Crow's Call
Chapter 20

Yusuke/Karasu

Thump… thump. Thump… thump.

Slow, steady beats pound into my skull like a drum in a funeral dirge, each one bringing with it a sharp flash, followed by a new image.

Thump… thump.

Sometimes it's Kurama – face pale with fear, but eyes set with that beautiful, prideful stubbornness that would put my own and Hiei's stacked together to shame. Kurama is different than we are, though. He's fine with showing weakness when he thinks it will earn him an advantage, when he thinks he's got things under control. The only time he sets his jaw and hardens his eyes like that is when he's terrified he's going to lose it.

The more rare, the more precious.

Thump, thump. Thump, thump.

Sometimes I see Hiei in the flashes: dark, gleaming eyes peering at something in his palm, or staring me down with a look that could sear my skin off.

Thump.

The blood-red flash blinds my vision again, and when it clears I find Kurama, ducked down to catch Hiei in a kiss that is soft and hungry, tender, longing, and deeply, passionately fearful. His hand courses down Hiei's cheek, trembling. It's everything I want, everything I've been dying to feel, to taste… and he's giving it to Hiei.

Thump-thump, thump-thump.

Sick, hot bile leaves my throat burning, my hands ache to tear the two apart and then just keep on tearing Hiei's limbs off. The blood flashes start coming faster.

Red stone glints in Kurama's hand. Lips curve in a bored, taunting smirk. With each flash, each drumbeat, a new emotion hits me, so hard I can barely keep standing.

Thump. Hunger.

Thump. Rage.

In the hallway, pressed against Kurama, feeling the heat of his desire as my lips graze across his skin. I feel him whimper my name, but I can't hear it over the drums.

Thumpthump, thumpthump.

They're deafening now, blocking out that low, sexy growl as he turns to murmur something that makes the drums beat faster still. The blood flashes are hitting me faster than strobe lights, their dark red glow offsetting Kurama's features until his skin is left the bleached color of death in my eyes.

And he's never looked so beautiful before.

Thumpthumpthumpthump…

Dizzy from the flashes, the drums, this energy, this raw need… The muted voice floating in the back of my head saying not to hurt him making less sense with every blinding, blood red beat. No kiss, no feel of skin on skin, no taste of blood or tears will be enough to satisfy this monster clawing up my insides…

If I don't do something now I'm gonna…

Darkness.

My mind clears, light returns, and I'm sitting on a high rooftop, looking over the village below. In the distance the black forest looms, but green and violet lanterns keep the streets just bright enough to make one's way. The garnet sky doesn't make sight-seeing any easier, half-veiled by grey clouds that look ready to loose pellets of frigid rain down on us any second. I've had enough of getting drenched in the past 24 hours, but I don't move to head back inside the school. I can't go back. It's not my world in there.

"What are you doing here, Yusuke?"

But here she is, ready to fetch me like always, anyway. I sigh, rolling a round, red pebble off the edge of the roof, watching it tumble down to the dirt streets below.

"Gonna start off by nagging me again, Kei?"

She sighs, is quiet for a few seconds, and I start to hope that she's actually left me up here in peace. Then she moves to sit beside me on the roof's edge, looking like she'd rather be anywhere else, but gritting her teeth and scooting forward to dangle her feet over the side anyway, mimicking me. I don't know who got rid of the fence that used to go all over the edge of the roof, but I'm glad they did. I never used to be able to see this view.

"Come on, Yusuke. If I don't then who will? You shouldn't be out here and you know it."

Something rustles the trees at the edge of the distant forest. A sudden, distant crack, like thunder… or a bomb going off.

I glance to Keiko and then away quickly. I can't stand the look in her eyes.

"I just… don't want to go to class today. Those freaking rumors flying around everywhere… As if school isn't already screwed up enough, now I've got to deal with everyone thinking I'm…" thumpthump. "You know." I wave my right hand out vaguely in front of me, hoping it might do to explain the words I can't seem to force out.

A second explosion sets fire to a house at the edge of the forest. The golden flames light up the night a hell of a lot better than those lanterns had been doing, and I duck my head as though the glow would suddenly reveal me in my hidden perch. Like the demons racing through the village below would suddenly stop to gawk and stare. Everyone look at Yusuke, the slinking sideshow freak.

