April 20, 2005 - It was one year ago this evening that I was taking care of some cats in kennels at a local PetCo for the Humane Society when I was approached by a couple gingerly carrying a shoebox. I didn't need to see the holes cut into the lid to guess what was inside. It was about seven in the evening - the Humane Society had closed two hours before - and they had come in to purchase some supplies to get three newborn kittens through the night, having found them just prior in some iceplant near their home. They had heard the cries for a day or so and thought them to be birds at first, finally driven by concern to investigate. They had not thought about it until I asked them but they thought they might have seen a dead cat in the neighborhood, victim of a car. I was later to find out that the little ones were no more than a week-and-a-half old, if that. The couple asked if I knew anything about kitten care. My husband and I raised our cat, Angel, from about two days old. She is seven years old this month. The more questions I answered, the more the couple had and they began to realize what a chore they would be getting themselves into. I felt kinda sorry for them from the looks on their faces. They were willing but they realized that they truly had no clue what they were doing. That and the trio of beautiful African tabby-colored fuzz motes decided me. I told the couple that I would take the kittens and I have never regretted it. If you have read "Hiei's Kittens," you know from the Author's Note that two of them died a little over a week later. It turned out to be a bacterial infection. At the time of the posting, the last one, Shizuru, was still having some diarrhea problems but otherwise seemed well. However, that was not to be the end of the story.

I wrote "Hiei's Kittens" as a celebration of the tiny lives that the Lord had brought into mine but it was only half the story. This story is one I have wanted to write ever since and finally, on the anniversary, have done so. Told in the context of YYH, here is the rest of their . . . of our story.

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.

"Hiei's Grief"
by DragonDancer5150

Hiei sat on his futon in the darkness with his back leaned against Kurama's bed, the kitten Hina cradled on his chest. She slept in his hands, purring softly, as he stared at the rags and empty shoebox on the desk. It had been a long day.

He had seen a lot of death in his lifetime, much of it at his own hand. That was the only thing he had ever known, it seemed - death. The cruelty that was Life was something that had been taught to him from a very young age. No - beaten into him, more like. Anyway, why should this bother him now? What were two more? Life was fragile, after all - given at great pain and difficulty and yet so easily taken away. Did anyone even notice? Was there anyone who cared?

It had happened so quickly.

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Kurama sat up with Hiei for close to an hour before convincing him to go back to bed. Hiei set Hina back in the box alongside her brother and sister with reluctance, not wanting to relinquish the tiny thing and also knowing what awaited him in his sleep now that those memories had resurfaced again. Two hours later, the alarm went off once more. It was Kurama's turn. Hiei drifted in and out of sleep as he listened to the cries of the kittens in the bathroom across the hall, smirking when Kurama murmured, "Made a mess of yourself again, did you?" Must be the male, Hiei thought. Why the hells he had to name the stupid thing after -

"Little one, what's wrong?"

For several long minutes, Kurama did not speak again as he fed, bathed, and diapered the creatures, murmuring only once in dismay at something. Then, Hiei heard bare feet pad softly down the hall into the other bedroom. "Mom?"

A soft groan.


"Mmm . . . " A yawn, then, "Yes, honey, what is it?"

"I am sorry to have to wake you. It's Hiei. He . . . he's not behaving right."

I'm behaving just fine, the youkai groused, even though he knew whom it was his friend meant. I'm just not asleep like I'd like to be. Still, he propped up on an elbow to listen more attentively.

He heard Shiori sit up in bed as well and a light clicked on to shine down the hall. "Here, let me see him."

"Hiei - no, that's the kitten," Kurama murmured, covering his slip-up. "I mean, Kazuki has been up once and this is my second time. We have had to change their rags each time due to diarrhea. Hina does not seem to have too much of a problem with that but Yukina and especially Hiei here . . . "

"Do you have the heating pad turned on?"

"Yes. It is only under half of the box so that, if they get overheated, they have somewhere to which to retreat."

