A friend of mine was having a rough week, so I took a break from NaNo to write this for her. Yeah, it's an AU. I'm really liking AUs at the moment. 8D

Some notes about the story: One, the characterizations are based entirely on "laststopgakeun," a Live Journal roleplaying community where I'm Tobi and firefly (you know her as infinitefirefly on LJ) is Hidan. The RP is crack, and as such, I tend to portray Tobi as his pre-MAJOR REVELATION self, so that's who you will be seeing here.

Two: Hidan is a huge part of this story. He is a man of God. Therefore, God is in the story (along with pseudo-philosophical babble on the nature of human beings). If that's gonna make you uncomfortable, there are plenty other stories on this site. Try one of those instead. :D

Three: As always, I hope you enjoy.

On the Subject of Faith
Normally, when he'd walk inside the café on the corner of West Grover Street, the little bell rigged above the door would precede his entrance—and every time, without fail, he'd tell the establishment's overly cheerful proprietor just what he thought of that damn bell ("Don't you get tired of listening to it? Annoying as fuck…").

Today, however, his arrival was marked by a series of rapid sneezes that not only drowned out the sound of the bell, but made his eyes water, his stuffy nose run, and prompted a slew of "Bless yous" from the morning crowd (most of whom delivered the blessing by rote rather than actually believing it came from God, because, per the status quo, God had been taken out of everything).

He might've begun a tirade concerning the sorry state of their heathen souls if he wasn't already feeling like shit and had a sermon to deliver in two hours, so he merely jerked his head sharply by way of thanks, however hollow, and shuffled to his usual seat—the small, two-person table in the back, near the window.

The wood creaked beneath him as he practically slumped into the chair, a high-backed, old-fashioned number that could've come out of a nineteenth-century cottage—the entire café had that down-home comfort atmosphere: the food was made from scratch (and there was plenty of it), the coffee brewed with real beans, the service prompt and hospitable. During the fall and winter seasons, a fire always burned in the hearth; extravagant decorations went up for holidays.

Nice place, he'd admit. Really nice. Never said it out loud (never would), but he knew he was always welcome here, and not merely because he dished out ten bucks for a hot chocolate and one of those incredible apple-pie muffins twice a week (sometimes even more than that).

"Good grief, you sound terrible, Hidan."

It was because of this clown, currently setting a napkin and utensils in front of him—something Hidan failed to understand. He'd only use the spoon to scoop the marshmallows out of his chocolate before they melted (right before…he liked them soft and gooey the best). The fork and the knife would go unused (only pussies cut up their muffins), but that hadn't stopped Tobi yet.

"It's the principle of the thing, Hidan," he'd explained once, gravely. "The spoon goes with the fork, and the fork goes with the knife. They've gotta be together, see?"

No, as a matter of fact, he didn't. Hard to summon up concern over the supposed separation anxiety of inanimate objects.

Whatever. Not like he had to clean up after himself—Tobi seemed perfectly happy to do it, week after week, so Hidan let the issue go. Why argue with a crazy person, anyhow?

"Do I?" Hidan couldn't keep the biting sarcasm out of his voice—a voice that bore more resemblance to a frog than a human being at the moment. Didn't exactly bode well for his sermon. "Well that's fucking swell of you to notice, Tobi. Thanks."

"Hahaha, relax, relax. You shouldn't get yourself worked up when you're sick! I'll be right back with your hot chocolate, okay?"

Hidan grunted. "Fine."

Tobi beamed at him and meandered off to the bar, checking in at a couple more tables along the way. He genuinely enjoyed mingling with his customers—it wasn't unusual to spot him seated amongst them, chattering about so-and-so's new baby or the upcoming high-school bake sale or who was running for trustee this year.

Letting them know he gave a damn about their lives, that they weren't just business.

At first, Hidan wondered how much of that compassion was sincere, and how much of it was an act. He knew people, after all. As a pastor, a big part of his job was to pay attention to them, to get inside their heads and learn how they tick. Sure, he was God's man, through and through, determined to spread His word to as many as he could, but to do that, the congregation had to listen.

