Chapter 1: Winter
Hiei is not a caretaker, but for Yukina, he’s trying. The fool Kuwabara is only human, and requires things like sleep and food. When he does, Hiei is the one that sits with his heavily pregnant sister, fetching her things and doing what he can to make her comfortable.
The smaller demon shifts from his position at the window. The temple grounds are quiet in these early morning hours, actually covered in a decent layer of snow. He isn’t sure if the sun will be completely visible when it rises because of the thick clouds.
“What do you need?” Hiei asks, tone even. He doesn’t mind doing these things for Yukina, though he does feel guilt now and then that he isn’t skilled at them. She’s sitting up in bed now, looking at him curiously.
“Come sit.” The Ice Maiden prompts, her voice gentle. “I want to talk to you about something.”
Hiei’s mildly surprised, but doesn’t say anything about it. He moves away from the window and sits on the floor beside his sister’s futon. Though Yukina likes the cold -- being what she is -- warmth is important for the twins who aren’t yet ready to meet the world. Hiei adjusts the thick blanket so it supports her better, and Yukina smiles at him.
Hiei just nods.
“Have you talked to Kurama lately?”
Hiei glances away. He doesn’t know why Yukina is asking a question she probably already knows the answer to. The fox has been around quite often during her pregnancy, helping with his knowledge as usual. The tea Yukina drinks every day is handmade, Kurama’s work. He also takes shifts watching the Ice Maiden as well, usually on the weekends when he isn’t busy with his human job.
“Now and then.” Hiei answers, muttering. Yukina’s head tilts. Her crimson eyes -- like his own, but larger and more open -- survey him slowly.
“You’re avoiding him, brother.”
Hiei’s shoulders tense, but he doesn’t deny this observation. Yukina’s right. Whenever he sees the fox he feels more mixed-up inside than usual; it’s been that way for the past half a year. He doesn’t know where he fits in Kurama’s life any more, and also doesn’t understand why he wants to fit in it at all.
“This doesn’t matter.” Hiei says, shaking his head. Yukina reaches to touch his arm gently.
“Did something happen?”
Hiei frowns immediately. He doesn’t want to talk about it.
Hiei glances around Kurama’s apartment, suspicious. It isn’t his first visit here -- by any means -- but he always feels like he needs to inspect the place whenever he shows up. There’s something about the space that makes him uncomfortable.
He should have gone straight back to the Makai once everything was handled with the Dimensional Cannon tonight, but here he is. Hiei settles on Kurama’s couch with a frown, soon targeted by piercing green eyes.
“What.” Hiei says, not really a question. Kurama sweeps his hair back from his face, a gesture that he only does when he’s annoyed. The fox is irked, but Hiei doesn’t know why.
“Did you think at all tonight?”
Hiei blinks, stone-faced.
“You were perfectly content, the risk of separating soul from body.”
Hiei shrugs. In that moment, he wonders if Kurama is going to attack him; there’s something about the redhead’s expression that reminds Hiei of a very angry, seething Youko.
“Why are you so upset?” Hiei finally mutters, trying to brush off Kurama’s concern with him as always. Kurama just does this, even when Hiei tells him not to. He cares and asks questions and gets in Hiei’s business, no matter what it is.
The fox doesn’t listen to him. Kurama sits down on the couch suddenly -- so suddenly that Hiei is mildly alarmed -- and grabs his arms. When he does, the Dragon makes a strange noise of contentment. Hiei isn’t sure if Kurama hears this too, and doesn’t ask.
The redhead pulls him into a tight hug.
Hiei is so shocked that he remains stock still instead of pushing the fox away from him.
“Hiei.” Kurama says eventually. It’s a soft sigh, like the smaller demon’s name is loaded with a thousand things. That sends him into a panic, enough that Hiei regains his senses and pushes at Kurama’s shoulder with a glare. The fox pulls back.
Hiei expects Kurama to explain himself, or chastise Hiei for rejecting this small -- though really not small at all -- gesture of affection. Instead, Kurama gets up from the couch and goes into the kitchen as if nothing happened at all just now. To say Hiei is confused is an absolute understatement.
When Kurama returns a few minutes later, handing over a mug of cocoa, there’s a puffiness to his eyes that Hiei doesn’t remember being there before. The smaller demon suspects that Kurama cried a little while in the kitchen, and he has no idea what to do about it.
They hadn’t spoken about that night. Half a year stretched on somehow, and whenever their paths crossed, Hiei felt an especially sharp twinge of guilt. The fox was kind to him as always, the same Kurama. He was trying to bury whatever scar Hiei left on him that night.
Hiei’s eyes meet Yukina’s now, and he finds that he can’t say anything. This seems to confirm Yukina’s suspicions, and there’s a heaviness to her expression that lets Hiei know she cares about this situation deeply.
“I’d like it if things could be set right before the children arrive.” Yukina admits, hopeful.
“I don’t want to talk to him about it.”
