Authoress' Note: Aaahhh, I'm still alive…TTuTT…

I love you guys… thank you for still supporting me…

It's been so long since I did an intro of CRAZY. I was happy to let loose in the prelude to chapter 9. I love doing it…

Some of the things mentioned in the intro refer to official data book information, such as the reason why Hidan had joined Akatsuki in the first place, as well as how he gained his immortality.

Enjoy, guys!

Chapter 9

(Lord Jashin, help me, I think I'm going crazy…

Lord Jashin, help me, I think I may be dead…)

A quiet pulse, a glint of gold, a sheen of blood; flesh, bone, and muscle, soft tissues below stiff, pliable fingers. He could not chase the memory from his mind, could not forget the truth. The truth, the truth, the unholy truth – it spun round painfully in Hidan's mind, echoing over the sound of his God. Like those nights under the knife, on the operating table, the sacrificial altar. The mutterings of the others, the liars, the bastards who did not ureally/u know Jashin-sama, not like Hidan did. He knew him so well that the distance hurt. The distance from the God, at the side of a heathen of greed.

How had it all started? A bet, Hidan recalled, laughing on the inside painfully. A bet, made to jeopardize Hidan's clinging sanity, to destroy him. Everything was put on the line, everything was lost. But Hidan expected no less from a heathen. He only expected more from Kakuzu; eternal Kakuzu, the constant companion, the one that was so much like him. Yes, he had expected more from the one he had joined Akatsuki just to be closer to. He had expected more from the man of hypocrisy, of immortality, of some lingering similarity.

But the truth was in Kakuzu's actions – the worth, the worth, the worth Hidan could not apparently comprehend. The worth in his hand, in his eyes, in his soul. The endless greed, insatiable, ever hungry. Bet it all away for more, bet it all senselessly.

'Bet it away, my heathen soul'…

(Lord Jashin, help me, I think I'm lost…

Lord Jashin, help me…

I think I'm running out of time…)

~*~

Morning – it broke over the Akatsuki base and its members like a flood, rousing them from where they rested. In the bedrooms, the privacy windows gave no visual other than dank stone walls, cold and chilling. The sunlight glinted on pale skin, as pinkish eyes slowly opened, then squinted closed to the exposure to light; Hidan was awake. And with a dazed distant look, he recalled all of everything, and pondered. So many things, plaguing his mind… what to consider first?

It had been… odd, for Kakuzu to treat Hidan so kindly. True, he had found something suspicious in it. True, he had suspected. But this – a bet? A bet with whom, Hidan asked himself now furiously. Did it really matter? The only important facts were that Kakuzu had sold out his partner for gold; and for some unidentifiable reason it stung like a needle in the vein, and numbed like the drug seeping in.

Quietly, the angered words of last night whispered through the room, in Hidan's ears, inside of his mind. The echoed like so many other voices, like thousand of people watching. Hidan shivered, letting out a despaired moan and covering his ears, curling up in the puddle of his own, filth-stained blood. He needed another sacrifice, it was the only way to make it stop. It was the only way to make it go away.

Lacerations and gashes covered Hidan's body, littered like wounds of war. A throb of internal organs pulsed below some of them, the flesh and muscle pulled away. He touched his trembling hand and delicate fingers over each one, cataloguing every proof of harm in his mind, adding each wound to the memory of all others, physical or otherwise. They all built up like a towering pillar of pain, ready to collapse, or implode upon itself, then erupt out onto everyone else. Each thought, each sin, each hurt – it was all gathered inside, plaguing Hidan's very heart and soul.

And all because of a bet, a stupid little bet. A bet on Hidan's soul…

It was another morning, another day; it was another day to ignore and forget. It was another day, closer to the last. Jashin help them all, Hidan pleaded, getting up, and pitching forward dizzily towards the door. Jashin help them all…

~*~

It was far before the breaking of the dawn that Kakuzu had woken from his sleep. It was that bright light that had cracked his eyes open – it was the silence. It was the absence of the screams that had gone on all through the night, screams of pain, screams of sacrifice. Now, it had stopped, alerting Kakuzu like a siren, jerking him awake. And once he was awake, he knew it – something was wrong.

