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Yusuke Urameshi was a simple man, with simple joys and simple dreams. Some said — if they were being polite — that he was abrasive and somewhat emotional; too emotional, even. Others said that he was straight to the point, always getting into the heart of the matter. There are even others who say that he was a dumbass motherfucker… usually very discreetly, in low tones, and never in his presence.

I couldn't protect her… with all my supposed strength and power, I couldn't protect her….

But critics and admirers alike could never imagine him as he was now: far from the oversimplified brute or, perhaps, the no-nonsense badass that they thought he was.

It was so, because right now Yusuke Urameshi was crying.

After all, simple dreams were far more fragile than any ambiguous fantasy. They were much easier to grasp and realize, much easier to take for granted… so much easier to shatter.

Why couldn't I protect her?! What use is all this great power if I couldn't even save her? DAMMIT, WHY? WHY!?

Yusuke was, to put things bluntly, a broken man. He sat there in the corner, just as his mother had during his 'funeral', trembling in quiet rage, wearing a black leather jacket in typical Urameshi fashion — the most people would expect him to wear in a formal occasion. He sat there, never moving, never allowing himself to gaze beyond his feet… because beyond that was an awful truth which stabbed deeper than lies ever could.

Yusuke was a young man who hated doing things haphazardly. He hated hypocrites who were only halfway honest, through half-gleeful, half-annoyed sarcasm. When one had an endeavor to accomplish, he must put all his heart into it, with no hesitation whatsoever. That was one of the most basic Urameshi principles.

Yusuke hated himself all the more by violating these very sacred edicts. Shaking in quiet rage, all he really wanted to do was to break down and cry, instead of putting up a tough exterior, dressing up in an archetypal leather jacket and wearing an equally artificial mask of deceptive Urameshi assuredness.

He was sinking in a quicksand of lies, purposelessness and denial. Even his thoughts had become uncharacteristically proverbial… as if it could cover up the irrefutable facts before him.

Fuck it.

Proverbial bullshit aside, here was the reality of the situation; Keiko was dead, and all was hell for Yusuke Urameshi.

He wanted to trash around and give in to the despair and frustration that was driving him to near lunacy. He wanted to smash that smiling picture of Keiko Yukimura on the incense-adorned altar… but he'd be bullshitting himself once again.

He wanted to… but he couldn't.

In his half-state of inner turmoil and confusion, he was paralyzed. So, in quintessence, it was just as well. It was still the Urameshi way… all or nothing.

Then so be it. Nothing, then.

He was just tired. Too tired to be anything more than depressed.

Enough was enough.

In the warm fire of the setting sun, she stood there, beautiful as ever. The warm orange glow of the sun rested comfortably on her smooth, creamy skin, complementing the passionate colors.

She was adorned only with a garland of tulips covering her mostly-exposed bare chest and a small sarong concealing the remainder of her modesty. She was glad for the mid-afternoon atmosphere, as the bright orange colors of the surrounding areas did well to hide her own heated blush.

Keiko Yukimura shifted her foot in embarrassment as her unacknowledged significant other looked at her intently with an ardent gaze that could bore holes through her person until all that was left was her shivering, naked soul. It was the unflinching, demanding, and compelling stare of Yusuke Urameshi.

Keiko's eyes began to travel all over Yusuke's body, looking timidly at his similarly sparse wardrobe. Her eyes alighted upon the young, lean yet firm muscles of his body… his biceps… his broad chest… even the slight scars that decorated his torso suddenly became appealing to her as they made him look more rugged instead of unkempt and torn. She blushed slightly as her eyes traveled further down Yusuke's abdomen.

She was in a weird mood; but this was an altogether weird setting, so she gave it no mind. She sighed breathlessly as Yusuke began to advance… manly, determined Yusuke… her Yusuke. So strong… so masculine… so irresistible.

Wordlessly, he grabbed her by her waist, gently caressing the small of her back as they kissed….

Smooth lips met with her soft ones as Keiko gently puckered hers almost playfully, teasingly. Soon, the kiss deepened… so deep that it was as if they were suffocating and the only way for them to breathe again was through each other's mouths. Soon the rest of the world melted into inconsequence.

Strange, Keiko thought, bemused. Even though this kiss was exactly what I imagined and more, there's something off… something… different, she idly wondered, noting that there were issues which the voice in her head couldn't even begin to describe… subtle differences that nagged her subconscious to no end.

The smoothness of the kiss, though passionate in every respect, wasn't at all what Keiko expected it to be… not that she was disappointed or anything, but there was this slight irksome delineation that she couldn't quite put her finger on… she contemplated silently to herself as she gently slid her hands over Yusuke's smooth back.

Wait… Yusuke's 'smooth' back? She checked as she stroked his broad shoulders… sure enough, there wasn't a trace of any nicked or scarred skin on his back. She felt his muscles… they had become smoother, almost marble-like… if marble felt this warm and soft. Almost imperceptibly, Yusuke's build had become more slender, more smooth and curvaceous.  It was as if….

Keiko opened her eyes… soft, red bangs greeting her. She grabbed his hair… it was longish and almost furry-soft, like that of a… a fox.

Kurama-san? Keiko exclaimed in her thoughts, her eyes wide in shock as the youko dipped her in a warm embrace, his lips never leaving hers.

