Author's Note: Darn. I can hardly believe this is the last chapter of Neko-Chan

I sat in front of my laptop last night for about 20 minutes, just staring at the last page. The last words. I kept saying, "It's over". It's unbelieveable, isn't it?

What I think is more unelieveable is the outpouring of fans this story has gotten. 109 reviews, all full of praise for my work. That's just.. wow. I just want to say thank you to everyone who has reviewed, Story Alerted, Favorited, and even read Neko-ChanYou've kept this story alive, and now it's gonna go down in a blaze of glory, because of your words and reviews. You made this story what it is by boosting my ego and staying with me through the ruts and plot twists, the cliffhangers and blocks. I sometimes thought about just scrapping this, or even abandoning it, but you all kept me to it, made me work to make it so that my readers could love and understand it. You made the difference with Neko-Chan. Even when the first chapters were screwed up, you stayed on it until things got good. That, my readers, is what I call... I don't even know what to call it. But, thank you. One and all. Especially to the readers who haven't had a chapter dedicated to them, like The Funky Platypus, Mynce, Bunny The Assassin, and so many more that I can't recall. But, they know who they are, even if I have short-term memory loss. Thank you so much, everyone.

I fear I can only express my gratitude by creating a sequel.

The generous suggestions for the sequel's title were all carefully considered, chewed, spit out, dragged through the mud by my dogs, and had sleep lost over them, but I'm gonna have to go with the original name I had, even when the sequel was only going to be a 20 facts.

On The Way Down, the multiple chapter sequel to Neko-Chan, will be ready for public viewing in a few days. The first chapter is written, and Neko-Chan taught the importance of having a chapter ready before you post one. In truth, I've learned a lot from Neko-Chan, and I hope On The Way Down will bring you as much joy as Rian, Lee, and Neko-Chan already have.

This chapter is dedicated to all of my reviewers, and silent readers. Of all the people who got joy from this story, being the person to give it to you gave me the most joy.

Despite the pictured grandeur the Nekomata had lusted for, Konoha retained minimal damage to it's buildings or people.

Only four casualties were accounted from the camisado of the Nibi, two from the skeleton army, and two from using every hair of chakra within them to heal the Godaime and the fallen form of Rian, once they had been able to reach them.

Tsunade had survived, the scrap of chakra she had remaining holding her over until the medics had reached her and performed a life saving chakra transfer to restore the woman's level to a functioning maximum.

She had been released from her own Hospital the very next day, a little crankier and a little more disapproving of her job, but grateful to be living and full of complaints about hospital food.

She had, however, realized her inadequacy to fill the job she was given, and had promptly swaggered to the Hokage Tower and, over much complaining and reasoning, resigned from the office she had held.

Konoha did not remain Kageless for long, though, for the very next day, Rokudaime Hokage Hatake Kakashi was inaugurated to the title before the entire Village, who had crowded before the Tower to witness the son of the White Fang Of Konoha become their much-respected, and much-appreciated , Kage.

Tsunade's likeness began being formed onto the face of Konoha's Mount Rushmore a few days after the service, accompanied by a masked expression framed by spikes of hair being carved into stone beside it. Kakashi refused to remove his mask, even when it was hidden by the long curtain of the Hokage sunhat, so it was natural that his face should appear in stone with it on, to be seen for generations after.

Gai was healing quite well in the hospital, being snuck contraband canisters of his favorite flavor of ramen by "Kage's orders.". It seemed Kakashi had enough heart to care for his 'Eternal Rival', who pointed to the robed man on one visit and demanded a test of his Shinobi skills once Gai was back on his feet.

Konoha had become a pleasant, cheery, sun-filled Village of prosperity again, the sun crazy with promise as it shone down on the people who seemed content to be alive and thriving once more.

Children ran through the streets, playing and screaming. Senseis taught their students in the fields bordering Konohagakure, and missions continued undaunted by the false alarm that had frightened them, if nothing more.

The only change for the worst was their attitude.

The Kyuubi's attack, which had destroyed nearly the entire village thirteen years ago, had left some malingering effects, even if people wouldn't admit it.

Barely masked by cheer-filled smiles and getting back to life after that attack, the obvious distaste for Naruto had festered, and to this day not many would even glance at the Uzumaki child with anything but hate in their expressions.