Bare feet softly hit the cold floor, Kakuzu wearing only his pants, otherwise completely stripped. A glint of bloodshot red reflected in the moonlight, a reflection of his eyes in a dusty, cracked vanity mirror. He started slightly at first, with a sharp intake of breath - he had thought Hidan, perhaps, that he had come to Kakuzu's room, soaked in the blood of his sacrifice. But no, just himself, he thought reassuringly, running a hand along the stitches in his cheeks, watching the faded polish on his nails shine luminously. Just himself.

Padding along the dark hallways, Kakuzu looked around at the closed and locked doors along the hallway. One was ajar, he noted with interest, something rare in the Akatsuki base. Precautions were always taken, as they should in a base filled with S-rank, wanted criminals. Either someone had broken in, or the occupant was not in there. Admittedly, pure human curiosity had Kakuzu wondering which it was. He pushed it further open, narrowed dark eyes scanning over everything. Itachi's room, he noted after a minute, recognizing the smell – metallic and musty, like dried blood covered over with some other earthy scent, like blood-soaked soil. The occupant, however, was missing, his bed sheets pulled up over the mattress, creased like the job had been done hastily. A small glass bottle was on the lumped pillow, its label unreadable in the dark light, the barely-lit room that seemed to even shun the moonlight.

Kakuzu heard a noise in the washroom, a violent retching and coughing. His head snapped up to look towards the door – the bathroom light on. With cautious steps, he walked out and towards the room, hair falling listlessly in front of his face. He pushed it back in annoyance, a rough leathery hand brushing back through the stringy hair, over his scalp. Damn it, this was why he always wore his mask. He was seriously considering getting his hair cut, for convenience's sake. Not the time for that now, however – right now, his curiosity was growing stronger, and he worried about an intruder, though true, they seemed rather sickly, whoever they were. Threads came out in a defensive reaction, just in case, and he pushed the door open suddenly, standing threateningly in the doorway.

The occupant's dark hair was coming out of its ponytail, strands hanging in front of his ivory face. He was not wearing his headband, and was dressed only in his short-sleeved shirt and pants, shivering so violently that his metal necklace clicked repetitively against the stained, ceramic toilet. His head turned quickly to face Kakuzu, red-faded eyes calm, blinded, but weak. A trickle of blood ran from the corner of his mouth, and he continued to tremble, wiping it away on his arm, still clutching onto the rim of the toilet. He didn't say a word to acknowledge Kakuzu, and after a hesitant moment, it was Kakuzu that was first to speak.

"Itachi?" He was cautious when he said it, caught slightly off-guard. Itachi was already pushing himself to his feet, calmly bringing down the lid of the toilet, reactions slow. The water inside was stained red, clots of blood floating there murkily, now hidden from view. Barely standing on his feet, after flushing, Itachi began to stumble back to his room, without a word until he was almost there. "The glass bottle." He said calmly. "If you could kindly fetch it from the kitchen, Kakuzu-san… I'll need another dose, it seems."

Kakuzu almost protested, only to realize it was pointless – there would be nothing to gain from it. Taking the long walk down the hallway to the kitchen, he did as he had been told, searching wearily and blindly through the cupboards, until finding the small glass bottle Itachi needed. It was identical to the empty one on his bed – he could only read Itachi's name on it, however, scribbled neatly on the top of the label, above some chicken scratch, on which the only distinguishable writing was the prescription servings per day. With tired strides, he brought the bottle back to Itachi, who was sitting up in his bed again, the lights turned on, a towel wiping over his face, wiping away the blood. He looked up demurely at Kakuzu, and calmly took the bottle, twisting open the cap, and tipping the bottle lightly into his mouth. He grimaced slightly as the liquid passed his lips, but the emotion faded quickly back into his usual expression. "Thank you." he said monotonously, tucking in the covers around his lap. Kakuzu gave an indifferent grunt, turning away. He had just turned off he light, about to leave, when Itachi's voice called out to him again.

"What is it that causes you to care, Kakuzu-san?"

