Upgrading Ch 4: You just can’t label this stuff

At the ‘head’ of the table, Genma clapped his hands together and grinned. “Okay guys, I’m not gonna make this drag out any longer than it needs to—I need a name for this place.” Wincing at the scathing glare this engendered from Sasori and Kakuzu, the shopkeeper shrugged. “Hey, I wanna be a little more original than ‘Shiranui’s Wood’.”

To the left, Kisame snickered. “How about shortening it? That’ll be more appropriate.” The shark got a pen thrown at his head.

Deidara cackled over in his seat, and opened his mouth to make some sort of remark that would have degraded the meeting into pure idiocy. However, Sasori reached out and shoved a donut in his mouth. “It must be an artistic name,” he declared, so firmly that it was hard to tell if he was joking or serious.

Then again, this was Sasori, so the better bet would be the latter. Kakuzu huffed. “I don’t give a shit what it’s called,” he said. “But hurry up and decide it.”

Hidan yawned and tried unsuccessfully to stifle it. “Hell, why don’t you give us some fucking useful input?” he demanded of his best friend.

“I’m shit with names.” The ‘shut up’ was implied.

Arching one dark brow, Uchiha uttered in tones that brooked no arguing, “No puns.”

Genma nodded. “As easy as those names are, yeah, I agree with Itachi. No puns. Not anything grand either. Even if we make it big,” he waved a hand at the eye rolling, “I won’t be able to sleep with myself.” Tapping a drafting pencil on a blank paper, the lone adult pursed his lips. “‘Solid Projects’?” he offered with a shrug.

“And that’s imaginative?” Blue-boy objected. “May as well call us ‘Chisel and Auger’.”

“Charlie and his Angels, un,” Deidara snickered.

Sasori kicked him under the table. “God, you’re a fucking idiot,” he said with a full body twitch.

“I’m no Charlie,” Genma drawled, “and none of you are angels.” Kisame threw the pen back at him.

Hidan huffed and went on before any of the others could be any more idiotic. Which was a pretty big insult, seeing as it was Hidan that was thinking it. “Anyway. Fucking hell.” The albino glanced over the others, brow furrowing as he thought.

“What about ‘Shiranui Commissions’?” Kyuubi piped up, tilting his head.

The table fell silent for a beat as the various teens gave it a little thought. Genma shrugged. “I’m not sure about having my name in the title, but it’s going down on the list.”

“Heh, we could always shorten that down to Shir’s Commies.” This time, Itachi reached out and smacked Kisame over the head.

“Idiot,” commented half the table.

The large blue teenager scowled at his so-called friend. “You got an idea? Cuz I already had one.”

“Hnn…” Itachi glanced as movement around the table caught his eye. A few of the other staff members had leaned forward. “‘Stained Goods’?”

Kisame choked and thunked his head against the table. “Fucker. You’re as hopeless as we are.”

Sasori scoffed. “What about ‘Woodwork and Iron’?” he offered. “Or ‘Woodwork, Iron and Co.’”

Pencil scrawling over paper, Genma hummed. “I can work with that.”

“‘The Wood, Iron and Carbon, Kinetic Engineering Department’?” the big teen mused.

“The what?” Genma asked, blinking as he raised his head.

“The WICKED,” Kisame replied with a grin.

Itachi shook his head. “You’re reaching, Kisame.”

“When is he not?” Hidan drawled, and inclined his head genteelly when Kisame flipped him off.

Across from him, Deidara shrugged. “Hey, could be worse, un.” He hummed thoughtfully. “Er, maybe something to do with a forge? Like, ‘Five Elements Forge’ or something like that.”

Humming, the shopkeeper nodded. “I do like the forge idea… only we’re working primarily with wood, not metal.” He still jotted the name down though. “‘Joint Structures’?” From the groans that brought about, Genma chuckled, not bothering to record his suggestion.

“That sounds like a stripper bar or something,” Kakuzu muttered, looking agitated.

“‘The Workshop’?” Hidan asked, brows arching upward. He outright ignored his friend’s addition to the conversation.

