[FFML] [fic][yyh][rewrite] Shonen Chapter 20: Rebirth (Part 3)

Abdiel gabriel_gabdiel at yahoo.com
Sat Feb 14 20:26:40 PST 2009


Time passed ever so slowly, and Kurama cast himself on the wayward
currents of reminiscence. That seemed natural enough; from what he
understood, it was quite a common occurrence in this sort of situation.

When Kurama was nine years old, while trying to get a bottle from a high
shelf, the stool he was standing on slipped, and several dishes were
knocked off, breaking on the floor. Acting on motherly instinct, Shiori
deftly caught and shielded the young boy's descending body with her own
arms, which caused them to scar against the sharp, porcelain shards.

Kurama, overcome with a then unknown yet overwhelming emotion, slowly
but surely learned to care for his human mother, and decided to stay
with her as a sign of his gratitude. She had been sick for quite some
time, and he had been planning to use the Ankoku Kyou Mirror to save her
life; and the rest was history.

There were so many events that had helped mold Kurama into the person he
was today. His days as a Makai thief with his partner, Kuronue, and his
henchman, Yomi. His escape from the Reikai Hunter through nothing but
blind luck and serendipitous chance. Meeting Hiei for the first time,
and his unfortunate sealing of his best friend Maya's memories. Battling
against the Spirit World, and then fighting alongside with Kazuma
Kuwabara and Yusuke Urameshi. Becoming a Spirit Detective under the
watchful eyes of Botan, Koenma, and Enma Daio.

But none of these events shaped the half-youko standing in front of room
five-oh-one's door more than growing up under Shiori Minamino's care;
his steady journey to the light that she helped bring to him was the
very thing that defined who he was now.

But who was he really? Who was Kurama? For that matter, who was Shuichi 
Minamino? Wasn't Shuichi Minamino supposed to be Asuka Matsui? Wasn't
his whole quest in this Dream World centered around giving that young
girl the life that should have been hers in the first place? Up until
that point, he still couldn't come up with satisfactory answers to these
burning questions.

Unbidden, the stray, autumnal memory he had of a pitiful and pathetic
Shiori imploring him to come back to her reared its ugly head inside his 
troubled mind. 

"Shuichi... Shuichi?" his mother had said; pleaded. "Shuichi! I'm so
sorry that I upset you. I don't know exactly what I've said to offend
you, but I hope you'll forgive your silly mother, despite her
foolishness."

Was he willing to live a lie again? Was he willing to live under the
shaky foundations of pretense and deceit? Could he offhandedly embrace
lying as a necessary part of human nature, the same way his youko self
had in order to escape fading to inconsequence?

"Shuichi. Please...." At the time, he had found his answer in his
mother's pleading eyes.

"Kaasan! I'm so sorry, kaa--"

He'd embraced his mother as she cried on his shoulder and profusely
apologized to him: he had found his truth in her. He was Shuichi
Minamino--or rather, he was his mother's Shuichi Minamino. As long as
she saw him as that person, then that person would be his truth.

But was that still his truth now? Was it still hers? 'No. Things aren't
the same anymore. This is a different scenario.' The situation had
definitely changed; he was about to die--or rather, he was about to
cease to exist. This might be the final time he would ever see Shiori
again.

Now more than ever, he fully understood and appreciated the reason
behind his unwillingness to open the door: because once he did, the
consequences of his actions would be permanent and irreversible. The
same could be said about his hesitation to finally give Asuka Matsui her
rebirth. 'But what must be done has to be done. It's not only my will,
but Asuka-san's will as well.'

He put his hand on the doorknob, his eyes darting and his unwarranted
breath held for much longer than humanly possible, as if he'd forgotten
how to breathe. 'I must tell kaa--Shiori-san the truth about me. The
truth about Shuichi Minamino and Youko Kurama. It's the least I can do,
and it's something that she deserves to know.'

His doubt his only certainty, Kurama steeled himself and opened the door
leading to the bed where his dearest mother lay. 'I swear upon Kuronue's
grave that I will bring back the child I've stolen from you, Minamino
Shiori-san.'


________________________________________________________________________


Shonen
A Yuyu Hakusho fic
By Chester Castañeda
chester.castaneda at gmail.com
gabriel_gabdiel at yahoo.com
http://www.fanfiction.net/~abdiel 
http://abdiel.florestica.com/
http://chester-fanfics.livejournal.com/

Shuichi Minamino's most heartbreaking good-bye.

________________________________________________________________________

Chapter 20: Rebirth (Part 3)
________________________________________________________________________



Kurama felt a tremor of fear and coldness beneath his heart; but their
unity in recklessness, an assurance of novelty at least, impelled him
toward the room. He wanted to be finished with it, to emerge whole and
triumphant from the test; it would be something, a knowledge of one's
courage. He clambered over the bed. His chest tightened: his mouth was
dry and he heard his own heart beating.

His musings lost concreteness, diffused into formless melancholy. The
buzzing murmur of conversation issued from the outside ushered him to
get on with what he was supposed to say. 

"Kaasan," Kurama murmured to the slumbering form of Shiori Minamino as
he tenderly smoothened her disheveled hair. "Kaasan, wake up. It's me,
Shuichi." Through the open window, the air-steeped outdoors passed into
the room, quietly enveloping Kurama, stealing into his very thoughts.

The middle-aged woman barely reacted to the crimson-haired boy's mild
beckons, so he started to shake her a bit more insistently. Still,
Shiori remained unresponsive. His blood ran cold; even though he was
just dreaming, seeing his mother like this stirred daunting memories
and terrible fears inside of him. "Kaasan, OKAASAN! Wake up! WAKE UP!"

