In his left hand he fingered a rose. It was snow white in color, its edges tinged with red. He brushed his thumb over the soft petals lightly, inhaling the fragrance of it. He heard their footsteps before they rounded the corner. His breath caught, and for a moment, he could hear nothing at all. The sea, the screaming birds, the booming footsteps all retreated into blessed silence.
A quiet knock sounded on the door. His followers had long realized the punishment for being loud. He reached out with a fraction of his power and opened the door. “Yes, Yuri,” he murmured without turning around.
His servant bowed low. “My lord,” he said, “Kurama is here to see you, my lord.”
“Send him in, Yuri.” He dangled his arm over the windowsill, the rose in his hand flapping in the strong wind. He opened his hand and it went flying away from him. The pounding in his chest was so loud he thought he would go deaf from it.
Kurama’s presence flooded him the moment he stepped over the threshold. It was… different, yet the same. An impression of green. But it was different enough that he managed to retain his dignity.
The voice was different too, gentler, more feminine. “Kurama.” He tilted his head slightly. “You came.”
“You requested it.”
A short silence. Then, softly, “It’s been a long time, Yomi.”
He inclined his head and gestured to the seat opposite his. Kurama moved to it, saying, “How can you stand this noise? It’s never quiet here.”
Yomi shrugged. “How can you stand being a ningen?” he returned.
“It’s not as bad as it sounds,” he replied, earnest. A pause. “Most of the time,” he added. “Besides, it’s interesting. And I have all the time in the world.”
“You sound like…”
“Youko Kurama.” He laughed. “Sometimes he sneaks up on me unawares. I think he’s bored.”
“I don’t blame him. I’d be bored too, if I were trapped in a weak ningen body and had to share my mind with a conscientious wimpy human.”
Kurama laughed again, not offended. “Just be glad you’re talking to the conscientious wimpy human right now. If it had been him, he’d have gutted you for it.”
Yomi felt an unaccustomed smile on his face. It was so unaccustomed that he wiped it off immediately. “Why are you here?” he asked with sudden intensity.
“What do you mean?”
“Don’t play the innocent with me, Kurama. Why are you taking part in this tournament? You want to rule the Makai?”
“Of course not. When have I wanted to rule anything? Even as a youko.”
“My friends are here. They need all the help they can get.”
“What is this, loyalty?”
“Perhaps. Or maybe gratitude. I owe them many things.”
“I thought loyalty was an unknown quantity in Youko Kurama’s vocabulary.” Try as he might, he could not keep the bitterness from his voice.
“I’ve changed.” He hesitated. “Yomi… I’m sorry.”
“I am, more than you would ever know.”
“Change to Youko Kurama and tell me again.”
He sensed Kurama’s hesitation and wanted to smile. He didn’t have as much control over the youko as he thought. Then he felt a slight wind, and his breath caught in his throat for the second time that day.
“Kurama…” he whispered.
“I’ve been here all along, Yomi.”
The voice sent shivers up his spine. So long… it had been so long… The youki was the same… sharp as knives… The years seemed to fall away, dissolve into a spinning black hole. The Makai jungle closed in around them, hot and humid. Kurama playing with some new trinket he had stolen, his laughter like silver needles in the still air.
Kurama’s touch jolted him back to the present. The youko was shaking his shoulder. “Where’ve you been?” he demanded peevishly.
Yomi took a deep breath. His heartbeat was so loud it was causing him a headache. “I was – remembering,” he whispered. Remembering you.
Kurama laughed. “You’re an old youkai, Yomi,” he teased. “Leave the past where it’s supposed to be. Dead and buried six feet under. The present is so much more interesting.”
There was a slight displacement of air, then Kurama was directly in front of him. He was so close Yomi could feel his breath on his face. He whispered his name. “Kurama…” It seemed as if that was the only thing he was capable of.
Gentle fingers on his ears. “You’ve changed,” Kurama murmured, stroking his horns. “Yomi, Lord of the Makai… So powerful too… More powerful than I am. Have all your dreams come true for you, little one?”
He should be insulted. He was known for his short temper, his intolerance of impudence. But all he could do was hold his breath for fear of going to pieces. “I have no dreams,” he replied in a whisper.
