A/N Well, it's certainly been a long time, and I'm very sorry for neglecting you all so shamefully! But finally, here we are. Let me know what you think - reviews always make me very happy!

Not so much demanding as insatiable, was Kakuzu's considered opinion, some time in the late afternoon.

After that first hurried union they'd taken their time. Lingered, explored, experimented. The second time took most of the rest of the morning. After that they'd just lain together for a while, spent and exhausted, and bit by bit their respective stories had come out. It took some time. Neither of them had quite wanted to address the change that this last battle had worked in them. The time leading up to it had been so heady, exciting, successful. They'd been the gutsiest, most dangerous pair in Akatsuki; they'd known their strength and known it was awesome. Now they were left with nothing constant but each other.

Are we clinging to each other out of love? wondered Kakuzu. Or like the last survivors of a shipwreck. He looked at Hidan's face, so close to his own, and wondered why it even mattered. And yet. When Hidan had his scythe back - or when Kakuzu had somehow managed to procure him another one - when this undercurrent of vulnerability ceased to run through him, then it would matter why he'd stayed with Kakuzu. As for himself, Kakuzu knew his heart well. He wanted Hidan by his side, and to keep him there. What he realised he didn't know so well was Hidan himself. If only he hadn't been so busy guarding against falling in love with him he might know him better now.

Hidan, in his favoured position of being sprawled half on top of Kakuzu, pushed himself up on his forearms and looked down into Kakuzu's face. Kakuzu grunted and shifted position, holding Hidan's surprisingly pointy elbows so they didn't dig into him. Looking into Hidan's eyes, he couldn't help smiling - despite the changes, those eyes were the same as always. Whatever vulnerability was there now, it had always been there. It was part of Hidan. "You know, it would never have happened if we'd been together. I should've followed you," he said, a little breathless from Hidan's weight pressing down on him. "I'm never letting you out of my sight again."

Hidan kissed him deeply. "I'm not fucking complaining," he whispered hotly against his lips. "but you're a paranoid bastard, seriously."

Kakuzu chuckled and pushed Hidan's hair out of his eyes. Hidan's hand joined in too. "It's fucking annoying," he complained. "I seriously need something to put in it…"

Kakuzu smirked, and whispered a suggestion in his ear that actually made Hidan blush. It was possibly the most adorable Kakuzu had ever seen him. And that was how they managed to spend most of the afternoon on the third time. Hidan took it into his head that he wanted to top, and Kakuzu had to remind him quite firmly of how he'd said his deeply religious organs didn't appreciate being inserted into infidel bodies. But he loved it, the struggle for dominance of which the outcome was never really in question; though he wouldn't tell Hidan this, he loved it that he'd still have a go. That the fight hadn't gone out of him.

Now, Hidan had gone back out to the spring, and Kakuzu had joined him briefly, just to get clean again, but he hadn't felt like sitting around. Hidan seemed to be able to sit around til the cows came home. It was probably a youth thing.

So Kakuzu had gone back inside, where it was dim and a little cooler. He put on one of the white cotton yukata provided by the house and sat at the low table, sipping tea and reading the newspaper. It was now late afternoon, and Kakuzu was glad to be able to take a moment to reflect. He hoped Hidan wouldn't want to stay here too much longer. Maybe one more day would be nice, but after that he could see it getting tiresome. Hidan's tolerance for sitting in hot water might be infinite, but Kakuzu really couldn't take it for that long. He felt like a nice cold refreshing shower already...

Smiling slightly at the thought of Hidan's reaction to such a suggestion, he laid aside the paper and unfolded his map. Obviously, they wouldn't want to stay in the fire country very much longer, and Kakuzu had a bad feeling about heading to Amegakure - somehow, he sensed that the days of Akatsuki might be over, or at least severely numbered. He wondered how Hidan would take to a life of low profile bounty hunting. Not well, he imagined. Try as he might, he just couldn't see a future for them. The way was so unclear.

And yet. The thought of any alternative was - awful - to him. The thought of not having Hidan by his side - it was unthinkable, and perhaps that was the reason he couldn't get his thoughts straight about it. He wasn't looking at the matter head on. He was shying away from the idea that their natures - their various needs, desires, preferences - might take them in different directions. He closed his eyes a moment. Hidan had sought him out in the first place because he needed guidance on living an immortal life. Now, Kakuzu felt tired. Before this, before what he was thinking of as the Last Fight, he'd relished the thought of the infinite years to come stretching ahead of him, and part of that had been because of his touchy, crazy, irrepressible immortal sidekick. But Hidan hadn't done a ritual since he'd dug his way out of his living grave. And, worryingly to Kakuzu, he hadn't shown any enormous urge to do one either. Kakuzu laid his hand on his chest, and felt his two stolen hearts thumping. They certainly weren't the best quality he'd ever had, but they were the hearts of reasonably strong and competent shinobi. They'd do for now. He focused on each in turn, trying to gauge their chakra natures. Earth, he thought, and fire. Well, that was useful, at least. Earth he was very comfortable with, and it was good that they were different.