"Go get the thermometer, please, Shuichi."

Kurama padded back down the hall to the bathroom. The bedroom door was left ajar and Hiei caught his eye when he glanced in. Hiei read the deep concern in those green eyes that glittered from the dim illumination of the bathroom's small nightlight. In spite of himself, Hiei crawled out of bed and followed his friend back into the human's room.

Shiori sat on the edge of her bed, a robe pulled on around her shoulders over the nightgown. The kitten lay bundled in a washcloth in her hands. His eyes were still sealed shut so Hiei could not read any telltale signs there but his mouth was slightly open as though his breathing might be labored. Shiori shifted him into one hand as she accepted a small thin stick of glass from her son. The kitten opened his mouth, breathing a little deeper as if trying to cry; no sound came out. After a moment, he did manage to make a noise but it was faint and weak.

Shiori unwrapped the kitten's rear and stuck one end of the glass stick in under his tail. Hiei knew that he would be protesting rather mightily if anyone did that to him but Hiei the kitten seemed too weak to bother. The youkai realized he had been holding his breath when Shiori removed the stick and shook her head. He had to exhale and pull a new breath before asking, "What?"

"His temp is too low," she muttered with a frown. "Shuichi, where in the box did you find him?"

"In a corner on the heating pad." Kurama leaned over to read the stick. "That is too low?"

"Not for a human but, for a kitten, yes. A cat's body temperature is normally something like thirty-eight degrees.[a.n.] Believe it or not, very young kittens like this can freeze to death at room temperature." She shifted her gaze to Hiei. "Quite frankly, it's amazing that these little guys were still alive when you found them, Kazuki." She sighed as she looked down at the miserable kitten. "Well, there is nothing we can do for him until morning. Shuichi, put a dry rag in the microwave for about ten seconds and bundle him in it in the box. See if you can get the other two to snuggle up with him, too, to try to get his core temp back up. Did he take any formula?"

Kurama shook his head as he accepted the tiny creature back. "I tried a little too hard to feed him and it . . . came out of his nose."

Hiei might have smirked at the mental image that came to him just then but he found himself too worried over his namesake. He growled silently at himself. Get off it. It's just a stupid cat. He shook himself and returned to bed as Kurama went out to the kitchen to implement his mother's suggestion. He fell asleep into the same nightmares of his mother and her people but now the little face in the bundle was felinoid . . .

He awoke the instant it happened. Hiei's eyes snapped open and he jumped out of bed, hurrying into the bathroom. Kurama's half-human nature dulled his youkai senses to such things. Nevertheless, he was in the bathroom a heartbeat after his partner, awakened by the sudden movement and a psionic flash of distress from his friend.

Hiei could not see her but he sensed an energy arrive that felt much like Botan's and knew that a ferry girl had come to take the tiny creature's spirit. He felt a tightness in his throat and chest at the thought and saw moisture in Kurama's eyes as he removed the lid of the shoebox and gently lifted the limp body still bundled in the rag.

Realizing that the two youkai had detected her, the ferry girl materialized. She appeared to be quite young, probably new to her trade, with deep purple hair in a long braid over one shoulder, a kimono in soft greens and yellows wrapped around her slight frame. Sad violet eyes met theirs as she clutched the little spirit close, giving them a smile of reassurance. The spirit kitten stirred just then as though waking from a nap. Pushing to his feet on her palm, little Hiei opened black eyes to regard the two youkai with curiosity before turning his attention to the one holding him. He began to paw at her kimono, his mewing silent to mortal ears. The ferry girl grinned down at him, then glanced at the remaining kittens before returning her attention to the youkai. She moved as though to say something but seemed to change her mind, giving them one last smile of assurance as she summoned her oar into her hand. Then she vanished, releasing the energy that allowed them to see her.

Kurama and Hiei just stood for a moment staring in silence at the place where the ferry girl had been standing, even though each sensed her departure. Then, one of the living kittens stirred with a soft squeak, breaking the silence. The youkai traded looks and each read the thoughts of the other, thoughts the same as his own. They had both seen death countless times in their lives but this . . . this was different.

