Author's note: Ah, May seems to be the unofficial Write-About-Joker month! Heehee! Actually, this fic is about Ganko and Koganei, although the main characters are Raiha and Joker. It takes place before the Hokage ever get to Mori Kouran's mansion, and came from wondering what would happen to Ganko and Koganei if they hadn't left the Uruha, and had grown up there instead... and so it kind of turned into a dialogue.
Koganei knelt on the carpet next to Ganko, a Barbie in one hand. "Hey, I'm Uruha Barbie," he said in a high, squeaky voice. "My madougu lets me go on a date with Ken-kun whenever I want to."
"Kaoru no baka!" exclaimed Ganko irately, who had Barbies in both her hands. "You're all mixed up. MY Barbie's madougu does that. YOUR Barbie's madougu keeps her makeup always fresh, and her hair is always perfectly styled."
"How boring," said Koganei. "Ganko-chan, you need better toys. How about pitting me against that inflatable dinosaur of yours again?"
"You'd like that, wouldn't you?" grinned the little girl maliciously. "You'd just pop him with your `An'."
Koganei shook his head. "No… I did that last time. This time, I'd probably cut him with the scissors."
"Kaoru no baka! Play nice, like Raiha-san said!"
The two individuals were unaware that their entire conversation was being recorded by a security camera in the corner of the room. Their words, their motions, their games—all were being intently watched in the security room, far away in another wing of Mori Kouran's mansion.
Raiha had just slipped into the security room, and was surprised to find Joker staring at the monitor.
"Joker-san," he said, standing behind his fellow member of the Jyushinshuu. "Anything of interest on tv tonight?"
"I'm watching Koganei-chan and Ganko-chan play," said Joker, not turning around. "They're playing `Uruha Barbie'."
"How kawaii," grinned Raiha, but his smile faded when he noticed Joker's face was serious. It was a rare occasion that he caught Joker when he was `off'. Most of the time, to most of the world, he was `on'—he was cheerful, smart-alecky, teasing. On occasion, his playful demeanor would change in favor of something a more aggressive, more terrifying—like when he was on a mission, fulfilling his duty as one of Kurei's assassins. But it was a rare occasion when he was caught like this… thoughtful, solemn, quiet. It somehow made Raiha uncomfortable. "What's the matter?" he asked.
With a flick of his long fingers, Joker indicated the screen with the two happy, oblivious children as they teased and bantered and had fun. "Look at them," he said. "Do you think it's right to give children madougu? Do you think it's right to train them… at such an early age… to turn into people like us? Don't you think they need to have a proper childhood? Where they could grow up normally?"
Raiha pulled up another chair and watched the monitor with Joker. "Do you think it's right to be an assassin in the first place?" he responded in a low voice. "Look at what we are… you wanted to join Kurei-sama of your own free will. I'm with Kurei-sama… because of blood. We both kill for him. We both have killed, will continue to kill. You can't be an assassin and not have it affect you somehow." He held his hands in front of himself, gazing at them. How often had they been dirtied by blood?
"We joined with Kurei-han," agreed Joker. "But I know that I at least was old enough to make my own decision. But these two kids… there will come a time when they can't really remember a time when they weren't part of Kurei-han's household. There won't be a time they can remember where they haven't had their madougu… where they haven't been undergoing constant molding into becoming assassins. Our successors… when we have to, er, retire, for whatever reason."
"How unsettling," agreed Raiha. "But you have to look at the other side of things… Both of these children would probably be dead by now if Kurei-sama hadn't taken them in. You know Kaoru-chan was attempting suicide when Kurei-sama found him. Would you have preferred to let him die in the streets with his wrists slit? All alone… with no family… no money… he had to go out and steal the knife to do it with. It was the first time he had ever stolen anything, he told me," Raiha said in a contemplative voice. "And Ganko-chan… her mother had died. She had no other relatives… no one to take care of her… Kurei-sama found her staring into a store window, convinced that the mannequin was connected to her mother somehow. You watch her, animating Reira like she does… She needs to create a mother for herself, to care for her. It's pitiful, because you're never quite sure if she knows it's all for pretend or not. But at least she's alive… at least she's fed and clothed and tutored. Would you have liked her to die on the street, too, say, huddled underneath that store window?"
Joker turned his head and gazed evenly at Raiha. "Is it any better in this situation? Sure… they're alive. But what's life? You know and I know that it ends all too quickly. You and I have hastened it along for more people than I like to think about. They'll die eventually no matter what… would you prefer them to go sooner, as innocent little children? Or later, as twisted, warped individuals who never thought that what they were doing was wrong, maybe even reveling in the bloodshed?"
"I doubt they'll turn out like Mokuren-san did," countered Raiha. "They're too… well-balanced for that. Ganko-chan's never been in a combat situation—"
"Ganko-chan isn't old enough to be in a combat situation yet," corrected Joker. "You couldn't expect her to write her name legibly, let alone send her out to menace someone. Even Koganei-chan is barely borderline, and he only got in because he's so brilliant."
"But they're well-balanced," repeated Raiha. "They've still got an outlook on life. Kaoru-chan gets partnered with Mokuren-san, partly because he's already strong enough to hold his own against Mokuren-san, and partly as a counterweight to Mokuren-san's personality. He's good at holding him back. If Kaoru-chan wasn't strong, Mokuren-san would walk all over him. But he doesn't, because even he recognizes Kaoru-chan's potential."
