Subject: [FFML] [yyh][ry][xover] Youtou Shinnoken Chapter 14, To Protect Loved Ones (Final Part)
From: Abdiel
Date: 2/14/2007, 12:21 PM
To: FFML

"That which transforms things and fits them together is called change; 
that which stimulates them and puts them in motion is called continuity. 
That which raises them up and sets them forth before all people on earth
is called the field of action."

(An excerpt from The I Ching; Ta Chuan "The Great Commentary", Part I)


________________________________________________________________________


Youtou Shinnoken
A Yuyu Hakusho/Rurouni Kenshin fic
By Chester Casta´┐Żeda
chester.castaneda@gmail.com
Original concept by SeventhOne
chadjill@ms3.hinet.net
http://www.fanfiction.net/~abdiel
http://chester-fanfics.livejournal.com/

The finale of Yusuke's fight can only mean the start
of Kenshin's. Can the former hitokiri protect his
loved ones this time around?

________________________________________________________________________

Chapter 14: To Protect Loved Ones (Part 10)
________________________________________________________________________



"KIKOKEN!" Randou declared, firing the azure fireball straight at Yusuke
Urameshi's face.

"Ouch. It felt like somebody slapped me." The reawakened mazoku smirked.
"Try harder."

"Very well, then. 127 Shiki, AOI HANA!" The ground-based projectile move
made use of the dark flames emanating from Randou's reserve shouki. The
demon afterwards executed the Death Flower's sister move, the flaming
fist of the Aragami, for good measure.

Predictably, the mazoku jumped up to avoid falling into Randou's game of
high and low attacks. <Excellent.> "Ultra Electromagnetic WHIP!" This
time, the energy whip utilized the razor-sharp reiatsu energy of the
gods of death, turning itself into a soul-cutter that was many times as
deadly as before.

Amazingly, the mazoku was able to twist his body and change his path in
midair, barely avoiding the Ultra Electromagnetic Whip's sharp whiplash.
It was more a case of sensing rather than seeing the energy whip whisk
past him, creating a deep groove on the crumbling, debris-laden floor.

Yusuke smirked as he simultaneously fired both reiki and youki versions
of his Spirit Gun at Randou. The force of the resulting twin blasts
prolonged his hang time, keeping him airborne for a few more moments.

Randou reassembled the Ultra Electromagnetic Whip's reiatsu into a globe
of spiritual power that burned in his right fist. Then, with a primal
roar, he shouted, "GRAVITON THUNDER!" as he punched the ground he was
standing on. A gigantic pillar of pure, white-hot energy fifteen feet
high exploded from where he struck the floor, blasting the oncoming You-
Gan into oblivion.

He then used his mimicked Shinsoki skill to execute the "SPIRIT
GUILLOTINE!" a millisecond later, making it seem like the successive
attacks occurred at the same time. Just as it was designed to do, the
Spirit Guillotine cleaved through the reiki of the Rei-Gan, turning it
into harmless particles of heat and light.

After countering both Renshyaa shots, Randou tried to think of a way to
attack Yusuke without being countered himself. Inspiration struck.

"SHIKIGAMI TENKU!" A creature made out of pure energy came out of
Randou's palm and homed in on the descending Spirit World Detective's
ki-signature in a kamikaze-like manner. The sentient beast detonated
upon impact, making its intended victim crash back to earth a second
later.

Randou charged with the "BAKUSAI TENKETSU!" once Urameshi landed, his
fanged grin turning feral.

The Toushin turned his head towards Randou, anticipating some sort of
projectile attack. Instead, he saw him merely stab his finger into the
ground over and over. <What the fuck...? That's just sick and wrong!>

Randou repeatedly performed the strange maneuver at the same spot as
fast as he could, not giving the ground enough time to expand and relax.
Finally, under repeated assault of the Breaking Point Technique, the
ground did indeed reach its breaking point, sending dozens of rocks and
hundreds of sharp small shards en masse towards Yusuke. The mazoku
watched in shock and disbelief as the barrage threatened to break every
bone in his body.

"REI-KOU-DAN!" Urameshi's one-fisted Rei-Kou-Dan in his demonic form was
the equivalent of ten Rei-Kou-Dan in his human form. The curved rays of
arcing energy blasted through the stony barrage like a myriad of
Battousai's Dou Ryu Sen on Genbu's Tetsuzan Kou. 

The impulsive tantei then blanked out for a few seconds.


***


Buzzing.

There was a high, constant buzzing in Yusuke's mind, making his head
ache, making it hard to think.

<Yusuke, please...>

And pain. White hot spears of pain impaling his chest, immobilizing him
with agony.

<Can't you hear me?>

And then there was that voice, of course. A girl's voice, faint, full 
of fear, and vaguely familiar. The voice tickled the back of his mind
like a cold, clear breeze trying ineffectually to pierce through the
fiery haze of pain, the high buzzing in his head that wanted to drown it
out completely.

<Please, Yusuke, come to your senses!>

Everything was dark. He felt disconnected even in his agony, ensnared in
the twilight just on the edge of consciousness. He needed to wake up,
and yet he couldn't remember falling asleep...

<Yusuke!> A despairing sob. It called to him so faintly. He wanted to
answer it, but...

"Yusuke."

To his surprise, the voice sounded right in his ear.

No. This voice was new, different. A real voice, full of warmth and
concern, unlike the cool, indistinct cry that fluttered against the back
of his consciousness...

"Yusuke, are you awake?"

And Yusuke realized that he knew this real voice. He was filled with
sudden hope, in spite of the strange pain in his chest and the buzzing
in his mind. With a surge of joy, he moved instinctively towards the new
voice...
 And in doing so, he left the faint, desperate, despairing whisper
behind, calling after him in vain until at last it faded completely,
like the last traces of some forgotten dream...

The cold, clammy darkness gradually faded. He saw the red of sunlight
against his closed eyelids, felt its warmth against the skin of his face
and arms.


***


Toushin Yusuke blinked as he shook his head clear of his strange mental
blackout. <What was that all about?>

"REI-GAN!" Fighting fire with fire, Randou's Spirit Gun slipped past the
ensuing chaos of his opponent's counterattack. It went straight for the
half-breed's chest, jettisoning him ten feet away with its sheer force
before he landed on his feet.

Rushing forward, Randou commenced concentrating the dark powers of his
chakra, shouki, and youki to call upon the forces of yet another
specialized projectile-type technique. 

"REPUU KEN!" Randou opened his left palm and unleashed a ground-slicing
energy projectile much like the Power Wave. Hence Toushin Yusuke dealt
with it the same way he dealt with the Power Wave; by blasting it with a
well-aimed Rei-Gan.

Randou smirked as the energy-wave stalled on the ground and cancelled
out the mazoku's Spirit Gun. He then swung his right arm, combining both
bursts of ki energy together into a much larger projectile and sending
it towards his hapless victim. "DOUBLE REPUU KEN!"

Randou gleefully watched the mazoku go airborne yet again... although
unwillingly... because of his Double Storm Fist. He had gained plenty of
experience hitting Yusuke, and knew he'd never managed a blow of that
magnitude up until that point. He was so satisfied with his handiwork
that he nearly didn't notice the Toushin seemingly teleport from twenty
feet away to just a few inches in front of him. The demon blinked dumbly
at the unexpected sight.

"Don't act so smug. This ain't over yet," the demon descendant said as
he prepared an up-close-and-personal punch that could have, for all
intents and purposes, decapitated his quarry.

"GAIKI DOROTA BU!" Randou did his own disappearing act by melding with
his shadow and making his opponent miss him by a mile. 

Toushin Yusuke skidded to a halt, just seconds away from crashing into
the floor. "Where the hell did you go?" the half-demon demanded as he
frantically searched for his target.

