Upgrading Chapter 7

Honestly, in hindsight, bringing her date here wasn’t the best idea. For one, the bar wasn’t the nicest one in town, and the way the regular patrons easily dismissed her companion wasn’t hard to miss. Luckily Hakumoto wasn’t paying attention to the rest of the bar. His focus was instead entirely on her. Compared to Neji, the experience was refreshing.

Mentally, Tenten smacked herself in the forehead. No more thinking about Neji! she admonished herself, bringing her own attention back to the present..

“I still think advanced physics would be a better course than zoology,” Hakumoto insisted. “You’re going into a flight school, not a zoo. Shouldn’t you be checking out rocket science?”

Wrinkling her nose, Tenten pointedly turned her head from the confused stare of a college freshman and frown at her friend. “Hakumoto—”

The blue-haired guy shook a finger at her. “Isao, Tenten-san. At least, Isao-kun, if you must.”

“Isao-kun,” she amended, rolling her eyes. “I know what I’m getting into, but I’m not going to rush. There’s no harm in taking a few courses that I’m interested in.” Tilting her head, Tenten added a smile to the rebuke. “Afterall, I don’t know when the next time I’ll have a chance to indulge.”

Hakumoto scowled for a moment before heaving a sigh. “Alright. You have a point.” Scratching the back of his head, he grinned. “I can’t really throw stones anyway. My classes are all over the map.”

“I’ll say. World politics, advanced textiles, modern history and… what was the other elective?”

Laughing, her friend rose from the table. “Set building. The drama group is always in demand. Must keep up the entertainment.” Reaching out, he stole her empty tumbler. “Refills. I’ll be back!”

Only a second passed before someone was sliding onto the vacated chair, a grin stretching wide across his pale face. “Replacing the douche?” Hidan asked cheerfully.

Narrowing her eyes, Tenten snapped, “Hakumoto is not a replacement.” She kept an eye on the oblivious man in question. She had chosen this bar because she didn’t want any rumours getting back to the Hyuuga household. The less Neji knew about her life, the better. He didn’t have the right to that anymore.

Unfortunately, it meant that the regulars in the bar knew instead. Most of whom wouldn’t care… Most.

“Yeah, sure, okay,” Hidan said, snorting. “Not a replacement. Seriously wasn’t the fucking point. What’s got your panties in a twist?”

Slightly mollified, but refusing to show it, she frowned at him. “I don’t like objectifying people.” She wasn’t a brood cow, Neji wasn’t a perfect boyfriend, and Isao wasn’t a rebound. Simple wasn’t it?

Hidan blinked at her blankly. “… you didn’t say jack shit about me callin’ Neji a douche,” he replied.

The frown melted down into a smirk. “Nope.” Because that was true.

“You’re so full of shit,” Hidan said, grinning. He leaned back in the chair. “Up for a game of pool? I’ll even let your new boytoy play. No stakes.”

Seeing as Hidan wasn’t going to leave well enough alone… and well, Hakumoto may as well get to know the worse of this crowd if he was going to insist on accompanying her, Tenten nodded. “Sure.” Pause. “And he’s not my boytoy.”

Hidan smirked. “Ohh, I see! So you’re into sharing! Got it. Fuck. Hey, maybe I can convince Hinata to—welcome back, boyscout!” He wiggled his fingers at the other male as he approached.

“Tenten-san?” Isao was so adorably confused.

Waving at the albino in Hakumoto’s chair, Tenten made with the introductions as she stood to take her drink. “Isao-kun, Jashin Hidan. Hidan, Hakumoto Isao.” She smiled at Isao’s arched brow. “Hidan just invited us to play pool for a bit.”

“No stakes! Lucky you, playin’ against me with Tenten. Oy, did you know you’d been taken off the ‘stakes’ list?” Hidan asked, grinning. “Hinata too.”

Both Isao and Tenten blinked at him. “What?” she asked as Isao repeated, “Stakes?”

