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Perception (Political Animals)

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Zabuza never asked for this. He did not ask to be dashing through the pounding rain at ass o’clock at night because Haku decided he should act completely out of character and then pant and shiver like a human who had just sprinted to safety away from a bear while feverish. And Mei would never let him live it down if anything happened to the damn beastie, so here he is running like a madman who had provoked a bear and is now running for his life.

 

There is a certain irony to the fact he couldn’t come up with better metaphors given that his day job is as a lawyer, but Zabuza figures he can give himself a pass just this once. Besides, the pet hospital is right there, and he is sliding through to the clinical blue-green waiting area in an instant. It is empty, thank whatever God that watched out for pets, so he goes straight to the front desk.

 

The silver haired nurse looks up from his ...porn? Zabuza has to do a double take, but no, that’s porn. What employee reads porn at work, or in public at this time of night - Zabuza resettles Haku in his arms, the tiny heart adding some relief that the stupid little beastie is still with the living. “Maa, maa, sir. What brings you round these parts this time of night?” The nurse is flirting,  possibly. Zabuza thinks? It’s hard to tell, he could just be making conversation.

 

“There’s something wrong with my cat. Fix it.”

 

It’s an almost 360 change from recreational confidence and passing the time to dangerously competent. “What’s the problem with -?”The book gets put down and Zabuza gets an eyeful of the badge and white coat that declares this ... pervert is the vet, not a nurse like Zabuza had initially believed.

 

“Haku. He’s acting weird.” Zabuza nods to the blankets he’s holding, then passes the kitten over when the vet reaches out for the bundle after a moment of hesitation.

 

The man takes one look at the kitten before buzzing open the door, “You’re going to want to come back. It’s gonna be a long night.”

 

Zabuza's hurrying just to keep up, though the vet has to be slightly shorter than he is from the half a foot of height taken up by that silver floof of hair. Hair like that is full of secrets and murder, as Ameyuri would say. Zabuza doesn’t like it. But it's the only emergency pet clinic in a half hour radius, so he's stuck. “What's wrong with him?”

 

“Looks like caffeine ingestion. Or chocolate, but either way.....” The vet smiles in a manner that should be cheerful but comes across as menacing as he snaps on exam gloves. With a few practiced movements, Haku is heaving the most disgusting thing into the steel emesis basin the vet is holding under his mouth. “Any chance he got into a unattended coffee cup?”

 

“I don't drink coffee!” The unimpressed look he gets in response is infuriating. “Look, I'm not that much of an asshole. Do you know the working conditions of Mizu coffee pickers? It's basically slavery.” Or more accurately a slow and painful death sentence wrapped up in the dressings of slavery, but the average vet wouldn't care.

 

A considering tilt as the man presses a stethoscope to Haku’s rib cage, listening closely. “What about tea? A cup of black tea can have more caffeine than a cup of coffee.” The vet does something,  and Haku starts retching onto the exam table.

 

Oh, fuck. “Yeah. Black tea. But Haku couldn't have gotten into my thermos, it's covered.” But his black tea is looseleaf, and they’d all been putting off getting a jar with a tighter lid for months.

 

“Well, he might have gotten into the tea storage. It would explain the leaves in his vomit.” A purple gloves finger pushes through the vomit, before stripping off the gloves and trashing them. “If it's all the same I'd like to keep him for observation.”

 

“Overnight?” Zabuza watches closely as the man pulls a saline IV bag and a jar of activated charcoal tablets. The tablet is surrounded by a tuna treat, and carefully fed into Haku’s mouth, then while his cat is distracted the IV needle slipped in and taped on. There didn’t seem to be obvious reasons to kill his cat, but it never hurt to make doubly sure.  

 

“If you wouldn’t mind,” the vet pauses from where he is taping on a cone of shame. “I’ll need to make sure Haku gets everything out of his system and then doesn’t have an adverse reaction. Is he up to date with all his vaccines, or have any medication allergies?”