A Yu Yu Hakusho story
by Chester Castañeda

Disclaimer: All characters used in this fanfic (save some others) are the rightful property of Yoshishiro Togashi, Shueisha, Fuji TV and St. Pierrot. Don't sue me, please. I'm very poor.

Chapter 6… Ah, yes, the Four Seasons arc. As always, beloved readers, all C&C goes to this address: gab_ab@edsamail.com.ph

Chapter 6: Springtime

Kurama's eyes widened. Fright, alarm, and a whole other menagerie of feelings and emotions engulfed him as he woke up from his weird… nightmare, for lack of a better, descriptive term.

Kurama stood up from his seat, hands on his desk. He, to put it frankly, was startled beyond mere agitation. His face was as white as a sheet as he struggled to catch up with his breath. What was that all about?

Various murmurs suddenly surrounded the youko incased in a human shell, as he regained his bearings. It couldn't be possible that I…?

"Well, now… It seems that our absentee superstar is in the limelight once again," one very annoyed teacher sarcastically said.

Kurama rubbed the back of his head in embarrassment. Oh no. I was finally able to carry out a long-time Meiou High School tradition… sleeping in Isako-sensei's history class. He threw in a token nervous smile which made a few girls sigh dreamily, but it did not even faze the irritated history teacher.

The buzz around the classroom suddenly grew as Mr. Isako began to harangue Kurama, who for now was known by the infamous name of Shuichi Minamino.

"So how does it feel to again be the center of attention, Minamino-kun?" Mr. Isako snidely remarked as looked up on the tall "teenager". Frowning, he added, "Sit down, Minamino-kun." After all, one could not intimidate a person that was a foot taller than oneself.

Kurama did not take note of the obviously derisive "kun" honorific — or Mr. Isako's unnecessary harshness — as he sat down, but his gaggle of admirers (namely, all the females in the class) did. Thusly, they collectively directed a hateful glare at the bug-eyed teacher. The strict disciplinarian flinched a bit in spite of himself.

Mr. Isako coughed once before continuing. "I don't particularly care for the administration's biased treatment of you and your case. I don't give a damn if you have the I.Q. of Hawkins or Einstein… in my class, there are no celebrities! It's either you shape up or ship out!"

The glares soon turned to backtalk, as the entirety of the class's female population began committing concealed slander and fantasized homicide on the detestable professor.

"Another mistake like this and I'll send you outside to hold buckets of water for the entirety of the period! Do I make myself clear, Minamino-kun?"

Kurama bowed his head courteously. "It won't happen again, Isako-sensei." A collective sigh of female disheartenment was heard from the classroom as Mr. Isako admonished them to settle down.

The half-youko furrowed his eyebrows in concern. That strange dream… Where did that come from? What did it mean? Is it a symbolic dream or…. His thoughts trailed off as he willed himself not to fall deep into his deliberations again.

No, that's silly. It's just a juvenile dream with no conscious meaning or significant implications. Just the silly thoughts of an idle mind, that's all, Kurama rationalized as he tried to focus on the situation at hand; lessons in Japanese history and the study of the Bakumatsu no Douran. Certainly the discussion concerning a bloody and violent bygone era of ideals, warfare and fleeting mortality would appeal more to his feral youko self than an asinine flight of fancy.

"I wonder what was that all about?" a female classmate of Shuichi whispered to her nearest seatmate as she casually tossed back her long, straight auburn hair. Her large, dangling round earrings shook as she inched her desk nearer to her friend. "Bug-eyed Isako's temper tantrums are acting up, as usual… but what's with Minamino-sama? It's not like him to sleep in the middle of class, no matter how boring the teacher is." She rolled her eyes to illustrate her point.

The other girl, a mousy, timid lass with spectacles so wide they could be mistaken for goggles, shyly replied, "I'm worried about Minamino-san, Chiho-san. He's not acting like himself. Ever since he took that month-long leave of absence… I hope it's nothing serious."

"You're the worry-wart as usual, Midori-chan," the girl identified as Chiho lightly scoffed, a perennially impish smile plastered on her face. She then gestured with her pointer finger aiming upwards — a habitual act on her part. "I'm sure that Minamino-sama has his reasons for acting the way he does right now. Really, he's just too perfect to make any mistakes!"

"Sasae-kun… Ohya-kun…" Mr. Isako called-out to the two whispering girls, Chiho and Midori respectively. "Unless you want to receive bucket duty today, I strongly suggest that you take this little discussion of yours outside, after my class is over," he chastised, scowling.

As soon as the teacher's back was turned, Chiho made a face, sticking out her tongue. "What a hair-splitting stickler. No wonder he doesn't have a life," she heckled, not noticing Midori's silent statement of, "That's a bit too mean, Chiho-san."

"Well, what do you think, Ayame?" Chiho said conversationally as she addressed the girl in front of her, taking full advantage of the teacher's brief distraction of writing some more boring notes on the black board. "Do you think Minamino-sama's thinking of an old girlfriend or something?"

The girl, Ayame, shook her head, the longish strands of hair on both sides of her head swinging slightly like swaying bamboo leaves in a windy day. "I think Shu-chan and I are finally connecting… as I slept, so did he. We were sharing the same mind during that fleeting moment of unconsciousness." She sighed dreamily.

