Holy crap! Has it really been a YEAR since I posted the last chapter? ((mrfl)) I am SOOOO sorry, guys . . . if there's even anyone who's still following this . . .

First of all, I wanted to thank Ensatsu Kokoryuha for the review from . . . heh, /how/ long ago did you submit that review? ((sheepish)). Anyway, I tried to reply to your email, to thank you, but the message would never go through, so I've kept a note to myself to do so here. Also, my thanks to all those who have reviewed since then. I've responded to all of you. At least, I'm pretty sure I have . . . ((sweatdrop)) I try to make sure to reply to everyone who takes the time to let me know they're out there and found me. I don't base my fanfic writing on whether or not I /get/ reviews . . . but it's certainly nice to know I'm not out here alone "talking to myself," so to speak. ((grin))

GAH! I forgot to include the link for the pic that inspired this whole story! ((facepalm)) Gomen! Here it is – you'll have to remove the spaces, of course . . . http:/ fanart .theotaku .com/view .php?action =retrieve&id= 20537 The pic is called "Forgive Me God . . . " and is by my friend Thief (TheThiefKuronue) at the request of a friend of hers, She-Wolf. The title of my fic comes from the continuation of the "quote" given below the pic itself. Now, tell me that does NOT just BEG the story to be told as to just what the hell's going on! LOL! Well, here's the whole original story. She-Wolf asked Thief to do a pic of Kurama being executed. She wanted a medieval-style execution, and she asked that the other three be watching. . . . O_o . . . "That's it?" Yup, that's it. Well, Thief could think of a few ways to die that are stereotypically "medieval" – guillotine, beheading by sword, hanging . . . She decided that a rope noose was the *easiest* thing to draw, so that's what she went with. Yes, that is a noose, not an attempt at some kind of funky headband as some people have mistaken it, thinking that's supposed to be "on" his head rather than hanging down in front of him. Good GAAAAWD, what has happened to put a look like that on his face? Don't you think Thief captured Kurama's terror beautifully? OK, you already /know/ I'm a terrible fan of angst! Bad me! LOL As an artist, though, she really did an incredible job and it was a reeeeeaaaallly long time before I could even /look/ that pic in the eyes without it really upsetting me (but in a good way)! It /still/ bothers me (in a good way). Every time I look at that pic, I just want to throw my arms around his shoulders in a BIG glomping hug and tell him that it's gonna be OK!

By the way, this pic has two companions – "Silence for Reflection" (which is where the secondary title of Chap 2 comes from) http:/ fanart .theotaku. com/view .php?action =retrieve&id =21670 and "The Plunge" http:/ fanart .theotaku .com/view .php?action =retrieve&id= 40695. Oh, heck, just check out ALL her work. She's really done a great job, especially for being only 16 at the time and having been drawing for, like, 4 years. Yeah, it's disgusting, isn't it? LOL JK! Here's the main page for her artwork – http:/ fanart .theotaku .com/artist .php?id=43086.

But anyway, getting back to the story itself – I kept asking myself: What /has/ happened? OK, Kurama has his enemies. There are any number of reasons I could come up with to explain why he was being executed but . . . Kurama's like a rock in the storm. The world could be going to hell in a hand basket and *he'd* be the one braced and ready, not complaining or reacting but working out how to stop it or at least how to lessen the blow. Kurama's not completely unfazable but, OMG, /all/ composure here is just GONE! What would it take to break Kurama's usual shell of calm and preparedness so completely? I mean, he's positively frightened! I've NEVER seen him like that! When Thief told me that there was no "story" behind the pic, I knew I had to find one. It was there, just waiting to be told. It HAD to be. I owed that to my beloved Kurama-kun.

And so . . . this is it.

("The Disclaimer") "Yu Yu Hakusho" and all known related characters do not belong to me. I get no monetary benefit from this. My benefit is the enjoyment of dealing with beloved characters.

" . . . For I Have Sinned"
by DragonDancer5150

Chapter 3 – What Defines Reality?

Wind whistled in his ears with the upward rush of air – or rather, the downward rush of his body. Kurama figured it was his mind playing tricks on him when an instantaneous sensation of a cross-breeze struck him with the illusion of something black flitting past to his immediate right. He braced mentally for the jolt that would shudder through his body as he – quite literally – reached the end of his rope.

