MIRROR LIES.

Authors: Quoth the Raven (jenfunnoda ) and Ketsurui (Ketsurui_Makura )

Pairings: Yuusuke x Kurama, ? x Yuusuke

Warnings: shounen-ai, angst, violence.

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Kurama cried out in agony as he felt the seeds of his plants blossom upon him, ripping his skin as they sprouted up through the ground and impaling him, piercing, stabbing, tearing a vicious path as they grew and spread. Abruptly they disappeared, and he stumbled. Clutching at a nearby tree for balance, he swayed and was promptly knocked over when said tree repulsed him as he touched it, as if he were the enemy of plants and not a friend. [How did this happen?] he thought frantically as he looked at his fanatically grinning opponent, too obviously insane, laughing at him from a short distance away. He struggled to his feet, coughing up some blood. [How did he come to exist at all? How could this happen? How could my most lethal enemy be...]

[...Myself?]

Gasping in horror, Kurama bolted upright from sleep, blinking his eyes, chest heaving. Closing his eyes and sighing, he weakly dropped back onto the bed. [That was strange,] he thought. [After all, the Youko and Minamino Shuuichi do not often agree, and I'm used to dreaming of conflicts between them. But this time, I was in my human body, being attacked by another me... but it wasn't... and it makes no sense at all!] Sighing, Kurama turned over and curled up slightly, trying to ignore the feeling of still being stabbed that pulsed along his skin, through his body. [I need some sleep. I have that Commerce exam in the morning, and I need to rest... I know what the youko has to say about human currency exchange rates and I have to say I agree with him...] Scowling darkly at the thought of a major exam in his least favourite subject on top of an already unnerving nightmare, Kurama drifted back into an uneasy sleep.

The next day, after school, Yuusuke ran into the redhead as he was walking home. "Oi, Kurama!" The dark-haired one greeted, running up to him. "You look kinda pale... Somthin' wrong?"

Kurama jumped, a little startled, then smiled wanly. "Oh, Yuusuke... hello. No, nothing's wrong, I just didn't sleep very well last night, and because of that I didn't do very well at an exam today." He didn't specify, knowing that while the younger boy cared little for his grades, it would be rude to say that "not doing very well" for him probably meant an eighty percent, while Yuusuke had probably never passed a test in his life. Yuusuke might not care, but he hated the thought of being rude and rubbing it in, and he didn't want to hurt Yuusuke's feelings or his pride. "So, I can see you didn't go to school," he noted Yuusuke's torn yellow turtleneck and dark blue pants with a touch of admiration. "What are you doing today?" he asked, smiling again, unconsciously rubbing his side where a particularly vicious dream-plant had run him through last night.

"Not a damned thing," Yuusuke replied, folding his arms behind his head as he walked. "You sure you didn't get hurt or anything?" he asked, watching as the beautiful one rubbed his side as though injured.

"Hm? Oh, no, I'm not injured at all. It's just a stitch in my side," Kurama half-lied. "In that case," he said to change the subject - he really didn't want to dwell on the dream he'd had last night - "would you like to go and get something to eat? I'm not expected at home for a while, either."

"Hey, yeah! What do you wanna get?" The younger boy could somehow sense that his friend was being untruthful, that something really was wrong, but he wouldn't force it out of him. [Might be something personal. He'll tell me if he wants, I guess.]

Kurama shrugged in an uncharacteristically careless way. "I don't mind. If there's anywhere you'd like to go, then we'll go there. What do you feel like? My treat," he added, realizing that Yuusuke may not enough money to cover his healthy appetite. Although Kurama admitted to himself that despite Yuusuke's rather... casual... table manners, he enjoyed seeing him eat. [Well, I enjoy seeing him, period,] he admitted to himself. [But I like knowing that he's had something to eat... I know he misses meals a lot because of his mother not cooking and him being too proud to learn how.] Kurama smiled softly at the thought that he was actually acting all parental and protective of Yuusuke, but it didn't matter. Of course the younger boy would put it down to friendship. It was safe to indulge in these minor satisfactions. [He'd never think of this as a date, even if I am paying. Even if we went to a restaurant, it'd never occur to him.]

Yuusuke, not wanting to waste all of Kurama's money, picked the first inexpensive restaurant off the top of his head. [Hn. He's paying for my food. Kinda like a date.] He mentally snorted. [Yeah right! He has to fight off girls with a stick! Why the hell would he be looking at boys?]

