Zabuza's Seven

Chapter 16: Kill or Be Killed

As Naruto swerved to avoid the streams of blood rushing out of the Waterfall missing-ninja's chest where his swords had stabbed into the man's heart and lung, he idly wondered just how long it would be until he was completely desensitized to taking the life of another human being.

"It will get better," Naruto whispered to himself while he tried to keep his stomach from turning itself inside out as he pulled his now blood-stained blades from his foe who coughed up heaps of blood, let his eyes roll back into his head and fall forward, now dead to the world.

Pale-faced, Naruto stared at the corpse of his enemy for a few moments before switching his attention to Kimimaro, who had already swiftly defeated his opponent in an even more brutal fashion. The kunoichi had been spared for a reason Naruto was not sure he wanted to know.

As he helped Kimimaro seal away the bodies for whatever bounty Shibuki would pay them, Naruto wondered how long it would have been before he would have taken his first life had he remained a shinobi of the Hidden Leaf Village.

Joining Haku and Zabuza to help save their home nation seemed like such a noble and heroic quest at the time. Now Naruto was not sure if he could even be called one should they liberate Water Country and the Hidden Mist Village.

One person's hero was another's villain. The Fourth Hokage was one such example. He was a hero to the people of the Hidden Leaf Village for his efforts in the Third Great Shinobi War and for saving them from the Nine-Tailed Fox Demon, but likely a villain in the eyes of the people of Earth Country, whose shinobi he decimated with his signature techniques. Naruto had not been sure what to think of the man himself ever since he learned the man who he thought of as a hero was also his father only a few days ago...

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Several days prior, Mist Rebellion base...

The revelations of the previous day were still fresh in Naruto's mind. Several times he found himself remembering his past life and wondering how it would have been different now that he knew what had been kept a secret from him.

Naruto did not dwell on those thoughts for long. Once, when he was a child, he had thought much the same, wondering how things could have been different for him. He soon learned that crying and wishing for change did nothing to help him, if he wanted his circumstances to change he had to make the change happen itself.

Sadly, those changes did not come easy for Naruto. While he was loathe to agree with the Nine-Tailed Fox Demon, he reluctantly agreed that his own attitude held him back. Instead of focusing on his schooling and becoming respected for being a good student he let himself become resented even more for being a prankster, something he was unaware merely reminded people that as a host for a fox, it was in his nature. That did not mean that they accepted that aspect of him. They merely expected it from him and nothing more.

There was one good point that came from Naruto's rumination. He remembered what it felt like to when he pulled a good prank; it made him happy. He recalled what his former team-mate was like; how Sasuke let his goal of revenge on someone unknown to Naruto consume his life and suck the very enjoyment from his existence.

While Naruto was unsure he would ever forgive those from his past life and did not know if they would ever be worthy of forgiveness, he would no longer let his resentment control his life, lest those who disliked him claim victory from his suffering. Now feeling better than he had in days, Naruto put on a genuine smile and decided to seek out his newest friends.

Putting his skills to good use, Naruto headed for the center of the rebel base and created four shadow clones, one for each compass direction. They already knew their purpose, having been created while Naruto was focusing on their task.

They were to head out in a different direction while scouting the camp until they reached a predetermined distance. At that point they were to circumnavigate until they reached their starting position, in which case they were to dispel and pass on their memories.

By doing this, Naruto was expecting to learn as much as he could about the base and hopefully discover where he could find Amaru, Haku, or anyone else he knew. He did have an idea where to find his redheaded friend though and started his own search with her.

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Moments later, Naruto was standing outside the base's infirmary. It was a rather large building and one of the few on site; presumably because the cold weather would not be conductive to a patient's convalescence. There was a guard by the entrance and presumable more hidden nearby.

"Hey, is it okay if I go inside and say hi to one of the nurses?" Naruto asked the guard.

The guard merely looked down upon Naruto and decided that he appeared too young to understand the meaning of the phrase, "Hello nurse". Not yet aware of the younger male's identity, the guards silence began to test Naruto's extremely limited patience.

"I'm looking for my friend, Amaru. Is she here or not?" Naruto asked, not realizing his loudmouthed exclamation was the closest he had been to returning to normal since before his near-death experience.

Practically yelling Amaru's name was enough for the guard to recognize the young shinobi before him as one of Momochi Zabuza's apprentices who, despite said youth and his inexperience, the guard would likely have to address as "sir" in the near future. Putting aside those thoughts in favour of solidarity for someone seeking to save the Hidden Mist Village and Water Country, the guard spoke up.

"If you are referring to the medical corps newest recruit, she is in a meeting with the head medic and will not be available for some time."

"Ah, okay then. Well, if you see her tell her I was looking for her." Naruto said before he walked away.

The guard watched Naruto walk away, silently glad for him and his friend that they were not situated within Water Country where the field hospitals struggled just to keep heavily wounded patients alive instead of training medics for those hospitals as was done here on the mainland base.

The memory of a strange order passed through the guards mind. They kept a sizable supply of instant ramen on hand as it was cheap and made for decent rations. Most present ate it without complaint, but found it surprising that a portion would be set aside for one of Momochi Zabuza's apprentices.

