6/27/02 Revised: 12/12/02
Notes: I have a lot to list, so if you're impatient- skip. ^.^
1.) Special thanks to my very dear, special, close friend, Rose Thorne (the fantastic writer of Flux), for helping me brush-up and regain confidence in my writing.
2.) All original characters are mine.
3.) Daiichibara, however, belongs to Morgan D (another great writer). The name of the city and idea is hers, but the description, location, and architecture of it are mine.
4.) This fic is connected with "Let's Fly as the Birds Do…"; timeline follows college years
5.) I have sketches for this series also at my website.
6.) A LOT of research went into making this fic.
7.) Poem is best viewed at size 8 or 9. For some reason, FF.net doubles my spacing, so you may not be able to see the 'image'
8.) All disclaimers apply; enjoy!
"Kurama… What would you do if I gave you eternity?"
Hiei's question had drawn him out of his original hypnosis. The kind of hypnosis it was, was the kind that would drive your soul out of your body and send it swimming in fantasy. And so, Kurama's irises swam through the cool of blue as they had been held absolutely enthralled by the hues that played over his and his lover's faces. The deep blue of ocean water shone over their pale skin as they laid on the cold, metal floor. After winding in and around the many corridors of the vessel, Hiei had led him to the secret observatory of the Chimera. The ceiling of the room was nothing but a thick sheet of crystal- so clear and pure it looked like a shard of ice. The water above it made the stone strike all the colors of the rainbow, with the additional overtones of sapphire and jade.
A small school of fish drifted over their heads, and their ruby scales coaxed Kurama into looking at his lover's eyes.
They sparkled when the redhead rolled to his side. Such sweet, warm, and yet spicy eyes… sheathed with the sparkle of sadness? Why?
"Yes." Hiei replied quietly. "I have nothing to give, but perhaps if I gave you that, what then?"
A question to be spoken in a seemingly random place and time. However, the welling water in the fire demon's eyes vanquished the strength of the sea. Could this question possibly unravel the one puzzle Kurama could not solve? Kurama shook his head at his mental accusations towards his closest friend, and decided to reply with no less than an honest answer: "Well…" He began, taking in a soft breath. "I'd break it in two and… give half to you."
Closing his eyes, the Jagan beneath his ward began to glow warmly. With one hand, he reached up to the ceiling- reaching for the glass, but of course, never touching.
"Eternity cannot be broken, Kurama." Whispered the fire demon, as a single tear mingled in fresh blood trailed down his cheek. "Tell me again, what would you do if gave you eternity…"
Perhaps you do not understand the true meaning of everlasting.
Perhaps you do not understand the gift of such a thing.
When you come to understand it, it's the end.
But how will you end it, I wonder?
To be drawn into insanity
To be drawn into hate.
Drawn to illusion.
Lost of all love.
Can you fly?
As a dove?
Will you fall?
Like a mere grain.
A grain of brown sand.
Rough, old, bitter, and dry.
To be used as a burial shroud.
To be used as a blanket for death.
But how will you get there, I wonder?
When will you understand the dust of the path?
You do not understand that life is nothing, but this poem.
You do not understand that life is nothing more, but this hourglass.
ETERNITY IS A JOKE. TIME IS THE ONE GLASS YOU CANNOT BREAK.
Shatter me, Kurama… I beg you to break me in two.
Kurama contemplated the small note he received from Botan as he passed another block and entered the city plaza. So this was it. This was the day that their decision would reap its results.
Actually, he had been the only one out of the three who felt strangely about the situation. It just felt wrong- as though they had no right to say anything about what should happen. However, with further scrutiny, the whining and nudging of Kuwabara and Yusuke, and of course, the coaxing promise of- quote and unquote- 'a higher heaven'- Kurama could not resist the idea of, again, quote and unquote, 'a second chance.'
How everything was settled and finalized in ink so quickly simply blew his mind away. One minute they were arguing, the next they all nodded at one another, goofy smiles plastered on two lighthearted faces. The last face masked itself with a doubtful grin, and the forth, belonging to Koenma, remained as serious as ever. For a baby, naturally, this looked hopelessly comical, but that's beside the point.
The point is, much to the redhead's sick stomach, that he was to inherit all the lands of Daiichibara. In other words, one-sixth of Mukuro's lands. Wonderful. The gesture in itself was generous, but Kurama knew just as everyone else that he simply didn't have the same knack for Makai politics as Hiei did. Being cunning, fine. Stealing, even better. But ironically black-handed politics for the good of all the demon world? Nuh-uh.
