Dead On Arrival
A Xenocide Production
AN: Hey there guys. After a particularly scathing, but correct review, of the previous version of DOA, I decided to take it down and work on it some more. I would like to thank that anonymous reviewer who went out of their way to point out that I was no longer taking this fic seriously. Hopefully the changes in this new version will convince my readers that I still want to finish this fic, though it might take me 5 years to do it at this rate. --
Enjoy and review…..please?
Disclaimer: The Daily Bugle Headline: "Fanfic Author Does Not Own Naruto! Hangs Self in Protest!"
Chapter Seven: Belly of the Beast
The night was still.
Silvery white fog ghosted through the near empty streets of the once lively shopping arcade. It whispered into every nook and cranny that it could find, inexorable and all encompassing. It filtered into the city from the docks, as though the very sea itself had sent tendrils of its soul onto the land.
Stalls were empty, doors were bolted, and refuse from the day's transactions littered the cobbled street.
Darkness had somehow taken over, whilst the people had quietly drifted away in the tide of the day, gravitating to the warmth of their homes and the safety of the hearth.
Down a ways from the docks, in the more prosperous parts of the port, there was a pub. It had a homely look about it, and it just so happened to be the only pub on the capital island of Wave Country that was for sailors only. The Leviathan, it was called, and a crudely etched eye adorned the wooden sign that hung sullenly above the door. Warm light spilled out from the windows, and raucous laughter to coarse jokes could be heard even through the thick stone walls.
Inside, a roaring fire and endless supply of sake was more than enough to ward away the chill of the night.
"—and then 'e says, 'I'd sell me own mother for a bit of that codpiece!'"
A ragged chorus of laughter erupted from the bar.
As per usual at eventide, all of the sailors on shore leave, in addition to a good deal of former seamen, had gathered in The Leviathan. It was a cozy little place, full of old knickknacks and souvenirs that sailors had picked up in their travels over the years. There was the piece of the Kraken's skull, one of a million pieces that old, drunken Nagi claimed to have stashed in his house. Worth a fortune, they were. They all patronized the old man, but it was still nice to have something to remember the old tales by. And there was a weathered cutlass hung gallantly over the mantle of the fireplace, a heirloom of the days before the formation of the Elemental Countries, when Corsairs roamed the islands and the cutlass was much preferred over the kunai. Bits of colorful glass and other assorted baubles hung around the candles and small chandeliers, showering the patrons with a flash of color from time to time.
Unlike many other pubs in the area, The Leviathan was not an institution of ill repute. Despite the fact that it catered to a much rougher clientele than your average citizen, the pub had always maintained a respectable look and reputation, though it was still not exactly a place you would want to bring kids or your lady to.
The Leviathan had a code, unwritten though it was, and woe betides the sailor or greenhorn guppie that broke it. The owner, a jolly, rotund old man by the name of Marui, had come up with a very simple set of rules.
One: Leave your problems at the door. Life's shitty enough without having to listen to someone whine about it.
Two: Pubs are for getting drunk, plain and simple.
Three: The first punch you throw gets you a beating. The second gets you blacklisted. And there had better damn well not be a third.
Most everyone agreed that those three simple rules had contributed to The Leviathan's success. Of course, you had a few dissenters that tried to test the pub owner's patience every now and then, but for the most part, Marui never had any trouble out of his patrons. Sure, they were a rowdy and rough bunch, with a mouth on them that would make their own mothers roll in their grave, but they were a decent sort, the kind of sailors that Marui was proud to have frequent his establishment.
Marui ran a quick eye over the crowd, smiling at old Kobu's storytelling antics and his racy jokes.
He noted the few loners, the ones who hunched over their drink as if to protect it from those who would snatch it from their grasp. One such figure was sitting at the end of the bar, a delicate hand, peeking slightly out of the voluminous sleeve of a hooded cloak, curled slightly around a small shot of weak sake. He furrowed his eyebrows in thought as he watched the hooded figure demurely take a sip. A slight frown marred his jolly visage as he considered the only loner of this evening's group.
She had arrived earlier in the evening, around six or so, and planted herself in a seat away from the usual crowd.
It wasn't that he disapproved of a girl coming into a pub. Not at all, as a matter of fact. He knew that a woman could be very capable of taking care of herself. He had a few scars from his youth to prove it. No, the only thing that worried him was the trouble it could possibly cause. There were a lot of guppies just back from their first trade run, and they were cocky and sure of themselves to the point of arrogance. Six months at sea had also whetted their appetite for a lady's company, though the ladies in question were far from deserving of the title. If they were to become interested in the only female in the room, then trouble would appear faster than a case of Concubine's Blessing.