Again, Kakuzu was put off-guard – he hated it. Ignoring the question, Kakuzu silently fumed at Itachi, angered. He hated the way the other man talked like he knew everything, yet revealed none of it. He hated this man's moment of weakness that still showed some unwavering strength; an oxymoronic state, covered in a bed sheet splattered with blood, sitting up and staring at Kakuzu with dark amber eyes – eyes that could shine with a glint of crimson war, yet never held bloodlust. He had turned back around, staring at Itachi, lips pursed, not willing to let go of a single secret. "I had never perceived you as the caring-type individual." Itachi went on quietly, something seeming sedative about his deep voice. Something like home, perhaps anyone else would have said. Not Kakuzu; home did not hold that emotion for him. Not anymore. 'Home' had taken away that ability to care that Itachi was speaking of.

"Again you're speaking complete nonsense." Kakuzu growled, upset by the memories this was bringing up within him. He felt it was easier to make Itachi out to be the fool, rather than to acknowledge how he himself felt. He again began to leave the room, again began to close the door. Again, Itachi was saying nothing, again he was almost out the door. And again, as the crack of light shrank from the door, Itachi finally spoke. It was casual, nonchalant; neither to Kakuzu nor himself. "I talked with Hidan earlier." The way he said it, he seemed to expect that it would not do a single thing.

The shrinking light hesitated – Kakuzu stopped. It was an odd moment, when time seemed to freeze on itself. He stopped; he simply uhad/u to stop, didn't he? He knew Itachi could not see him, or the tiny stream of light. But he could see the other man's face, staring ahead blankly. Like he knew, could feel the resentment that was beginning to full develop inside of the man. He did not even have to give a single detail as to what he and Hidan had been talking about – the fact that they had been talking at all was enough to frustrate him. Not that Kakuzu did not know of Hidan's recognition of the Uchiha – but the whole fact of it was that Hidan had done it all purposefully, as Kakuzu has learnt of last night. It all only added fuel to the blaze. Why the Uchiha, why? What the hell did he do that seemed to make him more qualified to Hidan' recognition?!

… why the hell was he so upset…?

Using every ounce of concentrated rage, Kakuzu slammed the door shut, the other doors in the hallway rattling in their frames. Itachi himself seemed to have no complaint – the same did not seem to be so for the other S-rank criminals occupying the concrete wartime base. Lifestyle, of course, had accustomed them to awake at the drop of a pin, and Kakuzu had just lost his hold on a bomb. The only continuing silence, to Kakuzu's growing vexation and confusion, was that from Hidan's room.

When Kakuzu had stormed halfway to his room was when Deidara chose to burst from his room. He was very obviously not a morning person – nor one to enjoy the late hours prior to midnight. His hair cascaded, halfway fallen from his ponytail and over the older teen's shoulders. He scowled, both of his sky blue eyes exposed now, as he had removed the scope usually covering most of the left side of his face. He was at least apparently able to loosen his grudge enough to let down his guard in his sleep.

"What the hell do you think you're DOING at 11:27 p.m., old man, hnn?!" he snarled, tongue as sharp as ever. Kakuzu stared him down, seeming almost to swell up with the ire inside of him. No, there weren't any more fancy synonyms, no similes or metaphors, no other figure of speech that could describe Kakuzu's feelings – everything, all of it was too clichéd, that the best thing to do now was use the most cliché words and phrases possible – he was pissed, he was LIVID, beet-red with rage, mad as hell. With a heavy backhand, Kakuzu smacked Deidara, tumbling him back into his room, his body swinging back with the door as he clung to it, his head hitting the back wall with a satisfying crack. Reaching his own room Kakuzu slammed his own door shut as well. And of course, it wasn't enough.

Letting out a strangled scream Kakuzu whirled round, crashing the side of his clenched fist into the mirror that had given him pause earlier. The pieces shattered, falling to the floor with a steadily hushing crystal peal. His hand stung, the jagged edges scratching and piercing at his worn, leathery skin. The pain only just barely registered in his mind, the blood trickling down the mirror's backboard, dented and cracked from the blow, but too strong to be broken. He snatched up the stubborn remnant with a grunt, pulling it, nails and all from the simple, shoddy shelf. Crushed crystalline powder and remaining shards rained down on Kakuzu's head as he heaved the piece of furnishing, heaving it into the opposite wall. He wanted to tear down the whole damn base – beginning with his quarters, and ending with Hidan's. His breath was ragged and deep, disturbing the pattern of the dust flying from the stone wall, where the mirror headboard had impacted with it. And at last, though with no reassurance in his mind, Kakuzu stilled, arms hanging low, shoulder bet over. He stared at the damage, stared at the scattered, tiny refractions of moonlight, broken into shards, shook more lightly from his hair. He could move no more. He could do nothing.

