- Chapter 3 -
Happiness is... Drama
"Well then, since you've no need for me, Yusuke, I really must return to work now. Keiko, it was a pleasure talking with you. Perhaps we'll get the chance to do so again." Kurama said, his hand long since freed from Keiko's own.
The fox bowed politely to the girl, eyes never once leaving Hiei's visibly uncomfortable form. He missed Keiko's infinsminal flinch. Whether from the loss of hand warmth, or the reappearance of Kurama's mask was difficult to say. Kurama nodded to Yusuke, who returned the gesture before making his way across the floor of the noodle shop. With his head lowered slightly and hands tucked in his pockets, Kurama walked towards the front entrance where Hiei stood.
Green eyes thoughtfully studied an invisible trail in the floorboards. Like delicate lines of thought that lead to something... he was not yet sure what. Then, his feet stopped, and green eyes lost their softness. He looked at Hiei, and Kurama seemed to come to a decision.
Hiei's eyes widened further. 'I am so fucked. Wonder if Kurama hates certain fire demons messing in his business?'
Kurama continued to stare at the twitching fire demon a moment longer before simply walking past and exiting the noodle shop silently.~*~
Kurama, Yusuke and Hiei's subsequent exits seemed to signal the end of Lunch Hour for the rest of the crowd. They trickled out like water. Soon, Keiko was left alone to her thoughts, wiping the counter while her coworkers took their breaks. Her facial expression conveyed someone focused solely on their work, but in actuality, work was the furthest thing from her mind. Instead, she was slowly replaying the entire scene that had transpired during her lunch break, pausing every so often to analyze certain words spoken or gestures made.
'Both of us have lost Yusuke... Him as a team mate, I as a girlfriend. My own relationship with Yusuke... Is it always a stronger feeling, the feeling of the ex-girlfriend?'
Keiko shook the thought away and sighed, it couldn't be compared, the weight of a friendship over a relationship; they were anomalies. So similar, while at the same time, polar opposites.
Mediatively, her wash cloth traced patterns on the counter. Kurama had known Yusuke for how long? A few years. And yet... while she had known Yusuke all her life, the Reikai Tantei had become friends in such a short time. Even Kuwabara and Yusuke's stubborn rivalry had changed into a friendly competition.
Keiko sighed, realizing that she had been wiping the same spot on the counter for awhile now, and if she didn't stop she just might succeed in rubbing off the varnish. Taking one last look at the area she'd been assigned to clean, Keiko nodded in satisfaction before looking at the clock. Just thirty more minutes till closing. Perfect. Keiko took up the remaining time by polishing off the last few tables and making sure the dishes had been thoroughly washed before removing her apron and returning to the front.
Suddenly she felt better. She might not be as close to Yusuke as she'd hoped, but they were friends. That was enough.
Finally, it was closing time and Keiko bid her co-workers good evening as she left. She walked home alone, putting her mind on other things instead of the odd behavior of certain individuals earlier that day.~*~
Two days later, Hiei was staring at Kurama's television. He had perched himself on the edge of the kitsune's couch, intently occupied with the program, and occasionally nodding, and scribbling notes on large, legal pad.
Human mating behavior was certainly an interesting thing, he had decided, twenty minutes into the show. All those strange rituals and melodrama. The screaming he could understand, to an extent... Lower demon life forms and animals often used loud noises to attract a mate. And of course, if he were the one courting that too fleshy heroine, he would have screamed too...
"I don't care what you say, Kenji! You've been cheating on me, haven't you?"
Hm, wasn't there a way to turn the blasted sound down?
He rose from his perch, approaching the large picture box, which sat in the middle of the floor and began fiddling with the various knobs and buttons at the side of the screen and only succeeded in turning the sound up. Grimacing, Hiei hastily fumbled some more until he managed to turn the correct knob in the right direction, achieving a blessedly lower range of noise. Returning to his seat, he picked up his pencil and legal pad and got back to work.
A few hours later...
What the hell? Did Kurama even have a long lost twin brother who competes over the human girl's affections and acts as a catalyst to make him realize how much he needs this girl? Ah...his head ached. Actually, his Jagan ached, but he didn't want to call it an eye ache... He had only an hour or so until Kurama came home in which wrap up his "research". Needless to say, things would not go according to plan if Kurama walked in and found him watching human-mating television.
'Obviously, Kurama didn't figure it out after all.' Hiei thought, then immediately smirked. 'Hn, the kitsune must be slacking.'