Shiori's eyes snapped open upon hearing her prodigal son's flustered
cries. "I'm awake! I'm awake... Oh, Shuichi. Sweetheart, what are you
doing here? Kaasan was just resting," she more mumbled than said as she
blearily rubbed her eyes with her bare knuckles. "Don't scare mommy
like that, okay?"

Kurama gulped in both relief and dread: relief because his mother was
all right, and dread because he still had to bid her a final farewell
right then and there. But he didn't really have a choice; it was
literally now or never.

His mother was one of the reasons why his eventual return to the Demon
World took so long. Living with her for all these two decades--a mere
day in the life of a centuries-old youko--had made him especially fond
of her and the Ningenkai she represented. He had learned to love the
pitfalls and the possibilities, the perils and the promise contained
within the Human World as a whole, simply because that was where the
woman he loved the most lived: His 'kaasan'.

'No. Wait. This human life I've taken pleasure in belongs to Matsui
Asuka-san, not me. The warmth of her mother's love and a family of her
own; these are the things I've heedlessly stolen from her and enjoyed
for myself. I am undeserving of Shiori-san's love; it belongs to the
true Shuichi and the true Shuichi alone. It's about time I returned
what's rightfully hers.'

"Shuichi? Is there something wrong?" Shiori prodded her pensive child,
a look of concern marring her delicate features. "I heard you whispering 
something about me." Kurama winced, remembering how exposed his thoughts
were in the Dream World.

The bedridden woman gave the young man a reassuring squeeze of the hand.
"If it's about me lying on this hospital bed, w-ell... I really have no
idea what I'm doing here, truth be told," she confessed, giggling her
tinkling-bell laugh at her own quandary. "But relax, Shuichi. I'm fine.
At least I _think_ I'm fine. As far as I'm concerned, I'm as fit as a
fiddle! There's nothing wrong with me, honey; so don't worry so much."

Kurama flinched for a second time after hearing the term of endearment.
"N-No, I'm not worried about that. I'm pretty sure you're fine too,
mother." Another lie: he wasn't sure of anything at all. He felt antsy;
he really should get things over with and just straightforwardly say
good-bye to Shiori with no elaborate explanations as to why. 

Naturally, he soon realized that if he did just that, he'd be going
against the very purpose of his death scene. If he really were going to
resolve his problems with Shiori right here and now, then he would do so
in a manner befitting of everything he had gone through, everything he
had experienced, and everything he stood for. He would tie all loose
ends and leave no question unanswered; because he was Kurama, the gray
shade halfway between Shuichi and the youko.

Nevertheless, Kurama still felt a powerful ache inside him; a half-
allaying, half-dreadful sadness that seemed to tear his resolve apart.

"I feel so strange, Shuichi. I must be really tried, because I'm
imagining all sorts of crazy things!" Fortunately or unfortunately, it
was Shiori who first broke the ice, beating him to the punch. "I thought
I heard you think out loud, whispering things in my mind, but that's
just ridiculous; the silly ramblings of an idle mind. Besides, you
wouldn't know anyone by the name of Matsui Asuka, now would you?"

Kurama grit his teeth in consternation, then stated out loud, "This
second-guessing of mine is pointless. I cannot hide my thoughts
anymore." He forced himself a resigned smile as he held his mother by
the shoulders. "Please listen, Shiori-san..."

And he proceeded to tell her everything, his fears of seeing the look
of rejection and disgust on her face be damned. He told her about the
shattered souls of two past lovers, Yoshitaka Tetsuma and Asuka Matsui;
about the Reikai Hunter, and what he did to his youko soul; about his
damaged soul's fusion with Asuka's reincarnated self, the still-born
Shuichi Minamino.

And, most of all, he told her the truth about himself--his youko self,
his alter ego who attacked Shiori all those months ago just to anger
his human self up. He told her the good, the bad, and the ugly sides of
himself. No more secrets. No more lies. No more half-truths.

"I don't believe it," Shiori murmured doubtfully, in the same manner
that she'd expressed his own incredulity in Kurama's worst-case
scenario of the situation. "You were...?"  She couldn't even finish her 
sentence, for fear that she might offend Shuichi.

'But I'm not Shuichi; I'm just a monster,' he pondered bitterly. "Yes,
I'm the monster that assaulted you, mother." Like in his most dreadful
nightmares, Kurama decided to show Shiori a far more tangible proof to
his claims.

With a single, lucid thought, he metamorphosed into his past self's
youkai form. He inundated himself with energy: a cool light, a stream of
cold fire that poured through him, a flood of sensation that spun about
him. He felt his whole body shifting and changing; then, more subtly,
his clothes. And when it was done...

Sharp, golden eyes stared back at Shiori's brown ones, framed by
pointed, silvery bangs that glinted in the fluorescent light.

The middle-aged woman stifled a gasp, half-frightened and half-confused
by the recent turn of events. She was now looking straight into the eyes
of her attacker from many months' past; it was her own son, or at least
the young man whom she thought was her son.

His eyes downtrodden, Kurama commented, "I'm not yet through. There's
still much to talk about, Shiori-san."

Severely overcome by his mother's daunting reaction yet still ever-
resilient, Kurama poured his heart and soul out to her as he revealed
the rest of his life's story. Maya and Hiei. Yusuke and Kuwabara. Botan,
Koenma, and the Spirit World. The Ankoku Kyou. The Shisejyu. The Ankoku 
Bujutsukai. The Black Chapter. The Three Kingdoms of the Demon World.
Shiori listened to his extensive tale in rapt, undivided attention,
hanging onto his every word.

