On the day Yukina died, the world tilted madly and was never righted again.
Yukina, the gentle koorime from the Glacier who had spent much of her life in human company, had met her untimely end upon returning to her people. Though not overly fond of the Glacier, she *had* friends and loved ones there, and it was not unusual for her to visit every now and then. One of those visits, unfortunately (no, "unfortunately" was not a word powerful enough) ended in her death.
Hiei had seen her there, as was his wont, though he never infiltrated the Glacier itself. The Koorime didn't want Hiei, and he didn't need them. But when Hiei had returned to see her back to Alaric and Yukina had not emerged....
She had not been the only koorime to fall victim to the raid. The Koorime were not warriors -- not *helpless*, but not warriors. The harsh climate and Floating Glacier alone were usually defense enough. Most left the Ice Maidens in peace; what could be gained from attacking them, ice and snow?
Nobody knew why it happened, nobody knew why Yukina had been among the victims, and nobody *would ever* know, because the raiders had been cut down as soon as they'd been found, and no questions had been asked. They were dead as those they'd killed, thanks to Yusuke, Hiei, Kurama, and several vengeful koorime. But vengeance, though momentarily satisfying, did not bring Yukina and the others back.
Yusuke took comfort in the fact that Kuwabara was long dead, and so hadn't been forced to go through her time of death. It had been bad enough for Yusuke and Kurama. Unfortunately, Hiei also had a demon lifespan. Hiei, who had dedicated part of his life to protecting his sister, felt as though he'd failed in the worst possible fashion: He had not been at Yukina's side when she'd needed him the most; it was his fault she was dead.
And nothing any of them said could make him feel otherwise.
"What are you going to do?"
Hiei didn't look back at him. The Jaganshi kept his gaze fixed on the sunset, purple and orange and pink and just as beautiful as Ningenkai's. The mountain breeze, which rarely slept, stirred Hiei's cloak and it flapped around the shorter demon's legs.
"Hiei," Yusuke ventured, uncertain. They had been through much together, but rarely were any of them in such a state, rarely had circumstances like this come about. "Hiei, I...."
"Don't," the Jaganshi's voice was firm, without a trace of sadness, "I know what you mean."
Yusuke didn't think he did, but neither did he point that out. They stood in silence awhile longer, and Yusuke eventually went closer, approaching the edge and looking down at the grounds surrounding Yusuke's -- Raizen's -- tower.
Were Yusuke a man more apt to comment on such things, he would have said Hiei had chosen a fitting place for his mourning. Below them, protected under the cliff, was the tiny not-quite-a-graveyard that Yusuke had prepared after his life with Keiko in Ningenkai had ended. It was populated with markers, not graves, that he often visited. There was one for his mother, one for Keiko, one for Kuwabara... the list went on. Now there was one for Yukina.
But he was not apt to comment on such things, so instead, "I don't know what to say that hasn't already been said."
"You don't need to say anything." A flicker of red eyes as Hiei glanced sideways at him. "You must have overcome your pain, already."
"No, not..." Yusuke trailed off. It had been nearly two months since Yukina's demise, but he had not seen Hiei since their hunting down the raiders. Seeing that his sister's death was still a fresh wound in Hiei's heart brought back the same anger and despair Yusuke had felt during his own mourning. "Hiei, stay here with me."
The Jaganshi didn't even hesitate. "No. I only came to see the marker you made for her. Kurama said you did well." Another glance. "Thank you, Yusuke. I'm going."
"Going?" Yusuke turned, shoved his hands in his pockets to stop them from reaching for the demon. "Going where?"
"Leaving. Don't try to follow." Hiei's voice told him not to push the issue. In three strides, Hiei was before Yusuke, sheathed sword in hand. After a moment's hesitation, he held it out. "Here."
Yusuke blinked, accepting the weapon gingerly. "...Why?"
"Keep it for me," was all Hiei said, accompanied by one of his rare smiles.
And then he was gone.
Yusuke never saw Hiei again; never heard from him, never glimpsed him anywhere, never even heard tales of a roguish warrior who fit Hiei's description. It was as though the Jaganshi had vanished from the Three Worlds.
Yusuke never asked Koenma or Botan. He did not want to know if their friend had passed through Reikai on his way to the afterlife. Neither Koenma nor Botan, both old friends he no longer saw, ever volunteered the information. That was fine; Yusuke wasn't bothered by not knowing. If he didn't know, if no one gave him certainty, he could be content to entertain his... reality wherein Hiei was just... all alone somewhere, just existing. Or hunting. Or meditating. Or something.
"He has to come back for his sword," he'd commented to Kurama one day. Yusuke had polished the blade on a whim several weeks before. He'd been bored and the youko hadn't been around, so he'd figured, "what the hell," and got to work. The weapon, though only held in his hands for a short time, felt wrong in Yusuke's grip. Hiei. Hiei, Hiei. It had been as though the entire sword, blade and hilt and all, had been trying to *push* upon Yusuke the identity of its true wielder. Hiei, Hiei, Hiei.
And Kurama, now a not-so-equal mix of his demon ferocity and the gentler demeanor from his time with Minamino Shiori, had considered Yusuke for a long time, as though trying to decide what to say. In the end, the youko had fingered his diaphanous robes and shaken his head. "He will not be back for his sword."
"Why not?" Yusuke had demanded. Hiei only left his sword behind when it shattered, or something equally terrible happened. Right now it was on a stand in Yusuke's bedchamber, polished and sheathed and waiting.
"It's an echo," Kurama had said. "An artifact from the past, echoing so it's not completely forgotten."
"What do you think of when you see the sword?"
"Hiei," Yusuke had replied instantly.
Yusuke had mulled over Kurama's words. "Echoes from the past...?"
"For tomorrow," the youko had added.
Finally, after much time had passed, Yusuke could feel his vigilance fading. Hiei's sword sat for weeks at a time without being polished, Yusuke scarcely gave it a second glance as he hurried about the tasks of his day. Sometimes, he half-expected the Jaganshi to appear in his bedroom one morning, shake him from his sleep and demand, "What have you been doing to my sword?"
He caught himself thinking and speaking of Hiei in the past tense. "Hiei was always so grumpy," "Hiei would have liked this," "Hiei was one of my closest friends." Little by little, he stopped waiting, stopped worrying, and began to forget.
Only he couldn't forget, not entirely -- just as he could never forget his mother, or Keiko, or Kuwabara, or Shizuru, or Yukina, or anyone else. The only difference was that Hiei had no marker in the makeshift memorial ground Yusuke had in the hills behind his tower. Instead, Hiei's sword served as his marker, sitting, as ever, on a stand in Yusuke's room.
He began to let go. Or at least, to let go of the belief that one day, perhaps one day, Hiei would come back, if just for a little while. It pained him to let go, because for so long, he'd been holding on; because for so long, he'd believed that his human friends would live long and die peacefully while his demon friends stayed with him for many more years; because for so long, he'd figured Hiei to be so much stronger, so determined to *live*, because once, his people had been so determined for him to *die*.
There was no body, no physical proof that Hiei was gone, that had been presented before Yusuke's eyes. He remained steadfast in that respect, refraining from asking and stubbornly believing that Hiei was alive *somewhere*, doing *something*.
But he accepted the fact that Hiei would not be coming back -- accepted it on a cold gray morning, when conversation with Kurama had lulled and he found himself staring at that ever-present sword.
"He never said goodbye," Yusuke whispered, and noticed Kurama following his gaze.
"No, he didn't," the youko said quietly, "and that's how we know it was goodbye."