Picture On The Mantel

Fandom: YuYu Hakusho / Rurouni Kenshin

Relationship: none

Summary: Kurama and Hiei have a bet. If Kurama tells his mother the truth, than Hiei will share it with his sister. There’s just one little hiccup, they’re not the only two keeping secrets.

Warnings: None

Picture on the mantel

For disclaimer information for both writing and cover art see Disclaimer.

Part One

Kurama didn’t know anything more awkward than walking in on two people, who weren’t supposed to be together, having sex. Oh, Kurama felt no shame or embarrassment for the act. He was a four hundred year old fox demon, he’d been around the block a couple times before the block had even been built. It wasn’t the intimacy of the act, if anything would make him uncomfortable it would be encroaching on another’s time with their partner. No, what made the situation awkward was the fact that neither Kuwabara nor Yukina had permission to be … involved in such a way.

“I was unaware such actions were commons gestures of friendship for you Kuwabara?” Kurama smirked, leaning up against the doorway from the open main room into the smaller, cozier kirchen. “Perhaps I should inform Yuusuke that we don’t rate as … friends.”

Yukina squealed, flushing an odd purple as her normal pale winter complexion flushed with red. “Kurama-san, please! I am uncovered!” The old fox did not feel inclined to respect the couple’s privacy, given that they were sneaking around behind their friends, and mentor’s, backs. Besides, Kuwabara had barely ten minutes alone with her, and he wasn’t that talented; Kurama could barely see her bare legs.

It was the curses from Kuwabara that Kurama was much more interested in. “I am all that is … gracious for the view, Yukina-san, but I am afraid Kuwabara-san is much less so.” An inclined eyebrow and insinuating pause allowed his insult to hit just the right mark to separate the two.

Yukina huffed, Kurama didn’t know that he’d ever heard the delicate kurimi huff before. “If you must know Kurama-san, Kuwabara-kun has every allowance with me! We are free to do as we please!”

“Well then,” Kurama murmured as the kurimi hustled past him and back into the main house. “Don’t let me stop you.”

Kuwabara shoved Kurama at the wall, his height allowing him to loom over the fox demon threatening, not that Kurama felt honestly threatened. “What’s your problem! I just wanted some time alone with her!” Kurama was willing to accept the other red head’s frustration, but shoving and pushing him was out of the question. He allowed none of his friends to treat him that way. He shrugged, twisting Kuwabara’s arm up behind the boy’s back as he threw him face first into the paneled wall.

“What’s my problem?” Kurama ground the mortal’s face into the wall until his face mirrored the grain of the wood. “Perhaps ‘my problem’ is that I was thinking of you! Idiot!”

He squirmed, but couldn’t get out of the fox’s hold. “Thinkin’ o’ me?! Ten why’d ya in’erupt?!”

Kurama shoved again. “You weren’t thinking boy! If you wanted ‘some time alone’ with Yukina, what do you think Hiei’s going to want from you when he finds out?!” The younger spirit detective stilled and went silent. “Didn’t think of that did you?!” The whip wielder let go of his teammate. “I was thinking of you. Idiot.” Kuwabara straightened from his press against the wall, his face creased cleanly with the pattern of the hardwood wall. He ran hands over his uniform, nodded briskly to the demon, and quickly walked out of the small kitchen.

The red head could hear his team leader, infamous for getting into an untold number of fights, especially with Kuwabara, call the Sensitive out for his imitation of Genkai’s wall paneling. But Kurama’s attention was focused on the rapidly approaching fire demon about to go ballistic. He slid his arm out just in time to catch the smaller demon as he stopped within range. Hiei fought the restraint with the subconscious knowledge that a teammate had to be holding him; if only because if anyone else had tried they would have ended up on Genkai’s floor in ribbons.

“He touched her!” The demon snarled, the hackles rising on the back of the fox’s neck as power ballooned outward. “He’s dead! I’ll skewer him through his heart; roast him alive!” But no matter how the other male smoked and scorched, Kurama didn’t let go. Though his uniform might show some wear later, singed fabric lingered for hours.

“You have no authority over who she can or cannot take to her bed!” Kurama whispered into Hiei’s ear overly aware of the number of enhanced senses only a few feet away. “You have denied your relationship; you’ve forfeit your rights under demon or human rule!” His opponent, his friend, slowly stopped struggling to get out of his hands. “You brought this on yourself.”

“He’s no good for her!” Hiei hissed. “The male is an imbecile, only surviving at the cost of Yuusuke or yourself.” He wiggled again, digging elbows and shoulders into sensitive tissue and skin. “His life will pass in the blink of an eye and she will be left mourning for an eternity!”

Kurama hissed, slow and long in annoyance and frustration. “You are ignoring the facts! Unless you tell her, you have no right to interfere.”

“Tell her that her desperately searched for brother is an assassin with more blood on his hands than on all the fields of Makai? Tell her, her brother is so weak he ran from those who hurt him and could not gather the strength to tell her the truth?!”

