Chapter One
Tangled Feelings

by Talya Firedancer

The woods of the Makai stretched endless without reprieve over a great deal of the region, with threats lurking at every turn and certain death to be found in others.  A compact shape flitted from tree limb to dense undergrowth, barely to be seen.  Hiei paused for a moment, fierce red eyes burning into the murky distances of the woods.  He knew every threat, and in some cases he was the certain death to be found, for anything that menaced him.  The woods of the Makai were familiar to him as a mapped palm, but not a place to be called home.

Nor was Mukuro’s stronghold.

He had tried for a year to live in her castle, training in various duties to be heir to the third of the Makai she claimed as her own.  Tempers had clashed and frayed, Hiei had chafed at duties she had assigned him and balked outright at others.  He had not made any friends or even what could be considered allies among any of her retainers.  Most often of all, he’d found himself staring off into space for no apparent reason, pondering the loss of something so profound he had barely begun to realize it, and couldn’t acknowledge it.

Finally, in a snit - or as much of such as Mukuro could be said to indulge in - his employer had ordered him to take a hike.  Well, as she’d phrased it, a “leave of absence” to set his priorities in order, before she reconsidered her choice of heir.  Coming from her, a grave threat indeed.  He certainly didn’t want that to happen.  He wanted to rule, to have power over a third of the Makai... didn’t he?

Hiei wiped irritably at the rain that streamed down his brow.  It was cold, and wet... his thoughts wandered as he picked his way past subtle territory markers and man-eating plants.  He wondered how the former Urameshi team was doing, the other three who had stayed in the Ningenkai.  His nose wrinkled up.

Yuusuke had been offered Raizen’s territory, and turned it down for a ramen stand and the prospect of marriage to Yukimura Keiko.  He would probably be getting married soon, and living the complacent domestic life of a stupid happy human.

Kuwabara... Hiei growled softly.  The gangling orange-haired human with more bluster and guts than sense was probably unchanged.  And most likely still cavorting around his sister Yukina.  The small mouth puckered downwards in a fierce scowl.

Unaccountably the crimson eyes grew milder, almost as if a trick of the light that pierced the canopy had gentled the harsh glow of the pupils.  Kurama, too, had been offered a third of the Makai, Yomi’s territory, and refused.  Hiei released a small snort of contempt.  The infamous youko Kurama had grown soft if he could not cut his ties to the Ningenkai for a share of the immense power he had formerly held in such esteem.  Kurama, the soft-spoken, red-haired half-youko, that pesky fox who’d plagued his thoughts regularly until he was even more short-tempered than normal.  For him.

Hiei shook his head, almost as if to clear it.  Hn.  He was on one of the paths that would lead him straight back into the Ningenkai.  Almost as if he’d been intending to come here from the start.  Shrugging his shoulders irritably, the fire demon decided as long as he was thinking about him he might was well check up on them.  See if his predictions were true.

“After all, who knows how long Mukuro wants me gone?”  Hiei raised an eyebrow as he considered it.  “Might as well check up and see if I’m right, and if they’re all living stupid, happy, *boring* ningen lives.”  Why did he feel funny when he said that?  Almost as if he wished *he* could...

Hiei cut off that line of thought abruptly.  Where would Kurama...  no.  He’d go see Yukina.   Even if she didn’t know she was his imouto the tie was still there, however much he could not believe something innocent and pure could share his blood.  He resolutely pushed back thoughts of deep, clear green eyes.  Besides, the stupid fox would’ve moved to a new place by now, and he didn’t know where that would be.

 “Oi, Keiko, thanks for coming to dinner.”  Yuusuke favored his fiancee with a grin, snatching up the plates to dump in the sink.  *And I’m happy ‘kaasan stayed sober long enough to get through dessert,* he added to himself.  His mother had excused herself shortly after serving ice cream and cake, and he knew she was probably out drinking somewhere by now.  But at least Keiko was here.

“I’m always happy to come,” Keiko replied with a little smile.  Her eyes sparkled at him and her smile widened.  “Although I’m surprised you and your mother got through the meal without bickering like a pair of kids.”

“Hey!” Yuusuke protested, then dissolved into a rueful grin of acknowledgement.

