A/N: Man this took me a while to write. So many characterization issues, since this is all character-driven (I hope). I actually had the last image in my head since the beginning, and now I finally get to write it down. I hope it was worth all the build up and delay.

I can see from the reviews that I was at least somewhat successful in developing Kouji's character. Yay. Thanks to all who reviewed.

Rabid Lola: Thanks for the props. Hope the backstory didn't drag too much.

Atropos' Knife: I actually forgot about those three getting their just desserts because I've been so focused on the characterization issues in this chapter. Thanks for reminding me. I'll see if I can address that before the end.

Zining: Thanks for your advice on backstory and characterization from those emails oh so long ago. And yeah, I feel bad for glossing over Shido and many other characters, but this is my first major fanfic and it was just too many characters to juggle. If they weren't important to the plot, I just shunted them to the side. I still had to account for their whereabouts though. I'll see if I can do better next time.

Kaitosouta: Is Kouji a bad guy? What do you think? The whole point of writing such a long backstory for him was so that the answer to your question wouldn't be a simple yes or no. I think during the VOLTS era, nothing was a clear black and white. It was all gray.

Disclaimer: I don't own Getbackers.

Endgame, Part II

The wall he was leaning against exploded. Kouji was thrown several feet and landed with a thud, rolling to a stop against the opposite wall. He gasped for air, the breath knocked out of him, but that only caused all the dust to invade his lungs. The coughing it set off was nearly loud enough to be heard from the top of Babylon City, and he expected another attack to come any second, but it didn't. He briefly wondered why not, especially since he was down and out in the open, but he didn't have the time to really think about it. He grabbed a rock the size of a soccer ball, injected it with his ki and hurled it in the direction the previous attack had come from. Raitei wasn't there anymore, of course, but the impact of the rock took off half the roof he had been standing on.

This had been going on for what seemed like forever but was probably only a minute or two. Between the two of them, they were quickly demolishing the entire area. It was all hit and miss, with Raitei nearly hitting and Kouji mostly missing. His body ached from all the close calls and the should-have-beens. He was losing, which didn't surprise him at all given his opponent's reputation. He was mildly surprised, however, that he was still alive and had all four limbs. Kouji scanned the roofs and the shadows, his body tense and ready for the next attack. He was exposed now. All of the nearby buildings were in neat piles of smoldering brick. The only place to stand was in the middle of the wide and deserted street.

The hairs on the back of his neck alerted him to the attack just in time. He dodged to the left, rolled, and reached for a handful of stones. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw that Raitei was standing in the middle of the street a few meters behind where he just was. The faintly glowing boy was watching him with all the concentration of someone trying to swat a particularly annoying fly. That grated on Kouji's nerves.

With a cry, he flung the stones with all his might and ran for cover. They flew through the air like bullets and when the air cleared there was a crater where Raitei had been standing. The boy was long gone, of course. Kouji scanned up and down the street, his heartbeat pounding in his ears, the tension making his hands twitch.

It had come down to this—one on one, no place to hide, a fight to the death for the throne of Lower Town, winner take all. Just the two of them, locked in this deadly ritual of attack and counterattack. The situation made Kouji's blood race, it made him want to scream, it made him want to destroy. It was delicious. This was how he wanted it to be: fighting for his life to the very end, proving himself worthy of a grand battle, a match of power and wills. It wouldn't matter if he lost, he had nothing left to lose—all his men were dead, Seiichi among them; his people were scattered to the dark corners of Mugenjou. If he lost, then this would be his grand exit, his proof to himself that he was great and powerful and real. His life would be defined by this last great battle. He would make his final statement in blood.

There was a slight sound to his right and Kouji spun around immediately. He saw the Lightning Emperor standing not ten meters away, perched on top of a hill of rubble that used to be a giant warehouse. They faced off against each other, each sizing the other one up. A cool evening breeze blew across their skin. The seconds ticked by.

