Upgrading (Chapter 9.5): Kakuzu x Tenten

IMPORTANT! Read Upgrading. Hell, read Sand Trails, then read Upgrading until Chapter 9.
If you don’t, this one shot will not make ANY sense at all!

-x-

Neither of them said another word until they were on the road. “You mad?”

Humming, Tenten shook her head. “At you? No.”

“I just beat your ex into submission. Literally,” he replied blandly.

They paused at a red light and she glanced at him. “He asked for it.” Shifting her attention back to the road. “Like he said, he’d been watching you guys for years. He knew what he was getting into.”

He sighed and reached up, pinching the bridge of his nose. “He pissed me off. He shouldn’t have treated you that way.”

The red light changed before Tenten could snatch another look at him, so she spent the next few moments letting that sink in. “Yeah… Neji is an idiot that way.” And Kakuzu was saying that his PO triggers included her…

“How can someone so smart be so fucking stupid?” he growled. Clearly, dwelling on the matter wasn’t helping his temperament. “He should take pointers from Nara. Or Lee. Or hell, even that loud blond fool.”

Lips tilting up, Tenten snorted. “Deidara? You’re kidding right?”

“Not him, he’s a fucking retard,” Kakuzu huffed, but he was amused now. Albeit grimly. “Uzumaki. I was more aiming for known Hyuuga associates.”

Tenten took a moment to envision that. Naruto-kun lecturing Neji on how to pick brawling opponents. “Wouldn’t last three minutes,” she muttered. If even three seconds. Neji would turn away and Naruto-kun would start yelling.

“Why?” He shrugged. “He’s an idiot, but I’ve never seen him be malicious toward a woman.” Pause. “Plenty of women malicious toward him, granted.”

Very carefully, Tenten steered around a corner as she readjusted her thought patterns. He was talking about that? “I meant… learning from Naruto-kun,” she answered. “Two of them in a room.”

Kakuzu paused to consider that for a while. Then he huffed. “I don’t know. That kid’s got a weird sort of charisma about him. Even Itachi wasn’t able to keep a grudge long after he fucked up his eyes.”

“Hmm…” Well, there had to be a reason why Hinata was so enraptured. “That would be interesting, though I think Hiashi-san is going to have first dibs on re-educating him.”

“Shame I’ll miss it,” was the longing answer. “Not that I’d pay to see that, but… it would be entertaining.”

Shaking her head, she felt a smile take hold. “I think I’ll wait for your review before I bother watching.” Glancing over, Tenten frowned at the pinched look around his eyes. “Maybe we should have bound that before we left…”

He shrugged his good shoulder. “Wouldn’t have made any difference,” he answered, and he probably knew from experience, considering who his best friend was.

“How often does this happen?” she asked softly.

“Not often. Not many fighters as good as Neji,” the bouncer said. “Every once in a while Hidan and I get into a big fight, but that’s rare. He usually lets me beat on him.” Those eyes were focused on her; she could feel them. “Worried?”

“Of course, I am.” Wouldn’t be much of a friend if she wasn’t. Tenten sighed as they drew to a stop at another light.

He snorted. “Don’t be. I can handle myself, Tenten.”

Cutting her eyes to him, Tenten arched a brow. “You really think I can just stop worrying because you tell me to?” And she looked back to the road waiting for the lights. This drive was kind of, no, really surreal.

A laugh was echoed by maniacal cackles from his bag. He blinked and leaned down, checking the screen. “Fucking asswipe,” he snarled, shoving it back into his bag without replying. He paused as he settled in again. “You gonna need a cab or something?”

Tenten snorted. “No.” She was driving him home after this. There was no need for him to stay at the hospital overnight. By the time this was over… Ugh… maybe she’d just skip a few classes and sleep in.

“You’re not staying…?”

Cracking a smile, she replied, “Why do you sound so very surprised?”

His laugh was dry. “If you’re not careful, someone might wind up adopting you into our club,” he responded.

“I’ll make sure to talk to Itachi-san and ensure that doesn’t happen,” she replied just as dryly. “That ought to do it.” She’d seen how females were adopted in. And… now wasn’t really a good time.

Kakuzu exhaled. “Yeah. It would.”

That long sigh didn’t sound too good and she floundered for a topic to keep him talking. “So, how many girlfriends have you had?” Tenten almost hit her head on the steering wheel. Really? Where did that come from?

“A couple,” he said after a beat of dead silence. “Every once in a while, someone comes around with balls enough to try. Most don’t care to. Or I creep them out.” Pause. “Well, granted, that’s on purpose.”

“Sometimes, Kakuzu, I just can’t understand you.” She huffed as they passed under a few more streetlights. “Well, that’s good. I mean… well, it’s better than my record.” She wrinkled her nose. “Just the one.” And she would bet that his relationships didn’t function primarily around a facade.

He shook his head and didn’t respond for a few moments. Then, “Well, you got balls. Maybe you should try,” he said, smirking.

“What?” Tenten blinked at him, then shoved her attention back to the road, heart hammering behind her sternum. “If you’re trying to get us into an accident, I’d really rather you don’t. I don’t have enough money to fix your truck.”

Kakuzu snorted. “No, I’m not joking.”

Pulling in a breath, Tenten kept her eyes on the road. “Maybe, but then, maybe not,” she said tightly, adrenaline a thrumming vise around her lungs. “Definitely, not right the fuck now.”

“Calm down,” he said calmly, and shut up for the rest of the ride.

And Tenten really appreciated the thought that went behind riling her up… only to leave her shaken and bewildered behind the wheel of a vehicle. Her, the sole person responsible for getting them both to a hospital safely.

By the time they arrived, she wasn’t sure whether she was pissed or weary. She settled for just wrung out. She cut the engine and leaned over, popping the latch on Kakuzu’s belt before he could contort himself. “Let’s go,” she said, releasing her own belt.

He nodded, leaning down to grab his bag, before climbing out. He shot her an unreadable look, and sighed. “I’m sorry. Shouldn’t have said that on the road.” Not sorry for saying it, though, by the sound of it.

“Yeah, well… My fault for asking.” Should have learned from Neji. But she hadn’t expected that response. Only—there had been hints. Door slamming shut behind her, the two of them turned towards the brightly lit entrance.

He stopped though. “Maybe you should go home,” he said, frowning at her. It wasn’t an order, though, or even an, ‘I don’t want you here’.

So she ignored the words and focused on the meaning. “Nothing’s changed. You still have a busted arm and I’m still driving you home.”

His frown only deepened, but at least he turned and headed for the doors again. He wasn’t arguing.

… his backpack was cackling again.

“Hidan has a way of getting under your skin no matter where you are, neh?”

Kakuzu gave a wordless snarl, and shook his head. A beat, then, “Fucking dick.”

Confronted with a thoroughly frazzled Kakuzu—at least more than she’d ever seen him—Tenten chuckled and pulled out her phone. “What’s his phone number?” she asked as they walked.

He rattled it off as they stepped up to the door, and tugged it open for her. “Be sure to tell him I hope he falls and breaks his neck.”

Recalling Hinata’s translation, Tenten only smiled and nodded as she slipped through the door and punched the handicap button. She cheerfully ignored the injured man’s growl behind her as she listened to the call connect… There was barely a single ring before the call picked up.

Tenten, right? Why the fuck isn’t that asshole answering me! Put him on, I’m gonna fucking tear him a new one.”

Amused, she followed Kakuzu to the check-in desk. “He says go fall and break your neck,” she repeated dutifully. “We just walked into the hospital and I don’t know why he isn’t answering. We think he has a broken bone in the lower arm, and that’s the worst it could be. Otherwise, broken nose and a few other bruises.”

Tch. Fuckin’ pussy Hyuuga,” Hidan grumbled. “That’s really it?

