Chapter one: Stranger
Notice: Below are the notes from when "Opium Dream" was published as a one shot. It has now been expanded and revived and will be continued as a chapter fic, thanks to the urgings and encouragements of certain acquaintances of the author's. The text in this chapter has been left untouched from when it was a one-shot, but the formatting has been changed slightly.
In other news, this story is a gift-fic for kitsunelover.
Disclaimer: None of these characters belong to me. They belong to the godlike mangaka Togashi Yoshihiro. The plot of this story does belong to me, though, so please don't steal it. Though I doubt anyone would want to.
Notes: First off, if you didn't see this in the summary, it's shounen-ai, and it's Hiei/Kurama. This also contains quite a bit of cursing, just to let you know. Oh, and it's an AU one-shot. Hmm…I think that's all. This actually came out fairly close to what I was aiming for, so I'm reasonably pleased. Enjoy!
The Republican Army had won.
Kurama didn't know what he had been expecting or what he had been hoping for. True, his family had received its wealth and status in their small country through the systems of the old government, but for years now, the deteriorating dictatorship's policies had only hindered progress and trapped Gandara in the past. Perhaps he, as a youth, had been hoping for a revolution.
In any case, regardless of what he might have wished for or not, rebels, angry at the failing economy and nationwide shortages, had gathered their forces into the Republican Army and managed to take the capital and overthrow the emperor. The capital and its outlying suburbs were devastated by fire and warfare, but the rebels had won.
Now, as they sought to piece together a temporary government, they were faced with the problem of funds. And Kurama, as head of one of the nation's richest families, could no longer affect such a light, contemplative neutrality.
They had ordered him to appear before their makeshift council and account for his "crimes." Kurama wasn't surprised—he knew that although he had carefully maintained a position of neutrality throughout the revolution, the rebels would nonetheless target his family because they had been prominent during the reign of the fallen autocrat. The trial had been short, the verdict predictable in every aspect but one: he was not to be imprisoned, though his assets were to be turned over to the government. Kurama supposed they had too much on their hands to consider someone who had never been very politically active.
There was the question, now, of what to do. Kurama pondered the situation as he walked down the slushy roads, heading to a carriage that would take him back to a home that no longer belonged to him. He was not upset; he had foreseen this outcome when news had reached their manor, twenty miles from the capital, that the emperor's forces had surrendered. He had given relatives and servants alike what he could, though the war had destroyed most of their property. He could do nothing more than to let them fend for themselves.
Kurama pulled his cloak closer around him, unsuccessfully trying to keep out the harsh wind. He would be nearing his carriage soon, where he would at least have more cover, if not more warmth. He trudged on.
But the carriage wasn't there. Kurama stood still for a moment, looking at the spot where it had been a few hours ago. He shook his head and sighed, more exasperated at himself than distraught. He had been so used to others honoring the emblem on the carriage door and preoccupied with the trial that he had forgotten what kind of people now controlled the capital. He had not even stabled his horse.
Kurama made a decision and continued down the road. Might as well keep going and hope for the best.
Wet snow had begun to drift down half an hour ago, but Hiei didn't care. He had built up a resistance to cold, having been born in the mountains. So long as he could still see where he was going, he would be fine.
A door near him opened, and a drunk staggered out, supported by an equally inebriated comrade. Raucous laughter emanated from the hallway behind them, fading out when the heavy door closed. Hiei recognized their uniforms—soldiers in a regiment that sometimes mingled with his. Though, really, they could only be soldiers of the Republican Army. No one else in the city frequented such places now.
Hiei walked past the pair without sparing them a glance. He had seen plenty of it since he had joined this army—every time they set up camp, his fellows would head for the nearest bar or bordello. That didn't mean he joined in, or that he gave a damn when they got into trouble. Let them fend for themselves.
He hadn't become a militant to fool around. He had been restless at home, unwilling to live quietly. Even the dangers and difficulties that came from living in the mountains—thieves, predators, avalanches—were not enough for him. So he'd joined the rebel army.
The Republican Army had been fighting the emperor's troops for nearly two years. During that time, Hiei had enjoyed the thrill of battle and come to savor the respite between conflicts. Now, though, the rebels had won. There had been little to no combat in the past few weeks. Hiei found himself restless again, walking the streets, searching, always searching, for a missing purpose.
The snow was falling steadily now. Hiei realized that with only the light from occasional windows, he would not be able to see well enough to return to the barracks. He would have to wait out the storm somewhere.
He turned to the nearest door, opened it, and entered.
Kurama looked up at the sky, the thickly falling snowflakes obscuring his vision. There was no telling when it would let up, and wandering around outside would only exacerbate the condition of his freezing limbs. He had to find shelter.
