The sequel to Sand Trails! If you haven’t read that story—this one will probably not make much sense. I mean, you could try… but I don’t think you’ll have much luck.
Love, endless devotion, and many joyous nights are dedicated to Ariel, my co-writer. Without you, this would never have been possible.
Welcome all, to Upgrading!
Dorms were… interesting. Different. It was chaotic in any case.
Itachi stood to the side, letting several male students rush by. They were chattering loudly about, of all things, properties of tomatoes—Sasuke would have approved. He couldn’t tell if they belonged to a culinary course or a chemistry group. Shrugging, Itachi pushed off the wall and continued down the hall.
College life was refreshing in a way. Not in terms of hygiene—the dark-eyed teen skirted a random sock—but in terms of populace. Or specifically, how the populace reacted to him. It was nice to be a random face in a crowd. The only reason other students avoided bumping into him was because of the large box he carried in his arms.
Most of them avoided him anyway.
When he had moved into his dorm room several days ago, he had had the unfortunate experience of being shoved in the stairwell. Only because Kakuzu was also helping him move, and thus was beside him, had saved the Uchiha from dropping his books on the steps. The teen that had knocked into Itachi had found himself pressed into immediate service as a pack mule that day. Kakuzu had given a very convincing statement, and an intimidating one.
When the impromptu helper had first stepped into Itachi’s dorm, he had nearly dropped the books himself. Apparently, he had felt that suddenly finding a big blue shark-like teenager in a room was startling.
Kisame had laughed. At that time, the blue teen had been installing shelves up on the walls and had been holding up a hammer with several nails held in his mouth.
Or maybe it hadn’t been the shark that had startled the student, but Hidan who was also there.
Hidan who had, at the time, had a tie around his neck and was gagging to get a rise out of Kisame. Of course, the albino was twice as delighted to startle the poor kid, and had spent the rest of the day doing everything in his power to freak him out. Needless to say, Kakuzu hadn’t bothered to stop him.
As Itachi stepped into his girlfriend’s room—one side of which was piled with boxes while the other was immaculately unpacked and cleaned—Sakura let out a loud, ear-piercing shriek and leapt back from the box she’d just opened. A squirrel dove out and scampered under the bed.
Ino—on the other side of the room—yelped when it tried to dart under her feet to get to the other bed. They still hadn’t figured out whom said bed belonged to, as Sakura’s roommate had not yet made an appearance.
“I’m going to MURDER that—that MASOCHISTIC ASSHOLE!” the pink-haired girl seethed.
Smirking openly, Itachi shook his head. “He may actually enjoy that.”
As the pinkette whirled to face him, he quickly placed the box down on the floor and fled with a few parting words: “Masochist remember?”
The door swung shut.
“And then I’m coming after you!” Sakura yelled after him.
Ino burst into a fit of giggles and threw a book at Shikamaru, whom had dozed off in the corner. “Hey, lazy! You’re supposed to be going through the books, not sleeping on them!”
One brown eye cracked open. “I did.” He waved at the pile. “By class and alphabetized. What more do you want?” Wasn’t his fault there was only room for one person in between the desk and the bookshelf.
The blonde quirked a brow at her friend, and then pointed at the box Itachi had just brought in, smiling sweetly. “New stock,” she replied, and winked at him.
Sakura snickered before going back to the box of trinkets she’d been about to go through.
When had that come in? Grumbling, Shika rolled to his feet and reached for the box. He heaved it over to the desk by Ino and opened it. And blinked. “Uh…”
Shika reached out, snagging Ino. “Can you, um, get the books out for me? I’m gonna take a walk… I-I’ll be back in five minutes. Maybe more.” He ignored the indignant squawk from the blonde. “Bye!”
And the door swung shut again.
“No blood on the carpet,” Sakura said, waving her friend off.
Ino made a face. “Uhg, not worth it. Where’s Sai? I thought you said he was on his way?”
“Something about pizza.”
Pause. Frown. “Sakura, are you looking at a porn mag?”
Sakura squeaked and hid the magazine, looking at her friend. “What? No! Of course not!” she said quickly. Too quickly.
