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Is it Life or Art?

Chapter Text

Kakuzu looked at the flyer on his desk. It was printed on thick, high quality card and showed part of the face of a young man - semi-transparent, bright and transient looking as it faded or fragmented into a dark background of charcoal lines. Along the bottom edge ran the words ‘Akatsuki Gallery’ in modest sans serif capitals. Along the top, ‘Exploding The Myth,’ and the artist’s name. Deidara. Kakuzu knew him fairly well by now. He’d first spotted his work at his degree show when he graduated from Chelsea, and had kept an eye on his shows while he was doing his MA at the Royal College. He owned several of his earlier works - from back when it was actually possible to stabilise them. Now Deidara, as he’d predicted, was really hitting the big time. He was being shown internationally, and his work featured in a lot of major collections. He’d won the Jerwood drawing Prize last year with a drawing made out of ash which had disintegrated entirely (and fortuitously) on the last day of the exhibition. Kakuzu personally thought that was luck, but Deidara had refused to make any but the most ambiguous comment.

It had been at his MA show that Kakuzu had been introduced to him - it turned out that Sasori no Akasuna, another artist whose works featured in Kakuzu’s collection, knew him well. He’d been a visiting lecturer on Deidara’s degree, and they’d got on very well and kept in touch, despite being absolute polar opposites in most people’s opinions. Kakuzu and Sasori had gone round the MA shows together that year - he found Sasori’s company restful and his eye discerning, and Deidara was one young artist that he’d insisted on introducing.

Akatsuki Gallery was just off Hoxton Square - it was a commercial gallery, but with a reputation for showing exciting new artists. Kakuzu knew Konan, the gallery’s manager, quite well by now. He was a personal friend as well as a valued customer, inasmuch as he allowed himself to become truly personal with anyone these days. He’d never met the gallery’s owner, Nagato Pein, in person, but this was not surprising - the man was famously reclusive, to the extent that all his business was conducted by a series of smooth blond secretaries and personal assistants. (Kakuzu did handle quite a few of his investments, though, through the medium of the go-between always introduced as ‘Mr. Pein’s financial secretary’). Kakuzu himself was also one of the gallery’s shareholders.

But none of these things explained the excited buzz he felt about attending this particular opening, nor did they explain why the card had lain on his desk since it had arrived a week ago, despite the date having been in his diary for the last month. Kakuzu ran his thumb down the edge of the card, then flipped it over. Just the normal information - a tiny section of map, showing how to get from Old Street tube station to the gallery, the gallery’s address. Akatsuki Gallery invites you to attend the opening of ... Kakuzu let his eyes skim over the text that he already had by heart, simply by virtue of looking at the card so many times. New work by internationally acclaimed artist... ground-breaking... burst explosively onto the scene... same old, same old. Kakuzu sighed.

He propped the card up at the back of his keyboard, resting it against his computer screen, and calmly regarded it, trying to logically work out what in that face had captivated him. Certainly, it was a handsome face, but Kakuzu had seen a lot of handsome faces. None of them had ever made him feel this degree of fascination. He couldn’t ever recall an image making him want to see its subject quite this badly. Which was why when Konan had called him yesterday asking if he wanted to see the show privately that evening (along with herself and ‘Mr. Pein’s social secretary’), since she knew that the loud and vacuous atmosphere of a Private View wasn’t really his thing - though God knows, he attended enough of them - he’d declined, citing a previous engagement. ‘I’ll brave the PV,’ he’d said ‘I’m sure it’ll be worthwhile.’

And he was sure it would, even though he might have missed a chance to make some advantageous early purchases. A vast amount of art world contacts and alliances were formed at Private Views, after all. People were having fun, they were open and suggestible. A lot of Deidara’s recent work had centred around this man - Hidan, Dei had said his name was, (Kakuzu hadn’t been able to keep the syllables out of his head since he first heard them) - and he was bound to be at the opening night. Kakuzu had heard quite a bit about him, one way or another. Sasori had worked with him too and had provided a bit of toned-down gossip. (The ‘People’ column in the Times had also been quite informative...). It seemed that Hidan was in the process of becoming distinctly notorious and had recently gone from being a very sought after life model - sought after, apparently, because he’d do anything, and could hold the most bizarre positions for fantastic lengths of time - to being a definite personality in his own right, a muse for several eminent artists, and being courted by the world of couture. He still did life modelling, apparently he said it was more satisfying, but was said to have recently signed a very lucrative deal with Comme des Garçons. He was reputed to be a paparazzo’s dream - an aggressive, foul-mouthed bad boy who also happened to be part of some crazy cult that fetishized self harm. He was invited everywhere, and you could count on him attending for the free booze. He was, in fact, publicity incarnate, which was why no-one minded that he nearly always caused some kind of scene.

Really, just the opposite of Kakuzu. He sighed, and looked at the time. It was already 6.15 and he had another client to see, who he’d had to reschedule after an earlier meeting over-ran. He wasn’t going to be able to go home after all, as he’d planned, and he certainly wouldn’t make the gallery by 6.30 - not, of course, that he would want to - most people probably wouldn’t arrive until a little later. Still, he could shower and change here - he always kept a change of clothes in his office, just for circumstances like these.

Kakuzu was an investment banker, but he hadn’t always been. Kakuzu in his youth had been passionate, creative and idealistic - it felt like a long time ago now. He’d trained in medicine, and wanted to become a surgeon. He’d been among the most brilliant students in his year, and destined for the top of his profession until, as an over-worked junior doctor, something had gone wrong with one of his patients. Kakuzu still wasn’t sure if anything he’d done differently could have saved Shodai Hokage. But it was then that he’d seen a nastier, darker side of the NHS. The scapegoating, the colleagues he’d thought were friends as well turning their backs on him. The registrar who should’ve been there to back him up disclaiming all responsibility... Even now, years later, Kakuzu mouth tightened and his fists clenched at the bitter memories. He cursed himself for letting the poisoned thoughts flow out into the comfortable world he’d built for himself. He felt a echo of that feeling now - all the desire to make things better, to make ground-breaking advances in heart surgery, to help people, just flooding out of him. He’d wanted no part of it anymore. He’d abandoned the medical profession, done a law conversion, then got a job in the City.

The soulless City - Kakuzu smiled wryly - that was what people thought, that he’d sold out, lost his integrity, his heart. But strangely enough, the City - the beating heart of London’s financial industry - had felt like a balm to his lacerated feelings. He was good at it - both the work and the world it created - and had risen quickly. In a few years he was an investment banker with an indecent bonus, and a reputation for his mystic calm and relaxed air on the trading floor. If he’d ever felt the need to explain himself to anyone, he might’ve said that after his senior postgraduate year in one of London’s most overloaded hospitals, he wasn’t going to lose his cool over the fluctuations of the stock market. But Kakuzu didn’t explain himself. He didn’t tend to let himself get very close to people now. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that he didn’t feel the urge to.

It had been at around that time that he’d started to invest in art, and gradually he’d taken over the directorship of his bank’s art investment portfolio. It had begun as an interesting sideline which didn’t really feel like work, but now he was probably the most influential Art Investment Fund Manager in the country. He’d built up his own collection alongside and liked to think his own was the more daring and varied of the two - after all, he was willing to buy things the bank viewed as a little too wild. His eyes flicked over the four tribal masks that hung on the wall opposite his desk. They’d been his first acquisitions, and kept an established place in his heart. Just now, the pinkish evening sunlight was bringing out their deep colours, emphasising their richness and the strange features of their grimacing faces.

Bringing himself back to the present with a little shake of his head, Kakuzu buzzed through to his secretary and told her to send in his client. He put the invitation face down on the desk - he didn’t want that face breaking his concentration. As he did so he thought there was an expression of sadness - or no, more specifically, woundedness - in the young man’s curious reddish violet eyes, but perhaps it was just a trick of the light as the card flexed in his hand. He didn’t turn it over again for a closer look. He had more self control than that.

Turning his mind back to the matter at hand as the door opened, he rose and walked around the desk to greet his client, projecting, as always, an air of absolute calm and confidence.

Chapter Text

In the end, Kakuzu didn’t arrive at the Private View until about half past eight. Darkness was just falling when he emerged from the tube station, and suddenly it didn’t feel like a nice evening out, it felt like time to go home. Kakuzu felt tired, and even briefly considered getting back on the Northern Line and letting it bear him away to his home in Hampstead. But it was a warm evening, and as he walked along Old Street towards Hoxton Square the sounds of people on their way out for the evening and even the sounds of Northbound traffic taking people home and the other lane taking heading South into the centre began to gradually seduce him into a brighter frame of mind. He smiled a small, private smile. After all, he was on his way to one of the most happening scenes in town. Akatsuki Gallery was the place to be tonight, that could not be denied. For a moment it almost made Kakuzu feel that he could be young and idealistic again.

As soon as he turned off Old Street into Rufus Street Kakuzu could hear the noise of the Private View emanating from Akatsuki Gallery’s doors. There were a few little groups of smokers outside as well, holding glasses of wine, some leaning against the plate glass windows, others squatting on the pavement or sitting on the wide granite kerb. Kakuzu recognised an artist who he owned a quite a few pieces by - Asuma Sarutobi. He’d been thinking of selling them, actually. Yes, he certainly wouldn’t be keeping them much longer. They would fetch quite a price right now, and Kakuzu wasn’t really very keen on them anymore. Of course, when you were as influential in the art world as Kakuzu, if you sold up your collection of an artists’ work, that would dramatically reduce the work’s value. The artist was going to see a big drop both in their sales and the prices they could command. A lot of collectors who bought for investment would swiftly follow Kakuzu’s example. Asuma’s reputation would probably not recover, given that the work he was making now seemed to be not particularly exciting, but that wasn’t a consideration that Kakuzu would allow to sway him. Not where business was concerned.

Asuma was surrounded by an eager gaggle of students - he did a lot of teaching these days. A sure sign to Kakuzu that he’d gone off the boil. He nodded curtly as he caught Asuma’s eye. A pretty dark haired woman he thought he recognised as Asuma’s girlfriend was talking animatedly with a friend on the other side of the doorway. She wasn’t drinking, and Kakuzu could tell at a glance that she was in the early stages of pregnancy. All the more reason to drop the guy, he considered. Soon enough he’d be surrounded by toddlers and students and not making work at all.

His head full of happy plans for lucrative business deals, Kakuzu walked through the door and a blast of noise and heat hit him. It seemed that most people were pretty sloshed already. The place was rammed, the buzz of talk constant and high level. He recognised a high proportion of the crowd, and thought a lot of them must recognise him as well. At a glance he could pick out three critics and twice as many gallery owners, as well as a lot of artists, both established and up and coming. A couple of his own clients were there too. People had already been buying - there were red dots beside quite a number of the works - and that was quite something at this show. Since the artist was Deidara, without taking serious stabilising measures none of the pieces could be expected to last more than a year at most.

Kakuzu felt calm, and in his element. His senses felt sharpened and he felt almost predatory as he glanced quickly around to see if he could spot the face that had been distracting him all afternoon. He was about six inches taller than most people there, but in the crowded room he couldn’t see him anywhere. What did catch his eye was the film piece - notorious already - that the image on the invitation was taken from. Film wasn’t normally a medium that interested Kakuzu much, but it acted like a magnet on him now. The film was rumoured to be designed to last the length of the exhibition, and no more. Kakuzu knew this wasn’t strictly true - Dei refused to be specific about the lifespan of his works and he’d told Kakuzu that he’d never worked with this type of film before, so he really had no idea. “It’ll last as long as it lasts, hn,” he’d said cryptically. “And hopefully it’ll last in people’s minds for a bit longer after that.”

Deidara had got the tape that it was filmed on from his friend Zetsu, an environmentalist film maker trying (quite insanely in Kakuzu’s opinion) to find a greener way to record. It was apparently made from potato starch, and it degraded rapidly as the film ran, the images seeming to crack and then peel and melt away.

Kakuzu made his way slowly through the crowd towards it. It was running on two old-school reel to reel projectors, and Kakuzu could see now that what was in fact happening was that the was biodegradable film was darkening in the heat from the lamps, becoming more opaque and letting less light through. It did it unevenly, first fragmenting the image with cracks and fissures, from which darkness would slowly bleed out. It was actually very cleverly done. The film was in two parts, or layers - one of live action of the model, and another of exactly the same events, animated darkly and expressively in charcoal. This, being naturally darker, didn’t show up on the wall until the the brighter film was blacked out. Gradually, the animation would replace the live action entirely, before it faded into obscurity itself.

Kakuzu had seen some of the drawings for the animation part already, when he’d last visited Deidara’s studio, and they’d fascinated him. They were deep textured and full of history, as the the whole thing was animated using just a couple of drawings, working into them and rubbing bits away, shifting the charcoal around. Until tonight he hadn’t seen any of the live action. One flickering glimpse was all it took to get him hooked now.

Unmindful of the other people trying to watch it - or really, he thought, talking loudly about it while not really watching it properly, and posing and trying to look cultured - he shouldered his way inexorably to the prime viewing position. Already the film was deteriorating, and each time it played more and more of the information would be lost, and more of the animation that ran underneath it would be revealed. The same events, but in so many ways not at all the same. It was clever, Kakuzu had to admit, although it could never be considered an investment for a buyer. The animation was degrading at a slower rate - Kakuzu wasn’t sure how.

He watched, enthralled, as the beautiful and somehow incredibly alive looking young man, lying naked in some sort of cult symbol, sliced into his wrist and watched blood trickle down his arm. He seemed in ecstasy. This bit of the film looked as though it might have been rewound and played again several times - it was more eroded looking - you kept getting glimpses into the dark, monochrome world of the charcoal.

Kakuzu watched until the film had looped back around to where it had been when he came in before moving away from the projection and making his way, feeling a little dazed, to the refreshment table. He felt could use a drink, after the day he’d had, and the openings at Akatsuki Gallery always had reasonably good wine. He was also hungry and hoped there’d still be some food left. He felt absurdly celebratory - maybe it was just the party atmosphere after a day at the office, but it was probably also the bright glimpses of that beautiful body in the film. He hadn’t intended to watch for so long, but each glimpse left him yearning for the next. And - he had to give Deidara this - he had felt that if he didn’t see it now, if he came back to watch it the next day, so much might be lost forever.

People’s reactions to this film had been so extreme. It was controversial because it was seen as glorifying, or even recommending, self harm. But it didn’t seem that way to Kakuzu. It seemed like something very personal. Particular to the one person doing it. And it didn’t seem like he was harming himself, somehow, he mused. It seemed to make him more perfect. More whole. He hadn’t exactly liked watching it. Several times he’d wanted to look away, and found that he just couldn’t.

Lost in his musings, he almost walked into Konan, who seemed to run these events almost single handed. He just managed to stop himself in time, but couldn’t then avoid the social air kissing. It always irritated him, but it was just something that went hand in hand with the art scene. You had to be really on the ball if you didn’t want to do it.

“Fantastic show, Konan,” he said, avoiding any actual contact as he kissed back at her. “Really buzzing. I haven’t had time to look round yet - I got sucked into watching that remarkable film - but I can see that a lot has sold.” It came to him then that, of course, Konan would’ve filmed the film for posterity. Deidara would be pissed, but that was the art world for you, again. One day there’d probably be a retrospective on Dei, and they’d have to call it ‘Fragments’, or ‘Traces’, because there’d be nothing left. ‘As the Dust Settles’, perhaps. A bit more poetic. Or ‘After the Event’ maybe.

“Get yourself a glass of wine, Kakuzu,” Konan smiled, misinterpreting his zoned expression. “You look like you’ve had a hard day. I’m not sure you’ll be able to see much tonight - no-one ever looks at the work at the Private View - they’re here to be seen rather than to see, I think. I’m impressed you even managed to get through to the film!”

Kakuzu laughed and moved on as Konan was claimed by a couple of Mr. Pein’s smooth blond secretaries. Taking a glass of red wine and a miniature quiche, he moved around to the side of the refreshment table to eat it. And found himself next to a young man who was cramming his mouth with vol-au-vents and still somehow managing to look sexy. Hidan. It was Hidan! Even if he hadn’t just watched him self harm for half an hour on film Kakuzu would have recognised him at once.

Not seeming to notice Kakuzu, he bit into another canapé, then nearly choked. “What the fuck,” he gasped, accepting the paper napkin Kakuzu silently handed to him and spitting out his mouthful into it, “is with this fucking vol-au-vent! That is not cool, man, seriously.”

Now he turned to look at Kakuzu properly, fixing him with intense purple eyes, closer to brown than blue. “Seriously, check under the lids before you eat them, man. Some of them are fucking cheese. It’s fucking Stilton, or something. They’re fucking booby-trapped. Seriously, they should have a fucking warning on them.”

“I quite like Stilton,” Kakuzu said amiably. Hidan looked at him in awe.

“Dude,” he said. “Hardcore.” He deposited the napkin in the pot of a banana plant that stood in the corner.

Kakuzu smiled. “Let me get you a drink,” he said. “Something to take the taste away…” It was no problem to get one then and there. He was tall enough to reach over and grab a glass of red wine without even moving around the table. Probably Hidan had already had more than enough to drink, but Kakuzu needed a conversation starter.

Hidan accepted the glass with easy grace, and drained a third of it in one gulp. “Thanks, man, that’s better,” he said.

Kakuzu couldn’t quite take his eyes off him. He was obviously on his way to being fairly smashed already, but he seemed in his element, as though off his face was his natural state. It suited him. “No problem,” he said.

Hidan tipped his head back and regarded him quizzically. “So,” he said, “Who’re you? Don’t get me wrong, but you don’t seem quite like the normal sort of arseholes who come to these events.” He held out his hand. “I’m Hidan.”

“Kakuzu,” said Kakuzu, shaking it firmly. They both held on a little longer than was necessary. Kakuzu did it out of habit because it was a technique he often used at work to intimidate businessmen he was making deals with. Hidan, perhaps just because in his current condition it took him a moment to remember to let go. “And you’re right,” Kakuzu continued, unfazed, “I’m not really one of the art crowd. I’m an investment banker.”

Kakuzu was used to people in the art world finding his profession amusing, but Hidan laughed far more than he would’ve expected. “Dude, that’s hilarious,” he said, shaking with mirth and nearly spilling his wine. “A banker, no way!”

It was at this moment that they were joined by Deidara. “Don’t misrepresent yourself, Kakuzu, hn,” he said, then turned to Hidan. “He’s a major collector in his own right, and he decides what art pieces his bank buys as investment. Don’t you, hn?”

“It doesn’t make me one of the art crowd.” Kakuzu replied.

“Why wouldn’t you want to be one of the art crowd, hnn? I don’t see why you’re trying to distance yourself from us, hn.”

“Cause you’re a load of pretentious cocksuckers, seriously.’”Hidan cut in, gesturing theatrically across the room. “Just take a look at these fucking pricks! They’re all fucking talking bullshit out of their fucking arseholes.”

“Yeah, well, I can’t disagree with that, hn,” Deidara lowered his voice conspiratorially, “given that I actually came over here to hide for a moment. That fucking Uchiha Itachi just came in, and I can’t fucking stand him, hn.”

“I thought he reviewed your last show very favourably.” said Kakuzu, surprised. He got on fairly well with Itachi - he was a very eminent art critic and historian and Kakuzu often read his reviews. Some of them were even printed in the Financial Times.

Deidara sneered from behind his curtain of hair. “Yeah, hn, he reviews me favourably alright. Now, anyway. But it’s always like he’s bestowing the favour? He’s just so up his tight little arse - he’s fucking patronising, hn.” He shook his head with a world-weary sigh.

“Hey, cheer the fuck up, Dei!” said Hidan. “It’s your party! You need another drink!”

“Ah, Hidan, man, Sasori’s been going on at me again for getting wasted at my own shows…”

“Fuck that, man!” Hidan’s voice rose in indignation at the very thought of not getting wasted at your own show. “Hey, this guy has the reach of a fucking, I don’t know, giraffe or something. He can get you a glass of wine from here!”

“Ah, go on then, hn.” Deidara gave in immediately. “Can you reach the white?”

Kakuzu obviously had a new party trick. He found he could reach the white, just, and did so. “Congratulations, Deidara,” he said as he handed him the glass. “What a night. You’ve really arrived.”

“It’s going well, hn. Everybody came…” Deidara scanned the room with a satisfied air, then turned back to Hidan and Kakuzu. “So, you guys know each other now? That’s nice, hn.”

“No,” said Kakuzu, just as Hidan said ‘Yes’. Hidan turned wounded eyes on him.

“I fucking know what kind of cheese you like, and everything! Why are you trying to distance yourself from me, dude?”

“You have the advantage of me.” Kakuzu retorted. “I only know what kind of cheese you don’t like.”

“Cool,” said Hidan. “Fair point. I like Edam.”

“Good to know.” What was it about this inane, profane conversation that had Kakuzu so utterly hooked? He liked to think of himself as a man of taste. This man was. Well. The word blingy sprang to mind, for one thing. That medallion... or was it a pendant? Kakuzu didn’t really approve of jewellery on men, so the terminology was slightly foreign to him. And did he really have to have his shirt unbuttoned quite so low? Kakuzu’s eyes kept being drawn downwards...

“Guys, hide me, hn,” Deidara voice broke in on his reverie, making him realise he must have been staring at Hidan rather longer than was usual - and the man was smirking, damn him. “Itachi’s looking over.” Kakuzu and Hidan closed ranks in front of him, moving as one. “Fuck, his eyes are freaky.”

Hidan turned around and stared rudely. “Do you think he’s insomniac or something?”

“Dunno, hn,” Deidara replied. “Sasori’s little cousin or whatever is, though. He’s here somewhere, you could compare them.”

“I don’t know if I can be fucked, man,” said Hidan. “That’s more your bag than mine, comparing shit.” He turned to Kakuzu, who had been observing the pair of them with silent amusement, though keeping his face absolutely deadpan. “Yo, Kakuzu, man, could you get me another…” he waved his empty glass at him.

“Red again?” Kakuzu asked.

“Why the fuck not.”

“Well, I reckon I’m refreshed enough to head back out into the fray.” Deidara placed his empty glass next to the vol-au-vents. “Hey, Hidan, hn,” he added suddenly, “Don’t forget you’re sitting for me tomorrow at ten, hn.”

“Fuck,” said Hidan, his face going blank with horror, “Fuck! Why the hell did we schedule a sitting for the morning after the PV? Want to make it eleven, instead?”

“Because I’m going to Berlin on Saturday, hn, and I need to put the final touches on the cast for the sugar sculptures, or it won’t be ready by the time I get back, hn.”

“Well, fuck me, man, the fucking sugar sculptures - how could I forget!” Hidan’s face assumed an expression of disgust. “Remind me one day why the fuck you want to make sugar clones of me anyway... So eleven’s alright then, is it?”

“Yeah, alright, un, eleven it is then.’ Deidara sighed resignedly, turning to head back out into the room, then added, ‘And I was thinking of making a series of sculptures out of shit next - that might suit you more, hn.”

“Yeah, well, most of your sculptures are fucking shit, in my opinion, arsehole,”

“Yeah, so, I’d probably better go and schmooze, see you guys.” Deidara made a hasty exit as Hidan stepped threateningly towards him, waving a canapé dangerously. He was immediately whisked back into the thick of the social whirl - they heard him say “Well, it’s about the transience of the now, hn, it’s not about preserving the past,” in the generic tone of a misunderstood genius explaining the obvious, before his voice was swallowed up into the general babble.

Hidan relaxed his aggressive stance and looked down at what was now a rather unappetising piece of puff pastry in his hand. He seemed slightly lost.

“You’ll make yourself sick if you eat any more of those,” said Kakuzu.

“Alright, Grandad.” Hidan peeled back the lid, then threw the vol-au-vent back on the plate with a disgusted sneer. “I think I already ate all the good ones, anyway,” he said. He chugged back some wine defiantly, somehow looking slightly forlorn at the same time.

Kakuzu watched him curiously. Hidan could flip from charming to offensive to aggressive and back again so quickly. He could see how this would pan out. Hidan, alienated by the pretentious art crowd, would get more and more frustrated and resentful, would get completely off his face in the corner, then pick a fight with someone, cause a scene (possibly a riot if enough students were involved), and the gawping crowd, simultaneously fascinated and censorious, would get their money’s worth from him. Kakuzu found he didn’t want them to get that satisfaction tonight. In fact, he resolved to make sure it didn’t happen. He felt an emotion surface within him that he hadn’t felt in a very long time. He was surprised at himself - over a guy he’d only just met, who, moreover, had terrible manners and with whom he had nothing in common, Kakuzu was actually feeling protective.

Chapter Text

Bee-be-be-beep, bee-be-be-beep, bee-be-be-beep, bee-be-be-beep, went Hidan’s phone at ten o’clock the next morning. “Fuck,” he moaned, hiding his head under his pillow and screwing up his eyes against the light. His head was pounding unmercifully and he had one of those full-body hangovers he’d come to associate with red wine. His limbs felt heavy, the pit of his stomach was at once leaden and distinctly unsettled, and as soon as he tried to move his head swam and a wave of nausea sent him crashing back onto the bed. “Fuck,” he moaned again. “Why’d I fucking do it again? Why?”

Eyes still three-quarters shut, he groped wildly and inaccurately on his bedside table, dislodging a glass of water and his bedside lamp before grasping his phone and quieting its incessant peeping by sliding off the battery. Sighing with a small measure of relief, he groped a little more until his fingertips met the cold metal of his Jashin rosary. Bringing it to his mouth and shutting his eyes again, he murmured softly to it, soothing himself, able for a moment to separate himself from the reality of his aching body and the need to be out of the door in half an hour. It calmed him, the constant presence of Jashin, always someone to speak to, someone with needs that had to be met, someone demanding, sure, but they were always demands that made sense to him.

Sighing again, deeply, Hidan dragged himself over the edge of the bed and knelt on the floor, his face still buried in the duvet. He picked up the glass that lay on the floor and forlornly drained the last drops from it. This made him realise that his need for water was pressing enough that he would have to immediately undertake the intolerably long journey through the door and across his open plan living room to the bathroom. His head pounded with every step. Leaving the door wide open, he drank straight from the tap, then splashed cold water over his face. He blinked at himself in the mirror, and ruffled his hair absentmindedly. He couldn’t really remember much of the later events from last night. He was willing to bet that Dei would be disgustingly chipper - probably been in his studio since nine. He didn’t seem to be a martyr to hangovers the way Hidan was. Maybe because he drank white wine...

Hidan stopped trying to think and got into the shower. As soon as the water was the right temperature, he crouched down, leaning against the tiles, and just let it rain down on him. He could spend hours like this. He loved hot water, and the steamy atmosphere. He shut his eyes and turned his face up into the downpour, imagining he was in some fantastical utopian place where the rain could be this temperature. He didn’t want to move and ruin the illusion, but he was conscious that he couldn’t stay in nearly as long as he’d like this morning. He was cutting it rather fine anyway. He reached for his citrus bodywash, relishing the exotic smell it released.

It was twenty past by the time he emerged into the living room, a maroon towel around his waist. ‘Shit,’ he muttered. He padded over to the fridge and drank some pineapple juice straight from the carton, then wandered back into his bedroom to find some clothes. He really needed to get a wash in, but it wasn’t as if he’d be wearing the clothes for very long... Looking out of the window he saw that it wasn’t a very nice day - it was grey and drizzly - the opposite of yesterday evening with all that warm late sunshine. Hidan hated this kind of weather. He decided he’d take the tube, rather than cycle. Still, he didn’t feel the cold very much. He pulled on a clean T-shirt and the black jeans from yesterday, and grabbed his leather jacket from where he’d slung it over the back of a chair last night. He massaged a good sized blob of Nivea Man aftershave balm into his face, although he hadn’t bothered to shave, and rubbed his hair again in the towel, then slicked it back with gel. He began to feel more human.

Back at the fridge he poured himself a bowl of Coco Pops, which he always found very comforting hangover food. Crunchy Nut Cornflakes were nowhere close. Hidan couldn’t resist buying Kellogg’s Variety Packs, and consequently had a large collection of miniature packets of Rice Crispies and Corn Flakes. He ate them (liberally sprinkled with sugar) only in desperation when he was out of everything else. Glancing again at the clock, he found he was already five minutes late. He just couldn’t motivate himself to hurry, though, and he gave himself a moment to savour the chocolate flavoured milk before hunting down his dressing gown (the only tool of the life model’s trade), making sure his Oyster card was still in his pocket and making for the door.

Kakuzu’s morning had progressed very differently. His alarm had gone off at 6.30. He liked to pretend that it didn’t hurt, but in reality the tinny clamour invading his dreams and then dragging his unwilling consciousness into the cruel grey dawn was less than welcome. But Kakuzu was a disciplined man. He got up without groaning into his pillow more than once, and, pulling on the first clothes that came to hand, headed downstairs to give his dogs their pre-breakfast run on the Heath.

It was pre-breakfast for them, anyway. Kakuzu grabbed a banana for himself as he picked up his keys from the kitchen table - why had he put them in the fruit bowl last night? He must have had more to drink than he’d thought - and headed for the door, whistling for the dogs to follow. They were Giant Schnauzers. Kakuzu had four of them. He liked to claim they were guard dogs, and certainly they were good at that. They were exceptionally well trained - of course, as they were trained by Kakuzu. His five storey Georgian house did contain a lot of valuable items - mostly works of art and antiques. Kakuzu also liked to walk on the Heath at night, and four huge black dogs pretty much ensured that no-one would trouble him. Although in fact he wouldn’t have been afraid to go without them, but that might perhaps have been unwise. But really, they were company. Company without human faults and human demands.

Turning out of his gate he immediately felt better. The cool morning air was refreshing on his face, and the moisture in the air - no more than scotch mist - dispelled the threat of a headache that had been hanging over him. The dogs’ enthusiasm began to infect him and the day seemed more promising.

A couple of houses down he spotted his neighbour, Kisame, putting out his recycling, which was clinking merrily. “Morning, Kisame,” Kakuzu called out.

Kisame, who had had his face turned up, relishing the dampness in the air, raised a hand in greeting. “Hi, Kakuzu. Lovely fresh morning, isn’t it?” He breathed in deeply.

“It’s certainly refreshing, after a late night,” Kakuzu agreed.

“Oh, you were at the show last night?” Kisame perched on his gatepost as Kakuzu drew level with him and paused, the dogs waiting obediently. “And how did it go? Did you run into Itachi?”

Kisame was an magazine editor, working for Madara Uchiha. Itachi’s pieces were often featured in his magazines. Kisame and Itachi were good friends. Kakuzu believed they sometimes went hill walking together at the weekends. Kisame was quite aggressively outdoorsy and was out of London one way or another pretty much every weekend. He would even drive down to Cornwall to go surfing. He had a van, and he would get as far as he could on a Friday evening and sleep in the van if he got tired. Kakuzu thought that was insane, and possibly Itachi did too, as when he and Itachi went walking in the Black Mountains they took the train instead. Kisame had actually asked Kakuzu a couple of times if he’d like to join them, but so far nothing had come of it.

“It went well,” said Kakuzu. “Yes, I saw Itachi. But we didn’t get much of a chance to chat.” Chatting, in any case, was not really a word that applied very well to Kakuzu’s style of conversation. Or indeed, to Itachi’s. Both men smiled slightly in amused recognition of this fact. “Will you be away walking this weekend?” Kakuzu asked, feeling extra sociable as he did so.

“No, I’m off to the coast as soon as I can get away,” Kisame replied. “Apparently there are some good waves around Torquay area. Itachi’s busy this weekend. I think he wanted to try and see his little brother.”

Itachi’s little brother meant trouble, that much Kakuzu knew. “Oh dear, is he?” he said, injecting his tone with sensitive concern. “Well, I hope that doesn’t go too badly.”

“Mmm, quite,” said Kisame. There wasn’t much else one could say. He patted one of the dogs absently. “Off to the Heath, then, is it? These guys sure keep you busy.”

“That’s right,” said Kakuzu, “Well, I’d better get along. Have a good weekend, Kisame, if I don’t see you before you go.”

“Will do, will do,” Kisame turned back in at his gate and Kakuzu continued briskly up the road and onto the Heath. He liked Kisame, particularly because he didn’t feel the need to run his mouth off about things that didn’t concern them, and neither did Kakuzu. He was one of those people you feel you know well, but who doesn’t really intrude on your life. Restful company.

It wasn’t until he was right at the top of Parliament Hill, looking over the city, that he allowed himself to think about last night. He let the dogs off the leash and left them to run around by themselves while he stood there watching the sun trying and failing to break through the drizzle and low cloud. It hadn’t been the kind of night he was used to. Not the sort of thing that he thought of as happening to him now. It was a long time, after all, since he’d come off late shifts with a group of sexy male nurses and ended up. Well. He supposed it wasn’t so very like those times then. After all, he hadn’t taken Hidan home.

Not that he hadn’t wanted to. But when he suggested sharing a cab, seeing as they’d missed the last tube, Hidan had revealed that he lived over the South side of Tower Bridge, and anyway, he was on his bike. Kakuzu wondered if he’d got home OK. He’d been exceptionally drunk, and the East End traffic, even at that time of night… Well. Worrying about it wouldn’t get him anywhere.

“Will you be OK to ride,” he’d said, concerned.

“Man, you don’t say that to me! Worry about the fucking motorists!” Hidan had called insolently over his shoulder, walking his black and red hybrid along the pavement away from Kakuzu with a hand resting casually on its saddle.

“Well, take care,” Kakuzu had said, wincing as Hidan cut across three lanes of traffic and disappeared in the direction of Shoreditch High Street. The last he saw of him was his hand raised in an obscene gesture, possibly in farewell or perhaps just in response to the several car horns that had sounded in his wake.

Kakuzu sighed and watched his dogs bounding up the hill towards him. He threw a couple of sticks for them, sending them bounding away again. He supposed Hidan could look after himself. He’d been at pains to highlight that fact, anyway. He’d probably been cycling round central London like a dangerous clown for years, and he’d survived so far. Kakuzu wondered fleetingly whether that sickening swoop through the speeding traffic had been for his benefit. He had to admit that the sight of Hidan scooting off the kerb standing on one pedal, then swinging his left leg over the back wheel in an elegant arabesque while steering one-handed had been rather impressive, in a totally insane and irresponsible way. He could see that if he was going to see more of Hidan he’d have to make a point never again to watch him leave.

It was difficult to get the events of last night out of his head, once he’d let them in again. After their first exchange, Kakuzu and Hidan had stayed together for the rest of the evening. First, they went around the exhibition, much of which featured Hidan in some way or another. Hidan had talked a lot, telling Kakuzu amusing stories about the hazards of sitting for Deidara, or recounting salacious anecdotes about people that he recognised. Kakuzu hadn’t said much. He’d been content to let Hidan’s words wash over him. It turned out that they knew a lot of the same people. They’d gone to talk to Sasori, but Hidan had offended him, so they’d moved swiftly on. Hidan was very rude to Nagato Pein’s PR man as well, but he was far too well bred to respond. Insults were like water off a duck’s back to him. Finally a very blonde young woman wearing very red lipstick - someone in fashion, Kakuzu had a vague idea - had thrown half a glass of wine over him and tried to burn him with her cigarette. He’d felt it wise to intervene at this point - and they’d decided to leave.

He couldn’t get that image out of his head - Hidan smirking imperturbably with dark red liquid dripping down the side of his face and off his chin. There was one particular drop sliding down from the corner of his mouth that Kakuzu would have liked to’ve licked off then and there. But instead he’d handed Hidan his handkerchief and looked away.

Surprisingly, Zetsu the film-maker and Tobi (a photographer) elected to join them when they left, and Kakuzu began to get the distinct impression that Hidan, disruptive as he’d been by Kakuzu’s standards, had actually behaved himself tonight far better than anyone could remember. Everyone thought it was Kakuzu’s influence, and Konan was very grateful to him. They’d all gone to a pub on Old Street.

It had been a funny experience for Kakuzu really, because he knew this Tobi was actually the media magnate, Madara Uchiha, and had in fact known him for years while he built up his empire, but as he was extremely eccentric and fancied himself as a photographer, he wanted to be accepted by the art crowd on those terms. And the art crowd thought he was rather sweet and let him hang around, but didn’t take his work seriously at all.

Hidan knew him in this guise, and hadn’t yet made the connection that the magazine cover he was appearing on later that month was in fact owned by Tobi. It had made for a rather amusing conversation, at least from Kakuzu’s point of view. He hadn’t liked to say anything, since he knew Madara liked to go about incognito, but he couldn’t help the odd chuckle in one or two inappropriate places and interestingly enough, for someone so untrammelled by considerations of etiquette, Hidan was rather touchy. At the merest hint that he might be being mocked, he was immediately an endearing mixture of aggression and wounded innocence. Kakuzu just couldn’t resist poking at it. The odd wry smile here, or an affectionately teasing remark there and his crest would be up and all his feathers ruffled. Kakuzu thought it was rather sweet.

These musings took Kakuzu through breakfast, showering and changing into a dark and sober business suit and onto the tube, where he sat with a slim volume of T. S. Eliot in his hand and didn’t even pretend to read. He wondered how much of last night Hidan remembered. He had obviously been very drunk. He wondered if he’d see him again, and how soon.

The train juddered as it went round a bend, and the lights flickered. Kakuzu looked at his reflection, distorted in the curved window opposite, then up at the map of the Northern Line. Euston, King’s Cross, Angel, Old Street - his heart gave a little jump at the place he’d been last night, even just the name written diagonally along a thin black line - Moorgate, then Bank, where he would alight. Kakuzu began to wonder just what had got into him.

Chapter Text

Hidan blinked as he emerged into the sunlight. The day had really improved while he’d been in Deidara’s studio. He hadn’t really noticed while he’d been inside since, although well lit, the studio only got the sun in the morning.

It had been a long session. Longer than they’d planned. Deidara turned out to have left one of his casts near one of his particularly volatile new charcoal pieces (also involving sulphur and potassium nitrate) and it had exploded in the night. So he’d had to cast Hidan in that position all over again. And it would have been the one in the most difficult position to fucking hold, Hidan thought bitterly, stretching his shoulder muscles with an agonised grimace. He massaged the left side of his neck with his right hand and wondered what to do next. He didn’t particularly feel like going home. It was Friday, and he wanted to do something fun. But Deidara was busy preparing for going to Berlin, and had to arrange for the casts to be transported to the workshop where they’d be remade in silicone ready to be cast from multiple times in caramelised sugar. The sugar melted slowly in room temperature conditions - faster, of course with higher heat and humidity. The many sugar Hidans were destined for a slow, distorted and painful death, ending up as puddles on a gallery floor. It made the original Hidan feel a little sad to think of it.

He pulled his phone out of his pocket and flicked it open. It was just coming up to four. He wondered idly whether to call up Tobi or Zetsu, but then dismissed the idea impatiently. He didn’t feel like their company anyway. He began walking slowly in the direction of the tube, then decided he didn’t feel like being underground, either, on a sunny spring afternoon like this, and turned back on himself, cutting down Tabernacle Street in the direction of City Road.

Immediately he felt better. Although he hadn’t actually made a decision - just postponed one, really - about what he was going to do with the rest of the day, he felt like a weight had been lifted from him. He was unaccountable, he was free, and if he didn’t know what he wanted to do with his freedom, well, he would just wander until he did know. He switched his phone off and put it back in his pocket. Now he was untraceable and uncontactable too, he thought smugly. No-one could bug him with last minute requests for sittings, or try to make him come and see art house films he didn’t actually give a shit about.

He didn’t think about where he was going, just wandered vaguely Southwards, not hurrying. It was nice to be moving after hours of keeping still. Hidan turned his face up to the sun and breathed in deeply. The air was getting cooler, the sun was still warm, but it felt like evening sunshine. He didn’t quite know why, but he felt excited. His hangover was completely gone - he might get them badly, but he normally recovered quickly enough. Deidara had gone out and got them deli sandwiches for lunch and that had got rid of the last shreds of the headache that had been mainly exorcised by the brisk walk to London Bridge through the drizzle. Hidan felt quite ready for another night of fun. The question was, with whom?

Going round a quarter of Finsbury Circus to get away from the noise of the main road for a few minutes, he idly fingered his Oyster card in his jacket pocket, and felt something odd about it. It was a little thicker than usual, surely. It felt like there was a ticket tucked under the outer plastic flap. But Hidan never bought paper tickets. Bringing it out, he saw that it wasn’t a ticket at all, it was a business card. A chunky, good quality one. Ivory watermarked card, the letters slightly embossed. One word jumped out at him and brought images from last night swimming up before his eyes; ‘Kakuzu’. Kakuzu! The guy at the private view...

‘Kakuzu Taki, Art Investment Manager’ it read. And there was a message, written in an elegant scrawl across the bottom of the card. ‘Give me a call if you’re in the Bank area, K’. Hidan began to smile. He crossed over the main road and, looking down Throgmorton Street, he could see the Stock Exchange. Bank station was less the five minutes walk from here, he estimated. He looked at the address on the card, and smirked again. Even closer! He decided he wouldn’t give Kakuzu a call, he’d pay him a call. After all, it was Friday, maybe he could leave work a little early!

Five minutes later Hidan was in an impressive lobby, smiling charmingly at a receptionist. “Is Mr. Taki expecting you?” she trilled.

“Yes,” said Hidan, feeling that Kakuzu really should be, having written something like that.

“What name shall I say?” The receptionist picked up the phone.

“Just say ‘Hidan’,” said Hidan. “He’ll know.” He leant nonchalantly on the high desk as she made the call.

“Mr. Taki?” she said, and Hidan faintly heard the deep rumble of Kakuzu’s reply. “I’ve got a Hidan, here to see you, down at the front desk?” Her voice was a little doubtful, questioning even, and she stressed Hidan’s name oddly.

Kakuzu’s reply seemed a little surprised in tone, and Hidan tensed as he tried to work out exactly what he said. He thought it might have been “Oh really?”

“Oh!” said the receptionist. “He said you were expecting him...”

Upstairs, looking out over at the Monument, Kakuzu smiled and covered for his surprised reaction. “Oh yes,” he said. “And so I am.” He gave a swift glance at his watch. “Four-thirty already, is it? Goodness.”

The receptionist gave a gurgling laugh. “Time does seem to go quickly on a Friday, Mr. Taki... shall I send him up?”

“No, no, I’ll come down,” said Kakuzu. “Tell him I’ll be with him in a moment.” He put down the phone and stood for a moment, incredulous that the surreptitious business card trick should have already borne fruit. He took a moment to compose himself, then went out through his secretary’s office and headed for the lifts.

Down in the lobby, Hidan had been directed to a seat and given a glass of water from the water cooler. He was slightly surprised, but pleased, that Kakuzu was coming down to meet him. He didn’t want to get lost in a bank. He wondered if Kakuzu would be annoyed. He’d seemed like quite a serious sort of guy, after all. Hidan felt a bit like a naughty child.

Kakuzu felt the tug at his heart strings that was becoming quite familiar by now as he saw Hidan sitting by a potted fern, having not noticed him yet. He’s so unbelievably hot, Kakuzu thought, imagining taking him right then and there. His imagination removed the receptionist, obviously, and the security guard. He wondered if Hidan was that attractive to everyone. That prematurely grey hair... Kakuzu thought it looked fantastic, and gave him an air of sophistication too. There was no question of it making him look old. Hidan saw him and got up. Kakuzu crossed over the chequered marble floor to him and shook his hand, patting his shoulder lightly as he did so.

“Good to see you, Hidan,” he said. “Will you come up for a minute? I just have a few more phone calls to make and then I’ll be through for the day.”

He ushered Hidan through the wooden doors to the lifts, and called one down. The doors opened immediately, and they stepped inside. Now Kakuzu’s imagination had no obstacles to remove. He looked at Hidan and his lips twitched in a predatory smile. Hidan lounged against the mirrored wall and returned the smile as the doors closed again. “I wondered if you’d come,” Kakuzu said.

“Ah, I was at a bit of a loose end,” Hidan replied.

“I’m sure we can get that tied up...” The lift doors opened and Kakuzu guided Hidan out with a light touch to the shoulder. “This way...”

His secretary looked up, interested. Kakuzu favoured her with a curt nod as he led Hidan straight into the inner sanctum of his private office.

“Make yourself at home,” he said indicating the brown leather sofa against the far wall. “I won’t be long.” He walked around his desk and perched on the edge of it. Hidan sat down on the sofa, and like anything he did he did it obviously and expansively, his arms stretched along the back, his legs wide apart. Kakuzu angled himself so that he was facing away from him, but could see his vague reflection in the floor to ceiling windows.

Where shall I take him? he asked himself as he dialled the number of a major German collector, tucking the receiver between his ear and his shoulder as he reached for his pen and notepad. Sosho? No, too noisy. The East Room? Hmm. It might be irritating for Hidan to double back that way, if he’d walked from Old Street... Loungelover? ... Yes. Yes, why not? Opens early on Friday, good cocktails, sushi, nice opulent atmosphere, ironic enough feel not to be too tacky... pity their house champagne’s not better, but that’s a harsh thing to judge an establishment by... plenty of other champagnes on the wine list, after all...

He wasn’t really focusing on his phone conversation. When he put the phone down he couldn’t quite recall what he’d said - he’d been watching Hidan’s reflection out of the corner of his eye. He’d begun to wander around the room, looking at Kakuzu’s books and the masks on the wall. Kakuzu could imagine keeping him in here all the time, like some kind of very high maintenance pet. He smirked into the receiver as he dialled the next number, wondering what his business associates would make of such a thing. They’d probably go home wanting one of their own...

“Well,” said Kakuzu as they walked out of the building. “Where would you like to go? There’s a great bar in Shoreditch I went to recently... if we walk slowly it should be open by the time we get there.”

Hidan took Kakuzu’s hand and brought it up so he could read the time off his watch. “It opens at 5.30 on a Friday,” Kakuzu said hastily - something told him that - fit as he obviously was - Hidan wouldn’t like the idea of too long a walk. “It’s only about twenty minutes from here.”

Hidan looked up at the clear sky, just beginning to dim, and then back at Kakuzu. “Alright,” he said. “Lead the way!”

Half an hour later, having taken the walk at a very leisurely pace, Hidan and Kakuzu were seated in the back part of Loungelover, scanning down the cocktail menu.

It was only a moment before Hidan tossed it onto the table and leant back. “I’ll have the Sidecar,” he said, his eyes lazily meeting Kakuzu’s dead on. “Like fuck I’m ordering any dodgy concoction with fig liqueur in it.”

Kakuzu smiled. The boy had style. “I couldn’t agree more. It makes one think they must’ve had a job lot off the back of a lorry,” he said. “I’m sticking with the Dry Martini, myself.”

He caught the eye of a waiter, and placed the order, ordering a mixed platter of sushi as well, then turned back to look at Hidan. The entire of the back of Loungelover was decorated in red, red velvet curtains, red leather settees, even red tinted glass in the windows. It was an atmosphere that seem to suit Hidan to perfection. Kakuzu let himself admire him for a moment, without speaking. He did like to have a striking companion.

He’d been single for a long time now. Kakuzu was forty-six, and had gone through partners like water after he first started working in the City, but for a while now he just hadn’t been able to muster the necessary enthusiasm. But this felt different. This had his heart beating again.

“So, you got home safely last night.” he said.

“Fuck, yeah,” Hidan replied. “Like I said, don’t fucking worry about me. Sure, I’ve come off a couple of times - who fucking hasn’t? - but I know how to hold my own on the road.”

“Indisputably...” Kakuzu murmured. “So, the fact that you’re on foot today doesn’t indicate that you wrote off your bicycle last night.”

Fuck no!” Hidan replied, heatedly. “What it fucking indicates is that it was a horrible fucking morning, and I had a motherfucker of a hangover, and I couldn’t be fucking bothered.”

Kakuzu smiled indulgently, watching Hidan with amusement. He seemed to be getting hooked even on the way he talked... the obscenities seemed to slip out so naturally...

“Pussies who ride in the fucking gutter at fucking five miles an hour,” Hidan continued, obviously on his hobby horse, “are in more fucking danger than I am! You have to assert your right to use the road! Show the fucking motorists you mean business! I don’t use cycle lanes on fucking principle! They fucking spit you out in the middle of big fucking junctions with nowhere to go, and they’re too fucking narrow. It’s a fucking farce.”

The waiter arrived with their drinks, and Kakuzu indicated the Sidecar towards Hidan.

“I was more concerned by the amount you’d had to drink, actually,” he said. “Cheers.”

“Cheers,” Hidan replied, taking a slurp of his cocktail and rolling it around his mouth critically. “No, man, that’s no fucking problem, because the more reckless and instinctive you are on a bike, the better you ride. It’s hesitation that will fucking kill you.”

Kakuzu sipped his Dry Martini. “What about balance, though,” he asked. “What about reaction time?”

“Balance is instinctive,” said Hidan. “I couldn’t fall off if I fucking tried. And your reactions on a bike are so much quicker than a fucking motorist’s anyway, it’s not true.”

Kakuzu rather suspected it wasn’t, but he didn’t want to press the point. “Good cocktail?” he asked.

“Fucking-A, man,” said Hidan. “It’s actually fucking strong enough.”

They both laughed. They’d spent the walk over there talking about Hidan’s sitting with Deidara, and moved from there to last night’s private view, then private views in general. Hidan’s views and observations had been in equal measures profane and hilarious. But now, Kakuzu wanted to really know about Hidan. The real guy beneath the prickly joker with no regard for his personal safety. He wanted to know if he was really part of a crazy bloody cult, why he seemed to be so dead set on taking his life in his hands, how he became stuck into the kind of hedonistic lifestyle that seemed to spell burn-out by thirty.

But he didn’t know where to begin, and he looked at Hidan, and Hidan looked back at him, and though the silence could not be called comfortable, it wasn’t awkward either. It felt... poised. The chemistry between them sent tingles down Kakuzu’s spine. And just when he was sure things were going to get interesting, just when he was leaning over to close the space between them, he saw a familiar face appear over Hidan’s shoulder.

It was a blast from the past that was really, really not welcome, and he genuinely couldn’t find the words to reply when he was greeted as if they hadn’t tried to strangle each other at their last meeting.

Orochimaru. Really, after his conversation with Kisame this morning, it just seemed like too much of a horrible coincidence. He wondered whether Sasuke was with him tonight, or whether Itachi had succeeded in arranging to meet his little brother. Which meant maybe Kabuto would be here! Oh please, no! thought Kakuzu. Kabuto had been a brilliant young medical student when Kakuzu was a junior doctor, and Kakuzu hated any reminder of his medical past. Every time Kabuto saw him he brought it up, as well. He had been about the only person Kakuzu had kept in touch with. Then he’d introduced him to Sasori, and Sasori had had a bit of a thing with him. And at that time, Orochimaru had been showing regularly at the newly opened Akatsuki Gallery - he’d schmoozed his way in with all of the original Akatsuki crowd. But when they all fell out - after... whatever it was that had gone down with Itachi - and Orochimaru had severed his connections with them and vanished from the scene, Kabuto had unexpectedly gone with him.

Kakuzu really didn’t want to see him when he had Hidan with him. Possibly, though, he wanted to see Orochimaru himself even less, he considered, as Orochimaru proceeded to introduce himself to Hidan and sit down sinuously next to him, putting a predatory hand on his arm. Kakuzu felt his blood begin to boil. He wanted to strangle the smarmy bastard then and there!

"Orochimaru, this really isn't welcome," he said through gritted teeth.

He was one step away from physically removing him from Hidan - but it seemed like Hidan was more than ready to stand up for himself. “Fuck off!” he snarled indignantly. Orochimaru didn’t move, but smiled oilily at Kakuzu.

“What a lively temper your charming friend has, Kakuzu,” he said in his hoarse voice that always made Kakuzu think of someone who’d given a few too many blowjobs. “I congratulate you - you may have finally met your match!”

Before Kakuzu could react - and he would’ve done this time - Hidan had shrugged off Orochimaru’s hand and elbowed him in the face. “What part of ‘fuck off’ don’t you fucking understand, you prick!” he said. “Keep your fucking hands off me, alright?” He stood up and moved over to Kakuzu’s side of the table, where he sat down close enough that Kakuzu practically had his arm around him without even having to move. “Jeez,” he murmured. “What a douche.”

Orochimaru let out a hiss of pain and anger, hesitated for a moment, hand to his face, then retreated without another word as he realised he had a fairly heavy nosebleed to deal with. Following him with his eyes, Kakuzu saw that Kabuto was indeed with him, he’d been waiting at the bar. He gave Kakuzu a discreet wave. Kakuzu nodded curtly in return.

Now he really did put his arm around Hidan. “I’m sorry about that. I know some dreadful people,” he murmured. “But it was really almost worth it to see you elbow the bastard in the face!”

“No shit!” Hidan replied, smirking. “I was fucking hoping he’d give me the opportunity! Isn’t he the prick who runs that independent art school in Kennington?”

“That’s right,” Kakuzu said. “He set it up after he got fired from Chelsea for having fiddled with too many students... though he said it was because he wanted to ‘give students a better grounding in technique’...” They both snorted with derisive laughter. “Did you ever do any modelling there?”

“Yeah, I used to.” Hidan swallowed the last mouthful of his cocktail. “I never ran into the man himself much, though, just glimpsed him from afar. I got hired by the head of painting. It’s a fucking awful atmosphere there, seriously. The student body is seriously nearly all pretty boys who the boss wants to screw.” He spun the empty glass around between his fingers. “Not nice for a model, really. Not a place you really feel comfortable with your fucking pants down.”

Kakuzu took Hidan’s glass. “Another the same?” he asked.

“Sure.” Hidan replied.

Kakuzu turned away to signal to the waiter, keeping his arm loosely along the back of the settee, behind Hidan. His heart was pounding and nervous tingles were unsettling his stomach. He hadn’t been with someone he wanted so much since - since. Well, he couldn’t even remember the last time. He’d forgotten the subtle intricacies involved in getting someone to the point where they want to go to bed with you. And he was afraid, in case after sleeping with Hidan the dynamic between them was ruined, and also afraid of continuing to want him so much that he actually ceased functioning properly. At all costs, remain outwardly calm, he told himself. Don’t let him see the state he’s got you in.

Chapter Text

The evening was just turning out so much nicer that he could have imagined, Hidan thought, as he slid back into the plushy red seat opposite Kakuzu after a quick trip to the gents. He looked across at him with a satisfied half smile. Kakuzu half-smiled back, obviously not feeling any need to pretend he hadn’t been watching him all the way across the room. He’s going to fuck me tonight, thought Hidan. It’s one of those inevitable things. I really, really fancy him. It seemed like the whole evening, no, maybe the whole day had been leading up to it. But, no hurry. Hidan took a sip of his cocktail, keeping his eyes trained on Kakuzu. This was clearly a fucking date, not just some random hook-up. It was going to happen, so Hidan was going to enjoy every minute up to it as well.

I might as well know a bit more about him, he thought. “So, Kakuzu,” he said, leaning forward, playing the old undivided attention trick, though he knew he was way past the stage of having to use tricks - this man was his. “How’d you end up with the Akatsuki crowd?”

Kakuzu smiled. What a thrill it was - once you were past forty - to have a hot young guy look at you like that, like you’re the only thing registering on their radar. “I’ve known Madara from way back,” he began, then thought, oops, let the cat out of the bag there. Oh well. “You probably know Madara as Tobi,” he continued with a rueful smile. “Did you know Tobi owns the whole Akatsuki magazine franchise?”

Hidan’s mouth curved slowly into an incredulous smile. “No way!” he said, breaking into unrestrained giggles. “Fuck! Who’d’ve fucking guessed that? And all those pretentious fuckers are so fucking patronising to him!” He laughed into his Sidecar, his shoulders shaking with mirth, then reached across the table and took Kakuzu’s hand. The gesture was impulsive and unexpected. It took Kakuzu’s breath away.

“I like you, Kakuzu,” he said.

Kakuzu smiled, and squeezed his fingertips just as they slipped away again. “I like you too,” he said. Nearly under his breath, but as close as they were, Hidan would’ve heard anyway. It didn’t take more courage than he had to voice the words. He sipped his Martini, and Hidan ate the last piece of sushi. Kakuzu caught the attention of a waiter and ordered more. He looked back at Hidan, expecting and steeling himself for the intimate mood to be somewhat diminished, but it was there in full force.

“So what happened next?” Hidan asked.

“Well, I’d just got a job in the city, for the first time I had capital and I wanted to invest.” Kakuzu shot a glance at Hidan to check if his eyes were glazing over - he really didn’t want to bore him, not just yet - “And Madara said, why not take a share in the magazine he’d just bought. And it seemed like a going concern, so I did. And I still have it,” he added, modestly not explaining quite what that meant in financial terms, but smirking slightly - he couldn’t help himself.

It was over Hidan’s head though. He’s pure, in financial terms, Kakuzu thought, wonderingly, he really, genuinely, doesn’t care. The sin of avarice is absent from him. He carried on, “And I’d already started my own collection, at that point, but business I got into on behalf of Akatsuki Publishing brought me into contact with the emissaries of Nagato Pein. I’ve still never met the man in person.” Kakuzu paused. It always irritated him slightly that he had not, and to admit it, still more. But Hidan didn’t seem to think it mattered. “So I backed Akatsuki Gallery, because I was the one with the capital, and --”

“So, you actually own Akatsuki Gallery?”

“No, not precisely. Pein bought me out of the majority of it when he’d made enough - we had an agreement. But I’m still a major shareholder.”

“Dude.” Hidan knocked back the rest of his cocktail and twiddled the glass around by its stem. He laughed. “I bet if you hadn’t made that agreement you’d still be holding on to all those shares.”

“Absolutely,” Kakuzu agreed. “That was why Pein insisted on it in the first place. But it was still an advantageous deal...”

“Like a pre-nup...”

“Something like that.”

Kakuzu took Hidan’s glass away from him, just like before - sure he was going to end up breaking it and impaling himself on the pieces - and ordered him another drink.

Just around the corner, in Leonard Street, Konan was having dinner with Yahiko - more widely known as Mr. Pein’s smooth blond PA. She raised her glass of white Châteauneuf-du-Pape. “To another successful Opening!” she said. “I think we both deserve congratulations! It wasn’t the easiest, was it, given the volatile nature of the works?” She laughed. “I think Kakuzu Taki’s face when he saw how much had sold was my finest moment! He really almost looked surprised!” She mused a moment, thinking about the way he’d taken Hidan Yu in hand... She was relieved, and pleased for both of them. Although she hadn’t seen it coming, it made a lot of sense. Kakuzu needed someone to liven him up, and also, she suspected, someone to look after. And Hidan badly needed guidance. Although a lot of people obviously wanted to watch a young firebrand crash and burn, Konan hated to see talent go to waste, and it was distressing to her to see someone evidently troubled and craving affection and understanding without anyone to depend on. It had worried her for a while, seeing how he ran with the wild crowd - Tobi, Zetsu, Deidara - without truly connecting to any of them. Now, perhaps she wouldn’t need to worry any more.

Coming back to the present, she turned her attention back to her own problems. Yahiko’s face was curiously blank. Konan knew how hard it was for him, having to watch Nagato become more and more successful, while his own ambitions had come to nothing. She wished now that she hadn’t mentioned the Private View. If Nagato hadn’t made Yahiko his PA, he’d really be nothing now. Konan was wrenched with pity and frustration for him. He’d repayed Nagato’s favour by becoming the most perfect PA imaginable - smooth, polite, efficient, and expressionless. It had destroyed their friendship, though neither would admit it. Only Konan saw glimmers of the old Yahiko now. He’d suppressed his his true character, his personality, along with the pain and disappointment that would have broken him. And that was what she had fallen in love with, years ago, the real Yahiko. But she was sure it must still be there, somewhere. He still loved her, after all, didn’t he?

She swiftly led the subject away from Nagato’s ventures, and the conversation fell naturally onto the other matter on her mind. “I was so glad to see how Kakuzu hit it off with Hidan,” she said, smiling. “I think they’ll be good for each other.”

Yahiko smiled wryly. “You’re too sweet for this business, Konan,” he said, an definite edge of bitterness in his voice. “Hidan will milk Kakuzu for every penny he’s worth, before he loses his pretty-boy looks and the old bastard gets rid of him.”

“Yahiko! I don’t think that’s true at all!” pleaded Konan, distressed. “That sounds like something Nagato would say - this isn’t like you!”

Yahiko looked at her with cold eyes in which she felt could see the desperate struggle going on. “I am Nagato, Konan,” he said, despairingly. “That’s all I am, now. A shell for Nagato to channel himself through. His opinions are my opinions. God, I hear the words ‘Mr. Pein’s PA’ more often than my own name, these days!”

“Yahiko.” Konan reached over and took his hand. “Hear me say it. Yahiko and Nagato are two very different people, to me.”

Yahiko rubbed a hand over his face, and shook his head. “I’m sorry, babe,” he said. “I’m sorry. This was meant to be a nice relaxing evening, wasn’t it?” He smiled at her bravely, and it was a shadow of the cheeky grin he used to give her so easily back in their university days. “Let’s see if we can get away for a few days, soon. I need a break.”

Over in his Camden artists’ squat, Deidara was trying to pack for his trip to Berlin and talk to Sasori on the phone at the same time.

“Sasori, hn,” he said, panicking a little. “What’ve I forgotten? And do you think they’ll let me take my new charcoal compound on the plane, hn?”

“What does it contain?” asked Sasori, carefully packing away his carving tools, preparing to leave his Warren Street studio for the night.

“Sulphur and Potassium nitrate, hn. And charcoal, obviously, hn.”

Potassium nitrate as in saltpetre?” Sasori paused expressively. “That’s gunpowder, Deidara.”

“I know, right, they’re the ingredients of gunpowder, yeah, but you’ve got to get the proportions right before it’ll explode, hn.”

Sasori sighed, not sure he really wanted to know any more about this - he could end up facing ‘accessory to terrorism’ charges. “And, ah, have you got the proportions right?” he asked delicately.

“Well, hn, there was an explosion in the studio last night, yeah, but I don’t know for sure if that’s what caused it.”

Sasori shut his eyes a moment. How on Earth had he ended up feeling so responsible for this crazy kid. “No, Deidara, is my considered opinion,” he said. “I don’t think they will let you.”

Back in Shoreditch, Kakuzu and Hidan once again reached the charged silence which heralds the point at which conversation ends and action begins. And this time, no unfortunate acquaintances appeared to distract them. A brief and artificial exchange about where they might want to go for dinner ended hastily in a “Shall we just go back to mine,” from Kakuzu, and swift agreement from Hidan.

As they hailed a cab on Shoreditch High Street, Konan and Yahiko’s main courses arrived. They both had their diaries spread out on the table. “If only I didn’t have to go to Edinburgh next weekend...” Konan sighed. “That’s your only free weekend for months. And it would be so nice to do this before the group retreat…”

Yahiko paused, a forkful of seabass halfway to his mouth. “Could we send anyone else?” he asked, trying to sound hopeful. It didn’t really seem hopeful. Nagato was expanding out of London, and the trip was involved with the setting up of ‘Akatsuki Edinburgh’...

“Well, not any of Nagato’s other secretaries.” Konan frowned slightly, delicately eating a spear of asparagus. “He’d want to know why I wasn’t going, wouldn’t he?”

“I hate all this secrecy, Konan!”

“I know, but if Nagato found out about us, both our careers would be over. And he’s so sick, Yahiko, I can’t just turn my back on him!”

“I hate it that he thinks he owns you!”

“It can’t really do any harm.” It wasn’t as if Nagato was up to a physical relationship, after all. Konan lowered her eyes - she really didn’t want to discuss this with Yahiko. She cared about Nagato more than she could easily admit to him. Even though he was so unwell and reclusive, his mind at least was as passionate as it had ever been. She might not like the direction he’d decided to take with his life, but in a strange way she did still love him.

“Why don’t we ask Kakuzu to go?” she said suddenly, looking up at Yahiko, her eyes brightening.

Kakuzu?” Yahiko looked bewildered.

“Well, he’s a major Akatsuki shareholder, he’s efficient, he’s discreet - and all I’m supposed to be there for is to be the face of Akatsuki really, to represent the gallery and deal with any issues that Sasori and Deidara can’t handle. Kakuzu could absolutely manage it.”

“Well, but why would he? He’s a busy man, Konan, we can’t ask him to give up his weekend...”

“He’ll go.” Konan leant forward, smiling. “He’ll go - because Hidan’s going. Remember - Deidara wanted him there so they could scope out the space for their new performance piece.”

Yahiko slowly began to smile too. “I suppose if your womanly intuition isn’t completely barking up the wrong tree,” he said, “you might be onto something.” He flipped backwards in his diary. “That would mean we could leave on Thursday night and make a long weekend of it! We could pop over to Paris. Or book into a country hotel. Or we could just stay at mine and not answer the door or the phone all weekend. What would you like best, darling?”

Konan leaned over the table to kiss him. “The last one!” she said. “Though it may be practical to get out of London, I suppose...”

“I’m not fucking happy about these casts, Sasori,” growled Deidara through gritted teeth, on the phone to his unofficial mentor again. “I really need to make some alterations, but I can’t get hold of Hidan! Where do you think he is, hn?”

“It’s Friday night, Deidara,” Sasori reminded him patiently and pedantically. “I’m sure he’s painting the town red somewhere. This is Hidan we’re talking about!”

“I know, hn, but he usually has his phone on. He’s not with Zetsu or Tobi, either, hn.”

Sasori chuckled. Deidara could be so naive when he had his mind firmly on his art. He thought he had a good idea of where Hidan might be and why he might not have his phone switched on - an old friend of his had a way of getting what he wanted, and after seeing the way Kakuzu’s eye had followed Hidan’s every move last night, his desires could not be in doubt - but he had absolutely no intention of suggesting to Deidara that he call there.

“It’s too late to change the casts, Deidara,” he said firmly. “I thought they were already at the workshop? Look, I’ll come over before I go home, and we can look at it together. They’re only going to dissolve in a few weeks anyway,” he added unwisely, then held the phone away from his ear, bracing himself for yet another explosive ‘discussion’.

“Maybe you should stay at mine tonight,” he added quickly, in an attempt to distract Deidara before the explosion. “You’ll be closer to the airport. I can give you a lift in the morning.” In fact, the more he thought about it, the more it seemed like a necessary course to take. He was pretty sure it was the only way to get Deidara off on time, and to avoid last minute forgotten-passport dramas and the like. He’d probably end up packing for him... Sasori sighed, but really only out of habit. “I’ll be with you in a quarter of an hour,” he said, then added, “Or perhaps more like twenty minutes, at this time on a Friday...”

By the time Sasori arrived in Camden, Konan and Yahiko were drinking coffee and thinking about getting the bill, and Kakuzu and Hidan were stumbling into Kakuzu’s dark hall where Kakuzu was swiftly and efficiently disabling the alarm system with one hand, the other arm still being wrapped firmly around Hidan.

Hidan found it rather sexy, actually - Kakuzu was so assured, he knew exactly what buttons to press without even seeming to look. He could probably have done it with his eyes closed. Though it was likely that anything would’ve turned Hidan on in his current mood. He’d had rather a lot of brandy cocktails, and their uplifting affect combined with Kakuzu’s penetrating green eyes on him all evening had been titillating in the extreme.

He was looking expectantly at Kakuzu’s profile, his eyes just beginning to adjust to the dimness, when four big black shapes suddenly appeared from further down the hall. Hidan could see eyes shining in the gloom. He pressed closer against Kakuzu, and one shape approached him, a strange vibrating noise seeming to emanate from it. Heart suddenly thumping, and his mouth dry, he backed off, seriously alarmed, trying to put Kakuzu between them. He wondered why Kakuzu didn’t seem to think anything of it. Fuck - he suddenly realised - it was a huge black dog. And the guttural vibrating noise was growling. Shit, it was probably going to spring at him and bite his throat out! “Shit,” he whimpered. “Kakuzu, do something!”

“Down,” said Kakuzu calmly, not even needing to raise his voice and not bothering to look round as he reset the alarm. He should’ve thought - Tsuchi didn’t much like strangers, but he hadn’t considered the possibility that Hidan might be afraid of dogs. He whistled softly, walking down the hall a little way and pointing to the kitchen, and all four dogs slunk away. Hidan stood pressed against the wall, heart thumping and butterflies in his stomach. He bit his lip, hating the way his voice had come out about an octave higher than usual and wondering anxiously if Kakuzu would despise him now - why wasn’t he looking at him? Had he in fact brought him here to feed him to his resident pack of wolves?

Kakuzu closed the kitchen door, then slowly crossed over to Hidan and stood in front of him, one hand on his chest, one on his neck. He felt his pulse, smiling at how it was racing. “It’s OK, Hidan,” he said. “Just dogs.” Taking his time, he leant in close to him, his own heart-rate increasing as he saw the uncertainty and confusion in Hidan’s expression. So vulnerable, underneath the bad boy act. He ran his thumb over Hidan’s lower lip, then kissed him; gentle and lingering at first, but soon hard and passionate, his tongue exploring and demanding, his hand on Hidan’s jaw, making his mouth open wider, tipping his head back. Hidan, realising after a long moment that he was just standing there, his own hands limp at his sides - made pliable by shock - began to respond fiercely. He wasn’t a passive type at all, in the general run of things. He shrugged off his leather jacket and Kakuzu peeled off his T-shirt, then undid the button on his jeans, easing the zip down a little so he could slide a hand in.

Hidan thrust his hips forward to make it easier for him, and moaned as Kakuzu pushed back against him. He felt Kakuzu’s breath hot in his ear as he whispered, “Come on. Upstairs.”

They only made it as far as the half-landing, where it crossed Hidan’s mind that a house with a lot of stairs could be very convenient for creative sex... Moaning inarticulate words of incitement and encouragement he fumbled condoms and a neatly turned down tube of KY jelly from his pocket before taking Kakuzu’s belt buckle in his hand, flipping it open and kneeling in front of him.

Chapter Text

Very convenient for creative sex... That was probably Hidan’s last coherent thought all evening. They hadn’t been all that creative, he supposed, as he lay in an unfamiliar bed the next morning, pondering what had gone down. Not creative exactly - by that point they’d been too desperate for each other too mess around - but extremely thorough, Man, he was pretty sore! He’d been fucked from behind, sideways, face to face, with his legs over Kakuzu’s shoulders, and finally, on top, where he’d finally come, and somehow Kakuzu had made sure it all went over Hidan, even though he was the one on the floor. Hidan had flopped down onto him a moment later anyway, though, so it probably hadn’t done him much good in the long run.

Hidan rolled over, groaning at the daylight in his eyes. He didn’t remember getting into bed. In fact, he might easily just have fallen asleep on the stairs, draped comfortably half on top of Kakuzu. He felt a little awkward now. He was, he supposed, slightly anal about his own space, and he never liked to stay over after a casual fuck. His post-coital falling asleep habit didn’t exactly help him avoid that, of course, so it often happened, and he hated the dismal mornings, everyone a little worse for wear, and a bit less attractive than they’d been the previous evening. Going downstairs to slightly grungy kitchens, with washing-up in the sink and no nice cereal. Still, lovers tarnished by the harsh light of day were better than none at all, he supposed. He wondered where Kakuzu was - he’d known the moment he woke that he was alone. Had he dumped Hidan in the guest bedroom, like a discarded toy? He rolled over again, and something crunched as his head moved onto the other pillow.

He struggled into a more upright position, groaning again as his head jolted. It seemed like he was playing the martyr to another hangover. There was a note on the pillow, slightly squashed now. Hidan smoothed it out.

‘Good Morning, Hidan!’ It read. ‘Gone to walk dogs, back in an hour-ish. Water and Nurofen on the bedside table if you need it - make yourself at home, K.’ Kakuzu had written the time at the top of the note, as well. 8.30am. God. That was early! Hidan glanced at the clock. It was just coming up to quarter past nine. Still early! And he was wide awake now. Kakuzu must have opened the curtains before he left, curse him! Hidan availed himself of the water and Nurofen, then piled all the available pillows into a nest-like stack before slumping back against them, taking a good look at the room. He felt a strange emotion he couldn’t quite name creeping over him. Somehow the term ‘casual fuck’ was beginning to seem a little out of place, even just in his head.

Certainly he had to admit that his normal arguments for not staying over were irrelevant here. The grungiest thing about the room was Hidan himself, bleary, ruffled and probably smelling slightly of sweat and last night’s sex. He sniffed delicately. Yes. There was definitely an element of that, though it seemed that Kakuzu had cleaned him up a little before putting him to bed. God knows how. Hidan imagined Kakuzu standing over his prone form with a giant sponge and snorted with inappropriate laughter.

The rest of the room was immaculate, and in a restrained and perhaps even austere way, rather opulent. Possibly rich was a better word... There was a large rug on the floor, of the type that Hidan thought of as Afghan. The floor itself was the original floorboards, but obviously re-sanded and varnished at great expense. The walls were an expanse of rich cream, the curtains subtly striped raw silk incorporating muted shades of the colours in the rug. All the wood - the bed itself, a large chest of drawers and wardrobe were the same dark shade - mahogany perhaps - and obviously antique. Two alcoves housed floor to ceiling bookcases, both full. The window looked out over Hampstead Heath, and must’ve been one of the most sought-after views in London. It was raining steadily, and Hidan could hear it pattering comfortingly outside. He snuggled down under the cream Indian crewel-work bedspread, and relished being warm and dry...

He had to admit that it was much nicer than waking up in Deidara’s squat, or some project space in Hackney, where you couldn’t even go out for breakfast, let alone get anything decent in. Undoubtedly, it was the way to live - the man obviously had both taste and a knack for living well. Hidan was willing to bet that Kakuzu’s kitchen was well stocked with fairtrade coffee and artisan loaves. Probably Global knives (complete with ceramic steel) and gigantic bamboo chopping boards as well. He wondered whether Kakuzu was the type to have a Raeburn, and couldn’t decide. Almost bound to have a juicer... maybe a smoothie maker... Sunday papers delivered... It made his own sixth floor Docklands warehouse conversion apartment seem a little soulless.

Glancing at the clock, he realised with an unfamiliar little jolt that Kakuzu might be back in less than ten minutes, and he decided he’d better get properly clean. He didn’t want Kakuzu to find him dishevelled and unkempt. He got up - slowly - and made a token gesture towards making the bed before locating his dressing-gown and going in search of a bathroom.

He’d often had cause to bless his profession on a morning after, and it did make him feel far more comfortable wandering the halls of a strange and impressive house, not to have to do it in the nude, or in hastily flung on clothes from last night. He liked his dressing gown - it had red and white stylised clouds on a black ground, and was a particularly nice shape. He hoped he’d be able to get another as nice when it finally wore out. It had been a present after his first photoshoot with Akatsuki magazine, during which Deidara had managed to set his last one on fire...

Peering over the bannisters, Hidan realised he must be on the second floor. Did that mean Kakuzu had carried him up a flight and a half of stairs last night? Hidan felt himself blush slightly. He hoped Kakuzu wasn’t irritated. For some reason he found he cared rather intensely what Kakuzu thought of him. This was an alien and rather disturbing feeling, and he suppressed it. He returned his attention to his surroundings. The landing he was standing on was wide and spacious, leading to a large study straight ahead, and a guest bedroom, to the side. There was a set of pull-downable steps leading up to what was probably a loft conversion...

Down half a flight of stairs immediately to the left of the bedroom door Hidan finally found a bathroom, and this he liked a little less than the rest of the house. It was large and rather cold, and it had a Victorian feel about it. The bath had clawed feet, and the toilet cistern seemed to be made of Willow-pattern china. It was mounted on the wall - higher than Hidan’s head - and it didn’t look to him as if it was entirely stable. He warily pulled the ancient looking chain that hung from it, one hand raised in case it fell on him, and the toilet gurgled ominously as if it wanted to swallow him. Who the fuck would want a toilet with so much history? Hidan didn’t like to be made to think of how many shits had taken the same journey while he was innocently trying to take a slash...

Obviously, Kakuzu had had the shower put in in more recent times, so it had a more modern feel than the rest of the room, but still, Hidan suspected that his host was not a man with a particular reverence for showers as an institution. Probably he took less than five minutes and didn’t even notice if the water wasn’t hot. He felt paranoid enough to open the airing cupboard and feel the tank inside. It was hot, and, encouraged, Hidan shed his dressing gown and got in the shower. He had an immersion heater system back in his Docklands flat, so running out of hot water could never ever happen...

There were two approaches Hidan took with strange showers - either leave the settings as your host has left them and hope they have good taste, or turn it as hot as it will go, then inch the temperature down once it’s heated up. He chose the second. He had a high success rate with this technique, and wasn’t disappointed here. Reaching for Kakuzu’s bodywash, he sniffed critically. More ‘Old Spice’ than ‘Young Turk’, certainly, but it was quite pleasant nonetheless. He squeezed out a generous blob.

Meanwhile on a bench on top of Parliament Hill, Kakuzu let the dogs bound around without him for a while. He wondered if Hidan was awake yet - he’d been like a log when Kakuzu left him. In fact, he’d become log-like about ten minutes after collapsing slippery and flushed onto Kakuzu’s chest on the first-floor half-landing last night, and stayed that way ever since. Kakuzu smiled at the thought. He must’ve worn the kid out! He hadn’t so much as stirred while Kakuzu wiped his own cum off him with a damp flannel, and had just obediently and obliviously swallowed while he benevolently fed him water in an attempt to lessen his hangover in the morning.

And far from finding it a tiresome chore, as he would’ve predicted, Kakuzu had really rather enjoyed ministering to the younger man. Even carrying him upstairs - and Hidan was no light-weight - had felt right, and satisfying to him. ‘Lay your sleeping head, my love, Human on my faithless arm,’ he had thought, wishing he could remember the rest of the poem, and consequently he had a slim volume of Auden poems with him now. It was satisfying his need for a sort of confirmation of his emotions a lot better than Eliot had yesterday - a bad choice, in retrospect, far too cynical for his current mood. As he had suspected, the rest of the poem had borne out his feelings, particularly the bit about the abstract insight waking the hermit’s carnal ecstasy. 'Mortal, guilty, but to me, The entirely beautiful,' he murmured before mentally slapping himself in the face for his sentimentality. If he wanted a lover he could exchange literary quotations with he’d’ve done better to bed Sasori. And that idea didn’t appeal to him at all!

Grimacing slightly at the thought, he got up and slipped the book back into his pocket, glancing at his watch and whistling to the dogs. He’d been longer than he said - timekeeping had never been a strong point of his - but he suspected it wasn’t Hidan’s either, so he didn’t hurry. Tsuchi came bounding up to him, followed closely by Kaze; Kaminari and Mizu lagging a little behind. Tsuchi had always been the most attached to him - Kakuzu felt a little guilty at how many times he’d had to ask the vet’s little brother Kiba to walk them in the last week, but he couldn’t find it in him to regret how he’d spent the time instead.

The rain started to come down harder, and Kakuzu hurried down the hill, making for home.

Hidan really couldn’t bear to put his T-shirt on, after he got out of the shower. It hadn’t exactly been fresh yesterday morning, and now it was most definitely in need of a wash. He could hardly bear to touch it. Still, it wasn’t cold in the house, despite the dismal weather outside. Hidan didn’t see any reason to wear a top at all, under the circumstances. The situation with his boxer shorts was similar, so he decided to go commando. He wandered out onto the landing, trailing his dressing-gown behind him, wondering where Kakuzu was. He’d taken at least half an hour in the bathroom. Kakuzu was late!

He ran a hand through his drying hair, frustrated at the lack of gel to put in it. He’d rifled through all of Kakuzu’s grooming products, which were shockingly few. Not even a moisturiser! Luckily Hidan carried one in his bag. He could see he’d have to start carrying gel too. And Kakuzu didn’t have any conditioner, either. A real old school man’s man, leaving beauty products to the ladies...

Wandering down to the first floor, he found that Kakuzu had his living room there. Unusual! There was another expensive looking rug on the polished floor, more bookcases... Wing-backed antique armchairs, an uncomfortable looking green leather settee... Hidan ambled lazily over to a smaller bookcase holding CDs. What would Kakuzu’s musical tastes say about him? Hmm. Mainly classical. This disappointed Hidan’s curiosity, as he could make nothing of it. He didn’t even read the names and titles - a glance told him they would mean nothing to him. His eyes scanned past them to the few slightly less daunting albums... but even these seemed a somewhat austere selection. Alison Krauss and Union Station... Rather a lot of Leonard Cohen, some Dylan, Nick Drake, Leo Kottke... Sting’s lute album... It was the classically educated man’s few concessions to popular culture. Hidan felt a bit intimidated. He sat down on the rug and looked at the artworks scattered around the room. Some of the sculptures were Sasori’s. He wondered if Kakuzu knew he’d posed for one of them, back when he’d first started modelling. It didn’t really resemble him very much... Sasori had really just got him in for the anatomical side...

He had a sudden urge to just gather up his things and leave, now, while Kakuzu was out. Not having to deal with inevitably awkward conversation. Not having to betray his ignorance about everything Kakuzu seemed to care about. But somehow it wasn’t a very powerful urge. This side of Kakuzu - the one who read books with names like ‘And Quiet Flows the Don,’ and ‘The Sorrows of Young Werther,’ not to mention having a scarily extensive poetry collection (could he really have time to read them all?) - it didn’t really seem so incongruous with the side of him that had dealt so flawlessly with Hidan last night. God, just thinking about last night made the pit of his stomach tingle with nervous excitement. He couldn’t remember when anyone had last taken him like that. With such authority. That was the thing - Kakuzu had this effortless authority, and it made Hidan want to roll over and surrender.

Hidan actually did roll over for a moment, there on the rug, imagining Kakuzu coming in and fucking him senseless, then abandoning him there on the floor and sitting down to read Proust without giving him another glance. He smirked, then jumped up as he heard a key in the lock downstairs.

At the curve of the staircase - just where he’d undone Kakuzu’s fly last night, and wantonly begun to suck him off - he remembered the dogs, and froze. The door opened and Kakuzu was revealed, surrounded by them. Fuck, was it really necessary for one man to command such a large number of gigantic creatures? Hidan would have put it down to penis compensation of the same kind as driving a Mitsubishi Pickup if he wasn’t now very familiar with Kakuzu’s more than adequate size, and indeed, still slightly sore. The dogs each obediently shook themselves in the porch before crossing the threshold, then Kakuzu strode briskly over to the stairs and, shedding his overcoat and tossing it carelessly bottom of the bannisters, ran lightly up to Hidan’s side. He moved extremely gracefully for someone so powerfully built - Hidan was impressed, and more than a little turned on.

Damn, but Hidan looked hot like that, Kakuzu thought. Shirtless and barefoot, his hair damp and falling over his face a little more than Kakuzu had seen it do before. He reached for him without even stopping to consider, pulling him firmly towards him with a hand in the small of his back. He could smell his own shampoo, which pleased him. It made Hidan seem like his property...

“It’s raining,” Hidan said, displaying his knack for stating the obvious. Kakuzu’s hand was cold on his bare skin.

“You don’t have to go outside,” Kakuzu murmured back.

Hidan leant back against Kakuzu’s hand, letting him support his full weight. He looked at him provocatively with sultry bedroom eyes, but although he was rather tempted by the thought of revisiting last night’s conquests, his stomach chose that moment to give out a loud rumble. “What have you got for breakfast?” he asked instead.

Kakuzu laughed. “This is cupboard love...” he said, brushing Hidan’s hair back from his face, then setting him back on his feet. “What would you like? Toast? Muesli? Croissants? Eggs?”

Not Coco Pops, then. But Hidan had hardly expected them. Kakuzu laughed again, seeing him hesitate. “What do you normally eat, Sugar Puffs?”

“I like Sugar Puffs,” said Hidan nonchalantly. “But I don’t tend to keep them in stock.” He wandered after Kakuzu down the stairs and along the hall towards the kitchen. “Toast would be lovely,” he said, feeling extra civilised as he said it.

Kakuzu did get the Saturday Papers delivered. And milk. And, incidentally, an organic vegetable box, but that was on a Wednesday, and wouldn’t’ve been at all to Hidan’s taste at all anyway. They sat together at Kakuzu’s big wooden kitchen table, eating toast - Kakuzu with marmalade, Hidan with honey - and drinking coffee, Kakuzu’s black, Hidan’s aggressively ‘au lait’ with three sugar lumps. Kakuzu read the Money section of the Saturday Guardian, and Hidan flicked through the Weekend Magazine, sniggering through Lucy Mangan’s agony aunt column and scouring the society pages to see if he’d been spotted with Kakuzu. It was calm, harmonious, and relaxing.

“Have you got the Review over there, Hidan?” asked Kakuzu, laying down the finance pages.

“Uh huh,” said Hidan, deep in a rather catty article which pretended to discuss the problems of a voyeuristic society whilst actually detailing the break-up of Jordan and Peter Andre. He tossed the Review over to Kakuzu without looking up. Kakuzu caught it neatly, but didn’t open it immediately. He sat back and watched Hidan slurp his coffee and avidly turn the pages of the Magazine. Even more than yesterday afternoon in his office he had the feeling that he wanted to keep him, possess him. Also, that he was bound to be trouble, of the kind that Kakuzu had spent most of his adult life avoiding. But just now, it was hard to imagine - he seemed so peaceful.

As he mused, the phone rang, making them both jump. Kakuzu went into the hall to get it.

“Hello. Kakuzu Taki speaking,” he said formally.

“Kakuzu, it’s Konan,” came an anxious voice from the other end. “Kakuzu, I have an enormous favour to ask of you.” She managed to sound professional and beseeching at the same time. Kakuzu smirked into the receiver, amused. He suspected it might be something only women could pull off properly.

“Well, I’m in an obliging mood,” he said, glancing sideways at Hidan, who had come up beside him to try and overhear. “Try me...”

Chapter Text

Walking through a beautiful late spring morning from the City to King’s Cross didn’t give Kakuzu much pleasure that Friday. He’d decided not to get the tube, because it really wasn’t far, and he’d thought the walk might clear his head and improve his mood. He was beginning to regret accepting Konan’s request. But at the time everything had seemed so - so - what was the word? - idyllic? rosy? different? Now, he was beginning to see things in the harsh light of day again. And he told himself he should’ve known better, at his time of life, after everything he’d been through - things always turned out the same.

Thinking back to that Saturday morning, he almost cringed at the memory of how he’d covered the receiver with his hand and murmured questioningly to Hidan, “You’re going to Edinburgh next weekend?”

“Uh-huh,” Hidan had murmured back, pushing up close to Kakuzu, speaking right against his lips. And Kakuzu had kissed him swiftly and hungrily, finding himself almost out of breath as he’d pushed him away and held him at arm’s length for just long enough to uncover the receiver and tell Konan that, yes, of course he’d go to Edinburgh in her stead.

At least he’d retained enough presence of mind to negotiate a fee, he considered irritably. Before fucking Hidan’s sweet ass into the floorboards again and then taking him back to bed for the rest of the morning. Kakuzu clenched his fist in frustration. He’d seen him twice since then, and neither occasion could be regarded as entirely successful. Or satisfying. He almost wished he left the whole thing alone, kept untarnished the memory of walking him to Hampstead tube in the pouring rain, of the two of them under Kakuzu’s largest umbrella, the way Hidan had turned to him, slipping his arms around him under his overcoat, smiling at him with that potent mixture of sweetness and bravado before turning away. It had all been so perfect, from the moment he’d appeared in the bank on Friday to that moment of parting on Saturday, and now it was ordinary, sullied. Full, like all affairs of the heart, with disappointment, disillusionment and bitter wounded pride.

They’d met briefly for lunch on Monday, and for dinner on Wednesday. On Monday Hidan had been late, and not because of some previous engagement over-running, either. Because he’d overslept. Overslept past midday, which was pretty much unthinkable to Kakuzu, who’d had to rearrange an important meeting to be able to meet him at all, and couldn’t stay. They’d had about twenty minutes together, a good ten of which were taken up with bitter recriminations on both sides and the subsequent smoothing of Hidan’s ruffled feathers.

On Wednesday evening it was Kakuzu who was late, because since he was taking today off, he’d had a lot to fit in. By the time he reached the restaurant they’d agreed to meet in, Hidan was leaving. Kakuzu thought after Monday he should have been more understanding - but no.

“Why didn’t you fucking call?” Hidan had said. “I’ve been fucking sitting here for half an hour!”

“I could say the same to you about the other day!” Kakuzu had retorted, trying not to let his irritation show.

Oh, this is all about that, is it? Well, fuck you, Kakuzu - if this is your way of trying to fucking punish me for keeping you waiting two fucking days ago, then fucking get a life and grow up, man, seriously!”

It hadn’t been. Not in the least. But Kakuzu hadn’t been about to demean himself by protesting his innocence, particularly in the crowded entrance of a fashionable restaurant. Hidan seemed incapable of keeping his voice down, and people were staring. Kakuzu hated scenes, but he could tell that any hint of embarrassment would make Hidan behave worse. “Keep talking to me like that, and I will just leave, Hidan,” he’d said coolly, shocking him into silence. “Now, we can either stay here or go somewhere else, but for God’s sake, let’s not waste any more time.”

Inevitably, after that, the atmosphere of their evening had been somewhat strained, though Kakuzu supposed it was something of a triumph that they’d managed to be civil to each other at all.

And yet still Kakuzu couldn’t stop thinking of him, still, he had that week-old flyer on his desk, though now the violet eyes seemed to look at him with confusion and resentment. He tried to make excuses in his head, for both of them, and to be fair, they had both had somewhat hectic weeks. Hidan had had numerous oddly timed fittings and photoshoots for the Comme des Garçons collection, plus his ordinary sittings for various artists all based in different parts of town. Kakuzu had had three very important deals to get through before the weekend, all complicated by idiot collectors who had no idea of the financial implications of their crass and uninformed tastes. They were both tired, they were both trying to adjust to something totally unfamiliar in their lives. Kakuzu could tell Hidan didn’t like the fashion work, and Hidan was doing his best to hide it. It was obviously putting him in a foul mood. But it was all a bit of a comedown after the way they’d seemed to connect so seamlessly over the weekend.

Realising he was slowing down as he dwelt on these uncomfortable recollections, Kakuzu picked up his pace. He seemed fated to be late for everything this week...

Deidara and Sasori stood under the clock in King’s Cross Station, looking at the departure boards. Deidara could feel how agitated Sasori was getting - they’d arranged to meet Kakuzu and Hidan here ten minutes ago. Deidara and Sasori had both arrived separately 15 minutes ago. Sasori had booked the tickets in advance, and he had everyone’s.

He smiled a tense little smile and looked at his watch. “This is most inconsiderate,” he said. “I really don’t know what Konan was thinking, getting Kakuzu in at the last minute. There were bound to be complications... Kakuzu is a busy man...”

“Hmm,” said Deidara noncommittally. “They’ll be here in a minute, hn. Don’t worry.”

“I wonder if they’re coming together!” Sasori exclaimed petulantly, but with a glimmer of interest in his eyes. Sasori loved gossip, and he’d heard some intriguing rumours this week - teaching in several different art schools meant a lot of sources of information... “That way, there might be some chance at least of Hidan making the train!”

“They’re not, hn,” said Deidara. He didn’t bring it to Sasori’s attention that their train’s status had just changed from ‘On Time’ to ‘Platform 8’ on the overhead display - that was really going to put the fat in the fire. “Isn’t that Kakuzu over there?”

It was. Kakuzu made his way unhurriedly through the crowds and Sasori hissed with indignation at his composure, bouncing a little on the balls of his feet. “You’re late,” he snapped as Kakuzu reached them. “Where’s Hidan??”

Kakuzu raised his eyebrows in a maddeningly unruffled expression of surprise. “I’ve no idea!” he said, shaking his head minutely, enjoying denying Sasori the satisfaction of being able to confirm his suspicions. “Somewhere between here and London Bridge, I imagine.” He glanced up at the departure board. “Oh, look! Platform 8,” he said. Deidara closed his eyes. “Will Hidan be enterprising enough to find us there, do you think, if we go over?”

“Does he even know what train we’re getting?” asked Sasori irritably. “Oh God! we’ve got three minutes until it leaves - he’ll just have to make his own way!”

They all glanced around. There was no sign of Hidan. “Give me his ticket,” Kakuzu said, resignedly, holding out his hand. “You two go on...”

“No, come with us, Kakuzu, hn,” said Deidara. “Hidan’s probably forgotten where we were meeting - maybe he’s at the platform already, hn.”

This seemed to make sense, so the three of them went over to the ticket barrier of Platforms 8 and 9, but Hidan wasn’t there. They were all looking around with the self-consciousness peculiar to people waiting for something, when Kakuzu’s phone rang.

“It’s him,” he said, checking the screen. There seemed to be no way to stop Sasori getting his gossip-fix after all... oh well. “Where are you, Hidan,” he said, flicking the phone open.

“Gray’s Inn Road,” said Hidan, only just audible over the rushing sound of traffic and what Kakuzu took to be several car horns and a siren. Please tell me the North end, Kakuzu urged silently. Gray’s Inn Road went all the way from here to Holborn!

“I’m just coming up to the junction.” Hidan continued. “Where are you?”

Oh God, Hidan, don’t go over the Thames Link junction talking on your phone... Kakuzu shut his eyes in horror. “We’re at Platform 8,” he said, loudly and swiftly. “ Come straight here - you won’t have time to tie up - you’ll have to bring your bike on the train. Now get off the phone before you go over that junction!”

“Too fucking late, dude, I’m in the middle,” said Hidan irrepressibly. “I’ll be with you in 30 seconds, Ka-kuzu, man!”

Kakuzu snapped his phone shut and closed his eyes in despair. “I’m going to kill that kid,” he muttered through gritted teeth. He felt he could hardly bear to look over to the station entrance, in case he looked and looked and Hidan didn’t appear, but he couldn’t allow himself to behave so ridiculously. He got a grip on himself, schooling his features into their normal expression of slightly forbidding indifference. And there Hidan was - scooting through the crowds, scattering people left and right. Kakuzu supposed he wasn’t technically riding - he had his right foot on the left pedal - he wasn’t actually astride the bike... Twenty yards from the ticket barriers he hopped off and wheeled his bike along with his hand on its saddle, looking the picture of cycling innocence. Sasori whipped out the tickets and flourished them aggressively at a station official, and they were through onto the platform with one minute to go.

Hidan - illegally but unstoppably - mounted up again and shot down the platform looking for the bike carriage. Deidara and Sasori dived into the first door they came to. Kakuzu followed at a more relaxed pace and stood leaning out of the doorway, watching Hidan lift his bike into the train six carriages down, then hop out again, then back in at the next door. Wondering if cyclists often got left behind - their bikes inexorably borne away from them at the mercy of National Rail - he wandered into the carriage where Sasori and Deidara were establishing themselves on one side of a table. He laid his coat and briefcase over the seats opposite them. “He made it,” he said expressionlessly, then walked off down the train to meet Hidan coming up.

He met him halfway down the train, in between carriages. Hidan was out of breath and and obviously exhilarated from his break-neck ride, and all the reasons why he couldn’t just give up on this relationship - if you could call it a relationship at this delicate stage - hit Kakuzu like a sucker punch to the stomach. It had the effect of making him appear particularly misanthropic and dour as he tried desperately to hide the fact that Hidan’s mixture of touchy ungovernability and sweet selfishness was completely irresistible to him. He gripped Hidan’s forearm painfully hard, relishing the hurt expression in his eyes almost as much as the opportunity to touch him. “Can’t you have a little more consideration for the people waiting for you?” he said, his voice as hard as his grip. “And for me, imagining you going under a bus on that junction?”

Hidan snatched his arm away, his expression quickly shifting from wounded puppy dog to mulish stubbornness. “Fuck you, Kakuzu,” he said. “You don’t fucking own me.” He felt like Kakuzu had slapped him in the face - he’d been so sure that when he saw him he’d feel better. He almost wished he had gone under a bus.

“Like I’d want ownership of such a liability,” Kakuzu replied, turning away. “Just try not to embarrass me - people seem to think I have some kind of influence over you.” He hardened his expression, his mouth setting in a firm line. Damn it, he really hadn’t come here meaning to be cruel, but he was stung by Hidan’s words, and uncomfortably conscious of the fact that he did rather want to own him - the words came out colder than he’d intended. He pressed the button to open the carriage door and moved away, knowing that if he said anything else now it would only make the situation worse.

“Kakuzu!” he heard Hidan call after him. “Oi, Kakuzu, wait!” but Kakuzu found he really couldn’t face the thought of another argument and he pretended not to hear, continuing through the articulated vestibule area into the carriage. He heard Hidan follow, but didn’t turn around to see the expression on his face - a mixture of tired blankness and misery that would’ve told him instantly that it wasn’t a fight Hidan wanted.

“Forget it,” he heard himself say wearily. “It doesn’t matter now.”

What fucking doesn’t matter? thought Hidan wretchedly, motionless for a moment, not quite knowing what to do. How you just fucking walked all over my feelings? Or what I wanted to fucking say to you? Which I’ve fucking forgotten now, you cold fucking bastard! He followed Kakuzu down the carriage, and ignored the conciliatory little smile he gave him as he stood aside to let Hidan get into the window seat. He sat down without a word, then kicked Deidara’s ankle under the table, really just to vent his mood a little bit.

“Oi, fuckwit, how was Berlin?” he asked.

Deidara kicked back, but Hidan was ready and managed to avoid taking it on the shin, like Deidara had obviously intended from the vicious look in his blue eyes. “Got to be fucking quicker than that, dude,” he teased, telling himself he felt a little better as he swallowed the sick, desolate feeling that arguing with Kakuzu always seemed to evoke in him.

Deidara was obviously in a forgiving mood, because he started to tell Hidan all about his trip, and didn’t even try to kick him again. Hidan found he couldn’t concentrate, though. He was restless and antsy - he couldn’t get comfortable in his seat and he couldn’t block out the rumble of the train - the noise was even beginning to give him a headache, or maybe it was just exacerbating one that had already been forming. He went from being too hot - from the exertion of his cycle ride - to being shivery and cold. He’d put his jacket up in the luggage rack though, and he didn’t want to ask Kakuzu to stand up so that he could get it; that would involve speaking to Kakuzu, which he wasn’t currently prepared to do.

“Mate, are you listening, hn?” he heard Deidara say, and he gave himself a mental shake, running a hand over his face and rubbing his eyes.

“Ah, fuck, no, sorry man, I was zoning out there,” he said. “What was that you just said?”

He felt Kakuzu look at him curiously, but refused to turn and meet his gaze. “I said, hn, that they fucking put my new charcoal pieces in fucking bullet-proof glass cases,” said Deidara. “What do you think of that, hn? I was fucking pissed.”

Hidan felt even more miserable at that, because he’d seen that Kakuzu had one of Deidara’s pieces in a controlled-environment tank in his house, and Hidan would’ve liked to’ve made eye contact with him, and smirked knowingly - maybe even brought it up and teased him about it - but his wounded pride didn’t allow it. “It’s a fucking shame,” he contented himself with saying, hoping Kakuzu would interpret his words as tacit criticism of himself. “The fuckers don’t care about meaning, it’s all about fucking money to them.”

“Right on, hn,” said Deidara excitably. “That’s exactly what it’s about, hn!” He was on his hobby horse now, and Hidan knew he could go on for hours, not noticing that Hidan wasn’t paying any attention at all. He let himself drift back into his self-pitying reverie.

“Are you cold, Hidan?” he heard Kakuzu murmur to him. “You’re shivering.”

“I’m fine,” Hidan said automatically. He was torn between wanting to use this entry Kakuzu was giving him to get back on good terms again, and wanting to punish Kakuzu by spurning all his friendly overtures.

“You want me to pass your jacket down?”

Wow. This was persistent for Kakuzu. “I’m fine,” Hidan insisted, aiming for a cold tone, but ending up sounding sulky and petulant instead.

Kakuzu gave up and got out his book. It was Nabokov’s ‘Lolita’. If Hidan wanted to stew in his own juice all the way to Edinburgh, well, let him. He opened it unhesitatingly to the page he’d been on - no bookmarks for Kakuzu - and began to read. He immediately regretted his choice - it kept inappropriately reminding him of his own situation, and really, this wasn’t a protagonist he wanted to identify with at all - but he forced himself to concentrate and read on, as if totally unaware of the vehicle of inner turmoil that was Hidan simmering beside him.

How could Kakuzu do that, Hidan wondered. Had he compartmentalised his brain to such a degree that he could just shut off from things that disturbed him, his mood remaining entirely unaffected by them? Hidan certainly couldn’t do it, and he thought it was kind of despicable anyway. You’d end up not being able to feel things, if you did that too much. He fingered his Jashin rosary through his John Rocha shirt and looked out of the window. He hated the landscape around here. So fucking flat and industrial. Ugly.