A subdued silence fell once Kurama finished; the world seemed to hold
its breath as he waited for his beloved mother's reply. For the longest
time, Shiori stared blankly, expressionlessly, at the wretched silver-
haired creature before her.

'She hates me. Just like in my nightmares, she hates me, and she doesn't
want to have anything to do with me.' Kurama looked down on the marble
floor as his shoulders slumped in defeat. 'It's just as well. It's for
the best, isn't it? I mean, she'll soon be getting the real Minamino
Shuichi back; the daughter she never had.' He averted his adoptive
mother's unreadable, almost quizzical gaze and went for the door.

"Wait!" Shiori reached out for the silver-haired demon fox with a
delicate, outstretched hand, the scars on her arm readily apparent. The
kitsune recoiled from the touch, backing away from the woman slightly,
his throat parched and dry.

"Please, don't touch me," he heard himself rasp, though what he really
meant to say was, "Please, don't hate me." His fists were clenched, his
sharp claws digging into the palms of his hands. 

But Shiori didn't seem to hear as she took hold of, to Kurama's shock
and surprise, one of his silvery-sleek tails and gleefully chortled to
her heart's content, like a schoolgirl would to a particularly adorable
object or person.

"It's so smooth! Like silk!" she marveled in awe. "No, no... Silk isn't
even enough to describe its smoothness. They're even softer than a
pillow! I could fall sleep on these things, no kidding."

Shuichi's mother began counting Kurama's tails, mumbling the numbers to
herself. "Seven, huh? That's a very lucky number. So does that mean
you're, what? Seven hundred years old? At least that's what the book on
Kitsune Legends told me about tails and a kitsune's age."

She smirked, shook her head, and wagged a finger at her so-called son.
"To think, you've been calling me 'kaasan' all this time; you naughty
boy, you're even older than I am!" she mildly admonished, then giggled
some more.

"This is no laughing matter!" Kurama blurted out, embarrassed yet
somehow relieved at his adoptive mother's antics. "By Inari, don't you
realize that I'm a dangerous demon? A youkai who--"

"'By Inari'? Oh yes, that's the Kami that kitsune worship, right?
Amazing, you really are a mythological creature! Or maybe not so much
'mythological', since you actually exist," Shiori speculated in delight,
more to herself than to the Silver Fox, as she reached forward and
patted his hand. "I can't believe a fox spirit has been living with me
right under my nose, and I didn't even realize it! This is so exciting!"

"This is _definitely_ not exciting," Kurama insisted in exasperation as
he wiped his tapered, handsome features with a slender, clawed hand.
"You don't understand the gravity of the situation, do you? For Inari's
sake, I'm the youkai who attacked and nearly killed you just two months
ago! I'm... I'm the one who stole your baby and pretended to be her for
the sake of my own survival. I'm... just a thief and a murderer...!"

He cut himself off and turned away from Shiori, uncertain and afraid of
her reaction to his emotional outburst. 'But it's all true anyway.'

It was a childish line of reasoning; he knew that even as he said it.
But Shiori replied patiently, "No, that is not true," as she tenderly
put her head on the youko's white-vested, alabaster-smooth chest and
listened to the steady beats of his fluttering heart. "The demon who
hurt me and... the 'demon' I'm with right now are not the same person.
Not at all. You're whoever you want to become, and you're whoever I make
you out to be. For better or for worse, you will always be my son."

She reached out and took Kurama by the shoulders, shaking him gently.
"Did you really think that I'd hate you for being yourself? Oh, you
idiot--" She drew him in, hugging him, holding him. "You silly idiot,"
she murmured again.

'Oh, kaasan,' Kurama mused, despite the pointlessness of hiding his
thoughts. After such a long time living with Shiori, he had never, in
his wildest dreams, imagined that confessing the truth to her to be this
easy. Nonetheless, he still had one more thing to accomplish, and it was
a much more difficult task to perform than the last. "I'm so happy that
you feel that way."

"I'm so happy that we're now being honest with each other. I feel as
though the air between us has been cleared," Shiori cheered as she 
affectionately gave her son a quick peck on the cheek. "Thank you,
sweetheart; I really appreciate the gesture."

"And I for one am glad that I've met you, knowing that you've filled in
so many gaps in my life," Kurama divulged truthfully, injecting Shiori
with her verbal Novocain and bracing himself for what was to come.

"It was my pleasure... Kurama," the elder Minamino said the strange name 
tentatively, lolling its syllables in her tongue as if she were savoring
its taste in her mouth. "That's your name, right? I hope I'm pronouncing
it correctly."

"Yes. That's my name." Kurama smiled amiably at his mother's somewhat
charming naivete. However, he felt rather sorry for her, for she had
absolutely no idea what was coming. "Anyway, in thanks for what you've
done for me, I will now make things right between you and your estranged
child. I'll do everything in my power to return to you the daughter you
never had; I'll give it my all, Shiori-san."

Shiori stiffened, sitting stock-still on her bed. "T-That's nice, but
what exactly do you mean by giving it your all?" she suspiciously
inquired as an intuitive feeling of dread crawled up her spine--she
didn't like where the conversation was going. "And isn't this 'Asuka'
girl already dead? You said so yourself."