Kurama nodded. "Let's go, then." Heading towards the restaurant, they made idle chatter, and he laughed at all of Yuusuke's jokes. But he secretly wished he knew why in the three worlds he was aching all over, and if he had removed his school uniform, he would have noticed oh-so-faint bruises springing up on his skin which had been totally unmarked that morning...

"Thanks for dinner," the delinquent said through a mouthful of ramen, disregarding the fact that a few of the restaurant's other patrons were staring at him with various levels of disgust. [He still looks kinda out-of-it...]

"That's okay. Kaasan and Hatanaka-san were going out tonight, and Shuu-kun is staying over at a friend's place. This is a lot better then eating alone, I think," Kurama said, vaguely. His head was beginning to ache terribly, and he studiously ignored the rising tide of pain. [Yuusuke would know all about eating alone. Kurama, you idiot! Keep your stupid mouth shut!] he though with a burst of self-anger, then blinked. [Where did that come from? It was almost like it was someone else thinking it!]

"Kurama?" Yuusuke plunked down his chopsticks. [OK, something is seriously weird. Kurama doesn't go all spacey like that.] "Maybe you should get home. You look like you're sick or something."

"No, I'm fine, really. I told you, I just didn't sleep very well last night, and I..." Kurama's voice trailed off with a gasp as he brought his hand to his forehead, skin turning deathly pale. [Liar! Liar!] his mind taunted him. [You lied to him. Why do you bother? Yuusuke is someone who is always open and straightforward no matter what. He hates lies and liars. Why do you even bother letting yourself think that you're good enough for him?] The pain returned full force, and he dropped his own chopsticks with a soft clatter as his other hand grabbed blindly for something to hold onto before he toppled from his seat onto the floor. [What's wrong with me?] he thought hazily.

Immediately, Yuusuke sprang from his seat, gathering Kurama in his arms and easing him out of the chair until his legs rested against Yuusuke's folded ones. "Kurama!" Growling, he looked up at the small crowd that had gathered. "What the hell are YOU staring at?! Get away from him!"

Carefully, he lifted the kitsune into his arms, fishing out his own wallet and paying. "I'm taking you home."

Kurama groaned softly. "No... don't do that... I'm all ri- nnh!" He hissed as pain struck him again like a bolt of lightning, and he stopped protesting. At the moment, he didn't feel like he could even walk. "Take whatever I owe you out of my wallet - didn't mean for you to have to pay," he murmured softly. "Wanted to pay myself."

"Don't worry about it," Yuusuke whispered in reply, cradling Kurama against his strong chest and slamming open the restaurant door with his shoulder. "Man, you shoulda told me you were sick. I wouldn't have made you stay out late if I knew!" He readjusted his hold on the taller boy once they were outside; one arm under his knees, the other around the middle of his back, Kurama's head against his shoulder. [Feels damned nice... Hey, asshole! He's SICK! Don't be thinking that kind of stuff right now!]

"But I'm not sick," Kurama protested faintly. "Wasn't sick yesterday... felt fine until last night... didn't feel like this until a few minutes ago. Don't know what's wrong with me..." [Feels *so* warm and nice in his arms... Pity you don't deserve to be there, isn't it?] Kurama shook his head, groaning. [What is going on? It's like I'm hearing someone else's thoughts as my own...] but the disturbingly dark pit came up to engulf him completely, and the last thing he knew was the feeling of slowly closing his eyes against Yuusuke's shoulder, hearing the other boy's voice fade away, crowded out by the silence that somehow held such a loud echo. [Not me... someone else... not me...] His sleeping mind struggled even as his body lay still.

Yuusuke carried Kurama home as smoothly as he could, thankful that his "parents" had left the door unlocked for when the redhead came home. Turning the knob against his hip, he pushed the door open with his head, taking the kitsune to his bed and laying him down. The dark-haired one pulled the other's shoes off, hesitating. [He'd probably get pissed if I took the rest of his clothes off...] There was also the desire to stay by his side. [Yeah, guess I should, 'least until his family comes home.] With that decision, he put the shoes outside, dragging a chair into Kurama's room and sitting next to the bed, watching intently. [So damned pretty...]

[Stop it... stop it... stop!] Kurama moaned low in his throat, a sound of combined anger and distress as he was once again pinned down by the creature that was not-quite-him, a malicious glint in his eyes as Kurama found himself painfully bound by thorny vines that pierced his skin and held him so tightly he could barely breathe. [Leave them alone...] He watched, horrified and helpless, as the not-him tortured and killed his 'Kaasan, his stepbrother, Yuusuke, Hiei, Yukina... all of them pleading, begging, shouting with anger and pain at 'his' cruel betrayal. He felt every scratch, bruise, stab... and the not-him knew it, looking slyly over at him. But no matter how much he called, how much he pleaded, the others could not hear him, and the not-him ignored his pleas for mercy on their behalf. [Stop it, stop it, STOP IT!] His sleeping form remained still, but a low moan escaped his throat, and as he turned pale again, the faint outline of a fresh bruise appeared on his cheek... a bruise that had not been there before.

