Title: Balance of Thought, part two
Author: Alatri ^..^ alatri@att.net
as of: August 7, 2002
length: medium
Type(s): gen, shounen ai
Pairing(s): Hiei/Kurama (established), Yusuke/Keiko (thinking), Kazuma/Yukina (thinking)
Categories: adventure, series (3/9)
Rating: PG
Warning: Original Character (sortof)
Feedback: Comments, critiques, suggestions, etc, all welcome. ;-)
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction based upon the manga/anime characters of Yu Yu Hakusho. This story was written for free entertainment purposes only and may not be altered or reproduced without permission. Rights to Yu Yu Hakusho characters belong to the writer and publishers. They're mine only in my dreams. ;-)  

Notes: Based on the anime eps 1-25. Alternate timeline from there.

Balance of Thought
Part Two

            “Boys, it’s time for dinner.” 

            Yusuke and Kuwabara looked up.

            “But…” Yusuke protested – the green-yellow flames were still surrounding a spot they couldn’t see.

            Genkai’s eyes narrowed, “Hiei does not need protecting while on my lands.”  Her tone softened, “Come in to dinner and you can check on him in the morning.”

            “In the morning?”  Yusuke and Kuwabara traded looks.  “What is he doing there?”  “Why will it take that long?”  “Why is he there, but not there?”  “How is he there and not there?”  “What’s going on?”  The last was rather plaintive.

            Genkai shook her head, “I don’t know, and it’s none of my business.  Nor is it yours.”  She looked over at the wall of flames, “Hiei will not appreciate your concern.”

            “Actually, he probably won’t even understand it.”

            Yusuke and Kuwabara whirled to stare at the red-haired fox-spirit who they hadn’t seen approach.  “Kurama.”

            Kurama shrugged, the movement fluid.  Then he turned and walked off.

            Genkai regarded them for a moment more, “If you miss dinner, I’m not making more.”  Then she also walked back to the temple.

            Yusuke and Kuwabara again looked at each other. 

            “We can’t leave him,” Yusuke finally offered.

            Kuwabara nodded, but seemed uneasy.  “They don’t care.”

            “They do… they think we’re overdoing it.”

            “Hiei’s a demon, he’s strong.”  Kuwabara sounded like he was trying to persuade himself.

            “We’re always fighting other demons and defeating them.  Strength isn’t everything.”  And Hiei says I defeated him.  But... I’m not so sure about that anymore.  Yusuke stared at the flames that were obviously not human and were no part of a power that Hiei had ever shown before.

            “I wish to hell I knew what was going on.”  Kuwabara paced around the flames, “He’s not there.  I’d swear he’s not.  And yet…”

            Yusuke watched unhappily, “I don’t like it.” 

            Kuwabara stopped pacing, “You go to dinner, I’ll take first watch.”

            Yusuke nodded.  That was the way they’d have to do it.  Logically, he knew that Kurama and Genkai were right, but Hiei…  Yusuke was glad that Kuwabara, at least, was with him.  But then, it was Kuwabara who had always been the first to stand by his friends and do the good and right.  Yusuke still remembered the day that Botan had told them about the demon insects invading their world.  Yusuke hadn’t cared.  It didn’t affect him.  But Kuwabara had jumped though the hole and for his pride, and his friend, Yusuke had to follow.

            “Let me know if…”  Yusuke floundered.

            Kuwabara grunted sourly, “Not that it will, but if something happens, you’ll be the first to know.”

            With a grin, Yusuke went in to dinner.


            Another day went by with Yusuke and Kuwabara trading off watching the unchanging flames.  Genkai and Kurama didn’t let up on their training, but neither did they try to persuade the boys not to watch.

            Yusuke was over at the temple, trying to settle his mind for another round of rei perception training when they were interrupted.


            Falling from his precarious perch, Yusuke looked up, “Keiko!  Thank God; I hate that damn exercise.”

            Keiko put her hands on her hips, “If you’re just using me to get out of studying…”

            Standing next to Keiko, Shizuru laughed scornfully.  “That exercise is a child’s trick.  If Urameshi can’t handle it, what’s he doing here?”

            “Er...” Yusuke blushed red and didn’t know what to say to Kuwabara’s sister.

            “He’s training,” Genkai said dryly.  “And Yusuke, I did not say you could stop!”

            With a sigh, Yusuke got back up on the needle.  This ‘vacation’ wasn’t turning out anything like he’d thought it would be.  He looked upside down helplessly at Keiko.

            Giggling, Keiko apologized to Genkai for interrupting and left with a wave and a smile for Yusuke, promising another time. 


            Kuwabara stood up, his rei sword active in his hand.  Nothing had changed about the flames.  Nothing, and yet...  He stood there for several minutes while nothing continued to happen.

            Then a figure walked through the flames, the yellow-green darkening to a solid black fire as Hiei moved through.  On the instant his form was revealed and present within them, the flames whipped around Hiei and turned him into an unburning flame of darkness.  It held steady for a moment before the fire settled into Hiei’s body, a part of him.

            Hiei turned a contemptuous glance upon Kuwabara, “Put away your feeble rei, child.”

            There was a tinkling laugh from just behind him.  For the first time Kuwabara noticed the second person and his eyes widened in alarm.

            “He’s hardly a child, Hiei, and it’s not all that feeble for a human.”

            Hiei’s sour glance went to his companion, “If he wants to fight demons, it’s feeble. And I don’t call him ‘child’ by your standards but by mine.”

            Meitta’s golden eyes twinkled, but she didn’t say anything else.

            “Uhh...”  Kuwabara’s gaze flicked between the two.

            “It’s temporary,” Hiei said shortly.  He frowned at Meitta, “I should have left you in the circle longer.”

            She shrugged, “It would have mattered not.  In your flames, Quicksilver, I would not revert to the simple human.  Don’t you understand yet that—”

            “Shut up!”

            The not-human regarded Hiei with fond exasperation.  “We’re not in the void anymore, Hiei, even if it is temporary.  Stop dancing around and get your answer.”

            Hiei’s pointed teeth flashed, “You taught me the Games too well for that, High One.  The Game will stop when I finish it, not before.”

            Meitta bowed gracefully, an acquiescent smile on her face, “Your move, then, Demonspawn.”

            Whatever Hiei would have said next was forestalled by Yusuke running up and skidding to a halt as he saw them.  “Hiei! You’re back!!  Are you okay?”

            Black eyebrows rose up Hiei’s forehead, setting off the middle eye between them.  Hiei stared at Yusuke for a moment, then he flitted away and disappeared.

            Kuwabara let his rei sword go, though he still watched Meitta warily.  “So why are you here?”

            Yusuke spun, noticing the change for the first time.  His mouth dropped open and he glanced to where Hiei had disappeared.  “Hiei left us with you?”

            “Kazuma might not be a child, but you, Yusuke, often are close to it.  You may not have the openness, but I doubt if you ever curb your impulsiveness.  Or your tongue.”  Meitta turned from Yusuke dismissively and faced Kuwabara, “I am here because Hiei likes to play with fire.  And that is all I will say, ‘cousin.’”  The last word was spoken in a mocking tone.

            She walked by them, passing so close they could feel her rei passing over them like a light mist in the air, “I will return when there is only the New One left.”

            The boys watched her disappear among the trees and then they looked at each other.  There was a minute of silence as they absorbed the impact of the volatile personalities that were no longer there.

            “So what happened?” Yusuke finally asked.

            Kuwabara shrugged, “They came out of the fire, Hiei insulted me, they exchanged cryptic remarks, and then you came running.”

            “That was it?”

            “That was it.”

            Yusuke glanced around hopelessly, “But...”

            “I know.”  Kuwabara glowered at the now empty practice field.  “Shit.  That was a bunch of time wasted for nothing.”

            Returning his attention to his friend, Yusuke thought, not for nothing... but he didn’t say it out loud. 


            Kurama sat in their room and waited.  He’d felt his mate return, and now he waited.  He wanted to go to him... but he knew he didn’t need to and that Hiei would not appreciate too close a leash on him.  It wasn’t a leash... it was affection for his mate that translated into anxious feelings while he wasn’t there. But Hiei wouldn’t appreciate the very human ‘concern’ either.  Hiei could take care of himself.  Kurama wondered what he’d make of the boys watching over him.  A slight smile curved his lips as the thief thought about the constant vigil the two boys had been holding.  The two in ignorance could get away with what Kurama in knowledge could not. 