So he exploited them, to a certain extent. He spoke in a way that forced them to hear him—bluntly. No point beating around the bush. No point sugarcoating things. Tell it like it is, his mother used to say. Stand your ground, and tell it like it is.

And that's what he did.

He'd seen enough of the world to be jaded by it. He'd seen enough to know that people shit all over each other, but expect a hand up when their luck runs out. They want and they want and they want…like greedy pigs, never satisfied. Feeding their mouths and their egos and their wallets.

The Gospel According to the Public says God is dead. Don't serve God, serve yourself.

"Here we go! Hot chocolate, extra thick, three jumbo marshmallows." Tobi set first a saucer, then a steaming mug in front of him, along with a package of tissues. "I figured you might appreciate those."

It didn't take him long to discover Tobi was the real deal—a charismatic, childlike goofball who loved people in spite of their flaws…or perhaps because of them.

"Thanks," Hidan replied gruffly, on account of his cold and maybe something else he could probably name if he thought about it but preferred not to.

"Sure! Do you still want your muffin? I would've brought it out with the hot chocolate, but…I think oatmeal is better for colds. Has a lot of nutrients in it, you know."

"Nutrients? What are you, my ma?"

Tobi laughed. "Sorry, sorry. I get like this when somebody's sick. Just wanna take care of 'em. Isn't that right, Julia?" He craned his head around to peer at his morning help, a powerhouse of a woman in her mid-fifties, with a mane of curly, iron gray hair and a killer smile.

"Absolutely right." She turned that smile on Hidan, showcasing a set of straight, white teeth. "Don't let him bother you now, sugar. Our Tobi, he's a worrywart."

"Be nice! I wasn't bothering him." He faced Hidan again. "Was I?"

Thankfully, another round of sneezes spared the pastor the embarrassment of responding. Julia, for all that she was a peach, intimidated the hell out of him. Particularly when she started up with the "sugar" bit. Part of him believed she did it because she knew it made him blush, and Hidan was anything but the blushing type.

"Aw, shit…"

One crappy thing about sneezing is, it loosens up the snot clogging your nose if you've got a cold.

Great for your nose, but not great for you.

Head lowered to conceal the worst of it, Hidan groped about for the package of tissues—which he really did appreciate—while his host made sympathetic noises, as if Hidan were a miserable baby kitten or something.

Miserable, yes. Baby kitten? Not so much.

Swearing under his breath, he seized the package and fumbled it open, yanking out a wad of tissues to mop the skin beneath his nose (it'd be red and raw by the end of the day, no doubt).

Tobi frowned, and turned back to Julia. "Keep an eye on things for me?"

She waved a hand. "Not a problem, honey."

"You're the best," he said, sincere as a cub scout, and took the empty seat across from Hidan. Elbows on the table, he put his chin in his hands, expression kindly. "When did you get sick?"

He didn't want to talk. He didn't come in here to talk. He came to get his goddamn hot chocolate (made exactly the way he liked it) and, fine, he came for the atmosphere, too, because in a far corner of his mind, he knew he really did need the company—he hadn't been sick like this since he was a kid, and when he was a kid he had his mother to take care of him.

He didn't want to talk, but there was just something about Tobi that made him feel like he should.

"Last night," he admitted hoarsely, and set the used tissues aside with a grimace. "Had a sore throat, chills…you name it. Barely slept, seriously." He picked up his spoon and began to stir his chocolate idly. The marshmallows were still in it; he lacked the energy or the conviction to pluck them out.

"I'm sorry."

Hidan glanced up. "For what?"

"It's a shame you're so sick."

"…how is that your fault?"

"Um…" Tobi shrugged his shoulders. "I guess it's not. But I'm sorry all the same."