>From out of nowhere, a giant monster head appeared, spewing out the
pale-skinned Randou at his luckless adversary for a surprise attack.
"Peek-a-boo! I see you! Now DIE! KACHUU TENSHIN AMAGURIKEN!"

He started delivering a series of rapid jabs, alternating right and
left. All of them were blocked, but Randou simply continued punching and
didn't let up. He chose to keep the pressure on; he was the aggressor
this time around. He slowly forced his opponent back, waiting for
Yusuke's guard to break under the constant assault.

"Oh yeah? I can do that too! HYAKU RETSU-KEN!" Yusuke kept swinging and
punching hard against wave upon wave of Randou's fists with both arms,
creating a vacuum of sorts that shielded him from the upsurge.

<We're getting nowhere fast. Let's speed things up,> Randou thought as
he focused yet again on increasing his Shinsoki to something even beyond
that speed. Yusuke watched in incredulity as Randou delivered more than
a hundred punches in the space of every second. Dodging and parrying
unremittingly, he could feel the gusts of wind created by Randou's
missed punches.   
Urameshi's mouth further went agape as a flash of luminescence burst in
his psyche, blinding his mind's eye.


***


Buzzing.

There was a high, constant buzzing in his mind, making his head ache,
making it hard to think.

"Yusuke?" Keiko's voice queried.

The half-demon's eyes opened slowly, groggily, and he winced against the
brightness. Even so, he forced his eyes open, anxious to see Keiko's
face, to make sure she was real and that he wasn't imagining things.

The sunlight streaming through the window behind her formed a perfect
halo around her short auburn hair. In her shadowed face, he could see
her liquid brown eyes shimmering, even as her brow creased in worry as
she looked down at his prone form.

A weak smile crept across his face, and he inhaled slowly; a task made
difficult because of the strange spikes of pain piercing his chest.

"Keiko," he breathed.

Her heart-shaped face lit briefly with a smile of relief. But then, to
Yusuke's intense disappointment, the smile was quickly smothered by a
look of mild irritation.  

"You dummy," she said quietly, but her tone was affectionate as she
reached out to touch his forehead. His eyes followed the movement of her
small yet strong hand, and he awaited her touch against his skin with a
strange anxiety, almost a painful anticipation. Instead of the light
touch of her fingers, however, he felt a damp, cool cloth slide away
from his forehead.

What was going on? The last thing he remembered, he was in the middle
of... of...

Yusuke frowned, his brow furrowing as his mind refused to yield up the
memory. He was... what? Doing something important, something urgent...

The memories and images were there, just on the tip of his mind, yet
maddeningly out of reach. He knew that if only he could focus enough,
concentrate over the pain and the weakness, he would have it. He would
understand how he had come to be here, in his room staring up at the
rafters of his ceiling, incapacitated with agony...

Still, Keiko was here tending to him, as she always did when he was
injured. At times like this, he strongly suspected that she enjoyed
seeing him flat on his back, helpless. Still, though he would never
admit it in a million years, he almost kind of liked it when she took
care of him.

But how did he get here anyway? He remembered going to school that
morning... and then ditching school, he definitely remembered that...
and then he and Keiko went to see some sort of chick movie, which he
hated, and then they went to the park for a picnic, which he kind of
liked _if_ only Botan and some red-haired guy he had just met hadn't
gotten in the way...

A flicker of... something... a brief image of Genkai, Kuwabara, and a
marionette-like Keiko flashed into his mind so quickly...

But it made no sense. It was like the memory of some long-faded dream.
Wait. He remembered something else. He seemed to recall this shadowy
silhouette of someone that delivered a simultaneous series of sharp
burning stings across his shoulders and lower back. He tried to react
with a backhanded swing, but instead collapsed when only his torso
moved, his legs frozen and his arms flopping numbly. He saw himself fall
slowly as his unbalanced body tipped over, hitting the floor left
shoulder first with a dull thump.

Again, everything faded into inconsequence.


***


Randou's repeated hits to Urameshi's face finally woke the half-youkai
up. The Toushin answered back with his trademark iron-hard straight
right jab and follow-up left cross, snapping his adversary's head back
with their sheer force.

Before long, the two combatants didn't even bother to block each other's
punches as they charged and locked horns. Their blood sprayed all over
the wrecked dojo like rusty water from a damaged sprinkler system.
Black, blue, and red were the colors of the day. The musty tang of
crimson plasma gave Randou yet another bright idea.

"BLOODY RAIN!" Sharp, scalpel-shaped blood-ki bullets showered the
Spirit Detective as Randou called upon the pseudo-Kyuuketsuki Gakuen
ability. Every split second that followed, the blood-scalpels attacked,
and Yusuke couldn't even defend himself from their sheer numbers.

It started off as little nicks and scratches; these grew into deeper
cuts and lesions as the attack progressed. In a matter of minutes,
Yusuke Urameshi was lacerated enough times for him to look like he was
scourged by a whip. It was obvious who had the upper hand at that point
in the match. 
But the Toushin's reaction to Randou's impressive achievements was
rather unsettling to the demon; by the way that the mazoku was smiling,
it looked like he was having the time of his life. 

<This is fucking GREAT! It's like I'm fighting a hundred fighters in one
demon!> The mazoku was practically salivating in ecstasy as he enjoyed
his battle with the youkai to the fullest. <I wonder what he'll do next;
he's fucking unpredictable!>

<Is it possible,> Randou queried mentally, <that Urameshi is actually
_enjoying_ himself in this fight, even though he's grinning and laughing
at his own expense? What a sick bastard. He's just like that human from
South Town; they're both crazy warmongers!>

"Reikai NITOURYU HA!" Toushin Yusuke screamed with barely contained
fervor as he blasted Randou with a magnified version of his Shot Gun
maneuver, sending a flurry of energy waves towards his vein-filled
nemesis's direction. The blast also did its job in scattering the Bloody
Rain's scalpels away from him.

Randou did his best to shield himself from the Twin Spirit World Waves
with his Iron Body Technique and the Inner Blood Turmoil. His anger and
frustration serving as fuel for his dark strength, he rapidly gathered
pure negative energy in the palms of his clawed hands. "Bastard. Let's
see how much you'll enjoy _this_; PSYCHO SHOT!"

The purple sphere of pulsating psycho energy floated towards Yusuke in
such a slow and predictable manner that the mazoku couldn't help but
laugh out loud at the ridiculous projectile. This proved to be his
undoing as the seemingly weak and harmless energy ball suddenly
increased its velocity and made a beeline towards his exposed abdomen.

The Psycho Shot exploded violently as it made contact with the mazoku's
midsection; it burned and ate away whole layers of skin and muscle
tissue before anesthetizing the whole area. Yusuke winced in numbing
agony, his high tolerance to pain finally reaching its limit.
<Goddammit, I felt that one.>

The Toushin changed tactics then and there, opting for a more defensive
approach. Using Kenshin's Divine Speed to avoid close range combat with
his opponent, Yusuke attacked sporadically and prudently with his spirit
and demon gun combo.

<That won't work on me anymore, Urameshi. This time, I have your
number,> Randou swore. <There ain't no stopping me now.>


***


Yusuke again heard the infernal buzzing. <Am I going insane? What's
happening here? Where...?> He was back in his room with Keiko... not
that he had ever left or anything. Or did he? He just couldn't remember
a damn thing outside of being bedridden in his room; it was starting to
really annoy him.

Aughh, he _hated_ this! Why couldn't he remember what had happened to
him? 

Angrily, he tried to sit up. But the sharp pain in his chest surged with
his slight movement, causing him to gasp at its intensity as it seared
his insides and stole his breath away. Fuck, it felt as if someone had
driven a dozen thick nails into his chest...

"Yusuke!" Keiko cried out in alarm.

