Hell. Why did I write this? Why did I even think of something this depressing? I suppose this is just my inner masochist working itself out. Damn, I can't believe I actually thought of this…I guess this is what happens when you stifle pure angst for five years…

Warnings: Character death, attempted suicide(s) and angst, angst, angst. Oh, and I cried so hard working this out that I had trouble keeping my contacts in. (sniffle) Just…warning you.

Disclaimer: If this is what I think of, thank god that I don't own Digimon…

The Last

The day Kouji died was the worst day of my life.

I didn't understand it then, and I still don't understand it now. Fate hates me. Despises me, more like it. That's why I'm cursed, I suppose. With everything that's happened to me in my life, I should have been expecting this in some form or another. But that doesn't make it fair.

I'll never believe that it was fair. I searched so long to find my brother, to get our family back together, after everything we went through to win our peaceful life…I didn't even get five years with him.

Kouji and Mama died the same night. The night that fire stole my family.

They never even found out what caused it. The police said it might have been arson, but it could also have been an accident. I don't want it to be an accident. An accident means it was probably my fault.

We never saw it coming, none of it. The first Kouji and I knew was when the smoke seeped into my room through the cracks of the door, thick and black and terrible. We shouldn't have opened the door, but we did. The hallway was engulfed, I could hear my mother screaming at us from her room, which was already ablaze, telling us to get out. I wanted to go after her, but Kouji held me back. I wish he hadn't.

The smoke was over our heads by the time we got to the window, the flames getting closer. Kouji had to break it to get us out, he was coughing so hard he could hardly aim straight. Mama's apartment at the time was on the third floor, the fire escape too far for us to reach. The fire department came, I could see the lights flashing below us in the night…

And that's all I remember.

I woke up in the hospital two days later to face the horrible truth. As the doctor told me, I was, "the only survivor."

Mama was gone before the firefighters could reach her. They found her charred corpse lying in the hallway, burned so badly they had to identify her by her dental records. She'd smelled the smoke and left her room to warn me and Kouji. If she hadn't, she might have lived.

Kouji died two hours after the fire was out, from smoke inhalation and carbon dioxide poisoning. He was fighting to the end, the doctors said, conscious until seconds before his heart gave out.

He was sixteen. Six-bloody-teen.

I remember his body laid out in the morgue, the peaceful look on his face. The limpness of his hand when I tried to hold it. The way his hair was untied, hanging so loosely beneath his head like a pillow. The way bright lights and dark shadows mingled together so that he looked like the most perfect angel of a westerner's imagination.

They handed me his bandana, the blue and yellow one he'd worn every day since the moment we met. Said he'd wanted me to have it.

I fainted then, but I didn't let the bandana go. I never would.

There wasn't much that survived the fire. A few books, some personal records, a broken music box of my grandmother's…and a pillow. It was my mother's favorite, a rose-print pillow that she slept on every night. Even through the smoke damage, it was her.

A week later, two days after their combined funeral, was the first time I tried to die.

One morning after Dad and Satomi had left for their various places of work or entertainment, I swallowed enough painkillers to put down a horse and washed it all down with some wine I stole from Father's cellar. Then I lay down on my cot, put my head on Mama's pillow, pulled Kouji's bandana close, and waited to die.

I could smell them both, even through the ever-present scent of smoke. The pillow had absorbed all of the aromas from Mama's perfume, her favorite shampoo and the air fresheners she liked so much. The bandana just smelled like Kouji. It always did.

I could nearly see them. I imagined running into Mama's open arms, letting her hold me tight and warm, smelling her favorite scents right off the body. Kouji was there with her, he laughed at me and called me slow, asking what had taken me so long to catch up…

I slept for thirty-eight hours and woke up the next evening to the worst nightmare of my life.

( - )

Takuya was the only reason I made it through high school.

I was sent to live with my father, but that didn't last long. He and I didn't get along, we never had. I was too feminine for him, not strong enough to carry the weight of the Minamoto heir. He didn't like my attitude, the harsh, defensive one I had developed without Kouji, and he didn't like me.

