“Matsuura, come to the board and solve the equation.” Itou-sensei smiled mercilessly. I stood, refusing to tremble despite my growing headache. Concealing my youki was exhausting. Or at least, covering with the degree of vigilance that I had was. Perhaps I was being overly cautious, but . . . I avoided glancing at the boy, Minamino, sitting in the next seat as I stood. I’d done well concealing my presence so far- insomuch that he hadn’t noticed. If he had, he’d done a better job of hiding his reaction.
It wasn’t like I didn’t want him to know who I was- and if he already recognized me, he hadn’t let on at all. It was just . . . I’d meant to go to him before class started. I’d gotten there early- so early, that I’d been the first person to arrive. I’d sat in my seat, giddy at the thought of meeting him, the Kurama, thrilled at my luck, eaten alive by butterflies. Until he’d come in. He walked in behind a group of chattering boys as they discussed their favourite actresses, smiling in reply when one asked his opinion. But his eyes had remained vacant while he spoke. All the pleasant things I seemed to know about Kurama vanished in an instant, overshadowed by my sudden realization that while he might have softened, the cold cruel heart he’d had as a youko hadn’t disappeared completely. Kurama was still ruthless, still cold, and how would he react to me, to my pitiful little story?
“Any time, Matsuura.” Itou-sensei said drily, and a quiet chuckle circulated the classroom. I cursed inwardly as I looked at the blackboard; the problem was impossible for me to solve. I’d been lucky in the first part of the morning, the first lesson had been English –which I’m all but fluent in- followed by literature, something I’ve never needed help with, no matter the language. Gym had followed that, and there certainly hadn’t been a need to pry into anyone’s brains for answers then. My luck had seemed to run dry.
I forced a smile, resigned. It was a chance I had to take. All right, I didn’t have to, but my pride forbade me from admitting I couldn’t answer the question and slinking back to my seat. I took a deep breath, and opened my mind a fraction of an inch. First, I touched Itou-sensei, but his thoughts were consumed with gloating and perverted nonsense: ‘Always good to take the pretty ones in class down a notch right off; Matsuura’s the last in this class. Damn kids are looking older and older, no sixteen year olds had figures like that when I was a kid! Too bad for me-’ I left before his thoughts got any worse.
It was harder for me to concentrate on a single mind if I couldn’t see the person, but despite the bigger risk, brushing the mind of one of the students would have to do. Kurama was right out of course; he’d feel my prying in an instant. Kaito would do nicely, though. I opened my mind just a bit wider, though when I stretched back to reach Katio, I miscalculated, dancing across the minds of most of the other students before I could stop myself. Including his. I shuddered as I felt him realize my invasion. I tried to shake the feeling of dread away, quickly skimming to another student’s mind and absorbing the proper method of solving the accursed math problem.
With a final self-indulgent smirk at Itou-sensei, I returned to my seat, quailing under the steely green gaze of Kurama. I held his eyes, though I felt sick. All the friendliness and warmth had drained from his face, a cold look of appraisal replacing it. He said nothing as Itou-sensei droned on about the lesson, but as I snuck glances at him out of the corner of my eye, the more I fidgeted, uncomfortable. He had to know it was me, right? I’d let my control over my aura drop slightly, just enough for him to register my youki, recognize that it was me, that I had next to no power, that I wasn’t a threat- his lack of a reaction was driving me mad! Dammit, he was just too controlled. I ground my teeth, staring resolutely ahead.
“You realized that was me,” I put the not-question directly into Kurama’s mind, chancing a look as I did. His eyes remained resolutely ahead, though I felt him cordoning off certain parts of his thoughts.
“By me, you mean Matsuura Chie?”
“Yes. I was trying to be careful but I suppose I’m just too inept,” I lamented.
“Don’t be hard on yourself, I felt nothing until you were in front of the blackboard.” I felt his irritation at that, and smiled inwardly. “Who are you really, and what are you doing here?”
“I’m here to get an education, the same as you, Kurama.” He inhaled sharply when he heard his name, his nostrils flaring as his eyes turned sharply to me. I blushed profusely. “Relax, I’m not a threat!”
“Why should I believe you?”
“Why shouldn’t you? As I’m sure you can tell, I have next to no power and I’ve done nothing but sit in class all morning without incident- until my dumb ass couldn’t answer a math problem.”
“I don’t like getting caught off guard, nor do I like the idea of another demon sitting beside me for the better part of a morning without my suspecting it once. The fact that you would use your telepathy to cheat in class does nothing to ease my suspicions.”
“Cheat!” Not that he was wrong, but I still felt offended. “Look man, not all of us have thousands of years’ worth of knowledge to fall back on. I can tell you right now I’m not some super genius either- ahh, look. can we discuss this during lunch?” The conversation was quickly spiraling out of my control, much to my dismay, and I was eager to end it. “I doubt this will ease your mind at all, but you’re fucking scary. Even if I was interested in causing mayhem or whatever you think I’m up to, you’re far more powerful than I am. You’d crush me in an instant, and believe me, my sense of self-preservation would prefer to avoid that.”