[WHAT THE FUCK?] Yuusuke stared as a mark suddenly appeared on that perfect face... and he grabbed onto Kurama, shaking him hard. "Wake up! Wake up! Something's really fucking wrong!" [How the hell do bruises just *appear*?!]

With a strangled cry, Kurama found himself yanked out of the dream, for which he was desperately grateful, but he was trapped, unable to either sink back to sleep or wake up. His eyes opened, but they saw nothing, their verdant depths completely void of all comprehension and understanding. Whimpering, he tossed, begging whatever held him captive, [let me go one way or another this empty grey void is wrong wrong wrong I can't stay here...]

"Kurama! What's wrong with you?! Say something! What's wrong with your eyes?!" Yuusuke's voice choked. "Damnit, Kurama..." Letting the taller boy sink back onto the bed, the younger one touched the porcelain face, even the bruise, trying to get a reaction. "Kurama..."

Inside that emptiness, something smiled at him, a sweet razor he felt on his very soul. Feeling pathetically grateful for even that much, he nonetheless knew that somehow, this was responsible for everything. [Who are you?] he demanded. At first there was no response, then the simple words, [You know who I am. You just won't admit it. Wait for me, precious... I'll be back for you soon enough.] Then, with a jolt, he found himself awake, consciousness slowly seeping back into empty green eyes, and he blinked, weakly looking around. [...my bedroom? Yuusuke? What... what happened? Oh, yes... the restaurant, he brought me home...] "Yuusuke?" he rasped weakly.

"Kurama? Oh god." Forgetting himself, he threw his arms around the taller boy's shoulders and held him close. "Something was wrong. There's a bruise on your face that just fucking showed up, and you wouldn't say anything when I woke you up... like you were in a coma or something." [So worried...]

"Something wrong. Very wrong," Kurama agreed softly. [He's holding me... if I had to go through this for him to hold me, it was probably worth it...] Then some of Yuusuke's words sank in more fully. "A bruise? But I haven't done anything that would cause a bruise that I remember, certainly not on my face..." He groaned softly as his whole body ached. Normally, it would be bearable pain, but for some reason today he felt like the pain, or something else, was draining all the strength from his limbs, leaving him unable to ignore the pain and continue on. "I don't understand, Yuusuke... I haven't any real explanation. I'm sorry for putting you to all this trouble."

"Trouble? Kurama, I don't give a damn about any trouble! I wanna know what's wrong with you!" Gently, he eased the other back onto the soft blankets. "Do you got any other bruises like that that kinda showed up?" The dark purple-black mark on the perfect face made him feel deeply angered, and he had to hold back from touching the said face.

Kurama sighed softly. "Thank you, Yuusuke. Other bruises? No, not that I know of... but then again, you say the one on my face appeared very suddenly," and he touched it, wincing slightly. "And if I do have other bruises that appeared today, it might explain why I'm aching a little, and have done since this morning." Pulling up the sleeve of his uniform he blinked at the sight of deep bruising all over the skin, so much so that there was more bruising than unmarred flesh. "That wasn't there this morning!"

Yuusuke was frowning. "If they're on your arm, they're probably all over... Shit..." his eyes floated away from Kurama, lost in thought. "Maybe... maybe Koenma would know what's going on." He didn't like asking that pushy little jerk for help, but if it was for Kurama, he would swallow his pride for once.

[You ask him, and Yuusuke dies.] Kurama jumped, startled, and demanded "What?!" loudly, angrily, looking around, glaring furiously, hoping he'd somehow get the message to whatever this creature was. [Leave Yuusuke alone!]

[Then don't call in the toddler, and he'll live. I keep my promises, you should know that by now...] And the voice died away, leaving Kurama to ponder helplessly what he could do. The answer he came up with chilled him. [Nothing.]

Yuusuke was staring at the redhead. "Damn, I was just tryin' to help. If you don't want me to get Koenma, it's cool, but you don't have to yell at me." [Yell. Kurama... never yells... not at me, anyway.] He continued to stare, trying to think of what in hell's name could be causing the odd behavior and the injuries.

