Title: The Grass is Always Greener
Author: Niyali of the Evil Towel duo
Summary: Yusuke Urameshi, slave to the master Suzaku. His best friend was sold to the fearsome Toguro ten years ago…now, thanks to something he couldn't control, Yusuke's going too! But life under Toguro is very different from life under Suzaku; Yusuke learns that first-hand when he meets the rest of the "Freedom Slaves". Secrets are everywhere. Can Yusuke learn them in time? And if he can, is he really the one destined to end the war for freedom?
Reviews: If you'd like! I did review responses in the fic itself up to chapter twenty-six. This fic shows a lot of age and I'm oddly proud of it as a relic.
Disclaimer: We don't own anything except the plot.
This fic was written over a period of four years, and finished over a period of eleven. More about the history behind this Epic story and journey can be found in the author's note at the beginning of Chapter Twenty-Seven, where I once again picked up the posts.
A Title In Itself
"Bet 'ya can't catch me!" Laughing, the child raced off through the small street, running as fast as his small legs could carry him. He risked a glance back and his smile turned to a frown.
Something snagged his foot and he tripped, sprawling face first into the dirt. At the same instant, he felt a light tap on his shoulder and looked up into a pair of bright green eyes.
"Caught you," said another voice, "You're It."
Yusuke pushed himself off of the ground, spitting dirt out of his mouth. He turned around to see another child standing there, grinning wildly from ear to ear.
"No fair!" Yusuke protested, "You can't team up 'gainst me, even if you are It, K'rama!"
"Who says?" Kurama asked, incredulously.
"Me," Yusuke replied stubbornly, folding his arms across his chest as he'd seen his mother do on occasion, "And if an'one wants ta argu' they'll havta ansa ta me." Kurama laughed. Kazuma, the child who'd tripped Yusuke so Kurama could tag him, crossed his own arms over his chest too.
"Wha' 'bout me?" He demanded, in as stubborn a tone a four-year-old could get, "I'm juth ath tuff ath you!" He spoke with a lisp, for he was missing his two front teeth.
"Are the two of you fighting again?" The timely arrival of Kuwabara's older sister, Shizuru, stopped the two boys in their tracks.
"Maybee," Yusuke said.
"You shouldn't fight." Shizuru frowned.
"Why do we havta lithen to you?" Kazuma asked.
"Because I'm older than you," Shizuru replied proudly, "I'm nine."
"So? Mama says my birfday in-" Yusuke paused and counted on his fingers before holding up all ten, "Eleventy-four months! Then I be as old as K'rama!"
"No," the redheaded child cut him off, "I'll be six then. My birthday's in this many months." He held up two fingers.
"Birthday schmirthday," Shizuru scoffed, "I'll still be older then you no matter how hard you try!" And she skipped away. Yusuke stuck his tongue out after her.
"Yuthkue'th It!" Kuwabara cried, and the game began again.
Atsuko sighed as she watched the three children chase each other around the little cul-de-sac.
"What's wrong?" Shiori asked, from next to her.
"I'm just thinking," Atsuko replied, "In a few years the boys'll be old enough to work in the fields."
"I know," Shiori agreed, "They grow up so fast, don't they?"
"That's not what I meant," Atsuko chided her gently.
The two mothers sat on the small porch of the small cabin the two families shared, each working on something. Atsuko peeled potatoes for their supper while Shiori quietly knitted a sweater for her boy, Shuichi. Though almost everyone called him Kurama (that was the name their master had given him), she still thought of him as her Shuichi.
Yusuke, Kurama, Kazuma, Shizuru, Shiori, and Atsuko were all slaves, working under the ownership of a certain Suzaku. Suzaku wasn't any better then them, they believed, but their ancestors had all been slaves and so they were too. It was a hard life—the men and boys worked the fields, harvesting Suzaku's crop, and the females cleaned his house and cooked for him and his minions. Suzaku's plantation wasn't very large, but it had a reputation for the best sugar around, and Suzaku wasn't about to let that reputation fall.
Atsuko and Shiori's work for the day was pretty much done, so the women could sit in the shelter of Atsuko's home and watch their little boys playing, for once, in peace. The older men would be returning from the fields in a bit, and the women from their washing (today was laundry day), and they'd be hungry. Atsuko was planning on making her famous potato casserole for them all to eat—a rare treat to be sure, but one she figured they could have today (the plantation had just gotten a load of potatoes; with several of those and a few pilfered ingredients from the kitchen they were fit to go).
"What do you think of this?" Shiori asked, holding up her multi-colored yarn, "Will this make a nice sweater, or would it be better suited for—for—" She broke off, staring past Atsuko at something else. Atsuko turned to look, and her eyes narrowed.
A figure was walking up the dirt path that led to the slave quarters. He walked slowly, as if he really didn't want to be there.
"Seiryu," Atsuko hissed, peeling knife chopping viciously at the potato, "What's he doing here? We all know he thinks of us the lowest of the low!" Seiryu was one of the plantation's overseers; cold and vicious was his personality. The very air seemed to freeze around him wherever he went—but as Atsuko had said, he didn't spend very much time with the slaves (he preferred to let his fellow overseers, Byakko and Genbu, handle it).
The two ladies watched as Seiryu came right up to their porch and stopped.
"Where is the boy called Kurama?" Even his voice was cold.
"He's not here," Atsuko replied, "Sir." She scraped off another bit of potato, eyes glued to her work. Seiryu stared at her for a moment before raising an eyebrow.
"Really." He turned his head to look down the street. "Then who is that down there?" Both Shiori and Atsuko turned to look and saw the three boys, still laughing and now rolling in the dust.