He began to warm up again as sunlight filtered through the carriage windows, but his mood didn’t improve. By the time they reached Peterborough he felt anxiety bordering on panic, the pressure in his head felt unendurable, he began to imagine he could hear his own heartbeat. He started to feel desperate, he needed some kind of relief, or at least distraction. But Deidara was asleep now, and Sasori was reading some book about fucking phenomenology or shit like that. Kakuzu hadn’t so much as glanced at him for about half an hour. He decided he’d try listening to some music for a while, though there wasn’t anything he really felt like. But peering under the table to delve into his rucksack as the train pulled away from the station, he noticed that Sasori’s bag was open - and resting neatly on top was a little tin that Hidan knew well from modelling sessions in Sasori’s studio. Immediately, he began to feel calmer. He smiled. Discreetly lifting it out, he murmured a soft “Excuse me,” to Kakuzu, and made his way down the aisle to the toilet.

Chapter Text

Kakuzu looked idly out at the fast moving landscape rolling past the train window. He considered briefly that he should really have flown. It might even have been cheaper - not that that was really a consideration on his salary. They should certainly have gone first class though - the only reason they hadn’t was because Deidara said it was elitist and immoral and first class should be abolished. Deidara had also had a few things to say about planes, which Sasori said he’d picked up from Zetsu, but of course these ‘principles’ hadn’t stopped him flying out to Berlin last week...

Still, it was really a lot more convenient by rail - no waiting around at an airport for longer than the time of your actual flight. No trek across London all the way out to the unfashionable end of the Piccadilly Line. The train journey was only four and a half hours, ish. They’d probably saved time.

Speaking of time - Kakuzu glanced at his watch - Hidan had been gone, he’d assumed to the toilet, for nearly half an hour now. He looked up at the toilet light; it still showed engaged. He wasn’t feeling at all easy in his mind about Hidan, but it was difficult to know what approach it was best to take. After all, he’d only known him a week, though the intimacy that had immediately sprung up between them had made it feel longer. Closing his book, he looked over at his other companions. Deidara was asleep, but Sasori met his concerned frown with a questioning raise of his eyebrows.

“Hidan’s been gone a while. Should we be concerned, do you think?”

The two older men regarded each other calmly, considering the situation. Neither of them quite knew the etiquette regarding quite how much you’re allowed or expected to look after a man more than fifteen years your junior. Sasori looked down, running a hand through his hair, and tucked his copy of Gaston Bachelard’s ‘The Poetics of Space’ back into his bag. And started slightly as he noticed that the tin containing his scalpels and finer carving tools was missing.

"Yes, I rather think we should," he said quietly. Kakuzu didn’t ask him why, but merely accepted the fact that Sasori now saw some urgency in the situation. It was one of the things Sasori liked about him. They both got up and made their way down the narrow aisle, Kakuzu instinctively sliding his briefcase off the luggage rack and taking it with him. They left Deidara still sleeping - perhaps both feeling, possibly unfairly, that he might be more hindrance than help. Maybe just a typical reflex of a serious older man towards a younger, wilder version.

The toilet in this carriage was the big round disabled kind, with a door that had to trundle incredibly slowly around at least a quarter circle before you could lock the door. Kakuzu could never resist manually trying to urge it round faster, always realising as he did so that it was entirely futile and he was making no difference to its speed at all. He felt an inner conviction that Hidan would’ve done the same. He knocked on the door firmly, Sasori standing back a little, as though he was only there to back Kakuzu up in what was rightfully his responsibility. Kakuzu felt both irritated and vindicated by this. He pushed down both feelings as he knocked again, saying ‘Hidan,’ in that penetrating but hushed tone that people use to hail each other in public places.

“Dude, what the fuck?” came Hidan’s voice faintly from within. “I’m taking a shit, man!”

“You’ve been in there half an hour, Hidan.” Kakuzu didn’t believe him. Hidan’s voice sounded so relaxed it was positively trippy. He wouldn’t have been surprised to smell hash drifting out, but instead was beginning to wonder if he could smell blood. He looked exasperatedly and questioningly at Sasori.

“My scalpels are missing,” Sasori murmured to him.

Right. That was conclusive in Kakuzu’s opinion. “If you don’t open the door in five seconds I’ll call the conductor,” he commanded. “Let me in, and we can sort this quietly.” He paused a moment longer. “I mean it, Hidan.” He glanced at his watch. “Five... Four -”

“Jeez, man, seriously!” Kakuzu listened closely and thought he heard an irritated sigh, then movement and the press of a button, and slowly the door began its arthritic trundling journey towards ‘open’.

Taking in the disturbing scene in an instant, Kakuzu quickly stepped inside, closely followed by Sasori. He pushed the ‘close’ button hard several times, but of course it insisted on opening fully before it would start closing. No-one was around, but Kakuzu and Sasori stood shoulder to shoulder, blocking the spectacle that was Hidan from view anyway.

On the floor lay Sasori’s tools, though it looked as though only one scalpel had been used. Hidan’s shirt was hung neatly out of the way on the little plastic peg on the far wall, but the rest of the cubicle was liberally splattered with blood. Hidan himself was slumped on the toilet, with its lid down, Kakuzu was glad to note. He seemed to bleeding only from the wrists, and that in a very controlled way mainly over the tiny sink, but he had daubed a strange symbol on the floor - the same as the symbol he wore around his neck, of course.

Kakuzu looked into wary violet eyes and saw that there was more to this than he understood at the moment. Picking up the instruments, he handed them to Sasori, saying repressively, “I’ll take care of this; you get these out of here.”

Sasori did so, being good enough to go along with Kakuzu’s intimation that the presence of the tools was providing immediate risk and emotional trauma to Hidan. Hidan was still slumped motionless on the toilet. Both he and Kakuzu waited until Sasori was out of the door before doing or saying anything else.

The door closed and Kakuzu pressed the lock button. He opened his briefcase and got out the first aid kit he just couldn’t get out of the habit of carrying. It wasn’t a typical one - it looked more like what you’d expect to see on a surgeon’s side table.

“Right, let me look at that,” he said calmly, trying to take Hidan’s wrist. Hidan pulled away.

“Give me another minute,” he pleaded. “I’m not done - I can’t fucking leave the ritual in the middle, can I?!”

Can’t you? thought Kakuzu, but he looked into Hidan’s eyes and saw that he was serious. Also, agitation was raising his heart-rate, making him bleed faster. He let go, and leant against the wall. “Alright. One minute,” he said, looking at his watch, determinedly keeping his voice utterly calm. “I’ll tell you when it’s done. But in return, you have to let me patch you up afterwards without bitching about it.” He felt Hidan’s eyes on him, still wary, but realisation dawning in them that Kakuzu was not to be quarrelled with in this mood.

The minute seemed to pass incredibly slowly to Kakuzu, but he kept his word. Keeping a monitoring eye on Hidan all the time, he leant against the far wall of the cubicle, frowning. So, this is it, he thought. The source of the ‘self-harming’ rumours, the ‘dangerous cult’ rumours. The inspiration for Deidara’s notorious film. Which, he reminded himself, he hadn’t been able to take his eyes off. Poor kid, he found himself thinking, completely fucked-up. But it was difficult to keep that sensible objective view as Hidan licked the blood off one palm, turning St. Sebastian eyes upwards, mouth moving sensuously as if in invocation or prayer. Kakuzu was fascinated. It was different from the film. Deidara’s work had made Hidan appear ephemeral - a brief bright moment that would soon be lost. But then Deidara saw everything that way. Hidan doing this in the flesh seemed eternal - aggressively real, his presence strengthened, imprinting itself on your eye, on your soul.

Kakuzu pulled himself together. It wouldn’t do to get sucked into the strange glamour of this ritual. Someone had to think about practicalities here. The immortal invulnerability that seemed to radiate from Hidan was entirely an illusion. Kakuzu made himself look at him as a doctor rather than a - a connoisseur. Hidan was not OK. He probably hadn’t lost very much more than a pint of blood, but he looked pale and dizzy and Kakuzu didn’t want to take any more risk than was necessary. He began to prepare sterile dressings and antiseptic wipes. From his brief glimpse of the wounds he thought they’d be able to get away without stitches, if he taped them carefully. As soon as the minute was up he set to work.

He took Hidan’s left wrist, which seemed to be bleeding slightly faster. “This may sting a little,” he said expressionlessly as he wiped over the wound - making Hidan hiss with discomfort - before delicately laying two fine strips of medical tape across it then pressing down with a pad of cotton wool. He held it down with his thumb while he bound it tightly in place, then did the same to the other wrist. Squatting in front of Hidan, he took both his wrists and pressed firmly down on both pads. Two minutes, and the bleeding should be under control.

“Ouch, man,” said Hidan. “That fucking hurts.”

“It’ll hurt more later if I don’t do this now,” said Kakuzu curtly, glancing at the second hand of his watch. “Do you want to arrive in Edinburgh needing stitches?”

“No, man, but I’ve done this loads of times before, and I’ve never needed stitches.” Hidan complained.

“Well, that’s a miracle, then, but I expect you’ve never done it on a juddering train before, have you?” Kakuzu demanded. “I didn’t think so. So, let’s have no more complaining. I’m helping you out here, and in return, you have to do as I say. God only knows how you thought you’d deal with this by yourself...”

Hidan sighed, but didn’t say anymore. Kakuzu felt a twinge of concern. He must be feeling rough to shut up that easily - the religious zeal gone for the time being, he was reduced to being a fucked up vulnerable kid again. He suddenly seemed very young to Kakuzu.

The two minutes up, he unscrewed the cap of his water bottle and, tipping Hidan’s head back with one hand, he put it to his lips. “Drink,” he commanded. Hidan drank. “Better?” he asked. Hidan nodded tiredly. Kakuzu sighed, made him drink a little more, then gently pushed his head down to rest on his knees. Then he turned his attention to the rest of the cubicle. He dampened some toilet paper and scrubbed the circumscribed triangle off the floor, then ran water into the sink, swilling it around to try and get rid of all the splatter marks.

Finally he looked back at Hidan. He sat him up. He seemed to have managed to get blood smeared up to his elbows, all over his hands and on his face. Sighing, Kakuzu dampened his handkerchief and started with his face, holding him firmly by the chin. By now, Hidan was pliable and obedient, half-closed eyes gazing dazedly and disconcertingly into Kakuzu’s. Kakuzu worked faster - he needed to get him moving soon, or he’d end up having to carry him. Taking his hands one at a time, he held them just under the flow from the tap, taking care not to splash the bandages, massaging the dried blood off with surprisingly delicate movements. Patting them dry and cleaning from the wrists up took more paper - Kakuzu was beginning to think he must’ve used the equivalent of an entire roll by now - but finally he had Hidan looking almost respectable again. As respectable as an ashen pale, wide eyed religious extremist could look anyway...

He took down Hidan’s shirt and began to ease it on, checking his wrists to make sure the bleeding hadn’t started up again. It hadn’t. Then he squatted in front of him again and did up the buttons. He didn’t want Hidan moving his hands more than was absolutely necessary. Any movement would make the blood pump harder, potentially re-opening the wounds. He sighed. This kid was trouble, just trouble, what on Earth was he doing letting himself get so involved? But he recognised that he was already in way too deep to allow himself to back off.

“Up you get,” he said, slipping his hands under Hidan’s arms and lifting him bodily off the toilet. He steadied him while he regained his balance, keeping an arm around him as he pushed the button to open the door. “Now, I’m going to take you back to your seat, and you’re going to sit down quietly while I get you some tea from the buffet. Are we cool?”

“We’re cool,” said Hidan, his voice small. He didn’t like Kakuzu disapproving of him. In fact, there was no-one he wanted to approve of him more, but there were some things he just had to do. His shoulders slumped a little. It was unfortunate that the more Kakuzu disapproved of him, the more Hidan needed to do the things of which he was bound to disapprove.

Kakuzu noticed Hidan’s sudden dejection and felt a surge of exasperated fondness. He squeezed his shoulder as he ushered him out of the door. “At least you kept your shirt clean,” he said with a wry smile. He was glad no-one was waiting. That could have been rather embarrassing. He pushed the little button to open the carriage doors, and shepherded Hidan through into the articulated in-between area. Then steadied him with one arm as he opened the next set - how many frustratingly slow button-operated doors did one train need? - and finally they were free to slowly make their way along the aisle and back to their table.

Kakuzu deposited Hidan in his seat opposite Sasori - he really couldn’t be bothered to manoeuvre him into the window seat right now - and swung the little plastic arm down to stop him falling into the aisle if he got dizzy. “Keep an eye on him,” he said curtly to Sasori, grabbing his wallet. “You want anything from the buffet?”

By the time he had made his way along what seriously felt like most of the length of the train, Kakuzu was lustfully eyeing the miniature bottles of gin behind the buffet counter. But perhaps that wasn’t a good idea. Sighing, he asked for two black filter coffees and a cup of tea, making sure they didn’t fill it too full. He grabbed five milks and six packets of sugar, and picked up a packet of Hula Hoops and one of Mini Cheddars as well. And a chocolate brownie, from a bowl on the counter. God knows what the ‘Customer Service Host’ made of his selection. Kakuzu felt like he must have ‘Sugar Daddy’ written all over him. Unless they thought he was an actual daddy. But real children didn’t drink incredibly sweet tea, did they?

He checked his watch as he strode back along the train - they had two more hours of journey to go. Damn these slow trains - when would this country get a proper rail system, like high speed network on the continent, or, even better, Japanese bullet trains? Still, it was a relief in some ways, as it gave Hidan a good amount of recovery time before he’d have to move.

Back at the table, the atmosphere was frosty. Hidan was looking rebellious and sulky. Sasori looked primly censorious. They’d clearly had words. Kakuzu silently handed the paper bag to Sasori to hold, and proceeded to shoo a floppy and uncooperative Hidan over into the window seat. Eventually he just slipped one hand under his knees and the other around his shoulders and unceremoniously dumped him in it. Sighing again, he fished the teabag out of Hidan’s tea, then opened in five of the packets of sugar into it and proceeded to try and dissolve them with the ridiculous little wooden lollipop stick stirrer that was provided. Then he added the contents of all of the tiny milk cartons and handed it to Hidan.

Hidan nearly spilt it all over himself, but Kakuzu had been ready for that and steadied the cup before any liquid could escape. “OK,” he said wearily. “Then we do it my way.” He held the back of Hidan’s neck with his right hand, tipping his jaw to the angle he wanted with his thumb, then delicately began to feed him sips of tea. “I should’ve got you a straw...”

Hidan glared at him, feeling emasculated. “I know, it’s horrible, I’m sure,” Kakuzu soothed, smiling at his discomfort. “Though, to someone who sprinkles sugar on their Coco Pops, it shouldn’t be too unpalatable. But it’s good for you, so drink it.”

“Fuck that, man, I don’t, not on fucking Coco Pops,” Hidan protested. “Only if I have to mix them with shit like Rice Krispies to make them go further.”

“I was only teasing you, Hidan, I didn’t know for sure that you did it at all,” Kakuzu assured him, giving him a break from the tea and handing him the Hula Hoops and Mini Cheddars. “Which would you like?” he asked. “I’ll open them for you.”

“These,” said Hidan, indicating the Mini Cheddars, before realising the significance of Kakuzu’s words. “Aw, fuck you, man!” he protested, “You fucking tricked me!”

Kakuzu couldn’t help laughing at Hidan’s aggrieved expression, and he wished Sasori would lighten up and do the same. “Cut him some slack?” he suggested quietly as he finally got his own coffee out of the bag and stirred half of the last packet of sugar into it. “This really isn’t helping.”

Hidan heard, though - the crunching of miniature cheese biscuits was not enough to mask even Kakuzu’s discreet murmur. He grinned delightedly. “Yeah, tell this prick, Kakuzu,” he said. “He’s such a fucking sour-puss, seriously.”

“Well, you did steal his precious tools for your nefarious purposes, Hidan,” Kakuzu mock-reproached him. “You can’t expect him to be pleased...”

“He should get a sense of fucking proportion,” Hidan muttered.

Sasori was so offended by this that he rose to leave, but fortunately at that moment Deidara stirred. “What’s going on, hn?” he asked sleepily. “What did I miss? Where are you going, Sasori, hn?”

Sasori hesitated a moment, then sat down again, the sight of Deidara emerging warm and fuzzy from sleep evidently too much for him to resist. Kakuzu met his eye coolly, his expression saying clearly, let’s be reasonable - we’re the grown-ups here. He chaperoned some more tea on its journey into Hidan’s mouth, really just being a safety net this time and making sure Hidan didn’t flex his wrists too much.

Deidara blinked, and looked from Hidan to Kakuzu and back with an expression of incredulous delight, then groaned. “Oh, you fucking didn’t, did you Hidan, hn? On a train, hn!”

“Oh, he did,” replied Kakuzu. “He fucking did.”

Chapter Text

Almost unbelievably, they made the rest of the journey with no further mishaps, and by the time they pulled into Edinburgh station Hidan was revived enough to get his bike from the cycle carriage himself, and then zoom off up an incredibly steep ramp at breakneck speed. Then after a quick stop at their hotel to drop off their bags, they set off for the gallery, a five minute walk away.

Kakuzu had to admit, the proposed Akatsuki Edinburgh was a fantastic space. It needed a lot of work, but that wasn’t a problem. Deidara was enchanted by it, and Hidan was getting caught up in his enthusiasm, too. He was looking happy now; he seemed full of beans. Incredible, really - Kakuzu would’ve thought he’d be whacked after losing so much blood, and part of him wanted to make lie him down, cosset him, contain that hyperactive energy - but he seemed to have a fantastic capacity for recovery, and perhaps, after all, he knew his body best. Kakuzu knew somehow that if he wanted Hidan on a leash, it would have to be a long one - long enough, in fact, that he wouldn’t notice the difference...

Leaving the artists and Hidan to explore, Kakuzu hunted down the building’s owner and laid the groundwork for intimidating him into reducing the rent. Konan had not specifically asked him to do this, but he didn’t see how it could do any harm. Actually, the guy seemed relieved to be dealing with a businessman, rather than some flaky artist. He told Kakuzu it was a pleasure to do business with him and they parted with a feeling of mutual satisfaction.

After that, and a quick tour of the building to see exactly how much needed doing before the place would be ready to open, there wasn’t very much that he could do before the morning so he headed back to the exhibition space to see if Sasori might be ready to leave as well. Hidan and Deidara had been in full flow when he’d left them - drinking milkshakes and working out the possibilities of some bizarre performance piece that Kakuzu suspected would involve unacceptable amounts of blood, nudity and explosives - but Sasori’s work wasn’t site specific. He only needed to approve the look of the place and get a feel for how much work he’d need to produce. Kakuzu wondered if he’d feel like going back for an early drink in the hotel bar.

He was feeling a sudden need for the company of an older guy, or at least - because Sasori couldn’t really be well described as older, being only in his mid-thirties - somebody cultured, articulate and intelligent. Restful company, anyway. And as soon as he put his head round the door he could almost see the craving for the same thing emanating from Sasori. He was pressing his fingertips to his temples as though he had the mother of all headaches, and watching with dismay as Hidan and Deidara used Hidan’s strawberry milkshake to simulate horrible anaemic blood. He nodded mutely in response to Kakuzu’s suggestion that they leave them to it.

Restful company, Kakuzu had said to himself. Well, usually that wouldn’t have been far off the mark, he was sure. But he couldn’t help but notice almost immediately that Sasori seemed more than a little irritable this evening. They sat together at the bar, Kakuzu drinking Ardbeg 10-year-old, Sasori drinking Glenmorangie. Each thought the other’s choice in equal measures unoriginal and pretentious, and both insisted that they just happened to feel like drinking whisky - it wasn’t just because they were in Scotland. Sasori even went so far as to pedantically point out that the Ardbeg distillery was now owned by Glenmorangie, but this was a mistake in a conversation with a former investment banker, as Kakuzu took vindictive pleasure in informing him that Glenmorangie was owned by two of the largest multinational beer, wine and spirits companies in the world... and one of them French, as well. They both brooded for a moment, slightly less pleased with each other’s company than they’d expected.

“I don’t think you’re doing Hidan any good, you know,” Sasori said suddenly, nursing his whisky. “You let him get away with too much. He knows he can do whatever he likes, and no matter what you might say, you always end up backing him up and giving him what he wants.”

“Sounds rather nice...” Kakuzu mused, swirling his glass and watching intently as a miniature whirlpool developed, leaning one elbow on the bar.

“But my point is that it’s not ‘rather nice’, Kakuzu, it’s you becoming a besotted old man, letting a pretty kid take advantage of you in a way that’s ultimately damaging to him as well because it allows him to continue his hedonistic sado-masochistic lifestyle without any consideration at all for the consequences.”

Kakuzu paused to make sure had Sasori talked himself out before attempting to reply. He ate a cashew nut, took a small sip of his drink and considered. “Well, I’d rather that he felt comfortable enough around me to do what he needs to do.” He paused, looking calmly at Sasori. “Rather than letting it all boil up so that it happens when there’s no-one around to take care of the fall-out.”

“Well, what happens when you’re not around to take care of the fall-out, Kakuzu? You must be well over fifteen years older than him, for one thing!”

“Well? What of it? You’re nearly fifteen years older than your little boy-toy.”

Sasori seethed quietly as Kakuzu chuckled. “That’s beside the point.” he said irritably. “Deidara doesn’t lean on me like a third fucking leg!”

Kakuzu chuckled again. “I wouldn’t be so sure of that,” he murmured. “But, in any case, I lead a very healthy lifestyle, I don’t think I need have any fears for my longevity. Hidan, on the other hand, won’t even look a vegetable in the face... I wouldn’t necessarily put my money on him as the last one standing...”

“Well, you encourage that! You enable that! Ahh!” Sasori put his glass down on the bar with a firm clink. “I thought at first you were going to be a steadying influence on him. But all you’re doing is creating a safe arena for him to run wild in as much as he likes. And it’s not safe in the long run! What are you going to do when you’ve got a middle-aged, anaemic, diabetic alcoholic on your hands instead a charming capricious kid? Because you’ll have created that!”

Kakuzu had tried not to laugh, but once he started, he couldn’t stop. “You worry too much, Sasori,” he said finally, wiping away tears of mirth. “You underestimate Hidan. He’s his own man, and that’s why I let him ‘get away with everything’, as you put it. Who am I to tell him what to do? He’s got to find his own way. But I am here for him when he needs me, and I hope he continues to need me, because, well, I like having him around.” He chuckled mirthlessly. “But really, Sasori, I’ve known him about a week! Don’t you think you’re moving us a little fast?”

“I can see where this is going,” Sasori replied darkly. “I’ve never seen you click with anyone like you do with Hidan. You know it’s true.”

“Then why the hell are you trying to warn me off him?” Kakuzu drained the rest of his whisky, relishing the peaty burn as it went down.

“Tch,” tutted Sasori irritably. “You’re deliberately missing the point! Just like you always do! I really don’t know why I bother, sometimes!”

“Neither do I, old friend, neither do I,” replied Kakuzu urbanely, winding him up even further. “Do me a favour, and let me work this one out for myself...”

He put his glass down, empty now. “I’m going to wander down and see how they’re getting on,” he said, “maybe take Hidan out for some dinner - I imagine that perhaps you’d prefer we went our separate ways tonight...”

“Well, I don’t make any promises about keeping my temper, otherwise,” Sasori replied. “Dealing with Hidan takes more patience than I have... though I have to admit, not professionally; deal with him as a model, and I’m fine. But socially... I’d rather not have to, to be frank...”

“Sure,” said Kakuzu. He didn’t mind. Sasori was an odd prickly bastard, but he suspected that he was fonder of Hidan than he’d let on. Leaving him at the bar, he made his way out through reception and into the street, and started walking briskly in the direction of the gallery. He wasn’t sure why, but he suddenly had an odd feeling that he should check up on Hidan. Maybe it was his medical training subconsciously reasserting itself - after all, it seemed to good to be true that Hidan’s little blood-letting stunt should have no consequences other than a a bit of dizziness straight afterwards.

He found Hidan and Deidara not far from the gallery, and it was a good thing he had come out to meet them, because Hidan was leaning against the wall, obviously not in a good state, and Deidara was trying rather ineffectually to get him moving again. He hung back a moment, taking stock of the situation.

“Lean on me, hn,” Deidara was saying encouragingly. “Come on, Hidan, we’ve got to get you back, man, hn?”

“I’m too fucking heavy for you, Dei,” Hidan murmured, sliding down the wall and squatting disconsolately at its base, leaning his head back against the stones. “Give me a minute, yeah? I’ll be fine.” He shut his eyes.

Deidara looked down at him desperately. How was he ever to get him to his feet again? He knew what Hidan was like - giving him ‘a minute’ was more than likely to end up with Hidan going to sleep and remaining asleep for the next twelve hours. He got out his phone. “I’m going to call Kakuzu,” he said.

“No!” said Hidan, making a surprisingly swift grab for the phone, and succeeding in getting a hold on it, though not able to wrest it entirely from Deidara’s grip. “No! Dei! Don’t do that!”

In the shadows, Kakuzu’s heart melted. Hidan was so obstinately independent and yet so bad at taking care of himself. He strode over to them. “It’s OK, Deidara,” he said quietly. “I’ll take care of him from here. I rather thought this might happen...”

He squatted in front of Hidan and took his shoulder, giving it a gentle squeeze, then tilted his face up so he could look into his eyes. “You’re not dizzy?” he asked, “Not feeling nauseous? Any headache?”

“No,” Hidan mumbled, trying to avoid his eyes. “Just so tired, man...”

“OK,” said Kakuzu. “That’s good.” He pulled Hidan’s right arm over his shoulder and stood up, placing an arm firmly around his waist. “Let’s get you to bed,” he murmured. “You don’t have to do anything except behave yourself and let me take care of things.”

“OK, Kakuzu, OK,” Hidan agreed in a rather muffled voice against his shoulder. He was just too tired to resist anymore.

Kakuzu hitched him a little higher, grasping his arm firmly just below the elbow. Really, it would’ve been easier just to carry him, but he didn’t want to attract more attention than was inevitable. Deidara hovered uselessly at his side, and Kakuzu said, slightly irritably, “Run along, Deidara, I've got this. Go and distract Sasori. He’ll never let me hear the end of it if he sees us...”

“OK, if you’re sure... Hn.” Deidara nodded, looking more than a little relieved, and set off swiftly towards the hotel.

Following more sedately, Kakuzu steered Hidan gently through the steep streets. The weight didn’t really bother him too much, but he was a little concerned at the image they must present. Well, couldn’t be helped. Kakuzu set his features to impassive and ignored the stares they received.

By the time they were through reception and in the lift, Hidan was all but asleep. Kakuzu leant against the lift wall and held him loosely against him, his head tucked into his shoulder. He rested his chin on top of Hidan’s head. Hidan made a sleepy murmur and put his arms around Kakuzu, burrowing his face deeper into the crook of Kakuzu’s neck. His breathing tickled, but Kakuzu was a disciplined man. It was nice, he had to confess, holding Hidan like this, and Hidan so quiet and peaceful. He tightened his hold on him very slightly, gripping the wrist of his right hand with his left to make a strong circle around him.

The lift reached their floor, and the doors opened. The corridor was deserted. “Hey,” whispered Kakuzu. “Up for a bit more walking?”

“Le’s stay here,” Hidan murmured back, not opening his eyes.

“Can’t do that, sweetheart.” The endearment slipped out accidentally, but just so naturally, and Kakuzu rather guiltily hoped Hidan hadn’t noticed. He manoeuvred him into the corridor, then shifted his grip. “Hold on tight,” he said, and picked Hidan up, cradling his head against his chest, his other arm under his knees. Hidan wound an arm around his neck. It was a lot easier than on Saturday night, when Hidan had been totally asleep and very floppy. And naked. And there’d been a lot of stairs. This was nothing. Kakuzu supposed years of solitary lunchtimes in the gym must have paid off. He extracted Hidan’s key from his pocket and balanced him against the doorframe as he opened the door. Kicking it shut behind him, he laid Hidan on the bed, where he immediately rolled over and pulled the covers over himself. Kakuzu unrolled him and took his shoes off. They were leather, but they fastened with velcro straps, and had little patent details... To Kakuzu they seemed like a hybrid between trainers and what he thought of as real shoes. They made him laugh, they seemed so very Hidan. He noticed as he put them neatly on the floor that they were Gucci.

He sat on the bed next to Hidan, and wondered whether he ought to undress him completely, or whether he’d want to get up in an hour or so for some supper. He looked at his watch. It might be better to keep him in bed for the rest of the evening, get him something from Room Service a bit later. He undid Hidan’s trousers and eased them off him. Hidan helpfully - if semi-consciously - raised up his pelvis a little, bringing a little smile to Kakuzu’s lips. Then he unbuttoned his shirt, but left that on. He unbuttoned the cuffs so they wouldn’t chafe his wrists. He peeled his socks off. Hidan had nice feet... a lot smaller than Kakuzu’s... smaller in proportion, not just because Hidan was smaller.

Kakuzu covered him back up, and sat on the edge of the bed, one hand resting gently on Hidan’s thigh. It was just so easy to be nice to him when he was feeling low, or if he was hurt or tired. Or off his face... It concerned Kakuzu a bit. It didn’t quite seem like a healthy basis for a relationship. Perhaps Sasori had a point...

Kakuzu repositioned himself so that he could lean again the wall, next to Hidan’s head, and shut his eyes for a moment. Sasori does not have a point, he told himself sternly. The thing is; you haven’t been in a relationship for years, you’ve lost touch with how to be intimate with anyone. You’re probably lucky Hidan does have this vulnerable side, because it lets you in. If he was always so cocky and confident as he is in the day, you probably wouldn’t have the courage to even touch him. He’s so beautiful. So young, and successful, and beautiful.

Despite his confidence and assurance, there was a side of Kakuzu that was deeply private and shy. He hadn’t let anyone touch him emotionally for years. Now, everything seemed to be touching him. Even old friends with whom he thought he was on a totally comfortable footing were affecting him strangely at the moment. Sasori and Deidara - even Konan had moved him strangely with her dilemma of a love affair. He felt like just the proximity of Hidan was peeling his comfortable shell off him - no, more than that. The first dose of Hidan he’d had, just seeing his face on that card, it had opened him out - exposed him to the world again, with all its possibilities for mockery and pain.

Opening his eyes again, he smoothed Hidan’s hair back off his forehead, then got up and walked over to the window. He found himself looking at the setting sun, going down over Edinburgh Castle, bathing the building in pinkish orange light. It was strangely beautiful, though it wasn’t really an elegant building. It was impressive - huge and shapeless. Kakuzu ran his hand over his jaw. He needed a shave. He felt the faint bumps of the scars that ran along parallel to his jawline - barely visible these days - a relic from a violent encounter during his time on A&E. He remembered being wheeled into theatre and knowing everyone, and though they’d sent him straight into plastics, he’d wished there was some way he could’ve done the job himself. No-one was better at that kind of job than Kakuzu. Several plastic surgeons had said he was wasted on heart surgery, but - there you are - that was what had fascinated him. Perhaps if he’d gone into plastics he’d still be a surgeon now. Much less chance of people dying on you there...

He turned back to Hidan, knowing that he really ought to check those wounds. He sat down beside him again, and carefully unwrapped the bandages. The right had closed up nicely. Kakuzu made sure it was properly clean, and bandaged it up again. Then he moved around to the other side of the bed and turned his attention to Hidan’s left wrist. He had a bad feeling about this. He should have checked it out earlier. There was a dark stain seeping through the bandage, and that must’ve happened in the last hour or so, because Kakuzu had given him a superficial check over before he left him at the gallery.

Very carefully, he started to unwind the bandage. Yes, the wound had reopened. Under the top few layers the bandage was completely soaked through with blood. It must have been hurting quite a lot, probably throbbing with a dull ache with sharper pain every time he moved it... Kakuzu should never have trusted him not to move it. It was probably dealing with the pain that had so exhausted him.

Given where the injury was, and given that it was excitable hyperactive Hidan he was dealing with, Kakuzu resigned himself to the fact that stitches were necessary. And while proper procedure would probably mean taking him to hospital, Kakuzu was going to do it himself, here. He had everything necessary, except, of course, an anaesthetist. But Hidan was deeply asleep, and it was only going to take three or four... And Kakuzu had always been very quick.

He got out his one of his finest surgical needles - this was a delicate area. He decided it wasn’t necessary to stitch Hidan up in two layers - the wound was clean and he hadn’t cut through the vein.

Hidan’s eyes fluttered open as soon as the needle touched his skin. “Ouch, man,” he murmured sleepily. “What the fuck?”

“Ssh,” said Kakuzu, carrying on.

Hidan opened his eyes wider and craned his head forward to look at what Kakuzu was doing. “Oi oi oi!” he protested blearily, “What the fuck do you think you’re doing?! Fucking stop it! Get that away from me!!”

“It needs to be done,” Kakuzu replied - quietly, imperturbably.

“Owww!!” Hidan screamed as the needle pierced his skin. He tried to snatch his wrist away, but Kakuzu had seen what he was up to and gripped it tight. The spurt of blood it created didn't help though.

“Settle down, Hidan,” he said, sighing. “Don’t make me tie you down...” It really wasn’t making it any easier, having to restrain Hidan at the time as stitching him up.

Hidan had gone a bit white at the sight of the needle pulling through his skin. He let his head fall back onto the pillow with a flop. “That’s fucking grim,” he murmured, and Kakuzu thought he might behave - if just through lack of energy - but he was just as bad with the second stitch. Kakuzu growled with irritation.

“Do you want me to take you to hospital?” he said impatiently. “We’d probably have to sit in A&E for about eight hours at this time on a Friday...”

“No!” Hidan moaned. “That would fucking suck, man. I don’t need to go to hospital!”

“No, you don’t - not if you let me do this.” Kakuzu was firm. “It’s nearly done. Just be good and keep still, and you won’t have to worry about it anymore. OK?”

“Okay!” Hidan spat sulkily.

“Good.” Kakuzu went back to work. Hidan hissed and winced and moaned and complained, but he kept still. Kakuzu put in five stitches for good measure, then swabbed the wound clean and covered it up again. He wouldn’t put it past Hidan to worry at the stitches if they itched... He had a fleeting image of him in the sort of conical collar vets used to stop animals biting at their wounds and smirked. Maybe he should just get Hidan a collar and lead...

Chapter Text

After an irritating day of meetings with Scottish Arts Council people and a handful of even more irritating potential private sponsors, Kakuzu was in serious need of a relaxing evening. It had been so incredibly frustrating that he was really obliged to take a back seat throughout most of the negotiations, particularly since he was sure that Konan wouldn’t have. But he simply didn’t have the information at his fingertips that he needed, and indeed, only had the most basic overview of what Akatsuki Gallery’s expansion to Edinburgh was supposed to achieve. Only Sasori was in the least prepared - Deidara and Hidan believing it was possible to take an off the cuff approach to this sort of thing - and Sasori would keep banging on about the reprehensibly casual attitude of the younger generation in a way that wasn’t at all calculated to appeal to a funding officer whose primary concern was whether Akatsuki Edinburgh could be considered educational.

Kakuzu ended up sticking his oar a good deal more than he really felt he had the right to, and he hoped he hadn’t set in motion anything that Konan and Pein hadn’t intended. But he was so angry with Konan for dumping him in like this without so much as a business plan to look through that he found, upon reflection, that he didn’t care very much. They left the last appointment more than a little demoralised, and with Sasori once again barely on speaking terms with Hidan.

It was late, although it was still light, and Hidan and Deidara were hungry. Diving through the revolving glass doors, they seemed to be full of happy plans of where to go for supper, but Sasori, following at a more sedate pace with Kakuzu, had other ideas.

“Look!” he said, catching hold of Kakuzu’s sleeve as he emerged from the door, having been lying in wait for him, “I don’t think I can take Hidan’s company tonight, I really don’t! After everything he’s done today, I just don’t think I can stay civil. So Deidara and I are going to head off by ourselves - I’m sorry, Kakuzu.”

“That’s fine by me,” said Kakuzu evenly. Tonight, he did find this attitude of Sasori’s irritating. He was sure it stemmed from his disapproval of their relationship as a whole. But he wasn’t going to give Sasori the satisfaction of showing his annoyance, or, indeed, of indicating that he’d heard anything but the last sentence. He didn’t in the least mind the opportunity of taking Hidan off somewhere. They’d go somewhere low-key and intimate, he decided. Have the kind of evening they should’ve had last Wednesday.

But by the time they reached a nice looking little Italian restaurant and were eating lasagne next to an artful-looking potted vine, Kakuzu felt lost. He couldn’t do it. He just couldn’t reach out. Not even after the incident on the train and all its consequences, or after everything he and Hidan had done last weekend. Somehow, last Saturday had seemed to be in its own charmed world. Now, he could barely make himself touch Hidan’s arm to get his attention. He felt paralysed.

It was easy, oh, so easy, if Hidan was hurt, if he needed help. Then, Kakuzu could hold him, support him, bathe his face, feel his pulse, and that could easily lead into deeper intimacy. But he needed that excuse. He suspected that he could quite easily treat Hidan with violence, and touch him that way - in fact, he felt sure that a rape scenario would suit him perfectly. But that must not be allowed to happen. In fact, Hidan would probably be more than up for some BDSM, but Kakuzu knew that if he allowed himself to slip into that so soon, he might never achieve real intimacy. He didn’t quite know what to do. Even if Hidan flung himself into his arms, he’d probably just awkwardly hold him, maybe run a hand through his hair, but he wouldn’t truly reciprocate.

But at the weekend, it worked, a small voice protested in his brain. But then he reminded himself that at the moment he’d kissed him, Hidan had been actually trembling - trembling - with fear, terrified of the dogs, and more than a little unsure of Kakuzu’s feelings towards him. He stole a glance at him. He was probably even more unsure now, poor kid. And of course, the next morning, finding him wandering around his house shirtless and barefoot, he’d been like Kakuzu’s property - Kakuzu had been able to imagine him as his resident sex slave or, again, his deeply indulged and wayward pet, confined to the house, denied proper clothes so he could never escape... there’d been an edge of vulnerability to him even then, a helplessness and reticence...

Goodness, if Hidan hadn’t taken his hand in the bar earlier that evening, they’d probably never have made it back to Kakuzu’s at all. He suddenly felt pathetic. He was a successful businessman with a six figure salary! Why couldn’t he manage something as simple as an ordinary relationship.

Hidan finished the last bite of his main course, gulped down half a glass of wine in one, and looked at Kakuzu across the table. He brushed his foot against his calf. Then for a moment he wondered if he’d been playing footsie with the table leg instead, because Kakuzu’s face remained absolutely immobile. But no… He felt again… There was definitely a shoe on the end. Kakuzu didn’t move away - and perhaps there was even the smallest of small smiles on his face - did that mean he was pleased? Respond! Respond!! screamed Hidan’s mind, but that seemed to be asking too much. Kakuzu just accepted. Luckily he seemed to have the capacity of a giant natural sponge, and he didn’t push Hidan away, and he didn’t seem put out, but... Hidan was beginning to wonder. Wouldn’t he reciprocate? Or couldn’t he? Was he one of those repressed types who genuinely couldn’t express emotion? And yet, last weekend... Hidan wondered if perhaps it would help if they were alone - and not alone in public, either - completely alone. He smiled across the table at Kakuzu, and he tried to look understanding and reassuring and patient - but he had no idea if it came out like that, because, to be honest, it wasn’t an expression he’d ever tried to make before. He began to pick nervously at the the bandages on his wrist.

Hidan seemed to be smiling provocatively at him, with a sort of smug puppy-eyed edge to it... Kakuzu was torn between amusement and despair. How long would Hidan keep smiling at him, if he got no response. Then he noticed his hands. Hidan didn’t seem to be aware of what he was doing, and probably didn’t even recognise the tension he was betraying, but it went straight to Kakuzu’s heart. How could he sit here so wooden, letting Hidan wind himself up, feeling foolish and unloved? Feeling that nice little foot that he’d admired last night slide against his leg, liberated somehow from its ridiculous Gucci shoe, and not being able to answer in kind. It was more than pathetic, and with an effort he got a grip on himself.

“Gently with that,” he said, catching hold of Hidan’s damaged wrist. “You’ll open it up again if you’re not careful.” He laid it on the table between them, aligning Hidan’s hand so that there was no torsion on the wrist at all. “Maybe you’d better give me the other as well...”

Hidan made a sulky face, but laid his other hand on the table. Kakuzu put his two hands together and held them firmly in place with one of his own. He was well aware that he was cheating again - he’d identified Hidan’s last remaining point of weakness and fixated both their attentions on it - not to mention giving the poor kid an entirely new insecurity with his inexplicable coldness. But it was a hell of a lot better than no connection at all. “That’s better,” he said. “Now I can relax...” He smiled, very slightly.

“What, because I can’t do myself any more harm, or because you’re holding my hand?” asked Hidan, teasingly, but also slightly challengingly.

Kakuzu hesitated a moment, looking down at the tablecloth while about a dozen noncommittal answers offered themselves up for his consideration. Then he looked back at Hidan, and could see him expecting them. “Well, I think probably because I’m holding your hand...” he admitted, smiling a little ruefully. “But you are trouble, you know, and it’s quite nice to feel I have you slightly restrained.”

“I should fucking know it,” Hidan replied. “Everyone’s called me fucking trouble all my life...” His tone was light, but the slight curl of his lip told Kakuzu there was a deep well of grievance here somewhere. Perhaps it was the fact that he was holding Hidan’s hands, or the intimate atmosphere of the restaurant, or maybe just that they were finally relaxing together after a rather trying day, but Kakuzu found it terribly easy to slip in to that feeling of precarious tenderness for Hidan now. That heart-wrenching feeling of needing to hold onto him and protect him.

Or course, he didn’t, just stroked the back of his hand infinitesimally with his thumb. “Who called you that?” he asked. He had a vision of a miniature Hidan scooting round Sainsburys riding a trolley, destroying displays, running down old ladies; in constant danger of braining himself in avalanches of falling catfood tins while a harried mother chased hopelessly after him.

“Oh, all my fucking aunts and cousins and my half sisters, and I guess my mum when she wasn’t too fucked-up to notice,” Hidan replied. He paused a moment. Then, “I grew up in Southend-on-Sea,” he said, half ashamed, as if admitting a guilty secret. “And I was a fucking bad kid. Seriously, I was lucky I didn’t get fucking taken into care!” He paused, looking down at the artful bit of trellis next to their table, and Kakuzu was sure he’d’ve been picking at that too, if he hadn’t got hold of his hands.

“Forget care; I was lucky not to end up in juvenile detention,” he continued. “I mean, seriously, Southend’s a fucking hole; sure, it’s not London, but it can be just as fucking rough as Elephant and Castle or Camden. Or these fucking suburbs, Catford, Croydon, fucking Walthamstow, it’s where the fucking stabbings happen, man; it’s where you get fucking gun crime. And, seriously, I was fucking about out on the streets most of the time from when I fucking learnt to walk.”

So maybe his Sainsburys vision was a little too middle class. Kakuzu adjusted it to Iceland, complete with a Croydon-face-lifted sister with a double decker pushchair.

“It’s un-fucking-believable now, isn’t it,” said Hidan, suddenly giggling. “I mean, sitting here in fucking Edinburgh, in a poncy fucking trattoria, holding hands with a banker...”

Kakuzu looked down to hide his smile. “You don’t sound very Southend,” he ventured.

“No,” Hidan agreed. “But I can. Most people are fucking faking the way they speak, anyway. I just want to forget I ever lived in that fucking shithole. It still slips out sometimes, though...”

On the other side of the door, Shikamaru Nara was sitting with Asuma and his friends Kotetsu and Isumo, and listening to Hidan and Kakuzu’s conversation rather than taking part in his own. He’d reached that point of the evening where communication just seemed like too much trouble. The four of them had also come out to scope out a venue for the festival, but Shikamaru didn’t expect to be showing anything. He’d already made the decision that he’d rather be a critic than an artist, and had made a move into journalism after finishing his degree at St Martin’s. He was just here to help Asuma out. Asuma had a lot on his plate right now, what with his friend Chiriku pulling out of the Edinburgh show for personal reasons, as well as everything going on in Asuma’s own private life.

Now, though, the conversation at the other table was getting too interesting not to share. Particularly to someone who had recently taken over writing the weekly gossip page for the Arts section of a major newspaper. He leaned forward and murmured to Asuma, “That’s Kakuzu Taki and Hidan Yu over there. I’d heard some rumours they were together, but God, there can’t really be any doubt, can there?”

Asuma glanced quickly over and grimaced slightly. “No,” he agreed. “Actually I was at Akatsuki Gallery when they hooked up last week - it was pretty nauseating then as well.” He paused, giving them another sidelong glance. “Did Hidan just say he was from Southend?” he asked incredulously, chuckling rather mirthlessly. “He’s always said publicly that he was London born and bred!” But suddenly he was frowning. “Joking aside, it’s since then that Kakuzu’s sold all of Chiriku's work!” he said tensely. “I’ll fucking bet Hidan had something to do with it - Chiriku had a run-in with him last year at a Private View, and later on in his own studio building! I’m going to fucking say something!”

He started to get up, and Shikamaru pulled him back. “Is now really the time?” he asked. “Kakuzu owns a lot of your work as well and you can’t exactly afford to lose your representation with Kurenai-”

He shut up fairly abruptly at the look Asuma gave him. “It’s not like you to be so rash,” he murmured, all the same. “What’s got into you?”

“Those two are the reason Chiriku’s gallery dropped him! And they’re just sitting there canoodling!” said Asuma rather agitatedly and seeming to Shikamaru like he really might have had a little too much to drink. “If we don’t take a stand,” he continued dogmatically, “then guys like these are going to be walking all over us. We can’t afford to get dependent on the big collectors. That’s what the project space is all about!”

“Okay, well, I think it’s all pretty tiresome, but I’m there to back you up, of course,” said Shikamaru wearily, regretting now that he’d pointed them out. Kotetsu and Izumo were already nodding enthusiastically. They were never going to disagree with anything Asuma said. And to be honest, they weren’t really in a position to be made or broken by dealers like Kakuzu Taki. The project space was far more their level, though of course he’d never say that to their faces… “Can I just finish my risotto before you get us kicked out?” he asked wearily. He had a bad feeling about this.

Hidan leant back in his chair, looking at Kakuzu with his head on one side. “It was fucking easy, actually, fitting in with the art student crowd,” he told him. “I just sort of wandered in there. I was seventeen, I wasn’t really doing anything, I was fucking hacked off with the pointless, turf war shit in the suburbs - I mean, what kind of a reason is that for fucking fighting! I’d moved into a bedsit in Walworth by that time, and I just wandered into Camberwell one day - they needed a model, so I stripped off and, bingo, I had a job.”

“I’ve heard you’re quite special as a model...”

“Yeah, man, people say. I mean, I don’t mind giving anything a try, and I don’t have a problem holding poses, and I’m quite good at coming up with good ones, I guess, I mean, if they don’t have specific ideas. I don’t know, man, I just kind of like it, I guess. You don’t have to do anything, and everyone’s looking at you with this weird detached intensity, and they point heaters at you and bring you cups of tea... It’s peaceful. Not like fucking fashion.”

“But fashion’s where the money is, of course...”

Fuck the money, man, I don’t want to fucking do it anymore. I swear, I am not getting into fucking catwalk stuff. That stuff sucks balls, man. Photoshoots, OK, I can take that, ad campaigns, OK, but I am not prancing around on a fucking runway. Anyway, they want fucking anorexic fourteen-year-olds for that, now. Shit, I’ve been asked to do fucking underwear modelling, and that’s fucking degrading shit. I want to do more stuff like I did with Dei! I’m fucking excited about doing a live piece with him. That is going to be totally fucking awesome, man, seriously!”

Kakuzu considered, taking a sip of his wine. Fashion was lucrative, and obviously Hidan should keep a foothold there, but equally, it could do no harm if he had a reputation for picking and choosing his jobs.... nothing was worse for a model financially than appearing in the Boden catalogue, or in an M&S campaign... “Well, no harm in being particular,” he said. He refilled Hidan’s glass, still keeping hold of his hands.

“Hey!” said Hidan. “How am I supposed to drink that? You’re doing it to fucking torture me, aren’t you?” But for the first time, he was able to keep the undercurrent of actual grievance out of his voice. He could feel that Kakuzu was truly relaxing now, too, and he leant forward, shifting his hands around so that he was holding Kakuzu’s, rather than Kakuzu holding his.

“I like you Kakuzu,” he said. “You know that.” He tilted his head to one side and looked at Kakuzu quizzically. “So, am I still your sweetheart today?”

He looked teasing, but there was an undercurrent of sincerity to his words, and Kakuzu almost blushed. “I wasn’t sure you’d even remember that,” he said. “But yes.”

“What about yesterday? On the train?” Hidan’s tone was slightly challenging, slightly hopeful.

Kakuzu’s heart melted entirely. “Especially on the train,” he said. He got up. They’d managed to drink almost the entire bottle of wine, plus, for Kakuzu, several mineral waters. It was making a trip to the gents a necessity. “Back in a moment,” he murmured. He thought he might as well settle up at the same time. He was looking forward to getting Hidan back to the hotel...

Hidan poured himself the last of the wine and, entirely unabashed, stared around for something to amuse himself with until Kakuzu came back. The restaurant was still quite busy inside, but the few other people who had opted for the outside tables this early in the year had mostly gone now. There was only one other table occupied - just on the other side of their potted vine trellis arrangement. It caught his eye as it was occupied by four blokes, and they were all looking at him. In perhaps a not particularly friendly way, either.

Did they recognise him, he wondered? The first of the Comme des Garçons ad series was going out on billboards this weekend... But they looked far too hostile to be interested members of the public who’d spotted a celebrity. Were they just rabidly homophobic? He and Kakuzu had been being rather obvious, it had to be said... But actually, now he thought about it, he recognised one of them. Bearded fellow, big nose... He’d seem him around on the PV circuit; he was an artist of some kind.

All this time, he’d been staring back at them with just as much hostility as they were offering him, and finally, the bearded bloke got up and came over to him.

“And what the fuck do you want?” said Hidan, remaining seated in a nonchalant pose, slightly tipped back in his chair. “Do I know you?!”

“Asuma Sarutobi,” said beardy tersely, as though Hidan ought to have known. Which perhaps he should… the guy was fairly well known... “Did you know that last week your ‘boyfriend’ sold his entire collection of work by an artist named Chiriku, and his gallery’s dropped him as a result?”

Hidan hadn’t known that, but he knew Chiriku. They’d clashed several times, as Chiriku was a religious artist - a fucking Christian fundamentalist in Hidan’s opinion - and they didn’t really see eye to eye. Their ideologies opposed each other on pretty much every point, and to make matters worse, the fucker had a studio in the same building as Deidara… Anyway, his kind of shit was going right out of fashion, and he wasn’t surprised if Kakuzu had decided to make a quick buck out of it. “The Stanley Spencer of the Noughties?” he said mockingly, quirking an eyebrow. It was a nickname Chiriku was known to particularly dislike, probably preferring to think of himself as a latter day Fra Angelico. “I’m surprised Kakuzu had any in the first place. Why?”

“It’s no secret that you and Chiriku didn’t get along,” said Asuma. “Did you ask him to sell them?”

“No.” said Hidan insolently. “I expect he sold them because he finally realised they were shit.”

He realised a little late that the other three had come around him: two fairly beefy younger guys - Asuma’s goons, he thought dismissively - and one little sardonic-looking one. Suddenly the little one had his arm in a surprisingly tenacious grip. Right on the wound from yesterday too. He hadn’t been expecting an attack from that quarter and, before he could resist, he found himself jerked to his feet and pushed up against a wrought-iron gate just out of the pool of light spilling from the restaurant’s windows. As he made to get the guy off him the other two rushed to his defence, one catching him in the solar plexus, the other going for a kidney shot. It was fucking agonising, but he wasn't going to let them have the satisfaction of seeing that.

“Ouch, man,” he said languidly. He took a deep breath, letting the pain flood slowly through him, trying to relish it rather than let it overcome him. “That fucking hurt, you know? You people are so fucking rude!”

The goons hissed like scalded cats at his cool reaction to an attack that ought to have had him doubled over and gasping for breath. They drew back with expressions of dismay, narrowly avoiding an elbow to the face and a knee to the groin respectively. They still kept hold of his arms though, and Asuma stepped forward, to Hidan’s surprise actually holding a knife. He hadn’t really thought the guy would have it in him, but there it was, large as life and twice as shiny. This is really hotting up, he thought languidly. Somehow, he wasn’t even worried. He didn’t really believe Asuma would really cut him, and anyway, there was a voice at the back of his head saying, if he slices me up bad enough, I won’t have to do any more fashion modelling… Even if Kakuzu does think it’s lucrative.

“I don’t think you can even comprehend the value of a man like Chiriku,” said Asuma with a solemnity that seemed somehow hilarious to Hidan. He felt almost as relaxed as when he was in the middle of a ritual now - like he’d managed to get high on pure violence. Is this some kind of stag do? he wondered irrelevantly. Asuma somehow had the air of somebody enjoying his last moments of freedom. And actually seemed more than a little the worse for wear… He was talking again, and Hidan had to make a real effort to concentrate enough to take in what he was saying. He smirked with amusement - Asuma looked like a fish out of water when you zoned out the actual sound coming from his mouth…

“… but you can watch your filthy mouth when you speak about him,” he was saying, when Hidan finally got around to paying attention, and his voice was getting angrier by the second. “I’m not making allowances for your limitations! I don’t know what you think is funny right now, but if you think it’s a bit of a laugh to finish someone’s career - how about I finish yours?” He raised the knife so that it glinted in the light from the streetlamp. “You might need to be even more special than your dealer boyfriend thinks you are to carry this off!” He spoke through gritted teeth, as though holding back a weight of emotion.

Kakuzu had stepped through the restaurant doors just as Asuma pulled his knife on Hidan. He looked at the vacant table for less than a second before taking in the situation in the shadows behind it. He even had the presence of mind to take a photo on his iPhone.

He didn’t really feel the need for any cheesy lines - he just appeared behind Shikamaru and took him down silently with a blow to the small of the back, leaving him writhing on the pavement. He caught Kotetsu and Izumo by their throats as they turned to see what had happened, making them loosen their grip on Hidan, and it was all the time Hidan needed to force Asuma’s knife hand upwards and back to slash across his own face.

Asuma dropped to his knees as a quite incredible amount of blood sluiced down his cheek, immediately soaking his collar, the red stain then spreading, spreading, spreading over the expanse of his shirtfront; the colour of poppy petals.

Hidan gazed, mesmerised, licking a trickle of blood from the back of his own hand. It felt better than he could possibly have imagined. “Hidan!” he heard Kakuzu’s voice urgently in his ear. “Hidan, we need to go now.”

“Hey, just let me just finish this,” he pleaded, not feeling the urgency at all, despite recognising it in Kakuzu’s voice.

Kakuzu’s voice became stern. “Hidan. Now.”

Hidan felt like he was existing on a higher plane, walking on air. He gave in and let himself be guided by Kakuzu’s hand under his elbow, by his little steering touches in the small of his back; still so keyed up though, exhilarated and aroused by the sight smell taste of Asuma’s blood. He could hear the silly, terrified voices of his friends behind them, “Asuma!”… “Asuma!!” …“Call an ambulance!”… “Someone dial 999!”

Once they were round the corner, Kakuzu did just that. “I’d like to report an incident,” he said calmly. “Yes, an assault. My partner was attacked physically and verbally and threatened with a knife. We suspect it might have been homophobically motivated.” … “I think that one of the four may be injured - when Hidan threw his arm up to protect himself, the blade may have make contact with him.” … “I’m not certain - we left the scene as soon I’d managed to free him from them.” … “No, he’s not badly hurt himself,”… Hidan barely seemed to register what he was doing, for which he was grateful. He wasn’t at all sure he’d appreciate the necessity.

No-one seemed to be following them. It was late and the off-season; once they were off the High Street it was quiet and almost deserted. Kakuzu didn’t take his hand from Hidan’s arm as they made the five minute journey back to the hotel, and Hidan was in too much of a blood fuelled haze to resist his urging. He still had his fingers at Hidan’s elbow when they reached the door of his hotel room, and he awkwardly turned the key with his left hand so as not to have to let go.

The door closed behind them with a muffled click, and Kakuzu finally let out a sigh of relief. It felt incredibly peaceful - quiet, warm and private. He wondered whether Asuma and his friends would try to press charges. It seemed likely that Asuma would be too scared of counter-accusations to want to involve the police, given that the knife was his and he’d initiated the attack, but there was no way that the hospital would let something like that go unreported…

He stopped thinking about this quite abruptly when he felt Hidan’s arms go around his neck, and lips hot and urgent against his own. Hidan was pressing hard against him, and he could feel himself become just as aroused almost instantly. The excitement, the adrenalin, the heady thrill of fear that Kakuzu barely ever felt in his day to day life, they all suddenly merged together and converted into a purer need to fuck than he could ever remember feeling before.

They didn’t even make it over to the bed - they crashed onto the floor, fumbling with each other’s zips and buckles, Hidan was face down on the floor, fingernails digging deep into the thick pile of the hotel carpet, Kakuzu thrusting hard into him, and he thought as he just managed to hold himself back from coming shamefully early that it was the first time they’d had sex for a week, and it was actually all he’d been wanting to do ever since last Saturday. No wonder they’d been at each other’s throats! What the hell had they been thinking?

Chapter Text

Quietly slipping out of Yahiko’s door on Monday morning, Konan breathed a sigh that hovered delicately somewhere between relief and regret. It had been a lovely weekend, but it had only been lovely because of constant effort on Konan’s part. It hadn’t been the relaxed, nostalgic affair she’d wanted and imagined, but then that had been unrealistic, hadn’t it? Now was now, and then was then, and you couldn’t expect to go back to feeling things the way you did then just by recreating the circumstances. Things had changed.

She closed her eyes and smiled as the pale sunlight hit her face - the air was cool, but there was beginning to be warmth in the sun even this early in the day. She paused there a moment, her hand lingering on the wrought iron gate, then turned and walked briskly in the direction of the tube. She’d go and open up the gallery now, see a few clients and make a few last-minute arrangements for the Akatsuki crowd’s annual weekend away. Then she’d drop in on Nagato before lunch even though she’d told Yahiko she wouldn’t. She was worried about him and she knew she’d struggle to relax without seeing him. But there was no need for Yahiko to know that. It would only hurt him.

Back in his calm, oak-panelled office at around the same time, Kakuzu could still hardly believe that they seemed to have got away with the events of Saturday night. It hadn’t been until the following morning that a very sympathetic Scottish WPC had come to interview them, and her questions had really been very brief. Hidan had been incredibly uncooperative, but Kakuzu thought he had managed to subtly suggest that he was still in shock. It had had to be subtle, or Hidan would have vociferously denied it, but that didn’t mean it had to be very subtle. You could slide quite a lot past Hidan, Kakuzu was discovering.

They’d managed to keep it from Sasori, thank goodness, so the journey back had been uneventful, unless you counted Hidan’s high spirits giving even Deidara a headache. Hidan, in fact, was so buoyed up by his violent little encounter that he’d managed to secure funding for Deidara’s performance piece for the entire month of the festival through what seemed like just blind enthusiasm. That had been on Sunday. Yesterday, Kakuzu reminded himself - already it seemed like longer ago.

Hidan had been bored by the end of the journey, of course. Bored and feeling his bruises and starting to sulk about not being able to ‘finish the job’ the night before. Kakuzu had needed to be quite stern with him to stop him from being incredibly indiscreet and Hidan had, admittedly, deliberately spilt his coffee in retaliation, but Kakuzu was starting to get used to that sort of thing. It was like water off a duck’s back to him now. Hidan, in turn, seemed to be getting used to Kakuzu telling him off. Or maybe it simply sat better with him now that he was also getting regularly fucked by him. It made a certain amount of Hidan-ish sense.

After that it had started to rain quite heavily and by the time they pulled back into King’s Cross it was dark and gloomy. Sasori and Deidara had headed off together to get a taxi. Hidan had retrieved his bike from the other end of the train, and then at last they were alone together. They’d looked at each other a moment in silence - and Kakuzu could still feel the loaded nature of that silence just thinking about it now - before he’d managed to say simply, “Why don’t you come back to mine?”

It had been another stretched-out moment before Hidan had said casually, “Alright then,” and then, swinging a leg over his bike, “I’ll be there before you, maybe you should give me your keys?”

“Not a chance,” Kakuzu had immediately replied, not missing a beat this time. “And it’s not a race, Hidan. Be careful or you’re going to get yourself killed.”

All he’d got in reply to that was an eye-roll incongruously coupled with a profane gesture before Hidan shot down the platform like a bat out of hell. Kakuzu had headed at a rather more sedate pace down into the underground, and as the familiar warm wind from the tunnels hit his face he’d shivered slightly at the thought of Hidan riding through the rain. Almost immediately, though, he’d felt an answering bzz from his phone. A text. He’d been surprised to still have signal this far in, but eased it out of his pocket and glanced down. 'Waiting at the lights like a good boy. Get home quick its fucking horrible out here x'. His heart had done a little flip at the x, but it was the thought of Hidan obediently doing his bidding that had really got him aroused. He’d quickened his already swift pace…

And now, his mind was on anything but work - he was still seeing Hidan sitting on the top step in front of his door, drenched in rain, looking like a martyred saint, then wet clothes all over the floor of his hall as they’d barely been able to keep off each other for the length of time it took to close the front door; Hidan lounging afterwards in what Kakuzu considered an obscenely deep bath, drinking tea and looking at him speculatively with those violet eyes, his head on one side; Hidan on the bathroom floor after Kakuzu had hauled him out of the water and they’d fucked again, damp and flushed, breathing hard - the images filled Kakuzu’s head til he couldn’t even pretend to himself that he was working. He had to take the old private view invitation to the bathroom and give himself a few minutes to work it off…

He emerged from the bathroom feeling a little more like his normal self, but still the day seemed to stretch ahead of him, featureless, routine, and long. He picked up the phone and started to dial the number of a collector he was pretty sure would snap up some of his Sarutobis like a shot, but he put it down again before he’d finished. Now didn’t feel like quite the right time.

He thought he might write a brief report about the Akatsuki Edinburgh venue to send over to Konan, but it wasn’t the best choice of activity for reasons that he should really have thought of - after only a few sentences he was seeing Hidan spread-eagled on the gallery floor, and after mentally editing Deidara out of the picture he was down there with him, ripping off that miraculously unbloodied shirt, unzipping him, Hidan straining up to kiss him like he had on the bathroom floor yesterday; arching his body up against him as if he just wanted every inch of them touching… And then he thought of Hidan waking up in his bed that morning; of just reaching over for him and Hidan hard and ready and wanting him. Hidan slipping down under the covers to take him in his mouth, thrusting against him as he did so, any part of him, it didn’t seem to matter.

Kakuzu shook himself out of his reverie and deleted the last sentence he’d typed. It didn’t make a lot of sense and it definitely wasn’t appropriate for sending to Konan. He decided he’d better give her a call and see if she could meet him for an early lunch. No-one, surely, could possibly be sucked into carnal fantasies in such company. He picked up the phone again.

Konan found her heart was pumping anxiously as she turned in at the gate of Akatsuki’s building just off Piccadilly, where Nagato had the penthouse apartment. By the time she was in the lift, her mouth was dry, and she had butterflies in her stomach. She couldn’t have explained it, but somehow she had the feeling that Nagato would know she hadn’t been in Edinburgh. Maybe he’d had one of the other secretaries watch her and knew she hadn’t been on the train. Maybe one of the guys had let slip something about Kakuzu being there, and Nagato had put two and two together. What if Hidan and Kakuzu had been spotted together and photographed? Or just mentioned in some gossip column! Oh, how could she have been so reckless? What would it do to Nagato if he realised she’d deceived him? And what would he then do to Yahiko?

By the time the lift doors opened her knees were shaking. But outwardly, as always, she was all composure. Two of Nagato’s other secretaries were waiting in the atrium - she passed them with a gracious nod but no other acknowledgement. She was the only person who could walk in to Nagato unannounced. Perhaps, by now, the only person who could walk in at all. The thought at once made her stomach lurch uncomfortably but also made her feel somehow empowered. She took a calming breath and lifted her head but just as she was about to push open the heavy door, her phone rang. Kakuzu. Perhaps it would be a good idea to speak to him before seeing Nagato. She stepped back a few paces and immediately started feeling better. She decided she’d come back and see him after his afternoon rest.

“Kakuzu!” she exclaimed, picking up the call, and in the oppressive hush even her low voice sounded over loud. She walked swiftly towards the exit. “Yes of course, what a good idea. Perhaps we could meet somewhere in Holborn? That would be easy for both of us as I’m in Piccadilly now.”

Kakuzu said that in that case they might as well meet in the British Museum, with a half an idea forming in his mind that he might visit the reading room afterwards - surely the rarefied atmosphere in there could keep his imagination in check for a while? Anyway, he felt better for something to do. He supposed - the thought just came to him as he was shrugging on his jacket and scooping up his keys and phone - that he probably ought to warn Konan about the Asuma incident. Perhaps she should mention to Nagato Pein now that he had been in Edinburgh. She could say that they had unexpectedly bumped into him. It might be wiser in the long run.

Hidan had crawled out of Kakuzu’s bed an hour or so after Kakuzu had left for work. Kakuzu had woken him unacceptably early, but he’d had to forgive him when he’d realised what for... He was still smiling every time he thought of the feeling of Kakuzu’s cock in his mouth, the taste of him, his hands in his hair; of taking a moment to glance up at him and seeing the normally so in-control Kakuzu utterly in thrall to him... Though, naturally, he had resumed control very shortly afterwards! Hidan was still smiling every time he thought of that, too.

First he headed out to pick up a few things from his flat and then he went to Deidara’s studio to discuss a new idea Dei had been formulating over the weekend. That ended up taking a few hours. Now, after a quick lunch, he had a whole afternoon life-drawing workshop scheduled at St Martins. He arrived a little early, and from the excited buzz among the students he could tell that something was up. A few moments of eavesdropping told him exactly what, and perhaps since this was where Asuma did the majority of his teaching it was extremely fortunate that no-one was sure yet who else had been involved. He got out his phone and sent a quick text to Kakuzu before heading into the studio to disrobe.

Kakuzu received it just as he got back into the office after his lunch with Konan. ‘have u seen the news ;D x’ it said. The news?! Kakuzu brought up the BBC homepage. And there it was. Major UK Artist in Knife Fight. The story had broken. Kakuzu skimmed the article, then began to smile. Then he read it in detail, and checked the other major news sites. The story was everywhere, but he and Hidan were not yet named. Now was the time. Kakuzu picked up the phone and started the process that would sell his Sarutobis.

And by 5 o’clock, he had several potential buyers lined up. The works weren’t going to be hard to shift at all now, and what was more, they were commanding excellent prices. It was wonderful what a little notoriety could do…

Chapter Text

As he’d stripped off behind the grubby little screen in the corner of the studio, Hidan had been pleased to see that the bruises from his run-in with Asuma and his friends weren’t too noticeable anymore - it didn’t seem like the various excesses of the weekend were having much effect on him at all. But by the tail end of the life class the day was beginning to feel extremely long and he was starting to ache and cramp after only about five minutes into a pose. And this one was a ten minute one in a pretty challenging position. He should’ve told the tutor - the extremely eminent artist (and only very occasional teacher) Hatake Kakashi - to go onto shorter poses already. Oh well.

“Oi, Kakashi,” he called across the studio, still not moving though, “this one’s a bit fucking unsustainable, man, sorry.”

“OK Hidan, can you do two more minutes?” Kakashi replied immediately, his voice smooth and impassive. He didn’t look up from the student’s work he was focusing on.

Hidan winced as his left calf started to cramp up. He surreptitiously flexed it a minuscule amount and heard a huffing sigh from a student on that side of the room. “Maybe one and a half?” he offered.

“Right, one minute thirty everyone!” Kakashi declaimed to the class. “Finish up. I want to see the whole pose,” and Hidan heard a flurry of extra activity buzz around the room. Little fuckers. Why did they wait for Kakashi’s say so before hurrying the fuck up? He hated the way some colleges seemed to have a culture of pretending life models weren’t even people. Treating him like a piece of meat! A post-grad class like this ought to have better manners... It wasn’t like he could’ve held it any longer even if Kakashi had asked him to. He flexed his calf muscle again.

As usual in these situations, the minute and a half felt more like half an hour. Hidan’s professional pride prevented him from collapsing in agony, but only just. He tried to focus on something else. For obvious reasons he had to keep his mind off his personal life at all costs, so he thought about the piece he was going to be working on with Deidara. Dei had changed his mind about what he wanted to do and was now exploring the idea of casting sculptures in actual blood. Hidan wondered how much he’d need. He supposed he’d have to give it in batches, but Dei would have to make some kind of artistic sense out of that or he wouldn’t be happy with it. He’d been talking about a live process in the gallery, it sounded like something Kakuzu and Sasori wouldn’t be too pleased about...

Oh no, fuck no, not Kakuzu, out of my head, out! out! Hidan started thinking desperately about the most unsexy subjects he could - Sasori... Orochimaru... stilton vol-au-vents... but they kept leading his thoughts back to Kakuzu and it was very lucky for his modesty that Kakashi called time at that very moment. Hidan shot out of the pose and dived for his dressing gown before even taking a moment to massage some life back into his lower limbs. That had been an uncomfortably close call! He went for a little stroll around the room while the students changed the paper on their easels, for distraction and to ease off his cramp. He had to admit that the annoying huffing student - a pale, dark haired boy - was pretty talented. A pink haired girl had some serious technical ability, though maybe lacked flair. An intense looking blond boy had bucket-loads of flair, but his anatomy was all over the place...

“Ready Hidan?” asked Kakashi and Hidan headed back to the centre. “Are you alright to do two five minute poses?” he asked.

“How about five two minute poses instead?” Hidan suggested. “Stir them up a bit...” It sounded more challenging, but actually he really needed to keep moving at this stage, and he was good at coming up with quick-change positions. Sasori used to have him do it when they first started working together, though the demanding bastard liked him to do more like fifteen in a row.

Kakashi considered it a moment, then agreed, and made some loose suggestions. “If you just say ‘change’ after every two minutes,” said Hidan. “I’ll go straight into the next one.”

Kakashi nodded, told the kids to get five pieces of paper ready to go, and they began. And the first three were fine, but Hidan was tired now. By number four he was aching all over, and it was all he could do to keep a very obvious tremor in that troublesome left calf muscle under some sort of control. Kakashi called change, he went upright too quickly and suddenly the room was spinning. He was still moving into position, so he did a bit of damage control, leaning himself slowly back so he was supported by both hands instead of one. He thought he could probably just about do it. He wasn’t going to give up, anyway. The room didn’t stop spinning though, and the sounds of charcoal and graphite scraping on the easels moved in and out of focus disorientatingly, one moment as if they were looming over him, the next faraway and faint. He shut his eyes. That made it worse though. He opened them again and tried some deeper breathing. It helped for a couple of breaths, but then didn’t anymore and he started feeling a bit sick. How long had it been? Normally he could gauge really precisely but he was all out of kilter now and couldn’t even make an educated guess.

One of his wrists was getting shooting pains up it too - he hadn’t positioned it carefully enough in his hurry to get it down. He tried to flex it a minuscule amount, but that actually made the pain worse. Why the fuck hadn’t he insisted on a nice relaxing ten minute reclining pose?! Why the fuck was it only fucking occurring to him now?! “Hidan?” he vaguely registered Kakashi saying, his voice concerned. He found he couldn’t even tell how far away he was. Then, “Ten seconds everyone,” followed by “OK, time’s up people,” and he was sure it hadn’t really been the full two minutes, or even a full last ten, but he wasn’t going to argue the point - he slowly relaxed, trying not to bring his head forward too suddenly and embarrassingly pass out.

He found Kakashi was next to him, a quizzically anxious look on his face, proffering his dressing gown. “Don’t get up yet, will you?” he asked beseechingly. “You’ve gone awfully white... and I really don’t know what I’d do if you fainted on me - it’s never happened to me before!”

Hidan shrugged his dressing gown on and leaned his head on his knees. “Fuck...” he murmured.

“Alright, everyone, you’ve exhausted your model, piss off now,” he heard Kakashi say sweetly to his students, “leave your work for me to look at - back here tomorrow at 9am sharp!” and with a rustling of bags and clomping of feet they all headed for the door. Hidan was sure they must be talking shit about him, but what the hell. He took a deep breath and slowly raised his head. He felt a little better now and it was time to start moving so that he didn’t cramp up again.

Kakashi was immediately there giving him a hand, and hovered at his elbow for a few moments, effusively apologetic, til they reached the screen in the corner of the room where Hidan shed his dressing gown and started to pull on his clothes. Kakashi tactfully gave him some space by going to walk around the easels, looking at the final pictures. Hidan burned with shame. He felt undermined in the area of his work that was most important to him. Maybe he should just go into fucking fashion if he couldn’t take the pace of real art anymore.

“How long was it really, man?” he called to Kakashi, his voice sounding echoey and unnaturally loud in the deserted studio. Everything suddenly felt more peaceful. “Just over one,” Kakashi replied neutrally. “Are you alright? You look done in.”

“I’m- ”

Hidan was going to say ‘fine’, but shook his head instead. “I don’t know, man, that shit doesn’t happen to me! I don’t know what the fuck’s going on!”

Kakashi’s head suddenly appeared around the screen. “Look, can I give you a lift home?” he asked. “I brought the car, so...”

“Ah, I’m on my bike, man-” Hidan began, but Kakashi cut him off.

“I’ve got a bike rack - no excuses. Now, are you going to make me regret this by saying you live South of the river...?”

Hidan laughed. “I live in London Bridge,” he said, “but you can take me to Hampstead.” He wondered if Kakuzu would be home by the time they got there. He still hadn’t given him a key, despite Hidan dropping many extremely heavy hints. He seemed to like to keep him at a bit of a disadvantage... Well, he could always sit on the doorstep and wait. He didn’t want to go back to his flat. But he really did hope he wouldn’t have to wait long. He still felt jittery and upset, and maybe seeing Kakuzu would stop that. If Kakuzu was in the mood to be nice to him, anyway.

They walked out of the studio together, and Kakashi was still apologising as Hidan unlocked his bike from the racks and wheeled it the short distance to where Kakashi was parked. “I feel responsible, I should have taken better care of you! I’m going to get a horrible reputation and no models will ever want to work with me again!”

“Well, seriously, I’m a lot more worried about my reputation,” Hidan countered, aggrievedly.

But he was glad to sink into the comfort of a warm car. He’d have liked to just close his eyes and sleep. But Kakashi seemed to be in a chatty mood. “So,” he said chirpily, starting up the engine, “whereabouts in Hampstead...?” And the interested gleam in his eye told Hidan he was going to be asked probing questions all the way there...

Kakuzu was just walking up the street as they pulled up in front of his house. He quickened his pace slightly as he recognised Hidan’s bike on the back of a strange car, and his interest was piqued even further when he saw Kakashi get out. They hadn’t met before, but of course Kakuzu knew him. He felt a surge of professional excitement. He'd wanted to own a Kakashi for years now, and he'd never managed to get his hands on one. Kakashi was not prolific, and his works, once sold, rarely changed hands. Normally he’d have a buyer lined up months before a work in progress was even near complete - it was extremely frustrating. Never had an artist whose work he desired managed to evade him so long, but that was the man all over - evasive. Now, he didn't quite make eye contact, even as he called across the street in a cheekily intimate tone, "You must be the famous Kakuzu! I've brought you your boyfriend back - we've been overworking him over at St Martin’s..."

"Well!” Kakuzu said, “it's Hatake Kakashi, isn't it?” He stepped out into the road to cross towards them. “What a pleasant surprise! And how on earth did you manage to get Hidan into a car? I think you're doing a better job than I am."

Kakashi acknowledged his identity with a slight inclination of his head. "He is horrifically energetic," he said. "But he does seem to know his limits, even if he’s not the best at communicating them!" Kakuzu couldn’t help laughing at that and Kakashi’s eyes slid away from him almost bashfully. Kakuzu was struck by how extremely attractive he was. Stunning colouring, a lot like Hidan's. Slighter though, more delicate-looking. Incredibly perfect features and David Bowie eyes - Kakuzu could've looked at him for hours.

But instead he headed to the passenger door and opened it for Hidan, offering him a hand. "All tuckered out, are we?” he murmured softly, leaning into the car, “what's brought this on?" He wasn't overly worried - Hidan had probably spent the morning messing about with Deidara. Not to mention everything they'd got up to together before Kakuzu had left for work - but he did want to make sure of him. He was finding that this was becoming a constant instinct around Hidan.

Hidan took Kakuzu’s hand and levered himself out. Seemed like he was in the mood to be nice, but all the same there was something a little distant about him. He wasn’t completely focused on Hidan, and Hidan recognised that this was making him want to act like a douchebag until he’d fucking earned that focus back! But he was tired, and he didn’t want Kakuzu to be mean to him, so he was torn. He settled for being just a little bit recalcitrant and uncooperative. “Just a fucking long day is all,” he muttered, shooting a quick glance up at Kakuzu and then looking away.

But now Kakuzu was checking him over, putting a hand on his forehead, then turning over both his hands over to check his wrists, and Hidan was like putty in his hands when he did that. He looked back up at him, but Kakuzu was saying something to Kakashi. At the same time though, the hand Hidan had deliberately not let go of slid up to his wrist to check his pulse, and stayed there. "I'm a big admirer of your work - I'd love to own a piece," Kakuzu was calling across the top of the car. “Do you have anything you’re ready to sell now? Or any exhibitions coming up?”

Hidan’s heart rate started to increase, it was so fucking hot, Kakuzu just standing there, one hand on him, like he owned him, protective and custodial but pretty much completely ignoring him. He felt almost weak at the knees - he’d be trembling with desire soon, and Kakuzu knew it, the bastard. He could see the corner of his mouth twitching up just a tiny bit.

Kakashi was watching them together with great interest which he didn't try in any way to disguise, but he was obviously less than comfortable at the turn his conversation with Kakuzu was taking. "Well... I spend a lot of time on each piece I make," he said noncommittally. "I don't know when the ones I’m working on at the moment will be ready to leave the studio..."

Kakuzu, satisfied that Hidan wasn’t about to keel over, and that he’d got him sufficiently worked up that as soon as they were alone together he’d be able to live out all of the day’s fantasies, let go of his wrist and handed him his keys, swinging them helpfully by the front door one and - just for a brief moment - giving Hidan his full attention. "You go on in and sit down,” he said. “And have some water. I’ll get your bike. You can do the code, can't you?"

Hidan nodded - he’d watched Kakuzu do it enough times. And Kakuzu had never ever handed over his keys before - he wasn’t about to turn them down. He left Kakuzu and Kakashi talking shop, firing a casual, “thanks for the ride, man,” over his shoulder. Kakashi looked like he'd do anything to wriggle out of the situation - Kakuzu, however, he’d rarely seen look so fired up. He was utterly in his element. Even as he lifted Hidan’s bike down off the rack, he was still utterly concentrated on getting what he wanted, and it seemed to Hidan that Kakashi didn’t stand a chance. He’d be offering Kakuzu a tour of his studio whether he liked it or not - his mind was obviously a complete blank as far as extricating himself from this went. He clearly didn’t want to be rude, but it was equally obvious that he wasn’t too keen on Kakuzu owning any of his work. Hidan wondered why.

He opened the door and immediately the dogs were all around him. He was a lot better with them by now though. They were used to him and so impeccably trained that they probably had his back almost as much as Kakuzu’s now. Tsuchi slipped through the door though - nothing Hidan was going do about that - and ran to Kakuzu’s side, giving Kakashi the excuse he’d been groping for moments earlier. Kakuzu was in the middle of inviting him in for a cup of tea; Kakashi politely but firmly declined. He stroked Tsuchi’s ears and said he had to get back to walk his own dogs. And at that moment the alarm started to go off, as Hidan had - of course - completely forgotten about entering the security code. Kakuzu headed for the door and with a brief wave Kakashi made his escape.

Seeing Kakuzu coming up the path looking seriously irritated, Hidan made a dive into the hall toilet and locked the door. He could hear Kakuzu expertly entering the override code and then slamming the door shut with quite a bit more force than was customary for him. Hidan’s eyes widened. Was Kakuzu going to be super pissed? He took a little longer than necessary sorting himself out - taking a slash and washing off the grime of the art-room - so he was surprised to find Kakuzu still in the hall when he came out.

He was just leaning on the wall and waiting for him. The dogs were waiting too. It was intimidating. “Hidan!” he grumbled, easing himself off the wall and pushing Hidan peremptorily down the hall into the kitchen with one hand in the small of his back. “I nearly had him there! Just another minute and I’m certain he’d have sold me something - even if it was just a sketch it would’ve been a foot in the door!”

Hidan looked up at him out of the corners of his eyes, trying to gauge how pissed he really was. Should he apologise? Would Kakuzu think it was insincere and get more pissed?? “Hey, don’t be mad at me Kakuzu??” he pleaded, making his best puppy eyes. “It was kind of your fault for touching me up out there, with Kakashi looking and all, you can’t expect me to remember everything under circumstances like that...” He trailed off, bracing himself for a bad reaction.

Kakuzu took a deep breath and closed his eyes for a moment, keeping his expression unreadable. “Well. Never mind,” he said finally, abruptly, pouring a glass of water and handing it to Hidan. “Maybe it’s for the best.”

“Huh?” said Hidan. He obediently drank his water and watched Kakuzu putting down four bowls of dog food. “What do you mean?”

Kakuzu didn’t answer for a moment as he washed his hands and carefully dried them, and then finally his attention was all on Hidan again. And this time, the moment wasn’t a fleeting one. “I mean,” he said softly, smoothly, very close to Hidan now, “that Hatake Kakashi has been looking at you naked all afternoon, while I’ve been shut in my office with just my imagination.” His hands were at Hidan’s waist now, undoing his belt buckle and buttons, then sliding up his tight black t-shirt. “And that just isn't an acceptable state of affairs, is it?” he continued, peeling the t-shirt over Hidan’s unresisting upper body.

“No,” Hidan murmured back, relief flooding through him, tension dropping away, his arms snaking back down and around Kakuzu’s neck, “it isn’t fucking acceptable, and, you know, you popping into my head every five minutes made things really fucking difficult this afternoon...” he broke off with a light gasp as Kakuzu unzipped his fly and slid in a hand to play with his already semi-hard cock.

He leaned forwards into him, thrusting himself harder against Kakuzu’s hand, standing on tiptoe, his lips brushing against Kakuzu’s. “For some reason no-one wants to draw a life model with a big fuck-off erection,” he whispered. “I don’t get it, do you...?"

"Well," Kakuzu murmured back, "I know when I see you with a ‘big fuck-off erection’, I don't want to draw you..." Hidan gasped again as Kakuzu started stroking his cock up and down, then grasping it harder as it swiftly became exactly what they were discussing. "So maybe all those art school brats just want to fuck you too..."

Hidan was struggling to form coherent sentences now, but he couldn't let that stand. "Man - not one of those - fucking pussies - could - fuck - " he forced out. "Ahh," he gasped as Kakuzu lifted him onto the work surface and knelt in front of him, gripping him tightly and running his tongue along his cock before taking the head of it into his mouth, then sucking it in deep. He couldn't think at all while Kakuzu was doing that. And now he was moving in and out, fuck, he was unbelievably good at this. "Fuck," Hidan breathed, "oh fuck, Kakuzu!"

Kakuzu paused a moment to look up at him. It didn't matter that he was on his knees in front of Hidan - he was still undeniably in charge. "You were saying?" he asked, lips curving into a smile, keeping Hidan on the edge of rational thought by keeping one hand lazily running up and down his cock, thumb sliding lightly over the tip, tilting Hidan further backwards so he could start to explore further back, his fingertips - slick with pre-come now - pushing a little way in, running around the edge, just getting him prepped and starting to relax.

"Not a single - one of them - has anything like - the - the - authority it takes - to make me want to be fucked - rather than fuck!" Hidan managed to piece together, "not even fucking - Kakashi - hot as he is!"

"He is hot," Kakuzu agreed smoothly, that elusive authority oozing from every pore.

"Huh?!" Hidan gripped Kakuzu's hair and made him look him in the eye. “As hot as me?”

"No-one's as hot as you, babe," Kakuzu growled, detaching Hidan’s grip and taking him back in his mouth for another few long hard sucks, then settling into a rhythm that all too soon brought Hidan right to the edge of climax. Kakuzu, feeling Hidan’s cock almost buzzing against his tongue, interrupted his rhythm and let it slide out against his cheek.

"Ah, you fucking bastard," Hidan moaned as Kakuzu pulled away, breathing hard himself now, "that's not fucking fair!"

"Oh, I'm not done with you yet," Kakuzu smiled. His heart seemed to pound in time with Hidan’s as he straightened up and pressed forward against him, kissing him long and hard, letting him taste himself in Kakuzu’s mouth, then working Hidan's jeans the rest of the way off and fishing the condoms and lube out of the back pocket before dropping them into a heap on the floor. Nearly at the end of the tube, he registered. We'll need more of that pretty urgently...

Expertly rolling a condom onto himself with one hand and lubing up Hidan with the other, fingers going further in now, teasing him, then slowly easing into him, Hidan's legs wrapping around his waist, then up over his shoulders, making inarticulate moans and nonsensical half sentences, the frustrations of the day fell away from Kakuzu along with any thoughts of anyone else. One arm went firmly around Hidan, stopping him from thrusting him straight into the bread bin and the toaster, his other hand started slowly and teasingly working Hidan's cock.

Tempting as it was to thrust into him hard and fast, he made himself go long and slow, coming nearly all the way out before easing back in as deep as Hidan could stand. He kept this up even as Hidan, now completely open, started thrusting back against him, pulling his hips forward and incoherently begging him for “more” and “harder”. He changed to a grinding, circling motion that made Hidan moan and cling on to him, then back to long and deep again.

After a few more minutes he stopped moving, in deep, to whisper in Hidan's ear, "versatile you may be, but this," - he started up again with a quick, slightly harder thrust, out and back in, " - this is what you really like," - another pause and another thrust - "isn't it, Hidan?"

He took away his supporting hand to tilt Hidan's face up towards him, forcing him to support himself completely for a moment, his hands moving frantically backwards to brace himself and stop himself from barking his spine against against the bread bin. Kakuzu looked deeply into violet eyes glazed with excitement and lust and, "hmm...?" he questioned, thrusting hard again.

"Yes," Hidan gasped, between almost sob-like pants, "yes, fuck, yes yes," and now Kakuzu was really going, one hand in the small of Hidan’s back again, just about keeping him upright, Hidan screaming in ecstasy, the hand other grasping his cock and pumping hard and - pausing only to change his rhythm slightly to make sure Hidan climaxed with him - he came harder than he could remember doing since he was a teenager.

Collapsing forward over Hidan, for a moment oblivious to the fact that he was crushing him against the various appliances and scattering wooden spoons over the floor, as well as racking up a considerable dry-cleaning bill over the front of his suit, Kakuzu took a moment to gather his strength and let his heart-rate start to subside. Hidan’s cock was still in his hand, still hard and pulsing gently, and as he straightened up and slowly pulled out, shedding the condom onto the floor without a second thought, Kakuzu couldn’t resist sliding his slippery hand up and down that perfect torso, brushing lightly over his nipples and then up to his face, running a thumb over his lower lip. Hidan’s pointy pink tongue slid out to taste himself again. He unwound his legs from around Kakuzu and suddenly all his strength seemed to leave him at once.

Kakuzu pulled him out of the debris, sliding him off the work surface in the process and having to catch him as his legs gave way upon hitting the floor. Hidan clung onto him, grabbing handfuls of his lapels and leaning into him. He was trying hard to steady himself but he was clearly completed used up; Kakuzu had to half carry him through the hall and up the stairs. He elbowed open the door of his room and, rolling Hidan unceremoniously onto the bed, he shed his jizz-covered clothes and flung them over a chair. He had intended to get dressed again straight away and get on with some of the many things that were mounting up for him to do, but instead found himself flopping down next to the exhausted Hidan, pulling his head into the crook of his shoulder, wrapping a proprietorial arm around him. Once down, he found he was pretty spent too. And then Hidan, with a last burst of energy, managed to wriggle over into his favourite half-on-top-of-him position and Kakuzu had to accept that this was where he was staying for a while. 

He raised his head a moment to look at Hidan, smiling at his wanton dishevelled state. Hidan was looking steadily back at him, still with those sexy bedroom eyes. “Total tops are pretty fucking hard to find,” he murmured sleepily. “How come one as good as you managed to stay single so fucking long..?”

Kakuzu chuckled dryly. “I’m not really such a very nice top as all that! I have to confess I can be... impatient... at times,” he said, laying his head back down, staring up at the ceiling. “It’s just lucky that you're just extremely good at relaxing... and that you seem to like taking it quite hard...”

“You don’t say?!” Hidan said, smirking obnoxiously - Kakuzu could hear it in his voice. “You’re a lot fucking nicer than me though,” he admitted, “I’m fucking horrible as a top.”

“Yes. I can believe it.” Kakuzu lifted his head again and raised an eyebrow. “I imagine I’m doing the scene a huge favour by keeping you in your place - It pains me to think of all the poor boys you must’ve ripped to shreds while you were waiting for me to come along!”

“Although,” he added, glancing down at their entwined bodies, one caressing hand drifting back to Hidan’s cock, which stirred eagerly under it, “you’re not really in a position to do quite as much damage as I am, are you?” And rolling him over so that he was pinning him to the bed, he laughed infuriatingly at Hidan’s torrent of outraged protests over such an unfair comparison before taking great satisfaction in using his own mouth to shut him up.

Chapter Text

An hour later they still hadn't bothered to get out of bed, although they had moved up to the head end and got under the covers. Hidan was leaning against Kakuzu's chest, flicking casually through Grindr on his phone. Kakuzu was reading the New Statesman at a slightly awkward angle. 

"By the way, Hidan," Kakuzu said, glancing down and raising an eyebrow at Hidan’s choice of activity, "Konan's organised an Akatsuki weekend away, and it's this weekend. We'll need to go."

"Would you fuck him?" Hidan asked, turning his phone towards Kakuzu and showing him the guy on his screen. Kakuzu adjusted the angle so the evening sunlight wasn't glancing off it. "No," he said definitively. "So...?"

"Ugh," Hidan moaned, twisting around to look up at him. "It'll be a pretentious fuck-fest, I don't wanna go."

"It's an exceptionally good networking opportunity - there's not really a choice, Hidan." Kakuzu didn't even bother to entertain the possibility that he could go alone. Although obviously until a week ago that was exactly what he'd assumed he'd be doing. Neither did Hidan. He tossed his phone aside and rolled over on top of Kakuzu, elbows digging into his chest. 

"But, Kakuzuuuu?" he wheedled, employing the puppy eyes that had seemed to work so well for him earlier, "we could just spend the weekend fucking and staying in bed all day and instead we'll have to make conversation with Itachi Uchiha and fucking Sasori, and I might actually kill someone this time...!!!"

"Well, that's just a risk we'll have to take I'm afraid," Kakuzu replied impassively. He pulled Hidan back down again. "No more fuss - we're going," he said firmly. "Deidara will be there," he added a little more placatingly. "You like Deidara."

"Well, he can be an annoying little prick and I see him all week anyway," Hidan said sulkily, but Kakuzu felt that his resistance was starting to ebb.

"My neighbour Kisame will be coming too - he's a nice guy," he continued, pressing his advantage. 

Hidan sniggered a little and picked up his phone. "This guy, you mean?" he asked Kakuzu, firing up Grindr again. And it was indeed Kisame on the screen. Hidan studied his profile. "Isn’t he that journalist who’s always hanging round Itachi Uchiha? He obviously wants some dick, right now, maybe the whole Itachi thing isn't working out..." 

Kakuzu took the phone, with some interest. "I've spotted a big hole in your logic - at least, I hope I have!" he said. “Because I think you’ve had quite enough dick for a little while at least.” He ignored Hidan’s protests that, hey, he was just looking. “And how do you know he’s got anything going on with Itachi?” he continued impassively. “I think they’re just friends.”

“Sasori told Dei,” Hidan replied. “He normally knows fucking everything but hopefully he’s wrong...” Hidan found Itachi completely impossible to deal with. He always ended up feeling like a complete idiot in his company, and it was obvious Itachi didn’t think too much of him either.

'50 feet away' Kisame's Grindr profile read. 'Looking for: Fun. Into: Cute guys 18-25'. Kakuzu did a slight double-take. 18?? Really Kisame?! All of a sudden a yellow speech bubble popped up. 'Looking for now?' it said.

"Huh?" said Kakuzu. "What does he mean, looking for now?"

"Did he really?!" Hidan took his phone back to look for himself. "Ohh, Kakuzu, you're about to get educated, man," Hidan giggled. "Haven't you ever been on here before?"

"It's not really my scene," Kakuzu began, before seeing Kisame's little speech bubbles pop up again with 'you're really hot' and then simply 'BJ?'

"Hey!" he growled, quite shocked, showing it to Hidan. “Is this normal behaviour? Does that mean what I think it means?”

“Oh yeah, man. Well, I get it all the time, anyway,” Hidan replied, taking the phone back. Giggling slightly psychotically, he typed ‘naked with a friend of yours right now sorry dude’. He sent it before Kakuzu could even think about trying to stop him. The corner of Kakuzu’s mouth started to twitch in helpless amusement and after about 10 seconds his phone buzzed with a text from Kisame. ‘oh shit sorry man’ it said.

Hidan, cackling mercilessly, added ‘see you at the weekend xx’, then started typing ‘Kakuzu’s getting a BJ right -

But Kakuzu managed wrench his phone away from him before he finished. “Enough from you now, you little cock-tease,” he said, pinning him to the bed, “poor Kisame! I’m shutting this wretched thing down before you blue-ball the whole town!”

“If you can figure out how,” Hidan murmured insolently, shifting provocatively underneath him.

Kakuzu managed to get out of Kisame’s profile without too much trouble, but it did take him a few moments to find how to log out. During those moments he registered with surprise and again, that little surge of excitement, that Hatake Kakashi was on there, and judging from the distance he was probably on the Heath. Probably walking his dogs, like he’d said, rather than just cruising, but still. He almost mentioned it to Hidan just to make him laugh, but then decided, perhaps not this time. He shut down the app - not that hard really - and tossed Hidan’s phone safely out of reach.

Leaving Hidan ruffled and out of breath, he swung his legs over the edge of the bed and got up. Hidan made a grab for his hand, but Kakuzu managed to evade him easily enough. “I really do have to walk the dogs now,” he explained, walking over to the chest of drawers to get a fresh set of clothes. “You can come if you want, but I think you might do better to have a restful evening.”

Hidan sat up. He kind of wanted to go along, because he didn’t really like being alone much, and it was mentally restful being with Kakuzu. You could count on him to do the thinking, if thinking had to be done. But. He was covered in dried sweat and cum and really needed a shower, and although rest was a bit of a foreign concept to him, he had to accept that he still feeling a bit knackered.

He moaned about it to Kakuzu, who just shook his head, and rolled his eyes in mock exasperation. “Idiot,” he said tolerantly. “You lose a shit-load of blood, you get sucker-punched in a couple of vital organs, you spend the next few days getting your little ass fucked more than can possibly be good for you, and you can’t think why you’re feeling a little less bouncy than normal? Do you actually have the capacity for rational thought?” He ruffled Hidan’s already tousled hair and pushed him back against the pillows. “Honestly!” he exclaimed.

“Hey Kakuzu!” Hidan called after him as he left the room.

“Yes, Hidan?”

“It is good for me!”

He heard Kakuzu laughing quietly as he went down the stairs and he rolled into the warm space he’d left. But even before he heard the front door close he was on the edge of boredom.

Before heading on up to the Heath, Kakuzu took a minute to go and knock on Kisame’s door. He didn’t want Hidan’s antics to get in the way of a nice easy friendship. He rang the doorbell and leant on the doorframe while he waited, trying to school his features into a not-angry look.

Kisame opened the door, and he needn’t have worried, their eyes met and he could tell they’d reached pretty similar conclusions. He spread his hands in a gallic kind of shrug, Kisame chuckled, looking down and shaking his head.

“What can I say?” Kakuzu began, “He’s a handful...”

“I am honestly so sorry, man,” Kisame started saying at the same time, still chuckling though. “I should’ve thought!”

“Don’t mention it, really,” Kakuzu insisted. “If I’m going to let him dick around on Grindr while he’s in my bed I suppose that’s what I have to expect! Anyway, I’m off to the Heath but I just wanted to make sure we were ok.”

“Of course we’re ok, man,” Kisame replied. “Well, I mean, I’m actually pretty fucking relieved that you’re ok with it. Congratulations, anyway! He is smoking hot.”

“Alright, enough, that might be about my limit!” Kakuzu protested, still smiling though. He headed back up the basement steps with a brief wave. Kisame's phone started to ring, and he turned back inside.

He’d had only been gone about 5 minutes by the time Hidan was too restless to stay in bed. He went down to the bathroom and had a shower, but Kakuzu seemed to have an odd idea about when and how much hot water might be needed of an evening, so it didn’t kill a lot of time. Then he wandered down to the kitchen and pulled on a fresh pair of boxers and jeans from his rucksack.

He ate an apple from Kakuzu’s fruit bowl, and fastidiously picked up the used condom in a piece of kitchen towel and wiped the floor where it had been. Then he trailed back up to the living room, thinking vaguely of familiarising himself with Kakuzu's musical tastes. After a quick glance through he didn’t feel like he could face any of it, though. Fucking Sting and his lute, particularly. He mooched over to the window to see if he could see onto the Heath. Maybe he’d be able to see Kakuzu in the distance. But instead he noticed that Kakuzu hadn't even bothered to lock his bike! Of course, Kakuzu had handed over his keys, but Hidan hadn’t reciprocated. Well! This might be Hampstead but that didn't mean some little chav might not be passing by, ready to jack it and take part of Hidan's soul with him! He felt a surge of irritation - Kakuzu should have thought to bring it into the hall!

He ran back down to the kitchen, grabbed his keys from the pocket of his discarded jeans and shot through the hall and down the steps. He did notice the loud slam behind him, but didn't really register it as a problem because his keys were in his hand. He D-locked his precious shiny steed safely to the railings, and then, oh shit, he thought. My keys. Not Kakuzu's keys.

He looked up dumbly for a moment at the massive, imposing red brick front of the house. Barefoot and shirtless, this was a little bit more of a problem than it could've been. He felt in his pocket for his phone, and yes, thank fuck for that, he’d brought it down. It was his work phone though, and a recent enough freebie from a fashion shoot that Kakuzu's number was only on the old one. And he was fucked if he could remember a fucking mobile number. And even if he could, he thought, maybe he wouldn't call. 'You little idiot,' he could hear Kakuzu's exasperated tone in his head - loaded, even in his imagination, with an unflattering total lack of surprise. ‘How on Earth did you manage to do that?’ And, to be honest, even if he started back now he’d probably be a while.

He shivered - it was getting a little chillier now. Even though the sun was still out, afternoon had become evening while they’d been lying around in Kakuzu’s bed... Then he had a bright idea. He could pay this Kisame guy a call! Surely someone who would offer him a blowjob just like that could stand him a cup of tea and a place to keep warm for half an hour! Getting up Grindr again he was relieved to see Kisame was still online, and still only 30ft away. He took a few experimental paces up the road away from the Heath. No, that wasn't right. The other way then. That was more like it. 25ft... 20... 15... He hesitated a moment - basement flat or front door? Well, single guy, journalist, not a fucking banker like Kakuzu... What was more likely? He went with the basement. It seemed to be the right choice and he trotted down the steps with a fair amount of confidence. Treading on something sharp on the last step, he hesitated for a moment, rubbing his foot. But the door was actually open - all he had to do was pop his head around.

"Hey, man? You Kisame?" he asked. The room seemed dark after the bright sunlight outside - he could just make out a figure - very tall - at the stove, his back to the door.

Kisame turned around. "Oh!" he said sharply, clearly surprised, “I wasn’t expecting--”

Hidan gave a rueful, appeasing kind of smile. He hadn't really thought about how to approach this conversation - someone who cared about social niceties would have found it profoundly awkward.