Ino smiled evilly. A moment later she started to laugh. “Found out why Shika ran,” she burbled. “Oh my! Black and red lace… unpadded! Forehead Girl! I’m impressed.”
Sakura was across the room in less than five seconds, jerking the box away from her friend. “I’ll get this one, thanks, Ino-Pig,” she said, face red enough that it clashed with her hair. “You can unpack the trinkets.”
Completely unfazed, the blonde held the matching red thong in two hands, smiling wide. “Where did you find these?” She asked mercilessly. “They are HOT! Or did a certain Uchiha buy them for you?”
There was another shriek of outrage as Sakura dove forwards toward her friend.
This time the door swung open.
To reveal a redhead with titanium piercings, striking gray eyes, and a faintly frustrated expression.
Both girls froze, eyes wide as they met his gaze. As those steely eyes lifted, locking on the underwear. As he blinked and looked back at their faces. “Uh.”
Sakura giggled nervously. “Um.”
He backed up, looking at the number on the wall, and cleared his throat without looking back in. “Have you seen Konan?”
“Konan?” Sakura echoed stupidly.
Whisking the underwear into a back pocket, the blonde blinked. “No one else but us for the whole morning. Is she supposed to be here?”
“This is the room number she told me,” he deadpanned, looking into the room once more. He glanced at the bed behind Ino, and sighed. “And that’s her stuff. You sure you haven’t seen her?”
Sakura nodded slowly, closing the flaps of the box after she’d set it down on her bed. “Yeah, I’m sure. Guess that answers our question on my roommate.”
Silence for a beat, before Sakura coughed. “Uhm, but if we see her, we’ll let you know.”
Rolling her eyes, Ino grabbed her cell from the table. “So! What’s your number?”
The redhead blinked, and looked at Sakura, who giggled again. Then he looked back at the blonde. “Not to be rude, but who are you again?”
“The girl who will be calling you when Konan shows up?” the blonde responded guilelessly. At his flat look, Ino sighed. “Yamanaka Ino.” No need to say that his girl had knocked her down once before in their old high school; Konan probably took out dozens of poor souls in a week.
“Hm. I’m Pein,” he replied, and glanced out the door as if hoping his girlfriend would round the corner. She didn’t. “Well, give me your phone and I’ll put my number in.” He stepped into the room and stopped at the end of the bed, hand held out expectantly.
Ino quirked a brow, but handed over her cell. “Think her phone’s out of juice?”
He added himself to the contacts list and shrugged. “Or she’s pouncing some unsuspecting girl in a bathroom,” he replied, apparently unbothered by this thought.
Sakura blinked. “Seriously? I mean… she really does that kinda thing?” she asked, eyes wide.
Pein handed Ino her phone back, looking at Sakura. “Yes.”
“Wow.” Holding up her hands at looks from both parties, Ino shrugged. “What?” Sakura was going to have a very interesting college experience. That was for sure! Seeing how it was Konan though, the blonde didn’t envy her.
Sakura made a face and wondered if she’d have to start carrying mace. Pein smirked at her. “Good luck with that,” he said unsympathetically. “Later.” He turned away and left.
Wandering over to the distressed girl, Ino slung one arm around her friend’s shoulders, the lacy thong dangled from her other hand. “May want to hide this. Permanently. Or at least until Konan is in a different country.”
“Do you know where I can purchase a steel chastity belt?” Sakura wondered faintly.
Which was what Itachi and Shikamaru heard as they both walked into the room.
When Hidan got home from work that night, the apartment was silent. His brow furrowed as he checked his watch, but Hinata should have been home an hour ago. He grimaced as he tugged off his shoes and put them on the shoe-rack by habit.
He was still getting used to the thought that, starting next week—when Kakuzu officially started staying in his dorm—he’d be living alone with his girlfriend for the duration of Kakuzu’s first semester of college. Not that this bothered him at all.
He smirked at the thought as he wandered through the darkened hallways, searching for the girl who was always on his mind these days. Without Kakuzu coming and going, they had privacy, something he took great joy in pointing out to the easily embarrassed Hyuuga.
