So, I wrote this because I was bored and stuck on every other story I am writing. Well, sort of. This is the story I came to when I got stuck on all my others. Because of the situation, I own quite a few characters, but I think you all are intelligent enough to know who. All the characters from YuYu Hakusho are not mine (obviously). Also, I am aware it is very long for a oneshot. But shuch is life. Not much I can do about that, since I'm really too lazy to separate it out. And if no one reads this, that's okay too. It's another one of those that I wrote for the sake of writing it, and now that it's written it might as well be posted.
I do have a couple things to say. First of all, I don't appreciate flames. If you don't like Hiei/Kurama pairings, don't read this. If you don't like Mpreg, don't read this. I warned you about both in the summary, and I'm warning you about both now. Do me a favor and don't clog my inbox with complaints about slightly twisted nature of the relationships in this story.
I think that's all. Have fun reading or hitting the little back button and finding a story that is more to your liking. :)
Kiyoshi'sGirl64 and Kiyoshi
As Hiei and Kurama sat back and watched, the female demon remove her shirt, slowly with the most delicate fingers either of them could have imagined, her large round eyes never leaving Hiei's face. Hiei was bored. Even as the girl turned and rubbed her nearly-nude figure up against him, he never once blinked.
"What is with you two?" Yusuke called from the other side of the room. "You look like you couldn't care less that the hottest stripper I could find is in your lap."
Hiei looked coldly past the woman at Yusuke, who just grinned wickedly. As Kurama crossed the room to the kitchen of his apartment, Yusuke said, "Perhaps I should have hired a male stripper instead."
Before Hiei could object, Kurama returned with a glass of water, noting, "Now that I could have enjoyed."
The room froze. Finally Kuwabara asked, "You like men, Kurama?"
"Yes," Kurama replied, sounding slightly taken aback. "Wasn't it obvious?"
Yusuke and Kuwabara were staring slack-jawed in his direction; Hiei's eyes were narrowed. The stripper had stopped, waiting for the issue to resolve itself. If the two hours were up and she hadn't actually done anything else, that was not her problem. They still owed her the same amount.
Then Yusuke said, "No."
Kurama frowned. "Perhaps you are denser than I thought. Even Shiori knows I am attracted to men." He turned to Hiei. "Surely you have heard the… rumors of the fox demon's… sexual exploits."
"Rumors?" the demonic stripper couldn't help but ask. "Legends, more like."
Kurama grinned, allowing her to stroke his ego for just a moment. Then Hiei said coldly, "Rumors and legends are not to be believed."
Kurama grinned wickedly. "All legends have a basis in fact. And all those rumors started with me or one of my partners. And none of them saw fit to exaggerate." Hiei raised his eyebrows skeptically. Green eyes glinted mischievously at him.
"Wait," Yusuke said, suddenly reminding him of his and Kuwabara's presence. "You told Shiori but not us? You lie to her about everything."
"I lie to her about my past, nothing more," Kurama replied rather harshly, the smile slipping from his face. "And I never lied to you. I thought you knew. I did not need to tell Shiori. She figured it out on her own."
Yusuke shrugged. He turned to Hiei. "So, out with it. Why aren't you enjoying this? And you can't very well give me the same excuse as Kurama. It's your last chance; after tomorrow, no more looking."
"Perhaps I do not wish to look. Like you, I have decided to commit myself to one woman. I do not understand what the point of this bachelor's party is. I have no wish to participate in any of it."
Yusuke sighed, disappointed, and stood up. He picked the woman's shirt up off the floor and handed it to her before going across the room to retrieve his wallet. She was surprised when he handed her the amount for the full two hours rather than the mere thirty minutes she had been there. "For the trouble of coming over," he explained. She didn't ask any questions, just put on her shirt and disappeared.
"Well," Yusuke sighed. "I guess that's that. I should also probably stop trying to set you up with single girls who come to my stand, Kurama."
Kurama looked at Yusuke disapprovingly. "So you're the reason I've been plagued by admirers who I've never before seen in my life?"
"Yep. Bye." Yusuke left, followed by Kuwabara, who was still moping about the fact that Hiei was marrying his sister.
Hiei stood to leave as well, but upon reaching the door, he turned and said, "Kurama, I want to try something."
Kurama looked at Hiei, refusing to say anything, lest he commit himself to something he was going to regret. "It won't be painful," Hiei assured him. "You don't even have to do anything. Unless you want to."
"Very well," Kurama replied. "Get on with it."
Hiei crossed the room quickly and, without warning, pressed his lips to Kurama's. After what seemed like an eternity to both men but in reality lasted only a second or two, Hiei pulled away. Kurama stared. "What are you looking at, fox?" Hiei asked harshly.
The grin Kurama gave him then was almost enough to make him nervous. "I suggest you leave, Hiei," Kurama said. Hiei frowned; never before had he been rejected, and assuming the rumors and legends were true, the fox demon was not exactly known for his chastity or self-control. But then Kurama said, "Once you have aroused a fox, there is no going back. You must finish what you started. And nineteen years of repressed desires is not something you should trifle with." But Kurama's eyes were alight with a lust Hiei couldn't ignore. The desire burned powerfully even as the man tried to keep his best friend true to his fiancé the night before the wedding.
Hiei just said, "Don't try to intimidate me, fox."
Kurama shook his head. "You are going to regret that." And then he pounced. Hiei could hardly move, so forceful was the kissing, so powerfully did Kurama hold him to him. And then it was over. He released Hiei, who staggered backward.
"That's it?" he asked, disappointed.
"Hardly," Kurama replied, stripping off his shirt, pants and underwear. "I've only just gotten started. Undress."
"I do not do something just because someone else tells me to do it," Hiei griped.
"Oh, in this I believe you do," Kurama corrected him. Devilishly he added, "You can make it easy or difficult, Hiei, but you will be undressed within the next two minutes whether you like it or not."
"Is that a threat?" Hiei demanded, even as he stripped of his layers of clothing.
"I do believe it was," Kurama chuckled, eyes turning gold and hair changing to silver. "And now you best prepare yourself. I cannot promise that you won't regret your decision."
Hiei glared. "Is that a challenge, fox?"
"Maybe, maybe not."
As Kurama pressed himself up against the shorter man, Hiei choked out, "Other… room…"
"That's where the bed is."
Kurama paused a moment then said thoughtfully, "No, I don't think so. After all, in a few minutes you won't even be aware of your surroundings." Hiei glared, disapproving. So Kurama added, "Where's your sense of adventure?" And with those words, Kurama was in control of the situation, whether Hiei knew it or not. At first he was content to let Hiei be on top, allowing the fox demon to fulfill his carnal desires.
But when Hiei had finished, Kurama had only just begun. Hiei tried to object, but Kurama hushed him with, "You had your turn, now it's mine. I warned you about what you were getting yourself into." And Kurama proceeded to push Hiei almost to his breaking point. When Hiei cried out, neither man was really sure if it was from pain or pleasure, but Kurama continued until he saw Hiei couldn't take any more.
And then he lay down on his back on the soft carpet of the apartment floor and stared at the ceiling, most of his sexual desires fulfilled but not entirely satiated.
Damn, fox, Hiei's moaned words floated through Kurama's mind. I thought you were never going to stop.
Kurama laughed. "I could have continued. As I said, we're rather insatiable. I stopped on your behalf."
That's the problem. It's always been me who had to take pity on the one I was with.
Kurama laughed. "I hope it was worth your time."
"It was," Hiei assured him, finally confident his voice would work. A moment's hesitation, then, "I can't marry Shizuru."
"Why not?" Kurama asked, sounding mildly interested and worried. He would have felt guilty, but Hiei had started this and he had warned Hiei what would happen.
"I don't think I could ever be happy with anything less than this," Hiei explained. "I want you again."
"You want more?" Kurama asked grinning.
"Not now." Hiei's voice was sharp and enough to stop Kurama's thoughts in their tracks. "In the future."
"And you're far too honorable to break a promise," Kurama stated.
"I didn't think it would go this far," Hiei said. "I've betrayed her. But I don't feel any regret. I just know that I need this again. And if I marry her, that can't happen."
"It's your choice," Kurama said, putting his arms behind his head and staring up at the ceiling again. His tail twitched, the end moving up off the floor and falling back down.
Hiei stood. His legs felt weak, but he had to go home. "I need to go." He pulled his clothes back on and slipped out the window into the cool autumn night.
After he left, Kurama didn't move. He remained motionless, hands behind his head, silver hair flowing out in every direction. He blinked up at the ceiling, still lying nude in the middle of his living room floor, and murmured, "I love you, Hiei. I always have."
But he had not waited long enough. Hiei was not gone and he had heard the whispered words. And they troubled him.
The next day, when Yusuke, Kuwabara and Hiei showed up at Kurama's apartment to get ready for the wedding, they were shocked to find Kurama as Kurama, not Shuichi.
"What's going on, Kurama?" Yusuke asked. "Where's our adorable redhead on the most important day of his best friend's life?"
"Couldn't say," Kurama answered mildly. "Of late, there've been times when I haven't been able keep myself as Shuichi, which was one reason I moved out of Shiori's house. If I can't shift back, at least long enough for the wedding, that may have been for naught."
"You mean you'll have to tell her the truth?" Yusuke's voice was surprised.
"I may," Kurama said. His voice was an indescribable mix of calm and nerves. "She knows I am Hiei's best man. If Shuichi cannot be present, at least for the ceremony, we are going to have a problem."
"You can't change back to Shuichi at all?" Yusuke demanded.
Kurama shook his head. "I can't change shape at all, the exception being to get rid of the more foxlike qualities and look a bit more human."
"What do you mean?" Kuwabara asked.
"I can change my hair, my eyes, I can get rid of the claws, sharp teeth, tail and ears…" Kurama sighed. "Actually, the only things I can't really seem to change are my height and weight. I can't change the shape of my body."
"You can change your weight?" Yusuke asked.
"Shapeshifting is as much illusion as it is an actual physical transformation, Yusuke," Kurama murmured. "The only forms in which no illusion is involved are that of the fox and soul form, when the body is shed entirely. However, the result of such a form is that it takes far more power to change back. And then because of the fusion, no illusion is involved with Shuichi. But now, even with the help of the illusions, it doesn't look quite right. It looks almost like a mirage. And I can't seem to make myself any shorter."
"That's bizarre. Well, let's get ready," Yusuke said, moving on happily.
"Out." The other three turned to look at Hiei. "Out. You two. Be gone. I need a word alone with Kurama."
Kuwabara and Yusuke did their best to look offended before exiting the apartment. "Hiei?" Kurama asked. "What's this about?"
"Did you mean it?" Hiei demanded.
"Did I mean what? That I cannot shift? Yes." Kurama was telling the truth in that, Hiei had already been able to tell.
"No. What you said last night. Did you meant it?" Hiei asked again.
"That I only stopped to benefit you?" Kurama asked. Hiei shook his head. "What are you talking about, Hiei? How can I know if I meant something if I don't even know what it is you're worried about me having said?"
"After I left, I stood outside the window for a few moments, trying to get the strength to return to my legs. Did you mean what you said after I left?"
Kurama thought back to the night before. And then his heart nearly stopped. Hiei had heard his confession. "No," he said. "Sometimes words are uttered in the heat of a moment. They were, perhaps, meant when I spoke them, but they are not true now." He couldn't let Hiei throw away everything he had built with Shizuru.
Something in Hiei's face fell, making Kurama frown. Then Hiei asked, "Is it my fault you can't change back?" Hiei asked.
"Because of the emotions?" Hiei nodded. Kurama sighed, "Most likely. Last night was… intense. So many sensations, physically, emotionally. I've struggled to change the morning after before… but never was it so impossible. On the other hand it has been nearly two decades, which could mean I'm just out of practice."
Hiei shrugged. "Well, you can either come as you are or not come at all."
Kurama nodded. "I'm coming. I always knew I'd need to tell Shiori the truth someday. It was only a matter of time before Shuichi likely would have stopped aging and I would have needed to tell her why. I suppose now's as good a time as any."
Hiei gave Kurama a small smile. He was grateful Kurama was going to be there, even if it meant telling his mother the truth. Then Hiei asked, "Last night… you said you loved me, if only for the time we spent alone together. Is that how you treat a man you love?"
Kurama grinned, feigning embarrassment. "I gave you fair warning and an opportunity to leave. I stopped when it was apparent you were spent. I would not have done so much for someone I did not feel I loved."
Hiei scowled at the idea that Kurama had gone easy on him. He was still sore from the night's activities and the fox had gone easy on him. But he also registered the first thing that Kurama had said was an indicator of love had happened before the emotions were flowing so freely. He decided not to point out this flaw in Kurama's logic. Instead he just shouted, "You two can come back in now."
Shiori was bewildered by her son's absence. Hiei was his best friend; so close that even she had been invited to the wedding. But instead of her son, Hiei's best man was tall and pale with silver hair and golden eyes. She worried through the ceremony, trying to think of a reason Shuichi would miss this that didn't include death or dying. She couldn't think of one.
Then, when the bride and groom were finally at the altar, the priest said, "We are gathered here today to celebrate the—"
The priest looked at Hiei, expecting some kind of reaction to Shizuru's words. There was none, except perhaps an inaudible sigh of relief. Hiei had always known he didn't love her, but that didn't mean he didn't care about her. He couldn't really remember the chain of events that led up to them standing at the altar. "Why?" Hiei asked.
"I love someone else." Shizuru hesitated then said, "I… I care about you, Hiei, but I don't love you. Last night I cheated on you, spent the night with them… and I realized I could never be happy with you. I'm sorry." And she looked it.
"Who?" Something of the feelings of the night before was finally beginning to sink in, truly settling into Hiei's heart. It was a warmth that radiated to the tips of his fingers, intermingled with something similar to pleasant, electrical shocks.
Shizuru hesitated, then turned around and kissed Botan, her Maid of Honor, directly on the lips. She then turned back to Hiei, only to find him smiling. "Why are you happy?" she asked, taken aback.
"We are in the exact same position, you and I," Hiei answered.
Shizuru raised her eyebrows and said, "You care about me but don't love me?" Hiei nodded. She asked, "How did we end up here then?"
"I was hoping you knew."
"So, what happened? What made you realize that you couldn't be happy with me?" Shizuru asked. Like Hiei, she was curious rather than hurt. They both seemed oblivious to the fact that the entire room was listening to every word they said.
"I spent last night with someone as well. And just now, I realized that the feeling I've been denying for years… what I feel for them… I love him." Hiei heard a choking noise from behind him, but he refused to look at the fox.
Shizuru laughed to herself. "Well, Hiei, it's been fun." She leaned in to kiss Hiei's cheek, then took a still-blushing Botan by the hand and ran down the aisle, leaving Kurama and Hiei alone at the altar. Stopping at the doors, Shizuru shouted back, "Everything's been paid for! Might as well still have the reception!"
Before anyone else could move, Kurama spun Hiei around and whispered, "Did you mean it?"
Hiei looked Kurama in the eye and said, "As much as you meant it last night."
Kurama immediately knew that Hiei had seen past his lie. But he was okay with that. He was happy with that. And right there in front of everyone, he pulled Hiei to him and kissed him.
For Hiei, it wasn't the forceful kissing of the night before. It was gentler but somehow just as passionate and when Kurama drew away, it left Hiei with a floating sensation in his chest. He grabbed the fox's hand and dragged him out of the room faster than the humans' eyes could follow. And then he did his best to be angry. "What were you doing?" he hissed. "You kissed me in front of everyone."
Kurama tilted his head to the side and said, "You admitted in front of everyone that you love someone. You admitted in front of everyone that you spent the night with him last night. I hardly think that them knowing who makes much of a difference."
Hiei's eyes narrowed, but then he quite literally jumped Kurama, wrapping his legs around the fox's waist, his momentum carrying them both to the ground. They landed heavily, but Kurama didn't seem to notice. He just returned Hiei's burning kisses, pressing himself up against Hiei. "We're going to ruin these suits," he breathed heavily. "And someone could walk in on us."
"Their problem not mine," Hiei responded, pressing himself to Kurama harder. "Ears," Hiei commanded, conveying his desire to have Kurama in his real form. Kurama acquiesced, and moaned as Hiei began kissing, licking and nibbling his left ear.
Through the rapture Hiei was quickly bringing on, Kurama groaned, "I think I'm pregnant."
Hiei froze. "What?" The word was said so quietly that only the proximity of Hiei's lips to Kurama's ears made it possible for Kurama to hear him.
Kurama hadn't meant to tell him, not then. But it was too late now. Those four words had quite effectively ruined the mood. He deflated, Hiei still lying on top of him. "I think I'm pregnant."
Hiei still didn't move. "Why?"
"Nothing else could explain why I can't shift," Kurama sighed, looking away from Hiei. "Only this body can support a pregnancy. There may be a lot of illusion involved, but there is also a physical change."
"How do you think, Hiei? As a general rule, only one thing causes pregnancy."
"I meant how is it possible for you?" It was almost a growl.
"Some male foxes have this potential," Kurama whispered.
