When he was eight, his kaasan read him a fairytale.
"Once upon a time," she said, "There was an orphan boy..."
She read it to him from an old, leatherbound book, dusted with age and the pages yellow and crackling. But she never looked at it as she told the story, her eyes were on him alone.
"... who lived in a little hut in a forest. One day, he found a magic
book that granted him all his wishes."
He didn't cry at her funeral. He felt as if he would, and there were needles pricking the insides of his eyelids, but he didn't cry.
There were very little that made him afraid. He hadn't even been afraid when the hunter was upon him - so long ago - and he was cornered and there had been nowhere to go. He hadn't been afraid then, not really. But now, standing in front of the funeral pyre with the sun warming the back of his head and the smoke from joss-sticks prickling at his eyes, he was deathly afraid.
He was afraid because he didn't know what to do, or what to say, or
what to feel. But thank Inari-sama, Yuusuke was there, and he took charge
of everything, took care of all the little details, like the leader he
was. 'Why had he ever doubted his own leadership abilities?' Kurama thought,
absently, at the back of his mind.
"Take me," the boy said to the magic book, "To the wealthiest kingdom in the whole world."
The book took him to the wealthiest kingdom in the whole world, and the boy went straight to the palace of mirrors, and said to the king, "Tell me how you came to have the wealthiest kingdom in the whole world."
But the king could not answer him, and in a fit of rage, the boy
turned the king and all his subjects into statues.
When it was all over and everyone had gone home, he ensconced himself in his room and lay on his bed with the pillow over his head. In his self-made cocoon, he could hear nothing at all, not even the gentle whirr of the table fan on his desk.
And so he was really surprised that he wasn't surprised at all to hear a voice asking him, "What're you doing?" with supreme indifference, from somewhere in the vicinity of his room.
He lifted his head and stared at the black-clad figure, a splotch of darkness in the airy light of the room, and he wanted to say, "Hiei, get out." The thought came and went, too fleeting for him to give voice to it.
Instead, he transferred his gaze to the window. A small breeze played
gently with the curtains, and dust motes danced in the soft light like
"Take me," the boy said to the book, "To the most beautiful princess in the whole world."
The book took him to the most beautiful princess in the whole world, and the boy went to her and said, "Marry me and make me happy."
But the princess could not marry him and make him happy, and in a
fit of rage, the boy turned her into a statue of stone.
"I'm leaving," he said to Hiei. Perhaps. But mostly he wanted to say it to himself. "I'm going to the Makai. I'm not staying here. Not a minute longer. I'm sick of this place. Sick of it." His voice broke on the last word and he pulled the pillow over his head again, because the world seemed smaller this way, a little easier to handle.
He remembered his kaasan's face, on the bed, how it wasn't really her face at all but a stranger's, twisted with pain, and in her one moment of lucidity, "Shuuichi, remember! Remember what I asked of you! Shuuichi!"
But in the end it wasn't Shuuichi who remembered, poor, frightened, lonely Shuuichi, it was Kurama who remembered, Kurama who finally did what she wanted him to do, held a deadly Makai flower over her face and cried as the pain left her and serenity laid gentle hands on her brow.
Footsteps sounded outside the door, and he sat up. Hiei was gone, as if he'd never been there. A quiet knock on the door, then it was opened and Yuusuke poked his head in. "Kurama," he sounded hesitant, "Can I come in?"
"Of course." He ran a hand through his hair. He must look a sight. No wonder everyone was tiptoeing around him.
Yuusuke came in and sat on a chair beside the bed. "Kurama..." he began, then stopped, as if not sure how to go on. One hand went involuntarily to scratch at his head. "Kurama... you've known about the illness for some time... the doctors said it was terminal. It's not as if this comes as a surprise... shit, I'm screwing this up aren't I?"
"Yuusuke, it's okay." Kurama tried a smile, and found that it wasn't as difficult as he'd expected. "I really appreciate all you've done. All of you."
"Aw, heck, it was nothing." Yuusuke grinned, rubbing the back of his
neck. "It was the least we could do. Kurama, you sure you're okay?"
"Take me," the boy said to the magic book, "To the happiest man in the whole world."
The book took him to the happiest man in the whole world, and the boy went to him and said, "Teach me how to be happy."
But the man could not teach him how to be happy, and in a fit of
rage, the boy turned him into a statue of stone, then sat down and cried
his eyes out.
Outside, the light was fading fast, and Kurama could hear the faint sound of thunder in the distance. He turned to look out the window. The little breeze had become a strong wind, and the pale blue curtains billowed wildly with the force of it.
"It rains so often these days," Yuusuke remarked.
Kurama nodded, smiled a little. "When it rained, Kaasan used to wait for me at the bus-stop with an umbrella and a towel." His eyes pricked again, but he went on, "She'd walk almost a mile so she can wait for me at the bus-stop, so I won't get wet in the rain."
The tears came and he was almost grateful, because they made everything seem hazier, as if it was in a dream. And if it was a dream, he'd wake up.
"It rains so often these days," Kurama repeated, softly.
The next day he went to the school to take care of odds and ends.
"Yes, I'm all right."
"Thank you for your understanding, my family greatly appreciates it."
"Yes, I will be attending classes again in a week's time."
"Yes, I'm sure I can catch up."
He went and sat in the empty classroom for a while. Classes were over for the day, and the school, like all schools emptied of people, had a desolate and forlorn air about it. He ran his finger over the rough grain of the desk and thought about nothing. Then, after a while, he remembered her holding his hand on his first day at school, and how he had held on tight to her, because thousand-year-old fox spirits or not, first day at school was first day at school.
He rested his head in his hands, feeling as lost and small as he did that day. 'Kaasan, what am I going to do? I don't know what I'm going to do! What am I going to do without you?'
He got up and made his way to the gates. Thunder rumbled in the distance and when he looked up, he saw that the clouds were so heavy and so low that he thought he could touch them if he would just reach up his hand.
As the first cold, fat drop hit his arm, he felt a slight displacement of air below him and looked down. "Hiei, what are you doing here?" he asked, surprised.
"What does it look like I'm doing?" came the irritated albeit absent-minded retort as the fire demon struggled with a contraption that looked suspiciously like an -
"Hiei, what are you doing here with an umbrella?"
"Are you finished with your stupid questions yet, you stupid kitsune?" He finally had the umbrella up, though it was so out-of-shape it hardly looked like an umbrella at all. "Here." He took the white scarf from his neck and tossed it at Kurama.
"What's this for?" Kurama asked, dazedly.
"How am I s'posed to know, dammit? Put it over your head or something."
At receiving a glare of death from the fire demon, Kurama decided not to pursue the matter. Things had turned surreal all of a sudden. Hiei, here, with an umbrella, in the rain? Was he dreaming? Dreaming...
But Kurama just looked at him because suddenly he didn't know what to say. "Nothing."
"Hn. Are you gonna stand here all day?"
As he walked home sharing an umbrella with Hiei all the way, a thought came to him, random and inexplicable,
'Kaasan, you've always loved the rain.'
The boy sat and cried and cried, until he coughed his heart out. He looked at his heart on the ground before him, and he cried even harder, because now he'd lost his heart.
An old woman picked up his heart and said, "Little boy, is this your heart?"
And the little boy said, "It is my heart."
And the old woman gave him back his heart.
The little boy asked the old woman, "Will you love me, even without my heart?"
And the old woman said, "I will love you, even without your heart."
But the old woman gave him back his heart.