And it's a wrap, folks! Thanks for reading; it's been a great pleasure! ;)

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Phantoms

XII

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She appeared as vibrant and lively as she did over seventy years ago when he first took her as his hostage.

Hiei stepped into the room hesitantly. It was almost ludicrous, the amount of tension and wariness he felt towards one Yukimura Keiko. She was almost ninety and living in a hospice; she couldn't even walk on her own anymore. And yet there he was—one of the most revered fighters of the Makai, cowering before a frail, old woman.

"It seems people really do respect you more with age, huh?" she greeted with a gentle laugh.

Hiei stood as far away from her as he could manage. "Why did you ask to see me?"

Keiko smoothed the wrinkles on her sheets patiently. Her eyes smiled at him. "Just to offer some advice," she said, "about Yusuke."

It was by far one of the most awkward moments in Hiei's life. He'd always regarded Keiko as something of a nuisance. As one of Yusuke's oldest friends and potential lover, Hiei had reserved a special kind of indifference towards her in the past. It was no different now. Despite no longer being his rival, she nevertheless maintained a hold over Yusuke that caused Hiei much frustration. It wasn't her fault—not entirely at least. But it was easier to blame her than Yusuke or himself.

"I know you've been patient, Hiei," she began. Her brown eyes bore deeply into his. "And you'll probably have to be patient for a while longer. That's how Yusuke is. If we didn't love him so much, we probably would have killed him a long time ago."

Hiei folded his arms, averting his gaze. "He is a fool."

Keiko laughed, nodding. "Yes, yes, he is. But…he's like a child. Even after all this time. He always goes at his own pace. I wouldn't trust him over to anyone else other than you. So I'm just asking you to continue waiting. He'll come to you eventually."

She watched him fondly. The familiarity in her expression perturbed him; Hiei never wished to be her friend, never wanted it. But he could honor her loyalty to Yusuke. "You're still just as annoying as before," replied Hiei after a long pause.

He left her in the room, a peaceful smile resting upon her face.

--

The final confrontation that transpired between Koenma and Yusuke that day was never revealed to their friends and allies. Kurama could only conclude that whatever happened, it was for the best. He and Hiei had completely dismantled the Disciples' control over the main headquarters by the time Yusuke met up with them. Jin, Touya, Suzuki, and Rinku had also succeeded in disabling their targeted bases by then as well. The inhabitants of the Reikai were in an uproar, torn between supporting the Disciples or running away. That was when Koenma reappeared. With what was left of his own officers and forces, he issued his first major public statement to the people. It was a historical gesture, and his words were broadcasted in the Ningenkai and the Makai simultaneously.

For the first time in the whole of the Reikai's long existence, its leader made himself freely known.

And by doing so, Koenma cemented his significance and worth; the people began to look to him for leadership once again. The speech had been moving and succinct. In acknowledging his failures and promising to return the Reikai back to its former prominence, Koenma had won back the hearts of his people and gained the respect of the many humans and youkai watching from their homes. Everyone knew it wouldn't be an easy journey, but in Koenma's eyes was the burning ambition to succeed and nothing would discourage him ever again. Relations between the Ningenkai and the Reikai would be strained at best in the near future, but with the Makai's neutral standpoint all three worlds would ultimately achieve a delicate balance.

Everyone was aware of each other. No one would be left behind anymore.

--

"You should tell him."

"I won't have you butting into my affairs, Koenma."

"But why do you wait? It's unlike you."

"…Some things are meant to take the slow path."

"Well. That's royal coming from you."

"You will say nothing to him."

"Yes, yes, you have my word. Honestly, you're such a mysterious fellow sometimes."

--

One month after the True Disciples' failed attempt to take over the Reikai found Yusuke standing in the middle of a field of flowers. Spring was blooming in this particular region and the multitude of colors and soft scents pervading the air was vast. He walked through the ankle-high grass, eyes resting on the lone onyx monument resting amidst the swirl of petals. Yusuke approached the memorial and followed the unfamiliar, but elegant, script with his eyes.

The field was like a paradise. The sun fell on his skin like a warm caress and the breeze was cool and uplifting. If it weren't for the somber presence of the marker, Yusuke would have thought he'd gone and died in his sleep. Hiei had chosen the location well. He read the foreign writing once more.

