Disclaimer: We solemnly swear that we own nothing save for the plot that came out of our twisted imaginations.
AN: Just another twisted plot coming from Buffybot76 and Mithryl, please let us know what you think.
- Chapter 1 -
"Keiko, I've run out of pine cleaner and need to run to the store," Mrs Yukimura called from the bottom of the ladder that lead to the attic where her daughter was, "Will you be okay up there till I get back?"
"Sure, mom," Keiko's voice called from the recesses of the dusty old attic, "I'm just going through some of these boxes for now!"
Mrs Yukimura sighed, "Alright then, dear, I'll be back in a little while, then we can really get into our spring cleaning in preparation for you moving into that new apartment." With that, the older woman grabbed her purse and car keys and left the house.
Keiko heard her mother leave the house and sneezed from the dust. She wondered how long it had really been since this attic was cleaned. She was about to open the next box when her hands were drawn to the one next to it, instead. She opened the box, not really knowing what she would find in it. Most of the ones that she had opened so far had held old books, though there seemed to be some of her school papers in this one. She quickly rifled through the papers and suddenly her hand brushed something cool and metallic.
Tentatively, Keiko wrapped her fingers around the object and withdrew it from the depths of the box. Raising it up to get a good look, she opened her hand to find a pendant resting in her palm. A red, star-shaped stone, mounted in a gold setting and strung on a simple gold chain. The meager light provided by the hanging bulb in the ceiling seemed to bring out a luster to the necklace, causing the stone to take on a bright crimson hue. Delicate and alluring, it was a beautiful piece of jewelry to say the least. She gazed at it with interest until suddenly a cool breeze gusted over her, sending a shiver down her spine.
As her fingers traced over the pendant, moving dust from the surface, she heard a distant male voice call, 'Keiko!' When she heard that voice, she was thrown into a vision from her own past.
A six year old Keiko looked up at her grandma in awe. "You're really giving this to me?" She fingered the chain, much too long for her and the magnificent pendant that was hanging on the chain.
Her grandmother smiled down at her, "Yes, Keiko-chan, I don't know why, but I think you will be able to find it's proper owner sooner than I would."
The small child only nodded, still speechless at being gifted with something that looked so valuable. Her grandma had come to stay the summer and was due to leave that evening, but had told Keiko that she had a surprise for her before she departed. Once she'd bestowed her gift, the elderly woman went on her way, sure that her grandchild would be able to accomplish the task that she herself had been unable to do in her childhood. She felt it in her heart.
Overjoyed at possessing such a beautiful thing, the child hurried up to her room and plopped herself in front of the mirror of the miniature vanity table that her mother had gotten her. Smiling happily, Keiko took the pendant by its delicate chain and slipped it over her head, allowing the mounted stone to hang low on her stomach.
She shrugged when she saw just how low it hung, but she knew that as she grew up, it would hang more where a pendant was supposed to hang. She knew that she had just been given an incredible task by her grandmother in trying to find who this belonged to, but she was confidant in the way that only small children could be that she would succeed. she gave a firm nod at the mirror and then gave a prompt yawn. It was aweful late, she decided. Her mom had made her get ready for bed before Grandma left and so she trotted over to the bed in her pajamas and curled her hand around the pendant, wondering who could have owned this pendant that she was supposed to find?
Her dreams were confusing that night. There was a black haired man with what looked like bat wings and then there was this silver haired guy who had a tail and fox-type ears. They were running through a forest, their movements fluid and swift as shadowy figures chased them. Deep, frightening growls pursued the two and then there was an audible SNAP of something giving way. The dark haired one gasped, rebounded off of the trunk of a small sapling even as his silvery companion cried out.
"My pendant!" The other, Kuronue, called out. "It's important!"
Deep, impending doom grew as the events played out. Snarls and grunts grew louder and closer, the whistling sound of sharp things cutting the air... and the agonized cry of Kuronue, as he was impaled by numerous spears of bamboo...