"Why didn't you tell me this was possible?" Hiei hissed, mostly out of shock. Kurama didn't answer. Didn't look at Hiei. Hiei picked up one of his hands and used it to turn Kurama's face toward him. "Look at me, Kurama, and give me an honest answer. Why didn't you tell me?"
"I didn't know I was one of them," Kurama replied.
But Hiei saw the lie in his eyes. Calling his bluff, Hiei asked, "Then how have you avoided it before now?"
Somehow Kurama's nearly white cheeks paled beneath Hiei's threatening glare. "I've been overly cautious until last night. The 'just in case.' I've always used plant-derived contraceptives, in spite of the fact that I wasn't sure."
Hiei pushed himself angrily away from Kurama, standing and pacing back and forth, repeatedly smoothing the wrinkled suit. "Don't give me that shit, Kurama. Do you know how much crap I'm going to get from those idiots out there if we go to the reception? As though they're not going to give me a hard enough time about being gay, you think you can do this? The honest to gods truth, Kurama. My life is about to be uprooted thanks to the little scene we created in there, and you can't even tell me the goddamn truth."
Kurama stared up at Hiei from where he was still on the floor. He wasn't sure he had ever heard Hiei speak so many words at once when he wasn't explaining some battle strategy. And never had he heard Hiei speak with that kind of emotion. So he picked himself up, dusted himself off and said, "I've always known. My plant based contraceptives are one hundred percent effective."
"Why were you not overly cautious last night?" Hiei demanded. He saw Kurama open his mouth and cut him off before he could start. "And do not—do not—try to blame me and say you hadn't planned on last night. You are not stupid or forgetful. You didn't take it on purpose." Kurama didn't reply. Hiei cursed again. "Damn it, Kurama. Just because we have feelings for each other doesn't mean this can work if I can't ever get any honesty out of you."
Kurama stared. "This?" he finally asked.
Hiei froze. "Is that why you're refusing to give me a straight answer? Because you think all I care about is the sex and I'll leave the moment I hear your reasons?" Once again Kurama's silence was all the answer Hiei needed. He walked over and reached up to cup the much taller man's face in his hand. "Fox, for all your observation skills and photographic memory and analyzation abilities, you are really unbelievably stupid. Why in hell would I tell the entire congregation out there that I love you if all I wanted was sex? I could have gotten that out of a horny fox demon like you without pretending to be in love, since it took me all of thirty seconds to get you completely turned on last night." Hiei pulled Kurama's face down and kissed his lips very gently, barely brushing his own against them. "I love you. And there can be a this if you'll just try to be honest. I'm trying to be honest with you, but when you act like this it makes me wonder if it's worth it."
Kurama nodded. "I thought you were going to marry her. I thought you… I didn't see any reason… I thought that if I got pregnant… the child would be the next best thing to having you to myself. I was going to pretend the child was someone else's so Shizuru wouldn't need to know about what happened, so you wouldn't feel any kind of tie to us."
Hiei stared at Kurama. "You… wanted to get pregnant so you could keep me with you without tying me down?"
Kurama nodded. Hiei pulled Kurama close and rested his head against the rumpled fabric covering the muscular chest. "You fool. You have me now. And now we're stuck with this… whatever it is, since you're so stupid."
Kurama laughed to himself. "Perhaps. But better stupid and happy than cold, intelligent and lonely."
"We are going to have to set down some rules," Hiei warned him. "Otherwise there's no way we're going to be able to tolerate each other for very long."
Kurama nodded. "No doubt. And we're both going to have to learn the meaning of the word compromise." Hiei made a face. Kurama laughed, kissed him once, and said, "Shall we go to your failed-wedding reception?"
"Do we have to?" Hiei asked.
"Don't you want to hear about your ex-fiancée's affair with Botan?" Kurama asked.
"Well I do."
"What about Shiori?" Hiei reminded him.
Kurama bit his lip. "I have to tell her."
Hiei sighed. "Why?"
"It will be between nine and eleven months before I can change back to Shuichi, Hiei. I visit her every week. I always warn her if I won't be coming to see her."
"How will you prove it?"
Kurama stopped short on his way to the door. "This is not a good situation."
"Nope," Hiei agreed. "But that's what happens when you act like a complete fool."
Kurama grinned wickedly. "Are you speaking from personal experience?"
Hiei stared at Kurama, not a trace of amusement on his face. "Are we going or not?"
Kurama nodded. "Might as well."
The moment they arrived at the reception, Shiori came up to Hiei. "I'm so sorry the wedding didn't work out, dear," she said.
"I'm not," Kurama said.
Hiei shot Kurama a glare, but there was no anger in it. Then he said, "Nor am I."
Shiori hesitated a moment, unsure what to say to the couple before her now. So, rather than addressing the fact that the bride and the groom broke up and ran off with their Maid of Honor and Best Man respectively, Shiori asked, "Hiei, have you seen Shuichi? I just can't imagine why he would have missed your wedding. It's so unlike him."
Hiei glanced at Kurama and said, "He didn't miss much. I last saw him at the entirely ridiculous party Yusuke threw last night at Shuichi's apartment."
"Didn't you go over to his apartment to get ready?" Shiori asked, sounding worried. "He told me that that was the plan."
Hiei looked to Kurama. This was his mother, his problem. "Shiori," the silver fox sighed, "I think the three of us need to have a little talk somewhere quiet. Somewhere private. It's high time you learned the truth about your son."
"What do you mean?" Shiori's tone was filled with a sudden sort of panic. "What's happened to him? Where is he?"
"We'll get to that," Kurama assured her, sounding doubtful. "Just not here. In private."
Shiori allowed the two men to lead her to a quiet room down the hall, where Kurama said, "First, you must understand that demons are real, Shiori."
"What?" The woman stood close to the door, ready to bolt. "What are you talking about?"
"Demons are real," Kurama sighed, not pleased to be telling his mother about this. He wasn't sure what reaction would be the worst. Immediate acceptance, disbelief and denial, horror, hurt, fear. None of them sounded good. He looked at Hiei a moment and said, "I'm a demon. Hiei's a demon."
"No," Shiori said. "I don't believe you. You're lying. I thought you were going to tell me where my son is."
Kurama nodded and said, "Shiori, it's true." He allowed the illusion to fall away, leaving the fox demon—ears, claws, tail and tunic—in the place of the silver haired man. "I'm a demon." He glanced at Hiei, who rolled his eyes and lit his palms. "Hiei's a demon. Do you believe us now?"
Shiori sank into a chair, nodding. Kurama could see no fear in her eyes, just an undeniable shock. "How does this concern Shuichi?" she asked.
Kurama and hesitated, then he said, "For the last nineteen years… I have been Shuichi."
"No. You're lying."
"Ask me anything, Mo—Shiori. I promise. I am not lying to you. Not anymore."
"What's Shuichi's birthday? What high school did he go to? What's his favorite subject? What's his stepfather's name?" Shiori asked.
"January 24, 1992," Kurama answered. "Meio Private High School, where he favored and excelled in biology and where he was a co-president of the biology club. His particular interest in biology was horticulture. However, he opted not to continue his education in spite of the fact that he was top of his class and went to work for his stepfather, owner of Hatanaka Industries. His father—his real father—was Hayato Minamino, who died when he was six. His mother grew ill eight years later. He cares more about her than anything else in the world." Hiei felt a pang in his chest, but he didn't say anything. He would have time to change that. Right now, he just needed to let Kurama get on with it. Then, out of the blue, Kurama whispered, "When you asked him, he admitted to being gay a little more than seven months ago. He told you, 'I love you and wish I wasn't, to save you the trouble. But it's not something I can suppress.'"
Shiori stared at him, pain replacing the shock. "Why?" she mouthed.
"Because I was selfish." Kurama's voice held even more pain than Shiori's eyes. "I didn't care about anyone but myself. Over the past nineteen years, that changed. I love you, Shiori. And I can't keep lying to you. I… If you want to talk to me, I'll be at my apartment. If you don't… I won't blame you for it." Kurama turned and walked out, reverting to a slightly more human form.
Hiei just looked at her, and said two words he had said only very rarely in the past: "I'm sorry." And then he followed Kurama from the room.
When he found the other man, Kurama was standing outside the back doors of the building, hands in his pockets, staring at the sky. He let out a sigh. "I thought you were going to tell her everything," Hiei said, joining him.
Kurama shook his head. "This was really too much to tell her all at once. To tell her that I'm pregnant on top of all that…" He looked at Hiei, his eyes pleading for a reassurance that he had done the right thing. Hiei couldn't give him any; he wasn't going to lie to Kurama, and he couldn't have said if Kurama's decision had been the right one or not. Kurama just sighed and looked back at the few stars still visible through the smoggy city sky. "I always thought that fear would be the hardest thing to see in her eyes. But now… I don't think anything could be worse than the hurt she was feeling."
Hiei just looked up at the sky and grabbed Kurama's hand. "I saw her. I heard you. Your pain runs deeper than hers, Kurama, that's how much you care about her. And she'll see that. Maybe not now, maybe not in a week from now, but eventually she will realize that, if everything else was a lie, the love was not."
Kurama squeezed Hiei's hand. "And if she doesn't?"
Hiei opened his mouth to promise that she would, then realized that he shouldn't make such a promise. People were unpredictable. Humans in particular. He didn't want to get Kurama's hopes up. So he promised something he could guarantee. "You'll still have me."
Kurama looked at Hiei, searching for an honesty that he already knew he would find. Somehow, he could be honest with Hiei, and Hiei was willing to be honest with him. He smiled. "Two negatives equal a positive," he murmured.
"What are you talking about, fox?" Hiei asked. The demon before him had a way of changing subjects that almost always left him confused.
"A negative number multiplied by another negative number will always result in a third, positive number," Kurama replied, as though this clarified his words.
"What do mathematics have to do with what we were just speaking of?" Hiei asked. It bothered him that Kurama would take a serious moment like that and change it to academics.
But then Kurama said, "I still feel like I can't trust you and you can't trust me. Neither of us is particularly good at telling the truth."
"Mathematics?" Hiei prompted again, not denying Kurama's statement.
Kurama just replied, "Two negatives don't equal another negative. Two negatives equal a positive. Two liars somehow equal an honest relationship."
"You couldn't have just said that." Hiei's words were slightly harsh, but his lips were curving into a small smile.
Kurama saw it and pulled Hiei closer. And they stood together in the cool, October breeze, waiting for what was to come.
"Hiei," a quiet voice said from behind them. "Can you… can you give us a minute alone?"
Kurama froze in surprise, but he didn't turn around. Hiei looked at Kurama, a comforting 'I told you so' in his eyes. Hiei walked back inside, not releasing Kurama's hand until they were too far away to reach each other.
Shiori leaned up against the railing of the building, looking down over the city. She smiled to herself. "This was always how it was, you know."
"What?" Kurama asked sharply, finally turning his face to his mother's.
"Me looking down on everything I had, completely content. And then you standing next to me, looking in the other direction entirely, aspiring to something that was entirely beyond me." She shook her head, looking both happy and sad. "Perhaps that's why this revelation doesn't surprise me or bother me as much as it should. Some part of me always knew you were different. I'm happy with what I have, as was your father, as is Hatanaka. But you… you were both happy with what you had and entirely dissatisfied."
"Shiori…" Kurama said slowly, not daring to believe his ears.
"No," she objected. "Call me Mom or Mother as you always have. And please… answer my questions. Honestly."
There was that word again. Honest. Honorable in principles, intentions, and actions; upright and fair. That was a quality had struggled with for more than a millennium. Honesty left one far too vulnerable. But Kurama knew Shiori deserved it. "Okay. But… I can't promise you won't be hurt."
She nodded, still looking at the city rather than the golden eyes of the silver haired man. The voice was different, but the words sounded like her son. "You said… you said you were selfish until you became Shuichi. What did you mean?"
Kurama sighed. "I cared nothing for anyone other than myself. If others got hurt that wasn't my problem. But then… first you must understand that I was a notorious thief. The price on my head was huge, with the whole dead or alive bit tacked on at the end. A bounty hunter got me… I fled, seeking refuge in a human embryo. And so started the nineteen-year-long lie."
"What about my son?" Shiori asked.
Kurama bit his tongue then said, "I don't know. The embryo didn't have a soul, so Shuichi was not possessed in the typical sense. Whether he would have obtained a soul later, or if he would have been stillborn, I do not pretend to know. I've tried to convince myself over the years that he would have been stillborn without my soul in him, but I do not know if there is any truth in that."
Shiori finally looked at the man whose eyes hadn't left her face since they had broken away from the stars. "So you are the only son I've ever had?"
Kurama nodded. "Yes."
And then Shiori smiled. "Somehow… that makes this easier. I haven't really lost anything. I've just learned something. It's like when you told me you like men. Always there, I just didn't know it."
"You can compare the two?" Kurama finally managed to say.
Shiori paused, thinking it over. Then she answered, "Yes. It doesn't change anything unless you start acting differently. Actions are what's important. They mean more than words."
"Thank you, Mother."
And that's when Shiori truly forgave him. This man really was her son. Her son may not have been the person she thought he was, but this was her son. She said, "I have two more questions for you."
"Only two?" Kurama's surprise was genuine. He would have had thousands.
"For now. What's your real name?" she asked.
"It's Kurama. But… as you wish me to call you Mother, I wish you to call me Shuichi."
She nodded, then asked, "Why tell me now?" Kurama didn't answer. That was one question he didn't know how to answer honestly. Then she asked, "Why not sooner, or later, or not at all, Shuichi? What made you choose now?"
Kurama took a deep breath and said, "I've been putting off telling you for ten years. I didn't want to hurt you. But I knew the lie could not continue indefinitely; sometime in the near future, I will likely stop aging, even in my human body."
"That tells me why you didn't tell me before, and why you couldn't just keep lying forever, but it doesn't answer my question," Shiori pointed out.
Kurama sighed. "As I showed you, I'm a fox demon. I have shapeshifting abilities. And normally, I employ a very small amount of those to stay as Shuichi. But today… now… I can't appear in any form other than the one I am now in."
Shiori thought of another question. "Why today? Is there something significant about today?"
Kurama shook his head. "No… not really."
Shiori saw something in the way he didn't really seem to be seeing her. And it clued her in. "Is there a reason you can't change?"
"No," Kurama answered immediately, lying to her so practiced it was second nature. Lying to anyone so practiced it was second nature. Then he went against that nature and told the truth. "I'm sorry. I'm not very good at telling the truth. Yes, there is a reason."
"And…?" Shiori asked.
Kurama turned his back on her, not wanting to see her face, and once again looked up at the heavens. "I'm pregnant."
Silence. Complete and total silence. Then, "But you—you're—Shuichi?"
"Some male fox demons are capable of this. Perhaps male would not be the right term, considering. Perhaps we are something other. We possess all the attributes of males, and none of the secondary sex characteristics of females. Actually, we do not possess any female traits except the ability to carry a child." He shook his head. "And then some of our women… some of them cannot get pregnant, but when paired with a male who can… she is still capable of reproducing. Our… breed is an oddity I have spent more than a millennium trying to understand, and in vain."
"But… who?" Shiori asked.
"Isn't it obvious, Mother?" Kurama asked. "Hiei. The ability of a male to get pregnant makes it possible for two males to produce a child. I have not heard of two females ever producing a child, but it is not entirely out of the question."
Shiori didn't say anything for a long time. Finally the silence was too much for Kurama and he turned to look at her. And, instead of confusion or horror or countless other things he might have been expecting, Shiori was smiling. It was small and uncertain, but it was there. Then she said, "You told me you were gay."
"I gave up on the idea of a grandchild because you told me you were gay. Now… now… Shuichi, I don't know whether I should laugh or cry or scream or stare at the wall in shock. I'm going to have a grandbaby." He saw the joy in her eyes, and swept her into a hug.
"Oh, Mother. You can't know how happy it makes me, that you can accept me as I am. You can't know how relieved I am to have you know the truth."
Shiori smiled in the tall man's embrace. It would take some getting used to, but in her heart, she could feel that this was her son. "Let's go inside and find Hiei," she suggested. "I want to talk to the two of you."
Kurama winced. "I feel a lecture coming on."
Once they had found Hiei, Shiori lectured them on everything they would need to know. Kurama listened patiently, Hiei not-so-patiently. When she had finished, she kissed each of them on the cheek and left the party.
"I think it's about time we head home, too, Hiei," Kurama said.
"Home?" Hiei asked, uncertain what Kurama meant by the word.
Kurama shrugged, slightly embarrassed. "I just thought… it's my home, but… if you want… you could stay with me."
"That is the best idea you've had all night," Hiei replied.
"Shall we go tell Shizuru?"
They found Shizuru and Botan in a dark corner of the reception hall, somehow fitting together in one seat. Shizuru's body was plastered to Botan's as she shamelessly pressed her lips to Botan's, their tongues tangled in a complicated dance. Hiei raised his eyebrows. Kurama cleared his throat.
Shizuru pulled back and smoothed her hair, lighting a cigarette. "Yes, boys?" she asked. "You're not getting in on the action, so don't even ask."