 

“He's got all his vaccines, and no known allergies.” Zabuza looks over the paperwork the vet is passing over, then signs.

 

The vet nods briefly, back to listening to Haku’s heart. “I'll call and give you an update in the morning.”

 

Makes sense, all his contact info is in the microchip in Haku’s neck so the vet can pick that up easy. Zabuza bids his farewell and heads back to his apartment.

 

The call comes as he's arguing with Kisame about how to handle the latest case - his friend, for all his bulk and general menacing aura, made an amazing PI, but Yagura’s accountant, Giichi would be able to spot Kisame even in the thickest crowd and would spook before the police could close in. Kisame understandably had a personal stake in tracking the accountant - the man had embezzled treasury money, but more pressingly had ordered Mangetsu tortured so he would give up the location of the swords so he could sell them. “Look, brother, you're walking a fine line. We need him alive; we need his testimony for an international tribunal.”

 

Ameyuri agrees from where she was teleconferencing in from Uzu, pressing the island nation to levy even harsher tariffs on Mizu for recent government condoned piracy and pillaging on the outermost Uzu islands. “Kisame, brother, Giichi dealt with you more than any of us. Send Chojuro - He might be freshly promoted, but he has the skills and won't be suspicious.”

Kisame grinds his teeth, either baring his teeth or snarling, “Chojuro is protecting Mei this rotation.”

 

Zabuza swears, “And Jinin and Kushimaru are tied up in court.” Which left Jinpachi, but Jinpachi was making a recon run deep into Mizu and wouldn’t be back for at least a week, maybe more.

 

He’s saved from having to offer to rock-paper-scissors the issue with Kisame and Chojuro by a knock at the office door. Suigetsu pokes his head in, “There’s a Doctor Hatake on the line for you?”

 

“Who?”

 

Suigetsu repeats himself, “A Doctor Kakashi Hatake. He says he’s the person you took Haku to last night?”

 

Kisame and Ameyuri both nearly deafen him with their simultaneous screeches of horror, but for vastly different reasons.

 

“Haku is sick?!”

 

The Kakashi Hatake?!”

 

Zabuza glares at them both, but exits his office as they bicker about which of their statements is more important. He grabs the cell phone Suigetsu is holding. “Zabuza Momochi speaking.”

 

“Mr. Momochi, glad to catch you. This is Doctor Hatake. Just wanted to let you know Haku is doing fine, and should be ready to be picked up by this afternoon. There are no signs the caffeine made any permanent damage, but you should still make sure Haku doesn’t get into any more to be safe.”

 

“Thanks for saving the little beast, I’ll be by shortly.”

 

“Glad to hear it, see you soon.” That voice cheerfully held either threat or promise, and Zabuza isn’t sure which he wanted it to be.

 

He’s in for a tongue lashing when he re-enters his office. Ameyuri is ready to burst, and Kisame’s hands keep lifting like he’s ready to reach for where Samehada should be but isn’t. Zabuza sympathizes - he misses the comforting weight of Kubikiribōchō strapped to his back. But their swords had been stripped long before they had to flee Mizu, and they may never reclaim them as long as the military backed Yagura and kept him in power.  

 

“Were you going to mention you had met the top military advisor to the President of Hi no Kuni any time soon?” Ameyuri starts around wet coughs, as firebrand as her hair declares.

 

Zabuza had wondered why the name had seemed familiar - but the Hatake clan were famous anyways, it could have been other name recognition. Still, “He was the vet on duty at the emergency clinic. And he didn’t exactly give his name.”

 

Kisame sighs, “And why would a Spec Ops Commander be a vet?” Zabuza can guess - the Hatake are famous both for their wars dogs and their breeding business, and it’s cheaper to have an in-house vet than to have to send off for one - but keeps his mouth shut. “‘Yuri, do you think Namikaze is -?”

