Chapter Six

by Talya Firedancer

Yuusuke cracked his knuckles and grinned into the mirror. "Yosha! Just let Hakamura try it!" he announced aloud, combing his hands through thick black hair to slick it back. As usual a few strands escaped in front. "He’ll find Urameshi Yuusuke is no one’s easy target!"

 He stepped outside and shoved his hands into his pockets. Man, it was a gorgeous day. He considered briefly how angry Keiko might be if he didn’t stop by the restaurant...and winced immediately. He was still a little sore from yesterday’s exercise bout, and Keiko had gotten really good lately at actually throwing the hammers she somehow managed to pull out of nowhere.

 "Oi. You Urameshi?"

 He turned casually, wondering who it could be. The voice was gruff, but still a woman’s voice, unmistakably so.

 Yuusuke goggled.

 "Wow," was all he could manage. The woman was tall, about two heads taller than him, with long flowing deep purple hair and scintillating topaz eyes. She was curved in all the right places, and her black trenchcoat was open in front, revealing a very clingy stretch-suit, almost like a gymnast’s uniform.

 "Uhm..." Yuusuke continued the ‘wow’ train of thought, blinking at her.

 The woman put her hands on her hips and scowled fiercely at him. "Oi. OI! My face is up here!"

With an effort Yuusuke dragged his eyes up. "Gomen ne...yeah, I’m Urameshi...did you want me?"

 He tried not to leer. He tried really, really hard. But somehow he knew Keiko would’ve decided that his effort just didn’t pass muster.

 The woman nodded, her lips curling up in a sinister smile. Yuusuke began to feel uneasy, all of a sudden. "Urameshi, then. Good!" Her hand snapped up, and she held a gleaming sphere balanced between her index and middle fingers.

 Yuusuke squinted at it. "What is that, a ball bearing?"

 "No, you fool!" the woman snarled, looking insulted, then she hurled it into action, straight for him.

 Yuusuke, who had become accustomed over the years to being attacked on very nearly a daily basis, leapt back with a shout, and clapped his hands together on the object that was speeding for his chest. He cupped it in a small ki field as the woman laughed maniacally. Yuusuke sweatdropped, looking at her.

 "What was it supposed to do, explode on me or something?"

 The woman grinned. "Yep."

 The shiny sphere in his hands detonated in a soundless explosion of light and Yuusuke yelled, trying to throw it away, even as his pupils contracted painfully. The white glare eclipsed his vision. I should just know better than to ask, Yuusuke thought mournfully. He fisted his hands, falling defensively into fighting stance even though he couldn’t see a goddamned thing, and thought how disappointed Genkai would be with him for being overcome so easily. And of course, Kuwabara and Hiei would never let him live it down.

 "My name is Ekoi. You’ll see me again, Urameshi," the husky voice of the purple-haired woman promised, curling around him with laughing, sinister undertones.

 "Is that the best you can do!?" Yuusuke exclaimed involuntarily, as his vision began to clear, but there was no answer. Ekoi had vanished tracelessly. Without even a fight! "Sheesh, how like a woman!"

Yuusuke shoved his hands in his pockets. If she was supposed to be one of Hakamura’s assassins, she’d done a pretty damned shitty job. She hadn’t even attacked him, just blinded him with some stupid light and made a threat!

Damn, this was going to be easier than he thought!

Kurama burrowed into the covers, groping through the loose sheets for the slender body that had been curled up against him, and roused into full wakefulness when he realized he was alone in bed. A sleepy smile crossed his face as he considered the conspicuously absent presence, and all the wonderful things they’d done last night, and all the wonderful things he’d wanted to do once they woke up...

 Sighing, he got up and pulled on some clothes, wondering where Hiei had gone off to. Knowing Hiei, that could be practically anywhere. Then he heard the faint clash of metal against metal through the open window, and his heart kickstarted into action.

 He leaned precariously out the window. No sign of Hiei.

 Kurama pushed his senses outward, feeling for his lover’s ki, and caught a flicker of it...towards the roof? Frowning, he climbed out of the window into the tree that grew tall and upright next to his apartment building, and danced a path up its sturdy branches onto the roof of the structure.

 A slender figure garbed exclusively in black stood at the ready, katana bare and gleaming in his hands.

 Facing him... Kurama relaxed.

