Note: written as a drabble request for tesseninthesand, where I had to include the characters Temari and Kakuzu, and the prompt "jealousy". As you can see, I got carried away again. XD My current multi-chaptered fics are being worked on and will be updated soon! But for now, reviews are appreciated!
Note: With a "jaundiced eye" means regarding something with jealousy, envy, prejudice, dislike or distrust.
Temari sucked her teeth in resignation, peering out the window into the violent rain. The drops of water fell against the window with enough force to crack the glass and the wind whipped through the trees with enough force to strip the bark from the branches.
Damn River country and its freak thunderstorms.
Behind her, the floorboards creaked quietly beneath the weight of treading footsteps.
Quickly, she glanced back over her shoulder to see her "companion" settling onto the worn, dusty sofa with his torn traveling cloak in his hands, the fabric turned inside out.
He'd started a fire in the chimney.
Cautiously, she made her way closer to the warmth of the fire, goose bumps breaking out along her bare arms as the heat snaked up around the damp skin. Shivering at the pleasant sensation, she moved closer and stood there for a while, basking in the warmth while watching the strange-looking man examine his torn cloak.
After stumbling into the abandoned house looking for shelter, she'd discovered it to be not so abandoned, after all.
A kunai had grazed her cheek when she'd thrown herself out of the way of his attack, and before she'd had a chance to reach back for her fan, long tendrils of black string had snaked around her wrists and ankles, pinning her to the wall.
Her attacker turned out to be a missing nin from the Falls village, masked and glaring as he approached from within the darkness of the quiet house. The strings seemed connected to his body, emerging from crevices in his stitched limbs, and they quivered as though alive when he tightened them around her throat.
"Who are you?"
His voice was low and threatening, made harsh by the black mask that covered the lower half of his face.
She didn't think it wise to waste time on preamble when the black strings were steadily tightening around her trachea.
"Temari of the Sand," she'd answered, as calmly as she could, and braced herself for death by suffocation.
The strings didn't tighten further, and for a few minutes she watched him watch her, keeping his gaze unblinkingly despite the blood collecting in the sclera of her eyes.
"Do you have any valuables?" he asked suddenly, tone business-like.
She thought of the money from her last pay cheque nestled in a neat, elastic-bound roll inside her bra, and sighed before nodding.
"Where is it?"
"Get these strings off me, first."
He took a step closer and she stiffened, noticing the strangeness of his eyes as he stepped into a slice of candlelight reflected by the nearby mirror.
"Where is it?" he repeated, tightening the strings around her throat.
Fighting back a grimace, she merely lowered her eyes towards her damp shirt, tightening her fingers into fists.
Maintaining a poker face while negotiating with a dangerous criminal was always high up on her list of priorities when it came to shinobi conduct, but now she was pissed and didn't give a damn about protocol.
She was wet, cold, about to be poor, on the verge of being violated, and she was on her period.
She was not in the mood for this shit.
A single, thick tendril of black string emerged from near his forearm and pulled back the collar of her shirt, slipping inside.
Her eye twitched as it touched against the damp skin between her breasts, searching until it encountered paper and encircled the wad of cash, withdrawing it.
Temari slowly exhaled as the string tossed back the cash. He caught it in his right hand and looked at it with what seemed like satisfaction. The strings around her throat didn't loosen.
Sealing her lips together, she waited, tensing as he pocketed the money and glanced back at her.
"No," she said through gritted teeth. "Unless you want my gold fillings."
"Those are worthless."
"Then I'm officially poor."
He might have been smirking under his mask, but she couldn't tell. Regarding her silently for a few more seconds, he eventually loosened the strings from around her throat, withdrawing them back into his body.
She straightened and rubbed her bruised neck, watching with morbid fascination as the strings sewed the crevices back together.
She glanced up sharply at his toneless voice, blinking in surprise.
"Leave," he repeated, beckoning towards the doorway. "Killing you isn't worth the hassle of disposing of your stinking corpse when the weather is so obviously bad. So get out."
He's a charmer, Temari thought inwardly, twitching.
"How about," she started, fighting to keep her voice under control. "We call a truce, and I stay here till the storm passes and you accept the money you stole from me as the cost of giving me shelter."
She paused, floundering for something else.
"And I'll make tea."
He stared at her and said nothing.
She stared at his pocket where all her money was and seethed.
"Fine," he said after a moment, turning away from her. "But I'll kill you the second you try anything."
He took a few steps towards the living room before pausing in the doorway.
"I don't take sugar in my tea."
Now she stood there near the fire, warming her hands while waiting for her tea to cool, glancing with unconcealed resentment at the masked nin sitting calmly on the sofa. Within the firelight, she could see that his entire upper body was covered in crude black stitches, obscured by a black top that seemed to have no back.
She could've sworn she saw something like faces on his back the moment he'd walked away from her, but it must have been a trick of the light.