Again Keiko sighs, and pulls herself back to her feet.

"They're going to talk whether you're there or not. But I've never known you to hide from a little persecution before."

"This is different, Keiko."

"And why is that? Admit why this is different, Yusuke. Admit that what you're doing now is actually wrong."

My eyes dart from the licking flames and, after a few seconds, manage to catch her own. I frown, part my lips, but I can't manage to summon up the words.

"…Is it?"

Another blast makes me flinch, but this time it's not an explosion. It's a thunderclap, the breaking of the storm. The rain is even colder than I'd expected, and each drop hits me like one of Touya's freaking ice daggers. I jump to my feet and move away from the ledge, grabbing Keiko's arm and leading her back before the slickening ground makes her fall. Maybe that guard-fence is a good idea after all.

When Keiko recovers from the shock of the deafening clap she pulls out of my grip, mud-brown eyes shining angrily.

"'Is it?'" She sneers as she echoes my question, screaming to be heard over the torrent of rain. "You're sick, Yusuke. And running away to this place won't let you escape from who you are, what you've done."

Thumpthump. Thumpthump.

"Maybe everyone down there is a demon, a monster. But they're still better than you, Yusuke. At least they admit what they are. They accept it. You just lie, and hurt, and then come here to hide."

My throat tightens up – guilt hitting me hard as I watch the tears fill her eyes – and suddenly dragging in enough air to speak is a chore.

On the ground below a Shadow lurches down a street of burning huts, laughing like a freaking maniac as it burns the flesh of anyone unlucky enough to get caught in its sights. I can barely hear the victims' screams, but the laughter rings loud and clear.

"Keiko, I didn't… never meant to hurt…"

"Well you did. You hurt a lot of people, and hiding out here isn't going to make it any better."

I shake my head, unblinkingly holding her dark, loathing gaze. The cold rain hits my eyes, leaving burning trails sliding down my cheeks.

"No. I didn't. I never…"

"Admit it!"

She shoves me and, startled, I stumble backward. My foot slips on the wet cement and then I'm falling… off the edge, away from the school, and down onto a dark muddy road. The impact knocks the wind out of me, and when I finally squint my eyes open I'm in the middle of the village. The school building is gone, Keiko along with it. The rain pounds into the dirt like shotgun blasts, spraying up bits of mud across my skin in a thousand tiny bursts… but however heavy and hard the rain beats, it's not enough to put out the flames raging across the village. And the sound of the pounding isn't enough to block out the distant moans and screams.

The Shadow lurches closer in the distance and I drag myself back, catching a desperate, wavering whimper that struggles to break free of my throat. I want to get up, to run, but I can't seem to get my feet under me.

Why is this happening? What brought that monster here?

I have to hide somewhere, hide before it sees me. So powerful; unparalleled skill and energy… we never could have seen it coming…

There's so much blood…

The Shadow laughs, high and cold, over the rain, and my flesh crawls as though searching for a way to escape the sound. I continue to inch backward, toward the protective shadow of the hut. My bleeding leg screams as the dirt and water seeps into the wound, and I choke back a sob.

If I make a sound then he'll hear me. If he hears me he'll find me and kill me… or worse.

As I drag my bleeding form back toward the hut, I feel the air shift – a telltale whisper of power – and lurch forward just in time to escape the flames as the shelter explodes behind me.

The Shadow looms over me, and I raise my hand, trying to muster up my own energy. We share a power, however, and his control far exceeds my own. The energy in the air, the source of my weapon, remains bent to his will.

The high laughter leaves me shuddering.

Stop it. Get out, now.

"Pretty piece of flesh," it leers, yellow teeth flashing, mud brown eyes gleaming. The rest stays shrouded in shadow. "Didn't know Quest could come so pretty… or so pitifully weak."

I snarl and, abandoning attempts at harnessing my power, launch myself upward to fly at him with my fingers curled, ready to claw out his flesh with my bare hands. He sidesteps me easily, and brings his foot down on my burnt, bloodied leg, almost patiently, as a scream wrenches free from my throat. I curl forward, nerves burning.

