. His other body had to battle a stubborn moose, but he could enjoy a nice relaxing afternoon recovering. Naruto unpacked his travel bag, tucked into his rations, before stripping down to his boxers, leaving his clothes out to air, and waddling into the stream to wash. For a while, he just sighed, sitting down in the shallow water and feeling the cool water trickle around him.

There was rustle behind him. Naruto jumped so suddenly he banged his head against a rock. Naruto glanced around, suddenly noticing a figure dressed in pink, carrying a handbasket. The recollection came sluggishly.

It was the same girl from last night, he remembered suddenly. Her eyes were strangely suspicious as she stared at Naruto. He blinked repeatedly.

"Are you following me?" Naruto said with surprise.

She hesitated, glancing around the scene. Naruto was still in his boxers, with his clothes hanging on a nearby branch. Naruto shifted to cover himself sheepishly. The girl seemed to untense slightly. "I was about to ask you the same question," she admitted finally.

Naruto nodded awkwardly. He paused, before splashing out of the water and rushing towards his clothes. He didn't have a towel, so he had to wear them wet. Naruto frowned as he tried to remember the girl's name. "It's… umm…" He asked muttered, face twisting. "…It's Haku, right?" She nodded. "What are you doing here?"

She looked cautious, staring at Naruto, looking for any sign that this wasn't just a coincidence. In the end, she replied carefully. "My master and I are camping in the woods," she answered, taking care not to motion towards the direction of their camp. "We were looking to book a ship from Hannobe."

Her eyes flickered around the deserted woods. "What about you? Don't you have a team?"

Naruto hesitated. "No, I'm…" He faltered slightly. "We were going to meet up, you know, for the moose mission, later in the evening. I'm just here for the… you know…" He motioned lamely towards the stream.

"Right." A flicker of concern passed her face quickly. "So your team is in Hannobe right now?"

Naruto nodded. Haku seemed to bite her lip, thinking intently. Naruto stared. "Are you alright?" He asked curiously.

"Yes, it's…" Haku paused, but seemed to relax. "…It's fine. Just surprised to see you again, that's all. I assumed you were waiting in that inn for the rest of your team. I didn't think we'd meet up again this soon."

"Ah." Naruto wondered how weird it must have seemed for a single genin to be getting drunk in the middle of the day. "Yeah, it was… badly organised."

There was a pause. The memory of last night seemed to hover in the air between them. Haku's gaze softened. "How are you?" She asked finally.

"Um, yeah, I'm good," Naruto said sheepishly.

Neither of them spoke. Naruto cleared his throat. "So… um… You're picking flowers, then?" He said lamely, pointing to the basket.

"I'm collecting herbs," Haku explained.

"Oh." Naruto nodded multiple times. "That's nice."

The silence stretched on for a bit longer. "Well I should let you get back to–" They both said at the exact same time. They froze.

Haku smiled. "Right."

"Yeah," Naruto murmured, scratching the back of his head. "See you later then."

Haku turned to walk away. She stopped after a few steps. "You know," she said slowly. "You're welcome to join me. I could use another set of eyes."

Naruto hesitated briefly. "If you're not busy, of course," Haku added.

"Um…"


At the same time…

"Can't we just throw stones at it until it goes away?" Naruto protested loudly.

Hinata shook her head. "The villagers tried that. It just seemed to egg him on further."

"We throw kunai, then," Sasuke muttered darkly.

"We're not allowed to kill!" Hinata protested.

"Define 'not kill'," Sasuke retorted.

Naruto screamed in frustration, glancing back towards the humping moose. If anything, it was like the animal was enjoying the spectators. "This is useless!"

"We've just got to calm him down a bit…" Hinata muttered under her breath, still red from embarrassment.

"Then we're going to need ice water," Naruto muttered in quiet despair. "Lots and lots of ice water…"


"…Nope," Naruto decided firmly. "Definitely not busy."

Haku nodded with a small smile. Naruto grinned brightly, rushing to put his sandals back on and wipe his hair a bit drier. He was still soaking wet, but it was a warm day and he'd dry quickly.

"So what are you looking for?" Naruto asked, peering into the basket, as they walked along an old trail.

"Medicinal herbs, mostly," Haku explained quietly. "These woods are fairly good for feverfew and echinacea, so that's what I'm mostly looking for. Still, if you see anything like basil, chamomile or lavender, they're always useful too."

