Upgrading Chapter 14

At first, he didn’t know why he was awake. Hell, he wasn’t even sure what his name was, never mind what time it was. Then he heard the ringing of his cell and he rolled over, arm snaking out and silencing it.

For a moment there was peace, and he dropped back asleep.

Only for the ringing to drag him up again with a vengeance.

“Fucking hell.”

Grabbing the damn phone, he hit the green button ready to verbally flay his caller to the bone. “What the fuck—”

Kankuro.”

Oh my God.

He inhaled so fast, he started coughing.

His brother was still on the line when Kankuro could finally talk again.

“Yeah?”

I want one. No. Three. Or more. As many as you can get.” By his tone, Gaara was deadly serious, and it was sort of terrifying.

“Huh?” He tried to think, sluggish thoughts grinding through the chaos of two hours of sleep after a sixteen hour shift. Self-preservation instincts kicked in first. “Yeah, sure… But Gaara, as many of—what?”

A beat of silence, and the distant crinkle of paper. “Spiders, Kankuro. Sakura told me about the assembly. I want them. All of them. Or most of them. Whichever.

“Oh. Yeah. No problem.” Where was he going to keep them?! “Will do.” Wait. “Uh… how am I going to ship them to you?” It’s not like he could box them up and send them post. Right?

Again, his brother was quiet for a moment before he sighed. “You should—…. I’ll come get them. Yes. I’ll come there.” The line abruptly went dead.

Silence ringing in his ears, Kankuro dropped the phone back down on the nightstand and stared at the clock. Then blinked and scrambled out of bed, one thought dominating his mind.

Gaara was coming to Konoha. As in immediately.

xXx

Hidan was woken up at almost seven AM by a shriek from the living room, which was suddenly and abruptly cut off. “Fucker!” he yelled.

“Cunt,” Kakuzu called back, and Deidara wasn’t making another sound.

Hidan glanced at the sleeping goddess and pulled his pillow over his head, going back to sleep himself.

Only to be awoken two minutes later by Hinata’s alarm blaring for her to get ready for school.

xXx

There was a very loud, very slow, very deliberate knocking on Sakura’s dormitory door. Konan was starting to stir with angry grumblings as the pinkette’s phone went off near her ear. And then again. And again.

“I’ll kill them,” Sakura said, cracking open one eye. A bleary moment later, she grunted and accepted the call. “I’m going to kill you,” she assured her caller. “Then I’m going to resurrect you. And then I’ll let my roommate kill you. And I’ll help her display your remains for Sai to paint.”

Ino giggled on the other end; that couldn’t be a good sign. “Uh huh. And then you’ll never find out who’s in town.

“Eh.” Sakura tossed a grey plushie at Konan as the other girl made a face. ‘Hug that,’ she mouthed, to which the blue-haired woman made a very expressive angry face and rolled over. The toy shark firmly pressed to her chest. Sak smirked. Kisame will never believe where Bruce is now.

I’ll give you a hint- he’s creepy, and Naruto has taken to calling him ‘Tanuki’,” the blonde continued undaunted in her ear, her voice a bare murmur on the other side of the door.

Sak turned over on her bed and pulled the blankets up over her head, phone and all. “How many spiders did he have?” she asked, ignoring her insane best friend’s presence on the other side of the door.

The blonde snorted loudly. “Dunno. Some. I heard from Kankuro, whom has apparently been running around like a chicken with his head cut off trying to find them all. He’s somewhere on campus.

And it was at that point Sakura’s phone decide to do a silent jig in her hand. “Poor guy,” she said with feeling. Gaara apparently still had his older brother on his toes. “Anyway, time for me to get ready. I’ll talk to you later after class, Ino!” Slipping out of bed and heading for the shower, Sakura smothered a giggle as she headed past the baleful glare of Konan. “Buh bye!”

She could hear Ino’s delighted laughter in the hall, trailing off as the blonde left obligingly. Konan threw something at the door and Sakura shut herself into the bathroom.

xXx

It was so strange. The employee’s parking lot in the back didn’t look all that different from the staff lot back at his old job. A few of the cars Gekkō even recognized. There was Genma’s battered blue Dodge truck sitting in between Chuushin’s death trap and Kyuubi’s eternally soon-to-be-restored Beetle. The weak drizzle just added to the nostalgia.

