The Witch's Son
Disclaimer: I do not own the characters of Inuyasha or Yu Yu Hakusho that appear in this fic. Also, I do not own the story of 'The Witch's Son.' I'm just borrowing them to write this fi
A/N: I read this story when I first came to America and loved it. Just the other day, I was reading 'Unforgettable' by Kura-kun's-lovr on and I immediately thought of this short story written by Vivian Vande Velde. Now, I'm using this story to write a one-shot crossover fic of Inuyasha and Yu Yu Hakusho. I hope everyone reads it and enjoys it. Kurama/Kagome implied.
1776 - Summerfield, New York
When Shiori Minamino brought her son, Kurama, back from the dead for the first time, he looked all fragile and wispy, like morning mist on the village commons.
She was so startled to see her magic actually work - though she had studied and planned the whole year for just this thing - that for long moments she could do nothing be silently gaze at him. His face was pale and she'd forgotten how young nineteen years old looked, but his expression was peaceful, which should have set her heart at ease.
Except that his blood was bright red against the white of his homespun shirt.
And there was so very much of it.
They'd had buried him before she got home, saying that he'd been killed by a single musket shot and that he'd died instantly. He hadn't suffered, Naraku Gumo ha assured her repeatedly: The deed was over so quickly, Kurama had never known what was happening. But now Shiori saw that he'd been shot several times, and she feared if the first part of what they'd said wasn't true, there was a good chance the second part had been a lie, too.
Anger and grief returned to her voice to her. "Kurama," she whispered.
Still, he was already beginning to evaporate like the morning mist.
She reached out...
...and felt nothing...
...and by then he was gone.
The second anniversary of Kurama's death, Shiori adjusted the amounts of what she had boiling over the fire, and she made sure to gather all of the ingredients - not just the mandrake root - at midnight under the full moon.
Once again steam and vapor bubbled out of the pot, more than the heat and the ingredients could account for, and once again Kurama took shape in the cloud that formed in her kitchen.
"Kurama." She spoke sharply, and immediately, lest the spirit once again dissipated with the steam.
Shiori saw nothing to indicate Kurama was aware of his surroundings. His emerald green eyes were open but unmoving. Shiori couldn't tell if he was breathing, if his heart beat once again.
"Kurama," she called a second time, but already the steam was thinning out.
Had it lasted longer this time? Was the vision more solid? Shiori couldn't be sure. Next year she must be calmer; she must take careful note of what happened, which changes were beneficial, which had no effect. She must take her time, she scolded herself, even if she had to work with a year in between each step of the way, for the spell could only be done on October 18, the same day that he had died, and only after two-thirty in the afternoon, the hour he had died. He won't come back next year, she told herself. Or the year after that.
With that settled, she told herself: I'd better make each attempt count.
The fifth year Shiori worked her spell, Kurama still did not seem to see or hear her, but this time, as the steam spread out - much too early, disturbed by a draft from under the door - she saw Kurama blink.
The eighth year Kurama gazed about the room when she called his name, an unhurried, untroubled gazing, as though he heard her but was unable to identify her voice or where, exactly, it came from.
The tenth year his expression was more vague and dazed than previously and he didn't react at all to her voice, but the blood was gone, his shirt no longer tattered from musket shots.
The thirteenth year his body was still free from the wounds that had killed him, Kurama instantly looked at her when she called.
And recognized her, she was sure of it.
She stepped forward to hug him, forgetting he was just smoke and vapor, and felt something - like the memory of a touch - before he slipped away into nothingness.
Hopefully next year, she told herself.
And cried every bit as much as she had the year he had died.
For Kurama, coming back from the dead felt like waking slowly out of a fever dream. He was aware of himself, in a way that was somehow different from the way in which he'd been aware of himself up until then - different, yet familiar. He was drifting away from someplace he hadn't intended to leave, and he felt a moment of panic. There had been bright colors and feelings for which he no longer had names, and so they slipped away from him, like a dream where the more you try to remember, the more it's gone.
But there was a brightness here, too, and sound, as though he was awakening long past daybreak to a morning already half gone. He'd lived in the same house all of his life, but for a moment he was confused, unable to place where he was in relation to doors and windows. His body was weak and ached all over, and he thought he must be just getting over a long illness. For some reason, he didn't know why, he put his hand to his chest, but that didn't hurt any more than the rest.
He heard his mother call his name, and he turned to see her standing before him. During that moment, he realized that he was standing as well, and they were in the kitchen - he couldn't be awakening from his sickbed - in that moment Kurama remembered dying.
He swayed and clutched at a chair, but let go when he realized that he was going to fall anyway. In a moment his mother was there, putting her arms around him, lowering him to the floor more gently than he'd have made it on his own, and how could that be if he was dead and she wasn't?
Kurama felt the solidness of her arm; he felt the hard wooded floor under his knees, the heat from the fireplace, and the cold from under the door. He took a deep shuddering breath and was disconcertingly aware that it was the first in a very long time.