Gaze landing on Kakuzu’s rigid shoulders, Tenten hummed. “That’s what we’re assuming. Like I said, we just got here.” Drifting to the side, so that she wasn’t distracting the receptionist, she added, “I’m driving him home after this, so I’ll call you when we leave. We’ll probably be out of here before you’re off shift, but check with us before you head over, okay?”

Hidan snorted. “Yeah sure. Bring ‘im to my apartment, not the dorms. Asshole’s staying there tonight, no matter how big a fucking fuss he kicks up. You know where we live?

“Oh, you mean where Hinata lives?” she replied. Actually, she hadn’t even been thinking of the dorms. Silly her.

Pause. “Right. Stupid question. Put ‘im in the corner of the waiting room, and don’t let him talk to other fucking kids. He gets really fucking bitchy when he’s hurt.” Hidan paused again, obviously thinking over any other possible instructions. “Oh right. Light a fucking fire under those lazy ass bitches’ rear ends. They take so fucking long to get him to triage, every time, like fucking bad karma.”

“Got it.” Tenten stepped forward as Kakuzu glanced up from the paperwork. “I’ll try to get him to call you, and if you think of anything, you have my number now,” she said, as she drew up to Kakuzu’s elbow. “Just don’t abuse it.”

A snort. “What the fuck ever. Oy, Tenten?

She blinked. What was with these guys using given names that made her nerves sit up and notice? “Yeah?”

Thanks.Click.

“He done whining?” Kakuzu demanded, indeed looking ‘bitchy’.

Not bothering to suppress her smile, Tenten shrugged. “Not by a long shot,” she replied. “I expect I’ll be getting a call every fifteen minutes from now on.” Good thing she had free evening minutes.

He made a face and signed the bottom of the form, shoving the clipboard back toward the receptionist. “Bastard.” He headed toward the waiting room, literally parting half a dozen people with a look alone.

Following after, Tenten chuckled at the stares she received. This is going to take some getting used to, she mused. Then again, hanging around with Neji also caught attention.

Thankfully, Kakuzu picked the corner seat on his own (scaring away some scruffy guy that probably spent his days and nights behind a dumpster), and sat down gingerly. The bag hit the floor with a thud. He scowled at the wall like it had personally offended him.

A few moments passed, then…

His pack cackled.

“Fucking asshole.” He kicked the heavy container.

Tenten couldn’t help it. She snickered right along with his phone. “Just dig it up and turn it on silent before your break it,” she advised.

He just scoffed, and made no move to do so. “You should let Hinata know we got here alright.”

That’s a really thoughtful idea. Not really surprised anymore, she nodded and woke her phone up to call the coffee shop.

Neither she nor Kakuzu were surprised when his pack shut up, only to start up again.

Rika picked up on the second third ring. “Good evening, this is Helluva Cup. How may I help you?”

“Hi Rika, it’s Tenten. Hinata’s friend.”

Oh my god! Are you okay? I mean, is he okay? Did he break anything?” The girl’s voice ramped up in volume and pitch as she asked question after question. Tenten winced and pulled the cell away from her ear.

She traded a wry look with Kakuzu who just sneered.

Finally, there was a break in the stream of words, and Tenten broke in. “We’re okay, really, Rika. Can I talk to Hinata, please? She’s probably worried.”

Yes! Of course. One moment please! Tenten could hear the phone clack down on the counter and Rika calling out to Hinata.

“Maah… I really hope this doesn’t get Hinata in trouble.”

Beside her, Kakuzu shrugged. “Yeah. If it does, Hidan won’t let you sleep till she gets out of trouble.” He looked amused, at least.

“Me?”

Tenten had a moment to gape at him, before Hinata picked up the phone with a worried, “Tenten?”

Repeating the details of their status to Hinata, Tenten blinked as Hidan’s personalized ringtone possessed Kakuzu’s bag again. So she ended with, “And now your boyfriend is calling him every thirty seconds.”

Kakuzu’s alright then,” Hinata said with a relieved sigh. “Kinda makes you wonder why we bother worrying, huh?”

“A bit, yes.”

Thanks for staying with him.” Hinata’s tone nearly matched Hidan’s. “It means a lot to these guys.”

Coughing, Tenten avoided Kakuzu’s gaze. “It’s not a problem… and yeah, I’m getting that impression. Have a good night, Hinata. I’ll let you know when we’re on the way to your place.”

You’re fantastic, Tenten. Alright, g’night. And say hi to Kakuzu for me.”

“Yep. Bye!” For a moment, she gazed down at her phone, frankly not surprised that she had missed four calls from Hidan. “He is really clingy, isn’t he?” she asked, showing the screen to Kakuzu.

He blinked at it. “I guess. Hinata and I are his only family,” he replied with a shrug.

Tenten executed a very slow blink as the possibilities of that statement ran through her head. And then a very smug smirk took hold. “I’m glad he values you two.” Because when he finally married Hinata, Hidan was going to be saddled with a very annoying group of in-laws.

A dark brow arched in question. “Do I want to know what you’re thinking right now?”

“Oh, hell no.”

“Fair enough.” He made a show of getting comfortable. “Talk about something.”

Tenten hummed. “Hold that thought.” she told him, counting down the seconds. “… Three, two…“ Her phone rang. “Hidan, hi! I just called Hinata, so she knows how we’re doing.”

Sweet. Tell the fucker to answer his fucking phone.”

“Right.” She tilted her head to look at Kakuzu. “He says he misses you,” she said, not quite holding back her amusement.

He gave her a flat look as Hidan exploded on the other end. “Tell him to go stab himself in the eye.”

Grin widening, Tenten arched a brow. “How much will you pay me not to translate your message?”

He scowled at her. “You want me to put you in debt?”

“Bite me, Mr Big ‘n Scary.”

In response, he smiled. With all of his teeth.

Tenten smirked. “Currently accepting a candy bar as a bribe,” she told him evenly.

Kakuzu snorted. “I’ll get you one later.”

… are you fucking kidding me?” Oh right, Hidan. “Would you two quit flirting? It’s kinda making me wanna fucking puke.”

“Try stabbing out an eye,” Tenten deadpanned.

Hidan groaned. “Fuck you.” He hung up.

Kakuzu smirked.

Sighing, Tenten set her phone on vibrate and tucked it into her jacket pocket. “I really hope that Hinata doesn’t get into trouble. He’s going to love torturing my phone way too much after that.”

“Hm. Entirely likely. At least he likes you,” he replied, shifting uncomfortably. “Could not like you. Last person he didn’t like, he wrapped up in paper mache and then beat with a stick.”

Slouching back in the hard plastic chair, Tenten turned that information around in her head. “Yikes,” she said finally.

He nodded. “Don’t tell Sakura that. Itachi still doesn’t want her to know.”

“What does… Eh?” She sat up, blinking at him. “Uh… no. Of course not.” Oh man. And then Hidan’s instruction reeled themselves back through her memory. “On that note, I’ll be right back. You want anything from the machines?”

Kakuzu shifted again. “No.” He paused, then added, “I’m fine.”

If Hidan’s words hadn’t reminded her then, Kakuzu’s expression was reminding her now. She needed to get to those nurses. “I’ll be right back, promise.”

“Okay,” he said, leaning further back in his seat, if that was possible.

Surprisingly, when Tenten finally got to the nurses, acting worried really wasn’t that difficult. She wasn’t sure who was more surprised, Kakuzu or her, when the nurses actually followed Tenten back to Kakuzu.

He looked like he was dozing off in the chair, but as they approached, his eyes opened again. He quirked a brow at Tenten, as if to say, Impressive, and got slowly to his feet.

“Chuushin Kakuzu, right?” a woman asked, holding a clipboard. At his nod, she offered a smile. “If you’ll come with me, I’ll get you through triage.”

Chewing on her lip, Tenten hovered at the edge of the group. Both bags hanging from her left shoulder. “Good luck,” she called out to him as they walked away.

Kakuzu paused and muttered something to the nurse, who nodded, before turning toward Tenten again. “C’mon.”

