So…I suppose this is the part where I grovel and plead for forgiveness, right?
I'm so, so, so sorry about the huge wait. I'm not going to bother trying to make excuses for why it's been so long. Basically it comes down to writer's block and my own laziness. Though to my credit, my computer's crashed twice and erased what I've had for this chapter both times, so I've had to write it three times. Technically.
Anyway. I hope you're all well and good, and I'm glad you're all still sticking with this little story of mine. What I've got here is another filler-ish chapter, though with a bit more relationship development, but once the boys are back at school we'll be delving right into super-special plot development, I promise.
Oh, and just to clear one thing up, because I noticed some awkward shifting: I know Yuusuke's greeting to Kurama was a bit shounen-ai-ish, but it's not meant to be. I've always written their relationship as being very sweet, very caring, and a bit touchy-feely…mostly because it's based off of my cuter guy friends. Also, when you think about it, those boys have seen each other almost die too many times to care overmuch about how macho they appear in society (Kurama especially, he's not all that macho anywhere). I've always pictured the two of them to have a loving relationship that's purely platonic love, in which hugs and cuddles can be exchanged at no cost to anyone's sexuality.
Not that they wouldn't make an adorable couple, it's just that Hiei/Kurama is my numero uno OTP, then it's Yuusuke/Kurama. Hehe.
So, my dears, enjoy your update. Off you go.
Majikku no Seirei: Chapter 14
Home for the Holidays (Part II)
Christmas Day dawned crisp, clear, and cold; a decent eight centimetres of fluffy snow had already settled on the ground by the time Harry peered out Ron's window. A drip of water from an icicle dripped onto his nose and he squinted up at it, blinking as he accidentally went cross-eyed.
Ron chuckled behind him, tugging his dressing gown closed. "C'mon, mate, get your head inside before your hair freezes." He grabbed Harry by the back of his t-shirt and gave him a fond tug inside, and Harry plopped down onto his camp bed. "Happy Christmas, Harry."
"You too," Harry told him, pulling on his own bathrobe and tugging a pair of socks onto his slightly-numb feet. "Is your mum up?"
"Yeah;" Ron was fairly bouncing near the door. "Let's go, don't you want your presents?"
Harry laughed, wiggling his toes to get the feeling back into them. "You're four years old, Ron, did you know that?"
"And still taller than you," Ron said casually, swiping a hand across the back of Harry's head, slowly enough for the shorter boy to duck. "Come on."
It was a good haul that year, in Harry's opinion. There was nothing from the Dursleys (not that he'd expected anything), but Mr. and Mrs. Weasley well made up for it by giving him a new Weasley sweater and a box of homemade fudge. Ron had given him a collection of posters from the last Quidditch World Cup. Hermione had sent a book—what else is new, Harry thought fondly—though it appeared to be an interesting one: Quidditch Teams of the Twentieth Century, written by the son of the author of Quidditch Through the Ages. Harry had to laugh when he opened the gift from Ron—a book as well, but this one detailed (in large, full-colour shots) the female Quidditch teams of Europe.
Ron glanced over at him from where he was tearing the paper off a box from the twins. "Like it, then, mate?"
Harry grinned. "Definitely."
Ron returned the smile and ripped the rest of the paper from his box, blinking comically as he drew out a long swath of fabric and shook it out. "What in the hell—dress robes?"
Stifling a laugh in a cough, Harry looked over at the incredulous expression on Ron's face as he examined the deep maroon material. "At least they got your favourite colour, right?"
The red-haired boy glowered at him and Harry laughed, clapping him on the shoulder.
The merrily burning fire in the hearth turned an abrupt green, startling them both. After a moment, a beaming Hermione stepped from the flames, brushing soot from the shoulders of her pink snow jacket and smiling. "Merry Christmas!"
"Hermione!" Ron exclaimed, jumping up. "What're you doing here?"
She hopped down from the fireplace. "My parents contacted the Ministry and got us hooked up to the Floo Network! I thought I'd come by and visit for a bit." Shaking a bit of dust from her bushy hair, she grinned. "Thanks for the book, Harry."
He'd sent her Hogwarts: a History: the Revised Twenty-First Century Edition. Shrugging, he smiled. "Thought you'd like it. Thanks for…well, the book."
She brushed off his thanks with a wave of her hand. "You're welcome." She took off her jacket—Harry raised an inquisitive brow—and she grinned sheepishly. "I wasn't sure quite where I'd end up; I've only travelled by floo once. I thought it'd be best to be prepared."