What the hell was he doing? The thought crossed his mind with despair. These actions had little more meaning to them than these games he played with Hidan, these 'games' that had started it all. What the hell were they all doing? Destruction, killing- it all had a purpose, but little visible place outside of the bounties. Ever changing, ever varying – inconsistent, so damn inconsistent, out of control, DAMN IT! This game had begun so predictably, so dependably! And now, they were second-guessing everything, second-guessing themselves, guessing and trying, and…

… pointless destruction, Kakuzu thought, feeble, yet angered. Death with no control, control with no motive. Inconsistent vermin, against the flow, thriving in insanity. UNCLEAN – INCONSISTENT. The words flowed together endlessly, irrationally, infuriatingly.

He had become that which he hated most.

~*~

He had been expecting it the moment he opened the door – this strange, sudden silence as if he had gone deaf. A ghostly echo was all he really could hear – yet he didn't know whether it was from consequence or choice. Only one voice really rang out clearly in his head –

" – today, Hidan?"

Blankly, he turned to face Itachi. "Morning." He replied, cautious and uncertain of his words, voice hoarse. The only thing that really stood out to him was the red on the Uchiha's coat – the rest was dull, colored with grays, blacks and whites – monochrome silence. He twitched slightly as the same bright red oozed down the side of his dace in the corner of his eye. Something seemed – blinding about it, horrifying. Like some piece of filth across a clean surface, occupying all attention. Itachi almost seemed to stand by for it patiently, until Hidan's eyes made direct contact with his again. "Mission today, Hidan?" he repeated calmly. Hidan shrugged, a jerk of the shoulders, a noncommittal grunt. The red clouds were too distracting. Itachi gave a polite nod. "I see." He murmured softly, and turned back to his food, and Hidan stood still for a moment longer before moving ahead jerkily and sitting down across from the Uchiha.

Colorful blurs moved across Hidan's eyes, ghosts of images, the echoes moving with them. Yes, Hidan could see them. He never doubted to himself that he could. The problem was that he didn't want to see them, didn't want to acknowledge that they were there. Disgusting, unclean – heathens, spreading their filth. Hidan withdrew a little farther into himself, laying his head down on the table, blocking them out. If he didn't acknowledge them, they weren't there. No, certainly not. And if they weren't there – if they could touch him no more – he was safe.

Breathing deep, breathing heavy, he tried his best to fully inhale the scent of clean blood into his lungs, discern it from the scent of the filth-touched blood within him, leaking out of him, evaporating. But his nose could tell no difference between either – if there was one, it was subtle. Perhaps it was a dry scent, perhaps more wet. Was there a difference? Of course there was, he told himself in disbelief, almost in anger. How could he question that? It just… every bit only seemed to become more infected whenever it touched his skin. That meant nothing, he said in assurance. It only meant he'd been dirtied again. And the extra effort would eventually cleanse him. Eventually…

Blurs again – movement, crackling white noise of echoes. Hidan braced himself as it moved, too quick, too close for comfort, but just as welcomingly ignorant as he wanted them to be. Itachi was the only bond, who doubled as a go-between. Hidan shut his eyes to keep himself blind as he listened to Itachi speak, taking refuge in the calm, the cleanliness of the Uchiha who stood so heavily over guard.

"How does your hand feel, Kakuzu?" The name created a twitch in Hidan, made his eyelids blink back open. He tensed a bit, but remained calm. He could smell, blood, not just in his person. Clean blood, he thought approvingly, delightedly. Perhaps a potential sacrifice. Although he had no idea what such a prospective victim was doing within the Akatuski base, he was nonetheless excited by the opportunity.