With a piercing cry, the child shot up in bed, sweat pouring from her small brow as she panted for breath. As her mother and father rushed in, flipping the switch on the wall and flooding the darkness with light as they enveloped their daughter in loving arms, Keiko looked down. She realized that she had never let go of the pendant all night.
Keiko gasped as the memories washed over her again. She knew what they were now, those two in her dreams! Both of them were youkai and one was the same type of demon as Kurama! She wondered if it was coincidence. Silver youkos were not common, she knew, but this couldn't be the same, could it? She wondered how her pendant had ended up in the attic, but then remembered when her parents had taken it away from her. She clutched the pendant closer to her chest, wondering if her friend was still in it. "Kuronue?" She whispered. "I've missed you, my friend."
She got a warm pulse from the stone and again the whispered, 'Keiko? I've been lonely, and who's idea was it to stick me in a box for twelve years!'
Keiko stemmed the tears that threatened to overtake her in order to respond. "I'm sorry, but it wasn't mine. My parents didn't like the influence that you were having over me."
There came a somewhat offended sound, somewhere between a scoff and a snort. 'Well, pardon me! I never expected this to be given to a child and was simply trying to teach you to survive!'
Keiko snickered, unable to hold in the playfully sarcastic tone in her reply. "Survive? You've got to be joking."
'Not really.' Kuronue replied seriously. 'I come from a very harsh place and stealing what you need is the norm more often than not.'
Keiko sobered at hearing this, remembering once more just who she was speaking to now. This wasn't just a fictional character made up by a childish mind. Not an imaginary friend as she had claimed him to be when she was young. She wasn't sure exactly what Kuronue was, but it was for certain that he was real.
"So..." Keiko began, not quite certain where to begin. She had so many questions she wanted to ask, so many things she wanted to know. Finally, she decided to go with something easy. "I take it you're not a figment of my imagination."
Kuronue's laughter drifted to her. 'No, Keiko, I am not. Sometimes I wish I was.' He sighed.
Hearing this reply made Keiko curious. She'd often wondered this when she was smaller but had never had the courage to ask. "Kuronue, what do you look like?"
Kuronue thought about it for a moment before he simply said. 'Look in the pendant, Keiko.'
"Okay..." Keiko brought the pendant up, holding it by the delicate chain so that it dangled in front of her eyes. When the stone finally stopped swaying, Keiko looked into the stone and had to stifle a gasp at what she saw.
The first thing she noticed were the contrasts. He was all dark or light, no coloring in between the two. Pale skin, jet black hair and eyes. He had black, bat-like wings and wore a vest for a shirt. His wrists were wrapped with some black material, but not solidly. He seemed to wear a hat on his head that his very pointed ears stuck out the top of his hat, as well as his pony tail. After the appearance actually sank in, Keiko was struck by the actual attractiveness of the pendant's inhabitant. Unable to come up with any acceptable assessment, she simply said the first thing that came to her mind.
Kuronue took in Keiko's appearance. He had last seen her as a small child and so she had changed more than a little. Large, brown eyes sat in a heart-shaped face which was pleasing in his opinion. Her auburn hair was shorter than he normally liked, but it still looked nice, soft and silky. He heard her whispered 'wow' and wasn't sure whether it was good or bad, but found that her features pleased him very much. 'Thank you. Might I say that you have grown into quite a lovely meikinrui, Keiko.'
Keiko flushed at this, the use of her former imaginary friend's pet name for her. "I'm anything but a songbird, Kuronue, but thank you, too."
'Of course you are a songbird, Keiko.' Kuronue replied with a soft smile.
Keiko's blush deepened, but before she could respond the sound of the front door opening sounded below and Keiko's mother's voice called out. "Keiko, I'm back!"