Kurama bit his lip slightly, uneasy. He really only had one option. [Damn, I hate to do this to him... but I don't have a choice!] Surreptitiously, he slipped his hand over to Yuusuke's shoulder, squeezing gently. "I'm sorry, Yuusuke - I'm just frustrated at myself. I didn't mean to take it out on you. Umm... could you help me up? I really need to get changed, and it'll give me a chance to check my body for more bruises." Limping with Yuusuke's help to the closet, Kurama quickly grabbed one of his favourite outifts and hobbled to the bathroom. Once there, he stripped, grimacing at the pattern of blue-black that marbled his pale skin. [At least this outfit should cover the bruises.] And indeed it did - a Chinese-style outfit with long white sleeves and white trousers. Navy and yellow decorated the collar and the hems, and a red sash adorned his waist. Slip-on black shoes completed the ensemble, and stepping back out of the bathroom, Kurama re-entered his bedroom, knowing that he would despise himself for a long time for what he was about to do.

"Why did you change into that?" [Not that you don't look damned good...] "Um, are you going somewhere? Shouldn't you be resting?" He was a million questions, all of them leading to the single one: "What's going on?"

Calmly, Kurama came towards Yuusuke, placing one hand on his shoulder reassuringly. "I just felt like I needed to get changed, that's all. As for this afternoon, I'm sure that it's nothing to bother Koenma about - whatever caused these bruises, they'll probably disappear just as fast as they came. Perhaps I'm just being clumsy recently," he smiled. Then his fingers found that pressure point, and with one short, sharp squeeze Yuusuke was paralyzed. Kurama caught him, awkwardly moving his still body over to the bed. Knowing that Yuusuke could still hear him - he had only paralyzed the muscles, after all - the red haired boy whispered, "I'm so sorry, Yuusuke. Please forgive me. I don't know what this is - but I can't let you get hurt. I could never forgive myself." With a gentle, apologetic stroke of his fingers down the nerve he had pinched to freeze the other boy, he turned and stumbled out of the room. That pressure pinch would only give him another four minutes - if he was lucky - but it should be enough. It had to be enough.

[DAMNIT! KURAMA! I want to help you!] He was so frustrated; what had the kitsune done to him? Why couldn't he move?! [Kurama... I don't want you to get hurt either!]

Running as fast as he could along the foothpath, Kurama winced as the pain increased once more. But this time, he used it as a guide to how close he was to the cause of all this. Finally stopping in the forest, he staggered and fell, no longer able to keep his balance. "Show yourself!" he shouted as best he could through the white-hot searing haze that obscured his vision.

Slowly, out of the shadows of the trees, a figure emerged. He was tall, wearing a pink school uniform with one hand shoved in one pocket. The moon shifted out from behind the clouds, and it lit on the face - a face that was Kurama's perfect match. The only difference between the one standing and the one on the ground was that the doppleganger had black hair instead of red, and eyes the shade of flame. A smile touched his lips, one too cruel to ever grace Kurama's face. "I've been waiting..."

Kurama stared, wide-eyed. "You! You're from my dream... who the hell are you? And why have you been playing with my mind like this?"

"I *am* you!" He took a step closer. "I'm your dark side, Kurama. The part of you that you thought you destroyed when you took this form. The part that is all the evil you have committed in your life." He looked at the injured one with deep contempt.

[I've heard of split personalities, but this is ridiculous.] For a second Kurama wondered if he was going crazy. "I don't know what you're talking about. I am Kurama, the fusion of two souls: Youko Kurama and Minamino Shuuichi. There are no other sides to me - I accept myself as I am and my past as it is."

"You think your crimes have just gone away?! Make peace with yourself as you may have, *I* still exist. I am the side that wills you to do evil." He grabbed Kurama by the front of his shirt. "And I'm going to kill you."

"Get your hands off me." Kurama's voice was low, dangerous. "And keep your hands off everyone else, as well. I don't believe that you are me, and frankly I don't care who you are. I just care about why, and about protecting the people I want to protect. Prepare yourself! ROSE WHIP!"

The smile returned. "Ah, so that's how you want to play this? Very well, then." The dark one reached a hand back into his hair, withdrawing a flower. "Rose whip!" He imitated, the weapon appearing in his hand.

Kurama stilled, taking his opponent's measure. This creature, whatever he was, seemed perfectly capable of imitating his every move. [He can probably anticipate every move I'd make, too, if he *is* part of me.] Keeping the Rose Whip at the ready, Kurama increased his defensive ki as much as he could. [Let him make the first move.]