 Facing him was not one of Hakamura’s assassins, after all. His eyes picked out the equally short figure of Ariodh, unmistakable soulsword burning with its incandescent white flames in her hands.

 "Again," Hiei commanded.

 Ariodh sprang forward, blade flashing, white fire dripping in its wake. Hiei faced her until the last possible second, then sprang into action. The clang of metal against metal filled the air again, and Kurama folded his arms and watched as the two youkai threw themselves into the sparring match, both frowning furiously in concentration. Kurama could tell that Hiei was fighting at nearly his peak potential, but not really using any of his more advanced techniques. Still, it was a tremendous improvement for the forlorn little youkai who’d shown up yesterday morning.

 The soulsword was wrenched from Ariodh’s hands, and went spinning across the rooftop. She faced Hiei’s sword at her throat without flinching, but her eyes were wide and scared.

 Kurama could feel the uncontrollable flare of her ki, and he had just enough time to shout a warning to Hiei before the white aura exploded around Ariodh, showering particles of energy everywhere, surging up to strike at Hiei - the source of the threat. He threw himself to the ground, as the entire rooftop was suddenly awash with glowing white energy, then it cut off just as abruptly.

 He pushed himself up on hands and knees, automatically checking for Hiei. The fire demon was already standing, brushing at smoking holes in his cloak, his ruby gaze hard on a suddenly very abashed Ariodh.

 "Gomen...nasai..." she apologized, red-faced.

 "Control," Hiei managed to say, lips twitching. "That is the next thing we will be working on, before your swordwork continues any further."

 Kurama coughed, smothering a chuckle.

 He walked up to them as Ariodh retrieved her soulsword, stowing it away in that place-wherever the hell it went. Hiei sheathed his sword, crimson eyes tilting up to watch Kurama’s approach. Kurama smiled cheerfully at him.

 "Ohayo, koibito," he murmured, brushing his fingers over Hiei’s cheek.

 "Don’t call me that," Hiei snapped back, flitting back just beyond reach, his eyes sliding over to Ariodh. The white-haired youkai was looking off the building, her eyes scanning out over the view of Tokyo to be had from Kurama’s building.

 Kurama smiled ruefully. "Anybody want food?" he suggested. "I guess I woke up a little late for breakfast, but we could go have lunch at Keiko’s."

 Ariodh’s head snapped around. "Food?"

 Even Hiei reluctantly smiled a teeny bit at that.

 As Kurama returned to the apartment to run a comb through his tangled red hair and grab some money and keys, Hiei accompanied him, leaving Ariodh on the roof to ponder Tokyo.

 "How is she doing?" Kurama asked quietly.

 Hiei scowled. "I think Genkai should probably train her, but she trusts me."

 "For some godawful reason," Kurama teased him, and the Koorime sniffed at him. "She’s still not under control, is she?"

 "No," Hiei replied, ruby eyes thoughtful. "Any fear provokes an unusually violent response in her ki...which increases in power level the more scared she is."

 "Will she be able to control it?" Kurama asked seriously.

 "Hn. I’m not sure. As far as I can tell, Hakamura destroyed any way she has of dealing with fear, so that he could siphon off the resulting power whenever he abused her."

 "Bastard," Kurama’s breath hissed between his teeth. "And now he’s still going to try and punish her, even from beyond the grave."

Hiei nodded shortly. "That’s why I have to show her what I can."

 Kurama nodded resolutely, then turned to leave the apartment, noticing with amusement that his Koorime lover preferred to take the open window as a means of exit rather than going through the door and the building with him.

 All in all, Kuwabara Kazuma decided, he was having a very pleasant morning.

 He had never noticed that the sky was bright green before, but once he got up and looked out the window, it seemed like it was the most natural thing in the whole world. The pink candy striping on the clouds, he decided, was a very nice touch. And the little fishes swimming through the air made lovely music, a chorus of symphonic proportions - the sweet strains of the fiddle from the sleek silverbacks, deep bass tones from the large groupers, and piping flute-like melody from the darting goldfish.

 He got up, and had a fascinating conversation with his toothbrush. Excited, Kuwabara went in search of his little orange kitten Eikichi, hoping that his sweet kitty would also provide some stimulating conversation.

 He walked into the living room, stumbling a little over the floor that clung to his feet with soft sucking sounds, more tacky than fresh squelching mud, and couldn’t find Eikichi.