A wordless agreement was reached. Hiei took up the larger of the two females, Hina, as she was more active than her sister just yet, while Kurama departed with the lifeless little body. Hiei had her washed and diapered, cleaning more yellow-brown soup from her fur, by the time Kurama returned with the warmed formula. Hiei fed his kitten as Kurama picked up her sister, washing the mess from her before diapering and feeding her. The two sat up, each cradling a kitten, until the early morning sun filtered through the bedroom window across the hall.

Shiori had to go to work but Kurama told her that there was no school that day, citing a teacher conference. He called the school after she left, giving a viable reason for his absence. Shiori promised that, on her way home from work, she would purchase a nice box in which to bury the deceased kitten. They would take the other two to a shelter for proper care and adoption.

The two spent the morning and into the early afternoon in relative quiet. Kurama worked on his computer, the kittens in a blanket on his lap - which periodically had to be replaced due to diarrhea - while Hiei napped or meditated on the windowsill, gazing at the rain and the trees outside of Kurama's bedroom. They took turns feeding and diapering every three hours. At length, Kurama shut down his computer.

"I have a tutoring session with a schoolmate of mine from Calculus class. We have a test in a few days so I promised him I would not miss this appointment. Will you be all right to look after the kittens on your own, Hiei?"

Hiei shrugged nonchalantly, smirking. "You don't think I'm up to the challenge?"

In spite of his friend's words, Kurama suppressed a grin at the extreme care with which Hiei accepted the little bundle of furballs. Yukina stirred with the movement but settled back down. Hina wakened and opened little black eyes to gaze at him myopically and Kurama could almost swear he caught the shadow of a grin on his friend's face. "Round-trip by bus, I should be home shortly before Mom gets off work. We . . . can finish business before dinner." Hiei nodded mutely, staring down at the kittens.

Shortly after Kurama left, it was time for the next feeding. Hina remained strong and active but Yukina seemed sluggish and somewhat unresponsive. She made a huge mess of yellow-brown soup as Hiei tried to get her to eat. No . . . not you, too.

Yukina . . .

Kurama returned home a few hours later to find Hiei sitting in the bedroom at his desk, Hina cradled contentedly in the crook of one arm, his other hand absently stroking a still form in his lap. Kurama called his mother at work, asking her to purchase a box big enough for two.

Shiori forwent fixing dinner at home to reach the animal shelter before it closed. They barely made it only to find one lone teen just closing for the day. He apologized that no one else was there but the director had received an urgent call to return home for a family incident. He himself did not know anything about fostering kittens but he did fetch them a can of newborns' formula and gently suggested that they return in the morning. A quick bite from an American drive-through became dinner on the way to a park. Hiei barely touched the sandwich Shiori bought for him, still warming little Hina in his lap. The rain had been a torrential downpour on and off throughout the day but it relented the moment they parked the car. Kurama dug a deep hole in the softened earth under a secluded bush well off the public pathways and the three paid their final respects to their deceased.

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Hiei glanced over at the clock. It was nearly time. He reached up and clicked off the alarm before it woke Kurama. Settling back, he glanced down at the kitten, thinking to let her sleep a moment more before waking her. It was then that he realized that something was wrong.

How long ago had she stopped purring? He lifted her to eye level, noting that her breathing pattern had changed. It was slower and more shallow. His free hand rose to stroke her gently. Her eyes opened but they remained heavily lidded as she tried to focus on him. A weak little mew escaped her partly-open mouth. Then, a shudder wracked her tiny body and Hiei dove to snatch up a t-shirt from Kurama's clothes hamper - the closest "rag" he could reach - as she threw up an alarming amount of formula. She heaved several times, everything in her coming out both ends. Hiei marveled at the amount of mess as she seemed to completely purge her system. By the time she was done, most of Kurama's hamper had been emptied and lay in soiled wads all over the floor. Knowing the acuity of his partner's olfactory sense, Hiei was unsure whether to be relieved or concerned that the smell did not wake him.

