A/N: Since I am in a most celebratory mood (and it flows better, I guess), this week is a double release! I'll see you all in three weeks! As always, I hope you enjoy.
By Tanya Lilac
Chapter Six – Surprise Me
18:23, October 30, Shiroishi Zaou Station.
The train ride to Sendai was relatively uneventful. Miyako found herself dozing lightly, and ended up dreaming, at one point, that she was still in her recruitment days, before any of this trouble had really begun.
In this dream, she was still Tenten, walking through the corridors of the training academy – where new recruits received training in combat, weapons handling, vehicle manoeuvrings and the like. Hyuuga Neji had been assigned to her unit from the start, along with Rock Lee. Their handler, Maito Gai, had an impressive track record, and she'd initially been excited to meet him. Until she met him. The man insisted on wearing a green spandex jumpsuit to all combat training sessions, and a green tracksuit on every other occasion. He went on long-winded tirades about teamwork and the best of youth… but then no one who had been in the agency long enough to become a handler to take on new recruits was ever really sane in the conventional sense.
"Hey Neji," Tenten said, "What's the record for most damages incurred by a single agent?" This scene was familiar. They were sitting in their old team meeting area, a small balcony that overlooked the grounds of their training facility.
"Did you ever hear about Calico?"
"Who?" He didn't turn to look at her this time, but that wasn't right. She just didn't want to look at him, even in her dreams.
"The agent who took out about twelve or so different crime factions from around the world at a large weapons' dealing... sometime last year, I think. They say she was in love with-"
Miyako woke suddenly as the man beside her stood up, bumping her shoulder. He turned hastily, bowing quickly in apology before hurrying off the train. Miyako sighed and shook her head to clear the memories of her former life. After all, if she could live her entire life behind so many different masks, what harm was there in having yet another?
She turned around and took in her surroundings once more – her stop was the next one along. Miyako rubbed her eyes and stretched, before settling back in her seat. Once again, she began to rummage through the bag that had been prepared for her – there was a wallet inside, with old receipts and train tickets, make-up that looked like it had been used, a few other knick knacks and a phone, with a shiny charm dangling from its corner. It was a leaf. Another interesting thing she'd been given was an apple pendant, made out of crystal. Sasuke had slipped it into her pocket at the station, and she'd been tempted to burst into tears for the sake of the act. After a moment of hesitation, she put the necklace on, tucking the long chain beneath her clothes.
Sighing, she glanced at the time. It was almost six o'clock, and she would be arriving at the station in about ten minutes. Miyako flipped her phone and dialled the number of the woman she was staying with – Ichiraku Suzune. Her cousin, Ichiraku Ayame worked for Konoha as a member of the administration team. Her father was famous for setting up a popular ramen chain, called 'Ichiraku Ramen'. Uzumaki Naruto had played a large part in getting that operation afloat.
Miyako smiled to herself at the memory, and frowned when she reached Ichiraku's voicemail… again. She left another message.
"Ichiraku-san, it's Inoue Miyako-san. I'm on the train now, and we'll be arriving in Sendai within the next ten minutes. I just wanted to let you know… and I look forward to meeting you."
She knew pretty much everything about this woman from the file Tsunade had given her – but nothing had suggested she was such a … flaky character. Absolutely no agent potential. With yet another sigh, Miyako looked out the window of the train and her mind returned to other things that had been clamouring in her head since the afternoon. There wasn't much she could do now – about either situation.
Neji would be forced to stay low after the media exposure, and the same would have been expected of her. The residents of her building, however… some were more tactful than others. Somehow, Miyako had a feeling that Sadako would be able to keep a hold on things. The woman had very mysterious ways.
As for Sasuke… things could be more complicated, she supposed. The way that he had hesitated when she queried him about his date seemed to suggest that she did in fact know the woman in question. It could be any number of people… but still, the heart of the matter lay in the fact that he had feelings for her. Feelings that he would never have confessed if she hadn't been leaving Tokyo for an indefinite amount of time. Miyako rubbed her temples and took a few more deep breaths. They had both said goodbye without regrets, and that was how she would leave it for now. It wasn't like she'd be seeing either of them any time soon.