She blinked once, and then scrambled to catch up. “Are you sure this is okay?” she whispered at him once she reached his side.

“Hidan frequents this place. They know who I am,” he replied, smirking at her. He leaned closer to whisper in her ear. “Just act like you’re one of us. Shouldn’t be too hard for you, mm?”

Pulling back, she gave him a startled look. But… but… I’m not… Okay, well, maybe some days… “You owe me so much more than candy bars after this, Kakuzu,” she muttered.

“Just depends on what you want, now, doesn’t it?” was the response as he straightened and let the nurse lead them into a room marked ‘Triage’.

There was a definite double meaning to that answer.

Frowning, Tenten kept her silence as they walked in, and Kakuzu was told to take a seat. She stood to the side, as the nurse asked questions, prodded at his arm, turned it, and so on. And Tenten continued to think.

At some point, she caught sight of her reflection, and it startled her, breaking her concentration. No, apparently it wasn’t hard to act like one of the group, especially with a scowl like that!

Did she want to date Kakuzu? Kind of… yes. Her only issue was that her emotions were so chaotic from breaking up with Neji that she wasn’t sure if she trusted them. And Kakuzu deserved her full attention if that was going to happen.

So she needed time. It was simple, and easy, but so vague at the same time. How much would she need?

“… will be right back,” the nurse was saying. “I’ll bring you to a room then, and we’ll see about getting some X-Rays done, okay, Kakuzu-kun?”

The male had remarkable control usually, but that was definitely an annoyed twitch. “Thank you.”

She smiled and bowed. “You’re welcome,” she said, and left them alone.

He sighed as the door swung shut behind her, then slammed his good fist into his thigh, causing Tenten to jump. “Fucking hell.”

“What’s wrong?” she asked. “Besides, the obvious.”

I’m in pain, that’s what’s wrong,” he snarled back angrily.

She pressed her lips together. “How do you usually deal with it?”

He closed his eyes and drew a breath through his nose, slowly. “Don’t usually have to,” he answered after a moment. “Can’t tolerate it like Hidan does. Sooner I get those stupid meds, the better.”

Frowning again, Tenten stepped around the chair to crouch down beside him. On the trip here he’d been holding it together… Oh. She drummed her fingers against her thigh. “Hidan said that you’d taken Hinata and I off the list,” she began tentatively, watching his profile. “When did that happen?”

“List?” he echoed, and blinked. “Oh. Right. Ah… A few weeks ago.”

Tilting her head, she thought back. “Why did you do that?” A few weeks, so after Neji. After their first pool game?

“I don’t bet with people I’m interested in, and I took Hinata off as well as a courtesy. She’s good for Hidan,” he muttered. “Sakura though… that woman’s getting no special treatment. Ever.”

Brows arching, Tenten was still absorbing the idea that Kakuzu had been interested weeks ago. “Isao-kun is so lucky he met Hidan instead of you that night, huh?” she murmured.

“Hakumoto is very homosexual, and attached on top of it,” Kakuzu answered. “He’s not an issue.”

Tenten choked. “He’s attached? When?” she demanded. “He said he was single just last week!”

“Single, yes. You don’t have to be in a relationship to be attached to someone,” the money monger pointed out.

Wincing, she rubbed a hand over her knee. “I see.” Pause. “You know Isao-kun?” How did that happen?

He nodded. “He and his not-boyfriend stopped by Genma’s place Sunday. They commissioned a couple pieces. I like Isao, actually. Very gullible. Easy to manipulate.”

“… Oh god. What did he tell you?”

“Besides the fact that you apparently spent most of your ‘date’ talking about me?”

Tenten shot to her feet. “It wasn’t a date!”

A brow lifted. “That was sarcasm, Tenten. Sit down.”

She felt her cheeks redden. “And if I talked about you, it was because Isao-kun kept asking,” she muttered as she sat down completely on the floor, legs folded under her.

“Uh huh.” That was the perfect example of disbelief. He didn’t even have the decency to hide it.

Reaching out, she poked him in the leg.

His brow lifted again.

Huffing, Tenten let her arm drop. Then met his eyes. “Can I think about this?” She gestured at the two of them. “I need to sort out a lot things.” She grimaced. “Mostly my feelings dealing with Neji.” Barely hanging on to eye contact, she added, “I guess, I want some time. Need it really.”

He shook his head. “Not allowed. I’m completely unreasonable and want you to decide everything right this moment.” Heavy on the sarcasm. In the next moment, though, his expression… didn’t quite soften, but became less… Kakuzu. “Of course, Tenten.”

Letting her breath out in a gusty sigh, Tenten laughed weakly. “Thanks… and you’re an ass.” She leaned back, letting her legs sprawl out in front of her. “Still like being around you though.”

“The feeling is mutual.” He shrugged. “You’re welcome to hang out with me whenever I’m not working or in class… granted, that’s not often.”

“So just the same then, hmm?” She smiled, pulling out her cell phone. “Well… let’s change at least one thing. What’s your phone number?”

He smirked and tugged out his phone from his backpack. A few button clicks later, and she had a text from him. “There you go.”

Brow twitching, she pointed a finger at him. “I knew it!”

His expression was almost innocent. Well, for Kakuzu. “Knew what?”

Tenten subsided with a grumble about sneaky-snarky-ass information brokers and saved his number to her phone. “I can’t believe what I’m getting myself into.”

Kakuzu chuckled softly, and leaned back a little. “Like I said—you’ve got balls. It’s one of the reasons you fit in so well.” Pause. “That, and the scowl.”

“Oi. I only just found out about the latter one. Go easy on me. I’m still adjusting here.”

“Yes because adjusting to the idea you have a scowl is so hard.”

Turning her head, Tenten glared up at him. “You are so lucky we’re in a hospital.” Actually, that went both ways. Even when damaged, Kakuzu was the personification of controlled violence. She thought about that for a moment, sighed and tried not to pout. Tickle fights were going to suck.

xXx

The nurse came back then, and lead them to a room, where they waited for twenty minutes before another nurse came to take his temperature, his pulse, and other things, as well as ask him what he was there for (like it wasn’t obvious). Then she left, saying the doctor would, ‘be along shortly’ and that she would see about pain meds for him to take. Because one look at his face and the stupid woman was willing to do anything to keep him from trying to bite her or something equally horrifying.

Ten minutes after that, she brought him some Hydrocodone in pill form and a glass of water. He took it, and settled back after she left.

“Fucking finally. An hour. A whole fucking hour we’ve been here, and I’m only now getting the fucking pain meds,” he grumbled irritably to the girl sitting in the chair by the hospital bed.

Humming, Tenten pulled out her phone and glanced at the screen. “Does it usually take this long?” she asked, frowning as she looked back up at him.

“In the hospital?” he responded, brow quirking as he looked at her. When she nodded, he shrugged. “Yeah. Actually, this is more quickly than normal. Must not be too busy.” That, and the idiots tended to take their time with Hidan. Usually because he’d tell them to, and being in a room with that moron was pretty unnerving for some people.

Most people.

Green eyes shifted toward Tenten again as she peered down at her screen. “He still fucking whining at you?” At least he’d given up calling Kakuzu. That fucking cackling got on his nerves.

She snorted. “Oh yeah. He’s raging alright. But I think the pain meds have calmed him down. A bit.” Flashing him a smile, Tenten turned the screen to Kakuzu. There was a text from Hidan.

Kakuzu eyed the words. ‘Well good. Fucking asshole might return my calls now. Motherfucker.

And rolled his eyes. “Who the fuck does he think I am? His girlfriend? Tell him to fuck himself and no I ain’t calling him back. Pussy.”

Retracting the phone, she tapped rapidly on the screen for a few seconds before tucking it away. “Tomorrow is going to be a long day,” she murmured, rolling her shoulders. “Good thing the only important class in the morning is a self-study period.”

He smirked at her. “You could go home,” he pointed out. “I can wait for Hinata or Hidan.”

