Paperwork Memories 4
There was a note attached to the lid which came free easily when Kotetsu touched it. It reads as follows:
Genma, Kotetsu, or Izumo;
Or, Whom it may concern;
If you're reading this, you're probably snooping and had better hope I never find out about it.
The things in this box must seem a curious collection even to my best friends. Some you may recognize, while others I've never spoken of. These are the relics of other lives I have lived. I've lived and died many times, each new person forming around me like a mask, a disguise of flesh and memories I mold into the shape I desire. When that mission is over I will shed that person like a bird sheds its feathers, that person I wrapped around myself will 'die', and I will emerge again as Iruka.
These are the relics left behind with each little death.
Each of these people has a piece of myself in them. Like mirrors placed at angles, the reflections are skewed, but revealing. Each is either a little wish fulfilled or a nightmare given life.
Which is why if I'm still alive, you had better hope I never find out you're snooping. If I'm dead, I hope it will help you write a proper eulogy. I am to be teacher and a paperwork ninja now, but I have been many, many other things. I don't want that part of my life to be forgotten, even if it has always been a secret.
P.S. Remember, unless you've seen and/or burned my body for yourself, it's best to assume I'm not dead until a year has passed. A repeat of the Aomori incident would be really embarrassing for everyone.
Kotetsu looked up from reading the note, trying to gauge Hayate's reaction, but the other ninja's face was impassive. "Maybe we should just leave it here?"
"No, we should take it with us, like we planned." Hayate's voice was subdued, even for him. "We can bring it back in a few days. As far back in the closet as it was, I doubt he checks it very often."
"Alright, let's go meet the others."
So once again the four intrepid paperwork ninja found themselves in the exceedingly well-protected safety of the Archives, gathered around a card table heavily loaded with tea and coffee. Genma had apologized to Raidou for cutting out early, dragging the drunkenly affectionate Iruka with him. It could be safely assumed that Genma would find other ways of having a good time that night, and that Iruka would be more than distracted from any impulses to check on his precious box.
Kotetsu had declared himself keeper of the box, but had offered no resistance when Izumo took it from him. He was distracted. Hayate coughed to interrupt the impromptu make-out session, and Izumo sat back in his own seat, opening and reading the note aloud for his and Raidou's benefit.
"What was the Aomori incident?" Hayate asked when he was finished.
"He didn't report for over three months after a mission to Aomori in Water Country went wrong." Kotetsu answered first, "Everyone assumed he was dead. We had a memorial service, his possessions were split up according to his will, his file was deactivated, everything. Then, two months after he's officially 'dead', he comes strolling back in via Wind Country."
Kotetsu's voice held a strange combination of humor and bitterness, Hayate thought. He was happy that Iruka was back, but there was something about it that he didn't like?
Izumo continued the explanation, quite as if he could read Hayate's thoughts from his face. "Iruka had stumbled onto a piracy ring after fleeing Aomori and spent several months learning the ins and outs of the pirates' financing and fencing operations. He traded the information on the pirates to Sunagakure in exchange for a fast escort to the border of Fire." the caffeine addict paused, considering his next words. "Everyone was glad he came back safely, but it was awkward. Iruka didn't realize how hard it was for his friends who thought he was dead to accept that he was alive. He didn't think that anyone would be worried when he didn't come back right away and there was no contact."
"He could have made contact, just to let us know he was alive." Kotetsu almost hissed. He ignored the looks his tone drew, taking a long gulp from his tea cup.
"He learned. He never did it again." Raidou said soothingly, "He still has the scar to remind him, right? Right."
Hayate considered the question that floated into his mind, but the continued grimace from Kotetsu and Raidou's sudden dive for the box forestalled him. He could always check scars next time they went to the baths.
"Look, a Ring!" the usually quiet bodyguard pulled out a small pile of envelopes tied with a purple ribbon, and indeed, there was a diamond ring tied to the end of said ribbon.
Hayate snatched, barely beating Kotetsu and Izumo to the packet. He slapped a reaching hand aside, then sat back in his chair. After a long moment checking for traps on the ribbon he untied the ring from the end to examine it more closely, dropping the envelopes into Izumo's waiting hands. It was a nice ring, though Hayate was no expert. He used the stone to scratch one of his kunai experimentally, and yes, it did seem to be real diamond. The band was plain on the outside, but there appeared to be engraving on the interior, "For my beautiful Iria, love Tenkumo." he read aloud, looking up at the others.
"So the Raikage-to-be is sentimental." Raidou smiled indulgently.
"The Raikage-to-be is a Sap!" Kotetsu countered with a badly suppressed laugh, "Listen to this; 'It may be my love,/ that before I saw your smile/ I had seen nothing./ Since,/ I've seen nothing else. I'm afraid none of my belabored poetry is equal to your natural eloquence, a man can but try.' These are love letters! With bad poetry!"