"Huh?" Naruto muttered, scratching his head. "Feverfew? Echinacea?"

"Echinacea has pink petals with a darker bud. You can use it to ease flu symptoms and relieve the immune system," Haku explained. "Feverfew has white petals and a yellow bud – it looks kind of like daisies – and the leaves and flowers are used to ease headache pain."

"Wow," Naruto muttered. "You know a lot about this stuff."

"A bit," Haku admitted. She picked up another cutting from the basket. "This is lavender, of course, it's very good for pain relief and can be used as an antiseptic. This is lemon balm, great for teas and lots of different ointments. That's sage, which can be culinary as well as medicinal, but helps with inflammations. Oh, and that's rosemary – you can make a tea out of that which really helps with chakra control."

Naruto peered in interestedly, even as he struggled to tell the different herbs apart. "And what's this, then?" He asked, reaching down for a different plant.

"… And that's a nettle," Haku said, a second too late. She giggled quietly as Naruto yelped, shaking his hand. She innocently pointed out a different leaf to ease the stinging.

The discussion of herbology took them halfway around the woods. Haku was unused to talking so much, but Naruto was an attentive listener, and Haku began to relax more with every step. Slowly, they followed the trail upwards, into a field overlooking the coastline, and they stopped to stare out over the horizon.

"…So…" Haku muttered finally. "Are you feeling better today? You seemed pretty upset yesterday."

Naruto winced. "Yeah, it's just…" His voice mumbled off incoherently.

Haku's eyes flickered. "What actually happened?" She asked with genuine curiosity.

Naruto hesitated briefly. "I found out that my ideal job wasn't what I thought it was," he admitted, his voice low. "And I realised that I'm not as good at it as I thought I was."

Haku nodded, but didn't say anything. Naruto hesitated. "I've wanted to be a ninja for, well, forever," Naruto continued quietly, shifting his gaze. "I guess I never really thought about what it would require."

"You mean killing people?"

"Yeah," Naruto said, his voice low. "And I get it, ninjas are soldiers, it's just, well, that wasn't the type of ninja that I wanted to be."

Haku dropped the basket and sat down. "So what type of ninja do you want to be?" She asked quietly.

Naruto didn't answer straight away. "I want to be a good ninja," he said finally. "I'm just not sure what that means anymore."

"Then find your own way," Haku suggested softly.

Naruto glanced at her. He paused in thought. "Is that what you did?" He said eventually, his voice deliberately casual. Haku didn't reply. Naruto continued. "You talk about all this stuff like you know it first-hand. You're a ninja too, aren't you?"

Haku was quiet for a long time. "No," she replied simply. Naruto was about to object when she continued. "I have never belonged to a Hidden Village, I have never undergone formal training. I am not a 'ninja'." There was a pause. "But if you're asking whether or not I know typical ninja techniques such as ninjutsu or taijutsu, then, yes I do. Some."

Naruto scratched his head. It seemed like a very roundabout way of answering. "So you're… a self-taught ninja?"

"In part," Haku admitted. "My master taught me plenty too."

"Oh," Naruto said simply, wondering what to say next. Eventually, he said nothing and just sat down on the ground next to her. There was a moment of quiet.

Eventually, Haku spoke. "In answer to your question," she said finally. "Then no; I found somebody else's way of a ninja."

"Are you happy with that?" Naruto asked curiously.

"Yes," Haku replied. "I am."

"Good."

The silence stretched out a bit further. They both sat on the grass, starting out into the sea. Haku glanced at Naruto slowly.

"You don't seem very curious about me," Haku noted, a slight edge to her voice. "I thought you would be asking more questions."

He shrugged. "Meh, it seems like you don't want to answer, so I won't ask," Naruto replied simply. Haku blinked in surprise. Naruto glanced at her and grinned brightly. "Besides, when a cute girl wants her privacy, it's only right to give her space."

Haku stared at him. The silence stretched out, longer than all the others.

"You do realise I'm a boy, right?"

Naruto blinked repeatedly. The words took some time to sink in.

"…WHA!?"


