Chapter 1: Empty Shadows
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.”
Chapter 2: Calculated Risks
In which the team is put on a case hunting a demon thought long dead, Iruni presses forward with her plans to become indispensable and Hiei loses his temper and a fight.
Yusuke squirmed in his seat, annoyed with the sudden call and for having to host as usual. These freeloaders always ate all of his good food. Well, most of them. Kurama always brought snacks to share. At least their illustrious brat king wasn’t making a physical appearance or his pantry would be done for. Who knew a toddler could pack away so much food?
Botan held open a laptop with Koenma’s face on it, her anxiety as clear as day in the way her shaking hands gripped the device. The others all lounged around the apartment in various states of interest. Hiei glared out the window, bitter he’d been drug here for another waste of his time. If he’d slept in the park instead of at Kurama’s this wouldn’t have happened, but the threat of rain kept him indoors. Kurama sat on the couch near Yusuke, legs crossed at the knees, hands folded neatly in his lap. Kuwabara lazed on the floor between them, legs stretched out under the coffee table, hands full of a can of soda and some chips as he snacked.
“What’s the deal, pacifier breath?” Yusuke griped. “You sent Botan screaming down here just to make us wait?”
“No.” Koenma let his shoulders fall. “I have a case for you. I think it might be a decent challenge.”
“An artifact was recently stolen from our vault. A set of armor that can make the user nearly invincible while enhancing their strength. The demon who claims to have it is already quite powerful and possibly equipped with several other weapons. I need you to retrieve the armor and attempt to arrest them.” Koenma explained matter-of-factly.
“Arrest?” Kurama perked up. “Why?”
“They may have information pertinent to another problem I’m working on.” He told the fox demon easily. “I suspect they are connected to the missing humans.”
“What are the other weapons? Who is the demon?” Yusuke waved his hand in the air. “You’re not giving us a lot of info, here.”
“The demon wields a sword that can conjure flames and is quite destructive. In recent reports it appears he’s amassed a bit of a cult following, and they’ve been attacking humans for food. Reports of poisons being used as well.” The Spirit Prince explained. “But we don’t know how many followers he actually has ascertained, or what their goal is. That’s why I want him brought in alive if at all possible.”
“Sir.” Botan glanced at the screen.
Yusuke noticed the edge to her voice, the paleness of her face.
“Who is it?” Yusuke demanded. “I notice you haven’t given up a name. Botan looks like she’s about to have a stroke.”
Koenma stiffened and grumbled. “The demon goes by the name Amon-Shinpi.”
Kurama tilted his head toward the screen.
“I was under the impression the Takani Clan had all died.” He offered, a dangerous cut in his voice.
“You know about this guy?” Kuwabara craned his head back to look at the redhead, mouthful of chips allowing crumbs to fall as he spoke.
“Not much. Just that Amon-Shinpi was known as a formidable demon back in his day. He was a part of a small clan who ruled their own small slice of Makai. He’s said to have been undefeated until his death at the hands of another demon who wanted his power.” Kurama explained. “It’s possible that the battle ended with him just being injured.”
“Sounds like another waste. This one can’t possibly be stronger than us.” Hiei noted. “What’s the point?”
“Hiei! If this is really Amon-Shinpi you should take it seriously. This demon fought against Mukuro you know.” Botan chided him. “Twice.”
That earned his attention, his eyes moving over to her to assess if she was telling the truth. A demon who fought against Mukuro and survived? Once may have accounted for luck or her mercy, but twice? That was an accomplishment.
“Fine.” He allowed. “But if this is a disappointment, I’m taking it out on you.”
His eyes were fixed to the screen to indicate Koenma as the recipient of his temper.
“Honestly, I hope it is. Our historical records suggest Amon-Shinpi could be quite brutal and was incredibly strong. Not to mention highly intelligent. If this is your opponent, you might want to stay on your toes.”
“Could he cloak his presence?” Hiei wondered aloud.
“It’s a possibility.”
The team each exchanged looks with one another and then nodded.
“You got it, we’re on the case.” Yusuke offered a thumbs up and then slammed his fist into his palm. “This guy has no way of getting passed the four of us.”
Iruni shouldered her bag higher as she crested the steps that lead up to the temple. A small line of sweat fell down her neck, an annoyance. The air seemed a bit cooler up here, a welcomed breeze dancing around her skin and through her ponytail. Closing her eyes she enjoyed it for a moment, then turned her face up to clear sky.
The soft call caught her attention, turning her eyes toward the young woman in a yellow dress. Aquamarine hair pulled back over her shoulders with a matching yellow ribbon, crimson eyes dancing with light.
“Are you here to see Genkai?” Yukina asked and Iruni nodded, noting the basket in her hands. She seemed to be struggling to hold it.
“I’m early.” Iruni explained. “May I help you?”
“Oh, I couldn’t ask yo-“ Yukina’s gentle dismissal was ignored, the basket carefully removed from her hands. Iruni’s fingers brushed hers in the movement, a small contact, but it triggered some recognition in the demoness anyway. “You know, I’ve never been able to shake the idea that we’ve known each other a long time, Iruni.”
“It does feel like a lifetime, doesn’t it?” Iruni nodded following the other woman toward the clothes line.