That wasn't Hidan though. "It's OK man, I haven't come for the blowjob," he said. "Um... I've..." He paused. How to make this sound less dumb than it actually was? "I've just managed to lock myself out of Kakuzu's house and he's walking the dogs, and..." He came around the door. "Can I come in?"

Kisame came across the kitchen towards him and Hidan tried to read his expression, but Kisame wasn't an easy guy to read. He was powerfully built. Rugged and pale-eyed and kind of fierce-looking. Hidan suddenly felt at quite a bit of a disadvantage.

Kisame was glad to have a distraction though. He’d just got off the phone with Itachi and it had been a pretty emotional call. But there was really nothing more he could do right now - Itachi said he wanted to be alone for a while - so dwelling on it wasn’t helping anyone. And taking in Hidan’s state of undress and damp hair he was quick to usher him inside. “Hey, sorry if I seemed a bit abrupt just then,” he said, and his voice was friendly enough. “I thought you were someone else. Good to meet you in person.”

“Thanks, man,” said Hidan. Kisame’s kitchen was nice. It was fairly low-ceilinged, with a big square pillar in the middle, but warm and golden with evening sunlight because there was a big bay window and it wasn’t a very low basement - the level of the pavement was only about halfway up the window and the basement area was reasonably wide. There was a large pine table in front of the window and surfboards stacked in the corner behind the door. Hidan could see a couple more and other outdoorsy-looking kit down a hallway through another door.

Kisame pulled out a chair at the end of the table and Hidan sat down. “You’re in a bit of a fix, aren’t you?” he said, looking down at his bare feet as Hidan started to rub the sole of the foot again. “Do you want some tea?” he offered. “Or a beer? Kakuzu will probably be another half hour at least, if he takes his normal route. He stopped by,” he explained, seeing Hidan’s confusion.

“Ohh,” Hidan “OK. Cool.” He accepted a beer and Kisame cracked it open for him and slid it across the table. Kakuzu smoothing things over, as usual, thought Hidan. He wondered briefly if he would’ve mentioned it to him himself. Still, he felt a lot better just for having some company. Kisame felt good about himself because he was now defying the ‘douchebags of Grindr’ stereotype that he’d very nearly fallen into, and they were soon chatting away easily.

Kakuzu was enjoying a little bit of alone time. It was a beautiful evening, and the thought of Hidan waiting for him at home was a very gratifying one. The dogs hadn’t had a proper walk with him for a few days now, so he didn’t want to hurry. He took a slightly longer circuit than usual, one that would bring him off the Heath near the pharmacy on Hampstead High Street, so that he could pick up some more lube. He texted Hidan to ask him what he wanted for supper, but there was no reply. He wondered if he’d had fallen asleep - it didn’t seem unlikely given the day he’d had.

A little pug in a blue coat scampered up and skittered around the legs of his dogs, who sniffed at it with interest. Kakuzu looked around to see who it might belong to and - was that Hatake Kakashi in the distance? He seemed to have a few more with him as well. Kakuzu didn’t want to seem too pushy, though, so he just raised a hand in greeting. Maybe next time it would be more natural to go over and chat. But right now, he should probably start thinking about getting back to Hidan.

Back at Kisame’s, both guys were on their second beer, and although Kisame was absolutely not intending to make any kind of move, and he did believe Hidan when he said that wasn't what he'd come for, he had to admit that he was even more attractive in the flesh than in his Grindr profile pic (not the normal way round, by any means!). And he was absolutely bang-on Kisame's type. How'd Kakuzu swing it, the lucky bastard? 

He had to admire the easy poise of him too, swigging beer at the kitchen table of a guy he'd never met before, shirtless and shoeless, but still totally at ease. Right now, he was leaning back in his chair, one leg draped over the arm, one nicely-shaped bare foot swinging back and forth and Kisame could just imagine catching hold of it at the top of the arc it was making, running his thumb along the instep, leaning forward and-- With a little jolt that he realised that he probably needed to stop feeling so smug about keeping his mind and hands off Hidan now, because his mind was very much not playing ball.

Still. Hidan was fun company and having him around was stopping him from dwelling too much on all Itachi’s problems. It was worth a bit of sexual frustration. Or a lot of sexual frustration - after all, he'd been looking for hook-ups an hour ago because he'd been horny then. He made an effort to get his mind back on track. What had he been saying? He was trying to keep his eyes of Hidan’s bare chest, and it was seriously distracting.

He got up and went over to the stove to turn down the sauce he was cooking. It just needed to reduce a tiny bit more. He took a packet of fresh pasta out of the fridge and started to read the instructions. “You don’t mind, do you?” he asked Hidan, over his shoulder. “Did you and Kakuzu eat already?”

Hidan’s stomach gave an enormous rumble. “Uh... no...” he admitted. “We kind of forgot... or I did anyway... I guess Kakuzu thought we’d eat when he got back.”

“Hey, that won’t do,” Kisame said, getting down another plate. “He’s later than usual and you’re clearly starving! There’s more than enough of this, I’ll just stick it all in.” He put the kettle on for more hot water.

“Can you text Kakuzu?” Hidan asked. “I don’t have his number on this phone.”

“Sure,” said Kisame, getting out his phone. “You have more than one..?” he asked, as he flicked through to find Kakuzu’s number.

“Ah, man, all models do,” Hidan said, looking almost embarrassed. “Fashion people just give you shit all the time, it’s in fucking goody bags and shit like that, and you sort of might as well use it. I’d almost forgotten that it’s not normal by now, to be honest, man. This is technically my work phone...” He watched Kisame send his text to Kakuzu, the idea that Hidan’s work phone was also his Grindr phone hanging unspoken in the air.

Kisame turned back to the stove, and Hidan began to wonder if he’d said something off to make him suddenly get up and change the subject like that. He got up and wandered over to join him, his bare feet silent on the tiled floor, thinking vaguely that maybe he should offer a hand - perhaps Kisame was feeling like his evening had been hijacked.

Kisame turned around and Hidan was just there. There was a charged silence and suddenly all the frustrations of the day seemed to build up to a head. He took a step forward almost as is he was going to make that move, and Hidan faltered back a step, suddenly unsure.

But Kisame got himself in hand just in time. “What are you up to?” he asked, “creeping up on me like that!” There was playfulness in his tone, but a kind of brittle edge too. “Hey,” he added, looking desperately for a distraction and seeing the now-fading bruises just under Hidan’s ribcage for the first time. He reached out to trace a finger along the edge of one, “what happened there? Please tell me Kakuzu didn’t--”

“Oh fuck, man, no!” Hidan exclaimed indignantly, slightly disturbed at his personal space being broken into like that. “Seriously! Don’t you know him? I thought you guys were friends! It was up in Edinburgh last weekend. Some fucking washed-up artist who was all butthurt about Kakuzu selling his work decided to start on me. You should see the state of him now, though!” he added with a self-satisfied sneer.

“Oh,” said Kisame, not quite liking to say that it was knowing a little bit about Kakuzu that made him think it was a possibility - if only a very slight one. But Hidan’s story was ringing a bell. An artist, a fight, Edinburgh... Of course! Today’s big news, and not just among the art crowd, either. “So that was you,” he said.

He looked at Hidan with new interest. Respect that he could come out of a knife fight without a scratch on him mingled with a wary realisation that he was capable of some pretty serious violence and didn't seem to give a fuck. “You’re going to find yourself in the middle of some serious controversy once it comes out it was you,” he said. “I hope you’re prepared.”

“I dunno, man, I hadn’t fucking thought about it,” Hidan replied. He suddenly felt tired. Tired of intrigue and manoeuvring and much too tired to try and be nice anymore. “I guess Kakuzu has, though,” he added.

“What, Kakuzu was with you?”

“Shit yeah, I wouldn’t be looking quite so cute right now if he hadn’t!”

You two need to get your side of the story out!” Kisame exclaimed. He brushed off Hidan’s weary protestations that they’d already talked to the police and started talking about a feature in Akatsuki Magazine. Hidan kind of switched off. It wasn’t the kind of thing he felt he was good at. Last time he’d given an interview they’d edited out the swear words for publication and it hadn't really made a lot of sense after that. “Talk to Kakuzu about it!” Kisame was urging him. “I’d be happy to run it.”

“Well, fuck, tell him yourself when he gets here,” Hidan said, shortly. “He’s already clearing out his collection of all the douchebag’s crap, he’s got some kind of plan, for sure.”

Kisame’s stress levels started rising again. The nice easy mood from earlier seemed to have vanished and Hidan suddenly seemed prickly and irritable. He was pretty relieved when his phone buzzed, and Hidan noticeably brightened. He leaned in towards Kisame to crane around and look at his phone as he got it out of his pocket. Then his face changed. The message wasn’t from Kakuzu. It was from Itachi, and the few words he was able to glimpse before the screen faded and Kisame whipped the phone away definitely suggested intimacy a long way beyond ‘just friends’.

"Oh fuck, then you actually are screwing Itachi Uchiha, aren’t you? Kakuzu thought you weren’t," Hidan said without thinking, pulling away from Kisame in surprise. “Fucking hell. And you tried to hook up with me?!”

He only meant it in the sense that he didn't much like Itachi, and didn’t like the implication of people who were into Itachi being attracted to him. But when he saw the rage in Kisame's face, it dawned on him pretty quickly that he'd been misinterpreted. The reason why Itachi always looked so unwell also suddenly clicked into place, and he realised - with his admittedly crass form of words and his flinch away - he’d been taken for some poz-shaming prick who’d deserve what he was about to get.

Before he could say anything else or even try to explain, he felt the breath slammed out of him as his back connected with the pillar. Kisame's hand was at his throat, forcing his head back to make him look up at him, he felt like he couldn't breathe properly and started to panic. He tried with both his hands to prise Kisame's away, but Kisame was strong and Hidan was too shaken to focus. Kisame was talking, shouting really, asking him something and demanding an answer but Hidan couldn't take in the words. Now he was shaking him against the pillar and Hidan's head cracked against it sickeningly. Say something, he thought frantically, say something or he’ll fucking do that again, and, "Fuck," he managed to force out, thought he could barely speak with Kisame doing that, "stop it, man, please. I didn't mean- I didn't even know-"

Kakuzu was just at his front door. He’d got Kisame’s text - ‘Hidan locked himself out, supper in 5 minutes, come and join us’ - just as he was coming down off the Heath, so hadn’t bothered to reply. He’d glanced in through the window as he passed and glimpsed Hidan just getting up from Kisame’s table. He’d figured he’d just take the dogs home and grab Hidan a top before joining them. Now, though, hearing raised voices coming from up the road, even though he didn’t particularly recognise Kisame’s voice he suddenly had a bad feeling which hit him like an electric jolt in the solar plexus. He turned the key in the lock and the dogs obediently ran in. He hesitated a moment - surely nothing could’ve happened in so short a time - then instinct took over from logical thought and he suddenly found himself pulling the door shut and racing back down the street. He took the basement steps two at a time and burst through the open door.

Hidan’s ears were ringing and he felt dizzy. He was only dimly aware of another deep voice in the room, then a brief struggle in front of him, of Kisame's hand finally releasing him, of being caught and held as he gasped for air.

The kitchen swam back into focus and he found he was on all fours on the floor now, Kakuzu was kneeling in front of him, supporting him; behind him Kisame was slumped against the cupboards opposite like he’d been hurled halfway across the room. He grabbed hold of Kakuzu, breathing hard, fingers digging into his forearm. "Fuck, Kisame,” he tried to call across the room, “how could you think I meant that?!"- it came out in a broken-sounding croak. Kakuzu looked utterly horrified at the sound. There was a hard, focused kind of anger in his eyes that Hidan had never seen before (and was very relieved wasn’t directed at him). “Hey, take it easy,” he said quietly. His fingers were gently exploring around Hidan’s bruised throat, checking for any obvious damage - not seeming to find any - and Hidan started to feel a little calmer. Also, like a fucking idiot. And so fucking sick of needing to be rescued.

"I'm so sorry," Kisame was saying, his voice ragged with emotion, and even from across the room Hidan could see that the poor guy looked completely devastated. "It's just been such a fucking awful day, I'm so worried about Itachi, I just saw red, I completely lost control. I’m sorry.”

Hidan exchanged a glance with Kakuzu, whose expression was unreadable now. He tried to clear his throat - it was pretty sore. It came out a little cracked but OK now, not quite so broken anymore. He swallowed. "It was probably my fucking fault, actually," he said, low, so that only Kakuzu would hear. "I said some shit without thinking."

“That I can easily believe - I wouldn't try to crush your damn windpipe though!" Kakuzu said angrily, and Kisame, who had heard actually, agreed vociferously, full of shame and self loathing, then broke down entirely. Kakuzu and Hidan exchanged another glance, and maybe Kakuzu did look slightly less incandescent with rage now. Without saying anything he helped Hidan to his feet and they both went over to Kisame. They sat down on either side of him. Kakuzu put an extremely tentative hand on his shoulder. Hidan, with no such social scruples, slumped right down to his level and rasped, "It's alright man, I fucking forgive you, ok? There there. Now seriously, tell us what the fuck else is wrong with Itachi."

Kisame took a moment to get himself under control. “He’s had some bad news,” he said finally. “He’s developed resistance to another antiretroviral, I don't know the fuck how, he’s always taken them so fucking religiously.” He wiped a hand over his face and blew his nose on the clean handkerchief Kakuzu proffered.  “He’s just been so fucking unlucky. The new ones he’s on are giving him horrible side effects. And on top of that, there’s this thing with his fucking little brother. They’re completely estranged now, and Sasuke refuses to see Itachi despite that fact that he knows he’s so ill.”

“Little dicksplash,” Hidan interjected helpfully. Kakuzu stifled an inappropriate laugh, turning it into a cough. He hadn’t heard that term since his last stint on A&E.

“Damn right,” Kisame agreed. “But Itachi really wanted to have one more try and he asked me to talk to Sasuke, to - to -” He broke off, searching for the right word and not finding it. He carried on anyway. “To really put across things to him so that he really gets that this actually could be their last chance to have any meaningful time together.” He had to stop and take a minute, pressing his hands hard against his eyes.

After a few deep breaths he seemed to be calm enough to continue. “And Sasuke for some reason did agree to see me,” he said, his voice flat and loaded with distaste. “He’s coming over later tonight. So now, even though I wish Itachi would just spend the rest of his time focusing on the people who love him, and I think he should forget all about the fucking heartless little piece of trash, I’ve got to try and do this for him. He’s utterly desperate - I can't tell you how awful it is to see. And if Sasuke does agree to meet him, what then? Sasuke will probably- And Itachi- he’ll--” He broke off, suddenly unable to bear to put it into words, the pain Itachi would be in if Sasuke rejected him again.

“Yeah, I feel you man,” Hidan took over for him. “It’s fucked-up, seriously.”

His words seemed to hang in the air for a moment - there wasn’t really anything else to say about it. An admirably succinct summing up of the situation for once, Kakuzu thought. He got up and went to rescue Kisame’s sauce from the stove, it had just started to catch on the bottom of the pan. He gave it a good stir, then found the pasta on the work surface and put the kettle on to boil, profoundly grateful to have something to do to avoid having to deal with any more emotional scenes. Food would probably sort Kisame out quicker than anything and he should obviously have fed Hidan hours ago. Worth remembering.

Kisame took another deep breath and sat up a bit. He gave a weary smile. “Thanks guys,” he said. “I feel a bit better for letting all that out. And I’m so fucking sorry to have been such a dick, Hidan.”

Kakuzu nodded slightly in acknowledgement. He found a bottle of red wine that Kisame had presumably been cooking with and poured himself a glass. Why am I always the last one standing? he asked himself. He tried to imagine a scenario in which he was being ministered to while lounging half-naked on someone else’s kitchen floor, and just couldn’t.

“S’all good, man,” said Hidan. “I was being a bit of a dick too, if I’m honest.” He was too tired to be angry, and even he could sense that Kisame was barely holding it together over this Itachi shit. He let his head slide down onto Kisame’s shoulder. “Did you actually tell me if you two are, you know, a thing?” he asked, assuming that he had carte blanche now (and even if he didn’t, well, Kakuzu was here...), “I couldn’t really hear what you were saying when you had me up against the wall... Blood was pounding in my ears or some shit.”

Over at the stove Kakuzu covered up an involuntary angry noise with a loud pan clatter. Kisame just gave a miserable sounding laugh. “You are fucking incorrigible, aren’t you? Well, not really, is the answer. Since he got ill he hasn’t been with anyone. I’d’ve been with him like a shot, I was happy to take the risk, and its not much of a risk with Truvada anyway, but he wouldn’t. And before that, well, it was on off anyway. And more off than on. So by now, yeah, Kakuzu’s right. I should start fucking accepting it myself.”

“Ah, Kakuzu’s always right, we should all just fucking accept that already,” Hidan was saying as Kakuzu found Kisame’s colander and drained the pasta. He served up and carried the plates to the table. Then looked down at the others. “I think we’d all better eat something,” he said. He tried not to sound too abrupt and angry.

Kisame looked up, obviously still uncertain of how he stood with him. “Kakuzu, man,” he said, “I know I shouldn’t even ask you, and you’ve already both been way better to me than I deserve, but I really hope you’ll be able to forgive me for this.”

Hidan giggled irrepressibly. “Dude, he’s cooked your fucking supper for you, you’re not going to get much more reassurance than that out of Kakuzu!” He took the hand Kakuzu offered him to haul himself up and stood on tiptoe to fling an arm around Kakuzu’s neck. Kakuzu’s arm automatically went around his waist to steady him. “Well, Hidan, am I allowed to forgive him?” he asked. “it seems almost churlish to do it too easily. Unchivalrous...”

“Aw, yeah, man, go for it, seriously, I’m not some fragile flower! And he needs a fucking hug,” Hidan replied. “And then stop being so fucking needy, ok?” he added to Kisame.

“Well. Alright.” Kakuzu offered Kisame a hand up too, which he took and they sort of almost shook hands. Kakuzu looked him in the eye. “To be perfectly honest, I’d have been happier if you’d given him that blowjob,” he said. “I’m not down with seeing Hidan get hurt.” His eyes slid over to Hidan for a moment, “however tough he thinks he is,” he added pointedly. “But I’m just about prepared to accept that it was out of character and that nothing like it will ever, ever happen again.” He fixed Kisame with his most penetrating look, and even though Kisame had a couple of inches on him, he did feel intimidated. Perhaps not surprisingly, since his ribcage was still aching from where Kakuzu’s arm had connected with it earlier. He was also surprised, and impressed (and, he had to admit it, pretty damn jealous) at how they were together. They’d been together, what, a week and a half? And already they seemed to have this seamless partnership. He couldn’t previously have imagined Kakuzu ever being physically affectionate with anyone in public, either - or at all, for that matter - and yet here he was, letting Hidan drape himself all over him, not batting an eyelid.

“You’ve got it, Kakuzu,” he said, and they had an awkward one-armed manly hug, which Hidan managed to turn into a group hug. Kakuzu swiftly put a stop to that, though, and they all finally sat down to eat.

“Just to be clear,” Kakuzu said to Hidan, after a few moments of silence, his voice completely deadpan, though he couldn’t help a tiny smile twitching one corner of his mouth, “when I said that I’d have preferred him to give you a blowjob, I didn’t mean that that was in any way acceptable, you understand? Both are completely beyond the pale.”

Kisame nearly spat out his mouthful of pasta; Hidan just rolled his eyes. “He thinks I’m a fucking retard, man, seriously,” he said to Kisame, turning around in his chair and putting his bare feet up on Kakuzu’s thigh. “It’s probably criminally irresponsible of him to be taking advantage of me like this in all honesty.”

After that the mood was a lot less tense. Kakuzu sipped his wine and watched Hidan telling Kisame about Akatsuki Edinburgh and what he was up to with Deidara. Kisame was talking about making it a feature in the August edition of Akatsuki Magazine. Kakuzu didn’t feel inclined to join in the conversation much, but he was happy to sit there and listen. He finished his pasta and started admiring Hidan’s reflection in the darkened window. He looked even more bad-boy than in real life. Lack of product had brought his hair down over his forehead and perhaps some quirk of the old glass was making him appear slighter and younger than he was. Suddenly the reflection gave a sharp-toothed grin and disappeared. Two more darker shapes quickly followed. Kakuzu started. "Kisame, there's a bunch of kids outside your window," he said.

Kisame looked out and groaned. “Oh, fuck that kid, did he have to bring the whole posse!” He went over to the door and opened it. Sasuke Uchiha stood on the doorstep looking sulky and aggressive. Kakuzu did recognise him - he’d had a couple of pretty high profile shows of his own, despite being still at college. A red-haired girl and the boy Kakuzu had mistaken for Hidan’s reflection hovered just behind him on either side. A taller boy stood a little further back.

“Sasuke,” Kisame greeted him shortly. “Well, you’d all better come in.” Stressing the 'all' a little, making it clear that this hadn’t been the deal. But it was impossible to miss how his eyes followed Sasuke’s friend, all the same. Hidan looked at Kakuzu, and Kakuzu looked at Hidan, and wondered how he could ever have been so mistaken. Yes, the kid was kind of a Hidan mini-me, but mini being the operative word. He looked so young that it had the effect of striking Kakuzu afresh with a sense of Hidan’s own capability. Definitely not a fragile flower. And suddenly he badly wanted to be alone with him.

“Well, thanks for supper Kisame,” he said. “We’d better let you get on.” He stood up and Hidan followed his lead. He caught Kisame’s eye with an unspoken question - are you ok with this - do want us to stick around? But to his considerable relief Kisame murmured “It’s cool,” standing back to let them pass. The kids followed his lead. Kakuzu noticed Hidan flash a menacing smile at his little dopplegänger. “Nice look kid,” he said slightly patronisingly.

And before he knew it they were in the dark street and the kids had trooped inside Kisame’s kitchen, the door closing firmly behind them. They both breathed a sigh of relief. “I’d’ve brought your shoes over if I’d realised...” Kakuzu began, noticing that Hidan was walking slightly gingerly over the paving stones and, “no sweat man,” Hidan replied. Kakuzu felt deeply appreciative of his baritone voice. 18-25 indeed! Fond as he was of Kisame, Kakuzu had to wonder. “Kids like that,” Hidan was saying, “are the reason I hate fucking fashion. That’s who Comme des Garçons are going to want on the catwalk next season, not me!”

“You know that kid?” Kakuzu asked.

“Oh fuck yes,” Hidan replied, standing aside while Kakuzu opened the front door. “That’s Suigetsu Hozuki.” He said it with a certain significance. “He was one of Orochimaru’s students at that art school in Kennington. Left before his finals though, and started modelling. Totally ripped off my look, if I do say so myself. He’s a fucking little skank.” He paused, then smiled. “Hey, maybe Kisame will get his blowjob after all!”

Chapter Text

By Friday, London seemed to be too hot to hold them and Kakuzu was very very glad they were going away. Their identities had leaked to the press a few days before, Asuma was in hospital with severe complications; it seemed inevitable that there would be further investigations. Hidan's life class at St Martins was suddenly cancelled - or at least, they'd dropped him as the model. It was probably for the best, Kakuzu thought - he'd be extremely unpopular there now and press photographers were popping up anywhere that could be considered an art scene haunt. But Hidan hated losing what he thought of as 'proper' work, and had been sulking about it on and off all week.

Kakuzu had had a trying week on his own account too. Because he was extremely discreet, although he'd never made any effort to hide his sexuality, it had never been the first thing people knew about him. Plenty of his clients and colleagues would've had no idea. And now, he'd been pretty publicly outed. He didn't like the subtle change in people's attitudes; he hated the implication that he'd been closeted, when in fact he'd just been living his life as he wanted without shouting about it. Most of all, he hated being recognised in the street and on the tube, which had been happening with reasonable regularity since the Daily Mail had printed a picture of them together. Along with a lot of other pictures of Hidan by himself and with other people - they were easy to come by, of course. The picture of them together looked like it had been taken on the night they met, at Deidara's opening - which felt far longer ago than it actually was.

The day had been vastly improved by Hidan popping in unannounced at lunchtime, stating that if he didn't 'shoot a load' before an hour-long sitting with Deidara then Asuma wouldn't be the only fucking artist he'd hospitalise this week. Kakuzu had been only too glad to oblige, but it made the clients he had to see this afternoon seem almost unbearably dull.

When Hidan left Deidara's studio at 3, he went back to his own flat to sort a few things before going away. Dei and Sasori were heading out already; Sasori drew up outside the studio just as Hidan was on his way out. Dei then - slightly weirdly in Hidan's opinion - tried to persuade him to travel down with them - maybe Sasori isn't the most exciting travel companion, he considered, intrigued at the possibility of finding a chink in the armour that was the partnership between Dei and Sasori. But he still needed to pack, and anyway, of course he was going down with Kakuzu. He didn't even need to think about it. Kakuzu was finishing work a little early - they were going to meet at his place at 5 and drive down together. And although as a general rule Hidan knew very little about cars and despised people who cared about them, he found himself pretty glad to be facing a long journey in Kakuzu's BMW rather than in the backseat of Sasori's horrible clapped-out little Ford.

Now, back in his own space for the first time in a week, Hidan suddenly felt a flat calm sense of utter relaxation that he only then realised he hadn't really had for a while. He'd been sky-high half the time he'd been with Kakuzu, but on edge with sexual tension and the slightly desperate need he couldn't quite rid himself off to make Kakuzu think well of him. He kind of wanted him here, now, but at the same time it felt good to be this calm. With a little jolt he realised he hadn't done a ritual for a whole week.

But he couldn't do one now. He went to have a look at what he had in the fridge to take his mind off it, and registered that there was quite a bit of crap in there that had better been cleared out before it had a chance to fester any more. There was also an unopened carton of pineapple juice, so he took that to the sofa and flopped down with it, gazing out over the Thames and wondering what Kakuzu would think if he brought him back here. He couldn't quite imagine him here - you'd think he'd look a bit out of place, but Kakuzu so far had displayed a knack for never seeming out of place anywhere. So perhaps he'd just take it all in his stride. Hidan thought he might just possibly want to get his underwear off the floor before that ever happened though.

The relaxation and the pineapple juice came together in a need to take a massive shit which sent him scrambling to the the bathroom. After that he thought he'd better have a really thorough clean out, so he got in the shower to do that. Probably worth doing after every shit now, he thought, mentally adding some douching apparatus to the list of things to pack (just in case the showers in the cottage were shit). And then being back in his own shower was so fucking amazing after a week of Kakuzu's hot water running out on him that he stayed in for more than half an hour.

After he finally mustered the requisite self control to get out, he felt so floppy and spent that he let himself collapse onto the sofa on his way through to the bedroom. Interesting how he still thought of it as the bedroom. Kakuzu's bedroom didn't feel like the bedroom it felt like their room, and Hidan shied away from that thought a little - it kind of scared him. He didn't mean to stay there long. He still had to pack and he knew he really ought to get a load of laundry through or he'd have nothing to wear when they got back. But before he could muster the energy to do any of it the emotional toll of the last few days hit him and he fell asleep where he lay.

He didn't wake up until Kakuzu called him at ten past five.

"Huh?" he said sleepily, confused and disorientated. "What's up?" He sat up, sticking uncomfortably to the leather sofa, a towel - cold and damp-feeling now - slipping off him onto the floor. Then it all hit him, the sunset starting over the Thames, Kakuzu's irritable voice asking him where he was, "oh fuck!" he exclaimed. "Oh fuck Kakuzu, I'm- I- I lost track of time, I'm still at home, oh shit, what fucking time is it?!"

"Lost track-" Kakuzu's voice was incredulous. "Hidan, you sound completely off your face, what are you doing? You're not-?" He didn't even know what to call it, but he had a sudden horrifying memory of Hidan in the train toilet, ashen faced and blood smeared - could he be..? Surely he wouldn't, just before he was going to cycle across town?

"No! no!" Hidan made a big effort to sound more with it. Kakuzu would go fucking apeshit if he thought he'd had been doing a ritual today. He was embarrassed to admit the truth but he thought he'd better come clean, "OK, I fell asleep, alright? I was just asleep!"

He leapt up, started to shove things in his rucksack, Kakuzu's measured but tense tones were sternly telling him that they'd hit appalling traffic now, they'd be hours late, what on earth was he thinking doing this today?

"I'm sorry ok?!" Hidan growled. He hated it when Kakuzu got so fucking pissy with him like this. "I didn't fucking mean to, did I?! Why didn't you call me before?"

"Clearly I thought you'd be on your way already!" Kakuzu was more than a little annoyed at having the blame turned back on him. "I didn't want to distract you while you were riding."

"Ah fuck, you know I can handle myself better than that! Seriously man!"

As Hidan's voice rose half an octave in indignation Kakuzu took a deep breath and told himself to calm down. Nothing to be gained by getting Hidan worked up, even though he could hardly believe the little idiot had managed to screw up their plans this magnificently! Leaving from Hampstead at five, they could've been just ahead of most of the rush hour traffic. He'd left work early specifically so they could leave at five on the dot, they'd have been in Gloucestershire for a nice civilised supper with their friends, and been able to enjoy the evening. Still. What was done was done. "Look, forget it, Hidan," he said, cutting off more long-winded explanations of how it couldn't possibly be considered Hidan's fault. "Would you like me to come and get you?"

Hidan stopped in mid-flow. He could hardly believe what he'd just heard. Had Kakuzu seriously just offered to drive across London at rush hour?

"It won't take much more than half an hour," Kakuzu said. "It'll give me something to do. We can go through Lambeth and head out on the M4.

"Man, that's fucking crazy," Hidan protested. "It'll be fucking carnage at this time! I'll be with you in half an hour and we can go out on the north circular like you wanted!"

Kakuzu sighed. He didn't really want Hidan haring across London at rush hour. Or coming on holiday with only a pair of boxer shorts and a toothbrush... "Stop pretending you know the first thing about it, Hidan," he said, more than a little patronisingly. "Get yourself together, pack properly and leave worrying about the traffic to those of us who actually know how to drive."

"The north circular will be carnage in half an hour anyway," he added.

"Ah, fuck," Hidan, snarled, annoyed and wrong footed. "You never fucking listen to me! You'll seriously fucking regret it as soon as you're past Kings Cross. And then you'll take it out on me when it takes us two fucking hours to get through Earls Court."

"I wouldn't have offered if I didn't think it was the better option!" Kakuzu said, unable to keep the heat out of his voice, stung by Hidan's reaction.

Hidan carried on regardless. "You're fucking worrying I'm going to go under a fucking bus again, aren't you? How many fucking times do I have to tell you not to fucking worry about me?! It's fucking disrespectful, is what it is. Fucks sake."

Kakuzu closed his eyes. He almost put the phone down on him at that point but all of a sudden the thought of Hidan a few hours earlier swam into his head, kneeling in front of him at his desk, those eyes looking provocatively up at him, Kakuzu's cock in his face, just before he'd swallowed it whole. God, face-fucking him in the office had been even hotter than he'd imagined, and he'd imagined doing it enough times. And to be fair, he'd worked him pretty hard. Small wonder if he'd needed a power nap...

"Well, fine, suit yourself," he said. "But please be careful. Buses are a hell of a lot harder than you are..."

"Yeah, yeah," Hidan said dismissively. "Seriously, Kakuzu, give it a rest with that, man!"

Kakuzu hesitated. He wanted to say something that would make everything easy between them again. He hated to leave things like this with Hidan heading out into the traffic, but another curt 'fine,' was all he could muster.

Putting the phone down, Hidan felt an immediate wave of loneliness. He kind of wished he had let Kakuzu look after him a bit but it made him so fucking mad when he acted like he didn't think he could handle himself. No acknowledgement at all of the fact that he'd brought himself up to this from fucking nothing, with no help from anybody.

He grabbed a few last things from the bathroom, pulled on a fresh pair of jeans and his last clean t-shirt and then he was out of the door. He ran down six flights of stairs rather than waiting for the lift, took the time to pick up his post as he dashed through the foyer only because he was expecting his latest results from the clap clinic, then unlocked his bike from the embankment railings and was off.

Kakuzu thought he'd just relax and read the paper until Hidan arrived, but he wasn't relaxed. He was anxious and he wasn't used to anxiety. There was nothing left to do, the dogs were with the expensive pet-sitting service he always used when he had to go away, the car was packed. He decided to walk down the road and get Hidan something to eat on the journey. Otherwise he'd either be bad tempered with hunger or bitching about stopping somewhere. He took the walk slowly - it seemed like a lot of time to kill.

However, Hidan arrived in Parliament Hill sweaty and out of breath only 25 minutes later. He'd jumped every red light, squeezed through dangerous gaps next to bendy buses and generally behaved like every motorist's worst nightmare of a cyclist. He was now totally pumped and exhilarated and a fanatical gleam was in his eye as he screeched to a halt outside Kakuzu's house. He saw Kakuzu halfway down the street, walking towards him, so he shot down to join him, bunny-hopping his bike onto the kerb, then slow-cycling nonchalantly beside him.

"So, I bust my ass getting here and you can't even be bothered to be at fucking home?!" he grinned. "Made good time didn't I?"

He shifted swiftly down through several gears and Kakuzu put an automatic hand to the small of his back to steady him as the bike wobbled, whisking it away on discovering that Hidan was actually dripping with sweat, then putting it back again as his mind caught up with his reflexes and realised he wasn't actually in the least disconcerted by it. He slipped his fingers under Hidan's t-shirt and slid his hand sensuously a little way up his spine. "You did," he agreed, "but you're certainly going to need a quick change now! And I'm going to count that as part of your journey time."

"Fuck that, man!" Hidan said. "I'll do it in the car! Let's go!"

Kakuzu chuckled and raised an indulgent eyebrow. Hidan would do what Hidan would do. Now, he arabesqued elegantly off the bike and leant it up against Kakuzu's BMW. Kakuzu slid his fingers down again and tucked them just under the waistband of his jeans, pressing him up against the car as he unlocked it. "In you get then," he murmured, leaning down to kiss him on the mouth, quick, hard and proprietary. He opened the passenger door for him, then lifted the bike up onto the rack, surreptitiously checking his paintwork for scratches but refraining from saying anything about it. Hidan was shrugging off his rucksack and throwing it into the footwell, then collapsing dramatically into the seat. As Kakuzu got in beside him and started up the engine he'd already pulled off his t-shirt and started to towel off with it. Kakuzu gave himself a moment to appreciate the sight before he pulling away from the kerb and setting off down the hill.

Hidan leant forward to rummage in his rucksack for a clean top; Kakuzu, one hand on the wheel, eyes on the road, pushed him upright and leaned across him to grab his seatbelt and strap him in. "Feel free to stay like that," he said, "I don't mind."

He could see Hidan smirk out of the corner of his eye, but, "man, can you imagine the chafing that would cause!" he complained, pulling his rucksack up onto his lap for a more thorough search.

Kakuzu could, and did. He even took the opportunity while they were waiting for a gap in the traffic on South End Road to cop a bit of a feel as well, brushing a lazy fingertip over Hidan's nipple to make it stand to attention, smiling at how the one he couldn't reach was doing the same anyway and very much wanting to repeat the action with his mouth now - but just then a car flashed its lights at him to let them out, and he had to turn his attention back to the road. Hidan shifted in the seat, then had to give himself a bit of a rearrange.

"Man, Kakuzu!" He laughed a little breathlessly. "You're fucking horny this afternoon, aren't you? Do I need to sort you out before we hit the north circular?"

"I'll be fine." Kakuzu swung out onto the main road and started driving a little faster. They might just about not hit the very worst of the traffic now and he wasn't going to give up that advantage. Perhaps he shouldn't have encouraged Hidan the way he had, but - he stole another glance at him - it was pretty damn irresistible. And after all, a little bit of sexual frustration was an awful lot easier to endure than the sulking and misunderstandings that had marked the beginning of their last journey together. Wasn't it?

Hidan finally found a top, finally - long sleeved, tight fitting - and pulled it on. He wasn't giving up though. One hand found its way onto Kakuzu's thigh, and Kakuzu let it stay there for a minute or two. Then it got too distracting.

"OK, not when I'm driving Hidan," he said regretfully, changing gear and putting Hidan's hand firmly back in his own lap, but with the little stroke of his thumb in his palm that Hidan always found strangely erotic. "Behave yourself now!"

After such an amicable beginning it was almost unbelievable that they should be bickering before they even reached the M40, but that was what was happening.

The traffic was far from ideal, but it wasn't as bad as it could've been. But they'd both started to get pretty tense after 45 minutes on the north circular. Light banter had become distinctly snarky, recriminations started to be made; the argument they'd heroically managed not to have earlier started to be rekindled. Kakuzu became monosyllabic; Hidan became correspondingly - and both irritably and irritatingly - verbose.

It might even have been better to've made Hidan take a shower, Kakuzu considered, even if it would've cost them another half hour into rush hour, and not because the smell of him was unpleasant, either - quite the opposite. Hidan pheromones were obviously exactly what he was biologically predisposed to respond to, and not being able to respond was driving him slowly crazy.

It was driving Hidan a bit crazy too. He didn't like his overtures being turned down, no matter what the circumstances. Kakuzu's little touches in the street had made him horny as fuck, even after what they'd got up to in Kakuzu's office earlier, and now he apparently had to sit quietly and behave for fucking hours? It really wasn't, you could say, his forte.

Also, he was really starting to need to pee...

Umm, Kakuzu..." He began tentatively, because Kakuzu's profile was looking distinctly stony and the last thing he'd said to him had, admittedly, been pretty rude, "when there's next an opportunity to stop...?"

"Oh for fuck's sake Hidan!" Kakuzu exclaimed, understanding immediately. It was an uncharacteristically violent outburst for him; fuck tended to be a word he didn't use often, and when he did he meant it. "Why on earth didn't you go before we left?"

"I didn't fucking need to before we left!"

"It's a long journey - you go anyway!"

"Well you were fucking rushing me!"

"I was not rushing you - I even suggested you go in and change! I didn't think I'd need to prompt you to wee like a potty training toddler!"

"Well are we fucking stopping or do I take a slash out of the window?" Hidan demanded finally.

Kakuzu, without another word, pulled over with an angry swoop onto the hard shoulder, ostentatiously flicking the hazards on and sitting back with his arms folded while Hidan pulled his shoes - which he'd kicked off before they were even out of Hampstead - laboriously back on.

"If you'd given me some fucking warning you wouldn't be waiting now," Hidan pointed out infuriatingly. He even popped his head back in the car, once he finally was out - to add, "but that's what you want, isn't it, an excuse to be even more fucking annoyed with me!"

"Just get on with it, would you? This isn't a safe place to stop." Kakuzu spoke through gritted teeth and his fingers tightened on the steering wheel. He wasn't even sure if there was truth in Hidan's analysis or not, he just felt that old urge to lash out that had ruined every relationship he'd ever started, rising and rising in him. He stared fixedly out of the front windscreen, determined to keep his eyes off Hidan and his unabashed pissing stance. He seemed to be deliberately taking an inordinately long time.

Despite being fairly desperate, Hidan was in fact now struggling to relax enough to begin. He took a deep breath and tried to squash the thought of Kakuzu down like he was sure Kakuzu was currently doing with all thoughts of him. It didn't work for more than a second, but it was just about enough to get started. Without that distraction, though, he felt twice as much the cold clamping down of misery that always took hold of him during these toxic squabbles. Why couldn't Kakuzu just throw him some kind of line to get out of this fucking hole? He'd grasp it, whatever it was. But by now he'd been in enough of these situations to be pretty sure nothing more would be forthcoming. Fuck, he'd probably missed a few already. At this point Kakuzu would probably think he'd been good enough by not just driving off and leaving him here.

Zipping himself back up, he turned back to the car. I'll take it, he resolved again. Whatever he fucking throws me. Fuck, he'd even throw his own pride on the line to improve the atmosphere now.

"Hey, thanks for waiting for me," he offered with an playfully appeasing smile as he got back in. Fucking self-deprecating enough? he asked himself silently, unable to repress a little surge of self-loathing. Have I fucking abased myself enough?

But it was unfortunate that the traffic had got a little heavier in the last few minutes, and, "it's not as if I had much choice," Kakuzu replied coldly, gesturing out of the window at the solid line of cars speeding past. It could nearly have been interpreted as dark humour, but it wasn't quite near enough. Hidan stared at him, eyes burning with white-hot rage, then turned away before Kakuzu could see the rage replaced with misery.

No-one let them out for at least a minute, and during that minute they said nothing to each other. They didn't even look at each other - neither could trust himself. Kakuzu had immediately regretted taking this last opportunity to be a bastard, but he couldn't back-track from it now, and his stress levels were rising again at the congestion that had suddenly materialised around them. Hidan was bitterly regretting taking a conciliatory stance now that the rug had been mercilessly ripped from under his feet, and was resolving never, ever to do such a fucking stupid thing again.

"Fuck," he murmured under his breath, as Kakuzu finally muscled the BMW back into the flow of traffic. They sat in horrible silence, staring at the road until the A40 finally turned into the M40 and things started to move a little faster.

It did nothing for the atmosphere in the car though. The extra burst of speed just seemed to give Hidan the momentum he required to start up again. "Why do you have to fucking rip into me like that?" he asked bitterly. "And then sit there like a fucking inanimate block of wood? Do you even have fucking feelings?"

"Hidan. Not now." Kakuzu's voice, although quiet, was intensely repressive, but Hidan was unstoppable.

"Even with no-one fucking else here you're fucking ashamed of me, aren't you Kakuzu? Because I'm not a pansy wuss like you who's afraid to let himself ever open up? No-one's fucking looking, you know? No-one's going to see you be nice to me! You can fucking get away with it! Maybe you should be embarrassed for yourself instead, for acting like a fucking ice queen when I was actually making an effort to make things nice again! Everything could've been fucking ok! And at least I can keep a fucking conversation going!"

This was a bit too near the bone for Kakuzu. Maybe this was a discussion they ought to have - maybe even have sometime pretty soon - but not now. Not when he was already frustrated. Not when the traffic was speeding up and the light was fading and he really needed to be able to relax and focus on the road.

"Have you finished?" he snapped, after Hidan seemed to have talked himself out.

It didn't go down well.

"I've barely fucking started, asshole! Jeez!" Hidan shot back.

"Really, don't talk to me like that right now, Hidan," Kakuzu said through gritted teeth, his knuckles whitening on the wheel.

"You mean don't fucking talk to you at all, don't you!"

"That's not what I mean, though I'd settle for it right now!"

"Why do you fucking keep me around if you hate my fucking company as much as that?!"

"You should know the answer to that, Hidan,"

"Well, why don't you fucking say it? For a fucking change. Why do I have to fucking make up your contribution to the conversation my-fucking-self?!"

"This 'conversation' is utterly pointless, Hidan. You're just trying to get a rise out of me, and it's not going to work."

"Oh! Oh, I see!" said Hidan, his tone loud and obnoxious. "So communicating with me is pointless now, is it. Seriously Kakuzu, jeez, that's just fucking great!"

"Hidan, could you possibly bring yourself to just shut up and let me drive?"

Hidan put a finger to his mouth in a mockery of thoughtfulness. "Hmm!" he mused sarcastically. "Let's fucking see! Oh! No, Kakuzu, turns out I can't fucking bring myself to do that. Can you bring your-fucking-self to act like not a horrible bastard? No?! I didn't fucking think so."

Kakuzu said nothing. He couldn't even quite remember how they got into this situation anymore. What had started this? Who had started it? And how on earth could he just make it stop? Hidan's voice was going on and on, until he wanted to smash his smugly self righteous face against the dashboard until he was bloody and trembling, cowering in the opposite corner of the car, and above all, silent. The visceral quality of his imagination horrified him, the amount he wanted to do it was frightening; he knew he absolutely had to get off the motorway without a moment's delay. There was no way he was safe to drive when he was this angry.

He indicated left and got the car somehow into the slow lane, there was a junction coming up where - thank goodness - there was a motorway service station, but he just couldn't zone Hidan out enough. Was this what the phrase 'under your skin' was all about? If so it was horrific, and he didn't want it. He'd felt sick enough seeing a shadow of his own fingermarks on Hidan's arm after their argument on the train a week ago. He had enough self-control to know how he'd feel afterwards if he hurt him. But he didn't have enough not to want to, right now; he had no idea if he had enough to stop himself. If he didn't look at him or touch him, maybe, just got him away...?

"Why don't you just fucking come out and say it, Kakuzu," Hidan was still going on, and now he even went as far as to imitate Kakuzu's voice, " 'I keep you around because you're a good fucking lay and I was tired of taking my dogs up the arse'?!"

Kakuzu shot up the slip road, letting out a guttural growl of anger. He pulled into the first place he saw - not even a proper parking place, just a little lay-by at the edge of the coach and lorry area - and slammed on the brakes. "Alright, Hidan, I've had enough. Get out."

Hidan stared at him, mouth open in surprise, "W-what?"

Kakuzu flicked off the engine. "Get out," he repeated, his voice cold. "You can hitch your way back into London. Since you've got 'good fucking lay' written all over you, I'm sure any self respecting trucker of the right persuasion would be glad to take you on board."

Hidan continued to just stare at him, then shook his head a little, "man, are you fucking crazy?" he asked. "You want me to get fucking raped by truckers, are you serious?"

Why did Hidan have to push him to the brink again and again? The way he kept unremittingly needling at him, turning everything around on him - Kakuzu was just inches away from taking a swing at him, and that was something he really, really didn't want to do. Instead, he leant across him, careful not to even so much as brush against him, and opened the passenger door, thrusting it wide with a flick of his fingers.

"Just get out before I do something I'll regret," he spat.

"Why don't you just fucking do it then, Kakuzu?!" Hidan yelled. He pulled the door shut again, as hard as he could, and throwing his arms wide he angled his body towards Kakuzu. "You want to fucking hit me? Go the fuck on then, see what happens!"

Kakuzu punched the steering wheel instead. Hidan looked on in awe. He'd've broken his hand if he'd tried that, but Kakuzu seemed to be alright - physically anyway; he even did it twice more. Hidan flinched a little the third time. "You're going to set off the airbag," he said, a little uncertainly. He began to wonder if he'd gone a little too far. "Or break your hand." His heart was beating hard - he was pretty glad he hadn't taken that punch himself.

There was silence for a moment. Then Hidan put a very, very tentative hand on Kakuzu's arm as he continued to stare fixedly at the steering wheel. "Hey, Kakuzu? Don't be so mad?" He made his voice as sweet as could be. "I didn't mean it, OK?" Still no reaction, though at least he wasn't telling him to get out of the car anymore. Time to try a different tack maybe.

He stared at Kakuzu's stony profile a moment longer, then leant right round in front of him so he could look into his face. "Kakuzu?" he said again, looking up at him, his face anxious and propitiating. "You didn't really take your dogs up the arse, did you? Is that why you're so angry with me?"

Kakuzu slowly closed his eyes in disbelief, then suddenly laid his head down on the steering wheel, shaking with laughter. He couldn't help himself. He didn't quite understand why, but suddenly his anger just seemed to drain away. Hidan stared at him for a moment, then began to laugh too. Did this mean he was forgiven? He really fucking hoped so. Kakuzu leant back, still chuckling, and wrapped his arm around him, pulling him close. "I'm sorry, sweetheart, I know I'm a bad-tempered old bastard. I don't know how you put up with me, but - to answer your question - I keep you around because you're the light of my life, OK?"

Hidan's mouth dropped open again - how the fuck did Kakuzu manage to pull something that fucking precious out of the most horrendous row they'd yet had? "Fuck," he whispered, his throat somehow tightening on him and not letting him speak normally. "I am never fucking going anywhere. You are fucking stuck with me now, man." He somehow managed to wriggle in between Kakuzu and the steering wheel and Kakuzu, anticipating it, shot the seat back and reclined it.

First he took Kakuzu's hand and examined the knuckles, then flexed the fingers. "Are you really OK?" he asked. "Doing that would've fucking crippled me."

"I'm fine," Kakuzu murmured, "really. You need to look at your technique, though, if you're hurting yourself-"

"Nah, it's cool," Hidan leaned in close, his lips brushing Kakuzu's, then kissing him lightly. "I don't tend to go in for punching inanimate objects anyway," he finished, before starting to kiss him harder, deeper, locking an arm around Kakuzu's neck and grinding his hips against him. "I fucking knew you needed to get off."

Kakuzu had cause to be very glad of his BMW's tinted windows as he unzipped himself, then Hidan, and then attempted to get Hidan's jeans - admittedly much tighter than he would ever wear himself - off him. It was pretty awkward, definitely inelegant; neither of them cared. Hidan grabbed his jeans to delve in the back pocket - he came up empty handed. Quick rucksack rummage - only lube.

"Anything's fine," Kakuzu pulled him back onto him. "Just for fuck's sake come here,"

"I like other activities as much as the next man," Hidan's voice was almost slurred with lust, but he kept searching. "But right now you really need to fuck me." He looked Kakuzu dead in the eye. "Fucking admit it."

Kakuzu hesitated. There was really no denying it. He noticed that Hidan was holding an envelope in a meaningful way - it had an NHS postmark. "I haven't opened this yet..." he was saying.

"Are you worried?" Kakuzu asked, taking it from him. He didn't need to ask what it was, but he was absurdly touched at the thought of Hidan getting himself down to the clinic without saying anything about it - and he'd probably had to wait for bloody hours, too. It was a serious indication that he saw this relationship as long term, as well - an idea Kakuzu saved up to think about properly later. Of course, he'd gone private for that sort of thing himself - got it done in half an hour at lunchtime. He told himself he didn't feel remotely guilty about abandoning the NHS - hadn't it abandoned him? - another thought that he had to squash down.

"No reason to be," Hidan was saying, "but I always am."

Maybe with his weird blood obsession it made a little sense; Kakuzu ripped it open. He was glad to hear the word 'always' - in this at least Hidan wasn't as irresponsible as he sometimes seemed. "Mine came back clear yesterday," he said. "It's in the glove compartment if you want to see."

He pulled the letter out of the envelope and scanned through the contents with an expert eye. "You're fine," he said, and his stomach gave a sudden lurch of excitement.

"Oh fuck!" Hidan's voice went high-pitched. He grabbed the lube. He didn't bothered to look at Kakuzu's letter - and the trust he had in him made Kakuzu's pulse quicken and his stomach flip over again. "Are we doing this? Are we fucking doing this?!"

Kakuzu took the lube from him. "Oh, we are! I hope you've been eating enough fibre..."

"Fuck you, I'm douched and everything!" Hidan protested. "It's fucking all-bran for me from now on - I take this fucking seriously, I'll have you know!"

His words turned into gasps as Kakuzu's cock eased into him and it was so fucking hot, the smoothness of Kakuzu's skin against his, no distracting little snags and wrinkles, just hot and slick and hard. His mouth was just inches from Kakuzu's, their eyes locked together, he'd never felt intimacy like it. Kakuzu couldn't move that much in the position he was in - it was all down to Hidan, and he started to ride him as hard and fast as he could. The simultaneous feelings of being in control and of being utterly and completely penetrated were intoxicating. In such a cramped space it was hard work, though, and eventually he had to ease the pace, leaning against Kakuzu's chest, half pulling off his top and unbuttoning Kakuzu's shirt so that even more of their skin was touching.

"Kakuzu," he whispered, his mouth right up against Kakuzu's, "you have a really fucking massive cock, you know."

"I do know that, yes, Hidan," Kakuzu murmured back, thrusting up into him, just a little, as Hidan eased down what he had thought was all the way. Hidan gasped gratifyingly. Kakuzu smiled. "What particularly makes you mention it-" he did it again, eliciting another sharp gasp, "now?"

"It's-" he had to have a little pause each time he worked Kakuzu's cock deep into himself, "really much - easier - to get it all - in without a - fucking condom, isn't it?"

Kakuzu shifted a little, so he had a little more agency. "You're actually still not quite getting the whole thing..." he murmured silkily, moving forward and pressing Hidan back so that he was draped over the steering wheel. He slid his seat back as far as it would go, and now if he just shifted so that he was kneeling on the seat - oh yes, that was it - he added a bit more lube and pushed in all the rest of the way and Hidan moaned, still trying to say something but utterly incoherent now.

"Sh-shh," Kakuzu soothed. Bracing himself with one hand on the dashboard and gripping firmly around Hidan's waist with the other, he started fucking him how he knew he liked it best, hard, fast and deep, straightening him out, hitting his sweet spot again and again, and it wasn't long before Hidan was coming everywhere, a crazy big load considering he'd shot another one only a few hours ago. Ah, youth... Kakuzu thought. He almost considered holding back so he could fuck him some more while he was super sensitive, and using his own cum for lubrication, but just watching him do it was just so hot, and Kakuzu so pent up that it just couldn't be done. A very nice idea, though - he'd certainly use it another time!

Afterwards, collapsing back into the oh-so-convenient drivers' seat, with Hidan on top of him and his mind finally clear, Kakuzu began to think about the time, and the long stretch of journey still ahead of them. It was distinctly dusky all around now. He glanced at his watch, and Hidan, feeling and correctly interpreting the movement, looked up at him with eyes full of mock-reproach.

"Back to the grindstone, eh?" he said, slightly emphasising the 'grind'.

"Well, unless you fancy a night in a Travelodge..." Kakuzu deposited him back in the passenger seat and tossed him the sweaty t-shirt from the floor to clean himself up with after giving himself a quick wipe over. It was lucky Hidan had undone his shirt - it was really almost completely unsullied... he buttoned it back up, tucked himself back into his trousers, and started up the engine.

"Hang on a fucking minute!" Hidan exclaimed, pulling his top down and starting to struggle with his jeans.

"Calm down." Kakuzu shot him an amused look. "I'll just drive us a bit nearer to the actual services and nip in for a wash... you can stay in the car if you want."

Wondering how Kakuzu was going to manage to wash his cock in the massive impersonal toilets of motorway service stations, but sure he was equal to the task, Hidan elected to stay in the car. He thought he might well regret it further down the line, but he was rather enjoying the debauched feeling of being full of Kakuzu's cum, ravished and made a mess off and abandoned. Also, he didn't want to move at all. In fact, he was feeling quite drowsy now...

So by the time Kakuzu arrived back at the car, nice and clean and with a much needed cup of coffee, Hidan was fast asleep. Kakuzu, smiling with a tenderness he was still struggling to show Hidan while he was awake, strapped him in, shrugged off his jacket and tucked it over him and sighed in contentment as he pulled out of the service station and back towards the motorway. With any luck now Hidan would stay asleep for the rest of the journey...

Chapter Text

By nine o’clock they were nearly there. Kakuzu was running on fumes and it felt like midnight - these country lanes were seriously dark. He was driving faster than was entirely prudent with all the windows down and Beethoven’s Fifth blasting out of the stereo at full volume in an effort to keep himself awake. Hidan was leaning out of his window precariously far to try and keep his motion sickness under control. He’d woken up a few miles back when they left the main road; he'd seemed to sense the bumps and turns in his sleep and very quickly he’d been feeling distinctly queasy and had gone alarmingly ashen-faced. Kakuzu had had to pull over to give him a few moments of deep breathing over a five bar gate. It had seemed to deal with the worst of it, but he was still rather white around the mouth. Kakuzu had taken a moment to look at the road atlas while he was at it; he’d lost all phone signal now and the last thing he wanted to do was get them lost at this stage of the journey. But, at last - if he was indeed on the right track - the turning should be any minute now...

“There it fucking is, man,” Hidan called back into the car, gesturing to the left. Kakuzu stepped hard on the brakes and saw the converted chapel - tastefully up-lit - a little uphill from them, looking ghostly in the moonlight. The dark driveway he was now pulling into had paper lanterns hung in the trees at intervals - Ah, Konan... he thought. He cut Beethoven off mid-phrase.

After about 50 yards they came across a clutch of parked cars and Kakuzu pulled up behind an incredibly flash looking orange Lamborghini.

“What the fuck?” Hidan stumbled out of the car before he’d even killed the engine and nearly collapsed with laughter. “Whose is that?!”

“Good grief,” said Kakuzu, coming around to join him, the slam of the car door seeming incredibly loud in the cool darkness. “It’s obscene.”

“It’s Tobi, isn’t it?” Hidan said. ‘It’s fucking Tobi; he is the only fucking one who would drive a thing like that.”

“Hmm,” said Kakuzu. “you may be right. Unless Yahiko is having a mid-life crisis....”

“Remind me which of the pretentious fuckers that is?” His nausea was wearing off now and Hidan was becoming uncomfortably aware of the dishevelled state he was in. He discreetly sniffed towards his armpit. Fuck.

“Nagato Pein’s PA,” Kakuzu said, suddenly sitting down on the bonnet of the car and feeling utterly exhausted. He found himself rambling on, not even sure how they’d got on the subject anymore. “Or more of a fixer, really. He does everything for him on the outside; he and Konan are very close. I think they were all at university together. Or maybe even school - they go way back.”

“Oh, right, yeah, the boss-man from Konan’s gallery...” Hidan was peering into the Lamborghini, looking for clues, though it was really too dark to see anything. “I know the fucker. But, nah, it’s fucking Tobi.”

He glanced over at Kakuzu - he’d never seen an even remotely vulnerable side of him before and it worried him. He took half a step towards him, hand outstretched to help him up, a suggestion that they get their bags and go on up to the house forming on his lips, but before he could say anything Kakuzu’s arm was around his waist and he was reeling him in, pulling him firmly between his legs.

“Alright now?” he asked, his voice low, locking his arms around Hidan and laying his head wearily against his shoulder. He felt Hidan’s arms drape around his neck, fingers nervously combing through the ends of his hair, and it just seemed so easy to stay like that. He felt exhaustion roll over him like a wave; after all that driving, walking the 20 more yards to the front door seemed like too much.

“Mm.” Hidan nodded, but now all he could think was, fuck, if I actually smell bad to myself, how much fucking worse must it seem to Kakuzu?! Plus, was something actually trickling out of him?! He shifted experimentally. Yes, it definitely was. Fuck. He tightened his sphincter. How long could he keep this up?!

It was a bit of a reversal of their usual roles and, maybe that’s why his heart is actually beating faster, thought Kakuzu. He gave a short laugh that was really just an exhalation with a small injection of humour. "Don't you like being in charge?" he asked. "Don't worry... I’ll be ok in a minute..."

He nestled further in against Hidan's chest, rubbing his cheekbone over those beautifully defined pecs - he must spend at at least as long in the gym as Kakuzu did himself - and breathing in deeply--

"Fuck, Kakuzu!" Hidan exclaimed sharply. "I fucking stink! What the fuck's wrong with you - you shouldn't want to do that!"

"Mm, I do want to though," Kakuzu murmured, slipping his hands under Hidan's top and working one round to the front. He had to separate the fabric from Hidan's body where dried cum had stuck it to him and Hidan groaned in shame and disgust.

"You are fucking depraved, man!" He arched his body away; Kakuzu pulled him firmly back.

"I've always been fond of seafood..." he teased. Hidan closed his eyes in horror.

"Oh fuck--" he moaned; he was actually starting to get turned on by this, and, shit, he’d relaxed and the trickling had started up again - how fucking big a load had Kakuzu pumped into him anyway?! “I don’t know how the fuck you can even stand to be this close to me! I need to get to a shower!” he said desperately.

"To be honest," Kakuzu continued, pushing his top up, flicking his tongue over Hidan’s nipple just like he’d fantasised about doing earlier, "I think you'd turn me on in just about any state--"

But the noise of the engine had attracted someone's attention - a slim dark figure was coming down the path - and Kakuzu put Hidan a little away from him and got to his feet with a final superhuman effort.

It was Konan. "You made it!" she called. She came and put her arms around his neck and had kissed him on the cheek before he could think of any way to evade it. She was clearly a few sheets to the wind already, but was still just about able to maintain her usual elegance and poise. "We’re still at the wine and nibbles stage, so don’t feel like you’ve missed anything. Kisame and Itachi only got here half an hour ago as well."

Kakuzu watched with interest as she moved onto Hidan, who backed away theatrically. “Ah, no, Konan, I honestly don’t recommend a hug!” he said, genuine panic in his tone, “I am fucking seriously not at my best right now!”

Konan laughed. “Alright, Hidan, don’t worry!” She patted him on the arm instead. “We’re all so glad you could join us,” she said, a little over-intensely. “Why don’t we get you both up to the house and you can hop in the shower and freshen up while I get Kakuzu a glass of wine!”

She looked from one to the other with barely disguised interest, but Kakuzu was in discreet mode now, giving Hidan the barest of touches to his elbow to get him moving after getting their suitcase from the boot.

"Tobi and Deidara are already completely off their little faces on whatever it is that  Zetsu's brought with him," she called over her shoulder as they followed her up the path. “Just so you’re prepared...”

It wasn’t until they were halfway up a little flight of stairs that led straight off the front hall that she said - and, is she looking ever so slightly uncomfortable, Kakuzu wondered - “Oh, about the bedrooms...” - in the plural, never a good sign - “I’m ever so sorry but there’s only one double and I’ve had to give it to Sasori and Deidara as--”

Not to worry Konan,” Kakuzu cut in, several steps ahead. He loathed awkwardness of this kind and just wanted to get it over with. “I know I didn’t give you a lot of warning...”

“And the twin will have to be for Itachi and Kisame, as I can’t ask either of them to go in the bunk room, so--”

“Bunk room?” Hidan - just catching up - was looking completely appalled.

“Itachi needs peace and quiet, and the beds in there just aren’t big enough for Kisame! There is a single room, so I thought if you had that, Kakuzu, and Hidan went in with the boys, then at least you two have somewhere a bit private to retreat to.” She smiled knowingly at them.

Hidan was still looking dismayed. “The boys...?” he asked.

“Tobi and Zetsu,” Konan clarified. “I hope it’ll be ok - I know you all get along, so hopefully it’ll be fun!” She smiled brightly. Hidan sagged. He didn't at all want to share a room with Tobi and Zetsu, let alone a fucking bunk bed. But he knew they'd confirmed late, they didn’t really have  leg to stand on making any demands. Dei and Sasori would've requested a double months ago.

He’d take his cue from Kakuzu, he decided, and he could see by a quick glance at Kakuzu’s impassive profile that he wouldn’t be at all down with him being obstreperous with Konan.

“Hidan, you look horrified!” Kakuzu said unexpectedly, though, the arm that was loosely around his waist giving him a quick squeeze. “You can have the single if you like - I’ll go in the bunk room and keep the ‘boys’ in order.”

“Oh man, Kakuzu, you’d fucking hate it,” Hidan protested, though the fact the Kakuzu had made the offer made him feel a massive amount better.

Konan added anxiously, “and really, I think you’d be just as bad for the beds as Kisame would, Kakuzu...”

Hidan put a hand on his arm. “I’ll be ok,” he said bravely, making his voice throb and catch a little in his throat and turning up his best martyred eyes. Kakuzu rolled his own sardonically and turned back to Konan.

“Thank you, Konan,” he said politely, “you’ve been far more considerate than we deserve! Don’t worry at all. Perhaps you should show us the way before Hidan starts getting designs on an Oscar.”

Konan laughed, relieved that they seemed to be taking it alright. She was uncomfortably aware that Sasori and Deidara were not in fact in the only double bedroom - but she was not about to give hers up when there was a chance of discreetly sneaking Yahiko in there. If the rumours were true Kakuzu and Hidan had been shacked up together for a week anyway - they could probably cope with a little time apart. She glanced back at them as they followed her up the stairs. Discretion had clearly been thrown to the winds; Hidan had his hand resting on Kakuzu’s shoulder and was leaning against him to murmur something right into his ear. God only knew where Kakuzu’s hands were. And... was Hidan nibbling his earlobe now? She tore her gaze away, but not before Hidan’s had flicked up and made momentary, teasing, eye contact.

“Here you are, Hidan,” she said, taking refuge in playing the hostess. “And the bathroom’s just across the hall. Why don’t you go on while I show Kakuzu his room, and then I’m going to get you that glass of wine, Kakuzu, you really do look like you could use one!”

The bunk room was very obviously intended for children and had a colourful rug and beanbags on the floor. Hidan’s nose wrinkled as he went in. “Tobi’s brought his Lynx Africa, then!” he exclaimed, with some distaste. “It smells like the fucking boys’ locker room in here already!”

The eponymous bunk bed - both top and bottom - was clearly claimed already, so he chucked his rucksack onto an admittedly rather small single that was tucked under the sloping part of the ceiling, then delved in it to remove the various items that he didn’t want sharing a room with Tobi and Zetsu. He handed them to Kakuzu. “Here,” he said, “you’re in charge of these babies.” Konan averted her eyes.

Kakuzu’s little room, just along the passage, was quite spartan and seemed to suit him somehow. Just a bed, a sink in the corner - could be convenient - and a little dark wood chest of drawers, which he put Hidan’s apparatus down on top of. Quite honestly, he felt like he’d rather go straight to sleep than anything - he looked longingly at the narrow, white-covered bed. He didn’t feel like wine would be remotely restorative, and he could really barely face the idea of socialising. But he knew what was expected of him, and perhaps food would help. Leaving his suitcase to unpack later, he followed Konan back down the stairs. He could hear the hiss of the shower starting up and was glad at least that Hidan would be happy now.

In the kitchen they found Yahiko, rather incongruously wearing a large Moet & Chandon apron and mixing up a salad dressing. Kakuzu accepted a glass of wine and went out into the large open plan living space to look for congenial company. There seemed to be two distinct groups - Itachi Uchiha, ensconced in a large wing-backed armchair with an air of ennui reminiscent of a Sargent portrait, was holding court next to a wood-burning stove; Kisame was on the hearth rug at his feet, looking up at him with clear adoration; a melancholy-looking Sasori, inexplicably - given that there was another perfectly good armchair on the other side of the stove - perched nervily on a pouffe beside him. And then there was Tobi, Zetsu and Deidara; stoned, raucous and clearly already pretty pissed as well. They’d discovered a small games room and had just emerged with a Twister set. Tobi seemed very excited; he carefully spread out the mat.

Kakuzu went and sat down by Sasori without a moment’s hesitation.

It didn’t take him long to figure out why Sasori had picked the pouffe over the armchair - he kept shooting little glances over at the younger guys, and from where Kakuzu was sitting he had his back to it all. He was pretty content to keep it that way; Sasori didn’t look too happy.

But the conversation had turned inevitably to the week’s hottest news, and Kakuzu wasn’t too thrilled about that. He wished they’d all just leave him alone and let him handle it himself, but it seemed like everyone had to have an opinion. Kisame was once again outlining his ideas for a feature in Akatsuki magazine. Both Itachi and Sasori were shaking their heads though; ‘too establishment’ said Itachi; ‘too late’ said Sasori.

Then Yahiko, on his way back from taking the cutlery over to the table, was hanging over the back of Itachi’s chair and sticking his oar in as well. "I could wish this trouble with Sarutobi hadn't come up now, Kakuzu," he said. "There's a student at St Martins Mr. Pein really has his eye on...”

Kakuzu controlled his temper with some difficulty. “Look, I’m willing to give it a try,” he said, to Kisame, who was being the least irritating, taking a sip of his wine. “After this morning’s headlines I can see that I need to address the situation somehow.” He massaged his temples - he could feel a tension headache coming on.

Itachi looked up. “This morning’s?” he said, his voice low and husky, but still clearly laced through with surprise. He cleared his throat. “Have you not seen the Nara article?” He got his phone out and offered it to Kakuzu.

“Here,” he said, watching him intently. Kakuzu started to read.

Prominent art investor Kakuzu Taki has sold his Sarutobis - and that’s all it takes for every small investor to try and sell as well, flooding the market and making demand for his new work non-existent. Big collectors do this sort of thing all the time, of course; it’s nothing new, artists are well aware that - no matter how well-loved, well regarded and successful - they are at the mercy of the people whose whims can damage their reputations and slash their prices at the drop of a hat.

It’s the ugly side of the creative scene, where beautiful pieces of art are nothing more than an abstract sum, and traded like stocks and shares. It’s demoralising, it’s despicable, but it’s what all artists have to accept: if a big collector buys out your degree show, while it’s going to give your career a tremendous short term boost, the debt can be called in. But there’s more in this case than meets the eye.

Asuma Sarutobi is an artist who has built up his practise with equal measures of diligence and brilliance, and whose commercial success has not stopped him from passing on his knowledge and wisdom to the younger generation. A founding member of an exciting and highly innovative project space in Hackney, and a regular tutor and visiting lecturer at St Martins and Chelsea, Asuma has a wide reach in the current art scene. In my opinion, his work, while maybe less in-your-face than in the ‘90s, is of as high a standard as ever.

Taki didn’t buy most of his Sarutobis when Asuma was an emerging artist - it was a few years later, when his critical success was already reasonably established. After Taki’s purchases, commercial success soon followed, though it wasn’t until a few years later that Taki emerged as the giant of the collecting scene that he is now.

To me, his sale of Asuma’s work seems uncharacteristic, and in fact, I would go so far as to say a calculated and spiteful move to damage Asuma’s career. Taki’s latest boyfriend, the notoriously troubled model Hidan Yu, had various run-ins with Asuma during the weeks leading up to the sales, the last of them leaving Asuma in intensive care. I was there, and the fact that I nearly got arrested as my friend was bleeding out in front of me is testament to the fact that whatever they told the police was a very different narrative to the one I took part in. My assessment is that Taki’s sales were a kind of payback for Asuma’s decision to stand up to Hidan. It’s a troubling notion, that one of our most influential collectors would stoop so low, and that art history may be in the hands of men such as this, who will drag an artist down not for the quality of his work, but for petty, sordid and personal feuds.

So, my advice is; if you’re an investor: don’t sell your Sarutobis. You may find he’s making a comeback quicker than you thought. And if you’re an artist: don’t sell your work to Kakuzu Taki. He’s making bad choices - and ones that aren’t informed by the genuine love of art that used to characterise his collection. The scene is changing and we have the means to bring the age of the big collector to an end. For the first time in over a decade of dominance, Taki may actually be set to lose money.

Kakuzu was silent a moment, his mouth set in a hard line. His fist clenched involuntarily. This kid - he looked again at the byline photo - this odious brat who’d had Hidan in an armlock while his friends assaulted him, while Asuma Sarutobi held a knife in his face, had the audacity to call him petty and sordid. And ‘men such as this’?! Was this the bloody 1890s? It was unbelievable.

“Christ,” he muttered. “That’s a fucking hatchet job, isn’t it?” He handed the phone back to Itachi.

“Nara has already got a very large following among the students and the young ‘hip’ crowd,” Itachi said, passing the phone down to Kisame, who was holding up a hand for it and started to skim through the piece again. “He may seem crass and pompous to us, but to them it’s a war cry. I can write something, sure, but it won't counteract the effect this is having. It just won’t have the reach among the people you want to invest in, Kakuzu.”

Kisame looked up, and he looked more cheerful. “I’ve got an idea,” he said. “What’s the name of that chick who hangs out with Sasuke, Itachi?”

“Karin.” said Itachi without hesitation. “Karin Uzumaki.”

“Yes, that’s it. Well, I was talking to her on Monday night after you two left, Kakuzu. She’s a blogger of some kind, has a YouTube channel that gets ridiculous numbers of views... Seems she’s trying to get into journalism. Why don’t we get her in to interview you--

“Interview?” Kakuzu was a little alarmed. He remembered the girl. She’d seemed a sulky rebellious type. Which he might enjoy in an Apollonian youth, but quite honestly alarmed him in a female...

“It’s a good idea,” Itachi said quietly. “She’ll humanise you, Kakuzu. She’ll provide an unexpected counterpoint. Asuma’s set is extremely blokey - this will show them up, if we play it right. They’ll look like a bunch of straight white guys tossing their privilege around. Thinking they’ve got the right to start a fire and not get burned.” Although Itachi’s tone was as cool and collected as ever, there was clearly a strength of feeling here that went beyond the current discussion, and Kakuzu remembered that Itachi had been at St Martins himself a long time ago. Perhaps there was some extra history there.

Yahiko raised an eyebrow. “Try it,” he said. It was clearly an order. “There are a few from Orochimaru’s place who are getting very interesting - your brother among them, Itachi - Mr Pein would like to see us forging links with them.” He looked at Kakuzu. “I’m concerned that we don’t have more than just reputation to worry about here, though...”

In answer Kakuzu got out his own phone and wordlessly showed them all the picture he’d taken at the scene. Just glancing at it now made his stomach tighten with an echo of the rage he’d felt then. “The police have this,” he said, “and I spoke to them immediately afterwards. I don’t see how Asuma can press charges; Hidan clearly acted in self defence.”

He was suddenly vividly reminded of Hidan forcing that knife towards Asuma’s face, the intensity in his eyes; his intent absolutely clear. But he wasn’t about to share that with anyone.

Fresh from his shower and feeling much better, Hidan paused a moment on the bottom step of a second staircase which opened straight onto the living room. He watched Kakuzu sipping his wine, interjecting intelligently into what Sasori was saying, idly spearing an olive on a cocktail stick. Fuck, he was so fucking sexy. But somehow he couldn’t fit himself into the picture. Was he going to sit at Kakuzu's feet and make cow eyes at him? Like Kisame was doing with Itachi right now? Was he fuck! He just knew if he so much as opened his mouth in that company Itachi would take him apart with a few choice words and make him bluster like an idiot. Sasori would snigger meanly. Kisame would probably regret having been so friendly once he was privy to Itachi's opinion of him, and Kakuzu? His own voice, loud and accusatory, came ringing back to him 'you're fucking ashamed of me, aren't you Kakuzu,' - and he just couldn't shake off that feeling, despite everything that had happened since. He turned on his heel and went to join Dei, Zetsu and Tobi. Clearly theirs was the activity he was going to ace here.

Kakuzu looked up just in time to catch that look on Hidan's face again - Christ alive, you couldn't reassure the kid enough, could you? Well, he this was a conversation he needed to have and Hidan could just bloody well cope. But then he chanced to glance at Sasori as Sasori looked over at Deidara, locked in a sinuous Twister embrace with Tobi, and he knew he didn't want to be shooting Hidan glances like that in half an hour. Looking down at his phone he saw that he did have one bar of signal now. Good shower? he texted Hidan. Better if you'd been in it! came back to him faster than he'd've thought it possible to type. He chuckled, then remembering the company he was in, quickly tried to straighten his features. Have fun with 'the boys' he sent, and slipped his phone away again, turning his attention back to Kisame as, thank goodness, Yahiko headed back to the kitchen.

After Hidan joined in, the game of Twister didn’t last very long. Some well placed pressure to the hamstrings soon brought Zetsu down, and despite Tobi’s best efforts to bite him on the inner thigh, Hidan managed to evade this and subtly knee him in the face instead. It didn’t quite bring him down, and he seemed to have some kind of joint hypermobility that was definitely giving him an advantage, but a quick kick to the shin as they went for a right foot on yellow did the trick. Tobi managed to drag Deidara down with him, so Hidan emerged victorious. Dei took a lot longer than he needed to extricate himself. He was clearly flirting pretty heavily with Tobi, who was lapping it up like a pussycat, but there was a bitter sort of undercurrent to it all.

“Why’re you acting like such a fucking arse, Dei?” Hidan demanded as Tobi and Zetsu went back into the games room to see what else they could find, and Konan, who’d been working the spinner for them, went back to the kitchen to help Yahiko. “Sasori looks like he might fucking cry and you’re going to make Tobi jizz in his fucking pants.”

Fuck Sasori!” Deidara spat. He jerked his head towards the older guys. “Ever since those two arrived he’s been over there talking to Itachi. He knows how I feel, but does he fucking give a shit?! Hn!”

“Come on, what does it matter, man? Let him hang out with Itachi if he likes him...” Hidan kind of knew he was poking a hornet’s nest with this, but Deidara’s self-righteous anger was too comical to leave alone.

“The point is - he shouldn't fucking like him! It’s fucking disloyal, yeah?!” Deidara’s blue eyes flashed with anger.

“Itachi always makes me feel like a piece of shit too, but I’m not bitching to Kakuzu about it am I?” That made him think of Kakuzu, and he looked over at him. He could just see the top of his head over the back of his armchair and his hand resting on the arm, fingers drumming impatiently.

“Yeah, well, Kakuzu didn’t watch him fucking take you apart at your first ever show. Kakuzu didn’t listen to him tell everyone that your work was worthless crap he couldn’t care about if he fucking tried. He fucking questioned my artistic integrity, man! It was one of the worst fucking experiences of my career, hn! And Sasori was there for all of it.”

Hidan laughed as Deidara got more and more worked up. “Worse than when your entire degree show exploded before it had been assessed, huh? Seriously, Dei, take a fucking chill pill, man,” he said. “Hey, maybe Zetsu’s got something else that’ll take the edge off!

Zetsu, hearing this, sidled over and proffered a joint. Deidara waved it away angrily. “No! I want to feel it! Hn! This is genuine fucking emotion and it shouldn't be suppressed. And my degree show was a blast! That was meant to happen!”

“Dei, man, you’re being a fucking idiot,” Hidan laughed infuriatingly. He got his phone out of his pocket and opened Kakuzu’s last text. He wasn't able to suppress a satisfied smirk. Deidara growled. He snatched Hidan’s phone and turned it off.

“Stop rubbing your perfect fucking love affair in my face, ok? Hmph!” he snapped.

“Alright, alright,” Hidan took his phone back and put it in his pocket. “Keep your fucking hair on, ok? You’re normally the one with the perfect fucking love affair, so suck it up, dude.”

“Mph,” said Deidara. He didn’t engage with Hidan’s observation, but shot another dark look towards Sasori, who frowned and looked away.

Over in the kitchen, Konan and Yahiko had everything ready for a light buffet supper, they’d taken almost everything through to the other room, but, both reaching for a stack of plates at the same time their hands chanced to touch, their eyes met, and they simultaneously reached the decision that supper could wait a few minutes more.

Yahiko slid a hand around Konan’s waist and pulled her against him. Her body couldn't help but respond. She realised she'd been playing with her lip piercing with her tongue and stopped. A nervous bad habit - she could normally keep a lid on it. She looked up at him and in that moment he seemed so perfectly right and she wanted him so much that she couldn’t think where any of her doubts were coming from. She was just stretching up to kiss him when suddenly there were footsteps in the doorway. They sprang apart.

“Anything I can do to help?" It was Sasori. He looked irritable and upset, but not so much as Yahiko did now; he picked up a large green salad and strode out of the kitchen without a word. Konan closed her eyes a moment. She knew how frustrated he could get, but she wished he’d give her credit for feeling the same.

“Thank you, Sasori,” she said. “Would you take the plates through and tell everyone to help themselves.”  She grabbed her handbag from the kitchen table and slipped out of the side door into the garden. She needed a moment to herself, and a quick cigarette to calm herself down. She told herself she wouldn’t even think about Yahiko until supper was over. After all, they had all night ahead of them.

Heading to the table with Deidara as Tobi and Zetsu brought a playstation out of the playroom and started to plug it into the television, Hidan took another opportunity to try and figure out what was going on with him. “You’re so far out of his fucking league, man, it’s not fucking fair!” he said, gesturing towards Tobi. “Do us all a favour and save yourself for his wet dreams, would you?!”

“Well, shit, you’re one to talk, don’t you think you’d be considered a little out of Kakuzu’s league? Hm?”

“What?! Kakuzu’s hot as fuck! What’re you talking about?”

“Ah... ok!” Deidara’s tone was one you might use to humour a dangerous lunatic. “Well maybe he’s an acquired taste...”

“Yeah, like Sasori’s limp dick, you mean?!” Hidan countered aggressively.

“Piss off, Hidan, I never even said that!”

“I don’t see you fucking denying it though!”

“I’m not engaging, hn! You’re so fucking puerile, Hidan!”

“Yeah, yeah. Doesn’t take a fucking rocket scientist to figure it out...”

“I’m not even dignifying that with an answer, hn!” Deidara grabbed a plate and started angrily serving himself potato salad. Hidan began to feel that a tactical retreat might be in order.

Seeing that Kisame was helping Itachi up and they were coming over to the table as well, he left Deidara to cool off and went and perched on the arm of Kakuzu’s chair. He hadn’t even moved yet and as he looked up at him Hidan could see unmistakable signs of tiredness around his eyes. He let himself slide down into his lap so they were both hidden from the others by the back of the chair.

“You want me to get you something?” he asked, tracing along deepened frown lines with his fingertips, trying to smooth them away.

Kakuzu put his arms around him and sighed, then smiled. “Aren’t you sweet and thoughtful tonight?” he said, tucking a stray strand of Hidan’s hair back into place where it had been ruffled during the game of Twister. “Yes. Do that, and then come back here and sit there to eat,” - he pointed at the hearthrug at his feet - “because I want an acolyte too.”

Hidan laughed and leant in to kiss him lightly on the mouth. “Alright, I’ll be your acolyte,” he said. “Though I think I should probably be the fucking priest, actually.”

With something to eat and Hidan at his knee, Kakuzu felt better. He liked being able to touch Hidan’s sleek grey head just by stretching out his fingers; the weight of his arm resting casually resting on his thigh felt right and comforting. Every now and then he’d turn to look up at him with some bizarre observation, or tip his head straight back just to make eye contact for a moment and Kakuzu felt at ease for the first time since they’d arrived. He wished they could just stay like that. And then maybe in a few minutes go up to bed together... But Hidan had barely finished eating when Zetsu and Tobi were calling him back over - they’d fired up some sort of karaoke game on the playstation.

“Hidan, we need you to come and sing ‘Daddy Cool’,” Deidara called over. “Clearly no-one else is going to do it justice!”

“He’s crazy about his daddy, oh, he believes in him!” growled Tobi, appearing around the back of the chair.

Hidan gave him the finger, completely unabashed, laying his cheek against Kakuzu’s knee. “What-the-fuck-ever, man, I don’t care, I’ll sing it,” he said. ‘But if that’s fucking Singstar you’ve got there then you’re going to have to give me some backing Dei!”

He got up in one fluid motion and went round to join them, then turned back a moment to lean over the back of Kakuzu’s chair and give him the most obvious and lingering kiss he could manage, prompting squeals and wolf-whistles from Tobi and Zetsu. Then he even considerately took his plate back to the table for him before accepting a small plastic microphone and going over to the television.

Heart thumping, Kakuzu swallowed down embarrassment he’d clearly either have to swiftly get over or learn to live with. Was that a show for the boys, or just because Hidan felt like it? Or both? In an effort to avoid catching Kisame’s eye - he was grinning widely and would probably be winking and giving him the thumbs up if given half a chance - he leaned around the wing of his armchair to watch Hidan with Deidara, who, realising now that he’d got himself onto the more compromising part, was trying to backtrack.

“Go on, Dei, sing it for Sasori!” Hidan was urging mercilessly. “She’s crazy like a fool...!” he intoned invitingly, and he did just have the deep bass notes required. “Come on man, I’ll even do the dance for you...!”

But at the mention of Sasori, Deidara flat out refused, and they had to go back to the menu. Sasori, clearly stung, got up and went to the kitchen to stack the dishwasher with military precision.

Kakuzu started feeling incredibly tired again - the brief second wind bought with food and Hidan’s unexpected sweetness was wearing off - and as Hidan and Zetsu made a valiant but ultimately cacophonous attempt to sing Bohemian Rhapsody, the headache that had been brought on by Yahiko’s probing began to reassert itself. It was clearly time for bed. Itachi was already excusing himself, and Kakuzu was swift to follow suit. He looked over at ‘the boys’. Their karaoke seemed to have some sort of competitive element - Hidan seemed to be doing better than Zetsu but not by an awful lot. Tobi and Deidara were howling along in the background from down on the floor (where their flirtation seemed to be moving up a level; Sasori, coming out of the kitchen, took one look and muttered something about going out to sketch the hill by moonlight).

They were still passing a spliff around, laughing, clearly having fun, it didn’t seem like was much risk of being woken in a few hours to the news that Hidan was concussed/ choking on his own vomit/ in hypovolemic shock... He didn't want to break up the party, he told himself. Or was it a certain squeamishness about having another tender scene in front of the younger guys? He squashed that thought down. Anyway, he decided to slip quietly away, rather than go and say goodnight. “So you think you can love me and leave me to die?!?” followed him up the stairs. “Oooooooh babyyyy, can’t do this to me babyyyy!” - raucous laughter, a squeal from Deidara - “just gotta get out, just gotta get right out of heeeeeere!”

Safely in his little room he texted him. Gone to bed, first room on the right at the top of the stairs. A surprisingly pure “nothing really matters...”  floated up from below him and he hesitated, then added an x, deleted it, then added it again and quickly sent the message while his nerve still held.

Lying in the narrow bed between cool clean sheets, the room bathed in the kind of black darkness that you could never achieve in the city; listening to muted laughter from downstairs and a reggae beat starting up that he vaguely recognised as ‘I shot the Sheriff’; unable to keep from smiling as he recognised Hidan’s voice in a high falsetto attempting a Jamaican accent that really did sound a lot more Southend-on-Sea, Kakuzu felt a calm happiness stir in him that he hadn’t even really been aware he was lacking until Hidan came into his life. He drifted off to sleep contemplating this curiosity; something he’d never sought or expected, but which he sensed would now be very, very difficult to relinquish.

Chapter Text

It was only when Kisame came over to join them that Hidan realised the room was quite a bit emptier than it had been. He handed his microphone to Tobi.

"Where's Kakuzu?" he asked Kisame.

"He went up to bed when Itachi did," Kisame said. "You OK?"

Hidan nodded, but suddenly nothing was as much fun.

Why hadn't Kakuzu even said goodnight? He suddenly realised he didn't even know where his room was. Tobi and Deidara started singing Eternal Flame, and normally he'd've been roaring along with them, but suddenly he wasn't feeling it anymore. He considered going upstairs and just yelling Kakuzu's name until he emerged, but that would look a bit fucking desperate, wouldn't it?

He hesitated, and his lost-boy look was too much for Kisame, who took his arm and brought him over with him to talk to Zetsu. "Come on, leave those idiots to it," he said.

Zetsu was now so fucking high that in Hidan's opinion they'd probably need a broom to get him off the ceiling before they could have any meaningful kind of conversation with him, but he rolled Kisame a joint and offered Hidan a weed cookie from a battered Charles and Diana commemorative biscuit tin.

"This is more your bag, right, Hidan?" Hidan took one and nibbled it disconsolately. "Hidan's body is a temple," Zetsu told Kisame. "He won't take in tobacco in any form - though he'll normally ingest pretty much anything else..."

"Well, good on you, Hidan," Kisame said, taking a deep drag on his joint. "We should all follow your example." God, he needed this. It had been a better week, with Itachi's health picking up, the new drugs kicking in - but it had also involved a lot of Sasuke. Itachi had had several almost civil phone conversations with him - and he hadn't been able to think of much else.

Zetsu leaned forward and peered quizzically at Hidan. "What's the matter with you, man?" He sounded almost concerned. "Are you... sober? What've you had to drink this evening?"

"Uh, I think I might've had a glass of wine before dinner..." A tactical error, but he realised it too late.

This is a solemn occasion!" Zetsu was already announcing to Tobi and Deidara, spliff held high. "Hidan is Not Wasted. Gentlemen, are we prepared to right this terrible wrong?" It seemed that they were.

"How'd you manage to play SingStar without being wasted, Hidan, hm?" Deidara demanded, thrusting a glass into his hand. "Haven't you got any shame?! Come on, catch up, hn!"

"He's living the clean life now!" Tobi exclaimed. "It must be Kakuzu's influence! He's got the boy off the booze!"

"Is it even really Hidan?" Zetsu asked, poking him lightly. "If he's not wrecked how can we actually be sure?"

"Fuck's sake," Hidan grumbled, taking a sip of his drink. "Well, this is fucking foul, what the fuck's in it?"

"Ooh, getting used to the finer things in life are we?" Tobi giggled. "Being Kakuzu's kept boy refining your tastes at last?"

"Yeah, Hidan, you normally drink any shit we put in front of you, hn."

"Alright, maybe when I'm already fucking wasted! And fucking watch your mouth, Tobes. Nobody's fucking keeping me!"

He took another sip to see if it was better than the first. It wasn't really.

"So Hidan," Tobi was saying. "How long can we expect this to go on? Are you a reformed character now? Going to be a sweet little housewife for your sugar daddy from now on, ay?"

"Fuck you," Hidan said tiredly. He wasn't in the mood for this now; the laddish behaviour and stupid fucking banter were stressing him out.

Well, maybe Kakuzu likes a bit of excitement," Zetsu suggested dreamily. "There's got to be another side to the guy..."

"Yeah, what's he like in the sack, man?" Tobi asked avidly. "Is he into any kinky shit?" Leather? Puppy play? He got you a butt plug with a tail yet?"

"Ah, Tobi, I'm not ready to share about all that just yet!" Hidan drawled, raising an eyebrow. He drained the rest of his drink just to get them off his back. "But I'll tell you one thing for free - he has a Really. Massive. Cock. Needless to say, it's much, much bigger than yours."

Deidara snorted with derisive laughter, elbowing Tobi in the ribs. "I don't even want to know how you know that, Hidan!" he smirked. "Is there a cock in this room you haven't seen?"

Hidan nudged Kisame with his foot. "I got an offer from this one, but the ship had sailed," he said.

Kisame, mellowed with weed, just shook his head indulgently. "You guys!" he said. "There's no need to make comparisons."

"Kakuzu's a bit old for you though, isn't he?!" Tobi just was not fucking dropping it. "It must be like, eighteen years!"

Even Zetsu joined in. "Yeah, man, that's a serious age gap. He's old enough to be your dad, man."

Hidan rolled his eyes. "Wow, you guys!" he said, an exaggeratedly camp tone barely masking his rising irritation. "He could actually be my dad! I never met the fucker, after all!"

"Oh, pass me a violin, someone!" Tobi crowed sarcastically. Clearly such bourgeois considerations as sensitivity and tact were not going to rein him in. "I expect that's where your daddy issues come from then!"

"Fuck's sake," Hidan continued in an angry growl, ignoring him, "Kakuzu's in better shape than any of you, you should be getting your fucking flabby arses down to the gym in shame rather than ragging me about screwing someone ten times as hot as you!"

"Ah, it must be love!" Tobi cooed delightedly. "Deidara, have you ever heard Kakuzu called 'hot' before?"

"Yeah - earlier this evening, by Hidan, hn! The man's delusional, but hey, this is Hidan - why are we surprised?" Dei was shaking his head as though in disbelief and clearly enjoying the opportunity to pay Hidan back for the things he'd said about Sasori earlier. Still, glancing over at him he felt it wise to change the subject before he got too worked up.

"Hey, come on Kisame, you haven't sung anything yet!" he said, handing him a microphone. "Winner stays on - you get to battle Tobi!"

As Kisame protested that he really wouldn't know anything and didn't they have anything from the 80s on here, Hidan slipped quietly towards the door.

He could feel his tension rising, rising, rising, until there was only one thing he could keep in his head. He felt in his pocket for the little pack of sterile blades he'd brought with him; he could feel the crimped edge of the foil packet and it made him a little calmer for just a moment to know it was there. He wandered into the kitchen, which was empty now. It didn't seem like anyone had missed him. The babble of conversation continued uninterrupted. Tobi and Kisame started singing Common People and the reference to St Martin's gave him a little spike of anger. Those fuckers. He leant on the work surface and brooded. Fucking Kakashi, after being all sweetness and light on Monday, to then drop him without even the common courtesy to call himself - just a curt voicemail from the admin team. Tearing open the pack, he slid out one of the folded papers and unwrapped the little shining scalpel blade. He pricked the tip of his thumb with it, wincing a little but relaxing as soon as the red bead of blood appeared; he put it to his mouth. Lifting his rosary to his lips as well, he tried to pray, but it wasn't enough, and the noise from the living room was too distracting.

He wandered outside and the night air felt pleasant and cool. It was romantically scented by some kind of flowering shrub and he could also faintly smell cigarette smoke; someone had been out here having a fag not long ago. Moving quietly through the darkness, he came across a small shrubbery and ducked under the low branches. The space underneath was dry and leafy and one of Konan's lanterns cast a little extra light. Sitting down cross-legged, he pushed up his sleeve and carefully inserted the very point of the blade - he went for the inside of his elbow this time, where a blood test would be taken. He didn't need to do more than prick the vein before blood was oozing out in a satisfyingly thick line; it looked completely black in the dim light. He felt better immediately and clenched and unclenched his fist to get it flowing faster. Lying down on the dry leaves, he let it trickle down his arm and drip down onto the ground. Holding his rosary against his mouth again, his head finally in the the right space, he began to pray.

Less than 20 yards away, past an arched yew hedge and a little lawn, Konan and Yahiko fucked with uncharacteristic abandon in the moonlight. Unnoticed, Sasori was sketching them, rather than the hill, and he felt a deep sense of melancholy weighing on him. He wasn't sure that he could make his relationship with Deidara as real as anything he made in his studio. This sketch in front of him now, for example, every line was conveying the kind of intimacy and passion that in the car on the way down Deidara had been accusing him of being unable to feel. He couldn't be sure now if he struggled to adequately express it, as he'd claimed, or if he truly wasn't feeling as intensely as he should be.

He'd noticed Hidan sloping into the shrubbery, too, but pretended to himself that he hadn't. He didn't want any responsibility for that kind of mess. But it made him think of the kind of intensity Hidan was able to summon so easily. The kind that made artists so avid to work with him. He'd wished for a while that Deidara wouldn't work so closely with Hidan, but he had to admit he'd've been glad to see them together now. It wasn't even as though he thought of Tobi as any kind of threat - more that he didn't like the side he brought out in Deidara, or the way Dei was rubbing Tobi's infatuation with him in his face. Far more hurtful than Deidara's pretended interest was simply the idea that Deidara wanted to hurt him. No charade was necessary.

As Sasori finished his drawing and began another, Konan, craving a post-coital cigarette, reached for her handbag and realised she'd left it on the terrace. She turned beseeching amber eyes on Yahiko. "Could you.."

"Alright, babe." He sat up and draped his jacket around her. "Can you hold out a minute or two? There's something I think I need to see to..."

"Is it Hidan?" Konan asked. "I thought I saw him vanish into the bushes - yes, you really should check. I wonder where Kakuzu is."

Hidan didn't want to get up now. He'd been done a while, to be honest, the urgency and the desperate need to be in communion with Jashin was sated, but he'd just been enjoying lying there, murmuring conversationally to the amulet on his rosary, feeling peaceful and at one with everything. Now that he was starting to be able to think straight again, however, he realised that he hadn't brought anything to clean up with, or, more crucially, anything to stop the bleeding. "Fuck," he murmured. "I'm such a fucking idiot."

Suddenly there was a rustling in the leaves next to him. "Hidan? Is that you under there? What are you doing in the bushes?"

"Who the fuck's asking?" Hidan drawled, lifting his head languidly.

Yahiko ducked under the laurel's outer branches and sat down beside him. "Jesus H Christ!" he said. "Of course I've seen Deidara's film, but, crap, it doesn't really prepare you for the real thing!"

Hidan struggled into a sitting position. "Dei would say that's because it isn't the same thing at all, ceci n'est pas une pipe and all that crap..." he said.

Yahiko handed him a clean handkerchief and watched a moment through slightly narrowed eyes as Hidan pressed it to his arm. "Look, I'd been hoping to have a little chat..." he murmured finally. "Now that you're officially one of the crowd... I think we should get to know one another a little better."

Hidan couldn't quite put his finger on it, but there was something a little weird about Yahiko. Was it that he didn't seem to give a shit about finding Hidan performing a blood ritual under a bush? Or that he thought directly after the aforementioned was a good time to start with the social small talk? It made him a little defensive from the outset.

"OK, so, what is all this Akatsuki crowd shit about anyway?" he said, an edge of aggression in his tone to try and counteract the slightly dazed and zoned state that doing a ritual always put him in. "Why do we have to be a crowd? What're you and Konan even trying to achieve?"

Yahiko gave a light laugh and raised an eyebrow. "Aren't you prickly! Well, alright then, in a nutshell, a monopoly of interest in all areas of the creative arts - not forgetting their subculture of sale and distribution! Artists, critics, collectors, muses - even musicians - we want a finger in every pie, to be in a position to make contacts quickly enough and recognise talent early enough to snap it up young."

Hidan must have been looking a little blank, as Yahiko moved on to the personal. "Take yourself and Kakuzu, for example; you work with an artist, that artist is made; Kakuzu buys an artist's work, that artist is made - or lets it go, and their value sinks like a stone - we've seen that in action just this week. Plus, you'll probably know who the most exciting models coming up after you are - give me a name!"

"Ah, OK… um... Suigetsu Houzuki is the one that stands out..." Hidan, taken by surprise, had to admit it - despite the kid having definitely ripped off his look.

"There you are - that's a name I've also heard from Kisame, who used to work with his older brother! Cross referencing from two guys I know are serious good quality in themselves! Starting to see how this works? You're also - working in art schools, like Sasori this time - in a position to tell me who the most promising students are before they graduate, and I know you've got a good eye because of the artists you choose to work with-"

"Uh, well. Until this week..." Hidan was getting a little freaked out now by just how close an eye this guy had clearly been keeping on him.

"Hm?" Yahiko questioned.

"I lost my gig at St Martin's because of the Asuma thing."

"Oh yes. Yes. Well, that's another thing. We need to sort that out, but don't worry, we've got everyone we need to do it right here. Now you're with us you don't need to worry at all."

"I'm not fucking worried!" Hidan said defiantly, but Yahiko went on as if he hadn't spoken.

"So, with all this in place, we bring in the best artists in every medium, and the petty wrangling and oneupmanship between commercial galleries will be a thing of the past, as will the dominance of the big collectors, and real talent will be all that's needed to succeed."

"Uh, ok," said Hidan, slowly. "Big collectors - except Kakuzu; and you guys get to decide what the real talent is...?"

"Well obviously," said Yahiko.

Hidan began to wonder if Yahiko was quite sane. The fact that there didn't seem to be any point arguing about it - a sense that this guy's opinions were not going to change no matter what you said - was a definite indicator that there was something off here. But, hey, cool, he was on the inside of all this... still...

"One thing I've been meaning to talk to you about," Yahiko was continuing ominously, "Fashion. We're going to need you to fully get on board. I know-" he held up a forestalling hand as Hidan tried to interrupt, "and Kakuzu's told me all about how you prefer the art scene, but we don't have enough influence in the fashion world yet and you are ideally placed. A mere model won't do - we need someone like you; a muse. So, you do need to do shows, and you do need to work closely with designers. Specifically Yugito Nii, right now - Konan and I both think she's the one to watch out of the current crop from the London College of Fashion."

Hidan looked up at him in alarm. "Man, no!" he said. "I hate it, seriously. And Yugito's fucking nuts - she tried to fucking burn me last time we met!"

"At Deidara's opening? Yes, well, she was understandably upset, but she's actually still very keen to work with you. It'll be a good counterpoint to the Comme des Garçons campaign - she's very much on the art side of fashion. She's showing at Mens Fashion week in June, so you'll make your catwalk debut then."

"And if I don't want to?" Hidan's voice was mutinous.

"Well, we can stall your career ourselves. We can bring Suigetsu in - but we'd much rather have you." Yahiko's words were light and careless, and it took a moment for their meaning to filter into Hidan's brain. When it did he was speechless for a moment. You didn't need to do that! his brain was screaming at Yahiko, how the fuck about just fucking asking nicely before you start with the fucking coercion!

"K-Kakuzu wouldn't do that!" he stammered, hating himself immediately for showing any kind of weakness, and Yahiko smiled with something that looked horribly like pity.

"Kakuzu doesn't have any influence over your sphere!" he explained kindly, as if to a child. "That's far more Itachi and Sasori's area of expertise. And, for example, if Deidara was persuaded not to work with you any more... you get the picture? Plus, did you know Mr. Pein owns the agency you're signed with?"

Hidan was speechless again, so Yahiko carried lightly on. "But we're getting off the point. The one really likely to be damaged by this Asuma affair isn't you anyway - it's Kakuzu. Do you want to let that happen?"

"Ah fuck you!" Hidan could hardly believe this was happening, but he couldn't see any way out. If only Kakuzu was here - he didn't know how the fuck to handle this!

"I can sort it out, but I won't be able to without you on board."

Hidan's mouth felt dry and he was suddenly desperate to be away from Yahiko, to be able to just stop thinking about all of this horrible shit. "Fine," he spat. "I'll do the fucking fashion - I was going to do it anyway, since Kakuzu thought it was the right move. But fuck you so much for this. Really. You're a total cunt, you know that?"

Yahiko laughed. "Yes, I know. Good decision. I'll be in touch with the details as soon as we're back in London. You know, I hate to put pressure on you like this, but when Nagato Pein wants something, if I have to be a cunt to achieve it, then that's what I'll be."