Kouji knew that a battle was as much physical as it was mental. He had been able to win many fights in the past because he knew his opponent's weaknesses and exploited them. It wasn't cheating, it was being smart. He couldn't see any of the Lightning Emperor's physical weaknesses—yet—but from their earlier exchange, he knew that he could get to him mentally. He had pushed the right buttons and had almost backed his opponent into a corner, but then he must've pushed too hard too early with the threat to Makubex. Whatever it was, Amano Ginji seemed to stop his downward spiral all of a sudden and regain his determination. His power even increased to levels that Kouji didn't know could be reached.

But that didn't mean that Kouji couldn't push those buttons again and cut him down to size. He had to try. It was the only card he had left to play.

"You seem pretty confident that you're going to win, Ginji," he called out. His response was a blast of electricity that singed his clothing. It was good that he was quick, he thought as he ducked away. Otherwise he'd be dead.

"That arrogance is going to get you killed," he said, regaining his feet and brushing the dirt from his clothes. "Or rather, it's what will get your friends killed."

Raitei narrowed his eyes at that.

"I can't believe that you're the one everyone chose to follow," yelled Kouji, ducking another blast. "If they only knew what lengths you'd go to just to hang on to your power. I knew you were nothing but a murdering tyrant."

The blast that incinerated the patch of dirt Kouji had been standing on was much faster, much stronger this time. Kouji smiled to himself as he dodged. It was working. Just a few more jabs and his opponent would start losing control, attacking recklessly and leaving himself open to counterattacks.

"That's right, I can see right through your act. You pretend to be some kind of hero, but really you're just as desperate as the rest of us to hold on to power. You let people think that you're untouchable, but once someone has the courage to challenge you, you'll go to whatever lengths it takes to keep your position, even if it costs Makubex his life. And you call me the selfish one."

This time the blast came close enough that he felt the heat burn his skin through his clothes. Chunks of debris flew everywhere and Kouji had to shield himself with his arm.

"While you're busy trying to fight me," he shouted, ignoring the pain, "your friend Makubex is dying on the street, and it's all because of you. You know that he needs to get help, but they can't move him until the battle is over. If he dies, it'll be your fault."

That got him. Kouji noted gleefully how the attacks just stopped all of a sudden. It was good too, because he was getting out of breath from dodging. And he was running out of places to dodge to. The street around him was littered with smoking craters.

He grabbed a sharp, pointed metal rod from a ruin and turned around, ready to strike, but what he saw froze him in his tracks. Raitei hadn't moved, but he looked different somehow. Kouji couldn't figure out what was different, but he could sense the change in the way the air literally prickled with electricity. He didn't know if the hairs on the back of his neck were standing up because of the charge in the air or because of the person causing the charge. He had crossed a line somewhere, he knew it. But instead of throwing his opponent into a reckless rage or driving him back within himself, he had only added fuel to a cold, smoldering fire. This controlled anger was scarier than unleashed fury because it was focused, calculating. Raitei stayed where he was and glared down at Kouji.

Kouji felt the gaze boring into him and cutting right through him. It was unnerving, as if all of his secrets were visible to the naked eye. He started breaking into a cold sweat and he felt his heartbeat speeding up ever so slightly.

"What are you doing?" he asked, a little louder than he intended. He caught himself, irritated, and lowered his voice. "Stop staring at me as if I'm the killer. You're the one who hit him with the bolt of lightning. He's dying because of you."

Raitei said nothing and continued looking down at Kouji with those gleaming eyes, like an eagle perched high above. It made Kouji feel very small and exposed. He swallowed and tightened his grip on the metal rod. Then Raitei started walking down the hill of rubble toward him, slowly, keeping his eyes trained on Kouji the entire time. Kouji felt the first inklings of panic rise within him. Each step that Raitei took felt like the coming of the end. He had to stop him now, or momentum of the battle would turn completely against him.