 He did, however, encounter a monster.

 Kuwabara shrieked, the high-pitched sound hurting even his manly ears, then turned it into a war cry as he regarded the hideous creature sitting on the massive piles of mushrooms.

 Oh, it was hideous. The creature had an oval face marked with a gash towards the bottom, and two huge blinking objects that glittered with an unholy brown gleam. A triangular protrusion stuck out of the middle of its face, and the gash widened at him, spilling out a string of incomprehensible sounds, frightening him with their jittery noise.

 The thing stood as he screamed, making even more forceful noises at him, advancing threateningly. A mat of brown tassels hung from its domed head, falling around its frightening sticklike body. And a stalk of something burning jutted out of that awful gash.

 Kuwabara, the manly hero, lunged into action, his hands closing around the thing’s throat. Its mouth opened in a keening wail and he winced, the sound splitting his skull in half. It struggled beneath his tremendous heroic strength, then suddenly Kuwabara was left gasping and weak with pain as he doubled over his groin. Why that-that cowardly stick thing!! It had kneed him in the family jewels!

 He tried to spring manfully to his feet, giving chase to the monster that was scrambling through his domain, his castle, but he hobbled, clutching at the radiating pain, his voice squeaking weak soprano notes.

 A heavy blow descended on his head and Kuwabara dropped to the carpet, stunned to new heights of amazement at the stick monster’s treachery. Struck from behind!

 After a few more good hard whacks, Kuwabara faded into the oblivion of unconsciousness.

 Shizuru regarded her brother warily, baseball bat still firmly gripped in her hands. Her brother may not have been the brightest of individuals, but even he didn’t normally go about mistaking family members for the enemy. Something was dreadfully wrong here.

 She walked over to the phone, keeping one eye on the inert form of her suddenly insane brother.

 Kurama slid into the booth, looking innocently up at Hiei. He could have made it easy for the youkai and picked a table, where he wouldn’t have been forced to choose a seat so obviously next to Kurama, or the alternative across from him, but this was so much more fun. Hiei scowled at him faintly then slid onto the seat next to him.

 Ariodh seated herself across from them and looked around anxiously, her nostrils flared as she inhaled the scent of the restaurant. "Food?" she prompted, licking her lips, and she turned wide blinking eyes on him.

 "Trying to make up for lost time?" Kurama joked.

 "I’m hungry," she replied guilelessly, and Kurama was suddenly struck by how childlike she seemed, when her hardened defenses weren’t in place. Somehow food seemed to equal safety to her, or as close to safe as she got, because the mask appeared to fall away whenever it was time to eat.

 Kurama almost handed her a menu, then realized she probably wouldn’t be able to read it. Hiei had already glanced at his and looked up at him, scowling, arms folded across his chest. Kurama smiled in response, secure in the knowledge that no matter how much Hiei scowled it only meant he was struggling against enjoying himself. Although he hadn’t been doing a whole lot of scowling last night...

 Keiko spotted them and gave them a little wave, brown eyes alight with cheer. "Kurama! Hiei!" she called, approaching.

 Ariodh lurched to her feet, face intent but unsteady.

 "Ariodh, it’s okay!" Kurama soothed. "That’s Keiko, Yuusuke’s - er, Yuusuke’s fiancee." He never could determine that couple’s status between one week and the next.

 Keiko walked up to the table.

 "No," Ariodh uttered flatly.

 Keiko’s face transformed from puzzled questioning to savage hatred in the blink of an eye, and she lunged swiftly for Kurama, a glinting knife appearing in her fist.

 Hiei’s quick reflexes saved his life, as the dark Koorime swore viciously and jerked him backwards. They both tumbled out of the booth. Ariodh’s soulsword was out and blazing in her hands, white aura thrumming with intensity as the shapeshifter lurched back, form blurring and melting amorphously before it turned, hissing, to strike at Kurama again, evading the swipe of Ariodh’s sword.

 Hiei was still tugging at him and they rolled away across the floor, out of the path of the shapeshifter’s knife.

 They scrambled to their feet and Kurama shook a rose free from his hair, as Hiei drew his katana, and Ariodh closed in on the creature from behind, sword crawling with white energy.

 The shapeshifter hissed suddenly, sensing itself trapped, and lunged - striking out not at Kurama, but Ariodh. The white-haired youkai flinched in surprise, and that opening was enough as the creature threw itself into a roll, evading her clumsy retaliatory swing, and got to its feet quickly, running out the door.