"Well, fuck him too then." Hidan got slightly unsteadily to his feet. "I'm going inside. Maybe you should just fuck off for a while, until I've stopped wanting to actually kill you."

"Noted." Yahiko laughed again. "I've got something else I need to do out here, actually."

"Someone else to be a cunt to?"

"You're warm, but not quite..."

Yahiko set off across the dark lawn, whistling what sounded like the refrain from George Michael's 'Careless Whisper', and Hidan set off back to the house.

"Shoulda known better than to cheat a friend, and waste the chance that I've been given," he sang morosely as it lodged itself irremovably in his own head, trying to kid himself that he didn't feel utterly crushed and used. "So I'm never gonna dance again, the way I dance with you-ou-ouuuu..."

"How does Hidan know our song?" Konan murmured softly as Yahiko slid back down beside her and passed her her cigarettes. "Surely he's too young..."

"George Michael, darling," Yahiko reminded her. "Gay icon and all that."

"Oh yes," she said quietly. "I hadn't thought of that." When she and Yahiko had danced to it as eleven year olds at the year 7 icebreaker disco back in 1984, she hadn't had a clue anyway. It had just been a 'slow dance', and they'd held each other and swayed, feet shuffling around on the scuffed floor of the sports hall of their Merthyr Tydfil comprehensive. She'd felt Nagato's eyes on them, and also those of their art teacher Jiraiya come to that, who'd left Merthyr the next year to go back to London and pursue a literary career, devastating all three of them. But none of it had seemed to matter then, the way it did now. In what turned out to be an unusual point of certainty in her life, the way she and Yahiko had felt about each other ever since seemed to have been cemented.

She put a cigarette between her lips and slowly inhaled as Yahiko cupped his hands around it and lit it for her.

"I hate doing Nagato's shit for him," he was saying, laying his head in her lap. "That poor crazy kid."

"Hidan?" she asked. "Oh he'll be alright. He's got Kakuzu to look after him now." She parted her thighs slightly as Yahiko began trailing kisses along them, then a bit more, giving him full access, lying back and drawing luxuriously on her cigarette as his tongue slid between her outer labia and fluttered over her clit - was there any better combination than this?

"Trying to attract all the feline ladies in the Slad Valley, Hidan," Deidara asked cattily as Hidan appeared in the doorway, pausing there a moment for maximum dramatic impact.

"Fuck you, Dei," he said. It was just a reflex, really, though. He felt so disoriented and sated and kind of drained that he wasn't able to imbue the words with any real aggression. Letting go of the doorframe, he swayed into the room; Kisame jumped up and caught his arm.

"You OK, kid?" he asked, for the second time that evening. He wasn't sure if it was something to do with what had happened on Monday night, but he felt almost as if he had a duty to look out for Hidan now. And he was wide-eyed and ashen-faced, and - Kisame looked down at where his fingers were now slightly stuck to Hidan's skin - quite distinctly bloodied. What the hell could've happened?

Deidara, catching his horrified look, said casually, dismissively even, "Oh, he's just been doing his blood thing again, he's fine."

Kisame didn't think he really could be fine, but he was pretty wrecked himself now, the joint he'd let Zetsu give him had been surprisingly strong and he'd tried one of the cookies too. On top of drinking pretty heavily all evening as well he just couldn't think what to do. Zetsu came over and decided Hidan clearly needed the restorative properties of weed. He put his own joint to Hidan's lips and Hidan obediently took a long drag, tobacco and all, pliant and unresisting. Tobi got him another drink. It didn't quite seem like quite the right course of action to Kisame but the world was pulsing in and out of focus now - one moment everything seemed incredibly close and overwhelming, crowding around him, the next everything was distant, seeming so far away it was almost as if it was in the past. Still holding Hidan's arm, he staggered towards the armchair Itachi had been sitting in earlier, and they collapsed down into it together. Hidan seemed to have a miraculous facility for keeping his drink upright, like some kind of alcoholic gyroscope - he took a sip of it, then offered Kisame one.

"Ugh," said Kisame. "What the hell is this,"

"Don't fucking know, man," Hidan drawled. "It tastes a bit minty, doesn't it..?"

Is it absinthe? thought Kisame wildly. Shit, I don't need to start hallucinating now!

Hidan was still drinking it though. Kisame thought he'd probably consume anything you put in his hand in this state. You could probably do anything to him, and Kisame didn't doubt that people frequently had, given that he had a reputation for getting himself like this every night of the week. Not last week, though, he reminded himself. Every day last week he'd seen him rock up to Kakuzu's house at some point in the early evening and not come out again...

Tobi and Deidara flopped down opposite them, Zetsu draped himself over the pouffe. For a moment everything seemed hilarious. Hidan was half in Kisame's lap, one arm around his neck but strangely asexual seeming - possibly because he was clearly not in the slightest bit aroused himself. Kisame couldn't quite claim the same, if he was honest. Tobi seemed to have his hand halfway into Deidara's trousers, whispering something in his ear; Deidara was squirming away from him, but flushed and giggling, Zetsu watched everything with an air of detached fascination. Then all of a sudden Sasori was standing there. He didn't say anything, but his eyes met Deidara's and he held his gaze a moment.

Fleetingly, it almost seemed like everything could be alright. There was a sense from Deidara of being ready to come out of the ridiculous sulk he'd been in all evening, Kisame could see his eyes actually light up at seeing Sasori despite his compromising position. But as he started to extricate himself Sasori turned on his heel and walked right back out without a word.

Deidara finished disentangling himself from Tobi and jumped up. "Sasori!" His tone was anguished.

He ran out of the room after him; they could hear him calling Sasori's name repeatedly, then there was a moment of silence. None of them expected the most almighty screaming match that started up the next second. Hidan and Kisame looked at each other in surprise. The normally reserved Sasori was giving as good as he got.

Suddenly Kisame felt a little clearer-headed. "I think it's your bedtime, kiddo," he said to Hidan. "Come on - let's get you up". Tobi and Zetsu helped to haul him to his feet and all four of them started to stagger up the stairs; Hidan on his hands and knees by the time they reached the top.

As they all piled into the little bathroom that the bunk room and the twin room shared, Kisame suddenly decided that what he needed was a shower. Hidan flopped down into a white wicker chair as though his simple presence in the bathroom would get him ready for bed, and Zetsu started brushing his teeth with extreme thoroughness. Tobi peered out of the little window, trying to see what was going on in the garden. After a moment he came and sat on the edge of the bath, then with no warning at all whipped his dick out and started enjoying himself.

"Fuck's sake Tobi!" Hidan protested. "It's not the fucking steam room at the gym!"

"It is quite steamy, though, Hidan," Tobi said innocently. "How about taking your top off...?"

"Fuck off, man," Hidan said, taking another slurp of his drink, which somehow he'd managed to bring upstairs with him. "I'm not your fucking visual aid."

"Well, you sort of are," Tobi grunted, "Since Deidara's not here now. It would be even better if you got your dick out too..."

"Not happening, Tobes." Hidan looked at his arm, which had opened up again and was bleeding sluggishly whenever he moved it. He knew he should put some pressure on it, but he quite liked watching it bleed. He licked the blood off his forearm - it tasted extra metallic against the sticky aniseed flavour of the mystery drink. He could hear Tobi fapping away even harder, but kept his eyes averted. He'd never really liked the look of Tobi's cock - it was one of those with a weirdly big head.

Kisame emerged majestically from the shower in a cloud of steam and wrapped a towel around his hips. Noticing that Zetsu was still doing his teeth, he went to try and stop him. "Man, I think you're all clean now, OK?"

"I jst cnt rmrmr ff I did th tp ns" Zetsu said.

"Yeah, man, you did them all," Hidan called over helpfully. "You definitely did them all. About ten times now..."

Looking round, Kisame noticed what Tobi was up to. "Ah fuck..." he said, in a tone of mingled disgust and resignation, shaking his head, but he left it at that, shepherding Zetsu out of the door. There was a limit to how much one could play the good Samaritan in one evening.

The vacant sink reminded Hidan what he was in the bathroom for, and he drained the last of his drink and got up to brush his own teeth. He borrowed Zetsu's toothpaste - he'd been in too much of a rush to pack his own, and had of course assumed he'd be able to use Kakuzu's.

After maybe a minute he heard a creaking of floorboards and then felt Tobi grinding up against him. He hastily spat out a mouthful of toothpaste. "Tobi, you're a fucking menace!" he protested. He turned around, fully expecting Tobi to immediately back off, but found himself getting intimately grabbed instead, and Tobi was surprisingly strong. "Hey!" He was getting angry now, despite his tractable state. "Hey, I get that you're wasted man, but this is a bit much, OK?!"

Tobi completely ignored his protests and within a second he found his fly being unzipped and his cock getting hauled out. "Hey!" he said again, trying to get Tobi's hands off him. "I thought you were into Deidara - stop it, OK!" Sterner now. "Stop it, Tobi! I will fucking punch you in the face!"

"Come on, Hidan, don't be shy!" Tobi wheedled. "I can't do this to Deidara..."

"So why the fuck can you do it to me! Are you saying I'm some kind of trash you can mess around with?! Dei too fucking precious?" he forced Tobi's hand away from his crotch.

"Ah, no Hidan, I didn't mean it like that! I just mean... you know I don't want to rush things with him... You've taken my mind off him before - I thought you might be up for some fun!"

It was true - in the last few months, before he met Kakuzu, he hadn't really been the best at saying no to anyone. They'd never actually fucked, but they must've got each other off a good few times after shows and in grimy studio complex toilets, fuelled by booze, kebabs and coke. But now was different, and, "Well, I'm not, OK?" he said. "I'm-" - he groped for words. 'I'm partnered now' was what he clearly meant, but just couldn't get it off his tongue, and - "I'm feeling fucking rushed right now, Tobes," he said instead, "so lay off, alright?"

Tobi still wasn't getting it though. He rummaged in his trouser pocket at came out with a little plastic bag of white powder. "I've got something to take the edge off if it'll help," he offered.

"Fuck, Tobi!" Hidan exclaimed. "No no no no no! I'm not up for it! What don't you fucking understand about fucking 'stop it'?! And that shit puts the edge on, not off, anyway!"

He was starting to think he really would have to hit him when, fortuitously, Kisame came past the open door on his way back from putting Zetsu to bed. He made frantic 'help me out here' gestures at him, and Kisame rose to the occasion.

"Oi, Tobi, too far, man, too far!" He came into the bathroom and grabbed him by the shoulders. "Do you want to Kakuzu to throw you across a room? No? Well, that's what'll happen, man, I'm serious."

Reluctantly, Tobi let go off Hidan and let Kisame steer him away. Hidan rinsed his mouth and splashed water on his face. He felt that he'd caught an odd look in Tobi's eye at that last moment - steely and hard, not the usual vapid idiocy.

He found some cotton wool in Kisame's spongebag, as well as some weird tape that he assumed was extreme sport-related, and set about sorting out his arm. Two minutes, Kakuzu had said, so he pressed down hard and tried to count the seconds but soon got lost. It was easier to imagine he was holding a two minute pose - so he went down into a squat on his tiptoes and pretended he was back in life class.

When he felt the familiar dull ache starting up in his ankles he taped the piece of cotton wool carefully down and, feeling suddenly exhausted, went across to the bunk room where Zetsu was already fast asleep and Tobi was safely tucked up in the top bunk. "Night, Tobi," he said, then stripped to his boxers and slid into the little bed. Clicking off the bedside lamp, he tried to settle down, but he was possibly a little on the heavy side for the bed and the springs kept poking him uncomfortably. And he still didn't know where Kakuzu was, and it was bothering him. Tobi swiftly fell asleep - he could tell by his breathing, but Hidan continued to toss and turn.

After about a quarter of an hour of this, he suddenly heard swift feet in the corridor outside, then people climbing up the second flight of stairs. Tense sounding conversation. Had Dei and Sasori managed to sort out their differences? A few moments of silence, then creaking like bedsprings. Was he going to have to listen to make-up fucking now? But no. More tense murmurs.

Then shouting started up again. Hidan sat up. He couldn't believe Zetsu and Tobi were sleeping through this, but they didn't stir. He could hear other people moving about though, a door opening and closing quietly. He got up and went and opened their own door, and suddenly felt so sick for Kakuzu he almost went out to look for his room right away, But he could hear Deidara's voice clearly now - he was almost screaming with rage, and he paused a minute to listen.

"Fine, fuck you then, Sasori! Fuck you!" There was the crunching sound of a doorknob turning up above him.

"Deidara wait!" Now it was Sasori's turn to be the one pleading and following.

"No, if that's how it makes you feel - or not feel, should I say! - then fuck it. Fuck you, hn!"

What the fuck could they be arguing about? Hidan wondered. Not much besides art got Dei that worked up.

"Deidara, I'll try again, it's just-"

"No, if you don't want to what's the fucking point. Like you said, obviously there are people here who do want, and you can't fucking take that, can you? Hn!"

Hidan couldn't make out Sasori's reply but the next moment the door was slamming, there were hectic footsteps on the stairs, and then Deidara was storming down the corridor towards him like a vortex of rage.

After a good five minutes of sitting cross-legged on Hidan's bed and seething, Deidara was finally ready to talk. "I don't know why I'm fucking doing this, Hidan, yeah?" he said. He tossed Tobi's deodorant, which he'd found on the floor, from hand to hand. "He's always criticising me, hm? Nothing I do is good enough for him. And he's never affectionate in any way. He won't even touch me in public. You don't know how lucky you are, man!"

"What the fuck are you on about?" said Hidan. "Kakuzu's not exactly Mr. fucking Touchy-Feely in public!" But if he thought about it, had he ever seen Sasori touch Deidara? And yet they were so fucking obviously a couple... How did that work? He frowned, trying to think what it was about them that tipped you off if it wasn't physical contact.

"Yeah, think about it, hn." Deidara said bitterly. "Think about the stuff you just take for granted."

The little touches, that guiding hand in the small of his back or at his elbow, the way he had of checking him over. It was all stuff he'd never seen Sasori do. "OK, man, well, fuck that then!" he said. "He'd better fucking make up for it in private!"

"Yeah right!" Dei looked even more dejected. "Well, he doesn't really like to top... in fact, he's not really interested in anal at all..."

"Ah, fuck..." Hidan knew enough about Dei's preferences to recognise that this wasn't quite such an insurmountable problem as it would be for him, but still...

"Well, that's OK, I prefer oral most of the time anyway. Or whatever, hn! I'm happy to get him off any way he likes! It's just... there's not a massive amount of getting me off involved..."

"So, won't he blow you?" Hidan asked bluntly.

"Well he'll start," Deidara said darkly. He paused. "He does like kissing and cuddling - in private. He likes me to touch him, and he really likes me to touch myself..." He trailed off unhappily. "I don't fucking know, Hidan. He can be pretty passive. I feel like I'm doing everything, and half the time I don't even know who I'm doing it for, do you know what I mean?"

"Uh," said Hidan. "Sort of, I guess..."

Deidara looked sharply at him. "Don't fucking tell me! You're having a fucking ball with Kakuzu aren't you? He fucking you til your eyes roll back night and day? Hm?"

"Something like that.." Hidan had to agree. Seeing Dei so dejected he added, "But on the other hand, I bet Sasori didn't try to chuck you out of the car on the fucking motorway and then punch the living daylights out of the fucking steering wheel."

A little gleam did come back into Deidara's eye at that. "Oh yeah, hn, Sasori always says Kakuzu's got pretty serious anger issues. You ok?"

Oh fuck yeah, of course I am, it's not like he hit me, man!" Hidan found himself getting defensive on Kakuzu's behalf.

"He always seems so calm, hn," Dei was saying, "I can't imagine him angry, except that it would probably be fucking scary..."

"I guess he bottles it up," Hidan said. He didn't really like the idea of Sasori criticising Kakuzu behind his back. Didn't really want to talk it over with Deidara either, even if it was obviously making him feel better. He just really wanted Kakuzu actually - Kakuzu and his calmness or his anger - he found he didn't really think of them as separate states. It was all just Kakuzu and he fucking loved it all.

But; "He fucked off to bed without even saying goodnight," he added, suddenly thinking of it again. "You'd probably fucking leave Sasori for that, wouldn't you?"

"Sure he didn't send you some cute text like earlier," Deidara rubbed his eyes, adding, "Sasori has fucking never sent me a cute text."

"No, I'd've felt it."

"Yeah, I turned your fucking phone off, you retard."

Deidara yawned and lay down, tracing patterns on the sloping ceiling with his fingertips. "Tobi keeps coming on to me," he said suddenly.

"Yeah, I fucking noticed!" Hidan exclaimed, getting his phone out of his pocket and turning it on. "Wasn't that what started your little tiff in the fucking first place!" Fuck Dei. Really, really fuck him for this. Yes, fucking hell, Kakuzu had fucking texted him. Now he felt like a fucking idiot.

"No, that was Sasori being fucking glued to Itachi all evening," Deidara was correcting him peevishly, yawning again.

"Oh," said Hidan. "I thought it was you being glued to Tobi. I must be fucking naive, huh?"

"Do you think he's cute?"

"I think he's a fucking psycho, Dei!"

"Aw, he's kinda sweet, no?"

"He was fucking grinding his dick up against me while I was doing my teeth! Non-consensually! So I'm not going to fucking agree with you there."

Deidara widened his eyes a little at that. "Really?"

Hidan glowered at him. "There fucking there, I'm sure he likes you more! Fuck's sake Dei."

Deidara didn't really seem troubled by it though. He let his eyes drift closed and pulled Hidan's duvet over him. "Whatever, hn," he murmured sleepily. "Maybe we can get Kakuzu to give Sasori some pointers..."

"Yeah, like don't have a fucking limp dick," Hidan snorted with laughter.

"Yeah, fuck you, hn..." He was barely awake now, though, and Hidan switched off the bedside lamp.

"Night, Dei," he said quietly, and slipped out of the door.

It was seriously dark in the passage and almost immediately he nearly tripped over some unidentifiable obstacle. He swore loudly. Did Kakuzu mean the stairs they'd come up together? Or the ones he'd come down? Fuck, he'd got so disorientated he couldn't figure out which was in which direction anyway. Had Kakuzu actually been vague on purpose to mess with him? He hesitated, hand on the knob of the last door and suddenly felt it turning from the inside. He snatched his hand off as it it had scalded him and hastily stepped back. The next second Yahiko stepped out and nearly walked right into him.

They were almost exactly the same height so for a moment they were completely face to face, both slightly dismayed, no idea how to play this after how things had gone down earlier.

Hidan had been moving backwards anyway, and carried on in that direction, nearly stumbling into the yawning black void of the staircase. Yahiko, for whom taking charge was second nature, gripped him by the forearm just in time. "Hey, steady on," he said.

"Shit!" Hidan yelped reflexively, at the same time.

"Are you all right?" Yahiko asked. "What are you doing down this end of the house?"

"Uh..." Hidan said, wrong-footed by Yahiko's proprietary air and utter lack of acknowledgment of the fucked-upness of their last encounter. "Where are the fucking other stairs, man?"

"You've gone the wrong way!" Yahiko laughed. He turned Hidan around and gave him a little push in the right direction and he stumbled onwards, cursing - under his breath now - as his foot snagged on the edge of a rug and he bumped his shoulder painfully hard into another doorframe. Then he really did trip over something. Something large and warm which unfurled itself and groped after him as he sprawled headlong down the corridor, very luckily missing both walls. "Fuck! he gasped. "What the shitting fuck is it now?!"

'It' was Kisame. "Hidan?" he said, his voice thick with drowsiness. He'd been leaning against the wall outside the room he was sharing with Itachi. When he'd gone to bed earlier he'd tossed and turned and utterly failed to get to sleep until Itachi had started to stir too. He'd got really paranoid about waking him; he knew he really wouldn't forgive himself if he disturbed him, so he'd decided to wait outside until he was in a deeper sleep again. And to give himself the chance to calm down. He was feeling edgy and jumpy and so fucking horny. But maybe he had actually all but dropped off - he'd managed to miss the commotion further up the hall anyway. He flicked on his lighter and Hidan, who by chance had been looking right at it, was momentarily blinded.

"Hidan, you crazy fool, what are you up to?" Kisame asked.

Hidan dropped his head back onto the carpet. "I fucking give up!" he announced. "This whole weekend blows already. Deidara's in my fucking bed and everywhere I go people are leaping out at me like fucking Swiss clockwork, it's doing my fucking head in!"

Kisame laughed. "Hey, it's only Friday night," he said soothingly, trying to help him up. "Don't write off the whole weekend yet!" But Hidan had made himself like a sack of wet cement and was immovable.

"I'm sleeping here man," he announced. "There's nothing for me anywhere else, I've been everywhere in this fucking house and this fucking patch of shag pile is the best thing I've found."

"I'm sure Kakuzu would be sorry to hear that!" Kisame patted his shoulder encouragingly. "He's just next door - don't give up now!"

Hidan raised his head a little and looked at Kisame, a tiny amount of hope dawning in otherwise comically tragic eyes. "I'll never make it," he claimed.

"Look, I'll come and turn the doorknob for you, shall I?" Kisame offered. That good deed done, maybe he'd finally be able to get some sleep...

Kakuzu stirred as Hidan draped himself carefully half over his chest in a bid not to fall out of the bed. "Hey..." he murmured sleepily. "Missing me already?"

"You don't know what time it is!" said Hidan in an accusatory tone, even as he nuzzled into the crook of Kakuzu's shoulder. "Or how much shit I've had to deal with since then!"

"True." Kakuzu agreed. "I'm willing to bet you don't either, for what that's worth..." He slid his arm under Hidan and wrapped it firmly round him to keep him in the bed.

"Which is not fucking much!" Hidan closed his eyes and gave himself a moment to just enjoy the feeling of Kakuzu's chest rising and falling under him; the way it vibrated with a bass rumble when he spoke; the calm slow thump of his heart beating. And the warmth of him - he only realised now that he was actually pretty cold. He wedged his feet onto Kakuzu's calf muscle and Kakuzu endured it uncomplainingly as he'd known he would.

He nearly drifted off to sleep then, but suddenly the events of earlier in the evening pinged back fresh into his mind and he opened his eyes.


"Yes, Hidan?"

There was about half a second when he considered not telling him, but then he was just blurting it out.

"I think I just got blackmailed."

"Hm?" Kakuzu was still half asleep. Then, brain catching up with what he'd just heard; "What? What?!" He levered himself up so that he was propped on one elbow, nearly tipping Hidan out of the bed. He flung an arm over him and hauled him back. "Who the bloody hell-?" he asked.

"Mr Pein's PA," Hidan said with arch distaste. He didn't even want to say Yahiko's name.

The growing anger in Kakuzu's eyes was suddenly joined by a knowing kind of wariness. "Oh Hidan," he said. "You know, love, I think he's got something over all of us. God. I didn't think it would happen to you or I'd never have brought you here. I was clearly naive - I'm so sorry." He smoothed Hidan's hair away from his face. "What's he holding over you? I didn't think he had enough influence in your sphere."

"You." Hidan's voice was small.

"Oh, sweetheart." He hadn't even thought of that. It simply hadn't occurred to him, the force of habit of years of solitude, that someone else's trouble could be yours in a heartbeat if you cared enough about them. Yahiko, of course, had seen it instantly. For a moment he didn't trust himself to speak. He took Hidan's hand, between them on the pillow, stroked his palm, kissed his fingertips one by one.

"He said you're the one who'll be damaged by this Asuma shit." Hidan's voice was still tight with shame, but less tiny now. "And he can sort it out but he won't be 'able to' if I don't do the fashion crap he wants me to. Is it true? Can they damage you?"

Kakuzu swallowed. "Look," he said, evading the question. "I don't want you to feel you have to do this-"

"That's a yes, then."

Kakuzu smiled. Really, Hidan wasn't as dumb as Sasori thought...

"I already told him I'd do it. I said I'd already decided to anyway."

"Listen love. You don't have to. Look, OK, it is true. But, we don't have to be part of this. Any time you want out, we can get out, alright?


"I'm not saying it will be easy - we'll clearly both take a hit professionally. But that's not to say it can't be done."

"Alright." Hidan said. "When we want to. But we can let them sort our shit out first, right?" He closed his eyes, feeling better. It was in Kakuzu's hands now... He started to relax, and nearly fell out of the bed again. That reminded him...

"Deidara and Sasori have had a fight..." he told Kakuzu.

"Oh..?" Kakuzu said leadingly.

"Yeah; about sex." Hidan replied.

"I see," said Kakuzu. "Dear, dear."

A pause, then, "So, where's Deidara now?"

"In my bed."

"Well, why didn't you say! Come on, then!"


"Time to turf Sasori out of that double!"

"Oh, burn! You are fucking cold, aren't you, you sexy bastard!"

It was a distinct possibility that Sasori would never speak to either of them again, Kakuzu mused, ten minutes later, spooning around a sleeping Hidan in a king size bed. But it felt so absolutely worth it. And as he'd pointed out to Sasori, adversity and a common foe would probably work wonders for the speed of his reconciliation with Deidara. They'd probably done them a favour, all things considered...

Chapter Text

It wasn't even quite 7am when they were disturbed by a curt rapping on the door and Sasori and Deidara appeared, stony eyed. Hidan emerged from the covers, tousle haired and bleary. "Oh, hey, we've got company!" he observed. "What fucking time it it?"

Deidara stomped into the room. "I can't believe you, hn!" he raged at Hidan. "How could you take advantage of me like that! I trusted you!"

"Bullshit!" Hidan declared. He was laughing so much he could hardly get the words out. "Dei, man, you fucking fell asleep in my bed! What the fuck d'you expect? Anyway, it was Kakuzu's idea!"

"Look, I'm sorry," Kakuzu said. "Of course we'll clear out now. But there was simply no way we were both going to fit into my bed. Hidan had to sleep somewhere, Deidara!" He was pretty embarrassed, to be honest. In the cold light of day, without the bad influence that was Hidan by his side, he'd never have dreamed of turfing a fellow guest out of their bedroom. He had a sudden over-vivid memory of saying, "you can have it back when you can show me you have a use for it," to Sasori... Christ. Whatever had got into him? He glanced at Hidan, still laughing, utterly unabashed at being walked in on almost entirely naked in what was technically someone else's bed. Kakuzu himself, thank goodness, was wearing a lovely and dignified pair of striped silk pyjamas; Hidan, however, clearly had an aversion to any kind of nightwear.

"Seriously, guys, lighten up! You two little pixies probably fitted in Kakuzu's bed just fucking fine!" Hidan was throwing fuel to the fire. He flung his arms wide. "I don't know why you even bothered to come and hassle us! But since you're here - come and join us? We can all have some fun together! What do you say?"

"Hidan!" Kakuzu said repressively. "Enough, now!"

Hidan turned to him, eyes alight with mischief although he was doing his best to look innocent. "I'm only trying to help! Sasori could use a few tips apparently..."

Hearing this, Deidara launched himself at Hidan, spitting with rage, "Shut up, shut up, what's your fucking problem, hn!"

Hidan fended him off, curling against Kakuzu for protection. "Okay, okay, sorry Dei!" He called over to Sasori, "I made it all up, Sasori, man, don't mind me, Deidara never said you had a limp d-"

Kakuzu clamped a hand over his mouth and pulled him bodily out of the bed. "Don't you think Sasori and Deidara have suffered enough," he said. "Come on. We're going."


Back in the little single room after a quick trip to the bathroom, Hidan made a beeline for the bed. Kakuzu had other ideas. Grabbing him around the waist, he twitched him around to face the chest of drawers instead and pressed him against it, thrusting hard against him, slipping a hand into his boxers.

"You really have been misbehaving," he growled into his ear as he reached around to grasp his cock, and he was quite surprised by the extent of Hidan's arousal at his words - the hard evidence was in his hand and getting harder all the time. Interesting. Perhaps not entirely unexpected...

"And God only knows what you got up to last night," he continued, warming to his theme, easing Hidan's boxers down with his other hand and getting his own cock out to slide it against him. "Do you want to tell me? Hm?"

"Seriously," Hidan gasped. "I was a fucking angel, I don't know what you're talking about." He twisted around to look into Kakuzu's face, biting his lip, hair over his face, breathing fast, everything about him such a turn on that Kakuzu growled again with simple lust. Hidan wriggled all the way round in his arms so that their cocks were thrusting together, then stretched up so that his mouth was right against Kakuzu's.

"None of it was my fault," he whispered, punctuating his story with little hot, urgent kisses, "Zetsu got me- wasted on his fucked up weed cookies, and- Tobi and Deidara made me drink something- fucking foul that tasted like aniseed-"

"Mm, you still taste a bit of aniseed," Kakuzu agreed, kissing him more deeply, "did you even brush your teeth?"

"Oh fuck, maybe not as well as I could've, because while I was trying to, fucking Tobi was totally doing what you were just up to now, only with him it was creepy as fuck; Kisame had to haul him off me-"

"Christ, I'm going to fucking kill him!" Kakuzu interjected.

"-and all I fucking wanted to do was find you but Dei turned my phone off so I didn't even know where you were."

"Mmm-hm," Kakuzu murmured, holding him tighter, the sudden spike of anger evaporating. "You want to show me just how glad you are to be with me now?"

"Fuck yes!" Hidan breathed, sliding down to his knees, still pressed hard against Kakuzu, so that his cock trailed a line of precum up Hidan's taut abs before bouncing up into his face. Kakuzu stepped back a little to give him room to move, gripping the edge of the chest of drawers as Hidan sucked him in deep. He wondered fleetingly if Deidara and Sasori were up to something similar right now; he really would have to ask Hidan - when he didn't have his mouth full - if Sasori actually did have the erectile problems he kept hinting at...

After that there wasn't a lot of opportunity for coherent thought. Damn it, Hidan was good at this, and Kakuzu let himself relax, putting himself entirely in Hidan's hands for a moment. Then another moment. And a few minutes like that was all it took before he realised that he was seconds from coming and oh, he wasn't ready for that yet! He hadn't had nearly enough of Hidan to get him through what was bound to be a rather trying day. "Wait," he said, pulling away a little, but Hidan was still going for it and then he was way over the edge and there was no going back. The first spurt did go in Hidan's mouth, the next couple over his face and in his hair, then several more splashed across his chest.

"Oh!" Hidan said, sitting back on his heels. "Oops..." He smiled, his tongue flicking out to taste the cum on his lower lip; making no attempt to get it off anywhere else.

"Ahh," Kakuzu groaned. "You did that on purpose didn't you?"

"Mmm. Maybe..." Hidan looked up at him with a mischievous gleam in his eye and he was altogether such an entirely beautiful and erotic sight that Kakuzu simply couldn't bear to not get to fuck him like this. An interesting idea popped into his head and an almost whispered "whatcha gonna do about it?" from Hidan gave him all the permission he needed. A smile curved the corner of his mouth as he reached for his dressing gown and drew out the twisted silk cord.

Hidan was breathing fast as Kakuzu knelt in front of him and picked up his wrists one by one, but he didn't resist, and Kakuzu could see the wanton excitement in his eyes, and his cock getting even harder. "Oh man," he gasped. He knew exactly what he was getting; Kakuzu didn't say anything.

Careful not to get any cum on his silk pyjamas, he carefully bound Hidan's hands together behind him - not tightly, but extremely firmly - then tied them to the leg of the chest of drawers. Then he stood up and stepped back to survey his handiwork.

"Oh, God, aren't you just precious..." he murmured, unable to keep a delighted smirk from spreading across his face. He picked up his dressing gown again and slipped it on.

"You know it," Hidan agreed with a sultry smile. "What're you gonna do with me now?"

"With you?" Kakuzu's tone was one of mock surprise. "Well, I'm going to go and have some breakfast. I imagine you'll be staying just where you are..."

"Kakuzu?" Hidan's voice had jumped about an octave and he suddenly looked adorably anxious and vulnerable. Kakuzu paused, one hand on the doorknob. "Kakuzu! You can't leave me like this! I'm gonna be fucking lonely!"

Kakuzu chuckled and came back to squat in front of him for a moment. Lonely! He loved that that was the worst thing on Hidan's mind. "Don't worry," he said, his voice a low soothing murmur. He ran his thumb over Hidan's bottom lip, slick with his own cum, smeared his fingers over his cheekbone, up into his hair. "Be a good boy and stay just as you are, and I'll come back and fuck you when I've had a piece of toast and a cup of coffee. Okay?"

He laughed again as Hidan leant into his hand, moaning with lust, he was pretty sure that if he so much as brushed against his cock now he'd just explode.

"Ah, fuck me, Kakuzu, this is going to be hard! I'm so ready to come, you bastard!"

"At my advanced age I'm going to need a few minutes, love," he said, raising an eyebrow. "The thought of you up here waiting so nicely for me is certainly going to help though..."

He patted Hidan's shoulder and left the room without another glance at him, pulling the door closed behind him with a discreet click. He waited a moment on the landing, listening, just to make sure he was going to be alright; he heard nothing but a little sigh so, smirking slightly, he headed down the stairs.

 How long would Kakuzu be, Hidan wondered. Not more than 15 minutes probably, but it was going to feel long. God, that sexy fucker, how the hell did he understand so completely how to make Hidan into putty in his hands? How did he know something like this had been a recurring fantasy? Shit, he was so horny now. His cock was still so hard, every time he thought of Kakuzu walking out of that door, calmly going downstairs like nothing was happening, he got another little throbbing rush of blood to it. He could taste Kakuzu in his mouth, he could smell sex and Kakuzu and oh God. He needed to touch himself so badly that he even considered trying to flip over and rub himself to orgasm on the floor.

Instead he shifted his arms slightly so that he wasn't straining the one he'd used for his ritual last night. He was pretty relieved Kakuzu hadn't noticed anything, being reasonably certain that would've killed the mood stone dead. He had a nasty feeling the tape and cotton wool might be floating around Sasori and Deidara's bed somewhere though...

He could hear the sound of a kettle boiling downstairs; then he even thought he could smell coffee wafting through the house. Kakuzu was totally going to make himself real coffee and let it brew properly - he did nothing by halves. In fact, Hidan knew he'd actually be disappointed if he came back before he was utterly desperate. The problem was, that point seemed to be coming sooner than he would've anticipated. He heard the door next to theirs open and close, and soft footsteps along the hall - he held his breath. Of course no-one would come in - why would they? - but he still felt paranoid as fuck, as of course Kakuzu had intended. He only relaxed when he heard the creak of the staircase, then strained hard to hear voices downstairs. He couldn't make out any words, but just hearing the low rumble of Kakuzu's voice made his heart beat faster. He sounded as calm and collected as ever.

 Kakuzu was pushing down the plunger of a small cafetiere as Itachi came into the kitchen. "Morning Itachi," he said. "There's still some reasonably hot water in the kettle if you're after a cup of tea."

"Thank you, Kakuzu," Itachi replied, flicking the kettle on again and dropping a herbal teabag into a mug. "Sleep well?"

Kakuzu poured his coffee and his toast popped out of the toaster. "Not too badly, thank you," he said, "despite the various, ah, disturbances..."

"I think I must have slept through it all," Itachi said, stirring a large spoonful of honey into his tea. "Kisame did mention something about shouting and screaming and people running about all over the house before rolling over and vanishing under his duvet. Is Hidan sleeping in as well?"

"Chained to the bed!" Kakuzu quipped with a wolfish smile. "I don't know how they can! I'd take an early morning over a late night any day."

"Quite," Itachi agreed. "Well once they're up, perhaps you'd both like to join us on a section of the Cotswold Way. We're planning to spend a few hours on it before lunch."

Kakuzu's toast popped out of the toaster. "That sounds lovely," he said. "I'm starting to think getting out of the house is going to be a priority, too..."

"Oh, do tell?" Itachi prompted him.

Kakuzu kept his voice deadpan, not quite meeting Itachi's eye. "After Sasori and Deidara's nocturnal spat resulted in Deidara falling asleep in Hidan's bed, he and I were obliged to relieve them of their double room... They felt that was... insensitive."

Itachi nearly spat out his mouthful of tea. "Oh, that's what was going on! Goodness, Deidara's a funny one, isn't he? Well, I daresay they got what they deserved..."

"Oh undoubtedly..." Kakuzu agreed. "But I'm reasonably certain Sasori won't see it that way."

"I think Konan had plans for us all to head to the Woolpack for lunch," Itachi continued. "We can catch up with the rest of the party there, and perhaps they'll have had a chance to simmer down somewhat..."

"Ah, Laurie Lee's local - yes, I glimpsed it as we turned in last night." Kakuzu said. "That'll be interesting. Well, it's to be hoped that you're right, but I wouldn't like to make any kind of guarantee of cordiality all the same..."

Itachi settled down at the table with yesterday's Guardian and Kakuzu ate his toast, feeling intermittent tingles of excitement, no longer able to keep his mind off the scene awaiting him upstairs. He made himself take his time - there was no way he was going to be able to satisfy Hidan if he didn't - but he was itching to be gone. Thank goodness his fellow early riser was Itachi and not one for engaging in much gratuitous conversation...

 When it finally came, Hidan instantly recognised Kakuzu's tread on the stairs - and it nearly destroyed his now distinctly fragile equilibrium to hear him go across to the bathroom instead of coming straight in. His timing was impeccable though. Hidan's arms were starting to ache considerably now, but not more than he could endure. He realised - desperate though he was now getting - that he'd stayed relatively relaxed this whole time out of a crazy trust in Kakuzu to play this exactly right.

"Oh?" he said, as the door finally opened, trying his hardest to keep his voice cool but unable to stop himself from leaning forward eagerly towards Kakuzu. "You didn't bring me a fucking cup of tea?"

"Hidan..." Kakuzu's voice was silky smooth as he came to crouch in front of him. "Is that really all that's been on your mind?"

"Ohh, you..." Hidan's mouth curved up in a sultry smile. "I've just been thinking about your massive fucking cock, what the fuck do you think? Are you going to give it to me, or what?"

"Hmm." Kakuzu trailed a finger down Hidan's intermittently sticky and slippery shoulder. "Are you sure you're... ready?"

"Fuck yes I am," Hidan whispered, blood surging to his cock as Kakuzu's finger reached his nipple and started to caress around it. There was a swooping sensation in the pit of his stomach like he was speeding down a 15% gradient, and as Kakuzu leant forward and kissed him infuriatingly gently he started trembling so much that his aching arms simply couldn't hold him up any longer and he collapsed backwards towards the chest of drawers.

Instantly Kakuzu's hand was behind him, supporting him. "Okay, I got you," he murmured as Hidan gasped in anticipation of an impact that never came. His other hand was expertly untying the dressing-gown cord. "Oh, very good," he said on discovering that the knots were no tighter than when he'd left - they had clearly not been strained in the slightest - then he was lifting Hidan bodily onto the bed.

Hidan's arms shot up around his neck, pulling Kakuzu towards him, mashing their faces together in the most inelegant and urgent of kisses. "Oh shit, oh shit, Kakuzu, I need you fucking now, fuck's sake," he moaned.

"You've got me," Kakuzu laughed, sliding a hand down to his cock and running a finger along underneath it from base to tip.

"Mmmm," Hidan groaned. "Stop fucking teasing me, Kakuzu, stop it!"

"Alright, alright..." Kakuzu slipped out of his pyjama bottoms - Hidan practically ripped the top off him - and as soon as their cocks were together Kakuzu grasped Hidan properly and within a few strokes had him ready to come. He was gratified to observe, as he guided Hidan's entire load onto his own cock, that he was fully hard himself again. Hard not to be, maybe, with a guy like Hidan in your arms and gasping for you, but still, at his age twice in half an hour was asking a lot.

As Hidan, spent and trembling, collapsed back onto the bed, Kakuzu pushed his knees up towards his chest and eased into him. It felt more viscous and at the same time smoother than with lube. He went very slowly, long and deep, Hidan, super sensitive, almost screaming with ecstasy, nevertheless had the presence of mind to grab one of the pillows and scream into that. He was still hard and getting harder again already.

And by the time Kakuzu was finally ready to climax, Hidan was ready to come with him. Rolling off him, trailing a hand through yet another load over that beautiful toned stomach, Kakuzu pulled the cover over them both and pulled Hidan close to him, not caring that he and the sheets were now slicked with cum as well. "You're unbelievable," he murmured. "How do I have you in my bed?"

Hidan, of course, was falling asleep. "Don't go," was all he said, and his eyes closed.

Kakuzu smoothed back his hair, kissed his eyelids, and the corner of his mouth. Breathed in the scent of him. He did reach over to get his book from the bedside table - As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning, he'd found it in a bookcase in the living room - but mostly for the next hour he just watched him sleep.

 By mid-morning all the guests were assembled downstairs again. Hidan and Zetsu were masterminding some kind of gigantic fry-up in the kitchen; Kakuzu had retreated to the dining table with a second cup of coffee. Sasori was still not on speaking terms with either of them and Deidara and Hidan had words again; Deidara shouting, Hidan laughing, Deidara consequently getting even angrier. Hidan still thought it was funny. Kakuzu also, since he'd had the lowdown on Dei and Sasori's various problems from Hidan, couldn't help smirking in amusement every time he looked at Sasori. It wasn't helping. Christ, but he'd thought they were pretty much on a par in terms of repression - it turned out not. It wasn't that he wasn't grateful that his natural reticence had never actually inhibited his sex life; however, he did consider that he hadn't let it. He wondered fleetingly if anyone had put two and two together about him choosing to live right on the edge of Hampstead Heath, way back before the likes of gaydar and gayromeo were a thing. Let alone Grindr... Of course, for several years before he'd met Hidan he'd used the Heath pretty much only for dog-walking... He'd simply lost interest in fleeting encounters and sex that felt less intimate than a solitary wank. God only knows what would've happened to him if he'd carried on that way much longer - he'd probably been rescued just in time.

These musings made a useful distraction from the way he was feeling about Yahiko and Tobi; but he was still pretty sure that the urge to strangle them both must be making itself pretty obvious to all around them every time he looked up from the newspaper he wasn't reading and caught a glimpse of one of them. He was pretty relieved when Kisame finished his gigantic bowl of muesli and got up to put on his walking boots.

 Before they were even halfway round their circular walk, however, he wasn't feeling anything like so sure he'd made the right decision.

What could possibly have persuaded him that taking Hidan out into the bosom of Mother Nature was a good idea? Kakuzu wondered, nearly at the end of his tether. It was quite obvious now that it was an enterprise doomed from the start to utter failure, but remembering the mood in which he'd set out that morning - which seemed a long time ago now - Kakuzu supposed that he must've wanted them to do something pleasant and relaxed together. Yes, he'd wanted to be out in the open, just quietly spending time with Hidan, appreciating the countryside and watching him getting to know two good friends of his better. As it was, Kisame and Itachi would probably never ask either of them along again!

He sighed, wondering whether to catch up with the others, who were a little way ahead now, or wait for Hidan to catch up with him. He didn't particularly relish having to face his friends' bemused and pitying glances any more than having to listen to Hidan bitch about how he was getting blisters and he'd been scratched by brambles, how his legs were tired and the daylight was giving him a headache and he was being bitten by midges and he was hungry, thirsty, cold, sunburnt, bored and couldn't believe Kakuzu would do this for fun. Kakuzu stopped walking and closed his eyes for a moment. Really, Hidan was acting like a cross between a fractious six-year-old and a surly teenager, and his obvious lack of enjoyment of Itachi and Kisame's favourite pastime was starting to get really embarrassing.

He looked up at the overcast sky, thinking he might as well wait for Hidan now that he'd stopped - otherwise Hidan would see it as a slight, and probably get even more tiresome. A slight wind was getting up and he hoped it wouldn't rain. God only knew how Hidan would deal with that. He probably hadn't thought to bring a waterproof. He looked down at him speculatively as he came up beside him, not wanting to say anything that might set him off.

Hidan held his hand out pathetically. "Oi, Kakuzu, I think something's poisoned me, man!" he said. He just sounded weary and miserable now. It was an improvement on sneering and vitriolic, Kakuzu thought. He obviously didn't have the energy to complain creatively anymore. He took the proffered hand and inspected it. It was blotched faintly pink and dotted with little pale circles. "Ow!" Hidan complained as Kakuzu prodded it. "It prickles..."

"That's nettle rash, Hidan. You've been stung by a stinging nettle," Kakuzu explained with exaggerated patience. "It's nothing. Find a dock leaf if it bothers you."

"What the fuck is a dock leaf?" Hidan asked, examining his hand piteously. "It aches."

He did, to be fair, seem to have quite a bad reaction to nettles, but Kakuzu was in no mood to be sympathetic. "You'll live," he said callously. "Dock is a plant that often grows near stinging nettles and it's said to have a soothing effect. You wrap the affected part in the leaf..."

"Sounds like a fucking old wives' tale," Hidan grumbled.

"Do you want me to find you one or not?"

"Alright, yes!"

Kakuzu bit back the 'Yes, what?' that was on the tip of his tongue. If they'd been alone, maybe... but really, it wasn't worth the trouble. Better to try and keep Hidan sweet, and maybe he'd start making a bit of an effort to be civil, at least. He had been rather unlucky, so far, it was true, managing to fall into a stream, tread in a cowpat, get chased by bullocks and now the nettles. God knows how he'd managed it. Kakuzu couldn't see any in the immediate vicinity at all.

They reached a stile, where Kakuzu found some dock growing. He picked several leaves. Hidan sat moodily on the the top of the fence, preventing Kakuzu from getting over, and Kakuzu rubbed one leaf over the injured hand, thinking perhaps the juice was the real source of the soothing effect, then wrapped it in a fresh one. "Better?" he asked.

Hidan looked at the leaf suspiciously. "Maybe," he said. "It's sort of... cooling." He looked up at Kakuzu with appealing eyes. "How far do you think we have to go?" he asked.

Kakuzu leaned on the fence beside Hidan and got out the map. "Maybe about three miles," he said, unfolding it. Over the stile the fields sloped away steeply so that they'd be walking along a sort of ridge with a miniature valley at the bottom, where there was a fence and then a stream. Beyond that another field sloped up again more gently, full of grazing sheep. It was an idyllic pastoral scene, and Itachi had voiced the hope that there might be pasque flowers out. Kakuzu could see him and Kisame - small figures now - bending over something in the grass and wondered if they'd found one.

He found their position on the map, and showed Hidan. "We're taking a circular route." he explained. "We're just about halfway round."

"Only halfway?!" Hidan wailed. "I thought we'd be nearly there by now! Fuck, man, this really sucks!"

Kakuzu resisted the urge to knock Hidan off the stile into a gorse bush, and put his arm around him instead. "Come on, Hidan," he said encouragingly. "It's not that bad! Aren't you enjoying yourself at all?"

"No," said Hidan flatly. "Why the fuck did you think I would?"

Kakuzu removed his arm. Why had he? He supposed the crazed cyclist side of Hidan had led him to believe that he would love the great outdoors and take delight and satisfaction in gratuitous exercise, but clearly the two did not go hand in hand. "I guess I made the mistake of thinking we actually had something in common," he said coldly, getting up and swinging over the fence to lean moodily on the other side. "You can be sure it won't happen again."

They stared at each other a moment, then, with an irritable little growl, Kakuzu simply turned around and walked away.

Hidan jumped up from the stile. "Oi, Kakuzu, wait!" he called. Kakuzu ignored him, moving irrevocably away, every line of him radiating anger and wounded pride. Hidan's shoulders sagged. He knew he was probably being a jerk, but he just couldn't seem to snap out of it. If only Kakuzu could've brought himself to be sweet to him for a moment longer, maybe he could've done. He ruffled his hair, feeling itchy and uncomfortable. Fuck, he hated the countryside. The corner of his mouth twitched in a miserable half smile. He supposed he should be thinking himself lucky Kakuzu had been nice to him even for a moment.

He trailed forlornly after him. Three miles! He didn't see how he could. His feet felt damp from when he'd slipped into that stream. Even though Kisame had lent him his spare socks - and just the thought of them being on his feet was grossing him out, seriously - his converse and the hems of his jeans had got pretty soggy. Was it his fault that he didn't have dedicated fucking walking boots like the rest of them? They should've warned him what it would be like beforehand, instead of looking doubtfully and superiorly at his feet once it was already too late! Itachi saying remotely, "Are you going to be alright like that, Hidan," - Kisame just looking at him perplexedly, like he was some alien breed of creature whose customs he didn't quite understand. Fuck them all! He'd only come because Kakuzu had seemed to want him to, and now it seemed that things were worse between them than if he'd just refused flat out and stayed in the chapel playing Guitar Hero with Zetsu and Tobi.

"Kakuzu," he called again, but he was further away now, and anyway, Hidan's voice came out so sad and small he probably didn't even hear. "Ugh," he murmured, his feet squelching among the tussocky grass. This field was even nastier to walk though than the last. Shoving his hands moodily into his pockets he felt a cool hard edge and realised he had his iPod with him! Well, no-one could accuse him of being anti-social now - they'd all left him behind! He stuck in his headphones and set it to shuffle, too whacked to be able to decide what he wanted to listen to for himself.

He began to smile as soon as he heard the first chords, a gloriously irresistible C - D - E progression, then Ray Davies singing 'I met her in a bar down in old Soho' - fuck's sake, could he really be feeling nostalgic for London after just a day? - what a fucking city boy! He could almost laugh at himself. Almost. Seriously, he wished he was in Soho now, drinking cheap champagne... Somehow 'Lola' reminded him of his first date with Kakuzu, and that fucking old queen Orochimaru showing up... And the way he'd known, immediately, undeniably, that he'd finally found someone he could really connect with. He started to walk faster.

Kakuzu glanced round. Hidan seemed to be doing a bit better - was he singing? Clearly he'd plugged himself into his MP3 player... Oh Hidan! he thought with a surge of exasperated affection. Well, if that's what it takes to get you through this day... But it reminded him even more forcibly of the differences between them. Although he tried not to, it was hard not to take it personally - why couldn't Hidan walk beside him and just talk? Perhaps, really, all he meant to Hidan was comfort and sex. Wasn't it naive to feel like it was so much more after such a short time? He'd been telling himself he saw a side of Hidan that everyone else was blind to - an emotional intelligence, a natural instinct for culture - but maybe he was the blind one. Wasn't it more likely that he'd painted it all in with his over-eager imagination, to make fucking an under-educated twenty-something more palatable?

To think that he'd even been considering taking him along to some of the lunchtime recitals that started at the Guildhall next month! God, he'd probably heckle or something! No, he'd have to invite Sasori instead, if he wanted a companion at all. But that thought depressed him and prickled his conscience too. After all, for all their disagreements, Sasori and Deidara were always going to shows together, and discussing them endlessly afterwards...

He could almost hear Sasori's voice in his head, saying, "Oh I'm sorry Kakuzu, I can't make it, I'm going to see this dreadful new installation with Deidara... don't even ask, it'll be a nightmare...!" But he'd go. Did that mean that Kakuzu should be taking Hidan to... well, to what? He didn't have a clue, and just thinking about that made him feel guilty and uncomfortable. Was he just imposing his own value system on Hidan? He hadn't even taken the trouble to see where he lived, just attempted to subsume him into his own existence as though he came from nowhere! Small wonder if he was feeling like his opinions weren't being taken into account.

He sighed. He'd barely cared when his behaviour had irrevocably destroyed all his previous attempts at relationships. It was clear already that he wouldn't be so numb if it happened with Hidan. He noticed that the grass he was staring at seemed distinctly fuzzy. Good lord, was he getting long-sighted already? Another indication of his unsuitability for a sweet young thing like Hidan? Something in the air seemed to be making his eyes sting as well. Pollen perhaps? Or... oh, for heaven's sake! Get a grip, man, he told himself sternly. Yes, you hate fighting with him but you haven't cried since the late 80s and you're not going to now! Stop feeling so bloody sorry for yourself.

And just at that moment Hidan caught up with him and pulled out his headphones, smiling propitiatingly.

Finally able to see a shred of irony in the situation, Hidan was prepared to put his pride on the line - again - and acknowledge his own douchebaggery, but Kakuzu seemed to be turning away, compressing his lips in something that not even the most optimistic analyst could interpret as a smile; Hidan let his half-extended hand fall limply back to his side. He walked on past him, veering away a little, trying to pretend he hadn't been trying to catch up at all. Now his eyes stung and for a moment his vision blurred; it was enough to make him lose his footing on the slope and go tumbling head over heels all the way down in front of Kakuzu's horrified gaze.

 Hidan was too surprised to even cry out, but Kakuzu must've, as Itachi and Kisame - not that far ahead now - turned around at once and came running back. By the time they reached the point where Hidan had fallen, Kakuzu was halfway down the slope with no idea how he'd got there.

"Careful, Kakuzu," he heard Kisame call as they followed him at a far more sedate pace. "Don't you fall as well!" - and he knew it made sense - after all, he was the only one with any medical training! But slowing down just wasn't an option. He saw the rocks and grass blur beneath him in a kind of daze and in less than a minute he was kneeling in the damp grass at Hidan's side.

"Hidan!" he said desperately. He was sprawled face down like a rag doll at the base of the fence, completely motionless. Kakuzu felt sick. He reached for the back of Hidan's neck, checking for a pulse and with a dreadful certainty that he would find his neck broken. But at his touch Hidan moaned dreadfully and struggled round to face him.

"Uhh, Ka-kuzu," he groaned, somehow making it sound like a come on. He smiled painfully, then spat blood onto the ground. Every part of him ached. He looked at Kakuzu's strained white face and knew if he relaxed at all now he was going to burst into tears. He began to push himself into a sitting position, grimacing.

"Oi!" Kakuzu held him where he was. "Don't move!" he commanded. Instinctively he wiped blood away from Hidan's lip and noticed that his hand was shaking; dreadful visions of internal haemorrhage, punctured lungs, gastrointestinal bleeding crowded his mind. He could feel his heart thumping almost painfully hard - it almost seemed to flutter for a moment. He made an effort to breath deeply.

"I'm okay," Hidan protested, his voice a little high, but just about steady. "I think I bit my tongue..." He explored around his mouth with it, checking that all his teeth were present and correct. "Fuck, and my cheek," he added, tasting a fresh surge of blood as he probed it. He spat again, feeling like if he swallowed he'd vomit, and watched Kakuzu's expression morph into what was becoming a rather familiar mixture of relief and exasperation.

Itachi and Kisame appeared behind Kakuzu. "Oh, thank fuck!" said Kisame. "You're alive!"

Hidan smiled a bloody smile at him, clinging to bravado as a defence against complete breakdown. Someone produced a water bottle but no one had a handkerchief - not even Kakuzu. Hidan pulled the bloody one from last night out of his pocket without thinking and made a pathetic attempt to clean himself up.

"Damn it, Hidan, are you made of rubber?!" Kakuzu murmured, checking him for broken bones. "I can't believe you're still in one piece after that!" He peered into his eyes, looking for signs of concussion. "This isn't normal!" he said.

"Well don't be too fucking disappointed!" Bravado wearing off, Hidan took refuge in bitter sarcasm because he wanted to throw himself into Kakuzu's arms and howl, and no, just no, no. He couldn't do that.

"Hidan..." Kakuzu chided. "Don't say that." He gently cradled the back of Hidan's skull in his hand as he carefully sat him up and fed him tiny sips of water. Taking the handkerchief from Hidan he tipped some water on a clean corner of it, then started to clean up a graze along his cheekbone. "Is this mine? he asked, noting a delicate monogrammed K in the corner of it. Could it have been in Hidan's pocket since last weekend? Hidan just shook his head a little, clenching his jaw.

Kakuzu began to rather desperately wish they were alone - impractical thought that might be. The hovering presence of Kisame and Itachi was so inhibiting. He desperately wanted to hold Hidan properly and kiss him and comfort him the way he so clearly needed, and now he was holding himself stiffly away and seemed barely able to meet his eye. He turned to Kisame instead. "How far are we from the road here?" he asked. "I think I should get him back to the house. He seems remarkably unhurt, but he's going to be in mild emotional shock at the very least."

"Fuck that, I'm not!" Hidan protested.

"It's medical terminology, Hidan, and believe me, you are."

"Not far, actually," said Kisame. "At the end of this field we cross the road only about a mile from the village. Why don't we can call one of the others and get them to come and pick the two of you up from there?"

"Yeah, Sasori fucking won't, though, will he?" Hidan interjected darkly.

"I'm sure he's not that petty, Hidan!" Kakuzu soothed. "I'd rather ask him than Tobi, anyway!"

"Oh, who's being petty now?"

"Well, at least I'm being petty on your account..."

Kakuzu, Kisame and Itachi all checked their phones, but none of them had any signal anyway. Neither did Hidan, though he did have a lot of messages on Grindr that must've come through earlier, as well as a text from Suigetsu Houzuki asking for Kisame's number.

Kakuzu wiped more blood away from Hidan's mouth and felt his pulse again. It was normal; he wasn't feeling clammy and he was only a little paler than usual. "Do you think you can walk to the end of the field?" he asked gently. "Maybe there'll be better signal there."

Hidan nodded wearily and they got him slowly to his feet. "Tell me immediately if you start feeling dizzy," Kakuzu commanded.

"I'm not going to feel fucking dizzy!" Hidan protested. "What the fuck do you take me for?"

And for the first 50 yards he was alright. Then - perhaps the first rush of adrenaline wearing off - he started to really feel his bruises, and an aching stiffness all over. He started to feel sick, too, and there was a lump in his throat that just wouldn't go away. He wanted to tell Kakuzu, but equally he didn't want to open his mouth because he really didn't know what kind of sound would come out.

Kakuzu, gripping him by the upper arm and observing his every move, seemed to sense something anyway. "Look," he said, "maybe I should go on ahead now and get my car. There might not even be signal at the road, and we don't even know if anyone's going to be around. Kisame can get you to the end of the field, can't you, Kisame?"

"Sure I can!" Kisame agreed encouragingly. They all looked at him again.

Hidan stared back miserably. "I don't know, I don't know!" he burst out. "Do what the fuck you like, just don't ask me to fucking make decisions!" He shut his eyes tight and breathed in deeply. He didn't want Kakuzu to leave him, but the prospect of sinking into a warm car was so inviting. "I've fucking had it with this day, man," he said.

Kakuzu was finally at a loss. Hidan was probably feeling worse than he'd let on, and he was worried; he really really didn't want to leave him. But, equally, he should be lying down and resting, not tramping wearily through a field. It certainly wasn't doing his emotional state any good.

"I'd be happy to run back, but we came down by train..." Kisame offered with a helpless gesture of impotence, and Kakuzu, scenting a solution, whipped his own car keys out of his pocket and tossed them over to him.

"Take mine," he said. "Honestly, one mile in the middle of the countryside - I think we'll be okay."

"Right you are - the black BMW, right?"


Half an hour later, relaxing in a warm bath with a cup of sweet tea at his elbow and Kakuzu sitting next to him in the wicker chair which he'd pulled right up to the side of the bathtub, Hidan finally felt the lump in his throat begin to subside. "Well, fuck," he murmured as an opening gambit, and Kakuzu laid down his newspaper to look at him.

"What do you think Yugito Nii's going to make of this?" he asked with a self deprecating smile, gesturing at his various scrapes and bruises.

"Hm." Kakuzu considered him. "She could make you something uncharacteristically modest, perhaps? Or full body make-up..."

"That's not a bad shout," Hidan drained the last of his tea and held the mug out to Kakuzu to put out of the way. "Maybe I'll suggest it-- Hey, what's up?"

Kakuzu had suddenly gripped his forearm and turned it so that he could see the inner elbow. His eyes widened and a tiny increase in their intensity told Hidan that he'd finally been busted. He braced himself.

"So that's why you were so tired on the walk!" Kakuzu's voice was abrupt and Hidan snatched his arm away. Kakuzu took it back and started to examine the puncture site. Small - but the tell-tale bruising around it gave him a pretty accurate picture of how deep it had been. And how long it had been allowed to freely bleed...

"Fuck..." Hidan breathed, rolling his eyes. "I'm fine, why're you making such a big deal of this? There are about a thousand other reasons for me to be tired, and anyway I wasn't. I just fucking hate the countryside."

Kakuzu just gave him that steady judgemental look which he was beginning to get used to, and prodded the wound. Hidan yelped. "Ouch, what the fuck?"

They stared at each other a moment.

"Why do you do it?" Kakuzu asked finally. Perhaps if it was less illogical he could manage to be less angry.

Hidan carried on looking at him challengingly for a moment, "I have to," he said.

"Yes, I understand that you have to, but why do you have to?" Kakuzu demanded again.

"It's a fundamental tenet of my faith."

"Your faith?"

"Jashinism. My religion." That challenging look again.

"Jashinism." Kakuzu repeated slowly. It wasn't even a question this time, just an incredulous statement.

"Okay, look," Hidan shot at him defensively, "despite how it feels we haven't known each other that long! There's stuff about me you don't know!"

"I do know that Hidan," Kakuzu said wearily. "And of course I've heard all the cult rumours about you. I just... I guess I didn't give them too much credence, that's all."

"It's not a cult!" Hidan looked outraged, but Kakuzu was in no mood to give ground.

"It sounds like one," he said uncompromisingly.

"Well it's not! You wouldn't call Christianity a cult, and they're way more fucking weird than Jashinists - why is this any different!"

"Well, I might, actually," Kakuzu admitted. "I'm not a big fan of religion in under any name."

"Ah, you're a fucking hardcore heathen!" Hidan seemed shocked and impressed in equal measure. He sat up in the bath, the better to proselytise.

"The Jashinist ritual isn't about harming yourself - it's about understanding the pain of others. Connection through something we all feel. It's universal. People just think pain equals bad, you know? But it doesn't have to be like that if it's shared."

"Right." Kakuzu was unimpressed, and let it show. "Well, you are harming yourself, though, aren't you? That's undeniable."

"Well, have you ever seen anyone with a recovery time like mine!? You fucking haven't, have you? Well, this is why!"

"Hidan, I have a much easier time believing that you're just a remarkable individual. There's no reason to think it has anything to do with your ... 'rituals'. I mean, have you ever tried not doing them?"

"No! That's blasphemy, actually! And I'd go fucking crazy. I need them to make a really deep connection with Jashin. Ordinary prayers only get you partway."

"Hidan..." Was there any point in arguing? Kakuzu couldn't help himself though. So many points that were just begging to be challenged... "Look, then, if they're so good for you why did you need me to carry you back to the hotel after your last one? Hm?"

"Well, I've been thinking about that." There was a faraway look in Hidan's eye now. "I think Jashin must have sent you to me. Maybe there's a new kind of pain that I need to learn to understand." He reached for his rosary which was on the corner of the bath. Kakuzu blocked his hand. "Hey, I need to run it by Him!"

"Just wait a minute. Finish telling me about it first, yes?"

"Oh- okay. Just let me hold it though please," Hidan's eyes were anxious and Kakuzu didn't want that. He trickled the the rosary into his hand and Hidan put it immediately to his mouth.

"So, Jashin is about taking on the pain of the world?" Kakuzu asked, looking the other way. "It sounds like a Jesus thing."

No, it fucking doesn't!" Hidan was indignant. "Jesus is all about sex. He's just one massive metaphor for boning. Seriously, man. It's fucking depraved; and I should fucking know, I was brought up in it."

Interesting. You can take the boy out of the Church but you can't take the church out of the boy... Kakuzu thought. But all he said was, "And Jashin isn't?"

"Do I seem like I have fucking sex hang ups?!"

"Well, not especially... but maybe you'd've been a happy little Christian if the message was 'my OCD about my personal hygiene has made me far too clean, come and pump your spunk all over me...'"

"Fuck you, man!" Hidan said casually. "Anyway I wouldn't, because they have Jesus as a replacement taking any delight in pure carnality for its own sake. I'd probably never get to have anyone's spunk on me ever again! Or I'd have to feel guilty about not thinking about the fucking bridegroom and his Church while I was at it!"

"Well, that would never do!" Taking Hidan's arm again Kakuzu stroked gently over the wound with his thumb. He didn't feel like he'd got anywhere near the bottom of this, but he wasn't sure it was wise to pursue the subject anymore right now. "Look, I'll never be able to believe in any kind of god - and I definitely won't believe that I've been sent by one, so don't hold out any hope of that, okay?" he said.

Hidan closed his eyes. "Alright. For now," he conceded.

Kakuzu hesitated. The thought that wouldn't leave him alone was that Hidan seemed to do this when something had upset him. He was suddenly reminded of Hidan saying about last night: "I didn't even know where you were." Could that have been something to do with it? "Can you do something for me?" he asked, trying to sound cool about it.

Hm? Limpid violet eyes half opened and met his own.

"Do your... 'rituals'... when I'm around."

Hidan held his gaze for a second without saying anything. Then; "you won't try and stop me?"

"No." For now, he thought, but left it unsaid.

"Well... alright then. I can do that."

Kakuzu leant over the bath. "Look, I realise I haven't--" he began, then straightened up with exclamation of annoyance as there came a discreet knocking at the door. "Who is it?" he called.

"Me and Sasori," came Deidara's voice. "Can we come in, hn?"

Kakuzu looked questioningly at Hidan, "Ah, let them in," Hidan said. "It's not like it's anything they haven't both seen multiple fucking times before!"

It still felt pretty weird, but Kakuzu just shrugged and went to the door to slide back the bolt. Deidara slipped past him and went straight over to the bath. "You alright, hn?" he said to Hidan. "You're so fucking accident prone! You've got to stop breaking yourself, yeah? I need you in one piece!"

"I second that!" Kakuzu murmured, from the doorway.

"Ah, I'm fine, man," Hidan brushed him off. "Seriously, it'll take more than a fucking slope to break me!"

"Yeah, well, sorry for being a dick this morning, anyway," Deidara continued. "Are we cool, hn?

"Of course we're fucking cool." Hidan aimed a playful punch at Deidara's arm, which Deidara dodged. "We're always cool!"

Kakuzu raised an eyebrow at Sasori, who'd lingered in the doorway too. "Are we cool?" he asked with a wry smile.

Sasori sighed. "I don't know that I could describe myself as 'cool' even in jest!" he protested.

Kakuzu patted his shoulder. "I'll take that as a yes," he said.

"You'd probably better," Sasori agreed with a small smile, "I can see now that we weren't exactly considerate either." And for a few moments they leant there in comfortable silence, watching the younger guys. Kakuzu had a sense of their friends finally beginning to accept that this relationship was something real and it gratified him. It was nice to feel that there were people they could be this comfortable with, as well, even if it was getting a bit much now...

"Right," he said, at last, turning towards Deidara who was lounging in the chair, chewing gum and chatting to Hidan as though the situation was entirely normal. "Out you get then, you two. You might be perfectly au fait with the naked body of my boyfriend, but you're making me feel like a third wheel!"

"Yeah, I guess it is a bit weird with Kakuzu here, Dei," Hidan agreed. "If I look at him too long I might start embarrassing you all, ay?"

"Don't get any ideas," Kakuzu warned him. "I am most certainly done for the day and you're in no condition for any kind of exertion!"

Deidara patted the top of Hidan's head and got up. "Alright, we're off for lunch now anyway. Take it easy, hn."

"You fucking take it easy, man," Hidan shot back, "I'm fucking fine. It's the fucking rest of you who are fucking pussies who need to take it easy!"

"Yeah, yeah," Deidara took out his gum and dropped it in the bathroom bin. "Whatever." He nudged Sasori. "Kakuzu said 'boyfriend'," he said pointedly. "See. It's not that hard..."

Kakuzu chivvied him towards the door. "Actually, it was quite hard, but I made a big effort," he said. "And don't worry. He'll be taking it easy."

He shut the door firmly behind them. "Right," he said, turning to Hidan. "Let's get you out of there and go back to bed."

Chapter Text

Sunday started out drizzly and dull, and a slow morning of coffee and croissants seemed to be on the cards for most of the party. Hidan, however, had made a remarkable recovery and - possibly thanks to Kakuzu almost entirely preventing him from drinking on Saturday evening - appeared bright and early, clad in the sexiest running kit Kakuzu had ever seen. He nearly choked on his coffee. They hadn't had a chance to run together yet; in London Kakuzu was normally up at least an hour earlier than Hidan, and with the dogs to see to, tended to take an early morning one on the Heath.

"So, who's coming for a run, then!?" Hidan bounced eagerly on the balls of his feet.

"Man, can't you take a break for a single day?" groaned Deidara.

"Fuck no!" Hidan gestured at his exquisite physique. "You think this shit maintains itself?"

The question was clearly rhetorical and Deidara just rolled his eyes. "And it's not like I'm going to get to the gym out here in the fucking sticks, is it?" Hidan continued, undeterred. "Well then! This is a run in the morning, gym in the afternoon, cycle everywhere else body that you see before you! It takes work, man!"

It's his art, hn," Dei observed drily to Sasori, who snorted derisively.

"Spare me the Beuysian 'everyone's an artist' spiel, I beg of you!" He muttered darkly, but Hidan had moved onto more fertile pastures and managed to persuade Kisame to join him.

Kakuzu wasn't about to let Hidan out of his sight dressed like that - and particularly not with Kisame - plus Sasori, Deidara and even Zetsu were beginning to bicker about the relevance of Beuys in the 21st century, which he found exceedingly tiresome. "I'll come with you too," he said, folding up his paper. "Just let me finish my coffee."

It was during the run that Hidan remembered about Suigetsu's message, and when they got back, instead of giving Suigetsu Kisame's number, he'd given Kisame Suigetsu's. "Cause otherwise I get this feeling he'll dick you around and not call for a couple of days just to mess with you, man..." he justified himself. Kisame had been texting on and off ever since.

Whether or not Hidan's assessment of Suigetsu's character was accurate, he'd certainly seemed responsive enough to Kisame's opening salvos. Kisame kept popping out to the patio for privacy while he composed his replies.

Around mid-morning he came into the living room looking at once slightly sheepish and slightly triumphant and said, "Everyone, how do we feel about some extra company?"

The room was suddenly charged with expectant silence. "Sasuke's little gang are on a train west right now," Kisame said, and he only looked at Itachi as he spoke. "They're willing to make a diversion and Karin will do the interview with Kakuzu today. If that's okay with you of course," he said, finally addressing himself to Kakuzu.

It was Yahiko who replied, though. "Yes." His tone was final. "We need to get this done. Tell her yes."

Kisame had the grace to glance back at Kakuzu, who inclined his head in a gesture that all too plainly said, well, I don't have a choice, do I?

"Alright." Kisame got his phone out. "We're... on..!" he said as he typed.

A tense twenty minutes later they were all huddled around Kisame's phone watching a new video that Karin had just uploaded to YouTube.

"So, me and the boys are on our way down to Cornwall for a week of sketching rocks and tin mine chimneys - thanks Sasuke for this thrilling itinerary - when all of a sudden - do you want to tell everyone who you've been texting, Suigetsu?"

Suigetsu Houzuki's face appeared, pointy toothed grin dominating the screen. "Kisame Hoshigaki," he announced obediently, in a tone of utter boredom.

"That's right!" said Karin's voice. "Kisame Hoshigaki - the editor of Akatsuki Magazine. And what did Kisame say?"

"Let's have a look..." Suigetsu started flicking back through what was clearly quite a quantity of messages. "Sorry I'm out of town this weekend... We should get together when I'm back in London... I didn't realise you were Mangetsu's brother til after you left the other night - are you really over 18 now?..." Karin thumped the back of his head.

"More specifically - what message did Kisame have for me?"

"Tell Karin I can get her an in on the week's hottest news story..." Suigetsu drawled, rolling his eyes.

"Right! And how did you get Kisame's number, Suigetsu?"

"I asked Hidan Yu," Suigetsu said, in the same bored tone. "We're with the same agency."

"Right. Suigetsu's got a bit of a thing for the rugged Mr. Hoshigaki - yes you have, Suigetsu, don't lie - so he thinks he'll call in a model to model favour!" Karin turned the camera away from Suigetsu and back to herself. "So - there's the background! I thought - thinking in the realms of the amazing but possible - Kisame's going to get me an interview with sexy badboy Hidan - so I give him a call! And it actually gets better people! Okay - it's not Hidan he can get me an interview with - but wait for it - contain your disappointment - it's Kakuzu Taki! That's right; the Kakuzu Taki who has never given an interview before! What's more, we can do it today! So we hopped off our train at Reading and we legged it over to the Cheltenham Spa service, which as luck would have it was waiting on Platform 1 and now we're on our way to the picturesque little town of Stroud, near where, at an undisclosed location, Hidan and Kakuzu, as well as artists Deidara Iwa and Sasori no Akasuna, the critic Itachi Uchiha - yup, that is Sasuke's big brother - gallery owner Konan Ame, plus the ever helpful Kisame Hoshigaki and several other major players on the art scene are all on retreat together. Yes, those guys holiday together - I know, right, I'm creaming myself too! So watch this space everyone! I'm going to livestream our little interview and we can all hear exactly what went down in Edinburgh last weekend!"

The screen faded to black and Kakuzu handed Kisame back his phone with a little shudder. "Are you absolutely certain that this is wise?" he asked. "She seems..." he searched fruitlessly for words. "She seems..."

"Batshit," Hidan supplied. His tone was almost admiring. "She seems fucking batshit, man."

"Well, it's a calculated risk, certainly," Kisame admitted. "And there'll a lot riding on how you perform, Kakuzu, but the fact that it is high-risk makes all the stakes a lot higher. Her assessment it going to seem genuine and unbiased in a way we can't really achieve with conventional methods. If it comes off well, you're basically going to be home and dry."

"Mph," said Kakuzu. He turned to Hidan, who was on the sofa reclining against a huge pile of cushions and eating Haribo. "What do you think, 'sexy badboy'?"

"Fucking go for it, theee Kakuzu Taki," Hidan said, tossing a miniature fried egg into his mouth. "You've got to now, anyway, look how many fucking views that little teaser she just put out has got already."

He showed Kakuzu his phone screen and Kakuzu gave a little grimace. "I can't help feeling you'd do it an awful lot better," he said.

Yahiko emerged from the kitchen. "No. Absolutely not. Hidan is a liability right now."

"Well, fuck you too, prick!" Hidan gave him the finger. "But seriously, Kakuzu, you'll have a much bigger impact. Like she said, people are used to me running my mouth off all the fucking time."

By the time Konan left to pick up Karin and the rest of the posse from Stroud, the tension seemed to have spread to everyone but Zetsu, who didn't seem capable of feeling tense anyway. Yahiko, who'd clearly had these kids on his radar for some time, was laying plans to bring them permanently into the Akatsuki fold, and Tobi was buzzing around him with a manic energy. Itachi, though outwardly calm, was clearly deeply emotional about seeing his brother again; Kisame seemed jittery too. Deidara and Sasori went out to do some more sketching, Sasori muttering darkly about the intrusion of the press, despite having been so keen the night before last for Kakuzu to do something like this. Hidan had become irritable about being characterised as a liability. He gave Itachi the rest of his Haribo to calm him down and trailed off upstairs. Kakuzu went up with him to make sure he had enough to keep him occupied.

"You could always have a shower," he teased as they passed the bathroom. "That would probably give us longer than we need!"

"That would be my third shower of the day! I can only justify it if you make me dirty first..." Hidan gripped the front of Kakuzu's t-shirt and pushed him against the doorframe, leaning up towards him.

Kakuzu uncurled his fingers. "Much as I'd enjoy that, you know I don't have time now." He kissed him lightly, still holding onto his hands. God, did he want to; he got a grip and pulled back. "Don't you have a book to read or something?"

"Fucking hell..." Hidan pulled his hands free and wandered into Kakuzu's room, nearly tripping over the mattress they'd dragged in there from the bunk room.

"Not much of a reader?" Kakuzu asked, and Hidan shook his head.

"Not really." He stared at Kakuzu aggressively, fiddling with his rosary. "Fuck it, I'm going out."

"You're- where?"

"On my bike. I need a fucking bike ride, okay? I'm going fucking mental cooped up in this shithole!"

Having already been for a run and the chapel being very far from a shithole, he was definitely trying to pick a fight, but Kakuzu was determined not to be drawn. "Okay. Good idea. Have fun," he said lightly. That was no fun for Hidan, of course. He growled. They went back downstairs together, and Hidan pounced on Zetsu, who was meditating in a half lotus position.

"Oi Zetsu, you got a GoPro with you?"

"Sure, man, you going to try something?" Zetsu looked up, his utter relaxation contrasting sharply but satisfyingly with Hidan's tight-as-a-spring demeanour.

"Yeah, I've got an idea... wanna tag along?"

"Alright, let me get my kit, I'll get you from another angle."

Kakuzu closed his eyes. "I don't want to know," he muttered. He was going to have to put it completely out of his head, and then Hidan would resent him for that, but there it was. He couldn't see any alternative. But Hidan actually came back over from the door.

"Hey, don't look so fucking worried!" he said, all sweetness now.

"Hidan!" Kakuzu growled. "You're trying to worry me. When you know I've got to focus!"

Hidan opened his mouth, then shut it again, eyes sliding sideways.

"There. You can't even deny it!" Kakuzu shook his head. "You're feeling left out, hm? Fine. Go and do something horrifically dangerous - just come back in one piece, okay?"

"Of course I fucking will."

Zetsu came back into the room carrying a DSLR and they headed for the door, Hidan blowing Kakuzu a kiss over his shoulder.

So it was that half an hour later Kakuzu found himself seated at the kitchen table while Karin Uzumaki and her friend Jugo set a little camera up to point at him. She was just as young and bolshy as he'd remembered, but she looked intelligent - he felt like he'd be able to get along with her reasonably well. He was pretty glad now that Hidan was properly out of the way, and that he'd left in a good mood, with no bad blood between them; there was no reason for him to take any more risks than normal. Kisame, Konan and Yahiko were still hovering. Suigetsu was lounging on a wooden chair. He looked bored out of his skull but he glanced up and flashed Kakuzu a lazy smile. With brief murmurs about being there if they were needed, Konan and Yahiko repaired to the living room. Kakuzu knew they'd be listening, but, well, out of sight out of mind as far as he was concerned. Kisame lightly touched Suigetsu's shoulder. "So..." he said.

"So?" Suigetsu was clearly an unhelpful little tease. They eyeballed each other for a moment.

"Well, how about a nice stroll in the countryside and you can tell me why you were so keen to have my number, kid," Kisame finally got up the guts to say, and Suigetsu acquiesced gracefully enough. Kakuzu hoped for Kisame's sake that Suigetsu would be more of a fan of the countryside than Hidan was.

And finally, there was peace and quiet in the kitchen. "Ready?" said Jugo, and Karin looked at Kakuzu. He gave a small nod, and Jugo switched the camera on and started the livestream.

"Hello, everyone," Karin said, and immediately she was in a different mode, absolutely in control. "So, here I am with Kakuzu Taki. We've just arrived and set up - we've literally only exchanged a couple of sentences so far, so what you're going to see is absolutely raw and unplanned, nothing's off-limits - we're going to get to know each other as you watch." She turned back to Kakuzu.

"Mr. Taki-" she began.

"Kakuzu, please," Kakuzu murmured graciously.

Karin smiled. "Kakuzu. This is a pretty new experience for you; am I right in saying you've never given an interview before?"

Kakuzu smiled too. It wasn't a very wide smile, but it was courteous. "Indeed," he said. "I do prefer to avoid the limelight where possible, but I find my reputation so very much under attack that I felt perhaps I had better emerge and set the record straight." He laughed, and so did Karin.

"I'm really keen to hear your point of view," she said. "We've heard a lot from the other side - the Asuma camp, as it were -"

"Well, first of all," Kakuzu swiftly cut in, making it seem as though he'd merely accepted a natural opening, "I don't regard myself as anti-Asuma, not in the least. I admire his work and I enjoyed having his work in my collection for many years. However, as with anything, one's tastes and views change over time, and I began to find those particular works that I sold were not ones that I found personally valuable any more. You can understand as well, I'm sure, that after what happened in Edinburgh - much as I try to be objective where investments are concerned - I wasn't going to be able to view them in the same way again."

"You also traded some pieces from your bank's portfolio...?"

"I'm not ignorant of the effect that sales from my personal collection have on the art market in general. It may seem cold-blooded, but a successful collection is a fluid one. I can't keep everything I buy - I buy a lot. If my collection were to become stagnant and unexciting, then the reputations of the artists featured in it would also suffer - it's how the art market works."

"Thank-you for that very succinct explanation, Kakuzu. It's obviously a cut-throat world, and I must say, I'm glad it still has some romance attached - what of the rumours of your romantic attachment to Hidan Yu?"

"Well, boyfriend begins to seem like a ridiculous word once you're over forty, but yes - of all the unlikely rumours flying around at the moment, that one is actually true..."

"Now, that's quite an age gap, isn't it... isn't Hidan only twenty-eight..."

"Yes he is." Kakuzu's tone rather closed that avenue down. "I must say I've found it very disappointing, the way this has been splashed around the news. I hesitate to accuse Shikamaru Nara of homophobia, but I did feel the tone of his article was - rather censorious of our relationship, which I found strange."

"Dare I say the words 'straight white male privilege'...?" Karin murmured conspiratorially and Kakuzu chuckled.

"Well, I'm not going to complain if you do!" he agreed, starting to feel a little more relaxed, "despite probably being guilty of unintentionally flexing the last of those upon occasion. As for what's been said about Hidan - well, to me - and I'll be the first to admit I'm just a little biased-" he gave a wry fond smile, and could see Karin beginning to melt "-it seems to me that it's his detractors whose behaviour should be called 'vengeful' and 'vicious'. I've rarely seen such a witch hunt, and after Hidan was actually assaulted by Asuma and his friends in the first place!"

"That's interesting because Shikamaru Nara laid some pretty heavy hints that it was the other way around but stopped short of actually saying it..." Karin observed.

"I presume so that no-one could call him out on an outright lie," Kakuzu continued seamlessly. "Well, I'm going to call him out on it anyway, because he clearly intended his audience to draw that conclusion and it's absolutely not true. It was an easy slur to make since Hidan's been viewed as the bad-boy of the art scene for a while now. Of course people find it easy to believe that he's the one who starts the 'brawls' or whatever you want to call them. But it wasn't the case here."

Karin nodded. "Okay. So, I think by now what everyone really wants to know is - what actually did happen?"

"Asuma and three friends - actually including Nara - set on Hidan at a restaurant while I was inside paying the bill. He acted entirely in self-defence. But by the time I got back he was - fairly inevitably - getting the worst of it. Thankfully I was able to, ah, level the playing field somewhat... People say 'oh, these hot-headed artists', and they romanticise things like this, but it was an ugly situation, very ugly indeed."

Karin was leaning forward avidly. "I heard something about a picture..?" she asked.

"You want to see it?" Kakuzu got his phone out of his pocket. Then he accidentally opened his photostream instead of the camera roll. "Oh my. Hold on a second!" He swiftly jerked the phone back towards him. Hidan had taken him at his word last week when he'd complained about being left with just his imagination... "Goodness! I can't let you see that!" Karin let out a squeal of delight, covering her mouth.

"Please can I? Pretty please?! We don't have to show the camera!"

"We most certainly won't be showing the camera! Good grief, definitely not that one... Ah!" He found a rare one of only Hidan's top half - he'd sent it on Tuesday, just before his last session at St Martin's. He briefly showed it to Karin. "Look, you can still see the bruises here." Karin let out a gratifying moan of mingled appreciation and sympathy.

Kakuzu was sure he must be visibly blushing; he felt distinctly hot under the collar. On the plus side, however, it seemed to have made Karin warm to him immensely; they seemed to have achieved a kind of intimate camaraderie that would provide a beautiful counterpoint to the macho blokiness of the 'Asuma camp'. He found the right picture and just about managed not to hesitate as he put the phone into her hand. She studied it for a moment, then addressed the camera. "Well, after that little bit of fun, boys and girls, we have something a lot less nice to show you."

She held Kakuzu's phone up to the camera with a practised and steady hand. "So there it is," she said. "Four against one, plus a big motherfucking knife. I have to say: the fucking bastards!" She turned back to Kakuzu. "I'm actually really really impressed that you were even able to 'level the playing field', as you so euphemistically put it. But you say you weren't there at the beginning. Could Hidan have started it anyway, in your opinion? Would he take on four guys at once?"

"Oh, sure," Kakuzu said. "He might well if he was sufficiently provoked. But he wouldn't have been shy about saying so! And I really can't take all the credit for both of us walking away unscathed - there's certainly no-one I'd rather have to face such a situation with than Hidan."

"Okay, that's adorable, and fucking scary for anyone else who might be wanting to take you on! I can see that there's a lot of trust between you. But - for the rest of us - can you explain what makes you so sure that didn't happen?"

Kakuzu looked at her in surprise. "We'd just had a lovely relaxed evening," he said, an edge of incredulity in his tone. "We were about to head back to our hotel. No-one else was even on our radar!" Time to shift the focus a little, he thought. "What makes me really angry is that they confronted Hidan, alone, about my actions. The fact that I'd let go of the work of one of Asuma's friends. I mean - why not just come and talk to me?"

"Right. I can understand you must be pretty mad at Asuma. I wouldn't actually blame you for dropping his work entirely for that. But what about that other artist - and the incident with Hidan that Nara talks about - a religious artist, wasn't it?"

"Oh yes, Chiriku. I don't know what happened with Hidan - it was before we met and it's never come up. Nara is wrong about the entire chronology of that, actually; I had been negotiating those sales well before I met Hidan. There's a ... specialist market for that kind of thing, several collectors were very interested. In fact I had been thinking about selling my Sarutobis at around that time. It was on my mind the night I actually did meet Hidan, as I recall."

"Before, I'm assuming!" Karin interjected and Kakuzu laughed.

"Oh, absolutely, as several unflattering eyewitness accounts have attested-" - oh hi, Daily Mail, Karin mouthed - "-I clearly only had One Thing on my mind afterwards! But, joking aside, I felt - and of course this is an entirely subjective opinion - but I felt that Asuma's work had been getting less exciting for a while. When you compare his output to someone like Sasori no Akasuna, whose career has followed a similar trajectory - well, you can see the difference immediately."

"How would you describe that difference?"

"In a nutshell, Sasori is constantly innovative, always developing. Asuma is - undeniably - settling down."

"Is settling down a euphemism for starting a family?!" Karin's question was slightly aggressive despite the rapport they'd developed - clearly this was a loaded subject for her - but Kakuzu was more than ready for it.

"Collectors have been ignoring absolutely stellar work by female artists for decades because they've assumed that they'll throw it all in and start a family at the height of their career," he said sternly. "It's an absolute tradition. And it's not one I've ever adhered to, so I'm simply flabbergasted that I should have these accusations flung my way." He looked straight at the camera. "And I'd like to remind the people saying these rather regrettable things that Kurenai Yuhi is an artist in her own right; one who, I might add, is represented in my collection and - certainly for the time being - will remain so."

Karin smiled, clearly pleased with him, and adjusting her glasses, addressed her next words to the camera too. "Well, there you have it, guys, straight from the horse's mouth. If I may paraphrase: Stop ignoring female artists, you fucking idiots!"

She turned back to Kakuzu. "Okay, let's move on. You've made a pretty good case for yourself here, but surely you can understand why people are pissed at you right now? For whatever reason, you've been able to massively impact on the career of an artist who's put years of dedication into building it up; people simply don't feel you should have that kind of power."

"Well, maybe they're right, and I do understand their motivation, of course," Kakuzu acknowledged. "It's hard to accept that something which is as much about appreciation and taste as fine art is also at the mercy of the world of finance and corporations. All I can say is, you make much quicker money as a bond trader - I'm a collector and an art investor because art is my passion and all the pieces in my collection are there because I saw something more than financial value in them." He paused for a moment, as if trying to decide whether or not to continue. "I really feel that Nara is letting his privilege talk, telling artists not to sell their work to me, or other big collectors. Not every artist comes from a comfortable middle class background. Undeniably, the artists are the reason there's a scene in the first place - you could call the rest of us mere hangers-on - but the art market is the means by which they make a living."

"That's fighting talk, Kakuzu..."

"Yes it is, I suppose. I really do take issue with the idea that I'm holding artists to ransom. Of course I wish all artists could make a decent living through their practice, and that's one of the reasons I'm involved with the Akatsuki Group, because they're constantly on the lookout for new talent and they do fantastic work with young artists, providing a platform that's launched several really exciting careers - including Deidara Iwa, to give one recent example. Nara will have to forgive me for not thinking that cliquey project spaces are the way forward for the majority of artists."

"Oh, I can't wait to hear the response to this, Kakuzu - I did wonder if anyone else had noticed that Project Number 10 has shown almost exclusively St Martin's graduates so far!"

Kakuzu just inclined his head a little. Of course I'd noticed, it said as clearly as if he'd spoken. Karin addressed the camera.

"Right! Time has been running away with us, and now it's over to you guys for the final question! Jugo has been keeping an eye on your comments and he's about to tell us what you're all burning to know. Jugo?"

"Yeah, uhh," came Jugo's calm level voice. "It basically boils down to 'how does it feel to be dating the hottest guy on the London art scene...' some people don't put it quite that politely, but yeah..."

"Okay, Kakuzu, hit us with it: how does it feel to be dating the hottest guy on the London art scene?"

"Well, Karin, to borrow a phrase from the guy in question, it feels fucking amazing - what do you think?"

Karin leaned forward, turning the camera away from Kakuzu. "Right, folks, that's it for now; we've livestreamed this today, so when you see Mr. Kakuzu Taki never putting a foot wrong, hesitating or fluffing a single word, that's because that's actually how he is in real life! It's been a real pleasure getting to chat to him, and, my verdict? Seriously; the St Martin's crowd need to back the fuck down. Asuma Sarutobi pulled a knife on Hidan Yu. We're all sorry he got hurt, but what the hell did he expect? Right! Subscribe, people, so you don't miss anything. Me and the boys will be discussing this all over again once we're back on the train - and I bet you all want to know what Suigetsu got up to with the editor of Akatsuki Magazine, huh? Bye for now!"

Jugo turned off the camera, and Kakuzu let out a brief sigh. "Well, thanks, Karin," he said. "You've really got a talent for this..." He suddenly felt utterly drained.

"No, thank you!" Karin said. She'd pulled round her laptop and was studying the screen intently. "The views for this are through the roof already, just from the livestream! I'm just looking at the comments - everyone loves the sexy photos bit - did you do that on purpose? It was inspired!"

"I really didn't..." Kakuzu insisted, getting up and edging towards the door. He wished Konan or Yahiko would come in and take things from here. He just wanted to crawl away and hide in a dark corner.

"Well you handled it perfectly." Karin was tapping away at her computer, uploading the completed video. "People are absolutely loving you..."

Oh look," she said suddenly. "Your friend Zetsu has put up a new video! Oh wow!" She gave a delighted giggle. "Did you know that's what they were up to? How were you so calm all this time?!"

Kakuzu strode back to the table. A glance at Karin's screen told him that Hidan had decided to try out the slope he'd fallen down yesterday on his bike. The video switched nauseatingly between footage from the GoPro mounted on his handlebars and a static tracking shot following him down the horribly steep and hazardously boulder strewn descent.

"Christ! It's not even a mountain bike!" Kakuzu exclaimed. He felt sick.

"That's a 'no', then, I take it." Karin patted Kakuzu's arm. "Hey," she said soothingly, clearly noticing his distressed state. "They've uploaded it already. They'll be sitting in some field with a laptop and a dongle by now - he's fine! Look, there he is at the bottom! He made it - it was all okay!"

Kakuzu sat down at the table again and let his head drop into his hands. "I know... I'm just- it's been a really stressful week," he murmured. He knew he shouldn't be opening up to Karin - after all, this whole experience was going to be chewed over with her boys the whole way down to Cornwall and spread in bite-sized chunks all over the internet. But there was something relatable about her and he was past caring. "Hidan lets it out by taking his life in his hands. I... I just don't let it out, I guess..."

"Oh, hey, Kakuzu!" Her nice low voice was sympathetic and her hand tentatively on his shoulder. "Talking live to camera is stressful, particularly when you're new to it, it takes it out of you... and going back over that horrible experience - it's no wonder you're feeling cut up. You just need a nice cup of tea or something - Jugo, go and grab Ms Ame..."

Kakuzu gave a mirthless chuckle. "I think I need a Dry Martini already..." Karin gave a sympathetic laugh. He heard a flurry of footsteps across the kitchen floor and tried to pull himself together.

"I'm sorry," Karin was saying to Konan, "I should've kept it shorter, but it was going so well..."

"It was perfect," Konan's cool tones reassured her. "Kakuzu - Yahiko and I both thought you were fantastic. You can relax now! I'll put the kettle on!"

"Yes, please don't worry, Karin," Kakuzu murmured, wishing they'd all leave him alone. "Blame Hidan, not yourself! I just... seem to need to stay like this for a minute..."

Suddenly there was a lot more noise over at the front door, and far more energetic and buoyant footsteps striding towards him. Hidan's voice, loud and accusatory: "Hey, what've you done to Kakuzu?!"

As he lifted his head Hidan was already beside him, trying to lever him up by the shoulders. "Fuck me dead, I go out for half a fucking hour and you've fucking broken Kakuzu! Seriously, do you want to be a bit more fucking sensitive?! He's not used to this media shit!"

"I'm alright, Hidan," Kakuzu murmured, leaning back, not able to help a little smile at Hidan getting protective and indignant on his behalf, but still burning with shame all the same. "I'm definitely not broken. Not quite, anyway."

Hidan leant over him, staring intensely into his eyes. "Hey, you fucking aced it man!" he said, then somehow got a leg over him, squeezing in between him and the table, straddling him in his chair, taking his face between his hands. "You were so fucking cool and collected, it was fucking hot as. Ask Zetsu: I was getting seriously over-excited!"

"He was not in any way chill, man, it's true," Zetsu confirmed.

"Hidan..." Kakuzu began, but then the utter impossibility of restraining him in any way was suddenly borne in on him and there just didn't seem any point in urging discretion. "How did you watch it anyway?" he asked.

"There's wifi in the pub. We only caught the second half though," Zetsu explained, wandering over to his biscuit tin and taking one before offering it round.

"Don't have one of those, Karin," Kakuzu warned. "They're not what they seem."

"Oh man! Your fucking face when you found the wrong photos!" Hidan continued enthusiastically. "I was going to send you another one but Zetsu said better not... Oh! I liked the bit where you said I'd've totally taken the fuckers on! I fucking would've as well, if I'd known what they had up their sleeves."

"A knife?" Kakuzu suggested, shaking his head. "You crazy fool..."

"A lot of people liked that bit..." Karin, half hidden behind her laptop, was reading comments and shooting them sideways glances. "Zetsu, you spoilsport. Love your channel by the way."

"Oh, yeah, hey, we made a video too!" Hidan declared happily, as if only just thinking of it.

"Karin just showed me. You're going to give me a nervous breakdown one of these days," Kakuzu claimed grumpily, though having Hidan back beside him was making him feel better already.

"Showed that fucking slope who's boss, though, didn't I?! Hidan demanded.

"Yes, Hidan. You showed a slope who's boss," Kakuzu agreed. "Now, with your pride and honour intact, can you at least get a mountain bike if you're going to make a habit of that sort of thing?"

"Yeah, I just fucking might! It was fucking awesome, seriously!" Hidan made to get up and Kakuzu completely instinctively found his arms tightening around him to prevent him. Their eyes met and despite his uncomfortable awareness of the kitchen filling up with people around them he held on for a moment.

"Are you alright, really?" he asked quietly. "Are there behind-the-scenes takes where you do come off? Which, by the way, I never ever want to see..."

"No, then." Hidan leant forward and kissed him, fingers threading through his hair - Kakuzu still couldn't believe quite how much he never cared if people were watching them - "There are no such fucking outtakes. Stop borrowing trouble, seriously. You'd never've had to know, would you?"

Konan set a cup of tea down on the table next to them with a sympathetic sounding murmur and a recommendation to go and relax in the living room. Kakuzu shifted Hidan to one side. "What funny phrases you come out with," he commented, reaching round him for his tea, taking a small sip and setting it back down. "Borrowing trouble! It sounds like something a maiden aunt ought to say!"

"My mum used to say it!" Hidan said defensively. "It was my aunts who were fucking always doing it!"

Kakuzu set him on his feet and got up too. "You keep saying it then, love," he said, dropping a kiss on the top of his head. "I am going to notice if you have any extra bruises though!" He picked up his tea and went through to the living room to sit in his favoured armchair by the unlit stove; Hidan automatically followed him like an imprinted duckling. He draped himself comfortably half on the arm and half on Kakuzu. They didn't even need to talk. Hidan took Kakuzu's tea and drank some of it, making a face at the lack of sugar.

"You could have your own, you know..."

"Nah, it's alright." He took another slurp, then handed it back. They vaguely registered Sasuke coming down the stairs alone, then being drawn off into the kitchen by Tobi. Then Suigetsu coming in alone, looking like that cat that got the cream until Kisame followed a few minutes later and avoided his eye. He wasn't looking so hot, actually - more like conflicted with an edge of self-hatred, and weary. He headed straight upstairs. They heard quiet tapping. "Itachi?" A murmur of low voices; a door closing.

"Maybe that hook-up wasn't the best plan..." Hidan murmured low to Kakuzu.

"No. I mean, it rarely is." Kakuzu raised an eyebrow. "I've clearly lucked out, but getting involved with the extremely young usually turns out afterwards to have been a terrible idea. Before, though, you're so spaced out with lust you can't think straight... it's... clearly hard to turn down..."

Hidan made a face at him. "You might be old enough to be my barely-legal daddy," he commented. "But do remember that I'll be kissing goodbye to my twenties horrifically soon, okay? I'm going to go and have a word with baby-boy over there. Don't even try to stop me!"

"No, no, you go ahead." Kakuzu nudged him off the arm of the chair and picked up his book. "I'm sure he could use a little guidance..."

Suigetsu was standing uncertainly, chewing on a fingernail, clearly not sure whether or not he ought to go and join his friends in the kitchen, and Hidan found he was taking a gentler tone than he'd intended as he said, "Look, kid, Kisame's a mate - please don't fucking mess him around, alright?"

"Hidan," Suigetsu drew him aside, an edge of confused anxiety in his attempt at a careless grin. "I thought we were cool, I don't know why he just went off like that. I thought he had a good time..."

"Did you have a good time?" Suigetsu didn't answer that. Hidan paused a moment, then patted his shoulder. The kid looked exhausted, now he saw him closer. What had Kisame been doing with him? "Alright," he said. "Look, I'm not going into any details, but he's been through some rough shit recently. You might need to give him a bit of space. He was pretty fucking stoked when I told him you wanted his number though." He glanced over at Kakuzu, peacefully reading his book. He caught Hidan's eye and his expression seemed to soften slightly as he looked back down. Hidan flung himself expansively onto the leather sofa and gestured to Suigetsu to sit down too. "Take your mind off it but giving me some fucking catwalk tips," he invited - anything for a distraction because Suigetsu looked like he might cry. "I've been fucking coerced into it and I'm not fucking happy!"

Diverting as an interlude with extreme youth had been, everyone had been quite relieved when Konan took the kids back to Stroud to catch the last train to St Erth. Karin started posting extremely regular little video updates as soon as they were on their train, though, and all afternoon Yahiko and Kisame were obsessively checking news sites to see how it was being reported by the traditional media. They were still going on about it by the time it was finally a decent hour to break out the real drinks. "We'll have to follow this up with a feature in the magazine," Kisame was saying to Kakuzu, cracking open a beer. It was clearly far from over, despite how much Kakuzu clearly wanted it to be.

Hidan's phone pinged. "Fuck, another one already?" He wearily pressed play, swinging up to sit on the work surface to watch it.

"So, some Akatsuki Group trivia! Hidan - or Hi-damn! as I now like to refer to him, having seen him in the flesh - tells me he'll be making his catwalk debut in three weeks, and that his agency has commanded him to live on Haribo and black coffee until that time."

"I saw him eating a banana," Suigetsu cut in.

Sasuke's voice: "He was definitely drinking a latte."

"Anyway, come on, Karin, you know you don't have eyes for anyone but Sasuke," Suigetsu teased obnoxiously.

"Yeah, bite me," Karin replied sardonically. "Suigetsu's just sore because Kisame hasn't texted him since we left - maybe you didn't make a good impression sweetheart-

Hidan flicked off his phone, hoping Kisame hadn't caught that. Itachi hadn't emerged all afternoon - emotionally drained by his meeting with Sasuke, presumably - and he had the feeling that Kisame didn't need to be reminded of whatever he'd done with Suigetsu just now. "Enough of these fucking kids now," he said. "I actually feel like a fucking grown-up for once." He drank half a glass of wine in one gulp and ate a handful of cashew nuts.

"Nah, you're Peter fucking Pan, Hidan," Deidara moved the nuts away from him. "You're never going to be a proper grown up..."