But, time did many jobs that nothing else could do on their own. It made people grow older and wiser. It wiped away understanding as easily as it wiped away tears. Time, the destroyer of all emotions, had built a layer of forgetfulness over most people's remembrance of the Nine Tail's attack, and the terrifying damage it had created. People had grown numb to what had occurred, and had been facing a bright future with the dislike for the animal drifting unsuspectingly into the backs of the minds to be replaced with more important matters.

Until Nibi had attacked.

As a bandage torn from burned skin, the forgotten fear of the Tailed Beasts had returned full swing. People suddenly remembered the terror they had felt, the people they had lost, and the new hate coupled with their old fears to create a monster even more horrifying than any Biju could be.

People had only felt mildly threatened by the Jinchuuriki known as Naruto. But with old fears remembered, Rian had taken his place in their distress.

It wasn't a matter of which creature had caused more destruction. The Nekomata had simply opened healed scars, and Rian was now the object of which all Konohagakure could vent their terror.

What people don't understand, they fear. And when people are afraid, like animals, they lash out.

And that was why Rian woke with dread on her first day as a Jinchuuriki.

She had pulled herself from bed, and for once in years discarded all of her clothes to take a shower.

Neko-Chan had made her feel disgusted of her human body, and she had never wished to look at it more than she absolutely needed to. She had always cleaned herself in her clothes.

But today, she stood bare, scalding water cascading over her skin, her eyes locked to the tattoo marring just below her navel.

She intently studied the paw mark below her navel, but could not bring herself to trace the circular cloud marks that circled the seal.

She stood in unshown wonder of her body, as though she had never seen it before.

She barely believed her thin legs, and the jutting ribs at her side that she could trace, fingering the deep trenches between the bones. Her arms were sinewy with muscle, as were many ninja's, but they were so thin- Rian wondered at how they didn't snap like brittle twigs with the repetitive flexes she did, watching the tendon that connected her fingers go tight beneath the skin of her hand.

Her eyes followed up her stomach, past the ugly tattoo and the purpled scar of her impalation. She gazed directly down, chin to her collarbone, and wondered what her chest would look like with the swell of breasts that every girl she had ever seen seemed to possess. She almost wished she had them. Anything to fit in, for she was an outcast, now. She would have traded anything to look like the normal kunoichi that seemed to hang off of Uchiha Sasuke, just to be counted by the village as the normal teenage girl she was, instead of the hideous, ugly container of a monster that she was.

When she could stand it no more, she had pulled her clothes on and strode from the shower, soaking wet and dripping on the bathroom floor where she had once hurled one of her feminine organs, before wrapping her uterus in a single garbage bag and tossing it into the trash as though it were no more than a used napkin or tissue.

She hadn't had the heart to even give the mirror a look, before she closed the front door behind her and walked down the hall of the apartment building she lived in to jeers and catcalls.

She knew she was ugly, and she felt it with every fiber of her being.

She didn't know where to go. Unloved, she had walked down the Market street, only to be chased from the road by people hurling fruit and sharp bits of debris after her as she fled the rain of objects. People dangled from windows, just to get a chance to hurl a flowerpot, in hopes that it would strike the Nibi and harm him some of the damage Kyuubi had done.

People were afraid, and Rian was the target of their blind rage.

Wiping her eyes of the tears that wanted to come, Rian tucked her hands into her pants and continued striding down the boulevard of broken dreams, listening to people scream obscenities at her back.

The path she strolled down, eyes to the ground and hands tucked in her pant pockets, led to the front gates of the Village. But, Rian knew she wasn't welcome even outside the gates.

Rian had no village now. She had no one to love, and she had no one to call friend.

Her only friend was sealed, deep within her.

And the other hated her.

Rian had known that Lee had survived Neko-Chan's attack when he had first used her body as a puppet. Even when Neko-Chan had slit his throat, stabbed what flesh peaked through, strangled him, and turned to deliver a fireball to his mangled body, the teen had survived.

