The blood-curdling scream echoed through the mansion like a haunted melody. A dozen footsteps running in from different directions started scurrying towards a common point, this one being the front door of the Uruha mansion. The Uruha squad, was used to hearing such hair-raising bellows as part of their job description and everyday lifestyle. Things as such did not summon them from their engrossing game of Tekken on the Playstation or from watching the newest blood-and-guts release on HBO R-21 special (as seen only on Mori Kouran's cable systems). But this particular one did, as the familiarity of the voice struck them, that of a fellow bloodthirsty killer. They all rushed, dropping the joystick, the buttered popcorn and anyone who might've been sitting on their lap (Mikoto can be seen limping after Mokuren drops her off "in surprise", as he explains later to Miko-chan and her robot^^;;;) to the source of the sound. And there it was...a fallen body, that of a fortysomething, going-for-bald man with a duffel bag on his shoulder and a huge lump on his head. Above him stood a tall, rasta-braided punk (Joker: Oi, be nice with my description! Or feel the wrath of....)...let me repeat that....Above him stood a tall, handsome, eye-droppingly sexy, oozing with sex appeal (Raiha: Liars go to hell you know ^_^...). ^^;;; Anyway...Above him stood the tall, iron-clad assassin wielding the Taishaku Kaiten, a look of pure shock registered on his features, his mouth slightly parting open in awe. In his hand, he clutched a pretty beige envelope with an invitation partly opened.
"How in the world did they find me?" he muttered to no one in particular.
"Oi, Joker-sama, why did you kill the postman?" Aki kneeled to check the swirly-eyed bearer of the bad news. He was still alive, only knocked *severely* unconscious.
Miki was sorting through the fallen, scattered mail. "I wonder if Bandai sent me my Card Captor Sakura trading cards yet?"
Tsukushiro was rummaging along with her, "Yeuuuww...you watch that show? Ugh!" he snorted in disgust. He then jumped up with glee, holding a package. "Oh such joy! My Pokemon set is here!!!!"
"Oiya, are you alright?" Raiha asked his friend who was still in a state of oblivion, waving his katana in front of the arrogant one's face.
"Hello, 911? There's been an accident...no...he's alive...just a little dazed," Neon was already on the phone. "Uruha mansion...yeah another one. The usual. Not my fault this place is so accident-prone!" she slammed the phone down and turned to Kurei's right hand man. "What's wrong with him now?" she went in front of Joker and waved a hand in his face, eliciting no reaction. An idea popped into Neon's head and she proceeded to unbutton the top three buttons of her blouse, stopping just at the point where she saw his eyes move and his nose bleed.
"Hentai!!!!" she whacked him senseless, almost knocking him over Raiha who stood behind him. Joker held his head, now with a lump protruding on it. Neon could be heard laughing at the background as she proceeded to return to the den, commenting on how a little skin made putty out of men.
Seeing there was no immediate threat to life and limb (and being disappointed at that), they all treaded back to their respective places, leaving Raiha holding the bag...er...the man.
"I can't imagine how in the world they were able to find me here..." Joker said to Raiha as the latter handed him an ice bag. They were now sitting on the bar at the Uruha mansion's den. "Track me down...all the way from Osaka...to here..." he shook his head disbelievingly.
"Them who?" Raiha asked. Joker motioned to the invitation on the table which Raiha picked up. It stated:
The ice pack found it's way across Raiha's forehead, and it was his turn to become starry-eyed. "DO NOT CALL ME HIROJI!!!!!" exclaimed the bigger of the two men. "I can't believe they were able to track me down...all that distance..."
"What are you so worried about anyway? Raiha wondered. "It's just a High School Reunion."
"YOU never went to high school." Joker pointed out. "So you don't know what it's like." he looked up in a dreamstate, remembering his days of teenage glory.
"Oooohhh....Hiroji-san!!!!" the girls would swoon eveytime he passed by, with the cool, hairspray-drowning Motley-Crue hairdo, the slick black leather jacket with skintight pants and knock-em-dead Cowboy cum biker boots. He had shades back then, so nobody could see his tantalizing amber-gold-flecked babies. Back then, only the girls he thought who deserved it can take a gander at his hard-to-find ogglers.
"He's my kind of guy." the envious other male students would say. And they would put their shades on in reverence of the cool one.
"You sure that's not just one of your sake-infested delusions?" Raiha joked, as his friend related his old glory days in high school as one of the campus big shots.
"Every other male wanted to be me." Joker spoke dreamily. "I was the most popular guy in school. I wasn't just Hiroji Odekomono. I was *the Hiroji*...the very definition of cool..."