She had just been sitting there for the last hour or so, obviously waiting for someone, but it seemed she had been stood up.
Marui was a good man, and an all around nice guy, but he had to get rid of that girl before she caused any trouble. He had a track record of twenty years without an all out brawl wrecking his pub. He intended to keep it that way. Grabbing a small bottle of cold sake, he ambled down towards the far end of the bar, nodding to his patrons and promising extra rounds in just a minute, if only they could wait one bleedin' moment!
He stopped in front of the girl and poured a small amount of the small of sake into her glass. She looked up at him, smiled a gentle smile, and Marui's breath was stolen away by the girl's beauty. Pale, alabaster skin, wide, mournful dark eyes, flowing dark locks, and a smile that would make Kami-sama melt on the spot and offer her heaven and earth in a neat little bundle.
Oh, she would be trouble all right.
He shook his head slightly, as if to clear the haze of her beauty from his mind, and queried in his warmest voice, "What do a pretty little thing like you be doin' in a rowdy place like this? This no be a place for a lady."
She laughed lightly, a silvery laugh that belonged to the wind or some such deity, and answered amusedly, "A lady? I suppose I am at that. If you must know, I've been waiting for someone for quite a while now." She paused and a slightly anxious look marred her beautiful features. "I'm starting to get worried. He has never been this late before."
The barkeep scowled. What kind of a man left a girl in a place like this? Even if she could defend herself, it was the principle of the thing!
"Perhaps that man of yours needs a bit o' sense beaten into him. If you were mine, I would no leave you in a strange bar that do be filled with rough men."
The girl waved her hand demurely as a light blush suffused her cheeks. "Oh, it's not like that at all! I am his apprentice and he is my master. He was visiting an old friend while I was gathering supplies for our next voyage." She glanced at the door for a moment, as if hoping to see whoever she was meeting stride through. "We were supposed to meet here at six which was a good—"
"Hour ago, if my clock do be accurate."
He leaned slightly towards the girl, beckoning her closer. "I do hate to be rude, miss," he whispered hoarsely, "but I'm afraid you cannae stay here much longer. The night crowd do be beginning to trickle in, and most of 'em are just brainless guppies who don't know how to act around a lady."
The girl sighed sadly, and it was all he could do not to grab her by the shoulders and promise her the moon if only she would be happy!
That would be bad thing on a list of many other bad things. His wife being at the top of that list.
"At least let me have another fifteen minutes." Her eyes had somehow turned into raging whirlpools of sorrow and despair. The pitiful look on her face was enough to melt even an Iwa nin's heart into a gooey puddle. "Then I promise I'll leave."
Marui nearly staggered under the weight of her doleful gaze, barely registering his surroundings, his entire being focused on the rapturously beautiful girl that was near to tears because of him.
"Ah! Well—yes, of course—no troub—stay as long as you like—yes!"
The poor man could barely get out a coherent sentence as he hastily tried to reassure the girl that she could stay as long as she liked. Flustered and out of sorts, the bartender awkwardly took his leave, leaving behind the small bottle of sake in his haste to return to his clamoring customers. A few of the raunchier sailors took note of his complexion and called out a few lewd suggestions as to where he got the blush that suffused his cheeks.
Marui's cheeks darkened, but not from embarrassment. "Ye bloody bilge rats! I'll toss you out on your arse, if I do be hearing you say such slander again!"
The men clustered at the bar and the nearest table roared in amusement, laughing at the misfortune of their jolly patron, and turned back to their drinks and jokes, unwilling to risk Marui's wrath.
Haku shook her head in belated amusement, then anxiety stole over her features once again as she shot a glance at the door, hoping against hope that Zabuza would walk through, a smirk on his face and a mischievous gleam in his eyes. Disappointed, she turned her gaze back to her drink, half-heartedly sipping the rough alcohol and grimacing slightly at the taste of it.
"I am going to kill that man when I see him!" She muttered darkly to herself. "Really, are all men so inconsiderate? I only ask that he be in place on time, and what does he do!? He—"
Then, a horrified expression comes over her face. "Oh, gods! Now I'm even starting to think like a woman!"
Haku buried her face into the folded sleeves of her robe on top of the slightly dirty countertop and proceeded to groan as if she were in immense agony. Which in a way, she was. He was. Whatever. The strain of her recent gender-bender—and here she shuddered to realize that such a crude name for a misfortunate happening actually applied to her. Him. Aw, fuck it—had finally caused a slight crack in her façade of propriety, and damned if she wasn't going to enjoy her last fifteen minutes in this smelly little pub.
