Zabuza draws the hood of his cloak down a little more over his eyes, scanning the spaceport for any hint of a familiar face. The lack of anyone he knows isn’t enough to settle him, though; there’s every chance that Yagura could have contracted out, since Zabuza sure as hell pissed him all the way off when he tried to take his head.
“I don’t feel anything,” Haku says from beside him. He’s looking, too, the line of his shoulders tight, and Zabuza hates that Haku is here again, a hunted thing, even after escaping the genocide on his home planet. Even after ten years as a Sith’s apprentice. All because Zabuza got overconfident, couldn’t kill Yagura despite all his years of training.
“Yeah,” Zabuza says shortly. “Neither do I. Keep your head down.”
“With you standing next to me, I don’t think I need to,” Haku says mildly. “No one would pick a small target like me over a huge target like you.”
Zabuza rolls his eyes, but keeps moving, leading Haku around the very edge of the spaceport. The whole planet is jungle, and right past the edge of the landing area is nothing but dense, thick green. Once, before the war started, there used to be a Jedi temple in there somewhere, but last Zabuza heard, Madara led an attack on the place himself. There’s probably not much left of it.
“Keep that up and we’ll see just how well you remember all those evasion lessons,” he says, unimpressed, and pauses between two long-haul freighters. Checks the time, and grimaces, because their contact was supposed to be here almost half an hour ago to sell them a ship. There’s no sign of her, though, and somehow, Zabuza is guessing she’s not just running late. He’d thought this planet was far enough beneath Yagura’s notice that the Sith Lord wouldn’t have people here, but apparently that was an empty hope.
“Zabuza?” Haku asks quietly.
Zabuza doesn’t look down at him. “I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” he mutters, curling his fingers against the hilt of the lightsaber he keeps up his sleeve.
Haku’s eyes widen faintly, and he takes another look around the spaceport. “Should I comm Pakura again?” he asks. “Or see if I can find her?”
If she hasn’t showed up by now, Zabuza is pretty sure she’s not coming. It’s understandable, distantly—she has a bad history with Sith, and with Sith from the Kiri system in particular, so Zabuza’s definitely not high on her list of favorite clients. Either that or something scared her off, and Zabuza doesn’t have high hopes for getting out of this unscathed if something managed to run off one of the angriest, most competent mercenaries he knows.
“No, stay close,” he says curtly. Reaches out, touching the currents of the Force around them, and tries to get a read on the tension twisting into a knot in his stomach. Anger lends clarity, fear brings focus; he concentrates, breathes, and—
With a deep hum, his lightsaber blazes to life in a wash of red, blocking the blaster bolt aimed at his throat. Snarling, Zabuza blocks two more, then lifts a hand, sending the next shot careening into the side of the closest freighter. There’s an explosion of smoke, a crash, and he spins on his heel, heading for the jungle at a run. Haku is right on his heels, and around them the air goes cold, the humidity disappearing in a rush as snow forms. Not subtle, but it’s enough to give them cover, and Zabuza is hardly about to argue with that.
“Get us a speeder!” he snaps, and Haku instantly veers off, keeping low and heading for the main building. Zabuza goes the other way, skirting the edge of the forest until he finds a narrow, overgrown road, and takes it. Haku will be able to follow their training bond to find him, and like he said, Zabuza makes a better target. Especially with his lightsaber out.
The Force sings a warning in his head, and Zabuza ducks to the side, lets a bolt take out a tree as he changes direction. Another hits the dirt right in front of him, and Zabuza grits his teeth, turns, slashes a hand down. With a groaning creak, a tree cracks, falling down to block the path, and Zabuza uses the barrier it makes as he listens, waits. Tries to catch any hint of movement beyond, but whoever it is must be good at moving silently, at hiding their Force signature; all Zabuza gets is the bright hum of energy from the spaceport, the—
A figure drops from above, jetpacks blazing, and Zabuza snarls, sending a wave of force to sweep the bounty hunter out of the air. He crashes sideways, rolls up even as he takes three more shots, and Zabuza has to duck one, block another, and let the third skim across his shoulder as he lunges. The bounty hunter recoils, leaping up, and Zabuza’s blade just misses him. He has to dive behind a tree as another shot nearly takes his head off, and he curses the man’s aim, wishes for his own blaster, abandoned back on Yagura’s ship.