At first the guard dismissed it as pure favouritism towards one of the Seven Swordsmen, but after meeting the one their rations had been set aside for he wondered just what that young boy had gone through to warrant needing a large supply of comfort food.

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After being turned away from the infirmary, Naruto resumed wandering the base. At first he found it odd that he was allowed to roam about unsupervised, but then remembered that they were shinobi and being unseen while observing a target was a basic skill of theirs.

Naruto was not blind to the resentment and mistrust the Mist shinobi held for him. It did not bother him though, it never did. He had friends who cared for him and an instructor who wished the best for him, and he now only cared about what they felt about him.

No longer was Naruto the boy who would shout about becoming Hokage and showing up the people who scorned him. He was now on his way to becoming an elite swordsman and that was his focus now. Said goal was the motivation behind his current actions, as Naruto was awaiting receiving the memories of his shadow clones who he hoped spotted Haku during their reconnoitering of the base so he could continue their training.

The wait was not long, as Naruto's shadow clones were just as speedy and observant as he was. They had canvassed the majority of the base and one noticed a training ground where Haku was testing his skills against the other Mist shinobi where it had actually stopped to observe him.

From what Naruto could gather of the shadow clone's memories, Haku performed exemplary against the other Mist shinobi, despite them being older and all chunin in rank. Naruto was sure it was due as much to Zabuza's teaching skills as it was to Haku's own abilities, but still looked forward to soon receiving instruction from the Demon of the Mist himself.

Putting such thoughts aside for the moment, Naruto went back to reviewing Haku's spar against the rebel Mist shinobi. The effeminate male dodged each of their attacks with ease, striking back with an a barrage of senbon to disable opponents at long range or using his katana to generate snow to hinder those in closer proximity before disabling them as well. More so, Haku looked like he was quite comfortable in the frozen environment, giving him an edge against the Mist shinobi. While they were used to the cold, he thrived in it and seemed at home.

What struck Naruto as odd was that based on what the shadow clone had seen, Haku had never used his katana as intended; it was used to enhance his bloodline-limit and nothing more. Haku's entire style appeared to be based upon defeating his opponents without seriously injuring them.

Naruto frowned at what he had seen by proxy. He knew from Haku's explanations on how the wind element that it was possible to conduct it through certain materials to gain a sharpening effect or create a blade of wind. Haku's katana, Snowblind, was made from one such material. Should he have wanted to, he could have used his speed to seriously wound or even kill his opponents.

Pausing to think, Naruto wondered just how Haku had defeated the missing-ninja from the Hidden Cloud Village. Based on what he knew of Haku, Naruto was sure Haku had not used his sword's more lethal abilities, instead disabling the missing-ninja like he had with Zabuza as a ruse and thereby eliminating them as a threat.

While he had not inquired too deeply into what happened to the missing-ninja, Naruto had been under the impression that they had been killed and turned over to collect the bounties on their heads rather then simply turning them in to the local authorities to receive a trial.

The result likely would have been the same in either event. Based on what they had done, and could have done to Amaru, Naruto did not feel at all bad about their fate. What unsettled him was whether or not he would be able to take another person's life should they threaten his own or someone he cared about should a circumstance arise where killing was his only option.

Naruto was unsure if he could do it, and was sure Haku felt the same. Feeling more connected then ever before with the first friend he gained in his new life, Naruto decided to seek out the effeminate male and become his newest challenger.

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Having proven his skills against some of the more experienced Mist shinobi, Haku was now resting before resuming his training. Like Naruto, he knew that they were being shown resentment from the Mist shinobi, whether it be for their special treatment or their advanced skills despite their younger years.

Haku hoped that his performance showed he had the skills to support his future among them and that any bias towards him and his fellow apprentices was justified. There was little he could do at this point about their bruised egos but like Naruto, Haku found he only cared what those precious to him thought.

Speak of the devil and he shall appear. No sooner had thoughts of his precious people popped into his head that one of them popped up in front of him.

"Hey Haku! I saw you sparring earlier. You were great! Those other guys couldn't even touch you and you beat them without even breaking a sweat. Though I don't think I could sweat in all this cold. You look like you don't mind it at all though. You're lucky. I'm not used to being cold at all so I'm freezing most of the time. Not that I wish I had your bloodline-limit, since that what keeps you from freezing. While the ability to control ice is cool, I don't think I could handle looking like a pretty girl. I mean, I can already turn into a naked girl anytime I want to because of the fox, plus I don't think any girl would be interested in a boy that's prettier than they are. I guess I'm lucky Amaru is a tomboy. Hey, maybe we should get you a tomboy girlfriend too. That would be perfect for you. What do you say?" Naruto said, smiling happily the entire time and seemingly without pausing for breath.

Haku was quite happy to see Naruto in such high spirits. It seemed he was finally fine and was not letting the secrets revealed after his funeral damper his spirits.

Since Naruto was fine, Haku shifted his focus to the blond's exclamations. Naruto had been observing his spars and was impressed by what he had seen. Haku smiled, both at the praise and the thought that Naruto would soon be at his level of skill as well and may even surpass him someday.

Naruto's lack of tolerance to the cold was expected and something they would have to work on once Naruto settled down in Water Country. While it was originally a tropical paradise known for producing exquisite fruit, a climate shift turned it into a cold, harsh land that soon afterwards became known for a thriving fishing industry.

