Notes: A review was left that said that Tatsumi is younger than Tsuzuki. In death years, that's true. But I always thought that Tatsumi died when he was older than Tsuzuki was when he died. So I always say that Tsuzuki is younger in comparison to Tatsumi, because Tatsumi's physical body is older.

Whups, and it would appear that I had Saki's surname wrong. It's Shidou, not Shindo. Well, my mistake. I didn't research. Just asked some friends. ^_^ Also, the spell incantation I have Tsuzuki use . . . I wanted it to be the one from episode 2 of the TV series, but I don't quite recall it. So I used Seishirou's from episode 8 of X TV. ^^;;

The lyrics at the very end are from "When The Stars Go Blue" by the Corrs and Bono of U2.

On even MORE of a side note, I'll adjust the chapters listing WITHIN the chapters when I have the chanceā€¦ heh.

So . . . this is really the end! Wow, I thought I'd never make it. 'twas a fun, wild ride. ^^ I hope it was as enjoyable for the readers as it was for me.

Yami no Kenzoku

Chapter Eighteen

It was a terrible thing to be forced to share a body.

Saki knew that pain all too well. Kazutaka seemed to think he should have been grateful for the body he had been given. He believed that he should be grateful for a body that could not even last for more than a few weeks at a time. That was why he had been forced to become a shinigami. To escape his deteriorating body, and to escape the brother that was attempted to track him down simply for the sake of killing him.

Grateful. For a body that he was forced to share with the persona of someone that did not even exist, someone that almost had constant control. It was /his/ body. He was the dominant personality. He controlled the memories; he was the one that it belonged to. The persona of Shinori Kaiki was nothing but a vague person that had been built upon an existing persona following that idiotic car accident.

He knew that the shinigami were coming for him. It was only a matter of time until they found him, and he welcomed the challenge. They had proved to be quite amusing in the past, and now that they knew the true identity of their friend, it would be far more interesting.

If he was fortunate, his dear younger brother would follow them. He would be able to kill him just as easily as those shinigami. Rather like icing on top of the cake, so to speak.

"Hurry up, Kazutaka," he murmured. "It's time to finish this."

The shinigami split into two groups to search for Kaiki. Tatsumi found Watari and searched with him, and Tsuzuki and Hisoka went together. They had left the KoKakuRou without a spare word to Muraki, but Tsuzuki had a feeling that Muraki would be following them. He wanted to find Kaiki just as much as they did, though for entirely different reasons. Tsuzuki did not care if Muraki did follow. His qualm with Saki was none of his concern. He was only a part of it if Muraki got in their way.

He and Hisoka walked together through the silent streets of Kyoto, both immersed in their own thoughts. Tsuzuki was completely focused on what was about to come. He did not know exactly what to expect, but he knew that there was bound to be a fight if what Muraki had told him about Kaiki was true, and he really was Saki. They would be up against that hydra he had gained, as well as anything else Saki was able to throw at them.

Tsuzuki did not know what he would do if it came down to a battle, which Tatsumi seemed to believe most assuredly it would. He did not know if he would be able to fight someone that was, somehow, deep inside, still Kaiki.

He did know that he would not watch anyone else die before him. He would not let anyone be hurt. Too many times had he seen someone die or be hurt because of him. He would not let it happen again, not even if he died trying to protect all of them . . .

Hisoka glanced at Tsuzuki. They had shared no words since Tsuzuki had explained to all of them what Muraki had told them about Kaiki. Tsuzuki had remained silent and withdrawn, absorbed within his own thoughts, looking forward to whatever it was coming their way now. Hisoka did not try to draw him out of that shell. He knew it was impossible.

But the look in Tsuzuki's eyes . . . that fiercely determined gleam had him worried. He could tell that Tsuzuki was willing to do whatever was necessary, without any regard for his own well-being. Tsuzuki never cared for his own well-being. No matter what the case, he would always prefer that he be the one to feel pain before anyone else. He went to any lengths to make sure he was the one that suffered the most.

Because he hated that much to see anyone else hurting.

"Tsuzuki?"

"Mm?"

"Do you believe what Muraki said?"

