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Exchanging Cures

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Every morning Hidan woke up, said a morning prayer to Jashin, and ripped open his chest with his scythe. Then, reaching through the bars of his ribcage, he’d start plucking out the flowers that had grown there overnight. The useful ones he dropped in a small wooden bucket to be sold or traded to Sasori for favors and intelligence, the useless ones were flung at passing animals, and the ones he couldn’t identify were laid out on the ground in rows to be dealt with later.

While he deflowered himself, he prayed.

They were difficult prayers, and he often found himself rambling or losing track of the theology in the mire of his own muddled feelings, at which point he’d have to start all over again. For the first time, after remaining his life’s compass for his entire adolescent and adult life, his religion didn’t have any answers for him.

The scripture said that the flowers came from Jashin, and were therefore a gift to be reveled in, much like his immortality. However, like immortality, they were a painful, challenging gift to receive.

He knew the cause of the gift- he had fallen in love with Kakuzu, the biggest heathen he'd ever met. What he couldn't get straight in his head was what Jashin wanted by sending him this particular gift.

Jashin had been there from the very beginning. His first memories were of endless, ever-repeating chants and songs, each of which came from Jashin himself. The radical priests sang them as they experimented with immortality, and every last word and phrase was etched into his mind. Hidan didn’t remember what his life was like before he became immortal. The priests that had created him regaled him with information about his life as a shinobi child, but none of it ever resonated, and he always urged them to talk about Jashin’s power instead.

One passage they had often recited for him was Jashin's appearance to Shiha the Bloody, the first Jashinist to receive the gift of immortality. In it, Jashin asked what she had learned from her fifty years of living and fighting in the Great War of Bones, a vicious conflict that raged for decades between three nations long since lost to time. She spoke to Jashin of the many things she'd learned, and among them was her recognition that the company of Jashinists was superior to that of non-Jashinists, and that she could only bear to travel with those who understood suffering.

The message, the priests said, was clear: companionship with heathens was to be avoided.

If he followed Shiha’s example, he would reject his feelings for Kakuzu and let the disease continue unchecked.

But Shiha’s words weren't the only words on the matter.

The Chant of the Passions said that passion, be it in the form of rage, joy, disgust, grief, triumph, or anything else, was not to be suppressed. Rather, those passions must be used, expressed, transformed, in some way released into the world. If he kept that chant in mind, he should get up right this second and tell Kakuzu that he had fallen in love with him.

That chant was from Jashin, so clearly it trumped Shiha's words. The way forward should be clear.

There was a sudden pressure in his chest at the thought, and he coughed long and hard enough bring a deluge of flower petals tumbling from his lips and into his lap. It was good that he did. Otherwise he would have been tempted to leap up and seek out his partner.

The Meditation on Suffering and Death, on the other hand, opened with an interrogation of Jashin’s own gifts. If his chosen immortal followers were to roam the earth bringing violence, destruction, and death in the name of God, then why give them immortality at all? If one could continue always to fight, safe in the knowledge of their own immortality and their acceptance of pain, then the Passion would fade.

According to the final argument of that meditation, immortality didn't make one unchanging and everlasting or any of that other crap Sasori liked to go on and on about. Jashin could send trials and tasks to his immortal followers that would and should transform them, and that they must be open to these trials. It went on to claim that Jashin’s immortal chosen ones may not even be truly undying, as Jashin could take away their immortality once they had carried out his wishes.

If he kept that piece of theology in mind, then the flowers had been sent to transform him, and that he must accept the trial they represented. He must resist announcing his love to Kakuzu the way his heart urged him to, and accept the physical transformation of the flowers.

This meditation also came from Jashin, so he couldn't see which was more important to follow, the Chant or the Meditation.

So he was left with no religious guidance and a disease that was rapidly spreading throughout his body, with no idea what his god wanted of him.

Without a clear course of action, he simply let the disease continue its course. He didn't confess, despite the raised eyebrows and calculating looks he got from other Akatsuki members when he and Kakuzu ran into them, lest he accidentally reject a gift from god by curing it. Instead he cut the flowers from his body as they grew and examined them for possible clarifying messages from Jashin.

“Why don't you just cure yourself?” Kakuzu asked the first time he caught him coughing up enough supple, innocent-looking rose petals to clog the drain in the cheap inn’s bathroom sink. “I'd think that even you were capable of doing it. If you can't confess to whoever it is, make a clone that looks like them and confess to that.”

“It's a gift from Jashin, you heathen ass!” He replied.

Kakuzu leveled him with a rock-melting stare.

“I thought Jashin was the one who gave you immortality. Why would he give you Hanahaki disease? It’s fatal if left untreated.”

