Life and the Universe as Seen Through Zen

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The strangest creature in the Makai, contrary to popular belief, wasn't the flying pig or the eleven-headed, one-toothed, 101-eyed monster, but a tiny, insignificant lifeform called the Reincarnation Bug. It had no arms nor legs nor eyes nor mouth, and it looked very much like a lump of sugar. But that wasn't its strangest aspect.

It was a new life form, having evolved only the day before, on a hot, windless afternoon. Its evolution came about like this: it was inching along the ground, in the manner of all insignificant one-celled (or less) organisms everywhere, when it saw the light. The light came to it shyly, peeking over the treetops, and conveyed to it the message, This is the secret to immortality. And thus it evolved to become an insignificant bug with the miraculous ability to reincarnate itself after every death.

It was now nestled in the curve of a dead leaf lying discarded on the forest floor, peacefully contemplating The Meaning Of It All and The Reason For Our Existence. It would have written dozens of zen-like books if it could and became the most celebrated best-selling author across the three worlds, but, of course, it had no hands.

And so it had to content itself with thinking about exploding stars and spinning nebulas and black holes. That is, until Youko Kurama sent it to its very first reincarnation by squashing it flat with his foot.

He wondered if there was a reason to get into a blue funk.

He recounted the day's events in his head - slept, woke up, caught an astonishingly obese rabbit (which gave him indigestion), slept, woke up, got drunk, slept, woke up, got drunk again, but was now extremely sober and looking at the world (or at least into the murky depths of a beer mug) with a clarity normally reserved for four a.m. in the morning in the utter darkness.

The barkeeper asked cheerfully, "Can I get you another refill?"

Youko Kurama looked at him morosely and saw that he was human. He told him so.

"Why yes, I am! How did you guess?" the barman said.

Kurama let the irony pass. "You're a human," he stated again. "What're you doing here? Why haven't you been eaten yet?"

"Such tact!" grinned the irritating barman. Just as Kurama was thinking of dismembering him slowly, he went on, "Not from around here, are you? There've been human settlements in the Makai for centuries. We're not exactly co-existing peacefully, but... you gotta take what you get, you know?"

Kurama grunted something between a "yes" and a "no" and a "whatever".

"Besides," the man leaned in conspiratorially, "I'm not really a human."

"No?" Kurama raised an eyebrow in surprise.


"You're half-youkai then."

"I'm an alien."

There was a short silence.

The man nodded. "My starship crashed somewhere in this sector and this place was the only inhabitable place I could find."


"While waiting for my comrades to come rescue me, I'm learning all I can about humans and youkai because you're the most interesting species I ever came across."

"You should get out more."

"And because we're going to declare war on you and take over the three worlds."

"Well," Kurama said at last, "Good luck." He looked down into the contents of his mug again. "In the meantime, can you get me another beer? This one has a dead scorpion in it."

Later in the afternoon, Hiei came and visited him.

The fire demon sat in the shade of a tree in a clearing near the place where Kurama had made his lair, took out a piece of cloth and started polishing his katana.

"Doesn't Mukuro need you for anything?"


"So how long are you staying?"


"Nice weather, isn't it?"


"I'm pregnant with your child."

Hiei looked up and fixed him briefly with a scornful glance.

Kurama resisted an overpowering urge to stick out his tongue at him, and muttered, "I knew you wouldn't respect me in the morning after."

He lay back on the soft, prickly grass and squinted into the red Makai sun hanging in the sky. He wondered if it was all that different from the ningen sun. He wondered if he had ever felt it was different, before he stood under another sun, in another world.

Thinking about it made something lodge in his throat, and he felt as if he couldn't breathe.

"If you're bored you can always come to Mukuro's place."

Kurama swivelled his head to stare at Hiei, who was looking at him. "You want me to work for Mukuro? Are you kidding? No. No thank you," he said emphatically.

"Why not?" Hiei asked with implacable nonchalance.

"Because." He cast around for an excellent reason. "The pay sucks."

"You used to work for pittance at your stepfather's company."

Hiei, shut up. "That was different. Besides, he gave it to me in the end, didn't he?"

"You and that brat of his."

"Me and Shuuichi-kun," Kurama agreed. "And he's not a brat." After a pause, he went on, "Why do you want me to work for Mukuro anyway? You want to see more of me?" This last with a grin.

