Chapter 23: The End of It All

            Kage laid on the floor, quiet, his eyes closed. Recca looked like he was going to smack the guy awake, but Yanagi grabbed onto his arm and shook her head.

            "Hime! I'm just waking the bastard up! How the hell can a guy fall asleep in a battle?" Recca growled, his glare not leaving Kage's scarred face. His expression changed to disbelief after a moment and he looked down at Yanagi. "You…you thought I was going to kill him?" She looked away. Recca wrenched his arm away from her quickly and muttered something under his breath before turning away to look up at the night sky.

            "Iie…it's not that, Recca-kun…I just…"

            "Ah, Yanagi. He's fine; just give him a second," I said to her, grinning as I wrenched out the point of the kougon anki from the concrete and rested the madougu against my shoulder. I heard Fuuko brush off her clothing and sigh, going over to talk to Yanagi. Mikagami glared down on the apparently sleeping Kage a moment more before going over to Yanagi as well. Domon wandered over to get shouted at by Recca.

I looked down on Kage. He looked my age, he looked like an average guy, he could have gone to my school and I wouldn't have noticed him from the crowd… But I still felt the wounds he had given me, the blood still on the clothes of my fellow Hokage, and the crap he had dragged us through for god-knows what reasons. But…if he had reasons, he would never stop hunting down Yanagi, or anyone who had a madougu. None of us would be safe…

            Kage's eyes opened slowly to fix an almost neutral look on me. It changed to one of not hate…but of determination. I blinked and frowned down as he attempted to lever himself up. Apparently Yanagi hadn't had the strength to fully heal him… The golden blade of the kougon anki fell as I pointed the tip of it at my enemy's throat.

            "I wouldn't get up yet, Kage," I said, still trying to sort out my thoughts. Upon hearing me, the other Hokage came from their various locations and stood around Kage once again. "E~"

            "Explain," Recca growled, anger and annoyance evident in his voice and clenched fists. He sounded angry enough to kill the guy… "Explain why you did this, Kage." Yanagi stepped forwards as if to stop Recca, but merely stood beside him, her eyes downcast.

            I understand why Recca's so pissed off… I thought to myself, watching as Kage struggled onto his elbows. But…why…why would he want to kill Yanagi and not Mori Kouran? He was the one who planned the Urabutosatojin…he was the one who wanted Yanagi and the madougus…

            "Sakoshita Yanagi caused all of this crap to happen," Kage said flatly, no sneer on his face as he slowly got up into a sitting position. "Because of her, the Urabutosatojin was called and my family was killed." He ran a finger down the scar on his face. "I received this when you and Kurei blew up the dome. Nii-chan died to protect me, I just got this scar." Recca's expression was hidden by his bangs. "Don't you understand?? Because of her, more people will die! How many were hurt by the Urabutosatojin? How many more will die??" He got to his feet, ignoring my madougu at his throat and grabbing onto Recca's collar. "Can't you see that??"

            "Shut the hell up," Recca said quietly, looking down at Kage. "It isn't Hime's fault she was born with the ability to heal people. She used it to help others. It's because of people like Mori Kouran that people died." Kage's eyes widened as Recca in turn grabbed his shirt front and lifted him from the ground. "Don't fucking blame her for what that selfish bastard did! If you want revenge, look for that bastard Mori Kouran!"

            "He's not the only one who would want her powers!" Kage spat at our leader. "There'll be others! Other people who want to live forever, or want to be cured… They'll discover something different about her, and come for her, just like Mori did!"

            Mikagami's cold voice cut into Kage's tirade. "How many years has it been since the Urabutosatojin?" Kage blinked and slightly turned his head to face the swordsman.

            "…three…"

            "Three years," Mikagami restated. I looked at him, wondering what he was going with this. "Three years, and not a single person has attacked Yanagi-san. Other than you." Kage's eyes widened. "If you had been watching us that closely, you would have known that. Can't you get it through your revenge-clouded mind that we aren't the people to attack?"

            "S-Shut up!" Kage shouted, baring his teeth and beginning to struggle with Recca. Yanagi cried out as Kage was thrown against a brick wall, causing the man to cough up blood once again. Recca's fist shattered a section of the wall, sending brick and blood in the air.