“Is that what I said you should do?” Yukina wonders, a slight smile on her lips. She’s like that more often now, quick to speak her mind. While Hiei is glad for that, he’s caught by her words and shrugs sheepishly.
“What are you saying?” Hiei murmurs, getting the feeling that Yukina has some kind of plan. The way her smile grows confirms this.
“I think you should start a Peregrination of Four.”
Hiei stares. Yukina adjusts the blanket around herself, giving Hiei time to think about what she said. He can’t imagine undertaking something like that -- something with no set time limit -- when his sister could go into labor at any moment. Though it isn’t spoken about, everyone knows that the delivery could kill her; there isn’t any record of a human and Ice Maiden birth, and the entire situation is dangerous.
She doesn’t let him finish. “I’m asking as your sister.”
The smaller demon sighs. It’s unfair, saying it like that. Yukina knows that he can’t refuse that kind of request. He doesn’t understand how his sister even learned about that ritual, since it seems like something the Ice Maidens would have no use for at all. Why would they care about following the youki of another demon, the winding path of their lives, when all of those miserable women were stuck together?
“What about you?”
“I’ll be fine. I have Kazuma.” Yukina reminds, glancing towards the window. “And all of the others are helping. I won’t tell them what you’re doing, just that it’s very important. I don’t think these two are coming until the first thaw, so don’t worry about that.”
Hiei quiets at this. He doesn’t protest when Yukina takes his hand and guides it to her stomach. One of the twins is quite lively, kicking hard. Hiei wonders if he did the same when he and Yukina were that close. Did he annoy her in the womb? Did they make their mother smile, as Yukina is now?
Hiei moves away eventually, lost in his thoughts. Yukina needs something to drink, so he goes to the kitchen to make Kurama’s tea for her. Kuwabara is in a room nearby, his spirit energy dull as it is for any human when they sleep. He’ll wake in a few hours, and then take over attending Yukina. Though Hiei dislikes the fool often still, he can’t deny that Kuwabara would throw down his life for Yukina’s safety. Maybe with that knowledge, and the help of everyone else, Hiei could leave and…
And what? Undertake an ancient ritual for the sake of figuring out Kurama? It seems foolish, but the more he thinks about it, the more he wonders if it could fix things. If -- no, when -- Yukina has a healthy delivery, Hiei knows he’ll want to be around the twins in some way, to protect them as family. Everyone will want to see them, including Kurama, and… Hiei wants to be able to look the fox in the eyes again, to understand.
As Hiei makes the tea -- adding hot water to the leaves carefully grown with the fox’s youki -- he also makes his decision.
“I’ll go.” Hiei informs after returning to Yukina’s room. She smiles at him brightly, and together they watch the snow fall outside for a while.
Chapter 2: Origin
Hiei returns to the Makai and begins the ritual.
Past dialogue from the ritual are "Presented like this."
In theory, from what Hiei knows, a journey like this begins simply. A demon -- one marked heavily by the youki of another demon, some kind of familiar relationship -- makes a focused sacrifice of blood and symbols. Once this is done, the demon on the journey is led by instinct to four sites marked with the other demon’s youki.
Hiei also knows that theory doesn’t match with practice in the Makai. Things are never as simple as they seem. His guard is up even though no opponent is visible to him.
The smaller demon won’t break his promise to Yukina, however. His sister asked him to do this in all seriousness, and Hiei also wants to repair his relationship with Kurama.
He builds a fire in a small clearing in the Makai, charges it with shadows of the Dragon. It’s a good symbol for himself, a representation of who he is and the power that Kurama knows.
Hiei lets the flames burn down naturally. It takes a few hours, but that’s plenty of time to think about what he might find on this journey.
Kurama is ages older than he is -- Hiei’s known that for a long time -- and even the merged form doesn’t remember everything from his past. Hiei has no idea what the ritual will choose to show him, what points in Kurama’s many years are important for the smaller demon to see. He’s wary of the visions that await him, and also terribly curious. He’s always been curious about Kurama, ever since he heard about the King of Thieves as a child.
When the fire turns to ash, Hiei drops in a handful of rose seeds on the dusty embers. This serves well as Kurama’s symbol. They actually belong to the fox; Hiei carries them in case something happens and Kurama is unable to reach the ones stored in his hair. They settle in the ash and grow for no explicable reason, leaving one full bloom in the ash of the fire. Hiei stares at this for quite some time, wondering what this might mean.
A quick cut to his hand adds Hiei’s blood on top of the ash and flower. There aren’t any words to utter, no incantation, just the strength of his own will to start this journey.
A sudden, sharp pain sears Hiei’s palm. The cut is gone, replaced with four small circles clustered together in the center of his hand. The smaller demon blinks at these marks curiously. While they felt like stab wounds they look to be nothing more than dark ink, not unlike the Dragon.
One of the circles glows, and Hiei feels an undeniable pull in his center. He follows the sensation, traveling to the east. He doesn’t know where he’s going, but has the sense it’s in his mind somewhere. This is what he asked for, after all.