Out on the street, Kagome Urameshi passed in front of Minamino Apothecary and saw that Shiori Minamino had the door to the shop barred and the house shutters closed. I hope every thing's okay, Kagome thought at the unaccustomed lack of activity .
But then she realized that date. Though it was warm for late October, Kagome began to shiver
And she began to remember, though she fought hard not to.
Fourteen years ago, Kagome was five. Seventeen-seventy-five had been a year of people shouting, that was her clearest impression. People who used to be friends spat at each other on the street. All the grown-ups were caught up in the debate: loyalty to England or independence. At the time, she didn't understand what was meant when her parents said they were patriots and the Minamino's were loyalists. At five, she only knew there were certain friends she was no longer allowed to play with, and certain people with whom her parents and their friends no longer did business with. There would be no more going two doors down and getting cookies from Mrs. Minamino, her parents said.
Fourteen years ago today, Mr. and Mrs. Minamino were away visiting a sick relative. This worked out well for Kagome because now she wasn't exactly disobeying her parent's instruction not to visit Mrs. Minamino, and because whenever the Minamino's son, Kurama - who she had a crush on - was in charge of the cookies, she'd get two instead of one. Also, Kurama let her sit on the tall stool behind the apothecary counter.
On this particular day, Kurama had opened the door between the shop and the living area, for he was working at the kitchen table, going over the account books, which meant he was being too serious to be good company. After finishing her cookies and climbing up and down the stool four or five times, Kagome had just entered the kitchen to let Kurama know she was leaving when she heard the door to the apothecary open. Kagome turned and, for a moment, couldn't make sense of what she saw - sticks? thin metal pipes? - sticking through the doorway.
All in an instant, Kurama grabbed her arm, dragged her back, shoved her head down, and gave her a hard push that sent her sprawling onto the floor behind the barrel of flour that stood between the table and stove.
There was no time for outrage. Kagome heard four explosions, muskets being fired, and the air filled with smoke and the smell of burning powder. Kurama staggered backward, his hand to his chest, as blood seeped between his fingers.
Kagome backed away as far as she could, caught in the corner between the barrel, stove, and wall.
Men came in, their boots loud on the wooden floor. Someone walked directly to where Kagome hid, shoving the flour barrel so that it tipped over.
She closed her eyes and covered her ears. But she still heard someone shout, "No!" And it sounded - Kagome could hardly hope - like her father.
She opened her eyes and looked up to the face of someone she didn't recognize. Someone holding a musket.
A moment later her father pushed this man out of his way. "No," her father said again, forcefully.
She held her arms out and he picked her up, the way he would pick her up in the morning to bring her down to the table for breakfast. In a moment, she thought, her father would use that same forceful voice to tell them to leave Kurama Minamino alone, to get bandages fro him.
For the men had force Kurama to the floor. Naraku Gumo had his foot against Kurama's chest, holding him down while the other two men reloaded their muskets. But her father said nothing.
"Daddy." she said, and he gently pushed her ace into his chest - to quiet her, to prevent her from seeing anymore than she'd seen.
He was carrying her out of the kitchen, out of the shop. How could he fail to see Kurama's danger? "Daddy." she repeated, but he told her, "Hush."
Out in the street, she heard the crack of their guns. She buried her face deeper into her father's chest, even knowing that at the same time he carried her, he juggled his hunting rifle, the barrel warm against her leg from having just been fired.
That's what Kagome Urameshi remembered about the day Kurama Minamino was killed.
Shiori sat on the chair - which was not a rocking chair - and rocked back and fourth.
Kurama was making busy work for himself, fussing with the fire, which Shiori estimated, didn't really need fussing over. But Kurama very obviously preferred not to look at her as yet. He remained crouched before the fire for a very long time, staring into the flames.
Shiori would have feared that being dead had affected the boy's mind, but Kurama had spoken. "Mother," he'd said, clasping her hand so tightly that in other circumstances it would have hurt, and "Here," as he'd helped her up off of the floor and led he, stiff and tottery, to the chair, "Sit down." As though he were speaking to one of the village grandmothers, she thought, before she remembered that now she was old enough to be his grandmother. But Kurama had always been a polite boy.
She became aware of her own rocking, and she willed herself to sit still, her hands clasped tightly in her lap.
It was, after all, Kurama who finally started speaking. "How long?" he asked in a shaky whisper, finally looking up at her.
"Fourteen years," Shiori said.
That was obviously worse than he'd expected, no matter how old she looked. Kurama momentarily closed his eyes.
" Among your father's books of medicines," she said, "which were passed down to him by his father and hid father before him, were very old papers. Recipes. Mixtures." There was no use mincing words. He knew it wasn't medicines that had brought him back. "Spells. This one could only work..." Her voice caught for a moment, and she finished. "...once a year."