"That makes you fucking Tinkerbell, then." Hidan pointed at him. "And if we all say 'I don't believe in fairies!' some bad shit is going to happen to you, man!"

"Clap your hands!" Tobi exhorted. "Clap your hands!" Deidara threw a cashew nut at him.

They were all gradually congregating in the kitchen for a final meal together before travelling back to London in the morning. There was a tight-knit feeling to the gathering now - perhaps there was a good reason for team-building or networking or whatever it was they were supposed to have been up to. Hidan felt almost sorry to be going back tomorrow. Almost. He wasn't going to miss rolling out of a narrow bed at 3am, even onto a strategically positioned mattress... He stretched out an arm to reach Kakuzu - where he was leaning against the dishwasher drinking a well deserved Dry Martini - and briefly massage his nearest shoulder. "You're still tense," he said, knocking back the rest of his wine. Kakuzu moved closer and Hidan pulled him closer still, between his legs, putting his arms around him from behind and resting his chin on his shoulder. Perhaps it was naive, but he felt like all the shit was behind them now, that they could just focus on getting to know each other properly. He smiled into Kakuzu's neck and felt him begin to unwind.

Though it was really only dusk, the platform at St Erth felt dark after the brightness of the carriage. They'd barely be able to see the famous St Erth to St Ives coastal scenery on the final leg of their journey. Karin pulled a half-asleep Suigetsu from the train, deposited him onto Jugo. They had a 15 minute wait for their connection - she shivered a little as she followed Sasuke along the platform a little way, tugging her jacket tighter around her. Sasuke was staring up the dark track and brooding. He'd been brooding on the train for the last few hours as well, as everything he'd heard during the day began to sink in. "Sasuke..." she called, glancing back at the others. They were on a bench, out of earshot - and Suigetsu was properly asleep again anyway, flopped against Jugo's shoulder. She hurried to catch him up.

"Sasuke, are you alright?"

He didn't really answer - it was as if he didn't even see her. "Those fucking bastards at St Martin's," he gritted out bitterly. "I'm going to bring them down. I'm going to fucking annihilate the reputation of that fucking place."

This wasn't anything to do with Hidan and Kakuzu. Karin, though she pushed the thought away, knew where Sasuke's head was at nowadays better than to think he'd even care. This was something far closer to home for him. "What happened?" she asked, putting her hand on his arm. "Did you find out what happened when Itachi left? What did that Tobi guy say to you?"

"Really, fuck them all." Sasuke moved away a little. He didn't acknowledge her questions. "Anyone who graduates from there can kiss goodbye to an art career - a degree from St Martin's is going to be fucking toxic by the time I'm done."

"What about your friend? What about all the guys you were on foundation with?"

He finally did look at her then, and his eyes were black and cold. "Fuck them all."

Chapter Text

"I think you two should reconsider going to the St Martin's degree show, man," Deidara said to Hidan as they stowed their bags into their respective boyfriends' cars the next morning. "You are going to cause a fucking riot, hn." The show opened on Wednesday, and Hidan was adamant that he wouldn't be kept away by a bunch of pussies talking crap about him.

"Fuck that, man, if Kakuzu wants to see their shit we'll fucking go! I'm not afraid of a bunch of fucking students! I already took out the fucking daddy, didn't I?"

He was clearly spoiling for another fight. "Yeah, that's my point, hn," Deidara reiterated wearily. "And he's taken a turn for the worse in hospital - one of Sasori's students just texted him! They're gonna be out for your blood. And the gutter press'll all be there. Kakuzu will hate that, no?"

Kakuzu closed the boot of the car. That was potentially bad news for all of them, but he didn't want Hidan getting needlessly worked up by discussing it now. "I'll bear it in mind," he said calmly. "Let's go, Hidan."

Hidan slid into the passenger seat as Kakuzu settled behind the wheel. Their eyes met for a moment and Kakuzu found the same weary desire for escape he was feeling himself mirrored back at him. For all his wild behaviour he finds socialising as exhausting as I do, Kakuzu thought. We really really need to be alone together now...

But just as he was about to turn the key in the ignition, Kisame came running out of the chapel holding something that distinctly resembled a turkey baster. "Is this yours, Hidan?" he called, slowing to a stroll as he saw they were still stationary.

"Ah yeah, thanks man," Hidan reached through the open window to receive it. Kakuzu pretended to be looking with deep concentration at the road atlas.

Kisame patted the top of the BMW. "I enjoyed my spin in this baby the other day," he said, "but I can't understand why you didn't come down on the the train! It's such an easy journey from Paddington to Stroud!"

Deidara, getting into Sasori's car in front of them, called over, "Hidan misbehaved too much on the way to Edinburgh, hn!"

"Yeah, man, Kakuzu said he wouldn't travel with me again unless he could get away with strapping me down!" Hidan added with a wicked grin.

Taking his cue, Kakuzu wordlessly pushed him back against the seat and drew the seatbelt across him. "You guys!" Kisame chuckled. "You honestly were made for each other, weren't you?"

"Were you and Itachi planning to walk into Stroud?" Kakuzu asked, eyeing Kisame's gigantic rucksack and glad of a opportunity to change the subject even if his heart sank a little as he did so. "Can we offer you a lift?"

"Aw, that's very kind, Kakuzu, thanks!" Kisame looked over at Itachi who was sitting by the door looking pale and tired. "I think Itachi would really appreciate that actually. It's not a long walk but I think yesterday was ... pretty heavy for him ..."

Deidara pulled the door of the Ford to with a horrible clanging sound. "See you back in London!" he called to Hidan. "We've got to pick Sasori's grandma up from Swindon, she's got an opening tonight..."

"That's a fucking shithole man, commiser-fucking-rations!" Hidan called back. "Don't get out of the car! Oh hang on! That's fucking shit too! You're fucking done for!"

"Yeah, okay, hn, very amusing Hidan!" Deidara gave him the middle finger and settled down in his seat, nonchalantly leaning one elbow out of the window.

Itachi and Kisame got into the back of the BMW and Kakuzu eased out of the parking place. Itachi laid his head back against the cream leather and sighed. Ahead of them, Tobi and his orange Lamborghini sped down the drive and disappeared onto the main road. Kakuzu caught Kisame's eye in the rear view mirror and swiftly looked away again; other peoples' emotional trouble was more than he was prepared to deal with right now.

Watching Kisame and Itachi disappear through the Cotswold stone archway into the station, Kakuzu discreetly took Hidan's hand down by the gearstick. "Ready for this?" he asked.

"Mm hm."

"Not feeling sick?"

"Nope. I can suck you off before we go if you need me to."

Kakuzu laughed. "That's okay, love, it might take a while after everything you did before breakfast!" He started the engine and used Hidan's hand to change gear. "Maybe I should teach you to drive," he mused. "I'm sure you'd be a natural..."

"I'd be a natural fucking disaster!" Hidan replied. "Do you really want to give me access to more speed...?"

Kakuzu chuckled. "Alright, maybe not," he agreed, executing a perfect three point turn and pulling out of the carpark. "I'd quite like to just see it though..."

"I couldn't tell him." Itachi uttered the words with no preamble or any explanation as he and Kisame settled down on either side of a slightly sticky train table. But then, he was more than used to Kisame never needing any explanation. "I left it to Tobi," he admitted, not meeting Kisame's eye. "Was that cowardly of me? I just ... didn't want to make him feel more hate than he's already burdened down with."

Kisame didn't want to sound like a sycophant, but he didn't want to be unkind either. "What did you tell him?" he asked, instead of trying to find an answer.

Itachi leaned his forehead against the window and stared out unseeingly. "I told him about coming out to mum and dad and why I cut off all contact with them after that," he said. "I told him that when I left St Martin's there was a reason... that was... unrelated to whether or not I wanted to be an artist anymore, but not about them pushing me out to avoid a scandal about dad. And Shisui. I didn't tell him about Shisui. I don't know if he even remembers him. He was only twelve when it happened."

"Yeah, I'm willing to bet he remembers!" Kisame dropped his forehead into his hand. Itachi could be devastatingly naive about other people's feelings. And obsessions. Perhaps it came of schooling his own so closely. Fugaku Uchiha had been a regular tutor at St Martins when Itachi was there; as an artist, he'd been more successful critically than commercially. As far as Kisame had been able to gather, after Itachi's cousin - and he suspected he'd been his first sexual partner too - had killed himself, a heartbroken young Itachi had come out to his parents, whose reaction had been to summarily chuck him out of the family home.

He wasn't sure about the details of Itachi's departure from St Martin's - only that somehow a transfer had been arranged for him onto an art history course at the Courthauld Institute and he'd been persuaded - somehow - not to say anything about why he'd left. They'd discreetly dropped Fugaku from the staff the following term; Shisui's suicide had been whitewashed as a tragic accident. It was only years later that Itachi had found out about the involvement of a senior painting lecturer, Danzo Shimura. Not a good moment to mention that, though, Kisame thought.

"Orochimaru?" he asked instead. Itachi's lip curled.

"The whole reason I even started trying to get back in contact was to warn him away from Orochimaru. But he's not going back to City and Guilds now. I think he's safe on that front now."

But did you tell him that it was Orochimaru-"

"I told him enough!" Itachi's tone was anguished now and Kisame knew better than to probe further.

"What've I done to him?" Itachi's question was almost a whisper. "Maybe I should've told him the truth when I left. I'm afraid that between us all we've done him real emotional damage. How could dad not do him emotional damage?! I shouldn't have left him there!"

"Itachi." Kisame took his hands over the train table, his brain registering a discarded copy of the Daily Mail as he did so, and - even as distracted as he was - managing to note that Hidan was on the cover. "You were so young. How could you know what was the right thing to do? It's impossible to say now how it would've turned out, anyway."

Itachi discreetly removed his hands from Kisame's grasp. "I'm not looking for excuses," he said quietly. "I was selfish. In a way I think I wanted him to reject me. Now it hurts too much, but I've only got myself to blame."

"Itachi," Kisame said again. "Itachi, don't. You've got so many fuckers in your past you could blame. I love you for not doing it, believe me, but you'd be justified. Totally justified." He glanced down at the newsprint Hidan on the table between them. He was snarling and wielding a heavy-looking chain bike lock threateningly at whoever was taking the photograph. "IS GAY MODEL REALLY THE VICTIM" screamed the headline. He spun it around to show it to Itachi. "Look at that. Sometimes you've just got to look out for number one, hm? Hidan knows it."

"You surely don't want me to model my behaviour on Hidan's!" Itachi exclaimed. "Charming little psychopath that he is! I hope Kakuzu knows what he's getting into. Such an intelligent man - I'm always so surprised by his boyfriends."

"I'm not sure Kakuzu wants competition," Kisame suggested. "But Hidan's not dumb. He's a little under-educated, I'll grant you, but Kakuzu would be tired of him already if he didn't have something between his ears. And I'm not buying the psychopath bit - he's way too emotionally vulnerable for that."

"Hm. It's easy to see you've got the hots for him more than a bit! I have to say I'm glad Kakuzu got in there before you." Itachi folded up the paper and put it away from them, ignoring Kisame's demurring mutters. "I wish them joy of each other but I can't help feeling they're a bit of a liability for the Akatsuki Group. Maybe even more so together than separately."

"Oh, very probably, but I can guarantee you they don't give a shit and that's really the aspect of Hidan's behaviour that I thought perhaps you could take something away from. I don't know why you still have this loyalty towards St Martins-"

"I don't," Itachi snapped. "They were spineless and unsupportive, but I don't see how a scandal would help anyone. And I don't want Sasuke to indulge in any more negative feelings either. I thought it would be good for him to have a relationship with mum and dad. I thought getting into a good art school would set him on the path I wasn't able to follow. I-"

"Well, you don't regret going over to the Courthauld now, do you? God, if I had a tough as nails little brother who'd drag Goldsmiths' reputation though the dirt for me I'd jump at the chance!"

"Well, Zabuza Momochi's doing a fine job all by himself, isn't he? Everyone's tired of YBAs by now."

"Oh, Zabuza's a fucking charlatan but that level of audacity only helps a place's reputation in the end. No, it was a fun couple of years but I'm glad I got out when I did. My only regret is that I didn't persuade Mangetsu to come with me. I have to say, it was a shock seeing little Suigetsu. He's a lot like him."

And for a few minutes both were silent, watching the speeding scenery, thinking of the places they'd left behind, the friends who didn't make it. Kisame couldn't remember how exactly how Shisui had committed suicide but didn't want to ask. Itachi remembered Mangetsu and his burn-out and overdose very well. People had compared the two pairs of art-dynasty prodigy brothers even back when he'd been on foundation. And Zabuza and his pickled shark - well, he'd written a pretty scathing piece about that back in the 90s when he'd done it. He knew Kisame had hated it too, for more personal reasons...

"Didn't Kakuzu fund that shark piece?" he asked.

"Yes." Kisame's reply was curt. "And, believe me, he knows how I feel. In his defence, he didn't know what Zabuza was planning. Made a killing, though, of course."

"His recent work's been a disappointment," Itachi offered.

"Yes, Kakuzu told me he'd let quite a lot go..." Kisame replied.

Zabuza Momochi and his shark in formaldehyde couldn't have been further from Kakuzu's mind as he sped along the M4 between Swindon and Reading. It was a nice clear day, Hidan was in a correspondingly sunny mood; life felt good. The first hour of the journey passed equably, the motorway was reasonably clear, they made good time. And as they passed the Reading junction Hidan spotted Sasori's Ford up ahead.

"Ha!" he said. "They'll have Sasori's nan in the back by now! I wonder how that's going down! Or do you think she called shotgun and Dei's been relegated? Sasori gave me a lift home in that little shitpile once and the back seat is seriously like the carcass of a fucking mule that died of slow starvation! Or just like all the mattresses in Dei's squat, actually, so maybe he doesn't give a shit. I was not fucking amused though."

"What were you doing in the back, anyway?" Kakuzu asked, not even sure himself why that was the burning question to emerge from everything Hidan had just said.

"Ah, Sasori had some freaky life-sized fucking puppet up front. I kept catching its eye in the driver's mirror. It was messed up, seriously. Do you like his work?"

"Well." Kakuzu considered. "I admire it. It's powerful, and moving ... and as you suggest, unsettling. As for 'like', though, I have to say I'm more drawn to Deidara's. And not just for the subject matter!" he added, seeing Hidan start to smirk.

"Hey, you've actually got a piece of Sasori's that I modelled for, you know," Hidan pointed out. "Did you know that?"

"Well, I didn't actually, but - you mean the one mounted over the fireplace in the living room, I take it?" Hidan nodded. "I did have a feeling you might've ... it was always my favourite." He glanced across at Hidan, gave him a little smile. Hidan responded with own delightful brand of sultry shit-eating grin.

"We'll have to pull over if you're going to keep that up," Kakuzu murmured.

"Sure thing, you're the boss, tiger," Hidan responded, sliding a hand onto his thigh.

"Oh, tiger, huh?" Kakuzu groaned. "Well, speaking of felines, don't think I haven't noticed how much I always end up smelling of your aftershave by - god - mid-morning probably! You're marking me like a tom cat!"

"Not exactly like a tom cat, man. Though I could be up for water sports if you want to be on the fucking receiving end!"

Kakuzu laughed. "Not my kink, really..."

"Well thank fuck for that."

"Mm, I am glad we're on the same page there."

A few miles down the road, sexual tension and sticky traffic was making Kakuzu short-tempered. Hidan was trying every trick in the book to keep him sweet but it was actually only making things harder; he now had a slight boner as well. He had to laugh at the puppy eyes he was currently being treated to though, having made the irritable suggestion to Hidan that he might prefer to cycle the rest of the way home.

"Tom Kitten suits you better, looking at me like that!" he snorted. "I suppose that would make me Samuel Whiskers though, rather than 'tiger', which I must confess I could get rather fond of!"

"Ah, no, you're not quite that much of a bastard. Though," - Hidan's lips curved in a sultry smile - "if I did land on your bed all covered in smuts..."

Kakuzu laughed again. "You can be sure I'd make a metaphorical roly-poly pudding of you!" he assured him.

"Just so long as you don't pull a Marlon Brando on me with the butter, okay? That's some fucking rank shit."

"I thought it was Anna Maria who went for the butter?" Kakuzu had a mental image of Samuel Whiskers trundling a rolling pin across a carpeted landing and said so.

"No, man," Hidan was clearly confident in his position. "She just got the dough. Samuel Whiskers had to make two trips."

Kakuzu thought for a moment. "Yes, of course, you're right," he conceded finally. "Well, I guess you might've read it more recently than me!" After another moment's thought he added, "I think I'd actually rather be John Joiner than Samuel Whiskers, though."

"Aw, you'd fucking rescue me? Kakuzu, you're so fucking sweet!"

Kakuzu almost blushed. "Just more of a dog man..." he murmured. He flicked on the radio, ostensibly to listen to the travel reports and see if there was any reason for this unusual congestion. Unfortunately the first thing they stumbled on was some discussion of the day's headlines. And it turned out that that was them.

'Gay art mogul Kakuzu Taki has broken his silence about last weekend's vicious attack on artist Asuma Sarutobi, and his story is that it all began with a homophobic attack on his boyfriend, gay model Hidan Yu-'

Hidan snorted. "Why'd they have to start every sentence with fucking gay?" he demanded. "Of course I'm fucking gay if I'm your fucking boyfriend!"

"It would be a far more sensational news story if you weren't..." Kakuzu added.

Hidan cackled, "Now, we can do this the easy way, or we can do this the hard way..." he quoted and Kakuzu laughed too. Then abruptly stopped as he heard his name again.

Taki's reputation for distrust of the traditional media seems to be well-founded-'

"Well-earned!" Hidan snarled indignantly.

'-since he turned to blogger Karin Uzumaki to get his side of the story out. Now, Taki has won the hearts of huge numbers of her substantial following with his obvious affection for his young partner, but he may not be quite as cuddly a character as he's been made to appear.'

"Shit!" Kakuzu muttered under his breath.

"What?" said Hidan. Kakuzu peremptorily shushed him.

'We've been sent a copy of a police report filed in 1999, which gives details of Taki's assault on his then partner who we're not able to name for legal reasons, which resulted in hospital treatment involving 15 stitches and monitoring for concussion.

It sounds like we should be concerned about Hidan Yu! '99! He'd still have been at school then!'

"No I fucking wasn't..." Hidan muttered.

'Is it possible that Asuma Sarutobi and his friends actually interrupted-'

Hidan reached out and flicked the radio off. "Fuck them and their fucking moralising, what the fuck do they know?!" His voice was high with indignation and something else Kakuzu couldn't quite put his finger on. He turned around in his seat to face him directly. "Jeez," he continued. "You hospitalised your boyfriend. So that's why you worry so much about losing your temper with me! And all your Akatsuki friends give me funny looks every time I have so much as a fucking graze and Kisame flat out asks me if you'd done it when he saw what happened in Edinburgh - all that shit comes back to this then, I guess?"

Kakuzu took a deep breath. "Look, love," he said. "Back then. When I was ... in my thirties I guess, I... wasn't a particularly nice person. I mean, I'm not a particularly nice person now, if I'm honest, but back then it was really bad. I had a lot of anger, bad things had happened and ..." God, he was shit at putting this into words. He rubbed a hand wearily over his face and tried again. "Anyway. Boyfriends didn't last long in those days... I was mostly just hooking up but," - he glanced quickly at Hidan - "You've probably figured out that's not really ... I'm not really..." His phone started ringing. "Shit," he said again and handed it to Hidan. "See who it is."

"It's fucking Yahiko." Hidan's eyes narrowed.

"Kakuzu's hands tightened on the wheel. "Better answer it."

Hidan did so, but his voice was so bolshy it might have been more diplomatic to have missed the call. "Yes we fucking heard it," he snarled. "Kakuzu's driving. He can't talk to you."

"Put him on speaker, Hidan..." Kakuzu's voice was weary.

"Kakuzu!" Yahiko's voice was crackly but clearly indignant. "You assured me this business was dead and buried! I'm not exaggerating - this is a PR disaster!"

"It was over a decade ago, Yahiko!" Kakuzu snapped. "He never pressed charges. I don't know how they even got hold of it!"

"I just need you to communicate with me! Why did they say 'legal reasons'? It makes it sound-"

"Like he was a minor? He wasn't. Not remotely. I assume they did say it to make it sound that way though. He was older than Hidan is now, for Christ's sake! You know that!"

"Well, why are they working that angle? What else is waiting to come tumbling out of the closet?"

"For goodness sake, Yahiko, I've already had to hear myself described as a gay art mogul with a gay boyfriend, give it a break with the innuendo, would you! They're clearly digging, anything could come out. But there's nothing you don't already know about."

"Well, good. Keep it that way!"

"Fuck's sake, what's that supposed to mean," Hidan cut in angrily.

"Hidan," Kakuzu warned, but Hidan was clearly upset and when he was upset he was unstoppable.

"No! This fucker's fucking crossing a line and he needs to back off! You need to back the fuck off, Yahiko!"

"Alright, Hidan, keep calm." Yahiko gave a smooth tense laugh and murmured something inaudible - presumably to Konan. "I'll be in touch soon about your meeting with Yugito - I'll be handling all your bookings personally from now on - we can't risk any more slip-ups."

"And, Kakuzu?" he added, while Hidan was still incoherent with rage. "Don't - whatever you do - talk to the press. Or let Hidan talk to the press. We'll figure out the best response once we're all back in London. I'm going to get Mr. Pein's media team onto this. Bye-bye, now."

"Yahiko, I don't want a media team anywhere near-" Kakuzu began, then broke off hopelessly.

"Yeah, fuckity-bye to you too, prick!" Hidan snarled, but Yahiko was gone. He stared moodily at the phone. 'The other person has cleared, the other person has cleared,' it began to chirp patronisingly. Hidan just let it. Kakuzu reached over and rubbed his shoulder, then took the phone back and shut it down.

"You're upset," he said. "Which is understandable, but-"

Hidan just shook his head. Kakuzu stared out of the windscreen at the slow-moving traffic. This was Hidan; he'd watched him slice open another man's face and only get crazy turned on by it. He wouldn't be upset for anything you could consider a normal reason. He probably didn't even know himself why he was...

"Are you feeling left out of the loop?" he asked finally. "Look, I'll tell you about it. It's not a secret! I wish I'd had a chance to tell you before it ... Well. Anyway. Where were we?"

"Casual hook-ups not being your bag," Hidan muttered.

"Right." Kakuzu sighed. For all that, he wasn't at all sure he was ready for Hidan to know just what an utter failure his personal life had been for the last 15 years. He took a deep breath - now wasn't the time to make things worse by being an incoherent idiot. "So there were a couple of longer term things," he began, "but by longer term I only mean a few months. And they all ended absolutely appallingly."

"That one was the last one, and in my defence, it was a break up. We weren't intimate anymore. I wasn't anyway. I'd asked him to leave but I guess he still thought there was something to salvage from the relationship. I wasn't playing ball, though. He got angry; I got cold. He said things, I said things, he smashed things, threw things at me, got right up in my face, then finally managed to hit on the one subject he knew really could get through to me, which was the end of my medical career." He glanced at Hidan. "I'll tell you about that another time. Anyway, I lost it. I'm not even sure what I did, I was in such a blind rage. I really did fuck him up, though. That much is true."

"He sounds like a piece of shit who deserved what he got." Hidan's tone was casual. His body language was still tense, though.

"He might, conceivably, have deserved the first blow. Not the rest." Kakuzu winced, thinking about it even now. "He was a mess. And if they fixed him up with only 15 stitches he probably still is! Basically, I shouldn't have even been with him. I shouldn't have been with anyone."

"You were trying not to be!"

"You don't have to try and exonerate me, Hidan. I got into it, knowing full well that I'd driven the previous guy into a full-blown nervous breakdown, and the one before him to ODing on mephedrone..."

"Fuck, he was a bit ahead of the curve!"

"I guess party drugs seemed like a good antidote to living with me."

"Well, why the fuck was he, then? How the fuck'd you figure you're to blame for all this?"

"By being a controlling unaffectionate bastard with a hair-trigger temper, basically. I was toxic to be with." And maybe I still am, he thought, looking at Hidan, so indignant on his behalf, so utterly unwilling to believe he'd been in the wrong; just laying himself open to being hurt.

"I'm getting the impression that the people you've been with have been utter pricks and you should probably stop feeling sorry now."

"Hidan, to be honest it's something I always need to keep in mind. And I have to confess I haven't really dealt with the issues I was ... living out then. I've just avoided anything that might make me lose my cool. After that last episode I didn't even so much as let anyone stay the night. Until you."

"Oh?" Hidan purred, his voice low and velvety. "What's so different about me?"

"What isn't different about you?" Kakuzu turned to face him fully just for a moment. "I've never met anyone like you."

Their eyes met just for a moment and neither of them seemed to know what to say next.

"I get the feeling that you're tough enough to handle me." Kakuzu continued, looking back at the road. "There's a certain ... resilience about you."

"Fuck yeah, I reckon I could take you!"

Kakuzu laughed. "That's not quite what I meant, though I'm sure you'd have a damn good try." He paused. "People tend to walk away after a taste of my temper. If they still can, that is. I've never found anyone who's able to laugh it off before. I've never found anyone who can actually calm me down, like you do."

"I do?"

"You do. God, you work me up as well, but... for my sins, I clearly do actually care about you. A lot. And that's a major difference."

"Huh?" Hidan looked up at him and Kakuzu suddenly felt deeply unready for the turn this conversation was taking. He hurried on.

"The others - I think I just didn't feel enough for them to even bother trying to be good to them. I was pretending things were there that just weren't. Kidding myself I could have normal relationships. To be honest, taking you home - and keeping you there - was something I just couldn't even resist. But even so I don't have any guarantee for you that I won't start being cruel and cold for no reason, or that next time I get angry I won't deck you. And have to call Tobi to take you to A&E in the middle of the night..."

"Is that what happened?"


"Fucking Tobi?"

"Yes. I told you I'd known him a long time."

"Yeah, well, I don't think you're going to do that." Hidan regarded him with his head on one side. "I've been through my fair share of violent fucks and let me tell you, I wasn't ever the one who ended up in hospital..."

"Hidan-" On top of some of the most painful years of his past being thrown in his face and the indignity of being ticked off by a PA ten years his junior, the thought of anyone who'd been intimate with Hidan trying to hurt him was enough to make Kakuzu shake with rage. "If you told me who I'd drop everything now and fuck them up so badly-"

"There you go." Hidan put a hand on his arm and gestured at the slip road coming up. "Get off the motorway. You're done, man."

And, minutes later, parked haphazardly on the verge of an industrial estate with that sleek silver head in his lap, running his fingers though his hair; Hidan glancing up at him in that way he always did before taking his cock in his mouth almost like he was asking for permission, Kakuzu felt a lot better about things. He cradled the back of Hidan's skull and Hidan's fingers twisted around his belt to get a better grip on him. The loose end of it shifted to rest against his cheek and it was too perfect, he was so precious; Kakuzu felt again that alien protective instinct that, he had to admit, he hadn't felt in the slightest towards any of the other men who'd ever shared his bed. Hidan paused a moment, let his cock slide out of his mouth so that just the head was resting against his lips, and murmured, almost to it, "I don't know why you worry about that shit. I know you'll never hurt me - you'd rather break your fucking hand - so relax about it, okay?"

He turned his eyes up to Kakuzu's and Kakuzu felt his whole body respond; blood surged to his cock, precum glazed Hidan's bottom lip. He took Kakuzu back in deep, then pulled up a little to work around the head with the tip of his tongue.

"Yes," Kakuzu agreed breathlessly, "Alright. Oh god, yes, oh fuck!" His fingers tightened in Hidan's hair, then swiftly bent forward to drop a frighteningly tender kiss on his temple. "No more chatter now," he murmured. "You've got a job to do, love."

"Travelling with you is inconvenient!" Kakuzu exclaimed, looking at his watch as they hit the road again. "I've got a meeting at two - we're barely going to make it."

"Jeez, you ungrateful cunt! Most people would be over-fucking-joyed if they could travel with someone who'd suck them off on command!"

"You're not useful - you're just creating demand for yourself!" Kakuzu flicked the indicator down, checking his mirrors as he pulled into the fast lane. "You're like a drug, the more I have, the more I need!"

Hidan just laughed. "And I bet I can make you need another before we hit the North Circular," he said.

"Don't," Kakuzu warned. "There's a lot of money riding on this deal."

"Ah, always the fucking lucre with you! Fuck's sake. There are more important things in life, man! Anyway, it's not like you could keep your hands off my dick either!"

It hadn't been. As soon as he'd blown a massive load what felt like halfway down Hidan's throat it had just been instinct to pull him up into his arms, kiss him over and over, relishing the taste of his own cum in his mouth and sliding his hand into his jeans, grasping that hard hard cock; god, it was amazing just how hard he got. Youth, he'd thought, smiling into their kisses, heart flipping at the way Hidan moaned against his mouth as he forced the zip of his fly down further with the back of his hand, not wanting to let go for the half second it would take to do it properly. He could still see a reddened mark along the side of his wrist where he hadn't cared about the chafing of it in his eagerness to hear him moan like that again. And all he'd been able to think was I love him, I love him so much.

But that wasn't something he was anywhere near ready to share. He even felt a little ashamed of himself now. Who doesn't feel something like love with their cock in someone's mouth? he asked himself.

"You'd've been pestering me all the way home if I hadn't done something about it," he said lightly, not able to resist the cowardly impulse to shy away from his over-intense feelings, but trying to take the sting out of it all the same. Still, Hidan gave a sulky little exhale and turned to look out of the window.

Of course, he couldn't keep quiet for long.

"Hey, we even had a conversation about fucking culture!" he pointed out. "You should be extra pleased with me - I'm being the perfect fucking travelling companion!"

"We had two," Kakuzu acknowledged urbanely, putting his foot down as the traffic started to speed up. They were coming up to the Heathrow Junctions now. Getting there. "Now, why should that surprise me anyway? Isn't that what you're all about?"

Hidan laughed incredulously. "I think you're pretty fucking unique in that opinion, Kakuzu! I'm just a hunk of fucking man meat to the fucking culture crowd!"

Kakuzu patted his thigh. "Don't do yourself down, sweetheart. You're a muse!" He shifted up a gear, shooting Hidan a sideways glance to see how he was taking the teasing note in his tone - and whether he'd been forgiven yet for his earlier ungraciousness.

"Ah, fuck off," Hidan said, but cheerfully enough. "Muse, my arse."

"Ah yes, well, it might just be that, I suppose." His next glance was greeted with an obscene gesture. He smiled placatingly, in the mood to humour Hidan now the conversation was on safer ground. "That's the spirit, sweetheart. It does endlessly inspire me, you know. It's very beautiful example of a type I particularly admire-"

"You're heading towards another pit stop, man," Hidan grinned. "Come on, then, is it as beautiful as my cock? I only get to see other people's fucking weird-ass interpretations of it!"

"Don't make me choose!" Kakuzu exclaimed. "They're both sensational. And don't expect me to believe you don't admire it in the mirror every morning."

"It's normally a bit steamy for that by the time I'm done in the shower, man. Hey, look, there's Sasori. We've caught them up again - we can't be making too bad time."

"In that little tin heap? It's really not much of a measure love!" Sasori's a bad driver, he thought, but didn't say. He's hogging the middle lane, and that outrageously pink smartcar is getting seriously pissed off with him. Tailgating now. And can he really not go any faster than that?

In a minute they'd be passing him. Kakuzu hung back a little though. It was on the tip of his tongue to warn Hidan not to lean out and start making obscene gestures, as he knew he would be inclined to do - Sasori could probably do with not having any extra distractions - when the driver of the pink smartcar suddenly decided enough was enough and started to overtake.

Sasori put on a belated burst of speed - or maybe his car was just slow to respond - then finding himself cut up, had no choice but to brake hard.

And then a truck was overtaking another truck and-

"Oh God," said Kakuzu, his face suddenly an immobile mask as he stepped hard on the brakes and swerved just in time to avoid being hit by the car behind them.

It took Hidan a second longer to process the information in front of him.

"Shit!" he screamed. Time seemed to slow down. He watched Sasori's car just seem to be nudged by the lorry - which carried on as if nothing had even happened - then inexorably spinning across the lanes of traffic, crunching into the pink car ahead, then colliding devastatingly with the car which had just shot past them and couldn't stop in time. It flipped over then, and it seemed to Hidan that it actually changed direction in the air and came towards them. "Oh my fucking God!" he cried, limp with terror.

But Kakuzu was utterly calm, and whatever he was feeling, he didn't allow it to affect the way he handled his car. While Hidan was still screaming, he brought them safely to a shockingly abrupt stop on the central reservation. "Stay here!" he barked. Hidan was too shocked to do anything else anyway. He watched Kakuzu get out of the car and race across to the flipped little Ford. Dazedly, he looked back, and saw other cars stopping behind them. He could hear horns blaring, the squealing of brakes, the clatter and crunching of other, minor collisions as the motorway rumbled to a halt.

With shaking hands he undid his seatbelt, and checking that nothing was still coming, he cautiously got out. He started over towards Kakuzu, who called to him without looking up, "Hidan, bring the case under the driver's seat." He ducked into the car again, trembling all over now, and brought out the case. He recognised it from the train. It was Kakuzu's specialised First-Aid Kit. He started over towards Kakuzu again. The road was littered all over with broken glass and pieces of car. It seemed incredibly wide. The westbound side sped on surreally, pale ovals of faces turned to glance detachedly at the devastation, then whisked away.

"OK," said Kakuzu as he put the case down beside him where he was laying a bloody and deeply unconscious Deidara on the road. "Now call 999 and hold the phone to my ear while I try and contain this haemorrhage." There was a brisk emotionlessness about him that made Hidan's stomach knot up. Deidara was hyperventilating in a pool of blood; he stared at him, disbelieving.

"Shouldn't we get Sasori out too?" he asked as he tried to flick his phone open with trembling fingers.

"Sasori's dead, Hidan," Kakuzu said curtly.

And Hidan looked into the flipped Ford and there was really no question. Sasori hung from his seatbelt as lifeless as one of his freaky puppets. Half his head wasn't there. A little old lady lay in a crumpled heap in the back. He didn't need to ask about her either.

"Hidan." Kakuzu's voice was hard and urgent. "Don't look at that. I need you here. For God's sake make that phonecall!"

Chapter Text

Hidan gazed around him. He could hear his own breathing coming in short rapid gasps. He tried to get it back to normal; it didn't seem to be possible. He held his rosary so tight he could feel the symbol of Jashin cutting into his palm, then forced himself to take as deep a breath as he could. All that did was fill him with the smell of blood - and although that was something he normally associated with spiritual calm it now seemed meaty and foetid, and mixed with a chemically burning smell. It made him cough, then almost retch. He clapped his hand over his mouth. Man the fuck up! he berated himself. What the fuck are you like?! He looked around him again, desperately trying not to look at Sasori, and, I know that car, he thought, looking at the one that had passed them. Where do I know that car from? No-one was emerging from it, anyway.

Kakuzu was talking smoothly and rapidly to the 999 operator, reeling off their exact location without hesitation, then a whole lot of medical terminology that in his shocked state Hidan couldn't even begin to get his head around. "We need the air ambulance here - half an hour is much too long! No, I don't need to be talked through it, I was with Medecin Sans Frontieres in Bosnia for heaven's sake!" An impatient growl. "Well then I guess I'll just do what I'd do in a fucking war zone then! Christ, are we in the fucking third world here?!"

As Kakuzu ended the call and held the phone out to him, muttering, "fucking cretins," Hidan realised he was hyperventilating now and Kakuzu was staring at him with an exasperation that seemed to border on disgust. "Take it!" he said, shaking the phone at him. His voice was harsh and Hidan's hand seemed to move on its own to obey him. He looked at Deidara's arm and saw a shard of bone sticking out, blood pulsing round it in little fountain-like squirts. There was something deeply wrong about the angle of it.

"Hidan!" Kakuzu said sharply, increasing the pressure he was applying above the wound. "Hidan, listen to me! It's going to be very difficult stop the bleeding with the bone like this. We could tourniquet but if we do that for long he'll lose the arm." Hidan seemed transfixed, but he wasn't sure anything he was saying was getting through to him. He felt for a pulse in Deidara's wrist, felt and felt again, and didn't find one. "Well," he said, talking to Hidan just because it helped to order his thoughts. "The position of the bone is compromising circulation. If we don't do something soon he'll lose it anyway. The air ambulance has gone out to another emergency and they think it could be half a fucking hour before they get through by road."

Hidan had never heard Kakuzu swear this much before; he seemed like a completely different man. He was looking at penetratingly at him, and yet in a way it didn't feel like he was being seen at all. It was as though a shutter had come down over any part of him that could feel and Hidan had a sudden horrible flash of insight into how it might be to have him turn on him - this is what it would be like, he thought. He could fuck me up now and he wouldn't feel a thing.

"Hidan," Kakuzu said again, insistently now, getting equipment from his case one-handed while keeping pressure on Dei's arm. "This isn't something I can do on my own. I'm going to need your help." He looked up at Hidan, dazed and white, shocked and panicked, yes, but at least not shying away from the carnage. "Focus, Hidan! I need you here!"

Hidan shook his head and jerked himself back to reality. What the fuck are you like? he berated himself again. He has to fucking ask you to help him? Get a grip on yourself!

"I have to warn you, it's not a nice procedure," Kakuzu was saying sternly, "if you don't think you're up to it then tell me now and we'll save Deidara without his arm."

"Fuck that!" Hidan knelt down beside him in the blood and glass. "Dei"s a fucking artist! He's not losing it! No fucking way."

Kakuzu's expression softened - just for a moment. He put a hand on Hidan's shoulder. "We can fix this," he said intensely, squeezing hard. Then the shutters were down again. "Just don't for Christ's sake bail on me halfway through."

"I'm not going to fucking bail on you," Hidan took another deep breath. "What do I need to do?" he asked.

"Gloves on before you get anywhere near that." Kakuzu pointed in the case and Hidan started forcing his unresponsive fingers into latex that seemed to catch and snag at every turn. Kakuzu's eyes were on him; he didn't say anything but his impatience was palpable. "Keep pressure here - we've got an arterial bleed," he said, the second Hidan ready. He let Hidan take over from him; blood spurted out of the wound alarmingly as they changed over.

"I'm going to get a line in him, he's in danger of going into hypovolemic shock," Kakuzu said, expertly slipping a cannula into Deidara's undamaged arm and taping it down. He checked him over for head injuries, rolling back his eyelids, shining a light into his eyes - he seemed to be satisfied with what he found. Hidan watched him, biting his lip bloody with anxiety. "Stop that," Kakuzu snapped at him.

He connected a bag of clear liquid. "It's only saline," he said. "But at least it'll help his blood pressure." He laid a prepped syringe ready in the case. "Ketamine, if we need it. We're lucky to have these," he added. "I got them in for you, just in case you decided to slice yourself up again. Though what he really needs now is a blood transfusion." Hidan didn't say anything, just kept his eyes fixed down on Dei's arm. Blood was still flowing out, though he seemed to have the spurting under control. "If my assessment is correct he'll be coming round once his fluid levels are up a bit," Kakuzu warned him, improvising a stand for his makeshift drip out of the back of his case. "He is concussed and there's been major blood loss but there are no obvious signs of severe head injury. Try to keep him calm if he's lucid at all, keep an eye on his airways-"

He inspected the wound. "Luckily this seems pretty clean, and the amount of blood loss has flushed it out a fair bit, but I'm going to irrigate it with my other pack of saline - we might well want it later, but, well." He stopped a moment, looking at Hidan, then just exhaled and shook his head a little. "Right." He increased the flow of the drip. "Just keep holding."

It seemed to take an interminable amount of time. Kakuzu got Hidan's phone back out of his pocket and photographed the wound from various angles. "Whoever operates on this is going to need to know what they're dealing with," he murmured, more to himself than Hidan now. He removed any visible debris, then pierced his second pack of saline and syringed it over the wound, over and over and over. "We could use ten times this much, easily," he muttered. People were starting to flock around them; Kakuzu sent them off to the other cars with effortless authority, without even stopping to look up. "If there's anyone conscious get them lying down in the recovery position, try to stop any bleeding, keep them warm," he called out. "Honestly," he muttered to Hidan. "Why can't people learn basic first aid? Why don't they teach it school?"

Hidan's hands started to ache, then his fingertips went numb. He wasn't sure if it was the pressure or shock; he wasn't going to mention it to Kakuzu though. He felt that he was probably low enough in Kakuzu's esteem already.

"I'm going to want you to grip his upper arm here-" Kakuzu indicated as he worked. "And here. This ... isn't going to be nice," he warned. "They take people on proper anaesthetic down to the basement to do this in big hospitals -" he grasped Deidara's elbow, "so that the other patients can't hear them scream. I'm going to manipulate the bone. You just hold, exactly as I've shown you; I'll do all the moving. Got it?"

Hidan nodded grimly. "Got it." he said.

"There's also inevitably going to be quite a bit more blood loss because you're not going to be able to put pressure directly on the artery like you are now. Don't panic," - his eyes bored into Hidan's to emphasise this - "just be ready to put the pressure back on if I tell you to."


And then Deidara stirred. "It's OK, man, we've got you," Hidan tried to make his voice normal, but to his ears it sounded shot through with tragedy.

Kakuzu was already emptying the contents of his syringe into the IV. "Now he's awake we don't really have much choice about that ketamine - we'll just give it a moment."

Blue eyes fluttered open, fluttered closed.

"Hidan?" Deidara's voice was hoarse and faint. "Where's Sasori?"

But before Hidan could begin to answer he'd started making awful gasping moans, sucking in air, close to hyperventilating again. "Fuck, Hidan, fuck, something's wrong with me," he managed to force out. Hidan leaned over him, desperately trying to keep him from thrashing around, and with a horrified start of recognition he knew what the weird dry heaving that Dei was doing now was all about.

"Shit, man he's gonna vom," he told Kakuzu, panic in his voice, and Kakuzu didn't hesitate.

"Turn him to one side!" he said calmly, firmly. He got a hand under Deidara's head, all the time also supporting under the wounded arm and trying to keep it level, and together they supported him round as he vomited uncontrollably onto the tarmac.

That done, he collapsed limply back, eyes glazed. Thin greenish liquid trailed from his mouth. Choking breaths seemed to wrack his whole body.

"Don't worry," Kakuzu said. "That's a fairly common reaction. Just get his airway clear."

"I don't know fucking how, Kakuzu!" Hidan wailed. "I've never done shit like this before!"

"Finger sweep to make sure there's nothing left in his mouth, then tilt his chin up. Then new gloves." Kakuzu's tone was determinedly betraying nothing, no irritation or impatience - but Hidan could feel the effort involved. "Quickly, Hidan," he added sharply a second later. "He's losing a lot of blood - I can't keep enough pressure one handed."

Hidan fumbled the gloves onto the tarmac, got the new pair on a bit quicker this time, and resumed his bruising grip. They took a moment to breathe. Kakuzu stared intently at the angle of the protruding bone. Deidara just moaned gently now.

"Right!" Kakuzu said finally. "Now, hold him how I showed you. We need to do this now!"

Hidan shifted his grip, and Kakuzu started manipulating the arm. Hidan couldn't believe the low-tech brutality of it - it moved horribly, wrongly, with a liquid, squelching, crunching sound. Deidara screamed, low and rasping, before his whole body convulsed and then went limp. The bone shard slid inwards and Hidan watched with sick fascination as Kakuzu eased the arm around in a way it really really shouldn't go. He couldn't look at Dei's face now; he just focused on Kakuzu, and on holding Dei absolutely immobile as he started to come to again, gasping and retching, his whole body trying to pull away from the pain.

"OK, there it is," Kakuzu muttered. "I can feel it - - just a little more - - OK. I want you to pull just a fraction Hidan-"

Hidan wasn't expecting that, but he eased Deidara's shoulder back towards him a fraction and Kakuzu's face was suddenly illuminated. "There!" he cried. "That's it! We got him, we got him!"

He snatched out bandages and what looked like a slice of the stiffened foam interior of the case. "Hold there," Kakuzu pointed. "No, there!" He took Hidan's hands one by one and placed them, all the time keeping Deidara's arm supported with his other hand; then he was bandaging a makeshift splint in place and, "I'm going to have to do an interim repair on the artery," he muttered. "It'll be a mess but without any more fluids to give him there's no other option. We can't let him bleed any more."

Hidan did as he was told and watched Kakuzu. Hard as he was pressing, blood was still oozing out. He didn't see how Kakuzu could see what he was doing at all, but his movements were so sure and incredibly quick. "Where is the fucking ambulance?!" he exclaimed as he worked. "This is a fucking disgrace." He lifted his head a little. "Start releasing pressure now," he said. "OK. A bit more. Good. We can deal with that." He pressed a sterile dressing onto the wound and bandaged it in place.

Then he was feeling for a pulse in Dei's wrist again. Hidan sat back on his heels and watched him warily. "OK, the circulation's back in the arm, but his pulse is weak." He felt the other wrist. Frowned a little. He didn't explain any more to Hidan, but why would he? It must be utterly obvious to him that Hidan didn't understand. He ducked his head down a little, looked back at Dei.

"Deidara," he said. "You still with us man?"

"Keep talking to him," Kakuzu's hands were over his now, taking the gloves off him, turning them inside out as he did so - so that's how you do it, he thought - he could feel himself start to tremble again just from the proximity to him in this strange detached state. "Talk," he said again. "It'll be much easier for me to spot any changes in his level of consciousness if he's talking to you..." His voice was softer and he looked ahead at the deserted motorway, eyes narrowed. Hidan shifted down on the tarmac so his head was just above Deidara's and stared into his half-closed eyes.

"Dei," Hidan said. "Hey, Deidara! Dei, man?"

"What is it Hidan?" Deidara's speech was slurred now, "Leave me alone. I'm tired."

"No, I need you to stay awake now OK? Just stay with me?"

"What's going on Hidan?" Deidara's voice was faint and hoarse. "I'm cold. Shit, I think I'm really fucking wasted, man, what the fuck did I take? I feel numb..."

"It's just K, man," Hidan took off his jacket and laid it over him; met Kakuzu's eye and swiftly looked away. "You've just dropped bit more than you're used to. Don't worry. We've got you. We're sorting you out, OK?"

"You could've told me he uses ketamine recreationally!" Kakuzu hissed at him. "It could have affected his response!"

"OK! I'm sorry!" Hidan's voice was high with tension and misery. "I didn't know-"

"Alright! Forget about it," Kakuzu cut him off. "For heaven's sake, now's not the time!" He tucked the jacket closer around Deidara on his side, detached the now empty saline bag from the IV and used his case to get Dei's legs elevated.

Dei opened his eyes again, "What's wrong, hm?" he said to Hidan, his voice full of incongruously tender concern. "Hey, you're covered in blood, man, what've you done this time?"

"It's alright Dei, I'm fine-"

Hidan got hold of his hand, and Deidara gripped back surprisingly hard, "Yeah, you always say that. You're fucking white as a sheet, Hidan, hm," he slurred.

"I'm naturally pale, man, don't fucking worry about it,"

"Was there an explosion? Are we in the studio? I ... I feel like I can't move. Why can't I move?" He tried to lift his head, confusion flickered across his face. "At least call Kakuzu, yeah?" he urged Hidan. "Oh fuck, he's gonna be mad isn't he? He's going to flip his shit when he sees the state I've got you in..."

"I'm here, Deidara, everything's fine." Kakuzu's voice, deep and steady. "I'm not flipping my shit."

"Everything's fine," Hidan echoed. "Everything's fine Dei, don't worry." He felt like a traitor saying it; the realisation of just how not fine everything was hit him again and again in waves, a pulsing cycle of disbelief followed by crushing realisation.

Deidara's eyes, drifted closed again and Hidan suddenly found he could hardly see for tears. The scream of sirens up ahead and blue light blurring all around him barely registered; he just kept holding Dei's hand, muttering stupid fucking shit to him, anything he could think of; getting barely coherent replies now.

He became aware of other people moving around them, other voices, Kakuzu's voice, commanding; brisk, stern and utterly in charge. Deidara started gripping his hand harder, his nails digging in, letting out a sudden awful, guttural sounds of pain again. Suddenly Kakuzu was gripping his shoulders. "Hidan, we're moving him. He's not letting go of you, so you're going with him." His head cleared enough to move when he was told to move, and lift when he was told to lift, but beyond that he couldn't focus at all. Everything was a a blur. He felt Kakuzu's hands guiding him into the back of the ambulance and just tried to make himself small and not get in the way.

By the time the ambulance reached the London Royal Hospital, they'd run out of options to help Deidara with the pain and he was alternating between screaming and semi conscious. Oxygen and blood had made him far more aware of what was going on, and the pain he was in. Hidan's head was full of the scream of sirens, Deidara's screams, and the constant stream of medical jargon being batted back and forth all around him. The motion of the ambulance had made him horribly nauseous; it was taking everything he had not to throw up.

He didn't even know how he got from the ambulance to the hospital - the first thing he was clearly aware of was Deidara being whisked away by the waiting anaesthetic team as soon as they made it through the doors. Hidan, bereft of his hand, just stood there, trying to get used to the brightness, trying to get his head to stop spinning. He felt Kakuzu's hand on his shoulder. "My friend is in some considerable shock," he heard. "Can someone please treat him?" My friend? he thought incredulously, and in the moment couldn't really rationalise why it hurt so much. He became aware of Kakuzu looking down at him, his expression unreadable. He stared back, weighed down with a sense of failure, of having been a useless, fumbling disappointment. And with that grounding him, the rest of his surroundings began to swim into focus.

The first thing he noticed was that someone was making a hell of an entrance; a man with long white hair, cold-eyed and resolute, striding through the lobby simultaneously as though he owned the place and as if if was completely beneath him to even set foot here. "Right!' he cried out to everyone and no-one. "Does anyone want to tell me what the hell has been going on? Are passers-by taking over orthopaedics now? Am I out of a job? Do we have fucking House to blame for this as well? Or is this more Scrubs territory?! I'm perfectly happy to go back to Sudan if I'm not needed here!" And then he suddenly stopped declaiming and made a beeline right for them.

"Kakuzu?!" he exclaimed. It was as if Hidan wasn't even there. "Kakuzu, good god!"

"Kimimaro!" Kakuzu was actually almost smiling. "I didn't even dare to hope you'd be-"

"No don't tell me!" Kimimaro interrupted, "You're the maverick roadside reducer! Well, if I'd known that..! Why did nobody say?! Didn't anyone recognise you?"

"Kim, it's been over 15 years." Kakuzu protested. "Your initial assessment of the situation is probably a lot nearer the mark!"

"Haha, so you heard me just then!" Kimimaro laughed slightly manically. "I get so fucking hacked off with amateurs thinking their television habits make them interchangeable with qualified healthcare professionals! But you! This is a bit different! This is life saving field surgery we're talking about!"

"Yes," Kakuzu said tersely. "Yes, and honestly, it felt like Srebrenica back there. I did think about how you'd've managed it." He hesitated. "It's ... good to see you, Kimimaro. I didn't realise you were back in the UK."

Back five years now," Kimimaro said, suddenly more serious. Then almost as quickly he was back to his flamboyant archness.

"I should fucking think it is good to see me - you're not going to find anyone better to sort out your little blond friend, are you? You'll have taken pictures for me, then?"

"Hidan?" Kakuzu said, and Hidan wordlessly produced his phone.

"Let's see," said Kimimaro, eyes sliding over Hidan, up and down before flicking back to Kakuzu, then back to the phone again. "Ooh, yes, oh my, that didn't want to wait half an hour - you did the right thing!" He nudged Kakuzu slyly. "But you know that of course." He flicked through the rest of the pictures Kakuzu had taken, then raised an elegant eyebrow as he came across a nude selfie of Hidan. "Well, well, someone's a gym bunny, aren't they?" he remarked. "Get these up on the screen, would you," he said, handing the phone to one of his juniors without so much as a by-your-leave; already it seemed that Hidan was completely off his radar. "Oh! My God!" He turned back to his team, lightly holding Kakuzu's arm. "This guy was the shining star a few years before me and Dr. Yakushi. It's a crime that you left medicine, Kakuzu. An absolute travesty. Well, what are you waiting for! Scrub up!"

"What? Kim, I'm not-"

"Yes! Yes, you're coming in. I need you to tell me everything you observed about the wound; I want to know everything you did and the clock's ticking. No, come on. I'm not taking no for an answer - you started this, you can see it finished!"

"Kakuzu," Hidan began desperately, putting two and two together finally.

Kimimaro's cold eyes rested on Hidan again for half a second. "Nurse, treat this man for shock, would you?" he said. "What is he doing still on his feet?"

"Hidan," Kakuzu said over his shoulder. "I'll be back soon -" Kimimaro would only want him for a few minutes, surely. A couple of nurses had wrapped him in a blanket and were giving him sips of water - he'll be fine, he told himself. I'll be back before they're happy to discharge him anyway.

"That your new ODP is it, Kakuzu?" Hidan heard Kimimaro say. "Ha! You've outdone yourself this time! If he helped you with that reduction I've got some time for him though!"

"Hidan's not exactly squeamish," Kakuzu said flatly.

"Well, watch out he doesn't get too capable - you know you've never really liked playing with anyone on your own level," Kimimaro said sourly as they turned the corner. Kakuzu made a dismissive sound. Kimimaro had been sweet and serious back in the 90s, if always a little bit of a drama queen. Sure of his purpose, determined to change the world. They'd even had a couple of short flings - only while Kimimaro was a junior though, it was true. Not once he'd started his surgical career. And not while they'd been out with MSF together.

It had only taken Srebrenica about a month to strip Kakuzu of any remaining illusions he'd had about human nature. There hadn't been many left, not after what had happened. Kimimaro's humanitarian instincts had always been much stronger, but it would have taken a miracle for that youthful optimism to survive 10 years of conflict after conflict. Easy too to imagine that coming back home after years in war zones must have been a shock to the system, but this brittle overblown ego was sad to see. Still, as he followed him into the Operating Department he couldn't deny a feeling of euphoria rising up in him. The smell, the instruments, Queen pumping out of the stereo. But most of all, the feeling of being in control of the crisis. He could fix this.

Hidan, staring after Kakuzu as he was borne inexorably away, felt the polar opposite of in control. He very nearly burst into tears right then and there. A kindly looking middle aged nurse sat down with him and patted his hand. "Alright, lovely," she said. "Deep breaths now. Your friend's in good hands with Mr. Kaguya."

A few minutes turned into a few hours. They kept Hidan on the ward for quite a while, treating him for shock and getting embedded glass and grit out of his forearm which he hadn't even registered getting there. And then he was discharged. That was when he realised he didn't have anything on him but his old phone - not even his keys or his wallet. It was all in Kakuzu's car, and he didn't even know where that was now - they'd both come in the ambulance, after all - for all he knew it was still on the side of the motorway.

One of the nurses showed him to a grim cafeteria to wait. "Is there anyone you can call, honey?" she asked. "It seems like Mr Kaguya is keeping hold of your boyfriend for the time being!"

"I- I guess." He hadn't even thought of calling anyone. The idea of Kakuzu hobnobbing with that surgeon made him feel - not even jealous - more deeply inadequate. Kakuzu probably ought to be with someone like that. They probably had all kinds of history too. He could feel his self esteem spiralling lower and lower as if it was being sucked down a giant emotional plughole and his heart started to beat faster again. The tenuous grip he'd managed to get on his emotional state was quickly slipping.

"I think you should have someone with you, love." The sympathy in the nurse's face was too much - Hidan couldn't look at her. "I'll page through to theatre and see if I can find out what's going on," she said. She seemed to sense his discomfort and took on a slightly brisker, cheery tone. "You get on the phone - I don't want to see you all by yourself when I check in on you!"

"OK," he said meekly, looking at the floor. "Thank you." He got his phone out of his pocket and stood there holding it until she'd gone. He had a sudden vivid memory of standing at a payphone in another grimy canteen as a young teenager, trying to call his mum, hearing the phone ring and ring at the other end. He wished he could call her now and the thought made his stomach lurch with misery.

That made him realise he hadn't eaten since breakfast, and he bought a kitkat from a vending machine with the small change in his pocket. Then he found a deserted corner, sat down at a grubby round table and looked through his contacts. Who to call? He scrolled all the way to the end without seeing a single person he felt he could bear to break the news to; then he called Zetsu, because there was no-one else left.

"Zetsu, man?" His voice sounded unexpectedly ragged. "There's-" He swallowed hard. "There's been an accident. Sasori's fucking dead, man. Dei's in surgery now—" Suddenly he found the tears he'd been holding back trickling uncontrollably down his cheeks. For his friends, for himself, for the easy fun relationships that were fucked now; at the horrible strip lighting in this grim cafeteria and the detached kindness of the nurses and for Kakuzu, swallowed up whole by his past and clearly unable to let himself think for even a second about what had happened to Sasori. "Fuck, Zetsu," he choked out, "I don't know what to do. What the fuck should I do?"

"Hold on, man, hold on. Slow down." Zetsu was saying, "Which hospital are you at?"

"The - the Royal London, I think."

"And where's Kakuzu?"

"In theatre too."

"What, is he hurt?"

"No, man, no, all his old fucking surgeon buddies took him in. He's with Dei."

Hidan took a bite of the kitkat and that made him start to sob in earnest. "Hey, hey," he heard Zetsu saying, and he was clearly trying his best to sound soothing and calm. "Stay where you are, OK, we'll come and get you."

"What the fuck else am I going to do?" he choked out, through chocolate and tears.

"It's OK, man, we'll be with you in a few minutes, alright? Just try and keep it together till then, OK? Stay where we can find you."

"Aand- and Hidan? Don't, fucking... do your thing, okay? That would be a really bad idea right now, if you're thinking about it, okay, man? Yeah?"

"Yeah," Hidan whispered, snapping his phone shut. He put his head down onto his arms and shut his eyes tight. He squeezed his rosary tight in his hand, tried to pray, couldn't pray, just tried to shut everything out instead. Everything he'd been starting to be so sure about began to seem wavering and full of doubt. Dei's going to die, he thought suddenly, utter certainty about that. And probably because I couldn't do what Kakuzu needed me to. If I'd been quicker he wouldn't have lost so much blood; shit, fucking so much blood. I've never lost anything like that much and I'm twice his size! Maybe he's already died and no-one's told me. Maybe Kakuzu's just gone. And who could fucking blame him? He pictured Kakuzu driving wearily home, closing the door behind him; closing the door on this chapter of his life. Telling himself it was a mistake, most easily rectified by simply withdrawing and never looking back.

He tried to remember the reasons why Kakuzu wouldn't do that, the things he'd said to him that ought to make a difference. I really do care about you. You're unbelievable. You're the light of my life. The sweet little names he had for him; love; sweetheart; babe; did any of it mean anything? He couldn't keep hold of them in his head, couldn't hear Kakuzu's voice saying them anymore.

Instead, 'you're just creating demand for yourself,' rang in his ears. 'Just in case you decided to slice yourself up again,' - complete with that edge of incredulous distaste. He shivered slightly. He realised he'd never got his jacket back and while it wasn't exactly cold, he wanted the comfort of something around him. He missed the blanket they'd given him back in A&E.

Don't do your thing, Zetsu had said. Well, for once he didn't need to be told; he'd had enough of blood for one day. Getting wasted seemed like a better option - if he could've dropped a massive dose of K he'd've done it without hesitation. He couldn't deal with thoughts like this. He scratched at a dried up mark on the table top, choked back the sobs that were threatening to overwhelm him again.

Even Jashin is probably disgusted with me right now, he thought. Maybe that's why I can't pray. Maybe I'll never be able to again. Maybe he's turned away from me. Why couldn't I take Dei's pain for him? The way he screamed in the ambulance... Fuck. Fuck! I'm sorry, Dei. I'm so fucking sorry...

Tobi and Zetsu found him still like that when they arrived half an hour later, and it was probably fortunate that they'd left their combined array of mind-altering substances in the car because neither of them had a clue what to do for him. He'd remembered how to pray by then, and he was counting through the beads on his rosary, the symbol of Jashin actually cutting into his palm enough to bleed a little. He looked up at them from red-rimmed eyes. They sat down either side of him and tried to comfort him, but Tobi was halfway to being in as bad a state and there wasn't really anything anyone could say to make things better.

Over the next hour, the Akatsuki crowd slowly reunited. Broken, diminished, as different from the morning as could possibly be imagined. Konan and Yahiko arrived next - they'd been stuck on the motorway since the accident and had only just made it back to London. Kisame and Itachi appeared shortly after, having heard about the accident on the news.

All of them were dismayed at Hidan's state, and all firmly of the opinion that he should be taken home, but he flatly refused to leave without Kakuzu. Very soon Tobi started to become frantic with anxiety about Deidara, and in the end Zetsu and Yahiko took him home instead. Kisame and Itachi started to make phone calls, trying to contact Sasori's estranged family; soon, they were both fielding calls from the media as well. Even in his dazed and spaced-out state, Hidan realised a lot of it was about Kakuzu. There were pictures and videos people had made at the scene all over the internet - no-one let him see anything though. Konan brought him a cup of tea and a sandwich he couldn't eat despite feeling hollow and dizzy with hunger, then just sat with him, holding his hand. And they waited and waited and waited.

It wasn't until Kimimaro had Kakuzu closing up that he suddenly thought about how long this must've taken, and the fact that Hidan probably wasn't on the ward anymore, and that no-one there knew what Hidan tended to do when he got anxious. He paused a moment and Kimimaro leant in. "That's fucking beautiful work, Kakuzu," he said. "Plastics are going to be so fucking pissed that we did this without them - hey, what's up?"

"Hidan," Kakuzu said, not looking up. "Can you send someone to see if he's alright?"

"Shit, yes, of course! Look, uh, page Kabuto, someone!" he called to his team. "He should lording it around A&E by now. Get him to find out where they've put Kakuzu's boyfriend." He leant in again, and quieter now, "Kakuzu, I'm really keen for you to finish this because no-one from plastics will be available for hours and none of these cretins can do anything like the job you can. You've still got it! But I do understand if you need to go. I probably shouldn't have drafted you in after you'd been in a car crash..."

Kakuzu glanced up at him. "Come on, I didn't crash," he said dismissively. "I'll finish this. But yes, if Kabuto can check I'd - I'd be grateful. Hidan... Well. Deidara is his best friend, really. He's going to be very anxious."

"Oh. Right. Right!" He raised his voice to his team again. "Get that message off stat and let's let Kakuzu know when we have a reply, ok? He needs to be able to focus here!"

Ten minutes later Kabuto himself slipped into the operating theatre. "Kakuzu, Hidan's surrounded by Akatsuki people, Konan's looking after him, you don't need to worry." Light glinted off his glasses as he leant over to look at Kakuzu's work. "Jesus Christ Kakuzu, why did you ever leave us?" he said.

"That's what I'm representing to him most strongly!" Kimimaro exclaimed dramatically. "Magic hands! He's got magic hands! It's very hard to believe he hasn't been practising!"

"Mm. We need to have a word at some point, Kakuzu," Kabuto added in a discreet murmur. "Ketamine, saline? You were clearly prepared for something."

"Yes, are you a mob doctor or something, Kakuzu?" Kimimaro slipped in. "I wouldn't put it past you!"

"Well, I wasn't prepared for this." Kakuzu started on the final layer of sutures. "Clearly I was prepared to treat pain and blood loss; you don't need a cosy chat to figure that out. Did you speak to Hidan?"

"No, sorry Kakuzu, I didn't have any report on your progress so when I saw the support system around him I thought I'd just nip in and check. I actually had a chat with Konan and Yahiko when they arrived about an hour ago."

"Well, you might as well wait for me now and take me there when I'm done. If your juniors can hold the fort, that is. Kabuto - the crowd out there are all the family this kid has - he's utterly cut off from all his relatives-"

"Not to worry, Kakuzu, Konan was saying the same - we're not going to cut him off from anything that might help his recovery. We're happy to make you or Konan our point of contact."

It was getting dark when they finally left theatre, and Kakuzu was glad to have Kabuto with him to face everyone's questions - Kimimaro had already swanned off to see the patient who'd been bumped down his list by the emergency, since he had no genuine next of kin to see.

But as they traipsed down a long and dismal strip lit corridor towards the canteen where Kabuto said Hidan had been sent, he started to feel deeply uncomfortable. The euphoria of the operating room was wearing off and he recognised that this really wasn't the kind of place that Hidan should have been kept waiting for hours. He shouldn't have been waiting anywhere for hours after what had happened, come to that. Someone should have been looking after him. It occurred to him that perhaps that someone should have been him.

He paused in the doorway, scanning the room; took a few hesitant steps after Kabuto. Suddenly he couldn't bear to approach the group of them, couldn't bear to say anything about Sasori, to have to acknowledge what had happened.

But the next second Hidan had clocked him and sent his chair skidding back across the floor as he leapt up. He was across the room in seconds; then faltered and stopped a little short of him. He looked ravaged; dark circles under bloodshot eyes, white as Kakuzu had ever seen him. "Kakuzu?" he said desperately, questioningly; anxiety and pain etched all too clearly onto his face - for a moment Kakuzu was too shocked by his appearance and too tired and broken himself to be able to think how to respond.

Hidan's face fell. "I'm sorry," he choked out. "I'm so fucking sorry, I —"

Kakuzu stepped forward and wrapped his arms around him, burying his face in his chest, pulling him tight against him as if he could stop his pain by force. "What are you sorry for, idiot? I'm the one who should be sorry!"

"I— I didn't do anything right, I was slow, and stupid, I couldn't do the things you asked me and— is Dei dead? Is it my fault? I should've-"

"Shhh, no! Dei's not dead! He's stable! We think he'll be ok, he should make a full recovery - babe, you did fine! If I hadn't had you there, he'd've lost that arm." He tipped his head back to look into his face. "Baby, I'm sorry I made you feel that way. I'm sorry, okay? I just go into auto-medic mode in situations like that, I — "

"I know - you have to - I know," Hidan ducked his head down again, breathed out hard. "Shit, I'm sorry to be so fucking needy," he said, his voice muffled but clearly utterly abject all the same. "He's really okay?"

"Really okay." Kakuzu assured him. "Stop being sorry." He could feel dampness through the thin material of his scrubs where Hidan's face was pressed against him; he put a hand between his shoulder blades, gently rubbed his back. "It's not so wrong for you to need me," he added quietly.

This loss of confidence, the anxiety in the eyes - he'd seen those changes in a face before. How did this happen? he asked himself. I didn't even mean to hurt him, I just did it, it was thoughtless cruelty, I put him through hell here all by himself while I went and buried myself in theatre. I know he hates being alone at the best of times. I knew he was shaken up. What's wrong with me? And I don't feel better anyway, despite it all. I feel like I'm in pieces.

"Hidan," he said uncertainly - and Hidan looked up then because he'd never heard that tone in Kakuzu's voice before. Again, the state of him was shocking to see. "Damn it!" Kakuzu's voice caught in his throat as he ran a finger over Hidan's bottom lip. "You're dehydrated. Haven't you had anything to drink? Haven't you eaten?" He swallowed hard. "I should've been here. It would've been better for us both. All this," - he gestured around them - "this is ancient history, I should never have let Kimimaro tempt me back." He leaned his cheek against Hidan's temple, exhausted. It suddenly occurred to him that a certain sane, calm voice simply wasn't going to be in his life anymore. The dry humour, the incisive intelligence, the surprising warmth - rare but there when you really needed it. All gone.

"All I've done is delay feeling what's hitting me like a ton of bricks now," he whispered hoarsely. "I've been an idiot. They didn't need me there - Kimimaro just wanted a good dinner party anecdote and an up yours to the plastic surgeons. And I let you down, for that. Can you forgive me, love?"

Hidan got his arms around Kakuzu's neck somehow - he must be on tiptoe - giving himself just enough height to let Kakuzu's head droop down to rest on his shoulder. "You don't have to fucking apologise," he murmured. "You had to do what you had to do. Sasori was your friend most; this is going to fucking shit you up for a while, you know? It's just going to. You don't have to fucking worry about me on top of that. "

Kakuzu sighed. It clearly wasn't true, but he so loved that bravado - and that even at his lowest ebb Hidan could still pull it out of the bag - that he wasn't about to argue the point. He adjusted his grip so that Hidan wouldn't have to suffer the indignity of wobbling over on top of everything else and after a moment of just holding him he realised Konan had appeared beside them. He raised his head - slowly - and placed Hidan firmly on his feet again. "The surgery was a success," he said, though he knew Kabuto would've already told her that. "Deidara's condition is stable, he's in recovery now."

Yes, thank goodness." Konan put a hand on his arm. "Look, you two should go and get some rest. You're both clearly exhausted and you shouldn't forget that you've had the trauma of being in an accident as well. I'll stay here for a while, though I don't suppose we'll be able to see him again today."

"Yes." Kakuzu nodded wearily. "Yes, I agree. There's nothing else we can do for him now. They might let you see him in recovery, Konan - I've explained to the team that he has no family at all and they are sensitive to the emotional state he's going to be in when he hears about Sasori." He looked back at Hidan. "They're going to call us if he asks for you, Hidan - but he's likely not going to be at all coherent for some time."

Konan inclined her head a little - he clearly wasn't telling her anything she didn't know. "I've spoken to Kabuto and he's promised to let me be there when they break the news," she said softly. "I just thought I should warn you," she added, "there's a lot of press outside. I'm not sure where you're parked, but..."

"Thanks Konan; luckily the police brought my car here and apparently it's in the subterranean car park." He turned to Hidan. "We'll need to get the keys from reception. But we won't need to run the gauntlet. This time."

It felt surreal to be back in the BMW. Hidan's rucksack was open in the footwell, douching equipment and lube plainly visible on top - an interesting education for whoever had driven the car here. Kakuzu started the engine, and immediately felt grief and fatigue wash over him.

"I don't want to go home," he said suddenly. He pulled the handbrake back on; killed the engine. "In fact, I'm not even sure I can drive to Hampstead right now."

Hidan took a deep breath. "Let's go back to mine then," he said. "It's seriously just round the corner."

"Yes." Kakuzu started up the engine again. He reached over Hidan, twitched the NHS envelope out of the door pocket and read the address off it, entered the postcode into his satnav.

"You could just ask me," Hidan remarked tiredly. "I do know where I fucking live, you know."

"I know, I know." Kakuzu closed his eyes a moment. "It's just, interaction feels hard right now."

"Even with me?" Hidan's voice was small.

Kakuzu glanced at him. "It won't be. Just-" How could he express it? He just couldn't bear to talk about the mundane humdrum everyday details. "Let's just get out of here," he finished lamely. What he really wanted was to be in bed with Hidan right now, holding him in his arms, letting his body speak for him. He wanted it so desperately he could almost feel it, Hidan's head in the hollow of his shoulder, the solid warmth of him pressed against his chest. He wanted the way Hidan would take the hand of the arm he habitually draped over him and play with the fingertips. He wanted warmth and comfort and quiet and darkness. He was so tired now, as well, that for a moment he actually believed he was there. Then came back to himself with a jolt. Sasori's dead. We're still not home. And things aren't going to be the same anymore.

Chapter Text

Exhausted and drained, they stumbled into Hidan's flat. With Kakuzu's arm wrapped around him, it felt to Hidan like a horrible parody of the night they'd got together. He nearly slipped over on his post, which one of his fucking interfering neighbours must've put through his letterbox. There was quite a lot.

Kakuzu picked it up. "Hidan, really?" he said, waving a threatened HMRC envelope in his face. Red capitals admonished him through the plastic window. Hidan groaned.

"Ah fuck," he protested, batting it away. "I was meant to sort it before we went away! I forgot, alright?! Is this really the time, man?"

"OK. Maybe not - definitely not," Kakuzu agreed, rubbing a hand across his eyes. "But, why do you do your own tax returns? Why not get an accountant?"

"Ah, man, I probably will. It's just, self-employed shit, it takes them fucking years to catch up..."

"You want me to take a look? Tomorrow, maybe."

"Yeah, sure, man," Hidan let out a weary giggle with a distinctly hysterical edge. "Fucking, be my guest - the shit's all over the dining table." He cast himself down onto the settee and buried his face in a cushion.

"OK," Kakuzu perched next to him, absent-mindedly rubbing between his shoulder blades. "Don't worry, we'll sort it out." He flicked through the rest of the envelopes just because having something to sort was soothing. There were a surprising number. One was an official looking one with a St Martin's stamp on it. Probably a cheque - these places were antiquated. Which made Kakuzu think; if the admin team had Hidan's address, maybe it wasn't too hard for anyone else there to get hold of. He stacked the post on the coffee table. "Don't open any of these for now," he told Hidan.

"Sure, whatever," Hidan shrugged, rolling over and rubbing his face against Kakuzu's sleeve. "You think there's razor blades and dog shit in them?"

"Hopefully not. But let's just not give ourselves any more to deal with right now, hm?"

Hidan had a pizza in his freezer, so they ate that, and drank tropical juice, and went to bed. Purple sheets, Kakuzu noted. Purple. But that was about as far as he got before simply being enormously grateful to be in a bed. A noticeably softer bed than his own, too. Admittedly, it wouldn't do his back many favours over an extended period, but right now... particularly combined with Hidan pressed against his chest; well, he wasn't going to complain. He draped an arm over him and after another heartbeat felt Hidan's fingers sliding between his own.

"I love it when you do that..." he murmured into the back of his neck.

"Mm, I can tell," Hidan murmured sleepily.

Kakuzu sighed. He knew Hidan would be out like a light any minute, and he shouldn't try to keep him awake, he really shouldn't... but he just wanted to not be alone with his thoughts for a little longer. "I was ... really glad you were with me today," he whispered.

Hidan wriggled round to face him. "I felt like a fucking useless piece of shit," he said wonderingly.

"I know you did, but honestly, I've had trained surgical assistants losing their breakfasts at a procedure like that before. You were perfect - everything I sprang on you, you were on it - even manipulating that bone yourself. And if you hadn't spotted it so quickly when Deidara was about to throw up we could've been in some serious trouble. I still don't know what tipped you off."

"He doesn't keep down anything that disagrees with him. I've ended up holding his hair back at a fuckload of parties..." Hidan wriggled down to fit his head into the crook of Kakuzu's shoulder. "The kind of parties you'd hate, with K and G and crystal meth and everyone mashed off their faces."

"Do you miss that scene?" Kakuzu stroked Hidan's hair off his face.

"Nah, man," Hidan's voice was soft and slurred. "I haven't even really thought about shit like that while I've been with you." And then, like that, he was asleep, and although Kakuzu thought he'd toss and turn for hours, he was so exhausted that he was soon soothed into sleeping as well.

But after only a few hours he was awake again, with a dead arm and a distinct ache in his lower back.

He carefully extracted himself from Hidan's sleeping embrace and lay restless and comfortless at the edge of the bed in an effort not to disturb him. Getting relentlessly more and more awake, he reached over to the bedside table for his phone. There was a brief message from Konan; she'd seen Deidara in recovery but he hadn't been coherent and they hadn't broken the news. He was sleeping now, and she had gone home.

He checked a couple of new sites then, and that was when he realised that this accident had, bizarrely and coincidentally, been an incestuously art world affair. The driver of the pink smartcar had actually been a student protégée of Sasori's grandmother, the artist Chiyo Suna, and her passenger was his little cousin Gaara. They'd been helping Chiyo to prepare for the opening of her first exhibition of new work in decades. Both had escaped with minor injuries. The third vehicle had been driven by none other than their old friend Kakashi Hatake, again with a student in tow, the back of the car full of previously unexhibited sculptures that Chiyo had decided at the last minute to include.

That gave Kakuzu an uncomfortable jolt and he spent the next few minutes trying to find out if Kakashi was okay. It seemed that he hadn't yet been discharged from hospital, but he was stable. He looked down at Hidan, sleeping beside him, and felt a twinge of guilt at just how very attractive he'd found Kakashi. Stop it, he told himself. It doesn't mean any more than Hidan flicking through Grindr.

Chiyo's private view had, of course, been cancelled and the exhibition was being re-planned as a major retrospective. There was a lot of speculation about whether it would be a joint retrospective and much was made of the fact that Sasori and Chiyo had only very recently started talking again after a bitter family feud. The rest of the extended family - with the possible exception of Gaara who had always at least attended Sasori's openings - were still said to be definitely estranged from him. Kakuzu, from what he'd read between the lines of Sasori's occasional dark hints on the subject, thought that was probably an understatement. Sasori had even changed his name to distance himself from them - it had been one of the first things that interested Kakuzu about him when he'd started buying art seriously in the mid-nineties.

Of course, as a major collector who owned a lot of Chiyo's seminal works from that period, as well as a huge amount of Sasori's spanning his entire career, all this did depend a lot on his co-operation. Kakuzu sat up - noticing another twinge in his back as he did so - and rubbed his temples where he could feel a headache forming. He was bound to be approached and he wasn't at all sure how this would go down with the rest of their friends. Konan would want the retrospective to be at Akatsuki Gallery and the remaining Suna clan would almost certainly be dead set against it, but certainly the small commercial gallery that had represented Chiyo all through her career was not going to have the space to do it justice. It wasn't beyond the bounds of possibility that a major gallery like Tate Modern might want to be involved.

He suddenly had a very vivid recollection of walking into the Akatsuki space for the first time and could hardly believe it was more than a decade ago now. They'd been preparing for the opening of Orochimaru's first exhibition there and Sasori had been with him - he'd been Orochimaru's boyfriend at the time, though not for much longer. It was already obvious that Sasori was less than enamoured with certain aspects of his behaviour and he and Kakuzu gone round the corner to a grimy cafe - this was before the relentless gentrification of the East End had really taken hold - and had a nice chat while Orochimaru flounced around interfering with Konan's decisions on how to hang the show. She'd been so young then, but already so cool and elegant, her curating flawless. Kakuzu and Sasori had recognised a kindred spirit in each other immediately, but even from the start it was uncomplicated by any attraction to each other - for which they'd both been grateful. Kakuzu recalled with a twinge of shame that he'd been - most ill-advisedly - involved with another artist whom Akatsuki gallery had briefly represented at the time - the guy who'd ODed on mephedrone - and he'd been finding it hard going already too.

Kakuzu had in fact known Orochimaru vaguely already, because the promiscuous bastard been going out with Kimimaro four or five years earlier, and Kim had brought him to the operating department Christmas party. Then, when Orochimaru spent all evening ogling Kabuto, he'd got so drunk he'd vomited into a potted fern. Kakuzu could still hear Kim's agonised wail of "he's not even a fucking surgeon, why is he here?" as he hung retching off Kakuzu's arm. Kakuzu hadn't quite liked to admit he'd brought Kabuto there himself - being dumped by his date wasn't something he'd wanted to shout from the rooftops. Orochimaru had left the party with Kabuto, and some time later he'd ditched him for Sasori, who promptly returned the favour when Kakuzu had introduced him to Kabuto himself. Though Kakuzu was pretty sure now that Orochimaru and Kabuto had carried on fucking all along... That was the art scene in the 90s for you, he supposed. Everyone making up for the devastation of the 80s. No-one had even batted an eyelid.

Then there had been the various scandals, the suicides and overdoses had started, Zabuza Momochi was arrested with an underage boy, Orochimaru got himself fired from the Chelsea faculty - or was it St Martin's? Or both...? Itachi had come on the scene with his actually quite crazy boyfriend... Juzo, was it? - a very conceptual Goldsmiths graduate - who'd been tragically killed in some kind of brawl. And Orochimaru had broken up with Kabuto again and gone after Itachi with the kind of stalkerish determination that in retrospect, they should all have tried to put a stop to much much earlier.

One thing was clear, with all this going round in his head he wasn't going to get any more sleep for a while.

He tucked the duvet carefully back around Hidan and went into the living room. Perhaps sorting out Hidan's tax affairs would help him get his thoughts under control.

The rest of the night was a haze of exhausting himself with bureaucracy and crawling back in next to Hidan for short bouts of unrestful sleep. He called some clients in different time zones, he texted Kim and Konan - but it seemed they were both getting a better night's sleep than he was. Finally at about 5am he gave in, made himself a cup of strong black tea, and accepted that the night might as well be considered over. He wrote some emails, rearranged some meetings so he could work from home for the day and was just considering getting in the shower when Hidan appeared in the doorway, tousle-haired and trailing his dressing gown.

"You get a call yet?" he asked immediately.

Kakuzu shook his head. "Konan texted," he said. "Deidara came round pretty incoherent - as expected - and he's sleeping it off."

Hidan was staring at the array of papers in front of him. "Wow," he said. "How long have you been up?"

Kakuzu made a dismissive gesture. "On and off since about 1am - too much adrenaline yesterday, I guess."

The sun was just rising over the Thames and pinkish light started to bathe the room. Hidan shrugged on his dressing gown and crossed over to where Kakuzu was sitting. "Fuck, let me get you a coffee or something!" he exclaimed. He leant over to see what he'd been doing. "Did you seriously sort out my fucking tax return for relaxation? Fuck me!"

"It kept my mind occupied." Kakuzu murmured. He looked up at Hidan and managed to muster a smile for him. "Coffee would be nice," he agreed, only realising as he said it that actually, yes, he really ready did want that. "As would some real food," he added, slipping a hand into Hidan's open dressing gown and pulling him close. "You seem to be down to energy bars and protein shakes..."

"Oh, sure," Hidan hooked his arm around Kakuzu's neck and dropped a kiss on top of his head. "Do you want to go out, or shall I go and get us something?"

Kakuzu, still in his pyjamas, didn't feel like facing the world on an empty stomach. They decided that Hidan would nip round the corner to get bacon sandwiches and coffee. Matters were slightly complicated by the fact that he had actually nothing left to wear, but after shoving what looked to Kakuzu like a rather over-large load into his washing machine he pulled on his least compromised jeans and a hooded sweatshirt that Kakuzu hadn't worn on holiday. He examined his reflection in the bathroom mirror with critical satisfaction. "I just need a fucking baseball cap and I could pass for fucking fifteen!" he said, putting up the hood. "It's fucking nice and cosy, anyway."

An hour later, having eaten and showered and feeling a little more human, they were still waiting to be summoned. Kabuto had called while Hidan was out - his shift had just ended and he was on his way home. There had been some concerns about a possible head injury during the night and they'd been monitoring Deidara in the ICU until a few hours ago. They'd done a scan but it hadn't shown anything conclusive. "Don't come in yet," he'd said. "I think he'll sleep for a few more hours now. Kim's going to check in on him when he comes in."

Now Hidan, just out of the bathroom, was wandering around in his last pair of boxer shorts waiting for his wash to finish. Yahiko had called at 8am on the dot and said that he'd rearranged his appointments for the day, but that he still had to see Yugito Nii tomorrow. And though neither of them felt remotely like going to work, an empty day stretching ahead of them was unsettling. Neither of them could quite think past the point of breaking the awful news to Deidara, however much they tried to distract themselves with the mundane. Still, Hidan was - in a rather disorganised fashion - doing his best to get his flat tidy and Kakuzu had all the paperwork available to him pretty much sorted. After Hidan had produced some slightly crumpled bank statements he'd figured out where he was going wrong with his projected income. A few calls to HMRC from his own accountant would soon straighten things out. There were just a few points of slight ambiguity...

"Come over here a second, Hidan," he called, holding up a sheaf of papers. "Can you just clarify this for me. These regular donations..."

Hidan wandered over from the kitchen, where he was loading most of the contents of the fridge into the bin, and gave the statement a cursory glance. "Oh, they're to the Church," he said casually.

Kakuzu opened his mouth to speak. Closed it again. The amounts were ... really considerable. From the little Hidan had told him he'd assumed that this cult was a fairly small outfit. This was looking more like ... well ... the word 'scientology' hovered ominously in his head. This was really disturbing. "Right," he said heavily. "The church."

Something in the kitchen started beeping, and Hidan wandered off again. Kakuzu watched him with a sick weight of anxiety in his chest. Who were these people? How had they got their claws into Hidan in the first place? Did he really want to be part of this? Kakuzu had to admit, it looked as though he really did. Oh love, you really have drunk the cool-aid, haven't you? he thought, his heart heavy. Not only that; Kakuzu wasn't at all sure how he'd cope emotionally without it. So often his hand was at that rosary, running the beads through his fingers or tracing around the edge of the symbol. So many times he'd glance at him and see his lips moving in a silent prayer; his face suddenly unbelievably serene...

Well. He had their bank details now and he had sources who could find out a fair amount about them with that. He discreetly photographed the relevant documents, then tidied up the papers and filed them as neatly as he could in Hidan's rather chaotic system. Then he went to join him in the kitchen, trying to put the situation out of his mind for the time being. A discussion at this stage wouldn't do any good at all.

Hidan was unloading his washing and the sight of him engaged in such a domestic task was so incongruously pleasing to Kakuzu that it wasn't actually very difficult to put the church donations out of his head at all. However, domesticity did not seem to be Hidan's strong suit...

"Ah fuck, this doesn't smell right!" He dropped his laundry back into the basket with a grimace and slammed the washing machine door shut so hard it bounced open again and hit him on the shin. "Fucking piece of shit!"

Kakuzu squatted down in front of it. "When did you last run a maintenance cycle?" he asked, spinning the drum around. He pulled out the detergent drawer, then made a little grimace as he removed it fully and placed it carefully in the sink.

"You what?" Hidan said blankly.

Kakuzu smiled. He might even have rolled his eyes - just a little. "You're really not ready for the grown-up world, are you love? Appliances do need a little bit of TLC, you know!" He closed the washing machine door with exaggerated gentleness. "We'll nip out and pick up a cleaner for it. And clean the filter. That'll probably sort it out. We can get some dishwasher salt while we're at it - I suppose you've never heard of that either!"

"Fuck you, man." Hidan grabbed Kakuzu's belt buckle and jerked him towards him. "Where'd you get off on bring so fucking patronising, 'daddy'," he said with slow deliberate insolence, right up against Kakuzu's mouth.

"Oh, don't you mean, 'fuck me'?" Kakuzu leant back against the work surface, enjoying the way that pulled Hidan after him. "Because that's what you usually mean," he kept his voice infuriatingly cool, "when you get all ... up in my face like this..."

"Hm." Hidan just lolled against Kakuzu's chest rather than make any effort to keep his balance; one hand working the end of Kakuzu's belt through the metal, his other arm hooking around his neck. "Actually I think I want you to blow me..."

Kakuzu raised an eyebrow. "What are you undoing me for, then?"

"Habit, I guess," Hidan murmured, shifting his hips back a little, and Kakuzu got his hands around his waist, easing his boxer shorts down; letting them drop to the floor. He nudged the laundry basket aside with his foot, then turned Hidan around to sit him on top of the washing machine. He dropped to his knees in front of him, pushing his legs wider apart, intensely enjoying the sight of him getting harder before his eyes.

"Ahh," he breathed. "Do you know how much I love doing this for you?" He started trailing a line of kisses along Hidan's inner thigh, breathing in deeply, feeling almost weak with desire for him.

"Oh fuck, yes, I think I can fucking tell!" Hidan moaned in reply, as Kakuzu's sucking, nipping kisses reached his balls, which tightened gratifyingly. One hand kept Hidan's knees wide, the other smoothed up over his stomach, his taut abs, reached up to caress around a nipple, taking a moment to just feel the beautiful solid smoothness of him before trailing back down.

Anything else Hidan had to say was lost in a moan of pleasure as Kakuzu's tongue explored around the base of his cock, then slid up to the head. He took it in - not that deeply, one hand working the shaft, the other working its way back... A quick glance up at Hidan confirmed that this was having the desired effect, and Kakuzu felt distinctly grateful that Hidan had managed to half undo his trousers before he'd interrupted him. Slick with saliva, one of Kakuzu's fingers began to work around Hidan's ass and Hidan moaned and pushed back against him. Clearly he was after the gold standard here. Kakuzu took his hand away for a moment to free his own erection and pump lazily up and down. He took Hidan's cock deeper into his mouth, slid his other hand down. While he didn't have quite Hidan's level of interest in self-abasement, there was something about the feel of him pushing deeper into the back of his throat than was entirely comfortable that was also deeply arousing. He was fully hard in seconds, and, as he was counting on - aroused as he was - producing a nice quantity of pre-cum.

With his fingers as slick as he could make them he was back on his mission with both hands, and soon had a finger halfway into him. Hidan's head was thrown back in ecstasy, he was clearly utterly in thrall to Kakuzu's every tiny movement and he took full advantage of that, working that finger deeper in, a second one starting join it. The rest of that hand around his balls, the other hand back to working the length of his cock, he pulled back a little to really focus on the head and was swiftly rewarded with that thrumming buzzing sensation against his tongue. He paused for a moment - he wasn't ready for Hidan to come quite yet, he wanted him completely out of control; desperate for it. He let Hidan's cock just rest against his tongue a moment. Lazy movements now, letting him slide in and out, really working those fingers, a third slipping in with a little more friction, so he went slowly, making Hidan come to him at first; then harder, more insistent - and he was so open now, so vulnerable, Kakuzu could make him almost sob with the intensity of it, could bring him right to the edge and then pull him back.

And suddenly he didn't want to wait any more - he sucked harder, pulling him back in deeper again, really going for it now, making himself almost dizzy but determinedly keeping up his rhythm. "Kakuzu, shit! Oh my God, Kakuzu!" he heard, at the same time as a salty taste began to spread in his mouth. He pulled back again - just keeping his lips around the head of Hidan's cock - because a dick firing on all cylinders into his mouth was something he liked to feel the full force of.

Sitting back on his heels, he wiped his mouth with the back of his free hand. Hidan was still gasping on top of the washing machine, leaning back on his elbows; laundry powder and fabric conditioner bottles teetering on either side of him. Kakuzu slowly extracted his fingers and opened his arms wide. "Come to daddy, then, sweetheart," he said, one eyebrow raised.

Hidan slithered off the machine and into his waiting embrace. That had been fucking off the scale, and although that 'daddy' was clearly tongue in cheek, he couldn't deny that his stomach twisted with excitement just hearing the word. He didn't bother thinking too much about why, though, just reached for Kakuzu's cock, leaning forward to kiss him; craving a moment of tender connection after so much intensity. But Kakuzu seemed more interested in just blowing his load all over him, taking himself in hand and pushing Hidan firmly back against the washing machine door, keeping a restraining hand on his shoulder. Hidan contented himself with keeping a caressing hand underneath, stroking and gently squeezing his balls as he pumped himself to climax, trying to at least keep eye contact as hot lines of cum zig-zagged across his chest.

"Well," Kakuzu smiled, releasing Hidan and letting his hand trail idly through it, smoothing it over him, delighting in marking him as his own, "We'd better put you back in the shower before we go out..."

"Mm," Hidan stretched up again towards him, lips parted, irresistible now that the urgency of shooting his load was gone. "Not yet..." he murmured, and Kakuzu leant forward to meet him as if an invisible hand was pressing between his shoulder blades. He felt acutely aware of every tiny detail; the fraction of a second their lips brushed together before the kiss was really a kiss at all, the way Hidan's tongue seemed to be tasting him and drawing him in at the same time; how sweet he tasted against the lingering saltiness in his own mouth. His hand instinctively came up to Hidan's cheek in a slippery caress, their hearts seemed to be pumping in time with each other, even as they separated there seemed to be a connection between them. He drew back a little to look at him; Hidan turned into his hand as if it was next in line and Kakuzu's heart flipped as he felt his tongue skimming over the underside of his fingers. After a taste of Kakuzu now. Was there any way in which he ever held back? Any way he wanted him that he didn't transparently show? It didn't seem like it.

"God, I love you like this," he said. And then his brain caught up with him. He froze.

"Kakuzu?" Hidan popped the fingertip he'd been sucking clean out of his mouth. His lips curved in a slow smile. "Did you just say 'I love you'? Did you fucking say that?"

Kakuzu was already looking down, tucking himself back in and zipping up, hoping that Hidan wouldn't notice how hard his heart was pounding or the heat he could feel in his face. "I... Maybe... there was a context..." he muttered.

"Oh man, don't be like that!" Hidan grabbed his hand back, stopping him from getting up. "Why're you so fucking cagey about how you feel, anyway?"

Kakuzu couldn't find an answer for that. Or was it that there were so many contenders he simply couldn't choose? "Um," he said helplessly.

Hidan propped his outstretched arm on his knee and looked up at Kakuzu with his head on one side. He didn't seem to feel at all uncomfortable about being naked and covered in cum on his kitchen floor, but he did seem uncharacteristically serious. "Hey," he said. "I was thinking, yesterday..." He paused.

"What?" Kakuzu shifted into a crouch; this floor was feeling pretty hard now. He didn't make any attempt to take his hand away from Hidan though. There was an almost anguished expression creeping in around his eyes that he desperately wanted to soothe away, but didn't know how.

"That I didn't want you to fucking die like Sasori, without ever knowing how I felt about you," Hidan continued finally, frowning in a way that Kakuzu was coming to recognise as one of his methods of keeping himself under control. "Because I fucking love you too, Kakuzu, even if I've been too much of an idiot - or just too fucking shit-scared - to say so. We don't know how many chances we're going to get, do we? In the end, what the fuck's the point of pretending to be so fucking cool?"

"I'm not going to die!" Kakuzu protested pointlessly. "I think you've still got plenty of time-"

"Do you think I don't love you? Is that the reason you change the fucking subject every time we get close to it?"

"No. Not really." Kakuzu sat down next to him. "I'd have to be walking around with my eyes closed. But-"

"Poor fucking Dei is gonna wake up and never know if Sasori loved him or not." Hidan let his head fall back against the washing machine, staring up at the ceiling with suddenly over-bright eyes. "And all because the bastard was too fucking scared to open up."

"Yeah," Kakuzu said heavily. He put his arm around Hidan. "Well. It is scary. I've been in love with you from pretty much day one, but I was scared too. That you'd think I was a sentimental old fool and laugh at me... And that there was no way you could possibly feel the same and I was just opening myself up to heartbreak. Or that I'd simply scare you off by being too full-on too soon..."

"I don't scare that fucking easily." Hidan leaned into Kakuzu's shoulder. "And things've got full-on without us making them that way."

"That's true," Kakuzu agreed. They sat in silence for a minute. Is it strange to feel elation mixed with so much sadness? Kakuzu wondered. Maybe not. There was probably even a German word for it... and from the look in Hidan's eyes, he was feeling something similar. "You're getting cold," he said quietly, after another moment. "Come on. Shower."

"Yeah." Hidan got to his feet, pulling Kakuzu after him. "You could come in too..."

"Better not, love, or we'll never get anywhere today. We'll probably get a call from the hospital soon..." Kakuzu went over to the kitchen sink to wash his hands and get a glass of water. Then something out of the window caught his eye. "Oh hell."

"What is it?" Hidan said, joining him, taking the glass from his hand and finishing the contents himself. He leant forward a little to see better. "Oh shitting fuck!" he exclaimed. "How the fuck do they know we're here?"

"The car, probably," Kakuzu said darkly, thinking of all the videos and photos from the crash everywhere you looked online. It wouldn't have taken a determined journalist long to put two and two together. He pulled Hidan away from the window. "Stay back a bit - with a long enough lens they could easily get a picture from there. You get in the shower and forget about it. I'm going to call my solicitor."

Hidan hesitated a moment, his face blank. Then: "Yeah, fuck that!" He shrugged off Kakuzu's hand. "This is my fucking kitchen!" Pausing half a moment to wipe himself down with the dishcloth, he vaulted up onto the draining board and threw the window open wide.

"Hey cocksuckers!" he bellowed. Kakuzu groaned.

"Are you including me in that," he asked archly, rolling his eyes. He made no attempt to get Hidan back down - he didn't for one moment intend to be papped wrangling his indignant naked boyfriend off a windowsill.

"Yeah, you!" Hidan shouted down into the street. "Dickhead with the long fucking lens! Do you want a fucking picture? Come the fuck on then! Shoot me!"

Kakuzu closed his eyes.

"Oh, you're holding out for the full fucking monty are you?!" He opened them again just in time to see Hidan lean out further, baring all to the crowd of press photographers below. "You want to know how many fucks I give?!" He gave them his most psychotic laugh. "I give precisely zero fucks! Do you think the whole fucking world hasn't seen me with my kit off already?! Huh?!"

"Oh! Oh! You know what - maybe you should pay me a fucking fee for that?! You want me to sign a fucking model release?! Fuck! Is it fucking news that I'm in my fucking kitchen?! Yeah?! You sad fucks. Get a fucking life and a proper job for fuck's sake!"

"Hidan, maybe that's enough now," Kakuzu began as Hidan paused for breath.

It clearly wasn't.

"You all want to know about Sasori, right?! Why the fuck'd you want to know now, huh? - because he fucking died?! - you fucking vultures?! You fucking carrion crows! You want to ask me how I fucking feel?! Is that it?! Well, you know what? He was a fucking artist, not like you fucking hacks. That's right, we've lost a real fucking artist and you bastards think we're the story. Go fuck yourselves, seriously!"

He leant out really precariously far now, middle finger extended down for the cameras. "Hey, here's a pose for you boys! You like this one?! Yeah?! I can hold it a little while for you and all! And maybe you can sell it as fucking art cause it sure as fuck isn't a story!"

"Come in now, Hidan," Kakuzu interjected. "You're going to end up killing yourself. Those pieces of trash aren't worth it."

Hidan slithered back into the room, breathing hard. He slammed the window behind him. "Right!" he said, his eyes sparkling with a manic gleam, voice husky from yelling. "Let's go and get that washing machine cleaner! Let's do it right fucking now!"

Kakuzu took him by the shoulders. "Hidan..." He shook his head, though he couldn't entirely suppress a smile. His heart was pumping, and at last there really was nothing but Hidan in his head. "You absolute lunatic..." he breathed. He slid his hands down Hidan's arms and with a swift jerk got them pinned behind him, pulling him off-balance. "What kind of crazy fool have I fallen in love with?" he asked rhetorically, frogmarching him through into the bedroom and ignoring his clearly delighted protests. "Is this going to be my life now?"

Bending him over backwards, keeping a firm hold on him - feeling him trembling with the effort of supporting himself - he kissed him again, lingering and hard until he was certain he must be both dizzy and disorientated, then cast him face down onto the bed beside his discarded clothes. "Get dressed then," he said lightly. "I'm not going out with you in the nude, however comfortable you are with it."

"Don't put your dick in crazy, they said," he mused, "Not an edict I can really see myself adhering to now..." He retreated to the doorway, because otherwise he really was going to end up fucking him senseless, and, Christ, they'd only just finished!

Hidan rolled over, throwing his arms wide. "Hey, you're welcome to ride crazy's dick anytime you want!" he invited. "Who says you have to put anything inside - come and kiss me like that again and let's see what happens..."

"Ah, Hidan, you're so distractible..." Kakuzu threw a balled-up sock at him that had escaped from the rest of his clothes. "Focus, love! What happened to going out right fucking now?" He sighed. "Not that I'm in any hurry. I'm not particularly relishing the thought of having to restrain you from murdering our friends from the press. Not least because I'd quite like to do it myself. But I would prefer, on balance, that neither of us get arrested today."

Hidan sat up and started to pull his jeans back on. "Alright, alright." An irrepressible smirk belied the sulky note in his voice. "I don't promise not to smash their fucking cameras though."

"Just make it look like an accident if you can," Kakuzu agreed resignedly.

Back in the flat twenty minutes later, Kakuzu placed a roasting tray strategically in front of the washing machine while Hidan leant in the doorway watching him. He pulled the bung out of the filter and rather unsavoury liquid began to flow out. Going to the shop had been a bit of a rollercoaster, but he had allowed himself to take a back seat. He smiled again just at the thought of how absurdly protective Hidan was of him whenever the media was involved in any way; if a journalist had so much as called out his name he was in their face in a heartbeat.

"Kakuzu doesn't have jack shit to say to you, but I can give you a fucking quote if you want! Hm? How about 'go fuck yourself, you fucking cunt'?!" had probably been Kakuzu's favourite interaction - with its bonus of being unprintable by any major newspaper but the Guardian - though Hidan had also managed to walk into two photographers while theatrically looking the other way; at least one of them probably sustained several thousand pounds worth of damage when the camera he had strapped around him hit the kerb.

There's a potential lawsuit in the making, Kakuzu thought resignedly... That was the point at which he'd remembered that Yahiko had said on no account to let Hidan anywhere near the press. But if Yahiko wanted Hidan told what he could and couldn't do, well, he could come and give it a try himself. And they had got their washing machine cleaner.

The flow trickled off and Kakuzu took out the filter itself with a final gush of water and a distinct rotten egg smell. A couple of scalpel blades, a lolly stick, and a lot of fluff... Pretty much as expected.