Blue eyes cut over her shoulder, her expression falling into a snarl as she dropped the basket and rolled out of the way. Hiei landed where she’d been standing, pure bloodlust on his face as he stared at her. Schooling herself not to react to the waves of malice and fury rolling off of him was a feat.
Yukina blinked at him, alarmed by his sudden and hostile entrance. “Are you alright?”
He growled, not taking his eyes off of Iruni, not offering an answer.
Iruni raised an eyebrow at him as she gauged the way he faced her. Did he really see her as a threat? What had changed in the two days since the park? Had he used his Jagan and found her out?
No. If he had he would’ve known who she was and wouldn’t be hesitating to approach her. He was on high alert for another reason, but what had tripped this reaction? She stole a glance at Yukina, then back to the fire demon as she straightened out, moving to step in front of the ice maiden.
She’d narrowed it down to two possible scenarios, either Hiei was furious because an unknown entity had come to close to Yukina, or he wanted the ice maiden for himself. Either way, the plan would be the same. Iruni would do whatever it took to keep her plan in action, even face Hiei in a pointless fight. But more than that, she would defend Yukina with her very life.
“Yukina, go inside. I won’t let him hurt you.” Iruni stepped one leg back, assuming a fighting stance.
“Wait.” Yukina moved to get between them but Iruni pushed her back, carefully remaining in front, acting as a guard.
Yukina was one of the few beings still alive Iruni would actually fight for. She owed the koorime a debt that had yet to be repaid. While defending her might throw Hiei off her trail, if his intention was also to protect the ice apparition, that was aside from the fact she’d have done it anyway. Something dark entered her eyes as she squared off with the fire demon and he saw it.
For the first time, Hiei really looked at her. Even through her blouse her muscles were prominent. The billowy long sleeves helped to hide them, but there they were. Her stance reeked of training. The look in her blue eyes had darkened them to indigo and behind the gaze he recognized the mind of a trained fighter.
Perhaps even a killer.
His lips lifted in a baring of his teeth that was partially a smirk and mostly a snarl.
“That’s an intense expression for a little human girl who has wandered too far from home.” Hiei acknowledged.
“Watch who you call little.” She told him coolly.
He flickered, appearing behind her with a raised hand. When he lowered it to strike her on the back of the neck she twisted away her knee slamming into his stomach with enough force to send him back a step.
In a full-fledged fight, she’d never win. Not now. But Hiei was holding back, she could tell. His energy was barely out. He still viewed her as human and as long as that was the case she might be able to win. All she had to do was let him underestimate her until the right moment presented itself.
Either his team would show him and stop him or she’d gain the upper hand.
Her eyes narrowed as she jumped back when he stepped forward, keeping space between them. Landing on her toes, she raised her fists. The look on Hiei’s face turned malicious, the eyes of a predator enjoying dancing with his prey lighting his face. Were she a lesser being, she might’ve had the sense to be afraid. But she didn’t have time for petty things like fear. Not when her goals were so close.
Not when Yukina still hadn’t gone into the damned temple to get Genkai.
Hiei’s biggest weaknesses were his pride and his tendency to assume his strength could resolve everything. If she managed to beat him, she’d be facing his temper for certain. But also his curiosity. Being beaten by a human woman would be a huge blow, one he’d want to deal back when he could. Even now, she could see it on his face that her hit had bothered him.
He would keep coming at her until he won, normally this would assure him victory. Unfortunately, she’d seen him fight before.
The fire demon didn’t know it, but he’d already lost.
“Back off.” She warned him. “I already told you, I won’t let you hurt her.”
“I’m not interested in hurting Yukina. Right now I’m interested in hurting you.” Hiei pointed out, rolling his shoulders and then his neck.
She had enough time to question his use of the ice apparition’s name before he blurred again, moving to strike her from behind. Iruni shook her head, not falling for his feign as he appeared in front of her this time. She side stepped his attack and this is how they continued for a few minutes. The team was around them soon, watching with fascination as she kept her defenses in place. She hadn’t been able to strike him again, but she’d also managed to deftly avoided any of his attacks.
“Hiei, are you really fighting a girl?” Kuwabara complained. “Come on, man, have some class.”
Hiei didn’t seem to hear him as he sped up, and this time his punch landed on Iruni’s abdomen, sending her flying back. She hit the ground and rolled before pushing herself back to her feet. Blood trickled from the corner of her mouth but she raised her fists again, planting her feet even as her bones seemed to shake in her body.
“Stay down.” Hiei demanded. “Another hit like that and I’ll kill you.”
“It’s good that I don’t intend to allow another.” She pointed out, a grin growing.
Hiei stared at her, his teeth grinding together. Who did this mouthy woman think she was? Fine. She wanted to die? So be it. He drew his sword and she eyed the weapon without so much as a single ounce of fear.
“You’re all the same. Overconfident in your own abilities.” Hiei told her, rushing forward.
“Hiei!” The entire team yelled his name.
“You can’t kill her!” Yusuke reminded him.
“What happened?” Kurama turned to Yukina, who explained Hiei’s sudden appearance and the ensuing fight. “Ah, so they both believe they are defending you.”
“Hiei, I think there’s been a misunderstanding.” Kurama called. “Mikamoto wasn’t here to harm Yukina.”
Hiei ignored him too. He sped at the woman while she dodged his initial swing, ready to slice into her stomach. She stopped suddenly. The blade cut through her shirt as she pivoted her body, her arms wrapping around his as she shifted her stance and sent him flying over her head. Panting, she smirked at him, watching as he lay stunned on the ground.
