Author's Notes: 05/05/04 - I have had some very small blessings come into my life. I started, even finished, this little one-shot in celebration. I post it now in memoriam. I will explain more at the end so I don't spoil anything. Thanks, everyone! DD
"The Disclaimer" - "Yu Yu Hakusho" and all related characters do not belong to me. I get no monetary benefit from this. My benefit is the enjoyment of dealing with beloved characters.
Thick clouds threatened more rain as a full moon peeked down on a lone figure trudging the silver-blue streets. He pulled his saturated cloak tighter about himself but it offered little comfort against the stiff breeze. He was at least thankful that its chill did not bother him, immune as he was to anything short of supernatural levels of cold. Not for the first time that evening, he shook his white-rimmed black bangs from his eyes. He tried not to think about what the drenching might have done to his sword.
Hiei did not even bother stepping over or around the next puddle that crossed his path. His feet were thoroughly wet already. The downpour had caught him off-guard. Damn the Human Realm's weather, he groused to himself. It's even more unpredictable than the Demon Realm's. He had thought about trying to build a fire but had failed to find anything dry enough to burn. He was on his way to Kurama's anyhow, where his partner had human-style clothing for him to change into. Once in a while, he wore some of the clothes Kurama had purchased for him if only so he didn't get so many stares during the few times the two were about on business when and where humans would see them.
A car passed him on the street, the headlights reflecting many times over off of the wet surfaces. Hiei started to shield his eyes when something dark caught his attention. Having nothing better to distract his mind from the dampness, he stepped off the curb to investigate, then grunted dismissively. Some stupid cat had failed to get out of the way of a car. He studied it for a moment. Its abdomen looked strange to him, distended to some extent but not as though from swelling. It must have been female because the teats were quite pronounced. Hiei shrugged. May the next fool learn from your example, he thought, glancing once over his shoulder as he continued on his way.
He had not taken two or three dozen steps when the first drops of rain patted his shoulders. He looked up in annoyance and an especially large droplet tapped the end of his nose. "Damn," he murmured. Within seconds, the deluge had begun again. Hiei debated briefly whether to continue or find cover but he was in no mood to pick his way along with rain pouring in his eyes. He ducked under the awning of the nearest house, pushing his way through the broken slats under the front porch. It was vermin-infested but at least it was dry. Soft squeaking noises started up from the far corner of the space, responding to the creaking boards. Since he was in no hurry to get to his destination - he knew Kurama would still be awake for a few hours - he crawled over to investigate.
He had never seen such creatures before. The tiny furballs looked a lot like diminutive cats. He looked at them more closely. There were three of them. Their eyes were closed as they crawled about over each other. He shook his head and returned to the edge of the porch where he had entered. So goes life. Only the strong survive . . . but even the strong have to start somewhere. He glanced over his shoulder, then shook his head with a grunt.
Five minutes, ten minutes - he had no idea how much time passed as he waited for the rain to let up. All the while, the creatures cried and he tried to ignore them. At length, they did begin to quiet, their plaintive mewing weak. He thought he would be glad when they finally shut up but, instead, he found himself worrying. With a growl at himself, he dragged his soaked body back over to check on them. The little fuzz motes were huddled, completely intertwined with each other, and they were shivering. A trickle of water had found their nest, filling the depression in the ground by slow degrees. If the stupid things don't freeze to death, they'll drown. A curious hand reached out as if of its own accord, fingers brushing tentatively at the fur of the top creature. Its cries renewed at his touch but they were thin and shaky. Hiei found himself picking up the tiny beast. Its legs stuck out stiffly, miniature claws splayed. He startled as he realized that this one's jet-black eyes were open. It was almost half again the size of its mates. The other two began shuffling around over each other, blindly searching for their missing sibling. He set the creature back down and watched them, oddly fascinated. Then he noted that the rain had relented. He turned his back on the creatures, crawling all the way across to the entrance, before pausing in spite of himself. With another growl, he scuffled back to the nest.
