Upgrading Chapter 15

Somewhere out there, someone else was walking into work with the same kind of bone-creaking relief that Kankuro was experiencing, he was sure of it. He couldn’t be the only one seeing work as a refuge. Because home was certainly not safe. Not with his brother cooing at all the different spiders and the threat of Naruto showing up eminent.

It was a near thing though. He almost didn’t find a replacement for his shift yesterday, but Chizu was all too happy to switch for a Saturday off. Which left Kankuro with a full shift of constant dishes and a different shift manager.

For several hours, Kankuro blanked out. He roused himself out of the exhausted daze only when he realized someone was grabbing a dirty mug out of his hand. He blinked and made a half-hearted attempt to take it back.

“Sabaku-san,” the very tall manager said. “Your shift ended 15 minutes ago.”


Something must have shown on his face, because Yoshimoto-san patted him on the shoulder as he placed the cup back on the tray. “You’ve don’t have to go home,” he said, brown eyes brightening with humor, “but you can’t stay here.”

Kankuro blamed his very tired brain for the hazy moments between nodding and hefting his backpack up on his shoulders. Spacing out like that couldn’t be very good.

I’m not disagreeing, Toji. It really isn’t a good thing. You don’t have to look at me like that.

A hand on his shoulder stopped him so hard he nearly fell over. “Dude, really? Walking corpse, much, un!”

Again, Kankuro couldn’t deny that, and so just nodded his head. Still, he needed to get milk and something decent to feed himself and his brother… and what did spiders eat? Flies? Did pet stores sell flies?

A cupcake was shoved into his hands at that point, before two long fingered hands took him by the shoulders and started marching him out of the shop. They were heading to a sort of familiar beat up dodge. “We’re going to the store, then the pet store, then your house. I gotta see how those spiders are doing, un!”

Kankuro found himself staring out the windshield, buckled up—when did that happen?— and still holding the cupcake. He honestly wasn’t sure what he was supposed to do with it. This wasn’t his. “Uh… this isn’t mine.”

“Eat it,” Toji advised with a snicker. “Who do you trust most, Sakura or Kakuzu?”

Giving his head a little shake, Kankuro lifted his gaze up from staring at the swirled sugar to the other person in the truck. Was that a trick question? “Trust them both. But Chuushin’s ‘spensive.”

“Sakura it is,” the blond responded.

Time passed, Kankuro wasn’t sure how much because he may have passed out. Next thing he checked, Toji was hanging up a phone and the truck was sitting in the parking lot of a grocery store. There was a plastic tub with crickets in it between them on the seat. “Yo, sleeping beauty, we’re here, un.” The cupcake was gone, but he spotted it tucked into the cup holder. “You got a list? I can run in and get you whatever while you nap…”

He did have a list. Somewhere in his backpocket… or maybe his wallet. Well, he needed both.

Toji looked amused, but Kankuro managed to put two twenties in his hand and a scribbled list on the back of the previous grocery run’s receipt. He might have told Toji to “keep the change,” but he wasn’t sure.

He barely woke when the door closed some time later as Toji climbed back in, then again as the car stopped.

Finally, a hand was shaking his shoulder, and a grinning blond was standing beside the vehicle. “Feeling more human yet?” he asked, eyes dancing, and held a familiar streaming mug up for the brunet. It was his own mug, from home. They were outside his apartment complex and the groceries were nowhere in sight.

“The hell?” Kankuro scrubbed a hand down his face. “How bad was I out of it?” He peered at Toji through the open window. “I better not be dreaming,” he added, feeling much more aware and thus alarmed, “cuz that smells really good.”

Toji snickered. “Don’t worry, un. Unfortunately, you completely missed the strippers.”

Kank snorted. Then he reached out and took the hovering mug of caffeine. For some reason, the home brew tasted so much better than work’s. One long pull and Kankuro let out a sigh, head turning to look at Toji. “Thanks.”