Kakashi took a deep breath, eyes flickering over the scroll as he wondered what he was going to do. Kakashi didn't like to be unprepared; once he learned he was to be Naruto's supervisor, he had a made a point of searching for whatever useful information he could find on the Nine-Tails and Naruto's cloning technique.

It still wasn't much, Kakashi admitted. He only had six scrolls of relevant information, and most of them were at a level that even Kakashi couldn't understand. Kakashi was a fighter, first and foremost; he knew understood fairly little about the intricacies of advanced chakra theory and manipulation. Compared to the likes of the Second Hokage, or Hiruzen, or Orochimaru, Kakashi might as well have been a schoolchild trying to read a professor's paper.

Ever since he learned he was to be training Naruto, Kakashi had been practicing fuinjutsu. The jounin was a quick learner, but his skill was still very basic.

Kakashi paused. To be honest, he had yet to decide whether or not he had a problem.

From what he understood, Minato's seal had been designed to let some of the Nine-Tails' chakra mix with the container's own. A little bit of leakage actually made the seal stronger – it allowed the host to build resistance to the Nine-Tails' chakra, improve chakra reserves, as well as allowing the seal to flex with the situation. The seal might expand to release a large amount of chakra in drastic circumstances, but afterwards it would contract back to secure the Nine-Tail's again. The more flexible the seal was, the less likely it was that either the host or the seal would snap under the strain.

For jinchuuriki, there was a very real risk that the Tailed Beasts could induce insanity in the hosts if the seal began to degrade. It was one of the reasons that jinchuuriki had such a poor reputation (even if that reputation result in suspicion and mistreatment, which, in turn, often accelerated insanity). Minato's seal had most definitely given Naruto the best chance of one day being able to control the Nine-Tails power.

Yet there had been no way Minato could ever have predicted Naruto's cloning technique, Kakashi mused. Not that the seal was weakening as a result – as far as I can tell, the seal is actually stronger than ever.

There was still only one Nine-Tails, even if there were separate hosts. The Nine-Tails was a chakra entity more than a physical one; actual space was nearly meaningless to it. However, whereas before there had been one Nine-Tails, one host, and one seal, there was now one Nine-Tails, multiple hosts, and multiple seals. If there were a dozen different seals, then it meant the Nine-Tails was being bound a dozen times as tightly. The effect was cumulative. Every time Naruto used his cloning jutsu, he effectively tightened the Nine-Tails' seal.

Which means that it's practicality impossible for any of the Nine-Tails' chakra to escape, Kakashi decided. Normally, the Nine-Tails' chakra would cause advanced regeneration in its host – but that was gone (or drastically reduced now) and Naruto never even realised. No wonder that cut didn't heal quickly.

Kakashi had been suspecting it for a while; it was only now that he had confirmation. In a normal host, extreme emotion could cause the host to access the Tailed Beast's chakra. In Naruto's case, if there were five clones, it would take five times the level of extreme emotion before he could touch the Nine-Tails' chakra.

Kakashi sighed. The Nine-Tails was still secure, he thought finally. Perhaps too secure, but the only way to stop that would be to unfasten the seal directly, and Naruto wasn't ready for that. Right now, I just have to make sure Naruto gets to where he needs to be.

Vaguely, Kakashi wondered how Danzo would handle the situation. Danzo would probably lock Naruto away in the deepest bunker he had and farm his ability until he learned everything he could, and then set about making the army that the maniac had always dreamed about.

There were even times when that approach didn't seem so unreasonable to Kakashi. But no, Kakashi owed Minato better than that. Kakashi had to ensure that Naruto ended up as more than just a ninja's tool.

Hiruzen was no fool. There were always people that would try and use Naruto, but so long as no one knew about his power, he was safe. That meant that they had a head-start. It was possible to hide in plain sight. So long as Hiruzen didn't give Naruto any special attention, then it'd be some time before anybody realised the full consequences of his ability. Hopefully, that'd be time enough for Naruto to learn how to use his power properly.

Any emotional little boy can be manipulated, Kakashi mused; but a determined ninja? Not so much. Naruto needed independence and patience until he reached that later stage.

And he needed his team. That part was absolutely certain. A ninja's team was a reason to care.

Kakashi furled up the scrolls carefully, checking the time. He needed to check in on his team, but discreetly. He had made a mistake with the bandits, and Kakashi had no intention of making the same one again.