He comes to a halt hours later at the edge of an unfamiliar valley. Instinct guides him to look at the ground beneath his feet, where Hiei sees a faint trail of familiar -- but glittering -- youki.
Hiei’s heard that the visions presented by the ritual are like phantoms, the echo of youki imprints long lost. This makes sense as he sees the shape of a small fox, a silvery little thing, padding along before him. It’s following after a much larger one, a grand fox with eight tails.
Hiei recognizes the smaller figure as Kurama, but doesn’t know who the other one is. Hiei follows after the phantoms, silent.
“Kurama. Listen well.”
The smaller fox’s ears perk up.
“I must leave you. I must return to the Ningenkai and settle my path. How I wish I could take you with me.” The elder fox laments. It’s a female, one that sounds strong and proud. Hiei assumes it to be Kurama’s mother.
“The humans are strange creatures. I have a family there as well now. Similar to your brothers and sisters here, only one of my children survived in the Ningenkai…”
Kurama lowers his head and offers a low-pitched whine. Hiei realizes that at this point Kurama is merely a young spirit fox; an enchanted animal, and one that can’t yet talk. Kurama’s mother seems to be reflecting on this fact too, or something else, because she stops suddenly. She settles in the grass and wraps her many tails around the small fox beside her, protective.
“I have hope for you, Kurama. I believe you can live long, and become like me or your father." The elder fox’s dark golden eyes focus on Kurama, a heaviness to her words. “You need to become stronger to do that. You must stand on your own.”
Kurama -- of course -- doesn’t answer. He’s batting at the end of one of her larger tails, playful. Nothing but a happy child. Hiei doubts Kurama even understands what’s happening, let alone all of the serious words spoken to him. It makes the smaller demon uncomfortable watching Kurama’s mother soothe him one moment -- a close press, a fond nuzzle -- and then dart away with purpose the next.
There’s a shadow of a portal nearby, small but distinct. She disappears into it with only one look behind her at the small fox trying to follow her. The portal closes, and Kurama skitters into empty space.
Hiei watches the young fox try to process his confusion, winding circles of silvery youki in desperation around the spot where his mother vanished. When that does nothing, he sits in the grass. His head drops, ears pointed towards the ground. Hiei approaches slowly, standing nearby.
Kurama’s short, sharp yelps of distress soon become something more anguished, something with a tinge of emotion.
Hiei can’t bear the sound of them. There’s an echo to them that he places within himself, the urge to cry that never materialized when he was dropped off the Floating Island.
The smaller demon bends down and tries to pick Kurama up, but the vision before him is merely shadows of past youki. His hands go through the fox’s form like a ghost, leaving Hiei to clutch at nothing. He can’t comfort Kurama about this loss.
The little fox vocalizes until the sound becomes hoarse, and then falls asleep. He fades away after that, and Hiei feels the stabbing sensation in his hand again. When he looks at his palm, he realizes only three circles are left now.
The smaller demon takes a deep breath, steadying himself, and then sets off towards the next site.
Chapter 3: Wildflowers
The second part of Hiei's journey takes him to a familiar bamboo thicket.
Hiei doesn’t want to be here, since he knows what happened in this cursed thicket of bamboo. The smaller demon has thought about this place perhaps a handful of times over the years thanks to scarps of information that Kurama never desired to share.
The bamboo here is old, bewitched, unlike anything Hiei has encountered before. It's impossible to navigate like a regular thicket, unless he uses his sword or burns down the entire thing with the Dragon; instead he must follow the stone path -- a narrow and winding thing -- towards the mouth of a ruined temple entrance.
Soon he finds the trail of Kurama’s silvery youki everywhere, like someone spilled paint on the ground. There are phantoms of various plants -- so many Hiei doesn’t even recognize -- still shifting about over numerous ghostly corpses. He realizes that he's in the middle of a battlefield, and one that Kurama undoubtedly dominated.
The phantom of the fox that appears before him now is nothing like small thing Hiei tried to comfort at the edge of the valley. Kurama is now grown, the Youko that Hiei recognizes, and this remnant of him still a sight to behold. The fox is also absolutely miserable, clutching the remains of his previous partner.
“How long are you going to wait to bury me?”
Kurama looks past Hiei; the smaller demon turns around, realizing that he’s in the middle of the events from the past. Kuronue is there, a phantom of a phantom; a spirit. Hiei is surprised, since Kurama never mentioned this to him before.
“I won’t bury you.” Kurama answers, tightening his arms stubbornly around the body in his arms.
“I will not.” The silver-haired fox snarls. Though he sounds threatening, the timbre of his voice reminds Hiei of… well, the little spirit fox yelping in the dark.
“This isn’t what I wanted either.” Kuronue says, approaching with a sigh. Hiei steps off to the side to watch them. “That mirror wasn’t worth my life. But things happen as they happen, don’t they?”
“I don’t accept this.”