"Wasn't planning on it," Kurama said to the ex-bride.
"I'm moving out. Tonight," Hiei said. "So if Botan wants to… yeah, you guys can do your thing."
Shizuru smiled brightly. "Thanks, Hiei. I assume you're leaving then? To enjoy your wedding night?"
Hiei didn't dignify that with an answer, but Kurama's eyes glinted at the thought. "Don't get any ideas, fox," Hiei growled as he dragged Kurama out the door.
When they arrived at Hiei and Shizuru's apartment, it didn't take them long to pack all of Hiei's things into a few boxes. "Can we pick up where we left off?" Hiei suddenly asked. The question marks in Kurama's eyes quickly turned to a gleam of anticipation.
He immediately acquiesced, pulling Hiei to the floor, kissing him roughly, this time changing into the fox demon completely. "I didn't mean here," Hiei groaned, in spite of the fact that he was pushing up against Kurama at least as forcefully as he had been earlier that afternoon.
"Your apartment," Kurama said.
"And Shizuru's. The way they were going at it, they'll be back any time."
"Yeah," Shizuru said from the door. "And the funny thing is, I'm not really surprised. Oddly, while being slightly disgusted, I find myself incredibly turned on."
Kurama and Hiei stared at her, Kurama's hand still gripping Hiei's ass. At the same moment, they both stood, grabbed Hiei's boxes and vanished, Hiei's key left upon the counter.
When they arrived home, it took Kurama less than a second to slam Hiei up against the door and resume their earlier activities. "Ruining… the suits…" Hiei gasped.
"Easy way to fix that," Kurama breathed heavily.
They both stripped of their clothing, still pressing their bodies together. The difference was that, last night, their kissing hadn't lasted long. When Hiei stopped because his need to breathe became overpowering, Kurama pulled him to his feet and dragged him into the kitchen area, pushing him down onto the table. He had not finished the night before; he had every intention of finishing tonight, even if it meant Hiei didn't get a turn on top.
Hiei's skin stuck to the hard wooden surface as Kurama pressed into him, earning a gasp of something—pleasure or pain, neither of them could have said. "The bed," he managed to gasp.
"Where's your sense of adventure?" Kurama whispered, licking the outer edge of Hiei's ear, then sticking his tongue into the space for a moment.
"That's what you call this?" Hiei groaned, searching for something to grab onto to support himself.
Kurama laughed and continued. "We'll see how long the table can support our weight, shall we?"
"The bed would be so much more comfortable," Hiei complained, mostly just to get on Kurama's nerves, knowing it would make the fox that much more forceful.
It worked, even as Kurama replied, "That's because they're made for sleeping."
Hiei knew that Kurama was not going to let him off so easily as the night before, and resigned himself to being thoroughly exhausted and sore by the time they were finished.
By the time Kurama's desires had been fulfilled, both men were entirely exhausted. They lay on the table, arms and legs still tangled together. Finally Hiei moaned, "One of these days, fox, you'll go first, and I'll get my turn after."
"I don't think so," Kurama noted sleepily. "Although, the way you lasted… you might get to the point where I'm too exhausted to take my turn."
"Practice," Hiei promised Kurama. Then he yawned. "Now can we go to bed?"
Kurama chuckled quietly, and the two of them staggered back to Kurama's bedroom, collapsing without bothering to pull back the blankets, Hiei's body heat enough to warm them even in the chilly autumn night.
When they woke, they were still in each other's arms. Neither of them moved for a long time. Then Hiei broached the subject neither of them really wanted to discuss. "What do you want to do about your—our little problem?"
Kurama pulled back. "Is that how you think of it? A problem?"
Hiei saw immediately how deeply he had offended the fox, but he wasn't going to take back the words. "Yes," he said. Before Kurama could object and get truly angry, Hiei said, "How in hell are we supposed to raise a kid, Kurama? Neither of is suited to be a parent. No, forget raising it. How in hell are we supposed to get to that point, survive the next months? My job does not make money that would support a family here in the human world. In a matter of months, you won't be able to work because you'll be swollen like an overinflated balloon, and people ask too many questions. Yes, I would consider this a problem."
Kurama had relaxed the moment Hiei made it clear he had no problem with the child itself; it was the situation he considered worrisome. "I can work until it becomes too obvious," Kurama replied. "Then we can temporarily relocate to someplace in Makai."
"We can visit, we just can't stay here," Kurama replied.
"Why do I get the feeling that you already know exactly where we'll be staying?" Hiei murmured.
"I'm thinking I should go back to the village I was born. Our doctors know how to handle this kind of thing, and it won't be looked upon as oddly as almost everywhere else," Kurama mused. "I can only hope they'll welcome me back…"
"What did you do?" Hiei demanded.
Kurama shrugged and grinned. "What is it I've always done? Not that that's entirely unusual for my kind. We like shiny things. Just… most don't go to the lengths I went to in order to get those shiny things."
"So it's a village of kleptomaniacs?" Hiei demanded.
Kurama smiled. "To an outsider, that's how it would seem. There however… everywhere else, possession is nine tenths of the law. There, it is ten tenths. No one really gets angry about a theft. They simply steal it back. The only thing you would need to worry about… foxes are very territorial, and although our small group has moved past the point where there must be a death match for every stolen item, we are still very territorial about our mates. You should not be surprised if a fox challenges you for looking at his wife. You should not be surprised if a fox challenges you for looking at her husband. Hell, you shouldn't be surprised when I get vicious about them looking at you." It unnerved Hiei slightly that, in the last example, Kurama had said when rather than if.
"Why do you assume they'll be staring at me?" Hiei asked. He wasn't sure if he should take that as a compliment or if he should find it worrisome.
"Whose ego do you want me to stroke? Yours, mine or both?" Kurama asked.
Seeing that he wasn't likely to get a straight answer, Hiei said, "All three, Kurama. Just tell me why."
"Outsiders rarely visit the village," Kurama explained. "They know how we are; the village has become self-sufficient and isolated. You will be an oddity. On top of that, we are both very famous."
"I thought you said it was isolated," Hiei pointed out. "Wouldn't that mean they don't know of our crimes?"
Kurama chuckled. "I meant it's isolated in that, while people leave and come back, only very rarely do people come there. It will be odd enough for me to come back, since I haven't been home in nearly four hundred years. That was at the height of my stealing years. Things became a bit… dull after that. It was always the same."
Hiei rolled his eyes, trouble. "I thought you said you were going to stroke our egos."
"Oh, yes. They will be curious to know what manner of creature could possibly get me pregnant—me. Overly cautious from the start. In addition, they won't understand why you would want to stay with someone as demanding as me. Of course, I'm not as demanding as some of the people in that town."
"God forbid I learn what that's like," Hiei murmured, trying to move and finding that he was unbelievably sore.
Kurama laughed. "And above all—the one that will likely make me get vicious more than any other—you are unbelievably good-looking, Hiei. I don't know if I'll be able to tolerate having—what was it you called me? Oh yes—'horny fox demons' looking at you. I'm very selfish, and I can be very jealous."
Hiei grinned. "Oh, if it's because of selfishness and jealousy, you should have no doubts that I will be just as likely to get vicious as you are."
Kurama grinned, finally sitting up and getting out of bed. "Good," he said. "Now I'm going to take a shower. Care to join me?"
"Are you going to try and resume last night's activities?" Hiei asked, walking stiffly toward Kurama.
"Only if you want to," Kurama replied.
"No," Hiei replied immediately. He was so sore that it didn't even bother him when Kurama's face fell in disappointment. "Maybe tonight but not now."
Kurama nodded and said, "I guess I can live with that."
Not much was said as they showered. Kurama tried to avoid looking at Hiei, lest he get entirely turned on by the fire demon rubbing soap over every last inch of his wet, glistening body. Hiei knew exactly what Kurama was struggling with, although he found it fascinating to watch Kurama wash his hair. Kurama may not have had much more hair than him in the long run, but Kurama had a lot more living in his hair. And occasionally, a plant would sprout of its own accord, and Kurama would have to untangle the vine from his hair, placing it on the shelf of the tub.
When they got out, Kurama reached for a towel, only to be stopped by Hiei. Hiei heated the room to an excessive temperature for a few seconds, evaporating all the water. "Convenient, no?" he asked, not waiting for an answer as he headed to the living room to fetch his clothes.
Kurama laughed to himself and went to his closet to dress.
As they were eating breakfast, Hiei asked a question that had been bothering him since Kurama spoke of the place where he grew up. "You called it home, Kurama. Why?"
"Hm?" Kurama asked, looking up. "Oh. Well, I spent the first three centuries of my life there. I've returned there after I left. Part of me will always consider that village my home. But it would never truly be home unless I moved back there again and you came with me. Which… I do not know if that would be wise. Only twice in my memory has anyone other than a fox made that place their permanent residence. And in all honesty, I don't want to go back."
Hiei nodded, mollified by this answer. Kurama was not longing for a place Hiei could not follow him to. The word home just meant the place he grew up, nothing more. In that sense of the word, Hiei had a home too.
The weeks glided by smoothly, Kurama very rarely feeling nauseous. They went on with their daily lives, Kurama at his human job and Hiei working for Mukuro as little as possible. Their nights were sometimes spent in the kind of rapture only brought on by making love with the person you love to the depths of your soul.
The only real difference was that Hiei began accompanying him to Shiori's each week. And Shiori got progressively more and more agitated about the baby. Secretly, both Kurama and Hiei were even more worried than Shiori, but neither of them mentioned it. They claimed their relationship was an honest one, but they both knew otherwise. But they both felt that to worry was to acknowledge that there was something to be worried about.
But one night, Kurama said to Hiei, "I'm afraid."
"About what?" Hiei asked.
"Hiei, there are so many things that could go wrong," Kurama said, all his fears suddenly spilling out. "If I get sick, or the pollutants in the air, or radiation of any sort, or an accident that kills you or injures either of us, or someone coming after us with the intent of killing one of us. Not to mention any genetic problems."
"Kurama," Hiei said loudly, stopping him. "We're fine. Nothing's going to happen. You're worrying over nothing." He just didn't want to think about it. And he had been doing a good job of blocking it out of his mind until Kurama brought it up, along with several possibilities he hadn't thought of.
Kurama stood and slammed his fork down on the table. "Worrying over nothing? Is that what you call this?" He gestured toward his still flat stomach. "You think this is nothing? Maybe you haven't noticed the changes, Hiei, but I have. Things are already happening to my body that would never be happening except for this thing."
"So what do you propose I do about it?" Hiei snapped, standing as well, in spite of the fact that his height could not compare to the fox demon. "Should I worry over something I can't control in the slightest, Kurama? How does that help at all?"
"It would tell me that you care enough to worry." Kurama was nearly shouting in his anger, something Hiei had never seen. Kurama usually got quiet and deadly. He wasn't sure if the fact that his fox was shouting was good or bad. Then Kurama added, "And I see you worrying, Hiei. You may be fooling everyone else, but you can't fool me. What happened to the honesty that is so goddamn important to you?"
Hiei turned away from Kurama and vanished out the window. It took nearly all of Kurama's self-control to avoid picking up Hiei's plate and hurling it out the window after him.
Hiei was gone for two days, leaving Kurama feeling unbelievably lonely.
Finally, when he returned, the first words out of both mouths were, "I'm sorry."
Kurama laughed quietly as Hiei sat down next to him on the couch. "Perhaps our communication skills are still lacking, Hiei. I thought it was going so well…"
"Yes… well, considering our personalities, things are going well if that was our first real fight," Hiei pointed out.
Kurama nodded. "Can we talk about it?"
Hiei sighed. "That's really the only way to get past it, correct?"
Kurama nodded. "Unless we want to fight about the same thing again in the near future."
Hiei bit the inside of his cheek. "Fine. What is it you want to talk about?"
Kurama answered immediately. "I know it's pointless to worry, and I don't want to worry. But I can't help it. And I can see that you can't help it either. I just want us to be able to admit to those fears when they become too much to handle alone. I don't want to ignore them, because they are very, very real. Fear was never a part of my vocabulary until I learned to love Shiori. And even then… I don't think I truly realized what the word fear could mean until I realized what the word pregnant really meant."
Hiei nodded. "I… as long as we aren't talking about nothing else. I can handle admitting to it when it's too much. I can handle listening to you talk about it. But I want to be able to think about other things."
Kurama nodded. "As do I, Hiei." He gripped Hiei's knee reassuringly. Then he leaned in and kissed the demon's lips gently. "I love you. I'm sorry."
"I'm sorry as well. I shouldn't have gotten so angry. I don't like feeling so vulnerable." He kissed Kurama back and asked, "The child?"
"What about it?" Kurama asked.
"Will we…" Hiei stopped, not knowing how to ask the question.
"We're keeping it." Kurama's answer was definitive. "I want this baby, Hiei. There is only one thing I have ever wanted more in my life." Hiei looked at him questioningly and Kurama answered, "You."
Hiei kissed Kurama gently, agreeing that keeping the baby was the only option. "Now what?"
"If we were human, there'd likely be make-up sex," Kurama said hopefully.
"Oh so subtle," Hiei murmured into the fox's ear. "But I like it."
Kurama didn't need any more encouragement than that to begin kissing Hiei in earnest, but it was different than ever before. It was loving, and its gentleness still contained the apologies they had already said. Hiei returned the tender touches and they undressed slowly for the first time since they had been together. It was not the frenzied need this time. This time, it was to show how much they cared about each other.
When they had both stripped of all their clothes, Hiei positioned himself over Kurama. "The bed," he suddenly whispered.
Kurama looked up at him. "Why? What is your obsession with the bed?"
"It's more comfortable."
Kurama looked at Hiei trying to figure out why it seemed to be so important to him. "So?"
"Where's your sense of adventure?" Hiei asked, lying down next to Kurama, the two of them barely fitting on the couch.
"How is the bed an adventure?" Kurama asked, stroking Hiei's hair, ready to continue. He recognized that Hiei was trying to turn his words back on him.
Hiei didn't move. He just whispered, "We've done this on the living room floor… the table… the closet… the couch… the floor of the guest room… the counter… the coffee table…" Hiei's voice was quiet as he tried to remember all the places they had had sex. "We somehow managed to do it in the goddamn bathtub. The bed would be an adventure, don't you think?"
Kurama kissed his forehead. "This isn't about how passionate we feel and simply getting as close as we possibly can. This is about showing how much we love each other, and you don't want to take away from that by having it happen somewhere 'adventurous.' I understand." Kurama smiled. He stood and led the fire demon back to the bedroom. It was with more love than either man had ever known that Hiei pushed himself into Kurama and made love to the father of his child.
When he finished and lay down, Kurama surprised him. Kurama didn't move. For tonight… for tonight this was enough. He could think only of how much he loved the man he now held in his arms, and how he knew they would never use the bed for anything less than this. This was not sex. This was making love, something he had never before experienced. And only the bed was fit for such a thing. Any other activities were not fit for the sacred place they had somehow created. And he looked into Hiei's eyes, and knew Hiei understood.
It was a while later that Kurama finally began to show. Shiori was unbelievably excited about it. But then Kurama said, "Mom… I have to go home."
"Home?" she asked.
Kurama sighed and said, "I need to go back to the place I grew up. There are doctors there that can help with this kind of thing. And… well, Mom, I can't continue going to work, no matter how okay with the situation Hatanaka is. This is not something everyone should know about. And Hiei's job… what he earns there is not currency that can be used here."
Shiori frowned. "But…"
"I'll call you, Mom," Kurama assured her. "I'll try and come back for when it's time to actually have the baby. But until then… this is not the right place for me to be."
Shiori reluctantly allowed them to leave, but only after she had wrung multiple promises from Kurama to call her with weekly—or even daily—updates. And she also made Hiei swear that he would keep Kurama from doing anything foolhardy. The two men complied, if only to make the woman feel more comfortable.
The journey to the place Kurama grew up took nearly a month. Part of this was that it really was quite far away, particularly traveling on foot. The other reason it took so long was that Kurama was feeling the toll of the pregnancy on his energy levels. But they eventually found themselves looking down on a town that Hiei knew contained nothing but fox demons.
"This is what you call a village?" Hiei hissed at Kurama as they approached the gathering of buildings that likely housed a couple hundred people.
Kurama shrugged. "To me, village is more a way of life. They are still farmers and herders, growing only what they need to survive, stealing shiny things when they leave the town. There is no industry here. All the work is done by hand, trading and donating. We're actually very altruistic."
"Why don't I believe that statement?" Hiei muttered.
Kurama shook his head. "So we take each other's things. That is simply how it works. You are hurting no one's chance of survival by stealing their favorite plate. You are not stealing the food they would have eaten off of it. In fact, you may have gone over to their house to give them that food as a gesture of kindness. And then the plate caught your eye. No one would resent you for it. They'd just steal it back, no questions asked."
Hiei shook his head as they walked through the fields to the secluded town.
As they walked through the town, eyes turned questioningly to Kurama, and then to Hiei. "Kurama?" a girl's voice asked. "What are you doing here?"