The albino nodded, leading the way toward the table. “Kakuzu’s rules. And don’t think it’s ‘cause you’re friends with Hinata, ‘cause he ain’t that generous. Seriously.” He shook his head and snatched up a pool stick. “Boyscout, stack. Lady gets to break. I got solids, you wanna fight me for it, you’ll lose.”

Adopting a pained expression, Hakumoto obediently arranged the balls. “Boyscout? How did I get that name?” he murmured, the lilting tenor betraying his amusement. Raising his head, and his voice, he asked the albino, “Who’s Kakuzu?”

“My best goddamned friend, and the last motherfucker you wanna tell ‘no’ to,” Hidan replied, smirking. “Fortunately for you, that bitch is off at school right now. Dunno how he fucking does it.”

Chewing on her lip, Tenten waited as Hakumoto raised the triangle. “Kakuzu has the craziest schedule alright,” she agreed, absently, missing the sharp look Hakumoto gave her at the lack of suffix. “I’m not even sure he sleeps, to be honest.”

“Tch.” Hidan shook his head. “Bastard fucking crashes all over the place. Lives like a goddamn cat these days. Nappin’. Everywhere. In the junk yard. At Genma’s place…. on my fucking couch.” Granted, Kakuzu lived there too, technically.

Tenten struck, and watched as the perfect formation roll into mathematical chaos. “So… yeah. Kakuzu, Hidan, and I, we were all in Konoha High last year. Though, we didn’t really get to know each other until a few months ago when Hidan started dating one of my friends, Hinata.”

“Aah.” Nodding, Hakumoto watched as Hidan stalked forward. None of the balls had sunk yet. “Is Hinata in Konoha Uni?”

Hidan paused, eying the table, then shook his head. “Highschool,” he grunted as he shot, sinking the first ball.

Sighing softly, Tenten watched as her bestfriend’s boyfriend sunk another shot. It was a very good thing they weren’t playing for money. Speaking of… “Did he says why I’m off the stakes list?” Apart from Hidan and Hinata, and even then sometimes, Kakuzu collected from everyone.

“Nope. Just that you were off, and if I did it anyway, he’d fucking try to kill me.” He paused. “Well, that’s some serious goddamn sugar coating, but basically.”

Hakumoto’s eyebrows had winged up into his shaggy blue bangs. “That’s putting it mildly, indeed.” He frowned at the table as Hidan stepped back. “What the hell am I supposed to do with this?” he asked incredulously at the various traps around the pockets.

Smothering a laugh, Tenten reached out and patted him on the shoulder. “Hidan’s an ass. Just keep that in mind.”

“Apparently,”

Hidan smirked. “Take a shot, boyscout. Or are you gonna run with your tail between your fucking legs, eh, bitch?”

Shooting the albino a glare, Hakumoto squared his shoulders. “So not your bitch.” But he took the shot, and actually managed to sink a stripe. However…

Leaning in close to console him as Hidan snickered, Tenten murmured, “It was a good try… just don’t sink the cue ball at the same time.”

Hakumoto groaned.

Hidan leaned over the table as he sank three more balls. “Fuck, man, you make this shit easy.”

The other man shrugged. “What can I say? I’m better at static than motion. Applied physics is Tenten-san’s area.”

At that, Tenten grimaced. “Can you not call me that?”

“What? The ‘san’?”

“Yes, that.”

Smirking, Hakumoto tilted his head. “Feeling your age, ma’am?”

“Yo, fucktards. You gonna take your shot?” Hidan demanded impatiently. “Seriously. Knock that shit off.”

Swatting the back of Hakumoto’s head, which he ducked, Tenten focused on the game. “Both of you are pests.”

Hidan grinned proudly. “It’s ‘cause we’ve got cocks.”

Tenten shook her head resignedly as behind her, Hakumoto burst into laughter. “I like him!” he announced.