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Kurama sat at his desk, double-checking the answers to his calculus homework, when he heard a familiar tapping on his bedroom window. He opened to a very soggy Hiei, rain dripping down his waterlogged bangs and onto his nose. Kurama suppressed a chuckle at the sight. "I was wondering when you would decide to come in out of the rain." Hiei only grunted in response, climbing awkwardly over the windowsill, one arm pulled in under his cloak. Kurama frowned. "Hiei, are you injured?"
To his surprise, Hiei looked at him quizzically for a brief instant before shaking his head. "Hm? No. Where are my other clothes?" He began to take off the cloak, dripping all over the carpet.
"No, no! Not in here. The bathroom," Kurama ordered, pushing him through the door of his bedroom. Hiei complied silently, turning into the doorway across the hall.
"Shuichi?" Shiori called from the kitchen, "is that Kazuki?"
"Ah, yes, it is, Mom. It's okay. He's in the bathroom."
"Well, make sure he gets his clothes out to the garage. I was going to start a load of laundry soon, anyway."
"All right." Kurama pulled a towel out of the linen closet, then knocked on the bathroom door. "Kazuki, towel." He cracked the door open enough to toss it in. Returning to his room, he pulled articles of clothing from one corner of his closet, shaking his head to himself. It had been three weeks now since he and Hiei had been granted probation after the Maze Castle incident. Hiei did not have a home here in the Human Realm, so Kurama had taken him in some time ago. He had not been able to hide Hiei's occasional presence from his mother, though. Hiei was Kurama's friend, which Shiori had long known, and Kurama's partner as a Spirit Detective - which Shiori did not know. She believed that Hiei was an eccentric schoolmate who had delusions of being a ninja, hence the arrival by window rather than the front door. He was also an "orphan" whose "foster parents" were not providing a supportive home so Shiori did not mind giving the poor boy a place to which to retreat. So far, they had been able to conceal from her the fact that the "ninja" carried a real sword. "Kazuki" was the name Shiori had been given for Hiei. Hiei thought the whole cover story was nonsense and a pain to keep up but he complied for his partner's sake.
Hiei returned just then, the towel around his waist, another bundled up in his arms, his sword slung over his shoulder. Kurama startled when he realized that the bundle was squeaking. "Hie - uh, Kazuki, what on earth - ?"
Hiei closed the bedroom door, then deposited the bundle on the desk. Kurama pulled his schoolbooks out of the way, staring as the bundle wiggled of its own accord. Hiei unfolded the towel and Kurama gasped in shock. "Kittens?"
"Is that what you call them? They look a little like cats to me." Hiei sounded bored but he watched the squirming creatures with ill-concealed interest.
"Where did you find them?"
Hiei shrugged. "Under a porch. It was raining," he added defensively when Kurama arched an eyebrow at him.
"Where is their mother? Did you see any other cats in the area?"
"One but it was dead. Hit by a car."
"So they're orphans, then."
Hiei shot a look at Kurama, then relented, nodding silently. After watching them for a moment longer, he grunted in annoyance. "They're noisy. How do you make them be quiet?"
"Well . . . they might be cold." Kurama shifted his desk lamp to shine directly on them. "I imagine they are hungry as well."
"What do you feed a kih-tinz?"
Kurama chuckled. "'Kitten.' And to respond to your earlier comment, a kitten is a cat, an infant one. As for what they eat . . . ?" Kurama paused, realizing that he had no idea. He had never actually seen kittens this young. "They are probably not yet weaned so I suppose they would eat - well, drink - milk of some kind."
"It doesn't have any teeth," Hiei observed as one crawled towards him, crying. He put out a finger and it began to lick and gum as though trying to suckle. Hiei pulled his hand back in alarm. "What - ?"
"It's not going to hurt you, Hiei," Kurama reassured his friend, chuckling. "Unlike anything from the Demon Realm, they're quite harmless . . . but they are definitely hungry. Wait here. I'll be right back."
"Hey! Where are you going?"
Kurama resisted the urge to laugh at Hiei's don't-leave-me-alone-with-these-things expression. "I'm just going to the kitchen to see if I can find something to feed them. Stay here. I'll be back." Kurama slipped out before Hiei could protest again, closing the door behind him.