Kurama and Hiei turned around to face a beautiful fox with ebony hair and charcoal eyes. "Oh," she said, her tone almost disapproving. "I see."
"Hiei, meet Aubrey. Aubrey, Hiei. He's the father."
Aubrey narrowed her eyes. "I guessed as much."
Kurama's eyes glinted as he turned to Hiei. "Aubrey here was always very… limber."
Hiei's eyes narrowed. "You say things like that to piss me off," he noted.
Aubrey didn't seem to hear the argument, saying, "Still am, if you want to check it out. It might be a bit awkward, due to your condition, but I think we can make this work."
"You people have no sense of decency," Hiei growled, stepping protectively in front of Kurama. "Stay away from him. He's mine."
Aubrey raised her eyebrows and flicked her tail. "Is he now? And tell me, does Kurama want to be yours?"
Before Hiei could answer, Kurama said, "Hiei was getting married. I wanted him for myself, so I got pregnant on purpose." He grabbed Hiei's hand and pulled it up to kiss the back tenderly. "He is mine, and I am his more completely than I previously thought possible."
Aubrey frowned, disappointed. Then she said, "I assume you came because our doctors know how best to handle the situation?"
"Yes," Kurama said. "And I thought Mother might like to know she is going to have a grandchild. Assuming you are still very much opposed to being a mother. And assuming nothing's changed with Adrianne and Baltassar."
Aubrey rolled her eyes. "Do you blame me for not wanting to be a mother?"
"Well, Adrianne is still not capable of having children, and she's still so in love with Nereus—which is good, since they're stuck with each other for the rest of their lives—that they're never going to have kids. Baltassar left about a century ago, and he hasn't been back since. No one's sure what happened to him. No one was sure what happened to you, but you were always more… independent that Baltassar. People are starting to worry. And Mother is at home, although I'm not sure she's alone."
Kurama nodded and walked along the road. "She's your sister?" Hiei hissed. "You slept with your sister? That's past the point where this is even okay."
Kurama shook his head. "Her own mother died from complications of childbirth when she was three days old. My mother raised her. We grew up together. She's not my sister, just my cousin."
"Just your cousin," Hiei said dryly. "What I wouldn't give to see the Detective and the oaf discover that you've slept with your cousin."
"We didn't sleep together," Aubrey noted, walking alongside them. "We went back to our own rooms afterward."
"Because that makes such a difference," Hiei replied sarcastically. "Did your mother know this was occurring?"
"Of course," Aubrey answered. "Everyone knows more or less everything that goes on here. Neither of us was married, so no one got mad that we slept together. Sleeping around when you're married or sleeping with someone who is married are the only things that really aren't okay." She smiled.
"This place is just inbreeding waiting to happen, isn't it?" Hiei sighed.
"Waiting?" Kurama asked mildly. "My sister Adrianne is married to our cousin Nereus. Plenty of relationships such as that exist within this village. You are looked at… oddly if you make the decision to marry your sister, but it is not unheard of. And it's not as though cousins marrying cousins was unusual back when Aubrey and I were together. It wasn't even out of the ordinary in the human realm."
Hiei threw his hands up toward the sky and increased his pace. Aubrey smiled after him. "He's funny," she told Kurama. "I like him. He seems to be good for you. Now I best go. I'm supposed to be helping with the harvest." She made a face and disappeared.
Then Hiei dropped back. "And who is Baltassar?"
"My brother. He lacked my skill at stealing and Aubrey's skill between the sheets. Adrianne fell in love with Nereus before her twentieth year. Baltassar has always been the odd one out, having nothing to focus his energies on. And I think it bothered him that, when given the choice, Aubrey chose me rather than him. Particularly since it wasn't exactly a secret that I prefer men over women."
Hiei exhaled through his nose. But before he could say anything, Kurama called out mildly, "Give that here. I do not appreciate you trying to steal from my guest."
A young boy came back and placed Hiei's katana in Kurama's outstretched hands. There was no shame or repentance in his eyes. Hiei was horrified that a child so young had managed to take his most prized possession without him being aware of it. Kurama handed it to Hiei. "That boy will go far. I haven't the slightest idea who he is, but he's going places."
"You approve?" Hiei asked.
"That's how life is here," Kurama answered simply.
"An entire society built on stealing and sex," Hiei moaned. "Just my luck."
"Explains a lot, doesn't it?" Kurama asked, laughing as he entered one of the small houses. "Mother," he called out. "Are you alone, or do I need to come back?"
"Kurama?" The question wasn't excited or surprised in any way.
A woman with yellowish hair and fur emerged from another room, smiling. She hugged Kurama. "Four centuries is too long, son. Why have you not come back to visit me before now?"
Kurama just shrugged. "I was never content with this farming life. You know that. There was no reason for me to come back."
"Until you made a little mistake." Hiei suddenly knew where Kurama's mischievous grin came from. It bothered him how much the glint in the woman's eyes looked like the sparkle that often entered Kurama's.
Kurama tilted his head to the side for a moment and shrugged, neither denying nor confirming her accusation. But then she smiled. "No more lying, Kurama? I was giving you the perfect opportunity."
"And had I lied, you would have immediately called me on it."
"True," she laughed. "I could never be sure of when you were lying; the lies slipped off that silver tongue of yours as easily as the truth. Easier perhaps. But in this… stupid is the one thing I know you are not. This little mistake was not a mistake at all."
Kurama nodded. "In the most basic version of the story, no, it was not a mistake."
Kurama's mother smiled. "Well, why don't you introduce me to your new lover?"
Kurama rolled his eyes. "I know you know who he is, Mother. You watch the world carefully from within your little town, content to sit back and let your village do as it pleases while the rest of the world builds itself up or falls down around you. Your way of life is all you care about protecting."
She grinned. "Indeed." Then she turned to Hiei and said, "Hiei, it is nice to meet you. I am Faina, Kurama's mother and matriarch of this village." Hiei shook her hand. Then she turned back to her son and said, "Considering that you look like you're quite a ways along, I think we should go see Zhi, shall we?"
"As you wish, Mother," Kurama replied.
His mother grinned once more. "As cryptic as ever, I see. Agreeing with everything I say, biding your time until you can strike for the heart of whatever it is you really want."
"I came to see Tinashe, Mother. But I take it she has retired, if Zhi is now the doctor?"
Hiei was getting lost in the whirlwind of names as he followed the two foxes down the main path of the village. It was beyond him how Kurama could keep track of all the names and remember all the faces, while simultaneously maintaining his calm, collected appearance.
Kurama's mother answered, "Zhi has learned enough that he is capable of being the doctor himself. However, Tinashe excelled in curing diseases, and Zhi seems to have a way with the children." A young boy ran up to Faina. It was the same boy who had taken Hiei's sword a short time ago. "Zhi delivered Caelestis here."
"Mother," the boy whined. "That man… he prevented me from taking the sword. But I want it."
Faina chuckled. "That man, as you call him, is the best thief this village ever produced, child, and you would do well to remember it." The boy pouted and ran off.
"Mother?" Kurama asked.
Faina nodded. "Twelve years ago. Quite a shock, let me tell you. But it's all well and good. He's a good kid. He takes after you. He has the same light fingers and the same silver tongue."
"And that makes him a good kid?" Hiei muttered.
Kurama and Faina laughed, acknowledging the contradiction. "Wait here," Kurama's mother warned them, stopping at the door to a different cottage.
Once she entered, Hiei immediately asked, "Your mother is the leader of this place? Is there a reason you didn't tell me this?"
"I didn't deem it relevant," Kurama replied.
"Not relevant that you might one day be expected to return to lead this people?" Hiei asked.
"Highly unlikely," Kurama said.
"No one's immortal," Hiei said.
Kurama nodded and said, "I never said Faina would not die. I simply said it is unlikely I will be expected to become the chieftain of this place. At the moment, Adrianne is the heir apparent."
"Is she older than you?" Hiei asked.
Kurama shook his head. "She is nearly thirty years younger. However, ours is a matriarchal society. Rule passes to the next female. If my mother were to outlive Adrianne, I do not know who rule would pass to. I am the next direct descendant, but Aubrey is more or less my mother's daughter as well. Rule could just as easily pass to her."
Hiei frowned. "The women lead you?"
"Perhaps the reason we have avoided any manner of conflict for so many years, no?" Kurama asked. "Men feel the need to prove their virility, through the use of weapons and war. Women, our women in particular, can often talk the opposing leaders out of a war."
"Talk?" Hiei noted.
Kurama laughed. "Too true."
"One last question. Is this simply a village in what used to be Raizen's territory, or is it sovereign, answering only to itself?" Hiei asked.
Kurama thought a moment then answered, "Both. On paper, the land belonged to Raizen and therefore was added to the land included in the unification tournament. But we are so small that no one ever pays us much mind. And as a group, we never cause trouble. Individuals, on occasion… but never the town as a whole."
Before Hiei could comment on this last remark, Faina returned. Yet another fox followed her, this time with snow white coloring. But despite the white of his hair, ears and tail, he did not appear old. Hiei could only assume this was the doctor. Kurama smiled—truly smiled—for the first time since they had arrived. "Z," he said. "It's been a long time."
"And whose fault is that, K?" the man replied. And then they hugged, the embrace brotherly.
But something about it bothered Hiei more than anything he had seen so far. It was as though the fact that Kurama had a childhood friend took something away from Hiei. He knew that, no matter how he tried, the fox before him now would always have something he could not. And the nicknames irritated him as well, although he couldn't have said why.
"Mine," Kurama admitted. "But that is entirely beside the point."
The man nodded. "I suppose. Care to tell me how this happened?" He patted Kurama's stomach, which seemed to be swelling larger by the day. The fact that Kurama allowed the man to touch him—to place his hand so close to their child—made Hiei grind his teeth in anger.
Kurama's eyes flashed to him, feeling the anger. "I think you know how such a thing happens, Z. Particularly considering your specialty." Then he said, "Hiei, Zhi. Z, Hiei."
Zhi nodded. "So you're the one who broke the stone heart embedded in my best friend's chest. I congratulate you on that. I worried it would never happen."
Hiei hesitated, then determined that, in this town, such a question would not be something out of the ordinary. "Best friend? So you were never anything more?"
Zhi laughed. "No, Hiei, I promise. I have never had any attraction to men. Kurama… he never had any attraction to women but he has a thing about experimenting. He has to learn everything. There are few people in this town you need to be worried about. I am not one of them. None of the women—no matter the stories they tell—were anything more than someone to kill time with. The few men who might pose a threat… none of them could hold a candle to the one Kurama allowed to get him pregnant, I promise you."
Hiei was mollified. Kurama on the other hand was intrigued. "Are you jealous?" Kurama asked. Hiei scowled. Kurama licked his lips and said, "You should be jealous more often. It's unbelievably attractive on you."
Hiei simply stared. This was a Kurama he had never met before. Yet somehow, it was the same Kurama he had always known. Zhi and Faina laughed, and Zhi said, "Why don't you come inside? You should have come sooner."
"I do have a life, Z. I came when time permitted," Kurama replied.
Zhi nodded. "Very well. Sit on the table." Kurama did as his old friend requested. The doctor proceeded to take his temperature, his heart rate, his blood pressure, he even took some blood and ran some cursory tests. "Everything seems to be in order. Could you lie down?" Once again Kurama did as he was asked, reaching out toward Hiei. Hiei took his hand, but he felt as though Kurama was reassuring him rather than the other way around. Zhi then ran his fingers along Kurama's abdomen, which was now obviously swollen. When they had left the human realm, the pregnancy had been barely visible. Now, after a month of travel, the situation had changed, and it was obvious that Kurama was not just gaining weight. "It seems as though everything is healthy. Do you want me to take any pictures?"
"Yes." Faina was hovering in the door, eager to see any picture of her first grandchild. The fact that it was her eldest son carrying the child didn't seem to bother her at all.
"Pictures?" Hiei asked.
"I can take pictures of the child," Zhi said, pulling some equipment from his cabinet. "But only if you want me to."
Kurama looked at Hiei, allowing the other man to make the decision. The situation was what it was and there wasn't much he could do about it. Hiei saw that Kurama was going to let him decide and immediately asked the only important question: "Will it hurt Kurama or the child?"
Zhi shook his head. "No adverse effects. Actually, it can help me see if there are any problems, and I can sometimes correct those before they become irreversible." He hesitated. Then, "If there is something wrong, something that can't be fixed, it helps to know. Because then you have the option of—"
"No." Kurama and Hiei objected at the same moment, making it clear that terminating the pregnancy was not an option.
Zhi smiled. "I didn't think so. Do you want the pictures?"
"Yes," Faina repeated.
"Mother," Kurama sighed. "Please, keep your opinions to yourself. I understand how much you want this, but it really isn't your business."
"And now the true feelings come out," Faina remarked. But there was no resentment in her voice. In fact, it was almost teasing.
"Yes," Hiei said. "I want the pictures."
Zhi smiled. "Awesome." He set up the machine, which scanned Kurama's abdomen with a blue light so bright it was almost blinding. In a matter of minutes, there was an image before them on the screen he had pulled out.
Hiei and Kurama stared at it, Hiei finally asking, "That's the baby? It looks like a blurred mess that humans would call abstract art."
Zhi on the other hand looked at it carefully and said, "The heart is blurred, which means it's beating at the proper pace. This is a beautiful baby. No abnormalities that I can see."
Kurama looked at Hiei. "Do you want to know if it's a girl or a boy?"
"We're both guys," Hiei said. "Doesn't that answer the question?"
Kurama shook his head. "Genetics are odd things." He looked at Zhi. "Care to explain?"
Zhi nodded enthusiastically. "Males have an X and a Y, as the humans call them. Females have two Xs. This means that, as a general rule, with a male and a female each contributing half of the new material, there is a fifty percent chance for either gender. However, since you are both male, you run into the 1:2:1 ratio. If both of you had contributed a Y, the pregnancy would have self-aborted in a matter of weeks. Since that is obviously not the case, you actually have a one in three chance that it is a girl."
Faina and Kurama both laughed at the look on Hiei's face. It was a mix of fascination and pure horror. "Why didn't you inform me that this was possible?" he demanded.
"I did not think of it," Kurama said. Hiei's anger was tangible. "I'm not lying, Hiei. I thought of the possibility of a girl, yes, but I thought you knew it was possible as well. I saw no need to mention it."
That answer made more sense to Hiei. It wasn't that Kurama hadn't thought of it; it was their lack of communication skills that had caused the problem. He bit his lip then asked Kurama, "Do you want to know?"
"Honestly?" Kurama asked.
"Always, Kurama," Hiei said. Honesty remained the thing they both struggled with most. It was no longer that they lied; they just struggled not to omit important facts.
"Yes," Kurama answered. "I need to know how to mentally prepare myself. Whether I should prepare for a girl, which I would have no clue on how to raise. Or a boy, in which case we would both likely get our payback, if he's anything like either of us."
"So yes then?" Zhi asked.
Kurama nodded. Zhi smiled. And then he dropped the bombshell. "Twins." He pointed to a blur on the screen. "Her heart." A different blur. "His heart." Another grin. "It would appear that you two are very… compatible. Twins are rare in this town."
Kurama glanced at Hiei. "Genetic predispositions are powerful things."
Zhi looked at Hiei. "You are a twin? Interesting…" He shook his head. "Well, that's all. Do you intend to remain here for the rest of the pregnancy, or do you intend to go back to where you came from? Back to your life, as you called it?"
"Here," Kurama answered. "We have been living among humans. Such a situation could result in some awkward questions."
Zhi nodded. "Do you have a place to stay?"
"They'll be staying with me and Caelestis," Faina said immediately. She looked at Kurama innocently. "The house has felt so empty since Baltassar left. I have three empty rooms, including your old room."
Kurama grinned. "So long as you give us our privacy, Mother."
"I will give you yours provided you give me mine," his mother responded, the implications of both statements obvious to everyone present. Hiei was once again regretting his decision to allow Kurama to come here. He now wished he had simply put Kurama on house arrest and been done with it. But it was too late now.
Then Kurama pulled out a phone. "I need to make a call."
He sat up and left the room to call Shiori. The two remaining foxes looked at Hiei. "And who would he be calling?" Faina asked.
Hiei hesitated. He had yet to determine how close Kurama was to his birth mother. If they were close, it was not his place to tell her that Kurama had been calling another woman 'Mother' for nineteen years. So he lied. "I don't know."
But Faina saw through his lie just as clearly as Kurama would have. "He doesn't want me to know, is that it?" she asked.
Hiei shook his head. "I do not know if he cares. But I won't be telling you."
Meanwhile, Kurama was breaking the news to his mother. "We arrived this afternoon," he said.
"Oh, Shuichi! I'm so glad. How is everything? Are you feeling alright? Is Hiei well? Did you have any problems? Have you seen the doctor yet?" Shiori's questions all came very quickly, with no pause to take a breath.
"I'm fine. Hiei is well. I just saw the doctor, my best friend growing up as a matter of fact. We have a place to stay. There are no problems," Kurama answered. He knew Shiori would want to know, but he didn't know how to tell her.