I moved out on my own a month after Kouji and Mama died. Dad gave me the equivalent of sixteen year's back-paid child support and put a few hundred dollars into the same account every month. I didn't use much. I got the cheapest apartment I could find, kept the lights off all the time and never bothered with furniture. Some cardboard boxes and a futon was all I had, and all I needed.

I spent a lot of time in libraries. Reading about fantasy worlds helped me escape the pain of my reality. My grades slipped, I thought about dropping out more than once. There was no point in any of it. I didn't care.

Takuya was the one who pulled me through it all. The others supported me and tried to help, but I was always closer to Takuya. Maybe because he was Kouji's best friend. Maybe not. He just inspired me to keep going, even when I realized that my heart, despite my best attempts, was still beating steadily.

"Kouji wouldn't want you to throw your life away." He always told me as he pushed more homework under my nose or dragged me outside for a three-on-three soccer match. "He'd want you to live, buddy. Don't give up yet."

There was a reason Takuya had always been our leader. He had a way of bringing out the best in people, the way a real leader always should. He brought out the best in me, even when I tried to bury it deep under all the sorrow. He even had me take Kouji's place next to him when he married Izumi.

And after everything he did for me, all the time he worked to help me, he succeed. For a little while, I could smile and mean it. I was happy. Because of him.

Takuya Kanbara died a twenty-five year old husband and father of one pretty little girl. He was murdered during a mugging while walking home from the grocery store, shot in the left lung and left to bleed to death in a back alley. The police didn't find his body until trash day three days later.

I was surprised by how well Izumi took it. They'd only been married five years when it happened, and while she cried and moaned as much as would be expected, she didn't collapse the way I did when Kouji died. Maybe she was stronger than me. Maybe it was because of Aki, their daughter, who still needed her mama sensible enough to take care of her even if her daddy was dead. Having someone to lean on can be a powerful motivation.

At his funeral, she gave me Takuya's goggles. I didn't want to take them, but she insisted. "You need the courage more than I do." She said, and left me standing there with the plastic squares in my hands.

The goggles went into my pocket and nestled on top of Kouji's bandana.

( - )

The day after Takuya's burial, I went out alone and got myself smashingly drunk. I don't even like alcohol. I never drank to make myself happy or to enjoy myself or even just for the sake of drinking. The only time I ever touched a drink was when I needed to drown a sorrow. And I really drowned this one.

Junpei found me wandering down the street from his apartment in the pouring rain, so drunk that I could hardly stand. I was sobbing, he said, calling for Kouji and Mama and Takuya and cursing loudly at every crash of thunder. I don't remember any of it. I just remember waking up on a couch in the Shibayama apartment with a massive hangover and Junpei's two-year-old son sitting on my chest.

Junpei was at work, but his wife, Keiko, seamed to understand. She made me some strong coffee and let me use their shower to clean up.

For the second time in my life, I contemplated killing myself. A few misplaced strokes with a razor would take care of me pretty quickly. But I couldn't do that to Junpei, not after everything the two of them had done for me, so I just finished my grooming and retreated back to thank Keiko for everything.

I wound up staying there the rest of the day, babysitting little Rai as his mother went to the store and not screwing up too badly. Junpei came home about six and took me out.

He knew I didn't drink and wouldn't want one, so we went to a ramen shop. Just the two of us. I have to admit, Junpei gives really good pep talks, especially to someone he found drunk as a skunk and had to carry home.

"Just hang in there, buddy." He urged, practically force-feeding me some old-fashion homemade goodness. "You know Taku-kun, if he found out you were doing this to yourself he'd be turning in his grave."

I remember giving him a nasty look over broth and chopsticks. But Junpei didn't care. He never cared. He just grinned at me, that same wide, playful grin, and shrugged his strong shoulders. "We're still here, buddy. You and me and Tomoki and Izumi. Our group's still around. We'll make it work, just like always. Like the good old days."

I wish I'd had the chance to tell him how much I appreciated his optimism, but at the time, I was too pessimistic to care.

He put a blue bomber jacket over my shoulders and told me to keep it. "You're gonna catch your death if you don't start layering." He warned as he hailed a cab to take me home.

I remember idly thinking, "I wish."