Hisoka had not known what to believe. Watari had accepted as ungracefully as he had. Both had been too shocked to say anything, but Tatsumi . . . Tatsumi had taken it in stride, as though he had been expecting something like it. He had simply gone straight to business, splitting them up, and giving orders to sweep across the city in search of Kaiki.

No. Saki.

"I don't know what to believe, Hisoka," Tsuzuki answered softly.

It could have been a lie. It could have been another twisted, fabricated lie Muraki had created to manipulate their minds. But Tsuzuki did not see what Muraki had to gain from lying to him. All other instances, there had been some gain for him. In this one, there was none. This time, they had a common enemy.

Hisoka did not pressure him to say anything else. Tsuzuki would not talk if he was forced to. He never would, and Hisoka quickly learned that it was a hopeless cause to try.

"Listen," Tsuzuki began at length, quietly. "Whatever happens just happens. You can't regret any of it. So . . . don't be sad if something bad happens."

What? Don't be sad? Tsuzuki was speaking as though he did not believe that he would get out of this, Hisoka realized. He did not think he would survive. He was willing to give up, if he could not.

It was the same way he had spoken when he had been willing for Touda to kill him.

He had been forced to listen to Tsuzuki speak that way once before. He did not know if he would be able to do it again, no more than he could wait on those steps for Tsuzuki, no more than he would watch him in pain without doing anything to help him.

"Don't . . . don't talk to me like that!"

Tsuzuki turned to him, startled by the abrupt outburst. "Hisoka--"

"I had to listen to talk like that once, I won't again!"

Hisoka had his head lowered and his fists clenched at his sides. His shoulders were shaking, with anger and fear, and tears that he refused to let fall. He did not want to cry in front of Tsuzuki. He hated to cry, especially over something so stupid . . . It was stupid to cry.

"You promised to stay with me," Hisoka whispered.

"Please. Please promise not to stay away anymore."

"I promise."

"And . . . promise to stay with me."

"Hisoka?"

"Don't die out there . . . . Because it is Muraki you're going against, and I can't be with you, so . . . I'll worry."

"I promise, Hisoka. I'll stay with you."

Tsuzuki tentatively reached out a hand to touch his palm to the side of Hisoka's face. Hisoka still did not look up at him, too ashamed to be seen with the tears in his eyes. He had cried in front of Tsuzuki before, but . . . he hated how weak and vulnerable it made him feel. He didn't want to feel that.

"I just don't want you to be hurt," Tsuzuki said softly.

Hisoka looked up at him. The tears still remained in his eyes, but his expression had become fierce.

"You're the only one that hurts me," he accused. "When you do this . . . you're the only one that hurts me."

Tsuzuki flinched. His hand fell away from Hisoka's cheek. Unable to look at him, he turned away.

"I don't mean to," he whispered. "I never mean to hurt anyone . . ."

Eyes closed, Hisoka encircled his arms around Tsuzuki from behind, and buried his face into the folds of his jacket. Startled by the touch, Tsuzuki stiffened slightly.

"Hisoka?"

"Don't you understand?" Hisoka asked quietly. "You idiot . . . you can't leave me. You made a promise."

Tsuzuki slowly closed his eyes. He brought up his own hands and closed them over Hisoka's wrapped around him.

". . . I won't leave you."

Oriya was seated outside in the garden of KoKakuRou when Muraki emerged. He was once again dressed in his usual pristine white clothing. Oriya lifted his gaze long enough to pass his eyes over him briefly, but apparently unconcerned, he turned his head away. There was something almost decidedly pouty about the way he was acting, as though Muraki had done something to insult or scorn him.

"Good luck," Oriya said.

It would have been quite like Muraki to shrug his shoulders and say that he needed no luck on his side, but even he was not arrogant enough to pretend that it would not be difficult. Becoming a shinigami had changed Saki. He had become much more powerful, powerful enough that he had been able to seize Muraki's chosen summon, the hydra, as his own. What he had intended to be a simple, menial task when he had first began his obsession with killing his older brother, had now become something much more difficult. He did not pretend to believe it would go well.

But it was a chance he was willing to take. He had waited long enough that he had to seize the opportunity, before those shinigami stopped him. Or perhaps worse -- found a way to suppress the persona of Saki so that it Kaiki would be the dominant force in control.

"Mm," was all he said, not sounding particularly concerned. He adjusted the lapels of his jacket and started to stroll away. Oriya's voice called him back.