Again, the half-demon saw a brief flash of light enter his field of
vision. Once his eyesight cleared, he had a mental picture of Kuwabara,
kneeling, his shoulders sagged in defeat for some reason. Then Yusuke
saw an image of Genkai, who seemed to be on the verge of a nervous
breakdown. <Hah. That old coot actually _having_ a nervous breakdown?
The mere thought! That would certainly be a first.>

Then he saw Keiko, beautiful yet motionless, her naked body covered with
a makeshift blanket made out of a coat and a jacket; Keiko, whose
usually vibrant eyes were now as blank and murky as the eyes of a doll:
His worst nightmare.

What the hell did that all mean? Was it a pre... pre... a warning of
some sort? He hoped not; he fervently wished that it was just a
delusion, a crazy dream of pure nonsense.

Yusuke's vision glazed briefly as he struggled for focus, tears of pain
pricking in the corners of his eyes. He wanted to ask Keiko what had
happened to him, get her to reassure him that she was alive and well
and _not_ dead like in his nightmare, ask her why did he hurt so bad,
and why was his head buzzing so strangely? But the pain in his chest
caused the air to leak from his lungs in a wordless hiss, and he
crumpled back onto the futon with a quiet moan.

Keiko stared at him, her eyes wide and frightened. One hand reached out
to him anxiously, yet she didn't touch him, as if afraid that by doing
so, she would hurt him even more.

Yusuke blinked at her, trying to focus over the pain.

"Are..." Keiko swallowed. "Are you okay?"

He hated to see her so worried. He nodded, since it hurt too much to
speak, and gave her a rather faded version of a cocky smirk.

Keiko sighed heavily, a bit of the tension draining from her face, and
dipped the wash cloth into a bowl of water next to the futon. "Baka,"
she said, somewhat irritably. "What do you think you're doing, trying to
sit up already?" She looked into his face briefly, her brown eyes
flickering, but then she dropped her gaze to the water basin next to
her. "You need to rest. You're still running a high fever, and you're in
no shape to be moving around yet."

Yusuke closed his eyes and focused over the white hot spears in his
chest, trying to deepen his dangerously shallow breathing.

<Still running a fever... Am I sick? I never get sick. Unless... Did I
get hit by a car again?> Yusuke blinked. He admonished to himself,
<Don't be silly. If that were true, then I'd be dead then, not having
hot flashes and a fever... Or maybe not, seeing that I've inherited the
powers of my old man, Raizen. Maybe I've simply survived the car crash,
but just barely, and now I'm having a concussion or whatever. I guess
that makes sense. Damn, my chest hurts... Everything hurts!>

He heard the tinkling rattle of ice in the bowl, followed by the rushing
sound of falling water as Keiko wrung the cloth of excess moisture. A
moment later, the cold cloth was on his forehead again.

His chest hurt, and he couldn't seem to shake the buzzing in his head.
But that was a minor thing. He could focus over the pain. He had to know
what was going on. He had no idea how he'd come to be in this condition,
and he felt anger and frustration over his helplessness building within
him.

He opened his eyes and saw Keiko watching him, the irritation on her
face warring with obvious distress. Yusuke felt his frustration fade
slightly. For some reason, the sight of her made him want to just relax
and allow his questions to wait. She was by his side, she would take
care of him, and then when he was feeling better, she could tell him
what had happened...

The buzzing in his mind droned on, gradually building in intensity.

Yusuke grimaced. No. In spite of the strong temptation to just relax and
sink back into unconsciousness with Keiko watching over him, he couldn't
shake the urgent nagging feeling that told him he needed to be awake and
alert, that he needed to clarify his fuzzy memory and find out why he
felt as if...

As if...

"Keiko..." It hurt to talk. It hurt to breathe. He hated this. He had to
find out what was going on. "What...?"

"Quiet." Her voice was sharp, but then her expression softened, and with
it, her tone. "Don't... don't talk, okay?  You'll only make it worse."

Yusuke was incredulous, and yet the pain prevented him from voicing his
retort. <Make _what_ worse?> he thought in frustration. <What the hell
happened to me?>

As he took his next breath, he saw stars explode in his vision, searing
his irises. The pain had returned tenfold.


***


Randou's eyes darted back and forth up until he was finally able to
discern the pattern of Urameshi's Shinsoki-aided flight. That done, he
let all hell break loose in one explosive move. 

"SHORYUKEN!"

Randou crouched hard, the ground buckling underneath his feet, and
charged forward with an uppercut move that caught a very surprised
Yusuke square on the chin, which was by no means an easy feat in and of
itself. The half-demon was launched into the air as the Rising Dragon
Fist completed its course.

Unfortunately, even as the mazoku went airborne, he immediately
recovered, prompting him to unveil the special trick he had up his
(missing) sleeve as he descended back to earth.

"TAKO NAGURI!" With gravity as his ally, the Toushin charged forward and
unleashed a long flurry of blows, ending it with his own signature
uppercut that sent his adversary flying and reeling.

<I'm always a step ahead of you, Urameshi.> "TATSUMAKI SENPUU KYAKU!"
Randou, even as he went airborne, recovered from the counterattack right
away by launching a contra-counterattack care of the Whirlwind Kick. His
arrested descent saved him from what could have been a nasty fall, while
his revolving kicks nearly walloped his opponent into submission.
 
"Not yet. This ain't enough. I'm not yet done with you. JIGEN TOU!"
Combining the reiatsu he gathered up earlier with his kenki powers,
Randou again summoned Kazuma Kuwabara's best technique. The Dimensional
Sword worked its magic once more, cutting and hacking through everything
within its immediate and non-immediate vicinity. Space and dimension
were of no consequence to the Dimension Sword, and neither was distance.

But Randou determined that the attack still wasn't sufficient. He yet
again increased his speed exponentially, finally unleashing the full
extent of his Chou Shinsoki abilities. "Dual attack, double impact!
JIGEN TOU and KACHUU TENSHIN AMAGURIKEN!"

Taking full advantage of his weapon's peerless power, Randou rapidly
swung his Jigen Tou in a myriad of circular patterns that superimposed
and juxtaposed each other.

Wreckage, rubble, and debris were flung around like so many breadcrumbs,
the dirt and rocks of the dilapidated temple easily giving way to the
Dimension Sword's incursions. The ground was quickly grinded to dust,
crushed like a block of ice inside a blender set on puree as the
whirling dervish of Randou's undetectable attack headed straight for
the impetuous Urameshi.

"Heh. I like that... 'Dual attack, double impact!' It has as a nice ring
to it. Now let me try..." The mazoku chuckled. "One attack, hundred-fold
impact! HYAKU RETSU-KEN!"

The teenaged demon spawn darted inside the invisible spiraling vortex
head on, bloodying himself in the process, and drilled his quarry with
clean hundred-shot volleys, one after the other. He then jumped on top
of Randou and started delivering alternating left and right punches to
the demon's face. The seemingly wild, berserker attack soon became more
methodical as Yusuke again landed with his patented right hooks and
stiff straight lefts. 

Randou reckoned that it was now time to finish the battle before it
became a replay of the earlier 'endgame' portion of this fight. As he
made his now-worthless Jigen Tou disappear all of a sudden, he
exclaimed, "Stand STILL! SHIN NO IPPOU!" 

During that short moment where Urameshi's muscles were frozen stiff,
Randou used the Chou Shinsoki to move in for the kill, his fingers ready
to execute a lethal ten-hit pressure point combo with laser-like
precision.

"HAKKEI!" Powering his strikes with focused nen particles, Randou made
quick work out of the half-breed. The mazoku didn't even know what hit
him as he stared upwards into nothingness, crumpling to the ground.
Concurrently, Yusuke felt Kenshin's pain synchronize with his own in a
cacophony of orchestral misery. The gut-wrenching pain of getting
stabbed and having your insides battered simultaneously assailed the
half-demon's senses.