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Kurama did awaken eventually to a vague sense of unease. He had a feeling that the alarm should have gone off quite some time prior and wondered for an instant why it had not. Then the odor hit him. He sat up immediately. Hiei still reclined below him with his back to the bed but now there was quite a mess of fabric on and around the futon. From the posture and the expression when Hiei turned at the sudden motion, Kurama knew what was happening. The look in Hiei's eyes for just a split second threatened to break his heart. Last night was the first Hiei had ever spoken of his mother but they had talked on occasion about his sister, since Kurama had promised to help his friend find her. Perhaps it had been a mistake to name the kittens after the two women most important in his life. After burying Yukina the kitten, Hiei had not said a word about it but Kurama knew him well enough to guess that it affected his private hopes and certainty of finding his twin alive. Now, essentially, he might lose his mother for a second time in this little one's death. No, Kurama growled to himself, I cannot allow that. He swung his legs down next to the youkai's shoulder. "Hiei, let me see her."

Reluctantly, Hiei surrendered his dying charge. "She's lasted longer than the other two did by an hour or more . . . but she's bigger than the others so probably healthier - or was . . . " His voice died out and he gazed at his friend, trying unsuccessfully to hide his sorrow and frustration.

Kurama shook his head in bewilderment as he examined her. "Whatever is happening is systemic. It must be. To my knowledge, we are doing everything correctly. They may have been born with some sort of congenital defect or genetic abnormality, in which case there is nothing we can do - but more likely it is an infection of some kind which I may be able to treat. However, I would need to know if it were bacterial, viral, or fungal. The wrong treatment could kill her as well, especially in her weakened state."

Hiei only frowned at him for a moment, certain that parts of what his friend had said were in some foreign language. At length, he sighed and shrugged. "So, how do we figure out just what the problem is?"

In spite of his outward nonchalance, Kurama could see the spark of hope deep in his friend's ruby eyes. "I do not have the ability here to determine that but I do know where we can go to obtain the supplies I will need."

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It had always been just a simple exercise to maintain his skills. Walking the halls day after day, noting the positions of cameras and alarms almost absent-mindedly, he never anticipated actually using the knowledge that he garnered of his school's security system. Now he was glad for his mental exercises. Other skills from his former life as a thief proved useful once again as well.

Kurama stood in one of the rooms where Biology, Chemistry and other sciences were taught, having successfully navigated himself and Hiei around and under all the security devices of his upper-class high school. Here, he could gain access to sample collectors, petri dishes, microscopes, and a number of chemicals and dyes. Hiei watched him dubiously as he picked the lock on a cabinet of bio-experimentation equipment, one hand absently rubbing a lump under his scarf. The youkai had tucked in his tiny charge for warmth and to free his hands for climbing and any other necessary actions.

-What's in there?- the youkai asked at length, making use of telepathy in case one of the guards happened by and heard them.

-I will need a sample of her blood or stool. With a microscope, I should be able to see any microorganisms that are present.-

-Her . . . stool?- Hiei frowned in confusion, glancing around the room at the numerous tables with tall stools resting upside-down on their surfaces.

Kurama allowed a small grin of amusement, though he hid it to preserve his friend's dignity. -Ah, no. Not that kind of stool.- The lock clicked and he pulled open the cabinet door. Lifting a microscope and a few glass slides, he set them on the counter next to a sink. He picked the lock of another cabinet and removed a small jar of liquid. He frowned as he read the label. - " . . . staining the bacteria a reddish color . . . " Hm, I thought we had a yellow stain.- He searched the shelf unsuccessfully. -Well, I could probably still use a blood sample but it would be a waste of precious time if the color difference proves inadequate. It will have to be stool.- He searched drawers until he found a thermometer and a box of matches. Sterilizing the glass in a lit match, he asked Hiei to bring forth their patient.

