What Now?

What Now?

Part Six

Bottou-chan

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Joker came stumbling in to the kitchen for breakfast. Raiha held up a bowl. "Want some cereal?" he asked.

Joker shook his head. "No… I need a can of SlimFast," he mourned. "I was on the scales today… and I've gained four pounds in the last six months!"

"Your skinny frame could use it," remarked Neon, delicately sprinkling sugar over Raiha's cornflakes for him.

"I'm no longer the mean, lean killing machine I used to be," sighed Joker, draping himself melodramatically across a kitchen chair. "I'm turning into a potato."

Neon began cutting up strawberries. "You could gain forty pounds, and not look like a potato," she replied enviously. "You've got the height to disguise it."

"And people everywhere will point and whisper 'chubby' at me! Oi, my poor, delicate ego!"

"You can drown your sorrows in cornflakes," suggested Raiha reasonably. "You know, Joker-san, you should be ashamed of yourself. You never hear Neon-san complain about her figure…"

"Neon-han's got a good figure," he replied, looking critically at the redhaired woman, continuing to chop strawberries. "Even you've got a good figure, Raiha-han… always stealing my women like that. First it was my fangirls. Now it's my potential love interests. I think even my secretary's
thinking of transferring over to you."

"Do you know what today is?" asked Raiha, changing the subject abruptly as his gaze fell upon the calendar posted on the refrigerator door.

"Thursday?" hazarded Joker.

"Today is Kurei-sama's birthday," answered Raiha. "Or at least, the anniversary of when Tsukino-sama found him. I don't think even Kurei-sama knows exactly when he was born… the time travel was a bit confusing, you know."

"Should we get him something for his birthday?" asked Joker curiously. "I don't know… like send a singing telegram, or a balloon, or maybe a fruit basket or something like that. Or we could get some magic markers and draw him a card." His fangs glinted in amusement.

"No," said Neon quietly. She shook her head. "It's just another day… let's ignore it. If Kurei-san wanted us to remember him, we wouldn't be in this situation now."

Raiha and Joker both stared at her. Did she actually not call him -sama just then?

"But it wouldn't hurt," persisted Raiha. "Just for old-time's sake, I mean."

Neon shrugged. "Do what you want. Just don't put my name on the card." She washed off the strawberry knife. "If you two want strawberries with your cereal, help yourselves… I'm going to get dressed for work."

"She's recovered," murmured Raiha, a bit surprised, after she left the kitchen.

"It's been six months," reasoned Joker. "Don't you think it's about time?"

"I'm happy for her-but I'm still a bit disappointed it didn't work out," he responded, in just as soft a tone.

Their conversation was interrupted by a startled exclamation from the living room. Joker and Raiha rushed from the kitchen towards the sound of Neon's voice. There, seated comfortably on the living room couch, was Kurei.

"K-Kurei-sama!" exclaimed Raiha. He knew it was useless to ask, "How did you get in?" or "How long have you been sitting there?" He certainly hadn't felt his previous master's presence the last time he was in this room, half an hour ago. Joker hadn't seemed to have noticed him ten minutes
ago. But what mattered was that he was there now. Something had to be dreadfully wrong.

"What's the matter?" asked Neon. "Why'd you come back to us?" Her voice was straining to be respectful, but there was suddenly anger in it, too. Why? After she had worked so hard to forget him…

He was looking at her. Kurei stood up and walked over to her, stopping only inches away from her. Neon stood her ground, though, and refused to either back off or go to him. A faint smile flickered on his lips, and before she knew it, he had taken her face in his hands and had kissed her.

Various feelings rushed through her. Shock. Surprise. Confusion. But… anger was the biggest. She pulled away and slapped him hard across the face.

Raiha and Joker watched, shocked.

"How dare you!" she whispered softly. "What gives you the right to come in here and- after we-but you--- How dare you!"

Kurei rubbed his cheek, still with his faint smile. No woman, except for Kurenai, had ever slapped him like that. He'd never think that Neon would have the guts to do it. He found himself pleased at her reaction.

"Oi, Kurei-han, where's my kiss?" asked Joker, in an attempt to lighten the mood.

"I merely came to check up on you three," replied Kurei. "How's the real world?"

"Ehhh, we're comfortable," shrugged Joker. "But to be honest with ya, I'm bored out of my mind."

"But you have a chance at everything that you never could have had with me," said Kurei, gazing at each of his former subordinates in turn. "A peaceful life… security… people to be with… you could live in the light, and not in the shadows. Are you not content?"

"It's no fun," said Joker plaintively. "I mean, we can put up with it… but it's not particularly my cup of tea."

"Raiha?" asked Kurei, emotionlessly.

His ninja shook his head. "I'm afraid I don't find this life very inspirational either, Kurei-sama," he said apologetically. "I have no problems with continuing it… but it's not what I love best."

"Neon?" He looked at her. She had recovered from her sudden rage, but was still scowling darkly.

"You don't even have to ask me how I feel," she said bitterly. "You know exactly what I think."

"Well, then," said Kurei, seeming to reach a decision. "I believe I have three new positions open you might prefer to try your hand out… would you care to return to me?"

There was absolute silence in the room. "Do I get four weeks' paid vacation a year?" Joker asked smartly.

Kurei gave him a Look.

"I would like that," said Raiha, nodding his approval.

"It would make me happy to work for you again, Kurei-sama," murmured Neon submissively.

"Yes. I'll arrange for your move. You'll have another week in the offices, and then we'll be together again."

Joker and Raiha nodded, still standing around awkwardly. It seemed so… surreal. It was happening so quickly, so unexpectedly. They weren't quite sure what to say. Ask him why? Thank him? Say goodbye, they have to get dressed for work?

"Joker. Raiha." Kurei looked at them coldly.

"Hai?"

"Go away."

Joker and Raiha shared a knowing look before they disappeared back into the kitchen to finish their soggy cereal. Joker made smacking noises as he exited the room.

"Neon…" Kurei's expression seemed to change.

Strange, how he's a different person when we're alone like this… thought Neon, sitting next to him where he indicated.

He held out his hands, and she placed her fingertips lightly on his. "Could you forgive me, Neon?" he asked softly.

Neon's eyes widened. Her Kurei-sama? Asking for someone's forgiveness? She found herself unable to speak, but nodded mutely.

"You've undergone much pain in the last six months… but I think you now know why I did it," he murmured. "I wanted to make sure you three… and you, especially… stayed with me because you wanted to, and not out of habit. There are so many things life can offer you that I cannot… I wanted to give you the opportunity of having those. I wanted to let you three into the Other World… the one that you came from, the one that you looked in at from the outside since you've joined with me. I wanted to give you your freedom… your freedom to see if you were truly happy with me, or if you could find greater happiness elsewhere." He touched her face gently, tracing her features.

"I know what I want," she whispered. "I want to serve you… I want to make you happy…" She caught his hand and kissed the palm gently. "I've always been happiest, when I'm with you… in whatever capacity."

"Everything up until this point has only been an experiment," said Kurei. "It's only been a shadow of reality… and now we come to the way things really are. The past was only a practice… you three are my true Uruha." He bent his head closer to hers.

"Uruha forever," murmured Neon, looping her arms around his neck and losing herself in his kiss.

And Raiha and Joker peeked through the doorway, smiling.