Junpei, Keiko and Rai died together in a terrible subway accident some years later. Two hundred and sixty seven others were killed with them, but they were the ones that mattered. He was 34. She was 31. Rai was 10.

I got drunk again. And I didn't regret it.

( - )

Aki was the one who started calling me 'Uncle Kou'.

The first time was at Christmas when she was nine. Izumi and her second husband had invited me to Christmas dinner, and I accepted. I'd babysat for Aki several times, as had Shinya, and she seemed to run the two of us together to create the nickname. It stuck, for some reason. I never could get rid of it.

Tomoki was at the dinner too, with his wife Naomi. I was the only one of us who lived to marriage age but never got around to it. My heart couldn't take it, I suppose. It had just enough love for my mother, my brother and the six best friends anyone could ask for. I just didn't have enough for anyone else.

Tomoki thought this was funny, especially since his kids, as well as all of the others', had always enjoyed my company and babysitting. He gave me a small stuffed bear that Christmas, white and pocket-sized. Said it was a good luck charm, one that had helped him win over Naomi. He thought it might give me some luck in my love life.

I didn't have a love life, but I kept the bear anyway. It went into the blue jacket pocket next to the goggles and the bandanna.

There was a part of me that always pined for one particular girl, but she was far out of my reach. I'd always admired Izumi for her strength, moving on even after the loss of the love of her life, supporting Aki alone for years before she finally remarried.

There was a part of me that loved her. She reminded me of Mama. But I knew it wasn't meant to be.

We'd dated once in high school, but it only lasted a week and neither of us could ever justify doing it again. Besides, she was Takuya's girl. Heh, he'd been dead for fifteen years, and I still thought that. Because she was, she was Takuya's girl through and through, they were meant to be together.

She gave me a purple hair ribbon the week before she died. I was going on a short trip, and she said she felt I'd need something to remember her by. As if I'd need anything to remember her.

Izumi died peacefully in her sleep when she was 47. Aki, now 22, had just gotten married to a wonderful man, and her mother had seen everything she'd wanted. Now that her life goals had been satisfied, she was finally able to let her heart break, and she went to be with her true love.

They were meant to be together. Always have, and always will. The ribbon went into my pocket.

( - )

Tomoki was the last one to go. At 52, he suffered a brain aneurysm and went into a week-long coma before he finally gave in.

When I buried him, I was 55, and I wanted to die.

One by one over all these years, everyone and everything I'd ever loved had been taken from me. My friends were gone, my mother was gone, my brother was gone. The only thing I wanted, the only thought occupying my mind, was how to see them again. How to be with them again. More than anything, I wanted to die. To be with them.

My father had passed away twenty years ago without so much as a flutter in my weakened heart, but he had left me a few things in his will. A gun was one of them, a handgun he'd inherited from his father. I bought the bullets myself, went far out into the country, and fired one clean shot to my right temple.

But I didn't die. I woke the next morning sprawled on the floor as though nothing had happened. No blood, no wound, no nothing. I was alive.

I tried again, and again, until I'd used up all of the bullets. Every time, it was the same thing. Hit the ground. Black out. Wake up like it was all a dream.

I decided to try another method. It was my fifty-sixth birthday when I first tried slitting my wrists, right there in the cemetery next to Kouji and Mama's graves. I made sure to bleed away from them, of course, I wouldn't soil the burial places of my two most important people for anything in the world. The blood flowed freely from my broken veins and into the thick grass, and the last thing I could think as I passed out was that it had finally worked…

But it didn't. I woke up hours later, feeling ill and sickly, to find my wrists all in one piece and my heart still stubbornly beating. It was right about then that it struck me, hard, fast and painfully.

I couldn't die.

I wanted to scream, but I didn't have the energy, so I curled up beneath Kouji's headstone and sobbed. I buried my head in my arms and cried, cursing my goddamned fate and everything to do with it.

I couldn't die.

It was hours before I could get myself out of there, stumbling through the dark night streets like a madman. I forced my body up the stairs and into my tiny apartment, slamming the door behind me and collapsing onto my futon. I buried my face in Mama's rose pillow and sobbed.