Sasori blinked at him. He hadn’t expected the masochist to come up with a decent sounding idea at all.

“Keep it simple, hmm?” Genma mused. “Not bad, Jashin.”

Kisame rubbed a hand over his hair. “What about, ‘Konoha’s Advanced Woodworking’?”

“What? Named after the class?” The pencil moved while Genma thought about it. “That would be interesting.”

“Don’t want us to seem like complete amateurs though,” the blue-boy said with a grimace. “Or else it’ll be more like fresh blood than varnish people will be expecting.”

“Well, considering we’ll frequently have Dei and Sasori in the same room,” Hidan began.

Deidara threw the last chunk of his donut at the albino. “Shut up, you can’t even fucking talk, un.”

Hidan just grinned. Kakuzu resisted the urge to knock their heads together. Barely.

Over beside Genma, Kyuubi looked thoughtful. “‘Avant-Garde Woodwork’,” he offered up, fingers sliding around his cup of coffee to lift it. He drank as the others paused to consider it.

One more name was added to the list. “You know… we might actually get a name by the end of this meeting,” the former teacher remarked cheerfully.

“Just for that,” Kisame retorted. “I demand more coffee.”

Kyuubi started to get up, but Deidara waved him off. “I’ll run to the nearest coffee shop. Be right back, un.”

“But we have a—” Kyuubi started. However, Deidara was already out the door, so he gave up and sat back down. “Never mind.”


Thursday, around noon, was an admittedly slow time for Kakuzu’s usual bar. Which meant little to no cash guarantees. But, he could always hope, and so he went in to set up.

A brief check around the place revealed exactly three other customers, one of which was a regular. One that was usually broke, and thus of no interest to Kakuzu. The second was an unfamiliar face, but he was very drunk, and eying the third customer unsubtly.

As for the last… Kakuzu recognized her. She had been the one with Hinata the second night the Hyuuga had joined them here. Likely as moral support, or so it had seemed. And… she looked very irked.

I don’t think the dart board deserves that treatment, he mused, eyeing her work briefly.

He shook his head and turned to the rack of pool sticks, gaze sweeping over them before he selected one and returned to his usual table. It was then that he was within hearing range, and thus caught her muttering.

“Thyroid… Vestibular… Vocal… Misogynistic bastard… Traches… Cricold… Esophagus…” Thunk, thunk, thunk... Sharp little knives embedded themselves into the cork at each word. Two for the bastard comment.

Amused—and rather impressed—he set down the pool stick and circled the table to lean back against it, facing where the girl stood. He studied her for a few more moments before finally speaking up. “Want a game?”

“Vertebrae, C3.” Thunk. “No. I’m busy. C4.” Thunk. Pause. “I also didn’t bring any spare cash. C5.” Thunk.

Good to know she recognizes my voice. “Hm. That is an issue.” He considered it a moment. “Free game. Just one.”

The girl paused again, one hand upraised, blade glinting in the afternoon light. “I guess I could take a few minutes from studying,” she muttered, the weapon slipping down and out of sight within her sleeve. “Who’s breaking?” she asked, turning to address him.

He waved a hand dismissively. “Ladies first,” he answered magnanimously.

Three seconds later, the opening shock went through the arranged balls, scattering the game pieces like leaves. “Stripes,” she called, lining up her shot.

The indicated ball went down without a fuss.

However, she missed the second pocket and stood back from the table. “All yours.”

He hummed noncommittally as he leaned down to shoot. A few turns followed, with the only communication centering around the game. Finally, though, they were down to three balls (besides the eight). “Who’s your victim?” he asked as she got into position to shoot.

Casting him a flat look, his opponent paused. “My business. Not yours.” She missed her shot.

He smirked at that and took his own, going on to sinking the eight right after and winning the game. “That bad, huh,” he murmured, and rearranged them. “Another game?”

Brows furrowing, the girl scowled down at the felt. “I’ll keep losing,” she admitted, turning the chalk cube in her free hand.

“We won’t play for money, then,” he replied, and shrugged. “There isn’t really anyone else here, so I can afford to do a few for free.”