First of all, after the Makai Tournament, he proclaimed himself a citizen of the human world. No 'ands, ifs, or buts' about it. Secondly, responsibilities lie in family. Family in Ningenkai. Daiichibara in Makai. That just doesn't work out. Lastly, bad memories. He didn't want to remember them.
And so, with the assistance of Hiei's strict orders, written quite literally in blood, and Mukuro's seemingly endless charity- they solved the problem of Kurama's dilemma with a compromise: Mukuro would rule Daiichibara in Kurama's place, however, all important decisions would be left to the redhead to make while still in Ningenkai. After the future moment of Shuiichi's death, Youko Kurama would immediately leave for the Makai to take care of his spoils.
Kurama glanced at his note again, boarding a bus going in the same general direction. "Miho's Café"? What the hell? Well, whatever. If this was to be their meeting place, so be it. Stuffing the paper into his pocket after he folded it up, like, fifteen times for utmost secrecy- Kurama felt his insides do a three-sixty as the bus made the widest turn into the right lane in history. Besides this, he was getting anxious again. Too much pressure at once. 'Yeah, so mom,' he mused to himself. 'I'm technically some sort of governor or dictator of some far away, not to mention deadly land you never heard of before. Come to think of it, it's a city in a WORLD you never heard of before! Imagine that. Oh! And guess what, yesterday, I just decided the fate of one of Reikai's most notorious criminals! Yes, really- interesting, huh? But I'm not finished. More? Of course there's more, you don't remember ANYTHING about me being gay, and neither does stepdad! Well, maybe it's better not to remind him- so we'll just keep this to ourselves. By the way, did you know that when I die, I'll turn into the legendary fox demon? The one who knows one million and one ways to kill, thieve, and screw your daylights into oblivion… er… make love? Yup! That's the one! So you see, with all these things going on, I'm sure you can understand why I'm squeaking my way by with a C- in industrial engineering… my major- eheh…'
He rolled his eyes. Today would prove to be most interesting.
A cloud of horrible smoke farted out one of the bus's exhaust pipes. Instinctively, he covered his face with his hand, while batting at the air with the other. Public transportation sucks.
Rounding a corner, and walking straight through a fairly crowded sidewalk, Kurama smiled pleasantly as he saw a familiar duo. Apparently, they saw him too, from the other end of the street that is, and at once picked up the pace to a sprint. Long lashes blinking, the redhead's countenance shifted to dumbfound. They were blatantly excited, and for a reason Kurama would rather not speak of, he felt highly offended by that.
"Come on, Kurama! Move it or lose it!" Yusuke cried from a distance, already opening the door to the café and shuffling in as fast as he could muster. The taller carrot top followed in suit. He appeared slightly less keyed up, almost as if he had very low expectations. That offended the redhead too.
When he finally reached the glass paned door, a chorus of bells chimed as he pushed it open and stood casually on the black and white tiles. Pretty laid-back place this was. Flower boxes at the window, a karaoke machine, overly cushy chairs, a sparkling bar… Hm…
Finding Yusuke and Kuwabara seated in one of the booths at a far corner, Kurama quietly took the free seat in front of them. He lowered his head, and the other two followed his example.
"So where is he?" Kurama whispered. "How are we supposed to know what to say to him?"
Yusuke shrugged, opening a menu that rested on a rack on the wall. "Don't know. We'll know him when we see him though. It's not like he got reincarnated into a completely new body. As for talking to him, Koenma says he'll come to us first."
In return, he sighed openly at his friend. "I really wish we knew how Hiei feels about all this…"
"WOULD feel." Kuwabara corrected, although very carefully.
"Hey guys, same stuff as usual right?"
The interruption, no matter how friendly it was, took them all aback. Kurama stared wide-eyed at the person standing before them- decked out in the nicest threads he had ever seen. A crisp blue t-shirt over a pure white tank, with dark blue, baggy jeans to match. On one arm, a black sports watch, and around the neck, a shiny pair of war tags- obviously there for decorative purposes. They gaped at their garnet-eyed friend.
"Uh… er…" Yusuke was tripping over his tongue. That was a killer. He hadn't drunk a drop of sake in two weeks.
"Seafood curry it is." Hiei grinned, scribbling on his tablet. "Which means Kuwabara over there wants a glass of Thai iced tea with boboa pearls, while Shuiichi to my right is in need of a sugar rush. Lychee with passion fruit juice should do the trick."