“I haven't figured out what I'm supposed to do with it yet, that's why! He might not want me to confess.” He gestured wildly with one arm as he coughed up more petals into the sink. Neither they nor the water drained out, and he cursed. “Maybe if I confess, I'll be rejecting Jashin's gift. Maybe he thinks love will be a distraction from my duties to him, and will smite whoever I confess to! The scriptures are kinda contradictory on the whole thing.”

Kakuzu rolled his eyes and stuck a kunai down the blocked drain. After a little twisting, the water began to drain again, taking the petals with it.

“Or maybe you just got an incredibly common shinobi disease, and there's nothing to worry about.”

He grabbed Hidan's shoulder and lead him towards the back door, where he'd left the body bag and a clone on lookout duty.

“Fair warning, Hidan,” he continued, “if you let this distract you from your duties as my partner, it won't be your god you have to worry about.”

But in the end Kakuzu accepted that it was some sort of godly gift that couldn't be rejected and set about making the most of it. He'd taken to gathering up the plants Hidan sliced from his body and sold or traded them to the highest bidder. Many of them, they'd discovered, were poisonous, and there were many shinobi that would pay good cash for rarer poisons.

If Pein noticed how much money Kakuzu was taking in from this side-business, he didn’t say anything.

Hidan was praying to Jashin after defeating a former Mist shinobi with an impressive bounty on the way back from their mission in the Hidden Grass Village when Zetsu grew out of the blood-soaked ground. He didn’t interrupt the ritual for Pein’s creepy messenger, but he did feel something shift in his chest.

“Oh? Hidan’s fallen in love? And hasn’t hollered a poorly-worded confession already?

The image of the Mist shinobi’s dying face fluttered in his mind’s eye, but didn’t slip away. Zetsu may be a corpse-eating inhuman abomination, but there was no way Hidan was going to turn his attention away from his God for him. He didn’t even do that for Kakuzu; why would he do it for Pein’s creepy little spy?

“Is that how it is?” White Zetsu crooned in that nerve-scraping way of his.

“So someone actually fell in love with Kakuzu’s ugly mug? I’m impressed. I kind of thought he was doomed to a half-life after leaving his village like he did.” Black Zetsu grumbled. “They deserve each other.”

Hidan prayed a little louder in his head, but to his frustration he found that he was slowing down to listen to Zetsu. The blood was drying on his skin already. Normally he was done before that happened.

“Come now,” White Zetsu crooned, “This is a good thing! Before you know it, there will be another creature like us.”

“He’s stupid, but he doesn’t die by any conventional means. So make sure to grow strong, so you can overpower him if you need to.”

As Zetsu chattered away, realization slowly dawned on Hidan. The two-faced freak wasn’t talking to him.

“Perhaps you’ll be immortal like him,” White Zetsu continued. “That would be useful for our plans. I think we’ll be very good friends, don’t you agree?”

Hidan finished his prayers, then clenched his hands around a knife in his pocket and shoved it into his arm, allowing a bloody camellia to bloom from the wound. He ruthlessly cut the flower out, crushed it like an unwanted receipt in his hand, then looked up and met Zetsu’s mismatched eyes. Without looking, he cut deeper and deeper, soaking the flower in blood and ripping it to pieces with the knife, until the entire plant sat in a bloody heap in the dust in front of him.

“Well that was rude.” Zetsu frowned. “And I guess you’re not immortal after all. What a pity. It’s really his only virtue.”

After some initial pouting, Zetsu finally got around to passing on the details for their next mission. There was a scroll hidden in an unassuming building located in the forests outside Konoha. They were to retrieve it, and be seen doing so. Collateral damage was encouraged.

He set out with Kakuzu at dawn. As they walked, he bounced plans off his partner, enjoying the way his threads tightened against his skin like pulled sewing thread. It was like there was some sort of demon inside Kakuzu’s skin that was trying to explode out of his skin before Hidan’s very eyes.

Eventually a single thread would snap. Not enough to release the monster, but not inconsequential either.

“So, what if I drew Jashin’s circle around this whole place? Like, big enough to cover most of that shitty forest? There’s no requirement that I know of regarding size, and I’m sure I can bleed enough to make it. That way, you won’t be able to complain about me staying in my circle, ‘cause I’ll be able to curse those Leaf bastards and run around at the same time!”

“You think you can draw a perfect circle that big when you can’t even draw up any mission reports?” Kakuzu growled.

“Hey! I always draw perfect circles! And if they’re not perfect, then Jashin will make them perfect! And I don’t draw up mission reports because I don’t need to. Pein doesn’t even read them, and I Jashin-damned know Konan just makes paper planes with them or some shit. I’m not wasting my time on that!”

