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The Black Chimera
Chapter 5

      Kurama knew full well that it was dawn as his mind began to slowly bring him from his sleep, logging back his eyes and body as he still sat upright, leaning against the trunk of a large tree. The sweet smell of dew on the morning leaves lingered on a light breeze, mingling with the smell of a dying fire and the after affects of the night's rain. So it seemed Yo-mawari and Kuronue had, after all, started a decent fire last night.
      Thin fingers of golden sunlight gently caressed his face, leaving dabbled spots of heat over his skin and down his clothing. The smell of rain still hung heavily in the air, Kurama feeling the dampness still cold in his clothing. His entire body felt chilled, save for a patch on his lap and chest which still remained warm and dry - Hiei's resting place for the previous night.
      Kurama smiled at the thought, though he continued to feign sleeping, enjoying the sensations around him. It was almost too precious, seeing Hiei jealous over his old thieving partner last night, as if the youkai had doubted the fact that he was Kurama's for the rest of their living lives, and vice versa. Slowly and leisurely, Kurama tightened his arms around the sleeping bundle in his arms as he still laid with his eyes closed, feeling Hiei's soft, steady but shallow breaths under his arms. His lover was still fast asleep.
      A sharp, low grunt startled Kurama from his morning thinkings, the large green eyes slowly blinking open to face the new day. Before him, he could only see a silhouette of the figure that crouched before him, the rays of the morning sun spearing off around the blackened image, haloing the entire body in a brilliance of gold, splintered light. But still, he could pick out the silhouette's features; Two thin, tattered wings protruded from the figure's back to jut out over his shoulders, the newly cut matted strands of long, black hair pulled back into it's usual pony tail.
      "Kuro," Kurama half yawned, further coveting the small hot bundle on his lap, rocking it gently in his arms, nuzzling like a parent would to a small child. "Awake early, ne? I figured you would sleep half the day."
      "Yeah. But..." the youkai trailed off almost before he began, his bony shoulders shrugging lightly under the hot, morning sun. Kuronue seemed to be getting back to his old self, doing much of his old tricks and what-not. His wings were still entirely to weak and fragile to be of any use, and running was totally out of the question. But still, Kuronue could leap from the bows of trees, his cat-like agility still in peak performance as it ever was. Though being as thin and bony, now he could glide much easier, exercising long-dormant muscles enough so he could begin to get a handle back on his life.
      Kurama leaned his head forward from the tree trunk in a futile attempt to sit up, his back responding in jolts of stiff pain and cracking joints. It was obvious that he would not get anywhere on his present course of action, so instead, he chose to listen to their protests, leaning back against the tree to settle in again. "But what?" the green eyes narrowed coyly, watching the silhouette before him shift and bobble in it's crouched position, Kuronue's balance still fighting with his mind to reach a civil agreement.
      "I want to see my daughter... after so many years. It's just," he trailed off again and his silhouette rocked backwards onto his rear end, sending the blinding rays of the sun down to beat mercilessly on Kurama's weakened, morning eyes. "It's just, I'm not so sure still if she deserves to see me this way. This is NOT who I am," he gestured madly to his beaten, pale skin and matted hair. "I am not this man here... I... I... gods, I look pathetic!!"
      Kurama sighed heavily and chuckled, running a soft hand up Hiei's back as the fire demon still sat sound asleep in his arms, wrapped several times in his flat black cloak. "Kuro... she wouldn't care if you looked like a half-dead, four headed donkey. I bet you anything she'll be falling all over herself when her believed-to-be-dead father shows up on her doorstep today. Don't WORRY, you sly fool!" With a large grin, Kurama put an explanation on the statement by reaching out and smacking his old partner on the knee, hard enough to leave a healthy, red mark, but not nearly enough to do any harm.
      His effort was rewarded with a low, warning grown from the winged youkai, threatening reactions if the youko did that again. Nevertheless, Kuronue still scooted back on his rear, out of arm-shot and sat defiantly in the sunlight, basking silently.