“Anytime. Your brother was easy to distract, at least, un,” the blond mused as Kankuro climbed out. He blinked when the cupcake was offered again. “Eat.”

Kankuro took the now familiar cupcake. “How did you even know which apartment was mine?” he asked as they strolled towards the front of the building.

Toji snorted. “You told me, un.” He shook out Kankuro’s keys and unlocked the door, holding it open and stepping back to let Kankuro precede him. “It helped that little red and scary was lying in wait.”

“He was what?” Where was his phone? “What time is it?” Kankuro asked even as he pressed the button to wake it up. “Five?!” Ack. He had not meant to squawk that.

“Yeah? You got somewhere to be?” Toji’s brows arched, even as a door opened down the hall and a head poked out.

“You’re late, he says,” Naruto greeted as they approached. The younger blond squinted at the pair of them, even as a large spider climbed over his shoulder. Then he blinked and picked it off, ducking back inside when Gaara murmured something.

Toji caught the door before it closed. “Shut up, un!” he snapped back at the laughing boy as Naruto retreated back towards the kitchen.

Kankuro took a bite of the cupcake and thought about his life. His brother, he could handle on a good day. Naruto, he could handle… for probably fifteen minutes before the urge to strangle the kid came up (Sakura was very emphatic about this prediction). Toji, he could probably deal with on a regular basis. All three in a small apartment meant for one bachelor for an indeterminate amount of time in the immediate future? The cupcake vanished in three bites, and Kankuro had made his decision.

Strolling up the door, he absently shouldered past Toji over so he could yell down the hall. “Gaara, you know how to cook ramen, yeah?”

There was a delighted squeal from the bowels of the apartment alongside Gaara’s scoff. “Yes, Kankuro, I can handle dinner.” The kid better be able to, Kankuro had some damned good ingredients listed for today’s shopping trip. “I’ll call if you’re needed.”

“Great!” Kankuro backed up away from door and the pyro. “Later!” And he closed the door on Naruto’s excited chatter. There was bound to be a bench or better yet his own car he could crash in. Speaking of. “I kinda remember you saying something about towing my car?” Oh yeah. “Also. Keys. Now, please.” He held out his free hand, sipping from his mug.

Toji handed them over without argument. “Pinky was gonna bring it over, un.”

“And you’re driving her home, after?”

“She’s using Kakuzu’s tow truck,” the blond replied in amusement. “He was busy anyway.”

Kankuro blinked and glanced down at his keys, honestly surprised that his car key was still there. “Ah.” Maybe he should stop waiting for the shoe to drop, but Toji was being really nice. And seriously, sleep dep with only a short doze didn’t help his brain at all. Shit, if this was how messed up his thinking was, he was amazed he didn’t break any dishes during his shift. “I guess… I’ll see you around then?”

“I guess.” Toji glanced toward the door thoughtfully. “Do… Eh, if you want, you can nap on my couch. Well, Hidan’s couch, un. He won’t be back till after midnight, and Kakuzu lives on campus. Long as you don’t stay the night, should be fine. If you want.”

It was probably the mention of a nap that had Kankuro yawning. It was definitely the couch that made Kankuro consider it. Gulping down the last of the hot coffee, Kankuro pushed himself away from the wall—he didn’t even remember leaning into it. “Sounds good—”

At that moment, there was a burst of laughter from inside his apartment. Kankuro glanced down at his empty mug and then to the closed door. Fuck it. “Well, I don’t need anything out of there.” I’ll just bring it with me.

Beside him, the blond snickered and lead the way out of the building. “Yeah, you want food? Or just a nap? There’s probably some takoyaki left in the fridge, or we can hit a drive thru.”

Kankuro blinked as yet again his body reacted as if on spoken command. The growl was loud enough to quirk Deidara’s eyebrows. “Drive through.”

Deidara’s chuckle was soft as they climbed into his truck. “Got it!”

“Ugh.” Kank slid his mug into the holder as he settled in the passenger seat again. “I must have been a zombie for the whole entire day. I don’t remember what I ate before the cupcake.”