The wind howled outside and the rainfall sounded like marbles hitting the inside of a tub, obscenely loud in the silent house. She watched him trace the long rip in the cloak, just beneath the sleeve, taking the frayed threads between his fingers and tugging experimentally.
Suddenly remembering, she turned to look at the poncho she'd hung over the back of a rocking chair, approaching it to look for the tear that had let all the rainwater in.
She'd snagged it on a branch while rushing through the trees to look for shelter, and inspection led her to find the long, diagonal tear in the front. Sucking her teeth again in annoyance, she took it in her hands and settled into the chair, reaching for the emergency first aid kit in her bag. From it, she withdrew a sharp, sterilized needle for stitching wounds and the thick, white thread she kept for repairing slits in her fan's canvas.
Squinting in the dim light, she held her tongue between her teeth, holding the poncho close to her eyes as she slid the needle through the fabric.
She glanced up sharply at the sound of his voice.
He looked pointedly at her poncho.
"You're supposed to turn it inside out, first."
Digging her teeth into her lower lip, she refrained from making a caustic remark and turned the poncho inside out, glancing askance at him to see what he was doing with his cloak.
A thin, barely visible tendril of black string emerged from his wrist, the tip sharp and pin-like as it moved through the fabric, coiling smoothly around the two separated halves till they were bound tightly together.
Pursing her lips, she lowered her eyes and started sewing. The needle slid through the fabric easily enough, but the thread kept snagging, thickening and gathering into knots every time she tried to pull it through. Growing increasingly frustrated, she bit off the knotted thread and started again.
For some reason, possibly because the material of the poncho was so thin, the fibers holding the fabric together would unravel when she pulled the needle and thread, undoing all her work and making the tear worse.
Combined with her foul mood and cramps, it took all the willpower she had to not throw the poncho into the fire and break something.
Giving up after five minutes, she pulled the thread and needle loose and sighed in resignation, slumping back against the chair.
Morosely, she glanced at his cloak.
He held it complacently in his lap, fingers running absentmindedly over the nearly invisible seam in the black fabric.
"You know," Temari said after a while, angry and reckless. "The polite thing to do after stealing my money would be to offer me help."
He glanced at her, nonplussed.
"Your logic leaves much to be desired. And I wouldn't call our transaction theft. It was payment for me letting you stay here."
Seeing the barely-contained outrage on her face, he casually set his cloak aside and crossed his arms complacently.
"I have no problem with fixing that," he said succinctly, eyes moving momentarily towards her ragged poncho. "For a price."
"You took all my money already," she said through gritted teeth. "I don't have anything else. And don't even think about asking me for that."
He raised an eyebrow before looking at his black-polished nails with infuriating indifference.
"Don't flatter yourself. It's not my fault you're incapable of something as simple as sewing."
She slowly stood up, fury in the tightening of her jaw and venom in her narrowed eyes. Wordlessly, and with as much dignity as she could muster, she yanked up the side of her skirt and ripped off the garter holding her indulgence money.
It was her last twenty. It was supposed to get her the strawberry short cake she'd been looking forward to eating for days. It was supposed to afford her the rare, red fruit, the indulgent, sugary cream, and the soft, melt-in-your-mouth vanilla cake.
But now? Now, it was going to some freak full of strings for a fucking poncho, something she'd probably never use again in her life.
Glaring venomously, she strode over to his side and scrunched the bill in her hand before throwing it at him. He caught it easily in one hand and glanced down at it, calmly smoothing it out before folding it neatly and placing it in his pocket with the rest of her money.
Then he held out his hand expectantly.
Temari took the torn poncho and dropped it into his outstretched hand, suppressing the urge to kick him as she furiously strode back to her seat.
After a few minutes of watching him repair the tear with the utmost of ease, she finally spoke.
"You're an asshole."
"I'm a businessman," he replied.
"This isn't fair."
"Life isn't fair."
"And I can sew," she ground out. "You can't judge me over that when you're practically a walking sewing machine."
"Are you jealous?" he asked, voice nonchalant as he watched the black string bind the tear together.
"I'm saying it's an unfair advantage," Temari retorted.
"Meaning you're envious of my skill."
"Meaning I have limits while you have a never-ending supply of black thread that you can physically manipulate without your hands."
He severed the thread at the end of the tear, turning the poncho inside out to look at the nearly seamless stitching with satisfaction.
"It's not an unfair advantage," he intoned, draping the poncho over the armrest for her to see. "I paid for this technique, just like you paid me to spare your life."
She watched him, glowering and subdued as he reached forward for the tea she'd left on the table.
"Nothing comes for free," he continued, stirring the tea before setting the plate down, reaching up towards his mask. "There's a price for everything…"
Temari stared, tight fists going limp and eyes widening when he removed the mask, setting it down on the table next to the plate. He sipped his tea before putting it in his lap, a tendril of black string darting out from between his lips to swipe up any of the warm residue.
He glanced at her, his cynical smile somewhat strained beneath the pull of taut skin and black thread.