Keiko glanced up briefly as she called back with an affirmative "Yes, mom. I'm almost done up here!" before turning back to the pendant. "We'll finish talking later." She told the dark haired youkai spirit before draping the chain over her head and around her neck. She noted that the pendant now fell in the right spot, nestled between her breasts and not sure what her mother would say to her having this particular piece of her childhood, slipped it beneath her blouse for the time being. With a sigh, Keiko continued to go through the rest of the attic, packing away anything that she wished to take with her when she moved out the following weekend.
Kurama knocked on Keiko's front door. It was still early, about nine in the morning, but Keiko was swamped with trying to pack to move out into the apartment building. Since it was the same building that he lived in, it was really very easy for him to help her move. He smiled at the thought. He hadn't had one of his friends this close to him in quite a while and it felt good to be close to someone once again. He silently cursed as his thoughts swam once more to the past. They had been haunting him more and more frequently, first Kuronue, then Yomi, his past seemed unwilling to let him go. He forcefully thrust his thoughts off to the side as the door opened in front of him.
Keiko opened the door, slightly nervous. She had decided, since her parents weren't home due to both of them having to work their ramen shop, that she would wear her pendant outside today. She couldn't come right out and asked Kurama if he was the youko that Kuronue remembered, nor did she have the guts to ask Kuronue the name of the silver youko. If Kurama recognized the pendant, then fine, if not... Well, it was at least a way to break the ice with her aloof friend.
"Hello, I'm glad you're here, Kurama." Keiko said, stepping back and opening the door a bit wider to let the red head in. She made sure to stay partially behind the door, not quite ready for him to see the pendant just yet. "I never realized that I owned so much stuff!"
Kurama took in the frazzled appearance of his friend's face and smiled at her. "It is not a problem, Keiko. In fact, I needed help when moving and with you moving into my apartment complex, at least we have someplace to sit down in and get a drink without having to unpack half a dozen boxes first." He stepped through the door and noted the many boxes already stacked. "Where do we start?"
"With these, I suppose. They're already taped up and marked." She gestured to the stack and stepped out from behind the door hesitantly.
Keiko tensed but Kurama didn't seem to notice. He simply nodded and walked over to the indicated spot and bent down to gather the first armload of boxes. With a slight sigh of disappointment, Keiko went over to help. As she leaned down, the pendant fell down to dangle in the air around her neck. In the position she was in, Keiko as unable to see when Kurama's eyes strayed a look her way before he froze when they landed on the stone.
Kurama didn't know what to think. The last time he'd seen that pendant, it was in the possession of someone who was a fake and now apparently Keiko had it. He reached out a trembling hand and tenderly cupped the precious medallion. "Kuronue?" He whispered brokenly.
Kuronue's soul looked out from the pendant. He didn't recognize who was handling it at the moment, but they apparently recognized the pendant. Whoever it was looked like they were on the verge of tears. 'Keiko, who is this?'
"Er..." Keiko stalled, unsure if she should even speak. From the looks of it, Kurama was about to break down, but she knew that her friend, both of her friends, needed some answers. "He's Kurama," She whispered softly.
'Kur-' Kuronue's voice seemed to break off as shock flooded him from the sudden revelation. 'No... it can't be...'
Keiko couldn't reply for the moment the words had left her lips, she found herself pinned by a pair of shimmering emerald orbs. "Keiko, what....?" Kurama questioned.
Keiko swallowed the lump that seemed to have formed in her throat and reached up to take hold of the hand cradling the pendant. "Kurama... do you recognize it? Do you... remember who it belonged to?"
Kurama nodded even as he felt a few tears leak from his eyes. The last time he recalled crying was when he knew his mother would get better. "It belonged to my old friend, Kuronue. We were friends, partners, almost brothers. One night this chain snapped and he was killed." He took a deep, shuddering breath, trying to get his emotions and his breathing back in order. His brain kicked in and he asked, "How did you get it?"
Keiko tightened her hold on Kurama's hand, giving it a reassuring squeeze. "Why don't we go sit down before I get into it, okay? Maybe get that drink you were talking about before?"
