Phoneix From the Ashes
"Oi. Your ninja stealth is seriously lacking something tonight. Something like, I don't know. Stealth, maybe."
The bedside lamp on the table flicked on abruptly. Raiha didn't bother to move from the spot where he stood. He knew he hadn't made a sound returning. Obviously, Joker had been waiting for his return.
"Didn't think you'd mind," said Raiha, handing over the tiny madougu, but not looking directly at his friend.
Joker held it up to the light to reassure himself it hadn't suffered any additional wear and tear, before pocketing it.
"Didn't think you were so weak," answered Joker, pulling the bill of his cap slightly lower over his eyes.
"Didn't think I was either." He paused. "At least nothing happened."
A flash of a fanged grin. "She turned you down, huh?"
Raiha gave a cheerless smile. "I didn't get so far as to make a fool of myself, thank goodness. She had company… and I managed to get some sense talked into myself while I was waiting."
"Better than Neon whacking some sense into you when she found out."
"Mm. I'd rather have Neon tell me what's what, rather than disappoint Kurei."
"Figured as much."
Raiha sighed. "When it all comes down to it, I think I'm just as weak as my ancestors. I need to keep working harder."
"Pffft. Ancestors this, ancestors that. You need to stop hiding behind your ancestors and think for yourself for once."
Raiha didn't bother to dignify that with a reply. Joker had spent his life doing exactly as he pleased; he didn't have the right to be so flip over his standards. The purple-haired ninja ignored him and moved towards the door, but a long arm reached out and blocked the exit. His eyebrows flickered in annoyance.
"Are you trying to be a pain?" Raiha asked testily. His nerves were frayed; his emotions were raw; and he had no patience to spare for playground-bully antics.
Joker slouched in the doorway, leaning against the frame. "You need to stop hiding and stop trying to run away." His voice was careless, but challenging.
There was no playfulness in Raiha's narrowed eyes. He reached out and clamped a hand on Joker's wrist, with just enough pressure to be warning, but not quite enough to trigger a fight. "And who are we calling a coward?" he asked, his voice soft.
"The only debt that exists is in your head," said Joker scornfully. "I'm sure you've paid it back and more, compensating for the cowardice of your ancestors. It's about time you stopped saying, 'I'm doing this to make up for my ancestors', or, 'I'm just as bad as my ancestors because I did that', and started doing things because they were what you want. Because if you're not doing something because you want to do it--- because you feel obligated--- you're eventually going to waver when the two conflict. And we don't need unreliable people."
Raiha's grip didn't lighten, but the immediate danger seemed to have passed from his eyes.
"Kurei left. He obviously didn't intend for us to meet up again, or he would have made better arrangements. Your blood-obligation to him is over. You get the chance to start over. Do you want to stick with Kurei because it's what you want to do? Or do you want to stick around here and see what happens in a normal life?"
Raiha released his grasp on Joker's wrist and folded his arms. "I follow Kurei, wherever he needs me."
"Then pull yourself together and act like it. We don't have a tea party planned, y'know. Anyone who's halfhearted about being there is just going to be in the way."
Another eyebrow twitch. He wouldn't dare leave me behind, he thought. "It was a moment of weakness. It won't happen again." It felt wretched being submissive to anyone but Kurei, but he knew that his offense would have been punishable by death before the destruction of the Uruha. Now, there was no Uruha… there was nothing to bind the remnants together but their common will. If anyone else had caught him in his moment of weakness, he wondered if they would have let it go with mere words.
Joker eyed him from beneath the shadows of his cap. "Don't get confused about who your friends are, and who your enemies are," he said, his voice uncharacteristically gruff. "You'll get hurt. And—" he turned to allow both of them to leave the room "—I don't want to see that happen."
Neon was coming up the stairs as they emerged onto the landing.
"I was wondering where you two had gone off to! It was abnormally peaceful downstairs!" she said cheerfully.
"I was showing Raiha my scar. Wanna see?" asked Joker, his voice as playful as though nothing had ever happened. He pulled his shirt up so she could see his memento from his fight with Kadotsu.
Neon turned away in revulsion. "That's disgusting."
Joker grinned mischievously. "It wasn't that great-looking before it healed up, y'know." He paused, as though concentrating on a very distant sound, and then appeared to perk up. "What timing! Seems like the Dimension has a visitor… two of 'em. Better get on the phone and tell Miki and Aki to come along. And the Nincompoops should be expecting a ring as well."
"You sure you really want those guys?" asked Raiha, arching an eyebrow.
"Well, everyone needs some good minions," said Joker cheerily. "They're not half-bad for minor stuff. It's not like we need them to think. We need them to do what they're told."
"True, true," admitted Raiha. "Still, it sounds like we have a parade lined up." Too bad there's one person missing from the parade, he thought. If only I'd known sooner… if only I'd had more time to myself…I would have liked to have had one last adventure with her. Just us.
But it was silly. She needed to be her own person first, and she couldn't have that chance if he was always running into her at unexpected moments, the voice of reason reminded him calmly.
True… but it's sad that I need to go to another Dimension to keep out of her life for a while.
Joker glanced at Raiha, as though he greatly suspected what was going on in his friend's mind. He reached into his pocket to pull out the Jigan Kaigyoku. "Come on. I'll give you guys a free ticket to a happy reunion. Everyone's supposed to meet at the Sphere… you'll know it when you see it. You shouldn't have any problems, once you get used to the place; I'm sure it was a lot better concealed before Magensha let the place get messed up. I'm sure they left breadcrumbs or something to help you find them. Anyhow, I don't want any tears of joy—from either of you—in front of the Nincompoops, you know. Get the mushy happy stuff taken care of before we catch up, okay?"