“Hinata?” he called softly. The kitchen and living room had yielded no results, so he headed down the hall toward the bedrooms and bathroom.
Over in the tub, Hinata was drowsing until she heard Hidan’s voice.
Muffling a squeak, she snapped her eyes on the door. The unlocked door. Shit! She was only going to take a shower, but had succumbed to the lure of a good long soak. The hazy plan had been to be out, dressed, and poking at the fridge’s contents by the time the albino made it home.
Should she speak up? If she did, he would know where she was. If she didn’t, he might just walk in looking. Either way, footsteps paused on the other side of the door.
“You in there?” he asked, tapping the door. No answer, so he reached for the handle, half to make sure she was okay and half to get a peep if she was in the tub. The doorknob turned easily in his hand, and he pushed it open.
Three things happened at once: a shouted “No looking!”, the slam of a shampoo bottle hitting the side of the door, and the rattle of the shower curtain being yanked across the rail.
He snickered. “Aww, you’re being shy,” he teased, pushing the door open totally so he could lean against the jam. He peered at the closed curtain and clucked his tongue mock-chidingly. “I think I see your naked foot.”
Sunk down to her chin in lukewarm water and bubbles, Hinata glared at the shadow being cast on her only protection from prying eyes. “If you don’t turn around right now and walk out, that’s all you’ll be seeing naked of me for the rest of the day,” she growled. “And shut the door.” The candles on the counter wavered from the cooler air flooding in.
“So if I do walk out, I get to see you naked?” he asked, tone smug. The door clicked shut without another word, and his footsteps receded.
Pearly eyes blinked. I hadn’t… Huh? There’s no reason for him to expect… Meeping, she dunked her heated cheeks under the water.
Seconds after, she emerged gasping. Huddle in mortification later, she told herself. But lock the door now!
Later, when Hinata was slumped against a locked bathroom door with a black beach towel wrapped around her, she thumped her head against the wood.
This is so backwards! Reaching out, she flicked on the light. Most girls were already sleeping—no, the least she could do was say it in her head—having sex with their boyfriends well before moving in with them.
Well, here she was. She had moved out with Hidan. She still had a room of her own… still slept in her own bed… still shy…
Groaning, she slid down to the tiles and closed her eyes. Why was she so shy? Hell, if she weren’t her, she’d have shaken her head and pitied Hidan.
I’m living on my own. Doing what I want. Hinata paused, and then thunked her head against the door again. Do I even know what I want?
Hidan seemed to be okay with waiting: he teased, he pried, he peeked. And for all her embarrassment, Hinata was relieved that he was still interested.
I just wish I knew what I was doing!
First things, first. Get off the floor. Sighing, Hinata pushed herself up. She couldn’t just hole up in the bathroom all night.
Candles extinguished, bathwater draining, towel tucked around her tight, Hinata peeked outside. Coast is clear… In fact… something smelled really good…
Clothing had priority, she reminded herself, and tiptoed into her room down the hall.
Hidan was making omelettes when she finally came out into the kitchen. In fact, one was already on a plate and steaming, while he was pouring the mixture for the second into the pan. He turned. “Hey there, goddess. Hope you’re hungry.”
“Definitely,” she replied, moving up to hug him. It was funny how much confidence came with having layers between her skin and his eyes. “Smells fantastic.”
He smirked and tugged her into a quick kiss. “So do you. New shampoo.” It wasn’t a question.
Giggling, she ducked her head under his chin. “Aa. The two of you have been introduced.” It had been the bottle to meet the door.
He nudged her toward the table. “Go on, eat before it gets cold. I’ll join you in a sec.” Fuck, she was hot all wet like that. He was tempted. Far, far too tempted.
“Sure thing.” Oblivious, Hinata snagged the plate from the counter and took it with her. “Do you want anything to drink?” she asked, pausing after she set the food down.
“Eh, just… uh, no,” he said, and flipped the omelette in the pan.
Hinata blinked, and got a can of root beer from the fridge before sitting down. “Are you okay?”
