Card Tricks in the Dark (Temari & Hidan)
Notes: If you've read the writing lexicon that has this term, then you'll understand the reference. Otherwise, here is the premise (details pending) of the following, various vignettes:
Hidan's immortality becomes even more of a curse when his enemies blast him to pieces. It's taken him a while to collect them all, but he's really most keen about regaining all ten of his fingers, which will allow him to carry out the sacrificial rituals to Jashin properly.
The Hidden Village of the Sand, five years after the fateful Chuunin exam that led to its current Kazekage's change of heart, faces a more hopeful future than before. It has a strong ally in the Leaf, an improving economy, and a more-or-less stable leader.
It also has two fingers in its possession, and Hidan would like them back. Seriously.
(Temari, however, is not bred for captivity.)
With the exception of the first and title segment, the drabbles/vignettes are not necessarily in chronological order. Some themes were taken from existing lists such as "52 Flavours." An apology beforehand for everything I'm not explaining and trusting my future self to see to as I continue to add to this series. In terms of an eventual ending to Temari and Hidan's interaction, which do you think is the less unlikely of the following: Temari bringing his decapitated head back to the Sand, or Gaara giving distorted love advice?
Card tricks in the dark –
Temari hasn't thrown a tantrum since she was six months old. She is so out of practice that she can compartmentalize the simmering anger and quash it because it's counterproductive, or observe dispassionately that certain circumstances might merit throwing a fit.
If Gaara can get by, so can she. Tantrums are for silly girls pretending to be kunoichi. The last person who has insinuated she is less than a shinobi now has a face almost as flat as the side of her fan. Perhaps exactly as flat as her fan, as she'd struck the fool with it. Kindly.
(Kankuro would have been much harsher, and less efficient. She doesn't need her brothers to snarl in her honor – not that Gaara's stare is ever ineffective. But she fights her own battles, and certainly chooses them herself.)
That was years ago. "Temari-san, the intruder has not moved since our first sighting." This is Baki, who still refuses to retire. Temari makes a note in her head, reminding herself to have the aging, loyal man reassigned. Border-guarding will become too much for the old man in another year, but she will miss him. Where can she find someone as intelligent and respected to oversee the village defenses? He's already been delegated less responsibility than he used to shoulder, but he's never spoken of it.
"Ah, I see him." The intruder is a dark speck in a sea of sand, graying in the early morning. He appears to be sitting motionless in the chill. Temari flexes her gloved hands, takes out the huge fan from where it is strapped on her back. "I'd say he is just within our country's borders, Baki-san."
The man makes a curt sound of agreement. "I shall organize a squad to investigate."
"Alert the Kazekage and Kankuro." A single, chakra-laced step from the ledge, and she walks onto the open air. The fan whisks out, and now she flies.
She doesn't know it, but she'll soon be back at the gate, observing that the situation perfectly justifies a temporary mental seizure, or at least a fit. What she does sense is that someone – less than destiny, more than chance – is pulling the strings to the events that follow, purely to amuse a sense of humor that no one else shares. And somehow, she doesn't think it'll be as easy as slapping that someone in the face with her fan, this time.
But she's certainly willing to try.
New every morning
She's learnt not to show anything except the faintest trace of anger, because certain kinds of joy are "sinful." Smiling – if only for a fraction of a second – at an old man who plays a beautiful, aching melody on his stringed instrument is the height of stupidity. It's not worth finding the old man's bloody, crumpled corpse in the alley where Hidan has carelessly deposited him after his usual, tortuous rituals.
It's not worth hearing the melody being played by Hidan's deft fingers, where the missing appendages on one hand force him to skip a few notes.
(I thought you liked the f – ing tune)
She won't give him the satisfaction of hearing her ask "why" anymore.
Education (what you take from an experience)
Temari has made mistakes before, one of them being the mistake of letting her tone soften. They had been walking in stoic, brazen silence on the outskirts of a tiny fishing village. Hidan had been scowling, touching his rosary, amethyst eyes surveying the calm, ordinary activity of the villagers. Not looking. Distracted.
She'd turned away from him when she heard the soft mew, and saw the huge amber eyes stare out from the shadow between a leaning rock and a tree root. The Leaf-nin had mentioned, off-hand, the silly missions they used to receive as assignments. That had been a laugh; she'd never done something so inane or frivolous as spend an entire afternoon on a chase for a rich lady's pet.