"More thinking ahead than I've ever done," Ron quipped, coming over. "Did you get anything good this year, Hermione?"
"Nothing overly significant." Her tone was mild, but there was something of a secret smile that seemed to pass between them. Harry frowned, confused, but Ron sent him a 'tell you later' grin and he shrugged.
There was a rustling from the kitchen, and Mrs Weasley stuck her head into the room. "There's breakfast if you're hungry, boys, and—oh!" She bustled in, wiping her hands on a dish towel. "Hello, there, Hermione. How did you get here?"
"Through the floo, Mrs Weasley. I hope I'm not intruding?"
"Not at all, dear." She tugged Hermione into a bear hug. "It is wonderful to see you, Hermione." Letting her go, she glowered at the boys with her hands on her hips. "Do you know, Hermione, that I get more post from you than I do from the boys combined?"
"Really?" Hermione crossed her arms, raising her eyebrows at her friends. "Fancy that."
Harry and Ron exchanged glances.
"Well," Harry cleared his throat. "We'll just, ah, go upstairs and get dressed, then. Shall we?"
Yuusuke had called Kurama's house on Christmas Eve, requesting to talk to Hiei. The slightly surprised fire demon had taken the phone, and Yuusuke had asked him to meet him in Ueno Park on Christmas morning. The Japanese boy was not religious in any denomination, and Hiei couldn't have cared less about the holiday, so he had shrugged and told Yuusuke he'd meet him at eleven.
Hiei was early—or maybe Yuusuke was late—and took advantage of the time to buy a hot chocolate from a vendor using the yen Kurama had palmed him before he'd left. He had developed a liking for the hot beverage while at Hogwarts, and had glared Kurama down when the redhead had arched an eyebrow over his friend's new obsession.
He settled himself on a bench to drink. A light snow had started falling the night before and was still coming down, though it was more of a lazy drifting than anything resembling a blizzard. The flakes settled in his hair and he shook his head slightly to get them off, wrinkling his nose as one of the flecks of cold settled on it.
"You look like you're ten."
Hiei glared up at Yuusuke as the boy's shadow fell over him. "Unless you're going to block the snow, you're really being useless right now."
Yuusuke grinned. "If I'm so useless, why'd you agree to meet me?"
"I assumed you had something worthwhile. If you didn't, you wouldn't have bothered calling me." Hiei took a sip of his cocoa, pointedly ignoring the upward twitch in Yuusuke's lips as he realized what the demon was drinking. "Why were you late?"
"Keiko." Yuusuke sighed. "She calls me to say she was watching the snow from her window and watching the cars drive over it and get it all dirty, and" he pitched his voice an octave higher, "'it's just so sad, Yuusuke! It's a perfect metaphor for the innocence we all lost when you got involved with this whole demon thing', blah, blah, blah." He shrugged. "Women." With another sigh, he sat down on the bench beside Hiei, reaching over and plucking Hiei's hot chocolate from his hands. Hiei glared when Yuusuke took a sip, but didn't respond until the cup was back in his hand.
"What did you want?"
"To talk to you." Yuusuke said easily, reclining against the back of the bench.
Hiei frowned at him. "I'm leaving unless you get to your point."
"Alright, alright." He raised his hands in surrender, sighing. "It's about Kurama."
"I figured." Hiei looked down at the brown liquid, deciding against drinking in an attempt to make it last. "Specifically?"
"Is he…does he look kind of sick to you?"
Hiei's frown deepened. "Sick?"
"Well, maybe not sick." Yuusuke craned his neck to look up into the snow. "Maybe just thin, I guess? Not even thin, just thinner than he was when he left. They feeding you guys at that school?"
"They feed us," Hiei assured him, "And I know he's eating."
Yuusuke looked uneasy. "So…should I be worried? I mean, he's always been a skinny bastard. Is it just some kind of demon metabolism or something?"
Hiei shook his head. "I'm not going to tell you whether or not to worry. There's no reason for him to be losing weight, but there's no reason he shouldn't be, either."
The boy snorted. "Here's a reason. He's a skinny fucker and if he keeps dropping the kilos there'll be nothing left of him."
"I'll convey that sentiment to him," Hiei told him dryly. "Is there a reason you couldn't just talk to him directly?"