"Is it really worth it?"

Muraki glanced back at him.

"To throw your life away, if you have to," Oriya said. "Like you were willing to do a year ago."

"I suppose I am."

"'ch." Oriya spit, as though there was a foul taste in his mouth. "I told you a year ago not to talk as though you're going to die. You always talk like that. But you never do. You always come back. Like that damn cat."

Muraki smiled, apparently amused to be linked to the cat that always came back in the child's song.

"Then I suppose I'll drink with you tonight, then."

"Damn straight." Oriya nodded, seemingly pleased that Muraki had come to his senses.

Muraki raised a hand in sign of a parting gesture. "Til then."

The only one that was ever concerned for him was Oriya. He rarely did anything to thank him, but . . . if all Oriya wanted was a promise that he would return, he could give him that. Even if it could be a lie someday, it was what Oriya wanted to hear . . . though he as aware as Muraki that it could have been no more than a lie meant to comfort. It just simply . . . made things much less bleak if Muraki did not talk as though he were about to die.

He did not know where Saki was, nor did he even have so much as a vague idea to begin looking. However, with two pairs of shinigami searching for him as well, if it came down to it, he would simply follow the sounds of destruction. It would certainly to prove to be quite a massacre if it came down to the hydra and Tsuzuki's shikigami.

KoKakuRou was not far from the ancient steps where he had met Tsuzuki that evening. He walked in that direction, hands thrust in his pockets, in all outward appearances unconcerned with anything that had happened or was about to happen. No sense worrying, really, over things he had no control over.

Saki stood at the bottom of the steps.

"'evening, Kazutaka," he greeted with a faint smile.

"Good evening," Muraki returned, as equally cordial as Saki.

Saki made a vague gesture with his hand. The hydra appeared behind him without so much as a warning. One moment it was gone, and the next it was there, lurking over Saki and awaiting his command. Its six yellow eyes fixated on Muraki, eager for a kill. The talons scratched into the ground impatiently; green flames leaked out from the open mouths.

Muraki lifted a hand and waved it through the air. A white dragon, not his chosen summon, but useful, appeared behind him, twisting through the air and shrieking a blood-curdling battle cry. The hydra's eyes flicked to it eagerly.

"Go," Saki commanded. Muraki snapped his fingers.

The dragon hydra met mid-air and everything became a flurry of teeth, claws, flames, and screams of pain and rage.

"I won't break my promise."

Tsuzuki gently unwound Hisoka's arms from his waist and turned to face him. Hisoka looked up at him. He had a small, hint of a smile lurking on his face. It was how he smiled to reassure that everything would turn out all right in the end. Hisoka felt embarrassed by it for some inexplicable reason and pulled away from the circle of Tsuzuki's arms. There was a slight blush across his cheeks.

"Idiot," he muttered, lifting a hand to rub away the few tears that had fallen.

Tsuzuki just laughed and continued to smile.

"Come on," he said, tossing an arm around Hisoka's shoulders. "We still have to go find Kaiki and see if we can help him."

"H-hey, don't be all friendly!"

"Who's friendly? You latched onto me!"

"Sh . . . shut up!"

Tsuzuki would have continued to tease him, but their antics were cut short. The sound of a pain-filled shriek filled the air. Tsuzuki whirled around, turning in the direction of its source. It was coming from a few blocks away.

"Someone found him before we did," he murmured. "Come on, Hisoka!"

He started running. Hisoka, though slower by nature and with shorter strides than Tsuzuki, was able to keep right on his heels. Tsuzuki lead them, twisting and winding through buildings, and over anything that blocked their path. He had to stop a help Hisoka over a fence that stood directly in their path, but once they were both safely over, they started running once again without question. Tsuzuki knew where he was going.

"There!" he exclaimed.

They were at the steps. The hydra that they knew so well had pinned a white dragon to the ground. Hisoka remember it in a flash -- it was the white dragon that Muraki had unleashed in the storage building in Nagasaki, when he and Tsuzuki had first met and worked out their first case together. Tsuzuki had only summoned Suzaku and it had backed down. Hisoka knew then that it was no match for the hydra, if it had taken SohRyu, Suzaku, and Byakko to take it down at the Descartes Manor in Osaka.