"Baka. You seem bored."

Kurama flung himself back onto the ground. I'm bored, I'm bored out of my skull, I don't know what to do, I'm going nowhere, I miss Kaasan, I miss Tokyo, I miss that place I used to go after work to wait out the rush hour traffic, they make the worst coffee in the world, but it sort of grows on you.

"I'm not bored," he said softly. Louder, he continued, "I have lots of things to occupy my time, see? Lots of things to do. You should see my to-do list. It's longer than - than - than whatever that's very long, okay?"

Hiei looked at him evenly and he suddenly found much to be fascinated by in a small red stain on his white outfit. Must have gotten it from that rabbit, he thought absently.

A shrill beeping sound suddenly permeated the quiet. Kurama's head snapped up and he stared aghast at Hiei. "What the hell is that?!"

Hiei seemed suddenly unable to meet his eyes. "It's a summoning device," he mumbled, thrusting out his arm at Kurama to show him the watch-like contraption strapped to his wrist.

Kurama swallowed his laughter. "I rest my case," he murmured.

That earned him a glare, then Hiei said, "I gotta go."

And he was gone.

"Nice chatting with you too!" Kurama called, "Drop in again sometime!" He made a face and lay still on the gently waving grass for some time, as dusk fell in a soft blanket around him and shadows chased each other into the night.

He fell asleep and found himself standing alone on a narrow road, its sides overgrown with weeds and undergrowth. It was still dusk, and everything seemed enveloped in quiet and stillness.

He started walking down the road, his shoes making a soft sound on the damp ground. He noticed wheel tracks in the earth, probably from a wagon. He lifted his head, and saw, appearing from round the bend, another figure. The figure was walking with his head down, intent on where he was going.

As the figure came closer, Kurama saw that it was not a person at all, but the past. He stopped dead in his tracks, his heart in his mouth and his eyes pricking, and the past bumped into him.

The past lifted his head and said, "Excuse me."

Kurama's heart was in his mouth, but he swallowed it and said, "Kuronue?"

He woke up with the sun in his eyes, prickly blades of grass in his clothing and strands of silver hair in his mouth. There must be about a million ways to wake up, he thought briefly, and this has got to be the worst of them all.

When Hiei came by that afternoon, the clearing was empty.

He stood still for a moment, looking around. Finally certain that the youko was nowhere near the vicinity, he flitted away.

When evening painted faded colors in the sky, he came again and found it still empty. He made his way to the den where Kurama sometimes slept at night in his fox form, and looked inside. It didn't look neglected. A few pieces of clothing lay folded neatly at the back - Shuuichi's doing, thought Hiei - along with a dog-eared book titled "Attack of the Living Beansprouts!" Youko Kurama had grudgingly purchased from a traveling youkai salesman (it being the only book even remotely related to botany that he could find), and several glittery, shiny baubles that the kitsune somehow found fascinating.

Satisfied, the fire demon went and sat down under his usual tree and waited.

Youko Kurama sat cross-legged in another similar clearing about a hundred miles away, and stared solemnly at a roast chicken sitting innocently on the ground before him.

"I stole you fair and square," he informed it.

It seemed to say, "You stole me from humans!"

"Your point being?" Kurama inquired.

"Helpless, starving humans who are having a hard enough time in this world as it is!" accused the chicken.

"Hey, everybody's got to make a living, including me." Kurama gave the roast chicken a hard look. As far as physical personifications of conscience went, this had got to be one of the most ridiculous.

"Don't you have any compassion?" the physical "personification" went on, sniffing self-righteously.

"I put that away in a closet somewhere along with the red hair and green eyes," Kurama muttered, but threw up his hands. "Fine. Fine! Have it your way. You want to be torn apart by greedy hands and gobbled down by hungry mouths instead of being eaten daintily by a fastidious kitsune, that's your problem!"

"Well, when you put it that way..." began the chicken, doubtfully, but Kurama had already flowed into his fox form and taken it carefully between his teeth. He ran on stealthy feet to the wooden fence surrounding the human settlement from which he had left a few moments ago and went in through a hole made by some broken planks.