 They made a mad dash after it, but stopped outside the restaurant, sides heaving, as they realized upon seeing the crowded sidewalk that the creature could be anywhere. Or more specifically, anyone.

 Hiei squared off on Ariodh.

 "Baka!" he hissed contemptuously. "Never hesitate in a battle! You should have struck the moment you knew something was wrong. And you let it get away!"

 "I-I didn’t mean...gomen nasai," Ariodh faltered in a miserable little voice.

 "Ku-someone could have been killed," Hiei continued harshly, glaring into Ariodh’s wide sapphire eyes, on a height with his own. "You cannot afford to hesitate, not for a second!" His scorching anger was so thick even Kurama could taste it.

 Ariodh’s face drained white as if he’d slapped her. Suddenly Kurama recalled that she was an empath, so she probably felt like she had. One breath, she was there. In the next heartbeat, gone.

 "K’so," Hiei muttered, mouth tightening. Kurama turned to him, reproachful. "Don’t say it, fox. She needs to learn."

 "Hiei, you were awfully brutal," Kurama said anyway, frowning down on his diminutive lover.

 "She hesitated," Hiei repeated stubbornly, scowling back at him. "That is the one thing a fighter can not afford to do."

 Kurama sighed as Hiei turned and walked back into the restaurant, shoulders stiff. He glanced at the rooftops, wondering where Ariodh might have gone, and hoped she would come back - maybe Hiei wasn’t willing to admit it, but Ariodh’s empathy had given them the edge they needed. The fake Keiko had been perfect - there had been no sense of malevolent ki whatsoever, until her form had started to blur and shift. But it hadn’t been able to fool Ariodh.

 He heaved another sigh, and followed Hiei back into the restaurant.



 Keiko stomped away, fuming.

 It was business as usual, and not just for the restaurant. Yuusuke rubbed ruefully at the lumps on his head; it was a good thing he healed fast or his relationship with Keiko wouldn’t have survived five minutes past every initial encounter.

 "Oi, Yuusuke," Kurama greeted him, walking up next to him, one hand stuck casually into the pocket of his jeans.

 "Eh? Kurama, konnichiwa." Yuusuke rubbed his arms, exaggerating shamelessly. "What a hard workout Genkai gave us yesterday, ne? Keiko should take it easy on me!" He gave the half-youko a grin.

 Kurama’s smile in return was mischievous. "She just knows someone has to keep you in line, Yuusuke."

 "Oi," rumbled a familiar deep voice on his other side. "What does it take to get food around here, Urameshi?"

 Yuusuke turned to look at Hiei, who wore his customary scowl, and shrugged. "I dunno, I just work here." He gave the dark-cloaked youkai a nearly offensive grin.

 Hiei started forward, opening his mouth, but Kurama stepped around Yuusuke, putting his hand firmly on the youkai’s arm. Yuusuke lifted his eyebrows and grinned even more widely. Whatever magic spell or connection Kurama had with Hiei, it worked in Yuusuke’s and usually Kuwabara’s favor, because the half-youko always managed to avert Hiei’s dreadful wrath. True to Kurama’s faithful influence, Hiei subsided, shooting a deadly dagger-edged stare at Yuusuke, but nothing more fatal.

 "We still haven’t eaten anything," Kurama explained, apologizing with his words for Hiei’s typical behavior.

 "Well, let’s call Keiko over, and-" Yuusuke looked up as he heard Keiko calling his name.

 "Yuusuke..." Keiko came to a halt by the counter, hands on her hips. "And you’re STILL standing here." Her tone was resigned, mixed with a trace of something else...concern?

 "What is it, Keiko?" Yuusuke replied, putting on his best innocent face.

 She gave him a glare, not fooled. "Well, you’re off the hook," she said, gritting her teeth. "Shizuru just called. She’s having a problem with Kuwabara - says he suddenly turned crazy, tried to strangle her, calling her all sorts of strange names."

 Yuusuke exchanged a significant glance with Kurama, who had just finished exchanging a meaningful glance with Hiei.

 "Another assassin?" Kurama ventured, with a weary half-smile.

 Hiei snorted. "You can bet on it," he responded curtly, and disappeared.