Judging from the quick, reflected light from the brass tag, though, the small animal does belong to someone. Temari continues to face forward, making sure that the pale- haired, mercurial man beside her is facing the village, still set on his own disturbing agenda. They walk along the stream bank, cross the flimsy wooden bridge, and enter the village, for that is what the ex-Akatsuki member has, apparently, decided they will do.
She notices signs on the posts and sides of shops; one on the food stand they pass. A picture and a note written in a loving hand, asking for help in the search for a beloved, wayward cat. She thinks of the eyes in the shadows. Hidan snarls at the food vendor and includes many crude, violent epithets. The other man is not wise enough to step down. Hating her own powerlessness, which has been constricting her like a vise, Temari stands and speaks to the vendor with all the calm authority that she used to have. For a moment, it seems to reach even Hidan, who resumes his seat with an ungracious curse. But what stops the other man's retort is the sight of the three-bladed scythe, to which Temari's helpful eyes have darted. Her own fan never leaves her back.
When the food arrives, the missing-nin's volatile temper rears its thrice-as-ugly head again. Under the cover of the ensuing row, Temari manages to tell a surprised passer-by to relay the cat's location to its owners. The middle-aged woman smiles and dips her head in a cheerful nod.
(Later, Temari wonders if those precious seconds cost that woman her life.)
She returns her attention to Hidan under the guise of starting in on the food, and sees the frozen violet glare. But he doesn't speak; she doesn't look up. This is, after all, early on in her coerced exile, and Temari actually believes that she has been granted a reprieve.
They are five seconds' walking distance from the village when she realizes that the dangerous lunatic is not distracted to the point of blessed silence, but waiting, and it's with a deep sense of unpleasant foreboding that Temari clenches her teeth and tilts her gaze towards him.
"Got a present for you," he says; his smile is almost one of happy anticipation. "Thought you'd like a little memento to go with the f – ing food. You'll see it in a moment."
Splayed out on the surface of the same rock under which it hid, is the fragile body of a mutilated feline. A warm pressure comes down on her shoulder, and she flings off his hand, the mocking gesture being too much for her. His expression is exasperated, fond, hateful.
"Jashin-sama prefers human sacrifices, but I thought you'd like to know that if there's any way for animals to go to heaven, this one would have made it."
Temari doesn't let him mistake her silence for pleasure very long, and the man learns that she has ways, small but effective, that she can use to avenge the victims of his religion. Sometimes, even if all she can – or dares to
(is she a coward at heart?)
ellict from Hidan is frustration, she imagines that she is cutting him open like he did to that cat.
Fidelity in adversity
He keeps trying.
He brings and shows her everything he can think of. It gets harder to read her without a single smile or glance. At first, he works from past observations. The dead cat seemed to make an impact.
It's almost a game that he likes. Liked. He doesn't know when it became frustrating. He knows the phrase if looks could kill; for this woman, it's safe to ditch the if, throttle it, gut it until it's f – ing unrecognizable. He feels angry himself when his carefully prepared lessons and teachings are met with stony dark eyes set in a look that would kill any man less than Hidan, the Immortal. And any other girl, you know, would have been less disappointing in her reaction. She doesn't appreciate his efforts. She doesn't appreciate him, the messenger and destroyer of God, and that itself is unforgivable.
But, Jashin-sama forgive him, he hasn't destroyed her for it, hasn't stopped his mind from straying to her during his meditations, and he knows that if the kunoichi's siblings don't crack earlier, she'll become the next sacrifice of the day. All for the glory of Jashin, who has sent her to test his devotion to his God.
But damn it, he keeps trying, and maybe someday – and this is only one of too many sinful thoughts he has had in her presence – her eyes really will strike him dead.
For that, he will forgive her everything, even for never giving him a smile that she'll toss to any urchin or old man on the street.