      Another familiar silhouette stepped into view, once again blocking out the morning sun to ring themselves in a halo, almost unearthly before him. It was a figure Kurama would see in the mirror every time he looked, although that image would always be bled-out to black. There was something utterly comforting in the solid expanse of cold, heartless black eyes that would stare him back, pushing and shoving, always just a bit taller than he himself was. Always, the feeling of utter kinship followed Kurama's brother around, and it was that kinship that Kurama had longed for all his life. Not just a familiar, smiling face... but family. HIS family, his own blood. "And Kyoudai-kun," Kurama managed easily without actually looking at the gold-rimmed figure. "How was your night?"
      "Wet," the other grumbled back, flipping back strands of his black hair back over his shoulders as an exclamation to his point. Tiny water droplets flung about from his tossing, dappling down onto Hiei and Kurama, one of the drops landing square on the little demon's nose...
      All movement froze from the brothers.
      At the unwelcome disturbance, a single red eye popped lazily open just in time to watch the water droplet spill off his nose to loose itself somewhere off on his black, ragged cloak. Hiei always appeared as a small, innocent child when asleep or curled in his lovers arms. The ever-present aura of his snarling you-ki muted, his harsh, unblinking red stare gone to melt his soft, small face into something totally alien to the fire demon. Hiei had a heart, though he never showed it. And if he knew how much his calmer side showed in his sleep, all bets were on that the Koorime would never sleep again.
      Half unconscious, Hiei raised a hand to dry the wet path on his nose, clumsily wiping his face and eyes with the back of his hand. Other tiny rain drops fell from their heights on his spiked hair to further complicate his task, pattering lightly before running off. They only served to further infuriate him, Hiei rubbing his hand quicker over his face before Kurama's soft hand came in with a section of the black cloak to help him out.
      Quickly rid of the annoyance, Hiei snorted and swatted the other's hand away, grumbling and growling deeply to himself before snuggling deeper into Kurama's chest, rearranging locks of damp, red hair and clothing to his liking. Further growling at his damp 'bed', Hiei curled further into a ball on Kurama's lap, winding his hand up under the button's of Kurama's top to warm flesh underneath.
      Hiei's hands were damp and incredibly cold from the night's rain, almost like moving points of ice on Kurama's fragile, soft skin. Careful fingernails grated on his stomach as the hand moved, causing Kurama to gasp suddenly, both at the fingernails and at the unexpected chill. It didn't help the fact that he was already cold... The little fingers flexed and wandered on their own over Kurama's warm skin, seeking out warm spots that weren't corrupted by the wet shirt and cool morning breeze - heading further and further down...
      Kurama shifted a bit uneasily and grabbed Hiei's wandering hand before it inched down any deeper, instead, pulling it out into the warm sun to clasp it gently between his own hands. And Kuronue just laughed, joined quickly by Yo-mawari's muffled chuckles.
      The young human quickly turned wide green eyes to his long-lost friend, cocking his head gently to the side, smiling slightly. "And what's so funny, may I ask?"
      "You, of course. All of you. This human body, your twin brother... a male lover, let alone a fire demon..." Kuronue shook his head slowly and chuckled, rising slowly from his seat on the ground. "You never cease to amaze me, you know that."
      "Thank you.. I think."
      Hiei grumbled and nabbed his hand back, still half asleep, letting a small, adorable yawn escape past his lips. Once again, he wiggled his small hand under Kurama's shirt, once again, the youko quickly nabbing it back, only to send Kuronue into another fit of hysterics.
      Kurama frowned and watched his friend throw his head back to laugh, his own brother still before him, chuckling softly in his aura of golden light. "Youko, you're like a ningen parent!" the youkai laughed back, trying to regain his balance on his weak body. "It wouldn't surprise me if you two had yourself a child one of these days!"
      "We do," Kurama added with a handsome smile.
      "NANI YO! I was just kidding!"
      "I wasn't."
      Kuronue flailed for words, settling mostly at giving Kurama odd looks from time to time, trying to piece together every little tidbit of information. Indeed, he had been away from the forest for too long. "How old?"
      "Uh, four years, I think. He was still pretty young when we found him."
      "Found him? So he's not biological?"