The pros and cons of possessing the ice-release bloodline-limit was something Haku once debated. In the end, he accepted it was a part of him and who he was. Although he made a mental note to ask Naruto about how he could turn into a naked girl because of the Nine-Tailed Fox Demon. Further research into the topic could explain any possible abilities or personality traits he would possess.

It was the idea that his ideal girlfriend could be a tomboy that caught Haku off guard. Some girls he had met were jealous of his looks and others refused to believe he was a male and went to ridiculous lengths arguing every point they could otherwise, as if his word he was a male meant nothing to them, no matter that it was the truth.

Haku could even recall one male who had seen him in a kimono trying to convince a friend of his that he had seen a hint of cleavage on Haku's flat chest that proved he had breasts, despite seeing a woman wearing the same kimono who had a clearly ample bosom. Arguably, Haku could have been a girl who kept her breasts bound and told everyone she was a male, but he could not see how that made any sense at all.

Blinking in confusion, Haku wondered how his train of thought got derailed so badly.

"I think I understand how your mind works a lot more now." Haku said to Naruto, who nodded back.

"I know what you mean." Naruto said. "I get the feeling I'm going to be hearing that a lot more in the future.

"So where were we? Tomboy girlfriend?" Haku asked, not sure they could maintain a single topic for long.

"Yeah, don't you think a tomboy would be a good girlfriend for you?"

Haku crossed his arms, thinking it over, before shrugging defeat.

"It could possibly work, but right now isn't a good time to be thinking about getting a girlfriend. I'd rather focus on my training and ending the civil war before worrying about anything else. It could be years before I'm ready for anything like that."

Naruto kept nodding, seeing much wisdom in Haku's words.

"You're right. I don't think it's a good idea for me to get a girlfriend either. I like Amaru, but she just needs a friend right now and not a boyfriend. Besides, I think that's why Sakura never liked me; I was always trying to be her boyfriend when I just should have been trying to be her friend. Not that she would have wanted me to be her friend anyway…"

Haku was right, they could not keep up a single topic for long. Only he would be the one to change it, as the present discussion was bringing down Naruto's rediscovered good mood.

"I'm feeling more refreshed now, would you like to spar now? I'd like to see how far you've improved."

Those were the magic words to say as Naruto lit up once more and began to excitedly jump about in anticipation. Haku did not mind the blond's exuberance, he was not at full strength so the more energy Naruto burned off the better.

"Remind me to revise tactics with you afterwards." Haku said as he and Naruto began stretching for their spar.

After all, it would do no good for Naruto to exploit a weakness of his without helping him overcome it.

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The spar between Naruto and Haku would soon be underway. Haku had Snowblind withdrawn and was ready to generate a snowstorm should the need arise. Seeing that, Naruto decided to withdraw his own wakizashi, despite not yet being instructed in their proper use.

A raise of an eyebrow was Haku's only reaction, though it had been hidden under a new hunter mask. His old one still had the mark where Naruto's shuriken had scratched it, so Haku kept it as a memento of that fateful day. He thought Naruto would most likely have to resort to using shadow clones to distract him though sheer numbers while tiring him out.

That was when Haku's intelligence benefited him once more. Naruto had stamina in abundance and could afford to waste time using an undeveloped skill. It would still suffice as practice and even more so, should Naruto be able to keep up with his speed, the blond would gain more intelligence on Haku's fighting style that he would using shadow clones.

They would likely be dispelled before they could obtain any useful information, and even if they did, Naruto should be able to process any knowledge he gained himself faster than any he would receive from a shadow clone.

Naruto's healing factor would play a part as well, as even if he suffered any wounds they would not hinder him for long. Their spar would have to be decided quickly in order to end in Haku's favour.

Had he not been as so focused on the spar, Haku would have been surprised by how eager he was to fight Naruto and test his skills. He was quite eager to see just how well Naruto could use his wakizashi despite directly engaging in close-quarters combat to be against his normal style.

Haku shifted his hold on Snowblind. Now that his katana was in peak condition, he felt it was safe to wield it in direct combat as it could stand up to receiving a few nicks and scratches that could be just polished out later. It would be the first moment in some time that Haku would fight with his sword, even though he would still hold back on its full strength, but he felt glad that it would be in a friendly spar to test his skill against a friend than against an enemy.

A leaf that was blowing in the wind between the two combatants fluttered in the air before stopping and falling to the ground. At that moment, Naruto and Haku charged towards one another, swinging their swords that sang out with a clang as their battle began.

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The initial exchange of attacks between Haku and Naruto were as swift as they were potentially deadly, though neither would take up arms against the other as enemies ever again. One showed experience with a blade that came from years of practice while the other displayed a surprising amount of natural talent, but not enough to compensate for his disadvantage.

Naruto's method of attack was simple; alternate between using one sword on the offense while the other was held back for blocking. He would swing out with the wakizashi in his right hand only for it to be blocked by either Haku's katana or a simple senbon, depending on how closely Naruto's attacks were to the ice user.

Naruto found himself on the defensive at times as well. As soon as an attack failed, Haku would step back slightly and strike back with his katana, using its greater length to keep him out of range of Naruto's shorter swords. The blond would try to block but Haku's faster reflexes meant his counter-attacks connected more often than they were dodged or deflected.