Kurama accepted all that. He asked, instead of any other questions he could've asked, "Where is Father?"
"He died." she answered as gently as anyone could give that answer, "after surviving the war for independence, in a riding mishap."
Kurama wrapped his arms around himself. "Can you do" - Kurama couldn't find the words and gestured helplessly - "this," - and she knew exactly what he meant - "for him?"
She shook her head.
"You brought me back."
"Because you died here," she said, the words slipping out of her painlessly after all. "I had your blood - " She didn't want to tell him how she and Bankotsu had come home to find the body already removed, surprising Keiko Urameshi on her hands and knees, crying and scrubbing at the blood stains. Shiori wasn't ready to say how she had saved that bucket of soapy bloody water, and how - when it was all used up - she had pried the floor boards up and chipped the plaster from the walls. "I had your blood to work with," she said, "and the exact spot you died."
Kurama stood abruptly, looking sick - though you'd think a man more than a dozen years dead wouldn't be squeamish - looking as though he needed to get away. But there was no place to go, and he only turned his back on her.
"There's more," Shiori said, because there was no good time to say what she had to say, nor a good way to say it. "The men who... " She couldn't say the word.
"Naraku Gumo," Kurama said in a voice little more than a whisper. "Karasu Oni and Hiten Tokigawa, Yusuke Urameshi."
Shiori nodded. It had been no secret. The act had been considered - not murder, but warfare. There had been no trials, no punishments. So far.
"Karasu Oni and Hiten Tokigawa were killed fighting during the Revolution," Shiori told Kurama. "Naraku Gumo died of a fever two years ago. Yusuke Urameshi is still alive. And he's part of the spell that brought you back."
Kurama turned to face her again, looking as though he already suspected what she was about to say, although there was no way he could. He was just expecting the worst.
She gave it to him.
"This spell only works for today," she said. "At midnight you'll die again - unless you pay back those who did this to you."
Kurama had always known his mother as kind and gentle. Now he sat at the kitchen table and listen to her calculate the best way to kill a man.
She advocated a sneak attack, at night, breaking into Yusuke Urameshi's house and killing him in his bed before an alarm could be raised.
As she spoke, Kurama realized there was a tightness in his chest that didn't go away no matter how deeply he breathed. He determined not to take a breath, an experiment to see whether he really needed air, or if it was just a habit. A live man with enough determination not to breathe would eventually faint, he knew, and then his unconscious body would resume breathing for him. Kurama wondered if he was fully enough alive for these natural laws to apply to him. Would he eventually faint and - if he did - would his body take that breath? Or was that why mother's spell had a time limit : because eventually his body would require sleep, and if he slept, he wouldn't breathe, and if he didn't breathe, he would die, yet again?
Except, now that Kurama was thinking about it, he absolutely had to take a breath.
He realized, in that ragged intake of air, that the room was silent, that mother was looking at him.
She had asked him a question, and he had no recollection of what it was.
"Kurama?" she asked, but Kurama had no idea how far she had gone without him, and he just shook his head.
Mother looked worried rather than impatient. "You have to kill Yusuke Urameshi," she said, going back to the very beginning.
"Are you sure?" Kurama protested. "Are you sure that's what the spell said?"
She rested her hand on the book that lay on the table. He had been vaguely aware of it, had seen it and assumed that it was the Minamino family Bible. It was definitely not the Bible. Mother opened the volume and turned to the appropriate page. "Raising someone dead of another's violence," she read out loud.
The book was old, faintly musty, the parchment yellow, brittle, and thicker than the paper used by Koenma Shini's modern printing press in the office of the Summerfield Observer. This book was handwritten. Kurama, sitting across the table from his mother, viewed the text upside down. The letters were tall and skinny and unadorned, so that the words looked like clusters of long-legged spiders, and Kurama wouldn't have been too amazed to see them scurry off the page. But that might have been because of the guesses he made regarding the person who had written them.
Mother had read out loud the advisories, the limitations, the preparations, the ingredients. The English was old-fashioned, obscure, but the ending seemed clear enough : " 'By the final stroke of midnight,' " Mother read, " 'the dead man must have repaid the doer of the deed, or he will sink once more and forever into the realm of the dead.' "
Even upside down, Kurama could make out those words, written in bold capitals : REALM OF THE DEAD.
Mother was watching him. Very softly, she asked, "What was it like?"
And in hearing those words, the last of it was gone around the corners in his mind so that he had to answer, in all honesty, "I can't remember." He added, "It was nothing bad." But his answer was based on little more than a fleeting impression, and a memory that, with mother's spell pulling him back, he'd hesitated.
"Still," mother said, sounding very afraid, "it must be better to be alive."
He wasn't sure how to answer, to cause her the least pain.
"I couldn't bear to lose you again," she whispered. "I've fought so long for this..."
"I like the idea of being alive," Kurama assured her.
Mother took a deep breath. "What else could 'repay' mean," she asked, "besides killing the killers?"