Hiei obliged reluctantly, asking, -What is that for?-

Kurama knew that his friend had no experience with human medicine and so did not know how the explanation would be taken. He decided just to show him. -Turn her around and hold her still.- Hiei glowered at him disapprovingly as he stuck the thermometer into the kitten's anus, collecting a sample which he then smeared on a slide. He found a small plastic syringe with which to add a drop of staining fluid before plugging in the microscope and turning on the light. Hiei watched in silent interest, little Hina buried in both hands and against his chest for warmth. Kurama slid the pane of thin glass into place and focused the lenses. After a moment, he straightened with a small smile of triumph and beckoned to Hiei. -Take a look.- Hiei frowned uncertainly but accepted the offer, pressing his eyes to the ends of the tubes and looking as he had seen Kurama do. With a start, he leaned back, throwing Kurama a questioning look. -The device is called a microscope. It allows one to observe things too small for the naked eye to see. The unmoving objects are from Hina's bowels. The red . . . 'things' squiggling around are tiny living parasites called bacteria. I am not certain which species this is but I would be willing to bet that it is their waste which is poisoning her. She may be hypoglycemic as well, if they have been eating up the sugars in the formula we have been feeding her and reducing her blood-sugar levels.-

Hiei nodded, understanding at least the gist of what Kurama was telling him. -And you know what to do to kill them without killing her?-

-I do. We will have to go to the veterinary hospital down the street for that.- Quickly, he cleaned, replaced, and locked up the materials and they made their way back out of the school and down two blocks to a small animal clinic. Getting past the security here proved much easier than at the school. Keeping the overnight animals from reacting to their presence was a slightly greater challenge. Kurama pulled a pod from his pocket and crushed it in hand, releasing a spore cloud that slipped the terran creatures and their human attendant into a shallow but lengthy sleep. Hiei threw Kurama a scathing glare for not warning him, pulling a section of scarf over his nose and mouth, but Kurama assured him that the spores were ineffective on youkai. He had to rummage for several minutes before he found the supplies he needed: a syringe, sterile water, a roll of gauze, a butterfly needle, a short length of narrow hollow tubing, surgical tape and an IV fluid-drip pouch. He considered searching the pharmaceutical cabinet but decided that he was not familiar enough with human veterinary medicine to risk a bad choice. Then he spotted the vial of glucose through the glass door front and changed his mind, adding it to his collection of materials. He used a match from the school's science room on the syringe needle before wrapping it in a small bandage to keep it sterile. Then he turned to Hiei. -All right. The next step may prove a bit tricky. I am going to summon a plant from the Demon Realm. Your job will be to catch it.-

Hiei blinked at him in some surprise. -What do you mean I have to catch it?-

-Have you ever heard of a bloodhound weed?- Hiei shook his head. -It is a rare tropical plant of the Jauregi Wilds in a corner of Mukuro's kingdom. The head is two flaps, blanketed with teeth, which hinge much like the Venus flytrap found here in the Human Realm. Between the teeth through which it draws the blood of its victim are glands that secrete an antimicrobial - that is, a bacteria-killing fluid. Since it feeds on youkai blood, it is not a stationary breed. Its roots are not buried in the ground but are modified so that it is mobile. It is rather small, about the size of a medium dog, but it is fast and quite aggressive.- With his words, Kurama included a mental image of the plant. It vaguely resembled a Human Realm dog, head hung downward and slightly open when resting so that its flaps seemed to coincide with the jowls of a bloodhound, the body short and thick atop a mass of root-tentacles.

