I'd just gotten booked for three missions in less than 24 hours. They were supposed to be more or less concurrent, since none involved leaving town, and they were all damage control gigs. Raidou and I had been doing cleanup and damage control together for years, so of course, I called him up so I could bitch that I'd been laid in solo on these.
We both had places to be in the morning, so there were no bars in our immediate future, as much as I might have wanted a good stiff drink. Besides, it was too late for any of them to still be open -- or perhaps it was actually too early. Either way, we ended up at an all-night diner, eating pancakes and drinking iced tea. Yes, kiddies, ANBU really are human. We do things like drink iced tea in the middle of the night, while we talk about all the things we'd rather forget. I guess that's a lie. Looking back, most damage control missions are pretty damned funny, once they're over.
"So, I was telling the new kid about that time we were out with Iruka and I broke my foot." A smile crept across my face, unbidden. "I thought her jaw was going to unhinge with all the gawking."
I told the story again, like I always told it, but this time I added in the poor newbie's facial expressions as punctuation. Rai cackled with amusement. "You left out the part about Iruka and the ice cream," he snickered, "You remember, 'I want ice cream!' And he gets the ice cream for free, and then: 'But I wanted it in a cone!' And I'm like 'Shut the fuck up, Iruka. It's free ice cream.'"
"Of course I remember. It just wasn't relevant to my foot. Iruka playing DDR was relevant to my foot. I still blame that whole thing on his damned insistance on playing DDR." I thought about that for a moment, and then revised. "Well, except for the part where I had too much caffiene. I can blame that, too, I guess."
I rubbed the back of my neck and studied the wood grain of the table intently, a lopsided smile hanging on my face. "You know I just got triple-booked, don't you?"
"Oh, shit. No. What happened?" Rai managed to come around to almost serious.
"Well, you know, one of ours just caught a Drunk in Public up in Suna. They've got some nasty laws up there. I have to keep him in one piece until he can come home -- nothing particularly critical, there."
Rai nodded. "Baka. Yeah, Suna's nasty, but the guy's an idiot to have been caught."
I shrugged. "Yeah, but it gets better. The next one's a classic crazy roommate gig. Nothing worth mentioning, really. The hitch, of course, is that the roommate's a chuunin and is also one of our own. Again, can't be as bad as the cat strangler, five years back. Or that one with your girlfriend, when we were still chuunin."
"Girlfriend, murderous jounin, and hiding under your bed?" Rai scrunched up one eye and looked contemplative.
"That's the one." I grinned at the memory. It was more years ago than I cared to remember. "I was ready to take that asshole on with nothing but my bare hands. Might have lived, too, with as far as he'd slipped, but it's not real likely."
"Or how about that one time, at the party at your place, when Kotetsu showed up looking like he'd been eaten alive --"
I cut him off. "Because he was on the run from a squad from Hidden Stone who had pegged him for lifting their scrolls? Yeah. And then Iruka showed up after another fight with whoever the hell he'd been living with, and decided to trash the front yard."
Rai laughed, and I tried to look disgruntled and failed. I wound up laughing so hard I couldn't hold up my head. The image of Kotetsu trying to hide from Iruka in the corner of the balcony was burned eternally into my memory, and it would never stop being hilarious. Of course, a pissed off Iruka was not to be fucked with.
"You remember the time that Ebisu got stabbed in the hand by that girl? The one who had just broken up with Kakashi?" I couldn't quite pick my head up, so most of the words were snickered into my lap.
"What? No!" Rai looked horrified and fascinated. "One of Kakashi's crazies stabbed Ebisu? When the hell was that?"
I finally managed to stop laughing and reached for my tea. "Maa... you know. The one who kicked him in the junk all the way to the store, then jumped his other ex, and tried to commit suicide?"
"Oh. Oh, right. Yeah, I had the same reaction the last time you brought it up, too, didn't I? That was all kinds of fucked up." Rai nodded.
"And I told that stupid bastard that she was like that, but he never listens to me. The last straw was really stabbing one of the cleanup crew. Any of the other shit was probably okay, by itself. Kakashi had it coming, the other ex was just as crazy, but man, if she wasn't on my shitlist before that, she'd be on my shitlist for stabbing Ebisu. That was totally uncalled for." I leaned back with the tea in one hand, and punctuated my sentences with short jabs of the first finger on my other hand.
"It was an accident, wasn't it?" Rai asked. "I mean, I'd probably let an accidental stabbing go, if she wasnt already on my shit list. Hadn't been on my shit list for the preceding how many years..."
"Yeah, it was. And you know, if Kotetsu had stabbed one of us by accident, you're right. I'd have let it go. If it'd been me, I'd have punched him in the teeth and taken the kunai, but you know, it's Kotetsu. You can handle him like that, and he's alright later. This silly bitch though? Not okay." We laughed. "But, you know, speaking of Kotetsu... That's the third job."