If they hunted bounty, he thought, he could take the hearts he needed when he found the right chakra types, and Hidan could use the rest for his rituals, and maybe it would be enough. He wondered what would happen to Hidan if he stopped the rituals altogether. Would he live a normal lifespan? Not with his attitude, an inner voice said wryly. And Kakuzu gave a mirthless chuckle. Still. With Kakuzu there to look out for him -

He had to stop thinking like that. What on Earth would be the point of carrying on endlessly if Hidan wasn't. Of course, he'd seen a point in it before, but now, he couldn't for the life of him remember what it might have been. Still, no need to worry over concerns that were purely imaginary. Hidan had been in no shape up till now to worry about his rituals - no doubt as soon as he was fully recovered, he'd be as blood-thirsty as ever. Kakuzu found himself wondering what happened if you observed the rituals with the bare minimum of slaughter. Would Jashin know? Would he sense and punish any lack of enthusiasm? Damn it, did Jashin even exist, or was it just some fucked-up jutsu made more palatable by having an accompanying ideology?

But, going back to his earlier point - did he really intend to baby-sit Hidan for the rest of his life? The answer seemed to be yes. He knew, undeniably, that he never wanted to be parted from Hidan again.

Kakuzu had left the screen door open a crack, and at that moment a loud splash from outside and a shaken sounding expletive roused him from his reverie. His hand shot out and slammed the door open the rest of the way almost automatically. "What is it?" he called sharply, following his hand, the threads slithering as they retracted back inside him.

Hidan was standing at the edge of the water, frozen in an attitude of horror. Seeing Kakuzu standing on the verandah he backed slowly towards him, relaxing the tiniest amount once he reached his side. His widened eyes were fixed over on the far bank. He pointed, and his hand trembled.

Kakuzu's eyes followed in the direction he indicated. A deer was standing just at the edge of the trees that met the rocks on the other side of the spring, but other than that there was nothing. "A deer?" he said, faintly incredulous, and would have gone back inside, but he turned to look at Hidan and saw that he was ashen pale, and had an expression of terror on his face that Kakuzu had never seen before.

"Fuck," he breathed. "Fuck! It's one of them."

He seemed so genuinely terrified that Kakuzu swallowed his amusement at the bloodthirsty and fearless partner becoming some kind of bambi-phobe. He realised that the last time he'd seen fear in Hidan's eyes was when Shikamaru's shadow technique had forced him to attack Kakuzu with his scythe. That should have told me something, he thought briefly.

Sighing, he wrapped a towel around Hidan, and threw the other over his shoulders, hoping to stop him shivering. "Do you want me to kill it?" he asked.

Hidan looked up at him, the whites of his eyes showing. "Yes," he whispered. "But what if the rest of the pack is there too?"

"Herd," Kakuzu corrected automatically. "I expect they'll run."

"What if it maddens them?"

Kakuzu said nothing, just walked down to the water and shot out his hand towards the deer, intending to break its neck, but it turned and fled before he could get a grip on it. He stared into the forest, looking for other signs of movement, but saw nothing. He thought it was probably just an ordinary deer, but its affect on Hidan concerned him - he didn't want more popping out.

Satisfied that he'd scattered the wildlife for the time being he went back to the verandah, and taking Hidan firmly by the shoulders, steered him inside. He closed the screen door behind them, making sure it was shut tight. Hidan stood in the middle of the room, looking like a lost boy, dripping on the wooden floor. Kakuzu went over to him and detachedly began to rub him dry, starting with his chest and shoulders, then pulling his head against his own shoulder to roughly towel his hair.

Hidan buried his face in the crook of Kakuzu's neck. He was hideously embarrassed, but at the same time, he couldn't shake the image of Shikamaru and his freaky deer, peering into the hole at him, hating him with that unfair amount of blame. And Kakuzu - Kakuzu was being sweet to him. Sweet! He didn't deserve it. He deserved to be slapped with a tentacle until he grew his balls back.

Kakuzu tossed the towel over the drying rail and reached for the other cotton yukata. "There there," he said, putting it around Hidan, "Put this on."

Hidan obeyed, his face scarlet and his head lowered, then suddenly threw his arms around Kakuzu, burying his face in his chest. "Fuck, man," he whimpered. 'Did you fucking see the way it looked at me? They're going to fucking put me back there, I'm going to fucking die down there, I can't do it Kakuzu I can't do it again I can't I -"

His words dissolved into formless choking sobs and Kakuzu was taken aback. He found himself with his hands raised helplessly either side of Hidan's head. Awkwardly, he lowered them and gingerly patted his trembling shoulders, then began, a little more instinctively, to stroke the back of his neck and run a caressive hand through his hair. "There there," he said, with difficulty, his tone unintentionally abrupt and perfunctory. "It's alright Hidan. I'm here."