He piled the dishes in the kitchen.  He would wash them in the morning - might as well, since ‘kaasan had actually made dinner - but right now he wanted to pay attention to Keiko, and only Keiko.

The music that he’d put on earlier was still playing, soft and kind of romantic-sounding, or at least he hoped.  He sat down next to his fiancee on the couch, and put an arm around her.  Keiko gave him the usual token resistance, then snuggled up against him.

“You mom cooked a good dinner,” she said. “I wish I could’ve thanked her before she left.”

“Ah, gomen,” Yuusuke apologized.  “’Kaasan is... well, ‘kaasan.”

“You don’t have to apologize, Yuusuke,” Keiko said almost sharply.  “It’s not your fault Atsuko is...” She trailed off and flushed; then Yuusuke mimed bottle-drinking motions with his hand.  She swatted him.

“Hey!  Why are you hitting me?”

“She’s your mother, baka,” Keiko informed him, as if before now he’d been unaware of the fact.  “She’s the only family you have.”

“But now I have *you,*” Yuusuke replied with a rakish grin.  He bent his head down and kissed her.  Keiko seemed for a moment as if she might pull away; then her arms twined around his neck and she began to kiss back.  His heart beat faster.  Then he heard the sound of it, his heart beating, a light sound but getting louder.  *Tap... tap tap...  tap TAP!*  Funny... he didn’t *think* his heart sounded like glass...  rather like a windowpane, actually...

Keiko pulled back, her brow creasing.  “Is that... someone at your *window?*”

*Not now... please not now...* Yuusuke prayed silently.  He gritted his teeth, spotting the blue ponytail through the glass.  What...  bad... timing...

“Botan, not now!” Yuusuke hissed to the blue-haired spirit guide once he had opened the window.  She peered over her shoulder, spotted Keiko, and waved.

“Gomen nasai!” Botan said cheerfully.  She looked back to Yuusuke, her eyes becoming serious.  “Honto ni gomen nasai, Yuusuke, but I have a very important message from Koenma.  He needs to see you *right now,* along with the rest of the former Urameshi Team.  He told me to tell you... you’ve been reactivated.”

“K’so!” Yuusuke swore, punching his fist into his hand.  “Couldn’t he have waited an hour or two?”

He glared at Botan, bearer of bad tidings.  Could Koenma *do* this?

It wasn’t fair!

“What was that!?” Keiko demanded.

“Eh...” Yuusuke turned back to his fiancee.  “Eh, sorry, Keiko, I really am... but I have to go.”

After he had called a taxi to take a resigned Keiko back to her apartment, Botan swooped down on her oar and gave him a bright smile.  Yuusuke met her gaze with less than enthusiasm.  “This time, Koenma will pay.  I’ll *make sure* that he’ll pay.”

“Try cash in advance,” Botan suggested.  “Koenma’s slippery on anything remotely resembling credit.”

“Tell me about it,” Yuusuke muttered, breaking into a swift running stride as Botan took off, a catalogue of previous failures to compensate running through his head.  “Well... on to Kuwabara’s!”

Yukina hummed happily to herself as she finished tidying up her room in the temple, messing around with a few potted plants.  Her eye caught on her tear gem, glittering from its chain, and she frowned.  Sometimes she wondered if she would ever find her brother, but Hiei, who had pledged to assist her in the search, was gone.  In the year that Hiei had been gone, she and Kazuma-san had grown closer, but she missed Hiei’s constant glowering presence that tried to keep Kazuma-san at bay.  In fact, with Hiei gone back to the Makai and Mukuro, she had stopped searching for her brother at all, with Hiei’s help or no.  It seemed... pointless.

She froze, in the process of testing the roses for moisture, then straightened.  A whisper of ki brushed over the surface of her mind, tugging on the very outermost edges of her senses as if its source didn’t want to be known, but wasn’t trying very hard.  A few blood-red petals fell to the floor, the color of her eyes, and Yukina turned to the window.

“Hiei-san?” she whispered, hurrying to the window.  It was open and she leaned outside, searching the darkness-veiled back gardens with her eyes and strained senses.

It had been over a year since she’d last felt his presence, since the Koorime had last asked Hiei if the search for her brother went well or ill.  Her eyes flickered over the shadow-laced trees and darkened pathways.  There was no one there.