"…The tests never end," Kakashi muttered quietly, heading out into the village. For a ninja, everything was always a test. Every mission you went on was a test to see whether you came back, or if you wanted to come back. It was a choice everyone had to make themselves.

Kakashi sighed, glancing around the village sharply. The village was filled with people milling around the square. Kakashi glimpsed fishermen in thick waterproof hoods heading to the docks and merchants strolling towards the stores. Hannobe was made out wooden thatched houses and seawater-drenched wood, surrounded by the occasional patches of farmland. A less-experienced ninja would say it looked like a good place to relax.

Kakashi was about a dozen steps in the direction of his team, when he stopped. Years of experience started to tingle in the back of his mind. Something was off.

He had to pause, and glance back to the village. His eye picked out the fisherman wearing hoods quickly. He could count thirty-eight people heading towards the docks, all of them strolling casually.

And yet he could hear thirty-seven sets of footsteps. Somebody was walking without making a sound. Somehow, that missing sound was louder than anything else.

"Hmm…" Kakashi muttered quietly, before disappearing silently into the shadows.


Naruto was staring. Haku glanced at him, watching the gears turn in his head. The minutes ticked by silently. Haku shifted slightly, slowly becoming more and more uncomfortable.

"Yes?" She – he – asked eventually.

Naruto's eyes narrowed. "Are you really a boy?" He demanded finally.

Haku's eyebrows rose. Naruto went through the typical reactions to Haku's gender; confusion, then shock, followed by guilt and coming back around to confusion again. Now, though, Naruto had seemingly settled on a new one; suspicion.

"What sort of question is that to ask someone?" Haku asked finally, with a small smile. "I just said I'm a boy."

It definitely posed a challenging dilemma to Naruto. "You might be lying," he said finally.

"And why would I lie about something like that?" Haku said, plainly.

"I don't know," Naruto admitted with a shrug. "But you sure look like a girl. You're wearing a pink kimono, but it's baggy enough to hide your figure. You dress like a girl, you look like a girl, and you wear your hair and nails like a girl. I think you even wear makeup." Naruto tried to peer in for a closer look, but Haku swatted him away with a roll of his/her eyes. "Maybe you're a girl who pretends to be a boy?"

Naruto's voice was endearingly clueless. A faint smile played across Haku's lips. "Or maybe I'm a boy who likes to dress like a girl?" He replied coolly.

"Maybe," Naruto conceded. He had the look of someone trying to navigate totally foreign waters. "But you're cuter than Sakura. It's weird to think you of as a boy."

Haku shrugged. "What does it matter?" He said simply. "I say I'm a boy, so I'm a boy."

"Well, it's just… um… well…" Naruto stammered uselessly.

There was a pause. Haku frowned. "Wait…" He muttered slowly. "Were you actually flirting with me before?"

"No!" Naruto protested. Still, his cheeks blushed slightly.

Haku giggled, leaning back slowly. She looked like she was actually enjoying herself. He looked like he was enjoying herself, Naruto corrected mentally. Dammit, himself. Himself.

Maybe I'm having trouble reassigning pronouns, Naruto conceded, sinking his head into his hands.

Haku for her part – his! His, dammit! – was having fun playing with Naruto a little bit. "So what was the plan?" He said teasingly. "Did you think that if I was a girl then I could be your girlfriend?"

"No! I just…!" Naruto stopped. He paused, thought about it and then sighed. "I'm being an ass, aren't I? Alright, if you say you're a boy, you're a boy. I'm sorry."

Haku nodded, a faint smile playing at his mouth. Naruto glanced at him sheepishly. "Although, honestly, I'd much prefer just a friend over a girlfriend any day," he admitted quietly.

Haku's smile widened. "Alright," he nodded, extending his hand. "Friends it is."

Naruto shook his hand with a bright grin. "Hi, I'm Naruto Uzumaki."

"Hi, Naruto, I'm Haku," he said quietly, tilting his head. "It's good to be your friend."

Naruto chuckled. "Yeah, definitely."

There was a moment of silence. Naruto bit his lip. "But seriously," Naruto said finally. "Are you a boy or a girl?"

Haku thought about it. "Yes."

There was a pause, and they looked at each other seriously. Then, they were both bursting with laughter that rang out over the field.


