Upgrading Chapter 11

Kakuzu was seated in the Junk yard office, waiting for Hidan to return from his rounds. He had called out of work for the day, but he had still attended his afternoon classes. Then he’d killed time with Itachi on campus for a bit, checked in on Sakura—she was great, and thrilled to see him already going stir-crazy. (She signed his cast, snickering the whole time.)

When Hidan swung by campus on his way to work, Kakuzu had willingly let the albino drive off with him. Hinata was apparently already at work, and he didn’t really want to pace around an empty apartment with nothing to do. And so, the Junk yard.

At least here, he had his best friend. Hidan was an idiot, but he was entertaining. When he wasn’t on his rounds.

Somewhere in the depths of his backpack, a Chinese tune—one of those cheesy jingle-like ones—made itself known. Kakuzu’s brow twitched. Dammit, Hidan, stop fucking with my ringtones. Nonetheless, he retrieved it to see that Tenten was calling. He answered. “Moshimoshi.”

Hey! Just wanted to see how you were holding up,” Tenten’s voice was strained, but she actually sounded cheerful. “Still high on painkillers?”

“Not as much. Had to hold off until after classes, so I only took them a little while ago,” he admitted. “But I’m doing fine otherwise. What are you doing?”

“Nothing important. This just feels really weird…”

Frowning, the money monger sat back in his chair, shifting his arm to try and get more comfortable. “What, calling me? You didn’t have to,” he pointed out, a little confused.

What? No, no. That’s not it. Calling you makes sense. It’s—Well, I’m participating in an after-school art project and Sai’s using clay. It’s really cold. And squishy. And I’m not supposed to move.” There was a pause as Sai’s voice murmured something in the background. “And I just wiggled too much. Dammit.”

…. “You…” Kakuzu was speechless for a beat. Then, “What the hell?!”

“… And maybe I shouldn’t have told you that…” Tenten muttered. “Don’t kill him, I did this consensually.”

He ground his teeth for a moment, fighting down the urge to get up and go kill something. He drew a deep breath, and reminded himself that she wasn’t his girlfriend or anything similar so he had no right to be jealous. A few more seconds ticked by before he growled out, “Did what consensually?”

Uh… It’s kinda hard to explain… No Sai, I don’t think that would… No. Just no.” She sighed. “Sai is planning on opening his own gallery eventually and… he needs models.”

A gallery. Money. He could understand that. “How much is he paying you to do this?”

Er...” Tenten giggled. “He got me really good cup of coffee.”

Too little. “Hold the phone to his ear,” Kakuzu demanded.

She didn’t respond right away. “Why?”

“He’s not paying you enough. Put it to his ear, woman,” Kakuzu huffed. “I’m not going to threaten his manhood or anything.” So long as Sai was reasonable.

Oh god, I suddenly have an agent.” Mutinous words, but he could hear amusement. “Sai...”

A beat, then, “Yes, Chuushin-sama?

Cocky little brat. “Coffee is not adequate payment.”

Oh? I see. What is, then?

“No less than $200.”

A beat, and a hum. “$100.”

“$150.”

$110 and a coffee every day for two weeks.

“Fine.”

Sai’s smile was audible. “Pleasure doing business with you, Chuushin-sama! Here’s Tenten back.”

Her laughter accompanied the transfer. And then: “Oh fuck—Sorry Sai... Yeah, I’ll be careful.” She snorted. “Especially now that this is apparently a job. Happy now, Kakuzu?”

He scoffed. “No. But mollified,” he admitted. “What are your plans for afterward? I have nothing else to do for the rest of the day, at least.” His doctor had strongly advised a couple of days off (considering Kakuzu’s normal schedule, it was just easier to cut off entirely than to hold back), and Kakuzu had decided he needed sleep anyway so had accepted the advice… except for school.

You? Mollified? I’m amazed you know the word,” Tenten teased. “Appeased would probably be a better term. Hmm… I’m heading downtown to pick up a few things. After that, I’m supposed to be studying from now till eight, but I won’t be able to read those textbooks without falling asleep.

“You want company?”

She hummed. “As long as it’s just you… Sai, don’t look at me like that… Shut up.”