"Details, Shuichi," she demanded. "Is the baby healthy? Did the doctor take any pictures? Do you know if it's a boy or a girl?"
"Healthy, yes," Kurama answered. "Pictures, yes. And yes, we know the sex."
There was an impatient sigh from the other end of the line. "Are you just going to leave me hanging like that, Shuichi, or can you throw an old woman a bone and tell her if she's going to have a grandson or a granddaughter?"
"Both." There was a complete silence from the other end of the line. It lasted for so long that Kurama felt compelled to ask, "Mom? Are you still there?"
"Both?" Shiori asked, the delight in her voice obvious. "This is wonderful, Shuichi." Suddenly she seemed to think of something. "How many of each?"
Kurama's eyes widened at the thought of more than two children. Two was bad enough. He didn't think he could take more than that. "Only two mother, one of each. God forbid there be more than that, since neither of us is ready to be a parent."
Kurama could feel Shiori's smile radiating through the telephone. "Well, Shuichi, I need to go tell your father. This is so exciting! I love you, and keep me updated."
"I love you too and I will call you every day I get a chance," Kurama promised, hanging up.
"Mom?" Faina asked from behind him. To Hiei's relief, she didn't sound offended, just curious. He was beginning to understand why Kurama only got angry very, very rarely. That was the environment he was raised in. It appeared that people only got angry over the important things. Then again, Faina didn't seem to be angry about this, and he deemed it relatively important. At any rate, the entire place seemed to be a sea of calm.
Kurama turned around. "I'm sure you heard about the disappearance of Kurama?" he asked.
"Yes." Once again the mild curiosity.
Kurama explained, "Bounty hunter, soul form, human embryo, fusion."
"So the usual story," Faina said. "Except for the part where she knows the truth."
"More or less," Kurama answered.
"This has happened before?" Hiei demanded. "Stealing an embryo to prevent death?"
Faina nodded. "Of course, I think my son is the first to choose a human. I think my son is the first to develop an attachment to his surrogate mother." Hiei couldn't tell if her tone was amused or disapproving. Neither seemed appropriate. But then she was the doting mother Hiei had seen in Shiori the entire time they had been in the human realm. "But twins! A boy and a girl! It took more than a millennium, but I will finally have some grandchildren! This is wonderful."
"I'm glad you're pleased, Mother," Kurama noted.
"Of course I'm pleased," she answered as they began the trek back to her home. "I would have been pleased just to see you. Grandchildren is just icing on the cake."
"Good to know, Mother," Kurama said. Caelestis suddenly ran up again.
"Mother," he whined. "Everyone I asked said that Kurama was the best thief. But he disappeared twenty years ago."
"Can missing persons not reappear?" Faina asked her youngest child. "Your brother has returned to us at last."
Caelestis turned his glare on Kurama. "I'll be better than you ever were, I swear it."
Kurama nodded. "I wish you luck."
Caelestis tilted his head to the side. "You don't care."
Kurama shook his head. "It was entertaining, but eventually grew dull. It was all the same. And then I learned that some things are far more important than money and other glittery objects." As he said it, Hiei felt his fox squeeze his hand. This action did not go unnoticed by Faina.
"Caelestis, go do your homework. I need a word alone with your brother and brother-in-law." Caelestis grimaced, but stalked off toward a large building Kurama recognized as the village school.
"Brother-in-law?" Hiei immediately asked.
Faina looked at him questioningly. "You have mated."
Kurama rolled his eyes. "And with how many men have you mated with, Mother? Assuming that Caelestis is the only one after Adrianne, the count would be four. I do not care to know how many men you have slept with. That does not mean your siblings have a brother-in-law."
His mother glared, but it wasn't angry. She simply did not appreciate having been outwitted. "The difference is that I did not love any of my partners," she noted, but even Hiei could tell it was a lie. "Mating is far different from loving."
"What are you trying to say, Mother?" Kurama asked, knowing perfectly well what her meaning was.
Faina knew he knew, but she didn't feel like dancing around the issue. "You are both very, very jealous about the other. You care about each other deeply. If asked what the most important thing in the world was to you, how would you respond?" Neither man answered, which was answer enough. Faina continued, "When you love someone as you two love each other, what is to stop you from marrying, from sealing that bond? It would prevent many problems that could arise in a village built on stealing and sex, as you put it, Hiei."
Hiei was unsurprised that Faina had heard his comment, but he was surprised by Kurama's actions. Kurama had frozen in place, an uncharacteristic surprise covering his face. Then a momentary debate with himself, then his features returned to their typical, inscrutable blankness. Hiei couldn't help but note that the forced lack of emotion was even stronger here, where he had grown up. He couldn't help but feel as though the society he was now living in was a society built on lies that were only superficially concealed. Lies that no one even pretended were the truth. And as much as Hiei lied, that was something he was having trouble understanding.
Then, seeing her son wasn't going to respond, Faina said, "I'll help the two of you get settled, and then you can go do whatever it is you want to do." She grinned the wicked grin that seemed to be a genetic thing, and added, "Or I can leave, if it's an empty house you want."
Kurama shook his head. "I think I'll give Hiei a little tour."
Hiei frowned. Kurama voluntarily rejecting the possibility of sex, without even checking with him? Something was bothering Kurama more than he knew. "Very well," Faina said, leading them into her home.
Kurama followed her in spite of the fact that he could have made his way through the house with a blindfold, ear plugs and his hands tied behind his back. Sure enough, she led him to his old bedroom. He raised his eyebrows. "Where is Caelestis staying? I've been gone longer than the rest of them. I would have assumed you would have given him my room."
Faina shook her head. "First you assume that Aubrey has actually left. When I said I had three empty rooms, I should have qualified that. Most nights I have three empty rooms. But when asked, Aubrey still says that this is where she lives." Kurama snorted and nodded in agreement. Faina went on, "I've more or less come to the conclusion that Baltassar is dead. It has been far too long since anyone heard anything from him. But I kept his room open as well."
Kurama nodded once more. "Because of all of us, Adrianne was the least likely to return home, in spite of the fact that she was the closest."
Faina nodded. "Nereus is a good man though. They are still happy. I could never understand how she could be happy with the same man for so many years, but she has been. For a thousand years, they have been committed to each other, which never ceases to amaze me."
Kurama shrugged, looking around the room he had grown up in. Nothing but the furniture remained, the trinkets and other belongings having disappeared to various other homes over the centuries he was gone. His eyes fell on the bed. The size of the bed was the primary reason he had never actually slept with Aubrey. There wasn't really enough room if you weren't lying on top of one another. Or if you got far closer than he ever would have been comfortable sleeping next to Aubrey. Sex with his cousin was one thing; sleeping so close to her was another. He did not trust her that much.
He looked at Hiei. "Will we need to hire someone to make a larger bed?"
Hiei looked at the bed. "I'm not sure. As you are now, no. A month or so from now… can this bed really support… four of us?"
"Support or have room for?" Kurama asked wickedly. "This bed is far sturdier than you would think."
Hiei was learning to ignore the pangs of jealousy that tore at his heart every time Kurama said something like that. He was growing accustomed to the fact that Kurama's promiscuity was a societal normality. He merely hoped that he was enough to hold Kurama, because he didn't think he could bear to lose his fox demon now, not after everything that had happened. To hide the pain he said, "A lot of testing, I assume? Much of it very… enthusiastic?"
Kurama frowned, sensing Hiei's discomfort. "Yes," he murmured. "So it's agreed, no new bed for now?"
Hiei nodded. Then promptly changed his mind. "No. I want a new bed."
Kurama immediately knew the why. Hiei didn't want to sleep in a bed Kurama had shared with so many others. Kurama nodded. "We'll put in the order, and I'm sure Linzi can have it done by tonight if I ask her."
Hiei didn't want to know why Linzi would be so willing, so he didn't ask. Kurama nodded to his mother. "Thanks, Mother. We'll be back sometime tonight."
His mother shrugged. "As you wish. Just make sure you knock before you walk in. We don't want a repeat of the time Adrianne was scarred for life."
Kurama nodded, and Hiei wondered once again how open they were about what happened behind closed doors. "Provided you knock first too."
His mother grinned. "I wouldn't dream of interrupting the two of you."
Kurama nodded and then pulled Hiei from the house and down the road, his pace slowing once they turned the corner. "You've been very quiet, Hiei. More so than normal."
"Just trying to process the insanity of this place," Hiei replied.
"Is that all?" Kurama asked.
For once the truth came easily. "I don't like it that you've been with so many of these people, Kurama. I hate it. I hate Zhi because he has memories of you that I will never have, memories of you growing up. I hate that everyone knows the most intimate details of everyone else's lives. I hate that you're so okay with it that it's more of a joke than anything else."
Kurama listened quietly to Hiei's rant. Then he said, "I can't say I love it, but I can say that I am used to it. That is one reason very few outsiders stay, Hiei. They can't handle the web of lies. Even more than that, they can't handle the fact that that web doesn't hide anything at all. They can't handle that we lie just to lie and that everyone knows when everyone else is lying. That is why I wouldn't try and get you to stay here. Part of me would like to raise any of my kids here, just because there is a strong sense of community. But I know that that would put a strain on you that is unnecessary. If you want to, we can stay outside the village except for doctor visits. I just thought staying with my mother would be more comfortable for everyone concerned."
Hiei shook his head. "So long as you don't try to get me to move here permanently."
"Wouldn't dream of it," Kurama answered as he pushed open the door to a small carpentry shop. Then he called out, "Linzi, your favorite little cousin has returned."
"Are you related to everyone in this town?" Hiei hissed.
Kurama thought a moment then said, "By marriage or blood, everyone is at least distantly related to everyone else. Like you said, inbreeding waiting to happen. Except that it's already happened. Possibly the reason everyone else thinks we're all crazy."
"Maybe that's because you are all crazy," Hiei muttered as a fox demon even shorter than him entered the room. Her red hair was cropped so close to her head it was almost shaved off entirely.
"Kurama," she noted. "When did I ever give any indication that you were my favorite?"
"Never. Just thought it was a good introduction," Kurama answered. "I need a new bed."
"The old one did not break," Linzi said. "My products do not break. I do not care what you might have gotten up to in it. I do not care what someone else might have gotten up to in it. It has withstood the test of you and Aubrey together. There is nothing wrong with that bed."
"Not structurally," Kurama agreed. "However, it is not made for two people to sleep in. Two could be done, until you take into account the fact that one is swelling daily due to two rather adorable parasites."
Hiei and Linzi both raised their eyebrows. Hiei couldn't help but feel as though, even if Kurama was not Linzi's favorite cousin, Linzi was his favorite. But he also got the distinct impression that there was absolutely no sexual attraction between the two of them. "Okay," she said. "I'll have it ready for the two of you by midnight tonight."
Kurama nodded and kissed her cheek. "Thanks, Linzi. I really appreciate it."
They left the shop and Hiei asked, "Have you slept with her?"
Kurama shook his head. "She was married by the time I was born. If I have slept with someone, do you want me to tell you?"
Hiei was feeling extremely jealous, but he didn't really want to know who to direct his jealousy at. "No," he finally answered. "Only if I ask."
"Okay." Kurama was starting to see that their relationship was becoming more and more honest. He kind of wondered if it was their location. His family, his village, always lied, but never concealed the truth. Maybe the lack of concealment was rubbing off on the two of them.
Kurama proceeded to give Hiei a complete tour of the village, including the surrounding farmland and pastures. They met many people, very few Kurama didn't recognize. Hiei was soon lost in the never-ending carousel of faces and names. At around midnight they returned to Linzi's shop. She met them at the door and tapped the glass. Kurama and Hiei both looked. Delivery included. "I already sent Pascal with the bed. I like you, so I threw the mattress in free."
Kurama nodded. "Now what do you want for payment?"
"Your firstborn child."
Linzi's words were said with such a seriousness and such a straight face that Hiei momentarily wondered if she was serious. But then Kurama asked, "What are you really asking for?"
Linzi rolled her eyes. "What do you think, Kurama? I want your firstborn child."
"What are you talking about?" Hiei demanded.
Kurama provided the answer. "Linzi is the gossip queen of the village. By wanting our firstborn child she means she wants the details. She wants the why and the where and the when." He glanced at Linzi. "I certainly hope she already knows the who and the how."
Hiei relaxed when he realized that the woman only wanted the story of their child. Until then, he hadn't realized just how much he wanted the baby—the babies. He hadn't realized how protective he already felt in regards to both the children and Kurama. He just stood back and let Kurama tell the story. His fox gave a bit more detail than he would have liked, but he guessed that when everyone knew everything anyway, gossip had a slightly different meaning.
As they walked back towards Faina's house, Kurama stared up at the sky, which glistened with trillions of stars. "They really like you, Hiei."
"Do they?" Hiei asked skeptically.
"They're usually far more wary of strangers. Only one person has tried to steal anything from you, and that was a child. They like you."
"That could all be explained by who I'm with," Hiei pointed out.
"Perhaps," Kurama admitted. But he grabbed Hiei's hand and added, "All the same, we're here. We have a place to stay. We're starting a life. I'm pregnant. With twins. I can't help but feel that life is good."
Hiei frowned. "And yet something is bothering you."
A silence followed those words. Neither of them said anything until they were in Kurama's room, the door locked, sitting on the already-made, king-sized bed that was now the dominant feature of the small room. Then Kurama said, "I love you, Hiei."
"Is that what's bothering you?" Hiei asked, carefully brushing a strand of silver hair out of the other man's eyes. Kurama nodded. "I love you too, Kurama. Never doubt that."
Kurama's eyes flashed up to him, he nodded and said, "I don't." And then Hiei kissed him, gently.
That night, as Hiei and Kurama made love, it was different. It had nothing to do with the new bed, nothing to do with the fact that they were in Kurama's old home, nothing they could pin down at all. It was more a change in their hearts. And when the finished, they lay in each other's arms, quietly. Each of them had a single arm draped protectively around Kurama's swollen belly.
Finally Hiei asked, "Now will you tell me what's bothering you, now that you know I love you? How you could have doubted it before, I don't know. But please. Honesty, Kurama."
"I was being honest, Hiei," Kurama replied quietly. "I love you."
"And that bothers you?" Hiei couldn't help but be slightly offended.
Kurama heard it and tried to clarify his thoughts, for both himself and Hiei. "Not precisely. Loving you in itself… that doesn't bother me at all. Some of the implications bother me."
Kurama lay on his back and stared up at the ceiling. "As you may have guessed, love means something entirely different here, Hiei. Love isn't something people give away freely to anyone but their children. Or rather, there are varying degrees of love. The way parents love their children. Then the love that people feel for each other, the physical kind, the love that is necessary to mate. And then there's the love my mother spoke of. When you really, truly love someone."
"As we love each other," Hiei stated.
"Yes," Kurama said.
"So what's the problem?" Hiei asked.
Kurama didn't answer for a long time. So long in fact that Hiei thought he might have fallen asleep. But then he said, "When you love someone like that… in this place… you are expected to… basically, having a child with someone doesn't really mean anything about a relationship. When you love someone, you're expected to marry them. And once you're married, that's it. No one in this village will approach you again, at least not with the intent of seducing you. No one will ever look at your husband or wife again. And if they do… if you do… essentially, unfaithfulness here… that is something that can warrant the death penalty. Sleeping with someone else's married partner is punishable by death."
"Why are you telling me this?" Hiei asked, bewildered.
Kurama sighed. "Just… ever since my mother said something… People expect one of three things for our relationship, Hiei. The first is that I have the kids and then we both leave and never look back, letting my mother raise them. The second—the one I think they're all betting on—is that we'll try to raise the kids together, but we're not really committed, so it will all fall apart and the kids will end up suffering. The last is that… they expect us to get married if we really love each other."
Hiei frowned, trying to read Kurama's features in the almost pitch black of the room. "Children seem to be a big deal to you, Kurama."
"Not to me, to my culture. The decision to have a child… it is not made lightly. More often than not, people don't have children unless they are married, simply because the family is also very important to our culture. Which is why my mother is such an oddity. Four children, not including Aubrey, yet no marriage. And the leader, no less." Hiei felt the movement of Kurama shaking his head. "The intricacies of our way of life are hard to understand for a native, impossible to explain to an outsider."
Hiei bit his tongue, thinking a moment. "What are the implications of having children outside of marriage?"
Kurama sighed. "It depends on the situation. My mother… she was always a bit odd. For her, they just recognized that she didn't want to tie herself to one man, but she needed an heir and she desperately wanted to be a mother. Others… sometimes you are criticized for being careless. Sometimes the child is pitied because it wasn't planned. But always, always, family plays an important role. Which is why being unmarried parents of not one, but two children is a big deal. It will cause an uproar."
"So we get married."
Hiei's suggestion caused Kurama's mind to go blank for a moment. "What?" he finally asked.
Hiei didn't hesitate before repeating, "We get married. You have made it clear that gender is not exactly a set thing here. Two men getting married would hardly be a problem, would it?"
