“Dude, I can’t believe we’re actually here!”
Kuwabara Kazuma’s loud voice made Hiei wince. He turned a dark glare on his companion as they entered the concert hall.
“I can’t believe I’m fucking here either,” he muttered.
“What was that?” Kuwabara asked, ducking his orange haired head to hear his short friend better.
“Nothing!” Hiei yelled into his ear. He felt a surge of satisfaction as the other man winced, rubbing his ear.
“You don’t have to yell,” he snapped at Hiei.
People pushed against them, knocking Hiei into Kuwabara and he cursed. This was why he hated crowds. His short stature made him vulnerable to being knocked off his feet.
They followed the flow of people until they found their seats, about midway up the hall. Hiei found himself sitting between Kuwabara and his other friend Urameshi Yusuke, a position that he was not pleased with.
The dark-haired boy pulled a pack of cigarettes out of his coat pocket and was about to light one when Kuwabara caught sight of the flash of the lighter.
He leaned over Hiei and smacked Yusuke’s arm. “Don’t you dare,” he said. “They’ll throw us out.”
“I never even wanted to come,” Yusuke muttered, but he put the pack back into his pocket.
Kuwabara had saved up and bought the tickets for this concert months ago. He’d been planning to go with two of his friends from the university he attended but they had both been forced to cancel. Kuwabara had talked Yusuke and Hiei into accompanying him instead.
Yusuke whistled as he watched a girl wearing a pink mini-skirt and tank top seat herself in the row below them. “At least there are a lot of hot chicks here,” he commented.
“Don’t you have a girlfriend?” Kuwabara demanded.
“Yeah, well, no harm in looking,” Yusuke said. “Besides, she’s not here so how will she know?”
Kuwabara glared at him. “You shouldn’t treat your girlfriend that way,” he said. “It’s disrespectful.”
Hiei found it difficult to see around the heads of the people in front of him. The seats were staggered in height but Hiei was shorter than almost everyone else there. He slumped in his seat, annoyed. This was such a waste of time. He didn’t even know anything about the performer they were here to see.
“So, who is this guy anyway?” Yusuke asked. Apparently, he was as oblivious as Hiei.
Kuwabara gave him an incredulous look. “You don’t know?” he asked.
“Nope,” Yusuke said breezily. “Only that his name is Kurama or something stupid like that. And he looks like a girl.”
Kuwabara glared at him. “He’s a musical genius,” he snapped, irate at Yusuke’s flippant attitude. “His first album sold out before it was even officially released.”
“How is that even possible?” Yusuke muttered.
Hiei silently wished that he could swap seats with either of his friends. He hated it when they argued over his head like this. “Shut up,” he told them.
Yusuke glowered down at him but his head shot up as the lights dimmed. “It’s starting already?” he asked. “I thought we’d be waiting for ages.”
The opening melody of the first song sounded vaguely familiar to Hiei and he realised that he’d heard it on the radio but had never paid much attention to it. Kuwabara stood up and cheered along with the rest of the crowd when the singer entered the stage. Hiei stood up too, but not to cheer. He wanted to get a look at the singer but couldn’t see over the heads of the people in front of him. Even now he had to stand on his chair to see the stage. There had been posters up as they’d walked into the building but he’d been too occupied with not getting crushed by the crowd to look at them.
Yusuke remained in his seat, rolling his eyes at Kuwabara. He was uninterested in the show.
At first, Hiei couldn’t see much of the man except his figure as he was shrouded in smoke. But when the smoke cleared Hiei saw that he was young, probably his own age. Hiei felt a stab of envy. Despite his youth, he probably already had more money than Hiei would make in his lifetime.
He had long red hair with bangs framing his face. His figure was slender and Hiei could see why Yusuke had said that he looked like a girl. It was no wonder he was so popular. With looks like that, even if his music was crap, he’d still win over fans based solely on his appearance.
Hiei couldn’t see the man’s eyes as they were too far apart but the monitors situated throughout the concert hall focused on the man’s face, providing Hiei with an excellent view. They were a piercing emerald green, though his features were Japanese. There had to be some kind of foreign blood in his family unless he dyed his hair or wore contacts. Hiei privately hoped that wasn’t the case. He liked the colour.
And the man’s voice… It was rich and sensual. He hit every note perfectly. Before he even realised it, Hiei was swaying slightly to the music.
“Not you, too,” Yusuke grumbled from beside him. Hiei looked down to see Yusuke staring up at him from his seat, phone held in one hand. He’d been playing a game rather than watching the concert. Hiei decided to ignore him and turned back to the stage.
“He’s good, right?” Kuwabara asked, leaning in to speak to Hiei.
“I suppose,” Hiei admitted grudgingly.
“Told you,” Kuwabara said smugly, giving Hiei’s shoulder a friendly shove.
Hiei scowled but didn’t reply. He hated admitting that the orange-haired idiot was right about anything.
Eventually, Yusuke left to get some drinks for everyone during the intermission. He took a long time about it and Kuwabara complained when he got back.
“What were you doing, man?” he asked. “There’s no way it was that busy.”
Yusuke scratched his head, a sheepish expression coming onto his face. “Well… there was this girl,” he said.
At the glares he earned from both Hiei and Kuwabara he said defensively, “What?”
Hiei contemplated dumping his can of soda on Yusuke’s head then thought better of it. What was it to him if Yusuke cheated on Keiko? It was none of his business. Besides, he really wanted that drink. It was so hot in here.
After the concert, Yusuke, Kuwabara and Hiei stood on the sidewalk outside the hall.
“So, it was okay, right?” Kuwabara asked Hiei.
“I guess so,” Hiei sighed grudgingly. He didn’t understand why Kuwabara seemed to need his validation.
“I’ve got some CDs if you want to borrow them,” Kuwabara told him.
“No, thanks,” Hiei promptly responded. He didn’t want to owe Kuwabara anything.
“Well, that was an evening of my life I’ll never get back,” Yusuke grumbled around his cigarette.
“Yes, because you usually spend your time in productive pursuits,” Hiei muttered. Kuwabara attended college and Hiei worked in a bar but Yusuke was currently unemployed. Yusuke glared at him and Hiei returned it.
“Well, I’m going home,” Yusuke said. “I’ll see you guys whenever.” He turned and started walking down the street, disappearing into the shadows.
Kuwabara looked disappointed as he watched Yusuke leave. Hiei suspected that he’d been hoping that Yusuke would enjoy the concert as well. It was too much to ask, really. Yusuke had absolutely no appreciation for music.
“You going home, too?” Kuwabara asked Hiei finally.
“Yeah,” Hiei confirmed. “I have to work tomorrow.”
“Thanks for coming, man,” Kuwabara told him. “Would’ve sucked if I had to come on my own.”
Hiei shrugged, feeling uncomfortable with Kuwabara’s gratitude. “Don’t stick around here too long,” he warned Kuwabara.
Kuwabara gave him a confused look but nodded. “See you around.” He clapped Hiei on the shoulder.
Hiei left, walking towards the train station. It was located close to the concert hall so he didn’t have far to walk. He quickly became caught up in the stream of people heading in the same direction.
When Hiei got home he microwaved a frozen meal for dinner. He’d eaten at the concert but it had been junk food and he was still hungry. He lived off frozen meals as he was a terrible cook.
His small apartment was cheap and a little run-down. His furniture was second-hand but he’d gotten some good deals on the pieces.
After dinner, Hiei booted up his laptop and curiously looked up Kurama on the internet. There was a slew of photos and articles about him. He was, as Hiei had suspected, 21 years old, which was his own age. He’d only become famous in the last year or so. Kurama was a stage name but no one seemed to know his real name. Hiei found that surprising as his appearance was unusual. Surely he was recognised? Or maybe his friends and family helped keep his identity hidden?
Hiei stayed up far later than he’d intended to while looking up information on the redheaded singer. He had the afternoon shift at the bar he worked at the next day so he shut down the laptop and showered before he went to bed. Kurama’s voice echoed in his dreams like a siren’s song.
Kurama ducked his head as his bodyguard maneuvered him through the press of people with his large hand firmly wrapped around his upper arm. Kurama wanted to complain that he was holding him too tightly but he bit back the words.
Reporters shouted questions at him as they passed but Kurama was unable to answer. He doubted that they would even hear him over their shouts. He was relieved when he finally reached the sanctuary of the car.
His manager was already seated in the back of the limousine when Kurama got in. The tall older man was sipping red wine.
“Well done, Shuichi,” the man said as the limousine pulled away from the curb. “Do you want something to drink?”
“No, thank you,” Kurama said politely. “And please call me Kurama.”