The varied smells of dinner filled the kitchen as Shiori stood at the stove, stirring something in a pot. She turned as her son headed for the refrigerator. "What are you looking for, Shuichi? Dinner will be ready soon."
"Kazuki found some kittens on the way here. Are we out of milk?"
"Kittens? Really?" She set down the spoon and lowered the heat under the pot. "Show me."
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Hiei glared at the closed door for a moment before turning back to the squirming fuzz-motes. One had blindly pulled itself to the edge of the desk. He shot out a hand as it fell over, mewling. He held it up. His hands were small, like the rest of him, and yet the tiny thing fit in his palm. In fact, he could have held two in one hand. "You'd make an easy snack for some predator," he told the creature. It shuffled around, finding the side of his thumb. Smelling skin, it started to lick and gum like the other one had. This time, Hiei let it. Another had crawled onto Kurama's schoolbooks and was getting into his . . . "home-work"? Was that what Kurama called it? He snatched it up as it started into the schoolcase laying open at the end of the desk. Hiei had leaned over the desk surface to reach and the third creature found the towel still wrapped around his waist. It climbed up and began to nuzzle and push its way down between the towel and him. "Hey! Wait a - !" The bedroom door opened as something warm filled his palm under the first beast. Hiei looked up to emerald eyes dancing with amusement. "Kura - Shuichi, do something!"
To his dismay, both Kurama and Shiori started laughing, even as the woman rescued him from the creature attempting to invade his modesty. She handed the critter to Kurama, then took the two from his hands. "Oh, my," she murmured, grinning at the wet fur and the yellow puddle in Hiei's palm. Hiei's scowl deepened as he realized what it was. "Kazuki, go wash your hands and get dressed."
Hiei started to retort at the human but bit his tongue at a warning look from Kurama. -It's sound-enough advice,- his partner chided telepathically. -Just do it - please?-
Hiei rolled his eyes, tossed his sword onto Kurama's bed and collected the change of clothes with his unsoiled hand, and headed for the bathroom. After washing, he pulled on the underclothes, jeans and t-shirt, then returned to the bedroom. Shiori had left with the wet creature, leaving Kurama leaned back in his desk chair cradling the other two.
"Hiei, take a look at this," Kurama murmured, holding up one of the furballs. It was the largest one. He shifted a finger under its forepaw so that the claws splayed out over his knuckle. "It has six toes! All but one back foot is that way."
"That's unusual?" Hiei could not hide his curiosity as he took the creature from Kurama for a better look.
"He should only have four or five toes per foot."
"Look - six toes but seven claws! There's another claw coming out of the side of this toe." Hiei checked the other front paw. "Here, too."
"Really?" Kurama sat up for a closer look.
Shiori returned with the squirming kitten wrapped in a washrag in one hand and a cup of water in the other, two more washrags and a bag of cotton balls tucked under her arm. "It's too late to take them to a shelter tonight so we'll have to care for them until morning."
"What's all that for?" Hiei asked, suspecting that he did not want to know.
"They need to be bathed and diapered."
"Diapered?" Kurama queried.
"At this age, kittens can't go the bathroom by themselves. They have to be stimulated."
"They what?" Hiei startled. "What do you mean 'stimulated.'"
Kurama laughed. "That one did not seem to have a problem."
"Because he's probably gone far too long and couldn't hold it any longer, especially with being handled the way he was. I'm guessing they are only about two weeks old. They should be fed, bathed, and diapered every two to three hours."
-Have fun,- Hiei grunted.
Kurama frowned at him. -You brought them here, remember?-
"Here," Shiori continued, unaware of the psionic comments, "I'll show you with this one, then you each take care of the ones you're holding." Again, Hiei started to argue but stopped himself with a groan. Shiori set down the cup and the bag of cotton, handing the boys each a washrag. She held the kitten with one hand and dipped a corner of her rag in the warm water, squeezed out the excess, and began to wipe down the fidgety creature from its head back. It wriggled and squeaked, putting up quite a fuss.
"He does not like that, does he?" Kurama chuckled.