"Fine. Not that it's any of your business, Uchiha." Replied Kakuzu coldly. Kakuzu. Shit. Hidan mumbled a string of curses under his breath, spirits dampened. If Kakuzu was there, that hampered any hopes of taking this perfect sacrifice. Hidan preferred to lay, still and silent in the man's presence. Wait. Like the perfect hunter, wait. Wait until this moment passed, wait until that moment came. Wait…

As he continued to mutter and curse under his breath, awareness came steadily of Kakuzu's gaze fixed, with seemingly heavy intent. Again, he flinched, much more noticeably, though of the sacrifice dissipating with discouragement. Those hands were too close, seeming to close in on him. Thoughts of clean, ammonia-scented hands, carrying scalpels as sharp as the tongue of a priest. Hidan wanted to get away from them, skitter away like some beast in the presence of a weapon. Where was his support? Where was his shield, his God? He prayed more fervently, wait, WAIT…

Moving away. Hidan dared not yet open his eyes, even when he heard the man give a disgusted sigh and trudge off, slamming cheap wooden doors behind him. He darted, looking wildly to Itachi for explanation, but the Uchiha was getting up and leaving as well. He only stopped as the immortal gave a small, despairing moan, freezing the Uchiha in his tracks.

Heavy pause. The younger man turned to the other, his ward, blind eye setting on him calmly. "I need to go have a word with Kisame." He said soothingly. "I'll be back soon."

"Where the fuck is he?" Hidan snapped nervously, forgetting all acts, and Itachi took it without a single question, understanding easily whom Hidan was talking about with needing any conformation. "Gone." he replied patiently. "Most likely on his mission. You are safe."

A strange, rough barking noise escaped Hidan. "Safe!" he parroted hollowly. "Fuck! Safe! I'm never fucking safe from that fucking bastard!" To this, Itachi did not reply, and Hidan watched him walk away again, his cleaned skin resting Hidan's eyes away from that constantly harsh red on the coat. Cleanliness, dripping down the side of Hidan's face, fading back into red. Cleanliness. He was getting dizzy, but the sacrifice flooded back into memory. He could no longer feel them, but he needed to find them again. The feeling of being unclean seemed to infect his throat and stomach now, making him empty, and hungry with cravings. He took a bite of the rations, but he spat them back out, finding the taste too dry to his liking. He needed something more. Something richer…

"Jashin-sama?" he seemed to plead, eyes rolling back almost in the back of his skull, up to the ceiling, looking, listening for a sign. Or perhaps he'd already been given one. Perhaps it was a matter of acknowledgement. Hadn't it always been? Acknowledgement, visibility…

Getting up, Hidan stumbled off, again in search of his perfect sacrifice. Perhaps it was closer than he thought… perhaps…

~*~

The sound of each footstep was Itachi's guide, the gentle pulse of chakra in reaction to his surroundings. It was a moderate padding, like some sleek jungle cat. It was a graceful sight, the merciless man, who murdered his Clan – and steps as gentle as a careful animal. But the steps stopped, coming to a quiet still. He would not move, until the Voice spoke up.

"You're taking an odd concern for him, Itachi. It seems useless. If he stays that way, he won't be useful to Akatsuki any longer."

The Voice was muffled, as if from a distance, or in another room. He didn't quite respond, only letting out a hum to show he was not deaf as well as blind. The Voice gave a small, dark chuckle.

"It's because he's like that isn't it? Imagine if Sasuke goes that far…"

No response, expression blank and unreadable. Itachi took another step, stopping as he felt the Voice's chakra, the source, cut off his path. "It'll redeem you no more than he can redeem himself." It continued coolly. It too went silent, and Itachi stopped moving, stopped trying to get away.

"I do not believe you have the right or knowledge to determine what redeems a person." He said calmly. Turning to the left, he walked forward through a different doorway. "… 'Tobi'. Allow a dead man his last condolences."

He took no more than two steps when he buckled, ever so slightly, coughing quickly into his hand. Trembling, he wiped away the blood on his inner sleeve, and continued. Tobi chuckled after him, and Itachi didn't allow it to disturb him. He was headed towards goal; he knew what he needed, and he knew he had a limited amount of time. And he wanted to make the most of it that he could.

If he was to be condemned, he could at least save another in the process.

