Yukimura went to Kyo through the smoke and flame, and turned the body over tenderly, to find much to his shock Kyo staring back at him with some small sign of recognition.
"So…you return to me in the end…" There was no bitterness in his voice, instead a tone that seemed truly grateful as one hand managed to shakily rise and rest against Yukimura's face, which was smudged with ash and streaked by tears. Yukimura put his hand to it and leaned into the touch.
"In my own way, I was always loyal to you Kyo." He whispered back.
The masks fell and shattered, and Kyo's trembling lips twitched a smile, and he pulled Yukimura forward. The other warrior fell against his chest with exhaustion, letting himself cry and smile as well, feeling free…so free…
- - -
Jin was cradled in Mugen's arms as they lay one wall of fire and worlds away from the others lying in that room. Blood spilled freely from both of them, mingling and mixing with each other's sweat.
"You found me…" Mugen whispered into Jin's hair.
"I never let you go." Jin replied. "We had too many promises. This…is the only way I would ever wish to die."
"We killed each other after all…God, Jin, I'm sorry."
"No, no we die as you lived, Mugen, without regrets." Mugen held him tighter. "This is how we always wanted it. And I am so happy…"
"As am I. I love you, Jin."
"I love you Mugen."
They kissed gently, taking all their strength just to press their lips together for one brief moment, and then they fell back against the floor. Their bleeding slowed, their breathing was equal, their hearts beat at the same pace…until it all was ended.
- - -
It was only a pile of ashes and charred stone nestled within the mountains. Many months later, finally fully healed and able to travel, Zabuza and Haku stood near Kyo's keep again. Even the labyrinth and outer wall had crumbled with the defeat of their owner. Zabuza's arm rested around Haku's shoulders, pinning the boy to his side as they stared in silence at the heart of all that had happened to them earlier in that same year.
Without discussing it they set to work creating a memorial marker, a large pyramid of the most preserved stones, upon which they each engraved the names of those who had given everything to the ones they pledged their loyalty to, and because of whom they would be together until death also embraced them, however many long years down the road it may be.
Zabuza also wrote next to Jin's name that of the object of his loyalty, and felt his resolve almost crumble as he ran his fingers along the lines of Jin's name. Haku had lost all his will and tears streaked freely down his face.
"He thought he was so terrible." Haku murmured. "But he was one of the most wonderful people I've ever met. That he did so much for me after barely meeting me…it never would've happened without him." Haku whimpered and let Zabuza pull him into a tight embrace.
"They're at rest now, all of them. They had needed it for a long time, Haku." Zabuza said comfortingly.
Haku nodded. "Say something for your friend."
Zabuza paused, as Haku's words sunk over him. It hit him then and somehow only then, exactly what had happened between Jin and himself. That intense feeling that had appeared throughout their journey and showed itself fully during their goodbye in the dungeon…friendship. Despite all the confusion and twists to their relationship throughout the days they spent together, that what was their relationship, in the end had become. The first pure friendship that either of them had ever had.
With a single tear dropping down his face he rested his hand on the memorial and said softly. "…I don't know what to say except…thank you…"
Haku wrapped his arms around Zabuza's neck and buried his face into his shoulder. After a long while they went back to the mountain house that had once been Jin's, and set up permanent residence there, both perfectly happy and willing to live their life contentedly there for however long a time they were blessed with. They were bound together stronger than ever before, their loyalty a tribute to all who had touched their lives through that time, and indeed all that ever loved at all.
Well, this had been one hell of an experience. It almost died SO many times and sometimes I really had to force myself through it, but it's done. And I'm happy with it. I hope you enjoyed reading it, and if you've actually stuck around through the slow times THANK YOU so much. Even if you've just read this whole thing now, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.