He turned and spit a flower petal onto the roadside. He was coughing them up more and more these days. If Kakuzu noticed, he was pretending he hadn’t.

“Fine. Try your… big circle idea. It’s not the worst plan you’ve ever come up with.”

“You say that like you don’t give a shit what I do!”

“I don’t.” Kakuzu turned his head and met his gaze over his shoulder. “You do more or less the same thing in every fight, so why would I care about your tactics? I already know all of them.”

“I’ve never done this , asshole!” He stamped his foot, knowing that it made Kakuzu twitchy when he did that. He called it ‘acting like a child.’

Hidan called it worrying the thread.

“This is literally the same thing you’ve always done, just with a slight area change.”

Slight? I’ll show you slight, I-” He broke off coughing. A couple of carnation petals fell like drops of bloody confetti to the ground.

“I doubt you could show me anything.” Snap. There went the thread. “What could I possibly learn from an idiot who won’t even cure himself of the single easiest disease there is to cure?”

As soon as his mouth was free from petals, Hidan smiled.

“Hey, I’m immortal, remember? I don’t need to worry about curing it, ‘cause it’s not going to kill me. I just need to worry about Jashin.”

A split second later a kunai embedded itself in his leg.

“Then start worrying about him.” Kakuzu said lowly. “We’ve reached the edge of the forest. Start making that big circle of yours.”

That evening after completing the circle, as he and Kakuzu walked down a dry, twig-strewn, root-riddled forest path in lower and lower light, he saw his own hand reach into his cloak pocket and pull out a knife. He could still feel his arm at his side, brushing against his hips, and yet there the knife was, gleaming in his own hand like a long, hard icicle.

He pinched himself, and felt the pain down on his thighs.

Silently the knife pierced his skin, and blood began to flow down his chest like stream water over a flat smooth stone. He couldn’t feel any of the pain associated with the injury, but the blood was so bright and attention-grabbing that everything else he saw seemed less real. The blade slid into his flesh sword into a scabbard until it hit something, probably his rib cage, and faltered. The fist holding the hilt, his fist, pushed on, bending then snapping his ribs. Still, he felt no pain, and Kakuzu had not so much as turned around.

Perhaps this was some sort of vision from Jashin? A holy message? If so, he wasn’t sure what it was supposed to mean.

Now inside his rib cage, the hand abandoned the knife and began digging into the gaping cavity in his chest with fingers like burrowing vermin. Blood gushed from the wound, leaving a lipstick-red trail in his wake, like he was some dead body Kakuzu was dragging along the road to some Jahsin-forsaken village where one of his endless contacts operated.

He frowned. He couldn’t see any flowers growing out of the wound.

The hand began to withdraw. Hidan kept his eyes trained on it’s movements while digging both of his real hands into his skin through the cloak. Could this be some sort of reference to the last third of the Meditation-Chant on Sacrifice and the Self?

And the heart, where Jashin’s Will resounds/And where the sacred Passion abounds/Itself indistinguishable from that sacrificed, astounds/The Passion burns in rounds…

But what could Jashin’s purpose be in reminding him of that part of the scripture? He already knew it intimately. It was one of the theological roots of his powers, after all.

When the hand finally withdrew from the wound, it held his heart, still beating, in its bloody fist. Slowly, the arm swiveled and extended itself in Kakuzu’s direction, offering him Hidan’s heart like a bloody wad of cash.

He dipped his palm into his pocket and pulled out a knife. He inched it up his chest by touch, then thrust it into his chest.

The vision wavered.

He stabbed again, making the wound bigger, big enough to slip his fingers in and root around for plant stems. The hand holding out the heart fell away, then appeared again.

With a vicious tug, he yanked a handful of stems out. Then another one. He pushed deeper and deeper in an attempt to pull the flowers from where they'd taken root back behind his heart. They must have spread to his spine or something. Contact with his spinal cord would explain how their hallucinogenic properties were affecting him when the other flowers weren't. As he pulled, the vision faded away.

He'd have to make sure those flowers didn't grow back again. Perhaps regular spine-weeding would have to join his morning prayers?

The Land of Fire was on fire, and against the smoke and flames Kakuzu looked like a demon he'd seen summoned once. Just like that creature, Kakuzu was leveling forest outpost buildings, spitting tongues of fire and flinging enemy shinobi like weightless rag dolls into the inferno. Threads writhed and mingled with the billowing smoke, until Hidan could no longer tell the two apart.

His own skin had turned soot black a while ago so that only the skeletal white markings were visible in the smoky gloom. The blades of his weapon were coated in the blood of his opponents and crisscrossed with smudges where he'd licked the blood. Every time he sustained a burn or took a weapon to his unguarded back, he heard a chorus of screams as all those whose blood he'd consumed suffered with him.