~*~

Kakuzu's hand stung like a bitch. It shouldn't have hurt this damn much, he thought, in annoyance. There had to be some small piece of glass lodged in there, sewn up with the rest of the wound. A small, tainted piece, ever-constantly bothering; the idea wrought a growl from deep in the man's throat. He was slipping, and these thoughts only made it more obvious. He needed something, damn it, he needed it now, or that last piece of him was going to die, leaving an empty shell. He needed to find it. He needed to see Hidan…

The last thought came a little too sudden, it seemed to Kakuzu – so sudden, in fact, that he himself has to stop in shock, and then snarl out a curse. He wanted, wanted the charade to stop, but he did not need, especially not Hidan. Reliance only begged for betrayal – he had grown too adjusted to the other's presence, developed too much dependence. He was not quite himself, not since that last night. His own touch, his own fingertips began to tingle numbly like they had fallen asleep from disuse, from lack of purpose. They had only come alive so nervously during that confrontation. He had forced that contact, that feel of humanity, that anger, that control – because Hidan was the only one that seemed to ever evoke it in him anymore. Because this ignorance of it was not just affecting Hidan – it was breaking Kakuzu more than he'd ever been broken in any battle. Because that schedule of control had been broken.

What the hell had happened to him…?

Shaking his head as if shaking off a dizzy spell, Kakuzu kept walking. But as he did, he became aware of the sudden appearance of two chakra signatures, and the disappearance of one, quickly. The familiar feel of the other froze him. Hidan. Shit. What the hell was that idiot doing this far from the base in his state?!

Slipping into the cover of the trees, Kakuzu followed the immortal's signature of chakra, rage swelling and falling with him. He needed more answers now; and if it need be, Hidan was going to give them.

~*~

It was an earthy scent, Hidan decided; the smell of clean blood. Earthy, yes, a blood-soaked musk. He was tracking it as carefully as he could, nose twitching as he sniffed at the air for that scent, hoping it would reappear. It danced somewhere always out of range, it seemed, making paths meet, intertwine, break away. That dry feeling still nagged at Hidan's throat, aggravating his dizziness, disorienting. Where was he? Where was all of this taking him?

He stopped, pausing in the brush as he was led off the path. Someone was coming, he could hear them. His perfect sacrifice? No, not quite – a prelude. Something to pick Hidan up. He could smell clean blood, coursing through this person's veins. And with enthusiasm, he pounced.

Hidan had not brought his scythe; he relied instead on his teeth and nails to rip them apart, ravishing deeply in the ripped flesh and flowing veins, splashing himself with the thick liquid, then lapping it up eagerly with his tongue, licking down everything he could.

And suddenly, there was the relief he was looking for – a warmth that eased his throat, stilted the churning in his gut. How delightful – he needed more, he thought wildly, for this certainly would not be enough.

Working from the wound he's already made in his sacrifice's neck, he tore at the skin, ripping it down towards the chest, a fissure opening up between the pectorals, exposing an intricate cavity, an array of organs and muscle tissues. The core looked most appetizing, a dark red, oozing, still weakly pumping. Hidan threw himself at it as best as he could through the bars of it's bone caging, clawing his hand in, under, than back up. He caught hold of it, ripping it up and pulling it through, letting it still in his hand, his trembling hand. This intricate organ, this core of mortality, this taste of life…

With gorging bites, he tore into it excitedly, teeth ripping and shredding. A feast worthy of a God, the ambrosia of human life. Hidan could not help but feel appreciation for this gift as he swallowed it down.

~*~

What could sicken a man who stole hearts, who had lived forever, who had seen it all? It had almost begun to seem that nothing could. Yet this scene before seemed too much to bear. This was another thing entirely, more than it appeared to be. This was more than baseless violence, more than a simplistic, justified murder. This was a sight one only saw in the moonlit dark of a shadowed wood, illumination wrought only by the glint on ivory fangs. His was not human; this was a beast.

Again Kakuzu thought of the last day, after the bet – a thought coming back to him constantly despite his denial to remember. The predatory habits, the skittishness, the primeval rage. Thoughts raced even further, to days of old. To civilizations so ancient that they were not even in Kakuzu's memory. Civilizations before the first shinobi were even born, fueled by instinct and bloodlust. And all in then name of their sacrificiary idols.