Feeling hopelessly old and tired, Kurama's youko guise faltered right on
the spot, his sad, amber eyes turning into sad, green eyes. "No. You 
misunderstood my story. A shadow of Matsui Asuka's soul continues to
exist in the same way Tetsuma's does, and it lives in your only child's
body the same way my youko soul does. I cannot explain how, but her
shattered sense of self has slowly permeated into mine. Her kindness,
her selflessness, her compassion--everything about her personality, I've
slowly emulated, creating this whole other persona known as Minamino
Shuichi."

"_What're you trying to say?_" Shiori emphatically asserted, her shrill
voice rising in pitch. Deep down, she already had an inkling of what her
surrogate son was talking about, but for some strange reason, she felt
morbidly compelled to hear the dire news straight from his own lips. 

"I guess what I'm trying to say is that, well, it's about time I said my
good-byes to you, Shiori-san. And my farewell gift to you is to bring
back your long-lost daughter, Asuka: Her life in exchange for mine."
Kurama's voice was strained with false optimism; for an announcement he
deemed as good news, he told it in such a defeated tone. "I guess that's
fair enough; an eye for an eye, a life for a life."

Silence passed the pair at a leisurely pace. Shiori bit her lip as she
sensed her son slowly slip away from her grasp the same way he did so
many months ago, when he realized that his alter ego had attacked her.
She could not let that happen again; she wouldn't, not for a second.

"W-Why do you need to sacrifice your life just to get me back this
Matsui Asuka girl? Why go through all that trouble? I don't understand
it: 'A life for a life?' That doesn't even make any sense!" Suddenly
petrified, Shiori babbled nigh-incoherently, speaking as fast as she
could, saying whatever came into her mind, trying to find something,
anything, that would make this hurt go away.

"I don't want you to give your life away because of some 'daughter' I've
never even met! It's not fair--you're the one, the only son I've ever...
Please, don't do this! I can't lose you again, I just...!"

She tried to force calmness into her voice, to still her wildly racing
thoughts. Her hands were trembling hard. "Please," she begged, "stop
this. _You're_ my son! You're my only, begotten son! I gave birth to
_you_--"

"Sayonara, Minamino Shiori-san," Kurama cut her off abruptly--and hated
himself for doing so. "Thank you for all your kindness, especially since
I never deserved any of it. I will try to repay all the good that you've
done to me by bringing back the child that I've stolen from you."

At long last, Kurama's dreaded good-bye was finally done and over with.
Nonetheless, whether or not he was aware of the fact, it was very much a
given that his stand-in parent of sixteen years would not let go of him
that easily. And so, after much hesitation and inner deliberation,
Shiori finally spoke in response to his farewell, declaring, "I love
you."

Kurama was completely taken aback by what his mother just said, utterly
flabbergasted by her statement. The words in and of themselves weren't
unusual for her to say, and it was something he had heard her tell him
from time to time, something which he should be used to hearing by now;
yet at that moment, by the way he reacted to the heartfelt words, it
seemed like this was the very first time he'd ever heard them. 

Her voice slightly cracking, Shiori asserted, "I love you more each day;
more than yesterday, less than tomorrow. I love you more than life
itself, and more than you and I could ever comprehend. It's not because
of anything you've done or can do for me. It's not because you were at
the right place at the right time. I don't particularly care why I love
you, because that doesn't matter; that's not the point. I love you
without rhyme or reason, whether you're a human, a kitsune, a demon, or
an angel. You're my son, and I love you so very much, and that's all
there is to it."

"You're playing dirty, Shiori-san," Kurama bemoaned as he wrung his cold
and clammy hands miserably. "What you're doing isn't fair at all."

"Love isn't fair. It just is." His walls were down, Shiori realized; just
for a moment, Kurama was wide open. But something told her that she had
to be careful. One careless remark was all it took to slam those walls
back up; maybe for good. She didn't want that.

Fidgeting for about a quarter of a second before altogether letting out
a chirruping combination of a laugh and a cry, Shiori reminisced, "Don't
you remember the time when I saved you from falling down on a pile of
broken plates? I still have the scars to prove that." She lifted up her
arms to demonstrate her point. 

"Or how about the numerous times you'd climb up the cherry tree in our
front lawn? I'd always come and fetch you down from there as if you were
some sort of cat stuck on a tree!" She sniggered at that particular
memory. 

"Or the time when we talked about the stars in the sky, and how most of
them are just remnants of their former selves?" Her closed eyes shone
with unshed tears. "You then mentioned something about wanting to die
like a star, if I remember correct--"

"Stop this, Shiori-san. Enough is enough." There was a world of torment
in Kurama's restrained tone. "Why bring up these memories _now_ of all
times? They only serve to make you look desperate and pathetic, and I
don't want to see you like that. I understand what you're trying to do,
and quite frankly I don't need the guilt trip. You're only making this
hard on yourself; please stop talking about the past, because..." he
took a deep, belabored breath, "because it won't change a thing."

"What _you're_ trying to do, on the other hand, will change everything
in our lives as we now it! Why can't you just let things be? There's
nothing wrong with what we have right now. If something's not broken,
then don't try to fix it!" Shiori all but screamed at Kurama. 

Maybe he _was_ saying good-bye, and perhaps nothing she said or did
would make him change his mind, but she didn't want to think about that
right now. What mattered to her was that she believed him to be her only
son, and she wouldn't let go of him so readily; her pride was
extinguished, her inner soul exposed for him to see. 

Her hands clasped his, her touch gentle and unassuming; it insinuated
itself into his grip and nestled there comfortably as hot, wet tears
streamed across her cheeks. "Point is, I did all those things for _you_,
Shuichi... or Kurama, if that's what you're really called. I didn't
experience those memories with this so-called daughter of mine, I
experienced them with you; they're our memories, and it was _you_ all
along that I loved the most."

