Spoilers for Sensui Arc, optional Kuwabara/Kurama shounen ai, and a big TWT alert.
Your Blood On Your Hands
I found him where I thought I would.
We had often stayed in this grove of trees, during our months training together. We had a campfire right in the middle, and our belongings and blankets under the mighty oak tree he was sprawled in.
A thick branch, as broad as my shoulders, supported the fox spirit. He hadn't looked at me, which is probably what shook me the most. He always looked me straight in the eyes when I spoke to him. And it was impossible to sneak up on him. I tried a lot, to get him back for those painful so-called play-fights, just to shove him into the river or trip him, just to vent. But it had never worked.
"I thought the whole 'hangin' in a tree' thing belonged to Hiei," I commented carefully. Neutral ground. Hiei was not one of Kurama's 'trouble' spots at the moment.
"I was lying in trees long before Hiei was born," Kurama answered, voice as lazy as a cloud in the wind.
That was a dead end. Smooth start, Kuwabara.
And I reminded him of his age. Damn it! Age equals before humanity equals Youko Kurama equals no mercy equals killing anyone equals Amanuma equals TROUBLE AREA!
I'm such a moron.
Still, when anyone calls me that, particularly myself or my sister, all it makes me want to do is try harder and get it right.
Urameshi and Hiei—neither of them have the finesse to do this. Hiei is convinced there isn't a problem ("It's one kill out of a million, you dumbass.") and Urameshi not only has his own problems, but he also believes Kurama's over everything ("He said he was okay, and he managed to fight Toguro calmly, stop butting into his business, Kuwabara.").
Plus they're both insensitive jackasses.
I'd like to think that while I can be a jackass, I am not insensitive.
I shuffled my feet against the ground, before looking up at Kurama again.
He was dressed warmly, in a big green marshmallow sweater. It was elaborate, with lots of designs knitted in. His pants were a dark tan, and also large enough to fall around him. Kurama's long hair was fixed into thick but loose ponytail, gathered at his neck and tied with what looked a strip of green silk.
His face was buried into the trunk of the tree, cushioned by a mass of leaves he must have set there. He wasn't going to let me see it.
"Kurama?" I tried his name. I sighed. "Man, I'm sorry."
That got a reaction. "For what?" he asked, sounding genuinely confused. It wasn't something I was used to, from him. When we were together, I was usually the confused one, listening to him explain the way the messed-up world we called ours worked.
"For being dumb enough to get captured by those jerks, and getting you guys trapped in that game." I shoved my fists into my pocket; standard pose for us on the Urameshi Team. "For not killing the older Toguro brother, and makin' you do it for me."
I heard a dark, twisted chuckle emanating from Kurama's pillow of leaves. "Forget it. None of it was your fault."
The fist in my pocket clenched harder; I was seconds from ripping the lining out of it. "Then would'ja at least look at me?" I demanded. I'm an impatient sort of guy. I had tried my ice-breaker, I had tried being nice and apologizing, now I was getting a little mad.
Smaller branches sprouted from the base of the one the fox perched on, and gently forced him to sit up straight. He shifted himself carefully, so as to lean on the back of the tree, and looked down at me. Saying nothing, giving nothing but that eternally calm, clandestine face.
But the mask was mildly cracked. Looking as hard as I could, I could make out blotches of red on his cheeks and I think I saw it in his eyes, too. As if he'd been crying. The barest hint of emotion and regret. I had a feeling no one else had ever seen this much of his true feelings at once.
I met his eyes, that cool, crazy, sophisticated, primal, secretive, obvious green.
"Seriously, man, I want to help you," I pleaded. "Talk to me."
"There's… there's nothing to talk about," he said firmly. "I did what I had to do. That's… it." He shook his head, the wavy red ponytail flapping like a scared bird's wing. "I don't care about anything else."
I looked down again, studying my shoes. Ashamed. The left one needed to be tied, I noted randomly. He shouldn't have had to do any of that crap.
I told him so.
He argued back that if he hadn't, no one else could. Turns were one at a time in that game, and only Hiei and Yanagisawa were left, neither of whom could play the game. Neither of whom could completely shut down and kill Amanuma. And when the game started over, and they could all play, Yusuke, Kaitou, Mitarai, and Genkai would all have the chance to contribute to Amanuma's death. None of them could justify to themselves enough to go through with it. If he hadn't done it when he did, it would have been playing into Sensui's hand.
I… could not argue such sound logic. I know, in the same position, I can't kill a little kid.