And no sooner had Gekkō locked his car down, than Hoshigaki’s dark grey beater rolled into the lot. I guess he went out for breakfast? The guys started at before dawn, so at quarter past ten it was no wonder they were getting hungry. He waved as the teenager parked next to him. “Mornin’.”

There was a muffled low growl and a short yelp, followed by Hoshigaki exiting his car. “Good morning,” the boy muttered with a sharp nod, then marched through the rain and into the building, brown paper bag sheltered under his left arm.

Uh oh. If he didn’t know better, Gekkō would have thought he had just seen Chuushin in Hoshigaki’s skin. He was about to follow the grumpy teen, when he got another surprise. Toji was now coming out of the car, a tray of coffee balanced in each hand.

The blond, sporting what looked like a fresh bruise on his jaw, paused and grinned at the other man. “Hey, Hayate-san!” he chirped in greeting, then glanced toward The Workshop and lingered. “Didn’t know you were coming…”

“Ah, good morning, Toji-kun.” Gekkō counted the cups and raised a brow. Eight cups for potentially five people? “Yeah, I wasn’t supposed to come in today, but I got a text from Genma. Said I should drop by.” He waved Toji to precede him towards the shelter the Workshop promised and was surprised when the young man hesitated.

With a sigh, and wary reluctance, the boy walked ahead of him into the building. Kyuubi was just inside the greeting lounge, and smiled wanly at them. “Ah, finally, Hayate-san. Shiranui-sama is in the office, I believe. Erm…” He glanced at the blond.

Toji squared his shoulders and lifted his jaw. “I’ll just bring these, un,” he declared fearlessly, and walked through the door into the workshop proper.

Turning back from watching the young man seemingly walk to his doom, Gekkō looked at Kyuubi. “According to rumor, everything and anything around Toji is combustible.”

Kyuubi shook his head. “Including Kakuzu-san’s temper,” he agreed mildly. “Unfortunately.”

“Ouch.” Gekkō shook his head even as he smiled. He wished the man luck, and ducked into the back hall towards Genma’s cave. The guy could have any room in the building, and he picks the darkest one without a window.

It did however have an entire wall devoted to an HD projector. “The porn must be fantastic on that thing,” Gekkō said, walking in through the open doorway. “Provided you’ve got the speakers set up yet.”

“I don’t want to know what your definition of porn is,” Genma replied, frowning up at the dissected video from his position leaning on his desk. “It’s probably centered about Kabuki dances or something.”

“Ha ha.” Rolling his eyes, he hung his jacket on a nearby coat peg and stood next to his friend. “So? What did you call me in for?”

Genma gestured at the projected image. “This is the security footage from last night,” he said, expression a mix of bemused irritation. “Take a look at the second to top left feed.”

Raising a brow, Gekkō looked up, finding the video in the grid like visual… and blinked. “Is that Inuzuka Kiba?” Shaggy dark hair, a hoodie, stocky build… “No, he’s too tall.” And where was Akamaru? “And what the hell is he doing?”

The Mystery Male peered under bushes, poked under trash cans, and finally wandered around the corner to sift through leftover wood scraps. And doing so in last night’s downpour.

“I have no idea.” Genma shrugged. “He didn’t try entering the building, he didn’t take anything from outside, not even the empty pop cans. I checked where’s he been looking, and didn’t see anything new.”

On the screen, the man tossed a chunk of wood back into the pile and stood up from his crouch, seemingly at lost. Then he turned and walked away from the building.

“You don’t know who that was?”

“No,” Gekkō replied. “Sorry.”

xXx

The usual group had gathered for lunch, Karin making doe eyes at Sasuke for most of the time, until Naruto fell off the bench he was sitting on, flailing. “HE’S HERE?!” he yelled, eyes wide. “Since when!”

Shino, his news—overheard from Sai, who’d been told by Ino – imparted, frowned slightly. They could barely tell behind the high collar. “Your reaction is telling. You know the Evil Tanuki?” he asked.

The blond burst into laughter, realizing that he, Shikamaru and Teme were the only ones that knew who Tanuki was. “Oh yeah! Maybe he’ll come see my frogs!”

“I don’t understand,” the baffled bug-lover admitted.

“It’s Naruto. What is there to understand?” Teme said, batting away the empty juice box Naruto threw at him. “But you said E.T. was here? Where did you see him?”

“Oh, Sai told me,” Shino replied with a shrug as Naruto was getting up. “And Ino-san told him. Apparently, she is quite excited about it. Why? I haven’t the faintest.”