 Yuusuke wondered briefly if he disappeared because he was headed for Kuwabara’s house and intended to help, or because he was going to vanish with no intentions of going to his nemesis’ aid.

 "Yoshi! Let’s go!" he exclaimed enthusiastically to Kurama, a large part of his glee stemming from the fact that he would escape the restaurant for at least…oh, the rest of the day or so. Then he caught a glimpse of Keiko’s expression and hauled that thought short.

 "You get back here as soon as you know Kuwabara is okay," she ordered.

 He leaned over the counter. "Don’t I get a kiss?"

 Keiko held up one dainty fist, eyes glinting dangerously.

 Yuusuke backed up, hands in the air. "Okay! Okay! I’ll be back as soon as I can!" he grinned placatingly.

 "You’d better or-mmph!"

 Yuusuke leaned precariously over the counter, risking his life as he plastered a kiss on Keiko’s lips, then danced back out of range, running out of the restaurant with a last wave. "Ja ne! Keiko-chan!"

 After Yuusuke and Kurama were definitely out of sight, Keiko allowed the smile to cross her lips, lifting a hand to her lips. Then she turned and snorted. "Yuusuke no baka," she sighed with the air of the long-suffering.

 Shizuru opened the door promptly when they knocked, and her face was wary. She had a baseball bat gripped in her hand, and a cigarette clamped between her lips, burning perilously close to the butt.

 "About damned time," she snorted, but looked relieved all the same. "I’m not sure what’s wrong with him, but I could definitely sense...something malevolent, almost a presence around him."

 "What happened?" Yuusuke demanded, as they stepped into the apartment and saw Kuwabara’s body sprawled out on the floorboards like a big lumpy log.

 Shizuru shrugged. "He tried to strangle me, so I knocked him out," she replied matter-of-factly. "But he wasn’t himself. I could sense something...not human."

 "The ningen is right," a familiar voice interjected coolly, and Kurama was unsurprised to see Hiei lounging against the windowsill.

 "Hiei!" Shizuru observed, surprised.

 "Hn," Hiei snorted as he eyed the prone form of his rival. "There’s a lingering signature over this idiot." As he approached Kurama could see the third eye standing livid on his forehead like an open wound.

 "Meaning?" Yuusuke demanded.

 "Meaning someone cast his youki over Kuwabara," Kurama supplied, when Hiei looked as if he wouldn’t respond. "Making it possible to control him, depending on the type of youkai."

 "But Kuwabara has powerful reiki," Yuusuke protested.

 "Aa. So he’s probably seeing things, instead of being under total control," Kurama speculated. "Ne, Hiei?" The dark-cloaked youkai nodded shortly.

 Shizuru snapped her fingers. "So that’s why his mind was babbling about green skies and talking toothbrushes." She still kept a loose grip on the baseball bat, however.

 Yuusuke guffawed and Kurama smothered a smile with his hand. Hiei merely snorted, Jagan flaring purple as he stalked around Kuwabara, reminding Kurama of a dark predatory fin cutting through calm waters.

 "So what do we do about it?" Yuusuke demanded impatiently.

 Hiei gave him a Look. "We find the source, baka. Someone has to be doing this."

 "What do we do about my brother?" Shizuru asked calmly.

 "Keep him unconscious until we find out who’s responsible," Kurama advised. Shizuru hefted the baseball bat and he sweatdropped. "Eh, let me give you something to use..." Quickly he grew a plant in one of the potted plants scattered around the living room, and pointed at it from a safe distance.

 "Keep him near that, and the fumes should keep him unconscious," Kurama lectured. "But be careful not to get a noseful yourself; it will knock you out quickly."

 Shizuru nodded, yet still retained the baseball bat in her hands. Obviously it made her feel safer than a small plant.

 Hiei’s head snapped up as if he scented something, and the Jagan pulsed brightly in the center of his forehead. "Kisama-" he hissed, springing to the windowsill. "Overconfident bastard! He’s on the roof!" Without another word he leapt out the window.

 "Hiei! K’so!" Yuusuke cursed, then turned to Shizuru. "Can we get to the roof from the stairwell?"

 "Hai," she nodded tersely, and they sprang out the door.

 Kurama and Yuusuke pounded up the stairs quickly, and when they burst out onto the roof Hiei was already facing down a surprisingly unremarkable youkai, brown in every feature and dressed in nondescript brown clothing.