At the same time…

Trying to use the fireball technique to scare the moose off had been a resounding failure. The fire just seemed to excite it even more. Not even the buckets of water could get rid of it.

Every time the genin got to close, the moose would turn around and chase them away, but then go right back to the statue.

Despite everything, Naruto was starting to feel a glimmer of respect for the moose. I mean, Naruto thought slowly; sure, the animal was a massive pervert and degenerate, but it was a damn dedicated pervert and degenerate.

The genin were all panting, exhausted from running away from the angry moose for the hundredth time. The moose, on the other hand, was still going strong.

If Naruto had had chance to step back and think about it, then he'd realise that Team 7 was actually getting along fairly well. They were too distracted to do otherwise. Sasuke wasn't so aloof and Hinata was too exhausted to be sure.

"Alright, I don't think scaring him away like that is going to work," Hinata gasped, still panting for breath.

Sasuke sighed, rubbing his forehead. A prodigy ninja should not be having this much trouble convincing a horny moose to leave a statue alone, he thought with exhaustion. "Alright, there's only one thing left," Sasuke decided firmly.

The Uchiha turned around to face Naruto. "Naruto," Sasuke declared imperiously. "You're going to have to Henge into a female moose and lead him away."

Naruto's jaw dropped. "Like hell I'm doing that!"


Haku absentmindedly picked at the grass as he sat, twirling the blades around his finger. Neither of them said much, but it was a pleasant sort of quiet. Haku was good company; he was quiet, but understanding and Naruto realised how much he really needed that.

The evening stretched out in peaceful relaxation. Neither of them had anywhere to go. They made idle conversation, but it was enough.

"So…" Naruto asked finally, his voice turning a bit more sombre. "Who is your master and what are you doing here, really?"

Haku glanced at him. "I thought you weren't going to ask."

"I almost wasn't," Naruto admitted. "But we're friends, right? I want to know about you."

Haku paused, wondering quietly if he should say. Naruto was a ninja and he was an outlaw. Still, Haku had probably said too much already, but Naruto didn't strike him as the dangerous type. Complete disclosure never seemed so bad anymore. Besides, if he didn't say, Naruto would just become more suspicious and try to find out by himself, which could be a lot more damaging than just telling the truth.

"Promise you won't tell anyone." Haku said simply, staring fixedly up at the sky. He didn't like to think about what he might have to do if Naruto didn't promise. "Promise you won't interfere with us."

Naruto hesitated. "I promise," he replied quietly.

Haku's eyes were distant. "My master is Zabuza Momochi, also called the Demon of Hidden Mist. He's a missing-nin." Haku's voice was very matter-of-fact. "And we work as mercenaries for the highest bidder."

Naruto's eyes widened. He had to stop himself from reacting straight away, and forced himself to keep calm. "Right," he said stupidly. "And right now?"

"We're in Hannobe to find a boat to flee the country," Haku explained, still staring into the sky.

"Are you going to hurt anyone here?" There was a slight waver in Naruto's voice.

"That's not our intention. We just want to leave peacefully."

Naruto hesitated, biting his lip. "And how many people have you killed?"

Haku paused, turning to stare at him seriously. "Are you sure you want to know?"

Naruto met his gaze. "Probably not," Naruto conceded.

There was a long, long awkward silence. Naruto wondered what to do next. He cleared his throat. "So you're assassins for hire, then?"

"Yes," Haku replied. "And what is your village, again?"

Naruto faltered. "It's not the same…"

"We're hired by different people," Haku retorted. "But the job is exactly the same."

Naruto bit his lip. "What you do is wrong."

Haku's eyebrows rose doubtfully. "Does that mean that what you do is right?" Haku asked sceptically. Naruto didn't reply. "You didn't seem that convinced about that last night."

Naruto's hands clenched, struggling to think of a reply. The seconds ticked by slowly. "Do you want me to leave?" Haku asked finally, his voice completely dispassionate.

"I…" Naruto paused. "I'm not sure what to do."

"Then how about you do nothing?" Haku suggested carefully. "We can stay here talking, you can handle your mission, and then pretty soon Zabuza and I will be long gone and nobody ever needs to know."

Naruto nodded slowly. "And if we meet again?"

"Then, depending on the mission, we might have to try and kill each other," Haku conceded. "Or we might not. In any case, there's no point in worrying about that now."