"Tsuzuki, look."

Hisoka stretched out a hand, pointing to where Muraki, quite like the prone white dragon, was flat on the ground on his side. His normally pristine clothing was stained red. Tsuzuki did not know whether or not they should do anything to help him, considering . . . considering /everything/ . . .

But his conscience got the better of him.

"Hisoka, make sure he's okay!"

Hisoka looked puzzled for a moment, but nodded and went to the fallen man's side.

Tsuzuki pressed his hands together in a incantation gesture. He murmured the same prayer he always did when asking for assistance from his shikigami, and called for Byakko. The white tiger appeared on the wind that had suddenly picked up around them, whipping all around them with a force strong enough to barrel them over. Byakko stood protectively over Tsuzuki, teeth bared and snarling at the hydra.

The hydra lifted its three heads from where it had been nosing about the white dragon curiously. Its eyes locked on Byakko and it hissed.

"It's useless," a voice, calm and rational, called over the hissing of the hydra and the snarling of Byakko. "Byakko could not defeat it before -- he can't now."

Tsuzuki's eyes narrowed. That voice . . .

"Kaiki?"

From behind the hydra, Saki emerged, smiling.

"No, you're wrong," he said quietly. "I'm Saki. It's a pleasure to finally meet you, Tsuzuki. Well . . . in a manner of speaking."

"Why are you doing this?" Tsuzuki demanded.

Tatsumi and Watari, having also heard the sounds of the hydra and the white dragon, appeared. Seeing Hisoka kneeled beside Muraki, Watari went immediately to his side. Tatsumi remained standing a small distance from Tsuzuki. Tsuzuki was certainly the better fighter -- he always had been and always would be -- but he could still support him.

"Not for the same reasons as my dear little brother," Saki answered, smiling still. "His reasons are deranged. His only goal is to kill me. Me . . . I've never really had a goal. I just enjoy killing people."

The wave of darkness hit Hisoka hard enough that he was forcefully knocked backward. Watari caught him around the shoulders.

"Bon!"

There was nothing but darkness. It was the same that Muraki had felt to him, only . . . it was worse. Somehow, it was worse. There was no danger, no hate, no frustration. He could feel nothing of motive or reason. All that was there was a vague feeling of amusement and overwhelming darkness.

"Hisoka!"

Saki seized the opportunity of Tsuzuki being distracted by his young partner. He snapped his fingers, and understanding the unspoken command, the hydra lunged forward. The jaws of its right head burrowed deep into Byakko's neck. The tiger screamed out in pain and struggled to escape the death grip. He dug his claws into the sides of the hydra, but protected by its thick scales, he succeeded in doing nothing but minor scratches.

Tsuzuki knew that Byakko could not defeat the hydra alone. Pressing his hands together, he once again murmured the same incantation as before, and called upon SohRyu. The sea serpent appeared and immediately went to the aid of Byakko. The hydra whipped around another of its heads and focused on deflecting SohRyu. There was a brief struggle; SohRyu attempted to free the grip from around Byakko, but it was in vain. The hydra took the opportunity of his close distance and buried its fangs into the soft under part of SohRyu's belly.

Tsuzuki drew an ofuda from the confines of his jacket.

"Tsuzuki-san!" Tatsumi exclaimed. "You can't battle that on your own, you'll--!"

He paid the warning no heed. Flinging out the ofuda, Tsuzuki pressed his hands together and formed the gestures as he spoke the spell incantation.

"Rin. Byo. Tou. Shya!"

Swarms of energy appeared in Tsuzuki's hands. He drew back his arms and threw them forward. The hydra shrieked with pain as the streams of light burrowed into its hard flesh, penetrating through what Tsuzuki's shikigami could not. It released its hold on both Byakko and SohRyu, and silently understanding that their master did not want them in the way, they drew back. Tsuzuki closed his eyes and focused his all on forcing the energy through the hydra. It was the only thing he could do.

"Tsuzuki-san!"

Tatsumi was calling his name. He could not hold it for much longer. The hydra seemed to realize it as well. Rearing back on its hind legs, it let out a terrifying shriek. Green flames appeared in the mouth of the center head, slowly but surely gathering more and more energy as the other two screamed battle cries.