"I knew you'd say that, and I appreciate the sentiment." Kurama shifted 
uncomfortably on his feet; hearing his mother unintentionally paraphrase
what he had confessed to Yoshitaka Tetsuma about Asuka Matsui somewhat
unnerved him.

"I get it, Shiori-san. I know how much Shuichi Minamino means to you;
she means quite a lot to me too. Still, like I've said, it won't change
a thing. My existence, like Taka-kun's, is an anomaly. Our life, for
lack of a better term, is a charade. All I'm doing is setting things
right. Don't you understand? Can't you let me do this one favor for
you?"

"Why should I?" Shiori retorted, almost hissed. Her patience was finally
spent, her brown eyes burning red with the searing pain and righteous 
indignation of a woman scorned. "Ever since you got here, you've been
forcing on me this idea of you acting as the ultimate 'martyr' and
'hero' by sacrificing yourself for the sake of some stranger you claim
to be my child. What makes you think I'll stand for any of it? How dare
you try to take away something so important to me and replace it with
something I don't even want! Even if our life as mother and son was all
a lie, I'd rather have the lie than the truth."

Kurama flinched, and Shiori was baffled by his reaction. Didn't he
_want_ to have her as his mother? Why was he so affected by this 'Asuka'
person? Why was he so adamant about killing himself over this girl? 

"Everything I've done, I did for your own good. What I'm doing right now
is also for your own good, whether or not you consider it as such,"
Kurama whispered delicately as his eyes shied away from his surrogate
mother, barely hiding the look of betrayal contained within them. To
Shiori, his words stung her like a buzzing reproach.

She searched for the words to explain to him her side of the story; she
tried to restrain herself, to pacify her panic-driven hysteria. Alas,
her good intentions were for naught--her explanations came out more like
accusations and demands. 

"Can't you just let things be?" she reiterated. "Why must you do this?
Why are you in such a hurry to die? Why do you think that what's best
for me is to lose you? Isn't it enough that we love each other and
nothing bad will ever happen to us if we continue this supposed
'charade' of ours? For Kami-sama's sake, please make me understand!"

Speaking mostly in regards to the brimming concoction of conflicting
emotions dancing behind his parent's candid eyes, Kurama acknowledged
Shiori's apprehensions. "Love doesn't always make the world go round;
it's problems, and the people who solve their problems, that keep it
turning. Asuka Matsui is _my_ problem; my unfinished business. She's
the only reason why I'm still here, and she will also be the reason
for my demise. The Natural Order deems it so."

"You haven't answered my question! Damn the Natural Order!" Kurama had
never seen his foster parent so angry; her rage made him back away
warily from her, unsure of how to react. Shiori, on her part, was beside
herself with fury. She swallowed the stinging in her throat, choked up
by pure, raw emotion. "Asuka this, Asuka that... Asuka, Asuka, Asuka! I 
certainly didn't ask you to save Matsui Asuka's life! Why? Why do you
need to do this? Why do you think it's necessary for you to save her?"

There was a loaded pause. As Kurama just stood there, immobilized by his
own uncertainty, Shiori finally figured out the reason why he hadn't
answered any of her most pertinent questions: He didn't because he
couldn't. He had no satisfactory reply to present to her, and it gnawed
at him to his very bones. This farewell of his, foolish as it was, was
as upsetting to him as it was to her. No matter who this strange,
intelligent child was, she knew from long experience that he couldn't
bear to see her in any kind of distress.

Shiori could almost feel Kurama's desire to reach out and comfort her,
and as the prospect of losing him tore at her in wrenching and muffled
sobs, she found herself wanting to turn and pull her child into her arms
and cry on his shoulder. But...

No. He drew back and put up his walls again, opting instead to calmly
continue his discourse. "I think that every one of us, whether human,
demon, or otherwise, has a saturation point; a level that can't go any
deeper into our souls. In other words, we are pushed to the brink, and
we either strip ourselves of whatever is eating away at our souls or be
doomed to self-destruct. I've finally reached that point, and I believe
it's about time that I tied the loose end that is my life before it's
cut forever."

Kurama suddenly felt bad for rejecting Shiori's advances after reaching
out for her--for stopping himself and for not wanting to accept her 
comfort. But it was far too late for him to have any sort of regret or 
reservation. Like with Yumiko's confession of love, it was now time for
him to act cruel to be kind. "Unfortunately, in order for me to do so,
we have to let go of each other. It's time for me to leave. Enough is
enough."

"But how can you be so sure of this? Do you honestly believe that
killing yourself over this girl will make me happy? You must be out of
your mind to even think that!" She wanted to say more, to further
elaborate what was going on in her mind, but she quickly realized that
she would only be repeating the things she'd already said before.

"I'm sorry," Kurama apologized sincerely, adding, "It's just that, you
simply have no choice in the matter."

Then there were ten seconds of silence that both of them felt forever.

Shiori was the first one to shatter the lingering stillness. "What sort
of spell has that witch cast upon you to make you so... so... obsessed
with her?" the middle-aged mother exploded as she felt her perfect
little world collapse around her, like a crystal shattered from within
by a note of pure, excruciating resonance; an inner screech of anguish.
"I don't want her! I don't want this Matsui Asuka person as a daughter!
It's you whom I want! It's always been you, Kurama! You're my son!
You're my Shuichi! Please, don't leave me!"