"Oi, get your head out of the clouds, dreamer," Chiho deadpanned, her eyes half-lidded in skepticism. "For one thing, stop calling Minamino-sama 'Shu-chan'… you're not that close. For another… there's no way Minamino-sama could be sharing the same thoughts as you do; they're only filled with stupid scenes from shoujo manga."

"They are not stupid! The best shoujo manga stories show a sensitive and perceptive outlook toward love and romance. Besides, I'm a girl, so it's only natural for me to read girl's comics."

"So it's natural for Minamino-sama to read girl's comics too, just so he could be of 'one mind' with you?" Chiho prodded, smirking.

"Umm… Chiho-san? Ayame-san?" Midori timidly said, wary of the situation.

Ayame's voice raised an ante. "Yeah? Well it's much better than the homosexuality shtick you're into now! Honestly! You getting into yaoi! It has become… No, it's beyond an obsession for you!"

"That's it! No more Mr. Nice Guy! Sasae-kun and friend! Get out of the room and find those buckets now! Since you're quite familiar with the process, Sasae-kun, you should go teach your friend the entire procedure!"

There were two collective groans as one Midori Ohya sighed. "They should have been a lot quieter," she said softly, sighing again.

Keiko suddenly woke up. She patted herself in panic, expecting to feel the soft flower petals and even softer skin of her half-undressed state. Instead, the synthetic feel of a life jacket greeted her wrinkled, prune-like hands. Hold on… life jacket? Wrinkled hands? What the hell is going on here?

She turned her head slowly. A grainy texture was supporting her whole body. My hands… they're a bit moist. Could it be…? As she finally did a sidelong glance, her eyes widened in shock.

The pounding waves of the sea coincided with her heart's own quickened pace. It was an endless field of blue, awe-inspiring… astounding… frightening.

She quickly got up on her feet, turning around from the strangely horrifying yet beautiful sight. What greeted her as she turned was apparently far worse.

Torn-up, twisted metal protruding from uprooted and broken palm trees, shattered glass dangerously littering the nearby mounds of sand. It was the remains of a helicopter. What the hell just happened here?!

A stray memory suddenly hit her full force as the whole situation went into perspective for the young girl. Oh, that's right… our helicopter crash-landed during the storm. I was so scared, but Kurama-san helped me through. Her heart skipped a few beats as a distressing revelation suddenly dawned at her.

Omigodomigodomigod I hope he's safe! Keiko thought, panicked.

"Oi… Keiko. Over here."

Keiko looked up reflexively toward the effeminate voice… sure enough, there he was, hanging nonchalantly over one of the many coconut trees, calmly holding a coconut in his free hand. His red hair was a bit frayed by the storm, but this time it was neatly tied up instead of being messily let loose. He wore sunglasses and a tight muscle shirt bearing a western-written phrase, "The Nonsense Cat".

"I thought you'd never wake up. Guess we're stuck here in this deserted island for a while, ne, Keiko-chan?"

It's that weird dream again, Kurama thought as he shook his head out of his unwanted reverie. I don't understand why I should be dreaming of such things. Should I even be dreaming of it?

He furrowed his brows as his eyes turned into slits of cunning and intelligence. Does Chuuku have anything to do with this? Now that he has firmly established the fact that I cannot be attacked directly, physically… is he now resorting to psychological warfare?

But he scoffed at the idea just as soon as it appeared. This is far too trivial to be construed as an attack. No, itís just a silly dream that I'm reading way too much into.

He silently ate alone in the cafeteria, unable to savor the taste of his food as it left an anesthetic blandness in his mouth. He mechanically acknowledged each passerby that greeted him, his phony cheerfulness concealing his distracted state.

But if the dream was so silly, why do I have to repeat the fact to myself at least a dozen times? Why do I feel so defensive? Kurama deliberated to himself over and over, which was ironic, considering the nature of the statement.

Nothing could penetrate the otherworldly place Kurama's mind currently occupied, in the similar way no one could ever enter a blushing girl's dream world as she tried to escape the harsh realities of the world, surrendering entirely into her fantasy.

"OH NO!!! Don't tell me that we're stuck on this island!?!" Keiko hopelessly exclaimed. "How did we get stuck here, Kurama-san? How? How? What will happen to us now? I wonder how Yusuke is doing? I JUST CAN'T TAKE IT!!!"

Keiko's… not quite acting like herself, Kurama thought to himself in his chagrin. He then felt a frown form on his face. What's with this contemptible sneer? I am also acting strange in this dream. To Keiko he said, "Panicking won't get us out of this predicament. We have to be calm and collected in order to rationally think of a way to solve the problem at hand."

Kurama regarded his words carefully. Well, that sounded a lot like me… only what's with my seemingly rude attitude? This isn't the way to speak to Keiko-san!

Keiko looked at Kurama with shimmering yet angry eyes. "You insensitive jerk! There are times when you're even worse than Yusuke!" She then looked contemplative as she muttered, "But those times are rare."

Kurama rubbed his head in irritation. But I don't feel irritated nor annoyed at all! he confusedly thought. "Feh. Just shut up. I hate it when you act like some sort of spoiled brat."

Keiko fought back her tears as she addressed Kurama in a more polite, collected manner. "If you'd help, maybe we could rummage through the wreck to find some things we could actually use."