"Hey, listen to me!" he yelled, putting every ounce of scorn and accusation into his voice. "Didn't you hear what I just said? You're allowing one of your closest friends, someone who has always looked up to you, to die in the street like a stray dog. You have to go save him. Don't you care at all? Are you really that cold-blooded?"

Raitei stopped his advance. For the first time, Kouji got a really good look at the boy who ruled Lower Town. His clothes were slightly dusty from all the explosions, but there were no holes or tears. He was unscathed. His skin was remarkably pale and translucent. It gave off an unnatural glow that surrounded him like an aura, an impenetrable barrier between himself and everything around him. His face was sharply defined, all edges and planes, with none of the smooth softness of earlier, before he became angry. Kouji was surprised. The boy looked like a man. He had the face of a man, especially the eyes, which had none of the innocence or optimism they held before. These eyes were hard and piercing, and Kouji had the impression that they could see through almost anything. Most of all, though, those eyes were cold. They took in everything, missed nothing, and judged it all. There was no compassion there, no mercy. It was the eyes that made Kouji realize something that took him by surprise.

"You really don't care, do you?" he said softly. "You don't care that Makubex is probably dead by now. I can see it." He stared in amazement. "My God, I was only saying those things to hurt you, but now I know why they had no effect. I was right the entire time, and I thought I was just bluffing, but no, you really don't care whether he lives or dies."

Raitei's silence was a more pointed response than any words could have been. Kouji was stunned. He wanted to laugh. It was all so ridiculous and impossible, to think that he had been trying to hurt his opponent with what he thought were half-truths the entire time, and now to find out that what he'd been saying was actually the truth. The entire situation, from when he first realized he was tricked by those three gang leaders to this point, was ridiculous and impossible.

But then something else happened.

"You're right," said Raitei, slowly. His voice was deep, or deeper than it had been before they started fighting. "I don't care."

Kouji stood there dumbfounded. To hear his opponent admit this without trying to defend himself in any way was not what he'd expected. He had expected indignation, anger, shock, hurt, or at least an attempt at justification. Anything but this simple admission because it was so…brutal. And ruthless. And cold.

"But—But then…what…why…" he sputtered, at a loss for words. "What do you care about? Why are we fighting? If this isn't about revenge for Makubex, why are we fighting at all?"

"Because you tried to take him from me," answered Raitei, simply. "And because you tried to take Ginji from me."

Kouji didn't know what to say to this. There was something very wrong with what he just heard, but he couldn't quite understand what it—

"You tried to kill Makubex," explained Raitei. "I only tried to render both of you unconscious without killing him. It was a very fine line, but I was willing to take the risk. Ginji wasn't willing to and the decision was tearing him apart, but I was, and that was your mistake."

And then Kouji realized what was bothering him.

"Wait, you ARE Ginji, what are you talking about?" This was getting strange, hearing his opponent speak of himself in the third person, or as if he was someone else entirely, and it made Kouji nervous.

Raitei smirked a little, as if Kouji's confusion amused him. "I am what they call me."

Kouji snorted, a little louder than he meant to.

"You're delusional," he said, keeping the sharp end of the metal rod up and a wary eye on his opponent. "Raitei is just a nickname that people call you out of fear, but you're not any better than the rest of us. You're no god or emperor. You're still just Amano Ginji."

"See what I am with your own eyes then," said Raitei, getting tired of the conversation.

He rushed forward so fast that Kouji didn't even see it. The impact sent him flying into a pile of bricks that cut and scraped him. He didn't get a chance to catch his breath before another blow sent him tumbling into the dirt. Somehow, he managed to keep hold of the metal pipe. He struggled to his feet, coughed and spat out blood. Out of the corner of his eye he saw a white blur charging at him and he instinctively swung the pipe up.

There was a sickening sound as the pipe pierced through flesh, but the momentum of Raitei's attack didn't lessen as Kouji's body skidded clear across the street and rolled to a stop at the foot of a warehouse ruin. Kouji lay still for a second, gasping for breath. His body hurt all over, and not just from the attacks but from the hard landings too. He groaned as he rolled over and pushed himself slowly to his feet, swaying slightly.