“You really think this payday’s going to be worth it?” he snaps, narrowing his eyes. Feels the Force shift, just faintly, as the man lands again. This time there’s a flicker of a Force signature; the bounty hunter is Force-sensitive, at least enough to know where to aim. His next shot blazes past Zabuza’s cheek as he darts to another tree, and Zabuza hisses, but ignores the drip of blood down his face, the way the bandages he’s been using to cover half his face start to sag as they give way.
There’s a laugh, quick and bright. “I really do,” the bounty hunter says cheerfully, and with a click his helmet disengages. “Yagura is willing to pay through the nose if someone brings him your head, and I figure that’s not too hard.”
Zabuza knows that voice. Breath tangling in his lungs, he jerks his head up, looking into the trees, because where Minato Namikaze goes, there’s always—
Catches red hair and a wicked grin as Kushina Uzumaki aims her bowcaster at him from the tree she’s perched in, all red hair and menace and fire.
Yeah, Zabuza will take his chances with her husband.
Throwing himself out from behind the tree, he hits the ground, rolls, and grabs a small boulder from the ground. It hurtles across the road, slamming into Minato as he raises his blaster, and he goes flying back with a cry, right over the edge of a steep incline. At the same moment, Kushina shouts in fury, and Zabuza dodges left, picks up a run, and leaves her to collect her hunting partner.
He’s half a second too slow, though. There’s a crack, and it takes an instant for the pain to register but when it hits, Zabuza almost goes down. A metal bolt, encased in plasma, takes him in the side, and it feels even worse than getting run through with a lightsaber. Zabuza strangles a cry behind his teeth, staggering as his legs give way, and he hits the ground on one knee, trying to breathe through the agony. Darkness swims behind his eyes, and the press of the Force is abruptly something hungry, ready to drag him down. But—
“Zabuza!” Haku cries, and it takes an obscene amount of effort but Zabuza staggers back to his feet as the speeder bike comes to a sharp halt in front of him. Haku makes to slide off, but Zabuza shoves him back on instead, hauls himself onto the back, and all but collapses over his apprentice.
“Go,” he growls, and Haku casts him a look but doesn’t argue. A moment later, the speeder bike is flying down the road, hopefully leaving the bounty hunters in the dust.
“Zabuza?” Haku asks, and Zabuza can hear the fear in it. “Who were they?”
Zabuza grunts, closes his eyes. Braces himself for an instant, and then presses a fold of his cloak hard against the wound. It makes his vision grey out for a moment, but Zabuza can’t feel the bowcaster’s bolt, so it hopefully went right through.
“Bounty hunters,” he manages. “Kushina Uzumaki, a survivor of Uzushio, and her husband. Fucking bloodhounds, both of them. Keep going, and skip the next spaceport. They’ll be looking for us there.”
For a strained moment, Haku doesn’t answer. Then, quietly, he says, “If we do that, the only other spaceport is on the other side of the planet.”
Not somewhere they’ll make it with a speeder bike, Zabuza knows. And using public transport means records, documents, a hell of a lot more risk. But.
He closes his eyes, trying to think, and curses Yagura again. “Find a place to hole up,” he says. “We’ll stay in the area, try to set up another meeting with Pakura.”
From his silence, Haku doesn’t like that idea much better than the first, but he nods, turning the speeder bike down a long, narrow, twisting lane that’s mostly overgrown. “Where?” he asks.
Zabuza thinks of the last place two Force sensitives will look for a pair of Sith, and laughs raggedly. “Old temple,” he says, and knows Haku will be able to find it. The miasma of death and betrayal is loud in the Force, especially to users who don’t choke off all of their emotional senses.
“Okay,” Haku says, and that tone is all the bloody, furious desperation Zabuza saw in his eyes so long ago, the sole reason he dragged a little brat out of the snow and trained him as a Sith. Slumped against Haku’s back, he lets out a breath that’s almost a laugh, wrapping an arm around his waist.
Like hell Yagura was going to send Haku out alone after the Jedi. Attempting to gut him was the only kriffing choice Zabuza had left.
He fights the darkness that’s dragging him down, beats it back viciously, determinedly, but it’s too much. His vision greys, fades, and he closes his eyes and falls down down down.