“Yep,” he said and tossed her a grin. “Fucking horny as hell, but I’m alright.”
Her reaction was everything he wished for. Bright red and sputtering, Hinata slapped a hand over her mouth. Then she started laughing.
Grinning, he turned off the stove and put the omelette on the empty plate by his elbow before walking over to sit next to her. “So whaddya say to being covered in chocolate, sexy?”
Leaning over, with her chin propped up in one palm, Hinata gave him a brave smile. “Sounds interesting?” Actually, licking chocolate off Hidan sounded delicious, but she couldn’t say that!
He set down his fork and turned his head to look at her, a very deliberate smirk quirking the corner of his mouth upward. “Is that so?” he murmured. “You saying I get to lick it off?”
Hinata gulped. Glanced away. Took a breath, and looked back at her boyfriend. Licked her lips. “Um… Maybe?”
Wine-red eyes narrowed slightly. “Maybe, eh?” He reached out and tugged her close, though pausing before their lips met. “Better eat your dinner and think about it, Hinata,” he murmured, breath ghosting over her lips. And then he stole a painfully brief kiss before picking his fork up again.
She allowed herself enough time to catch her breath. And timed her response for just after he swallowed. “It d-depends,” Hinata forced out, eyes snapping back to the food in front of her, barely half of it eaten. “There m-might not be… enough left…” Sucking in another breath, she continued, “a-after I’m d-done licking it… off… you.”
His fork paused halfway to his mouth, and his eyes canted to the left to take in her beet-red expression. His jaw might have been slightly loose. “… oh really now?” he murmured, setting the fork down again. “You know, I might just take you up on that offer, Hinata. If you really mean it.”
Glancing up, Hinata met his eyes, and really thought about it. Or tried to think past her thumping heart. Her lips quirked and she gave him a shaky smile. “Mean it? … Yes.” She looked down again and blew out a breath. “Brave enough for it? I h-hope so.”
She shook her head and laughed a little at herself. “It’s not like… it would be… difficult,” she muttered, cutting a look at him. “I just… don’t know how to s-start.” Her eyes drifted back down to her lap.
“I can show you,” he replied quietly. “All you gotta do is say the word. But if you’re not ready, you say that too. I’m not gonna push you, alright?”
The pale girl nodded. Sighed. And finally looked up. One eyebrow was raised. “Do we… actually… have chocolate?” she asked smiling slightly.
“Yeah,” he said with a matter of fact nod. “I’ve been saving a bottle since we met.”
Hinata’s pearly eyes blinked once. “Really?”
He nodded again. “Yep. Hershey’s.”
There was a long pause. Biting her lip, she glanced at the clock. “When does Kakuzu get home again?”
“About… three AM, or something like that,” he replied with a smirk. “I’d like to note that the bedroom door locks.”
She rewarded him with a smile. “Kakuzu isn’t the resident peeper.”
“You don’t gotta worry about peepers tonight, goddess,” he pointed out with a perverted grin. He licked his lips very pointedly. “Just chocolate.”
“No, I guess not,” she replied slowly, pulling her gaze away from where his tongue had disappeared. Yes? No? Her thoughts whirled. Now? Later? Hinata met Hidan’s eyes. Yes. Now. “My room or yours?”
Hidan offered her a real smile this time and got to his feet. “Yours. Just let me get the chocolate first.”
Rubbing a hand over the back of her neck, she looked down at the uneaten food. “Sorry about dinner?” What the heck was she supposed to do between now and… and then?
He grabbed an unopened bottle of chocolate syrup from the fridge. “Eh, we’ll eat it after. Believe me.” He walked up to her and held out a hand. “Last chance, Hinata… It pains me to say it, but if you want to back out, now’s the time.”
“I’m ready, really, but…” Eyeing the chilled bottle, Hinata gulped. Some part of her brain was firing off warnings. “You are so going first,” she muttered.
He smirked and tugged her to her feet. “Whatever works for you, baby,” he replied agreeably.
Rapping a knuckle on the dull painted door, Kisame tilted his head and listened to the faint music from the other side. Some kind of rock music.