“Kurama.” Kuronue chuckles, a sad smile on his face. He sits down in front of the fox, in front of his own wounded corpse. “You can’t control everything.”
The fox’s glare turns sharp at those words. His golden eyes are dark with emotion. Hiei wonders if, in this form, Kurama ever cried over anything. Perhaps he might now.
“Did they judge you?” Kurama finally asks, referring to the Reikai. He’s smoothing the strips of black cloth around Kuronue’s arms, like he’s putting them in place. Kuronue’s spirit watches this with an obvious fondness.
“Yes. That’s why I’m here. You’re my ‘unfinished business,’ Kurama.”
“Your soul's destination?” Kurama prompts.
“A pleasant one, for a thief.” Kuronue replies with a grin. Something about that makes Kurama smile, though it’s momentary. The fox seems to remember the situation at hand, and presses his face against the immobile Kuronue’s hair.
“I don’t want to let you go.”
“I love you too.”
They look at each other in silence after that. The fox eventually moves to stand up, pulling seeds free from his hair. Before Hiei knows it there are a wealth of vines snaking along the ground, moving over the useless remains of enemies. They slip beneath Kuronue’s body gently, lifting him carefully now that Kurama is standing.
The fox walks along the stone path back towards the temple, followed by Kuronue’s two forms. Hiei follows the phantoms as well as they head inside the temple. It’s something old and strange, with carved alcoves and hallways leading to nowhere. There are likely other treasures inside besides the mirror that started all of this, but Kurama doesn’t seem to care about them now.
Though the walls of the place are stone, the floor is simply dirt. The fox selects a spot and settles on his knees, digging at the tamped soil. He could easily use plants for this, or even the brute force of his youki, but he doesn’t. It takes a long time using only his hands, and Hiei guesses Kurama is using that time to actually accept what happened.
Eventually Kuronue’s body is lowered into the grave by the winding vines. Kurama adjusts a thin, fine chain wrapped around Kuronue’s hand; Hiei sees the bright red of a jewel glistening in the dark.
“Thank you.” Kuronue’s spirit says softly. Kurama covers up the body with soil. Hiei can barely see the fox’s face behind his curtain of silver hair, but he can sense Kurama’s anguish. It’s clear in the way his shoulders arch just so, the turn of his head. These are things Hiei sees often in the fox’s redheaded form.
Kurama doesn’t speak again until he’s decorated the grave with flowers. The phantoms of these plants are strong, almost as strong as the images of Kurama and Kuronue’s spirit. Hiei understands that the fox put an inordinate amount of youki into them, likely to enchant them somehow.
“Will I see you again?” Kurama asks, his strong voice holding only the smallest waver now.
“Now and then. Mostly in dreams.” Kuronue promises, nodding. Kurama looks him over slowly, golden eyes dark with something Hiei doesn't understand. Their forms are beginning to fade, little by little, and soon all of the youki phantoms are gone.
The smaller demon is left inside of the temple alone, staring down at the dirt. The grave’s outline is marked by a carpet of wildflowers that shouldn’t be there in the damp and dark, descendants of the ones Kurama planted years before in grief.
The stabbing sensation in his hand tells Hiei that another mark has faded. He wants nothing more than to rest after what he just witnessed, but the journey can’t stop because of his conflicting emotions. Hiei leaves the temple in a blur, following the stone path until he’s free from the bamboo thicket. The current pull takes him north, towards the unknown.
Chapter 4: Leaves
Hiei witnesses a strange interaction between Kurama and a shrine maiden in the Ningenkai.
Hiei doesn’t recognize this shrine to Inari, or the city surrounding the place. It isn’t the city Kurama lives in now, but he finds himself following a young phantom of the fox around the shrine grounds. Kurama is dressed formally, dark clothes that Hiei can’t assign a purpose to, and carrying a sketchbook under one arm. The fox is perhaps a few years younger than when they first met each other, passing as a young human boy… mostly.
The shrine itself is impressive and quite old, surrounded by thick trees dropping autumn leaves each time the wind picks up. Kurama stops in front of an old stone lantern, peering at it curiously. Whatever he sees inside of it is invisible to Hiei. The smaller demon accepted a long time ago that Kurama could talk with Inari and other foxes of all kinds, and expects strange things whenever he sets foot on ground sacred to their kind.
A glimmer of silvery youki peeks around the corner of a nearby wooden building. This phantom is unknown, both to Hiei and to this version of Kurama. It’s a young woman, one who approaches slowly along the stone pathway. She’s wearing the red and white garments of a shrine maiden, which rustle slightly as she walks.
“There’s a legend about that lantern, you know.” She says in greeting, speaking as human adults often do to children. Her voice is kind and welcoming.
Kurama turns towards that voice, blinking curiously. They look at each other for an odd length of time, and Hiei realizes something is amiss. He doesn’t know what, but can sense it acutely.
“I know.” Kurama answers, turning to look back at the lantern. “The fox carved into the east side is missing. They say he’s out wandering, looking for his hoshi-no-tama. He’s supposed to return and bring prosperity someday.”