Haku can feel the wet stain spreading across the back of his shirt, the heavy, boneless weight of Zabuza’s body slumped unconscious behind him, but all he can do is fix his eyes ahead and keep going.
There used to be roads to the Jedi temple on this planet, but in the eighty years since Madara attacked the jungle has grown up to reclaim everything, and it’s hard for Haku to find even the barest hints at the old paths, especially on a quickly-moving speeder bike. The dense growth makes navigating at any sort of escape speed impossible, too, and all Haku wants is to turn around, race for the spaceport, find Pakura and beg her for help. He doesn’t let himself waver, though; with bounty hunters after them, there's no way he’d make it more than a few paces into the ‘port before they were caught.
Zabuza’s idea of hiding in the old temple will hopefully give Haku access to their medical wing, if there’s anything remaining. It will be enough to save Zabuza, Haku is sure of that. Desperately, greedily certain, and if he stops to think too hard about it his hands will start to shake, but—
There’s no possibility that Zabuza will die before Haku does. It’s what Haku is for. It’s why he became Zabuza’s apprentice to begin with. Someone finally saw worth in Haku, in a moment when no one should have, and now Haku will gladly give his life to make sure that person keeps existing.
Grimly, Haku picks out another faint depression in the forest floor, twists them sharply around a stand of trees, and—
A bowcaster bolt slams into the engine, and the speeder bike goes out of control in an instant.
With a cry, Haku wrenches at the controls, but there’s no hope of correcting in time. In a blur of green and speed and far too much force, the bike crashes headlong into a tree, and Haku is thrown free. He tries to grab for Zabuza, but there’s no chance, no way; his fingers slip, and a fraction of a second later he’s landing hard, rolling across the forest floor and slamming spine-first into a half-rotted log. The impact knocks the wind out of him, expels ever ounce of air from his lungs, and it takes a precious second for Haku to scramble back to his feet.
The speeder bike is a smoking wreck of tangled metal. Zabuza lies in the middle of the trees, perfectly pale and motionless, and Haku staggers, but runs for him just as a figure emerges from the thick undergrowth.
“Easy, easy,” the blond bounty hunter says, raising his hands. Empty of a weapon, but there’s a blaster on his belt and Haku knows how good he must be to have been hired by Yagura. “We were only contracted for the Sith master. You’re free to go. He won't come after you.”
Haku almost wants to laugh. Deliberately, slowly, he plants himself in front of Zabuza and draws the lightsaber attached to his belt, falling into a combat stance. “I will never leave Zabuza,” he says, and glares, daring the man to come and try to take him.
With a rustle of leaves, a slim form drops down, landing beside the man. Kushina straightens, head cocked as she studies him, and then smiles. Haku has no idea what she is, but that look is more terrifying than it has any right to be given the expression’s standard meaning.
“You’re cute,” she says cheerfully, and slings her bowcaster across her back. It would be a relief, but she draws a vibroblade, flips it around, and grins at Haku. “Loyal, too, you know? You're a fighter, and I won't patronize you by showing mercy.”
Haku doesn’t let himself waver. He doesn’t like to fight, but—violence is useful, and violence is something he’s good at. Just—maybe not good enough to face two professional bounty hunters alone, with his master hurt and unconscious and vulnerable.
The odds are terrible, and with their speeder bike a smoking wreck, there's no chance of escape.
“We just want to find somewhere safe,” he says, and the words are hard to get out of his throat. “We just want Yagura to leave us alone.” And it’s not entirely true, but it’s what Haku wants, so it’s true enough.
Kushina pauses, purple eyes almost a tangible weight as she studies Haku. “Your master is all we want,” she says. “You can have that, you know? Just walk away.”
“If you think I can do that, you’ve never felt loyalty to anyone,” Haku says quietly, viciously.
Kushina's mouth tightens, and she huffs. “Minato,” he says, and her husband smiles and lifts his blaster.
“Yes, dear?” he says cheerfully. “Like before?”
Kushina twirls the vibroblade in her hand. “It worked before, you know? Okay, go!”