It unleashed the ball of flame. It struck Tsuzuki full in the chest. He was flung backwards. His back connected with a brick wall; the brick cracked beneath the force of his impact. Enraged, Byakko and SohRyu lunged upon the hydra.

"Tsu . . . Tsuzuki!" Hisoka screamed.

"Bon!"

Watari tried to hold him back, not wanting him to endanger himself any further after the rush of feeling he had received from unwilling delving into Saki's mind, but Hisoka tore free of his grip. He ran, unconcerned for his own well being, to where Tsuzuki was slumped over, unmoving.

"Tsuzuki!" He dropped down to his knees before the Tsuzuki.

His chest was split open. Hisoka could see nothing but blood. He could see only the blood and only the smell of burned, seared flesh. His hand was shaking as he slowly reached out to touch Tsuzuki's face. He tilted it up and looked at him. His mouth was slightly open, a stream of blood streaked down either side of his lips. Blood flecked his closed eyelashes.

"Tsuzuki," Hisoka whispered.

"Kurosaki-kun . . ."

Hisoka did not hear Tatsumi's voice. Desperately, he pressed his fingers to the side of Tsuzuki's neck.

No pulse.

"No . . ." Hisoka gripped Tsuzuki firmly by the lapels of his jacket -- what little remained. "You said you weren't going to leave, dammit! Open your eyes, Tsuzuki! Tsuzuki!"

Tsuzuki did not move.

Tatsumi stood, helplessly watching as Hisoka continued to shake Tsuzuki, begging him to wake up. He turned away when Hisoka encircled his arms around Tsuzuki's neck and burrowed his face into the curve of his neck. Hisoka gripped Tsuzuki tightly. It was impossible. Tsuzuki would never die that easily.

Tsuzuki . . .

He tried to call out for him in his mind. There was no response.

Tsuzuki, hear me.

My body for yours. Take mine. It's yours.

Just please . . . please open your eyes!

Tatsumi slowly turned to face Tsuzuki and Hisoka. He immediately drew in a sharp breath of disbelief and surprise.

Hisoka had gone limp against Tsuzuki. And Tsuzuki . . . was moving.

"What the hell?" Saki hissed.

An aura of violet light appeared around Tsuzuki and Hisoka. Tsuzuki stood up. Hisoka slumped to the ground. His wounds were beginning to close, at an alarming rate. It was natural to regenerate quickly as a shinigami, but as Tatsumi watched, the wounds closed, and all traces of blood disappeared from Tsuzuki.

Tsuzuki, possessed by some unseen force, stepped forward. Slowly, Hisoka drew himself up. The wounds that had been inflicted upon Tsuzuki had appeared on him. His chest was split upon, as Tsuzuki's had been. Blood streamed from the wound and pooled around he and Tsuzuki.

Tsuzuki lifted a hand. Crackling energy, like electricity, was circulating around his hand. Hisoka lifted his own hand and closed it over Tsuzuki's.

"My body for yours," Tsuzuki whispered.

He stretched out his hand in unison with Hisoka. The energy crackling along his arm shot to his fingertips and into the hydra. The twisted bands of energy surrounded the creature, engulfing it, wrapping around its neck, its legs, cutting off its circulation and breathing. It swarmed into the hydra and burned its intestines. It screamed, a horrible, terrible scream of pain that was heard throughout all of Kyoto.

Tsuzuki lowered his hand. The hydra crumbled to the ground. Thick, black blood leaked out from its open mouths.

"You . . ." Saki tightened his hands into fists. "Don't think this is over, Tsuzuki!"

Saki vanished, as did the body of the hydra. The aura surrounding Tsuzuki and Hisoka faded.

Both sank lifeless to the ground.

Tatsumi stood outside the chambers of EnmaDaioh, awaiting Konoe to return from his meeting with the master of JuOhCho. Konoe returned after a brief discussion with the lord, and together, he and Tatsumi started the trek down the hall to return to the Shokan Division.

"What did EnmaDaioh have to say about the recent events?" Tatsumi asked.

"He believes that there is no trace of Shinori Kaiki any longer alive, and considers Shindo Saki a rogue shinigami," Konoe answered. "He will be properly dealt with when the time comes."

Tatsumi nodded. "I see . . ."

