Blue light blazed for a moment, illuminating the park and its few occupants, before sputtering from existence. Kuwabara glared at Yusuke, annoyed he’d wasted his time coming out on this trip and also that yet again Yusuke had taken a fight from him.
“You could’ve killed me, man! Watch where you aim that thing!” The carrot top yelled, getting to his feet from where he’d been knocked onto the ground moments before. He toed the demon beside him, assured it was dead by the gaping hole in its chest. “Even on your off days you’re still pretty strong.”
“Everyone seems strong to you.” Hiei pointed out, arms crossed as he watched from beside Kurama. “It must be boring being so helpless all the time.”
“I’ll show you helpless.” Kuwabara grunted, rolling up the sleeves of his button down.
Hiei glared at him, ducking under the large swinging fist with ease. The short skirmish ended when Kurama checked the time on his phone and announced it to Yusuke.
“Oh shit! I’m late!” The Spirit Detective grabbed his hair. “Keiko is going to murder me! I don’t have blood on my clothes do I? I think the restaurant has a dress code against that.”
“You’re fine.” Kurama smiled at him, despite grabbing Yusuke’s collar to adjust it. “Is tonight the night then? You do seem dressed up.”
Hiei glanced toward the trees over his shoulder, eyes narrowed as he tried to pick up movement he was sure he’d just seen. No one seemed to notice his attention wavering.
“I mean, I got the ring and all, it’s just picking the right time and place. And now she’s on me about getting another job and I think she’ll say no if I don’t have one.” Yusuke sighed heavily.
“Just ask her, man.” Kuwabara deadpanned. “At this rate, she’s going to ask you.”
“Hn. I don’t see the need for any of it.” Hiei threw out, still scanning the canopy and branches of the dark woods. “Who wants to be tied down anyway? And your woman is plenty bossy as is. Why formalize the arrangement?”
The other three men stared at him, then rolled their eyes to each other.
“Things aren’t going well with Mukuro?” Yusuke guessed, raising his eyebrows. “You’ve been coming back a lot more lately.”
“Mukuro and I aren’t involved.” Hiei repeated tersely, for the millionth time in his tenure. This conversation was becoming tiresome. “I just don’t understand your anxiety. Your woman and you live together. You sleep together. She’s obviously not going anywhere despite your constantly disappointing her. At this point, marriage would just be redundant.”
“Gee, thanks man.” Yusuke scowled at him. “You’re a real ray of sunshine.”
“Aren’t you late?” Hiei reminded him with a glare.
The fire demon cut his eyes to the trees again, brow pulling down. There is was again, the faintest tremor of the branches out of place. But when he scoured the shadows he came up empty again. This time, Kurama noticed and turned to him as Yusuke sprinted full bore across the park yelling out is goodbyes.
“What is it, Hiei?” Kurama focused his attention on the trees too.
“Did you pick up any unfamiliar scents?” Hiei asked, glancing at the redhead.
“No.” The fox demon shook his head slightly.
“Okay, well, you two are obviously about to do something weird and demony so I’m off.” Kuwabara waved at them. “I’ve got to finish studying anyway.”
“Actually, I’ll walk with you.” Kurama offered with a warm smile. “I promised Shizuru I would give her movie back the next time I saw you.”
They both turned to Hiei, but he was already gone.
“Does that bother you?” Kuwabara asked. “His little disappearing acts are sort of rude.”
“Hiei is off in his own world. It’s when I hear him I get concerned.” Kurama laughed.
The fire demon rolled his eyes, perched in the trees. Nothing. No aura, no demons, no energy signature. Nothing. But he knew someone had been here. He could feel it despite the lack of evidence. Someone had been here watching him and the others without being detected. The fact Kurama hadn’t noticed something was off was unusual. The fox was always in tune with his surroundings and could pick a demon out of a throng of humans with incredible accuracy every time.
So, maybe their spectator hadn’t been a demon? No. That seemed unlikely. A human wouldn’t have pulled off an escape in the time he’d taken to flicker from beside the others to the branch. Maybe it was nothing. Maybe it was something.
If they were being watched by someone adept enough to deceive the team, then it was likely the culprit would come back. He’d just be vigilant and wait for his chance to catch them in the act. Hiei’s lips pulled up in a malicious smirk.