"That's my son," Shiori sighed, and put down her knitting, "I'll get him." Seiryu didn't protest, so she slipped off the porch and left, gently calling Kurama's name. Seiryu waited where he was, watching everything with a frown on his face and his arms folded.
After a moment Shiori came back, Kurama walking next to her. Yusuke and Kazuma watched from a distance.
Seiryu sighed at the sight of the dust-covered boy.
"Clean him up and make him presentable," he demanded, "And be quick about it!"
"Yes m'lord." Shiori bowed her head and led Kurama into the house.
"Where is he going?" Atsuko dared to ask. Even without looking at him she could feel Seiryu's cold gaze on her.
"Suzaku has requested him," Seiryu responded, "That is all a slave like you should know." Atsuko kept her eyes firmly on her potato, which was growing smaller by the second.
It was a few minutes before Shiori appeared at the door with Kurama, the small boy now wearing fresh clothes and dust-free (except for his hair; that was still coated in dust and there hadn't been time to clean it). Seiryu looked him up and down with a critical eye.
"It'll do," he said at last, "Come—"
"Seiryu!" All looked up to see yet another figure hurrying down the path towards them, and the slaves were surprised to see it was their overlord, Suzaku. Shiori and Atsuko bowed their heads in respect; even Kurama had the sense to avert his eyes. Seiryu did nothing.
"What is taking so long?" their master demanded, "You know Toguro doesn't like waiting longer than he has to!" At the mention of Toguro, everybody froze in fear and disbelief. Toguro was a childhood bogeyman, the one mothers used in their stories to frighten bad children into behaving. "Eat your beans or Toguro will get you!" "Go to sleep or I'll send for Toguro!" Rumor had it that he was incredibly strong and a ruthless overlord, who went searching from plantation to plantation for certain slaves. Nobody knew what qualities those slaves had to possess, but when he found a slave who held them, the slave was often taken away from their homes, families, and friends, and never seen again.
"I was just coming, Suzaku," Seiryu said.
"Come on," Seiryu said to Kurama, and turned to follow Suzaku. A few steps away, he turned and saw Kurama wasn't following. "Come ON, boy!" With a fearful glance at his mother, Kurama hurried to catch up, glancing fearfully back at them until Seiryu slapped him.
Shiori gave a weak cry and collapsed on the porch.
"My Shuichi is gone," she moaned, "Shuichi...he'll never come back..."
"Now, Shiori, you don't know that," Atsuko said, trying to comfort the distraught woman, "Toguro may decide that he's not the type he needs and leave him with us."
"What's the chance of that?" Shiori moaned, her face buried in her hands. Atsuko frowned and stood up.
"Yusuke!" she called. Her son ran up to her.
"Mama? Where'd K'rama go?"
"That's what you're going to find out," Atsuko told him, kneeling so she was at his height, "Now, listen carefully. I want you to follow Kurama and tell us what happens without being seen. Can you do that?"
"Then go to it!" The little boy raced off down the pathway, heading straight for the big house. Atsuko straightened up and remembered the potato in her hand. It was now the size of her thumb. She tossed it in the bucket with the others; small or not, they could still use it.
Suzaku watched Toguro's face carefully as he surveyed the boy in front of him.. The slave was clearly terrified of him and was keeping still with an effort.
"Well?" Suzaku asked, at length, "I haven't got all day." Toguro turned to him.
"He'll do," he said, "How much?" Suzaku was taken aback; had he reached a decision so quickly?
"I'll give you 300,000." Toguro said, before he could say anything. Suzaku was speechless. Surely this boy wasn't worth this much?
"Done," he said, before Toguro could change his mind. Toguro smiled.
"Excellent." He turned to the boy. "You belong to me now." Suzaku would have been amused at the boy's fearful expression, but he felt something else, as if something was...watching them. He glanced over at the window and saw a child sitting in a tree, watching them intently.
"You!" Suzaku started towards the window but didn't make it a step before something collided with him, knocking him over. In self-defense he lashed out and ended up sending something flying across the room.
"I'll thank you not to harm my property," Toguro said, coldly. Suzaku looked up and realized what he had flung across the room. His—no, Toguro's—slave lay in a crumpled heap at the bottom of the opposite wall, not moving.
"He attacked me!" Suzaku said, in weak defense, "You saw him! Your slave deliberately—"
"And as his owner I, not you, should decide his punishment," Toguro replied smoothly. Suzaku stared at him.
"Here." Toguro tossed a black pouch at Suzaku that the overlord barely caught. "Your payment." With that he strode across the room, picked up his new slave, and left. Suzaku just stood there, mouth hanging open, heavy pouch in his hand. Only after a few moments had passed did he remember the boy who had been outside their window. He looked over, well prepared to vent his anger on the slave who was there.
The tree was empty.
When Yusuke returned to the slave quarters, nobody had to ask what had happened. The little boy flung himself in his mother's arms and cried, while Shiori let out a wail of pain and loss that would have broken any heart before collapsing onto the ground.
Kurama was gone. And he wasn't coming back.
 "You can't team up against me, even if you are It, Kurama!" (Yusuke)
 "And if anyone wants to argue, they'll have to answer to me." (Yusuke again)
 "What about me?" (Kazuma)
 "I'm just as tough as you!" (Kazuma)
 "Why do we have to listen to you?" (Kazuma, yet again)
 "So? Mama says my birthday's in—eleventy-four months! Then I'll be as old as Kurama!" (Yusuke)
 "Yusuke's It!" (Kazuma)