"Ah fuck!" Hidan clapped a hand over his mouth, almost retching; "That's fucking rank, man," he wailed.

Kakuzu looked up at him, making no effort to hide his amusement. "And you say you're not a fragile flower?" he remarked, raising an eyebrow. "Run along and play, then, the grown-ups are busy..."

Patiently and imperturbably, he rinsed and replaced the filter and finished cleaning the detergent drawer. And just as soon as he'd set the cycle going and was on his way to join Hidan in the living room, the hospital called.

They had Deidara in a private room, small and functional. Hidan leant on a cupboard next to the bed. It had a stack of what seemed to be little hats made of egg box material on top. He picked one up; Kakuzu took it away from him and put it back. Konan had been there already when they arrived, sitting quiet and calm on the far side of the bed. A nurse was waking Deidara, and giving him some tablets from a tiny paper cup. He looked small in the high bed, his arm elevated and immobilised, and he was clearly still woozy from the drugs they had him on - apparently they'd been rousing him slowly over the last half hour. Kimimaro was there to break the news. Despite his instinctive dislike of him, Hidan had to admit he was like a different guy now, all ego and posturing set aside.

"Deidara," he said softly, once he was satisfied that he was as alert as he was going to get. "Hi. I'm Kim Kaguya, I'm one of the surgeons here. You've been in a car accident. You've done quite a lot of damage to your right arm, but we've managed to patch you up and you're going to be fine."

Deidara focused blearily on Kimimaro, then shook his head. "I think I was at a rave," he said. "I wasn't in a car."

"Alright, it's natural that you're going to be a bit confused - we've had you on quite a cocktail of drugs - but I'm afraid you were definitely in a car. I want to be sure you're taking all this in - do you understand? Are you feeling well enough to have this conversation now? We can let you rest a little more."

"Yeah, I. I understand you, hn." Deidara blinked slowly, and looked beyond Kimimaro for the first time, looking around the room, at Hidan and Kakuzu, then Konan. "Is - is Sasori here?" he asked. "I think he'd want to know that I'm in the hospital. Guys, have you called him?"

"Deidara, I'm really sorry to have to tell you this, but Sasori died in the accident." Kimimaro's voice was gentle but definite. "So did the other passenger, his grandmother. You were the only one in the car to survive the crash."

"What?" Deidara said slowly. "No." His voice was urgent. "No! Me and Sasori had had a fight - I'd gone out with Hidan; Hidan got himself fucked up and we had to call Kakuzu..." His eyes flickered wildly from face to face, trying to find some reassurance, some validation for what he was sure he remembered. "You - you were there, Kakuzu," he said desperately, zeroing in on clearly the most reliable person in the vicinity. "Tell him this isn't right!"

Kimimaro's eyes flickered over to Konan, then to Hidan and Kakuzu, and they moved closer to the bed. Konan took Deidara's hand. "I'm so sorry, Deidara," she said softly. "I know this is terrible to hear, but we're here to help you through this."

Deidara snatched his hand away and looked up at Hidan. "I remember..." he said. "I only remember Hidan covered in blood. I remember Kakuzu saying 'everything's fine' - I - this - this doesn't make any sense..."

"Dei, man." Hidan sat down beside him on the bed. "Kakuzu gave you IV K for the pain, you were in fucking legoland half the time; it's not likely to make a fuck ton of sense." He looked into Deidara's eyes and although they seemed to be pleading with him not to, he remorselessly ploughed on, "You're mixing things up - you did have a fight, but that was days ago. We were on our way home from holiday. You and Sasori went to pick up his Grandma, remember. From Swindon. I said, 'it's a fucking shithole, don't get out of the car'-" He broke off. He remembered what he'd said next, and, fuck. Fuck. He'd really didn't want to remember that now.

Something seemed to click in Deidara's head as well. He swallowed. "Chiyo," he said slowly. "Yeah. She was going to go up to London with her student friend but she wanted her to meet little Gaara, so he went with her instead," He looked dazed now, talking faster and faster as if to try and block out the reality of the situation, not to give it a chance to settle itself in his brain. "We were going to take Gaara, his little cousin Gaara, but Chiyo said, 'no, you go with Sakura, you two young things can have a nice chat, make some connections between Chelsea and St Martins, don't be like our generation with our silly rivalries.'" He was getting whiter and whiter as he spoke. "Sasori was fucking hacked off that she would say that, he wouldn't admit to having any rivalries, he - Sasori - oh fuck! -"

"OK, man," Hidan said. "OK."

Deidara gripped his arm. "Hidan, did you see him?" he asked, staring wild-eyed at him. "Is it true?"

"Yeah, I saw him." Hidan said. There was no way he could share what he'd seen with Deidara, though, was there? He looked up at Kakuzu.

"Sasori was killed instantly, Deidara." His voice was so calm, it was impossible not to believe him. His hand settled on Hidan's shoulder, warm and soothing. "So was Chiyo. Neither of them would have had time to suffer in any way."

"What happened to Gaara?" Deidara asked suddenly. His hands were trembling and his eyes flicked frantically from face to face. "Has anyone told Gaara?"

Kimimaro was conferring with a nurse over by the door. He turned back towards them and, "It seems that Gaara and Sakura were told yesterday evening," he said. "Gaara's with his family now, don't worry, Deidara." He gestured to Kakuzu to join them. "Talk about a fucking coincidence by the way!" he said in a rapid murmur, but Hidan could still hear him. "The driver of the third car is here too - Kakashi Hatake, isn't he another artist?"

I fucking knew I recognised that car, he thought, glancing quickly at Kakuzu, then back at Deidara. He was shivering all over now. "Dei?" he said. "Man, are you cold-?" he broke off as he saw Deidara doing his signature rapid swallowing technique and it suddenly dawned on him what the egg box hats were for. He got one in front of him just in time. Not much came out - a few ounces at most of clearish liquid. Hidan rubbed his shoulder gingerly. "Hey, there there, take it easy, OK?" he said.

Deidara looked up at him balefully through a curtain of hair. "You shouldn't ever have said 'everything's fine'," he said to Hidan, and his voice was almost a snarl now, hoarse and cold. His whole demeanour had changed and he spat violently into the hat. "Why did you say that? Why would you lie to me like that?!"

"Dei, man!" Hidan began helplessly, shocked and stung. He felt Kakuzu appear behind him, his hand on his shoulder again; a grip that was probably meant to be a gentle squeeze, but he never quite got it right.

The nurse took the hat away from him, shooting him a commiserating smile. "Well done, love," she said over-brightly, giving Deidara a sip of water.

As soon as he'd swallowed, Deidara turned his face away from them, icy blue eyes staring unseeingly at the wall. "Can you all just go?" he said finally, an awful flat numbness in his voice. "I just want to be alone. Just fucking go, please."

Kakuzu, Hidan and Konan stood in the corridor and looked at each other in helpless bewilderment. They'd been prepared for explosive grief, for shock, anger, even denial. They'd been ready to help him though anything. But none of them had considered the possibility that he wouldn't let them. Through the door they heard a gasping sob quickly choked off; the soothing murmur of the nurse's voice followed by an awful, low keening sound. Hidan moved compulsively back towards the door. "No!" he said, "We can't fucking leave him like that!"

But the door opened before he reached it, and Kimimaro was there. He put an expertly restraining hand on Hidan's arm, shaking his head at Kakuzu, some medical short-hand seeming to pass between them. "Sorry, guys," he said. "Give him a bit of time."

Kakuzu took Hidan by the shoulders and moved him away from Kim before he could throw a punch at him. "We can visit him again tomorrow," he said, doing his best to sound reassuring. "He'll be more himself. Try not to worry." But there had been something awfully final about Deidara's glassy-eyed rejection and he realised he wouldn't really be too surprised if they found that he was refusing all visitors tomorrow as well.

"Yeah. Maybe." Hidan's voice was anything but convinced. He scuffed at the glittery lino floor with his foot and Kakuzu could feel that brittle tension building up in him again. He was fiddling with his rosary, too, reminding Kakuzu sharply of the morning's unsettling discoveries.

He sighed. There was no point pretending this was okay, but there was nothing they could do about it either. Very suddenly he found he'd made the decision that they needed to get away from all this. "Let's go and get the dogs and take them up to the Heath," he said firmly. "They'll be getting antsy. If Deidara changes his mind Kim will call." His eyes flicked commandingly to Kimimaro. "Won't you, Kim?"

"Fine." Hidan assented. "I'm gonna ride though. I've fucking had it with cars! Fucking death traps! Give me the dog place address and I'll meet you there."

"Well, Sasori's might've been, but I wouldn't tar mine with the same brush," Kakuzu protested, scribbling it down and tucking it into Hidan's back pocket, not foregoing the opportunity to given him a little caress as he did so despite the grim situation. "But suit yourself."

Sitting in the car by himself five minutes later he suddenly felt an awful flatness, and he he wished he had Hidan's vivid presence beside him to drown out the dull ache of it. What was more, without someone to be strong for, he suddenly felt like he might actually break down. He pressed his lips together and leant his head heavily against the window. Oh course, there was no obligation at all to hold it together with Hidan - he'd had made that more than clear. But old habits die hard.

But before he could go too far down that path his phone rang again - he picked it up warily. Kim, perhaps? Had Deidara already changed his mind about being alone? Or Hidan, wanting to chat terrifyingly while he dodged traffic? But no. It was Karin Uzumaki. And Kakuzu realised he actually felt quite relieved.

"Karin," he said.

"Kakuzu, I'm really sorry," she said. "I saw the news, I'm so sorry to disturb you now."

"No. No, you're not disturbing me." Kakuzu sighed, and switched off the engine. "The opposite, really. I have to drive across London and Hidan's taken off on his bike and - God, I hate thinking about it. How's life in a tent with those idiot boyfriends of yours?"

"Oh, it's... well it's pretty grim actually, I can't wait to be back in the city. I'm sharing with Suigetsu because he's gay, obviously, but to be honest he's probably the least respectful of the bunch - I don't know how we even came up with this arrangement!"

Kakuzu snorted. "I'm pretty certain I'd rather share a tent with a straight guy than Suigetsu too - he seems like pure trouble."

"Like you can talk," Karin shot back. There was a brief pause - both of them knew they couldn't really continue to ignore the elephant in the room much longer. "Look, I'm sorry, but I need to know what you guys want me to say," she said finally. "I don't think I can hold off posting much longer without people remarking on that and we've got the chance to put the lid on some of the wilder speculation about what happened at the - the scene..."

"Yes. I see that. Just. I don't know. Everyone's in shock, we're doing everything we can to support Deidara but."He cut himself off abruptly. Don't go any further with that. "Hidan and I gave him first aid at the scene - I was a surgeon a long time ago, so I knew what needed to be done." But do I really want to be asked about that? "Maybe don't say that, though." He sighed. "Maybe I should get Kim - who did the surgery yesterday - to give you a call, he'll know how much to say or not ... Or..." He stopped. Because Kim could be fucking indiscreet and flakey as hell to boot... "Maybe I shouldn't do that." He paused, fist clenched on the steering wheel, wishing Hidan was here to give him a reason to keep it together. Wishing he had more experience with this sort of thing, but at the same time definitely not willing to pass Karin on to 'Mr. Pein's media team'.

"Karin, can we... I don't want to put you in an awkward situation, but can we be off the record here?"

"Of course we can!" Her voice was calm and steady and he was very grateful for that. There was silence for a moment, but she didn't make any attempt to rush him.

"Christ, Karin, I don't have a clue what we should say," he admitted. "This has been - I don't even know how to express it-!"

"Awful?" Karin provided bluntly.

"Yes. Awful." Why not call a spade a spade after all? "I - I think I've opened up something that I really needed to keep buried - all the medical stuff, the people I used to know, the operating theatre... Hidan's was in pieces yesterday and now Deidara won't see us, I can feel him going back there and I can't stop it, and I - I'm hardly able to even comprehend that Sasori's gone." He dropped his head on to his hand, pinching the bridge of his nose. He badly wanted to tell her about the cult - and the money - but maybe that was going too far. "I shouldn't be lumbering you with all this," he said, his voice hard with the effort of keeping back a flood of emotion. "I'm sorry Karin. I've barely slept - I hardly even know what I'm trying to say to you..."

"Kakuzu, give yourself a couple of days before you start even trying to figure out how okay or not you are," she said, her deep voice soothing even through the crackle of poor signal. "Or Hidan. Look, I'll say I spoke to you briefly, you're both devastated and the decent thing to do would be to leave you alone for a little while."

Of course.

"If you think of anyone I can talk to about the medical side of things let me know. No rush, but if you used to be a surgeon people are going to dig that up and speculate."

Kabuto, of course. He's always been more stable than Kim. But brief him first. Kakuzu took a deep breath, and felt clearer. "Yes. OK. I - I'll let you know. Look - call me if you need to. I mean it."

"Thanks," Karin said, and she sounded sincere. "I will."

"Drop me a line when you get back to London," Kakuzu said, surprising himself with how much he wanted to see her again. He liked her. Her uncompromising directness, her clear intelligence - she's going to go a long way, he thought as he hung up and tossed the phone onto the passenger seat. If she can detach herself from those callow young idiots, anyway - she's worth ten of them.

Hidan didn't break his neck in the London traffic, and was there waiting at the kerbside by the time Kakuzu arrived. He seemed calmer too, better for his cycle ride. And after a couple of hours with him and the dogs in the wildest parts of the Heath, the world did feel less dark. The God thing'll sort itself out, he told himself. It doesn't have to come between us. It has to not come between us.

Watching him pick his way through mud in unsuitably white trainers, ducking his head elegantly under a low-hanging branch; looking up and meeting Kakuzu's eye just to smile at him - everything they felt for each other seemed to be there between them without either of them needing to say a word. And the freedom that a pack of hounds and the fact that the pair of them together could take down just about anyone they came across gave to him; to hold his hand, to kiss him in public without hesitation without any burden of shame or fear - a freedom he was acutely aware was very much rarer than it should be - it was undeniable that he had something here that could brighten any darkness he brought to it. He was still melancholy, still tired and anxious, but they were the lucky ones. And though that carried its own burden of irrational guilt, an undeniable exhilaration came with it as well.

By the time they were making their way back down Parliament Hill it was the day that had darkened and it was grey and drizzling, but there was still a gaggle of reporters waiting expectantly at the end of Kakuzu's path. This time, however, accompanied by four gigantic black dogs and Kakuzu not in the mood to keep them on a short leash, the press crowd kept well back. He kept a restraining hand at Hidan's elbow though. One lawsuit was going to be plenty. "Relax," he murmured in his ear, tightening his grip slightly as he felt Hidan's whole body tauten like a bow string next to him. "Leave it to Tsuchi..."

And once she'd started up her blood-curdling growling they weren't given any more trouble. As the door closed firmly behind them the crowd dissipated, having to be content with the delightful headline opportunities handed to them by the fact that Hidan appeared to be bringing a basket of laundry with him. Kakuzu Taki's protective but controlling body language would be worth a few column inches too; padded out with ghoulish speculation that perhaps, for all of the fêted Akatsuki crowd - after a decade of dominating the art scene - the honeymoon was finally over.

Chapter Text

A fortnight later, and it was a bright and blustery June day as the Akatsuki crowd prepared to say a final goodbye to one of their longest standing members. Konan, at Akatsuki Gallery, was putting the final touches to the display of his work that would be shown that afternoon, at a reception following the funeral. It was almost a preview for the retrospective that was scheduled to take place in August, which would span three galleries and put on display pieces that had never before left the studio. She'd taken the bold choice to leave what was left of Deidara's exhibition in place alongside the new display. Most of them had degraded to some degree, some quite extremely; a few were no more than scorch marks on the floor or walls. There was a poignant sense of the desolation left behind by a sudden loss; a sharp contrast between the volatile and the now forever unchanging. She hoped it wasn't too much.

She wanted to go already, but she was waiting to hear from Yahiko, who was with Nagato at the Piccadilly penthouse. Last week Nagato had very nearly made the decision to make a rare public appearance and attend the funeral, but now, she thought it was unlikely. She couldn't even quite decide whether she wanted him to or not, and in a rare moment of weakness she sat down at her desk and let her head drop into her hand a moment. Distraction! she thought to herself sternly. Do something useful. You can't go down this path. Maybe she'd chase up some of the pieces she wanted for Sasori's retrospective, she thought, and decided to make a few phone calls to pass the time.

At the Royal London Hospital, Deidara was finally being discharged. Kabuto was worried. He was doing his best to explain to him about the regime of medications that he was going to need to take, and not at all sure that he was taking in any of it at all. There had been complications - after they'd broken the news about Sasori on the day after the accident he'd required more surgery for a minor subdural haematoma. It went some way towards explaining his erratic behaviour and violent mood swings - the early suspicions about brain trauma had been correct after all. They'd caught it early, thanks to Kimimaro being there to spot the symptoms, and there was no justification for keeping him in hospital any longer. Deidara certainly wasn't keen to stay. But he was going to need emotional and physical support that he wasn't really allowing anyone to give him.

One positive was that he had allowed Kakuzu to visit him during the last week. Kabuto really hoped that that meant he might agree to spend a few weeks with Kakuzu and Hidan after the funeral. And although Kakuzu was perhaps not the most emotionally forthcoming - and Hidan certainly not the most emotionally stable - at the very least they were fond of Deidara and Kakuzu was well qualified to keep an eye on any health issues that might come up. It was the best option available as far as Kabuto could see, and since he'd offered to accompany Deidara to the funeral he decided he'd better have a word with Kakuzu about it there.

Tobi and Zetsu had met up in the morning and had been mooching around aimlessly for a few hours. Now they were sitting in a sports bar in Highgate, watching the early rounds of the tennis at Queens and drinking orange juice while they waited for Sasuke to show up. Tobi had called him half an hour ago. He was in an antsy mood, talking incessantly; arranging and rearranging a series of black and white photographs he'd laid out on top of the bar. Zetsu wasn't paying a lot of attention; he was off his meds and also pretty high. He picked up a strange shot, some kind of bridge perhaps, a flock of birds changing direction, all a quite out of focus apart from one patch of waves where you could see the foam and spray leaping up dramatically. Tobi snatched it back. "That one's important!" he said; then added mysteriously, 'well, they all are!" He picked up another one, a young man with an incongruously bright smile standing in from of a huge and sinister sculpture; looming and vaguely humanoid. "See the resemblance?" he asked holding it up beside his face.

"Mm," Zetsu agreed, drawing circles with a fingertip in a small spill on the polished wood. "More like you than Itachi, isn't he?"

"Much more." Tobi agreed. "Much, much more!" He gathered up the photos. "These are for Sasuke now," he declared. "I hope he'll put them to good use - Itachi wouldn't do it. It'll be interesting to see, no? He should be here soon."

Over in Hampstead, Kisame leant on his kitchen table and watched Itachi nursing a herbal tea and trying to stifle a cough that sounded ten times worse than the previous day. They were due to be at the funeral in half an hour and they'd arranged to walk there across the Heath with Hidan and Kakuzu. But that was clearly not going to be happening.

"Itachi…" he said, though he knew it was hopeless to try and persuade him when his mind was made up. "You're not well enough for this."

"I'll be fine," Itachi said. And coughed. And coughed again.

"Well, we're driving there, then."

"Not in your van," Itachi said darkly.

"Well, then I'm going to have to ask Kakuzu to take you." Kisame folded his arms, doing his best to look implacable and immovable and Itachi wrong-footed him with a graceful acquiescence.

"Fine," he said quietly. "Thanks, Kisame. Perhaps that would be for the best."

Across the road, pulling on the beautiful black ensemble that Yugito Nii had sent over that morning, Hidan heard the doorbell ring and hopped onto the landing to peer over the bannisters just as Kakuzu came out of the kitchen. He was on his mobile and still talking as he walked down the hall. "Of course, you can use anything from my collection," he was saying. "Anything at all. But I don't think you should count too much on co-operation from Deidara - he's-" He opened the door. "Alright. Can I call you back, Konan? Kisame's here."

"Sorry, Kisame," he said, slipping his phone into his pocket. "Konan's running into problems with the retrospective - the family won't release anything from his studio at all. Is it time to go already?"

"No, we've got a few minutes," Kisame said, with an anxious grin. "Can't Deidara make some kind of claim on it ? - wasn't there any recognition... of their... at all...?"

"The whole concept of a retrospective is anathema to Deidara," Kakuzu said. "He doesn't want us to do it at all." He felt bad, but there it was. A retrospective was happening whether any of them liked it or not, and they owed it to Sasori to make sure it was the best it could be. It would have meant a lot to him, Kakuzu knew that. What he felt much worse about was the fact that while he'd been sitting with Deidara in the hospital every lunchtime for the last week, arguing calmly with him about art and the event, and what constituted legacy, Deidara had continued to turn Hidan away. And although Hidan was sweet about it, and every day he'd ask him, 'Did you see Dei?' almost as soon as he was through the door, Kakuzu could tell how much it was upsetting him and messing with his head. Just as much as Deidara meant it to, probably.

Kisame nodded. "I guess that figures. Look, Kakuzu, I need a favour."

Despite being June, the wind was picking up and the day was getting overcast; moreover, there was a distinct possibility that there might be press photographers lurking behind the hedge - Kakuzu gestured Kisame inside and shut the door. "What can I do for you?" he asked.

"Itachi's not in a good way at all, but he's insisting on coming." Kisame said. "He's swearing he'll be alright but I really don't think the walk across the Heath is a good idea for him. And I think my van parked outside the chapel might actually be the last straw for Sasori's family so..." He looked hopefully at Kakuzu.

"Yes, I can take him up," Kakuzu agreed calmly. "We'll need to leave in good time though, if we're going to find a parking space right outside." He turned around. "Hidan, are you ready?" he called up the stairs.

"Yeah, yeah. Coming." Hidan hurried down the stairs, buttoning up his shirt as he went.

"Oh hi, Hidan," Kisame called up to him, his expression brightening a little. "You look like a fucking wet dream - is this by your new client?"

"Huh? Do I? I didn't mean to look too flash..." Hidan paused to check himself out in the hall mirror. "Yeah, it's Yugito. I didn't have anything appropriate for a funeral and Sasori was so fucking particular... so she made this up for me. It's a lot fucking tamer than what I'll be wearing on Friday, I can tell you! Half of the collection's fucking electric blue leopard print...!"

"I don't know why you can't just wear a suit..." Kakuzu muttered, glancing over. He didn't like it when Kisame got so over-familiar with Hidan. He did look exquisite, though. The dense black made his complexion appear even more alabaster than usual and it was so beautifully cut that one could appreciate every slender line of him in a single lingering glance.

"I'd look like a fucking dweeb," Hidan protested. "Honest to God, Sasori used to tell me off if he thought I was looking too preppy..." He paused to brush a dog hair off his sleeve... "Or too scruffy... Or too flamboyant... Fuck, maybe he just liked telling me off..."

"And, I recall, if you left too many buttons undone!" Kakuzu stepped in front of him and did up another one. "That's better." He smoothed his collar down too, and let his hand rest there a moment. Knowing he was being absurdly territorial, but not quite able to help himself right now. "You don't look flash, love," he reassured him quietly; almost an apology - for exposing him to Kisame's crass comments and for his own grouchiness, "you're perfect." He caught a glimpse of them together in the mirror as he turned to pick up his car keys, and, damn it, Sasori wouldn't have had any grounds for sartorial complaints. Kakuzu, as always, wore a suit like he'd been born in it and Hidan's more contemporary silhouette was the perfect counterpoint. He could just imagine Sasori's satisfied nod of approval and felt, again, that little aching stab of loss that had become a familiar punctuation of his thoughts over the last two weeks. He sighed.

"I'm sorry to do you out of your walk, guys." Kisame watched them with a half smile. He probably wasn't going to be the only one this afternoon to find their all too obvious devotion distinctly bittersweet.

Kakuzu shrugged. "It's due to rain later, anyway," he said, picking up a large golfing umbrella from the hall stand and handing Hidan his leather jacket. "We'd better make a move."

"I won't need-" Hidan began.

Kakuzu's tone allowed for no dissent. "Take it."

The funeral service was held in the chapel at Highgate Cemetery, and it was for Chiyo as well as Sasori. The family had been adamant that they should be buried together, beside the grave of his parents - Chiyo's son and daughter-in-law - who'd died when he was a child. And, Sasori having never made a will, a Great-Uncle he hadn't spoken to for decades was his next of kin. Deidara was swept out of the picture entirely. They'd wanted to hold it a week earlier, as well, when there was no chance of Deidara being out of the hospital and it was only after massive pressure from the Akatsuki Group, threats from Kakuzu not to release important pieces of Chiyo's for the retrospective, and finally a decision that they needed to do the decent thing from Gaara - who seemed to hold an awful lot of sway - that it wasn't a closed family affair.

In the chapel, the combined Suna clan had blocked out the front rows of pews all the same. Gaara had offered his seat to Deidara, but Dei had declined.

"Sasori wanted a humanist ceremony," he'd said, his voice carrying in the echoing building. "He was an atheist; he didn't believe in organised religion. So, no, hn. I think I'll be closer to him at the back."

After the short service - which had been very much centred around Chiyo - the two coffins were brought by hearse around to the burial site while the mourners climbed a short flight of steps through an arched colonnade and came up by a steeper winding path under mature trees. It was only a short walk and they soon emerged into a little meadow-like clearing; Hidan squinted up into the miserable drizzle and sighed. It was fucking horrible now, and judging by the yellowish grey colour of the sky, things weren't going to be improving any time soon. He was pretty glad Kakuzu had made him bring a jacket.

Shit, this is all weird as fuck, he thought as the small group of them who were there for Sasori surged forward to reach his coffin before a group of Suna cousins could. He shifted his grip on the uncomfortably ornate brass coffin handle - the style of which would have had Sasori turning in his grave if he'd been in it yet. Admittedly, he didn't have very much funereal experience to draw on, but surely this Montague and Capulet-esque division between the two groups of mourners couldn't be the norm. The chapel had been crowded, so it hadn't been so obvious inside, but as they'd all emerged into the cemetery grounds the groups had immediately polarised.

They carried the coffin the short distance from the hearse to the open grave and the family stepped forward to scatter in earth and rose petals. Sasori's parents were buried between the two new graves. A very stylised, almost Henry Moore-esque sandstone sculpture of an embracing couple stood over them. Sasori had always hated it.

The drizzle was quickly turning into driving rain. Sheltering under Kakuzu's large black umbrella, Hidan observed the crowd with some interest. There were quite a lot of people there, considering how reclusive both Chiyo and Sasori had been. Former students, fellow artists, dealers. Hidan noticed Zabuza Momochi talking to Kisame. He knew him by sight, of course, though they'd never spoken. One of the most famous artists of his generation; the most successful of the YBAs. Always striving to be outrageous, though people were saying that his work was getting a bit generic and he was mostly re-hashing old ideas now. As well as most of the actual work being done by his assistants... Zabuza saw him looking and gave him a nod. Hidan nodded back and looked away.

Kabuto was there, standing a little way apart - not clearly affiliated with either group, and he hadn't brought Orochimaru with him, thank fuck. From what Kakuzu said there were any number of people here who had bad blood with Orochimaru. He spotted the pink-haired girl who'd been driving the other car - he knew her by sight from his St Martin's life classes. She seemed to have a fair proportion of the student body with her too. And Sasori's family were a massive clan just by themselves. The three little cousins of whom Gaara was the youngest were the only ones Hidan recognised though.

And then Deidara, standing alone, white as a sheet, letting the rain fall on him, looking dazed and sick. Although the crowd was beginning to mingle now it seemed like no-one quite liked to approach him, to intrude on his all too obvious grief. But Hidan had never been one for social niceties. Although Deidara hadn't picked up a single one of his calls in the last two weeks, and every time he'd gone to the hospital during visiting hours the nurses had regretfully turned him away, he left Kakuzu's side and crossed over to him. "Dei, man," he said. "I'm so fucking sorry."

Deidara bit his bottom lip and grimaced as he tried to hold back a choking sob. "They thought - he was just some sugar daddy to me," he forced out, gesturing around him - his voice a wreck, shocking Hidan with its hoarseness. "But he wasn't, yeah. He fucking wasn't. You should know how it feels, they look at you the same." He turned glazed-looking blue eyes on Hidan, and they were scarily empty. A blank, hopeless gaze.

"Fuck, Dei," said Hidan. "I don't think they do think that. I think they're just arseholes." He glanced around. It seemed to him that the genuine rawness of Deidara's grief was obvious to everyone, whether they wanted to see it or not. "And if they do, fuck them, man! I know it wasn't like that." And it isn't fucking like that for me either, he wanted to add, but the words stuck in his throat. Dei wouldn't want to hear that now. He glanced over at Kakuzu, wishing he'd come over; almost immediately Kakuzu excused himself to Zabuza and started to move towards them.

"Dei, I know you've wanted to be alone, and I - I could respect that if it was doing you any good, but man... is it? Really? You look like shit, seriously."

"Yeah, hn," he gave a strange low laugh. "It's not. You're right. But would anything?" He held up a hand to stop Hidan as he opened his mouth to speak. "I'm ... sorry for what I said to you, man. And about not letting you visit me. I know it hurt you. I - I guess I meant it to."

"It doesn't fucking matter, Dei."

"I'm wasn't even really angry about ... what I said I was angry about ... anyway..."

"Be a dumb thing to be angry about, wouldn't it, really?"

"I ... guess I just wanted to lash out, and you are so fucking easy to hurt, Hidan ... You should watch out for that, you know. You get this wounded look in your eyes a person could get addicted to ..."

"What kind of Jashinist would I be if I couldn't take a bit of pain for you?" His hand went to his rosary. "Lash out all the fuck you want. Man, I mean it! If you need to I can take it!"

"Ah Hidan, just as fucking insane as ever!" Deidara gave a miserable-looking smile. "Some things don't fucking change, do they...? Honestly, though, I don't really want to, I don't know why I'm saying this shit to you, I'm not really any good for anyone right now. I honestly wish I could just ... disappear ..."

"Come home with us Dei." The words were out of his mouth before he could even think about it. The squat wasn't the right place for Dei right now, particularly when he was having thoughts like this. "Disappearing is a shit idea. Just ... give it a try for a while, at least?"

"Home? You mean Kakuzu's...?" Another weird laugh; Hidan's heart sank. He looked over at Kakuzu again - he'd been intercepted by Kabuto and seemed to be introducing him to Karin Uzumaki.

"Hn. You know. Sasori just.. his whole life just got ... snuffed out, like that." Deidara clicked his fingers, then let his hand fall limply to his side. "The way I felt about him didn't though. But still, there's nothing ... left ... of what was between us. It's just ... gone, the circuit's broken and now nothing works anymore. It's just me, bleeding out emotion into a fucking void! These arseholes know it. They know they don't need to acknowledge it. No one fucking does."

"Seriously, man!" Hidan took Deidara's shoulders and turned him around to see the wall of Akatsuki who were there to have his back. "We acknowledge it. Don't think about the fucking Church of England or the fucking in-laws - or out-laws - whatever. Sasori loved you, you fucking know that, it doesn't matter what the fuck anyone else thinks!"

"He'd be fucking happy, wouldn't he, getting to fucking torment me for ever! Having his fucking lasting legacy just like he always wanted-" Tears started pouring down Deidara's face, mixing with the rain. "I just want to stop feeling it! I don't want to be some living monument to his memory! I thought if I didn't have to see anything that reminded me of him, maybe I could stop. I didn't even want to come today! But then I couldn't not. I wanted one last - last -"

"Dei!" Hidan's voice cracked with emotion. "Dei, man, stop fucking fighting it! Just feel it! Just fucking feel it. It's not going to be stronger than you are!" He pulled Deidara against his chest and after a second felt him lose it completely. Animal, rageful sobs racked his body. "That's it, man," he murmured, doing his best to shield him from the worst of the cold and the rain, from the disapproving gazes of the family who hadn't loved Sasori and didn't care that Deidara had; from the useless sympathy of people who didn't know the first fucking thing about pain. "That's the fucking way."

He closed his eyes and sent up a brief prayer to Jashin - that he could know Dei's pain and share it with him. That Dei could come to peace through his suffering. To Kakuzu, arriving at that moment, he looked illuminated, angelic; he caught himself wondering - just for a second - if there could be some value in what Hidan believed. None of the rest of them had had any idea how to help Deidara, after all. Or the guts and grace to go to him and do it.

He put his umbrella over both of them; briefly touched Hidan's rain-darkened hair. Rivulets of water were snaking down his leather jacket and dripping heavily onto grass that was fast becoming mud. Hidan's face was as resolute as he'd ever seen it and, "Do you want us to take you home, Deidara?" he asked, putting a tentative hand on his rain-soaked shoulder as the shaking finally began to subside. "Or if you'd rather not be alone, stay with us. I'm sure Hidan has already told you how welcome you'd be."

Slowly, Deidara looked up and shook his head, compressing his lips tightly together. "Thanks, hn, but I'm going to wait til all these arseholes have gone and then. I just need some time alone with him." He gestured at the still-open grave at his feet. "I ... want to see this filled in. I don't even know the fuck why ... but the gravedigger dude said it would be okay."

"We'll wait, Dei," Hidan said. "Just give it a try, yeah? We'll leave you alone if that's what you want. It's a big fucking house, you wouldn't even have to see us if you didn't want to."

"Sure." Kakuzu gave his shoulder another brief pat. "Look, we can start everyone moving and come back and collect you," he said. "Half an hour, say? We'll give you all the space you need."

Deidara hesitated. He detached himself from Hidan, then straightened up. Squaring his shoulders with a faraway look in his eyes, he scanned the crowd. "Yeah. Alright." he said. He seemed spaced out now - on a different plane. "Alright. I'll come."

"You sure you don't want me to stay with you while..?" Hidan gestured at the grave.

"Yeah." Deidara was definite. "I'll ask the guy to find you when it's done, if you can wait down by the chapel for me." He flashed him a miserable smile. "Move the fuckers on for me, man. I don't care what you have to do. I'm giving you carte blanche."

Kakuzu put his umbrella in Deidara's icy hand, then took hold of Hidan's arm just above the elbow. "I'm not giving you carte blanche," he murmured as he led him away. "I'm sure we can do this in a civilised way. No one wants to be out in this rain much longer anyway." He wasn't precisely nervous - Kakuzu didn't do nervous - but he was very much aware that a large portion of the crowd were St Martin's students, supporting the girl who'd been driving the pink smartcar. Somewhere in that knot of people was Shikamaru Nara - he'd glimpsed his distinctive hairdo - and he was careful now not to cross the invisible line that seemed to divide the two discrete groups of mourners.

He didn't trust Hidan to even notice the divide, let alone play but its rules, so he kept a firm hold on him as he went to murmur in Konan's ear. She made some kind of prearranged signal to Gaara, and within moments both were making announcements. Konan leading the way, the crowd began to drift down the rhododendron-lined path back towards the colonnade. There was going to be a reception at Akatsuki Gallery for friends and students of Sasori; doubtless the Suna clan were doing something similar for Chiyo.

But of course, once everyone was heading for the same narrow path, there began to be some inevitable merging.

The resulting confrontation wasn't what Kakuzu had been expecting, but it was bad enough. Sasuke and Karin had attended the funeral - Yahiko and Konan had encouraged it, to boost the Akatsuki numbers and to provide at the very least an illusion of solidarity between the Uchiha brothers. So far they'd kept a low profile, mostly talking to Zetsu and Tobi, though Karin had come over for a brief chat. But now, Sasuke was face to face with Danzo Shimura - a senior lecturer at St Martin's. He'd been there for pretty much ever, as far as Kakuzu could tell, and he found him intensely boring. Despite the fact that his work was undeniably of a high standard, somehow he'd never wanted to invest. But here, there was clearly quite a bit of tension...

"Danzo," Sasuke spat, and hearing his voice so infused with hatred and disgust Kakuzu started to listen more closely - it seemed like quite a lot of other people did too. "Fancy fucking meeting you here!"

"Sasuke Uchiha!" Danzo replied in his flat, boring voice. "So, are you regretting your decision to leave St Martin's yet? I hear you couldn't stick out your third year at Orochimaru's place." Danzo and Orochimaru had even collaborated many many years ago, Kakuzu remembered, but as with so many people and Orochimaru, they now weren't on speaking terms.

Sasuke ignored that. "I've got something to show you!" he said, as though Danzo hadn't spoken. He took out his phone and started to load something up. Danzo took the opportunity to start moving away and Sasuke moved after him, raising his voice so that everyone around them could hear.

"Two things are going to happen, Danzo. St Martins is going to be exposed as the fucking hothousing sausage factory for mediocrity it is. And you're going to be exposed as a plagiarising murderer! Everyone's going to know that you've stolen every idea you've used in the whole of your fucking career! I've got the proof right here, and - oh yes!" His tone switched abruptly to mockingly light. "Karin went live with it about an hour ago..." He pointed at something on the screen. "Oh! Look how many times it's been shared already!" he said wonderingly. "Karin, that's good for a niche video about a so-called 'artist's artist', right? It doesn't hurt that you've had exclusive access in the week's most sensational news story I guess..."

Karin mumbled an affirmative. They'd put the video together in an unholy rush - less than an hour ago in fact. She hadn't realised when Sasuke had asked her to do it that Danzo would actually be here, or that Sasuke had been intending to confront him in person - but watching him at it it began to dawn on her that that had been the plan all along. She wished he'd told her - did he think she wouldn't have stuck by him? How could he think that? She glanced at Tobi. He didn't look remotely surprised - in fact he looked avid, expectant; like someone waiting for their favourite scene in a film they'd watched over and over. Yes. This had been planned. She glanced at Kakuzu too - he was frowning, one eyebrow arched in disdainful surprise, and she felt awful. His distaste for being dragged into this was palpable.

"You need to take that video down!" Danzo's face was twisted with rage, and some other emotion - was it fear? He pushed the phone away. "I don't want to see any more!" he spluttered. "This is disgusting. Outrageous-"

"What's outrageous is that you're an abusive psychopathic monster and you've been allowed to teach in one of the most prestigious art schools in the country for three decades. You lost your mojo somewhere along the way though, didn't you? - so you decided to steal a career from my cousin Shisui! The ideas you keep returning to again and again - those are his ideas. His imagery, techniques he developed - god, you've even exhibited some of his actual works!"

Danzo didn't seem to know what to say for a moment. His mouth moved soundlessly and his eyes shifted around, looking for some way out of the situation. Quite a group had gathered to quietly watch, including the current head of St Martin's, Tsunade Senju. It didn't seem like Danzo had many allies - no one stepped up to defend him.

If it was a difficult subject for Danzo, for Itachi, who'd been following at a slower pace and had just come within earshot, it was almost unbearable.

Shisui. The name rang through his head. Hearing it spoken out loud again, years of repressed emotion began to bubble towards the surface. For a moment, there in the rain, he felt like he was bodily back on Brighton Pier; watching the waves boil 40 foot beneath him, screaming that name over and over as Tobi had physically restrained him from jumping in after him. And although he knew that it had already been hopeless by that point; that the only difference would have been that two bodies were recovered by the coastguard hours later instead of one, there was a large part of him that still wished he'd done it all the same. He took a few difficult steps towards Sasuke, and he could feel his temperature rising with each one. A cold sweat prickling over him. Kisame had been right - he wasn't well enough for this.

"By this evening there won't be a single person on the scene who won't know all about how you drove him to suicide." Sasuke was continuing, relentless. "You and your fucking depraved hothousing and your special classes and your critiquing everyone into the ground so they didn't know a good idea from a shit one anymore. But what's really damning is how you persuaded him to stop taking his lithium. Yeah, he wrote to Itachi about it. Wasn't he inspired enough for you? Not producing his ideas fast enough for you to feed them into your own banal practise?"

"Sasuke, no!" He lurched forward, his hand outstretched. Shisui's letters to him as well? He thought they'd all been destroyed! For that last precious part of the past to be dragged out into the open, tarnished, judged - no. No. "Don't-!" he managed to force out, feeling that wretched cough rising. He took a shallow breath, trying not to exacerbate it. "What difference does it make now?" And then the tickle in his throat was overwhelming and he was hacking, hacking, hacking into his palm.

But Sasuke was too focused on Danzo to even notice him trying to struggle through the crowd. He could see the anguish under the cocky snarling facade and he wanted to tell him that awful and culpable though he was, Danzo wasn't the only one to blame. He thought he'd made it clear, but maybe Sasuke just hadn't been ready to hear it. Hadn't been ready to let go of his cherished image of mum and dad...

"And after Shisui died it was you who persuaded the whole faculty to turn their backs on Itachi when my dad chucked him out. And then you used that to blackmail dad and get rid of him too. You couldn't fucking make it up, could you?" Sasuke's voice was so harsh, so desperately angry. In the end, I didn't manage to protect him from anything, Itachi thought.

Not this bit, he wanted to say to him. Don't drag up this bit. But he couldn't get enough air in, he was dizzy, little golden dots seemed to be wriggling in from the edges of his vision... And what was that in his hand? Blood, again? He closed his fist around it. Closed his eyes too. It isn't working, he thought, before he could suppress it. The new drugs aren't working. I'm going to die of this. This isn't supposed to be a death sentence anymore but somehow, for me, there's never any best-case scenario. He could hear Sasuke talking on and on. Everything he'd kept to himself for so long - dragged out into the open. And for some reason it reminded him of his father's voice, the last time he'd ever spoken to him. 'We can't have you here corrupting Sasuke. Polluting him with that kind of filth. If that's the lifestyle you choose, you'll have to leave.'

The past seemed almost more real than the present. More believable. Because surely this couldn't really be happening. Someone would have stopped him by now... surely... But it carried on.

"I'm sure everyone will assume you've done exactly that." Danzo fought back. "You were a child at the time - an imaginative, impressionable child! I hate to be the one to break it to you, but your father's departure from St Martin's was far more to do with the fact that he was a barely functioning alcoholic - and naturally forcing his own son onto the street wasn't something any of us were comfortable to condone! Should we have been?"

"I was twelve! I remember Shisui really well. I remember how you wouldn't let my parents take his portfolios home after he died. I remember how his studio had been cleaned out when we went to get his things. Most of all I remember seeing my big brother crying, and the weeks afterwards when I didn't know where he'd gone, and seeing my mum so depressed that she couldn't leave her room, my dad to able to feel anything but anger and bitterness and the next year they were both dead. You destroyed my family, Danzo. Did you really think it would never come back to bite you?

I destroyed our family, Sasuke, Itachi thought. He closed his eyes, and the world seemed to spin. Even you. I thought maybe you could be okay, but you're not. You're not. He remembered getting the call about mum and dad as if it was yesterday. After Juzo had died, they'd tried to make contact. They'd been on their way to try and see him - though he'd told them not to come - when dad had run their car off the road. If he hadn't told them he wouldn't see them ... maybe ... if he'd been prepared to forgive them ...

"Sasuke," he gasped, a final effort, though he didn't suppose there was any chance of him hearing. "It's not worth it." And someone was supporting him now, saying his name, but of course it wasn't Sasuke - it was Kisame; just Kisame who was always there for him - and he felt the panic that always came with these attacks recede a little. "Sorry, Kisame," he whispered, doing his best to seem okay for him. "You were right. Just... help me find somewhere to sit down for a moment, could you? I guess I wasn't well enough for this..."

Sasuke, completely oblivious to anything but the effect he was having on Danzo, pursued him down the path as he did his best to slope away.

"There'll be legal action, I can promise," Danzo hissed, over his shoulder. "This is harassment! And slander! You've got no basis for any of it!"

"Uhh, have you looked at the photos, Danzo? Would you like a closer look?" Sasuke pushed his phone into Danzo's face as the picture changed, flicking through the photos one after the other. Shisui's smiling face filled the screen and Danzo winced away.

"They're not dated! They're not proof of anything."

"Shisui is as good as a date though, isn't he? Given that you drove him to suicide he obviously hasn't been in any pictures since the millennium..."

"It was an accident - a tragic accident!" Danzo's composure was long gone - he was clearly rattled now. "This is defamation! It's ... it's spreading malicious rumours ... it's against the law!"

"Well, that's Karin's lookout, isn't it?" Sasuke gave a cold laugh. "I'm can't be connected to this in any way. I'm just here to warn you you might find the press on your doorstep when you get home. But I think you'll find your reputation won't recover, however many people you try to bring down with you. It's out there now."

"Sasuke?" Karin gasped. She tried to tell herself he didn't mean it, that he was just saying it to get to Danzo. But a cold, hard little voice inside her said, 'you don't mean anything to him.' And if she was honest with herself, she knew it was true.

Kakuzu, watching the scene unfold with some concern but also quite a lot of interest, gave a little 'tch' of distaste and shook his head. "Nasty," he commented to Hidan.

"What a prick," Hidan agreed. "Is this all true?"

"I ... don't know," Kakuzu admitted. "Apart from that I'm pretty sure it wasn't a 'tragic accident'..." But before they could go into it any more, an ashen-faced Kisame appeared beside them.

"Kakuzu!" he said, his voice desperate. "Can you take a look at Itachi? He's ... not in a good way at all!"

They followed Kisame a little way back up the path, to where Itachi perched gingerly on the edge of an ivy-covered gravestone.

Kakuzu wasn't in a lot of doubt about what he'd find - he'd seen enough of this sort of thing 20 years ago, though admittedly it was something he'd thought he'd never have to deal with again. "May I?" he asked, putting a hand to Itachi's forehead. Definitely hot. He squatted in front of him; passed him his handkerchief to clean the blood off his hand. "Itachi, I think you know this has developed into pneumonia now," he said slowly, calmly. Itachi just nodded, dazed. He swayed a little and Kakuzu put a steadying hand on his arm. "We need to get you to a doctor. It's highly treatable, you know," he added to Kisame, who was clearly on the verge of outright panic, "it isn't necessarily any indication of whether the new antiretroviral is working or not - it's early days, isn't it? Look - Kabuto's here somewhere - Kabuto!" he called commandingly, catching sight of him. "Come over here a moment!"

Kabuto turned and as their eyes met that old unspoken understanding passed between them - he didn't need to say any more. Kakuzu stepped away from the others to meet him. He knew he could trust Kabuto to be discreet, at least where medical matters were concerned. "I'm not sure whether you're aware that Itachi is HIV positive," he murmured. "He's had ... a lot of trouble with drug resistance and now. Well. He's certainly exhibiting symptoms of acute pneumonia."

Kabuto winced. "I thought that might be it," he said quietly.

Kabuto had specialised in HIV/AIDS for a good few years after Kakuzu had left medicine. He'd decided to make a change to emergency medicine in the late 90s. Altogether, Kakuzu was extremely grateful to have him around to hand this over to. "I think Itachi needs to see a new specialist..." he added, careful to keep his voice low - though to be honest Itachi looked like he was on another planet right now. "Can you pull any strings? Recommend anyone? This is just so unusual..."

Kabuto nodded, frowning as he also gauged Itachi's temperature. "There's an excellent HIV team at the Royal Free, you know," he told Kakuzu. "Right at the end of your road..." He felt Itachi's pulse. "I know the clinical lead there - I can drop him down and have a word. We should still contact his regular doctor anyway, for a detailed medical history..."

"Of course," Kakuzu agreed, though he felt that Itachi's regular doctor must be a fucking hack to have let things go so far.

They helped Itachi to his feet and immediately he was coughing again. He pressed Kakuzu's handkerchief to his mouth, leant heavily on Kisame's arm. Kisame could have carried him as easily as a child, but there was a determined dignity about him even now that seemed to prohibit anything of the kind. For a moment they were all at a loss - then Hidan returned with one of the funeral directors. "I've scored you a lift down the hill, man," he said to Itachi. "Just, maybe try not to think too much about what you're riding in..."

"How are you the only one with any presence of mind..." Kakuzu murmured as they others moved slowly away. He put a hand on Hidan's shoulder and gave him a little shove to move him on. But after only a few paces that hand somehow slipped down and around his waist, pulling Hidan against him for a moment. It was dryer under the trees; most people were some way ahead of them now and after all, they weren't in any hurry. And being alone with Hidan he suddenly felt like he could breathe again. He was looked down at him - and Hidan was slowing his pace and turning to face him - when they heard a familiar drawling voice.

"I don't know how you have the gall to show your face here." Kakuzu's head snapped up again. Shikamaru Nara, just ahead of them and blocking their way, flanked by a group of students.

"The fuck-?!" Hidan started forward. "Sasori was our friend! Where the fuck else should I be?" he spat.

"Don't rise to it, Hidan," Kakuzu said. Kabuto had told him when they'd chatted earlier that Asuma had contracted MRSA in hospital a few days ago. He was in intensive care. The stakes had suddenly risen dramatically. Oh hell, here we go, he thought. Our very presence is enough to start a fight at a funeral now...

"I think you should be behind bars, personally," Shikamaru said languidly.

"Oh yeah?" Hidan took a threatening half-step forward. "For defending myself? Whose knife was it, again, remind me?! Who had me in an armlock while that cunt stuck it in my face?! You're fucking lucky I didn't press charges, mate, because you're the one who should be behind bars! You and your two-bit, straight-to-a-teaching-career friends and fucking Sarutobi as well."

Shikamaru fell back a little - sensibly; there was clearly no way he could take Hidan one on one - but his friend barrelled forward and actually threw a punch. A massive guy, and he clearly wasn't holding back. "You don't call Asuma that, you bastard," he yelled, all eyes turning towards them just as Kakuzu instinctively blocked the blow with his own hand.

"For goodness sake," he said coldly - and loudly, so that anyone still within earshot need have no doubt who had started this. "Remember where you are! Show some respect!"

"Aw, Kakuzu, you didn't have to do that for me, babe." Hidan looked up at him with big innocent eyes and a wicked smile. "I could've taken it!" Kakuzu could feel the excitement emanating from him and it was hard not be infected by it - he wants to let rip, he realised. He wants to tear these little punks apart, and God, I want to let him. I want to see him do it. But that is a really really bad idea.

"Better my hand than my heart, love," he replied, with exaggerated gallantry and a raised eyebrow. "You know how I feel about seeing you get hurt." Keep this light, he told himself, massaging his palm and flexing his fingers - there had been a lot of force behind that punch. Don't let yourself get angry.

Shikamaru swallowed, his hands clenching into fists, clearly incensed but not quite enough of an arsehole - or maybe just not quite unwise enough - to take let this get any more physical right now. "The reason you haven't pressed charges couldn't be clearer," he said to Hidan, his voice icy. "You both know if this was properly investigated it would soon come out that 'throwing up an arm to defend yourself' doesn't often result in someone accidentally slicing themselves to the bone! I saw you do it - we all did. You as well!" he added to Kakuzu. "And while it's clear you're infatuated enough to perjure yourself for him, I guess you'd rather not if you can avoid it!"

He turned away, gesturing to his friends to join him. "You may not be able to avoid it much longer." A parting shot over his shoulder. "Asuma's big enough to admit he started it - he'll take you down even if it means going down with you."

"If I were you I'd let Asuma focus on getting well," Kakuzu said coldly. "Extra stress now isn't going to aid his recovery, is it?"

He took Hidan by the upper arm again and held him forcibly back until they were out of sight. "For goodness sake let's not court any more trouble," he exclaimed sharply.

"Alright, alright!" Hidan prised Kakuzu's fingers a little looser and he felt a surge of guilt.

"I'm sorry," he said, rubbing Hidan's arm where he'd been gripping it. "Listen, let's just let them get out of our way and then go and wait in the car. It's completely vile out here and there are far too many people out for your blood."

While Shikamaru had detained Hidan and Kakuzu, Sasuke had hounded Danzo all the way back down to the top of the colonnade, and there was no reason to think he would've stopped there, either, if it hadn't been for the three people waiting for them. Karin recognised them immediately - Sasuke's ex-girlfriend from his time at St Martin's - she'd seen her in pictures - and Kakashi Hatake; he was unmistakable. The third was her cousin Naruto. They actually didn't know each other well at all - their parents hadn't been close - but still, he was family. She hesitated.

Naruto shot forward and grabbed Sasuke by the arm. "Sasuke, wait!" Sasuke tried to shake him off, but his grip was tenacious. "Wait! We can help you! Look, doing this at a funeral is just making you look like a prick! Come back with us and we'll talk about this!"

It was only a few seconds, but it was enough of an opportunity for Danzo to make his escape and Sasuke was incandescent with rage. "What is there to talk about?" he snarled. "How is letting him get away scot-free helping?!"

Kakashi, leaning against a Grecian-style tomb the size of a medium garden shed, fixed his eyes on Sasuke with an intensity distinctly at odds with his casual demeanour. "We all want to get rid of Danzo," he said quietly. "He nearly did to me what he did to Shisui, and I've got two more people at least who'll testify in a hearing against him. More people will probably come forward because of Karin's video. But now's not the time or place, is it? You've made your point - several times over - and it's clearly taken a toll on your brother; god only knows how Chiyo's family are feeling right now!"

There was a pause. Sasuke stopped trying to walk away. He seemed to go a little whiter and Karin watched him warily, not saying anything. She realised how much she was walking on eggshells around him just now and despised herself for it, but pushed the thought down. Sasuke looked at Kakashi and Kakashi looked coolly back at him, then down at the ground.

Sasuke smiled - not a nice smile though. He gave a short laugh. "If I wanted a fucking millstone I'd've taken Sakura with me when I left!" he jibed. "I don't want your help; I don't need it, and actually Danzo's not the only one I'm taking down - as far as I see it you're all complicit. You knew what was going on, you did nothing to stop it, you didn't help Shisui, you didn't help Itachi, so don't give me that concerned attitude now! Fuck you, Kakashi. You're next."

"I was a fucked-up kid just like them when it happened to me," Kakashi said quietly. "Maybe it's no excuse, but it is a reason. I took it to Hiruzen; at the time I didn't see what more I could do."

"You've worked alongside Danzo for the last three years." Sasuke snarled. "You're right. It is no excuse."

"Sasuke!" Sakura stumbled forward. "Sasuke, please come back with us and talk about this." She lowered her voice, but it was determined, resolute. "I ... I still love you Sasuke. Don't you feel anything anymore? I'm really worried about you. I'll do anything, just please please don't shut me out again."

It was like Sasuke saw her for the first time and Karin remembered only too well how it felt to be on the receiving end of that trick. "Don't you get it, Sakura?" he sneered. His eyes were like chips of ice. "Everyone's being nice about it because they're sorry for you, but the truth is, you caused this, didn't you? Two artists are dead because you're a fucking terrible driver. How does that feel?"

Karin felt the pointless, irrelevant cruelty like a physical blow. How is this Sasuke? she thought helplessly. How do I still love him - how does she? "Sasuke," she said quietly, guardedly, moving up beside him. "Leave her alone. Please. This isn't what we're here for."

And then the cold eyes were on her instead. "You've done your bit now Karin; why are you even still here? You're actually a bit of a liability to me now - you should leave."

He turned back to Sakura. "You're second-rate, Sakura. I- You know what? I can't be bothered. I just can't be bothered with your shit. I don't even know why you think I'd be interested - why would anyone be?"

"Stop it Sasuke!" Karin pleaded. Sakura was crying now, awfully, unashamedly, and Karin couldn't bear it; she was nearly crying too as she tugged on Sasuke's arm and he shrugged her off with so much force that she went flying backwards.

She hit the ground hard and though it hurt like hell it was the shame that was nearly overwhelming. She bit her lip, breathing hard, and kept her eyes shut tight for a moment so that no tears could fall. This is too much, she thought. I actually don't want any more of this.

"I don't know what the fuck Chiyo saw in you," she heard Sasuke say. It seemed like he was just being cruel for fun now. "She was the real deal... I guess maybe she was just sorry for you..."

She opened her eyes in time to see Kakashi step protectively in front of Sakura. "That's enough, Sasuke," he said coldly. "Enough!"

Not another fight, Kakuzu thought. They'd hurried forward at the sound of raised voices and rounded the corner just as Karin went flying. Sasuke sinking lower in his estimation than he thought possible, he hurried forward and knelt down beside her. Hidan lingered few paces behind, watching Sasuke and Naruto start to beat the shit out of each other with undisguised interest.

"Karin," Kakuzu said gently. "What on earth?!

"Sasuke..." Karin said miserably as he helped her to her feet and led her to a rickety little wooden bench. It was a enough of an explanation. She gestured towards Sakura. "That's his ex. I don't know what's got into him. I wish he'd just stop..."

Kakuzu sighed. "It's what's always in him, Karin," he said wearily. "Open your eyes." It was odd, he thought. He wouldn't have picked out Sakura, pretty as she was, to attract a kid like Sasuke. In fact, he set off his gaydar more than a bit. Particularly so when wrestling in the mud with the kid he now recognised as Naruto Uzumaki - the student from St Martin's that Nagato Pein was so interested in. It was intense and savage - neither of them were holding back. But Naruto seemed to be the more resilient and in a few gruelling seconds he was on top. Karin had to shove her fist in her mouth to keep from screaming. "I need to help him-" she gasped. "He's hurt- Can't you stop them?"

"I'm not getting involved in that," Kakuzu said flatly. He caught Hidan by the wrist as he came alongside them. "And neither are you." He gestured at Sakura, sobbing in Kakashi's arms now - their eyes briefly met - "Don't be naive, Karin, that would be you next. Oh, don't bother!" He cut her off as she started to protest that she wasn't interested in Sasuke, they were only friends- "It's pretty damn obvious, girl. Just cut it out before you end up like her, hm?"

"Hey, get the fuck off me with that pimp grip," Hidan protested equably.

"No fighting then," Kakuzu said firmly.

Hidan rolled his eyes. "Fine! It's not like I give a shit anyway..."

Karin took a deep breath. There was something soothing about their amiable bickering and her self respect started to make a comeback. "Yeah," she said, her voice suddenly tougher. "Yeah. You know what? You're preaching to the choir. I'm done with him. After everything I-" Another deep breath. "I'm done."

And the fight was suddenly over, as quickly as it had begun. Sasuke struggled away backwards and Naruto collapsed forward on his hands and knees, clearly exhausted. They were both breathing hard; they didn't break eye contact. "Sasuke," Naruto panted. "Don't be a dick, come on! Come on!"

But before he could make any reply, Tobi and Zetsu appeared; from where, Kakuzu couldn't be sure, though from the smell of them it was a distinct possibility that they'd been discreetly sharing a joint beneath the colonnade arches. Without a word Tobi came between Sasuke and Naruto, breaking their connection. Taking in the situation in a swift glance, he bent down and hauled Sasuke to his feet and Sasuke seemed to be too dazed and exhausted to resist. "Alright, kiddo, Uncle Tobi's gonna get you home," he crooned. He pulled Sasuke's arm over his shoulder. Sasuke groaned - Tobi ignored it. "I'll catch up with you at the gallery, guys," he called back. "Tell Konan I got delayed doing my avuncular duty, would you?"

"Sasuke!" Naruto howled. "Wait!" Wait, you bastard!" But Sasuke didn't even look back and after staring after him for a second longer he collapsed, despairing, face first into the dirt.

Kakashi was also staring after them - he looked like he'd seen a ghost. It was clear that he hated even acknowledging him but he turned to Kakuzu and met his eye. "Kakuzu. Who is that?" he asked tensely.

"Hm?" Kakuzu didn't feel like being especially cooperative, all things considered. "Oh, that's just Tobi," he said unhelpfully. "You don't know him? He's a photographer... You should get out to some more Private Views, Kakashi... meet some people ..."

Kakashi let go of Sakura and went over to the stone balustrade to watch Sasuke and Tobi crossing the open space in front of the chapels and vanishing through the arch between them. "Are you okay?" Sakura choked out to Karin as she did her best to get an unresponsive Naruto up from the ground.

"I'm fine." Karin's voice was high and tense. Sympathy from Sakura was just too much right now; her resolve started to crumble. "Don't worry about me - I know Sasuke's a total fuck up, I'd never dream of letting him get to me." But she could feel her composure breaking just at the sight of the other girl's devastated face. "Sakura? ... is it?" she asked, though of course she knew. "Can I say this? He's not the same as he was when you two were on foundation together. He's-" suddenly she started to cry in earnest. "He's really-"

"-not worth this," Kakuzu finished for her sternly. He reached for his handkerchief, then remembered he'd given it to Itachi. Looking distinctly sheepish, Hidan produced a silk pocket square. Midnight fading to a shimmering electric blue, it had an intricate and clearly hand-painted abstracted animal print swirling out from one corner. "Yugito fucking planted this on me..." he said.

Karin gave a helpless laugh. "I can't use that," she sniffed. "It's like, the most beautiful thing I've ever seen... it's a work of art..."

"Nah, fuck it, it's just a snot rag with delusions of grandeur!" Hidan let go of it, so that she had to either catch it or let it fall on the muddy ground. She snatched it out of the air as it fluttered down. "Keep it," Hidan said. You probably need to, I don't know, hand wash it or some shit - I'd fuck it up in a week..."

Karin blew her nose on it, loudly. "Fuck, that feels liberating..." She gave them a watery smile.

"That's it," Kakuzu said. "Good girl. Dry your tears, then go on down to the Akatsuki reception. Meet some interesting people and feast your eyes on some delightful pieces from my private collection. And drink some wine and forget about the pissy little bastard."

"And don't call him when you get wasted," Hidan added. "You can call Kakuzu instead, he's the soul of discretion."

Karin gave a weak giggle. "OK," she said tiredly. "It seems like I don't have anything better to do. Are you going?"

"No. We're going to take Deidara back with us, and I think seeing a room full of Sasori's work is more than he could handle right now," Kakuzu said quietly. "I'll call Konan and tell her to expect you. Will you be alright to get yourself to Archway?"

"Come along with me if you like," Zetsu offered, drifting into the conversation. "I'm going down there now."

They walked down the stone steps in silence. When they reached the car, without even thinking about it Kakuzu opened the passenger door for Hidan and shut it after him as he got in. He shut it in the way Hidan had come to associate with almost everything Kakuzu did - firmly, definitely, but with absolutely no more force than was necessary to get the job done and that alone was enough to get him to relax a little. He sighed, shrugging off his jacket and breathing in the warm-car smell which just at that moment seemed like heaven.

"What a fucking awful situation," he said as Kakuzu got in the other side. He watched the last straggling groups of people trickle through the wrought iron gates and head for the tube.

"Mmm," said Kakuzu.

"I don't know what the fuck Dei is going to do. He's a mess."

"Yes," Kakuzu agreed.

Hidan looked at his impassive profile. Damn, it was still difficult to get him to talk sometimes! Deidara's words about sugar daddies and people looking at them came back to him and he wondered what Kakuzu thought about that. Did he care if people thought Hidan was hanging around him for - well, for what? Hidan made plenty of money, even if he did spend it about as quickly as he earned it. Comfort? Security? Guidance? Even if there was a grain of truth in some of that ... and it certainly wasn't as if he didn't appreciate those things ... the magnetic force that Kakuzu seemed to exert over him was nothing to do with any of them, and perhaps it did piss him off a bit to think of that being disregarded. But Kakuzu probably didn't give a flying fuck what anyone else thought anyway.

"The only other funeral I've ever been to was my mum's," he said. He wasn't even quite sure what suddenly put it into his head, but he suddenly felt that cold sinking feeling of our loss as if it had been yesterday. "Fuck!" he murmured. "What about you?"

Kakuzu gave him a sidelong look. "Hidan, I fucked my way through the 80s - I've been to a lot of funerals."

"Shit, of course," Hidan said. "Sorry."

Kakuzu's hand found its way onto his thigh and gave it a gentle squeeze. "It's okay," he said. "And I'm sorry about your mum," he said. "I thought that was probably the case but I didn't like to ask. How long...?"

"Just over eleven years now." Somehow a precise answer right off the bat hadn't been what he'd expected, and Kakuzu glanced quickly over at him again.

"You were close?" It was a question, but only just.

"Mm." Hidan nodded, then tipped his head back against the headrest. Blinked rapidly. A deep breath. "Fuck, I'm sorry," he muttered. "I really fucking miss her a lot."

"Don't be sorry," Kakuzu said. He slipped an arm around him. "It's been a hard day. Nearly over now."

"Yeah." Hidan leant his head into his shoulder and Kakuzu's hand came up to stroke through his wet hair. He cradled the back of his skull in his palm and it felt like the first really intimate contact they'd had since they left the house. He pulled him closer, breathed in the scent of him, dropped a light kiss on the top of his head.

"You really are soaked!" he chided him gently. He reached into the back and came up with a very worn and thin looking towel. "Dry off a bit before you get hypothermia, please!"

"Is this a dog towel?" Hidan asked doubtfully.

"It is a dog towel," Kakuzu admitted, "but it's a clean dog towel. Don't be so picky."

Hidan sniffed it suspiciously, then deigned to give his hair a brisk rub. Combing it back with his fingers into some semblance of his usual immaculate style he tossed the towel over to Kakuzu. "You're just as fucking soaked," he said. "What are you worrying about me for?"

He peered out through the now misty window; used his sleeve to clear a patch in the condensation. "Kakuzu," he said, after a moment. "Look." Manoeuvring carefully in through the chain-linked bollards, deeply incongruous in the sombre gothic setting, was a bright orange Lamborghini...

"Tobi!" Hidan exclaimed. "What's he done with Sasuke? And he's bringing his fucking car in? - I didn't think that was allowed."

"It's not," Kakuzu said shortly. "You need to have a pass. He must have dropped Sasuke off at Archway and come straight back..."

Hidan stared at him for a moment, wide-eyed. "Fuck!" he said suddenly, "Fuck! Deidara!" He fumbled at the door handle and practically fell out of the car in his haste. Moving forward even as he picked himself up, he sprinted for the cemetery entrance.

"Wait! Hidan!" By the time Kakuzu was out of the car out and had come around from the driver's side Hidan was through the arch and out of sight. Pursuing a Lamborghini on foot, he thought, slowing his pace a moment. Are we crazy? He almost wondered whether it was worth waiting here and trying to intercept them as they came out. But as he came through the tunnel between the chapels and looked up the hill he glimpsed Hidan already at the top of the colonnade steps and decided to carry on. Tobi must have taken the longer loop around the outside of the cemetery - even without the steps this path was certainly too narrow for a car. Hidan would probably make it there within minutes of him, and he didn't want him to have to deal with some kind of scene on his own. Certainly not a scene involving Tobi and Deidara.

Up the steps he went, and round the bend in the path where Sasuke had kicked off earlier, just catching sight of Hidan for a moment before he turned the next corner. But as he reached it himself he heard the revving of an engine, shockingly loud, then a thump and a hoarse cry of shock. Almost immediately headlamps were glaring out of the rain ahead of him and he had to back halfway into a rhododendron as the car sped back down past him, certainly breaking the 5mph limit by a fair margin, clouds of exhaust billowing out behind, flattening ferns, wheels spinning in the mud.

'Hidan!" he called urgently as the obscene noise of Tobi's engine receded into the distance. He hurried forward, slipping and sliding on the churned up earth. "Hidan?" The appalling weather was making late afternoon almost like twilight under the trees and Hidan was like a shadow anyway, dressed all in black... it would have been so easy not to see him...

"That you, Kakuzu?" A small flat voice, from out of the rainy gloom. "I'm here." And a few yards further on he found him, sitting on a patch of grass verge looking dazed and sick.

"He fucking climbed the bank," Hidan said bitterly. "He went round that archy thing on the grass - I didn't stand a fucking chance. Could you ... see in the car?" he added, and the amount of hope that was still in his eyes, it was awful to have to let him down.

Kakuzu crouched down beside him and shook his head. He rather thought he might have seen a flash of blond hair actually but he couldn't swear to it and under the circumstances he wasn't going to commit himself. "I'm ... not certain," he said. "Are you alright? Did he hit you?"

"Not- not exactly ... I don't think so ..." Hidan got shakily to his feet. "More kind of ... ran me off the road. I just instinctively dived out of the way. Shit! I wish I'd fucking held my ground!"

"No!" Kakuzu exclaimed. "Don't say that! He was going far too fast! I wonder why he came down this way as well..."

"Because he's a fucking lunatic. And maybe as a big fucking 'fuck you' to you and me..." He scowled, his hands clenching instinctively into fists. "But we need to check. We need to make sure." He was already hurrying onwards and Kakuzu followed close behind.

"Of course," he said. What else could they do? They couldn't leave without being sure. But it was no real surprise to either of them when they reached Sasori's grave to find that Deidara was gone.

"Dei!" Hidan called out. "Dei, man, are you here?" He got his phone out of his pocket and stared at it. There was no message. He called Deidara; no reply. His hand fell limply to his side. They both noticed Kakuzu's umbrella leaning forlornly against a stone cherub which clung to the base of an ivy covered gravestone. Apart from the patter of the rain everything was all so quiet and still. It was hard to believe the amount of drama that had gone on here over the last half hour.

There was another moment of silence in which Kakuzu thought Hidan might be going to take things calmly. It didn't last.

"No!" Hidan almost screamed the word. He hurled his phone onto the ground. "No, no, no! That piece of shit!"

"Hidan." Kakuzu grasped him by the shoulders, hard. Even shook him a little before he realised what he was doing and stopped himself. "It's done. It's happened. Losing it isn't going to help anything."

"He's going to fucking destroy him. That fucker is like fucking poison to Dei - it's the last thing he needs now-"

"I know that. Hidan. I know. But it's his choice, he's an adult, we can't force him to make good decisions. And we don't know what Tobi's-"

"Yes we do fucking know!" Hidan snarled, shrugging Kakuzu's hands off him. "Dei would've called me. He'd've let me know what he was doing if this was even fucking remotely ok!"

"Well. Maybe-" Kakuzu almost faltered as Hidan's furious gaze hit him like a ton of bricks. But not everyone dealt with grief in the same way - Hidan could surely accept that... "- maybe it'll be good for him to have a distraction. Just to get him through the worst-"

Hidan jabbed a finger towards the mound of bare earth beside them. "If it was you down there," he growled, "and some fucked-up coke-head obsessive who'd been stalking me for the last year and a half picked me up at your funeral! And our friends just fucking let it happen?! What the fuck would you have to say to that?! Hm?!"

"Well, I'd be dead for a start," Kakuzu cut in drily. The comparison reminded him sharply of that conversation with Sasori in the hotel bar in Edinburgh. It felt like a lifetime ago now, though it had been barely a month. "Of course it's far from ideal but-"

Are you trying to tell me you'd be happy with that?! Are you trying to say that would be fucking better for me?! To get myself so shit-faced I couldn't even remember that I'd lost you? To get myself fucked into oblivion just so I wouldn't have to think about you?!"

"I'm not saying anything," Kakuzu retorted quietly. "You're putting words in my mouth."

"Well, it doesn't fucking work!" Hidan raged on as if he hadn't spoken. "You do that, and every time you surface it's like it's happening all over again! The only way to get through it is to fucking feel it, and Dei was nearly fucking ready to do that! He let me in! He'd've been alright. He was going to be alright!"

Kakuzu didn't say anything more - what was the point? He picked Hidan's phone up of the ground and watched him feeling his rage and grief with a visceral abandon that he almost envied. And for what felt like the hundredth time that day, forced his own back down.

"We should've had his back!" Hidan shouted, kicking the pedestal of a Victorian angel which loomed ominously above them. "I should've stayed here! Fucking Tobi! How did fucking Tobi get one over on us!"

"Do you remember anything I tell you? He's not quite as much of an idiot he likes to appear."

"Fuck!" Hidan did remember now. "That makes it ten times fucking worse, doesn't it?! He's fucking powerful- he's influential- he's- fuck, he ought to know better!"

"Call him, then," Kakuzu suggested tiredly. "Call Tobi and tell him he's being an arsehole piece of shit who should know better. It's worth a try." Or at least, it'll be something for you to shout at that isn't me, he thought. He felt deeply responsible for what had happened and blamed himself bitterly. Though as he watched Hidan searching his phone for Tobi's number it did occur to him to wonder whether Deidara might have called Tobi himself. It was a fairly massive coincidence otherwise. But he didn't share that thought with Hidan.

Hidan's call went straight to voicemail. He told the voicemail it was an arsehole piece of shit and hung up. And Kakuzu watched in silence as the anger slowly drained out of him, leaving behind a tired, bewildered-looking sadness that just about broke his heart. He put a hand on his shoulder and there was no resistance now as he pulled him towards him.

"Come on, sweetheart," he said. "Let's go home."

Chapter Text

It took them half an hour to get back to Hampstead in the rush hour traffic. All the way round the Heath Kakuzu was silent and Hidan was on his phone; calling Deidara, calling Tobi, calling any of their friends who might have seen them, and leaving more and more garbled and frantic answerphone messages. Finally, as they turned into Parliament Hill, Kakuzu took the phone away from him.

"No-one listens to their voicemail anymore, Hidan," he said wearily. His head ached and he felt an awful flatness that even the brief touch of Hidan's hand couldn't alleviate.

"I know," Hidan said, surrendering it without resistance, and then lapsed into silence too, staring moodily out of the window.

It was still raining heavily enough that the short walk along the street and up the path was enough to soak them all over again. So miserable that even the paparazzi had abandoned their vigil. Kakuzu's fingers, wet with rain, slipped on the alarm code keypad and entered a number wrong. Cursing under his breath, he entered the override code and did that wrong too. And that was the point at which it suddenly seemed to make more sense to punch the thing off the wall than to take a deep breath and do it properly. The alarm, of course, kept on going and going, and without even being aware of quite how it had happened, Kakuzu lost it completely. He punched the wall where it had been with a satisfying crunch of plaster. The feeling of letting rip was intoxicating, somehow such a massive relief. If there was pain in his hand, he didn't feel it, just that urge to break something, to damage, to attack. Again and again, systematically, as if he really could break right through it.

Hidan, following him in, made a grab for his arm. "Fucking hell, man!" he shouted, over the keening wail of the alarm. "Stop that, stop it right fucking now!" But Kakuzu didn't even seem to hear, and he was moving with so much force that from behind it was impossible to restrain him. Shit, he was really going to hurt himself - if he hadn't already - it seemed like he was going harder with ever punch, and with less and less control.

Forcing himself between Kakuzu and the wall he threw his own hand over Kakuzu's bloodied knuckles. He'd imagined that by hurling his own bodyweight against him he'd able to push him back and out of range as well, but that idea proved to be pure fantasy. He might as well have hurled himself against the wall. He winced in anticipation of the impact crushing his hand into the mess of crumbling plaster. Kakuzu would never be able to stop in time, but, what the hell. They could both nurse their broken hands together...

But he did stop. Hidan heard his shoulder joint crack as he stopped dead; he felt the back of his hand just graze the wall before the force he was exerting himself nearly knocked them both over backwards.

"What the hell are you doing Hidan?" Kakuzu yelled unreasonably, after a second of wide-eyed shock. "Get out of the way - you're going to get hurt!" His hand started to shake. He looked at the wall, horrified. The original Georgian plaster had not survived his onslaught; the brickwork was exposed and the thought of how nearly Hidan's hand had come to being sandwiched between that and his fist made him feel sick.

They stumbled back against the opposite wall and Hidan stretched up to give him a hard, level stare. "Unless you want a backie down to A&E I suggest you cut that shit out right now!" he said sternly. "Do you think I'm going to let you fuck yourself up like that? Fucking hell!"

Kakuzu stared at him, breathing hard. "You shouldn't be near me when I'm like this," he said, his voice shaking. "I could've really hurt you-"

"Yeah, well, you didn't. You hurt yourself, like a big fucking idiot." He reached up to run his hand along the hard set of Kakuzu's jawline, trying to smooth away the tension and Kakuzu felt the awful burning shame that indulging his temper always brought on. It was almost unbearable how much Hidan didn't blame him. He didn't deserve to be forgiven like this.

"Stop it, Hidan," he said miserably, but he found he couldn't put any force behind the words and the hand which had jerked up to brush Hidan's away ended up holding it instead. Suddenly he was physically trembling as well. "You shouldn't put yourself at risk for me. You know what I'm capable of."

"Kakuzu!" Hidan shook his head. "You crazy fuck... I'm always going to have a go, aren't I? What the fuck do you take me for?" He extricated his hand from Kakuzu's. "Now, let's have a look at what the fuck you've done to yourself."

"I'm fine," Kakuzu muttered, though his hand was throbbing.

"Yeah, right." Hidan rolled his eyes, carefully straightening Kakuzu's fingers and wincing slightly as he surveyed the damage. "Fucking pull the other one. Look, you're bleeding, you'll be fucking lucky if you haven't broken your hand!"

Kakuzu fought the urge to snatch it from him and examine it himself. "Can we please get that alarm off now!" he groaned, looking away. He'd wrenched his shoulder as well, pulling that punch so suddenly. He massaged the muscle surreptitiously as Hidan turned to pick up the keypad - dangling from its wire but luckily still just about connected. He started to tell him the code, but Hidan was already entering it - always more capable than you think, he had to remind himself - he bit his lip and shut up.

The relief as the noise stopped was incredible. Hidan closed the front door and they looked at each other, Kakuzu wary, Hidan cautiously curious; ears ringing. The silence seemed to press in around Kakuzu like cotton wool.

"I'm probably alright," he said miserably, flexing his hand experimentally. The sudden flash of rage over, he felt exhausted and drained. "Years of mixed martial arts..." he explained. "I'm pretty well conditioned." He looked regretfully at his shredded knuckles. "I admit, that was ... really dumb, though. I'm sorry."

Hidan looked up at him. "Oh, that's your thing - fuck, I wanna see you at it!" he said, so sweetly and obviously impressed that Kakuzu felt another pang of guilt at just how close he'd been to the receiving end of it. "I bet you're like a fucking machine." He gently manoeuvred him away from the door and towards the stairs. "I'm still worried you've damaged the tendons, though. Come on, sit down for a minute, I'm going to get you some ice."

Kakuzu slumped down on the third step and let his head drop into the palm of his good hand. "Maybe put the kettle on, too," he called meekly after Hidan as he headed down the hall.

The second Hidan opened the kitchen door he heard the clatter of dog toenails on polished wood and moment later all four of them were pressed around him. Kaze laid a heavy head on his knee. Tsuchi let out a little whine and licked his hand, trying to nuzzle it away from his face. "Good girl," he said absently. "Down, now." He pushed her face away a little, but put his arm over her, patting her side lightly.

Mizu flopped down on his feet and Kaminari leant heavily against his other side. How do they know I feel like shit? he thought tiredly, but gratefully. They always do know. His jaw clenched and he began to notice that his face seemed to be wet under his hand. No, he thought. Not after all that. No. He took a deep breath; tried to steady himself - but it didn't do any good. Tsuchi was licking his cheek now and he didn't even bother to stop her. He could hear the kettle boiling from along the hall, another patter of paws, some short sharp barks.

"Mizu!" he called, in a pathetic croak that no self-respecting schnauzer would pay any attention to. He knew it was her from the tone of her bark. Why is she barking at Hidan? He couldn't let that go on. Hidan was so much more comfortable with them now, but she could still make him nervous. He started to lever himself up. "Hidan? Are you alright?" he called. He brushed impatiently at the tears blurring his vision - I don't have time for this - and looked up to find Hidan right in front of him.

"Kakuzu?!" His tone was aghast. "Kakuzu, hey, look at me, babe! Oh fuck." Ice clattered onto the stairs and Hidan's hands were urgently wiping the tears from his face. "Kakuzu..."

"Hidan." Kakuzu's voice came out as a kind of gulp, and now he was excruciatingly embarrassed as well. He tried to turn his face away, frowning as if it could force his tears back into his eyes. "I'm sorry, love," he choked. "You don't need to see this..."

"Don't be fucking ridiculous!" Hidan insinuated himself into Kakuzu's lap, pushing his hair out of his face, his mouth against his cheek. "What is it with all this self-sufficient 'don't help me' crap? Even your fucking dog knows you need me!" His arms went around his head. "It's bullshit - you've been forcing this down all day long, keeping it together, sorting out everyone else's shit for them - but, fuck it, you don't have to do that with me!"

Kakuzu took another slow deep breath. He couldn't think of anything to say but another useless 'sorry', so he said nothing. He felt guilty, like he was indulging in grief he wasn't entitled to. Of course, he'd liked Sasori. They'd been friends for a long time - they'd had a lot in common - and yet it wouldn't really have been true to say they were exactly close. Surely this intensity of grief wasn't meant for him? He hadn't earned it. And yet, here it was. As he let the breath out again, it brought a hard, choking sob with it. He tried desperately not to let himself do another. It was ugly, and embarrassing and weak, and the feeling of being out of control was unbearable. But in between five warm bodies, he'd already let his guard down too far, relaxed too much - all he could do was bury his face in Hidan's arms and let them come.

And it was scary, but also liberating, in a way, and in the end it felt like it was the sheer relief of being able to let it out that finally gave him the strength to stop.

"Hidan?" he forced out, looking up at him through a blurring glaze of tears and wondering if it was normal to feel this ache in your throat; it had been so long, he couldn't remember.

"Yeah?" Hidan was wiping the last of the tears away, smoothing at Kakuzu's frown lines with insistent finger tips.

"Somehow I didn't think I'd have to go to another funeral like that. Another young gay man. Another grieving lover, another stiff-necked, stony-eyed family not acknowledging him, who he really was. I thought I was done with all that." He shut his eyes. He felt Hidan shift back a little, he was gathering up the ice and starting to wrap his hand. "I feel like a fucking relic, Hidan," he said, keeping his eyes shut. "There's no-one I know now who would remember but today was like-" He swallowed. "Damn it, it was like being back in the 80s. You know-" He hesitated, then plunged on. "I ... haven't got a single friend left from that time now. Not a single one. They're all gone."

"Fuck, I'm sorry," Hidan said.

Kakuzu sighed and shook his head. "No. I'm sorry. To bring all this up. I suppose it was Itachi being taken ill on top of everything ... But there's no point raking it over now - you just wouldn't understand ... you're just too young, you wouldn't remember and it's best that way."

"Try me. Maybe I won't get it, but." He looked at Kakuzu, "I don't know. I can try to imagine."

"Sweetheart." Kakuzu put his arm around him. "You sweet young thing... Don't you see I don't want you to get it? I don't want you under a burden like that. Remembering the awful things, those years, young men wasting away, everyone afraid. Homophobia like nothing you can even imagine now."

"Okay. But remember I grew up in a small fucking town. And I was at school in the 90s... I wasn't completely oblivious."

"Mm." Kakuzu acknowledged. "I can imagine that was a fairly brutal environment to think about coming out in, but-"

"I know. It's not the same." Hidan settled himself against Kakuzu's chest, one arm around his neck, still holding the ice pack in place. "I do remember some things, though. I remember Freddie Mercury dying. My mum cried and played his records all day when she saw the news ... She forgot to take me to school and my aunt came round at lunchtime and gave her shit for it..."

"We all learnt CPR to a soundtrack of 'Another One Bites the Dust' back in '81," Kakuzu mused. "And Queen was always Kim's music of choice in theatre..."

Hidan shivered suddenly and Kakuzu realised with a start how wet they both still were.

"Get these off!" he said, unbuttoning Hidan's shirt one-handed and peeling it off him. "You're soaked - how could I let you sit around like this?! For goodness sake! Go and grab the towel from the cloakroom..."

"Stop fussing about me!" Hidan said, getting up and doing as he was told anyway. "I should be the one looking after you! And anyway, you were keeping me warm..."

"Why were you shivering then?" Kakuzu spotted Hidan's rucksack at the foot of the stairs and extracted his dressing gown. "I like looking after you, anyway," he added stubbornly. "It's making me feel better. So you'll just have to put up with it." He took the towel from Hidan and pulled him in between his legs, roughly towelling his hair as dry as he could before tugging the dressing gown closely around him. He pulled him forward by the lapels and kissed him firmly on the mouth.

"That's better," he said quietly. "Now you can make the tea." He got wearily to his feet. "I'll run us a bath. Will you join me..?"

"Damn right I'll fucking join you! Do you want me to feed the dogs?"

"It's a bit early yet-" Kakuzu glanced at his watch. "Oh, go on then. Then we'll have some peace ... Go with Hidan," he said encouragingly to Tsuchi. "Go on! Good girl." He noticed that Kaze was already at Hidan's side as if he owned him, nudging him towards the kitchen with his head. "Kaze!" he said commandingly, pausing at the turn of the stairs. "Gently!"

Hidan giggled, clearly charmed as Kaze pushed his head against his hand. "Aw, don't worry, this guy's just a big softie, isn't he?"

"It's really not a good idea to let him get away with being boisterous," Kakuzu warned, coming back down a few steps. "He'll be all over you..."

"It's okay, I'm not some fucking pushover- fuck! Ow!" Hidan clutched his side as Kaminari joined Kaze and their combined force pushed him off balance and against the door frame. But only lightly. Kakuzu stared a moment, then ran back down.

"What happened?" he asked, horrified. "Down," he commanded the dogs, in a tone they couldn't ignore. He pointed to the kitchen, his eyes still on Hidan, and they obediently ran through.

"I don't - I don't fucking know!" Hidan probed around his ribcage and up towards his armpit and winced. "That shouldn't've hurt."

"Tobi - the car - he did hit you, didn't he?" Kakuzu pulled open Hidan's dressing gown and probed as well.

"I ... didn't think so." Hidan squinted down to try and see. "Maybe I landed on a gravestone..."

Kakuzu growled. "Next time I see Tobi I am seriously going to wring his neck! You're really bruised!" he added, running an exploratory hand over the whole area. That's going to come up quite spectacularly by tomorrow."

"Ah fuck, Yugito's not gonna be pleased..." Hidan flinched away as Kakuzu's fingers found a particularly sensitive spot.

"Sorry; sorry, love, just keep still, can you?" Kakuzu urged. "I want to make sure your ribs aren't broken."

"Wouldn't it hurt to breathe or some shit like that?"

"Does it hurt to breathe?"


"Then you're probably fine." Satisfied with his examination, Kakuzu still hesitated. "Since I'm down here I might as well-" he began, gesturing into the kitchen, but Hidan cut him off.

"Get the fuck up to the bathroom, man!" he said sternly. "I've got this!"

As he sat on the side of the claw-footed Victorian bath and turned on the hot tap, Kakuzu found himself faced with a rather surprising array of products which certainly hadn't been there a few weeks ago. And a glance into the shower confirmed that there were rather a lot more in there too. He rather thought they must have been accumulating one by one after every time Hidan had popped back to his flat. Quite a lot of them seemed to have some affiliation with silver hair. Kakuzu picked up a handsome tube patterned with chevrons and an orange lipsticked kiss and examined it. Even after reading all the directions he had very little idea what it could possibly be for, though. He smiled. Keeping Hidan adorable would have to be enough of an explanation.

This blue thing that said 'Rituals' was clearly bath foam, though. Kakuzu smelt it suspiciously, then smiled again because that was the scent of Hidan all warm and relaxed and pliable, when he'd come to find him in his study and distract him until he came to bed with him. Or stretch out half on top of him on the sofa and steal the book he was reading... Hidan, padding around the house in bare feet and his dressing gown, smelling of this and chalk, charcoal and pencil lead. He tipped some into the water and could almost hear how Hidan said his name when he wanted his attention - Kakuzuuu? - Like no-one else said it...

Now his dulcet tones floated up the stairs. "Have you got a tray, Kakuzu?"

Kakuzu went onto the landing. "Yes. Somewhere," he called back. "I don't think I've used it for ten years..."

"Ah, fuck it, I'm going to use this roasting tin."

Kakuzu chuckled and went back to start running the cold in.

Within a few minutes he was relaxing in the warm water; the heat easing his shoulder, ice-wrapped hand resting on the side of the bath and Hidan perching on the other side, gulping down tea.

"You are fucking stacked, Kakuzu..." he said, eyes roving admiringly over Kakuzu's upper body. "Do you just do it for your own satisfaction?"

"Well, yes..." Kakuzu said. "Mostly. I suppose I like the idea of being ... powerful. Being in control. You could call it an obsession - I guess it extends to every area of my life, really."

"Ha, you think you could take me?" Hidan drained the last of his tea and put his mug in the sink.

"I know I could take you, love, if only you hadn't completely disarmed me before we even began."

"Ah, don't be so sure!" Hidan leant over to plant a rather challenging kiss on his mouth. "By the time you'd caught up with me you'd be so fucking knackered I could have my wicked way with you no fucking problem..."

Kakuzu caught hold of the collar of his dressing gown and kept him there. "Oh I think you always have your wicked way with me!" he deflected smoothly. Over the last two weeks they'd been running together on the Heath - their holiday session seemed to have cemented it as a routine - and it was true that Hidan set a pace that Kakuzu ... wasn't quite used to yet. He'd hoped it hadn't been that obvious though. He'd kept up! Hadn't he?

"Come here," he said quietly, any distance between them suddenly seeming unbearable. Abandoning the ice-pack, slipping the dressing gown off him onto the floor, he pulled him into the water. The level rose to nearly overflowing and Hidan stretched himself out over Kakuzu's chest, his legs sliding in between Kakuzu's as he relaxed against him.

Kakuzu smiled, getting his arms around him, feeling his dick start to stiffen just at the proximity of him. Feeling Hidan's doing the same. "Ah, love," he murmured against his hair as Hidan laid his head down against his chest. "What a day, hm?" He felt a hum of agreement from Hidan.

"It seems so unfair, you know," he mused, twisting a strand of Hidan's hair around his fingers. "After years of being life being flat and grey I find you... I feel like I could be happy forever - ridiculous as that sounds - and all of a sudden everything blows up in our faces ..."

"Maybe we found each other just in time to get through this shit," Hidan suggested. "Ever think of it that way? What would you have done today without me? You'd have swallowed down all that misery til it choked you." He paused, trailing lazy fingertips over Kakuzu's chest. "You know, the day we met..."


"I was feeling so ... fucking disconnected from everything. I walked into Dei's Private View and there wasn't a single fucker there I could even bear to look at for more than ten seconds without wanting to punch them in their stupid smug bastard faces and it was so ... so fucking lonely. The only thing I could think of was get so wasted I didn't care anymore. But then you appeared. And you made everything okay without even trying."

Kakuzu got his hands firmly around Hidan's waist to stop him sliding away from him. "You know what, love? I was trying, actually. I wasn't in the habit of trying with anybody. But you ..." It was impossible to express what had been so different - everything had been. He couldn't put it into words. "Now might be the time for me to confess that I had Deidara's flyer sitting on my desk since the end of April," he said, slightly shamefaced, but still somehow wanting Hidan to know. "And I might just have fallen in love with your face before I even met you ..."

"Seriously?" That irrepressible delighted smile.

"Seriously. And there was this look in your eyes..." Again, he couldn't quite find the words. "I thought perhaps, just for one evening, I could make sure things were okay for you."

"You did a bit better than that, didn't you?" Hidan smiled. "Ah, Kakuzu, you're so fucking romantic when you get in the mood ..."

Kakuzu chuckled. "I'm not sure I've ever been accused of being romantic before," he said.

"Well, you should've been. You're a fucking teddy bear underneath it all!" Hidan suddenly snorted with laughter. "I watched you watching the film, you know," he said. "And I thought 'who is that sexy bastard? He's probably straight though'..." Another laugh. "Then you walked over and I stopped thinking that pretty fucking sharpish..."

"Oh, so I've got a gay walk, have I? As well as being a teddy bear! Am I going to have any dignity left when you've finished with me?"

"Well, you made a pretty gay bee-line for me," Hidan said, slightly smug.


"You've actually got more of a gay stance than a gay walk - if there hadn't been people standing all around you I'd've known before you even moved."

Kakuzu smiled slowly. "I've got a gay destination, that's for sure," he said, slipping a hand down in between them.

"Mm," Hidan agreed, rubbing against him, "can I come too?"

"I don't suppose I can get there without you, sweetheart..."



"Did you jerk off to the flyer?"

"Only once or twice..."

Hidan laughed again, kissing him and sliding against him.

"Maybe three times..."

"Remember that time you fucked me on the bath mat?" Hidan murmured.

"Oh yes!" He remembered it very well. Another rainy day... Just thinking about it made him even harder, and he felt an answering stir from Hidan.

Neither of them felt like getting overly energetic, though. Certainly, this wasn't going to be quite like the bath mat time. Kakuzu was quite prepared to lie back and let Hidan do what he wanted, which seemed to be slowly grind up against him under the water, getting more and more evidently aroused. He was kissing and nuzzling against his chest and up along his jawline, hungry, urgent kisses, and it was so incredibly hot, and it still felt so new and almost unbelievable, to be so wanted, for every inch of him to be enjoyed and appreciated and desired. It took his breath away.

He felt Hidan take his cock in his hand and gasped helplessly; Hidan gave a low moan in response, mouth open against his neck, thrusting against him harder now, and was he really going to bring himself off hands-free? It seemed he was. It clearly wasn't going to take him long, either. "Ah, fuck, Kakuzu..." he breathed, his rhythm changing slightly, and the next moment he was so obviously shooting that it tipped Kakuzu over the edge too.

A little later, dry and warm and feeling a lot better, they were lying in much the same position as they had been in the bath on the much-more-comfortable-than-it-looked green leather settee in Kakuzu's living room. In their dressing-gowns, Kakuzu's hand neatly bandaged; better, but not entirely at ease - a text had come through from Deidara while they were in the bath. 'Gone with Tobi' it said baldly.

Hidan had been staring at it for a few minutes now. "Should I reply?" he asked Kakuzu finally. After everything he'd sent, all his calls, messages ... just that? What could you say to that?

"Just say okay," Kakuzu said without hesitation.

Hidan nodded, but didn't do it. He started typing, deleted, let the phone slip from his hand. Kakuzu picked it up. 'OK' he wrote, pressed send, and put the phone out of Hidan's reach.

"Forget about it for now, hm?" he said, keeping his voice as neutral as he could. Deidara had effectively cut them off - they didn't have the license to keep on trying to get through to him now. He smoothed his fingers idly though Hidan's hair, feeling him relax a little against him. It wasn't what either of them had wanted, but it was closure of a kind.

"So tell me more about your mum and the day Freddie Mercury died," he said quietly, after a moment. "I don't think she can have been quite as I imagined her - I didn't expect a Queen obsession somehow..."

Hidan gave a rueful smile. "Ah, yeah, she loved glam; Roxy Music, Bowie, T.Rex - if it involved glitter and men in makeup she was basically sold..." He rolled onto his back to look up into Kakuzu's face. "Those were normally the good days, though - she'd play me her records and dance around the living room, singing along and bouncing off the furniture cause it was fucking tiny. Woodchip on the wall etc. If it was a bad day she didn't even necessarily even make it to the living room."

"Were there a lot of bad days?"

"There were later." Suddenly he was blinking rapidly, tipping his head back. "Fuck..."

"Okay," Kakuzu said, rubbing his shoulder and panicking a little internally. Perhaps this hadn't been such a wise choice of subject-change after all... "Okay... I shouldn't have asked you to talk about this. We don't have to-"

"No. It's okay." Hidan took hold of his hand, tightly. "I want to tell you. I just- I don't want you to think she was a bad mum; she wasn't, she-"

"I'm not going to-" Kakuzu began.

"You don't know what you're going to think," Hidan pointed out sadly. "A lot of the time I was really happy, seriously. I had a good childhood, in - in a lot of ways... But she was really fucking messed up too."

Kakuzu nodded. "Okay," he said calmly.

"When I was a little kid I didn't really notice though, or I thought it was just normal, that one day she'd be fine, and the next she'd hardly be able to get out of bed." Hidan was picking anxiously at his thumbnail; Kakuzu resisted the urge to stop him. "My aunts used to come round and clean the place up for her, because she couldn't cope with that, even on a good day. They'd say, 'mummy's tired, Hidan,' and they'd try and stop me from going in to see her. Because she was fucked off her face on something, probably, things she took to help her cope with it, but they didn't really. But I didn't care; I didn't get it. I'd crawl in beside her and try and get her to play, and she would try... Because she really fucking loved me, you know, she really did, and she could be fun; she did take care of me, even if she had to drag herself downstairs on her hands and knees."

His voice was rising and tense, and Kakuzu did take his hands now. "Alright," he murmured in his ear. "I believe you, love, don't worry..."

"I mean, I guess my aunts were trying to help, but I resented the fuck out of them because they upset her." Hidan's voice was a little calmer now. He rubbed his cheek against Kakuzu's sleeve and sighed. "I just wanted them to leave us alone."

He looked up at Kakuzu, frowning slightly as he remembered. "So that day was weird from the start, because she didn't normally play Queen and cry," he said. "Sometimes she'd play, like, Joan Armatrading and cry ... fucking, soulful shit like that ... but normally if she was putting music on at all there was a chance it would be an alright day." For a moment he looked so lost and confused, like he was still that little boy wondering how he could make his mum okay again. Then the habitual toughness was back, and suddenly Kakuzu understood so much more clearly where that came from. He hoped the unavoidable dismay wasn't showing too plainly in his face.

"Anyway," Hidan continued, "she didn't tell me to go to school so of course I didn't fucking go; I spent the morning trying to cheer her up, trying to make her laugh... but my aunt was a dinner lady there so by lunchtime the game was up. She came round to get me and made my mum cry again. I told her to fuck off and she lost it and slapped me in the face, so then my mum went for her like a fucking tigress, seriously; it caused a family feud for a few weeks - she'd go wild if anyone even as much as smacked me."

Well, we'd have had that in common then, Kakuzu thought. Perhaps now wasn't the time for questions about exactly what had been wrong. Depression obviously. Some kind of addiction or dependency issues as well maybe? He'd grown up in the most boring and stable suburban environment imaginable and felt anguished for Hidan. Thinking all the things Hidan was clearly hoping he wouldn't be thinking.

"You said you have sisters?" he said. Maybe that would be easier for Hidan to talk about. "What about them?"

"Half sisters, yeah, on my dad's side," Hidan said, and Kakuzu could hear a different kind of tension in his voice at that. "And I just want to say now I've never met the prick and I don't want to. They're quite a lot older than me. My dad was apparently a bit of a serial disappearer - there'd been a few affairs in between their mum and mine, so there wasn't really any bad feeling - they'd come and stay sometimes when they argued with their own mum, we were like a massive fucking dysfunctional clan."

Kakuzu relaxed a little. He stroked Hidan's arm. "I can just imagine you in the middle of something like that."

"They used to try out make-up on me and take me out for ice-cream and crap like that, though they normally ended up regretting it 'cause I was a bad little kid and I'd run away from them in shopping malls and down the pier and shit... Once they were fucking convinced I'd drowned for about twenty minutes, they even called out the coastguard..."

Kakuzu laughed. "Down the pier..." he murmured. "It all sounds so ... flamboyantly maritime - what is this, anyway, late 80s?" he asked. Hidan nodded. "While I was a junior doctor, then. I can't imagine it all happening at the same time, somehow."

"Yeah, so what about all that?" Hidan asked. "Tell me about your fucking colourful past. Clearly the shit hit the fan somehow - what happened anyway?"

Kakuzu groaned. "Do I have to? It's ancient history, as I've said before. And it puts me in a foul mood just to think about it..."

"Yeah, you have to." Hidan was firm. "I don't want to find out from the fucking radio, or your patronising-as-shit doctor friends.

"Fair enough." Kakuzu sighed. If they ran into Kim again he was almost bound to bring it up... But where to even begin? "Alright," he said finally. "So the 'shit hit the fan' in '94. I was training to be a cardio-vascular surgeon. That's a heart surgeon, in layman's terms. I'd done medical school, I'd done two years as I junior doctor, I'd done three years of basic surgery, and I was three years into a six-year cardiac specialty."

"Whoa, fuck," Hidan said. "That's a lot of training!"

"Mm-hmm." Kakuzu agreed. "Now, only the med school bit of that is not actually working as a doctor," he continued, "making life and death decisions on a daily basis. So, you can basically read that I was a doctor for eight years. I wasn't a consultant yet. However, I was, like Kim said, the shining star. By my third year I was doing everything the consultants were doing and a lot more that they didn't have to bother with anymore. And increasingly, they'd leave more and more to me. It was exhausting, but exhilarating and challenging and I loved it. I really did. But - as you might expect with egos as big as Kim's and mine flying around - there's a lot of rivalry; most of the cardiologists couldn't stand each other and on the surgical side we weren't much better, and with a massive dose of machismo thrown in to the mix as well..."

"You what?" Hidan cut in. "I mean, sure, he's pretty much made of nothing but ego, but you-"

"I was pretty different back then," Kakuzu said shortly. "So was he. Anyway. One patient, I'd struck up a particular rapport with. He was an artist, actually; a sculptor, famous for his wood carvings, and performance pieces with an on/off collaborator back in the 60s that were pretty groundbreaking at the time. Even in those days I was very interested in the arts and we used to chat. He'd-"

"Hang on a minute, you don't mean Hashirama Senju, do you? You met the fucking Shodai Hokage!"