"No," Kurama agreed. "But do you really know what you're suggesting?"
That stopped Hiei short. "What am I suggesting?" he asked slowly.
"Marriages here are forever," Kurama said. "They bond you so tight… we don't allow for divorce, and the only way for a marriage to end is with a death. And here… well, the killing of one's spouse, the killing of one's child, adultery with a married fox, cheating on your spouse… those are all still punishable by death. If you wanted out… you'd have to kill me. Because even if I told you it was okay, if we decided it wasn't working… this village, my people, my family… we would punish you for unfaithfulness."
Hiei didn't say anything, and eventually Kurama fell asleep, thankful that the truth was out in the open.
Now what was bothering Hiei was something entirely different. Kurama had almost immediately slipped back into the use of the plural. He used 'we' to refer to the villagers as opposed to 'they.' He used 'our' instead of 'their.' He used 'us' instead of 'them.' No matter what he said, when he claimed this was only his home because it was where he grew up, this place was still a part of him. It still held a part of his heart and his mind in a way Hiei couldn't understand, never having had a family like Kurama did.
Which led to another thing that bothered Hiei for some inexplicable reason. Faina. Kurama always said 'my mother' when speaking of her. Hiei had seen how much he loved his human mother, yet Kurama always called her 'Shiori' when talking of her rather than to her. But here… he never called her Faina. And something about that bothered Hiei.
And then he realized that he was jealous. Not of those who had been with Kurama in the past. No, he was jealous of Kurama himself. He was jealous of what Kurama had grown up with. And once he realized that this was what was bothering him, he took a deep breath, swore to himself that he wouldn't tell Shiori about Faina unless Kurama wanted to, and then he too fell asleep.
When he woke, Hiei found himself being smothered by Kurama's arms. "Get off of me, fox," Hiei grunted, trying to remove himself from Kurama's grasp. But Kurama's grip was tight, and Hiei wasn't willing to risk hurting the babies just to get away. "Kurama!" he said loudly. "Wake up!"
"What?" Kurama said, snapping to attention.
"You were suffocating me," Hiei complained, crawling out of bed and pulling on some clothes.
"My bad," Kurama said, following suit. "Thanks for listening to me rant last night. I know you don't like to listen to me worry, but it's hard to avoid thinking about something that is so prevalent and important in one's culture." There it was again, Kurama's use of the possessive, indicating the attachment he still felt to this place.
Hiei asked, "Will you ever truly be free of this place, Kurama? It's still a part of you, even after all these years."
Kurama sighed. "Doubtful. They're my family, for better or for worse. The best I can do is place myself at a remove from them and hope that the culture I learned from them doesn't show through when I don't wish it to."
"Parts of the culture are good," Hiei found himself noting.
Kurama snorted. "Which parts?"
"The part about family," Hiei said quietly, thinking about his lack thereof. "The part about marriage, and how committed you must be."
Kurama's movements slowed. "Hiei…?"
Hiei looked at Kurama, his eyes entirely sincere. "Let's get married," he said. "We are committed to each other like that. Why shouldn't your… family know about it? And if there isn't a way to entirely suppress this more… cultural side of you, shouldn't our children see the more positive sides of it?"
Kurama was now entirely frozen. When he saw Hiei was serious, he swept the fire demon into a hug. "When?"
"As soon as possible," Hiei breathed into Kurama's neck.
"Tomorrow," Kurama said decisively. "Perhaps the day after, depending on when Adrianne can have the clothes ready." He strode out of the room with more purpose than Hiei had seen in him in a while.
"The clothes?" Hiei asked.
"You want to get married here?" Kurama asked. Without waiting for the positive response he knew was coming, he went on, "We do things a certain way. And there is some very traditional wedding dress we will be required to wear."
"Am I going to regret this decision?" Hiei asked.
Kurama looked at him. "Because of the clothes? No. For other reasons… I really hope not, because I won't regret it in the slightest."
"What, precisely, do these wedding clothes of yours look like?" Hiei asked.
"You've seen the clothing we wear on a daily basis?" Kurama asked. Hiei nodded, recalling the tunics and loose pants everyone seemed to wear, an occasional skirt for one of the women, all in various shades of grey, white, brown or black. Kurama said, "Wedding clothes are the same style but brightly colored, often patterned."
Hiei stared at him. "You said I wouldn't regret the clothing."
Kurama frowned at him. "You were dressed in a suit just to marry someone you didn't love," he reminded Hiei. "Aren't I worth a little color?"
Hiei was unsuccessful in repressing a smile. "I suppose. I have just one request."
"And that would be?"
"If at all possible, I want the garments to be a solid color."
Kurama shook his head. "Adrianne is one of our wedding planners. She will look at you, she will measure you, and the day of the wedding you will put on whatever she gives you."
"Is that just for shotgun weddings or is that how it always works?" Hiei asked wryly.
"You mean the not picking your own colors?" Kurama asked. Upon receiving a nod, he laughed, "Another odd facet of our entirely confusing society."
At that moment they arrived at a clothing shop. Walking in, Kurama called out, "Addie, some assistance please."
A woman came skidding into the room, moving so quickly she was tripping on her own feet and tail. "Kura!" Her voice was joyful. Her eyes widened upon seeing her brother. "Kurama… by assistance do you mean you want me to arrange your wedding?"
"Yes," Kurama answered calmly. "Hiei, Adrianne. Adrianne, Hiei."
Adrianne stared for a long time, trying to find words. Finally she settled on, "Who are you?"
"Excuse me?" Hiei asked, looking at Kurama.
"I'm sorry," Adrianne apologized. "I just meant that… well, growing up there were four of us. Oldest to youngest it was Kurama, Aubrey, Baltassar and myself. And of the four of us… well, Nereus and I have been in love since we met. Aubrey… someday she'll get tired of sleeping around and she'll search until she finds the right guy. Baltassar… if he's still alive… I was the only one he told, but he left to find that. Kurama… no one in our family ever thought he'd get married. Of the four of us, he was the last one anybody expected to settle down."
"Who said anything about settling down?" Kurama asked her. "I'm getting married and having kids. That is not the same thing as ending a great thieving career or refraining from participating in the next Tournament."
Adrianne rolled her blue eyes, an action Hiei was noticing was particularly prevalent among the fox community. "You know perfectly well what I meant."
"Perhaps you should choose your words more carefully then, so that what you say is actually what you mean," Kurama noted.
Adrianne didn't dignify that with a response. She simply got out a tape measure and began determining the sizes they would need. "When do you need these by?" she asked.
"As soon as possible," Kurama answered.
"This afternoon?" she asked. "Business has been slow the last few weeks. You know, summer coming, people don't care if their clothes are falling apart. People don't care if their clothes are falling off."
Kurama nodded. "This afternoon would be wonderful. Payment?"
"Call it a favor to the big brother I haven't seen in four centuries."
"Thanks, Addie." He kissed her cheek and pulled Hiei out of the shop. He stopped outside and asked Hiei, "Does it bother you?"
"Does what bother me?" Hiei asked, genuinely surprised by Kurama's question.
"Me being around all these people I remember from before we met. A group of people we both know you could never integrate yourself into. A group of people I don't particularly want you to integrate yourself into. Does it bother you how close I still am to all of them?"
Hiei hesitated, remembered that one, accursed word honesty, and answered, "A little bit. But it's more the knowledge that there is so much about you that I don't know. There's this huge part of your life that you've given up and left behind that is longer than my entire life."
Kurama nodded. "You'll have time to learn everything. Of course, I'm sure there are things about me even I don't know. And I suppose… perhaps coming here was necessary for reasons other than the child. You can never truly leave behind what is learned in the place you grew up. Perhaps it is good that you are seeing a part of what made me the way I am."
Hiei didn't respond, just agreed in his heart that Kurama was right. And then they walked through the town once again, spending time with Kurama's old friends. None of them seemed particularly surprised by the fact that Kurama had a lover, nor that his lover was a man. What surprised them was that Kurama had allowed himself to get pregnant. What surprised them more was that the two men intended to get married that afternoon.
The first time Kurama said the time and day, Hiei had looked at him. "What happened to tomorrow?"
Kurama had shrugged. "You said as soon as possible. If Addie can have the clothes done by this afternoon, why should the wedding wait till tomorrow?" He grinned and said mischievously, "Why should I give you an opportunity to get away?"
"You still think I want to get away?"
"I'm still astounded that you don't want to. After meeting my family… after seeing what I grew up with… after learning what marriage really means here… very few would be willing to marry into that, Hiei."
"I'm willing. And I'll still be willing this afternoon."
That afternoon, they went back to Adrianne's shop. She pulled them into the back and began babbling about how long she had wanted to make Kurama's wedding outfit, in spite of the fact that she thought she'd never get the chance. "I always thought a bright blue would suit you well," she said, "But then something about blue didn't seem right for Hiei, so I built the outfits around what would look good on him. I chose a brilliant, deep red, threaded with yellow, orange, gold and black. Something about it sort of reminds me of fire, now that I think about it…" Kurama glanced at Hiei, whose eyes were wary. Adrianne didn't seem to notice. She just went on, "And since I used red for him, I chose a green for you, with shades of blue throughout, and to tie the two together I added the gold thread to yours as well." She took a deep breath and went on, "I also thought the green particularly suiting for you, since you do your whole spastic plant thing like Mother."
Hiei was busy thinking that Adrianne was what he would have described as spastic, not Kurama's plants. But then she unveiled their outfits. And Hiei couldn't help but stare. When Kurama had said bright colors, this wasn't what he had been imagining. He had been thinking of rainbows and florescent, neon lights. But this… this wasn't bad at all. The red was dark and rich, the orange, yellow and gold making the red fabric shimmer in a way that really was reminiscent of fire. And then, as he pulled it off the hanger to look at it more closely, he saw that the black intermingling with the other colors resembled the shape of a dragon. He turned a confused glance on Kurama, who was examining the golden rose embroidered on the back of his.
"Kurama," Hiei said slowly. "What is this?"
Kurama saw what Hiei was asking about and smiled. "Adrianne?"
Adrianne looked at what had Hiei stumped and said, "I just embroidered what felt right. I let my fingers follow the thread. And when I saw that they had created a rose and a dragon, it felt right. I'm not sure why. My brother's… he controls plants, and he always loved the roses, the danger mixed with the beauty. But why a dragon… that I couldn't tell you."
Hiei frowned to himself. Then Kurama explained, "The fabric and thread speak to her the way plants speak to me, the way flames speak to you, Hiei."
Adrianne's eyes lit up. "Flames? That explains everything! When is the wedding?"
Kurama smiled. "At five."
"Today?" Adrianne demanded. Kurama nodded. "Way to wait till the last minute to ask my help," Adrianne muttered.
"We were going to have it tomorrow or the day after, but then you said you could have them ready by today and we didn't see any reason to wait," Hiei explained, for some reason comfortable around the woman who seemed to be Kurama's favorite sister, perhaps favorite person in the entire village.
"Well, then try them on," Adrianne commanded. "I need to make any last minute adjustments quickly, if the wedding is tonight."
Kurama began stripping down, right there in front of his sister, much to Hiei's surprise. But then Adrianne stopped him. She reached out and grabbed his arm. "I have never seen you without abs, Kura. Let me commit this to memory."
"I think not." Kurama continued undressing, pulling the wedding tunic on over his pregnant stomach. Adrianne circled him, quickly making some minor adjustments.
"Perfect," she said. "Hiei?"
Hiei glared at Kurama. But then he changed clothes, so quickly Adrianne's eyes couldn't follow. Kurama was merely disappointed that he didn't get to watch his fire demon's muscles ripple in the low light for longer than he did. Adrianne walked several circles around him before saying, "Kura, I'm thinking that the only reason there was anything wrong with yours is that you're an awkward shape at the moment."
"Thanks, Addie," Kurama replied, slightly more than a drop of sarcasm in his voice. "Thanks a lot."
"No problem. I'll see you guys at five."
She left them alone, and Hiei was suddenly struck by a thought. "Kurama… typically, humans and demons have a 'wedding night,' in which they sleep together for what is traditionally supposed to be the first time. What do you do for that here?"
Kurama grinned. "There is a party, and then everyone celebrates the wedding night."
Hiei stared. "I'm expected to participate in an orgy?"
Kurama snorted and almost fell over as he changed back into his creamy white clothes. "No. We are not that uncivilized. Usually. What I meant is that we party, and then everyone goes home and behaves as newlyweds are typically expected to behave."
"So… basically there's nothing happening that isn't happening every single night here?"
Kurama thought a moment then said, "We don't normally have a banquet."
Hiei sighed. "Good to know that's the only thing that's different."
Kurama grabbed Hiei and pulled the shorter man close. "Not the only thing. We'll be married, Hiei. That's something that doesn't happen every day."
Hiei smiled. "True."
That evening, Kurama and Hiei pulled on their wedding clothes. Kurama stood by the door as Hiei stared into the mirror. "Hiei?"
"I'm not sure I'm ready for this, Kurama."
Kurama frowned, concealing the hurt he felt. "This was your idea."
"But it all happened so fast. I want to marry you. So much. I'm just not sure I'm ready to stand up and announce that to the entire world."
Kurama raised his eyebrows. "That's what a wedding is, Hiei. Announcing it to the whole world."
Hiei hit him. "You know what I mean."
Kurama sighed and stood behind him, massaging his shoulders. "You'll be fine. Just pretend no one's there but me and my mother."
"Why can't I pretend it's just you?"
"My mother is kind of vital to the ceremony, head of the village as she is," Kurama noted. "Humans have their priests ask them questions and they say 'I do.' My mother will ask you something, and you will answer. You can block everyone else out, but not her. And you better not try and block me out."
Hiei relaxed slightly. "I wouldn't want to."
They stepped out of the backroom of Adrianne's shop and left the building, immediately next to Faina, who walked with them to a small park-like area. Blankets had been cast about everywhere, and what seemed to be the entire village was reclining on the pieces of fabric in the grass. "This hardly seems formal," Hiei hissed.
"Who ever said a wedding had to be formal?" Kurama asked.
Then Kurama, Hiei and Faina were standing in front of everyone and Faina asked Kurama. "Do you love this man?"
Kurama grinned at Hiei. "What would you do if I said no?"
"I'd kill you for lying."
Kurama smiled. "Guess I better tell the truth then. Yes, Mother. Very much."
Faina smiled. "Is he the father?"
Faina nodded, pleased. She turned to Hiei. "Do you love my son?"
Rather than answer Faina's question directly, Hiei turned to Kurama and whispered. "I love you, Kurama, more than anything in the world."
Kurama swooped in to kiss Hiei. It was short, but sweet. Then Faina remarked wryly, "You didn't wait for me to acknowledge the pledges, Kurama."
Kurama rolled his eyes. "So acknowledge them already."
Faina sighed and said, "The love is true, let this marriage be verified by all these witnesses and never questioned or broken."
Kurama kissed Hiei again, this time a bit more passionately, this time as part of the ceremony. Then Faina said, "Perfect. You're married. Let's eat."
As everyone else swarmed to the extensive table of food—a potluck dinner, almost—Kurama looked at Hiei. "Relatively painless, no?"
Hiei smiled. "Far less painful than some of the time I've spent alone with you."
Kurama bit his lip, trying not to laugh. "You can't say I didn't warn you."
"I could, but in an effort to be honest, I won't."
They went and got food. The night was spent receiving congratulations from Kurama's friends and family. They almost went deaf when Kurama called Shiori to tell her they had gotten married. And then, when they went home, they curled up next to each other, one hand clasped the other resting on Kurama's swollen stomach. And they fell asleep, refusing to do anything as expected.
A few weeks later they went to see Zhi for another checkup. "When are they due?" Kurama asked after Zhi had taken all the normal tests.
Zhi looked at him. "Do you know approximately when conception was?"
"October fourth," Hiei and Kurama said at the same moment.
Zhi frowned. "Are you sure?"
Kurama and Hiei were immediately worried. "Yes," Kurama said as various scenarios ran through his mind about what could be wrong, that Zhi would think they were incorrect in their timing. "Why? What's wrong, Zhi?"
Zhi closed his eyes, knowing the fox demon well enough to know that anger was likely. "They aren't as big as they should be, Kurama. It's been eight months, yet they look too small, as though they are at five, maybe six, months."
Hiei stared in horror. There was something wrong with their children. He gripped Kurama's hand, and he wasn't sure which of the two of them was squeezing tighter. Suddenly Kurama relaxed. "So they're just small? No physical defects, nothing to indicate that there might be something wrong?"
Zhi nodded. "Yes."
Kurama breathed a sigh of relief. Hiei looked at him, horrified. Kurama just said. "You're short too, Hiei. I know you don't like to hear that, but it's the truth. And that is likely why they are so tiny." Hiei couldn't remember a time when he had ever been glad to be reminded of his stature. This was a first.
"So when are they due?" Hiei asked again, the relief evident in his voice.
Zhi bit his upper lip and thought. "Well, I was thinking that, based on development, Kurama would be one of the rare foxes to deliver at nine months. However, now that I see he's been pregnant longer than that… my guess is that he's one of the rare foxes who takes longer than the typical ten and a half months."