He tumbled and spun through the canopy of the burning forest, keeping in constant motion. The rope of his scythe burned as it slid too quickly through his palm for the half-blinded Konoha shinobi to track. The burn was slightly different from the burn of the flames on his skin, but but both of them would heal without a mark, so he ignored them.

Slightly more distracting was the scent of burning herbs. Flowers bloomed from his wounds and caught fire as he swung from his scythe through the blaze.

When he ran out of enemies- or perhaps he'd swung too far away from the battlefield?- he tore back through the treetops, whooping cackling to warn his partner that he was coming back.

Kakuzu was right where he'd left him. His masks had exploded out of his back and were forming a wall of threads blocking the enemy’s retreat. As Hidan passed within his reach, he snatched the handle of his scythe out of the air like a baton and used it to swing him back around into a clump of shinobi. His pinwheeling scythe slashed through their flesh and his alike.

He wondered idly if his technique could make them suffer the internal damage caused by the flowers growing throughout his body. Just before they died and fell into the forest fire below, did they feel as though little thorns were pressing against their internal organs? Did they feel pressure under the skin where the blooms were taking up space the human body didn't have to spare?

Behind him, Kakuzu and his thread monsters began to advance, pushing the remaining shinobi towards the edge of Hidan's circle. The fire was quickly lapping up the trees, and soon even the upper reaches of the canopy would be untenable.

Kakuzu wasn't moving quite as fast as Hidan would have expected. Perhaps the smoke was finally getting to him.

It didn't matter. Only a few survivors remained, and they had taken the smoke much harder than Kakuzu. They were easy kills.

He laughed and let the smoke burn all the way down his throat and into his root-infested lungs. Some stray sparks came with it, and those roots quickly started to smolder, then burn.

Searing heat bloomed through his chest, and he could have sworn the adrenaline and endorphins and whatever other chemicals that always flooded his system during battle had caught fire too.

He didn't think the burning chemicals would be enough to destroy the flowers; Jashin was more resilient than any human body, after all. It still gave him satisfaction.

Up ahead he could see where the forest fell away to the beginnings of the desert. They had reached the limits of the fire. He glanced down and saw that his skin had reverted back to its original tones.

He flung his scythe at the last two shinobi standing, spearing their torsos on the blades like meat on the tines of a fork and dragged them after him into the open.

For the first time since the battle started he slowed to a stop. His chest heaved as he caught his breath.

He turned around, expecting Kakuzu to be standing there the way he always was, barely breathing any heavier than normal and conveying through his frigid silence that he disapproved of his exhaustion.

But Kakuzu wasn't there.

A split second later he and his thread monsters, which he was rapidly reabsorbing into his body, emerged from the smoky ruins of the forest. He was still walking slowly.

It was the lethargic pace that botched the ambush he walked right into.

Too late Hidan noticed the border patrol shinobi lying in wait, covered in sand and debris. They must have been sent to greet whoever left the great fire alive. One of them lunged at Kakuzu, kunai aimed for his lowermost heart. But he moved too soon, having overestimated his opponent’s speed, and missed. Kakuzu did not allow him to try a second time.

Hidan dove for the other two shinobi, scythe whirling fit to start a hurricane. His fury lent him breath enough to catch the remainder of the patrol before another could attack.

When the blood and dust settled and their opponents were all dead, Kakuzu didn't get back up from his position on the ground beside the corpse of his would-be killer. His breathing had become labored, and his threads tightened and loosened seemingly on their own.

Hidan resolved to do his typical prayers. If Kakuzu’s body was still acting weird when he was done, then they’d go from there.

He slicked the bottom of his sandal with the blood pooling around the dead shinobi and redrew the inscribed triangle in the dirt a little ways away from the body.

He prayed for longer than was usual, even after such a violent battle as the one they'd just fought, but not once did Kakuzu interrupt him or urge him to hurry it up.

His gut twisted. One of those thorny flowers must have been growing through it.

Kakuzu eventually managed to get to his feet about a half-hour after Hidan finished his prayers, and they set off again. They encountered a couple of chuunin as the sun began to set, but they had expected another party to be sent after them. The scrolls they'd taken were incredibly valuable.

What they hadn't expected was for Kakuzu to flag five minutes into what should have been an easy fight.

One of the chunin was a medinin. She was the first to pounce on Kakuzu's weakness.

“Target the masked one!” She yelled. “He has chakra wasting sickness! Even if you don't hit him, you'll weaken him just by sending chakra his way!”

Kakuzu silenced her with a kunai through the throat, but her companions had already heard. They turned their attention to Kakuzu and let loose a furious barrage of attacks.