***


Yusuke closed his eyes briefly. <Focus. You've felt worse pain before...
Can't remember exactly when at the moment, but that doesn't matter...> 

<Focus...>

<Okay. Better.> The strange spikes of pain in his chest ebbed slightly
with his concentration. <Now breathe.> Where was he? <I'm in my room
with Keiko.>

"Keiko..." he started.

Keiko gave him a warning glare. "Yusuke, if you don't cooperate, I'm
going to call Atsuko-san. She'll kick your butt if you don't behave!"

"But--"

"No," she said firmly. "Now be still. Otherwise, you won't get better."

"Dammit, Keiko..." No way was he just going to lay there without knowing
what was going on. Especially since his urgency instinct was practically
screaming at him. Carefully, he pushed himself up with his elbows. The
pain lanced through him, sharper than before, and he clenched his teeth
against a cry of pain that wanted to escape.

"Yusuke, stop it." Keiko's voice had gone from firm to hard as stone,
and her tone matched her gaze.

"No way."  Yusuke's voice was a wheeze, the pain was almost unbearable,
but still he continued to push himself into a sitting position. He could
feel himself trembling, his eyes were watering uncontrollably, but he
focused over it all. "Not until you tell me--"

At that moment, everything changed.

In a flash, Keiko was gone, as was his warm sunlit room. He was shrouded
in darkness. A cold, thick mist plucked at his skin with moist tendrils.
And he found himself staring into he face of... of...

Reality.


***


Soon after, Yusuke's sightless, glassy eyes regained their vibrancy as
he clapped appreciatively at his foe's latest offensive. "Wow. Bravo.
That 'Hakkei' of yours was just... incredible! My insides would have
surely turned into jelly had I not locked my reserve Sei Kou Ki inside
my body. Tough luck, but nice try."

Randou sneered. "Urameshi, you arrogant piece of shit. Your arrogance
astounds me, astounds and disgusts me," he growled. "It's humans like
you who perpetuate the rot in society, people like you who, secure in
your own ability, belittle that of others, no matter how hard they try.
To think that you could actually be a half-demon makes me sick. Only
humans can be this bigheaded, giving themselves more credit than they
actually deserve."

"Whoa. Easy there, lady. Take some deep breaths. In... out... in... out.
There, have you calmed down a bit? I hope so." Yusuke sniggered. "I must
say, I was actually praising you, but the way you reacted to it will
have me laughing for days... You're ANGRY! Grrrr! I think you need to
put some stuff into perspective here." 

"All I need to do is give you another Hakkei and you're toast. You
should be the one putting things into perspective," Randou countered.

"Whatever, man. Anyway, by this time I reckon your present power range
is somewhere between B-Class and A-Class, right? It's good to see that
you're not a Class-C shit anymore. You're now as powerful as the Younger
Toguro was at the height of his power. I'm impressed, I really am."
Yusuke nodded to himself as Randou continued to glare daggers at him.

"You're never at a loss for words, aren't you?" Randou scathingly said,
scowling. "Just what are you getting at?"

"I'll tell you; just shut up and hear me out. Indeed, your vast
knowledge of techniques makes you nearly unbeatable once you've attained
enough energy to execute them all; that much I'll give you. I suppose
that's why you desperately wanted to get a hold of Genkai's Spirit Light
Wave Gem in the first place. However," Toushin Yusuke smirked as his
eyes glimmered with glee, "your greatest strength will prove to be your
own downfall."

"Fuck you, Urameshi," Randou cursed. "You're just flapping your gums,
talking trash. Let's just get on with it."

"You're a fucking idiot, aren't you? Do you really think that having a
hundred and one techniques is an advantage on your part? Ha. That's just
a hundred and one reasons for me to beat your sorry ass." The Toushin
shook his head in mock dismay. "Don't you know that there's a reason why
true fighters only make use of, at most, seven to eight techniques and
out of all those techniques, there are only two or three they use most
often?"

Hearing Randou's lack of a response, the mazoku continued. "You're a
jack of all trades, but a master of none. You can easily get confused
thinking up of which technique to use in a given situation, and you have
to choose carefully because you can only use a certain technique at a
certain time. Fact is, once you overspecialize, you breed in weakness.
So what are you going to do now, you stupid walking Swiss Army Knife?

"I'm going to do this... SHAOLIN-KA-SHOU-HAPPA-KEN! ZANKUU REPPU JIN!
BLOOD FIRE WAVE! ZANKUU RETSU JIN! KIKOKEN! REI-GAN! BLOODY RAIN! SPIRIT
GUILLOTINE! SHIKIGAMI TENKU! HADOU KEN! POWER WAVE! REPUU KEN! AOI HANA!
PSYCHO SHOT!" His throat raw from all his shouting, Randou threw a
multitude of his projectiles at the hanyou, one after the other. The
myriad of dancing energy waves converged into a hodgepodge of rainbow-
colored death.

"As for me, I only need one technique; a technique that surpasses all
my other techniques by a mile. And I ain't talking about the Rei-Gan
either! So eat this, demon... SEI KOU KI!"

Sparks flew as the Bloody Rain's barrage showered Toushin Yusuke like
bomb shrapnel at point blank range. The blistering assault would have
ripped the mazoku descendant apart had he not evoked his Saint Light Ki.
As it was, the attack merely neutralized the half-demon's impassioned
offensive temporarily.

<Impossible! How can he summon that technique after suffering from the
Blood Wind's energy-sapping powers? And what about the Renshyaa?
Shouldn't that have depleted him of his strength too?> An audible mental
click akin to the sound made by plucking a taut guitar string echoed in
Randou's head.

Toushin Yusuke went through the Spirit Guillotine, Blood Fire Wave, 
Shaolin-Ka-Shou-Happa-Ken, Zankuu Reppu Jin, and Zankuu Retsu Jin with
no trouble whatsoever, like they weren't even there. On the other hand,
the combined forces of the Hadou Ken, Power Wave, Repuu Ken, and the
ever-fiery Aoi Hana gave him a bit of pause as they clashed mightily
against his halo of divine grace.

<Wait. Didn't he just say that he kept some reserve Saint Light Ki
inside his body?> Randou nodded to himself in understanding. <But of
course. He didn't need to charge up a new batch of Sei Kou Ki, he
already stored up all the Sei Kou Ki he would ever need beforehand. He
wasn't afraid to use up quite a bit of his reiki and youki because he
already hoarded a lot of holy energy within him as backup; it's all
money in the bank,> he assessed.

By the time Yusuke was able to advance further, the Kikoken and the Rei-
Gan had already merged, creating a spherical explosion that pushed the
mazoku back a couple of feet away. The Shikigami Tenku then detonated
in the heart of the blast, creating an explosion within an explosion
that annihilated almost everything in its path.

"I won't hold back anymore!" Randou declared; obviously, he was merely
bluffing. He had already said the same statement many times before at
different points of the fight. He wasn't really holding back at all;
the truth was, he simply didn't know what his true limits were. "I have
something even more powerful than your precious Sei Kou Ki!"

The mazoku didn't have time to engage in witty repartee with his
nemesis; he was too busy shaping his celestial powers into angelic wings
that would serve as his shield from the approaching many-megaton blast.
His half-demonic brown eyes then widened in astonishment as the last
projectile, the Psycho Shot, absorbed all the leftover energy of the
previously released attacks, hurtling itself towards him like a gigantic
streaking comet from outer space.

Pooling all his resources on his defensive parry, Urameshi turned his
complete and total attention to the sphere of psychotic energy, hitting
it with the Sei Kou Ki in full force. Slowly but surely, the
concentrated psycho ball shrunk in size as his gilded wings dispersed
the incursion's superfluous amount of negative energy... after a while,
the energy orb dissipated into nothingness; only then did he look over
his adversary's direction. He had been so preoccupied with dispelling
the Psycho Shot that he didn't even anticipate what happened next.