The blond snorted enroute out of the parking lot. “Nothing during work. Your manager seemed convinced you were on something, un.” He shot Kankuro an amused look. “And that cupcake disappeared pretty quickly!”

“Well, yeah. If I haven’t eaten—Wait. How do you know I haven’t eaten anything?” The shift manager he could handle, Toji spying on him all day… Kankuro didn’t know what to think. Or maybe the sugar and the coffee hadn’t kicked in yet.

“Your manager told me, un,” Toji responded as he slowed for a light. “How else would I know?”

Right. Uneasy manager with a zonked out employee. Clearly the sugar hadn’t kicked in. Kankuro slapped a hand over his eyes and sighed. “Yeah. Which means I left my lunch in the fridge at home, probably. Maybe.” And if the manager told Toji… He probably also asked Toji to pick up his obviously high friend. “Thanks for coming to pick me up. I owe you one.”

“It’s cool, they wouldn’t give me coffee anyway, un. Damn Hinata and her caffeine Nazism.” He scowled at the road and hit the gas as soon as the light turned green.

Kank choked out a laugh. “I heard the story.” It was almost as good as Konan on pixie sticks. Like in the buzzing psychotic must-stab-something-now kind of way.

Toji sniffed, slanting a look at him. “Hey, so that sister of yours, Temari, right?”

“Yeah?” Oh, this was going to be good. It also explained Toji’s… considerable attention.

“I heard she’s into wind engineering, that true?” It was impossible to tell what the man was thinking, but whatever it was, he had a manic half smile on his face because of it.

Kank blinked. Okay, that was a new angle to come from—Temari might actually be indulgent. “Aerodynamics? Yeah.” He patted down his pockets and pulled out his phone. “You want her email address?”

Lighting up, the blond nodded quickly. “Yeah! My phone’s in the cup holder.” He nodded to the indicated space below the dash, then frowned. “Also, wind engineering, not aerodynamics. There is a difference, un.”

Rolling his eyes, Kank shrugged. “Don’t care. You can check with her later.” He picked up Toji’s phone and raised his brows at the lack of security. “Seriously? You run with that crowd, and you don’t lock your phone?” he asked as he pulled up a new profile.

Toji smirked, slow and malicious. “Phones are off limits for pranks, Itachi’s orders, un. After summer before last, it’s no surprise.” He looked way too pleased with himself.

“Uh, right.” After a few taps, he had his sister’s name and paused, looking up. “You’re only getting her email, if I give you her phone number, favor or no, she’ll rip off my nads.”

The blond laughed a bit madly and pulled into a drive thru for Burger King. “That’s cool, un. What are you getting?”

Humming, Kank input Temari’s near impossible email address. “Bacon double cheese.” He finished and hit save, looking up to squint at the menu two cars ahead. “You? I can pay for us both since you’re driving my ass around.”

“Hmm.” Toji eyed Kankuro thoughtfully. “Large fries and a coffee.”

Reeling his attention from the lit board to Toji, Kank felt his eyebrows wing up. “That’s it?”

Pausing, the artist eventually shrugged. “Yeah, that’s enough,” he agreed, and inched the car forward when the line moved. They pulled up and ordered, then Toji pulled to a stop again, with one car at their window ahead of them.

“So what’s it like living with the Zombie brothers?” Kank had tried to imagine it, but his brain had reminded him that Hyuuga was over there too. And that it worked. Harmonious and Hidan did not belong in the same zip code.

His companion laughed. “Strange, man. I’ve lived with them before, of course, but Hinata living there makes it a bizarre situation, un. Though Kakuzu mostly sleeps in the dorms, so it’s quiet when he’s not around.”

Kankuro snorted. “You’re trying to tell me that without Chuushin, but with you around, Hidan is calm and peaceful?” He shook his head. “Hyuuga must be some kind of miracle worker.”