            “Hiei...”   My mate.  Constantly coming and going.  Not what I’d wanted, but I want Hiei, so I will live with it.  Will I ever become used to it?  Perhaps he would in a decade or so, after they had become more settled with each other.  Or perhaps Hiei would learn to live with him.  Kurama wouldn’t force the issue either way.  And he knew that it would take several decades, if not centuries, for Hiei to settle his Makai affairs enough for him to feel comfortable with Kurama by his side, openly proclaimed as his mate.  What is valued, is endangered.  And even as Hiei would not risk Kurama, so Kurama would not risk his human mother if they came to the attention of the Makai.  A hundred years is not so long to wait.

            “The fox is brooding.”

            Kurama looked up, “The fox was waiting.”  Standing up, he held out his arms and Hiei moved into them.  They held close to each other, embraced in the hug, not letting go.  Gradually, the hug loosened enough for them to move closer in another way as their lips met in a long and sustained kiss.

            Putting out his rei, Kurama probed through his mate’s body, looking for any damage and seeking to replenish depleted reserves.  With a start of surprise, he drew back from the kiss and looked questioningly at Hiei.

            Hiei shrugged, “It was different.”

            Kurama narrowed his eyes at the demon.  The times before that Hiei had gone into the void in Kurama’s presence, he’d come out drained completely of energy, so tired he’d curled right up and gone immediately to sleep.  This time, he was fine – in fact, he was almost sparking at the edges with excess rei. 

            “Do you need to know?”

            Kurama considered that for a moment.  Need...  Was it a simple desire for knowledge, or was there something more behind the difference?  The differences...  “The fire barrier you put up before you went in – you absorbed it on the way out, which replenished your rei.”

            Hiei nodded, “That’s part of it.  Also, I used Meitta’s rei for the travel, which eliminated the need for using my own.”

            And there was no need to support another when returning.  Kurama nodded in acceptance.  Deciding that right now Hiei wanted to talk more than cuddle, Kurama moved to a wall and sat down on the floor to made himself comfortable.  He’d wanted the cuddling, but Hiei wanting to talk was unusual enough that Kurama was more than content at the exchange.

            Hiei raised an eyebrow, “Aren’t you going to ask?”


            “About your Shinka.”

            With a shrug, Kurama dismissed it, “She didn’t come back.”  He would miss the little vixen, but not as much as he cared about his mate.

            “Foxes...” Hiei rolled his eyes, “She’s back.”

            “Huh!?” Kurama’s eyes went wide as he darted out a searching probe... He pulled it in quickly with the feel of the wild rei.  Oh.  That’s why I didn’t feel her.  But...

            “It’s temporary,” Hiei dismissed any concern about ‘Meitta’ and returned to his main thoughts, “I have her promise not to harm Yusuke.”  Hiei glowered, “Or Yukina.”

            A promise made in the void?  That’s... Kurama remembered the truth-in-nightmares they’d had while unintentionally linked to the void.  That’s something that can never be broken.  What... an interesting use for that place.  If it was a place.  This would require some research... Kurama squashed down his thoughts.  Another 50 years.  Patience.  Just be patient a while longer and I can go freely about again...  It was harder now to be patient than it had been for 15 years.  Being partially out made Kurama want to be fully out.  This half-and-half was wearing on his hard-won patience.

            Hiei was still frowning, “She said Yukina grew up while I wasn’t looking.”

            Kurama looked up – he’d missed that part of Hiei’s reaction.  “And that bothers you,” he made it a statement, rather than a question.

            “Yes,” Hiei replied shortly.  “Yukina...”  He paced around the room.  “Yukina should not know pain.”

            Kurama opened his mouth and then shut it again.  Who was he to talk of acceptance?  He’d never cared that much for someone, to want to protect them from everything, including life and all its experiences.

            “That’s not it.”


            “And I’m not reading your thoughts.”

            Kurama growled.

            Hiei grinned briefly, “You’re good, my fox-human, but I’m your mate.  If I can’t read you, who can?”

            I can only accept that if I can read you as equally well.  Kurama glowered at the short demon, not happy about the difference in positions and knowing that if his mate tried to be impassive, he wouldn’t be able to tell a thing.

            Hiei snorted, “Well, you’re not exactly trying yourself, right now, fox.  If you’re being kitsune-inscrutable, or worse yet, Minamino-faced, I have to wait too.”


            “You know, that incredible ‘I’m so polite’ expression and voice you use when trying to be a better human than the humans are.”  Hiei snorted again, “Not even I can read through that!

            Kurama sputtered a bit in indignation and then got back to the real point, “Why are you worried about Yukina?”

            “Worried?”  Hiei paused in his pacing, “It’s not worry... it’s...”  He paused again and then restarted, “Yukina has experienced pain and hurt in her life before.  She grew up with the Ice Maidens and she lives in the Maikai.  She is not helpless, and she has been in the battles at Ice Mountain with her sisters.  Yet she has never taken pain to her heart before.  She experiences, then goes on.  Her life is happy, and sweet, and full of delight of the little joys.  The pain, for her, has always been transitory, something that would not last, so it was not worth keeping.” 

            Looking out the window at the daylight, Hiei sighed, “If Meitta says that Yukina has grown up, it means that she has taken the pain into herself and continues now despite it.”  He stared outside for a long silent moment.  “And it is my fault, for trusting in subordinates’ reports and not knowing when she was gone.”

            Deeply affected by Hiei’s speech, Kurama’s heart was wrapping around the bit of his mate’s soul that he kept close to him.  I love him so.  This demon of the blackest night, who can love another, and care so much, and understand life in all its forms.  He is mine, and I love him for it.  It was not an unused heart that Kurama had claimed, it was an experienced one.  And he was Kurama’s now, and Kurama wouldn’t let Hiei go.  “It wasn’t your fault.”

            Hiei turned to face him, his expression watchful but not accepting nor denying the statement.

            Kurama tilted his head, “Three years ago, you approached me with the job to steal the Great Treasures.  When I finally accepted, we spent almost a year working out the details, many of which you had already scouted out.  Your plan to create havoc in Koenma’s world had been started well over a decade back.”  Or longer.  “For you to have approached Yukina for closer contact than your remote watch would have jeopardized her and the plan.”  Kurama shrugged, “Your logic was impeccable, as always.  It was Yukina’s entry into the human world, at a time you could not have foreseen, that caused her danger.”

            The silence dragged on after Kurama had finished speaking.  Finally, Hiei nodded and turned back to the window.  “Genkai is angry.”

            As usual with one of Hiei’s abrupt topic switches, it took Kurama a few moments to readjust.  Genkai... oh – Yusuke ran out of the training, and I came here.  And none of us have come back yet.  Kurama grinned, his sense of the mischievous acting up again.

            “You go collect Kazuma and take him into training with Genkai.  I have to talk to Yusuke.” Hiei frowned. “He actually asked if I was okay!”

            Kurama smothered a giggle and his eyes danced even more at the frown Hiei directed his way.  They’re so cute...  He stood up and stretched.  “Okay.  I’ll take care of my end.”  With another grin at his mate, he went off to act as the fox in human form.  Neither human-minamino, nor kitsune-youko, but a bit of both, when with his friends.


            The ground looked like ordinary ground.  The grass was green, the soil was brown, there were scuff-marks from fighting that had taken place over it...  And there was no sign of a fire that had burned there earlier.  Yusuke picked up a bit of the dirt and let it crumble from his fingers.  “Hiei...”


            Yusuke spun around, his hand raised and his rei focusing...  At the sight of the short figure in black cloak and white-starred hair, he let out his breath and lowered his arm.  “Hiei!”

            “What?”  Hiei raised an eyebrow that disappeared under the new white cloth around his forehead.  

            Yusuke was sure that the demon was teasing him, but he was so bland about it that there was always the chance that he was serious too.  “How come your fire didn’t burn the grass?”

            Hiei glanced down at the ground and shrugged, “It’s not a human fire.”  He paused for a moment before adding, “It’s not that powerful a flame.”

            Thrown in more ways than one, Yusuke opened and closed his mouth a couple of times before Hiei rescued him.