Randou looked straight into Yusuke's eyes, making the mazoku think that
the youkai was aiming for another surprise Shin no Ippou. However,
instead of shooting out hypnotic rays of kenki to arrest his opponent's
movements, Randou's eyes turned blood red as tendrils of raging demonic
power scorched through the demon's upper body.

Randou subsequently did two quick jabs, moved forward by a quarter of
a foot, did a low kick and a fierce straight punch, and then ended his
short kata by raising his left knee and shifting all his weight on the
tips of his right foot's toes. Surreally enough, the demon began gliding
towards Yusuke while maintaining his bizarre fighting stance. Away from
the mazoku's field of vision, the kanji for the word 'Hell' appeared on
Randou's pasty back like a large, bleeding scar.

"SHUN GOKU SATSU!"

"What the...?" Yusuke reared back and hesitated for all of two seconds
before he instinctively rushed forward with an iron-hard punch filled
with his consecrated spirit power.

The two approached each other with the speed of a howling typhoon,
heading for the point where life and death meet.

As the two energies clashed together, Yusuke's sense of balance and
equilibrium was rendered null. His whole world went upside down as
absurd amounts of poisonous jaki was forcibly pumped into his system,
subverting and nullifying the sanctified abilities of his Saint Light
Ki. In a little while, the mazoku saw a very brief vision of a bloody
river filled with souls of the damned; he thought he saw the Gateway to
Hell. 

Was Yusuke going to die the same way Keiko did? Was he going to suffer
a death by jaki no power as well?

There were flashes of pain and agony as pandemonium erupted. Afterwards,
there was dead silence.


***


As Yusuke would so quaintly say, reality had just bitch-slapped him on
the face until he lost all the taste in his mouth.

Keiko. Keiko shouldn't be here. She... She... She died because of the
bastard Seiryu. The truth shattered his glass ceiling of denial.

Sunlight flashed in his eyes.

"Yusuke!"  Keiko's face was pale, her eyes full of fear as she grasped
his shoulders, pinning him down to his futon as he thrashed against her.
"What's wrong? Please, lie still, you'll hurt yourself!"

No. He shouldn't let the dream overcome what was left of his sanity.
He... He had to face facts.

_He_ shouldn't be here, at home, in his room. He was at Genkai's dojo,
in the mountains. Fighting demons. Fighting one particularly nasty demon
that nearly drove him to insanity because of his desire for revenge and
comeuppance.

He remembered.

And the strange high buzzing in his head slowed. Slowed until he
realized that it wasn't a buzz at all, but... a voice. 

<Yusuke...>

"K-Keiko...?"

Another realization rose slowly out of the murky waters of his thoughts.
He was dreaming, but the voice, the buzzing in his mind, was no dream.

Keiko's ghost smiled faintly as she finally got through to Yusuke's
inner psyche. The Kugai had lost the battle for Yusuke's mind and
sanity... for now. It was up to her to completely release the half-demon
from the World of Suffering's tight, suffocating grip.


***


There were dark clouds overhead, and Battousai wondered if it would be
cold enough to snow. He found he wanted to see snow again, decorating
the landscape with a sheet of white that buried everything under a veil
of pristine innocence. It was an illusion, of course, all the dirty
things were still there, but it was an illusion he had enjoyed
throughout his life.

Save when bright red blood was spilled on top of it. 

A brief memory of Tomoe assailed him, and for a moment his resolve
almost broke and he released his sword, prepared to meet his fate. But
then thoughts, memories, and dreams of Kaoru chased his doubts away, and
he was determined to fight once again.

The former hitokiri watched the rapidly approaching shadowy mass in
grim silence. Finally, it appeared; the misty, yet unmistakable form of
a giant wolf, its amber eyes glowing in the gathering darkness.

And out of the dark mist, directly under the great beast's grinning
jaws, stepped Goro Fujita, his lips curling with the exact same feral
grin as his amber eyes gleamed with cold expectation.

"Saito Hajime. You do know how to make an entrance," Battousai stated
humorlessly as he fell into his preferred battou-jutsu stance.

"It's been a while, Himura Battousai. It looks like I won't be bored
after all." Fujita's mild amusement at finding his prey after many years
of hunting and stalking quickly evaporated. There was no sign of emotion
in the man's unreadable features. Not a trace of malice or kindness,
sorrow or satisfaction, or even a sort of grim acceptance. 

Never had Battousai seen anyone so devoid of even the faintest hint of
feeling as the man before him, counting even his encounters with Soujiro
Seta and Souji Okita. <You're as creepy as ever before, Saito Hajime.
You always turn into this emotionless killing machine whenever you end
up in a fight to the death. Even still, I see you've become stronger
than when I saw you last. Granted, it's been a lifetime ago, but still,
the energy you're exuding right now is beyond that of kenki. Beyond...
anything human, actually.>

Fujita's unblinking eyes were clearly pointed at Battousai, the slender
man's piercing gaze seeming to bore right through him. The ex-assassin
returned with a stare of his own, fire for ice, but the policeman didn't
even blink in acknowledgment. A stalemate of sorts, or so the swordsman
ghost hoped.

Fujita moved towards the place where a large Tori Gate once stood,
walking casually onto the grounds devastated by Battousai's earlier
bout. He subsequently stopped just five yards short of his quarry's
current position.

Battousai let out a long, deep breath. He saw mist form from it. The
temperature around him was dropping quickly. He hadn't even realized it,
distracted as he had been with what was to come. "I never saw you before
since Kyoto, Saito," he pointed out to Fujita.

"Yes, you have," the man corrected. "You merely did not recognize me. I
was around you all the time, your constant companion, and you became so
used to my existence that you did not bother to look closely. But I was
always there. Much time has passed since last we met, and you are no
longer desensitized to what I am. My reappearance after so long has
opened your eyes. Now you see me before you."

"How quaint. So you've been stalking me all this time?" Battousai
supposed, his gaze never leaving Fujita's.

Fujita spoke again using hollowed words that once held some meaning but
were now lost to his unfeeling callousness. "You have ushered many into
death's embrace in times past, far more than most. Those that travel
with death alongside them for some time, those that summon and introduce
death to others, can sometimes sense its essence and know it for what it
truly is."

"Just what are you getting at? Are you claiming to be my death?"
Battousai straightforwardly asked, maybe even challenged.

"Don't be silly. Death had already come for you long ago. And yet, here
you are still. Dead, yet alive. From what I've heard, you yourself 
continue to be the harbinger of death to many a demon for more than a
century. Perhaps you can become my death as well?" Fujita told him.

"Why do you seek death now of all times, after you've evaded it for so
long? What exactly happened to you after all these years, Saito Hajime?
I've heard rumors, but I never expected any of them to be true." Moving
back, needing a moment to summon his strength, Battousai locked his icy
gaze with Fujita's. "So tell me, have you really sold your soul to the
devil to obtain immortality? Have you really gone all the way to Makai
just to gain the secret to eternal youth and life? Have you become a
demon yourself?"

Fujita huffed derisively. "That's utter nonsense. Open your eyes first
before you make such outlandish accusations. Just who do you think I
am?" 

It was more a statement than a question. There was no emotion in his
baritone voice; it was nothing more than a subtle proclamation of an
inherent fact. That voice was as devoid of emotion as the face it
belonged to. It held a certain inevitability, and the full effect of
what Battousai was about to do fully settled in. He supposed his whole
line of question was somewhat foolish and ill-conceived, but something
in him demanded he do this and resist the irresistible.

Another deep breath, and the steam seemed to rise slightly above
Battousai's eyes before dissipating. Yes. It would snow. Then it struck
Battousai all at once, just as hard as one of Sanosuke's fists between
the eyes. <Is this man... really Saito Hajime? Or someone else entirely?
Who is he really?> After a seeming eternity, which was less than a dozen
minutes, Fujita finally approached further and fell into his proverbial
Gatotsu posture.