“So glad,” she replied dryly, tapping a stripe into a pocket. “How ‘bout keeping him distracted for a bit then while I try to save our hides?”

xXx

Isao blinked at her, then turned to look at the shark’s grin on the albino’s face. “Er… so… What do you do outside of the bar?”

“You really don’t think you can distract me with that, do you? Bitch has a better chance,” Hidan said cheerfully, eying Tenten’s backside pointedly.

Shrugging, Isao lined up his gaze with Hidan’s and pursed his lips. “I suppose… I like them a little more compact though.” Females were so much more curvier than men.

“Eh. Whatever floats your boat,” Hidan said, shrugging. “My fucking Goddess is perfect.”

A grin forming on his lips, Isao actually looked at Hidan. Float my boat, huh? “Oh? Do me a small favour then and turn around.” He held up a finger and twirled it in a circle.

Hidan paused, blinked, and tilted his head. Then he nodded. “Fuck you, queer, and that ain’t a fucking invitation.”

Isao grinned even wider. “I wouldn’t take you up on it anyway; you’re taken.” He took a moment to consider the best topic for the mission and settled on… “So, what’s your Hinata like?”

“Perfect, that’s what,” Hidan said, glancing toward Tenten, and narrowing his eyes. Then he looked back at Isao and stuffed his hands in his pockets. “Like a goddess, man. She looks beautiful in gold, too. Guess it’s a Goddess-y trait.”

This fellow… was so very taken. “I take it, she’s not the typical blonde and bronzed then?” The albino didn’t look like the kind of guy to go for normal anything.

“Nope. Dark hair, pale skin, eyes like pearls… See? Perfect. She’s even got this cute little smile,” Hidan rambled thoughtfully.

I have got to meet this girl. Isao nodded as he tried to picture her in his head. Though, pearl eyes triggered a memory. “Does she play pool too?”

Wine-colored eyes narrowed. “… sometimes. Why?”

Waving a hand at the green-felt field, Isao answered, “You seem to be very good at it, I only assumed that she plays too.”

Hidan relaxed. “Tch. Weird fucking way of goin’ about thinking. Fuck, Tenten, you through bein’ a pussy yet?”

“More like, are you done saving our asses? Because my distraction is officially done in,” Isao added ruefully. To his untrained eye, it looked like they were doing much better…

But Tenten was shaking her head and had that half-smile on her face. A project done, but not a complete success. “I got a few shots, but I don’t think it’ll help.” She gestured at the last three stripes barricaded behind a row of solids. “Dammit Hidan. This sucks.”

“Not enough,” the zealot quipped, and in two minutes, ended—and won—the game. “C’mon, beers’re on me.”

Gulping down the last of his tepid drink, Isao pulled a face. “That’d be great. Thanks.”

“Don’t you have work?” Tenten asked, setting her cue on the felt.

“Yep. Why the fuck you think I’m getting one last drink?” Hidan smirked at her as he headed for the bar.

Isao and Tenten shared a glance. Maybe they were in the wrong profession. There was a certain charm to getting plastered before a shift. “So how often are you here?” Isao asked Tenten.

“Often enough,” the albino shot over his shoulder.

The girl beside him closed her mouth with an amused smile and shrugged. Her answer seemed to be identical.

Watching as the bartender looked up, and then nodded at Hidan’s hand gestures, Isao asked, “You’re here, and you… play pool? For stakes?” It seemed ridiculous until he remembered how thoroughly Hidan had dominated the table.

As the two drew to a stop by the bar beside Hidan, the albino turned his head to look at him. “Yeah. Usually it’s me’n Kakuzu doin’ it. Think I mentioned that shithead earlier.”

Tenten glanced over from where she was watching the bartender pour the drinks. “And he’s even more of a hard-ass than Hidan,” she added with small smile.

Isao’s brows shot up. “Really?” And you know these two… how well?

Hidan’s phone went off, and he pulled it out as he slapped a few bills on the counter. With the same hand, he pushed Tenten’s and Isao’s drinks toward them as the phone was answered and put to his ear. “Keep the tab open after I leave,” he was saying to the bartender. “Kuzu’s gonna be here in a couple hours.”

