Disclaimer: Yu Yu Hakushois the property of Yoshihiro Togashi. No copyright infringement is intended.
Author's Note: There are war-related themes so, heads up. Also darkness and violence. This story was inspired by Shinigami no Seishi.
Kurama cannot see through the blood in his eyes.
The salt stings and he blinks it away, desperate to wipe his face clean. But he cannot move his hands. The seals on the Godking's power are immensely strong and painstakingly precise, and Genkai and Shizuru have both already fallen. Kurama is the only pillar left, and the only thing keeping the Godking bound is Kurama's will.
There is a scream of rage from farther down the mountain, Yuusuke's voice rising above the hell of the battlefield. He's been trying to reach them since sunset, but the Godking's forces keep swarming him, pushing him back with sheer numbers. The Godking can't be certain of winning if he faces all four Reikai Tantei, so he's making sure he doesn't have to.
Hellfire on the horizon tells him where Hiei is fighting. Too far away to help with this last stand.
There had been a dozen others on the mountainside with them only a few hours ago, but they've long since fallen. All that is left is Kuwabara, throwing himself at the Godking with every ounce of strength and power left in his rapidly weakening body.
And Kurama, desperately maintaining the shields that keep the Godking from healing himself.
Kuwabara looks at the wounded men and women spread out across the floor like he can't quite understand how they got there or why they won't get up.
He looks a far sight better than the last time Kurama had seen him, oddly pale in the moonlight and shadows, but he is clean of the mud and ash and blood that had streaked his skin during the last battle. And if he hesitates a little before he walks to Kurama's side, and if his eyes are strangely distant, he doesn't look like he is in pain or afraid.
The human crouches down beside the thin pallet of blankets that the healers had given Kurama after Hiei had dragged him off the battlefield more dead than alive. Kuwabara finds Kurama's gaze and holds it for a second. Kurama thinks about a lot of things in that moment, but mostly he thinks about how much easier this would have been if he'd just died out there on the mountainside after the Godking was defeated.
"We won," Kuwabara says finally. There are no congratulations in his voice, no ring of victory. Just a fact. Hello, Kurama, the sky is blue. We won. Life sucks.
"We won," Kurama agrees whole-heartedly with the sentiment.
Kuwabara really looks at him then, for the first time since entering the sick room. "It gets harder from here."
For a long time after Kuwabara leaves, Kurama stares at the ceiling and waits for dawn.
There are dead to be counted and it is inevitable that he know some of them.
Keiko's father is among them. When the Godking's troops raided the city, her father was one of the men and women who fought back. He went into the streets with the knives from his kitchen, and his neighbors say he cut the invaders apart until they brought him down.
Kurama's stepfather is dead as well, and there are no eye-witnesses to say how. Kurama looks just long enough to see if the man his mother loved died quickly and without much suffering. When he sees her and his step-brother next, he makes sure to lie.
Atsuko is dead. She had been on the mountainside with them at the end, proving that the Godking's troops died from bullet wounds as easily as from claws and swords and hellfire. Her neck is broken. Her fingers still clench the gun.
Genkai and Shizuru are dead, consumed by the Godking's power. There aren't any bodies to bury, but that won't matter.
Mitarai is dead. Kurama recognizes the curly blond hair and oddly delicate features of the boy who had helped them stop Sensui at the last. He's bruised and bloody, but Kurama can't see at a glance how he died.
Kuwabara pauses at this last body with a strange frown and when he looks at Kurama his eyes are dark and weary.
Somewhere further up the mountain, Yuusuke is huddled on the mud-slick and blood-soaked ground, screaming through clenched teeth.
Kurama does not sleep for the better part of a week and when he does he dreams of things he wishes he had never seen.
He wakes up in the early hours of the morning and rubs a hand over his eyes, thinking of the Makai and how easily he could forget humanity if only he could bring himself to just leave.
He lowers his hand and stares across the room at Kuwabara who is standing by the window. His friend doesn't look like he's had any rest at all since Kurama last saw him on the battlefield. He leans against the wall and stares out at heaven only knows what, looking tired and young and so very easily hurt.
"I could learn to hate you," Kurama admits to the dark.
Kuwabara doesn't seem to hear him, for which Kurama is relieved.
