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Into the Gray

Chapter Text

If Kazuma had to pinpoint the day in which he began to feel an attraction towards Kurama, he would fail. Love to him was seamless, an ocean which weaved and bobbed; as it crashed upon the rocks, Kazuma had been thrown from his love affair with Yukina to lay panting upon the shore, utterly wretched and alone. It wasn’t Yukina’s fault, she simply hadn’t loved him back. Kazuma was not the kind to beat a dead horse, but sometimes he still couldn’t help feeling a terrible swelling sickness in his stomach whenever he looked back on how he’d tried so desperately to get her to love him. He was embarrassed, plain and simple. Sometimes when he looked at her, memories would dance through his head of how he’d paraded and strutted about, praying she would take notice or simply say something nice in return. It had been foolish, he decided, to think she’d ever do such things. He’d mistaken her initial sweetness for a hope, a shot in the dark at something substantial. He knew that now. Fortunately, time had dulled his embarrassment to just an occasional ache. The newfound stress of adulthood left him little time for lamenting over the regrets of his youth.

Then, it had gotten worse.

It was one thing to be attempting to woo someone and fail, one thing to go home dejected because your best try hadn’t been enough. It was another entirely to not be able to try at all because you were so goddamn afraid of losing the one you loved. One evening, when the library was relatively free of the usual daytime crowding, Kazuma had been studying with Kurama, just as he’d done numerous times this semester, when… it became too much. That terrible unease he’d so often felt around Yukina. A warmth in his stomach, an anxious tension urging him to make every sentence count. It could have been the way Kurama leaned with his elbow upon the table, his chin propped delicately in his palm as he thumbed through a dull chemistry text. The light from the setting sun poured in from the sky lights and shone on the top of Kurama’s head in an orange halo, a sort of gleaming crown that had captivated Kazuma’s attention and made him forget all about molar mass conversions. To Kazuma, details made the man... and god damn did Kurama have details. The small tug at his lips when a conversation at a nearby table dissolved into hushed laughter, the thin line of garden soil caught beneath his otherwise immaculate fingernails, the small wrinkle upon his soft white collar from where he might have made a slip up while ironing... the hollow of his throat that called out to Kazuma so sweetly.

He’d realized what it meant, that dark hollow, that crown of light, the hammering in his chest. It scared the shit out of him.

In his youth, his gut reaction to homosexuality had been a prompt and fierce ‘no’. Some of the guys in his class had been rather adamant about their views on homosexuality, beating the crap out of one of their classmates who had been openly gay (a rather bold thing for a highschooler to be) and Kazuma now regretted not standing up for the poor guy when he’d had the chance. Kazuma had never thrown a punch or spat a curse at the guy, but he’d damned him just as well by not cramming his fist down the throats of the bullies who did. He’d been a coward in that moment; no matter how long ago it had been, Kazuma could not forget it. When Sensui had kidnapped him, and his love affair with Itsuki had been revealed, Kuwabara had been just as disgusted. It might have also been because he despised Sensui down to the very bottom of his rotten black soul... but when Sensui had been revealed to be gay Kazuma could remember thinking something derisive and crude:

‘Well that makes perfect fucking sense - you’re already fucked up enough to be gay.’

Now, each time he thought back on it, he felt more and more disgusted with himself. Sensui had been a sick asshole, but that had nothing to do with his sexuality.

Yet when he looked at Kurama, truly looked at him, and felt that squirming desire in his chest, Kazuma could not help but feel fear - of the idea of being gay, of being in love with another man when he didn’t even know how that could work. Kurama was incredibly handsome, beautiful in fact, and could have any girl that he chose. God only knows he had a flock to pick from, all of them fellow classmates who adored him and craved his attention. Yet Kurama never gave them a second look, instead focusing on his studies or Kazuma himself when he needed help. When asked why, Kurama would say, “I have other priorities.” The response was always equal parts frank and incredibly vague, and it simultaneously squashed and nourished with warm light the delightful sense of longing which had been blossoming in Kazuma’s chest for some time now.

A part of him wished that Kurama would say something concrete to spare Kazuma from the barrage of his own agonizing (and, in all likelihood, one-sided) feelings, but Kurama would have had no way of knowing the feelings existed in the first place or that his private and kind-hearted disposition was making it progressively more difficult for Kazuma to keep a handle on reality. As such, Kazuma could not help but continually rifle through possibility after possibility, each one sparked by the not-so-mundane details of Kurama, details that had been in front of his eyes for years before he was ever able to notice them like this.

His gut had never failed him before. Not when he’d nearly been eaten by Byakko or almost died at the hands of the older Toguro brother. Not when his friends had been drowning right next to him, or when Urameshi had been dead on the ground. His gut was always right, maybe because of his spirit awareness or his damn keen sense of perception. He couldn’t say. Now Kazuma’s gut would not stop screaming Kurama’s name. Sure, it had never failed him before, but there was a first time for everything. And when he took a step back from Kurama’s delicate features, his gentle smile, and the smooth caress of his voice – stepped away and really thought about the implications of what he was feeling, he was terrified.

Totally fucking terrified.

Of course, his depressed and bleak view on life might have had something to do with the fact that he’d just gotten his midterm grades back, and he was failing the fuck out of theoretical physics.

“It’s no use, man,” Kazuma murmured into his beer glass, wishing that the cool burn could somehow dull him to the hyper sensitivity of his system since Kurama was sitting right next to him.

Yusuke’s noodle shack was a great place to unwind and de-stress but it was a little difficult for Kazuma to do either as he observed Kurama idly trail his finger about the wetted rim of his drink, the easy scent of springtime worming its way to Kazuma’s nostrils despite the pungent aroma of noodles and booze and the fact that it was late October. He looked away, cheeks hot.

“I’m just not smart enough to be a scientist.”

“Quit sayin’ that or you really will fail,” Shizuru growled from his other side as she exhaled a puff of smoke from her cigarette, glaring at him as she clutched his midterm report in her free hand. She’d been the one to instigate this night trip, the one to demand Kazuma have a drink. Shizuru was exhausted with his struggle, unable to figure out how to help him anymore with his college career. So instead she allowed him to get drunk and even paid the tab. Kazuma could respect that.

Still.

“It’s the truth, sis!” Kazuma cried out indignantly, unable to keep from smacking his curled fist upon the counter in sheer frustration. The slight tremor in his wake did nothing to throw off the rhythm of Kurama’s elegant finger about the rim of his glass, and boy did that sure piss him off. Shizuru gave Kazuma a disappointed look which did nothing to ease his mood or his mind. “Look at me, when have I ever been the brains of this outfit? I thought if I studied really hard that maybe I could get smarter but—” Kazuma broke off, unsure of how to put into words what his gut was telling him. God, it made him angry. “There’s no changin’ the way my brain works. I’m just not that good with physics.”

From across the counter, behind the sneeze guard, Urameshi gave Kazuma a sympathetic frown. No doubt he sympathized because he was a far cry from a math whiz himself. Leave it to Urameshi to remind Kazuma he wasn’t alone. Yet he was also sitting here with Keiko and Yukina, both of whom were intelligent young ladies and were giving Kazuma scoffs as if he was the problem here. As if he simply wasn’t trying hard enough. Didn’t they understand? Couldn’t they see? Dammit, Kazuma hadn’t gotten a good night’s sleep in weeks because of these midterms! He’d pushed himself beyond all expectations, pushed himself to the limits... and still.

Once again, his best had not been enough. He could retch.

“Chemistry is already killing me, but theoretical physics?” Kazuma snorted, “I might as well just fall over and die." And so he took a big swig of beer.

“Man, don’t go giving up that easily,” Urameshi warned, pausing in the rhythmic chopping of vegetables to give Kazuma the stink eye. Well, fuck him, too!

“I’m not!” Kazuma barked at him, “I’m telling you, I tried everything!” It sure was a cheap shot to be told ‘don’t give up that easily’ from a high school drop-out who made noodles for a living. Then again, a great number of Yusuke's larger fights had started with him looking down the barrel of a bigger gun. Perhaps Yusuke had earned the right to demand perseverance in others.

“What are your tactics?”

Kazuma flushed, suddenly wishing he had more beer left in his glass as Kurama spoke up for the first time that evening. The soft lilt of his voice, the way he tilted his head when he talked... God, Kazuma could barely stand it. He knew that later Kurama would be the subject of yet another sketch (his sketchbook was getting fuller by the day). Heaven help him, he was in serious trouble.

“Well, um... flash cards,” Kazuma began, instantly berating himself for his slip up. “Intense reading and re-reading. Just really trying to memorize things.”

“Well, those are fine study habits, and ones that often procure high marks,” Kurama complimented him with a small smile, pausing in the repetitive circling of his glass’s rim to give him a once-over that left Kazuma’s face even hotter than before. “But they are not the only methods for learning a subject, and I wonder if perhaps your particular skill set requires you to learn in other ways.” Kurama took a small sip of beer, and Kazuma noted the slight bit of foam that hid at the corner of his elegant mouth, slipping out of sight as a pink tongue poked out to lap it up.

Fuck, he was fucked.

“Take, for example, how good you are at drawing,” Kurama offered with a wave of the hand, his fingers curving upward slightly as his wrist bounced. “You may be more inclined to study charts and attempt to replicate them with your own pen.”

“... I never thought of it that way.” Kazuma had to admit that was a damn good idea; Kurama was often chock-full of them.

“Take Kurama’s advice,” Shizuru urged, perhaps sensing the glimmer of hope that had slipped into his voice. “He’s the smartest guy we know! Maybe you just need to try and study a different way.”

“I don’t know; what’s the point of it?” Kazuma sighed, for if he was entirely honest with himself his major wasn’t fulfilling him in the ways he’d thought it would when he started out so many—

His thought was cut short as Shizuru smacked him over the back of his head, causing his ear to sting painfully and his eyes to burn.

“Dammit, sis! Knock it off!” Kazuma barked at Shizuru, on the verge of a row with her if she struck him again. She knew his ears were sensitive, why did she hit him there?

Because she knew it would get his attention. Of course. Her glare said as much, anyway.

“I’m not in the mood,” Kazuma warned, chugging the last of his beer to keep himself from saying something snarky to his sister. He’d likely get smacked a second time if he did.

“You put yourself down way too much,” Shizuru growled, her patience clearly worn thin by this entire conversation. Kazuma felt a stabbing pang of guilt when it suddenly occurred to him how much of her own time and money she had invested into his education, helping him to pay for his books and supplies and playing counselor every time his frustration during a night of cramming brought him to pick up the phone and dial her number. And now, to see him on the verge of giving up entirely – Kazuma regretted ever venting to her in the first place. He was tired of being a disappointment.

“You need to start trying to think of yourself in positive terms!” she was saying.

“I agree,” Keiko spoke up, and Kazuma groaned, knowing now that Yusuke was bound to get on board the ‘fuck with Kuwabara’ train since Keiko had deemed herself worthy of a ticket too. She leaned upon the counter, playing with a packet of soy sauce between her fingers, “You’ll never succeed if all you do is imagine you’re going to fail.”

“Perhaps Kurama could help you study?” Yukina spoke up from Kurama’s other side, and the mere suggestion of it made Kazuma overheat for what felt like the hundredth time that night. “Maybe what you need is direction?”

Yes. He needed directions to the nearest cliff.

“I like that idea,” Shizuru agreed, nodding to Yukina who offered her a cheery smile.

“So do I,” Keiko said, and suddenly Kuwabara was surrounded on all sides by choruses of agreement that signaled his doom. “Studying with a friend is always more fun and you can bring snacks to eat.”

“Well, hot damn, lemme bring my lunch basket,” Urameshi joked, and suddenly Kazuma found himself taking comfort in his old friend. Something about his voice just made Kazuma feel more at ease.

“I’d be more than happy,” Kurama assured Kazuma.

This conversation was just going from bad to worse.

“No, that’s not right!” Kazuma snapped, eager to shut this idea down before it ruined his life with even more afternoons at the library spent pondering over the hollow of Kurama’s neck or the way his hair looked almost black without any light on it- fuck. “I shouldn’t be bothering a friend just because I suck at math.”

“You’re hardly bothering me, Kuwabara,” Kurama assured him, but Kazuma was far from mollified. On top of his full-time job at his step-dad’s company, Kurama was surely already sacrificing too much by spending his evenings attempting to teach someone as slow as Kazuma. “I would not offer if it was an inconvenience. Theoretical physics is far from simple, and I would like to help you in it if I can.”

“It’s not right,” was Kazuma’s bleak reply, a simple repetition of words because every time Kurama spoke, his brain shut down.

Kurama smiled, the corners of his lovely almond eyes crinkling slightly in humor. “You make it sound like you’ll be indebted to me for life,” he joked.

“I will be!” Kazuma insisted, desperate to get the implications of that phrase out of his head before another round of fantasies kept him up tonight. “If you can help me, if you can make me less stupid, I will.”

“You are not stupid,” Kurama replied, but Kazuma knew that was a lie. Kurama was just trying to make him feel better. If Kurama lived in Kazuma’s shoes, he’d know... he’d know how stupid Kazuma was.

“I dunno, sometimes I wonder,” Urameshi joked, his tone curving in a baited jab. Kazuma’s eyes shot up, darkening with mischievous delight as he settled back into the old routine. The firm, tried and true. Bless Urameshi for knowing just how to get him out of a funk.

“You wanna go, punk?” Kazuma began, and so they started their usual snit. He prayed it would be enough to make Kurama forget this conversation.

Kurama’s finger resumed its methodical dance over the rim of his glass, the friction making the crystal sing. Kazuma swallowed thickly as he noticed the tapered fold in Kurama’s pants leg, the way the fabric clung far too tight to his powerful thighs.

He was fucked. He was absolutely fucked.

Chapter Text

When it got to be too much, Kazuma had a tradition.

Mushiori City (the very same that had once been subject to Sensui’s wrath) had a quiet district known as Naporo filled with nothing but coffee shops and book stores. A small, disjointed community held together by traditional houses and cobble stone streets that offered Kazuma refuge from the bitter storm of Mushiori University where he was currently sinking under a pile of paperwork and debt. The muscles in Kazuma’s neck bulged from the strain of carrying his massive book bag as he trudged bitterly through Naporo, stopping momentarily by a local book store to pick up a new copy of Architectural Digest before depositing himself into the nearest coffee shop he could find to mull it all over with a latte. For quite a long time, Kazuma had depressed himself by buying nasty black coffee that he considered more ‘manly’ and reading science magazines that bored him to tears. Eventually the strain had become too great, and he’d relented on both subjects to allow himself the ability to cope. Instead of forcing himself to do what was expected, Kazuma hid in the quiet corners of a coffee shop and read Architectural Digest to his heart’s content, adoring the spreads on Historic Design and Gardens. Fuck it, if anyone saw him drinking a latte, he could lie and say it was his first time. They didn’t have to know he was a regular.

It was a mild Saturday afternoon, and Kazuma’s brain was utterly fried from an intense study session with Kurama. Kurama had spent close to four hours helping Kazuma to observe theoretical physics from a new angle and to be fair it would have probably worked had Kurama not been sitting on the same side of the table as him. His slacks had drawn tight to his thigh each time he shifted to lean over the table, leaving Kazuma bombarded by the fierce warmth of Kurama’s leg accidentally pressing against his own. He’d seen enough animes with blood spurting from someone’s nose to realize what might be happening to his own face, and barely managed to conceal himself behind a chart that he snatched off the table as Kurama gave him a bemused stare. He was doing this shit on purpose now, Kazuma was convinced.

The day would only get worse.

Kazuma got up to get a refill on his coffee, his mind far from settled as he tried to fill it with beautiful images of buildings and bridges he could re-create in his sketchpad, but even as he gave his order to the barista and fished in his pocket for loose change, his line of thought was shattered by the surprise that awaited him at the receiving counter. There, fishing out a cardboard protector and three packets of sweet and low, was the very same young man that Kazuma had watched be bullied all throughout high school.

Nobuyoshi Takahashi. Damn he’d gotten tall.

Takahashi had always been lithe, with expressive black eyes and a ridiculous hair flip that used to piss Kazuma off. Now, it just made him sadder, as he recalled Takahashi as a wiry teenager, moaning on the pavement with blood in his mouth. The terror had been obvious upon his face, with his hands trembling as they tried to shield his neck and nose from those that kicked or punched him. The idea of someone attacking such a defenseless person sent Kazuma’s blood on fire, and he instinctively gritted his teeth with shame and regret as Takahashi looked up from across the counter to see him standing in line.

Kazuma could not bear it. He looked away.

“Another refill?” the barista asked, a young girl with plump cheeks and a kind smile.

“Yeah and...” Kazuma coughed, pointing as inconspicuously as he could at Takahashi, “add his tab to mine.”

“Sure thing,” the barista said. He handed her what change he had left, depositing the rest in her tip jar before hurrying back to his seat. He wanted to get lost in an article on log cabins that expanded on the idea of a natural setting. Waiting for his fresh latte to cool and nervously flicking through the pages of his magazine, Kazuma felt a shadow drawing closer to him and prayed to God that it wasn’t Takahashi.

But God hadn’t been listening earlier today when Kurama had pressed his thigh against his own, and he sure as shit wasn’t listening now when Takahashi pulled the chair out next to him and sat down with a smile upon his face.

“You know,” he said, his voice familiar but ringing brightly with confidence that hadn’t been there in high school, “Usually when someone buys someone coffee, they’re nice enough to come by to share it.”

Kazuma could not bear to look at Takahashi, the memories of his youth barraging his brain and making conversation impossible. Damn him, damn his cowardice. Why hadn’t he done something? He had been a jackass. He could never get those years back, never make it all right.

“... But I see you’re still afraid of me,” Takahashi said coolly at Kazuma’s silence, clearly taking it the wrong way. “Thanks for the coffee, whatever your reason was-“

He rose up. Kazuma’s hand shot out, grabbing him by the wrist before he could pull away.

For a moment, they stood there in stony silence, Kazuma wrestling with his horrific guilt and Takahashi waiting to hear what should have been said years ago.

Kazuma could bear it no longer. The same was too much.

“I am so sorry,” he murmured, not daring to meet Takahashi’s calm, dark eyes just yet. He didn’t have enough courage; still he tried, his gaze jerking about the place as he looked first as Takahashi’s wrist and finally at a spot somewhere between his neck and his face.

“I am so, so sorry,” Kazuma repeated, unable to express how truly sorry he was in those few words.

Takahashi sat back down, Kazuma’s grip on his wrist slipping away as he set his magazine down and clenched his fists upon the table. God, what he would give for some trash talking punk to come by. He needed to pound some scoundrel’s face in, before the ache in his chest got any worse.

Takahashi held his cappuccino gingerly, looking at it instead of Kazuma, for which Kazuma was grateful.

“Is that why you bought me coffee?” Takahashi asked.

“... I had to do something to initiate the apology.” Kazuma coughed nervously, sipping on his still scalding latte (in his nervousness he’d forgotten it was hot). “I felt... I’ve felt for a long time... horrible about what I didn’t do.”

“Didn’t do?” Takahashi repeated, slightly unsure what Kazuma meant.

“I should have defended you,” Kazuma muttered bitterly.

Takahashi took his time, nodding for a minute as he mulled on Kazuma’s words before speaking up again.

“That wasn’t your problem,” Takahashi said. “It was mine, and anyway it’s in the past now. We’re no longer in high school, and the people that I choose to surround myself with now are supportive and kind. They lift me up.” At this, he gave Kazuma a hopeful smile, “I hope that... the same can be said for you?”

Suddenly images of all that had transpired since he’d seen Takahashi flashed through Kazuma’s mind. Urameshi’s wild smile, shining like a ray of sunlight on a gloomy day; Botan’s delightful screech as she cussed out Koto during the Dark Tournament; lovely Yukina making miso soup and asking him to set the table; Hiei over Urameshi’s fallen and mangled body, a look of absolute anguish upon his usually stoic face as he faced down Sensui upon Urameshi’s supposed death; Kurama...

Oh, Kurama....

What would Takahashi say if he knew about Kazuma’s plight? Would he laugh? Would he offer insight? Shit, at this point, Kazuma was grasping at straws. Maybe Takahashi was God’s small remorse, a pitiful offer at peace for his aching heart.

“I’ve been having a problem for a while now, and I don’t know what to do,” Kazuma began, his voice hardly daring to go above a whisper so that Takahashi had to listen intently in order to hear, “There’s no one in my friend circle I can talk to. We all know each other too well and... if word got out...”

Oh, that would be rich: ‘I think I’m in love with Kurama.’ He could see the look of mirth and hilarity upon Urameshi’s face even as he thought it. And, God... if Kurama ever found out.

Oh, God.

He flushed, fear taking over his heart once again.

Takahashi just smiled, looking slightly surprised if nothing else. “Finally realize your undying love for that Urameshi kid, did you?” he said jokingly.

“Wha-what?!” Kazuma stammered, unable to keep the volume of his voice in check. “I’m not in love with that punk!”
“I still remember what you said at his wake. ‘Without you, who am I?”… that was it, right?”

This conversation was quickly going downhill, and Kazuma sorely regretted ever hinting at the topic. Takahashi probably meant only to inject humor into a potentially uncomfortable conversation, but even his playful words were making Kazuma wonder at something that had never actually occurred to him until now: Had he had a crush on Urameshi when they were kids?

The thought was enough to derail him entirely.

“In all seriousness,” Takahashi was saying, “When did it change? I mean, when did you start to wonder?”

“Well, I-“ Kazuma didn’t know what to say. When had it changed? He couldn’t say anything even had changed, which scared him more than anything else. Had he always liked guys, and simply not known it? But god damn it all, he was not gay! He wasn’t!

But then he remembered Yukina, and he snorted.

“The girl I was in love with didn’t love me back. For a while I just drifted but then I started having... thoughts... about a friend of mine. And... every detail of his body and soul just-“ But Kazuma caught himself before he could say anymore. These were not things he wanted to confess to a stranger, in particular one that he had already let down. “It’s too much. I don’t know what I’m feeling or why I’m feeling it.”

Takahashi just stared, lips pressed into a slight line as he stared at Kazuma with slight humor. What about this was funny? Whatever it was, Kazuma was failing to see it.

“... I think you do, you just don’t know how to admit it,” Takahashi said, making sure to stare Kazuma straight in the face. Kazuma could barely stand to meet his gaze, unable to confront all the unabashed truth he found there. Takahashi was a brave guy for saying something so calmly, so proudly, in the middle of a packed coffee shop. “How about saying ‘I’m into a guy’ and see what happens from there.”

“But, but–” Kazuma stuttered defensively, for he had no words.

“If that’s how you feel, just roll with it.” Takahashi took a sip of his cappuccino.

“I’m not gay!” He said it almost too loudly and self-consciously lowered his voice: “I’m not!”
Takahashi seemed unperturbed, relenting with a quickly spoken, “Okay, okay.”

Kazuma realized just how fucking weird it was to be having this conversation with a near complete stranger and was suddenly very eager to have it end, but Takashi was talking again: “Just so you know, you don’t have to be so defensive. It’s not like discovering something new about your sexuality would change who you are. It’s introspection, not a prison sentence.”
Cheeks hot again at the frank discussion of his person, Kazuma had half a mind to shout “I know that!” but stopped when he realized that as simple as Takahashi’s words were, he was not sure he truly believed them.
“To be honest,” Takahashi continued, “if I hadn’t come out in high school, my life would have been a whole lot easier. But I learned a lot about myself even though I got some bruises, too.”
At the mention of physical injury, Kazuma was effectively silenced by another wave of guilt, although he understood the other man had not intended that effect. Looking Takahashi up and down, Kazuma realized that he really was nothing like the kid he’d once known – he was confident and collected and probably able to hold his own if anyone tried to beat him up now.
Furthermore, he didn’t even look gay.
The errant thought entered Kazuma’s mind and was as quickly lost amid every other confusion-riddled idea. There was just not enough space in his head to think about this. He wished his life could be simple.

“I’m not gay!” Kazuma seethed through clenched teeth, his voice hardly audible, “I just love a man-"

Yet even as he said it, he knew he was doomed.

“Same difference." Takahashi shrugged into his coffee cup. When he saw the rigid fear in Kazuma’s body language, however, he took pity.

“Look...” Takahashi sighed, giving Kazuma a plain look that bore no ill will or the need to hide. “I can tell you’re scared. But if you let that fear entomb you, you’ll isolate yourself for no reason. Is that what you want?”

No. No it was not.

But the fear was an ugly and violent beast within him, compounding upon him all the guilt from childhood and all the embarrassment from adulthood until Kazuma could not see himself happy with anyone anywhere. Until he felt trapped, in the corner of a cage that he himself had created.

“Let’s just say, for the sake of your sanity,” Takahashi pushed forward, “that the terms ‘gay’ and ‘straight’ do not exist. There is nothing but who you love, and why you love them.”

Kazuma dropped his hands, trying to envision such a world. It felt… nice.

“For a while you liked this woman, correct?”

“Yeah,” Kazuma agreed.

“And then one day, the tide change and suddenly you liked this man. Yes?”

“... Yes." Kazuma’s face flushed beet red.

“Then that’s just the way it is. It may be that you love this man for the rest of your life. It may be that in two months you move on and like someone else.” Takahashi shrugged, but even as he spoke thoughts of Kurama flooded Kazuma’s head, the subtle sway of his hips when he walked, his hair so dark it was almost black but bloody red under the light... those lips, smooth and sweet to behold as they spoke, clearing the path to victory time and time again. Never afraid, never a single drop of fear in those deep forest eyes.

Oh, how Kazuma wished he could be as brave as Kurama.

“... I don’t know if I could move on,” Kazuma murmured softly, his latte cold enough to drink now, though he did not touch it.

“Like I said,” Takahashi offered him a sympathetic smile, “he could be the one. But it doesn’t matter that he’s a man. It doesn’t matter that you’re a man. What matters is how you feel for each other. Right?”

Kazuma had never heard such a concept before, but now that he thought about it-

“Right...?” Takahashi repeated, urging Kazuma for an answer.

Now that he thought about it... it certainly made him feel much better to take their bodies out of it, to put it down to their souls where they could merge together entirely. Like water meeting the sky in a thin line on the oceans’ horizon- Kurama’s endless depths, allowing him to sink right to the bottom-

Kazuma flushed, forcibly dragging himself back to the surface lest he make an ass of himself in front of Takahashi who must no doubt think him an idiot by now.

“Right,” Kazuma finally agreed.

“There you go." Takahashi smiled and finished his cappuccino.

For a moment they sat there in silence, each enjoying their coffee, till Kazuma suddenly realized something awful that made him flush again.

“But I don’t even know two guys would do… things,” Kazuma said; what a damn travesty he was turning out to be. He was in love with Kurama and wanted to touch him but didn’t even know how.

“What do you mean?” Takahashi asked, confused. His brow furrowed as his soft eyes looked at Kazuma. “Do things?”

“Well like, how do you...” Kazuma stuttered, “how do you make out and stuff? How do you do it?”

Takahashi’s shoulders sagged, and the look he gave Kazuma was dismal with disappointment. Kazuma wished he could bury his face in his hands again, and so he did to hide his blush from Takahashi’s gaze. Of course he knew how to make out with someone; why in the living hell had he asked that question?

“What the hell?” Takahashi grumbled. “You are way too smart to say something that stupid. I’ve only had coffee with you for half an hour and even I know that.” For a moment he said nothing, but as he glanced at Kazuma’s magazine it seemed he was struck by another wave of inspiration.

“You’re an architect?” Takahashi asked.

Kazuma dropped his hands, stuttering, unable to deny the claim even though it was false. Something had pounded in his chest at Takahashi’s words. Something in him had wanted to cry out ‘Yes! Yes, I am an architect!’ even though he wasn’t. What on earth was going on inside of him? Why was he so eager to claim a title that wasn’t even his own?

“I, uh,“ Kazuma mumbled, but Takahashi carried on.

“Well, quit thinking about your sexuality like you would architecture,” Takahashi supplied, “No bolts, no screws. Just...love.”

Sex had not been a topic Kazuma wanted to broach, but it seemed they were going there, even without either of them mentioning the word. All of a sudden an image came unbidden into his mind, of Kurama splayed beneath him with his beautiful red hair spilling upon a pillow, his face contorted in bliss and delight as he begged and cried out his name-

Kazuma dropped his mercifully empty latte, quickly righting the mug before it could roll onto the floor. His hands were shaking wildly.

“Nice.” Takahashi raised his eyebrows.

“I- I-“ Kazuma could not speak. Words would not come.

But instead of being humored by his lapse, Takahashi just seemed to grow concerned. Maybe it was the fact that Kazuma had dropped his cup, a sudden visual confirmation of the turmoil growing beneath his skin. Takahashi shook his head, his lips pressing into a line again.

“You’re really scared, aren’t you? You’re not just playing dumb; you’re really stuck.”

Kazuma still could not speak. The image of Kurama beneath him had been too much, too overpowering. He needed to go home and take a cold shower, and a nap. He needed to shut down and forget for the next twelve hours.

Takahashi had his answer.

Rising up from his chair, Takahashi fished about for his back pocket, speaking as he pulled out his wallet.

“Look, here’s my number," Takahashi said, producing a business card and handing it over to Kazuma before he could refuse. Kazuma took it, quite amazed to find that Takahashi was working for an art studio just a few blocks away from this very coffee shop. Was he an artist? Kazuma looked up at Takahashi with new found respect as he continued on, “If you ever need anything... call me. Just someone to talk to, to bounce things off of. If I can help you get over this hump and move on with your life, I feel I ought to. When I was younger, in high school, I was really lost and confused. And then someone came along and helped me. And it really made all the difference. So, I more or less owe it to them to pass along the favor to someone else.”

Kazuma nodded. “Thank you,” he said.

“Don’t mention it,” Takahashi assured him. “Consider it payback for the coffee.”

And with that, he left. For a minute as he opened the door wide, his light jacket blew about his narrow waist. Among the crowd of men coming and going to work, Takahashi blended seamlessly in. He was as average and content as any of them. Meanwhile Kazuma couldn’t hold onto a fucking coffee cup.

He groaned, rubbing his eyes.

Fuck, fuck, fuck... he was fucked.

~*~

 

Far above Sariashiki city, there was a park with a lovely overhang view known to locals as ‘Demon Point’ for the supposed structure of the cliff face that looked like a face in pain. It was ironic, because when Hiei had been contained within Sariashiki he’d often slept in this park on dry or calm nights. The monsoon months had brought Hiei to Kurama’s window, which Kurama had always been more than happy to open, but more often than not Hiei had preferred these trees. Kurama could see why.

The city was lovely from high above.

This was the home town city of Yusuke Urameshi and Kazuma Kuwabara, the ground zero of so many annihilation attempts. This fragile cradle of human life was nothing more than a large block face of corporations mixed in with a heavy dollop of schools, museums, movie theaters and shopping plazas thrown in for good measure, but it was more than enough to be substantial. A healthy, vibrant city where one could settle down and make a life for themselves if they so chose.

Kurama had ‘so chose’.

But as it stood, Kurama was unable to appreciate the beauty of the city lights on this night due to the paper that lay hot in his coat pocket, folded tightly from clenched fists and stained with the sweat of shaky palms. An x-ray update that boded ill, that told him his efforts had been in vain and Shiori’s brain deterioration was back.

Back after the Forlorn Hope. Back after a second chance at life.

How could it be that after everything he and Yusuke had done to secure Shiori’s safety and happiness that she was now once more on the chopping block, suffering from fatigue and headaches that blinded her? How had this same disease come back again? Was it fate, mocking Kurama’s prior struggle with its fierce return? Was it some kind of penance, for the cruelty Kurama had displayed towards others? The very thought made Kurama’s stomach twist into a painfully tight knot. If anyone deserved to pay for his crimes, it was him. Not Shiori. Anyone but Shiori, who had so selflessly loved him through his apathetic childhood... who had held him tight through his vivid nightmares of his previous life and protected him endlessly against his drifter father when he’d attempted to unnerve Kurama in his youth.

Shiori, who had taken the beatings and the pain without ever raising her voice in return. Who had instead only raised her eyes to the sky, believing that the next morning would bring better tidings. Beautiful Shiori, who had selflessly saved his soul.

Kurama had come to this point over the city simply because he could not bear to look Shiori in the eye tonight, not when he knew what she did not. She was completely unaware of the pain facing her, ignorant to the illness ravaging her gentle mind. Kurama wondered if it was better for her to remain ignorant, for her to simply to enjoy what little time she had left before her mind was completely gone.

A sudden shift alerted Kurama’s mind to an incoming presence. No birds took flight from the trees, no twigs snapped under foot, but a very slight heat tickled the back of his mind. It was comforting and familiar, the touch of an old friend coming for a visit.

Kurama did not have to ask.
He knew.

“Hello, Hiei,” he whispered, his voice more hoarse than he would care for Hiei to hear. Beside him upon the rain soaked bench, Hiei sat with the same poise and care as he’d had so many years ago. The tension of expecting a fight never left a hardened warrior. A human psychologist might consider Hiei a victim of PTSD, but demons would merely say Hiei was smart. Very smart. “How are you?”

For a moment they said nothing, side by side as the cool night wind passed between them.

“No update?” Hiei mused aloud.

“Nothing is working.” Kurama was loathe to admit it, and the bitterness burned his tongue.

“... I see.” Hiei did not have much to say, and in the quiet that followed Kurama’s pessimistic admission the two looked out upon the city as one might look upon a fine painting in the Louvre. To demons that had witnessed chaos, a peaceful town at night was one in the same to a masterpiece. Such was its rarity in demon world.

Kurama knew what Hiei was saying in that silence.
He appreciated it.

“Thank you.” Kurama whispered, to which Hiei gave him a slight look but said no more, “We just have to keep looking. Something is out there. Something will turn up.”

Who was Kurama speaking to now? Hiei or himself?

His heavy mind was so wrapped up in thoughts of the inevitable that he was taken aback by the motion of Hiei reaching into his black coat to pull out a silk draw string bag. He handed it to Kurama, who accepted it wordlessly to open it.

Inside, seeds glittered like gems. Kurama could sense their power, like tiny bombs in his hand waiting to go off, and was suddenly struck with newfound hope. If these seeds were combined with a few more he had at home...!

Kurama looked at Hiei, his eyes shining in the dark as they beheld the solemn figure at his side.

“Where did you find these?” Kurama asked, unable to keep the gushing praise from his voice. Hiei was a treasure for the desperate; a thorn in the side of the cruel.

“Spirit world,” Hiei sneered, lounging against the wet bench and looking quite pleased with himself. Kurama had missed that snarky little smile, how the tips of his fangs appeared beneath his upper lip when he stretched his lips too tight.

“Rather dangerous don’t you think?” Kurama could not help but make the jab as Hiei rolled his eyes and looked away.

“Hardly.” Hiei had no doubt seen worse in his time. “Their security systems are no better than when we launched our own attack all those years ago.”

Kurama smiled sadly, unable to forget the repercussions of that wild spree. Poor Hiei, who had left Kurama’s side with the intent to find Yukina only to return two days later wild and drugged with a crazed scheme hatching in his baked mind. Kurama had been far from fooled, knowing Hiei was acting on someone else’s control.

The SDF was known for their approach on low class demons in human world. A higher crime rate meant a higher need for their control... and drugging an unsuspecting demon was far from beneath them.

“To be fair, it was mostly you and Gouki leading the way, I hardly did any attacking,” Kurama mused. “I had to make sure someone didn’t do anything out of the line while drugged.”

Hiei glared at Kurama dully, but Kurama could not suppress the shudder that ran through him as he remembered how Hiei had screamed himself hoarse in his dark cell upon awakening from his haze and realizing his fall from ‘grace’. That scream, so haunted and heavy, had stayed with Kurama many nights after.

“I still can’t believe that happened to you,” Kurama admitted aloud, recovering to continue on as Hiei gave him another derisive look. “I can use some of these seeds to create a more powerful antidote. Thank you, Hiei.” Kurama tied the drawstring tight upon the pouch, putting it protectively into his breast pocket, “Truly. You are a wonderful friend.”

“Shut up, Kurama,” Hiei grumbled, relaxing into the bench again. As he closed his eyes, the slightest flutter of a wince crossed his usually stoic features. Kurama sensed slight unease and suddenly noted that Hiei’s free hand was laying almost defensively against his stomach. Could it be another wound had formed there? The last time he’d come to Kurama for aid, Hiei had nearly received a fatal blow from Mukuro in that very spot. Such tactless behavior... really Hiei ought to be a more understanding lover. Could it be that once again, Hiei had made a rude or suggestive comment only to receive a prompt reminder of who wore the pants? Kurama could not help the laugh that bubbled up from his throat, but he stifled it quickly when Hiei gave him a dirty look.

“Another stomach wound?” Kurama asked, sly with knowing.

“No,” Hiei said after a moment of pause, but Kurama cared not for his lies. Hiei could weave tales like a spider, hiding himself in a web of silken strands that carried poison in their touch. Kurama knew this; he would not be fooled.

“May I see your stomach, then?” Kurama asked, sitting up better in his seat to lean a little into Hiei who bristled and scooted back even farther towards his own edge. He seethed.

“Touch me and I’ll cut off your hand,” Hiei snapped. Kurama had had no intentions of touching Hiei to begin with; Hiei was well aware of the empty dance in their words. In a time before Yusuke, Kurama and Hiei had known one another as partners. Yusuke’s presence had only caused that original pact to grow stronger, perhaps because they were both demons battling with newfound morals and an appreciation for life. Kurama had, admittedly, been slightly ahead of Hiei in the beginning with Shiori’s love to help him through the transition... yet it had become astoundingly clear when Hiei had allowed Mukuro to cradle him after their explosive battle that Hiei had made his own progress.

Despite the occasional bruises that came from being in love with such a powerful woman, Hiei was happy.
Or was he?

Hiei seemed tense as he glared dully at Kurama, who waited expectantly for Hiei to show him his stomach. Irritable and venomous, Hiei jerked two buttons of his black coat free to lift up his black shirt beneath. The skin there, normally healthy and tanned from hard work under the Alaric sun was now sickly green and brown.

“Satisfied?” Hiei snarled, letting his shirt fall down and quickly buttoning up his coat before Kurama could demand to see more. Kurama was far from satisfied, but to be fair Hiei had done exactly as asked. What more could be asked of someone for whom actions meant everything?

“Did you get into an argument?” Kurama asked after a tense moment, and Hiei made a disgusted noise which boded ill for their conversation. He was nothing if not touchy where Mukuro was concerned.

“Training,” Hiei corrected.

“Rather aggressive for training,” Kurama noted; he knew it was a lie. Hiei had no doubt said something rude and tactless to Mukuro prompting a physical reply to leave him winded and gasping for air. In Mukuro’s defense, Hiei couldn’t exactly make snide comments if he was gagging on a collapsed esophagus.

“It’s not aggressive, you’re just weak,” Hiei sneered. Kurama smiled, in spite of himself.

“I admit, your physical prowess far outmatches my own,” Kurama murmured, and though he could not explain why, he suddenly thought of Kuwabara’s bulging triceps, his rippling pectorals. Compared to Kurama’s own body, lithe and toned, both Hiei and Kuwabara were incredibly strong. There was something very attractive about the power they both could display.

“If you’re going to compliment me, at least attempt to make it sound convincing. Your pity party is feeble and shallow.”

You’re strong, too. Kurama knew how to read between the lines.

“Yes, I suppose I have my own strength." Kurama shrugged, thinking momentarily of his own battles, in particular the ones with Karasu and Shigure. Shigure had been an honest and dark fight, and he’d come out on top without relying upon his physically superior Yoko form (for which he was rather proud).

Karasu on the other hand had been a fight to the death. From the moment Karasu had pressed his body against Kurama’s in that dim underground hallway he had marked himself for death. He’d had wild intentions for the pair of them, for Kurama to pleasure him with his body and somehow have a smile on his face while he did it.

Oh, how the foolish fell.

“Suppose?” Hiei drawled, folding his arms over his chest and closing his eyes to the beauty of the city below. “I am not going to hold your hand. You know your own strength. Acknowledge it or risk losing it.”

Kurama looked at Hiei, at his state of relaxation that was still full of tension. An iron trap waiting to slam shut.

He wondered if Hiei was ever fully relaxed. If Hiei allowed himself to feel peace, even for the slightest moment? Kurama hoped he did. Hiei had certainly earned it in his short life.

“That is what the world requires,” Hiei murmured, his eyes still closed. For the unsuspecting passerby, Hiei might have looked asleep. Yet he would never do such a thing on a park bench in the open. Hiei waited. Hiei watched. Hiei learned... and Kurama could respect that.

He had not lived close to a thousand years by being foolish.

Chapter Text

Kazuma had no idea why, but it seemed to him that every time the holidays rolled around crime went up. Maybe people were just getting desperate, wanting to provide for their families on a low income, but he swore it was like clockwork. The stress from finals would build, and a bad article would appear in the paper, making Kazuma nervous about Shizuru working late into the night. This year, the motions were particularly sadistic with three young women being abducted from the bus stop. All of them were college students, each lovely and young with promising careers, and Kazuma had a nasty feeling in his stomach every time he thought about it.

Then again, that nasty feeling could have something to do with the fact that he was having yet another study session with Kurama and his theoretical physics final was right around the corner. That was enough to give him gas any day.

“Man,“ Kuwabara huffed, looking up from his half drawn physics model to stare wistfully out the high window where snow was falling at a hazardous rate, “how the hell am I supposed to study when this sicko is out there hurting women?” The evidence of his distress lay upon the table; the tabloids were full of rumors and fearful projections. “I mean, heck, what if he gets Shizuru next?”

Yet Kurama just smiled that gentle smile, quelling Kazuma’s fears as he laced his fingers upon the table.

“Shizuru is vigilant; she can handle herself,” Kurama assured him, “Though it does sound like the police are having trouble.”

Trouble was one thing, being unable to stop a rapist from harming civilians was damn inefficient. Maybe it was the fact that Kazuma had been a detective, and had learned to solve cases on a tight deadline, but frankly the Sariashiki Police Department was doing a shoddy job at protecting its citizens and Kazuma couldn’t say he wasn’t pissed.

“Stuff like this makes me furious,” Kazuma grumbled, rubbing his eyes tiredly. “I wish I could do something. I feel so damn... helpless.”

Certainly, it might also have had a lot to do with the fact that he felt like his college career was going nowhere (finals always made these feelings more strong), but lately Kazuma had been slightly depressed because he wanted to suck Kurama’s face off-

What?

“Is it just this criminal?” Kurama asked, perhaps noticing how Kazuma flushed without warning. “You have been visibly tense as of late.”

Kazuma wondered what he must look like to Kurama, blushing at everything and stuttering like a child. Kurama must think him an idiot.

“Is something else bothering you?”

Without warning, Kazuma’s heart began to pound wildly in his chest, his face burning at the idea of admitting everything to Kurama now, of getting this terrible weight off his chest and proclaiming his love.

A wave of nausea suddenly hit him and he needed to take deep calming breaths. Kurama did not know. There was no way Kurama could know. No one but Kazuma was aware of Kazuma’s feelings- save for the fact that Kazuma kept broadcasting them on his face. God, how he wished he could stop blushing.

“... Maybe it’s something more,” Kazuma admitted, simply because it would be a flat out lie to say otherwise and Kazuma did not like lying to Kurama.

Kazuma was afraid for the moment Kurama would say something about that bizarre admission, but it seemed Kurama was now occupied with his smartphone. For a moment, Kazuma felt slightly insulted until, peering at the screen, he realized Kurama was on his map application.

“Kurama, what are you doing?”

“Hmm.” Kurama was not listening, and Kazuma could not help the grin that began to form as he noticed Kurama ever-so-slyly looking at the paper on their packed study table.

He was plotting points.

“Kurama.”

“Mm?”

“Kurama, are you looking up... locations of abductions?”

Though Kurama did not answer, he smiled, and Kazuma was once again reminded why it was so wonderful to have Kurama on his team. Even when Kazuma was overwhelmed by despair, utterly flooded by emotion, Kurama was planning out the next steps. They’d have this perp nailed by lunchtime, and afterward?

Who was he kidding. Afterward he’d go right on not telling Kurama his feelings. As always.

 

~*~

Kazuma Kuwabara had done many strange things in his life, but this was perhaps at the top of the list. There upon Keiko’s bedroom floor sat a man he’d known for years, a man whom he’d grown to secretly adore. Yet, surrounded by makeup brands and wearing a school girl uniform, Kurama hardly looked like Kurama. Keiko was dedicated to her craft, poised in front of Kurama with a brush in hand as she gently laced his cheeks with rouge.

“This is the weirdest fucking thing I’ve ever seen.”

Yusuke had been determined to watch the whole process, screaming with laughter when Kurama and Kazuma had first come over and explained their plan to Keiko for help. Yet now Yusuke was far from laughing. Indeed, he was filming with his phone, perhaps wanting to document this for future evidence. Kazuma himself could not bear to look, but when he did oh god it killed him.

Mascara. The mascara was what did it. Kurama’s long sweeping lashes were coated black, his lids ever so gently creased in slight gold that made his green eyes spark. Keiko dabbled lip gloss on Kurama’s lips with care, scooting back every so often to get a better look. Kurama’s lips for perfection. It was a delicate task, and one that Kazuma could appreciate since he desperately wanted to run his tongue over Kurama’s lips just like Keiko’s lip gloss brush—
Fuck.

Kazuma looked away, unable to bear it a second longer. It didn’t help that Kurama’s legs were showing for the first time, long, lean, and alabaster. God help him, he wanted them wrapped about his waist.

Kazuma took a deep breath, groaning as he closed his eyes and instead stared up at the ceiling.

It didn’t help. He was in hell. Kurama was wearing mascara, his legs were showing, and Kazuma was in hell.

“Yusuke, quit distracting me,” Keiko warned, gesturing for Kurama to turn around. Kurama did so, and now with his back to Keiko she was able to begin brushing his long hair. Kazuma was amazed seeds didn’t spill out. “I have to get Kurama’s bun right. I’m going to use a ribbon, but your hair is so thick-" Keiko sighed, tying up Kurama’s hair and gently running her fingers through side trills.

Kazuma was going to lose his mind. To be fair, he wasn’t sure if he hadn’t already.

“This is the weirdest fucking thing I’ve ever seen!” Yusuke roared, jerking away from the door of Keiko’s bedroom to storm off down the hall towards the kitchen where a bowl of half eaten ramen still awaited him.

Kurama was patient as Keiko put more foundation on his chin and forehead, darkening the side of his face until the image of womanly perfection shown through over his soft yet masculine features.

“Studying the pictures of his latest victims, our criminal seems to enjoy women who wear heavy eye shadow. Do you think you could do that Keiko?” Kurama asked. Keiko situated a barrette in Kurama’s hair, primping it carefully to make sure his high bun stayed in place. Kurama looked like a ballerina, lovely and graceful with those long, long legs.

“Oh, yeah.” Keiko nodded, chewing thoughtfully on the wad of gum in her mouth as she picked up a brush, “I could totally do that.”

“Oh, Jesus Christ,” Kazuma moaned aloud, leaving the room before his erection could show through his jeans.

Yet as he went into the kitchen, Yusuke seemed to catch on quickly and gave him a disgusted look through a mouthful of ramen.

“What the fuck is wrong with you?” Yusuke muttered, taking his meal out onto the balcony to light up a cigarette.

It didn’t get better as the night rolled on.

On sixteenth street, just behind a local burger bar, there was a bus stop that came every four or so hours to pick up commuters. It was near this site that three different girls had been abducted, including a classmate of Keiko’s, a personal blow that had made Keiko even more determined to help Kurama and Kazuma end this kidnapper’s reign of terror. Now, Kazuma was crouched behind a dumpster, waiting in a nervous sweat while he watched Kurama poise elegantly at the bus stop. As he pretended to be listening to his iPod, Kurama tucked a stray piece of dark hair behind his ears, clip-on earrings completing the effect as he waited patiently for their perp.

Kazuma couldn’t stand it. It had all seemed like good fun in Keiko’s apartment, but now in the dark of the alleyway Kazuma was realizing the huge flaw in this plan: Kurama would have to get hurt.

Kurama would have to get hurt.

The plan itself was straightforward: Kurama would play victim and allow himself to be kidnapped, after which Kazuma would follow and route out the location of the killer’s hostages. Kurama would free the girls, Kazuma would call the police, and the pair of them would make off like vigilantes while the police screamed towards the perp’s house to apprehend him. Anonymous hotlines were a godsend as far as Kazuma was concerned, but suddenly he couldn’t bear the image of Kurama being abducted; what if things got out of control? What if Kurama was overwhelmed and ended up being harmed? Kazuma knew this guy had to be a pervert, there was no way he was abducting women for benign reasons. It made Kazuma’s blood boil- and yet run cold as the image turned to Kurama, bleeding on the floor of a dirty basement.

“Keep focused, keep focused, keep focused...” Kazuma whispered to himself, bowing his head low to hide from the image of Kurama’s beautiful pale legs captured in the neon light.

“God, his legs,” Kazuma whimpered.

Kurama looked over his shoulder, curious to see if Kazuma was there while everything was still quiet and calm.

“Are you there, Kuwabara?” Kurama asked.

“I’m here,” Kazuma called out from behind the dumpster, cursing himself and every god in existence as his hard on raged against his jeans, “I’m right here with you, baby,” he muttered softly.

“What was that?” Kurama asked, looking around with serious intention as he removed an earbud from his ear. Panic flooded Kazuma’s body and he quickly covered the slip up before Kurama could ask any more questions.

“Nothing!” Kazuma cried out, quickly muffling his voice lest someone come from the street to see what was the matter. “Nothing.”

Yet instead of looking annoyed, Kurama smiled and put his iPod back in his ears. He must have not heard Kazuma, otherwise Kazuma was certain he would not have been smiling.

“Kuwabara...” Kurama murmured, “Everything will be fine.”

There it was again, his voice so smooth and gentle; Kazuma cursed himself as those dulcet tones washed over his frayed nerves.

“I don’t know how I’m going to handle you getting hurt,” Kazuma admitted, glancing up at Kurama apologetically. His hair, so tight up in a bun, was like a halo about his lovely face. Kurama was smiling at him, tender and mild in that unnerving moment. How was it that he could remain so calm, keep everything so well contained, when Kazuma was crouching behind a wet and dirty dumpster with a raging hard on and a pounding pulse?

“You’ve seen me fight opponents many times. Why is this any different?” Kurama asked, chuckling as he waved a dismissive hand. It didn’t make matters better that Kurama was wearing bracelets which clinked upon his wrist.

Like the chime of angels, dammit.

“... You’re wearing heels?”

Kurama smiled.

“Admittedly that is a first.” Kurama looked down at his feet, laced up in white pumps courtesy of Shizuru (his feet could not fit into Keiko’s shoes and his toes still hung off the ends of Shizuru’s).

“You’re supposed to... get taken. Get hurt.” Kazuma could not keep the hoarse concern out of his voice. He felt like he might be sick. “I don’t like that. At all.” He swallowed, but his mouth was dry and he’d run out energy to adequately hide his fear for Kurama’s predicament.

As usual, Kurama was there to catch him. Abandoning his position at the bus stop for one second, he poked his head around the dumpster to smile down at Kazuma.

“Follow behind, give me... half an hour at most. I’ll have enough time to free the hostages in half that, but... I like to do a thorough job.” Kurama winked at the joke, and Kazuma suddenly felt a rush of heat flood his face. Yet without warning, Kurama’s posture changed, and he looked over his shoulder as if sensing something ominous.

 

“He’s coming,” Kurama said. Kazuma’s heart suddenly leapt. “Get ready.”

Kazuma crouched down low, praying that he would be able to bear it.

For a moment, in the darkness, the illusion was complete: Kurama was gentle and unassuming, a sweet college girl with a future ahead of her and some nice guy waiting for her at home. She had done what was expected of her all her life, been kind to the needy and helped her friends when she could. She did not deserve what was about to happen to her. None of them did.

And then, it happened none the less.

A car pulled up into the ally, lights low and the passenger window rolled down. Kazuma’s heart pounding in his throat as he saw a glimpse of a thin and balding man sitting in the driver’s seat.

“Hey there, waiting for your bus?” the man greeted Kurama.

“Yeah,” Kurama said, putting on the air of a disturbed teenage girl as he leaned back a little, “It should be here in a bit.”

“It's cold out tonight; are you sure you don't want a ride?”

“I mean... I really shouldn’t...” Kurama was playing this part really fucking well and it was starting to disturb Kazuma. How was he making his voice so high?

“What school do you go to?”

“Sariashiki High,” Kurama lied.

“Oh really? My daughter goes there!” the man said, a calm and graceful air about his pleasant words. Despite the niceties, hair was starting to stick up on his arms. He could tell this guy was a sleezeball, and he knew Kurama knew it too but... damn. “Maybe you know her, her name’s Hotsura Kimei?”

“Oh wow, I do know her!” Kurama lied again, “She’s really nice-“

“Yeah she's a sweetheart. Look, tell you what, where are you headed to?”

“Home,” Kurama said, “On thirty second street.”

“Well, that’s on the way to where I’m headed!” the man offered, “C’mon, I’ll take you there. You can thank Kimei at school tomorrow.”

“Well... I mean...” Kurama looked over his shoulder and caught Kazuma’s eye.
He winked.

“Alright." Kurama said, getting into the car as the man unlocked the door. Kurama slid into the seat, and as he closed the door behind him he gave Kazuma a knowing look.

Kazuma ground his teeth together.

Without warning (or perhaps with all the warnings one could get), the man suddenly reared back and slammed a white rag over Kurama’s mouth and nose. Kurama struggled, but even as his hands moved to grab at the man’s, they became slack and fell back along his sides.

Hostages... hostages... hostages... think of the hostages!

But Kurama was now a hostage himself.

The chase had already begun. Kurama was being drove away down the alleyway, Kazuma waited two seconds and followed swiftly behind the car, following along at a jog and keeping out of sight of the rear view mirror.

They had work to do.

 

~*~

The smell of earth was deep in his nose, comforting and calming save for the fact that it was laced with oil. His wrists were bound behind his back, his face was pressed into the ground, and the sound of someone crying filled his ears.

It seemed he had made it to his final destination.

Kurama looked up from the ground, barely able to see with his view half hidden by the black earth pressed into his face. His hands, bound behind his back, were easily unlaced by the tempting of a seedling vine that lay dormant in his hair. A small spurt of spirit energy and his wrists were free, allowing him to sit up and wipe his face free of dirt.

It was dark and clammy with smells assaulting his sensitive nose. His head spun momentarily, vision warped by lack of adequate oxygen traveling to his brain. He felt as if he’d been drugged, with his throat dry and his eyes stinging, but if he had been drugged, then how long had he been out? Kurama looked down at his wrist, and groaned to find that twenty minutes had already slipped past. He had little more than ten to get the hostages out. Surveying his surroundings, Kurama took note of everything.

A basement pit, about twelve feet deep and six feet wide. Kurama spotted the inline of a door on the far wall. They were no doubt underneath the basement proper. Carved by hand... someone is attentive to detail. Yet as Kurama touched the walls, he noted they were unusually slick. Pulling his hand back, his fingertips were black and shiny.

Oill... he sniffed and gasoline. A lit match would be the death of us all.

Twenty minutes have passed. I only have ten to get the job done.

Yet as Kurama spread his energy, eager to begin, he noticed a wild spurt above his head: angry, hot energy of someone infused with deep seeded regret. He knew it well.

His energy is not too far off. I should remain impassive lest he catch wind of my stunt. I’ll give myself three minutes.

And so Kurama slipped back into his cuffs with ease, laying himself back down on the floor in a similar position to the one he’d woken in, waiting. It did not take long, merely a minute for the door to the outside to swing open. The man was in the shadows there, casting a long gaping maw upon the floor surrounded by golden fluorescent light. For a minute, he simply surveyed the scene. Then, he closed the door again. Kurama heard it lock, and sat back up to slip off his cuffs once more.

Now was the time for action.

Kurama’s eyes roved about the black pit, momentarily blinded as his eyes adjusted to the lack of light, but he found a huddled lump in the far corner and moved to it with ease, concerned for what he might find.

It turned out to be a teenage girl, her school uniform in rags and her hair a mess about her dirty face. Tears had created tracks in the mud, giving her the odd impression of a warrior with tribal makeup as she hiccuped and whimpered her distress. She was handcuffed, just like Kurama, but something was wrong with her hands.

Kurama took them in his own, and felt a sense of dread begin to lick at his stomach. Her fingernails had been ripped off.

This man was psychotic.

“Please, I just want to go home,” the girl moaned, her breath coming out in tiny pants as she trembled in his clutches.

“Tonight you will be,” Kurama assured her, wanting to bring her a sense of peace no matter how small as he took her injured hands between his own and poured his energy into them. Her fingernails might never grow back, but he could at least numb the wounds. She looked down at his hands, then at him, surprise spreading across her once petrified features as she realized Kurama was doing something impossible.

She probably thought she was dead and Kurama was an angel. The truth couldn’t be farther off on both accounts.

A small seed became a helpful vine in Kurama’s clutches, and the girl’s cuffs were easily picked to fall onto the earth. He rubbed her raw wrists, hoping it brought her comfort.

“Stay still,” Kurama urged, for the girl was suddenly growing distressed. He couldn’t blame her, it wasn’t every day that you saw a plant sprout from nothing and then pick your handcuffs. Thoughts of angels and heaven were now far gone, to be replaced with thoughts of madness. Once again, Kurama knew the feeling.

“I’m going to wipe your memory of this later, but things will be confusing for a while.” Kurama grew an aloe leaf, breaking it between two firm fingers as he coated her blistered skin with its soothing spread, “What’s your name?”

“... Aiko,” the girl finally answered. Kurama remembered that one of the girls who had been taken (there were seven in all now, eight if he counted himself) was named Aiko. It seemed she was the only one left alive. Keiko would be devastated to learn of her classmates death, but if any life could be salvaged from this, Kurama was determined to do so.

“Aiko, my name is...”
Did it really matter what name he gave her? She would not remember this night.

“My name is Kurama.” Kurama spoke the truth, if only because she’d never know the difference anyway, “My partner is just outside this building, calling the police. You’ll be home before the sun returns.”

But suddenly, Aiko’s face that had once begun to beam with hope turned to one of sheer terror and Kurama had a feeling he knew why.

“Your time here is over,” Kurama murmured, looking behind him with mutinous rage to find that, sure enough, the man had returned and was unfortunately too close to hide from.

 

“How the fuck did you get out of your cuffs?” he barked, no doubt shocked that Kurama was on the opposite side of the pit from two minutes ago, with a plant leaf in his hands despite their being no plants in the room.

In hindsight, Kurama should have kept his cuffs nearby for the quick escape back to playing the role of an unassuming teenage girl, but the cuffs were against the opposite wall where he had once been bound and Kurama now walked the razor thin blade of pretending to be a terrified teenage girl and admitting that he was in fact a man in drag. The decision, however, was wrenched from his hands before he could make his move when Aiko let out a strangled cry and scrambled away, inciting their captor’s wrath.

“S-stay away from me!” she wailed, pathetic sobs huffing past her swollen and bruised lips as she hid her injured hands behind her back. It did her no good, their captor simply smacked her hard over the head with the tire iron in his hands. She collapsed, knocked unconscious by the blow.

Kurama grimaced, knowing full well how much a blow like that could hurt when unprepared for. She did not deserve that pain.

Kurama glared up at their captor, imagining all the pleasant ways in which he could torture such a man. They were endless, really, given Kurama’s over active-imagination and his newly replenished supply stock of seeds from Spirit World. He’d have to thank Hiei later.

Kurama saw the tire iron coming and dodged it easily, but he could not so well prepare for the boot that lodged itself right into his face. Kicked all the way over onto his stomach, Kurama floundered from the exploding pain in his cheek and eye, almost landing on top of Aiko who was cold and quiet beneath him. For a moment their faces were almost pressed together; Kurama could almost smell the faint remnants of her perfume upon her neck, but then he was being grabbed by the hair and drug backwards.

Slammed into the wall, Kurama grimaced from sheer irritation of it all as he was re-cuffed, his wrists painfully clamped together in cold metal as he was drug against the earthy confines of his tiny prison towards the only door out.

“You’re not scratchin’ me,” the man growled, to which Kurama made no comment.

‘Disturbing, but perhaps useful,’ he noted.

Outside their earthy prison the man slammed the door and locked it, Aiko now alone again in the room. Kurama was drug up the stairs in a ridiculous position, almost bent over double as his captor kept a firm hand upon his arms behind his back. Kurama shook his wild red main loose from its bun, Keiko’s burette dropping upon the ground along with the seeds of a helpful vine that would pick the lock of the door and a creeping flower that would erase Aiko’s memory with the smell of its pollen. Now all Kurama had to do was buy time for Kuwabara, an easy feat given that his captor was unlikely to inflict fatal injury without torturing his victims first (judging by Aiko’s hands). Kurama had dealt with worse. The image of Karasu flickered through his mind.

At the top of the stairs lay the basement, confirming Kurama’s earlier suspicions. There were red sheets in the corner, draping about a chair and Persian pillows where a camera on a tripod lay waiting to take pictures. Despite the deep crimson color of the duvet and wraps, Kurama could smell blood and was certain horrific acts had passed here. He was flung unceremoniously into the chair, offering no resistance as he was duck taped about the waist to the firm wooden back.

Kurama could break this chair with ease. He was not worried.

His legs were taped next, bound impossibly tight by expert hands as Kurama’s cuffs dug into the small of his back. His captor pulled out a set of keys and unlocked Kurama’s cuffs, slamming Kurama’s wrist down with unnecessary force upon the arm of the chair as he taped Kurama’s hand down. He mashed his elbow into the top of the Kurama’s hand, forcing his fingers to spread wide, which Kurama found to be both incredibly annoying and painful. By the time both Kurama's hands were bound to the arms of the chair, he was fed up with his captor and glad only five minutes remained till Kuwabara burst through the door.

But plenty could happen in five minutes. Lives had been decided in less.

The man just stared at him, hands clamping down upon Kurama’s arms as he leaned into him to smell his neck. Kurama, of course, had worn Keiko’s perfume to keep up the facade.

“They usually scream.” The man seemed pleasantly surprised that Kurama was cooperating, but slightly suspicious – and rightly so. Amid his stream of internal dialogue, Kurama had forgotten to retain his schoolgirl façade, and now found little motivation to pick it up again.

“Help me, help me!” he tried.

The immediate flood of derisive anger on the man’s face told Kurama that he had failed to put on a convincing act. In a brief moment, he mused on the irony of this, as he considered how good he could be at pretending to be something more innocent than he actually was.

“What’s the point in screaming? No one can hear me,” Kurama offered, eyes trained upon his captor’s face. An expression could break a man, and before the night was over Kurama was determined for his captor to be afraid to look him in the eye.

At first he seemed to resist the idea, appearing even more suspicious. “That’s logical,” he mused, scratching an unshaven chin with slight worry. “You’re smarter than the other ones.”

Kurama glared at him, and the man quickly turned away. He'd unnerved his torturer, that much was obvious, but so long as four minutes remained (judging from his watch) he still had the upper hand.

“I can make you scream,” the man said, his back to Kurama.
When he turned around again, his hands were upon a black box.

 

Kurama had seen many kinds of torture instruments in his time, and knew automatically that anything which lay in the box would be meant to draw out screams. Unfortunately for his captor, Kurama was not a willing victim, and he doubted that anything concocted by this man could be enough to break him.

Still, Kurama was curious.

The man gave him a leering grin, removing the lid of the box to reveal a row of fine needles, each capped by red wax and thread. Judging from the way the man had so forcibly tied down his hands, practically taping them to the chair so that he could even move a knuckle of a finger, Kurama had a feeling he knew what those needles were for.

Kurama gritted his teeth and willed himself to think about nothing.
And yet, how could he when so much was on his mind?

The pain that filled his thumb was like something out a nightmare, hot and unending as the needle pressed deeper and deeper into his tender yet rigid flesh. He could see the soft grey blur of the metal inching its way further beneath his fingernail, pressing right into the bed where his nerves sang in agony.

Shiori, sitting upon their outer deck, working on a difficult Sudoku puzzle and relaxing at complete ease in her sun chair. Her wide brimmed straw hat smelt of sweet wheat grass, her white skirt gently buffeted by the summer wind.

The next nail was easier and yet more difficult to prepare for, Kurama gritted his teeth tight, refusing to scream, and yet another image was flooding his mind, making him want to shriek his rage to the world-

Shiori with her head in her hands, a migraine breaking her to the core, groaning into the kitchen table. Whimpering, a cold cloth in her hands. She pressed it into her temples but the pain would not subside. She was close to weeping.

Kurama focused on the pain driving into his middle finger, allowing it to purge his mind momentarily of the agony that was his private hell, the absolute terror of the woman he loved dying. Dying alone, dying with no memory of who she was, of what she had become to him. His savior in the darkness, his saving grace in the fire-

His right hand was on fire, each of his fingernails now pegged with a needle shoved deep into his flesh. But his captor was practically giddy now, pulling out a small hand mallet with obvious intention to pop the fingernails off of Kurama’s hand.

He’d had enough. Shiori was at home, no doubt suffering. This plan had gone on far enough, and if his watch was accurate (which it was) he had less than a minute left before Kuwabara burst through the door and started screaming his head off.

“Right,” Kurama decided aloud, his voice heavy with intent. “I’ve had enough.”

A fierce yank later, Kurama had ripped his arms right out of the chair’s holds, kicking out hard to slam the heel of his shoe into his captor’s testicles. The man fell backward and onto the ground, howling in pain, but his outstretched hand landed close enough to his abandoned steel pipe to be a threat. He clutched at his testicles, a dry sob bursting from his mouth, but in his rage he swung the pipe at Kurama’s calves and completely knocked him to the ground. Coming in for a second swing, his captor brought the pipe down over his head, screaming in a rage as he made to break Kurama’s face in half. Kurama threw an arm in front of his face, and it blocked the blow in an instant. Yet his captor was stronger than he realized, and with a sickening crunch Kurama’s right ulna broke in two. Blood flew into the air as Kurama’s broken bone struck out of the skin, and Kurama barely withheld the seething gasp that inched past his teeth as his captor’s other hand came up to beat him relentlessly. Kurama could usually block such blows, and frankly he still could, but the image of Shiori crying in pain at the kitchen table was still deep in his mind. It robbed him of his ability to think.

Kurama collapsed farther to the ground, angry and disorientated as he was suddenly straddled at the waist. His captor grabbed him painfully by the hair, a knife in his other hand, and for one moment Kurama thought he might get his throat slit, but then without warning red strands went flying, drifting down to the floor where Kurama stared at them in a horrific trance.

He’d cut his hair.

Kurama regarded with mild irritation the lock of hair in his captor’s hand. “That does not belong to you.”

Perhaps it was the fact that Kurama had not screamed at the man’s torture, but his captor had now become fully enraged. He snarled, cracking Kurama over the head with his pipe for what surely felt like the tenth time, and stars exploded in front of his eyes as he collapsed onto the floor.

He felt the fabric of Keiko’s uniform being ripped apart, his shirt and vest suddenly torn in two; it seemed his captor had decided to sexually assault his breasts.

Fortunately, Kurama had no breasts.

“Fuck!” The man cried out, horror in his voice as his rough and calloused hands ghosted over Kurama’s chest. “You’re not a girl!”

“A man, in all technicality,” Kurama managed to sluggishly reply.

At once, his captor frisked him for a weapon, no doubt thinking him a cop in disguise. His captor’s hand suddenly came in contact with the soft flesh of his penis, and Kurama’s eyes snapped open as his captor glanced up at him with a sudden bout of nervousness.

Kurama head butted his captor, and the man fell off of him with a shout of pain as his nose broke. Kurama quickly pocketed his fallen hair with his uninjured arm. Yanking Keiko’s ruined shirt closed about his chest, Kurama barely had a second to recover his dignity before a door behind him was broken open in a wild flurry of strength.

Kuwabara had arrived.

“Holy shit!” he cried out, his rough voice loud and assaulting to Kurama’s ears as he ran over to where Kurama lay dazed upon the floor. It did not help that Kurama’s injured hand was on display- “Oh my god! What did he do to your fingernails?!” Kuwabara’s voice was filled with terror as he suddenly began to attempt to cradle Kurama to his chest. Had Kurama been more aware of himself, he might have found this the slightest bit annoying, yet for the moment he was too dazed to care.

Perhaps that was because he’d been smacked several times in the head with a tire iron.

Kuwabara was hysterical, first grabbing Kurama’s uninjured arm to help pull him from the floor, them cupping his injured arm to his chest in an attempt to keep it steady. Kurama felt like a chick being squashed by its mother, and suddenly his face was pressed into the soft cloth of Kuwabara’s sweat jacket.

“I got blood on the uniform,” Kurama murmured, looking down at the ripped and bloodied garment that barely clung together at his chest where he held it defensively, “I doubt Keiko will be thrilled.”

“I called the police,” Kuwabara rushed, tugging Kurama towards the open door. It led into a hallway which made his head hurt for its garish yellow wall paper and bright yellow light, “They’re on their way. We gotta scram, man.” But this plan was stopped short momentarily as Kuwabara’s attention was once again captivated by-

“What did he do to your fingernails?!”

Kurama tried to hide his hand but it was no use, Kuwabara had it pressed between his own as if praying it would somehow heal his throbbing pain, “And he cut your hair!?”

It was odd, how the two statements could hold the same gravity to Kuwabara. Kurama could not help but feel slightly humored.

“It’ll grow,” Kurama assured him, stumbling along the house’s cramped walls in Shizuru’s high heels. He could not take out the needles in the man’s house, lest blood fall and link back to Shuichi Minamino, “We have to leave now, I can’t take these out here.”

“Come on, let’s move,” Kuwabara agreed, taking him out the way he had no doubt come. They exited the hallway into a truly disgusting kitchen full of flies and garbage where a back door had been broken in (by Kuwabara probably). As they exited down the steps, Kurama heard the sound of wood being smashed.

“Police!" roared an authoritative voice. “Freeze!”

Kurama looked over his shoulder, afraid that they had been spotted, but the command had come from deeper within the house – they had not been seen. However, they would not be so fortunate for long. This area was no doubt surrounded by law enforcement.

Kuwabara was quick, helping them out of a back garden gate and into a dark alleyway where blue and red lights bounced off rain washed wood and old garbage cans. It took them several minutes of traveling before they could get to an area away from the police, in an alleyway between two office buildings were only a fire escape, a broken rain gutter, and a large commercial dumpster stood.

“We have to get you help.” Kuwabara was trying to hold Kurama’s arm, where the bone of his ulna stuck out at a nasty angle. The skin was bone white, blood long gone as it poured down Kurama’s arm and onto Keiko’s skirt.

“I can handle this by myself.” Kurama tried to pull away, but Kuwabara would not let him, cradling Kurama’s injured arm to his chest so that if Kurama moved he would put himself in horrific pain.

“No, you need help!” Kuwabara was getting defensive, angry even, “These needles are in really deep.”

“I have endured worse with ease. This merely requires a good night’s sleep, I will be well in the morning-“

“The fuck you will!” Kuwabara was aghast, and it was starting to get on Kurama’s nerves. In his opinion, this level of concern was wasted on him, and it was only serving to panic Kuwabara more. “We’re going to the hospital!”

But the hospital was full of nurses who knew Shuichi Minamino, who cared for Shiori and would at once relay to her that her son had a broken arm and a tortured hand and was wearing a girls uniform. Kurama would not have it!

“No!” Kurama snapped, and with a burst of pain he jerked his arm to his chest. “I can fix my own arm.”

“No, you can’t!”

Oh ye of little faith.

Kurama looked around, and spotted the broken rain gutter. He needed something round, a deep compression he could sit his injured arm in. It would do. Kurama went over to it and placed his broken arm inside, using his free hand to call upon vines both firm and strong that wrapped around Kurama’s broken bone to create a binding as strong as any hospital machine. With the tail end in Kurama’s free hand, Kurama took a deep steadying breath.

This was going to hurt like hell, but it was either this or Shiori getting the shock of her life. Kurama needed no time to consider which option he would take.

“Wh-what are you doing?!” Kuwabara cried out, fear leaking into his voice. His eyes were wide, his voice shaking, “What are you about to do, man?!”

Kurama looked at him, smiling slightly, and yanked the tail end of the vines.

With a sickening crunch, his bone went down back into his skin. Kurama could not contain the scream that burst forth from his lips, the pain dazzling him so that he fell to his knees for a moment as blood rushed through his ears and a wave of nausea crashed over him. Karasu’s bombs had been utter agony, but this bone setting came in a sure second, with Kurama feeling like he might vomit at any minute.

Kuwabara had fallen against the wall, his hand over his mouth, white as a sheet as Kurama righted himself and undid the vines. His arm was a deep purple and green, the bone underneath the skin but the damage obvious. He would repair it when he got home.

“There,” Kurama panted, sweat trickling down his neck, “Good as new.”

“Man...” Kuwabara’s voice was weak, “What the fuck?”

Kurama smiled at Kuwabara, charmed by his ability to stand there and watch Kurama do such a thing without comment; he then yanked the needles out of his fingernails one by one. The pain compared to his arm setting was nothing, a mere blip in the radar.

“Goodnight, Kuwabara.” He tossed the needles into the commercial dumpster and held his slightly repaired arm against his chest, “Good work tonight.”

And with that he left the alleyway, eager to get home if only to sit in the solitude of his apartment and fix his arm properly.

In the alleyway, Kuwabara had sagged down to the ground, still weak and horrified.

“Good... good work,” Kuwabara mumbled back, though Kurama was long gone by this point. “... Go team.”

 

~*~

For the next week and a half, Kurama did not hear from Kuwabara. The minute he’d gotten home that fateful night, he had repaired his arm with extensive energy and had fallen asleep exhausted. The next morning he’d woken up late for work, and had had to call in feigning illness. His step-father’s company gladly gave it to him, knowing his worth ethic to be impeccable and not desiring to trouble him when he no doubt sounded like death over the phone.

It turned out that Aiko was Keiko’s classmate (Kurama had been mistaken, thinking it another girl) and the news was filled with images of Aiko’s tearful relief after she had been returned home to her terrified parents. Her fingernails reportedly would grow back with time, and she had mercifully no memory or Kurama or his aid to her in the cellar. Instead she had claimed that an angel had come before her and promised her that she would return home.

She was far from accurate, but Kurama wouldn’t hold it against her. He was just happy she was out of that cellar. The man, of course, was imprisoned and awaiting extensive trial.

With Christmas fast-approaching, Kurama was preparing both for his annual christmas party with friends and Shiori’s birthday requests. Kurama had been born December 27th, a fact that very few people knew, and every year Shiori took Kurama out for dinner with their family. It was the only thing he’d let her do, simply because he anniversary of coming into this world was not exactly a day he was proud of. Shiori, however, delighted in it and her smile made the festivities worthwhile.

The Christmas party was one initiated by Keiko after Yusuke had been unceremoniously kicked out of the role of Spirit Detective. In order to keep those in her life together that she loved, Keiko hosted a small get together on December 27th, and so they all came together for one night to enjoy each other’s company once again and remember what once was. Hiei was never there because Hiei never responded to the invitation (something with Kurama assured Keiko was normal and not to take to heart), but everyone else came save for Koenma who at times was far too busy. This year was the same, with Keiko, Yusuke, Shizuru, Botan, Yukina, Kuwabara and Kurama himself making up the lot. The affair was held at Yusuke’s noodle shop which was closed for the evening, and instead Yusuke cooked for them. Nothing was off the menu, and though they all tried to pay Yusuke would not let them. When they'd finished eating, Keiko brought out deserts, which no one could resist despite being stuffed with food courtesy of Yusuke. They toasted one another (“To Kurama, who makes a fine-ass broad!”) , they toasted those not present (“Here’s to Hiei, mean and surly!”) and they toasted their enemies (“To Toguro, the shit cake!”) simply because they could. Gifts were last, usually homemade and small but none the less wonderful.

Keiko had made everyone a scarf, suddenly taking up a knitting craze much to Kurama’s delight as he wrapped the dark green scarf about his neck. Yusuke was not quite so creative a gift giver, so his gift had been traded off for the meal they ate (which was a massive spread and frankly more than they deserved). Shizuru’s gifts were vouchers to stores throughout the area that she thought they might like to shop in, and Yukina had made everyone candles which smelled different for what she felt was their ‘scent’. She’d also pressed flowers into the wax, making for quite a nice display that Kurama was grateful for as he smelt his jasmine candle. Botan had brought everyone foreign candy from souls that she’d picked up in other countries, and it was fun for a moment to try them out with expressions of disgust and pleasure. She’d also brought a clipping from a demon world newspaper showing an image of Hiei atop a huge swell of bandit corpses. The article proclaimed “Uprising overthrown by the Black Dragon”, a nickname Hiei had picked up in the press for all the blood he shed and the venomous weapon encased in his soul.

They all were captivated as Kurama read, enlightening them on how Hiei had singlehandedly busted through six thousand bandits who had tried to rise against Mukuro’s crew in an attempt to garner a name for themselves. The only thing they’d garnered was a grave, shallow and poorly filled as Hiei slaughtered their ranks. (“Sounds like shorty’s protecting his girlfriend!” Kuwabara joked.)