As Hidan continued his feast upon the stranger's heart - unlucky bastard – Kakuzu tried to move closer for a better look, a way to not upon these rituals. Curiosity, DAMN IT, curiosity – repetition, insanity. Curiosity had gotten him into this situation, and here it was again, just pulling him in even further. A need to identify the problem, the drive – an inexplicable inability to know why it haunted his mind, like this man's insanity, infectious. He crept a tad bit closer, listening to the disgusting sound, smacking and slopping about, wallowing in the bloody mess. Every once in awhile, a pleased grunt from his throat, muffled by the thick liquid slipping in, dripping down. At ast, developing a fairly safe proximity, Kakuzu managed to absorb all of the violent details, bit by bit. And he was not entirely sure what exactly it was that displeased him so, in everything that he processed.

It was a bit more than just the simple, bestial feasting – there was indeed a process to it. There was a way in which Hidan tore into each chamber of the heart, lapping up whatever it contained, then eating it down like manna from the Heavens. The poking and prodding, the analyzation – he was looking for something, Kakuzu thought, eyes narrowing. Like Kakuzu's dissection before of the useless, wasted heart. Again, there was the repetition, the strangely synchronizing habits. What were they looking for? What were they doing?

There was another obvious method within the madness – the dizzy swaying showed, again, obvious signs of anemia. Hidan's body was going back to animal instincts in order to survive – a strange phenomena seen before in desperate humanity. The blood gave him relief, the flesh gave him strength. Then why not just eat it? Why pick at it so?

Whom was imitating WHOM? The question popped up suddenly, and Kakuzu had no answer. Previously, Kakuzu had believed he had been absorbing Hidan's habits of madness. Why? Why was this familiar? Again, the dissection – but no, no, Hidan had never done that before, had not seen the act. Whom was imitating whom? Who was imitating the other, looking for something missing in his life, to keep him alive, stealing the hearts of others…?

It was an imitation of Kakuzu's own behaviours, resorting to crude, baseless violence in place of actual meaning. And the idea outraged Kakuzu. Imitation had turned into mockery, or so it appeared to him. A search for some meaning, or some other… thing.

It had to stop.

Moving quickly from his cover, Kakuzu strode the next few steps to hidan, whose head jerked up to look at him, eyes widening slightly. He didn't scream this time, only pulled what was left of his meal to his chest protectively. He opened his mouth, maybe to give a word of protest, but there wasn't time – Kakuzu grabbed him by the throat, to choke back any words. "What the hell are you doing?" he growled, despite obvious inability to respond. What was he doing now, he thought, semi-bewildered. When had the intention of responding so crossed his mind? What did he want Hidan to do, to say? That one was easier, because it was the question he'd been demanding insistently the entire time – why? What? What did he want, what the hell did he want? He didn't want him to leave, didn't want him to stay, wanted him to live, wanted him to die, wanted to understand, to mimic; had hated, had enjoyed, the sick desire of one night that didn't exist anymore, that Hidan refused to deny…

Hidan was choking, clawing at Kakuzu's hands. Kakuzu pushed him down onto the ground, pinning him down so he would stop, holding his hands above his head. Hidan gasped, breathing again, a shiver running through his spine, the soft tissue he'd held crushed and slipping from his fingers. All five of Kakuzu's hearts were pounding in rage, compelling him to not only extract answers, but exact retribution; Payment for everything he'd been put through.

There was silence between the two, Hidan frozen still beneath the bulk of Kakuzu's body. Tiny, numbing, throbbing pulses in the wrists that Kakuzu held so tightly, racing. Numbed flesh in Kakuzu's chest, halting any more movement. The blood splattered all over Hidan was coating Kakuzu as well, stolen blood intended to replace something missing, the rituals made to get rid of the feeling of being 'unclean' – what made him feel so? These actions? This boy? Kakuzu had to know.