Yuusuke looked offended. "Are you saying you didn't appreciate this time spent in my incomparable company?"
"Yes, I believe that's exactly what I'm saying." Yuusuke gave an exaggerated pout, and Hiei rolled his eyes. "I'm leaving now."
"Yeah, yeah—oh, hey. One more thing." Yuusuke leaned forward, resting his chin in his gloved hands. "Did Kurama get himself a girl or something up at that school?"
Hiei paused. "Not that I know of. Why?"
Yuusuke looked almost uncomfortable. "When I picked him up at the airport and all…I swear to God, he was practically glowing. I've never seen him looking so…well, healthy might not be the word, but happy probably is. He never looks that happy, except—" he cut himself off, sending Hiei a sidelong glance.
The fire demon narrowed his eyes. "Except?"
"Well…" Yuusuke averted his eyes from Hiei's. "There are some times…it's when he's with you. It's not all the time, just…you'll say something or do something and he'll get this look—like he's completely peaceful. Relaxed. Something."
Hiei blinked. "With me?"
"Yeah. That's why I thought maybe you guys had…" He shrugged. "Guess not." He stood. "I'd better go. I told Keiko I'd spend some more time with her tonight. Some Christmas thing." He rolled his eyes. "Seriously. She doesn't even celebrate Christmas."
After a few steps away from Hiei, though, he turned and looked back at him. "Hey. You okay?"
Hiei nodded. "Fine. Why wouldn't I be?" His hot chocolate was getting cold. It didn't seem to matter.
Yuusuke paused, then shook his head. "No reason. Tell Kurama I said hi."
Hermione went with them that afternoon when they went back to St. Mungo's. Ron grumbled a bit as they entered the lobby. "I don't mind it, before Christmas. But sometimes I'd really like to just spend the day relaxing."
"I think this is lovely, what you do here," Hermione told him matter-of-factly. "You're probably making some sick, lonely people very happy."
Ron's complaining cut off decisively, and Harry couldn't help a grin.
The lobby was brightly lit, decorated with wreathes and lights. Harry thought he saw a few menorahs scattered about, and absent-mindedly thought well, that's nice of them before Ron tugged him by the arm up to the stairwell.
"C'mon, Harry. There's a bloke with a kettle for a head up in Spell Damage that I think you should meet." Ron grinned at him.
He hesitated, "Actually, Ron…there's someone I met yesterday that I'd like to talk to again. Could I meet kettle man later?"
Ron shrugged. "Suit yourself, mate. Come on, Hermione." He took Hermione's hand, blatantly averting her eyes, and led her off down the hall.
Harry followed them with his eyes, unable to keep from smiling. Shaking his head with a soft chuckle, he headed up another flight of stairs, following his memory towards Narcissa's room.
There was no answer to his knock, and the door was unlocked. Cautiously he turned the knob and stuck his head into the room.
Narcissa was asleep, the blankets over her torso rising and falling with every breath. Draco was nowhere to be seen and Harry paused, wondering whether or not it would be appropriate to enter.
"What are you doing here?"
He jumped, startled, and turned to see Draco standing behind him. The blond-haired boy's arms were crossed over his chest, a frown written all over his pale face. "I was—that is—"
"Oh, shut up," Draco muttered, pushing past him into the room. "Don't wake her." He dropped back into the chair he'd been sitting in the last time Harry was there—Harry got the feeling that that chair had seen a lot of Draco in the past days.
Harry stepped into the room. Draco didn't comment, so he closed the door behind him and sat down in a chair beside Draco. "So…"
Draco glanced at him. "You're talking to me."
Harry cleared his throat. "Yes."
"What d'you mean, 'why'?"
"I mean," Draco said, then glanced at his mother and brought his voice down, "Why are you talking to me? More importantly, why are you here?"
Harry swallowed, shifting in his chair. "She…said to come back and talk to her again."
"She's asleep," Draco pointed out.
"I know that."
Draco went silent, regarding Harry thoughtfully. Harry tried to hold his gaze, but found himself looking away, uncomfortable under the silver-grey stare. "You still haven't answered my question," Draco said after a few moments.
Harry sighed. "I'm talking to you because the alternative is meeting some bloke with a kettle for his head with Ron."
Blond eyebrows shot up, and Harry could swear he saw the hint of a smile. "A kettle?"
"A kettle," Harry affirmed.
"For a head?" Definitely a smile.