Kuwabara had brought special gifts, each unique for their person: a makeup gift card for Keiko, a can of high end hair gel for Yusuke (who looked utterly delighted as if he’d been given keys to a new car), a packet of medicine for Shizuru to help her stop smoking, a book for Yukina on how to make your own soaps, and nothing for Botan who he didn’t realize was coming. He apologized profusely to her, saying that he was resolved to make it up for her later, but Botan didn’t care. She was just happy to spend time with them. Kurama was likewise jilted when Kuwabara admittedly sheepishly that he had forgotten his gift at home and was going to give it to him later. Kurama didn't care, simply because Kuwabara's company was far more enjoyable than any gift he could receive, though he did wonder what Kuwabara had decided to give him.

Kurama gave Keiko a new school uniform (much to the group’s amusement), an herb for Shizuru to chew that would help with her nicotine addiction, a plant from the Hyouga for Yukina (he usually wouldn’t be able to find it but it had been in the bag Hiei had given him), and a book for Botan on the history and lore of grim reapers. To Kuwabara and Yusuke Kurama gave a fighting game they’d been squealing about for the past six months, and suddenly the air was full of cackling as the pair shouted about how they would be the one to beat the other, suddenly eager to get home and start it up on the console.

And yet the night was not over, as Yusuke thumped his fist upon the table and made the room grow quiet.

“Okay, so I know that we’re having a good time and everything!” Yusuke flushed, his grin too large to hide as Keiko happily wrapped her dark blue scarf about his neck, “But I have to come clean about two things."

Kurama was curious. What could these things be? God forbid it was more food, or they were going to have to be rolled out of the door.

"First of all, I’m an asshole,” Yusuke proudly declared, thumbing his chest.

“Tell us something we don’t know!" Kuwabara jeered, and Yusuke flicked him off with good humor. The pair of them snickered like children.

“Shuttup man, I’m serious.” Yusuke paused, his grin faltering a little as he continued on, “I should have mentioned this before now but I didn’t because I figured no one needed to know. But...” Yusuke shot a glance at Keiko who smiled sheepishly and shrugged as if to say ‘go on ahead, why not’. “Keiko and I talked it over and we figured why not tell you guys tonight since we’d all be here. Well, save for Hiei, but we’ll fill him in later. And Koenma but I have a feeling you’re gonna be telling him tonight." Yusuke said, looking pointedly at Botan who waved him off with a coyish grin.

“We got married.” Yusuke shrugged. Keiko beamed.

It took a second for that to sink in.

“URAMESHI, WHAT THE FUCK!?” Kuwabara screamed in delight, grabbing Yusuke by the shirt and yanking him into the tightest hold Kurama had ever seen as he shook Yusuke back and forth like a rag doll, “You asshole! You absolute asshole! You didn’t tell me nothin’! What the hell?!”

They tossed each other about, cackling like ghouls as Keiko allowed Yukina and Shizuru to express their equal delight.

"This is so wonderful, I’m so happy for you!"

“When the heck did this happen? I work near the court house, I never saw you!”

“Well, this is certainly a surprise!” Kurama beamed at them. He'd known for quite a while that Yusuke and Keiko were going to get married, but Yusuke was a drifter and difficult to pin down to a firm plan. He preferred to think on his feet, and he knew how tough that must have been for Keiko. It seemed that Yusuke had gotten over his fears of commitment, however, for he was now in a joyous tug of war with Kuwabara on the floor, kicking him off as he laughed and laughed.

Yusuke couldn’t have looked happier.

“When did you get married?!” Yukina asked excitedly, her eyes twinkling with mirth.

“Last Friday, we went to the court house,” Keiko explained in a rush, laughing as she allowed Botan to sweep her up into a hug, “You should have seen the judge’s face, he knew Yusuke from when he was younger!”

“The dude was a judgmental asshole; it felt so good rubbing it in!" Yusuke crowed from the floor where he had now pinned Kuwabara in a turn of events. “Man, he couldn’t stand it! Me, a punk, marrying such a beautiful woman! HA!” Yusuke bellowed, his voice bouncing about the shop.

“He called my father and told him, but my father already knew!” Keiko giggled, “It was great.”

“Oh, I could cry! I’m so delighted! I can’t wait to tell everyone the news!” Botan was close to tears, rocking Keiko in her arms. It was an odd image when compared to Yusuke and Kuwabara hitting each other on the floor.

“Yeah, well, long time coming,” Yusuke said, sitting up from the floor as Kuwabara helped him back with a great tug of the hand. The pair of them still snickered at each other, forever children at heart.

“But-!" came Yukina’s voice, and everyone turned to look at her save for Yusuke and Keiko who seemed to be aware of what she was referring to.

“But!" Yusuke agreed, raising a finger to make his second point. “There’s one more thing to be said!"

Keiko got up from the floor, scooting back behind the counter to duck out of sight. Kurama wondered what they would learn next. Christ, were they pregnant? That was a terrifying thought. A small Yusuke with Keiko’s temper? The world would break in two.

“Someone,” Yusuke crowed, slight anger in his voice as he pointed at Kurama, "was an even bigger asshole, and did not tell anyone that it was his birthday!"

Kurama flushed.
How had they found out?

He looked about then down, a heat creeping into his cheeks as Kuwabara made a deep gasp of betrayal. Kurama rubbed his brow, irritated.

"There is really no need to-“ Kurama began with a soft mumble, but Yusuke cut him off.

“Well, fuck you!” Yusuke said loudly, overriding Kurama, "And the horse you rode in on, cause my wife made you a cake."

Kurama was going to die, he was certain of it, as a heat suddenly rolled from his body. Keiko stood back up to reveal a cheesecake in hand with strawberry drizzle, cradling a candle in the middle of white fox.

It did not matter how many times he said no. It did not matter how much he pressed his hands over his face to hide from his sight such a display of love and camaraderie. The tune of happy birthday was being chorused through the air, and Kurama could not block it out as Keiko came back into the fold with the cake and set it before him so that he could blow out the candle.

Kurama groaned, peeking through his fingers to do so quickly so that they might stop and leave him alone. Everyone cheered, unwilling to let him be despite his embarrassment.

Keiko was happy to dish out cheesecake, answering question after question of how did Yusuke propose and did they have rings (they were around their necks on silver chains, respectively), and would they be taking a honeymoon. Kurama just sat quietly, praying he might sink into the background and be unnoticed for a while.

“What did you wish for?” Keiko asked, and Kurama could not hide the slightest flash of pain as he thought of Shiori and her suffering.

“I didn’t wish for anything,” Kurama lied. “I have everything I could want.”

And so they were all happy, eating his cake (which Kurama had to admit was delicious despite the embarrassment it had caused him).

"So how old are you?” Yusuke asked around a mouth full of cheesecake.

“I’m twenty four." Kurama smiled. A year older than Yusuke.

“... thousand...?” Yusuke added, rolling his hands as if urging Kurama to tell him more.

“Urameshi!" Kuwabara cried out, smacking him in the arm to make him stop. Kurama stared shrewdly, bitter to be reminded of his past on such a night.

“Really, how old are you?” Yusuke asked, unaware of the pain he was stirring up in Kurama’s heart.

"I've forgotten," Kurama responded in a clipped tone, and Keiko shot Yusuke a look that pointedly declared the conversation was over.

~*~

The crunching of snow underfoot filled the air as Kurama and Kazuma walked out together. The party had dwindled after cheesecake, with conversation taking up another three hours before it rang midnight and people realized they needed to go home. When Kazuma had risen up and made to leave, he’d looked at Kurama in such a way that Kurama knew to follow him outside. So Kurama had, waving goodbye to everyone and allowing Botan to kiss him once on the cheek in fond farewell as he slipped out into the cold. They’d walked down the street, empty with snow caking the ground; every step they took, Kazuma knew that time was wasting. That he ought to give Kurama the present that lay in his pocket. The present that he’d worked so hard to prepare.

“I have something for you,” Kazuma grumbled, looking over at Kurama for a minute before staring back at the snow again.

He fished in his coat pocket and pulled out a smooth wooden box. Kurama looked down at it quizzically before taking it and holding it close. He smiled at Kazuma, and suddenly a wave of fear rose up inside of him as the pearly whites of Kurama’s teeth flashed behind his sweet lips. If he didn’t explain, Kurama might not get it-!

“It’s a box for storin’ seeds n’ stuff,” Kazuma mumbled, looking down at the snow as he spoke. “I think gardeners use ‘em.”

God only knows he’d worked his ass off making it in his dad’s shop.

It was a birthday present, or perhaps a Christmas present. Either way, Kurama was clearly surprised to find that Kazuma had not wanted to give him this gift around the others... but how could he understand when Kazuma had been so afraid of Kurama laughing at his gift or simply not understanding how much it was supposed to mean. He was a nurturer and loved to make people happy, but this was not the gift given in an act of friendship. This was an initiation... a prayer for Kurama to receive.

“Sorry it sucks.” Kazuma’s voice was so low it might have almost been a whisper.

“You don’t give yourself enough credit,” Kurama replied in kind. “It’s lovely.”

Kazuma looked up, excitement flickering in his heart. “Yeah? So... you like it?” Kazuma was chuffed, grinning abashedly as he kicked at the snow, “I made it myself-“

Kurama looked down, and started to open the box.

“Wait!” said Kazuma hurriedly, for he did not wish to witness Kurama’s reaction when he saw what lay inside. “Wait till you get home.”

Kurama blinked owlishly up at him.

“As you wish,” he said, smiling as he tucked the box under his arm instead. Kazuma took a deep sagging breath, relieved.

“Hey, Kurama-“

Kurama turned.

“Yes, Kuwabara?”

He could not stand it anymore, could not bear be apart from Kurama. Could not bear to hold him close when he was so near. He wanted to touch him, to love him, to ensure that nothing harmed ever again... to kiss his injured fingertips and make him smile once more.

But he’d made a mistake by initiating something, for his fears were massive and his self-confidence too small to follow through. Kurama was watching him, waiting for him to explain, and Kuwabara couldn’t. Kuwabara had made a mistake, now he would have to live with it.

And yet.

“... Would you be weirded out if I uh...”

Kissed you?

“Gave you a hug?”

At first, Kurama did nothing, and for one second Kuwabara was filled with such terror that he could not speak. Then, Kurama smiled, and it was so genuine, so warm, that Kuwabara thought the earth had stopped spinning. That they were suddenly alone in the universe.

“No, I wouldn't.” Kurama smiled.

Kazuma reached out, his fingers trembling despite how he willed them to be still, and suddenly Kurama had stepped into his hold, had hugged him, and now he was complete.

Kurama’s body was so slim and strong, and it fit just right in his arms. His warmth soaked through Kazuma’s clothes, his head upon Kazuma’s shoulder... his hair in Kazuma’s nose.

His lovely, dark hair. It smelled herbal tinctures, and Kazuma inhaled the sweetness, allowing it to fill him up and make him heavy. Like cream dolloped atop coffee, melting into the brew, making it smooth on the tongue.

Oh, how he needed this... how he wanted this.

“Happy birthday, man,” he mumbled into the soft strands.

“Thank you.” Kurama’s voice was muffled from Kazuma’s shirt collar, his warm breath tickling his skin.

He wanted to stay this way forever, to hold Kurama through the night till the snow stopped and the flowers came out, but he knew that Kurama would probably be suspicious if he kept holding on, and so he reluctantly let go.

It was an awkward moment, Kurama smiling up at Kuwabara and Kuwabara avoiding his gaze with greatest care as an unbidden blush came creeping over his high cheeks.

“Well-“ Kuwabara coughed.

“Yeah,” Kurama nodded, chewing thoughtfully on his bottom lip.

“I guess I’d better-“

“Yeah,” Kurama repeated.

“So, uh… yeah.” Kazuma stared at Kurama, his heart starting to pound in his throat. He would have given anything in the world in that moment to reach out and kiss Kurama, to take every wonderful thing Kurama made him feel and breathe it back into lips, to fill him with calm and peace, to make him melt the way Kazuma melted, the cream of his coffee… the light of his life.

He wished that he could create beauty like Kurama could, so that he could surround him with color and light. He wished that he could fill Kurama’s heart with love, make his eyes shine with happiness, make flowers bloom beneath his feet.

Kurama was staring at him with an unreadable expression, and it terrified him. He’d made a mistake, and suddenly he wanted to run away.

So he did.

“See you later!" Kuwabara managed to choke out, turning and walking away as fast as he could without causing suspicion or concern. Kurama watched him run, unmoving from the snowy sidewalk as Kazuma turned a quick right between two buildings and pressed himself flat against a concrete wall.

Kurama was going to open up the box and see the note.
Kazuma had made a horrible mistake.

“Oh, fuck, fuck, fuck, what did I just do-“ Kazuma thought he might cry, fear welling up inside him. “I can’t believe I’ve done this. Oh, god-“

His emotions overcame him and he crumpled, sliding down the brick till he sat in the snow, his arms folded about his knees and face as he willed himself to be calm, to imagine that Kurama would take it as a birthday card if nothing else, and not think too much into it. But Kurama had always been able to read between the lines. He was smart, and an intellectual above all else. He would know. He would look at the note, and he would know. Kuwabara was doomed.

The muffled sounds of his distress crept out from the alleyway, but no one passed by to hear them.

~*~

In the dark of his bedroom, exhausted and ready for sleep, Kurama set Kuwabara’s box aside and pulled off his clothes to prepare for bed. Brushing his teeth and pulling his hair out of his face, Kurama tied the drawstring of his sweat pants as he stepped back over to his desk and picked up the box which Kuwabara had begged him not to open. He wondered what was inside to inspire such fear in Kuwabara’s voice.

Kurama carefully opened the box, and found a piece of paper inside. Curious, he took it up to read it in the dim glow of a streetlight shining through his window.

“Dear Kurama, there is no one more kind, smart... or beautiful than you…” Kurama’s voice trailed away as he read the rest silently.

“Glad that you were born (or reborn or whatever, you know what I mean). Sincerely Kazuma.”

Kurama was shocked, genuinely touched at such kind words on what was for him a very difficult day.

“... no one more kind, smart, or beautiful.” Kurama repeated.
The slightest heat crept into his cheeks.

The only person who had ever said such things to him before was Shiori, and while she never lacked in sincerity, she had no knowledge of his true nature. Somehow this sentiment took on deeper meaning coming from Kazuma. Certainly he could not fathom everything Kurama had been as a yoko, but at least he knew something of his former existence.

And no one who knew him like that had ever said such a thing to him.

Kurama found his chest filling with a strange sense of hope. Kazuma had always been such a compassionate and caring friend. Kurama had tried to live up to his example, to be as good a friend as he, but he was not like Kazuma. He was the after image of a disgusting creature, a yoko that had stolen life and love... that had ruined and reaped and pillaged till nothing was left but scorched earth. Kurama could not forget the screams of the vanquished, the fear in the eyes of the anonymous men who beheld him and pleaded for their families’ lives.

Kazuma... was kind, and genuine, and loving. Kazuma did not harm. Kazuma healed.

Kurama needed to be healed.

So it was that as he crawled into bed, Kurama held onto to that note, onto that one tiny fraction of healing which he could claim as his own, and stared at it in the dark as he grew deeper into sleep, nestled under his covers.

“No one more kind, smart, or beautiful,” echoed in his brain, “Glad that you were reborn.”

Glad indeed, if only Kurama could say the same.

Thank goodness for Kazuma Kuwabara.
He made life bearable to the damned.

Chapter Text

In being close friends with Hiei, Kurama had learned to expect the unexpected. This was the only reason why, when he woke up to find the short-tempered demon in his bedroom throwing a fit, he was neither fazed nor particularly concerned.

“What the fuck, Kurama?”

He was, however, slightly confused as to why Hiei was so angry at ten in the morning. Upon cracking one bleary blood shot eye, Kurama noticed that Hiei was glaring at him with a small satchel in one hand and his note from Kazuma in the other.

Ah.

“Hello, Hiei,” he greeted, voice throaty from lack of use. “How are you?” Blinking up from beneath his heavy duvet, Kurama could hide there as long as he dared while Hiei cursed and frothed above him.

"There is no one more kind, smart, or beautiful than you?” Hiei read aloud, looking from what little he could see of Kurama’s face to the note with snide contempt. “What the fuck is this?"

Kurama just stared at him, too tired to explain. He really wanted to go back to sleep, but in all honesty that wasn’t going to happen while Hiei was here.

“Kurama!” Hiei barked, demanding an answer. “What the fuck is this?” he waved the paper for good measure, the wind whipping at its tender edges. Kurama did not want to see it ripped, and so he sat up to take it from Hiei, yanking off his duvet from his chest as he huffed and glared.

“Please do not damage this," Kurama set the note aside. “I am using it as a bookmark.”

Hiei gave an annoyingly loud sneer, mixed in with a laugh that was far from humored.

“Oh, I see.” Hiei’s tone was smooth with contempt. “I see how it is.” He turned away, hand on his hip as he sauntered over to Kurama’s desk and plopped down in his spinning chair. Hiei relaxed, grinning wickedly at Kurama.

“Hiei...” Kurama warned, his tone dangerous.

“No, forgive me for not realizing the depth of your feelings for Kazuma.” Hiei said the name with such a disrespectful tone that Kurama had the urge to clock him in the mouth if only to remind him that he was, in fact, dangerous to rile up.

“To what do I owe the pleasure of this visit?” Kurama ground out, crossing his arms over his chest. Hiei smiled, looking more relaxed as he tossed Kurama the satchel. Kurama caught it mid-air, and he opened it to find it full of powerful, potent seeds. Kurama knew for a fact that at least three of them were highly illegal, dangerous in their ability to restore life.

“Those may be of interest to you,” Hiei explained.

Kurama was aghast.

“Hiei, for the love of god." Kurama gawked. “How…?” Hiei shrugged, saying nothing to explain as Kurama looked from him to the satchel in shock. “I am genuinely concerned. How are you doing this?”

Hiei’s grin slipped away to be replaced by a glare.

“I’m not here to be interrogated,” he said.

“I’m not trying to interrogate you!”

"Well, try harder.”

Kurama might have let it go, might have profusely thanked Hiei and gotten on with their visit had he not spotted the slight dabble of red at Hiei’s neck. It was blood, and it appeared to be fresh, to an extent.

“... Hiei, is something wrong?” Kurama asked, but Hiei only sneered. Rising up from Kurama’s desk chair, he moved to the window sill. Kurama’s worry only intensified as he realized that Hiei was favoring his left leg.

“You’re limping," Kurama said.

Hiei merely glared out the window, still refusing to answer his questions.

“Hiei," Kurama said, much louder, “You are limping.”

“How I choose to walk is none of your damn business,” Hiei snapped, but Kurama wouldn’t have it.

“Hiei, why are we having this conversation?” Kurama demanded, and Hiei turned away with a snort. “You are hurt; allow me to help!”

"I don't need help," Hiei scoffed.

“Sit down on the bed," Kurama ordered, rising up to pull his covers straight as he made for his bathroom medicine cabinet. Just as he pulled out a few salves and ointments, he heard Hiei’s arrogant reply.

“Are you sure Kazuma won’t mind?"

Kurama came back into the bedroom, regarding Hiei coldly from afar for one minute before walking ever so slowly over to him. Hiei stood stubbornly rooted to the spot, pretending not to be intimidated, but Kurama knew he was well aware of what might transpire were he to push too far. Hiei was not a fool, and he would not irk Kurama to anger.

Kurama stopped before Hiei and leaned in close. Hiei’s facial expression flickered to fear for one second before returning to mild contempt and calm.

“Get. On. The bed,” Kurama whispered ever so gently.

Hiei slipped between Kurama and the wall, sitting gingerly down upon the bed. He was very angry, and Kurama could see how tense he was in his back and shoulders as he squatted down before Hiei and opened up several pastes and salves.

“What did you say this time?" Kurama asked.

Hiei responded with bitter silence.

It seemed that his injuries from last time had not fully healed, or had even been re-opened. Clearly whatever Hiei was doing or saying to Mukuro was becoming worse. Kurama knew only too well how Hiei could bait someone to a temper.

“Hiei, you need to apologize,” Kurama urged. “And whatever you are doing, stop.”

Suddenly Hiei’s anger exploded. He jumped off the bed, wrenching himself from Kurama's healing hands as he stormed over to the window with the clear intent to leave.

“Her neediness is none of my concern!” Hiei shouted. Kurama grabbed Hiei by the elbow before he could run off.

“She needs you. That is your concern.”

Hiei froze.

Kurama steered him back to the bed, forcing him to sit down and take off his coat. Hiei was reluctant, angry as he shucked his shirt off with an audible wince.

Hiei’s torso was bloody and bruised, covered in scratches and gouges. Mukuro had not delivered one of her fatal stomach punches this time, but it was clear that they had fought aggressively. Kurama stared in disbelief, knowing Hiei must have been in obvious pain for some time now.

Tenderly, Kurama began to apply salve to his open wounds.

“Dear God, Hiei, are you going to be able to eat with a wound like this?” Kurama remarked aloud. “How long has this been here?”

Hiei’s internal organs could have been heavily damaged from a few of those blows, his stomach lining was no doubt bruised or filled with blood.

“If you’re going to fix it, fix it.” Hiei glared at him dully. “But don’t waste my time.”

So it seemed that this wound had been here a while.

Kurama pressed his hand to Hiei’s stomach, healing him as best he could on such short notice. After a moment of soothing energy pulsing into Hiei’s stomach, he seemed to relax a little.

“Do you realize how lucky you are, Hiei?”

Hiei’s glare became empty as his eyes grew foggy with thoughts of the past. Kurama was not one to push a point. Hiei understood what Kurama meant.

“You are one of the few,” Kurama said, thinking on all the demons he’d known and how barely any of them had ever found a loving partner in life.

“I don’t know what you're talking about,” Hiei said, no doubt wishing to avoid the truth for as long as he could.

“You do.” Kurama would have none of it.

“... I don’t have time to sit here and listen to you prattle,” Hiei said. Kurama continued to heal his stomach, offering him a slight smile.

“You had time to visit me," he reminded. “Perhaps you have time again to stay with me, at least until your wound is healed. You are of no use to anyone with an injured abdomen.”

Hiei scoffed, but Kurama could tell that he agreed.

“I was thinking about ordering pizza tonight for dinner,” Kurama said, smiling a little.

He knew for a fact that Hiei had the smallest of weaknesses for pizza after having tried it during a get together with Yusuke and Kuwabara. While it wasn’t obvious at the time, Kurama had since noticed Hiei ask for pizza the next time he was with Yusuke, as well as how Hiei often salivated at the word whenever it was mentioned. It was clear Hiei had had a very bad day. Kurama wondered if pizza might at least help.

After all, what were friends for?

“Of course, I could make one by hand, too," Kurama added, thinking that it might be nice to run to the grocery store since his pantries were low on a few things.

“You can’t make those by hand,” Hiei sneered. Kurama chuckled.

“You can," Kurama assured him, making sure Hiei was listening intently before continuing on. “Chefs make them all the time. That’s how food is prepared.”

Hiei snapped, his temper flying up again as Kurama held back a laugh. “I know how food is fucking prepared, Kurama!”

“Would you like to make pizza tonight?” Kurama asked, making sure his tone was soft and kind.

Hiei pursed his lips, saying nothing.

“I have wine,” Kurama offered.

Hiei shook his head but the shake was small and Kurama understood Hiei was actually saying ‘yes’ from how he looked down at the carpet instead of the window.

“I’ll need to make a stop at the grocery store," Kurama informed him. “But first... I need to take a shower. And you need to lay down and rest.”

~*~

There were few things as delightful to Kurama as Hiei walking around bemusedly in a grocery store. Humans passed them by, completely unaware that two lethal killers were walking down the aisles looking for marinara sauce.

“I can explain the note,” Kurama offered, but Hiei could only growl as Kurama pushed their buggy along. Hiei was a treat to take out to such places, marveling at boxed meals and spices while Kurama stuck to their schedule with loyal flair.

“I’m certain you can’t,” Hiei sneered; they passed by a box of ramen noodles and Hiei snatched it up. He no doubt was curious because the picture on the package looked similar to a picture at Yusuke’s ramen shop. He sniffed, but the smell was much too strong for his sensitive nose and Hiei let out a relatively loud snarl.

“Disgusting!” he spat, causing a few humans nearby to give him reproachful looks.

“We had a small Christmas party about a week ago,” Kurama continued, eager to see Hiei’s face when the full story was revealed. They rounded the corner of an aisle and now began to pass through dairy. Kurama picked up a packet of shredded parmesan. “And it so happened that my birthday passed.”

Hiei’s look was snide, and his tone was far from sincere: “Happy birthday.”

“Thank you.” Kurama barely suppressed the laugh. As they made their way towards the meat section, Kurama continued on, “Kazu-“

Did I nearly just call him Kazuma?

“Kuwabara made me a small gift, and the note was inside,” Kurama explained.

“Was it?” Hiei replied snootily, his smirk softening as he raised an eyebrow at Kurama. Kurama shrugged, but all this friendly chat went out the window when Hiei spotted the meat hanging from the butcher’s station.

“What the actual fuck is this?” Hiei demanded angrily, waving his hand at the hanging meat as if it was comparable to the enslavement of children or the torture of innocents “You pay money for meat?”

Naturally such a concept would be foreign to Hiei, who had killed every meal he’d ever eaten (save for the ones he ate with Kurama or Yusuke).

“I could kill a cow for you right now!” Hiei shouted at Kurama, who could not help but burry his face in his hands as Hiei’s voice got louder and louder. The butcher behind the counter looked downright terrified and Kurama could not blame him. People passing by were stopping. One or two had pulled out cell phones. “For free!” Hiei was shouting. “You pathetic humans!” Hiei even made to show Kurama the hilt of his sword (a completely unnecessary move); a situation was about to unfold unless Kurama put an end to this tirade.

“I am truly sorry,” Kurama blurted out to the butcher, stepping in front of Hiei who was still seething. “They lowered his dosage about four weeks ago and he hasn’t taken to the change. I swear to you he is usually quite genial."

Hiei, having no context for such a sentence, thought nothing of it and therefore did not comment, but Kurama was certain that if he had understood the implications, Hiei would have lost his mind. Then again, Hiei did need a pill or two on his rougher days.

They all did.

The butcher just nodded nervously, eager to get away from the confrontation, and slipped into the back room as Kurama put a package of pre-sliced pepperoni in their buggy.

The minute the crowds had thinned about them, Kurama turned on Hiei and pressed him firmly against the plexi-glass of the butchered meats. With a damaged fingernail in his face, Hiei suddenly seemed very aware of Kurama’s displeasure. His lips, so usually set into a dismal scowl were pressed into a thin line.

“Hiei, I’m going to need you to focus up. We are in a benign human facility.”

Hiei relaxed a little as Kurama pulled back.

Still, he could not let it go.

“This is disturbing,” Hiei snorted under his breath. Kurama gave him a wary look, and Hiei immediately stared somewhere else so as to avoid Kurama’s gaze. “I could kill better for you.”

Kurama reached out, his injured hand smarting a little as he took Hiei by the small of the back and pressed him along.

“I appreciate the offer,” Kurama murmured, and indeed he did because he understood the meaning behind such a gesture. “If I ever need a fully diced cow, I will be sure to let you know. Now will you please be quiet?”

Hiei glowered, immediately becoming reproachful as he trudged alongside Kurama through the final aisles towards the checkout line which was mercifully empty.

“Maybe I don’t want your stupid pizza-“ Hiei spat under his breath.
Ah, of course, Hiei hated it when people told him to be quiet. It hurt his feelings.

“Hiei, hush.” Kurama chuckled, and just for good measure he put a hand on Hiei’s shoulder which Hiei did not automatically brushed off.

“Anyway, as I was saying,” Kurama continued on, eager to get Hiei back on a topic that would at least somewhat amuse him, “It was a simple note, much like a birthday card.”

“A what?”

“Well, humans tend to celebrate their birthdays with cards to remember it by.”

Hiei just stared at Kurama, his expression one of dumbfounded disbelief as Kurama paid for their groceries. They made their way out into the parking lot before Hiei had found it in him to work up a reply.

“Why?” hiei finally asked.

“Well, if something good happened to you in your life, wouldn’t you want to remember it?”

Hiei had no response.

 

On their way back to Kurama’s apartment, the pair of them inevitably had to run by Yusuke’s ramen stand. This affair was short lived because Hiei would not cross the street to visit Yusuke and Kurama would not make him.

Yet unfortunately for Hiei, someone was visiting Yusuke with a basket of freshly handmade soaps.

“Ah, Hiei, here comes your chance,” Kurama noted as Yukina stepped out of Yusuke’s shop. She spotted the two of them and waved merrily before looking both ways and beginning to cross the street.

Hiei backed up but there was nowhere to run, and he couldn’t very well act like Yukina hadn’t seen him when she was making a bee line toward him.

“You’re an asshole, Kurama,” Hiei muttered, his jaw locked in a tight grimace.

“Shall I start the conversation for you? ‘Yukina, Hiei has some news about your brother!’” Kurama teased, but Hiei was growing paler by the minute and he knew he needed to stop.

“I will kill you,” he bit out.

“I know,” Kurama assured him, his tone gentle and reaffirming. He smiled and waved to Yukina as she stepped back onto their sidewalk, bowing happily in greeting to Hiei and Kurama both. She wore a lovely white and teal jumper that sparkled with sown in sequins and in her hands was a large wicker basket filled with goodies. She looked downright thrilled to see Hiei.

“Hello, Hiei!” Yukina greeted him. “I’m so glad you’re in town!”

“... For a while,” Hiei bit out, his jaw clenched so tight Kurama worried he might crack his teeth. Poor Hiei; it was easy to see his stress levels were through the roof.

He truly was terrified of his sister, and it saddened Kurama to no end. Hiei did not deserve this.

“I have this basket for you; it’s from the Christmas party you missed!” Yukina explained, and she handed it over at once. Hiei took it, making flabbergasted noises which contained no actual words as she added, “Inside is everyone’s gifts for you. Yusuke just gave it to me; I was going to save it for you at the temple. But you’re here now! Isn’t that wonderful?” Yukina gasped, searching in her purse rapidly as she pulled out a bar of handmade soap which she handed to Hiei as well. It seemed Kazuma’s gift had not gone unused.

“I’m also making soaps now,” Yukina explained. Hiei looked from the soap to her, utterly confused. She realized he had no idea why she was giving him soap, and hastily made to explain, “Oh! I'm not saying you smell. I’m giving them to friends, based on what I think they smell like, or what they remind me off. You remind me of lemon grass. Smell it!”

Hiei seemed on the edge of a nervous breakdown as he brought the soap to his nose and sniffed it hesitantly.

He stared, his eyes empty and his face slack.

“It’s a lovely gift, Yukina. Thank you,” Kurama said, feeling the need to hold up Hiei’s end of the conversation since Hiei himself was so obviously incapable of doing so. Hiei seemed to have been rendered speechless. Were it not for Yukina, Kurama might have shaken his head in disappointment.

“Here, Kurama!” Yukina fished around in her purse before pulling out another one, “I have one for you too. It smells like ginger spice!”

Kurama accepted it and smelt it, the heavy spices filling his nose. It reminded him of something wonderful, though at the moment he couldn’t seem to put his finger on it.

“It’s wonderful. Thank you so much.” Kurama smiled.

“I really enjoyed that book Kazuma gave me. I read it all last night! I’m having so much fun!”

“I’m glad.” Kurama smiled. “We’re making pizza, would you like to come over?”

Hiei made a noise as if he was being strangled.

“Oh, that’s so sweet but I actually have a date tonight.” Yukina blushed a little, grinning from ear to ear. Hiei’s weird noises ceased at once as he glared at Yukina.

“It’s not serious yet," she told Hiei, and though his gaze relaxed a little he still seemed quite concerned.

“I see,” Kurama egged her on, winking as she flushed at him.

“Stop that!” Yukina teased, “I’ll let you know when it is.”

“Please do.” Kurama put his new soap in one of his many grocery bags so as not to drop it, and smiled at Yukina in parting farewell. “I hope it goes well.”

He could not stop from thinking ‘While it can’ as he looked at the stony outrage on Hiei’s face.

“Well, we had best get home before the cheese turns,” Kurama decided aloud, and Yukina gave him a great hug, brushing a dry kiss across his cheek.

“I hope you like the soap!” Yukina said, hugging Hiei as well before he could stop her. She kissed him on the cheek, and Hiei made a noise as if he was dying.

Yukina either did not notice it, or pretended to be oblivious as she pulled away, waving to them as she carried on up the street.

Kurama sighed, walking in the opposite direction towards his apartment.
He paused. Hiei was not following him.

Turning back around, Kurama gathered Hiei by the elbow and gently pulled him along as Hiei watched Yukina slip away down the street. Her lipstick, light pink, stained his cheek from where she had kissed him.

 

~*~

Kazuma had found it irresistible to call Takahashi during his times of need in the past couple of months though at first he’d been tentative to strike up conversation, unsure what to say or where to begin. Yet as soon as he had called Takahashi to ask what to do about Kurama’s surprise birthday, Takahashi had promptly asked him out to coffee and then sat him down for a talk on the subtle art of gift giving. Kuwabara loved giving gifts and was an avid listener as Takahashi offered advice on what might make the best approach towards a prospective lover. Kazuma had revealed as little as he could about Kurama, fearing that if he said too much Takahashi might realize that he knew Kurama (as Shuichi) from somewhere. When they’d touched on the subject of Kurama’s passion for gardening, Takahashi’s eyes had lit up with delight offered the concept of a seed box. So the pair of them had abandoned their coffee to travel down the street towards a local gardening shop where Kazuma looked at a few but found them lacking in appeal. He wanted this gift to be special; to be his own. He’d decided to make one himself, taking to his father’s guitar shop and crafting his own seed box from scraps of old guitars. It had been quite a lot of fun (particularly when his father had come home from a record deal and had demanded to know what the hell he was doing), and when Kazuma was through he followed Takahashi’s advice and put a little note on the inside.

Kazuma had not heard back from Kurama, though to be fair it had only been a couple of days. Still he was terrified of what Kurama had thought when he’d seen the note. Had he been confused? Had he missed the point entirely and thought it merely a friendship note? Or had he been disgusted, and now considered Kazuma a nuisance? Kazuma shuddered at the thought, taking a deep drink of his pumpkin spice latte while Takahashi continued to discuss how one might come out as homosexual to friends and family. As with all topics of conversation, Takahashi was somehow unwaveringly calm and aloof.

“Tell them or don’t, but you’ll be happier if you do,” Takahashi said, pensive as he observed Kazuma from across the table. He wondered if people could tell that something was off about him, when it felt like every moment he was walking in a stranger’s shoes. The only thing that had changed really was that he now was eternal devoted to Kurama’s every move, suffering in quiet existence while Kurama failed to notice his affections... he supposed that made him look quite miserable.

“Who?” Kazuma asked, not really listening as he took another sip of coffee. Takahashi had ordered him a cheese danish... it was really quite good. Apparently his family had owned a bakery and he was familiar with good pastries.

“Your friends, your family.” Takahashi sighed haggardly as he realized Kazuma was not listening, “Do it or don’t, but it’s tough living a lie.”

Kazuma groaned, rubbing his eyes.

“I know it sounds like an impossible task but it’s not.” Takahashi assured him, “And you’ll feel much more confident once you do.”

“Confident - there’s a word that doesn’t describe me,” Kazuma grumbled into his coffee.

“I know,” Takahashi agreed, laughing in spite of himself though he offered Kazuma an apologetic smile, “I’ve only been having coffee with you for a few months now and I already know that...” He paused, continuing on with their prior subject, “Who are the people you would tell if you could?

Kazuma knew the answer to that immediately.

“My dad,” he admitted, for keeping a secret like this from his father had been extremely difficult, “My sister. My best friend.” Though Urameshi would probably lose his shit when he told him, “... The guy I’m in love with.”

“Okay.” Takahashi nodded, listening intently to every description, “Do any of those people strike you as the type to leave you in the event of you telling them that you’re gay? I mean do you honestly feel unsafe?”

His father probably wouldn't care. He’d be amused, at least for a while, but as a record producer and a musician on the side his father hung out with all sorts of strange people. Kazuma wasn’t worried about him. He'd never felt unsafe around his father.

Shizuru was quite the same, and she probably already knew given her goddamn spiritual awareness. She knew way too much for her own good, and at times it terrified him. She might even know he was in love with Kurama. God, how rich would that be? Likewise he’d felt very unsafe with her at times, simply because she was pounding his face in, but he had a feeling she’d have his back in a fight till the very end. Call it... sibling affection. From the womb to the tomb.

Urameshi and Kurama were the problem. Urameshi didn’t seem the type to hate someone just for being gay, but Kazuma didn’t want to be teased and, God in heaven, Urameshi could tease the living crap out of him. For hours. In their school days, Urameshi had been his arch enemy, knocking him into the pavement with ease and crushing his confidence with a simple jaunting grin. Now that they were best friends, nothing and everything had changed. Urameshi still pounded him into the pavement every now and then, and he certainly hadn’t stopped teasing him, but Kazuma also knew that deep down, past everything, Urameshi was his brother. His better half, a shadow to follow him and guide him. To point the way in the dark. He didn’t know what he’d do without Urameshi (‘Yusuke’ he thought gently to himself). Had he ever felt unsafe with him? Absolutely... but he’d never regretted holding Yusuke’s corner in a tough fight.

Kurama, on the other hand, was like some serene, ethereal creature, a god he dreamed of touching only when no one else was looking. Kurama’s every feature was flawless, his soul a perfect image of love and hope that shown through their group, protecting all who came to him in such a way that evil could not abide. Evil fled from Kurama, because Kurama was a pillar of strength that no damning force could stop. He was always prepared, always three steps ahead, and Kazuma knew implicitly that no matter obstacle life threw at their group, at their family, Kurama would be there to stop it.

Would Kurama be the type to condemn a man? Kazuma had seen Kurama pass judgement with ease and slice off a head from its shoulders without batting an eye.
But in response to something like this, Kurama would never be so....
Or would he? Would he be disgusted if he knew? Kazuma had no idea.

“... I don’t know,” Kazuma said, simply because he was too scared, too unsure, to say otherwise.

But Takahashi kept looking, kept waiting, so Kazuma relented.

“No,” Kazuma finally said.

“It’s just your fear that is stopping you.”

“Yeah.”

“... Tell the guy you’re in love with first. Then your best friend. Yeah?” Takahashi advised, “Those two will be the easiest. Your family is always the most difficult. I know mine were. But I promise you, if they love you then they will not mind.”

Kazuma shook his head with a smile, because poor Takahashi had unknowingly got it backwards. While for most, family was the difficult barrier, Kazuma was blessed. It was his friends he needed to worry about.

“And if they do, you can always share with the ones I’ve gathered around me,” Takahashi offered consolingly. Kazuma just laughed.

No matter how good Takahashi’s friend circle was, it couldn’t replace his own. Nothing could, after all they’d been through.

“... So have you heard back from him?” Takahashi asked; at first Kazuma was unsure what he was talking about but then he remembered the christmas party and the gift he’d given Kurama. A groan slipped past his lips as he buried his face in his hands again. Oh, the shame!

“No."

“Have you initiated any contact at all?”

“No.”

“Kuwabara!” Takahashi admonished him, “Honestly. You have all the confidence of a thirteen year old girl. You need to get on with it, or someone else will!” Takahashi warned.

Suddenly the image of Hiei sprang to mind, swooning Kurama with his dastardly wicked smile- Kurama would sigh dreamily, wrapping his arms around Hiei’s neck and press a kiss upon his blood smeared cheek. Kazuma thought he might be sick.

“Tonight. Text him.” Takahashi forced Kazuma to take his face out of his hands with a hard and commanding tone. “Just text him. He has a cell phone right?”

“Right.”

“Then there you go. Ask him out to coffee, and while you’re having coffee, tell him... or don’t.”

Kazuma flustered, unable to get words out at the very concept. What a fucking fun conversation that would be.

“Look let me put it this way. If you ever want it to go somewhere, you have to initiate it.” Takahashi shrugged, grinning as Kazuma laid his face upon the table and prayed for God to strike him down.

This was going to be a fun week - he could already tell.

~*~

Making pizza was quite a lot of fun, especially when you had an incredibly drunk Hiei to keep you company.
Kurama had many bottles of wine, gifts from office parties and holidays that he’d never opened. Hiei made good use of them, polishing off three with ease as Kurama kneaded the dough and spread the sauce. The oven pre-heated as Hiei started on the fourth bottle, drinking clumsily atop Kurama’s kitchen table with his legs swinging over the side. He had his gift basket beside him, but had not opened it as of yet because he was so intent on staring at Yukina’s soaps. What had started off as a quiet and reclusive evening had turned increasingly talkative as Hiei’s inhibitions dropped and his pride flew out the window. Normally sulky and unwilling to converse, Hiei was suddenly blurting out every thought that came to mind, much to Kurama’s amusement.

Hiei was showing his affections for the first time, and Kurama found it pleasant to receive at least a little verbal confirmation after all these years wondering how Hiei felt about them.

“Soaps. She’s making soaps. She hugged me and she made me soap. Soap!” Hiei cried out the word as if it were some kind of divine symbol from God.

“Would you like a glass Hiei?” Kurama asked, but Hiei just drank straight from the fourth bottle and let his head roll loosely about his neck in a slow ‘no’.

“She said it smelled like me!” Hiei’s eyes were wide as he gestured at Kurama with the soap, “Lemon grass, I didn’t even know that was a grass! It’s a grass and she thinks it smells like me. Are these really all for me?” Hiei asked, pointing to the basket.

Kurama smiled, nodding as Hiei set his soap down to timidly poke inside. He pulled out a box of American candy, no doubt Botan’s gift, and joy suddenly leapt across Hiei’s face as he opened it to pour the little colorful sweets into his hand. “Look at this!” Hiei cried out, showing Kurama the candy in his hand. Kurama smiled as he put the pizza in the oven, setting the timer for thirty minutes as he washed his hands in the sink.

“I see it, Hiei.” Kurama grinned.

“Look at how colorful it is. It looks like- like little stars.” Hiei ate one, and made a face. “It tastes atrocious but I’m gonna eat all of it,” Hiei admitted, his gaze falling across Yukina’s soap once again.

He snatched it up at once and held it to his chest.

“She made me soap!”

“She loves you.” Kurama smiled as Hiei’s eyes grew wide with the remark.

“I love soap!” Hiei shouted, pride long gone from his voice as he held the soap like his first born son.

“I’m glad. Use it!” Kurama dried his hands off with a dish towel, “She’ll probably make you another one- oh, look!” Kurama knew it was mean to tease Hiei but he couldn’t resist when he spotted Yukina’s candle in his gift basket. “Look, Hiei, she made you a candle, too."

“She made me a candle, too!” Hiei dove for the basket, yanking out the candle to hold it up high; he let out a noise that could have been a strangled squeal of glee as he smelled it. “Kurama, look!” Hiei snapped his fingers, chewing his lip in concentration as a flame sparked between his fingers.

Kurama let out a noise of worry, suddenly realizing a drunk Hiei could be a serious fire hazard.

“Look it has little sticks in it and they smell nice. Like trees-“ Hiei paused, his expression filling with wonder as he thought aloud.

“I like sleeping in trees... I bet that’s why she put this in here!” Hiei gasped. Kurama snorted, grinning from ear to ear as Hiei lit the wick in the center.

“Kurama, look at what it does!” Hiei cried in delight as the wick suddenly blazed to life and the smell of pine and cedar filled the air, “I lit the candle and now the room smells!”

“Okay, let’s not burn the building down,” Kurama soothed, reaching out and taking the lit candle from Hiei with some difficulty as he clung to it like a child. Setting the candle safely upon his kitchen counter, the pair of them admired it. “See, isn’t that nice?”

Hiei was back in his basket, lord help them all.

Hiei pulled out a voucher that Yusuke had stuck in there as a sordid gift, no doubt giving him his part of the free meal. Hiei groaned in delight.

“What is this?” Hiei wondered, reading aloud, “Hiei, this gives you a free meal at my place, and a plate of cookies as well. I will make you anything you want- Yusuke”

Hiei looked at Kurama, overjoyed.

“I get food! Food!” Hiei cried out the word, looking like he might sob from the sheer ecstasy of the love he was receiving.

“Mhmm. We all got a free meal from Yusuke. You missed out, Hiei, it was delicious," Kurama said, taking the wine bottle from Hiei and snagging a swallow before Hiei could take it all. Really, Hiei needed to stop drinking. He’d already had three bottles. Even for a demon he was starting to push it.

Hiei pulled out the scarf that Keiko had knitted him, and made a series of noises all filled with glee.

“Oh my God!” Hiei shouted, wrapping the scarf around his neck at once, “I love red!"

“Keiko did that one,” Kurama said. “Isn’t she sweet? Mine is green, Yours is red. Yusuke’s is dark blue.”

“Is Kuwabara’s, um...” Hiei seemed to have forgotten what to say, “A color?” he asked lamely.

Kurama snorted.

“Yes. It’s black.” He stifled a laugh.

“I like this scarf." Hiei buried his face into it, momentarily hiding his flushed cheeks from view, “It’s warm.”

When he pulled back, he suddenly looked forlorn.

“My old one needs some help,” Hiei admitted drunkenly, fingering the worn and dirty white material with sadness.

“How long have you had that thing?” Kurama wondered, for ever since he’d known Hiei, Hiei had had that scarf. He’d always worn it too, even when it wasn’t necessarily cold.

Hiei looked down at it, and the excitement that had lit up his face not moments before was now slipping rapidly away.

Kurama was starting to get worried.

“A really long time,” Hiei admitted, his words slurring slightly, “But I’ll never give it up. Not ever.”

“Oh?” Kurama offered, trying to bring Hiei’s good mood. “Not even for a nice red one?”

“No!” Hiei said hotly, and Kurama threw his hands up in quick defense to show Hiei he meant no harm. Hiei just kept talking though, and suddenly Kurama was growing worried that Hiei was about to admit too much. That Hiei was too drunk to remember he did not usually confess his thoughts.

“Because... Because Gorobi gave it to me, and that... that makes it special.” Hiei waved a finger about, cementing his words in his own mind, “It was a... he used to wear it. Now it’s mine. I don’t want to part with it.” And suddenly Hiei was holding to his face, sniffing it with an expression of agony and pleasure.

Who on earth was Gorobi? Kurama put that name aside in his head for a later date, sensing a great deal of emotion and turmoil behind the name.

“Well, if you change it out with the red one, it will likely last much longer,” Kurama started to advise, but Hiei was back in the basket and had pulled out a shoe box. He looked it over, quite unsure of what it was.

“What is this?” Hiei asked aloud in wonder, taking off the top and fishing through the white paper inside. Suddenly black boots appeared and Hiei let out another noise like a dying animal as he yanked out the boots and held them up into the air.

Hiei could not have been more excited.

“Oh wow! Wow!” Hiei cried out, beaming as he felt the soles of the shoes and compared them to his own. “Shoes! Oh, I really needed this.” Hiei looked on the bottom of the box and saw the kanji of Kuwabara’s name. “Kuwabara gave me this!"

“What is it?” Kurama asked, for he’d been busy cleaning up the counter. He turned around, only to find Hiei drunkenly trying to take off his own boots in an attempt to put the new ones on and promptly burst out laughing.

“I’m putting them on right now!” Hiei declared with gusto, finally getting the old ones off and chucking them aside with a small clatter to put on the new ones. He let out an audible sigh, his grin slackening as he rolled his ankles and tested out his new shoes. “My old ones were killing me.”

“See?” Kurama offered with a coy grin, “Isn’t that nice of Kuwabara, giving you such a thoughtful gift?”

“I’m gonna... get him something.” Hiei was having a hard time finishing his sentences, taking the wine bottle back from Kurama to drink nearly all of it in massive chugs, “I don’t know what. I really like him, you know. I like him a lot. I like... I like all of you. A lot.”

“Do you? Do tell.” Kurama shook his head in wonder, deciding that if he’d want a glass of wine he’d best get his own bottle (though he’d be certain to keep it away from Hiei). He uncorked a new merlot, pouring himself a glass to take a sip as Hiei finished off the fourth bottle.

“You’re my family...” Hiei said, and his voice had gone somber again as his grin vanished entirely. He looked quite morose now. “I would die without you. I have... I have to get gifts for all of you! What am I gonna do?” Hiei pondered aloud, “I’m gonna st-“ Hiei shook his head, “I’m gonna buy Yukina a beautiful necklace of diamonds and pearls.... she’d be so pretty,” he said wistfully, looking past Kurama’s balcony door to the stars that awaited him.

Kurama finished his glass of wine, pouring himself another one.

“That’s very thoughtful but I think what she really wants is for you to tell her you’re her brother.”

Hiei groaned loudly, slipping from the table and storming into Kurama’s living room.

“I can’t!” he cried out, “I can’t do it, K’rama.”

“Why not, Hiei?” kurama followed him, intent on helping him work this out. With Hiei drunk, his feelings and fears were on the forefront. Kurama had a better shot at understanding the problem, if nothing else.

“Because I’m...” Hiei gestured about the apartment, unable to find the right words, “I’m scared of her. Of her looking at me and... and...” but Hiei could not articulate his pain anymore, and he shook his head rapidly to concede his defeat.

“Sure you can,” Kurama offered, his tone soothing in the prayer that Hiei would hear his support.

“And why should I when she has someone in her life already?” Hie complained loudly, cradling Yukina’s soap to his chest with a suddenly sulky expression.

“She said it wasn’t serious,” Kurama assured him, but Hiei just scoffed.

“She could have been lying!” Hiei cried out. In the anger that followed his words, Hiei chucked the bar of soap. It hit the far wall and fell behind the couch.

“Ah! No!” Hiei cried out, stumbling forward to drop down on his hands and knees. He stretched out, squirming to fit behind the couch where it met the wall. Suddenly all Kurama could see of him was his posterior and his legs, wriggling as he tried in vain to reach the soap he’d dropped. He pulled back, soap retrieved, and looked it over with care.

“Did I damage it?” Hiei wondered aloud, “I think it’s okay, but I’m not sure.”

“Why would she lie to you, Hiei?” Kurama ventured over, intent on pursuing this subject, but Hiei just waved him off, mumbling something sadly under his breath.

“And would it be so bad if she was seeing someone? Surely she deserves to be happy-“

Hiei grabbed Kurama’s wine bottle from his hand, and before Kurama could stop him Hiei began to drink. Kurama waited till Hiei finished then took the wine bottle back, eager to keep him from getting too drunk.

Though, to be fair, they had probably crossed that line about an hour ago.

“It’s not too late, Hiei,” Kurama urged.

“It was too late an hour after my birth!” Hiei cried out angrily, and in a fit he stormed onto the balcony shouting, “Who does that to an infant?!”

Kurama had no idea what Hiei was talking about, but his distress was evident. He’d always wondered how Hiei and Yukina had been split up in their infancy. He had a feeling it was not a pleasant tale.

Kurama followed him out onto the balcony, leaving the wine bottle inside (but not before refilling his glass). Outside, Hiei was curled up in his patio chair, a look of sorrow once again upon his face. It seemed that Hiei’s moods were swinging, but Kurama had a feeling it wasn’t so much of a swing as it was a relapse. It was as if Hiei was constantly upset, but simply did not feign to show it. Being drunk made him less tense, and therefore more relaxed to show his sorrow.

“Why bother getting the Jagan if you weren’t going to tell her you are her brother?” Kurama asked, sitting next to Hiei and allowing the cold winter breeze to cool his flushed cheeks. He had to admit, the wine was starting to make his blood hum.

“I know what those operations entail. Excruciating pain. Practically torture. Why bother enduring that if you were never going to tell her?”

“Kurama...” Hiei sighed, slightly aggravated as he felt his forehead where his Jagan lay behind his headband, carefully concealed. “That was a ... bad day for me.” Hiei shook his head. “I just wanted to go home. So bad.”

And suddenly there it was, the raw nerve of Hiei’s soul, inflamed with the pain of too many lies and too little healing.

“Home?” Kurama asked, confused. “You got it to go home? I thought you got it to find Yukina?”

“Yeah, cause... I found out I had a sister. I was- did you know- I was able to hear and see, and could understand everything!” Hiei cried out the word, “Everything, from the minute I was born. I was aware of all of it. Of them...” Hiei unclenched his hands, as if mimicking someone dropping something. Kurama didn’t understand. “Yeah.”

Hiei shook his head, continuing on, “I thought she’d be there! Home! Gorobi had kicked me out and... I was alone. I wanted to go home.” Hiei’s voice cracked, like hairline fissures showing the pressure of the pain underneath the words, “and I ... I had to find my necklace. I had to!” He fished underneath his combined scarves, pulling the stone free so as to see it in the light. Kurama rarely got to view the stone, and took the opportunity to do so now: a hiroseke gem akin to Yukina’s, beautiful and clear in its clasp and chord, “Without it I was lost. All those years... I was lost.”

Hiei’s frown turned into something deeper. Kurama would not stand for it; not when there was pizza in the oven and a basket full of Hiei’s gifts on his kitchen table.

“And you found it!” Kurama tried for optimism.

“Yeah, in Mukuro’s mouth!” Hiei snorted angrily, sticking out his tongue in disgust, “What the hell was that about?!”

Kurama had no idea what Hiei was talking about but listened with avid interest.

“Her mouth,” Kurama repeated, making sure this admission was not a drunken slip up but an actual fact.

“Yeah!” Hiei confirmed. “I went to kill myself with Shigure. Simul... Simul...Simultaneous death! And we killed each other. And I was dying on the floor, and then she opens her mouth and sticks her tongue out at me, and there is it! In her mouth! I was so happy I could cry. And she let me have it back... and I was... I was home.” hiei looked down at the stone, rubbing it tenderly with his thumb. “I was home.”

Kurama knew this was his only chance.
He dove in head first.

“Hiei, what did you say to Mukuro? Why is she so angry at you?”

Hiei groaned, shaking his head in sorrow as he looked up at Kurama, “I didn’t say anything, I swear it!” Hiei begged.

Kurama just listened.

“She just- she expects too much of me. I can't be everything and do everything! I had to put priorities first and ... I thought you were in trouble. And you... You’re like family to me. I want to help you get your human mother better because I... I wish that I...”

Hiei’s expression was just getting sadder and sadder. It was scaring Kurama. He was almost afraid Hiei might burst into tears at any minute, and prayed he wouldn’t. Kurama didn’t know what he would do if Hiei began to cry.

Never let him near alcohol again, for starters.

“If I had a mother...” His voice had turned hollow, “If I had had a chance to save her-“

“I know, Hiei,” Kurama cut him off, eager to keep Hiei from pressing too callously on such fragile wounds and painful thoughts. “I know.”

Hiei sniffed, rubbing his stone between his fingers. Kurama felt a sudden surge of protectiveness for Hiei, for someone so eager to help, so willing to do the uncomfortable if only to spare his loved ones.

“You would have been a wonderful son,” Kurama said. Hiei’s face suddenly plummeted, his eyebrows knitting together, and Kurama’s heart leapt in fear as Hiei suddenly turned and threw-
... his arms around his neck.

Kurama flushed, shocked beyond all belief as Hiei hugged him.

“Thank you for saying that. You’re... you’re so smart,” Hiei croaked into his shirt, “You’re my best friend, Kurama. Thank you so much.”

Kurama had no idea what to say or do. He’d never seen Hiei in such a state, confessing all that he felt with such fluid ease. He knew that the inner turmoil Hiei faced on a daily basis was exhausting and probably took its toll on him in ways Kurama didn’t know. Yet if Hiei wanted to hug him now, drunk and all, Kurama would be more than willing to let him. More than willing to hug back as Hiei pressed his petite nose and pointed chin into the crook of his neck. It was almost as if he was holding a child.

The ding of the pizza timer shocked him.

“... the pizza is done,” Kurama murmured into Hiei’s ear, and Hiei jolted up so fast he nearly smacked the back of his head into Kurama’s chin. Kurama could not help but laugh at the look of delight on Hiei’s face.

“Pizza!” Hiei cried out, his agony replaced by joy.

Kurama served them while Hiei lounged about drunk on the patio. Despite the cold weather they ate outside, the alcohol keeping them warm. For good measure, Kurama got Hiei a glass of water and demanded he drink it, simply because he wasn’t eager for Hiei to fall into another moment of sorrow while stuffing his face. Hiei ate six slices while Kurama ate four, and the pair of them lapsed into silence as Hiei rotated his feet in his new shoes and fingered his red scarf.

“Stay the night,” Kurama offered. Hiei looked over at him, slumped in his chair.

“You’re tired, and you’re ill.”
And you’re utterly drunk.

“Stay the night, use my shower... you can try out your soap!” Kurama suggested encouragingly. Hiei pulled the soap out of his pocket at once, smelling it deeply with a dreamy smile upon his sleepy face. “I have a feeling you’ll enjoy it.”

“Yeah, I’m gonna... I’m gonna smell like this soap always,” Hiei murmured. “And I’m..” He nodded, “I’m gonna try and feel... better.”

“There’s the spirit!” Kurama urged, glad to hear Hiei say as such, “You just needed to relax, and I’m glad that the pizza and... wine... helped.”

Kurama had a feeling it was more wine than pizza, but he’d keep that information to himself.

Kurama could not help himself. So often he wanted to touch Hiei in comfort when he was distressed as his mother had often done to him. Taking the chance, Kurama reached out and rubbed Hiei’s back.

“It’s going to be okay, Hiei. Mukuro loves you.”

“I know.” Hiei was starting to sound horribly glum again, “I love her. I love her so, so much, I’m gonna die if I lose her.”

“You won’t lose her.”

“But- but what if... What if it happens?” Hiei voiced his deepest fear with the shaky tone of a child, “Fuck Kurama, I’m gonna die if she leaves me.”

“You are putting far too much energy into these hypothetical situations,” Kurama replied. “The next time you see her, tell her how beautiful she looks, tell her how much you love her. Express yourself! That ought to make her smile.”

And suddenly, Hiei started laughing. He snickered, a guffaw working past his lips as he fought back a grin at the notion of telling Mukuro she was beautiful.

“I can’t do that. That’s stupid.” Hiei got up, staggering out of his chair. He stumbled towards the patio door.

“Careful Hiei, watch out for the-“ But Hiei smacked into the door even as Kurama formed the word. Kurama pursed his lips.

“The door. Watch out for the door,” he grumbled to himself as Hiei slipped inside.

 

Hiei took a bath, and as he did so Kurama cleaned up the kitchen to prepare for bed. Laying in his pajamas, Kurama sighed as he smelled his ginger soap and wondered what-

Kurama sniffed again, letting his mind take him where it would.

A kind face, framed in orange curls slicked back in a greaser style, gentle black eyes filling him up with warmth and trust-

Kazuma. The soap reminded him of Kazuma.

Kurama flushed, the wine suddenly getting to him as he imagined that handsome face pressed against his own. Good lord his imagination was kicking into overdrive.

His phone vibrated on the bedside table, and Kurama reached over to pick it up only to receive a jolt in his stomach as he saw an incoming text message from Kazuma of all people.

‘I’m sorry,’ it read.

Kurama quickly texted back ‘Why?’ as he wondered what Kazuma was alluding to. Heaven only knows, he couldn’t imagine Kurama was mad at him after giving him such a sweet and thoughtful note.

Yet as the minutes ticked on and he did not hear a reply, Kurama started to worry something was wrong.

So he called Kazuma.

For a minute the phone rang, and when it picked up Kurama was the first to speak.

“Why?” Kurama asked, concerned. He heard a deep sigh on the other end.

“I shouldn’t have sent that note. It was dumb.”

“It meant a great deal to me!” Kurama chastised Kazuma at once, sitting up and smelling the ginger soap deeply. He was feeling something in his chest, something warm and radiant. He couldn’t say what it was, but it made him feel good. “I keep it by my bed. I’m glad you sent it. Don’t doubt yourself.”

In perfect timing, Hiei finished with the shower. Stepping out of Kurama’s bathroom and letting steam issue from inside, Hiei toweled off his dark hair, normally so stiff (and now rather droopy giving him the image of someone with longer hair). Hiei was naked, not that it bothered Kurama since he’d seen it before, but his window happened to be open and he was deeply concerned his neighbors would see.

“Please, put some clothes on, before my neighbors see!” he instructed Hiei, chucking a pair of pajamas at Hiei that he’d pulled out and set aside on the bed.

On the other end of the phone, Kazuma sounded like he was having a heart attack.

“W-w-who do you have naked over there?!” he cried out.

“Hiei,” Kurama scoffed.

“Why doesn’t he have clothes on?!” Kazuma sounded terrified. Kurama wondered why.

“Because Hiei is oblivious to the suffering of others,” Kurama said with snide humor.

“That’s not true, I just don’t care,” Hiei said loudly, but he paused, taking it back, “Wait, I do care. Never mind."

He stumbled about the room, putting on pajamas.

“He’s- I mean- are you guys-!?”

“What?” Kurama could not help but laugh at the idea. He and Hiei sleeping together – dear lord, there was a thought. “No... No, it’s nothing like that. He just took a bath.”

“OH...” suddenly Kazuma let out a sigh. Was it of relief? “I’m sorry. I’ve been real uptight lately. I thought you’d think my note was stupid.”

“No...” Kurama urged, still smelling his soap.

“I thought you’d be mad at me, or hate me-“

“No, no, no!” Kurama cried out, scoffing. “Honestly, who puts these ideas into your head?” Kazuma was silent on the other end of the phone, “Your present was the most touching gift I received that evening. And I will let you know I’ve put every bit of it to good use.”

“Well I’m glad it helped,” Kazuma murmured. That soft rumble in his voice filled Kurama up, like the vibrations of a bass drum. “Listen, do you want to get coffee?”

“Of course,” Kurama agreed at once.

“I MEAN- you know- not like THAT- I just-“

“I would like to get coffee with you,” Kurama repeated, unable to keep from smiling in humor. Kazuma fell quiet, “But not tonight."

“Yeah, cause Hiei’s with you?”

“He’s been drinking,” Kurama admitted, “and... let me just start by saying it wasn’t a good idea.”

“I’m terrified.”

“You should be.”

“Tomorrow afternoon, then. We get coffee. Yusuke wants me to come over for dinner. Maybe you could join?”

“Tomorrow afternoon. I’ll see you then,” Kurama agreed. “Goodnight.”

“...Night.”

And Kurama hung up the phone.

Hiei had tried to fall asleep on the window but had failed, instead settling down at the foot of Kurama’s bed with his sword in his hands. He looked very uncomfortable.

Kurama shook his head, throwing back the covers and getting out of bed to help Hiei off the floor.

“You’re sleeping in my bed,” Kurama informed him, helping Hiei onto the mattress. “No arguments.”

Hiei did not complain, too drunk, sleepy, and warm to care as he fell onto Kurama’s pillow and allowed Kurama to pull the covers up over him. Hiei still held onto his sword, like a child holding a safety blanket. Kurama decided he would not part Hiei from it until Hiei was asleep.

For a long while in the dark, Kurama read from his tablet while Hiei fell deeper and deeper into sleep. When it became midnight, Kurama took off his reading glasses and set his tablet aside, laying back on his pillow with a sigh to cast a glance over to his companion.

Poor Hiei.

Kurama reached into Hiei’s arms and pulled his sword from him; Hiei let go with slight reluctance. Kurama set the sword beside his bed, and instead threw an arm around Hiei.

“...wha if... I ge’ attacked...” Hiei slurred, eyes still closed in sleep while he fell deeper into Kurama’s embrace.

“Then I’ll protect you,” Kurama whispered into his hair. His words had multiple meanings, each of them filling him with a righteous pride at having earned Hiei’s loyalty and concern. If this is what it took, Kurama being the one on guard through the night instead of Hiei, for Hiei to relax and sleep...

Then Kurama was perfectly fine with that.

~*~

He was beautiful. In every way, beautiful.

The early sunset painted Kurama’s porcelain skin a sweet rosy pink, the steam from his tea drifting up to curl in wafts around his angelic face. He wore a coat with fur in the collar, making him look slightly more like a fox than usual with crisp white fluff bouncing off his lovely dark hair. His hands were curled around his mug, warming them no doubt against the bitter cold. How Kazuma would love to take those hands in his own, warm them between his palms so that Kurama would never feel cold again. Kurama’s lips were pale pink and smooth as he parted them to blow the steam away from his tea. In his flannel and jeans, Kazuma knew Kurama was out of his league, but he prayed that he looked handsome enough, attractive enough for this conversation. His jeans, at least, were the least hole-y pair he owned, and had even dared to roll up the sleeves of his flannel over shirt to show off his arm muscles. He doubted Kurama noticed any of this, doubted Kurama was even looking... but then again, maybe he was.

Either way, Kazuma was determined to find out today. He was going to tell Kurama he was in love with a man, and he was going to figure out what chance he had if Kurama felt the same.

He had to do it. He could not put this off any more. Not when his sanity and peace of mind hinged on it.

But first, he had something to clear up.

“Look, I wanna apologize again, for last night.” Kazuma drummed his fingers nervously on the table, glad that they were in the corner of the cafe on a quiet afternoon and not catching too much attention. He was terrified Takahashi was going to walk in here any minute and see them sitting at the table. What if he came over? What if he asked Kazuma who his ‘friend’ was, or worse yet how his escapade was going with the man he was romancing? If Kurama found out that way, Kazuma would be mortified. “I’m sorry for sounding so... needy.”

“You hardly need to apologize again,” Kurama said with a smile, eyes on his mug as he ran his finger around the rim. It couldn’t sing like the crystal at Urameshi’s shop, but Kazuma could hear the music in his head.

“But I felt like I stepped over a boundary-“

“You gave me a touching note. It wasn’t like you kissed me," Kurama joked, but as he looked up to meet Kazuma’s eyes, Kazuma knew there was a heat in his cheeks and he had to look away. Dammit, Kurama was sharp. What if he already knew? God only knows he was smart like that.

“... You seem tense,” Kurama said. Kazuma once again cursed himself for falling in love with such a smart man.

“Yeah, I guess.” Kazuma paused. “A lot’s on my mind.” He took a sip of his latte, nervous. He needed to get it over with, but he couldn’t. His courage was still growing, still working its way up.

“School?”

“Not really, no-“ Kazuma paused, certain now that Kurama could sense his nerves. Kurama would be aware that something was wrong. There was nothing he could do now to fix it, he would have to confess. But first-!

“What was Hiei doing at your apartment last night?” Kazuma demanded, for that phone call had been one of the scariest in his life.

“Oh!” Kurama laughed, the noise melodic and soothing, “He drops by from time to time. He’s hardly a stranger to me.”

“I haven’t seen him in years,” Kazuma grumbled, thinking it rather insulting that Hiei had been in town and not visited him nor Urameshi. Weren’t they his friends too?

“He’s not eager to... open himself up.” Kurama offered; Kazuma heard a tone shift in Kurama’s voice. Something important was being passed along in those words if Kazuma dared to hear them. He listened intently, noting that Kurama knew Hiei best of the three of them, and would probably understand him the most for Hiei to open himself up.

“You know how Hiei can be,” Kurama consoled, large eyes sympathetic and understanding upon Kazuma’s own.

“Yeah, the little twerp,” Kazuma joked, sipping his latte.

Kurama tried for a smile, but no matter how he offered, Kazuma simply couldn’t get into a good mood. He was so fucking nervous, his heart was pounding a mile a minute. Perhaps coffee had not been the smartest beverage to choose from.

“Kazuma...” Kurama spoke, and the use of his first name made Kazuma’s heart jump, “What’s wrong?”

Kazuma stared into Kurama’s eyes, into all the concern and kindness that lay there, and cursed himself for what he knew he must do.

“... I’ve...” Kazuma had no idea how to say what must be said. “I’ve realized something about myself as of late, something that might change everything for me.”

“Anything I can help with?” Kurama tried, stirring his tea thoughtfully.

Kazuma looked at Kurama, then down to his tea mug where his delicate finger spun round the rim. He knew that the time had come, that he simply had to come out and say it. Still, his fear was so deep within his heart. In the next few seconds, he felt like his entire earth would shift. If Kurama wasn’t gay, he was screwed. He was utterly fucking screwed. His gut senses told him Kurama was at least open to men, but he needed to hear Kurama say that. Even still, he needed Kurama to be attracted to him. He didn’t know which task was more insurmountable.

“I think... I’m attracted... to...” Kazuma watched as Kurama waited with patient care, his expression poised and thoughtful, “Men.”

Kurama just stared, nodding a little to ensure to Kazuma that he was in fact listening and had heard what he said.

“Does that... bother you?” Kazuma asked.

Kurama snorted softly, shaking his head as he sipped his tea. “Hardly,” Kurama assured him, “Sexuality is actually quite fluid. As a demon, I understand the nature of its flexibility very well.”
“Okay.” Kazuma’s throat was so dry he thought he might choke on his own tongue, “Are you... uh..?” Kazuma’s words fell dead in his mouth as Kurama looked up at him and smiled.

The world stopped turning. All things came to a still.

“I have never been one to set limitations, romantically or otherwise,” Kurama said.
Suddenly Kazuma felt like he could breathe again.

I might have a shot! Kazuma thought, joy flooding his heart for the briefest moment.

“Do you... have someone that you like?” Kazuma’s voice suddenly squeaked, and he cursed himself as Kurama laughed a little into his tea.

“Not particularly,” Kurama admitted.

So Kurama was open to men and unattached. Could this day get any better?

“And you?” Kurama asked.

Warning bells suddenly screamed in Kazuma’s head, his eyes showing him red momentarily as the sound of a gong ruptured between his ears. ‘Panic! Panic!’ screamed his heart.

“There must be some reason why you realized you were attracted to men.”

Kazuma could not speak, his mouth dry and his tongue like sandpaper. Terror flooded his heart as his hands shook. He hid them at once under the table, not wanting Kurama to see.

“N-n-n-no reason,” Kazuma stuttered, cursing himself.

"I wondered if perhaps... Yusuke?” Kurama offered, his smile alluding to a joke.

“NO!” Kazuma snapped, a little louder than he intended as he smacked his coffee down on the table. Damnit, why the hell did everyone think he wanted to bone Urameshi? Christ it was gross! “Jeeze freaking Louise! What is it with people thinking me and Urameshi are-?!” But Kurama was laughing and waving him down, whispering ‘shh’ so that Kazuma at once lowered his voice.

“Don’t be angry,” he chortled, smiling sweetly. “I was only joking.”

Kazuma could not help but feel his anger recede. There was something holy, something pure and simple about Kurama’s smile.

“No,” Kazuma murmured, finishing his coffee, “Not Urameshi.”

“Because you know, Hiei and I often wondered-“ Kurama smirked playfully.

“Speaking of which,” Kazuma halted Kurama before he could continue, that phone conversation still bouncing around in his head, “What the hell was Hiei doing naked at your apartment?”

Kurama scoffed, rolling his eyes at the memory.

“Hiei has been very kind to me, helping me with a very serious personal matter. He needed a bath so I let him use my shower. He wasn’t quick to put on clothes when he got out.”

Very serious personal matter...? Was something wrong with Kurama? Concern must have showed on Kazuma’s face as Kurama waved him down, his smile understanding.

“No. I assure you. We have it handled. If it becomes too much to bear, I will let you know. For now, things are under control.”

Kazuma nodded, still worried. What was wrong with Kurama? He wasn’t sick, was he? Kazuma had been watching his fingernails ever since that nasty fucking crook had jammed needles under them. They’d healed well, but still, he wondered. And god only knows his arm- Kazuma felt nauseas at the memory of Kurama, of his scream.

“So he was in town helping you?” Kazuma asked.

“Indeed. And I in turn helped him.”

“Really? How?”

“Hiei has...” Kurama paused, sighing as his expression turned forlorn, “Long standing issues. We aid each other in our times of stress. You must try to remember, Kazuma, that Hiei and I were partners far before I met you and Yusuke.” Kurama took another sip of tea; that was the second time Kurama had used his first name. It was making his heart pound, “We are, in a human term, best friends. But please... don’t ever insist as much to him.” Kurama shook his head, but stopped when he noticed the smile on Kazuma’s face.

“... You just called me Kazuma.”

“I apologize,“ Kurama began, his tone apologetic in his concern that he had crossed a line. Kazuma leapt to attention, waving his hand way to shush Kurama before he began.

“No, please!” Kazuma urged, “I really want you to.”

Kurama smiled tenderly.

“It must seem strange for all of us to refer to you by your last name, but it seemed that that was the way things developed.” Kazuma could hear the apology in Kurama’s words.

He just shrugged, grinning.

“It was because Urameshi always called me Kuwabara and I always called him Urameshi. You guys were always closer to Yusuke-“

“That’s not true,” Kurama cut him off. Kazuma’s breath caught in his chest, his eyes widening. “I consider you as close a companion as Yusuke.”

“And Hiei?” Kazuma added.

“And Hiei,” Kurama replied, and Kazuma could have sworn he saw a slight blush creeping across his cheeks.

Was it because of him or because of…?

“Look, let me just ask this for my own sanity,“ Kazuma began, but even as he did so Kurama cut him off.

“No.”

“No?” Kazuma asked.

“Hiei and I have never been, will never be, lovers.” Kazuma could not help but let out a small breath of relief. Thank god, Hiei wasn’t in the competition for Kurama’s heart. He might have a chance. But what Kurama said next shocked Kazuma to the core: “Hiei is in love with a woman, and I highly doubt that we will ever feel attraction towards one another.”

“Hiei’s in love?!” Kazuma demanded, agog.

In love?! Hiei, in love?! Cold, callous, misanthropic and detestable Hiei, buying chocolates and flowers for some girl?

“He has been for quite some time,” Kurama confirmed.

“Uh, was anyone gonna fill me in on this?” Kazuma demanded, gesturing about to invisible people that he imagined to be keeping him out of the loop. Kurama chuckled, smiling to himself as he finished his tea.

“Would you like to know her name?” Kurama asked coyly, no doubt sensing his overflowing curiosity

“I’d like to know a whole lot more than that!” Kazuma exclaimed, unable to keep from grinning. Hiei... shit-mouthed Hiei, in love. He could hardly believe it.

“Her name is Mukuro.” Kurama said, and Kazuma felt something suddenly nag at his brain. He’d heard that damn name before, he was certain!

“Wait-“ Kazuma cut Kurama off, drumming a finger warily upon their table. Kurama smiled expectantly. “...Mukuro...” He said the name aloud.

And then it clicked; a newspaper clipping Botan had brought with her!

“Wait a damn minute!” Kazuma cursed, his jaw dropping, “I know about Mukuro! Hiei’s working for her or something- he killed a bunch of demons for her and I made a joke about how she was his girl-“ Kazuma cut himself off, smacking his hand upon the table, “I was right, wasn’t I?! She is his girlfriend! Well?” He demanded. Kurama chortled, looking down.

“Yes. You were right,” Kurama agreed. “When no one made to interject you at the party, I thought that made it plain-“

“Damnit, y’all have got to start letting me in on these secrets,” Kazuma grumbled. “Least there’s nothing else being hidden from me.”

Kurama’s grin fell. Kazuma looked at him, waiting.
... Was there something else being kept from him?

Kurama’s smile returned; perhaps it was nothing. Kurama carried on, “She is one of the strongest demons I have ever had the pleasure of meeting, and when Yusuke went to demon world to establish his claim over his ancestor’s territory, Hiei went to Mukuro to lead her forces. Against Yusuke, and myself respectively.”

Oh goody, Hiei was courting some power house with a vendetta against Yusuke. Why did that not fucking surprise him? Fucking Hiei. What an ass!

“Wait, wait, wait.” Kazuma growled, ready to lay down the law and squash anyone who got in the way... including some lady named Mukuro if it came to it. “Is this chick after Urameshi?”

Suddenly Kazuma could feel an anger blooming in his chest, the rise for a fight, for a challenge. Yeah, let her try and come after their group! Let her woo Hiei and try to steam roll Yusuke! Kazuma would show her what was what.

“Is Hiei screwing around with an enemy cause I swear I’ll rip his head off if he-“

“Kazuma,” Kurama murmured his name. Like a pin to a balloon, all the anger gushed out of him. He felt empty somehow, deflated as he looked down at his finished coffee. “Mukuro is not Yusuke’s enemy. They are actually on genial terms and correspond frequently.”

Kazuma was thankful to hear this. Somehow, it made him nervous to think of Hiei in love with a woman that had a mark out on Urameshi’s head. His gut told him to trust Hiei, told him to believe in Hiei’s goodness, but Hiei didn’t exactly make that easy.

“And you?” Kazuma asked, simply to get the conversation off his anger and back towards calm.

“I do not speak with Mukuro.” Kurama smiled, and Kazuma could feel the bitterness in his voice, hidden behind a mask of pleasantness, “She does not seek me out. She probably believes me to be untrustworthy.”

It happened in a flash. Before Kazuma could stop himself, he had reached out across the table and clasped one of Kurama’s in his own. Kurama did not jerk his hand away, nor look up at Kazuma in surprise at the action – his expression unreadable.

“Yeah, well... You’re trustworthy to me,” Kazuma murmured. Kurama smiled, and as a comforting gesture, squeezed his hand.

 

They left the coffee shop soon after, taking Kazuma’s motorcycle down town to Urameshi’s noodle shop to make it in time. Kazuma couldn’t help himself, utterly elated at the feeling of Kurama pressed tight against his back, his arms wrapped around Kazuma’s chest-

He’d trembled, and blamed it on the vibrating of the bike beneath them.

At Yusuke’s, Kazuma had been excited to see that both Yukina and Shizuru were joining them for dinner. For some reason they seemed to have been together earlier already, both of them wearing bowling jackets. Apparently Shizuru had taken Yukina out to go bowling, which Kazuma couldn't understand but whatever. His sister was weird like that.

Yukina gave him a bar of soap that smelt like green tea, telling him that it was his ‘scent’ in her opinion. It had smelt really good, and he was determined to put it to good use later.