"But how long will they stay like that?" Joker responded. "The first time is always the hardest… there's that fear of the unknown. And then you do it… and it wasn't as bad as you thought, ne? And then you do it again… and again… and it gets easier… and easier… until it's second nature and you sometimes don't even have to think twice. The little nagging voice in your head gets easier and easier to ignore."
Raiha frowned. "I have to admit… I'm not completely comfortable with the idea, either. But we try to keep them both out of such violent situations. Even though they both show great promise, Kaoru-chan especially, they're really only benchwarmers."
"But how long will it take before Kurei-han or Mori-han asks them to earn their keep?" prodded Joker. "Look at Ganko-chan there… now, you know Kurei-han's motto. We've both heard him say it how many times?" He gave a short laugh. "Lie, cheat, steal, seduce, betray. Use people. And when you can no longer use them, destroy them." He indicated the monitor again. "Look at little Ganko-chan. Imagine she's ten, fifteen years older than she is now. She's practically an infant now… barely old enough for first grade. But she'll grow. She'll turn out quite beautiful, I can tell. Do you want to be the one to send her off on a mission to seduce some underworld big-shot who thinks he doesn't need to pay off Kurei-han? And then have her kill him while he sleeps?" Joker looked almost angry at the thought. "Do you want to sit at home, knowing your little Ganko-chan is tumbling around in the sheets with some sweaty, panting fat murdering pig because Kurei told her to? Do you remember the first time you had that kind of a mission? I remember mine. And I'll tell you, it made me sick to look at myself in the mirror the next day." He scowled darkly at the monitor.
Raiha shook his head, blocking his own memories. "I'm sure if it ever comes up, I'll put in a word with Kurei-sama and try to find a different way to do things," he said.
Joker eyed him. "Ah, but what if Ganko-chan catches Mori-han's fancy? What will you do then? What if Mokuren-han decides he wants a little fun? Between us, you know exactly how they are, and I'm not going to mince words with you. But you won't be able to prevent Mori-han, and you probably won't find out about Mokuren-han until after the fact." He shrugged eloquently. "That girl's never going to get in a real relationship… but she's certainly going to find out fast about how to get what she wants. I can tell. What if Kurei-han decides she needs to be taught properly? Or would you prefer he delegate that job to you, so you can at least be nice about it and explain to her why it has to be that way." He almost spat the last words.
Raiha's smile had disappeared long ago. "You don't need to put it that way," he said in a low voice, and there was a glint in his eye. "You've got a twisted little mind, you know."
Joker laughed scornfully. "It's an issue that needs to be addressed before the situation comes up. You can't just hide from these things. And I challenge you to find one member of the Uruha who hasn't got a twisted mind. We've all joined up, for whatever reason. Those two kids were lonely... those two kids would have died. But are they better off here? I haven't even begun to speculate about Koganei-chan. Ten, fifteen years from now... the only thing he'll know about women is how to use them for Kurei-han's purposes. He'll never be able to leave the Uruha... never be able to get involved in a real, normal relationship... he'll never be able to have a family and grow old together with someone he loves."
"He reminds you of yourself, doesn't he?" asked Raiha quietly.
Joker nodded solemnly. "Yeah… I was like him at that age. I like the little squirt… he's got an attitude, and he's brave, and he's got spirit and spunk. But underneath that varnish… there's a vulnerable little boy. He wants someone to love him. He wants a father, a big brother, someone—someone to make him feel special. And you know what? No one around here is likely to love him for being himself. They're going to appreciate him for his mind or respect him for his skills… but they're not going to appreciate or respect him as a person. And he doesn't know that. And no one's going to tell him that. And he's going to find out on his own someday... and what then?"
Raiha heaved a massive sigh. "I know you'll look out for them, Joker-san," he said, standing up. "And even though they don't know it, they've got a very powerful friend in you." He smiled weakly. "Someday, when they've risen in the ranks—I hope that they'll be able to meet you. Until then, I'll let them know that at least I'm watching out for them."
Joker nodded. "Do that, please," he said. "Arigatou…"
Raiha hesitated. "You're not planning on dropping out of the Jyushinshu, are you?" he asked, his fingers on the doorknob. "You know what would happen if you tried…"
Joker shook his head. "In a funny kind of way, I don't really mind… it was a choice that I made. I wanted to increase my power. I wanted to become stronger, by fighting strong opponents. I wanted to find a niche for myself… and I've found it. And so I'm content to stay along. Don't get me wrong. I'm not weak. I'm not backing out. And I'm not expressing traitorous thoughts. But I do think that it's not right to assimilate these children into the Uruha before they've had a chance to see what else there is in the world… to see what they're missing out on or giving up hope of having… before they take the plunge."
Raiha nodded. "I understand," he said. "And this is to be kept between you and me." He reached into the folds of his robe and pulled out a manilla envelope. "You and Neon are being sent on a mission… the details are inside. You'll be leaving tomorrow."
"All right," agreed Joker, accepting the envelope.
Joker spent a few moments paging through the contents of the envelope before shoving them back in. He cast one last look at the monitor, picked up his Taishaku Kaiten, and slipped through the door, shutting it gently behind him.
End note... I'm not having Raiha endorse the kids' situation... but I had to have him loyally supporting Kurei's decisions despite his personal views. You can't get much of a conversation going when the other person is always agreeing, ne? ^_^