"And this concludes our program for this evening… stay tuned for a preview of the next episode of-"
"Now that that's over, maybe I can make some progress in this insane mission." Shaking his head in disgust, the fire demon once again wondered how the hell the idiotic detective and sidekick managed to trick him. "I must remember to avoid all alcoholic beverages in the future. They can be hazardous to one's good sense." He growled before exiting the kitsune's house, clutching his precious legal pad of notes.
It was always dangerous to underestimate Yusuke. And yet, it was always a surprise when the spirit detective's brain made a sudden (yet often brief) appearance, like a special guest star ... Anyway, Yusuke's sudden intelligence had created this whole mess. If they hadn't gotten drunk...
He jumped out a window, and landed on the pine branch, preoccupied.
If Yusuke hadn't mentioned Yukina... If the (even bigger) idiot hadn't made that suggestion... Oh, he couldn't trust any of them. Sure, they had fought together... but when had alliances ever helped these kinds of situations?
More often, alliances got you into these situations!~*~
Kurama gave a long drawn out sigh as he locked the boutique's door for the final time that day. Finally at the end of his shift, he was more than ready to make his way home, but instead he found himself wandering along as his thoughts took a detour into the strange happenings of the past few days.
'Hiei knows something. He suspects something; he's been behaving too oddly lately, like he fears .... what? Does he suspect a relationship between Keiko and I?'
Kurama frowned, 'But that doesn't make sense. Keiko and I have barely had any contact in the past aside from being acquainted through Yusuke.'
~A real shame, too. She seems like such a sweet girl...~
'Stuff it, Youko.'~Hey, you brought the subject up.~
Kurama fought an urge to panic. Youko was right! He'd been trying to psychoanalyze Hiei's brain, and...and this is the result he concludes: Keiko? His bachelorhood was at stake apparently. The girl had been on his mind much too often as of late.
'But why? What could have transpired during our brief talk to have caused such an impression?'
~How about the way you were all over her at lunch?~
'What are you talking about, Youko?'
~Who was the one grabbing the girl's hand and letting loose with the flirting? Not me...~
'She grabbed my hand, Youko. You said so yourself.' Kurama protested.
~Yes, but who was the one not letting go once they realized it was happening?~
'But... it felt nice... and uh, I did NOT just think that.'
~You didn't? Then who did? Definitely not me..~
'Of course you did! It couldn't have been me! You're... tricking me!'
It was at this moment in Kurama's internal conversation with Youko that he accidentally bumped into something. Something quite soft he discovered as his arms instantly shot out to steady whoever it was he had collided with.
"Excuse me. I'm sorry, are you all right?" he asked, still lost in thought.
His victim allowed herself to be helped up. She sighed, and looked at him. "I'm fine, really, it's my fault for not watching-- Kurama?"
Kurama's eyes widened, "Keiko?" His eyes quickly scanning the area, he found he had somehow wound up outside the Yukimura Noodle Shop. 'How in the Makai did I wind up back here?' he thought.
~Let me guess, you're still going to deny your feelings.~
'Shut up, Youko.' Kurama directed his attention back at Keiko. "No, It was my fault. I wasn't paying attention. Are you sure you're okay?"
"No, because you bumped me into the street, I shall die a horrible, tragic death," Keiko said. But she was smiling.
Kurama caught the teasing undertone and returned her smile. "Oh," he said, then cleared his throat uneasily. 'Why am I nervous all of a sudden?'
~Must I repeat myself? You-- ~
"So, locking up, I see." Kurama interrupted himself.
"Yeah, the manager had some other errands he had to do for the shop, so he gave me the responsibility for closing up." Keiko shrugged, placing the set of keys in her pocket. "So, I take it you're off work too?"
"Yes, I just closed up for the night. Honestly, I'm not sure why I walked all the way over here. It is not along the route home." he heard himself confess.
"Oh.." Keiko blinked, realising that she didn't know what else to say.
~That's IT. If you don't break this asinine slience now, I'm taking over.~
'No! Don't you even think about it.... But, what should I say?'
~How about asking to walk her home? You've already gone this far out of your way, what's a few more blocks?~
Kurama nodded mentally, then turned to Keiko, who was shifting a bit uneasily before him. "Uh, Keiko. I was wondering if you'd like me to escort you home."
~Oooh, smooth move, Slick!~
"Um, sure. Thank you..." Keiko smiled uncertainly, and winced when she saw Kurama's questioning glance. "Sorry. Of course, I trust you; it's just, Yusuke always used to walk me home."
Kurama smiled in understanding, despite a slight twinge he felt at the mention of Yusuke walking her home. 'That is not jealousy... that is not jealousy... that is NOT jealousy.'
~Hehe.. wanna bet, fox boy?~
'Your insults are as outdated as your .... age.'