“Oh, you know it well!” The woman smiles. “Did someone tell it to you?”
“No, I read it over there.” Kurama admits, pointing to an engraved tablet near the shrine’s entrance. It looks older than most of the buildings, actually, and something about this answer doesn’t sit well with the shrine maiden. She keeps looking at Kurama, peering at him actually.
“Is something wrong?” Kurama asks, his voice far too delicate and dangerous for a boy of his age. It's a trap, that question. Nothing different than a plant on the forest floor, ready to seize.
Hiei finally realizes what’s happening; the woman has some idea that Kurama isn’t quite right, that she’s looking at a veneer over something otherworldly. Kurama now knows this too.
The fox that Hiei knows would smooth this over with some kind of anecdote, a bright smile, some sheepish charm. The tactics Hiei’s seen a thousand times, the careful maintenance of Shuuichi’s human identity.
That isn’t what happens. Kurama takes a step towards the shrine maiden. Though he’s outwardly just a boy, he walks with the same authority as the Youko.
“I asked you a question.” Kurama reminds. There’s something icy in his voice. He takes another step closer, as if daring her to move away. The shrine maiden hesitates, brown eyes wide in shock.
“Y-you’re an old one, aren’t you…”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Kurama answers with a slow smile. Of course, his posture says otherwise; he’s pleased to be recognized and feared. Hiei watches with curiosity as the shrine maiden tries to gather her wits. There’s no one else around; whether by luck or design, the smaller demon doesn’t know.
“Is there something you w-want?” The young woman finally asks, bowing her head. She is afraid, that much is clear, but the question isn’t asked to make Kurama go away. Even Hiei knows that.
“Explain how you sensed what I am so quickly.”
The young woman hesitantly points at Kurama’s feet. Only now does he -- and Hiei -- notice that the fallen leaves closest to Kurama are green and glistening, a complete mismatch with the dead brown ones scattered around the temple grounds.
"And the carving over there is too complex... even the head priest can't read all of those kanji." The shrine maiden explains, walking a fine line between complimenting Kurama's knowledge and calling out his misstep.
The redhead sighs; he looks troubled by this, by many things. Hiei wonders what thoughts are racing through Kurama's head right now.
“A woman is about to arrive here. She needs reassurance. You will give her this without telling her the truth.” Kurama says. He frowns down at the leaves near him, and they wither and blend in with the rest. The shrine maiden finally lifts her eyes to look at him again. She likely wants to ask many questions, but all she manages is a nod.
“Shuuichi!” A familiar voice calls. Hiei turns to see a younger Shiori ascending the stone stairs, bag in hand. She must have been at a nearby store when Kurama came to the temple on his own.
Kurama’s expression changes immediately. He is Shuuichi, for now; he greets his mother, takes the bag from her as a dutiful son would, makes the necessary rounds to each part of the shrine to pay his respects. After this, the shrine maiden and Shiori talk softly near the main hall while Kurama wanders on his own. Of course the fox keeps his ears trained on the two women, so Hiei hears the conversation easily.
“He’s just so unlike the others…”
“It's easy to see that he's gifted.” The shrine maiden assures, giving Shiori a gentle smile. “Quite mature, yes?”
“It’s so obvious, isn’t it.” Shiori laughs sheepishly. “Everyone says that after meeting him.”
“That just means he’s favored with wisdom.”
“I’ve always thought so. It’s been difficult for him, it being just the two of us…” Shiori admits, looking at Kurama with worry.
The shrine maiden tilts her head. “Is his father not around?”
“He died when Shuuichi was very small.” Shiori admits, a note of sadness in her voice. “This is his father’s ancestral hometown. I thought if I brought Shuuichi here, it might give him some guidance.”
“I think you did the right thing.”
This statement is simple, but it seems to ease whatever worries Shiori has. She thanks the young woman and then they rejoin Kurama, who seems content sitting on a small stone bench with his sketchbook. He closes it abruptly when the two women near him, standing up with a smile.
“Shall we go, Mother?”
“Yes, we don’t want to be late for dinner with your grandparents.” Shiori agrees. She thanks the shrine maiden again, bowing politely. Kurama bows too and then flips through his sketchbook, carefully removing a piece of paper and handing it to the young woman.
"I made this for you. Thank you for talking with me today.” The redhead says, sounding like a perfectly innocent child in that moment. Shiori believes it, anyway. She asks about the paper’s contents as they walk towards the entrance, and Kurama informs her he simple drew one of the trees.
Of course, he lied. Hiei circles the shrine maiden quickly and sees that Kurama drew absolutely nothing; there’s only writing.
You did as I asked.
For your service, I will aid you in return.
If you need me, tell Inari you want to see Kurama.
I will find you.
The shrine maiden stares up from the note just as Shiori and Kurama reach the main road. Before they turn, the redhead glances back at her, his green eyes unnatural and briefly gold.