"Hm." With dizzying speed, the false Kurama rushed at the true one, whip slashing. Though the redhead darted away, he was too slow in his injured state to avoid injury, spikes catching his shoulder, shredding flesh and cloth.

Hissing in pain and anger, Kurama cried out as he feinted a dodge, then feinted the attack that he would normally take, moving instead to slash his opponent, who yelled in shock and stepped back, an evil stare on his face. Kurama felt uneasy. [What does he have planned? Why can't I get into his mind as he gets into mine?]

"Kurama!" Yuusuke rushed to the other's side, panting. "What the hell is wrong with you?! What did you do to-" He stopped abruptly, staring at Kurama's dark mirror image. "What the hell?!"

Smiling chillingly, the red-eyed one raised the whip, slashing at the delinquent. [Ah, yes, protect him. The one you care for so much.]

"Look out, Yuusuke!" With a shocked cry, Kurama quickly placed himself between the whip and Yuusuke's body, feeling the lash crack across his chest, tear off most of both sleeves, rip open the cloth of his shirt. Crying out in pain, he stumbled backwards into Yuusuke, glaring viciously at the pretender. "Leave him alone. Your problem is with me," he hissed. "Yuusuke, run!"

"Are you out of your fucking mind?! I'm not leaving you alone like this!" Eyes narrowing, he faced the false one. "You made a huge fucking mistake."

The odd-colored eyes narrowed. [Oh, now this... Should be interesting...]

Taking a step forward, the false Kurama with hair as black as his soul and eyes as red as his resentment whispered softly to Yuusuke. "What's the matter? Why the concern over a little fox? A little thief, a little liar? Someone who's manipulative and calculating? Why does someone like you care about whether someone like him lives or dies? I'm asking because once I tell you what's in his soul, you'll hate him. So tell me now - why does it matter to you if he dies?"

Yuusuke was torn. "That's none of your damned business!" He yelled, stepping between the evil one and Kurama. "I don't give a fuck what bullshit you'll tell me about him!"

"Oh, but it is my business. You see, I am him. The part of him he hides." And without even looking, he casually snapped the Rose Whip to the side, ripping a passing rabbit right in half. Both Yuusuke and Kurama winced at the poor thing's scream. "And so I'm very interested... in the things he's interested in." And in an instant, the mirror image was beside Yuusuke, stroking his skin. "Yes... I'm very interested in what he is interested in..."

"Get your filthy hands off him!" Kurama shouted furiously. "Yuusuke, I don't know who he is, but get away! Don't let him touch you!"

The dark reflection turned back towards Kurama with amusement. "Oh, my my. You're being very foolish. Do you really think I'll let him go now that I have him?"

Yuusuke backhanded the dark one. "Oi, don't touch me, you bastard!" [I... hit Kurama... no, not Kurama!... Something else...] "I don't know who the hell you are, but get away from him! And from me, or I'll have to kill you!"

The other simply laughed, wiping his hand across his face. "I told you who and what I was. And I am going nowhere until I get what I came for." Lunging forward, he caught the delinquent by surprise and laid a hungry, greedy kiss across his lips.

Incensced, Kurama stumbled to his feet, snapping the Rose Whip around the other's waist and literally dragging him away from Yuusuke. "I told you to leave him alone!"

"And I told you, *Kurama*," and the name was spoken with eternal contempt, "that I will not leave until I have what I came for. Don't flatter yourself, I didn't come here just to kill you. I also have wants, the same as you, and I came here to take what I want, by force if necessary, instead of dancing around the issue and playing let's-pretend."

"Don't you dare even touch him again!" Kurama seethed. "I won't let you do it, not while I live!"

"A problem that is easily solved." It was eerie, two identical voices that were so different, two identical faces that burned with two entirely different kinds of anger.

Yuusuke's mind spun with confusion. [Kurama kissed me... Damnit, that's not Kurama! That-that THING is trying to fucking kill him!] With a short, angry cry, the youngest one shaped his fingers into the imitation of a gun, aiming at the dark one as he gathered his power.

The creature that was and was not Kurama looked over his shoulder, smiling slowly. "Ah, Yuusuke... would you really do that? Would you dare?" In an instant, vines had exploded out of the ground, wrapping around Kurama tightly, forcing the redhead to drop the whip. "If you shoot, I'll send one last order to those vines. They'll crush the breath out of him forever before the blast reaches me, possibly even before it fully leaves your fingertips. Do you dare?"

"Do it, Yuusuke! Get rid of him!" Kurama gasped out. The vines were so tight! [I can't breathe... can't breathe at all... and I can't get the vines to obey me instead of him... just like my dreams... DAMN HIM!]