"You didn't used to, either," Shiori returned with a smile.
Hiei allowed a small grin in spite of himself as Kurama's face flushed to match his crimson hair. He watched as Shiori worked her way back along the tiny body, "simulating mom's tongue" as she put it, then turned the creature over to wash down its belly. Reaching the hind legs, she exchanged the washcloth for a cotton ball and rubbed the beast's genitals as it continued to kick and protest. When she pulled away the cotton ball, it was spotted with a bit of yellow. "Yes, well, you've already emptied your bladder for the most part, haven't you?" she murmured softly, grinning sidelong at Hiei, who in turn pretended not to hear her. "All right, now you do the same with yours."
The two exchanged uncertain looks but did as they were told. Hiei found his difficult to hold onto as the creature nearly worked it way out of his hand more than once in its spirited struggle. He dared not grip it any tighter, aware of the wire-thin twigs in its chest which passed for ribs. "Don't drop him," Shiori warned and Hiei just knew she was enjoying the sight.
"Um . . . Mom!"
Hiei looked over and nearly laughed aloud. Kurama had a cotton ball with something yellow-brown and soupy that had run down over it and his fingers and into his palm. Hiei suddenly wished he had a human camera to preserve the look on his friend's face.
"Ut-oh, someone has a little diarrhea," Shiori chuckled.
"You've been christened," Hiei commented with a wry grin, thankful now that he had only been urinated on.
"Ah, yes, I . . . I see that."
"Well, take him into the bathroom, Shuichi," Shiori admonished. "Don't just sit there."
"Yes . . . of course."
Hiei watched his partner get to his feet and shook his head. He had never seen Kurama so flustered. So, the once-infamous, brutally cruel Silver Fox finds his match in an infant fuzzball, Hiei laughed silently to himself.
-Are you doing so much better?- Kurama asked pointedly, having picked up the thought. Truth be told, he was more annoyed by the reference to his past than the joke with the kitten.
-Who's in the bathroom this time?- Hiei smirked.
-We'll be taking turns. You do realize that.-
At that, Hiei frowned and did not respond.
"Are you finished, Kazuki?"
It took Hiei a moment to register the fact that the woman was speaking to him. Stupid cover story, he groused silently as he nodded.
She handed Hiei her kitten. "You and Shuichi keep an eye on them, then, for a few minutes. The Togashi's next door have a three-month-old baby. I'll go see if they'll let me have some formula. It's not right for kittens, really, but it's the best option we have right now." She paused at the bathroom door as she left. "Shuichi, do you remember the medication I was using for that eye infection I had?" Hiei saw Kurama nod in the mirror. "Go into my bathroom and find the eyedropper. I'm going next door to ask Mrs. Togashi for some formula. We'll use the dropper to feed it to them."
"How is it you know so much about this, Mom?"
"When I was a little girl, my sister found an abandoned litter in our garage. Father would not let us keep them but we did foster them until they were old enough to be adopted."
Hiei sat down in Kurama's chair, the wriggling creatures on his lap. One nuzzled into his hand while the other began to climb his shirt, still mewling in desperate hunger. It was the one with too many toes. He cupped a hand to catch it if it fell but otherwise let it climb, figuring the exercise was good for it. It reached the top of his shirt and its claws scratched at his collarbone. He picked it off himself and set it back in his lap.
"I wonder what genders they are," Kurama mused as he returned, sitting on his bed.
Hiei swiveled to face him and propped his feet against the side of the dresser. "Can you even tell at this age?" Kurama could only shrug, fingering the eyedropper.
They did not have long to wait before Shiori returned with a sealable container full of an off-white liquid and another dropper. "Ruko, their baby, had a cold last week so they loaned me the dropper from her medicine. Here." She handed the dropper to Hiei and set the container on the desk. "I completely forgot about dinner. Why don't you two feed the little ones while I finish cooking?"
"Mom, can you tell their genders at this age?"