Hiei smirked. -It may be fast but I'm faster.-

Kurama caught his hand as it went to his sword hilt. -Hiei, no! You must not kill it. Upon death, the body cells release chemicals that mix with the juices in the head to create a poison like cyanide. It must be immobilized alive.-

Hiei gazed at him askance and shrugged. He removed his scarf, nesting the kitten into its folds on the nearest counter as Kurama cleared a wide space in the middle of the main surgery room, the largest accommodation they could find in the small clinic. Hiei gave him a nod and Kurama began concentrating. Hiei sensed the energy patterns of a major summoning. Presently, a small rend in dimensional space appeared between Kurama's outstretched hands and a flash of green shot through. Kurama was the closest source of heat it sensed and it lurched at him, flaps widespread. Something else proved faster that it was, however, thwarting its strike. Hiei tackled the plant, wrapping one arm around the trunk while grabbing the head with his other hand at the top of the hinge, forcing the flaps to remain apart. He grimaced as the short, needlelike teeth under his fingers pierced the flesh, draining hungrily at his blood. It took too much energy to open a portal twice in a row, so Kurama maintained his concentration as he fumbled distractedly for the syringe on the counter. He managed to draw a sufficient amount of fluid as Hiei struggled to keep the writhing thing still enough for his partner to work. After a moment, Kurama nodded and Hiei threw the plant back through the portal, Kurama releasing the energies behind it.

Hiei pushed to his feet, crossing to check on little Hina. Her breathing was as shallow as ever but at least she was still breathing. -Do you have any idea how much trouble you've been?- Still, he stroked the back of one finger gently over her head. She shifted weakly under his touch, emitting a soft mew.

Kurama frowned in concern. -I doubt she has much time left. We must work quickly. Let us return home.- Should she survive the night, Kurama decided that they would bring her back here for a proper checkup within the next few days. He would return what materials were not used up in the process. A donation "in the name of charity" would help pay for the rest. Kurama slipped the materials into a small backpack.

Both agreed that it was a rather ridiculous mode of transportation but it had been their best choice arriving and they repeated it to return. Hiei ran at his top speed, racing across the miles between destinations, Kurama riding on his back.

They snuck back into the house, Kurama taking a moment to check on his mother before setting up in the kitchen. Hiei watched him from the table as he took extra care to wash and sterilize all of the equipment before using the tape to secure one end of the plastic tubing to the bag and the butterfly needle on the other end. Kurama then mixed the plant fluid from the syringe with the sterile water in the IV pouch, then measured a small amount of glucose into the mix. -If her body is as badly depleted as I suspect, she can no longer make use of the sugars in the formula even if we do get her to eat. Five parts glucose to one hundred parts water should be more than enough to jumpstart her system.- He had Hiei fetch small scissors from the first aid kit in the hall closet and a razor from the bathroom and used them to shave a section of her throat, exposing a tiny jugular vein. He handed the filled pouch to Hiei, instructing him to hold it above her and not to move, then gently squeezed the bag until fluid dripped from the needle, assuring that no air remained in the needle or tube. With a silent prayer to Inari and whatever other deities might be listening, Kurama worked the needle gingerly into the miniscule blood vessel, removing and shifting the tip a few times before he felt that he was successful. Little Hina twitched once in pain before simply laying still and whimpering. Hiei, however, had to restrain from retaliating out of reflex for hurting her, reminding himself to trust his friend to know what he was doing. They did not have any painkiller they could safely give her and this needed to be done, whatever it was. Kurama wrapped her throat in gauze, securing the tube in place along her throat and over her shoulder.

That accomplished, Kurama sat back into the dining chair. "Well, I am no veterinarian, so we can only pray that this will work."

Hiei cupped one hand protectively around the kitten nestled in his scarf on the table, the other still holding the drip bag aloft. "It will," he whispered stubbornly.

"We will give it . . . a half hour, then see if we can get her to take some formula." Kurama pulled a few dishtowels from a drawer and warmed them in the microwave, wrapping them around Hina. He studied his partner for a moment, watching Hiei's eyes droop slightly. "Hiei, here." He reached for the bag. Hiei startled back to full alertness, jerking his hand away with a glare. "Hiei, it has been a long, stressful night after a very long day and you have had less sleep than I have."

"I'm fine, Kurama," Hiei snarled, refusing to release his vigil on his tiny charge.