 

“Doubt it. Namikaze has been firm in sanctioning Yagura, his administration has been lobbying the Diet to recognize Mei as the rightful leader of Mizu on top of taking on more refugees than any other of the Nations. He wouldn’t revoke our refugee status, or our law licenses, or passports over nothing.” She swallows back a handful of pills dry, and Zabuza swallows too - swallows back the iron tang of rage. There was no hell tormentful enough to hold Yagura, not after all the things he had done, and even if Zabuza had to wear his “Demon” title in truth and follow the man down to ensure Yagura reaped what he sowed for eternity, he would do it in a heartbeat.

 

He sees Kisame’s scarred flesh twitch sympathetically. “If you’re quite done, I need to go get Haku.” He sees his brothers-in-arms open their mouths to speak. “ Cat Haku, Haku still has a month and a half left to his semester abroad in Tetsu no Kuni.” Their faces fall. Why they like his adopted son so much is a mystery - Haku is a little punk and knows it. “I’m headed to the clinic, leave a memo if there’s any decisions. And get a better damn lid for the tea!”

 

It’s not like either of them have any final say in anything anyways - as long as Mangetsu is alive and able-bodied, neither of them have any standing to countermand standing non-life endangering orders. And Mangetsu will choose Chojuro to go and investigate Giichi because Mangestu isn’t an idiot and Kisame will have to just shut up and follow Mei around while looking menacing. Not like it’s hard - Swordsmen weren’t known for being soft - but Kisame got closer to the “rescue stray cats” type than any of the rest of them. Fuguki had despaired .

 

It’s a longer walk to the clinic this time - the carrier is heavy, and there’s no sense of urgency. Haku will be fine whether or not he gets there in 5 minutes or 15. Unless this Hatake is incompetent, in which case Zabuza knows more ways to kill a man without Kubikiribōchō than with, and plenty of ways of that subset that look like accidents.

 

He enters the cool of the pet hospital with something like trepidation fizzing along his nerves. The Swordsmen were - are - polarizing figures within Hi no Kuni; some citizens did not care there were trained assassins and killers seeking refuge in their country. Zabuza couldn’t blame them, even if they were willfully ignoring all the corroborated reports of human rights abuses taking place in the isolationist dictatorship that was Mizu no Kuni. Plus, Zabuza had tried to kill Yagura, even though he had taken an oath to protect the rightfully elected leader of Mizu no Kuni and uphold the Constitution thereof.

 

The waiting room is relatively full, with a handful of open seats placed at subprime locations. Zabuza is careful to keep his teeth covered when he speaks to the receptionist to check in - his filed teeth were a major give away to his identity, and it wasn’t precisely weird to speak with his native northern Mizu accent but it was notable since it was a rare accent even within Mizu. But it kept his teeth from showing, and it meant he could sit in peace until his name is called by nurse.

 

An Inuzuka, Zabuza decides, based on the clan marks. Odd to see one working closely with a Hatake, given their families’ rivalry, but it isn’t worth much of note. Hi no Kuni is weird about it’s Clans and their supposed rivalries - there weren’t any notable blood feuds that resulted in actual blood spilling in the streets in over a century. It certainly made Hi no Kuni safe , but boring.

 

Not the Mizu no Kuni would be any more interesting, not after the Clan Purges. Zabuza swallows back the bile burning his throat at the accidental remembrance of the hundreds of bodies paraded through the streets as if their slaughter should be celebrated. As if their defiance at saying “no” to Yagura’s power grabs were treason, and that they had gotten their just rewards in death or being sent to the mines or the coffee farms or the quarries. Zabuza clenches his fist purposefully, the carrier handle squeaking alarmingly, and reminds himself. He would one day soon use Kubikiribōchō for its original purpose for the first time in decades, and if he had to spill oceans of blood to get to that point, he would. Until then, uphold his Oath of Office.

 

Or, what he can of it. Can’t exactly protect and uphold the Constitution of Mizu no Kuni from Yagura from here in Hi no Kuni, but that’s why they had become lawyers. Zabuza settles against the sanitary plastic chair in the examination room, carrier balanced delicately across his knees. He’s not waiting long when there’s a knock on the door, and then a shock of silver hair pokes in. Matching eyes follow, then charcoal grey scrubs and an armful of orange, grey tabby, and cream calico. “Nice to see you, Mr. Momochi. Haku here is back to full health, but due a booster soon, so you should bring Haku back in a month or two for that.”