Anger skewed rationality. Was it this immortal heart of his? What was so 'unclean' that he felt a need to copy (MOCK) Kakuzu so? Perhaps that was what he needed to explore first…

"This little charade of yours has already grown old." Kakuzu growled, as he extracted his kunai. Useless words to fill in the silence, to build up the act. "You know everything – you know about the bet, you have your repayment… give this up. What's inside of you is no different than any other human being, as persistent and INCONSISTENT as you yourself may be!"

The knife slid over skin with little trouble, though the blade was not nearly fine enough to so easily cut through the thicker, lower layer of muscle. That took a little extra effort. Hidan's body convulsed at the pain, face contorting into a blend of tortured enjoyment, and fear. Muscle gave way at last, revealing the rib cage, the continuously twitching and beating organs. Kakuzu's fingers wrapped round a rib bone, cracking it ominously as he began to pulls. "As weak and delicate…" he mused darkly, snapping it open, exposing marrow and what was contained within the protective cage. "… and built with the same, pathetic veins of life, thought true, less easily extinguished – like the roach of humanity you are, you little bastard…"

He repeated the previous process, breaking each rib until he had easy access to the heart. The pace that it beat at was quick, fluttering. Kakuzu's hand touched it, wrapping round gently, then squeezing, eliciting a pained scream from Hidan, his face becoming gaunt and white. Eyes glaring, watching. Kakuzu stared at him, searching for more. "… is that why this heart is so 'unclean' Hidan? Because it's the same as anyone else's? Because these 'gifts' from your God make you no better than them, these heathens you hate so?"

The way these words seemed to chill Hidan, leaving him frozen – they were hitting some sort of weakness spot-on. Kakuzu hesitated what he was doing (what was he doing?!), suddenly feeling he had done something wrong. Hidan had been flinching from him, body tensing, shaking, like the exposed organs and muscles. But as soon as those hesitant hands left the wrists, that strong body began to lift, freed hands diving at Kakuzu's face, ripping away the fabric that covered it, a vengeful scream wrought from the primitive throat. A snarl roared from Kakuzu as he felt the angry, red welts rise up along his cheek, a missed blow barely striking. The exposed heart was pounding again, the blood rushing. Kakuzu pinned Hidan, laying atop him, legs straddling hips, watching the flush in Hidan's face. And after a moment, he felt it, the sudden urged reaction, whether it was willing or not.

It was a rising, a desperate push in Hidan's lower regions. It was unclear what stimulus had caused it – the contact, or the younger man's strange reactions to pain. Either way, it only upset Kakuzu all the more, that he udared/u to feel like that. Beyond verbal reprimand, beyond lost questioning, Kakuzu skammed the other man up, then back into the ground, fully intending upon beating the feelings out of him, the memory, make him stop FEELING, make him stop REMINDING Kakuzu, make it stop, make it stop!

"Is this it?!" he growled in frustration, grabbing roughly throught the tented cloth, drawing a moan from Hidan that edged on the realm of a scream. "Is this what you still want from me?!" He let go quickly, watching the surge then calm, back and forth, the consistent pounding. "Stop blaming me for the damn things you feel! You're the damn one who wanted to remember it, you filthy fucking stain, no goddamn better than the rest of these condemned 'heathens'! You're the one who wanted to continue it!"

He stopped. Hidan stopped. There was no more movement, little more noise. Both breathed deep and heavy. Kakuzu's shaking hands were still on Hidan's wrists, thighs trembling on the other's hips. The dead man rotted beside them, his entrails and remains attracting flies, breeding maggots, life passing them by. The sands of time, rushing, spilling out…

Getting back up, Kakuzu anticipated another attack that never came. His rough fingers ran sorely over the flesh wounds on his face. Hidan's ribs had already begun to heal, bone knitting back together into the natural bends, but the heart still pounding against its constraints…

"If you're going to continue this charade," Kakuzu growled, coming to a quiet, beginning to walk away, "then I'll be the one to break it."

(For your own good, that my heathen soul can only sympathize.)

He left hidan to heal on his own, left memories where they lay…

Left their heathen ways unresolved at the altar…

Left Hidan to only plead for more mercy, the tears beginning to fall again – the foreign tears, blood red from despair. Because there was nothing left to do.

(Lord Jashin, just relinquish me…

for I cannot redeem myself.)

~End Chapter 9~