Battousai stepped forward, meeting the unspoken challenge, if it could
be considered that. "Maybe I really don't know who you are now, or what
you've become. If that's the case, then it's about time we got...
reacquainted with each other."

"I thought you'd never ask. GATOTSU ISHIKI!" the Wolf of Mibu roared
mightily and charged straight towards Battousai with his deceptively
simple yet effective stabbing attack. 

"SOU RYU SEN!" The Twin Headed Dragon Flash assured no exploitable
openings because of its two-part sword and sheath strikes. Nevertheless,
it was a very tricky move to pull off. A large amount of concentration
and kenki was needed to make the Double Battou-jutsu attack successful.

As luck would have it, at that very moment Battousai had both. His
specialty, the sword-drawing technique, had come through for him once
again. Though his Youtou Shinnoken missed, its sheath hit Fujita's
sword arm right on target, bending it in an odd angle. 

<That's it? After a hundred years of waiting, this is how our legendary
feud ends?> Battousai frowned in displeasure. "Get up, Saito. It would
be disappointing to end our battle like this after so long."
 
Fujita smirked as he picked himself up and clutched his broken arm. He
afterwards straightened and popped its dislocated bones back into place,
all the while savoring the heartrending pain the action caused. Donning
his poker face once more, he contemptuously said, "Have your senses
dulled that much? Stop making a fool out of yourself. Before you brag,
check yourself out. Have you noticed anything different, Battousai?"

A second passed, followed by a minute. Horror struck the hitokiri's
features as he gradually put two and two together, working out what had
really happened in the opening moments of his bout with Fujita. 

He looked dumbly at his wounded and bloodied abdomen in trepidation.
This was one of the few times that he actually _wanted_ to be in his
ghostly form; after all, spirits didn't get physically injured very
often. 

He eyed Fujita's katana warily as it glinted a crimson shine. He
collapsed a second later as he felt Yusuke's pain synchronize with his
own in a cacophony of orchestral misery. The gut-wrenching pain of
getting stabbed and having your insides battered simultaneously assailed
the swordsman ghost's senses.

"The old Battousai would never have let that quick stab get him. Even
though you've gained some of your killer instincts back through your
bond with the half-demon boy, it's still not--"

Battousai then felt the aforementioned half-demon boy's instantaneous
recovery coincide with his own. Instinctively, he disappeared right in
the middle of Fujita's gibbering diatribe. Blurring into motion,
Battousai flew forward into the darkness, and was rewarded an instant
later with the soft feeling of unyielding flesh on the edge of his
sword. 

"RYU SOU SEN!"

Fujita's blood was sprayed all over the landscape a moment later.

"G-GATOTSU NISHIKI!" a wounded Fujita bellowed as he struck forward with
the second form of his Gatotsu a split second later, its wider range of
attack enabling him to deflect the rest of the Hitokiri Battousai's
powerful strikes. His blade crashed hard against the Youtou Shinnoken as
he diverted its path away from his person. The hitokiri countered this
by using the resulting recoil to catapult himself up into the stormy
skies.

"RYU TSUI...!"

As expected, Fujita sunk his stance low and then charged upward to meet
the hitokiri's aerial strike, making full use of the Gatotsu Sanshiki's
forty-five degree angle strike. He expected Battousai to, at most, twist
his torso to avoid gravity-assisted impalement. He certainly didn't
expect what happened next.

"...KAN SEN, ARASHI!"

The Dragon Hammer Flash was merely a setup for the storm version of
Battousai's Ryu Kan Sen. The complicated maneuver made him tumble from
front to back, forming a spiral not unlike the eye of a hurricane. The
revolving sword strike scored some deep gashes and contusions on
Fujita's neck, shoulder, and head, stunning him briefly.

"RYU KAN SOU SEN!"

Just as soon as he landed, Battousai became an incessant whirling
dervish, swinging numerous sweeping arcs at his target with clockwork
precision. <This is just like the combination attacks he had used
against Shishio!> was what Fujita deduced from his attacker's fluid
segue from one technique to another.

The gaunt officer stabbed several Gatostu Nishiki at the approaching
strikes, hoping that his dual attack-and-defense posture would somehow
find an opening in Battousai's ostensibly unstoppable assault. After a
few metallic clangs, the Wolf of Mibu decided to try a different tactic.

"GATOTSU ZERO--" Just short of executing his critical pointblank
stabbing technique, Fujita pumped his long legs forward with a Gatotsu
"ISHIKI!" fully parodying Battousai's recent combo attacks. The added
thrust of the cancelled Zeroshiki gave his Ishiki the extra leverage and
momentum he needed to drive the manslayer into the chalky ground. The
former Ishinshishi fell into a boneless, dusty heap soon afterwards,
wheezing in agony.

Fujita snorted, gingerly wiping the blood on his neck and face as he
assiduously observed his adversary's current condition. <He's breathing
too hard. Could it be that his body couldn't keep up with that show of
strength? It must have taken more out of him than he anticipated.>

Slowly Battousai brought his breathing under control, gazing fiercely at
Fujita.

Fujita was definitely taken aback by _that_. <Humph. What a phenomenal
recovery. Like in my fight with Battousai in the Kamiya Dojo, this
watered-down version of Battousai is slowly adapting himself in the face
of a superior foe, becoming fiercer, stronger, and faster. By fighting
me, his oldest enemy, has the sense of a century ago been revived? Has
he become Hitokiri Battousai once more? Or is he simply feeling sharp?>

"I have never tried using the Zeroshiki on you until now. I wonder, is
my ultimate technique even stronger than your ultimate technique?"
Fujita reflected out loud as he pointed his sword at the hitokiri's
general direction.

"You won't even get the chance to find out," Battousai patently declared
as he fell into stance once more.

"Indeed? Prove me wrong, then." As Fujita said the words, his sword
started to glow ethereally. "Only this will tell. The true from of the
Gatotsu. No holding back now."

<Of course. He's been holding back up until now,> Battousai thought.
<But so am I, so we're even.> 

<During his fight with Genbu, he awakened his hitokiri self and killed
the demon ten times over. Like when he was alive, his ghost had learned
to accept victory by awakening the strength of the hitokiri that sleeps
inside him. It's just as I thought. When the need arises, although he
doesn't know it, little by little he's reverting to Hitokiri Battousai.>
Fujita grimaced as his sharp, golden eyes of malice narrowed at his
target. <Nevertheless...>

Fujita stabbed forward. Battousai sidestepped and turned, making the
Former Captain of the Third Shinsengumi Unit miss his adversary and
overextend himself.

"RYU KAN SEN!"

With his footing uneven and the Battousai inching closer and closer with
a sword that did _not_ have a reverse edge, Fujita had a very small
chance for survival... yet also a very small window of opportunity.
Though the dragon's advantage lay in the heavens, the wolf's advantage
lay on the earth. 

Battousai's resulting centrifugal-powered Ryu Kan Sen, the same Ryu Kan
Sen that had decapitated Genbu's head clean off of his body a while
back, hit nothing but air this time around. <What...?>

"Amazing. Avoiding the blow and turning at the same time. A blow to the
back full of centrifugal force, the Dragon Swathe Flash," Fujita mocked
as he crouched low, avoiding the strike and regaining his balance and
leverage. The Youtou Shinnoken whistled past him, its blade mere inches
from his scalp. "But this instance won't become a replay of our last
fight. Observe."

Dragon and wolf were again face-to-face. Fujita had long discovered that
the claws and teeth of the dragon that soared the heavens could not
reach a wolf that had gone to earth. He even tested his theory
successfully against the Shisejyu Seiryu.