Naruto snorted and resumed his seat. Karin’s nose wrinkled. “Who’s E.T.?” she asked.

Beside him, Sasuke very carefully smirked into his hand and shot Naruto a look. ‘See? Aren’t I smart? I’ve got people thinking Gaara’s an alien!‘ said the look. The smug bastard. Naruto thought Tanuki was far more fitting. So there. “E.T.,” Sasuke began, his grin dimmed down to a condescending look, “is a person from far away, who has come here to find something or someone …”

The redhead gave him a dubious look. “That’s very vague,” she said mildly.

“He’s a vague person,” Naruto inserted, always quick to come to his best friend’s aid- even if he was a Teme. All the time. “Anyway… What class does Ino have right now?” He turned his head to look at Shikamaru, stretched out in a patch of sunlight by the bushes. “Hey! Shikamaru, what class has Ino got?”

“History,” was the reply back, though Shika didn’t even bother to open his eyes.

Naruto frowned and opened his mouth, then startled when a figure came cackling into their immediate area, only to run through without stopping, with a chirped, “Heeeeyy!” as he passed.

A beat of silence followed this. Then… “What the hell?” the blond asked.

“I claim no fault,” Teme said immediately. “But whoever gave that guy pop rocks should die in a fire. Managed by Toji. And funded by Chuushin.” Sasuke frowned as Fukumen disappeared through the cafeteria doors, startling students as he went. Then he glanced at Naruto. “Well?”

The blond grinned, and together they darted after the crazy boy.

Inside the cafeteria, Tobi had rushed up to an unfamiliar young woman, and was giving her money for a box she was holding. The girl beamed at him, there was a brief exchange, and by the time the other boys caught up, he was turning to grin at them. “Tobi’s a good boy,” he told them. “I’m helping Kankuro-kun!”

“Uh…” Teme never sounded so intelligent as now. Though, to Sasuke’s credit, he seemed to quickly catch on, because he was squinting at the box thoughtfully. “Is that… alive?”

“Duuuuh,” Tobi said with a wide smile. “What use would it be if it weren’t?”

Naruto’s brows furrowed. “Good point. Uh. Just one question?” They both blinked at him. “What’s that?” He pointed at the box.

xXx

“I’m sorry. Could you repeat that, please?” Hinata squinted up at her friend as they shouldered their bags and passed through the side exit. Tenten on the other hand, muttered and coughed. “Excuse you,” Hina said obligingly, “but that isn’t what you just said.”

Her lanky friend cut her dark brown eyes Hina’s way and sighed. “Ino isn’t talking to me. At all.”

Waving at the ever-excited Tobi who was rushing past with a grin and a stack of shoe boxes, Hinata waited until they were at least off the school grounds. And then waited a little longer as they walked down the road towards the cafe.

“Yeah. You’re right. It’s not that big of a deal,” Tenten said finally, rubbing a finger against her temple. “I still wish she hadn’t threatened me in the middle of the hall though.”

“You can’t tell me you didn’t see that coming, Tenten.” Hinata let her grin grow even wider. “Sai did put his hands all over your ass after all.”

Tenten groaned and made a shushing noise. “Could you possibly say that any louder, Hinata? I don’t think the people across the street heard you properly.”

Hinata shot her friend another smile before letting her confusion show. “Why did you agree to it anyway? It’s not like you know Sai very well and aren’t you dating Kakuzu? Never mind Ino, I’m amazed Kakuzu isn’t hunting down Sai. Like… last week.”

A rather aggravated groan came from Tenten. “I agreed because Sai’s a nice kid and he’s clearly not interested in me. And no,” she added with a frown, “I’m not dating Kakuzu.”

“Tenten, you’re out with him every other night.” Denial will only go so far.

Her friend rolled her eyes. “That’s because I’m either with you, or at the cafe. The fact that Kakuzu shows up where I happen to be, is not my doing.”

“Uh huh. And you picking him up from Hidan’s workplace was not at all your suggestion.”

Flailing one arm, Tenten stopped in the middle of the sidewalk. “Once, alright? Just once!”

Now it was Hinata’s turn to roll her eyes. “Not just—” And she was cut off neatly by Tenten’s cell trilling out the Imperial March. She burst out laughing as her friend scowled.

“Shut up.”

“So? What’s he saying?”

“You know, just because he’s your boyfriend’s best friend does not mean you have the right to know.”