Kurama cut the coconut he was holding in half with a machete and began drinking its milk. I can't believe I'm actually ignoring Keiko-san's request… it's as if my body was possessed like Kuwabara-kun's was in our last encounter with Chuuku!

Keiko just continued with her prying on the mostly unresponsive Kurama. "Don't we have any supplies of some sort or something? Anything?" She put her hands on her hips. "Don't just stand there, Kurama-san! I need help! Don't we have a radio, or even a…."

Kurama looked up as Keiko suddenly brightened. "A cell phone! I remember having a cell phone in my bag! If it somehow survived the crash, then there's an off-chance that…!" Trailing-off from her excited prattle, she began running toward the wreckage.

Kurama just sweatdropped as Keiko suddenly began dancing for joy. "I found it! I found it! I found the cell phone!" she said, laughing gleefully. "Kurama-san! Look, look! I'm not the spoiled brat you think I am! And it even has three bars left in its battery! We're saved! We're saved!

Before Kurama could respond in kind, Keiko was already propped on a nearby rock. "All I need to do is find a signal, call the local authorities or Yusuke or whoever it is we have to call… and then everything will be fine!" She excitedly dialed a number, not minding the growing sound of rushing waters just behind her. Kurama was just too dumbstruck to say anything as a big tidal wave approached the hapless duo.

A resounding splash was heard. They sputtered amidst the vast amount of salt water crashing over them.

When it was over, a scream was heard then ceaseless bawling followed. Whimpers of "Why? Why? Why was there a stupid tidal wave behind my back? Why did God allow me to lose the cell phone I was holding, our only ticket home? Why does God hate me so much?! We'll never get out of here now!" filled the entire length of the beach.

Before Kurama could catch himself, weird and cruel thoughts had already begun to enter his mind. Now I have to be aloof and totally uncaring since I don't like emotional women. I should say something cool; preferably something derogatory to distance myself from her emotional outburst.

That was before Kurama had a full glimpse of Keiko's pathetic state: reddened eyes, ceaseless sobs, a humiliated expression on her face. The poor thing. Why did I think of such cruel things? First I say things I don't really mean, and now I think things I don't really believe. What a strange dream I'm having. Kurama shook his head, smiling.

He put a consoling hand on Keiko's shoulder, looking straight at the shorter girl's eyes. Now, what I'm really going to do is calm her down and tell her in all sincerity that it wasn't really her fault. He nodded to himself in self-approval of his proposal.

"It's all your fault," he simply said, earning him a bristling glare from Keiko.

Ack! No good! What made me say such a thing? Oh no. I didn't really mean it, Keiko-san! Kurama thought frantically while still maintaining a callous and indifferent visage.

I have to correct this! I know! I'll say, 'It was lucky for you to find the cell phone in that wreckage in the first place!' he thought, which somehow came out as, "It was lucky for you to find the cell phone, knowing your limited intellect." And so the thought and speech pattern was finally established.

Ah… that didn't come out right. Hm. I'll comment on her insightfulness.

"You did have the insightfulness of a sugar-high nine-year-old as you pranced around with the cell phone after you found it. Too bad it's gone now."

I'm not doing well with this. Definitely not a very nice thing to say… even though it was partially true, and my grammar wasn't as atrocious. But I'm getting ahead of myself… Ah! I'll make a 'Let us look at the bright side' comment instead!' That'll work.

"It's okay that you lost the cell phone. I mean, c'mon! Did you really think that calling them from here would save us? I mean, we barely have any idea where we are! It'd be stupid to think that that useless gesture would amount to anything, but nice try."

Kurama didn't even feel the slap.

"You jerk," Keiko said, brimming with barely-contained resentment. "You selfish, arrogant, insensitive jerk."

Kurama hated himself then and there as he heard her last words before running away deep in the twisted, dark depths of the jungle.


Kurama checked his cheek if there was still the hot, stinging sensation. There was none. He looked around the hallway; sure enough, a reddish-brown atmosphere had taken over the lobby. It's already way past dismissal time, in the afternoon. I must have been daydreaming. I also must have been sleepwalking, only awake. How long was I out of it?

He leaned against a nearby wall, sighing. He repeated his mantra from earlier on in Mr. Isako's class, as if repetition would somehow ensure its effectiveness. It was just another dream. Just another meaningless dream… right?

A visage of Keiko crying replayed itself in Kurama's mind. Right?

Kurama silently made his way to the station, another stray memory entering his mind, that of an old adolescent female friend walking side-by-side with him, her hand grasping his.

Kurama listlessly inserted his ticket into the slot as he went in the train station. He had a lot in mind, things that he was unwilling to acknowledge, but were still in his psyche nonetheless. He berated himself endlessly. From the time he left the school on, he ceaselessly chided his reaction over the subject, falling into a deadly, deprecatory trap of his own making.

I have far more important things to think of. Far more important things to worry about than that. All of this worrying is extremely unnecessary. The case with Chuuku… the safety of 'kaasan and my friends… those are the things which I should be thinking about, not some ambiguous fantasy about Keiko-san. I mean, it's not only that I've barely held a conversation with her outside of 'Hi-hello,' but…. His thoughts trailed off as the railway transit's automatic doors opened.