Once inside, he was assaulted by the smell of humans, his olfactory senses being particularly sensitive in this body. He stood still a moment, feeling like gagging. Sweat, heat, dirt, body, blood... how had he born it? How was it possible that he had actually been one of them, for - for almost a century! How was it possible?

He made his way to a little hut set a little apart from the others and leaped in through the open window. An empty dish lay forlornly on the mat. He placed the chiken on it, then started to leave. He was, however, arrested by a voice exclaiming, "Oh!"

He turned around and saw a young girl of about fifteen years standing in the doorway. He stood still, watching her warily, wondering if she was hungry enough for roast fox.

But the girl's face broken into a huge, gap-toothed grin and she went "Oh!" again, clasping her hands together. "A kawaii little kitsune! How cute!"

A sweatdrop appeared on the back of the kawaii little kitsune's head and he slowly backed away.

"Are you hungry?" the girl asked, and he stopped backing away. "I'll ask Kaasan if we can keep you. Oh, you're so precious, she'll fall in love with you for sure!"

In fact, Kaasan took one look at him and reached for a broom. But thankfully, his benefactor was stoic in her support of his kawaii-ness. "But Kaaaaaasan, it's so cute! Can we keep it, please?"

"No." Kaasan was equally stoic.

"Okay," the girl said in a small voice, "Can we at least feed it? It looks hungry."

Kurama thought, That's probably because it is hungry.

"Oh, all right," Kaasan gave in, glaring at him. "But we're short of food as it is, Asa."

"It can have my share," the girl said generously.

Kaasan sighed, softening even further. "No need to come to that." She gestured resignedly with her fingers, a sort of shooing motion that mothers used, to indicate, "All right, fine, fine, have it your way." She gave the demure kitsune another glare, then said, "Go call your brothers for dinner, Asa."

"Yes, Kaasan." She got to her feet and scooped him up, tails and all, and he allowed it for the sake of a free meal. She went out the door and down the front steps - the houses were all on stilts to discourage snakes - and yelled, loud enough to burst several nearby eardrums, "Dinner!!!"

Her three brothers - ranging from five to sixteen - all found him extremely amusing. They petted and stroked him all over, and the youngest one pulled one of his tails. That was the last straw. Kurama bit him.

"Owww!!! That stupid fox bit me!" yelled the boy, waving his hand about.

"You deserved it," Asa came to his defence. "You shouldn't have pulled its tail. It doesn't like it."

Stop calling me "it".

"Stupid fox! Stupid fox! Stupid fox!"

Stop calling me stupid!

"Stop calling it stupid!" Asa whacked her brother on the head.

Thank you.

"Don't bicker," Kaasan said serenely, where she was cutting up the now-silent roast chicken. "Come and eat." Before the meal started, she placed a bowl of rice and cup of wine at an empty place and murmured, "Eat well, husband."

During dinner, Kurama sat beside Asa and got fed chicken bits and rice and wilted vegetables, which he took out of courtesy and spat it out when nobody was looking.

Afterwards Asa had to help her mother clean up and wash the dishes. Kurama went out through the back door and sat on the step. After a while, Asa came. She seemed surprised to see him. "Ah, you're still here," she said, delighted, "I thought you'd gone." She came and sat beside him and he went into her lap. She looked very happy at this so he wagged his tails, which sent her into peals of laughter.

"You're so cute," she said, for possibly the hundredth time that night. "It's really a pity Kaasan won't let you stay." Her expression sobered a little. "But I have to do as she says. I don't want to make her sad, you see. She's sad enough, with Tousan gone." After a moment, she informed him solemnly, "My Tousan was killed by a youkai a year ago. It's been some time and it doesn't hurt as much when I think about him, and Kaasan said now it's just the memories that remain." Her brow wrinkled as she tried to recall her Kaasan's exact words. "She said he'll live on in our memories. That's what she said. Kaasan knows a lot of things, she's very clever, so she must be right." Her face brightened as she said, "She likes you. I know she does. It's the way she looks at you."

You mean the way she looked at me like she'd really, really like a fox pelt for winter? Yeah, I felt all those good vibes she was giving out too. But he gave her a lick on the nose and didn't contradict her words. Not that he could have even if he wanted to, in this form.