Yomi scowled at him. “We’re alone,” he pointed out. “No one will overhear us.”
Kurama frowned at the blind man, even though he knew Yomi couldn’t see it. “Nonetheless,” he said testily, “I do not wish for any accidental slip-ups.”
Yomi’s lips pursed. He was displeased with Kurama’s insinuation that he might be so careless but he let it pass.
“I’ve booked you another show next week at a local venue,” he informed Kurama. “Since you don’t want to travel right now. It will be far smaller and more exclusive than this one.”
And he would be charging a hell of a lot of money for the tickets, Kurama thought sourly. But he had no say on ticket prices so he held his peace. He had no say on much of anything these days.
He felt a small stab of regret. He wished that he had negotiated more when he’d been offered the contract, but he’d been so happy to be signed and had not wanted to lose the opportunity. The contract would need to be renewed in just a few weeks though and Kurama was looking forward to it. He knew that his current popularity would give him a lot of leverage in the negotiations with his record company and he intended to use it.
“After that, I want a break,” he said quietly.
Yomi gave him a hard look, his eyes somehow locking onto Kurama’s face despite the fact that he couldn’t see him. Kurama found that unsettling. He found a lot of things about his manager unsettling. And irritating.
“No,” he said firmly.
“But-” Kurama started to argue.
“No,” Yomi repeated. “You will fulfil your obligations.”
Kurama’s shoulders sagged. If he wasn’t doing shows he was doing interviews, or photo shoots, or travelling. It was an exhausting schedule and he rarely got a break. He missed his mother. This week he’d had the opportunity to see her as she lived nearby but he often spent months at a time overseas. His father had died when he was young, leaving her to raise him on her own. He hated leaving her.
He hated to admit it, but he wasn’t enjoying singing as much as he had before. He felt it was becoming too much about the money. And he rarely got the chance to sing his own songs anymore. He didn’t like the pop songs that Yomi insisted would sell.
His manager was right. The songs did sell, but Kurama couldn’t really put his heart into them. It just wasn’t his sort of music.
“Go to bed as soon as you get in,” Yomi told him. “You have a photo shoot tomorrow morning.”
Kurama sighed and nodded. The limo pulled up and a moment later his bodyguard opened the car door. Kurama slid out, his bodyguard taking hold of his arm again as he towed Kurama towards the front door of his apartment building. Behind them, the limo pulled away, sliding easily into the flow of traffic.
Kurama glanced sideways at his bodyguard as they stood in the elevator. The man was large and had dark skin. He wore sunglasses even inside the building. He also rarely spoke. He had introduced himself as Toguro and that was all Kurama knew about him. His attempts to befriend the man had met with stony indifference.
But he took his job protecting Kurama seriously. He never went anywhere without a gun strapped to his waist. Though his intimidating bulk was usually enough to deter anyone looking to cause Kurama harm. Kurama privately thought that Yomi was going a little overboard with his protection. Surely a bodyguard in his own apartment was unnecessary.
But it was in the contract so Kurama had to put up with it. And the man was respectful of Kurama’s privacy so it wasn’t so bad.
Kurama waited in the entryway of his apartment while Toguro searched the apartment. He thought the process was silly but Toguro always ignored his objections. So he waited patiently until Toguro returned and gave him a curt nod. Kurama went straight to the kitchen and opened the fridge. Inside he found a meal wrapped in plastic wrap waiting for him. He removed the wrap and microwaved the food, then sat down at the dining room table and began to eat. Toguro had disappeared, likely to the guest room, which was where he slept.
Kurama sighed as he stared around his silent apartment. Eating meals by himself was very lonely. His apartment was luxurious and it had everything he needed but it didn’t feel like home. With its open-plan style and white walls, it felt like a display home.
Kurama washed his dishes up in the sink and went to his bedroom. A large ensuite was attached to it and Kurama was glad for it as he enjoyed his baths. He fully intended to take Yomi’s advice and go to sleep early as he knew that the photo shoot would be exhausting.
Kurama found it difficult to hide his exhaustion the next morning. Yomi gave him a disapproving look as he was having his makeup done for the photoshoot.
“I told you to go straight to bed,” he scolded Kurama. Kurama’s constant yawning and occasional fumbles in his speech had given away his current state to the blind man.
“I did,” Kurama returned, feeling as though he were a child being scolded by his mother. He was a grown man and didn’t deserve such treatment.
Kurama’s head jerked around in surprise to stare at the speaker. Toguro stood by the door, meaty arms crossed over his chest and dark sunglasses covering his eyes as usual. Kurama hadn’t expected the man to stick up for him.
Yomi still looked dissatisfied but let the subject drop. Kurama was sure that this wasn’t the end of it, however.
Hiei glowered at the blonde woman leaning over his bar and flashing her cleavage at him. As if that would make him give her free drinks. He mentally scoffed.
“Pay up,” he told her.
She pouted but reached into her small purse and tossed some coins onto the counter. Hiei took them without comment and got her drink order.
The afternoon had been quiet but now that it was turning into evening the bar was becoming busy. And much livelier. Hiei was suspiciously keeping an eye on the table in the far corner as it looked like there would be a brawl there soon.
Not that it was his problem. He wasn’t a security guard and wasn’t expected to deal with that kind of shit.
Hiei turned in the direction of a shout. Another customer was trying to get his attention. He sighed. He hated his job. He hated dealing with people full-stop but having to be polite to them was really just rubbing it in. Often, on nights like this, he had a difficult time keeping his temper in check. The other employees found it very amusing and teased him endlessly about it.
He’d been looking for another job for a while now but hadn’t found anything worth putting in for. Nothing better than this crap, anyway.
After his shift, Hiei returned to his apartment. He didn’t feel like going to bed yet so he watched television for a while and exchanged texts with Yusuke and Kuwabara. Kuwabara had spent the day attending classes at the local university and was supposed to be working on an assignment until he became distracted by his friends. Yusuke had been at the arcade all day and had gotten into trouble for it from his girlfriend Keiko. Yusuke’s complaints about how unfair this was comprised most of the conversation.
Hiei finally bailed out of the conversation and left Kuwabara to commiserate with Yusuke about how ridiculous and unreasonable girls could be. Hiei personally thought that Keiko was in the right. Yusuke had been out of work for months now and had made little effort to find employment. Keiko had a right to be angry with him.
Hiei was glad that he didn’t have a girlfriend to pester him. He lived his life with no deep attachments and he was happy that way. He never had to answer to anyone about where he was all day or cater to their needs. He was sure that it wasn’t necessary to have a partner to be content in his life.
Though there was someone that he wished was still in his life. Memories floated up from the depths of his mind. They were happy ones but tinged with regret and guilt. Hiei ruthlessly shoved them back down. He would never get to sleep if he let himself succumb to them.
Kurama was exhausted as he entered his apartment that night. For once, he was glad of Toguro’s hold on him as it stopped him from falling flat on his face and completely embarrassing himself. This time he didn’t bother humouring Toguro’s need to check the apartment. As soon as Toguro released his arm, Kurama pushed past him and went to the kitchen.
Again, a meal waited for him in the fridge. His fingers fumbled over the buttons of the microwave as he accidentally tapped the wrong mode. Cursing, he fixed his mistake and leaned against the counter as he waited for the microwave to beep.
He felt more than heard Toguro beside him. He tried to pull away as Toguro placed one large hand on his forehead. The bodyguard let out a grunt of dissatisfaction before hooking an arm around Kurama’s shoulders and the other behind his knees. Kurama squeaked in indignation as he was lifted off his feet. Toguro carried him through the apartment, Kurama’s head spinning as they turned into his room.
His back hit the soft mattress with an oomph. Toguro stared down at him from behind his sunglasses, lips turned down into a frown.
“Stay there,” he said gruffly before turning on his heel and exiting the room.
Kurama rested his head against the pillows and tried to slow his racing heart. He briefly considered disobeying and returning to the kitchen for his dinner but the bed was so comfortable and his limbs felt heavy. His head felt foggy and he closed his eyes, intending to rest for only a moment. Before he realised it, he was deeply asleep.
Kurama woke to something wet wiping his face. He turned his face away, pressing his cheek into the pillow.
“Kurama? Kurama, wake up,” a familiar voice said.
Kurama opened his eyes and turned his head back to see Toguro sitting on the bed beside him, washcloth in hand. Behind him stood his manager Yomi. He wore a displeased frown on his face.
“You should have told us you were sick,” he snapped at Kurama.
Kurama’s ire rose. He felt as if he were once again being blamed for something that wasn’t his fault. Should have done this, should have done that. He was sick of hearing it.
“Go away,” he said, with a bite in his voice.