"Well, yes, actually, if you know what to look for. Now let me see if I can remember." Shiori took up Kurama's kitten, turned it around, and lifted its tail. "Well, you are a little runt, aren't you? I believe this one is male." She took the many-toed creature from Hiei, then exchanged it for the other, examining them as she did the first. "Hm, female . . . and female. Perhaps we should name them."
"Yukina and Hina," Hiei murmured without hesitation, staring at the furballs cupped in his hands.
"Those are lovely names, Kazuki. Friends of yours?"
Hiei nodded without looking up.
Shiori turned to Kurama. "Then what about our little runt boy, Shuichi?"
Kurama gave his partner a sly grin. "How about . . . 'Hiei'?"
"Hiei?" Shiori repeated as Hiei glared daggers at him. "That's an unusual name. Someone from school?"
Shiori glanced back and forth between the boys but refrained from commenting. She knew better than to get between two friends and what was apparently an inside joke. "All right, then - Yukina, Hina, and Hiei. Get them fed and I'll call you when dinner is done."
Kurama pulled a shoebox out of his closet and threw a t-shirt in to pad it, setting his kitten inside to free his hands for opening the container of formula. He glanced sidelong at Hiei and commented casually. "Yukina . . . after your sister?" Hiei nodded as he set one kitten in the box and filled the dropper with fluid. "And Hina?" Hiei paused, then shrugged, not meeting Kurama's eye as he worked the dropper into the struggling kitten's mouth. It quieted immediately, claws splayed out in front of it as it suckled down the formula being carefully squeezed down the tube. Kurama decided not to push the issue, knowing Hiei would tell him when he was ready. He filled his own dropper, picked up his runt, and sat back on his bed. "So, which one is which?"
Hiei looked the two over, then indicated the one in his hand. "This one is Yukina. That's Hina."
Kurama glanced in the box. "The big one with the extra toes?" Hiei nodded. The two sat in silence after that, Kurama honoring whatever thoughts were going through his partner's mind, nursing the kittens until Shiori called for them.
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Kurama groaned as he shifted in bed, his hand slipping off the top of his alarm clock. He forced his eyes open in the darkness and looked down at Hiei, curled up on the futon on the floor. "Hiei, your turn." Hiei pulled the blanket tighter around himself and pretended not to hear. Kurama pulled the pillow from under his head and whapped his partner with it.
"Kurama!" Hiei growled before slipping into Demongogian for some choice words.
"Shh!" Kurama admonished. "You'll wake Shiori."
"That damned alarm-thing-whatever-you-call-it probably already did," Hiei groused even as he lowered his voice. Hearing the sounds, the kittens began to shuffle and mew in their shoebox. Hiei unraveled himself from the blanket. "I'm coming."
He moved the box to the bathroom, then went to the kitchen, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. He started the hot water running at the sink, then moved the formula container from the refrigerator to the microwave, warming it as Kurama had shown him. He caught some hot water in the cup Shiori had used earlier and carried it and the formula back to the bathroom. The tiny nightlight under the medicine cabinet was more than enough light for the youkai to see. The washrags and cotton balls were on the counter where Kurama had left them some three hours prior.
The scratching and crying had gotten louder. The lid of the shoebox began to bob at one end as a minute nose pushed through one of the holes Kurama had cut for them to breathe. Hiei removed the lid to find one kitten up on its hind legs in the corner, scrabbling to be fed. It was the littlest, the male. Might as well begin with you, then, Hiei shrugged. Picking up the frantic furball, Hiei cradled it on its back in one hand as he worked the eyedropper into its mouth with the other. Almost instantly, it quieted, suckling ravenously on the formula. He watched it as it drank, studying its tongue wrapped under the dropper tube, the minuscule claws working against his fingers - Shiori had called it milk-treading - the little tail shaking between its hind legs. Hiei shook his head. It was so tiny and fragile. He continued to refill the dropper until the kitten stopped accepting it, then washed and diapered it, handling the delicate thing with a gentle care and patience he had not known he possessed. He took his time, finding that he enjoyed the little creature in spite of himself. Its cries turned to little snuffling noises of contentment and he smiled at it, glad that it was happy. He cared for Yukina next, then Hina - taking the most time with her. Once she was bathed and diapered, she seemed hungry again but it turned out that she just wanted something to suckle on for comfort. Hiei gave her his finger, sitting on the closed toilet, and leaned back to cradle her against his chest. To his surprise, the little kitten began making a clicking noise. What are you doing? Hiei wondered. Is that . . . purring? He chuckled to himself, then gave a deep sigh, splaying one forepaw across his knuckle as she treaded against his fingers.