I couldn't die. I couldn't die! It wasn't fair! It just wasn't fair! I wanted to die! I wanted my friends, my mama, I wanted…wanted…

Junpei's jacket rustled around my body and Kouji's bandana wiggled out of the pocket, dragging with it the ribbon, the bear, and the goggles. My fingers touched the worn cloth and instantly grabbed on, pulling the bandana to my face. His scent filled my senses again, just as strongly as it had forty years before.

I wanted him, so badly, I wanted to see him, to be with him again. I wanted him to wipe my tears away and tell me that a man my age shouldn't be crying. I wanted to hear his voice, see him smile, I wanted everything to do with him. I had to see him…I had to…

I tried again and again. I sliced my wrists at least once a night, staining the knife and my clothes with clotted blood, but never my skin. I mixed cyanide into my morning tea and took a bit of rat poison with lunch without developing more than a bad stomach ache. I 'fell' from the platform at the train station and leapt in front of a bus. I cut a hole in the frozen river and jumped in. I took a running leap out the top-floor window of the tallest building I could get into. I hung myself. I turned the knife on my throat. I stabbed my own chest.

Nothing worked. I was always awake after it was over, and none the worse for wear.

Eventually, I couldn't take it anymore. I gave up.

I stumbled back into my apartment alone that night, just like always. I stumbled into the bathroom and starting running the water for a decent shower, just like always. I put my forehead against the mirror and violently cursed my screwed up half-life and everything damn thing that went with it, just like always.

Then I reached over and turned on the light, which I didn't usually, and looked at my face in the mirror.

I stared at my reflection. And I suddenly realized what had been going wrong this whole time.

But could it really be? I had to make sure. I dug through my boxes for the photo album Izumi had made me years and years ago, the one with all the pictures of us before Kouji died. I found the group shot we'd all taken together when we first returned from the Digital World and pulled it gently from its place.

I returned to the mirror and examined the two images: Me at eleven, me a fifty-six. There should be changes there, alterations, stretching growth or the scraggly remains of a beard. I should have looked like my father by now.

But I didn't. My face hadn't changed a day since I was eleven years old.

The only reason no one had noticed was because Kouji died. If we had really had a chance to grow up together, his face would have changed and mine would have stayed the same. We'd have known there was something wrong then, wouldn't we?

Because there was something wrong. There was something terribly, horribly wrong.

And I finally knew where to get the answers.

( - )

I must have looked ridiculous when I walked into Shibuya station that day. Here I was, a fifty-six year old man with the face of an eleven year old boy, all by myself in the busiest station in the city in with was probably the stupidest-looking set of accessories ever.

Takuya's goggles dangled around my neck. Izumi's ribbon tied back my hair. Junpei's jacket dangled over my shoulders, Tomoki's bear sticking its cute white head out of the front pocket. Kouji's bandana was tied around my right arm and I clutched mama's pillow to my chest. It was my tribute to them, in a way, and besides…I needed them with me.

I found the elevator, the one I'd watched Kouji disappear into all those years ago. All alone, I rode it down. All the way down, past the last number, past the basement, past everything. All the way to the very bottom.

When I stepped out, I wasn't fifty anymore. Just like I'd thought, it had all been some trick of Ophanimon's, making it look as though I'd aged with the others when, in reality, I hadn't grown once since I left the Digital World. Now that I was back in the pseudo-space between the worlds, the illusion was broken. When I stepped out of the elevator, I was eleven again. Just like I thought.

There was a Trailmon there, only one. Dark Trailmon, to be exact. I'd never seen him before, but I knew what it was. The same creature that had taken Takuya back in time, the one he always told us about.

It didn't say anything to me, just opened the doors and let me on. They knew I was coming. I'd stayed away for too long as it was.

We were on the Continent of Darkness, the Rose Morning Star filling the sky above us. Lowemon was waiting for me when I stepped off. Just Lowemon. I couldn't find the voice to say hello to him. I hardly had any voice at all. It took all the effort I had to say what I did: "You knew."

Lowemon nodded sadly. I choked back a sob. "Why?"

"You didn't die." He said quietly, his brown eyes full of a sorrowful gaze. "You were supposed to. Your thread of life had been cut, it wasn't supposed to go on. Kouji and the others mended it using the powers of this world. It wasn't supposed to happen."