* * *
When Fuuko bounced into school the next day, it was she who was carrying the newspaper.
"Hey, you guys! There's an article in here!" she said, flattening the newspaper so that Recca, Yanagi, and Domon could see it.
"Yes, there usually are articles—" said Yanagi faintly.
"You know what I mean. Anyhow, remember that amusement park we went to ages ago? They've got a new roller coaster. I was wondering if you guys want to go?"
Yanagi smiled. "I'm not usually good with roller coasters, but I'll try it once!"
"It would be a great date!" agreed Recca.
"A great double-date," corrected Fuuko. The confidence she had worked so hard to gather was giving way to sudden shyness, but at least she had come out and said the words.
Domon gave her a long, careful look.
"Yeah," he said. "A great double-date."
Thanks for the comments. ^_^ I know there's always tons of room for improvement, but it's great to have people who will take the time to critique it and offer their input. ^_^ The things that stand out to me aren't always what stands out to others... and what others see, sometimes I totally overlook. It's the trouble with being too close to a story. ^_^;; But let's see...
1. I'm not exactly enthused to see *yet another* Fuuko romance, but I know that you'll bring something new to the table. I'm sorry, that sounded pretty negative.
--- Hopefully, it brought something new in the end. ^_~ I love Fuuko/Raiha to pieces, but I love them because it's such a doomed relationship. Raiha just has too much of a dark past, and Fuuko, despite her roughness, is just too purehearted in the end. I don't particularly mind Domon/Fuuko, though he rarely gets much respect, but I also think that Domon/Fuuko probably won't work out, but for different reasons. Domon isn't Fuuko's intellectual match, though he is very dedicated to her. However, with a few years of working at the shop, perhaps he'll mature to a point where he can be appreciated as himself. Likewise, it's impossible to have an equal relationship when one person has all the power, and the other has all the vulnerability. Domon has to be able to be clearheaded enough about his love to Fuuko to let her know he won't let her take advantage of his feelings forever. She doesn't have to love him if she doesn't want to, but she at least has to respect him, or else their friendship is meaningless. I think that it was high time Domon stood up for himself. He may be an oni in a fight, but he's pretty helpless when it comes to matters of the heart. ^_~
2. Wait...how exactly would Raiha know about the supposed 'black hole' incident with Joker anyway? From what I inferred from that chapter, the only Uruha to have instinctively felt that Joker disappeared was Kurei. Should I assume that Raiha and Neon found out from Kirito, who was the only person who witnessed it?
--- Yeah, I was thinking of Kirito. It's rather the sort of thing that would get out. ^_~ Another way would be with the surveillance equipment in SODOM...
3. Personally, I thought that the transition from Joker's arrival to the reference to the prequel onsen story to 'several months later' was a bit weird. I guess I'm too used to obvious scene changes...
--- Yeah, it was awkward, I agree. ^_^ I have difficulty jumping from flashback/recap to Current Plot Mode. ^_^ *smooth smooth smooth*
And I agree it was a stupid way to kick Joker out of the show. In my opinion, he should have stayed!
---Has anyone been following Anzai's newest work, MAR? It's been suggested that Nanashi is, in fact, Joker, minus his memories. There's a lot of clues being scattered around to tempt us... hazy half-forgotten memories of Raiha triggered by lightning-use, similar speech patterns (have any of you tried to transliterate Joker's speech? It's agony, I tell you!), similarities in wardrobe and accessories... or maybe it's just a bunch of red herrings used to toy with our emotions, and Anzai and his team just like the general character design. ^_~ You can compare the two characters at:
What sort of irked me was how Raiha and Neon so easily accepted the fact that he did not die. I mean they are the uruha people, wouldn't they be more cautious?
---Technically very true, especially since in canon, it was discovered (long after ficwriters had run off and done their own things to the characters), the Jyushinshuu rarely came together at all. For example, Neon and Raiha were totally unaware of Joker's existence until his fight with Koganei. I tried to make things a little bit skeptical, but should have put more work into it. ^_^ But it would have been a fine line between enough skepticism and too much skepticism... especially since the disbandment of the Uruha, the only reason Neon and Raiha are still together is because they choose to stick around. They no longer have Kurei to unite them. Having Joker magically appear from the dead is kind of like having a cat find its way home, that you'd given up on never seeing again. ^_^
I don't understand why Raiha would break up with Fuuko if all they were going to do was drag Koganei and Kurei back to the present.
--- As long as Kurei is in Raiha's life, I don't think he has room for anyone else, just like as long as Mikagami had revenge in his heart, he didn't really have any room for love, either. It would have been very anticlimactic to have brought Kurei and Koganei back to the present, though it could have easily been done... but it would have felt like very much of a let-down. So, hopefully--- the idea of other worlds, and other worlds with madougu, all accessible only through the Dimension... I rather like that idea, because it gives them a new goal to work towards, a new adventure to embark upon. ^_^ Not necessarily conquering the new world, but carving out a respectable piece for themselves, especially since Japan is too tame for them now. Rather like Nanashi and his Thieves' Guild in MAR... ^_~ It's just a comfy thought, giving the idea that it hasn't ended, but the scenery's just changed.
And since it's probably going to come up...
--- Yeah, there was a bit of random "personality moments" scattered around, h'm? -_- (Fuuko's confusion, Domon's ultimatum, Raiha's wavering, Joker's dressing-down...) Hopefully it can all be taken in stride more as different facets of a three-dimensional character's personality, as opposed to OOC'ness in a flat, 2-D personality. I hope it didn't jar too badly. ^_^;;
--- Thanks to everyone for taking the time to read and review, and for your kind words of critique and support!