“What was it you said before? Stay down?” She tossed the words back at the demon, eyes gleaming.
Hiei didn’t present any warning, his was just suddenly there. His sword thrust where Iruni’s chest had been, his mind screaming for blood. How dare she? HOW DARE SHE?
“Perhaps before tossing out insults about overconfidence, you should be honest with yourself over your own capabilities.” Iruni offered evenly, crouching on Hiei’s sword with a neutral expression. A small pocket knife pressed against his forehead, the blade angled toward his Jagan eye. Blood spilled to the ground from her hand as she gripped the sword’s blade to steady herself. “Don’t move or you’ll get cut. You’ll have only yourself to blame.”
Hiei shook in his rage, jaw locked, eyes radiating the fire brewing inside of him as he stared at Iruni. Her gaze back was cool, even, yet still carried a certain darkness to it. Her own anger buried under layers of careful masks.
“I’m going to back off now. Don’t attack me again.”
“Don’t give me orders you foul little-“
“Hiei!” Yukina ran over. “What are you doing? You could’ve killed her! Are you alright Iruni?”
“I’m fine, Yukina. Thank you.” The woman nodded, unmoving. “Please back away. I don’t want you caught up in this one’s temper.”
“Hiei would never hurt me.” Yukina sighed. “I was trying to tell you that from the beginning.”
Iruni let go of the sword and slipped off of it, pocketing the knife and backing away from the fire demon slowly, her eyes never leaving him.
“You can’t stay out of trouble, can you?” Genkai’s voice rang over the group of them. They were surprised to see her staring at the blue eyed woman. “Did you have to drag it here with you?”
“I thought you might get bored with me otherwise, Master Genkai.” Iruni bowed her head slightly. “Apologies for the commotion.”
“Don’t apologize unless you mean it, Mikamoto. Get inside. Your tea is ready.” Genkai then looked at the others, who stared wordless. “You all might as well come too. I have a feeling you’re all after the same thing.”
“Jasmine with milk and honey?” Iruni turned her back on Hiei completely, offering the old woman a warm smile.
“Naturally.” Genkai nodded and started moving toward the door as the other woman caught up with her.
“Wait, wait, wait. You two know each other?” Yusuke ran to catch up with them in the entry hall. He moved his eyes between the two women. “How? When? Why?”
Iruni glanced at him, but didn’t answer. Genkai looked at the woman over her shoulder, then let her eyes rove toward Yusuke.
“We met when Sensui almost destroyed the barrier.” Genkai explained easily. “She’d encountered a problem around that time and needed my help.”
Iruni nodded, taking a seat across from Genkai at the table that had been set up for them. Posture perfect, she accepted her tea as Yukina offered it and tossed a dazzling smile at the youkai. “As always, thank you, Yukina.”
Hiei visibly bristled at the display. Kuwabara and Yusuke both edged away from the demon, keeping themselves out of immediate striking range.
“I hadn’t realized you were sensitive.” Kurama turned his attention to his classmate, mentally flipping back through years of their interactions.
“I’m not. That’s not why I came.” She shook her head, then frowned as she picked at the cut in her shirt. Not saying anything, but her face expressing all of her disappointment, she lifted the teacup and sipped. Her gaze fell on Kuwabara though, having to cut to the side to see him as her head tilted just slightly to the side as if she were listening to something far away.
He swallowed, not quite sure what to call the sensation pricking at his nape. It wasn’t fear, exactly. But again, even as his eyes strained he couldn’t pick up her aura. Only the intense emptiness where her energy should have been. And she’d caught him staring, fixing him with that look that sent his senses reeling.
Then her lips lifted, her eyes moving away without addressing the situation at all.
“So, what are you doing here?” Yusuke demanded of the woman, slamming his hand on the table and resting his other fist on his hip.
“I made an appointment.” She told him coarsely, eyes pinching slightly. “Which, perhaps, you should have thought to do.”
“Fat chance of that.” Genkai snorted. “Yusuke doesn’t think about anything until it’s happening. He’s a creature of pure instinct and came here without calling, as usual.”
“Yeah, well, this is important business grandma.” The half demon turned to face the old psychic. “And don’t pretend you’re bothered by me popping by.”
“Popping by would imply you didn’t have to take a train to get here.” Genkai snapped at him. “Now shut up and sit down. Mikamoto is right, she made an appointment. And she was here first.”
“This is ridiculous.” Hiei muttered, rolling his eyes. “We’re on a timeline.”
“If you’d all stop griping like children, I would be able to ask my questions and go.” Iruni closed her eyes, sipping the tea as a chill entered her tone.
Hiei snapped his gaze to her, lips curling back over his teeth. “You might not want to run your mouth.”
“I haven’t heard anything new.” Genkai ignored Hiei and fixed her attention on the woman across from her.
“I have.” Iruni sighed, pulling her hair down from her ponytail and allowing it fall around her in a cascade of black ink, her fingers running through the strands to pick out the debris her match with Hiei had left behind. “However, I’m concerned with what I learned. I wanted your advice. I met a woman who told me she thought she knew who had the sword. Naturally I was overjoyed at first. But she implied it was a demon, a strong one. I’m not sure how to proceed.”
