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“You know, Copycat was telling me an interesting story about you and your sidekick just this morning.”

Zabuza pauses, one hand on the door. He doesn’t look back at the vigilante behind him, keeps staring through the bars to where Haku is waiting. Damn it. he hates it when he gets the talkative ones.

“Not a sidekick,” he corrects. “Apprentice. And I’ll just bet he was. He mention how I kicked his ass?”

There's a hum, a creak of leather as the man leans back against the wall. “He did say that,” the vigilante says, amused. From what Zabuza’s seen he’s always amused. Zabuza doesn’t expect he’s going to stay that way long, seeing as he’s in Fuguki's prison. No one lasts down here. “He also said you let him go when you could have killed him.”

Zabuza can see Haku stiffen, just a little, the calm that slides towards anger as he turns back to meet Zabuza’s eyes. Holding his stare, Zabuza shakes his head almost imperceptibly, and Haku's mouth tightens before he eases back, sliding his senbon back up his sleeve.

“Copycat needs to stop spreading rumors,” he says, though what he wants to say is damn it, Hatake. Kakashi seems to think a fling on a mission that went south and ended with them teaming up means Zabuza’s got some sort of redeemable quality. Generally Zabuza just laughs in his face when the topic comes up, but maybe he’d be better served actually trying to kill the bastard, regardless of how good in bed he is. Especially if he’s infecting other vigilantes with that idiocy.

“He’s not really the type to lie about that,” the vigilante says mildly, then makes a sound of frustration. “What are the odds you’ve got a cigarette on you?”

“Why, assholes like me not killing you quickly enough?” Zabuza asks dryly, but he turns back, surveys the man. Chained to the wall, the way Fuguki likes, but every instinct Zabuza has still pegs the man as a threat. He’ probably at least twice Kakashi’s width, with broad shoulders and dark hair, a beard. The only identifying mark seems to be the white sash around his waist, stamped with a black circle that sports the kanji for fire. He’s not one of the hero-types Zabuza has encountered before, but given the way Fuguki was spitting when he dragged him down here, he’s just as much of a pain in the ass as he looks.

The man chuckles, stretching his legs out in front of him like he’s lounging in a bar somewhere, not trapped in a kingpin’s personal prison in the middle of the ocean. “Well, I'm not dead yet,” he says philosophically, and gives Zabuza an assessing once-over. “No light?”

“I don’t smoke.” Haku hates the habit, and Zabuza values his mental health enough not to invite the wrath of his apprentice on a moral quest. Bad enough that Haku's already trying to change his eating habits.

“Shame.” The man tips his head back, checking the ceiling like he’s going to find something there besides mold and dripping concrete, and then says, “Well, Demon—”

Of course Kakashi would thoughtfully leave his name out of any stories. Zabuza rolls his eyes, irritated at all do-gooders and that one in particular, and says, “It’s Zabuza Momochi. Unlike you assholes, I don’t care about people knowing my name. Gets me more business that way.”

The hero’s mouth curves in a smirk. “Zabuza,” he allows, and meets Zabuza’s eyes. “Why’d you let Kakashi go?”

“Fuguki was late with my paycheck that week, and killing those kids is more trouble than it’s worth.” Zabuza folds his arms across his chest, dares the hero to call him on it. It’s even true, more or less; Kakashi’s quartet of sidekicks is a headache on a good day, and even Haku can usually only keep them occupied for so long. Fuguki’s not generous enough to inspire all the extra effort it would take to get rid of them permanently, either, and besides. He’s pretty sure they cause Kakashi more suffering than anything Zabuza could ever do.

It’s also possible Haku has a crush on the artistic one who’s fond of dick jokes, but Zabuza’s reserving judgement until he can decide whether it was the aftereffect of a concussion or not. He hopes it was the aftereffect of a concussion.

“I'm Asuma,” the vigilante offers, and his smile is a little crooked. “What’s your going rate?”

Zabuza arches a disbelieving brow at him. “I'm a mercenary,” he says incredulously. “Isn't there some kind of hero code against hiring mercenaries?”

“I'm more of a screw the rules kind of guy,” Asuma says, and then, “Got the time? Or a price?”

That question never bodes well, Zabuza thinks with a sinking feeling, but he glances at Haku, who checks his phone, then holds it up so Zabuza can see.

“Half an hour till midnight,” Zabuza says. “And more than you can afford.”

“I've got a day job,” Asuma retorts. “You sure you don’t want to try it?”

There's no possible way this can end in Zabuza’s favor, he thinks, strangling a groan. One thing to throw himself into a fight against a hero like Kakashi or any of his friends in that stupid hero league of his—that’s good fun, and Zabuza’s always up for throwing down with some strong people. But working for Fuguki is getting fucking old, especially in moments like this; the oversized bastard doesn’t pay Zabuza nearly enough to make temptation a thing he can resist.