Kurama couldn't help, but cover his mouth while batting his eyelids. Very, VERY slowly. Meantime, Kuwabara smiled gratefully for being spared the names idiot, moron, human, bastard, and fool, whereas Yusuke was still trying to figure out how in blazes his tongue operated.
Hiei made quick note of their consternations and tears of joy- which came from the big guy- before speaking again. "Did I miss something?" he asked innocently, resting his pencil behind his ear. "You all look like you're watching a porn flick."
At this point, the redhead quickly began making a mental list of all the things that struck him like an oncoming bulldozer. Shuiichi had evidently replaced Kurama, fashion sense was most certainly NOT this person's problem (actually, he looked even sexier this way). He was, good lords of Reikai! Polite?! Had a sense of humor?! Was waiting tables for a living?!
"No! No!" Yusuke sweated, finally recovering from temporary muteness. "It's just that, wow, you've… uh… got pretty cool clothes!"
Their friend looked at Yusuke queerly, curving his eyebrows in such an expressive manner, that cuteness leaked out of every pore of his petite body. "What? These?" He gestured incredulously at his outfit, pulling at his shirt. "These are old! You see me wear these at least once a week!"
Ooops. It was only then that the three of them remembered Kurama's second question: what are we supposed to SAY to him?
"Oh really?" Their 'fearless' leader choked. "They look new to me."
"Um… okay… Thanks; I guess." Hiei flicked his wrist around to catch the time. "I'll have your orders here in five minutes." He looked them over again, observing their frozen gapes, and offered another warm grin. "If I'm THAT sexy, just tell me. I like compliments, you know."
Their old ally walked away nonchalantly, grabbing a few dirty dishes from empty tables, and handing their orders to the pretty girl behind the bar.
"I- I don't know what to say…" Kurama stuttered, baffled. "I'm not disappointed, but-"
"That was totally unexpected!" Urameshi finished.
"I like him."
Kurama and Yusuke stared at him as if he grew an extra nose, and maybe an ear or two. "What?" He squeaked.
The fox demon shook his head. "He's so different… How can THIS be Hiei?"
"It said so on his employee tag." Yusuke joked poorly.
The uprising in Kurama's insides made him more nauseated than this morning. He touched his stomach mildly, biting his lip and squinting. The anxiety of how his lover would become in his new life had dissipated, but now there was that sour after taste. He knew, now, that the old Hiei he adored was forever gone.
He peered around the counter to find Hiei washing some glasses. His playful smirk was wiped off to show his natural solemn look. At least THAT hadn't faded away. Though, Kurama still felt quite discomforted. He had no inkling as to what kind of memories Koenma had implanted in Hiei's mind, let alone the three natural inclinations Koenma promised would be there even after the reincarnation. What he DID know, however, was that all of Hiei's small human contacts: his mother, his stepfather, Arisu, Shidou, etc. would not remember anything about the other Hiei. In addition, because of the number of credits he earned as a Reikai Tantei, Hiei had earned a homely, albeit humble, apartment in the urbs of Downtown Tokyo. Everything else, Hiei had to take care of himself.
Biting on his lip a little harder, he lapped at the unseen blood that seeped inside of his mouth. So… what happens now?
The table had grown awfully quiet. Kuwabara remained satisfied with himself, among other things- reveling in the idea that he would never have to worry about insults and bickering again. Yusuke appeared thoroughly confused. As luck would have it, he had been the most enthusiastic of them all, but somehow, after the encounter with their new 'buddy', he wasn't sure whether to be happy for the lil' squirt or sorrowful.
Kurama soon found that he felt exactly the same way.
Hiei came around again, this time skillfully balancing a heavy tray covered with delicious food in one arm. When it dawned on him just how grave two-thirds of the table was, he stuffed his left arm in his pocket and raised a curious brow. "Did someone DIE here?"
For once none of them could laugh at the irony of his words. Kuwabara lost his smile, grunted, and accepted his drink as Hiei handed it to him. With his tray emptied, he flipped it over and clutched it under one arm. He would have spoken again, but chose not to, and gave a passing 'hn' before returning to the bar.
"I don't think I'll be getting used to this so soon." Kurama murmured, somehow not wanting the exotic glass sitting in front of him- no matter how tempting it REALLY was. Yusuke agreed, with a curt nod, as he stirred his curry with a ladle.
"I guess I won't be sparring any time soon either." He said. "But… who knows, we just need to warm up to him the same way we did before."
"Last time, I think he was the one who warmed up to US."