"It's a good thing you changed into the standard Mist shinobi uniform, otherwise your clothes would be in bad shape by now." Haku commented as he made yet another cut into the flak jacket that Naruto was currently wearing.

After they finished stretching, Haku suggested that Naruto change so as not to ruin his casual clothes. He did look silly wearing arm and leg warmers with an over-sized flak jacket, but it did protect him and keep him warm.

Seeing that his statement meant that Haku was signalling for a break, Naruto nodded and put his swords away. The ice-user was using the opportunity to refresh himself with a bottle of water he kept in his kimono so it would not freeze. The blond was nearly as tired and found his train of thought had left the station.

Haku's kimono was immaculate as he had never been hit once during any of his spars. Naruto felt a bit of pride knowing that he had been able to put a scratch on the ice-user's mask, but conceded that it may have been a lucky hit, or Haku had just not yet fought anyone at his level in some time.

Naruto's train of thought shifted onto a more worrisome track. Had Haku's dodging skills been a natural ability or one gained through years of practice? Did he get as good as he was by continuously evading attacks of all types from not only enemies, but from Kimimaro or even Zabuza himself as a training exercise? Was Haku's pale skin covered in scars from those training exercises, a reminder of the effort he put into gaining his skills, or was his medical knowledge gained from healing his own battered and bruised body after a gruelling workout?

For a brief moment, Naruto wondered what he had gotten himself into, a feeling that came up from time to time but not as often. This recent revelation he could deal with as it came with the territory and he even possessed the perfect bloodline-limit for dealing with it. It was Amaru he was concerned with, as it was because of him that she had been dragged into this life.

Naruto's train of thought then entered a tunnel as he thought of Amaru, but he did not know what that meant, having only learned of trains after briefly seeing them used as a means of travel or shipping cargo by civilians through Frost Country's cold and mountainous terrain. He heard they were also used in Snow Country, and expected to end up there sooner rather than later.

The train of thought finally came to a stop as Naruto saw that Haku was ready to resume their spar. Withdrawing his wakizashi once more as the ice-user readied his katana, the blond charged ahead, both swords swinging on the attack now as he went for broke.

Naruto's attacks came faster now. With both swords being used for offense now he was able to push Haku back, though to an experience eye the blond was just swinging wildly. He could not see the hidden expression on the ice-user's face, but if he could, his confidence would take a hit from Haku's all-knowing smirk.

Shifting his hold of Snowblind into a two-handed grip and holding it horizontally to meet Naruto's wakizashi, Haku swung out with enough force to not only block both swords, but knock both out of Naruto's hands which were now stinging with pain.

Haku did not end the spar there. He followed up with a kick to Naruto's abdomen, taking the wind out of him as the brunet spun to switch footing and delivered a second kick to Naruto's chest, knocking the him onto the ground. Holding Snowblind in his right hand once more, Haku pointed its tip at Naruto's throat.

"I win." Haku said, receiving a groan in reply.

Sealing away his katana, Haku reached down and pulled Naruto up. The blond glared at him, but Haku merely smiled. It would have annoyed Naruto further if he could have seen the ice-user's face.

"You were toying with me the whole time!" Naruto yelled. "If you could have won that easily, why didn't you do that from the start?"

"I wanted to see how good you were with those wakizashi." Haku said, pointing to the discarded blades. "I would not have learned anything if I was not holding back so I gave you a chance to use them."

Naruto response was to merely huff and cross his arms. He knew perfectly well that until he had considerably improved, all his spars would be treated as a training session for him, but what little pride he now had was stung by his defeat.

"I have a long way to go, don't I?" Naruto asked.

"Yes, but don't worry. We'll all be here for you every step of the way."

"I'm looking forward to it." Naruto said, smiling once more as Haku grinned at his friend's eagerness.

"So, best two out of three?"

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For round two, Naruto temporarily sheathed his swords to make a trio of shadow clones who supported him in the match through the use of distraction tactics and replacements as he and Haku planned them to do before. It failed though as Haku was familiar with the tactic. As a last ditch effort, Naruto tried using the wind release: great breakthrough, but not yet having mastered the technique it failed, literally leaving him breathless and gave Haku a second win.

Once their spar was over Haku decided to continue teaching Naruto the finer points of wind manipulation as both still had some energy to spare, the blond much more than the brunet.

Seated with a leaf in his hand, Naruto focused on making his chakra take the form of a blade to cut through the leaf. Once he was sure he had sufficient knowledge of the technique, Haku would let him utilize shadow clones to speed up the process. Otherwise they would just be wasting their time and chakra.

Thinking of how wind chakra could be used reminded Naruto of the question he wanted to ask Haku.

"Hey, why don't you use wind chakra to sharpen your sword?" Naruto asked Haku. "You could win fights a lot easier and faster if you did."

"I'd have to kill or at least seriously injure my opponents as well." Haku countered, making Naruto wince. "Despite my upbringing, I have never killed anyone nor has it ever been necessary for me to do so."

Naruto nodded in understanding. With Zabuza, Kimimaro and even the Demon Brothers around, Haku likely had little need to actually fight anyone. The ice-user's primary skills were infiltration and first-aid, leaving him as the supporting member of the group.