Yomi’s dark eyes hardened. “You’re sick,” he said. “We’ll discuss this when you’re feeling better.”
Kurama scowled. He had the impression that Yomi was treating him like a misbehaving child. He was completely ignoring Kurama’s feelings in favour of his own agenda. It was nothing new, but today it rankled more than it usually did.
Yomi left, after instructing Toguro to make sure that Kurama took the medication that the doctor had provided. Apparently, he’d been examined while he was asleep. Also, apparently, he was incapable of managing his own medication. He was glad when Yomi exited the room, leaving him alone with Toguro.
Toguro picked up a pill bottle from the nightstand and shook out two pills onto his massive palm. Kurama took them and the cup of water that was offered immediately afterwards. He swallowed the pills down. They left a faint unpleasant taste in his mouth.
He laid his head back on the pillow and stared up at the white ceiling. The fan spun lazily overhead, somehow soothing in its constant steady motion.
“You have the next week off,” Toguro informed him, his gruff voice cutting through Kurama’s sleepy haze. “Yomi wants to make sure that you recover fully.”
“Mmmm,” Kurama said in answer. Secretly he was surprised. Yomi must really be pissed with him. No performances, interviews, photo shoots or appearances for a whole week. He wondered if he could play on his illness and get longer. Could he get away with that? He wasn’t sure, given how closely he was monitored. No doubt that his week off would include at least one more medical examination.
Toguro left him alone to rest and Kurama drifted off to sleep, too tired to keep his eyes open.
Kurama spent the next three days sleeping. Toguro brought him his meals and gave him his medicine. By the fourth day, Kurama was feeling better. He’d sat in the living room for a while and tried to read but found that the novel couldn’t hold his attention. He was bored.
He went into his room and found his coat. He slid into it and started for the bedroom door, only to find Toguro’s bulky frame blocking it.
Kurama looked up at the dark surface of Toguro’s sunglasses, seeing his own face reflected there. “I’m going out,” he said.
To his surprise, Toguro stepped aside, letting him pass. Silently Toguro followed him into the entryway. Kurama put on his shoes and placed his hand on the doorknob, pausing there.
“You are not going to stop me?” he asked.
“I’m not your mother,” Toguro returned. “if you want to go out I won’t stop you. But I will be going with you.”
Kurama exited the apartment. Toguro locked the door behind them, sticking the key into his pocket. His bodyguard always carried the key. Kurama had one of his own but had never actually had to use it.
Toguro didn’t ask any questions about where they were going. He simply followed in Kurama’s wake, silently watching their surroundings. His presence made the skin on the back of Kurama’s neck crawl but he didn’t object. The fact that Toguro hadn’t called Yomi to tattle on him yet or tried to drag him back to the apartment relieved him. He could put up with the man’s stoic presence if it meant that he would be allowed some freedom.
Kurama got on the bus and took it to the park. He had fond memories of coming to this place with his mother as a child. He always tried to visit at least once every time he returned home.
He’d toyed briefly with the idea of visiting his mother instead but having just gotten over an illness, he was worried that she would catch it.
The park was busy when they arrived. Kurama purchased a cup of tea and made for his favourite spot. It was a secluded bench nestled amongst rows of gardens. He was pleased to find it empty. He sat down with his tea and pulled his novel out of his bag. He didn’t bother looking around to see what Toguro was doing. He could suit himself, as far as Kurama was concerned.
The sunlight was warm on Kurama’s back and he quickly became uncomfortable and removed his coat, draping it over the back of the seat. The sound of birds twittering and children playing in the distance was soothing. Tension eased from his shoulders as he became absorbed in his book.
He almost jumped out of his skin when he felt a hand on his shoulder. His head jerked around to see Toguro peering down at him.
“Time to go,” he said.
Kurama glanced at his watch and his eyes widened. He’d been there for far longer than he’d intended. As he packed away his novel his stomach growled.
Toguro shadowed him across the park and to the bus stop. The setting sun cast an orange glow over the street.
Despite how non-productive the day was, Kurama had enjoyed it. It had been a long time since he’d been able to simply waste an entire day doing whatever he wanted. He rarely had any days off and the few he did have were spent taking care of personal issues that he didn’t have time for while he was performing or recording.
Kurama didn’t realise anything was wrong until Toguro gestured for Kurama to enter the apartment ahead of him. He paused for a moment, confused by his bodyguard’s odd behaviour, then shrugged it off. Maybe Toguro was feeling relaxed after their day in the park.
He stepped inside and was about to remove his shoes when a muscled arm wrapped around his waist. Before he could cry out a hand clamped over his mouth. Kurama was lifted off his feet, his legs kicking out uselessly as he panicked. He didn’t understand what was happening. Why was Toguro doing this?
A dark figure stepped into the entryway and approached. He had long dark hair tied back in a ponytail and cold violet eyes. He wore a black suit. He dug around in Kurama’s coat pocket and removed his mobile phone. He dropped it onto the wooden floor and brought his black dress shoe down onto it. The screen shattered under the impact.
“It’s clear,” he said. “Let’s go.”
Then he reached beneath his jacket and pulled out something small. At first, Kurama couldn’t make out what it was as the man fiddled with it. Then he lifted it and Kurama saw that it was a syringe. The man took hold of Kurama’s arm and jabbed the needle in. It hurt. Kurama felt a strange sensation travel up his arm as the drug ran through his veins. Darkness swept him away, as inevitable as the tide.
When Kurama woke he was in a strange room. As he looked around he saw that the room was bare of any kind of decoration. The only furniture was the bed he lay on. The window was boarded up, blocking out any natural light.
Kurama sat up slowly. As he swung his legs over the side of the bed the door opened. Kurama immediately tensed up. A strange man entered the room, followed by Toguro.
“What is this about?” he demanded. “I want to go home.”
The stranger frowned. His eyes were hard and his features sharp. He was older than Kurama and his long dark hair was thinning. Toguro’s expression remained impassive.
“Not yet,” the stranger said. “I know these accommodations aren’t what you’re used to but you’ll be staying here for a while.”
“How long?” Kurama demanded. “And why? What do you want from me?”
“Nothing,” the man told him. “Your manager, on the other hand…”
“Yomi?” Kurama asked, perplexed. What did his manager have to do with this?
“Your manager cheated me out of a large sum of money some time ago,” the stranger informed Kurama. “You’re going to help me get it back.” The man smirked at Kurama. Kurama felt his hands ball into fists.
“So, you’re going to ransom me,” he said, wanting to be certain of his facts.
“Yes,” the man told him plainly. “If Yomi wants his pretty cash-cow back, he’ll pay up.” The man turned to Toguro. “Make sure he stays in good condition.”
Toguro gave a curt nod in response. The man turned on his heel and left the room, shutting the door behind him. Toguro remained in the room. Kurama glared hatefully up at him.
“How much did they pay you?” he demanded. He felt betrayed by Toguro’s actions.
“I’ve always worked for him,” Toguro told him. “I took the job with Yomi on his orders.”
“Who is he?” Kurama asked. He scooted back on the bed, bringing his knees up and wrapping his arms around them. He was still dressed in the clothes he’d been wearing when he’d been abducted, though his coat had been removed and folded over the end of the bed. Also, his shoes were gone.
“His name is Sekyo,” Toguro informed him.
“Sekyo…” The name sounded familiar. Kurama tried to recall where he’d heard it, a thoughtful frown on his face.
“He owns a recording company that is in competition with Yomi,” Toguro said.
“Ah…” Kurama remembered now. “I think I sent them a demo,” he said, bitter amusement lacing his voice.
He was surprised to see Toguro’s lips quirk up briefly before settling back into his usual expression.
“I’ll bring you some food later,” he said. Before Kurama could reply, he turned and left the room. Kurama heard the lock click as the door closed.
How much later? Kurama had no way of telling time as there was no natural light in the room. Illumination came from the naked bulb above his head. Kurama scanned the room but there was simply nothing that he could use to protect himself or affect an escape. In fact, there was nothing he could do here at all, except sleep.
Kurama sighed. Well, he’d wanted a break. It seemed he was getting one, though not in the way he’d planned at all.
When the door opened again, Kurama expected to see Toguro enter. Instead, he was confronted with a short girl with teal coloured hair and unusual crimson eyes. She wore a blue patterned skirt and white blouse. She gave Kurama a kind smile when she met his eyes. In her hands, she held a tray laden with covered plates.
She glanced briefly around the room and frowned. Kurama guessed that she had just realised that there was nowhere to place the tray. Finally, with a helpless and apologetic look to Kurama, she set it on the bed. Kurama eyed it warily before returning his gaze to her.