      It was Kurama's turn to laugh now, quietly smiling and chuckling, shaking his head slowly as he bundled Hiei again into his arms, wiggling up from against the tree. "No. But nevertheless, little Kiro's our pride and joy. Though I'm sure there's someplace in the Makai that could breed us a child. Yomi did it..."
      "Mukuro..." Hiei mumbled beneath him, again shifting and grumbling as he struggled to get comfortable again. "Mukuro can do it."
      "Hmm, is that a subtle hint, love?"
      "Urusai yo, I'm sleeping. And don't you EVEN think about it, fox," the youkai mumbled, twisting around a bit more before drifting off again. "All of you, shut up."
      Both Kurama and Kuronue took it upon themselves to laugh hysterically, the silhouette of Yo-mawari shrugging off in the sunlight before joining in also.
      "So. When's breakfast?" Kuronue chuckled. "I'm absolutely starved!"

      "... and I keep telling you, this whole trip would go a LOT faster if you would just let me carry you!"
      "Attempt and die, youko!"
      "Well, then stop complaining! Every 50 meters it's "Are we there yet" or "I'm tired, can we rest?""
      "Oi! I've been sitting on my ass for decades, excuse me!"
      Hiei and Yo-mawari sighed as a single unit as the bickering before them continued to escalate - again - following a good distance behind the quarreling friends. Their trip from their campsite had been very slow. The Makai forest was an unforgiving place to travelers of any kind, let alone those who weren't in the best of shapes to begin with. All along the way, Kuronue had needed to rest and regain his composure as they trekked along, up hills, over rivers. Journeying by foot on solid land was never one of Kuronue's strong points. During the times when he and Kurama had gone on their thieving expeditions, they would always use the trees as their mode of transportation. Each had the agility of a cat, always bounding from tree branch to tree branch, much in the way Hiei preferred to travel.
      Instead, the entire company was forced to travel by the unforgiving land and its many obstacles. And throughout the journey, Kurama and Kuronue began to go more and more at each other's throats. It was a type of argument Yo-mawari would often get into with Kurama; one would begin picking, the other would pick back, and usually it ended up with a huge brawl on the living room floor until either one gave in, or Hiei reprimanded them both.
      "... by the gods, can you complain," Kurama's voice sighed.
      "Well excuse me, Mr. Congeniality!"
      "Both of you...." Hiei interrupted quickly, catching each of the two old partners with one of his flaming, red eyes. "Shut up before you give me a headache. Then you'll REALLY have something to complain about."
      Yo-mawari silently cheered on his meijin, sending out the mental version of a raspberry to his brother.
      Ahead, Kurama turned quickly, seconds before Yo-mawari caught a mental punch in the gut. Even though he had been tensed for a retaliation blow, the punch still managed to shuffle him back a few paces, a few of the little shuriken on his shoulder toppling from their perches to take refuge on Hiei's shoulder. They knew all to well what would follow.
      Hiei made a move to warn them both, but to no avail as Yo-mawari leapt from his position in a flash of black wind... a fraction later, Kurama also leaping from his position.
      "Nan da... where the hell'd they go?" Kuronue almost squeaked as he looked about frantically for the two brothers.
      Off a bit into the forest, a pair of yelling voices floated back to each of their ears. Yelps of pain, cheers of triumph, playful insults...
      "Kitsune-tachi no baka," Hiei grumble to himself, beginning to take back up the path Kurama had been leading them. "Those two idiots will catch up once they realize we're gone. I know the way from here. Follow or stay, I don't really care what you do," he spoke lowly and commanding, stalking past Kuronue.
      Kuronue watched after the small youkai, specifically watching the shuriken on his shoulders as they began to simultaneously glimmer. But he followed, although a bit hesitantly, looking over his shoulder to the shouts from beyond in the forest. "Will they be alright?"
      Hiei slowed his pace deliberately to let the other catch up, quickly glancing over his shoulder. "They do this all the time, unfortunately. It's damned annoying too. They can fight over the littlest things for hours sometimes."
      "For hours?" Kuronue raised a thin, black eyebrow and looked back into the forest behind him. "Hmph. Well, anyway, how long do you suppose it will take us to reach my house?"