They sat there in the night for a while, fifteen-year-old girl and thousand-year-old fox, and the crickets chirped around them and the wind rustled his fur, and the silence was one of contentment. Asa's hand stroked his back gently, and when he was touched like that, he could almost believe that he was loved.

After a while, he stirred and slipped slowly from her grasp. "Do you have to go?" she asked him sadly. He took a few paces away from her. "Be careful," he heard her whisper as he melted into the darkness.

What a strange thing to say, he thought as he left the settlement and returned to the forests.

He did not revert to youko form that night. Instead, he found a hollow tree trunk and slept in a pile of dead leaves, curled up with his tails for company.

"You're dead," he told Kuronue, as they met on an abandoned road in a forgotten twilight.

"Yes," said Kuronue, smiling.

"What kind of an answer is that? Why don't you tell me you're alive? Why don't you tell me all that has been a mistake, that night... can't you tell me that?" Kurama looked at him, pleading.

"Do you want me to lie?" Kuronue asked him.

"No." Kurama felt the world blurring at the edges. "But I've been so lonely without you. You were... you were my best friend."

"Kurama," Kuronue said, gently.

"Don't leave me."

"No, Hiei, Kurama has not come here. The last time I saw him was three weeks ago, after his human death." Yuusuke tried not to sound too abrupt. Talking about ningen lifespans disturbed him.

"Hn." Came the typical response from Hiei. He prepared to leave, but Yuusuke, feeling as though he should be more concerned even though he couldn't see the reason for it, said, "When was the last time you saw him?

"The day before."

"Well, there's nothing to worry about then. You know how he is, now that he's a youko again. He'll turn up soon, as if nothing's happened."

"What did you say?" The question was abrupt as Hiei turned to face him.

"Huh?" Yuusuke scratched his head. "I said he'll turn up soon..."

"Not that one."


"Hn. Nevermind." At the door, he threw over his shoulder as an afterthought, "Mukuro sends her regards."

"I'm sure she does," Yuusuke replied, but the half-Koorime had already gone.

Yuusuke stood still for a moment, then went over to his desk, an ornate thing apparently carved from the shell of a giant tortoise, though how that was possible he had no idea. He sat down at it and stared at the various maps and scrolls scattered across the surface. His hand reached for a scrap of paper, half hidden underneath a map of Yomi's kingdom.

He looked at the faded photograph, not really thinking of anything at all.

Keiko had been very beautiful.

Kurama sat on the ground and tried to catch flies with his mouth.

That wasn't what he was really doing, of course. What he was really doing was gazing in rapt appreciation at the patterns the drizzling raindrops made in the pale sunlight shooting in beams through the leafy canopy of the trees.

It was really beautiful.

The flies were just an afterthought, because they were irritating his ears.

His tail swished behind him as he sat and stared and snapped. He wondered how long he had been sitting there.

A twig cracked behind him but he didn't turn around. He hadn't realized he was so close to Yomi's kingdom.

"What is the little kitsune doing so far away from home?"

Kurama didn't grace that with an answer. He must have been hanging around here too long if Yomi knew he was here.

The many-horned, many-eared youkai sat down cross-legged beside him. "You look like a drowned rat," he offered.

Kurama gave him the evil eye.

"A drowned rat with too many tails," Yomi amended. "And do stop snapping at flies like that. It's idiotic."

It's cute! Kurama thought indignantly. Asa would've said it was cute. And how would you know? You couldn't do cute if your life depended on it.

"Are you going to sit here all day and not say a word?"

Kurama went back to looking at the pretty scenery.

"Is your ningen death bothering you?"


"You can't be missing that kind of life, can you? Well, your human form was very pretty, true, but it must have been horrible being so - weak and useless."


"And if you're bored, you can always come and work for me."

What is with all these job recruitments!

"I read a ningen book recently. Well, actually, I had one of my human prisoners translate it for me, but it was interesting, though the translation was totally below par. The prisoner was thoroughly punished, of course. As I was saying, this book tells of the psychological make-up of the basic human. It probably wouldn't apply to you, since you are youkai. But then again, you were youkai only recently. Before that you were human, so there must be some residue left over from that life. You are probably suffering from a repressed childhood."

A what?

"A repressed childhood in which your desires went unfulfilled and are carried over into your adult life..."

Are you talking about my human childhood or my youko one or perhaps a nebulous, generally-speaking kind of childhood?