Her grip tightened suddenly on her cue stick. “Why do you do things for money?” she demanded abruptly, gaze rising up to match his. “We both know you don’t need this.” She waved a hand at the bar.

Green eyes narrowed slightly. “I’ll answer your question, if you answer mine. Honestly,” he replied flatly.

The Chinese girl stared back at him for a moment, before placing the cue down on the table. “I’m not that curious,” she said and stalked back towards the dart board.

Kakuzu watched her until she resumed her demolition of the dart board, and smirked. Interesting.


Sanctuary was a small twelve by ten room, separated from the noisy student masses by a flimsy hollow door. Still, when that barrier was shut and locked, it did dull the sounds from the hallway. The first day of class. So overrated. Even if it was a Friday.

Sakura sighed and dropped her backpack on the floor and fell into her bed. “Oh. My. God.” And then. “Fuck my life.”

Her roommate snorted. “Not the only thing I’d like to fuck,” she said, though it was distracted. “Unfortunately, I have homework. They never gave us homework over the weekends in high school…”

“Who’s ‘us’?” Sakura demanded. “You didn’t get homework because you probably scared half the teaching staff.”

Konan blinked up at her. “I’m not that bad,” she protested. Paused. “Usually.” Her blue head tilted. “… am I?”

Giving the other girl a vicious grin, the pinkette snorted. “Last year’s sex ed assembly? Suigetsu. A spoon.”

“Spork,” the blue-haired girl corrected, I think. “And the bastard deserved it. You remember what he ended up doing to Hidan.” She sniffed. “If I could go back and do it again, I’d make it a spoon, just to draw out the agony.”

The light-hearted mood died at the mentioned of Hidan. “Yeah, well. There’s a good reason why Sarutobi had Suigetsu banned,” Sakura grumbled. “There’s a lot of people who want that kid in pieces.” She turned onto her back and glared at the ceiling. “Itachi won’t tell me where he is, even though I’m sure Kakuzu makes regular reports.”

Konan shifted her homework aside, deciding her roommate’s babbling was more interesting anyway. “Really? You tried paying Kakuzu for the info?”

“Of course,” was the reply, “but my boyfriend has apparently bought exclusive rights already.”

“Figures. Cocksucker,” Konan grumped. “If you could find him… what would you do?”

The pinkette growled and flung a plush toy–a penguin–across the bed. “What would I have to do or what would I like to do?” she questioned. “I’m swore an oath to let Hidan have the first five minutes with Suigetsu, no matter what. So I can’t curb stomp him like I want to.”

Konan shrugged- that was only fair. “What’d you like to do, then?”

“I’d be pretty boring.” Sighing, Sakura crossed her arms. “Deck him a few times. Just normal head shots. After that, I’d give him to Itachi. He’ll probably be more imaginative than me. But really, it ought to be Hidan.”

The blue-haired girl nodded and sighed, leaning back on her hands. “True enough. How’d the little Hyuuga take it, by the way?”

The corners of the younger girl’s lips turned up in a bemused smile. “She’s been really something, these past few months. She moved out with him, did you know? And somehow she got Itachi to tutor her in jujitsu.” Shaking her head, Sakura chuckled. “Would never have imagined she would be so… independent.”

Konan hummed and picked up a spare sheet of paper, starting to fold it. “Good,” she murmured. “Wouldn’t want her tripping me up.” She smirked at Sakura.

Who blinked and looked over. “Huh?” Oh, the eloquence in a single syllable.

“Never mind, Pinky,” the older girl drawled, and snickered. “Just suffice it to say I still think you’re orgasmically hot, and I’m considering threesomes in my spare time.”

Across the room, Sakura groaned—and not in the good way. “My life is punctuated by perverts,” she declared. And threw a pillow at Konan.

Konan ducked, and threw the folded paper in her hand back at the younger girl. It landed by her leg with a heavy thump, and when the pink-haired girl looked down, it was to see the piece of origami. An origami rose.