Familiarity with the unknown
The few instances that she falls into a deep sleep, she wakes in the morning to see the man lying inside the boundaries of some type of meditation circle, with a blade stuck in his chest. The first time, she is too wary to be elated
(and sure enough, he gets up, dons the large, shapeless cloak he carries around, and tells her they'll be going as if he shouldn't be dead half an hour ago)
and she learns more than she ever wanted to know of his stupid religion, just for raising a sardonic eyebrow. Once Hidan starts, he goes on and on. For a few intervals, she actually listens. How better to analyze the psyche of a fanatic than to assess the object of his monomania? The more she hears, though, the less of a person the serial killer-cum-religious missing-nin seems to be. Take away his deluded, bloodthirsty beliefs and Temari's convinced that he would just be a piece of machinery solely useful in situations requiring brute strength, able to spout a random, coarse invective once in a while. If that were true, he wouldn't give her covert glances -
wouldn't stop at a stall and order food in anticipation of her hunger –
(how did he even figure out what kind of meal she liked?)
- wouldn't continue trying to strike up his idea of conversation by heaping insults on her, expounding on the goodness of destruction for Jashin and why she is bound for hell, or presenting to her his sick, twisted little gifts, sometimes all in the same quarter-hour. But more than all of this, he wouldn't be letting her live.
She hates that last allowance. She can put up a fight, and it's not unreasonable for her to believe that she can cause him significant, lasting damage. In her heart of hearts, though, Temari knows that if it comes down to a battle, she'll lose.
One day she'll wake up as he is deep in meditation, get her bearings, and take her life in her own hands as she walks away. When it is a choice between his morning devotions to Jashin or regaining an escaped captive, which will Hidan choose?
A week ago, she would have opted for religion, because it is all he has. But time is sliding by, and she is more unsettled by an observation she's made about herself than anything he's ever shown her. Instead of becoming more unshakeable, she's grown used to those amethyst eyes.
Give and take
He comes back from a temple. Temari can smell the blood and incense on him. When he returns, he's past the disturbing, enthused state he enters after a ritual kill, and now he is in that falsely magnanimous, impatient mood that she loathes. But at least there is a pattern to his madness.
Four fat scrolls slap onto the table before her, narrowly missing the tea. One would have hit her in the face had she not moved. She is on her feet, a hand on the closed iron fan, before she knows.
"Relax, blondie. These are for you. I don't need you to die from boredom; I'd much rather kill you myself."
She raises her chin; Hidan is taller than her, and for a long time Temari fights the irrational resentment she feels for having to look up. "Considering your dedication to that foul religion, isn't it rather heathenish for you to keep someone alive just for money?" A ransom that you and I both know will never be paid – because Gaara and Kankuro know her well enough that she'll never be in favor of Sand bowing to any threat, especially one to her own survival.
His hand comes up to rub the back of his pale-haired head. "This would be so much easier of Kakuzu was around, and I never thought I'd say that. Food and supplies cost ryo, you know." His unfocused muttering grinds to a halt at the same time the violet eyes focus on her stony face. "Go on, have a look at the damn things. You are f – ing literate, right?"
Ignoring the jibe, Temari resumes her seat, proud of the steady, casual movements of her hands. The scrolls are marked as the property of a Wind Country temple, so they haven't crossed the borders yet. After breaking open the seals, Temari unfurls one of the scrolls to find a description and guide to the monks' secret techniques.
Killing holy men for his god may be fine for Hidan, but even touching the scrolls feels like she is steeping her hands in blood. Can she justify her perusal if she vows to wreak judgment on the evildoer with the knowledge she takes from them?
That sounds too close to Hidan's line of thought to bear continuing.
The three sharp points of a scythe's blades stab through aged paper to embed themselves in the wood of the table. Temari doesn't so much as flinch. The lunatic yanks out his weapon, leaving rips in the scroll.
"Hey, woman, I said I brought food. If I knew they'd turn you into a f – ing statue I'd have burned the damn scrolls, seriously."
She takes her time rolling the scroll back up with care. After scanning through them, she's committed all the useful parts to memory. He can very well burn it all now. When Temari meets his eyes coolly, he still looks indignant. "What more do you want?" She says, very coldly.
"Some f – ing thanks would be nice, bitch. I guess it'd kill you to call me a bastard, let alone Hidan, now, would it?"
Her control slips. "Not at all, bastard."
He blinks, and then a broad grin sweeps across his face at her glacial tone. "Could work on the delivery, but you're coming along. You clean up better than I'd have thought, seriously."
Temari's head snaps up. The backhanded compliment lances her with a deeper irritation than all his quirks, his sadism, and his crude language – those things, at least, are expected of him.