“She loves her brother. Is fond and affectionate to you as you are, Yukina will understand.”

“Like your mortal mother will love and understand you?!” Hiei sneered, “I’ll tell Yukina, when you finally admit to you Hahau that she bore life to a murderer!”

Kurama let go immediately and in the still silence after Hiei’s rebuttal the fox rolled to his feet. He could feel the contrition in Hiei’s aura, the apology he offered in the demonic way, head bowed with eyes tilted away, even as the fox emanated elegance. “Perhaps you are right. Neither of us are very strong if we cannot offer the women in our lives the truth.” Kurama faced his friend, “I’ll make you a deal: I will tell my mother tonight of what I am, of who I am, and you may listen. If I can do so, then you will tell Yukina tomorrow: first the truth of your relationship to her, and second of your objections to Kuwabara, with sound reasoning.” He stared down into the fire demon’s crimson orbs, “Do you agree to this deal?”

“You tell your mortal mother in return for me telling Yukina?” Kurama nodded knowing the fire demon didn’t really think he would go through with his end. Not that Hiei thought he would intentionally break his words, just that Kurama would not force the issue should his mother not be home. “Yeah, we’ve got a deal.”

“What deal?” Yuusuke poked his head around the corner, there was a smirk on his lips but Kurama could see the concern in his eyes.

The fox demon couldn’t be sure if it was for himself, rumpled in a way that he never was; Kuwabara, who had narrowly escaped being vivisected; or for Hiei, who knew that his sister was in a relationship he had no say in.

“Hiei is sitting on some … sensitive information,” Kurama hedged delicately. Yukina was the only one in the open living room the group gathered in that did not know Hiei was her brother. It required some tact with all the eyes peering around the corner, waiting to find out what was going on. “We have long disagreed on how it should be handled.” The fox shrugged, “He has promised that if I tell my mother about who and what I really am, than he shall cease to sit on his information, waiting for it to hatch.”

There was silence for a moment before the wide eyed spirit detectives burst out laughing. Rolling on the floor, coughing, choking, and hiccuping at the image while Kurama deftly ducked the weapon of the fire demon.

“It is not a lie, Hiei-chan.” Kurama smirked. “You keep your speech tied tight to that secret and never let anyone close, rather like a mama bird and her nest of hatchlings don’t you think?”

Hiei swung, just missing red hair by centimeters, “Don’t ask for an opinion you won’t like Fox!”

“How will you tell your mother, Kurama-chan?” The ice demon asked, her eyes just a little lighter than the pools of blood her brother regularly spills, and his tea, when she handed it to him, just a little too cold.

“This is a serious decision Kurama.” Genkai knelt seiza across for her assistant, ignoring the fools who rolled on the ground. “Do not let another force you into giving away so close a secret.”

The red-head swirled his tea and bowed his head. “The truth is, Genkai-san, I doubt I will be able to keep the secret much longer anyways. Mother is fading; her cancer, though defeated, took more than she could spare. She ached and hurts all day, rising to start later and later, while falling asleep earlier and earlier. One day soon I will go to help her out of bed, and she will not get up.” He sighed, “No one deserves to die with a lie in their heart.”

“Are you so sure the truth will not hurt more than the lie?” Hiei questioned quietly from his post. “How do you know that it is not your desire she know, influencing your decisions?”

“I don’t,” the kitsune replied softly. “But I have to believe that between her and I, the truth will set us free.”

Part Two

He found her in the kitchen; seemingly, her favorite room in the house. All of Kurama’s memories of his mother featured this room. For a moment he leaned against the doorway and closed his eyes. Needing to remember, in this moment, the amazing woman who had raised him. Who gave an unworthy fox demon a second chance at life and taught him to love.

He hadn’t thought well of the emotion before he’d died. Before the unconditional attention of a little ningen woman to a weak, pathetic, fox spirit hidden away in the body of her son, love had been something worthy of disgust. The famous thief had rolled his eyes at the males who shook before him; guarding their mates and kits like they were somehow worth killing. The silver kitsune had sneered at the affection displayed between courting pairs, the loving touches and whispered pet names. No one who laid in his bed had ever dared tame the kitsune, they’d have quickly lost their heads.

Kurama had been confused by the reaction of the ningen woman trying to train him to call her mother. She had taken him everywhere with her, out of the house on errands, keeping him within her sight as she moved from room to room in the house, and at night she never failed to turn the little beacon on when she put him to bed. When he cried in the night, in the day, whenever he could no longer control his own weakened body, the woman was right there with soothing words, attending to his every need. She was so very different from the vixen who had birthed.

The vixen had had many kits to raise and rear, and as the runt of the litter it had been expected that he wouldn’t survive. So she spent very little attention on him and very little of the few resources they had. There had been no bedtime stories or lullabies in the Makai den Kurama had grown up in. Though it was a cold comfort after the fact, to know that none of the kit raised with him had had them either. With no love lost between the vixen and Kurama, or Kurama and any of the siblings he’d grown up with, it had been a disconcerting feeling to realize one day that he worried over the fate of the ningen woman.