“Oh!” She was already stretching out a hand towards it, before Sakura started having second thoughts. “This isn’t coated with like… aphrodisiacs is it?”

Sniffing, Konan tossed her hair over her shoulder. “I don’t need those. Once I have you convinced, it’s just as good.” She winked.

The younger girl rolled her eyes and picked up the paper flower. “Well thank you anyway. It’s pretty.” Sakura turned it around in her fingers, studying the complicated folds.

There was a beat of silence, then Konan smiled brightly. “Thank you! I’ve been practicing.”


Kakuzu sat on the stool, a beer in front of him, when she entered. He’d already made his way through half a dozen opponents for the day, so it was a good haul. He could take a break.

Setting his drink down, he got up and approached her. “Want a game?” he asked, smirking faintly as he looked at the girl.

In answer, she sighed. “What’s the fee?” He didn’t miss her glance over to the new dartboard where a group of four were competing. Loudly.

“I’m on break, so you’re in luck,” he drawled, and held up a wad of cash pointedly. “You get off free.”

Gaze hardly acknowledging his winnings, the girl frowned faintly at him. “Oh joy.” And she headed over to ‘his’ pool table, grumbling something about male boasting.

Taking her attitude in stride, he followed, and soon enough they had a game going. “So?” he asked, during his turn.

She slanted a bland look his way. “Yes, fine. This is more interesting than the dartboard,” she said with a shrug. “Hardly surprising.”

Kakuzu chuckled and shot; his ball dropped into the pocket. “Not what I meant.”

“Then you’ll have to use your words, Kakuzu. I’m not a mind reader.” Leaning against the wall, she watched from the sidelines until her turn.

He didn’t respond until he was forced to concede the turn to her. “I meant, this man that you’re so upset with… or have you forgiven him?” He was mildly curious about that. She wouldn’t be nearly as interesting if she was that quick to forgive.

There was a sharp clack as she set down the chalk. “What about him?” she bit out, sighting down her cue.

“Who is he? What did he do?” he asked, watching her closely.

Lips thinning, she straightened without taking the shot, both hands coming up to hold the cue. “I’m actually surprised you don’t know already,” she told him, chin raised. “It’s Neji.” One of her brows arched up, and then she was leaning over and striking the cue ball. Her solid ball glanced aside from the pocket and she muttered a curse. “He broke up with me,” she said, stepping away from the table.

He moved forward. “Hm. It’s insurance, against chaos that may or may not come to pass. I have learned to be cautious.”

There was a snort from the girl. “You’re telling me that you don’t enjoy conning most of the population out of their spare change? There are better ways to earn an income.”

“True,” he said, striking the cue ball. “But they’re not nearly as entertaining, or informative.”

As he passed in front of her to the other side of the table, he noted her pained expression. “Shit, I forgot you sold information.”

He shrugged. That was true enough. “I can also be bribed to remain silent,” he pointed out, a hint of mischief to his tone.

Again the girl snorted. “Maybe before it would matter,” she said. “Doesn’t now.” She gestured at the nearly bare table. “You still want to continue this farce? You’re winning by a mile.”

“I enjoy the game,” he replied. “The game isn’t over until it’s over.” He straightened. “You want a drink?”

Across the table, lit in the flat glow of the hanging light, the girl heaved a sigh. “Yeah. That’s a good idea.” She placed her cue across the table. “What do you want? I may as well buy you a drink as an apology for putting up with my shit.”

Kakuzu blinked. He sighed. “Wait here,” he replied, and left before she could protest.

When he returned, two beer bottles held in one hand, she was rolling the chalk across the back of her fingers and studying him. “Is it just me, or are there several things odd about this situation?”

The large male held one out. “It’s just you,” he said.

She rolled her eyes, putting the blue cube down. “Thanks,” she drawled, taking the offered bottle. The label warranted barely a glance before she twisted off the cap and took a long pull.

“You’re welcome.” He took a drink and then nodded to the game in progress. “Shall we continue?”

To his satisfaction, the girl placed the bottle down on the table’s edge and rolled her shoulders. “Yeah, let’s do that.” The slim girl canted her head. “Your turn by the way.”