Her smile slipped a little. She gave a brief bow. “My name is Yukina,” she said, her voice soft. “Please do not be concerned about the food. It is safe. I cooked it myself.”
Should he find that reassuring? He didn’t move from his spot, sitting against the wall with his legs stretched out and feet dangling over the side of the bed.
The young woman began to twist her fingers nervously. “You are Kurama… right?” she asked hesitantly. “The musician?”
Kurama finally spoke. “Yes,” he said simply. He continued to study her, puzzled by her mannerisms. She had to be working for or with his kidnappers. But then, why did she act so hesitant and nervous?
She gave another short bow. “I’ll leave you to eat your dinner,” she said. “Please let me know if it’s not to your liking.”
She left the room, her slippered feet making no sound on the floorboards.
After she was gone, Kurama inspected the tray’s contents. Someone, probably that young woman, had gone to a lot of trouble for him, he noted. There was a small plate of stir-fry vegetables and another of honey chicken. The food was fresh and hot. A bottle of water had also been provided. Kurama was surprised to see that it was still sealed. Was that so that he would not think it drugged, he wondered.
Kurama ate the food. He was starving and the smell was far too tempting. It was good. He felt himself warming a little to that girl Yukina. If nothing else, it seemed he would be fed well.
Yukina returned sometime later. Kurama had finished the food and was sipping from the bottle of water. She dragged a small table into the room. She set it near the bed, below the boarded-up window, then glanced at the empty tray. Kurama’s eyes briefly flicked to the door she’d left open. All he could see through it was a blank hallway wall.
“Was it to your liking?” she asked uncertainly. “If there’s anything you prefer…”
Kurama waved away her offer. “It was delicious,” he said truthfully.
Yukina’s face brightened and she smiled in relief. “I’m so glad to hear that,” she said. “I’ll bring you some tea later if you like.”
Kurama nodded. “Thank you,” he said. He wondered if he could make it to the door and out into the hall. Was it worth the risk?
But he’d waited too long. A stranger stepped into the room. He was tall and wore a long, black coat. His eyes were an odd light colour and his hair was long, dark grey and unkempt.
Yukina froze, like a rabbit caught in headlights. The tray she’d just picked up clattered onto the floor. One of the plates shattered.
“You stupid girl,” the man snarled. He caught hold of a fistful of her hair and jerked her up. She cried out in pain, tears starting to spill down her cheeks as her feet kicked out.
Kurama was horrified. What should he do? He was paralysed.
“A-Ani!” she gasped out.
The man - Ani - gave her a violent shake, making her cry out again. “What are you doing, leaving the door open?” he snarled. “Do you want him to escape, you useless bitch?”
“P-please…” Yukina sobbed. “I’m sorry - I -”
Kurama began to ease himself slowly off the bed. He couldn’t simply stand by and watch this happen. Yukina was obviously terrified and in pain.
“Put her down.”
Ani spun towards the door, Yukina dangling in his grip. At the sight of Toguro standing there, he released Yukina’s hair. She dropped straight down to the floor where she curled up, her hands going to the top of her head to massage it. Kurama remained where he was, one leg beneath him on the bed and the other over the side.
“Even if he’d gotten out of that door,” Toguro began, his voice low and soft, “he wouldn’t have been able to escape.” Toguro’s voice held a dangerous edge despite its softness and it made Kurama shiver. He’d never heard him talk in that tone before.
Ani’s pale face twisted into a scowl. But instead of replying, he stormed past Toguro and out of the room. Kurama breathed a small sigh of relief as the sound of his footsteps dwindled down the hall. He slid off the bed and knelt beside Yukina.
“Are you alright?” he asked her.
She looked up at him, ruby eyes glistening with tears. She gave a small nod. Kurama awkwardly patted her shoulder.
Kurama looked up to see Toguro holding out his hand to him. “Time for your shower,” he informed him.
Kurama’s stomach twisted. But he realised that he didn’t have a choice. He refused the offer of Toguro’s hand and stood on his own. He gave one last glance back at Yukina as he followed Toguro out of the room. She was getting to her feet. Her body trembled as she clutched the mattress, using it to pull herself up.
Kurama stared around him as they walked down the hall. To his disappointment, they didn’t go far. The bathroom was only two doors down. When Kurama entered, he saw that it was a decently sized tiled room with both a bath and a shower. A set of folded-up clothes sat on the vanity.
“I’ll be outside,” Toguro told him before closing the door. Kurama immediately checked the door for a lock but found none. He also searched the drawers and cabinets for anything he could use as a weapon but it seemed that all sharp objects had been removed. Kurama sighed in disappointment.
He showered, taking his time and enjoying the hot water. Toguro could just damn well wait for him.
He got out and towelled himself dry. The towel was of high quality, as were the products that had been left in the bathroom. The clothes were plain though. Sweatpants and a t-shirt.
When Kurama opened the bathroom door he found Toguro leaning against the opposite wall, arms crossed over his chest. He took hold of Kurama’s arm and tugged him in the direction of his room. Kurama offered no resistance.
The room was empty when they entered. Yukina had already left, along with the tray and the shards of the broken plate. Kurama was disappointed. He turned to Toguro before the big man could leave.
“Has Sekyo contacted Yomi yet?” he asked.
Toguro frowned at him. “Don’t concern yourself with that,” he said. He started to close the door.
“Wait!” Kurama cried. “Does my mother know I’m missing?”
The door shut firmly, lock clicking. Kurama’s shoulders slumped. He flopped down onto the bed. Despair clawed at his mind but he held it back with an effort of will. There had to be some way out of this.
Hiei stared at the blurry photograph on his laptop screen. He’d hoped for something better when he’d opened the e-mail. The photograph had been taken at a distance and through a cafe window. The subject was probably female, given the long hair, but other than that, Hiei could make nothing out.
It probably wasn’t her. The hair didn’t seem to be the right shade.
Annoyed, he replied to the sender with a request for a better shot, doubting that he would ever hear anything back. He closed the laptop and sat back, rubbing his eyes. He’d strained them by staring at that photograph for far too long.
It had been two years since he’d offered a reward for information on his missing twin sister. The reward was modest but it was all Hiei could afford. He’d been chasing ghosts ever since. None of the leads ever panned out. Most were like this one, ambiguous and vague.
Hiei looked up at the sound of his phone ringing in the distance. He’d left it in his room charging. He sighed and got up to get it, hoping that it wasn’t his boss asking him to take an extra shift. He was first on his boss’s list of calls since he never turned a shift down unless he was dying. But he had plans with Yusuke and Kuwabara to spend the day together and had been looking forward to it.
When he answered the call, he winced at the sound of Kuwabara’s voice. Was his friend calling to cancel their arrangements?
“Hey, man, did you hear?” Kuwabara asked immediately.
Annoyance flooded Hiei as he sat down on the edge of the bed. He hated it when people started conversations with such vague questions.
“Hear what?” He demanded.
“About Kurama,” Kuwabara replied.
“About who?” Hiei questioned.
Kuwabara’s exasperated sigh came through the phone. “You forgot already, man?” He asked. “The singer, Kurama.”
The vision of a redheaded man flashed in Hiei’s mind. “Oh, that guy,” he said.
“He cancelled all of his gigs and appearances for the next month,” Kuwabara babbled. “His manager won’t say why. Isn’t that weird?”
“Sure, but I don’t see what that has to do with me,” Hiei grumbled.
Kuwabara sounded crestfallen when he said, “Well, I thought you might care since you like his music, but whatever, man.” After a brief pause, he rallied. “So, you still on for tomorrow?”
“Yeah,” Hiei said.
“Good,” Kuwabara said, relieved. “It’s been ages since we’ve just hung out all day.”
Hiei had to agree. Yusuke was usually free but getting his and Kuwabara’s schedules to line up was difficult. Kuwabara usually only got weekends off and weekends were the busiest time for Hiei. He was supposed to have Saturday off but often got called in for extra shifts.
“One question,” Hiei said. “Who’s paying for lunch?”
“You mean, Urameshi’s lunch?” Kuwabara asked, laughing. “Split it?”
“Okay,” Hiei agreed. That seemed fair. Yusuke usually never had money for his own lunch and borrowed it from his friends most of the time. He only occasionally paid it back but his friends were willing to forgive him. Despite his irresponsible attitude, Yusuke was always willing to stick up for them and help them out of jams.
“See you tomorrow, man,” Kuwabara told him.
“See you,” Hiei responded before hanging up and putting his phone back on the nightstand. He yawned. He hadn’t realised how late it was.
Before going to bed, he checked his e-mail one last time, just in case that mysterious person had responded to his request. There was nothing.