Rian had been told by a nurse the day the new Jinchuuriki had been discharged from the night she spent in the Hospital "for observation" that the boy who the Neko had attacked first was healed and being discharged even as they spoke. Rian had hardly escaped from her room before Lee appeared at her room's door, a bouquet of carnations Gai had gotten for him clutched in one bandaged hand. A gesture of friendship, perhaps, but it had gone unnoticed. Rian had strode out the door to the front of the hospital just as he rounded the corner to the wing she had been situated on.

For all she knew, a boy named Rock Lee hated her as much as the Villagers did.

Even if she still loved him.

In Neko-Chan's immature way of thinking, Rian followed the advice that the cat had given her for years: Let it go. She repressed how much she wanted Lee, reminding herself that her teammate probably hated her, and it would be in everyone's best interest for her to leave him alone. She would never even speak to him again.

The shredded remains of what Rian identified as her humanity objected to that.

Rian's feelings were swirling like smoke, to be truthful. She wasn't sure whether to be sad at the loss of Lee, or to have expected it. She didn't even flatter herself by supposing her teammate to still feel anything for her, or even give her the time of day. She was a monster, now. The tainted container of an evil creature.

Nobody loved a monster.

Gai no longer cared for her. He had called off training without informing her. She knew. She had walked past her team's training ground in the small tendril of hope that maybe Gai would welcome her back under his wing with open arms. The long shot, as expected, came up short.

Perhaps he was giving her a few days to adjust to her new girth, but his cancelling of his team's daily training was interpreted as hostile preconception by Rian.

If Gai couldn't love her, than nobody could.

All her system boards for hoping shutting down, Rian had wandered unwanted and unloved, unrecognized even with scarlet letters painted all on her.

She was just Konoha's skeleton in the closet.

Rian was a reminder of what the village wanted to forget. Kyuubi, the Nibi, she was no more than a bundle of fear and hate. The object of a frightened village. A punching bag for a terror-stricken population.

And there was the rest of her life to live it.

Wading in shock, Rian waited for realization to slam her as she walked circles around the village, following the paths Gai had worn holes in on his tireless laps years ago.

Rian had followed the rut in the dirt path, hoping it would lead her to a stark conclusion as she regretted becoming the Jinchuuriki of the Nekomata.

She was hated, friendless, disheartened, ugly, and unloved.

And betrayed.

Rian spotted his chakra signature a mile away, and yet she was still surprised when she froze in the middle of the path, and looked up at a familiar, eyebrow-endowed face.

Lee's expression was that of concern, his lips pinched with nervousness at the sighting of his teammate as she gazed up with crystalline olive eyes. Her hiate ate lay on her bedside table at home, her bangs let to a breeze that sashayed by as onyx collided with green.

Rian suddenly leapt back, looking away guiltily and reaching to hold her left arm in her right hand. She scolded herself for even meeting eyes with her team member. He was above her now, after all.

"Good morning, Lee-San." she whispered, her voice nearly pulled away by the wind. Eyes averted, she regretted even addressing him. He would surely strike or reprimand her, or even worse. Ignore her.

A few sharp words would be better than none at all.

Saying nothing would display his indifference to her very existence. His wrath would be preferable to not being acknowledged.

"Going to see Sakura-San?" she added, even quieter than her original, shy sentence. Face tilted downward in respect, Rian simply stared at the worn path beneath their feet, waiting for Lee's reaction.

She heard a shiver escape from Lee's mouth, and felt his body shudder as he stood before her. She could only imagine his chest trembling as she lay against it. But, the world where Lee held her as if she would fall apart in his arms, and kissed her as though she were made of glass only existed in her dreams, now. In the world that reeked of fantasy known as her memories was where the shuddering feeling of his body against hers existed. And she would never lose herself in a passionate meeting of lips in the world she existed in.

Lee hated her. She was convinced, even before he parted his lips.

His mouth opened slightly, enough for words to escape, or for a tongue to slip through, A breath was sucked into his lungs, and Rian wished his mouth would form throaty lullabies of love. She had nothing left, so why should she not dip her fingers into the realm of those forbidden, yearning desires? Why should she not make herself a fool before the boy she loved? Oh, the coppery tang of forbidden emotions.

Rian felt sugar sweet words forming on her tongue, but she could not bring herself to voice them. It seemed as if Lee was going to say something, anyway-

"Why would I do that?"