"Besides," Haku continued, "I still don't think I am ready to take a life yet, but now I will have to deal with the possibility of doing so sooner or later. I still prefer to defeat my opponents without killing them, but I suppose I will have to learn how to fight with every asset at my disposal. I may not wish to kill anyone, but that will not stop anyone from trying to kill me." Haku finished as he looked at Snowblind contemplatively.

Naruto felt he was thinking the same thing as Haku. When it came down to it, the life of a shinobi could be described as "kill your enemy before they killed you." A shinobi who had their sword-arm severed would likely never be a threat again, but they would live and resent the one who spared their life for making them suffer as an invalid of no use rather than let them die with honour. Sometimes death could be a cruel mercy.

In a perfect world one would have no enemies. Naruto resolved to make allies over enemies from then on but he was thinking realistically enough to realize that would not always be possible.

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At lunchtime Naruto and Haku were in the mess hall, sitting across from each other at a table. Naruto had a big, steaming bowl of ramen in front of him that appeared to be made from several packets of instant noodles. Haku, who was enjoying a nice salad, insisted that Naruto have some vegetables with his meal too so he added several pieces of steamed carrots and broccoli.

Not long after they sat down, Naruto and Haku were joined by Amaru. She was wearing her bandana and was in a boisterous mood.

"Hey girly guys." She said as placed her plate of barbecued pork ribs and rice down and took a seat next to Naruto, who was torn between being offended at the jibe regarding his temporary attire and being pleased by her company.

"Hello Amaru." Haku said politely, though Naruto felt the brunet was offended too but better at hiding it. "I take it your evaluation went well?"

Naruto remembered that Amaru had been with the chief medic all morning and looked at the redhead, who was beaming with pride.

"That's right, you are looking at the newest healer!" Amaru said. "They said I was great and I should be able to complete my training in only a few more years!"

"That is great!" Naruto said after swallowing a mouthful of noodles, as he was being careful not to talk with his mouth full.

"Yes, congratulations." Haku said. "It's a wonderful opportunity. I wish I had the time to become a certified medic."

"Yeah, well not everyone can be as great as me." Amaru said in between bites of her ribs, which she was eating with her bare, but very clean hands.

Haku actually showed a bit of disgust then at Amaru's lack of decorum, but Naruto wondered if it was for a different reason. He had yet to see the ice-user eat any meat other than fish, which he normally caught himself. The blond was not sure if his effeminate friend was a vegetarian but it would make sense if he was.

Amaru though seemed to enjoy her meal and it made Naruto look over at her hungrily as he wondered if there were foods just as good as ramen out there. From the death glare Amaru gave him when he tried to take a rib, he would be better off getting some of his own. Haku seemed to think it was funny as he trying to keep himself from laughing out loud.

As he quietly apologized and turned back to his ramen, Naruto thought to himself that this is what friendship should be like.

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Lunch for Naruto, Haku and Amaru continued to be a pleasant affair. Conversation between the three mainly consisted of stories of their rather similar upbringings. To be specific, they spoke of embarrassing tales of their masters.

Naruto told his friends how Iruka first reacted to the use of his sexy technique. Haku was interested in its potential for infiltration while Amaru coyly asked just how much Naruto had experimented with being in a girl's body. The blond blushed heavily at that but did not answer.

In turn, Amaru explained how Dr. Shinno once purposely infected himself with a rare disease that caused rashes and outbreaks so as to learn how to cure it. He was forced to wear a mask and cover himself nearly entirely until he had developed a cure. While Amaru was still uncomfortable talking about her late master, it did help ease the pain of his loss.

It was Haku's turn next, and he had a rather interesting story to tell.

"Well, I remember this one time where Master Zabuza took me to a bar to test my infiltration skills. I was to pose as a young woman and gather gossip. Well you would think that having raised a boy who looks so much like a girl that Master Zabuza would be able to identify a man cross-dressing as a woman, right? Well apparently drinking impairs that skill and..."

Haku trailed off at that moment as he became pale and horror stricken.

"He's standing behind me right now, isn't he?" Haku asked, his voice a whisper.

"Actually, I'm almost right in front of you." Zabuza said to his horrified apprentice from the seat he had just taken next to Amaru. "Getting distracted can also impair one's situational awareness. I think you need a refresher course in detecting threats." He continued as Haku gulped in fear. "The recruits here need some more practice with their stealth attacks. I think a live opponent would be more helpful than a straw target, don't you?"

"Yes sir, I'll go right away sir!" Haku said as he quickly got up, bowed and ran away, leaving a terrified Naruto and quivering Amaru with the man who could elicit such a response from him.

In the heat of the moment, Zabuza forgot that he was there to inform Haku that due to the events of Wave Country, the ice-user was now listed in the Bingo books as an A-ranked shinobi. He mentally shrugged it off as he was making sure his apprentice's skills matched his rank.

"As for you," Zabuza said as he turned his attention to Naruto. "It's time you began to learn the art of silent killing." He said as got up and dragged a shivering Naruto away, leaving a hyperventilating Amaru behind.

She now knew what her, Naruto and Haku's lives would be like from then on. Happily enjoying time with friends one moment, fighting for their lives the next. The least she could do was make sure they had as many of the former moments as they could. She also took comfort in knowing her tutor was not a psychopath.