Naruto's body felt tense. His eyes flickered. Haku appeared completely relaxed, but something about his movements said otherwise. He reminded Naruto of the way Kakashi would 'relax', but still be constantly ready to react.

A list of questions and doubts hit Naruto. Eventually, he chose the one that he wanted to know the most. "Why do you do what you do?"

Haku almost replied 'Why do you?', but decided against it. "Because of Zabuza," Haku replied calmly. "I don't have a purpose. Or my purpose is just to follow him."

"Why?"

Haku smiled gently, looking at Naruto. "Because he's precious to me. It's only natural to protect someone precious, isn't it?"

Naruto didn't answer straight away. Something about that statement made Naruto twinge. "So why does Zabuza do this, then?" He asked finally.

"That's… complicated," Haku hesitated before explaining. "The Hidden Mist was a brutal place. It is called the Bloody Mist. There are constant civil wars, murders, and bloodline purging." Haku almost spat that last word. "And it makes brutal ninjas. Zabuza was the most brutal of them all, but he never enjoyed it."

Haku paused, thinking about that last statement. "Well, maybe he enjoyed it a little. I'm not sure, sometimes," Haku admitted. "In any case, Zabuza tried to lead a coup d'état against the Mizukage and stop the killing. The Fourth Mizukage was the real monster, and Zabuza tried to kill him. It failed, and then Zabuza and all his followers were chased out of the country."

"Oh," Naruto took the information in slowly. "So… you are trying to overthrow the country?"

"At one time," Haku replied quietly. "Lately, it's became more about survival than anything. We lost the last of our followers, the Demon Brothers, on our previous job. Now it's just Zabuza and I. We're still trying to gather enough funds to start another coup against the Mizukage, but that's getting more and more unlikely with every day."

Haku looked at him seriously. "Zabuza kills to survive, Naruto," Haku said firmly. "And I kill because I'm his weapon."

"Do you enjoy it?" Naruto asked uncertainly. "Why are you so happy being someone else's… tool?"

Haku smiled softly. "Everybody has to be something," Haku replied. "I'm happy enough just being useful to Zabuza."

"This Zabuza doesn't sound like a very nice man," Naruto commented.

"He's… complicated, sometimes," Haku explained. "And then other times he's very simple. He gets angry, moody and occasionally cruel, but he's also always protected me. He was there for me when no one else was, and that's important too."

"So… where are you going next?" Naruto asked carefully.

"I don't know. Somewhere far away from here. The Land of Wind, maybe, they'll never find us there. Or, perhaps, we'll go hide in the Land of Rivers. Or maybe it's time to head back towards the Land of Waves." None of those options were ones they'd actually discussed. Haku shrugged. "The world's a big place."

Naruto nodded. "I… I guess I won't see you again, then?"

There was a definite question in his voice. Haku paused. When he spoke again, his voice was very measured. "You could come with us, you know," Haku said quietly. "You could leave Konoha. Zabuza's not very patient, but he's a good teacher. He taught me everything I know. I'm sure I could convince him to take on another apprentice."

There was a silence. Naruto's eyes widened slowly. Haku smiled softly. "It's a big world out there," he said softly. "If you want, you could see it with us?"


Meanwhile…

Zabuza frowned darkly as he shifted his hood, keeping his shoulders slumped and his sword carefully hidden under his long robes. Kubikiribocho was a nightmare to keep hidden, but Zabuza refused to leave it behind. Still, hidden in his long robes he was just another fisherman around Hannobe, quietly scouting out which ship to take.

Zabuza was just about to return back to camp, before he stopped in at the village's small, rundown phone office. He threw a coin a clerk casually, taking care to hide his face, before typing the key into the long range radio. Seconds later, he was diverted to the Gato Company hotline. It was a short conversation, no names or numbers attached, just confirming that payment had been delivered to the account Zabuza specified.

It was only as he was about to hangup, when the clerk mentioned a message that had been left for him; 'sharkface'. It was an old code-word from Zabuza's Anbu days at Kirigakure, and meaningless to anyone else. The code-word had been out of date for years.

Zabuza's eyes narrowed suspiciously, and hesitated for a couple of seconds, before finally typing in the key for their old, black ops communications channel. The radio buzzed, but it was answered on the second ring.

