Alternate History
by WhiteCat

It’s been a long time since I’ve been here.

Not much seems to have changed.

I wander down the large, quiet hallways, occasionally passed by an oni carrying a huge stack of papers in his arms. They always ignore me, and I return the favor. I’m not here to see them, after all.

At first, it seems like I’m only walking at random, willing to change my path at the slightest whim, but then I realize where I’m going. Even though centuries have passed since my last visit, I still have the way memorized, so deeply engrained that I doubt I could ever forget.

It doesn’t bother me, though. There are too many good memories about it; more than enough to outweigh the pain that followed, as pain inevitably does.

The office was empty.

Somehow, I wasn’t entirely surprised. It was bound to happen, sooner or later.

I turn away from the quiet place - it has the look of still being in use, but the residual ki is not one I recognize; while it is partially familiar, it is not the one I’m looking for. Since I’m not paying attention to where I’m walking, I’m startled as an oni crashes into me, sending me stumbling backwards and him to the floor, his papers flying everywhere. He glares at me, and opens his mouth to say something, until I lift the dark sunglasses from my eyes and glare at him. He gulps, nervously, gathers his papers, then scurries off.

Damn, I hate this. I had promised myself that I would stop using my presence to frighten others into doing what I wanted. But not an hour later, I turn around and do just that.

I shove my hands into my pockets, and start walking again, keeping my legs stiff. It stings, the fact that I was not recognized; even if the oni I had just bumped into was new, he should have at least heard of me. My looks are not entirely unique, I know, but I have enough of a presence - or so I like to think, at least - to be remembered long after my departure.

I’m about halfway to the door when I hear my name being called.

I recognize that voice.

It’s deeper now, of course; one can’t really be the Lord of the Dead with that same annoying baby-voice he’d had, when I had first known him.

"Urameshi Yuusuke!"

His voice booms as loud and deep as his father’s had, the few times I had actually come face-to-face with the diety himself. But there was still enough of the squeak I remembered to draw my attention. I turn, keeping my posture casual, and my hands in my jean pockets.

Definetely taller. He dwarfs me by nearly two feet, which is rather disconcerting - I am used to being the tall one, not the one looking up into someone else’s eyes. He no longer wears the robes that he had in the past; instead, his clothing is stark black and white, trailing behind him like a royal train.

Fitting, I suppose. The "Jr." mark is gone from his forehead, replaced by a ridiculous hat presses his hair against his skull. And the Fukuumen is gone, too - how effective could the Lord of the Dead and the Judge of Souls be, if he attended the hearings with a blue pacifier in his mouth?

His eyes haven’t changed. They’re the same tawny brown-gold I remember, and they fix me with a deadly glare. He’s suspicious, yes; while the thought hurts, it’s not surprising. Our last parting was not exactly on friendly terms.

"What do you want?" he asks me, his voice harsh. Those narrow, bright eyes are colder than anything I have ever felt - even the ice cocoons of the Koorime were nothing, compared to this. I shrug, and sneer in reply, but I do not say anything. I will not give anything away, if I do not have to.

"You have no business here," he tells me, crossing his arms and glaring. He’s not going to yield, and so that means I sure as hell won’t, either. I snort, conveying my contempt for his words with that single sound. His eyes narrow further; good. I must have struck a nerve, or something, because for a moment, I can see pain in his glare: ancient and festering, but still strong as ever. For a moment, I feel an echoing ache in my own heart, but then I quell it.

This is no time for emotions, or sentimental memories.

"Either state what you want, or begone," he orders, and for a moment, I almost laugh at the familiar tone, and the fond memories it brings. It’s as if the years have melted away; for one brief moment, I am still the innocent young Tantei I used to be, still generally optimistic in the face of everything.

Man, was I fucked up. I shrug again, stretching this time, and extend a bit of my you-ki. I give him a deadly smile, showing him my fangs, and cross my arms as well, a parody of his stance. "I felt like coming," I tell him, my tone mocking. "For old time’s sake, ne?"

He seems enraged by my words. "You - you -" he sputters, and this time, I do laugh; I throw my head back and fill the room with the sound of it. The oni have stopped working; they stare at me in surprise and not a little fear - only the most suicidal or the most powerful dare laugh at the Lord of the Dead. From the corner of my eye, I see two ferrygirls, huddled together, clutching each other and looking completely terrified. I turn my smile to them, and laugh some more when they cringe away.

