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Title: The Way Things Stay The Same
Fandom: Yu Yu Hakusho
Pairing: None - although there may be light hints of both Yusuke/Kurama and Kurama/Kuwabara.
Rating: PG-13, for some language, a little dark imagery, and a kiss.
A/N: A sort of sequel to "The Way Things Change". I don't know that reading that one is entirely necessary for understanding this fic: all you really need to know is that the Apocalypse has happened, and it's a lot wetter than anyone really expected. Oh, and also - Yusuke's dead.

It's become routine for them - Kurama wakes with the first dim light, packs his things, and scrounges himself something for breakfast, by which point Yusuke has reappeared, and they set off for another day of fruitless searching. So when Kurama wakes one morning to find Yusuke already hovering over him in a very disconcertingly literal manner, he knows immediately that something has happened.

Without a word, he sits up and begins packing - because he knows death has changed Yusuke very little, and there is no use in trying to get him to talk before he is ready. But he cannot help the odd warring emotions of hope and dread that rise in his chest, and he finds himself rolling his blankets into a tight bundle just to hide the shaking in his hands.

"I found Kuwabara," Yusuke says finally, and Kurama pauses to take in a deep breath. It's relief he feels, he thinks, this warmth blooming in his chest - because this means that he will finally know the fate of one more of his loved ones, regardless of what it may be. But almost before he has time to reach a decision, Yusuke speaks again.

"Don't get your hopes up, though," he warns. "I don't think you're going to like it."

Death has also not changed Yusuke's inability to be any kind of vague or cryptic, so Kurama watches Yusuke's face very carefully as he asks, "What does that mean?"

Yusuke's face goes through a very interesting and confusing series of expressions before he finally sighs - or, would have, if he could still draw air into lungs that are no longer corporeal - and answers, "Honestly? I'm not really sure. All I know is that I found him, and if you follow me, I can get you there."

It takes Kurama only a moment to decide. For him, at least, it is the not knowing that is the hardest. The overwhelming lack of knowledge about what has happened to the people he loves. So even in the face of Yusuke's dire prediction, he has to know. He has to see for himself.

With a sharp nod, he swings on his pack.

"Then lead the way."


Of course, Yusuke forgets that Kurama is limited to a slightly-faster-than-human rate of travel, so it actually takes close to a week before they manage to get where they're going. Which, Kurama learns, as Yusuke stops in front of him and announces, "We're here," turns out to be a weather-worn shrine gate, standing at the bottom of a long flight of stairs.

He glances sharply over at Yusuke, who only shrugs and offers, "I told you, didn't I? That you weren't going to like it." And indeed, Yusuke is right - there is something about the whole situation that rubs Kurama entirely the wrong way: and more likely than not, it is the odd pulsing of energy he can feel coming from the top of the stairs.

Still, he has to know - that sense of helplessness he feels in the face of his lack of knowledge is entirely unwelcome. So he takes a deep breath to steel himself, and he begins the climb, Yusuke floating by his side.

But the farther up he climbs, the worse he feels. The strange, pulsing energy is Kuwabara's - there's no doubt about that - but underneath it there is something...wrong. Something Kurama can't yet identify - but something that bodes very ill.

When he crests the top of the stairs, that feeling of foreboding deepens - because what meets his eyes is complete and total destruction. The shrine no longer stands - all that remains are mangled boards strewn across ground which bears the marks of intense force. Old, sturdy trees are split in two, thick branches hanging limply on shreds of bark. Plants have been torn free at the roots, flung far and wide, and everything has suffered the effects of the torrential rain.

And yet, Kurama notices, upon closer inspection, it seems there is some pattern to the chaos. The destruction is most noticeable in a sort of ring, at the perimeters of which it simply...stops. Like something has contained the impressive force.

And sitting directly in the center of this ring, unmoving, is Kuwabara.

"What do you think happened?" Yusuke asks, but Kurama doesn't answer - not immediately, at least. He's still cataloguing information, feeling his way around the possible conclusions. He can see, for instance, that Kuwabara's chest is rising and falling - slowly, but steadily, at least - and that the pulses of power are closer to surges than anything else, each one leaving behind a shimmering outline in the air.

"There's a barrier here," he says softly. "The strongest I've ever seen him create."

In hindsight, what happens next shouldn't really surprise him: Yusuke has never been one for the excessive use of common sense. With a sharp crackle of energy, Yusuke lays his palm against the barrier, and Kuwabara's eyes snap open.

