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The Black Chimera
Chapter 4
by: WhiteCat

     Kuronue opened one eye sleepily, then snapped it back shut again as bright 
sunlight sparked in his vision, blinding him temporarily. He lay very still, 
breathing shallow, ears straining to catch the soft sounds that murmured 
around him, sounds that, for once, did not frighten or warn of the 
approaching kaibutsu and pain, but comfort, and safety. He opened both eyes 
this time, slowly, cautious of the bright light and what he might see, once 
fully awake.
     At first, he could see only the tiny glade before him; still and peaceful, 
with a thin, sinuous brook twining its way through the center; everything 
was still and peaceful. He felt a twinge of disappointment; these were the 
same things he dreamed of every night, only to awaken to the dark, damp 
confines of the cell, where the insulting guards mocked him and beat him, 
slow tortures that were most likely intended to drive him insane.
     It hadn't worked, though; Kuronue smiled, grimly, at the memory, 
remembering the anger of the guard just - he paused, frowning at the gap in 
his memory. How long had he been asleep?
     "I'm glad to see you finally woke up," a soft, alto voice spoke up, almost 
feminine in tone, but with an underlying edge that identified the speaker as 
male. His sleep-fuzzed mind scrambled to make a connection, failing to 
recognize the voice until the speaker moved into view. Bright green eyes 
smiled at him under a fringe of long red bangs, and with a start, he 
recognized the human who had set him free; the first one to speak his name 
in so many years ...
     ... the human who was, in truth, his best friend. Kuronue tried to sit up, 
wincing as a thousand small pains raced through his frail body, the sudden 
ability to move freely grating nerves and old wounds that he had thought 
long since healed. Almost instantly, the human-who-was-not-human was 
kneeling at his side, small, elegant hands supporting him, helping him to move.
     "Kuro, you'll only hurt yourself worse, doing this," that same 
feminine-masculine voice chided gently, and fingers ruffled his hair 
affectionately; a gesture he recognized. That, along with the old nickname, 
reeled in his senses, almost in overload as he blinked at the human guise of 
his old friend, trying to find any hint of the silver youko he had loved 
like a brother in those wide eyes.
     It took a few minutes of searching; the human's gentle nature and soul 
masked the youko's hidden wildness, muting the fire, but not smothering it. 
And in the eyes too old and too wise for such a young face, he saw, for a 
single, gratifying moment, a flash of gold. He smiled, suddenly, gratified; 
despite having actually *seen* the transformation from human to youko, a 
part of his mind had refused to acknowledge it. Though it was still hard to 
imagine the headstrong creature he had befriended years ago being so ... so ...
     He couldn't think of an appropriate word, so he stifled the little train of 
thought and looked around, curious. "Where in the worlds are we?" he 
ventured, resting one hand on Kurama's shoulder.
     The redhead's face was blank, for a few moments, before he shook himself, 
and smiled encouragingly, a smile that was tinged with a regretful sadness. 
He pulled away, standing and looking around, and Kuronue followed his gaze, 
noting the care that seemed to have been lavished upon the plants; the glade 
was vibrant and alive, like a tiny jungle within the larger forest. On the 
far side of the clearing, he could see the small black figure that had 
accompanied his friend; as well as the tall siver fox-man that still 
confused him. Beyond them, he could see a gentle rise in the earth beside 
the riverbank, some odd sort of marker rising from the center, and he tried 
to stand, wanting to see.
     Kurama's hands helped him again, and one of his thin arms was gently taken 
to drape over Kurama's shoulders, as the redhead supported him. The 
situation was somewhat awkward, since Kuronue was nearly five inches taller 
than the slim human, but they managed, slowly walking towards the marker. 
His former partner's face was grim, almost closed off, but he could see a 
lingering sadness there, as they stopped before the mound.
     It looked like a grave.
     Kuronue cocked his head to one side, then looked at his partner 
questioningly as Kurama took a deep breath, closing his eyes. It took a few 
minutes before the redhead spoke, and his voice was tight, heavily 
controlled, burdened with old grief.
     "This is where I would have buried you, Kuro, if I had found your body," 
Kurama explained, and his eyes opened halfway, unseeing and misty, lost in 
his recollections as he recited them aloud for partner, lover, and brother 
to hear. "After I recovered from my shock of your capture, I went back. I 
was looking for you; I had hoped you were dead, and that they would leave 
your body out, so that I could take it, and perhaps bring it home to 
Chibi-Hana."