The past month seemed like a dream to him sometimes. Yusuke hadn't had that much excitement crammed in such a short time since his days as a detective. It had been an enlivening experience, but he was thankful for the break. He needed it. Yusuke had the unique privilege in having been born as a human in the Ningenkai, dying and being reborn as a Reikai Tantei, and then dying again only to resurrect as a youkai; once the media in the Ningenkai got wind of his diverse background, he'd been in great demand to offer counsel and guidance. To escape the raving mobs and publicity, Yusuke took refuge in the Reikai once more and became an official liaison for Koenma. The political ramifications of this action were enormous. As a representative of all three worlds, Yusuke had chosen to ally himself specifically with the Reikai, and that shed more positive light to Koenma's position.

It had been an easy choice for Yusuke to make. The Makai and the Ningenkai were prospering well on their own, and Koenma was an old friend. Yusuke could never turn his back on him after all they'd gone through together. Loss of free time and privacy were a small sacrifice to bring order to a world. The work wasn't too strenuous either. Mostly, he acted as an envoy/bodyguard on diplomatic missions. Sometimes he would investigate certain scandals, which was very reminiscent of his detective days—except this time he operated alone. The only real political strength he had was his public appeal, which was spread across all three worlds—especially in the Ningenkai; Yusuke's sudden popularity had come as the biggest surprise out of the whole business, and he didn't really know how to respond. He was flattered of course, but on his off days he would usually retreat to the anonymity the Makai offered.

After his last mission involving a clandestine affair between the Prime Minister of France and a young male youkai, Koenma had given Yusuke a weeklong break. The work may not have been as physically draining, but it was nonetheless exhausting. Politics. It was a dirty and cruel battlefield.

"Sometimes I wonder if I'm just too nice," he pondered out loud. A blue petal fluttered across his vision as if laughing at him. Yusuke grinned.

"It's your own fault for accepting the job."

Yusuke turned around. "You know, we gotta stop meeting up at graves. It's kind of depressing don't you think?"

Hiei stepped forward and rested a hand on the marker in reverence. "You wanted to meet somewhere isolated," he said.

"Yeah, but come on. Most of the Makai is uninhabited wilderness and you chose Mukuro's burial grounds?"

"You said before you wanted to see where I would bury her," replied Hiei dryly.

Yusuke rolled his eyes. "Well, yeah. I can't believe you were considering burying her in the garden. Talk about being tied down to your office."

"She wouldn't have cared," pointed out Hiei. "Now why are you avoiding the topic?"

Smiling, the former detective plopped down on the grass, spread-eagled. The sun peaked out from behind a cloud and he squinted to avoid the sudden light. The earth shifted gently around him and Yusuke turned his head to peer up at Hiei.

"I just wanted to see you," he said simply.

He'd had a dream like this before. Yusuke found that he much rather have the reality. Hiei stood before him like something ephemeral. If he closed his eyes he felt that the shorter youkai would disappear completely. But Hiei only stared at him, back against the sun, before moving into Yusuke's direct line of vision. Suddenly, the light was shadowed and Yusuke was able to look onto Hiei's face without squinting.

"You're busy aren't you?" asked Hiei.

Yusuke blinked. "I'm on break now."

"I'm busy too."

"…But you told me you'd meet me here?"

The meaning in Hiei's eyes was indecipherable. "You said it was an emergency."

"You wouldn't meet with me otherwise!" replied Yusuke, frowning. Then Hiei moved and the sun hit his eyes. "Shit! Give me a little warning ne—"

He didn't finish his words, however. Hiei's lips pressed against his with no sense of urgency, though the demand was all too clear. Yusuke resisted from smiling as he allowed Hiei to take the charge. Soft yet strong. He felt his whole body surrender to him. A warm hand moved to rest over his heart and Hiei inched away from him.

"I pledge myself, heart and body, unto thee."

The words trembled against Yusuke's lips, and all he could see was crimson. He leaned up a little to kiss Hiei lightly. "I pledge myself, heart and body, unto thee," he whispered back, closing his eyes. He pressed his right hand to Hiei's heart, feeling the steady rhythm beneath his palm. He chuckled to dissolve the nervous energy within himself. "I guess it's a little late in coming, but you know I love you, right?"

Hiei smiled wryly. "You really are an idiot."

He leant back and Yusuke saw he was crouched on one knee. His hand was still pressed to his heart and Yusuke looked down to see that something else was also there. When Hiei lifted his hand, he saw the hirui stone fixed onto a silver chain.

"This time it's yours to keep. If something should ever happen, I'll be able to find you."

Yusuke caught the stone as he sat up. He looked at Hiei slyly. "I've never been good with jewelry, you know…"

"Then you better change your habits," replied Hiei with every measure of coolness.

Throwing his head back, Yusuke laughed.

--

FIN