For a moment it seemed as if a brief flash of blood red flickered out of the shadows at her; then it was gone.  Yukina put her hand to her mouth, stifling a gasp and stretching her vision to its limits.  It was too late, though; the vague sensation of another’s ki was gone.  She only had the certainty that Genkai’s wards would have kept anyone inimical - well, most, she amended - out of the temple grounds.  If Hiei-san had been here, however briefly, he was surely gone now.  Perhaps it had been his eyes that had watched her.  The same deep crimson as hers, she realized with a little frown, her mind snagged on that though for a moment.

Yukina exhaled a little puff of a sigh.

If he *had* returned, she hoped he would realize that he had been missed.  Not just by herself... his absence had taken its toll on more hearts than hers.  It wasn’t just that, though; their entire way of life had gotten placid.  Yuusuke and Kuwabara seemed restless every time she had seen them since the last Tantei function they had performed, and Kurama’s eyes contained more than just his usual measure of distance.  In her heart she realized that the half-youko missed Hiei, missed him even more than she did.  A little smile flitted over her lips.

If Hiei *had* returned, she hoped he would visit the fox and not tease him the way he had her, with his vanishing presence.

Hiei glanced back at the temple once as he crouched atop the tallest tree, his gaze seeking and finding the slender turquoise-haired maiden who leaned out the window, her pale face oriented searchingly on the gardens.  It was better that Yukina not see him; that he not raise hopes once more in her breast when he could never reveal the truth to her.  Every time their paths crossed she asked him, ruby eyes hopeful, if he had made any headway in searching for her brother.

Each time, he had to mutter a negative and watch her heart-shaped face fold into disappointment.

It was the price he had paid for the Jagan, for the power to find her... and the tremendous sense of irony its gifter had possessed had dictated that the very thing he’d used to find his sister at last came with the price of never revealing himself.

Instead he leapt with the shifting flicker of a shadow from tree to telephone pole to a rooftop and came to a halt, indecision rifling through him.  It would be best if he didn’t reveal himself to any of them.  Less of an annoyance to himself that way.  He let his third eye snap open, looking out over the city with his piercing gaze.

A welter of silken flame-red locks and composed, glittering emerald eyes sprang to mind.  Instantly Hiei clamped the Jagan shut, feeling burned.  Why had he sensed Kurama so readily?  Certainly they had been friends for years, but it was almost as if thoughts of the half-youko lurked beneath the surface, just waiting for a chance to manifest.  Hiei snorted.

It was ridiculous.

Perhaps he had seen enough.  He shifted restlessly from foot to foot, quicksilver energy working through him.  Ningenkai was such a *boring* place.  He would have to find something to occupy him quickly, or perpetrate a crime just for something to do and make the same foolish mistake so many other careless youkai had.

He should... he should stay away.  Especially after what the merciless fox had said at their last parting.

With a soft barely audible snort, a quick-moving silhouette was branded against the moon.  It flickered, and was gone.

Kurama closed up the file of paperwork and sighed, digging the heels of his palms into his eyes.  It was just no good anymore.  He’d gotten through his first year of balancing the intense workload his stepfather had thrust upon him, and it had seemed like it was the only thing that had kept him going, pushing himself and always making sure he had some task or job to keep him busy.  Because if there ever was a moment to relax, he would start to think of Hiei again.

He bit back another sigh.  It was useless.  *This* was why he’d kept himself so busy, sometimes nearly working himself to exhaustion and the extended limits of his more-than-human tolerances.  It distracted from the hollow feeling that swelled up inside of him that meant Hiei’s presence was gone.  And *that* only drove him nuts, until he was nearly ready to run into the Makai after the little fire demon, seek him out and demand some answers, even if they were negative, just to be certain at last.

Shiori often sought him out to tell him he was too driven, to urge him to cut back his workload, saying he didn’t have to work so hard; he was already doing brilliantly.  Hatanaka Kazuya readily touted his stepson’s praises, not to mention the co-workers she had heard from.  Kurama always made light of her concerns and dove right back into the hardest jobs he could tackle.  It kept his heart off of pointless longings for blood-red eyes and a certain taciturn, closed-off, belligerent, difficult, unbearable little youkai...

Who was the only thing he wanted, really.  And could never have.

