(A/N: I always seems to choke on the last chapter, and the longer the story the harder I choke. Nevertheless, I've been writing this story for a year and a half and I'm ready to be done with it. Hope you all find this a satisfactory ending.)
Chapter Twenty: Home
"It's not really that complicated. I've become used to having both of you around; I guess you could say I've gotten spoiled. And when I understood where I was, that I was caught between... well, that I was somewhere you couldn't go. I realized that I could either go forward and die, or come back to where you were. I don't think I could have done it if I hadn't been so pissed off that you'd left me in the first place," he added as an afterthought.
Kurama quickly touched Yusuke's arm, a calming gesture, hoping to forestall the tirade before he could get really started. It couldn't have been more than half an hour since he'd woken, and he'd already been yelled at, multiple times, by both of them. He supposed it was understandable; for four months now, Hiei and Yusuke had been suppressing every emotion that could possibly be of danger to him. Now that he was back, whole, now that his very scent had changed and they couldn't help but be aware of it--now he was getting to experience four months of fear and anger and frustration all wrapped into one moment. But while he might have owed it to them to listen, right now he couldn't take any more shouting. He was more aware of his body than he had been in months--he couldn't be aware, before, when he hadn't been entirely in it--and every inch of it ached, particularly his head. He just couldn't take it.
So he touched Yusuke's arm soothingly, and said, "I know, I know you didn't really leave me. I know you tried everything you co--that reminds me, Hiei, you are never to try anything like that again," Kurama said sharply, abruptly shifting gears.
Hiei only blinked slowly, his own long-established way of letting Kurama know it would be a cold day in hell before Hiei agreed to whatever Kurama had just said. "I mean it, Hiei. Do you even realize how easily you could have died? Though I'll admit, I'm a little put out that you could so clearly find your way back out of that maze when I couldn't begin to navigate it without seeing where you had been--"
"That was him." Hiei jerked his head to the side in his habitual gesture for indicating someone, forgetting that Yusuke was so near that they nearly wound up bumping heads. It was fortunate that Kurama had woken up with a desire to be close to his lovers, because he couldn't move at the moment without causing one of them to move, couldn't breathe without disturbing their hair. Excluding a brief fit of angry, frenetic pacing on Hiei's part, they had glued themselves to him the moment he woke up. It was surprisingly comforting. "Your pride is intact," Hiei continued. "I was more lost than you were."
"That makes it even worse. Don't ever do anything like that again."
"Don'tyou do anything like that again and I won't have to!"
"Don't you dare--"
"Stop, stop, halt, desist," Yusuke said tiredly. "It's over and done, there's no need to fight over it."
"I want him to--"
"Stop!" Yusuke didn't let either of them get very far; from his tone and expression, Kurama could tell he had about as much tolerance for fighting right now as Kurama had for shouting. "Hiei, if you were in Kurama's place you would be saying the same thing, and Kurama, if you were in Hiei's place you would be denying him. We all know any time that any one of our lives is in danger the other two are going to risk their own. I don't know why you bother getting into fights over it."
There was a moment of crisp silence after Yusuke finished scolding them, like everyone was pausing to listen to the echoes of things they had already known, but that had never been said so clearly or casually before. Then Kurama smiled and said, "We get into fights because, as you yourself pointed out, it used to be the best way we had of proving we cared. I expect it'll eventually fade away now that you're around to complain about it."
"C'mon, you get into way more fights now than you did before."
"No," Hiei said, "we just allow you witness them now."
Yusuke thought about that for a moment. "Well... I guess that's a good thing," he said dubiously. "But I'm starting to feel like I'm going to spend the rest of my life breaking up fights between you two."
"You will," Kurama replied simply.
The other two turned to him, again shocked by the candidness with which something had suddenly jumped from being unspoken to spoken. Kurama faced their surprise with his own. "You didn't think this was going to stop the second I was back on my feet, did you?" he demanded. "That I've been using you as props to recover?"
"What somebody wants when they're vulnerable is rarely what they desire when they're whole," Hiei replied carefully. Kurama resisted both the urge to interrupt and the urge to throttle him, mindful of Yusuke's nerves. "And we began this with an understand that if it didn't feel right to you when you were healthy, it would stop."
"I remember. Don't either of you dare."
"Are you healthy?" Yusuke wanted to know.
Kurama thought for a moment before answering, giving the question the weight it deserved. "Yes." The other two looked at him with measured disbelief. "Weak, but healthy." The disbelief didn't waver. "Would you prefer I lapsed into catatonia again? Have the courtesy to extend a little faith."
Yusuke smiled halfway. "At least you sound like yourself again."
Hiei was not so easily convinced. "I saw--where you were," he faltered, not able to find words for it--the words he did use were a pale coating, trying desperately to hint at something else. "That level of--darkness--it's not something that can be easily shed."