Before Kurama can react, Kuwabara is standing in front of him, the two separated only by the thin wall of the barrier. And it is only then that he realizes how serious the situation is - because although Kuwabara has displayed a remarkable capacity for self-improvement in the past, he ought to be physically incapable of moving faster than Kurama's demonic eyes can track.

Not to mention that his once-warm brown eyes have gone completely black.

"Whoa," comes Yusuke's voice from somewhere slightly behind Kurama, and that's the final piece of the puzzle. Kuwabara's barriers have always had the ability to repel spirits - a remnant from a childhood spent being constantly haunted, Kurama suspects, and one of the only aspects of his powers he cannot control - and one of this strength should have sent Yusuke reeling, posibly even exorcised him. But he appears no worse for the wear, and Kurama thinks he understands why.

"He's not trying to keep us out," he murmurs, and the thing wearing Kuwabara's skin smiles. "He's trying to keep something in."

"Oh, very good," Kuwabara says, and hearing his friend's voice in that completely alien, silky-smooth tone makes Kurama's skin crawl. "You're just as smart as he gives you credit for, fox-demon."

"And stronger, I'd imagine," he returns calmly, but the thing only laughs.

"I should certainly hope so."

Unfazed by being ignored, Yusuke tries again. "What's gotten into you, man?" he asks the Kuwabara-thing. "What the hell are you on about?"

Though the question isn't addressed to him, Kurama does answer this time - though he never chances taking his gaze away from the facade of his old friend.

"That isn't Kuwabara," he says softly, and he cannot control the hint of sadness that creeps into his voice. "I don't think it has been for a very long time."

"What - ?" Yusuke starts to ask, but the thing suddenly shudders, closing its eyes. And when it opens them again, it is Kuwabara's warm brown eyes that Kurama sees for a moment, before they are turned to Yusuke.

"It's a possession," Kuwabara explains, "and I can't control it. Not for long. But I'm still in here, Urameshi - you've gotta help me, somehow."

Kurama wants to believe it - wants it so badly, he might be in danger of actually fooling himself into thinking he does believe it, if not for the sudden, painful explosion of telepathic communication in his mind.


Instinctively, Kurama moves to lift a hand to his aching head, but the slight movement is enough to attract the thing's attention, which snaps disconcertingly back to Kurama. There is far too much calculating intelligence in that gaze - which has gone black again - so Kurama quickly stills the action before it has time to be more than a slight twitch of his arm, and pulls a mask of calm indifference over his face. Whatever is going on here, this thing is unaware - and Kurama intends to keep it that way.

Sorry about that, he hears, and it is so very hard not to react, because this is Kuwabara. This is the friend that has been lost to Kurama for so long. But I had to make sure - you can't believe this thing.

As Kurama watches, a figure solidifies slowly behind what used to be Kuwabara, creating an odd double image as it takes shape: two Kuwabaras - one solid, the other transparent. One real, and one...not. Kurama deliberately doesn't react, but he thinks the real Kuwabara is farther in his mind than it first seemed, because he smiles slightly.

Yeah, I know, he says in Kurama's mind. Have a little faith in you, right? But it's hard - I know it is. I know how much you want to think I'm still in there somewhere.

Vaguely, Kurama is aware that Yusuke is asking him something, that the false Kuwabara's shrewd gaze is locked on him - but he cannot take his attention away from the voice in his head.

I'm not, Kurama, Kuwabara says, and that is the hardest yet to hear. Kurama thinks that he may have inadvertently projected the overwhelming sadness that sweeps through him, because Kuwabara winces and shakes his head.

I know, he says again. And I'm so sorry. I tried my best, but I wasn't...I wasn't strong enough. It forced me out of my body, and now we're...stuck. I can't beat it, but it can't break my barrier.

So, I...I need your help,
he finishes slowly, and Kurama thinks he understands. But what he also understands is that if Kuwabara reads his hesitation, his reluctance, he will back down - despite the fact that Kurama is the only one left who can help him. So he throws up powerful but unobtrusive mental barriers - a trick he was taught by Hiei, what feels like a lifetime ago - and lets Kuwabara continue.

It's tied to me, Kuwabara explains - rather unnecessarily: Kurama is quite familiar with the transfer of souls and their subsequent binding to host bodies - tied to whatever happens to my body. But I've got no energy left to fight it - everything I've got is being poured into maintaining the barrier.