"What the hell are you doing?" is his exclamation when he sees Temari gritting her teeth, eyes fixed on the propped-up mirror. "You can't f – ing rip those out!"
"They're a nasty piece of work." Her fingers appear deft and calm from a distance; and why shouldn't they be? She's patched up Kankuro and many other ninja in her life. Nevertheless, concentrating above the pain becomes twice as hard in the presence of the volatile, murderous lunatic who saved her life.
"I'm assuming you did this," she continues. "Without any experience or calling a medic." The stitches are ragged, uneven, amateurish. The spaces between them are larger than those in the mesh she was wearing under the outer garment. To pull the threat and needle through her skin, he must have had to pull all the layers of clothing up to her second rib at least. If she even suspects that he has gone further, there will be hell to pay once she gets back in form.
Right now, though, the ex-Akatsuki man is seething and releasing streams of his wounded anger in the form of obscenities, and for some reason, she doesn't think he has. She raises her eyes; calm turquoise meets furious magenta. "Thank you, Hidan."
Just like that, the tirade stops.
"That aside," and there is just the hint of a growl in her voice, "get out!"
Hidan sees the kunai coming for him and prepares to take it in the shoulder. Turning his face back to his opponent – a B-class shinobi who just doesn't know when to quit – he flashes his trademark feral grin. "Time to go to hell, heathen!" The rest of the ten hunter-nin go quickly, too fast for him to consecrate, although that's not his fault.
It's only later, when he's ten minutes into his thirty minute post-battle ceremony, that he realizes the kunai never hit. His shoulder is clean and the skin there is unbroken. So before he cleans up and tells the ice queen they're breaking camp, he combs through the wreckage with his eyes.
That's where it is – he takes the kunai out of the tree bark and barely tosses it away in time for the tiny tag attached to detonate. A mini-cloud of fire and smoke erupts less than a foot away from him. And of course that impossible bitch has to say, "One wonders how you made it into the Akatsuki."
Shut the hell up is on the tip of his tongue, but his eyes are faster: they catch sight of a shuriken, one of Temari's, embedded a few feet away from the tree after it knocked the kunai off-target.
Her bare feet make no sound on the tatami. For all its correctness, the grace in her walk is that of a prowling animal. She eats, too, with the same deliberation. Always alert, always contained, almost hypnotic. Even Hidan thinks a follower of Jashin could take something from that, when he pretends for an instant that it's not pure blasphemy.
He's lost count of how many days ago he should have sacrificed her, just like she's lost count of how many unexpected smiles she's had to suppress.
He can, however, remember every single smile she's ever given, and the circumstances under which she made them in his presence. They go up to five.
She has been numbering the days of her life ever since they met. Tomorrow will be the forty-third.
Having in common
There are too many differences between them to cite them all, and rather few similarities. The most obvious of these exceptions is their secret need for redemption. Since the day Gaara was taken from the Sand by the Akatsuki, Temari has been atoning for it by working unceasingly for the village, killing whoever threatens her brothers without question.
Hidan has been killing himself ever since his brother died.
The heart of your gesture
A difference in belief, he snarled at his brother a long time ago. You wouldn't f – ing understand.
These words haunt Hidan when countless others take the field against him, explaining their willingness to die.
"It's not a ransom for money," he says at last, "it's a ransom for my f – ing fingers, okay? I'd never put up with you just for ryo, seriously."
Temari gives the hand missing two appendages – they're the reason he can't really execute more than the most basic techniques – a long, even stare, then returns her eyes to the trees around them; he feels like there's something she's not telling him.
Often she wishes that the Akatsuki had sent Hidan after her brother instead of the other freak who exclusively used clay explosives. Even she can see the obvious stupidity of sending Hidan: once the surprise is over, he lacks the raw intelligence to escape a Desert Coffin or most of Gaara's specialties. Any qualified jounin who knows the requirements for Hidan's cursed technique should be able to neutralize him – if not at once, then eventually.
This is what makes Temari suspect that she hates her captor. She's already certain that she hates herself, for getting caught. And she hates the way he sometimes decides to stop and make camp the moment she feels fatigue stifle her muscles. It defies her evaluation of him and gives her an excuse for failing.
It takes two
The day Temari has a conversation with him is the day that all the infidels he's sent to hell become little icicles.