Hinata crossed her arms and raised a brow. “You really think I won’t find out later?”

Scowling down at the phone, Tenten shifted her backpack a little higher. “He just wants to know if I’m busy for the next while. That’s all.”

“Tenten.”

“What?”

“Just call him already. I’ll meet you at work.” Hinata pivoted and waved a hand over her shoulder. “Or not. However the call goes.”

“Smugness is not becoming, you know!” Tenten shouted after her. And Hinata grinned.

After all, Tenten wasn’t following.

xXx

“See ya, Teme!” Naruto yelled after his friend as Sasuke closed the door of Itachi’s car behind him. Apparently they were going off for ‘sparring’ or whatever.

Grinning, the blond hoisted his bag higher up on his shoulder and started down the side walk, having decided to take the slow way home today. It wasn’t like he had anywhere to be, and Ero-Sennin was in Mizu for the afternoon with Sakura-chan’s dad. His excuse had been a signing, but Naruto wasn’t fooled in the slightest.

As he reached the end of the block, a sleek expensive car rolled up to him, and he eyed it warily when the window rolled down. “Hello, Naruto-kun,” a slightly rough voice said from the dark depths inside.

Frowning, the blond squinted in an attempt to see who it was better, to no avail. “Who’re you? Have we met?” he asked, confused.

The person in the vehicle, just a dark outline to him at the moment, chuckled. “Ahh, apologies, Naruto-kun. We have, but not since you were very very little… I was a close friend of your father’s.”

His eyes went wide, and his fingers tightened on the strap of his bag. “Tochan?” he asked, surprised. “Really?”

“Oh yes. Most definitely. We were… business partners, of a sort, for a time. Would you like to join me for dinner? We can talk more about it,” the voice said.

“Ehhhh…” The blond suddenly remembered Tsunade-baabaa screaming at him once about trusting strangers. “I don’t know. You haven’t even told me your name.”

The man paused at that, and leaned forward a little toward the window. He was ancient, with slightly choppy but mostly neat salt-and-pepper hair. Light brown eyes, one slightly different in color, surveyed Naruto thoughtfully, the lines of his face deepening. He appeared to be wearing a business suit. “My sincere apologies, again, Naruto-kun,” he said after a few more seconds ticked by in silence. “I had hoped you’d recognize me. I am Shimura Danzo. Pleased to meet you again.”

Absently, Naruto echoed the words, and shook his head. This guy was rubbing him all sorts of wrong ways, and he couldn’t explain why. Shimura-san hadn’t been anything but polite so far, and he’d known Naruto’s father… Naruto barely remembered anything about the man. “Um, I’d like to and all, but… I’m supposed to meet my godfather downtown,” he said, a small fib. He’d go find Sakura-chan, maybe, if she wasn’t in class. Or even Hinata-chan. Or just go hang out with Lee at the dojo… actually, yeah, gonna do that. He should have taken Tanuki up on his offer to hang out. “But it was, eehhh, nice to meet you again too.” He gave a tiny bow, stepping back. “We can talk later, maybe, I’m sure Jiraiya’d like to see an old friend of my dad’s.”

Shimura-san leaned back, face falling into shadow again. “We’ll see what happens. Until next time, then, Naruto-kun.” The window rolled up, and after a second, the car pulled away.

Naruto didn’t move until it was out of sight, and then he booked it for Lee’s family dojo.

xXx

Scowling at Hinata’s back really didn’t solve any of her issues, and it certainly didn’t provide any entertainment. It made her feel better though. For all of three seconds. And then she looked down at her phone and huffed. Procrastination had never been her vice, but it was tempting. So tempting.

Then again. I’d be delaying out of spite. Sighing, Tenten pushed a few buttons and listened for the ring. He doesn’t deserve that though. If she were honest with herself, Kakuzu didn’t deserve a lot of what she was putting him through.

He answered on the second ring, cutting it mid-way through. “Hey. I take it you got my text.

Humming, Tenten stepped to the side, putting her back against the white plaster of some tiny watch store. “Yeah, I did. And no, I’m not busy. What’s up?”

Wanted to know if you’d like to join me at the Workshop. Dei’s been a little shit lately, and…” A pause. “Well I like you so much better than him.