“Uh huh.” One brow arched. “And you could have refused Neji’s call out. I doubt he would have stood there arguing for more than maybe ten minutes.”

Like hell. Not with how upset you were, he thought, brow twitching. He scowled and looked away, glaring toward the door as if he could summon the doctor with pure willpower. It wasn’t working.

“So, besides pool, how else do you con people?” When he turned back towards her, Tenten gave him a wry smile. “You can’t play.”

He blinked. Fucking arm. “Many ways. Hidan. Hinata. Information trade.” He paused, debating the wisdom of voicing the next option in a hospital, then decided he didn’t care. “Blackmail.”

One corner of her mouth quirked up at the first answer. She nodded at the second. But both brows jumped up at the Hyuuga’s name. And she snorted at the last. “I pity the people you run into in the next month. Especially before your first cup of coffee.”

“Coffee. Coffee would be brilliant right now,” he said, annoyed. “Unfortunately, I’m not allowed.”

As if summoned by his contemplation on breaking the rules, the doctor came then. He poked and prodded some more, Kakuzu almost punched him (until Tenten grabbed his good wrist to keep him from doing it). It could have been worse, though. At least the money monger was on pain meds, even if only a little.

Eventually the man gave Kakuzu another Hydrocodone pill (they’d given him only one before) and left to take care of X-Ray arrangements. Because clearly it wasn’t obvious that Kakuzu’s arm was broken.

“Fucking assholes.”

Still standing just at his side, Tenten shook her head. “I’m just glad you didn’t deck him.”

He sighed and relaxed as much as he could. “Thanks for stopping me. The lawsuit would have been too much of a hassle.”

“And then things would have really slowed down,” she added wryly. “Is it kicking in yet?”

Yeah, that was definite pain-meds-feeling. “Uh huh.” He turned his head to look at her, brow furrowing faintly. “You should con someone into letting me have coffee. Coffee would be fantastic right now.”

She snorted. “There’s a reason why they wouldn’t allow you caffeine. I was here for that, remember?”

“I remember. You should get it anyway,” he replied, stubbornly. When she frowned at him, he smirked, and it occurred to him that she’d look much better with her hair down. “How long is your hair?”

“Erm…” Blinking, she waved a hand somewhere down past her ass. “Bout there.”

That was long. “Can I see it?”

“Down? Oh hell no. Takes forever to get it back up again.”

He frowned at her, and heaved a sigh. “I’ll help you put it back up.”

Tenten burst into laughter. “You and what army? You only have one arm.”

What would make her do it… “I’ll go punch someone if you don’t show me,” he said, grinning faintly at her.

“No, you…” She broke off with a snap as his grin widened. “Okay, maybe you would, but then you’d have to deal with a lawsuit. And that’s not worth seeing my hair down.”

“Yes it is,” he said, reaching out with his good hand.

Yelping, Tenten took a step back. “Kakuzu… not a good idea.”

He shook his head. “I think it’s a great idea. C’mon, Tenten, it’s hair.”

“Yeah, so it’s long and a pain and it’s fine where it is,” she groused back. “You can look at it later.” Still… she wasn’t moving any further away. In fact, she wasn’t that far at all.

Determined, he pushed his hand against the bed, shifting himself toward a sitting position, and winced at a spike of pain that shot through his arm and down his spine. “Fuck.” He shook his head and looked toward her. “Please?”

“You are an idiot,” she hissed in reply, one arm already supporting his back and her free hand pressing down on his sternum. “Yes. Now lie down!”

Feeling dizzyingly smug, he let her push him back down, and waited expectantly.

For a moment, she stood over him, two fingers rubbing a tight circle between her brows. “Urghhh.” Then she tilted her head to the side and started picking out pins. Lots of pins. They glinted ebony blue-black where they lay on the sheets by his shoulder. Some of them had something painted on them. The seconds passed by, and she finally had one of the buns unpinned. Kakuzu felt his eyes widen as, when she tilted her head the other way, the coiled mass unfurled and flowed down her shoulder. Way down.

He waited though, resisting the sudden urge to reach out and run his fingers through it. He wondered if it was as soft as it looked. After a moment, the second one was down, and she ran her hands back through it to straighten out the remaining loops.

He stopped resisting, and reached out, catching a handful of hair and letting it slip from his palm. “Wow.”

He briefly recalled a tall woman with a sweet smile, pale eyes and hair so long, he’d thought it went on for miles. (He didn’t often let himself remember that woman, from so long ago, but this time, he somehow didn’t feel as bitter about it.)

Tenten, meanwhile, was watching him like a hawk. “Don’t know why everyone makes a big deal about it.” She swept a hand across the back of her neck, catching most of the mass and twisting it into a single long rope that she brought it around to rest between her two hands. “But I guess… not many people keep it this long.”

Nodding slowly, he grabbed it again, and offered her a faint smile. “Have you ever tried braiding it?” he murmured, twisting it one-handed around his wrist.

Standing with her hands empty, eyes on him, Tenten shrugged. “Yep. but it still got in the way. It’s heavy and if it snags on something, it hurts.”

“Hm.” He let its weight pull it toward the ground again, but caught it. “Why do you keep it so long, then?”

Humming, she pulled a section out near her ear on the opposite side and began to braid it. “I’m used to it,” she answered, the loose weave down to her jaw. “And I think, if I did cut it, I’d regret it.”

“It must take a lot of care…” he murmured, feeling a bit… sluggish. “Okaa-san kept it long… Kept it long until the day that…” He felt the silken slide of the hair falling, and caught it again, tightening his grip just enough to keep hold. “I like it.”

The two of them fiddled with the long black strands for a while, long enough that he lost track of time. Then Tenten huffed a soft laugh. “I think I should invest in shampoo stocks,” she said, handing him a long length of shining black that gleamed. She had braided several feet of it. “But yeah… I like it too.”

He was seriously contemplating on using his grip to tug her closer. Close enough to kiss her. However, the door opened, and another doctor stepped in with a smile. He explained that he was there to take Kakuzu for the X-Ray. Kakuzu released her hair reluctantly, and exhaled. “Don’t put it up before I come back?” he murmured as the man stepped around the bed to unhook it from the floor so he could roll it out.

Smiling, Tenten pointed at the side of his bed. “You have the pins.” And before he disappeared through the doors, she waved at him, fingers flashing through the mass of strands, leaving loose braids behind.

For the next fifteen minutes, he endured the X-Rays and the doctor’s cheerful talking. He wasn’t paying attention, though. He was thinking about Tenten, and her long hair. He was thinking about pale green eyes. About anger and rage and…

“Alright, we’re done.”

The words knocked him from his thoughts as he felt the bed start to move again. “How much longer?”

“Well, Dr. Zumi will have the X-Rays to you shortly, and then we’ll probably look into a cast. How’d you do that anyway?” he asked, and laughed. “Fighting?”

Idiot. “Thank you.”

The doctor chuckled as he pushed Kakuzu back into his hospital room. Tenten was still sitting in the same chair, several braids already collected in her lap. She made a point of glancing at the cheerful doctor and raising a brow. He smiled faintly at her as the man settled him, and then left. “Wait long?”

Amused, she raised her hands and looked down into the nest of black coils. “Naah.”

He chuckled, and sighed. “Any word from Hidan while I was gone?” he murmured, a bit more awake now from all the moving.

“Nothing new,” she reported. “‘Miss you’, ‘call me’, ‘I’m worried’, ‘good luck’, and sometimes, ‘don’t do that without me there’.” She raised a brow at his incredulous look. “Obviously, not verbatim.”

“Obviously,” he said flatly, and snorted, shifting to sit up a little. “Hm. There should be a little remote-looking thing attached to the bed somewhere. Do you see it?”

“Down,” she commanded, rising to her feet, the braids falling in thick ropes around her torso. “You keep doing that,” she grumbled checking around the rails of the bed. “Maybe on the other side,” the girl muttered, pacing around the bed, eyes searching.