Disappointment filled Hiei as he lay on his bed staring up at the dark ceiling. Another ghost. Another lead that he was certain led nowhere. He knew that he shouldn’t have gotten his hopes up when he’d read the subject of the e-mail. He’d had them dashed so many times that he should know better by now. But emotions weren’t rational and Hiei had never been rational when it came to his sister’s disappearance.
It had happened five years ago. Yukina had gone missing while on her way home from school. Everyone had, at first, believed she’d run away as hers and her brother’s lives had not been easy ones. They lived with a foster family but were left to take care of themselves mostly.
The police had been of little help. Hiei knew that his sister had not run away but they hadn’t believed him. In the beginning, Hiei had called them regularly to ask about his sister’s case but eventually realised that it was futile and began to take matters into his own hands. He’d put up the reward in an online ad and chased down any leads presented on his own. But so far, his efforts had proved fruitless.
Hiei rolled over, shoving his face into his pillow. He had to stop thinking about Yukina or he would never get any sleep tonight.
Yukina brought Kurama his breakfast the next morning. This time it included tea. Kurama was glad for her company as he was bored out of his mind. His sleep had been restless.
Yukina sat on the bed beside him as they sipped the tea. “How long have you been here?” Kurama asked her curiously. Despite the fact that she bore no marks of abuse that he could see and her clothes were of good quality, he had come to the conclusion that she was not here of her own free will. Her harsh treatment at Ani’s hands supported that theory. He couldn’t imagine anyone putting up with that if they had any kind of a choice in the matter.
She hesitated. “I’m not sure, exactly,” she admitted. “At least a few years.”
Kurama winced. He hoped to avoid that fate. “Have you tried to leave?’ He asked.
She stared down into her teacup for a few seconds before answering. “In the beginning,” she said.
Kurama sensed that this line of questioning was not welcome so he decided to change the subject. “Your cooking is much better than mine,” he told her.
She brightened immediately, giving him a relieved smile. “Thank you,” she said. “But I’m sure that can’t be true.” A light blush blossomed on her cheeks. Kurama thought it was adorable.
“Oh, it is,” Kurama assured her. “My mother banned me from the kitchen when I was eleven and accidentally blew up the stove.”
She gaped at him. “No,” she laughed.
“Yes,” Kurama assured her. “The extent of my cooking these days is microwave meals.”
“Oh, that’s such a shame,” she said. “Though you probably don’t have time to cook anyway, what with your job.”
“That’s true,” Kurama agreed. He rose from the bed and set his empty teacup on the tray sitting on the table. Yukina rose too, following his example. She picked up the tray.
“You are going already?” Kurama asked, disappointed.
She smiled sadly. “Yes,” she said. “I like talking with you but I have some chores to do.”
“Take care,” Kurama told her. It was the closest he could get to telling her to be careful without actually coming right out and saying it. He was concerned for her safety but was currently powerless to help her.
“I’ll bring you some books later,” she told him.
“Thank you,” Kurama said with a grateful smile. “I would really appreciate that.” Anything to alleviate the boredom he felt. She left, the door shutting behind her. Kurama sat in the silent, bare room, feeling lonely.
“We’re having lunch at your girlfriend’s restaurant again?” Hiei grumbled as the three boys entered.
Yusuke shot him a dark look. “Got a problem with that?” he demanded.
“I suppose if he can’t get a job at least he can help Keiko get business,” Kuwabara said to Hiei, dropping the volume of his voice.
He hadn’t dropped it far enough. Yusuke scowled at both of them. “Find a table,” he snapped before going to the counter.
Kuwabara and Hiei found a table in the corner of the large room. Hiei propped his feet up on one of the spare chairs.
“What’cha been up to lately?” Kuwabara asked him.
“The usual,” Hiei told him.
“What about your sister?” Kuwabara asked.
Hiei winced. Kuwabara had spotted a photo of Yukina while in his apartment and had assumed that Yukina was his girlfriend. Hiei had been forced to tell him the truth. Kuwabara often asked about Yukina now.
“I got an e-mail last night but I think it’s another bust,” Hiei told him.
“That sucks,” Kuwabara said. “But don’t give up, man.”
Yusuke returned with a tray of drinks and shoved Hiei’s feet off the chair so he could sit down. Hiei glared at him. He could easily have taken the other spare chair across from Kuwabara.
“What are you two talking about?” Yusuke asked curiously.
“Yukina,” Kuwabara informed him.
“Oh, yeah. Your hot sister,” Yusuke said to Hiei. “Any news?”
Hiei gave him a dark look. “No,” he said curtly, wishing that they would change the subject.
“You should put up missing posters,” Yusuke suggested.
Hiei frowned at him. “She’s not a puppy,” he snapped.
Yusuke raised his hands. “Hey, just trying to help,” he said, sounding offended.
“Well, keep your stupid-ass ideas to yourself,” Hiei told him.
“I don’t think it’s a dumb idea,” Kuwabara mumbled into his drink. He raised his eyes to meet Hiei’s glare. “Well, it’s not,” he grumbled.
Hiei shook his head. “Just stay out of it,” he told them.
To Kurama’s horror, it was not Toguro or Yukina who woke him the next morning. It was the man who’d upset Yukina. It took Kurama a moment to remember his name as the man’s presence alarmed him so much.
“Come on,” Ani snapped impatiently at him. Spindly fingers wrapped around Kurama’s upper arm and dragged him off the bed. Kurama kicked at the sheets, attempting to dislodge them as Ani continued pulling him. His grip was tight enough to leave bruises.
“Hey!” Kurama complained angrily as he finally freed himself and staggered towards the open door in Ani’s grip. The sheets were half off the bed.
Ani shoved him in the direction of the bathroom. “I’ve got better things to do today than babysit you,” he snapped.
“Where is Toguro?” Kurama demanded as Ani pushed him into the bathroom.
“My idiot brother is busy,” Ani told him. “I won’t coddle you as he does. Don’t try anything.” He slammed the door shut behind Kurama.
Kurama stood in the middle of the bathroom, his mind reeling. Brother? Toguro had never mentioned having a brother. And the two didn’t look alike at all. In fact, they were almost opposite in appearance.
When he was done freshening up, Kurama hesitated before opening the door. Up until now, Toguro’s presence had been a reassuring comfort. He was familiar. Ani was a completely unknown quantity.
A sharp knock came on the door. A moment later it opened and Ani stepped in. Kurama took a hasty step back, his heart leaping into his throat.
“Done?” he demanded. Without waiting for an answer, he grabbed Kurama’s arm again and dragged him from the bathroom.
Ani paused in the hallway as he noticed the figure walking towards them. Kurama froze. It was the man from his apartment. The one who had drugged him.
Cold, violet eyes roamed over Kurama. He found himself trying to edge behind Ani. This man unsettled him.
“You’re babysitting today?” The voice was cool and amused.
“Apparently,” Ani returned. “I can’t wait until we can get rid of him.”
Kurama didn’t like the sound of that. Karasu stepped forward. Kurama tried to back up but Ani still held his arm. Karasu’s manicured nails scraped lightly across his cheek before he buried his fingers in Kurama’s hair.
“You don’t take very good care of your hair,” Karasu commented.
“I’ve been… stressed,” Kurama said sourly. The criticism was unfair and ridiculous, given his current situation.
Karasu laughed, the sound bouncing off the walls. “You would make a lovely addition to my collection,” Karasu told him. “What do you say?” His smile was dark and cunning. “I’d take very good care of you.”
What kind of a collection, Kurama wondered as he shrank back from Karasu. And what did he mean when he said he’d take good care of him? Good care of him how? Kurama’s mind spun with unsavoury possibilities.
He was saved from having to answer by Ani’s sharp interjection. “Sekyo wants him left alone.” He sounded unhappy about that fact.
Karasu lowered his hand and stepped back, looking disappointed. “Well, some other time, then,” he said. He walked past Kurama, his arm bumping Kurama’s shoulder as he went.
Kurama swallowed. He was incredibly relieved when the door of his room shut behind him. He hoped that Toguro would be back soon.
Kurama had just finished making the bed when Yukina entered. She took one look at him and set the tray down on the table.
“Are you okay?” she asked worriedly. “Did something happen?”
Kurama tried to give her a reassuring smile. “No, I’m fine,” he said. He sat down on the edge of the bed.
She cautiously took a step forward, her expression uncertain. “Are you sure?” she asked. Her eyes roved over him, searching for injuries.
“Yes, nothing happened,” Kurama told her.
A little of the tension eased out of her shoulders. Her eyes went to the door, which she’d shut behind her as she’d walked in, and then back to Kurama. She took another step forward and leaned down, dropping her voice to a whisper.