Inside the pendant, Kuronue had fallen silent, simply listening to the conversation taking place between Keiko and the person whom she said was his partner of long ago.
Kurama agreed. His legs were more than a little wobbly and he needed that drink, water would be welcome, he could use a stronger drink, but at the moment, he didn't dare cloud his clarity of mind. They quickly moved to the kitchen, where they sat at the table. "May I hold it for a bit?"
"Of course," Keiko nodded, immediately removing the pendant and passing it to Kurama's outstretched hand, wondering what Kurama would do or say next.
Kuronue looked at the human red head from within the pendant. It didn't look like his old partner, but then kitsunes were master of disguise, too. He decided to wait.
"I wish I could have saved Kuronue that day, Keiko. It wasn't possible, even for a plant master, the bamboo shot up too fast for me to do anything but watch in horror as he told me to run." He drank from the glass of water that she brought over to him, "Thank you. I ran, but I was empty after that." He looked at her, tenderly rubbing his fingers delicately over the pendant. "Now, you were going to tell me how you got this?"
Kuronue felt shock run through him. That this person should know of his last moments within his own body . . . It had to be Kurama. He wondered if he could connect with him, the same way that he could connect with Keiko. He tentatively sent the thought, knowing that both of them would receive it. 'Kurama, Keiko? Old friend, if you are he, please respond.'
Kurama's hand trembled as he heard the careful thought. Keiko just watched in hushed silence as the most steady of the group nearly broke down again.
"Kuronue? But how?" Kurama asked.
'I could ask you the same thing, but I'll let Keiko explain some of it.' Kuronue replied, watching his partner.
Instantly, Keiko found herself victim to Kurama's intense gaze. "Thanks alot, Kuronue." Keiko said softly, somewhat exasperated, but in a way relieved at the same time. Looking back into Kurama's questioning eyes, she began to explain how she came to possess Kuronue's pendant.
"Well, it all started when I was six," Keiko began, "My grandmother gave it to me right before she was to leave and go back home." Keiko's voice lowered slightly into a saddened tone. "She died in her sleep a week later. That was one of the reasons I grew to cherish the pendant, because it was the last tie to my grandma. We were always so close and I loved her very much." She wiped an errant tear away as it escaped her eye. Kurama reached over and put his hand over hers as she continued, "Anyway, the night she gave me the pendant, I had this dream... one that I didn't really understand at the time. Kuronue spoke to me for the first time a few days later."
Kurama looked at her and then down at the pendant. "This dream, can you describe it?"
Keiko nodded, "I was in a dark forest, watching from a distance. And I saw two figures racing through the trees. I could barely make them out until a patch of moonlight highlighted them enough to make out some features. I didn't recognize it then, but now I know that they were youkai. One was a silver youko, the other... perhaps a bat demon? I never really knew." Here Keiko shot a somewhat accusing look at the pendant. Kurama was taken back when he actually felt a cringe emmanate from it.
"So, I watched them run. They were obviously being chased by something... alot of somethings. And then I heard the sound of something breaking and the dark haired demon changed direction and began running back toward their pursuers. The youko called the demon by name, Kuronue, and begged for him to come back, but..." Keiko's voice trailed off as she looked back up at Kurama. She winced inwardly as she saw the new tears that ran down Kurama's face. "But, I'm sure you know how the dream ends..." She finished gently.
Kurama nodded, even as a tear fell onto Kuronue's pendant. He shakily said, "Oh, yes, I can tell you how it ends. It was terrifying and sad enough to live through, and you were only six. Not even in the Makai are most children that young exposed to some of the horrors that we have learned to live with. I always blamed myself for not being able to save him." He reached up and brushed away the tears as his memories washed over him. "I can't recall crying so much." He gave a bitter laugh, and looked at the pendant as he added, "The next day I went and got drunk, trying to drown myself in drink. None of it worked. I finally learned to live with the loss, but I had lost a vital part of my heart."