She moves, low and quick like a feline, and Minato's jetpack hums to life. He soars up, but Haku doesn’t have a chance to track his trajectory; Kushina is on him in an instant, as quick with a blade as Zabuza when they’re training and just as ruthless. She’s grinning, predatory and delighted, and the flash of Haku's scarlet blade can only just counter each hard slash, the quick twists of her body as she ducks and darts. She’s pushing him back, and Haku tries to hold his ground, tries to keep his back to Zabuza but—
With a thud, with a wash of heat, Minato lands behind him, and Kushina's vibroblade comes to a stop an inch from his throat as Minato’s blaster touches the back of his head.
Haku stills, caught. His breath shakes when he pulls in air, and he stares at Kushina over the glow of his lightsaber, trying to think. They already saw his trick with the snow, must have already realized that his species has extra abilities, and like this they can kill him before he even twitches.
“Sorry, kid,” Kushina says, and it almost sounds as if she means it. “But Sith infighting’s good for the rest of us, you know? Getting rid of one of Yagura's best underlings will help the whole galaxy.”
“He’s mine,” Haku says, and doesn’t mean the words to come out as desperate as they do. “I don’t care about the galaxy, I care about Zabuza.”
“Well, I have to admit we care about the galaxy more than one Sith,” Minato says behind him, light and almost joking, but there's an undertone of steel that makes fear curl down Haku's spine. “More than one Sith and one Sith apprentice, even.”
“Every Sith gone is another domino towards Madara falling,” Kushina agrees, and her gaze is steady. Not cold, not hard, but—somehow that’s even more terrifying. “Sorry, kid. Nothing personal, you know?”
And then, soft on the damp earth, there’s a step.
“It’s a dark day if I'm really seeing two Jedi-trained adults threatening a child,” a man says, and in the darkest part of the shadows, a figure moves. A tall man, in heavy robes with the hood pulled up, but underneath—
Those are Jedi tunics in cream and brown, and the air around Haku goes cold enough that snowflakes whirl past them, out of place in the humid jungle.
Kushina cocks her head, and there are marks spreading across her face, like smears of paint rising to the surface of her skin. Orange and red and gold, framing her eyes, and her pupils shift, contract into thin slits.
“You're a Jedi,” she says.
The man pauses, halfway into the light. “Once,” he says, wry and tired. “But I remember well enough how to stick my nose into matters that don’t concern me. Like this one.”
“We’d rather not hurt a Jedi,” Minato says frankly, and he still hasn’t shifted his blaster away from Haku's skull. “We don’t want to hurt the boy, either. The man is all we want.”
The stranger makes a sound that’s half disappointment, half censure. “And what do you think Master Jiraiya would say if he could see you now, Minato?” he says, and the sound of Minato's sharp inhale is obvious in the quiet.
“Hey,” Kushina says, just loud enough to be a threat. “You’d better keep moving, you know? We’ve got a bounty to fill, and I'm running out of patience.”
Another careful pause, and then the man chuckles. “An Uzumaki,” he says. “And given your age…one of Mito's padawans? But you must have left the temple before you finished your training, if you're not fighting on the frontlines right now.”
“The Uzushio temple was destroyed,” Kushina says sharply. “And there are ways to fight that don’t mean we’re making ourselves pawns of the Senate, you know? And you can't talk about fighting! You're just hiding out on some Outer Rim planet, like a coward! I bet you’ve been here since Madara sacked the place!”
“Kushina—” Minato starts, but the man laughs, pained.
“Not that long, quite,” he says, but shifts, and draws the hilt of a lightsaber out of his sleeve. “But you're right. I am hiding. I haven’t forgotten myself enough to stand by and watch two former Jedi attack a child and a defenseless man.”
“He’s a Sith!” Kushina hisses, and the air around her suddenly burns. Haku yelps at the heat, jerking away, dropping down, and it’s almost a surprise that Minato doesn’t take his head off. Instead, he whirls, firing two shots at the Jedi as Kushina lunges low and fast. Both go spinning off, though, and Haku takes advantage of the opening, twisting and bringing his lightsaber up in one hard sweep that cuts the blaster right in half. An instant of concentration has long icicles like needles condensing out of the air, and lets them fly right at Minato's face, then bolts past him as he recoils and throws himself back in front of Zabuza.
The hum of a lightsaber igniting draws his attention, just as a shining white blade cuts straight through Kushina's vibroblade.