Kurama frowned. "If you nod off, your arm will lower, air will get into the tube and into her blood vessels and that will be fatal in her condition."

Hiei scowled but realized that Kurama might be right. Reluctantly, he handed his friend the bag. "Wake me in an hour unless anything changes."

Kurama gave him a reassuring grin, knowing that the nap would be sufficient to tide him over. "I will. I promise."

An hour later, Hiei woke to find that Kurama had moved back into the bedroom, Hina in the shoebox on the heating pad, the drip bag hung by a clothes hanger on his desk lamp. "She did not eat much when I tried to feed her. However, it has yet to come out either end," Kurama added with a touch of mild humor.

Hiei pulled to his feet from the futon to look in on his mother's namesake, having dreamed disturbing dreams again. She appeared to be sleeping peacefully, her breathing closer to normal than it had been for hours. He grinned, less his usual smirk than a genuine smile of relief. "I told you she'd be fine."

"She is not out of danger yet," Kurama warned him, "but her condition does seem to be improving slowly."

Hiei studied him for a moment. "You'll have to go to classes today."

Kurama nodded. "Yes, I will." He paused, thinking. "When Mom gets up, we will have Hina tucked into her rags so that Mom cannot see the bandaging and we will hide the bag under a shirt hung on the lamp. Then, 'Kazuki,' you will take Hina so you can ask your 'foster parents' to let you keep her. Meet me during the school's lunch hour in the science room we used earlier. We will check her again then for bacteria." Hiei nodded.

Kurama caught an hour more of sleep before getting up for school as though nothing had happened. Shiori left for work before they did. As expected, a mental touch from Hiei brought Kurama back into the corridors from the lunchhall as he "forgot" something in his last classroom. He repeated the process from the night before, relieved to find that the bacterial count, while still present, was greatly diminished. Hina was more healthfully active as well, even going so far as to push herself around on the counter a bit, nuzzling at the near leg of the microscope. She squeaked joyfully at Kurama, recognizing her other "mama." The two decided to obtain one more dose of bloodhound weed secretion just to be safe and Hiei fed some of his Yoki to Kurama to help replenish his partner's depleted stores. Such summonings took a great deal of energy and Kurama would not be fully recovered on his own for hours yet. To better avoid detection, they relocated to the bushes at the edge of the grounds. Tussling with one of the plant-creatures for a second time, Hiei stood up picking wet leaves from his hair, soaked from the rain-slick grass. Kurama listened with amusement to his usual grumbling over the ridiculousness of the task, complaints with no strength behind them as they both knew for whom Hiei did this.

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That evening, Shiori brought dinner for two to her son's room as he worked on homework and his schoolmate sat on the bed with the kitten. She had gotten home too late for them to try the shelter again but tomorrow was Saturday. She retired back to the kitchen only to turn with little surprise at the sound of her son's voice.

"Mom, may I speak with you for a moment?"

"About the kitten," Shiori observed with a knowing grin. "Honey, you know that we don't really have the extra money for a pet."

Kurama sighed. "I know." He slid into a chair next to her at the table as she settled down to her own dinner. "I am asking for . . . for Kazuki's sake. He rarely speaks of his family so he did not correct you, but the names he gave for the female kittens were not those of friends. You know that his family died in a weather-related accident on Mt. Fuji."

Shiori nodded slowly, frowning in concern. "Yes, I remember you telling me."

"He had a twin named Yukina and Hina was his mother." Kurama met her eye directly. "Please do not let him know that I have told you this. He is a very private person. You know that. He has only recently told me of these things and would not forgive me if he knew I had talked to you about his family . . . or about the kitten. He would never ask it of you - but I will. He has really grown attached to that kitten and I would love to give him the opportunity to keep her. He has already spoken with his foster parents and they have refused. They have a no-pet rule that they will not bend. Kazuki has no other family." Kurama pulled a breath before concluding. The youko in the back of his consciousness grumbled that he was being far too sentimental but his words were deeply heartfelt. "Mom, I know how hard you have always worked to provide for us - for a single parent, it is never easy - and I have striven to ask little and to help ease your load all that I can. This one thing, though, I will ask. Please, let us keep this kitten. Let us keep Hina for Kazuki's sake."