Shaking his head to clear it, he looked up and saw Raitei was standing there with the metal pipe sticking out of the left side of his chest. The pipe had gone through and was half sticking out the back too. Kouji had managed to use his opponent's momentum to impale him. There wasn't much blood because the pipe was acting like a plug, but the moment it was pulled out, it would leave a hole the size of a baseball and blood would gush everywhere. Raitei was looking down at the pipe as if surprised it was there. Kouji felt slightly sick at the sight. He gasped as he watched Raitei reach up and pull the pipe from his chest, which made a horrible sucking sound. Raitei peered at the pipe and then tossed it casually aside, turning his gaze to Kouji, who was staring with his jaw hanging open, dumbstruck. An injury like that should've ended the fight then and there, but his opponent was still on his feet and seemingly unfazed. What did it take to stop this guy? Kouji's eyes widened even further as the wound started closing itself up right before his eyes. In seconds, it was as if the whole thing had never happened. The only sign that Kouji wasn't hallucinating was that Raitei's shirt still had a hole in it.

"Oh my God," said Kouji, unable to stop himself. "What kind of monster are you?"

Raitei snorted contemptuously. "Not a monster, but not human either. Something else entirely," he said, looking down at Kouji. "I am that which has no name."

Kouji couldn't believe what he was hearing, any more than he could believe what he just saw, but the proof was standing right before him and he knew that no human was capable of healing that quickly, or even standing upright after receiving that type of injury. He was starting to question his sanity.

"W-what's going on here?" he asked, backing away slightly. "Who are you? What do you want?"

Raitei seemed to be considering whether or not he should answer.

"My true name should not to be wasted on those about to die," he said in the end. Kouji felt ice race down his back. "I am here waiting for someone. I am the dragon and he is the snake; we are twin serpents entwined by fate. The wheels of time are in motion, and even now that person is slowly making his way towards Mugenjou," said Raitei, looking out at the skyscrapers punctuating Tokyo's horizon.

Kouji tried to understand what he was hearing, but none of it made any sense to him. He didn't know anyone who was associated with snakes, and Raitei was alluding to some grand plan that he, Kouji, wasn't privy to. There were things going on around him, much bigger things than he could imagine, and this…being standing before him was the first proof of that. It was like he got a tantalizing flash of the inner workings of time and space, only to have it yanked from his grasp and the vault shut in his face. He felt very alone and excluded at the moment.

"But why?" It was a question flung out into the void. What he really meant was, why is this happening, and not to me? Why him? But he couldn't say that out loud. It cost him too much to say it because then he would have to acknowledge the fact that he really was on the outside looking in, so he just left it at that simple question: why?

"This boy was born for me," said Raitei, indicating the body he possessed. "Only his heart pure was enough not to be corrupted by my power, his body strong enough to sustain me, his soul powerful enough to contain me and his mind simple enough to see the truth: that my gift both blessing and curse."

He started advancing slowly on Kouji, who stumbled backwards in surprise.

"Stop! Don't come any closer," he cried, but Raitei kept coming.

"You tried to take him from me, tried to destroy his happiness and his innocence, all so that you could take his place in Mugenjou," he said, his approach as relentless as his words.

"No!" said Kouji, backing up even more, but there was no where to go. "I-I never…I just wanted…."

Raitei reached out and grabbed Kouji by the front of his shirt. He pulled him down to his height and stared at him straight in the eyes. Kouji tried to look away, but couldn't do it. Raitei's eyes were mesmerizing in their great and terrible beauty.

"Look at what you tried to attain, and see the futility of your attempt," said Raitei.