He nodded and set his bottle down, before walking around the table and leaning over. A beat, as he shot, then, “What happened?”

“Oh for fuck’s sake,” she muttered. Taking a swig as he maneuvered around the table, she took her time before answering. “Our… future plans didn’t match up.”

She couldn’t know how much that answer gave him, surely. “Ahhhh. The Clan.”

From the twitch that she gave, he had hit the nail. And a sore spot. Because she didn’t bother to respond and focused instead on picking at the foil on the bottle.

He finished his turn in silence.

When he failed to sink the eight ball, she moved. “Was it always so obvious?” she asked, studying the table.

“What, the Clan’s loyalties? Or Neji’s?” he asked, brow arching upward.

“Neji.” She made an aborted attempt to sight down her cue, then sighed and literally draped herself over the table for the angle she wanted.

Kakuzu didn’t bother keeping his eyes from roaming, though unlike Hidan, he wasn’t going to advertise it either. “Yes. And no. When he was younger, especially so.”

She struck and her solid miraculously sank. “I knew what his clan was like,” she muttered, carefully coming off the felt, “but, I didn’t think Neji…” Shaking her head, she fumbled her next shot and had to rescue the cue ball from the pocket.

He took it when she held it out, brow lifting. “Clearly, your hopes were faulty,” he said, and turned to survey the table.

“It wasn’t a hope,” she muttered around the mouth of the bottle. “I just didn’t think it would come up or matter at all.”

“He’s a Hyuuga. Of course it would,” he said, placing the ball and then leaning down. A quick tap of the cue to cue ball, and it was rolling in the desired direction.

The two of them watched the eight ball roll obediently into the pocket. When he looked up, she was nodding, a frown pulling at her brows. “You’re right,” she said, placing her cue stick back on the rack. “Thanks for the drink, and the game.”

“It was my pleasure,” he returned dryly. “Heading home?”

Her eyes cut over to the dart board where the earlier competitors had been replaced by a pair of seniors. “I guess so. Don’t want to cut into your working hours,” she said with a wry smile.


On a Saturday morning, one was supposed to be able to sleep in. Completely covered from head to toe in thick winter blankets, not a care in the world. That was how the first day of the weekend was supposed to start.

Kakashi groaned and tossed his cell phone back onto the nightstand. If anything, he would have preferred to sleep through his minor hangover. Last night Genma had been buying drinks constantly. Apparently, he had finally decided on a name for his workshop. Bugger if Kakashi could remember it now though.

But no, at half past seven in the morning—Kakashi had squinted at the glowing red numbers when the ringing started—he just had to get a phone call.

The conversation went roughly like this:

“Sarutobi’s whore house, do you have an appointment?”

Hatake- Kakashi. You have to meet me for lunch at Kali’s House.

“Zab? What t’hell? Not even eight. No. Bye.”

A growl followed this. “If you don’t, I will tell Kurenai-sensei that it was you that stole her fucking bra last semester. And if that’s not good enough, I’ll be talking to Tsunade-sensei about the sex ed assembly.

Kakashi froze with his finger hovering over the red button. With a sigh, he sat up, pushing his hair back from his face. “Fine, fine. I’ll be there. But there’re more direct ways of showing Haku-kun you’re open to dating men.”

A beat, then a sigh. “That’s… both inaccurate and eerily close. No. He… he… he conned me into a date. I think. Oh god.

“About fucking time,” Kakashi grunted. “Congrats. Maybe he’ll free you of your decade long celibacy record.”

Kakashi, I’m being serious here!” Zabuza yelled into the receiver, forcing the other teacher to jerk the phone away. When he put it back, the Culinary Arts’ teacher was speaking in a more controlled tone. “You have to come so that it’s not at date.

Rubbing the crust from his eyes, Kakashi snorted. “You want me to be a third wheel. Zabuza, you’re just in denial. The kid knows what he’s doing and is obviously making the moves. As dating material, Haku is perfectly…” He broke off blinking as belated warning messages pointing out that he was talking to said boy’s adopted parent blared through his brain. “Aaand I’m not going to finish that thought until I have caffeine in me.”