            "You bastard! You're the reason why everything is happening now! You wanna know why Hime's safe? We're protecting her, and we're keeping her secret! We're keeping the secret of the whole Hokage madougus!" Recca bellowed down at Kage. "Nobody from the Urabutosatojin's gonna say anything about it, cause either they didn't know or they got madougus of their own they don't want taken by the army or the damn yakuza! If you just shut the hell up and didn't say anything about it, we would've been fine!! Sure, your family died…." Recca's tirade stopped for a moment and his looked down at the ground, the fist he had been waving at Kage lowered. Yanagi looked worried and went up to him, holding his hand and looking up at his face.

            "Recca-kun…?"

            "Daijobu Hime…daijobu… I'll protect you…no matter the cost." Recca looked up and smiled at the girl he had sworn to protect, to become her ninja, to keep her from harm. The others may have missed it, other than Yanagi, but I saw it…

            Recca…he's…afraid…He's afraid he's going to have to kill Kage…but…is he going to do it? I asked myself, taking a step forwards as if to protect the scarred man. W-Why…Why the hell do I wanna save this bastard who wants to kill Yanagi and all of us…to take our madougus and probably go on to kill anyone else he can find?? For the first time in three years I saw the face of the friend I had made during the Urabutosatojin. Saicho…

Images appeared, of the dojo where Saicho trained being covered in darkness, Saicho and Misora being enveloped in shadows…the Kuu being destroyed…nothing they had would be able to stop Kage… I took a breath and straightened, resting kougon aniki's end on the ground. Recca…if Kage doesn't change his mind…we have to…not just for our sakes…but for everyone…but then…we would be doing what he's accusing us of… killing a life for another…

            "Sure…your family died…" Recca repeated, turning his back on the man half-laying against the wall. He took a few slow steps, his head bowed as if thinking. "But… that doesn't give you the right to blame Hime for their deaths. You can't blame the fighters as well; they had something on the line, something to fight for, something they would kill for. If your family didn't want to get hurt, you shouldn't have accepted Mori's invitation to a death tournament! It was a damn slaughter-house, lots of people died there! They went there on purpose to fight, to train; they knew they were going to di~"

            "We had no fucking choice! What could we do??"

"You could've protected them! You could've protected your family, stopped them from being hurt!" Recca shouted, obviously holding himself back, still not facing our enemy... I looked up and watched the Hokage, their faces down-turned and sad as they listened to Recca. "You could've gotten stronger and fought back, and protected them! Like I, like we all protected Hime!"         

"You killed people to protect that one girl!!" Kage spat, struggling to rise. He failed, slumping back down against the wall, leaving a crimson smear on the red brick.

"Baka! Recca never killed anyone!" Fuuko shouted, stomping forwards. "He protected Yanagi-chan without killing a single fighter! We all won by knock-outs, ne?" She went chibi and grinned at us. I sweatdropped at the sudden change in atmosphere, but turned back as I saw Kage attempting to stand up. He was ignoring the drops of blood that splashed down into the red puddles forming at his feet. Resting a hand against the red brick wall, our enemy got to his feet and wobbled there, his scarred face turned towards the ground. Without thinking, I began walking towards him.

            He's determined to revenge his family…We have to convince him that this was because of Mori. Then…he won't try attacking Yanagi…and…we won't have to kill him…all this time we protected Yanagi without any deaths on our hands…I don't want us to start killing now…

            "Y-You expect me to listen to this crap? How else could you defeat fighters like the Uruha?" Kage groaned, nearly falling. "After all this time…how could I forgive you for what you've done?? Don't fucking joke around…that would dishonor them…Otou-san died trying to protect Okaa-san…Nii-chan died protecting me… I…I can't leave it like this! I can't let that bitch go around like nothing's happened! She goes around like nobody died because of her!"

            Kage took a quaking step away from the wall, his dark eyes hidden by black hair. "I-I'm doing you guys a favor…She won't cause anymore deaths…Nobody will be left alone…" He took another, stronger step away, his hand no longer resting against the bricks. Steel glinted in the dull night as Kage unsheathed a knife from behind his back and rushed towards Yanagi. Recca turned his head.

            "Yanagi-chan!!"

            "Yanagi!"

            I stood stunned as he came closer to Yanagi, the girl we had been protecting for so long, the girl for who I gave up on Kurei, the girl who we had risked our lives for….

            "Yanagi-san!"

            I have to stop this…We can't let this happen…I have to stop this!!

            Red fire burst out of Recca's arm, forming a sharp blade coming out of his tekkou.

            "HIME!!"