"You know his work?" Kakuzu was surprised, though he supposed he shouldn't be. Shodai Hokage had been Hashirama's performance alter ego and he and his partner - the first Madara Uchiha - had exploded onto the art scene with a series of 'happenings' that were still regularly referenced when discussing contemporary work such as Deidara's...

"Ah, his legacy lives on at St Martin's, and there was a guy at City and Guilds in the woodcarving department who everyone hailed as the fucking second coming of Hashirama..."

"Yes, I remember that," Kakuzu said. "One of Orochimaru's first big successes, though he's back teaching at St Martin's now, isn't he? And he didn't have the performance angle..."

"No, and I fucking loved the performance stuff, though Hashirama's partner was a fucking tit, wasn't he?"

"Madara Uchiha ... Yes, I believe there was some dispute over the copyright of the works they'd made together and they were totally estranged by the time he died. Hashirama didn't ever completely get over it, I think. That's how I met Tobi, actually, he looked me up a year or so after all this happened. He founded Akatsuki Publishing on the back of inheriting Madara the First's estate - he's some kind of nephew I believe..."

"So what did happen?"

"On a night shift, while he was waiting for an elective, scheduled surgery, he was taken ill. I was on call and there were a couple of options. The consultant who should have been there ... well, he just wasn't there. I bleeped him, sent people searching for him, but nothing doing. It was down to me. But I was young and over-confident - arrogant even - and I wasn't worried. I was pretty certain I could deal with it, so I made the call. If I'd waited he would certainly have died." He paused a moment. He'd never got this far talking about it and still been calm. He waited a moment for the telltale signs of anger rising, but so far he seemed to be alright.

"But I didn't make the right decision and he died on the operating table anyway," he said, his voice as measured and calm as he could make it. "It's impossible to say for sure whether I could've saved him if I'd made different choices, but it turned out he had a pre-existing condition which had gone undetected. Basically, it was a colossal fuck-up and they needed someone to blame. So, that was me."

"Ah fuck ..." Hidan murmured, disbelieving.

"There was a tribunal, and I was suspended from practice for six months but that was nothing compared to the hit my reputation had taken. I wasn't prepared to go back and work under the people who had thrown me under the bus, and there was no way any private clinics would want me with a blot like that on my copybook. I was done, and more than that, somehow all the passion I'd had for my profession was gone as well."

"Fuck..!" Hidan looked so wounded for him he could almost laugh. "How could they do that? How did they get away with it?!"

"Oh, I was a perfect candidate for 90s scapegoating, wasn't I? Not white, not straight, not a fucking public schoolboy - just who everybody wants to lay the blame on!" He shrugged. "But what fucks me off even more than the personal aspect is just the utter waste, to be honest. I was trained on public money. I could still be there, being a massive asset to the NHS for a fraction of my current salary. Being an 'upstanding citizen' - contributing to society..." Bitter sarcasm dripped from his tone. "But no. The NHS required its pound of flesh, and a handful of consultant surgeons didn't like the look of the competition coming up from behind."

"Fucking hell!" Hidan snarled. "I want to fucking kill them!"

Kakuzu did laugh this time. "Don't fret, love," he said. "It's all a long time ago now. I managed to ruin them all financially, anyway - don't tell anyone that though. Some of it was a bit illegal..."

"What, really?"

"Yes ... I mean, this was years afterwards, of course. It took me a little while to get back on my feet and figure out what I wanted to do ... and by then I was firmly established in the world of finance. The consultant who should've been holding that bleep, I got to know the guy who handled his investments, and," he chuckled darkly, "managed to persuade him to, uh, mismanage them rather..." He glanced at Hidan. Would he understand that this had been insider trading? Did he even know what that was...? Maybe better not go into this too deeply. "Let's just say he invested heavily in something that dropped like a stone," he finished. "Another of them was engaging in a little bit of tax fraud, and it was child's play to expose that ... The other two got divorced - one of them with a little nudge in the form of sending his wife some rather incriminating photographs - and I was able to introduce the ex-wives to a lawyer who completely wiped the floor with them."

"Wow, that's fucking savage," Hidan said admiringly.

"I always had got on very much better with my colleagues wives than the bastards themselves..." Kakuzu said. "And it serves them right for having flings every time they went away to medical conferences - they're all at it. Anyway, the whole experience was massively cathartic and after that I was able - to a certain extent - to put the past behind me. To stop dwelling on it, anyway." He held out his forearms, shaking back the silken sleeves of his dressing gown to reveal the pairs of plain tattooed bands on his wrists. "One for each of them," he said. "I don't know why - I've never felt anything like it before or since - but I needed something physical. A physical manifestation of ... recovery, I suppose. Of having dealt with something that had threatened to consume me. I look at these and know that - whatever the situation - I'll find a way to take back control."

Hidan nodded. "I can understand that," he said, trailing a fingertip along one.

"Yes, I dare say you can..." Kakuzu looked at him speculatively for a moment. Hidan hadn't done a ritual - as far as he was aware - since the one on holiday. Kakuzu had been keeping a close eye on his mood all fortnight, and every time he'd seemed stressed or upset he'd made sure to divert his attention to something more wholesome. Mostly sex, he had to admit, which had been surprisingly easy and of course a pleasure. Making sure he got his dinner on time seemed to be important too, and cooking with Hidan perched expectantly beside him had become a bit of a ritual in itself. Sometimes he was even helpful, though there had been a hairy moment when he'd chopped himself instead of an onion, but Kakuzu was pretty sure that had been a genuine accident. He'd still sucked off the blood and offered it up to Jashin with a moment of prayer, but then Kakuzu had distracted him by bandaging him up and kissing him better until one thing had led to another and they were fucking on the work surface again...

"What?" Hidan said, curious, and he realised he was smiling like the cat who'd got the cream.

"Oh nothing," he said. "Just remembering something." And luckily Hidan seemed content to leave it at that.

"Okay, so what happened next?" he asked.

"Well, after 12 years of medical training, I wasn't quite so much of an idiot as to throw it all in without at least trying to ... get back in the saddle. Kim was going out to Bosnia with Medecins Sans Frontieres - mainly as a way to escape from a certain bad break-up I suspect - and he persuaded me to join him."

"Now, Kim took to it like a duck to water - in fact most people seem to come out of experiences like that - harrowing as they can be - with, good lord, deepened compassion and their humanity strengthened…" His words were lightly mocking. "But after a few months mine was barely intact. It just made me realise even more how much I didn't give a crap about helping people anymore; just reinforced all the horrible conclusions I was coming to about human nature. I did six months - the minimum - and ran back to London with my tail between my legs."

He glanced at Hidan - how much talk of Kim is he going to be able to tolerate? But he was just listening quietly, so he carried on.

"Kim stayed out there for three years. He only left Srebrenica when the Bosnian Serb army expelled the UN in '95, and a few months later he was back in the field, in Rwanda this time. He'd still be with them, I think, if he hadn't had some health problems of his own..."

"Anyway, I buried myself in the city and didn't let myself think about anything except finance and making obscene amounts of money. The next time I did more that put a plaster on someone was five years later at the Admiral Duncan. But let's not get into that now. You'd have just been a kid at the time—"

"Seventeen, actually." Hidan cut in. "I was seventeen and fuck, Kakuzu, I was there." He sat up, an expression on his face Kakuzu hadn't seen before. "Shit, were you there when the bomb went off?" he asked, as strange tightness in his voice. "We— fuck, we could've been right beside each other."

Kakuzu just stared at him. "Christ," he said. "Hidan!" Somehow the thought of a terribly young Hidan in that absolute hell was almost unbearable. He could just imagine him, stumbling through the dust and smoke, coughing, choking- The thought that he might have seen him and dismissed him preyed on his mind and for a moment he was on the cusp of replaying his memories of the scene to look for him. He caught himself up just in time. Not a good idea. Particularly not today. He took a deep breath. He needed to stop letting his mind run away with him like this.

"Sorry," he said, his voice suddenly hoarse. "That's ... hard to think about. I was down the street when it happened and I- I-" He shut his eyes tight, a moment. The sudden sour taste in the air. Ears not working properly. Everyone running. Stop thinking about it. Stop it. "You can't imagine how much I want you to have not been there," he said, voice cracking. "At seventeen!"

"Yeah, it was fucked up," Hidan murmured. Still that tightness about him.

They sat in silence for a minute. Kakuzu looked out at the slowly darkening sky. "It was April," he said. An air of melancholy seemed to pervade the room. "So you were only just seventeen."


"You'd been in London less than a month."

"Yeah. Don't get sentimental about it - I was a tough kid."

"I'm not getting sentimental," Kakuzu claimed unconvincingly. "I just. I hope I didn't just ... walk past you."

"Come off it, you were probably saving someone's leg or something. I was fine. I was lucky."

"Yes. But still." He wasn't even quite sure what he was trying to express, so he stopped trying. It was probably a very good thing he hadn't known Hidan when he was seventeen. He would have been far too young for him, and in 1999, with its laws still utterly archaic until a year later, he wouldn't even have been legal. Though he very much doubted that would've been stopping him. And he himself had been at his absolutely lowest point. God knows what kind of damage they would've done to each other - probably enough to ensure that what they had now would have been absolutely off the cards. It would've been a disaster.

All the same, the thought of his internal triage categorising Hidan as 'will survive without care' and not giving him a second thought - as he might very easily have done - was awful. If there could have been a touch - a fleeting point of contact; if he could've been the person to say, 'you'll be okay'; to tell him where to go and what to do, however briefly- But he knew he'd done nothing like that for anyone. He'd been purely practical; efficient, emotionless, cold. And yes, he might well have saved a limb or two, and well as preventing a few deaths from blood loss, but right now the thought that he could've been there for Hidan and he hadn't been seemed to matter more.

Which is stupid, he told himself. It doesn't matter at all, it was just a strange coincidence, and maybe not all that strange, actually, given that it was Friday night in a popular gay pub back when he was new in the city.

He started to wonder what Hidan had looked like back then - and if he would have been as irresistibly drawn to him then as he was now. Maybe not - he'd have been far too young... wouldn't he? "Was your hair already turning grey back then?" he asked, running his fingers through it, forcing himself back to the present.

"It was well on it's way, yeah." Hidan touched it too. "It got kind of singed off in the blast actually - came back even greyer."

Kakuzu stiffened. He was inside when the bomb went off then. "Does it run in your family?" he asked, to distract himself.

"Yeah, apparently my dad had it." Hidan got up and went to look down into the street; he very clearly didn't want to talk about this, and Kakuzu - who could think of a lot of reasons why that might be so - didn't push it. Hidan's dad was really just about the last thing he wanted to think about too.

He followed him to the window, and brushed lightly along his cheekbone with the backs of his fingers.

"Hey," he said gently. "It's beautiful, wherever it came from."

"I know." Hidan cracked a jokey smile, eyes sliding away.

"And it's so ... silky... Isn't white hair supposed to be coarser?" Kakuzu leant in towards him, stroked through it again, not letting him laugh off the compliment.

"The fuck would you know about it? - you don't even have a single fucking one!" Hidan's smile was more natural now, though; he was warming up to the attention.

"Yes, I'm not very distinguished, I'm afraid..."

Hidan turned to look into Kakuzu's face. "My mum would've reckoned you were distinguished as fuck," he said. "She'd've fucking loved you."

"I hope she'd have been right to," Kakuzu said softly, taking his face between his hands. "I know you get fed up of my paranoia about hurting you, but just thinking about what might have happened if I'd met you back then-"

"Nah, I was fucking adorable, you'd've broken your hand before you'd hurt me!"

"I'd still break my hand before I'd hurt you," Kakuzu said. It was out of his mouth before he'd even realised he was thinking it, and he almost blushed because it was so over the top, well... romantic... Even the tone of his voice was over-romantic. But even as he said it he knew it was true. He was helpless. Disarmed. Declawed.

"I know you would." Hidan took the injured hand and kissed lightly over the knuckles. His eyes turned up to Kakuzu's, a lingering, sensual look that had his heart racing again. Well, if he was going to get ridiculously emotional they seemed to be on the same page at least...

"Is it feeling better now?" Hidan murmured, a husky note in his voice that made Kakuzu's stomach flip.

"It's fine," he said gently, catching Hidan's chin in his hand for a moment, running a finger briefly over his bottom lip. Only a slight twinge...

Hidan turned to push up the sash window; the smell of the flowering climber that was colonising the neighbours' wall wafted in. "It's cleared up," he said. "It looks like a nice evening now."

Kakuzu put his arm around him. "It does. Do you ... want to go out somewhere?" He didn't remotely want to, but he felt like if he was with Hidan it could be alright. It could be tolerated.

"Nah." Hidan turned in to him, slipping his arms around his waist. "Not tonight."

A ridiculous level of relief coursed through him. "What do you want to eat?" he asked.

"Steak," Hidan said without hesitation.

Kakuzu laughed. "Well, that's easy then," he said. He took Hidan's hand and led him towards the door. "Let's do it now, before you get too hungry ... and difficult..."

"Oh, you think I'm going to get naughty, huh?"

"You're always naughty." Kakuzu gave him a playful slap on the behind. "I will allow you the euphemism of 'tired and emotional' if you prefer, though... Just because you're so sweet to me..."

His hand lingered there caressively and Hidan giggled, hanging onto the bannisters and swinging round to face him. "Ohh, you want to fuck again already, don't you? Fucking admit it..."

"No, I want you to eat your dinner..." Kakuzu said calmly.

"Man... you've got a boner, haven't you? I can tell."

"Well... maybe a very slight one..." Kakuzu was entirely straight-faced. "I am touching you, after all..."

He couldn't remember ever having felt this peaceful after thinking about his past, and Hidan, while you couldn't exactly say he was calm, that awful tension had abated. He caught him around the waist to stop him accidentally hurling himself down the stairs, and breathed out a sigh that wasn't quite all contentment, but getting there. Tomorrow would be a full day, the last day before Hidan's catwalk debut. They'd probably barely see each other. He'd have to make the most of him now.

Chapter Text

2am on Friday morning, and Hidan crawled exhausted into Kakuzu's bed beside its sleeping owner. The fittings for Yugito's show tomorrow evening - no, this evening now, he reminded himself wearily - had run way over. Way, way, over, but apparently that was normal in this unholy hell of an industry. Suigetsu, wired on cocaine and coffee, had been telling him horror stories about it all night. He snuggled down, fitting himself into the curve of Kakuzu's body, and felt Kakuzu's arm go over him, a hand curling possessive fingers around his wrist, and he wanted to tell him all about it too.

Kakuzu nuzzled sleepily against the back of his neck. "Mm..." he grunted into his hair, clearly not really awake at all, "Hidan..." Hidan pressed back against him a little; he wondered if he could wake him - he wanted to - but after another moment he'd joined him in sleep instead.

He was vaguely aware of Kakuzu getting up at six, of lips brushing against his forehead, deep voice making words he couldn't quite wake up enough to decipher. Then the excited barking of the dogs as they left for their walk, or came back, or both maybe; he couldn't be sure. By the time his alarm finally jerked him rudely into full wakefulness Kakuzu was long gone.

He left the house in cool bright sunshine that held the promise of a beautiful day. He didn't need to be at the Shoreditch warehouse - where he'd be walking for Yugito that evening - until eleven, but he didn't feel like staying around the house without Kakuzu there. Only a day without it and he was already missing their morning run together. He smiled a little ruefully, remembering yesterday's; thinking about how he'd licked a salty trail up Kakuzu's spine between his shoulder blades as he'd followed him into the shower, how Kakuzu had turned and tilted his face up again to kiss him hard on the mouth like he was laying claim, pinning him against the wet tiles, kissing him and touching him until he was gasping and laughing and - like always - crazy for him, just fucking crazy for him.

He'd given himself butterflies just thinking about it and smiled ruefully as he unlocked his bike from the railings. He paused a moment, trying to make up his mind whether to ride across the Heath or wriggle through the small one-way streets. He felt so unsettled, somehow, and it wasn't just the butterflies. His head hadn't really been in the right place for the last few days and he felt stressed-out and nervy. He'd go to the gym, he thought, until it was time to head to Shoreditch. Maybe a fast cycle and a hard workout would make him feel a bit more normal.

But before he'd wheeled his bike off the kerb a fat grey cat who'd been sitting regally on the little wall by Kisame's gate stalked across the road and jumped up onto Kakuzu's car next to him. "Mrrraouuw," it said - low and pedigree-sounding. Hidan held out his hand and it sniffed him imperiously, then rubbed its head firmly against his knuckles.

"Ah, you are fucking plushy, aren't you?" he cooed, scratching it under the chin and feeling the rumble of a purr starting up. He sat down beside it on the bonnet, something that would have earned him a stern glare from Kakuzu - and possibly something a little more physical too; just thinking about it made him ache with longing. "Aren't you just the plushiest fat fuck?" he said to the cat, to distract himself. "Yeah you are. Yeah you are!"

He went in confidently for a stroke - but a split second later he was snatching his hand away, yelping in pain and surprise as the cat hissed and swiped at him, claws bared, purring doing a swift volte-face into throaty growling. He wasn't quite in time either - she caught his retreating finger with a nasty little hooky, gouging motion.

"Ow!" he said indignantly, sucking his bleeding finger and backing away a few paces. "The fuck?! What the fuck's your problem?!" He stared accusingly at it and it held his gaze for a moment with disconcertingly yellow eyes, then jumped down off the car and walked arrogantly back across the road, plumy tail waving.

He took his finger out of his mouth to examine it - it was bleeding quite freely and it hurt like a bitch. He winced, and hissed as he experimentally tried to bend his finger and the cut opened a little. Fucking revolting, but kind of irresistible at the same time. He let a few drops fall onto the pavement and started to feel a little more relaxed, then. Jashin had him. Jashin was with him. He closed his eyes and felt the world retreat a moment. When he opened them again everything felt easier - even the time until the evening didn't seem like such a desert expanse anymore. He took a deep breath as reached for his rosary.

But just as he'd started to pray - and abruptly breaking his spiritual mood - Kisame emerged from his basement wearing a ridiculously short dressing gown and an almost aggressively apologetic demeanour. "Samehada, no! Bad girl!" he addressed the cat, who ignored him and stalked past into his kitchen. "Fuck, I'm so sorry, Hidan; please, never touch Samehada, she can't bear to be touched by anyone but me! I'd forgotten I hadn't warned you!" He was holding some damp kitchen towel and a box of plasters which he proffered placatingly. "I'm so sorry!' he repeated.

"It's okay man..." Hidan said dreamily. He was still watching the drops of blood dry on the tarmac. He didn't do anything about his cut finger, so after a moment Kisame began to dab doubtfully at it with his wad of tissue.

"Hidan?" he said, peering into his face. "You all there, mate?"

"What?" Hidan shook his head a little and took the tissue from him. "Yeah, yeah, just ... didn't get too much sleep last night, I'm still a bit wrecked..."

Kisame selected a large plaster for him and pulled off the paper wrapper. "Ah, I feel you, I took Itachi out to Heathrow at 5am so I didn't get much myself. I thought I'd be able to get back to sleep but no such luck."

"Huh?" Hidan taped the sticky part of the plaster directly onto the cut so it wouldn't have a chance to reopen. "Where's he going? He well enough to fly then?"

"That Kabuto guy pulled some strings to get him into a medical trial in the US." Kisame leaned broodingly on the top of Kakuzu's car. "He's not great but they gave him a hefty whack of some really hard hitting antibiotics for the pneumonia and it seemed like too good an opportunity to miss."

"Fuck..." Hidan said expressively. "Well, good luck to him." He looked at Kisame with a little more attention. He was unshaven and his eyes looked a little bloodshot. Hidan thought he could probably use some distance from Itachi right now. "Hey, you should come along tonight!" he said, on impulse. "I guess your fashion editor's been sent a couple of invites..."

"Ah..." Kisame looked shifty. "Maybe. I mean, I'd love to see you strut your stuff, of course I would! But. Look. We'll see. It'll throw the seating plan into disarray if I RSVP now, won't it? Yugito's publicist will throw her toys out of the pram..."

Hidan laughed darkly. "Fucking hell, man, these people, fucking nothing's ready, we haven't even seen the venue yet, and the measurements will probably turn out to be bullshit and all - I'd say late RSVPs are probably the least of Samui's worries!"

It occurred to him after he'd cycled off and left Kisame halfway down the street that the real reason he wasn't committing was because he'd see Suigetsu there. He'd clearly been avoiding him, and Suigetsu wasn't happy. He had a vague memory of him - after a lot of coke and G - asking him plaintively how many unanswered texts was too many, and having answered with maybe quite brutal incredulity, 'one, man...'

And thinking of the slew of texts he tended to send Kakuzu before even expecting an answer, he felt a little bad for the poor kid.

He had a fleeting thought of going to the gym after the rehearsal instead and catching Suigetsu for a quick chat before they began. It was supposed to finish at four after all, so technically there was time. But he supposed it was possible that they might overrun and he was hoping to get back in time to see Kakuzu for an hour or so when he was back from work - before heading out again for the show itself - so now was better. He stood up in the saddle and powered up the hill onto the Heath.

Suigetsu would probably have been able to tell him that things were pretty unlikely to work out that way, but Hidan's inexperience in working on the runway had led him to place rather more faith in the schedule than perhaps he should have done. At four o'clock there still wasn't actually a physical runway in the warehouse; only one of Hidan's looks was completed, and some pieces of apparently crucial hand-embroidered fabric hadn't yet been delivered. Everyone was exhausted and irritable and jacked up on whatever stimulants they could lay their hands on. By five things weren't much better, and by five thirty it was clear there was no way anyone was going to be making it home.

Kakuzu's phone rang just as he was leaving the office.

"Kakuzu?" Hidan's voice sounded seriously pissed off. "Ah, man... This fucking blows. We're not done. Some of the fucking material hasn't even arrived! So basically I'm not going to get home before the show. Yugito's fucking sewn me into some fucking crazy thing she dreamt up in the night and I don't even know where my shoes are anymore. And people keep sticking pins in me."

Kakuzu perched on the edge of his desk and looked out over the City. He surprised himself by just how much the thought of not seeing Hidan until the evening brought him down - it felt like they'd barely managed a five minute conversation since the day of Sasori's funeral.

"Oh, love, what a drag," he said, trying to keep his disappointment out of his voice because Hidan sounded dejected enough already. He looked at his watch. "Shall I come and see you where you are?" he offered.

"Yes!" Kakuzu couldn't help a smile at the naked delight in Hidan's tone. "Yes! And fucking hell, Kakuzu, bring me some food - I haven't had any lunch and I feel like I'm gonna fucking die!"

"You haven't had lunch?" Kakuzu was indignant. "Don't they take any care of you at all? What is wrong with these people?"

"Fashion people, man. They don't understand. The food that's here isn't real food; it's all fucking vegan or some shit! And I fucking worked out this morning any everything! I fucking need protein! Protein that isn't lentils! I'm about to go into autophagy or some shit!"

"Don't panic, love, I've got you," Kakuzu said calmly, going through a mental list of places in the vicinity that sold food. It was pretty limited; a Costa was probably his best bet. "What do you want?" he asked.

"Anything," Hidan said tragically. "I can't think! I can't remember what real food is! How long will you be?"

Half an hour later Kakuzu strode into the warehouse, cheese and ham panini in hand. He paused a moment to let his eyes adjust from the brightness outside. The heavy door clanged shut behind him, muting the noise of the three lanes of traffic on Great Eastern Street, and he squinted a little as he began to make out the outlines of arched brickwork and metal beams. There was a little flight of semi-circular steps directly ahead of him and he climbed up them, then hesitated again.

Racks of clothes everywhere, people milling around, and no sign of any kind of catwalk - just a massive pile of scaffolding and deconstructed staging. Kakuzu looked at his watch. Less than three hours until the show began; he couldn't imagine how they could possibly pull it all together in time. Was this what fashion was always like? He couldn't imagine Konan having Akatsuki Gallery in a state like this on the day of an opening. No wonder Hidan had been so stressed out for the last two days.

He caught sight of him halfway across the room, surrounded by seamstresses and stylists, one half of his face smeared artistically in black and white body paint, an expression of long-suffering forbearance clearly visible even so. Watching him in silence for a moment, Kakuzu didn't immediately notice Suigetsu Houzuki slide up beside him.

Oh hi, Kakuzu," he said casually. Kakuzu looked down with a start. "You looking for Hidan?" He gave him a sharp-toothed grin and didn't wait for an answer, yelling raucously across the venue, "Oi, Hidan! Daddy's here!"

Hidan's head snapped up, causing one of the make-up artists to accidentally smear a streak of black across his left cheekbone. "That's grandpa to you, fuckboy!" he called back, not missing a beat and hurling a pincushion not particularly accurately at Suigetsu's head. "Kakuzu, man! Over here!"

Suigetsu giggled, then ducked out of the way and vanished as a cool female voice cut through the shocked chatter - an unmistakeable voice of command. "Boys! Behave!"

It was Yugito Nii herself, stalking around in killer high heels; distracted for a moment from talking rapidly into her phone, but back to it as soon as the buzz of frenzied activity resumed. "Bee, can you bring it over yourself?" Kakuzu heard her say. It was another command - very unconvincingly dressed up as a plea. "Honestly, I need it two hours ago! Half the looks are probably going to end up stapled together-" She broke off again as she saw him. "Hold on a sec," she murmured, and then she was all focused on him, her phone thrust at an assistant, striding towards him, clacking heels loud on the polished concrete floor.

"Kakuzu Taki!" she said, holding out both her hands, intense but unsmiling. "How fabulous to have you here! We've met once before I think..."

Kakuzu remembered it only too well; he had a sudden visceral recall of the way her cigarette butt had fizzled out in the discarded wine glass he'd dropped it into - having snatched it from her fingertips a split second before it could make contact with Hidan's bare chest. Hidan, dripping with red wine and laughing; Yugito a white hot fury. That elation and adrenaline he'd felt as Hidan hung off his arm for balance, dodging the follow-up swipe of her knife-like red-painted nails and cackling like a lunatic. (Had he been subconsciously flexing his guns just a little so Hidan would feel it through his shirt sleeve and be suitably impressed...? Of course he had - and they twitched again now just at the thought...) But he made sure to keep his face as impassive as ever as he took Yugito's hands and not-quite-kissed her scented cheek. "Lovely to meet you again Yugito," he said smoothly. "Can I borrow Hidan for ten minutes? I'll bring him back, I promise."

"Ladies, get the piece off Hidan - we need to start finalising now anyway," Yugito called over to her team in answer. From a little silver case she extracted one of the same thin black cigarettes he remembered so clearly, and lit it up with a long slow drag. "You're coming tonight, aren't you, Kakuzu?" she demanded; cool and imperious, but there was something kind of hungry about her at the same time. Kakuzu wondered how she'd react if he said no. Not well, he suspected.

"Wouldn't miss it," he said instead, on autopilot, stepping back a little and starting to move away - he knew how Hidan felt about the smell of tobacco smoke. He watched him being carefully extracted from his pinned together garment and noted the fanatical hollow-eyed look about him that was a sure indicator of a fragile mood. But as he reached him he brightened. He flung on his dressing gown and grabbed a handful of wet wipes from one of Yugito's assistants, massaging his stiff shoulder muscles and grimacing.

"Can I get this shit off now, Yugito?" he called, gesturing at his face.

"Go for it, darling," Yugito called back, already on the phone again.

"C'mere," he said, grabbing hold of Kakuzu's hand and pulling him over to a smaller metal door which presumably led backstage. Already scrubbing at the make-up as he elbowed it open, he led Kakuzu down a flight of stairs and into a dressing room with subway tiles on the walls and a lighter feel. Hidan's bike was there, leaning against some folded trestle tables, as well as various belongings and bags. But thankfully, no other people. Hidan flung himself dramatically into a metal folding chair and Kakuzu handed him his sandwich. Unfolding another chair from a stack by the door he sat down next to him, took the wipes out of his hand and started to clean him up a little more efficiently as he ate.

"Ah, I'm so fucking glad you're here," Hidan said, mouth full. "I thought I wouldn't see you til I went on the runway."

"You should've called before!" Kakuzu chided him. "I could've cancelled my last meeting, it wasn't even-" He broke off, suddenly catching sight of the plaster on Hidan's free hand. He snatched it up. "What's this?"

"Ah, man, Kisame's cat! It's a fucking psychopath."

"Kisame has a cat?" Kakuzu frowned, prodding Hidan's fingertip to check the circulation was normal. Perhaps he had known that, though. Perhaps, actually, Kisame had mentioned a cat one time - somebody feeding it for him while he was down at the coast or some such throwaway detail. And given that Kakuzu always had his dogs with him when he passed, maybe it wasn't surprising that he'd never seen the creature.

"Yeh, man," Hidan said indistinctly. "A fat fucking bastard like a fucking feline seal." He wriggled around in his seat and laid himself down across Kakuzu's lap, balancing his legs up on the back of the chair. "Kisame's acting like a grade-A clagnut about Suigetsu, man," he opined. "He won't come tonight because he's avoiding him."

"Well, Suigetsu's ever so young, isn't he?" Kakuzu had some sympathy with Kisame there. "I thought you felt the same - it's hardly appropriate for Kisame to-"

But Hidan had evidently changed his mind. "Nah, he's grown on me - he's my little buddy now!" he declared. "He's a good kid. Almost everyone else here is an arsehole, though," he added as though it had some bearing on the matter. "There's one particular twat - stylist who thinks he's some kind of hotshot - always up in my shit, made the fittings this morning take ten times as fucking long as they should..."

"Mmm," Kakuzu said soothingly. He found a clean patch of wet wipe and smoothed doubtfully at Hidan's cheekbone. "This stuff is tenacious..." he said.

"Ugh, tell me about it," Hidan moaned. "They've been fucking about with the horrible shit all day!" He gestured towards his rucksack, slung over the handlebars of his bike. "Grab my bag, there's a moisturiser in it somewhere. That might work better."

It did, and having got Hidan decently clean - as well as ridiculously soft and smooth - Kakuzu did his best to make a comfortable surface for him to relax on for five minutes. He wished he could just take him home, and had to remind himself not to be so ridiculously over-protective, even if it did seem to be the adjective du jour for him. Almost every news site this morning had been plastered with leaked pictures from Sasori's funeral, with particular focus on himself blocking the punch of Shikamaru Nara's friend; Hidan next to him, wild-eyed and avid with bloodlust - an expression almost universally misinterpreted as grief-stricken shock. He wondered if Hidan had seen them yet.

Whatever the reason, it seemed he couldn't settle. He was full of nervous energy, and after eating little more than a quarter of his sandwich he dropped the rest back into the bag and got up, and paced restlessly.

Kakuzu got up too. "Hidan?" he said, carefully, because the way Hidan was looking up at him now - uncharacteristically serious, his eyes shining with a fanatical light - he was just in no doubt at all it meant trouble. "Aren't you hungry anymore?" he asked. "You haven't eaten much."

"I don't know, man," Hidan said dismissively. "I probably need to let it settle for a bit. I guess I let myself get too hungry."

Kakuzu thought it was very likely an emotional rather than a physical loss of appetite, but before he could think of the best way to approach calming him down, Hidan had changed the subject.

"Kakuzu, man, I need to talk to you about something..." he said, an edge of nervous excitement in his voice that made Kakuzu's heart sink and skip at the some time.

"What is it, Hidan?" he said warily.

"I need to do a ritual. A full one. I've been wondering what the fuck's wrong with me all day - well, it's that."

Kakuzu nodded slowly, as noncommittally as he could, and hoped very much that Hidan didn't mean now.

But it seemed he wasn't quite that crazy. "I'll have to do it after the show, now," he said, and sighed. "I've been on fucking edge all day..."

Kakuzu crossed over to him and slipped an arm around his waist. On second thoughts, if Hidan had been intending to do it immediately his duty to talk him down would have been clear ... now he didn't really have any recourse to try and stop this. "I'm sure I can help you out there," he murmured, trying anyway. "I usually get you pretty relaxed, don't I..?"

"Ah, man, nothing else is going to work by this point," Hidan said, wriggling away a little. "And don't think I having fucking noticed what you've been up to..."

Kakuzu coloured slightly. He hadn't thought he'd been rumbled yet. At least Hidan didn't seem angry about it, but, "You can't blame me for not wanting you hurt," he muttered awkwardly, looking away. No matter the extenuating circumstances - or how much of a long shot the advance had been in the first place - the sting of sexual rejection was clearly one of life's little constants and he felt it now, even knowing full well how ridiculous it was.

"Ah, Kakuzu..." Hidan took his face between his hands, and he was smiling now. "I'm not going to be 'hurt', I'll be in communion with God. I'll be in His hands-" He kissed Kakuzu on the mouth, slowly and sensually. "It'll be fucking beautiful, you'll see."

Kakuzu, finding himself quite shaken by the faraway intensity in his eyes, was barely able to respond. Hidan kissed him again, his hands locking together at the back of his neck, even more insistent. "Shit, I'm so fucking happy you want to be there," he whispered.

Kakuzu pushed him back a little, a hand on his chest to keep him down, feeling the excited thump of his heartbeat. "Calm down, Hidan," he said flatly. "You know how I feel. I want to be there to make sure you don't bleed to death, that's all." He turned away again to avoid the religious fervour still beaming out of him, but Hidan's hand was at his cheek again, pulling him back around.

"It's okay." His voice was loaded with understanding. "I get it. I do. You've only seen rituals where things've got a bit fucked up. That's not how it should be." He gave a little bounce on the balls of his feet. "This one's gonna be different!

Kakuzu frowned. "You can't know that. What makes you so sure, anyway?"

"Trust, man! Faith!" Hidan's eyes lit up. "When I need to do it so much I can't resist any longer, I know He'll be there to hold me til I'm done. I'm in His sight, always. And sure, He's not always going to call me when it's most convenient. But He's got me. I know you don't like the idea, but every time I've messed up, it's led me back to you. How can you not believe that's part of a bigger plan? Jashin loves you. He's holding you as well, even if you don't know it yet."

"Hidan..." Kakuzu, shaking his head, began to accept that he couldn't just evade this. He put his hand over Hidan's. "You crazy, messed up kid," he murmured, as gently as he could manage. "As far as I'm concerned 'Jashin' ranks with Father Christmas and the tooth fairy, and you know that isn't going to change."

Hidan put his fingertips over his mouth. "Don't blaspheme," he said. "Jashin forgives you though. You know His suffering; and He sees that." He picked up his rosary. "I'm just going to pray that you'll come to know His peace as well..."

He closed his eyes, immediately radiating angelic beauty. Kakuzu sighed. Hidan was so excited, so keyed up. It was true, this was a different kind of run-up to the ritual than he'd seen before. He caught himself on the verge of thinking maybe it's okay then. Then reeled himself back in. It's not okay. Really, not okay.

"Alright, stop praying for me now, love," he said, taking Hidan's rosary hand away from his mouth. "I've got to go in a minute if I'm going to have time to walk the dogs and get back for the show. And I just wanted to-"

He didn't bother with any more talking; he couldn't quite put into words exactly what he it was wanted to do anyway. He just needed a moment with him without anything in between them. He leant in so that his lips just brushed against Hidan's where the rosary had been, then he was kissing him gently, almost tentatively - since Hidan knew what he was up to - but as he pulled back to look at him, to check that this was okay, he saw that he'd come out of his reverie and the angelic look had vanished. It was being swiftly and incongruously replaced with a wicked grin.

"Oh fuck... Ohh fuuuuck..." he murmured, pressing against Kakuzu. "After the show; and the fucking after party; and the ritual... man, I am so ready for you to fuck me halfway into next week..."

"Only halfway...?" Kakuzu kissed him again, with more authority now. "That's a - very - crowded schedule, love. Maybe our lives are too busy..." His hand smoothed down along Hidan's lapel, flicking open the fastenings with practised fingers. "I'm not sure about being fourth on your to-do list..."

"Yeah..." Hidan agreed. "I'm not going to do any of the others the way I'm gonna do you though!"

"Well that's a comfort," Kakuzu said drily, raising a sarcastic eyebrow - then promptly ruined the effect by getting his hands inside Hidan's dressing gown and giving a involuntary groan of desire at the first feel of him. "Ohh. I've missed you today," he whispered. "I just want to take you home..."

"Ahh, don't get me too excited or Yugito'll have to make even more fucking alterations..." Hidan smirked, sliding himself against Kakuzu in a way that was very unlikely to help either of them keep their composure.

"Oh, I see, it's all my fault, is it?" Kakuzu trailed a fingertip along Hidan's spine. "You're really very, very excitable this afternoon altogether..." He slipped his fingers under the waistband of Hidan's boxers. "Can't you bump me up the list a bit? Do we really have to go to this after-party...?"

"Yugito'll probably cry if we don't. Or maybe burn me. I think she wants to show you off as much as me..."

"Mmm. She'd better not try anything," Kakuzu said darkly. "She shouldn't think I've forgotten that little stunt. And I really don't make such a nice exhibit as you do..."

"Oh don't be coy, baby, you know getting you on the front row was massive for her. Makes her feel like a real fucking artist..."

There was a definite spring in Hidan's step as they emerged back through the side door, and Kakuzu was reasonably hopeful that he'd done enough to get him through the rest of the afternoon. But while his mood was undeniably upbeat now, there was something so off about him - something kind of manic in his energy - and Kakuzu could see him flipping the other way horribly easily. But looking over his shoulder one last time before he slipped out of the warehouse into the heat and noise of Great Eastern Street, he watched him vault easily up onto the runway that was now well on the way to completion and strut up towards a slightly less anxious-looking Yugito.

"I'm... too sexy for my love, too sexy for my love; love's going to leave me..." he intoned in as deep and husky a voice as he could manage, and she turned and laughed.

"Shake that little tush then, darling," she said. "Here's your catwalk! Or half of it, at least!"

Hidan draped a languid arm around her shoulders. "We've decided we're both too sexy for your party, by the way..." he teased, that slight arch note in his tone he only ever used when talking to women, Kakuzu had noticed. "We've got better plans..."

"Oh shut up, you're not getting out of it." She aimed a playful slap at his hand; he whisked it away from her. "Now go back to wardrobe and get Look One on - they should be finished with it by now. We're going to run the set, starting in five."

Chapter Text

As Kakuzu headed up to the Heath to walk his dogs, Konan was stepping with some trepidation into a branch of Wetherspoons on Old Street. 'The Masque Haunt' - as it styled itself - wasn't the kind of establishment she was used to frequenting; it smelt a bit of stale gravy, and seemed to be populated largely by unattractively ageing men whose heads made a brief turn from the television screens at her entrance. But that wasn't the problem - after all, she was at heart still the same girl who, at fourteen, had blagged her way to getting all three of them served in the grottiest old-man pubs in Merthyr with various cunningly made fake IDs. But Nagato had asked her to meet Tobi here, and they both knew a request from Tobi wasn't something she could very well refuse.

She spotted him in a little side booth, waving amiably at her - and to add to her unease there was a woman with him who she recognised as one of Nagato's pet Akatsuki Magazine columnists. In fact, she'd sent her up to Nagato herself a few years ago as an inexperienced young journalist. Since then she'd made quite a name for herself as an interviewer; she'd done a pretty devastating hatchet-job on an ex-tutor from Goldsmiths only a few months ago...

"You know Ajisai, don't you Konan!" Tobi said excitedly. "She's doing a feature on your old friend Jiraiya Gama for the magazine! She wants to hear all about when he was your art teacher!"

Konan sat down and didn't say anything for a moment. One look at Tobi was enough to confirm the angle he wanted for this. She felt a little sick, but then all the old anger came surging back up, and, he deserves it, she let herself think. She thought of her own train wreck of a personal life, of Yahiko's shattered dreams, of Nagato's bitterness. Sending Tobi to the bar to get her a gin and tonic, she leant her elbows on the table and started telling Ajisai everything. Starting with that icebreaker disco, and working every nuance, every touch, every closed door and ill-advised compliment and finally his parting words to her - 'come and see me when you're eighteen' - for maximum damage.

An hour out on the Heath with his dogs had gone some way towards dispelling Kakuzu's nagging sense of unease, but by the time he was back in the warehouse - sitting in the 'front row' and waiting for the show to begin - it was beginning to regroup.

The front row at men's fashion week wasn't somewhere he'd ever expected to find himself - after all, he'd had all his suits handmade by the same Savile Row tailor for the last decade. He briefly entertained the idea that perhaps it was simply the unfamiliarity of the setting that was bothering him but that was rubbish, really. Kakuzu wasn't the type to be bothered by his surroundings.

'Irritated' was a whole other ball game though. A few sidelong glances showed him that all around people were talking with exaggerated intensity about what seemed to him the utterly inane and banal. They all seemed to greet each other with the kind of social kisses he particularly hated, but none of them seemed to even like each other. And the amount of subtle undermining that was going on! Well, he could almost admire their prowess at that. He'd been pretty expert at it himself during all his previous relationships... and if he'd been in the mood for excoriating honesty he'd have had to admit that he'd been guilty of doing it to Hidan a fair few times as well.

Pushing that thought out of his head, he looked determinedly straight ahead of him and allowed himself to fantasise about ways to escape this horrendous situation. An urgent call, perhaps? A deal that couldn't wait? A once in a lifetime chance to acquire something fabulously rare..? A Hashirama Senju perhaps. Hidan would of course be angry with him - and deservedly so - so it would have to be an excuse that would stand up. He'd have to actually find a Hashirama to buy, and then probably give it to him... The idea made him smile for a moment, but he quickly schooled his features back into their habitual forbidding expression in case anyone saw it as an opening and tried to engage him in conversation.

He looked at his watch; the show was now running more than ten minutes behind schedule. Kakuzu hated waiting and his fingertips started to beat a subconscious tattoo on the arm of his chair. He risked glancing around to see if there was any sign of the show getting underway.

But he wasn't surreptitious enough, and a massive guy with bleached cornrows managed to make eye contact. He was very obviously dressed head to foot in couture - of the type that most people would consider a catwalk-only look - and, horrifyingly, instead of letting his eyes slide decently away with the merest of nods as Kakuzu was doing, he leant in and started nodding with a really disturbing amount of rhythm.

"Yeahh, keep that beat going..." he grinned.

Kakuzu immediately froze, but his new acquaintance was unperturbed, and - after a prolonged pause in which his whole body seemed to pulse to the now non-existent beat - spoke to him in what seemed to be some kind of loosely rhyming doggerel. "Man, a brother on the front row, makes a change from fashion crows, yo; I haven't had the pleasure of an introduction homie, but I know you from the street - lets not stand on ceremony!"

And before Kakuzu had quite processed what was happening to him, the guy was actually fist-bumping him. He had no idea how it was that his own hand was responding in kind - it seemed to have been an automatic reflex. He was uncomfortably aware of the flash of a camera flash at the edge of his vision and tried hard not to think about tomorrow morning's front pages.

"You ... have the advantage of me, I'm afraid," he said, his tone as chilly and repressive as he could make it- although actually the man did look familiar.

"Call me Bee - Killer Bee - you mighta heard my name," his new friend was continuing, seemingly oblivious to Kakuzu's discomfort. "I have to run a fashion house but rapping is my game."

It wasn't so much the having to listen to the awful rhymes as the continuing to exist afterwards - and more specifically to exist in conversation with their creator; Kakuzu wanted the ground to swallow him up. "Forgive me, I'm not really very familiar with - uh - rap music..." he stated, making it sound as damning as he possibly could.

Killer Bee wasn't done though. "I'm a musician, yeah, of my own volition - people say focus on the fashion but I ain't gonna listen!"

"I'm ... really not enough of a connoisseur of the genre to be able to fully appreciate your... uh... your..." Kakuzu claimed, desperately hoping this would be enough to persuade Killer Bee to stop. But no.

"Come along, Kakuzu, don't be shy!" he replied, utterly unperturbed. "You might be reserved but I think you're pretty fly! You're art scene nobility, exuding virility, hanging with a crowd that's into social mobility. The other collectors better watch their backs -

"Their net worth is less than my capital gains tax?" Kakuzu suggested drily, finally deciding that all resistance was futile.

"Fucking-A man!" Killer Bee seemed delighted and burst out laughing. "Kakuzu, Kakuzu, Kakuzu!" he said, shaking his head. "Not such a novice after all, are you?"

"I can assure you I'm as ignorant as they come," Kakuzu demurred with the tiniest hint of a smile. His own foray into rhyme seemed to have improved his mood a little - and perhaps he also felt better for having someone to talk to who wasn't trying to kiss him. He allowed himself to thaw a little. "Though I'll admit to reading a lot of poetry. We're ... neighbours, aren't we?" he added, suddenly placing Bee in his memory. "I've seen you around Parliament Hill..?"

"We are indeed!" Bee agreed. "I'm just around the corner from you in Tanza Road - in fact I can see your house from my doorstep! I know because I always notice you coming out in the morning with your beautiful dogs. Ah, man, I love animals, I'd love to have pets of my own, but my schedule takes me away such a lot..."

"Mm-hmm?" Kakuzu opted for a vaguely questioning but noncommittal demeanour but Bee didn't elaborate.

"... there's a beautiful grey cat in the neighbourhood who's kind of adopted me though..." he was saying instead, with a fond smile, "but she's very independent. I'm not even sure where she goes half the week but she's a total sweetheart - ever so cuddly!"

"Is that so," Kakuzu murmured. He didn't consider himself a cat person - particularly after the damage Kisame's demon in feline form had done to Hidan that morning - but he was saved from having to say so by the house lights beginning to dim. Out of the gloom - just in time - Konan was suddenly slipping into the seat next to him. She squeezed his hand.

"Sorry I'm so late!" she whispered. That made Kakuzu begin to wonder why she was. The gallery was only round the corner and one might almost call punctuality one of Konan's defining features. Something must surely have come up.

But before he could ask the lights dimmed further and a sort of pulsing sound made him think there was some kind of alarm going off on the street outside, or maybe a lorry reversing- then it was joined by a sort of metallic descending grind. By the time he'd figured out it was the screech of an electric guitar, a floodlight effect was bathing the runway, then dropping to an almost strobing flicker before a spotlight picked out the top of a sort of scaffold at the far end of the warehouse. And there was Hidan, black and white smeared down one side of his face like a smudged handprint, like some kind of grim reaper. He was also on his bike - or some kind of BMX version of it, anyway - and suddenly Kakuzu's heart was in his mouth. There was only one way he could go from there. His palms tingled and his heart seemed to swoop down into the pit of his stomach. He could kill Hidan for not warning him about this!

Konan was squeezing his arm. 'There's a brand new dance but I don't know it's name-' came the unmistakable voice of David Bowie and on cue Hidan was riding full tilt down the scaffold staircase. Kakuzu wanted to close his eyes but he physically couldn't. Every nerve in his body was straining to follow Hidan's every move. You're going to kill yourself! he was screaming inside, and someone actually did scream as Hidan hurtled down the runway and stopped dead with half the front wheel over the end. He was motionless for a moment, staring unseeingly over the crowd, then abruptly pulled a wheelie and hopped the bike around, then cast it casually aside. 'We are the goon squad and we're coming to town... beep beep...' sang Bowie and suddenly Kakuzu noticed what looked like other male models completely in the buff - but probably wearing nude body stockings - swarming up onto the runway. They surged after Hidan in a kind of commando-crawl, grasping for his heels as he worked his way back along the catwalk and vanished through a dark scaffold arch under the staircase.

As Kakuzu calmed down a little he realised he was experiencing another of those bouts of arrhythmia. Quite a prolonged one this time. Perhaps he wasn't looking too good either, because Konan was asking him in a whisper, "are you alright, Kakuzu?"

But he didn't answer, because Hidan was back - on the other side of the stairs where there must be another doorway - looking over his shoulder with an almost comical attitude of alarm. He had another smear of black and white down the other cheekbone. Kakuzu didn't even notice if his outfit had changed at all, but he took a deep breath and did manage to relax slightly. The music was now a kind of electrofunk remix of the Bowie song and it seemed that things might be more like a regular fashion show now. Suigetsu appeared behind Hidan - dressed now - and after him a steady stream of other models, all of them with their hair styled like Hidan's and echoes of the streaks of facepaint. Even to Kakuzu's un-fashion-educated eye they were clearly wearing variations of the look that Hidan was leading with. He started to calm down a little more and patted Konan's hand reassuringly, taking the opportunity to detach it from his arm.

"Well, that's put about twenty years on me," he murmured, attempting a wry tone. "What's a fashion show doing trying to be so radical?" The wry tone didn't really come off that well. And he wasn't feeling much better yet to be honest; breathless and sweaty. Unwillingly, he admitted to himself that he had to do something about these strange turns. He'd call Kabuto tomorrow - just to talk it over, he told himself.

"It's just because it's Men's Fashion Week..." Konan murmured comfortingly. "It's got a reputation for it. There was a giant papier mâché blob one year..."

Some macho thing then, Kakuzu thought letting out a little hmph of annoyance. He decided to ignore the fashion entirely, and he soon found he wasn't bothering to look at any of the other models either; just waiting for Hidan to come around again. It was like a form of exquisite torture watching him up there, illuminated and so beautiful, but untouchable, distant. The arrogant self assurance of his expression, the swagger, the look in his eye like he was on his way to kick his worst enemy over the edge of a cliff... there was no doubt he was good at this, and more than that, he was enjoying himself - being the centre of attention suited him and this fashion with an edge of performance art was exactly what he needed to stop him feeling like he was selling out.

There was one more slightly disturbing moment at the end when Hidan picked up the bike again, then went speeding for the staircase and actually climbed right up it. Kakuzu had previously had no idea such a thing was even possible and frankly he wished he didn't now. The other models melted back off the runway, the spotlight picked Hidan out one last time, and then went black.

Then it was all over and Yugito was stalking down the runway to rapturous applause. She took a little bow, then went backstage for a moment and emerged with Hidan; a little tousled and flushed and suddenly human-looking again. They walked back again hand in hand, and the applause became even more rapturous. Kakuzu winced a little watching Yugito put her arms around his neck and practically snog him. Hidan's arm going around her waist disturbed him too - he knew it was ridiculous, but he just didn't like to see it. He looked away a moment and by the time he looked back they were both heading backstage.

Kakuzu would have quite appreciated a nice wind-down chat with Konan at this point, but the second the house lights went up she was excusing herself, murmuring something about having to make a phonecall. She looked particularly resolute, as if she'd made up her mind about something during the show. He wasn't left alone for long though; Yugito's publicist - clearly having been told to keep an eye out for him - descending on him and led him unprotestingly through to where the after party was being held, in the shorter leg of the large L-shaped room.

As soon as he was backstage again Hidan began to feel flat and exhausted. The performance adrenaline drained away horribly quickly, and suddenly he felt like he didn't even have enough energy to even get his makeup off. He wandered through the rails of clothes and - despite the bright lights and the other models half out of their couture, talking and laughing - to him everything seemed dingy; used up and discarded.

Not everyone was happy though. He found Suigetsu in a corner staring disconsolately at a small bag of brightly coloured pills. "I don't want to wait forty minutes for a high," he said, weighing them in his hand, "and I don't want to be depressed as shit tomorrow, but I don't know if I can go out there feeling like this." He flashed Hidan a little half smile that exposed a pointy out-of-line tooth, but he was clearly feeling as dejected as Hidan was himself.

"So parachute it?" Hidan suggested. "That's fifty percent of your problem solved." He sat down next to him. "Have you run out of coke already? Where'd you get those?"

He felt a surge of a strange sort of protectiveness - Suigetsu reminded him strongly of himself at that age, only of course, he'd found God by then. He had half a thought about trying to talk to him about Jashin then and there, but he was just so fucking knackered that he wasn't sure he'd do it justice and Suigetsu was clearly too emotional to be very receptive. Which meant he was probably a bit emotional for candyflipping too...

"Booze," he said, cutting into Suigetsu's long-winded explanation involving a dodgy sounding bloke in a minicab in the Majestic Wine Warehouse car park round the back. "What you want is fucking booze, baby boy. Booze is the cure for all your ills. Put those little fuckers away for now - you're in the wrong mood for them."

He managed to grab a magnum of champagne from a trolley that was just about to be wheeled round to the after party, and popped the cork with a practised one-handed technique that was the product of working in a wine bar for his first few years of living in London. Suigetsu started to visibly cheer up a little bit. They found some glasses in a plastic crate and set to work.

"What's up with you, anyway," Suigetsu asked, after draining his first glass and steadily sipping away at a second. "Isn't your life like fucking perfect right now? What do you want to get shit-faced with me for?"

"Why would I need a reason to get shit-faced?" Hidan refilled his glass and topped up Suigetsu's. "I just want to fucking chill out, man." He knew it was bullshit though. Although the first two glasses of champagne had taken the edge off slightly, he knew he was a ticking time-bomb tonight; if he wanted to get home and do this ritual with Kakuzu the way he wanted it he had to tread carefully, and that meant not being in the kind of state where things could upset him.

They'd drained the bottle by the time they were changed and out of their make-up. Hidan, of course, was dressed again in head to toe Yugito Nii - she wasn't about to let him be seen wearing anyone else's designs at her own party - and perhaps as a consequence he felt depressingly like he was still on the clock. But Suigetsu, with the resilience of youth, was now as effervescent as the bubbles they'd just consumed, and Hidan was making a valiant effort to keep up. Suigetsu was trying to tell him about what he'd got up to with Kisame in the field behind the holiday chapel, but he was giggling too much to be fully audible and not making a lot of sense anyway. Hidan got the impression that Kisame might have introduced him to a few more new experiences than he was quite aware- and that Suigetsu might have charmed and cajoled his way into something he was way out of his depth in. Either way, every time Suigetsu reached an interesting bit he seemed to lose the power of coherent speech.

"Fucking text him for me, Hidan," he begged, trying to drain the last drops out of the bottle. "He won't even look if it's my number, he probably just deletes them as they come in-" he descended into giggles again.

"Nah, mate," Hidan said, not telling him that he'd already texted 'baby boy's sad and popping pills come quick we need you' and Kisame had replied 'stop trying to replicate you and Kakuzu- not everyone wants a little fuckup to take care of'. He sighed and pulled Suigetsu up off the bench he appeared to have melted onto. "Come on, you won't get any more goodness out of that fucking dried up husk, we'll have to join the fucking throng to get more..."

Yeah," Suigetsu snorted with laughter. "Alright, alright, I'm coming. Did I tell you he is fucking hung! Shit, Hidan, I really fancy him so much, just ever since the first time I went round to his flat I can't get him out of my head, he's like, serious, you know? But at the same time he's fun and chilled... kind of like a massive student, you know what I mean...?"

Out in the warehouse Kakuzu was amusing himself by monopolising Yugito's publicist Samui and finding absolutely everything he could about Yugito's prospects. Samui was making repeated attempts to introduce him to other high-profile guests but he wouldn't be palmed off, having absolutely no desire to talk to any celebrities and at least a marginal interest in how an emerging fashion business was run.

But seeing Hidan emerge with Suigetsu distracted him for long enough for Samui to make her excuses and escape. He saw Hidan's eyes rake the crowd for him and waited to be seen, wanting the slightly indulgent pleasure of watching Hidan notice him - seeing his face light up in the unbelievable way it almost always did. But unexpectedly - while he was still looking past him and over towards the door - Hidan's whole demeanour suddenly changed. He'd seen something else, and, following his gaze, Kakuzu saw it too - it was Deidara, complete with Tobi all over him like a bad rash.

"Fucking hell!" Kakuzu winced as Hidan's voice cut through the babble of the party crowd. He started making his way through the crush of people as fast as he could, even as Hidan launched himself at Tobi. "You fucking piece of shit!" he screamed, and he was clearly ready to do some serious damage. He was holding nothing back at all, but somehow Tobi managed to dodge him, he just wasn't there anymore, and Hidan landed hard on the polished concrete. He picked himself up, shaking with rage, breathing hard, and he hurled himself after Tobi again.

"Tobi, you fucking cunt!" he snarled. "Get out of my fucking sight before I rip you limb from limb!"

Tobi just flapped his hands placatingly and dodged behind Deidara. "Hidan, mate, what are you so angry about?" he asked, disingenuous in the extreme.

"Don't play so fucking innocent, you fucking predatory creep!" Hidan spat. "You know full fucking well what you did!"

People were starting to stare and come around but that didn't stop Hidan. He swayed this way and that, looking for an opening. His knee hurt where he'd landed on the concrete, but he didn't care; he wanted it - welcomed it. He could hear Deidara laughing and Suigetsu egging him on, chanting his name, but his focus was all on Tobi and he suddenly felt ten times more alive than he had all day.

"Come out and fucking face me like a man, you piece of shit," he spat.

"Yeah - get out of there, Tobi, I'm not your fucking human shield," Deidara said nastily, and jabbed Tobi just under the ribs with his elbow in a particularly vicious way, sending him stumbling into the open. Hidan found, perversely, that it upset him quite a lot. Tobi was clearly winded and his appetite for violence began to abate a little, but not enough to stop him throwing himself onto Tobi while he had the chance.

They went over together- another hard landing but at least Tobi was underneath this time, but then somehow he'd slithered free before Hidan could even land a decent blow. And he was up again and beating a retreat before Hidan was even off his knees. At that point, though, Deidara stuck his foot out and as Hidan finally made it off the ground Tobi tripped theatrically, sprawling hard at his feet. Deidara prodded him with a toe, then gave him a swift kick that could certainly in no way be characterised as play-fighting.

Hidan straightened up slowly, appalled. "Dei, fuck!" he said, staring at him. "Chill out a bit, man!" He didn't know what to do anymore.

Tobi gave something that was between a laugh and a groan. "Stop it baby," he begged as Deidara jabbed at him again. "Ow! Ow! Stop it!"

Hidan's lip curled in distaste. He was so disconcerted that he barely felt Kakuzu's hand landing on his shoulder; even the reassuring stroke along his upper arm didn't really register. But his voice in his ear - deep and quiet and blessedly authoritative - did get through. "Hidan. Let me deal with this, love."

"Tobi." Kakuzu's voice hardened, though his touch was gentle as he pushed Hidan back towards Suigetsu, shooting him a swift and regretful glance. He offered Tobi a brisk and unsympathetic hand up. "A word, if you'd be so kind," he said shortly, gesturing towards the door.

Seeing Kakuzu walk off with Tobi just when he wanted to lose himself in him made Hidan - who had been momentarily soothed - distinctly angry again. He shook Suigetsu's hand off his arm, and despite the warning signs, despite the fact that Deidara was obviously way beyond the stage where good advice was going to have any impact, he just couldn't resist having a go. "Look, you don't have to be with him!" he said, incredulous and exasperated. "If he fucks you off so much, just - just why? Why are you with him Dei? It's making you fucking crazy man, I can see it-"

"I can be with who the fuck I want," Deidara spat. Even though he was clearly high, he wasn't in the slightest bit mellow; he seemed at once brittle and breakable and powerfully savage. "What do you want, a black crepe armband? A fucking six foot veil? You didn't even fucking like Sasori!"

"Okay - You brought it up, man!" Hidan took half a step back. Keep calm, he told himself. Keep fucking calm - not long now til we can go, and I can finally do my ritual- "Maybe we did used to rub each other up the wrong way," he admitted. "The point is, you liked him, Dei. And you don't like Tobi. Whatever else you feel for him - like isn't really on the fucking spectrum, is it?"

Deidara didn't answer, just stared at Hidan blankly. He was compulsively chewing gum - it had always been a thing he did, but not quite like this. It was as if he just couldn't keep still, his jaw moved almost jerkily, automatically. It made Hidan uncomfortable. Now he spat it out onto the floor and put another piece in.

"Fuck! That's disgusting!" Hidan exclaimed reflexively. "Fuck's sake, Dei!" He stared at him for a moment, and Deidara stared back. It seemed like they were at an impasse. Suigetsu, showing a modicum of tact, sloped discreetly off to talk to Killer Bee, and they were finally alone.

Seriously, though, Dei," Hidan said finally. "You shouldn't do that. You can't hit someone you're fucking. It makes things so fucking messed up!"

"Oh you can talk, hn, shagging Mr. Hospitalise-his-boyfriend!" Deidara replied coolly.

It was an easy shot, of course, and Hidan knew he'd laid himself open to it. "That was-" he started to say, ready to jump to Kakuzu's defence, but suddenly he found he was really upset; he'd lost his train of thought and didn't know what to say. He just wanted to be out of this conversation and away from this shell of Deidara that seemed to bear no resemblance to the man who - just a few weeks ago - had been his closest thing to a good friend. "He's never-" he started again, but no. He wasn't going to make excuses to Deidara. "Shut up, Dei," he said. "Just shut the fuck up. You don't know the first thing about it so just leave it alone!"

Deidara just chewed languidly and looked at him with a coolly speculative gaze, as if he was trying to decide where to aim the next barb. Hidan had no doubt he had one ready and he almost wanted to physically flinch away.

"You ever consider that you might not know the first thing about what's going on with me?" Dei said finally. He blinked and jerked his head in a strange staccato way. "But you probably couldn't get your head around it even if you did know, could you? Honestly Hidan - you're getting out of your fucking depth. Leave the philosophical pronouncements to Kakuzu, hn?"

Hidan's eyes narrowed. "Alright," he said, turning away. "I've had about enough of this crap. You know where to find me if you want me."

"Wait a minute, mate," Deidara said softly, and against his better judgement he turned back.

"Aren't you even going to try and tell me the Good News?" Deidara mocked. "Daddy in the sky not got a place in His heart for me anymore?"

Hidan's jaw clenched and his hand jumped instinctively to his rosary. "Of course I'll pray for you, Dei," he hissed emotionally. "How can you even ask that?!"

"Yeah, yeah, whatever." Deidara lost interest in tormenting Hidan and started looking around distractedly. "Where are the toilets? I need to..."

He trailed off. Hidan pointed, mutely. He didn't suppose that what Deidara 'needed' was really what the toilets were intended for, but what was the point of arguing about it?

Outside, Kakuzu had read Tobi the riot act extremely thoroughly over hitting Hidan with his car, but it seemed like water off a duck's back. Tobi made glib and slick apologies and he wasn't in the least satisfied. So he went on to lecture him about his massive irresponsibility and the obvious fragility of Deidara's mental state.

"Kakuzu, mate, don't worry, ay?" Tobi said innocently. "I've got it under control."

"Honestly, that's what I am worried about, Tobi." Kakuzu's expression hardened. "But whatever you choose to do in your private life - and whatever Deidara chooses - I'd thank you to leave Hidan out of it. And keep your ... substances well away from him too."

"Oh, Hidan doesn't need that!" Tobi said lightly, almost admiringly. "Hidan can get himself out of his head on pure religious ecstasy. Drugs are just the cherry on top for your boy."

Kakuzu's hand instinctively balled into a fist. "Don't even talk about him, Tobi," he warned. "I am losing patience very fast here. You need to maybe think twice before pitching up at places you know we'll be."

"Alright, alright," Tobi fluttered his fingers in mock submission. "Consider me well and truly warned off! My lips are sealed!"

Kakuzu sighed. It was impossible to get though the veneer of amiable facetiousness, but he felt like he owed it to Hidan to have one more try. "Look, Tobi," he said wearily, "I don't pretend to be any kind of relationship expert, but Deidara's clearly not ready for this. Would it have killed you to wait a few months? Couldn't you just have been a ... a friend to him?"

"He didn't want that. And I'd do anything to be with him, Kakuzu, you know that." Tobi's eyes bored into him, impenetrable, walled-off. "If I'd waited, the chance would've been gone."

There wasn't much to say to that. "That's... " Kakuzu shook his head. "I don't even understand how you can want him in this state, but-"

He stopped. All of a sudden he just couldn't be bothered - he didn't want to plumb the depths of Tobi's fucked-upness. He shrugged and started to turn away - but then he remembered something. "Oh, by the way, Tobi, do you know Kakashi Hatake?" he said, his curiosity getting the better of him. "He asked me about you, at the funeral."

"Hm?" Tobi's whole demeanour changed. "What did he say?" The playful note was entirely gone.

"He said, 'who is that?'" Kakuzu said flatly, wishing he hadn't mentioned it now - what had possessed him? - he just wanted to get away. "I said, 'oh that's just Tobi', since it occurred to me that you might want to remain incognito..."

Tobi's eyes shifted about, searching the little crowd of fashionistas as though he might catch sight of Kakashi here. "Oh," he said, and there really was something strange in his tone now. "We knew each other a long time ago. We were just kids really. He probably wouldn't recognise me since-" he gestured at his face; the scarred side he rarely talked about. "You know. This."

Kakuzu nodded, a hand automatically going up to rub along the faint scars on his own cheek. He supposed it had always made it easier for him to relate to Tobi, but that wasn't enough right now. "Mm," he said. His eyes narrowed slightly. The first time they'd met, Tobi had told him that Madara had had to live outside the UK for a while as a tax exile and, "I thought you grew up as an expat with your uncle," he said.

"Oh, uh, yeah, we met out there," Tobi said glibly. He kicked a metal cap from a beer bottle off the edge of the kerb, didn't meet Kakuzu's eye. "Kakashi used to hang out with one of my cousins." His eyes flicked quickly up to Kakuzu, then away again. "Obito, who drowned on his gap year in Laos in '92. It was fucking tragic - Kakashi was there, and there was another friend, a girl, who died too. I was with Uncle Madara in Indonesia - all the rest of the family were back in the UK, of course - so we went up there to, you know, pick up the pieces..."

"Well, I suppose that explains why Kakashi looked like he'd seen a ghost," Kakuzu said slowly. "If there's some family resemblance there. Sorry to bring it up, anyway."

"Nah, nah, man don't worry." Tobi shrugged. "Long time ago. I haven't thought about poor little Obito for years, actually. Water under the bridge, and all that."

He gave Kakuzu a quick grin. "I'm gonna go back in," he said, already slipping away into the crowd around the doors. "Don't worry about your boy, I won't give him anything!"

Kakuzu followed him back in, but was relieved not to be able to see him anymore when he'd made it through the crowd. He couldn't see Deidara either - he seemed to have been replaced by Suigetsu, now distinctly the worse for wear.

"Hidan," he was saying emotionally, "You're a good guy. A fucking good know that? You're like, my best friend and I really love you man. I mean it. It really means a lot, seriously, man, the way you've been here for me today, when nobody else even gives a shit..." He put his arms around Hidan and flopped against him, burrowing his face into his shoulder, then began to cry. "Hidan..." he moaned. "I don't feel good. I'm so fucking tired, and thirsty. I want to lie down. I wish my brother was here ... did you know my brother? Seems like everyone fucking knew him... everyone fucking wants a piece of him, wants to fucking talk to me about him!"

Hidan gave Kakuzu a martyred stare. "Nah, mate, I didn't know him," he said, sighing. "Maybe best not to lie down right here..."

"Oh..." Kakuzu looked at him with some dismay. "Oh dear. Where are his friends, anyway? What about that Jugo character - he seemed reliable... aren't any of them here?"

Hidan looked doubtfully at him over the top of Suigetsu's head. "I dunno, man." He shrugged. "There there," he said to Suigetsu, patting him gingerly. "It's all gonna be alright..."

Kakuzu thought it was more likely that Suigetsu was going to vomit all over Hidan's personalised couture and then go to sleep on the floor. He got out his phone and rang Karin. "Can you suggest who I can call to take Suigetsu off my hands?" he snapped into her voicemail. "I think he's about to be sick on Hidan."

He didn't feel particularly hopeful, since he never had any faith in people listening to their messages, but Karin rang back before he'd even got the phone in his pocket.

"Jugo'll come and get him," she said matter-of-factly. "Are you still in Great Eastern Street? We're at the Old Street Wetherspoons..."

"Well, for God's sake don't take him there!" Kakuzu was appalled. "Tell Jugo to get a cab and take him home!" It was far more likely that he'd be able to hail one in Old Street than down here...

"That's what he's doing," Karin explained patiently, but with an edge of steel in her tone. Kakuzu apologised.

"We'll take him outside now, then," he said, ending the call. With any luck - if Jugo got a cab quickly - it would only take five minutes even with bad traffic, and much better for Suigetsu to be sick in the gutter than in here.

"Look, I'll take him out," he said to Hidan, getting a hand under Suigetsu's armpit and starting to prise him away. "You do the socialising you need to do and then when I get back we can go."

It was a nice plan; just unfortunate that as soon as Kakuzu left with Suigetsu, Deidara sloped back in. Now he was as chipper and excited as could be. He came up to Hidan with a manic intensity in his eyes and not even the slightest acknowledgement of the way things had just gone down between them. Hidan wondered if he even remembered.

"Hidan, man, I've just had this fucking sick idea, hn, you wanna come and try it now? I've got everything I need in my studio already. I'm thinking like a controlled explosion, yeah, and I want this after-image of you, like, projected on the studio wall where the debris doesn't hit it, like the negative space of a presence, yeah..."

Hidan watched Deidara talk in fascinated horror. Several times he tried to cut in, but Dei barely seemed to see or hear him. He gulped down another half glass of champagne as if it was lemonade and let the words flow over him, trying not to listen because it was kind of upsetting, actually. Particularly after talking about the IRA bomb with Kakuzu the other night.

"Yeah? So what do you say, man?" Deidara said excitedly, bouncing on the ball of his feet. "Pretty fucking sweet, yeah?"

"No." Hidan shook his head emphatically. "No, no no, man, I am not being in any fucking explosion, okay? There's your work with me and there is your work with fucking explosives, and they are separate, man. Separate."

"Nah, nah, Hidan, you're not getting it man," Deidara went on. "It'll be cool, yeah - I'm just talking, like, a small explosion, yeah? A bit of shrapnel is the worst damage you'd come away with..."

"I get it Dei." Hidan shook his head again. "You're fucking coked out of your skull and you don't have a fucking clue what you're talking about. Cast me in whatever the fuck you like and blow that shit up, but you are not fucking blowing the real me up, okay?"

Deidara stared at him for a moment. His eyes narrowed as if he was trying to make sense of something completely alien to him - as if the world wasn't behaving the way he expected it to. "Then what's the point?" he asked finally. "What's the point of it if it's not real."

"It's art, isn't it?" Hidan frowned. He felt an uncontrollable stab of hate for this shell of Deidara. "It's a fucking idea," he said harshly. "Who the fuck cares if it's real or not? What's the fucking point of it if it is real, come to that? Then it would just be fucking life."

"Or death," Tobi added helpfully, coming up behind Deidara. "If we blow you up."

"Yeah, thanks, Tobi, that's really fucking encouraging," Hidan snapped, angling his body to try and shut him out of the conversation.

"Shut up Tobi," Deidara said tensely, barely sparing him a glance.

Once again Hidan had that unsettling sense of being on the wrong side, and, "Where's Kakuzu?" he asked Tobi abruptly, meeting his eyes for an uncomfortable moment. "Have you seen him?"

"He's, uh, talking to someone outside," Tobi said, absently. He started stroking the back of Deidara's neck, then whispered something in his ear and Hidan thought Dei would surely lamp him one this time, but he just nodded, angling his body in towards him.

"I need to stop thinking," he heard Dei say, quick and almost under his breath.

"Okay, babe," Tobi murmured. "We can do that. I've got something that'll do exactly that. And maybe put you in the mood for something a bit more fun as well."

Hidan stared at them and the urge to punch Tobi started to rise again, along with nausea and a strange lightheadedness. They turned away together and he took a deep breath. Everything seemed darker than before as he looked around him at the vacuous crowd; the mindless chatter seemed high-pitched, unbearable. Clocking the backstage door, he made a beeline for it. His palms felt sweaty and his heart was beating fast. 'I was fine,' he'd said to Kakuzu the other night - but it didn't mean he didn't still think about it every day. 'I was lucky,' he'd said as well, just to shut the conversation down quickly, but it hadn't actually been luck. It had been the touch of Jashin, the first time he'd felt it. And he needed that touch again now, badly.

Crossing the room felt like being in a dream; like wading through treacle. He felt like he was stumbling - every step felt like the floor was coming up to meet him. People spoke to him and he replied on autopilot, with no idea what had come out of his mouth as soon as he'd said it. No one seemed surprised, but then all of them were probably off their face on something by now. He could feel the pain and frustration and hunger and loneliness coming off them in waves and it felt disgusting, unclean.

He groped urgently for his rosary, held it to his mouth like it was a lifeline. "Lord Jashin," he mumbled into his fist, "Truly the earth and the heavens will flee from your presence, there will be no place for them. Forgive these fuckers who haven't let you in to their hearts; they don't know you - they don't see you - but fill me with Your glory and I promise you I'll shine like a beacon on your path." His shoulder slammed into the doorframe as he stumbled through and he moaned in frustration. "Please ... just fucking ... get this bullshit out of my head... What the fuck's wrong with me tonight?"

He was holding the rosary so tightly it cut into his palm, his prayers getting more and more disjointed. "Let me see you, Lord; my body is your temple and I will bleed for you, I will destroy for you, I will be laid bare for you. Let me be part of you, let me be one with you..."

No sooner had Kakuzu offloaded Suigetsu onto an apologetic Jugo (and paid the cab fare) than he bumped straight into an utterly distraught looking Konan.

Her usual poise was conspicuously absent, and even though Kakuzu really really wanted to get back to Hidan and go home, he couldn't just walk away from her like this.

"Konan, whatever's wrong?" he asked. Someone must have died, he thought. Not Nagato Pein, surely? Or had something happened to Yahiko?

"Oh Kakuzu!" Her voice was almost a wail. "I've done something awful. Really awful."

So no-one was dead. Maybe. Kakuzu didn't suppose it could be all that bad then. "Tax fraud?" he asked, quirking an eyebrow. "I'm sure we can find a loophole - I'll get my accountant to give you a call-"

"What? No! It's nothing like that!"

"You haven't killed anyone, I hope? Caused criminal damage to property?"

"Kakuzu! Stop projecting, would you?!"

"I'm sorry, Konan, I'll listen. What's wrong?"

And he did listen, for at least five minutes as Konan told him some long and involved story about a press interview, and her English teacher back at school in Merthyr Tydfil who was now a successful novelist, and how angry she'd been for years but now that she'd ruined him-

"Hold on, Konan," Kakuzu cut in. "How exactly have you ruined him - it's not exactly a walk in the park, ruining people. I'm sure he'll bounce back."

"Sex," Konan said flatly. "I said he tried to initiate an inappropriate relationship with me. I said he abused a position of trust."

"Oh." The one smear that generally did stick, whether you'd done it or not. "And..." He paused. Was it indelicate to ask...? "Did- did he?"

"Oh, he did a lot of things that could certainly be interpreted that way." But instead of sounding bitter, Konan looked anguished. "But. The thing is, Kakuzu - I wasn't damaged. I was angry, when he left - so angry, it clouded everything. I told myself he'd been inappropriate, taken advantage... but... really... it wasn't that. I- we all... felt like he'd abandoned us. But, I wouldn't be here today without him. He inspired us, he set us on our path-"

"Konan, I have no doubt at all that you'd be here whatever had happened-"

"I'm not so sure, Kakuzu. Sometimes you need someone... not just to tell you that things are possible, but even that they're there. We- Nagato and Yahiko and me. We... grew up in care, did you know that? And we went to the shittiest comp in Merthyr, and we didn't realise art and culture and—" She waved her hand around them "—and all of this even existed and he was- he was-" she covered her mouth suddenly. "Sorry. I'm sorry."

"Konan." Kakuzu took her gently by the shoulders. "What's done is done. And I have to say, it sounds at the very least as though he was less than careful with you than he should have been."

"He knew we were tough," Konan muttered into his chest, muffled and strained. "He didn't need to mollycoddle us..."

"You were a child." Kakuzu was uncompromising. "And after all these years you can't let it go? That's what damage is, Konan."

"Yahiko is going to be completely furious, Kakuzu, he loved him. I don't know if he'll be able to forgive me for this..."

"And since when did you need anyone's forgiveness, Konan? You do what you need to do - you always have."

"Yes, but. Yahiko- back in the beginning he founded Akatsuki, really, just inspired by Jiraiya and what he did for us." She sighed, getting sidetracked a little. "He lost everything, of course. Back then, it really was about outreach and education, and bringing the arts to kids like us. We were young and hopeful, and I suppose naive - we'd committed our funding before we actually had our hands on the money..."

Kakuzu nodded. "Rookie error..." he said sympathetically.

"And then Danzo Shimura from St Martin's talked the chair of the Welsh Arts Council into stripping the funding. I always thought, if Jiraiya had stepped forward then - because he had a lot of influence at St Martin's - if he'd acknowledged us and wanted to be part of it, maybe things would've gone differently. As it was, Nagato took a massive informal loan from Tobi Uchiha which paid off almost everything. Yahiko was ruined though. Bankrupt. Nagato had to take over the business. He's always hoped - and I have - that Yahiko will try again with that vision. But Yahiko says he doesn't have a vision now. Nagato doesn't either - he's been letting Tobi lead for a while now and it's all about control, it's not what we wanted in the beginning."

"Hm." Kakuzu thought that, lovely and idealistic as the original Akatsuki vision sounded, it was very far from a sound business model and he had some sympathy with Tobi there. "Well, my dear, unless you can get this thing pulled from print - which you can't, because it's Akatsuki magazine and Tobi owns it - then you've made your bed and you might as well make the best of it. Put it behind you and maybe - as a long term plan - focus on trying to wrest a little bit of executive control back from Tobi."

"It's too late for that, anyway," Konan said flatly. "I'd made up my mind to withdraw it all. But they published it on the blog half an hour ago. It's out there."

There was nothing Kakuzu could say to that. Konan picked anxiously at her lip piercing. "Maybe I should reach out to him-" she began.

"Don't do that." Kakuzu was definitive. "It would be terrible for your reputation. At best you look weak. At worse you could look like an apologist for child abuse."

Konan just nodded tiredly. "Speak to Kisame," Kakuzu suggested. "As the editor, maybe he can speak to Jiraiya on your behalf..."

Konan nodded again. "And speaking of Kisame," she said after a little pause, with a little more of her customary businesslike air. "We were hoping that he could bring Killer Bee into the fold - we'd like to do a feature on him, with a view to eventually getting him under Akatsuki management. You seemed to be getting on well; perhaps you can arrange an introduction."

Kakuzu looked at her doubtfully. "It's pity Kisame's not here himself," he ventured unwillingly.

"Isn't it," Konan agreed briskly. "I'll leave it to you then, Kakuzu."

Kakuzu thought to best to cut their conversation off before she could make any more requests, or remind him that he was supposed to be acquiring Naruto Uzumaki's degree show, which was going to have to be done through a third party now that he and Hidan had made themselves so unpopular with the student crowd. "Well, no time like the present," he said darkly, looking over to where Killer Bee was holding court with a portable drum machine and wondering if he could possibly face another dose of him now. He decided - as soon as he was out of Konan's line of sight - to go and look for Hidan instead. Glancing inside as he passed the double doors that led inside the warehouse - propped open now - he couldn't catch sight of him anywhere, and a familiar sense of unease started to nag at him again. A more thorough tour around the room yielded nothing. And no sign of Deidara or Tobi either.

By the time Hidan had reached the room where he'd left his bike he was a mess, and he knew it. He had to do the ritual now - right now - or it wouldn't just be doorframes he was walking into. Lamp posts, fist fights, traffic... anything might happen. Once Jashin was calling he knew he didn't have much control. But the room reminded him of Kakuzu and his heart sank like a stone. He'd wanted so much for Kakuzu to experience the presence of Jashin with him. Now he wasn't sure now how he'd ever thought he could keep such a promise. His head wasn't clear enough to think how to even get him here and he just couldn't wait any longer. He groped urgently for the scalpel blades taped under the saddle of his bike, and it didn't surprise him that one poked through the paper wrapper and pierced his fingertip as he tore open the foil. Jashin was taking what was his already.

He winced, and sucked off the bead of blood that appeared. In the moment of clarity it gave him he remembered about the existence of mobiles and got his old flip-phone out of his pocket. And he didn't even have to call Kakuzu because Kakuzu was already calling him.

"Kakuzu, where are you?" he said, aware of sounding like a little kid but beyond caring.

"In this bloody hellhole of a party - where d'you think?" Kakuzu's voice was irritable, pretty much a growl, and he could hear the senseless bantz bantz bantz of the party crowd behind him. "Where are you? Can we please go now?"

"Where- where we were earlier." His throat felt constricted; it was hard to talk to another person - even Kakuzu - he needed to be praying now. "Can- can you come down here?" he forced out.

"I-" Kakuzu's voice changed abruptly. "Of course I can - stay there, Hidan - don't go anywhere-"

Finding he couldn't cope with the human intimacy of the conversation any more, Hidan dropped his phone onto the trestle table and turned towards the small window to get the last of the light. Where to cut, this time? He shed the paper wrapper from the scalpel blade with a flick of his fingers and let it flutter to the floor. Holding the blade lightly against his skin he felt excitement tingle through him like little electrical pulses - and waited for Jashin's hand to guide him.

It felt to Kakuzu like it was taking him forever to find the right room, and by the time he finally did he was more frustrated and unsettled than ever. Most uncharacteristically he pushed the door open so hard it bounced off the wall and came back to hit him on the elbow. "What's up? What's the matter?" he barked. Ignoring the pain, he strode over to Hidan and took hold of him by the shoulders, his voice rough with urgency. "Talk to me, Hidan!"

Hidan briefly leant his head against his chest. Too briefly - already Kakuzu could sense that manic energy and a strange detachment. "Nothing's the matter," he said finally. "I'm ready; you're here - let's fucking do this!"

"What? No!" Kakuzu's reaction was instinctive. He caught Hidan's wrist and Hidan looked at his hand as though it had betrayed him. He brought the same look up to Kakuzu's face.

"You said you wouldn't try to stop me," he snarled. "I trusted you - I let you be here! I fucking shouldn't have done, should I?"

Kakuzu held his accusing gaze with a level stare of his own. "Hidan." His voice held a distinct warning note. "We can be home in twenty minutes. We're not doing this here. Are you insane?" Hidan just stared at him, blank and outraged and he took a deep breath and made an effort to soften his tone a little.

"Everything's ready at home - we won't have to worry about people interrupting us, and getting back afterwards, wouldn't that be nicer, more relaxing-"

"Jashin's calling me now," Hidan stated simply. "Please just let me the fuck go!"

"Hidan..." Because he seemed calmer Kakuzu did risk letting him go, and held up his hands in a gesture of compliance. "Can you at least think this over...?"

"There's nothing to think about, is there?" A cold-eyed stare that Kakuzu found suddenly unbearable.

For a moment neither of them could find anything to say. Hidan was tense as a bow-string, practically vibrating, and Kakuzu tentatively reached for him again. Don't look at me like that, Hidan!" he pleaded.

"Don't be a dick, then," Hidan muttered, but still, he let Kakuzu hold him, even draped his arms over his shoulders and leaned up against him, pushing his face into the crook of his neck.

"I'll try not to be," Kakuzu murmured, stroking his back. "I'm sorry. It's mayhem up there and I've let it get to me..."

"Forget about all that," Hidan's voice was authoritative suddenly. "None of it matters."

Kakuzu massaged some residual tension out of Hidan's lower back. "I know-" he began, "I know that..." and Hidan's head suddenly jerked back.

"Aaah, yes! Fuck, yes! Oh my God, Jashin, that feels good," he moaned, a little catch in his throat as he gasped a shuddering breath inwards. And Kakuzu began to realise as his eyes rolled upwards and his head tipped back further that his focus was somewhere way beyond him. Nothing he was doing was eliciting these blissed-out utterances. He stopped moving and let go of him, his hands hovering a few inches away. And he registered a very particular sound behind him - a drip, drip, dripping sound, and a faint scent of iron.

He pulled back. "What the-? What've you done?!" He shrugged Hidan off him. It was just instinct - not thought through - but there was a lot of force in the movement and Hidan stumbled helplessly backwards. Blood smeared down Kakuzu's shirt front; somehow it was all down his arm and on his hands as well, and the heat and stickiness and just the godawful mess of it all was suddenly overwhelming. "You fucking little idiot!" he growled, catching him by the upper arm before he tumbled into the stack of folded chairs behind him and jerking him unceremoniously back onto his feet. Hidan's mouth fell open in shock; for a moment he looked like he might cry, and the shame and guilt that suddenly flooded through Kakuzu only made him rougher. He stumbled again, so Kakuzu jerked him up again, and then another time, shaking him violently to rouse him before he was steady enough to stand unaided.

"Huh..?" Hidan said, raising up dreamy eyes and smiling beatifically. He hardly seemed to be aware of what was happening to him anymore. "Where are you going?" he asked as Kakuzu let him go and backed away, disgusted with himself. "Stay here." He seemed transformed, transported; all nervous energy calmed, tension melted away. Swaying precariously, he raised his arm up - clenching his fist - and blood was pulsing out, running in rivulets over his forearm, splashing onto the concrete floor.

Kakuzu gripped the edge of the table with one white-knuckled hand and watched Hidan swap the blade into his left hand. The thought of how rough he'd been with him made him cringe and he physically couldn't go back to him. I might as well have hit him, he thought. There's no reason to pretend it's any better than that. And shame made him helpless as he watched the blade flash silver against Hidan's arm, watched it being engulfed in velvety blackness that quickly spread into crimson trails, then slip from Hidan's fingers and drop to the floor, a glittering ruby shard. Every sense on high alert, he even registered the faint ting as it hit the concrete and bounced glancingly away.

So, should he try to stop him now? And how? Reason with him? He's not going to listen to you, said a snarky little voice in his head. He's barely even seeing you. So force him? But a struggle could easily do more damage than just waiting it out. And, for what it was worth, he had promised not to stop him. So he just stood there, and watched, and hesitated.

Hidan was on another plane, utterly unaware of Kakuzu's vacillations. He felt closer to Jashin than he had for a while, distant from the world, a floating, spinning feeling. As a counterpoint the ache inside his elbow was grounding him just enough, it was comforting, real. So was the pulsing throb of it as more blood flowed down. He breathed in deeply, letting the clean metallic scent fill him, and looked up at Kakuzu with an angelic smile. "Come back here, babe," he urged him again, holding out his arms. "I want you with me..."

"Christ Hidan!" Kakuzu's voice sounded far off and echoey. "What do you want me for? Haven't you done enough to me?"

He almost felt like he could hear music as well - jaunty fairground music - faint and off key, and shook his head to clear it. He was suddenly not sure how much longer he could stay upright, but that didn't matter anyway because Kakuzu was there, coming back towards him, supporting him now. And sure, he was frowning and looking like fucking thunder, but that would be okay, he could work with that.

Shaking his head again, he lifted a bloody hand to Kakuzu's cheek. He could feel a muscle twitching under the surface, could feel the tension radiating from the clench of his jaw. "I'm fucking never going to be done with you..." he whispered intensely, smiling more, "I want you to feel this with me."

And now it was that slightly psychotic smile that always got Kakuzu's heart racing.

Even so, he mustered the discipline to brush Hidan's hand away. "Idiot," he said, as dismissively as he could manage. "Cut it out - just get this over with. You've barely even got the strength to stand!"

Somehow Hidan managed to pull himself a little more upright and he locked an arm around Kakuzu's neck to stay that way. "Yeah, fuck you," he said triumphantly. "Next excuse?

"Ugh." Kakuzu passed a hand across his eyes and turned away. "Do I need one? With anyone else this sort of thing would be a deal breaker! End of story! I don't deal with mess like this." He found himself shaking as he said it, his heart pounding loud with a sick thump, thump, thump - just at the awful thought of being without him, of going through with it and saying those few angry uncompromising words that could break this apart. Calling an ambulance and walking out of here. Having to go home alone...

"Yeah, right," Hidan murmured, not buying it at all. He gave a reckless little hiccup of laughter and let his head droop forward onto Kakuzu's shoulder. "This is me we're talking about though..."

Kakuzu only had a moment to marvel at such unbelievable, unquenchable arrogance - and to wonder whether he should mind more about being taken for granted like this this - when most unexpectedly and without warning Hidan was pressing up against him; kissing him, his potent mixture of the spiritual and sensual taking his breath away. "Stop fucking worrying..." he murmured intensely. "It's okay. Man, you get so fucking tense about everything ... you need to let go a bit ... this isn't even a big deal... stop fighting me..." Another kiss; a bit more tongue now, his whole body against Kakuzu's, moving against him, and it just felt so nice that for a moment Kakuzu actually did begin to relax.

"Alright," he agreed helplessly. "Alright," and because Hidan didn't really seem to be able to stand anymore he supported him down until they were both kneeling.

"What now, then?" he whispered.

"Now we pray." Hidan took Kakuzu's face between his hands, looking intensely into his eyes but also somehow beyond him and his eyes gleamed as they turned to follow the path of the hot drops of blood, splashing onto the polished concrete, joining together into a little pool, almost black in the dim light. Blood curved around his forearm and dripped from his fingertips and he trailed them through the pools of blood on the floor, pulling his arm around him in a lazy curve. Muttering under his breath, too rapidly for Kakuzu to follow the words, he swapped arms to complete the symbol around them,

Straightening up again, he passed his rosary through and through his fingers until the beads looked like red glass, then wrapped it around and around his own bloody wrist, winding in Kakuzu's as well, binding them together. "Let us show you the pleasures we can make on your Earth, in your name, Lord, for your delight and your glory," he uttered in a throaty whisper. "Be with with us, fill us, make me your vessel, I give myself to you body and soul." Pulling Kakuzu towards him, he leant back a little, his hand tightening around Kakuzu's, pulling him after him. His knees widened and he slid along the floor until Kakuzu was kneeling between his thighs. "Kakuzu!" he said breathlessly. "How about bumping you up that fucking list?"

"Hidan ..." It took him a moment to process what he was being invited to do. "Really? Now...?" he asked hesitantly. He hasn't finished, has he? he asked himself. This isn't after; this is during - you need to say no.

"Fuck yes now!" A bloody hand grazed his fly, inviting violet eyes finally looked right into his own and Kakuzu felt his resolve beginning to crumble even as Hidan dialled the persuasion up a notch. "Fuck, Kakuzu, I need you inside me, I need to be fucking penetrated, I want to feel like I'm fucking impaled on your dick, fucking now!"

"Hidan, this is a really bad plan..."

But dextrous fingers were easing his zip down and Kakuzu had to admit, he'd already given in. He was practically panting with desire, and although a small voice in the back of his head was still telling him this was a really, really bad idea, it was small enough to be easily squashed down and ignored. He ripped open Hidan's fly and yanked his trousers down with no regard for their couture status. Sliding his hand out of the tangle of rosary and getting it slicked with Hidan's still free-flowing blood in the process, he guided his cock into him lubricated with just that, and thrust in hard.

Hidan gasped, head thrown back, and pushed towards him with a shuddering moan. "Jashin, yes, fuck!" he cried out, and Kakuzu started to pound into him even harder. For an intoxicating, drawn-out moment he even felt like he was with him in his all-consuming religious ecstasy. But that didn't last. Blood made a strange lube, sticky and viscous and quick to lose any slipperiness; it kept bringing him back to the reality that - far from a sublime and holy union - this was one of the most down and dirty fucks they'd yet had. And normally that would have been no small turn-on. What he didn't like quite as much was not being on the same page as Hidan. Hidan was clearly having a very different experience indeed and their usual simpatico was conspicuously absent. He supplemented the blood-lube with spit and more blood as he went. There was certainly no shortage of it - it seemed to be everywhere - but he didn't let himself think about that too much.

There was some thrill to be found in owning him in this state - however much he thought he was giving himself into the hands of his God, it was Kakuzu's dick inside him, Kakuzu fucking him into the concrete. He let himself enjoy the brutality of it, the desecration - it became a 'fuck you' to Jashin, to the money-grabbing manipulative Jashinist Church, even to Hidan's inconvenient beliefs that kept throwing these little obstacles between them. And for a short while that provided a much needed outlet for some nasty pent-up emotion. But it wasn't long before that pleasure palled as well.

Now Hidan was straining up towards him, gripping on to his shoulders, looking so intensely right at him, but unmistakably so far beyond him, to that place he would only ever be able to go to alone. Well aware that he was making himself bleed a lot faster like that, Kakuzu chose to ignore that too, as each gasped 'Jashin!' began to sting a little more than the last. He wanted to yank him back from his mental sanctuary; he felt used and sidelined and lonely. Where was their perfect partnership now that he was pounding anger and resentment into him with each stroke and hating himself for it? Not that Hidan seemed to care. "Fuck," he gasped. "Fuck, I'm close..." And then he was there, coming hard, thick hot ropes of it, again and again, thrusting up towards Kakuzu. "Oh God, oh Godfuck, feel it with me Kakuzu, come on, come on!"

But Kakuzu couldn't feel it. He tried; redoubling his efforts, scooping up Hidan's cum to use as a bit of extra lube, but even that didn't send him over the edge. "Look at me, Hidan," he entreated, feeling pathetic, needy. And Hidan did look, but, as he came back down from his ecstatic high there was something about the set of his mouth and a tension around his eyes made Kakuzu lose his edge even more. He slowed down again. The nagging awareness that they'd been going way too hard without any proper preparation because rather more insistent. And now that he'd lost his stride it was going to take quite a lot more than a handful of cum and a bit of eye contact for him to shoot anyway. It seemed that this ill-advised fuck was going to be cut short. Just a few more shorter thrusts, maybe? Maybe then he could just manage to- but no, that elicited a discomforted little 'mn' from Hidan and… no. It was over.

And for the final nail in its coffin: "Shit, Kakuzu, that hurts," Hidan whimpered as he pulled slowly out of him. With that the last shreds of feeling okay evaporated. He tucked his cock, which looked like a murder weapon, back into his trousers as well as he could given that it was still mostly erect, and for a moment all he could do was stare at Hidan - wincing, ashen, blood-spattered - in horrified speechlessness. He couldn't even apologise, because that made it too real.

Hidan sagged back down onto the floor, his head tilting away from Kakuzu. "Ohh... shit..." he murmured, and then he passed out.

Kakuzu blinked, still taking it in. The carnage was incredible and he could hardly believe what they'd just done. Or what he'd just done, mainly. Hidan, well, you could believe anything really, but, You fucked him til he lost consciousness, he told himself brutally. What the hell's got into you? Why couldn't you just say no?

He groaned, easing Hidan's trousers back up and pulling him out of the symbol he'd daubed on the floor as though it was the culprit here. Prioritising all the wrong things. It doesn't matter, he had to tell himself sternly. If someone walks in and he's half naked, well, if they read the papers it's nothing they haven't seen before anyway. Far more pressing was the fact that they were looking at a medical emergency if he let this bleeding go on.

"Christ!" he muttered. However turned on he'd been, however much Hidan had been asking for it - there was no excuse for this - Hidan was in a state. The exertion, the excitement, the heightened heart-rate - it had been a recipe for disaster. He was so pale. He looked wildly around him for anything he could use to stop the bleeding. He'd spotted a paper towel dispenser by a grubby little sink earlier and leapt up to grab a handful. Hidan's left arm was much worse, and it occurred to him now that maybe Hidan had still had the blade in when he'd pushed him away so roughly, in which case he'd made this worse in more ways than one. He pressed down hard, trying to elevate the arm a bit, and miraculously Hidan stirred a little.

"Kakuzu, I've been a fucking idiot..." he murmured.

"Well, that goes without saying!" Kakuzu got a firmer grip on his arm and cleared his throat to disguise the fact that his voice was cracking with relief. "But it's not like you were the only one this time."

"What?" Hidan attempted to lift his head off the floor and let it fall back with a light thunk after only a few centimetres. "I feel a bit sick..."

"That's passing out for you."

Hidan took a deep shuddering breath. "Shit..." he said again, misty eyed with emotion. "It was fucking worth it, though, that was fucking out there. I seriously think I actually saw the face of God!" He was lost in rapt contemplation a moment, then, suddenly coming back to himself, gestured towards a crumpled paper bag on the floor beside them. A familiar paper bag. "It's just I ... I haven't really..." he started, then trailed off, looking sheepish.

Kakuzu looked inside and three quarters of a rather sad looking sandwich looked back up at him. He sighed. So Hidan hadn't just passed out from blood loss. Impending hypoglycaemia or just plain exhaustion were at play here too. "That's the last thing you ate?" he asked making a mental note to carry glucose tablets in future. Hidan nodded.

"I'm fucking bummed out about it - it could have been even fucking better if I hadn't fucking fainted like a total pussy! Seriously! I feel like I can't actually even move..."

"Well, never mind," Kakuzu said, trying hard not to think about the 'face of God' having overlaid itself between them. "We'll sort it out. And I don't want you to move - I've got to stop you bleeding first. You haven't got a puncture repair kit stashed anywhere, I suppose?"

"Oh, very fucking funny," Hidan drawled with as much sarcasm as he could manage in his weakened state, and closed his eyes again. "No... I carry a fucking spare inner tube don't I, fucking repair kit my arse, what the fuck'd you take me for..."

"Do you?" Kakuzu smiled. "Well, I suppose I could tourniquet you with it if the worst comes to the worst.

Hidan didn't answer, and with a nasty little jolt Kakuzu realised he'd drifted out again. He laid him carefully down on the floor and looked down at him, trying to detach - looking in vain for that dispassionate calm he was used to being able to draw on to insulate him from unsettling feelings like this. He felt stripped of his defences; raw and tired. Unequal to the task ahead. Hidan might pass out and take no more responsibility, but he had to stop this bleeding, get him out of here, get him home- He was almost considering giving Konan a call to see if she was still at the party - if only for some moral support - when a now all-too-familiar voice came from the door.

"Ohh maaaan!" Killer Bee was standing in the doorway, which he now realised had been open all the time. "Is he alright?"

"Yes. Yes!" Kakuzu said far too quickly to be remotely convincing. "He's. Ah. Had an- a-" He stopped. There was no explaining this away, was there? "This is something he does," he admitted tiredly. "He'll be- he's going to be okay."

Killer Bee came into the room and Kakuzu almost expected to see an entourage file in behind him, but thankfully he was spared that. He suddenly felt acutely aware of how this must look, crouching on the floor by a barely conscious Hidan, blood on his hands, blood on his shirt - hell, blood fucking everywhere, why not fucking admit it? But Bee didn't seem shocked, or judgmental - and Kakuzu found he could forgive him a lot for that.

"Kakuzu," he said, seriously, and it took a moment for it to sink in that he wasn't rapping anymore. "My friend - you need some help with this, don't you?"

It was unexpectedly hard for Kakuzu to acknowledge that he did, but in the end good sense had to prevail - this was godsend he couldn't turn away. He managed to swallow his pride enough to ask Killer Bee to get them a cab and find a way out that wouldn't involve everyone seeing Hidan in this state.

"I can deal with the rest," he finished, hoping he sounded more confident that he felt because suddenly, uncharacteristically, he was doubtful. He had nothing with him. Everything was ready and laid out in the bathroom at home. Sutures, saline, sterile dressings. Still. No battle plan survives contact with the enemy, he reminded himself grimly. Come on, man.

"You sure?" Killer Bee seemed inclined to linger. "Do you think he should be checked over by a doctor?"

"I am a doctor." After all these years the line came so naturally. It was still part of his identity... "Look ... and ... get me some crisps and lucozade from the newsagents, could you?" he added quickly, angling his body to shield Hidan from view as much as he could. "The idiot boy hasn't eaten all day..."

It seemed that Hidan was not quite as oblivious as he appeared, because a faint but indignant "Hey!" piped up from the floor, followed by a request for the crisps to be barbecue flavour. Kakuzu felt simultaneous relief and violent irritation - surprisingly violent.

"Sure they can!" Killer Bee said indulgently, and clearly extremely relieved. I'll be right back. Glad you're alive, man!" Killer Bee headed back towards the door and Kakuzu let out the breath he didn't realise he'd been holding.

Feeling a little calmer now they were alone again, he looked around the room with a professional eye for anything that could help him. And spotted the pack of surgical blades dangling from Hidan's bike saddle on a strip of duct tape. Well, he could certainly work with that. He carefully peeled it off and tore it into smaller strips, then taped down the wound in Hidan's left arm directly. It would be a bitch to get off, but Hidan would have to put up with it - he wasn't risking any more blood loss. On the right he thought he could probably get away with taping down a pad of tissue as firmly as he could, although remembering how well that had gone in Edinburgh he'd reminded himself that he'd have to keep an eye on it.