The blond scoffed and looked at him like he was slow. “Who fucking said calm and peaceful? I said quiet, un.” And he shrugged. “Yeah, besides that, Hinata is sorta a genius at Bastard-wrangling.”

“Huh.” They crawled forward the last few feet and Kankuro handed the money over to the guy at the window. A minute later, Kank had a lap full of food and a pocket full of change. “Uhm, what are you gonna be doing while I’m napping? I mean, the sofa’s your bed, ain’t it?”

Toji blinked at that. “Oh, I have something to build. I’ll be in the kitchen for a while.”

Kankuro paused in the middle of popping a fry into his mouth. “It’s not gonna blow up is it?”


Hidan was laughing as Hinata got handed her ass… Again, and the glare she shot him made it totally worth it. Truly, when indignant and angry, his girl was a sight to behold, especially while gasping for breath like that. “Hey, you can do it, Hinata, seriously. Kick his fucking ass!” he shouted, because while she was hot pissed, she was still his girl.

“Shut… up!” A gasping, red, and sweaty—breathless—girl.

Standing over her, Itachi shook his head and helped her up. “Footwork, Hinata-san. I’ve told you before, you over extend your reach and then when I grab you, you don’t have the stability to counter.” He really was in full on sensei mode.

Grimacing, Hinata was consciously set her feet as she assumed a defensive stance, arms up and loose. “Yes, sensei.”

Of course the resident masochist was snickering. “Sensei.” He looked up as someone stepped into the dojo to his left. “Uchiha-dono! Greetings.” Even he knew better than to be anything but polite to this woman.

Across the mats, Hinata quickly echoed Hidan and dropped a quick bow while Itachi paused, eyes swinging up to the clock in faint alarm.

His mother gave him a knowing smile. “You’ve all officially missed dinner,” she declared sweetly. “Your portions have been packed up into the fridge, so when you decide to eat…” Her amused gaze flicked over the pale faces. “Just be sure to clean up after yourselves.”

Hidan edged away from the woman a bit, as quiet as possible so as not to draw her attention. Fortunately, she was focused, brow arched, on her son.

“Aah. Thank you, okaasan, for your kindness,” Itachi dipped into a shallow bow. “I apologize for my oversight.” As he rose, he gave his mom a smile. “Unfortunately, I did not keep track of the time. We’ll be finished in a few minutes.”

Beside him, Hinata has straightened, and was giving Itachi a grateful look. Looks like someone was getting tired.

“Okay. You kids have fun, then,” Mikoto-san replied with cheer, and turned away.

Once she was gone, Hidan, who had managed to inch his way over to stand beside Hinata, leaned back and sagged. “Holy shhh… I almost wet my pants, dude.”

Hinata shot him an exasperated look. “She’s not that scary.”

“Like fuck!” he shot back, grinning at her. He cackled and gestured toward Itachi. “These fucking Uchihas.” The masochist held up a finger in emphasis. “One minute, they’re smiling and nice, then you turn your fucking back,” he ranted, stepping up to stand toe to toe with her, “and bam, they’ve fucking stabbed you.” His wine red eyes were full of mischief as he met her gaze, even as he danced away from Itachi’s lazy kick.

It was way worth it to see the smile curling over her face, though. “It’s a good thing I’ve got Itachi-sensei then,” she said, not even glancing over as Itachi advanced on him. “As long as I follow his instructions, I should be safe, right?”

“Hnn.” The bastard apparently agreed, because he narrowed his eyes on Hidan. “Your footwork is good,” Itachi noted, ignoring the sputtering from his official student, “but your defence is horrid.” Well, they all knew the reason for that. Hidan’s answering grin only confirmed it. Itachi huffed and turned to Hinata. “We will go through the kata again, only this time much slower and I will stop you for corrections as you go.”

Chewing her lip, Hinata nodded and settled into position again with a deep breath.

Three moves later, Itachi shook his head. “Stop.” Moving forward, he stalked over to her right side and nudged her right foot further back. “Do you feel the difference?”

She frowned, then nodded.