“You don’t. Hiei was going easy on you and you barely managed to survive. My advice is to forget about it.” Genkai sipped her own tea, the callous statement falling easily from her lips. “Even you have your limits.”
“I had a feeling you’d say that.” Iruni’s gaze softened, warmed as she stared at her hands, folded neatly on the table now. Then her fingers tightened as she interlaced them. “But I can’t help but feel like I need to see him with my own eyes. I want to see the face of the demon who stole from me.”
“Did you get a name?” Genkai seemed to think she knew the answer.
“I did, but I don’t believe its accurate. From the lens of my research at least.” Iruni let her hands relax. “The name I was given was Amon-Shinpi, but I have no reason to believe that to be true. It’s likely an imposter.”
“Likely?” Genkai barely smiled, but seemed amused none the less.
“How do you know that name?” Kurama asked her, walking around so he could view Iruni’s face while he questioned her. “And more than that, how do you know anything about demons?”
“I’m a descendent of one.” As lightly as the truth flew from her lips, it landed with a thud on the minds of each of the men in the room. “My great-great grandmother, Kuya, was a demon. According to family lore, that is, and Genkai helped me to verify it.”
Kurama glanced to Genkai who nodded, acknowledging the truth in the words.
“So, how do you know about Amon-Shinpi?” Kurama’s gaze probed her, searching for lies.
Perfect. She had to fight the urge to smile, her plan clicking into place perfectly, even with the heavy heat of Hiei’s gaze beating against her back. She might be sore tomorrow, but she’d be on her way to the last stages of this plot.
“I came across the name in my research. When I searched through my ancestry and came across my demonic heritage, I dove into all the books I could find. I wanted to learn everything I could about demons, their world, their habits. That led me to Master Genkai. She was able to help me confirm my lineage and verify some of the information I’d learned.” Iruni explained, allowing one hand to gesture in the air, her face carefully neutral.
Whether it was her story or the fact he couldn’t sense the lies, she couldn’t say, but Kurama looked bothered.
“Unfortunately, all the works I’d gathered were destroyed in the fire a few years ago. It’s all up here now.” Iruni tapped her temple. “But my mind is a steel trap.”
“Which only makes you more hard headed.” Genkai complained. “I’ve warned her off this path several times and she insists she can handle it.”
“Not like anyone is going to miss me if something happens.” Iruni laughed, a slightly bitter sound.
Kurama frowned, suddenly remembering the fire she mentioned. Tidbits that had scattered through his memory about this woman rushed back, and he pieced together her history with them. She’d always been a quiet, reserved girl. She played violin when they were in grade school. She also participated in cross country and archery. They’d gone to different high schools, losing contact.
Not that he would have reached out to her, they’d rarely spoken.
But he did recall seeing her family name mentioned in the paper a few years before. A terrible incident. Her mother had been stabbed to death by her estranged husband, who then attempted to burn the house to the ground with Iruni still inside. It was something that had stuck out to him, the name familiar but too distant for him to really care.
Now as he looked at the way she studied her empty teacup, he realized he wasn’t the only one who had thought that way. Even now, in the last semester of college as they were, she had no friends he could name. No associations. A life devoid of connections, except apparently Genkai and Yukina.
Is that why she threw herself into the fray to protect the ice maiden? Is that why she didn’t seem in a hurry to leave? She was enduring his questions with uncharacteristic tolerance.
“So the books are destroyed. That sucks.” Yusuke complained, tossing his head back. “We really could have used them.”
“Why?” Iruni squinted at him.
“We’re looking for this asshole too. Our sources seem to think it might actually be Amon-Shinpi for real.” The team leader didn’t bother looking at her, his attention moving to his mentor. “You don’t have copies here, do you? I thought old bats like you kept copies of everything just in case.”
“Idiot. They weren’t my books. I don’t have anything on the subject here. It’s too obscure.” Genkai snapped at him. “Why would I have a book on one particular demon out of the millions?”
“Don’t bite my head off, grandma!” Yusuke yelled back at her. “It was just a question.”
“A stupid question, as usual. Ask Koenma for information. I’m not a damn library.” Genkai glared at her pupil.
Iruni sat back in her chair, her eyes scanning over them. Every word devoured and locked away. Her scrutiny brought her to Kurama’s face and she didn’t hide her interest from him. Let him see it, it would only make her seem more genuine. If she seemed curious, caught off guard, it would help.
“I’ve been trying to recreate my notes.” She announced, blinking at Yusuke. “I hadn’t quite gotten to Amon-Shinpi yet, but I can try to write out what I remember tonight. Shuichi can retrieve the notes from me tomorrow and give them to you, if that’s alright. I can’t guarantee they’ll help very much though.”
Yusuke stopped mid-insult, mouth still hanging open. “Really?”
She nodded and then a dangerous glint entered her eyes. “Well, on a condition, that is.”
“A condition?” Kurama frowned, glancing at Genkai.
The old woman looked bothered, but it was more annoyance and frustration than fear. She knew what was about to be asked and didn’t like it, but not for the reasons he had suspected. That was interesting.
“If I’m right, you’re looking for the information because you intend to fight.” Iruni told them. “I want to come with you.”
“No.” Hiei was the one who answered, sliding off the window sill to walk over to the others. “I won’t be put in charge of babysitting another useless waste like her. She’d only be good for bait. Although-“
“Hey man, just because she embarrassed you doesn’t mean you get to be a dick.” Kuwabara glared at the shorter mon.