They parted ways upon reaching Tatsumi's office. He looked in, saw the mounds of paperwork that had piled up, and sighed. He was always told that he was the workaholic of EnmaCho, but it was not because he enjoyed it, that was for certain. Rather than immerse himself in the work that needed to be done, he walked out of the office and down another hallway. He had more important matters he could attend to.

It had been two weeks since they had returned from Kyoto. Things had been very quiet around EnmaCho . . . he had not realized how quiet things really were without Tsuzuki and Hisoka.

He glanced into the open offices were most of the shinigami worked and frowned slightly. Then again, things could have been quiet because it appeared that no one was at their work stations . . .

Continuing down the hall, as he drew closer to the last few rooms, the voices coming from them grew louder as he approached.

"Here you go! Ice cream will make you feel better."

"Ugh. Please, no more . . ."

"More for me, more for me!"

"Sheesh . . . what an idiot."

"What was that?!"

"Behave!"

Tatsumi poked his head into the infirmary room and smiled. "I see you both are feeling better, Tsuzuki-san, Kurosaki-kun."

Tsuzuki had Terazuma by the neck and was attempting to strangle him. Wakaba had her hands over Tsuzuki's and was trying to stop him, and Terazuma looked rather comical, gagging and trying to escape the death grip. Hisoka, in the bed opposite of Tsuzuki, was looking rather sick to his stomach. Watari bouncing the bed did not seem to make it any better. The Gushoshin were fluttering around rather like chickens with their heads cut off -- appropriately -- and cleaning up the enormous mess that had been made when Wakaba had decided to shower Tsuzuki and Hisoka with get well soon presents.

"Hiya, Tatsumi!" Tsuzuki said cheerfully. He released Terazuma, and unprepared to be let go quite so abruptly, Terazuma crashed down to the ground. Wakaba looked at him sympathetically.

"Hello," Tatsumi returned. He glanced around at the various people filling the room. "I suppose it would be too much to ask for a moment alone with Tsuzuki-san and Kurosaki-kun."

"Nah, not at all, Tatsumi-san!" Wakaba said cheerfully.

"No problem," Watari said, echoing her sentiments. He dragged Terazuma up to his feet and helped Wakaba pull him from the room before Terazuma could get in another cheap shot at Tsuzuki. The Gushoshin sighed dramatically, looked around at the mess that had been formed, and shook their heads. Not wanting anything to do with that, they fluttered out of the room as well.

Tatsumi pulled over a chair between the two beds. "How are you both feeling?" he asked. "You gave us quite a scare."

Tsuzuki laughed a little sheepishly. "Sorry. And me, well, I'm feeling lots better."

"What about you, Kurosaki-kun?" Tatsumi turned to Hisoka. It was the younger shinigami that had taken most of the pain. Though Tsuzuki had been that was wounded, it was Hisoka that had taken all of the pain for him in the end.

"I'll be all right in a couple of days," Hisoka answered.

Tatsumi nodded. "That's good to hear."

He paused, wondering how to word his next question. Tsuzuki noticed him puzzling over it and smiled.

"You want to know what happened," he said.

" . . . well, yes, I would."

Tsuzuki glanced at Hisoka, but the boy only shrugged his shoulders. He did not seem to care if Tsuzuki explained it with out without him.

"When Hisoka and I first became partners, we had to synch together to be able to defeat Muraki," Tsuzuki said. "I was wounded and couldn't do it on my own."

"You synched together again?" Tatsumi asked.

A puzzled look overcame Tsuzuki. "Well . . . something like that."

"I remembered that Tsuzuki had been able to communicate with me through my mind the first time it happened," Hisoka interjected. "I was desperate, so I called out to him, and offered him my body. It was . . . the same as synching together, but different in a way . . . because somehow Tsuzuki's wounds were transferred to me."

"I don't know why that happened," Tsuzuki admitted.

Tatsumi nodded. Nor did he. He knew that it was possible for shinigami to link their power together, to synchronize with one another, so to speak, but he had never seen it happen quite like it had for Tsuzuki and Hisoka. Theirs was a much stronger bond than any other he had seen, was all that he could tell.

It made him somewhat sad to admit that, but somehow . . . he was also relieved. He felt that he could worry less about Tsuzuki. He and Hisoka would always be able to take care of each other.