They’d eaten and enjoyed themselves, but when the meal was over Kazuma had a bone to pick with Urameshi and he wasn’t going to stop until he got an answer. He wanted to know why he’d been left out of the loop on Hiei’s little girlfriend.

“Alright, Urameshi," Kazuma announced, causing Urameshi to look up from where he was washing dishes behind the counter, “You wanna come clean to me, you little punk?”

“What’s up with people in my life?” Urameshi complained loudly, drying off his hands momentarily to grab more dirty plates that Keiko passed over the counter as she finished her rounds about the shop. “All of them on their cycles and bitching me out. First Keiko, then my mother, now you. Cripes, am I ever gonna catch a break?” He rolled his eyes. “What’s gotten under your collar, big guy? Lay it on me.” Yusuke leaned on the counter of his stand, grinning nonchalantly at Kazuma.

“Hiei’s got a girlfriend, and no one told me!” Kazuma complained, outraged as he slammed his fist upon the counter. Urameshi stared at him for one second, his expression changing from lazy to shocked before spilling into peals of laughter. Urameshi cackled madly, dropping down behind the counter to pick up loose yen, and Kazuma poked his head over the counter to shout down at him.

“Hey! Quit laughing at me!” Kazuma roared, his anger flaring up, “this is frickin’ serious! I thought we were a team! I know everything about your life and you sorta know everything about mine-!"

“Sorta?” Urameshi snorted, standing back up and grabbing a moist rag from by the sink to wipe down the counter. “I absolutely know everything."

“You’d be surprised." Kazuma growled, for the knowledge of his love for Kurama was as of yet unknown to Urameshi. This certainly did a number on his friend, for Urameshi leaned in at once.

The pair of them were almost pressed nose to nose, glaring and snarling at each other.

“You keepin’ secrets from me? How about you come clean, punk!” Urameshi poked him in the chest, and Kazuma grimaced as Shizuru snickered at him. Kurama just smiled knowingly, saying nothing.

Beautiful, perfect Kurama. Of course he wouldn’t spill Kazuma’s secret.

“Lay off, Urameshi!” Kazuma warned. “This isn’t something you’d wanna hear about.”

Urameshi gave him a quizzical look for one minute before sighing.

“Look, get around here and help me clean up and I’ll tell you anything you wanna know.” It was a bargain Kazuma could happily take, heading around the counter to roll up his sleeves and help Urameshi with the dishes. As Urameshi washed, he dried only to hand off the plate or glass to Keiko who put it up in its appropriate spot behind the bar.

“What does she look like?” Kazuma demanded. “Is she some short asshole like him? Ugly and scaly?”

“Well, I mean-“ Yusuke scoffed, looking over his shoulder at Kurama. Kurama stared back, the pair of them clearly swapping information through expressions, “Okay so like...uh...” He washed a plate methodically, thinking his words over.

He looked back at Kurama.

“How would you describe Mukuro?”

“You saw her as well I did, Yusuke,” his tone gentle yet cautionary.

“Yeah but you’re better with words, and it’s kind of... you know...” Yusuke gave Kurama a knowing look, passing his plate to Kazuma to dry. Kazuma raised an eyebrow, following the whole interaction with curiosity. What the hell was the big deal?

“I understand,” Kurama said, apparently catching on to what Yusuke didn’t want to say. Kurama ran his finger around the rim of the glass, a soft sigh coming from the crystal. “Mukuro is half demon, half robot.”

In his shock, Kazuma almost dropped the plate he was holding, but caught it with quick reflexes. The image was too much - Hiei making out with some kind of machine. It all made sense, of course!

“The fuck?!” Kazuma laughed, passing his plate to Keiko to accept a glass from Urameshi, “That’s rich; I guess it figures! Only someone with a robotic heart could ever find it in them to like Hiei-!”

“Kazuma!” Yukina cried out, suddenly angry as she glared at him from across the counter. Kazuma flushed, eager to avoid her piercing red eyes so similar to Hiei’s as she frowned. Shizuru looked disappointed as well. Worst of all, Kurama was staring at him with a mixture of sadness and disappointment that he could not bear to see. “That is not nice to say,” said Yukina. “I like Hiei.”

“As do I,” Yusuke growled, pushing another plate into Kazuma’s hands with a fierce look on his face.

“As do you,” Kurama warned, pointing at Kazuma with such authority that Kazuma’s cheeks immediately grew hot.

“Yeah, well,” Kazuma mumbled bitterly, looking down at the floor as he continued to dry, “he’s a dirty little punk and I wanna smash his face in for calling me stupid all the damn time.”

“The feeling is not mutual,” Kurama replied, and Kazuma could not help but look back up at the shock of it all. What, Hiei didn’t hate him? That was news to him! “Hiei is your friend, your teammate, and will defend your back in a corner. If you doubt that, remember your struggle against Sensui-“

“Where he ran off in the beginning and only stayed for the battle?! And then ran off again?!” Apparently Kazuma had remembered that whole escapade far differently from everyone else.

Kurama just shook his head again.

“Dude, he saved my fuckin’ life,” Urameshi said, giving Kazuma a knowing look as he passed him another plate. “I told you, Hiei would be back when we needed him, and he was.”

“Hiei had to deal with his past after Sensui, Kazuma,” Kurama added, and Kazuma flushed again at the sincerity in Kurama’s voice. “I know very little about it but I can assure you that it was no pleasure cruise. There is a reason Hiei loves Mukuro, a reason that he stays with her and is devoted to her. Understand that someone who can capture Hiei’s heart, after all that he has endured, deserves your utmost respect.”

An awkward silence fell about the room, capitalized by how Yusuke gave him a beady stare and Yukina tutted.

Kazuma was tired of being the bad guy in this conversation. His confidence would be shattered for ten years after this conversation; Kurama probably thought he was an asshole now.

“Okay, but how is she half robot?” Kazuma asked lamely, eager to move the conversation along.

“Straight down the middle.” Yusuke drew a line down his face, dividing it vertically, “This whole arm?” He waved his right arm. “Robotic. A lot of her body on the right side is robotic. She probably got into some boss ass fight and had to get her body replaced. She’s a bad chick like that.” Yusuke winked.

Jesus Christ, who the hell was Hiei sleeping with?

“Well- what the hell does her normal half look like? Does this chick have a hair color?” Kazuma spluttered. He needed some normalcy in this conversation. He needed to know Hiei was not sleeping with a monster.

“She has auburn hair, about down to the shoulder. It’s almost the color of yours.” Kurama smiled, and Kazuma’s heart fluttered. Kurama noticed his hair color? “And from what I saw of her, I believe her one good eye is violet-colored. Dark blue?” He paused, nodding to Yusuke.

Yusuke nodded back.

“She's about the same height as Hiei,” Kurama finished.

“So they’re both midgets,” Kazuma joked, praying to god no one jumped on his ass again.
“Not necessarily.” Kurama smiled. “Hiei is Yusuke’s height.”

Kazuma did a double take- the fuck?

“Holy god,” Kazuma muttered, “Are you serious?” When had Hiei gained that much height? Urameshi was about five foot seven, but that was damn taller than Hiei had been when they’d first met. Maybe Hiei had grown up?

Kurama put an ‘x’ over his heart, smiling gently. The gesture was so unexpected and so adorable that Kazuma couldn’t help but whimper a little. Mercifully the sound was small. He kept it hidden as Urameshi pulled the plug in the sink and dried off his hands.

“Well, I’ll be damned,” Kazuma mused to himself. So Hiei was dating some pain-loving chick that had robotic limbs. Fine by him, there was a foot for every shoe he supposed.

“Anything else you wanna know?” Urameshi asked, grinning slyly.

“Is she, uh...” Kazuma thought of Hiei, of how he’d snarled and fought against everything Kazuma believed to be true-

Of the look of pain on Hiei's face, the pure anguish as he stared down at Urameshi’s dead body after Sensui-

“Is she nice?” Kazuma asked.

“She’s nice in her own way,” Kurama said, seeming to appreciate the implication behind Kazuma’s words. “As is Hiei.”

Kazuma snorted.

“So she’s a jerk,” Kazuma grumbled.

“Probably.” Kurama laughed, but there was something in his voice that hinted to more. Kazuma wondered if Mukuro had already caused Hiei grief.

“Whatever.” Kazuma shrugged, he would think no more on it till he saw Hiei again, “’Least he’s happy. Meanwhile I’m over here in relationship hell!” Urameshi did a double take, raising an eyebrow.

“Yeah, yeah,” Urameshi snorted, “Look, help me with the trash will you?”

The pair of them marched out back, dragging along heavy bags in their wake which they tossed one after the other into the commercial dumpster behind Yusuke’s lot. In the back parking lot, surrounded by their group’s cars and the quiet, Kazuma suddenly felt a strange sensation in his chest as he looked at Urameshi fishing for a cigarette in his inner jacket pocket.

“Keiko looking?” Urameshi asked as he made to strike a match. Kazuma looked about.

“You’re clear,” Kazuma assured him, noting they were entirely alone.
Why was his heart suddenly pounding?

“Good.” Urameshi said, taking a deep drag of his cigarette.

“Bum me one?” Kazuma asked.

“Always.” Urameshi lit another cigarette with the cherry of his own, passing it over to Kazuma who took a puff and tried to calm his shaking hands.

“So uh... what was that back there?” Urameshi asked, “About relationship hell? Some girl pullin’ at your strings?”

Kazuma’s cheeks burned. He looked away.

“You alright, man?" Urameshi asked softly.

 

For a minute the quiet passed between them, snow beginning to fall, coating everything around them in a light layer of white that made the scene incredibly peaceful to Kazuma despite how his heart pounded.

It was time.

“... I have something to tell you, and I don’t want you to get weird about it. Alright?” Kazuma asked, refusing to look at him.

“Alright, I won’t get weird,” Urameshi promised, at total ease.

“I’m going to need your full attention, too, pea brain; this is serious,” Kazuma warned, casting a look over his shoulder to point at Urameshi. Urameshi gave him a mock salute, his hand to his forehead with his cigarette between his lips.

“Full attention; at the ready, Captain.”

Kazuma swallowed. What was this damn feeling in his chest?

“Do you remember a kid named Nobuyoshi Takahashi?”
Urameshi shook his head, his brow furrowing slightly.

“We used to go to school with him. He got his face pounded into the dirt a lot but never by you or me.” Urameshi looked quite disgruntled now.

“Weird.” Urameshi snorted, smoking thoughtfully, “Someone at our old prison gets their teeth kicked in and it’s not by me?”

“... They beat him up because he was gay,” Kazuma explained. Urameshi gave a weird look, and for one tiny second Kazuma thought he was going to have a mental break down from sheer terror.

Then-

“Wait-!” Urameshi’s eyes widened in knowing, “the gay kid who got the crap kicked out of him at school? Had a really girly haircut and that purple blazer?”

“Yeah. Him.” Kazuma swallowed, his mouth incredibly dry for the second time that day.

“Yeah...” Urameshi nodded, relaxing again as he continued to smoke, “What about him?”

“I saw him the other day.”

“How’s he doing?”

“Still gay.”

“Still getting the crap kicked out of him?” Urameshi looked wary all of a sudden, raising an eyebrow.

“No.” Kazuma shook his head.

“Good.” Urameshi finished his cigarette, dropping it to put it out with his boot in the snow. “That shit was tough to watch.”

“Fuck with you too?”

“Tch- yeah!” Urameshi snorted, dragging fingers through his lightly gelled hair as he took a deep breath. “I like a good ass beating but that kid didn’t deserve it. He was just being himself. Besides those other guys were always self-centered pricks. I never liked their style.” Urameshi gave him a gentle grin, and Kazuma’s heart jumped, “So I fucked up their faces and stole their turf.”

Kazuma’s heart pounded in his chest, heat filling his face.

“What?” Urameshi asked gently, his coy smile toying with Kazuma as much as his lilting tone.

“Takahashi made this dumb...” Kazuma whispered, but all of a sudden Takahashi’s words, Kurama’s words, everyone’s words were starting to make.

Holy christ, did he have a crush on Urameshi?
But- but he liked Kurama! He loved Kurama! Kurama entranced him! Kurama put him on a level of cloud-nine that he’d never known before-!
...But... Yusuke- Yusuke made him feel-
Invincible.

“What? Are you gay, is that it?” Urameshi asked with a slight laugh.
Invincibility ran away to be replaced by terror. Kazuma stared at Urameshi in horror.

“What?” Urameshi asked, now more serious. As the silence stretched out between them, Urameshi turned from serious to coy once again, grinning as he winked at Kazuma. “What, you think that matters to me?”

Kazuma didn’t know what to say.

“So, what did he say?” Urameshi continued on, “Did he ask you out on a date?”

“No-!” Kazuma snapped angrily, jerked out of his silence by Urameshi’s laugh.

“Good, because you can do better.”

“He- he just insisted that-... I... liked you-“ Kazuma could say no more, blood rushing to his face and his brain clouding as Urameshi turned on him, suddenly grinning wildly. He sauntered up to Kazuma, swaying his hips far more than he certainly should have as he pressed a hand upon Kazuma’s chest-

Shit, shit, what the fuck?

“Eh?” Yusuke laughed coyly. “Do tell!”

“Apparently I had a crush on you!” Kazuma blurted out, terrified of Yusuke pressing himself any closer, “Or so people thought?”

“Well, I’ll be damned,” Yusuke sneered softly, and to Kazuma’s horror he leaned in even further, his entire body now pressed upon Kazuma so that Kazuma was forced to back up and hit Shizuru’s car. He grabbed at the trunk and the back windshield, afraid out of his mind as his heart pounded in his chest. He was certain Yusuke could feel it beneath his fingers, as Yusuke smiled up at him with such calm and cruel knowing that Kazuma could barely think.

He was fucked. He was so fucked.

“Kuwabara, you asshole,” Yusuke said slyly, winking as he draped an arm about Kazuma’s heated neck, “Hiding your feelings from me all this time-"

“Hey-!” Kazuma squeaked, trying to push Yusuke off. Yusuke just laughed and fell off, his face alit with delight, “Get off me, you lil’ punk! It’s not like that!”

But his heart was pounding so wildly Kazuma thought he might faint.
It absolutely was like that, and Yusuke knew it.

“Ah, relax, Kuwabara,” Yusuke murmured softly, throwing him another wink. “I figured you might have liked me after that whole Sensui shit-“

“What are you talking about?” Kazuma huffed, desperately to bring some normalcy back into this conversation. “Just because you saved me doesn’t mean I’m attracted to you.”

Yusuke grinned. “Ahem,” he said, coughing into his fist before putting on a rough voice much like Kazuma’s own, “What I did for you against that fight with Toguro, I did for you! I did it for you, Urameshi! Without you who am I!? There’s nothing wrong with two dudes needing each other! “

He winked at Kazuma, and Kazuma ground hard down on his teeth, ready to punch Urameshi in the face.

“You... little...shit."

“What?” Urameshi asked in mock confusion, but suddenly he turned soft again, “Maybe it meant something to me, too?” And he smiled up at Kazuma.

Kazuma’s heart pounded again, his eyes widening as Yusuke shrugged.

“So what if you like guys? Who cares?” Yusuke looked up at the stars currently hidden by snowing clouds. Several flakes fell upon his cheeks and brow, “I’ve seen some really fucked up shit in my life. Dudes takin’ it up the ass does not bother me in any way at all.”

Kazuma swallowed. It was hard to argue with that logic.
“Glad to know,” he said hoarsely.

Yusuke looked down at back at him, chewing upon his lip as he winked at Kazuma.

“So, wanna kiss me?”

Kazuma’s brain exploded. He made several garbled sounds, waving his hands erratically to keep Yusuke away from him as his heart thundered in his chest.

Yusuke just laughed and laughed, leaning in more and more-

“Don’t look into it like some crazy person. Maybe I’m just grateful,” Yusuke murmured, his charm oozing from every pore and captivating Kazuma’s neurotic senses.

“F-for w-what?” Kazuma demanded.

“For your friendship. For the connection you give me.” Yusuke looked down, then back up again with a wink and a grin. His nose scrunched up with a level of cuteness Kazuma could not abide.

“... How are you possibly okay with this?” Kazuma whispered, entranced by it all. “With… with me liking men? I can’t believe you are."

“Dude...” He laughed gently, looking away with a sigh, “I’m not exactly the straightest arrow myself okay? Yeah, I love Keiko, and at the end of the day she’s got me round the neck like no one else alive... but I’ve had my moments. There’ve been other guys I’ve noticed. Guys I’ve...liked.”

“Who!?” Kazuma demanded, eager to know. Yusuke just laughed, telling him nothing, “No, you gotta tell me now!”

“Nah, you’d freak.” Yusuke winked, making to pull away. Kazuma grabbed his hand, forcing him back to the car. Yusuke looked at where Kazuma had grabbed him on the wrist, then up at his face, surprise evident upon his boyish features.

“Tell me right now!” Kazuma demanded.

“Nah.”

“You’re such a fucking asshole, I can’t believe I go open my soul to you and you can’t even do it back! You’re a coward!”

But Yusuke was grinning at him softly, looking down a little, his long lashes dotted with snow, and Kazuma’s voice failed him as Yusuke looked back up at him.

“You.”

Kazuma gaped, unable to speak.
Him? Urameshi- Yusuke had liked him?

Holy shit.

“I always liked you when we were younger.”

For a minute Kazuma just stared down at Yusuke, soaking up how strangely... lovely... Yusuke was. This mean little bug in his arms, hard and defiant, so ready to take on the world. So wonderful with his smile, and his bad attitude, and his cigarette habit and his need to protect his friends. It had charmed Kazuma in childhood. How could he deny it now?

And yet... Kazuma did not feel near the pull to Yusuke that he once had. There was something else nagging in the back of his mind- a vulpine stare and smooth porcelain skin that urged him onward, urged him back to Kurama.

Still, it was funny to consider.

“So what you’re tellin’ me is that I liked you and you liked me... but both of us never did anything about it?”

“Looks that way.” Yusuke grinned cheekily.

“... That’s the biggest crock of shit I’ve ever heard.” Kazuma could hardly stand it.

“Yeah, and to think-“ Yusuke pressed himself against Kazuma, and though Kazuma’s heart pounded he could not help but yearn for more. He’d been so lonely for so long, and now here Yusuke was pressing into him. “We could have had some fun together.”

Kazuma swallowed.

Yusuke looked back at the shop door, then around the parking lot, finding them quite alone and undisturbed. He smiled coyly up at Kazuma. “We still could if you like.”

“Hold the fuck up,” Kazuma growled warily; he sure as shit wasn’t choking someone else’s chicken. “You and Keiko-“

“Oh, please.” Yusuke snorted, his smile never dimming, “I don’t go around sucking everyone’s face off. There are certain people that I wouldn’t mind kissing and you’re one of them.” He grinned at Kazuma’s shock, “Course, I'd always love Keiko the most. You know that though.”

“Yeah. I know that.” Kazuma grinned.

Yusuke pressed closer. There was only about an inch separating them now, their noses just barely brushing. Kazuma shook his head, unable to believe that Yusuke Urameshi was about to be his first kiss.

He’d only kissed Yukina upon the cheek, and even though he’d hoped for more she’d never been coy or flirtatious with him. There had been other girls that had liked him when he’d entered college, but he’d never took them up on their advances, and so Kazuma found himself to be twenty four years old without one solid experience of getting to first base.

Yusuke had been his first crush, even if he’d been unable to recognize it back then, a boy in which charm and cattiness could often go hand in hand, whose glimmering eyes and bronzed muscles were certainly appealing if you were in the right mood. Kazuma loved Kurama, had been in love with him for seven years, but he was so damn lonely... wishing in that moment for a pair of arms to hold him, a pair of lips to touch him, and if Yusuke only wanted to kiss him as a friend...
.... then perhaps, he needed a friend.

“Don’t ever tell anyone about this,” Kazuma whispered against Yusuke’s skin.

“Not my style,” Yusuke whispered back.

They kissed.

Yusuke’s lips were not smooth and creamy like Kurama’s. They were chapped and rough like his own, stained with the scent of cigarettes and diet coke. Yet as Yusuke pressed himself against Kazuma and wrapped his arms about Kazuma’s neck, Kazuma felt a bizarre sense of completeness inside of him that could not be denied, a wild burning fire that urged him to kiss Yusuke deeper.

Yusuke was smiling against him lips, opening his mouth and slipping his tongue gently inside Kazuma’s own.

His hands shook upon Yusuke’s waist, and he grabbed the hard muscles there, desperate for something firm to cling to. Yusuke turned his head ever so slightly, changing the angle of their kiss as Kazuma took a shuddering breath-

Kurama pressed against him, beautiful and loving, looking up into Kazuma’s eyes with longing and desire. A hunger was between them as he pressed his lips to Kazuma’s. Kazuma wrapped his arms tight around Kurama, adoring him, loving him, pulling him under and beneath into the calm and gray-

Kazuma gasped, pulling back.
He couldn’t kiss Yusuke. He loved Kurama.

Yusuke was grinning at him in his arms, his hold still about Kazuma’s neck. He shook his head as he stepped back, slipping way.

Admittedly, that kiss had been fucking beautiful; even with Kurama locked deep within his heart.

Yusuke was wild. He had a charm none could deny.

“.... I think I did have a crush on you,” Kazuma whispered. “Holy shit, I didn’t even know it.”

“Yep. Happens.” And yet instead of feeling happy, Kazuma felt suddenly miserable as the guilt washed over him. “Oh, God, I shouldn’t have done that. Yusuke, what am I gonna do? I shouldn’t have kissed you,” Kazuma whispered, and before he could stop it, his voice broke, “I love him and I can’t tell him. I love him and I kissed you. I’m a horrible person!”

Yusuke looked back, coyness gone in a flash to be replaced by concern. He was back against Kazuma in a flash, his weight more comforting than distracting as he tilted his head and frowned.

“Who?” he asked. “Who do you love? Tell me. Let me help you.”

“I can’t. You know him,” Kazuma whispered, his voice quaking as he held back tears. “I can’t tell anyone. Not after what I’ve done tonight-”

Yusuke sighed. “You’re already torn up about your major. I know you hate it. I know you wanna be an architect.” Yusuke smiled as Kazuma snorted and looked away. “Hey, I see the way you subscribe to Architectural Digest. I know you want to do it so bad it kills you, but you don’t want to disappoint your sister... but listen, fuck your sister. I love her, but fuck her. Do you. Do what makes you happy.”

Kazuma didn’t know what to say. He certainly was glad for Yusuke’s support as he bowed his head.

“Hey.” Yusuke took Kazuma’s face in his hands, forcing Kazuma to look at him. Yusuke smiled cheerily, ever the ray of sunshine, even on a dark and snowy night. “... Tell him. Tell him or change your major. Do something to make yourself happy. And if you don’t... I’ll kiss you again, in front of Yukina.”

“Fuckin’ punk.” Kazuma couldn’t help but smile, his hand still on Yusuke’s waist. He squeezed the muscles there.

“Yep!” Yusuke winked at him. “I’ve got your back. You know that.” And without another word he slipped away, walking back to the door of the shop. He cast a look over his shoulder, a finger pressed to his lips.

Their kiss would stay between them. It had not been the kiss of lovers, full of passion and adoration. It had been the kiss of best friends, supportive and caring.

Kazuma crossed his arms over his chest, shaking his head as Yusuke teasingly smacked his ass for Kazuma to see before slipping inside. He thought he was hot shit, sure enough.

Oh, who was Kazuma kidding? No one could deny that Yusuke was incredibly hot shit.

Chapter Text

In the dark of his room, Kazuma tossed a baseball upon his bed, thinking over all that had occurred in the past few days. Urameshi’s kiss had haunted him, making him lament at the fact that he had cheated on Kurama. It was silly really, when Kurama wasn’t his boyfriend and Urameshi had told him it meant nothing, but Kazuma couldn’t help himself. He was an incredibly loyal person, and he had allowed himself to kiss another when all he’d wanted to begin with was to hold Kurama. He’d been so lonely, so desperate to be liked and touched, that he’d allowed Urameshi to kiss him. That had been wrong, he knew it now, but he certainly didn’t blame anyone but himself. Urameshi was a wild fire, self-proclaimed as open to kissing particular people (Kazuma himself include in that group). Yusuke and Keiko had a very firm understanding of each other, and what their relationship included. Keiko kept him on a loose leash, allowing him to run amuck because she knew at the end of the day Yusuke would come home to her. Yusuke had proven that tenfold in his short life.

But Kazuma... Kazuma had eyes for only one person, and every minute that he relived that kiss he wanted to punch himself in the face.

How the fuck could he kiss Urameshi when he wanted to kiss Kurama?

His phone vibrated beside his head where it lay on his pillow, and Kazuma caught the tossed ball before setting it aside and pick up his phone. It was Urameshi.

“You need to tell your sister.”

Kazuma made a noise under his breath, rapidly texting back.

“Lay off, man.” He hit send and sat his phone aside. Yet before he could get off the bed to grab a coke, he heard his phone buzz again. He picked it back up.

“Do it, or else.”

The ‘or else’ spoke volumes, and suddenly Urameshi’s wicked smile filled his mind as Kazuma groaned and hung his head.

“Fuck you, man,” Kazuma mumbled to no one in particular, unable to feel comfort even when Eikichi roamed past his leg and brushed up against his calve muscle. “Fuck you."

~*~

The first Sunday of every month, the Kuwabara family had a tradition. Pulling away from their respective lives, father, son, and daughter would reconvene upon the Kuwabara family household to eat together in a large spread. Kazuma had to admit that after eating left over pizza and ramen for an entire week he was in the mood for some actual cooked food. His father, Jiro, was a tall man that worked record deals and played in a band on the weekends. A free spirit and wild like the wind, Jiro had allowed Shizuru to be the one to raise Kazuma for the most part as he brought in a steady income and ran amuck to his heart’s content. When Kazuma had gotten into turf wars during high school or vanished for spirit detective cases, his father had said nothing. When Shizuru had joined the precinct and Kazuma had moved out on his own, his father had just kept rocking. While Kazuma kept in touch with his father, he rarely ever saw him. He honestly just didn’t have time most days, though it made him feel incredibly guilty.

Just what he needed, more guilt on top of everything else.

Kazuma took his bike into the city, attempting to find comfort in the old and familiar sights of his childhood neighborhood as he pulled into his father’s driveway. Shizuru’s car was parked on the street, and the lights glowed warm from the kitchen window. Kazuma could hear classic rock music playing as he approached, and smiled as he thought of his childhood obsession with Megallica (a band his father had found and signed). There were some things he would forever associate with his father, and this house. Rock music was one of them.

Jiro Kuwabara had a particular air about him, a sort of coolness that Kazuma had idolized in his youth and now attempted to mimic in his adulthood. In flannel and jeans, Jiro’s pierced ear and loose pony tail were heightened by the sunglasses he wore (despite it being seven at night and indoors). Padding around in his socks, Jiro threw up a friendly hand when he saw Kazuma step inside and swept him up into a tight one armed hug.

Shizuru was at the stove, making miso soup as usual and keeping a firm eye on a timer that counted down the cooking vegetables in the oven. Shizuru cast a glance over shoulder and smiled as she saw Kazuma.

It was weird, all they had endured together outside this house. It just made them stronger when they were inside it, closer in a way that normal brothers and sisters were.

“Damn, it feels good to have my children back in the house!” Jiro crowed, quite pleased with himself as he took over the miso soup to allow Shizuru to cook the rice. She was better at it than both of them, having a natural eye for when the rice was perfect for eating. Kazuma had a feeling her sense of awareness helped her out (which he considered cheating, but whatever).

“So what have you two been up to?"

“Just police work, dad," Shizuru said calmly, adding a bit more vinegar to the rice as Kazuma set the table.

Oh nothing, dad, just found out I was gay. How are you?

Kazuma’s ears burned with shame. He couldn’t tell his father.

Shizuru would probably laugh at him and call him stupid.

Kazuma set a glass down with unnecessary force, and had to take a minute to recompose himself as he focused instead on his father’s conversation with Shizuru behind him.

“Just police work?” Jiro’s tone was coy with knowing.

“Yeah.”

“Coulda’ sworn a buddy of mine came ranting to me about how he saw you at a bowling alley with this gorgeous young thing attached to your hip-“

“Dad, knock it off,” Shizuru growled, her infamous temper ready to rear its head.

“What?” Jiro sighed, “Am I not allowed to know if you have someone in your life?"

“Didn’t think you’d even give a crap,” Shizuru grumbled.

“Hey. Come on now.” Kazuma looked over his shoulder to see his father was now flicking grains of rice at Shizuru, who was getting closer and closer to exploding. Jiro could press Shizuru’s buttons faster than a crane operator, working her nerves till they were as raw as minced meat, “What's her name?”

Shizuru didn’t miss a beat as Kazuma’s heart leapt.
Wait, was Shizuru gay too?

Oh great, so Shizuru got to live her life and date the chicks she wanted while Kazuma was stuck in fuckin’ purgatory, never allowed to touch. That made perfect sense.

‘Of course it does,’ a nagging voice whispered in the back of his head, ‘Because you’re a loser.’

“Who says it’s a girl.” Shizuru sneered, fluffing the rice as Jiro stirred his own pot with a loping grin across his face.

“Cause my friend, who will remain anonymous for his own safety, said it was a girl,” Jiro sing-songed. Shizuru threw down a rag she’d been holding and stamped her foot in sheer irritation.

“It was Kento. I saw him by the bar, I knew he was gonna squeal-“ Shizuru snarled, balling her fists as their father leapt back a little to whip his cell phone out of his pocket.

“In that case,” Jiro murmured while texting rapidly, “I will tell Kento to stay clear of the fifth precinct for a little while.”

Kazuma ground his teeth, close to popping a screw for the sheer frustration he felt. Why was Shizuru so fucking lucky in love? Why her and not him? What had she ever done that he had not? Hadn't he saved the world right alongside her?

‘No. That was Urameshi,’ the voice nagged him.

But he had saved the world! He’d done good things with his life! He’d excelled just as much as his teammates and proven... proven...
But what had he proven, in all honesty?

Kazuma could not stop his voice from sounding so hollow.

“Didn’t know you were into chicks,” he mumbled, shaking his head.

“Yeah, you wanna make something of it?” Shizuru snapped. The anger in her voice just rubbed Kazuma even further, and he lashed back out at her instantly.

“Just shuttup, Shizuru!” Kazuma yelled. Shizuru’s eyes widened for a second before her fingers curled into a powerful fist and she raised it in warning.

“You want a piece of me, baby bro?” Shizuru demanded, “Cause I got a piece waiting for you right here-“

Kazuma didn’t need this, his anger leaking out of him as he slammed his plate down.

It cracked, breaking clean in two, and accidentally cut his hand. Kazuma winced at the sudden throbbing pain, suddenly struck by the similarity of his situation to this plate. Everyone seemed to think it best for him to be open, for him to push forward, but how could Kazuma do either when no one even believed he would succeed?

Now that he thought of it, maybe that was the reason why Kurama would never love him.

Kazuma gritted his teeth, a hot burning sensation filling his eyes and throat.
He was not worthless. He was not worthless.

But no matter how much he thought it... Kazuma knew he was worthless. He knew it because his gut told him as much.

When had his gut ever been wrong?

“Hey, what’s wrong with you?” Jiro called out to Kazuma, eyeing the plate he’d broken warily, “Suck it up and be a man! Your sister likes chicks, so what?”

Kazuma couldn’t handle it.

“I need a fucking break,” Kazuma snarled, and in a rush he left the kitchen for the back door before anyone could stop him. The cold wind upon his face was stinging his skin as he took the steps down the back two at a time, heading for the wood shop which lay underneath his father’s music pad above.

In the dark and quiet of his father’s shed, Kazuma lashed out. He kicked over a wooden crate, sending it flying into the far wall as he flipped a table covered in wood shavings and rusted tools. The sound was deafening as everything fell to the pavement, leaving Kazuma feeling alone and bare afterward.

He didn’t want to be worthless.
He wanted to prove himself.

But it had always seemed throughout his life like his best was never enough, and now that he thought about it what chance had he ever had with Kurama? Why in the hell would Kurama ever want him when people like Urameshi or even Hiei existed. Kazuma knew that Hiei had some chick he liked, but dammit, people could change. If Hiei ever looked Kurama’s way, Kurama would be gone. He just knew it.

Kazuma stood absolutely no chance. He was doomed.

“I’ve lost my mind,” Kazuma whispered hollowly, unable to get the image of Kurama’s sweet face and gentle hands out of his head. His throat burned again, “Oh god, this can never work. This can never work.”

Kazuma’s face was suddenly wet, and he wiped his tears away hurriedly before they could fall down his face.

“Not with an attitude like that it won’t."

Kazuma looked over his shoulder to see Jiro standing in the doorway, surveying the overturned table with disappointment. He shook his head, ducking inside the woodshed to set the table right. Shavings drifted through the air, and Jiro kicked the piles aside as he came closer to Kazuma. Kazuma did not want his father to see his tears, to see the state he was in, and so he turned his face.

“What the hell is wrong with you?”

“Shove off, dad,” Kazuma whispered bitterly. “This isn’t something ... I can discuss.”
It did not matter if he hid his face. His father could hear the pain in his voice.

For a moment there was quiet, then Jiro spoke.

“Kazu, what’s going on?” Jiro asked for the second time. Kazuma held it in as tightly as he could, but suddenly there was a hand sneaking upon his shoulder, forcing him to turn around. The minute that his father saw his face, the game would be over. Kazuma jerked away, lashing out again as he grabbed a chunk of old wood laying atop the wrapping counter and hurled it across the room.

“What's going on?!” Kazuma roared, spinning around to glare at his father in spite of the tears upon his cheeks, “What’s going on, dad, is that I am in hell. Okay!? I am in absolute fucking hell!” Kazuma kicked another box, this one full of old newspapers that scattered about the room in a flutter of motion and sound.

Jiro was unfazed; he watched his son calmly.

“Why are you in hell?” Jiro asked.

Kazuma crumpled, slumping against the counter as he buried his face in his hands. He sucked in a haggard breath, unable to hold the tears in as he reveled at his disgusting mediocrity. At his lack of proof. At his lack of anything. At his sheer existence.

 

He was nothing compared to Urameshi.

There was a hand upon his neck, moving in a soothing repetitive gesture. Kazuma could not stand it; he wanted so badly for there to be a shred of proof that he stood a chance.

But there was none. There was nothing between him and Kurama that gave him even half a shot.

“Why are you in hell, Kazuma?” Jiro murmured for the second time, persistent in his love.

“I’m nothing,” Kazuma blurted out, his voice broken with bone breaking sobs, “I hate my major. I don’t want to be a scientist, I wanna be an architect so bad it kills me. That alone, I can deal with, people get majors in things they hate all the time, and I’m not above it myself. But...” Kazuma could not go on, he wept haggardly into his hands, “I can’t stand being so goddamn mediocre, being so worthless. I can’t stand not being worthy, at always being the odd man out or the dumb one in the room. I’m not dumb!” Kazuma could not help himself. He screamed it.

“I’m not dumb,” he begged the air, sucking in another breath amid his woe. “But I love him and I can’t have him because I’m just not smart enough. Because he deserves better and I can't ever be better. Because I can only ever be me. And me is not enough.” Kazuma choked, breaking off his litany to cry openly into his hands.

Jiro rubbed his neck.

“I’m in love with a man,” Kazuma added, unable to keep the self-deprecation out of his voice, “If that wasn’t fucking obvious by now. Does that scare you?”

His sobs lost their strength, but his tears just kept coming. Even so, Jiro never stopped rubbing his neck.

“No,” Jiro said after a moment of quiet, “Seeing you break a plate and overturn a table scares me. That’s not like you. You’re too gentle for that.”

Clearly not.

“So it’s a guy, that doesn’t bother me. But seeing you like this does,” Jiro said. “What’s his name?”

Kazuma sniffled, his face still tightly held behind his hands. “I can’t tell you,” he whispered. “You’re gonna tell someone.”

“What’s his name?” Jiro repeated.

Kazuma could not stand it.

“K-Kurama,” Kazuma finally managed, a sudden hot wave of fresh tears sneaking out in the agony of saying the name aloud, “His name... is Kurama.”

He could not stop himself. The words were coming out of him now.

“And I love him so much, I’m gonna die,” Kazuma whispered, his cheeks burning beneath his fingers.

For a moment, he thought he could handle it. For a moment he stopped crying, and sat up a little straighter upon the counter as he wiped his moist face upon the sleeve of his flannel shirt and tried to avoid his father’s face. But when he glimpsed at Jiro, he saw the worry there and all the parental concern Kazuma so desperately needed. He needed someone to give him direction, to believe in him.

Because he was a loser.
And suddenly the tears were back.

“Hey- calm down!” Jiro caught him by the shoulders, rubbing his back as Kazuma bowed his head in shame and defeat, “Calm down. It’s okay... this can be fixed. This is easy.”

Really? How? Kazuma sneered in spite of himself, angry at his father’s optimism. It was fucking foolish to think Kazuma stood any chance at all.

“This is easy as pie, man! All we gotta do is get you back into your groove, yeah? Get you back into your swing. Fuck your major, take up architecture. I’ll deal with Shiz-fiz.” The use of Shizuru’s pet name made Kazuma laugh in spite of himself. “You just swap as soon as you get back in on the fifth. You’re done with your undergrad, all you need now are your major sections. Hell, if you were ever gonna swap, now would be the time!”

His father had a point. Kazuma wiped his face hurriedly, trying to keep it together.

“As for Kurama,” Jiro continued on, and Kazuma had to take several steadying breathes, “You need to man up and tell him how you feel.”

“I can’t!“ Kazuma blurted out, shaking his head quickly.

“Why not? Is he straight?” Jiro asked.

“No.”

“Is he taken?”

“No?”

“Then why the hell not!?” Jiro demanded in a thunder, amazed at his son’s lack of courage.

Kazuma could not answer me, only able to shake his head.
His father understood well enough though.

“Oh, I see. That ol’ blocker again.” He rubbed Kazuma’s back, shaking his head.

Jiro knew Kazuma’s confidence was as easily shattered as spun glass. He was his father after all. He had seen how often Kazuma had fallen in his youth, petrified of being labeled mediocre or not worthy.

“You listen here, my man,” Jiro said warmly. “You are the smartest motherfucker I know. You got this. Kurama would be lucky to have you in his life. ‘Kay?”

Well, clearly his dad did not know many ‘motherfuckers’. When Kazuma did not answer, Jiro just repeated: “Kay?”

“I don’t know,” Kazuma muttered bitterly. “He could do better.”

“Shuttup!” Jiro smacked him hard over the back of the head, and Kazuma winced at the slight sting, “You’re a fucking king among rats, Kazu. You’re gold. You’re dynamite. You’re the best goddamn hero that ever jumped off the page of a comic book.”

Kazuma didn’t believe it, but it sure was nice to hear someone say those things. He wiped his eyes, his tears abating inside of him.

Kazuma took a deep breath, steadying himself.
He felt empty after such a hateful purge.

“... Calm down, cool off. When you’re ready come back inside.” Before Kazuma could stop him, Jiro pressed a dry kiss into his hair (an action rarely taken), before slipping away from Kazuma and heading out of the shop. Alone and in the quiet, Kazuma looked around at all the things he’d tossed, suddenly filled with horrible guilt.

He shouldn't have thrown things.

At once, Kazuma set the shop right, picking up the papers and wood. He even swept the wood chips into a pile, making sure everything was as it should before splashing cool water on his face from the sink in the far corner. He dried his hand on his sleeve, wiping his hands hurriedly on his jeans as he took a few calming breathes.

He felt like shit.
He shook his head and left the shop.

Back inside, Shizuru had set the broken plate aside, replacing it with a clean one. When Kazuma entered Jiro was whispering something to her, looking firm and unapologetic as Shizuru rolled her eyes and grumbled. Clearly something was being said, and Kazuma’s heart suddenly leapt at the idea of Shizuru knowing he was in love with a guy named ‘Kurama’.

God, that would suck.

But when Kazuma walked through the door, instead of looking pissed Shizuru looked calm and maybe even the slightest bit apologetic. She shrugged at him, offering him a slight smile as she passed him a bowl of miso soup to put by his plate. With dinner relatively finished, the three of them sat down to eat at the family table.

After the scream-fest outside, Kazuma was starving. He ate slowly, though, not wanting to cause Shizuru to question him. His father, on the other hand, ate ravenously and slurped his soup with delight.

“So, I wanna know everything,” Jiro goaded Shizuru. “Who’s this girl? Where'd you meet her? What does she look like? What’s her name?”

Kazuma recalled with slight humor how he’d been so damn interested in Mukuro as soon as he knew she existed. He said nothing, smiling a little as Shizuru grumbled and shoved rice in her mouth to keep from answering. Sooner or later she'd have to come up for air though, and Jiro could wait.

“I’ll answer all your questions at the same time: Mind your own business,” Shizuru snapped. Kazuma laughed a little, and Shizuru cast him a burning look, winking at him to show she understood his support.

“Alright, I can start on you if you like,” Jiro warned, and Kazuma’s heart leapt into his throat again. He opened his mouth, but before he could stop his father-

“What are you talking about?” Shizuru asked, and Jiro shrugged as he wolfed down the rest of his rice.

“Your brother is in love with some guy named Kurama and is terrified of telling him-“

“-NYA!” Kazuma blurted out, his hands flying to his mouth as his chopsticks clattered to the table. Shizuru looked to Kazuma at once, her mouth open as she glared at him.

Shit, fuck, shit.

Kazuma jerked up from the table, bolting from the kitchen and running upstairs. His blood rushed in his ears as he ran into his old room and took a deep breath that did nothing to calm his nerves. Shizuru knew; Shizuru knew. Kazuma should have never told Jiro Kurama’s name, but Jiro had worn him down and his defenses had dropped. Jiro believed that families shouldn’t hold secrets from each other, but sometimes secrets were healthy. If Shizuru knew, she was going to heckle him about it mercilessly, and now every time she was with Kurama, she would know. Oh god, she would know.

Kazuma wanted to die. He flung open the window of his old bedroom and let the cold air calm his flushed face. Closing his eyes, he tried to steady himself. Tried to rationalize that Shizuru was understanding and wouldn’t go around telling people- but then again... Shizuru busted his chops with such skill and ease that it could have been an Olympic sport.

The door opened behind him, but there was no reason to turn around. He knew who it was.

Shizuru closed the door behind her, walking over to the window to take out a cigarette and light it up. He could not help but tremble with anger, wishing that he had the courage to threaten his sister into silence.
But Kazuma wasn’t that kind of guy, and even if he was Shizuru would pound his ass with ease.

“...If you say... anything,” Kazuma whispered, a trembling finger raised in warning.

“I’m not, relax.” Shizuru took a drag of her cigarette. Kazuma let loose a breath, rubbing his burning face as Shizuru kept her eyes steadily upon him. “I’m your sister, not your enemy. I’m not gonna tell anyone anything.”

Kazuma looked down, shaking his head at his disgusting situation. Why couldn’t he be brave and admit to Kurama that he loved him?

“So that’s what you meant by relationship hell,” Shizuru said, and Kazuma cursed himself for that slip up the other night. He shouldn’t have said it. “You haven’t told him.”

“No.” Kazuma confirmed.

“Figured.” Shizuru shrugged. For a moment she simply stared at him, then she grinned and said, “It’s Yukina.”

Kazuma looked at her. What was Yukina?

“I’m seeing Yukina," Shizuru explained. Kazuma remembered how the pair of them had been wearing identical bowling jackets the other night and scoffed as he realized they must have been on a date. Well wasn’t that grand? His sister was dating a girl that had once captivated his dreams. “Do you mind?” she asked.

“No.” Of course he didn’t mind. “Makes sense though," he admitted.

Now that he thought about it, he could see it... Shizuru and Yukina. It kind of fit, in his head.

“Yeah, well.” Shizuru sighed, taking another drag of her cigarette, “All I’m saying is I feel you.” She paused, casting Kazuma a glance, “How long have you felt this way for Kurama?”

“....Years,” Kazuma whispered. Shizuru let out an irritated noise, glaring at him suddenly.

“Goddamnit, Kazu,” she snapped, “You gotta tell him.”

"I can’t.” Kazuma shook his head.

“You can and you will. Man up and do it or someone else is!” Shizuru warned, “You could lose him, by being cowardly. Do you really want that to be your legacy?”

“No,” Kazuma snapped back. “But what if he shoots me down?”

A hollow, aching feeling started to bloom in his chest.

“Can’t predict what he’ll say, but he won’t be cruel,” Shizuru said. “Plus you’ll never know until you try.”

But Kazuma was almost certain Kurama was going to shoot him down and it did nothing for his nerves. He had nothing to offer Kurama; his hands were empty. His father might not believe that, but Kazuma did.

“... I really like him,” Kazuma whispered, looking out at the dark skyline and wondering where Kurama was out there. He was probably at his apartment, or maybe he was at the library.

“I can tell." Shizuru agreed.

The soft moment, so rare between them, was broken by Jiro’s voice thundering up the stairs.

“Y’all better not be smoking up there!” Jiro warned angrily. Cursing, Shizuru chucked her cigarette out the window, pulling a packet of mints from her pocket to pop two in her mouth though it would do little good. Kazuma closed the window, shaking his head as he watched Shizuru pull out a tiny bottle of perfume from her inner vest pocket to spritz her neck and clothes.

There was no point. Jiro would know she’d been smoking.

~*~

Kurama watched her for a good five minutes before approaching, using his time in the shadows to soak up every nuance of her being.

Shiori was asleep on her outdoor patio, sunning herself in a white cotton dress and a wide straw hat as she slept peacefully. She’d called Kurama over, claiming loneliness, and so he’d come at once only stopping to pick up her mail before coming inside to find her here. Shiori’s call was a siren’s beckoning to him. Where ever she wanted him, he would be. Knowing of her frail condition set him on edge but she’d been ingesting powerful herbs for a while now. Kurama was growing hopeful that Hiei’s seeds and Kurama’s powers might have had an effect on Shiori’s condition. With luck, she would pull through.

Kurama stepped out onto the back porch, quietly coming around Shiori’s side to look down on her. Her long brown hair, curled tightly at the ends, covered her shoulders and framed her delicately wrinkled face. She was as lovely now as she’d been in his childhood.

“I’m gonna... buy Yukina a diamond necklace...” Kurama heard hiei’s voice drift through his mind.
Suddenly he knew the feeling.
He smiled broadly, crouching down to take up her lax hand and brush his lips against it sweetly.

“Hmm...” Shiori smiled in her sleep, slowly waking up to open her lovely brown eyes. She smiled at him.

“Oh, how wonderful,” she croaked, her voice smoothing out as she became more alert. “Could my day get any better?"

Kurama offered her mail with the other hand.

“Well, your magazines came in.”

“Clearly it can.” Shiori laughed lightly, taking her National Geographic from Kurama's hands to set it aside on her side table where a half drunk glass of lemonade and her cell phone sat. “Have you eaten?"

It was nearing noon, but Kurama had not honestly eaten in over a day. He’d been so stressed, so rushed-

He shook his head.

“You need to remember to eat, baby,” Shiori murmured, and as she sat up in her chair she kissed him lovingly upon the brow. “I’ll fix us lunch.”

Rising up from the patio chair, Shiori made her way back inside, taking off her sun hat and setting it on the kitchen table as Kurama lay his shoulder bag down and began to rummage through it for more healing herbs. Hiei had brought some new ones, and Kurama was determined to try them out. Shiori fished through the refrigerator, pulling out sandwich materials, and smiling at him over her shoulder.

“Your father is away on business, and your brother is at a swimming tournament. So it’s just us today,” Shiori explained. “I wanted to have you to myself while they weren’t here.”

Kurama grinned in spite of himself, showing her the herbs which he’d put in a gold bag to make them look store bought.

“I brought your something,” Kurama said. “I think it may help your headaches.”

Shiori took it to smell, smiling pleasantly at the light aroma.

“It smells divine,” she said, and Kurama moved to the stove to start a kettle boiling.

“I’ll fix you some,” Kurama said, a small beacon of hope alighting within him as Shiori gave him back the bag of herbs to add. Kurama did so, watching them slowly begin to steep in the heated water.

He prayed they would be enough, that Hiei’s hard work would pay off...

“So, what have you been up to?” Shiori asked as she sat down two plates with sandwiches and chips upon them. She poured Kurama a glass of lemonade as Kurama pulled out one of Shiori’s favorite mugs to use.

“Oh... running around. Trying to keep my head screwed on tight.” He poured her tea, and offered her the mug with she took with a happy smile.

She blew on it once or twice, gesturing for him to sit down. He did so, eating his sandwich at once (he was ravenously hungry) as she sipped.

“It tastes so... clear,” Shiori murmured into her mug, “Like I’m drinking pure sunshine. I love it. Where did you get it?”

“I grew it,” Kurama lied. “It's white peach. I know you like the flavor.”

Admittedly he’d thrown some white peach in there to help her not notice the bizarre taste.
“I do." She set her mug down to bite into her own sandwich. “Thank you. You are the sweetest son a mother could ask for.”

Kurama flushed with pride.

“How does your head feel?” Kurama asked, slightly nervous as Shiori set her sandwich down and reached across the table to hold his hand suddenly. He squeezed her pruning fingers, remembering how they had once been smooth and whole in his youth.

“Hurts,” she admitted sadly, and Kurama frowned. Her head should not be hurting. “I admit, I called over for lunch but I also called for another reason. I went to the doctor a couple of days ago and we ran some tests.”

Suddenly Kurama could not speak, his hunger fleeing him as he felt Shiori’s grip tightening about his fingers.

“He called me later that day, and asked me to come back in."

Her eyes were not leaving his face. Why would she not look away? What was she trying to convey?

“...Oh?” Kurama finally whispered, afraid of what Shiori would say next.

He’d been giving her these damn herbs for months now. Surely something had taken effect; surely one of the combinations had been successful. It hadn’t been like he’d been giving her over-the-counter painkiller. These herbs were powerful!

But Shiori’s eyes still weren’t leaving his face.

“... It’s not good news, Shuichi.”

Kurama could hear his own breath in his ears, short and low. He swallowed, his throat suddenly quite dry as he felt his hand quake in Shiori’s grip.

How could it be? How?
Hiei had done so much ... How had it not worked?

His eye twitched involuntarily, and he blinked rapidly, trying to still his racing heart with slow deep breathes.

“It’s a tumor,” Shiori whispered. “A very fast growing tumor, in my brain. They told me I have about... a year or so...” She tried for a gentle smile but it was like sandpaper upon Kurama’s skin. He thought he might bleed from where her fingers touched him, his skin suddenly screaming in raw agony. “Maybe a little more with love and care.”

Kurama’s jaw was locked so tight, he thought he might break his teeth. The terror within him was building, a ball of howling pain so horrible and so intense that he could not tear his eyes away from Shiori for fear that it would lash out. For fear that he would break down and weep before her.

“... Shuichi, it’s okay if I die,” Shiori soothed, and he jerked involuntarily. “Life will go on.”

Kurama’s ashen face spoke differently though.

How could it be? How could it be?

Yusuke’s sacrifice, the Forlorn Hope, Hiei’s herbs, and every careful step Kurama had taken all these years to ensure Shiori’s health... how could it be that the very same disease which had been killing her to begin with, before Yusuke had ever been in the picture, was now back? Was this some sick twist of fate made to mar Kurama for all the cruel and unkind things he’d done as a yoko? Was this his punishment? To watch the woman he loved die in front of him?

Was this his fate? To forever mourn her absence as so many had mourned after one of his murderous sprees? Was death ripping away her life like he had ripped away jewels and goods?

It should be him. It should be him with the brain tumor... not her.

“...Sweetie.” Shiori broke in on his train of thought, and Kurama realized his face had likely become one of stricken terror. She suddenly rose from her chair, coming around to hold Kurama from behind in her arms. Her hair spilled upon his shoulders, her lips pressed against his head

Kurama shuddered, a shaky breath falling past his open lips as he kept an iron grip around the arms around his chest.

“It’ll be okay,” she whispered in his ear, “I promise you it’ll be okay.”

But it wouldn’t. It really wouldn’t.
Kurama could not speak, and would not be able to for a very long time after that.

Later that night, in his apartment, Kurama laid his face in his arms upon his desk and cursed himself for all his failed efforts. He suddenly found himself wishing that he had not run off to human world, that he had instead taken his punishment for his crimes and not put the pain upon another person once again. Yet it seemed that by escaping here, he’d placed the burden upon Shiori’s shoulders. Once again, he had let another person take the blow, because he was selfish and sick and in all fairness ought to burn in hell.

Why Shiori? Why not him instead? Why her, when he was ready and willing? When his body was ripe for the ravaging of time? Would the world not be satisfied with his screams alone? Did it want more?

Kurama knew that level of greed, that level of selfishness. He had played with it often in his past life. Once again he was bitterly reminded that these were his just deserts.

He heard his bedroom window open, and his face screwed up in his arms as he sensed Hiei enter the room. That flame, usually so calm and warm, was now a burning heat to his flesh that he wanted to shrink away from.

Hiei had sacrificed so much for Kurama, had risked so much by gathering those herbs for him. Kurama did not deserve Hiei’s friendship. Kurama did not deserve any of it. As Hiei approached and timidly put a hand upon Kurama’s neck, Kurama jerked up, trying to calm himself.

He could not. His emotions flew from him, his pain roaring wide as he squeezed his hands tight upon the desk till his fingernails pricked through the tender flesh of his palms.

“It’s back,” Kurama seethed through clenched teeth. He did not turn around to greet Hiei. He could not.

“It’s growing. Nothing’s helping.” He knew his words were making no sense, and still he said them, “It can’t be stopped. This is my punishment. This is my-“

But it wasn’t his. It was Shiori’s.

The dam within him broke as tears suddenly slipped past his cheeks; the cards of fate were laced with poison, tainting all who dared to touch them.

“There's nothing for it, Hiei. Don’t worry about... the rest. You’ve... You’ve done so much for me already. Please don’t stress yourself anymore. Nothing can be d-done-“

Yet to admit it aloud broke him clean in two, and as Kurama sucked in a breath it shook with pain. Laying his head back down upon the desk, Kurama resolved himself to ride this damn ride as far as it could go. Ride it all the way to the end where Shiori’s death would blow him off track and destroy him in a final cataclysmic boom. Rip his very soul from his body-

Hiei’s hands were upon his back.

Inside Kurama’s screaming mind, where pity and self-hatred waged a war upon one another with all the fierceness of two shogun armies, a strange soothing calm began to grow. It was foreign, not of Kurama’s devices, and he couldn’t explain it as he felt himself falling deeper and deeper into sleep upon his desk.

“... What ... are you doin’?” Kurama slurred, unable to speak eloquently.

“Be still,” was Hiei’s only reply.

Kurama went under in the darkness, a violet light bathing his mind in quiet and calm.

 

When Kurama awoke again it was near dawn. He'd slept all night at his desk, and when he lifted his head his neck had a cramp in it. Grimacing, Kurama stretched his shoulders, looking about and wondering why on earth he hadn’t slept in his bed for gods-

A black cloak was upon his shoulders. Kurama looked over his shoulder, pulling the dark fabric into his hands and catching a whiff of pine and smoke. He brought the cloak to his nose, smelling.

He suddenly remembered Hiei stopping by, of weeping openly before Hiei like a child, and the calm that had taken him.

Hiei had used his Jagan to bring him sleep on a sleepless night, and had covered him with his cloak. Now he was out there in the cold without it, god only knows where, and a new kind of pain was filling Kurama’s heart.

He held the cloak close, wishing that he could soak up some of Hiei’s personal strength from it, find the will to carry on.

If only he could be more like Hiei in times like this. He might stand a fucking chance at enduring the trauma. As Shuichi, he would crumple. Shiori’s death would end him.

He knew that now. Shiori’s death would be his own. He could not deny that anymore.
Bowing his head, Kurama took Hiei’s cloak and wrapped it about his shoulders. It was too small for him to wear it as it as intended, but as he rose up and observed himself in his standing mirror, Kurama tried to pretend for one minute that he was Hiei.

The cloak only came to his mid-thigh, and Kurama’s sloping shoulders were an awkward frame to wear it upon. Still.

Kurama tilted his head, regarding his tear stained face and wondering if Hiei had ever looked this way in the mirror. He had a nasty feeling Hiei had looked this way far too often to be healthy.

Kurama hugged the cloak close.

~*~

The placement into the school for Architecture and Design was a three hour test divided between short answer, charting, and safety guideline questionnaires. Kazuma’s late application enrollment had garnered him a hefty fee but he’d paid it with pride as he called upon Kurama once again for the biggest favor of his life: to help him study all day for his entrance exam. If he placed high enough, Kazuma could jump up in his class and carry on as though he’d always been an architect major. He prayed it would be enough, that he would be able to pursue his dreams... but when Kurama had shown up with bloodshot eyes and a withdrawn expression Kazuma had felt down heartened.

Something was wrong. It was obvious.

The whole time they’d studied, taking breaks for coffee and walks, Kurama had been pleasant but detached. Kazuma had tried to make him laugh, and had succeeded once or twice but Kurama was clearly upset about something and it was dragging him down fast. Something had to be done. Kazuma had to make Kurama smile.

When the library bell tower struck six, they decided to call it a day. After cramming for nearly twelve hours, Kazuma was exhausted and knew Kurama was too. Yet as the night had carried on, Kurama had grown more and more animated, perhaps detaching himself from his problem as he watched Kazuma gloat and gleam over his architectural knowledge. Perhaps he was even impressed; the thought gave Kazuma hope.

The snow was coming down now in a steady trickle, chilling the air about them till Kazuma’s hands began to burn with an intense numbing sensation. Side by side with Kurama, he walked down the outer platform of the Metro station, wondering how long it would continue on like this. Wondering how many days would pass with this tension between them, with this feeling of want and need exploding underneath his skin till he could barely breath.

Against the rail, waiting for the train, Kurama’s soft features were cast into a sharp light by the fluorescents above them. The tip of his nose was reddening from the cold, his lips shining as he wetted them and smiled at Kazuma. The tiniest appearance of his tongue made Kazuma’s heart skip a beat.

He lit up the night, to Kazuma. The entire world revolved around him, and he didn’t even know.

But he would. One day, Kazuma resolved he would.
Maybe even today.
Maybe even now.

“Do you feel ready for your exam?” Kurama murmured.
For the first time in a long time, architecture was very far from Kazuma’s mind. He smiled, shaking his head.

“Thanks to you,” Kazuma answered. “I’d still be at the library if it weren’t for you. I feel bad that you spent your entire Sunday helping me.”

“Don’t,” Kurama assured him. “It’s nothing.”

But it wasn’t, at least not to Kazuma. Not when every minute Kurama spent around Kazuma lifted his soul up and set him on fire. Every second Kurama bequeathed him with his presence, Kazuma felt his soul grow and expand.

“It’s not nothing,” Kazuma said. Kurama’s eyes lit up, his smile widening for a fraction of a second before relaxing once again. “Let me pay you,” Kazuma said, blurting out the words though they were completely ridiculous. “I don’t have much on me right now, but-“

Kurama stopped him with a hand. They were so close, he almost touched Kazuma. Leaning against the rail, Kazuma braced himself close to Kurama’s loosely curled hand, needing a moment to steady himself.

Had Kurama touched him, he was certain he would have broken like fine china.

“Please, don’t be silly,” said with the softest of chuckle, his breath sweet upon Kazuma’s skin. “I’m happy to help. My pleasure.” There was something in the way he said it.

Something very important in those two tiny words.

“I won’t have you indebted to me, especially not over your dream. I want to help you pursue it.”
There, so softly. So obvious.

And in that moment, with Kurama before him, Kazuma knew he could no longer hold back. He could no longer weep to his father or beg to his best friend, could no longer fret over coffee with newfound company or throw a ball in the dark of his bedroom and wonder why. Wonder why he couldn’t have Kurama when Kurama was right in front of him. Kazuma was his own worst enemy, stopping himself every time he got close enough to make a move-

But not anymore.
Not tonight.
Not now.

He would know the taste of Kurama on his lips even if it killed him. Because he was a man, with a soul and a fire; because he was a human being and would die with dignity. Because he could no longer pretend he was not interested in Kurama when Kurama was before him and smiling so sweetly.

To hell with it.

“... Please don’t hate me for this, okay?” Kazuma whispered softly, eyes wide with fear and knowing as the seconds ticked by into a full minute.

Kurama looked at him, quite confused, his perplexing stare pulling Kazuma down. Down deep... where the gray absolved him of his sins.

He leaned in, and tenderly kissed Kurama upon the lips.

It was not a long, languid kiss like the one he’d shared with Urameshi. It was short, and yet powerful, as all the emotion he’d refused to share suddenly poured from his body. His hands shook, his powerful chest wracked with vibrations as the cold of the wind about them and Kurama’s soft lips brought him to his knees. Kurama was not jerking way, was not yelling at him or screaming, but Kazuma was terrified that the minute he pulled back Kurama was either going to slap him or hate him, and suddenly the terror burst from his mouth, effectively ending their first kiss with a cry of fear-!

“Oh god!" Kazuma cried out, jerking back from Kurama who was staring at him in such a way that he thought he might die; no hate, no fear, but confusion. Calm, comforting confusion. “I’m so sorry! Please forgive me, Kurama! I really, really like you is all. Please don’t be angry.”

He shook so badly he thought he might fall to the ground, lips quivering as Kurama gave him a sympathetic look. “Kazuma,” he whispered, not unkindly, “I’m afraid you’ve set your standards terribly low.”

So confusing was this statement, in regard to their current actions, that Kazuma had no idea what to make of it. His tremors stopped, and now he was the one to gape as a weird noise slipped past his lips.

“Whu-?”

“While I’m flattered by the gesture--“ Kurama’s cheeks were quite pink, and suddenly Kazuma realized it was not from the cold as Kurama even dared to smile at him, “--Your affection is misplaced.”

Misplaced? Misplaced?!
Did Kurama honestly believe himself to be unworthy? Did Kurama imagine himself to be a low standard? That he was somehow a poor example of what love could be? The truth couldn’t be farther from- Kurama was the epitome of truth and light. He was a burning torch, setting fire to Kazuma in such a way that nothing could put him out. His beautiful hair, spilling in waves over his shoulders and down his back. His deep green eyes, sparking every now and then with mirth as he smiled.

Kazuma had lost his mind. He was in love with this man, utterly captivated by the most mundane nuances of his body and soul.

“You’re a huge dork, you know that?” Kazuma could not help but snort as a laugh passed through his lips. Kurama was taken aback, “It’s not misplaced. You’re perfect.”

And as he said it, he poured all the emotion he could into that word. All the nights he’d spent tossing a ball and thinking of Kurama’s smile, all the days he’d wept into his writing desk or his books, begging god to give him some sort of sign... every moment that he’d imagined Kurama beneath him or beside him, pushing onward towards the future with that smile which told Kazuma all things were possible. That he was loved, and smart. That he was worthy.

Kurama smiled wider, shaking his head in disbelief.

It took Kazuma a moment to realize that he had just kissed Kurama and that Kurama was smiling, that he was not angry or afraid- but-...

“Does this mean... you’re not angry?” Kazuma asked, nervous for Kurama’s answer. If he said ‘yes’, Kazuma might die on the spot. He could just throw himself out in front of the train when it came, that would be a satisfactory death.

Kurama shook his head, and Kazuma did a double take, a grin suddenly leaping to his face.
Kurama wasn’t angry? Did that mean... oh god did that mean-

“Angry is not descriptive of... how I feel right now,” Kurama said, like only Kurama could. Kazuma didn’t know whether to laugh or to jump for joy and instead simply stared in awe. Love was wonderful; Kazuma suddenly wanted to shout at total strangers, to tell them of the explosion that was currently going off in his chest.

“What is?” Kazuma tried for a flirtatious tone, and probably failed miserably.

Kurama shook his head, grinning openly now, and in a completely unexpected move stepped slightly closer to Kazuma. He reached up, toying with the black scarf about his neck. His heart began to pound as faint scent of green tea filled his nose and made him feel numb.

“I’m a dork, am I?” Kurama murmured, looking up at Kazuma. His eyes lit up, reflecting deep emerald green as they captured the light from above. It was the most incredible sight that Kazuma had ever seen, and he was overthrown with emotion as Kurama smiled even wider.

“I mean, uh-“ Kazuma was hoarse, his voice like a whisper against the crown of Kurama’s dark red hair, “What I mean to say is-“

“I didn’t take you for the type to kiss dorks.”

Kazuma snorted.

Kurama lifted his chin; their mouths met again.

So soft, so tender. Kazuma could feel every bit of stress melting away from his body. Kazuma knew it was divine magic, a prophecy that foretold only Kurama could have such power over him. Suddenly every moment he’d spent chasing after Yukina felt very foolish.

His tongue found its way into Kurama’s mouth, and his hand buried itself in his thick mane. Kurama was angling to kiss Kazuma deeper, his lithe hands sneaking their way up Kazuma’s back to grab tightly upon his coat-

A screech resounded through the air, hot air blowing past them as the metro arrived. Kurama flinched in his arms, the sound shocking him from their hidden moment as he quickly touched his mouth and looked way.

Kurama’s breath was shaky, Kazuma could hear him attempting to regain his composure.

“Shit-“ Kazuma cursed, glaring over his shoulder at the train. If only it had been late; if only it had never come at all!

“We’d best stop,” Kurama said, and he pulled back from Kazuma to sit patiently upon the rail with his arms crossed across his chest.

Kazuma’s pulse was hot and thick, his heart pounding as he watched Kurama’s expression slip into one of benign boredom... as if they hadn’t just been kissing. Kurama looked straight ahead, giving nothing away as the doors of the train open and passengers spilled out. As they walked forward and took their place on board, Kazuma could not help but wipe his sweaty palms on his jacket and curse himself repeatedly.

The doors closed, Kazuma gripped the hand rail and bitterly lamented the train they were on.

“Fuckin’ train blocked,” Kazuma cursed himself, unwilling to meet Kurama’s eyes. He no doubt thought Kazuma was an idiot. “I’m such a fool.”

A sudden touch upon his hand made him jump. Kazuma looked around, shocked to find Kurama reaching out to hold his hand.

With a blush, Kazuma allowed Kurama to slip his fingers through his own.
Kurama was smiling at him, as if the world existed for only the two of them. To be fair, they were alone on the train, but even if they hadn’t been... he had a feeling Kurama would have been looking at him just the same.

It was incredibly empowering, to see Kurama smiling up at him in such a way. It was a look that made Kazuma feel unstoppable. He felt as if he had a shot, as if he truly (deeply) had a chance to be with Kurama.

He knew it was utterly insane to think such things. Kurama was not his. Kurama was too beautiful, too wonderful, to ever belong to anyone.

Still. He could dream, while Kurama squeezed his hand...

And he damn well would.

Chapter Text

One Week Out:

 

The afternoon sun was smooth and reddening steadily as it slipped nearer to the horizon where clouds waited to catch it in a warm blanket. Spring was coming, though snow was still on the ground, and for the first time in a long time Kazuma didn’t need to wear his gloves. With his bare hands un-apprehended, Kazuma could allow his fingers to trail across the flesh of Kurama’s palm, smiling timidly when Kurama curled his slim fingers around Kazuma’s thicker ones. Those beautiful almond fingernails showed no blemish or scar from the pain they’d previously endured; Kurama’s hands were incredible, so strong and yet so elegant. The perfect size and shape to hold a whip. Kazuma could see now why Kurama used one as a weapon.

Kurama smiled, and Kazuma could not help but feel a huge confidence boost at the thought that though they had both ordered drinks neither of them had taken a sip in the past twenty minutes. They’d been too busy in the corner of the cafe holding hands and simply talking to one another.

A week had passed since the “train-block” incident as Kazuma referred to it. He’d taken his test the very next day, elated, and his joy had only grown when he’d woken up this morning with an email in his inbox alerting him to his acceptance into the senior class of Architecture and Design School.

He was going to be an architect and Kurama was holding his hand. Could the day get any fucking better?

“I gotta admit...” Kazuma murmured in response to Kurama’s last question of ‘how long’, “I... I really liked you for a long time.”

“How long?” Kurama repeated, smiling as Kazuma blushed a little with a slight snort. There was no point in hiding his attraction now. Kurama knew and even reciprocated. Kazuma delighted himself with playing his fingers over Kurama’s hand, marveling at the shape of his lovely wrist. My god was there anything flawed about him? Kazuma didn’t think so.

“Since about... a few months after you returned from demon world,” Kazuma admitted.

“Oh my god,” Kurama scoffed, light shock creeping into his face as he stared at Kazuma with his mouth open. “That was... over seven years ago.”

“Yeah. Well.” Kazuma could not help but agree. He’d waited far too long. Seven years wasted, and why? Because he’d been full of fear and self-denial. What a crap excuse for missing out on seven years of Kurama. Kurama’s shock was clear upon his beautiful face, his mouth unable to close as he took that knowledge in.

“You never thought to tell me?” Kurama asked. “Not even once?” The incredulity in his voice could not be hidden. Kurama was genuinely dumbfounded for the first time that Kazuma had known him.

‘“I honestly didn’t think you’d like me back,” Kazuma admitted. “I’m not really that... good looking or interesting-“

But Kurama squeezed his hand, and Kazuma’s heart jolted as a coy grin crept across Kurama’s sweet face.

“Did I ever say that?” Kurama asked.

Kazuma blushed.

“...No,” Kazuma’s voice was more hoarse than usual, and he coughed several times as Kurama suddenly interlaced their fingers, making sure to catch Kazuma’s eyes in his own. Once again, the sun was hitting the top of Kurama’s cheeks and spilling into the deep green of his irises. His eyes were practically glittering.

“Then don’t put those words in my mouth.” He seemed to know what he was doing to Kazuma as he delicately began to chew on his bottom lip, a new smile curving across his face.

Kazuma put his chin in the palm of his free hand, shaking his head as he marveled at Kurama.

Despite the beauty of the scene he sat in, Kazuma’s ears alerted him to a familiar voice as the door to the coffee shop opened and two new customers walked in. He looked over his shoulder, momentarily pulled from his reverie on Kurama to see Takahashi coming through the door with a taller man at his side who held the door open to let him pass. Takahashi was looking about, perhaps for a free table, but when he saw Kazuma in the corner with Kurama his smile suddenly took a dastardly turn and he made a beeline for them both through the packed coffee shop floor.

“Oh, damn,” Kazuma whispered, grabbing a menu of offered pastries to hide his face behind it.

Kurama looked up, seeing Takahashi coming over, and shook his head with a sad smile as Kazuma tried to hide his hulking frame in the corner.

“I think he already saw you,” Kurama murmured, gently taking the menu from Kazuma’s hand and setting it back down. Kazuma returned his chin to his hand, readying himself for yet another embarrassing conversation as he rolled his eyes and sighed.

“Yep,” Kazuma agreed.

Takahashi approached their table with a slight jaunt in his walk, his friend behind him and looking quite curious as to why Takahashi was delighted.

“Well, hello...” Takahashi greeted Kazuma, bright eyes roving back and forth between Kurama, Kazuma, and where their hands were interlaced upon the table. Kazuma turned his chin in his palm to glare at Takahashi, wishing the little twit would bugger off already. Couldn’t he see he was busy?

“Am I interrupting?” Takahashi locked his arms over his chest, beaming at Kazuma.

“Yes.”
“No.”

Both he and Kurama had answered at the same time, and when Kazuma looked at Kurama, Kurama just shrugged with a sweet smile.

Just like Kurama to entertain Takahashi with his beautiful presence. If only Kurama was meaner, maybe they could have a moment to themselves.

“I see...” Takahashi drawled. He looked Kurama up and down, his smile disappearing for one second, “I feel like I know you.” Takahashi murmured, tapping his finger to his chin in thought, “But I have to ask straight away, are you a gardener?’

Kazuma’s cheeks flushed with blood, and he seethed at Takahashi who seemed to understand just who he was looking at now.

Before Kurama could answer, Takahashi’s friend spoke up.

“Minamino?” The man was quite surprised, and so was Kurama as he briefly broke his hold on Kazuma’s hand to shake the man’s own. The pair of them were smiling at each other, clearly already aware of who the other way.

“Naito. How nice to see you,” Kurama greeted him. When their hands let go, Kurama relaxed back into his chair again though he did not make to hold Kazuma’s hand. Kazuma wished to god Naito had not walked up; but a sudden wave of delight jumped through him as Kurama suddenly ran a finger gently over his hand.

Kazuma made a move, filled with courage from Kurama’s touch, and resumed their hold. Kurama glanced at him, eyes sparkling.

So he liked it when Kazuma initiated things, did he? Kazuma would have to remember that.

“Do you two know each other?” Takahashi asked delightedly, fingering from Kurama to Naito.

“Yeah, and you know him too!” Naito assured Takahashi, who waited with rapid interest, “Shuichi Minamino was a prodigy back in magnet school. When you transferred he was the class secretary.”

“Oh, that’s right!” Takahashi beamed in delight, “You were the one who was always facing with Kaito in legacy tournaments!”

“Indeed, you know me well,” Kurama agreed with a light chuckle. “And to answer your question earlier, yes. I am a gardener.”

“I see...” Takahashi drawled, looking over at Kazuma and waggling his eyes. His smile was becoming devilish again, as he and Kazuma stared one another down.

‘Yes, it’s him!’ Kazuma wanted to snarl at Takahashi, ‘Now go away!’

“Well I’m Takahashi.” Takahashi said, and for the second time Kazuma’s hold on Kurama’s hand was broken as the two shook.

“A pleasure to meet you,” Kurama said.

“I’ve been speaking with Kuwabara for quite some time about feelings he has for someone,” Takahashi was even in tone but there was a smile playing across his face that could not be denied . Kazuma groaned, suddenly happy that Kurama wasn’t holding his hand as he buried his face in both his palms. “I’ve been trying to get him to make a move and get more comfortable with flirting. I’m hoping by seeing you here that means he has?”

Kurama laughed, and Kazuma could hear the embarrassment in his voice.

“Will you quit?” Kazuma growled around his hands, glaring up at Takahashi who just winked at him. Naito was likewise chuckling under his breath, perhaps already aware of Takahashi’s openness.

“One could say as much,” Kurama answered, a light blush upon his cheeks as he smiled at Takahashi. “Though it is personal in nature.”

“Good.” Takahashi’s tone was strong and warm. “It was about damn time.”

“Allow me to be the polite one,” Naito broke across Takahashi, and Kazuma noted that Takahashi was holding hands with Naito- could it be that they were together? “May we join you for coffee?”

Kurama looked at Kazuma and smiled in question.

Kazuma shrugged, still rather irritated that their little date was being interrupted (was this a date? Could he call it that and get away with it?), but he knew it would be impolite to decline when there were no other free tables.

“Sure.” Kazuma said. Takahashi practically skipped back to the counter, his grin unstoppable as he kept casting glances back at Kazuma and Kurama. Naito was behind him, slightly pressed against him as he gave his order to another barista.

Kazuma noted the hand on Takahashi’s back, the gentle squeeze there, loving and understanding. Takahashi looked over his shoulder, a sweet smile creeping across his face as he tilted his face a little closer to Naito. Naito winked at Takahashi, squeezing his back again.

They were in love. He could see it now.

“Don’t start,” Kazuma grumbled with a smile as Kurama wrapped his hand back tightly in Kazuma’s own. Kurama squeezed his hand with a tutting noise in mock disappointment.

“So, strangers know and I don’t know,” Kurama remarked, his voice light and playful.

“It-“ Kazuma cut himself off and started again, “I knew him in high school before he transferred.”

“I see...” Kurama nodded, “And you were going to him for advice?”

Kazuma flushed, raising as eyebrow sulkily at Kurama as Kurama began to chew at his lip again.

Kurama knew what he was doing.

“I was stuck,” Kazuma grumbled. Kurama’s body lurched a little like he was laughing, though no sound came out as he continued to chew on his lip.

“Did he tell you to write the note?” Kurama asked.

“He came up with the idea of me... writing you something,” Kazuma said. “I came up with the note.”

Kurama looked from Kazuma to their interlocked hands, and his free one began to trace patterns upon the goose pebbles of Kazuma’s muscled arm. Those lovely fingers, trailing upon his arm, as Kurama observed his flesh like it was a map he’d been bidden to memorize.

“Then I like him already.”

Kazuma flushed with pleasure.

 

One Month Out:

Kazuma still could not say out loud that Kurama was his boyfriend, but damn if it wasn’t getting hotter by the day. Architecture school, which filled his days with intense delight as he perfected his portfolio and prepared for graduation, was put to a dull back burner every night as he returned home and allowed his thoughts to become entranced in all things Kurama. Kazuma had sat a picture of Kurama on his beside table, allowing himself to look deep into those entrancing green eyes each night as he fell asleep only to wake up to them the next morning. It was pleasing to his senses, and put him in a damn good mood that could only be topped by Kurama himself appearing when Kazuma sent him the text alerting to him taking the metro. They met all about the city, taking walks in the park, getting coffee, even going on a date to the local arboretum on the outside of town that made for toe-curling evening when Kurama had kissed him underneath a dormant cherry tree and caused it to bloom prematurely. Yet it was these moments at night that Kazuma loved best, when it was close to midnight and his cell phone was on his drafting table as he finished up another round of sketches for his senior final. He’d down a jack and coke, allowing the soft tunes of local jazz groups to fill his cramped apartment as he texted back and forth with Kurama. The hours ticked by, his drafting sketches filled up, and Kazuma was sent upon a buzz that could not be diminished.