"... some of which may stem from sexual frustration..."

I am going to bite your ankle if you start talking about Oedipus complexes...

"... and E Deep Purse..."

Kurama bit his ankle.

"You must be joking." Mukuro stared at Hiei, who stared stonily back.

After the silence had stretched on long enough, Hiei said, "Do I look like I'm joking?"

Mukuro muttered under her breath, "You never look like you're joking even when you are." Louder and in an extremely pissed-off tone, she said, "No, you cannot have a week off! Am I running a charity around here? Do I look like someone who would give days off? No days off!"

She leaned back on her throne and glared at Hiei, who was as stone-faced as ever. But suddenly, too fast for even her eyes to detect, he was leaning over her, his hands braced on the armrests, his red eyes glaring right back at her. S-class, thought Mukuro, sweating just a little, Have to remember he's S-class now.

"I've served you for years without complaint," the fire demon began, in a cold voice. "I killed at your command. I put my life at risk. I - I -" For a moment, words seemed to fail him as the extent of his sacrifice overwhelmed even himself. "I even wear your freaking summoning device!!!" he managed to choke out at last. Calming himself down with visible effort, he went on, "I've never asked for days off. Now I'm merely requesting a week off and you are saying...?"

"Two days." Mukuro looked him square in the eyes.




"All right, four."


"All right! All right! Seven it is, damn you!" Mukuro scowled in exasperation. "With one condition."

"What?" he asked warily.

"Tell me what you see in that youko."

His eyes narrowed and he glanced very briefly to the side before saying, "What youko?"

"Youko Kurama," Mukuro replied coolly. She wasn't falling for that.

"This isn't about him."

"The hell it isn't. He's gone missing and you want to look for him, yes?"

"No." Pause. "And how do you know he'd gone missing?"

She waved a hand dismissedly. "Sources. What I don't understand is you. Why get so worked up? He's a youko. He'll turn up again fifty years or so and you can have a good screw to patch things up."

"We don't have that kind of relationship," Hiei said stiffly.

"Oh. Oops. My mistake." Mukuro grinned. "Why do you love him, Hiei?"

If looks could kill, Mukuro would have been pummelled, flayed slowly, disembowelled even more slowly, set on fire, dropped from a great height, poisoned with a thousand exotic deadly concoctions, and fed piece by piece to hungry black dragons before she could even say "Help".

But looks couldn't kill, and Hiei was beginning to realize this fact. His bandages began to smoke.

"Fine, be that way," Mukuro muttered. "Forget I asked."

Moonlight streamed into the room in wavy ribbons and covered everything with a sheen of silver.

Yuusuke turned over and mumbled into his pillow. Something wet touched his nose. He flinched and muttered, "Stop that." It didn't stop. He swatted at it with his hand and protested, "Keiko, I'm not in the mood!"

Finally she seemed to have gotten the hint. He sighed and started falling asleep again. But somewhere in between sleep and waking, a thought came to him, Since when does Keiko have such an abrasive tongue?

His eyes flew open and the first thing he saw was two glowing orbs staring at him in the darkness.

Now Yuusuke was the last person anyone would call a wimp. He'd faced down youkai's whose very names made brave men piss in their pants. He'd died and came back to life again. He was a respected Makai ruler. But waking up in the middle of the night and seeing two red eyes in the dark of one's room looking at oneself had to solicit some reaction even from the bravest of the bravest of men (and youkai).

Yuusuke yelped and leaped backwards straight out of his bed. He stood trembling with the bed between him and that thing and extended his right arm to release his Reigan. "W-Who or what the hell are you?" he demanded, trying to keep his voice steady.

A soft yip answered him.

"Huh?" Yuusuke let a small portion of his reiki collect on the tip of his finger in a soft glow that illuminated the room.

A silver fox sat on his bed and tilted its head at him.

"Kurama? Is that you?"

The fox looked him up and down in a peculiar fashion and suddenly Yuusuke realized that he was stark naked. He yelped again and let the glow fade out. He dove for his clothes and emerged a few moments later decently if rather sloppily attired.