“Leave,” the Jedi says, not loud, not forceful. Just a command, low and steady, as he twists around the swipe of a hand tipped with claws. “Kushina, leave this place. I saved Mito's life once, on the battlefield. Are you going to make me claim a blood debt?”
That, of all things, makes Kushina pull up short, a growl vibrating from her chest. “You’d go that far for a pair of Sith?” she demands, but lifts a hand. “Minato, wait.”
Just rising to his feet, Minato pauses, watching her. “Kushina?” he asks, and that frown is sharp.
“We have a contract,” Kushina tells the Jedi. “And we’re not the only ones Yagura hired. If you’re really going to waste a favor from my whole planet on saving one man, that’s your own business, you know? But if either of them leaves, they're fair game.”
“That’s fair,” the Jedi says evenly. He steps back, deactivating his ‘saber, and says, “I'm invoking a blood debt your matriarch owes me. Leave these two in my care and remove yourselves from the planet. And I expect you not to reveal their location to anyone, either.”
Kushina scowls at him, but nods. “Fine,” she says. “But this pays the debt. You can't call it in again.”
“I know that,” the man says easily, and turns his back on her without any apparent concern, crossing to Haku. “Is he still breathing?” he asks.
“Yes,” Haku says, a dare directed at Kushina and her husband more than the Jedi. “He’ll be okay if I can stop the bleeding.”
The Jedi nods, and from under his hood Haku can see the flash of a smile. “I have a store of bacta back at the temple,” he says. “I’ll carry him.”
Something in Haku's chest feels like wings, like relief rising and taking flight. “Thank you,” he says, and a callused hand rests on his shoulder for a moment before the man crouches down. He lifts Zabuza with a bit of effort, but less than Haku would have expected, and he heads into the jungle without pausing, never looking back.
Haku isn't so composed. He glances at where Kushina is watching them go, still strange and predatory with those marks curled across her face, and she’s scowling but she makes no move to follow.
Satisfied with that, Haku slides his lightsaber back onto his belt and hurries to follow the stranger, more than willing to take any help at this point, even if it’s from a Jedi.
Waking isn't nearly the trial Zabuza expects. Instead of pain and Haku's field dressings, there’s a press of heat against his skin, the faint hum against his nerves that means bacta is working. He’s on something soft, and there’s sunlight on his face but no immediate jungle sounds, and—
The feel of that Force presence has Zabuza jerking, shoving up as he reaches for a lightsaber that isn't close at hand. Pain shatters through him, a sharp shock, and he gasps before he can help it, curling forward over the bowcaster wound as it pulses.
Warm hands close over his shoulders, and rather than slitting his throat, the Jedi presses him back to the bed with a quiet, “Easy, you're fine, I'm not going to hurt you. Just breathe, you're all right.”
There's no way he could have missed the black robes, the red lightsaber, but there’s no sense of imminent danger. “Haku,” Zabuza demands, even as he lets himself be guided back, and when he looks up, it’s into a bearded face, white-haired from genetics rather than age. Grey eyes watch him, steady and forthright, and the Jedi smiles.
“Your apprentice is asleep,” he says. “He hovered for long enough that he wore himself out, and I told him to use the padawan room.” A tip of his head indicates the door in the wall across from them. “He’s uninjured, which is impressive for having held off two Jedi-trained bounty hunters until I could get to you.”
Zabuza lies where he is for a long moment, trying to make sense of that. Draws a breath, lifting a hand to rub at his face, and then carefully props himself up on his elbows. It makes his stomach twinge, but not enough to concern him.
“You're a Jedi,” he says incredulously. “Why are you helping us?”
The man pauses, then smiles crookedly. “I’m afraid,” he says softly, “that I'm not a very good Jedi.”
Zabuza scoffs. “If you're thinking that’s a downside where I'm concerned, you're an idiot,” he says. “What, you actually recognize that you’ve got emotions and sometimes you want things for yourself? Karking terrible. How can you live with yourself.”
There's a moment of complete surprise, and then the Jedi laughs. It’s a rough sound, unpracticed, but bright, and he leans in, smiling.
“See?” he says. “I'm nothing close to a good Jedi. I think a Sith is sweet.”