      "Half an hour. Depending on how you can fair."
      Behind them through the forest, the sound of sighing branches and rustling leaves began to kick up, two separate shapes whisking from tree to tree in quick pursuit. Purely on long-dormant instincts, Kuronue turned and braced himself for an attack as Hiei calmly continued on, hands deep within the pockets of his trowsers. "It's just the youko's," he grumbled, a bit condescending. "They're catching up."
      Sure enough, one of the figures resolved into Kurama, red hair blazing like scarlet fire in the sunlight as he leapt from his tree... only to be tackled flat by Yo-mawari a second later. The two wrestled again on the forest floor, the black double catching his twin in a headlock, sitting him up on the wet ground. "Take it back, Kyoudai-kun! Take it back!"
      "Make me!"
      Hiei grumbled and pulled his body to a steady halt, not bothering to turn around to confront the quarreling twins. "Oi. If you two were any more immature..."
      "It's Kurama-kun's fault!"
      "Is not!"
      "Is too!"
      "Shut up! I swear if I get a headache..." Hiei warned, moving his hand out to grasp the hilt of his katana.
      "Gomen nasai!" the brothers chimed in unison, still laughing and pulling hair.
      "Hmm... maybe you should upgrade your travel time to an HOUR and a half," Kuronue commented, shaking his head slowly at the two humans, still sitting on the forest floor, still shoving and pulling hair. "Like a couple of kids."
      "You have no idea."

      "I can't do it."
      Kuronue broke from Kurama's side and lowered himself carefully onto the stump of a fallen tree, the looming stone structure of his enormous house about 10 meters off through the forest. "I just can't do this."
      Kurama's leafy green eyes floated down to meet his friend's gaze head-on, calm but commanding at the same time. "You CAN do this, and you will. You've come this far..."
      "Give me a minute to rest."
      "You said that ten minutes ago, Kuro."
      "So I need a few more," the other growled lowly, his deep, electric blue eyes glaring back at the human form before him. "Quit being such a... such a... just quit acting like my mother!"
      "Grief, Kuro. You've never backed down from anything in your life..."
      "I forgot how annoying you can be at times. Especially in this disgusting new body of yours. Of all the species, why the hell did you choose human form?"
      Kurama sighed and stood up slowly, as a flowing red figure, catching just about ever hint of sunlight and glory he could. Indeed, Kuronue did think Kurama's human form was gentle on the eyes, but humans had never struck him as superior beings. They were slow and weak, not capable of any type of the incredible feats that youkai were able to so easily accomplish.
      He thought the same of Yo-mawari, despite the fact that the menacing katana and tiny band of shuriken-youkai always were at his side. The few times Kuronue had come in contact with humans from the Ningenkai, he became utterly sure that they were a useless breed of animal, incapable of anything besides reproduction and death. Hard as it seemed, he still had great difficulty accepting the fact that his old partner and best friend was now half human... or worse.
      Kuronue watched the redhead pace back to stand beside his blackened twin and the small youkai that seemed to never leave his side. They seemed like a fitting bunch, something completely unreal about all of them that seemed to tie them all together.
      Diverting his thoughts, Kuronue turned to look over his shoulder at the looming stone house. It still looked as tall and commanding as he had last seen it, the stone facade still shimmering in the sunlight tucked away in a heavy ring of trees. The large windows in their stained wood trims and shutters, the large oak front door, still as handsome as ever after all these years... He frowned and turned on the log. The front door was hanging wide open.
      Nervously he scanned the woodlands with wide, blue eyes, catching on every moving leaf, every scurrying squirrel. There was a small figure moving about the flower beds that flanked the door, bend over the marigolds and daffodils that shone still as bright as the evening sun.
      He stood to his feet to get a better look, wide eyes searching. The figure at the flower beds sat in a dark tan dress, several long braids of black hair falling around thin shoulders. A pair of black wings sprouted from her back, gently stretching under the noon sun.