As he went about lighting the lamps, he asked, "What are you doing here? Hiei was here yesterday looking for you. Where'd you go? I think he was worried." When no answer was forthcoming, he turned around and regarded the fox, who had curled up on his pillow with his nose in his tails. "Kurama? Erm, aren't you going to turn youko? .... Kurama?" Yuusuke walked over to the bed and sat down. The kitsune's eyes were open, but he was not looking at Yuusuke. In fact, he seemed to be staring at nothing at all, blinking every once in a while.

"Is anything the matter?" Yuusuke asked, running his hand lightly over the silver fur. "It's all right, you don't have to answer if you don't want to." He leaned back against the headboard and swung his legs up. Kurama inched into his lap and stayed there.

They both fell asleep that way.

Yuusuke awoke very slowly to a room filled with dawn light, leaving some pleasant, half-remembered dream behind. He blinked sleep-heavy eyes and realized that the presence in his lap was now sitting cross-legged at the foot of the bed, looking at him solemnly with narrow golden eyes.

"Kurama. Good morning." He smiled and stretched his arms over his head, feeling rested and refreshed. He had not had a good night's sleep since Keiko passed away.

"Good morning, Yuusuke." Youko Kurama's voice was deeper than his human counterpart's, he had to get used to it, Yuusuke thought.

"Do you want to talk about it?" Yuusuke asked. He was surprised at his own sensitivity. Keiko would've been proud of him. Right after she laughed herself silly, of course.

Kurama shrugged. "I think my ningen death is bothering me," he said, sounding as if he was repeating somebody else's words.

"Well, death is certainly an unforgettable experience," Yuusuke said with a slight smile. He drew his legs up in a lotus position, keeping the blanket on his lap. Morning air was chilly in the Makai.

Kurama shrugged again, and looked down at his clasped hands. Yuusuke had a feeling that he was trying hard not to fidget. He hadn't the heart to tell him that his extremely fidgety tail was giving him away anyhow.

"Yuusuke," the youko said, abruptly, "Do you miss him?"


"Shuuichi. Do you miss him?"

"How can I miss him when he's sitting right in front of me?" Yuusuke asked with a smile.

"I'm not Shuuichi."

"No, you're not," Yuusuke agreed. "And he wasn't you. But you are you."

A perplexed frown appeared on Kurama's brow and he looked at Yuusuke suspiciously. "What are you talking about?"

Yuusuke rubbed the back of his neck. "Heh, I'm not really sure. Okay, let me put it this way. You and Shuuichi don't look the same. The way you speak is different from him. Even the way you carry yourself is different. But you're you. I don't feel differently speaking to you than when I was speaking to you in human form. Am I actually making any sense here?"

Kurama stared at him. "Not really," he said, "But how did you know to say all the right things?"

"Years of practice," Yuusuke said, laughing. "Living with Keiko, it was very painful to say the wrong thing." He stopped, waiting for the anguish and the feeling of loss to come, but they didn't.

"Yuusuke, I'm sorry about Keiko."

"It's all right." Yuusuke looked at him. "I'm glad you're still here. You and Hiei and Yukina... and the others. Jin and Touya came by to see me the other day. Did you know that Chuu got married recently? The bride must have been quite desperate."

Kurama smiled a little. "He still has that mohawk?"

"Yup. Unchanged. His hairstyle's even worse than Kuwabara's." They shared a laugh over that, and went on to talk of old times and absent friends, and for a while, time did not seem like such the terrible enemy it was.

But Kurama did not tell Yuusuke that even now,  Kuwabara and all their other ningen friends were merely a distant memory in his mind.

"You bastard," Hiei said conversationally, "You have the gall to show your face here just like that."

Kurama sat on his bum on the ground and rubbed a very sore jaw. "Why'd you hit me?! And why shouldn't I have the gall to show my face here, this is where I live!"

"I'm glad you remembered that."

Kurama glared at Hiei and Hiei glared right back. In fact, the glaring contest would have gone on indefinitely if Kurama hadn't decided that his face might actually freeze into a scowl if he didn't stop it right there and then.

"Just because you're having pressures at your workplace doesn't mean you can go around socking people for fun!"

"Just because you're having PMS doesn't mean you can just up and disappear!"

A pause.


"Nanek the janitor said that's why Mukuro's so pissed all the time," Hiei informed him.

"Er, rrrright."