And Kouji looked. He saw himself as he had never seen himself before: struggling to be on top, fighting against other gangs for power, pretending to submit to VOLTS, plotting with those who betrayed him to attain the throne of Lower Town. And then he was scrambling to cover his tracks, digging himself in deeper because he refused to admit his mistakes, the situation spiraling out of his control, until he resorted to hostage-taking, bluffing, and manipulation. He had done it for his people, he had told himself, but was that really true? His men were all dead now, and he could have stopped them from throwing their lives away, but he didn't really try. He was had been so focused on proving to himself that he was powerful and important that he had ruined everything. Kouji looked into Raitei's eyes and instead of seeing what he so wanted before—power, respect, strength—he saw how insignificant and petty all his struggles were compared to the grand destiny of Amano Ginji, the boy who was chosen by this unnamable being to be the vehicle of his will. It was crushing to realize that nothing he had ever done will matter in the grand scheme of things. He was utterly unimportant compared to Amano Ginji and there was nothing he could do to change that. He was looking at the horrible truth in the face and it was staring back at him without pity.

It slowly dawned on him that he had deeply offended a godlike, probably invincible being and that said being had him by the shirtfront. Kouji started struggling, his mind gone blank except for the need to get away.

"Let go! Get off of me!" he yelled, panic rising. The scene might've been comical to a bystander, seeing such a large man trying so desperately to get away from a fifteen-year-old boy who was a good deal shorter and weighed about half as much, except the fear in Kouji's eyes was real.

Raitei released him suddenly and he fell backward ungracefully onto the dusty ground. Kouji scooted a few feet back, putting some distance between him and the strangely glowing boy, who was looking at him dispassionately.

"What are you going to do?" asked Kouji, his heart racing.

"Destroy you," said Raitei, as if it was obvious. He took one step forward.

Kouji scrambled to his feet and backed away, his eyes on Raitei the entire time.

"Don't come any closer!" he said, trying to keep his voice steady. He looked around for a weapon, but they were in the middle of the street and there was nothing. "Let me go!"

"No," said Raitei. "What you did was unforgivable. You trespassed against what was mine and what was under my protection. You should've considered the consequences before you acted." He advanced on Kouji, his electricity sizzling and charging up. "Your fate is sealed."

No, it can't end this way! I'm not done yet! thought Kouji. He looked for a way out, but saw none. He couldn't run, he couldn't hide. He was trapped, again.

Raitei's face had turned to stony impassiveness. It was obvious that he had said everything he had wanted to say and that this was the end.

Kouji had had enough. The betrayal, the loss of Seiichi and his gang, the futile battle, the realization of his insignificant existence, and now the relentless, oncoming march of death was more than he could take. He broke down and started screaming at Raitei, or the universe in general—he didn't know which and didn't care.

"It's not fair!" he shrieked. "Why does it have to be this way! Why do YOU have the chance to do what you want and why do I have to die like this? You don't understand what it's like, being powerless and unimportant, always being ignored and never respected. It's not fair, damn you! Why didn't you pick ME? Why is it always about him! Everything in Mugenjou always goes his way, never my way. I HATE YOU. Do you hear me? I HATE you!"

For a split second, Kouji thought he saw the edges of Raitei's eyes soften and a bit of chocolate brown sadness seep into the blinding gold irises. It didn't matter if it was real or if it was the desperate hope of a lost man. He saw it and he grabbed for it.

"Ginji! GINJI! I know you can hear me! Don't do this! Don't do this to me!" He grabbed the unmoving figure by the shirt and pulled him up to look straight in the eyes, his own eyes moving wildly. "Ginji! Come out of there! You coward, I know you're there! I know you can hear me! If you're going to kill me, at least have the guts to do it yourself!" He shook him, hard, but it was no use. That flash of…something—kindness, sadness, or maybe just humanity—whatever it was that he had seen, it didn't matter, it was gone again, retreating into unknown depths.

No! I saw it! It was his last hope.

He started swinging wildly, flailing his fists at the immovable figure before him. He connected with his fists, again and again, to the chest, to the face. Each time he landed a punch the figure in front of him reeled slightly to the right, to the left, but always went back to the same position as if nothing had happened. Kouji saw that his eyes were on him the whole time, but he didn't see him at all. It was as if he didn't exist anymore.