"Amaru, there you are!" Said tutor called out. "A group of fresh cadavers just came in for study and we are short staffed. You will have to work with us on the autopsies."

Pushing her empty plate away, Amaru cursed herself for tempting fate. She had enjoyed her lunch and had no desire to lose it so soon.

Suddenly she realized that she had a higher purpose than just being a healer of the body. Amaru had years of experience with death and could help heal a soul as well by helping Naruto and even Haku deal with taking a life.

While Amaru still hated killing she was beginning to understand that it was a necessary evil in their world. She could make the world a better place by ensuring that as few people as possible died before their time. For the first time though she began to hope that with people like Naruto and Haku around, they could have a much more peaceful world.

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In a private training field, Zabuza and Naruto stood off against one another.

"Alright Naruto, it's time I started teaching you the basics of silent killing." Zabuza said to his newest apprentice.

"What do I have to do first?" Naruto asked, eager to learn something to take his mind off of unpleasant matters, even if it was learning how to kill someone with his mind, or however killing intent worked.

Zabuza smiled under his face wraps at Naruto's eagerness. He had a student willing to learn and was not going to squander any opportunities.

"First, you are going to learn how to use killing intent." Zabuza said, emitting a slight amount of it. "Of course, it would be hard to learn how to use it without experiencing it as well."

Naruto's knees were shaking as he was now under the pressure of Zabuza's killing intent. Otherwise, he stood up to it well.

"Have you ever heard of the phrase, 'if looks could kill?'" Zabuza asked Naruto, who managed to nod in reply. "Good, that's not a bad way to describe the use of killing intent. Tell me, have you ever seen someone get so mad the sight of them paralyzed you with fear?"

Zabuza had been slowly raising his killing intent, and Naruto was slowly buckling under the pressure. Suddenly, a particularly bad memory hit Naruto. It was of the time he accidentally kissed Sasuke, and the murderous looks on Sakura, Ino and the other girls faces for stealing their crush's first kiss.

That memory left him shaking hard, but unlike when Sasuke almost stabbed himself upon first being exposed to Zabuza's killing intent, Naruto's will to live held him in place. Whether it was out of defiance for those who wished him dead or a power of his own was unknown. Seeing Naruto stand up to his killing intent to a suitable degree, Zabuza steadily dropped it down to nothing.

After taking a few deep breaths, and waiting until his breathing was back to normal, Naruto spoke up.

"I'm okay now." Naruto said. "What was that?"

"That was the power of killing intent. I projected my murderous objectives outward, and through the power of suggestion, turned your own memories and fears against you." Zabuza explained.

Naruto was sitting down now, his first lesson was a lot to take in.

"Tell me," Zabuza said, "how did you feel just now?"

"I felt scared. I remembered something bad that happened to me, and it was like I was reliving it. I just wanted it to end, no matter what it took to do so." Naruto said, pushing back the memories, as it was entirely too similar to the torture the fox inflicted on him.

"That is to be expected." Zabuza said. "The art of killing intent was created by adapting the effects of a demon encountered far to the west that could make a person relive their worst memories. Was that all you felt though?" He asked, as if he was expecting more. "Did you feel cold at all?"

Hearing the question, Naruto blinked in realization.

"Yeah, I did. It was like a cold shiver, that started in my head and worked it's way down my back." Naruto said as Zabuza nodded, apparently expecting that answer.

"It's rather common to feel cold when experiencing terror. That's where the expression, "getting cold feet" comes from." Zabuza explained. "Haku is especially resistant to the physical effects of killing intent due to his bloodline-limit. Most Mist ninja are as well. Water Country is a cold, harsh region. Mist ninjas are trained to be tolerant of a variety of harsh conditions, and the freezing cold is just one of them. Our tolerance for killing intent is what makes us so deadly with it. You will also have to learn to resist it, especially if you want to resist the Nine-Tailed Fox Demon as well."

Naruto did not rest for another second after Zabuza finished speaking, and was back on his feet.

"If it'll help me stand up the fox, I'll do anything!" Naruto declared, ready to resume his training, even if it bordered on torture.

"That's good," Zabuza began, "because now that you know what sensations to be aware of I expect you to learn how to counteract them. We'll start by building up your resistance to the cold. There's a frozen lake nearby. I think that would be a nice place for a swim, don't you?"

Naruto gulped and suddenly did not feel so confident. He did not know how to swim.

"Just remember, think happy and warm thoughts." Zabuza said with sadistic glee as he tossed Naruto in the nearby lake.

For a moment, Naruto's thoughts turned to Sakura and Sasuke. He was sure his former team-mates could not have been experiencing worse.

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"Yes! Now that you have completed your warm-up exercises, we can move onto the serious exercises! Let's go!" Might Guy said enthusiastically to his students, as well as Kakashi's, who were joining them for a joint session.

Sasuke and Sakura, who had recently reunited to reform Team Seven with a new member, looked like they were at the brink of exhaustion from the warm-up alone, but one of Guy's students was still quite energetic.

"Yes Guy-sensei!" Rock Lee responded with as much enthusiasm as his instructor. "If I can not do five hundred push-ups, I will do six-hundred chin-ups! If I can not accomplish that, I will do seven-hundred strikes against the training dummy!"