"Most of them are dead already," Kurama reminded her. "Without me, are the conditions already impossible to fulfill?"
"I don't know," mother admitted.
"What if I killed a man for nothing?"
"Kurama," mother said reasonably, "remember who these men are. Remember what they did."
Kurama didn't need to be told to remember. He wrapped his arms around himself, not for warmth.
"Fourteen years ago," mother pointed out to Kurama, "it was four of them against one. Now, just as I master the spell, only one of them is left. Is that coincidence or was it meant to be?"
"Don't," Kurama said, feeling that tightness in his chest despite the fact that he was breathing and breathing hard, "don't bring the hand of God into this."
" 'An eye of an eye,' " mother said. "A man is permitted to use deadly force to protect himself. If you cannot go through with this task, then I shall do it for you. But your scruples may condemn us both."
This was moving faster than Kurama could keep up with. "Tomorrow morning, when Urameshi is dead and I suddenly am not : what do you suppose everyone will make of this?" he asked. "How can they not know that we're responsible? How can they avoid calling you a witch?" These questions were not the one's holding him back.
"The town has carried this guilt for fourteen years," mother aid. "The war's over, and people are remembering how it was before. They will forgive us."
"I can't breathe," Kurama said, and headed for the door.
He heard the scrape of a chair on the floor and was brought back, instantly, to that other October 18th, when he'd looked up to see the armed townsfolk crowding the apothecary door and he'd pushed back on his own chair, knowing even then that there was no time, no way to escape. He turned away, leaning against the door for support so his mother wouldn't see how shaky he was. He managed to glare, and she sat back down again without a word.
Outside, the afternoon was moving onto dusk. Kurama began walking, so that no one would start to wonder who he was, loitering about Minamino's Apothecary.
It was too cold to be out here without a coat - surely that was something else to attract attention to him - but it gave him the excuse to keep his head down, his arms wrapped around himself, and to walk quickly, as though oblivious to others. That and the fading light, got him off the main street. One the back streets after sundown, people were less likely to stare long enough to try to put a name to a face that, at best, looked somewhat familiar.
Summerfield had grown, very definitely had grown, in fourteen years and had prospered from what Kurama could see of it. He ran his fingertips along the bricks of a building where none had been before, to remember what bricks felt like, and when the building ended, he walked beside a picket fence, feeling that too. He kept his mind intentionally blank, not thinking of what had happened, what his mother was depending on him to do, what might or might not happen afterward.
He found himself, by trying to avoid people, on the edge of the cemetery.
And at that point he could no longer keep his mind blank, and his knees buckled under him.
Mother had said he'd been buried. He presumed in the cemetery, although that wasn't necessarily so, though - again - there was no reason he could think of that he should been denied a Christian burial. Given that it was no secret that he'd been killed, and by whom. Should he look for a marker, put up by his mother, or by the citizens of Summerfield : "Sorry, political emotions carried us away," perhaps?
She had told him, eventually, the specifics of the spell.
The knowledge that somewhere, probably nearby, he had another body, that by now it would be decomposed down to a skeleton, that what felt like a body was no more than vapor formed from ingredients mother had gathered in fields and chipped off the kitchen wall - he was suddenly finding it very difficult to get enough air. He clutched at his chest, unable to tell if the pain was from unfilled lungs, or musket balls, or Naraku Gumo's foot on his chest.
With her head down against the stiff breeze, Kagome walked around a corner and saw she was coming up behind someone kneeling by the edge of the cemetery. A young man with gorgeous red hair down his back. And he wasn't exactly dressed for the weather at all.
Yukimura's family plot first, she thought, trying to work her way back to the grave, then Sango Taijiya... she slowed her pace, not wanting to intrude, but curious - since there were no newer graves since two years ago - why such obvious heartfelt grief.
Unless the young man was not crying after all. He could be injured, she realized. Or, he could be drunk.
Kagome slowed even more.
After running several errands, she was coming home much later than she'd anticipated. The sun had set, her father and his apprentices were more than ready to eat, and Kikyou - that lazy girl who was supposed to help her in the kitchen - probably had not even started preparations for supper.
But there was nobody else around to help, if help was needed, and she couldn't bring herself to just cross the street and walk around him.
She came closer, determined to ask him if he was okay. She drew a breath before speaking.
The young man gave a ragged gasp and jerked around to face her with wide, startled eyes, indicating he hadn't heard her approach.
Kagome realized in that second, as her shawl slipped from her shoulders - he wasn't just startled, he was frightened.
"Are you okay?" she asked.
He seemed to need to consider. "No." He sounded somewhat amazed, as though he wasn't used to people being concerned about his well-being. That confused Kagome, from the way he was dressed, she guessed that he was from a clean and respectable household. A merchant's son, or a journey from a master craftsman, perhaps? And he was gorgeous, no doubt he had a good many girls vying for his attention, whatever his situation.
