The Way Things Were

By: Yami no Kokoro

Everything had been different since that day. I think everyone can sense it. But then, why would Kurama be unchanged? He has finally returned to his demon form, his true form.

He is as he should be.

So why does it hurt me to look at him now? Why do I feel a sharp pain in my chest when I see cold golden eyes meet mine and not gentle green? My companion managed to survive a wound that would have otherwise killed him, and he seems no worse off, only different. He has brushed off the weakness of his ningen form, and has consequently become distant, more impersonal, and more easily provoked to violence than he ever had when wearing his human mask of Shuichi. He has become more demonic... clearly, it has made him stronger. But still, the clear differences make it difficult for me to connect him in my mind to the soft-spoken boy I'd known.

Is that what's bothering me? Or is it something else?

"I ... Hi... I lo... lo..."

The final words spoken by the redhead haunt me whenever I see Yoko, or rather, the words that he was trying to say. What was it? What had been the message that was so important he was willing to let himself die so that he could speak?

"I won't . . . H-Hiei!"

I flinch as I hear the scream, but mentally replay the words again, trying hard to reach some kind of an understanding. What had he been trying to tell me?

Yoko's calculating gaze moves to me as we walk.

"Hiei, you seem upset." The cold indifference with which he phrases the statement makes me turn my gaze away from him. Kurama would never have spoken that way before, as though he really didn't care one way or the other. When still wearing his human guise his emerald eyes would have filled with concern, thin brows furrowing, and he would have stopped walking, touching my shoulder gently, perhaps, voice worried, as he asked ...

"Is something wrong? If there is, Hiei, you know you can tell me."

"Hn." I reply simply, as I realize what's been bothering me.

Childish as it may be to admit, I simply miss the way things were.

And then I freeze, because a cool hand has just gently touched my shoulder. Slowly, in confusion, I turn.

The Yoko draws his hand away when I meet his gaze. He frowns at it as though unsure whether the limb is truly his own, and then his glittering gaze returns to me. Without explanation, he watches me pensively for a long moment, long tail swishing curiously. I stare back, puzzled.

"What? Come on, fox, we'll be late to your funeral."

After Kurama had transformed back into his demon form Yusuke had insisted that we hold a ceremony for the departed Shuichi. The fool had been so clearly distraught when he'd first suggested it that the rest of us didn't bother trying to refuse him. I wasn't going to go at first, but some quiet desperation in the detective's eyes had changed my mind. Not that I particularly care how upset he was, but I didn't much want to deal with his inevitable whining if I refused.

He said he'd take care of everything; I just had to show up. So now I'm coming, though I honestly don't see the point. Kurama is still here; just in a new form. Now he's just Yoko.

The kitsune merely shakes his head his head in response to my comment, silver bangs falling to veil his frigid golden eyes. He doesn't move, and I find myself wary of looking away. After a moment he tilts his head slightly to one side, continuing to watch me like some interesting specimen on display.

"Yusuke's waiting."

Alright, I'll admit that was a pathetic excuse. Like I really care whether or not I bother the detective. But Yoko is making undeniably uncomfortable. An unreadable look enters his usually empty gaze, one that I'd seen so many times in Shuichi's, but now it seems somehow forced, as though he's trying to play a part he's ill prepared for.

"Shuichi wanted to tell you something, before his life faded to resurrect mine. I've spent the past week trying to understand it, but I don't. I feel you should know before we get to the ceremony. Perhaps you will realize its meaning better than I."

I nod, crossing my arms and waiting for his next words. The same question hasn't left my thoughts since Shuichi had returned to his demon form. What was it he'd wanted to say?

The detective, I'm sure, realized it, but when I'd gotten curious enough to actually ask him he'd only given me a watery smile and said that it wouldn't sound the same coming from him.

I thought I was prepared for anything, but what now escapes the Yoko's lips is possibly the one thing I never expected to hear.

"I love you."

What?

The phrase was uttered with none of the passion usually associated with it by those ningen fools, lacking the soft assuredness Kurama employed when he spoke it to his mother, and equally unlike the obnoxious exclamations of that baka Kuwabara when he declares his feelings for my sister. He seems to speak with as much confusion as I feel hearing it.

"Love me...?"

"He kept thinking it as his soul faded; he seemed desperate to let you know."

I only watch the fox with wide eyes before shaking my head. This situation, I can tell, needs to be handled delicately.

"You felt love for Shiori." I say finally, and Kurama nods, for once letting his frustration show.

"Yes, which I can only assume was based in gratitude for all that she had done for us. What he felt for you was something different, something more powerful. It was something he both desired and feared to speak aloud, but never did for fear of ridicule."

"You don't know what you meant?" The idea shocks me, perhaps more than the confession itself, and sends a small pang to my frigid heart. "How can you not know? You're the same person you were then."

A perfectly sculpted brow raises as my companion regards me with interest.

"Is that what you believe?" I nod sharply, eyes darkening in a scowl at his ridiculous game. Of course they are the same person, Shuichi was just...

His humanity.

The concept had never occurred to me before, at least, not placed in that light. When Yoko Kurama had escaped death seventeen years ago he had been reborn into the embryo of his mortal mother. Shuichi and Yoko had fused, becoming one mind, one entity. The mortal part of Kurama had remembered Yoko's life, and the spirit fox had been allowed to experience human emotion. Now the human body was gone, and with it, Shuichi.

"I am again who I was before I entered Shiori's womb and became captive within his human body. I hold all the memories from within that time, but I can't experience human emotions any more than I was able to before that hunter caught me."

Suddenly my eyes feel damp.

My friend was really dead then. All this time I'd believed him to have been saved, different, but still alive.

"And we shared a soul." Yoko adds as an afterthought. I don't understand the significance of the statement for a moment, but when I do I move forward, grabbing the fox's arm roughly.

"So he's not in you anymore but you still have the soul?! The human within you is just . . . gone?"

Yoko nods, appearing bemused at my anger.

"To merge a dying demon with a human only coming into life has never been attempted before. When his body gave out I took over, and there was nothing left of Shuichi to be collected. I doubt Koenma even knows that this change has occurred."

I don't even notice that my hand is moving until it impacts with the Yoko's pale face. He stumbles back, and I stand still, eyes continuing to burn strangely.

No, this isn't possible. How could I have not noticed it before? How could I have missed a concept so obvious that even the detective grasped it immediately?

I am such an utter fool.

My friend, my longest held partner and ally had died in my arms and I hadn't even noticed. I'd accepted this demon shell of him as the real thing.

And Shuichi had cared for me. He'd . . . loved me. I'd meant something so mysteriously important to him and I hadn't even known it.

Before this wraith posing as my partner can speak again I am gone, moving as quickly as I can through the trees and into the spot in the forest that Yusuke had chosen to be Shuichi's memorial. It is a small clearing in the forest, green grass covered by wildflowers, a thin canopy of leaves filtering the light from overhead.

It's the kind of place I can see Kurama choosing to sit in, perhaps with one of those ningen schoolbooks of his, or even using the area to train.

Ignoring both ningens' solemn greetings, I move to kneel next to the small stone that had been placed in the clearing's center, reaching out to caress the crudely carved letters of his name with my fingertips.

Shuichi Minamino

My heart lurches again, and a single tear slides down my cheek, drying into a small black gem even as it falls to rest in the grass before me. Yoko appears in the glade moments later and stands behind me, silently watching as a second gem falls. This pain, this feeling of unequivocal loss... is this the power that 'love' inspires? I ignore Yoko's presence, staring blankly at the headstone, the only remnant of my lost companion, as one thought continuously runs through my mind.

I wish things could be as they were.

Finis