“It’s bad enough you’ll be coming. We don’t need another distraction.” Hiei scoffed, crimson eyes boring into the woman in question. “Genkai is right. I barely tried and almost killed her. Imagine if someone without restraint got ahold of her.”
“Well, consider it.” Iruni shrugged.
“You said this demon stole from you. What did he take?” Yusuke eyed the woman. His suspicion showed in the way he squinted at her, getting too close to her face.
“A family heirloom. A sword.” She told him dully. “I’ve been looking for it for ages. It went missing after the fire.”
“Sword?” Kuwabara tapped his chin. “It didn’t have any weird magical abilities did it?”
“It’s a sword.” Iruni rolled her eyes. “It was just an old sword in a red scabbard that belonged to my great grandfather. It’s sentimental to me.”
Genkai raised an eyebrow at the bold honesty in those words. And these boys were eating it up. Of course they were. Idiots. She had to commend Iruni though, on her talent for bending words to her will. All the information she gave them was easily assessable if they knew where to look, and therefore worthless. But she made it sound like she was divulging powerful secrets to confidants.
But one thing was certain, she was right, if she faced this threat alone she’d likely die. Her energy was still a gaping hole at this point and she didn’t seem to be in a hurry to alter that. Genkai had offered a handful of times to help her unlock her power, and each time was refused.
“I’ll write the notes either way.” She stood and pressed the lines out of her slacks, once again toying with the cut in her shirt with a grimace. “Just let me know your answer.”
“There are other ways to get what we need.” Hiei spoke, the dangerous edge to his brusque voice trailing behind the woman as she walked away. “We don’t actually need you.”
“Oh, that’s right, here.” Yukina rushed over to Iruni and handed her a few pieces of parchment. Crimson eyes traced the shape of the wards. “Genkai prepared these for you as you asked.”
“My sincerest thanks.” Iruni bowed her head to Genkai then smiled at Yukina. Her eyes scanned over to Hiei, the papers in her hands tipping down. “Well, good luck with your other options.”
She’d done it on purpose, let him see the wards against psychic invasions. Against his Jagan. His fist curled in his pockets, his glower fixed on where she’d been standing.
“May I walk you out, Mikamoto?” Kurama rushed to follow her out, walking passed the agitated demon to do so.
“If you insist.” Her tone had returned to the cool, casual tone she normally used as she stepped to the side allowing Kurama to lead the way.
But Hiei didn’t miss the slight smirk that crossed her face as she turned away, following at the fox’s heels like a trained dog.
“Why did she need wards?” Hiei demanded immediately, turning to face Genkai. “You’ve just armed a potential enemy.”
“Mikamoto isn’t interested in fighting you. She’s not an enemy.” Genkai told him. “Stubborn, yes, but not inherently evil.”
“I would have liked to judge her for myself.” Hiei growled at her. “Were the seals your idea or hers?”
“Hers. But I think they were a suggestion from another friend after her encounter with your group the other day. Shikari is a flighty creature, prone to rolling over and showing her belly at the first sign of trouble.” Genkai explained.
Hiei thought about that. “The blonde woman. Yes, I remember her. She was petrified of us. So, that foul woman accepts the advice of skittish apparitions?”
“I’m sure you’ll get your chance to judge her when Yusuke inevitably accepts her offer to help.” Genkai thumbed toward her pupil, as he stood with his hands on his hips, a grin growing on his face. “He’s already got that dumbass smile on.”
Hiei had to agree. Only trouble would follow now. But he didn’t miss the way the old psychic deftly avoided answering his question. Genkai’s protection of the woman earned his interest. If nothing else, that meant she was worth watching. The rest was going to be a waiting game at this point.
Chapter 3: The Cusp
In which the team accepts Iruni's help and her plan gets put into motion.
A/N: So, I'm in the process of moving and its an utter nightmare, but this has been a good distraction. I have chapter 4 prewritten as well, and it's a bit of a change. I wrote it from Iruni's perspective entirely. I don't regularly write in first person but I felt like it was a good choice for the content and to get to know her character a bit more and her motives. Anyway. Also I'm working with better way to do break between scenes, since AO3 is still new to me.
Kurama walked beside Iruni over the expanse of the temple's lawn. The laundry basket from earlier lay forgotten a few yards away, disregarded in the heat of battle, most of the clothes still inside. He paused to note the impression in the grass from where Iruni had been thrown. The back of her shirt bore stains of brown and green from the impact. Blades of green wilted to brown, likely where Hiei had landed and his rage had grown palpable.
"Dangerous company you keep." Iruni earned his attention, standing at the top of the stone steps. Her study of him was careful, precise, but also detached. "I'm surprised. I had always taken you for a milder personality."
"It seems we both have our secrets." Kurama allowed with a smile. "I would have never taken you for someone with demonic lineage."
"Because I'm not like your friend." She stated this as fact, not a question, blue eyes flicking toward the temple where the others waited. "You can relax if you're worried about it. I'm not a mazoku. Genkai has already done her tests on me. They came up empty."
