Saizou named him Prince of Terror. Kazuki never objected. It was true enough, and if some of the terror that had lodged in his bones for years seeped out to touch the people they fought, the ones who threatened even the tiny corner of life he had managed to cling to here… well, perhaps that would mean less for him which was all to the good as far as he was concerned.
It had started when he opened the door to the Beltline. What he saw there swallowed even the terror of the night of his House’s death. By the time he found his way back out to the hard light of Lower Town’s day, it was running in his very blood. And yet, he knew that it would take more than the strength of terror to hold back the Beltline. What that might be, he didn’t know.
Two years later, he met Amano Ginji for the first time.
“I want to follow him.”
“But why?” Toshiki demanded, throwing his hands out. “Why should you surrender to this Amano without even a fight?!”
Kazuki sighed softly. He barely understood it himself; how to find words for others? All he knew was that, the first time he met Amano Ginji’s eyes, the band of fear and rage that had locked itself around his heart the night his family died had loosened a little. That was one of the things he didn’t speak of, though, so instead he said, “He has a good future in his eyes. I want to see it.”
He opened a hand palm up. “I won’t force anyone to follow where they don’t wish to go. You may consider Fuuga disbanded. All of you are free to go where you wish.” It wasn’t as if he were anyone’s leader. Not really. It would be a joke to think he was—a lord with a charred shell of a House behind him in ruins.
Juubei took a step toward him. “We’ll follow you, of course. But… are you sure of this man?”
Kazuki smiled, feeling again the touch of ease Ginji’s presence had brought. “Yes.”
Saizou was silent, arms folded, watching him.
In the end, two stayed and two left. Kazuki tried not to dwell on how much he missed them; he’d had no right to keep them, after all.
He believed that for years.
Kazuki watched with a rather jaundiced eye as the leader of the Fire Children sneered at Ginji. The Fire Children were a large gang, but they had perhaps three or four people of significant strength among them. Everyone else were hangers on. Hyenas following behind some rather scruffy lions to snatch at their leavings.
Ginji waited for the second bombastic challenge to be done with and said again, “You’re stealing from people in our territory.”
The Fire Children’s leader nearly stamped his foot and growled, “Who the hell cares about them?!”
At that, Ginji’s face finally hardened and lines of light crackled briefly around his hands. Kazuki frowned. That wasn’t necessary. Not for scum like this.
If Ginji lost his temper, though, that wouldn’t matter.
Kazuki stepped forward, out of the knot of Ginji’s people, to stand at his shoulder and cast a cold eye over the Fire Children. He didn’t see any need to waste patience or manners on them.
A stir rustled through their crowd, and Kazuki heard his name in it.
“Kazuki… Strings… Prince…” the rustle whispered, and they edged back. Kazuki turned his head to look at the leader, letting his bells chime, and had the satisfaction of watching him edge back a step, too.
Ginji was looking over his shoulder with a rueful smile. “Kazu-chan,” he said softly.
“You didn’t really want to fight them, Ginji-san,” Kazuki murmured, quiet but letting himself be heard. "Leave them to me." As he had rather expected, the Fire Children misinterpreted that entirely, and the whispers rustled again. “Terror… Follows him…” He smiled back at Ginji with a hint of mischief.
“Well,” the Fire Children’s leader tried to bluster over the noise. “Not like there’s anything worth going into those streets for anyway.”
Ginji rolled his eyes a bit as he turned back and Kazuki had to hold back an actual laugh. It had been a while since he’d laughed.
He’d forgotten how good it tasted.
Kazuki stood in the evening drizzle that had come on with sunset, looking up at the dark bulk that loomed above Lower Town. The Beltline. Babylon City. The answers were still there, he knew; he felt it like a weight in his senses. He hadn’t been able to reach it, when he’d been younger. Could he now? Was he strong enough, now, to find the source of wrongness in this place, and why his mother had sent him here?
Arms folded around him from behind, so warm it was shocking, and the faint light that accompanied Ginji’s presence nearly all the time now fell around them both. "You’re getting cold, Kazu-chan," Ginji murmured.
Kazuki let his questions go on a slow sigh and leaned back against Ginji. "I know." He tipped his head back to smile at his friend and leader. "Thank you for coming to find me." And drawing him back from the dark and cold of his thoughts, the way Ginji did for him so often.
Ginji’s answering smile was soft, the sadness in his eyes muted for a moment as they stood together.
Sometimes Kazuki thought he could stay forever, this way.
“I have to leave.”
Kazuki stared, feeling like he’d taken one of Ginji’s own blasts to the chest. Shocked and frozen and not sure whether he could even feel his heart beating. “Ginji-san…”
“Why the hell should you have to leave?” Shido demanded, disbelieving. “This isn’t because of that damn punk is it?”
Ginji wouldn’t look at any of them, just smiled, one of his sad smiles, the ones that could heal a heart or break it. Kazuki was starting to be afraid they’d all be broken by this one. “Not really. Midou just… showed me something,” he said quietly. “I have to leave Mugenjou. If I don’t…” He shook his head, and wouldn’t say anything more, no matter how they pleaded with him.
Three days later, he was gone.
“I don’t think I can stay.” Kazuki looked out over the buildings of Lower Town, the place that had been theirs for so long he’d fooled himself it would just keep on that way. He should have known better. “With Ginji-san gone… there’s no one but him I could follow.”
“Then why don’t you lead yourself?” Juubei demanded, behind him. “It wouldn’t be that great a change, and you’ve led before.”
“I can’t do that.” He wasn’t fit to lead, he didn’t deceive himself about that any more. If he had been, would his House have fallen? Would Toshiki and Saizou have left?
Would Ginji have gone?
“I’m not leaving here!”
Kazuki ruthlessly stifled his flinch at that. Juubei was his oldest friend, and if he wanted to walk a path apart from Kazuki now, Kazuki wouldn’t stand in his way. “Whatever you want to do,” he murmured.
When his only answer was the abrupt rustle as Juubei left, he leaned his forehead against the broken wall and wished just a little that he could still cry.
Three days later, he was gone.