            “I was asked the other day why I don’t call the Maikai Fire in battle.”  Hiei shrugged, “The answer is that while it is good for burning Kurama’s plants and making barriers, for a weapon in the Maikai, it’s not very effective.”

            As Yusuke stared at him in surprise, Hiei warned, “Genkai was still correct, though.  One does not reveal strengths or weaknesses to the public, or others will know how to use both.”

            And you just told me...  Another glimmer of trust from his friend.  No not a glimmer, a flame.  Yusuke’s grin spread across his face.

            “Yusuke, I don’t need watching over, nor do I need to be asked if I’m okay.”  Hiei glowered.  “If I am hurt, you will know it.  If I’m not, you don’t need to be worried.”

            Kurama and Genkai warned us about that.  Yusuke shrugged.  “It doesn’t matter.  I’ll still ask.”  You have been hurt before, and not told us.  In that, Hiei, you lie.  Yusuke accepted that not everything Hiei told him would be the truth – truth was even rarer a commodity than trust, yet it was much, much less precious.

            Hiei cursed briefly.

            Yusuke grinned.  “Accept it, Hiei, it’s not going to change.”

            “Whatever.”  Hiei frowned, “We should go back to the dojo.  Genkai wants to train.”

            “Okay,” Yusuke brushed the last of the dirt off his hands and acquiesced without demur.

            As they walked together towards the dojo, Yusuke rejoiced in the return of his quiet friend.  It wasn’t often that he got to spend any time with Hiei except for the missions, and while he enjoyed fighting, lately he’d been wanting something else as well.

            The late-night walks he’d take with Keiko along the wharf, the study sessions with her and Kuwabara, watching Kuwabara spend time with his followers while they patrolled their zones... Yusuke actually found that he enjoyed all that too.  It wasn’t fighting... but somehow it was satisfying.  And weirdly, the closeness to his friends that he’d always known was improved by his being with them at times other than fighting.  He didn’t understand it, but Yusuke was starting to accept it.  And he wanted it for his other friends as well. 

            Lately, he’d even been spending time with Masaru, as the younger child would come over and call him ‘older brother’ and would want to play...  Yusuke had saved Masaru’s life without thinking about it.  There had been the brief contact with the kid and a moment of happiness while they played... Yusuke had enjoyed making the kid smile.  But if he’d thought about it, would he have traded his life?  Yusuke wasn’t sure.  To deliberately die, for somebody he didn’t know...  But he hadn’t thought about it and Masaru was saved.  And now the child called him ‘brother’ and came to play with him, looking at him with those worshipful brown eyes and joyful innocence. 

            It made Yusuke feel weird, to know that somebody cared about him like that.  Somebody besides Keiko, who had been in his life for so long Yusuke wouldn’t know what he’d do without her.  He’d never thought about that either.  Not until the day the Fourth Beast had shown a vision of Keiko being hunted down by demon-controlled humans, left to fend for herself while Yusuke wasn’t there.  That scared him.  He had no fears for Keiko while he was near.  But there was so much that could happen while he wasn’t...

            “Hiei, what do you do while you’re not with us?”

            Red eyes turned on him, flickering briefly in surprise and guarded thoughts before becoming unfathomable again.  “Hn.  Nothing much.”

            Okay, that was a lot of answer...  Yusuke sighed and gave up.  He just wasn’t good at ‘casual conversation.’  But that was okay.  He was happy just to be with his friends – and to count Hiei as one of them.


            “There they are,” Genkai remarked from the top of the steps, her arms folded across her chest and smoke raising in the air from her cigarette.  “Incredible discipline in this group.  The trainers disappear, the students decide what they will do on their own, nobody stays put for more than a half hour at a time.”  The elderly sensei looked up at the sky, “Will anybody tell me what I did to deserve this?”

            From behind her, Kurama and Kuwabara walked out of the dojo, while Keiko and Botan joined them from the other side of the building. 

            Keiko laughed lightly, “Nothing to deserve, it, but easy to explain, Genkai-sama – you took Yusuke as a student.”

            Yusuke stiffened indignantly, “Hey, Keiko! I’m not that bad!”  Beside him, Yusuke felt Hiei stilling into total non-movement.

            Keiko grinned at Yusuke, “Of course you are.”  She switched her attention to the person next to Yusuke and the smile disappeared off her face. 

            “Hiei,” with no expression, Keiko acknowledged the demon.

            Hiei responded, his voice low and remote, reveling nothing, “Yukimura Keiko.”

            Botan’s hand flew up to her mouth and she turned to Keiko in surprise and dismay.  “But...” she stopped speaking, and her face went white as she looked to Hiei.

            “Hn,” Hiei snorted, “Foolish Goddess – did you truly believe that your feeble attempt at memory-control would work on a person that I claimed with jagan and Ghost Slayer?”

            Kurama’s eyes went wide and his gaze flew to Yusuke as the two of them shared an exchange of looks that said, ‘Oh shit, we forgot about that.’

            “I’m sorry, Botan,” Keiko apologized, not taking her eyes off Hiei, “It just seemed like you didn’t want me to know.”

            Yusuke wanted to reassure Keiko it was okay, but Keiko didn’t actually look like she was upset...  “Uhhh...”  Yusuke himself wasn’t actually sure it was okay, but he didn’t know that anything was really wrong.  This was confusing.  Hiei had used Keiko as a hostage, but Keiko wasn’t supposed to remember that. But Yusuke hadn’t even thought about that, until they brought it up.  It was just that Hiei was his friend now, and so was Keiko.  But Hiei had once threatened Keiko, and hurt her.  But Hiei was his friend.  But...  Yusuke stood in indecision.

            “What’s this?” Kuwabara stepped forward and moved to Keiko’s side, his hand coming up in a movement to prepare for his rei sword, though he didn’t activate it.  His gaze was focused on Hiei, ready to defend Keiko against anything, even Hiei.  “Hiei, you bastard, what did you do to Keiko?”

            Botan was also stepping between Hiei and Keiko, “Hiei, you were supposed to have released Keiko completely!”

            “Released Keiko?!” Kuwabara sputtered and his rei sword activated.


            There was a swirl of non-air through the scene and everything and everyone became motionless statues as a pop of displaced reality echoed in nothingness. 


            After glancing at the frozen tableau, Hiei looked up.  “Koenma,” he acknowledged briefly.

            “Hiei!  You said you’d released Keiko!  What have you done?”

            Hiei’s eyebrows disappeared under the cloth around his forehead.  “You put the world in stasis to ask me that?” Hiei asked incredulously.

            “Damnit, Hiei!  This is important!!”

            Hiei’s eyes narrowed, “Heir of the Underworld, what is your interest in Keiko Yukimura?”

            Koenma turned a furious red, “JUST ANSWER!  Hiei!”

            “Hn.”  Hiei walked a few steps towards the frozen Keiko and then turned to study Yusuke.  “You take an extraordinary interest in this human, Koenma, that you would go to such lengths to protect one close to him.”

            “You’re a fine one to talk!”

            Flames burst about him, as Hiei whirled to face the diminutive god.  “You dare!”

            “Fuck it, Hiei!  I let you out here on certain conditions and—”

            “Shut up, Godling!  I know damn well what conditions you made me sign, with a Contract roll the size of your fist!  Keiko is not under my control, damn you!”

            Koenma sputtered a bit then looked around the frozen group, “But the memory...”

            Hiei rolled his eyes, “There are some things, Chibi-chan, that can’t be undone.  Because Keiko is not under my jagan now, does not mean she was not in the past.”  The fire around him faded.

            “Go back to your office, lonely little Godling.  Go back and watch from your vidscreen.  Remote and alone, always watching, but never able to be a true part of the group.  Go back, watch, and learn.”  Hiei’s voice was bitterly cold and mocking, the blackness of the truth of his words biting and painful.

            Koenma turned a stark white as he stared at Hiei, the stricken expression on his face making him look like a toddler in truth.  Then he disappeared and the world came rushing back.


            “Hiei, you bastard! What have you—” Kuwabara’s bluster hiccupped as the figure he was menacing disappeared from his sight and reappeared halfway between Kuwabara and Yusuke.  Knowing Hiei’s speed, Kuwabara would not normally have thought anything about it, but there was something odd...