He laid back again, and snorted. “If you can find it, I’ll stop sitting up.”

“Working on that.” Up near his bad side, Tenten sighed and picked up the slim white control. “Of course it would be on this side.” She traced the cord up with one hand to where it clipped into the top corner of the bed. With a twist of her wrist, it popped free and Tenten lifted it from around the mattress, one end in her hands, the other end still connected to the top of the mechanical bed. “Hold on, I think I can flip the wire over.”

She leaned forward to toss it… and her hair cascaded over them both.

Kakuzu smirked as she moved, the fingers of his injured arm catching a couple of the braids when they brushed past. She must have felt the tug, because she paused and looked down.

“You sure you should be doing that?” she asked, a frown puckering her brows.

“My arm is broken, not my fingers,” he replied mildly. Though, his knuckles were a bit scraped up.

Shrugging, she placed the control on his stomach and tossed the loose cord over his head to the other side. “Well, you’re gonna have to let go now,” she said, easing back, clearly waiting.

He reluctantly released her hair so she could circle back to her seat. However, he motioned for her to scoot closer so he could grab hold again.

There was a remarkable lack of protest from Tenten as she brought the chair over those few inches, but she still gave him long suffering look. “This isn’t going to happen again anytime soon,” she told him. “Just so you know.”

We’ll see about that, he thought, strangely content as he was right now, and smiled at her. He didn’t respond aloud though, and continued fiddling with her hair.

After a bout of silence, Tenten hummed and propped one elbow up on the bed, resting her chin on her upraised palm. “So this is what you’re like on prescription drugs,” she said with a grin. “What the heck do you do when it’s Hidan sitting here?”

“Punch him in the throat if he comes any closer than the wall,” Kakuzu responded with a snort.

Turning her face away, she coughed. Which sounded very close to laughter. “Seriously?”

“Seriously.” He didn’t mention that Hidan liked it, because that wasn’t something the albino advertised. He’d told Hinata, but that was because they were dating. She’d needed to know. She’d become one of three people that knew that particular truth.

She was cautiously shaking her head as she turned back to him, movement limited on account of her pinned hair. “What do the two of you talk about?” Tenten paused and wrinkled her nose. “No, don’t answer that. I feel like I’m interrogating you.” She huffed. “Ask me something.”

He quirked a brow. “Who are your parents? What do they do?”

“Mom’s name is Ziyi Mei Ling,” Tenten answered after a blink, then settled down with a distant expression. “She works as an accountant for a bank. Dad’s name is Wei Leung Chiu and he’s a real-estate broker.” She shrugged. “They’re both back in China. I live here with one of my cousins, Xi Feng.”

“How come?” he asked, shifting into a more comfortable position.

Shrugging, she curled loose strands around a finger. “My parents believe that living here is good… but they both had a better chance of making money overseas.” She crooked an eyebrow at him. “I believe you can empathize with that. In any case, they had dual citizenship, and once I was born here, they went back. My grandparents were here of course… but my cousin took me in, and well, I’m happier with her.”

He smirked. “Good. Wouldn’t want you running away from me,” he teased, voice a tired growl.

The girl at his bedside dropped her jaw. “Er… Right,” she managed finally. Then her brows tucked together. “And I never run from you.”

“That’s why you’re so awesome,” he responded, closing his eyes and grinning. He listened for her intake of breath, telling him when she would speak next.

“Geez, Kakuzu…” she muttered. “You gonna remember any of this later?”

He chuckled. “Every word.”

The bed shifted as Tenten snorted. “You going to admit to any of it?”

He opened one eye. “Why?” he asked, smirking.

“You haven’t said a single swear word since I let my hair down,”

“I believe swearing is Hidan’s habit,” he pointed out mildly. Though he conceded the truth of that.

Glancing down, Tenten chuckled. “I’ve been wondering if long hair is your mellow switch.”

He snorted. “Who knows,” he mumbled, and opened his eyes fully as he heard the door handle turn. A doctor came in, and spent twenty minutes speaking with him about the break in his arm, they discussed a few options, and finally the man left again, claiming he’d be ‘right back’ with the casting material.

Kakuzu heaved a sigh. “Update Hidan.”

Her hair twisted back into a manageable rope, Tenten hummed in her chair and turned on her phone. “I’m sending texts to him and Hinata. She should be coming out of work pretty soon.”

He nodded. “Alright,” he murmured, exhaling. “Has anyone else contacted you about this?”

“Had a few texts from Itachi and Deidara. Kisame sent a picture of tentacles and said something about upgrading.” Tenten grinned. “Hidan’s been pretty constant. Hinata only twice, but the last time she said Hidan calls her everytime I send him a report. Sakura sent an email… I skimmed over while the doctor was here just now. Naruto, of all people, wants to take on Neji. Again. I think Hinata told him about this.” She shook her head. “Poor Sarutobi-san.”

The information broker scoffed. “I hope you told him it’s already been dealt with. Hyuuga is a fool, but he’s been punished. That’s the end of it, unless he does something else stupid.”

But Tenten was blinking down at her phone, at all the new phone numbers in her log file. “I just realized… I’m on your club’s call list.”

“I think you’ve been added to the club, honestly,” he replied, amused. He should have warned her about Hidan’s mouth. Then he frowned. Tentacles. Why does that— “Give me my phone.” He held his hand out.

“Just wonderful…” Leaning down, she dug around a bit before pulling it out. “Here.”

He snatched it, and shifted it around. Typed in the password, scrolled through the texts… Added one. ‘Fuck you. In fact, go fuck your boyfriend. Keep your nose out of my shit. I will roast you alive if you talk to her like that again.

Five seconds after the text had been sent, his phone buzzed in his hand. Tenten’s eyebrows swept up as he checked it with a snarl.

Yikes! I see you’re feeling just fine then. XD If I walk in through the door, can I at least keep my face?’

Only if you bring a coffee with you.’

“What’s with that grin?”

Kakuzu looked up at her. “Might wanna tuck your hairpins away, and get our things under the bed or the chair. They’ve been in the waiting room for a while.” Served the bastards right.

Wide brown eyes blinked at him, before she snatched the pins off the bed and tucked them into a pocket. “How many?” she asked, as she shook out most of the braids.

“I don’t know. A few. Probably… Itachi, Kisame… Deidara. Hinata if she’s gotten here yet.” He paused, thinking. “Maybe that twit Nara if Kisame’s stopped pretending there isn’t something between them.”

“Eh?” Arms up and hands knuckles deep in the hair at her nape, Tenten was standing one hip braced against the bed. “Nara Shikamaru?”

“No, Nara Shikaku,” Kakuzu retorted. “Yes, Shikamaru. What, you think they hang out because of coincidence?”

But Tenten’s grin was so wide. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but my gaydar is pretty useless.” And with a few deft twists of her fingers, she had a single large braid started. Two sweeps of her feet had their bags tucked under the bed and by the time there was a scuffle by the door, she had pulled the last half to her front to finish.

“Aaallo. Room service,” Kisame’s voice called through the door. There was another squawk of indignation. “With coffee!”

Kakuzu considered the door a beat, eyes narrowed, then scoffed. “Fine, come in,” he said flatly.

The door opened to Kisame’s wide grinning face, with Deidara looking pissed as he peered around the larger boy’s shoulder. “Oy, give it back, un!”

The large blue teen didn’t even blink as he stepped inside. “I like my face, dude. It’s the only one I’ve got,” he replied in a reasonable tone. Behind him, Itachi snorted and Hinata slipped between the two, Kisame handing off the caffeine. She ended up standing by Tenten as the rest of group caught up.

“I just got the text,” Hinata said, carefully placing the hot cup into Kakuzu’s waiting palm. “Hidan’s vibrating bad enough to start breaking things.”

“They’re not done with me, just so you know,” Kakuzu said, frowning slightly. “He’ll be back shortly, and you’d better all get the fuck out of his way when he does.”