Catching sight of her reflection in the shop window, Tenten rubbed a hand over her mouth and its huge grin. “Good to know I rate higher than the city’s pyro,” she said, sheepishly waving at the shop owner who was staring at her from inside. “You’re sure it’s okay if I go in there?” Even if Hinata was alright with her loitering at the cafe, there wasn’t anything at the Kakuzu’s work that she could buy in a flimsy excuse of patronage.

He snorted. “Yeah. It’s fine. It’s not like you’ll be getting in the way. I work in the office, mostly, or the front room. So there’s little risk of you getting hurt. Where are you? I’ll pick you up.

“Um…” Tenten looked up and blinked. “I’m at a shop called Steam Clock Wristwatches.” Actually, it had some pretty neat stuff. “I could meet you at Hell’ Cup if that’s easier,” she offered, thinking to spare her wallet from curiosity.

I have to go get something from my room anyway, so the cafe works,” he replied. “Meet you in… twenty?

Wallet be damned, that silver broach was too pretty to pass up. “Yeah, twenty is enough time.” Not like the cafe was far. And the less time she had to browse the better. “See you then.”

xXx

He arrived at Helluva Cup exactly 20 minutes later, and quirked a brow – and a smile – at her as she climbed in. “Hey.”

Tenten smiled back at him, tucking her backpack under the dash. “Hey yourself. How’s the arm?” she asked as she strapped in.

“Manageable,” he replied with a shrug. “I don’t need as much pain medication anymore, thankfully. Shit’s expensive.”

It took all of four seconds for Tenten to notice what was new on his person. “Hidan’s got strange ways of showing love,” she managed straight faced before breaking down into snickers.

The large teen rolled his eyes and pulled away from the sidewalk. “Yeah, he’s a bitch,” he replied flatly.

“At least he didn’t draw anything on there,” she said, grinning. “Or use bright pink.” No, the fucker hadn’t used pink, he had used fuchsia and magenta. “Cheer up, Kakuzu. It’s not forever.”

Sighing, he nodded and cast a glance her way. “I know. It’s still a pain in the ass.” He scowled, and turned out of campus. “… how’s the idiot faring, anyway?”

“He’s…. alright.” At Kakuzu’s unimpressed look, Tenten faked a careless shrug, but he could see the way her shoulders tensed. “I only see him a few times at school and he—We don’t talk anymore.” She flashed him an empty smile. “No reason to, you know?”

His only response was a thoughtful hum. A few minutes passed in quiet, before he was turning onto a side street, and then almost immediately into the parking lot of the Workshop. Kyuubi was standing outside, drinking canned juice with a familiar head of curly cerulean hair. Both glanced over as Kakuzu shut off the truck.

“One of our customers,” he grunted, shoving open the driver’s side door. “Do me a favor and grab the manilla folder out of the glove box, please?” He was pulling the keys out of the ignition as he spoke, and turned his head to look at her.

Tenten was already reaching into the small compartment, humming an affirmative. “Ah, here you go.” She held out the paper packet, a smile dancing across her lips. “You really can’t get away from work, hmm?”

“Never,” he lamented, and gave her a tiny smile before getting out.

Kyuubi and Kami exchanged a look. “Hello, Chuushin-sama,” the blue-haired college student greeted with a half-bow. “Pleased to see you again. Who is your friend?” He pasted on a curious smile as Tenten walked over.

Shrugging, Kakuzu gestured with the folder at her, then the boy. “Tenten, Kami,” he said, to which Kami bowed again to her.

Shooting Kakuzu an unreadable look, Tenten quickly bobbed a bow in return. “Um, nice to meet you too,” she said, giving the boy a scrutinizing look that made Kakuzu frown. “It’s a little weird of me to say, I know…” Why was she then? “But do you have a brother?”

Kakuzu snorted as Kami blinked and tilted his head. “Ah, no, I’m an only child… Why do you ask?” He glanced over as Kyuubi pushed away from the wall.

“I’m getting back to work, now that Kakuzu-san’s back,” he explained with a smile, and went inside.

When Kakuzu turned back to the conversation, Tenten was smiling again. “I know someone with hair a lot like yours. That color is really noticeable.”

Blue eyes blinked, then widened as understanding lit his face. “Ah! Is it Isao?” he asked, suddenly so cheerful it was almost painful to look at. He didn’t wait for an answer, though, going on with a stupid grin on his face. “Yes, he’s my boyfriend.”

Tenten choked.

Kakuzu’s brows lifted while Kami beamed at her. “… does he know that?” he asked.

“Oh my,” Kami replied, which wasn’t an actual answer at all, and chuckled.