“That depends,” he says, and meets amused dark eyes. “What’s it, in this case?”

That smirk shouldn’t be nearly as attractive as it is, but Zabuza’s always had an unfortunate thing for beards and men who wear them well. “Cushy bodyguard job by day, partner by night?” he proposes.

Zabuza’s willing to admit that sounds a hell of a lot more appealing than crawling around in the dregs of society watching Fuguki work out his manipulations. “Yeah?” he drawls. “And this person we’d be bodyguards for, they know you’re volunteering them to live with a couple of mercenaries?”

“I think he’s got a pretty good idea,” Asuma says dryly. “Come on, don’t you want a steady salary?”

“It come with dental?” Zabuza retorts, but he glances back at Haku—

An explosion rocks the prison, almost knocks Zabuza off his feet. In the hall Haku staggers, spins, and calls, “Zabuza!” in a tone that means there’s trouble inbound. “It’s Kisame!”

Damn. If Kisame and his band of vaguely reformed murderers is here, they're definitely after Fuguki. Zabuza doesn’t have faith that his history with Kisame will be enough to keep him out of the crossfire, either; Kisame's new boytoy is murderous and ruthless and also fucking possessive, and Zabuza would really rather not tangle with the teleporting asshole tonight.

In the same moment, there's a shout from the other end of the quadrant, loud and panicked, and Asuma chuckles. “They’re with me,” he says, as a girl shouts with fury. “If you think Copycat’s kids are bad you should meet mine.”

Haku's eyes widen, and he pauses, glancing back at Zabuza. Checking in, and Zabuza looks back, arches a brow. Haku just shakes his head instead of offering an opinion, and Zabuza snorts, because Haku always has an opinion.

“I thought you wanted a partner,” he says, even as he pulls the key to Asuma's chains from under his glove. Technically only Fuguki is supposed to have any keys, but Zabuza’s always believed in stacking the deck a bit. “If you’ve already got sidekicks—”

“The sidekicks are why I want a partner,” Asuma says dryly, but he leans forward so Zabuza can reach the cuffs. “Do you know what a headache three precocious teenagers can be?”

“No idea,” Zabuza says, and behind him Haku giggles. He rolls his eyes, even as the manacles click open. “I want dental, got it?”

“I think we can work something out.” Asuma's eyes flicker back to the door just as Haku cries a warning, and in a surge of muscle and black leather he whirls to his feet, grabbing Zabuza around the waist and hauling him back as the wall explodes into shrapnel. The door flies off its hinges, only just missing them, and Zabuza curses, flings out a hand and reaches.

Light sparks around his fingers, as red as blood, and with a rush of power Kubikiribōchō condenses out of nothing to land in his grasp. Zabuza sweeps it up, turns, brings it down with a heave, and the blade plants itself in the ground just in time to deflect a flurry of shuriken.

Damn,” Zabuza says, because he knows that attack.

“Friend of yours?” Asuma asks, amused, and twists around Zabuza’s side, brining his hands up to his mouth. An inhale, and a cloud of spinning black powder whirls out on his breath. Zabuza only needs to take one breath to recognize the smell, and he remembers Asuma's request for a light with a bark of laughter. Wrenching Kubikiribōchō from the ground, and heaves the blade up, slams it into the metal door where it’s half-crushed against the far wall, and sparks leap up. They catch the powder, and Asuma drags Zabuza back as it ignites with a roar of greedy flame. From in the mass there's a howl of pain, and Asuma grins as he rolls back to his feet.

“Keep manhandling me like that and I'm liable to get ideas,” Zabuza laughs, coming upright, and calls, “Haku?”

A pane of mirror-bright ice shimmers into being, and Haku slides out of it without hesitation, dropping to Zabuza’s feet and bringing his hands up. “Akatsuki is fighting towards the command center, Zabuza,” he reports. “I think the other intruders are still by the wall.”

Asuma sighs, running a hand over his hair and straightening his domino mask with an absent tug. “I wonder how Ino managed to convince the boys to get here early,” he says, though there's a trace of amusement to the words. He glances at Zabuza, one brow rising in challenge, and asks, “That mean you’re taking the job?”

“Want to see a copy of my résumé?” Zabuza challenges, slinging Kubikiribōchō over his shoulder.

Before Asuma can answer, a dark shape appears out of thin air, landing on top of the ruined wall. Behind the orange full-face mask, one dark eye narrows, and Kisame's new fucktoy says darkly, “Zabuza. I thought I smelled something slimy.”

“God damn it,” Zabuza says, snatches the back of Asuma's jacket, feels Haku grab his belt, and flings all three of them out through the smoke and into the hallway. Ice surges up behind them, but Zabuza knows a barrier like that won't do shit against Tobi, and he keeps moving, ducks through the open door on the far side of the hall and then leaps across the gap between the cells and the guards’ walkway beyond it.