They are skirting Fire Country; he's kept them hidden and stopped her from practicing certain Wind techniques for that reason. Or at least partly for that reason; it's annoyed him, more than any of Kakuzu's bounty-claiming schemes,
(the old demon is in hell now, probably making money while in the throes of agony)
that he caught himself in the act of watching Temari cut open a waterfall or make a miniature tornado, with entirely too much appreciation for the execution.
They are in River Country, a no-man's land still, even after the peace agreement. Few people have hired shinobi of late, as nothing has happened in the locale since Sasori died and the Akatsuki headquarters moved.
As far as he knows, this insignificant country has had a very dull handful of years by the time they set foot in it. If Kakuzu were still partnered with him, Hidan would be commencing their usual trade of depreceating comments purely to fight the ennui. Sometimes the verbal battle escalated to such heights that Kakuzu would be coughing to cover his laughter. Hidan knows – as he knew then – that S-class missing-nin, one a devout Jashinist at that, should not be bantering like they have in public. But then it was River Country, seriously, and few of its mundane, boring people ever traversed the same paths that the two men did.
He'll never tell this to anyone, though – that sometimes he and Kakuzu did not feel like killing each other – and neither does he think he'll let on that they didn't kill each other as frequently as popular opinion holds. But he'll gladly turn his best aggravating expression on his silent companion and sneer, "Blondie, your hairstyle f – ing sucks, seriously."
"Coming from someone who appears to use birdshit as gel, that's really hypocritical."
"You think I what - ? What kind of shit was that?" He demands. When Temari's mouth twitches, he realizes what he's said. By the time she responds, he's already cursing his own tongue.
"Maybe you should pay more attention to what species of bird it is, seeing as you're the one using the product."
"While you obviously use their piss to color your hair – "
Down in hell, Kakuzu feels a little cold creep into his fingers.
A situation averted
"This place is f – ing filthy." Every flaw in the little room could be taken in at a glance: cracks and mites, peeling paint like paper, uneven floor riddled with crater-sized indentations that would be more at home at the site of an epic shinobi battle. The unkempt, stained lump on the bed frame must have been a blanket four decades ago. Strangely enough, the one luxury item in the dump – the mirror – was undamaged, reflecting the identical, split-second looks of consternation on the faces of the two would-have-been tenants – before their expressions morphed into total disgust.
"I am not sleeping on the floor," said Temari. Statement made, she looked around in annoyance.
"Well, I'm taking the g – damned piece of shit of a bed!" The floor not only looked incredibly filthy, it looked painful.
The two ninja eyed the single bed. Furtive glances were cast, one after the other. And then, without further comment, they walked out the door and left the hideous little room forever.
Temari is a fairly attractive girl who grew up to be a relatively good-looking woman, except that very few men actually dare to think of her that way. It may be that her brothers are both highly respected, rather protective, and extremely deadly; it may be herself. Only shinobi have ever dared to approach her with that in mind, and everyone Temari respects knows better than to try – there's no time in a ninja's life for frivolity.
At the same time, Temari is human, and when she's safe at home, in the night
(false security though it is)
she lets herself wonder a little about the side of life she's voluntarily cut off from. In the broad daylight it's silly, stupid, and unnecessary. She doesn't need something so alien to be a part of her.
Until the day she discovers how Hidan has been earning enough ryo to pay for the room she lives in while the wound heals, she doesn't know how wrong her assumptions have been. No wonder hunter-nin have a hard time finding him; they'd never look for him in the back kitchen of a restaurant. Even Kankuro only did it once for her, so she does realize deep down that nothing quite says love like a man who's willing to wash dishes for you, as long as you don't let on that you know.
She would be disappointed, seriously, if she ever found out that only the insulting part of her effortless retort – something like a suggestion that he should go boil his head (and maybe try pulling out the nonfunctional gray mass in his head through the nostril while he's at it) – has registered at all. For his part, he's been resentfully aware of her unusual proximity and chanting to himself, I am a follower of Jashin. I am celibate.
As a consequence
Kankuro once warned her that she sometimes gets talkative when severely injured. Temari, of course, knows the dangers of this, but it's one part of her she hates to admit that she doesn't control. It's like a nerve ending, a muscle
malfunction – she'll think out loud and probably embarrass herself, but that's the least of her troubles as a ninja. So mostly, she just avoids severe injuries.
