Disclaimer: Rurouni Kenshin does not belong to me (although I would happily lay claim to Sano). The Endless are the creation of Neil Gaiman.

Spoilers through the end of the Revenge Arc.

Rating: PG-13, just to be safe.

Little Brother

by Sophia Prester

There are certain places where reality becomes flimsy, and can often be treacherous. Rakuninmura is one of these places. Today, for example, it has overlaps so neatly with another place that certain people can pass between the two realms without even knowing.

The sky above is pale overcast—smooth, white, and glowing. It is painful to look at, but this does not bother the people of Rakuninmura, for they always look at the ground. They are not aware that they are in danger of falling into another world. If they knew of the danger, it wouldn't make any difference to them. The people of Rakuninmura are the ones who have cast aside all hope.

Today there is no wind, but yesterday there was a cold rain, and the runoff has gathered into the hollows and ruts that mark this place. The air is so still that the ragged pools of water have become mirrors to reflect the whiteness of the sky above. It almost looks as if someone has torn through the muddy ground to reveal pure nothingness beneath.

It would be truer to say that these puddles reflect the emptiness in the hearts of Rakuninmura's people. This world is meaningless, says Rakuninmura. There is no life, it says, merely existence.

There is some motion, here and there. Rats scurry to and fro in the shadows. There is good eating in this place, with plenty of corpses—both living and dead—just lying there for the taking.

A moth rushes past. Perhaps it is a snowflake. Either way, it does not belong in this place. It eventually catches the eye of the one who often wanders through Rakuninmura, and she decides to go see for herself what is happening. This place is one of the territories of her empire. Its rats and its mirrors are hers.

She trudges through the muck in her bare feet. Rats flow out of the darkness to mill about her ankles and pay homage. They nip and scratch and are occasionally stepped on for their troubles. One or two crawl up her naked legs, begging to be petted or bitten in half. It's a dodgy life, being one of Despair's rats.

More of the strange moths flutter by, carried by a wind that does not blow in the waking world. Most of the moths have words or fragments of words on them, Despair notes. It is rare to see anything so... eccentric... in her realm.

It is no surprise, therefore, to find a woman in a tattered orange and green kimono, standing in the dead center of Rakuninmura. Every time Despair sees her, she looks a little different. This time, her hair is long and wispy, and stands out from her head, making her look like a bright red dandelion clock after a high wind. She is studying something with a degree of concentration that is unusual for her. Normally, Delirium is easily distracted, but this time the only signs of her usual fragmented nature are the brightly colored lizards and frogs that keep dropping in and out of the print on her kimono. The few lizards that scurry too far from her side are quickly eaten by Despair's rats.

As Despair draws closer, she gets a better look at what Delirium is studying. It is a tall, lanky man, with white hair unusual for one so young. The diffuse light reflecting from his dark glasses shows more life than what is in his eyes. A book lies open in his lap. Every so often, he tears out a strip of paper and lets it drop from his fingers. Even though there is no wind, the scraps of calligraphy flutter, and the elegantly drawn characters become moths and fly off into the world.

Delirium appears to be waiting for the man to speak. He looks familiar, Despair thinks, but it takes her a moment or two to place him.

Oh, yes. The subject of their latest game.

"He's in my realm now, little sister. The game's over. I've won."

She doesn't mean to sound churlish. It isn't her fault that her voice sounds like something crawling up from a ditch. Anyhow, she's won this game. It was by the closest of margins, but once the man chose Rakuninmura, the victory was hers.

Delirium appears to pay no attention. She keeps peering at the man, her head tilting this way and that, sending the silver flecks in her blue eye whirling like a school of frightened fish.

"Why am I always the youngest?" she finally asks. "I can be the tallest or the purply-bluest and I can eat the most ice cream, but I'm always the youngest. I've asked and asked but no one wants to let me get any older."

Despair doesn't bother to answer. There's no point. The conversation—if you could call it that—would only flit to another topic in the very next sentence.

It does. Delirium pokes the young man in the head. His head sways as if in fatigue, but there is no other response. "He looks like one of *his* things, doesn't he?"

Despair grunts. Now that she's won this game, she's no longer that interested in the white-haired young man. He'll stay here for a while until dehydration and starvation lead to organ failure and send him to their sister's realm. Either that or he'll die of pneumonia or some other opportunistic infection as many here do.

Still, she wonders what Delirium is talking about. "One of whose things? You have to remember to use names, little sister."

Delirium pouts and tries to glare at Despair with her mismatched eyes. Then, she blinks. "But we never ever use our sister's name. I think."

"No. We don't," says Despair. Of all the Endless, she is the only one who has been to their sister's realm. It's not something she cares to discuss.

"I was talking about um, dee, arr, eee, eee, em, uhhh… em," says Delirium. "Our sister doesn't have anyone like this. She's only got the goldfish." She reaches out and stops the man's smoked glasses from sliding off the end of his nose. "Little brother looks like that scary thing with the glasses. You know, the one that whenever I see him, my insides want to jump out my belly-button."

For a moment, Despair stands stock still with terror. This man does indeed look like the Corinthian. If they had played one of their games with Dream's favorite creations…

Dream has never been one to listen to arguments such as "we didn't mean to," or "it was an accident."

"Well, his eyes aren't *quite* so pointy," Delirium admits, "but they're alike. They both have heads all full of darkness and all kinds of sharp things jangling around."

Despair only grunts in agreement. In her relief she raises her ring to her face and jabs in the hook just in front of one ear. Then, she drags it towards the corner of her mouth, leaving a jagged gash across her cheek.