~Oh, very nice try.~
The moon was a silver illuminance that concealed as much as it hid. Moonlight caught the shadows of four trailing humans, as their footsteps whispered against ruined concrete. They had been following Kurama and Keiko for a few minutes, and Kurama had decided not to mention the fact to Keiko, unless neccessity permitted. After all, they were almost to Keiko's house.
"Hey, Yukimura. So nice of you to bring a friend along. Think she'll be more cooperative than you?"
'They think Kurama's a girl?'
'Oh, Inari, not that again!'
"You didn't think you could get away, did you?"
"Don't you guys know when to take a hint?" Keiko retorted, even though she didn't turn around. Instead, she laced her arm around Kurama's and kept walking.
"Oh, so you're that way? No problem with me baby, bet I could change your mind if you give me the chance."
~Heh... You know, my good looks have gotten me accused of being gay before, but this is new.~
Kurama was caught between amusement and irritation. He felt Keiko's grip tighten on his arm and knew that the idiots' taunts were beginning to get to her. He figured the best thing to do was to defuse the situation before it got out of hand.
But first, a warning....
"I would advise you to go on your way and leave us alone."
"Like Hell we will!"
Sigh. "Very well then."
Gently, Kurama disentangled Keiko's arm from his own. He turned to face his opponents, and made no further move, waiting for an attack. The shafts of moonlight filtering down through the tree branches lining the sidewalk, lit up Kurama's features, revealing the deadly stare he was projecting towards the others.
"Hey! She's a he!"
"Uh... she is? Er, I mean, he is? Grrr.. how the heck can you tell, man, he looks just like a girl?!"
"Heh, don't matter much if he's a guy or not. Hey, girly man, why don't you be good and step aside, we've got business to settle with the real woman here."
"I'm trying to ignore this, but you're not making it easy." Kurama said.
They were displeased at this revelation. In a fit of anger, one of the tallest thugs, a baseball capped teenager, lunged at Kurama.
The red head smirked, his head tilting to the side in a gesture which held multiple meanings. One being, he was amused at the situation. Two, he was contemplating how best to not hurt them, for they were obviously not a real threat. And three....
From out of nowhere a rather low hanging tree limb whipped in a non-existant wind just in time to smack the lunging thug in the face, effectively knocking him to the pavement while dislocating his nose.
~Can noses be dislocated?~
'You're always so philosophical during fights. But no, it's only a fracture. For their sakes, let's hope I don't have to fracture any other bones.'
As Thug Number One managed to pick himself up, and stagger about in a drunken fashion, his friends glared at Kurama.
"Lucky shot," the supposed leader of the gang said, "But let's see if your luck holds out against this."
With his words, the lanky guy withdrew something small and narrow from his pocket. Kurama tensed as, with a flick of his wrist, the grinning thug was now holding a deadly looking switchblade.
And without further ado, he lunged at Kurama.
~Not very creative, are they.~
"You should be careful with that. Sharp edges can hurt people." Kurama dodged more carefully this time, and quickly snatched the switchblade.
From behind Kurama, Keiko watched with a worried expression. She was totally unaware as Thug Number One crept up silently behind her. She was taken off guard when he slipped a pair of strong arms around her, pinning her arms to her sides as he held her tightly against his chest.
Kurama turned to check on Keiko, finding her in the clutches of the thug who's nose he'd previously broken. There were a few seconds left to help the girl and Kurama was prepared to launch a particually nasty seed... Until he saw Keiko move her head forward, as if in deep thought. He quirked an eyebrow as, suddenly, her head jerked backward. The momentum brought the back of her skull into painful contact with the thug's face, thus, earning her a swift release. In which she thanked him for. By turning around and slapping him in the nose.
"Oh GOB!! NOD AGAIN!!! My dose...." Trickles of blood splattered over the concrete, as Thug Number One bewailed the misfortune of his twice injured nose.
"When did you learn to fight, Keiko-chan?"
"Been taking lessons at the local dojo. I didn't figure it was any use telling Yusuke about it, he always wound up coming to my rescue, regardless."
A pleased look appeared in Kurama's eyes. 'He seems happy that I can take care of myself. But, its not like I'm helping much...' Keiko noted before he was thoroughly tackled from behind by the remaining three thugs. Keiko gasped as all four went down in a jumble of punching arms and flailing legs.
Taking a chance, Keiko ran up, bringing her foot forwards with all her might. It connected with the side of another thug's head. Sending him sprawling off of Kurama, who managed to throw off another. Now it was just one left.