"I'm...fine," he told her. His voice was steadier, except he had his hand on his chest, in a gesture that was familiar to her from the last year before her mother died of consumption, never quite able to get enough air to fill her lungs. Sure if he had consumption he wouldn't be out this October night without a coat. "Thank you," he said softly, and it took a moment for her to trace it back to her asking about his health.
She knelt down beside him. "Were you attacked?"
His eyes widened at that, but he didn't answer.
"No coat," she explained her reasoning. "It's rather cold to be without one." She was getting rather cold herself, sitting next to him in the evening chill, but he was wearing a thin shirt.
The young man shook his head, without a word. He gently pulled her shawl back on her shoulders and placed his arm around her. They sat there for a few minutes.
"Do you need any help?" Kagome asked. "My father's house is just down the way. You're welcomed to warm yourself up by our fire, share supper with us. You could spend the night in the apprentices' room if you need a place to stay."
Again, that look of amazement. "That's very kind of you," he said with just the beginning of a shy smile, causing her to slightly blush, "but I live only a little down this way." He indicated vaguely and convincingly. "But thank you."
Kagome wasn't sure she believed a word of this. She thought she knew everybody in Summerfield by sight, especially everybody in this neighborhood, and she tried to place him, thinking there was something vaguely familiar about him and that he might be someone's younger brother.
"What's your name?" she asked boldly. At nineteen she was something of an old maid, and old maids could be bold.
He hesitated, turning to face her. "Kurama."
No last name, and she could think of only one Kurama she had ever known, who this was very obviously could not be.
"I'm Kagome," she said to this Kurama. "Yusuke Urameshi's daughter, at the bootery."
Kurama got that panicked look in his eyes again so that Kagome checked over her shoulder to make sure no danger was approaching. He stood up, helping her to stand afterwards.
"You are welcomed at our house," she told him. "My father" - she hoped she wasn't offending him - "considers it his Christian duty to help whoever needs help."
Kurama was shivering uncontrollably. "My mother will be becoming worried," he told her, which had a certain ring of truth to it.
If he was going to refuse help, she wasn't going to be a busy body. "Take care, Kurama," she told him. In her experience, people named Kurama were not good at taking care of themselves.
He softly pulled her close to him, lightly kissing her cheek. They stepped apart and he nodded once, tersely, and set off in he direction opposite from where she was headed.
She turned back, twice, but so far as she could tell, he did not.
Shiori was not interested in revenge. If she had simply wanted Yusuke Urameshi dead, she'd had fourteen years to accomplish that. But she was determined that Kurama would not lose his opportunity to live beyond midnight. She had just made up her mind that she would set things right with Urameshi herself when Kurama finally returned, shivering from the cold that his teeth actually chattered.
"Fool," she told him, sitting him down on the stool directly in front of the fire. But she knelt to rub warmth into his hands and legs, and out a blanket around his shoulders. Then she tucked his coat - which she'd fetched from the chest in the attic, where she had packed it all those years ago - in around his lap.
But he was watching her; she saw that he'd seen what else she'd fetched from the attic. Despite being nearly wrapped in soft felt, it's long narrow shape gave it away : Bankotsu's Pennsylvania rifle.
She saw Kurama's expression. His face said, Let me be anywhere but here. Let me be doing anything but this.
But he held out his hand and took the rifle from her, and unwrapped it, checking it over, making sure - after all those years in storage - that it was cleaned, oiled, and ready to use.
She and Bankotsu had spent nineteen years raising Kurama to be gentle and decent and polite. She hoped the last fourteen years were enough to let him overcome that.
Long after he was warm, Kurama couldn't stop shivering.
"There's no other way," mother assured him, which was the same conclusion he'd reached, or he's have...what? Wandered off into the cold night rather than return home? His choices were definitely limited. He certainly couldn't have accepted Kagome Urameshi's offer - much as he didn't want to kill anyone, he was most certainly up to sitting to supper and after-supper small talk with a man who'd walked into his shop and, unprovoked, shot him at point-blank range.
Kurama tried to hold onto that thought : to remember the pain, the terror, the certain knowledge that he was about to die, the whoosh of undefinable sound and that incredible dizzying fall that had followed that second volley of shots. His breath caught a moment, so that mother gave another of her worried looks.
Hold onto the thought, Kurama told himself. But don't share it with Yusuke Urameshi. Don't think of the terror he'll feel, or the pain.
Or of his family.
Or of the fact that he might not be the same man he was fourteen years ago. My father considers it his Christian duty to help whoever needs help, Kagome Urameshi had said. Penance? How many years of reparation were necessary to erase Kurama's death from Urameshi's soul?
Except that - much as he didn't want the responsibility for Urameshi's death - neither did he want to cause his own death. Dying - twice - in what he felt like just a few hours time more than he could face.