"Zhi, a date please," Kurama instructed.
Zhi sighed. "Early to mid-September. Based on dates and development, my best guess would be…" He paused, doing some calculations in his head. "September ninth."
Kurama thought out loud for a moment, "So today is June thirteenth… that means we have almost three months left… but I told Shiori I'd come home to have the baby… it took us a month to get here, but we need to factor in that I'll be moving slower… tack on two extra weeks, just to be safe…" He nodded to himself and looked at Hiei. "We'll need to leave the last week of July, maybe a little sooner."
Hiei nodded. "Okay. Do you want me to call Shiori?" Kurama nodded and handed Hiei the phone.
Hiei left the room and Zhi asked, "You're going back to the human world to have the babies? I'm not sure that's a wise decision, Kurama."
Kurama sighed. "I promised Shiori I would. And I love Shiori almost as much as I love Hiei. I love Shiori and my mother equally and in the same way."
Zhi sighed. "I guess… well… Tinashe knows how to deliver children, and was the only doctor for years. She'll be fine on her own for a few months."
Zhi smiled. "I am not going to miss out on the birth of my best friend's children. Particularly when I'm supposed to be the doctor delivering them."
Kurama nodded. "Thanks, Z. I owe you one."
Zhi raised his eyebrows. "And how many times have you said that in the past?"
"I lost count."
Hiei heard the laughter inside, and for the first time, he didn't feel jealous. Some part of him knew that was because Kurama was letting him call Shiori; he trusted Hiei that much. He dialed the number he had memorized without Kurama's knowledge. When she picked up, it was with a joyful, "Shuichi?"
"No, Shiori, it's Hiei." Before she had time to panic, Hiei said, "He's fine. He's with the doctor. Nothing's wrong, he's just catching up with an old friend."
"Oh, okay." Hiei could hear the relief in her voice. "Do you have any news?"
"The babies are due early September. We're going to come back then."
"Wonderful!" Shiori was genuinely delighted by the news.
Hiei bit his lip and decided it was best to tell Shiori. "Shiori… it won't just be the two of us." He had heard Kurama and Zhi talking. Zhi was coming with them. And the likelihood that Faina would be left behind was zero to none.
"What do you mean, Hiei?"
"The doctor is coming with us," Hiei explained. "And… well… Kurama's mother will probably accompany us as well."
"Mother?" The word was whispered so quietly that Shiori could hardly hear it.
"Yes. His… his demon mother. She is as excited about grandchildren as you are. But she understands how deeply Kurama cares for you. She'll understand that you can't come here. So she'll most likely come there." Hiei hated to hurt Shiori like this, simply because hurting Shiori meant hurting Kurama. But it was better if he had this conversation than if he forced Kurama to have it.
There was an extended silence. Finally Shiori asked, "And your parents?"
Hiei then told her something he hadn't told anyone. Many knew, but that was based on what they had learned on their own, not anything he said. "I do not know who my father is, and my mother is dead."
"So… so I'll only have to share my grandbabies with one other grandparent? Or does… does Shuichi…?"
Hiei frowned. He hadn't given much thought to Kurama's father. He assumed that Faina knew who the father was, but no mention was ever made of the man. Hiei just said, "Kurama's father was never a part of his life. You and Faina will have to fight over them. But there are two, so you can each hold one at a time and I think we can avoid bloodshed."
A pause then, "Why are you telling me this? Why isn't Shuichi?"
"I knew the knowledge of his mother would hurt you, Shiori. And he hates hurting you. He hates hurting you more than he hates anything else. He didn't know I was going to tell you, but I thought it best you find out beforehand."
More silence. "Thank you, Hiei. Will you be staying at your place, or do you need somewhere to stay?"
Hiei hadn't thought of that. "Kurama!" he shouted. "Are we going to need to stay at Shiori's?"
"No," Kurama called back. "I paid the rent for the apartment a year in advance. It will be very dusty, but we'll stay at home." Home. Hiei liked that word.
"No," Hiei repeated to Shiori. "We're going to stay at our place."
Hiei didn't need to hear the relief in Shiori's voice to know she was happy that she wouldn't have to house Kurama's other mother. "Well, thanks for calling. Tell Shuichi I love him and look forward to seeing you two."
"Okay, Shiori, I will." Hiei hung up and returned to the exam room. "Shiori loves you and looks forward to seeing you."
Kurama nodded. "Thanks for telling her about my mother, Hiei. I wasn't looking forward to that."
Hiei nodded, unsurprised Kurama had heard half the conversation. "No problem."
When Faina heard that they were returning to the human realm for the births, she was adamant. "I'm coming with you."
"We know," Kurama answered.
"I am the grand—you know?" Faina asked.
Kurama nodded. "You can travel to the human world. The miasma here in the demon plane would kill Shiori. That is the only reason we are going to her instead of bringing her to us."
Faina smiled. "You are completely insane. When are we leaving?"
"A month from now," Kurama answered.
Faina nodded. "I'll go tell Adrianne and Aubrey." Kurama sighed.
"Why do they need to know?" Hiei asked.
"Family is a very important aspect of our community, Hiei," Kurama reminded him. "If the babies can't be born here, then Faina has every intention of making sure that all the important people are there." He turned to Faina. "Just tell me, Mother, who do you consider important enough to come."
Faina made a face. "Well, the entire village cares, you know. But that would be impractical and inadvisable. So I've decided to settle for myself, Caelestis, Aubrey, Adrianne and Nereus."
Kurama looked seriously at his mother. "Are you sure Caelestis will be able to restrain from stealing? I try to keep my two lives as separate as possible."
Faina nodded. "That boy is like you in all aspects but one. He actually does what I tell him to."
Kurama grinned. "Are you sure Aubrey will be able to go so long without sleeping with someone?"
Faina shrugged. "If she can't, she can find someone and catch up. Your cousin is far from helpless."
"True," Kurama conceded. "I'll just have to request that she refrain from seducing the humans as much as possible."
"Good luck with that," Hiei muttered.
A month later, the eight of them said goodbye and left, Hiei unhappy that they were accompanied by so many foxes. Foxes he thought he would be escaping.
But, strangely, it didn't bother him as much as he thought it would. He had grown attached to Kurama's family. Well, perhaps attached wasn't the right word. He had grown tolerant of them. And he could tell that if he was around them much longer, he likely would grow attached, if only for Kurama's sake.
It took a little longer than a month to make the trek through the demon plane to the best entrance point to the human world. Aubrey managed to make it all the way there without going crazy. They entered at night, since there would be less people out and about, and quickly made their way to the long empty apartment.
Once there, Kurama fell into the bed, entirely exhausted, leaving Hiei to organize who would sleep where. Finally he said, "Adrianne, Nereus, you can take the guest room. Everyone else… make yourself comfortable out here."
And he disappeared into the master bedroom, closing the door behind him.
The next day, Kurama sent Hiei to the store. Hiei complained about it the whole time, but he was secretly happy to do it, so long as he wasn't the one on house arrest. When he returned, Kurama insisted on making breakfast for everyone.
Then, as they sat eating a rather boring batch of scrambled eggs, Aubrey made an announcement. "Mother, I'm pregnant."
Zhi choked. Kurama, Hiei, Faina, Adrianne and Nereus stared. Caelestis continued eating. Then Faina smiled. "That's wonderful. How long?"
"Two months," Aubrey answered, eating her food.
"Do you have any idea who the father is?" Faina asked.
They all stared. Then all eyes turned to the white-haired fox at the other end of the table. "Zhi?" Faina asked. "Did you know she's pregnant?"
He shook his head, his pallor indicating he was telling the truth.
Then Nereus asked, "Are you sure it's Zhi, Aubrey? I mean, you don't exactly tell many people no…"
Aubrey nodded, coloring. "I like that people think I still sleep around. It makes life interesting. And no one is willing to admit that I haven't slept with them for a long time, so when the rumor says I slept with Earl or Madeline or Sabinus or whoever, they just go with it and pretend it's true. It's been more than four decades since I shared a bed with anyone but Zhi."
Faina smiled. "I knew you'd pick someone eventually. It's hard not to."
"Why haven't you, Mother?" Kurama felt compelled to ask.
Faina sighed. "Your father… I picked your father. But he wasn't a fox… He came to our village and he couldn't take it. It was too much for him to handle. So he refused to marry me and he left. And I couldn't very well leave with him. So I found contentment in what I had. I'm happy with what I have. But a part of me will always love your father more than anyone else." Faina smiled. "You're lucky, Kurama, to have found someone who will put up with all the twisted rituals and societal quirks that your family has."
"I only put up with them as long as he doesn't try to get me to move there," Hiei noted darkly.
Faina smiled. "That's more than I can say of his father. His father left after less than a fortnight." There was silence. But then Faina smiled brightly. "But Aubrey's pregnant! And Zhi is going to be a father! This is wonderful!"
Adrianne looked both happy and sad. Then Kurama said, "Addie… I'm sure there is somewhere in the demon plane you can find a child young enough that they won't know any better when they are adopted and moved to the village."
Adrianne smiled. "Thanks, Kura. I'll think on that later. For now, we need to get you through the pregnancy."
Kurama rolled his eyes. "As though Mother and Shiori weren't enough. Now I have you and Zhi worrying about me as well."
"While you were gone, she worried about you more than anyone else," Faina noted. "Older brother and little sister. You two… ah well. Kurama, you should probably call your human mother. She'll want to know you've returned."
Kurama nodded and left the room. "Mom," he said when she answered the phone. "We're home."
"Really?" Shiori shrieked. "When?"
"At about three o'clock this morning. You can come over whenever you like, just… don't be surprised. There are six fox demons who insisted on coming with us. Well, five and one who got dragged along," Kurama corrected himself, thinking of Caelestis and how whiny he had been the entire trip.
"Six?" Shiori asked. "There are eight of you in that apartment?"
"Ten, if you count me as three."
"Shuichi…" she sighed. But then the happiness returned. "I'm going to get your brother and stepfather and we'll be over in about half an hour. Love you." She hung up.
Kurama sighed and returned to the others. "Shiori is coming over in a bit, with my stepbrother and stepfather. Do me a favor and tune down the sex-and-stealing, please? I know that that is just how life is for you, but it would give my mother a heart attack to know that Addie and Nereus had some not-so-quiet sex in someone else's apartment, with six other people in that same apartment at the time."
"Okay," everyone agreed, Adrianne and Nereus not even slightly embarrassed by Kurama's words.
When Shiori arrived, she looked ready to tackle Kurama. She somehow restrained herself, hugging him around the bulge of his stomach. "Oh, Shuichi, it's so good to see you," she gushed. "And you've grown so much! How are you feeling? Where's your doctor? You said he was coming with you?"
"I feel fine, Mom," Kurama said, holding his mother close. "Zhi, come here." Zhi walked over, looking more than a little curious. "Zhi, this is my human mother Shiori. Mom, this is Zhi, my doctor and childhood friend."
Zhi extended his hand to shake Shiori's. She turned so that one hand was still around her son's waist and shook Zhi's with her other. "Nice to meet you."
"Nice to meet you too," Zhi replied. "Everything is perfectly fine." He turned a stern glance on Kurama. "Even in spite of the month and a half long trek through the demon plane at nine months pregnant."
Kurama shrugged. "No harm done. And we've passed the typical ten and a half month mark."
Zhi nodded. "You're due in ten days, Kurama. Don't you think you're taking this all a little too lightly?"
Kurama didn't answer. So Hiei stepped in. "If we didn't take it lightly, we'd go mad from worry."
Zhi sighed. Then Shiori said, "Well, I guess Shuichi has no intention of introducing us, so I'm Shiori. His father and brother didn't want to come."
Kurama smiled and said, "Mom, meet Zhi, my brother Caelestis, my cousin Aubrey, my sister Adrianne and her husband Nereus and…"
The tension in the room was suddenly very, very high. Faina took the initiative and stepped forward to shake Shiori's hand. "I'm Faina. It's good to meet you."
Shiori nodded, taking the blonde fox's hand. But it was obvious to the rest of the room that they didn't really like each other. And much of the anger was coming from Shiori. Everyone present knew why. She was jealous of the woman who was really her son's mother. "It's nice to meet you," Shiori returned stiffly.
There was a long, awkward silence that only broke when Adrianne turned to ask Kurama a question. "Hey, Kura, where's—" When she saw him, his face was white. Not just the usual paleness, but an actual lack of color. Hiei was sure his hand was breaking due to the pressure Kurama was exerting on it. "What's wrong?" Adrianne asked. Kurama took a deep breath and didn't reply. "Kura?"
Kurama shook his head. "Nothing's wrong. I'm fine." He smiled at his sister.
Zhi, Hiei and everyone else saw through the lie. Zhi glared his disapproval at Kurama. "No, Kurama. Don't even try to lie. That was a contraction."
"Braxton-Hicks," Kurama said.
"This close to the due date?" Zhi asked. "I don't think so. It's more likely I miscalculated and now is the due date."
Kurama sighed and nodded. "I know. But that doesn't mean I'm ready. Eleven months is not long enough." Then he added, "Twelve hundred years is not enough life to prepare one to be a parent."
It wasn't until several hours later that the next contraction came. After that, they got progressively stronger and more frequent. The only indication that anything was happening at all was that Kurama would wince slightly and his face would grow pale. But he would say nothing and immediately move on as the slight coloring returned to his always-pale face.
But the day went on as normal. Kurama and Hiei sat and observed everyone as they laughed and talked. Shiori and Faina worried over Kurama, and as each hour passed, they grew more tolerant of each other. It wasn't till the next morning that Kurama was to the point that he couldn't have a conversation because the contractions were too close together and too strong for him to be able to concentrate on anything else.
At some point during the night, Yusuke had figured out that Kurama and Hiei had returned and brought everyone over, so the apartment was now packed to capacity. The head count had reached sixteen, the faces including Kurama, Hiei, Shiori, Faina, Zhi, Aubrey, Caelestis, Adrianne, Nereus, Yusuke, Keiko, Kuwabara, Yukina, Shizuru, Botan, and Genkai.
The only two that seemed to be calm were Genkai and Zhi. Zhi had been through the process many times. Genkai knew that worrying would do nothing. Yusuke, Kuwabara, Caelestis and Nereus were far from calm, but they weren't worried either. They were going stir-crazy with the waiting. Everyone else—especially Shiori, Faina and, surprisingly, Hiei—was worried.
Zhi was closely monitoring Kurama's contractions. It was around nine thirty in the morning when Zhi finally asked Kurama, "Are you ready?" Kurama nodded. Zhi turned to the fourteen other people gathered around the bed. Then he thought better of it. "Kurama, who do you want in here? Other than me?"
"Hiei," Kurama breathed.
"Anyone else?" Zhi asked.
Kurama surprised everyone, saying, "Yukina."
Hiei's eyes flashed to Kurama. "Kurama…"
"Healer," Kurama groaned, just before another contraction took hold of his body. A little bit more than a minute later he said, "No one else."
"Shuichi—" Shiori objected at the same time Faina complained, "Kurama—"
Kurama shook his head. Thinking of his mothers, of Adrianne, of Aubrey, he said, "If everyone I would like to have here stayed here, Zhi wouldn't be able to do his job. I am not going to pick and choose. Hiei because he has as much right to be here as I do. Zhi because he's the doctor. Yukina for safety's sake. No one else."
Shiori and Faina glanced at each other, decided that at least the other had been excluded as well, and then filed out of the room with the rest of the group. Zhi closed and locked the door behind them. Faina and Shiori began pacing back and forth in front of the door, accompanied by Adrianne, Kurama's favorite sister.
Inside the room, Zhi was talking Kurama through the labor. After several minutes, Kurama grew a plant and swallowed some of the seeds. Zhi raised his eyebrows. Kurama was more relaxed and answered the look with, "The only recorded effect of those seeds is pain reduction. No side effects have ever been noted."
Zhi frowned. "It would have been nice to know about this plant before now. Faina could have told me."
Kurama shook his head. "Didn't learn about it until after I left that last time. Mother doesn't know about it." He clenched his teeth together.
"Push, Kurama," Zhi said calmly.
It wasn't long before a loud wailing filled the room. Zhi tried to hand the child off to Hiei, but he turned the child away, opting to clutch Kurama's hand in support as the birthing continued. The second child came much quicker, and the shrieks from the two infants were deafening. Zhi smiled as Kurama fell back on the bed. Zhi and Yukina quickly began cleaning off the children.
But even as Yukina happily handed the male child to Kurama, an ominous silence fell over Zhi. "What's wrong?" Hiei asked as the other man took the child's vitals. Zhi ignored the question. Hiei crossed the room and pulled the doctor away from the child by his shoulder. Yukina immediately took Zhi's place over the baby. "Zhi, tell me what's wrong, damn it."
Zhi looked at Hiei. "The baby is hypothermic, Hiei. She's far too cold. She's colder than she should be, especially this soon after birth. Something is wrong, but I don't know what or why."
Hiei looked at Yukina. "Is he telling the truth?"