 

Zabuza collects his cat, and the little hooligan purrs up at him from where he’s rubbing his head against Zabuza’s hand. “I’ll make an appointment for that at the front desk.”

 

Doctor Hatake smiles blandly, “Also, did you know Haku is a girl? We had a moment of confusion this morning when we thought we had mixed up animals.”

 

Of course Haku is a girl. He is a calico-tabby genetic chimera - the probability of him being male was 1 in 3000 or something else uniquely rare. “Yes I know my cat is a female member of the species Felis catus.” An eyebrow raises at the good doctor. “And as a calico, he’s unlikely to not be female. Aren’t you a vet?”

 

Apparently the doctor knows when he’s being sassed. “Well played Mr. Momochi.” He opens the door and gestures for Zabuza to precede him. “If you would be so kind?”

 

The name irks him, “Zabuza, please. Thank you again Dr. Hatake.” Zabuza knows basic manners - Juzo had drilled it all into his brain when he was still an apprentice, and Zabuza has never forgiven the man.

 

“Kakashi, then.” Kakashi’s grip is firm, rough and nicked with scars and divots. Zabuza knows the scar of a mishandled serrated combat knife - probably escape training. “It’s certainly interesting to meet a Swordsman though. Which one was yours?”

 

He takes a moment to weigh the vet - mild curiosity, but nothing antagonistic, just blunt and to the point. As if he were noting the weather conditions rather than asking after a deeply personal and precious fact. Zabuza can respect his balls for asking, but still fixes him with his coldest stare. “Kubikiribōchō. The Executioner’s Blade.”

 

Another moment of sizing Zabuza up, then a careless shrug. “Huh. Would’ve thought Kabutowari with those shoulders.”

 

Zabuza mentally tallies the vet points for knowing the difference, then nods his thanks once more before exiting the hall into the reception to settle the tab and make Haku’s vaccines appointment.

 


 

Zabuza has put his encounter with the strange Hatake out of his mind for a solid two weeks when he gets another call at his office. Kushimaru has been pacing between his and Jinpachi’s desks frantically, clutching Magetsu’s phone like a lifeline. “Brother, you pacing isn’t going to help anything, much less your expectancy for being alive when Jinpachi comes back.” Jinin doesn’t look up from where he’s writing a poisonous dissent against a recent Mizu Supreme Court “ruling” that undermined the Fundamental Statutes of the Mizu Constitution, but his words are just as heavy as his hammer - a threat and a promise that has Zabuza hiding a smile. They’re all keyed up with waiting, and a good fight would settle all their nerves.

 

“Brother you try waiting for -.” Kushimaru cuts himself off, and with good reason. Swordsmen foreswore themselves everything but their duty, and while Kushimaru and Jinpachi weren’t a secret, they weren’t even technically an acknowledgeable thing much less legally married. Kushimaru takes the hint for what it is though, and collapses into a plush velvet couch.

 

A quick glance over tells Zabuza that the badly healed leg breaks are bothering Kushimaru again, and he beans Kushimaru in the head with the physical therapy instruction pamphlet in response. “Do your physical therapy stretches asshole.”

 

The colorful swears he gets in response are drowned by Suigetsu poking his head in. “Zabuza, Dr. Hatake is on the line for you.” The again is unspoken, but in the dead eyed stare Suigetsu levels at him.

 

Jinin stares at him over his reading glasses, “Did you have to take Haku back to the vet?” Considering that Haku is on his feet doing his best impression of slippers, Zabuza can understand the concern. Sick cats get laps or something else inane Ameyuri had declared.

 

“Not yet, the appointment is in a month.” Zabuza takes the phone and ignores the deja vu. “Zabuza Momochi speaking.”

 

“Do you know where your friend Jinpachi is?”