Kakuzu snorted. “Yes, it is. Hinata and Hidan will both be working until late,” he reminded her.

Right, hmm. So where am I picking you up from?”

He shifted again, as Hidan stepped back into the room. “You know the junk yard just off highway eighty on the outskirts of town?” He waited for her affirmative hum. “I’m in the office with Hidan. This is where he works, you can pick me up here.”

“Who’s that, Tenten?” the albino asked, and smirked when his friend glared at him.

Okay… I should be leaving in…” Sai’s voice again in the background. Tenten laughed. “If I stay still, I can be free in twenty. I’ll just call you when I’m on my way. Shouldn’t be more than half an hour to get there.”

Kakuzu grunted. “See you then. I have to go beat up my best friend now.”

Laughter. “Shit—Sorry! Bye, Kakuzu! Have fun!”

His brow furrowed. “Yeah…” He hung up, and frowned at his phone for a minute. “… I don’t know how to feel about this…”

“What?” Hidan blinked at him.

“Sai. Sculpting.”

“Tenten?”

“… yeah.”

“He payin’ her?”

“Yes.”

“Leave it alone then.” Hidan shrugged. “‘Less she’s uncomfortable…?”

Kakuzu shook his head and exhaled. “No. That’s why I’m wondering.” He scowled as Hidan burst into laughter, and reached for a nearby binder.

xXx

Tossing her phone onto her pile of clothing, Tenten tried to stop her giggles. “I’m really sorry. Really!”

“If you were really sorry really,” Sai said as he circled with more clay, “You would stop moving. You’re being very frustrating at the moment.”

She held up her right hand. “I swear to stay still.” And grinned.

For all the horrified and confused looks her friends gave her when she finally told the artist yes, this was actually fun. Just… cold and squishy. The smooth clay felt slimy against her skin even through the biker shorts she wore.

He snorted. “We shall see,” he answered, dubiously. And continued about pressing in the clay to smooth out the cracks or thicken spots that were too thin. A few moments of quiet passed, then, “I heard this… rumor…”

“Which one?” Tenten asked wryly. “There are several.”

Sai grinned as he glanced up at her. “I would have asked Hinata-san earlier, but… this morning she was a walking zombie, and this afternoon she didn’t have time.” He paused, patting a place near her hip. “Did the… hm. Did Kakuzu-san really get his arm broken in a fight at the cafe?”

She nearly twisted around to face him despite her hips being locked between two mangled desks and a whole shit-load of clay. “Ah, that one. Yeah, he did.”

He nodded. “Good,” he said, firmly, and stepped back. “Now you just have to be still for a little while longer.” He narrowed his eyes at her. “Can you manage that?”

Lips trembling, she grinned at him. “Just don’t make me laugh and we’re kosher.” Holding her balance, she took in a slow breath, and then exhaled. Meditation practice come in handy in strange ways. “Why did you say, ‘good’?”

“You’ve been smiling more. That is very good,” he said, sitting down. He tilted his head. “The books say excessive smiling means you’re very happy, and so I must deduce that Kakuzu getting into a fight in that cafe was good.”

Tenten frowned. “That’s not… Hmm…” In a way… kinda. Yeah. “When it was actually happening, I certainly wasn’t happy about it,” she admitted, her brow smoothing out. “After though…” What was it? Three solid hours of being with Kakuzu from start to finish? “Huh, you’re right.”

He smiled at her. “So. How are you going to avoid it? Or are you females immune to Tsunade-sama’s terrorizing techniques?” He blinked.

“… Sai…” She turned her head to stare hard at a sculpture of feet. “Making me laugh is a bad idea…”

He frowned. “I was not aware that was funny to you, but I concede your point.” He paused. “Actually, I am somewhat looking forward to the event. There will surely be some rather intriguing happenings… I understand Deidara-san is up to something concerning arachnids.”

Tenten wrinkled her nose. “So that’s what he’s up to,” she muttered. “He wouldn’t tell us. Hmm…” Tilting her head, Tenten considered his question. “I don’t find it as… horrifying as the guys do. I think mostly because girl’s aren’t as focused on genetalia—” She broke off with a blink. “Well, not ours, anyway.” She recalled on sex-ed course in grade six. The girls in her class giggled constantly over the diagrams in the blue half.