Oh, but he’s speaking again. Better to listen to him, so he won't have to waste my time repeating himself.

"You cold-hearted bastard," he snarls. "You have no right to have any claim to those memories. You lost that when you killed Keiko, and the others."

Ah, yes. That familiar pain. The ache is only a minor throb in my chest; I close my eyes and allow it to wash through me - over the years, I have grown accustomed to it. Nothing I do or wish can change what I’ve done, so why bother pretending?

Why not embrace it?

His voice is rising, passionate and angry. I have never seen him so forceful before; it’s an interesting spectacle. Instead of turning red, like some do when angry, he becomes bloodlessly pale, and he bites off each word as if attacking his speech. "You are no longer the Urameshi Yuusuke who came here and underwent the trials to become a member of the Reikai-Tantei. You’re a murderer, who killed your lover and your best friends in cold blood. Do you have anything - anything - to say in your defense?"

If I didn’t know any better, I’d say he was on the verge of tears; desperate to find something of my old self in what I’ve become. He won’t find it, though - I’ve locked that too far away in my mind. The memories only hinder me, when I actually stop to think of them, and weaknesses cannot be tolerated. I grin at him again, still baring my teeth, and roll my eyes, conveying my contempt in the motion. "Lighten up, old man," I say, easily. He glares, but says nothing, waiting for me to go on. "Of course I’m not that Yuusuke any more. He died the minute the woman did."

For a single heartbeat, I see her pale face again; the horror and the betrayal that had made her beautiful brown eyes sparkle with tears before they darkened, the light sapped from them by death. The room swims around me, and I almost stagger, catching myself at the last moment. Silently, I clear my throat and speak again. "I don’t know why you still keep trying to find him."

His eyes are colder than ever, now, if such a thing is possible. "Take him," he says, curtly, gesturing. I laugh, softly, and allow five of the largest and bravest oni to come forward and bracket me in, two of them grasping my arms so tightly that it almost hurts.

Well, actually, it does hurt. Physically. But I have moved past that, years ago.

"Urameshi Yuusuke, you are under the arrest for the taking of three humans’ lives and souls, as well as the destruction of the floating city of the Koorime. You are also charged with wanton murder, and the practice of Blood Magic." He’s shaking now, and that sadness I had seen earlier was back, pleading with me, though his voice was hard as iron and cold as the floating city had been. "You will be sentenced to death, and oblivion, without any chance of resurrection. How do you plead?"

His voice finally cracked on that last sentence; he was suddenly begging for me to repent; to unlock the old Yuusuke, and become his image of me again.

Sorry, old boy. We don’t always get what we want. I’m a living example of that.

I close my eyes, and tilt my head back, exposing my throat. Right now, I don’t give a damn. I’m too tired to care, really - it’s the reason I came here, in the first place.

I had known he would find me, and that he would capture me.

I had known he would sentence me to death.

And I really didn’t care.

Anyone else might have been afraid. He had just told me I would have no chance at rebirth; no way to redeem myself for my crimes.

But, you know something?

Sometimes, a man gets pushed so far, and so hard, in his first life, that the idea of another one makes him weary down to his bones.

I am one of those men.

I’m so damn tired. I’m ready for a rest.

I may not deserve one, but I’m sure as hell ready for it. But I’m not going to let him know how much I’m looking forward to it. So I look at him again, and give him that same mocking smile. "Do your worst, bastard," I say, sweetly, then close my eyes again.

I don’t want to see the tears that are staining his cheeks, and brightening his eyes.

It takes all the training I have ever had not to jump when I feel something touch my chest, cold and hard and sharp. When it pushes through, breaking the skin, I stifle a gasp and bite my lip, holding as still as I can. The thing is angled upwards, ready to pierce my youkai heart. And after that has been burst, my soul will be killed, as it leaves my body.

If I still have a soul left, that is. I’ve been feeling so empty, lately, like a dried-out, discarded shell.

There. I can feel the tip of the weapon that is killing me pierce my heart, and the fragile organ rips; the strength of the beats forcing the wound wider, the blood spilling out.