"What, again?" Rai cut me off, in irritated amazement.
I waved my hands dismissively. "No, no. Nothing like that. I just got tagged for cleanup on this girl who 'suddenly' stopped paying attention to her parents and started doing coke." I added finger quotes to emphasize my suspicions.
"Riiiight. Who better to take as a partner than Kotetsu. Well, I guess that could go either way, but he really seems to have picked himself back up." Rai was obviously worried that exposure to another cokehead would make Kotetsu do something stupid. I had a bit more faith.
I decided that pancakes were no longer food, and set the last one aside. As I fished around for an appropriate packet of tea sweetener, I caught Rai eyeing my plate. "No, I'm not going to eat it."
"Right. You mind?" He reached for the plate and raised an eyebrow.
That didn't even require a verbal answer. I just rolled my eyes and waved my hand in the same dismissive gesture I always favour at times like these.
"Well, at least he hasn't slit his wrists again. You had me worried for a minute." Oddly, Raidou sounded almost completely unconcerned.
I laughed. "Hey, give Ko a break -- I think last time it was sleeping pills."
"Oh, yeah, because that's a real improvement." Rai rolled his eyes at me.
"Beats the shit out of watching him scratch at the stitches. Always makes my skin crawl watching him do that." My nose crinkled in disgust as I remembered Kotetsu bitching about how much the healing gashes in his arms itched, and if he couldn't die in peace, could he at least not live in constant annoyance?
"Point." The one word carried the weight of several sentences. Rai knew exactly what I was on about.
"Anyway, it's all a bunch of bullshit cleanup work. Kind of worried about that girl, though. No matter how many times I watch this shit go on -- regardless of what I was like at that age -- it's just wrong, somehow. And she's a civvie, too. At least we had an excuse." I started picking apart a napkin, rolling the shreds of paper into balls and flicking them across the table.
"An excuse?" Raidou looked extraordinarily amused. "I'd like to think we had several, not the least of which were the times you and I cleaned up after everyone else's shit. You used to be the responsible one, for all that everyone called you boywhore."
There was a long, weighted pause. "I mean, not that you're not responsible, now, but other people grew up."
I snorted, nodding. "Did I call you after the time that Aoba dropped by to tell me that Su-chan paid him to kill me? Apparently the fact that I hadn't died of my own stupidity was in some way offensive to her. I'm kind of glad that she underestimated us, though. I'd hate to think that some spiteful broad could turn one of us on the others."
"Wait. Stop. She paid Yamashiro to do it? Him?" Raidou almost choked on a mouthful of pancake. "But he was -- And she really thought --" He stared, boggled.
"Oh, yeah. It was great. I even got to share in the spoils. We wrote it off as the stupidity tax." I rattled the ice in my glass and failed to suppress my amusement -- even after all these years, the idea of Aoba trying to kill me was hilarious.
"That's really fucked up."
I smirked. "Come on, who are you talking to? You were present for more fucked up things than that." The smirk became wicked. "Izumo. Blowjobs. Hayate and the Short Fuzzy Motherfuckers Club."
"And you got so drunk you said no to Ebisu, because you couldn't tell he wasn't Izumo." Rai barely managed to suppress a cackle.
"Aw, fuck off. It was for the best. If I'd been sober, I wouldn't have blown Ebisu anyway." I threw the rest of the straw wrapper at Raidou and he laughed and ducked. "I feel really bad for Hayate, though. I don't think he meant to join the club. Did you see his face the next morning?"
Raidou finished the last pancake. "If he didn't want to join the club, he should have kept his hands off the pregnant girl!"
"He was drunk and trying to sleep with her husband. She was sober and wouldn't let him unless he -- well, you know the rest. You were there." I looked a little disturbed and picked up the ticket from the edge of the table. "When the hell did iced tea get so expensive? Gods, I'm getting old."
"You're getting old? What does that make me?" Rai glared at me and I held my hands up in surrender. "How much do I owe you?"
"Eight bucks." I slid the check across the table with a slightly horrified look.
"Eight?" He picked it up and stared at it for a few long moments. "Shit, what happened to the economy while I wasn't looking?"
"I dunno, man. The world goes forward, but we keep coming back. Same shit, different day, and the pancakes aren't the only things getting more expensive." I closed my hand and every knuckle cracked in rapid succession.
Raidou nodded, bitterly and tossed some bills on the table. I left half and picked up the rest along with the ticket, and stood up carefully.
"I think we've got somewhere else to be. The bar rush is going to hit, soon, an I'm too old for this shit, which means you are too." I stuck out my tongue at Rai and he grabbed it and pulled.
"Older than you? Yes. Less boring than you? That too." He let go of my tongue and stood up. I went to go pay the tab. Another day came to an end, and we were still alive. In the end that wasn't what mattered, but it sure as hell helped. And the more things changed, the more they stayed the same -- different people with the same stories, more money for the same pancakes. In the end, nothing ever really changed.