Asuma chuckles as they land, gets his feet under himself and pulls Zabuza towards the docking area. “You must have pissed him off a hell of a lot,” he says.

“Ex’s new boyfriend,” Zabuza says in disgust, and jerks his head. “Haku, hop ahead, get us a boat.”

Another pane of ice appears, and Haku throws himself into it without pause, vanishing completely. The ice fades as they pass, and Asuma makes a sound of interest, glancing back. “Handy,” he says.

“He’s useful,” Zabuza says shortly, because anything else is going to wreck what’s left of his reputation. There's another explosion behind them, and he grimaces, but it’s more distant this time, edged with a familiar gleeful shout. Deidara, then—Zabuza doesn’t know anyone else who’s that passionate about explosives.

Asuma hums in a way that means Kakashi has definitely been running off at the mouth, grabs Zabuza around the waist, and launches them up into the air on a whirl of wind. It takes half a second to reorient, but Zabuza catches sight of a squad of Fuguki’s soldiers as they flip over, and by the time they land he’s already got Kubikiribōchō up and swinging. There's no reminder not to kill, no moral lectures as he cuts his way through them; if anything Asuma is in lockstep with him, twisting past the blade with footwork that’s nearly as good as Kakashi’s one ridiculous friend and slamming into a knot of men to knock them clear off the walk and down into the ocean far below.

“Kind of violent for a vigilante,” he calls, then grunts as a blade skims his ribs.

Asuma kicks the attacker who hit him off the ledge, then ducks as Zabuza flips the last on after him with a heave. “I said I didn’t like rules,” he says. “That’s why I'm not in with Copycat’s clique.”

Zabuza laughs, because he can just imagine Kakashi, with his loyalty to the police force and Commissioner Namikaze, butting heads with a vigilante like Asuma. It must be an entertaining sight. “Good in my book,” he says, and when Asuma catches his arm and pulls him towards the stairs he snorts. “You’ve really got a thing for manhandling,” he needles.

“Only when my partner’s into it,” Asuma says, amused. At the sound of a warning shout ahead of them, he rolls his eyes, then calls, “Ino, the kid with the mirrors is with us!”

A pause, and then a blonde head appears around the bottom of the stairs. When he catches sight of them, the girl lights up. “Sensei!” she says brightly. “We’re here to rescue you!”

“We, or just you?” Asuma asks dryly.

Hey,” an aggravated voice puts in, and a boy with a dark ponytail rounds the corner. “I had to spend an hour trying to triangulate your last message.”

“I thought it took you three minutes,” a second boy puts in, leaning around the corner, and offers Asuma a cheerful wave. “Hi, sensei.”

“Traitor,” the ponytailed boy mutters.

Asuma sighs like they're a trial, then waves a hand. “Zabuza’s apprentice should have a boat for us,” he says. “Let’s go before the other invaders notice we’re here.”

“Please,” Zabuza mutters, because he’s absolutely confident in his own abilities, but fighting Tobi is always a shitshow. And besides, Kisame likes the bastard. Zabuza would rather not make Kisame mad, either. Then he realizes what day it is and half-turns, even as Asuma pulls him on. “Fuck, it’s payday. Fuguki has my cash.”

“I’ll double whatever he’s paying you,” Asuma promises, and the slant of his mouth says he’s laughing at Zabuza, even as they follow the trio of sidekicks towards the dock. “You’re as much a miser as Kakuzu.”

Zabuza flips him off in offence, mostly at the comparison. “Fuck off,” he says grumpily, because he’s not about to tell anyone that he sends most of the money on to Mei and her vigilante crew. She’s cleaning up the riverfront, and she needs all the help she can get. “You’d better, asshole, seeing as I'm the one who broke you out.”

Haku raises a hand to signal them from his place at the helm of a speedboat. “I think they found Fuguki,” he calls over the low hum of the motor.

Zabuza glances out across the water, at the other arm of the crescent-shaped prison. Something’s burning, and in the flickering light he can make out familiar silhouettes, Kisame on one side and the massive shape of Fuguki on the other. Fuguki is carrying Samehada, but Zabuza has no illusions that this fight will go well for him. the members of their order only change through death, and a mystical sword previously owned by a god isn't going to be nearly enough to save Fuguki from Kisame. Not after the way he tricked and betrayed Kisame.

“Good riddance,” he says, vaulting over the railing. The blonde girl is up by Haku, leaning next to him with a smile, and the ponytailed boy is sprawled against the other, looking like he’s half-asleep except for the sharpness of his half-lidded eyes. Zabuza casts a look over them, then drops into one of the seats at the stern.

Asuma settles next to him, then glances at the two boys and asks, “Shikamaru, got my lighter?”

