A/N: For LiveJournal's KHR writing challenge community Write-and-Run's round 4. The prompt was Corruption; "The end justified the means", word limit – 500-5000, and the bonus guideline wanted us to use a boss/leader character of some sort.

Warnings: some gore, but nothing too explicit.

Disclaimer: Reborn! is the intellectual property of Amano Akira and all associated companies. I claim no association with any of them, no profit is being made from this and no copyright infringement intended with this fan-made piece of fiction.

The Phoenix Didn't Rise

Blood is everywhere: splattered on the ceiling, dripping down the walls, pooling on the ground, and trickling down the staircases. The windows of the mansion are shattered, and the shards of glass – blood- and soot-stained – litter the ground and any other upright surface. There are holes in the walls, jagged edges and peeling wallpaper revealing what the building was made of. Where the walls are still intact, burn marks have left black trails all over the tapestry. Somewhere, water is running from broken pipes, and the structure of the building is creaking in places, threatening to cave in. Stained documents and remains of books lie scattered around, paintings have been cut apart by swords and their frames have been broken, and torn curtains still smoulder. The gleam of fire shines through the cracks here and there, and the smell of fire and death permeates the air.

Men lie dead in almost every room, every corridor, and on every staircase. Some of the bodies are burning, some of them are buried under rubble, and from some only a few limbs remain. Somebody's innards trail down a banister leading up to the second floor, while a few surviving men crawl around the floors. Their cries of pain fill the air. The precious few who have withstood the brunt of the attack are now trying to get out of the building before it falls apart. They won't live long even if they somehow make it outside. The attackers are still lingering nearby, watching the destruction and picking off any strays who still show signs of life. The mansion of Giglio Nero has become a slaughterhouse. Soon, it will turn into ruins, destroyed by fire, water, and explosions. Before long, the gravity of this battle will pull it down.

Whichever way Yuni looks, she sees only familiar faces, caked in blood and grime. Some of them have been mangled beyond recognition, some have burned away; and some people have their heads missing, only bloody stumps of necks remaining atop broad shoulders. Mangled limbs are scattered all around as if somebody has played a pick-up game, forgetting to put away the sticks afterward. Yuni's clothes are blood-stained, her boots are heavy with grime, and each step shoots a needle of pain right into her heart. She has lost her hat during the battle, and her hair hangs around her face limp and wet. Some strands stick to her face, but she doesn't raise her hand to brush them away – her hands are red with blood; most of it isn't her own. Tears draw clean lines down her face; she has been crying for so long now that they have washed away the grime from her skin. She looks like a broken doll, but she feels like a clown with tear-marks down her face while the world laughs. Everything in this mansion screams at her with accusations of why, why, why.

Yuni can still hear the voices of the men who now lie dead. She can distinctly remember things they said at one point or another. Currently, they're all screaming at her in pain. She stumbles down a dented staircase, trips over a stack of papers slicked by blood, and lands face to face with a severed head. She jerks back with a gasp and hastily clamps her hands over her mouth. She only sees the back of it, the dark blood-stained hair, and she hasn't the heart to roll it over and look into its eyes. She doesn't want to know. Instead, Yuni shakily gets up to her feet and continues onwards. All of this is her fault. She made the decision which led them to this point, and she will carry the entire weight of it. She will do it alone.

Her resolve breaks a little when she finds Gamma. He is still alive, but he's holding on with the last vestiges of his strength. He doesn't show any sign of recognising her, or even acknowledging the presence of another person. Yuni sinks down on her knees next to him and tentatively takes his hand. Gamma's hand slightly contracts in response to the touch, but that is the only sign of his steadily dwindling life. Yuni holds on to his hand – and the last bit of his life – and listens to his breath running out. With the last intake of air, she guides Gamma's life away. Her men need not suffer any more. She will carry their suffering and wield it like a banner. With it, with this memory, she will stop Byakuran – or die trying. She knows that he is waiting for her outside; he has baited her with his words from day one, from the first day when she took a stand against him.

. . .

Yuni draws in a breath and throws her arms out to protect Byakuran from Gamma's attack. Her eyes are void of emotion, but her heart is breaking. The look on Gamma's face is disbelief and betrayal, and it claws at her heart viciously. But she has made a choice. She has seen the future of one decision, and she will not take her family down that road. If she has to spend years under Byakuran's spell, she will do so. Anything to keep her family alive; anything to prevent a future of destruction.

Yuni throws her arms out and stops Gamma. She stops the world and erases the other future from existence. You don't know, she thinks while looking at Gamma, you don't know the future I have seen.
Gamma doesn't understand.