He pauses for a moment, looking pained, and Kurama wants to help - to say what needs to be said - but he can't. This is something Kuwabara has to come to on his own.

I need you to kill me, Kurama, he says finally. Or get as close as you can to it. Because if you kill me, you'll kill this thing, and I can get back into my body.

Once I'm back in, I can drop the barrier, and I should be able to heal myself,
Kuwabara explains, but he has never lied well. Kurama knows that he does not expect to survive - but that, in his own way, he is doing his best to spare Kurama any guilt. And in return, Kurama allows himself to be fooled, to spare Kuwabara his own guilt for having to lie to one of his best friends.

So Kurama simply answers, "I understand," and steps forward. Almost immediately, the thing steps forward as well, but it has clearly learned to be wary of the strength of Kuwabara's barrier, because it stops just short of touching it.

It's dark gaze is fixed on Kurama as he moves closer still and presses his palm against the barrier, directly opposite the thing's chest. Beside him, Yusuke winces, but Kurama is unconcerned. Kuwabara's energy knows him, and Kuwabara has always displayed impeccable control over his barriers. In fact, Kurama thinks - and despite the situation, he cannot quite stop the fond smile that tugs at the corners of his mouth - he would find himself quite unsurprised if Kuwabara had deliberately shocked Yusuke before.

Briefly, Kurama closes his eyes and murmurs, "I'm sorry," though he could not say to whom he is apologizing - to Kuwabara, to Yusuke, or even to himself. But there is no time to contemplate that, because that familiar battle-chill is slipping over him: he knows what has to be done, and he knows that he cannot hesitate, or he will fail.

So he lets instinct take over - and it is instinct that pushes him forward when Kuwabara lets the barrier fall; instinct that drives his hand to form a tight blade, fingers firm and pointed, with his energy wrapped around them and honed to a cutting edge; instinct that punches his hand through Kuwabara's chest, even as the barrier blinks back into existence behind him.

Blood tainted with demonic energy spills over his hand in a terrible stream as Yusuke gives a shocked cry from behind him, and the thing's black gaze widens in shock as Kuwabara's body weakens from blood loss, and his knees buckle.

With his free hand, Kurama guides Kuwabara's body to the ground - but there's still a fight left to be had, because suddenly, there are achingly familiar hands wrapped around his neck in a surprisingly powerful grip.

"Didn't think you had it in you, demon," the thing hisses between clenched teeth, and the grip around Kurama's neck tightens to the point of bruising - but Kurama isn't worried. His strike was clean, and Kuwabara's body will not be able to sustain this power for long.

And indeed, the grip begins to slacken almost immediately, loosening enough for Kurama to rasp, "Then you never managed to gain more than the shallowest access to his mind - he knows exactly what I am capable of."

The thing's eyes narrow, and there is one last, desperate surge of power as it tries to free itself from Kuwabara's dying body. But Kuwabara has seen this coming, and the barrier collapses in on itself, passing over Kurama in a warm, familiar wave and settling like a second skin against Kuwabara's body.

There is a brief struggle, but the thing can no more break free of Kuwabara's barrier now than ever. With a final, ragged breath, the demon possessing Kuwabara's body dies, the heartbeat under Kurama's hand first slowing - and then stopping entirely.

Mere moments later, though, Kurama feels it start up again - weak, erratic, and unsustainable, though it strengthens slightly as the barrier disappears, and Kuwabara opens his eyes. He coughs, sending a dark stream of blood running from the corner of his mouth, and gazes steadily up at Kurama.

"You aren't going to survive," Kurama says softly. It isn't a question - it never was. But Kuwabara shakes his head anyway, and the corners of his mouth quirk into a rueful grin.

"No," he says, and when he takes a breath to go on, Kurama does his best to ignore that horrible liquid sound that means his lungs are filling with blood. "I'm sorry. But...are you angry? That I...I tricked you into killing me?"

Briefly, Kurama closes his eyes, then leans forward to press a gentle kiss to Kuwabara's bloodstained lips - and it's funny, almost, how much it tastes like tears.

"No," he says, and if the lie tastes bitter in the back of his throat, it is a price he is more than willing to pay. "We all have to die, eventually. It is not my place to judge you for deciding when and why your time had come."