     Kuronue tensed, slightly, surprised. His daughter; his little dark-haired 
flower; he had often thought about her, in the dark loneliness of the 
prison, desperately hoping she was well and safe; that his death had not 
hurt her as badly as her mother's death had hurt him. Now that the confusion 
of the escape had worn off, she was all he could think of; how much had he 
changed, in the years she had thought he was dead? He opened his mouth to 
ask, but Kurama was still talking, his voice almost dreamy as he spoke.
     "I searched for a long time; I'm not quite sure how long; but I couldn't 
find anything, other than bloody bamboo poles, and some discarded knives." 
There was a fey gleam in the green eyes, an almost feral smile crossing his 
lips as he continued. "I kept looking, and I finally found *some*thing, 
though it wasn't what I wanted." He shook his head, then glanced at Kuronue 
from the corner of his eye. "Your daughter has your pendant, Kuro. I was 
able to keep that much of my promise to you."
     The redhead ran a hand through his hair and sighed, shaking his head. "I 
came back nearly every day for a week afterwards, looking for your body; 
hoping that you were too weak to withstand their tortures for very long, and 
that you'd die relatively quickly. They found me, eventually, wandering 
around the bamboo forests, and they attacked. I was still too much in shock 
to put up a good fight; they managed to wound me fairly badly before I escaped.
     "Afterwards, I went to Chibi-Hana's home. I gave her the pendant, told her 
everything." He turned to look at Kuronue again, tears glittering in his 
eyes. "You should be very proud of your daughter, Kuronue. She's become a 
very strong woman; one that you and Kimiko would be proud of."
     Kuronue nodded, solemn, looking at the ground. "Sou ka," he murmured. "But 
now what? I can't stay by myself for very long; not in this condition; and 
going to Hana-chan now ... it would be too much of an imposation, making her 
care for me so soon after finding out I'm not dead after all." His lips 
twisted in a little, bitter, wistful smile as he tugged on one of his long, 
straight black forelocks. "She might be strong, but she's still my daughter. 
I don't want to do anything that could hurt her."
     Kurama nodded, slowly. "Hai. And taking you back to the Ningenkai isn't an 
option, either - your wings and your ears set you too far apart from a 
normal human for them not to notice you." He smiled at Kuronue's startled 
expression, the remembered grief fading from his face as he teased his 
friend. "Kuro! You didn't think I didn't think about offering you my 
hospitality? I'm hurt?"
     "Hospitality, you call it?" Kuronue shot back, almost without thinking; it 
was surprisingly easy, slipping into the same banterings they'd had, years 
ago, when they had traveled together; first alone, then with Kimiko, then 
with Kuraihana, then alone again. A smile creased his face as he flicked 
some of the long bangs from his face, scowling at his friend. "I'd say more 
along the terms of forcing me to go along with you! Or have you forgotten 
who was the one who tricked Kimiko into coming along with us in the first 
place?"
     Kurama stumbled back, his hands over his heart, eyes wide in mock-hurt. 
"What? Don't tell me you didn't *like* the fact that Kimiko was traveling 
with us! After all, you ended up marrying her!" He reached over and poked 
his friend lightly in the forehead. "I just did you a favor, s'all. Both of 
you."
     Kuronue snorted, rolling his eyes. "Really? Kurama, I *saw* you eyeing her; 
you didn't ask her to join our little group because you knew I would end up 
marrying her - you wanted her too, you know." He smirked at his sputtering 
friend. "Didn't you? She was such a pretty little brat, and she knew it ..." 
his face softened, briefly, at the memory. "But she could be so sweet, when 
the situation called for it."
     The redhead nodded, solemn again. "Hai ..." His face was thoughtful, as he 
turned to look at Hiei and Yo-mawari, the silent witnesses of the reunion, 
and tried a small smile. "Any suggestions, you two?"
     Hiei only stared back, his expression unreadable as his red eyes traveled 
first from the slender human, to the winged stranger that meant so much to 
his fox.
     The light of day was not kind to Kuronue's appearence; in the bright, 
bleaching light, a thousand little scratches and bruises and cuts were 
brought into view, a dozen old scars that stood as reminders of his long 
torture. His skin was an unpleasant shade of gray, bordering on the same 
tone as the flesh of one dead for a long time. His black clothing was torn 
and ripped, and his long black hair was matted and dirty from lack of care, 
falling past his knees; evidence that the kaibutsu that had "cared" for him 
had not thought of their prisoner's physical appearence?
     And why not? They had been beating him and mistreating him ever since he 
had first been captured. They weren't going to care about little things like 
hair, or clothing. Hiei frowned, studying the tall youkai carefully, then 
looking up to meet the narrow blue eyes.
     They met his gaze evenly, the electric color sparking in silent challenge. 