Another, longer silence ensued, in which, instead of glaring, both seemed strangely reluctant to meet each other's eyes.

"Hiei," Kurama said finally, "Were you worried?"

The glaring returned with full force. "Do you want me to sock you again?"

"Pardon me for breathing, I'm sure," Kurama muttered under his breath.

The force of the glare multiplied. How can he glare like that, Kurama wondered, and not have his eyes fall out of his head? It must take years of dilligent practice in front of the mirror.

Hiei turned to go and Kurama leaned back against the trunk of a tree, lacing his fingers behind his head. Another day of dull monotony, of eating and sleeping and eating and sleeping. It wouldn't surprise him to wake up one day a pig instead of a fox. The idea actually had its appeal.

"Go see Koenma."

"Huh?" Kurama looked up. Hiei was still here. "Sorry, did you say something?"

"Go. See. Koenma."

"Um, okay. But why, exactly?"

"Baka kitsune," was all he got before Hiei disappeared into the shadows.

Kurama slid down until he was lying full length on the grass. He wondered if he should take a nap. But then the image of a pig floated up in his vision and suddenly napping didn't seem so attractive.

But on the other hand, if he slept, he might dream of Kuronue again.

He wondered if he could sleep forever.

The Ningenkai was just as he remembered it. Except it seemed noisier. And dustier, and smaller, and hazier somehow, as if he was looking at it through a veil.

He sat in the concealing shade of a tree, a silver kitsune, and looked at his own window across the street. He noticed they hadn't changed the curtains. After looking around surreptitiously to make sure nobody was around, he leaped nimbly up to the windowsill of his room and dropped inside on silent feet.

He flowed into youko form and stood staring around. It was apparently uninhabited. Everything was as it was. He went over to the nightstand and crouched in front of it, gazing at a framed photograph standing next to the lamp. Himself and Maya and twelve-year-old Shinobu, and little Kazuma in her arms, Kuwabara's namesake and godson.

He didn't touch it, as much as he wanted to. He didn't touch anything as he left the room to go downstairs. Well, except the doorknob.

Nobody was in the sitting room. But somebody was in the house, he knew, because he could smell them. He was just about to leave via the window again when a small sound caught his attention. It came from an adjoining room, which he recalled vaguely as being the guest room. He went towards it and stood in the doorway, saw that it was now a nursery of some sort.

The sound came again, issuing from a crib in the center of the room. He approached it and looked inside. Two huge, unblinking eyes stared back up at him. They held each other's gaze for a long moment, as if sizing the other up. Then, the child's bottom lip wobbled and her face scrunched up.

"Haruko," he said, hurriedly. The baby stared at him uncertainly. "Haruko," he said again.

Very slowly, a smile broke out on Haruko's face and she gurgled happily.

"You remembered me," he said to his granddaughter. "Thank you." He placed his index finger on her forehead and promised her solemnly, "I will try to remember you too. For as long as I can."

He straightened as he heard sounds in the kitchen, pots and pans and cutlery being moved about. He went back to the sitting room and left the house.

Much later, he sat on a park bench and tried to tell himself that the so-called coffee he was drinking from a styrofoam cup was actually what the waitress had professed it to be and not some particularly uninventive type of poison.

Two schoolgirls walking past smiled at him.

He smiled back and couldn't resist preening a little. Apparently the illusion of a young human male he had cast about himself was working.

He returned to his coffee and realized that he was being stared at with great intensity by a little girl with a lollipop in her hand.

"Hello," he said to her.

"How come you've got ears like my kitty?"

A surge of alarm welled up inside him. "What are you talking about?"

"That." The little girl pointed to the top of his head.

He looked around. Nobody seemed to be paying them any attention. "Um... heh heh... you must be joking, little girl."

"And you've got a tail too."

"I think you need to have your eyes examined. And please keep your voice down."

"There's nothing wrong with my eyes!" The said orbs began to vibrate. "You're mean! And you look weird! I want my mommy. Mommy!!!"

"Not so loud! Just go away, will you?" Kurama cast around wildly for inspiration. What would calm, steady Shuuichi do in this situation? Probably astound the girl with logical arguments as to the impossibility of anyone having ears and a tail until she was either too impressed to say a word or fell asleep from sheer boredom. That was what Shuuichi would do.