She's gotten quite good at it, except when she's not.
The immortal S-class criminal, let's call him "A," is actually pretty vulnerable. Does he regrow limbs? Temari thinks he can't; otherwise he could just grow back new fingers instead of that pathetic attempt at ransom. And his severed head would mean he would necessarily grow back a new body or at least the body a head, like a starfish. Then there'd be two of them – immortal? – No, Temari doesn't think he can regenerate like that.
So if you remove his larynx or a kidney or two – hell, the man needs to eat and digest like everyone else – how will his body cope? How would he re-fit his organs, even if he got them back in full, functioning order? Perhaps his body will be forced to shut down.
Boiling, cooking, and digesting food changes its properties on a chemical level. Temari believes that if "A" were eaten by wild dogs, the disintegrated portions of his body would certainly require no less than divine assistance to recover from that metabolic transformation.
She presents these theories to Kankuro, before – pop! the dream bubble winks out, revealing Hidan's thunderstruck face of mixed reactions: admiration and curiosity, hatred and hope, betrayal and relief, concern and jealousy; Temari realizes that he thought she was addressing him until she called him by her brother's name, and that Kankuro's warning about being a loose-tongued patient truly bites.
There's something about living with what the people Temari hates call a reformed monster and loving him that has given her a quality of gentleness. You can't see it very easily in her brusque manner, and no one can startle it out of her eyes.
It's like a faint mist at the edges of your vision, and at some point, inexplicably, Hidan has learned to see it.
Someday this pain will be useful to you
Since there is a price to everything, there is a price even to humiliation, pain, and inconvenience, which is always more humiliation, pain, and inconvenience. It is the humiliation of struggling to walk to the bathroom, the pain of enduring not only the wound but a lengthy (batshit) religious lecture each night, and the inconvenience of Hidan's presence, while being forced to occupy the same room as him.
There is an equal and counter compensation of sorts that accompanies the price, however, which is a sincere appreciation for the inevitable, yet all-too-brief intervals when Hidan leaves her alone; he never does seem to sleep.
An interesting dichotomy
Sleeping is one of the few pleasurable activities in life that Temari can enjoy without guilt, since it is then that the body recuperates and its chakra reserves are restored. Ever since she has been rendered largely sedentary by battle injuries, Temari has discovered a necessary side-branch of this activity - feigning sleep – to avoid the tedious proselytizing talks that often go long into the gray hours of morning.
She is disconcertingly touched when Hidan, on seeing her "asleep" as he enters, closes the door behind him as gently as she's ever heard and does his utmost to be quiet until the moment she wakes.
'Simple and Clean'
The single bathroom smells unnaturally nice; taking in the semi-fogged mirror and open, scented soap, Temari deduces that her circumstantial roommate has taken a shower, and envies him for it. Later, her envy becomes dismay when he brushes past her, because Hidan, too, smells unnaturally nice.
"You used my f – ing soap. That's my personal soap, seriously!"
Despite the expletive and emphatic tone, Hidan looks more intrigued than offended. Even so, his entire posture puts Temari on the defensive.
She snaps, "So sniff yourself, not me."
First time for everything
Temari finds wild plums and nails three fish from the stream. Hidan makes a fire, but keeps it burning low at night to avoid unwanted attention. So by midnight, Hidan is full and warm under his long, shapeless cloak, but Temari, who didn't plan for any kind of extended exile, is not dressed for the weather. Since she's up against her will, she decides to keep an eye out, although with each second she hates the man who is sitting out of arm's reach a little more.
Suddenly, he whips his head around. "Look, I can f – ing feel it. You're sulking because I need to keep the fire down?" Violet eyes narrow as a taunt escapes his mouth. "Is the cold getting to you, blondie? Because I thought it was your natural climate."
Temari shoots him a powerful look of disgust. "Why don't you talk after you ditch your big, thick coat, you bastard?"
"Temari, I'm not wearing a shirt." After a moment, he adds, "And I cannot lend clothes to heathens."
It sounds almost apologetic. Temari averts her eyes; it's also the first time he's addressed her by name.
Hints passing unnoticed
Temari realizes that she is starved for just plain, amiable companionship when, one day, she flashes a pure, whole-hearted smile at a duck; she never does figure out that supper later that day (which consists of waterfowl snared by Hidan) is an expression of the same sentiment.