Look at me, damn you! He renewed his punches, swinging faster and harder, anything to get back that sign of recognition, a flicker of emotion, anything at all. Just not this complete indifference. This he couldn't stand. It was the worst. He wanted to be loved, and if he couldn't be loved then he wanted to be respected, and if not that then he wanted to be feared or hated. Any type of emotion, any at all, because at least then he knew he had an effect on someone. He was real, he was important, he could affect people. His existence mattered, he wasn't insignificant. People would notice his presence; people would remember his life, even if it was with hate. That, at least, was something. But this utter indifference was unbearable. It was as if the stars had closed their eyes to him.

He realized dimly that he was shouting the entire time and that his throat was becoming hoarse, but he had no idea what he was saying. It came pouring out of his mouth like slugs, ugly as hell and it kept on coming, even now. His punches were weakening and slowing down, but still there was no change in the figure before him. He was nothing to this being.

Finally he just stopped and stood there, panting, swaying slightly on his feet. His arms ached to the point of shaking, and then his entire body started to shake. He stumbled and fell to his knees and sat down in the dirt. Raitei tilted his head slightly and looked down at him as if he were a beetle on its back, but Kouji didn't see this. Instead, he was staring straight ahead, his eyes blind to everything before him, but in his mind, he was seeing his life as it really was.

He saw himself squabbling with other junkyard kids for scraps of food, forcing the smaller ones to hand him their shares. He saw himself beating kids twice his size and remembered feeling proud. Soon he was twice the size of everyone else, and he beat everyone with even more ease. He remembered feeling big, feeling important. He saw Seiichi and Toshi and the others, and remembered how it felt to conquer a territory within Lower Town with them at his side and hold it for so long, beating back challengers every time they came. And then he remembered the one challenger he couldn't beat. It was the first time he had lost to anyone. He took the loss personally and bided his time, waiting either to be recognized for his power and elevated to the status of one of the Four Kings, or to seek revenge and force them all to recognize his power.

But all this didn't amount to anything. It hadn't mattered how big he was or how many opponents he'd defeated because his life was going to end here and he knew it, he saw it. He was going to be swallowed up by Mugenjou, or time, and there would be nothing left to mark his passing. He really was insignificant. He was just another of the six billion or so humans milling about the planet. His existence or nonexistence didn't matter to the unknowable being before him or the universe in any way.

Kouji saw all of this laid out like a black hole before him. He wanted to back away from it, but there was no room to maneuver. There was but one path for him.

"It's not fair," he mumbled, suddenly so tired he felt like sleeping for a million years. "I never wanted to be like this, never thought I would come to this. I just wanted…to matter."

He fell silent, utterly defeated and spent. Raitei was still too, as if in respect for Kouji's situation. The moments passed, and a gust of cool evening air blew through. Kouji shivered.

Kouji wrapped his arms tightly around himself as if he would never be warm again. His breaths came in shallow gasps, and his lips were moving of their own accord. Distantly, he heard himself saying something that sounded like "this can't be it," or "this can't be all there is," but he didn't know anymore. It was all out of his control.

Raitei watched the man crumbling before him with the detachment of a scientist in a lab. It didn't matter to him that his opponent was stricken like this. All that mattered was that he be punished for causing Amano Ginji pain and for trying to take what was his.

But something was happening to him. He felt something in his chest heating up and spreading through his veins. The feeling went up his spine and through the back of his head, and then he realized what it was: Amano Ginji was waking up. Kouji's words had apparently reached the boy and the warmth that he was feeling was from the boy's human heart.

He wasn't done yet, though. Raitei clamped down on the feeling to keep it from taking over, all the while keeping an eye on the pathetic form before him. To his surprise, the boy fought back, drawn out by the other man's pitiable state. Kouji's words echoed in his mind: Coward! If you're going to kill me, at least have the guts to do it yourself. It was a powerful challenge, a dying man's last request. Raitei understood the implications of these words, what it would mean if he didn't allow Ginji to meet this challenge, and relented. Slowly he retreated, allowing the boy to reawaken at least partially. The bolts of electricity died down, although random sparks still jumped here and there. His skin lost most of its unnatural glow, but remained somewhat translucent. His eyes lost their hard edge, but failed to regain their warm brown color, instead turning a clear champagne yellow.