Miyako sighed again. Ten minutes seemed to be taking an incredibly long time to pass. She had already analysed and categorised the other passengers within the first fifteen minutes of the trip, and hadn't really paid much attention to them since. She'd been tempted to try and pickpocket a few knick knacks off passengers to alleviate her boredom, like she'd used to do in European countries when she and Neji had been on stakeouts, tracking crime syndicate activities in the scorching summer heat...
She frowned. Her mind kept drifting back to him with disconcerting ease. This, Miyako thought, was the problem with letting him back into her world. It always took a long time to compartmentalise her feelings for him, building up a tentative wall around memories and emotions. As expected, he managed to leave a lasting impression that was hard to shake off. She'd be dreaming of him for the next few days, if she was lucky. He'd haunt her for months if she wasn't. Around here... it was the last thing she needed.
When at last the train pulled into Sendai station, Miyako couldn't have been more relieved. She tried Ichiraku Suzune's number again, but like the previous three times, there was no answer - she didn't bother leaving a message. Pulling her small suitcase behind her, she cast her eyes about for the woman from the file she'd been given (and thrown out) in Tokyo. Ichiraku Suzune had strawberry blonde hair, brown eyes, a few freckles across her nose and was about the same height. Unfortunately, she was nowhere to be found. Chewing absently on her bottom lip, Miyako wandered around the station, debating whether or not she should just catch a taxi to the cafe to see what was happening. It wasn't until she saw the familiar noren that marked the entrance of an izakaya that her stomach rumbled, despite having eaten before leaving Tokyo.
Miyako stopped and squinted at the name, and smiled to herself, noting the absence of shoes outside. "Mamoru, huh?"
She walked towards the small restaurant, nestled comfortably between a quiet bookstore and a florist. The brunette took off her boots at the entrance, with a smile and nod at the chef.
"Welcome!" he said cheerfully, his back turned. "There's a lot of room tonight, so you can bring your suitcase in."
Miyako smiled and thanked him quietly as she walked in, and hung her coat up on the back of the stool before taking a seat, flicking her hair over her shoulders.
"What would you like to drink?" He finally turned around and they both stopped and blinked, before the tense moment dissolved in a well perfected, shy smile and nervous chuckle. The man was younger than she expected him to be, in his early thirties. His hair was dark and unruly, spiked in different directions as if he had just rolled out of bed. He had delicate laugh lines around his eyes, and an oddly symmetrical mouth. His nose was no longer straight, looking crooked as if it had been broken in the past. He had a piercing on the edge of his right ear, glinting behind his dark locks, a reminder of perhaps more rebellious days. "Jizake?"
Miyako met his eyes again. "Surprise me." She threw her handbag on the chair beside her. He turned around again and ducked out of sight for a few moments before returning with a dark green, glass bottle and two small glasses. He poured some shochu for himself and handed her the drink with a smile. "Cheers."
They raised their glasses and drank, Miyako smiling.
"How long are you in Sendai for?" he asked. "You're just passing through, right?"
She smiled and set the cup down. "No, actually. I'm here ... indefinitely."
"Really?" This piqued his interest, and she watched his eyes flicker in the dim light, skimming over her permed hair, fashionable outfit, and the patterned suitcase that matched her handbag. "What for, if you don't mind me asking?"
Miyako leaned in, prompting him to shift towards her to hear her say, "I'd tell you... but then I'd have to shoot you," she said seriously. A grin broke out across his face, and he laughed.
"You're really something! We don't live in a movie!"
Miyako couldn't help herself, and laughed with him. "I know, I'm sorry!" she said, brushing her fringe away from her eyes. "I've just always wanted to say it!" She knew he had seen the small bandages from the bullet graze she'd received yesterday, and his expression changed subtly, just like she'd anticipated. "But, honestly, I'm here to help out a friend of a friend."
He handed her a menu, and paused before beginning, hesitantly, "I... hate to pry, but who are you staying with?"
Miyako read over the selection - it was small, but a very good mix. "Oh... um, Ichiraku Suzune-san. She runs a cafe."
"... Red hair, brown eyes, tongue like a devil?" He said disbelievingly.
"You know her?" Miyako smiled when he shrugged. "I'm not sure about the last, but the rest sounds about right."