There was a beat of silence, then a sigh. “Just show up, Kakashi. I mean it. Or else. I’ll even pay for your meal.

Well, with a rousing invitation like that, how could he refuse?

Several hours later, with three cups of coffee and one too-ripe banana in him, Kakashi strolled into the diner. “Yo.”

“Good afternoon!” chirped a slim brunette—Kari—at the greeting station. “How many?”

“Hmm…” He craned his neck, scanning for a head of spikes and a shorter with longer hair. He found many such pairs. “There’s three of us guys… the other two might be here already.”

The girl dipped her head, finger trailing down over her paper. “I don’t have anyone waiting for a third…”

Kakashi shrugged. “Then I’m the first here.”

And he was. Though, he was barely seated when the other two entered.

“Ah, Kakashi-san!” Zabuza called, like he hadn’t known Kakashi was going to show up. He made a beeline for the other male’s booth.

Haku blinked and gave his guardian an unimpressed look, but followed anyway. “Hello, Kakashi-sensei,” he greeted politely.

“Zabuza, Haku-kun,” Kakashi nodded. “How’s it going?” If the other teacher wanted to blame chance, then that was his show.

Haku bowed before sitting next to his guardian, whom had simply slid into the booth seat across from Kakashi. “Not bad. We were just coming out to get a bite to eat. And you?”

“Evidently, I decided that staying home today would be too boring,” he answered, not glancing at Zabuza. “Ran out of food at home,” he added, shrugging. It was true. Shopping hadn’t happened for a while.

Zabuza nodded. “How about I pay for us all? We can talk. Been a while since I’ve seen you socially, Kakashi-san.”

“Mhm. You never call me any more,” the silver-haired man replied. “How have the two of you been? Wasn’t it Haku’s birthday a few months back?” At the nod from the boy, Kakashi smiled. “Happy belated birthday, Haku-kun!”

Haku beamed back at the man. “Thank you. I’m eighteen now,” he replied.

There was a pause as a waitress with blonde pigtails appeared, handing them menus and taking their drink orders. After she left, Zabuza cleared his throat. “So, what have you been up to, besides school, Kakashi-san?”

The grinning teacher waved a hand. “Nothing interesting,” he demurred. “So! What did you get for your birthday? Anything good?” Kakashi ignored the glare from across the table.

“Oh, a few things… Not what I was hoping for, but I’m very patient,” Haku replied with a sweet smile. “It’s a shame you couldn’t celebrate with us~”

Kakashi blinked. Shook his head. Damn… too much porn lately. That couldn’t have been a proposition. “Maaah, next year. Maybe post up a wish list? Sometimes you really need to be blunt about it.”

Haku giggled. “I was very blunt. Some people are just… hm… forgetful.”

Resisting the urge to smack his head to the table, Zabuza grimaced and glowered at Kakashi.

Who arched a brow and shook a finger at him. “You forgot? As Haku-kun’s primary provider, you really should pay attention to his needs. Neh?” Kakashi leaned back as the waitress appeared with their drinks: coffee, coffee, tea.

“Have we had enough time to decide?” the waitress asked, head canted and smile in place.

Haku smiled at her. “The special, please,” he requested.

Zabuza heaved a sigh and glanced at the menu. He’d been too busy being pissed at his friend to look. “Uh, burger and fries.”

Across the table, Kakashi rolled his eye. “Beef or chicken, Zab? They’ve got both. You know what? Make that two burgers, one of each. Whatever he won’t have, I’ll take it.”

The girl—Haruka—raised a brow, but nodded at Zabuza’s grunt. “Great, I’ll be back with your orders in a few. Thanks!”

“Thank you,” Haku said as she left, and then smiled at his companions. “Now. Where were we?”

Zabuza’s head met the table this time.


Chapter 3 | Table of Contents | Chapter 5

A/N: Shout out to Clumsy, because she’s getting her wish.
(I remember reviews; it’s kinda scary)


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