No, somehow Kakuzu hadn’t thought so. “Anyway, we have business to attend to, right? Stop wasting time- time is money.”

Kami bowed. “I quite agree. I’m mostly just here to check on things… let’s go inside, ne?” He turned and went in.

Rolling his eyes, Kakuzu caught the door and gestured the lone female ahead of him.

“Really? I can’t believe… Wait, is this? What if… Does Isao even…?” Apparently, Tenten was still in shock. Thankfully, she was being very quiet about it. “… Should I…?”

“Please don’t,” Kami chirped from where he’d sat down on the couch in the receiving room. “I have matters well in hand, and it’s not your business, Tenten-sama.”

Kakuzu lifted a brow but went to sit down.

Tenten blinked once at Kami, then nodded, albeitly a little dazedly. “Uh, yeah. You do have a point. Sorry.” She glanced at Kakuzu and then sat down. A few seats away from him. Then sprang back up. “Sorry, I probably shouldn’t be here if you’re talking business… Um, Kakuzu? Which way’s the office?”

He frowned and considered it, then got up and opened the door to their left, from which loud noises were emitting. “Sasori!” he boomed across the cluttered space.

The redhead, looking like he was about to throttle Deidara beside him, looked over. He shoved the blond out of his way and stalked over. “What?”

“Fucking chill out. Take Tenten here to the office,” Kakuzu said flatly.

Sasori looked past him at the girl, and frowned briefly. “Fine. This way.”

“Okay.” Tenten shouldered her backpack and smiled at the rest of them. “Nice meeting you, Kami. Bye.” And she slipped out after Sasori, the door closing with a thud.

Twenty minutes later, Kami’s interest in their progress was satisfied, and the young man departed with a promise of coming back that Saturday. Then Kakuzu let out a sigh, and slipped out of the receiving room. He glanced around for anyone not busy, spotted Kisame on his break, and walked over. “How much longer do you have on your break?”

Kisame raised a brow, but glanced at the clock on the wall. “Six more minutes,” he answered, took a sip of his water, then, “What do you need?”

“The specs for the Mizunai project you were doing this morning,” Kakuzu replied. “I’ll be in the office.”

For a moment, Kisame’s brows furrowed, but they smoothed out just as fast. “Yeah sure. Do you need to change them or can Sasori and I keep working on a copy?” He waved at the redhead in question a few yards away. “We’re starting fabrication today.”

“No, keep up with what you’re doing. I just need to keep track because he keeps waffling on the little details,” the money monger muttered. “He’s emailed me four times changing his mind. He recently changed it back to what he’d decided originally, so at least for the moment you don’t have to worry. I’ll let you know if he does it again.”

Kisame groaned and drained the last of his water. “As long as the man doesn’t expect us to keep the original ship date if he changes it late in production.” He tilted his head and gave Kakuzu a sharp smile. “You are charging him for each confirmed adjustment, right?”

Dark brows lifted. “Obviously,” he replied. “At least it’s profitable…” He shook his head. “Anyway, I’m going to go to the office. See you.” He waved absently and turned to go find Tenten.

Unsurprisingly, he found her perched on the couch, feet tucked under her as she skimmed through her school notes. The four textbooks that were spread out over the cushions took up more room than she did.

He glanced around the rest of the office to see Genma kneeling by a filing cabinet, grumbling as he went through it. “What are you looking for?” he asked, prompting the girl to look up at him. He nodded to her, even as he went over to glance at the tracker open on the desk.

“Hmm… The credit file for the Korsach brothers,” Genma sat back, aggravated. “I must have dropped it into another folder by accident or something. I needed to call up their references today.”

Kakuzu hummed thoughtfully. “Korsach…” He stepped over to another filing cabinet and tugged it open, spotting the file. “I was wondering what it was doing over here. I meant to ask you about it.” He held it out to his boss.

“Ah!” Genma took the papers with a relieved grin. “Excellent. Thanks.” He shoved himself to his feet and brushed a hand through his hair. “Alright, I’ll be in the front room if you need me.” Genma nodded to Tenten, who returned the motion with a smile. “Try not to tidy up too much, kay?”

The monger scoffed and went over to the desk without an actual answer. Genma left. For about ten minutes, neither of the remaining two in the office said a word. He was catching up with what had happened since he came to work last, and she was doing her homework. There was a brief visit from Kisame, who dropped off the desired specs, which sent Kakuzu into a zone on his work.