Kurama wanted to know if she was cold or hungry. He wanted to know if she was hurt or sick. He wanted to heal her, make her better, relax into her warm warm hugs. He wanted to make her smile, to hear her laugh, to revel in knowing that she was safe. Kurama loved her, and he’d never been so surprised as the day he’d realized it. The day she was so very hurt.

There were scars on her arms that had required nearly four hundred stitches and a six hour trip to the local hospital. Scars that he had put there as a seven year old, more demon than human and not willing to rely on the weak ningen woman who called herself his mother. He’d known how to feed himself, had in fact been doing so for years, but something went wrong that day. The regular mixing bowl had been dirty. So Kurama had stood on the counter to reach the glass bowl on the top shelf; but the counter was wet. Straining to reach Kurama had gotten a fingertip in when he’d lost balance.

He remembered crying out in shock. His mother’s scream and then hitting her stomach hard. Kurama had landed on his mother, but his mother had landed on the glass shards of the mixing bowl. He had held her had as her blood spilled from her arms and back while they waited for the ambulance. He had held her as she told him there was nothing she would change, because she loved him. That keeping him safe was worth more than her life.

Kurama couldn’t disagree with her more, it was one of the only things he ever disagreed with her on anymore, not that she knew. He was a four hundred year old kitsune demon who had stolen, killed, and ravaged. He had killed for petty reasons. Killed because they were in his way; because they were annoying him. He killed because they were insignificant in his sight. He’d stolen because he’d wanted to, because the owner had said it couldn’t be stolen. He was loyal to no one, not even the members of his own troupe were safe from him. He had been, and still was, a revoltingly narcissistic fox demon with more blood on his hands than in the bodies of either of his avatars. Kurama would never equal his Mother, she was everything.

And all of the memories in this kitchen reminded him of that.

There was a stain on the wall by the fridge. The fox demon had been eleven, just a little before he’d met Hiei, trying to cook his Hahau breakfast. He had gotten up early to ensure she wouldn’t already be awake. The cooking portion had gone well, but as he had stepped down from the stool his hand had slipped from the plate. The meal that he had tried so hard to make perfect had landed all over the floor. She had rushed in, her hair a mess from sleep and still in her pajamas. She had never been more beautiful to Kurama than as she had standing there laughing and crying, overwhelmed by joy at his gesture and glad that he had not been hurt.

There was a chair set on the far side of the table from the door, positioned between the table and the baker’s rack facing out toward the stove. Every morning while his Mother had taken chemotherapy she had sat in that chair and watched the sun rise on a new day. Kurama had never intruded on her personal time, had known she must have used those precious beautiful moments to fortify herself before treatment, before the day began. She still did that sometimes, bracing herself for the trials of the day.

And today Kurama hoped she had, because he was about to tell the woman who hung the stars in the sky, who was all that was beautiful good in his world, the most stressful thing he possibly could. Kurama was going to tell his mother everything. From his history of theft and murder, to his current probation from the spirit world. He held no high hopes that he would still be welcomed by his Hahau afterward. He had not only stolen the body of his mother’s son, but he had murdered that male child before he had even left his mother’s womb. He had made a deal, though, and it wasn’t only his future on the table. Yukina deserved to know the identity of her brother from his own mouth, and Hiei deserved the chance to threaten Kuwabara about the couple’s courtship in public. The red head couldn’t help but think of the number of bruises the Sensitive would gain if the fire demon couldn’t protest in public.

Hiei had lived and killed in the name of his sister for decades before he had ever joined the Spirit Detectives. He had followed her progress, had watched out for her, had arranged protection for her, and ensured her continued happiness. Since the day he had found his twin after years of separation Hiei had been satisfied with the distance he kept between the two. Now the situation was coming to a head, his patience with Kuwabara was running out, but by Hiei’s own decision he had given up any power over the relationship. If something did not change many feelings were going to get hurt and some relationships may not survive it. The status quo needed to change, and Kurama was more than willing to do it; but that meant changing things in his own life, and regardless of how necessary, it was still very frightening.

So here he stood at the entrance to his Mother’s domain, in the heart of the house to bare his heart.

“Hahau, could I speak with you?”

There she stood at the sink, carefully washing dishes and peering out the window to watch the neighboring children play in their yards. Kurama could not imagine a woman more beautiful than his mother. For all that when he told her that she laughed, scolding him for depriving her future of grandchildren. And he mourned, mourned the loss of the joyous smile that even now she turned to him, lighting up the room. There was no question in the fox demon’s mind that even if she could somehow handle the idea of loving a murderous demon, Kurama would not see her smiles for a very long time. Mourned the comfort of her acceptance and the dreams she had once held for the next generation.
If his smile was a little weak and a little wet when she turned toward him now, he couldn’t help it.