"What scares him is that those bakas who think so highly of him have finally awakened to the truth that he's just another rasta-braided punk with a whole lotta hairspray." Neon interrupted as she passed by to get some cheesecake from the fridge.
Joker eyed her smugly, "Such a wisecrack you are Neon-han. Bet you had braces and coke-bottle glasses when you were in high school."
Neon smirked. "I was Homecoming Queen four years in a row in high school, and Prom queen twice."
"Where'd you go to, an all-boys school?" Joker retaliated.
Raiha squirmed in between before Neon could douse the pastry on Joker's face. "Oiya, don't let such a delicious dessert go to waste." he reasoned, and Neon snorted before returning to the living room. The purple-haired ninja then turned back to his companion. "So what's the problem?"
Joker sighed, "I was a bigshot in High School. But now...I don't feel...let's just say I guess I didn't live up quite to my expectation. And theirs too...perhaps..."
"What do you mean?" Raiha asked. "You're one of the elite Uruha, Jyushinshuu at that. One of Kurei-sama's top men. You earn a six-figure salary, live in a mansion, have a number of luxury cars at your disposal...what more could you ask for?"
Joker shrugged. "Well...I suppose..." he paused to think, and realized Raiha had a point. "The money, the cars, that wouldn't be a problem...but how do I tell everyone that I'm the top assassin for Kurei Mori, son of the philantropist Mori Kouran without having everybody run for their lives? It's not a good impression."
"Oooo..." Raiha nodded. "I should've thought...Joker needs to make a good impression on everybody since he wants everyone to think he's the same king-of-cool Hiroji who used to rule the High School Roster, ne? It's all about image..."
The other Uruha sweatdropped, "It took you a while to get it, didn't you?"
"You never did get straight to the point." Raiha pointed out.
Joker threw the invitation to the trash compactor. "Everybody expected me to be like, you know, a celebrity. John Wayne, or Bruce Willis...or Harrison Ford...that kind." His shoulders slumped. "Not that I don't like what I do...because I do. It's just that...I guess I am not as much of a hotshot as I wanted to be...as everyone expected me to be...I guess..."
"Is this the Joker I know?" Raiha eclaimed in surprise. "Why, if I'm not mistaken, you sound a little...errr....insecure."
"Shut up, smartass." Joker said. "How can you be not insecured? Here I am, hiding behind an iron mask, me...Hiroji Odekomono. Assassin. While everyone else in my class is either an award-winning director, or a shipping tycoon, or a rock star.... I'm...just a shadow..." he propped his face on his elbow. "I can't brag to the whole wide world my status, no matter how incredibly great it is....whatever am I going to tell them?"
"Hiroji-sama! What have you been doing all these years?" his former claasmates in awe are going to ask.
"Well, I wield this hot rockin' ancient Hokage madougu that controls gravity and I am one of the top neck-slashin, merciless, bloodthirsty hitokiris of this 420-year old guy with an iron mask, who shoots blue flames from his hand and who can absorb dead people and make them into a sacred flame."
And they'll be running off like a bunch of scared gazelles.
"Not a very pleasant scenario, is it?" Joker asked. He sighed, "Which is why I am not going. Blast them all."
"But Joker-san, if you don't go, all the more they're going to think you're hiding something." Raiha reasoned. "They'll think, Hiroji must be doing something illegal, immoral or worse....fattening..." he laughed.
"Joker-san!!!!!" Kirin called from the living room, "Phone call."
Joker picked up the extension. "Konnichi-wa."
"Hiroji?" a voice asked from the other line. "It's me, Kaidou! From Osaka Academy."
His biggest rival in high school.
"Oi, Kaidou-han! How are you?" he asked in false joy. Joker loved Kaidou as much as he would Mikoto...not at all.
"Fabulous!" the other man replied. "I own a law firm in Osaka, with 12 of the best lawyers in the land under my wing. Just the other day I bought a brand new yacht. And my supermodel wife just gave birth to my second son. And you?"
He hasn't changed a bit, Joker annoyingly thought. "I'm doing absolutely great, thank you." he said. "Why did you call?"
"Why I just thought I'd invite you over to see my Mercedes collection." he bragged. Joker was already twisting the phone wire on the other line. "Nah, I'm in charge of the Alumni Association. I was wondering if you were coming."
There was silence on the other line. "I'm afraid I can't, Kaidou-han, my friend. My business keeps me pretty busy these days." Let's see, Joker thought...there was this loan shark he had to exterminate, two more thugs Kurei wanted sent floating to Tokyo Bay, and another one from Fukoka he wanted taught a lesson....
"You can't be that busy...." Kaidou said. "I'm sure whatever business you have, you could leave in the hands of your competent assistants?"
"Or don't you have assistants?" Kaidou inquired.