Kurama stood and decided to make some tea, something soothing to help him sleep.  He kept wishing more often than he liked to admit that Koenma would call them in on a job again, that some reason would be found to bring the four of them together.  So that Hiei would *have* to come back to the Ningenkai, even if only for a little while, and he could see him again.  Maybe see if there was anything in those eyes besides steadfast regard for himself.

Kurama put the teapot on and chided himself.  Hiei had proven his loyalty time and again, even if he shrugged it off and ascribed it to other reasons.  Even if he pretended it was convenience, or because of the sentence Enma Daioh had imposed.  And Kurama *had* been closer to the belligerent fire demon than anyone else, except maybe Yukina.  After all, Hiei hadn’t let anyone else permit them to touch him, even as a casual gesture of friendship.

It had surprised him to realize that he was hurt that Hiei hadn’t visited.  Affection between youkai was a rare thing, and normally they could go along perfectly fine for decades, even centuries, without seeing each other or caring.  Youko Kurama understood that.  But he, Kurama, was actually upset that Hiei had not made a single return trip to the Ningenkai.  Not even once, for the sake of friendship.  He shrugged it off, knowing Mukuro probably kept Hiei very busy, preparing him to be her heir.  He gritted his teeth at the thought of Mukuro being with Hiei, day in and day out, while he...

Carrying his teacup back to his bedroom, Kurama felt a whisper of...  something... curl around his awareness, and he tensed.  During the year that the Urameshi Team had been off active duty, he had still kept up his edge with practice, by himself.  He approached the bedroom warily until he stepped through the doorway and sight clicked with the recognition of the familiar youki.

The cup clattered from Kurama’s hands, tea splashing unheeded on the floor.  “Hi-Hiei...?” Kurama stammered, taking a few hesitant steps forward.  “Is it really you?”  He narrowed his eyes and examined the black-cloaked fire demon as if he would waver and vanish with another step.

The dark-haired Jaganshi gave him a withering look from his perch on the windowsill, as if to say, “Of course, stupid, who else would it be?”  He swung his legs over the edge, his face not quite as impassive as it normally was.  Hiei looked almost... pleased to see him?  “Hn.  You’re getting soft, fox; you should’ve sensed me before that.”

Kurama laughed and approached the stocky fire demon, keeping his face smooth as he realized he was taken with the absurd urge to dart forward and enfold him in his arms.  They were friends, true, but Hiei had never given an indication that he wanted anything more - and Kurama was too reserved in his current guise to risk the rejection.  “Hiei, I... you’re here!” he blurted.  He considered pinching Hiei to ensure that yes, this was not a dream, but decided that if it really were Hiei he’d probably receive a kick in the teeth.

“Hn.  Stating the obvious.”  Hiei’s red eyes gleamed, and his mouth twitched upwards slightly.

Kurama decided he could risk a hug in the name of friendship, and make it a teasing gesture.  “Hisashiburi, Hiei!”  He gave him a smile, hesitated, then made a decision.  Steeling himself for the inevitable irritated oath and quick flit backwards, he took the step that separated them and put his arms around Hiei, a light hug that could be broken easily.  To his utter surprise, Hiei’s arms went around his waist, after a hesitation, and squeezed slightly.  It was shocking.  Hiei wasn’t the type for physical affection, and this...

*He must have missed me too,* Kurama thought with wonder.  At least it proved Hiei thought of him as a friend.

“How... why are you back?” Kurama said uncertainly.  Hiei pulled away, shrugging his shoulders.  His deep red eyes were thoughtful.

“Mukuro sent me away on leave,” Hiei replied.  “To sort out my priorities.”  He scowled at something only he could see.

“She kicked you out?” Kurama teased.  “What’s the matter, couldn’t handle being her heir?”  He arched one fine brow at his friend.

“She didn’t kick me out,” Hiei replied heatedly, and Kurama’s insides twisted a little.  In some of his more dejected downward spirals, he had imagined Hiei and Mukuro... well, he’d seen the covetous lust in that woman’s eyes, and he was possessed of a perfectly active, evil imagination that supplied all the details he didn’t want to see...  “She gave me a leave of absence...” Hiei trailed off, lips twitching again.

Kurama crossed his arms, waiting him out.  Both brows lifted.

“She kicked me out,” Hiei admitted.