“Of course Shuuichi,” She said gesturing to the table against one wall, the table they’d sat at for almost all major discussions previous to this. It was where she’d told him she was sick, where he’d endured an embarrassingly thorough discussion about sex and children and intimacy. It was also where his mother had seated him down to assure him she didn’t mind if he was dating another boy, which hadn’t been true at the time. Kurama sat at his mother’s kitchen table and prepared for his world to come crashing down. Hahau just sat at the table waiting for him to begin their next life altering conversation.

At the edges of his ki-sense Kurama could feel the determination and resolution of his friends. They waited just within range of demonic hearing, hopeful of the outcome of his confession, cautious to burden his shoulders with their fears, and close enough to his physical location to remind the kitsune that he might not appreciate being forced into this situation, but neither is Hiei.

A deep breath in, how do you inform someone that the trust they place in their child is unfounded? How can he recant a lifetime of lies that exist as foundation of his relationship with his mother? Unfortunately, Kurama couldn’t come up with a better solution than to just tell her, but he couldn’t find the words. The demon’s eyes darted around the heart of his mother’s house, trying to find some sort of inspiration. There at the corner where the wall to the living room meets the kitchen counter, was a small nook that housed a beautiful miniature rose bush. Kurama had gifted it to his mother many years ago as a symbol of his love and devotion to the woman who’d taught him the virtues more precious than gold.

“You love roses, don’t you Hahau?” Kurama began, as he reached for the seed that had grown roots in his hair.

“I still have the bush you gave me so many years ago.” The woman said with a soft smile, love warming her eyes and curling her lips, “I have never been so invested in a plant as that rose bush. And look,” she said turning in her seat to that corner where the kitchen counter met the living room wall, “it’s still alive!”

A small application of youkai loosened the roots around his hair and allowed the seed to drop into his hand. And pining his mother’s gaze, Kurama slowly grew life in the palm of his hand. The spirit detective could feel, in the fluctuations of his youkai and the weight in his palm, as the plant sent out shoots and roots, extended leaves, then unfurled a bud of petals a deeper red than blood. He watched as her eye grew wide, her pupils dilating, her hands clenched to the table top, and as her skin slowly grew pale and clammy.

To his mother, the rose would have seemed to appear in a bare moment, between one breath and the next a bare seed in her son’s warm hand turned into a single rose stem in full bloom. Its stem was a lush vibrant green, its petals a deep crimson red, soft as silk, hard as steel, and thirsting for blood, a Makai plant its strength by showing its beauty, unexpected as the source of its opponents’ deaths. Too much like Kurama himself, for the fox demon not to appreciate it.

The demon watched with wide eyes, catching every move the woman across from him made. For now, there didn’t appear to be a reason to hope.

Part Three

Shiori stared wide eyed at her son. The boy she had raised from infancy, who had read before being taught his letters. The boy who would have rather played in the garden, than with other children. The boy -young man- who now held in his hand a single blooming flower, a single rose in bloom that had grown from a seed in the hand she’d held a dozen times, and it had happened within the moment.

When Shuuichi had asked her to sit down she didn’t think it would be because her knees would go weak.

“Is this a trick? An illusion?” She grasped at straws. To believe her son could do something so amazing, was to ask her mind to remember stories of myths and legends her mother had once told her at bedtime of the children of demons. If there was another reason, a logical reason, for such a sight she hoped he could give it, the alternatives were thoughts she’d buried deep decades ago; she’d buried them with her husband.

“No.” Her son -her beautiful loving child- said, gently removing the flower from his hand to hers. “It’s not a trick. One moment ago this rose was a seed, now it’s in bloom.” He flicked long red hair, a color not far from that of the rose, over a shoulder. “No dirt, no water, no trick. ”

Shiori loved her son but this was stretching her ability to understand. Regardless of family horror stories. “Then how?”

Shuuichi removed his hand from hers, leaving the flower as evidence. “Chi manipulation. The energy that gives life can be manipulated by a certain few; growing a single rose without roots, lighting a fire without a match, or the manipulation of that sheer energy into a shape or weapon of its own.”

Shiori cradled her hand, gently cupping the life her son had created for her out of thin air. “Is this something you’ve learnt? Is there someone you went to for lessons while I wasn’t looking?”

Perhaps it was a rare skill and she had simply never heard of it before. Had she been too preoccupied with herself that she had forgotten to take care of her own son? For so long her Shuuichi had been able to take care of himself that she had almost forgotten at times that he might still need her.

“No,” Red curls passed back and forth. “I’ve always been able to do this. It’s a part of who I am, part of what I need to tell you.”

Her eyes widened, the whites showing much more than the color. Frightened at the severity of her son’s expression, what more could he possibly need to say. “This wasn’t it?”

Shuuichi breathed deep, “no. I needed to tell you that I wasn’t who you thought I was. I was no longer willing to take advantage of your honest generosity and loving compassion without letting you know who you had welcomed into your heart.”