This building was coming together piece by piece; Urameshi was going to lose his shit when he saw it. Kazuma could hardly wait.

Kazuma’s phone buzzed in his pocket, and he pulled it out at once, only to grin.

“I drove past your apartment and saw your light was still on. What are you doing up?”

Kazuma looked at his alarm clock on the far bookshelf, noting that it showed the time to be past one in the morning. So Kurama was out and driving around; was he thinking about Kazuma? The thought made him giddy as he answered back.

“Working on this damn sketch. It’s a surprise. Wanna come see?” Kazuma waited for Kurama’s answer as he finished his jack and coke, looking about his apartment. Now that he thought about it, he probably shouldn’t have invited Kurama over when the place looked like crap; papers were everywhere and cat toys were all over the floor. Kazuma glared at Eikichi who sat curled up on his sofa, a catnip chew in her paws. That damn cat was going to be the death of him. He probably had dishes in the sink to; it wouldn’t be good for Kurama to see that and think he was a slob-

“Hardly a surprise for long if I see it,” Kurama replied.

Kazuma chuckled aloud, talking to himself as he texted back.

“Oh, baby, do you wanna see it?” Kazuma murmured. “Don’t tease me now.”

“Not for you.” Kazuma replied, “Yusuke.”

“Now I’m curious. I’ll turn around. Be there in ten.”

Kazuma cursed, setting his phone down as he looked about his apartment. There wasn’t much he could do in ten minutes but still he tried. He popped a breath mint as he kicked a couple of cat toys back into their respective basket, checking his sink for dirty dishes to clear it of a few plates. His timing was perfect, for when he set the last glass aside to dry he heard the doorbell buzz and wiped his hands clean. His heart danced as he turned down his jazz music (it didn’t help the song was soft to begin with, Kurama would probably think he was trying to seduce him), and as he answered the door he could not help but break into a grin at the sight he found on the other side.

Kurama in that stupid coat; the one with white fur at the collar that he absolutely loved, smiling at him with his hands lightly tucked into his tight pockets.

“Surprise for Yusuke?” Kurama greeted him, and before Kazuma could answer Kurama was across the threshold, closing the door behind him as he leaned into Kazuma’s muscular build. Kazuma instinctively wrapped a hand around Kurama’s waist, breathing in the delightful scent of tea tree and gardenia- Kurama kissed him ever so lightly, his lips toying with Kazuma’s soul as he smiled into their touch.

“Come take a look,” Kazuma said.

He helped Kurama out of his coat, Kurama stepping out of his shoes as he followed Kazuma into his living room. Eikichi was up, yawning and stretching as she rolled about on the head of the couch.

“My god, you’ve been busy.” Kurama sounded impressed as he observed all of Kazuma’s paperwork, heading over to couch first as he plucked up Eikichi to hold her tight to his chest. Kazuma wished he had a camera, the sight was so endearing to him; Kurama kissed the top of Eikichi’s head, rubbing her lovingly as she began to purr loudly into his hold. Eikichi had always been a sucker for attention.

“My goodness, you’ve gotten so big, Eikichi.” Kurama’s tone took on a baby like quality, charming Kazuma as he nuzzled his face into Eikichi’s coat.

“Yeah, she eats well,” Kazuma snorted. “Better than me.”

“Well, that’s not fair.” Kurama pulled back, still using his baby voice as he tutted to Eikichi. “Why are you stealing all the food? Why, hmm?”

Eikichi had no answers, still purring loudly.

“You won’t get any answers out of her. Trust me, I’ve tried. Come check this out.”

Kurama sat Eikichi back on the couch (who promptly jumped off to trot over to Kurama and rub lovingly against his calves), coming over to Kazuma’s drafting table to observe his blueprints. Kurama sucked in a breath, entranced as he thumbed through the extensive sheets. Kazuma flushed with pride, glad to know that what little genius he had was showing. Hopefully Kurama would think he smart if he saw how well he excelled in architecture. He wanted Kurama to proud of him, to see his talents.

Even if they were few and far between.

“So for my senior portfolio, in order to graduate, I have to create a building. It’s my biggest assignment, a massive project that encompasses everything I’ve learned. Since I passed advanced placement, I can go on ahead and start. I’m making Yusuke and Keiko a big, beautiful, restaurant.”

“Oh, Kazuma!” Kurama gasped as he realized what he was looking at, “This is wonderful!” He beamed at Kazuma, now studying the drawings more intensely as Kazuma laid down a finger and began to trace over the thick white ink.

“It’ll be three stories. The first floor in the dining quarters, massive kitchen, essentially the public viewing area. It’ll have four patios, and a back drop area where bands can perform.” Kazuma pointed to each feature respectively. Kurama nodded, following every word intently.

“This is going to be incredible,” Kurama murmured. Kazuma flipped to the next page, allowing the first to drape loosely over the top of his drafting table. These pages were so large, they almost went off the sides.

“Yeah, I wanna include a fish tank somewhere too. But I’ll get to that later. Second floor, only accessible by one set of stairs, right here,” Kazuma pointed to a back hallway that would be hidden from regular customers, “Has to be triggered by an coding system. Clients... demon and human alike.”

The keyword was ‘demon’ and Kurama nodded in knowing as he followed along.

“For his detective work. Perfect.” Kurama flashed a smile at Kazuma, prompting him to continue.

“Exactly. It’s going to include three rooms, one will be an office, one will be a meeting room, one will be a salon where you can sit down and wait. Now, hidden behind a secret wall will be the final stair case that takes you to the living quarters where Yusuke and Keiko will live. Check this out-“ Kazuma flipped to the final page which would be the third story, “Full entry way, living room, dining room with open access kitchen. A huge backdoor patio that overlooks the outside, it has a pool!” Kazuma added gleefully, fully intending to get Kurama into that pool the minute it was summertime. “Then you have of course their bedrooms, sun rooms, and bathrooms respectively. Not a bad pad to live in, eh?” He pulled back the first two pages, smoothing them out as Kurama simply shook his head in shock.

Kurama could not stop smiling. He was truly impressed; Kazuma could tell.

“This... is amazing,” Kurama gloated, wrapping a hand around Kazuma’s waist as another draped ever so lightly across his chest. “Yusuke is going to lose his mind when he sees this.”

“Yeah well-“ Kazuma shrugged, encouraged by the praise, “Urameshi’s had a hard life. me and Keiko know that well. I wanna give him something, something that he can relax into. Something that can allow him to settle and breathe. God only knows he works himself up when he gets going.” Kazuma shook his head, thinking back on Yusuke in their youth.

That really hadn’t changed now that he was an adult. Fuck, they were adults. That was shocking. But he was pulled from his thoughts when he saw Kurama was looking up at him with such an adoring expression that Kazuma suddenly forgot to breath.

“You’re so caring,” Kurama whispered, his breath sweet and ghosting upon Kazuma’s face. Kazuma flushed, stuttering as Kurama’s arm tightened around his waist. His hand pressed more intensely upon Kazuma’s chest, his nose nearly brushing against Kazuma’s own.

Did Kurama know all that he did to Kazuma? Was he aware of how enticing he was?

“Well, I mean,” Kazuma mumbled, lost in the moment as he gazed into Kurama’s eyes. “I’m not nearly as good as getting the job done as you.”

Kurama made a noise of disbelief. “I am hardly as compassionate to the suffering of others.”

“Uh... you must be talking about a different Kurama, because the one I know is absolutely amazing and can do no wrong.”

But Kurama’s expression suddenly grew sad, and Kazuma cupped his cheeks at once, thumbing the pads of his fingers over the supple flesh he found there.

“I’m afraid I must be.” Kurama tried for a small smile. Kazuma just shook his head.

He kissed Kurama, wanting to show him how much he made Kazuma feel. Yet even as he kissed Kurama, feeling the hand upon his chest begin to slip up and around his muscled neck, Kazuma could not help but speak.

“I cannot believe I get to kiss you,” he whispered into Kurama’s mouth.

Kurama smiled, opening his mouth a little, and suddenly their kiss became passionate.

Jazz drifted soft and slow in the air, the lights of his apartment dim against the dark night just outside the curtains. Here and now, wrapped in Kurama’s arms, he was a different man. He was strong and smart, the hero of his childhood fantasies that even Urameshi could look up to. As he kissed Kurama deep, allowing Kurama to swallow his mouth whole, their hearts began to beat in tandem. Kazuma could feel the delighted dance as he slipped his hands down from Kurama’s cheeks to wrap them lovingly around his back. Suddenly his very existence, his very life, was waiting upon Kurama’s being as he buried a hand in Kurama’s hair and cupped his slim neck. He massaged the flesh there, threading his fingers through the silky dark strands he found.
... Kurama pulled him down into the gray.

 

About an hour later, Kazuma found himself on his couch with his shirt halfway undone, his neck and torso covered with kisses and a dopey grin on his face as Kurama played with Eikichi and allowed her to curl up in his lap. Kurama would stare about his living room every so often, taking in the band posters on the wall and all the records he owned, but his fingers never left Kazuma’s arm, playing along the curves of his muscles.

Kazuma was started to see that Kurama liked his muscles. It filled him with pride, and he found himself wanting to increase his workout routine in the hope of getting stronger.

“You have so many posters,” Kurama suddenly spoke up, shaking his head with a light smile. “You really like music.”

“Well, my dad’s a record producer,” Kazuma explained, enjoying the feeling of Kurama’s head on his chest with his arm wrapped around the back of Kurama’s shoulders. “He signed these guys. I knew them before they were bands. They’re my collection of cool people.”

Yet Kazuma’s poster collection was not limited to his living room; his best posters were in his bedroom where company could not see them. He wondered what Kurama would think if he knew...

“They’re not my pride and joy though, I’ll tell you that right now.”

“What is?” Kurama asked, looking up at him from his chest. Eikichi yawned, changing positions as she stretched upon their laps.

“... You wanna see?” Kazuma asked. Kurama’s smile was growing again, sensing the playfulness behind Kazuma’s words.

“I do.”

Kazuma shrugged, a dopey grin upon his face as he got up from the couch and pulled Kurama along. Eikichi yowled in complaint, clearly irritated at losing her bed. Kazuma sent her an apologetic look, pulling Kurama by the hand down his short hallway to the close door of his bedroom.

“Okay, well, it’s in my bedroom, so don’t freak out. I have to hide it from company,” Kazuma explained.

“Oh, dear. Should I be afraid?” Kurama asked, asked Kazuma opened the door. His bedroom was neat, simply because Kazuma was a neat person and he generally kept it tidied up. The poster in question hung upon his far wall, and as soon as Kurama saw it he gasped.

“Oh my god!” Kurama laughed, slipping from Kazuma’s hand as he walked openly into Kazuma’s bedroom and stared up at the poster: “64th Annual Dark Tournament: Hanging Neck Island... Grudge Match: Team Toguro vs. Team Urameshi!”

Kazuma had received it as a Christmas present years ago from Yusuke, and had kept it framed in his bedroom ever since. A massive spread, showing the four head-shots of each team member on the top and bottom, faded hot colors promising for a blood bath and an ultimate show down. It was in fantastic condition save for the fact that Kazuma had often used Elder Toguro’s head shot as a dart board so that it was now peppered with holes from his excellent tosses.

“How did you find this?” Kurama demanded, reaching up to touch the poster in delight, “Look at us... Look at me.” Kurama snorted. “I’m so scrawny compared to the three of you.”

“Yeah,” said Kazuma sarcastically, looking Kurama up at down; the curve of his backside, the smooth plains of his stomach and thighs, his beautiful dark red hair almost black in the cool blue hue of Kazuma’s unlit bedroom. “When I look at you, I see scrawny.”

What he actually saw was a fucking supermodel, but he was keeping that thought to himself.

Kurama smiled at him, but his smile turned into a sneer when he touched Karasu’s headshot. “Ugh. There’s a face I never want to see again.”

“I can throw darts at him if that makes you feel better?” Kazuma offered. Kurama winked at him.

“Elder Toguro is covered in holes as well,” Kurama noted.

“I dart him the most,” Kazuma said vehemently. He couldn’t help himself, he really hated that prick. He hoped he was still rotting in that cave where Kurama had left him.

“But you don’t dart Bui or younger Toguro,” Kurama said, touching the paper with his slim fingers.

“No.” Kazuma shrugged, and why should he? As far as he was concerned, the younger Toguro had just wanted to fight the ultimate fight, to die the ultimate death at Urameshi’s hands... and Bui had been a slave.

“I’m glad,” Kurama admitted, running a finger over younger Toguro’s stoic face. “Bui did not deserve what he received. I’m glad Hiei spared him.”

As he turned away from the poster, his eyes caught sight of a picture that Kazuma had been hoping he wouldn’t notice.

She sat upon his dresser, framed in modest black and kept in the shinto way of the dead. An unlit candle sat waiting by her headshot, waiting to be lit when Kazuma would one day get that call.

It would come when he was least expecting it, or so he feared, the knowledge of his mother’s passing falling upon his shoulders before he could prepare himself for it.

“Who’s that?” Kurama asked, noting the unlit candle with sensitive care.

“... That’s my mother.” Kazuma said. He wondered if Kurama would hear the cold pain in his voice, well hidden after years of practice. Kurama walked closer, scrutinizing his mother’s face in the dark: her long face framed by loose copper curls that hung past her shoulders, her haunted dark eyes, lined with nights of unease. Her lips, smooth but firm... Kazuma could remember being a child and feeling those lips upon his brow, holding onto her arm tightly lest she slip away.

One night, Kazuma had woken up too soon, and reached for his mother.
But he’d reach on for years, never to know her touch again.
She’d vanished into thin air.

“... I don’t know where she is,” Kazuma said. Kurama shot him a hesitant glance, perhaps wondering if the subject was too tender to broach in the youth of their relationship. Still, Kazuma was an honest person and he didn’t mind Kurama knowing. The only people who knew about his mother were Shizuru and Yusuke respectively.

Shizuru already knew what he knew. Yusuke did not ask out of respect for what Kazuma did not want to talk about.

“... She had incredible awareness. Incredible. But she couldn’t control it. They diagnosed her with schizophrenia because of all the demons she saw, all the ghosts. She ran away, to keep from being institutionalized. I haven’t seen her in years... sometimes she’ll call. But she’s so far gone, she’s hardly the woman she once was. Shizuru basically raised me. Dad was... occupied. It fucked him up.” Kurama’s frown deepened as Kazuma explained, “He really loved her. It’s weird, I know she’s my mother, but I don’t... I don’t know. She’s more like an old friend I worry about than my mother.”

Kurama looked down at his carpet floor for a moment before glancing back up.

“I understand completely.”

Kazuma sighed, aware of the fact that Shiori, while Kurama’s human mother, was not his actual mother. He wondered who Kurama’s real mother was, and what had happened to her. While he knew about Kurama’s past life as demon, it didn’t really bother him. Kurama had turned over a new leaf, and the Kurama in human form was the Kurama he knew. The Kurama that mattered. Yet before Kazuma could ask Kurama the question of his original parents, Kurama spotted another picture in his room, one that Kazuma had equally prayed for him not to notice.

“Is that... a picture of me by your bed?” Kurama asked, incredulous. Kazuma’s cheeks flooded with an intense heat as he garbled for words, seeing the intense look in Kurama’s eyes turn hot with pseudo anger.

Kurama was grinning deviously and it was doing nothing for his nerves.

“Aha!” Kurama walked over to the picture, mindless of Kazuma’s chitter, “Ah- well- you see-“ Kurama picked the picture up, shaking his head.

“... When was this taken?” Kurama asked, observing himself upon the brick wall, smiling and laughing gayly with Urameshi and Keiko. It had been a hot summer day about a year ago, and the entire group had gone out for a day in the park. They’d eaten ice cream and lounged about until Urameshi had pulled out a water gun and attacked Kazuma.

Mercifully, Keiko had brought along several other water guns, and by the end of the outing Urameshi had gotten his damn payback. Ten fold.

“You took it when I wasn’t looking,” Kurama noted, rather humored.

“...Yeah,” Kazuma mumbled. “I... You looked so beautiful. God, you must hate me-“ He blushed, suddenly furious at himself. He should have asked for Kurama’s permission before taking the picture, but damnit Kazuma was certain he’d have said no-

“I don’t hate you,” Kurama corrected him with a terse smile. “But do you really want a picture of me that badly?”

“More than anything.”

Kurama set the picture back down on the bedside table. He raised an eyebrow, elegant and handsome, and Kazuma had to breathe deeply to control his hammering heart.

“Okay then,” Kurama said as he grabbed Kazuma’s hand and pulled him out of his dark bedroom and once more into the bright living room. Kazuma’s cell phone was still upon his drafting table, and Kurama pressed it into his hands before sitting back down on the couch and allowing Eikichi to settle into his lap again.

“Well...” Kurama toyed as Kazuma looked from the phone in his hands to Kurama on the couch, “Go on.”

“Are you really okay with this?” Kazuma was mystified, for he’d never known Kurama to be eager about pictures.

“If you’re going to have a picture of me, I need to be looking at the camera.” Kurama was smiling, and Kazuma snorted in disbelief as Kurama relaxed into the couch and ran a hand absent-mindedly through his dark hair.

Kazuma opened up the camera on his iPhone.

“Just so we’re clear,” Kazuma said, lining up the shot, “Every picture you take is stunning.”

“If you say so,” Kurama murmured, holding Eikichi close. Kazuma took the picture, unable to keep from sighing as he saw the captured shot.

“Oh, yeah,” Kazuma said, “I’m framing that one.”

“Good.” Kurama reached out and grabbing his half opened shirt. Kazuma been so busy looking at his phone that he hadn’t seen it coming and suddenly fell upon the couch with a gasp.

Their faces were close together; Kazuma swallowed timidly as the tips of Kurama’s fingers touched his bare chest.

He was going to die on this couch.

“The other picture was blurry and silly,” said Kurama, grinning mischievously. “Replace it with that one.”

“Hey, don’t call that picture silly,” Kazuma said, unable to keep from flirting as Kurama’s hands ghosted over his abs. “It made my heart race every time I looked at it.”

“And the real thing? The here and now?” Kurama asked.

His hands rested at the waist band of Kazuma’s jeans which suddenly felt far too hot and tight for his own good. Kurama’s nose was touching his own, his lips barely upon his flesh, “What does this do for you?”

“Nothing compares,” was all Kazuma could whisper back.

Kurama kissed him languid and deep, and suddenly Kazuma’s lap was full of Kurama as he pressed himself into Kazuma’s chest.

He didn’t get much sleep that night.

 

Four Months Out:

The construction of Yusuke’s restaurant was extremely difficult to undertake without Yusuke getting wind, and frankly Kazuma was terrified that his best friend was going to find out before the surprise party in three months when the building would be complete. Backed by school funding and spurred onward with Kurama’s love, Kazuma worked like a devil through the night to get the restaurant ready but was constantly under stress as deadlines began to push. He was building at incredible speed, breaking records (or so his professor’s praised) but Kazuma thought nothing of it. He wasn’t trying to impress, he was just hyper focusing... and the image of Yusuke’s eyes lighting up when he saw the restaurant kept him motivated well into the night.

At present, he stood amid the chaos of the first floor, going over design changes as he waited patiently for Kurama to bring him lunch. Spring had finally arrived, and he now could go without coat and gloves when taking Kurama out to dinner or to the movies. Three months ago, Kazuma had been quite unsure of their relationship and what it meant, but as time wore on and their connection intensified, Kazuma was certain he could call Kurama his boyfriend. The concept baffled him, utterly delighted him, and he could not keep from smiling when he heard Kurama’s voice echoing across the as-yet empty first floor as he stepped through the plastic dividers and skirted around the construction workers laying down dry wall.

“Here I am, bag boy!” he called out to Kurama, whose hands were full of plastic bags as he stepped around newly finished dry wall to join Kazuma at the mobile drafting table. Kazuma looked about, finding them alone for the moment, and quickly kissed Kurama before he lost the chance. Kurama smiled, setting a bag down upon the table as Kazuma rolled up his edited plans, and ran a hand over Kazuma’s cheek. His fingers touched lightly upon the dark skin under Kazuma’s eyes, and he could not keep from kissing Kurama’s fingertips as they strayed past his mouth.

“My God,” Kurama murmured, “You look like you haven’t slept in days.”

“Uh, I haven’t,” Kazuma admitted, digging into Kurama’s bags with gusto to pull out his soup and salad. He ate with ravenous hunger, and Kurama soon joined him with his own salad. They were momentarily silent as they ate, sharing their lunch time in happy peace.

“Oh bless you, you beautiful sweet angel,” Kazuma gushed, so glad to be eating after such an exhaustive day. Kurama laughed, a hand over his mouth as he chewed with a cheery smile. “You have no idea how hard it’s been, keeping this shit from Yusuke. He’s a devious asshole!”

“Well,” Kurama laughed as he popped a crouton in his mouth, “I could have told you that.”

“Course you could, you’re the smartest most beautiful creature to ever walk the earth. Me on the other hand, I’m screwed-“

But Kurama kissed him, and Kazuma paused as Kurama put a wary finger over his lips.

“Don’t say that about yourself.” Kurama warned, “You’re far better than me.”

Kazuma kissed him back, winking as he dug back into his salad.

“Oh!” Kazuma cried out, suddenly quite excited as he remembered the latest installment to Yusuke’s future restaurant. “Guess what came today?”

“What?” Kurama asked.

“Fish tank wall!” Kazuma raised his hands to the ceiling before crashing them back down, “Boom, baby!”

Kurama burst out laughing.

“I’m going to go pick out fish today and you are coming with me!” Kazuma cried out, pointing to Kurama as he said it.

Kurama just continued to eat his salad, shaking his head and far from impressed at Kazuma’s grand gesture.

“You do not need me to pick out fish.”

“Yes, I do!” Kazuma corrected him at once, forcing Kurama to abandon his lunch as he pulled him close. Kurama resisted at first, but his smile was giving him away as he struggled against Kazuma’s chest, yet more laughter bubbling up from his throat. Kazuma soaked it up. “Because, my beautiful sunfish, you are the most glorious creature ever to exist and I want you to help me pick out the fish; your beauty will reflect in the fish you pick, and my fish tank will be- just like you- glorious.” Kazuma kissed Kurama lightly upon the eyelids.

Kurama was still shaking his head.

“You compliment me far too much.”

Still, Kazuma would not be deterred, an arm sneaking around Kurama’s back to rub soothingly at the base of his spine.

Another reason to love warm weather and the return of spring - Kurama was wearing thinner shirts.

“No. I don’t. I compliment you exactly the right amount. You know why? Because you’re wonderful, and there is literally nothing you could ever say to change my mind. Sorry, baby. Just the way it goes.”

Kurama squinted at him as though he had spoken in another language. “Baby?” he repeated dully.

“Baby,” Kazuma confirmed, now deciding on the spot he would call Kurama ‘baby’ as much as possible. He kissed him gently with each repetition, feeling the curve of Kurama’s lips as he began to smile again, “Baby, baby, baby.”

Seven Months Out:

In the final month of his project, with very little left to do besides design work, Kazuma found himself skipping meals more and more as he tried to push his artistic signature into every inch of Yusuke’s restaurant. With money left over from his carefully maintained budget, Kazuma had installed a bar in the back of the restaurant. It was exciting to imagine the times he might share with Urameshi there in the near future, and he giddily awaited the coming weeks when he would finally open the restaurant to the public. The hiring process had been easy, simply because so many demons owed Yusuke favors and were looking for work. Now all he had to do was get Keiko’s parents and Atsuko to help him avoid Yusuke and Keiko for a few days while he had their stuff moved out of their apartment.

The plot was thickening and Kazuma loved it.

Kurama had convinced him to take a Friday off, simply because he was exhausted and in need of a home cooked meal. It turned out Kurama was a fantastic cook (Kazuma was far from surprised), and as he approached Kurama’s apartment with Kurama carrying bags full of groceries for that night’s meal he could not help but feel excited. Kurama was always nervous about Kazuma seeing his apartment, claiming it was horribly messy, and so they’d usually hung out at his own place to avoid Kurama’s fears. Kazuma was certain Kurama was overthinking things; he was such a perfectionist that surely his house would reflect it, yet as they approached the door and Kurama fished for the key, he gave Kazuma a pained look.

“Now, I warn you,” Kurama said, searching two pockets in turning before finally finding his keys and pulling them out. “It’s terribly messy.”

“Yeah, yeah, I doubt it.”

Kurama sighed, looking quite put out as he slid the key into the lock and let them inside.

“Oh, wow,” Kazuma laughed, “I don’t doubt it anymore.”

Kurama’s apartment was crammed with books, papers, plants, and unfinished projects that caused Kazuma to giggle uncontrollably as they toed off their shoes and Kurama closed the door behind them. Kurama flushed irritably, grabbing Kazuma’s bags from him to head down the hall into the kitchen. Kazuma followed at once, eager to soak it all in. Kurama’s kitchen had apricot colored walls, and plants were everywhere upon the counters and on the sill where sun shown through threadbare curtains. Kurama touched each plant with care, and Kazuma leapt back in alarm as one of the plants suddenly uncurled to reveal a fanged mouth that hissed and crooned with delight at Kurama’s return.

“Nice plant you got there,” said Kazuma, pointing at the creature as its black tentacles began to sway in an unsung rhythm. “It friendly?”

“It’s a baby.” Kurama smiled at the nervous look on Kazuma’s face. “It’s just teething.”

“Oh great, I’ll get it a pacifier,” Kazuma joked, eager to keep as far away from that plant as possible. He was certain it was going to leap out and bite him at any minute, judging from the way saliva dripped down its fangs and into the dark soil underneath.

Kurama set to work, chopping vegetables as Kazuma began to follow instructions on a sauce recipe. They fell into an easy pattern, able to work well with each other’s movements as Kazuma followed Kurama’s orders.

“Now, you do realize I’m supposed to be doing the work,” said Kurama as Kazuma began to fill a pot with water for noodles.

“Trust me, you are,” Kazuma replied, setting the pot upon a stove eye and turning it on. “I have no idea how to cook. I’m more or less your slave.”

At this, he threw Kurama a wink over his shoulder. Kurama blushed, unable to hide the laughter upon his face as he began to pull up his-

Kazuma’s heart momentarily stopped at the sight of Kurama pulling his thick hair into a bun. He’d never seen such a stunning sight, and was mesmerized by the tendrils of dark red that suddenly fell to frame Kurama’s face.

Damn. Kurama was gonna have to put his hair up more often.

“You stir the sauce, then,” Kurama ordered. “I’ll take care of the vegetables.”

Kazuma did exactly as instructed, praying he could somehow work the phrase, ‘wear your hair up all the time’ into their conversation.

When Kurama added noodles to the boiling pot, he paused to give Kazuma a kiss. There was something domestic and warm about the gesture that moved him. Here they were, making a meal together, like they might do if they shared a home.

“Every time I kiss you it makes me giddy,” Kazuma said, unable to hold back the grin spreading across his face. Kurama continued back to his own counter space, resuming his vegetable chopping with care. “I’m so dumb.”

“You are not dumb,” Kurama warned him, his voice taking on a warning edge momentarily as he continued on, “You are very smart. Do not say that about yourself.”

As Kurama finished with the first round of chopped vegetables, he momentarily paused to wash his hands and pull out an apron from one of his many drawers. When he put it on, Kazuma could not help but laugh at the black writing across the front: “I’m not old, I’m just well seasoned.”

“Ha!” Kazuma pointed in glee as Kurama scoffed and turned away so that he could not see it anymore. “I love it; where did you get that?”

“Yusuke thought it was very funny two Christmas parties ago.” Kurama’s tone was dry, showing his own feelings on the matter.

“I think it’s funny too,” Kazuma said. “It’s perfect. And you are well seasoned. You’re like...” He paused in thought as he stirred the sauce, “the perfect seasoning. Anything you touch is wonderful.”

Kurama looked down with a creeping blush, his fingers dancing lightly upon the chopped vegetables upon his cutting board. “Kazuma, you seem to think all the answers lay in my hands.”

“They do,” Kazuma confirmed. Kurama shook his head in objection, but Kazuma carried on, “You’re a genius, and you’re loving, and you’re funny... and you’re aware. You always know what to do. If there was a crisis right now, you could fix it in a heartbeat. That’s just how cool you are.”

Kurama chopped with a little more vigor, his tone taking on a stern edge. “Let us not forget that I manage to lose my car keys ten times a day. My apartment is a disaster. I’m scatterbrained, my mind is frequently everywhere except the place I need it to be--”

Kazuma waved a hand to dismiss it all.

“Bah, that I can take care of.” Kazuma thumbed his chest with pride. “I’m good like that.”

“I know you are,” Kurama agreed with a smile. Kazuma flushed at his next words, “I am thankful for it. I’ve... been rather out of sorts without you.”

“Well, relax.” Kazuma abandoned his sauce and noodles to approach Kurama from behind with a kiss upon his cheek. “We’re together today,” Kazuma murmured into the shell of his ear, feeling Kurama shudder against him. “Nothing can touch us.”

Kurama’s smile became genuine as he lowered his gaze. Kazuma could hear his breath pick up a pace, his fingers running experimentally over the smooth handle of his chopping knife as if... distracted.

Kazuma kissed him again, and returned cheerily to his sauce.

By the time that the noodles were done and drained, the sauce was nearly complete, yet as he looked at the recipe Kazuma could not help but feel a little lost.

“Hey, Kurama, how do I “reduce” the sauce?” Kazuma wondered aloud.

Kurama never missed a beat, still chopping the final tomato as he spoke, “Boil it until it thickens, thereby ‘reducing’ the amount of water.”

“Right,” Kazuma said, turning the eye up at once to bring the sauce to a boil, “That’s pretty obvious I guess.” He laughed. “I’m stupid.”

The atmosphere changed, and Kazuma’s heart leapt into his throat suddenly when he heard a rough ‘ahem’ from behind. Sensing danger, Kazuma looked over his shoulder to find Kurama glaring at him with his knife clenched tight in his hand.

Kazuma instinctively took a step back.

“You are not stupid,” Kurama ground out, his voice deadly soft. Those normally sweet and calm green eyes burned with warning that the path he had just chosen was a dangerous one “Do not say that about yourself.”

Kazuma brought up his hands at once in surrender.

“O-Okay,” Kazuma agreed, his heart pounding in his chest. Then, grinning nervously, “You don’t have to threaten me or anything.”

Kurama’s glare vanished as he followed Kazuma’s gaze to the knife clenched in his hand. He set it down quickly, his expression neutralizing. He smiled at Kazuma, looking mild and kind, but Kazuma could feel the tension beneath the quiet.

“I apologize,” Kurama said.

“Don’t worry about it,” Kazuma said with a laugh, momentarily turning his back to Kurama in order to adjust the heat on the stove, as the sauce was now boiling feverishly. He stirred it gently, eager not to let it burn.

Without warning, hands came from behind as Kurama wrapped his arms about Kazuma’s waist. His heart skipped a beat as Kurama turned him around. Kazuma nervously gripped the counter, but Kurama’s face was full of concern.

“You are not stupid,” Kurama said, quietly, firmly.

“Okay,” Kazuma agreed for a second time, knowing full well he was stupid despite what Kurama said. Kurama shook his head, unmoving as he suddenly removed his hands from around Kazuma’s waist to take his face in his hands. Kazuma’s burning cheeks must have been hot under his fingers.

“No,” Kurama said sternly. “You look at me and you say it back to me.”

Kazuma grinned, trying for a joke. “You are not stupid,” he repeated.

Kurama narrowed his eyes and warning bells rang in Kazuma’s head.

“... I am not stupid,” Kazuma corrected himself immediately, his voice so low and hushed that it barely graced the air.

Kurama leaned in and kissed him gently upon the lips, pulling back far too soon.

“Say it again.”

“I am not stupid.” Kazuma began to grin, realizing Kurama’s tactic as he swooped in for another quick kiss. Once more he pulled back.

“Again,” Kurama whispered, his voice husky and sweet. His gaze was smoldering.

“I am not stupid.” Kazuma said it loud and clear, looking Kurama dead in the eyes. “I’m fuckin’ smart. Now kiss me, baby.”

And so Kurama did.

 

Dinner was a prolonged affair, the pair of them kissing far too often to efficiently eat their meal. When they were finally finished, they moved to Kurama’s living room which was packed full of books spread upon every inch of available counter space. Kazuma was shocked to find a familiar basket sitting upon Kurama’s coffee table. It was empty, save for a pair of weather-beaten black boots that looked ready to fall apart and an empty box of American candy.

“Hey! It’s that basket Keiko pulled together that had Hiei’s stuff in it.” Kazuma approached to finger the tops of the boots, wondering why they belonged to. Could it be-?

“Are these Hiei’s boots?” Kazuma asked in wonder, picking one up to feel how light it was. Christ it was nearly worn to the bone.

“Yes, they are,” Kurama said, picking up the boot’s partner to observe it with a sad smile. “The night Hiei got drunk he was utterly delighted by our gifts. He loved your shoes. He wore them out. And Keiko’s scarf. And the soap and candle he took with him.” Kurama added. smiling gently at Kazuma, “He loved all of it, especially your boots.”

Kazuma grinned. “Twerp,” he muttered warmly under his breath.

“Quite.” Kurama laughed softly. “But he left the basket. Not that I blame him.”

Kazuma regarded Kurama, and was suddenly struck at how lovely he appeared. Maybe it was the wine talking (he’d had two glasses during dinner) but he suddenly found himself enraptured by the image of Kurama holding that silly boot.

“What?” Kurama asked, noticing Kazuma’s gaze.

“You look so beautiful tonight.”

Kurama scoffed, setting down the boot and looking away so that Kazuma could not see the heat beginning to creep back into his cheeks. Still, Kazuma knew it was there. Kurama was beginning to chew on his bottom lip, always a sign of a blush to come.

“Kazuma, your affections are greatly appreciated but--“

Kazuma would not listen. He caught the hand that Kurama threw out, pulling him in close to wrap his other about Kurama’s slim waist.

“Don’t.” The word effectively silenced Kurama, who was now blushing in abandon, his lips slightly parted as he focused his gaze about the vicinity of Kazuma’s throat. “Don’t you start. You’re perfect and you can’t convince me otherwise.”

“And you?” Kurama whispered, his hands suddenly creeping up Kazuma’s arms to trace along the muscles beneath the thin fabric.

“Me? I’m just me.”

“No,” Kurama disagreed softly. Kazuma felt Kurama squeeze his biceps appreciatively. He suddenly realized Kurama had had two glasses of wine as well, and wondered if Kurama was finally going to speak his usually guarded mind. The thought made his heart pound in his ears.

“I’ve always admired your physique.” Kurama’s voice was a whisper, a ghost upon the air just as Kazuma’s had been earlier during the ‘sauce fiasco’.

Kazuma grinned.

“You wanna see my… physique?” Kazuma asked playfully.

Kurama laughed, suddenly embarrassed as he covered his mouth with a careful hand, “I have.” Kurama’s voice was light and teasing, “Plenty of times, in battle.”

Kazuma was feeling incredibly brave, bolstered by the wine in his system and Kurama’s sweet smile as he let go of Kurama to reach up to the buttons of his shirt.

“You ain’t ever seen it like this.” He cast the shirt aside, noting with glee that Kurama’s eyes widened as he took the sight in.

“No, I have not,” Kurama admitted, his voice quite hoarse from sudden strain. He laid a hand nervously upon Kazuma’s chest and ran his fingers down, unable to hide his smile as he felt the muscles there.

And suddenly, as Kazuma regarded the curve of Kurama’s collarbone as it dipped below his pressed white collar, he realized something awful.

He’d never seen Kurama shirtless. Not once, not ever; all during the Dark Tournament and even during their battle with Sensui. Kurama had always kept his shirt on.

“... I wanna see you,” Kazuma whispered, his hand upon Kurama’s cheek as Kurama’s eyes widened again.

“See--?” The question was cut short as Kazuma kissed him deep, bringing their bodies close together. He could have sworn he caught the slightest chuckle as Kurama pulled away slightly, deft hands reaching for his own shirt buttons. Kazuma’s mouth found Kurama’s neck, sucking at the pulse there.

“Kazuma- ah!” Kurama gasped.

So Kurama liked him kissing his neck then? Well then... that would have to happen much more often.

Kazuma dragged his teeth ever so gently across Kurama’s neck, sucking deeply upon the skin there as Kurama writhed beneath him, buttons flicking open as he finally finished with his shirt and laid a hand gently upon Kazuma’s bare chest. . Kazuma rubbed his bare back and waist pulling back as Kurama threw his shirt upon the ground-

“There. Now we’re even.”

Kazuma could not look away, utterly enraptured by what he saw before him.

Kurama was not incredibly muscled like Kazuma nor was he tanned like Urameshi. His slim form was smooth but dotted with the pale indentions of healed scars; a particularly thick one lay near his navel, as if Kurama has been pierced by a sword.

Kazuma did not know which sight was more captivating: Kurama with his hair up, or Kurama shirtless. If he saw both at the same time he might just have a heart attack. Mercifully Kurama had taken his hair back down after they got finished preparing dinner.

“What’s wrong?” Kurama asked, confused at the blank expression upon Kazuma’s face.

“I’ve just... never seen you shirtless before.”

“That can’t be true.” Kurama laughed.

“It’s, uh, definitely true.” Kazuma thought back, certain his memory was accurate, “We even joked about it once, Urameshi and me. During the Dark Tournament.”

“Kurama’s hiding a pair of tits!” Kazuma could hear Urameshi’s childish sneer ringing in his ears, “Why doesn’t he just take off his damn shirt? Give the girls something to scream about, that’s what I say!”

“Like you were hiding boobs under there or something.” Kazuma explained. Kurama was smiling, unsurprised at the remark.

“That does sound like Yusuke.”

“It was dumb. We were just scared kids.”

His hand was moving of its own accord, and suddenly he found himself touching Kurama’s bare chest. He felt the heart pounding beneath the skin, going so damn fast- was Kurama nervous?

Kurama was looking down at where Kazuma was touching him, as if unsure of what would come next.

But Kazuma held no answers, unable to keep from smiling as he stroked the smooth skin beneath his fingers.

“Wow,” he whispered.

He couldn’t stop himself; he grabbed Kurama tight in a bone crushing squeeze. Kurama made a choking noise, the air pushed from his lungs as Kazuma pushed them tight together with his balled fists behind Kurama’s back.

“I can’t believe I actually get to hold you,” Kazuma murmured into Kurama’s hair. Kurama could barely move, only able to stroke up and down Kazuma’s bare back with his fingertips. The movement made Kazuma shudder.

“Is it so shocking?” Kurama managed to say as Kazuma pulled back to kiss his neck feverishly.

“Yes!” Kazuma pulled back a bit further to kiss Kurama’s cheeks as his hands roamed over Kurama’s bare chest and back. He was like a kid in the candy store- he couldn’t stand it! “You gorgeous creature; I am not worthy of you,“ he said in a rush, his voice hot with need as he returned to Kurama’s neck, exactly where he’d been kissing earlier before Kurama removed his shirt.

“Kazuma—“ Kurama began, sounding pained, but Kazuma wasn’t listening. His mouth trailed over Kurama’s skin, now hot and slick with saliva. Soft tendrils of hair tickled Kazuma’s nose as his lips found the soft lobe of Kurama’s ear and closed on it gently. In such close proximity, the scent of the man in his arms overpowered him in the best possible way, both earthy and sweet. Trailing soft kisses against the underside of Kurama’s jaw, Kazuma reveled in the vibrations of sound that rumbled in Kurama’s throat. They signaled the last vestiges of protest collapsing into a strangled moan as he shuddered against Kazuma, knees quaking. His arms tightened around Kazuma, who was happy to support both their weight as he continued his fervent exploration.
Christ, Kurama even tasted incredible.

“K-k-“

Kazuma had never heard him stutter before.

They were collapsing onto Kurama’s couch, falling upon the firm pillows, legs tangling as their skins merged to become one living being. Kurama was beneath Kazuma, pinned into the couch as Kazuma pressed a trail of kisses down his abdomen. Despite his lack of experience and his horrific self-confidence, Kazuma took Kurama’s nipple into his mouth and was rewarded instantaneously with a soft cry as Kurama balled his fists upon Kazuma’s bare back.

Fortune favored the brave.

Chapter Text

The night had finally come, and the hour drew close to six. Kazuma prepared himself for what must inevitably come next. Yusuke and Keiko had been approached by Keiko’s parents earlier that very day, taken out for an enjoyable lunch date that lead to a string of other affairs Kazuma did not inquire about. It was their job to keep Yusuke and Keiko away from their apartment while their furniture was moved into their new home, and at Kazuma’s request both Yusuke and Keiko were now being told to dress up fancy for a surprise dinner event.

Kazuma himself felt rather...tight... in this tux, but it was required of the function and so he dabbed a small bit of cologne on his neck. Kurama had dropped by earlier with the deed to the building and the keys, resulting in a make out session that still had Kazuma’s heart racing three hours later.

He grinned in spite of himself. Damn, life was good.
Tonight was his night, the stars were shining upon him.
Tonight he was going to be the one to blow Yusuke out of the water, and wouldn’t it be sweet to see that look of total and utter surprise upon Yusuke’s face.

Eikichi slept on, unaware of the tension in the air as Kazuma heard a knock upon his apartment door. Checking to make sure that the deed, a spare invitation to the gala, and the keys were upon the drafting table, Kazuma left to answer the front door.

Outside Yusuke was in a tux, his hair slicked back and his brown eyes gleaming with great intrigue in the setting sun. Keiko was beside him, wearing a red evening gown with her mother’s pearls upon her neck. When they saw Kazuma was wearing a tux as well, both seemed quite surprised.

The jig was up, so to say.

Kazuma grinned and welcomed them wordlessly inside.

“Uh, there a reason I’m in this monkey suit?” Yusuke asked as Kazuma closed the door.

“Yeah.” Kazuma said, saying nothing more as the three of them walked into his living room.

“I have to admit, Kuwabara, I’m really excited.” Keiko gushed, “My parents tell me to dress for a special evening, then drop us off here, and you’re wearing a tux too? Are we all going out somewhere?”

“We going on a date?” Yusuke joked, winking saucily at Kazuma, “Cause I’m down for that.”

“Yusuke." Keiko admonished him, though there was no true irritation in her voice. Yusuke just grinned.

“As a matter of fact.” Kazuma said smoothly, picking up the invitation to the gala and handing it over, “We are going out tonight.”

Yusuke took the unopened invitation and looked warily at it.

“Open it," Kazuma prompted, and so Yusuke did.

As he folded back the crisp expensive paper, Yusuke began to read aloud with Keiko looking on over his arm.

“You are cordially invited to the grand opening of...” Yusuke broke off, a sudden laugh jutting past his lips, “The grand opening of ‘Yusuke’s’… hosted by newly instated designer and graduate of ADU, Kazuma Kuwabara at...” but Yusuke shook his head, no longer reading. He looked at Kazuma, incredulous.

“What is this?”

“It’s yours,” Kazuma explained, and without another word he handed Yusuke the deed to the restaurant. “It’s a wedding gift from all of us.”

Keiko didn’t seem to understand, but as Yusuke opened the deed and she saw the legal spread, she suddenly broke down.

“Oh my God!" Keiko blurted out, clapping her hands over her mouth.

“What the hell is this?” Yusuke demanded, unable to breathe adequately as he saw his own name upon the deed. “I don’t- what is this?!” His laughter and his smile were growing by the second. Kazuma adored it.

Yes, it was good to be calling the shots.

“I had to do a project for my senior portfolio." Yusuke’s mouth was wide open, and he was shaking his head as Keiko tried to control her tears, “To be an instated ADU designer. I picked the concept of a live-in restaurant, kind of what Keiko’s parents have. Except this bad boy is a bit bigger and... well.. designed for high living.”

“Oh my god, it’s a house!” Keiko wailed, “Yusuke, it’s a house!”

But Yusuke still couldn’t grasp the gravity of it, too blown away to fully follow.

“It’s more than a house,” Kazuma assured Keiko, “It’s a huge restaurant. It seats about three hundred people... and you own it.” He pointed to the paperwork in Yusuke’s hands.

“It's opening tonight. Me, Kurama, your mom, Keiko’s parents, Shizuru... we’ve all been in on it. Sorry we punked you, but you did screw us out of a proper wedding.”

Yusuke’s hands shook where they held the deed, his arms full of Keiko as she wept openly upon his chest, blissfully happy.

“Well, that’s... that’s just swell,” Yusuke finally answered, his voice bleak from shock.

“You fuckin’ deserve it,” Kazuma assured him. Yusuke didn’t have words.

“I should have kissed you sooner,” Yusuke said, his voice growing bold and brave as the weight of the situation finally began to sink in. “I’m gonna kiss you again! Right now!”

"Hey back off, punk!” Kazuma teased, but there was no stopping Yusuke as he reached up and kissed him merrily upon the lips. Kazuma jerked back at once, laughing in spite of himself.

“Knock it off!” Kazuma warned. Keiko was still too busy crying to care, laughing as Yusuke shrugged and wrapped his arms around her.

“But this- this invitation says that the party starts at seven! It’s six thirty!" Keiko managed between tears, wiping her face with trembling hands as she clutched the gala invitation to her breast.

“Well it’s only a few blocks away.” Kazuma assured her, but this just sent her into another wave of hysterics.

“Wait- that new huge building?! The one with the crowd out front?!" Keiko screamed, elated as she clutched the invitation harder to her breast, “With the patios and the live band playing?!"

“Yeah, that’s Yusuke’s,” Kazuma confirmed.
Keiko broke into a fresh wave of hysterics, sobbing openly into her hands.

“Baby.” Yusuke scoffed, taking Keiko into his arms to attempt to calm her down. To be frank it would be very difficult to jerk Keiko off her high at this moment but still Yusuke tried, rubbing her back is soothing circular motions as she wept into his shoulder.

“Dude, you are...” Yusuke was once again at a loss for words, “You are fuckin’ insane.”

“Yeah, I know.” Kazuma grinned, feeling rather high himself at the sight of his two oldest friends so blissfully happy. “Come on, let’s go.”

Both Yusuke and Kazuma were ready to get moving, but Keiko was still too wrapped up in her emotional turmoil to go.

It took several minutes for Keiko to compose herself, and by the time they finally made it out the door they had only seven minutes to get to the party. Keiko’s parents were waiting in the car below, blowing the horn and screaming their congratulations.

 

~*~

Kurama felt like a child waiting to surprise someone for their birthday, crouched behind an enormous fish tank with Yukina and Shizuru. The restaurant was packed with patrons, architects, and past graduates of ADU. There were even clients who had come to meet with Kazuma, milling about the room with looks of awe on their faces as they observed the glorious first floor.
It truly was an incredible place to behold.

Spacious seating on polished marble floors offered for an open aired dining experience that left one feeling at ease even in a high class restaurant. The hostess’s podium was backed by an enormous fish tank which helped to divide yet another area of seating; Kurama watched the fish he had picked out swim about their new environment, totally at ease in the party atmosphere. Kurama himself was far from easy, having invited Shiori to the gala at Kazuma’s request and wondering when she might arrive. This affair drained him considerably; he suddenly found himself wishing he were at home, curled up on his couch and reading. It was a selfish want, when Kazuma needed him here tonight to help him stay confident and poised. Kurama knew that by the time the party ended he was going to be dead on his feet, and had already called in to request the next day off from work. Mercifully, today was a Thursday.

 

Kurama should have known beforehand that there was no way to surprise someone with such spiritual awareness as Yusuke Urameshi, for from the minute he’d walked through the door with Keiko by his side and Kazuma right behind him, Yusuke had seen them all hiding behind the fish tank… and promptly lost his mind.

In truth, Kurama could not blame him. Such a massive restaurant was truly stunning if you weren’t expecting it. Tables laid out in fine linens and crystal glassware were a huge face lift from the cramped and humble noodle shop that Yusuke had kept near the Sapori metro stop. The ceilings were high and made of glass, showing an incredible view of the nighttime sky that was interceded only by large hanging lamps cut and designed to look like clouds. In the far corner a large silver money tree alluded to a more natural backdrop; fine leather seating made for a posh but cozy atmosphere.

Kurama knew this restaurant was going to make Yusuke a fortune.

Yusuke had grabbed him round the waist, swinging him so hard Kurama had been temporarily lifted off his feet as Yusuke cheered and jumped. His hair flew in all directions, and after several minutes of coaxing Yusuke back to his sense Kurama was put down upon his feet only to be swept up in another hug by Keiko (who could not lift him but tried). Kurama felt slightly under dressed, forgoing a tuxedo jacket to simply wear black slacks and a fancy white top, but he could feel Kazuma’s eyes upon him and when he finally lifted his own to face Kazuma’s gaze he found it full of love.

Admittedly, Kurama had unbuttoned the top two buttons of his shirt; he suppose he’d been trying to look ‘festive’ tonight. The action had not gone unnoticed by Kazuma.

Nothing went unnoticed by Kazuma. It was one of the many things that Kurama found so endearing about him.

Yusuke and Keiko desperately wanted to see the place and so Kurama had agreed to play the part of host as Kazuma kept up airs with his guests. So many people wanted to shake his hand, to ask him questions. Kurama was immensely proud of Kazuma.

That was something incredible about seeing a building on paper, walking around it when it was only halfway completed, and then hosting a party in it when it was ready for viewing. Kurama could suddenly appreciate every light fixture, every tile placement, as he lead Yusuke and Keiko to the very back of the restaurant where a small inner hallway holding only restrooms lay (or so it seemed). At the very end lay a locked door and a coding system. The code was simple: one-three-two-six, a hint at March 26th, Yusuke’s birthday. Once the door unlocked, a flight of padded stairs led straight up to a landing with a large sitting area.

“This is your work space, Yusuke-“ Kurama tried to explain, but Yusuke wouldn’t have it.

“Shut up!” Yusuke screamed, unable to comprehend what he was seeing as he looked about. This room was simple and straightforward, comprised of dark green carpets, large leather sofas, and a massive glass coffee table.

Like a child, Yusuke ran about the room, poking his head into the meeting room where an elongated glass window looked out over the packed back patio as well as well as his own personal office which was small but cozy; Kurama doubted Yusuke would ever use the room. He was far too scatterbrained to sit down and actually use an office like it was intended, but it certainly was a nice touch.

Of course, this only left the third floor, whose door was hidden behind a bookcase (eliciting another delighted squeal from Keiko). The flight up was much shorter, only six steps, and took them right into the living room of Keiko and Yusuke’s new home.

When Keiko saw their couch sitting upon the black lacquered wood floors, and recognized their worn coffee table holding an ornate flower vase full of lilies, she promptly lost control. Breaking down, she almost fell to the floor had it not been for Yusuke holding her up. Kurama could not blame her; not when the room was so polished and pure. Compared to their apartment, it was a high rise suite, an incredible step up for a newly married couple. It didn’t help that the kitchen had new appliances and marble countertops; poor Keiko was so over stimulated that she almost had a panic attack.

Kurama decided it might be best for Keiko and Yusuke to have a moment alone. He left them holding one another in their new living room, followed out by Shizuru and Yukina who had already started drinking and were delightedly pointing out every exquisite nuance of Kazuma’s first establishment. When they returned to the ground floor, Kurama had sought sanctuary in the dark hallway, wanting a moment before returning to the party with its packed dance floor.

A six piece band had been brought in to play; they were beginning their first number... a jazz piece from America.

“My baby bro sure knows what he’s doing,” Shizuru gloated as she observed the band, eyeing the liquor bar on the other side with great intrigue. Kurama was in the mood for a drink as well, slightly over stimulated. Had this been any other restaurant he would feel quite at ease, able to mingle with high society by simply outing on false pretenses and using a fake smile to get through most situations. But this restaurant belonged to Yusuke. This would be the setting for their Christmas parties and celebrations. It all suddenly seemed so much bigger to Kurama, swallowing him in its extravagance.

Was it wrong of him to miss that cramped little noodle shop and its ugly hardwood floors?

“Kazuma did such a wonderful job!” Yukina said, and Shizuru’s good mood became infectious as she reached over to kiss Yukina softly upon the cheek.

So it seemed that Yukina’s date the other day had been Shizuru. Kurama grinned wryly as he imagined Hiei’s scowling expression when he found out. Perhaps he wouldn’t mind; Shizuru was short tempered and preferred the facts to nonsense. Both were qualities that Hiei likewise possessed.

“I’ve very proud of him,” Kurama agreed, and the girls looked at him with a smile, “I told him several times that this place was going to be a success. I’m glad it paid off. Tonight is a night for him to shine.”

Kurama tried to hide the pride in his voice, but he doubted he did a good job as he caught Shizuru giving him a coy look.

“... Got something on your neck,” she said, pointing to the love bite delicately concealed by his collar. Kurama knew at once what she had spotted and attempted to re-adjust his collar but it was no use.

“It’s nothing," he said, but Shizuru just kept grinning at him.

Kurama finally relented after a moment of awkward silence, shooting her an irritated look.

“That's a hickie," she said.

“Well-spotted,” Kurama grumbled.

“My brother give that to you?” Shizuru asked. Kurama flushed as he shifted uncomfortably on his feet. Now he suddenly found himself wanting to get back out in the party if only to avoid Shizuru and her increasingly invasive questions.

Shizuru just smiled, totally at ease.

“I’m glad you two are together," Shizuru said. “He was really in love with you."

“I’m well aware.” Kurama did not want to continue this conversation, finding it far too personal for his own tastes. He quickly left the hallway before Shizuru could say anymore, and headed back out into the crowd.

He did not know why, but he suddenly wanted to stand with Kazuma. It was the strangest feeling, as if Kurama did not feel safe on his own anymore. He doubted Shizuru would ask any questions when he was standing right next to Kazuma. Then again, that might have been a pipe dream. The Kuwabara siblings were nothing if not confrontational.

~*~

Kazuma had found Kurama in the crowd, devoid of the others and insisting that he needed his space. It was utterly thrilling to shake so many hands and speak with potential clients while Kurama watched. Kazuma wished he could proclaim his love for Kurama to the entire crowd, to the world, but at the same time having it be a secret between them was utterly delighting. Every so often, Kazuma caught sight of the hickie hiding underneath Kurama’s shirt collar and felt his heart leap in his chest when he recalled his mouth there only three hours ago-

Kurama moaning beneath him, his legs buckling as he kissed Kazuma’s jaw feverishly.

Kazuma had been bold, squeezing Kurama’s backside in that encounter. It had been positively thrilling and he was fucking determined to do it again sometime soon. Possibly tonight... but he had a nagging feeling Kurama would be downright exhausted by the time all of this was finished. It would have to wait.

Kazuma was patient. He’d bide his time for a chance to grab Kurama’s ass again.

As the party progressed, Kazuma’s head began to spin. Both Keiko and Yusuke had returned downstairs and now Yusuke was behind the bar giddily pouring rounds like he owned the place (which was damn ironic because he did own the place). Keiko was entertaining, delighting in telling complete strangers that this very restaurant was her new home. Shizuru was by the bar at the moment, drinking scotch as she watched Yukina dance to the beat of an old jazz number. Yukina was wearing a dazzling white petal dress, twirling about as Shizuru watched with a curiously smug expression. In a dark mauve smoking jacket and pinstripe slacks, Shizuru looked quite dapper.

Kazuma would have to figure out where she shopped; he wouldn’t mind looking that nice.

His vain thoughts were dislodged from his mind however when he noticed someone very special walk through the front door.

“She’s here!” Kazuma suddenly said, and there was an unexpected lurch of fear in his heart. He knew her well, having attended her wedding and been in her son’s crowded apartment too many times to count. She wore a gown of dusky rose that sparkled in the candlelight, her shoulders covered with a loose fur shawl and her ears graced with fat pearls. She’d curled her dark brown hair, and her lined face was classically framed as her searched with coal lined eyes through the crowd.

“Who?” Kurama asked, still unaware of Shiori’s presence, but as Kazuma coughed under his breath and nodded in Shiori’s direction, Kurama looked around to find his mother wandering through the tight crowd.

Shiori was looking for Kurama, and found him by Kazuma’s side.

“Your mother.“ Kazuma was incredibly nervous now, his palms beginning to sweat. He wanted to make a good impression, to look worthy of her son; he knew how much Kurama adored Shiori, how far Kurama had been willing to go in the past to ensure Shiori’s safety.

“Oh-!” Kurama was taken aback at Shiori’s arrival, perhaps having not expected to see her until later when the crowd would dim at the late hour. “Right... um..” Kurama looked up at Kazuma, his sweet lips pursed tight. “Right. Right.”

Kurama was nervous too. Perhaps he understood Kazuma’s need to impress, because Kazuma was certain his own father was wandering about the crowd.

“Does she know?” Kazuma asked, gesturing a little between their chests.

“No.” Kurama shook his head, his eyes still on Shiori as she drew closer and closer.

“Do you want to tell her tonight?” Kazuma asked, unsure if that was even wise.

“No," Kurama admitted; it was probably for the best, for that was a private conversation after all.

“Right. Later.”

“Later.” Kurama repeated the word, breaking into a sweet smile as Shiori finally made it to their side.

“Shuichi.” Shiori threw an arm around him, kissing him softly on the cheek. “Did I come fancy enough?”

Kazuma was instantly captivated by her, by her serene loveliness. Kurama had inherited her social grace. She was a classy, he could already tell.

“I haven’t seen a prettier lady yet,” Kazuma offered, and Shiori waved him off with a sweet laugh. From over their heads, Shizuru's snide voice broke in.

“Thanks, bro,” Shizuru growled. Yukina was snickering at her side as Shizuru downed her scotch and glowered at Kazuma.

“That is very sweet of you to say," Shiori complimented Kazuma, and his heart leapt a little at her sincere smile.

“Mother, this is Kazuma Kuwabara. A... very close friend of mine. He made this place, and he also came to your wedding.” Shiori’s smile grew even wider as she reached out and merrily shook Kazuma’s broad hand. Kazuma had no idea why he thought about kissing her knuckles; she surely wasn’t expecting that was she? She was classy but she wasn’t from high society... right?

Kazuma was second guessing every action he took, terrified it would not be enough to impress her.

“Kuwabara, you’ve done an incredible job,” Shiori gushed. “I’m so amazed by your work. You’re a genius!”

“Well, I don’t know about that-“ Kazuma coughed, suddenly quite embarrassed by Shiori’s kind words. He gestured to Kurama, who raised an eyebrow.

“Shuichi was a big inspiration to me. He picked out the fish!” Kazuma added with a smile. He pointed to the large fish tank near the front, and Shiori observed it with delight.

“You picked out the fish?” Shiori asked her son. Kurama snorted under his breath, shaking his head.

“The fish are not the highlight--“ He tried to dissuade his mother but Shiori wouldn’t hear of it.

“I think they’re important,” Kazuma urged, and Shiori chimed in at once.

“They’re a lovely touch-“

“Can we please not make this about me?” Kurama snapped, causing Shiori to laugh softly. A waiter came by offering champagne, and she took a glass to sip it casually.

“Kazuma has accomplished something outstanding,” Kurama said. “I want to praise him for a change.” Kurama glared at Kazuma, though his eyes were soft and devoid of anger.

“Sorry, old habits.” Kazuma shrugged.

“Shuichi told me you were very important to him,” Shiori said, and Kazuma suddenly flushed bright pink as he looked up at Kurama. Had Kurama really said as much to her? But she didn’t know that they were together? “I’m so glad to see you shining in the spotlight. You deserve it.” Kazuma could not help but smile, “He told me you’re also friends with Yusuke and Hiei! But... is Hiei here, or Yusuke?” Shiori looked left and right, as if expecting the pair of them to pop out in the crowd.

“Well, let’s see,” Kurama said, looking over the heads of the patrons to find the bar in the back packed with people, “Yusuke is somewhere near the bar drinking his weight in Jose Cuervo; Hiei is not here. He unfortunately could not come but he sends his regards.”

“Oh, what a shame.” Shiori sighed, frowning at Kurama. “I miss him. I wonder where he is."

Kazuma wondered all of a sudden how Shiori knew Hiei and what Hiei had been like when she’d met him? Hiei was an antisocial prick, even at the best of times; Kazuma could blow his first impression clean out of the water if Hiei was the standard he had to live up to.

“Busy, from what I understand. Work,” Kurama supplied.

“Hiei’s got... a lot on his plate." Kazuma added, trying to throw some weight behind Kurama’s story.

“Yes, I know. The poor lamb.” Shiori made a small noise of discontent, but her sadness was quickly wiped away as she gave Kazuma another lovely smile. “I’ll be right back, I’m going to go congratulate Yusuke on his new restaurant and home! I can imagine he’s had quite a day! I’ll be back, though-" Shiori suddenly reached up and before Kazuma knew what was happening she’d kissed him sweetly on the cheek.

“Congratulations again, Kazuma,” Shiori used his first name, and his heart sang, “You truly deserve all the glory you receive tonight."

And she was gone, whisking off into the crowd like a lovely pink cloud that trailed a sunset.

Kazuma heard a tiny noise slip out of his mouth, though he was unsure if someone would classify it as a ‘squeak’ or a ‘whimper’.

“Oh god, I hope she liked me.”

"She loved you,” Kurama soothed, rubbed his arm endearingly. Kazuma took strength in the touch, one of the few physical signs of affection Kurama could show him in public.

That small moment gave Kazuma a sense of inner peace, but it was promptly shattered when a familiar merry voice called out to him through the crowd: Jiro had arrived. When it rained, it apparently poured.

~*~

Kazuma suddenly stiffened underneath Kurama’s fingers, but the answer to the unspoken ‘what’s wrong’ came when Kazuma nodded once more into the crowd.

“Oh, great, my dad’s here,” he muttered. “Shit.”

“Why are we panicking?” Kurama asked, looking around for someone that he might be able to identify as Kazuma’s father. He pictured a tall man, stern and proud like Shizuru, well dressed like Kazuma; he saw no one that matched such a description... at least, no one who was waving at Kazuma.

The man waving at Kazuma was tall and broad shouldered, with a dark ponytail and a pierced ear. He looked very much like a rocker in an alligator skin jacket and fashionable jeans. He was even wearing shades, despite the fact that it was nighttime and he was indoors. He was more of a youth than a father- surely not? But Kurama’s expectations were blown out of water as the man approached and Kazuma offered him a wry smile.

“He knows everything," Kazuma murmured under his breath.

“Everything?” Kurama asked as the man drew closer, noting the coy smile that he was offering Kurama.

“Everything. Even your real name. We gotta make sure he doesn’t use it in front of your mom-“

“We’ll just claim it’s a nickname,” Kurama soothed. He’d used the excuse before when Yusuke slipped up. Still, part of him was warily adjusting to the concept that this man knew everything. How open was Kazuma with his family?

“Dad!" Kazuma greeted, and they moved into a relaxed one arm hug as the man took off his sun glasses to perch them atop his dark head. With the glasses removed, Kurama suddenly found himself looking into Shizuru’s eyes, and knew instantly that this man was Kazuma’s father. He put on a small smile, watching intently as the hug was broke and the two men regarded one another. They even stood alike, both relaxed into a slight slouch with their hands barely tucked into their pockets.

“You came.” Kazuma seemed slightly surprised, but his father simply scoffed taken aback that his son thought he would ever miss such an event.

“Uh, yeah!” His father jeered, jerking a thumb over his shoulder and back into the crowd, “This party is swank, and my band is playing! How on earth could I miss this?” But as Kazuma shrugged and looked away, his father just shook his head.

“You did good, man,” Kazuma’s father urged, parental pride obvious as he nudged Kazuma’s shoulder and gloated. “You did good. I knew you were gonna light up the world when you got into your groove!”

Kazuma could not stop himself; he smiled wide and genuine at the hard earned praise. Kazuma’s confidence was so usually so low that to see him proud and happy made Kurama’s heart flutter. It was an expression, an attitude, that he wished Kazuma would know far more often.

“Speaking of getting into your groove-“ Kazuma’s father eyeballed the bar in the back, from which Yusuke’s gleeful voice was issuing.

“Shiori, you foxy thing, you! Lay some sugar on me!”

“Yusuke is gettin’ his party on, and I am about to follow.” Kazuma’s father was intent on getting drunk and Kurama certainly would not stop him (he looked to be the partying type) but before he could leave Shizuru was suddenly coming over with Yukina on her arm. Shizuru briefly let go of Yukina to embrace her father, allowing him to plant a whiskery kiss upon her cheek as she passed him a glass of scotch.

“Hey, dad.”
“Hey, Shiz-fiz.” He straightened the collar of Shizuru’s mauve smoking jacket. “You look gorgeous.”

They toasted one another wordlessly, downing their drinks simultaneously, and Kurama remarked at how similar Shizuru looked to her father. She might have even taken the jacket from his closet (it certainly looked like something he might wear).

“Funny story,” Shizuru remarked, hugging Yukina close who grinned entreatingly at their father, “This is the girl I’m seeing."

“Aha!” He seemed quite at ease as he took Yukina’s hand in one of his own, bringing it to his lips for a kiss that had Yukina scrunching her nose in delight.

“Charmed,” he said in a falsely snobbish voice; Yukina snickered as he let her hand fall. “What a lovely, lovely lady you are. What might your name be?”

“Yukina,” she greeted, bowing. “I am very pleased to meet you.”

But Shizuru wasn’t one to let a rolling ball drop, throwing a finger at Kurama with a malicious grin that spoke massively of sibling rivalry as Kazuma suddenly began to blush and squawk.

“And that’s the guy Kazuma’s seeing.”

Kurama smiled pleasantly, trying hard to ignore Kazuma’s sudden seizing fit as Kazuma’s father turned around and regarded Kurama with respect and, dare he say it, charm? After kissing Yukina’s hand, Kurama doubted that he was about to receive the same treatment, but as Kazuma’s father looked into his face, he could see another devious smile begin to grow.

“Kurama,” Kazuma’s father greeted him, and Kurama bowed his head politely.

“It is merely a nickname,” Kurama explained. “My real name is Shuichi.”

But Shizuru was leaning into her father’s ear, whispering into it as her father regarded Kurama with great intrigue. Kurama narrowed his eyes, wondering what on earth Shizuru was saying as her father began to nod. When Shizuru pulled back, their father gave Kurama another smile.

“Kurama between us,” he said, and he extended his hand for Kurama to shake. Kurama did so, still wondering what Shizuru had told him. “I’m Jiro; I’m with the band,” he joked, waving a hand at the packed platform where the swing band kept the party going.

To be fair, the expression could apply to Shizuru and Kazuma as well. They were a wild pair; no doubt they’d run Jiro ragged in their youths.

“After all the incredible things Kazu has told to me about you, it’s really nice to put a face to a name.”

Kurama wondered what Kazuma had said to Jiro; no doubt it had all been wild praise, none of which was deserved.

“I’m pleased to meet you as well,” Kurama said, putting on his most charming smile.

“Damn, Kazu,” Jiro broke off, taking a slight step back to regard Kurama further. “I gotta admit, you have caught one hell of a fish-“

“Dad!” Kazuma seethed, clearly worried someone might overhear his father cussing and hitting on a man twenty years his junior, “Would you cool it?”

“What?” Jiro was unfazed, clearly the source of Shizuru’s eternal calm, “Your boyfriend is smoking hot. Excuse me if I give a compliment or two. Don’t hate me for stating the obvious.” Jiro tutted his son down, but Kazuma just kept making irritable noises in his throat, glowering as he glared at the floor to avoid looking strange to passersby. It was difficult to have a fit of embarrassment at a social function where you were the star.

Kurama had heard it all before; he simply smiled and waved it off.

“Between the two of us, I’m really glad Kazu worked up the nerve to tell you how he felt,” Jiro admitted, and Kurama listened intently. “He was real strung out about it."

“Dad, can we please not-“ Kazuma begged under his breath. No one was going to mind his pleads for mercy at this point, but Kazuma still drug his feet, desperate for someone to change the conversation. Now Kurama could see why Kazuma had not been eager for his father to come over. It was not for lack of love, but lack of mercy.

“There really was no need for him to be strung out in the first place,” Kurama said, hoping his words might spark some enthusiasm back in Kazuma. “The feeling was mutual.”

Kazuma slowly looked up, the heat from his cheeks rolling off in waves as his expression fell into a state of neutrality. He looked as if he wanted to say ‘oh?’, but kept silent with his father and sister present.

Yukina looked quite intrigued by the whole display, keeping quiet as she swayed to the beat of the smooth band.

“I had a feeling,” Jiro said. “But you can’t tell him that. We gotta work on his confidence level.”

“I aim to raise it,” Kurama said. Jiro’s grin was infectious.

“Then you are a friend to me.” There was true camaraderie in his voice. Kazuma’s self-confidence issues were no doubt a point of concern to Jiro, who probably understood their root and cause. Kurama could appreciate the struggle that it took to make Kazuma admit he was worthy of praise.

“Now if y’all fine folks will excuse me, I’m gonna get drunk with Yusuke Urameshi.” Jiro grinned as he started walking backwards into the crowd, “It’s a great hobby, you should all take it up. Kurama, Yukina-“ He added as a parting thought, “I expect you both at my house for Sunday dinners. Adios!”

And with that cry, Jiro Kuwabara disappeared back into the crowd.

“Oh my God," Kazuma grumbled into his hands, still quite embarrassed.

“Dad knows about spirit world and demons.” Shizuru said, and Kurama suddenly felt his suspicions begin to rise to again. “I explained to him about your situation.”

"Did you?” Kurama said, quite wary of that information floating about (especially in the mind of someone who was close to getting drunk).

“He won’t say anything. He knows it’s private,” Shizuru assured him. But Kurama was not convinced. Shiori was still over near the bar. If Jiro let something slip, she might hear.

Kurama would not have that.

Yet before Kurama could say something to this effect, Shizuru gasped.
Her once rosy complexion was starting to grow pale, and she seemed to almost suffer from cramps, as she clutched her abdomen. For all intents and purposes she might have just gotten punched in the stomach. Kurama’s harsh expression faltered, concern blooming inside him as Shizuru touched her throat with a shaking hand and issued deep slow breaths.

“Shizuru?” Kazuma asked.

“Shizuru, are you okay?” Yukina reached up to put a hand on Shizuru’s arm, steadying her as Shizuru swayed a little on the spot. She looked like she might faint.

“... Something...” Shizuru swallowed before she could continue, “Something just hit... my senses.”

“Here, at this party?” Kurama asked, looking about for a source. Even when he focused his senses, he could not discern the source of Shizuru’s worry. Surely it wasn’t a false alarm; Shizuru was far too adept for such novice mistakes.

“No,” Shizuru confirmed, “But close by. Maybe... ten miles off.”

“A demon?” Kurama murmured, suddenly now realizing how vulnerable they were. Their entire group was in one location... if an enemy were to approach them now, where would they run to? How would they take care of the crowd, of their loved ones?

Kurama sought Shiori’s face, finding her at the back of the bar laughing with Yusuke who was refilling her champagne flute with a clumsy grin.

“Yeah, but-“ Shizuru shuddered again, a small bead of cold sweat beginning to trickle down from her brow. “That's not what...” She grimaced, clutching her abdomen tight, “Something’s not right.”

“Look, do I need to shut this party down and get Yusuke on the street?” Kazuma demanded, voicing Kurama’s inner concern. Shizuru shook her head.

“No, it’s... not like that. It’s not threatening," she said. At this, Kurama gave a small sigh of relief, “It's just... pain. So much pain.”

Yukina eyed a vacant booth near the short flight of stairs that lead to the hidden hallway and consequent upper floors. It was quite close to the band, but they were taking a break at the moment and the crowd was filtering away.

“Why don’t you sit down?” Yukina urged Shizuru to the booth, having to keep a tight hold on her arm as she swayed. Shizuru was taller than Yukina; if she fell, Yukina would not be able to catch her. Kazuma helped Shizuru along, and Kurama followed suit.

Sitting her down, Kurama spotted a random bottle of unopened water near the stage and grabbed it before anyone could see. He gave it to Shizuru who chugged it gratefully, pressing the cold plastic to her forehead as if fevered. She was sweating profusely now; Yukina helped her to take off her jacket.

Suddenly, their table was being approached.

“You must be so excited to get settled in!” Shiori was saying to Keiko. The pair of them were being followed by Yusuke, Jiro, and Atsuko Urameshi (who must have been hanging out near the bar to enjoy her son’s company), and Kurama kept a steady hand on Shizuru’s shoulder as Shizuru was hit with another wave of excruciating pain.

“I can hardly wait!" Keiko was babbling, as of yet unaware of the danger they were facing. “I can’t believe this place is mine! Mine!" she cried out, and suddenly she reached around to kiss Yusuke sweetly upon the mouth. “Yusuke we own a house!”

“A big ass house, baby!” Yusuke gloated, slightly drunk, “Woo!”

But even a drunk Yusuke could sense when a threat was being posed, and he looked down at Shizuru suddenly in alarm.

“Hey babe, what’s got you blue?” Yusuke asked. Keiko, still elated, suddenly stiffened as she saw how pale and shaky Shizuru looked.

Shiori frowned, her smile slipping away. Jiro was quite alarmed, having left his daughter only minutes ago well and whole.

“Nothing,” Shizuru managed to mutter through clenched teeth, “Something uh, touched my awareness. I’m not sure what it is." She caught Yusuke’s eye, “But it’s in pain, and it’s close."

Yusuke’s eyes narrowed as he looked up towards the door. Setting his half-finished whiskey down, Yusuke started to shrug off his tux., “Is it time to rumble?”

“No, not-“ Shizuru waved a hand haggardly and Yusuke stopped mid-tug. “Not like that. It’s not bringing pain. It’s in pain.” Shizuru corrected him, “It’s not a threat, whatever it is."

“... okay.” Yusuke shrugged back on his tux, still slightly tense, “Try and relax if you can."

Yukina was rubbing Shizuru’s back, gazing intently into her face for signs of pain or alarm.

“Your hands are helping me,” Shizuru whispered to Yukina. “Your hands always help me."

Yukina’s pale cheeks suddenly began to swim with slight pink, her red eyes locked on Shizuru’s face.

“Hey, Shiz-fiz,” Jiro murmured, reaching out to touch his daughter’s forehead for signs of a fever. “You just relax. Everything’s gonna be okay.”

He seemed to understand these kinds of symptoms; perhaps having raised Shizuru he had seen them before when her powers began to fluctuate. Maybe she was the reason that he understood about demons and spirit world.

“Oh dear, are you ill?" Shiori asked, taking a seat next to Shizuru. She perched herself timidly, unsure of how to help as Shizuru offered her a bleak smile.

“Sometimes I get a little light headed,” Shizuru whispered.

Even under stress and in pain, she was willing to keep up Kurama’s facade. There was something to be said for that.

“I understand completely,” Shiori said, and Shizuru’s smile became slightly more genuine as Shiori patted her leg. “I know it’s scary being up there in the clouds.”

“Familiar sensation?” Shizuru grumbled.

“Oh, heavens," Shiori sighed, trying for a small laugh that lacked any real humor, “Half the time I don’t even know where I am.”

Kazuma picked that comment up at once, looking at Shiori in alarm; perhaps he was noticing her pallid color, her bagged eyes-

“You’re not sick, are you?” Kazuma asked fearfully, his eyes jumping to Kurama’s face. Kurama kept his expression stoic with the greatest care as Shiori gave Kazuma a weak smile.

“It’s a long story, sweetie. Not one for tonight.”

Kazuma looked quite disturbed.

Shizuru suddenly winced aloud, taking several gasping breathes as she pressed her hand to her throat. Her pulse was no doubt jumping wildly

“Kazu- It’s... coming right for us,” Shizuru blurted out. “Whatever it is, it’s coming for this restaurant.”

“But it doesn’t want trouble?” Yusuke’s eyes were now locked on the front door; he seemed quite eager to go stand outside and await whatever Shizuru was sensing.

“No. It’s not trying to bring pain, it’s in pain,” Shizuru repeated, her voice shaky. Shiori didn’t understand, shaking her head as she looked at Kurama.

She must think Shizuru was suffering from a mental break down.

“Pain so intense it’s like... knives... digging into flesh, like blood is everywhere. I can feel its pain.” Shizuru shuddered audibly, “God, I'm so cold.”

Yukina just kept holding her, trying to ground her in the chaotic moment. The band was about to strike back up; no one seemed to realize that something was about to happen besides their little group.

“You need to focus. Focus on what it is. Try and eliminate all other obstacles-“ Yukina urged.

“I swear, Yukina. Something is not right. I can feel it in my bones.” Shizuru whispered. Yukina just kept rubbing her back, holding her tight so that Shizuru could draw strength from her presence.

“Where can you feel it?” Kazuma asked, pressing for details as another bead of sweat started to roll down Shizuru’s face. “Is it someone we know? Or is it like an event? Like a car crash or something?”

“It’s a..." Shizuru slurred, her eyelids fluttering, “It's a person. It's a person screaming in pain. Dying. Screaming for mercy from someone they love. Screaming for an end, from someone they thought would bring them life.”

Screaming for mercy from someone they love.

Kurama did a double take at that sudden slip of information, his heart skipping a beat. Could it be that Shizuru was sensing...? But surely not. It had been months now! Months since Hiei’s last stomach wound, months since his last argument. Surely he’d settled things.

Surely?

“Someone they love?” Kurama asked, his tone tense despite his mother sitting next to him.

“With all their heart. It’s like their heart is breaking. It’s scaring me to death. I can hear their thoughts like a tape reel in my mind,” Shizuru whimpered, trembling viciously as Yukina replaced her jacket upon her shoulders to try and warm her up, “They’re... they’re spiraling. They have nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. They’re open and vulnerable. They’re terrified.”

“Everything’s gonna be alright, sis,” Kazuma urged.