“Mostly, the men are concerned for the continued existence of their genitalia,” he responded blandly, and smiled.

Tenten snorted, then stilled as Sai’s eyes narrowed at the movement. “I’m good, I’m good!” she protested with a smile. “And I don’t blame the guys for wanting the continued existence, but we girls don’t feel the threat as much as you boys do. I think the guys are just playing up the drama, which I get too. It’s kinda fun, neh?”

“I think more of them are more afraid of it than you think,” Sai said, amused. “I mean, most of them haven’t lived their entire lives enduring the threats of others… Not like me.” He considered that. “I’m more used to it.”

Stomping down on the urge to laugh, Tenten beamed at him. “Yeah, I bet you are.”

He just echoed the smile.

xXx

Ten minutes after Kakuzu had been picked up by Tenten, the door to the office opened. “Forget something fu—” Hidan had looked up, and his words froze in his throat. Panicking a little, he scrambled to his feet. “Eh, er, hi, Hyuuga-san…” He stared at the man who was looking curiously around his place of work. He’d known this was coming eventually, but he’d honestly expected it sooner.

Somehow, the albino felt like he should be doing something that at least looked like work, rather than just standing there gaping at the man. So, to busy his hands, he reached out to try to tidy up the papers on the desk.

“Can I help you?” he asked as he shuffled around.

Even while standing three feet inside the shabby office, leather shoes firmly planted on grungy (read never-been-washed-ever) scuffed grey-painted floor, the Hyuuga man still managed to pull off cool, pristine, and… unrelentingly austere. How the fuck did Hinata deal with him for all her life?

“Hnn.” Hiashi cast a glance at the couches and the armchair–Hidan did not wince–and dismissed them. “My apologies. I did not warn you I was coming.” One eyebrow twitched. “Have you been here at this position for long?”

That little piece of Hidan’s brain—far smaller than most people had—that contained his ‘stay on people’s good sides’ suggestion (otherwise known as a filter)—shut off. Or maybe sputtered and died. Either way, Hidan opened his mouth. “Hell yeah, I have. Since fucking eighth grade.” He’d always been crazy; Kakuzu said it was his most irritating and endearing trait (okay not in those words). And back then, even though he’d been much smaller, it had landed him the job.

Which suited him just fine. “Got somethin’ to say about it?”

Those dark eyebrows swept upwards. “Only that it is a large responsibility for a teenager to hold, especially throughout the night. Have you always been the only one here for graveyard?”

Hidan eyed the man suspiciously. That sounded uncomfortably close to appraising. Or maybe calculating? Aw shit, he was bad with this… “Yeah. ‘Less I was in a coma…” And hadn’t that been an interesting thing to wake up from. Deidara had looked like he wanted to cry, before Kakuzu smacked him. “I’m always here. Ain’t anything else gonna stop me.”

Nodding, the Hyuuga half turned, taking in the bookshelf of binders, the coffee pot, the dusty aluminum blinds… “You don’t plan for anything else?” He paused and stared right into Hidan’s eyes. “Any ambitions?”

Hidan almost demanded what business it was of the older man’s. Then he reminded himself that Hiashi wasn’t just Hyuuga Neji’s guardian, he was Hinata’s father. “Got plenty ambitions,” he retorted. “Most o’ them got a lot to do with Hinata.”

The old man’s posture tensed right up. “For instance?”

The albino smirked; point one went to him. “Like dinner, Saturday night,” he said, and scoffed.

“Aah.” Hiashi settled back on his heels and considered that. “Do you have a place in mind?” he finally asked, in a very neutral tone.

Looking unimpressed, the boy shrugged. “Nope.”

“Do you know the name of her favourite restaurant?”

A beat past. Point two, Hyuuga. Fucking hell. “… no?”

Hands clasped before him, Hiashi sucked in a breath. “I have a proposal,” he said in a tight voice. “It is obvious Hinata cares much for you, of which… I cannot understand. However,” he held up a hand, “my opinion in this matter, is of very little importance.” Hiashi paused, back rigid, lips pressed thin. “I wish to… understand you. If you would allow us to… talk… for a short while, every so often, then I will give you insights such as Hinata adores the Fresh Box sushi restaurant as recompense… Please.”