Shiori paled. She carefully placed the new rose stem on a napkin by her cup and reached out her hands to lay them back over her son’s. “You are my son, Shuuichi, there’s nothing on Earth that could change my love for you.”

Shuuichi nodded very slowly and shrugged lightly, “This might; afterall, it’s not from Earth.”

“I’m a murderer.” Shuuichi said, a line of tension in his shoulders and down his back, clenched for the rejection that her son expected but was trying to hide. “My soul was originally born in another realm as a silver Kitsune named Youko Kurama. A male of furious power and awful character, who stole, killed, and destroyed.” He paused.

Shiori watched as his head tilted slightly, as though the boy sitting across from her were listening to some distant noise. Was there a way to use this power, this Chi channeling, to communicate over long distances? Was some friend or alley waiting in the background, encouraging her son that no matter what happened, they would be there to help him pick up the pieces? She could only hope so.

“That’s what he – what I did. For centuries I stole, cheated, killed my way to being the most ruthless and well known thief of the demonic realms. Then after four hundred years I ran afoul of a vicious trap.”

“What happened?” Shiori had bled for this boy. She had wept and strained and worried for years over his health and his future, twenty years later and she still couldn’t bare to see his pain. She was his mother, the woman who raised him.

“There was a male, a bull demon, who swore that his castle could not be broken into. That ‘not even the great Youko Kurama can get in here!”. Shiori saw him tighten his hands around the coffee mug, slightly trembling his hair lightened at the roots until threads of straight silver streaked through it and his eyes were darker than a night with no stars. “Like a fool I took the bait and fell into his trap. Bringing down my one and only companion with me.”

“He died didn’t he?” She shook her head, eyes watering in dismay and her hands twitched where they were folded on the table top, but she knew he was in no mood to accept her comfort. Not yet.

The young man, her maybe-demonic son, sitting on the other side of the table sighed and hung his head, “We both did. It’s just that I used the last reserve of my power to transform my body and soul and push through the barrier between realms. I had limited time to save my life, so I possessed the body of an unborn child.” His green-black eyes never left hers as he dropped his last bombshell, plowing through. “It was your unborn child that I possessed, that I twisted to suite my needs.”

Shiori swallowed and stilled, she needed to think, needed to make sure she didn’t do or say anything that chased her son off into the sunset never to be seen again, because, honestly, she wasn’t that fast anymore. “Do your friends know?”

Shuuichi, though maybe she’d have to think about calling him Kurama, maybe not, nodded his head slowly. “I participate in something a little like demonic community service, only a lot more dangerous, and my friends- Yuusuke, Hiei, and Kwubara- they help too. With them, I use my experience in battle and thievery to help the Spirit Detectives of the Reikai, the Spirit Realm, protect humans from supernatural threats escaping from the Makai. Once upon a time,” he said with a self-deprecating smile, “I’d have been fighting myself.”

Shiori tried not to speak as her son’s magnificent and unreal story poured out of him at her kitchen table. It was mother’s intuition, long knowledge in her son and his behavior, that told her that even though the story was done, Shuuichi had more he needed to tell her. So she sat back in her seat and stirred her tea, waiting for the story to continue.

Red bangs fell into an emerald gaze as he braced his head against his hands, leaning into the sturdy table. Exposed in a way that Shiori hadn’t seen from him in years, and it took everything in her not to offer her son comfort. As with the death of his companion, told to her just moments before as though the death was still fresh, Shuuichi was not ready for her comfort. “I-I am so sorry mother.” His voice like velvet was cracked and husky.

Shiori reached across the beaten kitchen table to lay her hand gently in the crook of his elbow, where he leaned all his weight on it. “What do you need from me? What are you so sorry for?”

Water gathered in his eyes, his sorrow a tangible force pinning her to her seat. “I’m so-sorry that I can’t be the son you should have had.” Tears streamed down his face leaving trails of sorrow that would have worn away trails in granite, “Sorry, that you sacrificed so much in pain and tears to bring me into this world innocent, and I already had blood on my hands.”

Shiori frowned, her brow furrowing in concentration, there was something she was missing. “Shuuichi, what-?”

The red head slammed back from the kitchen table exploding, “I’m not him! I’m not your Shuuichi, I haven’t ever been. My soul took over his before he could even sense the woman who gave him life!” He tore at his shirt, dragging rapidly sharpening nails against his breast attempting to get to the pain radiating from his chest. “I killed him before I was even out of your womb! You gave me a second chance at life, a chance to learn from mistakes, you taught me to love and I can’t give you back what you wanted most, the son you almost had! I took him from you!”

“Oh, baby.” Shiori sobbed, forcing the pacing distraught form of her child into her arms kneeling on the linoleum floor. “You think you let some bureaucrat in the Spirit World push you around because in your last life you were a criminal? The demon who would rather have eaten his crew alive than admitted, or even retained, any warm feeling towards those he worked with?” Shiori choked on a laugh carefully cleaning her beautiful son’s face with her sleeve, the warmth of caring for her son once more encompassing her heart, “If this is the same thief who occasionally tortured his enemies to death, you think he just gave himself up without a word?”