"'Last night I dreamt of you, but it was not as sweet as our last picnic. Your mouth captivates me, but it your blush that slays me, my love. But I must end for a time, soon it will be my watch.'" Izumo managed to get out before collapsing into a fit of giggles.
"Let me see, let me see!" Raidou picked up one of the unread letters, quickly scanning the immaculate calligraphy. "Oooooh! This one is from Iria herself."
"Read! Read! Read!" the others chanted together.
"Ahem, 'Tenkumo-kun, you're back!'" Raidou felt obligated to increase the enthusiasm and raise the pitch of his voice as he continued, and the others were all leaning forward, hanging on each word, "'I heard that you had to go on another mission with that bastard Kondo, but please don't bring him with you when you come to see me. I still owe him for last time, and though I'm looking forward to ramming my hand down his throat, rummaging around until I find something interesting and ripping it out, I don't want your first night back to be quite so violent. Send me a bird when you get back. Sweet, Iria.'"
Silence ruled the table.
"Does anyone else get an 'I'm channeling playful Ibiki' vibe from that?" Kotetsu asked after a moment.
"...eh. Something like that." Raidou hazarded, quickly reading the reply written on the back. "And he ate it up. Even calls her 'my violent cupcake' in the reply."
Hayate coughed softly, "So, the eloquence he talked about was..."
"Threats." Kotetsu pressed one palm against his brow and shook his head.
"-And sarcasm." Izumo added, "Oh, and probably dirty limericks."
"Learned from Anko, no doubt."
"And Hizashi, the only Hyuuga in history to have a sense of humor." Raidou said, raising his tea cup in salute to the dead man. The others clinked their cups with his and they all took a long drink.
"So Iruka's female alter-ego is the unholy of mating of Anko's so-called sense of humor and Inoichi(1)'s ikebana lessons?" Kotetsu said after the toast.
"Inoichi's ikebana?" Izumo asked.
"The paper is from the flower shop Iria worked for."
"Pretty flowers." Izumo looked at the letterhead from the revealing distance of half a centimeter. "The new Raikage is one strange cookie."
"Forget the Raikage, Iruka is one strange cookie! No, he's one cookie short of a tin." Kotetsu rested his head on the table. "He said in his note that these personas were wish fulfillment or nightmares. So what was Iria? Iruka wants to be Anko? Does he have nightmares of turning into Ibiki? Or what?"
"A little bit of both, maybe." Hayate poured himself another cup of tea. "Anko has no shame and Ibiki takes no crap from anyone. That would be liberating, to be able to say whatever you want and that be normal for you."
"The idea of Iruka as a repressed soul is both amusing and alarming." a new voice entered the conversation. "I mean, what if he explosively de-represses?"
"Mayhem in the mission room." Raidou replied, the least surprised of the gathered sneaks, "Evening over already, Genma?"
"Yeah. Crying brats are a real mood killer." the special jounin took a beer from the cooler on the floor, popping it open with a practiced senbon lever motion. "Neighbors get drunk, scream at each other, then pass out; their children huddle outside Iruka's door. He does that instant-sober trick of his and makes them hot chocolate. Cute, but not sexy." he chugged about half the bottle, then sighed in contentment.
"I'm trying to imagine Anko making hot chocolate for a bunch of crying kids." Izumo said after a second. The others turned to look at him. "Then she tells them 'quit crying, it'll heal'."
Even Hayate had to laugh at that image.
Once it subsided Genma asked, "Why are we comparing Iruka to Anko?" Raidou tossed him the offending letter. He recognised the box and blinked. "What? You guys stole his secret box? He is so going to kill you."
"Blame Hayate." Kotetsu dripped innocence all over the table. "He didn't believe us about Iria-chan."
"Well, Jiraiya did make it into a book; being the basis of an Icha-Icha novel moves any story about seventeen notches down the plausibility scale, I'd say." Genma said. "And even though he swears he'll never, ever read it, Iruka still has that special edition copy Jiraiya sent him in his closet along with the others."
"Others?" Raidou prodded his friend.
"You'll have to ask him." Genma said. "So, you believe now?" he asked Hayate.
"I guess I must." the swordsman said reluctantly.
"Good. You should trust a little more, you know?" then he waved his hands vaguely at the box. "Anything else interesting in there?"
Kotetsu and Izumo took turns removing items from the box and passing them around for examination. There were several rocks of different types, sea shells, two dried chili peppers, a hand-grinder for coffee, and a small stack of papers.
"Sushi stand menu and recipes." Kotetsu reported.
"That's probably from when he was in water country not too long ago." Raidou said.
"He couldn't look a fish in the face without cackling like a nut." Genma laughed. "I remember that."
"Yeah, that's part of why he has to stay in the village for a while." Kotetsu said, "Cackling is reserved for Jounin; Chuunin have to stay at least mostly sane."
End! Because Otherwise it will go on forever!
(1) for those who don't keep track of these things, Inoichi is Ino's father. ^_^