Poor creature didn’t even know what fate they’d just resigned themselves too.
“Mikamoto, looking good today.”
Iruni didn’t even lift her eyes from the book she poured herself over, sitting by herself in the university cafeteria. “That’s not a compliment and I’m not interested in talking to you.”
“Sheesh, what a bitch.” The man rolled his eyes. “I’m trying to be nice to you.”
“No. You’re trying to get me to be nice to you.” She flipped a page. “We’re done, please go.”
He grumbled and walked away. Blue eyes cut to his back, narrowed, as she watched him walk from under the fringe of her dark bangs. Honestly, these people were the absolute worst. What an entitled group of cretins. Her eyes fell back to the page, her expression shifting back to neutral. Annoyed, she turned back to the previous page, realizing she couldn’t actually remember reading it. That’s what she got for staying out so late.
High tailing it away from the park had felt disgraceful, but there was no way she could survive a showdown with the Jaganshi at this point. He wasn’t even supposed to be there. Of all the members of the Rekai Tentai, he was the one she’d been diligently trying to avoid. Minamino thought nothing of her, they’d been in school together for years. The human boy, Kuwabara, seemed to have decent enough senses but her energy was low enough he never got disturbed by her presence. She’d put herself close to him a few times in crowds to be sure. Urameshi was too obtuse to care. But the Jaganshi, Hiei, he was a problem.
Which he’d proven when he’d tracked her into the woods the night before. She’d been so careful. Sitting up wind, forcing her energy to flicker out, being silent and still. Of course, it had taken him a while to notice her at all. That was promising. And he hadn’t immediately jumped to using his Jagan, a small blessing. But still, it had been too close and if she was going to get what she was after, she’d need to be cautious.
And everyone knows the best defense is a good offense.
That’s why she picked up her book and headed toward the lawn, aimed at a particular redhead under a large tree. Minamino looked innocuous enough if you didn’t know anything about him. Fair featured, startling red hair, intelligent green eyes and a kind smile. He spoke well, talked about his family fondly. His scores were always high and he seemed to study relentlessly. But Iruni knew better. She knew his secret and she pinned it under her tongue as she sat down beside him, her back straight.
Every member of the rag-tag team had a weakness, a break in their defenses. Kurama’s was his curiosity and his reliance on his senses. The idea of toying with his family never crossed her mind, his defenses were too substantial for threats. If she played her cards right she’d win his trust and his interest in her would continue on as benignly as ever.
“Don’t be mistaken. I’m not here to confess some ridiculous attraction to you.” She stated, eyes scanning over the courtyard as he looked over at her with an expectant expression. “You’ve been followed all day, I just thought I’d let you know. The man looks like someone with ill intent and I’d hate to see your mother crying on the news if something happened to you.”
Kurama blinked. Then he glanced over to the street where he noticed Hiei lurking. Green eyes moved back over to the woman who’d come to warn him of this apparent danger.
“He’s actually a friend of mine, but thank you for your concern Mikamoto.” He nodded his head. “Hiei does look a bit rough on the edges. So far you’re the first person to ever say something about it though.”
“There’s been a lot of disappearances lately. It would be a shame for something to happen because I didn’t speak up. Sorry for my mistake, all the same.” She glanced at Hiei, frowning.
“I’m surprised you noticed him, actually. Most people don’t.” Kurama looked over too.
“Maybe that’s why so many people are going missing.” She closed her eyes and stood up, unfurling herself as Hiei came to a stop a few feet away, his crimson eyes narrowed on her. If those were the only two he was using, she was fine. “Anyway, have a nice day. I’ll see you in class on Wednesday.”
She arched a wide curve around Hiei to avoid getting too close to him, her shoulders stiff as she hauled her bag high onto them. Kurama waited for her to go before explaining the situation.
“She has a point. If more humans were aware of their surroundings, they’d avoid trouble.” Hiei pointed out. Then with a bit of an edge he added. “She’s not another one of your suitors is she?”
“No. She very specifically told me she wasn’t.” Kurama rose and shouldered his bag. “Where did you run off to last night?”
Hiei told him. The redhead mulled over the information.