Hurts ...

The ache is exquisite, and excruciating. When they execute a condemned soul, they use warp-metal, which doesn’t hurt much, going in, but when it exits ...

There are no tortures that can describe the pain.

But compared to the growing ache in my heart - the figurative one, that I made sure was hidden behind my new personality - it is nothing.

Nothing at all.

I’m falling.

Someone is shouting, from a distant.

There are arms around me.

They’ve caught me.

A hand is touching my face. I struggle to open my eyes, and a tear splashes on my cheek.

His face is looming over mine, the tears flowing freely now, sorrow in his gaze. I smile at him, weakly; not the bitter, mocking facsimile I had used to goad him, earlier, but a real one. The same kind of smile I’d used, years and years ago, when we were both younger, and I was innocent; before we had fought that bitch who had taken over my mind, and twisted me into her puppet; before I had become a killer in every sense of the word.

Lifting my hand is harder than almost anything I’ve ever done in my life, but I manage. I touch his cheek, and try to give him a cocky grin, to reassure him.

"Yuusuke ..." his voice is pained, and there is a self-loathing in it; he hates himself for what he was forced to do. I touch his lips, to quiet him.

"Stoppit ... ’s not ... yer fault ..." I whisper, as soothingly as I can. "Miyomi. Her fault. We both did what we had to, Koenma ... no goin’ back to the past."

"I’m sorry ..."

"I told you to stoppit," I try for levity, and it falls flat. I close my eyes and take a shallow breath; physical and emotional pain wrack my entire being; the boy I had been was rudely shoving the man I had become aside, to say a final farewell to an old friend. "Koenma ... I know I did a lot of shit. I’m surprised you didn’t kill me, the first day."

It’s becoming too much of an effort to hold my hand up, so I let it drop. "I’m the one who should say that I’m sorry."

Even whispering hurts, now, but I have to tell him this, have to let him know it, before I am completely gone. "Never meant to hurt anyone," I gasp. "Least o’ all the ones I did. Sorry, Koenma."

"It’s not your fault ..." he whispers, but I shake my head - or, at least, I try to.

"It’s not yours, either," I tell him, then close my eyes. I can feel his panic; the sudden tension in his body testifies to it. His hands grip my shoulders, shaking my roughly. I feel it, but at a distance ... like I’m somehow detached from it all. I’m sinking into a soothing gray numbness, that I embrace with more joy than I have ever done anything in my life.

The last thing I see, before the world goes black, is Keiko’s smiling face.

Koenma lowered the body to the ground, and took a deep breath. The oni who had done the job eyed him nervously; the warp-metal sword in his hands shimmered, lights from the energy Yuusuke’s soul had given off creating odd patterns on the blade - hence the odd name. The Lord of the Dead took a deep breath, and wiped his eyes, then held out his hand for the sword, his face grim.

Once the weight had settled into his hands, he looked down at the still body of the man who had once been his greatest detective; the dear friend that he had never wanted to loose. The metal gleamed and winked at him; warp-metal changed a soul into pure energy, purifying it until it could be tapped by anyone, without any residue of the being it had once been. With swift, abrupt movements, Koenma arranged the calm body, placing the flat of the sword on Yuusuke’s chest, and folding the limp hands over the hilt. He studied his handiwork with a sad eye, then reached out, smoothing some of the black hair from the other man’s face; the gesture of a father watching his beloved child sleep.

And around him, business began again, and the oni moved away, to begin working the projects they had dropped during Yuusuke’s unexpected appearance.

A hand touched his shoulder; he looked up, blinking through the tears, to see Hinageshi’s sad face looking back at him. She was wearing the pink kimono of a full-fledged Reikai ferrygirl, and in one hand, she held an oar - battlescared and brittle, but very precious to both of them.

It had been Botan’s oar. Now it was Hinageshi’s.

"Koenma-sama," she said, gently. "I’ll help you bury him."

He took a deep, calming breath, then nodded. "Hai. Arigatou."

She looked at the dead man’s face. "He looks happy, ne?" she asked, her voice a mere whisper. "Wherever he is, now, I hope he’s at peace."

Koenma nodded. "Hai. Me too, Hinageshi. Me too."

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