"For a head," Harry said, and found himself smiling back.
Draco shook his head. "Well, no wonder. My company is clearly infinitely better."
Harry cocked an eyebrow. "I don't know about infinitely…"
Draco gave him a look that said you could leave and Harry raised his hands in surrender. "So what were you planning on talking about, exactly? You realize we have nothing in common."
Harry shrugged. "Figured I'd be talking to your mum, then, didn't I?" Draco didn't respond, only looked at him, so he took a different route. "Have you had lunch?"
Draco blinked, taken aback. "Sorry?"
"Have you eaten lunch?" He repeated.
Draco shook his head.
Harry frowned. "Supper last night?"
This time a nod. "Mother and I."
Harry sighed. "Are you only eating when your mother's awake? You do realize there's a dining room."
Draco made a motion between a shrug and a roll of his shoulders, as if he was brushing off the question while trying to stretch. "I don't like leaving her alone."
The grey eyes narrowed in a glare. "It's the thought, Potter."
Harry pursed his lips, then sighed. "Can you leave her for, say, twenty minutes? I'm sure she'd be fine for that long."
Draco snorted. "Leave her and do what, exactly?"
"Get something to eat. I'll buy." Draco opened his mouth and Harry glared at him. "No comments about money."
"I didn't say anything," Draco said, almost defensively.
Harry rolled his eyes. "Come on." He grabbed Draco by the arm and pulled him to the door, gently nudging him out of the room.
As they started towards the stairs, Harry couldn't help but find himself wondering what the hell he was doing.
Kurama jumped in surprise when Hiei walked into his room through the actual door, turning to regard the other demon with an expression of amused shock on his face. "What are you doing here?"
"Coming to talk to you," Hiei answered. "Something wrong with that?"
"No. I'm just not used to you using the door." Kurama smiled. He was sitting backwards in his desk chair, having pulled it up to the window to watch the snowstorm outside. Now, he turned the chair around to sit properly, facing Hiei. "What can I do for you?"
Hiei snorted. "When you say it like that it sounds dirty." He nodded towards the window. "What were you doing?"
Kurama shrugged, a few locks of loose hair falling down over his shoulders. "Watching the snow."
The fire demon frowned. "You weren't contemplating the way that it's pure white when it falls but is instantly dirtied by the world, just like childhood innocence being harshly ripped away by the cruelties of reality, or something equally metaphorical?"
The redhead blinked several times. "…Is that…something I seemed likely to be doing?"
Hiei shook his head, tossing his snowy cloak onto the floor (Kurama promptly scooped it up, glared at him, and hung it on the hook on his door) and sat down on Kurama's bed. "I just spent an hour with Yuusuke, and he's been muttering nonstop about that woman of his. He thinks she's trying to convince him to stay away from fighting."
Kurama arched a slender brow. "Isn't she?"
"Point taken." He paused and then, as if giving into curiosity, asked, "What were you thinking about, then?"
"Just the snow," Kurama said, a hint of wistfulness slipping into his voice. "I don't really like winter—the snow's nice and all, but all the plants die."
Hiei nodded, getting up of the bed to stand next to the taller demon. "Can you hear them?"
Kurama glanced at him. "The plants?" He took Hiei's silence as an affirmative. "Not…in the literal sense. It's not like they're calling out for me to save them or anything. It's mostly…It's mostly the fact that I can't hear them that's the hardest."
The dark-haired demon frowned. "I don't understand."
"Think of it this way. Imagine that all the time, every day, you're walking around with a ringing in your ears. It's a little annoying, but it's always there, so eventually you become used to it, even fond of it. Follow me?" Hiei nodded. "Right. Now, imagine that suddenly you wake up and the ringing's gone. You've gotten so used to it being there that the silence seems just…vast."
"It must be strange."
Kurama smiled grimly. "Strange is the least of it." He turned back to the window, green eyes watching the snow drifting down.
Hiei watched his profile for a few moments before leaning down, resting his elbows on the windowsill and following Kurama's gaze. "Does it hurt? Not hearing them?"
"No," Kurama said softly. "It just feels empty." He turned to his friend with a small smile. "I'll tell you this much, a living flower that I didn't grow myself would be a welcome sight among all this snow."
Harry bought Draco a sandwich, a bowl of soup, and a bottle of water, and then proceeded to drag the blond over to a table. To his surprise, Draco followed him with little protest, eating slowly but willingly. Harry munched on his own sandwich quietly, trying not to look like he was staring at the other boy.