"DON'T SAY THAT!" Kurama snapped. He couldn't help himself; it was now
his turn to lash his tongue out in lividness. "Don't ever say that again
about Asuka! She's gone through far too much for you to reject her that
way. She deserves better. She deserves this second lease in life, to
know who her mother is. She deserves to be loved, not hated. And she
alone deserves to be the one true Minamino Shuichi."

"But you're my Shuichi," her voice faltered in between her whimpers.

Kurama locked eyes with Shiori for one last moment before he turned. His
throat tightened as the image of her longing eyes and trembling lips
burned itself inside his retinas. "No, I'm not. Not anymore. I'm sorry."

A flame burned from Shiori's chest, and she cried out in pain as if she
were being torn asunder. "I'll miss you, Minamino Shiori-san," Kurama
nuanced amidst the sounds of heart-wrenching agony; it was as close as
he could ever get to saying what he really wanted to say.

He shut his eyes as he left. 'It's too bad that I have yet one last
dream to break; a dream that, hopefully, would result in the happy
ending of another. At least, that's the intention.'


***


His head hung low, Kurama mutely followed the marble road inside his
mother's room reflexively, robotically; he felt numbed and exhausted
from the inside out, as if he had just inadvertently committed the most
reprehensible and heinous act of all time, a crime against the soul
itself. 'Such silly thoughts: it was all for the best. They'll see. I've
set upon making things right, and that's what I intend to do.' Or so he
hoped. He wasn't merely trying to convince himself, of course. 

He opened the door on his way out of the Intensive Care Unit, and was
surprised to see there was no hospital behind it. Instead, he bore
witness to darkness of the purest black as some unseen force pulled him
into its ominous maws. Afterwards, everything became a blur.

Down and down he rushed--though he was not quite sure anymore which way
was up with the damned shadows obscuring his sight--first through
darkness, and then through a mass of vague and whirling shapes that
might have been almost anything. It grew lighter. Then suddenly, Kurama
felt that he was standing on something solid. A moment later, everything
came into focus and he was able to look about him. 

At first, Kurama knew nothing but darkness. All of his body felt numb;
frozen. He could remember nothing of what had happened, aside from a
sensation of dread that blanketed his mind.

A light, almost imperceptible drizzle descended to cleanse him of his
confusion. For one instant, he felt the overwhelming chill wash upon
him--he knew, at that moment, that he was alone. No one would be near to
hear his cries if anything went wrong. No one would assist him with the 
slightest encouragement, or even a whispered cheer. And for that brief
eternity, he felt truly forlorn.

Kurama dejectedly traversed the shallow banks of hopelessness and
regret, literally crossing the fringes of the Spirit World and the Demon
World before finally docking upon the sakura-filled porcelain garden;
the starting point of his whole adventure. His escapades had finally
come full circle and run its course. 

He had no more bittersweet good-byes to share, and when everything was
said and done, he felt rather empty by the end of his long and involved
odyssey. The journey of a thousand miles, the journey that began with a
single step, had at last drawn to its conclusion. All the same, his 
determination was still crackling like wildfire in anticipation of what
was to come.

But his lonesome and doubt were swept away by his determination as
quickly as they had come. Even if he were alone, all for the better: no
one would try to stop him, to keep him from his goal... and, if he
succeeded, this solitude would soon fade into meaningless nothingness.

Strangely elated by this knowledge, he armed herself with all the
courage he could muster and stepped forward. Every step he took, his
feet oblivious of the brown limestone beneath them, added to his
confidence. How he wished to meet Asuka Matsui once again, to tell her
that everything would be all right now, and that she shouldn't have any
doubts about anything anymore. 'Soon, Asuka-san. Very soon.'

He spared a final glance around the vicinity to make sure nobody was
near. The squall had ceased and the nimbus clouds soon parted; then, a
nighttime sky filled with bejeweled stars came quietly to the new world, 
creeping softly through the shadows and spreading itself across the
rocky plains with the careful, measured flow of a well-timed assault.
The heavens above progressively lightened up their ebony tint to svelte
purple.

"So I'm back to where I've started, huh?" Kurama considered, then
furrowed his eyebrows pensively as something else occurred to him. "I've
said good-bye to all the people who'll miss me the most, but something
feels off," he noted, the thought leaving him rather disconcerted.

As if on cue, the dark, nimbus firmament above Kurama transformed into 
undeniable brilliance as soon as he stepped into the grassy knolls of
the Eden-like garden, a vast expanse of stars glittering with impossible 
nearness. Immediately before him, an alabaster bridge appeared,
stretched over a small stream that cut a trail through carefully trimmed
meadow before merging into a vast, still pond that mirrored the
constellation-filled sky in all its simulated magnificence.

As Kurama crossed the bridge, he looked over the still-water pond below
him, fragrant red petals floating on its silver surface like a satin bed
open to the sky and wet with dew. The air gradually became humid and
heavy with the scent of roses that lined the banks of the stream, and a
gentle breeze whispered through the rustling thorn bushes that relaxed
near the edges of the pond, the pointed tips of their low-hanging vines 
stretching out over the watery reflections.

Above him, an aurora borealis seemed to move and ripple like a bright, 
multicolored river that flowed across the sky, bathing the land in neon
brilliance. 

The vast, perfect circle, of which the garden stood at the center, was
now bereft of anything illuminating it save for the rainbow sky. 'It's
just like before, when I first got here. I can see everything despite
the absence of a heavenly body. The fact barely affects the beauty and
spirit of  his beautiful place, but even a first-time visitor can still
feel that something was missing. How... interesting. Disturbing, but
interesting.'

