Mind the rating, guys.
It's only half past the point of oblivion
The hourglass on the table
The walk before the run
The breath before the kiss
And the fear before the flames
Have you ever felt this way?
- P!nk (Glitter in the Air)
Yusuke was drowning. He fought against the vast emptiness around him, his lungs screaming for breath, his arms reaching and pushing and punching to find the surface. There was nothing. He was nothing. And there was a sense of peace that settled over him when he accepted that as truth.
Sunlight and air and dirt and grass and laughter sprung forth from the darkness. Every corner was filled with light, blinding him at first. He gasped for breath and squeezed his eyes closed and wished he could've just drowned.
"It's okay," the voice of a young girl cooed. She sounded so close to him. So clear. The laughter he had heard earlier was somewhere in the background, fuzzy like an old memory.
Yusuke struggled to open his eyes. He blinked in the bright light and could see he had landed in a park. Three picnic tables had been covered in pink plastic; there were cupcakes and food and presents and balloons everywhere, and a dozen kids no older than eight ran around in the clearing.
"You can come out. It's okay. There's plenty."
Yusuke was breathing heavy still. He turned his head and saw Keiko. She had pigtails in her hair and was in a frilly pink dress. Her cheeks were chubby and red and her smile was bright. Yusuke was surprised to realize he remembered this. This was Keiko's eighth birthday. Sure enough, he could spot himself running around with the kids in the background. They were so far away, he had to strain to see them, and even then it wasn't clear. Their outlines were smudged and their noises were almost muted.
This was not his memory of Keiko's eighth birthday party.
She had placed a hand on a tree and was smiling up at the branches. "It's my party. I can invite anybody I want. Do you want to come to my birthday party?"
A small figure in black descended out of the tree and landed in front of Keiko.
No. Way. Is that seriously Hiei?
Somehow the fire demon was even shorter than he had been when Yusuke had met him. Hiei was scrawny, his face shrunken in like he hadn't eaten in a very long time. He hid his eyes behind his black hair. The bruise on his cheek was obvious even from where Yusuke sat, ten yards away.
Keiko smiled brilliantly at him. "I'm Keiko!" She chirped. "Do you like cupcakes?"
The earth started spinning underneath Yusuke. He grabbed fistfuls of dirt and grass but to no avail. It opened up under him and he was falling, falling, falling and drowning all over again until he surfaced, grasping on to the branches of a tree outside of the Yukimura Ramen Shop, gasping into the starless night.
Keiko was not much older than she had been at her birthday party. She was kneeling at the base of the tree and speaking quietly to a small boy who sat on his haunches and devoured the food set before him.
"I hope you like it," she whispered shyly. "I helped Dad make it myself."
Hiei looked up from the bowl in his hands. He slurped noodles into his mouth, never breaking eye contact with Keiko. It made a loud noise and he blushed despite himself. "Yeah, it's good."
He was rewarded with that compliment by a smile showing almost all of Keiko's teeth - a couple of which were missing. Hiei's blush deepened and he busied himself with eating.
"Keiko?" An older female voice questioned. Yusuke recognized Mrs. Y's voice before he saw her approach. Her footsteps were tentative. She had one hand over her mouth and the other grasping the hem of her apron. "Keiko, who are you speaking with?"
"Oh, this is my friend Hiei. He - Hiei?" Keiko stood up and looked around. Hiei had disappeared from his seat at the base of the tree at a speed that the female Yukimuras couldn't see. But he hadn't really gone. Hiei hid himself in the branches of the tree, silent as the night around him, a breath away from Yusuke.
Keiko shrugged and took her mother's hand. "I didn't mean to worry you, Momma. Hiei is my friend and he doesn't have a family anymore. He's trying to find them again."
Mrs. Y kneeled down right where her young daughter had been just a moment before. She peered into the bowl and noticed the ramen that was only half eaten. "You brought him food?"
Keiko nodded, playing absentmindedly with a pigtail. "He gets hungry out there by himself."
"Well," Mrs. Y wrung her hands together. "Well," she said again, looking around the yard, "it's getting late, Keiko, and you have school tomorrow. Come." She held out a hand and Keiko took it, obediently following her back into the shop.
Hiei waited until the door closed to exhale. As quickly and as quietly as he could manage, he climbed down to the base of the tree. He finished off the noodles and left the bowl behind when he took off into the darkness.
Yusuke felt a tug on his body, pulling at his legs, sucking him into a black hole feet first, until he was tumbling head over ass right into the ramen shop. It was daytime now and judging by the number of patrons it was probably sometime before the dinner rush. Mr. Y was behind the counter, busy working, but stopping every few moments to peer over the shoulder of the young man back there with him.
Hiei was cutting up vegetables, focused completely on his work, on the knife in his hand and the perfectly even lines he was chopping into the carrots and celery and onions.
Mr. Y clapped him on the shoulder. "Hiei, my boy, I think you may have found your calling."
The younger man flinched at the physical contact but didn't falter in his work. At least not until three young girls walked in, talking and giggling. Hiei froze, held his breath and watched Keiko, older than she had been before and dressed in her junior high uniform and pigtails, lead her friends through the shop and up the stairs. She smiled at him and waved and Hiei nicked his finger on the knife.
Mr. Y shook his head and chuckled. "Bandaids under the counter. And get back to work!"
The world shifted and Yusuke wasn't Yusuke anymore. No longer was he an outsider, peeking in on Hiei's memories. The lines blurred between them and he couldn't tell where he ended and Hiei began. Yusuke was seeing everything from Hiei's eyes, feeling everything from under Hiei's skin, like he'd been turned into Hiei.