"I can't!" Yuusuke yelled back at Kurama. "I can't risk it!" His dark eyes blazing, he stared at the demonic red eyes of the false Kurama, his hand slowly lowering. "Let him go! You can do whatever the hell you want to me, but let Kurama go!"

"I thought you'd see it my way." His voice was intolerably smug. "But, really, Yuusuke, I don't see why you bother. All he's ever done is lie to you. Every single thing I've ever told you, and ever will tell you, is the simple truth. Even Kurama himself will admit that, if he's honest. Which he rarely is." The mirror Kurama smiled, stroking Yuusuke's hair. "Don't you prefer the truth to a liar? You should prefer me to him. He's nothing like you imagine him to be, and you'll be stunned when I tell you what he's really like, because I *am* him, but I'm the part that doesn't lie." The low, husky voice took on an extra-persuasive note. "You'd be a fool to pass this up, Yuusuke," he said, smiling angelically as the vines tightened even more, crushing more breath out of his revoltingly weak red haired half and preventing any further verbal protests. "I'll never lie to you. Just think of how many times he's lied to you and tricked you just today..."

Yuusuke's skin crawled at the touch, even as the rest of his body reacted to the not-Kurama's attentions. "Lie? What lie? That nothing was wrong with him? Big fucking deal. Everyone lies about that!" One hand went back, resting against a tree to support himself as he involuntarily drew away. "Just... let him go..."

The sweetly slicing tone returned. "I'm afraid I can't. You see, I promised myself two things when I came here. And neither of these things have come to pass just yet. However, they will soon." He smiled maliciously as he turned back towards the silently struggling Kurama, whose movements were becoming weaker, spasmodic, less frequent. "A charming sight, isn't it? Dying as he lived, among the plants. Really quite fitting. But never you fear, I'll take his place in everything that matters. I'll even give you a bed of roses, if you want the old-fashioned romance style."

Kurama choked, desperately struggling to breathe. [Gather my ki... push the vines back...] Surreptitiously, the vines began to loosen, but he kept up his masquerade of slow suffering death, even though the words of his reflection angered him more and more with every passing moment. [Yuusuke may never want to talk to me after this... but at least I won't let him die! Not as long as I live!] The chilling thought passed through his mind that even if he died, this double of his probably also had a mirror-Youko form, and they would once again be a match for strength, perhaps he would even be the weaker again. [I can't let him hurt Yuusuke...]

Yuusuke waited until the false Kurama was closer, pressing against him. [Almost... almost...] He shivered as he felt the taller one's breath against his neck, grasping the back of the pink uniform jacket. He let out a quiet moan as soft lips touched his throat. [Got him.] He pressed his index finger into the black hair at the back of the head, murmured "rei gun" and fired, holding tight around his back so he couldn't escape.

The instant before it happened, the dark Kurama realized what Yuusuke was about to do. With a cry of rage, knowing he could not save himself, he snarled, "I'll take him with me!", just as the real Kurama freed himself from the vines. Sprinting for the pair, hoping he was not too late, Kurama suddenly cried out in agony as his arm tore apart, a plant ripping out from the inside. [Shimanekisou seeds! Why didn't I realise that he'd...?] The next instant, he was lost in a haze of agony as he vaguely saw his opponent disappear before his eyes, completely dissolved by the power of the Rei Gun. However, it was too late, the command had been sent, and the plants continued to grow, ripping through his body until the very last of his mirror's ki faded, stopping their sustenance and growth. The redhead collapsed to the ground with a painful crunching sound.

"Kurama!" Yuusuke ran to the redhead, falling to his knees and carefully slipping an arm under Kurama's and lifting him slightly, the small of the taller boy's back resting against the inside of one of his parted thighs. "Kurama, I'm sorry! I thought I could kill him before you'd..." The dark-haired one was ashamed to feel tears stinging his eyes.

"Yuu... suke..." Kurama tried to force himself to speak, but found that he could only whisper. Mentally, he checked himself over. The Shimanekisou plant had only erupted from his arm, but it had grown within his chest and torso, contricting his breathing. [Kurama no baka! You thought it was just the vines crushing you! Why didn't you think to check for something like this?] Although even his wounded pride had to admit that his ability to sense everything had been badly altered by - by whoever and whatever part of him that creature had been. Coughing, he realized that not only was his arm pouring out blood from the long tear in it, the vines of the Shimanekisou slick with the redness, but the blood had smeared. [Hope I don't lose too much blood...] Although at least his mirror was gone. There would be no more unexplained headaches, unexplained bruises.