His best bet was to find a decent looking inn and stay the night. Up ahead, he saw the flickering light of a glass lantern. Good; if they could afford to use a lantern when most of the city had not a stick of firewood, they must be have some sort of revenue, and therefore, a suitable room. Kurama hoped he was right, as he pushed open the door.
The first thing Hiei noticed as he entered the room was the smoke drifting around. It rose to the ceiling lazily, fanned by movement, and stayed there until it slowly dissipated away. It wasn't the clean smell of natural wood, but the pungent odor of indulgent vice. Opium smoke.
Hiei chose a table as far from the ring of opium smokers as possible and sat down. A few minutes later, an old woman wearing a gaudy, outmoded dress, with hair dyed black, approached him, sizing him up. Probably the proprietor of the place, wondering how much she could make off of him. She didn't realize he was a soldier; he wasn't wearing his uniform.
"What can I do for you, sir?" Her most catering voice, no doubt.
Hiei regarded her for a moment. "A bottle of warm sake."
The old woman raised an eyebrow. "Is that it, sir? A fine young man like yourself needs more than sake to warm himself up on a cold day! I have a better idea, "she said, her voice becoming secretive. "We'll get you a pretty girl who could warm you up better than any sake! How about it?"
Hiei narrowed his eyes in disdain and dislike. He hated those who served the basest of human instincts, ignored their coarse suggestions, never accepted. "I asked for a drink, not entertainment," he replied coldly.
She stared at him for an instant, then shrugged, dropping her oily demeanor. "Your loss. " She left to retrieve his drink.
The door opened, and a band of common-looking young men entered, laughing and yelling, out of place in the drowsy atmosphere. "Oi, oi! Don't shove me! Old lady! Where's the old lady?"
Hiei watched them troop up to the old hag, who had stopped, in the middle of carrying Hiei's drink back to him. "Hello boys, " she said, apparently familiar with them. "Your girls are all ready. Just go upstairs—you know the way." Her customers disappeared up the staircase.
The old woman walked to Hiei's table and set down the bottle of sake and the small cup, her attention directed towards the upstairs the entire time. When she heard the sound of conversation and laughter, she smirked satisfactorily and left to tally up their bill.
The sake was of average quality and lukewarm, but tolerable. Hiei sipped it silently, observing the opium smokers as they sucked on their pipes.
When the door opened again, a short while later, Hiei's eyes flickered towards it automatically. It was a lone person this time, with cloak pulled tightly around him. He looked around and settled on a table next to the staircase. The stranger sat down with his back to Hiei, and removed his cloak, letting long scarlet hair trail down his back.
Hiei raised an eyebrow in surprise. The luxurious mane of hair left little doubt that this was a member of the former nobility. He wondered momentarily how such a person had managed to wander into this slovenly part of the city.
Hiei's attention was diverted from this topic when he saw the old proprietor approach the stranger. Her demeanor was the same unctuous one she had used with Hiei, and her offer seemed to be the same, as she leaned in close to whisper in the redhead's ear. Unfortunately for her, from the expression on her face, it seemed her offer had been refused again. She scurried off to bring him a drink, and Hiei resumed watching the opium smokers, one of whom had fallen asleep still smoking.
Kurama took small sips of tea from the cup, wishing it were hotter. He had considered ordering sake, but he figured he needed to keep his wits about him in a place like this. Tea was safer.
The red-haired young man turned his attention to the opium smokers relaxing on various mats and chairs near the front of the room. Personally, he had no interest in smoking the drug, but his natural curiosity arose from the fact that he had never been in an opium den before. The long pipes, ending in clay bowls, the intricately carved opium lamps, all of it was new to him. He observed them until the sound of thundering footsteps broke his reverie.
A group of rough-looking young men paraded down the stairs next to his table, almost all of them accompanying a girl. So this was a brothel as well as a bar and opium den. Most of the men were teasing one of their companions, a tall, slightly hunch-backed fellow with lank black hair and a gloomy expression. From their conversation, it sounded like his girl had gotten angry at him and locked him out of her room.
"Kamashiro, that's pathetic. We set you up with a nice girl, but you make her mad! How are we supposed to—"
"Yeah, buddy, be a man! You shoulda broken down her door or something and—"
"Aww, c'mon guys, give him a break. Just let the poor guy alone."
Kamashiro's countenance didn't change through all of this.
Suddenly, one of his friends spotted Kurama, who had been watching their progress down the stairs. "Oi! Look at that beauty down there, Kamashiro! You don't need that other girl! Just take that one!"
"You idiot," interjected a lanky boy, "that's a not a girl; that's a guy. How drunk are you?"
"He's feminine looking, for a man," said the girl draped over the lanky boy's arm. "Why don't you ask him whether he's a man or a woman?"
"I don't think so," her partner answered, slipping an arm around her. She giggled.
