Remember the fic 'The Other Brother' I did a while back? It was an offshoot of this one. I told myself I wasn't going to write this (rant) fic, but 3 - no, 4 months after the fact I *still* get pissed, and I thought I purged this from my system but apparently not. Um…sorry about this.


*Standard disclaimers*

Illusions of Me

Take (July 1999)

/Mirror mirror on the wall, who's the falsest one of all?/

Smart…beautiful…untouchable. That's how I'm seen by the world, isn't it? Polite, kind, a wonderful, loving son. Perfect.

/Perfect…You, or the illusion you project?/

The illusion…the mask I don daily…the one that greets the world. It taunts me day after day…flawed perfection reflected back at me through the eyes of admirers and critics. No one can see the cracks…no one but me.

/You sound…sad. Didn't you want it that way? You created the illusion, did nothing to stop the reputation that took root - you cultivated it, if anything. It's brilliant work; cool and remote…like a sculpture of ice./

I know…and I…regret it in a way. The illusion and reputation I built to protect myself served its purpose too well. Ice can burn as well as numb. I'm safe, but I'm also walled in…trapped.

/Regret? Since when have you ever spared a thought for regrets?/

Since I began to care. I always thought that I didn't need anyone…that I could go through life alone. That's how I lived before; why not now, in this lifetime? But…I was wrong…I *do* need others…I *need*. And…it terrifies me.

/Terror…the infamous Youko Kurama - emotionless, heartless, *fearless* Youko Kurama - afraid? Afraid - no, terrified - of the fact that he needs? We all need…some more than others, granted, but we all need./

Not everyone…not *me*. I didn't need anyone or anything. If I didn't depend on anyone, there wasn't any chance of their not coming through for me. I would've had no one to lean on but myself, and that's the way I wanted it. That way I didn't have to risk putting my trust in a partner.

/Oh, but you *did* put your trust in someone, didn't you./

…I risked putting my trust in Kuronue, as he did me. He was the only one…the only one I could depend on to come through for me. And he did…he did…and I didn't. I failed him when he needed me most…and he paid the ultimate price because of that…because of *me*. I carry the burden of guilt gladly…call it…atonement, if you will.

/But that risk you took is a part of life./

I…don't think I can do that again. I can't bear the responsibility…the knowledge that others depend on me terrifies me. What if I fail them, like I did Kuronue? It would hurt me too much if…

/Ah…the 'perfect' one isn't so perfect after all. You are fallible, vulnerable to the same feelings and sentiments as the rest of us. Youko Kurama is discovering what its like to experience the things that make life worth living…the sweet pain of having friends and loved ones who support you. That's why the whispers hurt; you're open to them now. It's part of the risk called life./

Iie, they don't hurt…they make me angry. I shouldn't be affected by them…I wouldn't have, before. My safe haven of ice is melting, and I can't stop it. To the rest of the world, I'm immune to the murmured accusations of 'teachers' pet' and worse.

/Well, aren't you the teachers' pet?/

I can't help it if teachers like me; maybe if the other students treated them a little better and bothered to turn in their work on time, the teacher's wouldn't ride them so hard.

/The others can't see past the illusion. They see only what you want them to see; you can't blame them for that./

No, I can't…I suppose it's my fault. People can be so incredibly blind though; no on ever stops to think about *how* I get my grades…they see only the 'A'. I *earned* those grades, they weren't just handed to me on a silver platter.

Contrary to popular belief, my grades don't come easily - there's no such thing as science or math in the Makai, other than simple chemistry and bargaining knowledge. Because of this 'perfect' façade, no one knows the time and effort I put into my grades. No one sees the late hours of studying and homework, the frustration of not being able to understand a problem…the telling moments that make Minamino Shuuichi just another high school student. They see only the ideal. And when the ideal falters…

/Humans don't like having their illusions shattered; they are purposely blind to the fact that 'perfection' has his faults too. But you have good motivation to do well - you're doing this for your mother…so she won't be disappointed in her son./

…No. That's part of the reason I try so hard, but there's another, more selfish one beneath that oh-so-noble purpose.


Yes, pride.

I know I can do well if I try…and my pride will accept nothing less than my personal best in what ever I do. *That's* why I was the greatest thief in the Makai - I wouldn't settle for anything less because I knew I could do better…and because I'm constantly pushing my boundaries. I am kitsune; I am curious as to what my personal limits are. I want to know. I *need* to know.

/Family means little to you then./

Iie…family has come to mean much to me in the short time I've been human. I have a brother now…I didn't know how to treat him, at first. I've never had a brother…

/But he's nothing like you…/

Why does everyone keep harping on that? Of course he's nothing like me…I wouldn't want him to be.

/And why is that? Don't want the competition?/

No! I never wanted Shuuichi to feel that he had to compete or 'live up' to me, never. I know he still gets that 'why aren't you' attitude from some of his teachers…and I'm sorry for that. But I can't compromise myself for his sake…that's not the way I am. Shuuichi is good at what he does…he needn't strive for perfection…it's not worth it. He'd have to give up so much…basic elements that make him who he his, and I don't want that. I want a *brother*, not a clone.

People are blind too, when they look at Shuuichi. He's stronger than he seems…he has to be. He has to deal with the shadow I unintentionally cast over him. He has to deal with that, and yet…he says he's not angry, or jealous…do you know how strong someone has to be to be able to do that? I've never told him that…I'm so proud of him…

/So…you have a heart. And yet you choose to conceal it. Why?/

The more you open yourself up, the greater the chance of getting hurt. Cynical yes, but this is a harsh world. Life will rip you to shreds if you're not careful…and along the way, you can lose sight of who you are. As long as I keep a part of myself private, I'll always know who I am…my thoughts will be my own. It might be a little selfish, but…that sense of self is what's kept me going at times.

/What of love? Won't you be short-changing the person you fall in love with if you hold back?/

*If* I ever fall in love, if I ever find the person I can be totally myself with…maybe…I can share that part of me that's mine alone, fully separate from the illusion of model student, perfect son, calm, polite friend.

/And who would that be?/