“I shouldn’t tell you this,” she said. “But I overheard Mr Sekyo talking. Mr Yomi has agreed to pay your ransom.”
Kurama felt elated. He hoped that meant that he would be freed soon.
Yukina continued, raising her voice to a more normal volume. “They’re making arrangements,” she said. “You’ll be going home soon.” She smiled at him but Kurama could see that she was disappointed as well.
“As glad as I am to hear that, I will miss you,” he told her.
“Don’t worry about me,” she said, her hands fluttering in front of her. “I will be fine.” Her smile was shaky now. She was trying to make him feel better, Kurama knew.
Yukina was quiet as Kurama ate his breakfast. He offered to share it and, though she normally accepted the offer with a little pushing, this time she adamantly refused. Once Kurama had finished, Yukina remained sitting on the bed.
“What’s wrong?” Kurama asked her.
“When you leave…” she started uncertainly.
“Yes?” Kurama pressed when she didn’t continue.
She looked up at him, meeting his eyes. “I have a brother,” she said. “Could you tell him… tell him I’m okay?”
You aren’t okay, Kurama wanted to tell her. But that wasn’t what she wanted to hear. Instead, he said, “I will. How do I find him?”
Relief flooded her pretty face. “His name is Hiei Jaganshi,” she told him. “Oh, I’ve been so worried about him.”
“I’m sure he’s been concerned about you as well,” Kurama told her.
She looked down again. “It’s better if he forgets about me,” she said. “Hopefully, if he knows I’m okay, he will.”
Kurama very much doubted that. In any case, it didn’t matter what her brother thought. Kurama had no intention of allowing this situation to continue.
Toguro returned that evening and their routine continued as normal. At least at first. After dinner, Toguro took Kurama to the bathroom and Kurama showered. This time the clothes waiting for him were the ones he’d been wearing when he’d been kidnapped, though they smelled clean and fresh, as though they’d been washed.
Kurama gave Toguro a quizzical look when he entered the hall. “What’s going on?” he asked, feeling nervous.
“You’re going home,” Toguro informed him. He dogged Kurama’s steps as he walked back to his room. He stopped in the doorway. Karasu and Ani were inside. Karasu was sitting on the bed and Ani was leaning against the far wall. Karasu gave him a bright smile when he saw him but Ani simply scowled.
“Come here,” Karasu purred, patting the bed beside him. Kurama took a step backward, colliding with Toguro’s hard chest.
“Kurama, it’s all right. Just do what he says,” Toguro told him.
His heart racing, Kurama entered the room. He sat gingerly on the edge of the bed, several inches of distance between himself and Karasu. Karasu looked amused. Kurama refused to look at either Karasu or Ani. He fixed his gaze on the opposite wall. The palms of his hands were sweaty.
“Hold out your arm,” he told Kurama.
Hesitantly, Kurama did so. Karasu rolled up his sleeve. He ran his fingers over Kurama’s arm, pressing down in several places. Kurama’s skin crawled where he touched.
Finally, Karasu looked up at Ani. He held out his hand and Ani gave him a syringe. Kurama gulped, realising that he was about to be drugged again. He tried to pull his arm back but Karasu was holding onto his hand now. A moment later, Ani’s hand replaced Karasu’s.
“Shhh,” Karasu told him. “It’ll be over in a moment.” He injected the syringe into Kurama’s arm. It stung unpleasantly. Kurama turned his face away, feeling nauseous. Ani released his hand and Kurama pulled away from them. He could feel the drug working its way up his arm and through the rest of his bloodstream. First, his arm felt heavy and then the feeling travelled to the rest of his body. He fell into darkness.
When Kurama opened his eyes, it was to a very familiar sight. His own bedroom ceiling in his apartment. He sat up, looking around, disorientated. The room was dark and he was alone. It was still evening. He wondered how long he’d been unconscious.
The sound of the television prompted Kurama to cautiously enter his living room. He was surprised to find Yomi sitting on his sofa.
Yomi looked up at the sound of Kurama’s footfalls.
“You’re awake,” he said.
“No. I’m sleepwalking,” Kurama retorted sarcastically. He couldn’t keep his annoyance and anger out of his voice.
“You’ve cost me a lot of money,” Yomi informed him.
“Excuse me?” Kurama asked, his voice turning frosty. “I’ve cost you a lot of money?” He couldn’t believe what he was hearing.
“That ransom wasn’t cheap,” Yomi said. His own expression displayed irritation.
“Well, I’m sorry for the inconvenience,” Kurama drawled. “Next time I’m kidnapped, I’ll make sure to die so I don’t cost you any more money.”
“That’s not what I meant,” Yomi snapped.
“I’m fine, by the way,” Kurama added darkly. “Thank you for asking.”
Yomi stood up. “Don’t be childish about this,” he said. “This is no time for one of your tantrums.”
“Childish?” Kurama demanded. “One of my - “ He was speechless. And absolutely furious. Finally, he said, dropping his voice to a lower volume, “I’ve done everything you ask of me. I’ve never complained. But I’m done. I can’t do this anymore. I want you to leave.”
Kurama tried to ignore the hurt look on Yomi’s face.
“Please leave,” he said tightly. “Just leave.”
Yomi sighed. “We’ll discuss this later,” he said. “After you’ve had some more rest and some time to think.”
Kurama knew that he wouldn’t change his mind. He escorted Yomi to the door.
After his manager had left, Kurama immediately called his mother. He’d never been so glad to hear her voice. She’d had no idea he’d been missing. She thought that he was still recovering from his illness. Kurama wasn’t sure how to feel about that. It seemed that Yomi had not informed anyone that he was kidnapped.
On one hand, he was relieved that his mother had been spared the pain of her son being missing. But on the other, if things had gone badly and Sekyo had not held to his end of the deal…
“Mother, I want to come over and see you tomorrow,” he said.
“Of course, darling,” she said readily. “Are you sure you’re feeling better?” Her voice held concern. She could tell by the sound of his voice that something was wrong.
“Yes, Mother,” Kurama said, tears stinging his eyes. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“I’ll make you your favourite lunch,” she told him. “Now, go back to bed and get some rest. It’s very late.”
“Yes, Mother,” Kurama said again. “I love you, Mother.”
“I love you, too, Shuichi,” she said.
Kurama took his mother’s advice and went back to bed, after looking over his apartment for anything out of place and making sure that the door was firmly locked. His sleep was restless. Every noise sent him startling awake.
Around 5 o’clock he gave up on sleep and made himself some breakfast. Yomi had arranged for his fridge to be stacked up with pre-made meals as usual. Kurama transferred most of them to the freezer.
He couldn’t go to his mother’s for several hours so he took a long, hot bath and watched television for a while.
He took the train to his mother’s suburb and walked from the station to her house. She hugged him before he’d even stepped inside the house.
“Oh, Shuichi, you look so pale,” she fussed.
Kurama hugged her again. He’d missed her so much. She patted his shoulder comfortingly. “Come on. I’ll make us some tea,” she told him.
Kurama followed her into the kitchen. It was comforting to be back in his childhood home. He felt safe here.
He wasn’t able to immediately tell his mother what had happened to him, though she guessed that he was working himself up to something. She kept up a steady stream of chatter about her new boyfriend and her friends and their children. Kurama was surprised to hear that she had a boyfriend.
“I didn’t know you were dating,” he told her as they sat on the back porch overlooking the garden.
She smiled sheepishly at him. “I didn’t want to tell you at first,” she admitted. “I wanted to wait until I knew it was serious.”
“Is it serious?” Kurama asked curiously.
Her dark eyes shone with happiness. “I think so,” she said.
“That’s wonderful, Mother,” Kurama said. “I am very happy to hear that.”
“I’m so relieved,” Shiori told him. “You’ll have to come over for dinner one evening and meet him and his son.”
“He has a son?” Kurama asked, surprised.
“Yes. He’s in high school. He’s a lovely boy.”
The conversation continued along the same vein, even throughout lunch. Kurama wasn’t able to tell his mother what had happened until after lunch, while they were both sitting in the living room. The atmosphere of the room was so homey and comfortable that Kurama finally felt secure enough to tell his mother the truth.
She was caught between anger and concern. “You should go to the police,” she told Kurama. “You can’t let them get away with this.”
“Mother, it’s over,” Kurama said with a sigh. “I would prefer to simply forget about it.”
Shiori looked very displeased with her son’s response but she got up from her armchair and hugged him. “I’m so sorry you had to go through that,” she told him. “Do you want to stay here for a little while?” She settled onto the sofa beside him.
Kurama hesitated. He didn’t want to sound too eager but he’d been secretly hoping that his mother would make this offer. His mother gave him a knowing look. He gave her a sheepish smile in return.