"Kurama-san?" Keiko said, mildly surprised. She then neatly folded the women's magazine she was reading and put it in her handbag.

Kurama's heart was suddenly caught in his throat as he resisted the urge to backpedal; it wasn't like him to do so, after all. He just replied in kind with his own, "Keiko-san?"

"…." the two mutually riposted.

Keiko was the first one to speak. "What a nice coincidence! I didn't know you rode on this train! I usually don't see you in this station," Keiko conversationally started, openly smiling.

Kurama rubbed the back of his head, consigning himself to his "boy-next-door" act. "Oh, I don't usually go home this late and all. I was also surprised. You were the last person I expected to see here! You see, my mind wandered a bit and before I knew it, it was already past dismissal time in the afternoon!"

What an odd coincidence… as if the fates are mocking me, Kurama belatedly thought as he sighed at his luck.

"Kurama-san always has so many things to think about. Such is the life of a genius, ne?" Keiko cheered.

"You exaggerate," Kurama said with a half-smile. Well, at least she's not angry with me like in the dream. That counts for something, I think. He inhaled a deep breath. I better calm down.

"Humble as always," Keiko appraised yet again, making Kurama lightly smile in embarrassment. The youko in a human avatar gave the jovial Keiko a once-over. It's not in good form for me to get all flustered and some such. A dream is a dream; reality is what's before me now.

"So modest… not at all like that idiot Yusuke," Keiko said, suddenly fuming. Kurama sweatdropped, reflexively attempting to inch away from the irate girl. As they were stuck in a moving vehicle, he instead attempted to change the subject.

"What about you? I didn't expect junior high students would have a later dismissal time than their seniors," Kurama wondered out loud.

Keiko looked flustered all of a sudden. "Oh. Well, we have a major test coming up, so it was planned that we stay at a friend's house tonight to study… but dad only allowed me to stay there up until the afternoon, so…" she trailed off, looking uncomfortably at the floor.

"I see," Kurama smilingly said. To himself, he thought, From her change in demeanor, I could see that she's hiding something. She's not carrying a bag for her study materials, and aside from her sweater, she's in complete uniform. He shook his head solemnly. Oh well… I best not delve into such things. It's none of my business.

Unfortunately, from there on, all conversation died between him and Keiko. Ah… there's an awkward silence between us. It's just as well. Do nothing, risk nothing.

But as Kurama resolved himself to that deliberation, his thoughts typically and abruptly shifted. This atmosphere… it's almost the same as the atmosphere I felt in the dream. I know it's silly of me, but it feels like I betrayed her yet again. Betrayed her in the dream and in reality….

"Kurama-san?" Keiko inquired gently, piercing through the haze in Kurama's mind.

"Yes?" Kurama acknowledged, welcoming the refreshing break from his never-ending daze.

"I was wondering… where do you get off?" Keiko shyly said.

"Uh… My stop is in Shimizu. Yours?"

"I-in Isesaki," Keiko said, apparently and visibly deflated.

Oh… that's right. Isesaki is two stops away from Shimizu, Kurama belatedly thought. Too far… it'll probably take me double the normal time if I travel back and forth from the two districts. And there's this damnable silence again….

Kurama looked at Keiko, her features unreadable. Ah… but what am I thinking? Our conversation halting right now has nothing to do with my inability to accompany her back to her house. It's the simple fact of us having nothing in common that has put this barrier of silence.

His mind fell into his earlier mental trap once again. The dream has nothing to do with anything. This conversation has nothing to do with anything, he resolutely thought.

Kurama ate his words as the earlier visage of Keiko appeared again in his mind's eye, crying… mouthing the words which shook him into a grim realization.

"I hate you," the phantasm said, echoing in his mind over and over again, mocking his resolve.

"The next station is Shimizu… Shimizu…" the PA system blared out loud, startling the deeply contemplating Kurama.

"Kurama-san, that's your stop," Keiko said as she gently nudged the half-dreaming youko. She waved good-bye cheerfully. "See you again soon!"

Kurama's resolve crumbled like a sand castle beneath a tidal wave. "Keiko-san?"

"Yes? What is it?"

Kurama drew an audible breath. "If you would allow… can I accompany you to your house?"

So there they were, Kurama and Keiko, walking side-by-side in the quiet suburban streets filled with the occasional food shop and flea market as the sun tranquilly set, making room for the approaching twilight.

What am I doing? Is this really all right? Kurama asked himself, sighing. He couldn't count anymore how many times had he asked himself those questions, but he didn't particularly care. He knew he was just rationalizing his own inexplicable actions, but he just couldn't help himself. This was his way of handling such incomprehensible situations… at least, incomprehensible to himself.

I'm really going out of my way for Keiko, Kurama furthered his contemplations, glancing from time to time at Keiko's back as they walked silently toward her residence. Even with the thick sweater, her slight, slim figure was still apparent. He shook his head off of his unsaid thoughts as he returned to his mentally voiced-out deliberations.

Was it a because of the silly dream? No… I should get a hold of myself. This is a favor between friends. There is no hidden agenda. I should know better than to second-guess myself.

Kurama let his mind wander again, but this time it wasn't filled with peculiar daydreams nor an internal monologue; this time it contained memories of the immediate past.