Hidan felt a surge of rage, and launched himself without thought into the knot of enemy shinobi. At the last minute they tried to scatter like startled birds, but they couldn’t move fast enough to escape the whirlwind of his scythe. It snapped through the air like a striking snake, moving in tandem with Hidan’s own momentum, until the blades had drawn blood from each of the Leaf shinobi. Only then did Hidan come to a stop on a clear patch of ground.

Some of his wounds were still bleeding from earlier in the day, so he didn’t need to cut himself open again. Seeing people’s reactions to his love of pain, however, was half the fun of using the ritual in battle. Seeing their instinctual fear of pain turn into a fear of him satisfied him on a different level than the actual injuries did.

He ran his tongue over the blood-soaked outer blade of his scythe, and relished in the horrified silence that fell over the battlefield. Beneath him though they were in terms of power, the Leaf shinobi obviously knew that doing strange things with people’s blood during a battle could only mean bad things. Their fear and surprise stalled them, giving Kakuzu a chance to recover.

He laughed maniacally as his skin began to change color and drove his kunai into his own foot. Blood welled up like a spring, and he carefully drew Jashin’s symbol with his foot. Ritual satisfied, he took one more moment of sadistic pleasure in the fear in their eyes. Then he drew a knife to slit his throat.

Before the blade reached his throat, however, the enemy ninja began to shake and convulse. He abruptly remembered his musings during his earlier fight about whether or not the physical consequences of advanced Hanahaki disease were transferred to his curse victims. As he watched, some of them reached for antidotes tucked away in their pockets, but shuddered and fell still before they could open them. Others dug at their own skin with their weapons, as though there was something pushing against it from the inside. Within seconds, all of them were dead.

Hidan laid down in his circle and let his head fall to one side so he could keep Kakuzu in his field of vision. His partner was slumped against a rock, looking winded enough to have just faced off with another Akatsuki member instead of a few lower-level shinobi.

Chakra wasting sickness, huh. That probably wasn’t anything good. It sounded to him like the kind of thing that slowly weakened the body until finally some lesser cause- cold, the flu, a lucky genin- could take you out.

Perhaps Sasori would know something about it. He was always studying different substances and testing new poisons and antidotes out. At least, that’s what Deidara said he did. Hidan rarely actually saw the puppet-man outside of the short meetings and business transactions he occasionally had with Kakuzu. As far as he knew, Sasori didn’t have any reason not to help Kakuzu. Stuck up though he could sometimes be, Hidan thought he could probably put up with him long enough to shove something thick, vile, and supposedly healthy down his partner’s throat.

In the meantime, he’d have to figure out how to avoid depleting Kakuzu’s chakra. They were still a long ways away from the Akatsuki base. They may have to fend off any number of attacks on the way back, and letting Kakuzu grow sicker after each one sounded like the kind of idea that pretty-boy Uchiha would propose to his pet shark for dealing with his own illness. Hidan may not be as eloquent in an argument as Itachi or Kisame, but he wasn’t stupid enough to go with that dumbass strategy.

Maybe he could use one of those annoying plants growing out of his chest to make tea. Weren’t disgusting plant teas supposed to be the go-to remedy for stuff like this?

His eyes slid down so that he could peer down his own chest. He was pretty sure he had some camellias growing in there somewhere. You could make tea out of camellias, couldn’t you? Camellia tea sounded disgustingly delicate and pretentious, so it was probably some sort of cure-all.

He could feel Kakuzu’s eyes on him as he thought, pouncing like a cat on any movement that could have preceded the end of his prayers. If he stood up, Kakuzu would probably try to follow suit. One of the very first things he’d learned about Kakuzu way back when they’d first met had been that he hated weakness, and that his inability to tolerate it either in himself or in his partners was what had landed him with Hidan as a replacement partner.

At long last, Hidan spoke.

“Hey Kakuzu? I’m going to make some tea. I know you’re anxious to leave, but you’re just going to have to suck it up.”

Kakuzu grunted, but didn’t otherwise respond.

The camellia tea helped. It got Kakuzu on his feet again so they could walk through the chilly evening breeze to the drop-off point, where one of Sasori’s puppets would be waiting to receive the scroll. As they walked, Hidan contemplated the chill and the likelihood of finding blooming camellias with the delicate, new leaves needed to make tea anywhere other than in his chest.

After night fell and Kakuzu finally let them make camp at some chilly little cave, Hidan went outside to pray. He cut open his chest and let the blood mixed with flower petals flow down his body in silence. When the first drop hit the ground, he began to pray.

Unlike his usual nighttime prayers, however, he did not linger long over the memorized words of the scripture, nor over the pain of the wound. Instead he finished up as quickly as possible, then started flaring his chakra.