“Yes,” Kurama admitted. “If that is okay with you?” he asked uncertainly. “What about your boyfriend?”
“You’re my son,” Shiori assured him. “Kazuya will understand.”
“It won’t be for long,” Kurama told her.
“Stay as long as you want,” Shiori said.
Kurama was immensely relieved. He knew that he would sleep much better under his mother’s roof.
Kurama didn’t forget his promise to Yukina. His search for her brother started on the internet and it didn’t take him long to find a Hiei Jaganshi living in Tokyo. Kurama worried over how to contact him. Simply showing up on his doorstep without any warning seemed rude. He decided to contact the man by phone.
Kurama got his answering machine and left a message, making sure to drop Yukina’s name. If he wasn’t the right Hiei Jaganshi, then he would likely just ignore the message.
Kurama’s mother fussed over him. She put him back in his old room and refused to allow him to help with the housework. He learned on the second evening that she had asked her boyfriend not to come over for a few days.
“Mother,” he said, interrupting her phone call.
She looked up at him, “Excuse me,” she said to her boyfriend on the other end of the line. She waved a hand at Kurama, indicating for him to go on.
“Mother, please don’t put your life on hold for me,” he said. “I do not mind if your boyfriend wants to come over.”
“Shuichi - “ she started. Kurama could tell that she was about to protest from the expression on her face and he cut her off.
“It is fine,” he assured her. “I would like to meet him and his son.”
Shiori’s expression relaxed. “All right,” she conceded.
Kurama left her to continue her phone call in peace, pleased that he had sorted that out.
Hiei played the message on his answering machine three times. He had no idea if it was some kind of joke or if the caller was actually serious. This was the first time that anyone with information about Yukina had contacted him via phone. He’d never given out his phone number over the internet.
Hiei badly wanted to believe that this was a solid lead but he also dreaded being disappointed again. Nonetheless, he called the number back.
“Hello. Minamino residence,” a woman’s voice answered.
“Ah, hello. I am looking for Shuichi Minamino,” Hiei said uncertainly.
“May I ask who is calling?” the woman requested. For some reason, a note of wariness had crept into her voice.
Hiei heard the sound of the phone being put down. He waited with bated breath, drumming his fingers against his knee impatiently.
The voice was the same one that had left the message on the answering machine.
“Yes,” Hiei said eagerly. “You’re the one who called about my sister?”
“I did,” the man confirmed.
Before he could continue, Hiei blurted out, “Do you know where she is? Is she safe?”
“Please!” the man exclaimed. “I understand your impatience but give me a moment.”
Chastised, Hiei slumped in the armchair. He waited for the man to continue.
“I met her,” the man said. “She seems unharmed from what I can tell.”
Hiei breathed out a sigh of relief. He knew that there was still a possibility that this man was lying, playing him for a fool but he knew he would never forgive himself if he blew this man off and it turned out that he’d been honest.
“Where is she?” he asked tightly.
The man hesitated. The only sound was his breathing on the line.
“Where?” Hiei demanded. “You said you met her. You know where she is.”
“She is living with a man named Sekyo,” Shuichi said finally.
“Can she… leave?” Hiei asked. A small part of him was afraid that perhaps Yukina wouldn’t want to leave. That she was happy where she was. That she wouldn’t want anything to do with him. And after he’d spent so long looking for her…
“No,” Shuichi said quietly. “May we meet? I feel that this would be better discussed in person.”
Hiei made plans to meet Shuichi the next day at a small cafe near his local train station. Shuichi had assured him that he lived nearby and getting there would not be a problem.
Hiei spent the night tossing and turning restlessly. He’d never been so close to finding his sister before. He was actually about to meet someone who had seen her.
Hiei was early for his mid-morning appointment with Shuichi. The cafe was quiet and Hiei found a small table at the back. A large potted plant kept it mostly hidden from view. He seated himself angled away from the table so he could watch the door.
They had each given the other a cursory description of themselves so Hiei hoped that he would recognise the man when he walked in.
At five minutes before the scheduled appointment, a redheaded male walked in. Hiei mentally checked off his list. Red hair, green eyes, button-up shirt and slacks. Was it him?
It had to be, Hiei thought. How many people had red hair like that? And why did he look so familiar?
Green eyes scanned the cafe. Hiei stood, stepping out of the concealment of the potted plant. The man’s eyes drifted over him and then sharply returned to him, giving him a more thorough inspection. He made his way over to Hiei.
“Mr Jaganshi?” he asked. All doubt fled from Hiei’s mind. This was the caller.
“Yes,” Hiei said.
“I am Shuichi Minamino,” the redhead said. He bowed and Hiei returned it. They both sat at the table. Hiei waited until the redhead had ordered some tea before starting his questions.
“You really saw her?” he asked.
“Yes,” Shuichi said. “I spoke with her. She is a lovely young lady.” He gave a small uncomfortable laugh. “Though I suppose I shouldn’t call her ‘young’. She can’t be much younger than myself. Perhaps it is the height?”
Hiei frowned at him. The good humour vanished from the man’s face as he noticed Hiei’s expression.
“I apologise,” he said. “I am getting off-subject.” He took a sip of his tea. Was he nervous or agitated about something, Hiei wondered. Was this hard for him to talk about? Was he building himself up to break bad news to him?
“She’s okay, right?” Hiei asked nervously.
The man looked him squarely in the eyes. “Yes,” he said. “I believe so. She asked me to contact you.”
Hiei’s heart soared. He couldn’t believe it. She hadn’t forgotten about him.
“We have to get her out,” he said. “You know where she is. We can - “
“Hold on.” Shuichi’s tone was firm. “Sekyo is a wealthy man who employs bodyguards and has top-notch security. You cannot just walk in there and demand Yukina’s release.”
Hiei sagged in his chair. He knew that Shuichi was right. But he really wished it were that simple.
“I believe that going to the police would be a better option,” Shuichi suggested.
“They were no help when she went missing,” Hiei snapped.
“That was years ago, was it not?” Shuichi asked. “Now we can give them a solid lead.”
Hiei didn’t miss the ‘we’ in that statement. He voiced his question. “We?” he asked.
Shuichi looked away. “I would prefer that Yukina not remain in the situation she is in,” he said quietly.
Hiei’s anger flared. “You said she was unharmed,” he accused. “Is she or isn’t she? Be truthful.”
Shuichi’s full lips turned down. Hiei was certain he’d seen the redhead before but he just couldn’t recall where. It was driving him crazy.
“Physically she is fine,” Shuichi said. “But she is unhappy.”
Hiei hated to hear that. Shuichi returned to sipping his tea and Hiei began to drink his. They sat in silence for some time.
“Did she talk about me?” Hiei asked when he’d finished his tea. Shuichi was still sipping his.
“Only when she asked me to find you,” Shuichi said. “I think she was afraid to mention you.”
“Will you come to the police with me?” Hiei asked. “If it’s just me, they’ll think I’m crazy.”
“Of course,” Shuichi said. “We can go after we finish here if you like. I have time.”
Hiei nodded, relieved. He had an afternoon shift at the bar but he would blow it if it meant finding Yukina.
Finally, he asked the question that had been nagging him throughout their entire conversation. “Who are you?”
Shuichi set his empty teacup down, looking confused. “Excuse me?” he asked. “I did tell you my name, did I not?”
“Yes, but… I’m sure I’ve seen you somewhere before,” Hiei said. “You look… and sound… really familiar.”
Shuichi frowned. For a moment Hiei didn’t think he would get an answer. But then Shuichi said, “I am a musician. I have done some shows locally recently.” His tone was cagey. But the words ‘musician’ and ‘shows’ had rung a bell in Hiei’s mind. The puzzle pieces slotted into place.
Hiei’s jaw dropped. “Kurama?” he asked.
A panicked look came into Shuichi’s green eyes and he quickly looked around. “Please, not so loud,” he pleaded.
Hiei had a strong urge to laugh at him but managed to restrain himself. “I did see one of your shows,” he admitted.
“I would prefer not to discuss it,” Shuichi said.
Hiei didn’t quite understand why he wouldn’t want to talk about his career but decided to let the subject drop. There was no sense in pissing him off. If he grew too irritated with Hiei, he might refuse to accompany him to the police station.
Hiei and Kurama walked to the police station as it wasn’t too far from the cafe. Kurama was glad that he’d decided to accompany Hiei as the shorter man had a tendency to behave in an antagonistic manner towards the officers. Kurama found himself taking over the conversation with Hiei sitting sullenly beside him.
When they left the station, Hiei turned towards him with a glare. “They didn’t believe us,” he snapped. The look in his eyes told Kurama clearly that Hiei held him to blame for that.