            “It’s okay, Kuwa-chan,” Keiko walked out from between Kuwabara and Botan, laying one hand reassuringly on Kuwabara’s arm as she stepped towards Hiei.

            “Okay, but!” Kuwabara sputtered, “If that shrimp has hurt you, Keiko-chan, I will make him pay!”

            “It’s okay.”  Keiko said more firmly, her eyes drifting over to meet Yusuke’s.

            Yusuke was caught between relief and puzzlement.  He was glad that Keiko didn’t hate Hiei, but at the same time, he knew what Hiei had done...  He looked at his friend, “Hiei?”

            Hiei turned to him.  At the look of trust and confusion on Yusuke’s face, Hiei’s almond eyes widened nearly round.  “Yusuke... how...?”  Hiei’s face snapped back into his usual glower and he returned his attention to Kuwabara, “I held Keiko hostage for the two Great Treasures that Yusuke had taken from my companions.”

            “I gave mine to him!” Kurama protested.

            Ignoring Kurama, Hiei continued, “I cut Keiko with the sword Ghost Slayer and I gave Yusuke one chance to defeat me or she would have been a demon slave under my control forever.”  He looked to Keiko as he finished, “That is what I did to Keiko, and that is why Yusuke defeated me.” 

            Keiko’s brown eyes were steady and clear as she nodded slightly, acknowledging the truth of Hiei’s statement.

            Hiei and Keiko held the contact for a moment more, before Hiei’s attention turned briefly to Kurama and then locked on Yusuke.  “Why Yusuke keeps forgetting that, I do not know.”

            “I haven’t forgotten it,” Yusuke muttered.

            Hiei snorted.

            “Really!”  Yusuke protested, “It’s just that...” He looked hopelessly over to Keiko, begging for help.

            Keiko sighed in exasperation, “Yusuke, you’re impossible.” 

            She walked over to him, her movements taking her directly past Hiei, despite Kuwabara’s yelp of protest.  With a smile at Yusuke, she slipped her hand into his and turned to Hiei, “Yusuke trusts you.”

            Impassive to the remark, Hiei stood there.

            “I’ve known Yusuke since we were kids.  He doesn’t think too well—”


            Keiko silenced Yusuke with a glare, “—but his instincts for people he can trust are never wrong.”  She wrinkled her nose, “They’re not all nice people, not like Kuwa-chan—”

            “Hey!” This time it was Kuwabara who protested the description.

            Keiko’s eyes twinkled at him and refused to change the description, “—they’re not all nice, but if Yusuke trusts them, then I can too – as long as they know I’m a friend of Yusuke’s.”  Disentangling her hand from Yusuke’s, she moved forward again, stopping in front of Hiei.

            “I remember what you did to me,” she said softly, “and I can’t ever forget.  But Yusuke trusts you, and so I forgive.”  She smiled, “You’re not a tame demon, but I’ll be your friend.”

            Hiei disappeared.

            “Off again,” Kurama remarked lightly. He gazed fondly at the empty air before turning to those left, “Keiko, you are an extraordinary woman.”

            Keiko smiled at him, “I grew up friends with Yusuke – I have to be.”

            Yusuke was caught in between confusion and glowering.  “What did you mean, Keiko?”

            “About the people you know?”


            Keiko shrugged, “Gunji, Hiroyuki, Jun...”  She glared at Yusuke, “You really think I could be worried about Hiei after you’ve introduced me to scum like those guys?”

            “Uh...” Yusuke squirmed a bit.  Okay, Jun did get too rough with the girls, and Gunji hated just about everything, and Hiroyuki could be a loud-mouth asshole with a wide destructive streak when he was drunk, which was just about all the time, but they were also a hell of a lot of fun to hang out with sometimes.  After he’d defeated them, of course.  They’d have never given him the time of day if he hadn’t roughed them up first.  Okay, they were scum, but Yusuke didn’t mind being with them.  No bartender ever bothered him about his age when he went with Gunji.  And Jun had some connections...

            “Amotowa Jun?” Kuwabara breathed out, his eyes going wide.  He turned a furious glare at Yusuke, “And you introduced Keiko-chan to him???  Urameshi, are you out of your mind?  He’s raped twelve women and brags about it!  The only reason he’s not in jail are his mob buddies!”

            “Hey!” Yusuke bristled at the reference to the mob.  His mom had some good friends in common with Jun.  Not that she liked Jun any better than Keiko did.

            Keiko placed her hand on Kuwabara’s arm again as the bigger youth started to charge forward angrily.  “Kuwa-chan.  It’s okay.  Jun won’t hurt me.  He won’t cross Yusuke.”

            “Damn straight, he won’t,” Yusuke agreed.

            “That’s not...!” Kuwabara started to bluster and then he deflated suddenly, looking tired.  “Damn you, Urameshi.  You dance with the devils and the angels together and still I follow.”

            “Don’t you mean, dance with demons and goddesses?” Kurama interjected, his green eyes flashing mischievously, as he grinned at Botan.

            The Goddess stuck her tongue out at the Spirit Fox, “Yusuke hasn’t danced with me.”

            “Well, then, I think we need a party.  That has to be remedied,” Kurama laughed.

            “Not at my dojo,” Genkai stated in a rather mild tone.  She put her pipe back in her mouth and glanced around the group thoughtfully.

            Kuwabara shook his head, not deterred by Kurama’s diversion.  “Hiei is a dark demon with an aura and bloody past that makes me shiver every time I see him.  But even he is not as truly evil as Takatori Gunji.”  His troubled gaze rested on the delicate figure of the girl that stood next to him, “Keiko-chan...”

            After a longish pause, Keiko prompted him gently to go on.

            Kuwabara swallowed, “Keiko-chan, I would defend you to the death if you needed it.  But... are you really okay with what Hiei did to you?”

            Keiko glanced out to the trees, her eyes resting on one tall pine tree as she opened and closed  her left hand absently.  “Yes.”  Her assent was quiet.  She looked back at Kuwabara and her voice gained strength, “Yes, I’m fine.  Hiei...  I was only a pawn in the game.  And...” she trailed off for a moment before resuming with a quirk of a smile, “And Yusuke defeated Hiei.”

            There was a gasp from across the way and the group by the dojo looked over to see Yukina, Shizuru, and Shinka all standing together.  Yukina’s hand was at her mouth.

            “Yukina-san!” Kuwabara started to go to her, then hesitated and stayed next to Keiko, his eyes troubled and split between needs.

            Yukina lowered her hand and her soft red eyes locked onto Yusuke, “You defeated Hiei?”  There was enough emphasis on the first and last words to make her meaning that of disbelief rather than concern.

            Yusuke frowned and complained, “Why does everybody have such a damn hard time believing that?!  Yes, I defeated Hiei!”

            Botan giggled.  Yusuke glared at her.

            “Botan and Kurama were both there if you don’t believe me!  Hiei and I were fighting, and he’d pretty much cleaned the floor with me when I pulled a sneak attack reflecting the rei gun off the Mirror of Utter Dark.  Hiei wasn’t expecting it from behind after he’d dodged, and I got him in just the right position for the reflected hit.”  Yusuke explained the fight as much for Kuwabara’s benefit as Yukina’s.  He never had told Kuwabara about some of the missions he’d done for Koenma when Kuwabara wasn’t with him.

            Yukina blinked and looked over at Kurama, who nodded.  She turned back to Yusuke, “I’m sorry, Yusuke-san.  I didn’t mean to doubt you.  I know you defeated those sent against you by my captors.  I just hadn’t realized...”  She shrugged delicately, “Hiei is a very powerful demon.  You were very brave to have fought him.”

            “Heh,” Yusuke puffed up under the praise, “It was nothing.”

            “Nothing?” Keiko asked indignantly.

            “Er, I mean after fighting Hiei, no monster seems too much,” Yusuke backpedaled.

            Kurama laughed lightly and with delight, “Well, that’s certainly true.”  With his delight, he held Yusuke’s gaze to him for a long happy moment. 