“Good,” Itachi said and moved back again. “Continue.”

“Yes, sensei.”

And on that went for another five minutes. By the end of that little song and dance, Hinata was looking tired, but happier and Itachi had sent her off to shower.

Hidan watched her ass until she was out of sight. “So, grub?” He smirked at the Uchiha. “I’ll heat ’em up.”

Over by one of the walls, Itachi nodded. “Appreciated. Don’t wait for me, either. I’ll be here for a few more minutes cleaning up,” he paused to sweep a critical eye over the dojo’s floorboards, “it seems that someone has been forgetting their chores.”

“Cool,” Hidan replied, brightening, and went to heat their dinner in the otherwise empty kitchen.

About ten minutes later, he grinned when Hinata came into the room. “Hey, goddess!”

“Hey, yourself,” Hinata said, smiling as she walked up and gave him a hug. “Oh, that smells delicious,” she murmured, face nestled in close under his chin.

“Uchiha-dono’s cooking is seriously legendary,” Hidan replied with reverence, and handed over the plate that just came out of the microwave. “Here.”

Hinata carefully took the plate and took a long appreciate sniff. “I believe you,” she said, walking it over to the table where one other steaming plate was set. “Are we waiting for Itachi?”

He waved her on. “Nah. Eat, gorgeous.” He slid the absent Uchiha’s plate into the microwave, typed in the time and hit start before walking back over to the table. “How ya feeling?”

Rolling her shoulders, Hinata frowned for a moment then smiled. “Better than last week” she answered brightly. “It really helps having a hot shower right after, the muscles don’t have time to lock up.” Picking up her chopsticks, she tapped them against her lips in thought. “It’s getting easier to understand his instructions too,” she admitted. “Sometimes I know what he’s going to correct right before he calls me on it.”

Hidan got up again to get himself something to drink. “That’s pretty impressive. You’re a quick learner, though, so it’ll get much better quickly. Want some juice?”

“Yes, please!” Hinata bent down to eat, and Hidan spotted rosey cheeks. This girl, so easily embarrassed.

He poured them both some orange and put the jug away, then walked back over to drop a casual kiss on the top of her head in passing. He set her juice in front of her when she lifted her head. Grinned. “Here.”

Hinata covered her mouth and murmured, “Thanks.” She pointed at something dark brown and meaty on her plate with her chopsticks. “This,” she swallowed, “is… I don’t know what it is, but you have got to try it.”

Hidan laughed, and obligingly dug in. Which was all he did for the next twelve minutes until Itachi walked into the kitchen. The albino, mouth full of the last of his food and girlfriend looking on in amusement, waved toward the Uchiha mutely.

Nodding absently, Itachi made a bee line for the microwave, popping it open to check the temperature and setting the timer. “Hinata, Hidan, I’ll be going to see Sakura after dinner, would you like to come with me or will you two be going straight home?” he asked as he snapped the microwave closed.

“Erm,” Hinata thought for a moment. “I’d like to see her too. Hidan?”

He swallowed his food. “Yeah, sure,” he agreed. It’d been a while since the four of them hung out.

“Excellent.” Itachi leaned against the counter and pulled out his phone. “I’ll let Sakura know I’m bringing you.” Pausing, he reached over to nudge the fridge door open and peered in. Then huffed a laugh. “What are the chances that Kakuzu has eaten?”

“Slim to ‘What’s food?'” the albino scoffed. “She make a lot?”

“Hnn. Enough to pack an entire serving into a take away container. And you know what her bentos are like.” Hell yeah. Those things were stuffed. The Uchiha heir let the fridge close and went back to his phone.

Beside him, Hinata hummed. “Itachi-san, when’s your mother’s birthday?” When she found both men looking at her, she blushed. “I-it’s just so I c-can get her something.” She waved at the scattered dishes. “She’s been so nice.”

“June first,” Itachi replied. “If you’d like, talk to Sakura about presents. She likes to go shopping at odd times just see if anything comes of it.”