She propped her chin up in the palm of her left hand and proceeded to mockingly toast her current fortune. "To the Underworld and its infallible reputation as being unerringly efficient and omnipresent." She downed another gulp of the torrid grog and noted in annoyance how full the cup still was. She offered up another toast of praise. "To Zabuza-sama and his damningly infuriating tendency to get me in deep, deep shit." She downed the rest of her sake in one fluid motion, hardly noticing the foul taste that time.
Haku's cheeks were slightly pink, partly from the intake such a large amount of alcohol, of which she was not used to in the least, and her loose tongue, which before that very moment had been unsullied by curses of any sort. Had Zabuza been present, he most likely would have been amused at how quickly Haku had lost her sobriety, and shocked at finding Haku even drinking in the first place. But Haku didn't care how Zabuza might have viewed her in that very instant. She was, for the time being, a teenage girl. And damned if her hormones and girly tendencies were going to act accordingly.
……fuck it all.
She grabbed the sake bottle Marui left behind and filled her cup up. She had approximately twelve minutes left before she had promised to leave the Leviathan. She planned to get as drunk as humanly possible before then.
Zabuza rotated his shoulder blade stiffly as he slowly meandered his way out of the alley that led to the back Kibinna-jiji's workshop. He still couldn't believe that he was up on his feet so quickly after having been administered the antidote for poison on the ex-ANBU's modest home security system.
Zabuza snorted indelicately as he rounded the corner and started down the deserted street. Home security system? What a load of bullshit! He'd seen less fancy contraptions built into a Hokage's formal Antechamber.
The old man's poison rivaled some of the most terrifying shit he'd come across in Kusagakure, and that was most definitely saying something. Kusa-nin were sadistic bastards, and they had concocted to date approximately 684 different poisons, each with their own symptoms, mode of death, and delivery system. Foreigners had a nasty habit of dropping dead in midstep or in the process of lifting a bite full of food to their mouths. He had been careful to remind Haku to always prepare a day or so amount of food if ever they passed through.
If he were a believer, he'd be thanking Kami-sama this very moment for the old man's foresight to cook up some antidote. Otherwise, he'd be back in the Underworld for Round Two, and most likely another two and a half years of waiting until he could explain how the hell he managed to snuffed out by an old man and his toys. Gods, the humiliation!
Kicking an empty sardine can down the cobbled way, he wondered wryly how could he be an atheist if the very existence of an Underworld, complete with spineless Shinigami and Lord Hades himself, had been proven to him? Even now, he couldn't bring himself to truly believe in the existence of a Heaven and a Hell.
Ninja for the most part did not indulge in religious practices, mainly because part of their training actively discouraged anything that would hinder a young shinobi's molding into a cold, calculating killer. His sword, and the blood it spilt, was really the only thing he believed in. And Haku, who had been there for almost longer than he cared to remember, his willing tool of death.
Zabuza chuckled hoarsely to himself. Honestly, the only reason he was going through all this trouble was for his ward. Haku was still so naïve to the ways of the world, err—the Underworld now, he supposed. Without Zabuza there to take care of the brat, no doubt Haku would let himself become a doormat for those sodding poofs up in those poofy clouds of theirs. And it really would be quite troublesome to have to fight his way out of Hell, if such a place really existed.
It was a conundrum. He was skeptical of the existence of fiery damnation and poofy salvation, even when faced with the undeniable reality of a middle ground between the two, especially since he was running an errand for the Lord of said middle ground, yet he was fighting for the supposed salvation of his soul, if only to make sure that he could keep an eye out for the kid. It was an extremely confusing situation for the missing Mist-nin. Best to focus on one thing at a time. He could sort out his evangelical preferences later, if he had any. He almost had half a mind to kick this Hades guy's ass, just for making him expend so much energy. He was supposed to be dead, for Kami's sake! Being dead involved a nice nap under the earth, and seventy nubile virgins to tend to your every whim. Or at least, that's what that guy in the turban had said.
He shook his head. It was kind of sad that his death was more exciting than his life.
He turned in the vague direction of the waterfront, still rotating his shoulder unconsciously, trying to loose some of the stiffness. That antidote had worked with surprising swiftness, reducing his coma-like state to mere drowsiness and burning away the excess poison in his veins to nothingness in mere minutes.