For reasons she wouldn't disclose. The old woman alone knew her secret and it would remain that way until it absolutely could not. It would have been hard for her to be half-demon and containing a demon's spirit all at once. Though she bet it would have sent Spirit World into a panicked flurry if it had been the case. Sardonic amusement flitted over her face for a moment at the idea of it, but died away quickly.
"Were you hoping to be?" Kurama tilted his head to ask the question, and despite his best effort his curiosity didn't ring innocence.
She saw the guarded malice underneath his surface. Precise, careful, intelligent and cold Kurama. Ready to defend his friends. Ready to fight. She shrugged and closed her eyes, folding her hands behind her head as she began her descent.
He joined her in seconds, matching her stride easily.
"I think they'll decide to let you come." He told her after a few more moments of silence. "After all, it sounds like you have information we desperately need. Although, I might advise you to avoid using those."
He tapped the parchments in her hands with a sly smile.
"Hiei doesn't appreciate being thwarted, and you doing it twice in a day won't win you any points with him." Kurama explained when she crooked a questioning eyebrow.
"What do these have to do with him?" Iruni squinted at the fox, coming to a stop two steps behind him. It allowed her to look down at his face unobscured.
And Kurama seemed to realize his mistake as soon as she'd spoken, his eyes widening only for a nanosecond before he shook his head and waved a hand to dismiss her question. His noncommittal deference only caused her to tip her head to the side. For a moment, he'd forgotten that just because she'd encountered Hiei didn't mean she knew about the Jagan. He'd simply assumed that was the need for the talismans.
Now he struggled to answer her question without possibly giving up valuable information, while also trying to discern if she was tricking him or not.
Why did she need psychic protection wards if not to use against Hiei?
Iruni watched him flounder with wary amusement. She probably shouldn't be toying with them this way, not when she was trying to earn their trust, but she couldn't help it. How many chances did one get to pull one over on Kurama of all demons? Of course the wards were to protect her from Hiei.
But for just a moment, she got to see Kurama look uncertain and it was a treat.
"Tell me about your friend, Shikari." He deflected her question with a warm smile, rubbing the back of his neck.
Her eyes traced the movement, knowing full well what he was doing but unable to let him see it. Part of her tensed, waiting for the rose to appear in his fingertip when his hand fell away. But it didn't. So she stepped down to his side once more and continued to walk, chatting easily, but without offering too much. The basics that could be verified without too much effort. That she and Shikari had met a few years before. That Shikari offered her information about Demon World and helped her find this missing heirloom.
Kurama listened with rapt attention, not bothering to disguise his genuine interest. It made it deceptively easy to speak to him, when he prompted her so gently with his questions. But still, Iruni locked herself up, her guard higher than his charm could reach.
"And Yukina? How did you two meet?"
"She saved my life, but I doubt she thinks of it as such." Iruni's expression softened considerably, her eyes fixed on a distant memory as she smiled.
That precious little girl with a heart of gold, despite her frigid upbringing. A treasure to behold. The ice maiden reminded Iruni of her own sister who had long before died. That intense, radiating innocence. There was no defense against that power and only two things came of it: you wanted to protect it or you wanted to crush it.
Her mind took her to a lifetime before, when she'd been wayward and struck. The child's kindness had thawed her heart for a moment and she'd never forget that. She had yet to repay the woman still, but she was working on it. One thing at a time.
"I'd like to hear more of that story someday." Kurama offered her a smile full of kindness.
Iruni's heart skipped a beat, her blood running cold as her confusion grew at the expression. A genuine smile, full of warmth and interest. From Kurama? Was this a trick? Her eyes fell to the ground as her mind raced to connect dots that were nowhere near each other. Kindness was unexpected from this one, especially of the genuine variety. She'd been prepared for a polite yet one-sided interrogation, not an actual conversation.
"Maybe we could talk more." She responded carefully. "After this business is done."
He nodded as their feet landed on the cobblestones at the base of the steps. His hands carefully hidden in his pockets.
Readying an attack? No. Not here, he'd have done it where the others could have come quickly. A habit, then. Her adrenaline slowed as quickly as it appeared. She waited for him to say something, crossing an arm behind her back to grab her other forearm, watching his face without much of an expression.
A gentle breeze swept between them, curling through their hair and around their bodies. A secret for her to keep, as a distant memory came along with the tendrils of wind, and with it confidence in her abilities. If Kurama did attack, she could deflect it. His speed wasn't nearly as impressive as Hiei's and despite his reputation, he was quite the humanitarian.
"I'll hold you to that." He told her with warmth that glittered in his eyes.
Her cheeks colored, pink rising up despite herself. So this was the Shuichi all the women flocked toward. She could feel the pull. His eyes sparkled with good intentions, his soothing voice telling of his gentle nature. And yet, she felt this was a trap. A way to undermine her obvious defenses. So she narrowed her eyes and lifted her chin.
This one was far too charming but she was too stubborn for fall for his tricks.
"You'd be lucky to hold me at all." She snorted the quip then widened her eyes in surprise at herself.
Kurama laughed. "You've got more spirit than you let on."
He had no idea how right he was. But she was glad her mistake hadn't cost her anything important, merely an embarrassed flush and some pride.
"Did you want my address?" She tilted her head then, a smile tugging at the edge of her mouth. "Or perhaps my personal number, Shuichi?"
"Are we on a first name basis now?" He pulled a pen and paper from his pocket, ever the prepared one. "Seems forward of you, Iruni."