This time, she didn't see Mr. Twice Fractured Nose (aka Thug Number One) coming. Before she could protest, he took advantage of her inattention (she had been checking on Kurama) and slammed his body on top of hers; when they hit the concrete, she was the one who took the brunt of their fall.
Kurama had just finished disposing of the final thug (by manipulating a few vines that ran along a nearby building) and the poor guy was now plastered against the brick wall, wrapped in foliage. Funny thing was, it felt nice to let out his anger once in a while. But he was about to get alot angrier. Keiko was trapped beneath the last thug.
"No one poaches on my territoy."
The unexpected outburst caused Keiko to still in her struggles. 'Is he calling me his territory?'
"How does it feel to taste the ground, bitch?"
Mr. Twice Fractured Nose got in one good insult and one good grope before he realized he had been discovered.
Green eyes glared with raging flames in their depths...
"Keiko," Kurama's voice sounded strained. "Are you alright?"
"...Yes... I'm fine. But I think... my ankle may be sprained."
The thug was still on top of Keiko, frozen. He realized that it was quiet. Too quiet. His friends were not there to help him out anymore. Looking up, he realized that they hung in wall creeping vines, like flies waiting for the spider's poison, and... The girly man's eyes looked demonic.
Mr. Twice Fractured Nose suddenly felt very, very scared.
Afterwards, Kurama carried Keiko home...
"I'd better not see you on your feet tomorrow."
Keiko blinked, "Nani? Kurama, it's just a little sprain. I'll be fine."
"Nevertheless... You'll be missing work. Not such a big loss in that regard."
"Gee, Kurama, you sound like my mom." Keiko grumbled, crossing her arms over her chest as Kurama settled her onto the sofa in her living room before sitting down beside her. 'But he wasn't very 'motherly' to that thug...' her inner voice said faintly. She squashed the thought.
Kurama tried to ignore Youko's laughter at that remark.
~Is Mommy going to kiss and make it better?~
"Yes, I am well aware of my feminine appearance." Kurama sighed. 'Now is not the time, Youko.'
~Meaning, there will be another time for kissing?~
Keiko's eyes widened, "Oh, no! That's not what I meant at all, Kurama. You're more beautiful than most women, including myself, but your beauty is masculine... it's..."
Kurama found himself watching in interest, as she continued to ramble, not really paying attention to anything but the sound of her voice. Just watching. Listening. She fiddled with her hands nervously, chewing a little on her bottom lip.
It was utterly adorable, he decided. 'It makes her nearly as cute as when she blushes.' Kurama was astonished at the thought. He... thought Keiko... was... cute?
"-- So you're more beautiful... But not in a feminine way."
Kurama blinked. Once the words set in, he felt like hiding. How utterly embarassing. How... how wrong.
Keiko noticed a slight tint to Kurama's cheeks and suddenly realized how she must have sounded. 'Oh no, I was just trying to assure him and now I've gone off and insulted him. Ohhh.. I hope he's not mad!'
~None of my doing.~
Kurama could swear he could hear innocent whistling. Keiko had stopped talking and was looking at him in concern. 'What if she thinks that the only reason I saved her was because,.. I like her? She's looking at me funny. I can't handle this...'
Kurama suddenly bolted to his feet. "Uh... Gomen, Keiko-chan, but it is getting late. I... should be going."
"Oh... I was going to offer you tea..."
He shot her an apologetic smile (albeit a half hearted one). He really didn't think he could stay here much longer. For some reason he was nervous as hell, which was strange. He'd never been nervous around her before.... "Maybe some other time?"
Keiko wilted deeper into the couch as he inched closer and closer to the door. The cushions were suffocating. "Ok... See you later, then," she smiled weakly. 'Pathetic. But its all your fault for making him nervous.'
The click of the door closing signaled the beginning of an unearthly silence. No noise reached her ears except the faint ticking of the grandfather clock against the far wall and her thoughts. She tried to push away the feelings that were edging closer and closer by telling herself that it didn't matter if Kurama was upset with her or not. That it didn't matter what he thought of her....
'Then... why is it that I have this enormous urge to cry?'
Hours passed. They seemed to drag on forever as she sat, staring out the window, a blanket cradling her shoulders. Far beyond the rooftops, red tinged the horizon... spreading lazily to paint the sky with roses. Slowly. Relentlessly. The sight made a small smile touch her face. In the blooming light, things began to look a bit better, her mind becoming capable of pushing away dark thoughts and feelings. But try as she might, she could not dispell the image of what Kurama had done to Mr. Twice Fractured Nose. She could still see him, lying in a crumpled heap just within the entrance of an alley, his arm twitching almost hypnotically as Kurama carried her away from the scene...~*~