Then he grinned widely at Tenten and Isao before turning away. “Goddess!”

Picking up his beer, Isao blinked as the albino bounced away while talking a mile a minute. “Is… that normal?”

Tenten snorted. “Yup. Just don’t ever call him on it.” She slid onto the barstool and picked up her beer. “He’s sweet to Hinata, reasonably nice to me, but for all the rest of the world…”

“Approach with caution?”

“Or don’t approach at all, especially if Kakuzu is with him.” Tenten shrugged at his puzzled tilt of the head. “Hidan doesn’t always push for money; he’s in this for entertainment more than anything. Kakuzu, however, makes money.”

For a moment, both of them listened to the cheerful banter from Hidan and Isao shook his head. “So why do you come here?” The bar wasn’t a dingy hole in the ground, but neither was it a place he’d expect to find Tenten.

“Hinata,” she answered readily enough, her mouth quirking up into a smile. “She found this place, loved it for the anonymity, and brought me along after Hidan started making moves on her.”

Close… but… “And now she and Hidan are dating.” Tenten nodded, sipping her beer. “But why are you still coming here?” He raised his hands as her brows drew down. “Sorry, that came out wrong. I just don’t understand why you didn’t have us meet somewhere else. No offence to the establishment.” The last was to the bartender who was giving him a flat glare. “There’s nothing bad, er, wrong, about the place… I just thought, you’d go to a nicer place… like a coffee shop…” Oh, the bartender was really glaring now. “Erm…”

Tenten sighed, tossing the ruffled bartender a wry smile as Isao floundered. “Can we have a plate of nachos, please? I need to shut him up.” The man grunted and mercifully turned away. “Isao-kun… you certainly have a way with words,” she said, smiling.

Isao deflated.

“As to my reasons…” Tenten chewed her lip and took another sip. “I’m copying Hinata.”

Copying? Isao frowned as he watched the girl before him focus on her drink. “You can’t mean getting picked up by the local pool shark, do you?”

It was equal parts chagrin and amusement as red-faced Tenten spluttered into her glass. “What?! No!”

“Yes! What?” Hidan asked, plopping down beside her. “What the fuck’re you getting all squeaky about now?”

Isao hid a grin behind his glass as Tenten coughed and managed a strangled, “Nothing!”

The albino’s brows furrowed briefly as he looked between them, eyes narrowing almost to slits. Then he grinned. “Fine. Not gonna tell me, maybe I’ll go ask my fucktard best friend what he thinks you were talking about. I think between us we can come up with some wild shit.”

Leaning back on the bar, the blue-haired uni student smiled widely as he said, “I’m sure Tenten-chan has nothing to hide.” He grinned at her glare. “So, pool sharks, hm?”

“That’s who they are, Isao-kun,” she grumbled back. “And no.”

Hidan huffed. “You two yahoos are fucking out of your whack,” he declared, and checked his watch. “I gotta get movin’. Tenten, Hinata says she wants you go come hang out with her sometime this week.”

Visibly brightening, Tenten nodded. “I was planning on that anyway. It’s been a while.”

“Oh!” Isao lifted his beer. “Thank you for this! It was a pleasure to meet you, Hidan.”

“Yeah, you’re not so bad yourself, Boyscout,” Hidan responded, giving him a mock salute. “Come hang out again. Bring a boyfriend.” He smirked savagely and hopped up. “Barkeep! Tuck the card away. Make sure Kuzu takes it when he leaves.”

The man nodded, and put Hidan’s card into his back pocket. “Got it. Later, Hidan.”

“Later, man. Later, Tenten.”

As the albino swaggered out the door, the chinese girl swung around to gape at Isao. “What?” he asked, suppressing a snicker.

“Boyfriend?” Her eyes were huge.

Smirking, Isao tilted his head. “You didn’t know?”

All in all, he thought as Tenten’s jaw swung open, this was turning out to be an entertaining evening.