“I can tell you believe that.”
“It’s the truth. To be frank, I’m quite new to all this, and my eavesdropping and stuff is simply a way to camouflage myself. I don’t have any interest or aptitude in fighting and even if I did, you’re a top-class demon. I wouldn’t dream of crossing you.”
“Fine, we’ll talk at lunch.” I felt a prickle of his amusement, and let out a breath I hadn’t realized I held.
The rest of class passed quickly enough, and when the lunch bell rang, I lingered in my seat, slowly putting my books away. Kurama did the same, pretending not to pay any attention to the other students as they grouped together and talked.
“Hey Matsuura-chan, have lunch with us!” Igarashi Kenji, the boy who sat in front of me, gave me a brilliant smile as he stopped by my desk. The girls behind him twittered jealously, giggling. Somehow, I’d had the impression that Kurama would be the one with girls fluttering around him, giving me jealous looks for daring to smile at him. Instead, that was Igarashi, an admittedly handsome boy who proclaimed to be the soccer club’s star player.
“Oh! I’d like to but I’ve already made plans to eat with someone,” I said, feeling slightly embarrassed with his attention.
“With who?” Igarashi said, frowning at me. “I’ve barely seen you talk to anyone.”
“Kenji-kun, were you watching her?” One of the girls, Honda Mariko I thought, sighed heavily and shot me a dirty look. Igarashi blushed faintly and glared at her.
“Not really, I just noticed, you know? Anyway, Matsuura-chan, eat with us!”
“I’m sorry, Igarashi-kun, but I do have plans-”
“Matsuura-chan has already agreed to eat with me.” Kurama said, smiling pleasantly as he stood. His voice was calm and even, but his smile failed to reach his eyes.
“With that nerd?” Igarashi almost looked offended, and I did my best not to giggle at his expression.
“I’m sorry, he asked first.”
“Yeah but when? I never saw him talk to you at all.” Igarashi persisted. I was a little flattered honestly; I wasn’t interested in the slightest but it was rather nice to think that I’d drawn him in, if only out of novelty.
“I have to admit we were passing notes in class.” Kurama said smoothly. “If you’ll excuse us?”
“Pardon me,” I said, bowing slightly as I stood, grabbing my bento before following Kurama out of the classroom. He lead me to the roof, a place not expressly forbidden to students, although we weren’t encouraged to go up there. A perfect place for a confidential meeting, I thought.
We settled ourselves against the wall farthest from the door without speaking, my nerves steadily fraying the longer Kurama stayed silent. I played with the handkerchief tying my bento, rubbing the material between my fingers in a vain attempt to keep my cool. What did he think of me? I knew he wasn’t happy that I was there, in his class, in the seat next to him. His opinion of my cheating intrigued me though; I hadn’t expected such an intense reaction to something I thought of as trivial. Admittedly, he probably worked hard to maintain his purportedly perfect grades, though it had to come easier to him than to me or any of the normal human students.
“Matsuura Chie.” His quiet, level voice broke through my thoughts.
“Yes,” I couldn’t look at him. I hadn’t lied when I’d told him he was scary. His coldness didn’t surprise me, but having Kurama’s detached, calculating gaze focused on me was unnerving, all the more so knowing how ruthless he could be in the face of a threat. I just hoped I could convince him that I wasn’t something to be afraid of.
“You’re a demon.” It wasn’t a question, but I answered it anyway.
“I think I must be, yes.” Kurama raised an eyebrow but said nothing. “Just over a year ago, I awoke in a strange bed in a strange room. I had a strong sense that I wasn’t supposed to be there, but no real reason to think that. As I was trying to puzzle that part of my existence out, I heard two voice coming from the hall. I couldn’t understand the language they were speaking, but I realized without too much effort, I could reach out and touch their thoughts. One was a doctor, the other was Jin-papa. Er, Matsuura Jin. They were discussing me; the strange foundling lying unconscious in the next room. The doctor was horrified that while I bled and breathed, I had no heartbeat.” I stopped, placing a hand on my chest. I still felt nothing, and still felt a vague sense of horror at the lack of any kind of sound or movement. Kurama eyed me silently, further unsettling me. I cleared my throat and continued before I lost the nerve. “The doctor didn’t notice me in his head, but Jin-papa did. He’s quite spiritually sensitive for a human. He got rid of the doctor, and came in to speak with me. It was hard to communicate at first since I didn’t know any Japanese, but I was eventually able to get the meaning across. I kind of transferred my feelings, sorting through his head for the proper words. It gave both of us a massive headache,” I remembered fondly, chuckling to myself.
“You speak Japanese quite well now.” Kurama said. I shrugged.
“Well, that’s a product of my cheating I guess. Jin-papa used to be a teacher, but if I hadn’t been able to sift through his mind and pick up what he meant I doubt I’d speak or read well enough to attend school.”
“What language did you speak?”
“When I first woke up I didn’t have any words, just feelings and pictures. But as time went on and Jin-papa shared things with me –books and tv and stuff- I recognized English far easier than Japanese. The structure just made more sense to me.”