Keiko could only stare on in shock. Just the thought of Kurama actually drinking alcohol... that mixed with the sight of him actually shedding tears... it was very disturbing indeed. It seemed that Kuronue was in a much similar state. Not a sound came from the pendant that still rested in Kurama's tear dampened hand. Keiko felt torn. She had the overwhelming impulse to just go to him. To gather him up in her arms and hold on tight. To never let go until all of his pain and sadness had been dispelled.
Of course she didn't give into it. She had no right to hold him in such a familiar way, despite the fact that they were friends. It just wasn't... appropriate. So she remained silent, giving comfort only through the contact of their hands as she slowly massaged the back of his hand soothingly with her thumb.
Kurama lifted his head, looking at their joined hands. He had always cared for his friends, but was afraid to get too close. He gave Keiko a wan smile. "It's not your fault, Keiko. These memories have haunted me for a while now. My past is far from clean. This just happens to be the most painful of my memories, and probably Kuronue's as well. Were there any other dreams, maybe happy ones?"
Keiko paused, but the entreaty in his green eyes was unmistakable. "Well, there was one where Kuronue tried to pick your pocket?" She tentatively began, and saw Kurama laugh. She felt the embarrassement coming from the pendant, but didn't sense any dissention coming from that quarter.
"I remember that situation quite well." Kurama chuckled. "Kuronue, you are right to be embarrassed on this one, but you didn't know any better." He explained to Keiko, "It's how we met. He was barely, what, a hundred and fifty at the time?"
'Something like that.' Kuronue replied, 'Go on, I don't think I ever actually explained this one to her. I know I never explained the other. It was just too painful, that and I never actually knew just which of my memories she picked up on.'
"I understand. Well, he tries, he would have succeeded if it had been anyone but a high ranking member of the Theif Guild." Kurama started, "But, when his hand slipped in, I caught it, and looked at this pertinent, half-starved bat demon. You were right, Keiko, with your guess. I took him home and fed him, trained him and that was the beginning of our partnership." Kurama looked at the clock, "If we want to have you moved in time, however, we need to get going!"
Keiko looked at the clock, gasping as she realized how late it actually was. "Gosh, I didn't realize... I'm so sorry, Kurama! I didn't mean to take up all your time, I just didn't know any other way to find out for sure."
Kurama smiled gently at her. "I understand. I mean to find out the whole story, but another time." He gently handed the pendant back to Keiko, "Take good care of that, his soul is in it and he risked his life for it." He watched as she put it back over her head and tucked it within her shirt. He then stood and watching her stand, he said, "Thank you, Keiko. Now we only need to figure out how he can either get his own body back, or get another one, similar to the way I did, but again, another day." He swept her into a gentle hug to show how appreciative of her support he was and immediately stepped back, releasing her.
Keiko was startled, unable to recall having been hugged by Kurama before. It had felt rather... nice. She blushed as she cleared her throat. "You're welcome, Kurama. And I would be happy to talk with you more on this subject later."
Kurama saw her blush, but didn't comment on it. He hurried into the living room, closely followed by her. It had felt very nice holding Keiko like that, but she was Yusuke's woman and he refused to poach, even if he could, if he wanted to, beat him. He did, however, intend to finish their discussion about Kuronue, especially since his soul was still there, within a pendant, but that made very little difference, there were solutions. He thought about every possibility that he could think of for Kuronue while they were loading the boxes into the truck that he had borrowed for this effort.
Afterward, Keiko announced happily that the truck had held all of the boxes she had intended on taking with her to the apartment. She then asked Kurama, after they had taken the boxes to her apartment, if he wanted to come inside for them to resume their talk. Kurama declined pleasantly, realizing that, for one, it was terribly late. Not to mention it would be highly inappropriate. No, Kurama thought, there would be plenty of time for them to continue their little talk tomorrow.