"Look, I'll give you some money if you would just shut up."

He wasn't Shuuichi.

The little girl started wailing.

Youko Kurama had had enough. He sprang to his feet, coffee spilling, and hightailed it out of there.

"Are you a ghost?"

"No." Kuronue sat in the shade of a maple tree and smiled at him. "I'm just a memory."

She said he'll live on in our memories. Asa had said that. "I don't want you to be a memory. I want you to be real."

"Kurama, don't be so petulant."

Stop looking at me like that, Kurama thought, an ache in his heart. Stop looking at me like you love me. I missed you enough.

But Kuronue was talking. "You went on without me for a thousand years. Don't act like I just died yesterday, okay?"

"But I need you."

"Kurama," Kuronue said, tenderly, "You've never needed me."

"No. You're wrong." Kurama could feel the dream dissolving, fading away like mist, and he had to say this, he had to say this before he forgot. "I need you! I've always needed you. I remembered you... all this time I remembered you. You're the only one... the only one..."

He woke up to a pair of red eyes staring at him. He blinked, and the humongous eyes receded into a face framed by spiky black hair and a general aura of don't-mess-with-me-because-I'm-really-good-with-a-katana kind of attitude.

"Mornin'," Kurama mumbled around a yawn.

"Hn," came the patented and expected response. "Did you go see Koenma?"

"Yes." Kurama sat up and smiled at him. His mouth tasted of cherry blossoms and ice. Which was a nice change from the usual taste of small mammals which had been dead for a week. He looked at Hiei who sat there glaring at him so patiently, and an idea came into his head.

He leaned over and stole a quick kiss, then sat back and waited for a reaction.

There was none, except for a blink and a widening of the eyes.

Greatly encouraged by the fact that he had not yet been turned into charred fox, Kurama shifted closer so that their bodies were almost touching, and kissed him again, lingeringly this time, in a mingling of breaths, warmth, cherry blossoms, ice and fire.

He drew back after a while, and studied Hiei's face, as if trying to memorize every detail. In his mind, he told him, How unlike Kuronue you are, Hiei. He would have loved me long before you even plucked up enough courage to smile at me. You are nothing like him. But, sometimes, you look at me the way he looked at me, the exact same way. And I think I love you for it.

Aloud, he said, teasing, "Would you like to try that again?"

"Che'," Hiei scoffed casually, but he didn't move away, so they tried that again.

Some time later, Kurama drew apart, but only a little this time. He lay with his head on Hiei's chest and listened to the frantic, pulpitating heart. Alive, he thought, alive and here with me. "Hiei," he murmured, half-drowsily, "Why do you love me?"

He waited for a while, but no answer was forthcoming. Sighing, he drifted into sleep. In his sleep, someone covered him with a quilt of clouds and shook feathers down on him, and somewhere among the curtain of white, a voice whispered words in his ear, softly,

"There is a loneliness in you that calls out to the loneliness in me."

The darkness of real slumber claimed him before he could fathom what that meant.

He liked being a fox. Being a fox is really easy.

For one thing, you see things in just black and white. Hunter and hunted. Eat or be eaten. You see a creature several times your size with teeth the duplicates of mountains, and you think, My, such big teeth you have, and then you run away like all the denizens of hell are hot on your heels.

You don't have a human inside you trying to get out, and you don't have long-dead ghosts who call themselves memories haunting you in the middle of the night.

What you do is you hunt, you eat, you sleep, and sometimes you look at reflections of sunlight in puddles of water so that you do not miss the sudden beauty of rainbows*. Occasionally, you find a suitable specimen of the opposite sex and you tumble together with passion and a lot of shoving and pushing in a blind quest for immortality.

But the really neat thing is, of course, seeing things in black and white. Colors aren't what they're cracked up to be.

Sometimes, he wished he could exist in that state forever.

* Don't you just love Hallmark? A line for every occasion.

23 May 2000 ~ Okay, so it took me more than a year to upload the entirety of this fic to my page. ^_^; The fic was actually finished in April of last year, I think, but it wasn't intended to be the end. There was one more scene I wanted to add to it, but I'd not done anything to it for so long that now I'm lazy to ^_^;;. I might add it later... probably. Maybe. Perhaps. Thanks for reading ^_^.

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April 1999