Kurama chuckled softly and turned, remembering that he’d spilled his tea moments before.  “Look what you made me do,” he scolded half-heartedly, searching for a towel to mop it up.  Hiei raised an unrepentant eyebrow of his own.  To Kurama, the tea was nothing compared to this sudden miraculous return.

“Hiei, I...” Kurama stopped.  Would it make any difference if he said it?  Probably better if he didn’t.  He and Hiei had been friends for ten years now, the best friend, he suspected, that Hiei would permit himself to have.  Voicing his feelings now might mean Hiei would feel forced to sever his connection completely with an infatuated youko.  Hell with it, he decided recklessly with a sudden downward slant of his brows.  He had waited a year, and now Hiei was *here*... “Hiei, I missed you.”

He turned back to the little fire demon, towel in hand.  Hiei’s face appeared unmoved, but there was something in his eyes... maybe.  “Hn,” was the only reply he got.  Was that the barest trace of a smile?

Kurama wiped up the mess he’d made and felt hopeful.  Just the hug itself was more of a reaction than he could normally expect.  Quite a shocking development, really, all things considered.  When he returned to the bedroom, Hiei was sitting cross-legged on his bed and Kurama had to sharply reprimand the startled jump of his heart.  Now he was just being stupid.  The bed was the most logical place to sit in his room, besides the windowsill.  Where Hiei had always sat before.

“Kurama...” Hiei was scowling and looking everywhere but the slender redhead.  “Hmmph.  Kurama, ano... well, maybe I...” He stopped and put an arm behind his head, drawing his brows together fiercely.  Kurama approached until he was facing him, waiting patiently.

“Maybe I missed you too, you stupid fox.” The words were growled so low that he barely heard them.  Hiei still avoided his eyes.

Kurama grinned with elation and surprise at the revelation.  Maybe there was still hope, which that secret part of him had always cherished.  After all the teasing, flirting, the sly suggestions that had failed to crack the impassive shell, maybe a year of his absence had made some kind of difference.  But at least he was admitting to *some* kind of friendship, and with that Kurama was content.

Even though he longed to take it one step further, and confess the feelings that had wrenched at him for an entire year.

Kurama settled on the bed next to Hiei, the other still tense and guarded and avoiding his eyes.  “So how did Mukuro keep you busy, for a whole year?” He kept his voice calm and composed, the interested demeanor of a friend.  Kurama feared that if he let himself be too serious, something would slip out that he would regret.

“Hn.  A lot of practice and stupid errands.  Not very many missions I could sink my teeth into.”  Hiei turned to him and grinned slightly, baring the two little fangs he found irresistible.  Kurama smiled back.

“Not like all we went through working out our sentences on the Urameshi Team, huh?” he said a little ruefully.  During the entire year since they had parted ways, Koenma hadn’t even tried *once* to push a case on them.  Kurama was getting a little worried.  One thing they had always been able to rely on was Koenma’s predictable habit of shoving nasty little situations in their laps.

“She wanted me to establish some sort of relationship with her retainers,” Hiei said distastefully, brow knitting.

Kurama laughed.  “Inari forbid that Hiei ever be sociable,” he teased his friend.  “The world would come to an end.”

Hiei grinned back at him with half-lidded eyes and Kurama’s breath caught in his throat.  The temptation to lean forward, just a little, and brush his lips down over Hiei’s was incredibly strong.  He wondered how the fire demon would respond.  Hiei didn’t seem as if he possessed a sex drive, let alone knew what to do with one.  Maybe it was jut too much proximity after too long of not being around him but thinking about him every day...  Kurama closed his eyes.

“Oi.  Kurama, are you listening to me?”  Hiei sounded annoyed.

“Mmh?” Kurama replied distractedly, opening his eyes.

“I said how’s that job of yours.  And how your ningen training is going.”

Kurama was surprised.  Normally Hiei would never ask about anything that he felt had no bearing on him.  *I suppose he did miss me, in his way,* he noted in surprise.

“I was busy, but mostly lonely,” he replied, looking down at hishands.  “I... things are fine.”  *Now that you’re here.*

“Kurama?”  Hiei sounded vaguely surprised.

*Oh Inari, did I just say that out loud...?*  If he had said that aloud, he truly *was* a stupid fox.  The youko’s gaze remained firmly on his hands.  His hands were safe.  They were not deep blood-red pools that he could drown in, searching for a futile wish.