Kuronue didn't seem intimidated by the veiled threat in Hiei's glare; the 
warning that getting too close to Kurama would result in one of them 
physically hurt. He only seemed surprised by the possessiveness in the red 
eyes - especially when Hiei looked back at Kurama, who was now conferring 
with his brother in a low voice.
     Before Kuronue could retaliate, verbally or physically, the twins broke 
apart, turning to look back at them. Kuronue studied them both; he still 
knew nothing of Yo-mawari, except from what he had guessed, from studying 
their nearly identical appearences; it was slightly unnerving, to know the 
friend he'd had since childhood was not the only child he'd always believed. 
Kurama smiled encouragingly at him, before pushing his brother forward 
slightly, resting one hand on Yo-mawari's shoulder.
     "I've just realized what an idiot I am, for not introducing you all," 
Kurama smiled sheepishly. "Kuro, my brother, Yo-mawari," he said formally, 
and his dark-haired twin nodded pleasantly in greeting. "You've already seen 
his youko half, back at the Treasure House; this is his human form -" he 
paused, frowning, then turned to his brother. "We've never given you a name 
to use in the Ningenkai, ne?" he asked, and a troubled frown creased his 
brow when his twin nodded casually and shrugged. "We'll argue about that 
later," he promised, then tured back to Kuronue. "Kyoudai, my best friend, 
and my old partner, Kuronue."
     He nodded, as well, when Kurama named him, and smiled slightly. "I take it 
that crazy fox has been telling you horror stories of me, ne?" he asked 
wryly, focusing on Yo-mawari's black eyes, ignoring Kurama's indignant 
sputtering.
     The other youko smiled slightly, but shook his head. "Iie. What I know of 
you, I've had to drag out of kyoudai." He smiled affectionately, draping an 
arm around his twin's shoulders. "Also ... your daughter, Kuraihana ..." he 
paused when Kuronue tensed slightly, "... she's told me some things. Not a 
whole lot; just that you were her father, what you looked like - little 
things." He paused again, gathering his thoughts, trying to figure out how 
to talk to this strange youkai, this one who was nearly his age, who was 
closer to the healer with the bright blue eyes than Yo-mawari himself hoped 
to ever be. "She's a very lovely young lady," he offered. "I'm very fond of 
her."
     Kuronue's eyes, the same bright shade as his daughter's, bore into 
Yo-mawari, searching, and the youko shifted uncomfortably under that intense 
stare, feeling absurdly exposed, as if he were some odd creature on display 
for the other youkai's interest. A thoughtful expression crossed Kuronue's 
scarred face, and he smiled, suddenly, nodding in satisfaction. He took a 
few steps forward, and clapped his hands on the startled dark-haired youko's 
shoulders, and smiled warmly. "I'll bet she is," he said wistfully. "And 
I'll bet you are."
     Kurama ducked his head, smiling warmly at the scene; he suspected that his 
brother and his friend would be getting along quite well, using the young 
healer as a medium. He glanced at Hiei, the nodded, moving his fingers in a 
beckoning gesture, his smile widening as the small youkai took a few gruding 
steps towards him, to stand at his side. He stood stiff and emotionally 
distant, but Kurama took no heed, sliding his arms around his lover's neck 
and shoulders and grinning.
     Kuronue looked back at them, then blinked at the scene, surprise written 
plainly across his face. He met Kurama's eyes, briefly, questioning, and 
when the redhead nodded, a sly smile creased his face, openly approving what 
he saw. Kurama smirked back at his friend, sliding one hand unobtrusively 
down the open neck of Hiei's shirt in a possessive gesture, eyes half-lidded 
as he spoke. "Kuro, this is Hiei." He pushed at the little youkai, rolling 
his eyes at Hiei's unresponsiveness, then bent down slightly, to rest his 
chin on the top of his lover's head. "Hiei, Kuronue."
     Hiei only snorted, briefly, his expression still carefully blank, and his 
red eyes probing. Kurama straightened, sliding his hand out of Hiei's shirt 
and stepping back from his lover, crossing his arms and nodding. "We'll take 
you to Chibi-Hana's home," he announced firmly, leaving no room for Kuronue 
to argue. "Even if she doesn't deserve seeing you so badly hurt, so soon 
after finding out, she *does* deserve to know you're alive. She wouldn't be 
pleased if she found out that we'd kept it a secret from her for any amount 
of time."
     Kuronue nodded, though he was still hesitant. "I know, but ..."
     Kurama held up a silencing hand, a small, whimsical smile playing over his 
face. "One concern at a time, Kuro. We'll worry about Chibi-Hana's reaction 
when we get to her house."

     It was raining, a steady, continuous downpour from the sky, slicking hair 
and clothing, making the ground treacherous and slippery. They had to go 
slowly, Kuronue's weakened state forcing them to go at a pace comfortable to 
him, and to stop whenever he grew tired - which, unfortunately, was often. 