And in a few hours, if I draw this out… I get to meet the infamous Kakuzu!

xXx

The next week lapsed into a kind of flurry of activity for pretty much everyone. The High School students were prepping for the Fall Festival on top of their regular school lives, and the college students were dreading the upcoming midterms. In all, most of them could barely get any time to themselves, much less to go out on dates or hang out with friends.

Some of them managed to combine duty and relaxation, though…

“… and so basically this here would be multiplied by four, and then you have to… Naruto. Are you even listening to me!?”

The blond in question—whom had indeed not been listening at all—jumped and gave his pink-haired friend a guilty look. “Sorry,” he mumbled. “Just was thinking… So you know Karin, right?”

The girl sighed. “Why do I care about Karin, Naruto?” she demanded, crossing her arms to glare at him.

He shrugged. “She’s been stalking Teme. Like, seriously bad. We found a camera in his locker.”

Sakura blinked, and looked at her boyfriend as he stepped into the room, bearing the snacks Mikoto-dono had dragged him away to help prepare. “Did you hear about this?” she asked him, brows arching.

Judging by the amused smirk curling his lips, Itachi did in fact know. “Sasuke mentioned it, yes.” He slanted a knowing look Naruto’s way. “I also heard about your present.”

At Sakura’s narrow-eyed look, the blond shrugged, unconcerned. “I can’t help my own nature, can I?” he said smugly. “You shoulda seen his face, though. And man was Karin pissed abou—”

The sudden thunk and crash had Mikoto peeking into the room, but when she saw that it was Naruto on the floor, and Sakura’s hand raised, the woman smiled and left again. “STOP DOING THAT STUFF, YOU IDIOTIC BLOND!” the rosette girl yelled at him.

Deftly stepping over the whimpering boy, Itachi calmly placed the tray on the heavy, durable, solid-oak coffee table. The last one had been reduced to kindling by the Zombie brothers, or more specifically, Kakuzu’s back. Glancing at the blond hair inches from the table leg, Itachi lifted a brow. “Nara was in a similar position moments ago.”

Pale blue eyes opened and peered up at the Uchiha. “Yeah? What’d he do this time?” he asked, and sat up. Clearly not as injured as he’d pretended to be. Then again, when one endures Sakura-beatings near daily for most of their life, endurance tends to build up.

Sakura sighed and shook her head.

“He was being himself,” Itachi answered, shrugging. The males of this group were not going to change, whether the females of the same group would realize no amount of pounding would adjust that was not up to him. If anything, both parties seemed content with the arrangements, no matter what Ino and Sakura said. “Do you need anything?” he asked, turning to Sakura. “Refills?”

She smiled at him, and nudged her half-full glass of water. “I’m good. I could use a hug, though. Tutoring Naruto is like trying to teach a cat to fetch. Not impossible, but very very hard to do.”

Naruto stuck his tongue out at her.

Itachi’s expression hardly changed. “When you’re done tutoring, then you’ll get your hug,” he said lightly, eyes flickering to the blond. “Studying is important.” He smiled briefly, swooping down to drop a kiss on her forehead. “I don’t think I can simply hug you anymore,” he whispered in her hair.

Her cheeks turned faintly pink, but she was smiling a little. “I think you’re just spoiled,” she retorted teasingly.

(In the background, Naruto was making gagging motions, but he was ignored.)

Rising up, Itachi shrugged. “I can’t help my own nature, can I?” Flashing her a grin, he disappeared into the kitchen.

Sakura laughed softly, and turned back to Naruto. “You, idiot, math. Right now. C’mere.”

He winced, but nodded and scooted closer. “Yes, yes, Sensei.”

She hit him again.

Over in the kitchen, Itachi sat at the table, a tea cup cradled in his hands. “…so far half the senior staff members have been eliminated.” He frowned, shaking his head. “Truthfully, I am unsure whether to be assured our skills are just that dependable or to despair that Uchiha’s security is so lax.” Picking up his tea, he inhaled the fragrance. “Thoughts?”