"Such a fragile village, populated by such delicate creatures." The Shadow sneers. "An insult to Quest, and they all bled for it."

The Shadow absently twists its foot into my wound. Trembling nausea and dizziness leaves my vision swaying, and when I come back into focus I am the Shadow. I smirk down at the young demon below me, delighting in the terror it tries to hide within his gleaming, violet eyes.

"But you…" I crouch down before the pale, dark haired child, savouring the whimper that escapes his throat as my shifting weight digs my foot deeper into his wounded flesh. I catch his chin and watch the tears well in his defiant eyes. Desire shudders through me. It's been too long since I held onto a victim and played. "You're too pretty not to let bleed a little longer."

My mind is not some storybook for you to explore, detective. Out!

A blood flash hits me hard in the chest, with the sensation of talons tearing into my flesh. When the flash clears I'm on the roof of the school again, but the Makai village has disappeared around it. The sky is blue, and city buildings stretch out around me in all directions. The violet-eyed boy and his Shadow tormenter are nowhere in sight. Instead, Keiko stands before me, glaring.

"Admit it."

Or maybe the Shadow isn't gone, after all. I lower my eyes to gaze down at my hands, and find a drifting mist stretched out before me instead. The tightness of tears is gone from my throat and I look back up to Keiko, smiling.

"Alright, Kei, if that's what you want to hear: I did it. I killed Kurama. I killed everyone."

Thump, thump. Thump, thump.

A soft, gentle touch, a kiss, caresses my forehead, and the shadows melt away from my flesh. All at once I'm myself again, solid and whole. The scene around me fades to black, but the darkness embraces warmly. An angel's voice whispers through it, more perfect than the purest scream of terror or agony, and I reach out to it with a longing that has nothing to do with hunger, with desire, or with rage, but with something I'd almost lost back there to the Shadow and the sweet taste of blood. Something so precious I'm almost afraid to touch it, but something I know I'm gonna fight like hell to never let go of.

"I am so sorry to have gotten you involved in this, Yusuke."

It's confusing, that feeling. Unfamiliar, and about as easy to hold onto as a bar of soap under water, but that leap in my heart at the sound of his voice, that's more valuable than any rush I could get from pain, from power, from any of those bizarre, sickening desires that I've been devoting myself to lately. I don't need to play those games, 'cause what I've got beats those out blindfolded and with all of its limbs chained together behind its back. Not to sound like a sappy sixties song or anything, but maybe, just maybe, all you need is

I sink into the darkness, the surrendering to the warm, cozy comfort, and the next thing I know I'm being blinded. Some idiot must have decided it would be fun so shine a spotlight in my face while I was sleeping or something. Whoever it is, I'm gonna beat the crap out of…

My eyes crack open and I spy the east-facing window, shades non-existent since Grandma's way too cheap to splurge on a couple pieces of fabric to let her guests get a sane amount of rest in the mornings. The idiot shining a light in my face just so happens to be the sun, beaming bright and daring me to follow through on my silent threat as it pokes its big fat head above the tree line of Genkai's monster-filled forest o' fun.

Wearily raising one hand to point at the bright, yellow face, I grumble, "I'll deal with you later." Yeah, I just threatened the sun. So what? A sleepy detective is a grouchy detective. Wanna make something of it?

Groaning, I begin to turn over, with every intention of burying my face in a pillow and not lifting it out again 'til noon. Maybe if I'm lucky I'll be able to skip right past Nightmare World Blood-Fest and drift back into that amazing, dreamless sleep that's been the most restful few hours I've managed in ages. I freeze, though, when I feel something sigh and begin to shift along with me.

Glancing down, I catch sight of Kurama curled up at my side on the tiny bed. One arm is tucked under his head like a pillow, and the other hand has slid up across my chest, fingers catching on the fabric of my shirt. I stop breathing, afraid of waking him with any sudden movement, and his fingers twitch, stretching out in a slow, searching caress, before curling closed again.