 Kurama could feel the panicked flare of his youki, and called out an unnecessary warning to Hiei. The Koorime dodged the motion of the brown youkai’s hands, tumbling to the roof to avoid the blow. He and Yuusuke closed in on him from behind, and Yuusuke grabbed the scruff of his neck.

 The brown youkai cringed, twisting in Yuusuke’s grip. "Don’t hurt me!" he begged, voice surprisingly meek.

 Kurama was highly distrustful. Why would Hakamura hire such an incompetent assassin?

  "Who are you?" Yuusuke demanded, shaking him.

 The youkai trembled so hard Kurama thought his bones would shatter. "I-I’m Miiraju."

 Hiei was approaching, scowling fit to kill. His third eye opened, spearing the shuddering brown youkai with its unearthly stare.

"Yuusuke-" all three of Hiei’s eyes widened. "That’s not-"

 Kurama grabbed Yuusuke’s arm and tore him roughly away from Miiraju, instinctively heeding Hiei’s half-formed warning as the youkai in front of them wavered and vanished, the space where he’d been exploding outward in a shockwave of concussive force. All three teammates threw themselves to the ground.

  "What the hell!?" Yuusuke demanded, sounding confused.

 Kurama scrambled to his feet, looking around wildly, pulling a rose from his hair. "Hiei?"

 Hiei was looking around too, pressing his otherworldly sight outwards, a little frown firmly engraved on his face. "Nothing," he spat. "I can’t sense his youki at all."

 "Does that mean we’re trapped in Miiraju’s illusion?" Kurama demanded.

 Hiei frowned harder. "He didn’t hit any of us with his power."

 "Well are we in an illusion, or not?" Yuusuke demanded.

 "Does the sky look green to you?" Hiei demanded sarcastically.

 Yuusuke blinked.

 Kurama smiled. "I think what Hiei means is if we’re aware enough to ask if we’re crazy, we must not be that far off from normal."

 "Speak for yourself, fox," Hiei muttered, eyeing Yuusuke significantly. "I’m not so sure about this ningen."

 "Oi! Enough with the insults, you little-"

 "Cut it out, both of you!" Kurama interrupted, trying to keep hold of his temper. "Fight later, after we’ve discovered where Miiraju is. How would he be able to conceal his youki from you, Hiei, when you could sense it before?"

 The Koorime frowned darkly. He concentrated as he used his Jagan once more, senses flaring outward. "He’s an illusion master. Not a very high class, but he still may possess enough power to accomplish that much."

 "If I didn’t grab Miiraju, then who - or what - did I grab?" Yuusuke demanded.

 Hiei’s eyes widened.

 Something whistled past Kurama’s ear, and he pivoted with a shout, lashing out with the Rose Whip. The brown youkai had reappeared, and Miiraju dodged Kurama’s strike, yelling as he slashed with a weapon of his own, a large sword. Kurama dodged the wild blow, jumping back.

 Yuusuke aimed at Miiraju, focusing an intense ki-buildup on the tip of his finger. "REI-"

 Hiei hurtled into him, knocking his arm up and to the side as he moved with blinding speed. "-GUN!" Yuusuke finished, as the shot went wild into the air. "Hiei!! What the hell was that for!?"

 "That’s not Miiraju!" Hiei replied grimly, as the brown youkai advanced on Kurama.

 "What the hell are you talking about?" Yuusuke demanded.

 "Kurama, knock him out! That’s Kuwabara!"

 "NANI!?" Kurama and Yuusuke exclaimed.

 "Much as I’d like to let you just kill the dolt...Yukina would cry," Hiei muttered. Kurama heard him and smiled, then scattered a handful of seeds, force-growing them to fast maturity.

 The false Miiraju yelled as the green vines shot up with unnatural speed, entangling him and pinning his limbs to his sides. Miiraju jerked and struggled, and the huge gleaming sword in his hand suddenly disappeared. Then he fell to the ground, vines wrapping even more securely around his body, cocooning him inescapably. He struggled and thrashed, spitting furiously at them. Then his body wavered and rippled, Miiraju’s brown features smoothing away to reveal Kuwabara, red-faced and shrieking curses.

 "The lemurs will punish you!" Kuwabara yelled. "Can’t you see the black lemmings of death!? You fools!"

 Yuusuke stared incredulously at Kuwabara. Then he burst out laughing.