"Zabuza!" A booming voice laughed, slightly fuzzy from the bad connection. "You got my message."

Zabuza's grip on the phone tightened. "Kisame," he growled the name like a curse. "What the hell do you want, you bastard?"

Kisame Hoshigaki, the Monster of Hidden Mist, laughed loudly. "Ah, don't be like that, punk. And here's me trying to be helpful."

"You don't do 'helpful'," Zabuza snarled. "You're only capable of two different variations of sadistic bastard."

Zabuza could imagine Kisame's smirk even through the phone. "Well, maybe I'm just in a jovial mood today, then? Maybe I'm feeling nostalgic for all of my old Swordsmen of Mist buddies, or maybe today is just the one day every year that I do a bit of charity?" Kisame's voice was merciless. "Or maybe I'm just helping you out so I have a favour to collect later – either way, this is me trying to save your weak, sorry little hide."

"What are you talking about?" Zabuza demanded coldly.

"They're on to you, Zabuza," Kisame chuckled. "Apparently Konoha started gunning for you, but Kiri, well, they couldn't let another village clean up their mess now, could they? Kirigakure has sent a whole heavy task force of hunter-nin after you."

"Let them come," Zabuza growled. "I've dodged hunter-nin before."

"Yeah, I'm sure there are plenty of places to hide in the Land of Coasts, right?" Kisame taunted.

Zabuza felt his blood run cold. Kisame just laughed. "Oh yes, that's right, I know where you are. And so does Kiri. Apparently that last geezer you worked for tipped them off to try and get out of paying you. You can consider those links well and truly severed."

Gato, Zabuza thought furiously, feeling his hands shake. I killed that bridge builder and the Konoha jounin for him, and that slimy businessman stabs me in that back!

"Oh and here's the best part," Kisame continued. The Monster of Hidden Mist could never resist a good taunt. "You remember your old pal Ao? Well, guess whose leading the hunter-nin against you?"

Ao. Zabuza barely managed to escape the Land of Waves with Ao after him the first time. Ao was as ruthless and as persistent as they came, and with Ao's stolen Byakugan, there wasn't even anywhere Zabuza could hide. Zabuza was damn good at disappearing, but Ao was just as good at finding him again.

Zabuza's heart was pounding. Kisame wouldn't be laughing like this if it wasn't serious. "How long do I have?" Zabuza demanded.

"Keep watching the horizon, mate," Kisame chuckled. The line disconnected with a dull beep. Zabuza's hands clenched so hard he nearly broke the phone.

Zabuza's heart was beating fast. If a hunter-nin squad was coming this far, they were coming for blood. I need to get out of this bloody place as soon as possible.

Grab Haku, and run, Zabuza decided. Thanks to that bastard Kisame, I've got a head start. Hopefully that'd be enough.

He stormed out of the building glancing around the town for any sign of Kiri ninjas. No time to waste, Zabuza growled, clutching his sword tightly under his robes.

Zabuza barely made it a single step before something sharp pricked against his neck. The cold metal of the kunai stung against skin, and then suddenly there was somebody starting behind him.

"Zabuza Momochi." A voice drawled slowly. Kakashi was instantly standing behind him, holding a kunai to Zabuza's throat.

Zabuza stiffened. Kakashi's voice sounded lazy, but his eye was anything but. "By the authority of Konohagakure and the Fire Daimyo, you are coming with me."

There was a pause. Zabuza's hands were white as they gripped the handle of his sword tightly.

"You sure about that one?" Zabuza growled.

"I didn't specify dead or alive," Kakashi replied coldly.


Author Notes:

And next chapter is the finale to the first mission arc. The first C rank mission is always the one that solidifies Naruto's way of a ninja, and that's kind of what I wanted to show with this one.

You know, looking back, I realise how much I really, really like Zabuza and Haku. I think they were both great characters; they had an interesting backstory, detailed personalities, and very nice plot actions. They still rank up there with my favourite characters from the story. Don't get me wrong, I think their death scenes were absolutely great, but it sucks a bit they disappeared from the story so soon. Still, the Wave Arc was still a great arc.

And then Kishimoto kind of ruined it by bringing Zabuza and Haku back as zombies. Of all the things I like about the way Naruto came to an end, the giant immortal zombie army was definitely not one of them.

Next time: 'My Way'...