So, not only are you an orphan but a mutant, something different, something . . . Will you be wanted - or shunned? Will someone take you in? Will anyone want you? You're not normal. You're not what someone would expect. Will you be cast out, too?
He thought back to his earliest recollections - a woman crying, desperately begging for her infant son's life; elders who feared "the Forbidden Child" enough to cast it from their midst into the dangerous wastes below; another woman, face tear-streaked as she tucked an iridescent pebble into the straps that bound him, who whispered something to him only he could hear. "Survive. Grow strong. Come back and take your revenge." After that, there had been a very long fall . . .
Hiei startled out of his reverie, silently berating himself that he had let his guard down so far. Kurama stood at the door of the bathroom, emerald eyes glistening in the dim light. "Hiei, is everything all right?" Hiei nodded with a grunt. "You've been in here a long time. I thought maybe I should check on you." He looked at the kitten asleep in Hiei's hands. "Is that Hina?" Hiei only nodded again. Kurama picked up the remaining two kittens, then crossed to sit on the edge of the bathtub facing his friend.
The two sat in the silent darkness for a long moment, the kittens contentedly dozing in their arms, before Hiei finally spoke. Without meeting Kurama's eye, he asked in a quiet voice, "Kurama, do you remember your mother?" Kurama looked at him quizzically. "Not the human - I mean your real mother, as a youko."
Kurama smiled gently. "Hiei, the thing you have to remember about youkos is that they - 'we', I guess I should say - are enchanted foxes which have attained great age and experience, gaining such abilities as illusion-casting and shape-changing. I spent most of my existence on four legs, not two. No, I have no memories of the fox who birthed me centuries ago. I was always on my own." He glanced sidelong at Hiei and asked carefully. "Why do you ask?"
Hiei hesitated a long time before replying softly, "I . . . don't remember much of mine, either. I remember her face - and her name. It was Hina."
She was beautiful. The thought came unbidden and Hiei could not bring himself to say it. Her memory was too precious, too sacred to him to spoil it with words.
Silence filled the room once again, thick yet comfortable - the kind of silence between two close friends where noises become unnecessary and unwanted. Hiei appreciated Kurama's quiet presence. Of all the people Hiei knew - those still living - Kurama understood him the best. In fact, he was probably the only one. Hiei forgot sometimes just how similar their pasts were in the face of how different they were now, like two sides of the same coin.
The kitten, Hina, twitched in her sleep and Hiei looked back down at her, wondering. What does something so young and tiny dream about? Do you have nightmares, too? She settled back down, suckling contentedly on the side of his thumb. He held her up to eye-level, studying her tiny face. Survive, little one. Grow strong. May you have a better life.
Live for my mother's sake.
Author's Notes: Please be sure to check my bio page for any updates, etc. Thanks!
Hey, again! I mentioned that this is posted in memoriam. The story is based on a litter of real kittens. The real ones were named before those in the story. "Hina" is actually Shizuru. "Yukina" I named Keiko. "Hiei" was also Hiei. I say "was" because, unfortunately, Hiei and Keiko did not make it. They came to me at a week-and-a-half old. However, the two were not strong enough to last without their mother. After days of severe diarrhea, Hiei slipped away first, his sister following hours later. Shizuru was always the largest of the group and continues to be healthy and strong. She will be four weeks old this weekend. At least Hiei and Keiko died warm and loved, rather than abandoned and alone somewhere. I volunteer with the local Humane Society, which is indirectly how the kittens came to me. We were going to put all three up for adoption through the shelter but, with the loss of the two after battling for them, my husband and I have decided to keep Shizu. She joins 6-year-olds Addie, Misty, and Angel (females) and Fuzzy (male).