"B-but Kurama-san! Shimizu is far from Isesaki! It's almost two districts away! I couldn't possibly…" Keiko had sputtered during Kurama's unexpected request at the Shimizu train station.

To which Kurama replied, "It's alright. I can handle myself. Don't worry." He shrugged helplessly. "Besides, Yusuke would never forgive me if he ever learns that I allowed Keiko-san to go home by herself at night."

Keiko absently winced upon hearing Yusuke's name. She then exclaimed, "Ah! Yes, yes… it is already quarter to six in the evening." She half-smiled as she gave Kurama a pensive look. "Thank you Kurama-san… I really appreciate it."

Kurama exhaled deeply as his thoughts went back to the present. No more second-guessing. I'm glad that Keiko-san is now smiling. It was obvious that she was distraught over something.

Keiko suddenly backed up a bit over his side. Kurama, for his part, gave the girl a token smile. Perhaps this is the true meaning of my dream of Keiko. I'm supposed to respond to her in her time of need, even if it's just by chaperoning her back to her house.

Kurama nodded to himself eagerly, despite of himself. The puzzle has been solved. There's nothing more to it than that.

"What a wonderful coincidence this is, ne, Kurama-san?" Keiko said, suddenly in a conversational mood. "Who would have thought that we'd have a chance like this to talk? I mean, what are the chances?"

Chances. For a long time in my life, I only took on things as they went in my path, he said to himself. Kurunue's death, his expulsion from the Demon World, and his reincarnation as a human boy… they were all mere circumstances that greeted him, never things which he actively sought. Though I always took a chance even as I went with the flow of events. My choices were affected by opportunities presented to me.

He blinked once as he became conscious of the fact that he hadn't answered Keiko's question. Realizing his unintended rudeness, he responded, "I don't believe in coincidence. It's either fate or destiny which governs our path."

"Ooooh… that sounded profound, Kurama-san!" Keiko appreciatively said.

Kurama looked sheepish as he said, "Oh! I must have said something weird again. So sorry!"

"Nonsense! It's not weird at all! I think Kurama-san presents such a good argument," Keiko assured. "Hmm… the genius Kurama-san has shared a piece of his age-old wisdom once again. I feel so honored," she teased. "Who would have thought…? Kurama-san, believing in fate?"

"But I only believe in fate in a certain degree," Kurama acquiesced a bit, finally giving in to Keiko's unsaid insistence for a conversation. "Fate can only take you so far. Circumstances only provide windows of opportunity. Upon getting there, the rest is up to you."

Kurama continued for his appreciative, raptly attentive audience. "Ultimately, in the end, it's up to you how you're going to respond. I don't really rely on fate, per se… Especially on matters concerning destiny, since I believe my destiny shouldn't be dictated upon by outside forces; not totally. It all boils down to will, in the end."

Kurama checked out Keiko's reaction. "I'm not boring you, am I, Keiko-san?"

Keiko shook her head. "No… Actually, it was a very interesting treatise," she kidded, imitating Kurama's overzealous use of deep words. "But for me, I think it's all very romantic."

Kurama's eyebrows shot up at Keiko's assessment.

"Whoever you end up with will be really lucky, Kurama-san. Hopeless romantics like you are one-of-a-kind," Keiko gleefully said, making Kurama feel a bit squeamish.

"Don't say such things, Keiko-san. It's so embarrassing," Kurama pleaded to the young girl.

"Oh, don't be so uptight," Keiko said, playfully patting Kurama on the back. "How'd a good-looking guy like you end up girlfriendless anyway? Are you currently seeing anyone? Any crushes?"

This conversation is getting silly, Kurama thought as he replied to Keiko, "No, not really."

Keiko nudged Kurama's ribs. "I bet lots of people want to be your girlfriend!"

Kurama couldn't help but raise an eyebrow at that. "'People', Keiko-san?" To that, Keiko giggled unabashedly.

"Aw, c'mon! Not even a single one? Don't say that you haven't dated anyone! Or there wasn't at least one girl which you had a mutual understanding with, ne? Heck, was there any female you were close with other than your mother? There has to be!" Keiko prodded, really getting into the conversation. "C'mon, WHAT WAS HER NAME?"

Kurama suddenly stopped walking, taking on a grim demeanor. Keiko, for her part, changed her mischievous manner into an apologetic one as she realized that she must have gone too far. "I'm sorry, Kurama-san. Have I said something wrong? Are you angry?"

"Her name was Maya."

The statement was said so softly that Keiko thought she was just hearing things. "What was that again?"

Kurama gave her a sidelong glance, a half-smile on his face. "I said her name was Maya. She wasn't really a… girlfriend in the traditional sense, but she was the girl I was closest to. We used to walk back home together like this."

Nostalgia began to fill Kurama's contemplative mind as his tone became as distant as his gaze. "Maya-san was a very well-mannered, gentle girl. She was also very intelligent, even though her accommodating nature made it seem otherwise. No offense to her, of course."

Keiko stifled a giggle the best she could as she daintily covered her mouth. "Wow. Kurama-san, this girl sounds so much like you!" She then stopped giggling, realizing that her little joke didn't sound very funny after all. "I'm sorry again… please excuse my rudeness."

Kurama gave Keiko a slowly becoming familiar sidelong glance again, saying, "Actually, it's Keiko-san and Maya-san that seem kind of alike."  He smiled a bit as he looked away. Ah… the silence between us has returned. But it's less uncomfortable than before.