My eyes slide shut, surprised just how fast and hard happiness, contentment, and a thousand other wonderful, unnamable feelings hit me at the sight of him here, the simple feel of his hand, and just the idea of waking up next to him. Gods, I can't understand how just yesterday this feeling was nothing more than a few confused dreams… don't ask me how it changed so fast. I'm more confused than anyone… but really, for the most part, I couldn't care less.

He didn't stay with Hiei last night. He checked on him, and came to find me.

I suck in a steadying breath through my teeth, and then open my eyes to risk a second look over at Kurama, praying my heart won't up and explode from the insane level of emotions bouncing around inside of me. I need to take in as much as I can, remember everything, make the most of this moment.

I find his clothes rumpled, and his rose-petal hair a little mussed by sleep. A few stray tendrils tumble down over his cheek, catching at the corner of his lip in a way that makes me feel like he must have put it there on purpose just to draw my eyes in that direction. Maybe I'm crazy, but something about seeing Kurama this way, without any walls up, letting a few little messy imperfections show, just make him all the more beautiful.

Damn it, he's turned me into such a freaking sap.

I can't help it, though. He's the most amazing creature I've ever seen in my life. How is it that I haven't ever noticed it until recently? I guess I just haven't been allowing myself to. Haven't been letting myself to want to breathe him in, bury my face in his thick, gorgeous locks, have been fighting back every urge to pull him close and nuzzle that adorable, upturned nose against mine or trace the sloping curves of his jaw, or kiss those pale, petal lips… wait a sec. Backtrack to "jaw" and "lips".

Why is the entire left side of his face tinged purple and blue? A dark, wicked bruise is marring not only his jaw line, but working all the way up to circle one eye. Those lips I've been dying to feel locked on mine again are puffed, with blood drying in one corner, catching and darkening that one small tendril of hair curled around the edge of it.

"What the hell happened to you?" He doesn't seem to hear my quiet question, but as soon as I reach forward to brush his bruised skin he starts, eyes shooting open and jerking back so fast that he almost falls off the side of the bed. His wary look doesn't fade as his eyes find mine, fingers clenching hard on the bed sheets.

What the hell? Why is he all freaked out? Isn't he the one that came in here and fell asleep with me?

"Kurama, what's wrong?"

He straightens his back with a conscious effort, slowly loosening his hold on the bed, but that wild, freaked out look doesn't fade from his eyes.

"Yusuke?"

Ok, that's new. He almost sounds like he's not sure. I push my bangs away from my face, murmuring, "Yeah, who the hell else would I be?"

He still doesn't seem sure, eyeing me critically, unblinkingly. My face starts to get warm.

"What? I look like crap in the morning, I know, but I'm not totally unrecognizable."

Finally his tension seems to ease up, and he smiles.

"Yusuke…" he repeats, with a fondness that leaves my insides gushy and trembling, before adding, "I'm sorry; I'd been having a nightmare. It was… quite vivid."

The memory of last night's dream hits me hard - that crazy demon landscape, the freaky shadow monster from hell, the kid with the violet eyes who it looked at like I'd looked at Kurama in those other dreams on the nights before… where is my brain coming up with this stuff? My teeth grit and I break his gaze.

"Yeah… know what you mean."

His hand touches my chin, and leans to the side so he's back in my line of vision.

"Nightmares come and go." His eyes are so understanding… it's almost like he actually knows what I've been dreaming and is telling me it's ok. Yeah… 'cause me violently killing him night after night, perfectly forgivable. All these sicko thoughts floating through my head… if he knew, he'd chop me to pieces with some killer plant in a second flat.

"Let us just be content for the time we have together in reality."

Damn… but that's hot. In a really sweet sort of way. Who knew Fox-boy could manage to be so goddamn adorable? He tilts his head a bit and a shadow falls away from his face, bringing his injury back into full view.

"Yeah, reality," I snap, raising my hand to brush over his bruised skin. "Where you look like you got in between a little-league batter and his wiffle ball. What the hell happened?"

A flash of tension gives way to a wry smile before Kurama responds.

"I'll inform Hiei that you think he hits like a child."

"A child with a baseball bat. They can be nasty." I pause. "Wait, Hiei hit you?" Even before he can respond I'm on my feet, determined to beat the crap out of that firebrat for hurting what's mi… for hurting Kurama.