It was different. It was very different from the sexual intimacy that had come so naturally this morning. Different as well to waking from death and finding Hidan weeping over his body. Then, there had been practical considerations as well. Hidan had been hurt and they'd been in a position of considerable danger. And he'd been dazed and disorientated, which had probably removed some of his inhibitions. Now, they were all there in full force. It wasn't that he had any doubts about his desire to be with Hidan. It wasn't even a simple fear of rejection or mockery. He just did not know how to deal with someone distressed and incapacitated by an irrational fear.

Of course, Hidan had shown fear before, on the battlefield. But that was different again. 'Kakuzu! Do something!' he'd yell, and Kakuzu would do something, and all would be well. Or he'd be afraid that Kakuzu was hurt, and all Kakuzu had to do was say that he was alright. It struck him then that most of the times he'd seen Hidan afraid, he'd been afraid for Kakuzu.

Not, of course, though, that time he'd let him get his head cut off... A half smile twitched the corner of Kakuzu's mouth. That had been fear for himself, pure and simple, in his eyes. Damn it though, that had come back to bite him. If they'd defeated them then and there, they'd never be in this fix now...

He returned his attention to the situation at hand. Taking Hidan's face between his hands, he looked down at him searchingly. Hidan had calmed down a little by now, and looked up at him at first defiantly, then slightly sheepishly, then he began to flush and try to look away. Kakuzu angled his head so that that was difficult. "Hidan," he said firmly. "Trust me. Nothing's going to hurt you. Not while I'm around."

Hidan bit his lip. Kakuzu shook him. "You doubt me?"


"You're going to be OK. Say it! What are you going to be?"



Hidan shut his eyes for a moment and Kakuzu thought he was calm enough to at least attempt a rational talk.

"Now, tell me," he said, "what makes you so sure it was one of those deer?"

"I fucking recognised it!" Hidan exclaimed, stung at being doubted. "It's horrible fucking cold staring eyes! The colour of its fur!"

"It looked a fairly normal colour to me." Kakuzu's voice was level and calm.

"Well how many deer have you fucking seen?"

"Well, more than you, probably. Are you sure you're not just being paranoid?"

"Fuck you, Kakuzu! They're fucking hunting me down! They want to put me back in that fucking grave - or - or - trample me, or - "

Kakuzu gripped Hidan's shoulders again and shook him. "You're getting hysterical. Calm down. This is why you get into these situations. You lose your head…"

"Oh, very funny, Kakuzu, yeah, fucking taunt me with that now, why don't you?"

Kakuzu sighed. He was losing his temper now. Was he really going to have to put up with this equably just because he was fucking him now? Or was it OK to treat him like he always had done. His patience was far from infinite, and his decision was made for him before he could think about it. His hand was raised, and moving fast towards Hidan's sulky recalcitrant face when Hidan managed to block him - just in time - stopping it bare inches from his face.

"No, you fucking don't," he snarled, and he was smiling now, strangely and slightly psychotically. His fingers curled around Kakuzu's wrist in a bruising grip and Kakuzu found that completely instinctively, he'd activated his skin hardening technique and fine black threads were snaking out of his sleeve, hovering at the ready.

Hidan's arm trembled with effort, and so did Kakuzu's as he realised that if he eased off at all, Hidan would probably go flying halfway across the room.

"Relax, damn it," he snapped impatiently, his anger dissipating as quickly as it had gathered. "I'm not going to hurt you - I just lost my temper for a moment, that's all."

"Oh, that's all, is it?That's fucking all?" Hidan's voice was twisted with rage and he could feel his throat constricting with an emotion he couldn't put a name to, but which he felt hover, bitter and numbing, somewhere between disappointment and disbelief. "You've got your fucking tentacles out," he rasped. "You're fucking serious! And I don't even have my scythe."

"You've got your teeth," Kakuzu suggested, almost playfully, hoping to lighten the atmosphere, and watched Hidan's face suddenly go blank. He didn't know what he could've said that could have such a devastating resonance for him and was shocked into silence.

"Seriously, Kakuzu," Hidan whispered brokenly, "I can't fight anymore."

He pressed his cheek slowly and deliberately against Kakuzu's hand even as he poured all his strength into keeping it just there. "Don't fucking think anything's any different," he whispered. "Don't think I'm ever going to lie down in front of you. But I can't - " He hesitated. "I'm not - . I - ."

A longer pause, then, almost inaudibly, "Please Kakuzu. Can you put the tentacles away now."