"Then let me go." I begged. "Set me free. I want to go."

"I can't." He whispered. "Your life, your existence is bound to this world. The connection is permanent."

The tears broke free with wretched sobs. Everything I'd ever managed to hold back bubbled out of me, erupting emotions shook my body to the core. Lowemon stepped forward and put his arms around me, letting me cry, beat on his armor, everything I needed to do. He knew. He understood. So I cried.

"They're all gone." The words dropped from my lips in wet sobs. "Kouji and Mama…Takuya…everyone. They're all gone. I'm so tired of being alone. I just want to see them again. I want to die, please, please, just let me die…Let me be with them again, just let me see them…"

Lowemon held me and didn't say a word. I looked up at him, not bothering to wipe away the tears that coated my cheeks. "Do something. Let me go. Kill me. Anything. There has to be something you can do…"

"I'm sorry." He muttered, not letting his grip relax for a moment. "You and the Digital World are bound together in existence. As long as it lives…you live."

I cried again, screaming and thrashing. I didn't want to believe. I couldn't, I wouldn't, there had to be a way to be free of this nightmare, this horrible curse…

"I'm sorry, Kouichi." Lowemon whispered again, guilt tingeing the edge of the sentences. "I didn't know this would happen. I didn't mean this. I'm sorry."

He held me until I cried myself to sleep in his arms. Then he gathered me up and carried me to my new home.

( - )

I stayed in the Digital World after that. There was no reason for me to go home. Aki and the other children had long ago forgotten their 'Uncle Kou', and everyone I'd ever had the heart to love was lost to me. The Digital World was the only place left.

The Rose Morning Star Castle became my home. It was Lowemon's, after all, watching over the Continent of Darkness with ever-loving eyes. The castle itself really belonged to Cherubimon, but the Great Angel of the Beasts insisted that I stay.

It was my home, but I wasn't there too often. I'd go to the other continents to visit the other Warriors, sometimes with Lowemon, sometimes without. I gave them my trinkets, my pieces of the others. It just seemed right for me to return them to their owners.

Kazemon looks beautiful with the ribbon twisted through her hair. Takuya's goggles found a perfect place around Agunimon's neck. Kumamon tucked Tomoki's stuffed bear in his belt, carries it with him everywhere. Beatlemon couldn't fit the jacket over his arms, so he tied it around his neck and turned it into a kind of cape.

I tried to give Kouji's bandana to Lobomon, but he wouldn't take it. "It's yours." He insisted, forcing it back into my hands. "He wanted you to have it, it's your connection. I can't take it."

I couldn't help but notice that his scarf had changed, as though the data was altered. The white background had darkened to a navy blue, and the dark stripes were now a light beige. I guess that was his way of remembering. It seemed like something Kouji would do.

I don't know how long I stayed in the Digital World. Time flows so strangely around it, it's almost impossible to keep track. But I know it was a long, long time before I found out that the Warriors were leaving.

There was trouble once again, this time in the Real World. Digimon were breaking through the barrier, causing nothing but destruction. The humans couldn't handle it, they needed help. So the Great Angels decided to once again give the Spirits of the Legendary Warriors to humans in order to defend the world I was born in.

They asked me if I wanted to go. We have to pick new children, they said, there's already a short list, but the Spirits of Darkness are still yours. Besides, the new Chosen will need someone to show them what to do, a mentor of sorts, to help them figure it out. And there wouldn't be a need to tell them of your past…

I wanted to say no. I wanted to tell them to give the Spirits of Darkness to someone else, that I never wanted anything to do with the Human World again. It was too painful for me, too many memories, too many graves, I couldn't go back, I wouldn't…

Then I saw the List. Of all of the children thought able to wield the Spirits truly and effectively, one name jumped out.

One of the potentials for the Spirit of Light was named Kouji.

It wasn't him, I knew. It couldn't be. He'd been dead for so long, and the name was fairly common for Japanese boys. It just couldn't be him. But my mind hoped, my heart soared. I couldn't help myself.

I said yes. Then I took the Spirits and went after him again.

The End