"What happened to Muraki?" Tsuzuki asked.

"We took him to KoKakuRou," Tatsumi answered, "and Oriya-san took care of his wounds."

"And . . . Kai?" Hisoka asked.

Tatsumi closed his eyes. EnmaDaioh had labeled him a renegade shinigami and decreed that there was no trace of Shinori Kaiki within him any longer. In the end, it was Saki that won the battle for control of a single shared body.

"He no longer exists," Tatsumi said quietly.

"No longer exists?" Tsuzuki repeated.

Tatsumi shook his head. "And Shindo Saki has been labeled a renegade shinigami. Soon someone will be sent to track him down and deliver him to JuOhCho for judgment."

Tsuzuki closed his eyes. In the end, no matter how had wished it would not happen, someone really had 'died' . . . and there had been nothing he could do to change that. Kai was gone.

"Do not feel bad, Tsuzuki-san," Tatsumi murmured. "They were matters out of our control . . ."

Tatsumi stood up and quietly filed from the room. A moment of silence passed between Tsuzuki and Hisoka.

Hisoka did not know what to think. It was all too bizarre to form into true thoughts. Kai had been no more than a persona built upon an existing one, no more than just another personality in a body. The body had belonged to Saki. It was rightfully his, and . . . the persona had just been built. It wasn't real. Kai had never been . . . real. He had always been Saki.

"We'll see Saki again," Tsuzuki murmured.

Hisoka glanced at him. "Yeah."

"And maybe . . . somehow we can bring back Kaiki if we do."

". . . yeah."

Night fell upon Meifu. Hisoka awoke in the infirmary room late into the evening. He did not know what had woken him. It was not a nightmare, or any outside force that caused him to open his eyes. He had simply sat up and opened his eyes for no apparent reason at all.

He glanced around the room. A curtain separated his bed from Tsuzuki. He pulled it away to see Tsuzuki, and he drew a breath as it revealed only an unmade bed. He worried for a split moment before looking up. Tsuzuki was seated by the window, arms folded across the sill, his chin resting on his arms.

"Tsuzuki?"

Tsuzuki turned to him. "Sorry. I didn't wake you, did I?"

Hisoka shook his head. "No."

Carefully, he threw the thin blankets from his body, and in painfully slow movements, slid out of the bed. The abrupt shock of cold on his bare feet had a shiver running up his spine.

"Don't push yourself," Tsuzuki said quietly.

"I'm okay," Hisoka said. It still hurt somewhat to move too much, but he did not believe that lying around in bed all of the time was doing him much help. He needed to move around before his muscles turned to absolute nothing.

He padded over to stand beside Tsuzuki.

"What are you looking at?"

"The stars," Tsuzuki answered. He shrugged. "Couldn't sleep."

Hisoka looked up at the sky. In Meifu, all of the stars were much brighter than they had ever been on Chijou. There was no pollution in Meifu to block out their light, no city lights to dim them in the sky. Rarely were their ever gray night clouds to block them from view.

Tsuzuki reached out with one arm, encircling it around Hisoka's waist. He gently tugged the younger shinigami over to share the chair with him. Hisoka would have been startled by the open show of affection, but Tsuzuki had become steadily more willing to show and share it in the past few months. It had started at the manor, when he had been willing to let Hisoka sleep in his bed, and carried on to Kamakura, where Tsuzuki had often held him in his arms to comfort him. In Kyoto, there had always been something more behind those embraces.

But Hisoka would not question it. He was afraid that if he did, Tsuzuki would no longer share that affection with him.

Tsuzuki began to murmur softly below his breath, and it took a moment for Hisoka to realize that he was not murmuring nonsensical words. He was singing quietly.

"Where do you go when you're lonely," he sang softly, barely above a whisper. "Where do you go when you're blue . . . Where do you go when you're lonely . . . I'll follow you . . . When the stars go blue."

"Tsuzuki . . ."

Tsuzuki smiled. "It came to mind."

Hisoka did not say anything. He did not know the words to say to express what he was feeling.

Tsuzuki said it for him.

"I'll always follow you, Hisoka," he whispered. "I'll always follow, and I'll never leave you. I promise you."

Hisoka closed his eyes.

". . . and I promise you."