The fox catches my arm before I can move away, shaking his head.

"Thank you for your concern, Yusuke, but it's nothing I can't handle. He was panicked when he woke up last night, and struck me before he realized who I was. It was my fault for not anticipating that his condition would have affected him so severely. I should have kept my distance."

"But…"

His words make sense, but that doesn't make me want to tear into Hiei any less. It's Kurama's face, Kurama's face, and Hiei just… wait. Does that sound shallow? Maybe it is, a little. The sight of those bruises across his cheek… hell, I've seen Kurama with wounds a hundred times worse than this and it hasn't left me feeling sick this way. This twisting, anxious, angry feeling writhing around inside me… it has to be because it was his face. And because it was Hiei who did it.

His pointer finger presses firmly against my lips, stopping my slow-coming argument.

"But nothing. It wasn't his fault, and I've more than forgiven him. Anyway, with all of the plants I can summon to my aid it should be fully healed by this afternoon."

It's hard to hold onto hardcore anger like that with Kurama touching my lips and, sighing, I allow his other hand to tug me back down to sitting on the narrow bed, crossing my legs under me.

"Can I just hit him once?" He smiles and leans forward, moving his finger away and replacing it with his lips for one sweet, jarring second.

"Yusuke…" And he seems a lot happier by my desire to beat the snot out of Hiei than he really should be. "As always, my valiant, noble defender… Though you realize that if I wished revenge on him I could easily get it, myself."

Noble defender… I fight the rush of giddy pride before it spills across my face in a dorky grin. I was expecting something more along the lines of "overprotective idiot," but if he wants to go with noble, I'll take it. Trying not to look too happy about his words, I shrug.

"Well yeah, but what fun would that be for me?"

He smiles, soft and slow, and leans in a second time. He takes his sweet time closing in, so I'm sure I'm going to be ready for it, but the spark that hits me the second our lips touch still manages to catch me off guard. The sick, writhing need to bite his lip until it begins to bleed again hits me at the same time, but right now I barely feel it. Just being like this right now, being happy… it feels so good it almost hurts.

I let him take the lead for a few seconds in these soft, brushing baby kisses that leave me wanting so much more, at the same time wanting nothing but this. His nose nuzzles against mine as his lips drift torturously across my skin, and my eyes flutter shut with a soft moan.

A second later he's pulled back, and a mischievous glint has entered his eyes when I open my own with a frown.

"Feeling any better yet?"It takes me a second to catch his reference, from that first time I'd kissed him in the hotel room yesterday (was it really just yesterday?) but when I do, I match his grin with one of my own.

"Hell yeah. And my teachers always told me threats of violence would get me nowhere."

"Oh no…" Kurama shakes his head, eyes lowering in mock regret. "I'm encouraging bad behavior, aren't I?"

"Mm…" I tilt my head in closer. "Definitely…"

"Guys, there you are!" A sudden voice startles us both, and sends me shooting backward so fast I actually tumble off the side of the freakishly small bed. The back of my head collides with the wooden floor, and as I sit up, rubbing it and cursing, I catch sight of Kuwabara standing in the doorway, Genkai a step behind. The loser's excited look shifts to one of confusion as he glances between Kurama and me.

"Damn it, what's with the early morning shouting, Kuwabara?"

He ignores me, raising his brows and asking, "Uh… what did I just walk in on?"

~~
TBC

A/N: Kind of a sudden note to leave off on, I know, but this scene goes on for a while, so I thought it best to just split it at a fun, shock-value moment. (Fun… or evil? ::wicked grin:: )

Quick note to my old readers and reviewers: I honestly gave up on this story a long time ago, for a lot of different reasons. My OLD old readers probably realize by now that my writing ability can shift violently depending on my personal life, and I really thought this story had become a sad victim of RL. However, the Crow's Call seems to possess more power than even I realized, because I've felt my mind drawn back to it time and time again, urging me to bring the story to completion. I think this story is some of my better writing, and it would be a shame to leave it unfinished, so I guess as of now you can consider me BACK! I hope you all know that my ridiculously long hiatus doesn't mean I didn't appreciate you or your feedback. I love you all, and would love to hear from you again!