Lee shattered Rian's heart into pieces. She had to explain it, too? Of all the physical and emotional tortures Neko-Chan had put her through, none could compare to Lee's desire for her to even speak those words out loud.

But, as he demanded, Rian obeyed like a beaten animal, clenching her eyes shut as the bridled words were guided from her mouth.

"Because, you love her, and she's beautiful, and not a monster?"

The words that had been plaguing her unhackneyed, Rian clenched her eyes tighter, waiting for him to admonish her and walk out of her life forever.

The pain of his leaving increased every second he continued to refrain from speaking. She just wished he would speak, say aloud how he despised her, and leave her in her shame of being a monster.

Unfortunately, Lee's next words proceeded to draw out the long, suspenseful wait, increasing the weight weighing on her shoulders as she stood.

"I see all those things right here."

Rian looked up in amazement, confused by the words from the taut half-smile across Lee's face.

A gust of wind sent leaves swirling gently in the background behind them, adding a touch of dramatic emotion into the scene the two were creating. Neither of them noticed, though. Too busy were they gazing into each other's faces.

As though he had practiced the words slipping from his lips a thousand times, Lee offered his palms in question, wondering why Rian was acting so strange.

Staring at her, he saw only the same Rian that had given him the headband tied around his waist, the same Rian who had held him when he had woken from his injury-induced stupor after his fight with Gaara, and the same Rian who had given herself for the safety of her Village.

He saw the large, olive-colored eyes that had seen his inmost being, the bird-thin waist he had wrapped in his arms, and saw the chocolate flavored lips that he wanted so badly to taste again.

He saw the Rian that he loved more than everything he knew.

"I see a beautiful, non-monster that I love right here."

Breath hitched in Rian's throat. Could he really be using these terms to describe her? A bubble of hope formed in her, before being popped almost immediately.

Even if he was using those terms about her, they weren't true.

She was a monster, and he was too good for her.

That was the story of Rian and Lee.

Lee saw her eyes drift away, and he trembled with the lust to simply grab her and hold her to him.

It nearly made her cry, but Rian hunched her shoulders in disagreement, and denied them both the human right to love.

"You don't love me."

Rian knew if she glanced up at Lee, her resistance would crumble. But, it was true. There was a huge, personal reason that Lee could never love her. It was the same with Neko-Chan.

Clenching her fists behind her back, Rian felt herself about to explode from the bottled emotion waiting to be expelled. Why, Oh, why couldn't Lee simply see the light-

"You're right, Rian. I don't love you much, do I?"

Rian turned to look at his face, horror painting her wide eyes and open mouth. She hadn't known the words would be so, so blunt.

Lee had tilted his head back languidly to look up at the sky above them. He opened his mouth again, and the perfect words slipped from between his lips once more.

"Just more than all the stars in the sky."

Rian stared at him as if he were insane as he continued to look up, his bruised and scratched neck bared to her as he looked upward, into space.

Lee suddenly tilted his head back to stare at her, a peace filled smile making even his eyes grin.

"See how it sparkles in my eyes?" he asked. Rian didn't dare hope that it was love that glimmered in the blackness of his large, smiling orbs.

"I couldn't hide it if I tried." he continued, watching for her reaction to the words he had never thought himself capable of speaking.

"No, Rian. I don't love you much, do I?"

Rian took in a sharp breath, before childishly looking away, attempting to catch her breath. The words. Such words, he said. Oh, could Lee mean those-

"Lee, you don't love me. There's a reason that you can't." she stated before she could think about his words any more.

Lee's raised eyebrows prompted her to explain this reasoning further.

Rian dared not look at him, as she continued to try and frame the words he had nearly shattered her defense with to keep with her.

"Lee-" she stated, turning to him boldly.

Her eyes desperately pleading, Rian begged him to simply hear the truth, before he tore her apart. Those sugary words, the silvery lies, made her want to absolutely melt with bliss, but the more he said, the more it hurt her to acknowledge the truth.

Her eyes flew to the bruises that Neko-Chan had marred onto his neck and the twin scars from her teeth barely poking through where his loose shirt had slid down to reveal where she had bitten him awake in their first Chuunin exam as a team.