The redhead was still hobbling on his feet thanks to his depressed state
and sorrowful farewells, but for the most part, his emotional wounds
didn't matter much to him; he was about to die anyway, so any major
grievances he'd suffered beforehand were trivial in comparison. 

'At last, I can finally rest in piece here,' Kurama thought as he gently
touched Kuronue's ruby pendant while discarding his school jacket with a
shrug of his shoulders. The piece of jewelry shone brightly--even more
so than before--as though it had been fashioned out of sunbeams and
starlight. 

Kurama knew the trinket to have been Kuronue's most prized possession--
and his as well, for these past few voyages. But it would not evoke
music from the past anymore; he had a feeling it would instead help him
bring forth a new dawn. 'I can't think of a better way to die, settling
my debts to society whilst giving back this wonderful life to its
rightful owner. I just couldn't ask for more.' 

Of course, a thought and reality could be worlds apart. Little did
Kurama know that he had a few more debts to pay before he could get what
he wanted and fulfill his will. Of course, this little unsaid quirk of
destiny sort of explained why Botan was patiently waiting for him on the
other side of the alabaster bridge.

"B-Botan! What a surprise! What are you doing here?" Kurama greeted,
feeling a bit uncomfortable with the thought of the ferry-girl
witnessing his eventual suicide. 

On the other hand, it did seem quite apt that the embodiment of death--
in Botan's case, a cute ferry-girl clan in a pink kimono and a boat
paddle--would attend Kurama's impending funeral, except that he had no
intention of giving up his soul to the Spirit World; it belonged to no
one else except Asuka Matsui alone, and that was that. 

In any case, Botan wasn't paying attention to Kurama's attempts at
conversation, the strange shadows from her sky-blue bangs somehow
obscuring the upper half of her face, making her look rather
expressionless. 

"Are you here to pay your final respects for the soon-to-be departed,
Miss Shinigami?" Kurama wryly tried to tease, but humor was not among
his strong suits. Dry wit perhaps, but he was no comedian. As such, 
hearing no response, the kitsune tried another approach.

"Cheer up, Botan. This isn't like you. Come on, what's with that long
face of yours? Don't tell me that you're feeling a bit low because of my
planned suicide and whatnot. That'd be a silly sentiment, coming from a
happy-go-lucky shinigami like you. Besides which, haven't we gone
through enough trials and tribulations to at least be close enough to
call each other friends? Or, at the very worst, acquaintances? Come on,
give your friend a smile!" 

"What in Enma Daio's name are you talking about, Kurama?" Just as
planned, that loaded remark caught Botan's attention, igniting a
determined, almost argumentative flame in her pinkish-red eyes. It must
have been the fact that there were so many things wrong with Kurama's
statement that she didn't know where to start.

"We're not friends. We're barely even acquaintances. You don't know me,
and I don't know you. We barely even talked to each other for more than
ten minutes... maybe half an hour, tops. Sure, we've rooted for each
other during times of great need or whatever, but that'd be the end of
that. Face it, we're not exactly close."

Okay. Well, that came from left field. Kurama's bait-filled pledge had
all sorts of obvious openings for Botan to pick at, and she decided to
break the ice with _that_ particular topic. Huh. The redhead never even
realized that the shinigami had issues regarding their supposed lack of 
amity. 

As such, he shrugged his surprise off and decided to humor the girl,
responding, "Well, I did help you way back during the time when Keiko was
almost turned into a demon care of that sword Hiei, Gouki, and I stole."

"But what does that prove? If it were some other ferry-girl you had to
help clean up a mess that you and your demonic friends started in the
first place, then you probably would've done the same thing anyway! I was
just at the right place at the right time, nothing more," Botan disputed
with flushed cheeks and a petulant pout, much to Kurama's growing
bewilderment.

The nonplussed half-youko chortled apprehensively, unsure of where their
bizarre conversation was going. "Okay, how about that time during Hiei's
fight with Zeru in the Ankoku Bujutsukai, where I went directly in front
of you to prevent you from becoming part of the Jaou-Ensatsu-Kokuryuha's
collateral damage? I mean, either Genkai or Kuwabara-kun could have done
it, but... didn't. So I did. Sort of. Anyway, at least it's the thought
that counts, right?"

Though Botan's face went one shade pinker than before, she _almost_ did
not miss a beat in rationalizing, "I-I was the one nearest you at the
time, Kurama. So it's kind of hard to consider any sort of good deed on
your part because you're such a saint; I was simply the nearest
bystander for you to save, what with your Messiah Complex and all."

This was getting ridiculous. "Oh, come on now! Don't you remember the
time when I helped you bring the half-conscious Kuwabara-kun into the
waiting room after Yusuke defeated the Ichigaki Team?"

"So? Hiei's an asshole, Koenma-sama and Jorge are useless, Keiko-chan
and the others were mere spectators at the time, and Yusuke and Genkai-
shihan were completely spent after fighting Ichigaki and his minions;
so that naturally leaves _you_ to help me take care of Kuwabara. Sorry,
my knight in shining armor, but no dice."

To Botan's astonishment, Kurama looked genuinely disheartened once it
dawned to him that, yes, she was right; the two of them really weren't
that close to each other _at all_; much less compatible, whatever that
meant. "That's... so disappointing to hear, Botan. All this time, I
thought you were my friend. So you never, even once, thought that I
gave a damn about you? Or perhaps it was you never gave a damn about me 
instead?"

It was now Botan's turn to clumsily laugh at this latest, awkward
development. "Er, not exactly; I wouldn't quite say that, Kurama. Um,
during your fight with Karasu, I was... well, quite worried about you."