Shiori tilted her son’s head up. His eyes still watered, but it only magnified the gem like qualities of the emeralds he had for eyes, even as he choked and sniffled, confusion peered through. “Oh, how much like your father you are.”

“Hahau-“

“No.” She said. Quietly and implacably placing a single finger over her’s son’s lips to seal them. “It is my turn to tell a story now.”

There was a picture on the mantel of the Minamino household’s barely used fireplace, a solid reminder of history in the sometimes too modern world. Grainy and faded the picture dated itself with everything from the type of film that had been used to the style of dress the people in the picture wore. It had resided on their mantle so long that Shiori was sure her son had forgotten it existed, just the way she preferred to forget it was there. It was a picture that had been passed from parent to child more times than imagined in the family and as Shiori got up to get it after having heard the confessions of her son, she was sure it would be passed at least one last time. Shuuichi needed to learn its story and she had once promised, when he was younger and more curious, to tell it to him. Now, after years of silence and worry, Shiori finally took image down from its hiding place in plain sight on the mantel.

“As much as I loved your father, I didn’t really know who I was marrying.” Shiori said as she paced back to the table, picture frame in hand. “He was almost twenty years older than me and had already been married once before, and had children just a few years younger than me.” She smiled at her son’s incredulant face. “No, you wouldn’t remember any of your brothers.”

The woman took a moment, she was pulling the scabs off wounds that had never healed well. “Your face is almost entirely from your father; nose, chin, and cheeks.” She lightly traced over the features with cold fingertips. “Your hair and eyes come from his family too, though your eyes are green, where theirs are violet, and your hair is the red of fresh blooming roses. Where theirs is the red of … split blood.”

While some part of Shiori knew the her nearly grown son sat in the chair across from her, she was far far away from their home’s affectionate four walls. “No, I didn’t know the man I was marrying when your father slipped his ring on my finger; but I loved him.” A tired laugh left her lips as the remembered passion and dizzying happiness swept her up in her wedding vows for the first time in years. “I learned quickly though. When I entered your father’s house and was introduced to young men near my age, it was shocking. But they paid me every respect and honor, as their father’s wife and the mistress of their father’s house. In fact,” there was quiet strength in her words. “Every member of the clan treated me with respect and welcome, I just didn’t know who was welcoming me.”

“Who were they, Hahau? Who was father that you were so startled?” Shuuichi questioned as though from a great distance, his voice quaking and cracking light of the information, but still softly probing. The brilliant young man sat in the kitchen across from her, in the very same seats where she’d told her son that the battle she fought with cancer wasn’t going well. Now, she stood ready to confess to her own sins. Sixteen, nearly seventeen, years Shiori had held onto the secrets surrounding her marriage with her husband. Now, Shiori was finally letting go of the lies she had told herself for the life of her son.

“Your father was a doctor, a masterful surgeon who gave back to humanity by assisting in programs like Doctors Without Borders and the Red Cross. He was kind and generous, a talented conversant, and skilled academic. He had an never-ending curiosity about people and the world, and how they both worked. But his family…” Shiori sighed, seeking some different way to say it, before deciding blunt might be best. She looked straight into her son’s eyes and told him.; she wanted to know what this knowledge would do to him. “My husband’s family were -are- murderers.”

Shuuichi stilled for an instant. Not a muscle moved as bright green eyes turned dark with thought. “Hahau, why would you call them that? After acquitting my own actions as a thief and murderer, why would you say such about fa-Father’s family.”

“Government contractors,” She laughed, leaving a bitter taste in her mouth, “preserving order and justice, my husband said when I finally confronted him about it. He said that for at least a hundred years his family, and several of the families they were allied with, had ensured that laws of equality maintained a certain status quo.

“There is no hunting like the hunting of men. And those who have hunted armed men long enough, and like it … never quite get the taste for anything else.” Shiori placed the picture frame in front of her son as she braced her hands against the edge of the table. “That, on the other hand is what his oldest son, a young man incredibly close in age to me, said when I asked him. ”

“They wanted primary custody of you, the last piece I held of my husband, when your father died overseas. I wouldn’t give you to them.” She shook her head, lost in memory. “They said things like ‘you’d be better off with kin’, as though I wasn’t your mother!” She slammed her palm onto the table and panted, “they threw around vague descriptions that you would be ‘different’, that I would need help teaching you. But they couldn’t give concrete description, just that you would be ‘different’ and I, I thought that simply because I was your mother, that they were wrong.”

Part Four

Haunted eyes peered through her bangs and Kurama’s heart ached for his mother.