The phantom of the shrine maiden disappears, clutching the paper weakly. Hiei is left on the grounds sacred to Inari, which look even more stately with the passing of time and the late hour. He wonders what happened to the young woman, and if she ever asked for Kurama’s assistance. This tale is one he’s never heard from the fox before.
The smaller demon looks at his palm before the pain appears, watching the small circle fade. There’s only one left now, and it’s already urging him to move. Hiei thinks he’s somewhere far north of Tokyo at the moment, which means a few days’ journey before he can finish this.
Chapter 5: Moonlight
Hiei finds his way to the last memory, another trace left in the Ningenkai.
Hiei isn’t surprised that the final stop is the Minamino home, but he doesn’t expect to see a phantom of himself through the window. Hiei climbs to a familiar perch outside, exhausted but focused. It’s uncanny to watch himself like this, actually, and the smaller demon stares for a while at his doppelgänger created by the fox’s silvery youki. He’s half-dressed and somewhat drowsy from a recent hibernation, rubbing his eyes as he takes stock of the bandages on his body. Kurama sits on the floor near his desk -- an unusual spot for the redhead -- focused on trimming a wildly growing potted plant.
Hiei remembers this exchange well, and how strange it was to realize Kurama’s injuries hadn’t been addressed when he woke. He enters through the window, knowing this was the moment they began to talk to each other.
“Why aren’t you bandaged?” The phantom Hiei asks, voice thick with sleep still. The fox looks up from his work only momentarily, answering with a simple shrug. It isn’t his style at all, but then again, Kurama hasn’t been quite right since this whole dealing with the Meikai began.
“I didn’t feel like it.” The fox says, distracted. Hiei sighs and gets out of Kurama’s bed, annoyed that he has to abandon that warmth. He points to the fox’s desk chair expectantly. Kurama waits until he senses that Hiei isn’t about to change his mind, then moves to sit in the chair.
The phantom Hiei finds the familiar medical kit and opens it, dropping the container on Kurama’s desk with little ceremony. Since the redhead hasn’t moved to expose his wounds Hiei does this for him, pulling at the yellow sash tied around Kurama’s middle. The fox is visibly surprised by this move, but doesn’t protest it. The sash falls to the floor, followed by the ripped tunic.
Hiei is less careful with the undershirt, as it’s torn and bloody. He pulls at the snowy fabric firmly, popping buttons and earning a glare.
“You should have taken it off yourself, then.”
Kurama sighs at this. He shrugs off the remains of the shirt, exposing his injured top half. Hiei catalogues a wealth of small cuts and contact bruises, things Kurama’s youki will likely heal overnight with little problem. His main concern is the gash running across Kurama’s abdomen, and he puts his hand against Kurama’s shoulder to get the fox to fully expose the wound to his gaze.
They don’t talk as Hiei cleans Kurama up. The smaller demon watches this, studying his past self and the way Kurama reacts to his touch. The fight with Yakumo and his minions had been physically exhausting for everyone, but left Kurama with just as much emotional damage.
“Those things you said…” Kurama begins, but he trails off when Hiei’s eyes meet his. What was the end of that sentence? Hiei still doesn’t know now. He watches the phantom of himself turn and rummage through the medical kit, finding a particular jar of salve.
“Do you want this to scar?” Hiei asks bluntly, gesturing to the largest wound. Kurama considers the question and then slowly shakes his head.
The smaller demon proceeds to open the jar of salve, applying it carefully. It takes focus to do this; he gives the fox the entirety of his concentration. Now Hiei can see that he missed the look on Kurama’s face during this task, the soft warmth in those green eyes.
The salve smells like something edible, a wild fruit. Hiei did try to eat it once, and Kurama scolded him since the medicine was difficult to make. Hiei knows he was thinking about that in this moment, when his fingers move from the fresh wound to an old scar, one he left.
Kurama inhales sharply. His eyes widen too -- Hiei can see that now -- and he also sets his hand on Hiei’s shoulder. Kurama’s touched him so frequently in the last few days that Hiei thinks little of it until right now. It's just happened, just been a natural thing in the midst of chaos.
The intimacy of the moment is clear to him suddenly, and he snaps his head upward to stare at Kurama. The fox looks briefly bewildered, then lets his hand fall away from Hiei’s shoulder.
“Thank you, Hiei.”
The phantom of the smaller demon gets up with a brusque nod. He leaves the room -- the excuse was to wash his hands -- to gather his thoughts. Hiei stays now with Kurama’s phantom, watching as the redhead lets his fingers trace the same path along the faded scar on his stomach. The wound from the Shadow Sword is barely there, but it’s there.
Kurama puts his face in his hands suddenly, drawing in a few wavering, slow breaths. When they calm, the smaller demon's name leaves his lips. It sounds quiet, anguished. Another echo of the spirit fox yelping in vain at a closed portal.