“Do you know what caused such an intense amnesia? It seems rather far-fetched to me that you could wake up without even having a proper sense of any language.” he said, frowning. I smiled thinly, and held up my bangs to reveal the jagged sunburst of a scar that covered most of my right temple.
“Pretty sure it was this. Jin-papa told me I was lying in an alley with my head in a puddle of blood when he found me. He said he thought I was dead, but carried me home when I started to cough.” I let my hair drop, somewhat self-conscious of the scar. “I don’t remember anything before waking up in Jin-papa’s house, I can’t even remember getting hurt.”
“None of your memories have returned?” Kurama said, skeptical, his voice cold. “Then how do you know my name?”
“Well, it’s like . . . I get flashes of personality. Like earlier, I kept thinking how I’ve always hated math although the reason of why I hate it isn’t there. It’s the same way with you.”
“Explain.” That was undoubtedly a command. The tone of his voice rankled, but I answered without comment.
“Jin-papa told me it was for the best that I go to high school, that it’d be easier to find work and stuff with a degree. I didn’t want to at first since I kind of have the feeling that I’m a bit older than high school –like, I totally have the memory of getting home from work and cracking a beer.” I paused, laughing, but continued when I saw the impatience in Kurama’s eyes. “Anyway. He’s got enough money to forge paperwork and all that and we compromised, settling on entering me as a second year; I’d been aiming for third year and Jin-papa said first year- but anyway, you don’t care. Um, I’d all but decided on somewhere else, but Jin-papa forced me to tour Meiou. He used to teach here, and always liked the school. When I saw one of the boys in that god-awful wisteria uniform, something clicked. It made me remember things.”
“What kind of things?”
“Fights mostly. And if I’m honest, I seem to remember a lot more about Yusuke than I do about you.” I said, frustrated. I had respect for Yusuke, perhaps an admiration, though I wouldn’t hesitate to say it was Kurama that I cared the most about. It puzzled me, irritated me, and knowing Kurama had no idea who I was made it worse.
“Urameshi Yusuke?” Kurama seemed only mildly surprised that I knew that name. I nodded, crossing my arms across my chest.
“I know all of you; Yusuke, Kuwabara, Hiei, you.”
“That’s hardly surprising.” Kurama said dismissively. “Many apparitions know of Yusuke since he became the Spirit Detective, and I doubt any of us could go unnoticed after winning the Dark Tournament.”
“Then why would I recognize your uniform months before the tournament took place?” I said, irritated. “I took the tour here before the entrance exams in December. And even if I simply know you guys by reputation, how do I know little details like- like in Maze Castle, when you were fighting the Saint Beasts, how Yusuke volunteered to take Hiei’s part of the Gate of Betrayal, how-” I continued to rattle off minute trivia about their exploits, Kurama’s face growing more serious as I did.
“I can’t deny that it’s troubling that you know as much as you do, but you’re psychic. Knowledge like that means little when you have the means to get it without being found out.”
“I didn’t rifle through your mind to get that!” I said, my voice rising as I began to lose my cool. He didn’t believe me, he didn’t recognize me, and I was beginning to grow afraid of where this knowledge had come to me. Had I somehow just plucked it from the air?
“I’m not saying that you did; I’d like to think if you tried I’d feel you. But some of the things you’ve said make me think that if you’d sifted through anyone’s memories, it would have been Yusuke. In that case, it makes no sense that you’d come to my high school-”
“Oh my god! Look, I can’t deny that you’re cute and all,” Surprise flickered across Kurama’s face as I said that, but I ignored my embarrassment as I continued. “But didn’t come here in some lame attempt to hurt you, and I’m not lying! What can I do to make you believe me? I know more about you and your stupid friends than I do about myself! I was just hoping that . . .” He watched me coldly, and the longer I stared him down, the more rattled I became. I had no idea why it was so important he believed me, but it was. I needed him to have some sort of clue to my identity because I had nothing else. I was immensely grateful to Jin-papa and the life he’d given me, but the thirst I had for my true self was different. I needed to know who I was, what I was.
“Hoping what, exactly?” I closed my eyes against the prickle of tears.
“I was just hoping you’d recognize me.” I said, my voice cracking as the last of my reason left me. “But you have no idea who I am, do you?” My telepathic powers were pervasive; it took less effort to slip into another’s mind than it did to stop myself. Without thought or reason, my mind drifted towards Kurama’s. As soon as I felt the brush of his consciousness against mine, I dropped my defenses without thought. I shared my despair, my loneliness, my complete lack of hope with him, throwing open the barriers of my mind and pulling him in. It was a desperate, last-ditch effort to convince him I was telling the truth, and even as I did it I knew it was incredibly foolish.
Fury bloomed in Kurama’s eyes as he realized what I’d done, though it slowly turned to a mirror of my own anguish as my mind enveloped his. Dimly in the background, I heard the bell ring. Frustrated, with myself and with Kurama, I pushed him out of my mind and ran towards the classroom, leaving him and my untouched bento behind.