His efforts went to waste, though, when Draco glanced up at him from around a spoonful of soup and caught his eye. "What are you looking at?"
"Nothing," Harry said quickly.
Draco's lips twitched into a smirk. "Turning pouf on me, Potter?"
"Don't sound so hopeful," Harry shot back. Draco chuckled and Harry found himself grinning as well. "And it's Harry."
Draco snorted. "Right."
"I'm serious." Harry gestured around with his water bottle. "No one's here, it's not like the school will somehow know that we for twenty minutes spoke on first-name terms."
"I'll know." Draco took a bite of his sandwich, chewed, and swallowed. Very high-class table manners, Harry thought, and probably weaned into him from birth. "One conversation with my mother does not make us friends, Potter."
"Fine, Harry then, you wanker." Was that fondness in his voice? Harry grinned to himself. "In any case, once we are back at school, I assume you know that I won't be talking to you."
Harry swallowed a bit of tuna sandwich and said "What about Care of Magical Creatures?"
Draco looked amused. "In the off chance that I needed to talk to you in Potions, it would likely be to mock your efforts. So I doubt you'll even want me to be talking to you."
Harry sighed. "Fine, don't talk to me in Potions."
They fell silent, and though it wasn't an awkward silence, it wasn't quite comfortable either. Harry began wondering exactly what he had been thinking with this—they had nothing in common, they didn't share the same views on anything, they didn't even like each other.
But then, Narcissa had said that Draco didn't hate him either, that he was even grateful…
"You've got lettuce on your cheek," Draco said mildly, yanking Harry out of his reverie.
"Where?" Harry's hand flew up, searching.
"Left…no, my left. Up. Oh, forget it—" Draco rolled his eyes and reached over with his napkin, swiping at something on Harry's cheek. "Got it."
Harry hoped his face wasn't nearly as red as it felt. "Thanks."
Draco shrugged. "It's embarrassing to me if you look like a child who can't wipe his face."
Harry smiled. "Right."
Surprisingly enough, they did find some common ground: Quidditch. Once they set aside their House team rivalries, the conversation thrived. They argued the pros and cons of a Wronski Feint, whether the first Plumpton Pass was an accident or not. They compared the Nimbus Line to the Cleensweep series, and Draco surprised Harry with an extensive knowledge of aerodynamics in relation to speed and sensitivity in a broomstick.
"Where did you learn all this?" Harry exclaimed, when Draco told him that, in the right wind, a Moontrimmer could outrace a Firebolt.
Draco shrugged. "When I was little, I wanted to work with brooms for a living."
"Not necessarily as a player. I used to think of going into inventing." He smiled, but it didn't quite reach his eyes. "I'm not much of a player, anyway. My dad wanted me on the team."
Harry bit his lip. He didn't want the topic of conversation going anywhere near Draco's father. "I think you're good."
Draco's white-blond eyebrows arched. "Really." It wasn't a question.
"I do," Harry insisted. "I saw you play against Ravenclaw during that March match last year—you had the Snitch before Cho even knew what happened!"
A quick laugh slipped out of Draco's lips. "Are you sure you weren't just happy because you'd just broken up with her?"
Harry flushed. "You heard about that?"
"The whole school heard about that."
Harry's celebrity status went unspoken, but still hovered in the air. Harry thought fast, trying to change the subject.
"Is it a requirement for Quidditch teams to have alliteration in their names?"
Draco blinked. "What?"
"Think about it," Harry pressed. "Almost every team. Chudley Cannons, Montrose Magpies, Tutshill Tornadoes—"
"Kenmare Kestrals," Draco threw in helpfully. Harry grinned, and Draco continued, "Wigtown Wanderers, Falmouth Falcons, Appleby Arrows—"
"Ballycastle Bats," they said together. They looked at each other.
Draco was the first to laugh. Harry joined him, and wondered why, if the concept of a friendship between them was so wrong, it felt so incredibly right.
Their twenty-minute lunch stretched out into almost an hour. They walked back to Narcissa's room, talking about Latin influence on spells. Draco had seemed mildly impressed to learn that Harry knew a bit of conversational language, but Harry confessed that he had only learned it from Hermione.
"I don't understand why the spells couldn't just be in English," Harry grumbled as they turned the corner.
"Quidquid Latine dictum sit altum sonatur." Draco grinned.
