Raiha opened one eye sleepily. Bright sunlight flooded in through his bedroom window, while some birds chirped in the tree outside, informing him of the new day. He sat up, but somehow felt dead. Like something was missing. There was an enormous anticlimatic knot in his stomach… what now?
Mori Kouran had been defeated yesterday. It had been a gory scene… Raiha, in his years of service, had grown accustomed to devastation, but yesterday had made even him flinch. He'd finally unleashed the power of Raijin… Joker had been in fine form with his Taishaku Kaiten… Neon had joined them, too, with Jisho's knives, as her Fukyo Waon had been destroyed during the UBS III. Fuuko had done well, now that her Fuujin was complete… that extra training he had given her had paid off. Mikagami and Koganei had made a terrific team; Domon seemed to be at the peak of his strength. It had been dazzling, watching the two half-brothers team up against their common enemy. It had been a long, tense, close fight... but they had won. Their enemy was now dead. Renge… Mikoto… Mokuren… Aoi… Kirin… Rasen… the others who had cast their lot with Mori… were either dead or scattered.
He took his time in dressing. He had dedicated so much of his life to being there for Kurei… being his assassin. It was difficult, thinking that his life as he knew it would end sooner than later. But it was inevitable. The Uruha had been neatly destroyed by the last UBS tournament. The only thing that had kept this day from happening then, was Mori's murderous attack on Kurei. That had sent him and his few loyal followers into hiding. But now the tables were turned. It was the few survivors from Mori's party who were now in hiding… and Raiha didn't have the heart to hunt them down. He was sick of the killing, the bloodshed… and he knew Kurei was, too.
But what else was there?
Was he useless as anything besides an assassin?
The thought was unsettling.
He ran a brush through his long hair and stepped back from the mirror. Perhaps Kurei would have a plan.
"You're releasing us?" Neon's eyes were wide, and there were tears brimming at the bottoms. Joker looked perturbed, too. Raiha disguised his own frown by slowly sipping his apple juice.
"Oi, Kurei-han!" said Joker, scowling and leaning forward. "You can't just get rid of us like that! We've been yours for… forever. It's not like you can just send us to kill a drug lord one day, and hand us a briefcase and tell us to report to the office in suit and tie the next." He waved his cereal spoon in Kurei's impassive face. "We need at least two weeks notice! Not to mention severance pay," he added, an impish smile flickering over his lips.
"You can't just send us away," argued Neon. "We promised to be yours forever."
"Uruha forever," murmured Raiha, spreading the strawberry jelly over his toast.
"This chapter of your lives has closed," said Kurei. "It would have closed some time ago, had not circumstances interfered. It's better to get it over with now, rather than wait. We all still have our lives ahead of us. It's not too late." He paused to take a sip of his juice. "You three have served your time well. You've made me proud." A small smile quivered hesitantly on his lips for a moment. "I shall see to it that you are comfortably ensconced in whatever paths you choose for yourselves."
Raiha hadn't had any doubts about that. Regardless of his other crimes, Kurei always took care of those he cared for. Still… it was a bit disconcerting, being set adrift so suddenly. He could tell Neon was taking this especially hard, though. He knew she had been in love with Kurei for several years now. He had a suspicion that there had been more to the pair's relationship recently… he didn't know for sure, but he suspected.
"You must admit, Kurei-sama," he said, choosing his words carefully, "It's not that we're reluctant to stop the killing... it's just that it's a bit sudden, asking us to turn our lives around so drastically...so suddenly." He gazed at Kurei levelly. "We've become so used to living our lives for you, Kurei-sama, it's a bit harsh, asking us to find a new purpose in life so quickly."
"You're not going to completely distance yourself from us, are you, Kurei-sama?" asked Neon pleadingly.
"It would be best... for you... to put all of this behind you. If I'm around on a frequent basis... it would be... difficult." Kurei looked at Neon; Raiha could catch some sort of message flickering between their eyes. "I can't stop you three from staying together, but it would be best... if you worked on getting normal lives for yourselves." He wrenched his gaze from Neon and looked at Joker and Raiha. "Just think about it," he said, his voice rising slightly. "You'll be able to have normal lives... not exist in the shadows... you'll be able to put this past behind you... establish a new life for yourself. Find someone, marry them, have a family. Do ordinary things... not having to worry about someone recognizing you... not having to worry about getting ambushed..." He shook his head. "Each one of you has wanted that... understandably. It's all anyone wants... to be happy. How can you be happy with me? How can you be happy with this shadow looming over you? I admit it... this is hard for me. But I'm doing it for the best of everyone."
"It makes me happy to serve you, Kurei-sama," began Neon, but Joker cut in.
"Kurei-han, it looks like you've made up your mind." He pushed his cereal bowl to the side. "And we can sit here and argue until we're blue in the face and it's dinnertime... and I know we won't change your mind one bit. So I've got my retirement plan figured out. I'd like to be a corporate head for one of the importing businesses Mori-han left behind--" a cheerful smirk remembering Mori's untimely demise "--and it doesn't matter which. I'd like a salary in the high six-figures, four week's paid vacation a year, and a company car. And a furnished penthouse apartment."
A smile flickered over Kurei's lips again. "You really are arrogant, aren't you?" he asked. "But it shall be as you wish. I shall find something in Tokyo for you."
Joker nodded his satisfaction, settling back into his chair. His gaze rested thoughtfully upon Raiha, and the purple-haired ninja sensed his cue.
"My apologies, Kurei-sama, that I have been unable to serve you for as long as I expected to," he said, bowing his head simply but sincerely. "But Joker-san's plan sounds rather intriguing. I believe one of your... erm, recently-acquired... businesses from the estate includes a television studio. If you please, I would like a job in management there. Perhaps I will not be able to see you again, Kurei-sama, but I would like to be able to serve you indirectly. I am willing to accept whatever the normal terms are, and--" he glanced at Joker, who nodded his head slightly "--I would like to be lodged in Joker-san's apartment."
Neon's eyes widened slightly, and she looked at her two friends, hurt that they had given in so quickly. The decision was the hardest for her. But she was... had been... Jyushinshuu... and she had to endure the unendurable, if it was Kurei's will. "Kurei-sama, it has been my pleasure serving you for as long as I have," she said, her voice soft but unwavering. "I would like a corporate job managing one of your computer outlet stores." She glanced at Joker and Raiha for encouragement before adding, "And if there could be some extra rooms in that place for me, too... that would be nice."
"You can share my room," offered Joker, and Neon scowled.
"As if I'd ever--" began Neon, and Raiha smiled at the familiar reaction. He knew it was Joker's strange way of trying to break the tense atmosphere which was lying densely over the breakfast table.
Kurei stood up. "I'll make the arrangements by the end of the week," he said. Bowing his head very slightly, he turned around and left the room, not looking back.