Kakashi's student's merely looked on at Lee in shock, not believing he could still move, let alone achieve what he said he could. They were completely unaware it was getting worse.

"Lee, your youthful exuberance is an example to us all!" Guy cried out, proud of his protégé.

"Guy-sensei!" Lee cried back, his instructor's praise inspiring him.

"Lee!" Guy responded, feeling the bond between him and his student.

"Guy-sensei!"

"Lee!"

Before any of the members of team seven could look away, Guy and Lee formed a manly embrace as a sunset, the symbol of youth, magically appeared behind them.

"What have we gotten ourselves into?" Sasuke wondered aloud, glad his tinted goggles obscured the sight before him.

Sakura was too tired to comment, but she agreed with Sasuke and missed the old, lazy Kakashi.

As for their new team-mate, an older boy with silver hair and glasses whose father was an accomplished medical-ninja, a part of him wondered if enduring this torturous training to endear himself to the last Uchiha would be worth it, or if it was punishment for his past sins. The person currently known as Yakushi Kabuto found himself at a loss, much like his breakfast which he was now regurgitating.

Unfortunately for them, the day was just beginning.

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The reason for Zabuza's sudden crash course on how to be an effective trained killer and not the one to be killed had just become apparent to Naruto. They had been assigned their first mission and were to leave as soon as they were ready.

Their group was actually assigned to two separate missions. Zabuza, Kimimaro and Naruto were assigned to locate the missing-ninja Kurosuki Raiga and either convince him to join their forces or kill him and reclaim the Thunder Fangs. Haku and the Demon Brothers were to infiltrate Rice Country as there were confirmed reports that Hozuki Suigetsu, the younger brother of Hozuki Mangetsu was being held captive by the new Hidden Sound Village.

Normally Naruto's skills would have meant he would be better suited for infiltration while Chojuro was better suited for escort and combat missions, but in this case Zabuza wanted to personally oversee the next part of Naruto's training. The blond would be able to work with Haku again once he was ready to learn more about elemental manipulation. Naruto resolved to have mastered manipulation of the wind element by the time he met Haku again.

The ice-user had already said his good-byes to Naruto and left with his team to rendezvous with another waiting for them in Rice Country. Zabuza's team had more ground to cover to make it to the Hidden Waterfall Village where Raiga had last been seen so they needed to leave soon as well. Zabuza gave Naruto five minutes to say his goodbyes to Amaru before they left.

The red-head was already waiting for him by the gates, having been informed of Naruto's need to depart. They stood in silence for a moment, neither sure of what to say. Zabuza kept an eye on them, whatever expression he had was hidden by his face-wraps. Kimimaro however, seemed intrigued by Naruto and Amaru's interaction for some reason.

"You know, I've never been on this side of the conversation before." Amaru said, being the first of them to break the silence. "Dr. Shinno and I were always travelling so we were the ones saying goodbye to all those people we helped. Now I'll be staying in one place, letting them come to me." She finished, pleased that Naruto was nodding along.

"Yeah, I think I know what you mean. You never expected to find a home so soon and for it to be in another country either, right?"

Surprised by Naruto's direct statement, as she had not expected him to hit the nail on the head, Amaru looked at him with widened eyes. She then relaxed and mentally chided herself for doubting him. She knew Naruto was not stupid; he just had a different way of understanding the world and needed to be taught accordingly. While he could say and do something that seemed completely idiotic, there were times like this one when he could be quite insightful.

"I used to think that the Hidden Leaf Village was my home, but I don't think it ever was. It was just the place where I used to live." Naruto said. "A home is more than that; it's also the people you make it with that make a home what it is."

Amaru was now the one nodding as she could sympathize with Naruto. The village she grew up in was not much of a home to her either.

"That's why I hope once the rebellion is over that we can settle down and find a nice home in the Hidden Mist Village someday." Naruto continued.

Amaru turned as red as her hair at that statement and started sputtering, trying and failing to come up with a reply. She knew Naruto could not have meant that they would find a home together, certainly not yet.

"I never would have guessed that I'd someday call another country home," Naruto continued, one hand scratching the back of his neck and his eyes closed in fox-like fashion, leaving him oblivious to Amaru's condition, "but I'm not going to let that hold me back. I'm still going to become the strongest ninja I can be so I can protect all of my precious people, including you." Naruto finished, saying the last part a little quieter than the rest and with a slight blush.

Almost completely red from embarrassment now, Amaru was in control enough to realize that Naruto, who could be so clueless and innocent at times, did care about her, but not too much; merely as a good friend for now since that was what they both needed at the current point in their lives. Calmer now, she put her bandana back on to make a bold declaration of her own.

"You're right. We'll both be living in the Hidden Mist Village someday, but I think it could be a home to us both someday as well. If you are going to become the strongest ninja you can be, then I'll have to become the best healer I can be so I can take care of all the people of that village, and you too I suppose." Amaru said, glad she put her bandana back on or else she would still be blushing.

Naruto, now looking at Amaru with his eyes open, was relieved by her reaction. If it had been Sakura he had made his statement to, she would have likely been indignant about either her need to be protected (however true it was) or by his ability to defend her (which he had proved and could have possibly continued to prove, not that either would ever know).

A sudden cough from Zabuza then notified Naruto and Amaru that their time was almost up.