Hidan shrugged. “That’s a while away, though.”

Itachi may have grumbled, “That’s what I said too,” but when Hidan looked at him, the microwave dinged and the Uchiha was retrieving his plate.

“Hmm, I’ll do that. Thanks, Itachi-san.” Ever the polite girl, Hinata stood up to give Itachi a bow, then took her dishes to the sink.

Hidan thought about asking, but decided not to. Something told him it’d be less interesting than it seemed. “Anyway. Hinata, wanna help me con Tenten into a date with Kakuzu? The bastard is mooning again. It’s pathetic.”

There was a strange cough from Itachi as he sat down and the water shut off from the other side of the kitchen.

“I can’t do that Hidan,” Hinata said, scrubbing at a bowl. “First of all, that wouldn’t help Tenten at all. Second, Kakuzu would get really angry.”

“Yeah. It’d be hilarious.” Why was this not more entertaining to her?

“Mhmm.” And the sigh. Hidan grinned. “Alright. What’s your idea? I’m not saying yes, but tell me first. At least then I’ll know whether it has a chance of working.”

“Just arrange to see a movie and bail,” he replied with a shrug. “Maybe kick Dei out and have our own date.” He smirked.

Hinata blinked at him. “Oh! I thought you meant something else.” She gave him a sheepish smile. “I think I’ve been hanging around Itachi and Kakuzu too much.” Shrugging, she frowned. “If Kakuzu asked, Tenten would go. She wouldn’t see it as a date, but she’s in denial anyway.” Looking up, Hinata blushed.

“And why do you think she’s in denial?” Itachi asked from across the table.

Looking to the side, Hinata sighed. “She goes to him whenever she can. And the only reason why I’m not angry about that is because Kakuzu goes to her whenever she lets him.”

Hidan made a vague gesture. “He doesn’t care about specific people often. But when he does…” He shrugged with a meaningful look at his girlfriend, then went on. “What about dinner instead?”

Canting her head, Hinata hummed. “Somewhere nice, where none of our schoolmates would ever go, private, but still public enough that there’s no danger of indecency—Oh wait, this is Kakuzu we’re talking about.” She arched a brow at Hidan. “Itachi-san? Do you know of any good high end restaurants you could get them into?”

Itachi scoffed. “What’s Kakuzu’s typical budget?” he fired back, at both Hinata and Hidan. “I know what he spends on casual outings, but Tenten is a whole different matter.”

“Huh. He could probably blow a hundred on a dinner if he really wanted to,” Hidan said thoughtfully. With all that work he did, plus conning people, plus having school funds from his loans and scholarships… “Without hurting himself, I mean.” Of course, it was Kakuzu so that didn’t happen.

Hinata took a seat at the table and looked from Itachi to Hidan and back. “What if… we bought a gift certificate with a due date – and Tenten’s name?”

“And the reason for such a specific gift?” Itachi asked, one brow raised.

Grimacing, Hinata shrugged. “That she’s in denial and needs to give Kakuzu a decent chance?”

But Itachi was shaking his head. “Such a blunt tactic has as much chance of working as Kakuzu’s truck breaking down.”

“Kakuzu’s truck!” Hinata sat up straight, eyes wide.

Itachi blinked. Hidan twitched, opening his mouth to protest.

“There’s a costume tournament that’s on the weekend before Halloween,” Hinata explained quickly. “Tenten used to go when she was younger, but a few years ago she had to stop, no one was able to go with her, and it’s an eight hour drive out of town. Her parents won’t let her go on her own. But if Kakuzu goes with her…”

Hidan brightened. “You’re a fucking genius, babe.” He smirked. “So we drop her that hat.”

“And Kakuzu gets her all weekend!” Hinata said with a wide grin.

“Genma will be glad to get Kakuzu out of the office for a few days,” Itachi added. “A week if possible.”

Hinata giggled. “Overtime is expensive.”


Chapter 14 | Naruto Listings | Chapter 16


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