Kuwabara gives a relieved sigh, his breath warm against Kurama's lips. "Oh, good," he murmurs, and when Kurama opens his eyes again and sits back, Kuwabara is gone.

Laying his friend's body down carefully, Kurama stands and turns away. He hasn't taken more than a few steps, though, when he hears Yusuke behind him.

"Where are you going?"

There is no anger in the question, which Kurama is thankful for - but he doesn't look back as he answers. "Back down to the water - I think there's some soap in my pack."

He doesn't add that no matter how thoroughly he scrubs his arm clean, he doesn't think he will ever forget the feeling of Kuwabara's blood dripping from his fingers to seep into the rain-soaked ground. Instead, he simply asks, "Look after him, Yusuke," and disappears down the long staircase.

Yusuke keeps his eyes on the place Kurama disappeared long after he has gone - until, in fact, someone clears their throat behind him.

"Uh...not for nothing," Kuwabara asks, "but can we go...anywhere else? Looking at my own dead body is starting to freak me out."

In any other situation, Yusuke would probably roll his eyes, give Kuwabara hell for being a wuss - it's not like Yusuke didn't have to look at his own dead body for a hell of a long time - but there's something more important he needs to do first.

"You know," he says, almost conversationally - save for the sharp edge that lies just underneath the pleasant tone, "for someone who's supposed to be psychic, you can be pretty goddamned dense."

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?" Kuwabara demands, but Yusuke - for once - doesn't rise to the challenge. Instead, he turns around and fixes Kuwabara - the Kuwabara who is now translucent and floating above the body on the ground - with a steely gaze.

"Did you really think you'd managed to pull one over on Kurama? Kurama?" Yusuke asks. "You know - the guy who makes all our plans, who pretty much spent most of his time before all this stupid Apocalypse shit making sure we wouldn't manage to get ourselves killed? Because I can pretty much guarantee that you didn't - that any plan you managed to think of, Kurama had already come up with about twenty that were better. And that didn't involve making him murder you."

Kuwabara's brow furrows. "Look, you dick - do you think I liked lying to him? I didn't want him to have to kill me anymore than I actually wanted to die, but there was no other way. I spent the entire time I had that stupid demon in me trying to figure out something else, and I couldn't."

"That's the point, you idiot," Yusuke snarls back. "You couldn't, but I'm betting Kurama could - if you'd given him the chance. But no, you had to be all heroic and self-sacrificing and stupid, and you know who has to pay for it? Kurama."

A moment passes while Kuwabara opens and closes his mouth a few times, like he's trying to figure out just how to respond to that, but eventually he just shakes his head and rubs his palms over his face, looking disgusted.

"I'm sorry," he says. "I just...I thought it was the best option I had. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe there was another way. And I shouldn't...I shouldn't have lied to Kurama like that, you're right. It wasn't fair."

One of Yusuke's biggest problems is that he is completely unable to stay mad at his friends for long - even when they deserve it - and especially not when they have Kuwabara's uncanny ability to look like someone just kicked their puppy.

"Look, it's..." He doesn't really want to say it's fine, because it isn't, not really, and he's not the one who gets to decide that, anyway. "Let's just go find Kurama before he drowns himself in the river, or something."

"Would he really do that?" Kuwabara asks, falling into step beside him, and Yusuke doesn't even have to stop and think about it.

"Nah," he answers, glancing over. "He's made of stronger stuff than that."

Kuwabara meets his gaze, and for a moment, things almost seem normal again.

"Yeah," he says softly. "Yeah, I know."

This is entirely un-betaed, and I'm not even entirely sure how I feel about it, so comments and criticisms are very welcome.

Date: 2010-11-11 09:09 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]

Date: 2010-11-11 09:13 pm (UTC)

Date: 2011-10-26 12:54 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I loved this so much! I liked the exploration into the depths of Kuwabara's power; people seem to neglect him and I don't know why! You give the characters such depth. I feel like I can read anything you write even if I don't like the paring. Keep at it :D

Date: 2011-10-27 07:01 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thank you! I'm often frustrated by the neglect of Kuwabara's character, so I tend to write a lot of fic featuring him pretty heavily. I'm really glad you're enjoying my take on the characters - that's very flattering!

Date: 2011-10-28 06:06 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
You deserve all the praise!!!!

Side note: I read Kuwabara's possessed voice as Kurogane (from Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle) Since they have the same voice actor but sound so different, it makes sense to me. Sorry for rambling lol X3


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