Rebuilding is harder than the invasion, the constant fighting, the brutal final battle.
Kurama takes care of his mother and his step-brother, helps where he can. Most of his days are filled with organizing and counseling. Everyone knows who he is; they know he held the seals shut until the Godking could be killed.
One day a woman thanks him for what he did. She has only one good eye left and her husband died in the invasion. Kurama holds her hand while she tells him about the new house she is building and doesn't speak to anyone for the rest of the day.
That night he doesn't go back to the house he shares with his family. Instead he climbs the mountainside until he finds the place where the Godking died. The ground is scorched and barren, hard dirt and scarred rock. Nothing grows there yet. Kurama can still smell the blood if he tries.
Kuwabara shows up around dawn and stands in the center of the devastation as the sun comes up over the mountain. His hair catches the light like fire and Kurama lowers himself to the ground and presses his cheek to the dirt.
Hiei leaves to go back to the Makai. Him, Kurama can safely hate. Sometimes, when the days have been hard and he thinks too much about the dead and the ones who aren't dead yet, Kurama thinks he even means it.
Most of the time he's just relieved. The Makai can be brutal and violent and life there can be short and harsh, but there's an honesty to it Kurama does not see reflected in the human world. No, the mortal realm tricks you into believing in thinks like forever and peace and happiness. The Makai is harsh, but it's honest.
"You could go, too," Kuwabara points out not long after Hiei leaves. "No one could stop you. Yomi would be glad to have you back."
It would break his mother's heart, Kurama thinks. His step-brother would see it as abandonment. Yuusuke – Yuusuke would never forgive him.
"Why would I go somewhere you couldn't follow?" Kurama asks
Kuwabara shakes his head and looks away.
Yuusuke and Keiko are married on the first day of spring, nearly a year to the day after the Godking was defeated.
Kurama keeps off to the side. He's burdened by the anniversary of that day, and he doesn't want his melancholy to rub off on the guests.
He sees Kuwabara coming his way and steps a little further away from the laughing, dancing crowd of well-wishers. He leans against a willow tree, huge and ancient, it's branches neatly curtaining him off from the rest of the guests. Half the tree is gone, blasted away during the short war that began and ended nearly a year ago. Kurama feels a definite sort of affinity for the thing; some days he thinks he's walking around with half of him missing. The good half, he suspects. The half that made him human, the half his mother and family and friends had loved.
Shuichi died in the war. Kurama walked away no matter the cost.
Kuwabara is dressed more casually than most of the guests, which would almost have taken effort. Urameshi Yuusuke's wedding was never going to be a black tie affair, but this celebration, so aptly timed, had become something more than a wedding.
"Nice speech," Kuwabara says with an easy smile as he leans against the tree beside Kurama.
Kurama shook his head. "You should have been best man."
Kuwabara snorts. "Dude. The day I get up in front of a crowd and say anything good about that jackass. What I should have been was the maid of honor. I could say nice things about Keiko."
"I can't picture you in a dress," Kurama says, but that isn't entirely the truth and if the dirty look on Kuwabara's face is any indication, he knows it.
He very nearly hadn't been best man. He and Yuusuke had barely seen each other in the last year. Rebuilding had taken so much time, so much work and bloodshed, that it had almost been harder than winning the war. They still weren't done and wouldn't be for a while yet. And while he and Yuusuke had spoken and coordinated with each other frequently over the intervening months, they had seen each other only occasionally. It wasn't until Kurama had arrived for the wedding that morning that Yuusuke had greeted him with a bear hug, a bottle of beer, and an invitation to be his best man. And a puppy dog face, just in case. Kurama won't ever say so, but he knows he's Yuusuke's second choice.
"Everyone looks happy," Kuwabara says after a few moments of companionable silence. "You guys needed something to celebrate."
Kurama closes his eyes against the sun and the blue sky, the dancing guests and the laughing children, ignores the grass beneath his feet or the leaves on the trees around him, still pale and tiny and new.
He keeps them closed until Kuwabara leaves him standing there alone.
When he opens his eyes, Hiei is watching him.
He climbs the mountainside and finds the scar in the land where the Godking died. It's still barren rock and dry dirt. Nature, left to its own devices, will not reclaim this place for several years yet.