Kurama often thought his lover was impatient with the delay, though Hiei 
never said anything - anything at all. He had kept distant from all of them, 
emotionally and physically, ever since Kuronue's rescue from the Treasure 
House, and Kurama was starting to worry.
     They had settled in the forest for the night; if things went according to 
plan, they would arrive at Kuraihana's home the next day, and relinquish 
Kuronue to the care of his daughter. As Yo-mawari attempted to start a small 
campfire, with the winged youkai's help, Kurama sought out his lover, 
concerned with the idea that Hiei seemed to be distancing himself from all 
of them.
     He found Hiei at the edge of the clearing, looking into the thick shadows 
of the forest, softened by the light drizzle that still continued to drip 
from the sky. The small youkai spared him the briefest of glances, before 
returning to stare emotionlessly into the woods. Kurama sat down beside him, 
looking up at his lover. "Hiei?" he asked cautiously, his voice uncertain 
and worried. "Daijoubu ka?"
     "Hn," Hiei snorted again, still not looking at Kurama. The redhead 
continued, ignoring Hiei's warning glare.
     "Please, Hiei," he repeated, reaching out to tug at Hiei's sleeve, trying 
to bring his lover's attention back to him. "Talk to me. You've been a 
sullen little brat ever since we rescued Kuronue ..." he paused, thoughtful, 
and Hiei shot him another unreadable glare. An idea dawned, and Kurama's 
back stiffened, as he pushed himself up to his knees and tugged at Hiei's 
arm, forcing the small youkai to turn and look at him. Kurama's voice was 
gentle as he spoke, his eyes probing Hiei's face. "You're jealous, aren't you?"
     It wasn't quite a question, but it struck home; Hiei's eyes widened, 
marginally, before the same guarded look shuttered his eyes. Kurama almost 
laughed aloud, and pulled his lover in closer, wrapping his arms around 
Hiei's neck and resting his cheek against his lover's chest. "You silly 
thing," he chided, slipping one arm away from its comfortable resting spot 
on Hiei's shoulders, his fingers tracing idle patterns on Hiei's chest, 
through the black cloth of his shirt. "I've already told you - Kuronue and I 
are *just* friends. I wasn't interested in him that way, back then, and I'm 
even less so, now that you're here." His smile widened, a silly little 
expression, self-mocking his own words. "It might sound stupid, and it might 
come out badly, but *Hiei* -" he stressed his lover's name with both his 
voice and a small shake of Hiei's arm, "I might love Kuronue, but it's the 
same kind of love I have for kyoudai, or Yuusuke and the others. They're 
just friends; siblings, in fact. *You*, on the other hand, my dear; *you* 
are something different entirely." He pulled away and pulled Hiei down into 
a seated position across from him, smiling triumphantly as he noted the lack 
of resistance in his lover's form.
     Behind them, Kurama heard Yo-mawari's indignant sputter, and Kuronue's low 
laughter as the youko cursed the rain and the damp firewood, and he ducked 
his head, hiding his own laughter as he reached out to pull his lover in 
closer. He brushed his lips over Hiei's temple, playfully, then hugged him 
tightly, hands splayed against his lover's back.
     "Don't worry, itoshii," he whispered against Hiei's ear. "I'm not going to 
throw you away."
     Hiei relaxed marginally under the words, and sighed, leaning into Kurama's 
embrace as the redhead shifted slightly, moving so that he could lean back 
against a tree, turning his head to watch as the two firebuilders remained 
unsuccessful, Yo-mawari cursing a bloody streak when the tiny spark he had 
started fizzled and died in a puff of smelly steam. Kuronue shook himself a 
little, and smiled - he looked better now, Kurama noted drowsily; though the 
scars and thousands of other little marks were still there, he could see 
definete improvement; Kuronue's skin was no longer pasty gray, and his long 
hair had been clipped to a decent length - the same long black mess that 
Kurama remembered from their days together - and some of the starved bony 
look had disappeared from his face and lean form.
     It wouldn't be long, he noted happily, before his friend would look like 
his old self - or, at least, he amended the thought, his old self with an 
impressive new collection of scars. He closed his eyes and sighed 
peacefully, snuggling his lover closer to him, as a child might snuggle a 
stuffed toy, and allowed himself to relax, slipping easily into dreams that 
were finally untroubled with the memory of Kuronue's death.
     His last conscious thought was the wondering question of how Kuraihana 
would react to her father, when she learned he wasn't as dead as they had 
thought, for so long ...

© December 1997 by Cat and Cricket Presses, Ltd.

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