The moment fades to nothing. Hiei is left in confusion as Kurama’s phantom vanishes, leaving nothing but the redhead’s abandoned room inside the former Minamino home. It hasn’t been sold yet, and the emptiness of the place hurts Hiei somehow.
That night… that moment… why would it be so important to Kurama too? The smaller demon feels the familiar stinging in his palm and watches the last mark vanish. The journey is over.
Hiei looks at the spot Kurama’s desk chair used to occupy. The fox seemed so weighed down by that exchange. Hiei recalls his own thoughts at the time; that he was deeply glad Kurama didn’t want a mark from the impostor Kuronue, that the scars the real Kuronue left on the fox’s heart were damage enough. Added to that was a strange pride in the mark he left on Kurama’s body, a symbol of the last time they misunderstood each other greatly.
With others, Hiei would have let go at that moment of perceived betrayal. With Kurama, he could never seem to fully let go.
And yet… after the incident with the Meikai, Hiei tried to put some distance between them. Just enough to make things feel like the early days, when he didn’t fully trust the fox. That was why it took Hiei so long to help the group against Sensui, and why he practically vanished into Mukuro’s territory when the Three Kings dragged them into the Makai struggle. Kurama remained his friend during this time, his partner, but their paths diverged somewhat; it left Hiei feeling both victorious and empty, more alone than ever before.
The smaller demon moves towards the window. He runs his fingers along the sill, finding the well-worn spot his left boot always met whenever he darted inside Kurama’s room. Countless times. Countless nights. They meant something, didn’t they, even in the long and winding journey of Kurama’s extensive life. Hiei himself meant something.
Hiei wonders what a journey about his own life might look like, if someone were ever that curious. A handful of moments from his wretched childhood are likely candidates, but after that… it would be true in reverse, no doubt. There would be endless phantoms of Kurama; the fox looking after him, teaching him, laughing with him.
Perhaps the first night he awoke in the redhead’s bed, disoriented. Or the confusion when Hiei realized what Kurama intended to do with the Forlorn Hope, and his subsequent decision to make utter chaos in furious retaliation. There are too many memories, and they settle in Hiei’s mind with a sudden knowing. He now understands why Kurama cried in the kitchen, what he thought Hiei was rejecting after all this time.
Hiei lets out a slow, measured breath, then exits the window and moves quickly in the moonlight. The weight of his own foolishness is unpleasant, but necessary. No wonder Yukina sent him on this journey.
Perhaps he’s damaged things irreparably; perhaps not. Hiei can only approach Kurama now and try to find a way to guarantee their paths -- from today -- are intertwined.
Chapter 6: Aftermath
Six months later, Hiei attempts to babysit his niece and nephew on his own.
“No.” Hiei repeats for the twentieth time.
Shizuo continues to crawl over the tatami, forcing Hiei to reach and pick up the stubborn child. This ‘crawling phase’ is absolute chaos, but he won’t wake Yukina for help just yet. There isn’t any point in him helping -- attempting to babysit -- if he needs Yukina’s help.
“Sit with your sister.” Hiei mutters, though he isn’t sure if Shizuo even understands.
The female twin, Makiko -- though everyone just says 'Maki' for some reason -- is more well-behaved. She’s currently entranced by her handmade doll, small fingers pulling at yarn hair curiously. Hiei looks at her with both fondness and gratitude in the present moment; she’s been less trouble today.
Sensing Hiei's distraction, Shizuo makes another bid for escape. Hiei makes sure Maki is settled on the blanket before he darts in front of Shizuo. The child blinks at his feet -- he can only lift his head up for a short while -- and then takes off in another direction with eager energy.
Each time, Hiei appears before him. Each time, the determined little thing continues to move as if he will win. He probably thinks it's a damned game.
“Do you really think he’ll learn that way?” Kurama’s voice asks from the doorway. Damn the fox and his own distractions.
“I assume he has Yukina’s mind, not Kuwabara’s.”
“Hiei.” The fox scolds softly.
Hiei rolls his eyes but bends down to pick up Shizuo. He doesn’t fault the boy for his determination, but hopes that he can channel it quickly. It took Kuwabara years before spiritual awareness became any type of weapon or defense; Hiei won’t accept that timeline for his nephew.
“You’re early.” The smaller demon observes, surprised.
Kurama simply shrugs at this, making his way over to the blanket where Maki remains nestled on some pillows, playing with her doll. Kurama pulls a seed free from his hair, a cascade of blue flowers erupting from a short stem. Maki’s red eyes -- like Yukina’s, like Hiei’s -- focus on the sight immediately.
“And how is my princess today?” The fox greets. Maki abandons her beloved doll in favor of the flower stem, waving it happily as Kurama picks her up into a careful hold.
“Quiet, as usual.” Hiei informs. Shizuo is leaning against him, vocalizing nonsense with his wriggling energy. Maki hasn’t made any such noise since her birth; in fact, she hasn’t even cried. While some of the group finds this alarming, Yukina seems to accept it, so Hiei does as well. Kurama’s told him plenty of times that it could be temporary, anyway.