            When Kurama’s eyes turned in a different direction, Yusuke was lost for a moment, still seeing the memory of a short spiky demon within the bright green eyes of a red-haired fox spirit.  Hiei was not there physically... but in Kurama, he was always there.  Looking at Kurama, Yusuke could also see Hiei.  Yusuke’s heart turned inside out for a moment and he reached out to Keiko, holding her hand and wondering if he could ever hold her as Kurama did Hiei.  Keiko drew in a breath, looking frightened, but left her hand in his, and the edges of her mouth twitched up in a tremulous happy smile.

            “Is it time for dinner, already?” Kurama was asking the girls.

            Shizuru snorted, “Hardly.  All the yelling sounded more interesting then watching those two go through Genkai’s cooking books and oooing over recipes.”  She jabbed her cigarette towards Yukina and Shinka.

            “We’re sorry if it was private,” Yukina apologized.

            “No, we’re not,” Shinka grinned.  “It did sound interesting over here.”  She glanced over to Genkai, “No dance?  Why not – you used to enjoy dances.”

            Genkai’s gaze moved to the building they were standing next to, “I like my dojo intact, thank you.”

            Shinka’s eyebrows raised at the statement, and she in turn looked from the buildings to the gathering of youths and ghosts around them.

            Shizuru nodded, “Different energies released.”  She didn’t expand on the statement but inhaled through her cigarette and released the smoke in a floating trail.

            Raising her hands, Shinka started to gesture through the air but paused and looked to Genkai, “May I?”

            The martial arts master nodded her permission and Shinka continued with a quick incantation.  When she was done, there was a globe of light under her hands with multi-colored lightning trails darting within.  Shizuru drew near to look into it, a confident nod confirming her original thoughts.  Kurama also went to look, though the very human mysticism was foreign to his experiences in the spirit realms.

            “Oh, I see,” Shinka dismissed the globe with another wave.  “What a clever setup, to direct uncontrolled rei release into the protection wards.”

            “A necessary one,” Genkai depreciated the comment even as she looked pleased at the remark.

            “But a dance with this group,” Shinka continued thoughtfully, “would pretty much be completely uncontrolled rei release and of so many different types that it would take a rework of the wards to contain it.”

            “And letting it through would draw unwanted attention.” Kurama finished the idea. The basic concept was a keystone of the otherworld.

            Shinka’s glance went to Kurama and she blushed.  Kurama noticed the direction of her thoughts and passed the glance onto Genkai, who snorted with amusement.  “Uncontrolled rei release, of any type, is more devastating in the Makai than it ever could be in our world.  Hiei’s rei is never uncontrolled, and spirit foxes have their own protection.  I do not spend time worrying about something that’s not a problem.”

            “And something that is a problem?” Kuwabara asked softly but without any hint in his voice that he expected an answer.  Turning from the group, he walked away.

            “Kazuma-kun...” Yukina hesitated for a moment and then ran after the tall human.

            “What the hell is the matter with him?” Yusuke fumed, aware that he was at the core of his friend’s sad mood but unable to figure out why.  He looked over to his primary interpreter, Kurama, but the fox-human only shrugged, not understanding it either, and by the look on his face, not particularly interested.  It’s only Hiei that Kurama struggles to understand... and shares with me.  The 600-odd-years-old kitsune had Yusuke’s attention again, as he was reminded of the span of difference in their ages and the very inhumanity of the spirit within. And how alike they were.  I lived fourteen years in the human world, Yusuke mused, and never knew what a friend was until I died.  As they had stood on top of the hospital building and Kurama talked about his life and reasons for stealing the Mirror of Utter Darkness, Yusuke had for the first time in his life felt a connection with another person.  Something that said, ‘I am not alone’ and made him actually want to reach out.  Keiko had always been with him, so much a part of his life that he knew he never needed to reach out to have her there, taken for granted as much as his mother.  But these friends he’d made in the last year...  Why is Kuwabara upset?

            Keiko shook her head sadly and tugged her hand out of Yusuke’s.  “Never mind, Yusuke.  Just leave him alone for now.”

            Keiko knows.  Yusuke’s mouth turned down in a frown as he struggled to figure it out. 

            Botan came up to them and gave Keiko a brief hug before leading her away, “Now tell me what you remember about Hiei—” their voices trailed off into the distance.

            Genkai shook out her pipe.  “Okay, Yusuke, back to training.  You’ve stalled long enough.”


            “You were the one who came to me this week and said you wanted training.”  Genkai dispassionately looked the youth over.  “I have many things to do and I put them all off for your training at your request. Yusuke, you are the heir to my power and techniques.  And you will learn them before I die.  However, I’d also like you to learn them before you die in one of your otherworld missions.”  She turned her back to Yusuke and walked into the dojo.

            Yusuke stared after her for a long moment before he sighed and followed her.

            Shinka and Shizuru glanced at each other and then turned their combined focus on Kurama. 


            “Home-grown vegetables...” Shizuru grabbed one arm and Shinka another and together they hauled the fox-human to the kitchen with them.


            “Last night was your turn.”

            “And we’re taking turns now?”

            “When I only have a few days with you, my uncommon fox, all the days and all the nights are mine.”

            Kurama tilted his head back and growled in a deep rumble as a slightly rough tongue licked up his neck and fiery hands stroked his thighs.  Then both withdrew and Kurama yipped a little before opening his eyes.

            Hiei was standing with his back to him, looking out the window as he drew off his cape, boots, and pants.  Then he carefully folded them and placed them in a tidy little stack in the corner.

            Kurama’s growl was deeper, seeing his mate revealed thus before him.  Then a wicked gleam entered his eyes and he spoke in human terms, “And tonight, no one will hear you scream.”

            Hiei turned around, his red eyes expressing surprise before the corners of his mouth quirked upwards and he advanced on the fox spirit.  “You are the one who is going to scream, Kurama.  That I promise.”

            “Yum,” Kurama licked his lips, “A promise from Hiei….”  He dropped his jaw in a feral grin, teeth gleaming bright.  “And what are you waiting for, dear demon?”

            Without another word, Hiei pounced.

            For a long time, the only sounds were of skin against skin and other associated noises.  Kurama was determined to make his demon work at fulfilling the promise. Eventually, the relative silence was broken as Hiei started to speak, in low, purring tones that contained the essence of honey and sugar crystals, rough and sweet while melting upon their recipient.

            “Skin of mixed delight, smooth like a human, tasting of fox.”  Hiei ran his tongue across the expanse of leg from ankle to inner thigh, eliciting a moan but no more. 

            “Hair of fox, color of riches.”  Hiei’s tongue and mouth moved upwards from the thighs and his fingers played with the tangles of rough fur found there.  The glare Kurama had been thinking about giving him for bringing up the color of his fur was lost in a melting of green eyes at Hiei’s actions.  He almost cried out, but arched his back and let a tear escape instead.

            “The adventurer will travel over many plains and mountains, exploring each, learning his way as he advances to his destination.”  Hiei purred as his fingers spread out over Kurama’s chest, drifting over the ribs and muscles and tracing out patterns in seemly random manner yet Kurama’s nerves were on fire and his excitement spiraled ever deeper, proving that Hiei’s movements were not so random.

            “As the sea possesses hidden depths, so does soul I love.”  Face down upon the mat, Kurama could not see Hiei, yet he heard the whisper of sound that stroked the bond they shared and his heart reverberated with it.  He muffled his involuntary cries within the pillow and pushed his back upward, seeking a more solid touch to the feathery touches that were driving him mad.  A chuckle of delight told him how nearly he’d lost it, but there was a certain point where the pleasure was the object of the game, rather than winning a challenge.  And that point was nearing soon.

            The poet within Hiei continued to stroke with words as well as with body and at a point that was not too soon and not too late but perfectly at the peak of the spiral of delight, the promise was kept and Kurama cried out his pleasure.


            The scream reverberated through the building and Yusuke was awake and running into the hall before the echoes died away, his fist glowing and his senses looking for the danger.  Kuwabara was beside him on the instant, rei sword bright and his expression grim.  The two promised deathly retribution for that which had harmed their friend. 


            The door became splinters and melted away with the combined force of rei sword and gun.

            Hiei faced them, a black fire dripping across his bare body and a greenish-black flame of the fire held in his hand.  He stared at them for a moment while they stared at him.  Then the fire around Hiei disappeared and he turned from then and looked downward.  “And no one will hear you scream?” Hiei’s voice dripped sarcasm.  “Kurama-baka; you said you were taking care of the barrier tonight.”