Kurama furrowed his brows in remembrance. Actually, it's more like Maya-san's usual silence around me as I walked her back home during that time in junior high….

It was in Kurama's psyche again. Echoes. Those were echoes of the past.

"Shuichi-san is always so quiet. But I guess it's just as well. I barely know anything about you. Still, you can surprise me at times. It makes me want to know you more."

Those were echoes of the past that somehow merged with the voices of the present.

"Who are you really?" Keiko and Maya seemed to say in unison in Kurama's complicated imaginings. It's funny to note that Maya-san and Keiko-san would ask the same question in the same half-joking tone of voice… the same question which I myself have been trying to answer ever since my arrival here in the Human World.

But what am I thinking? Comparing Maya to Keiko, Kurama digressed. And this conversation… isn't this getting out of hand?

Nonsense. Keiko-san has gone through a rough day. If it takes sharing each other's love life to cheer her up, then so be it. I shouldn't let the silliness of innuendo get the better of my reasoning… such a trivial presumption shouldn't be given a second thought.

"I'm sorry that I've prodded you too much about your love life. I should have minded my own business," Keiko regretfully said, though her tone wasn't as regretful as she wanted it to sound.

"No, I don't mind." Kurama suddenly went into a mischievous mood. "But fair's fair… now it's your turn to share."

Keiko blushed deeply, the pensive look Kurama saw on her face earlier returning. "Eh? Is that so?" She laughed stiltedly as she avoided Kurama's direct gaze.

A forced laugh? Kurama almost automatically analyzed. I don't suppose that Yusuke could have…? But it's not my place to pry. To Keiko, he said, "Just kidding, Keiko-san. Just kidding."

Keiko breathed a sigh of relief upon hearing that. Then she made a face, sticking her tongue out at Kurama. "I thought you were nicer than that, you big meanie!"

Kurama then saw Keiko suddenly sit down on a bench on a nearby park. "What is it, Keiko-san? Are you tired?"

"Uh… yes… why don't we sit down for a while?" Keiko offered, a welcoming smile on her face.

"It's kind of getting dark, Keiko-san," Kurama said, worried. He did have school tomorrow… he rationalized to himself as he quelled the rising dread in himself.

"It will only take a minute." Her smile and her demeanor might not make it apparent, but the undertones of her voice had an insistence in it that compelled Kurama to take her up on her offer.

She suddenly took a deep interest in her shoelaces as she gazed intensely into them. "Kurama-san… I'm kind of glad that we've somehow… opened up to each other… we never got to talk like this."

"Well, I guess circumstances and certain events had made it near implausible until now. It couldn't be helped."

"I mean… Yusuke and I could never talk like this. We never had a conversation like this… never ever," Keiko continued, her eyes shimmering.

Ah… so it was about Yusuke! That's the reason why Keiko-san was so depressed and downtrodden when we met at the train station. Kurama then began a train of thought that could only be described as atypical of him.

Is the dream I had slowly turning to reality? Kurama quietly deliberated in his head. The deserted island meaning isolation? Keiko's fake death meaning change? Keiko's dream… the dream within my dream… the dream where we shared a… no. Enough. That's enough.

For the umpteenth time, Kurama berated himself. I should get a hold of myself. This is serious… Keiko-san is going through a crisis. This isn't the time to entertain silly notions. He winced at his own redundancy.


Kurama turned quickly over Keiko's direction. "Yes?"

Keiko took a deep breath, as she seemed to brace herself for something. "What I said about staying over a friend's house for a bit… it isn't exactly true." Keiko's eyes darted back and forth, away from Kurama's gaze. Kurama was all ears as he nodded for Keiko to continue.

"Actually I was talking to our school principal. I knew it was foolish of me, but…" she tried to smile, but the tears slowly collected in her eyes, breaking her mask of cheerfulness. "But I spoke to Takenaka-san about Yusuke's grades. After much pleading, he was willing to work things out."

Keiko bit her lip as she sniffled a bit. "But Yusuke wouldn't even hear of it."

Kurama nodded consolingly, not knowing what else he should do in the situation.

"He insisted that he didn't really need it… that I was becoming too controlling, too suffocating f-for him…" Keiko stammered. "S-so I told him… I told him… to drop dead."

She let go then and there as she bawled her heart out, burying her face in her hands in complete humiliation and mortification.

Kurama, for good or for ill, couldn't take it anymore.

I didn't know what I was thinking at the time… perhaps it was the simple fact that I wasn't thinking that prodded me to act the way I did.

Hm… Me, not thinking… it was an altogether alien concept in and of itself. To delve deeper into the juvenile concept, I couldn't even begin to grasp it.

Juvenile… it wasn't even really poetic. The whole situation was more akin to a silly pun, really.

I couldn't grasp the situation, so I grasped the girl. I held her in a tight embrace, abandoning all hesitation… all uncertainty… all reason and logic.

My heart was beating so fast… and it seemed that my breath was trying to catch up with it.

I kept asking myself… would I get rejected? Would my actions get misconstrued? On the other hand, how could she misconstrue an act which I myself had no idea how to 'construe' in the first place?

I didn't know what I was doing and why I was doing this.

Did I really want to know? Did I really want to find out?