Hidan shook his head. "Whatever you say." He set the spoon on the saucer and wrapped both hands around his cup, grateful for the additional warmth. It was the end of November, bitter cold, and he had worn his long, heavy black coat, red scarf, and black leather gloves. He'd left the coat and the scarf on; the gloves were in his pockets. Still, he was half-frozen, despite his layers and the hearth fire.

"You have a sermon today, right? Are you gonna be okay? Maybe you ought to just go home and rest."

"God doesn't rest, you moron."

"Of course!" Tobi allowed. His tone was gentle when he continued. "But you aren't God, Hidan."

No, he wasn't. Not even remotely close. But he had a responsibility. Speak God's word in His house, to His followers. He couldn't back out.

He felt the weight of the rosary against his neck, his chest, the rosary he never took off, the rosary that reminded him who he served. The one constant in this life. The one thing that wouldn't let him down, lie to him, cheat him, steal…

"I don't know a lot about religion, but I know a little about faith." Tobi was speaking again. He must've sensed he hit a nerve. "From what I gather, it isn't something you measure. It just is. Either you have it, or you don't." He appeared thoughtful. "And it works two ways. If man has faith in God, doesn't it stand to reason that God has faith in man?"

Hidan lowered his hands in disbelief. Where did this guy come from? Where did he get his ideas?

"If. That's the kicker, seriously. If man has faith in God. If man gets man's head out of man's ass long enough to serve something other than man."

Tobi raised his eyebrows in acquiescence. "Like I said, either you have faith, or you don't."

"Do you?" Hidan leaned forward a bit, ignoring the way his aching limbs and tender throat protested his sudden vehemence. "Do you have faith? Or are you just trying to convince me that I'm wrong and I should go home?"

They sat in silence for a while, studying each other, a cynical preacher and a sanguine businessman. Unalike, yet very much alike.

Tobi smiled. "I think I do. I hope I do, anyway. My philosophy is, everything happens for a reason. Even this," he tapped his cheekbone, directly beneath his left eye. Covered by a thin film, that eye hadn't seen for nearly sixteen years, when a childhood illness blinded it. "My other eye has to work harder, but at least I can see at all." He reached out to toy with the salt and pepper shakers in the center of the table. "I have faith I was spared one eye for a reason." He looked at Hidan. "God…or whoever or whatever it is up there that watches us, must've had faith that I would stumble across the reason eventually." And because he couldn't stay serious for long, Tobi motioned about him in a grandiose manner worthy of a stage actor, his voice equally dramatic. "So I bought myself a café, and here I am. Haven't been smote by lightning yet."

Between the cold muddling his senses and the turn this conversation just took, Hidan sat there, utterly bewildered, before his already ruffled composure cracked and he started to laugh. At what, he had no idea. Everything. Nothing.

It felt good.

Of course, the laughter soon dissolved into a hacking cough, and then it didn't feel good anymore.

"Drink, drink!" Tobi urged. "The chocolate'll help."

He drank, deeply, finishing half the mug. Stuff always tasted fantastic, though the flavor was dulled slightly due to his sinuses.

The bell (fucking bell) above the door jingled; a large group of college students filed in, eager for their morning caffeine rush.

Tobi made a face. "There's my cue to scoot." He stretched his arms, both of which gave a slight pop. "Amazing, how much these kids can eat, man."

Hidan snorted. "Listen, Tobi…ah…" You're a maniac. A fucking certifiable loony."Thanks. Seriously."

And you're not half bad.

Tobi blinked; that smile he never tired of smiling wasn't too far behind.

"My pleasure. Take care, Hidan. And go home. God'll understand."

"Yeah, yeah…"

Hidan might've let it go at that, might've sat there, said nothing as Tobi hauled himself out of his chair, dusted his hands on his apron, and began to walk away, toward the loud, gossiping beast that had spread its talons over three tables, and fully intended to acquire a fourth.

He might've.


The man paused, glanced back. "Hm?"

"Come to church. Wednesday night. I'm preaching."

A single beat, and then, "Okay."

He was glad he didn't.