Disclaimer: The standard disclaimer applies. Eh.

A/N: Warning for my horrible Japanese (which I have conveniently escaped by utilizing the POWER of ITALICS)and Hidan and Tayuya's swearing habits.

I apologize for the fact that this chapter sucks so much, and that it took so long to post. The latter actually wasn't completely my fault, but I won't bore you with the explanation unless you actually want it.

Chapter 14: The Fulcrum is Moving

"You could have said no."

"I could also have jumped out of a glass-covered third-floor window into the mouth of a crocodile."

"You sound like her."

"Tayuya? Nah, Tayuya would've said something like 'Shit, man, I could've also fucking jumped out of a fucking glass-covered third-fucking-floor window into the fucking mouth of a motherfucking crocodile.' "

Jiroubou grimaced. "Yeah."

"C'mon, man, you know I'd give her to you if I could," said Kidoumaru. "But I like my life. I don't want it to end just yet. And Tayuya would make it painful, too."

"I guess, yeah."

Kidoumaru pushed open the door to the computer labs. "I'll ditch her when we get there and then you can dance with her or something."

Jiroubou stared past Kidoumaru's head at the poster warning students of the dire consequences of stealing equipment. "I guess, yeah," he repeated, before walking off to his team's designated practice room.

.oOo.

Neji stared at the ceiling. Why was it that he could never find a window in this whole damn mansion? It was too dark in here and the heat was threatening to grab him and eat him alive. The stuffiness of the room was encroaching on his mind, trapping Neji within his own head. It wasn't a pleasant place.

Most of it was occupied by thoughts of the Hyuuga family. Their house suited them; it was cold and windowless and as far as Neji could see he wasn't ever getting out of either.

His cell of a room was located right above the main door to the house, presumably to torture him with thoughts of escape every time he heard it open. Through the floor, he heard a creak and muffled voice. Hinata was home, then.

She was followed by a shrill female shriek that carried straight up to his room. "Oh my god, Hinata, your house is amazing!"

Hardly.

.oOo.

Hinata, Ino, and Sakura were met at the door by her second-cousin-once-removed Takiko, followed closely by Hanabi.

"Welcome home, Hinata-sama," said Takiko with a bow of her head towards Hinata, who blushed. "Hiashi-sama is in his study." Ino and Sakura, both Japanese, would understand what the formality meant: the Hyuuga family was terribly stagnant and old-fashioned. It was, of course, but it was still embarrassing.

"You have friends?" said Hanabi with obvious disbelief. Hinata's blush deepened, even as she rolled her pale eyes at her little sister.

This was so humiliating. She cursed her father for making her bring Sakura and Ino over to meet him. Just because he was so overprotective and couldn't stand his daughter being friends with anybody who wasn't "upstanding" enough…she wasn't sure how to finish the thought.

But Hinata led the other girls up to her father's study. She glanced back at their faces, trying to read them. Sakura was gaping, which was a fairly normal reaction to the Hyuuga mansion. She couldn't tell what Ino was thinking; her blue eyes were perfectly blank.

The door to the study was open, so Hinata tapped quietly on the doorframe and walked in. Her father turned away from the form he was filling out to look at the girls. "So these are your friends," he said in Japanese.

"Y-yes," Hinata replied in English. Didn't he understand how rude he was being? Her cheeks flushed again. Ino and Sakura would be talking about this all tomorrow, telling the entire school how weird the Hyuugas were, and Hinata would just about die of embarrassment. And then Neji would kill her for making the family look bad again.

.oOo.

Poor Hinata, thought Sakura. A house this huge would make anyone look small, but it seemed to swallow Hinata up, along with what little confidence she had. It didn't help that her father seemed to be a total ogre, either. She couldn't understand a word of what he'd said, but the way he was glaring down at his daughter told her that he wasn't particularly happy.

"Er…I'm Yamanaka Ino," said Ino in an unusually subdued voice. Her Japanese seemed halted, which was odd, as she was one of the best students in their class.

Hinata's father (it was difficult for Sakura to think of a man so Japanese as Mr. Hyuuga, but Hyuuga-sama didn't seem right either) said something, too fast for Sakura to follow. Ino appeared to be having the same problem, because she shook her head and said, "I'm sorry, I don't understand."

"Yamanaka, as in Yamanaka Suites?" His English was unaccented and precise.

Sakura could see the brief flash of anger dart across Ino's face before she masked it with that meek politeness again. It had never occurred to her that Ino could be related to the Yamanakas that owned all those high-end hotels; it was a fairly common last name, and she'd never talked about it.

"That's my aunt and uncle," she said softly. Hinata's father raised his eyebrows, then turned those creepy pale eyes to Sakura. Funny, how they didn't bother her on Hinata or Neji, only this man.

"Sakura Haruno," she said, not wanting to make a fool of herself by screwing up her Japanese. He gave her a look that clearly said he had never heard of her family. Sakura wasn't exactly surprised. Her parents both worked boring office jobs, nothing that would attract the attention of anyone as rich as the Hyuugas.

Then his gaze returned to his daughter, and he said something in rapid Japanese. Sakura didn't understand, but she felt a sudden urge to reach out and hug poor Hinata. Whatever Sakura's parents' faults, at least she was always sure that they loved her.

.oOo.

Hinata, her cheeks burning up and her eyes resolutely dry, stepped out of the study and motioned for Sakura and Ino to follow. When the door was safely shut, she said quietly, "I'm s-sorry. About Father. He…he's…old-fashioned." It was the wrong word, but Hinata couldn't think of anything better.

"Don't worry about it," said Ino, flipping a lock of hair out of her eyes.

"Yeah," said Sakura, her voice so soft it barely echoed off the marble walls of the foyer. "It's not your fault."

I know, thought Hinata. I know.

.oOo.

Seven out of nine members of the Akatsuki College Prep Academic Team were currently seated around a counter in one of the school's state-of-the-art science labs.

"Hey, Shorty, where the fuck is Deidara?"

Sasori glanced at Hidan, who was sitting by the gas spigot. "You think I know?" Kisame grinned. Apparently his nicknames were catching on, at least with Hidan, whose favorite hobby was pissing the hell out of the rest of the team.

At this point, Deidara crashed into the room, skidding into a pile of textbooks before stopping himself on a replica of a small dinosaur.

"Sorry I'm late, yeah," he said, "but I was trying to get away from…Him." The entire team allowed themselves a small shudder. He needed no nickname. He was probably the only person in the world able to strike fear into the hearts of the whole Akatsuki Academic Team.

"Hello," said Pein (or Sir Leader, Kisame's name for him), neatly restacking the textbooks before taking his seat next to Zetsu. Hidan's middle finger, residing under the table, extended itself.

Kisame thought, privately, that Hidan was trying to replace Him in the hearts of the team members.

It was rather foolish, as even Hidan couldn't be as annoying as Tobi Uchida.

"So, gentlemen," said Kisame, grinning broadly, "how shall we triumph this season?"

"You look like a fucking shark when you smile, asshole," was Hidan's helpful contribution.

"Your mom," Kisame replied cheerfully. "Any more ideas?"