Here was a young woman thrust into a lifestyle she wasn’t prepared for and uninformed about the dangers possible. Kurama, as a demon, understood that sometimes other members on a clan or pack or den, other kin, could be better equipped to teach and love a child, a kit or a cub, more than their parents. Sometimes grief and fear gets in the way of parents ability to make objective decisions for their child’s own good. And perhaps, had he not been the soul of a kitsune of age and power, what was to say the child wouldn’t have turned out much different.

Kurama couldn’t imagine that any woman capable of taming and domesticating the great Youko Kurama would have any trouble with a fully human child, but … What was to say, that even without the kitsune influence on his soul and body, that Shuuichi Minamino would have been human. There was a history of ninjitsu clans taking in unwanted hanyou offspring, coveted for their speed and strength, their endurance and longevity bred into the clan through multiple wives or contract births. What was to say it wasn’t the same with ‘Government Contractors’.

“They were right, though. You were quiet and observant, independent, and smart … so very smart even as a child. Precocious, you wanted to know all about the world you saw around you, touching and smelling, and tasting and hearing what everything made.” Shiori chuckled, bitterly and fatalistically, at some memory playing before her eyes “I rushed you to the hospital once, you’d licked the oil pan our neighbor was using. Your face was covered in motor oil and I was frantic, thinking you were going to die.” Shiori leaned back in her chair, hugging herself. “Each day you were different, a little too smart, a little too cold, a little too quiet, I thought, maybe I should call.Maybe I can’t do it. Maybe I’m not ready. But each thought was followed by, ‘tomorrow, I’ll call tomorrow.’ But tomorrow never came, because you learned. Gradually you showed more affection, you were polite and courteous and affectionate in a way that I had never seen before, and I thought ‘good, I did it.’”

Kurama heaved a sigh and relaxed into the kitchen chair as his mother slid the picture frame across the table. “But you are soo much more your father’s son than I could have ever imagined.”

The picture was faded more white than black, clearly well before the days of digital photography, and crinkled around the edges. The group was centered in the camera, a huge gathering of children and parents and grandparents, even in the stiff stillness of old photography there was an energy about them; a strength that conveyed caution through a photograph some eighty years old, Kurama was sure that these were people who had lived and loved hard.

“Center is your grandparents, Kenshin and Koaru Himura; next to them are family friends, Misao and Aoshi Shinomari, and on the right is clan allies Tikio and Hajime Saitou. They were the pillars of wisdom and integrity in Tokyo for over fifty years before returning to Kyoto to rest and be buried.” Shiori sighed and shrugged. “Family tradition calls Kenshin Himura the blade that shaped the revolution, the Hitokiri Battousai. Impossible to prove of course, claiming the boogeyman under the bed as a family founder.”

Kurama trembled as he sat back. He had no words to say, no idea of what could be said after something like that. He didn’t know what he was supposed to say after that. Shiori doubted the story, it was in her eyes and her shoulders. Kurama, though, he knew that sometimes the craziest stories, like those rumors about a human boy with the power of Yoko Kurama, were true. He had never spent much time wondering over his father, he hadn’t had parents in the Makai and it was only his human mother’s selfless love that kept him anchored to her in this life. But the idea that his father, and his father’s family, were so far from normal that Yuusuke would look average, well, it was a daunting prospect.

This man, who he was related to through his Father’s family, had carved peace from the chaos of war with the edge of his sword. Kenshin Himura had been an assassin who killed for a cause, not a paycheck, but for his belief that his work made the world into something better. This man he was related to, was the legendary sword that spun faster than Hiei’s, who bathed the streets in more blood than Kurama could even think of spilling. With each swipe of Hitokiri Battousai’s blade tens of men were stopped in their tracks. Here in this picture, probably the only photo ever taken of him, the Hitokiri Battousai had put enough distance and time between himself and his past to be able to smile and laugh with his family.

“Do you see Shuuichi?” Shiori leaned further forward in her seat. “You say you liked your life of bloodshed, theft, and horror. You say you preform bloody acts under the authorization of a god. You look at me with shame and guilt in your eyes, not because you think what you do is wrong, but because you don’t feel shame or guilt, and you expect me to need you to.” Shiori wrapped her arms around her son. “I was a single mother who knew the likelihood that her son would spill blood was high, and I loved and raised him regardless.” She laughed, “I can’t say I expected a fox for a son, but one covered in blood? Yes, I did expect that.”

Kurama searched desperately through his mother’s eyes. Seeking the truth her heart could tell him. Her hands trembled and she leaned heavily against the kitchen table, but her eyes, previously so clouded with the memories her mind had traveled to and where he couldn’t follow, were clear. “Nothing has changed Shuuichi. Except now I know where you’re going when you leave the house and now you know why I never asked about the bloodstained uniforms.” She said with a laugh. “I just remain happy that I’m not waking up in the wee hours to a phone call from the police.”

The red head swallowed tightly, fingering the frame set on the table. “Can you tell me of them? My father? My brothers? My family?”

Shiori shrugged, “I can tell you what I know.”