Shikamaru fishes around in his pocket for a moment before he comes up with it, tosses it across the boat and right into Asuma's hand. Asuma flips it open, takes a breath, and Zabuza laughs, tells Haku, “Let’s get out of here.”

As Haku sends them roaring away from the dock, Asuma's powder ignites, sweeping a cloud of fire across the side of the prison. It clings like napalm, settles on the stone and starts eating through it, and Asuma slouches back into his seat with a satisfied smile.

“Pretty good for a night’s work,” is his verdict.

The blonde laughs, leaning forward as her long hair whips out behind her. “Asuma-sensei, did you find a partner?” she asks delightedly.

“In prison?” Shikamaru mutters, but his friend pokes him in the side and he mutters a betrayed, “Chōji,” but subsides.

“I guess I did,” Asuma says, ignoring the boys. He raises a brow at Zabuza and asks, “You're still on board?”

“My other employment opportunities just went up in flames,” Zabuza says dryly. “If you're hiring, count me in.”

“Good enough for me,” Asuma says, and reaches up, pulling off his mask.

Zabuza takes one look at his face and groans, dropping Kubikiribōchō in favor of pinching the bridge of his nose. “Asuma Sarutobi?” he demands. “Fuck you, the mayor’s son?”

Asuma grins, like he’s delighted by Zabuza’s reaction. “I’ll forgive you for thinking I was just a rebellious playboy,” he says, “since that’s the image I was going for.”

Bodyguard is starting to look a lot more like arm candy,” Zabuza says suspiciously.

Asuma just shrugs, though he’s wearing a smirk that Zabuza wants to punch off. Probably. There's one other option that sounds good, too, but Zabuza would rather not catch a face-full of explosive powder when he kisses that stupidly attractive expression off Asuma's face.

“Long-term arm candy?” Asuma offers, amused. “And rich boys do have bodyguards, you know.”

“Most rich boys can't throw me around like I weigh as much as Haku,” Zabuza retorts, and waves his hand. Kubikiribōchō shimmers, then vanishes into motes of light that sink into Zabuza’s skin and fade away.

Asuma's brows both go up. “That’s a fancy way of hiding a weapon,” he says.

Zabuza gives him a grin that’s all teeth. “Seven swords gifted to humanity by seven gods,” he says, waving a hand. “Or some bullshit like that. Kubikiribōchō’s got a goddess of slaughter attached in some way. Fuguki’s Samehada belonged to the goddess of the sea.” Or, well, what was Fuguki’s Samehada. Zabuza has no doubt that the sword will be in Kisame's possession before midnight, if it isn't already.

Asuma looks mildly impressed. “Handy in a bodyguard,” he says. “Ino, would you send ahead? Get someone to make up the room connected to mine, and the one next to that too.”

“Sure,” the girl says cheerfully, but instead of pulling out a phone she drops down, crossing her legs under her, and forms a triangle between her thumbs and index fingers, with the rest of her fingers spread. A ghostly white light surrounds her in a rush, and a pale form rises from her body, then streaks into the sky and vanishes.

There's a beat of silence, and then Haku checks his phone. “I have service,” he says, perfectly mild.

Shikamaru makes a disgusted noise. “It keeps her from yelling at us for a few minutes,” he says. “Please don’t give her alternatives.”

Chōji laughs, and Shikamaru pokes at him again. As Chōji cheerfully introduces himself to Haku, Zabuza glances back at Asuma, only to find the man already watching him. “Room next to yours, huh?” he asks.

Asuma smirks. “You're my bodyguard now,” he says. “No one’s going to comment. And besides, I think you said something about getting ideas from all the manhandling? I can do it some more if that helps.”

Zabuza laughs, slinging an arm over the railing of the boat and leaning back. “I'm not about to object,” he says, then pauses. Sighs, and says, “Fuck it, Kakashi’s going to be fucking insufferable about me signing on with a vigilante.”

“If it makes you feel better, he’s dating an anti-hero,” Asuma says dryly. “He doesn’t have any room to throw stones about personal choices.

“No shit?” Zabuza asks, grinning. “Who?”

“One of the Bijuu crew.” Asuma frowns, clearly searching for a name, then says, “Kurama, I think is his name.”

Mei's worked with them, Zabuza is pretty sure. He’s also equally certain he’s heard of Kurama before, mostly in news headlines about whole blocks of the city being destroyed during the Bijuu’s fight with whatever soul they were after that week. Short, Zabuza thinks vaguely. And redheaded, maybe. Zabuza’s first impression of him was firecracker, but then, he’s only ever seen the news reports.

“I’ll be sure to give him shit about it next time I run into him,” he says, chuckling, and Asuma hums in approval.

“I think we’ll get along just fine,” he says, watching Zabuza with a cat-smug smile.

“I can think of worse endings to a night,” Zabuza agrees, and means it.