"You OK?" He asked anxiously, noting the blood and the poor breathing. [MORON! Of course he's not OK!] "Oh fuck, this is my fault! I shouldn't have used the damned Rei Gun! I shoulda let you handle it!" He slipped a hand under Kurama's leg when the redhead started to slide down. "I'm so sorry..."

"Not... your... fault," Kurama managed, hoarsely. "Would have killed me, and then you, and then 'Kaasan - unh!" His body twitched slightly, the only protest the battered form could make against the pain battering it from the inside. "Now... he's gone... I'll be able to... get rid of the Shimanekisou. You did the.. right thing. If I'd paralyzed you for longer... I'd be dead, and he'd be doing..." Kurama's voice faded out as his eyes fluttered shut. He was still conscious, but barely.

"Kurama? Kurama!" [He's alive, just out cold.] Swallowing heavily, Yuusuke did something he never would have dared to had the kitsune been awake; he pressed his lips to the other's silken mouth, faintly tasting blood.

[What? I... a kiss. I can feel a kiss... Yuusuke... kissing me? Me?] If Kurama hadn't already been paralyzed, this would have stunned him into stillness. As it was, he couldn't do anything about it. Not that he wanted to. [This is a dream. Or a hallucination. But please, oh please, let it not end for a little while...]

Yuusuke allowed the kiss to linger, finally being able to do what he'd been dreaming about for so long. "Kurama, I know you can't hear me, but..." He held the beautiful one closer to his chest, carefully, "That asshole kept askin' why I wanted to save you and... reason is..." his voice dropped. "I love you."

[He... loves me? He loves me?] At that moment, Kurama would gladly have traded in the rest of both his lives in order to have one minute fully awake and conscious again, so he could touch Yuusuke, tell him that he loved him in return, kiss him back... but he found the only movement he could make was a slight movement of his eyelashes, creating a butterfly kiss that brushed delicately across Yuusuke's skin.

The delinquent jumped at the light touch. [He... he blinked or something! He's still awake! Oh shit!] "Shit," he muttered. "Oh shit. Kurama... if you remember this when you get better, please don't fucking hate me." [Please.] Carefully, he lifted the redhead.

[Hate you? Hate Yuusuke?] "Never hate you," the words passed Kurama's lips in the ghost of a whisper, so soft that they were barely audible.

Yuusuke felt an odd chill of fear grip his heart. "You... don't?" He asked softly, carrying the injured one out of the woods. "Why... not?"

"Love you too." The words were insufficient, Kurama wanted to say so much more... but he simply couldn't, and his lips still tingled with the warmth of Yuusuke's kiss, so he settled for feeling safe and comfortable in Yuusuke's arms, being carried to his home for the second time that night. He looked up weakly at Yuusuke for a moment, hoping his eyes conveyed his love and gratitude.

Glad to find the house still empty, Yuusuke laid Kurama down, removing his ruined shirt. "Kurama... I... I'll get Koenma or something to get you better. Just promise me you won't die." Smoothing the fiery locks back, he leaned in for another light kiss, careful not to hinder Kurama's breathing.

"Won't die, Yuusuke. I won't die." Smiling weakly, he reached out, trying to touch the younger boy's hand. "Yuusuke... may I... borrow some of your rei-ki? Please?"

"Yeah, take it all!" He took the slender, pale hand in his dark one, a faint blue glow surrounding their bodies. "Yeah, take it all," he repeated in a murmur closing his eyes. [Wouldn't ask for it unless he was really far gone... Don't die on me!]

"Thank you," he murmured softly, knowing what a favour Yuusuke was granting him. Carefully drawing out rei-ki, worried he might draw out too much, he combined it with his own you-ki and turned it all against the Shimanekisou that festered inside him. The plant writhed and fought in its death throes, refusing to give up its host so easily, and the light glow became a flaring, crackling aura as Kurama cried out again and again. [Hurts... so much... can't die... I promised... I don't want to break the promise...] But his body was collapsing with the huge amount of ki pouring through an already injured body, and the plant still wasn't giving in. [Die, damn you! Wither up! Go away!]

"Kurama!" [Damn you, you fucking plant!] His life energy swelled as it flooded into the slender body. [Come on Kurama, you can beat it! Please! You gotta live!] Yuusuke was beginning to feel weak, but he couldn't give up until Kurama was saved, even if he dropped dead immediately afterwards.