"I'll... try calling her for you. You tried the shop?"
"Un. Earlier. No one answered."
The izakaya owner ducked under the counter once again and pulled out a dusty telephone with a rotary-dial. Miyako reached for her mobile phone as he hesitated, his finger tracing the rim of the plastic disc, and he smiled at her. "It's okay. I still remember."
Miyako nodded and watched with curiosity as he dialled Ichiraku Suzune's number, waiting for the dial to roll back into its original position. It didn't take long for her to answer.
"Oi Ichiraku!" He paused. "'May I ask who's calling'? Why're you being so polite? It's Nagayama Hiroki." He drawled. "Of course it's Sugimura. Don't hang up." He paused to look at her, and Miyako supplied her name.
He nodded in thanks. "Inoue-san's been calling you all afternoon, idiot, and-"
Miyako heard the other woman interrupt with a stern, "Put her on the phone, pervert."
He wordlessly handed her the phone and she smiled, bowing as she accepted the receiver. "Hello?"
"Hello Inoue-san! I'm really, very, very sorry about this mix-up! I've been having a lot of problems with my phone lately-"
There was a loud horn that sounded in the background and Ichiraku Suzune screamed a few choice profanities at the driver. There was yet another pause as she got into what Miyako assumed was a taxi and asked the driver to take her to the west entrance of Sendai station.
"I'm sorry," she repeated breathlessly. "I'll be there in ten minutes. Until then, don't talk to that pervert, Sugimura Takeshi. Watch your drink, and I'll be there soon."
"Sugimura Takeshi-san?" Miyako echoed, suddenly confused.
"Yes. Stupid black hair, dark eyes... far too many piercings on his ears... anyway. I'll see you soon." The line clicked and Miyako stared numbly at the phone.
"What... kind of person is Ichiraku-san?"
"You'll get along well enough," Takeshi replied amiably, returning to slicing the tuna. "She's not too fond of me, though."
"I see," Miyako said, hiding a smile.
He stopped as he remembered something and set the knife down. "I've forgotten my manners." With a smile, he introduced himself. "Sugimura Takeshi. It's a pleasure to meet you."
Tenten found herself smiling back. "Inoue Miyako. Pleased to meet you."
"Well, Inoue-san, have you thought of something you'd like to eat?"
"Everything looks good," Miyako admitted. "But... I'll have-"
A loud curse interrupted their conversation, and they both turned to look at the entrance, at which a young woman was in the process of removing her high heels. When she succeeded, she stomped into the tiny restaurant and downed the half-full cup of shochu on the bar before glaring at Takeshi.
"Don't you dare say anything," she whispered fiercely, and then turned to face Miyako with a smile. She bowed deeply, and apologised, her locks gleaming faintly in the dim light. "Please forgive me, Inoue-san!"
Miyako shifted in her chair. "It is nothing, really-"
"It is entirely your fault," Takeshi ginned. "You double booked, didn't you?"
"What's it to you?" Suzune shot back at him, and returned to Miyako. "I heard you were coming around a month ago, but things have been busy lately so it slipped my mind..."
A month ago? They'd planned well in advance, Miyako thought.
"It's no trouble at all – Sugimura-san here has been very helpful," she smiled, and Suzune settled on a bar stool.
"Have you eaten yet?" Miyako asked, as Takeshi resumed cooking.
"Oh, no. We were about to order, and I was half wishing that someone would call so I could escape him. He was going on and on about the Hedonistic Imperative like I was an idiot or something."
Takeshi cleared his throat. "Let the woman eat, Ichiraku. If you're so hungry yourself, why aren't you eating something?"
"More sake first, and then I'll eat."
22:29 October 30, Hirose-dori Avenue, Ichiban-cho, Sendai.
A few hours later, Takeshi closed the izakaya and walked them back to Suzune's cafe. It was a few blocks away, but Takeshi had to carry the red head because Miyako had her suitcase. Needless to say, they received strange looks from passersby, and similarly drunken pedestrians pointed and laughed openly. After Suzune fell silent for a time, Miyako looked over at the pair.
"Are you two close?" She asked him. Suzune was snoring lightly on his back. Her weight dropped as she stopped supporting herself, and Takeshi grunted as he readjusted her, trying not to jolt her awake.