Deidara made a face at him. “Tch. You’re such an asshole, Kakuzu.” Then he sidled up to Tenten. “Thanks for keeping him company, un. It’s really appreciated.” He grinned at her, flicking his bangs out of his eyes.

By then, Tenten had finished off her braid and now tossed it over her shoulder. “Why does everyone keep telling me that?” she asked, clearly confused.

“Because it’s true,” Itachi answered from the other side of the bed. He was gazing straight at her with that considering expression… Made further noticeable since Kisame was by his side doing the exact same thing.

Kakuzu had gulped down most of the coffee by that time, and now lowered the cup. “Stop fucking hassling her,” he growled.

Which, apparently, meant their attention should shift toward hassling Kakuzu. Fucking blonds. “Awww. Look at that, un. Tenten’s knight in shining armor! Beating up bad guys, ranting at his friends about it… You’re practically a saint, un.”

The broker was reaching for the blond’s throat when there was a knock on the door, and the doctor politely requested they wait in the hall while he put the cast on.

Of course, as soon as it was done—roughly fifteen minutes later—they all came back in and the doctor left. Presumably to get discharge papers, as well as a prescription for meds, and other informational things.

Kakuzu almost got Deidara’s throat this time. Luckily, Hinata managed to nudge the blond out of the way in time and into Kisame who looped an arm around the so-called artist’s shoulders and dragged him several feet from the bed. Meanwhile, Tenten was holding a hushed conversation in the corner with Itachi.

His eyes narrowed as he watched the two. Not because he thought Itachi might be doing something he’d regret later—the man was both smitten with Sakura, and smarter than to mess with someone that Kakuzu was interested in—or even because Itachi might be threatening her or something. Again because Itachi was smarter than that.

No, he was annoyed because it occurred to him that his well-intentioned but obnoxious friends might decide to meddle in his affairs. And it was all Hidan’s fault.

I need to beat him later.

xXx

Itachi was a smart guy. Everyone knew that. So why wasn’t he actually listening to her?

“I’m not his girlfriend, Itachi. Stop looking at me like that.”

One dark brow arched up. “I did not say you were.” No, he didn’t say it, but she hadn’t missed the way they seemed to make a big deal about her staying. “However, you are the one asking for space. Why would you ask for that if you weren’t considering?”

Shaking her head, she brushed a few wayward strands from her face with an irritated flick of a hand. “Considering and being, are two different states. And the more I feel like I’m being told to do something…”

Itachi’s mouth twitched once before he nodded. “The less you like your situation, I understand.”

“I’m not sure you do,” she shot back. “I may not choose to be with him even with all my options laid out.” His black eyes narrowed and Tenten’s right hand closed into a fist. “He’s a good guy, but I’m messed up right now. Emotionally, I’m still reeling.”

She stole a glance back at the bed and saw green eyes. Pressing her lips together, she turned back to find Itachi frowning down at her. They really weren’t that different in height, so why did she feel eight inches tall?

“I’m not playing with him. I’ve told him straight out that I need time.” Feeling the need to do something, she grabbed the end of her braid and pulled it apart. “He knows what I’m telling you now, but the rest don’t. It’s crazy already without others adding their opinions. If we want opinions or help, we’ll ask, I’m sure. But this,” she let go of her hair and pulled out her phone, waving it, with all the messages asking about Kakuzu listed on the screen, under his nose, “cannot happen. I’m not his.”

Raising a hand, Itachi curled fingers over the glowing phone, hitting the sleep button as it rested between their hands. “Then accept that tonight only happened because you were with him when we could not be. You are merely here at the right time and gave your contact information to Hidan.” He let go. “Perhaps Kakuzu should have warned you, Hidan doesn’t keep secrets he doesn’t deem secrets. If you don’t want him to tell, you must inform him of that first.”

Fingers white around her phone, she slipped it into a pocket. But Itachi wasn’t done yet.

“We do not expect you to do anything.” He met her gaze and held it. “Above everything, we respect individuality. Everyone makes their own choices and have their own reasons. I, nor anyone else, will tell you to conform to our wishes.”

Tenten could feel the blood drain from her features. Is everything about our break up so obvious? Kakuzu had told her yes. And of course, he was right.

Itachi sighed. “We will leave you alone. Until you, yourself, advise me otherwise, we will not contact you. Unless,” he held up a finger, “it pertains to Hinata. Is this acceptable?”

Blinking rapidly, she took in a shuddering breath. “Yes.” That was exactly what she had asked for. And it seemed… so strange that it only took a few minutes for it to be arranged. “Thank you, Itachi.”

A huff drew her eyes upwards. The ‘club’ leader seemed both amused and pained. “I’m not doing this for you alone,” Itachi murmured, lips twitching. “If we scare you off, Kakuzu will kill us all. And it will not be in our sleep.” His attention was cast not on her, but behind her, so Tenten turned…

Oh dear. Yes, Kakuzu usually looked murderous when not amused, but this was with intent.

“For now, please go talk to him,” Itachi requested softly. “Hidan is typically here to distract him, and even he feels off balance when they are not together.”

Feeling her lips quirking up—that was an understatement—she nodded. “I can understand that.” And returned the semi-formal nod that Itachi gave her. This is so surreal!

They both walked towards the bed, her to Kakuzu’s cast side, and Itachi further on. Kisame looked up with a tilted head and relinquished his hold on Deidara. Hinata watched wide-eyed from where she stood by the bed.

“We need to talk,” Itachi said, and gestured to the door.

The only other girl, hesitated for a moment, meeting both Tenten’s gaze and then Kakuzu’s before nodding.

Deidara stepped away from Kisame, head tilting as his gaze darted between Itachi, Tenten and Kakuzu. Then he nodded. “Sure thing, un! I’m gonna go get myself a coffee… Kakuzu, wanna ‘nother one?”

“That would be appreciated,” was the still-irritated growl of a response.

“Kay. We can talk over there.” The blond scurried off, the others drifting after him, and Kakuzu didn’t stop glaring after them until their voices receded down the hall.

Then he was looking at Tenten again. “What was that about?”

“I was making a request,” she said, mind still trying to absorb Itachi’s words. “I asked for non-interference.”

At that, some of his anger seemed to fade, and he relaxed against the bed. A beat passed before he gulped down the dregs of his coffee and crumbled the styrofoam cup in his fist. “Thank you,” he murmured. “Probably should have warned you about Hidan’s mouth… I just didn’t think about it at the time. For that, I apologize.”

“Don’t worry about it. I accept.” Letting out a shaky laugh, Tenten rubbed a hand over her face. “Itachi almost said the same thing.” Though, he didn’t apologize. “And you were in pain. I can understand that your thinking isn’t at it’s best.”

“If you want, you can beat on him later,” he offered, smirking at her.

Snorting, Tenten lifted one slim arm. “I can’t beat up anyone.” Though, she chuckled at his upraised brow. “Okay, maybe I do a lot of damage with blades, but that’s different.”

He smirked. “Maybe we should remedy that, eventually,” he said thoughtfully. “Can you take a hit?” He was eying her, as if thinking she couldn’t.

Rearing back, Tenten narrowed her eyes. “A hit? Yes. I can get through a spar, but not a beating.” That certainly was never part of her extra-curricular training. “Why?”

“Accidents happen. And sometimes not-accidents. We’re a violent crowd.” Pause. “Especially Sakura.”

Tenten eased down with a laugh. “She is why Naruto and Sasuke are so tough.” She shrugged. “I used to train with Lee and Neji. So yes, I can take hits. But I don’t have the stamina to beat someone into a pulp like you guys seem to.” She was rather proud being able to say his name with stuttering.

Kakuzu nodded. “That’s alright.” He paused, thoughtfully, and opened his mouth to continue.

The door opened, the doctor stepping in with a handful of papers, and small cup with a pill. “I’ll need you to take this. I suppose you have a ride home?” he asked, setting the papers down on the counter. He handed the pill cup over, and Kakuzu’s glass of water from earlier.