      Slowly and deftly, avoiding dry leaves and twigs, Kuronue began to navigate through the last stretch of woods as fast as he could, finding back his old strength and stalking skills. The last ten meters of forest was like a quick jaunt for him, quickly spitting him out onto the dirt and stone path that spiraled through the woods to the front door.
      He froze just on the edge of the front walk, standing on the intricate pattern of rocks and brickwork that marked the edge of the entry way, just merely staring and watching the small girl as she tended the flowers. He watched his daughter closely.
      She was so grown up from the last time he had seen her, far from the giggling little child he used to bounce on his knee and chase around the house. She was much older now, much more mature looking...
      She shifted a bit and paused in her gardening, one hand sliding from the pick she had been using to wipe carefully on her dress. "I'm afraid if you need a healer, you must go someplace else. I can't attend to you today for various reasons. But if you like, I could put you up for the night in the back cabin."
      Kuronue still stood completely frozen, his mouth flopping like a fish out of water as he struggled to find his words. His heart raced in his chest, beating furiously and tiredly on his rib cage, causing his entire chest to heave and sigh in rhythm with it. "Ha.. Hana-chan..."
      Again the girl shifted, cocking her head to the side. Kuronue shuffled to the side to avoid her gaze, inching along behind her even as she stood up. In rings, he shuffled as she slowly turned, always staying just at her back.
      Kuraihana frowned a bit in confusion, only catching stray strands of ragged black fabric on a tall figure. "Yo-mawari-kun. Is that you?" she chuckled, stopping her circle, crossing her arms over her chest. "A bit far from home again?" But oddly, the you-ki that hovered behind her was not what she thought she had felt around Yo-mawari. She recognized the feeling, but could not put a finger on it...
      A light touch came to her shoulder, almost startling her. She looked down to it, a very thin and bony pale hand...
      She broke quickly and spun around to face the visitor...

      Hiei shrugged slightly and wrinkled his nose, each of the two human figures flanking him. "He can make his own decisions, but I for one am not going to just stand around in the forest while Kuronue whines. I have better things to do."
      Kurama sighed lightly and laid a hand down on Hiei's shoulder, scooting over one of the shuriken that still perched obediently. "Put yourself in his shoes: If you were locked up for decades on end on the verge of death and suddenly were given a new chance at life, what would you do?"
      Again, Hiei shrugged, turning his attention from Kurama in a very plain 'leave me the hell alone' snort.
      It was then that the scream pierced through the forest, high and distinctly female, like Kurama had heard the young girls scream in the theaters while watching horror movies. He was to his senses in an instant. "Hana-chan!"
      As a collective, the three leapt off through the woods toward the large stone house in their respective bursts of wind. Hiei, being the swiftest of the three, was to the path, katana in hand well before he actually confronted the scream and the dark figure on the path.
      Kuraihana stood pale and tense, hands covering her mouth as she stared in disbelief at the tall, bony figure that stood before her. She neither moved or glanced to Hiei as the youkai slowly walked up to flank them both, darting confused red eyes back and forth between the two of them.
      Kurama and Yo-mawari came swiftly next, both sliding to a halt as one mind behind Kuraihana.
      As best as he could, Kuronue faked a smiled and chuckled, pushing stray, matted strands of his black hair out from before his face. "Do I look THAT bad?"
      Kuraihana just squeaked, a small feeble sound from her throat. "Masaka... ... 'tousan..."
      Kuronue slowly stepped forward and laid his thin hands on his daughters shoulders, bringing his face into view so that mostly his eyes were in view, blinding out the rest of his starved and mal-nourished body. "Hello again, chibi-Hana. My, how you've grown up, my dear."
      Silence filled the air for a handful of heartbeats, Kurama pulling Hiei back out of the way from the reunion before them. Kuraihana seemed completely in shock, still pale, just staring up into her fathers eyes. It was Kuronue who made the first move, bending down slightly to wrap his long arms around his daughter.
      Slowly, Kuraihana did the same, her body gently starting to shake as she began to sob into her father's shoulder, grasping at the tattered fabric laying over his back. It had been so long since she had seen the familiar blue eyes that belonged only to her father... a father she had been told was dead for the past few decades.

© December 1997 by Jiminy Cricket Presses

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