She had hurt him so much- He couldn't love her. It was just not possible. And, besides-

"Neko-Chan hurt me. I used to love him so much, Lee. He was my best friend. But than, he hurt me. He betrayed me, and hurt me so much. And now, I hate him."

She lowered her eyelids, before her hand gently combed where the purple bruises had formed from the harsh pressure of her fingers only a mere day ago.

"And Lee, I hurt you, so much." continued Rian, as she unconsciously fondled his neck with the tips of her fingers, making Lee shudder again under the haunting touch that pervaded his dreams at night.

"You, could never love someone who hurt you so much." she claimed, wanting to deny it so badly it hurt.

It was true. Lee could never love her. She hated Neko-Chan for hurting her, and Lee had to hate her for hurting him. It was simple. Instinct behavior.

And one thing Neko-Chan had taught her was, listen to your instincts.

Suddenly, Rian's wrist was caught in a vice so strong that she thought the bone in her wrist would break.

Horrified, she gazed up at Lee.

What met her eyes made her gasp.

Lee tightened the grip on her wrist as Rian looked into his eyes. They were hollow and lost, filled with a single need, a want, a desire so consuming that Rian could see it in in the flat ebony that was staring deadly at her, into her, through her. Into her inmost scars, at her deepest feelings.

He couldn't express in words the emotion he was feeling. Was there any possible thing he could do to cure this? What could he do to tell Rian how much he loved her? To explain to her how much he wanted her simple attentions, just for her to acknowledge his emotion for her, the feelings that had bloomed between them.

How could he even express in words how much he loved her?

His voice crackled, crunching like rocks, as he broke their tedious teeter totter of feelings that they wouldn't or couldn't make known to the other.

"But, I do."

Rian pulled back the slightest bit, but Lee wouldn't even allow it. He yanked her forward five times as close as she had pulled away. He was sliding into madness. She head, had to listen! He had to say it! He would! He would say it, or he would just blow up.

"But, I do!" he rasped, his tone desperate.

And right in front of the girl he loved, Rock Lee started to cry.

Tears pooled, flooding the reservoir when he blinked, making a trail of saccharine madness flow in a waterfall down his face, one tear joined by a second, and than a third, and so many more that he lost count.

Sobs constricting his throat, Lee sniffled and choked as he held Rian's wrist sandwiched between his fingers, drawing the composure to keep himself from looking like a doofus in front of the object of his affection.

Rian looked at him as she always proceeded to. Was that concern that marred her fine expression? Was that a speck of nothing but sweet perfection in her eyes? Lee wasn't sure what to think. Where was his heart and his mind? Who was this girl who had stolen them both away?

Almost crying herself, Rian was unprepared when Lee spoke the sweetest words she had ever heard, tears trembling on his eyelashes as his words came as mere whispers, only audible to them in their special moment, together on a dirt road somewhere on the outskirts of the greatest ninja village in the world.

"But, Rian, I do. So much."

Her body trembling with a razor intake, Rian had tried to see through his eyes what he could possibly mean. Hadn't they gone over these endearing sentiments how-many-times already? How many rose-petal words and filigree emotions did they have to come within millimeters of destroying? Why were they torturing themselves by not speaking? By throwing each other cow eyed glances, what were they accomplishing?

Why were they so crazy in love, that they couldn't just speak the words that needed to be said?

"Why?" Rian asked. Surely Lee could love her, but could he love the creature inside her.

We are all fools in love.

A summery moment of silence stretched between them, just as the first moment of stepping off of a building, where you seem to levitate for a few moments, floating above the world as it continues it's choreographed sashay to the beat of it's drum-

Just before gravity jerks down.

Rian's gravity came in the form of being pulled to a chest that she knew and being held in the arms she belonged in. She stumbled against him, her hands bracing against his collarbone until the anchor of the spinning world was enough to keep her up, leaning against his solid body.

Losing herself for the slightest time, Rian thought that maybe she could slip away in his grasp. Maybe they could both escape to a world where Nibi's and inabilties to use chakra did not have an effect. Just a world where they were a normal boy and girl, and not even Shinobi. Two simple kids, in a world where peace reined, and people lived in silent respect of one another. There would be no beasts that required to be sealed, no training fields littered with Lee's bandages as they became saturated with blood, no lofty glances from Neji, and no one to throw garbage at Rian because she had saved her Village by destroying a monster that had threatened them all.