Kurama looked up from his father's Pennsylvania rifle, satisfied - after the seventh of eighth checking of every inch, of every working part - that it was in working order and ready. The old flintlock took so long to reload, he was unlikely to get more than one chance. Still, he measured out gunpowder and wrapped, filled, and folded three paper cartridges, just in case.
He tried to blink away a mental picture of Urameshi's daughter, Kagome, as she had looked fourteen years ago, a child who used to come begging mother's cookies. She'd grown into a sweet-faced young woman, Kurama though, and kind-hearted, too : concerned for him, offering him, all unsuspecting of what he was, food and a place to stay. Her black hair still as long and curly as ever. It didn't help to think of that.
Urameshi's Boot Shop was only two doors away, though he'd walked three blocks out of his way to keep Kagome from seeing where he lived. Just past ten Kurama decided he needed to give himself time, in case anything went wrong. What? he thought. He knew he could never begin to guess the things that could go wrong or how to deal with a situation already out of control.
But he was having trouble breathing again, and even the cold was better than sitting here, waiting.
He got up abruptly.
At the door mother adjusted the collar of his coat, tugging at the length of his sleeve. "Be careful," she begged, reluctant - he could well understand - to have him out of her sight. Once more she told him : "I couldn't bear to lose you again."
To which, of course, he had no answer.
Kagome still hadn't caught up to all of the things she needed to do, even though it was long after the apprentices had gone up to the attic for bed. She was sitting at the kitchen table, mending the sleeve of one of her father's shirts, when her father came in from the workshop.
"Still up?" he asked, and - before she could answer. "You work too hard. Surely that can wait until tomorrow."
Kagome shrugged. Her father had no head for running a business or a household. She said, "But tomorrow there'll be other things that need doing."
Her father rested his big gentle hand on her head. "If there's always things that need doing, you shouldn't let yourself grow anxious over things that aren't done."
"Fine words from a man who's locked himself in his workshop all night," Kagome answered back. She bit the thread off at the sleeve and started on a button that was working itself loose. "Surely Hiei Jaganshi can't be that eager for his new boots?" she asked.
Her father shook his head. "I'm just unaccountably restless." He poured himself a half tankard of ale and sat down.
Overtired, Kagome estimated. Two of the apprentices weren't working out, but her father didn't have the heart to dismiss them, for no one else was likely to take them on. Just as no one else was likely to ever want to hire or wed her supposed helper, cousin Kikyou, and they were likely to be stuck with her the rest of their lives. The trouble was, Kagome thought, her father was just too kind-hearted. Without Kagome to look out for him, he would be helpless.
But, coming on the thought of what day it was, she realized that wasn't exactly true.
She said, not quite knowing why, except that she was overtired, too, "Minamino Apothecary was closed and shuttered today."
Her father didn't need to pause to consider. "Fourteen years," he said. "Kurama Minamino would be older now than I was then." That was a thought to unsettle a person. Her father shook his head. "It was the right decision for that time. God have mercy, he was a danger to us all, and it was the tight decision to kill him."
Kagome had heard this story, from more people than just her parents - how Kurama had been in a position to know things that could have gotten dozens of patriots killed.
Her father said - what she didn't need to hear because she remembered it well enough herself - "But I saw him push you to safety when he could have used you to shield himself. And that knowledge has haunted me every time I've closed my eyes since."
Terrible things happened in war, she knew - that had seemed to be the topic of four out of five of Pastor Houshi's sermons all the years she was growing up - and she might just as well blame Kurama Minamino for having chosen the wrong side of the struggle, for choosing a side that in turn caused her father to make a decision that haunted him. She certainly owed more to her father, who had - to her, to everyone in the world besides Kurama Minamino - been the kindest, most generous person she knew.
She remembered how he'd stood, moments later, his hand to his chest, bleeding. Would he have had time - if he hadn't spent it on her - to duck, to evade the bullets? To escape?
Was Kurama Minamino dead because she'd been there?
"Maybe I will save this for tomorrow," Kagome said, setting the needle above the wobbly button.
"It's definitely time everybody should be in bed," her father agreed, staring into his tankard rather than looking at her.
Shiori sat in her kitchen, rocking in her chair that wasn't a rocking chair, and stared at the book that had told her how to bring Kurama back from the dead. Was it permitted, Shiori wondered, did it make sense for someone as deeply involved in witchcraft as she had become to pray? To pray for the death of one man and the life of another?
The cold seemed to seep into Kurama's bones as he waited, hiding crouched between bushes and fence in the dark of the Urameshi's side yard. The knowledge that, really, after fourteen years his bones should be used to being out in the cold, did nothing to warm him.
Go to bed, he silently wished at whoever it was that was still awake, with the lights peeking out through the chinks in the shutters of the workshop and what, by the placement of chimneys, must be the kitchen. There had been a light in the attic, too, presumably the apprentices had gone to sleep or that somebody had gone up there and then come back down.