Blink. Another brief silence. Hidan now had to tell himself that laughing at the man wasn’t going to help at all. And hell, if Kakuzu could restrain himself to beating Neji senseless instead of hospitalizing him (or killing him), then it’d be really embarrassing for Hidan to forgo possibly making Hinata happier for a laugh. He held his tongue until he was sure he wouldn’t laugh in the man’s face.

“Alright. Heh,” whoops, “we can try. But I’m only doin’ it for brownie points.”

Hiashi relaxed far enough to sigh. “And you believe I am doing this for any other reason?”

Hidan grinned widely. “Hey, I like honesty! Maybe this won’t be so bad after all,” he said, and flopped down into his chair. “Sit. Let’s chat.”

Grimacing slightly, Hinata’s dad glanced down at the sofa again, and with the air of suffering in silence, sat down across from Hidan. “I am glad then; we have some common ground.”

“Fair enough. I’ll do you a solid, then—when I have something to say, I’ll fucking say it, and I won’t lie to you,” Hidan said, firmly, thoughtfully. “And I won’t lie for you. Least, not to Hinata.”

“The purpose of these visits is to gain an understand of you,” Hiashi said mildly. “It would be rendered pointless if you were to act differently than who you are.” His brows lifted. “You are most welcome to relay these conversations to my daughter. In fact, your honesty would do nothing but help my cause.”

The albino nodded. “Sure. Whatever ‘helps’.” Air quotes included. “How you wanna do this?” He paused. “Also, if we’re gonna do this while I’m at work, you’ll have to put the timer on pause every half hour. I have rounds I need to do.”

“Perfectly understandable.” Hiashi frowned slightly. “How did you catch my daughter’s attention?”

Blink. Hidan considered that a moment, then mentally shrugged—he’d asked. “I asked her for a fuck.”

Hiashi’s pale face went even paler. The old man didn’t say anything for a good few seconds, just tightened his hand over the other until Hidan could swear he could hear the bones grinding. “And her response?”

Hidan grinned. Third point, me. “No. Duh. I thought you knew your daughter?”

Pale eyes glared. Oh, they fucking glared. “When it comes to you, she is a different person.”

At that, Hidan’s humor faded a little. “Yeah, you mean she’s not a mouse.” He leaned back, crossing his arms. “And it’s a good fucking thing too. Suits her better, not being afraid to speak up for herself.”

Hiashi looked away. Neither spoke as the old man sat and stewed in thought. “She is happier this way,” he said quietly, gaze slowly coming back to Hidan, “and grown in spirit and character since moving away.” Blowing out a sigh, the man nodded. “Hinata is an astonishing young woman in her own right.”

‘Bout damn time he admitted it. Any of them. Fucking Hyuugas. “Yes. She is.” He glanced at the clock. “Got any questions or anything you wanna get out of the way before I do my rounds?”

Still distracted, Hiashi shook his head slowly, then seemed to think of something. “Will my visits cause you trouble if I continue to meet you here? Or would you prefer we meet outside of your workplace?”

Shrugging, Hidan considered that. While it was true that any of the other guys could happen upon these meetings (and subsequently give him shit for it), it was also a risk meeting the man any other time. Like hell he was sharing his time with Hinata with her dad. “Nah. It’ll be fine… just, if an old guy with a penchant for alcohol comes in, you’re an artist.” He grinned a touch smugly.

Hiashi’s brows shot right up. “I’ll be sure to bring a sketchpad next time,” he murmured, lips twitching.

Hidan laughed outright at that. “Just don’t let ‘im convince you to sketch something,” he snickered, and got up. “I’ll be back, man. Don’t touch anything.” He glanced toward the camera in the corner, pointedly, and grabbed up a baseball bat. Then seemed to reconsider. “You wanna come with?”

xXx

Chapter 10 | Table of Contents | Chapter 12

A/N: Yes, a little short, but I’ve got my reasons.
Anyway, hopefully this will tide people over until the next avalanche of updates.

Cheers!

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