"You didn't know? Once you share your evil ancestry with someone you are immediately on a first name basis." She told him dryly, writing out the information and he laughed again. "I'll work on the notes tonight."
"Thank you." He nodded, accepting her offering with a brush of long fingers over her own.
Iruni left him then, turning on heel and glancing back to make sure he'd not bothered to follow her. Her back remained straight until she got to the train where she was sure she was alone. There she let the pain of the fight show, wincing as she touched her bruised shoulder. She was lucky it was still in the socket, the impact of her fall had been intense. And the graze of Hiei's sword had let a mark on her stomach. Bruised ribs, aching joints and a pounding head.
Genkai was right. She'd barely survived that fight. Annoyed, she pressed her head against the cool glass of the train as it rushed down the tracks back toward the city. It helped ease the throbbing growing in her skull. Clutching the wards tighter in her fist, she closed her eyes.
Underprepared and severely outclassed. But Kurama seemed confident they'd allow her to come. She only had to get there. After that, their advantage over her wouldn't matter anymore.
Once she got that sword, it would all be worth it.
"Clever fox." Hiei smirked, amused by Kurama's antics as usual, as he paced down the street with the team two days later. "Or should I say, foolish woman?"
"I wouldn't in such a hurry to call Mikamoto a fool, Hiei. She has obviously been far more aware than we gave her credit for." Kurama lulled his response, hands in the pockets of his jeans at the team walked.
"You mean than you gave her credit for." Hiei noted, not adding his thought that Kurama had only bothered to plant the seeds on the woman out of sheer spite for deceiving him.
Which was why they were here. Kurama had accepted Iruni's address and while she'd been distracted by his hand brushing hers, he'd placed a sprinkling of burr like seeds over her shoes and the rolled cuff of her pants. He'd been able to sense her general location since, which helped them confirm her address and her routine.
Genkai had suggested the ploy wasn't necessary, but Kurama wasn't so sure. Iruni held more secrets than he liked and was apparently good enough at hiding them that he hadn't even been aware how many there were. Genkai had also confirmed that the seals were likely against Hiei, advice given by Shikari, but the extent of Iruni's knowledge was largely unknown. He hadn't enjoyed learned that either. He figured if she'd found the seeds, she'd have plucked them off. And if she could sense energy, she'd have noticed them immediately.
And yet, it seemed she hadn't. For a few days he'd been able to follow her loosely around the city, and she'd been none the wiser. She'd also been far less interesting than he'd hoped. Her demon accomplice hadn't come around and the woman herself hadn't done much more than attend classes and go back to her house.
"I didn't know you could use those things to track people." Kuwabara walked backwards, arms folded behind his head.
"If I infuse them with my energy, I can sense where they are." Kurama flexed his hand around the extra seeds cradled there, then released them into the depths of his pockets. "It's not a trick I need to use very often."
"Crafty bastard." Yusuke cut his eyes behind him, grinning.
"Apparently not as crafty as I wished." Kurama came to a stop in front of the small house, eying the unusual flowers growing by the gate. Small iridescent purple petals and thin, sharp leaves. He frowned. The plant was innocuous enough for something pried out of the Makai, but still, he hadn't intended for it to be planted.
And when, exactly, had they been planted? Because he was sure as of yesterday evening that she'd still had the seeds on her shoes.
"They just sprung up. I noticed them this morning." An elderly woman smiled at the group of men, picking her way down the sidewalk with a cane. "Poor girl hasn't bothered with gardening in years. I'm glad to see something new growing."
"Would this, by chance, be the Mikamoto residence?" Kurama offered his warmest, kindest smile to the old woman and watched its effect as she blushed, bobbing her head readily.
"She's not in though." The elderly woman continued to smile. "Left first thing this morning."
The team exchanged a look while Kurama thanked her. She went on her way as they congregated near the gate, trying to decide their next move. They'd come to inform the woman she could join them, providing she had relevant information to their case. If she could identify their target as an imposter, it would be greatly helpful.
"Do you think she ran off and got herself killed?" Hiei asked hopefully, not in a hurry to endure the woman's company again. His pride still felt sore from their fight two days before. Sure, he could have killed her, but the fact she'd managed even her miniscule victory rubbed him the wrong way.
"You're blocking my gate." Iruni voiced from behind them, arms laden with grocery bags as she scowled at them. "Please move. These are heavy."
Not to mention uncomfortable. Her arms were still sore from her fight, her shoulder a murky purple-blue at this point, and the weight of the straps had become an endurance test of controlling her reactions. When the team parted, allowing her to slip through, she went directly to the door and pushed it open. It wasn't until after she disappeared inside that Yusuke started to follow her.
"Yo. You need help?" He tilted his head, craning around the entry hall to peek into the kitchen.
"Now that the hard part is done? Certainly." The dry response earned her a flat stare. "Well, don't just stand there letting the air out. Get in."
They followed her irritated command easily, the door shutting a little too loudly behind Hiei who initially refused to walk further into the house than the entry. Partially because he didn't want to take off his shoes, mostly because he didn't want to be there at all.
The other three hung about uselessly, meandering on the cusp of the kitchen and hall. Yusuke couldn't help himself, his eyes scanning around what he could see of the house with all the interest of a child entering a new store. Kuwabara too, looked around, though mainly his focus kept coming back to the dark haired woman putting away her groceries. Kurama smiled at her, but received no such courtesy back, as she rolled her eyes away, still set on her silent task.