Shiori grinned at him softly, fondness in her dark eyes as she regarded him. She reached a hand to cup his cheek. "Shuichi, you have been nothing but a joy for me and you are growing into such a fine young man, always looking out for others." She shrugged with a small grin. "For your friend's sake, how can I say no? All right, I'll let you two keep Hina. We'll find a way to make it work - but," she added with a playfully stern look, "you two will be in charge of cleaning the cat box and teaching her not to scratch up the furniture!"

Kurama laughed. "Yes, of course. Thank you."

Shiori stood, pulling her son into an embrace. "We have been blessed with so much, it would be wrong not to share."

"I know, Mom," Kurama whispered into his mother's shoulder. "You taught me that."

A moment later, Hiei looked up as the bedroom door opened. "How is our patient?" Kurama asked.

"She'll live to see the shelter tomorrow," the swordsman intoned without emotion.

"No, she will not."

Hiei's eyes snapped up but he bit his tongue as he realized the suppressed humor he had heard in his friend's voice. Quietly grieving ruby eyes met vibrant green that danced with mischief and gladness for another.

"She will sleep tomorrow night in that shoebox and every night for the next several until she outgrows it - and when she does, I suspect that even you will be hard-pressed to keep up with her tearing around the house. Congratulations, Hiei. You are a 'daddy'."

Hiei stared at him for a long moment in stunned silence. He opened his mouth to speak, then his jaw snapped shut. He tried a second time but words failed him. Finally, he snorted, falling back on his usual defenses for lack of a better response. "Hn. You've been living among the humans for too long, stupid fox."

Kurama only grinned, watching the grief evaporate from his best friend's eyes like frost before the morning sun as Hiei gazed down on the infant life wrapped in a white washcloth in his hands. Hina woke, glancing up at him before shifting to settle back down, and Kurama did not miss the quiet, genuine grin that crept across the youkai's face.

May the gods bless you both, my friend.

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

The Japanese measure temperature in Celsius. 38 C is about 101 F.

A week after burying the kitten, Keiko, I woke in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. My husband Neal was (and is) a terrible nightowl, sometimes up until two or three in the morning, and was taking care of Shizuru for me so I could catch an unbroken night's sleep. The empty box on the floor and the empty computer chair in the other room told me that something was wrong. I came around the corner to find my husband sitting in the dark of the living room, t-shirts deposited in wads on the couch around him from our clothes hamper that had not yet made it to the bedroom of our apartment from the complex's communal laundry room. From his posture, I knew what was happening, though I couldn't believe it. It was then that I remembered California Veterinary Services in San Marcos (CA). I had lost two innocent little lives already - I was NOT going to lose her, too! Thanks to my beloved grandfather, who passed away several months prior, and my father, who graciously shared a portion of his inheritance with both of his children, I had the money to pay for the emergency services of a animal hospital open at three in the morning on a Saturday.

The staff of CVS was absolutely wonderful. The doctor on duty recognized right away what was happening, though he ordered blood work to verify. My husband and I returned home to get some more sleep, deeply worried but knowing that our little one could not be in better hands. I ran errands much later that morning, which took me into the area of the clinic, so I stopped by. They were not quite ready to release her but Shizuru was doing very well. The staff even let me go into the back of the facility and sit with her for as long as I liked (they were not very busy so they could do that). She responded right away to the sight of me, squeaking and pawing at the towels in her kennel. She was on an IV drip for antimicrobial medication and fluid-and-glucose replenishment. She had already had one successful feeding that morning and the veterinary technician in charge of her let me do the next one. That evening, I was called to fetch her home.

Shizuru is a year old now and just as delightful as ever, zipping around the house and terrorizing the other cats! LOL I thank God for her daily.