"He should come join us," interposed a shorter, oily-haired man. "The more the merrier, right Sakura?" He leered at the nearest prostitute as the group continued down the stairs.
The young men and their partners reached the bottom of the stairs and continued through an archway across from the bottom of the stairs. However, one of them broke off and approached Kurama's table.
"Hey buddy, wanna join us? A guy shouldn't be drinking all by himself, y'know. This place's got a lot of pretty girls to keep a guy company."
Kurama blinked a moment in surprise. He had expected the other to accost him in a drunken manner, but instead, he'd shown a polite demeanor. Perhaps the commoners were more decent than he'd thought. Still, he wanted to be alone, not to join them.
"I'm sorry, but no thank you."
"Are you sure? We're all honest guys, you know, just in case you were thinking that we'd rob you or something—"
"Oi, Touji!" The tall young man, who had previously corrected his friend about Kurama's gender, appeared in the archway. "Ginzo and Yamato want you to drink with them."
"OK, OK, Souzo, tell them to hold on. I'm talking to this guy over here." He turned to Kurama. "Well, anyway, sorry for bothering you. I'm around people a lot, so…well, it seems a little weird for me not to hang out with the guys. But whatever you want. See you, buddy."
Souzo, who had ambled over to listen to their conversation, nodded and turned to leave, as Touji's back disappeared through the doorway. But his eyes caught on Kurama's cloak, embroidered at the collar with his family name. His eyes narrowed.
"Ah," he said softly, "so you're an aristocrat. Explains why you wouldn't want to join us." His gaze had gone from indifferent to cold.
Kurama raised an eyebrow, slightly surprised at the change in attitude. "Not at all. I merely wanted to be alo—"
"Oh, don't give me that bullshit. You're an aristocrat, and we're just lowly commoners, aren't we? Separation of classes, easy and simple."
Kurama looked him in the eye. "I'm not an aristocrat anymore. My assets have been taken away from me."
"So? You supported the emperor in the war. You didn't have to suffer at all, while we—"
"You don't know anything about suffering, bastard. So I suggest you keep your mouth shut." The voice came from behind.
Souzo wheeled around to face the speaker, a short, dark haired, muscular young man sitting at a table near the wall. The stranger's expression was contemptuous.
"Who the fuck are you?"
"Doesn't matter. Just shut up, because you have no idea what the hell you're talking about."
Souzo strode over to him and glared at him. "Why don't you keep your fucking opinions to your own fucking self? Nobody wants to hear them."
Hiei smirked. "They're worth more than your pointless talking."
Souzo snarled and drew back a fist, but Hiei was faster. He struck the young man, a square blow on his face, and he flew into the wall next to the archway.
Hiei was still standing when Souzo's friends rushed out. Realization dawned first on a sandy haired boy.
"You bastard!" He lunged at Hiei, drawing his fist back to punch him. Hiei dodged quickly and kicked out at his stomach. The boy crashed into his friends.
"Son of a bitch, you'll pay for this!" Several of them unsheathed knives and rushed at him. Hiei narrowed his eyes and cocked his fists, prepared for them.
But before any of them reached him, there was a sharp crack! and the smoke of a discharged gun. Everyone's head jerked towards the direction of the noise, and the old woman appeared, furious and with a rifle.
"Get out, all of you. I won't have this in my establishment. Get out. You hear me? Get out, right now!"
The young men backed off and looked at each other, unsure of what to do. When the old hag cocked the gun, though, they hastily picked up their unconscious companions and left. Hiei folded his arms over his chest and watched them go.
The old lady looked at him. "And what about you, boy? I meant you too. Get out of my bar."
Hiei's eyes slid to look at her.
"Fine then—let me help you leave." She aimed the gun again.
She wouldn't shoot. Hiei was sure of it. "I want to stay here overnight. I want a room."
The old woman snorted and put down her gun. "You think I would actually say yes? After you fought with my best customers and terrified my girls? Keep thinking that."
Hiei wasn't fazed. "I'll throw one of your girls out of hers."
She looked at him, trying to see if he was serious. He was. What little sense of chivalry he had did not apply to women who sold themselves to a different man every night. "Fine," she said, after a pause. She turned to the frightened looking girls behind her. "Lotus, sleep in Pearl's room tonight."
Hiei smirked, satisfied, as he watched the girls being herded off. He turned back to his table.
The old woman had not yet disappeared up the stairs when another voice called out. "Ma'am, I need a room as well. I intend to stay the night," said Kurama.
She didn't even bother turning around. "This isn't a boardinghouse—sleep with your little savior if you want to stay!" The old lady continued up the stairs.
A brief silence. Kurama glanced uncertainly at the spiky-haired young man, who had, one way or another, saved his hide. Room with him? He didn't know if he should actually ask the shorter boy.