“Kazuma, something is wrong!” Shizuru blurted, her normally calm and placid brown eyes now bright with fear as she looked up at her younger brother. “Something is wrong and I don’t know what it is. It’s like I’m in a lake of ice.”

A prickling sensation suddenly flooded Kurama’s mind, a high shrill scream of pain laced with terror and misery-

Kurama looked over his shoulder at the door.
He’d felt it too. Something was coming.

“Kazuma, something’s coming,” Kurama said. “I feel it now."

Kurama did not dare look around at his mother, not when she was surely staring at him as if he were going mad. He would have to use something to curb her memory now, and he cursed his poor luck. He did not like modifying Shiori’s memory, but he’d already had to do it twice before to keep her under the guise.

And yet, there she was at his side, now looking towards the door with intense concern.

“Yeah, I feel it, too," Kazuma replied, and he rose up back on his feet. Scooting around their clustered booth, Kazuma and Kurama stood side by side, both watching the front door and waiting.

Five minutes passed, nothing happened.

“... It’s so strange," Shizuru whispered, and both of them looked around to regard her as she wiped her brow with a shaking hand, “It stopped. It’s like it died. Shit, I think whoever it was is dead.” Shiori was still looking at the door, still waiting.

Kurama opened his mouth to speak, but then-

Shiori’s sudden scream chilled Kurama to the bone, bringing about him a level of panic he did not know was possible as she clapped her hands over her mouth, her brown eyes wide and filled with terror.

“Oh my God!” Shiori screamed, “Hiei!”

Kurama whipped around. The sight that greeted him was something out of a nightmare.

Hiei stood in the foyer, his clothes tattered and burned to show broken and bleeding skin.

Blood, so much blood.

His eyes were hollow and empty, unseeing upon the crowd as he gasped shallow breaths through weakly-parted lips. Blood trickled from his lip and out of his ears, his energy so frighteningly low that it did not even register in Kurama’s own awareness.

Hiei could barely stand, could barely see, he had moved on pure instinct alone. On the brink of death he had returned to a place of comfort and calm. Like a dying animal, he had sought out the silence to end his life.

Kurama’s heart broke; he could only assume the worst had happened.
Mukuro had made her final attack.
Hiei had let her claim his body... too in love to put up a true fight.

A noise passed Kurama’s lips, a horrible aching noise that he hardly registered as his own voice.

This was not the Hiei that he knew and loved. This broken creature before him-

“I’m sorry, Kurama,” Hiei whispered, his voice barely understandable amid the terrified murmurs of the shocked crowd. “I tried.”

Hiei shook, his body wracked with a violent seizing fit.
He collapsed to the floor.

“Hiei!” Kurama shouted, jumping over the wrought iron railing that divided him from the foyer floor to sprint across it, skidding to his knees and crashing to a halt beside Hiei as he took him into his arms. Hiei was still and cold... it terrified him.

“Hiei, answer me!” Kurama screamed, shaking his best friend as hard as he could.

Hiei did not stir.

There were people around him, beside him, and at first he was afraid that someone was going to try and take Hiei from him. It turned out to be Kazuma and Yusuke, both of whom were pained in fright.

“Jesus god, is he dead?!” Yusuke blurted out, and Kurama heard the terror in his voice, “He- he can’t be dead!”

Kazuma pressed his head to Hiei’s naked and broken chest, listening intently.

“No, he’s breathing,” Kazuma assured Yusuke who let out a noise that was rather close to a whimper, “But barely.”

“I knew it!” Shizuru could not help but cry out, “I knew something was wrong!”

But as Kurama looked over, his face fell even lower to see Yukina staring at Hiei in horror. She looked ready to faint, her face even paler than normal as she stumbled over to Hiei’s side and dropped to her knees. Her hands trembled above his flesh, her movements unsure. It seemed she couldn't decide what to heal first. But she couldn’t heal him, not hear in front of humans. It was by the grace of God that Hiei’s bandana was on, otherwise everyone would have seen his Jagan and wouldn’t that have been fun to explain?

“Oh, Hiei...” Kurama whispered sadly, touching a particularly damning wound upon his abdomen.

Mukuro had used her signature punch. There could be no denying his attacker now.

“Hiei, what happened now?” Kurama blurted out, though Hiei could obviously not answer back.

“Now?!” Yusuke caught the word and glared at Kurama with such heated scorn that Kurama’s heart suddenly leapt with anxious fear. The crowd around them was getting louder, people were demanding to know what was going on-! “This is re-occurring?!”

Kurama didn’t know what to say to Yusuke. How would Yusuke take it if he knew that Hiei had been battling against Mukuro for months, steadily getting worse? Would Yusuke take it as a personal insult and seek out Mukuro for a fight?

Of course he would. Kurama knew full well how Yusuke felt about Hiei. Hiei was like family to Yusuke, and Yusuke was not known for turning the other cheek.

“We have to get him out of here.” Kazuma broke off Yusuke’s angry stare, looking about the crowd in nervous disarray.

“Probably sixty people have already called the police,” Yusuke snarled.

“Or an ambulance,” Kurama added, for blood was smeared across the threshold where Hiei had stumbled in.

“Oh, that’ll be fun!” Kazuma turned to Kurama, his tone angry though certainly not directed at him, “Wait till they try and take off his headband!”

Kazuma’s point was made, and Kurama did not resist when Kazuma pulled Hiei into his strong arms and lifted him up.

Shiori, Keiko, and Atsuko had all come over, leaving only Jiro and Shizuru behind as Jiro held his faint daughter comfortingly by the under arm. Shiori was horrified as she looked at Hiei, knowing him well from visiting their house-

How would Kurama ever explain this to her?

But it seemed Shiori understood the dire nature of the situation as she scanned the fretting crowd and quickly pressed a hand to Kazuma’s back to urge him onward.

“Upstairs!” Shiori urged, “Take him upstairs! You stand no chance of getting him out of the area, take him away from the public!”

Shiori was right. They had to move, and quickly.

“Christ, Kurama, he’s really hurt!” Kazuma’s voice was pained as he held Hiei with ginger care, “His body feels like he’s broken in half.”

“Come on-!” Atsuko urged, forcing her way through the thickening crowd and opening up a path from them as they headed for the hidden stairwell in the back. “Move, people!”

Move, they did; Atsuko could not be ignored.

“Who could have done this?!” Yusuke demanded, his voice thundering in the cramped hallway as their group moved in a single unit. Kurama reached the access panel first, punching in the code so that the door unlocked. Once it was open, he stepped aside to let Kazuma pass first.

Keiko broke away from their group, and Yusuke watched her go with alarm.

“Yusuke, take care of him!” Keiko urged, “I’ll take care of the police!”

“Babe, you are a treasure,” Yusuke crooned at once, grateful for the wary eye that Keiko possessed as Yusuke and Yukina both slipped upstairs. “I worship you! I suck your toes!” Yusuke shouted down the stairs at Keiko’s retreating back.

Kurama wanted to worry about Shiori, Shizuru, Jiro and Atsuko, all of whom would face intense questioning from the police when they arrived, but damnit he could not spare himself. He closed the door hard hearing the lock click back automatically, running up the stairs behind Yukina’s rapidly retreating back as they headed for the safety of the third floor.

Hiei had come to him in his hour of aid. Kurama would not deny him. Not when Hiei had already been denied by others so many times before.

~*~

Yukina kept her hands steadily upon Hiei’s abdomen, pushing in soothing rays of healing ki with constant vigilance as Kazuma paced and Yusuke studied Hiei’s face for signs of consciousness. This living room should have been filled with joy, with a party atmosphere and a sense of hope towards the future. Now it was like a deathbed, with Kurama and Yukina pouring everything they had into Hiei’s frail and battered body. Their goal was simple: keep him alive. If he made it through the night, he would live. If he slipped...

Kurama dared not finish that thought.

Hiei was as pale and still upon Yusuke and Keiko’s couch as he had been downstairs on the foyer floor. The only change came in the lack of blood upon his body as Yusuke carefully wiped Hiei’s bruised and broken skin. The bowl of water which had started out clear was now a murky red; it had already been emptied and refilled three times. He had lost so much blood. An impossible amount, in Kurama’s mind. How on earth had Hiei survived the passage into human world? How long had he been traveling in such a state? To that effect, what state was Mukuro in? Was she equally damaged, but hiding in demon world? God forbid, was she dead? Kurama did not believe Hiei would kill Mukuro, even on the most difficult day. Hiei adored Mukuro, to the point where his body became the consequential victim of her wrath. Kurama knew that on most days it was well deserved, that Hiei had a sharp mouth and was quick to scapegoat everyone instead of focus the blame inward. Mukuro had to be quick on her mark to make sure Hiei did not go overboard and spiral.

Yet it seemed that even with her love and help, Hiei had spiraled. Incredible, how little it had taken to push Hiei over the edge. Hiei was the image of strength, a pillar that none could topple, but he was positioned upon a ball of glass, so easily swayed or crushed. Kurama could see that now.

“How long has this been going on?” Yusuke asked. The lack of noise issuing from downstairs was disturbing. Either these walls were sound proofed or the party below had been effectively canceled. Kazuma just kept pacing, his hands over his mouth as he tried to keep himself together. Kurama knew Kazuma was close to saying something he’d later regret.

“Quite a while, from what I understand,” Kurama admitted. Yusuke gave him a murderous look, but Kurama would not budge from his position. He had had his reasons for keeping Yusuke in the dark, the largest of which was that Hiei would not have liked it if Kurama had told Yusuke there was a problem. Kurama would not dare to break Hiei’s trust.

“Explain,” Yusuke growled.

“For months now, Hiei has been coming to me secretly, offering me aid with regard to an unrelated issue. Every time I have seen him, he has been injured. Every time.”

Yusuke pulled back from the couch, rubbing his hands together in nervous habit.

“Is he being followed?” Yusuke asked.

“No,” Kurama said.

“Then how the hell is he constantly being injured? Surely he’d have killed the dick doing this to him by now-“

“Not exactly,” Kurama began, but even as he Yusuke opened his mouth to demand more answers, Hiei started to stir. Both Yukina and Kurama pulled back, unsure of what mental state Hiei would be in if he awoke.

When Hiei opened his eyes and surveyed them all, Kurama knew that Hiei was scared out of his mind. It showed in his eyes; all those layers of fear pushing to the surface from the increase in stress.

“Hello, Hiei,” Yukina whispered, timidly resuming her healing of Hiei’s abdomen. Hiei looked at Yukina, at where she touched him so lovingly; the fear remained in his gaze. He was afraid of his own sister.

“I’m alive,” was all Hiei said. He seemed amazed by that fact.

“Yes,” Kurama agreed. Hiei met his gaze briefly, but he lacked the strength or the resolve to hide his fear from Kurama. In others, such fear would prompt tears. In Hiei they only prompted hysterics and escalated paranoia. Kurama hoped that his next words would not rattle him too deeply, but already knew he was asking too much.

“It’s time you explained to me what happened,” Kurama said. “So I can explain it to Yusuke... so he can explain it to the police.” Hiei looked up at Yusuke who was leaning over the back of the couch to look down at Hiei with great concern.

“You arrived amid a very public event. It frightened a great deal of people, including our parents.” Kurama tried to keep the irritation out of his voice. It was not Hiei’s fault that his time of need had corresponded with such an important night. Hiei had had no idea of Kazuma’s project, or Shiori’s arrival. He had simply required aid and come to the source of Kurama’s energy. Kurama could not blame him for that. “We require answers.”

Hiei said nothing.

“... Did Mukuro do this?” Kurama tried again, gesturing to Hiei’s stomach wound which Yukina continued to heal

“Yes.”
Kazuma had heard enough.

“I don’t understand this!” Kazuma exploded, whirling on Hiei with such energy and volume that Yukina jumped from her place on the couch and Hiei’s eyes widened considerably. Kazuma was fuming, his frustration at the lack of truth obvious as he gestured helplessly into the air.

“Everyone keeps telling me that you love each other! That you’re practically soul mates or something! So why would Mukuro do this to you if she loved you!?” Kazuma snarled. “You don’t beat up someone you love! You don’t cause harm or pain to someone you care about! If she thinks that this is okay, that beating you up like this is normal, then she’s a fucking psychopath-“

Hiei lunged, a murderous snarl ripping loose from his mouth as he reached futilely for his katana so normally at his belt. But Kurama had removed his katana and Hiei’s hand grasped wildly at thin air as he suddenly doubled over in pain and cried out-

Yukina bore the brunt of it, catching Hiei mid fall and stumbling with him back onto the couch as Hiei bled all over her white gown and trembled haggardly in her loving arms.

“Woah, woah!” Yusuke shouted, quickly intervening to block Hiei and Kazuma from harming one another. Kurama did not know who to attend to, Hiei who was dying in Yukina’s arms or Kazuma who was shaking in a livid rage behind Yusuke.

“Kazuma,” Kurama warned, his patience growing incredibly short as he watched the blood drip from Hiei’s stomach. Yukina was trying to shush her brother, trying to push him back down onto the couch, but Hiei was furious and would not lay back. “Not everyone has lived as pleasant a life as you. Mukuro is not a psychopath, she is a product of her environment. As are you.”

Kurama’s tone turned gentle as he glanced apologetically at Kazuma. Kazuma raised his hands up in disbelief, prostrating himself silently as if to say ‘This isn’t right and you know it!”

Kurama did know it.

“Hiei, tell me what happened,” Kurama urged, his patience officially drained. He needed facts and he needed them now.

“Go to hell!“ Hiei spat back, hysterics taking over from a lack of places to run to.

“Hiei, you have to tell me what’s going on in order for me to fix this!” Kurama’s voice grew hotter. Hiei grew more panicked.

“You can’t fix this!”

“Allow me to speak with Mukuro and I can-“

“The answer doesn’t lay in your words-“

“Then whose words do they lay in, Hiei? Certainly not yours. This has to be the fifth time you’ve spoken with her and every time you return to me you’re just more injured than the last! What are you saying to her that is enraging her so much-!?”

“I’m not enough!” Hiei screamed.

Heartbreaking silence followed his words.

Yukina’s expression from behind Hiei reflected what they all felt: sympathy and assimilated pain. She reached out, trying to put a hand on her brother’s back, but Hiei jerked away. Her touch scalded him, scared him.

“I cannot do this anymore-“ Hiei’s voice shook with rage as he slammed a balled fist upon his own knee, his eyes burning with self-hatred and shame. “I cannot ruin- I never wanted to cause- but it’s all I can-“

But he could not speak, and his sentences remained unfinished as he took deep, quivering breaths.

Kurama looked at Kazuma, unsure of what to say; for the first time in living memory Kazuma was looking down on Hiei with sympathy and kindness instead of irritation and mild dislike. The change was unsettling, suddenly throwing a whole new dynamic on their relationship as Kazuma approached Hiei timidly (despite Yusuke’s frantic but silent gestures from behind the couch) and spoke.

“Of course you’re enough,” Kazuma murmured. “She... She loves you. And... you love her. How could that ever not be enough?”

Hiei could find no reply within him. Kurama kept his eyes upon Kazuma, afraid of what he might say next in such an important and rare moment. Hiei’s fragility was laid bare before them, his mental state like a breath upon a tissue paper as he waited to be torn asunder.

“That’s all that matters,” Kazuma continued on. From behind Hiei, Yukina quickly wiped her moist eyes. “Love is all that matters. So whatever you said or she did... it’s nothing compared to what both of you feel. So long as you love each other, what can stand in your way? Least, that’s what I think.” Kazuma’s voice grew timid as Hiei slowly raised his eyes from the ground and turned to glare at Kazuma with dulled rage.

“... Is that what you think?” Hiei whispered harshly. Kazuma did not back down, his jaw set in a grim frown as he gave one final jerk of the head in a resolute nod.

Hiei’s soft sneer was like acid upon the air. “Then you are an idiot.”

Kurama emitted a noise of shame, bowing his head in horror at Hiei’s words. “No, Hiei,” he whispered. “No.”

Kazuma seemed not to hear, or if he did he did not take notice, turning his head for a few minutes to gather back his self-confidence, which had been effectively shattered.

Kazuma thought like a human, who had done no wrong and believed in goodness for good people. Kazuma worked in the light and did not understand how it was that people in love could hurt each other and good men could die before their time. His gentility and kindness soaked into Kurama’s soul and gave him hope for the future, but in a moment like this when the heart of the dark was spilled upon the page, Kazuma fell short. He believed, truly, that love could solve the pain between Hiei and Mukuro.

“Love won’t fix it,” Hiei said, and the bitterness in his voice spoke to Kurama’s heart.

Love would fix nothing. Not between Hiei and Mukuro, not between Kurama and Kuronue-

Kurama sucked in a breath, the name bouncing across his skull as he realized he’d been thinking about his long dead partner. How long had Kuronue been on his mind and he had not known? How long had Kuronue been in Kazuma’s touch? How long...

Kurama put a hand over his mouth, suddenly realizing the fragile nature of his relationship with Kazuma. Of what its fate would unfortunately have to be.

Ultimately Kurama would suck out Kazuma’s light, as he had Kuronue’s. Kazuma would be left hollow and bare like Hiei upon this couch, or dead like Kuronue in a bamboo thicket stained with blood.

Kurama would not, could not, allow it to continue.

“Please leave the room,” Kurama blurted out. All eyes were on him in an instant.

“... Yusuke, Yukina... Kazuma.” As he said the same, Kurama’s voice wavered a hair. “Please leave the room.”

For a moment, no one moved. Then, Yukina stood up from the couch and wiped her hands, sticky with HIei’s drying blood, upon the lap of her heavily stained dress. Yusuke followed behind her, looking in dire need of a smoke break from the heavy stress weighing upon his face. Kazuma was the last to leave, his eyes upon Kurama’s rigid expression as he began to back out of the room. When he turned and finally reached the door, his stance was cold and his shoulders were set in anger.

When the door closed, Kurama and Hiei sat in cold silence, both their fists balled tight.

“... Forgive him, Hiei,” Kurama finally whispered. “He thinks he’s in love with me.”

Hiei looked away, unwilling to negotiate on such a tender matter.

“Of course, you know what it’s like to be in love, and be a demon,” Kurama offered. Still, Hiei said nothing. “Maybe that’s why I’m so worried about you. I don’t want you to hurt when you’ve already hurt so much.”

Hiei’s expression was shifting, his stoic calm breaking momentarily as his bottom lip twitched in a slight quiver.

“Tell me everything.”

Hiei did.

“...Mukuro’s second in command, Kirin, left briefly, and put me in... control of his position. When I felt your energy flare so dramatically, I left to... observe its cause-“ Kurama nodded, understanding what Hiei was trying to say: ‘I felt you hurting and I left to help you’. “I thought I could help you and do that moron’s job at the same time. He’s such a dense headed clown that I thought surely anyone could do what he does.” Hiei paused, his expression cracking again.

There, horrific emotional pain, quickly masked up before Kurama could comment.

“Something went wrong while I was away,” said Hiei, eyes burning as he looked away from Kurama’s face. Kurama understood that Hiei was trying to defend himself, trying to protect himself even now in this moment. The blame that Hiei could so easily lay upon another’s shoulders was suddenly turned back on him, the facts discouraging and plain before him. His absence had led to failure.

Kurama had led to failure. It stung.

“And you weren’t there to fix it,” Kurama supplied. Hiei said nothing to the contrary.

“Is Mukuro alright?” Kurama asked, a new fear suddenly springing to his mind that Hiei had not been able to arrive in time and Mukuro had-

“She’s peachy,” Hiei muttered bitterly, the word sharp on his tongue. “Enki decided it was his own fucking business to interject and... she was...”

Hiei shuddered a little, as if attempting to physically recoil from a memory.

“Furious,” Kurama murmured. Hiei gave one short nod, his expression as stoic as ever.

“She attacked you with her full power.” Kurama swept a hand up and down, Hiei’s battered and bruised body the only evidence Kurama needed. Mukuro was a powerhouse, and in her prime had been vicious in combat. Her fury unparalleled, Kurama could remember in his prime as Yoko when Mukuro had first come to power.

He’d stayed well out of her way. He knew when to avoid an enemy.

“She nearly killed you.” Kurama whispered. Hiei snorted, opening his mouth to deny it, but he could not. Not when his blood covered his sister’s dress, “Hiei... Let me speak with Mukuro and explain-“

“You will the stay the fuck out of this!” Hiei shouted, his voice going from flat to harsh as he suddenly pointed a vindictive finger at Kurama’s reproachful face, “Or I will murder you in your sleep-!”

The threat was an empty one.

“This is my fault, Hiei. You weren’t there because of me; allow me to fix it,” Kurama urged, but Hiei was just getting angrier.

“Fault?!” Hiei roared, eyes blazing as they fixed on Kurama’s face, “Fault?! This isn’t anyone’s fault, this is the truth! This is the truth, and she can’t handle it!-“

As Kurama opened his mouth to protest, he thought of Kazuma and how his heart would break if he knew the truth about Kurama.

And suddenly, Kurama understood. Sick tendrils of fear began to spread in his stomach, his own icy cold truth seeping through his veins.

“She has no fucking idea how much I deal with; she believes she can get anything she wants, that everything will turn out happily because she decrees it so!” Hiei shouted, misery pouring from expression though he just kept ranting. Kurama knew exactly how Hiei felt, thinking of how Kazuma constantly showered him in praise and seemed to forget just who Kurama was. “She’s slowly filling her grave by associating with me! I’m making her life more difficult. And it should stop. It needs to stop.”

Slowly filling his grave...

A face swam to the surface of Kurama’s mind, wild purple eyes and flying black hair, a broken in hat and a shoddy jacket- How long would it be before Kazuma was the one on the ground, bleeding to death in a bamboo thicket? How long before the painful parting, and the nights spent wondering on what could have been? Had he made a grave mistake in allowing himself to feel something for Kazuma? Had he gone too far, trod in a land where he did not belong?

Kurama had to put a hand over his mouth to hide his trembling lips, and with great resolve of will forced himself to smile at Hiei. Hiei was broken upon the couch, a lost and frightened child with no idea of where to turn or who to.

Kurama would give him direction, happily.

“Hiei... please,” Kurama whispered, “Listen to me. Go home to her and fix this. She is not out to get you, she simply doesn’t understand what’s happened. Hiei, she is probably terrified at your absence. She might even think you dead.”

Hiei looked away, his expression lost and searching as he attempted to dissuade Kurama’s points with petty internal arguments.

“At the very least, let her know you survived her assault.”

Hiei closed his eyes. Kurama watched him for a moment, praying that Hiei was listening, that Hiei would do as Kurama urged, but his heart leapt in fright as Hiei’s expression cracked and crumpled.

Kurama’s hand shot out to grab Hiei’s arm, holding it steadily; a physical object of support.

“All will be well,” Kurama whispered, though he knew it probably wasn’t true. “I swear to you. Do as I advise and all will be well.”

Hiei could not hide from Kurama, his only option to bury his face in his hands. Kurama allowed him it, knowing that even this bare covering gave Hiei some option of release in such a tense moment. Kurama knew what it felt like, to want to hide but to have nowhere to run.

“... All will be well,” Kurama whispered again.

 

~*~
Hiei needed to be alone, and Kurama understood that his time alone with him had come to a close. When he felt certain that Hiei would be fine on his own, he left Hiei to his own devices. Hiei could do whatever he wished in private, whether it was to scream or cry. It was not Kurama’s business; he had no urge to change that dynamic of their relationship. If Hiei needed something from Kurama, he would ask (physically or verbally). For the moment, Kurama needed to attend to Kazuma, and to Shiori, who was no doubt being heckled relentlessly by the police.

So it was that as Kurama went to the second floor and found it bare, he traveled down to the first to find it less crowded than before but with a whole host of different people. Flashing lights of blue and red filtered through the glass walls, making the restaurant look a little like a techno club, but instead of dancers it was packed with policemen, EMT’s, and party goers, all of whom wanted answers. Kurama would supply them, reaching into his hair to fish for a select seed. Sticking his hand in his pocket, Kurama began to pump energy into the little pod, soon feeling it swell, ripe with a pollen that would erase memories and ease troubled minds. Kurama had used this very plant on Shiori twice before, having to come up with excuses as to where he’d been during the Dark Tournament and his short stint in Spirit World Prison.

Kazuma, Yusuke, Keiko, Yukina, and Shizuru, were at the foot of the stage where until recently the band had been playing; Yukina was wearing Shizuru’s jacket, trying to hide the blood on her dress. Shiori, Jiro, and Atsuko were all speaking with policemen, each of them probably weaving a different tale as they tried to explain where Hiei had gone and what had happened to him to begin with.

“Kurama!” Kazuma called out, but Kurama shook his head, taking to the stage and grabbing the cold microphone.

“Get behind the stage. All of you,” Kurama ordered. Keiko and Yusuke swapped a concerned look, but Kazuma immediately began to push the others along, clearing the way as Kurama reached into his pocket, pulled out the pod, and threw it high into the air.

It exploded mid flight, and a white flash of powder suddenly captivated the babbling crowd. Everyone was covered in it, save for his little group sequestered behind the stage, and Kurama turned on the microphone to address his beleaguered audience, which was now looking about in confusion.

Shiori’s dazed brown eyes filled him with a sick sense of self hatred.

“What you just saw was a drunken pedestrian wandering inside from a prior dispute with an unknown assailant!” Kurama called out, his amplified voice booming over the crowd. The policemen watched, agog. “We do not know who he is; we do not know where he went. He is not associated with the owners of this restaurant or the architect of this building. He was a homeless nobody and he’s gone. He will not be coming back. There is no need for a police presence, or for an ambulance. You can return to your civic duties, they are not required here.”

Kurama pulled back from the microphone and flipped it off.
The crowd of police, having been so eager for answers only minutes before, were suddenly looking eager to leave; apologies were being extended as they slipped back from the crowd, hastily stepping around the blood trail coming through the front door. An EMT sprayed it with a chemical, wiping the blood away before someone else could step in it, but as they began to pull out a sense of normalcy was returning to the crowd. People were even laughing, joking at the nonsense of a homeless person stumbling in and out the door.

“The hell did you throw on the crowd?” Kazuma demanded when Kurama had turned to face his group.

“On our father?“ Shizuru added angrily.

“My own mother is in that crowd, lest you forget,” Kurama snapped, and Shizuru’s cheeks flushed red with barely repressed anger. “If you’re so eager for him to know everything, you can tell him yourself. That’s your own prerogative, and I won’t get involved with it... but the police had to leave, for Yusuke’s and Kazuma’s sakes, if nothing else.”

Kazuma certainly looked relieved to see the police leaving, loosening the tight collar of his tie as he let out a deep sigh.

“And what happened to Hiei?” Keiko asked.

“Yeah, do we get to know about that or are we going to be swiped clean of our memories too?” Shizuru drawled. Kurama glared at her, his normally calm face suddenly turning cold as he lost interest in monitoring his expressions. Shizuru took an automatic step back as she curled a lip in alarm.

He hoped she was beginning to understand just who he was.

“Hiei stretched himself too thin. He tried to do several jobs at once, and failed to procure Mukuro’s safety. Enki had to become involved, and Mukuro let Hiei know just how she felt about that.”

Kazuma was starting to shake his head. Kurama would not hear any more nonsense of love, or how lovers ought to act to one another. Kazuma did not understand. Kazuma was a human.

“I still don’t understand how anyone in love, anyone with passion in their heart, could do that to someone they care for,” Kazuma murmured. Keiko seemed to agree, nodding as looked from Kazuma to Kurama.

“I am taking Hiei home,” was all Kurama could say, stepping down from the stage.

“Let me go with you!” Yukina suddenly called out, breaking away from Shizuru to follow Kurama back into the hallway and towards the hidden stairwell.

“Yukina, that will only upset him further,“ Kurama warned, but his eyes fell upon the blood staining Yukina’s white dress.

“I love soap!”

Hiei’s cry of drunken joy as he clutched his sister’s loving fit to his chest suddenly swam to mind.

“... But I cannot deny how much he needs you.”

Yukina nodded.

“Well, that settles it, doesn’t it?” Yukina said, and the pair of them headed up stairs.

Chapter Text

In the lull, and in the gray, Hiei remained.

What Kurama might have used as a day off to recover from the party he now spent endlessly at Hiei’s side, keeping watch over him while he and Yukina worked in shifts to heal Hiei’s broken body. No amount of energy or stimulation could heal his broken mind, however, and as Friday slipped into Saturday, Hiei remained unconscious. Sunday came and went. Hiei did not change. Monday crept around, and Kurama made the risky move of asking to work from home, using his laptop and cellphone to conduct company business while he kept a steady eye on Hiei. Every so often, Hiei would moan in his sleep; a pathetic whimpering noise that should have never passed his lips. Hiei’s pride would not allow for such utterances.

If Hiei ever asked, Kurama would lie and say he’d slept without a sound.

Kazuma texted Kurama through the night, his concern obvious.

“Any change?” he would ask.
“None.”

“You okay?”
“Fine.”

“Should I come over?”
“Yukina has this handled.”

He’d feared at first that Yukina would soon exhaust herself, that she would use up her energy on Hiei and spare none to keep her own health, but Yukina just kept pushing through the night. The only sign of her exhaustion were the bags under her eyes, and the slight appearance of sweat on her brow. Kurama relieved her as much as he could (as much as she would let him), using compresses and teas to try and heal Hiei’s stomach which had received the most damage and was the most dangerous of his wounds. During these times Yukina would curl up on Kurama’s couch next to Hiei, and in her sleep she would press her face into the crook of Hiei’s bruised neck.

So strange, that they fit one another so well. Kurama could almost imagine them in the womb, intertwined with one another, their arms and legs a twisted singular thread. There could be no denying, when they lay next to one another and slept, that they were twins.

“....M...” Hiei moaned in his sleep as Kurama massaged a powerful salve onto Hiei’s stomach. Its smell was deep and herbal, making Kurama’s head feel light; he had to wear gloves when he applied this salve so as to keep it off his skin. It was potent when ingested, even in the slightest forms. “Mukur-“

Yukina reached up a hand from where it lay tucked between them, rubbing Hiei’s chest in a soothing repetitive motion.

“Sh...” Yukina whispered, never opening her eyes. Hiei fell silent once more.

“Any better?”
“No.”

“Really getting concerned. Should I come over?”
“Yukina is here. It is fine. Have this under control.”

“Are you okay?”
“Fine.”

“You know I love you?”
“Please do not worry about me, Kazuma.”

Kurama had been pestered like this once before in his life, hounded by a concerned voice that constantly asked ‘are you okay’ and ‘you know I love you’. At the time, Kurama had been vicious in his rebuffs, quite disgusted by the bizarre bat demon that worshiped the ground he walked on. Kuronue had been a pain, annoying him at every turn when all Kurama had wanted was glory and gold. Yet when Kurama had been injured in a heist gone wrong, and had sought refuge in a quiet glen, Kuronue had come to him and healed him.

Oddly enough, he’d used the same salve that Kurama was now using on Hiei.
Perhaps the memory of the smell was triggering these deep emotions within him. Perhaps he needed to use another medicine.

As Kurama sat with his back pressed against the couch, he wallowed in those memories. He thought of nothing but those violet eyes... of the blood that had stained that bamboo thicket.

Kuronue had adored him, and Kurama had used him like he was trash.
Kurama would never be able to apologize for that.

Hiei’s hand, limp as it hung from the edge of the couch, kept Kurama grounded amid the torrent of painful memories. He would hold that hand and remember all the good and powerful memories that he had with Hiei. Hiei had been his first and only partner after Kuronue... the first taste of demon world he’d ever known in human form. Hiei had come like a burning candle in the black of the night, lighting up the dark room in which he slept and reminding him of all the treasures contained within it. Hiei took no prisoners and no excuses, even in himself, and pushed Kurama to get back on his feet when Kurama felt like giving up.

Hiei was invaluable.

“... I know you came back... because of that night,” Kurama whispered, well aware that Hiei could not hear him as he spoke. Yukina was mixing a new salve, trying out a form of healing she rarely used in the hope that it might spark Hiei’s strength. She glanced at Kurama, but knew he was not talking to her. “Because you felt I would protect you.”

Hiei did not stir, his shallow breaths the only sign of life he emitted.

“I will not leave you, Hiei. I will not leave you,” Kurama assured him. He looked over at the hand which he held, remarking at how small it was in comparison with his own. Hiei’s fingers were shorter, but much stronger, worn down from the constant use of a sword and fire. Tiny grains of dried blood were underneath his fingernails and embedded into the lines of his palm.

“I will not leave you.” Kurama whispered; in a bizarre move, he pulled Hiei’s hand to his mouth and left it there. His warm breath helped to heat the cold skin.

Hiei’s fingers tightened ever so slightly around his own, a sign that Hiei was semi-alert.

 

It took more than a week for Hiei to fully recover, and when he did Hiei did not seem content to stay. Yukina had been preparing herself for it, stopping by a local supply store to gather tiny jars Hiei could carry salves in. The calm summer air was beginning to cool with the promise of fall soon returning, and Hiei stood on Kurama’s balcony overlooking the city. Night was approaching. It would soon be dark.

He could leave any time he wanted to now, but he stayed. Yukina was folding up blankets in Kurama’s living room, draping them over the back of the couch.

Both of them were putting off goodbyes.

When it seemed they could delay no longer, Yukina fetched a bag she’d brought with her from the supply store and walked out onto the balcony. Kurama did not interject, keeping silent as he observed the two from the doorway of his kitchen.

He did not know why a Robert Frost poem came to mind now, but suddenly Kurama’s head was filled with the words of a short but powerful poem that he’d read years ago during a foreign literature class.

“Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.”

Kurama had read far too many books. Now they were starting to merge into his social life.

“Well, I made you something,” Yukina said, setting her bag down on his patio table to pull out three jars of salve. She wrapped them in a white handkerchief, and Hiei took them to observe their contents closely. “So long as you don’t strain yourself, you should be alright.”

Hiei nodded, saying nothing.

Yukina reached into the bag and pulled out a dark cloth. When it fell open, Kurama smiled to see Hiei’s cloak. It seemed Yukina had repaired it.

“You left this here before,” Yukina said, running her hands over the delicate black stitches she’d sown, “It really needed repairs. So I fixed it.”

In a bold move, she wrapped the cloak around Hiei’s shoulders; Kurama marveled that though it had only fallen to his own thighs, the cloak went all the way down to the middle of Hiei’s calves and just graced the tops of his high boots. Hiei placed the salves in one of his cloak pockets to shrug it on. He allowed Yukina to button it back up, and she did so with dexterous fingers, her brow momentarily furrowed.

“That ought to help with the cold,” Yukina murmured.

Hiei was ever silent.

“Well...” Yukina looked back up, a bitter smile on her face, “Isn’t this the part where you say goodbye and run away?”

The corners of his mouth upturned, ever so slightly.

“It is.” His voice was hoarse from days of disuse.

“Then what more can be said?” Yukina leaned in and hugged Hiei. Her grip was not particularly tight, perhaps because of Hiei’s injuries.

Kurama was unfortunately privy to Yukina’s tortured expression, which Hiei could not see upon his shoulder. She was barely restraining tears, her lips quivering. She managed to return her face to one of calm as she pulled back, sniffing.

Hiei touched her face, his palm soothing and warm upon her cool skin. Yukina embraced the gesture, cupping Hiei’s hand in her own as she leaned her face into his fingers.

He could tell her now.
But he didn’t.

Hiei let go, and suddenly flitted away. The only thing he left behind was a displaced pocket of air, and a broken hearted sister.

Yukina’s face crumpled, her hand still close to her cheek from where she’d been holding Hiei’s hand only seconds before. She made a pitiful noise, and Kurama reluctantly entered the balcony to put a comforting hand on her shoulder. So long as she knew he was there supporting her, surely that would be enough.

Yukina sniffed, wiping way her tears before they could transform into stones.

“Is it wrong of me to wish he’d stay,” Yukina managed to splutter, her voice so haggard and chopped that it was several octaves lower than normal.

“No,” Kurama assured her. “Of course not.”

“One day...” Yukina promised herself aloud, “One day I am going to be with my brother. One day.”

“You will have endless days with him.”

~*~

 

Kurama could not stop thinking about Kuronue, even with the salve no longer filling his nose or Hiei upon his couch. It was as if a dam had erupted from within him, filling him with every painful memory that he had inflicted upon Kuronue. All the times he’d pushed Kuronue away or sneered at his emotional needs. Every moment that Kuronue had begged him for love, and Kurama had only walked away.

Kuronue returned every time, eager as ever to love him and help him. That beaming expression which used to irk him and bring him amusement now only made him sick to his stomach.

His phone vibrated upon his desk, and Kurama hastily wiped his face dry as he picked up the phone to see yet another text message from Kazuma.

“Hey, baby, are you okay?”
“I’m fine. Hiei is gone.”

Kurama sniffed, pushing away from his cluttered desk and standing up to head for the kitchen where he put on a kettle. Tomorrow he would be returning to work in normal fashion. He wanted to sleep deeply tonight, and knew an herb that would suffice.

“Yukina is here. She just filled me in. You coming tonight?”

Kurama had no idea what to make of the text as he looked at the calendar on his phone. Had he planned anything with Kazuma this night? It was the first Sunday of September... nothing was marked.

And then he remembered Jiro inviting him to Sunday dinner and he cursed himself as he hung his head. With Hiei and Kuronue on his mind, he’d utterly forgot about any human engagements.

Yet Kazuma seemed to understand as much as he texted Kurama again.

“It’s okay, I know you’re really stressed out. Don’t worry about it. Not a big deal.”

He even sent Kurama a smiley face though Kurama was far from smiling. Still, it was... strangely comforting.

“Thank you for being so understanding. I really appreciate it.”
“I just want to make sure you’re not mad at me or something.”

Kurama snorted softly, shaking his head.

“No. I’m mad at myself. I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Don’t be mad at yourself. You are my SUNSHINE.”

The text which might have made Kurama laugh before only sent him into another spiral of misery. Sunshine indeed, he certainly didn’t feel like the sun right now.

The pain in his chest only grew.

Kurama could not stop himself, a sudden awful sound burst from his mouth as he sank down, back against his lower cupboards. The trust that Kazuma put in him, the faith that Kurama would not harm him nor leave him wanting, was undeserved and would come crashing around Kazuma’s ears very soon. Those caresses, those kisses, those moments of utter ecstasy in his arms as Kurama allowed the stress of Shiori’s sickness and Hiei’s strife to melt away... Kurama had suddenly become very reliant upon them to deal with the pain he endured.

He felt hollow and empty, and realized suddenly how Kuronue must have felt every time Kurama left him wanting.

His sobs were heavy and loud, abysmal and broken as they slipped past his lips.
He couldn’t hold it in. His misery engulfed him.

~*~

It was damn incredible to sit in a building and know he had designed it. Yusuke and Keiko were settling in well to their new establishment, and Kazuma was glad to know that Keiko had decided to continue pursuing her career as a lawyer while Yusuke took full control over the restaurant. The power and authority delighted Yusuke, who suddenly had a whole chain of command underneath him to enjoy and use. To his credit, he kept his throne behind the bar and stayed there often. From the counter, Yusuke could watch the front door as well as anyone who might go calling upon his private office; a nice notch in the corner for someone who was an experienced fighter and liked to call the shots.

It was past midnight and the restaurant was closed, Kazuma sat at the bar quite miserable as Yusuke poured himself a drink from behind the counter. Kazuma kept his phone out on the counter, hoping that with every passing moment he might receive a text from Kurama.

It had been over a week since last Sunday. He’d heard nothing. Something was wrong, and he was determined to make it right.

“Sugar tits, what’s got you down?” Yusuke asked, ever aware of Kazuma’s gloomy mood as he threw back yet another shot of tequila.

“Nothing... I fucked up and I need to repair it,” Kazuma said, though for the life of him he couldn’t figure out how he’d fucked up. “I don’t know what I did but I gotta make it right.”

“Oh...” Yusuke murmured knowingly. “This is about your little sweetheart isn’t it?”

“Yeah.”

Yusuke seemed quite disturbed as he pulled out a second shot glass to pour Kazuma a drink.

“Wow, you are worried. I say ‘sweet heart’ and you don’t tell me to fuck off. This is on a level that requires my good Fortaleza..” Yusuke said, nodding to the tequila bottle he held. Kazuma silently toasted him and threw the shot back.

The burn was incredibly smooth; Yusuke knew how to pick his alcohol.

“So what’s up with him?” Yusuke asked, still completely unaware that they were talking about Kurama. Until he asked, Kazuma wouldn’t tell him. He had no idea how Yusuke would react if he knew.

“He’s real stressed, and mad at himself. I want to help him relax. I can’t get why he’s mad at himself. He’s done so much for everyone. He’s-“ but Kazuma cut himself off when he nearly said ‘He’s the only reason Hiei is alive’.

Yusuke was getting a sly grin on his face, filling up another shot.

“Well, I tell you what,” Yusuke said. “Suck his dick, and if that doesn’t work let me know.”

Kazuma choked on his alcohol, clapping a hand over his mouth as his cheeks burned wildly.

“Urameshi, you friggin punk!” Kazuma snarled; Yusuke cackled delightedly as he threw back a shot, “We’re not even on that level yet!”

“Someone moves slow,” Yusuke remarked. “If you were my boyfriend you can sure as shit bet I’d be suckin’ your dick.“

Kazuma groaned, wondering if Yusuke had a point. Was he moving too slow? Was that why Kurama was mad at himself? Did he think he’d done something wrong? Kazuma didn’t even know if he could give Kurama a blow job; that just seemed completely out of character for him. Yet the idea of Kurama giving him a blow job sent shivers up his spine.

God, if that ever happened he would probably have a heart attack. The idea of Kurama’s mouth- Kazuma had to stop mid thought. This was not the kind of mental conversation he needed to be having around Yusuke.

Keiko came out from the hidden stair well, her pink pajama bottoms dotted with embroidered cherries. With the restaurant completely empty save for the two of them, she seemed quite at ease to walk around with her hair up and moisturizer on her face. She had a coke in her hand, and as she came behind the bar she poured it over ice to top it off with a small bit of jack.

“What are you two talking about?” she asked.

“I was just telling Kuwabara that if I was his boyfriend I'd suck his dick.” Yusuke grinned lazily. Kazuma spluttered again, shocked (though not really) that Yusuke would admit such a thing. Keiko was unfazed, nodding in strange agreement as she smirked at Yusuke.

“I bet you would,” Keiko said. Yusuke winked and silently toasted her.

“How can you say that in front of your wife?” Kazuma demanded.

“Uh, because I eat her out like a fine dining experience!” Yusuke smacked his hand on the counter as Keiko grumbled under her breath, “On the clock! Check your watch, two and half hours from now, I’m gonna be eating her out. Set an alarm!”

Keiko threw a dirty dish towel at Yusuke, effectively muffling his lewd comments.

“You’re an animal,” Kazuma said, disgusted. Yusuke just laughed. Keiko gave Kazuma a knowing look. She knew how to handle Yusuke; she practically had a leash around his neck at times.

“I am not an animal,” Yusuke corrected him, “I am merely in love with a beautiful woman and open to express it. You should take a leaf out of my book.”

“I told you,” Kazuma warned, “We’re not at that level-‘

“Nah, hear me out.” Yusuke urged, shushing him with a hand, “4th and 23rd... ring a bell?”

Kazuma had never heard of anything by such a name, and shook his head.

“It’s this night club, over by Toskune road. You know the metro stop,” Yusuke assured him, and indeed Kazuma did. “It’s a pretty sweet dig, and I can get you in. The owner and I have dealings.”

At this, Yusuke leaned in, looking quite smug as Kazuma pulled back in slight fear.

“So what do you say?” Yusuke murmured, “Wanna go drinking with demons?”

~*~

“Drinking with demons?” Kurama demanded over the phone, his mind loosely on five o’clock traffic as he returned home from work. Kazuma had called him as soon as he had walked out the company door, and now Kurama found himself having a most peculiar conversation while combatting a deadly headache he’d earned from crying heavily the night before. He felt sore, as if his body had been ground into a bloody pulp by his emotions.

“That’s what he said,” Kazuma replied, sounding quite humored.

“Well, that is a very wild nightclub from what I understand,” Kurama said, for he’d heard of 4th and 23rd and passed by it once or twice during social functions. He did not go to nightclubs, simply because he had no reason to and found them relatively boring. “I don’t doubt that demons frequent there.”

“I think it might be fun. God only knows you’ve been working yourself to death. Please, allow me to treat you?”

“And what about you?” Kurama asked, for he knew that Kazuma was now being pestered left and right by hopeful clients. “You have several projects to complete, you can’t just push them aside to go drinking with me.”

“Yes, I can,” Kazuma assured him. “Easily.”

“And how is that?”

“Because you matter most,” Kazuma said, and the love in his voice suddenly made Kurama’s dark mood take a nasty twist. Driving along, Kurama noted a park and pulled off the road to sit in a vacant spot. During such an hour, people were eager to get home. No one was really walking about the park, save for an elderly couple and a teenager who might have been babysitting the young child in the stroller before her.

“Please, don’t say that,” Kurama finally managed. He tried desperately to conceal the pain in his voice, praying Kazuma would not pick up on it. He could be emotionless when he wanted to, stoic and unbending, but with Kazuma it had become increasingly difficult to lie.

Kurama did not want to hide from Kazuma. Not when Kazuma was the one he ran to to hide.

“It’s true,” Kazuma murmured, and it seemed he could sense the sorrow in Kurama’s voice because his tone had become very soft. “I’m not going to stop saying it.”

Kurama pulled his face away from the phone, taking several deep breaths to control his voice. When he put the phone back to his ear, he found Kazuma silent on the other end.

“Baby, I know you’re upset,” Kazuma said. “I can hear it in your voice. Please give me the opportunity to make you feel better.”

“I doubt this will help.” Kurama’s voice shook, and he cursed himself.

“At least let me try?” Kazuma asked.

“....Fine,” Kurama whispered. “Fine.”

“I’m gonna come pick you up around seven, okay?”

Kurama rubbed his face, noting that he had a little less than two hours to compose himself before Kazuma came and got him. He could do it, if he focused entirely on suppressing his pain. If all else failed he had a Xanax he could take, though he really didn’t want to. He had a feeling he would be drinking heavily tonight.

“I love you.”

There, so softly, so sweetly, and Kurama let his head fall upon his steering wheel. Without warning his horn sounded and Kurama jumped back, scaring the living hell out of himself. He gasped to gain control of his breathing, and had to pull the phone away again so that Kazuma could not hear his panic. He almost cursed at out, unable to get the image of Kuronue out of his head, saying the exact same words on a warm demon world night.

“I have to go, I’ll see you tonight,” Kurama rushed, and before Kazuma could interject he hung up the phone. He barely did it in time, his jaw ground down tight to hide the noises bubbling up from his throat.

He did not know who would die first from their union: Kazuma or himself.
~*~

Kurama was silent for most of the ride to the night club, the pair of them taking the metro to avoid driving home drunk afterward, and when they got off at their stop Kurama barely said a word. Kazuma, although at ease, was obviously concerned as he kept casting Kurama worried glances. Kurama kept his eyes straight ahead on the packed street, eager to get in the building and out of the eyes of the public. Tight spaces like this, where bodies pressed in on from all sides, made him feel incredibly uncomfortable.

The building at 4th and 23rd had a long line stretching around its side, but Yusuke had instructed Kazuma beforehand to avoid the line and go through a back door on the other side of the parking lot. As they stepped out of the crowd and into a narrow alley, Kazuma approached the slim side door and knocked firmly upon it.

An eye slit near the top opened and a piercing glare met them.

“You Urameshi’s friend?” a gruff issued from behind the door.

“Yep. Kazuma Kuwabara,” Kazuma declared himself, and the door opened at swung open at once. Kurama was unsurprised to find a demon on the other side, tall and imposing in the cramped dark hallway. Even from outside Kurama’s sensitive ears could pick up the heavy constant thud of bass.

“We’ve been expecting you,” the guard said. “Come right on in.”

Kazuma lead the way, and when the guard closed the door behind them they were suddenly plunged into hot darkness. Kazuma’s hand sought his own, and Kurama leaned into him at once, eager to be back in the light as soon as possible. When they emerged from the hallway they were (strangely enough) on the second floor. A bar was before them, growing fuller by the minute with demons and humans alike. The dance floor was below them, a basement area jam packed with grinding bodies as the blackness was cut with neon strobe lights. The bass was wild and loud in the air, techno and dirty music smashing and colliding in the air as partiers screamed and jumped.

Kurama eyed the bar with great interest.

“If I’m doing this, then I’m going to need to get incredibly drunk,” he warned Kazuma. “Are you okay with that?”

“Yeah.” Kazuma seemed quite jittery as he observed the crowd. This was not an environment for sober people. Perhaps he was having second thoughts. “I’m gonna get drunk too.”

“Good.”

They headed over to the bar and at once ordered drinks. Kurama did not play children’s games, heading straight for a 192 proof vodka and beginning a quest to get himself so drunk he could not think. Kurama did not drink often, having merely indulged in wine that night with Hiei because it was quite obvious that Hiei needed a drink. Now, however, in the dark with bass pounding in his ears and the eyes of several demons on him, Kurama needed to drink and quickly.

He needed to forget those purple eyes, and fast.

Kazuma ordered the same, and Kurama gave him a sympathetic smile as Kazuma threw a shot back and suddenly clapped a hand over his mouth.

“... What the fuck did I just drink?” Kazuma demanded. Kurama shrugged, taking another shot. “Baby, maybe you shouldn’t be drinking that stuff-“

Kurama threw back the fourth shot, and took a deep breath. Suddenly it was becoming easier to smile.

It was strange, sitting at this bar in the dark with Kazuma when he’d practically been avoiding him all week. Time was suddenly slipping past him as he allowed himself to take comfort from Kazuma’s presence. To soak it up like a dry sponge would leach upon water; when Kazuma’s lips found his own it dulled the aching pain in his chest. Song after song passed by, neither of them inclined to dance. They stayed at the bar, though for the moment Kurama was content with his four shots. The alcohol was rich and heavy in his system, coursing through his veins and making him feel brave.

He was surrounded by utter morons. He could entertain himself for hours in such a place.

Throwing back a fifth shot, Kurama looked around and chewed his lip, suddenly eager to destroy something.

A demon a few feet away was harassing a human girl who seemed quite eager for him to leave her alone. Pressing himself against her, he leered as she grimaced and tried to shimmy away.

Kurama’s fingers curved, a sudden vine sprouting from his hand. It fell to the floor, creeping across the room, and-

The demon suddenly gasped, knocked off his feet by unknown assailant as the vine wrapped around his ankles and bound him tight.

Kurama cackled, turning back to the bar for another shot. Kazuma was watching him with a disturbed expression.

 

“Did you do that?”

Kurama grinned maliciously, downing the shot. He looked around again, searching for another victim. The human girl hurried past, taking her escape route for the door.

“You’re mean!” Kazuma grinned. “I love it.”

“I want to get someone...else.” Kurama looked around for his next target. He found none available.

“Get me,” Kazuma slurred, and Kurama flashed him a delighted grin as he suddenly reached around and grabbed Kazuma’s ass. Kazuma gasped.

“Damn baby, you grab hard.” Kazuma laughed as Kurama pressed a kiss to the corner of Kazuma’s mouth.

“Hey!”

They were interjected upon by a demon, tall and broad shouldered, who looked Kurama up and down as though he were a succulent piece of meat. Kurama instantly began to laugh. What utter pomposity.

“What’s your name?” the guy asked, perhaps thinking Kurama’s laughter had been an invitation.

"No!" he scoffed, his voice so cutting that it actually hurt his throat. The demon, irked by his hard rebuttal, turned away at once with a scowl.

“Well, well, well,” Kazuma teased, “Where did those manners go?”

“Fuck manners,” Kurama cursed. “I won’t be taken upon by those-“ he waved a hand, “Mediocre creeps.”

But they didn’t get much time alone as yet another demon approached.

“Damn, girl.” His expression was even more ravenous than the last, and his figure was hulking with long claws. “You fine--“

“First of all-!" Kurama snarled, turning with such anger that the demon immediately took a cautionary step back, “I am not a girl!”

“You still fine!” the demon said, not put off in the least.

“He’s also taken,” Kazuma warned, and Kurama’s heart leapt up into his throat as a strong had suddenly came around his waist and squeezed hard. Those fingers, so powerful and smooth upon this hip, made his pulse flutter.

“By you?” the demon leered. “Not much competition there.”

Kurama had heard enough; a vine shot from his fingers, closing the short distance between the two of them to slip tightly around the demon’s neck.
“Should I kill him?” Kurama asked Kazuma lazily. “I could do it, you know.”

“No!“ Kazuma said at once, his grip tightening, “Kurama stop-!"

“Why not?” Kurama demanded, his tone hard as the demon struggled. The bar was too busy, too full of motion and activity for anyone to notice his predicament. “Have you forgotten how easily I can take a life?”

“That’s not who you are!” Kazuma snapped. “Let him go. He’s just some creep. He’s not worth it.”

Not who you are, indeed. Kurama flexed his fingers and the vine slipped away from the demon’s neck. It vanished, its energy dissipating entirely. The demon gasped, staggering back as he rubbed his neck in fear. He turned and vanished, no doubt eager to put a great deal of space between him and Kurama.

At the bar, Kurama sulked. He took another shot, wishing that he could drink himself to death as Kazuma pulled him a little closer. His hip was now pressed gently to Kazuma’s thigh. In his drunk state, Kurama could feel Kazuma’s length against his leg.

A dark, devious thought came to mind, but he crushed it at once. He suddenly wished he was home so he could scream and throw something.

Kazuma could see his expression darkening. He rubbed Kurama’s back with his broad thumb, his hand still firm on Kurama’s waist.

“Baby what the hell was that?” Kazuma asked. “That’s not you.”

“... Yeah?” Kurama whispered, the alcohol in his system making his lips loose. “You so sure about that?”

“Yeah.” Kazuma’s voice was firm and strong, “I am.”

His eyes bore into the side of Kurama’s face. Their gaze heated Kurama’s skin.

“Is that what this is all about?” Kazuma asked. “Is that why you’ve been upset? Are you thinking about stuff that’s happened in the past?”

Kurama suddenly tried to pull away but Kazuma wouldn’t let him. He held Kurama tight by the waist, pressing his face into Kurama’s hair as Kurama trembled beneath his fingers.

“Baby, none of that shit matters to me.” Kazuma urged him. “That’s not who you are.”

Kurama couldn’t handle it.

“Stop!” Kurama blurted out. “Please just stop. You don’t understand, you don’t know who I am. What I’ve done. All you know is what you see-“

Hiei screaming upon Yusuke’s couch, his face screwed up in a tormented rage.
Violet eyes brimming with tears; Kuronue on his knees begging for Kurama to stay, grabbing at his leg as he made to walk out-

Kurama turned in Kazuma’s hold and ordered another round, feverishly throwing back two more shots. When he tried to throw back a third, Kazuma put his hand on top of the shot glass and pried it away from Kurama’s hands. His grip was so strong that Kurama could not hold on, and without alcohol to run to Kazuma was suddenly far too close. Far too real.

Far too much like Kuronue.

“... You don’t need to be drinking,” Kazuma murmured. “Come on.”

Kurama could not pull away from his grip, and had no choice but to follow as Kazuma paid their tab and began to pull him for the same door they’d taken only an hour prior. As they stumbled back onto the street, Kazuma’s hand was the only thing Kurama could focus on. He suddenly realized the danger of throwing back ten shots of 192 proof vodka in rapid succession. He knew how to handle himself well, and in all honest truth was not so far gone that he would begin stumbling or retching, but his emotions were spinning wildly out of control. Therein lay the danger.

They took the metro back to Kurama’s apartment.

Once safely inside the confines of Kurama’s home, Kazuma let go of Kurama’s hand and finally allowed him to roam free. His eyes bore into Kurama, watching everything Kurama did as if waiting for him to trip and fall or burst into tears. Neither would be happening tonight.

It might be time to end this. To tell Kazuma to go home and find someone new to love. The thought made Kurama burn with a seething anger, a hot and ugly jealousy as he suddenly craved the warmth and comfort he’d found in Kazuma’s arms. Ironic that he should need it now to escape from the wary eyes of Kazuma himself. Kurama needed Kazuma to escape from Kazuma. How very queer.

He strayed past the sofa in his living room, his hand absently trailing over the wicker handle of Hiei’s gift basket. He still had yet to find something to do with it. Kazuma watched him, speaking up in the darkness as Kurama roamed aimlessly about the room.

“... Hiei healed up?” Kazuma asked.

“Yeah,” Kurama mumbled, his mouth still heavy with alcohol. “Yukina worked... very hard. We managed... we saved him. She saved him,” Kurama stubbornly corrected himself. “I knew she would.”

“Why did you take Yukina with you that night? If anything, I should have been here.”.

Kurama shook his head.

“Hiei needed her so much,” Kurama’s tone was broken, and he knew the ugly sadness within him was beginning to show. Kazuma was going to start getting suspicious but he couldn’t stop himself as he looked sadly out the balcony door. “I couldn’t deny him her love.”

“Deny him her love?” Kazuma said, sounding very confused. “What are you talking about?”

Kurama looked away.

For a moment a swelling tense silence filled between them, threatening to burst at any minute. When it finally did, Kazuma’s voice had changed. It was now hard, hurt and bitter from Kurama’s secretive stance.

“Something’s going on, isn’t it?” Kazuma said. “I’m not stupid.”

No, he wasn’t. He was incredibly insightful, always seeming to know without trying how to pull Kurama’s mind from the darkest places and placate all rational thought with his caring eyes and kind smile. It was a problem; a problem, because Kurama was less-equipped to protect Kazuma when Kazuma made him so very weak. The evidence was in the present moment, as Kazuma was beginning to realize what Kurama had known all along but had chosen selfishly to ignore – that their involvement had been a horrible mistake, one which would now cause Kazuma undue pain even though he had only gotten to this place by innocently and optimistically pursuing what he thought would make him happy.

 

“I’ve never said that you were stupid!" Kurama snarled, unable to control the anger in his voice.

In truth, Kazuma was too smart for his own good.

“But you won’t deny that something is going on behind my back,” Kazuma snapped. “We’re- what are we, Kurama? Are we boyfriends? What? Whatever we are, I think we have something really important going. I thought we shared everything with each other. But something is going on and you’re not telling me.”

 

But how could Kurama tell Kazuma, when he’d kept this secret for so long? And it wasn’t even his secret to tell.

His silence was just hurting Kazuma more. When he spoke next, his tone was cold and angry, “... You guys think I’m really stupid.”

“Kazuma-!” Kurama began again but Kazuma cut him off.

“What is it?!” Kazuma demanded, “Go on! Go on ahead and tell me! Or are you gonna leave me to hang and dry like you did when Genkai died? Let me figure it out on my own, and look like a fool! It’s all some big game to you guys, isn’t it?”

“That was not a game, and neither is this!” Kurama yelled, whirling around to glare at Kazuma. He found Kazuma’s face to be filled with an insidious rage, and it unsettled him to see it.

“It’s not my secret to tell!” Kurama blurted out, gesturing to himself helplessly, “The only reason I know is because I knew Hiei first, before we even rescued Yukina-!”

Kazuma’s mouth fell open a little as his brow furrowed.

“... Hiei’s got a secret to do with Yukina?” Kazuma said.

Kurama’s heart pounded in his chest, the alcohol he’d drank making his head spin as his breath came shorter and faster.

“I wanted to tell you,” Kurama was practically begging. “But I couldn’t. Not when you were in love with Yukina, and I thought you ... might... tell...her.”

Kazuma was staring at him with a growing rage.
He knew.

“Oh, God,” Kazuma whispered, touching his mouth as he turned away. Kurama looked down, bracing himself.

“They’re the same height, the same eye color- Jesus fucking Christ!” Kazuma screamed. There was a resounding crash as he grabbed an open book on Kurama’s couch and hurled it violently at the wall. It fell to the floor, hitting another stack of books, and papers suddenly went flying.

“Hiei’s her brother!” Kazuma blurted out, his voice a terrible and tortured thing, “Kurama! Look at me! Look me in the eye and tell me Hiei is Yukina’s brother!”

Kurama threw his hands up in the air, turning away. He couldn’t handle this pain, this rage, not when his own was spinning so wildly in his chest.

“We couldn’t tell you, Kazuma!” Kurama shouted back, his voice strained with fear; he dared not turn around now. “It wasn’t our secret to tell-“

“We?! WE?!” Kazuma roared the word, “God fucking dammit! Urameshi knows! Everyone knows! I bet even Yukina knows!”

Kurama would not lie to him. “Y-yes,” he stuttered.

“I was the only one,” Kazuma snarled.

“Yes.”

“For years! For all these fucking years!”

“Yes.” Kurama’s voice broke.

Kazuma could take no more. “Right,” he spat. “Thanks.”

The storming footfalls receded, and suddenly a panic leapt into Kurama’s heart as he ran into the hallway after Kazuma. As Kazuma grabbed the door to wrench it open, Kurama threw himself in front of it, blocking the way.

“Kazuma, wait!” Kurama begged, “You don’t understand-!”

“Oh, I understand!” Kazuma roared, and when he turned onto Kurama it was with such menace and loathing that Kurama could barely believe this was the same man who had held him so tenderly. It was like a different personality altogether, a hollow image of what had once been before.

It frightened Kurama senseless.

Kazuma pressed him hard into the door as he assaulted him with words, his breath hot and angry on Kurama’s face, his thunderous voice so overpowering that Kurama felt whatever was left of his heart would likely break:

“This is why I hate secrets! I hate them because I never know them! Because no one trusts me; because I’m stupid!”

“Kazuma, you are not stupid!” Kurama begged.

“You say I’m not stupid but then you go and pull this shit! You keep things from me!”

“I wasn’t trying to!” Kurama’s voice did not even sound like his own. This pleading tone... could it really be his?

“And what about that ‘small, private matter’? You think I can’t put two and two together? You think I don’t know how sick your mom is? I could help you just as much as Hiei, Kurama! I want to help! But, hey, I guess I’m too stupid and untrustworthy!”

“I deserve to suffer alone!” Kurama screamed, unable to bear the topic switching to Shiori, not when he was already in so much pain.

For a moment, a painful silence filled the space between them. Such an overwhelming, miserable silence it was that Kurama hated it more than being yelled at.

Kazuma was the one who broke it.

“... But does she?” he asked. His voice had dropped to its normal volume. For all the calm in his tone however, he could have punched Kurama in the gut with his words.

Kurama gaped, turning away, unable to face Kazuma. His breath was short and static, he could barely summon a reply.

“You don’t know what you do to people. How you make me hurt.” Kazuma’s voice was bitter, Kurama wanted to die just listening to it. He wanted to die from the pain. “For all the times I’ve said ‘I love you,’ have you ever said it back?”

Kurama bowed his head.
He knew the awful answer to that question.

“... I think you just let me in on another secret,” Kazuma whispered, pushing Kurama aside.

The sound of his door slamming made Kurama wince.
For a moment he could do nothing but stand in the hallway, leaning against the wall, filled to the brim with horrific pain.

Then, Kurama began to slide down, his knees giving out as he hit the floor.

The noise that came from him was inhuman, ugly and horrible. But even now, he knew what he had to do. He knew Kazuma was extremely angry, broken-hearted, and that there was only one person who could fix it.

Shaking violently, Kurama pulled his phone from the pocket of his jeans. It took him much longer than usual to open up his address book and find the right contact.

“Kazuma knows the truth about Hiei. Help him.” Kurama sent the text.

For five or so minutes, nothing came back.

“FUCK. On it. Thnx.” A sound response.

Kurama’s hands slipped from around his phone. It fell with a clatter onto tatami mats as he held his head low, another ugly sound escaping his lips.

Chapter Text

He did not know where he was going; he could not see for the wild anger spilling from his system. He stormed down the streets at random, kicking over several trashcans and bursting into wild sprints as he tried to make sense of his chaotic mind.

Hiei was Yukina’s brother, and it just made so much goddamn sense now.

Everyone getting antsy when Yukina mentioned her quest, Hiei’s bizarre behavior whenever Yukina appeared, Yukina seeming content and at peace despite not having physically found her brother and the strange look of mirth and terror on Hiei’s face whenever Yukina touched him. Oh, it all just made perfect fucking sense!

And they’d known. They’d all known! Urameshi, Botan, Keiko, Shizuru, Kurama... All of them laughing at him behind his back and watching as he blundered along, forswearing his devotion to Yukina’s quest when Hiei was standing right the fuck next to him. Had they compared him to an ape when he wasn’t around? Had they made bets about what stupid things he’d do next? Had they kept even more secrets from him and he still didn’t know? When would the lies stop? When would the barriers fall? When would they come together as families ought to and be open, be honest.

Kurama. Why had Kurama not told him?

The look on Kurama’s face, his pain and suffering so evident as Kazuma said such horrible things to him. How would Kurama ever be able to look at him again? How would they ever recover?

“Fuck!” Kazuma screamed, and with a burst of rage he turned to punch the first thing he saw: a tree. With three hard punches splinters sprayed into the air and the tree fell with an earth shaking crash; but it wasn’t enough, it still wasn’t enough! Kazuma went for a metal poll next, and punched it so hard he felt his knuckles begin to crack under the pressure. His physical strength accelerated by anger and spirit energy soon toppled a second victim, and the poll sang a deep low groan as it fell on its side to crash into the street. Sweat was now pouring from Kazuma’s chest, soaking his white shirt so that it was almost see through. His hands were burning, his knuckles throbbing, but it wasn’t enough damnit!

“Hey!” a voice shouted. Kazuma looked over his shoulder, unsurprised to see Yusuke Urameshi of all people standing there at the end of the street. A wind swept through the clearing, heavy with the promise of oncoming rain. Yusuke was in jeans and a baggy t-shirt, looking rumpled as if he’d just rolled out of bed though it was barely ten at night. He stared at Kazuma, fists loosely clenched, eyes relaxed and at peace.

“We wanted to tell you,” was all he said; it was more than enough to make Kazuma snap.

He charged forward; Yusuke met him halfway.

The feel of fists upon his flesh, powerful and perfect, was his lullaby. The song of his childhood calling him back to a time before demons and spirits had been prominent figures, before beautiful men with red hair had destroyed him, or crimson eyed ghosts started haunted his dreams. Here, with Urameshi, on a side street with a thunderstorm looming over head, Kazuma could belong. He could punish this man before him, break him with his punches and his kicks. He could destroy the pain inside him and pursue the truth with all the brutal honesty that his mother had bestowed upon him before she left.

“Destroy the lies,” he could hear her whispering from nights when she thought he was already asleep.

So he would.

“We wanted to tell you- for years!” Urameshi roared through the hailing punches, giving as much as he received. Kazuma could feel his chest beginning to seize and ache with the barrage. It was a beautiful pain, cleansing him. “But we had no choice! Hiei threatened us all- with silence! And you would- have fuckin’ known- ages ago- but you ran out- on that goddamn movie- that Koenma sent us- to catch the fuckin’ bus!”

Urameshi pinned him against a corporate sized dumpster, and the powerful impact dented the metal hull with an echoing din. Kazuma looked over his shoulder to where Urameshi held his right arm behind his back, ready to rip his fucking face off. So he caught the bus and now he was the butt of everyone’s joke, eh? Was that all it fucking took?

“You could have told me!” Kazuma snarled, “Any second after that you could have told me!"

“We thought- if you knew- you’d tell Yukina!” Yusuke snarled right back, struggling to control Kazuma’s bulging biceps, “Hiei didn’t want Yukina to know! He still doesn’t want her to know! He refuses to tell her!”

“Why?!”

“Because he hates himself!” Yusuke seemed quite honest in his admission, and it threw Kazuma off for a second.

“I deserve to suffer alone!” Kurama had screamed.

Did Kurama hate himself?

Yusuke took the opportunity Kazuma offered him, punching him hard in the face so that he suddenly was knocked away from the dumpster and back onto the ground. Kazuma rolled quick, dodging a powerful punch thrown by Yusuke that broke the concrete. Regaining his footing, he tried for a new assault, but Yusuke saw it coming and grabbed him by the arm, using the momentum of Kazuma’s sprint to launch him into the air. Kazuma twisted mid fall, trying to right himself, but Yusuke went with him. The pair of them crashed into the wooden boards blocking in someone’s backyard; they bounced off, falling back to the pavement.

“Now what did you do to Kurama to make him tell you about that?!” Yusuke demanded.

“I figured it out on my own!” Kazuma shouted, noticing the anger in Yusuke’s voice when he said Kurama’s name. So did he think Kazuma had hit him or something? “I’m not stupid!”

At the word ‘stupid’, Yusuke lost his temper.

He straddled Kazuma by the hips, his knees suddenly pinning Kazuma’s hands painfully down as he slammed his fists into Kazuma’s shoulders. Kazuma could not move and struggled pitifully against Yusuke.

“Look, I’m sorry for every time I ever called you stupid,” Yusuke snarled, “I know you’re not stupid. I know you’re smart. I wouldn’t have an idiot for a best friend!”

Kazuma breathed heavily, suddenly realizing how much his body ached. Yusuke had put him through a short ringer, slamming him around like a rag doll despite how Kazuma had hailed him back. Yusuke’s lip was split, blood dribbling down his chin, and yet still Yusuke did not look angry. If anything he looked... disappointed.

“... We wanted to tell you,” Yusuke said.

“Then why didn’t you?” Kazuma demanded. He hated himself for the pain that laced his voice, for the weaknesses within him now laid bare for Yusuke to laugh at.
But Yusuke wasn’t laughing.

“... honestly?” Yusuke replied, looking up momentarily with a bolt of lightning crashed overhead. It temporarily illuminated his proud face and Kazuma could see a bruise beginning to bloom deep and purple on his neck. “Because it never came up.”

That was the shittiest excuse Kazuma had ever heard and he issued a weak laugh beneath Yusuke’s pin.

“That’s the fuckin’ truth, man,” Yusuke snapped, looking back down at him with a brutal stare. “If you had asked I would have told you. But... Hiei was always around when we were talkin’ about Yukina’s long lost brother, and frankly, you always hated Hiei so much. We worried that if you knew you’d be too angry to remember to respect Hiei’s distance.”

Kazuma felt a sudden sharp stab of anger rise up in him again.
“I wish Hiei was here so I could beat his stupid face in-!”

“No!”

Yusuke’s voice was loud, and almost pleading in its tone. It completely threw Kazuma. Yusuke looked incredibly serious as he regarded Kazuma with slight apprehension.

“You can’t ever talk to Hiei about this, man,” Yusuke said in that same pleading tone. It was so strange, Kazuma had never heard Yusuke speak to anyone in this way before. “Ever. I’m serious. Don’t ever mention it to him.”

There, in his face, Kazuma could see it. The pain, the fear, the reason why they’d never told him.

Not because they didn’t trust him or because he was a fool, but because they were afraid he would speak to Hiei. Because they knew how open and honest he was... and were afraid Hiei would react badly.
Kazuma had assumed wrong, and Kurama had paid the price.

“Get off me,” Kazuma blurted out, emotion suddenly spilling from him. Yusuke did as he requested, and Kazuma jerked way, rubbing his bruised and battered hands together as he whimpered.

“.... You didn’t tell me... because you knew I’d say something?” Kazuma’s words were thick with emotion, impossible to understand save by someone who knew him as well as Yusuke.

“I’m sorry.” Such an apology was so rare an occurrence from Yusuke that it moved Kazuma to tears, and he had to look away as he felt them begin to creep from his eyes, “I’m sorry. That was... that was my fault. I should have told you the minute that I knew, but I was a stupid kid and I didn’t think you needed to know when you were in love with Yukina. I thought you’d look at Yukina and treat her differently. That was wrong of me. You’re better than that.”

Kazuma couldn’t stand it.

He broke down, clutching at his face to hide his tears even as his shoulders wracked with sobs.

“I said such horrible things to him!” Kazuma burst out.
Such horrible, horrible things. How could he ever forgive himself?

For a moment he simply sobbed into his hands, unable to face Yusuke. But as the moments ticked on and Yusuke remained silent, Kazuma’s sobs grew quieter. The moment of initial grief left him, leaving him in a guilty quiet that felt even worse.

“Kurama.” Yusuke said the name and Kazuma could not help but flinch. “Kurama’s the one.”

Kazuma looked up, his eyes red and bloodshot. He wiped his face hurriedly on his sleeve, attempting to regain some self-control.

“Kurama’s your boyfriend.”

Kazuma groaned, falling over backwards to lay back down on the cold pavement. He did not want to look at Yusuke just now; Yusuke gave him no choice as the sudden warm heat of a body next to him told him that Yusuke had gone so far as to lay down beside him on the concrete. What a sight they must have made, the pair of them lying in an ally like they were star gazing with a thunderstorm looming overhead.

“Am I right?” Yusuke piped up, “Is Kurama the guy you’re seeing?”

“Yes,” Kazuma groaned, just to get Yusuke to shut up. Then again, when had Yusuke ever shut up?

“So you guys went to that night club tonight?”

“Yes.”

“And I guess one thing lead to another and you ended up fighting.”

“Yes... and I... I said some horrible things.” Kazuma sighed, allowing his heated gaze to take comfort in the dark of the skies. Another fork of lightning flashed overhead.

He was suddenly very glad that he was lying next to his best friend.

“And at the club, oh my god!” Kazuma cried out, turning to look at Yusuke. Yusuke was watching him with rapt attention, his brown eyes calm and yet bright. It was like they were at a sleep over instead of hiding in an ally. “Kurama was drinking fucking varnish! It could have rubbed off paint, it was so strong! Spirytus, or some shit-“

“Damn,” Yusuke cursed in appreciation, “Kurama knows how to party.”

Kazuma could see Yusuke mentally logging that information for later. Another joke, another time.

“Oh, God,” Kazuma groaned, turning back to look up at the sky again, “I said such awful fucking things to him.”

“You were upset and hurting. It’s okay.”

“How did you even find me?” Kazuma demanded.

There was a rummaging noise, and Kazuma looked over to see Yusuke with his tongue between his teeth as he dug a hand into his pocket. When he brought his hand back up, he was holding his beat up cell phone. For a minute, he just tapped buttons, but when he showed Kazuma the screen he saw a text conversation between Yusuke and Kurama on the screen:

“Kazuma knows the truth about Hiei. Help him.” was all it said.

Even after all the horrific things that Kazuma had said to Kurama, Kurama had sought Yusuke out to help him. Kurama had thought of him in his moment of need, and had sent Yusuke after him to beat the crap out of him and lay with him in an ally.

Kazuma thought he might cry again, and looked away as a prickling sensation occurred at the corners of his eyes.

“Look, it’s okay,” Yusuke said. He sat up, dusting loose concrete off the back of his jeans as he turned to offer Kazuma hand up. “Come on, let’s go.”

“Go where?” Kazuma asked, a broken man even as he allowed Yusuke to pull him to his feet. “I- I don’t even know who the fuck I am anymore. God, why did I say those things?”

Images of Kurama were haunting him, the wretched pain evident on every inch of his perfect face. Pain that Kazuma had put there. Wasn’t it Kazuma himself who’d said weeks ago that lovers shouldn’t hurt each other? Hadn’t he been the one to preach to Hiei how Mukuro was a psychopath for harming him?

Well, what the hell was he, then?

“Come on.” Yusuke was pulling him along back down the alley way towards the street. “Quit beating yourself up. You’ll be fine.”

He did not know if Yusuke’s words held any truth, but Yusuke had led him out of darker situations before with the same attitude. He supposed that he ought to trust instinct by this point and pray it was enough.

Overhead, the sky finally opened up, and a heavy late summer rain began to pour.

~*~

Kurama had woken up in his front hallway from the sound of his phone vibrating on the tatami mats near his face. His head had pounded, his vision had spun, and as soon as he’d managed to stagger to his feet to try and get water he’d had to veer haggardly to the left in order to seek refuge in his bathroom. He’d ended up vomiting several times, his head pounding so hard he could barely see or think. He drank water straight from the sink faucet, but no matter how much he consumed he still felt thirsty.

When he finally found the strength to look at his phone, he found several missed calls from various people and a text message from Yusuke that read ‘Come to my restaurant. Need to speak with you ASAP’.

Fearing the worst after last night, Kurama had left for Yusuke’s.

Riding the metro was like riding a screaming freight train bound for hell, but there was no way he was getting behind the wheel in his current condition. He probably looked like an escaped mental patient, wearing dark shades to cover his burning eyes and his long hair an absolute mess about his face. He pulled it into a loose bun as he stepped off the metro, trying to look like he gave somewhat of a damn about himself (though the truth couldn’t be further from). By the time he had managed to exit the station, travel down the street, and arrive at Yusuke’s, he was about ready to vomit or collapse again.

He had no idea which one was going to happen first. Hopefully they wouldn’t occur at the same time.

It was only nine in the morning and the restaurant wasn’t open for another hour. Yet as Kurama approached the glass front doors, he saw Yusuke on the other side speaking with several employees. He clearly instructed one of them to open the doors for Kurama, and he was let inside.

“Kurama,” Yusuke greeted, raising a hand in font salut, “Come on over. Lay it down for me.” He followed Yusuke over to the bar where a bartender was restocking alcohol before the lunch rush, and as he slid onto a stool Yusuke went behind the counter to start preparing a beverage. Alka seltzer hissed and bubbled as Yusuke added ginger, coconut water, and other ingredients. Kurama said nothing, his head still pounding far too hard for him to talk.

“First of all,” Yusuke began, “Spirytus is for two occasions: birth and death. And now you know why.” Yusuke pushed the drink over to him. Kurama waved a hand to try and politely decline, but he nearly fell off his bar stool and had to stop waving at once.