How many apprentices did Urameshi keep? Kurama wandered. And were they boys or young men? And were they - or Urameshi himself - likely to be working into the morning hours on some projects that needed completing? These were all questions that he could have asked Kagome Urameshi when he'd had the chance, if he'd been level-headed and practiced enough in deception to have though of them.
A clock in the Urameshi's parlor chimed eleven times.
What if the time approached midnight, and the Urameshi household was still up? Or, what if they did go to bed, then Kurama couldn't get the door open? Or, what if he did manage to break in without waking everyone - would he be able, in the dark, to tell which was Yusuke Urameshi's room?
Too many things to consider, too many things that could go wrong.
If he thought about them too much, he wouldn't be bale to move at all.
The lights in the workshop were extinguished, just as Kurama realized he could probably have done worse than tap quietly but firmly at the bootery door and hope that Urameshi would be the one who came to investigate.
After a few minutes a light appeared, briefly, in a second-floor window, then it, too, was blown out, leaving only the kitchen light on. Sukey Urameshi, or Kagome? Or one of the apprentices? Or the hired girl mother had said the Urameshi's had taken on?
Kurama was very aware of the passing minutes. Mother's spell made him keenly attuned to exactly how much time he had left.
The light in the kitchen stayed and stayed on.
Kurama blew on his fingers to warm them, shifting his position to keep his legs from cramping. He tried not to picture Kagome coming awake at the sound of father's Pennsylvania rifle discharging. Kagome running into the room. Kagome seeing her father dead.
Seeing him standing over her father's body. Come morning, if he succeeded, there could be no doubt in any body's mind, so it seemed more honorable to stay rather than run, to try to explain... would that make things better or worse for Kagome? He tried to put himself in her position and could not.
And the light stayed on.
Kurama stood. In his spell-enhanced awareness of time, he knew that there were ten minutes left till midnight. The time had run out for hoping to do this in the dark. He took several deep breaths, flexed his fingers. He realized that he was just taking up time, still hoping.
He bit the end off one of the paper cartridges, poured the charge down the rifle barrel, and rammed ball and paper down the top. Then, without pause, he stepped up to the door and knocked, not loud enough to rouse the house, but to clearly identify himself as a visitor rather than a sneak thief. Kurama lifted the Pennsylvania rifle to his shoulder.
Kurama lowered the rifle long enough to know a second time, more forcefully, then hastily raised it again.
"Door's open." Urameshi's voice called out.
Any more noise and they were sure to have Kagome - if not the apprentices and maid, if not the neighbors - down here too soon.
Kurama weighed opening the door the hastily raising the rifle and aiming and firing from the doorway against actually entering. Certainly, the closer he was to his target, the less room there was for error : missing or having another person in the kitchen get between Kurama and Urameshi.
At best, the rifle took a full minute to reload. Realistically, he would have only one shot.
Realistically, his hands were already shaking.
He swung the rifle around so that he was holding it - muzzle up, stock towards the ground - in his right hand. He hoped he would still be able to move quickly when he judged the time right.
Kurama opened the door and walked into the kitchen.
Yusuke Urameshi was sitting at the table, an ale tankard in front of him. No weapon, Kurama noted. Nobody else in the room.
Kurama swung the Pennsylvania rifle up to his shoulder.
Against all expectation, against all reason, Urameshi said, calmly, softly, "Hello, Kurama."
Urameshi said : "I've been expecting you a long time."
The muzzle of the rifle wavered as Kurama's hands trembled, though Kurama told himself that Urameshi must have run afoul of another Kurama, must have him confused with someone else.
It didn't make any difference. Kurama felt no inclination to take on the role of avenging angel. He didn't need for Urameshi to understand what was happening or why. He didn't need or want Urameshi's fear. He only needed to kill Urameshi in order to live.
"It's all right," Urameshi told him. "I understand."
But even as he spoke, there was the sound of bare feet hurrying down the stairs, and Kagome's worried voice calling, "Father?"
For the first time, Urameshi looked afraid. He looked terrified. "Don't hurt her," he begged, a whisper so Kagome wouldn't hear. "She had nothing to do with it."
Kurama couldn't let the man die thinking his daughter was in danger. "I know that," he assured Urameshi.
And at that moment Kagome entered the kitchen, wearing a night dress over which she'd hastily thrown a shawl over. "Is some - "
She stopped, seeing her father, seeing him standing just across the table from her father, pointing a rifle at him.
Then, proving he hadn't mistaken Kurama for someone else. "Kagome," Urameshi said, as though the three of them had met before, "you remember Kurama Minamino. He and I have some unsettled business. Go back upstairs."
Kagome recognized him from that evening, Kurama could tell. "Kurama Minamino?" she repeated numbly. She glanced from him to her father to the Pennsylvania rifle back to him. Suddenly her eyes widened, and Kurama knew she recognized him from much further back than this evening.
"Kagome, this doesn't concern you," Urameshi said. "Go upstairs."
"No," Kagome answered.