Only Lee, and the comforting circle of his arms. Salty kisses, and arms around her back that protected her from whatever danger that threatened her from behind.

Such a world would suit Rian just fine.

She didn't need to remind herself it didn't exist.

But, she couldn't really think of the world she wanted any more. She couldn't really think of much, right than, for two sable eyes commanded her every thought. Her eyes seemed glued to his face, her gaze paralyzed to him by the sheer power of the energy more prevalent than chakra, more flaming than the aura of determination that surrounded him, and stronger than that bonfire of hope carried inside of him.

The raw power of the love in his eyes.

"Rian." his parted lips beseeched, coating the words in a toxin that petrified her from even taking a breath, lest it shatter the fragile spring moment into an irreplaceable mound of glass.

"I love you, because you're everything I've ever needed. You care about me genuinely. Nobody has ever cared about me as much as you do. And, and you're strong, and brave, and you never back down in the face of danger- You're a great Shinobi, you admire my beliefs, you don't act like I'm invisible or embarrassing to even be around- Sakura hates me, Rian! She thinks I'm this annoying- And, you, you're not like that at all. You, you showed how much you cared about me. I don't care if it takes me years to prove how much I care about you. I will do it. I'll protect you with my life, and something more!"

His sentences firing like machine guns behind her eyes, Rian couldn't stop the opaque droplets forming on her eyelashes. Such, could Lee really mean those words? Did he love her that much- Was anybody capable of loving her, a monster that much-

Her thoughts became scattered as his hand ghosted up her right cheek, two fingers softly drifting toward the unkempt strands of loose whisps that had escaped being tucked behind her ears. Phantom pains began to climax as she felt Lee comb the mussed, curling tress behind her ear. He was calming his own nervousness.

His next words quieted what fears she might have.

"And you are not a monster. You went beyond the call of ninja duty with what you did. You saved the entire village, something few Shinobi will ever have the ability to lay claim to. You aren't a monster, for containing this animal. You're a hero for being brave enough to step to this level to do your duty. I'm heartily ashamed that my own village could be so blind and treat you the way they do. But, they will see, Rian. It may be years, but they will acknowledge you as the wonderful Shinobi that you are. Until than, though-"

Rian lost all rational thought at that point. His touch alone was enough to evoke the underbelly of instinct, to close her away from whatever was not connected to bandaged fingers and eyes the color of the dark side of the moon.

"- I will never leave your side. I will be there to protect you, and give you my heart every day. These words are my new nindo, and I will never go back on them. … Because, I love you more than life."

She didn't understand a lot about this new feeling called love, but she was more than ready to slog through the swamp of conflicting emotions, as long as Lee was at her side.

Rian gave herself, and she had just one rational thought from that second on.

"I love you, Lee." she whimpered, before throwing her arms around his neck and hiding herself away within the gentle sweep of his collarbone.

Lee tensed for an instant, before his body relaxed, and the only thing he could do was to hold Rian and try not to yell with utter joy.

She loved him. Weeks of doubt, suffering, pain, and caring had all come down to the words he had waited for Rian to say since he had first realized how she had become his best friend, and something more.

"So much." she whispered, trying to make up for the times she had resisted her feelings in one embrace. She would never let go if she had the choice. She loved Lee with everything in her. With every footstep and every heartbeat. Every tear she cried and every intake of breath until her final ones.

Neko-Chan had been wrong. She didn't feel weak. Instead, Rian felt stronger than she had ever felt in her whole life. There was a new emotion circulating in her, and it would only strengthen and mellow as the years rolled by. It would never die, not even if she herself did. And lines of lightning, as thin and as strong as spider-webs knit their hearts together, even as they beat side by side at that moment.

Rian had discovered true love.

Lee swallowed the lump that had been conceived in his throat, before his one hand cupped the wispy head of dirty brown hair, tipping her head enough for him to rest his chin on her cranium.

"Well, I think I'm going to cry again!" Lee blubbered, his tone laughing as he tried to create a less awkward view of the situation. He was so confused, but, he was so happy-

He didn't know what he was feeling, and that terrified him.

But there was something broiling deep inside of his heart that created a new bravery that was more brilliant than a flame on a foggy night, or a lighthouse on the shoes of a stormy ocean.