The casted male nodded. “Yeah. She’s bringing me.” He nodded toward Tenten.
The doctor glanced at her and smiled before focusing on Kakuzu. “Great.” He took both cups back and set them aside, before picking up a small sheet of paper. “This is your prescription. There are two refills, if you need more after that, consult your doctor. These are your discharge papers,” he reached out, grabbing a one-legged table with wheels and tugging it over for a writing surface, “and insurance information. And this is a packet detailing what to expect, and who to contact should you have any questions, comments or problems.”

“Thank you,” Kakuzu said, scrawling his signature on the discharge papers. “Can I go now?”

“Absolutely. Miss? You’ll probably need help with him—the meds I just gave him will make him very drowsy. He’ll also need to get some food in him within the next couple of hours,” the doctor said to Tenten.

“Yes, Doctor,” she said nodding. “Thank you.”

He smiled at her, taking the papers from Kakuzu, and separating a yellow page from the back of one. He handed this to Kakuzu, then bowed to them both. “Have a nice evening. Good luck with that cast. You’ll want to check in with your doctor weekly about it.” He waved, and left them to their own devices.

Kakuzu grunted and sat fully up, draping his legs over the side of the bed. He slid to his feet, then bent to drag his and Tenten’s bags out from beneath it. He shouldered his and held hers out to her. “Lets get the fuck out of here. We’ll probably find the others in the waiting room clustered like children around the stupid vending machines.”

Humming, Tenten took her bag, though she paused with a grimace when she slung it over her shoulder. “Ugh… Not used to this.” She reached back and tugged the braid out from under the pack.

He smirked and held the door for her. “You look nice.”

At that moment, she was in the process of passing in front of him, and so he had a full view of her eyes widening right before she stumbled. Regaining her balance with a quick step, she turned and glared at him. “And you’re aggravating.”

His smile was wide and smug. He bowed mockingly. “I shall take that as a compliment.”

Tenten scowled at him. “You would.” Then she turned on her heel and continued out and down the hall. “You coming?”

“Yeah.” Damn, how could he be that quiet? Because he was coming. He was right behind her.

Damn sneaky-snarky-ass pool shark… “I can’t wait for you to get drowsy again.” She was gonna get him home, shove him through his front door, turn around and call a cab home. She had so much to think about…

His only answer was a chuckle.

When they got to the entrance of the waiting room, right beside the doors leading out of the ER, they indeed spotted their friends—sans Hinata—by the vending machines. Deidara spotted them first and ducked between Itachi and Kisame to head over.

“Yo! Ready to go, un?” the blond asked cheerfully. “We were thinkin’ about grabbing a bite before we split up. Probably McDonalds or something, un. You two game? Gotta pick up something for Hinata anyway.”

Kakuzu huffed and looked questioningly at Tenten.

Who was frowning. “She doesn’t have anything to eat?” Well there went the idea that Kakuzu could eat when he got home. Rolling her eyes, she sighed. “I need to teach that girl how to shop—Yeah, we’ll come along.”

Deidara blinked at her, tilted his head, then shrugged. “Sweet. There’s one three blocks east, near the Easy Mart, un. We can meet up there.” He smiled at her, smirked at Kakuzu, and wiggled his fingers at them on his way toward the doors.

Kakuzu shot Itachi an unreadable look.

“We all need to eat,” Itachi said, in way of explanation. “You two in particular.”

Tenten reached out and pulled on Kakuzu’s pack strap. “C’mon, doctor’s orders,” she said, smiling slightly. “Besides, I’ve only had a few muffins since class ended.” She could put off some heavy-duty thinking time.

He finally nodded and followed her out to his truck. From there, the ride to the restaurant was short and silent, Kakuzu almost nodding off during it, to the point that Tenten had to apologize to the others and get their food to go. Otherwise he might have just zonked out in a booth.

Then they were on their way to the new Zombie Den; they pulled up to the apartment complex at a quarter to twelve, and Kakuzu stumbled out of his door the second they parked.

“Hi Hinata… Yeah, we’re here. He’s on his way in, but he’s dead on his feet.” Tenten hurried after him. “Could you buzz us in?”

And yes, Hinata could in fact buzz them in.

Kakuzu dragged the door open and headed for the elevator, leaning against the wall once they were inside. He blinked sleepily at her. “You talkin’ to Hina?” he asked after a beat.

“Yeah.” She eyed him for a moment before taking his good arm and slinging it over her shoulder. “Don’t say a word.”

“Why not?” he asked, brow furrowing as he tried half-heartedly to tug his arm away.

Adjusting her grip on his wrist, she reached out and punched the button for his floor. “Because it kinda looks like I slipped you a roofie.”

He paused. “Oh.” Frowned. “I’m more careful with my drinks than that…”

Here I am… not his girlfriend, and I’m hauling him into his apartment to sleep off drugs. After he broke his arm defending my feelings. Tenten felt like banging her head against the metal wall. Feels like a done deal doesn’t it?

“I’m sure you are,” she said, and wrapped an arm around his waist as he leaned. As out of her comfort zone as this was, she wasn’t going to let him fall on his face.

He nodded. “Hey… Tenten,” he murmured after a few seconds. “It’s okay… if you just wanna be my friend… I can do that.” He paused, apparently unaware of just how awkward this was quickly becoming. “‘Cause I like being around you too.”

It was a good thing he was so out of it, otherwise he would have mocked her for dropping her jaw. Tenten coughed and bore down with an iron will on the hysterical urge to giggle that bubbled up. “I… really appreciate that,” she said finally as the bell chimed and the doors opened. “Let’s just get you to bed and we can talk about this later.”

“Okay,” he murmured softly. “If you want. Don’t let those assholes bother you, either… I’ll beat ‘em up.”

And ain’t that just so sweet… “I appreciate that too.” Though I think Itachi has that covered.

“You do?”

Only a few doors down the hall, Tenten paused and looked at him. “I appreciate what you do,” she said earnestly, trying to get her meaning through his fuzzy-drugged out mind. “It’s just what happens before that makes you step in… that I don’t like.”

“I don’t understand,” he admitted, looking up. Frowned. “Where’s Hidan?”

Sighing, she frowned herself. “It’s about midnight now.. He still has another two hours before he’s out.” Four doors down, Hinata must have heard their voices, because her door opened up and she hurried out. Tenten waved with a tired smile. “We brought chicken nuggets,” she called softly.

“Hi Tenten. Hi Kakuzu,” Hinata greeted them in low tones. “I’ll take the bags, you bring him in?”

Tenten nodded and shrugged her bag off, miraculously the braid didn’t snag. “Don’t forget your dinner.”

The other girl smiled and stepped back with the bags as they trudged down the hall to their door. “You doing alright, Kakuzu?”

He nodded. “Am. Thanks, Hina,” he murmured, tugging away from Tenten. He stumbled into the apartment and paused long enough in the foyer to get his shoes off. Then he went into the kitchen and rummaged one-handed around in the fridge.

He ended up pulling out a cola.

Tenten could see all that from just the front door. Turning to Hinata, she smiled and rolled her shoulders. “I guess I’ll get going now.”

To her surprise, Hinata’s brows winged up. “Uh uh. Get in there.”

“Whaa?”

Four seconds later, she was stumbling shoeless inside the apartment, Hinata leading her away from a locked door. “You’re sleeping here,” the Hyuuga girl was saying. “There’s no point in you getting a cab tonight. We can leave together in the morning. Besides, you’ve got clothing here.”

“Hinata…” For all her protests, Tenten was shoved down onto the couch and Hinata disappeared into the kitchen. Tenten laughed softly. “Oh, what the hell. Fine!”

Kakuzu made his way back with their food bag, and sat on the couch. “You gotta be neat, Tenten,” he told her firmly. “In this house. Neat.” He either didn’t hear, or didn’t care about the snort from the vicinity of the kitchen.