Almost immediately he heard Kakuzu shift where he lay on the floor of the God forsaken cave that he'd insisted they use instead of the inn three miles down the road. After a few minutes of sustained chakra flaring, quiet coughs accompanied the shifting. After another minute, the smell of flesh blood made it a trio.

He suppressed his chakra again, and Kakuzu grew still.

He sniffed the air, then himself, and huffed.

There was a stream nearby, barely a trickle of water snaking between the local villages, but it was enough to clean up his prayer wound. A few Uzumaki-red flowers came loose with the half dried blood and were carried slowly off by the water.

When his skin didn't feel sticky anymore and both the sight and scent of blood were gone, he rose and returned to the cave.

The smell of fresh blood was still there.

He strolled back into the cave and settled down on a flat, smooth portion of the cave floor.

“You don't usually bother to clean up afterwards, Hidan.” Kakuzu grumbled. His head lay a scant foot from Hidan's smooth sleeping spot. His hair was loose and draped over his shoulders and back.

“And you usually don't take that hair hood thing off, either.”

Kakuzu's eyes slid over to a rumpled cloth on the floor. It was a little difficult to tell, but Hidan could have sworn it was stained. He sniffed. A fresh tendril of blood-smell came from the cloth’s direction.

He curled his lip.

"If you're going to die, I'm gonna make a parable about you. It'll be called ‘The Miserly Jackass Heathen who thought he was immortal and scoffed at Jashin,’ and I'll get it fucking canonized. All future Jashinists will learn it and memorize it and recite it. In fact, it'll- mmm HMM mmhm!”

One of Kakuzu's threads wove effortlessly through his lips, sewing them together.

This simple action seemed to wear him out, and as soon as Hidan's mouth could no longer move, his eyes closed again and he slipped into a fitful rest. A few heartbeats after his partner’s breathing indicated that he was finally asleep, Hidan made a clone and sent it outside to keep watch. Then he settled down to sleep himself.

Just before he fell asleep, he noticed that Kakuzu's thread hadn't returned to him. It still hung there between them, connecting them.

Hidan sacrificed an entire scouting party of ANBU-in-training to Jashin in a ritual of thanks a week later, when news reached them that the Akatsuki had fallen apart. One of Pein’s various conspiracies had caught up with him- or perhaps they’d caught up with that little halfwit Tobi? It was unclear precisely what had happened, but the upshot was that no one was expecting them back.

Without the looming threat of missions that neither of them were physically capable of completing hanging over their heads, they were free to set up shop in some backwoods country in the northern provinces of the Land of Earth.

About a month after the initial collapse, word started trickling in from their former comrades. Sasori and Deidara had disappeared for lands to the east, where they’d heard they could get better materials for their respective arts, and had no intention of coming back, but Sasori was willing to send puppets in order to continue buying the flowers that Hidan plucked from his body during morning prayers. Kisame sent a similar missive a week later, offering a continued exchange of intel on the inner workings of the Land of Water in return for the silvery-white flower whose pollen helped soothe Itachi’s eyes. Unlike Sasori, he gave no indication of which way the two of them had gone. Konan sent them both paper get-well bouquets made of delicate paper covered in neatly-written blackmail material, along with the implicit promise to use it should they get it into their heads to sell information on her. Zetsu popped in to see how much progress the flowers had made on destroying Hidan’s body, then popped out again.

Hidan liked to think that he was merely using his immortality to pray long and hard, longer than anyone else ever had, but the truth was that without constant cutting the flowers that kept Kakuzu alive spread throughout his body until its structural integrity was so thoroughly destroyed that he could no longer stand. He lay down in the grass in front of their little hut one day and never got back up.

Every day Kakuzu told him he was an idiot and should just confess already.

“We're already somewhat tied to this hut now that the Akatsuki’s fallen apart, so we might as well use it. Dig some of those flowers out by their roots and plant them in the ground, where they won't make you increasingly useless in battle.” He growled. His impotent anger made Hidan want to laugh the way he had when Kakuzu had dealt him lethal blows out of frustration earlier in their partnership, before he'd learned that that just egged Hidan on.

“Come on, dumbass, you know how seasons work. Flowers don't stay all year long. What if they finish blooming until next year and you're not better yet? Then what, Kakuzu?”

Hidan punctuated his argument by throwing a too-hot mug of tea at him. They repeated this day after day until one day Hidan couldn't lift the mug of tea. He threw a camellia from a cut in his chest at him instead and told him to make his own tea.

He took to sleeping outside after that, by the fire pit where they heated the water for tea, in case he woke up to find that he couldn't walk.

And so he was outside where a garden ought to be when he discovered that the roots in his body had sprouted from his back and burrowed into the dirt below. He hadn't been able to stand up for a while by then, so he wasn't much concerned with the effects on his own mobility. Instead, he hollered for Kakuzu, waking him from his sleep.