They went quiet again, suddenly feeling a sensation of an anticlimax. "Still," Kuwabara added. "I like him. He's nice."
Yusuke winced. "That's exactly the part we're not used to."
A straw, handled by a most delicate hand, stirred idly the hot red liquid, filled to the brim with succulent lychee, which remained untouched. Yusuke and the other looked at one another, eying their redheaded friend, and came to a mental consensus as to what to advise.
"He… might like you that way again."
"Yeah." Kuwabara really had no desire in adding more, even though this was his teammate. Accepting that kind of relationship was fine with him, but he had no intention of speaking about it.
"I suppose…" Kurama sighed, blowing up some long strands of hair that got in his face. "But that requires the same from me."
Later that night, they met at Genkai's- the girls being chattier than the guys about what they had witnessed in the day. Yukina was the most quiet, as you would expect, however she was just as daunted as everyone else with the idea of Hiei being not only a waiter, but a grocer at a nearby store. 'Yes,' the young koorime went on timidly. 'He was there, and he said 'hi' to me when I was picking up some green tea for Genkai-san.'
"But how can that be?" Keiko blanched. "I saw him today at the pharmacy too!"
"Oh really?" Yusuke cut in, a little too dangerously. "Is it your time of the month again? Did he help you find the Midol and Maxi- oooff!!"
Now, while Keiko was most renowned for her bitch slaps, her gut-punches were second next to Shizuru. "BAKA!" She cried, as she huffed and resignatedly kneeled on the wooden floor- fuming to herself for being 'verbally abused' by her delinquent fiancé.
"Three jobs…" Kurama started in shy awe. "I wonder why."
"Probably- has to do- with the stuff Koenma put in his head." Yusuke filled in, still in quite a bit of pain.
"Which reminds me," Kurama continued. "What exactly does he know of us? We're his friends, that much is frank, but what kind of memories does he have? Are they all fake too?"
"Mmm…" Botan bit on her thumb babyishly, magenta eyes wandering the ceiling before coming to a faultless answer. "He doesn't remember anything about the Makai. He doesn't remember any of the tournaments- or Sensui for that matter. Um…" She glanced at the ceiling again, one arm on her ever-faithful oar. "No memories of the Jagan, er, or the Kokuryhua- "
"It's all fake." Kurama finished sadly.
"Hey, hey!" The blue haired fairy beamed, fanning her hand for mercy. "Remember what Koenma-sama said, the way Hiei turns out in this world is a reflection of whatever recollections he's has- at least supposedly. So if Hiei is really as- uh- well, amiable as you say he is, then I guess Koenma-sama gave him a pleasant past. Therefore!" She exclaimed with resolution, "If he turns out to be a good person in Ningenkai, then he'll get a higher place in the after life. Wasn't that what you all wanted for him?"
"Of course it was." The old sensei's raspy voice spoke. "The problem they're facing with now is what to do next. Come now Yusuke, you make friends with people who are about to kill you- and hell, Hiei was one of them. You can do it again, right?"
"Yeah." He went still. "…Yeah."
Genkai crossed her arms over her chest and chuckled. "If I didn't know any better, I'd say you already miss the annoying little bastard. Now you're stuck with a human, and you seem disappointed with the fallout. It's only been one day, and you've hardly talked to him. Cut some slack. Besides, it's really unfair that you're treating him like a broken toy. He's a person. Don't forget that."
"And you can't forget that you were the ones who judged what would happen to his soul." Yukina put in, somewhat defensive out of instinct. "We're his friends, we can't just abandon him- even if he is a new person. I don't think Hiei-san would disregard us if any of us changed- especially for the better, ne?"
Kuwabara poured another cup of tea from the pot that sat on the table. After drinking a bit, he turned to Yukina, took her hands into his, and then winked. "I, Kuwabara Kazuma, shall always be his friend!"
Yusuke rolled his eyes, and snorted. "Starting NOW, you mean."
Carrot top ignored him, but Kurama knew exactly what the other meant by those words. He had a hunch that he was starting from scratch again, and this time, he wasn't sure if he'd walk through the same phenomenal path he did with the fire demon. He wasn't even sure as to how close 'Shuiichi' was with Hiei- let alone how incredible Hiei's fabricated history is. Back then, Hiei was a book that only he could understand. A rare book that he loved, and would read over and over again, and then some. Now Hiei was wrapped all up in plastic, unopened, and ready for grabs. But who would want him? And more importantly, would Kurama still want him?