“You don’t know me or you wouldn’t be saying that,” Zabuza retorts, but he lets himself settle against the mattress, easing the strain in his stomach, and lets out a breath in relief. “This is the old temple?”
The Jedi inclines his head. “Kushina and Minato left the planet,” he says. “But I'm afraid if you try to do the same, they’ll continue chasing you.” Something wry touches his mouth. “Queen Mito owed me a debt, but the Uzumaki are stubborn. I'm sorry.”
For a long moment, Zabuza weighs responses, then closes his eyes. “Don’t be,” he says roughly, and it stings, but—it’s not the end of the world, either. Zabuza can adapt, can adjust. At least being able to hide out on a planet without as much risk of being found will give him and Haku time to train, time to recuperate. And comms still work; there’s nothing stopping Zabuza from continuing his string pulling from this backwater, even if it will take a little longer to arrange things. He can funnel credits back to Mei, at the very least; she’s ruthless even for a Sith, and if he can get Kisame to crawl out of whatever hole he’s fallen down with that Grey Jedi group he joined, maybe help her overthrow Yagura—
Taking a breath, he opens his eyes, and feels steadier, more settled. “Thanks for the save,” he says. “Zabuza Momochi. Guess you can count me as another person who owes you a debt.”
“That’s not why I saved you,” the Jedi says firmly, but when Zabuza gives him a narrow look he chuckles softly, raising his hands. “I'm Sakumo Hatake.”
“Well hell,” Zabuza says, and sits up again, even though it hurts. Stares at the man for a long moment, because of all the people to potentially stumble across in the wide galaxy, the former Jedi Council member who went into exile over the fact that he had a child, that he put teammates before a mission—he’s just about the last.
“I see my reputation precedes me,” Sakumo says wryly.
“That bush growing on your face threw me off,” Zabuza retorts. “You’re pretty clean-shaven in the Council records.”
Startled, Sakumo puts a hand up to his beard, then chuckles. “I suppose you have a point,” he allows. “There isn't much of a reason to get tidied up out here. It’s not as though a lot of my former colleagues are dropping by.”
“They’re idiots,” Zabuza says harshly, and means it. “You loved someone. Like hell that’s a bad thing.”
Sakumo's gaze flickers to the door to Haku's room, then back to Zabuza, and he raises a brow. “Love is a powerful force,” he says mildly.
It would be easy to deny it, deflect. Instead, Zabuza meets Sakumo's eyes squarely, and says, “Yeah. And if that means not leaving people behind, it’s for the better.”
For a long, long moment, Sakumo stares at him. Then, softly, he laughs, running a hand over his shaggy hair. “A very bad Jedi,” he repeats, to himself more than Zabuza.
It’s aggravating. Zabuza snorts, dismissive, and says, “So? You’ve still got the Force. You’ve still got your lightsaber. And you’ve still got your morals, or you wouldn’t have saved our asses. Isn't that enough to make you a good Jedi? So knock off that shit, it’s annoying.”
“Well,” Sakumo says, and the weight of his gaze is almost startling. “I suppose that’s one way to look at it.” He glances away, then rises to his feet, folding his hands into the sleeves of his robe. “You should sleep,” he says, but his expression is conflicted, distracted. “Call me if you need anything, Zabuza.”
Zabuza lets him leave, and doesn’t try to call him back. That’s probably enough hits over the head for one night. He can hold the rest of his observations about Jedi stupidity back until the morning.
When Zabuza staggers out of his room in the morning, leaning on Haku but otherwise mobile enough, it’s to the sight of Sakumo at the table, cleaning the components of his lightsaber. He looks up at them and smiles, and Zabuza pauses.
“Nice face,” he says, because the absence of the beard is all too noticeable, and underneath Sakumo still looks precisely like his Jedi Council photo, handsome and smiling.
That makes Sakumo laugh, and he rubs a hand over his chin. “I figured trimming the shrubbery a little wouldn’t hurt,” he jokes.
Haku looks from Sakumo to Zabuza, judgment clear on his face, and then tells Zabuza, “I’ll let Pakura know we don’t need a ship out of the system.”
“Brat,” Zabuza mutters, knowing precisely what he’s implying, but doesn’t protest when Haku helps him into the chair across from Sakumo.
Maybe being stuck on this planet won't be the worst thing that could have happened to them.