“It started,” she said over the re-warmed tea, “with a fearless young woman, determined to save her father’s dojo from the curse of the Hitokiri Battousai, and the rurouni who insured she did.” Shiori began at the very beginning, as she knew it, and didn’t stop talking until the sun went down. She gave her son more questions than answers, but the one question she did answer, the one he had set out to learn that day: could she love a demonic son? Was answered with a heart more loving than Kurama could have ever imagined.

Kurama startled that evening as the story ended with the older man and his younger wife dead and buried beneath the cherry blossom tree on ancestral family property. Peaceful and content to promise eternity to the protection of their children. It was beautiful and Kurama could well understand the double edged sword the family labored under, to honor the elder’s teachings while courting a blood lust that made most men crazy. But he needed to go, he had friends waiting on the verdict.

“Thank you, Hahau, for telling me the truth; but I have some friends I’ve left worrying way too long.”

Shiori gently smiled as the energy and emotion of the day seeped out of her in a trickle that she couldn’t seem to stem. “I understand, go reassure your friends. And don’t forget to tell them they’re still welcome!”

The kitsune avatar laughed as he began the long walk back to the temple where he was sure to find his teammates. Joy infused his body and it was as though he were lighter than air and should be able to float back to Genkai’s gathering place. So many would be ready to ridicule the kitsune at barest hint of emotion but none had ever seen or felt the total acceptance of a mother.

To Kurama the love of his mother was like the star he orbited around and he couldn’t wait to share her light with his friends.

Yuusuke, bounced down the last section of stairs from the temple and gathered the fox demon into a hug so strong the red head was sure a few of his bones had cracked.

“I take it you heard.”

“Yeah man, we waited until we knew she wasn’t going to kick you out, then we left.” Yuusuke ran his hands through the gelled hair with a sheepish grin at the cough and stomp of the temple’s keeper waiting several stairs away. “Alright, so Genkai dragged us away before your mom got to the good parts.”

“I know,” the normally reserved red head laughed, “I felt her tug you away. But I was happy you were there for the beginning.”

The partial demon shrugged, “We’re a team, you’d do it for me- have done it for me.” A warm hand squeezed the other boy’s shoulder, “We’re real happy you worked it out with your Mom.”

“Thanks, Yuusuke.”

“Listen,” the taciturn teen turned as they walked up the stairs, “I don’t know what your mom said about your family, or how much you know about them, or the questions you have.” He paused and tucked his hands into his pockets with a huff. “I just wanted to say that I know something about finding out that your world doesn’t look the way you thought it did. I don’t know how much help I can be, but I listen pretty well and I throw an even better punch.”

“Yeah,” the other teen said, “you do throw an awesome punch.” Kurama scuffed his shoe against the old stones that made up Genkai’s entrance. “Honestly, I don’t know what’s going to happen but I think I’d like to meet some of my dad’s friends and family. It might be fun to bring you along.”

Yuusuke barked out a laugh, “You know me Kurama, I’m not exactly house broken.” And Kurama had to agree to that.

The two spirit detectives walked into the entrance for Genkai’s temple and into the middle of a standstill. Yukina, the ice maiden who regularly helped Genkai and cuddled with Kuwabara stood beside her mistress. Hiei stepped out of the surrounding forest as they entered, walked right up to the pale and frosty female and said:

“Yukina, I’m your brother.”

Kurama blinked. It was true he had told his mother the truth because of a bet where reciprocation would mean that Hiei was required to tell Yukina the truth, but at no time had Kurama thought that Hiei would follow through. Except for the ridiculousness of the idea, Kurama would have said Hiei was allergic to telling Yukina the truth. If the female in question was anyone other than Yukina, Kurama would have expected the sharp crack from a slap or a punch. Maybe the fire demon would have dodged or maybe he’d have considered it recompense for the guilt of living around his sister but withholding the truth.

Instead, the only thing Yukina ambushed her brother with was a hug.

“I know, Hiei. I always knew.”

The stunned fire demon carefully closed his arms around the last living member of his family as Kuwabara carefully moved out of sight. Probably hoping that by the time either sibling remembered he existed, they’d be capable of reasoning with an enraged furnace.

“So that’s what the ‘disagreement’ was about.” Yuusuke grinned, “You bet with Hiei over telling the truth.”

The fox demon spared his leader a sly glance, “I believe his exact words were ‘I’ll tell Yukina, when you finally admit to your Hahau that she bore life to a murderer’.”

A sharp whistle passed through Yuusuke’s lips, “Harsh. Really really harsh.”

“Maybe.” Kurama demurred, “Or maybe just strong enough to make me move. We were both at a stalemate. We wanted things from our family members that we couldn’t get because we were withholding the truth. But we were lying in an attempt to preserve our families.”

“Luckily,” Genkai said without grousing, “it looks like everything worked out.”

“Yeah,” Kurama murmured, “it looks like it did.”

 The end.

One thought on “Picture On The Mantel

  1. Pingback: Picture on the Mantel | "Something Witty"

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