His doubts about doing this to Hiei's soul were finally crystallizing. They may have had the best of intentions for their friend, but it was clear none of them took into consideration about how giving Hiei this life would affect them as much as him. There was nothing to do, but take it all in stride. They had to watch, and learn. And speaking of learning…
"By the way, Koenma-sama said that you need to pay a visit to his apartment sometime. It doesn't matter when, but it's better sooner than later. You don't want Hiei confused if you don't remember things HE does."
"How will that help?" Keiko blinked, finally cooled down as she settled into Yusuke's open lap.
"There should be some clues there. Photos, tapes, personal stuff like that. Not all of you have to go. We can share what we learn with one another…"
"You mean, you don't know anything about it either?" The redhead inquired.
"Not at all. In fact, neither does Koenma."
"WHAT?!?!" The whole temple shook as they cried in unison. Genkai continued to be impassive, sipped her tea, and caught a few falling ceiling tiles from the recent synthetic earthquake. Coolly she set aside those tiles, and raised her eyebrows. "And why, pray tell, is that?"
"There's… a slight technicality with what a reincarnated person remembers." Botan began putting both her index fingers together, looking, this time, to the floor from feeling flushed. "It's a case to case thing, and Hiei, is- eheh- a rather special case."
Genkai sipped once more, covering her head with a magazine to protect her hair from falling dust that was originally embedded between the rafters in the roof. 'At least I won't have to climb up a ladder for spring cleaning this year.' She mused.
"And it turns out he earned enough credit to have a past and present he deserves." Botan dared to peek, becoming more brave with her following. "And, I'm guessing, a little of what he desires- but that's something I'm definitely not sure about!"
"He wants to be a Ningenkai GROCER?!" Kuwabara gaped. "Nope. Nope. Nope. I don't believe that one."
The fairy shrugged, raising her shoulders. "You're probably right, but maybe that part of the deal isn't what he wanted. We can't really tell, you know. Hiei's a pretty complicated guy."
"And weird." Yusuke added.
"And awfully quiet." Came Keiko.
"Faithful to his personal honor code." The redhead smiled, after chopping up Kuwabara's inevitable degrade. "You're right Botan. We need to learn more about him. I think this way we can also learn more about who Jaganshi Hiei was. "This- this could be good for everyone." Kurama went on, sounding a bit more hesitant and self-assuring. Genkai squeezed his shoulder.
"For you, Kurama" she commenced. "I recommend that you try and recover from what happened first. I don't want to sound rude, but you haven't flinched a bit over the past week."
"I… DID cry."
"But I'm wondering if you've already been able to let go. Think about it, okay?"
Those final words ended the night. All of them stood, began cleaning up the mess they made- of stray chips, spilt tea, and whatnot, and then they made for the leave. It wasn't long before Yukina and Genkai were left to themselves, Yukina sweeping the fallen dust, while Genkai replaced the tiles by merely throwing them up the roof. Yukina sighed a few times as she fiddled with the broom- stopping every now and then to look at the night skies.
"A full moon tonight." She whispered.
"And a new beginning." Genkai added.
Yukina nodded solemnly, and went back to work. There was a constant nagging in her chest that was coming close to ripping her a part. Being emotionally strong, she tucked that nagging away as far as she could in the back of her mind. Unfortunately, she found it rising again from the depths, and decided she had to deal with it categorically. "Genkai-san?"
"Why… Why didn't he tell me he was my brother when he had a chance?"
Genkai dropped a tile and it landed flat on her toe. She cursed, winced, and picked it up. "So… you knew, hm?"
"From before." The girl affirmed.
"How far back?"
"Towards the end of the Black Martial Arts Tournament." The way she said that made the sensei realize that the twins weren't entirely different. She said it as fact, and kept an unmoved façade as far as she could possibly take it.
"Why didn't you say something?"
She bit her small rosy lip, a few tears welling to her eyes. In this case, she could hardly take it very far. "I wanted him to come to me- I thought I could wait until he was ready. Sometimes I think he was somewhat afraid of me…"
The old woman sighed.
"I really regret it now." Yukina proceeded, while sweeping the gathered grime into a pan.
"You never know. He might treat you the way he always did." She went up to Yukina, wiping a few dripping tears away with her rough thumb.
"I hope so. But- but why didn't he tell me!" With that she sank to the floor, leaning on the broomstick for support. Genkai put her arms around her as any grandmother would, unable to say anything except. "Say it this time then, but wait for the right moment- when YOU are the one who is ready."
"But he won't-"
"Maybe not, but he can acknowledge you as you want him to."