The Mask Is Off


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Author's Note-

Based on Ch. 7, Vol. 17 of the manga. Arigatou to Tatarigami for translating this volume so I had a better idea of what the pages were saying! ^_^ -Bottou-chan

"...Kurei! Kurei!"


"...I've taken away everything you ever loved..."

"...Niichan, why?"

"...reduced to a pile of flesh!"


"...Assassinate him! Kill Kurei!"

Voices echoed insistently in his mind. Distorted, evil faces with cruel, gleaming teeth smiled maliciously at him. His body was being riddled with bullets-- he was falling-- falling-- falling over the cliff-- he could hear a woman scream-- a man's horrible laughter-- the pounding of the waves far below--

With a terrified scream, Kurei bolted upright in his bed. He panted, wide-eyed, brushing away the beads of sweat which had collected on his forehead.

He was alive. He wasn't floating, dead, in the ocean. His wounds had been dressed and bandaged. He was sitting in a bed in some dilapidated structure. Someone had rescued him... someone had saved his life.

Why? Why didn't they just let him die?

He slumped weakly back into his pillows, letting his eyes wander around the room. The plaster on the walls was peeling and mildewed; the bare wooden floorboards were dusty and grimy, with some gaping holes. There was the bed, a poor excuse for a bed, with a rusted, flaking brass frame; worn sheets; a scratchy gray blanket; and a floppy, musty-smelling pillow. A dilapidated bureau with several drawers missing had been pushed against one wall. Two low, rickety round tables had been drawn near the bedside.

Judging by the light coming in through a grimy, cracked window, it was late afternoon.

"Kurei-sama!" exclaimed a voice, and he whipped his head around to turn and face the newcomer. The sudden movement sparked waves of pain which coursed through his body; he couldn't completely stifle the moan of pain.

"Neon-san?" he asked, relaxing. So it had been Neon... yes, Neon had been there at the cliff during the shooting.

"Kurei-sama!" she smiled, standing in a doorframe, holding a small, round pan of water. She placed it on one of the tables and rushed over to her master. "Thank goodness," she sobbed, throwing her arms around him, sparking new waves of pain as she buried her face against his chest. "Thank goodness... you woke up! Finallly... oh, Kurei-sama, I was so worried for you..."

Kurei didn't have the heart to tell her she was hurting him. All he could do was stroke her hair awkwardly and attempt to make consoling noises. Of course he woke up. Of course he was all right. She shouldn't have bothered herself about him. He noticed absentmindedly that he had never seen her cry so hard. She hadn't been this emotional, even when undergoing her initiation into the Uruha.

"Where is this place?" he asked, hoping to distract her.

She sniffled and brushed the tears away from her eyes. "It's an abandoned construction yard," she explained, her eyes still bright and watery. "We were washed up... you've been asleep for ten days. I wanted to bring you to a hospital... I was afraid. I was afraid Mori-san might do something to you... I did my best. It's been hard, but I did my best. Forgive me." She looked earnestly into his eyes, looking for his approval.

Kurei leaned back down into his pillows. "You look like you need some rest," he suggested. "You look terrible."

"I'm sure I do," smiled Neon weakly, her eyes still brimming with residual tears. She sniffled. "But please, don't speak to me like that... I'm not used to you being so gentle with me. It makes me happy, just being able to take care of you. Being able to do my duty."

She sat up and bustled off into another room. When she returned, it was with a glass of water and a small plate of food.

"I don't need it," said Kurei, glancing over the contents of the plate. Nothing very appetizing. Even though he had been asleep for ten days, somehow, he didn't feel hungry. "You don't look like you've eaten anything for a while... you eat it."

Neon shook her head vehemently. In her most strict, schoolmarmish voice, she reprimanded him, "You need to get your strength back! You need to take care of yourself! Just because you don't like it doesn't mean you don't have to eat it. And besides, I'm on a diet..." She grinned impishly, giggling in spite of herself.

"H'm?" asked Kurei, slightly suspicious. "What's so funny?"

"I was just thinking... to back then. To when I was your maid," she replied, sitting down on the edge of the bed. "I was always so happy, being able to serve you... serving you brightened my life somehow. It made me content, serving my Kurei-sama." She took a spoon, scooped up some of the mush on the plate, and jabbed the spoon against his lips. He glared at her. She giggled again. "And Kurei-sama made my life difficult, even back then!"