Hiei moves to sit on the blanket next to Kurama. Shizuo properly notices the fox now and smiles widely. The children are quite fond of Kurama.
“I thought you could use my help, and I wanted to see you.” Kurama finally answers Hiei’s observation from earlier. Green eyes look the smaller demon over with clear curiosity. “Should I have waited?”
Hiei shakes his head. This task is far easier with Kurama around, of course.
They spend the next hour without any chaos. As usual, when the sun reaches a certain point, both of the twins begin to yawn. Hiei settles each child down in the nest of pillows, covering them with another blanket. It’s a small battle to free the flowers from Maki’s strong grip, but Hiei manages. He sets them near the makeshift bed and then brushes wisps of light blue hair out of the child's face.
The smaller demon then moves away carefully. When he turns to look at Kurama, the fox is grinning at him.
Green eyes sparkle with mischief. “Nothing.” Kurama replies, smile widening. He’s saying things without saying them, as he often does. It’s easier for Hiei to see now that he completed the journey and found his way back to the redhead.
“Liar.” Hiei mutters, though he starts to smile too.
They sit side-by-side at the small table nearby while the twins sleep. Kurama helps himself to tea -- Hiei heats it again with his youki -- and a plate of chestnut manju Yukina made earlier today.
“You left a kitchen a mess this morning.” The fox points out, nudging the plate towards Hiei so he can have one as well. Hiei’s already eaten three, but Kurama doesn’t know that.
“Is that an apology?” Kurama asks softly.
“You hid the chocolate cereal.” Hiei replies, glancing over at the twins. They’re sound asleep. Shizuo is slightly turned towards Maki, as if he’s confirming her presence.
“The cupboard isn’t hiding.” Kurama sighs, sipping his tea.
“You are being--”
Kurama cuts off Hiei’s words with a kiss. It’s a gentle one that tastes like tea and sweets, but still extremely powerful. Hiei isn’t sure if he’ll ever become accustomed to the feeling of Kurama’s kisses, but that’s a very pleasant problem to have.
The smaller demon feels himself flush. Still, he returns the kiss with the same eagerness he showed the night he finished the Peregrination of Four, the night he demanded Kurama listen to him while a torrent of words Hiei didn’t know he was capable of came forth. Luckily, Kurama listened; he then spoke his own words, making his feelings quite clear and raw to Hiei. From that moment forward the smaller demon carried little doubt about... them.
The kiss breaks. There’s only a small gap between their bodies, barely anything, but it feels excruciating enough that Hiei reaches over and takes Kurama’s hand in his. Green eyes light up with delight at this; soon the fox squeezes his hand, brushing his fingers against the center of Hiei’s palm. It’s a known weak spot now, though there’s nothing visible there as proof of his journey.
“Tomorrow I’ll make you breakfast instead.” Kurama offers, a way to put an end to the not-really-an-argument. While it’s a nice idea, the smaller demon shakes his head in answer.
“I’m not getting up when you go to work, fox.”
Kurama leans close to whisper in his ear. “Suppose I don’t go to work.”
Hiei tries and fails to hide the smile that puts on his face. Kurama doesn’t say anything about it, just waits for the smaller demon to nod in agreement. Hiei’s hold on the fox’s hand tightens, even as Kurama turns his attention back to his tea and watching over the twins.
In this moment of quiet, Hiei can breathe. In fact, he lets his head rest against Kurama’s shoulder with a sigh.
“Do you need a nap too?” The redhead teases.
“I’ve been watching them since noon.”
“Fair enough.” Kurama chuckles. He changes position slightly -- somehow making the action graceful -- and sits cross-legged on the tatami. The fox also pulls one of the unused pillows into his lap, looking at Hiei expectantly.
The smaller demon mutters some vague protest under his breath, but it’s just for show. They both know that. He still has these tendencies even after things changed between them, but as Kurama often assures him, that’s perfectly fine.
Hiei moves to rest on his back, his head supported by the pillow in Kurama’s lap. He looks up at the fox for a moment before realizing he really is quite tired… and that this is terribly comfortable.
Gentle fingers work through his hair, an easy lull to drowsiness. Hiei closes his eyes, listening to the pleasant mixture of sounds nearby: Kurama's heartbeat, the soft breathing of his niece and nephew, a light wind moving over the temple's roof.
“Hm?” Kurama vocalizes idly, almost in wonder. Perhaps he thinks Hiei is dreaming.
“Tomorrow. I want that.”
Kurama makes a soft sound in agreement. He slows his touches to Hiei's hair, eventually stopping the contact completely. Hiei misses it, but is pleased when Kurama’s arm drapes over him instead. It’s light and possessive, simple and yet not; so very Kurama.
The fox’s hand presses against his chest. Though it takes great effort, Hiei opens his eyes one more time before he falls asleep. In that brief moment, he sees Kurama looking down at him and feels -- undeniably -- like the fox’s greatest treasure.