As he finished, Killer Bee - on the phone to a taxi company - came back with the supplies and then went out again, gesticulating to Kakuzu in a way that seemed to suggest his negotiations weren't going entirely smoothly. Kakuzu was past getting worked up about it though. He shook up the lucozade, then released the pressure with a soft hiss. In between a few more rounds of shaking and releasing he hauled Hidan into a sitting position and leant him up against his chest, holding his head up with a hand along his jawline. He wasn't completely out of it, and it was quite easy to feed him sips of flattened lucozade. He even had enough energy to bitch about it not being fizzy enough anymore.

"It's better this way," Kakuzu said unsympathetically, opening the crisps for him. "I'm not dealing with you vomiting in a cab."

And it was the right decision to have removed one source of stress from the equation, he considered ten minutes later - leaning in much the same position in the back of a minicab that smelled strongly of marijuana - and feeling very very tense. It had been a nerve-wrecking escape from the warehouse, manoeuvring an unwilling Hidan though a maze of corridors to the fire exit, out across an overgrown vacant lot and through a broken fence into the carpark of the Majestic Wine Warehouse, where Killer Bee had arranged for the cab to be waiting. Hidan had seemed to have missed the memo about the desirability of a discreet exit - in fact he'd kept loudly moaning about how he only wanted to sleep and why wouldn't they leave him alone, and also that the crisps were not in fact barbecue flavour, but prawn cocktail, and couldn't people tell the difference between a fucking pink packet and a fucking brown packet these days? Kakuzu had very quickly had more than enough of his shit and was frankly surprised, by this point, that Killer Bee was still willing to help them at all.

It clearly hadn't been easy to get a cab out to East London at such short notice either, and Kakuzu got the impression that Killer Bee had called in a couple of favours to make this happen. Or maybe he even personally knew the minicab driver; they seemed to have some kind of rapport but it was hard to tell, Killer Bee, after all, having a general tendency towards the over-familiar... Whatever, while he was extremely grateful for his help - and knew that he'd appreciate it at the other end as well because a floppy recalcitrant Hidan was not exactly an insignificant burden - he felt deeply uncomfortable and self conscious right now.

Hidan stirred. "Ka-ku-zuu," he murmured.

"We're not alone, Hidan," Kakuzu murmured pre-emptively in his ear, hoping Killer Bee wouldn't hear. He knew that tone. Things were about to get even more uncomfortable.

Hidan wasn't playing ball though. He stroked Kakuzu's thigh. "Hey," he whispered. "You feel tense. Didn't you cu-"

"No." Kakuzu cut him off, loudly. "No," he added, in a more normal level. "But it really doesn't matter."

Hidan's hand became more intimately caressive. "It matters to me!" he said, nuzzling against Kakuzu's neck. "My fucking pride's on the line! If I can't fucking get you off-"

Kakuzu placed the errant hand firmly back in Hidan's own lap. "I think sleep and recovery are more of a priority right now. And getting home. Out of this minicab. Where we have company."

Hidan gave a massive tragic sigh. "Are you angry with me, Kakuzu...?" he asked plaintively.

"No..." Kakuzu sighed too. He glanced at Killer Bee but he seemed oblivious, writing something down in a little notebook. "No." He tightened his grip a little. It surprised him, but it was true, he wasn't angry. This was Hidan, after all. It would be unreasonable to be angry, wouldn't it?

"But we're never doing that again," he added. "We were both out of control. And I don't believe you meant this to be the outcome, whatever you thought you wanted.

"I meant ... I wanted ..." Hidan shut his eyes. "Fuck control, I..." But his voice trailed off. He couldn't even deny it and he turned his face to the window to avoid Kakuzu's gaze. Kakuzu could still see his face in reflected in it - a white oval, eyes glinting defiantly in dark panda smudges, his mouth a set and sulky line.

It was seeing Deidara and Tobi, wasn't it? he thought. He thinks he's jumping, but every time - every damn time - something pushes him. But he didn't say any more, didn't want to risk rocking the boat any more by mentioning them. He sighed, watching the Hidan in the dark glass start to look more disconsolate than defiant, and resolved that - no matter what it did to Deidara - he just had to keep him away from them. If Deidara was determined to spectacularly self destruct he could do it without involving Hidan.

Hidan woke up a few hours later in the spare room. He knew it was the spare room immediately, because it didn't smell right. It smelt nice - of sandalwood and fresh sheets - but not right. He sat up and tried to remember getting into bed, but he couldn't. Actually, he couldn't even remember getting home. He looked at his arms - even in the darkness he could see that both of them were neatly bandaged. "Fuck..." he murmured.

He remembered now, dimly, that their plans for a ritual together after the party hadn't quite gone the way he'd envisaged. It took him a minute to recall exactly why, and even when he did he pushed the memory firmly away into the 'don't think about' category. Instead, he swung out of bed and groped his way towards the door.

It was probably almost exactly 24 hours ago he was doing exactly the same thing, he thought as he crossed the landing and climbed half a flight of stairs. And what a fucking long day it had been. And like last night, Kakuzu seemed predisposed to stay asleep. This time, he wasn't prepared to let him and hassled him until he woke up. But it felt like there was a tension between them - a distance that he couldn't quite bridge.

"Hey..." he said hopefully, trying to ignore it. "Kakuzu...?"

Kakuzu stayed hunched up with his back to him, and sighed. "Yes?" he said shortly. Hidan was undeterred. He leant over and pushed his cheek against Kakuzu's, and though he got no verbal response he thought he felt a bit of a twitch.

"You're trying to stay in your fucking foul mood, but you can't, can you?" he said triumphantly. "I can feel you smiling, you bastard - fucking admit it, why don't you?"

Kakuzu sighed again, in a put upon way. Then he rolled over and accepted Hidan into his arms. "You idiot," he murmured. "I'm not in a bad mood, I'm just half asleep..."

Hidan rolled them both over a little further, so that he was on top of Kakuzu. "Then what did you want to dump me in the spare room for?" he demanded.

"Because otherwise you'd have tried to get in my pants, and you needed rest," Kakuzu said firmly, reaching over to his alarm clock to see what the time was. "You were like an octopus on heat."

"Oh yeah?" Hidan smirked.

"And you need more now, so don't try anything." Kakuzu batted a questing hand away.

"Oh? I feel fine..."

"I daresay. Better than you have any right to!" Kakuzu snorted. "Perhaps I shouldn't have rehydrated you so nicely. Maybe if I let you suffer a bit you'd think twice before butchering yourself again."

It was Hidan's turn to sigh now. "Fine, there's no need to be a cunt about it," he muttered. He rolled off Kakuzu onto his back and stared up at the ceiling. Kakuzu reeled him back in.

"Sorry, love, but it was awful," he said quietly. "You have no idea. What it's like to see someone you love in the state you were in. Cut up and bleeding, so spaced out you hardly recognised me-" Even in the darkness, he had to break off and turn his face away.

I should tell him I can't deal with it, he thought. That he needs to stop it or we're done. But I can't, actually.

"Did it go right?" he asked instead, conscious of the cruelty of it, but it had to be said, didn't it? At least then he could tell himself that he'd tried. "Was that how it was supposed to be?"

Hidan paused. "It was what Jashin wanted it to be." His voice was harder, more resolute. "It's not always up to me."

All the same, Kakuzu felt him relax again, or at least stop resisting his attempts to hold him again. He started banging on about it taking time and prayer to understand what Jashin was trying to show him, and about maybe being on the 'wrong path'. Yugito, fashion itself, living North of the river, the Akatsuki Group and were all held up for scrutiny, though thankfully Kakuzu himself seemed to have escaped Jashin's judgement. He smiled indulgently at first, but when Hidan didn't talk himself out in what he considered a reasonable amount of time he slid a firm and unyielding hand over his mouth.

"Shut up, love," he said, stifling a yawn. "I don't think it's working in fashion that's wrong. You were in your element - you really were." His took his hand away and looked at Hidan sternly. "If 'Jashin' was trying to tell you to be a little more discerning about the company you keep then I'd have some time for the bastard. Seeing Deidara and Tobi was not good for you. Was it? You were on a high and they brought you crashing down."

He felt Hidan's shoulder's sag just at the mention of them. "Maybe it is time we explored some other avenues, Hidan," he ploughed on inexorably, not about to let go of the advantage now he had it. "Moved into some different circles. It's not just those two, either... I'm starting to feel that the Akatsuki Group may have had its day altogether."

Hidan raised his head. "Extricate ourselves?" he said. "Already?"

"Things are different without Sasori," Kakuzu said, shrugging a shoulder. "And with Itachi increasingly out of the picture..." He gave a little grimace that was clearly expressive of his feelings about the state of Akatsuki without those two calm sane voices. "I think we should keep ties with Kisame," he continued thoughtfully, "but Zetsu is too close to Tobi, and Konan and Yahiko-" he felt a little bad at this, because he was fond of Konan, but after this evening... "well, they're heading towards a serious scandal with this Jiraiya thing. But we'll need to develop some new influential friendships - and fast - because Nagato Pein will not appreciate us stepping away from his interests. And Tobi would probably ruin us just for the fun of it."

"Fuck me..." Hidan murmured. "You're fucking serious about this, aren't you? But - you do realise - I'm a bit of a fuck-up at schmoozing influential people..."

"Any time, love," Kakuzu smirked, briefly forgetting that he was supposed to be rebuffing Hidan's advances. "But, joking aside, Yugito is tipped to take over at Valentino as creative director - and after this evening no one seems to have any doubt she'll get it. If she takes you with her - which seems likely - your position is more than secure; minimal schmoozing required."

"I'll have to be in fucking Italy half the time..." Hidan complained, making a face.

"Yugito may well set up a London studio as well - it's not unheard of."

"You know a fuckload about it all of a sudden."

"Well, I did have to make conversation with a bunch of fashion types - you know I don't do small talk."

"Hm." Hidan slid down beside him again. "Well, no-one told me the Valentino thing was a fucking done deal already!" the said sulkily.

"I like Milan - there are some wonderful art galleries there, of course..." Kakuzu went on, ignoring Hidan's grouching. "Perhaps we could acquire a nice little footpad over there... It would be a sound investment..."

"Seriously, man!" Hidan complained. "Can you just stop thinking about the money for one fucking second. And anyway, fucking rewind a minute - what Jiraiya thing? Who's Jiraiya? What the fuck's going on?"

Kakuzu groaned theatrically. "Oh, Hidan! Are you always half a step behind..?" He rolled him over and spooned around him. "Go to sleep. I'll tell you about it in the morning."

Chapter Text

Hidan was dreaming that he was in the Admiral Duncan again. This time, though, he was with Deidara - and Dei was telling him all about his amazing new idea. Hidan was frantic - on the verge of panic - trying everything he could think of to persuade him not to do it. Because he knows how this one turns out. But Dei won't listen.

And then, without warning, it's happening. He feels a sharp pain in his neck and he can't see properly for the smoke. His ears feel muffled. Down on the floor there's glass and blood and bits of people everywhere; Dei's in pieces too - and then Kakuzu's beside him, saying, don't worry sweetheart, I can put him back together, but he isn't doing it right - it isn't Deidara anymore anyway, it's Sasori, and there doesn't seem to be enough of him to make a whole person. On his knees now, he scrabbles desperately around in the blood and metal and tarmac trying to find the other half of Sasori's face-


He woke with a horrible strangled gasp, and Deidara's voice ringing in his head saying 'like the negative space of a presence, yeah?' He knew without even having to think at all now that Dei's new idea was about Sasori - about losing Sasori. He wasn't sure how he could have missed the implication the other night. He wasn't sure either if Dei recognised it himself in the state he was in. But what was absolutely certain was that with that force behind it he'd do it somehow - with or without Hidan - and when he did it would probably bring half the studio complex down.

He was sweaty and tangled in the sheets; one pillow was half over his head. He flung them away from him, then rolled over onto his back and lay panting, looking up at the fancy plaster ceiling rose and half-wanting to check the news to see if Dei had blown up his studio in the night. He felt Kakuzu shifting beside him and then his face appeared above him; half concerned, half quizzical. "Hidan?" he said, helping to disentangle him from the rest of the sheet. "What's the matter? Bad dream?"

Hidan nodded but didn't say anything about it. It was still too raw. His heart was still hammering and he groped on the bedside table for his rosary - fruitlessly and with rising panic - before Kakuzu observed pointedly that it was still around his neck. He still fumbled it even when he knew where it was, looking up resentfully at Kakuzu, who sighed and placed it with exaggerated purpose into his palm.

"You'll choke yourself in your sleep, one of these days," he remarked acidly, a little piqued that Hidan was choosing Jashin over him for comfort. "You're like a baby with a pacifier, honestly!" Could he wean Hidan off his dependence on this thing, he wondered? He knew he shouldn't let himself even think about it though - he'd only get irritated. "Lets go for a run," he suggested, yawning until his jaw cracked. "Better than dwelling - you can tell me about it as we go. If you want."

Out in the street, although there was still an early-morning chill in the air, Kisame was out in his boxer shorts, shaking a box of cat biscuits and calling for Samehada. When he saw them he crossed the street.

"That wretched cat of mine's been out all night - you haven't seen her, have you?" he asked. Hidan eyeballed him coldly, and Kisame lowered the biscuits and gave him a rueful attempt at a pacifying grin.

"Sorry for being a dick the other night Hidan," he said. "That text... look, I really didn't mean it - I'm sorry. Is Suigetsu alright?"

Hidan had been ready to run straight past without a word - as it was he was still extremely frosty. "Why'nt you call him and find out?" he muttered ungraciously.

"We put him in a cab," Kakuzu said, putting a calming hand on Hidan's arm, sensing how rattled he still was. "He was certainly the worse for wear but nothing a good night's sleep wouldn't fix."

Not entirely true, he thought as he said the words, though, and oddly the protective instinct that Hidan roused in him seemed to have attached itself to Suigetsu as well now. Poor kid. He'd had to hold him as he vomited into a drain on Great Eastern Street, and as they'd sat on the kerb to wait for the taxi he'd even tucked his jacket around him because he was so shivery. Suigetsu had burrowed right into his side and it had just been second nature to put his arm around him, to talk calmly to him about the inane and mundane, distract him from his all-too-apparent misery.

He looked at Kisame with diminishing sympathy. You should leave him alone, he thought.

"Thanks for doing that." Kisame did at least have the grace to look ashamed of himself. "I really messed up there."

"Yes, you did!" Hidan shot back. "You know what - I'm starting to wish I'd never given you his number. I didn't think you'd be the one to dick him around!"

Kisame sighed. "What can I say? I'm damaged goods right now - I'm no good for anyone," he said, and his tone was soggy with self-pity - even he could hear it. He shook his head, feeling disgusted with himself. "But you're right, Hidan. I will try and put things right with him."


He walked thoughtfully back into his flat as Hidan and Kakuzu jogged on up the road and of onto the Heath. He put the cat biscuits away and sat down at the table. Once or twice he let his head drop into his hands before getting a grip on himself. Otherwise he stared fixedly out of the window.

After a little while he reached for his phone. You're a grown man, he thought. There's no excuse for this.

A good night's sleep hadn't been enough to fix Suigetsu - in fact he'd lost an entire day to the hangover that ensued from Yugito's party. And on Sunday morning, as Hidan and Kakuzu headed up the hill, he was still lying in bed in the little box room in the flat he shared with Sasuke, Jugo and Karin (which he'd chosen over the larger bedrooms so that he could pay a lower rent). He'd got up to go to the toilet but then he'd come straight back again, not able to face the day. His headache had gone, but the crushing flatness hadn't and there didn't seem to be anything to get up for.

Although it had been light for hours, and he'd been lying awake - physically unable to sleep any more - he hadn't bothered to draw the curtains. Now he was having a half-hearted wank in the semi-darkness, and he wasn't even able to muster enough self-control to not make it about Kisame. And as he blew a rather pathetic load into the day before yesterday's scrunched up boxer shorts, the whole brief encounter started playing in his head all over again.

Walking out from the cottage together had been a tense, butterflies in the stomach affair. Little smiles, little thrilling moments of eye contact. It had been a dull day - he knew that - so why was he remembering it as if it was golden sunlight? He didn't want to think about that too hard. Next thing, as they rounded the corner of the high hedge, Kisame's hand had made its way into the back pocket of his jeans, pulling him a little closer. "What're you doing all the way over there?"

He'd laughed - shyly, really, although normally he was anything but shy. He'd had plenty to say by text - by turns bold, provocative, flirtatious - but now he was actually here the reality of it all was a little bit overwhelming. Just the size of Kisame was kind of intimidating, and when you got close enough the scent of him as well - tobacco and sea salt and something else he couldn't place. The pale eyes that seemed to pin you into place.

"You had enough to say by text - cat got your tongue now?" Kisame had said teasingly, mirroring his thoughts, and now Suigetsu thought he remembered a feeling of precariousness, a consciousness of how quickly this opportunity could slip away from him. Or was that just something he was adding in hindsight?

"A bit," he'd admitted.

"Well, that's okay," Kisame had said, taking a few more steps into the field until they were completely hidden from the house and then stopping, turning round to face him fully. Grinning widely. "Not much more to say, is there."

Suigetsu could still make his stomach do the almost sickeningly excited lurch that had elicited just by thinking about it now. Only now it really did make him want to throw up.

His eagerness must have shown in his face. Kisame was laughing at him gently and manoeuvring him around so that his back was against a tree - some massive oak or something but it had felt flimsy compared to Kisame himself - and, "you're a cute kid, aren't you?" he'd murmured. "So fucking cute!"

"Maybe not such a kid as all that!" he'd replied with more bravado than he felt, and he'd wantonly run his hand over the front of Kisame's trousers - felt him stiffen even more at his touch, and looking up into his face he'd been so confident this was going well - Kisame had looked so pleased, almost surprised- "uhh," he'd groaned - still smiling though - "I'd actually started to doubt that anyone as sweet as you could really be up for this..."

"So fucking up for it!" Suigetsu had answered, stretching up to whisper the words right against Kisame's mouth. He kind of hated himself for that, now. Even alone in his bedroom, he cringed.

It had done the trick at the time, though, and once they were kissing everything had progressed smoothly, though Suigetsu's had been heart thumping so hard that he honestly couldn't say now whether Kisame's had been doing the same, or whether he'd been as cool about it then as he was being now - but it hadn't seemed like it. They'd kissed for a while; getting used to each other, figuring each other out. Suigetsu had a tendency to bite a bit which a lot of people weren't up for; Kisame didn't seem to mind that.

Before long they were really getting down to business and although he hadn't really thought of getting further than this in one day he just sort of couldn't stop himself. He remembered now how the zip of his jacket had snagged and his hands were shaking too much to free it - Kisame had had to. And the look on his face as he'd sorted him out was too much to think about right now - he gave a kind of yelping howl of misery into his pillow; thumped his fist on the mattress. But still he couldn't stop thinking about it.

Kisame had thrown his own jacket down onto the grass and settled onto it - he was propped up in one elbow, holding his other arm out invitingly to Suigetsu. He didn't say anything, just raised both eyebrows and grinned. Suigetsu had gone to him without a word as well.

In a few seconds his belt was undone, and his vest top eased over his head - his skinny jeans took Kisame a little more time but with some judicious wriggling on Suigetsu's part it was achieved. Suigetsu had reached again for Kisame's fly, but Kisame had caught his wrist, and pinned his hand above his head. He undid his own belt buckle and fly instead.

"Uh uh," he'd said, chuckling a little. "I'm not ready for you to touch me yet, kid."

"I want to!" Suigetsu gasped protestingly.

"Don't be impatient," he said, a soft murmur at odds with his unyielding grip. "I want to enjoy this - I won't be able to concentrate once you get your little paws on me!"

He'd trailed a finger around Suigetsu's nipple and down towards his dick, which was hard hard hard now - achingly hard, and desperate to be touched. Suigetsu felt it like an electric tingle down his spine as well, and had arced his body towards Kisame with a distinctly impatient moan that had made him laugh again.

"Alright, alright," he'd soothed, getting his hand to it and tracing a finger up the shaft. "I'm getting there..."

Maybe it wasn't just the result of Kisame's powers of concentration - maybe being restrained had something to do with as well - but Suigetsu was putty in his hands from that point onward. Kisame touching and teasing him - enjoying him - all he could do was gasp and moan and focus desperately on not coming shamefully early.

"On your knees, kiddo," was his next command, and Suigetsu scrambled to obey; it was hard, as Kisame was keeping his hands where they were, but he'd managed it. "Let's get to the really fun stuff," he heard him say - then felt his tongue circling his asshole and just fucking melted.

He couldn't even guess how long that part had gone on, but he remembered briefly panicking that he was just going to explode and this would be over. And he didn't want it to be over. "I'm - I'm going to fucking come, Kisame," he managed to force out in between sobbing gasps - nobody had made him feel this intensely before - no-one, and he'd been around the block a few times to say the least.

"That's okay," Kisame had said, his voice somehow husky and silky at the same time (Suigetsu could replay it in his head now, pitch perfect, again and again - that's okay; that's okay- - Stop it! he told himself sharply) "You can go again, no?"

And, "yes! yes!" he'd agreed - desperate to feel Kisame's tongue on him again. And so he'd let himself relax as Kisame resumed his rimming; let him bring him off into his hand, and then collapsed face first - fuck knows how; Kisame must have engineered that as well - into his lap.

Kisame had let him lie there, panting and gasping for a minute, then, "right then, knock yourself out, kid," he'd said, spreading his legs a little wider so that his erect cock was pretty much staring him in the face. And like he'd said to Hidan the other night - Kisame was fucking hung. But he'd gone to town on it, and heard Kisame groan with pleasure above him. His hands now his own again, he'd used every trick in the book to try and give Kisame the blowjob of his life. Which he was still certain he could've done if Kisame hadn't decided to distract him.

It was Kisame's fingers at his ass this time, very slick with his own cum and he was already pretty open. It didn't take long for him to find it hard to concentrate - really hard to concentrate - he'd groaned around his mouthful of cock, felt his technique slipping. Blood was pumping in his ears but he heard Kisame say teasingly, "what your mouth can't finish, your ass is gonna have to take over..." Another finger went in - he moaned again, letting Kisame's cock slip out of his mouth, burying his face in his lap. "Do you have anything with you?" Kisame had asked. He'd just shaken his head. Kisame's fingers eased in and out, in and out. "But you want it?" he asked, voice low. A nod.

Kisame lifted him onto his knees again. "Look, I wouldn't normally-" he began, his voice still a soft, sensual murmur, "But I'm on PrEP anyway so it's fine by me," He grinned suddenly - intense and salacious. "Seems like a waste not to, no?"

"Then it's fine - I'm clear anyway," Suigetsu had replied, words tripping over each other in his haste, heart thumping in anticipation. (It hadn't even occurred to him to wonder why Kisame was on PrEP, though of course it did now. Something to do with Sasuke's brother? But he wouldn't let himself think about it). He'd felt Kisame's fingers slowly withdraw all the way; heard the slick sound of him spreading the rest of the cum from his hand onto his cock. Then-

On his narrow bed in the dim little room he curled into a ball and almost cried. It had felt so good, so unbelievably, overwhelmingly good, and despite how dominant Kisame could be he'd felt so safe with him, so relaxed and happy. When Kisame had cum deep inside him, and he'd simultaneously blown a second load into Kisame's hand, he'd felt exuberant, almost lightheaded. He'd turned and grinned at Kisame and Kisame had grinned back, and they'd both burst into laughter. Kisame had gathered him up into his arms and kissed him - hardly less intensely than at the beginning.

"You okay?" he'd asked.

Yes, yes. He'd been more than okay.

They'd relaxed back onto the ground together. "Sorry to boss you around..." Kisame murmured with a little culpable smile.

"Mm, you can do that, I don't mind..." And he really hadn't.

They'd lain down on Kisame's jacket for a minute, Kisame's arm hard and warm around him. He'd stared up at the cloudy sky; listened to the soft hum of insects around them in the grass. And felt peaceful. He could tell Kisame was looking at him, and he'd been about to turn and face him again, when they'd both felt a buzz from the jacket pocket.

And that had been the beginning of the end.

Kisame had sighed. "Better be getting you back, kiddo," he'd said. "In fact, you run along first - I'll see you in there. We should probably be a bit discreet about this."

Suigetsu had agreed, though he didn't really see why they needed to be discreet - they hadn't really been beforehand, after all. But he'd probably have agreed to anything at that point. Kisame had even had to help him on with his clothes because he found on getting up that he was trembling with exhaustion. "Sure you're okay?" Kisame had asked, and he'd said yes again, and wondered now - not for the first time - how much difference it might have made if he'd said no.

And they'd hugged again, Kisame kissed him briefly on top of his head, then gave him a little push between the shoulderblades, back towards the house. "I'll see you in there," he'd said again. And Suigetsu had walked into the house like he was walking on air. Exhausted but exhilarated; he couldn't stop smiling...

Remembering that was the most painful part, really. As it turned out that would be the last thing Kisame would say to him altogether and now, instead, he couldn't stop the tears - he didn't so much burst into them as dissolve - a helpless downward slide. When Kisame had come into the house and walked past him without a word it was like a rug had been pulled from under his feet. He'd felt the shock like a physical blow. He hadn't even given him even so much as a look and it was all so wrong. Even thought he'd let himself plaster on top of the gaping emotional wound an artificial hope that he'd come back - that this was just Kisame being extra discreet - of course he hadn't, and in his gut he'd always known he wouldn't.

And then Hidan had come over, and he knew he hadn't been able to hide the way he felt for even a single second.

Had it been the text Kisame had received? But what could have been said in a single text message to change everything? Had he had a sudden change of heart? Decided it was a bad idea? But why not say? Why not at least say something? Suigetsu dropped his head onto his folded arms and took a deep breath. At the very least he just needed to know why.

He'd just begun to get a grip on himself and stop the last of his expendable body moisture from leaking out through his face, when he heard a murmur of voices in the hall. Jugo and Karin - Sasuke hadn't been home for nearly a week now. Moments later Jugo knocked on the door.

"I've brought you a cup of tea." His voice was kind - strong and gentle - what Jugo did best. Why don't I fall for guys like Jugo? Suigetsu asked himself. But he couldn't guess the answer to that. He just didn't.

After a few minutes of no reply, Jugo let himself in. He sat down on the bed and put a hand on Suigetsu's shoulder. "Come on, mate," he said, after a moment of silence. "He's made you this unhappy, he's not worth it."

Suigetsu couldn't disagree with his reasoning, but somehow he couldn't accept the conclusion either. He just made a sad little mmph noise into his pillow.

"Drink your tea," Jugo cajoled. "You'll feel better for it - you always do."

Suigetsu nodded, but didn't move. Jugo put the tea down on the bedside table.

"You need a hug?" It was only half a question. Suigetsu nodded again, and let Jugo lift him off the mattress, even curling up helpfully so he could be pulled more easily against his chest. He pressed his face against Jugo's collarbone, enjoying the feel of the thick cotton jersey of his sweatshirt against his cheek. He smelt clean. He knew he must smell of sweat, spunk and tears himself, and admired Jugo's forbearance, letting him get so close. And it did feel better. A bit better.

Jugo shifted them a bit further onto the bed and they leant against the wall, Jugo's arm still comfortingly around him. He reached him his tea for him and Suigetsu sipped it gratefully, feeling it start to ease his dry and achy throat.

They sat in companionable silence until he'd nearly finished the cup, and then Suigetsu began to feel that Jugo was going to Say Something. He wondered if it had been decided on by committee with Karin last night and braced himself. "I know it's not going to do any good if I say forget about him," Jugo began finally, "but-" And then Suigetsu's phone buzzed. Jugo fell silent. They could both read the words that came up on the lock screen.

'Kiddo, I'm sorry for being such a dick. I know I've made you unhappy and believe me I've...'

It was a long text. Well, Kisame was an old-school long-form journalist, after all. Suigetsu rather wished he'd waited for Jugo to leave before opening it.

'...been feeling awful about it ever since,' it continued. 'I'd like to say I thought it would be easier for you if I just disappeared, but that's not it. I knew it wouldn't. I guess I didn't trust myself to stick to it. Not face to face with you. Probably not even if I let myself get drawn into a text convo. I did actually mean to text when I got back to London, but then there was the accident and it changed things. I shouldn't have let things get as far as they did between us, basically - I've recognised that I'm still a mess over someone else and it wouldn't be fair on anyone to get involved with you right now.'

Before he'd even finished reading another came.

'I didn't think it would affect you so badly. I'm really sorry.'

Suigetsu swallowed. He stared at Jugo.

"Is it what you wanted to hear?" Jugo asked flatly.

"Not ... not exactly." But he couldn't keep the excitement out of his tone. Because he could work with this.

"It makes it better though?" Jugo asked.

He nodded. Jugo stared at him, his expression unreadable. Then he got up as well. He picked up Suigetsu's empty mug and headed for the door.

"I've got to go to work," he said, giving Suigetsu's shoulder a squeeze as he passed him. "Just... be careful of yourself this time, okay?"


But Suigetsu was never careful of himself. 'Ok :)' he typed, as soon as Jugo left the room. Let him stew with that for a bit, he wasn't above thinking as he pressed send. He waited until he heard the front door slam, then hot-tailed it to the bathroom and flung himself into the shower.

By the time Hidan and Kakuzu were up on the Heath the sun was breaking through and things felt better. Hidan was managing not to see Sasori's half head every time he blinked; and was even quite enjoying grumbling to Kakuzu about Kisame. Kakuzu mainly just grunted monosyllabic replies. Hidan only realised as he reached the top of Parliament Hill a few paces ahead of him that that might not simply be the result of monosyllabic feelings and eased off the pace a little.

"Well, try to be civil to him, at least," Kakuzu panted as they crossed the common and headed for the woods. "Because it looks like we'll need to do one last favour for the Akatsuki group. Once I've acquired the Uzumaki kid's degree show I'll have the leverage because I don't have to sell it on to Nagato Pein. But in the meantime we shouldn't let them suspect we want out. And Konan's asked me to introduce Kisame to Killer Bee, so we should do that."

Hidan - who knew Killer Bee better than Kakuzu - expressed the opinion that that wasn't likely to be hard. Then, after rather a pregnant pause, he muttered, "They want me to do a shoot with a girl."

"Hm?" Kakuzu grunted casually. But he didn't actually feel very casual about it. Given the timing it was probably an agency attempt at straight-washing - and Hidan's cagey attitude suggested he wasn't unaware of it.

"Yeah they say they've got someone in mind." Hidan slowed to a walk and Kakuzu followed suit. "They say we need to make my portfolio look a bit more versatile..." He looked up at Kakuzu with a grimace.

"Well it's normal isn't it?" Kakuzu gave a resigned shake of his head. "It's expected - the formula of every ad campaign - a beautiful man and a beautiful woman..."

"I have zero fucking interest in being normal." Hidan kicked a stone out of his path.

Kakuzu sighed. "I know." He touched the small of Hidan's back, urging him on again. He was irked and needed to be moving. It might be just a small thing - like he'd said, a normal thing - but why bother to try and paint Hidan as anything he wasn't? It wasn't likely to stick, was it?

But the media seemed to have different ideas, as he found once back home and reading the Sunday papers over toast and coffee while he waited for Hidan to finish in the shower. At least three separate mentions in the fashion section of the Times magazine of what an adorable pair Hidan and Yugito made - one with a description of him as 'sexually fluid' - and finally a suggestion that Kakuzu himself had gone home with Suigetsu. Complete with a picture of him shunting the kid into a taxi. He threw the paper down with a growl of annoyance. He'd already had to look at himself awkwardly fist-bumping Killer Bee in the gossip pages. This was really too much. A teenager? Really?

However, by the time Hidan came downstairs he'd cheered up a little, because at least the presumption that he'd left with Suigetsu meant that his actual exit with Hidan later on had gone unnoticed. That was the important thing, after all. But Hidan was catching up with the news now. He was looking at his work phone in disbelief and gestured dramatically at the screen as he caught Kakuzu's eye on him.

"It says here that I was spotted 'wandering disconsolately through the fashion crowd' as you left the party with Suigetsu!" he raged. "Is the whole world fucking retarded?! Did they not see you very clearly still fucking being there after the taxi fucking drove away?"

Kakuzu pulled him onto his lap because he was still only in his underwear and utterly irresistible. "You were looking disconsolate, weren't you?" he said, taking Hidan's phone and examining the picture, which must have been taken just as he headed backstage to begin his ritual. He closed the phone down. "There there, love. Why are you looking at the Daily Mail, anyway? Mind you, they're even saying in the Times that Yugito is poised to become Mrs Yugito Yu and that you're bisexual... An upgrade from gay art mogul's gay boyfriend, no?"

"I fucking hate it!" Hidan snarled. "I really fucking hate it."

The doorbell rang and Hidan suddenly brightened. He pushed Kakuzu back down into his seat as he made to get up. "No, I'm getting it!" he said, a definite gleam in his eye. He ruffled his hair out of place a little. "Do I look dishevelled enough..?" he asked mischievously.

"Not even nearly," Kakuzu smirked, pulling him back down and proceeding to dishevel him rather a lot more.

By the time he'd finished with him Hidan even had to wait a moment to let his excitement subside a little. He bit his lip, breathing hard and looking at Kakuzu with satisfaction. "Let them fucking try and straight-wash this!" he smiled, then sauntered down the hall with a swagger in his step that left Kakuzu needing a moment to compose himself.

There was a large parcel on the top step when Hidan finally got the front door open, and Killer Bee was at the gate, just leaving. "Oh hi, Hidan!" he called. There was a gratifying flash of at least one press camera - they weren't quite yesterday's news yet, it seemed. Bee switched on his drum machine, which he had hoisted on one shoulder. "Ahh..." he began as the beat kicked in. "Come on...!"

"Ah, fucking hell, Bee," Hidan lolled against the doorframe and rolled his eyes. "At this time in the morning?!"

Bee clearly gave no fucks about the time of day. "I've left a little present there for Kakuzu-" he intoned. "I hope he'll find it useful for the things that you guys do-"

"What, is it a sex toy?" Hidan cast a skeptical eye at the parcel. "It's a big one then!"

Kakuzu came up behind him and put an arm around his waist. "I trust not!" he said as another camera flash went off from behind the hedge. "That's very kind of you, Bee," he continued, unperturbed. "I enjoyed our chat last night - we must have you over for dinner sometime. I'd love to introduce you to a few of our friends as well."

'Ok :)'

Kisame stared at Suigetsu's text for far too long, trying to read meaning into it. For all he'd decided not to get involved, he'd be lying if he said he hadn't hoped for some kind of acknowledgement of his feelings - some kind of closure. It wasn't just the way he still felt about Itachi that had held him back, he had to admit. That half hour with in the field had shown him very clearly just how deep in he could get with Suigetsu, and how easily. And it wasn't a good idea. This inane text just seemed like even more confirmation of the fact that - while he might manage to satisfy him for a while - he was so very young... In fact, too young. Give it a few years and he'd be sure to get itchy feet and cause him the kind of heartbreak he wasn't sure he could bounce back from a second time. Best, really, to not even start that kind of thing.

Eventually he decided that he'd go for a run on the Heath as well. It would take his mind off things.

When he got to the top he sat down on the grass and leant back on his elbows, looking out over London and allowing his thoughts to settle along with his pounding heart. He wondered how Itachi was doing, and thought about calling him when he got back home. But he surprised himself by not wanting to. It struck him suddenly that while he'd been acting like one half of a celibate couple for years now, Itachi had not been. He really didn't mean as much to Itachi as Itachi had meant to him. A good friend, with shared interests - nothing more. And as he tumbled to that flattening realisation, all the desire to hear his voice - and see him, hold him - sort of drained out of him.

It was replaced with a sick-feeling, real world jolt of shame at having been such a moon-calf for so long. Perhaps it was having finally texted Suigetsu - cue another jolt of shame - but he realised as well that he'd made Itachi and his health an excuse for all kinds of bad behaviour. His impersonal hook-ups with no attempt to get close people; his neglect of other friendships. Even his tendency to become boorish and ill-mannered with people he slightly fancied (and he knew that repeatedly doing this with Hidan was testing his friendship with Kakuzu perhaps more than it could take). Was it all because he hoped that some crumbs of love from Itachi might still drop his way?

He watched with detached fascination as a flight of crows rose from the field beyond the tree line. Itachi had always loved watching them. They wheeled around and flew overhead, then circled back. And he resolved that there was going to be no more mooning about after people. He'd focus on his work, and on his friends. He'd go surfing and he'd do some serious walking. Alone. And he'd let himself recover. This had been an obsession that had consumed him for too long to just flick a switch and expect to be back to normal.

He got up and broke into a run, setting a faster pace than he usually did. He wanted to feel the burn of something purely physical and forget about emotion completely.

"Did I fucking hear you right?" Hidan said through an ever-widening grin as they finally closed the door. (Killer Bee had been delighted at the prospect of deepening their acquaintance and had insisted on serenading them with a new composition of his that they had apparently inspired the other night). "We're having a fucking party? Are you serious, man?"

"I said dinner," Kakuzu protested in alarm. "I didn't say the word 'party'-" Suddenly he was stricken with doubt. "Did I?"

"Same fucking difference, man." Hidan was undoing the parcel. "Let's see what we have here," he said, smoothing open the paper. Then he went quiet. Kakuzu leant over his shoulder and his mouth dropped open in horror. Without doubt, this was something from Bee's own sportswear line. It was - he supposed - running kit, and it was the blingyist, most over the top, most tasteless thing he'd ever seen.

Hidan let out a snort of laughter and then creased up completely. "Ahhhh...hahahahaha!" he howled, eyes streaming with mirth. Uhhhh-huh-huh-huh! Fuck! You're gonna have to wear this shit Kakuzu! You'll have to! He'll be mortally fucking wounded otherwise and he won't wanna come to your party!"

Kakuzu, tightlipped, was shaking his head, denial and disbelief etched across his frozen features. "I can't," he uttered dramatically. "God knows, I've taken one for the team before, but I can't do this. It's beyond the pale."

Hidan was fingering the gold appliqué lettering on the back of the top part - sleeveless and of a dazzling whiteness - it said 'art mogul'. "I reckon he's had this made up for you specially!" he said gleefully. Kakuzu dropped his face into his hands.

Hidan cackled with delight. "Over the weekend too!" he pointed out. "You must've made a hit with him! Turning on the charm while I was working, huh? Keeping your hand in? Honing your smooth smooth schmoozing skills..?"

"Oh shut up. I don't think I could've been less charming if I'd tried!" Kakuzu claimed, utterly mortified, folding the paper back over the offending articles with a brisk crackle. "All I did was come up with a rhyming couplet!"

"Awwww, whats the matter?!" Hidan danced around him as he made his way back to the kitchen. "Look at you - you're all disappointed! You thought it was going to be something nice... aww, Kakuzuuuu...!"

"Shut up, Hidan..." Kakuzu growled.

"Fucking make me," Hidan laughed, hanging off his shoulders. "You're blushing, Kakuzu. I'm right aren't I? You were expecting a nice first edition or something..."


Well, he had asked for it, Kakuzu considered thirty seconds later when he was asking himself if he ought to feel bad for pinning Hidan backwards over the kitchen table and forcibly stuffing three-quarters of a croissant into his mouth. On balance, he didn't regret it. Hidan was doggedly chewing, though; he probably only had five seconds of peace left, at most. He decided to spend it on re-reading his bank statement. That was always satisfying.

Kisame left the door open when he came back into the house because the day was warm. He'd worked up quite a sweat too, so he headed straight for the shower. If he heard noises, such as light footsteps, or the scrape of chair legs on linoleum, he put it down to Samehada returning from whatever nocturnal adventures had overrun this time. He emerged feeling relaxed and pleasantly tired, and wandered back into the kitchen - towel around his waist - to get last night's leftovers from the fridge because he'd worked up quite an appetite as well.

And there was Suigetsu - sitting at his kitchen table and playing with Samehada. She was lying on her back, slashing with all four sets of claws his fingertips as he whisked them repeatedly out of reach. There was a ball of scrunched up newspaper that he'd tied to a string lying on the table; clearly not high-risk enough for him.

"Hey," he said lightly, barely looking up.

Kisame was speechless for a moment.

"... what. the fuck. are you doing in my kitchen?" he asked, finally. He adjusted his towel and perched on the edge of the table - he hoped nonchalantly.

"Making you see me face to face." Suigetsu clearly wasn't fucking around this time and he looked up properly now. Behind the lop-sided grin, Kisame felt like he could see the strain of the last few weeks. Maybe he was a little thinner. Shadows under his eyes. That sweet happy kid... You fucking monster, he berated himself.

Still. He had some nerve. "It wasn't an invitation," he said. But Suigetsu just looked at him, and he gave up the nonchalant act - crossed over to him and shooed Samehada off the table. He put a hand under his chin and tilted his face up so he could look him right in the eye. "This is exactly why I'm no good for you, kiddo," he said quietly. "Look at you - this deep in and we only fucked once. Come on, let me get some clothes on and I'll walk you to the tube."

Suigetsu shook his head. "Not til you at least tell me what happened. What changed."


Kisame couldn't. So after a moment of awkward silence he fell back on bluster and bullshit. "Look, okay - we fancied each other," he said defensively. "We had a quick hook-up; we both had a good time - but that's the end of it, okay? I'm not looking for a relationship."

"Couldn't we just... hook-up again?" Suigetsu suggested.

"Kid, it doesn't work like that."

"It could."

Kisame opened his mouth, then closed it again. Suddenly - and he'd known this would happen - he couldn't get a proper grasp in his head of why he was trying not to do this. And while he stood there like a lemon Suigetsu took matters into his own hands.

"You didn't let me finish, the other day."

"Wha-?" Kisame began, but - oh god - Suigetsu was tugging away his towel, slipping onto the floor in front of him, his hands sliding up Kisame's thighs, his tongue circling around the tip of his already half hard cock.

Kisame gripped the back of a chair as Suigetsu drew him deeper into his mouth. He knew he should put a stop to this, but he didn't say 'stop' - or make any move to push Suigetsu away. He realised - semi incoherently - that if he did try to stop him, he'd still be hoping that Suigetsu would just carry on regardless. Which was ridiculous. Wasn't it?

He stifled a groan as Suigetsu got into his stride. "Fuck..." he moaned, his fingers twisting into his hair. "Fuck Suigetsu...! This is... We shouldn't... uhh..."

He shot a panicky little glance out of the window. By this time at the weekend the road got fairly busy with passers by - not to mention the constant press presence outside Kakuzu's house - but he decided Suigetsu was probably decently hidden by the table. Even if he hadn't been, he wasn't sure if he could have found the resolve to stop him. He didn't feel like he had resolve for anything at this point. Even his body didn't seem to be obeying him; one of his legs started trembling and he leant harder on the chair back, which creaked ominously.

Suigetsu looked up at him briefly, then reached around him to pull out one of the other chairs with a horrendous shriek of wood on tiles. He pushed him down into it, tugging him to the edge of the seat and pushing his legs wide. His hands smoothed up over Kisame's abdomen and back down along his thighs, then slipped between them again. Smooth fingertips caressed his balls and Kisame tipped his head back, biting his lip and not caring anymore how much noise he made. All his resolutions went out of the window.

Over at Kakuzu's house, Hidan - after having dealt with his entirely different kind of mouthful and then bitched for some time about having overloaded with carbs now - had sat Kakuzu down with a pen and a pad of paper and was forcing him to plan his party. They'd decided they might as well kill as many birds as they possibly could with one stone and use this as a schmoozing opportunity for potential influential art and fashion connections.

"Well," Hidan said brightly. "Drinks or dinner...?"

"Dinner, I suppose - might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb," Kakuzu replied moodily. "You can count on some idiot getting sozzled either way, though." He was still upset about the running kit.

"Well, on that joyous note - guests?" Hidan tipped up his chair and looked up at the ceiling. "Kisame and Killer Bee, obviously - who else."

"Yugito..." Kakuzu said, writing the three names down. "And I thought we might also introduce Kisame to Kim..."

"What the fuck?" Hidan stared, dismayed. "Why is Kimimaro anyone we want to schmooze?"

"The association is good for my reputation," Kakuzu said. "Now that all that medical nonsense has come to light. And if he can cement a working relationship with Kisame for us, so much the better."

"Why can't we have Suigetsu instead of Kimimaro?"

Kakuzu picked up the list again. "That would be explosive and you know it, Hidan. For whatever reason, Kisame doesn't want to go down that path and we need to respect that. I thought Kim might be an interesting alternative for him."

Hidan made a face. "Why the fuck-?"

"Well..." Kakuzu shrugged. He didn't really want to say it was because Kimimaro had something of the same look as Hidan and Suigetsu - Hidan wouldn't appreciate that at all - so he chose his words carefully. "He looks the part," he settled for, finally. "And he's a decent age for him, at least," he added, slightly judgementally.

"Hm." Hidan rocked back on his chair and raised and eyebrow. "I don't buy it man. I reckon Kim would drive Kisame up the fucking wall."

"Well, whatever, I need to keep up friendly relations with him now, or I wouldn't put it past him to be talking to the press about us."

Hidan narrowed his eyes. "You remember what you said about him just wanting you in the operating theatre for a good dinner party anecdote? Well, what if he makes that this dinner party?"

"He'd better not," Kakuzu said shortly, and wrote his name down anyway.

"I'm sorry not to involve Konan," he said, feeling it was best to move swiftly on, "but I feel she's a ... difficult prospect right now. Perhaps Karin instead."

"Yeah fine," Hidan said sulkily.

"Zabuza has been making overtures since the funeral," Kakuzu continued, ignoring his tone. "Perhaps we should give him a try. I'm fed up with his work but I do own quite a lot. Perhaps if he got involved with you he'd get back on form. Either way, it would be good publicity for you both."

Hidan did a weird sort of half shrug, half nod. "Yeah maybe," he said. "Alright, invite him then. You gonna play matchmaker for Karin too?"

"No," Kakuzu said shortly. "She needs to stop thinking about romance and focus on her career."

"So is that it? We're a bit light on the ladies, aren't we? That will piss Yugito off."

He looked over at the list with a critical eye. Kisame, Kim, Killer Bee, Yugito, Zabuza, Karin... "Can I invite anyone? he asked. It was very obviously a loaded question.

"Don't you think six is enough?" Kakuzu said disingenuously.

Hidan didn't think six was enough. He said what if no one liked each other, and made several completely unsuitable suggestions, including Kabuto and Orochimaru.

Kakuzu snorted. "You have a vested interest in this being a complete melee, don't you? Are you trying to start a war?"

Hidan muttered that at least it would be interesting. Kakuzu put the list aside. "Look," he said. "I'm not trying to put together a social occasion that you'll hate-"

Hidan shook his head and picked the list up again. "Seriously though. Ladies," he said.

Kakuzu agreed that it was a problem, but unfortunately neither of them were the type of gay guy who ran with a crowd of girlfriends. He watched Hidan doodle a cock in the margin and frowned thoughtfully.

"Mei Terumi..." he said finally, taking the pen from Hidan and tapping it on the table. "I wonder if she would- her work is fantastic... so versatile..."

"The head of Goldsmiths?" Hidan laughed. "Better invite a straight guy for her then..."

"... isn't Killer Bee...?"

"Oh yeah..."

"And who knows about Zabuza - he used to fuck anything that moved back in the 90s."

"Partnered up now though."

"Really? I didn't know - we'll have to invite his partner too, then. That's good, actually - an even number is better."

"So that's it?"

"That's it." Kakuzu picked up the list and got up from the table. "I'd better start making phone calls - it would be good to get this done and dusted before the retrospective."

Hidan shot him a sultry look and raised one eyebrow. Kakuzu smiled. "And then maybe we'll see about working off that carb overload..." he added.

Chapter Text

It was the afternoon of the party and Kakuzu was in his kitchen, feeding the dogs and scanning the newspaper before a run on the Heath with Hidan. Hidan was still changing, but Kakuzu was ready - and catching his own name in the sea of text he sat down to read the paragraph more fully.

‘Itachi Uchiha’s and Nagato Pein’s declining health, the loss of Sasori no Akasuna, Hidan Yu and Kakuzu Taki beleaguered with lawsuits and locked in a seemingly never-ending cycle of bad press and notoriety, Deidara Iwa off the rails and dragging Tobi Uchiha down with him... Is there anyone left from the once seemingly charmed Akatsuki crowd who’s still OK? Until last week we had Konan Ame as serene as ever, but since best-selling novelist Jiraiya took his life after she published as account of her inappropriate relationship with him as a schoolgirl, Ms. Ame has retreated from the public eye, and has even reportedly fallen out with long term friend and collaborator Yahiko…’

Kakuzu threw the paper down in disgust. Shikamaru Nara writing for The Guardian Arts section. His tone was soggy with concern and false sympathy, but clearly the boy was revelling in painting the Akatsuki group as a bunch of malfunctioning has-beens.

The run-up to the party - or dinner, as Kakuzu still insisted on calling it - had hardly been smooth. It was true about the lawsuits, though Kakuzu had no idea how Nara had got hold of it so quickly. Kakuzu was being investigated for insider trading involving his sale of the bank’s Sarutobis, and Hidan was being sued by the press photographer whose camera he’d smashed after Dei and Sasori’s accident. Kakuzu was also up to his eyeballs in preparation for the opening of Sasori’s retrospective, Hidan had been filming a TV ad for Comme des Garçons, as well as fitting in photoshoots with Vogue and GQ for Yugito’s collection, and they were both stressed and tired. However, Kakuzu felt more strongly than ever that a new social direction was a priority for them. The Akatsuki Group had been making headlines for all the wrong reasons. Deidara and Tobi were being papped falling out of taxis and vomiting into gutters what felt like every other day now, and Kisame had been photographed coming out of his flat with Suigetsu, prompting speculation about Akatsuki love triangles and conservative hand-wringing about Suigetsu’s extreme youth. Konan’s exposé of Jiraiya couldn’t have been more disastrous - after his suicide there had been an outpouring of sympathy for him and much questioning of Konan’s story. The whole affair had outraged the literary and artistic community. And, for the coup de grâce , Akatsuki share prices were falling.

Kakuzu was worried about Hidan as well. He was clearly missing the creative process he’d had with Deidara; he didn’t enjoy fashion modelling anything like as much as working with artists. He was booked with Suigetsu a lot, and Kakuzu didn’t like the effect that was having on him. Then, at the opposite end of the scale from the pills and booze was Jashin. Kakuzu liked him even less than Suigetsu, and every time he walked in on Hidan with his rosary in his hand he had to bite back an angry outburst. A new creative partnership was clearly in order, and Kakuzu had fairly high hopes that Zabuza might provide that. After all, they were both art world bad boys - that had to count for something. Killer Bee also seemed like a wholesome sort of fellow despite his dubious fashion sense - Kakuzu was hoping he might counter Suigetsu’s self-destructive influence a little.

However, Killer Bee was also something of a problem - he’d been asking Kakuzu every time he saw him if the hideous running kit he’d given him was the right size, and whether he liked it, and Kakuzu had taken to leaving the house the back way to avoid him as there was no way on earth he’d be seen dead in it. Kakuzu sighed, and used the Guardian to re-line the dog’s feeding area. He didn’t know what he’d say about it to Killer Bee tonight. And successfully introducing the man to Kisame might be his and Hidan’s last chance to extract themselves from the disaster the Akatsuki was becoming. Because if Nagato Pein still expected Naruto Uzumaki’s degree show to be delivered him after he and Konan had destroyed the boy’s Godfather... well. It was looking very unrealistic, to say the least.

As though on cue, Hidan appeared in the kitchen, ready to go. And he’d obviously decided it was time Kakuzu’s new running kit had an outing whether Kakuzu would wear it or not. He’d also added to the gold appliqué lettering in black biro so that it now read ‘ gay ART MOGUL ’s gay boyfriend ’ and, heedless of the paparazzi who were still encamped behind the front hedge, he set off for the Heath, Kakuzu in hot pursuit. 


By the time Kakuzu finally accepted that the situation was unsalvageable and that yelling ‘take the damn thing off!’ after him while not being 100% able to keep up wasn’t a good look either, they were nearly back at Parliament Hill, and he let Hidan pull ahead, then slowed to a gentle jog as he vanished down the footpath towards the street. He’d finally given Hidan had his own key - maybe he’d even have the kettle on by the time he caught up with him.

But he found him up in the living room, flopped out on the rug - and it felt like the most natural thing in the world to stretch out beside him, still breathing hard, heart thumping. Hidan turned his head to look at him and grinned. "You need to do more cardio, Ka-kuzuuuu," he teased. 

"I do plenty of cardio!" Kakuzu protested, between pants. "I could do with being ten years younger, maybe - you should be impressed I can keep up with you at all!" He looked up at the ceiling and smiled. In all the years he'd lived here he didn't think he'd even once seen the room from this particular perspective.

Hidan laughed and took his hand. "Oh, I'm impressed," he said. "And I bet your neighbours are really fucking impressed. Even the dogs are probably impressed..." He started to sit up, but Kakuzu rolled over and pushed him back down.

"Oh?" Hidan laughed again, letting himself drop back onto the carpet, suddenly and deliberately submissive, pliable. 

Kakuzu started to systematically strip him of the awful running kit, gratified to feel that Hidan had built up a fair sweat as well. He ran a hand over his chest. His pulse was completely back to normal already; damn, he was in such good shape. Kakuzu had ideas for changing that heartbeat though... Hidan stretched up to kiss him, which he briefly allowed, then pushed him down again.

"Stay there, you..." he growled.

"Fucking make me," Hidan murmured, getting both hands on the hem of Kakuzu's top and pulling it off over his head.

"If you insist…!" Kakuzu shifted himself on top of Hidan, pinning him down.

Hidan gave an experimental wriggle and managed to free one of his arms; Kakuzu recaptured it and pinned both wrists together above his head.

"That won't last," Hidan grinned, already shifting to find the weak point in Kakuzu’s grip.

"Oh no?" Kakuzu fingers tightened. He lowered himself until their lips were touching and he could feel the rise and fall of Hidan's chest against his own. “Don’t get cocky just because you’re a little bit faster than me. That’s not going to do you much good now , is it?”

Hidan gave a quickly stifled little moan of desire - and suddenly, unbidden, horrifically unwelcome, an image popped into Kakuzu’s head of him lying barely conscious on that warehouse floor, ashen pale, blood everywhere. He tried not to let it in, but it was persistent. 

Stop it, he told himself. You’re being ridiculous. Get a grip! He pushed the image away, as he’d done countless times over the past fortnight, but today it didn’t want to go. And before he could get into his stride at all, he found he wasn’t really feeling very well. He felt lightheaded and strangely tired. Very aware of his own heartbeat. Maybe I’m going down with something , he thought. He just couldn’t carry on.

“You ok babe?” Hidan was looking up at him, concern in his eyes, and Kakuzu felt a rising panic. He wasn’t going to be able to perform. He couldn’t do this.


And then, the phone rang. And rang and rang and rang. He pretended to be trying to ignore it, but it was insidious. It stopped, then - thank God - whoever it was rang again. Kakuzu got up. It felt like a lifeline. “Sorry sweetheart,” he muttered. He couldn’t quite look Hidan in the eye but the mood was well and truly broken. Ignoring a sudden twinge of cramping from an overworked calf muscle, he headed for the stairs. Out of the corner of his eye he could see Hidan hauling himself into a sitting position against the settee and staring accusingly after him.

It was Zabuza on the phone. His husband had been overseeing the hang of his new show in New York, and his flight back had been delayed - he wouldn’t be able to make the party. Zabuza would be coming alone. Hardly had he put the phone down, when it rang again, Mei Terumi’s PA this time - she had to attend an emergency meeting of the London Institute directors that evening - she’d be a little late. Even as he was sending a quick text to Karin who was fixing the dessert for him, it rang again, his agent, confirming that Zabuza did indeed own a sketch by Kakashi - he’d lent it to White Cube Gallery for an exhibition 3 years ago.

Kakuzu’s pulse quickened. He’d give a lot to acquire that from Zabuza - he wondered what it would take to persuade him to part with it. Apparently the sketch had been a gift - which might make things more difficult. His source confirmed that Zabuza had been a big early influence on Naruto Uzumaki too. It was his final hope for that degree show acquisition - if he could get Zabuzu to agree to act as a middle man there might be a chance.

He felt a lot better after sitting at his desk for a few minutes. Perhaps he’d just overdone it on the run. Feeling slightly ridiculous now - why hadn’t he just told Hidan how he was feeling? - he went back upstairs hoping to make it up with him, but he wasn’t in the living room, and going back onto the landing, Kakuzu could hear the shower running. It did occur to him that he could join him, but a glance at his watch told him he didn’t have time for that now - he had to get things into the oven and then get in the shower himself.



Over the river in Kennington, Karin was running late. When Kakuzu had asked her if she’d make a dessert (as he never cooked anything sweet and had no clue where to begin), of course she had enthusiastically agreed. And of course she’d wanted to do something impressive, and so had stupidly chosen something complex - miniature creme brûlées - which had taken twice as long as the recipe suggested. She’d got hot and bothered making the custard, and it had nearly curdled twice. Decanting it into the little ramekins had turned out to be messy and difficult and she’d strained her wrist and got custard on the floor. Then she was so paranoid about not overbaking them that she’d probably underbaked them, and by then she was so much behind schedule that she’d had to bung them straight in the fridge without letting them cool to room temperature.

She had to have a long shower to calm down, and when she came out she found the evening so unseasonably warm that she was hot and bothered all over again.

She pulled on the outfit that - thank goodness - she’d decided on a few days before, spritzed on a blast of Dior ‘Poison’ and strode to the door, only to be brought up short by the sight of Suigetsu leaning silently in the doorway.

“For God’s sake, you are so creepy !” she snarled at him, then immediately felt guilty. He had a distinctly odd look on his face, which was unexpected as he’d been so much happier the past few weeks. Something was clearly up. “What is it?” she asked him, still irritated at the thought of him watching her getting ready, but at the same time not wanting to tip him into taking to his bedroom for another two weeks like last time he was upset.

“Where’re you going?” he asked, clearly trying to sound casual. Failing pretty badly.

“Kakuzu’s,” she answered, brushing past him since he didn’t move.

He trailed her down the hall. “It’s a party then?”

“Yeah.” She pulled on her shoes, then went into the kitchen to check on the creme brûlées. Turned out that despite an hour in the fridge they still weren’t cold, and Suigetsu had eaten one. Also the fridge felt distinctly warm. Luckily Kakuzu had texted that Haku Yuki was stuck in New York so the party numbers were down. But Suigetsu didn’t know that. She glared at him as she forced them into the overcrowded freezer, throwing his Tesco Value fish fingers into the sink to make room. “Fine!” she said brusquely, slamming the door on them. “What do you want to know? Just ask me and stop wasting my time. You’ve got until those are chilled.”

But, “who’s going?” was his only question, and he didn’t even try to save his fish fingers. Her reeling off of the guest list - including Haku, so that Suigetsu could do the maths and feel guilty - was answered only by an unreadable look and a wordless exit, followed by the sound of the front door slamming. And for some reason, although he hadn’t been home for over three weeks, the sound broke through her mental defences and made her think of Sasuke.

Kakuzu had bloody well better be grateful for this , she thought as she sat on the stairs to wait blinking tears back into her eyes. She briefly considered filling the time by making a quick video but she just didn’t have the emotional energy. Her thoughts flickered back to that train journey the four of them had taken into the Cotswolds to meet the Akatsuki group in the first place. Laughing and bickering and making stupid videos. They’d been happy. They’d all been pretending not to be, of course, except Jugo who didn’t do that kind of emo bullshit, but they were. Even Sasuke. And then, after, something had shifted. She hadn’t thought of it before, but that was when it had happened. That was when Sasuke had started to be so cold and distant. And a connection made itself in her head with no prompting - maybe it was Akatsuki that did it. Maybe they’re toxic, she thought. They’re toxic and they’ve infected all of us.



Kakuzu was grateful, or would have been if he’d had a moment to think about it. The original plan had been to hire in caterers for the event but, perhaps because they were organising at quite late notice (although Hidan was convinced it was a conspiracy) none of the agencies he’d called had been able to help. It wasn’t a disaster - or so he kept telling himself - Kakuzu quite enjoyed cooking and it was certainly a considerable saving. However, running late had not been part of the plan. Particularly running late due to not managing to have sex!

He also liked peace and quiet in the kitchen and had been finding Hidan much more hindrance than help. Hidan had definitely been in a fractious mood since he came out of the shower, and Kakuzu himself was feeling distinctly blue-balled. But there was no time to do anything about it. He’d tried to get rid of him by giving him the task of making a party playlist, but he just wandered around the kitchen doing it on his ipod and getting in the way. Finally Kakuzu ordered him upstairs with a bucket of ice to sort out the drinks table - deaf to his many complaints - and then allowed himself a moment to relax before the guests arrived.

Very unfortunately, however, their first guest appeared not to realise that to be on time was bordering on socially unacceptable and to be five minutes early was an utter faux pas; the jangling of the doorbell broke into Kakuzu’s precious alone time, followed swiftly by the barking of all four dogs. Kakuzu strode down the hall feeling unusually anxious and already impatient for the evening to be over. 

And it only took one look at Zabuza's trousers when he opened the door to him for Kakuzu to recognise with a sinking heart that Hidan was not going to hit it off with this guy. The bottle of cheap Zinfandel in his hand didn't bode well either. Kakuzu relieved him of it.

"Hidan's in the living room," he said, gesturing up the stairs. "Go on up and he'll fix you a drink. I’m just finishing up in the kitchen - I'll join you in a minute."



Across the road, Kisame was just starting to think about getting changed when Suigetsu walked into his kitchen with a face like thunder. He’d been popping over every couple of days for the past two weeks, but mostly like a little ray of sunshine. After the blowjob on the kitchen table incident, they’d lapsed into a pattern of casual sex whenever they were both free. It had been pretty awesome and Kisame had refused to let himself consider any of the ramifications of this behaviour. But he had told Suigetsu he was busy tonight, and not to come over. This didn’t bode well. He braced himself.

“So you’re off to a party, huh?” Suigetsu threw it down like a challenge.

Kisame almost flinched away from his intensely direct gaze. “Well, yeah,” he fudged, as if it was no big deal. “Just over at Kakuzu’s. I don’t suppose it’ll be that exciting - he just said he had a couple of people he wanted to introduce me to.”

“What, guys?”

One strictly business - the other, maybe pleasure , Kakuzu had said when he invited him. Hidan had just snorted derisively so Kisame didn’t really know quite what to make of that. But it was enough to make him pause, and not know how to answer.

“Right...” Suigetsu said miserably.

There was an awkward pause. “Well, maybe you can bring me,” he added, looking up hopefully.

“Kid, I can’t do that. It’s a dinner, Kakuzu won’t be expecting—“

“Maybe you should’ve asked for a plus one in the first place,” Suigetsu muttered. “Zabuza’s husband was invited.”

“Hey!” Kisame protested. “That’s not fair. We’re hardly at that stage! And, fuck, is Zabuza going? I don’t know if I wanna--” 

“It’s just that you deliberately didn’t mention it!” Suigetsu interrupted, voice rising, not interested in his opinion of Zabuza. “I had to find out from Karin! And I just don’t get why they’d invite her and not me—”

“Hey, come on, they don’t even know that we got back t— that we’ve been seeing each other.” Kisame quickly corrected himself, but he saw Suigetsu’s eyes narrow. He’d been busted.

“Why’d you do that? Why don’t you want to say ‘together‘?”

“Well we’re not, are we, really?” Kisame knew it was harsh, and tried to soften the words with a placatory grin. He put a hand on Suigetsu’s shoulder but was abruptly shrugged off.

“Well why aren’t we? Why do you keep trying to shut this down?” he asked slightly histrionically. Kisame began to be very afraid he’d start crying - suddenly he looked so small and young.

“Look, kiddo, I know I seem like fun to you right now, but the pleasures soon pall, y’know?” he said, sitting down and scraping some hardened wax off the tabletop with a teaspoon. “I’m a pretty boring bastard really, if I’m honest. I’m not the easiest to live with either. Literally all I care about is surfing and literature...”

“Stop bullshitting!” Suigetsu complained, sitting down too and snatching the spoon from him. “Give me something fucking real, why don’t you?”

Kisame took a deep breath. He wanted real? Fine. It was getting hard enough to keep it in anyway. “Okay, look,” he said, his voice sounding harsher than he meant it to, “in a few months time, when you’ve had your fun and you’re ready to move on, well, let’s just say I don’t want to go back to square one picking up pieces. I don’t need any more emotional turmoil right now.”

Suigetsu growled. “I’m not such a flaky little shit as that!”

“Few years, then? Even worse!” Kisame declared. He looked up and took the teaspoon back from Suigetsu just as he was about to gouge a chunk out of the tabletop with it. “Time for me to get really invested.”

Suigetsu knew he must be looking sulky and petulant and not helping his cause in the least - maybe even tearing down everything he’d so carefully built up here - but there didn’t seem to be any help for it. And no choice now but to go in with the emotional heavy-hitters. “So, you don’t want me,” he said flatly, trying really hard not to start crying. The massive well of emotion that he had about Kisame, and that he’d worked so hard to keep beneath the surface these last two weeks, was threatening to rise up and engulf him.

Kisame grabbed his hand across the table. “Of course I do. Christ, who wouldn’t? And honestly kiddo, this has been amazing for me, you’ve helped me through a really dark time. But I don’t want you to get hurt, so if keeping this casual isn’t working for you then clearly you should call it a day.”

Suigetsu didn’t say anything, so he carried on, talking shit just to fill the charged silence, “I’ll miss you like hell, obviously, but you’ve got to put yourself first now.”

Suigetsu snorted. “ Me first? None of this is actually about me though, is it? It’s about you and what’s convenient for you.”

Then it was Kisame’s turn not to say anything and Suigetsu started to get a horrible sinking feeling inside. He’d messed this up. The conversation hadn’t been supposed to end up here. It was supposed to end up with Kisame calling Kakuzu and asking for a plus one. He looked over at him, appeal in his eyes.

“So you won’t take me to Kakuzu’s tonight?”

“No, kid.”

He was grasping at straws now. “I, I could just stay here and wait for you to get back?”

“Stop it! This is crazy!” Kisame was almost laughing but almost choking up as well. “Kid, look, you’re not the one who ought to be in this state-”

For a brief moment he did entertain the possibility though - could he leave Suigetsu here, excuse himself over the road as quickly as good manners would allow, and then... come home to him? Next morning, wake up to his sleeping face on the pillow beside him? Have that warm, lithe little body next to him all night long? Fuck, he wanted it so badly. But he pushed the thought away. That would mean doing this seriously, and he couldn’t do serious again right now.

“You were the one saying, ‘can’t we just hook up again’,” he said tiredly. “I told you it wouldn’t work, didn’t I?”

Suigetsu gave a frustrated little growl. “What are you scared of!” he shot at him, angry now. “What do you think I’m going to do to you?”

Kisame looked up, and the pain in Suigetsu’s face made him more honest than he’d meant to be. “Make me fall in love,” he admitted quietly. 

For a moment Suigetsu seemed shocked into silence. “Wh-what’s wrong with that?” he stammered finally. “Why do you think I’m still fucking here ? Why do you think I’ve fucking humiliated myself so many times over you? That’s what you should be feeling! What the fuck’s wrong with you?”

“Do I have to spell it out? I feel like I’m repeating myself! Because while I’d make you a nice little starter relationship, give it a few years, the seven year itch or whatever, and you’ll leave me because you want to sow your wild oats; entirely reasonable - but it would break my heart.”

“I...” Suigetsu seemed lost for words, for once. “How can you-- You don’t have any idea if that’s how it would really go down...”

“But I do know that I won’t risk it.” Kisame stood up and put his hands on Suigetsu’s shoulders. “I’ve wasted a decade of my life grieving over Itachi. I think I might finally be finding a way to get beyond it, and a lot of that is definitely thanks to you. But--”

But he didn’t get a chance to say any more because Suigetsu pushed his hands off and walked away without another word.

Kisame watched him as if it was in slow motion, or underwater. Turning, grabbing his cute little cropped leather jacket from the back of his chair - and walking out on him, leaving him.

“Suigetsu!” he called after him, cut to the quick. “Hey, kiddo, wait! It doesn’t have to be like this! Don’t I even get a goodbye?”

“No!” Suigetsu turned back, eyes dark with rage, face twisted. “You just— you just get what I’m getting! For everything I’ve put into this. Just— just fucking nothing !”

It was the right thing, Kisame told himself, reeling in shock so much that he had to grip hard onto the corner of the tabletop. The right thing for both of them. Yes, the last two weeks had been amazing but it was too soon to throw himself into such an intense relationship, and Suigetsu was just way too young. So going after him now would only prolong the agony. He should go over to Kakuzu’s, meet this mysterious person - get himself together. He looked at his watch. It was time to go, he was late now, actually.

But he didn’t do that. He went out to his van, got into the back and lay down there on the mattress he used for long journeys and camping by the coast. It smelt comfortingly of sweat and outdoor gear. And after two or three minutes of trying not to cry, he grabbed the bottle of vodka that he’d stowed under the driver’s seat after his last trip and proceeded to get himself quietly wasted.



If Kisame had been looking up he would’ve seen Hidan framed in Kakuzu’s living room window, in nearly as desperate a state as he was himself after enduring ten minutes of Zabuza’s company.

Kakuzu's first impression had been correct and the sight of Zabuza's trousers had rubbed Hidan up the wrong way from the word go. He couldn't stop looking at them either. "Hey man," he’d said without much warmth, eyes flicking distractedly between his legs and his face. "Get you a drink?"

And it had turned out Zabuza was the sort of guy to bring a £2.99 bottle of cat's piss to a party and then drink his host's 12-year-old whisky. Hidan poured him a measure on the rocks and then leant against the mantelpiece while Zabuza wandered around the room inspecting the artworks. He had an unpleasantly loping, rangy stride that made Hidan think of some kind of animal. One that ate carrion, probably.

"That's an Akasuna, isn't it?" he asked, pointing, glass in hand, above Hidan's head.

"Yeah," Hidan agreed shortly. He wasn’t in the mood for this at all. In fact, he realised now, he’d been feeling like shit ever since Kakuzu had dumped him for a phone call on this very spot barely an hour ago.

"Is it you?" Zabuza asked bluntly, his grating voice breaking into Hidan’s thoughts. Intrusive , thought Hidan. And in the light of what had happened to Sasori, fucking bad taste.

"I sat for it," he acknowledged, distinctly ungraciously. "It's not a portrait though," he added, dialling up the belligerence an extra notch. He turned towards the CD player and twitched the volume up a little. Then a little more. The party playlist he'd created in the afternoon suddenly didn’t seem to fit the mood and he riffled moodily through Kakuzu’s CD collection, even for a moment considering putting Sting’s lute album on just to put everyone on a big downer.

But then there was another tread on the stairs, and he let it be. In another moment he was disgusted to find himself actually feeling relieved to see Kimimaro come into the room. He tried to remind himself that Kimimaro was a still massive douchebag, but it was just so nice not to be alone with Zabuza anymore that he accidentally greeted him like an old friend.


Two minutes later, however, all his misgivings were being vindicated.

“I mean, do you actually know how to mix a French 75, Hidan?” Kimimaro was saying doubtfully, having clearly deliberately asked for something complicated in order to stir up trouble.

“Only one way to find out, isn’t there?” Hidan replied unhelpfully, grabbing a lemon half and impaling it on a large knife. His mind had gone blank and he had a nagging feeling he was missing an ingredient, but he wasn’t about to admit that. He squeezed the lemon with rather more force than was necessary, letting the juice splash haphazardly into the mixing glass along with rather more gin that was probably customary - hopefully Kimimaro would soon get wasted and make a giant tit of himself.

“Well, you could just tell him what you’re intending to put in it...” Zabuza pointed out lazily, nursing his whisky and chuckling to himself. “So he could say if that’s what he wants...”

“Well, what do you fucking want in it?” Hidan fired at Kimimaro so aggressively that he was momentarily hesitant, then turned triumphantly back to Zabuzu. “See!” he said, slamming a little silver ice shovel into the compacted mass of ice cubes that he’d fucking told Kakuzu they would have if they tried to mix drinks up here. “He doesn’t even fucking know what he wants!”

He rolled his eyes theatrically - and then finally remembered, the French 75 was a champagne cocktail. That brought the rest of it clicking into place. Sugar syrup. Iced glass. Lemon twist . He dropped the ice shovel back into the bucket. Trust Kimimaro to be the kind of pretentious demanding twat who’d ask for that sort of thing. But at least it was an excuse to escape to the kitchen and moan to Kakuzu for a bit. “I’ll nip downstairs and get some fizz from the fridge, gentlemen ,” he said sardonically, trying to step around Zabuza, “if you’ll excuse me a moment...”

But what was this? Zabuza’s hand was on his chest, blocking him, even pushing him back a little and his immediate response was to square up to him, hands curled into fists. “What the fuck-?” he began.

Zabuza just laughed. “Easy, tiger,” he said, making Hidan even angrier. “Kim’s brought some!”

Hidan looked at Kimimaro and registered the bottle of Bollinger in his hand that he’d probably been proffering all along. For some reason it made him angrier still, and Zabuza’s hand on his chest made him want to break things. He felt himself colouring up; took the bottle in silence and turned away. The situation had already gone too far to laugh off and resentment choked him - why did people always have to be like this? What the fuck was wrong with just being nice? 

He put the bottle on the table and shook up the rest of the ingredients with the ice as loudly as he could. Kimimaro and Zabuza were still right behind him, now talking as if he wasn’t even there. He ripped the foil off the champagne and stole half a glance over his shoulder. Zabuza was wanging on about how anti-establishment he was, despite being desperate to get Kakuzu to invest in him again. It was disgusting. And his horrible blaring voice was giving him a headache.

Accidentally-on-purpose he pointed the champagne bottle in the direction of Zabuza’s face as he let the cork fly. A yelp of pain and shock behind him let him know it had found its mark. “Ah, fucking hell mate, sorry,” he exclaimed insincerely, catching the overflowing foam expertly in Kimimaro’s glass. “Fucking clumsy of me!” He turned and handed Kimimaro his drink, his smirk turning uncontrollably into a broad grin at the sight of the angry red mark blooming on Zabuza’s cheekbone.

He couldn’t look at the pair of them anymore without actually laughing in their faces, so he tactfully went back over to the window to look out for more congenial guests. He was even considering throwing up the sash and yelling over the road to Kisame to hurry the fuck up.  “Help yourself to ice for that,” he called back to Zabuza, his ‘helpful’ tone underlaid with a distinct edge of don’t fuck with me .


But it seemed his guests just didn’t know when to leave him the fuck alone.

Gliding as though on wheels, Kimimaro appeared next to him. "So, what is it you do, actually, Hidan?" he asked, taking a delicate sip of his drink and tipping his head in grudging approval.

"Huh?" Hidan looked at him in surprise. That really wasn't something he got asked very much anymore. “I--”

Zabuza laughed loudly, inserting himself on his other side. "He expects you to know already!" he said conspiratorially across him to Kimimaro, who cackled gleefully and fixed Hidan with a marble-cold stare.

"I'm a ... life model-" Hidan began, but found himself cut off by Zabuza again. And although his light tone tried to conceal it he was clearly angry about the champagne cork - and out for Hidan’s blood.

"Hidan, mate, I get that you want to put something in front of 'model', but that's stretching it a bit now, isn't it?"

Hidan bit his lip, feeling his briefly restored good humour draining away as quickly as it had come. He just couldn't think what to say to this prick. He wanted to punch him in the face. He wanted to punch both of them in the face. And if Zabuza called him ‘mate’ again, he was really fucking going to.

"Surely you've seen him on those 'Comme des Garçons' posters plastered all over the tube?" Zabuza asked Kimimaro. "Doing his best blue steel..." He contorted his face into a grotesque parody.

He'd take out Zabuza first, clearly, Hidan decided, retreating into comforting fantasy. Slam his disgusting face into the marble mantlepiece, and when he hit the ground kerb-stomp it onto that lovely Georgian cast-iron hearth surround. He’d have to cut Kimimaro off as he made a break for door because the fucker clearly wouldn't stand and fight. He’d probably be able to rugby-tackle him as he crossed the threshold though, and then he could drag him back until he was perfectly placed to repeatedly slam the door on his head until it caved in like a soft-boiled egg. He pictured the blood pooling out onto Kakuzu’s polished floorboards, seeping down between them, Kimimaro’s face draining of colour... It was a lovely image and he smiled a little as he swallowed the rest of his drink and went to mix another just for something to do.

"I can't say I've noticed any!" Kimimaro was claiming. "So, Hidan, you're from Southend, aren't you?" he called after him.

"I hadn't pegged you for a tabloid reader," Hidan shot back with a raised eyebrow. "But yeah. I've lived here since I was seventeen, though."

"Ouch, I think you touched a nerve there," Zabuza nudged him.

"Oh, you came here to study, then?" Kimimaro said sweetly. "Art school? Or did you take another path in?"

There was a nasty pause. "No," Hidan said. "I started working pretty much immediately..."

"Oh," Kimimaro said, frowning with exaggerated puzzlement. "Oh!" His face cleared. "You left school at sixteen! Right! Wow..."

"Ah, fuck off," Hidan said, not even bothering to hide his aggression anymore. "What've you got? A PhD in being a dick? Or is that just natural talent?"

Zabuza laughed loudly again - he clearly thrived on discord of any kind, no matter who was on the receiving end. But Kimimaro wasn't there for long. "Oh, don't be upset!" he added innocently, turning the knife in the wound. "No, I mean, university's not for everyone, is it?"

Hidan's hand tightened on the cocktail shaker. The cunt was clearly going to start talking about dustbin men and drain cleaners being a crucial part of society next and he was fucked if he was going to listen to that. He didn't reply, just poured his drink and went to look out of the window again. He wasn't yet wasted enough to give Kimimaro the satisfaction of seeing him rise to the bait a second time - but that at least was something he could change. He knocked back half his cocktail, relishing the burn of it, and did his best to zone him out. The doorbell rang but he didn't bother going to see who it was. The way things were going so far it would probably just be another prick waiting to dig his claws in.

A few minutes later Kakuzu was showing Killer Bee into the living room, but after the briefest of introductions Kimimaro was off again immediately.

"So we've established that Hidan doesn't have any A levels..." he said cattily. "Did you know that, Kakuzu?"

"If I'd thought about it," Kakuzu acknowledged, a bit taken aback. He glanced at Hidan - his back was turned to him as he mixed a drink, but just the set of his shoulder blades was enough to set alarm bells ringing. "Have you met Zabuza Momochi, Bee--" he said loudly, hoping to bury the subject in a round of introductions.

But, "isn't that a bit weird for you?" Kimimaro continued triumphantly, even louder, clearly on a roll here. "After all, you spent, what, twelve, thirteen years in higher education? What do you guys even talk about?"

"I don't tend to make those years a topic of conversation with anyone," Kakuzu said quellingly. He went over to Hidan, whose jaw was jutting dangerously, and, goodness, the wounded look in his eyes! He resisted the impulse to put his arm round him, wary of seeming overprotective - rising to Kim’s bait would probably just make Hidan feel even more self-conscious. Instead, he just took the drink he was wordlessly holding out to him, giving him a light touch on the elbow as he did so. "Thanks babe," he said quietly. He hoped the look he gave him would say more but Hidan barely met his eye.

"Well you don't need qualifications to be a sexy motherfucka," Killer Bee said comfortably, patting Hidan on the shoulder and making him stumble slightly.

Kakuzu sighed, and said nothing. He appreciated Killer Bee's show of good nature but the last thing Hidan needed was to feel like that was all he could bring to the table... He thought he could see it in Hidan's face as well, but he seemed to be prepared to give Bee the benefit of the doubt. He watched him drain the rest of his drink and take hold of Bee by the upper arm. "Hey man, I'm fucking... awarding you the prestigious 'not a douchebag' award,” he said loudly, and Kakuzu thought he could detect just a hint of a slur in his voice already. “Not much of a contest this year unfortunately!" He led him over to the drinks table. "Your prize is the cocktail of your choice, handmade obviously by a sexy motherfucker, but don’t fucking try to catch me out by asking for a Horse’s Bollocks or some shit, okay? I didn’t go to university, so I won’t know what it is."

Kakuzu couldn't help smiling into his perfect dry martini at that, but he could see that Hidan was well on his way to being completely off his face and the whole enterprise suddenly felt like the worst idea he could possibly have come up with. The doorbell rang again and he really really hoped it would be Kisame this time - Hidan clearly needed an ally. Looks aside, though, he couldn't imagine what had possessed him when he thought Kimimaro might be suitable boyfriend material for Kisame. Hidan had been perfectly right - Kim would drive him up the fucking wall.

But it was Karin on the doorstep. "I'm sorry I'm late," she said, proffering a tray of miniature creme brûlées. "I had a culinary disaster and these haven’t set - please tell me you have a blowtorch because I couldn’t finish them off like this! And then they melted even more on the tube! It’s been such a hot day, or the atmospheric pressure or something, I don't know!"

Kakuzu laughed, partly in disbelief that anyone would travel on the tube with a tray of puddings. Why on earth hadn’t she got a taxi? "Yes,” he reassured her, “not a culinary one but I’m sure it’ll do the job!" He took them out of her hands. "I'll put these in the fridge - I’m sure there's plenty of time for them to set. Run along upstairs and please keep Hidan happy for me for another five minutes!"


Karin didn't need to ask what Kakuzu meant - she could feel the tension as soon as she entered the room. She could see at once that Hidan was very far from happy. He came forward to meet her - he was still with it enough to play his part as host with a certain amount of aplomb - but there was a distinctly glazed look in his eyes already.

"Mm, you smell nice," he said, lifting her wrist to his nose appreciatively. "I'm getting notes of 'I don't know what the fuck I'm talking about', nicely balanced with an undercurrent of 'it's probably because I don't have a degree'...”

Karin looked from him to Kimimaro, who she vaguely knew because he used to be around City and Guilds all the time in her first year, to Zabuza (who she instantly felt wary of), then over to Killer Bee, who was tapping out a rhythm on top of the drinks cabinet and humming to himself, and wondered who had upset him so much already. She was slightly surprised not to see more guests already, and not to see anyone from the usual Akatsuki crowd. She’d been looking forward to meeting Konan again, and Zetsu, who’d been so nice to her after the funeral.

It struck her, looking around, that that night be what this was all about. Are they making some distance, she wondered. Do they want out? She wondered who else would be coming.

She leaned in. “You smell nice, too!” she said brightly and Hidan smiled. Clearly that made him feel a bit better - good. She could certainly feed his ego a bit if that was what Kakuzu needed from her. 

“Thanks!” he said. “I didn’t think anyone would even notice - seriously, Kakuzu calls it ‘your aftershave’ and seems to prefer it when I smell of sweat anyway...”

“Mm.” She gave another appreciative sniff. “It’s a Tom Ford one, isn’t it?” Musky and citrus at the same time, with notes of sandalwood and amber in there, she recognised it...

“Grey Vetiver,” Hidan agreed. He ran a hand through his perfect hair, flashed her a sultry smile.

“It’s perfect for you,” she said, smiling, wondering if he picked it just for the name . Despite the easy banter she found it hard to get a handle on him. She didn’t seem to be able to get behind the facade, not at all like the camaraderie she seemed to have developed almost accidentally with Kakuzu. He was a closed book. She suddenly felt a little stab of anxiety.

Maybe he picked that up, because, “let’s get you a drink,” he said, a light touch to her elbow propelling her towards the drinks cabinet and Killer Bee, and in a few minutes she was holding something she was reasonably certain was wickedly strong. Don’t have more than two of these, she told herself sternly. And make this one last as long as you can. Don’t give him an excuse to top you up.



Kakuzu had just taken the rib of beef out of the oven to rest, and put the cheese soufflé in, when the doorbell rang again. This time it was both Yugito Nii and Mei Terumi on the doorstep, already in animated conversation. Kakuzu felt a slight pang of alarm. “I see you’re already getting to know each other,” he said guardedly.

“Oh yes, we’re buddies now!” Mei said brightly. “Better watch out boys!” She leant forward, resting her fingertips on Kakuzu’s forearm. “I’ve been so excited to meet you all that I managed to sneak out of my meeting a little early!”

“Hello darling.” Yugito ground out a tiny black cigarette stub under an elegantly pointed toe and handed him a bottle of red wine. “How’s that boy of yours?” 

Kakuzu didn’t know how to answer that, given Hidan’s state when he’d last seen him. Women like this unnerved him slightly. But everything was under control in the kitchen now, so he accompanied them upstairs, making some non-committal reply. Hidan and Karin had come out on to the landing, and were leaning over the bannisters to see who had arrived - and he was relieved to see Hidan looking a little more cheerful.

“Darling!” Yugito flung her arms around Hidan and kissed him far too intimately for Kakuzu’s liking, then held him a little away from her. “Oh, look at you!” She turned to Mei. “Look at him, Mei! Couldn’t you just eat him?”

Mei surveyed Hidan with her head on one side. “Oh, I could,” she agreed, a little too eagerly for Kakuzu’s liking. “But I shouldn’t imagine he’s on the menu!”

Hidan smiled his most dazzling smile and let them bear him off between them to the living room. He didn’t seem to have any shortage of things to say to them. 

Les femmes d’un certain age... ” Kakuzu muttered to Karin as they fell in step behind them - rather resentfully, she thought - “have a real thing for Hidan. I suppose they want to mother him...”

Karin narrowed her eyes after them. Despite her reservations, she’d actually started having quite a lot of fun as Hidan’s favourite guest, and now she supposed she’d have to find someone else to talk to. And not that Killer Bee guy - his habit of talking like a living ‘Rupert’ book had been driving her crazy for the last five minutes. Not to mention that she’d idolised Mei Terumi for years and to be completely blanked by her was gutting to say the least. Bitch , she thought. Really pulled the ladder up, didn’t you?

As if she’d read her mind, Mei turned back and held out a hand. “Sorry, dear, I almost missed you there!” she said coolly. “Mei Terumi. Aren’t you the little girl who outed Danzo Shimura? Good job.” 

The damage was done; Karin knew she’d never like this woman. ‘Little girl ?! She let Kakuzu do all the work of introducing her and although she knew that it would be a good career move to make Mei like her, she really wasn’t trying very hard. 

And then Mei started talking about Sasuke. ‘Trouble’, was her verdict. ‘Self-interested’. Karin should disassociate herself from him. “He’s taken it all too far,” she pronounced. “Although he is absolutely gorgeous, I’ll give you that. I wouldn’t mind teaching him a thing or two! It makes me really quite sorry that we’re going to have to put a stop to his little games...”

Karin pressed her lips together, her face whitening. “You horrible old hag , what’s he ever done to you!” she whispered after her as Mei turned away. She started wishing more than ever that she’d never come. And again, pumping through her with every heartbeat, that agonising ache for Sasuke.


But she didn’t have long to dwell on it. As soon as they got into the living room, the tension in the air suddenly rocketed sky high. Mei saw Zabuza and her eyes narrowed. Zabuza saw Mei and got abruptly out of the chair he’d been lounging in. 

“What’s this about, Kakuzu?” he said loudly. “Fucking hell, this bitch got me kicked out of Goldsmiths, and she still fucking wants my blood, and you fucking invite us to the same dinner party ? What the fuck , man?!”

Kimimaro started to laugh delightedly. “Kakuzuuuu!” he trilled. “What’ve you done?! Oh my God, you should’ve asked me to help you with the guest list! Didn’t you realise these two are a total no-no?!”

Kakuzu looked from face to outraged face, and with a sinking feeling remembered Hidan saying ‘the head of Goldsmiths? Really? ’ as they’d planned this party. Had he known?  

But worse was to come. Even as he looked over towards him Hidan was stepping forward, and in one fluid motion had punched Zabuza square in the face.

“Fucking ... out of order, man!” he said, looking down at him as he sprawled backwards onto the rug. “You need to fucking apologise! This lady is our guest and we didn’t ask her here to be insulted by a fucking low-life like you!”

Zabuza’s nose started bleeding heavily, but he ignored it and started to struggle to his feet. “Fuck off, Hidan,” he snarled. “You sanctimonious prick! You don’t know what happened, so fucking back off--”

“Bitch, please,” Hidan drawled, flexing his knuckles. “ Me, back off? Here?!”

Zabuza staggered towards Hidan and Hidan stepped forward threateningly, amid squeals of delight from the other guests. Kakuzu made a grab for him, but he was too quick. Dodging away from him, he grabbed Zabuza by the collar.

“Well? Are you going to apologise, or do I have to teach you some manners?” he spat.

“Fuck you, Hidan,” Zabuza snarled, pushing him so hard in the chest that he lost his grip on him and staggered back against the doorframe. Killer Bee stepped up now and was trying to take a restraining arm to him, but Zabuza shrugged him violently off. He took a swing at Hidan, and Kakuzu grabbed at his elbow, taking about half the power out of it. Even so, his fist managed to connect with Hidan’s jaw. At the same time Hidan - making no effort to block Zabuza’s blow - punched him in the stomach instead, making him double over. 

Kakuzu forced himself between them as Zabuza surged upright and tried to headbutt Hidan in the face. He held him at arm’s length until he stopped struggling, then gave him a handkerchief and a very cold look. “Lay a finger on Hidan again and you won’t find me so restrained,” he said curtly. “And, as Hidan said, Mei is our guest. I suggest you make your peace with that, or leave.”

Zabuza shrugged, breathing hard. “Fair enough,” he said, tipping his head back and mopping up blood. “I guess I’d feel the same if it was Haku. Not that he’d need me to step in.” He didn’t seem much perturbed now. Violence seemed to come as naturally as breathing to him.

Killer Bee tactfully steered him away to sit down in an armchair on the other side of the room as Hidan caught up with his meaning. “Oi! You’d be on the fucking floor, man, if Kakuzu hadn’t stepped in!”

Zabuza snorted with laughter. “Yeah, you wish, mate.”

Kakuzu finally let himself look properly at Hidan, who was leaning slightly unsteadily against the doorframe and being fussed over by Mei and Yugito. His lip was bleeding and he had that crazed look in his eyes that made Kakuzu’s stomach flip with desire even through his anger. He was still looking after Zabuza as though thinking of going after him again. Kakuzu took hold of him firmly by the upper arm, just in case. He could feel his chances of getting that Kakashi sketch slipping away, not to mention the degree show - he hadn’t even had an opportunity to mention it to Zabuza yet, and now-- This was turning into utter disaster. 

“I’m so sorry, Mei,” he said, drawing Hidan away from her. “I had no idea there was this bad blood between you and Zabuza...”

“Not at all, Kakuzu,” Mei purred. “We actually run into each other all the time. Zabuza always reacts like this - like it’s the first time we’ve seen each other since it all happened - he is honestly such a drama queen.” She turned a dazzling smile on Hidan. “I just don’t always have a knight in shining armour to punch his teeth in for me!”

“Oh, please don’t encourage him!” Kakuzu got a firmer hold on Hidan as Mei started stroking his arm, and pulled him away from her onto the landing. “Hidan, come down to the kitchen and get some ice on that. Now.”

Calling over his shoulder to the rest of the party that supper would be served imminently and they should all go and sit down in the dining room and help themselves to wine, he urged Hidan away down the stairs. “What the hell are you doing?!” he expostulated under his breath. “We’re supposed to be making connections with these people, not--”

“Yeah well he can fuck right off!” Hidan cut in angrily, not bothering to lower his voice. “For fuck’s sake, what a fucking cunt!”

Kakuzu let out a growl of irritation and half dragged Hidan the rest of the way along the hall. “Can’t you keep it down?” he hissed. “What’re you trying to do, start a riot?” He pushed him into the kitchen and shut the door firmly behind them. 

“Did you know?” he asked, trying hard to keep his voice neutral, “about Zabuza and Mei?”

He regretted the question almost immediately. 

“No, I fucking didn’t know, Kakuzu, I can’t fucking believe you’d even-- that you’re even asking me that! Fucking hell!”

“Alright, calm down - I asked, okay? I wasn’t accusing--”

“Asking is accusing,” Hidan stormed, incoherent with wounded rage. “It’s an accusation that I-- of me being enough of a dick that I’d even-- that you think I’d do something like that! Jesus !”

“It manifestly isn’t !” Kakuzu was seriously irritated now, and he turned around to get some ice out of the freezer to try and mask it. “Asking is just asking. Look, either way, we need to repair the damage--” 

“Well, why don’t you just fucking show Zabuza the door then?! He’s a total fucking tool and he’s been a dick to me all evening.”

Kakuzu straightened up and gave him a level stare. “Yes, I didn’t really think it was the Lady Mei’s honour that was the prime mover in your little tantrum back there--’

“Oh fuck off,” Hidan cut in. “She loved it.”

“No-one’s denying that,” Kakuzu said, arching an eyebrow. “And quite honestly I think I’ve had enough of her paws all over you!” As soon as the words were out of his mouth he regretted it - he must have had more to drink than he realised. A slow grin was already spreading over Hidan’s face.

“Aw, babe, don’t be jealous,” he cooed spitefully. “So that’s what all this is about. God, how controlling do you want to be ?!”

“No, it isn’t,” Kakuzu said shortly. He put the ice in a clean tea towel and bashed it savagely with the marble rolling pin. “And stop smiling, you’re making yourself bleed more. The fact is, I can’t ask Zabuza to leave yet - he owns an artwork I’d very much like to acquire and-”

“Whose?” Hidan asked immediately.

“It’s a Hatake Kakashi sketch.” Immediately Kakuzu wished he hadn't mentioned it and found himself wanting to hedge it around with qualifications. “Owning something of his could be important leverage right now, and—”

Hidan’s face darkened. “You’re so fucking obsessed with him,” he said sulkily. “You don’t want his shitty sketch for leverage, you want it to fucking wank over because you fancy him.”

“Well, who’s being controlling now?” Kakuzu asked dryly, deliberately not addressing Hidan’s main point and suppressing his own guilty feelings on the matter. “More importantly, Zabuza knows Naruto Uzumaki and I want him to buy up the boy’s work for me.” He advanced on him with his makeshift ice-pack, trapping him against the kitchen table so that he could apply it. Hidan was less than cooperative. Kakuzu forced him to look up with a hand under his chin that made him wince. “Let me see that.”

It wasn’t too bad - a split in the bottom lip, and mostly on the inside - Zabuza’s fist must have caught it against Hidan’s left canine. Lucky it had cushioned the blow to his tooth, really. Kakuzu gave it an experimental wobble, and it didn’t move. Hidan, however, took the opportunity to lick his fingertip, and then bite it - not that lightly, either - and suddenly Kakuzu was acutely aware of how closely he was pressed against him; he could feel the first stirrings of being unmanageably turned on. He shifted back a bit. He couldn’t let this happen now. The soufflé would be ready at any moment!

“Keep it on,” he ordered, taking his hand away and putting Hidan’s over the ice pack, not meeting his eye. “I’m not looking at you all evening with that thing swelling up like a balloon.”

“Fine, whatever,” Hidan said sulkily. He took over holding it and moved away from Kakuzu, towards the door. “I’m going back upstairs if you’re gonna be like that.”

“You do that,” Kakuzu called after him. “And get everyone sitting down, supper’s nearly ready.”


He was slightly worried that this small rejection - plus the unfortunate mention of Kakashi - might prompt Hidan to dive into the nearest unoccupied room and open a vein. However, he decided he could afford to take a moment and do some deep breathing. But just like earlier, before he was anywhere near calm, the jangle of the doorbell broke into his thoughts, followed by an insistent hammering - and there, finally, was Kisame. Almost an hour late and so wasted he had to hold on to the doorframe to stay upright. It was the final straw for Kakuzu’s mood.

“Kisame!” He looked at him with a sinking heart. “What on earth?” He snatched at his arm as Kisame’s nerveless fingers slid down the brickwork and just succeeded in catching him by the armpit. “Come on,” he said, hoicking him upright and resigning himself to the fact that he’d have to walk him back across the road and probably deposit him in his bed too, “Maybe it’s best if you call it a night now, hm? Seems like you’ve partied quite enough for one evening...”

Kisame proved uncooperative. “N-nah, it s’alrigh’ maan,” he slurred, gripping tightly onto the railings as Kakuzu tried to manoeuvre him down the steps. “I don’ wanna let you down... after you wen’ ta so much trouble an’ all...”

Kakuzu wished Hidan was still down here to deal with him. He was a lot better at this kind of thing altogether. “Kisame,” he said sternly. “You’re drunk. I’m not introducing you to anyone like this. You’ll thank me for it in the morning!”

“Nah, really, man, I’ll be alrigh’ when I’ve eaten something...” Kisame protested. And as if on cue the kitchen timer went off. Kakuzu glanced hectically back into the hall. “Damn it,” he muttered under his breath. Hidan clearly wasn’t going to emerge and do anything about it. What in heaven’s name could have persuaded him that a soufflé was a good idea? - he couldn’t leave it!

So he let go of Kisame and hurried into the kitchen. He was aware of Kisame following him in, but, fuck it, what would happen would happen. Maybe he’d vomit on Zabuza’s hideous trousers and make Hidan’s night.

Kisame wasn’t exactly bad at holding it all together when wasted. But it had felt like quite a large effort to find his way out of the van and get himself across the road. Kakuzu’s doorbell hadn’t seemed to be quite in the normal place either, and Kakuzu himself being so strangely insistent he go home to bed was certainly disturbing. But he’d managed to shake him off, and he was proud of himself for remembering that the living room was upstairs, even if the bannisters did feel a bit like they were moving under his hand.

Everyone seemed to be on the landing when he rounded the turn of the stairs, filing out of the living room and into the dining room.

“Ohhhh, fucking hell, K-man, what’s going on?!” Hidan greeted him with alacrity. He flung an arm around his neck and kissed him on the cheek. He smelt of blood and cologne. “I’ve been waiting for you, motherfucker, where’ve you been?”

Kisame began a rambling explanation, but Hidan was clearly beyond concentrating on shit like that and launched into a round of introductions instead.

“This is Cunty McCuntface, who you know,” he began, gesturing towards Zabuza, who sloped into the dining room snarling, “ is this a fucking Goldsmiths reunion?” but otherwise ignoring Kisame completely. 

Hidan continued, smirking wider, “And here we have Screaming Lord Bitch-Features, who I believe you have the pleasure of never having met before-”

“Kim,” Screaming Lord Bitch-Features said wearily, extending a languid hand to Kisame. “Darling Hidan is a little the worse for wear already, I’m afraid.”

He was good looking, for sure. Kisame felt reasonably certain that this was Kakuzu’s ‘maybe pleasure’ guy. If this had been a month ago he’d definitely have been trying it on with him. But now he found he didn’t even want to know. Not remotely interested. And suddenly, like getting a second wind, he didn’t feel quite so wasted anymore, either. He draped an arm around Hidan, though even that didn’t turn him on the way it normally would. “C’mon, darling , are you going to fix me a drink, then?” he asked, forcing a grin. He felt a hollowness inside that only more booze could possibly fill.

Hidan gave him a sideways grin. “What do you want then?” he said. “I’ve got some blue Curaçao somewhere,I could make you a Blue Lagoon.”

“That sounds pretty damn fancy,” Kisame agreed.

“Darling, I am pretty damn fancy!” Hidan led him into the deserted living room and began to fix them both another drink, fully aware of Kakuzu trying to urge them into the dining room while holding the soufflé, but ostentatiously ignoring him. They joined the others, loud, late and obnoxious, and bringing the vodka with them.



Kakuzu surveyed the table with a cold impatience that was all too familiar, but more reminiscent of his dealings with previous boyfriends than with Hidan. His guests had clearly been hungry, as they’d polished off their first two courses in barely half an hour. They'd also got through indecent quantities of wine. The creme brûlées weren’t blowtorched yet, but could he leave them for long enough to do that? Without food to take the edge off they were going to be at each other’s throats again within minutes.

Down the other end of the table, Hidan was slumped with his head on his folded arms and was only talking to Kisame. Kisame was relentlessly ignoring both Killer Bee and Kimimaru. There was an icy coldness between Mei and Zabuza. Added to that, Kim was really starting to irritate him. He’d already deliberately upset Hidan for no discernable reason and now that Kakuzu’s promise of an introduction to an interesting guy had turned out to be an utterly inebriated Kisame, the gloves were off. It was catty remark after catty remark. Plus more mention of Orochimaru than Kakuzu cared for, once Kim had realised Karin knew him. And poor Karin, stranded between Kim and Zabuza looked, for once, completely out of her depth. The only positive relationship in the room seemed to be brewing between Mei and Killer Bee, who seemed to have taken a shine to each other. Although Bee did seem to be addressing himself mainly to her chest. And to add to Kakuzu's discomfort, they were deep in discussion about the whole Konan/Jiraiya scandal.

He’d really allowed himself to think that this mix might pro