"What does that mean?"
"Whatever is said in Latin sounds profound," Draco said, turning the knob to his mother's room.
Narcissa was awake when they entered, sitting up and running a comb through her hair. "There you are, Draco. I was getting worried."
"I went for lunch, Mother," he told her, crossing to her bedside and, in the most blatant display of affection Harry had ever seen from him, kissed her cheek.
"Was that Latin I heard?" Her grey eyes were all but dancing. Harry thought she looked much healthier today than last time. She looked at Harry, and he realized that she was talking to him.
"Oh—yes. We were talking about Latin and spells, and then Draco started showing off." Harry grinned at the blond, who rolled his eyes.
"I wasn't showing off. I'm just far superior to you."
Harry snorted. "Sure. I bet a Galleon you can't say anything in Latin that's not upper-class and profound."
Draco raised his eyebrows. "Bene, cum Latine nescias, nolo manus meas in te maculare."
Narcissa laughed, carefree and really quite prettily. Harry looked at her. "What did he say?"
She smiled. "He said 'Well, if you don't understand plain Latin, I'm not going to dirty my hands on you."
"Bugger," Harry muttered, digging in his pocket and flipping Draco a Galleon. The other boy caught it with a Seeker's reflexes, grinning and pocketing it. Harry grinned back and glanced at his watch. "I'd better go. It's getting late."
Narcissa raised a hand in a wave. "It was nice seeing you."
Draco inclined his head slightly. "Ah…thanks for lunch, Pot—Harry."
Harry felt a warmth in his stomach and tried not to look giddy. "No problem." He headed towards the door.
"Happy Christmas," Draco called, and Harry smiled.
It certainly was.
"Hiei, I would really appreciate knowing where you're taking me," Kurama said, for what must have been the nineteenth time.
"You'll see," Hiei replied, the same cryptic response he'd been giving for the last hour.
Hiei had given Kurama very little information at all since that afternoon. He'd shown up at Kurama's window with a strip of black fabric, which he'd promptly tied around Kurama's eyes. He had helped Kurama into his coat, scarf and boots, then led him outside after a quick word with Shiori.
The next hour had been spent in constant motion. Hiei had helped him into a taxi for about a twenty minute ride, and they'd been walking since. Kurama was grateful for the coat—it was cold out—but he would have been more grateful for some sense of where they were going.
But Hiei's hand was warm around his, the fire demon's guiding step sure and strong. Kurama was confident in the fact that he wasn't being kidnapped, and followed his friend as calmly as one could when one was blindfolded and being led through the streets by a vertically challenged fire demon.
"Are you breathing through your nose?" Hiei asked suddenly.
Kurama furrowed his brow behind the blindfold. "Um. Yes?"
"Breathing?" This was too weird.
"Through your nose," Hiei clarified. "Breathe through your mouth."
"O…kay…" Kurama raised his eyebrows. "I would really like to know where we're going."
The fire demon fell silent, but his fingers squeezed Kurama's gently, and Kurama felt a little better. There was a reassuring warmth in Hiei's fingers that seemed to spread around his, and Kurama realized with a pleasant shock that Hiei was probably channelling fire-ki into him to keep him warm. He smiled, but chose not to embarrass the other demon.
A few more minutes of walking, and Hiei stopped. "Stay here," he told Kurama, and then the warmth was gone and Kurama found himself feeling oddly vulnerable, blindfolded and confused in goodness-knows-where. He tried not to fidget, closing his eyes and listening to the world around him. He could hear voices, male and female, young and old—tourists, most likely, or people out for a Christmas walk. But he could also hear—
He frowned, his eyebrows knotting together beneath the cloth. Was that…
Yes. Unmistakably, the pleasant hum of living plant life—a sound somewhere between the thrum of a hummingbird's wings and the buzz of an electric fan when left on for too long. He resisted the urge to sniff the air, shifting slightly in the darkness.
He heard Hiei's footsteps and relaxed slightly as the dark-haired demon took his hand once more. "Where were you?"
"Just taking care of something," Hiei said, amusement in his voice. "Come on."
The path they took was winding and Kurama found himself increasingly grateful for Hiei's steadying hand. He felt a brief blast of warmth—clearly they had walked through a building—and then cold again.
Suddenly Hiei stopped again, and finally said "Duck down a bit." Kurama did so and felt deft fingers on the knot at the back of his head, untying. The knot came loose but Hiei held the blindfold on. "Close your eyes, don't open them until I say."