 Hiei just smirked.

 "You’re never going to let him live this down, are you?" Kurama murmured, smiling. Then his head snapped up. "Ne...if Kuwabara is here, then who did we leave in the apartment...!?"

 Yuusuke stopped laughing. "Shit! Shizuru!" They turned and sprinted for the stairs.

 "Shizuru!?" Yuusuke pounded frantically on the door, once they had made a breakneck tumble down the stairs. Yuusuke rammed into the door with his shoulder. "Ow!"

 "Idiot," Hiei snorted, right behind them.

 The door opened so quickly Yuusuke flew inside, and ended up flat on his face.

 "What is it!?" Shizuru demanded, wielding the baseball bat like a deadly weapon. Yuusuke peeled himself off the floor.

 "Er, did you see a brown youkai come in here and take Kuwabara?" Yuusuke grinned weakly, knowing that he sounded absolutely absurd.

 Shizuru frowned at him, then released one hand from the baseball bat to puff furiously at her cigarette. "No, but about five minutes ago Kazuma went crazy, started thrashing around even though you said the plant would keep him asleep-" this said reproachfully to Kurama "-but he quieted down before I could knock him out again." She hefted the baseball bat meaningfully.

They approached the sprawled form of the fake Kuwabara Kazuma cautiously. Yuusuke nudged him with his toe. Hiei frowned, scanning over him with his Jagan.

 "He’s still synched with Kuwabara’s aura, but it’s definitely not the idiot," Hiei muttered, then pulled out his headband, tying it back around his forehead.

 Yuusuke got a noseful of fumes and backed up fast, coughing, looking a little woozy. "But he still looks like Kuwabara. How did he control Kuwabara while he was unconscious, anyway?"

 Hiei growled. "His youki is still in tune with the idiot’s. If he’s any good at all, he should be able to still direct Kuwabara even while unconscious. What are dreams anyway, but a different type of illusion?"

 Yuusuke looked puzzled.

 "Hn. Stupid, useless humans," he snorted, turning on his heel, and disappeared out the window.

 Yuusuke eyed the prone fake Kuwabara. "Great. NOW what do we do?"

 Kurama shrugged philosophically. "You haul him off to Koenma, and I’ll doctor Kuwabara’s symptoms," he replied practically. "Hopefully, we can get everything done before I die of starvation."

 Hiei stood atop the building, scanning the city below. He hadn’t wanted to admit it to Kurama, but he did feel a bit uncomfortable over Ariodh’s disappearance. He pressed his other Sight outward, seeking for any traces of the white-haired youkai’s ki.

 Kuwabara was an idiot.

 He was lucky his sister Shizuru had been smart enough to call them, or he might have been completely taken over by that Miiraju, maybe even have come after them and started killing them. Well, now that the assassin was exposed he washed his hands of the whole matter. Yuusuke and Kurama could take care of the idiot and his assassin.

 He needed to find Ariodh.

 As the white-haired youkai had said, Hakamura’s choice of assassins appeared to be striking at them to wear them down, rather than be truly lethal. Of course, Hiei was certain the undead youkai wouldn’t be too upset if any of them died. But he had to find the one person who knew Hakamura best, so that he could be prepared for anything that might get thrown at them next.

 Besides, she hadn’t finished her training.

 He leaped into the air, moving so quickly that to human eyes he appeared to vanish without a trace. He’d caught a faint flicker of Ariodh’s youki, halfway across the city. He wasn’t going to apologize - he didn’t feel there was a need for that - but he would make sure she realized what he’d meant, earlier. It was important. Hesitation could get her, or any of them, killed.

 Kurama let out a long sigh as he entered his apartment. It had been a long day, and he still hadn’t eaten. But at least Kuwabara was okay; he’d seen to it with an herbal mixture that Shizuru would have to administer that should hopefully take effect in twenty-four hours.

 He moved into the kitchen, humming something softly to himself, and began to pull some things out of the fridge when he felt Hiei’s ki.

 "Hello, koibito," he greeted his lover cheerfully, without turning around.

 "Hello, Kurama," Hiei’s voice responded.

 He turned around, setting an armful of cooking supplies on the counter and giving the youkai who had approached so soundlessly a smile. "Hungry, love?"

 Hiei smiled at him. "Starved." There was a strange glint in his ruby eyes.