            As the boys stared at the naked, shiny, exposed, and obviously-not-in-any-danger body of their friend, Kurama’s eyes blinked open, not focusing very well but expressing a contentment and satisfaction they’d never seen before.

            “Barrier?” Kurama’s voice was slow and almost purring, it was so full of cream, “I blocked the bond.  You always do the barrier.”

            The black fire burst out around Hiei again as he raised his hand to his face, covering his eyes as he leaned into it without saying anything.

            “Well, he did block the bond.”

            A cheerful and giggling voice behind him brought Yusuke back to a sort of awareness and he wrenched his eyes off the extraordinary view of a Kurama replete with sex.  Behind him and Kuwabara was the rest of the group.  All six females.  All of whom were crowding in to get a look.  Closest and smallest, Shinka had wormed her way to the front and was peering around Yusuke.

            “Oh my!”  Shinka’s voice was full of admiration and delight. 

            Shizuru crowded her way between the boys.  “Now that is a sight actually worth exclaiming about,” she remarked dryly.  “I hope it was good as it sounded.”

            “Better,” Kurama replied with a lazy smile, not moving but for his eyelids which dipped down in satisfaction.  His body was still sprawled across the mat, arms to his side, legs spread apart, with one knee bent outwards.  The rich red locks were in artful disarray, spread on the mat behind him with some stray strands across his face and neck and chest.  His smooth skin glistened with sweat everywhere, and a slight blue fire danced upon the droplets, barely visible but for rei vision.  A musky odor wafted through the room, not unpleasant, and hinting of a richness within. 

            Yusuke gulped at the sound and the sight and the smell and...  Yusuke gulped again and he glanced wildly around, trying to hide his own growing reaction.  He avoided Keiko’s gaze but stopped and stared in surprise at the interested gaze of a Goddess.

            Botan blushed faintly but raised her chin defiantly, also raising the oar she sat upon a few inches to get a better view inside the room.

            “Botan…” Yusuke’s voice squeaked.

            The Goddess shrugged, “There’s only so much avoiding it that one can do, and, well,” Botan twitched the sleeves on her kimono, “I am on vacation…”

            “Genkai?” Yusuke couldn’t help it.  He’d never think of his elderly martial arts teacher in the same way again…

            Genkai’s snort was amused, “Boy, just because I’m too old to bear any more children doesn’t mean that I can’t appreciate the acts that make them.”  Her gaze wasn’t on the supple figure laying on the floor, but was rather fixed in admiration on the strongly muscled figure standing to one side.  Hiei looked like a dark marble statue of the Greeks, caught in a moment of glory.  Genkai gaze wasn’t skirting any areas of the body.  “Actually, as one ages, one tends to appreciate more...”

            Yusuke couldn’t help it, his gaze had followed Genkai’s and now he was staring…

            Kuwabara finally recovered his voice.  He pointed his sword at Hiei, “Cover yourself, for god’s sake!”

            Hiei dropped his hand from his face and he looked up in astonishment, “What?”

            “There are women present – don’t you have any sense of modesty!?”

            “Modesty?”  Hiei glanced at the remains of the door to their room and his flame turned from a black fire to dark green.  “You dare to challenge me?”  He advanced on Kuwabara.

            “Uh…” Kuwabara retreated before the glowering Hiei.

            “If you were in the shower and Yukina screamed, would you stop for your modesty?”


            A purple glow brightened, attracting all eyes to the Jagan as it opened wide, the purple color spilling out into the flame surrounding Hiei and shrouding him at the same time as illuminating all the shadows.  A weight of heaven and earth and the sky and the ocean bent upon the minds of all who stood there.  They were exposed, naked before the Jagan as the bearer’s body was before them.  “ANSWER ME!!!!”

            Kuwabara straightened to his full height, staring Hiei steadily in his eyes, “No, I wouldn’t.”

            Hiei snorted and though the purple glow didn’t fade, the weight in the room lessened.

            Kuwabara hunched his shoulders, “But if there was no danger, I’d go back to my room and put something on immediately.”

            With a roar, Hiei launched forward.  Kuwabara’s rei sword barely activated in time to block the green-flamed sword and they traded blows there within the hallway.

            “Now that, I’d like to see,” Yukina sighed.  Then clapped her hands over her mouth as Shinka giggled.  “Oh, I didn’t mean to say that out loud...”

            Though the fight was between Hiei and Kuwabara, most of the eyes in the group followed Hiei as the well-muscled, bare fighter presented a spectacular sight.  His upper body muscles rippled and flowed with every dodge, every lunge, every block.  His legs were equally as muscled and a sight they didn’t see as often.  The Greek statue come to life, perfectly proportioned and glorious. Yet he was not a statue as the sparks of his anger and fury flowed out of him, creating a dripping dark-green glow around him.  He was Hiei. 

            With another block and a leap, Hiei and Kuwabara moved outside the building.  The group followed automatically, as truly caught as if they’d been gathered in a net.  Outside, the fight was even more spectacular.  Lit by no lights except their own, Hiei was bathed in green and purple and Kuwabara in gold.  The trees around them flickered and shaded as the bodies floated by them.

            There was a long regretful sigh from one of the group, “I suppose this means I’m not getting him back in bed tonight.”

            Several eyes turned to Kurama in various expressions of amusement and disbelief.  Kurama adjusted the sheet over his shoulder and shrugged, “We weren’t done.”

            Yusuke, whom Kurama was standing next to, gulped and his eyes went round.  Kurama’s sheet was gathered about him but not tucked in tightly, revealing a mostly bare chest, and leaving folds and tantalizing glimpses of rosy skin in some places, while other areas clung to a previously damp body, and the sheet wasn’t that thick...  And it did nothing to mask the smell.  The wondrous aroma of musk and roses and electricity and fire...

            “Nice sheet,” Shinka remarked, grinning.

            Kurama grinned back, “If I walked out here as I was, no one would be able to watch the fight.”

            Yukina, her eyes not leaving a tall orange-haired fighter, snorted, sounding remarkably like her brother, “You’re not that special, Kitsune.”

            Kurama’s green eyes sparkled at the challenge.  “Ice Maiden, though I am not fire, I think it would not take so much to make you melt.”

            “Foxes have tried to make their way up the mountain before.  All have failed.”  Yukina didn’t even glance in Kurama’s direction as she spoke in the same gentle tones she always used.  “I prefer humans.”

            “But humans are—” Kurama started to answer, when a blast of heat and fire from the combatants brought all attention to them, cutting him off.  Yellow and green flames licked around the locked swords of the fighters and then burst explosively.  Kuwabara’s pyjamas turned to ash and fell off him.  The human fighter didn’t even notice as he threw back the shorter fighter’s attack and then had to fall back himself under a strong return.

            Kurama’s eyes widened, “Yukina, my dear, I’ve wronged you.”  His gaze drifted over the human youth in the prime of his growth.  As perfectly proportioned as Hiei, but taller and broader, with promise of more to come.  Kurama’s eyes narrowed again as he studied the movements of the fighter, not so sure and smooth as Hiei’s darting attacks and evasions, but with an innate grace of a dancer-in-training. A dancer, or a horseman, with the balance to ride the wild bronco and tame it fierce.  “I bet Kuwabara would hunt well...” Kurama’s feral grin was back on his face, the fox sizing up the prey.

            The air around the group dropped ten degrees and icicles formed on Kurama’s sheet as he flinched with a yelp.  Yukina’s soft red eyes were glowing, “Kitsune Youko, this prey is not for you.”

            The fox spirit turned to face the ice maiden, a grin splitting his face.  “It would be a fun dance...”

            “Kazuma is mine, kitsune.  And you would do well to remember that fact.”

            “Ah,” Kurama brushed the icicles off his sheet with a casual gesture, “but you have not claimed him yet, my dear.  That leaves him open prey.”  His green eyes sparkled, “And even if you had, it doesn’t forgo the possibility of a dance with others.”

            “Just because the hunt is not yet over, does not give you territorial rights on another’s ground.  My mark is upon Kazuma and no other’s will be.”

            Yusuke made a strangled sound, his face burning red as he glanced from the fighters on the grounds to the two that were fighting just as surely with words.  “But, but... Kurama...”  His disbelief finally pried itself loose, “KUWABARA????”