“Oi, oi, Kakuzu! You're going to have to build a fence of something, these shitty flowers are spreading like weeds!”

It turned out the earth was a big enough container for Hidan’s rage. No matter how much he ranted and screamed, all of that passion just kept leaching out of him and into the earth. He was a little afraid that he would burn through all of his passions, and it would consume the warmth from his body next.

Then Kakuzu would walk through the garden to pick some more of the little pink flowers that stopped your heart in under five hours if you consumed so much as a petal, and his heart was alight with rage and pain and joy again. He’d laugh triumphantly through a rotting throat at the ground as it slowly but surely swallowed his decomposing body and demand Kakuzu thank Jashin for those flowers. Sometimes Kakuzu would stop and sit in front of his head and make snide comments about graves and immortality. More often, he would run his hands over the plants and Hidan would accept the caress for the affectionate gesture it was. Most common of all, Kakuzu would just sit and read in the garden, just the way he did when he got bored waiting for Hidan to finish praying.

Slowly but surely Kakuzu regained his strength, and by New Years the steady diet of camellia tea had cured his illness. Equally slowly, Hidan became less of a person and more of a garden. The powerful roots that had taken root in his body pulled him apart like a large chunk of soil, and he felt a little bit of himself stretching towards the sun along with the leaves.

Try as he might, he could never get Kakuzu to thank Jashin for sending this gift of flowers. He guessed that was what happened when you took a heathen as a partner. However, once he started bounty hunting again, he always brought the corpse to the garden and let the blood water the poisonous flowers. When the blood eventually reached Hidan’s body, he sent prayers of thanks on Kakuzu’s behalf, and laughed wildly and silently at Kakuzu’s consideration.

One night, Hidan felt a stranger enter his garden, pulsing with killing intent. The man moved silently and purposefully through the cascading flowers and splashes of color towards the hut, where Kakuzu was drinking his daily dose of tea. His feet tread softly over the groundcover, and he kept to the shadows cast by the larger plants. Hidan felt the light vibrations of his footsteps travel down the roots of the plants into his body, and even without eyes he could track his movements easily.

Around the intruder, vines began to unfurl like party streamers and slither silently around him in the dark like Orochimaru’s creepy little servants. Waves passed through the garden as if it were a pond, stopping just short of the man. Hidan couldn't tell if the man had noticed or not, but he doubted he had.

When the first tendril scrapped against the intruder’s knee, he brushed it off, unknowingly brushing its paralytic poison down his calf. So when a thicker, thorny vine began wrapping itself around his thighs, he found that he couldn’t move his knees or hamstrings at all. It wound around him like a constrictor, holding him in place.

Another vine, this one bare of thorns, lifted off the ground. It probed around the ground like a searching finger until it located Hidan’s scythe where it lay half-hidden by an enormous bush full of long, light purple flowers. It wrapped around the scythe directly over the slight indentations that marked where Hidan’s hands used to rest.

The vine flexed, and the blades swung through the air like an acrobat’s elegant, extended leg and buried themselves in the intruder’s neck.

Deep under the ground, Hidan felt the blood trickle through the soil like rainwater to anoint what was left of his face, and sent a prayer of contentment to Jashin.

Since the garden had exploded out of his wounded body, he had finally come to see why Jashin had sent this gift. He remained immortal, but in a different shape, one that could do something to save his partner. He could still defend Kakuzu whenever he was at the hut, and he could make money by selling his heart's fruit. Through Jashin’s curse, he’d become the sort of thing Kakuzu could look on fondly and count as an asset.

As more and more of the intruder’s blood warmed his face, he accepted Jashin’s will and thanked his god for letting him remain with Kakuzu, even though the man was a heathen.

Zetsu was still disappointed that Hidan’s Hanahaki flowers weren’t immortal, but that didn’t stop him from making periodic appearances to talk to the garden obnoxiously. Kakuzu usually threw him out once he realized he was there, but Pein’s little spy usually managed a minute or two before that happened.

He always talked about silly things. Grand plans, even more far-fetched that the ones Pein had stroven towards when the Akatsuki had still been together. Plans to resurrect pagan goddesses and to control the minds of shinobi everywhere from the moon. Hidan couldn’t make heads or tails of it, but he couldn’t tell him ask any questions or remind him that Jashin was the only true god. A large, flowery bush had grown out of the place where his mouth used to be, and he found that he couldn’t speak around it.

That was okay though. He didn’t really care about whatever game Zetsu was playing. Zetsu couldn’t make him leave his and Kakuzu’s hut, so what was there really to be concerned about? All he ever did was say creepy things and then leave.