            Kage flew backwards; bright blood flowing through the air. Recca slid to a stop in front of Yanagi, his teeth still bared and eyes narrowed; Kage's blood, leaking down Saiha's blade, evaporated into red steam. The teen hit the wall with a crunch, sliding down to flop onto the ground. I froze a few steps away from the broken form of our enemy. Recca's eyes widened and saiha disappeared.

            "Otou-san…Okaa-san…" Kage's murmurs were quiet, barely audible to the dark night. "Nii-chan…I…I…" The silence stretched among us and one by one my friends lowered their heads, leaving only Yanagi and I staring at the black-clad body. Her shoulders began to shake and she put a hand on Recca's back.

            "Recca-kun…Kage…is he…" Her voice quavered and she rested her forehead on his back.   Recca's eyes stayed wide and on Kage, but he put an arm around his princess's shoulders. "Recca-kun…you…"

            "H-He would've killed you, Hime…"

            I took the few final steps towards the unmoving Kage and knelt down by him, looking at the glazed eyes, the slack mouth. I had seen dead people before, being in the Uruha but…I had thought there was a reason for them to be killed… Kurei told us they were bad people, and then they were dead. They were statistics…In the Urabutosatojin people had died…Genjuro exploded from Neon's attack, Magensha slashed by J-Kipa, Kai by his own madougu…

            "I…I saw the blade coming for you, and…"

            "Recca-kun…"

            "Yanagi-san, Recca had to kill Kage," Mikagami said, letting the blade of his ensui fall into droplets of water that splashed onto the tiled ground. He tucked the hilt into a pocket and crossed his arms, walking towards us. Yanagi looked up at him, hair and tears in her eyes.  "We tried to reason to him, for too long, and he still attacked. Like the sea-monkey said, he wouldn't have stopped at us. He would've tried to kill everyone who owned a madougu; he would've killed hundreds because of his family." Recca turned to Mikagami, fires burning in his eyes. "I'm not only am the zoo keeper, but have to explain for you? Sad."

            "I'm not angry bout your stupid nicknames," Recca growled. "I didn't want to kill the bastard, it…it just happened. I didn't reason it out…he was going to kill Hime and… my body just moved by itself…"

            "Your body moved by itself because you trained it to do that, so you could protect Yanagi-san."

            The night began to lighten, grey tones appearing in the eastern skies. I heard Recca's and Mikagami's arguing, Fuuko trying to comfort Yanagi, Yanagi's sobs… The sun began to rise and its fire showed a faint smile on Kage's face.

            He wanted revenge for his family…and to prevent others suffering like he did. But then why would he do that…he knew he couldn't kill Yanagi and all of us without his madougu…He didn't lose control…did he…know he couldn't win but tried anyway? Or did he…finally believe us? And wanted to die to be with his family… I looked at the young man's scarred face for a moment before closing my eyes. But…whatever Kage believed, whether Recca was a savior or a destroyer of dreams…it doesn't matter.

            Recca and Mikagami were still shouting, each trying to outdo the other. Yanagi had managed to stop her tears, but stood red-eyed next to Fuuko and Domon who were looking at the arguing pair with disapproval in their eyes, but said nothing.

"Can you fucking cut it out??" I shouted from my kneeling position. They both blinked, surprised, and looked down at me. "All of this…it doesn't matter how Kage died! He's dead…" I looked up at Recca, who met my eyes for a moment before looking away quickly. "But…do we still continue the way we were?" Nobody would meet my eyes. "Now that Recca's…killed for Yanagi…what do we do from here? If more people come for her, do we fight as we always did? Or do we kill to protect her? One death or many…after the first, they all stop becoming so terrible, and each one is easier to do..." One by one, they met my gaze and with a bloody hand, I closed Kage's eyes.

END

Took a while to get the final chapter out…I tried to make it as good as possible for you guys…tell me if you hate it though, it seemed to get strange at the end ^^; To end this…I want to say thanks to all the people who reviewed and kept me writing this fic, however slowly I updated… Double thanks to Yami no Tenshi, who mailed me to ask me to continue when I had forgotten about it… Hope you all enjoyed Changing Times! ^_^

Youkai Ryuu: The sixth form is shown in the manga…I based some of it on the anime and some of it on the manga…e.g. The ending of the Urabutosatojin is like the manga…

Emily: thanks for being patient with me + my irregular updates ^^

Schizo13: *sweatdrops* ah…I mean moonlight-san's update…yeah I got you two mixed up…sorry!

Yami no Tenshi: connection ^^; well…you've seen what happened. :P thanks for your reviews ^__^