But I had another one to point out.
"Nothing excuses me not killing Toguro."
"Except the fact that he cannot be killed." Shot that one down, too. Damn him. "I didn't kill him, I sentenced him to an eternity of torture. He's going to sit there locked in that tree in Irima Cave until the world really does end, doing nothing but slashing at me, painting a Monet on the ground with my blood..."
An almost deranged look crossed his face, and his cool eyes looked positively dreamy. He was staring at his hand, also, I noticed.
"…But every time I'll just get up, and let him do it again. Failed revenge, over and over again." Mad laughter blossomed from his mouth, like the rose would from his hand. "I like it better that way. Revenge is a dish best served cold, and it's even sweeter when stolen from someone else."
"That's crap," I countered.
"Is it?" He tossed it back into my court, that dreamy quality still in his eyes. "I'm a demon, bandit and murderer. I hate him for what he did to you. For how he tortured you, the way he played Genkai's death as if it were a game. I hate the way he made rage consume you, the way all you felt at that time was insane bloodlust."
He met my eyes then, bright green daggers sparkly with his own insane bloodlust.
"I kill what I hate."
"You hate a lot of stuff, I know that." I was aiming for the slam dunk. You don't give your opponent the ball, unless you want it rammed down your throat. "You told me once you hated doctors, because they're nothing but quacks who can't heal complicated diseases. And hey! Speaking of, you hate terminal cancers and tumors and crap, 'cause they almost killed your mom. You hated your mom's boyfriend at one point, too. 'Cause he's her boss and should know better than to fraternize with his secretary. Now they're getting married in a couple months, and you're not killin' him. You aren't killing any doctors, and you sure as hell aren't killing any diseases."
Poised ready to shoot!
"Maybe some of the stuff you hate, yeah, I'm sure you killed a lot of it before. And I know you hate Toguro and Sensui for putting you in those situations, where… where…"
It was my ass on the line, my brain said clearly. Because I still say I forced it on you.
"Where I had to save you?" Kurama finished.
"I was glad to do it," he answered softly. The gloominess and lunacy had left his voice, replaced by… an almost childlike, fearful sound. "Save you, I mean. You're important to me, and I'd hate to watch your innocence… your purity… bleed away like mine has."
"Man, you sound like Itsuki," I joked weakly. "Only he wanted to just watch as it happened, content on the sidelines."
I sighed. "You're important to me, too, and that's why I want to do my best to help you. So let me, damn you, before I run up that tree and drag your foxy ass to the ar--, er, bookstore."
I almost said 'arcade.' That would have been bad; I had a feeling video games would be a sore spot for him for a good long time.
"Don't," Kurama begged softly. "I don't want to deal with lots of humans just yet."
"Deal with me," I said, delivering my ultimatum. "Let me help you," I added in a gentler tone. Almost went the Urameshi-and-Hiei route with my insensitivity. Oops.
"I mean, you've worked pretty hard, ever since we first met, to be kind to me, and help me out, everything from homework to survival skills. You've protected me from the worse things this life we live offers, and yet at the same time, you've tried to teach me the skills you use to deal with all this stuff."
I extended my hand up towards him. "Least I can do is let you unload all that baggage you must have on me. Just for my conscience, you know?"
He didn't hesitate in grasping my hand. I clamped mine around his; they were smaller than I thought. I managed to get a quick look at his, though, before I did… Four half-circle cuts were present between two of the creases. Dried bloodstains. And the pattern of the cuts suggested he'd cut himself, a clenched fist meant nails digging into your own skin. I knew; I'd done it myself. I squeezed his hand a little, gently, comfortingly.
I had a firm grip when he rolled off the branch. I caught him easily, practically in the the same lying-down position.
Our hands were still holding on to each other when he rolled over in my arms. I settled on the ground beneath the tree, letting him bury his face in my chest, letting him curl up against me, letting him spill every little thing he had stacked up on his heart.
He told me that all he heard, the entire game with Amanuma, was his own heartbeat, whispering about how human he was. He told me all he could think about during his fight with Toguro were all the victims: Amanuma, Murota, Kido, Mitarai, and Makihara… and me.
He told me, and I let him, for hours upon hours.
And I had a feeling this was the first he'd ever opened up to anyone in his long life. I was honored to be the person he finally did tell, and I promised myself, as his soft voice detailed the workings of his ancient mind, that I wouldn't ever let all of his efforts to keep me safe, innocent and content go to waste.