Just when Kurama thought he couldn't take anymore, he felt the tendrils that had been viciously wrapping tightly around his heart and lungs falter, and with one last effort, he crushed the plant, and out of the corner of his eye, he could see the vine embedded in his arm slowly wither and turn brown. Gasping and coughing, he dropped Yuusuke's hand and fell back, green eyes bright in a deathly-pale face. "Yuusuke... are you all right? I'm so sorry... I didn't have enough ki of my own... I didn't know it would hurt you so much..." Another coughing fit seized him and shook him hard. "I'm sorry. Sorry. Everything I did today... was stupid. Could have gotten us both killed."

Yuusuke had sunk to his knees and was panting softly. "Not... not your fault..." he swallowed shallowly, drawing himself up to sit on the edge of the bed. " 'Sides, would've gladly died... for you..." He stared at the vine coming out of the kitsune's arm, wanting to rip it out of the pale flesh.

Kurama smiled softly, reaching out to touch Yuusuke's hand. "Thank you. That's... nice to know. I would have died... for you, too." He shuddered weakly at the thought of that... that other with his hands all over Yuusuke. "How did you stand it? Him touching you... I couldn't bear it."

"I tried to pretend it was you... pretty damned hard. He felt... evil and dirty." He squeezed the other's hand lightly. "'Sides, if I didn't let him get that close I couldn't shoot him with my Rei Gun."

Nodding, Kurama whispered, "Yes. He said he was me, the evil side, the dirty side. In a way... at least he was right when he said he told the truth. Nothing he said was a lie. Everything he said to you was true, and everything he said to me before you arrived was true as well."

"...He called you a liar. You're not a liar. You don't lie to me, right? So that wasn't true."

Kurama closed his eyes. "I don't lie, exactly... but I don't always tell you the full truth. I... my past is so complicated, sometimes I just say that I know someone and be done with it. But there are secrets... ugly ones. I wasn't a nice person, Yuusuke. Youko isn't a complete bastard, he can be kind and compassionate to those he cares for, but all the same, I treated some people very badly. So I suppose I'm guilty of lies by omission. A lot of them, in fact."

Yuusuke didn't seem to know what to say to this. "But, you're not an awful person now," he spoke up suddenly, "so it doesn't matter what you did in the past."

A soft, bitter laugh was torn from an already abused chest. "Perhaps you think so, Yuusuke... but there are so many who do not. Including, apparently, myself. I thought I'd made peace with myself, even reconciled the differences between Youko and Minamino Shuuichi so that they work together to give me my soul while still retaining their own individuality... but it seems I don't quite agree with myself," he finished sadly.

"But... did we just kill your darkness or something? I mean, you should be OK now, right?!" Yuusuke tried to sit up but was too weak, his head slumping against the wall.

"I don't know. I just don't know. I wish I did," Kurama sighed, his alto voice rough with pain and exhaustion. "Yuusuke, all I know is that I'm sorry. And afraid." This admission came hard to him - he hated to be thought a coward. But Yuusuke had a right to know, since he was now involved in this.

"Afraid?" [Kurama's afraid?!] "Of what?" Carefully, he touched the beautiful face, trying to convey comfort without the words he didn't know how to speak.

"Afraid of myself. Afraid of what I might do. Afraid that if that creature is truly part of me, he may find a way to come back and hurt the people I love again. That's what I fear above all, Yuusuke. I don't mind pain, or dying, as long as the people I love are safe and well." Struggling to get up, arms shaking with the effort, he finally pushed himself into a sitting position, staring worriedly at Yuusuke. [Is he all right? I took so much ki from him...]

"You gotta sleep," the dark-haired one murmured, he himself having a hard time staying awake, the comforting darkness beckoning. "I don't think it'll come back," he continued, speaking of the dark one, "but if it does, we can beat his ass again."

"Yes," the fox murmured, almost allowing himself to sink back on the pillows, before... "Yuusuke..." Trying to force himself out of the bed, he kept his eyes focussed on the door, beyond which was the closet where the extra pillows and bedding was kept.

Yuusuke grabbed his good arm gently. "Don't worry about it. I'll sleep on the floor... or here... whichever... but I'm not letting you get up when you're so damned hurt." He cracked open one dark eye and tried to look serious.

Despite himself, Kurama smiled. "Okay. Sleep here, then..." The soft gentle oblivion was calling him so sweetly, and he allowed himself to sink back into Yuusuke's embrace, sighing happily. "Love you, Yuusuke..."

"Love you," came the sleepy reply, gentle lips grazing the other's temple. "Love you... Kurama..."

##OWARI##