<Let's see how this technique is going to fare against _the_ Hitokiri
Battousai.> "GATOTSU SANSHIKI!" Fujita roared as he once more charged
with the third stance of his Gatotsu.

<What an interesting counter. Indeed, he has done his homework.> As
automatic as breathing, Battousai's mind raced and evaluated over a
dozen attacks that could come from the man's position, and the defenses
he could muster to counter or evade them. But before he could implement
even one of his elaborate battle plans, he felt his spirit break and his
soul shatter.

Unbidden, Himura Battousai's whole world quickly whirled into frenzy as
pain tore through the very center of his soul. It erupted from every
part of his body... from every pore of his skin. Nothing mattered now
except the intense pain. <Not now. Dammit, NOT NOW!>

Fujita continued his charge, inadvertently taking advantage of the
sudden stroke of luck. "Say good-bye to your borrowed life, Battousai!"

What worried Battousai at the back of his mind was the lack of sensation
from his surroundings that followed Fujita's lance of excruciating
torture.

After several minutes, Battousai blanked out altogether.


***


And then it was over. Yusuke came to without even realizing it. He had
no idea how long he had been unconscious, but he had been out for quite
some time; that, at least, was certain. One moment he was surrounded by
madness, and the next he had stepped into the eye of the storm, a
featureless bubble of merciful stability. Sudden relief washed through
him, and he fell to his knees, gasping desperately as he tried to
recover.

The last thing he could recall was a bright flash, and then... this. He
tried to open his eyes to see where he was, but found that they were
already open. Yet he saw nothing but total darkness. Could that flash
have blinded him? The mere possibility drove him to panic, and he
thrashed the best he could against the pitch-blackness of the room,
gnashing his teeth in anguish. The buzzing in his head was still there,
louder than ever before.

Steadily, the strange high buzzing in his head slowed. Slowed until he
realized that it wasn't a buzz at all, but... a voice. 

<Yusuke...>

"K-Keiko...?"

Another realization rose slowly out of the murky waters of his thoughts.
He was dreaming, but the voice, the buzzing in his mind, was no dream.

Keiko's ghost smiled faintly as she finally got through to Yusuke's
inner psyche. The Kugai had lost the battle for Yusuke's mind and
sanity... for now. It was up to her to completely release the half-demon
from the World of Suffering's tight, suffocating grip.

"Keiko... KEIKO! Keiko, where are you? A-Are you all right? Um, what I 
meant to say was, are you...?" Yusuke trailed off; he was at a complete
loss for words. He knew. He already knew how she was doing and what had
happened to her. He knew that her body was in critical condition, and
that her soul had already left its mortal shell. Because of the Kugai,
he felt every painstaking, belabored breath her comatose self took in.
<What do you say to a person's ghost anyway? 'I hope that, besides the
dying part, you're all right'?>

Strangely enough, Keiko giggled at Yusuke's unintentional joke. <You do
know that I can now hear all the weird little thoughts that are running
in your head, right? It's one of the perks of becoming a ghost.> Once
Keiko realized what she just said, she fell silent. Apparently, she
didn't have as much of a macabre sense of humor as she initially
thought.

Yusuke couldn't see Keiko's face at all in the pitch blackness, but he
did get the feeling that her mood soon after become pensive. <Well now.
It seems that the tables have turned. Looks like this time, I'm the one
who died in an accident and you're the one that... that...> She forced a
laugh. Though unseen, Yusuke instinctively knew that she was crying
inside right then and there.

"So this is just a dream, since dreams are the only way a ghost can talk
to a living person. But even though it's just a dream, at least...
you're real," Yusuke said. There was a pause. "At least I can have that
comfort, Keiko."

Yusuke felt Keiko smile. <Yes. Yes, I am. I'm very real.> Keiko's hands
trembled, fluttered like nervous birds, moving upwards to cover her
mouth. In her mind, she could almost taste the salt of her nonexistent
tears, feel the wet streaks on the skin of her face, on her fingertips,
and suddenly, all she could think about was what a terrible mess she
must look like; which was silly, since Yusuke couldn't see her. 

But Yusuke wasn't the only one who could feel other people's pain. Keiko
too could feel the half-demon's trepidation. His dread. <Yusuke...> She
steeled herself. <Listen to me carefully. This is very important. Botan-
san had already briefed me on what's going on with you, and it had me a
bit worried,> she whispered in Yusuke's mind.

"S-So what's going on with me?" Yusuke asked anxiously. "How long have I
been out cold? How long have I been dreaming? Why do I feel like I'm out
of the loop? I'm so confused that I don't even know which way is up!"

<Botan-san said that it was all the Kugai's fault. The Keiko you saw
earlier was the Kugai's way of making you drop your defenses before it
altogether destroyed the part of you that's human; your demon self is
what's keeping it in check, though ironically only your demon self would
survive if the Kugai ever had its way.>

"Well, ain't that just fucking convenient." Yusuke grit his teeth in
annoyance. "It's almost as if the Kugai was tailor-made to make sure
that I stay demonized. It's a setup, I tell you!"

<Well, that's not the case now. Only after you stopped being in denial
and accepted the painful truth about...> she inwardly sighed, <my
situation did you set yourself free from the Kugai's grip. I'm so proud
of you, Yusuke.> That was what Keiko said, but the way she said it made
it sound as if she was anything but proud. Or happy, for that matter.

Even though he already knew the answer, Yusuke couldn't help but to
torpidly say, "So it's true. It wasn't a dream... the fact that you're,
um..."

Yusuke could almost hear the dismay in Keiko's voice. <Dead?>

Both teenagers mulled over the situation silently, both desperately
trying to find a solution to their problem.

"Yes," he finally affirmed. He gulped, the nervous act serving as his
metaphor for his inability to swallow the whole truth. "About that..."

<Yusuke, I... I've prepared myself. Though I was in limbo... purgatory,
actually... for quite a while, in total denial of what had happened to
me, my heart is now ready. I have accepted the fact that I may not come
back to life like you did when you were dead. Just my rotten luck, huh?
But it's not so bad. I might actually pass on to the afterlife, in fact,
and...>

"Shut up." 

<...E-Excuse me?> 

"Shut the fuck up," Yusuke said in a low, dangerous voice. "Don't go
telling me shit like that! What you're saying is complete and utter
bullshit!"

Silence passed the pair at a leisurely pace. Keiko bit her lip as she
felt the Kugai reassert its grip on her half-demon boyfriend's mind.
This was going to be... difficult.

After much hesitation and inner deliberation, Keiko finally spoke. <I
love you.> 

Yusuke was taken aback by what Keiko just said, dumbfounded. "That was
kind of out of the blue. What the heck are you trying to say?" he
gingerly probed in bewilderment.

<Shush. Let me finish.> The walls were down, Keiko realized; just for a
moment, Yusuke was wide open. But something told her that she had to be
careful. One careless remark was all it took to slam those walls back
up. Maybe for good.

Her voice cracking slightly, she continued, <I love you more than you
can understand because no one's ever loved you before like I did, even
your mother. I love you so badly I don't understand it. I bleed when you
get hurt, my limbs ache when you fall, and every time you fight, my
heart breaks a little more.>

"Stop it, you fool." There was a world of torment in Yusuke's tone. "Why
tell me that now of all times? I already know. Now stop saying such
things, 'coz it sounds a bit too much like a good-bye to me."

Maybe Keiko _was_ saying good-bye, but she didn't want to think about
that right now. What mattered was that Yusuke was here with her at last,
even for a brief time. Each moment she had spent in the Elysian Fields,
burying her true feelings by drugging herself to listless oblivion, had
taken its toll. Her pride was extinguished, her inner soul exposed for
Yusuke to see. 