He was a few minutes early to his ‘interview,’ but he doubted that Genma would keep him waiting outside. A faint smirk curled his lips. Ah, the good life; where work comes to you.
The warehouse he stood outside wasn’t much to look at: decent shape, okay location, windows were large, and there looked to be several bay doors on the north side with loading bays. If Gemma actually owned the building, it could work very well.
He better have an air conditioner unit installed now, or very soon though. Working in a metal box was not fun.
The door opened, and a familiar face peeked out. “Yo. You’re early,” Genma noted. “Oh well. C’mon in, I’ll give you the grand tour.” He stepped back and held the door open for the younger male to enter.
“Charmed,” Kisame drawled back as he walked in. “So? You’ve got Kakuzu and Hidan. Anyone else on board?”
“Aah… yeah. Akasuna Sasori’s gonna show up too,” Genma replied, smiling. “And Deidara-san mentioned a passing interest, but I don’t think he’ll be showing up till later.”
“Huh.” Blue boy looked around at the various machinery as Genma lead the way across the floor. Kisame knew what they all did… Put them all together though… Not a clue. “Okay, I’ll bite. What are you making?”
“Pretty much whatever’s commissioned, that’s wooden,” Genma answered with a faint shrug.
Kisame turned to take another survey of the warehouse. “That we can do… So, the commissioners provide the materials and the money, we provide the means and the manual labour?”
Some vague sense of deja vu niggled in the back of the blue teen’s mind. Something that involved similar circumstances. Must have been from school. Something…
“Oh, yeah, unless they pay extra,” Genma was saying, pausing to check a gauge on a nearby machine.
Something involving pressure maps…?
“If that’s the case, and they specify they want us to-”
It clicked. Sai. Ino. Sculptures.
Genma abruptly cut off, blinking, when his former student exploded into laughter. “Uh…” His brows lifted slowly. “Kisame-kun?”
One large blue hand waved helplessly as the teen gulped air and let out another final guffaw before slumping against a power saw. “Nnnggh… Oh kami… Gimme a sec. Ow… stomach…”
There was a loud banging on the door then. “Right,” Genma said, bemused, and then shrugged it off. “You just collect yourself while I get the door.”
The brunet shook his head as he wandered back the way they’d come to push said door open for Sasori and Deidara. “Hey, sensei!” Deidara greeted cheerfully as they walked inside.
Sasori bowed in greeting but said nothing as he glanced around. He offered Kisame a wave when he spotted his former lab partner.
By that time, Sharky was in control of his aching diaphragm, though his lungs were staging a protest against abuse. Itachi still didn’t understand how he was able to inflict internal damage to himself just by laughing. Eh, it’s a perk. Like the skin tone.
Kicking up one corner of his lips, Kisame gave the newcomers a smile and a two finger salute. “Hey.”
“Hey, Kisame, any word from Hidan and Kakuzu?” the more verbal newcomer asked as he wandered back over to join them. “Hidan’s phone is off and I think Kakuzu changed his again, un.”
Blue boy shrugged. “Hidan can’t commit to more than maybe two days a week, and then only a half day. He’s not giving up his junk yard job. Sorry, Genma, but the pay there is better.”
The former teacher shrugged. He’d expected as much when he’d offered the job to the albino.
Rubbing an ache below his sternum, Kisame frowned as he continued. “Kakuzu… shouldn’t be able to commit even that much. He’s taking an intense course load this semester, but it’s Kakuzu. The fucker is crazy. So who knows what happens when you wave a paycheck in front of his face. Though…”
Kisame smirked at Genma. “If you get him in here, and he stays with you. You know you’re golden. Cuz he won’t bother with anything not worth his time. And he’s expensive.”
Grimacing and pulling a toothpick out of his pocket, Genma nodded. “Yeah, I gathered that when I visited him.” That was a figure he wouldn’t forget. “Is he really that good?” Kakuzu had never, ever bothered with any of Genma’s classes.
“Hell yeah,” Deidara piped up, smirking. “Asshole gets money off of everything, un.”