Maybe Yusuke had always been Hiei.
He was strapped to a table and filled with anger and rage and fear and desperation and longing. And then there was pain, so much pain. Only pain. It sliced through him, cut him in half, and he was sure he would die. He wanted to die. But he did not.
Keiko was there again, kneeling before him on the floor of her room, her bed made up in yellow and the pages of the books on her desk rustling in the wind coming in from the open window. "Will it…will it help you find them?" She was asking, her fingertips ghosting across his forehead.
"I did find them," he said, his voice so quiet he wasn't sure if she could hear him at all. All three of his eyes closed. "They were already dead."
Keiko's fingers trailed down his nose and over his lips and he could hear her breathe. Nothing else existed but her fingers on his lips and her soft breath on his face.
"I have a sister. She is still alive."
His voice is far away, drifting far away, and he can't feel her anymore. She's gone and he's certain he's alone, but her voice carries over the darkness and caresses him, whispers in his ear, "Tell her, Hiei. You should tell her."
Memories like scenes from movies played all around him at once, swarming him in a circle, constantly moving, making themselves known. And he found he couldn't keep his eyes closed anymore.
Keiko, laughing at school with her friends.
Keiko, her skirt lifted up by some kid in a green uniform. Able to defend herself.
Yukina, beautiful and alone and happy. Better off without him.
Keiko, crying. Someone had died.
Keiko, laughing. Someone was alive.
Kurama on a roof top with a plan that would finally supply Hiei with his independence.
Fighting with some kid in a green uniform. Kurama turning traitor. Hiei's independence being taken from him once again.
Fighting on a team against the Four Saint Beasts and watching Keiko, far away, so very far away, fight for her life because some kid in a green uniform loved her too.
The world is spinning too fast to be able to make anything out clearly anymore. He's saving Yukina and fighting in the Dark Tournament and angry that Keiko is in the stands, angry that she isn't there for just him, angry with himself. He's unleashing the dragon. He's winning the tournament.
He's saving the life of the boy who loves Keiko too.
He's destroying Chapter Black without a second thought.
Yukina is handing him her Hiruiseki stone and the truth comes out of him, like someone else is saying it, and no one has ever held him like that. No one has ever cried with him like that.
He's alone with Mr. Y early one morning in the ramen shop, handing him a bag full of money and telling him, "It's for everything. For Keiko. For her future…and for my past." And Mr. Y knows that Hiei's leaving, but he just shakes his head and sighs, "You gotta tell her."
It's leaving without saying goodbye to Keiko.
It's training under Mukuro and getting stronger and dying and coming back to life and getting stronger still. It's fighting to be king and losing but not being lost anymore.
Keiko is crying and the world stops spinning. There is only this - just this one memory. There is only Keiko, on the ground and sobbing, kneeling before him on the floor of her room, her bed made up in yellow and the pages of the books on her desk rustling in the wind coming in from the open window.
And her voice carries over to him, muffled by the wind and her sobs and the pounding in his ears. "Do you love her?"
Hiei's angrier than he's ever been when he grabs her roughly by her shoulders, pulls her to her feet and slams her against her bedroom door. How dare she, how dare she, when she's always been the one with her attention divided.
His mouth crashes against hers, angry and desperate and longing. How dare she. How dare she. He holds her tight and pins her arms down and presses himself into her, because if she doesn't know now, she'll never know.
His cheeks are wet and in the silence of their kiss he can hear little pin drops hit the floor.
"It's you," he gasps. "It's you. It's you. It's always been you."
Keiko's legs give out and they slide down to the floor together. She pulls her arms free and her fingertips ghost across his forehead and trail down his nose, resting on his lips. Her soft breath is on his face and she smiles.
"I love you."
And it doesn't matter who said it, because it might've been either of him, and he can't tell anymore who said it first, or even if there was a first time. It's always been there, always been between them, always, always, always. His fingers run through her hair that's no longer in pigtails; long and golden brown and soft as silk. His hand curls around the back of her neck and he tilts her head up towards his. His mouth finds hers, a wet tender glide of lips and tongues and aching and longing and finding…
They fit together.
They've always fit together.
Always, always, always he whispers in her ear and he rocks into her and kisses her hair and she breathes out his name and gives him life.
Yusuke woke up on the floor of the kitchen in Hiei and Keiko's apartment, tears on his cheeks and a sob stuck in his throat. Sunlight was streaming in through the window above the sink, shining down around the slants in the blinds and casting shadows over him. Every muscle in his body hurt. His head ached and his eyes burned.
How could I have been so stupid?
The sink was dripping, drip drip drip, like Hiruiseki stones softly hitting the floor. He cried out and buried his face in his hands, the voice of his ancestral mother laughing in his ears. "Your gift is his now," she whispered to him, pulling the sob out of his throat. He curled into a ball on the floor, pressing his knees against his chest and squeezing his eyes closed, willing himself, begging himself, to please-
Please, just wake up. Just let me wake up.
But she was still in his head, her laughter echoing against the yellow walls of the kitchen in the apartment Keiko shared with someone else.
"Your happiness is his now."
A/N: I do realize I'm taking a big leap here in the name of Creative License by Hiei crying and producing Hiruiseki stones, but my argument for this is that it's never been proven otherwise. And yes, Hiei crying would be out of character - that's kind of the point of this whole story.
If anybody has problems with the rating (because I do still feel like this is a solid T story, not quite M worthy) please let me know and I'll adjust the rating.
I'm torn about how I feel regarding this chapter. One the one hand, I think it's a little wordy and uses "and" too often. On the other hand, I kinda dig it.
And then I'm like, they won't notice I've been gone for years, right?