"Is that so?" inquired Kurei nonchalantly. "Was I so much trouble back then?"

"Every day," replied Neon firmly, as he reluctantly opened his mouth and accepted the mush.

Back then, he thought, disconsolantly. Back then... with him...

"...Kurei! Kurei!"


"...I've taken away everything you ever loved..."

"...Niichan, why?"

"...reduced to a pile of flesh!"


"...Assassinate him! Kill Kurei!"

His eyes widened in terror. "Nooo!" he screamed, coughing and sputtering. Neon leaped forward, cradling his head, stroking his hair, and whispering reassuringly.

"Kurei-sama... don't worry. You'll be all right. There's nothing to worry about here... we're safe... nothing will hurt you here... I'm with you," she murmured, pressing her lips into his hair, kissing his forehead.

Kurei was racked with sobs. "I don't-- I don't-- I don't want to fight anymore," he gasped, the tears streaming down his own face. All the years he had spent perfecting his calm exterior, the years he had spent suppressing his emotions, the years he had spent hiding his humanity and becoming only Mori Kouran's killing machine-- all his efforts were swept away at that moment as his shell broke and countless years' of anger, frustration, and rage came surging to the surface.

"You don't have to fight anymore," murmured Neon, continuing to hold him close. She scratched gently at the back of his neck. "Don't worry... it's only me... let it all out," she whispered encouragingly.

"Everyone's disappeared!" Kurei cried, pounding ineffectually at the pillow. "Everyone's lost... what I had worked so hard to build... they're all gone... they're gone!" He pulled away from Neon's soothing hands and, with a massive effort, stilled his sobs. "They're gone," he repeated, his voice dead. "I don't want to fight anymore."

"Then don't," replied Neon practically. She smiled cheerfully at him. "You've got too many painful memories, from that lifetime of fighting you've been up to. Stop. Stop now. You've had more than enough. You've experienced more than enough of death than most people should. You should learn to enjoy life. Why don't you lead a normal, peaceful life from now on? There's no one to shadow you... you can disappear, Kurei-sama, and start over. You'll do well in the world, I'm sure." She smiled encouragingly at him, patting him on the shoulder. "And I'll always be willing to accompany you, no matter where you go. And I won't disappear, I promise."

Kurei gazed back at her. Neon... she had always been there for him.

She had always been there for him, smiling cheerfully.

She had stood by him when he needed someone the most.

Her loyalty was unquestioning... unwavering...

He had never treated her as well as he should have... he had taken her loyalty for granted. And yet, where was everyone else now, at this critical moment? They were gone... yet Neon was here.

Neon had saved him. Had saved his miserable, nightmarish life. And miserable and nightmarish though it was, she continued to smile cheerfully for him, be there when he needed her, unquestioning, unwavering, attempting to help him as she could, attempting to console his unfathomable misery.

She was trying to help him. Trying to help him cast off his ugly past, trying to help him regain his humanity. The humanity which he himself had purposefully ignored for the last sixteen years of his life.

And she had found it. The humanity which he had attempted to deny for so long was suddenly... there...

With one sudden movement, he took hold of the hand which was patting him comfortingly on the shoulder. Another movement, and Neon had been pushed into a prone position, with Kurei kneeling over her, their faces inches apart.

Neon stared in numb, wide-eyed shock. She was perfectly aware of exactly what was happening, yet it didn't seem real. How often had she daydreamed of something like this? And yet now-- now that he was there-- with his face so close-- she could feel the warmth of his ragged breathing-- his eyes suddenly looked so peaceful-- affectionate, even? But why? Was this really her Kurei-sama?

She didn't care. She reached her arms up, placing them lightly on his arms. Neon gazed earnestly into his eyes.

"A normal, peaceful life," she whispered, sliding her hands up his arms and onto his shoulders. "Let's run away... where no one can find us..." She pulled his head down the last few inches towards her own. "...Always by your side... Kurei-sama." His lips brushed lightly over her own, once, twice-- she murmured in slight protest, and with a soft smile, he descended with a full, hungry kiss. She returned it with equal forcefulness.

The last remnants of the afternoon disappeared; the night wore on. And yet nothing existed but them. The rest of the ugly, nightmarish world had disappeared... and for a wonderful, peaceful, quiet interval, they were the only ones who mattered.