Hiei made an impatient noise in his throat; then a hand was on his arm, insistently turning Kurama to face him.  Unwillingly, Kurama met his eyes, hoping Hiei wouldn’t be able to see the unhappy, desperate hopes that had flagged him for a year.

The dark fire demon’s face was intent, but puzzled.  “Why were you lonely, Kurama?  You still had Yuusuke here, and that idiot Kuwabara, and Yukina and Keiko and probably Botan.”

“But none of them are you,” he replied fiercely.  “Damnit, Hiei, I was lonely without *you.*”  Kurama shut his eyes again and drew in a ragged breath.  *My best friend.  My...* There was a long pause and a slight flutter of air in front of him, and Kurama knew that his little fire demon friend had probably departed, overwhelmed or uncomfortable with the revelation.  Then there was soft pressure on his lips, and hands closing around his shoulders, and Kurama twitched in shock.  He was being kissed.  Hiei was kissing him!

His eyes flew open.  Hiei’s closed eyes swam in his vision from the close proximity, strands of black hair falling over the strip of cloth that covered his Jagan.  Kurama was frozen with surprise, unable to respond; then Hiei pulled away, eyes opening to meet Kurama’s startled gaze, and the expression on his features darkened.  Something in Kurama’s face must have given the wrong message, because Hiei’s closed up tight as a fist and he sprang off the bed.

“Chotto... Hiei!”  Kurama grabbed his wrist before he could run away.  *You’re not leaving now, not now when there’s a chance that you...that we...*


Startled, both young men jerked, heads turning automatically to the window.  Botan floated like a disembodied head, looking sprightly and quite unaware of what she’d interrupted.  Kurama could quite cheerfully have killed her.

“Konbonwa, Kurama, I... Hiei!” Botan trilled joyfully.  “Hiei, how wonderful!  I’m glad you’re here!  That makes things much easier.  Koenma-sama wants to see you right away.  There’s something *big* going on, and he needs to call you in again.”

“Fuck Koenma,” Hiei growled, grabbing up his cloak.  He was avoiding Kurama’s eyes.

Botan looked stern.  “This is a real emergency.  Besides, he went so far as to get permission from Mukuro for your help.  And she agreed.”

Hiei began muttering a string of creative curses, then snapped out, “I’ll be there.”  In the next heartbeat he was gone, a black blur that vanished into the night.

For once Kurama agreed with the expletives.  He felt like joining him.  Maybe even supplying a few new ones...

“Baka, baka yaro, how could I be so stupid,” Hiei cursed himself as he ran, moving faster than ningen eyes could see.  Kurama had sounded so sincere, so forlorn, that for a moment as he had looked at the desperate, beautiful, *human* face he’d allowed himself to believe that maybe, just maybe...

So he’d kissed him.  Knowing exactly what that kiss would imply to a creature so unconsciously sensual as Kurama.

Damn it, just because *he* had been thinking about Kurama for a year didn’t automatically mean Kurama had been thinking about *him,*  Hiei snarled to himself.  But the look on his face... *Damnit, Hiei, I was lonely without you,* Kurama had said.  He had seemed... well, he must have read it wrong.

When he got to Koenma’s office Yuusuke and Kuwabara were there.  They bore nearly identical looks of astonishment when he showed up.

“Oi, it’s the little shrimp!” Kuwabara greeted him, ugly mug grinning.

“Hn,” Hiei responded.  “Still hung up on size, aren’t you?” he tossed back, red eyes flashing, but his heart wasn’t really in the insult.

“Eeeee!”  Kuwabara’s face got red and he made an abortive movement to charge him, then hauled himself short, and expression of exaggerated dignity taking over his craggy features.

“Hiei, I’m glad you made it so quickly,” Koenma greeted him.  “It’ll be good to have you on the team.”

“Oi, Hiei, welcome back,” Yuusuke said, giving him a nearly offensive grin.

“Hope you won’t stay longer than you have to,” Kuwabara glowered.

“Hn.  Why’ve you called us here, Koenma?” Hiei demanded, ignoring the big oaf.

“Let’s wait until Kurama gets here, shall we?” the toddler suggested.  For the umpteenth time Hiei wondered how he could talk around that ridiculous pacifier.