Truth be told, even Kibinna-jiji seemed to be surprised that the antidote worked so quickly. The last person he'd tested the poison out on had taken a week to recover, and even then the man could hardly stand without feeling light headed and slightly dizzy. Was this the power of an Underworld replica? Or whatever the hell they called it?
He smirked in a thoughtful manner. This might have some interesting impact on his battle strategy. If he had an accelerated healing factor, how much damage could he take in the line of fire before he had to worry about permanent damage? Not even the mighty Copy Nin Kakashi could take him out if his body was damn near immortal!
Accelerated healing. Those words latched onto the forefront of his thoughts and seemed to niggle in irritation there. Why did that sound familiar? Did it have something to do with the Kyuubi? Or was it the demon's container? He had a feeling that there was something, not terribly important in of itself, but something that was a small part of the puzzle, something that would make this assassination of theirs that much harder if he couldn't figure it out.
The sound of faint cheering reached his ears, and he absentmindedly adjusted his course to take him closer to it, and incidentally, to the pub where he was definitely late to meet Haku.
His steps faltered and he paled. Oh, shit! Just how late was it, anyway? He looked up at the stars, and with a drain of color, noted it to be roughly one hour after his promised meeting time with Haku. If there was one thing that she (thank Kami he'd finally gotten in the habit of using the right pronoun) hated, it was tardiness. That was one thing he had never had to drill her in during her entire apprenticeship with him. Haku was almost a clock herself, and it more than irritated her whenever he was not punctual. The last time he had been late to a meeting in the market with her had almost traumatized him. The cold stares and suspiciously ill prepared meals for almost two weeks after the incident gave him more than enough incentive never to do it again.
And now that Haku was a woman? His heart clenched and then dived for relative safety in his stomach. This was going to be worse than the time he took Haku to the Red Light district.
Fear giving him the energy and strength to ignore his still sore shoulder and slightly wobbly legs, he dashed for the location of the pub, guided by the raucous din that no doubt belied a gathering of salty old sea dogs in a place like the Leviathan. He rounded a corner frantically, just barely clearing a rubbish heap, then raced down the street until he sighted the peeling and faded sign of the Leviathan.
He halted in front of the door, the noise near to deafening at this point. Swallowing his nervousness, he opened the door, preparing himself for a long lecture and the Silent Treatment afterwards.
The sound of merriment was almost a tangible slap in the face as he quickly stepped in and shut the door. A few men turned around and noted with disdain his dirty clothing, but then turned back to the source of their entertainment. There was a crowd of men in front of the hearth in the far corner, clapping loudly to a light sea chanty and roaring in time to the music.
Zabuza elbowed his way to the bar and leaned in to catch the sleeve of the bartender.
"HEY, OLD MAN!" Zabuza had to shout over the noise. The bartender slid a few drink down the countertop and turned to the irritated man. "HAVE YOU SEEN A YOUNG GIRL 'ROUND HERE!?"
The round man cupped a hand over his hear and Zabuza had to almost shriek his question, which would have totally been unbecoming of a ninja of his caliber and standing, and a look of comprehension came over his face. The bartender blushed a bit, yelled something unintelligible over the noise, and then gestured in the direction that all of the men were facing. He then turned back to his customers.
Zabuza faced the sea of human flesh with a grimace. He certainly did not want to press his way through a bunch of moldy old men whose concept of personal hygiene consisted of a little rain and sandscrubbing. He looked around, and spying a rickety, unoccupied, old chair, hopped upon it and craned his head over the masses.
His eyes bugged out and his skin flushed red. His jaw dropped open and all internal brain functions ceased to operate.
There was Haku, drink in hand, red in the face, laughing and dancing on top of a shaky table, and down to the skin tight underclothes she had no doubt purchased in market that day.
He noted distantly that Haku liked penguins, of all things.
And then things just went to Hell in a handbasket from there.
Even though there wasn't such a place. Really.
The grizzled ex-ANBU was closely examining Zabuza's zanbato, his beloved Headcleaver.
He tutted softly at the condition of the fearsome weapon, rust pits, deep nicks and all.
"For shame, Zabuza. I thought you had more respect for your weapons than this." He grunted as he flipped it over to pore over the other side. "Damn thing looks as if it's been buried somewhere for the last two years. Didn't you even bother to clean it?"
The rust was pervasive but not reversible. The nicks and scores in the blade could be polished out in time. All in all, Zabuza's Headcleaver was in decent condition, even if the bastard's love for his zabato had waned. Kiten absentmindedly fished for a patch of steel wool in one of the huge drawers beneath his bench.