This moment of peace after such a long time of… emptiness. It was refreshing… welcoming. Let me remain like this for now. Did hell await me? Did heaven await me? The next second should let me know… but I didn't want that second to pass. Not now… not ever.

Please let these last few seconds freeze in time forever. Please don't let another second pass… that was his wordless plea.

Please don't let this world continue. Let it be just as it is right now… just as it is.

Time flowed again as seconds ticked by… the moment of comfort was followed by a moment of awkwardness. Seconds insistently ticked as it woke up the unwilling… he who did not wish to let go… making apparent the frightening reality which he didn't want to acknowledge.

Heaven or hell… was it heaven or hell before him now that he let his once chained emotions overrun him? Because this time, all thoughts failed him. Logic failed him. All he was faced with now was his wants, his dreams… what he felt, not what he was supposed to feel. What he desired, not what he thought he needed.

But unfortunately, as great and elusive a thief he once was, even he could not escape the insistency of time. He closed his eyes as he inhaled deeply… so he'd remember the scent. He gently touched the soft strands of her hair, so he'd remember the texture. He looked just one last time in her wide, hazel eyes so that he'd never forget this moment.

Let this one moment be etched into his memory for all of eternity.

"T-thank you, Kurama-san," Keiko said, blushing furiously. "I really appreciate your support… who would have thought that you would be the unexpected help that I needed?" Her eyes darted back and forth as her blush deepened when she realized just how close she was with Kurama… and vice-versa.

Kurama finally relinquished his hold of Keiko, apologizing as profusely and politely as possible, which was in and of itself a great feat. He looked at the dark horizon as he tried to calm himself through deep breaths.

"Um… your house is just nearby… right, Keiko-san?" he said, a moment later regretting it. It sounded like I was turning her away! But… but… I don't want to delve on this much longer. To her, he hastily added, "Will you be alright? If it's still far away, I could…."

"Oh… it's not really necessary. No, no, no… Itís okay. See? It's not that dark! See those lights? I'll be fine!" Keiko excitedly exclaimed as she began to make her way back home.

"Um… take care!" Kurama called out to the young girl, despite of himself. "I hope that you and Yusuke could…." He trailed off as he looked at Keiko's diminishing figure, not really sure if he was completely honest with himself saying that last statement.

Kurama hefted a belated sigh as he made his way back to the train station, his thoughts in an incomprehensible jumble. Later. I'm too tired to think right now. Maybe in the train station… maybe at home… just not right now.

Kurama took in deep and controlled breaths. He shook his hands all around. He counted from one to ten. After doing all these relaxation activities, he decided that this inanity must stop… after all, his human shell had already outgrown those silly children shows on television.

He carefully gathered his thoughts… unwillingly, as his gut feeling screamed at him not to… but Kurama wouldn't be Kurama if he abandoned his mental deliberations altogether.

First there were the immediate problems… he needed to do an important research homework about the Bakumatsu… then there was his much-needed daily trip to the Demon World to refresh his supply of demon seeds and plants. Then there was this thing about him having confusing feelings for Keiko… yes, he had a very busy itinerary as of now.

He mentally cleared away the excess, unnecessary considerations within his psyche as he appropriated the proper issue he dreadfully needed to address. A question surfaced in his turbulent mind… asked a dozen times or more already, but still bearing great significance in his current debacles.

Why did I do that? What possessed me to do that? he chided himself again, irritated that his inner voice was beginning to sound like a broken record. To address that feeling, he resolved to instead answer those repetitious questions instead of going around in circles mentioning them time and time again.

But he soon found out that those cyclical inquiries weren't only redundant… they were rhetorical. Rhetorical… or simply unanswerable? Kurama debated to himself, noting that his latest query was probably rhetorical itself.

No, no, no… I always do this. When there's something I don't want to address, I analyze it to death until the original subject… the original topic I wanted to discuss… is buried under piles and piles of psychoanalytic jargon and philosophical drivel. Analysis for analysis's sake… I'm even doing it right now, with this train of thought! I have to concentrate now… I have to not let my mind wander.

He emptied his head of the clutter of thoughts he inflicted upon his psyche, remembering the flashing lights zooming away into a kaleidoscope of colors from his view of the train's window as he went home. He became a pseudo-Zen master as he let all redundancies, all his over-analytical theories, dissipate into nothingness… finally enabling to sift the truth from his troubled mind.

He had let his human emotions get the better of him again. That was the simple, pure truth.

Whether or not he'd truly consider these emotions as part of him was wholly up to him. He did not have a ready answer for that decision as of yet.

My… human emotions? Kurama wondered in awe, as he held his hand over his chest, his heart racing. He dared not delve any further, lest he overanalyzed the situation yet again, so he just left it at that.

Well then, Kurama started, bracing himself resolutely. As Yusuke would say, 'Time to bite the bullet.'

With that last thought, sleep took over Kurama's awareness, whilst having an underlying determination that things would be different this time around. He had a lot of issues to address, so he had to know if he was contemplating the right matters.

To be continued.

Next: Shuichi's honesty, Kurama's earnestness.

This is dedicated to Chimamire Kitsune for giving me the inspiration to write this fic… Wherever you are, this is for you.

Ja ne!

C. Castañeda

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Old Gray Wolf