Then one day, the pattern broke.

“Hey now, that’s not a nice thing to say,” White Zetsu crooned at a small bush covered in purple flowers. Hidan would have dropped it’s petals on the little spy had he been a little closer. Had those poisonous flowers so much as brushed across his skin, the little powdery poison on its petals would have seeped through his pores into his body and rotted him from the inside out.

“There’s no need for such vitriol!” White Zetsu snapped. Hidan wondered idly what the plant said to him.

“Should have known they’d be rude like Hidan was.” Black Zetsu muttered.

Zetsu’s voice faded in and out as he argued with Hidan’s plants. Hidan couldn’t see him with his body underground and in pieces wrenched apart by roots, but he could extend his vines and try to lure him closer to the particularly poisonous parts of himself.

In another corner of his garden, he felt Kakuzu step out of their hut and onto the ground cover that grew like carpet across the paths. The vibrations of his footfalls trembled down through the roots and into his heart, so that it almost felt like it beat against the rootball encasing it like a birdcage. His steps were calm and controlled, but Hidan could feel the power zinging through the soles of his feet where they came in contact with the plants. He lazily stroked vines and long, supple leaves across Kakuzu’s legs as he passed each plant, and held the poisonous ones well away from his skin. In return, he felt Kakuzu’s fingers brush over the bright yellow blooms that grew near the edge of the path.

Suddenly, he felt Zetsu jerk back against the trailing leaves of the Ashibara Bush. Too late he tried to wrap them around his legs, and by the time his plants moved Zetsu was already out of range. Oh well. Kakuzu was on the way, he’d take care of the other man.

“I’ve never been so insulted in my life. You know, I can take most things with a smile. I can be quite a cheerful, forgiving fellow. But you go to far!” White Zetsu hissed.

“Your host already proved that plants that grow from his undying body don’t share his immortality,” Black Zetsu said in his deeper, more imposing voice. “So die, and know that you could have avoided this fate.”

The plant man spun around to face the direction Hidan felt Kakuzu coming from, and his tenseness sang through his feet like a groaning, over-stretched rope. That’s right, Hidan thought, you should be tense when you face Kakuzu. He’s all better thanks to Jahsin’s gift, and he can and will destroy you.

“Kakuzu,” White Zetsu said in a falsely cheery voice, “Would you like to know the secret of who your partner fell for? It might not be too late for him, you know. The flowers in your little garden tell me that even though they’ve ripped his body to pieces, he still lives, and that he sometimes moves them with what’s left of his nervous system.”

The power Hidan felt before grew into strong, heavily pooled chakra that poured into the ground around his feet. It almost felt like they were going into battle together again, and Kakuzu was preparing to hit their enemy with a blow too powerful to block.

“Well,” White Zetsu continued, “you surely already know. He was such an extreme man, as I’m sure you knew when you were still partners.”

The memory of blood seeping between his teeth like river water through a wall of stones fills his senses, and he wants to spit that blood onto Zetsu’s face. When you were still partners. As if they ever stopped. It may seem like Kakuzu lived alone, to the untrained eye, but if their partnership had truly dissolved, Kakuzu would have left long ago.

“His temperament worked out in your favor after all, though, didn’t it? It’s hardly a common disease, not when you can just make a clone of your love and gain acceptance from the clone, but he was so devoted to you and to that barbarous religion of his that he never cured himself. And here you are, healthy and cured of a much graver disease through his sacrifice.”

Then Zetsu burrowed down into the soil, disappearing to wherever it was he went when he wasn’t blatantly spying on his former Akatsuki comrades. Hidan tried to feel for him with his roots, but he disappeared a few inches beneath the soil surface.

If he could get his hands on that little creep, he’d slice his belly open and let him die slowly, bleeding into the ground and unable to escape his demise, forced to watch Jashin come for him for hours.

Kakuzu interrupted his thoughts with one of his drawn-out, pointed sighs.

“I’ll get a shovel, Hidan. Let’s put you back together. I’ll fix you up.”

Hidan’s eyes stared unseeingly into the sky when Kakuzu unearthed them. He carefully extricated his face from the roots and began the laborious process of stitching him back together. To Hidan, it was as though his world was being patched back together piece by piece. And once his body was whole again, and his eyes were connected to his brain and his heart was rid of Hanahaki Disease, he would blink and see Kakuzu standing over him.

He’d taken many medicines and ointments over the years from Sasori, so he knew that it was supposed to hurt when you healed. But this cure didn’t hurt at all. It felt like lightness in his chest and blood in his veins and a heartbeat in his hands.

Kakuzu rolled his eyes when Hidan used that as evidence that it was a gift from Jashin, not some dumb disease.