"What gave you the impression it was easy," Kurama grumbled. More clearly, he added, "No, it's not something you can be pulled out of, not without tremendous effort. But I wasn't pulled out of it. I got up and walked away, and that's different."
Hiei smiled--with an edge to it, and before he spoke Kurama realized where he had been maneuvered to, the point Hiei had been moving towards and now achieved. "Convince me," he said simply, his tone a challenge. He would antagonize Kurama into being healthy, dare him to do it.
Kurama debated with himself whether jumping Hiei or beating him into a bloody pulp would be more convincing. Then he debated it with Yusuke, and Hiei lowered his dignity enough to jump in and attempt to influence the outcome, and they were all laughing uncontrollably by the time it was determined that beating into a bloody pulp could certainly wait until tomorrow.
Kurama took great delight the next day in announcing that he wanted to go home, simply to watch Hiei's face turn interesting colors. Hiei did not disappoint, and also came through with a spectacular rant on Kurama's apparent inability to designate a single location as "home" and how he had better not expect Hiei to go to the trouble of figuring out what the hell he meant if he wouldn't be consistent. But despite having spoken to deliberately inflame him, Kurama really meant what he said, and this time "home" happened to mean Shiori. So they leisurely made their way back over the path they had covered so tensely a few days ago, arrived at night two days later, and surprised everyone by coming down to breakfast the next morning.
"Home" temporarily became the temple again. Kurama was by no means completely recovered, and Genkai's large tracts of land provided ample space to train, rest, and generally feel healthy in. And since the temple
had served as an odd sort of customs ever since the barrier between the human and demon worlds had come down, Genkai was used to having people in and out of it all the time and didn't even seem to notice they were there anymore. So the three of them stayed on, as well as Shiori--Kurama couldn't convince her to leave and didn't try particularly hard. He found himself spending most of his time with her, trying to untangle two decades worth of lies. Since the worst parts were out and she hadn't even flinched, he wanted to come completely clean with her.
He knew that Yusuke and Hiei both felt a little left out, with all his time turning towards his mother, but they kept themselves occupied with each other. Something had changed in their relationship--Kurama could even pinpoint when it had changed, but unfortunately he had been unconscious at the time and couldn't begin to imagine what had passed between them while he had been out cold at the fortress. But Yusuke's general aura of love and protection now extended to cover Hiei in a way it never had before--if only because Hiei had never allowed it. It was fascinating, and he fully intended to understand it better... someday. Right now, he wasn't about to insist on being part of it. If this relationship was going to continue to work smoothly they all had to acknowledge what they had discussed on the way back from Makai--that it was really three separate relationships, and there was nothing wrong with any two of them sharing anything--information, emotions, bodies--without the third being present. Kurama was actually relieved that their relationship could function without both of them being worried sick over him, and made sure to give them time to develop it.
Despite that, it seemed to throw Yusuke when Hiei suddenly left for Makai for a few days, chasing down some rumor or another. Kurama was surprised by his surprise. It had been nearly two weeks since they'd come back, after all, and Kurama was clearly in the best shape he'd been in yet--able to run for short distances, sparring with the other two regularly, and the temple's other inhabitants no longer worried about disturbing him with their noise. He tried to explain. "You didn't really expect Hiei to settle down in one place, did you? You wouldn't want him to. He'd be miserable."
"All this means is that he thinks I can survive without him for a few days." Yusuke still looked morose. "Yusuke, trust me--the only way to make sure Hiei always comes back is to never ask him to. You ought to know that by now."
"I do know that, but..." Yusuke was restless in his frustration, almost pacing. "I guess I just thought we'd--you know, the three of us would--"
"Live happily ever after somewhere? We will. I really don't know where, though," Kurama confessed. "I mean, I wouldn't be happy in demon world, and Hiei wouldn't be happy here... it's a bit of a puzzle. But we've got a long time to work it out. In the meantime, let him go. Home isn't somewhere you have to stay, it's where you come back to whenever you want, and you know he'll come back." Yusuke looked halfway convinced, so Kurama stepped closer to him and added softly, "Besides, I don't anticipate being lonely while he's gone." And that convinced him.
It took a few more weeks before Kurama was ready to leave the temple, and a few weeks after that before he could convince everyone else he was ready to leave the temple. By that time, Hiei had flitted in and out a few times and mentioned one or two tantalizing hints of new adventures to be had that Yusuke and Kurama were itching to get hold of themselves, Shiori had mentioned to Kurama that she expected to see a lot less of him, and "home" had become a very loose concept. Wherever the other two happened to be--wherever they could all be together for a time. Wherever they were comfortable, wherever the barriers could come back down for a moment because this kind of healing took years, not weeks. But none of them doubted any longer that it could be done, in time; and none of them doubted either that time, all that they needed, was something they had.
(That's all, folks! Thanks for sticking with me on this one!)