Mikoto sipped her own tea as she considered it. “I still don’t understand what any of them would have to gain from sending Naiyuri and Sakura-chan away,” she sighed. “It would help a lot if we knew their motives.”

Humming, Itachi nodded. “Besides the immediate personal inconvenience,” he muttered, “removing Naiyuri-san only damaged what was a stable workplace.” Her replacement was under-qualified and needed three months of training; an unnecessary move within the company. “A possible aim could be to cause dissention and confusion among the staff.” Naiyuri was a hard-worker and good. Her sudden removal made no sense and direct threat to any staff member’s sense of job security.

Across from the Uchiha matron, Shikamaru frowned. “We know it wasn’t to harm Naiyuri-san. Nor Sakura. The removal from the company and the subsequent offer of a job succeeded in moving them from Konoha in a perceived permanent adjustment.” Wrinkling his nose, Nara added, “Naiyuri-san is happy in Suna. We cannot ignore that while she was in Konoha her social life had stalled after her divorce, but in Suna she has taken an active role in her community.”

“A move for the greater good?” Itachi said, skepticism thick.

Nara shook his head. “No, but the aim was not to make Naiyuri-san miserable.”

“We already ruled out her replacement, and all of her replacement’s associates,” Mikoto said thoughtfully. “So she wasn’t moved so someone else could get her job.” She tilted her head, and nudged the sugar container toward Shikamaru. “More sugar, Shika-kun?”

“I’m fine, thank you, Mikoto-san.”

Sipping his tea, Itachi frowned down at the table. “Is it Sakura then?” he asked reluctantly. “What is gained by removing her from Konoha?”

“Other than making all of her friends, and you, miserable?” Shikamaru muttered with a grimace. “The Haruno’s don’t hold anything in terms of social influence, unless you count Sakura’s relationship with you.”

Nodding, Itachi leaned back in his chair. “That is fairly obvious. But what is the point in removing Sakura from Konoha if she comes back? Whoever is familiar with her, or I, is going to predict that she would eventually return.”

His mother sighed. “Unless it’s not about either of them at all,” she muttered, half-heartedly. “Which would mean it was about you, Itachi-san.”

Carefully moving the cup away from his mouth, Itachi lifted his brows. “Not about the company as a whole?”

“If they wanted to destabilize the company,” Shikamaru mused, “they would have caused something to happen higher up the chain.” Tilting his head, he studied Itachi. “You haven’t had any new proposals, have you?”

“No one would dare.”

Mikoto coughed on her tea, and at their looks, smiled whimsically. “Well,” she said noncommittally, and continued to drink the cooling liquid.

Itachi blinked. “Who?” he asked as politely as possible. He had a feeling if any they would all be within the family, but he didn’t believe anyone would doubt his future. I chose Sakura. I won her over. And she is mine. It was obvious.

“Oh come now, Itachi,” his mother huffed, setting her cup down. “You’re the heir of the Uchiha family. Not a week has gone by without at least one unsubtle hint since you turned eighteen.” And some before that, likely.

The third at the table sighed. “So nothing out of the ordinary then,” Shikamaru muttered, slouching. “We may have to continue our investigations and wait for something to happen.” He held up a hand when Itachi frowned. “Don’t confuse that with being lax, Itachi-san. I don’t want anything to happen to Sakura either.” Rubbing two fingers against his temple, Nara added, “Just keep an eye on her. If anything happens, she needs to tell us.”

At that moment, there was a sharp retort of flesh meeting hard substance and Naruto cried out in pain. Nara sighed.

“Anything unusual, anyway,” he amended.

xXx

 Chapter 6 | Table of Contents | Chapter 8

A/N: Yes, Isao’s an OC. Yes, he’s mine. No, you may not use him. Yes, he’s taken.
No, he doesn’t know. XD

See? Posting like mad! (And making so many mistakes while I’m at it)

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