She lifted her arms in exasperation. “Hey, Hinata left my bag in her room, so I can’t be any tidier than I am now,” she told him.

“I’m just making sure,” he explained, leaning back. He offered her the bag. “I think your food’s in here.”

Giving him a once over, from his open expression to the fact that he was offering food to her first, Tenten sighed. “You’re strangely cute like this, you know that?”

He smiled at her. “Thanks. That’s a good thing, right?”

She nodded and burst into giggles. Oh god, I’m doomed when he’s back to being lucid tomorrow. “Gimme that bag. Let’s sort out dinner.”

Relinquishing it, he smiled at Hinata as she returned. “Hi Hina. How long ‘till Hidan gets home? I owe him a punch to the face.”

Lips twitching, Hinata replied with a straight face, “An hour and a half. Why do you owe him that?”

“Can’t remember,” Kakuzu said thoughtfully. “But I do. I know I do. ‘Cause I remember that. Mental note.” He nodded and nudged Tenten. “Done yet? M’hungry.”

Tenten in the meanwhile was curled up with both hands clamped over her mouth, holding back some pretty hard laughter. Hinata took pity and rescued the bag that was dangling from her fingers.

Shaking her head at Tenten, Hinata fished out four boxes of chicken nuggets. She snorted. “Tired much?” One box was handed off to Kakuzu. “Go for it.”

“Yay,” Kakuzu said, and opened the box.

Tenten let out a ‘Meep!’ and stumbled up from the couch, fleeing to Hinata’s room. Spying the giant pink beanbag, she kicked close the door and collapsed into it. And lost it.

Back in the living room, Hinata giggled as Kakuzu looked down the hall in confusion. “She’s okay, really,” she tried to assure him.

He frowned and looked at her. “You sure about that?” he asked. “Her face was pretty… red.”

“Yup. Just eat okay? Tenten’ll be back by the time you’re done. Then you can say goodnight.”

He nodded. “Kay. Tell Hidan he’s a dick and he should come home as soon as he’s done with work. But not before. He needs to make the money. And not get fired. And stuff.” He paused, and grimaced. “I sound like a fucking idiot.”

“For the sake of my future peace of mind, I’m not going to respond to that,” Hinata deadpanned. “Nuggets. Eat.” Setting an example, she opened up her own box and one of the dipping sauces. “BBQ or honey mustard?”

“Honey mustard,” he said as he moved to obey her wishes. And once he’d started, he didn’t stop until they were gone.

In fact, he forgot about the dipping sauce.

True to Hinata’s promise, Tenten emerged just as Kakuzu was licking the crumbs from his fingers and searching the box just in case. “Hey,” she said, still flushed and hiccuping. “Sorry about that.”

Grinning widely, Hinata passed a third box to her. “No problem. Took me a few times to get used to this too.”

“S’impossible to get used to me,” Kakuzu piped up, and huffed. “It’s gone.”

Amused, Tenten popped open her share and offered it to him. “Want some of mine?”

“No. You eat it. You only had those muffins,” he said, pointedly, and got up to go raid the fridge.

“You’ll notice that he’s got quite the memory,” Hinata said to the stunned expression on Tenten’s face, “for anything he thinks is important.”

“No kidding.” Then the Chinese girl seemed to remember the chicken in front of her and dug in.

Kakuzu came back with some cold leftovers and sat again, frowning faintly. “Where’d my phone go, Hina?” He paused, then shook his head. “No, Tenten. You were with me. Where… Oh right.” He set the plate down on the coffee table, got up and went for his room, where Hinata had put his bag. He returned after a minute, looking annoyed. “Dumbass.”

Tenten looked over, but it was Hinata who took a guess. “Hidan again?”

She only got a grunt of assent before he put his phone to his ear. A beat, then, “Fucking stop texting me, dumbass. … no. Yeah, that’s right, so stop running your fucking mouth. Good.” He paused, making a face. “Shut the fuck up. Nah, I’m good.” He snickered. “Yep. Three.”

Turning back to look at her best friend, Hinata reached over and patted Tenten’s knee. “Sorry, I didn’t realize you hadn’t eaten anything until he showed up and asked.”

Tenten shrugged. “Not your fault. I just got too focused. If I don’t, then I really can’t concentrate, even if it’s my own notes.”

“Well, if that’s not enough,” she smiled at her friend’s upraised brow, “then there’s some cold cut sandwiches in the fridge. I made a bunch yesterday.”

“Thanks, Hinata.” Tenten’s chicken nuggets then proceeded to disappear just as fast as Kakuzu’s.

As if reminded, Kakuzu reached forward and picked up the fork off the plate he’d brought out, holding the phone between shoulder and ear. “Eh. Who gives a fuck,” he muttered into it as he pulled the plate into his lap. “Then tell him to screw himself. He’s gotta keep it stocked, it’s regulations—shit, I know that, but still… Well, it’s your choice. Which do you want? … fuckin’ idiot.” Pause. “Yeah, she’s here. Tell her yourself. Oh.” He looked up at Hinata. “He says he loves you.”

Smiling widely, because even if he said it several times a day it still made her happy, Hinata nodded. “Thanks, Kakuzu. I love him too. You don’t have to tell him that though.”

“Yeah. There, you fucker, stop buggin’ me about your girlfriend,” Kakuzu snarled. He paused, and snorted, chomping down on what looked like green mashed potatoes… actually, might be peas. “Hell if I know. Uh huh. Fuck you. Yeah. Really? Figures. Kid’s smart. Oh shut the fuck up, cunt.”

Taking the empty boxes from the coffee table, Hinata nodded to the kitchen. “The rest of the call will basically be the same,” she said, as Tenten followed her. “So different from any of the calls I hear at home.” She paused. “The old home I mean.”

“I got what you meant,” Tenten said with a smile as she opened up the fridge. “Oh hey, Kakuzu left us cola!”

“Leave the open one alone!” Kakuzu called to them.

Tenten hit her head coming out of the fridge. “Yeow…” She glared through wall and hallway. “How the hell?” she muttered rubbing her head.

Hinata shrugged. “He’s Kakuzu.” And in a way, that did explain it.

Scowling, her friend peered back in. “Cola or ginger ale?”

“Ginger ale. And the sandwiches are on the third rack up.”

“Oh cool. These look great!”

Kakuzu wandered in after a minute, phone still at his ear, plate in his good hand. “… get it. Yeah. Fuck you, cunt. Ja matta.” He set down the plate on the counter and pulled the phone away from his ear. “Fucking asswipe. His boss is throwin’ a hissy fit today,” he told Hinata. “About the medkit shit.”

Oops. “We kinda saw that coming though. It was either that or the camera,” she said grimacing.

Tenten slid the recently opened ginger ale bottle back into the fridge and stood up, shutting the fridge. “Is he in trouble?”

Kakuzu shook his head. “Not really. Even if he was, he wouldn’t lose his job or anything. Till Hidan got hired, no one else would take the graveyard.”

“No one else working there cares about either of those things either,” Hinata added. “Hidan just happened to be the one on shift, unfortunately.”

The money monger nodded and sighed. “I think I’m gonna crash, now,” he muttered. “Can one of you wake me when you get up for school in the morning? I’ll need to call in.”

“Sure, I’ll do that,” Hinata offered, watching Tenten blink. “Oyasumi.”

“Oyasumi,” Tenten added hurriedly, shaking off her surprise.

He paused to eye her a beat, then nodded and offered a slight bow to them both. “Oyasumi nasai,” he said, politely, and left.

Tenten waited a whole five seconds after Kakuzu’s door clicked closed. “How the hell did he know I was staying over night?” she whispered.

Hinata chuckled. “Kakuzu.”

“Really.”

“Yes.”

Doomed.”

“Yes. Yes, you are.” And she meant that in the nicest way possible.

xXx

Chapter 9 | Table of Contents | Chapter 10

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s