"What makes you ask that?"
Miyako shrugged. "You just... remind me of some people I knew."
He chuckled. "I'm her sempai, Inoue-san. Well, former sempai. Our families run in the same circles, but these days..."
"Call me Miya," she reminded him when he trailed off, not chasing the topic – she could sense it was a long story, and she couldn't extract anything from him now; social decorum demanded delicacy and politeness.
Miyako smiled. "It'll have to do, I suppose." She'd always wanted a nickname. The only people who had ever called her 'Ten-chan' were her friends at the orphanage. She'd never even told Neji about it. Takeshi stopped walking and Miyako turned around. "Is something wrong?"
"We're here," he said, looking up at the sign. "Maru."
"Oi," Suzune said, waking suddenly at the name. "Go around the back."
Takeshi complied with a sigh, stopping as she slapped him on the shoulder when the door came into view. "Oi, let me down."
"Are you going to try and hit me in the face again?"
"No, I feel sick."
He groaned and set her on the ground, and she stumbled away, pushing her small clutch into his chest. "Don't go upstairs," she warned, and disappeared into an alleyway.
The pair of them shrugged at each other and Takeshi picked up her suitcase, leading them around the other side of the block to the back entrance, Even in the dim light, he was able to open the door with ease, and they slipped inside, turning the lights on to reveal a large, neat kitchen. A little alarm device by the door was pulsing gently, and Miyako knew it was Konoha-issued; she'd seen it in a few other safe houses. This one was fairly old, from around four years ago. Before Shikamaru had become co-head of the technology department, the technicians had tended to opt for designs that favoured functionality – Shikamaru was obsessed with streamlined, unassuming devices that tended to turn into weapons that had a tendency to explode with a flick of a switch.
Miyako pressed her thumb against the screen as if to key in the code, but her fingerprints were quickly scanned and accepted and the alarm was disabled as the display dimmed. Through the large window at the front of the kitchen, she could see into the cafe. There was a raised, round platform in the middle of the room, upon which there were four tables, all mismatched, with similarly mismatched chairs. Miyako realised the rest of the cafe was filled with a variety of chairs and small tables, with a few booth seats along one side of the cafe, and smiled. It suited the owner's personality.
Miyako looked around for a bit of guidance, and Takeshi pointed to the side of the kitchen, by the fridge. "The stairs to the flat are through that door over there. She'd kill me for even taking a look, so I'd better go."
"Oh," Miyako smiled, and tucked a stray lock of hair behind her ear. "Thank you, for walking us home. You shouldn't have troubled yourself."
"It was nothing... At least you're home safely," he smiled back, and Miyako was suddenly aware of the fact that Suzune was throwing up in the alleyway, and had to refrain from laughing.
"Umm... well... I'll see you around then, I guess." Takeshi handed Miyako the clutch, and they drifted over to the door together, trying to think of something to say, but both failing spectacularly.
"If it's not too much of a bother –"
"Maybe next week –"
They stopped, and he motioned for her to continue at the same time she did, and they smiled again.
"Perhaps I will... see you again next week," she said. "If... you'd like."
"You're always welcome to visit," Takeshi smiled once more, and Miyako wondered how normal people handled these kinds of things. She'd never really had a normal kind of relationship with anyone."So, um... good night."
"Goodnight," Miyako waved. "Have a safe trip!"
Takeshi turned and began to walk back through the alleyway, right hand tucked in his pocket and left hand raised in farewell. His silhouette was almost familiar, a both comforting and unsettling sight that reminded her of times long gone. Footsteps brought Miyako back to the present and Suzune stumbled into the kitchen, kicking the door shut.
"I feel terrible," she groaned. "Pass me that roll of paper over there, please, Inoue-san."
Miyako obliged her, ripping off a few squares and handing it to the red head. She wiped her mouth and grimaced, and opened the fridge before pulling out two bottles of water, passing one to Miyako.
"I'm sorry about today," Suzune sighed, leaning against the counter. "Aya-chan asked me a month ago-" she stopped to take a large gulp of her water. "-but I didn't hear anything from her about the date you were coming."