“I am not drinking for the rest of my life,” Kurama whispered, his voice throaty and broken. He might have had strep-throat for how horrible he sounded.

“Trust me,” Yusuke urged, “Drink that.”

Kurama was too weak to put up a fight. He took the glass from Yusuke, swallowing a little bit of it; it was utterly disgusting but still he drank it simply so that Yusuke would leave him alone. He must look a disheveled wreck, and he wondered if Yusuke would ever let him live this down.

“So, I found Kazuma last night. He punched down a tree.”

Kurama could certainly see it happening; Kazuma had left in such a state that frankly he had been capable of doing far worse if he had wanted to.

“... He told me everything,” Yusuke continued on. He began to chop an apple, handing a piece to Kurama to eat. Kurama merely put it in his drink, unwilling to deal with the world for the moment. “About the argument and the night club; the fact that you two have been dating since January and told no one.”

He said it all so casually, but Kurama could tell that Yusuke was holding back a smirk. Kurama shook his head, wishing he could find a dark quiet corner to curl up in and die.

Yusuke reached out and slowly pulled Kurama’s sunglasses off his head. The world was incredibly bright, and Kurama grimaced as Yusuke set his glasses aside, looking quite pleased with himself as he smirked.

“Well, I have three things to say.” Yusuke began eating a slice of apple as he spoke, “For which I have called you here post haste. First...” Yusuke pointed a finger in his face and Kurama winced again, “Fuck you for not telling your friends. Because we love you and frankly, I’m really happy you guys are dating.” Yusuke bit off another piece apple before continuing on, “Secondly... you are fucking insane.”

Kurama had no idea how to take such a statement, but Yusuke’s tone took a turn for the serious as he leaned in and looked Kurama dead in the eye.

“I’m well aware of who you are, and what you can do. I know what power you have inside you. If you wanted to you, could bring down this building around my ears and rip Keiko to pieces in front of me. I know that. But guess what? So could I. I could destroy this entire city. I could blast Shiori into a thousand pieces. Now, would I?” Yusuke asked, and Kurama flinched as Yusuke whispered the next word harsh in his face, “No. I would not. And neither would you. When you were Yoko Kurama, you did not have priorities to protect or friends you cared for. All you had was yourself and your glory. I get it... you did shit that horrifies you. I understand that. I understand hating what you see when you look in the mirror, because I did that for years. Every day, I’d go to school, beat the shit out of my classmates and get into turf wars... and every night I’d come home and drink myself to sleep. Because the silence told me what a failure I was. It took me getting hit by a car and dying to figure out how good I had it.”

Kurama did not know what to say, so he remained silent. But Yusuke’s eyes were boring into his face, and Kurama felt his cheeks began to rush with blood.

“You feel me?” Yusuke asked.

Kurama was far from complacent on the issue. “I’ll aim for a hit and run,” he whispered groggily, contemplating if he wandered out into traffic how long it would take for him to get hit by a car.

A hand, powerful and hot, clamped down on his wrist. Spirit energy suddenly tingled through his flesh as Yusuke grabbed his arm, making his head spin with the minute release of power. It was incredible, simply incredible, to know how much power Yusuke possessed, to feel it rushing into his bones.

Yusuke’s eyes were boring into Kurama's face again. When he finally met them, he found them deadly.

“Don’t you go there, rose bud,” Yusuke said. “Don’t you go where we can’t follow.”

After a second of tense silence, Yusuke withdrew. Kurama’s wrist cooled and Yusuke’s eyes returned to their pleasant calm, a stony reminder of the beast that lay just beneath still surging through Kurama’s shaken system.

“... He was fuckin’ torn up about what he said. He cried for hours. He wanted to run back to you and apologize the minute it hit him... You do not deserve to suffer alone. No one does,” Yusuke added. When he spoke again, Kurama’s stomach flipped, “Shiori is sick, and that is upsetting to you. I know that because the last time she was sick you nearly killed yourself in front of me.” Kurama scoffed, hurriedly looking away lest Yusuke see the pain in his face. “So don’t try and tell me you’re handling this with grace.”

Little did Yusuke know that Kurama planned to kill himself again when Shiori died.

Kurama wished he could blame the migraine pounding through his skull when he felt the burning sensation in the back of his throat, but as tears suddenly threatened to fall he had to hurriedly rub his eyes. He did not want to weep like a child in front of Yusuke.

He did not want to weep like a child in front of anyone.

“How bad is it?” Yusuke asked, somber.

“Very bad,” Kurama whispered, taking the apple out of his drink and eating it before finishing the bizarre cocktail. “She told me back in January she had about a year. So... four months, perhaps. If we’re lucky.”

Yusuke looked down at the floor for a minute before nodding to signal he’d heard and understood.

“A brain-“ He had to stop, for what he thought was a laugh coming up turned out to be a dry sob and he instantly suppressed it. Yusuke heard the noise, and his eyes widened as he saw Kurama look away. “... It’s the exact same thing, Yusuke,” Kurama finally whispered. “The exact same thing. As last time.”

That strange mixture of laughter and tears bubbled up inside of him again; his mind was in shambles about his feet. He did not even know what he was feeling anymore, only that he was feeling too much and it had to stop.

“I’m losing my mind!” Kurama blurted out, hiding his eyes behind a hand as several tears spilled out. “I’ve tried everything. Hiei tried so hard to help-“

“That’s why he got beat up?”

“It was my fault that Hiei got hurt-“

“Okay, let’s be honest,” Yusuke said at once, a hand upon Kurama’s arm again though this time it was not in threat but in comfort. “Hiei has a smart ass mouth, and Mukuro doesn’t take his crap. You saw her at the tournament, Kurama, she tore his dragon in half. That is not a woman you want to talk smack to. I should know, I’m married to one of them!”

Kurama could not help but laugh. Yusuke seemed to draw courage from it and pushed forward with another joke.

“All I’m saying is, if Keiko and Mukuro got into it, I’d be deeply afraid, I would vacate the premises.” Yusuke grinned.

“Liar.” Kurama tried to a jab, “You’d defend her with your life.”

“Yeah, and Hiei would probably laugh himself silly,” Yusuke finished. Kurama smiled bitterly, wiping his eyes again, grateful that Yusuke had not capitalized on his tears or tried to smother him with affection. Yusuke had done simply what he did best: lead the way. Kurama would follow gratefully.

When Yusuke felt it was safe to resume a serious nature again, he did so.

“Kurama, this can be fixed,” he said.

Kurama shook his head. “It’s for the better. I’m not good for him-“

“I completely disagree.” Yusuke said, “And the proof is the roof over our heads.” At this, Kurama could not help but look around. He was struck with amazement again that Kazuma had built this entire place in his own mind.

“This was all him,” Kurama said.

“Yeah, but damn if he didn’t have someone incredible backing him up.”

Kurama met Yusuke’s eyes, shocked by the sincerity they found there.

Kurama looked down to avoid that powerful gaze.

“I can’t do this to him anymore. I’m hurting him, with every day that I... hold back,” Kurama whispered.

“Why do you hold back?” Yusuke asked.

“Because I’m going to hurt him,” Kurama said.

Yusuke paused, confusion upon his face as he did a double take, “You’re hurting him because you’re going to... hurt... him?” Yusuke’s voice went up an octave, unsure of how to take such a message. “That doesn’t make any sense.”

“It makes perfect sense,” Kurama whispered, he swallowed some ice from his drink, chewing on it thoughtfully.

“Are you gonna tell me you don’t actually care about him that much?”

Kurama looked up at Yusuke, and prayed that all he felt showed in his face. Such questions were we really unnecessary, in Kurama’s opinion. But Yusuke continued on.

“You threw yourself in between him and the door. You yelled at him. You tried to make him stay. You just don’t want to admit how much you care because the minute you do... the lies have to stop. The barriers have to drop.”

Kurama looked away, shaking his head.

“I know you, Kurama. You are terrified of letting people in. You and Hiei both. The difference between you and Hiei is that Hiei is afraid of getting hurt, and you are afraid of hurting someone else. But you’re not going to. You have to recognize that.” At this, he pointed at Kurama. Kurama wished that he could be the man Yusuke thought he was.

“I already have-“ Kurama attempted to begin, but Yusuke cut him off.

“You had a fight,” Yusuke corrected him. “So what? Big deal. I had a fight with Keiko thirty minutes ago cause the bitch wouldn’t move out of my way in the kitchen. It’s just what you do when you love someone. Think about Hiei and Mukuro.... She nearly killed him in her rage. What did Hiei do? ... He cried because he didn’t feel he was enough for her. He didn’t blame her for her punches or the damage they did. He blamed himself, for the pain he caused her. Right now, Kazuma Kuwabara is doubled over in grief... because he’s blaming himself for the things he said to you.”

Kurama flushed, unsure of how to take such a statement. Kazuma really shouldn’t be blaming himself for anything right now. He was the one who had gotten screwed over last night with ten years’ worth of lies.

“Go back to him,” Yusuke urged, and Kurama sighed as Yusuke kept pressing his point home, “Go back to him. Suck his face off; and while we’re at it, please, please... suck his dick. I’m begging you. Make me a happy man and suck his dick.”

Kurama scoffed.

“Thank you, Yusuke, for that trying sentiment,” Kurama replied crossly. “I will take that into consideration.”

“And you’re back to normal.” Yusuke grinned, winking at Kurama as he took away Kurama’s finished drink. Kurama watched Yusuke rinse out the glass, marveling at the man before him. Could this really be the punk teenager he had met so long ago? The same man who had been terrified of Toguro and dead on the ground in front of Sensui? It didn’t seem possible and yet it was.

It was truly wonderful, to have a friend like Yusuke.

“Alright, scoot scoot,” Yusuke dismissed Kurama. “I gotta work, and you need to go home, bathe, eat, and sleep.” Yusuke ordered. “Because you look like shit.”

“Thank you,” Kurama said dryly.

Yusuke winked at him again.

“... Thank you,” Kurama repeated, this time softer and sincere. Yusuke just smiled and shrugged.

“Anytime, rose bud,” Yusuke said. “Now scoot.”

Kurama did as he was told, taking his sun glasses and heading back out the door. It was an unfortunately bright day outside, and he had to put his sunglasses back on again as he crossed the street and pondered what he should do next. There was a bistro across the street from Yusuke’s that sold breakfast, and frankly he was starving. It might be smart to get some eggs if only to have something on his stomach that did not consist of Yusuke’s cocktail. He noticed large banners advertising the property for sale, and suddenly began to marvel at its beautiful hard wood floors. It was a small but lovely cafe, with raised seats and hand made wooden shelves laid into the walls that currently housed a collection of tea cups.

Kurama wondered at the possibilities for such a place; maybe it was Kazuma’s influence rubbing off on him.

He really didn’t like what he was doing now, working for his stepfather. If he wanted to be honest with himself, he might enjoy the prospect of starting up his own business, of working with plants to heal both demons and humans in need. He’d always found the job rewarding, but now he was battling with his inner will to live. If Shiori was going to die in a few months, then what did such prospects matter? What would the point be of buying a place and making it into a shop if he was going to die before the year was through?

Kurama wondered if any of it mattered anymore.

Yet as he ran a hand over the outer edge of the wooden shelves and wondered at how they would look holding herbs, he was approached by a woman in her mid-fifties who looked exhausted with a pink apron on. She smiled dimly at him, and he realized he was the only customer in the building. She must be the hostess.

“Are you looking at buying the shop?” she asked.

Kurama could not deny his interest. “Yes, I am.”

“Well, I own it. I just put it up for sale a few days ago. It includes both this floor and the house above it. Three bedroom, three bath, fully equipped kitchen and it’s right across the street from a really awesome restaurant,” she gestured to Yusuke’s across the street, “which put me out of business.”

Kurama winced, knowing Kazuma would have a heart attack if he heard such a story.

“It’s alright,” the woman said, noting the look of distress on his face. “I was thinking about retiring anyway. I guess I have no choice now. Want a tour?”

To be fair, he had nothing else to do... and now that he was seeing the shop more clearly, his headache diminishing by the minute, Kurama felt truly interested.

“Yes.” Kurama smiled, taking off his sunglasses and sticking them in his pocket. “Yes, I do.”

 

~*~

An entire week had passed since the disastrous incident at Kurama’s apartment, and Kazuma was beginning to lose hope that Kurama would ever speak to him again. For seven whole days, he’d heard nothing. No texts, no phone calls, no emails... it put him in a terrible mood, which was unfortunate since he now had clients calling him urging him to pick up their cases. At present he sat at Yusuke’s bar right before the dinner rush. The sky was pink and turning into a deeper shade of red as the sun began to set, and all around them tables were being cleared and re-set for the next wave. Keiko sat with him at the bar, going over one or two of her court cases while Yusuke polished glasses and restocked alcohol. Kazuma looked over client folders, wondering which one he should pick. Every now and then, Keiko threw in a comment.

“That one seems nice, a huge sky scraper...” Keiko offered, looking at the file Kazuma currently held.

“Tokyo location,” Kazuma mused, “I could use the publicity.”

“Oooh, call that one Yusuke’s too!” Yusuke grinned, setting the polished glass aside to pick up another one, “I want a chain of buildings named after me! A little army of Yusuke’s ruling Japan!”

“You’re completely insane, you know that?” Kazuma grumbled, never looking up from his folder. Yusuke just grinned cheekily, unperturbed by Kazuma’s grumpy mood. “I should have never named this restaurant ‘Yusuke’s’. I should have named it ‘Keiko’s’.”

“That’s okay.” Keiko smiled. “I forgive you.”

Kazuma chuckled a little. It was the best laugh he’d had in a week.

“I like my own case work better than restaurants anyway,” Keiko assured him. “At my job, I get to yell at people.”

“Ah, yes,” Yusuke sneered, “Your profession of choice.”

Keiko glowered at Yusuke only to turn away. She suddenly bristled, sitting upright as she looked out through the wide glass windows to gaze across the street.

“Um... Kazuma,” Keiko mumbled.

“Hmm?”

“Look,” Keiko said, pointing at the window. Kazuma looked over his shoulder, and at first had no idea what she was pointing at. But then, he saw, and an icy wave of dread swept through him.

There, across the street, talking with someone who might have been a realtor... was Kurama. He looked exhausted, in a simple white coat with his hair pulled back, and he was shaking a woman’s hand as she handed him over papers in a manilla envelope. He was standing out in front of a cafe that had recently been closed.

“Go,” Yusuke suddenly urged from behind him, “Go right now. Go.”

But Kazuma could not move, frozen to his seat.

“Why are you still sitting here?!” Yusuke demanded angrily. He took Keiko’s case files from her hand and smacked Kazuma hard over the head with them. Kazuma winced, hopping off his barstool at once. “Get moving!”

Kazuma wished he could have flicked the bastard off, but they were in a fancy restaurant and at least his father had taught him some manners. Shoving his files back into his briefcase, Kazuma trudged out the door, casting a glowering look back over his shoulder at Yusuke who was giving him two thumbs up.

Good for him, he thought this would go well. Meanwhile Kazuma was certain disaster was about to strike. If Shizuru had been beside him, she would have been doubled over in pain.

Crossing the street as soon as he got the light, Kazuma hesitantly approached the cafe that Kurama had entered, noting that it had incredible carved woodwork amid mostly brick and metal shops. The interior had been gutted, cleared away by the former owner. Now there was only Kurama inside, looking tired but hopeful as he spoke with the same woman who had been standing out front with him.

“It’s a prime location, and I’m very excited about your prospective plans! We need more natural remedies in today’s world. So much is being taken away by the pharmaceutical industry,” the woman said.

“Well,” Kurama’s voice filled him up, so soft, sweet, and beautiful. It had been far too long since he’d heard it, “I’ve seen the wonders of homeopathic remedies.”

“I hope you like it. It’s all yours.” She handed Kurama a key, and Kurama accepted it to pocket it. The woman turned, and at first Kazuma feared Kurama was going to turn around and see him, but Kurama just kept looking away. He didn’t seem to care whether the woman left or stayed. He was almost dazed and confused, his expression and posture vacant.

The woman passed by Kazuma on the way out. Kazuma watched her go, wondering who she had been and what had occurred in the week that Kurama had not spoken with him.

Kurama still wasn’t looking. The silence was stretching.

“... You bought a shop,” Kazuma spoke up, his voice incredibly timid in the quiet of the empty room. Kurama stiffened for a moment, turning his head only slightly. For a moment nothing was said.

“... I was tired of my day job,” Kurama whispered back.

“What are you gonna do with it?” Kazuma asked, leaning against the door frame and folding his arms over his broad chest.

“I want to make a place where people can come when they are sick. Humans and demons.”

“So you can heal them with your plants.”

Kurama nodded, never turning around. It was killing Kazuma, this horrible tension between them. He needed it to end, for something to be resolved.

“Are you gonna look at me?” Kazuma asked, a bit more brusquely than he had intended.

Kurama slowly turned around, and it was only then that Kazuma saw how haggard, how truly tired Kurama was. There were deep shadows underneath his lovely green eyes, and his skin was unusually waxen. He seemed thinner, as if he had not eaten well.

He could have been covered in dirt; he still looked like an angel to Kazuma.

“... I missed you,” Kazuma could not help but say. Kurama looked down, his hands clasped before him.

So much was said in that silence; so much pain and suffering.

“I was gonna head back to my place, and get some work done, but maybe we could talk instead?” Kazuma asked.

Kurama nodded, still looking at the floor. “If that is what you wish.”

 

~*~

The walk back to Kazuma’s apartment was a tense one. Not a word was spoken, and Kurama knew that when they arrived they would no doubt face another screaming match. For the past week he had barely ate or slept, so consumed with the sins of his past and the predicament of his future that human necessities became mere afterthoughts in his mind. He was exhausted and starving, wishing that he could eat a buffet meal and then fall asleep for a day, but the world never stopped turning and now Kurama had to somehow explain to his step-father that he was quitting his job to sell herbs.

He really should have thought this plan out better. It was abysmal, now that he observed it from a distance.

They arrived at Kazuma’s apartment, and Kazuma let them in. Kurama toed off his shoes, slightly nervous as he shrugged out of his coat. He took the deed to his new estate with him, following Kazuma down the hall and into his tidy kitchen. Kurama sat down at the table, unsure of what to do. Kazuma took the lead, laying his briefcase aside to fish through the cupboards.

“What kind of tea should I make?” Kazuma thought aloud.

“Surprise me,” Kurama murmured; he had no idea what kind of tea Kazuma even owned. He looked down at the deed, opening it up to scan through it one more time as Kazuma set a kettle to boil. No words were spoken as Kazuma made them tea, and when he returned to the table Kurama accepted the mug in humble thanks.

“Careful... it’s hot,” Kazuma warned him.

Kurama finished reading over the deed, well aware that the tea would be scalding for a moment or two. When he took the mug in hand, he blew across the surface of the liquid, disrupting the steam there.
“I’m getting better at recognizing herbs,” Kazuma said. “This is chamomile, right?”

Kurama took a sip of his tea. “Arsenic,” he replied, trying for a joke simply because he wished for something to distract him from the hell in which he lived.

Kazuma chuckled, and the deep rumbling sound caused something familiar and pleasant to stir in Kurama’s chest.
“Nice try, Kurama.”

Both their hands were on the table, and suddenly the familiar weight of Kazuma’s fingers was atop his own. It was a marvelous thing to experience, something whole and real after feeling pain for so long. “I love you.” Kazuma said, as an afterthought.

The words spiked an icy dread in Kurama’s chest, and he quickly tugged his hand away.

Suddenly that horrible silence was back between them; it was time for it to be faced with honor. No more hiding or loving pretenses.

“I think you do not understand who I am,” Kurama began, wary of every word that he spoke.

“But I think you’re wonderf—“

“I am irredeemable,” Kurama interrupted, and the coldness in his tone surprised even him. “A killer. A disingenuous fraud who has shattered countless lives. If you truly knew me, I can promise you that you would have no reason to say... that.”

Kazuma immediately bristled, growing angry as he began to shout: “Now, wait a minute! That’s not-!”

“Spare your breath!” Kurama snapped, his tone stunning Kazuma into silence. “I have no interest in arguing over facts!”

Kazuma watched him, wary.

“Shiori’s maternal instinct compels her to love this human body. Knowing the truth about me would devastate her, conflict her. But it should not conflict you.” Kurama could feel the air shift as Kazuma withdrew a little, horrified by his words. “Continuing to harbor feelings for me will only cause you pain.”

Kurama looked at Kazuma, and the sight of tears in those genial and adoring eyes sprung a leak of self-hatred inside of him that he could not stop. “You see?” Kurama gestured hopelessly. “I’ve even made you cry.”

He rose abruptly from his seat but even as he did Kazuma’s hand shot out and grabbed his wrist.

Suddenly Kurama could not leave, trapped by Kazuma’s iron grip. His heart was pounding in his chest, breaking him with every angry beat-

“Wait! Kurama, please,” Kazuma begged, his tone wavering but sincere. “I’m not... I’m not crying. See?”

He was wiping his own tears away, trying to appear strong; Kurama could not stand it, Kazuma’s selflessness drove him to even further depths of agony. How could he not see? How could he not understand? If he continued to love Kurama, all he would ever do was cry...

He would die from the pain. One of them would, Kurama was sure of it.

“You’re not gonna change my feelings,” Kazuma said, and there was such strength in his voice that it rocked Kurama to the core.

How could he still feel this way for Kurama? Knowing what he knew? Feeling what he felt?

“You’re not gonna change my mind. You think I don’t know you, but I do.”

Kurama trembled at those words. Those simple and loving words spoke that volumes of their prior friendship and adventures. Those words which assured him that he was not a killer, that he was not a monster.

His muffled breathes were upon the air, and he could feel Kazuma pulling him back, trying to get him to turn around. When Kurama finally relented, he could not hide the pain on his face though he tried to bite his lip and muffle his tears.

He did not want anyone to see him cry, but now he had no choice. Now Kazuma was witnessing his tears. But instead of making him week, they seemed to bring him strength. Kazuma pulled him in, and suddenly one of his strong, warm hands was cupping Kurama’s cheek, wiping away the tears there with his thumb.

“This is you,” Kazuma corrected him softly. “And you’re my favorite person.”

Kurama could stand it no more; he collapsed into Kazuma’s arms. He felt them encircle him at once, pulling him into a warm embrace that promised him protection and salvation as he wept into Kazuma’s shoulder.

“I think that is incredibly foolish,” he managed to grind out, so furious that Kazuma would not listen, so furious that he would not pay heed and run away.

So furious... but so grateful.

“I don’t care,” came the unrelenting response, the tears long gone from Kazuma’s own voice.

Kurama grabbed at Kazuma with his hands, holding him as tightly as he could, praying to God Kazuma would not let him go as all the agony from Shiori’s illness, Hiei’s predicament, Kuronue’s suffering, and his own terrible fears suddenly surrounded him like a howling wilderness. He was weeping now, gasping on deep lungfuls of air that left him trembling as he tried to find the strength to stand. It seemed to go on forever, there in that cozy little kitchen; a room that suddenly Kurama wished never to leave.

He wanted to remain in the quiet here, to draw strength from Kazuma endlessly until the world seemed a little more bearable again. He was weakened, on his knees before the cruelties of his own karma and fate... but if Kazuma was beside him, helping him to draw strength from the small bits of good he could find, Kurama might just stand a chance.

Kurama needed Kazuma. He needed to be held, to be loved, to be praised and cherished.

The fact that Kazuma did all these things slowly stemmed his wracking sobs; each breath was a little softer than the last.

After a moment, he felt like he was breathing normally though he was truly and utterly exhausted. He might sleep for ten years after this.

“... Are you okay?” Kazuma asked, pulling back slightly to look at Kurama’s face. Kurama did not know how he must have appeared, but he certainly knew how he felt.

“I have lived hundreds of years in total ignorance of what it was like to have this,” Kurama whispered. “Yet I have it now, and never asked for it. I certainly never deserved it. But I think if it were torn away now my life would be utterly barren. Devoid of anything good.”

He looked up and his eyes finding Kazuma’s face. Kazuma rubbed his back soothingly, his loving eyes washing over Kurama’s tear stained face with greatest care.

“What are you talking about?” Kazuma asked.

“You. Your love,” Kurama said.

Suddenly he felt the need, the urge, to confess every wrong he’d ever committed.

“There was this man I knew when I was Yoko Kurama... He was kind. He was kind and good, and he kept coming back even though I... I used him. I treated him like trash. I didn’t care whether he lived or died, but he cared. I was weak, I was in hiding, trying to ride out my wounds, and he cared for me. As if I was his lover, as if I was good to him. As if I deserved his love!” Kurama could not help but feel bitter, even as he pressed his face to Kazuma’s chest again, “He did everything right, and I never....”

Kurama had no idea what he was trying to say, so he started again, “I used him. He deserved someone kind and good and instead he got me because he had it in his head that I was something worth fighting for! And so he fought... and when they closed in on us, he staved them off long enough to let me get away. If I had had the opportunity to save him, I like to think I would have but... I know I wouldn’t have. Because I know who I was then. I know what I am capable of... even if you do not. You’re the just the same! You're just the same!” Kurama repeated, and suddenly the tears were back as he buried his face into Kazuma’s chest, “You don’t understand. You don’t see me for who I am. You don’t... you don’t see what I can do to you. You don’t see how unsafe you are. I love you. I love you and I am terrified for you.”

Kazuma suddenly pulled back, grabbing Kurama’s face as he looked him straight in the eye and-- smiling?

Kazuma was smiling, beaming even.

“... You love me?” he repeated.

Kurama was too shocked to speak.

“You just said you love me,” Kazuma said.

Kurama could not believe it. He turned away, slipping from Kazuma’s fingers and hurriedly wiping the tears from his cheeks, but Kazuma was upon him in an instant. He was laughing, of all things--laughing! As if any of this was funny!

“No, no, no!” Kazuma was grabbing Kurama from behind and holding him tight about the waist. He pressed gentle kisses into his neck, loving Kurama even as Kurama wished for death. “Wait... Wait. It’s okay,” he soothed. “It’s okay.”

But another laugh bubbled up from his throat.

“How is that you are laughing?” he snapped.

“Because I’m so happy that you love me,” Kazuma said in joyful disbelief.

Kurama buried his face in his hands. Why had he said such a thing? Why... Why?

“I can’t say it,” Kurama whispered through his fingers. “Not until I... trust... myself.”

“I understand,” Kazuma murmured into his hair, still pressing kisses.

“I need you,” Kurama admitted, and Kazuma’s arms were wrapping tighter around him, pressing them both together as if to merge them into one body. “I need you so much I could die from it.”

“You have me.”

Oh, how it rocked Kurama to the core.

He was shaking, utterly devoid of strength as he trembled in Kazuma’s arms. Kazuma could feel it, could feel how cold Kurama was.

“You’re shaking.”

“I don’t feel well.”

Kazuma pressed another kiss into his hair.

“Why don’t we lay down for a bit? You’ll feel better if you sleep.”

Kazuma’s words were golden, a solid and sweet promise of a bed in the very near future. Kurama followed like a lost sheep back to the flock as Kazuma lead him down the short hallway into his bedroom and softly shut the door. Eikichi was asleep on Kazuma’s desk chair; she did not stir as they neared the bed.

Kurama looked down at it, at how soft and lovely it appeared, and promptly fell into it. He did not care if he looked classless or boorish. He wanted to sleep, to close his eyes and never open them. Suddenly the bed was dipping with extra weight, and his heart leapt in his weary chest as Kazuma climbed into bed behind him.

He pulled Kurama tight to his chest, burying his face in his hair. There, still and calm, their heat began to merge and pool, spreading through Kurama’s veins and rekindling a sense of peace he hadn’t known in ages as Kazuma soothingly rubbed circles into his stomach.

He was falling, falling into that embrace. Falling into the gray, where only lovers could remain.

Chapter Text

Kazuma spent three days after that night with Kurama. He worked from his apartment, Kurama sleeping over, and the pair of them allowed their lives to intertwine. After Kurama’s admission he had been utterly exhausted, unable to decide who he was or what he wanted to be. Kazuma offered him no solutions, simply giving his support, and kissing away his worries whenever they surfaced. It became obvious to him now just how much Kurama had needed his love in the time that it had been gone. Kurama was weak, pallid and gray faced. Food was an obvious answer, but Kazuma decided it was his goal to rebuild Kurama’s vitality, to make those sweet green eyes glow again.

Kurama had decided to quit his step-father’s company, a move with Kazuma stood behind and fully endorsed as Kurama started to look into the concept of owning an herbal shop. Kurama certainly had the supplies to make his first move, but he lacked the ability to concentrate on the shop and remember to live well at the same time. This was where Kazuma came in, ensuring that he ate well and slept through the night. Suddenly his bed was their nest, and like two birds weathering out a storm they burrowed down together to hide from the world. There was no sexual intimacy between them yet; they did not need it to be whole. Their relationship was built not on skin but on trust, on the desperate burning desire to drown grief with love.

Shiori was confused at Kurama’s move, as Kurama had led her to believe that he was happy working for his step-father. Sensing an upheaval in her son’s life, Shiori had called and offered to take him dinner. But during that conversation, Kurama had looked at Kazuma from across the living room where he poured over client files in his boxers, and instead made a decision that would prompt a terrified panic in Kazuma: Kurama would make Shiori a homemade dinner in Kazuma’s apartment, and during that visit tell Shiori about their relationship.

It was impossible for Kazuma to feel entirely satisfied with his apartment, even when he cleaned it from top to bottom twice. Kurama was making a traditional Japanese meal, something he felt his mother would enjoy. Kazuma bought a nicely scented candle, hoping to make his apartment smell better (there were downsides to living with a cat), and had nearly bought flowers as well before Kurama had halted him in his tracks with a burst of laughter before producing exotic flowers right in the palm of his hand for Kazuma to put in a vase. Admittedly, looking back, it had been a silly thing to think of doing. He supposed he would never have to buy flowers again - yet another perk of being in love with Kurama.

When the clock neared six thirty Saturday night, Kazuma flitted about in an anxious panic. He was certain he’d left something out, that something wouldn’t be clean or something dirty would be showing, and Shiori would think him unfit for her son. He’d dressed as nice as he dared, seeing as Kurama was simply in beige slacks and a white button down, but he still felt like a slob for some reason. Kurama was preparing dinner, stirring the miso soup cautiously as he cast a glance over his shoulder at Kazuma who continued to pace.

“It’s fine,” Kurama soothed him, though he’d made no sound of alarm.

“It’s not fine,” Kazuma said. He was certain sweat was dripping down his face. Was it hot in here or was it just him? “This place is a wreck and I look like trash, and-“ But even as he made to insult himself some more, Kurama abandoned the miso soup to sweep himself into Kazuma’s arms and place the most tender of kisses upon his fevered mouth.

The silence that followed made Kazuma’s heart flutter momentarily.
“It’s fine,” Kurama repeated, kissing him one more time for posterity’s sake.

There came a knock at the door.

“Are you certain you want to tell her tonight?” Kazuma asked, heading with Kurama down the hallway and towards the door.

“Yes,” Kurama said, “But let me do it.” He looked over his shoulder one last time, smiling hesitantly at Kazuma. “And remember, Shuichi.”

“Shuichi,” Kazuma repeated, determined not to slip up once. Grateful for his cooperation, Kurama kissed him again.

He turned back to the door, and reached out to open it.

Shiori was looking the opposite way, scanning Kazuma’s neighboring apartments, but turned back around promptly to beam at her son as she stepped inside and wrapped her arms around his neck. Kazuma saw a flash of an IV pinned to her arm with hospital tape, hidden underneath the sleeve of her lilac cardigan. It made his heart sink, as he realized the extent of medication she must be on. God, how he wished there was something he could do. He tried to hide his sorrow from his face, wanting to look pleasant and at ease as Shiori stepped back and Kurama closed the door.

“Oh, thank goodness,” Shiori laughed, and Kazuma saw a bottle of sake sticking out of her purse as she set her bag down on the floor to hug Kurama more properly. It made a warm sensation blossom in Kazuma’s chest when he saw Kurama’s face sink into a contented smile as he wrapped his arms around her. “I’m glad I got the right place,” Shiori said. “I was worried for a minute; this is such a busy part of town but it sure is lovely.”

“I’m happy to see you, mother,” Kurama said into her shoulder.

“Me, too, sweetheart.” She squeezed him as tightly as she could in her obviously weakened state, and when she pulled back she picked her purse up again and pulled out the bottle of sake.

“I brought something fun to drink,” she said merrily. “I thought ‘why not?’” Suddenly Kurama’s pleasant expression nearly turned green as he eyed the alcohol.

“You go ahead.” Kurama’s tone was meek as he looked away from the sake, “I had an experience with alcohol about a week ago and frankly...” He paused, unsure of what to say next, “I am not in the mood.”

“Oh, dear.” Shiori was quite tickled by Kurama’s reaction. “Well, I may just have to share this with Kazuma, then.”

It was then that she finally turned to Kazuma and made to hug him as well; the fact that she’d said his first name alone made his heart soar.

“Hello, Kazuma. Thank you for letting me have dinner at your apartment,” Shiori said, turning to greet him. “I really appreciate it.”

“Hi,” Kazuma managed to get out, still chuffed at her calling him by his first name. She was much shorter than he, even shorter than Urameshi perhaps, and he had to bend over to hug her adequately. She felt so frail in his arms, as if he could snap her into pieces without trying. It was a frightening thought, and he did not dwell on it long.

“Welcome to my place,” Kazuma said, gesturing about though there was very little to see since they were only in the hallway. “I’m so sorry if it’s, uh-“

“It’s lovely,” Shiori assured him, and as the moved through the hallway back into the kitchen she peered about in the living room, “What a beautiful home.”

“I have a cat. Just so you know.” Kazuma said, gesturing to Eikichi who was laying upon the floor in a most unhelpful manner, “She’s really fat.”

“Eikichi.” Kurama said, and Shiori seemed tickled as she stared down at, Eikichi whose tail thumped the floor every so often.

“Eikichi. I love it.” Shiori said, regarding it with a chuckle. “Goodness, I know I’m eating well tonight.”

Kurama could not help but laugh.

“I’m so glad you’re cooking for me,” Shiori said as they moved into the kitchen. Kazuma turned down the heat on the miso soup, allowing it to simmer as Kurama helped Shiori to sit. Kazuma noticed that her legs wobbled when she took her weight off them; his heart leapt in fear again. “I confess it’s exhausting always being the one to cook. Your father and brother try and help but they could burn water if they put their minds to it.”

“I’m in the same boat,” Kazuma said, and he poured Shiori a cup of green tea. Shiori smiled at him, accepting the cup with grace and blowing on it softly.

“Don’t listen to him,” Kurama warned by the oven, checking on the salmon baking inside, “He’s actually quite good at cooking, as you will see.”

“Architect, cook, cat lover, handsome...” Shiori teased, “Where did you come from?”

“Sariashiki High,” Kazuma could not help but laugh, suddenly quite embarrassed as he helped Kurama to serve their plates. Was he handsome? He really couldn’t tell.

“Oh, that’s right!” Shiori said, “I remember you didn’t go to Shuichi’s school.”

“No, we met through Yusuke,” said Kurama.

Shiori just sat in appreciative silence, watching how seamlessly they worked together in the kitchen. The flowers Kurama had grown captivated her interest very little; instead she focused on watching her son, in how he smiled at Kazuma and silently helped him to serve the fish.

“What?” Kurama asked, catching sight of Shiori watching him.

“Just grateful for Yusuke," Shiori murmured, sipping her tea.

“I think we all have been at some point or another,” Kazuma said. “I know I have.”

He’d also wanted to pound the little twerp’s face in, too, but he wasn’t going to tell Shiori that.

They ate in merry company, Kurama explaining to Shiori how he planned to take the property he’d bought and turn it into an herbal shop. Kazuma felt exceedingly smart at being able to comment on its structure, complementing Kurama on his impeccable taste (the woodwork of the shop was jaw dropping). Kazuma had decided to forgo the skyscraper in Tokyo to instead focus on repairing and constructing artistic dojos, having taken on several new clients in the past week to make up for lost time and energy. Shiori was captivated by it all, asking him question after question as they finished their meal and made their way out onto the back porch. Despite having brought sake, no one seemed eager to drink. Shiori was much more content with her tea, and as she lounged upon Kazuma’s balcony in a reclining chair, Kazuma sat beside her pealing a tangerine. Kurama leaned upon the railing, drinking his own tea and truly seeming to enjoy the moment. He looked more at peace than Kazuma had ever seen him.

Currently they were talking about the night that Yusuke’s had opened. Shiori seemed to be quite proud of Kazuma, smiling fondly at the memory of the evening despite the chaos that had followed it.

“Now, when I was at the bar, I ran into the most charming man. I think he was your father,” Shiori said.

Kazuma finished pealing the tangerine and began to pull it apart into segments, “Yeah, Jiro Kuwabara... that’s him.”

“He’s quite funny, you take after him,” Shiori said with a smile. Kazuma wondered if he really took after his father. He certainly didn’t think so. Jiro was more like Shizuru... Kazuma was more like his mother, from what little he remembered of her. “My father was the same way. I can remember him constantly picking on me when I was about your age. You’re... twenty four?”

“I actually turned twenty five in February,” Kazuma said, recalling the memory quite fondly as it had involved a piece of birthday cake being fed to him by Kurama after everyone else had gone home. That had been a delightful night.

“Oh, I’m a little behind, then,” Shiori remarked with a shrug.

“Shuichi didn’t tell us about his birthday for years,” Kazuma said, and Kurama gave him a look of slight warning as he took another sip of tea in silence.

“Yes, he’s rather reclusive,” Shiori agreed. She nudged Kazuma’s thigh with her bare foot, giving him a suggestive look, “What ever will we do about that?”

“Why must the conversation always return to me?” Kurama grumbled, eager to stay out of the spotlight.

“Because you are wonderful and I love you,” Shiori said, voicing Kazuma’s internal dialogue to the T.

“Here, here,” Kazuma praised her, handing her a piece of tangerine which she ate at once. “And you talk about yourself way too little. We have to find a way to praise you.”

“I agree!” Shiori said, and suddenly the pair of them were smiling at each other wickedly.

“Oh goody,” Kurama grumbled under his breath, “I’m being tag teamed.”

Kurama shook his head, and as he did so his collar slipped just for a moment to reveal a prominent bite mark on his neck. Kazuma knew Shiori saw because he saw it too, and he was surprised when Shiori smiled again. That same, strange smile she had worn back in the kitchen before dinner.

Kurama caught her expression.

“Are you alright?” he asked.

“A little achey,” Shiori said. “I think I have some pills in my purse--“

“I’ll go get them for you,” Kurama said at once, setting down his tea and heading back into the apartment.

“Thank you, sweetie.”

Shiori looked to Kazuma, smiling.
He had a feeling he knew what was going to be coming next.

“I’m so glad that he has someone like you in his life,” Shiori murmured, her tone quite sincere. A soft night wind blew her brown curly hair, momentarily lifting it up from her neck. Kazuma saw the yellow stain of iodine lingering there, a reminder that she’d been in the hospital. “For years he... never really had any friends. Then he met Hiei and Yusuke and everything changed. I’m so grateful you’ve come along.”

Kazuma smiled.

“Back at the opening of the restaurant... I noticed how you stood by one another.” Kazuma nodded, listening intently. “I wondered. But he’s so private, he doesn’t exactly confide in me about such things. I think he’s afraid I’ll worry. It’s difficult for me to explain to him that I want to be worried; that being worried makes me happy, in a weird, motherly way.”

She stopped talking, and Kazuma understood it was safe for him to respond.

“We started... dating... around January,” Kazuma said. Shiori just beamed, lacking the energy but not the love as she nibbled on her tangerine and contemplated this development. “I think he wanted to be the one to tell you.”

“Let’s pretend you didn’t tell me, and see if he does.” Shiori chuckled, “He’s just like his father. He always forgets the small things.”

And suddenly Kazuma could not help but wonder about Kurama’s father. Who was he? Where was he? Shiori was remarried and she didn’t seem old enough to be a widow unless a tragic accident or a fatal disease had occurred. He suppose both were relatively common, which pained him; he hoped it would not be too intrusive to speak on the subject.

“Hey, Ms. Shiori, can I ask you something?” Kazuma paused as Shiori smiled at him.

“Of course, Kazuma.”

“What happened to Shuichi’s dad? Is he alive?”

Shiori’s smile began to drop, but she didn’t seem too uncomfortable as she looked out at the city beyond his balcony railing. The wind blew her hair again, lovely and brown in the dark deep night.

“I don’t really know,” Shiori said, and Kazuma was surprised by such an answer. It must have shown on his face, for Shiori merely smiled and explained in a quiet voice, “Shuichi’s father... he has... had... a difficult time with life. He didn’t have it together, he couldn’t understand what it meant to be a parent. He was a genius, very smart and very charismatic... but I left him for a reason. He’d show up randomly, and hassle me. Attempt to see Shuichi, but I wouldn’t let him. I never let him.”

And suddenly, those gentle deep black eyes were beginning to glare. Not at Kazuma but at an unseen enemy, one long gone yet far from forgotten.

“Oh, he’d be sweet and kind and worm his way into the house. But he’d turn on me. he always turned on me when he tried to see Shuichi. When I didn’t let him, he’d throw low blows. He’d insult personal qualities that I was very insecure about during my youth. He was not a nice person.” Her tone quiet and dark.

Kazuma did not know what to say. He’d envisioned Kurama’s father to be someone of good standing, a gentleman in Kurama’s own vision. This startling revelation suddenly reminded him of how lucky he was to have his own father.

He was suddenly seeing a memory from long ago of Yusuke as a child, pressed up against the brick wall of their school playground with a terrified look upon his usually angry face. A looming figure over him, barking at him; a bruise slowly beginning to form under one of Yusuke’s wide eyes.

Urameshi had had no idea Kazuma had seen that. Kazuma had no desire to tell him now even in their adulthood.

He was brought back to present when Shiori laid her hand upon his own; Kazuma could see very vein beneath her thin pale skin and it unnerved him. She looked at him, searching for something in his face as she spoke.

“When I...” Shiori broke off, looking over her shoulder. Kurama was preparing another pot of tea, quite calm and unaware of their observance.

When I die, she meant to say.

“Don’t ever let him near Shuichi,” Shiori whispered. “If you see him. Ever.”

“I won’t,” Kazuma assured her quickly, earnestly. “I promise you, I won’t. I’ll take care of him.”

And it was those words that made Shiori smile the most as she squeezed his hand.

“You have no idea how truly... grateful I am,” she whispered.

Kazuma did know. It made him proud, brave to know that he could care for her son in her stead when she passed. Shiori liked him, trusted him.

Kurama returned to the porch, a fresh cup of tea for Shiori and a pair of blue pills in hand. Shiori took all three, swallowing the pills and chasing it down with tea. She sighed.

“Thank you,” she said.

Kurama returned to the balcony railing, relaxed as he leaned back to observe the stars above.

“You look pensive,” Shiori stated. “Is there something that you want to tell me?”

Kurama looked back down at Shiori, perplexed. When he saw the creeping smile on her face and the blush on Kazuma’s own, he made a deep noise under his breath and rolled his eyes.

“Well, I doubt there’s any need to do so now,” Kurama grumbled. Kazuma could not meet his gaze, feeling as if he’d ruined the whole surprise. But honestly, how could he resist Shiori?

“She asked, I couldn’t...” Kazuma raised his hands apologetically, “I’m sorry. I’ve robbed you of the conversation.”

“It is hardly something to be discussed. I merely wondered if you knew,” Kurama said, to which Shiori nodded.

“Well to be fair, I’ve known for a while.” Shiori said. Kurama did a double take, and she answered his questioning gaze at once, “At the party, when Yusuke’s opened, I noticed on your neck there was a mark-“

Perhaps without thinking, Kurama clamped a hand down upon his neck where a current mark now sat. His face was bright red, redder than any shade Kazuma had ever seen him wear before, and he was stupefied into silence as Shiori began to titter with laughter.

“What?" Shiori tried, but Kurama only looked away; the steam coming off of him could be felt in waves.

“Dear god help me,” Kurama whispered, mortified. Kazuma wondered if Kurama would be able to regain his composure now, the calm illusion of stoicism broken by a hickie.

~*~

The next week rolled past, and, strangely enough, Kurama found himself preparing for yet another family dinner as the first Sunday of October rolled around. Kazuma’s father was insistent that Kazuma bring Kurama to their family meal, and so Kurama put on his best once more only to take Kazuma’s motorcycle through the winding streets of Sariashiki on a warm and clear night. Winter would be arriving late this year. Kazuma’s childhood home was located on a suburban block, a pleasant place much like the home Kurama had grown up in, and as they pulled into the drive they saw a black Toyota already parked out front. It seemed that Shizuru and Yukina had arrived ahead of them.

Kazuma was once again nervous as they headed up the front steps, though at least this time he did not have to play the part of host (taking a great deal of stress off his shoulders).

As he fished for the key to the front door, Kazuma grumbled under his breath.

“Well...” Kazuma sighed, “this ought to be fun.”

Kurama smiled at him.

“I’m nervous,” Kazuma stated, though there was really no need. It was obvious. “My dad and sister are gonna pick on me all night.”

Kurama snorted, reaching up to kiss Kazuma sweetly upon the cheek. He felt Kazuma bristle under the touch of his lips, his movements stilling as Kurama let his lips linger upon Kazuma’s cheek.

“Does that help?” Kurama whispered in his ear.

Kazuma grinned cheekily. “Mmm.” He opened up the door, allowing to Kurama to walk in first with a gentle hand upon his lower back.

“Hello?” Kazuma called out; the foyer was empty save for several pairs of abandoned shoes, “Where is everyone?”

“We’re out back!” came Shizuru’s voice from somewhere to the far right.

The Kuwabara household was broad and well lived in. A set of stairs lead to the second floor on the left, while straight ahead lay a family gathering area layered in tatami mats. To the right was the kitchen as well as an office that was utterly strewn with papers. Beyond the kitchen (where it was obvious a meal had already been prepared) lay a backdoor that was open wide onto an elevated wooden porch. Kazuma took the lead and Kurama followed, the pair of them stepping onto to see Shizuru and Yukina relaxing at a patio table; Yukina was sitting in Shizuru’s lap, her hair in braided pig tails. Jiro himself was at the grill that stood not too far off, cooking steaks (or so it smelt) with an apron on that stated ‘I kiss better than I cook’. Once again he was wearing sunglasses as he turned and regarded his son. Though Kurama could not see Jiro’s eyes, he knew that Jiro’s gaze was warm. He was a warm man, everything about him reeking of positivity and good will.

“What’s going on, Kazu?” Jiro said, and the pair of them hugged each other in bizarre fashion. It was more of an exchange of back slaps than actual hugs. Still, Kazuma grinned.

“Hey, bro,” Shizuru said. Kazuma tipped his chin to her and she smiled.

“Hello,” Yukina said, her voice sweet and mild as she waved to Kurama, and he waved back silently. Kurama did not wish to intrude upon such a family scene, keeping back and leaning against the porch railing. But Jiro was looking at him, waiting for him to do something; Kurama smiled.

“Good evening,” Kurama finally said.

“So dig this,” Jiro said to Kurama, gesturing at him while holding a scotch in one hand. “Yukina tells me that she’s got something she wants to show me. So we head out here, and look what she does.” Jiro handed his glass to Yukina, and she took it to blow across its glassy rim. From where her breath touched the glass, a thick frost formed, the sound of ice expanding hitting the air as the entire glass became coated into a wintery sheen.

Kurama’s stomach dropped a little. It seemed Jiro knew far too much about demons. Kurama would have to play his cards well to keep to a state of normality before Jiro.

He did not want Jiro to know any more about him than he already did.

“One hell of a party trick, eh?” Jiro applauded Yukina, accepting his glass back to take a swig of cooled scotch, “I shall never drink a lukewarm drink again! Ice me, Yukina!” Jiro commanded.

Yukina formed a tiny snow ball in the palm of her hand and flung it at Jiro playfully, who winced into the white powdery explosion and quickly shook it off his toes; he wore sandals and the snow no doubt stung.

Kurama tried for a wane smile, but it slipped off his face at Jiro’s next remark.

“The jig is up, Kurama,” Jiro said to him; though his tone was kind, his words were firm.

“...Jig?” Kurama repeated, suddenly growing tense.

“I know you’re a quiet guy. You keep your business to yourself, and I respect that,” Jiro said. “You have a human mother and a human life that you live, but you’re not really human. So you have this other life, the one you share with Kazuma, Shizuru, and Yukina... right?”

Kurama sighed haggardly, catching Shizuru’s gaze. How much had she told her father? What did he know and not know? Kurama did not like being in the dark about his own secrets, suddenly wishing that Shizuru had kept her information to herself. The Kuwabara family did not enjoy keeping private affairs, but Kurama had no choice. If Shiori found out that he was a demon while suffering as she was from a brain tumor, the shock might kill her. He kept his secrets for her sake as much as any other.

“More or less,” Kurama said, simply because everyone was looking at him and waiting for him to speak.

Jiro was still watching him, waiting for a concrete answer.

“Yes,” Kurama said.

“You’re a demon, like Yukina?” Jiro gestured to Yukina, who smiled though she pursed her lips and quietly fretted. Perhaps she knew how suddenly timid Kurama felt, overwhelmed by people on all sides asking for answers.

“In a way,” Kurama replied, for although he was a demon, he was also locked in a human body and certainly could not manipulate ice.

“And you can control plants, right?” Jiro asked.

Kurama glared dully at Shizuru.

“Yes.” It seemed that perhaps there was no longer much to hide. Shizuru was unabashed, drinking her coke with a small smile upon her face. Kurama supposed that it was difficult to be irritable when you had a beautiful woman sitting on your lap throwing snowballs at your father.

“... Party trick?” Jiro offered, gesturing around to the back yard. It seemed he had ulterior motives for hosting their meal outside.

Kurama sighed, knowing that it would be rude now to do nothing. It would take very little to impress someone like Jiro, who had never seen the true scale of demon power and therefore could not be expecting a wild performance that Kurama might pull off with a true opponent. Kurama raised his spirit energy, focusing on the honeysuckle bushes that covered the backward fence as he raised a finger. They suddenly burst into bloom, their bright yellow blossoms unfurling and offering a sweet, gentle smell to the warm air.

“Wow!” Jiro cried out, grinning from ear to ear. “That is something!”

“Kurama can do a whole lot more than that, dad,” Shizuru warned.

“He was on Kazuma’s team in the Dark Tournament,” Yukina added. So it seemed Jiro knew about that particular escapade too? God, how much did this man know?

“You were on the team?” Jiro demanded, taking off his sun glasses and regarding Kurama with newfound interest. Perhaps he had taken Kurama’s quiet demeanor and willowy frame to be evidence that he was not a fighter and could not engage in battle.

Yet Jiro was not the kind of man to dislike being wrong, and when he grinned at Kurama, it was now in keen earnest.

“Come on, you gotta do something big. Please!” Jiro urged. “Please, show me something wild!”

He was like a child, his good mood was infectious.

Very well.

Kurama reached into his hair and summoned more energy so that a rose appeared in his hand. Kazuma took an automatic step back, grinning from ear to ear as Kurama flicked his hand hard to the side.

“Rose whip!”

Jiro burst into a tirade of screeches, downright thrilled when a green whip shot from Kurama’s hand, decked in long, deadly thorns. The whip coiled as though it were a snake ready to strike, a reminder of the substantial power Kurama held. He smiled bitterly as Jiro continued to make ridiculous noises; with another flick of his hand, his energy dissipated, and his whip vanished into green smoke. Jiro was still tutting, beaming as he returned his attention to the grill to flip the steaks.

Damn, that is cool!” Jiro cursed. “So you can hold your own right up there with Yusuke and Hiei-“

Suddenly Jiro’s good mood faltered, and he turned on Kurama with a sharp finger and a wary eye. Suddenly Kurama felt like he was being reprimanded, a child once again before a stern parent.

“By the way!” Jiro said, “That little pod trick was not cute! Imagine my shock when I find out this crazy vision I had of a hobo was just you in my head trying to make me forget what I really saw. Bad, Kurama. Bad.” Jiro returned to the steaks.

Kurama gave Shizuru yet another withering glare, but Shizuru was shaking her head and pointing to Yukina.

Suddenly Kurama understood; Hiei was Yukina’s brother. Of course she would want Jiro to know the truth. He sighed, shaking his head.

“I didn’t have time to isolate targets,” Kurama reminded, his tone gentle but firm.

“Well next time tell me to get behind the stage too. Damn.” Jiro snorted. He was far from angry, if anything he seemed humored, “You’re a scary one, you know that?”

Kurama didn’t particularly care for that comment, not after all he’d just endured in lieu of Hiei’s suffering.

“He was protecting us!” Kazuma suddenly said, “He’s not scary. He’s really smart. He didn’t want me or Urameshi to get hurt-“

“You are so weird!” Jiro interrupted, his tone hot but still humored, “Call your best friend by his first name; God only knows you had a crush on him for years!”

Kazuma gagged on his tongue, his eyes popping as Shizuru burst into a peal of laughter.

Dinner was a fun affair, steaks and salad a filling meal as the five of them went around in chorus of conversation. It was odd to eat with the Kuwabara’s to watch them interact as a true family ought to, and Kurama enjoyed it immensely.

Yet as they started on dessert, a cherry tart made by Yukina, Jiro suddenly turned to her for conversation.

“So, Yukina, where are you from?” Jiro asked.

“I am from the ice world,” Yukina explained. “The Hyouga. It’s a floating island that drifts high above demon world.”

“Sounds like a sweet dig,” Jiro commented, but Yukina disagreed with a shake of her head.

A memory was calling to Kurama, something muddled by wine that he could not quite recall as fast as he ought to be able to.

“It’s not,” Yukina warned. “It’s barren and isolated; cold and unforgiving. A truly miserable place to live. I’m glad I escaped.”

Jiro did a double take at the word. “Escaped?”

Yukina slowly stopped eating her tart, looking down at the napkin in her lap. Shizuru watched her every move, a panther on the prowl. Shizuru was just like Kazuma, sucking in every detail before it could escape her. Perhaps she noted the slight crease that momentarily flickered between Yukina’s fine brow.

“My people, the Koorime, live away from the rest of demon world society. We are a tribe of females, that reproduce every one hundred years by asexual means. We do not associate with outsiders, and we never leave our island.” Yukina paused.

“Who does that to an infant?” Hiei’s voice suddenly resounded in Kurama’s head.

His heart fluttered in his chest; what had been done to Hiei as an infant?

“We are taught to fear men, and any other demons in general. My leaving the island marked me as an outsider. I have not been back since.” Yukina finished with at tight smile.

“Wow,” Jiro was quite glum as he regarded the girl. “That’s... horrible."

“Yes.” Yukina looked down at her lap, “ I couldn’t stay once I found out the truth about my brother.”

What had the koorime done to Hiei as an infant? Suddenly Kurama really wanted to know, a strange stab of vicious anger rising in his heart for his old friend.

“Right. Hiei?” Jiro asked. Yukina nodded, smiling.

“And he’s a fire demon, right?” Jiro made sure to get his facts straight.

“Yes.” Yukina said. “Like our father.”

“Oh. Nice guy?” Jiro asked.

“Our father?” Yukina asked, “I never knew him. He was frozen alive by my elders.”

She looked down at her plate again. Jiro’s pleasant smile likewise froze on his face, and he looked apologetically at Shizuru who seemed on the verge of leaping across the patio table to strangle him.

Yukina coughed, no doubt eager to change the subject.

“... Hiei a nice guy?” Jiro offered softly.

Yukina smiled, her eyes glazed over with slightest trace of tears. Kazuma was watching Yukina raptly now, observing her as she began to relax at the sound of Hiei’s name.

“Yes,” Yukina whispered. “My brother is... very nice.”

Kazuma said nothing to the contrary, watching her all the while.

~*~

Doing the dishes was always Kazuma’s least favorite part of the meal, but still he got stuck with it as Kurama and Shizuru helped Jiro clean up outside. From the kitchen window he watched as his father once again begged Kurama to show him the rose whip. Kurama was laughing now, more at ease than he had been at first, and he conjured the whip yet again.

His father extended a hand, though Kazuma could not hear what he was saying. Kurama looked down at his whip, only to pass the handle to his father.

That would surely lead to nothing but trouble.

 

“Kurama’s having fun now.”

Kazuma looked around to see that Yukina had come to help him with the dishes. She took a drying towel in hand, clearing up the dishes he’d set aside to dry. The pair of them made quite an effective team, with Yukina familiarizing herself around their kitchen in the process.

“Good. That’s my goal,” Kazuma murmured. “He needs more fun in his life."

Yukina was watching him. She wanted to say something to him, but Kazuma already knew what it was.

“... Kazuma...” Yukina murmured apologetically. Kazuma stopped her with a shake of his head. When he turned to look at Yukina though, he was momentarily thrown through a loop as he tried to imagine Hiei’s face in Yukina’s own. He’d thought at first that it would be incredibly difficult, that Hiei would be as foreign to Yukina as he would to any other girl.

And yet, as he picture Hiei’s sharp and wild eyes in his mind, he remarked with great shock how they fit smoothly upon Yukina’s soft ones. Her pointed nose, her heart shaped face, her small ears and pale skin...

She was so similar to Hiei it unnerved him. He could see it now, and he would never be able to unsee it.

“... I look at you, and I see him,” he said, for he realized suddenly that he’d been staring at Yukina without remark. He didn’t want to seem rude. Yukina watched him, listening intently, “And it’s...” Kazuma looked back to the sink where warm soapy water caressed the few remaining dirty dishes. “It’s terrifying. After so many years of associating him with evil things, I see him in you; you’re one of the purest I’ve ever known.”

Yukina did not seem soothed by his compliment as she continued to dry. If anything, her response was quite sharp.

“Well, that was your first mistake,” Yukina warned, “My brother has never been an evil person. He’s a very good person who has had horrible things happen to him.”

Maybe it was just the comment about her father being frozen by her elders, but Kazuma was starting to gather something truly horrific had happened to Hiei to make him the way he was.

“I’m starting to understand that." He washed another plate and set it aside to dry.

For a moment they were silent, but Yukina’s irritation was obvious as the temperature dropped a few degrees in the room. Suddenly the water in the sink was getting very cold.

“Is it so difficult?” she managed to say, her voice quite tense, “To imagine him as good?”

“No.” Kazuma murmured, and her tension dissipated at once, “Just... kind.”

“Well, he is,” Yukina said softly, taking another dish from Kazuma to dry it. “And I love him... with every fiber of my being."

Kazuma looked out the kitchen window. Kurama was showing Jiro how to throw the whip now though is father was having very little success.

“I could never love someone who didn’t love him, too.”

Kazuma knew what she was trying to say, and understood why it needed to be said. He’d pursued her so intently when he’d been younger, had thought himself the knight in shining armor. He'd failed to understand, to see, that there already was a knight in shining armor defending Yukina.

Hiei was Yukina’s protector. Not even Shizuru could take that role.

“I understand.” He even managed to smile a little bit as he continued to look out at Kurama.

Yukina relaxed beside him. She splashed a small bit of water at him from the sink. He looked darkly at her, and splashed her back. She froze the drops before they hit her and the shards of ice fell at once to the floor.

~*~

 

Kurama had been quite happy to go to dinner with Kazuma after spending a few days away getting his apartment ready for the upcoming move. There was so much to do, and so little time to do it in or so he felt. It shocked him to imagine that he would be moving into a new place, a place that he intended to make a home in... Thoughts of the future were filling his mind constantly now, putting a spring in his step when he walked.

It made every moment more enjoyable, more relaxed, to imagine there might be more to follow.

Currently Kurama lay upon the floor of Yusuke’s closed restaurant, looking up at the stars through the glass ceiling simply because Yusuke had said he wanted to. Keiko was in her pajamas again, eating cordial cherries from a small bar dish as Yusuke and Kazuma tried to make out shapes in the constellations.

Happy times were made of these.

“Fuck man...” Yusuke sighed, quite content. “I love these glass ceilings.”

“That’s why I put them up,” Kazuma agreed. “Aren’t they beautiful?”

“I can see every star in the sky,” Yusuke murmured.

Kurama could not help but smile at this. “Yusuke, we’re in the city,” he reminded him kindly, “It's far too bright. Imagine if we were in the country instead... Somewhere green and wide, far from the lights. We could see everything, then.”

Kazuma looked over at him, grinning upon the floor. Kurama felt his fingers suddenly become warm and filled as Kazuma took his hand in his own.

“I like the way you think, baby," Kazuma murmured. Kurama flushed at the pet name, knowing Yusuke would make light of it.

“Baby,” Yusuke snickered. Ah, how Kurama sometimes disliked his own intuition.

“Don’t you dare,” Kazuma growled.

“Baby, he’s calling you baby,” Yusuke snickered from Kurama’s other side. He suddenly felt an annoying finger begin to poke him in the side, “What do you call him?”

“His name. Kazuma.” He hoped Yusuke would take the hint and drop it.

“Yusuke, you have no room to talk,” Keiko dismissed him at once. Kurama smiled; Keiko to the rescue. He certainly enjoyed having her around in moments like this. “You call me everything under the sun.”

“I wonder what Hiei calls Mukuro,” Yusuke suddenly said, struck by the thought and pondering on it.

For a moment there was silence.

“Mistress?" Kazuma joked slyly, “As in ‘Mistress, beat me harder’?”

Kurama could not help it, a laugh exploded from him before he could stop himself. The idea of someone as wild and domineering as Hiei being forced to his knees by Mukuro and actually enjoying it simply tickled him.

Yusuke was laughing too, the joyous sound bouncing around the empty restaurant’s glass walls.
If Hiei could hear them now, he’d skin them alive.

“Ah man, I love you,” Yusuke sighed dreamily.

“I wonder where he is,” Kazuma said. “And if he’s okay.”

Kurama squeezed his hand tightly.

“He’s fine,” Kurama murmured. He believed this truly in his heart, or so he tried. “Hiei’s resilient, and Mukuro was probably overjoyed to see him alive.”

“Think they’ll fight again?” Kazuma asked. He sounded slightly nervous.

“Oh, most definitely,” Kurama said. “Hiei would die of boredom if they didn’t... but they love each other above everything else. That’s what matters in the end.”

“Man, I bet they had wild makeup sex,” Yusuke joked. “Can you imagine? I bet shit falls off the walls.”

Kazuma snickered.

“I bet the bed bursts into flames. I bet people can hear it from miles away. I bet they don’t know whether it’s a fight or a fuck fest.”

With every taunt, Kazuma just laughed harder.

Kurama found none of it funny, simply because it was all probably true. “You and your imagination," he grumbled.

Yusuke rolled over onto his elbows, stealing one of Keiko’s cherries to point at Kurama and Kazuma with the stem left over.

“Speaking of which, have you two sucked each other’s dicks yet?”

Kazuma was on his elbows as well in an instant, laughter long gone to be replaced by irate rage.

“Urameshi!” he shouted angrily. Kurama looked up, still flat on his back. If he peeked as high as his eyes would allow, he could see Keiko watching them upon her back as well. Kurama could not help but laugh. They made quite a group.

“What?!” Yusuke demanded, “I’m trying to help you get laid man!”

“That ain’t-“ Kazuma gestured wildly, “That ain’t none of your damn business!”

Yusuke just kept pushing. Keiko was looking at Kurama now, her neck in the same strained position as he. She did not look the least bit surprised that a fight was about to break out.

“Yusuke, this is hardly the polite,” Kurama said tersely, preferring is penis to not be the topic of discussion, but Yusuke would not let it drop as he shot Kurama a warning glare.

“Can it, rose bud!” Yusuke snapped. “This is between me and curly top!”

 

And with that, he took to a knee to grab at Kazuma and force him all the way backwards and onto his back once more. The scuffle was so close to Keiko and Kurama that they were accidentally getting hit, and Keiko scooted way at once, making an irritated noise as she avoided the wild swings and kicks. Kurama just watched with dull interest, noting that when improperly motivated, neither fighter had good aim.

They weren’t fighting to win, they were fighting to fight.

“Why won’t you just suck it up and let him blow you? Why do you have to go the pace of a turtle! Do you know what kind of a gift you’ve been given!? If I had Kurama for a boyfriend, he wouldn’t be able to walk!” Yusuke roared, talking with every punch he threw. Kazuma was getting hammered in the chest, unable to do much but kick and flail. By this point in his fighting career, Kazuma was built like a tractor tire. Yusuke’s punches were merely bruising him, far from hurting. Still.

“Shut up, Urameshi!” Kazuma screeched. “I’m sick of your nasty mouth!”

“My nasty mouth is the reason you’re gonna get laid if you just shut up and listen to me!”

“No, it isn’t!”

“Yes, it is!"

“No!”

“Yes!”

“No!”

“Yes!”

Across from Kurama, Keiko gave him a dull glare that Kurama happily returned.

“I bet people can hear it from miles away,” Keiko said. “I bet they don’t know whether it’s a fight fest or a fuck fest.”

Kurama shook his head. If only it were a joke.

~*~

 

“I hate him,” Kazuma snapped as Kurama washed their tea kettle in the kitchen sink. “I hate him! I really do! He’s such a prick!”

Bare-chested and freshly healed, Kazuma fumed as Kurama offered him a small smile. His shirt lay discarded across the table; Kurama had had to slightly undress him to heal where Yusuke had smacked him around.

“Why did I choose him for a best friend?” Kazuma demanded.

Kurama offered a coy comment in return: “Because you have excellent taste in men?”

Kazuma caught the double meaning there, and grinned as Kurama winked at him over his shoulder. He set the kettle upside down to dry upon a dish towel before returning to Kazuma. Barefoot and lovely, Kurama’s shirt was undone to show tantalizing glimpses of his chest underneath. Kazuma was delightfully surprised when Kurama forwent his chair to sit instead on Kazuma’s lap. He crossed his legs, wrapping an arm about Kazuma’s neck to lay another hand warmly upon his chest. Kazuma delighted in the feel of Kurama’s cool fingers upon his flushed skin: the perfect balm to any wound.

“Yusuke is just a rambunctious teenager at heart,” Kurama said, his eyes adoring upon Kazuma’s face. “He never grew up. You, on the other hand... are a man.”

There was something about the way Kurama said that. It sent thrills all through his body.

Kurama leaned in, and the kiss they then shared was sweet. Kurama tilted his face a little, and Kazuma’s hands drifted around Kurama’s back, holding him close as another hand spread wide upon Kurama’s hip. How he wanted to squeeze the flesh there, to feel it hot and pliant beneath his fingers...

Kurama was looking at him in a strange way, loving and yet... mischievous?

“Have you ever received fellatio?” Kurama asked, curious.

“Fe- what?” Kazuma was thrown off, having no idea what fellatio even was.

“Oral sex.”

Kazuma’s heart flipped in his stomach, his breath suddenly seizing up again. This was not the kind of conversation he wanted to have with Kurama in his lap, his firm rear ever so close to Kazuma’s cock which suddenly throbbed in wild anticipation as if Kurama’s question was the invitation to a personal party. He needed to learn how to control himself, dammit, but Kurama was making that very hard to do with his hand upon Kazuma’s bare chest and his loving eyes staring deeply into his face.

“Y-you mean like-“

“Yes.”

Kazuma let out a shaky breath. Would Kurama think him childish if he told the truth? He prayed not; he would not lie to Kurama even to save face.

“Uhh... no.”

Kurama chewed on his bottom lip, looking Kazuma up and down with that same mischievous grin that sent butterflies scattering in his body.

“Would you like to try it?” Kurama asked.

Fireworks exploded in Kazuma’s brain as his mouth went bone dry. He made a tirade of wild noises, flustered and gabbling as Kurama just continued to smile at him.

Jesus fucking Christ, was this actually about to happen?

“L-like right now?” Kazuma managed to stutter out.

“Yes,” Kurama said, ever calm.

Kazuma had no idea what to how to respond--
Well actually, he knew quite well, but dammit, he couldn’t just...
.... could he?
Could he say it?

“I mean... If you wanna.” Kazuma could not keep from smiling, suddenly grinning like a mad man as Kurama laughed a little under his breath. Kurama raised his eyebrows slightly as if to say ‘very well’, suddenly getting off Kazuma’s lap. Kazuma automatically made to rise up. But Kurama’s hand was still upon his chest, keeping him in his chair.

“No,” he instructed. His expression was positively seductive – half-lidded and wet-lipped. “Stay there.”

Kazuma would, for the rest of his life if necessary.

Kurama dropped to his knees before Kazuma, smiling up at him. Kazuma’s heart pounded wildly in his chest as Kurama’s elegant hands reached for the zipper of his jeans where a prominent hot bulge was beginning to form.

Kazuma did not know why, but he suddenly felt the urge to assure Kurama this wasn’t necessary.

“Kurama, you don’t have to do this,” Kazuma blurted out as his brain screamed at him to just shut up and enjoy it. But Kurama smiled at him, a wicked grin upon his beautiful wet lips. “I swear, you don’t have to if you don’t-“

Kurama reached up, index finger poised against Kazuma’s mouth. It shushed him instantly, his heart in his throat as Kurama answered softly:

“I want to.”

His hand trailed down slowly from Kazuma’s lips, down his throat and between his rippling pectorals, ghosting over his naval to land back once more upon the zipper of his jeans.

Kurama’s smile was enchanting, almost distracting Kazuma from the cool sting as his aching manhood was released from the tight confines of his pants. He’d dreamed about this moment, wanted it for so long, that he could not help but groan and close his eyes at the realization that it was finally occurring. The visual confirmation of what was occurring was far too much for him to take; suddenly Kurama’s hand was upon him, cupping his heated flesh, squeezing ever so tenderly. The hands that held a whip with dexterity now held him with the same ease, thumb brushing lightly over the head of his arousal-

Kazuma jumped a little, the stimulation wild.

“Relax,” Kurama said softly. His sweet voice was the perfect antidote to Kazuma’s sore nerves, and he tried to do as he was told--

He nearly jumped again, his eyes flying open as the feeling of something incredibly hot and wet enveloped him. He looked down, in awe of the sight before him.

Kurama was between his spread legs, one hand around Kazuma’s cock, holding him firmly, the other hand upon his thigh, comforting and familiar upon the tensing muscles underneath. Kurama had descended upon him, his beautiful red hair spilling all over Kazuma’s jeans as his mouth enveloped the head of Kazuma’s arousal.

It was almost too much for Kazuma to bear. Kurama’s slick tongue glided upon him, each stroke working to dissolve Kazuma’s already meager composure. Somehow, Kazuma’s trembling hand found itself buried in Kurama’s hair. He felt the silken strands between his fingertips. So soft, so incredibly soft...

But he knew this hair withheld weapons, so Kazuma held the back of Kurama’s head as gently and steadily as he could manage, even while every movement Kurama made caused Kazuma to shudder and quake.

Kurama’s green eyes were glazed over; he was completely concentrated on the task at hand.

“...Wow...” the word slipped past Kazuma’s mouth. “Kurama, you’re so-“

At the sound of his name, Kurama glanced up at Kazuma for one brief second, mouth full and eyes glittering with mischief. Then –

 

Kurama’s lips descended.

His mouth took Kazuma all the way, swallowing him before he could prepare himself. Kazuma groaned, reckless and guttural – and, as Kurama moved again, he could do nothing to stop the string of hungry, inhuman noises that tumbled from his mouth. He could not think; he could not speak; in fact, all he could do was grip Kurama’s hair tighter as the raw pleasure washed over him.

Kazuma had never felt anything this good in his entire life.

Every languid movement of Kurama’s tongue, every jerk of his fingers still wrapped tight around the base of his cock, put Kazuma in such a state that he was certain even if Urameshi busted down the door right now and proclaimed an apocalypse was upon them he would not give one tenth of a damn.

Kazuma clutched desperately at Kurama’s hair with one hand and at the seat of his chair with the other, gasping as he squeezed his eyes shut. He was unable to look down anymore; he knew that if he did, the visual confirmation of what was occurring would be too much, and he could not handle it. He could hardly handle this as it was.

Kazuma was shaking, he knew it, and he could do nothing to stop it, but Kurama’s free hand was suddenly snaking from his thigh to come around his back. Kurama held him close, stroking the spasming flesh beneath as if to say ‘I am here’.

If Kurama let go of him, Kazuma was sure that he would fall straight off his damn chair.

He cried out again, his breath coming from him in ragged pants. “Holy shit!” he moaned aloud.

Kurama’s mouth had become even more persistent, warm, wet, and unyielding. It begged him to let go of reality; the void was calling to him. He could hardly breathe.

“Oh, Kurama,” Kazuma whispered the name like a prayer. He had never known such emotion could exist, had never contemplated such powerful feelings could be possible.

Yet now, as Kurama labored upon his stiffened flesh, Kazuma knew that he was bound to Kurama in every way. He was a slave, on his knees for Kurama. A willing servant, wanting and waiting. All that Kurama asked for, Kazuma would give. He could not disobey, could not stray... not when Kurama had wrapped himself so tightly about Kazuma, spinning his beautiful vines till Kazuma was ensnared in a bubble of honeysuckle greens and vibrant red hair.

He was trapped; oh, God help him, he was trapped. He was fucked. He was being blown out of this damn universe, and he couldn’t be happier about it.

“Fucking God, I love you,” Kazuma choked out. Kurama made a noise as if he was amused, maybe tickled by how silly Kazuma sounded, a puddle of goo in his hands. Let him laugh, Kazuma couldn’t care less.

Let him never stop laughing. Let his laughter become the sun of this paradise.

But something was building within him, something hot and wild that with each throb warned him of an end. Kazuma knew he should say something to Kurama, should warn him, but he had lost the ability to speak now and could only gasp for breath. He knew what was about to happen, and he could not stop it. He could not delay it any longer. It was a fucking miracle he’d been able to hold on this long with Kurama dragging him around by the dick through a land of the gods.

Kazuma gasped, his hands clenching tightly in Kurama’s hair as a hot wave rushed over him. God help him if Kurama didn’t swallow him entirely-

Kazuma collapsed against the chair, completely unaware of the fact that he’d been sitting bolt upright all this time, gasping and heaving for breath as the cool sting of the kitchen air caressed his sex. He whimpered, unable to move or speak, barely able to even open his eyes.

Kurama was smiling at him, perched upon the balls of his feet, his lips swollen.

And suddenly he knew just what Kurama was capable of, with that sweet little smile and the glint in his eye. He could break Kazuma in two, as easily as he dared; yet he would not.

He would not harm Kazuma when he could love him instead.

 

“...Kazuma?” Kurama called out to him, smiling comically as Kazuma whimpered again. “Did I break you?”

“... Go, team,” was all Kazuma could whisper, more of a squeak than a sentence. Kurama laughed aloud, touched by Kazuma’s shaken state.

“I love you,” Kurama said.

“I’m gonna... fuckin’... pass out in this chair,” Kazuma replied, quaking where he sat with a blissful smile upon his face.

“I think you might be more comfortable in your bed,” Kurama murmured. He reached up, tucking Kazuma’s length gently back into his pants.

“You think so?” he murmured as Kurama did up the zipper.

Kurama was pulling at him, but Kazuma’s arms were like rubber. Still, he followed in an ape-like state, unable to deny Kurama anything he wanted as he staggered from the chair and followed Kurama out of the kitchen. The walk back to his bedroom was torturous and long, with every step sucking what little strength Kazuma had out of him.

The darkness of his bedroom was inviting and cool, a deep chasm into which he fell as he collapsed onto his bed. He felt Kurama slipping down next to him, felt the warmth of his lithe body pressed against Kazuma’s own.

Kazuma was already asleep.

~*~

Yusuke Urameshi lay in bed, despite the fact that all his sheets were kicked off the bed. Naked and sated, sweating profusely, Keiko’s body beside him kept him warm. She was asleep, exhausted after their wild interlude. He ran a hand absently through her brown hair, reveling in the feel of the heat that lay at the apex of her thighs. Her gentle sin called to him, made him want to roll her over on her back and wake her up by eating her out just to hear her scream for him one more damn time.... but he wouldn’t.

She needed to sleep. She had work tomorrow.

His phone vibrated upon the bedside table, and Yusuke reached over lazily to pick it up wondering who the hell was texting him so close to midnight. Unless it was the end of the world, he wasn’t getting out of bed.

And even then, he might eat Keiko out first just for the hell of it. The end of the world called for certain extravagances, after all.

Instead, a text message from Kurama greeted him:

“The deed is done,” was all it said, and at first Yusuke didn’t have a damn clue what he was talking about. But then, he slid a lazy eye over to Keiko at his side, and he understood.

He grinned.

“Congrats on the sex,” he texted back.

Kuwabara had finally gotten his dick sucked. All was right with the world.

Chapter Text

Shutting down one’s house and starting up another was an exhaustive affair. Kurama hadn’t realized how much stuff he owned until he was suddenly bidden to box it all, and the result was a slew on long nights where his messy house became exceedingly messier until he simply couldn’t live there anymore. He packed up as few things as he could and moved them into the house above his shop, simply eager to sleep somewhere that wasn’t strewn with papers or books. His new property needed a bit of work before he could truly move into it, and Kazuma had recommended he do repairs before settling in. Kurama took his advice, repairing the walls and cleaning the kitchen thoroughly before he decided it was time to move his actual furniture.

He rented a moving van and paid his final month’s rent, his mind often constantly residing in the future.