Hiei sat down at his table, turning from the other's gaze. He'd heard what the old hag had said, and under normal circumstances, he would refuse. He generally disliked the company of others, and his fellow soldiers, perhaps sensing this in his demeanor, usually left him alone.
However, this time, Hiei knew that he could not refuse. By interfering in the dispute, he had shifted responsibility for the stranger onto himself. Even if he had only intervened because he hated arrogant fools who believed they understood war. He would have to finish what he had started.
Strangely enough, it didn't displease him. It was almost a feeling of anticipation that slipped through him, the feeling of a decision that had been made before one had even begun to ponder it.
Hiei stood up quietly and set his empty sake cup down next to the slender bottle. There was nothing more to do downstairs. He might as well claim his room before the proprietor changed her mind. His gaze wandered the room for a moment, before meeting Kurama's. He nodded his head briefly in the direction of the stairs, and Kurama rose to follow him.
Kurama kept his gaze on the back of Hiei's head as he walked up the stairs, cloak bundled under one arm. His "savior" was handsome, certainly, with pale skin and burnished red eyes, but Kurama didn't know whether to trust those crimson eyes, which seemed to radiate so much contempt. The stranger had, however, helped him. He could at least reciprocate by trusting him.
The top of the stairs led to a rather narrow hallway lined with doors and lit by lanterns. One of the doors had been left open, the room recently vacated. A single lantern had been left on the floor in the corner, several feet from a futon. A small dressing table, covered with jars, bottles and brushes, was tucked into another corner.
Hiei entered the room first and went around to the other side of the futon. He sat down on the coverlet and pulled off his black boots. Kurama hesitated before kneeling on his side and spreading his cloak over the blanket for extra warmth. He glanced dubiously at the sheets.
"They're clean." Kurama looked up quickly, as Hiei got up to put his boots next to the wall.
"Are you sure?"
"They have to be. It's a rule of hygiene for places like this."
Kurama nodded and paused before asking, "What's your name?"
"I'm Kurama." Hiei made no motion. 'Thank you for helping me."
Hiei shrugged indifferently.
Kurama continued, "You helped me, so I'd like to pay my debt by helping you. Is there anything I can do for you?"
Hiei regarded him for a moment. Kurama wondered briefly if his question had sounded out of place to him, as it had to Kurama himself.
Kurama exhaled quietly. "All right."
The room was quiet as each of them climbed into the futon, careful not to make contact, and settled the blankets and sheets around himself.
Hiei woke up a few hours later, feeling oddly warm. Moments passed before his sleepy mind realized that there was another body wrapped around him, an arm around his waist, and a head resting on his collarbone. Soft red hair fanned out over his pillow.
Hiei was used to rooming with others, but the others that he roomed with rarely shared a bed with him, and if they did, were well disciplined enough not to cuddle up to a complete stranger. They did not seek human warmth, did not need it. Supposedly.
Hiei watched Kurama sleep quietly, unaware of his position. Gently, he placed a hand on his cheek. He had not had a chance to examine him closely, since he had been sitting behind the redhead. Hiei studied the long red hair, a different red than his eyes, and wondered what color Kurama's eyes were. He stroked his cheek lightly.
Kurama stirred in his sleep and slowly opened his eyes, glorious green ones, darkened by the lack of light. In a moment, he noted his own position and blushed, trying to pull away. Hiei stopped him with a hand on his arm.
"You said something about paying me back, didn't you?" Hiei's voice was quiet. "There is something you can do for me."
Kurama didn't protest as Hiei's hand slipped behind his head, and he even tilted his head up a little before Hiei kissed him. Kurama's arms wrapped around Hiei's back as he turned toward Kurama. They kissed for an eternity, soft, chaste, before they separated.
They said nothing. Their quickening breath was evidence enough, and when Hiei locked gazes with Kurama, the yearning expression in his eyes gave him all the permission he needed. This time, the kiss was more urgent, more heated, and Hiei slipped his tongue between Kurama's lips, teaching him to open his mouth. When he did, Hiei touched Kurama's tongue with his own, continuing to kiss him.
Floating in a sea of tenderness, a sky of intimate feeling. But this was no opium dream, created by drugs. This was real.
Hiei pulled away from Kurama's mouth, smiling a little at his murmur of protest, and instead kissed the area behind his earlobe. He trailed his lips downward, pausing to kiss the pulse in his throat, and licked down his throat and around the base of it before kissing, hard, the junction between shoulder and neck.
And then he pulled away entirely.
Hiei put a finger over Kurama's lips when he opened his mouth to protest. "My help isn't worth any more than that." He brushed his cheek lightly with his lips before turning around. "Good night."
Kurama stared at his back before pulling away resignedly. Hiei was right.
Downstairs, the opium smoke wafted outside when the door was opened, mingling with and fading away in the heavy snowfall.
—to be continued—