"I don't like it when you do that," Delirium says in a small voice.

That should teach her to speak like that without thinking, thinks Despair. Delirium had a disconcerting tendency to be insightful, much as Dream could be ruthlessly pragmatic, or Desire could be maddeningly patient.

Despite the soothing pain of her fresh wound, Despair still wishes that Delirium hadn't said anything. Something about their recent game feels somehow unfinished. What has happened here in this young man's quest for revenge seems to carry more weight than one man's insanity, bloodlust, or self-loathing. It is possible that she and the younger Endless have stumbled into a major turning in the maze of Destiny's garden, or have perhaps been caught up as bit players in one of the Great Stories woven by Dream.

Despair sets her hook right beneath her eye and rips down and back to her jaw line, crossing over the other gash to form a bloody X.

She wonders if there will be consequences.

It's hard not to worry about such things, and she decides that it may be best just to let the matter drop. Still, she is curious about one thing Delirium said.

"Why did you call him little brother?" she asks.

Delirium smiles. To Despair, her sister's smiles always look as if they are on the edge of panic.

"He liked me," she says. "Whenever he saw me, he'd call me 'neechan and that means older sister but I'm going to keep that a secret because no one's ever called me that before. I like being an older sister. He always smiles at me..." She pauses, pouting. "Well, he used to. He keeps calling for me, but he can't even see that I'm right here in front of him. I even made some frogs to crawl in and out of his mouth and all around his ears, but he still didn't say anything to me."

"That's because he came to me in the end," growls Despair. It had been a close game, and she still isn't sure how she had won. She wouldn't be surprised to hear that Desire was still pacing throughout the Threshold, fuming over its loss.

"I'd be a really good big sister," Delirium insists. "I'd bring him dalmatium puppies and flowers and raspberry-waterbuffalo flavored lollipops and I'd never yell at him or be mean to him or treat him like he was stupid or annoying or unimportant."

The white-haired young man continues to tear his sister's words out of her diary. The scraps of paper fall to his feet (where they become toys for the host of rainbow colored frogs that Delirium has created when she wasn't paying attention). The words themselves fly off, perhaps to reassemble themselves as a book in Dream's library. Who knows. In any event, it is none of Despair's business. It is well past time to put this game to rest.

Despair lays one hand on Delirium's back and guides her away from this place with surprising gentleness. Delirium is one of the few who doesn't flinch from Despair's touch.

"Let's go. There's nothing left for him now but our sister's realm."

"Good bye, little brother!" Delirium calls out as they leave. She turns and waves one last time. "Say hi to our big sister and maybe she'll give you tea and let you feed her goldfish if you promise not to overfeed them! I really really liked having a little brother!"

Then, they are gone, each going back to the heart of her own realm. Another game is over, and as so often happens, the youngest siblings of the Endless don't bother to put away their toys.

Enishi sits as he has for days, tearing the words out of his sister's diary. He has read the entire thing several times, but the truth makes little sense to him. Whoever wrote this was not the 'neechan he had held on to for all these years. Still, he wonders why his 'neechan was so angry with him at the end. Why she would not smile at him. He thinks he used to know why, but the reasons have been carried off on the wind. He tears off a strip of paper, and another moth flies off into the coming night.

Finally, there are no words left. The moths have flown off to some distant candle. He sighs, but it comes out as a cough. It is becoming harder and harder to breathe, lately. He tries to draw a breath, but all he feels is an ache in his chest.

He's not sure how long he sits there, waiting. If only his 'neechan were there. She would take him into her arms and make everything better again. She would take him home. Everything would be all right again.

The darkness settles around him. It seems to come early today. Through the darkness, he sees someone coming towards him. Is it…?

He sees the dark hair, the pale, perfect skin. She is dressed all in black, which is unusual for her, and he doesn't recognize the silver pendant that she wears, but he knows it's her. She's finally come back. And she's smiling.

He has never seen her smile so beautifully.

"'Neechan?" he whispers.

"Well, that's what most of my family calls me," she says. Her voice is both merry and soothing. She holds out a pale, smooth hand and he hesitantly lifts his own so she can take it in her grasp. "But if you'd like to call me that, I don't mind." She laughs, and Enishi feels lighter than he has in days. "It's actually rather sweet. People usually aren't too happy to see me, so it makes for a nice change."

She helps him to his feet. The remains of the diary fall to the ground, as do other, less important things.

"C'mon, Enishi," she says gently. "It's time to get going."

She leads him out of Rakuninmura, the village of the living dead. The despair and confusion are left behind, along with any lingering desire for revenge. Although the woman is petite, Enishi feels small beside her, and her strong, delicate hand engulfs his own. In the distance, he can hear what sounds like the rush of wings.

For the first time in a long, long time, Yukishiro Enishi is at peace.

'Neechan is there.

Everything's going to be all right.

# # #

Author's notes:

Rakuninmura: That place where Kenshin went to mope when he thought that Enishi had killed Kaoru. If I misspelled it, let me know—I'll fix and re- post.

'Neechan = older sister. Enishi is rather unhealthily obsessed with his sister Tomoe, and keeps talking to her ghost. The boy just ain't right.

Yes, I should be working on "Empire of the Sun," but this story has been kicking around for even longer than that. The germ for this story was the fact that Himura Kenshin in Battousai mode looks like a bishonen version of Destruction of the Endless. Things went from there until I got the idea for this vignette. I have a longer story outlined involving much of the RK cast, Dream, Desire, and assorted residents of the Dreaming. Maybe I'll write that story someday.

Reviews are always welcome. Constructive criticism is *especially* welcome.