Yukina nodded, even as the child quieted under her touch. "Yes, Hiei. She is cool."
"Damn it, give her to me." Hiei didn't give Yukina a chance to pick up the child, just stepped forward and took her off the desk himself. He gently released some extra heat, trying to warm the child to the proper temperature. Suddenly the baby girl began screaming. And when she began screaming, so did the boy in Kurama's arms. "Damn it," Hiei said. "What's wrong?"
"Hiei," Kurama said. "Come take him. Please. He's going to burn me if you don't."
Hiei turned to drop the child into Zhi's hands and took the other newborn from Kurama. The warmth radiating from the child almost surprised Hiei. Then both children began to calm, the girl in Zhi's arms, the boy in Hiei's. And as the child calmed, Hiei could feel his body temperature dropping to a temperature closer to his own.
And at the same time, the baby girl quieted. Hiei frowned. "Yukina, will you look over him a bit more closely as well?"
Yukina nodded. As Hiei passed the infant to Yukina, his arm brushed against the cool skin of the woman before him. And he froze in shock. He turned to look at Kurama. "She's cold, Kurama."
Kurama frowned. "Yes…"
"He's hot. She's cold." Kurama nodded. Then Hiei said, echoing Kurama's words, "Genetic predispositions are powerful things." Speaking more impulsively than he ever had before in his life, Hiei added, "I'm hot, but she's cold."
Kurama's eyes lit up. "No way." He looked away from Hiei toward Yukina and his childhood friend turned doctor. "Zhi, will you give the baby to Yukina?"
Zhi raised his eyebrows but carefully traded the baby girl for the baby boy. Holding the girl, Yukina looked at Kurama. "Cool her down," Kurama instructed. Yukina and Zhi stared at him as though he was mad.
"She's already too cold, Kurama," Zhi said. "Cooling her down will just harm her. You know that. You're not stupid."
"Just do it," Kurama said.
Zhi looked desperately at Hiei, hoping for some support. Hiei just said, "Cool her down."
Outside the room, Faina, Shiori and Adrianne were agitated. The sounds from inside the room were varying from very quiet to loud shouting and wailing. They couldn't understand why they hadn't been allowed into the room yet.
Inside, Yukina reluctantly began to cool the little girl down. As she did so, the little girl gurgled happily. When they saw that the child was comfortable with the cold, Yukina handed the girl to Kurama. Zhi handed the boy to Hiei and looked seriously at his friend. "What is going on?"
Kurama looked at Hiei. "The ball is in your court, Hiei." Zhi and Yukina turned to Hiei.
Hiei grimaced and handed the infant in his arms to Yukina. He closed his eyes and told the truth. "Meet your nephew."
Yukina's eyes flashed away from the baby to fall on Hiei. "What?"
"Your nephew," Hiei repeated. "And your niece."
Zhi frowned. Then he asked, "When you said you were a twin, you didn't mention anything like this."
Yukina didn't say anything for a long time. Her eyes were busy analyzing Hiei's face, every once in a while glancing at Kurama or Zhi, who were both watching Hiei for some sort of physical response. Finally, sounding more bewildered than anything else, "Why didn't you tell me?"
Hiei's eyes open and he looked up at the ceiling, searching the white paint for an answer. "I found out I had a sister and I learned that she was missing. I had to find her. Part of the payment for my evil eye was that I never tell you."
"So why are you telling me now?"
"I was released from that vow. But… you are… I know that many of the things I've done are wrong. And while I do not regret them… neither did I relish the idea of having my violent, cruel past placed next to your innocence. I suppose concealing this forever was unrealistic." Hiei sighed and looked back at his sister. "So now you know."
Yukina gave him a small smile. "I already knew, Hiei."
"Well, I suspected. Vague memories… the way you are illogically protective of me… how close I feel to my brother when I'm around you… it made sense but I never had any proof." Yukina smiled again, this time at the child in her arms. "Thank you for telling me the truth."
She handed the child to Zhi and hugged Hiei. Hiei stood stiffly in her arms for several moments before returning the embrace, looking unbelievably awkward. Kurama snorted. Hiei pulled away. "You need more practice interacting with people," Kurama noted.
Zhi handed Hiei the baby and asked, "You think we should let them in?"
Kurama shook his head. "Not quite yet. Could the two of you leave? I'd like a moment alone with Hiei and the two of them before we don't get to hold them for several hours."
Zhi smiled. "Can do."
He and Yukina walked out of the room, angering Faina and Shiori with the information that Hiei and Kurama still didn't want to let them in.
Hiei went and sat next to Kurama on the bed. "Names?" he asked Kurama. "They need names."
Kurama nodded. "Do you have any input?"
Hiei hesitated. There were some names he liked, but he didn't know how much he really liked any of them. "Einar, Pyrrhus for him. For her… I like… I like Rui."
"Why those names?" Kurama couldn't say he was particularly fond of any of the names Hiei had said.
"Einar means 'single warrior.' I'm not a huge fan of that one. Pyrrhus just means 'related to fire.' I don't much care for that one either. I couldn't think of any male names that I particularly liked." Hiei didn't mention the name Rui again.
Kurama nodded. "Glad you like them without really liking them, because I don't particularly care for either." Kurama didn't mention the name Rui either. "Perhaps we should have picked names before they were born." Then Kurama looked at Hiei. "Minoru."
"Which means…?" Hiei asked, knowing Kurama would never choose a name that didn't have some hidden or obvious meaning.
Kurama smiled. "It means 'truth.'"
Hiei smiled. "Good. I like that."
"Hiei…" Kurama said slowly. "Why do you like the name Rui?"
"Rui… Rui was the woman… she was the woman who threw me off the floating glacier," Hiei whispered.
"And you… you want to name our daughter after her?" Kurama asked. Normally Kurama could follow Hiei's logic; now Hiei had lost him.
Hiei carefully touched the little girl's face. "She… she knew I was coming back. She asked that I kill her first, as her payment to my mother, for trying to kill me. She didn't want to kill me. And she didn't regret the fact that the attempt would cost her her life." Hiei shook his head. "I admire her courage. And I respect how much she loved my mother. I want our daughter to be strong like that."
Kurama nodded. "If it means that much to you, Hiei." Hiei nodded, and he couldn't prevent a tear from dripping down each cheek. The two droplets fell from his cheeks and solidified into gems by the time they hit the bedspread. Kurama looked at Hiei. "You think that's a coincidence?"
Hiei scowled. But then he smiled and picked up the two gems, placing them in his pocket. "No, it's not." He looked down at the boy in his arms and the girl in Kurama's. "Minoru and Rui. I wasn't aware that I was capable of helping create something so beautiful."
Kurama grinned. "Two negatives equal a positive."
Hiei nodded. "You ready to give them up?"
Kurama sighed. "Not at all. But it has to happen sometime, and we've probably driven Shiori and my mother mad by this point. Can you hold her for a second?" Hiei nodded and watched as his lover—his husband, the father of his children—stood and dressed himself. Kurama then took Minoru from Hiei's arms and said, "When Zhi sees I'm already walking around—when Shiori and my mother see that—they're going to have heart attacks."
"Perfect," Hiei said. "We won't have to share them as much."
Kurama snorted and followed Hiei to the door. When Hiei opened the door, there was an excessive amount of squealing from Shiori, Faina and Adrianne, the only three still waiting at the door. Kurama and Hiei refused to give up the children until they had walked out to the living area. Zhi threw Kurama a dirty look, but he held his tongue. He also held Aubrey close to his side.
Kurama glanced at Hiei. "I think we've made them wait plenty long enough, don't you?"
Hiei thought a moment, then said, "I don't particularly want to let anyone else hold them."
Kurama grinned. Then, to everyone's surprise, he said, "Addie, come here."
Adrianne walked over, looking entirely confused. Then Kurama gently placed the baby boy in her arms, saying, "This is Minoru. Let Mother hold him in a few minutes, okay?"
Adrianne nodded. Then, without looking away from the baby's wide, blinking eyes, she asked, "Why did you let me hold him first, Kurama? Why not Mother and Shiori?"
Kurama smiled. "Hiei's sister already held them. Why not my sisters as well? Keep it more… even, somehow." He looked at Aubrey. "Come here." Aubrey was up in a second, standing next to Hiei and Kurama. As Hiei reluctantly passed the child to Aubrey, Kurama said, "That's Rui." Yukina looked at Hiei for a long moment, but in the end decided not to say anything. "Hand her off to Shiori when you're through, okay?"
Aubrey nodded. But then she said, "You're lucky I have one of these on its way. Otherwise you might not get her back."
Kurama laughed. "I'm fairly certain that Hiei would do something about that." Hiei just glared at the female fox demon he still felt was rather immature.
Then Shiori and Faina approached Kurama and Hiei together. "How long are you going to make us wait, Shuichi?" Shiori demanded. "Are you trying to drive us mad?"
"Kurama… you are being intentionally cruel. We have been nothing but supportive," Faina said.
Kurama smiled. "My reasons are my own, but I was neither trying to drive you mad nor being intentionally cruel. All I can say is that the fact that Yukina is their aunt did influence my decision to allow their other aunts to hold them first."
Adrianne walked over to Aubrey and asked, "Shall we give them up, Aubrey?"
Aubrey sighed. "I suppose. Shiori, do you want her?" Shiori was at Aubrey's side in a second. Likewise, Faina was next to Adrianne in the blink of an eye.
Hiei leaned toward Kurama and asked, "You wanted them to stop hating each other before you handed them over, didn't you?"
Kurama nodded. "They looked like they were still barely tolerating each other when we came out. But when we let Addie and Aubrey hold the two of them before we let their grandmothers hold them… that was a strong enough insult that they could feel the mutual pain. They recognized that they were in the same position. They are both my mother, and nothing will change that. Now they've accepted that, and we can go on with our lives."
Hiei nodded as the grandmothers giggled over the babies, standing close to each other, sharing the twins. Hiei raised his eyebrows. "It may have worked better than you intended."
Kurama chuckled. "Perhaps."
The children were passed from person to person, the tensest moments the few minutes Yusuke held Rui and Kuwabara held Minoru. It was all Hiei could do not to run across the room and snatch his children from the careless detective and the oaf.
As Keiko held Rui, she sighed happily. "I want at least one kid, Yusuke," she told her husband. "As soon as possible."
Yusuke made a face. Parenthood was not something that was a particularly strong suit, if family history was any indication. Kurama rolled his eyes and said, "Yusuke, you do know how girls get pregnant, don't you?" Yusuke frowned for a second, then grinned.
"Thanks, Kurama," Keiko said. "Thanks a lot."
Kurama nodded. "No problem. You may plan ahead, but Yusuke lives in the moment. Might as well use that to make you both happy." The rest of the room laughed, while Keiko attempted to continue looking indignant.
Finally Rui returned to Hiei's arms and Minoru to Kurama's. Then they really looked at the children, almost for the first time. Rui was a silvery-blonde little girl with the dark reddish irises of her father. Minoru stared up at them from the deep golden orbs he had inherited from Kurama, but his coloring was odd. His hair and tail were the black of Hiei's hair, but his ears were closer to the bluish tone of Yukina's hair. Hiei groaned intentionally.
Kurama looked at him and grinned, waiting for the words he knew were coming. Sure enough, Hiei elaborated on his groan with, "As though one fox wasn't enough. Now I have three to deal with."
Kurama used his free arm to pull Hiei to him. "That was your decision. And now there's no backing out."
"And I still don't want to."
Kurama leaned in, kissing Hiei gently, ignoring the eyes that were watching their every movement. "Neither do I."
After that day, their lives were very different yet very much the same. They lived in the same apartment. They had the same friends. They worked the same jobs. But now they had to make time for the two demons who seemed hardwired to reach for the shiniest objects in sight. For the first month or so, the children had more caregivers than they knew what to do with, thanks to the combined efforts of Hiei, Kurama, Kurama's family and their friends.
After that first month, Kurama's family returned home, although Faina swore she'd be back before they knew she was gone. The moment they left, Hiei banished everyone who was not named Shiori or Yukina from the house unless they had permission before they came over.
So Shiori became the babysitter when Hiei was working for Mukuro and Kurama was working for his stepfather.
Rui and Minoru grew, unaware of just of extraordinary their family was. Nearly a year later, Aubrey, Faina and Zhi visited again, this time with a small fox in Aubrey's arms, whose hair was streaked with the white of his father and the black of his mother.
Two months after the birth, the children were sleeping soundly and Hiei approached Kurama, blowing in his ear. "You're going to regret that," Kurama warned him.
"No," Hiei whispered, "I don't think I will." And he tackled Kurama, pausing only long enough for Kurama to grow a small vine and take the contraceptive he placed so much faith in. And then Hiei continued, oblivious to the fact that the two of them had fallen off the couch and onto the floor.
As Hiei pushed on, Kurama cried out, "Hiei!" as both the pain and the pleasure became almost too much to handle. Hiei knew, however, that it wasn't an indication that Kurama wanted him to stop. He stopped anyway. Rather than expend all his energy on top of Kurama, he decided to save some of it for the enjoyment of being beneath his lover.
And as Hiei clawed at the carpet in rapture, a loud cry filled the apartment. A second followed only seconds later. Kurama fell down next to Hiei. "Well, there goes our sex life," Kurama noted. "I was just getting started."
"I could tell," Hiei groaned, pushing himself up off the floor. "It was just getting good." The two men walked to the guest room to attend to the guests they knew they would be having for many years to come, neither of them bothering to get dressed. As he fed and rocked Minoru, Hiei suddenly added, "But they're worth it."
"I never said they weren't."
The children's first birthday came and went, as did their second and third birthdays, along with Hiei and Kurama's first, second and third anniversaries, although Kurama and Hiei ignored the latter events entirely. Kurama and Hiei had realized that they loved being parents. They loved it so much, in fact, that sometimes they intentionally forgot the contraceptive. They didn't particularly want another child, but neither were they opposed to it.
And life went on. One day when Hiei woke, he found his fox staring at him through golden eyes. Kurama moved in to kiss him. Hiei accepted the kiss and didn't object when Kurama decided the contact should escalate. Neither of them was wearing anything due to their activities in the closet the night before, so moving from kissing to gently making love to one another was not a stretch. But even as he entered Hiei and pressed his lips to the back of Hiei's neck, Kurama murmured, "I think we should move, Hiei."
"Why?" the answer was whispered as Hiei felt Kurama stop making love to him, instead laying down next to him and wrapping Hiei in his arms.
"The twins will be four in a few weeks," Kurama said. "A brother and a sister cannot share a room forever, particularly if we want children with their family history to conform to the human law of not sleeping with your sister."
"How old were you when you lost your virginity?" Hiei asked. Then he shook his head. "No. Don't answer that. I don't want to know. But what brought this on all of a sudden?"
Kurama pulled Hiei closer and whispered, "Make love to me, Hiei. Please. I'm going to miss this room, but I think the apartment is getting too small. I think we should go apartment—or house—hunting today. And I think we should make the most of this room that's filled with so many memories while we still can." Hiei rolled over in Kurama's arms to look at his lover. Golden eyes pleaded with him. "Make love to me, Hiei."
Hiei quietly agreed, placing himself over the fox and gently pushing down. When he had finished, he lay his head on Kurama's bare shoulder and whispered, "I love you. It may have been more than four years and an entirely irrational decision to have sex that first time, another impulsive decision to marry you… but I don't regret either. I'm thankful for both. I love you more than anything in the world."
"What would you say to having more of me to love, Hiei?"
"This apartment is hardly big enough for four, let alone five," Kurama said.
Hiei was falling asleep on top of and inside of his lover. "Mm-hmmm," he agreed. "That's why we're going house hunting."
Kurama stroked the hand that had fallen next to him as he enjoyed the sensation of Hiei laying on his back. Then he murmured, "I'm pregnant."
Hiei's reaction was instantaneous, as he rolled off of Kurama's back and laid down next to him. "Really?" he whispered, looking into his fox's eyes.
Kurama nodded, knowing he needed to get up, but after the love he had just made with Hiei, how sore he was from the rough sex the night before, all he really wanted to do was lay there in bed with his fire demon forever. "Really."
Hiei leaned in to caress Kurama's lips with his own. "Wonderful," Hiei whispered.
"More positives from negatives," Kurama added. "Like math."
"Not like math," Hiei contradicted. "Math is too clear cut. There isn't any room for demon error."
"What else can you compare it to?" Kurama asked, looking at Hiei. "Negatives make a positive."
Hiei smiled, thinking of the process Kurama had shown him when they had their first family photo taken. "Photography," Hiei answered. "You take the negatives and you work to make a positive. And sometimes, even when you don't get it just how you wanted, the result is more perfect than if you hadn't made an error."
"Making positives from negatives, with a consideration that there is more than one right answer," Kurama murmured. "Photography."
Hiei nodded. "And even you, no matter how analytical you are, must appreciate that making positives with photography is far more beautiful than making positives with math."
Kurama nodded, kissing Hiei one more time. "Much more beautiful. An art. I just wonder how many masterpieces we can make."