He scowled and crossed his arms, retiring to a far corner of the room.  He glowered silently at Kuwabara and Yuusuke, who were chattering with vigor and comparing who had done better at what recently, bemoaning recent grades and recalling stupid human tricks.

Presently the office door opened and George announced visitors.  Botan came first, dressed in almost businesslike clothing, and then Kurama.  Hiei frowned fiercely and averted his eyes.  The redhead looked pensive and troubled, his eyes instantly flashing to Hiei in the corner, but Hiei refused to look.  He didn’t want to see pity, or scorn, or the rejection he knew was there.

“So get on with it, Koenma,” Hiei snapped to prod him on.

Koenma nodded, sucking on the pacifier, and picked up a little remote.  They turned to look at the projection screen as he pressed a button.  “There have been some disturbing incidents lately in the ningen world, and even a few deaths.”  Pictures of a few explosions, a section of downtown completely trashed, and two or three mangled bodies flickered across the screen.

“The reason I called you together is that I’ve pinned down the identities of the attackers, and they are big trouble.  Kizuna and Iryoku...” He pressed a button, and a picture of a tall, solidly-muscled man with brown hair popped up, next to a similarly-posed slender young woman with cropped blonde hair.  Their eyes were wide, violet, and their faces were twisted with unholy glee.  “They are both B-class, high enough to wreak considerable trouble.  One is good with wards and summoning youma; the other has insidious youki that can manipulate probability.  They have a record a mile long, and they’re dangerous.”

“Any particular reason why you couldn’t give this case to someone else?” Yuusuke inquired plaintively.  Hiei snorted.  He’d probably been sharing a moment with Keiko when Botan had interrupted...

Then again, *he’d* been... Hiei cut off that thought.

“I was having a nice evening alone with Keiko...” Yuusuke whined.

“Oi, is there something you should tell us, Yuusuke?” Kuwabara teased, poking him in the ribs.

“Ow! Shuddup!  It wasn’t like *that,*” Yuusuke protested, red-faced.

“Ahem.”  Koenma cleared his throat impatiently.  “There’s more.”  He fumbled with another button, and a picture of a slender brown-haired woman appeared, thin braids whipping across her face.  She was wreathed in fire.  “This one is a more unknown factor.  Her name is Hino Seiki, and this is her first offense.  Very high A-class, undeniably powerful, but the full extent of her powers is unknown.  In addition to pyrokinetic abilities it seems she can control a handful of minor spells.”

“So we go out and reduce them to ashes,” Hiei growled, raising one black eyebrow.

Koenma leveled a steady gaze at him.  “It’s not that easy,” he replied, tapping the pacifier thoughtfully.  “Our preliminary data indicates that none of these youkai would act on their own, at least not here in the Ningenkai.  So someone must have hired them.”

“So we capture them, find out who hired them, yare yare,” Yuusuke finished for him, impatiently.  “And then we go kick the bad guy’s ass.”

Koenma sighed.  “I hope it’s that simple,” he said pessimistically.

Then a button on his desk flashed.  “Yes, George?”

“Boss, we’ve got reports of youkai attacking humans again... those three you told us to look out for.”  Koenma stabbed another button on the remote, and the screen showed a split-screen view of two different parts of the city.  In one, the brown-haired man and the blonde were terrorizing a city block, hordes of black youma running amok and people fleeing left and right from fountaining fire hydrants, toppling street-stands and bits of havoc.  In the other, the brown-braided Seiki walked calmly out of the heart of an explosion, unharmed.

“Yosh!  Let’s go kick some ass!” Yuusuke exclaimed.  “Kuwabara, you’re with me.”

“Botan, you can act as a liaison between the two teams if it’s necessary,” Koenma commanded.  “Get going!”

Hiei glared darkly at his teammates.  Well, it was probably for the best anyway; Kurama was the only one out of the three that he truly trusted to guard his back.  Even if he couldn’t meet his eyes, he knew he could still count on the redheaded kitsune in a fight.

He paused just long enough as Kurama and Yuusuke picked opponents and secured the location, and he was off in a flash.  Finally, perhaps he could be faced with a *real* challenge.  One that would make him forget shocked green eyes in a frozen, beautiful human face.