<Even though you'd never admit it, you've wanted love your whole life
and I'm giving it to you now but you have to fight for it and fight with
every bit of good, evil, hate, despair, love, happiness, and anger
within you, and you've got to do it now.>

"Of course I'm going to fight! I'm going to fight for your life, Keiko!
Don't sound so resigned, and don't sound so helpless! Remember, Kuwabara
almost died dozens of times over, and look, he's still here! And Genkai,
she was actually honest-to-goodness dead, but with one snap of Koenma's
fingers, she got better! And there's the Toguro brothers and their
eternal youth shtick. Oh, and let's not forget our friend Kenshin, who's
been hanging around this world for more than a century because of some
cursed sword or something. And what about me? I've overcome death twice!
I'm not bragging, that's a fact. So you can't give up. I won't let you
give up so easily. I won't leave you behind, so don't you worry. I'll
find a way to bring you back to life."

<I knew you'd say that, and I appreciate the sentiment.> Imaginary tears
streamed across Keiko's cheeks. <You're fighting for everything. You're
fighting for me and fighting so that I can show you what love really is.
So please, continue fighting for me, come what may.> She swallowed hard.
<Unfortunately, to do so, you have to let go.> 

There was another pause. "But how can you be sure that nothing bad will
happen to you if I do?"

<I can't be sure. I'm sorry.> Her ghostly lips touched his; a deathly
cold kiss from a girl who already had her foot on the grave. <It's just
that... you have no choice.>

And then Yusuke cried. His familiar defenses were down. He stood before
her, hidden in the darkness, but more open and vulnerable than she had
ever beheld him before. She didn't want him to be like this, and yet
hearing his voice filled her with the hope and longing, and all she
wanted in the world was to reach up and wipe the wetness from his face,
touch his skin, feel his warmth on her hands, her lips...

But she couldn't. Not anymore. And, if things turned for the worse,
perhaps she never will. All she had to give was words. She hoped that it
was enough. <Please don't cry. It's quite unbecoming. Like Kuwabara-kun
says, 'Be a man, Urameshi!'> She laughed miserably. <Don't worry, 'coz
I'll be with you too, crying, bleeding, and fighting to breathe harder
than I ever thought I could. Whether or not I live through this, I will
always, _always_ be by your side. You can bet your life on that.>

And with that, Yusuke completely let go, finally accepting Keiko's fate;
only by doing so did the Kugai fully dissipate from the splinter in his
mind.

And so the real Yusuke Urameshi, after a long, long time, finally awoke
from his demonic slumber.


***


To be Continued...


Next: Battousai's past again catches up with him.

Happy Valentines Day! ^-^ For a Valentines Day fic, this sure has
a whole lot of kung-fu fighting in it. HOO HA!

Notes from the self-indulgent author: Don't mind me. I'm just a
self-indulgent author. (ahem) Seven months ago, I was an idiot.
Then again, I still am. I really did my best to write the best
chapter I can churn out. The result is still not what I really
wanted to portray, but it's as close as I can illustrate in my
writing. Like the saying "life is a harsh mistress" goes, my Real
Life affairs were being particularly bitchy to me. The fact that
I'm a clinically diagnosed schizoid didn't help matters. At the
very least I can take comfort in the fact that it could have been
worse.

Actually, that's not entirely true. It couldn't possibly get any
worse; after all, Randou has quite become the contrived Deux ex
Machina. Bad and convoluted writing, anyone? Well, what more can
I say? The only way to fight a canon Deux ex Machina is with a
fanon Deux ex Machina, methinks.

Now, in no particular order, the rest of Randou's stolen
techniques:

41. 127 Shiki, Aoi Hana: Like the story said, this ground-based
projectile move makes use of the dark flames emanating from
Randou's reserve shouki, just as Iori Yagami makes use of his
cursed Orochi Blood to produce his icy-blue blaze of death.

42. Graviton Thunder: The special, ultra-electromagnetic anti-air
move of the Assahina/Platonic Twins (Ryu and Suzu Assahina) of
Voltage Fighter Gowcaizer fame. It is a pillar of pure electric
energy that shields Randou of all aerial attacks. Can be used
offensively as well as defensively.
 
43. Shikigami Tenku: Randou summons a blue energy creature to fly
at the enemy. It's your standard projectile technique. B-button
version is stronger, but does not go very far. Neither version can
be blocked in the air. This was learned from Akari Ichijo of Last
Blade fame.

44. Bakusai Tenketsu: A technique taught to Ryoga Hibiki by
Cologne of the Joketsuzoku then stolen by Randou. Originally used
by workers to clear away debris, Ryoga is able to shatter rocks
and similar substances with a finger poke. The training for this
technique is grueling, consisting of tying yourself and a boulder
to a tree and repeatedly slamming yourself into it until you
figure out the 'breaking point.' The technique is useless on
humans, but the side effects of the training make the recipient
nearly invincible to physical attacks, hence Randou's affinity
with the Iron Body Technique.

45. (Double) Repuu Ken: The Storm Fist is Geese Howard's signature
move stolen by Randou. It requires him to gather up his ki, open
his palm, and unleash a ground-slicing energy projectile, much
like Terry Bogard's Power Wave. The Double Version has Randou
gathering ki energy with both hands, then striking left-hand
first, forming an energy-wave that stalls on the ground and blocks
any enemy fireball. Then he would swing his right arm, combining
both of the bursts of ki energy into a much larger projectile,
sending it towards his victim. 

46. Gaiki Dorota Bu: Randou vanishes into his shadow, then a giant
monster head appears out of nowhere, spewing the vein-filled demon
warrior at his hapless opponent for damage. Good for surprise
attacks. This was learned from Akari Ichijo of Last Blade fame.

47. Kachuu Tenshin Amaguriken: A technique taught to Ranma Saotome
by Cologne of the Joketsuzoku then stolen by Randou. It is a
flurry of attacks of blinding speed. Is also known as the
"Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire" due to the method of learning
the technique (developing lightning fast punches such that one can
snatch chestnuts from a fire without burning one's self). Randou
does this technique using the Shinsoki and Chou Shinsoki.

48. Psycho Shot: Whether human or demonized, Yusuke still felt the
effects of the Psycho Shot this way, "The shot burns the area it
hits instantly and makes it very numb. It's a very, very hot
projectile." It's powered by, what else, Randou's pure jaki no
power. Stolen from Vega (M. Bison in America) of Street Fighter
fame.

49. Hakkei: A one-handed pressure point strike from Lee Rekka of
Last Blade fame. A lot like the Kugai but the damage is more
somatic than psychological. Randou actually improved a bit on the
technique, turning it into a skill that can cause severe internal
injuries.

As for the specifics of the Shun Goku Satsu, w-ell... you'll just
have to wait and see by the next chapter. ;)

And here we are. That's forty-nine techniques of Randou's one
hundred and one skills. So that's fifty-two techniques to go.
Mindlessly Obsessive of me, ne?

Also, here's another random something-something for you to sink
your teeth into: 

"Class-C: The slave class of Makai. They are the livestock and
servants for the higher classes. Without them, the economy of
Makai wouldn't hold. Humans who wander into Makai by accident are
classified in this class. There are roughly 120 million." (Source:
Darkstalkers Plot Guide by Saiki <saiki_s@hotmail.com>)

Incidentally, to all those who are curious, (yeah, all four of
you) I'll be using the Darkstalkers Plot Guide from now on in
classifying power levels, as opposed to using the canon Reikai
System of Power Measurement. So... yeah. No such thing as the
super weak Class-E this time around. It makes more sense this way,
I believe.

Disclaimer: Yuyu Hakusho is the rightful property of Yoshihiro
Togashi, Shueisha, Fuji TV and St. Pierrot. Rurouni Kenshin is the
rightful property of Nobuhiro Watsuki and Sony. Don't sue us
please, we are very poor.

Ja!
Abdiel

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