"Oh, no, it's my fault. I should have called earlier," Miyako said, picking up her suitcase. "And please, call me Miya."
Suzune headed over to the door beside the fridge and Miyako inched past her into a narrow corridor that had about two square meters of available space, a quarter of which was dedicated to a shoe rack against the wall. After they took off their shoes, Suzune turned on the light to reveal the staircase, and helped Miyako carry the heavy bag up the stairs.
"How long have you been living here?" Miyako asked conversationally as they slowly headed up the stairs. Suzune was both hanging onto the suitcase and pulling herself along with the aid of a railing.
"Let's see... four years, now."
Miyako tried to recall Suzune's birth date. She was twenty eight now – she would have been twenty-four when she decided to set up her cafe. They reached the first landing and Suzune turned on the light to reveal a western-styled kitchen and living room, with a door that led to a bathroom on the other side of the room. "Umm... my uncle gave me a renovation two years ago for a birthday present," Suzune said, stretching. "So everything is really new..." She reached for the bottom of the suitcase again. "Okay, ready, set..."
They picked up the bag again and struggled up the narrow staircase once more. There wasn't really much to be said, they were both tired and lugging the suitcase up the stairs wasn't really the most riveting thing in the world. "Are you close to Ichiraku-san?" Miyako asked, and then corrected herself. "Ichiraku Ayane-san?"
"Aya-chan?" Suzune asked, with some difficulty. "Yeah, she works as a part of the admin team for your company, doesn't she? Her dad thought she'd be more than an OL but... well, Aya-chan's always just wanted a happy family and a good husband. I think she's happy where she is."
"Oh, I see..." Miyako nodded, reaching the final landing. She moved back, lowering the suitcase, and straightened her back, stretching.
"Ah, we're here," Suzune said, sighing with relief as she switched on the light. Unlike last time, this landing was closed, and contained only a hallway with two Japanese-style bedrooms on the right and another bathroom on the left hand side. "Your room is the one at the end; I'll wake up first in the mornings."
Miyako nodded again and Suzune said goodnight before ambling back down the stairs to give her privacy. Miyako picked up her suitcase once more, so not to leave marks on the tatami, and slid her door open and gingerly placed the bulky bag in the middle of the floor, carefully sliding the screen shut before unzipping the suitcase.
She hadn't had time to look inside the suitcase, but she was fairly sure it was full of clothes. Her assumption was correct – Miyako knew that Hibi would have had a lot of fun choosing her outfits for her. Her wardrobe now consisted of soft fabrics, sheer pinks and the occasional ruffle. Sighing, Miyako pushed her suitcase into the corner of the room – she could unpack it later – and pulled her futon and other bedclothes out of the wardrobe, and simply collapsed onto it, staring up at the naked light bulb.
It was reassuring to be silent, she supposed. However, left alone with her thoughts, Tenten knew there was a danger of slipping. Like Sasuke had warned her, she would slip up if she stopped paying attention... but she was just too tired to care. She was tired from yesterday's mission, tired from yesterday with Neji, tired from this morning with Sasuke, tired from the trip in the afternoon... and just sick of being a spy.
Way to go, Tenten thought. You're in a Konoha safe-house with a civilian who's a mess, at best. You finally realised you're sick of the secrecy, but you're stuck with a different personality for the next six months at least... what will you do about it?
Tenten rolled over, sighing loudly. Something told her that she was in the perfect place. Well, Tsunade and Shizune had planned out this mission; of course they would have put her where they thought she needed to be. She had a good feeling about Takeshi, for some reason. The way he had mentioned his and Suzune's families seemed to suggest …. exclusivity. As with everything else, your relationships were important. If she made the right connections now, she would be able to slink in and out of the city's inner workings...
She ran a hand through her hair and yawned. There was no point in trying to think about this now. She'd have to wait until she was fully settled in. Whoever was hiding Lucia would be on guard now. News of what had happened in Tokyo would have already reached them; they'd be on the lookout for happenings in other bases. Konoha would be leading a decoy operation; they would have hit Osaka two hours ago in order to eliminate suspicion that an infiltration operation was under way in Sendai.
"A month," she whispered to herself. "I'll wait a month."
After all, putting a foot wrong now would seal her death.