“Don’t be silly. Everyone dreams. Even demons like us.” His hand ghosted over his long black hair.
My dreams died a century ago, he wanted to shout at him. They died when you betrayed me! When you tried to kill me!
But all he said was, “You were saying something about an apology.”
“Minamino Shuuichi was saying something about an apology,” Kurama corrected.
“And you’re not? So you’re not as happy together as you would like the world to believe.”
Kurama turned away from him abruptly and went to stand at the window. Yomi let out the breath he didn’t know he was holding and sagged slightly against the back of the chair.
“Are you sure you didn’t join this tournament to rule the Makai?”
“Ha! Why would I want to sit on a throne and rule anything? And cower around for fear of assassins? Order people around? I’d be bored to tears.”
Involuntarily, Yomi smiled. “And you always did rule without a throne anyway, Kurama. Strength isn’t the only form of power and you know it.”
“You always did have this endearing habit of overestimating me,” Kurama said wryly.
Suddenly Yomi was at his side. “Come back with me to the Makai,” he said, voice intense with emotion. “Together, we can rule all of it. Mukuro and all the other petty Makai lords are no threat to us. We will rule everything. You can have all the power you want, Kurama.”
“Don’t deny it! I couldn’t believe it, when I heard about you. I ask myself, would he willingly confine himself to the prison of a human body? Would he sacrifice himself for his ningen “friends”? And now that you are standing in front of me – Youko Kurama – I know the truth. You’re the same. You say people change, but they do not!”
“I have changed, Yomi.”
Yomi drew back, shocked at what he had said, screamed out. His ears hurt. He gasped, his hands reaching up involuntarily to hover protectively over his ears.
“Yomi,” Kurama chided softly. Yomi felt his fingers on his ears, caressing, soothing. “I thought you’d have done something about that temper of yours after all this time.”
“Don’t mock me, Kurama!” he yelled. Oww! Bad move. He gathered his power around him, wanting to push the annoying youko out the window and into the jagged rocks below. “You’re on shaky grounds here,” he warned.
“All right, all right.” He sighed, his hand falling to his side. “Don’t get so worked up, Yomi. And I wasn’t mocking you. What I heard about the calm and collected great Lord Yomi isn’t what I’m seeing right now, and I’m surprised, that’s all.”
“I am face-to-face with someone who tried to kill me a century ago,” Yomi said, his voice strained as he tried not to shout. “That would change anybody’s disposition.”
Kurama huffed. “You always were someone to hold a grudge.”
Yomi’s hands clenched into fists at his sides. He took deep breaths, trying to calm himself, but it wasn’t working. All the emotions that he had suppressed for years came rushing back as if the floodgates had been opened. He was powerless to stop them, his ears were screaming with pain, and his youki was going haywire. He was in no mood for levity.
“Er… Yomi, there’s a strange glow around you,” Kurama said, warily. He began to slowly back away. “You… eh-heh… aren’t thinking of doing anything stupid, are you?”
“Stupid?!” Yomi growled. He took a menacing step forward. “You. Tried. To. Kill. Me. You. Blinded. Me. I trusted you and you betrayed me. How dare you mock me. How dare you make it into something small and petty. How dare you!”
“Yomi, listen to me!” Kurama said, urgently. “Count to ten!”
Whoops, wrong thing to say, the youko thought, sweatdropping.
They stood frozen in that tableau for what seemed a small eternity, Yomi struggling with his rage and Kurama fearing for his life.
Suddenly, Yomi frowned and his head snapped up. Kurama flinched, but Yomi was looking towards the door. At the same moment, the door burst apart in an explosion of white light.
Kurama lifted an arm instinctively to shield his eyes against the blinding light while his other hand went to extract a rose from his hair. Before he could do that, however, a heavy weight was thrown on him and he went crashing to the floor. “What the-“ He opened his eyes and all he saw was strands of black which even got into his mouth. “Yomi?”
And then everything became stark white before fading to gray and
Go to Part Two
Note: I haven't read up to the Makai tournament yet, so the facts here might be slightly skewed. If you see any major discrepancies here, tell me.