And he was a little to blame for that, he admitted. He hadn’t been entirely candid with the officers who’d taken their statement. He had refused to tell them why he’d been in Sekyo’s home in the first place. He knew that the officers would be reluctant to offend such a wealthy man like Sekyo on the say-so of one person who was involved with a rival company.
“I’m sorry,” he said truthfully.
“Thanks for nothing,” Hiei told him. He turned and made his way down the street, hands shoved into his pockets.
Kurama let him go, feeling defeated. He’d really hoped for a better outcome. He had no intention of giving up, though. There had to be a way to get the police to listen to him.
That evening, Shiori invited her boyfriend and his son over for dinner. Kurama was pleased as they distracted him from his own thoughts. He laughed when he found out that the son’s name was Shuichi as well.
Shuichi recognised him as Kurama and pestered him with questions until his father firmly put a stop to it. Kurama was sympathetic and offered to sign something for him so that he could prove to his friends that he actually had met Kurama.
Shiori was ecstatic. Kurama had never seen her so relaxed and happy. Kazuya treated her well and she doted on Shuichi. Kurama felt that he wouldn’t have to worry so much about leaving her alone now.
The next day Kurama received a surprise visitor. His mother was out in the backyard weeding the garden so when the doorbell rang, Kurama rose to answer it.
Yomi stood on the porch, a large bouquet of red roses in his hand.
Kurama frowned. “Is that not slightly inappropriate?” he asked, in reference to the flowers.
Yomi’s lips quirked upward. “Perhaps, but they are your favourite, right?” he asked.
Kurama sighed. That was true, and his mother would absolutely love them. Damn that manipulative bastard.
Kurama took Yomi to the living room before taking the flowers and retreating to the kitchen. He put the roses in a vase and then made some tea, mentally cursing Yomi. He was certain that the other man had only gotten the flowers so that Kurama would feel obligated to at least hear him out. And he did, damnit.
He took the tea to the living room and served it, before sitting in an armchair adjacent to the sofa where Yomi sat.
“What do you want?” he asked, resigned.
“To apologise,” Yomi said.
Kurama almost dropped his teacup in shock. As far as he knew, Yomi had never apologised for anything in his life.
“You’re right,” Yomi told him. “I’ve been treating you like a child. As if you can’t take care of yourself and make your own decisions. And the whole kidnapping thing was my fault. I'm sorry, Shuichi.”
The use of his real name struck Kurama. Yomi’s voice rang with sincerity. He sat back, staring blankly at the opposite wall and wondering how to respond. Was he prepared to accept Yomi’s apology?
At Kurama’s silence, Yomi seemed to feel the need to explain further. “I’ve seen so many young stars go down the wrong path,” he said. “They get into partying and drugs and I didn’t want that to happen to you.”
“So you thought that trying to control every aspect of my life would stop that?” Kurama asked, offended. “I am not that sort of person.”
“I see that now,” Yomi admitted. “I should have seen it much sooner. I’ve drawn up another contract for you and I think you’ll find it much more to your liking. I hope you will be willing to at least look it over.”
“I can do that,” Kurama agreed.
“I’m glad to hear that.” Yomi took a sip from his teacup and then lowered it. “How are you doing?” he asked.
“Better,” Kurama said. “Being back home has helped.”
“Will you be returning to your apartment?” Yomi asked.
“Sometime soon,” Kurama said. “Probably next week.”
“Don’t rush,” Yomi advised. “Spend some more time with your mother before making any decisions.”
Kurama blinked at him in surprise. That sort of advice was the last thing he’d expected to hear from his manager. “Thank you,” he said.
“Is there anything I can help with?” Yomi asked. He seemed to genuinely want to make things right between them.
Kurama was about to tell him ‘no’ when something sparked in his mind. Yomi interpreted his silence accurately.
“Yes?” he asked curiously.
“There might be something…” Kurama said thoughtfully.
At first, Yomi was reluctant to go along with Kurama’s idea. It wasn’t that he didn’t believe Kurama. He just wasn’t sure if it would even work.
“They may think that I simply wish to cause trouble for Sekyo,” he pointed out to Kurama.
“That doesn’t matter,” Kurama assured him. “As long as they look into it.”
Yomi went to the police along with Kurama and verified Kurama’s story, lying through his teeth the entire time, of course, as he had never actually been to Sekyo’s house or seen Yukina.
The officers were not the same ones that had questioned him earlier, which Kurama was relieved about. They still looked sceptical though.
Yomi shook his head as they sat on the backseat of his limo. “I don’t think that went well,” he said.
“We’ll see,” Kurama said. He was hopeful but it was a toss-up as to which way this would go.
Yomi’s new contract was much more to Kurama’s taste. No more bodyguards except for public appearances and shows. He would get more time off and the chance to use his own songs a lot more often.
He moved back to his own apartment and began preparing to do some local shows. He hadn’t heard anything about Yukina and that worried him but he couldn’t do anything about that.
A week after he’d moved back into his apartment he got a call from his mother.
“Shuichi, darling,” she said. “That man called again. Mr Janashi?”
“Jaganshi?” Kurama asked.
“Oh, yes, that’s it,” she said. “He wanted to speak to you but he wouldn’t say what it was about.”
“Thank you, Mother. I will call him back,” Kurama told her.
As soon as he got off the phone with his mother, he called Hiei’s number. The man’s tone was crisp as he said, “We need to meet.”
Immediately, Kurama’s stomach dropped. “Has something happened?” he demanded.
“We need to meet,” Hiei repeated, his tone conveying annoyance. “When are you free?”
“Right now?” Kurama asked. He’d been planning on spending the rest of the day working on a new song but Hiei had him worried now. He knew that he would never be able to concentrate on it.
“Same place as before,” Hiei said, before hanging up.
Kurama listened to the dial tone on the other end of the line for a moment before lowering the phone and staring at it in disbelief. Hiei had just hung up on him.
The train ride to reach the cafe was frustrating. Kurama found himself almost jogging along the sidewalk, dodging around pedestrians who gave him annoyed looks as they moved out of his way.
Hiei was seated at the same table they’d occupied before, his spiky black head sticking out from behind the leaves of the potted plant. Kurama made his way over to the table.
When he saw who was sitting across from Hiei his heart skipped a beat.
“Yukina?” he asked, stunned.
She looked up from her menu and smiled brightly at him. “Hello, Kurama,” she said. “It’s lovely to see you again.”
Hiei had turned to stare at Kurama as well.
“You’re late,” he said.
Kurama took the remaining chair and decided to ignore Hiei’s comment, as they actually hadn’t arranged a specific time and he felt that he wasn’t actually late as he lived further away from the cafe than Hiei did.
“How are you?” Kurama asked Yukina worriedly. She looked happy but Kurama wanted to be sure.
“I’m fine,” she assured him. “It’s so wonderful being back with Hiei. We have so much catching up to do. Thank you so much, Kurama.”
Kurama turned his gaze to Hiei to see the other man regarding him with an unreadable expression. “I don’t know what you did to make them listen,” he said. “But, thank you.”
Relief flooded Kurama as he turned back to Yukina to see her smiling at him again. He was certain that he’d never felt happier in his life.
A loud voice made Hiei and Kurama turn to stare at the speaker.
“What’cha doing here, man?” A large hand clamped down on Hiei’s shoulder. Hiei groaned.
“Go away,” he muttered.
Kurama looked up into the friendly face of a man with dyed orange hair. The man’s eyes flicked over himself and Yukina and then widened.
“Hey, isn’t that…?” He looked between Yukina and Kurama, first pointing at one and then the other. “And that’s…”
Hiei buried his face in his hands. Kurama was forced to introduce himself, along with Yukina, to Hiei’s friend. It turned out that he attended the nearby university and had stopped by after class on his way home to get a coffee.
Despite Hiei’s protests, Kuwabara joined them at the table. Yukina was eager to hear of her brother’s life from the perspective of someone that actually wasn’t her brother, and Kuwabara shared some stories that Kurama was certain that Hiei wished he had not.
By the time they left, the sky was darkening overhead. Yukina and Kurama stood a little way away from Hiei and Kuwabara, who appeared to be arguing about a video game.
“I’m sorry we kept you so late, Kurama,” Yukina apologised.
“I enjoyed it,” Kurama said honestly. “I’m afraid that it has been a long time since I have spent time with… friends.” The truth was that he actually didn’t have anyone in his life that he could call a friend. Despite his fame, his life had been very isolated recently.
Yukina gave a small nod of understanding, her crimson eyes sympathetic. “Me, too,” she said. After a moment she added, “We should do it more often.”
A broad smile spread across Kurama’s face. “We should,” he agreed.