Joker wanted to pull the other man by the collar and show him the extensive little army he was in charge of. "It's not that..."
"Then you must come." Kaidou insisted. "Everybody's dying to know what the *cool Hiroji Odekomono* is doing these days." the sarcasm in the other man's voice was evident.
"Then I will." Joker replied, apparently back to his arrogant self. "And you better be ready when I do."
"I'm looking forward to it." the other man replied just a s smugly. "Bye."
Raiha looked at Joker, and even though he couldn't quite see it, he knew that there was determination in his friend's eyes.
That afternoon, at one of Tokyo's biggest malls, two young men could be seen hopping designer shop after designer shop, trying every bit of formal wear available.
"What do you think of this one?" Joker turned posing like a model.
"Looks fine by me." Raiha sweatdropped. This was the thirteenth outfit Joker had tried on, and the saleslady was geting impatient.
They bought a whopping Armani after the 20th fitting, much to Joker's delight and Raiha's relief.
"Have that one polished for use next week." Joker instructed one of the household helps, pointing to a beautiful black Rolls-Royce.
"You sure Kurei-sama wouldn't mind you using his precious Satori?" Raiha asked, referring to Kurei's beloved car.
"No. He said I could have it as long as I have it cleaned and waxed afterwards." Joker shrugged. He didn't mention he had to plea bargain with Kurei for two hours just to borrow it. That and promise to take Kurei's pit bull Ryuken for his afternoon walk for two weeks in a row.
With everything set, Joker was ready for the reunion as he'll ever be. All was going as planed and scheduled. There was just one more thing to take care of...
"A woman." Joker said, pacing back and forth in Raiha's room. "Every successful man needs a lovely woman in tow to tell everyone know who he is." he paused to ponder. "You needn't have a harem of women hanging all over you...just one who packs in a lot of impact. And besides...they'll probably be all over me when I get there...I just need one...to create a little impression..."
"Let's see..." Raiha thought as he lied in bed. "A woman...you couldn't possibly hire one, I suppose?"
"I'd prefer someone from the Uruha..." Joker said. "So she can ride along with the little facade..."
"There aren't that many females in the Uruha..." Raiha enumerated in his brain. "Miki?"
"She's pretty...but a little immature. I need a woman of the world...."
"No...she'll never want to be too far away from Rasen for too long. And those shades..." Joker shuddered.
"No...she might go around flirting with the musicians...or worse...the waiters..."
"I said a woman, Raiha."
"They'll think she's my little sister.... or I'll be labelled a pedophile."
A flicker appeared in Joker's unseen eyes.
"Absolutely not!" Neon screamed in protest. "I'd rather jump off the Cursed Cliffs than be seen hanging around the likes of you. Ugh." she shuddered and turned away.
"Don't be such a hypocrite, Neon-han." a corner of Joker's mouth lifted. "I know how you really feel. You don't have to hide it." One of his eyebrows lifted. "Cursed Cliffs, eh? You still remember..."
Neon rushed to cover Joker's mouth with her hand before he could disclose anything further in front of Raiha. "That is classified information, if you remember right, Hiroji?" she threatened menacingly.
"What's all this racket about?" Kurei came in from the entertainment room. He was in his kawaii Ninja Scroll pyjamas complete with his armed Jibbei plushie. He stifled a yawn as he took the La-Z-Boy recliner opposite the quarreling parties.
"Joker wants me to pretend to be his mistress during his high school reunion." Neon accused. "Apparently he couldn't get a girl dumb enough to want to be."
Joker walked over to Kurei and whispered something in the latter's ear. A small smile found itself on the Master of The Blue Flame's lips. His gaze shifted to the pretty, red-haired assassin. "Why don't you then?"
Neon's eyes were bulging out of their sockets. "No way. It'll tarnish my image as an intelligent, sensible woman."
"What if I order you to?" Kurei asked.
Her jaw dropped, "Kurei-sama...you...you...you can't be serious...." she shot a stare of pure disdain at the fanged Uruha assassin who was grinning like the Chesire cat.
"And if I am?" Kurei's eyebrows shot up. Neon was absolutely speechless. "You wouldn't want to go against my wishes...would you now, Neon?"
Neon bowed her head, eyes downcast in obedience. "Then I shall carry on your orders, Kurei-sama. Your wish is my command..."
Kurei smiled. "Very good."
Neon stepped on Joker's foot when she passed by him on her way out.
The day of reckoning arrived. Kurei had given Joker the day off and had arranged one of his chauffeurs to drive his two assasins to Osaka. Joker dressed in the expensive black Armani suit he had bought and had his hair done in a Jose Eber branch downtown. He awaited for Neon at the living room, watching an episode of Flame of Recca on the TV as he did.