His fall did come to an abrupt stop, but the impact jarred up him from the soles of his feet rather than down from the base of his skull. At almost the same instant, something sharp and slender snagged lightly at the back of his clothing as it neatly cut through the short chain between his manacles without doing him any harm. Simultaneously, his legs collapsed, and he threw down one hand to catch himself, kneeling and shaken, the other hand going in shock to his throat where the noose hung limply around his neck. He sensed someone immediately behind him and he twisted, looking over his shoulder at Hiei, similarly crouched where he had landed with his sword drawn and ready. Before Kurama or anyone else could react, Hiei hauled him to his feet, shoving him towards the wagon. "Move!"

Now was not the time to question. Amid startled cries of reaction from the gathered crowd, Kurama obeyed without hesitation, throwing himself up over the low retaining "wall" of the wagon bed and into the casket. He had rolled onto his back with the motion, and he gasped at the whipfire agony from last night's flogging. Hiei sprang to the back of the horse, and they were moving before anyone could stop them. A handful of arrows sailed through the air, one finding Kurama's leg. Shouts of outrage followed them down the street as soldiers mounted and gave chase.

Kurama broke off the shaft of the arrow in his thigh. He would have to deal with the head later. At the moment, he had a very different problem as he realized that the casket was being bounced backwards out of the bed of the wagon, the tailgate still being down. He hardly dared to rise up and expose himself, but he could see no other choice. He scrambled to his knees, trying unsuccessfully to brace against the jouncing of the wagon over the cobblestones. He leaped, diving forward, the push of his feet throwing the casket the rest of the way out the back. As he dropped back down, there was a crack of gunfire and pain lanced through the back of his hip. Kurama grabbed the front slats of the wagonwall, laying out flat, and shook wildly-blowing hair from his face to look over his shoulder. This is not good. The horseback soldiers were gaining. Maybe if they ditched the wagon . . .

He straightened to peer through the slats at his rescuer and suppressed a hiss of dismay. An arrow had found Hiei as well, sticking out the back of his right shoulder from directly out to the side so that the shaft vibrated against the wind of their speed. Hiei's left hand was up clutching the offended shoulder, his right hand maintaining a grip on both his sword and the horse's mane.

Well, advisable or not, Kurama could see nothing for it. He pulled his feet up under himself, hissing with the pain of his growing number of wounds. He jumped up and forward over the driver's bench and crouched down on the footrest so that the bench itself provided some scant protection from the continuing onslaught of arrows and the occasional gunshot. From there, he leaped to the back of the horse, startling Hiei. "Kurama, what are you - !"

"We're too slow with the wagon. Give me your sword." Hiei hesitated only a moment. Kurama took the blade and twisted, slashing through both arms of the harness with a single swing. Agony stole his breath as his back spasmed in protest to the motion before he managed to get himself righted once more. With that, the horse nearly unseated both its riders with the sudden burst of speed and power it gained. It displayed surprisingly agility and soon had darted far ahead of the rest.

The next obstacle proved to be the city gate. Tokyo Minor was a walled city – which, Kurama mused, made sense in as much as anything in the past twenty-four hours had. Thankfully, the guards had been lax on the job and could not get the gate closed quite fast enough. Hiei took back his sword and leaped from the saddle, making use of his own unbelievable speed to run ahead of the horse and cut down the guards, pacing alongside as horse and remaining rider flew past. Kurama had never actually ridden a horse before, but the beast was smart enough to follow Hiei's lead, and they pounded off into the surrounding forest.

8 8 8 8 8 8 8 8 8 8 8 8 8 8 8 8 8 8 8 8

"Prepare yourself."