A couple minutes after that, he glanced distractedly up at Tenten, only to do a double take when he realized she was watching him. Or perhaps staring off into space in his direction, but… it looked an awful lot like watching him.

He blinked at her. She blinked at him. Then she seemed to catch herself because her eyes widened and suddenly her notes had all her attention.

“Is there something on your mind?” he asked after a beat, during which he fought the insane urge to smile. Really.

Tenten coughed. “Astrophysics,” she said, lying through her dainty teeth. He knew she didn’t have any courses in that area.

“Uh huh.” He leaned back in his seat, shifting his arm in his lap, and lifted both brows. “Try again.”

She snuck a look up at him, but didn’t even bother to hold his gaze, shifting instead to flip a page in a textbook. “Seriously. Astrophysics would be more interesting than learning about what glands of certain animals secrete—You know what? I’m not going to finish that.”

The smile slipped out before he could stop it this time, and since it was just them, he didn’t bother to tame it. “No, please, go on. I’m very interested in what animal glands secrete.”

“Beavers.” Tenten shuddered. “I swear. I’m going on an all-chemical diet when I’m done with this course.”

He chuckled and moved his arm, stretching it out, then letting it settle back in place before reaching for his pen. He settled in as if to write, but stopped, considering. “… you know, I won’t sell your secrets.”

Tenten lifted her head to give him a puzzled look. “While that is sweet of you,” one corner of her mouth quirked at his twitch, “but I’m pretty sure when we part ways, my info is up for auction.” The puzzled look had since then morphed to resignation thinly veiled as humor.

At that, Kakuzu set the pen down again. “No, it isn’t. And anyway, why the hell would we ‘part ways’?”

She blinked at him, once, twice, then frowned. “Why? Because that’s life?” Tenten gave him a small smile, but it didn’t remove or dull the sting of her words.

He eyed her. “Tenten…” He sighed. “I don’t intend to drop our friendship, and unless I’ve read things wrong, neither do you. So, why would you think we’d stop being friends?”

“It’s not that…” She broke off, shaking her head. “No, never mind what I said. Sorry, I’m just… in a weird mood right now.” Waving a hand down at her books, Tenten shrugged. “I’m being an idiot really, so I’ll go back to studying now.” And she did just that, without waiting for his response.

He almost pushed it. Except he hesitated, taking in the tense set of her shoulders and the way her lips were pressed together into a white line. Sighing, Kakuzu shook his head and looked back down at his paperwork. A few minutes passed before he glanced up to see her shoulders slowly untensing, and opened his mouth-

Which was when Deidara started screaming somewhere in the workshop. “Fucking idiots,” he snarled.

Worse, now Tenten was getting up, shoving books from her lap. “Do you think he needs help? Where’s the first aid kit?”

He groaned and sat back. “It’s fine, they’ve got it. He probably just pissed off Sasori again.”

Slowly settling back against the cushions, Tenten visibly waited for another scream. When only faint cajoling and raised voices came through the walls, she relaxed completely. For a moment, the girl blinked down at the books. Then she sighed. “Dammit. I have no idea what I was looking at just now.”

Kakuzu snorted. “Want a soda?” He pointed with a pencil toward the fridge in the corner.

“God yes.” She made her way over—how she moved so silently was mystery—and paused at the fridge. “You guys have a lock on this thing… why?”

“Paranoia?” he offered with a shrug when she looked back at him. “Don’t touch the brownies.” He got up and went over to unlock it.

“I won’t now,” Tenten promised fervently, “especially since that warning’s from you. I’m going to guess they aren’t just happy brownies?” Ever the good girl, she looked away while Kakuzu punched in the number code—going by memory as he watched her.

When he straightened, he motioned for her to help herself and stepped back, but didn’t return quite yet to the desk. Instead, he continued to watch as she perused the different kinds of soda, before finally picking out a rootbeer.

“Do you want anything out of here?” she asked, crouched down by the floor. Her profile was to him as she waited.

He shifted his weight back onto his heels. “Sprite,” he murmured, eyeing her. He couldn’t help but think, again, that Hyuuga was a moron, and Tenten was beautiful, even when she wasn’t trying.

His loss.

Made even more obvious, when Tenten turned and offered up the Sprite with a self-conscious smile that was still bright.

xXx

Chapter 13 | Naruto Listings | Chapter 15

A/N: And that wraps up Friday.

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