He sits on a rock at the edge of the devastation and watches Kuwabara walk slowly around, pausing here and there as he reaches the places where Genkai and Shizuru died, where the twelve who'd fought with them had died.
Hiei finds him there. Kurama isn't even surprised, though he hadn't known Hiei was back. He's not sure what he expects, but it isn't for Hiei to stand at a distance and watch Kuwabara from the shadows.
Eventually Kurama breaks his cover for him. "Hiei is here," he says and Kuwabara glances toward the exact place where the fire demon stood.
Hiei circles the devastation and stands at Kurama's side. "Is there something you wanted to tell me?"
"No," Kurama says honestly. Because there isn't. Because he'd rather almost anything else.
Hiei watches Kurama for a moment, and slowly reaches up to untie the binding on the Jagan. Kurama looks away from the pale violet light.
"You told us how the Godking died," Hiei says finally.
"I did." Kurama stops himself from getting defensive. "It was the truth."
"You held the binding on the Godking's power," Hiei says. "Kuwabara cut the Godking down."
"Wore him down," Kurama says. "It took hours. The Godking didn't take a single human seriously enough and Kuwabara hurt him, badly."
"And because of the seals you maintained, the Godking couldn't heal himself."
"No," Kurama says.
"So when his body finally died-"
The story goes, that when the Godking's body finally died, he summoned up some last bit of strength, of power. Not enough to save himself, but enough to cut down the human warrior who had defeated him. Kuwabara and the Godking had killed each other that night on the mountainside.
"The Godking couldn't heal himself," Kurama says. "So he took a healthy body for himself."
Kuwabara had been bloody and exhausted and his arms and legs and chest had been covered in burns and slowly healing slash marks from the Godking's attacks, but he'd been alive, which made him a far more attractive option than the body the Godking had already been in.
"I didn't realize," Kurama explains to Hiei, to Kuwabara who isn't paying him any attention at all. "I dropped the seal. I went to him."
And something had warned him. Something in Kuwabara's eyes or voice. Something in the way his friend had turned to face him as the Godking's body fell to the ground. Kurama can't say what it was, and in his worst nightmares he finds himself realizing there hadn't been anything at all.
Kurama had killed a child once. A ten-year-old boy. The child had chosen sides in a war against humanity and came to stop them from doing what they had to do. So Kurama had killed him. It wasn't the first time Kurama had killed someone, though it was the first time he had killed a child, as far as he knew. He hadn't regretted it, though if there had been another way, Kurama would have taken it.
Killing Kuwabara was a bit like killing the child. Kurama couldn't bring himself to regret it, but he'd have given anything, everything, in all three worlds, if only there had been another way.
Kuwabara staggered, would have fallen if Kurama hadn't caught him. "You did it," Kurama whispered against Kuwabara's ear. "We won. It's over now."
The rose thorn in Kurama's hand grew to the size of dagger and slid between Kuwabara's ribs with only a hint of resistance as he forced the point through the leather of Kuwabara's jacket. Blood washed over Kurama's hand, obscenely hot, slick.
Because the war had to end. The Godking had to be defeated and the world had to be saved. But mostly because Kurama wouldn't abide it, wouldn't let that abomination live. Kuwabara had deserved better than what he had been given, at the end. But Kurama would rather see his friend dead than let the Godking use him to destroy his own world.
"You could have told us."
"Why?" Kurama asks. "What good would it have done anyone for me to tell them? Let them think he died fighting, striking down his enemy. I don't want them remembering him as a victim."
"Yuusuke doesn't know."
"No." Kurama has thought about what that would mean, if Yuusuke ever found out. Kurama can never decide on a likely outcome.
Hiei binds the Jagan again. Kurama wonders if he can see Kuwabara without it. "Is he haunting you?"
"I think I'm haunting him," Kurama admits. Kuwabara would have forgiven him, he doesn't doubt that. Yuusuke might hate him a little if he ever knew, the humans might not forgive him for killing their hero, but Kurama's never even worried that Kuwabara would hold it against him.
Most of the time Kurama knows that he's the only one who hates himself for what he had to do. Most of the time, he figures that's fair enough.
The sun disappears over the mountain and Kuwabara fades with the light.
c&c always appreciated.