Yusuke and Keiko wanted to help Kurama move as a repayment for all that Kurama had done during their own move into Yusuke’s. He was admittedly very grateful for their help because both Yusuke and Kazuma were much stronger than him and could lift things that he could not. They even seemed to be making a game out of it, egging each other one as to who could lift more up, while Keiko and Yukina threw out warnings of ‘don’t strain yourself’ that were repeatedly ignored. It was a crisp autumn day, slightly overcast, and by the time that all of Kurama’s boxes were put into the moving van and they were on their way back to the new house, it was nearing lunch.

Yusuke and Kazuma contented themselves with helping Kurama unpack while Keiko and Yukina left to get pizza from a local joint down the street. It was so strange to see his sofa and his coffee table in this new house, to know that he was going to set up a life for himself here that he might be able to progress into something more. Kurama could envision all the years he might spend in this location. All the memories he might make. It was a comforting notion, despite the fact that Shiori’s illness hung over him like a terrible cloud. If he could simply pretend Shiori was not sick, his life seemed to be coming together. If that one thing wasn’t tearing him apart, all would be well.

When Keiko and Yukina returned with pizza and beer, Yusuke practically fell onto his knees with joy. It was the simple things that made for the happiest moments.

Yusuke and Kazuma collapsed onto Kurama’s couch, both of them with their shirts off and sweating as they ate and drink to their content. Keiko and Yukina were likewise quite famished, their bandanas and tank tops an odd change to the usual clothes Kurama saw them in. It was rare to catch Yukina in jeans, and it made him wonder what Hiei might look like if someone were to ever put him such an outfit.

Probably quite handsome, but Kurama would be damned if he ever told Hiei that.

“I don’t know how I ever moved without you before,” Kurama remarked, shocked that though they had begun at eight they were now nearly halfway done by noon. Had he been by himself, he would still probably be at the other location straining with furniture. “Your strength is indispensable.”

“Ah, this is chump shit compared to grandma,” Yusuke reminded him, and Kurama smiled at the memory of Genkai. Her death had been peaceful and her land divided, but thoughts of her brought Kurama back to a time before restaurants and herb shops, a time when Yusuke had been spirit detective and open to adventure at every turn. It was incredible that they had lived through it all (though, to be fair, Yusuke had died twice).

“Yeah, remind us again of some of the stuff she made you do,” Kazuma jested.

“Uh, how about balance on a spike for four days with nothing but my spirit energy holding me up?” Yusuke recalled. “Or there was also that time she infused her energy into me and basically tore me apart like a rag down in some nasty ass cave.” Yusuke shuddered. “That was a fun fuckin’ day."

Kurama laughed, but a buzzing sensation in his pocket made him shift to take his cell phone out. As he picked it up, he noticed the number was unfamiliar to him.

“Hello?” Kurama asked, rising from the couch and walking a few feet away to lean against the wall. He watched Kazuma and Yusuke bait each other about who had had it worse under Genkai’s training, smiling absently.

“Is this Shuichi Minamino?” an older woman asked.

“This is he."

“This is Nurse Saieto. I oversee the ward where your mother is receiving treatment-“

Kurama grabbed at the wall, his knees nearly going out under him as a sudden wild panic flared up inside him. If the hospital was calling him then something must have happened.

“Is everything alright?” Kurama demanded at once. His panicked voice caught Kazuma’s attention at once, and suddenly the room was very quiet as several pairs of eyes were upon him.

“Your mother is fine,” Saieto assured him at once, and Kurama could not help but let out a small breath of relief, “She’s resting right now, but there’s a man here to see her. He isn’t on the receiving list, and he insists that... he’s her husband. But he’s not. As her legal caretaker, you must decide whether or not he can enter.”

Kurama looked at Kazuma, his brow furrowing in thought. Shiori’s actual husband was on the receiving list, and also easily recognizable by nurses who cared for his mother. The only person that might call himself her husband was Kurama’s own father, but he had not seen Shiori in many years and had never been able to see Kurama himself. Shiori had been adamant, cutting the pair of them off, and even from his earliest years Kurama could remember Shiori weeping about his father.

Something painful had occurred there; why would he be visiting now?

“What is his name?” Kurama asked.

“Matsuri Saburo... He says he’s your father.”

So it was his father. Kurama closed his eyes, rubbing his brow again where a slight tension headache was beginning to form. It seemed that his peaceful day was about to take a jolt into the uncomfortable, unfortunately for him.

His irritation had sparked the concern of both Kazuma and Yusuke who were still watching him.

“Dude, what the fuck?" Yusuke murmured, perhaps under the impression that the emergency extended to all of them.

“Baby, you’re scaring me,” Kazuma said, his expression pale as he waited.

Kurama smiled, though it was forced and thin. “I'm on my way there,” he informed Saieto. “Do not let him into her room until I see him first.”

“Of course.”

“Thank you,” Kurama said, and ended the call. At once he grabbed for his jacket which lay across the back of the couch, shrugging it on and feeling for his keys in his pocket. Of course they weren’t there. When were they ever where Kurama thought he’d left them? Kurama began to search, venturing into the kitchen where he haphazardly overturned a box of recipes on the counter in order to see beneath it.

“I have to go,” he finally announced, finding his keys under a stack of mail that had come for him at his now old address. “Don’t worry about anything else, just finish up lunch and let yourselves out--“

But even as Kurama made a bee line for the door Keiko called out angrily from the floor.

“Wait!” she demanded, “What-!?”

Kazuma cut across her, “Who was that on the phone?”

Kurama looked over his shoulder to find that Kazuma had risen up from the couch, and was watching him anxiously. The pizza and beer was now long forgotten, his attention entirely focused on Kurama.

“A nurse from the hospital where...” Kurama gritted his teeth, not particularly eager to make this admission, “Shiori is receiving treatment. A man has attempted to enter her room without being on the list of identified visitors. They called me, because I am the one who grants access to her room." He paused, noting that Kazuma’s expression had suddenly started to grow dark. “I need to go see this man for myself."

“Who is he?" Kazuma demanded; the angry edge to his voice obvious.

“Technically, he is my father.”

Kazuma was at the door in a heartbeat, thrusting his arm out so that Kurama could not pass to leave.

“No!” Kazuma said flat out. Kurama was hardly perturbed, but felt a spark of irritation at Kazuma treating him like a naughty child over something he wouldn’t know anything about. “No, she told me to never let him see you!”

Or perhaps he knew more than Kurama suspected.

Kazuma thumped the door with his fist. “Hell no! You are not going down there! Not alone, anyway!" And at that he bent over to snatch his shirt off the floor, tugging it back over his head. He grabbed his own keys and cellphone, a murderously determined look upon his face.

“Kazuma, there is really no need--“ Kurama tried to dissuade him, but Kazuma wasn’t listening. “This man could be quite harmless and I would be a hypocrite to deny any man a second chance."

“I'm telling you!" Kazuma warned again, pocketing his keys and phone, “Shiori told me to never let him near you. She said that he’ll worm his way right into the situation, and then rip at you!”

"Hang on!" Yusuke demanded from the couch. He too had risen up, and like Kazuma had picked up his shirt from the floor to pull it back on over his head, “Let’s take it easy. He’s Kurama’s dad, not a total stranger. What’s this guy’s name?” Yusuke asked.

“Matsuri Saburo.” Kurama replied. “I’ve heard his name though I never was allowed to see him growing-“

“And I'll tell you why!” Kazuma interjected with a righteous anger, “Because he's a fucking prick, and he down talked your mother and tried to harass her all the time! She told me this! She begged me to never let him hurt you, and I gave her my word; as a man, I won’t go back on it!”

“Right,” Yusuke sneered, having heard far too much of this ‘I'm a man’ talk in his life. “Well, while we’re here being manly men, this dude is down at the hospital trying to get into Shiori’s room. Maybe we should, I don’t know, go investigate that?"

Kazuma needed no further prompting. He was out the door in a heartbeat and thundering his way down the stairs. Yusuke watched him go, a hand over his mouth in thought.

“I swear, I know that name,” Yusuke murmured to himself. “I just don’t know where."

“You do?” Kurama asked, for he was quite surprised to find that Yusuke might actually know his father. The world was small, it seemed.

“Yeah it’s... weird,” Yusuke said. Behind him Keiko and Yukina were putting up the pizza, making to leave for the hospital. “Like, I’ve heard it somewhere before.”

He looked at Kurama and smiled, “I don’t know. Maybe if I see him I’ll figure it out. Either way, I’m involved now.”

“No--“ Kurama tried to stop him but Yusuke was out the door, following Kazuma down the stairs.

“I’m going too!” Keiko cried out, right on Yusuke’s heels.

“Keiko-!” Kurama tried to stop her, but she was much too fast and he didn’t have the energy to fight it. Now it was only him and Yukina left; as she slipped past him through the door she gave him a meek smile.

He supposed there was no use in fighting it. At this point he had no choice but follow along.

They took Yusuke and Keiko’s car to the hospital, Kazuma having already headed off on his motorcycle. Kurama was quite concerned that he was going to reach the hospital before them and beat down the doors looking for Masturi, but as they reached the hospital Kazuma was found to be outside waiting for them on a bench. He was still glowering, but at least he hadn’t attempted to take this situation into his own hands.

It was a quiet day, and the hospital was relatively empty save for long term patients who moved about during visiting hours. Shiori, having a malignant tumor, received treatment on the third floor, and so they took the elevator up (resulting in the most uncomfortable two and a half minutes of Kurama’s life as Kazuma steamed beside him and Yukina looked down meekly at the floor). When they got out on the third floor, Kurama made a bee line for the matron’s desk.

“Remember, my name is Shuichi,” Kurama warned over his shoulder.

“Right,” Keiko said, sounding slightly disheartened as she observed how quiet and still this ward was. Despite it being visiting hours, it was difficult to find much energy in a cancer therapy suite. “I wish I’d brought flowers or something.”

“Nah, she’s not here permanently,” Yusuke consoled her from behind Kurama. “This is just a day thing."

“Exactly,” Kurama agreed, smiling at Keiko reassuringly over his shoulder. It was incredibly sweet of her to think of Shiori in such a way. “Don’t worry about anything.”

Yet as he turned back around, he heard Yusuke whisper in Keiko’s ear, “If she were here all the time, Kurama would be, too.”

It seemed they knew him well.

Kurama approached the matron’s desk and found her working tirelessly at a computer. When she saw him, she smiled, and pulled away from her keyboard to address him politely.

“Nurse Saieto,” Kurama greeted her.

“Mr. Minamino,” Saieto said. “I’m so glad to see you’re here. Your mother wants to speak with you before you see anyone else.”

Her meaning was clear as she looked at him imploringly. “She said it was very urgent, and, given her state, we didn’t want to cause her any unneeded stress."

Still, Kurama wondered where Matsuri was as he looked about.

"Where is he?" Kurama asked.

“In the waiting room around the corner,” Saieto said, but she kept looking at Kurama in such a way that he knew he ought to see Shiori first.

Kurama nodded to her, and she relaxed into a smile at once. She gestured to the group behind Kurama.

“Family?” Saieto asked.

“Cousins," Kurama lied, knowing full well only family could get inside the ward. “And a wife of a cousin,” he added, gesturing to Keiko.

“Lovely." Saieto was unperturbed, trusting Kurama after having known him through Shiori for so many years. “Go right on in.”

And with that, she pressed a button behind her desk that caused the double doors beside her desk to open. Their access free to the ward beyond, Kurama lead the way to Shiori’s day room.

“So we’re cousins now?” Yusuke joked softly in Kurama’s ear.

Kurama leaned in, eager for them not to be overheard as they passed by another internal nurses station. “They won’t allow anyone but family in. Shiori will back up the story,” Kurama said, for Shiori had lied before when his step brother Kokoda had brought over his girlfriend at one point. Shiori’s room was closed and dim, the curtains drawn to cast the room in a cool semi darkness as Kurama slid the door open and quietly stepped inside. He turned, stopping the others at the door.

“Let me handle this.” Kurama murmured softly. He caught Kazuma’s eyes, and noticed that true concern there for Shiori; a good enough reason for Kazuma to come in. The others, however, needed to stay outside. This ward was not a house party; Shiori’s condition was much too frail for horseplay.

Kurama and Kazuma moved inside, coming around the curtain to find Shiori relaxing in a lazy chair with a thick blanket cast over her lap and legs. She was hooked up to several machines that pumped chemicals through her system, her face tired and drawn as she slept fitfully.

Kurama reached out and softly stroked her cheek, causing her brown eyes to flutter open. When she saw him, she smiled.

“Oh, no, you came...” Shiori whispered, her voice hollow and stressed. “I was so afraid-“

“Relax,” Kurama soothed, letting his hand stroke the dip of her cheek, “I came to you first, as you wanted."

“Thank God," she said, and she sounded truly miserable as she looked up at him from her chair.

“Shuichi, tell them he can never come in my room,” Shiori pleaded, her voice frail. “Ever! And do not allow him near you!"

Tears spilt from her eyes, her emotional state thrown to the wind as powerful drugs pumped through her failing body. Kurama wiped her tears away at once, hating to see them at all. They made a terrible ugly feeling rise up inside of him, as if something murderous might burst forth from his body at any time and take revenge for Shiori’s pain.

“Stay away.” Her eyes closed again, more tears slipping out. “No matter what he says... Stay away."

Kurama shushed her.

“Everything will be fine," he soothed, and for a while Shiori was still.

“Every time I feel that I’ve closed this chapter in my life... he comes back.” Shiori’s distress only made Kurama angrier, a hot feeling surfacing in his chest. Shiori in pain, in panic, was one of the few things that brought him to his knees. One of the few things that made him realize just how frail he was.

“I’ll handle it,” Kurama assured her. Far from soothed, Shiori’s eyes snapped back open, and she suddenly reached up to grab his hand tight from where it lay upon her cheek. She was truly afraid; the emotion radiated from every pore of her being.

“No!” she said. She sounded almost angry at him as she spoke, “No. You stay away from him. He is... awful. He is truly horrible person. A drug addict, and a criminal. A fiend.... I’ve heard rumors.”

She closed her eyes again, her lips quivering as she tried to keep from weeping, “I never wanted to believe them but you have to understand there is a reason I never let you be alone with him. There is a reason I never let him in the house."

“Relax,” Kurama said, rubbing her cheek until she was quiet, “Relax...”

Her other hand lay upon the arm of her chair, close to Kazuma’s side, and suddenly she was reaching up with her fingers to try and touch his hand. Kazuma took her hand in his own, eager to help her.

“Don’t let him near Shuichi,“ Shiori mumbled, her words slurring as she began to lose consciousness.

“I won’t,” Kazuma said firmly. “You try and sleep.”

He fixed the blanket a little better across her bare feet.

 

As soon as Shiori was asleep again, they returned to the door where Yusuke, Keiko, and Yukina were waiting patiently. Kurama wanted to know more, to assess the situation further, but he could tell that Kazuma was more determined than ever to protect both him and Shiori from this unknown man.

In Kurama’s logic, one could not protect from a threat until one understood a threat. Avoiding Matsuri would not ease the problem.

“I’m going to speak with the nurse and confide Shiori’s request,” Kurama said. Kazuma nodded, looking over his shoulder.

They spoke in hushed tones. No one was eager to go above a whisper with Shiori asleep.

“I’m gonna stay here and guard her room. I don’t trust this guy. He could try to weasel his way back in,” Kazuma warned.

“Allow me to assess the situation,” Kurama tried.

“No!"

"She is a divorcee. She has her own past with him,” Kurama said, though he was starting to get slightly annoyed with Kazuma’s stubborn demands. “He could be completely different. Until we understand him, how can we accept him for a threat?”

“I'm not gonna allow him to hurt you-"

“Kazuma, I am not a child," Kurama growled, his anger slowly beginning to bubble to the surface. Kazuma wasn’t backing down, his eyes as fiery as Kurama’s hushed tones, “Do not treat me like one-“

“Relax,” Yusuke hissed, ceasing the argument before it started. “Both of you. Shit man, people are sick in here."

Kurama glared at him.
“Well, they are!” Yusuke said defensively, “Look, let me go with him." Yusuke said to Kazuma, who still looked far from convinced, “We can both check it out. Cool? You stay here, I’ll go.”

“And I’ll stay with you,” Keiko offered to Kazuma. “We can keep her company.”

“Sound good?” Yusuke gave Kazuma a hopeful thumbs up. Kazuma did not look happy but, he seemed to be backing off his firm stance.

Kurama would take any room he could get at this point.

“I think we are over playing this, but if it will make you comfortable then come on,” Kurama grumbled to Kazuma, tugging Yusuke along out the door. The waiting room was on the other side of the double doors, requiring a nurse to buzz you in if you wanted to see a patient, and as Yusuke and Kurama walked back through to the other side, they hung a left to travel down a long hallway.

“Man, I hate hospitals,” Yusuke commented, slightly uneasy as he looked around, “Shit, the last time I was in one, a dude tried to slice my face open.” He was no doubt commenting on their time during Sensui’s trial. That had been an exhausting day.

They took another left, and as they rounded the corner to a deserted waiting room Kurama saw a tall, lean man sitting idly upon a bench looking out at the windows in a forlorn way. He was handsome, with a chiseled face and dark green eyes, but it was his hair that struck Kurama the most. It was dark red, almost black in its color; the very same tint as his own. Kurama had inherited the shape of Shiori’s eyes, but this man looked so incredibly like the human body of Shuichi Minamino that Kurama was put off and suddenly wanted to rethink this approach.

 

Was this the right thing to do? Kurama was unsure.

“Let me go and handle this by myself," Kurama whispered to Yusuke. “Don’t tell Kazum--“

Yusuke’s face stopped him cold. Where before there had been aloof calm, suddenly there was recognition and fear, a strange mixture that set Kurama on edge. It was a foreign attitude for Yusuke to take, and it made him even more nervous as he saw how Yusuke looked at his biological father.

Yusuke recognized Matsuri, and he was afraid. But why?

“Yusuke?” Kurama asked. He reached out to touch Yusuke’s shoulder, and Yusuke jumped, shaken from his reverie.

“Uh- nothing.” Yusuke gave him a hasty smile, though it was short lived, “I just...had this really weird thought. You wanna go check this out?”

“Yes," Kurama said, though he was far from convinced that Yusuke was okay.

“I’ll wait here,” Yusuke said. “You need me, come get me."

Kurama turned away, wondering what on earth that expression of fear had been about. As he walked towards Matsuri, his defenses were on high and his senses were scanning the man for a threat. He didn’t seem tense or uneasy; he was relaxing quite comfortably in the chair. In slacks and a loose button down, he seemed relatively well put together. Nevertheless it was shocking to imagine that this man was his father, that this man loved Shiori and had been with her.

Through this man, Kurama had found sanctuary from the judgment of spirit world. He owed him a great deal, though he’d be far from prone to admit that.

“Matsuri Saburo?” Kurama greeted Matsuri; when he looked up, Matsuri was revealed to have prominent bags under his eyes. Clearly he did not sleep well.

“Do I know you?” Matsuri asked, rising up. His tone was unthreatening, and his stance was relaxed.

“I’m your son, Shuichi Minamino," Kurama replied, noticing how Matsuri suddenly stared at him agape.

Matsuri made several noises conveying his shock and surprise.

“Shuichi?” Matsuri repeated. Kurama nodded, “I... I can’t believe it! Look at you... You’re so grown up!"

“Why are you here?” Kurama asked. He noticed the smell of smoke around Matsuri; it seemed that he indulged in cigarettes. He didn’t smell of booze, however, and even wore an aftershave to mask the offensive carbon odor. Matsuri did not seem like an emotionally available man, surprised and happy to see him but still keeping his reactions dulled as he shucked his hands in his pockets and looked away.

The pair of them could be twins, save for the shape of Kurama’s eyes.

“I’m a pediatrician in a neighboring prefecture; I heard your mother was in the hospital and that she ... wasn’t doing well. I came to visit her. I know she has a hard time seeing me, I wish every day I hadn’t left her, but... our personalities just didn’t work well together. Your mother was too good for me, a true angel.” Matsuri looked down, sorrowful. “I wanted to see how she was.”

"She seemed quite determined for you not to see her," Kurama said. He was far from forgetting Shiori's ominous warning.

 

“Well, she’s never liked people fretting over her, has she?” Matsuri chuckled. His tone was sincere, his smile relaxed, and little by little Kurama’s nerves were starting to slacken. Perhaps Shiori had been over eager to keep him away; Matsuri didn’t seem so awful up close, “’Course, she always worries about others. Like you.” Matsuri said, and Kurama flushed at the unpleasant thought. “She was so protective over you when you were growing up. My God, that day with the glass jar. That scared me to death."

Kurama’s jaw tightened, the memory hot and vivid in his mind even now as a grown man. How had Matsuri known about that day? Kurama had been very small, perhaps he and Shiori had still been in good contact back then.

“Why did I never see you during my youth?” Kurama asked, in an attempt to devoid the conversation elsewhere. He was starting to feel uncomfortable, though not through any fault of Matsuri’s.

“Well... It was difficult starting my own practice, I couldn’t provide the life that you deserved, that your mother deserved. Her father and I often fought, and I believed back then that she’d be better off without me until I established a firm practice. But when I did, and came back to ask her to marry me, I found out that she was in love with another man. I couldn’t interject on her happiness, even though she was mine. So I left. I never forgot about her though, I often tried to see how she was. Every time she’d just tell me to leave.” Matsuri paused, giving a weak laugh, “We’re an odd pair. We go in circles."

He didn’t seem too bothered at the concept of Shiori being married to another man. That was a curious notion, indeed. If he wasn’t jealous, then perhaps he was just truly concerned.

“I couldn’t give her what she deserved, what you deserved. I wasn’t good enough.” Matsuri looked down at this, a glum expression sweeping over his face.

Kurama felt a stab of regret in this heart. “That can hardly be the truth.”

“Well,” Matsuri said with a gentle smile, “One day when you’re in love with someone, you might understand the feeling.”

Suddenly Kurama thought of Kazuma, and of how he’d felt upon the floor between Kazuma’s powerful legs. He'd wanted to push Kazuma to heights of unattainable pleasure then, to adore Kazuma and worship his body-

“I already am,” Kurama said.

Matsuri smiled even wider. “Well, good for you. I’m glad to hear one of us is doing something right. Even now after years, my practice isn’t what it should be. It’s so difficult to be a small town doctor now days, especially one that works in Kampo.”

It shocked him to know that his biological father studied the art of ancient herbal medicine just as he did, and Kurama could not keep the surprise off his face.

“You study herbs,” Kurama said.

“Extensively. They’re my passion.”

Kurama looked away, over his shoulder at Yusuke who was still watching the pair of them warily. Kurama smiled at Yusuke, to let him know everything was alright. When he looked back again, Matsuri was watching with slight unease.

“Are you alright? Seeing me must be unnerving. I know you’ve had a hard time growing up with your mother without me. You probably felt like you were letting her down, the only man of the house."

Kurama flushed again; Matsuri had the unnerving skill of knowing Kurama’s weak spots. Perhaps it was a personality trait that they shared, akin to their study of Kampo.

“Is there any way that I can help you?” Kurama asked, quite guilty as he observed Matsuri’s exhausted state. The poor man must have been working himself to death.

“It’s difficult to make ends meet, but I can manage-“ Matsuri admitted. Kurama reached into his pocket at once, though Matsuri was shaking his head now.

“Let me-“

“No. No, really-"

“I insist,” Kurama urged. “You’re my father; I want to help you. Whatever occurred between the pair of you is not my business, though for years admittedly I had wondered.”

Matsuri looked down, ashamed again.

“I swear,” he murmured softly, “I love your mother, I'm just not the man she deserves. Your step father is a well established business man. He’s good for her, and can provide for her in moments like this. He can give her the security she so deserves.”

Suddenly Kurama could see many more similarities in Matsuri. He handed over what little cash he had on him, hoping it would help in some small way.

“Please,” Kurama said; Matsuri reluctantly took it. “I insist. If you... ever need help. You can find me on 8th Street across from Yusuke’s, the new restaurant. I’ve just started a Kampo shop there."

“No kidding!” Matsuri laughed, pocketing the money, “Wow... we’re quite alike aren’t we.”

“Disturbingly so,” Kurama agreed.

Suddenly the sound of Kazuma's voice was upon the air, and Kurama looked quickly over his shoulder to find Yusuke looking back down the hallway from which they’d come He gave Kurama a warning look.

“You should go,” Kurama urged Matsuri. Matsuri did not need to be told twice, quickly beginning to step away.

“I may stop by your shop,” Matsuri said with a smile.

“As you wish,” Kurama said.

“Shuichi...” His father was quite taken aback, even now after their conversation. “My God, it’s unreal.”

He quickly turned the corner at the opposite end of the hallway and took the stairs down to a lower level. Kurama’s eyes lingered on the spot where he had whipped out of sight.

“So?” Yusuke asked from the corner, waiting for a final say. As Kurama turned, only one word could come to mind.

“Unnerving.” Kurama repeated.

~*~

The day after the bizarre incident at Sariashiki Hospital, Kazuma found himself in a spot of high agitation. It was difficult to imagine what with so much good floating around his life, but Kazuma was pissed. As with so many other times, he found himself angry at Yusuke Urameshi, wishing he could beat the little twerps face in, but instead he was picking out a shirt to go clubbing in as Kurama brushed his hair.

Fuckin’ Yusuke Urameshi. Kazuma-Got-His-Dick-Sucked party... It would be funny if it wasn’t so disturbingly sad. He wondered how long Yusuke had been cooking such a move up. Probably since the moment he found out that Kazuma and Kurama had taken their relationship to the next level.

Now they’d been invited out to go clubbing with Yusuke, Keiko, Shizuru, and Yukina. The whole lot of them wanted to drink with Kurama and Kazuma, to have fun and relax after such a stressful few months. The last club experience had been a nightmare in Kazuma’s opinion but Yusuke forswore that everything would be better this time. This time they would dance and make merry. This time they would stay the hell away from Spirytus and drink sane liqueur. This time they would have fun. Kazuma had tried to tell him that they were busy, that they didn’t want to go out drinking, but Yusuke wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer. He’d demanded Kazuma’s presence, swearing that if he didn’t he would tell enormous stories about Kazuma getting his first blow job from Kurama while he himself had nabbed Kazuma’s first kiss.

In short, Kazuma was furious as he dressed.

“Kazu... Let it go.” Kurama smiled from Kazuma’s bed, continuing to brush his hair. It was quite a difficult task; Kurama had as much hair as Shizuru, though it was thicker and more lovely in Kazuma’s mind.

“I’m not lettin’ it go,” Kazuma growled, running a slight wax through his hair in old habit, “This isn’t funny.”

“He loves you, and he’s happy that you’re happy." Kurama smiled.

“Yeah, well, he’s a real sack of shit when he wants to be.”

 

~*~

They took the metro back down to the club district, Kazuma lamenting the whole way that he was about to have to walk back into 4th and 23rd.

It was a Saturday night and the district was wild with activity. People were even partying on the streets despite it being only nine at night. Yusuke had texted them to meet their group inside, taking the same side door as before and asking for the ‘green room’, whatever the hell that was. Frankly, Kazuma had no desire whatsoever to ask anyone anything at all, and so as Kurama lead the way into the nightclub Kazuma hung back with a bitter scowl.

The guard let them inside once again, and as they were plunged into that same humid darkness the sound of bass began to assault Kazuma’s ear drums. As they emerged onto the second floor balcony, Kazuma looked about left and right for any sight of Yusuke, Keiko, Shizuru, or Yukina.

He could see no one familiar.

“I wonder where they are.” Kazuma mused.

“Well, follow the noises of wild partying and we should be able to find Yusuke,” Kurama joked as he peered about. “Even in a crowd like this, he is his own animal.”

“I still don't see him,” Kazuma said.

“Hold on,” Kurama grumbled, stretching out an arm to touch the wall of the club. He closed his eyes, and Kazuma knew that he was sensing for Yusuke. For a minute, they stood in relative calm (or as calm as one could be in such a packed place) until Kurama dropped his hand and pointed a finger to the left.

“He’s in a hidden room,” Kurama deduced. “If we push on the wall, it should open for us.”

Kurama did so, and after a moment of peculiar searching his fingers found the hidden door. It swung open and the pair of them slipped into the cramped hallway. It took them down a short flight of stairs, where they took an immediate left at the bottom to find a spacious green room full of couches, tables, and four people.

One of whom was upon a table, screaming wildly.

Yukina was on her back, laughing delightedly as Yusuke plundered her exposed belly button with his tongue. Body shots were the call of the hour, a lemon wedge and salt the proof of tequila running through people’s systems. Yukina’s hands were switching from threading in Yusuke’s gelled hair to clap over her mouth when she screamed and laughed. Her lovely pale cheeks were flushed hot pink, her aqua hair spilling all over the table. She’d worn a white top that tied in the back, a dangerously provocative move in such a place. Yukina caught sight of them in the doorway, watching Yusuke’s outrageous display, and cried out.

“D-Don’t tell my brother!” she laughed hysterically.

Kazuma wondered what sort of scene would unfold if someone were to tell Hiei that Yusuke had been sucking high grade tequila from his sister’s belly button.

He had a feeling it would involve a great deal of fire.

“No, I rather like Yusuke in one piece,” Kurama assured her, sliding onto the couch next to Shizuru and accepting a shot from her at once to throw it back.

“Hey! It's you!” Yusuke smiled up at them, licking tequila from his lips. Yukina was still giggling feverishly upon the table, and though they touched each other there was no sexual interest between them. Kazuma glowered at Yusuke as he descended.

Kurama might have agreed to not tell Hiei, but Kazuma was still considering it.

“Congrats on gettin’ blown!” Yusuke sneered at him, “You can thank me any time you want!"

“I’m gonna thank you by jamming my goddamn fist down your throat!” Kazuma snarled, grabbing Yusuke by the shirt collar and yanking him close over the table. Yukina squeaked, covering her face, unable to stop laughing at the sight above her as Yusuke suddenly put a knee up on the table and slid right over to Kazuma, grinning maniacally.

“No-!” Keiko warned from the couch, her eyes flashing. “No fighting t’night! You two need to kiss and make up-“

“Yeah, Kazuma,” Yusuke said huskily, throwing an arm around Kazuma’s neck. Kazuma took an automatic step backward, resulting in him nearly falling over as Yusuke followed him off the table, “Kiss me?”

“I’d sooner eat dog crap than kiss you,” Kazuma warned, still quite irritated about this whole club affair, but Yusuke motioned to Shizuru. She grinned, pouring a shot for Yusuke who took it and pressed it to Kazuma’s hands.

“Shuttup and take a shot,” Yusuke said. “Take a shot. Go on!”

Kazuma did, just to shut Yusuke up.

“Are you happy now?” Kazuma demanded, but Yusuke was getting another shot.

“Another one,” Yusuke demanded. Kazuma had no choice but to accept, throwing the other shot back. Yusuke was taking a shot as well, looking quite pleased with himself.

Hell, he could probably drink the whole bottle of tequila by himself.

“How much have you had-?” Kazuma demanded. He could not keep from laughing as Yusuke grabbed the tequila bottle from behind Shizuru’s head where it sat on a high table, pouring them both shots and forcing Kazuma to drink.

Damnit, didn’t they have a school assembly one time about this sort of crap?

“Not enough!” Yusuke sneered, throwing back a shot, “Take another!”

Kazuma did so. Yusuke was, after all, the leader of this outfit. Maybe he ought to let Yusuke take charge tonight... he clearly seemed to know what he was doing.

Suddenly, Kazuma’s stomach flipped as he saw Yukina climb off the table. For one second he got a view of the side of her breast and it was something he really wished he had never seen. But she was sitting in Shizuru’s lap before anything indecent could be exposed; they kissed, Shizuru’s arm coming around Yukina’s waist in a firm and protective embrace.

“Shit, I might just need it.” Kazuma glowered.

“That’s the spirit!” Yusuke egged him on, relaxing back onto the table. “Now I realize what your problem was last time!”

“Oh yeah?”

“You weren’t partying with me! And!” he added, jerking a thumb over at Kurama, “You were drinking Spirytus.”

Shizuru made a face, looking rather impressed at Kurama.

“Damn Kurama, you know how to party,” Shizuru said.

“I ball hard,” Kurama joked.

“I want to ball hard!” Yukina sat up straighter in Shizuru’s lap. She seemed quite eager to find Spirytus and drink it.

“No!” The word came from everyone, and Yukina bit her lip meekly as she shrank down a little in Shizuru’s lap.

“Spirytus is off limits, little girl!” Yusuke warned, “Tonight we are gonna party long and hard... and I intend on you staying awake for all of it.”

Yukina beamed delightedly.

 

It was impossible for them to stay away from the dance floor. They went downstairs as a group, drunk from tequila and spinning in a laughing haze. The dance floor was packed tight, bodies moving all around them, but with the group together they could hold their own and protect Yukina in the middle. It was a wild, sweaty affair, but Kazuma didn’t care. The bass reverberated through his system, suddenly filling his breath. His very flesh sizzled with the rhythm, his hands seeking out Kurama’s body; and without any preamble they were grinding together. Kazuma was oblivious to any other company they kept. This was nothing at all like his first club experience where they had stayed only an hour and ended up going home to a massive fight. Kazuma was shocked when he pulled out his phone to snag a photo and realized it was past midnight.

When they returned in a sweaty heap to their private room, they ended up drinking even more. Yusuke was determined to find out who the better drinker was between he and Kurama and suddenly the table was a battle ground as Yusuke and Kurama threw shots back.

“You think you can take me, red riding hood?!”

“Careful, Yusuke. I can turn into the wolf whenever I please-“

“Coulda sworn you were a fox demon!”

“Do you know what foxes do when they are cornered, Yusuke?”

“Uh, lick their fur?”

“They bare their teeth!”

It turned out neither of them could beat the other.

It was strange, to observe difference between them as they got drunker. Kurama could barely stand but his speech was as articulate and calm as ever. Meanwhile Yusuke was impossible to knock down, his knees locked and his legs firm but his speech largely unintelligible. Half the time he burst into laughter mid-sentence, slurring his words as he threw wild hand gestures around. Kurama collapsed onto the couch, laughing as Yusuke made a tower out of their shot glasses and demanded Kazuma ‘peer review’ his ‘architectural design’

What came out was “‘K’zuma ge’ over her an... peer review thiz delicious design-!”

Yusuke had no choice but to fall onto the couch when Keiko pulled him down. Perhaps she was trying to get him away from the shot glasses. The tequila was nearly gone now (though to be fair, they’d all drank from it).

Kazuma watched Yusuke squirm in Keiko’s hold, remarking that Yusuke’s architecture design was in danger of falling over if he kicked out at the table.

“Hey-hey!” Yusuke beckoned to him with a slur, reaching into his jacket with slight difficulty. He was trying to pull something out, and laughed wildly as Keiko reached underneath his shirt. She was kissing his jaw, peppering his skin with affection. Yusuke could barely concentrate.

“Come here,” Yusuke said, and Kazuma stumbled back over to the couch, collapsing on Kurama’s other side. “I gotta show you... why I really called us here.” Kurama was drunk, smiling blissfully, and suddenly Kazuma could not help but wrap an arm around the back of Kurama’s neck as he pulled him into his side. Being drunk was nice, but having Kurama pressed up against him was even nicer. He sought each pleasure he could, chasing after golden glows like a dog would cars as Yusuke finally pulled a large envelope out of his jacket. How long had he had that in there? What an old place to keep a letter... and why would he bring one to a party? Shizuru and Yukina were watching with interest as Yusuke tried to undo the seal on the envelope with slight difficulty. It took him longer than usual, and when he finally did he pulled out several waxy pictures.

“Look!” For a moment he held them up high, but before Kazuma could see what the photos were of Yusuke suddenly snatched them back to his chest.

“Wait! I change my mind,” Yusuke blurted out drunkenly. Keiko giggled, trying to pull the pictures away from his chest, “I gotta explain first.”

“Oh my God, you’re so indecisive,” Keiko chastised him, but Yusuke just held the pictures tighter to his chest.

“No, no, lemme... explain." He paused as she kissed him, breaking into a laughing fit as her fingers dancing over his chest tickled him, “No! Wait! Okay-“ Yusuke plunged ahead, still grinning as Keiko’s fingers hovered over his chest, “So, like, I don’t rule Raizen’s territory or nothing but... I make sure everything’s cool; like I’m not braggin’ or nothing but they do still consider me their boss.”

“They always will,” Kurama said slowly. “They’re very... loyal to Raizen.”

“I know, it’s sad.” Yusuke lamented before breaking off into a snort, “Those bald bastards. Anyway!” he continued on, “So I was talking with them a few days ago, just... checkin’ up on shit. And I asked Hokkoshin, I said, I need you to do me a favor. Cause they’ll never deny me anything!”

“Oh dear,” Kurama said, unable to suppress a snicker.

“What did you make that poor man do?” Keiko asked, her voice slow and loose from alcohol.

“So I tell him, I say-...” Yusuke had to break off, because he was starting to laugh again, “I say, ‘I need you to go to the Alaric for me’.”

Suddenly Kurama's eyes snapped open. He sat up, Kazuma’ hand falling slightly to the middle of his back as he looked warily at Yusuke. So much for being blissfully drunk.

“... Yusuke,” Kurama said in warning, his tone sharp, “What are those pictures of?”

Poor Keiko was confused. “What’s the Alaric?” she asked.

“That's where Hiei lives,” Kurama explained.

And suddenly, Kazuma absolutely had to see the pictures.

“Yusuke!” Keiko cried out, she smacked Yusuke’s chest hard, the slap resounding across the room. Yusuke hissed in pain, but he was smiling wildly, “Did you harass Hiei? After everything he already endured?!"

“Lemme see the pics!” Kazuma begged, “Oh please, please tell me they’re embarrassing!”

“The reason we are partying tonight!” Yusuke said with a drawl before throwing the pictures face up onto the table, “Is because all is well. I have confirmable proof."

There were four copies. Kazuma grabbed one at once and held it up close. Drunk though he was, he could tell they were of Hiei and a woman...

... Who was kissing him.

Kazuma’s mouth dropped.

She was not a typical kind of pretty, but she was pretty none the less. She was about Hiei's height, and well toned with muscle. Half her face was marred with scars, causing her to have to wear a glass eye covering as well as a strange metal piece over her ear. Yet the unscarred half of her face was lovely and sharp. Her good eye was closed, her lips firmly upon Hiei’s.
Her arms were wrapped lovingly about him, one normal and about his shoulders. The other was robotic, a clear mechanical limb that held him tight by the waist. She wore the clothes of a fighter, and her auburn hair fanned about her face in the high wind of where ever they were. Kazuma had never seen a picture of Hiei looking so happy, of looking so... calm. Hiei’s hands were threaded through her hair, anchoring to him as his mouth plundered her own. It was the kind of kiss romantic movies tried to capture, the kind of kiss that could only come from loving someone entirely.

Kazuma had kissed Kurama in much the same way before.

“Hot damn,” Shizuru spoke up, holding Yukina close as she observed her own copy of the picture. “That's a reason to party!”

“... Mukuro?” Kazuma asked, looking up at Yusuke expectantly.

“Yep.” Yusuke grinned, and he made a vertical line to divide his face in half with a finger, “See what I mean? Kinda... right down the middle.”

Kazuma looked down at the picture again. For some reason, he couldn’t look away.

“... She’s... really pretty,” Kazuma murmured.

“Well,” Kurama said, and Kazuma smiled at the jokingly touchy tone, “I’ll try not to take offense.”

“No, no, no!” Kazuma laughed, before he could stop himself he kissed Kurama on the cheek, not caring if his sister was sitting feet away and watching. “No one’s more beautiful than you, baby! No one!”

Kurama grinned, and Kazuma could feel the heat coming from his cheeks.

“But we gotta- we gotta frame these pictures or something!” Kazuma urged, shaking the waxy paper at Yusuke. Yusuke was barely paying attention. Keiko was kissing his jaw again, her hand tracing the muscles of his abdomen. “We gotta have pictures of Hiei in our homes!”

Shizuru was smiling at Yukina in such a way that he had never seen her smile at anyone before. Yukina looked truly happy, holding her picture tight. It seemed she would never let it go, nuzzling it weirdly.

Shizuru placed the softest of kisses upon Yukina’s nose. Yukina’s face scrunched into a grin.

“You can’t have someone in your family and not have a picture of them!” Kazuma said to Kurama, who was looking up at him so adoringly that Kazuma wished he could kiss him again.

He stole a second kiss, and Kurama suddenly began to chew on his lip as he grabbed the back of Kazuma’s shirt.

If only they were alone.

Hell, if only Shizuru wasn’t sitting at the table; Kazuma might be willing to kiss Kurama in front of Yusuke but not Shizuru.

“Tell you what!” Yusuke broke off, sitting up straighter to grab their overturned shot glasses. He took the bottle of tequila, noting it was nearly gone, and poured them all a shot.

“To Hiei and Mukuro!” Yusuke toasted.

Kurama grabbed his shot glass at once, throwing his back with a smile upon his face. Kazuma followed suit.

He was framing this picture. He had to.

“To fucking and fighting!” Yusuke cried out for another toast. Once again Kazuma had to take the drink.

Shit, fighting and fucking had brought him the greatest pleasures of his life.

“To you gettin’ your dick sucked!” Yusuke added with glee! Shizuru laughed aloud, raising her shot glass high.

“URAMESHI!”
~*~

After the club, Shizuru and Yukina went home; Shizuru had to work the next day, but there was something in the way that she kept a hand on Yukina’s bare back the entire time as they walked off that made Kazuma feel certain his sister wasn’t thinking of sleeping. It was so fucking weird to imagine his sister having sex that he had to suggest they go for a walk just so he could get his damn mind off of it. There was a park nearby, full of little vendors selling heart-attack food that sang a siren song to Kazuma in his drunken state.

There was something about a hot dog with chili when he was drunk at three in the morning that just seemed so damn right.

They headed towards the park, with Keiko skipping about on the street and dodging through the pedestrian traffic. Kurama was right behind her, for some reason delighting in the park as soon as he saw it. Kurama’s natural instincts were beckoning to him as much as the fast food was calling to Kazuma, and as soon as they entered the park Kurama removed his shoes to sit barefoot in the grass. Keiko was happy to collapse beside him, wanting to show him a trick she’d learned in grade school involving a blade of grass that you blew between your teeth. Kazuma bought a hot dog from a vendor who looked at him with slight concern as if to ask ‘what the hell are you doing up this early?’ while Yusuke settled for a huge batch of fries that he munched on with gusto. The pair of them leaned against the brick wall, eating as fast as they dared while watching Keiko and Kurama play in the underbrush.

“So what was it like?” Yusuke asked, licking the salt off his greasy fingers.

“Crazy," Kazuma murmured; he knew exactly what Yusuke was talking about. All topics were close to sex with Yusuke, “He is... the best. In the entire world."

“Nah, can’t be better than Keiko.” Yusuke shook his head.

“You wanna bet?” Kazuma teased, “I bet you money, hands down, Kurama is better than Keiko.”

“Alright.” Yusuke suddenly had a maniacal grin, “We’ll have to have a little competition. They can suck our dicks at the same time. We’ll see who comes first.”

“You are disgusting!” Kazuma laughed; Yusuke just shrugged with a blissful grin, eating fry after fry. Kazuma finished his hot dog and tossed the greasy wrapper into a nearby garbage bin, making a basketball shot that Yusuke rolled his eyes at.

“Man..." Kazuma sighed. Something had been on his mind since Kurama had given him a blow job, and suddenly with Yusuke beside him he felt brave enough to talk about it. Who else could he talk to about such things besides Yusuke. He was far too embarrassed to talk to Kurama. “I feel like there’s something.... blockin’ me.”

“Aww, hell,” Yusuke grumbled, “What now?”

Kazuma chewed on his lip as Yusuke licked more salt from his fingers.

They eyed one another.

“... Be honest with me?” Kazuma asked.
“Always.”

“If I sucked a dick would that make me gay?”

Yusuke did not look at him with disgust or irritation, instead mulling Kazuma’s words over in his mind. It seemed he understood Kazuma’s question, despite how queer it might have sounded.

“No,” Yusuke said as he munched on a fry. “No, that would not make you gay.”

“What would make me gay?”

“You being afraid to suck a dick because you don’t wanna look ‘gay’,” Yusuke mocked quotation marks in the air with his fingers. “People keep saying ‘gay’ like it’s some stupid slur, but some of the strongest dudes I know are gay." At this, Yusuke nodded to Kazuma and Kurama over in the grass.

Kazuma blushed.

“You can’t be afraid to suck a dick,” Yusuke urged him. “I’m not afraid to suck a dick! I’ve sucked a dick!”

Yusuke clapped a hand over his mouth, quite shocked at his drunken admittance. Kazuma could barely believe his ears either, and gaped at Yusuke as he slowly started eating fries again. Yusuke was trying hard not to meet his face; his eyes suddenly dark and haunted instead of gleeful and bright. Kazuma would have thought for certain Yusuke would be bragging, insisting he’d sucked a dick better than anyone else alive, but suddenly Yusuke’s mood had shifted.

“Whose?” Kazuma asked as he mentally ran through every man they’d known together. Could it be a schoolmate? Or maybe someone Yusuke knew that Kazuma did not? Kazuma could remember being young and seeing Yusuke hanging around some dangerous looking men... their arms covered in elaborate family tattoos and their eyes shaded. They’d been cheery to Yusuke, all of them joking and sleazing about, but... something had been off. Kazuma’s father had always warned him flat out to never associate with men like that. Had always been sure to put himself physically in front of any gang member that tried to sweep Kazuma up in their lull. Yusuke’s father had been a no-show, a figure Kazuma had only seen twice in his life. Sharp chinned and sunken eyed, mean as a snake... a spitting image of Yusuke if Yusuke sold his soul to the devil.

There had been no one to defend him. No one to block him from gang members or urge him into the house when the streets got dark.

That sort of life seemed wild and fun when you were watching it from afar. Up close it was a nightmare.

“... It was a long time ago.” Yusuke was trying to shake Kazuma’s concerned gaze, trying to appear aloof.

It wasn’t working.

“... How long ago?” Kazuma asked, his nerves apparent in his voice. Yusuke didn’t answer him, instead taking a swig of coke and looking away.

“Long,” Yusuke murmured.

A sudden cold wind blew through the park, boding the return of winter. Kazuma leaned a little into Yusuke, and Yusuke leaned back; the pair of them kept warm together. Over by the bench, Keiko was too busy braiding flowers into Kurama’s hair to care about the wind. Her bubbly mood was infectious, making Kurama smile pleasantly.

For a brief moment, Kazuma caught Kurama's eye. It was strange, to remember Kurama’s mouth upon him in this moment when they were in public. He suddenly realized how indebted he was to Kurama, how much he wanted to do back to him.

“... Don’t tell Keiko about that.” Yusuke said, bringing him back into the present. Kazuma had never heard Yusuke hold back from a sexual exploit, and it only served to unnerve him more. He could sense something dark in Yusuke’s mind, something nasty that didn’t belong there.

“You’re scaring me,” Kazuma told him. Yusuke flashed him a cheesy smile, but it was weak and did little to sooth him.

Kazuma watched him carefully.

“Damn, I’m glad I... have control over my life, now. You know?” Yusuke said. Kazuma nodded, “I hate... feeling like I can’t control my life. I hate it so much.”

Yusuke leaned into him a little more, “I looked at you when I was younger, and I saw someone who was always in control. I liked that.”

“Well,” Kazuma scoffed, “I’ll take that as a massive compliment. I didn’t really control anything. I just rolled with the punches. That was your influence on me.”

Roll with the punches... why not? If Kazuma was able to touch such a beautiful man, why not seize the situation to the fullest? Why be afraid? Why hold back?

Yusuke was smiling at him, perhaps already knowing what Kazuma was thinking about.

“I think I’m gonna try and... return the favor tonight,” Kazuma said, quite nervous.

“Go for it.” Yusuke said, tucking his hands into his armpits as he leaned against the brick wall.

But Yusuke’s voice was far too soft, and it kept making Kazuma nervous. He watched as Yusuke glanced at Keiko, only to look away and back down the opposite side of the ally. It was as if he was ashamed; it was so out of character Kazuma wanted to smack him just for old time's sake.

He nudged Yusuke, making Yusuke smile.

“Yusuke... that’s behind you," Kazuma said, “You know that right? You know you’re in charge now, right?”

“Yeah,” Yusuke said, but there was a hollow edge to his voice Kazuma didn’t like.

Kazuma looked back at Kurama; Kurama was watching him with slight interest. He kept on getting distracted by Keiko braiding his flowered hair.

“Do you wanna pound my face in?” Kazuma offered to Yusuke.

“...Nah,” Yusuke whispered. But as he smiled at Kazuma, Kazuma knew he’d said exactly what Yusuke needed to hear. It put the control back into Yusuke’s hands, and gave him the ability to inflict pain if he so chose. It was a very strange way to bring comfort but... it fit for them.

~*~

“Well,” Kurama sighed, tossing his hair wildly about as he let his keys slip from his hands. “That was far too much fun. I may have to request a second outing.” He looked down at the picture of Hiei and Mukuro, wandering unsteadily around the bare apartment with interest.

“Where shall we put it?” Kurama murmured aloud, “What about here?”

He made to set the picture above the mantel in the living room but missing it by a good six inches. The picture floated to the floor, but Kurama did not seem to notice.

“We could put all our pictures here,” Kurama said thoughtfully.

Kazuma’s mind was still heavy with thoughts of Yusuke. He was suddenly thinking about how lewd Yusuke could be, about how he made such brassy and ugly sexual comments with ease. He could talk about eating his wife out in front of other people and never bat an eyelash. He was so open with his sexuality, so aware of who he was in it... was it just a part of his extroverted personality or was it something more? Who had told Yusuke that it was okay to make such lewd comments in his youth? Or God forbid had someone introduced him to that lifestyle before he was ready-?

The thought made Kazuma want to pound in a complete stranger’s face, to bring vicious and cruel right to such a disgusting and low wrong. It was almost as if someone had done the damage to him instead of Yusuke.

Kurama was heading into the bedroom. Kazuma followed him.

“Urameshi said something to me tonight," Kazuma said as Kurama took up a hair tie and spun his hair into a loose bun.

“I saw you two talking by the hot dog stand. He seemed sad,” Kurama said.

Kazuma set his keys onto Kurama’s dresser, navigating around the boxes to shuck off his jacket in a corner pile where Kurama’s own jacket lay. There was no point in being neat when there was nowhere to put things. As soon as Kurama was unpacked, it would be a different story.

“...I think something bad happened to him,” Kazuma murmured. His drunk mind wanted to do several things, including talk to Kurama about what Yusuke had said. Yet he couldn’t, not when Kurama’s tight black jeans were clinging so awfully well to his hips. Kazuma could not keep his eyes off Kurama’s backside, its delicious curve beckoning to Kazuma in ways that were inhuman.

“What?” Kurama asked, looking over with slight concern. Kazuma shook his head.

“I don’t know,” Kazuma admitted. “I’m gonna want to talk about it tomorrow when I’m not drunk. Are you drunk too?”

“A little,” Kurama said, smiling vacantly even as he nearly tripped over an opened box of clothing.

“Good,” he mumbled, hoping that Kurama being drunk would make this easier on him, “Cause I’m on a mission.”

 

Kurama was shedding clothes, flushed from their insane night out. As he attempted to pull his shirt over his head, he smacked himself in the face and snorted in drunken amusement. He continued to laugh as he tripped over his pants, half-hopping and half-stumbling about in an effort to extricate his legs. Kazuma watched every move, entranced by the vision before him, his gaze constantly straying down to Kurama’s thighs. When Kurama finally managed to remove his pants (with helpful support from the bedroom wall), Kazuma suddenly found himself incredibly nervous as he realized what he wanted to do, what he knew he needed to do to get over this fucking hump in his head.

He had to suck Kurama’s dick. Tonight.

The idea both thrilled and terrified him at the same time as he remembered every moment in his youth when a kid would get beat up for being ‘gay’ or a ‘faggot’. Kazuma had learned to defend himself from an early age, far too sensitive for some of the older bullies’ tastes; they’d quickly learned he was not a ‘faggot’ when Kazuma had knocked them flat on their asses. He’d barely been out of elementary school and fighting for his life; what a world they lived in. It had been so strange, to sit on his father’s lap and weep into his chest when he had been told earlier that day that boys didn’t cry, that real men were far too strong for such displays. His preconceptions of what men were supposed to be like were shattered when Kazuma’s mother had vanished.

He could remember his father on his knees, screaming into his hands as the police tried to console him, tried to explain to him that they would find her.

They never had.

Takahashi had paid the price of being openly gay in high school, having to transfer in the middle of his sophomore year when the beatings became so bad that he was afraid of going to school. His parents had not been understanding, had only moved him because he’d managed to snag a scholarship to Kurama’s high school.

Kazuma had always been afraid of what it meant to be gay, the sounds of Takahashi’s pleads and screams haunting his sleep as of late.

But Yusuke Urameshi, the strongest man he’d ever known, had been on his knees before another man. Yusuke Urameshi, wild and proud, unbreakable in his madness, had been able to blow a guy without losing his masculinity. Why could Kazuma not do the same?

He knew he had issues. He knew he had to face them. Who better to face them with than Kurama?

Shit, Kurama had sucked his dick. That didn’t make Kurama any less of a man to Kazuma. Kurama could kill a bitch with what could be considered ‘extreme gardening’ by some. Kurama could put you on the floor and make you beg for death; that hadn’t changed with him blowing Kazuma. Why couldn’t Kazuma make the same move? He could turn it into an act of simply giving Kurama pleasure, of bringing Kurama to orgasm as a ‘thank you’ for the other day, but....

No. No. That was all he had to do. Focus on Kurama, not himself.

Kurama was watching him, a pleasantly curious, trance-like expression upon his face as he saw the look of terror Kazuma undoubtedly wore.

 

“Just- just- no,” Kazuma spluttered.

Kurama’s smile fell, to be replaced with mild concern.

“Don’t, it’s not-“

“Is something wrong?” Kurama asked. Kazuma could hear the nerves in Kurama’s voice, the fears so recently quelled starting to come back. Kazuma would not have Kurama thinking he’d done something wrong just because Kazuma was afraid of sucking dick.

“I gotta... I gotta do this,” Kazuma blurted out. “I gotta get the fuck over this mental block. I gotta suck your dick.”

Kurama burst out laughing, having to grasp at the wall to steady himself. But his laughter faded quickly when he caught a glimpse of Kazuma’s face and realized he was not trying to be funny.

“What- Kazuma, are you serious?” Kurama demanded. “What on earth did Yusuke say to you?”

“I got like- mental scars, man!" Kazuma snapped. He pulled his shirt off over head, tossing it in the corner of the room. “Scars from middle school. If you sucked a dick you were a fag and fags got the shit beat out of them. And I... I didn’t wanna get the shit beat outta me!” Kazuma was rambling, “But, Urameshi beat the shit out of me anyway, so I learned how to toughen up and then I think I got strong enough to challenge him, but I never stopped being afraid. I never stopped worrying that I wasn’t man enough, that I wasn’t strong enough- but I am strong enough!" Kazuma growled. Kurama’s eyes were calm upon him, but he was listening raptly.

“I am a strong man; strong enough to please you.”

Kurama smiled at Kazuma’s words.

“I’m gonna please you. Right now.” Kazuma’s heart was back to its race-track method as he dropped to his knees, grabbing Kurama by the backside and pulling him close. Kurama’s eyes widened significantly; it seemed that he had no idea what to think.

“That’s a very moving speech, but are you sure?” Kurama asked, hands finding Kazuma’s shoulders as he steadied himself. “As much as I agree with your sentiments, you certainly don’t have to touch me in that way to please me-“

“Yeah, but you sucked my dick,” Kazuma pointed out.

“Well, I wanted to.”

“Well I want to too, buddy!” Kazuma poked Kurama hard in the stomach with a finger.

Kurama laughed, recovering from the poke with as much dignity as he could. “Do you really wish to do this?” he asked.

“Yeah!” Kazuma said, suddenly feeling quite excited at the prospect. If he stopped treating it as some sort of punishment and started looking at it as a game, he could see himself winning. He could bring Kurama to his knees, just as Kurama had brought him to his knees. Maybe he wouldn’t have as much skill, but damnit he wouldn’t be lacking for enthusiasm!

“Are you sure you want to, or are you-“

“Shut up. I’m suckin’ your dick,” Kazuma snapped. He could feel the powerful heat radiating from the apex of Kurama’s thighs. He knew how to please himself, he could surely do the same for Kurama. Yet as he bravely reached forward and pulled Kurama’s length from the confines of his briefs, Kazuma suddenly faltered.

He had no fucking idea what to do next.

“I don’t know how but I want to pleasure you,” Kazuma said, quite embarrassed in his admittance. Kurama just smiled.

“Remember what I did?” Kurama asked.

Kazuma groaned as he fisted Kurama’s cock, feeling the soft flesh stiffen at his touch. He nestled his face onto the smooth flat planes of Kurama’s stomach. “Vividly,” he grumbled.

Kurama laughed a little. “Do that,” he advised.

“Okay.” Kazuma said, licking his lips. This was easy; he could do this. He just didn’t need to think while he did it.

Fuck, this was going to be difficult.

“And if you get stuck or scared,” Kurama murmured, “I’ll help you.”

“Only you can give instructions while getting your dick sucked,” Kazuma tried for a joke, but the words were weak in his mouth. He knew what he had to do, as he stroked the smooth, now fully erect length. He knew what it physically took, and that he was capable of all of it... but dammit, what if he was shit at it? What if Kurama didn’t like what he was doing, and told him to stop? What if Kurama rethought their whole relationship because of it-?

An icy dread began to fill his stomach.

“Just... relax,” Kurama seemed to see the fear on his face, even from the weird angle that he now could view Kazuma from. Kurama reached out to softly put Kazuma’s ginger hair, stroking it sweetly as he buried his fingers deep into his locks. “You get so uptight, so afraid of things that will never happen. Relax.”

Kurama wouldn’t leave him, even if he was horrible at this. Kazuma willed himself forward, closing his eyes-

Kurama’s gasp frightened him, a sharp and deep breath emitting from Kurama’s mouth as Kazuma took his length in his mouth. He remembered how Kurama had made to stroke him as well, so he wrapped a hand around the base, positioning himself a little better as he used his other hand to support Kurama behind his back. At first it was a question of understanding what Kurama liked, of listening to the tiny breathes and moans that came first as the deep musky scent of Kurama’s body filled his nose and a salty tang swam in his mouth. He realized as he swirled his tongue that Kurama hitched a breath every time he licked the underside of his cock. If he pushed his tongue just right, and then used his thumb to add more pressure, Kurama made a tight noise and his fingers clenched in Kazuma’s hair.

So that was what he liked. Kazuma had no other weapons in his arsenal... he was gonna abuse the hell out of this one.

As he continued the assault with his tongue and thumb, he could feel a sweat beginning to appear like a light film upon Kurama’s back. Kurama’s flesh was hot and pounding in his mouth, blood rushing to his lower regions as Kazuma held him tighter by the waist. Kurama’s knees, already unsteady to begin with, were beginning to quake.

Kazuma felt a burst of confidence: He was making Kurama weak kneed while giving him a blow job.

Kazuma pulled back for a moment when he realized that he was practically holding Kurama up (not that he minded) and looked up to see an incredibly seductive sight: sweat had coated Kurama’s face, making long strands of red hair stick to his cheeks. His eyes were hooded and glazed, his lips lightly parted as he panted. It seemed he had no idea where he was, as if control was slowly slipping away.

“Maybe you should be sitting?” Kazuma asked.

Kurama nodded weakly and stumbled backward onto his bed, shuddering as Kazuma leaned over his lap to gently blow across his wet, hardened flesh. Kurama barely suppressed a whimper, but Kazuma still heard it, and smiled at Kurama as he returned to his prior assault.

Kurama let out a deep moan, the first true noise of the whole encounter, and buried his hands tight in Kazuma’s hair.

Kazuma had no idea if certain forms or movements were considered better blow job etiquette. He did not know if he looked attractive, here between Kurama’s legs with his shirt off and a dick in his mouth. All that he knew was that he loved Kurama, and that he wanted to bring Kurama heights of ecstasy he’d never known before. If a certain move made Kurama moan, he was gonna use it. If Kurama had a fantasy he wanted to act out, Kazuma would take the main role. It was just that simple.

“St- stop now, or I’m...gonna...” Kurama could barely speak, his words wavering, voice jumping octaves only to settle into a low groan.

Kazuma knew what Kurama was trying to say, but he didn’t care. He’d gone way too far at this point to get scared. If he was man enough to suck a dick then he was man enough to swallow.

Kurama suddenly threw back his head, exposing his long pale throat as he cried out- a hot fluid filled Kazuma’s mouth. It was so unexpected that he didn’t have time to swallow; he ended up choking. His eyes burned as he wiped his mouth, feeling incredibly foolish as he held onto Kurama for dear life.

He laid his face upon Kurama’s thigh, utterly embarrassed. Kurama was weak, unable to articulate his feelings but still running his hands through Kazuma’s hair. Kazuma was certain that he had done horribly, certain that he had just given the worst blow job in the history of blow jobs-

“I sucked,” Kazuma whispered bitterly into Kurama’s thigh.

Kurama just stroked his hair, his hands straying to his shoulders to massage the muscles there. “Wasn’t that the point?” Kurama tried for a joke.

Kazuma looked up at Kurama, not knowing whether to laugh along or beg for a merciful punishment after such a ridiculous performance. Yet Kurama was smiling at him, flushed but pleased, his green eyes filled with mirth.

“If you had truly been terrible, why on earth would I have orgasmed?”

Kazuma flushed; Kurama’s logic was difficult to beat.

Kurama leaned down and kissed him upon the forehead. The action was cool and sweet, Kurama’s hair suddenly tickling his back as his long locks spilled down Kazuma’s broad shoulders.

“You’re gorgeous,” Kurama whispered into his skin.

Kazuma blushed.

Chapter Text

The weather grew steadily colder as October leaned on the edge of November. With it, a strange snowy gale began to rap at the windows and doors of Sariashiki. Kurama had never known such a snow, blindingly white during bright days and laying like pearls upon the street during moonlit nights. There was no blemish upon the skin of the world, no blade of grass out of place. He supposed that it was love he felt, that the world was just as bizarre and ugly as before but now he had someone to hold at night and so it became bearable. The world ‘bearable’ did not suffice, though. Nothing truly covered his emotion, in any vocabulary he had ever mastered. All he knew was calm, contentment covering him like a well-worn comforter. The sky was blanketed as well, soothing and gray, rocking him away into a world without color as gloves and scarves became a necessity.

Kurama’s new house was so big, and even with his possessions now unboxed inside it felt empty. It felt like something was missing, or rather simply not there yet. The house was waiting, its barren womb longing for a new life within it.

Kurama knew what he wanted, and what that meant he had to do, but he did not know if he possessed the abandon to pursue it. He supposed this was how Kazuma had felt last December, afraid to pursue what he wanted but longing for it every day and night. When Kazuma came over to his house and lay with him through the night, Kurama would dream with his eyes open. He would imagine the house around him as their house, as a place where they would never have to part. He imagined a life where he no longer had to hide, a life where he could be as he intended free to fling his arms open to the world. It was a foolish thought, and one that often sent him into a melancholy spiral as he remembered the reality of the world about him. That this house was his, and that it was empty even with him in it.

He supposed there was only thing to do, in all reality.

He had asked Kazuma to dinner, the pair of them dining at Yusuke’s simply to revel in Kazuma’s architecture and to watch with delight as Yusuke held ‘court’ behind the bar. As they ate, Kurama pondered how to best broach the subject so heavy on his mind... but it was impossible to do with food before him. He needed to be calm and centered when he spoke. He needed to understand the weight of each of his words. Like a fighter scoping out an arena floor, he wanted to leave nothing to chance. In a game where his very life hung in the balance, Kurama would not be the unprepared player.

After dinner, they walked. It was getting to that point in the year where nighttime walks were beginning thin and far between, simply because it was so cold and the wind somehow managed to rip at people through their thick coats and wooly accessories. Kurama’s feet took them far beyond Yusuke’s, through the paths of Sariashiki that lead down to the shore side. Some coastal towns had beautiful beaches with shining sands and wild vegetation; Sariashiki merely had a cold gray harbor where fleets of fishermen’s boats clung tight to the shores. Winter brought a harsher edge to the water, and though little rows of white lights lit the board walk and bridges, no one was upon him. Here in this moment, there was only Kazuma and Kurama. Only the quiet between them as they walked through the gray.

“I can’t believe it’s nearly been a year,” Kurama said aloud. “To think this time last year you were stuck with theoretical physics and unable to tell me you loved me.”

“That sure was a fun semester,” Kazuma joked. “God, am I glad that’s over.”

So was Kurama.

“I saw your designs the other night,” Kurama said, his cheeks burning from the cold wind as it rushed past. “The ones of the temple in Sapporo... they’re beautiful.”

Kazuma had taken on a new project, a massive temple in the wilderness of Hokkaido. When he’d come over, he’d worked briefly on his plans but had abandoned his quest when Kurama had beckoned him softly to the couch. They had lain together then, their weights comforting to one another, their combined heat a blanket to wrap them tight.

“Think so?”

“I do.”

“I hope my client likes them,” Kazuma said with a slight smile. “I’m getting paid a good chunk of money, which is nice because frankly I have plans for it.”

“You do?”

“Well…” Kazuma broke off for a minute as they stepped upon a bridge overlooking the harbor. His tone changed from light to serious, “This is only if you want me to, but I’d be more than happy to design the interior of your shop.”

Kurama smiled at the thought.

“It’s got gorgeous wood, and a great layout, but it needs renovations badly... the upstairs could do with some polishing as well. That kitchen in particular needs a face lift.”

Every time Kazuma said was quite true, and Kurama agreed with him whole heartedly. A light snow began to fall, christening the water in a pearly froth as the wind buffeted waves against the concrete pier. Below them, a small fleet of ducks were heading swiftly for land. They looked eager to be out of the water, which was no doubt freezing.

“Well I... I suppose that I’m glad you’re insisting as such, because I wanted to speak to you about my place.”

Kazuma smiled at him, that charming grin taking away Kurama’s breath; how had he ever been able to work as a teammate alongside Kazuma when he had such a beautiful smile? Such a face would distract him easily in the heat of the battle... such a face would distract him anywhere.

Unable to stop himself, Kurama reached up and allowed his gloved fingers to curve gently down Kazuma’s chiseled jaw. He wanted so badly to touch Kazuma with his bare hands, but knew that to reveal naked skin in this weather would be unwise. Kazuma flushed a little at Kurama’s touch.

“Thinking of enlisting my services?” Kazuma murmured.

“In a way,” Kurama whispered. He looked back out over the water, wondering how to word his question. How could he best explain the wide array of emotion inside him when he looked upon his empty apartment and slept with his eyes open alongside Kazuma?

“This house... when I bought it, I did so with a plan in mind,” Kurama admitted. “I didn’t want to live there with the intention of moving. I wanted to build something, something firm and good that could reflect in all parts of my life.”

He looked at Kazuma, and found that he was listening intently. His eyes, so warm and yet so serious, held Kurama captive. His soul was bound to those dark eyes, to all that they promised amid the gray.

“But to do something of that nature, I will need help,” continued Kurama, his tone suddenly breathless as he gazed into those eyes. “I have become dependent upon your... connection. Your support has lead me to see a life where there was none before. Such a life would be difficult to lead alone. Impossible, I daresay.”

Kurama looked out once more over the water, his cheeks burning again. This time, it was not from cold.

“What are your plans, now that you’re earning such a remarkable income? Do you plan to say in your apartment?”

For a minute there was silence.
“No,” Kazuma whispered. His arms were around Kurama now, their embrace about his waist very tight as the cold wind attempted to pry them apart. “I want to... find a place to settle down.”

That voice called to him, sweet and low; it spoke of the gray and all that Kurama so longed for. He turned one more time, and his nose accidentally brushed against Kazuma’s. His breath was warm and sweet upon Kurama’s brow, and Kurama reached up again to hold Kazuma’s face as the wind started to stir up again.

“Perhaps,” Kurama began, and his voice might have been drowned by the wind had Kazuma not been listening so intently, “we might settle together, then, if you find the location of my shop agreeable.”

Kazuma swallowed thickly. “... I find it very agreeable.”

Kurama’s heart leapt as Kazuma brushed his nose against Kurama’s cheek.

“If you’ll have me,” he whispered into Kurama’s ear.

It should not have been possible for such simple words to rob Kurama of his ability to speak, of his ability to even breathe. Yet they did, and Kurama could find no strength but in Kazuma’s lips, which he sought desperately.

There in that ugly, cold, wet, harbor, he kissed Kazuma as passionately as if they were alone in their bedroom. He allowed his imagination to explode, to create a world where the house Kurama had bought was their house. To where that quiet loneliness was no more, and each night could be a night of warmth and gray.

They pressed their faces together, arms tight about one another. Kurama swam in the smell of Kazuma’s aftershave; Kazuma inhaled the smell of flowers from Kurama’s hair. Kurama’s eyes began to close in spite of themselves, his body relaxing entirely. He realized now that as a fighter, his endeavor to know every inch of the battlefield could be set aside if he had a partner like Kazuma at his side. He could trust, and be calm; could understand that even in the most dangerous and deadly of moments he had a hope in his corner – hope, in this strong man.

~*~

Kazuma had packed his apartment the day after Kurama had asked him to move in, and the week following was full of activity as Kazuma boxed his possessions and moved them into their new home. Eikichi was the only one not happy about the affair, scowling for several days after her transition as she began to sniff out the territory of her new home. While Kazuma took over the process of unpacking and renovating their newly bought house, Kurama focused on gathering the supplies needed to open up a medicinal herb store, and fumed.

Fumed for having been lied to.

After Matsuri telling him that he was a pediatrician, Kurama had done a small bit of digging using contacts he’d developed over the years of Shiori being in and out of hospitals. Shiori was good friends with many doctors, a few of whom traveled abroad, and none of them had ever heard of Matsuri’s practice. A simple online search revealed nothing in regards to medicine, but everything on a criminal record. Matsuri was a convicted felon, one who had been in and out of prison for gang related activity several times in his life. A few of his charges included drug trafficking, and suddenly the bags underneath his eyes took on a new meaning to Kurama. It seemed ridiculously simple now, to him: Matsuri had come looking for money. Perhaps he had been as disgusting and low as to imagine that Shiori was already dead and Kurama the inheritor of her estate. This ugly manifestation was Kurama’s shame alone for having been swept in under the guise of familial care... but he knew that Matsuri would be back. Matsuri knew where his shop was, and if he ever fell into a bind for money he would no doubt press Kurama for funds. Kurama had given him cash once, and that was all the proof Masturi needed to know he could get money from Kurama again.

But Kurama was not a sap, and just because Matsuri was biologically related to him did not mean that Kurama was going to be a doormat.

Gathering supplies was almost ridiculously easy since Kurama could grow everything that he needed with a few seeds and his own energy. By using Yusuke as a contact, Kurama was able to spread awareness of his services into the demon community of human world, and suddenly he had customers requesting all sorts of drugs. Kurama was more than happy to oblige; before he knew what was really occurring, he had a business. It was small but profitable, and he was happy.

It was around three in the afternoon on a Friday, and Yusuke was roaming about Kurama’s newly opened shop looking at all the stock piles of herbs Kurama had put together. Some were jars on shelves, some were in boxes and heavily sealed for freshness. A few were even in glass cases, and it was these that caught Yusuke's attention the most for they were demonic in nature and the most deadly. He peered into the boxes like a child, his nose pressed flat against the glass, and from the counter Kurama watched with hidden glee using a mortar and pestle to crush a few compounded herbs for a client.

“What does this one do?” Yusuke asked, pointing to a white and purple flower encased in glass.

“That is Clematis,” Kurama explained, “and it is extremely toxic. I can use it to create oils to diffuse nervous disorders. Consider it like a demon form of Xanax.”

“Great!” Yusuke joked, looking over his shoulder, “I’ll take six of them to go. Whip that up in a bag for me?” He winked.

“Yusuke…" Kurama chuckled. “If you took six of those, the only bag I’d be whipping up would be a coroner’s bag."

Yusuke just shrugged, moving onto the next case where a stock pile of lightly colored grass sat.

“What's this one?” he asked.

Kurama was rather enjoying answering his questions. It felt good to be able to show Yusuke all he knew, “Ryu-no-hige,” Kurama answered. “Dragon’s Beard. Excellent for internal fever and establishing a balance of yin.”

Yusuke pulled away, off put. “No, thanks. I don’t need any more of that. I’ve got enough yin over there." Yusuke gestured behind him to where his restaurant lay across the street. Keiko was taking the day shift while Yusuke would be working the night, having a lull between court cases and wanting some more mundane work. She also was coming over to Kurama’s house later that very night to help him paint the living room. Kazuma had managed to pick up a few colors from the local supply store, and Kurama was eager to give their home a fresh face.

“I’ll tell Keiko you said that," Kurama joked, and Yusuke made a noise of distaste. Their conversation might have gone on had it not been the sound of the door opening. Kurama looked up, expecting to see a customer (in particular the one who had placed an order earlier that day) but instead found himself looking at Matsuri. A feeling of disgust crept up inside of him, and Kurama let out a terse bitter sigh. Yusuke turned around, but when he saw Matsuri he grew wane and pale once more.

Matsuri looked from Yusuke, who was almost afraid, to Kurama who was far from thrilled and tried for a hesitant smile. It would not work today. Kurama let out a small breath, nearly silent upon the wind, forcing himself into a state of resumed calm as he ground herbs once more.

“I thought you might be coming back," Kurama said coldly.

“Did you?” Matsuri was still trying to keep the conversation light and easy, taking a step forward and then another into the room, but the tension just kept building. Yusuke had not moved from the glass cases on the wall, his complexion becoming grayer by the minute. “I guess I don’t strike people as the kind of guy to leave loose ends.”

“No,” Kurama growled. “You do not."

Matsuri had most certainly come for money. Kurama looked at Yusuke, still slightly worried about his complexion, and found that Yusuke was looking at Matsuri with a terrible expression: one of fear and confusion.

Kurama didn’t understand. Why was Yusuke so afraid of his biological father?
“Yusuke?” Kurama called out his name, but Yusuke did not answer Kurama. He was fixated on Matsuri.

“... Look, who the fuck are you?” Yusuke demanded, finding his voice again and using it to his full advantage. He tried to bolster himself up, to stand at his tallest with his chest puffed out. Kurama had seen Yusuke take this stance before, particularly when facing Toguro outside of the ring. “I swear to God I know you, but I don’t know where I know you from and it’s pissing me off!” Yusuke snarled. “So who are you?!”

Matsuri’s answer unnerved Kurama, “I’m just a guy.”
He said it so easily, so calmly... as if Yusuke were not yelling at him.

“You’re not a pediatrician,” Kurama warned. Matsuri cast his a glance, but nothing more. It was as if Kurama wasn’t even in the room to Matsuri; his attention was now focused on Yusuke. Kurama did not like it. There was something in his gaze that, while it was calm, was not without threat.

“Hell no!” Yusuke snapped. “I wouldn’t want you around my kids!”

“You spun a very interesting tale for me the other day, but unfortunately for you I have many contacts in the medical field and was able to quickly deduce that your story was false,” Kurama said, setting his mortar and pestle aside momentarily to glare at Matsuri. Even now, with the admission in the open, Matsuri did not seem uneasy.

Kurama did not like it, this enemy who seemed to have no rattling points.

“Oh, so you’re a liar to boot!” Yusuke sneered, still using a bravado front, “This keeps getting better by the minute! You’re almost as bad as my old man, but at least you’re not in with the mob!”

Matsuri smiled, and something about the way his lips curved and his eyes shone cold and hard sent goosebumps up Kurama’s arms. Yusuke likewise did not look happy, a muscle in his jaw jumping as he glared wide eyed at Matsuri.

Matsuri regarded Yusuke for a moment in silence, rubbing his unshaven jaw and narrowing his dark green eyes.

“...Urameshi.” Matsuri finally said, and Kurama was certain that Yusuke was beginning to sweat from panic. “Yusuke Urameshi. I knew you when you were a kid; the last time I saw you, you were-“

“Thirteen.”

Yusuke’s tone frightened Kurama. It was not strong, it was not certain; it did not boast of impending victory. It spoke of memories, dark and black beneath the surface of Yusuke’s mind, and terrible things that might haunt a man in his sleep. It made Yusuke sound like a child again, instead of a man, and Kurama had heard enough. He strode out from behind the counter and put himself physically in front of Yusuke so that Matsuri could not look at him anymore.

“If you’re here for money, you won’t be getting it,” Kurama growled. “I don’t donate to liars or drug addicts.”

Kurama could hear Yusuke’s breathing from behind him, shallow and thin.

“Whatever business you have with Yusuke, you’ll likewise make no progress today,” Kurama said for good measure, determined to not let Yusuke be harassed. He still didn’t understand why Yusuke was so afraid, but he didn’t need to for the moment. If Yusuke was afraid, Kurama was going to defend him. It was as simple as that. “Now get out of my shop, before I throw you out.”

“You sure you can do that?” Matsuri asked in loping grace, an easy smile upon his sallow face as he shucked his hands into his pockets. “You look as weak as a girl.”

“I know how to defend myself.”

Kurama suddenly found himself contemplating several demonic and poisonous plants he could use on this man. His wicked imagination could run laps around Matsuri’s bloating corpse.

“That’s a fine fucking attitude to take with your father.”

Kurama would not be swayed by emotional sabotage. “My father is at home with my mother right now; I do not have any connection to you, and I will be notifying the police about your visit."