He had some time to kill until Zabuza brought back that lad of his, so why not begin the restoration process? In any case, once he had cleaned the sword up, he'd be having a word with that Zabuza about taking care of a weapon. A man's weapon was the only thing that kept him alive in the field, after all.
Haku awoke the next morning to glaringly bright sunlight pouring through a grimy, round widow and a pounding headache.
The sound that issued from between her lips was not something meant to be produced by the human vocal chords and the spike of pain that the sound of her voice induced in her head was testament to that fact.
She sat up slowly and tried not to lose the contents of her stomach when the small, cramped little room began to sway back and forth. There was this infuriating rushing sound that seemed to swell and recede in time with the rotation of the room.
"Fuck." Eloquence had not often escaped Haku and at this moment in time, she didn't much care. Oh, what in the hell had possessed her to start drinking? She never could handle her alcohol back before…
Haku pressed a fist to her forehead. Everything before the last five minutes was rather fuzzy. She stumbled to her feet and nearly fell flat on her face. The room was swaying badly now and it was all she could do to keep her balance.
Zabuza. Where was Zabuza? He could make her feel better and tell her what had happened last night. Lurching across the room, she reached the door only to have it swing open. Strong hands caught her shoulders and steadied her before she could fall.
"Slow down there. You shouldn't be out of bed. I wouldn't be surprised if you drank half of the alcohol out of the old man's taps."
Her vision was blurry, but when she looked up and squinted slightly, she caught sight of her still unmasked mentor. It was still quite odd to see him without his customary wraps. She put one hand on his arm to steady herself and the other reached up to grind against her temple again. The excruciating pain she had felt when she first awoke was gone. Instead, a dull, steady ache throbbed in the depths of her skull.
"Oh, Zabuza-san. My head feels as it did after one of your old training sessions."
Zabuza smirked slightly. "Well, I never knew that you were one to indulge in one of my favorite vices."
Haku glared menacingly at the older man. Unfortunately, her tousled hair and pitiful look did nothing but to make her seem as if she were pouting. The room pitched rather violently and she was thrown off balance and into Zabuza's chest. Not trusting her senses, she leaned her head against his chest and groaned in suffering.
"Everything's swaying back and forth. I thought things were supposed to spin after you got drunk." The room pitched again and Haku's faced turned a rather pale shade of green.
"Idiot." Zabuza patted his ward's head fondly. "You get dizzy while you're drunk, not when you have a hangover." He was desperately trying to ignore the fact that she was dressed only in the only spare shirt that he had and it was far too big for her, hanging off of her tiny frame. He hadn't dared attempt to dress her after dragging her from that damnable bar. "Jiji helped us secure passage to the mainland. We should be arriving at the continent in day or so."
Haku went absolutely still and then drew back from him. Zabuza didn't know whether or not he should be disappointed or delighted. He settled on a happy medium.
"The only way to the mainland," she uttered slowly, "is by island-hopping on a ferry or taking a merchant ship."
"Yeah…" Zabuza drawled as if speaking to an idiot. "Your point being?"
She swallowed harshly and the pale shade of green became far more distinct. "I was under the impression that we would be island-hopping."
The Kirin in scowled harshly, annoyed. "Why the hell would you think that? Island-hopping would tack on an extra week to our journey. That's too much of a hassle." He leaned nonchalantly against the doorframe. "Besides, Jiji had some contacts in the smuggling business and got us the fastest ship on the trade routes."
"You mean…we're on the open sea?"
Zabuza nodded. "Yep. We should put in to port in a day or so."
Haku's face twisted in horror. "We'll be on this ship for two days!?"
"Yeah…got a problem with that?"
Haku opened her mouth to speak and promptly projectile vomited the contents of last's nights reveling onto Zabuza.
He reached up to wipe a bit of gods-knows-what from his cheek. "Seasick?" he asked in a conversational tone.
Haku could only groan and nod, swaying in misery.
Someone was going to die for this. In as painful a way as he could imagine.
All right, True Believers. Been quite a while since I've updated. I hope to get back into the swing of things. This chapter was mainly out of practice and a way to get my juices going. Let me know how horrible it was, and what I need to improve, no?
Concubine's Blessing? Just made it up on the spot. I thought it was a rather ironic name for a disease given by the…..ladies of ill repute at various establishments.
Is there something going on between Zabuza and Haku? Or am I merely toying with your fragile psyche?
Don't forget those watchful eyes that was mentioned at the end of Ch6. In the next chapter, we'll be exploring their origin.
Flashbacks are useful.