There were only minutes left. Kurama could feel them slipping away. Still looking at Urameshi over the rifle barrel, Kurama said to Urameshi, "What do you mean, you've been expecting me?"
"You've haunted my dreams," Urameshi said. "I thought you were a waking vision" - Urameshi nodded to indicate the tankard of ale he'd been drinking - "Expected a ghost to have knocked." Another pause. "This is something of your mother's doing, isn't it?"
Kurama took a steading breath, knowing that not so very long ago people who had tried what mother had done had been hung, stoned, or burned at the stake. "There's no other way," he said so that Kagome wouldn't testify against her. "The only spell my mother could find to bring me back requires that I repay what was done to me." He was having trouble breathing again, which could have been fear, or the fact that his life was drawing close to an end. He only had a minute and a half left to kill Urameshi. He sighted down the rifle's barrel.
- and Urameshi, nodding, said, "I'm sorry."
Kurama was able to drag in a ragged breath, then another. "Why?" he demanded shakily.
"We realized you'd learned about the weapons stored in Naraku Gumo's barn. There was a British detachment heading toward Summerfield, and we were afraid you'd tell them about it, give them the names of the leaders of the rebellion."
"I wouldn't have done that," Kurama protested. He was shivering and he spoke with his jaw clenched to keep from chattering. "I would have done nothing that would have gotten people killed."
Urameshi nodded, but said, "There was no way for us to know that."
Seconds left. Kurama tightened his grip. "I'm sorry," he whispered.
"I understand," Yusuke answered, the second time he'd said that.
Kurama tried to hold the rifle steady.
Yusuke braced himself.
Kagome covered her mouth, but a soft cry escaped anyway.
Kurama felt the last seconds ticking away. All he had to do was tighten his finger the least bit, and he could live.
"It's all right," Yusuke told him, no doubt worried that, the way Kurama was shaking, Kurama was likely to only wound him, that it would required reloading and multiple shots to kill him - the way it had taken with Kurama himself.
From the parlor Kurama could hear the first chime of the Urameshi's clock proclaiming midnight.
A sharp pain pierced his chest. Now or die, he thought as the bell rang out a second time. If it wasn't already too late. Despite the pain he got the rifle steady...
...but couldn't inflict that pain on another.
The bell rang a third time and Kurama let the rifle swivel to point downward. The pain was dizzying and he dropped to his knees but managed to keep hold of the weapon, afraid that dropping it might cause it to discharge.
On the fourth ring he got the rifle safely set on the floor, wrapped his arms around himself to keep from crying out and prepared to die.
On the fifth ringing of the mantel clock, Kagome realized what she was happening : that her father was to live, and that Kurama Minamino was to die.
It's not fair! she thought. Why can't they both live?
The bell rang a sixth time. She met her father's anguished look, and he shook his head helplessly. "I'm sorry," he whispered hoarsely.
A seventh ring.
Father was sorry, Kurama was sorry, everybody was sorry; didn't that count for anything?
Kagome rushed forward, to hastily kneel beside Kurama, to put her arms around him, to hold him close. She wasn't going to let him die alone a second time.
"Don't go..." she whispered, holding him closer.
There was a shadow at the open kitchen door. "No!" Shiori Minamino cried. Her shawl flapping around her so that she really did look like a witch, Mrs. Minamino ran into the kitchen and reached for Kurama's rifle on the floor.
Kurama brought his hand down on the barrel. "Enough," he gasped. Kagome felt him shudder. "Enough."
Kagome tightened her grasp on him, not knowing what to expect.
He continued to breathe, somewhat raggedly, for another several seconds, but he worked to bring his breathing under control. His face was drawn from pain, but already he was beginning to get some color back.
Mrs. Minamino sank to her knees in front of Kurama. "I'm sorry," she said. She turned to look at Kagome and her father, repeating, "I'm sorry," then turned back to Kurama. "I thought there was only one way to pay back violence."
Kagome supposed this made more sense than it sounded like. She supposed it was the answer to one of the many questions that, eventually, would need to be asked. But for the moment she didn't have the energy to ask any of them.
Somehow - she doubted she'd ever learn exactly how or why - they'd all been given a second chance : her father, with his hand over his face; Kurama's mother, holding desperately onto Kurama's hand; Kurama, with his head lowered, obviously still too shaky to speak, his arm wrapped around her waist; and she herself.
She rested her head on Kurama's shoulder. Second chances didn't come to everyone. She hoped they would do well with theirs.
A/N: I hope I didn't scare any Kurama fan girls into thinking he died and junk. As a reminder, I own nothing of what I written. The story's owned by Vivian Vande Velde, Inuyasha by Takahashi-sama, and Yu Yu Hakusho by Togashi-sama. I will gladly answer any and all questions you may have. Also, I wrote this story from memory, I haven't read it in 3 years and I still remembered it. Please tell me what you thought...plus a sequel is in the making.