"Ever wonder if those animators at Studio Pierrot had something against the Uruha?" he said aloud. "They make Raiha into a stiff...and I don't even get three minutes of airtime!"
"If you ask me, they know exactly what they're doing. Cutting off your unnecessary self-appreciative remarks." a tart reply came from behind.
Joker turned around, recognizing the voice, "Neon-han!!!!"
No, that was not a shout of glee. It was more of an expression of appall. For behind the fanged Uruha assassin stood the flute-playing, fiery-haired member of the Jyushinshuu. Her hair in a severe knot on top of her head, donned in a black dress, the neckline extending all the way up her neck, with long sleeves and the hemline all the way down to her calves.
"You...you..." and Joker burst out laughing. "You look like...like Julie Andrews....no...(LOL) you look like Mary Poppins!!!!"
Neon's veins popped. "What do you mean I look like Mary Poppins?"
But Joker could no longer answer, as he was already turning blue with laughter.
Neon stormed out of the living room with her chin up. She came back fifteen minutes later, this time dressed in a glittery midnight blue Donna Karan number. The top had a sweetheart neckline, dipping low and enhancing her assets. It hugged her voluptous figure, with the curves in all the right places. A slit on the side extended mid-thigh. She put on her diamonds and her blue satin pumps. Her hair flowed dramatically in waves on her bare shoulders. She wrapped a matching shawl to complete the look.
"Who looks like Mary Poppins?" she challenged icily.
Joker stopped laughing. An appreciative stare replaced his facial expression. "Shall we?" he offered his left arm.
She walked past him, her nose in the air. "Only when we get to Osaka."
The long hours on the road didn't seem to count. Joker was singing along to old, late 80s to early 90s hits on the CD player in the car despite Neon's vehement protests. To get myself in the mood, he had reasoned out. Neon merely covered her ears and began counting mileposts, hoping that they get to Osaka before her eardrums burst.
The Four Seasons Hotel was one of the most elegant Neon had ever laid eyes upon. Five-star, first class. It would give the Uruha mansion a run for its money. Kurei's chauffeur Fumio set them down at the hotel lobby but not before parading the grand car in front of every guest that passed. Joker was the first to step out, and he handed out a hand to Neon when she did. She linked her arm around his as they made their entrance.
Joker was all smiles as heads turned their way. Obviously every single cent he had spent on the suit was worth it. And every sharp remark his lovely companion threw him was worth bearing it too. To say that Neon was stunning was a severe understatement. She made every other female they passed look like a damsel-in-waiting. She radiated the kind of class and elegance that was born, not bred. He knew he made the right choice of partner. They were greeted by a warm smile from the lady seated in the registration area.
"Hiroji-san...is that you?" she blurted out excitedly.
Joker nodded. "Of course. Who else carries himself with such suave the way I do?" he bragged.
Neon looked heavenwards.
The other woman looked smitten, however. "Oh, you haven't changed much." she said, starry-eyed. She wrote his name on the guest list and handed him a name tag. "And you are..." she asked Neon.
"Neon." the red-haired assassin replied, shaking the other woman's hand. "I'm his date for tonight..."
"You lucky lady!" she giggled. Neon stifled a snort. "You know in high school, a load of us girls would do anything to even get Hiroji's attention for just 2 minutes."
"Really?" Neon smiled, trying hard not to burst out laughing. "How lucky of me, indeed." she eyed her companion warily.
"Well, have fun." the lady bid before attending to another newly-arrived guest.
Neon couldn't help herself and began laughing her head off. "I can't believe they think you're an icon here." she tried suppressing it and hurt her cheeks doing so. "They must've had a school of nerds."
"Shhhh..." Joker hushed. He led his giggling escort to the grand ballroom where a large banner stated "WELCOME BACK CLASS OF 1990." There was a stage where musicians played songs of the high school years and a wide dance floor. Tables were elegantly decorated and made a circle on the ballroom. An usher led Joker and Neon to a table near the stage. There they were joined by another couple, one of Joker's old friends named Daijirou and his pregnant wife. The two men tried to outbrag the other and Neon could do nothing but shake her head in disbelief. Daijirou's wife didn't say much...heck she didn't say anything at all other than the customary greeting when they first sat at the table. Neon merely made a visual assessment of whoever was in attendance, criticizing their hair, their clothes, their husbands...just to keep herself from being bored.
A tall, handsome man made his way to the stage and took the microphone. "Konnichi-wa!" he announced. "I am Kaidou Gozairu and I am your host for tonight. Welcome everyone to the reunion of Class 90 of Osaka Academy!!!!"
The night had officially begun.