Kurama smiled, wondering just what he was planning. "They're closed."
The blindfold came away and Kurama straightened up, feeling the cold air on his eyelids.
"Alright," Hiei said. "Open."
The sun blinded him for a moment and he had to blink for his eyes to adjust. But moments later everything came into focus, and he gasped.
It was a garden.
A real, living garden. Kurama turned in a slow circle, taking everything in. There were flowers, trees and plants of both Eastern and Western origins, a scattering of white-grey pebbles formed the path beneath their feet. He turned to Hiei, eyes wide. "Where are we?"
"Chinzan-so," Hiei replied, not quite meeting his eyes. "Tokyo."
Kurama exhaled an awed breath, looking around. "It's beautiful."
"There's more." Hiei reached over and took his hand. "Come with me." Obedient as a child in awe Kurama followed him down the small path. A shrine loomed up in front of them, a three-story pagoda that must have been hundreds of years old. Rice-paper fortunes dangled from trees as they passed, and Hiei stopped. "Look at the altar."
Kurama followed Hiei's gaze to the altar at the centre of the shrine, on which was seated a stone statue of a fox.
"No," he gasped. "An Inari shrine? Hiei, how—how did you find this place?"
The fire demon smiled. "I have my sources."
Kurama felt a stinging of what must have been tears at the back of his eyes. "I—I don't know what to say. You…why did you do this?"
Hiei shrugged. "You said you wanted to see living flowers. Think of this as your Christmas gift."
"I—" Kurama cut himself off, knowing his voice was far too likely to break. Instead, he leaned down, wrapping his arms around his friend in a hug. "Thank you," he whispered. "Thank you. This means so much."
Though he half-expected the demon to push him away, Hiei instead tucked his arms around Kurama's waist. "I'm glad you like it."
Kurama tightened the embrace, closing his eyes. Lance and school tugged at the back of his mind but he pushed the thoughts away, wanting just to savour the moment. Hiei was warm and comforting against him, and the sound of the plants in his ears sent waves of pleasant contentment running through his veins. "Thank you," he repeated, unable to think of anything else to say.
Unseen, his cheek against Kurama's and his own eyes closed, Hiei smiled.
Merry Christmas indeed.
Though he'd prepared himself for it during the entire two weeks of their time there, Yuusuke still couldn't really anticipate how hard it was to send Kurama and Hiei off again. He went with them to the airport (somehow, Kurama had managed to arrange a ticket for Hiei on the same return flight as his own), going as close to the gate as he was legally allowed to.
Kurama had ducked into one of the shops, probably to purchase gum or some sort of sugary treat to keep Hiei placated. Yuusuke and Hiei were left standing by their carry-on bags, trying not to be overly annoyed by the hustle and bustle of parting and reuniting groups around them.
Yuusuke cleared his throat awkwardly. "So."
Hiei glanced at him. "So, what?"
"Nothin'." He fell silent. Hiei wasn't the kind of guy you talked to, and after their little discussion on Christmas, Yuusuke wasn't exactly sure what breached the confines of their friendship contract. He did decide, though, that Kurama was well within the borders of fair discussion. "About Kurama."
Was it his imagination, or did a hint of color actually spark into Hiei's cheeks? No. Must've been imagination, any trace of pink was gone as quickly as it came. "What about him?"
"You'll keep an eye on him, right?"
Hiei's eyebrows vanished into his bandanna, his upper lip twitching into a smirk. "Three eyes," he said. "As often as possible."
Yuusuke grinned. "Good. Well, there's that. Good to know."
The fire demon glanced up at him. "Why the worry?"
He shrugged. "I've…got a bad feeling about it." He turned on the sheepish face, scratching the back of his head. "Forget it. I'm paranoid."
"Big word," Hiei muttered, and Yuusuke tried his best to look affronted.
Kurama came out of the shop a moment later, carrying a small plastic bag which he immediately stored in his carry-on backpack, smiling at Hiei in a 'you'll see' sort of way. He stood up, brushing nonexistent dirt from his pant legs and turning to Yuusuke. "Well, my friend, I believe this is where we part ways."
Yuusuke rolled his eyes. "Yeah. Way to make the whole thing sound really fucking formal. C'mere, asshole." He grabbed Kurama in a hug, feeling Kurama's soft laugh more than he heard it. "Be careful, alright? I don't want that stupid bird bringing me a message saying you studied yourself to the bone and died or nothin' like that."