"Alright then, I have to go," Naruto said, "but I promise I'll come back even stronger to protect you."

"And I promise I'll become a great doctor so I can heal you every time you get your ass kicked trying to do so." Amaru said humourously.

Feeling a bit daring now, and because he would not see her again for some time, Naruto moved forward and pulled a surprised Amaru into a hug. It was a bit awkward for both because neither had received one very often, but after a bit they relaxed before pulling away.

"Well, bye." Naruto said, a part of him not wanting to leave her even as he did so.

"See ya frizzy." Amaru called back as he left, using the first nickname she could come up with.

With that, Naruto followed Zabuza and Kimimaro, wondering just how often he would have to leave Amaru for a mission and promise he would always return to her.

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It had been early in the afternoon when Zabuza, Kimimaro and Naruto set off for their mission. Rather than test him on the road or when they stopped to set up their camp for the night, Zabuza decided to test Naruto's skills before leaving so he could plan how to train the boy as they travelled.

Due to the long distance ahead of them, Zabuza set a fast pace, running at high speed through the snowy forests of Frost Country, hoping to make it past the border and into Hot Spring Country before stopping for the night. Ideally they would make it, as without all the goods they were bringing or the need to disguise themselves, they could all travel as swift as they could.

Through sheer stamina alone, Naruto kept up the demanding pace. While he was quite strong and fast for someone of his age because of his own demanding work-out routine, Naruto was unfortunately continually outclassed by more skilled or trained ninja and thus always looked bad in comparison.

Zabuza however believed that Naruto's skills would soon skyrocket in growth with the proper training and that had he been left on his own, they would still have slowly risen and continued to do so, eventually far surpassing those who once looked down upon him for being weaker than them.

In fact, it was already time to continue Naruto's training. They had just arrived in a clearing where the soon to be setting sun was beaming down upon them. Zabuza signalled for Kimimaro and Naruto to halt and called for a short break. It was time to address the blond's skill-set.

To start, Zabuza began by teaching Naruto a move that he was sure would the boy would be able to use quite effectively along with his shadow clones; the kunai shadow clone technique.

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Posing as a merchant caravan once more, Haku, the Demon Brothers and Chojuro were on their way to meet up with the support team for their mission. They had formed a simple plan on the way to gain their own intelligence in the case their support team had not yet come up with any.

Haku would use his charm to act as the primary merchant and collect gossip while the Demon Brothers investigated the selling and buying of assets relevant to the needs of a hidden village and track their shipping. Shinobi were not entirely self-sufficient and relied on civilians for a number of needs that could be easily tracked, except for one problem.

Unlike the five major hidden villages, the minor ones were actually hidden and known primarily to their inhabitants. Whatever village was hidden in Rice Country took that notion a step further and hid it completely all over the country as a series of bases instead of being a single village of variable size. Their investigation would be difficult, but not impossible.

Luckily the support team had ample time to begin investigating the country. They were a local group, acting as part of Mei's spy network. They had been becoming more overworked as of late, researching the new hidden village and whether it would be a threat to the Hidden Mist Village and Water Country or not.

From what they had gathered, between kidnapping citizens of Water Country who may have been bloodline-limit users to actively targetting members of the Seven Swordsmen and their families to the now confirmed rumours that Orochimaru, formerly of the Three Legendary Ninja of the Hidden Leaf Village was it's leader had Mei's spies conclude that the sooner the village was dealt with, the better.

At the moment, their knowledge of the new village was limited to a possible location of a hidden bunker, which was based on an increase of traffic upon the nearby roads that lead to areas of no signficant importance.

As soon as the local spy team and Haku's group were able to meet up, they would be able to combine their efforts and hopefully find their missing comrades in arms and citizens of Water Country. Once the rebellion was over, they could devote more resources to eliminating the newest threat to their nation.

For now though, Orochimaru was someone else's problem.

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All the while, as the others focused on where to find a needle in a haystack, Chojuro observed his future fellow shinobi. He found Haku to be a genuinelly nice person; really too nice to be a shinobi. The Demon Brothers were good with poisons but not much else. The problem was that all three were loyal to Zabuza first and their homeland second. Luckily Zabuza's first loyalty was to his country. Chojuro could not say the same though; his loyalty would always be to Terumi Mei and he would not hesitate for a second to eliminate any threat to her safety, whether that threat be from within or without.

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Author's Note: I am still in need of a good Beta Reader to help me with this fic. Any experienced writers who are interested can contact me by PM or say so in a review.

Remember back when Orochimaru and the Hidden Sound Village were the major villains? Seems like so long ago, doesn't it?

I have noticed a lot of similarities between Naruto and Harry Potter and found another one while writing this chapter. I believe the effect of killing intent is similar to that of the Dementors. Any thoughts on this?

If I had a loonie for every time someone mispelled Guy's catchphrase (Japanese words can only end in a vowel or the letter "n") I'd be rich. I was even tempted to throw in some gratuitous Klingon to be different. Guy as a trekkie would be a scary sight.

I think canon Naruto would have been better as a cloudcuckoolander than an idiot hero, so I might try and do that here. He would have made a good comic relief character in part one before becoming a true hero in part two since Sasuke became the villain and Sai became the comic relief character. Just don't ask who the heroine is in canon, it won't end well.