That bravery was the courage to love. And that flame burned in two hearts that had found each other.

And suddenly, they were laughing. They both broke into giggles and chuckles, and snickers and chortles, and hooting and sniggering and Kami knows what else.

Crystalline laughter of childhood and the new-found joy of realizing what love was just made you want to turn a little faster, for you knew the world would follow after, because there was only you, and the person who was closer in your heart than anybody else on the sugar-sweet, meltin' under blue skies, shimmering planet.

And soon they were pushing each other playfully, and flopping limply against each other for supported as they huffed with throaty giggles and coughed with the inability to contain all the joy inside of them.

And than Lee started doing some awkward little happy dance, jumping all around and trying to expel all of the built up tension. Fists above his head, the raven haired teen cried out in happiness, an insane combination of shouting his happiness and laughing still. He could jump a little higher, and maybe reach for those stars like he had when he was a young boy ; come on, come on, and the world was a little brighter

With laughing and carrying on, they were unleashing the ecstasy in the face of their daunting futures.

It didn't matter what could happen along the road. There would always be a shoulder to use as a cane, and a neck to hollow out a place to hide sorrow, and a pair of lips to claim- There was so much joy and promise, Rian and Lee couldn't keep it inside.

With a screech, either born of being frightened or a shrill laugh, Rian felt gravity tug her down the embankment to their right. She had lost her footing on the rim of the tender embankment, and was falling on her back, her hand still gripping Lee's. Lee's eyes popped wide as the hold wrenched around Rian's fingers dragged him towards the edge of the placid embankment.

With shrieks of they-didn't-know-what, they both went tumbling, head over heels, one over the other, down the brown grass of the Fall-summoned magic. Crunching through piles of leaves as they rolled and twisted, inhaling the wonderful smell of Autumn, rolling on their sides like runaway logs, occasionally running into each other and connecting for a few seconds, only to be torn apart for a longer time. But, there was that feeling that eventually they would hit each other again, and screeches of cinnamony joy kept them from losing each other.

Eventually, the hill crested, just as two young hands clasped each others, and a solemn Autumn tinge filled Rian's shining olive eyes.

Rolling onto their backs in the crunching grass, they lay sprawled on leaves that had twirled a butterfly dance towards the soil that was smudged across their cheeks and arms. Panting and huffs were sucked away by the cool air as they tried to breathe in the Indian summer of an orange sky.

Lee had scooted to Rian's side, and was spread eagle on his back, the grass poking and teasing at his bandaged hands, and the tender pink tinge of his cheeks as he tried to somehow refrain from laughing.

It was than he noticed Rian's side profile. She was solemnly staring at the Indian sky, tornados of leaves being whirled across the field of amber around them. Her lower lip was jutted out, her olive eyes locked in concentration to the tawny sky that seemed to have rained the color of dried blood.

Expression turning to one of confusion and worry, Lee pushed himself to a sitting position and patted his hands into the Harvest-scented grass that crinkled with his movement.

He crouched so that he was glancing directly into her face, trying to spot exactly what made those olive-colored eyes frown with innocent concern.

"What?" he asked, his tone becoming stony and worried at the depth of the concern on the quiet neko-child's countenance. Her face was more perfect than he remembered them, was his first thought as he tried to read the expression that lay beneath him. Leaves and grass flecks had become knotted into her short brown hair, and Lee could only imagine what he looked like. Strangely, Rian never looked more beautiful than when she was free and looking wild, he thought.

Rian gave him an anxious glance, before she turned her attention to a face that sheltered her from the element of the Equinox above them.

Encased in their paprika-scented moment, a chilly Autumn sky reaching, the world a little brighter with the nutmeg colors of an Indian Summer, Rian asked a question that she already had an answer for.

"Love me forever?"

Lee's face turned grave for a moment, but in that moment truth was revealed.

And very gently, as though she were as precious as the fleeting Summers of youth, Lee bent down and kissed her the answer.

And their lips met in an innocent expression of their undying affection for each other, Rian remembered what she had been searching for when Neko-Chan had discovered her sitting on a log in the woods. It wasn't Neko-Chan's knowledge or to be a splendid ninja.

It was love.


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