Kurama nodded and braced, pulling backwards as Hiei maintained a grip on the manacle on his wrist, the gelatinous core of a plant from the bank of the stream helping lubricate the attempt. After some effort that left Kurama's hand badly scraped, the manacle slid the last inch over his knuckles and Hiei tossed the hateful piece of metal aside. Without hesitation, they worked the second manacle off and Hiei discarded that, too, Kurama relieved to feel his Yoki unlocked and available once more. Hiei then instructed Kurama to lie down on his stomach so he could cut the arrowhead from Kurama's leg and tend his wounds. They had already removed the arrow from Hiei's shoulder and washed and bound the wound. Kurama manage not to react to the pain so much that he impeded Hiei's work, but the pumice of mixed herbs the youkai applied after washing and cleaning the wounds made Kurama hiss, both hands digging into the grass. Finally, Hiei sat back after wrapping the wounds the best he could with strips cut from Kurama's tabard. He helped Kurama sit up, who looked at him for a long moment before asking the question he had held so as not to distract the youkai from his ministering until he was done. "Who taught you so much about herbology, Hiei?"

Hiei gazed at him, his expression unreadable, before answering at length. "You did."

It had been some time before Hiei let them stop, Kurama recognizing that they had gone in circles a few times, backtracking more than once, successfully throwing off their pursuers. At length, they had stopped by this stream to rest and bandage their wounds, the horse tethered to a nearby tree. Kurama gazed around, recognizing exactly where they were. He had wandered these woods beyond the edges of suburbia ever since his human body had been old enough to walk, and yet . . . something was different, something he could not for the life of him put his finger on. It unsettled him in ways he could not begin to express.

His gaze took in all the sights around them, at once familiar and yet somehow foreign, before his eyes found Hiei's once again, still studying him. It was then that he realized it. His voice soft, he nodded to this longtime friend who might or might not still be. "I have not thanked you for saving me, Hiei. Thank you."

"Hn."

Not that he had expected it, but Kurama could not help hoping Hiei would have said more. Well, not that it mattered. It was he who was the stranger. It was up to him to ask the questions and get the conversation started . . . and this one he needed to know its answer, as it had been bothering him since the rope had been cut and he found himself on one knee, hand clutching the severed end of the noose. "Why? Why did you help me? Why endanger yourself? What made you believe me?"

Hiei hesitated a long moment, then stated quietly and simply, "Your eyes. The truth in your eyes. Mother always said that the eyes are the windows to the soul."

"Mother?"

The conversation that followed would have sounded like a socialist science fiction novel of 1950's American pop literature if Kurama had not already lived the evidence of its validity. Hiei laid out the history of his adopted home country in surprising detail, and the more he spoke, the more of Kurama's questions he answered, the more the pieces of the puzzle clicked into place for Kurama, as impossible as its reality sounded.

When England was expanding her territory in the 1600's, Japan was successfully made a part of the British Empire. Hiei had never heard of the Industrial Revolution, and Kurama determined that the world was still in a sort of medieval or Renaissance era. Steam-powered machinery existed but nothing more advanced than that, with the exception of rumors drifting out of the secluded mountains of Germany and Austria. Society and technology were still very feudal in many ways and, in Japan, heavily influenced by Europe. A massive world war had erupted some sixty years prior, including sea battles, and the catastrophic death toll flooded living energy into the invisible lines of natural, mystic energy, called ley lines, in the Devil's Triangle, a known nautical region of supernatural phenomena much like its sister, the Bermuda Triangle, in the Atlantic Ocean. The explosion of mystical energy ripped open a permanent rift between the Human and Demon Realms. The Kikai Barrier which had been erected centuries ago still held A- and S-class youkai at bay, but lower levels now had free access. The "main tunnel" between the realms still led to the middle of the sea, but "side tunnels" in sub-space led to dry land on both the Japanese islands and mainland China. Now added to the conflict among human countries were renewed humans-versus-monster struggles, more terrible than ever.

Hiei had come to the Human Realm as part of a youkai gang looking to carve a niche for itself in rural Japan. They had not counted on the opposition that "mere humans" could offer, and the resulting fight left Hiei fatally wounded and abandoned as weak and better off dead by his youkai companions. The humans were going to kill Hiei, but a young man, a healer, stepped in and saved him. The man took him back home to his own village, nursed him back to health, and his family took him in as one of them. For the first time in his relatively young life, Hiei had a true family – and it was the humans who offered it as no youkai ever had.

"Where are they now?" Kurama asked softly.

Hiei paused for so long, Kurama wondered if he had heard, or if he simply would choose not to answer as was too often the case, but at length ruby eyes met emerald. "You killed them."


Author's Notes: Please be sure to check my bio page for any updates, etc. Thanks!