"Double negative, Yuusuke." Kurama said against Yuusuke's ear, a smile in his voice.
"Pick my grammar later. I'm serious, man." And for the first time he realized he was serious. The cold feeling at the base of his spine had never failed him before—he was no Kuwabara, but he definitely knew when something bad was going to happen. He tightened his grip around Kurama's waist, suddenly not wanting to let him go.
But Kurama was hugging him back, maybe not as tight as Yuusuke was hugging him, but the sentiment was there. "Alright," he agreed. "I'll be careful. And so should you, Yuusuke. As I recall lately there's been a few more demon attacks in Japan than in Europe."
"Yeah, whatever," Yuusuke muttered, and Kurama laughed again. His lips brushed gently over Yuusuke's cheek, so lightly it may have been unintentional, but Yuusuke smiled anyway. The punk-ass macho part of his brain promptly screamed "Stop smiling, queer!" while the more mature part that had seen Kurama almost die way too many times shot back "Shut the fuck up, he'll smile if he wants to!" He shook his head slightly to shut both of them up, pulling away from Kurama and holding the redhead at arm's length. "Okay," he said. "I guess this is the part where you leave."
"Right," Kurama smiled. There were a few locks of red hair slipping into his eyes and Yuusuke casually brushed them back, his hand settling on Kurama's shoulder.
"Yuusuke," Hiei cut in, mild bemusement in his normally stoic voice, "He needs his arm back if we're going to leave."
"Right!" Yuusuke exclaimed, letting go. "Sorry."
Kurama laughed. "It's fine." He picked up his bag. "Shall we, Hiei?" As he turned away, he looked back over his shoulder at Yuusuke. "Take care of yourself."
"Yeah, you too." He stuffed his hands into his pockets, watching the two walk towards their gate. They made an odd picture—Kurama tall beside Hiei's shorter frame, yet there was no way to mistake them as father and son—Hiei's stride was far too firm to belong to any child. Yuusuke sighed. The two most mismatched people in the world, and he was letting (alright, not letting, it wasn't as if he could have stopped them if he'd wanted to) them go off into God-knows-where.
"Hey!" He yelled, his mouth moving before his brain could stop him. "Kurama!"
The redhead turned. Beside him Hiei paused, but didn't look back. Kurama cocked his head quizzically to the side, green eyes questioning.
"Don't—don't do anything stupid." Yuusuke said lamely. "I'll be really pissed if I have to come out there and bail your ass out of some mess."
Kurama blinked at him, then smiled in that oh-I-see-what-you're-saying-even-if-you-don't way of his that made Yuusuke want to grin at him or wring his neck, though he wasn't quite sure which. "Love you too, Yuusuke."
Yuusuke felt his face go red, and Kurama laughed, saying something to Hiei and waving to Yuusuke before walking off again. Yuusuke stared after them, then shook his head and sighed. And Kurama had complained to him about public affection.
He turned, walking towards the airport exit. A last glance over his shoulders affirmed that his friends had vanished into the crowd—at least they knew how to blend.
A blast of cold air hit him as the airport doors slid shut behind him. He burrowed his chin into the collar of his coat, frowning. Was the cold all external?
He looked up, as if he could catch sight of the plane. He definitely had a bad feeling about something—and his bad feelings were almost never alone. Sighing, he folded his arms behind his head, squinting up at the clear winter sky. "Well," he muttered, half to himself. "At least Kurama'll make sure Hiei doesn't blow any shit up."
And, pretending that that was even a bit reassuring, he headed home.
As I said, I am so, so sorry for the wait, and that this was more filler than decent content. At least there was a bit of relationship development in this one, especially in the H/D area of things (theirloveissocanonOMG). And H/K cuteness is always good in my book.
Anyway, this will be the last of the filler chaps. Once the kiddies are back at school the plot will be back full-force, kickin' ass and takin' names. I'm going to try (keyword: TRY) to get chapter 15 up before auditions for my next school play, which is in two weeks. It's not likely. But keep an eye out. If nothing else, I'll scribble up a little ficlet in either HP or YYH for you all to enjoy. I don't think it's fair for me to only update with chapters, so I'm going to try to keep you all supplied with short fics at the least.
It's been real, lovelies. If any of you still love me enough to comment, reviews are as always appreciated.