            Kurama glanced away from the delightful spar he was having with the ice maiden and regarded Yusuke’s disbelieving face with amusement.

            The cold air swirling around the group solidified on Yusuke, who yelped painfully.  “Er, no, Yukina... I’m sorry... I didn’t mean... Ah, it’s just that Kuwabara...” he trailed off helplessly.

            “Honestly, Yusuke!” Keiko shot him a disgusted look, “Just because you can’t imagine it...”  She looked over at the fighters and her mouth tugged upwards, “I think Yukina is very wise in her choice.”  A brown eye slanted at the fox in his sheet, “I wouldn’t dream of poaching, though.  I can admire things that don’t belong to me.” 

            The other females in the group agreed with varying degrees of amusement and sincerity.  Shizuru was the lone exception as she shook her head and announced that Yukina was welcome to her brother if she wanted him but she didn’t know why.

            Yukina returned the base temperature around the group to normal with a sweet smile.  She prodded Yusuke with one last rejoinder, “At least the kitsune knows what to appreciate!” then she stepped forward a pace towards the fighters so that her back was to both Yusuke and Kurama.

            The temperature around the group was normal, however, the two that had incurred Yukina’s wrath were still shivering in their ice pockets.  Kurama moved closer to Yusuke and leaned against him, sharing warmth and brushing icicles off while laughing softly.  “That was more fun than I’ve had in centuries.”  He regarded the turquoise-haired ice maiden fondly.  “I should have guessed that Hiei’s sister would have more fire in her than was immediately obvious.” 

            Yusuke was still shivering but he wasn’t sure anymore if it was from cold or heat, as his body blazed where Kurama was pressing against him.  Fire.  Roses and silken skin and a sheet that barely covered, and sparkling green eyes and that scent...   He shivered.

            Kurama looked closer at Yusuke and frowned as he noticed the slightly blue cast to his skin.  He wrapped his arms tighter around Yusuke and considered saying something to Yukina.  Before he could do so, however, around them was a gust of warm air that swirled around them and entered in, removing the chill and bringing warm baths to mind.  Among other things.  Kurama smiled as he looked out to where Hiei was swinging his sword down at Kuwabara.

            “Hiei-san!” Yukina protested, “I wasn’t finished punishing them yet!!”

            Yusuke blinked, “Hiei?”

            Genkai regarded the ice maiden, “You are a very strong wielder of your ki.”

            “They weren’t in any danger, yet.”  Yukina turned to regard Kurama with soft red eyes, “Were you?”

            Kurama shrugged, “I wasn’t.”  He snuggled in a little closer to Yusuke, bringing his arm around the youth’s chest, “However, this one is more mortal than I.”

            Yukina’s hand flew to her mouth in dismay, “Oh, Yusuke-san!  I’m so sorry.”  She bowed to him, her pale cheeks rosy, “I forgot.  Please accept my apologies.” 

            “Er, no problem…” Yusuke was rather uncomfortable with the attention, particular with Kurama so close to him… though he didn’t really want to say anything about that… but Keiko was among those staring… Not that Keiko looked like there was anything wrong.  There wasn’t anything wrong, actually.  This was okay, to have Kurama holding him to share the warmth – it didn’t mean anything, not like it did when… 

            “Hiei-san,” Yukina made a bow out towards the fighters, “Thank you.”

            “Hiei?” Yusuke wondered again.

            Kurama drew a little away from Yusuke and looked questioningly down at Yusuke.

            Through his bafflement, Yusuke watched the fight for a moment before phrasing his question with the situation, “That warm air was Hiei?”

            “Yes, it was.”  Kurama also looked to where Hiei and Kuwabara were locked in not-so-mortal combat, and his mouth dropped open in a grin as he finally realized what had Yusuke so puzzled.

            The others realized it too.  Botan giggled, “Hiei is a Jaganshi, Yusuke – clairvoyance is part of his nature.  He doesn’t have to be somewhere to watch what is happening there.”  Her expression wavered between concern and affection as she continued, “That first time we encountered him – he made your ki-meter go off through the use of his jagan.  He is a strong Jaganshi.”

            “But he’s fighting right now.”

            Keiko looked out at the fighter and rubbed her hands together, “Hiei… can concentrate on other things while fighting.”  Her voice wavered as she spoke.

            “Keiko-san?” “Keiko?” Yukina and Botan both moved closer to the human girl.

            With a shake of her head, Keiko indicated she was fine.  “When you were fighting Hiei… that time…  He was also holding back Ghost Slayer on me.”

            “Oh!” Kurama burst out, disentangling himself from the youth and moving slightly away from Yusuke as his gaze flicked to the fighters, “That’s why…” his voice trailed off.

            Botan frowned, “Holding back?”

            Keiko shivered again, her right hand rubbing her left as her face reflected her pain.  Yusuke shook off his paralysis and walked over to her, hugging her as Kurama had just held him.  Keiko gratefully leaned into him.  “Ghost Slayer…  It wanted me.  It would have made me a youko slave… but Hiei was holding it back, keeping it from taking me too soon.”  Her voice was bare of expression as she explained, “Yusuke had to have something to fight for…”

            Yusuke’s arms tightened around Keiko as he held her close.  Keiko…  He looked out to where Hiei fought Kuwabara and he felt his anger of the first time raise up within him again.  He remembered…  Yusuke shook his head.  The fight was over.  He had won.  And Keiko was safe again.

            “It’s a good thing Kaz-chan can’t concentrate on more than one thing,” Shinka remarked lightly.

            Genkai snorted, “Otherwise, this fight would now be more than just a lesson.”

            Keiko laughed, “I wouldn’t have mentioned that if Kuwa-chan could have heard.”

            Yusuke opened his mouth and then closed it again without actually saying anything.  He wasn’t actually sure what he would have said.  The girls were right… Kuwabara would have taken Hiei apart, or tried to, if he’d heard that.  But…  but Yusuke was Keiko’s… …  Yusuke looked down at the brown-haired girl within his arms.  …boyfriend?  His mind winced away from the definition even as he thought it.  It sounded so… definite.  And he was definite.  But…

            There was a sad smile on her lips as the Goddess of the River Death looked out at the fighters, “Kazuma Kuwabara is one who would right all wrongs.”  The words were unspoken, but still heard by the group, that he was also one who would die trying. And that the Goddess would not be mistaken.

            Yusuke blinked.  Wrongs?  Why should Kuwabara care so much about others that weren’t part of his group?  His own gang, yes – the guys had given their loyalty to Kuwabara, so he would repay them in kind.  And the cat… well, that was just Kuwabara.  But…  Yusuke remembered the look on Kuwabara’s face as he had committed himself to going to fight against demons in their realm, without knowing anything about it.  And the adoring look on Botan’s face as she’d watched after the human.

            Distracted, Yusuke glanced from Botan to Yukina, wondering if there had been any tension there.  But Kuwabara was so convinced that Yukina was his future partner, with that ‘red string of destiny’ nonsense…  He’d flirted with Botan before, but after Yukina… there had been no other girls since Yukina. 

            How would it feel?  To be that sure?  When Yusuke thought of the future…  He shied away from the thought and resolutely turned his attention back to the fight.

            The women, and Kurama too, had been continuing a conversation while Yusuke’s thoughts were elsewhere.  Apparently, they’d turned from Kuwabara to Hiei in the discussion.

            “It’s rather odd to actually be watching Hiei in a fight,” Botan remarked.

            Kurama laughed, “Hiei is in sparring mode.” Kurama’s delight was obvious, “I love it when he slows down to just barely above the speed of his sparring partner, so we can see him.  Graceful and sure, with power contained and oh, so strong.”  The fox spirit growled hungrily.

            “Randy fox – didn’t you just get yours?” Shizuru raised an eyebrow in disbelief. 

            Kurama’s grin just widened.

            Genkai snorted, “He’s training, not sparring.”

            Huh? Kurama’s eyebrows snapped down in a frown, but he made no other sign of his displeasure.  Or he thought he hadn’t.  His estimation of the human martial artist rose as a slight golden light appeared around Genkai’s hands in response to his change of mood.  It was so faint as to be barely noticeable, but it was there as she’d sensed a threat.