“Including Hidan,” Sharky snickered. Though, he had yet to hear anything about Hinata losing money to the money monger.
Genma huffed. “Well, we’ll see how it works out, I guess,” he replied. “You guys wanna see the office? It’s for use of anybody working here, pretty much. Oh, which reminds me, you guys remember Yoko-san?”
Deidara perked slightly as they followed their prospective employer toward a door near the front of the room. “Your aide from the school?”
“Yeah.” The older male bobbed his head in a nod and grabbed the doorknob. “He’s here.” He pushed the door open, and Yoko Kyuubi looked up from where he had been peering down at a college textbook. “Yoko-san, you remember Toji, Hoshigaki and Akasuna?”
“Ah…” Yoko hurried to his feet and offered a bow. “Hello.”
Oh no… Not the right way to start things. Kisame snorted, he hated formalities. “Yoko-san, don’t do that. You’ve already been working with us for how many months? Besides, we owe you.”
The taller redhead blinked. “Ah… Alright,” he agreed, nonplussed. “Then please call me Kyuubi.”
“Works for me,” the blond inserted cheerfully. “Nice to see ya, Kyuubi.”
Expression completely neutral, Sharky pointed at Deidara, “Flashy demolitions,” the finger travelled to Sasori, “Psychotic Puppet Fanatic,” Kisame didn’t dare blink… and then he pointed at himself, “Uchiha contact.”
“You’re being modest, un,” Deidara inserted innocently. “Kisame’s also good at comedic relief.”
Sasori smirked, not at all bothered by the reference to his mental instability.
Kyuubi blinked. “Okay.” He gave them a faint smile. “Well… welcome, in any case. I hope to work well with you.” He turned his gaze onto the eldest in the room. “Speaking of… did you finish that schedule?”
“Eh.” Genma gave a lazy shrug. “I decided to let people decide themselves. My only condition is that anyone under my employ has to work a minimum of four hours for at least two days of the week, and I would like for one of those days to be either Wednesday or Sunday.”
“May I see this schedule?” Sasori asked curiously.
No sooner had he said it than Genma was reaching for a blue folder half-buried by school work a la Kyuubi. He handed it over. “Mull it over.”
Kakuzu’s lust for money drifted across Kisame’s mind. “Are you calling a limit on how many hours someone can book in?” he asked innocently.
Genma shrugged again. “No,” he replied simply.
“Cool,” Deidara said, peeking over Sasori’s shoulder.
“Have any copies of that?” blue boy asked.
Reaching out, Genma carefully tugged a blank sheet from the folder in Akasuna’s hands. “Here,” he said passing the paper over. “Take it home, think ‘bout it. Try not to think too long though. I’ve got two commissions lined up and I’d like to start in two weeks.”
Blue eyes lifted, focusing briefly on Genma’s face, then Kyuubi’s, and Deidara smiled. “I’ll get back to you within the week, then, un,” he declared. “With the hours.”
Sasori nodded, taking a copy. “I’ll get back to you later as well,” he inserted.
Folding the paper into quarters, Kisame slipped it into a back pocket. “Probably in a few days,” he estimated. Maybe even less. Wasn’t like he had a lot to do these days. Deja vu kicked him in the head again, but he ignored it.
“Great. Now, I’ll give the tour to Sasori-kun and Deidara-kun. Kisame-kun, you’re welcome to stick around if you want.” Genma took the closed folder back from Sasori and tucked it onto a shelf above the textbooks.
“Eh, no.” The shark shook his head. “I’ll head off. Oh—” He grabbed a black marker from the desk and scrawled his phone number on the wall by the door. “In case, you need to reach me.”
Kyuubi eyed the vandalized wall but shrugged. “We’ll let you know. Please get back to us soon,” he said. It was a bit obvious that he was already on board.
“Oh, tour! Yeah, that’d be nice, un!” Deidara chirped, grabbing his best friend and dragging him along after Genma. “See what kinda equipment…”
A/N: I am extremely happy about posting this. You guys have no idea!
(And it took until just tonight to name the bloody story).