Amano Ginji looked around, disoriented. For a moment, he wasn't sure where he was or why there was a hole in his shirt. Only hazy images came to mind. The last thing he remembered was—

"Makubex!" He looked around, but didn't see any sign of the silver-haired boy. He was about to panic when he remembered that Kazuki and Juubei were with him, and he knew that they would take care of the boy.

Looking down, he saw Suzuki Kouji sitting in the dirt, trembling as if greatly shaken by something. Ginji had a good idea what—or rather, who—it was that had done this to him. Bending down, he carefully reached out a hand to pat him on the shoulder, but the man flinched away from him and started mumbling something Ginji couldn't quite catch. Ginji hastily withdrew his hand.

Then the words of Kouji's challenge floated up into his mind, and he knew why he had woken up like this, with cold fire still racing through his veins and all his senses still heightened. He had to kill this man, because if he didn't, that thing that happened to him when he became angry or sad would happen again, and he would probably still end up killing him anyways. And if he didn't kill him now, other gangs would sense an opening and try to attack VOLTS and each other, and Lower Town would descend into chaos again. On top of this, looking at the pathetic mess of a man before him, Ginji doubted Kouji would ever be the same again. If he let him go, Kouji would no doubt be killed by some random desperate thug or one of those monsters from the Beltline, and there was no guarantee that his death would be clean or quick. To end his life here would be the most merciful thing Ginji could do.

Ginji knew this instinctively, knew that the unwritten laws of Mugenjou demanded this, but his heart couldn't accept it. He paused where he was, unable to take the next step, but knew that it had to be taken. Then he felt that familiar icy feeling sweep over him, knew what was going to happen if he hesitated, if he let it come. He felt his heart grow colder, felt the resolve harden in his veins. He had to do it, now, even if it cost him a part of himself.

He knelt down and wrapped his arms around the trembling man and pulled him close, as if he was comforting a child. Kouji smelled of dust and sweat, but he didn't mind. He let him rest there, in his arms, with his face pressed against his shoulder. The man was quieting down now, his babbling dying down to a soft, indiscernible whisper. The shaking was subsiding too. Kouji's breathing slowed, his body relaxed, and he slumped into the embrace, a stray lamb returning to the fold. They sat there like that for a long moment without moving. All became still. The man sighed and gave himself over.

It was time.

An electrical storm whirled up around them, blowing the dust into a cocoon, enshrouding them in the intimacy of the moment. Electricity crackled around them and then the Lightning Emperor, Amano Ginji, closed his eyes and pressed his lips softly and tenderly to Kouji's forehead. He saw the light coming and let the light burn away all thought and flood every corner of his being, gathering his energy, condensing all his love and hate and anger and sadness and hope and despair—everything he had, everything his heart contained—into a core, holding it until it pained him. And then, taking one last breath, he poured it all out, all of it, in a blinding river of electricity through his lips into the shaking man in his arms.

When it was all over, when the spasms had stopped and the wind had died down, Ginji stayed just he was, eyes still closed, arms still wrapped around the corpse, too empty to move. He didn't feel the raindrops that started falling from the sky to mingle with the tears streaking down his face, staining the soft sand. He didn't feel the body cooling in his arms or the shaking of his own body. He didn't feel anything at all.

Endnote: I hope I resolved the characterization issues alright. I still think some aspects of Raitei were somewhat OOC, but I've been wracking my brain for weeks and this was the best I could do so I'm at least satisfied. Constructive criticism would be appreciated. Next chapter, some loose ends are tied up. Character and story notes will be posted on my LJ instead of here because they're rather lengthy.