            Genkai regarded Kurama calmly, as if she hadn’t readied her defenses, “When Hiei is simply sparring with Kazuma, their fights are littered with insults and verbal jabs.  What Hiei is doing right now is training – they are silent and Kazuma is so focused on Hiei that he hasn’t even noticed us.”

            Kurama returned his full attention to the fighters on the ground.  Their battle had ranged throughout the courtyard but was staying basically in front of the house where they were gathered.  And it was due only to Hiei’s direction of the fight.  Kuwabara’s attention was as totally on Hiei as Genkai had indicated.  And his moves responded to Hiei’s... and then imitated. Kurama’s gaze went from the fighters to the old human martial artist. 

            The human regarded him indifferently, though her power still hovered at the edges, ready if she needed to call it.  “Hiei and I are trainers to our students.  You are a friend to them.”

            Our students?  Kurama’s eyes narrowed as he studied the fighters again. 

            They came together for more blows, then separated again.  Kuwabara’s sides were heaving as the sweat poured down his body.  Hiei’s fire flickered but he barely breathed.  Suddenly, Hiei’s dark-green sword flared and disappeared from his hands.  Kuwabara backed off, his golden sword blocking across his body as he waited for Hiei’s move.

            Hiei’s move... was to change forms.  The purple energy that had been swirling around him pulled close and there was the heavy feeling in the air as Hiei’s skin shaded into green and more purple eyes started appearing all over his body.  His hair flickered and waved around his head and then settled into two horn-like tufts.

            Kuwabara gulped, his sword wavering.  Then he straightened and his golden sword flared bright, spiraling up into the sky until the whole glade lit with its brightness.  The pose held for a moment before the spiral of light collapsed down, condensing as it fell into Kuwabara and lighting him with a golden glow. 

            From the onlookers, there were inhalations of admiration as the rugged and rough human took on the appearance of a golden metal god with the power of his rei worn around him.

            Kurama’s gaze took in every detail of Hiei as the short demon watched the human.  The demon’s mouth had curved up slightly and his head nodded downwards in a bare motion of approval.  He is more than merely teaching him for Yusuke’s sake.  That is an instructor’s approval more than a companion’s.  Hiei has truly taken the human as a student.  How did I miss that? 

            But even as he wondered, Kurama knew the answer.  Compared with Yusuke, Kazuma Kuwabara was but a shadow.  The human was nothing to Kurama’s interest, and so he paid him little thought.  But somehow the clumsy fighter had attracted Hiei’s attention.  Kurama’s gaze flicked to Hiei’s sister and then to the human teenager she had claimed.  It was reasonable...  Except that he didn’t think that that was the answer.  Hiei had, as he always did, created another mystery.  I knew I would eventually take a mate.  I hadn’t expected my mate to be so unknown to me.  It was disquieting, how much of Hiei he did not know.  Disquieting... and fascinating.  Somehow, Kurama didn’t think that a known mate would be nearly as interesting as this fireball of his.  Despite 600 years of expectations, he was well pleased with what he’d finally gotten for a mate.

            From the golden and green bodies, there was an explosion of energy in the field as they matched this time with direct blows and fists of energy rather than distances of air and swords.

            Yusuke’s mouth dropped open as he watched them, knowing that somehow in that moment, Kuwabara had gone beyond him.  In disbelief, he moved away from Keiko, closer to the fight.


            Kurama’s rich voice drew him back and turned him to face the green-eyed fox, who was looking at him with smiling pride, “You don’t have to learn that – it’s what you already do.  You wear your ki within, and it is already in your every action.”

            His heart swelled at the approval in that beautiful face.  Yusuke turned automatically, though, to look to another…

            Genkai snorted, “Control, boy.  It’s control that you have to learn.”

            With a nod, Yusuke accepted his teacher’s word and returned his attention to the fight again, content that Kuwabara, though now trained in that maneuver, wasn’t as good as he was naturally.

            As Yusuke’s attention focused on the fight as a fight, and wasn’t distracted, well, mostly wasn’t distracted, by Kurama or Keiko, he was struck again by Hiei’s speed and beauty in a fight.  Hiei’s speed had always been the most formidable thing while fighting him.  That first time... Hiei had taunted him mercilessly, blurring faster than Yusuke could watch; until he concentrated.  When Yusuke stopped trying to look and instead simply let himself know, he could follow Hiei without a problem.  It had taken Hiei by surprise, earning the demon his first blow in the fight. 

            And even then, he was playing still.  Yusuke grimaced as he recalled the knowledge that the demon had looked on him as nothing worth more than a temporary diversion.  Why, even at his ‘speediest’ in the fight, he hadn’t been moving half as fast as he was while fighting... training... Kuwabara now.  The only time Hiei had moved to full speed was when Kurama had intervened, taking a sword through his chest that had been meant for Yusuke.  The pain of it closed Yusuke’s eyes for a moment.  I can stand anything that happens to me, but when it’s my friends... it’s not right when it’s my friends.  Kurama, Keiko, Kuwabara... and Hiei.  His enemy that had become his friend.  Somehow. 

            ‘Something to fight for.’  Hiei had understood what Yusuke had needed from the beginning.  Koenma still didn’t.  Yusuke worked for Koenma because it was something to do, but he didn’t really care much about the assignments themselves.  It was the challenge in using his powers and the delight in being with his friends that made him accept that which Koenma sent him.  Everybody assumed he worked for Koenma, but really, Yusuke had never said he did.  Koenma...  Yusuke didn’t really know much about the little God.  Even after a year of talking with a God, and doing work for him, he didn’t know him.  And that made Yusuke uneasy when he thought about it.  A toddler in form, but one who Hiei...   He still didn’t know what it was between Hiei and Koenma.  There was anger there.  Heaps and heaps of anger.  But...

            As Yusuke watched the fight, Hiei dodged backwards around a tree at the last possible second and Kuwabara who had been pressing him close slammed straight into it.  Hiei’s return attack was from the side as he stepped back around.  Kuwabara went down under the onslaught of quick fists, but his golden shield of ki power kept him safe until he could stand again.

            Yusuke noted that Hiei carefully kept his fists closed.  In that Jaganshi form of his, his talons were wicked and sharp.  But he didn’t use all of his powers when fighting Kuwabara.  As he hadn’t when fighting Yusuke.  If I hadn’t tricked him, I would have lost.  But that was true of so many opponents that Yusuke fought – it wasn’t always sheer power that won Yusuke the fight, but combinations of many things.  In the end, all his opponents went down.  As Hiei had, for threatening Keiko.

            Something about his last several thoughts bothered Yusuke.  He couldn’t pinpoint it, but it was there.  In the back of his mind, hovering at the edges.  As Hiei hovers...  Hiei...  Yusuke blinked.  Hiei was a Jaganshi.  He still didn’t know what that was, entirely, but...  Yusuke’s eyes narrowed as he watched the demon he’d called a friend.  A rage was starting to burn deep within him.  He didn’t...  Yusuke didn’t want to believe it.  And yet, the evidence...  Evidence.  With a face still as death and his emotions colder than the ice sheet Yukina had covered him with, Yusuke brought up his hand and fired off a rei bolt faster than human eyes could follow.

            The bolt slashed through the dark and pierced the air where the Jaganshi Master had been standing a moment before.  With his back to the bolt.  With his attention on Kuwabara whom he had been fighting.  With his purple eyes in his back following the movement of the bolt and widening as they looked beyond to Yusuke. 

            The demon twisted around in the air and came to the ground facing Yusuke with a surprised look on his face.  Kuwabara stood beside him, his own face bewildered, “Urameshi, what was that?”

            “You fucking bastard...” Yusuke ignored his friend as he concentrated on the demon.  “You knew my rei bolt was behind you!”

            Hiei’s eyes, all of them, widened.  His two normal red ones closed for a moment in what Yusuke would have thought before was ‘pain,’ but all the other purple ones across his body were still staring at the human youth.  All of them.  Eyes that could see.  Eyes that were watching.  Eyes in his back that could see things behind him.  “Hiei is a Jaganshi.”  Yusuke’s anger burned hotter than Hiei’s flames.

            “You BASTARD!!!!!!”  Yusuke launched himself at the demon, intent on only one thing:  winning the fight that he knew now he hadn’t won a year ago.

End Part Two

Part Three is coming!  o.o  Really, it is...