“Given the uprising in activity as of late, it’s good you checked it out. We’ll have to let the others know to be careful.” Kurama then checked his phone. “Oh, Yusuke didn’t propose last night.”
“He’s never going to.” Hiei rolled his eyes. “I’ve never seen someone so powerful beaten so thoroughly.”
Kurama chuckled. “Keiko does have a certain power over Yusuke, doesn’t she?”
“I don’t get it. If he wants to marry her, why is he dragging his feet? He should either do it or stop worrying about it.” Hiei grumped. “I’m tired of constantly hearing about his plans and schemes and them never amounting to anything.”
“He wants to do it right.”
“Perfectionism will get him nowhere.”
Kurama glanced at Hiei. “Would you be any different if it were you?”
“Of course. I would just handle the situation.” Hiei told him firmly.
“You would just propose the moment it occurred to you to do so?” Kurama tilted his head. “That’s rash, Hiei. Some things need to thought about.”
“If someone catches my interest enough for me to think that I want to stay beside them then I won’t hesitate to act on it.” Hiei shook his head.
Iruni paced her home. Thirty-eight steps from the kitchen sink to the couch in the living room. Back and forth. Arms behind her back, eyes narrowed in thought, she stalked from one side of the house to the other deliberately and yet totally lost to her surroundings.
He was coming, she could feel it.
She’d been biding her time, waiting for the right moment to get what was hers. She’d already located the sword once, but when she went to retrieve it from the old psychic on the mountain, it was gone. Now she had a suspicion of the location, but needed a plan. If she was correct, and she normally was, then she’d have to use the Spirit Detective and his team to her advantage.
Kurama was a start. Her warning did well with him. He’d seen it as an act of kindness from a quiet girl.
What she wanted to do was wait for the Jaganshi to disappear back to his side of the line so she could handle the rest of the team. It would be no problem for her to garner their trust and use it. But Hiei? Hiei would remain suspicious and there was no doubt he’d eventually turn that third eye to her and she’d be found out. All she needed was to put space between them.
But she didn’t have time to wait.
He was coming.
Stopping on the threshold of the living room she let her hands fall to her sides, her face lifting toward the ceiling.
With enough time, she could have carefully integrated herself. Then Hiei’s skepticism would have been dismissed as his own paranoia. Now, she’d have to work with shoehorning her way into the team’s trust. It was trickier. A higher risk. But the payout would be the same.
She needed the sword, they were the means to that end. She needed to get their attention on her in a positive way. She needed to become indispensable as fast as possible.
Her lips pulled up, revealing her teeth.
What they were going to need was an expert. How fortunate that no one was more qualified to fill that role than her. And in the meantime, she’d garner their attention with a little pawn.
“You’re saying we were followed?” Yusuke rubbed his neck as he spoke to Kurama. “And Hiei couldn’t catch the guy?”
“They had already fled according to him.” Kurama nodded.
“Why isn’t shorty here to tell us this?” Kuwabara demanded.
“I am here.” Hiei announced himself, making Kuwabara jump with a grimace. “Idiot. You just learned someone is watching us. Be more aware.”
“Don’t take it out on Kuwabara that someone is faster than you.” Yusuke warned Hiei. “It’s not his fault this guy got away.”
“Hn. Don’t you have a woman to disappoint?” Hiei grumped at Yusuke, shoulders hunching. “Isn’t there some ridiculous date you need to be on?”
“Don’t drag Keiko into your temper tantrum.” Yusuke rolled his eyes. “But yeah, I do gotta meet her for a movie. Kurama said this was important though so I told her I had to come.”
“Her purse must be heavy with your balls locked inside.” Hiei noted dryly, earning a glare.
“I’m sure it’s this way.”
The voice cut through the conversation before Yusuke could snap back his response at the shorter demon. Hiei dared him to, all the same, bowing up to the taller man before they all looked over at the two women stumbling out of the trees.
“See? I told you.” Iruni straightened her shirt, squaring her shoulders. Her eyes moved over to the team.
“Mikamoto?” Kurama blinked in surprise. “What are you doing wandering around this time of night? It’s not safe.”
“I can handle myself.” She told him, picking a bit of leaf from her shoulder and flicking it to the ground.