Matsuri raised his eyebrows, regarding Kurama in a new light at the mention of police.

“So that’s the way it’s going to be?”

“That’s the way it must be,” Kurama replied, voice hard and calm.

Matsuri turned, walking back to the door as serenely as if everything had gone according to plan and he was not being kicked out of an establishment. Yet as he reached the door and opened it with a hand, he looked back over his shoulder at Yusuke and said, “You’re still as handsome as you were when you were thirteen, Yusuke.”

And with that, he left.

Kurama took no chances. As soon as Masturi was over the threshold and gone, he moved swiftly to the door and locked it. If another customer came by, so be it. For the moment, Kurama needed to recover and assess the damage on his friend.

“Yusuke...” Kurama whispered. He could barely recognize this person against the wall as a leader, as a brave and eccentric youth. “Yusuke, what was that about?”

Yusuke had no explanation to give Kurama, and shook his head in defeat as he sank down the wall to sit upon the steps that lead to the second floor. For a minute, Kurama watched as Yusuke tried to gather a reply, tried to explain or say anything in character that might diffuse the tension. But nothing was coming, and so Kurama sat beside him to bring him whatever comfort he could. Yusuke was not like Kazuma, he did not have that same internal need to be comforted. Or did he? Did he have that exact same need and simply not show it? Kurama was unsure. This was a role betted suited for Keiko. But would Yusuke even allow Keiko to see him in such a state?

“It’s been a long time since I had a run in with a guy like that,” Yusuke whispered, looking down at the floor. His eyes, which were usually so bright and charming, were now full of grief though he did not weep and his tone remained level. “Maybe I forgot what it was like... to be afraid of someone.”

“Yusuke, you are so much stronger than him.” Kurama was fiercely angry for Yusuke’s sake, a hand upon his back as he rubbed calming circles. “What on earth could you possibly be afraid of?”

Yusuke was silent once more, his eyes so terribly haunted.
A sudden sick fear was beginning to grow inside of Kurama.

“Did he do something to you when you were thirteen?” Kurama asked. Yusuke bit the inside of his cheek, sighing as he looked out across the shop.

“... He ran in the same circles as my dad,” Yusuke explained, his tone soft to avoid being overhead by anyone else. “That guy is connected, Kurama. He’s a part of the Yamaguchi. He runs under Masaru Takumi.”

Kurama did not understand the weight of Yusuke’s words. He knew that the Yamaguchi was a powerful criminal gang in Japan, but these men’s names did not scare him as they scared Yusuke. Perhaps it was because he had not grown up around them, but he doubted it. There was something about Yusuke that demanded total control. Kurama wondered if in his youth Yusuke had not been in control, had been abused or neglected in such a way that control became synonymous with safety in his eyes.

“You would be real scared if you knew about those guys-“ Yusuke said, but Kurama shook his head.

“I’m more afraid for the fear I see now in you,” Kurama murmured gently. “Your uncertainty scares me far more than any mob.”

Yusuke gave him a bitter smile. “When I was a kid, I didn’t understand what danger I was in. I thought I was invincible.”

“To be fair,” Kurama said, “That streak didn’t change much even after your car accident.”

Yusuke’s eyes were so dark now, full of a strange and ugly memory that Kurama was not privy to.

“Your biological dad is a bad guy,” Yusuke said.

“I’m gathering,” Kurama agreed.

“I can’t believe Shiori would sleep with him!” Yusuke’s eyes were wide for one second. Wide like a deer’s would be in the headlights of a car. Kurama just kept rubbing his back, unsure where this was going.

“She probably didn’t know who he really was,” Kurama said. “From what I understand, he lies to a great deal of people.”

“Kurama, you gotta... you gotta get a gun or something- oh fuck!” Yusuke cried out, clapping a hand over his mouth.

It was as if Yusuke had never been a spirit detective, as if the years between them had never happened. In an instant it had been back to guns and gangs, to street wars and turf fights. To hiding, and to fearing...

Yusuke let out a hysterical sound, his shoulders shaking feverishly.

In an instant, Yusuke had forgotten who he was, and what he could do. Kurama did not know how to possibly console his friend.

“I’m sorry!” Yusuke blurted out between his fingers. “I’m so sorry!”

Kurama wished to god there was something he could say to make Yusuke feel in control again, to bring him some calm or relief, but Yusuke’s shoulder’s just kept shaking.

“I don’t- I don’t know why I said... that.” Yusuke hiccupped.

But Kurama knew why, and it hurt his heart all the more.

“It’s... fine,” Kurama tried to say; his voice was weak and unsure. Yusuke hunched over, burrowing into his knees.

In a strange move of protective instinct, Kurama lay himself upon Yusuke’s back, letting his head nuzzle into Yusuke’s spine as he rubbed his muscles repetitively.

He wished it were enough, but he knew it wasn’t.

“Everything’s fine,” Kurama whispered. He wrapped an arm around Yusuke’s back and held him tight. It was a poor way to hold someone who was crying, but Yusuke would not want to be held any other way by Kurama. Kurama did what he could; he felt eyes upon him and looked up the stairs to see Kazuma at the top.

Kazuma looked from Yusuke, sobbing into his knees, to Kurama who had his head upon his back. His expressions were so honest, so open, and they spoke easily of fear and confusion. Kurama just shook his head, determined to explain to Kazuma what had happened as soon as Yusuke was safely home and back with Keiko.

He had a feeling that he knew what had happened to Yusuke when he was thirteen.
But he prayed he was wrong.

 

It took Yusuke about half an hour to calm down. Kurama ended up making him some tea using the same demonic herb that Yusuke had so jovially joked about earlier before Matsuri’s visit. It had calmed Yusuke greatly and had allowed him to regain a state of semi control, but Kurama was still not convinced that Yusuke was stable. Kazuma seemed to sense something was off with Yusuke as well, and he offered to walk Yusuke back across the street to stay with him for a while at the restaurant. The pair of them left around five, and Kurama watched them go with care through the shaded front window of his shop. Kurama had only given Yusuke a small amount of Clematis, but it was still a powerful drug, and he hoped that Yusuke would be able to stay awake through work.

Around six, Keiko and Yukina came over. Both were wearing jeans and old t-shirts, in common sense that they would soon have paint all over them, and both were excited to see how Kurama’s shop was coming along as they poked around before making their way up the steps.

It was quite fun to paint with them, simply because Kurama enjoyed watching Yukina learn the ins and outs of being a human. She’d never painted a wall before in her life, but she loved filling up a roller with soft brown-gray paint. It was almost the color of stone, and it gave the room a very natural light. Yukina painted without rhythm or skill at first, but Keiko was eager to help and show her how it was done. Kurama focused on the trim, every so often looking around and laughing at them. He wondered what Hiei would think if he could see his sister so happy and so at ease. Hiei would probably sneer and say he didn’t care, and then go off into a corner to have another ‘soap’ episode (as Kurama was now prone to calling Hiei’s miniature breakdowns).

“I love this color,” Yukina said, wiping a few drops from her cheek and smearing her hands upon her jeans. “What’s it called?”

Kurama looked at the can, unsure himself, and laughed when he saw his answer.

“Thunder.” He chuckled. “That’s a silly name; this looks nothing like thunder.”

“I still like it,” Yukina said, painting in merry time. “It’s so organic.”

Kurama was in a good mood, but as he rocked back on his heels to wipe some paint off his hands onto a dirty rag, he felt something... odd. Years of being a fighter and on stance at all hours of the day made him wary of moments where his guard was dropped. His senses were screaming at him that though Yukina was having a good time and Keiko was smiling, something wasn’t right.

Something was not... right...

Kurama’s hand shot out, stilling Yukina’s own upon her brush. She looked at him, unsure of what he was trying to do, and when she saw the stony look upon his face she was quite surprised.

“Huh?” Her voice was small and confused.

Keiko was across the room, she was in danger-! Kurama flung his other hand out and grabbed Keiko by the belt loop of her jeans. She shrieked, shocked when he yanked her hand into the corner with Yukina.

“Kurama!” she yelled angry as they fell into each other, but her indignation ended the minute that the door to the downstairs burst open and ten men came in the in the room.

Keiko gasped, her hand flying to her throat. Kurama could not hold back the growl that issued low and deep in his throat. He should have been expecting such a visit after waving Matsuri off and mentioning a threat of the police, but he’d been lulled into a sense of security after living in human world for so long. Yoko Kurama would never have made such a mistake.

Kurama tried to ignore the familiar snapping voice in the back of his head that berated him for every moment he stood stock still, hands out to hide Keiko and Yukina behind him.

“Stay behind me,” Kurama warned, eyes trailing over the faces of each man. They were all older, well-muscled and built from years of living on the streets. Each was armed with a knife, though some still had their knife clipped to the belt of their jeans while others had them open and ready. The tattoos on their skin and the glasses obscuring their eyes left little to the imagination as to who they were.

“Who they hell are they?” Keiko demanded, the fear palpable in her voice.

“Yamaguchi,” Kurama said, and one of the men at the front who was clearly the leader from his open and aggressive stance spoke up.

“So you were expecting us,” he said, and Kurama gritted his teeth.

“In a way,” Kurama lied, for he hadn’t even been thinking about the threat of a gang attack and now felt very foolish for it. He should have heeded Yusuke’s warning and stayed on guard. “A friend certainly was.”

“Yeah we’re plannin’ on payin’ him a visit next.”

“You would find him a poor host,” Kurama said coldly.

“What do you want?!” Keiko demanded. A few of the men who had not yet pulled out their knives were starting to arm themselves. Kurama counted the weapons... ten in all, no guns. He could handle this. It would take a bit of maneuvering in a tight quartered living room with furniture in the way... but he could do this. He could not however, use his spirit energy and that damned him.

He could not reveal himself to be Kurama before men who knew him as Shuichi, mere humans who would stand no chance against his spiritual assault. He could not kill humans, even those who attacked him.

“We’ve got some loose ends to tie up,” the man snarled, pointing his knife openly at Keiko who shrank into the corner of the room with Yukina, “And we’re not picky about how we do them!”

Kurama grimaced, holding his ground.

“I cannot use my spirit energy, Keiko,” Kurama warned under his breath, “You do realize this, right?”

“...Kurama...” She whispered his name like a child at prayer. He knew that both Keiko and Yukina were far from fighters; it would be up to him to hold these men off until help could arrive or one of them could break away to find help and bring it back. The only way out was through the balcony window or down the stairs, and he didn’t feel eager to tell Yukina or Keiko to jump out a second story window.

“Fortunately...” Kurama took a fighting stance, cracking his neck a little as he loosened his muscles up; the calmer he was, the easier this would go, “that is not the only weapon I have in my arsenal.”

But the men were laughing at Kurama, no doubt tickled that he was going to use his fists against weapons.

“You gotta be kidding me!” one of the men goaded him. “You’re gonna fight us empty handed?”

“I am not afraid of a knife.”
He’d been hurt worse for a friend. He could handle this situation.

In the blink of an eye, Kurama charged forward.

A powerful front kick knocked two of the forward most men back. One of them lost a grip on their knife. Kurama rebounded from the kick, turning and jumping with the wall for leverage as he knocked two other men down who attempted to grab him into submission. A fourth man was coming for Kurama from behind, but Kurama caught his arm under the armpit of his own and jerked the man painfully from his feet. Twisting his wrist till it snapped and the man howled in pain, Kurama shoved him off and managed to grab his knife from mid-air as it fell. Suddenly Kurama found himself in pain, and he realized that amid this chaos he’d gotten stabbed several times but had not noticed it from the adrenaline rush. Now as he held the knife in his hands, he felt it, and he gritted his teeth as he tried to focus through the pain. Blood was gushing down his arms, soaking through the fabric of his shirt at his stomach, and from his thighs. Eight times in all, he’d been stabbed. Shoddy work that Yoko Kurama would have spit upon.

A scream brought him back to present, and Kurama realized that one of the men was now holding a gun. It must have been hidden all this time, in the waist band of his pants or under his shirt. He was pointing the gun at Yukina, and suddenly the image of Hiei doubled over in utmost agony, screaming and crying at the death of sister filled Kurama’s mind.

He could not let it happen.

Kurama dove for Yukina, blocking her just in time as the gun went off with a powerful blast. The bullet entered through Kurama’s lower lung, and he gasped in pain. But as the men attempted to regroup, injured and shaken from Kurama’s assault, Kurama saw a way out. The door was clear, if only for a second. If he could get either Yukina or Keiko down the stairs, help could be reached.

Kurama took no chances, whirling on the spot and grabbing Yukina hard around the waist. In a wild move, he charged them both forward, all but throwing Yukina for the door and bracing himself against it so that other men could not follow her out. He prayed that no one was downstairs waiting for her, but he did not hear her scream as she ran; he kicked out and knocked two of the men backward that tried to pursue her.

The man who had shot Kurama had his gun up again, ready to fire once more, and Kurama let out a shout of anger as he threw his knife and imbedded it deep in the man’s eye socket. His glasses cracked, and blood spurted everywhere as the man howled in agony, dropping to the floor like a stone and leaving his gun open for the taking. He thrashed once or twice, only to still as his gurgling breaths grew softer.

One down, nine to go, and suddenly the thugs were looking at Kurama with newfound fear. They had not taken him for a threat at first, but they would now.

The men were going for Keiko, Kurama threw himself from the door and back in front of her, his arms up and ready for a fight-!

“Fuck the other girl!” barked the man in front. He was trying to regain control, trying to take the lead. “We’ve got this!”

“Shit man, he took down Kimuro!” One of the others said from the back. They sounded panicked, clearly having not thought one man could kill when a group of ten were surrounding him.

“Well, now it’s personal ain’t it?” the first man seethed. He tossed his knife aside, and pulled out a gun from his waist band. Following his lead, four other men pulled out guns as well. Some were shaky in their grip and didn’t look eager to shoot. Others were steady, and gleeful for the opportunity. Ten assailants with knives, Kurama could take.

Nine with guns... he could not. Not without room to run, or the ability to use his spirit energy. Yukina was out the door, and down the street by now hopefully. That was the only hope he had left. If he could hold off the men for as long as it took for Yusuke or Kazuma to arrive, he would be fine.

But he’d already been shot once, and his stab wounds were throbbing with hot horrific pain.

“Shoot me,” Kurama seethed. “It’ll be the last time you have the chance.”

Two men shot, and both bullets hit Kurama in the chest.
Kurama shouted in pain, the agony taking him by surprise. He hadn’t imagine getting shot could hurt so much as he fell to his knees as clutched at his wounds. The world was spinning around him, growing dark, but he could hear Keiko screaming; her weight was upon him, as if she were shielding his body with her own.

“I won’t let you kill him!” Keiko was sobbing. A true friend indeed, so brave in such a situation. Kurama couldn’t help but smile. The sound of a trigger being pulled jerked Kurama out of his fog; he rolled, forcing Keiko underneath him and taking the fourth bullet in the back. On the floor with her hair falling into Kurama’s blood, Keiko’s scared brown eyes looked straight up into Kurama’s face. He was pale and sweaty, shaking from the strain of remaining conscious... he would not last long at this rate. He could feel his body beginning to seize, the bullets embedded deep in his lungs.

“You think that I will allow you... to get shot?” Kurama managed to get out, blood dribbling from his mouth onto Keiko’s neck.

Suddenly her arms were around him, and in that black heavy bliss of strangely forced slumber Kurama could feel her warm body pressed against him. She was defending him, in whatever way she could, but her options were very few and the men were laughing. They probably already thought Kurama dead.

“Give it up princess,” one of the men sneered, “You’re out of time.”

“Maybe.” Keiko’s voice was shaky. “But I won’t let you kill my friend.”

Kurama heard the metallic click of a trigger about to be pulled. He found his thoughts on Kazuma, of his strong arms wrapped around Kurama... holding him tightly.

He could imagine this weird blissful blackness was him, that this moment was not one of pain but of agonizing pleasure...

The sound of a door bursting open barely caught Kurama’s attention in that murky darkness.

“YUSUKE!” he heard Keiko wail, relieved. Help had arrived.

“Impeccable timing,” Kurama mumbled into Keiko’s lap.

He could hear things being thrown, men cursing and punches hailing. The ground shook wildly beneath him as a stampede occurred. The men could not escape, there was nowhere for them to run- Kurama could hear not one but two fighters railing on their attackers, and knew that Kazuma was there as well.

Kurama allowed himself to relax in Keiko’s lap, his blood collecting upon her jeans as it slipped from his mouth.

He really needed to stop ruining her clothes with his blood. It was tactless and rude.

There were strong, familiar hands tugging upon him, urging him to sit up. He was being pulled into someone else’s lap, and the crisp scent of aftershave suddenly filled his nose. Even with his eyes closed, Kurama knew that Kazuma now held him.

“Baby, say something to me!” Kazuma cried out, he ran his hands over Kurama’s bloodied face, and Kurama’s eyes fluttered open; there above him, hazy and dark, a handsome face he’d often kissed.

“...I’ve been shot four times,” Kurama managed to say. “Three of the bullets… are in my lungs. I’ll need surgery.” He had to stop talking in as a sudden violent cough seized him.

“Which one shot you?!” he heard Kazuma demand.

Kurama gestured aimlessly towards the thug on the ground with a knife through his eye.

“He the only one?”

“Well...” Kurama could not help but smile. “You threw the other one out the window.”

Kazuma’s hands were now sticky with his blood, wrapping him up tight in a comforting blanket of darkness. Even though he was shot and probably dying from internal bleeding, Kurama thought that he could stay here forever this way.

He could hear Yusuke screaming violent tirades over the sound of hammering blows.

“You wanna piece of this?! And this?! And this?!”

Poor Yusuke. Only hours ago he’d had a nervous breakdown on the stairs; now he had to be the hero all over again... but perhaps that was the best therapy for Yusuke. Being in control and wielding power over those who brought pain to the innocent was just as good a medicine as any Clematis.

“Did you come in my house?! Did you point a gun at my wife?! Did you shoot my friend?! No!” Yusuke railed; to be fair the thugs had come in Kurama’s house, not Yusuke’s... but perhaps he’d let that detail slide in light of the circumstances. “Every man has to make a choice about what he’ll put up with each day, and I’m puttin’ my foot down at this! Cause I aint-!” A horrible crunching sound... broken bones, “Putting up-!” More thudding, more howls of pain, “With this!”

And suddenly, the room fell still. Kurama could not open his eyes and see anymore, but he knew that the men were either dead, or knocked out... Yusuke was king of the mountain once again.

“Easy,” Yusuke said, relaxed and calm.

But Kurama could hear more footsteps, more yelling, and suddenly his mind flashed to the thought of new thugs and guns- death around the corner- but he could hear the sound of sirens outside his house. The police had arrived.

Kurama tried to stay awake, tried to stay conscious to explain the situation, but he couldn’t. He was being pulled down by a heavy weight upon his chest.

 

When he came to consciousness again, he did not know how much time had passed, but he was lying flat on his back and was strapped to a bed. Someone was touching his face, wiping off the blood. He could swear a vibration was running through the mattress beneath him; was he in an ambulance?

 

He faded out again, unable to hold adequate breath. He could feel the warm wet ooze of blood sliding out of the corner of his mouth, and knew that he was in trouble.

 

He came to once again, and the cool air caressing his skin informed him that he was nude. He could sense people around him, could feel hands upon him. A bright light was above his body, warming him with its fluorescent rays. Something was being put over his mouth and nose, something plastic that made the air smell sweet.

 

He trembled, unable to keep his body still in the frigid cold. As he clenched his fists, he felt straps around his wrists holding him down to the table.

Kurama slowly opened his aching eyes and saw surgeons above him; their white masks concealed their faces. One in particular turned a nozzle atop a metal tube near Kurama’s head, and he was sucked back under into that darkness again before he could question how or why.

For what felt like an age, there was no thought. There was no pain. There was only quiet, and gray. The place between places he had now come to associate with Kazuma’s embrace, and the nighttime swell of their new home.

 

When the gray pulled back and the curtain between worlds lifted, Kurama found much had changed.

He was clothed, and warm. He was on a much softer bed, and someone was holding his hand. Another hand (perhaps belonging to the same person) was rhythmically stroking his forehead, brushing his dark bangs back and forth. It was quiet and dark, there was no warm light above him and no hushed murmur of doctors around him.

The pain in his chest was gone, and he no longer felt blood upon his lips and cheeks.

 

The smell of green tea and hand lotion tempted his nostrils. The fingers that were wrapped around his own were slim and small.

Shiori.

He focused on her breath, softly in and softly out, a quiet hum of white noise that tempted him back to sleep. He contemplated opening his eyes, explaining to Shiori all that had occurred and apologizing for not taking her sagely advice and staying away from fucking Matsuri... but he did not possess the strength. He could feel the golden hum of drugs in his veins, and knew that if he spoke now, he would say things that should never be said. His emotions made him weak, his longing for her love, vulnerable.

An hour might have passed before noise interrupted their somber cocoon. A door opening and closing, the sound of feet upon the floor.

“I came as soon as I heard,” said a man’s voice; it was relaxed and easy going but deeper and wiser than Yusuke’s...

Jiro Kuwabara.

“I wondered if I might see you tonight,” Shiori said.

A chair scraped lightly upon the tiled floor; Jiro sat down next to Kurama’s bed, no doubt on the opposite side as Shiori.

Silence resumed, but it was not long.

“I can’t believe he... would attack his own child.” Shiori’s voice shook with suppressed rage. Kurama had never heard her sound so angry before, and a flicker of guilt bubbled and popped within him. He had gone against her wishes and brought pain into her life. He had assumed control, where none had truly been. A rookie’s mistake, and one that he had made with arrogant precision.

Once again, Yoko Kurama was laughing at him.

“Well, he’s... not exactly his child,” Jiro contemplated. “He didn’t raise him and he doesn’t love him.”

“This is true,” Shiori agreed. “Shuichi never knew him in his youth. I heard rumors after I left him that... he molested a child. I never let him around Shuichi after that.”

Yusuke’s terrified face, so ashen and pale, flickered briefly in the back of Kurama’s mind. Kurama added the knowledge together, and he bitterly cursed himself for the strange smallness of their world. His own biological father, the terror of Yusuke’s nightmares in youth. Oh, if only Kurama had the strength he’d rise from this bed and track Matsuri down... he would bathe in the bastard’s blood and peel the flesh from his bones-.

What would Kazuma say if he could hear Kurama’s thoughts?
To be fair, Kazuma would probably be gung-ho for the entire concept... God only knows he adored Yusuke like a brother.

“I understand,” Jiro was saying. “Growing up around... weird types, my kids always knew to come to me if they got too scared. Course, I blink and my kids are adults.”

Shiori laughed. She could no doubt appreciate the joke. “And when they leave, you don’t know where to.”

“Or who to.”

“Or why.”

“And you can’t even ask anymore,” Jiro added. “Isn’t it fun, being a parent?”

“It is when you see them smile, at finding someone they love,” Shiori offered, and Jiro chortled, “at finding happiness.”

“That’s true,” he agreed. “That’s a feeling beyond any other. That’s why I came tonight. I had to slip a couple of nurses to get back here but... I had to make sure Shuichi was alright.”

Shiori made a sweet sound of appreciation.

“Kazuma... if something were to happen to Shuichi...” Jiro broke off, “He’s at the police station right now, railing on his sister. He’s pressing charges; you won’t believe this, but when he got shot, Shuichi threw a knife at his attacker, and got him right in the eyeball.” Jiro was high impressed, his tone reflecting it.

Shiori made another noise; Kurama wished he could leap up and clap a hand over Jiro’s mouth. Shiori shouldn’t have to hear such things.

“It doesn’t surprise me,” Shiori said, which took Kurama by surprise. “Shuichi and I are much the same... in that we both know how to protect what we love. We both can be angry, and the world not know. I must confess, the idea of stabbing Saburo through the eye is.... appealing.” Her voice, so weak, shook for just a moment. “If my son were to have died, everything good would have died with him.”

It shook some more.

“When I received the call, I couldn’t.... breathe.” She had to stop. “I could only come, and stay... sit and wait. And pray. Because without him, I would cease.” She paused for a moment, “... In all forms.”

Jiro shifted in his chair.

“What did the doctor say when he came out of surgery?” Jiro asked, tense.

Shiori swallowed. “That it was almost as if he... took the bullets on purpose, in perfect places where they wouldn’t kill him.”

At this, Kurama thought wryly about how that had been precisely his intent until he had been foiled by three bullets to the lung.

 

“So he’ll pull through?”

“I’m so thankful. It’s a miracle,” Shiori said. “He will probably need physical therapy. I won’t press it upon him, I’ll let him decide but...” Shiori broke off, “I don’t know what I’m going to say to him when he wakes up, how am I going to ever apologize enough for this?”

She was crying now.
A terrible ache, worse than one hundred gun shots, suddenly seized Kurama’s chest. The sound of her tears rocked him, made him unable to stay calm or still. He suddenly tried to speak, to say anything that might sooth her and tell her that apologies were completely unnecessary, save for his. All that came out in his drugged state was a half grunt half moan. Shiori sucked in a breath, rubbed his arm a little higher up.

“You don’t need to apologize for Saburo,” Jiro murmured. “And if Shuichi were awake, he’d say the same thing.”

Shiori sniffed a few times.

“All we need to know is that he’ll pull through. The rest will fall into place without our influence. Save your strength, save your emotion.” Jiro paused, “Shuichi is usually the one that is strong for you; when he wakes up he won’t want you to be crying over Saburo or worrying about rehab. Just focus.... on the good. On what you’ve got in front of you.”

Shiori sniffed again, softer. Her hold on Kurama’s arm was soothing again, no longer gripping or frantic. It seemed she’d calmed.

“If I ever see Saburo again, I’m going to rip his dick off,” Shiori announced.

Another noise bubbled and died in Kurama’s throat; he had never heard his mother say the word ‘dick’ before.

“Tell you what,” Jiro said, and Kurama could tell he was smiling, “Next time you see him, point him out. I’ll hold him down for you.”

Shiori laughed.
Kurama fell back to sleep.

Chapter Text

Being awoken from a drugged sleep to a sober consciousness was a strange experience and one that Kurama did not enjoy. His brain, warped by centuries of experience and awareness, was suddenly back to the common stages of infancy that asked for comfort and feared pain. He knew he was on a bed, he knew the room was lit, and voices were about him bubbly and bright. He could not fully remember the conversation that Shiori and Jiro had shared, but he knew that Yusuke had suffered and that his father was responsible. He knew that Shiori had been greatly upset by his condition, and that he needed to apologize to her promptly. When Kurama opened his eyes, though, he found Shiori was not even in the room. Instead he was surrounded by Kazuma, Yusuke, Keiko, Yukina, and even Shizuru who was still wearing her officer’s uniform. There were thick blankets atop his body, and tubes laid upon his chest, keeping him still with his head deeply nestled into a warm pillow. Machines on either side of him whirred with life; their beeps and hums proclaimed all was well, but there was a deep bone grinding ache in Kurama’s body that he knew was the result of surgery and being shot several times.

It was daytime, and his friends were sharing ice cream. This was an odd delicacy to indulge in given the time of year, but Kurama could sense they’d bought it simply because they craved its comfort. It was soothing to eat ice cream, and seeing him in a hospital bed might have been putting them at a great unease. Kazuma certainly looked wane and pale, his expression drawn as he fingered the small cup of chocolate ice cream in his hands. The others were eating, but he was not, and instead had his hand upon Kurama’s. Their fingers were interlaced; Kazuma was running his thumb gently over the fleshy mound of Kurama’s palm.

Kurama squeezed his hand.

Kazuma looked over at once, eyes widening as he saw Kurama was awake, and Kurama tried to sit up only to have Kazuma stop him halfway. The others were watching now, observing how stiff and frail Kurama was as he relaxed back into his bed and simply smiled at them.
He could see it; the fear.

“I find it queer that I get shot, and you get ice cream.”

Yusuke looked down at his half-finished cup, then looked back up with that playful smirk Kurama so enjoyed seeing. A sign of the normal Yusuke, who did not cry on the stairs or suffer a perverted adult’s sexual whims.

“You snooze, you lose,” Yusuke teased. “Your boyfriend got you ice cream. You can thank him.”

Kurama smiled at Kazuma, unsurprised to find that Kazuma had gotten him a cup of pistachio ice cream... his favorite kind. Kazuma noticed everything, of course he would have seen a carton of that particular flavor hiding in Kurama’s ice box when he’d been over at Kurama’s apartment. It was really wonderful, to love someone so intuitive and attentive.

Kazuma couldn’t smile back.

“I’m fine,” Kurama tried to soothe, but it was clear Kazuma did not believe it. “Really, I’m fine.”

Kazuma looked away, hanging his head in great shame.

“This isn’t your fault,” Kurama said. He wanted so badly to comfort Kazuma, to hold him and to explain that if this was anybody’s fault it was his own for telling Matsuri where he lived and making him think that he could come to him for money. He tried to sit up a second time, and this time Shizuru helped him so that as he sat up she propped his pillow behind his lower back. Now with the support he needed, Kurama could join the conversation fully, and not look frail upon his back.

“If I had been there-“ Kazuma began, his voice deep and dark with bitter regret.

“We would still have been facing ten armed assailants,” Kurama reminded him. Even if Kazuma had been there, it didn’t change the fact that they’d been grievously outnumbered and unable to use their spirit energy. Even now, Kurama was wondering if he was going to be facing charges from spirit world have hurling a knife into a mundane human’s eye. But the wounds on his stomach sharply reminded him that the human in question had been far from mundane. Kazuma still wasn’t looking at him.

“Bro, you need to let this go,” Shizuru said, wise beyond her years. It was very strange to see her in a policeman’s uniform, with a radio on her shoulder and a gun at her hip. Yukina sat beside her, keeping their sherbets cold. She seemed very weary, as if she hadn’t slept much lately. She was hesitant to meet Kurama’s eyes, and Kurama could understand why. He had practically thrown Yukina down the stairs; he hoped she would forgive him for that. Keiko was likewise shaken, sitting on Yusuke’s lap for lack of another chair and sucking on her spoon. She gave Kurama a small smile, which warmed him greatly as he remembered how brave she’d been in the face of a smoking gun. Keiko was not a fighter, but she had put herself into grave danger by protecting Kurama. Before Yusuke and Kazuma had burst through that door, Keiko had almost taken a bullet for him.

That was an odd feeling, to look at her and know the depth of their friendship.

“How can I ever let this go?” Kazuma demanded angrily, glaring at his sister from across the bed. Shizuru rolled her eyes.

“What do you want me to say?” Kurama asked. “That I hate you for not predicting the unpredictable?”

“I want you to tell me I’m a sack of shit for letting you get hurt!” Kazuma snapped, his eyes fierce as they bore into Kurama’s own. There, past the rage, was a deeply hurting man.

Kurama could hear that man crying out, begging for redemption from an offense that he did not fully understand.

“... could you give us a few minutes alone?” Kurama asked, his eyes falling on Yusuke first, though he looked at everyone else in turn. They were more than happy to oblige, taking their ice cream cups with them to eat outside as they left the room. Yusuke was the last out, and he closed the door behind him.

Kazuma looked away from Kurama again. He even pulled his fingers free of Kurama’s grasp, setting the cup of ice cream aside to stare glumly into his lap.

Kurama reached out with both hands, careful of his IV’s, and gently stroked Kazuma’s handsome face. “Look at me,” he said.

Kazuma was reluctant, but he finally did look at Kurama. The pain there was intense now, burning and bright with no one else in the room to distract or hide from.

“... You saved my life,” Kurama whispered. “It was my fault that those men entered our home. Matsuri lied to me. He told me a very ... convincing story about his supposed goodness. I told him where we lived. When he came, I knew the truth, and I confronted him brusquely. He tried to intimidate Yusuke- that’s why Yusuke was crying upon the stairs.” Kurama broke off, shaking his head, “Matsuri...” Kurama looked at the door; he was unsure if people could hear him from the other side. He sat up a little better and put his face closer to Kazuma’s.

“Matsuri was the one who forced himself upon Yusuke when he was young.” Kurama murmured. Kazuma’s eyes flickered wide, his nostrils flaring. Kurama put several fingers over his mouth, wanting to keep Kazuma calm and still until his temper was under control. “Yusuke was afraid of him, and I was very angry. Matsuri sent those men because I threatened to call the police. What happened was not your fault. It was mine... and I paid the price.” Kurama dropped his fingers from Kazuma’s mouth, his whisper finished.

“... They were going to kill me, Kazuma,” Kurama said. “They were going to kill me and Keiko both.”

Kazuma swallowed audibly. Kurama could only imagine the utter hell that Kazuma had been put through these past few days. How many nights had he sat here at Kurama’s side? How long had Kurama been in the hospital? He knew the answer was one in the same, that Kazuma had stayed with him endlessly as soon as Shiori had told the nurses he was allowed in the room. Poor Kazuma. Poor sweet Kazuma.

“But when you came through the door, and I saw you above me, I knew I was saved,” Kurama said, and he smiled at the expression of tender surprise blossoming across Kazuma’s tense face. “I wondered if perhaps that red pinky string had helped you.”

Kazuma snorted, remembering the words he’d spouted in his youth. “I don’t need that string to know you’re the one,” he said.

It could very well have been the Dilaudid coursing through his system, but suddenly there were tears in Kurama’s eyes and he was beaming at Kazuma. It overwhelmed him, to know that he was so loved by someone who was so kind and strong. After the ugly mars of his past, he could now face the future with hope and joy, and he kissed Kazuma, unable to hide the small hiccups that burst from his mouth against Kazuma’s own. Kazuma ran a loving hand up and down the side of his face, those broad knuckles making him feel warm and safe.

He was in love with Kazuma, in love because he knew no other way. In love because Kazuma had injected within him a soft gray world that seeped into his skin and touched all things, bringing him comfort and peace.

Kurama existed in the black and white, in the wrong and the right. In the persecutions of evil doers, and the reasoning that he himself was at times evil. But he lived, he thrived, in the gray. In Kazuma.

“I love you,” Kurama whispered upon his lips, and he had never meant the words more.

“I love you, too,” Kazuma replied, soft and low. When he looked down next, it was with a cheeky smile. “I got you ice cream.”

“Can I have some?” Kurama asked with a smile, and Kazuma reached over to pick up the pistachio ice cream. Kurama was perfectly capable of feeding himself despite laying in a hospital bed, but still when Kazuma spooned a dollop into his mouth he did not object or resist. The ice cream was salty and sweet, cool upon his tongue, and as Kazuma dragged the spoon back out, Kurama could not help but reaching in for another kiss.

“If you two are done being gay,” Yusuke drawled irritably from the door, “I wanna finish my goddamn ice cream.”

Kazuma laughed, gesturing for them to all come back inside, and as Shizuru saw her brother smiling she smiled back. They retook their seats, and began eating again as Kurama joined in. It was utterly delightful, to eat ice cream from someone else’s spoon in front of his friends. Kurama almost felt like blushing, but every time he grew embarrassed, he’d feel that spoon in his mouth and his hunger would burn deep within him. Let them see, he did not care.

“You two are so cute it hurts.” Yusuke made a fake retching noise. Kazuma kicked him underneath Kurama’s hospital bed.

“I’d be jealous but you did make such a wonderful speech when you punched those assholes in the face,” Keiko teased him. Yusuke grinned, quite cocky as he stretched a little in his chair and allowed his hand to wrap around Keiko’s waist. She was wearing a short skirt with thick wool tights, and Yusuke’s fingers played idly upon them, stroking the soft flesh that was just beneath. He was insatiable, but Keiko took it in her stride, leaning in to put on a fake, gruff voice.

“Did you come in my house-?” Keiko repeated Yusuke’s line. He laughed. “Did you pull a gun at my wife? Did you shoot my friend?”

“Every man has to make a choice about what he’ll put up with,” Kurama chimed in, quite enjoying making Yusuke blush.

“And I’m puttin’ my foot down.” Keiko tapped her high heeled shoe upon the floor in mock imitation of Yusuke stamping his own boot, “Cause I ain’t puttin’ up with this!” And with that she kissed Yusuke.

“Well...” Yusuke said, grinning blissfully as she kissed him again, softly near the ear. “I was pissed, what can I say?”

“And rightfully so,” Kurama agreed.

“Heck, he threw a guy out the window,” Yusuke added, gesturing to Kazuma. Kazuma wasn’t paying attention, he was still feeding Kurama ice cream. Kurama was listening though, and he suddenly pulled back to give Kazuma a wide smile.

“My hero,” Kurama said, and he reached forward to kiss Kazuma upon the lips.

Shizuru was sitting across from them, Yusuke was right next to them, and Kazuma tensed when Kurama’s lips pressed against his own, but Kurama soothed him with the sweetest of touches upon his hand. Yusuke jeered, but Keiko was snipping at him to hush and grow up.

When Kurama pulled back, Kazuma was incredibly red, but wearing a tiny smile that betrayed his inner delight.

Yusuke made another retching noise. Keiko retaliated, and smacked him hard in the groin.

 

~*~

 

Kurama had to stay another three days at Sariashiki Hospital before he could convince his doctor that he was well enough to leave. Kazuma brought him a fresh change of clothes from home, and it felt brilliantly uplifting to slide into comfortable jeans and pull a sweater over his head. He was weak, and it was difficult to walk what with the throbbing pain in his legs and chest. His stab wounds were covered in thick pads of gauze, and pain medication made him feel nauseous, but Kazuma held him around the waist and so Kurama managed to walk out of the hospital without much difficulty and onto the bright snowy streets of the city.

Shiori came to help him finish his paperwork, and Jiro agreed to drive them home (since Yusuke was at work and Kurama certainly didn’t need to be riding on a motorcycle). It was strange, having their parents sit in the front seat while they two sat in the back. It was almost like they were children again. Pulling up in front of their house, Kurama was relieved to see his shop was in one piece and had not been assaulted by another angry mob. It was closed and dark, with a sign taped to the front scrawled in Yusuke’s messy handwriting that said ‘Closed due to Family Emergency.’ Kurama was quite touched that Yusuke would consider his blunder and consequent injury a family emergency.

The four of them made their way up the stairs, and when they opened the door Kurama found quite a lot had changed.

When he’d last been in the apartment, the walls had not been finished, and they had had beige carpet in the living room. Now they had hard wood floors, and the walls were done. Their furniture was placed about, and their valuables were sitting upon shelves and in cabinets... it was almost as if they’d lived there for years, and not days. To finish the perfect picture, Eikichi was resting comfortably on the couch, curled into a fat calico ball and purring softly in the quiet. Poor Eikichi, she’d been in the bedroom when the entire affair had gone down; had the gunshots frightened her? She didn’t seem too troubled, but Kurama was determined to bring her a can of white fin tuna from the local market as soon as he was able.

“Well damn, Shuichi,” Jiro said, looking about their finished home. “Did you get shot in here? Because I can’t tell!”

Admittedly it didn’t appear to be a room where an attempted double homicide had occurred.

“The minute I was able to, I changed everything,” Kazuma explained as Shiori shut the door behind them and looked about. She was eager to comb the place, touching the walls and peeking into the kitchen to see what amenities she offered... ever a mother despite Kurama being an adult. “It was terrifying when I first got back. There were bullet holes in the wall and blood was all over the carpet.’

“Oh, but this is lovely,” Shiori murmured, sounding eager to avoid the topic of gunshots and blood when Kurama was still wearing his hospital bracelet. “And the wood matches the shop below.”

“Yeah, I thought so too!” Kazuma said. Shiori walked over to the couch to scratch Eikichi fondly behind the ears, and rolled onto her back at once to offer Shiori her enlarged sensitive stomach. Jiro was too interested in checking out the renovations Kazuma had employed to pay Eikichi any mind; he’d lived with the cat for years, he was more than accustomed to her charms. “Wood is so warm and inviting.”

“And it really makes this room open up.”

Kurama would have greatly enjoyed staying and sharing in the conversation, but his strength was wearing out fast. Without access to his spirit energy, Kurama was weak and needed sleep after the drive from the hospital and the walk up the stairs. Shiori noticed this, and offered him her arm; he selfishly took it as she helped him into the bedroom.

It was incredible, to see the California king bed that they had bought, made up and nestled in the corner like it had always been there. The thought that this was his bed, their bed, baffled Kurama even as Shiori helped him to lay down upon it. The sheets were cool and soft beneath his sweaty fingers, and as he slipped off his shoes he slid his feet under the covers. His head was very heavy upon the pillow, and though he was wearing a sweater he still felt oddly cold for a moment as he grew accustomed to the temperature.

“You stay there,” Kazuma warned in good humor from the doorway.

“I have no plans to move,” Kurama mumbled, eyes closing upon the tranquil scene. He felt his mother’s lips press soft and sweet onto his forehead.

He heard the door close, and in the sudden quiet Kurama thought temporarily of going to sleep. He could hear Shiori and Jiro moving farther away, back towards the stairs. They no doubt would leave, thinking Kurama in Kazuma’s capable hands. If he so chose, he could sleep now and possibly recover with a more natural pace.

But Kurama had grown impatient in his pain.

Kurama sat up in bed, taking his wrist to his mouth in order to pull off the hospital band. With it gone, Kurama pulled his sweater up over his head. He was covered in gauze and bandages, and quickly set to pulling them off. The tape stung at his skin as he ripped it away; he paused every now and then to listen for Shiori. He could no longer hear her voice, and could sense her slipping farther away. She was leaving.

It took Kurama around fifteen minutes before he had pulled off all his bandages, and he smiled as Kazuma opened the door to poke his head in the room. He saw Kurama, sitting up with a pile of gauze at his feet, and could not help but laugh.

“I was going to tell you, they’re gone,” Kazuma said.

“Good.” Kurama smiled at him. “This will be simple work. Give me about an hour or so and I should be fine.”

“I’m going to get dinner started,” Kazuma told him, smiling as he left the room. The door remained open, and after a few minutes Eikichi came in to sit on the bed next to Kurama. Concentrating his energy in his hands, Kurama began to pour healing rays into each of his wounds, starting with the gun shots. It was an expanse of energy, and on an empty stomach it made him light headed, but he was eager to be done with the pain that lingered in his body. He could sense the wounds closing, could feel his muscles beginning to knit back together. Once or twice he had to stop to roll his neck and take a deep calming breath.

The smell of pizza was beginning to tickle his nose; his aching body longed to eat, to gain nourishment and sleep, but he had other priorities first.

Finally, Kurama felt satisfied with his updated condition when he looked down at his body and saw that all the bruised and ugly cuts were now simply red and the tissue was pale pink in newly formed scars. Able to rise from the bed and dispose of his wasted gauze, he suddenly realized that he was standing in his house... that he was home and could relax fully for the first time in days. The breath that passed through his lips was soft and sweet as a tension began to melt from his shoulders down his spine. He’d removed his jeans and sweater in order to deal with his wounds, and now he was cold again; he quickly fished out a pair of jogging pants, and was suddenly inspired to pick up one of Kazuma’s larger sweat shirts from where it was cast over the back of a chair. He pulled it on, and felt encased in the scent of Kazuma’s warmth. The fabric smelt of him, of his sweat, and Kurama breathed it in deeply. It was a thick spice upon the air.

Kurama left the bedroom and padded down the hall, enjoying the smooth feeling of newly installed wood beneath his feet. The lights were off in the living room, giving it a cool and quiet view in the soft afternoon light. Kazuma was in the kitchen, having just pulled a pizza out of the oven, and Kurama could not help but admire him for a moment while Kazuma did not know he was looking. It was hot in the kitchen from the oven being in use, and Kazuma had taken off his sweater so that only his undershirt remained. It was thin and white, allowing glimpses of the bulging muscles underneath; Kurama chewed his bottom lip, remembering the feel of those muscles beneath his fingers when Kazuma kissed him so deeply.

Kurama longed to run his fingers over that supple flesh once again. To feel those powerful and smooth hands tight upon his own skin, dragging him down to a place without a name. Without an end.

Kazuma looked over his shoulder and smiled. Kurama had been caught.

“You wearin’ my sweatshirt now?” Kazuma’s voice was sweet like honey to Kurama’s ears.

Kurama shrugged. “I find it agreeable.” Kurama toyed with the strings of the hoodie.

He walked over to Kazuma, and kissed him, then. It was such an incredible feeling, to kiss this man in his house (in their house), and know that he had reached a place of shelter and safety. He could not imagine a feeling being duplicated anywhere else.

“I think you just want pizza, so you’re trying to sweeten me up,” Kazuma toyed.

“Maybe.” Kurama kissed Kazuma again, inwardly delighted when Kazuma let his hand begin to drift from Kurama’s back to his waist. Suddenly Kurama realized what he wanted, and why he wanted it, and felt awkwardly out of synch with his usual self as he pressed his hands against Kazuma’s broad barrel chest.

It was not in his nature to truly seek out sex. He enjoyed when it was present, but he didn’t crave it as others did. Now, in Kazuma’s arms, he wanted to be held captive. To taste sweat upon his tongue and allow his power to unfurl around Kazuma. He supposed if the night went in that direction he would enjoy it, but he wondered if Kazuma had wanted it for longer, and held back patiently. Kazuma was not like Kurama; he cared tenderly for each embrace and moment of affection, wanting Kurama to feel transcended from the world in which they were forced to live. Kurama knew that Kazuma desired deeper affection because Kazuma was the embodiment of affection. Generosity, nourishment, adoration, and support... all these things poured from him, wrapping Kurama tight in an impenetrable net of joy. The very house that they stood in, the shop below it as well... all these things were because of Kazuma.

They did not eat with grace or with manners; Kurama sat on the counter and ate alongside Kazuma; how queer that they owned a kitchen table but weren’t using it. There would days to come, years really, for them to do so. They did not even bother with plates, instead eating off paper towels. It was undignified and delightful at the same time. Tonight Kurama wanted to sit on the counter and stare about his home; to relish in it and truly appreciate its beauty. Kazuma had installed new lights and ceiling fans for when it would get hot in the summer. For now both were off, the light instead issuing from over the cold stove range. Kurama eyed his new sink windowsill with intrigue, imagining all the little plants he would soon keep there to bask in the sun.

Kurama ate four slices of pizza, setting a new personal record for himself given that he rarely ate over two and certainly had never gone over three. He supposed after having nothing but barest food in the hospital, his stomach was eager for something solid and greasy.

“You got sauce right there.” Kazuma reached up, taking Kurama’s chin in his hand and ever so gently licking at the corner of his mouth.

“You are going to be the death of me,” Kurama whispered, smiling into the kisses he now received.

“Good,” Kazuma murmured.

After dinner Kurama and Kazuma set to unpacking their new home. While a great deal of things had already been put away, Kurama still wanted to organize his books as well as set his plants out. The few demonic plants that Kurama had were still dormant and barely active in his absence, something he’d been quick to warn Kazuma about and hide from Shiori or Jiro if they were to visit. Of course, Kurama had been in the hospital but Kazuma had been prepared, hiding the plants behind the couch where none could see them save for Eikichi (and she wasn’t talking). Now taking them back out, Kurama whispering soothing words of comfort and apologies, noting that they were giving him the cold shoulder after supposedly abandoning them.

One plant in particular with tiny maple leaves of red, gold, and orange unfurled its little vines and wriggled with sudden delight as Kurama took it back into the bedroom and set in the corner near the vent where warm air would be able to nourish its frigid stalks. Kazuma watched it warily from the door, noting that it had several small mouths with sharp teeth.

“Is that thing gonna strangle me in my sleep?” Kazuma asked.

“No,” Kurama assured him at once, running his fingers over the leaves with care and infusing them with small bits of what little energy he could spare. The plant quaked underneath his touch, soaking up his aura as a child might a parent’s presence. “It’s a mirror plant. Incredibly dangerous and protective, it will kill anyone who invades upon our home for malicious reasons. Likewise those that give it affection will find it to be a charming house guest.”

As if to prove his point, the plant made a soft crooning noise, barely audible save to Kurama who sat so close he could hear it.

“So long as it doesn’t eat my cat,” Kazuma joked.

Kurama looked around with a rueful grin, and stood back up to kiss Kazuma in the doorway. “I would never let a plant eat Eikichi,” he said.

“Good.” Kazuma leaned over Kurama, pressing him against the door frame and running a hand absently through Kurama’s thick dark hair, “’Cause if you did, I might just have to leave you.”

Kurama gasped, turning away from Kazuma’s touch with mock indignation. As Kazuma held his chin in his hand and stroked his hair, Kurama could feel the tension rising up inside him once more, could sense the line between them needing to be dissolved. Kazuma was looking at him as if Kurama held the universe between his lips and the key to heaven in his hands.

“Kazuma…” The name rolled smooth on his tongue like honey as lifted his chin to meet Kazuma’s tender gaze. “Do you want to make love?”

Kazuma bristled, his eyes widening for half a second as Kurama’s words sank in. “I mean--“ he scoffed, unable to express himself clearly in his embarrassment. “You just-- you just got out of the hospital.”

“True,” Kurama agreed. “I needed an hour or so to recuperate, but I feel relatively fine now. I’ve suffered worse, as you know. I wouldn’t be strained to sleep with you.”

Kazuma’s cheeks just kept getting redder as Kurama reached out and laid his hands gently upon Kazuma’s chest. How he loved feeling the skin there, sensing the heart pound just underneath.

“I mean…“ Kazuma was looking away now, out across their bedroom to the windows where the city lay beyond, “I- I’ve never... I want to but, not unless I could give you the pleasure you so obviously deserve. I want to please you but... I don’t know if I can,” he whispered, looking down at where their bare feet stood side by side. “I might be horrible at it-“

Yet he broke off as Kurama let go of his chest to bring his hands up to Kazuma’s upon his face. He interlaced their fingers, and slowly took Kazuma’s down to his backside, allowing Kazuma to take possession of the swell of flesh that lay there. Kazuma bristled at first, but he relaxed as Kurama wrapped his arms around Kazuma’s neck and brought their faces close. He could smell the ginger of Yukina’s soap upon his skin.

That sweet spice - how it captivated him.

“Try me,” Kurama said softly. Kazuma brought his head down to Kurama’s, nuzzling their noses and cheeks together as he squeezed and stroked the flesh beneath his hands. Kurama allowed the touch to stimulate him, his lips gentle as they trailed over Kazuma’s cheek.

“Let me make love to you,” Kurama whispered in his ear.

“But-“ Kazuma’s voice was so soft, barely upon the air. Kurama could feel the very last of Kazuma’s resolve slipping away as Kurama pressed kiss after kiss onto his cheek.

“You want this... and I want this,” Kurama assured him. “I want you.” He brought his lips down to kiss Kazuma soundly upon the mouth. He teased Kazuma’s lip between his teeth, kissing the abused flesh sweetly as Kazuma’s breath caught. “Allow me to pleasure you.”

Kurama slipped a hand down Kazuma’ chest, his fingers finding the hardening flesh of Kazuma’s loins beneath his jeans. He squeezed with purpose, letting his fingers convey the attention he wished to give, and Kazuma gave a low throaty moan at the stimulation as he held even tighter to Kurama’s backside.

“God, yes...” Kazuma said to no one in particular.

He kissed Kurama deeply, his hands moving up only to slip beneath the thin cotton of Kurama’s elastic waist band. With no barriers left, he squeezed Kurama’s flesh as hard as he dared, rubbing small circles with his broad thumbs. Kurama could not help but groan, the direct touch filling him up. Kazuma kissed down his neck, finding that place upon Kurama’s neck that made his pulse race wildly. He sucked at the skin, biting and dragging his teeth across till Kurama’s breath came in short but soft pants. Emboldened, Kurama reached for the zipper of Kazuma’s jeans, dragging it down to reach inside and seek the hot flesh that he found there. He squeezed gently, feeling Kazuma’s breath hitch even as he sucked sweetly upon Kurama’s pulse point. Kurama fisted Kazuma’s manhood, dragging his hand repeatedly upon the rigid muscle till the head of his arousal was wet with desire.

Kazuma was laughing into Kurama’s neck. “You’re crazy,” he whispered.

“Mmm.” Kurama looked over at the bed, making the bold move to pull his hands and body away from Kazuma only to reach out and fist his shirt in order to drag him along. Step by step they neared the edge of the bed; when they finally bumped into the mattress, Kurama was the first to sit down.

Kazuma was suddenly nervous again, his hands shaking slightly as they came to entwine in Kurama’s lovely hair.

Kurama reached to the waist band of Kazuma’s jeans and pushed down, once again with his hand upon Kazuma’s length. He listened to the soft gasps that came from Kazuma’s lips, leaning forward to taste Kazuma’s flesh. He was rewarded with a low moan, and Kurama closed his eyes for a moment as he focused on worshiping Kazuma with his tongue, allowing the salty fluid to pool in his mouth; the taste urged him to keep pushing Kazuma’s jeans down... to expose that well-toned body fully in order to attend to it better.

But Kazuma was urging him back; Kurama went with the tug of his hands, content to let Kazuma move him any way that he chose. Kazuma was pulling off his own sweatshirt over Kurama’s head, Kurama’s bare skin suddenly cold in the darkening light of afternoon. Kazuma reached out to stroke each of the scars upon Kurama’s chest; a strange emotion crossed his face.

“Don’t,” Kurama whispered.
Kazuma met his eyes, and Kurama shook his head again in slightest warning. There would be no emotional pain felt upon this bed, no trauma to endure when they were in each other’s arms. This was law, in Kurama’s world, and one that he would obey fully.

Kurama pushed Kazuma’s shirt up, but sitting upon the bed put him at a disadvantage. Kazuma helped him, taking his shirt in his own hands and pulling it off over his head. Kurama urged him onto the bed, sliding into Kazuma’s lap as he continued to gently run his hands over Kazuma’s hot and needy flesh.

Once again, he was stopped. Kazuma was turning him in his lap. Kurama was unable to disobey, Kazuma’s grip firm upon his hips, and as Kazuma silently bade him to rise up on his knees, Kurama did so with the full knowledge of what was to come next. He looked over his shoulder, dark hair spilling down his back as he kissed Kazuma sweetly. Kazuma was pushing his jogging pants down, and Kurama let him. It was cold in the bedroom, but with Kazuma’s hard body pressed against his back he was warm. Still, he shuddered as his pants slipped lower and lower. The proof of his own arousal lay between his thighs, and Kazuma ran a hand lovingly upon Kurama’s own flesh as Kurama swiftly kicked his jogging pants away. They fell over the edge of the bed, no longer to be seen as Kurama kissed Kazuma deeper. Kazuma’s tongue slid into his mouth, locking him in a wet embrace as he stroked Kurama’s flesh again and again. Kurama moaned into Kazuma’s mouth, his hands reaching around to grab his firm cheeks. He needed an anchor of some type... he was going under. He was going under and, oh, how good it felt.

One of Kazuma’s hands was trailing up Kurama’s chest; as it brushed the firm pebble of his nipple Kurama hitched a breath. That hand was in his hair now, but Kurama shook his head, grabbing the hand with one of his own to pull it back down to mouth. He sucked the digit, his tongue slaving away over the rough pad of Kazuma’s finger as Kazuma moaned softly in his ear. Kurama could feel the hot, sticky swell of Kazuma’s erection pressing into his backside; he knew what he wanted. He knew what they needed, and so as he let go of Kazuma’s finger he guided it down to the supple swell of his backside.

“If you want me to stop,” Kazuma whispered, “You have to tell me now.”

“Don’t stop.” Kurama shook his head.

Kazuma was turning him again, kissing him fully upon the mouth; their tongues battled against one another as Kurama threaded his fingers through Kazuma’s hair. Kazuma was laying them back upon the bed; Kurama was suddenly nestled upon their many shared pillows as Kazuma kissed him again and again. The feel of Kazuma completely bared against him, nude and wanting, was unbelievable to Kurama. He wrapped his legs around Kazuma’s thighs, urging him silently forward as Kazuma reached between Kurama’s legs.

Kazuma bent his head down, gently beginning to bite, suck, and blow at Kurama’s nipples. Kurama groaned, reaching again for Kazuma’s manhood.

He had expected this to be a game; for him to be the master and to show Kazuma along. The game, however, was turning on him as he felt Kazuma’s slicked finger suddenly pressing to the very core of his being. Kurama held a breath, but could not keep himself still or quiet as Kazuma continued to bite and suck upon his chest. That finger was pushing deeper and deeper, pulling him under with its warm burn. His mouth stretched into a silent ‘o’ as that finger moved within him, caressing him in the sweetest of ways. He’d almost lost concentration of his hand upon Kazuma’s length, and suddenly resumed his stroking with vigor as Kazuma moaned into Kurama’s chest.

Kazuma was pushing deeper now, a second finger sliding to join the first. Kurama reveled in the burn, groaning aloud as he threw back his head.

“Rougher,“ Kurama urged, “Make me bleed-“

But Kazuma’s mouth was blocking his own from forming words, kissing him over and over again with peppered sweetness. “No,” Kazuma murmured between kisses. “Never.”

Kazuma’s fingers were leaving him, and Kurama suddenly looked up to gaze deeply into Kazuma’s eyes, wanting to see what he might find there.

Love, pure and deep. Blackened love, full of lust and longing as Kazuma braced himself above Kurama. Kurama could feel his length pressed against Kurama’s entrance, waiting.

He was waiting for permission, like a gentlemen. Kurama could not help but admire his gentility as he kissed Kazuma, nodding. He said nothing; no words were needed.

Suddenly, there... Kurama’s head fell back against the pillows as an inarticulate moan slipped past his stretched lips. The burn was incredible, a firm reminder that he would have to invest in lubricant if they were to be sexually active, but Kurama did not care. He needed that burn. He needed that thick girth within him. He needed the punishment; to feel human and susceptible to loss and damage.

He could not exist without this now. He was dependent forever upon it, upon this burn and this pleasure that Kazuma gave to him so willingly... so fucking willingly.

Kurama reached forward and held him tenderly with his mouth; his lips, his chin, his neck, his shoulder... Kurama kissed them all in turn as he wrapped his arms tightly about Kazuma’s back. He wanted to press them together, to merge them until nothing remained of their prior halves.

“God, K’rama--”

They were moving together now, utterly lost in one another. Suddenly Kazuma’s humanity and Kurama’s wisdom were in the same body. The presence they created was powerful, human and yet wild as Kurama felt his energy expanding from his soul. His eyes rolled up into his head as Kazuma’s hand suddenly found his length. With each sweet rocking movement, Kurama went deeper and deeper into the dark, tossing and turning inside himself as pleasure pushed him to relax, to let go, to simply be.

Kurama could not take it. He had wished to pleasure Kazuma, but even now, he was the one that was being nurtured. Suddenly it was the ache within his own chest that was being filled as Kazuma moved deeper within him. Ever tender, ever loving, each thrust could have been painful but wasn’t as Kazuma stroked Kurama in tandem-

But Kazuma was not satisfied.
He grabbed Kurama about the waist, pulling him upward off the bed. With nowhere else to go but towards Kazuma, Kurama went and was suddenly riding Kazuma in his lap. Their chests, slick with sweat, rubbed together in glorious friction... Kurama kissed Kazuma, unable to concentrate as something deep within him was sparked from Kazuma’s touch.

His eyes grew wide, each thrust hitting that spot within him again and again- Kurama shook his head, knowing that if it continued he would not be able to control himself; Kazuma did not seem to care, or perhaps it had been his intention all along to make Kurama lose control as he sucked at his neck and urged him on, breathless and sweet.

“I’m a fast learner,” Kazuma whispered into Kurama’s ear, and Kurama suddenly realized just who was between his thighs- a man of incredible fortitude and skill. Kurama had thought he was in control, but he would learn.

He would learn, and Kazuma would teach him.

Kurama let go of all pretenses, riding Kazuma with abandon now as he threw his head back and allowed his dark hair to fall in long flowing tendrils down his back. Kazuma’s hands were upon his waist, anchoring him tight, and Kurama rocked against them.

Noises were escaping him, soft and keening, that burning pleasure beneath him like a fire that only grew hotter and higher as Kurama allowed himself to experience all of it. To be human, and to ache with want.

Kazuma brought their foreheads together, kissing Kurama so sweetly upon the mouth and cheek, his lips ghosting over Kurama’s face. Kurama could tell Kazuma was close to letting go, that it was all too much and too raw for either of them to handle.

Kurama heard his own name upon Kazuma’s lips as he pushed deeper and deeper--

A heat exploded low in Kurama’s belly, pooling within him; it was all too much, and he let go of his own ecstasy. Their stomachs were coated in Kurama’s release, the pair of them falling in a tangle of sweaty and trembling limbs.

Kazuma was kissing him upon the neck and cheek; Kurama could not keep from panting. His strength had been robbed from him by this impossibly brave man and his entire existence, which ought not be possible in such a cruel and ugly world. Kazuma held him, his breathing slowly returning to a moderate pace as he looked down upon Kurama.

Kurama smiled, unaware of the lingering burn between this thighs as a euphoric bliss crept over his face.

“... Go team,” he whispered. Kazuma snorted, laughing into Kurama’s neck. Kurama held him there, unwilling to let him go.

He could feel a deep warm hum nagging at him, making his eyes slip closed as Kazuma’s weight settled in beside him. His usually alert and piercing mind was lulled to sleep by the knowledge that he was safe in Kazuma’s embrace. In his lover’s embrace.

Kurama had never known such a concept before. It both frightened him and fulfilled him.

The pair of them drifted off, mindless of the fact that Kurama’s once wilted and feeble plant was suddenly blooming and fragrant; large white flowers swayed in the warm heat of the air vent, dispelling their lovely scent across the room.

Kazuma caught sight of it as he feel asleep.
“... Weird...” he whispered softly into Kurama’s hair.

~*~

Kurama woke up somewhere near dawn, and was surprised when he found Kazuma staring down at him. He had been watching him sleep. Kurama smiled absently as Kazuma pressed a gentle kiss onto his sleepy brow.

For a long while, they stayed there, simply content to be awake and in each other’s arms. Somewhere in the night, Kazuma must have pulled the covers over them for they were now beneath the blankets instead of on top of them where they had started last night. The warm weight soothed Kurama’s fresh scars, and as Kazuma kept himself pressed tight against Kurama, Kurama allowed himself to feel-

But his sense were alerting him to a weird noise outside the bedroom.

Kurama sat up, eyes narrowing as he listened intently with a finger pressed upon his lips for silence from Kazuma. Kazuma said nothing, barely moving as he listened too. The footsteps were lithe and subtle, the stride of a battle prone warrior, but the plant at the foot of their bed was not alarmed (though it had bloomed, much to Kurama’s satisfaction). If the plant was not preparing for an attack, then Kurama knew that whoever was visiting them was an ally and not a foe. Yet it was barely dawn- who would visit him at such a...

Kurama pressed a hand over his mouth, desperate to keep his laugh down. He suddenly knew exactly who was on the other side of the door, and as he laid back down upon his pillow he caught Kazuma’s curious expression. Kurama kept pressing a finger over his lips, yet he could not resist- he reached out to take Kazuma’s face in his own to kiss him lovingly upon the lips.

It would be a good day to teach Hiei to learn to knock, in any event.

Kurama knew the door had opened when he heard it creak, and Kazuma whipped his head around at once to see who had entered their room.

Hiei stood in the doorway, his expression completely devoid of emotion; his face was pale, his eyes wide upon Kurama and Kazuma entwined naked in bed-

“Hi,” Kurama greeted him, beneath Kazuma and with an uncontrollable grin upon his face.

 

Hiei backtracked at once, flying away from the door to start screaming curses in the living room. Kurama laughed aloud now, unable to keep it in. It was a joyous and rare day when Hiei got his just desserts. Kazuma was mortified, burying his face into the pillows with a loud groan as Kurama wrapped his hands around him.

“Oh my god, oh my god-“ came Kazuma’s muffled voice.

Hiei expressed similar sentiments outside.

“What the fuck-! Just-! What the fucking fuck!? What the fuck did I just-!? What-?! How-!? How!?”

“Hey, Hiei,” Kazuma growled in nasty greeting from his pillow, “Nice to see you too.”

Hiei seemed to have kicked their bedroom door closed, for it slammed shut loudly.

Kurama just shook his head, wrapping his arms around Kazuma lovingly. Poor Hiei must have gone to his old apartment and found it vacant; he had no doubt searched through the night to find him here in a new location... and Kazuma’s arms. What an interesting way to start off the day.

“You need to learn to knock, Hiei,” Kurama teased, sitting up in bed to pick Kazuma’s sweatshirt off the floor. He pulled it over his head, fishing his mass of hair out from beneath the hoodie as he fetched a rubber band from their bedside table. The sight of Kurama putting his hair up was endearing to Kazuma; he kissed Kurama’s cheek. Kurama turned and sought his lips.

“If you fucking think-“ Hiei snarled, yanking the door of the bedroom open only to see them kissing languidly. “Oh, for the love of God, Kurama! No!”

Chapter Text

Two and a half months passed, and a routine was established.

Kazuma worked mostly from his laptop and his hours were not set in stone like Kurama’s. He could work from Yusuke’s bar at two in the morning as easily as he could work from an actual building site during a decent hour. He consulted, he constructed, and he traveled throughout Japan visiting shrines on the verge of collapse to renovate and renew them. Kurama stayed in their home, keeping business hours from eight to five as he likewise consulted and healed the sick. His practice among demons became such as staple income that he was able to cater to them exclusively, healing them after battles or during times of plague outbreak. Many demons that lived in human world were integrating into human society through marriage or birth. So it was that many of Kurama’s human patients understood the demon nature of his practice and even sought him out for it. At nights, Kurama was on call for emergencies but rarely had to attend to them; demons were prideful and did not like seeking out aid fresh from battle. Instead they waited and sulked (much like a familiar three eyed friend he knew), and came to him during regular hours with oozing wounds.

Shiori stopped going to the hospital, and seemed to be recovering at home. When Kurama asked, she told him that she was feeling fine (“better than ever!”) and was recuperating from therapy with the aid of his stepfather. Kurama did not push for detail, for Shiori was too tired to give it, but he noticed that she seemed calmer - peace, almost... as if some terrible weight had been taken off her chest. Kurama was satisfied, wondering if the herbs Hiei had so painstakingly brought him had actually helped her in the end. Perhaps their effect had been delayed because of her chemotherapy. He was unsure.

Kurama did not hear from Matsuri again. After losing ten of his men (two to death and eight to prison), it seemed that he took Kurama’s threat seriously and did not return to bother him at the shop. Even so, Kurama did not put away his mirror plant, and upon waking in the middle of the night would listen intently from Kazuma’s embrace, never stirring but ever cautious. Shizuru, working for the fifth precinct that oversaw their whole street, was likewise often on patrol outside of Kurama’s shop and Yusuke’s restaurant. So it was that during the middle of the night, Kurama would see a flash of neon blue light drifting through his window and felt slightly safer knowing that he had an extra set of eyes open. He did not ask about her relationship with Yukina, for unlike Kazuma it was none of his business and he did not feel privy to her personal life just because he was dating her brother. He did however note that Yukina had taken up secretary work at the fifth precinct, and seemed quite exuberant about the fact that she, like her brother and lover, could handle criminals. Kurama wondered if Yukina had moved in with Shizuru, but Hiei (who stopped by twice after that ridiculous first incident) never eluded to the notion that she had and Kurama did not ask.

Jiro was not an overbearing parent that liked to call his children; instead they only saw him once a month when they went to dinner on the first sunday. Jiro was soothed, happy to see both his children in flourishing relationships, and provided them with ample support during moments of confusion or irritation (particularly when Yukina was glum about Hiei, or Shizuru was railing on Kazuma). Kurama did not forget that Jiro had kept up the facade of Shuichi to Shiori’s face, and had never once insinuated to another that Kurama lead a double life. For that, he respected Jiro greatly, and the pair of them learned to understand one another at a distance as Kurama kept his space and Jiro kept his honesty. It was still taking time for Kurama to understand how open and frank the Kuwabaras were with one another. Perhaps he ought to learn from their example, but he never felt the need to tell Shiori the truth. Indeed, the thought made him slightly nauseous with self-hatred.

It was January tenth, and Kazuma was working on a temple in Sapporo. Kurama had received a call from him earlier that day promising to be home around seven; Kazuma seemed eager to enjoy dinner at Yusuke’s, and so Kurama closed up shop to walk across the street. He relaxed in a booth near the bar, keeping company with Yukina who had taken the day off from work to focus on some more personal craft projects that she claimed were for upcoming birthdays. Kurama had a feeling that a certain someone was going to be receiving more soap (which tickled him endlessly), but Yukina had eluded to the concept of pottery. Now Kurama could hear Hiei wailing “she made me a cup! I love cups!” in his head, which caused him to snicker once or twice without supposed reason. Yukina said nothing, to her credit. Perhaps she knew why Kurama was laughing... after all, Hiei had returned to her twice in order to request more of the same soap she’d made him the first time.

Apparently Mukuro kept stealing his.

“Hey, baby. I’m sorry I’m late.”

Kazuma was about twenty minutes late, no doubt from traffic or train delay, and as Kurama looked up over a cup of coffee he smiled at Kazuma; even now, a year later, a strange joy emitted from him whenever Kazuma appeared. Taking off his coat and folding it over his arm, Kazuma slid into the booth next to Kurama and kissed him tenderly upon the lips. Outside it was snowing, and due to the glass ceilings it created a bizarre ‘reverse-snow globe’ effect that Kurama quite enjoyed.

“How was your day?” Kurama asked, and Kazuma took out a packet from his coat pocket to reveal a set of pictures taken from the work site in Sapporo. Yukina was eager to look at them all, amazed at the beautiful architecture Kazuma had created. The ‘before’ shots were downright depressing but now the work had truly begun, and the result was the clearing of a large swath of land that was both serene and detached from society. A wilderness within a wilderness.

“Fun. This temple is going to be huge.”

“Oh, that’s lovely,” Yukina complimented.

“Three main buildings, six side temples, and of course the front worship bell.” Kazuma ticked them all off on his fingers, waggling ten for Kurama to smile at. “It’s a huge piece of land, but they’re really not touched it during the past century. They’ve allowed it to grow as it wants to; because of that, I can work around it and make buildings that are complementary with nature.”

“My favorite kind,” Kurama said appreciatively.

“They have a temple there for Inari.” Kazuma seemed to find this very funny, but Kurama just rolled his eyes.

“Oh, yes,” Kurama recalled with amusement, “the goddess of yokos.”

“Did you ever worship her?” Yukina asked.

“I worshiped myself back then,” Kurama said, though in truth he had paid a shrine or two an offering during his younger days. It had been easy as a kit to imagine that a goddess might protect him for a pretty coin or two; during his adult years he’d been less inclined to believe. Now, he didn’t care a whit.

“Like any self-respecting yoko would,” Yukina joked. Kurama could not help but laugh, for her comment was actually quite on par. Still, he wondered what Kazuma would say if he knew what Yukina and Kurama had been discussing before his arrival.

“Why don’t you tell Kazuma the lovely conversation that you had with your brother earlier today,” Kurama offered slyly. Yukina made a noise under her breath, and Kazuma raised his eyebrows.

“Was Hiei here again without me knowing?” Kazuma asked, quite annoyed. The past two times that Hiei had visited Kurama, Kazuma had not been around (Hiei had never stayed long and certainly wouldn’t venture upstairs into their home). Kazuma was starting to feel ignored by Hiei (which was exactly what he was).

“No,” Yukina assured him, “it was just over the phone. I’ve been trying for ages to get him to use a cell phone and I finally convinced him the last time he was here.”

“Excellent.” Kazuma seemed quite impressed and pulled his phone out of his coat pocket. “What’s his number?”

Yukina opened her own cell phone and slid it across the table so that Kazuma could copy the digits.

“Kazuma, don’t ever call that number,” Kurama begged under his breath, imagining the violent and nasty conversations the pair of them might have if Kazuma started nagging him for information. Hiei was far too brusque to enjoy small talk... save for small talk with Yukina.

“Just good for emergencies,” Kazuma said, and Kurama could see the logic in this.

“I told him about me and Shizuru,” Yukina added, and Kazuma snorted as he put his phone away back in his coat pocket.

“How’d that go?” Kazuma asked.

“He doesn’t care.” Yukina shrugged. “Or so he says.”

“Meaning he cares a great deal,” Kurama deciphered.

“And he quickly changed the subject.”

“Meaning he thought about it endlessly,” Kurama finished. Yukina smiled.

“Should we warn my sister?” Kazuma asked, perhaps wondering if Hiei might be paying her a ‘friendly’ visit in light of this newfound information.

“Hiei is just an overly protective brother,” Kurama chided with a gentle smile. “He’ll get over it.”

“Shit,” Kazuma said under his breath, more of a grumble than an actual word.

 

After dinner the pair of them returned home, and though it was a short walk across the street Kurama’s hands were already frozen in his pockets as when he walked through the shop door. The night was black, though snow and fluorescent lights overhead dotted it with light. Locking the front door behind them, Kurama lead the way upstairs, eager to get back in the warmth. Eikichi was asleep on the couch (her favorite spot), and Kurama sighed as the warm air began to sooth his numbed skin.

They got ready for bed, Kazuma setting aside his briefcase and putting his phone on the charger as Kurama used a salve on his weary and dry hands. In pajamas and reclining upon his vanity seat, Kurama watched as Kazuma undid his tie and took off his cufflinks. Kurama wondered if it might be an ideal birthday present but he was keener to purchase something... personal.

Yet all thoughts of birthday presents and naughty gifts were suddenly put on hold when the ringing of their home phone caught their attention. Kazuma looked up, confused, given that it was ten at night. Who on earth would call them from their home phone at such an hour... and why? If they were truly intent on calling either of them, they would use their cellphones. Then again, Kurama’s phone was dead and needed to be charged. Kazuma’s had yet to ring.

The phone continued to ring, vibrating from the wall hook in the kitchen.

“... So late,” Kurama said aloud. Kazuma’s face was full of concern as he rose from the bed, walking into the kitchen and picking the phone up from the hook.

Kurama followed him.

Kazuma could not catch the phone before it fell silent, but just as Kazuma looked back around at Kurama to shrug, the phone started ringing again. Now it was clear someone was trying to get a hold of them as Kazuma resumed his brisk pace into the kitchen and picked up the phone. Kurama watched from the darkened entryway to the living room, wondering what on earth was going on.

“Hello?”

Kazuma registered a voice on the other end, and seemed surprised at whoever it was.

“Yeah- ...what?” Kazuma’s face fell. For a moment there was silence.

Kazuma wetted his lips. He breathed very slowly, his eyes downcast as he looked back and forth across the floor.

“... Don’t worry.” Kazuma shook his head, his voice calm but... odd. “Don’t worry, I’ll- I’ll tell him.”

And with that, he hung up the phone.

“What was that about?” Kurama asked. Kazuma did not answer, heading back into the bedroom at a slow pace. He seemed to be thinking about something as he ran his hand over his mouth. Kurama followed him, still unsure as to what had happened on the phone, but as he took a seat back on the bed and unclasped his watch from his wrist, he observed Kazuma moving about the room. It was as if he didn’t know what to do or where to go.

“There’s something you’re not telling me,” Kurama said, for he knew it to be fact. Kazuma had never behaved in such a way in front of him, not since before they were dating and Yusuke was battling disaster...but surely it couldn’t be a demon. Could it? Kurama suddenly thought of every foe they’d taken on. All were dead save for Yusuke’s earliest cases but they ought to be locked away in Spirit World unless something-

Kazuma had come over to the bed. He sat down next to Kurama and braced him on either side with his hands. It was as if he was trying to shield Kurama, to save him from something.

Kazuma took a breath.

“Thirty minutes ago your mother was sitting in her favorite chair reading-“ Kazuma paused only for one second, just long enough for Kurama to register the pain in his voice and what it meant. “She died of an aneurism.”

Kurama shot up, but did not know why. He breathed but did not know how. Kazuma’s arms were about him, holding him, keeping him secure even as he shuddered and swayed, no words able to slip past his lips.

The darkness enclosed him, encasing him, suffocating him. He could no longer breathe.

Time ceased to be. Location a mere falling of letters into shapes of words. There was no sound, no world, no life outside of the room in which he sat, outside of Kazuma’s arms... but even those did not soothe him, did not compare.

He had failed.

He had devoted himself to goodness. He had believed in her, fought for her, and cared for her until he felt certain that she could not die. And yet, she had. Died because he was not enough, and he had been a fool to ever think that giving all of himself to loving her would be adequate when the last twenty five years was a mere blip in an otherwise miserable, cruel life. Of course he couldn’t protect her well enough. Someone like him could not be changed in a quarter of a century – or perhaps ever. He couldn’t have saved her; he never stood a chance.

And suddenly, Kurama could remember the moment in which he’d first died, and how he’d been given the option to let his soul transcend into all that lay beyond. He had been foolish and had chosen to hide, to stay. It had only caused her pain.

He had betrayed her from the start, and she had suffered for him – a soulless monster.

She had deserved every ounce of light in the universe, but what she had gotten was him.

And now she was dead.

He was shaking, his body practically vibrating as if his soul was attempting to force its way out. Kazuma was behind him, holding him gently by the side of his head, his fingers threaded into Kurama’s hair.

“Be calm, Kurama,” Kazuma begged softly against his skull. His voice sounded faraway, muffled as if Kurama were hearing it through a thick layer of glass. “She didn’t suffer.”

But the agony within Kurama was the equivalent of the suffering of twenty lifetimes, and he could not bear it without reproach. He breathed haggardly, his soul tearing in two as he was forced to let go of the concept that he was good. That he was human. That he was whole.

“She didn’t suffer,” Kazuma repeated, again and again, as though he were pleading it to some nonexistent god. “What else can we ask for?”

But the gray had already become black. Without Shiori, he ceased.

To be continued