"Ah, but using your own line of argument against me earlier, you'd be
worried about Yusuke, Genkai, Kuwabara, or even Hiei too, if they were
faced with the same deranged, sadistic stalker demon who had a tendency
to torture and blow up the people he liked," Kurama pointed out, much to
Botan's vexation.

With a dismissive wave of her hand, the ferry-girl conceded, "Fine,
fine. I know what I said, okay? But for what it's worth, I was the only
one among the four of us girls watching who got excited when you
transformed into Youko Kurama and proceeded to kick Karasu's scrawny
bishonen butt from here to Thursday."

Kurama casually shrugged and raised a doubtful eyebrow. "So does that
mean you felt a much closer connection with Youko Kurama than with me,
then?"

"It's not like that! I--" Ignoring the mounting tension she felt because
of the dubious implications of what she was about to say, the shinigami
reluctantly grumbled, "It's not like that at all. When you reverted to
your human form and was beaten up by Karasu, everyone was worried. But I
was the only one among the girls who believed that you'd make it in the
end. Despite us not being close together, I at least had enough faith in
you to root for you, just like I said earlier. Does that make us close?
Hell no. But that doesn't mean I didn't want us to be close... Oh, Enma
Daio."

Botan looked away and leaned over the alabaster railings, her
downtrodden eyes staring right into her own sad reflection on the still
waters below. Kurama himself followed suit, moving right beside the
ferry-girl by leaning against the bridge's barrier whilst facing the
other direction.

"You weren't the only one who wished we we're closer than we were,
Botan. Remember the time when I kept you from saying the forbidden
word 'hot' inside Kaito-kun's soul-stealing 'territory'? I didn't do
that for the sake of my supposed Messiah Complex--I did it because I
couldn't forgive myself if I saw you hurt. My mother taught me better
than that."

Botan didn't know what to make of Kurama's little confession just then,
which prompted her to stare even more intently into the shallow abyss of
the marble and porcelain garden's tranquil pond. 

"So can you care to tell me why you're so fascinated about our closeness
with each other, Botan?" Kurama asked in kind, feeling as though the
aforesaid chasm between the two of them had finally begun to shrink.

In barely a whisper, Botan professed, "I wanted to sort out my feelings.
I wanted to make sure that you were worth... saving. I wanted to make
sure that I wanted you to be saved." 

"Excuse me?" Kurama blinked in confusion. "Save me? Save me from what?"
Just then, a blast of pure spiritual energy started to gather around
them. The kitsune turned. The breeze he felt earlier had now grown into
a veritable storm, and the weird feeling that had been plaguing him
since he'd come back from the bidding farewell to his dear mother
suddenly peaked, and he felt his heart pound. 

There was a moment of complete silence, and then the unseen mass of
energy shattered into hundreds of glowing pieces flying on all different
directions. The maelstrom manifested itself into multicolored chaos,
streaking directly towards Kurama like miniature missiles locked onto
him; a suffocating swarm of undulating projectiles that swirled around
his body with unnatural energy. "Botan, what's going on?" the redhead 
warily prodded, then felt himself freeze into place as the ferry-girl
suddenly... wept? Huh? "Botan...?"

"I'm so sorry, Kurama. I'm really sorry, but Koenma-sama ordered me to
do this, and... and... I wanted to do this too," she woefully
rationalized as she held back her sniffling sobs at the back of her 
throat, "because you among all the souls I've ever reaped deserves to be
saved the most."

"Do what? What have you done to me? And what does Koenma have to do with 
anything?" Kurama asked with growing concern, but he could still not
move a muscle. "I don't understand where you're coming from, Botan.
Please don't cry. What did you do wrong in the first place?"

She choked back her tears, wiped her face, and afterwards heaved a long,
dejected sigh. "I gave you the Kiss of Death, Kurama. I've now become
your Doom Bitch," she confessed with the seriousness of a doctor who'd
just diagnosed her patient with a terminal disease.

Incredulous, Kurama burst into a short bout of laughter that he held
back more out of politeness than actual guilt. "'Kiss of Death'? You
mean that little kiss we shared back in Maya's golden pillar? You
shouldn't beat yourself up because that, Botan! I mean, it was okay to
kiss you at the time, right? And it was you who kissed me first, just
so we're clear. I mean, that's the way I remembered it. I hope I'm not
misremembering anything, and if I am, I deeply apologize."

"You most certainly have nothing to be sorry about, Kurama! I should be
the one apologizing," Botan trailed off as she shyly looked away, not at
all acting like her usual self. Something was afoot.

"I don't quite understand what you're trying to say, Botan. What is the
Kiss of Death? Why are you so sorry?"


***


To be Continued...

Next: The Kiss of Death.

Send all C&C, flames, death threats, etc. to me at either
gabriel_gabdiel at yahoo.com or chester.castaneda at gmail.com;
whichever suits your fancy.

Note that I put in the title _Shonen_ not _Shonen-Ai_. Shonen-Ai 
(male-male relationship) and yaoi are just not my cup of tea. This 
is dedicated to Chimamire Kitsune for giving me the inspiration to 
write this fic. Wherever you are, this is for you.

Disclaimer: Yuyu Hakusho is the rightful property of Yoshihiro
Togashi, Shueisha, Fuji TV and St. Pierrot. This fic therefore
also belongs to Yoshihiro Togashi, Shueisha, Fuji TV and St.
Pierrot.

Salamat sa pagbabasa!
Abdiel



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