The woman who walked up to her side stood several inches taller than she did, hair a tangle of wild blonde curls. Sharp nails bore chipped polish. She carried the distinct aura of a demon around her, eyes scanning the team. Her fear of them was obvious as she stepped back to stand behind the human girl who seemed none the wiser of her companion’s heritage.
All four men narrowed their gazes on the demoness, who flitted her attention between them and the human who’d been walking with her.
“Say, Minamino, have you seen any fireflies?” Iruni stepped forward with her innocent question, her exasperation obvious. “Shikari has never seen them. I’ve been hoping to find some to show her.”
“No. I haven’t.” Kurama shook his head. “You’ve been wandering the woods together?”
“Safety in numbers.” She nodded.
“Hn. Humans.” Hiei muttered, rolling his eyes away. “They have no sense of self-preservation.”
Iruni flicked her gaze to him, then back to Kurama.
“I think what he means is, you were just warning me about being safe earlier today. For you to wander around the woods at night seems a bit hypocritical, even if you have a friend with you.” Kurama looked passed Iruni to Shikari, who seemed to shrink under his attention. “There are all sorts of dangers in those trees. I’d hate for you to get hurt.”
Iruni turned to look at Shikari over her shoulder, a cool expression in place. Then she looked back at the four men, eyes bouncing from each of them to the next. After a moment she shook her head with a chuckle.
“You’re all so tense.” She remarked. “It’s like you’re waiting to be attacked. I hadn’t realized two women could be so scary.”
The statement eased them a little. Yusuke spoke up. “Nah, we were just surprised by you two popping up out of nowhere. Can’t be too careful, right?”
“Of course. I’m sorry we startled you.” She bobbed her head to his words. “Well, we’ll be on our way. If you happen to see any fireflies, please let me know. I’m dying to show them to Shikari.”
And with the demoness in tow, she walked by the team without seeming to notice the aura of the fighters.
“Your friend has unusual taste.” Hiei glanced at Kurama. “Do you think she realizes her companion could have easily killed her in those trees?”
“Doubtful. She didn’t seem to notice anything out of the ordinary. She didn’t react to us either and I was intentionally letting my energy increase.” Kurama shook his head. “She noticed you earlier, but I think she’s merely observant. Maybe a little sensitive like Shizuru. But the demon with her didn’t seem to be dangerous towards her.”
“No, but she sure as hell knew who we were. Did you see her face?” Yusuke frowned. “She looked like she’d seen something terrible when they came out. Maybe she pulled back because of us.”
“No, that’s not it.” Kuwabara stared after the two women. “I don’t know if it was us she was afraid of.”
The others looked at him. Hiei was the one who spoke up, annoyed.
“Idiot. What else would it have been?”
Kuwabara remained quiet, but troubled. The demon had definitely stepped behind the girl when she noticed them. But it wasn’t the act of someone using a human shield to protect themselves. It looked like the way a child might hide behind their parent. The girl never changed, never faltered when she saw them. It was like she wasn’t surprised at all. But the demon was. He turned to look at the direction they walked off in again, brows pulled down. The others wouldn’t believe him if he said it, seeing as how the girl’s aura was nonexistent.
But that was the thing that he had noticed about her. It wasn’t that she had low energy. It was that there was nothing to her aura at all. When she’d walked passed he’d been looking for it, any flicker around her. But a vacuum surrounded her, an intentional emptiness, engulfing empitness.
He’d never seen anything like it before.
“Maybe the SDF would be a better choice, sir.” Botan played with her ponytail nervously, running her hand over the strands of cerulean blue repeatedly. “If it really is him, then shouldn’t we send them instead?”
“No. I think it would be better if the team handled it.” Koenma poured over the papers on his desk, reading through the reports. “It’s on Human World territory and if we send in the SDF it could cause a fight. You know how Yusuke gets.”
“But sir.” She protested, frowning. “This is bad.”
“It might get worse.” He admitted, sighing heavily. “With the artifacts, he’ll be nearly impossible to stop. Honestly, the team is our only choice. They’re stronger than the SDF, especially as a unit.”
“I don’t like it.”
“You don’t have to.” Koenma’s eyebrow twitched. “Just get the case to them, Botan. That’s an order.”