The walls in the entry were empty, other than the hooks for coats that were currently bare. Further down the hall too, the walls remained a clean white. The kitchen offered space for a single apron to hang, but nothing else on these walls either. The counters were as cleared as possible, clean. The table only adorned by coasters, napkins and salt and pepper shakers. No magnets or pictures on the refrigerator. Very personal effects at all, it seemed.
"You can sit at the table." Iruni nodded toward the small in-kitchen table, set up with three chairs with the fourth side pressed to the wall. From the wear of the varnish, it appeared she generally only used one spot. The typed notes were already laid out there, ready to be reviewed.
Kurama pulled the top sheet away and scanned over the contents with interest. Every so often he cut his attention back to Iruni, watching as she prepared tea and food for herself. She didn't offer any more prodding or direction to them.
"Aren't you dying in that shirt?" Kuwabara eyed the small women with heavy speculation. The long sleeved blouse seemed unseasonable in the growing warmth of the quickly approaching summer. "I'm in shorts and I'm already sweating."
"I'm fine." She told him, not bothering to look over her shoulder as she spoke.
Kurama passed the pages around the table as he read through them. The sparse notes were very cut and dry, matter of fact. A physical description of the demon they should expect to see. A quick overview of the artifacts in his possession. A brief summary of Amon-Shinpi's character and power, though these descriptions were vague.
"Who told you about the armor?" Yusuke asked her, moving slowly through the words.
"Genkai. I called and asked if there was more information I should try to find for you. She gave me a list of items and told me to describe them." Iruni placed a tray on the table, five teacups and a plate of light snacks. "Is your dour friend content haunting my hall?"
"Hn. I hadn't realized this was going to be all day affair." Hiei voiced from behind her.
The immediate reaction to his presence caught his attention, and Kurama's from the look of it. Her back straightened, pulse rising, as she quickly stepped away to keep space between them. The startled look on her face almost satisfied him. Good. She'd learned her lesson then. But the way she flinched from his presence with a resolute glare suggested another reason for her movement.
"You can relax. I'm not going to attack you." Hiei told her, helping himself to the snacks. "You humans are so skittish. Where is all that fire you had before?"
She didn't answer him. Something he noted, as he lifted his attention to her once again. His eyes flicked to her shoulder and she flinched under the sudden scrutiny, turning away from him slightly, as if to shield the left side of her body from his view. Now that was interesting. Was she still injured from their skirmish? Amusing. Humans truly were a waste of energy.
"Something wrong?" He asked, a deliberate smirk crossing his features. "You look frightened."
"Hiei, don't be a dick." Yusuke called and the fire demon rolled his eyes. "Who wouldn't be scared of your creepy ass sneaking up behind them? You still give me the willies and I've known you forever."
"I'm not afraid of him." Iruni's terse response to Yusuke made him lift his eyebrows. "I'm just not eager to find myself at his mercy again."
"So you admit it." Hiei gestured to her then, now thoroughly enjoying himself. "That you are utterly outclassed?"
"I admit that I don't have the strength to beat you, yes. However, I am positive I have way more class than you." She shot back at him, and the comeback made the others chuckle.
"Might want to check your tongue before you lose it." Hiei advised, still smirking. "Since you're trying to avoid starting another fight with me. I won't bother with mercy next time."
"I don't intend on there being a next time." She told him firmly, nostrils flaring. The momentary break in usual composure ended quickly as she collected herself. "Is the information helpful?"
"Yes, quite." Kurama nodded.
"If she provided us with everything, we should go." Hiei pointed out. "What's the use of bringing cannon fodder along?"
"We told her we'd take her." Yusuke shrugged, watching the woman bounce her eyes over them. "He's an ass, just ignore him."
What poor advice for him to offer. Hiei was a practiced killer. If she ignored him she'd be setting herself up for a potential attack. Even with his friends around, he didn't seem all that interested in adhering to Spirit World's rules about not attacking humans. She imagined it was a constant burden to him.
"I'll be able to identify the sword." She told them as a unit. "You're worried this demon has the Takani blade, yes? I suspect what he has is my family heirloom, but I'll be able to tell you once I see it. That alone should be sufficient reason to bring me."
"You could just tell what it looks like." Kuwabara suggested. "Not that I agree with Hiei, but it doesn't sit well with me that we're dragging you along. This could be really dangerous and scary."
"I could, but I won't." She forced a smile and it looked as fake as it felt.
"You're awfully determined, aren't you?" Kurama smiled and it touched his eyes.
Yes, she was. He had no idea. And his false friendliness wasn't going to sway her. She was going with them and that was going to be the end of it. With the ward securely in place in her hair, hidden in the strands beneath her bun, they couldn't count on Hiei to pry the information out of her. Taking her was their only choice. But they still seemed skeptical, at odds with the idea.
Then she'd have to use a secondary element to boost the odds into her favor. It would be risky, but knowing their personalities, it should work.
Iruni toed the ground, a slight blush coming into her cheeks while chewed the inside of her lip. Then, resolute and obviously embarrassed, she spoke quietly, as though she didn't really want them to hear her.
"I also, well, I'd like to see you fight." She muttered, refusing to meet their eyes.
Honestly, she didn't need to see them. Their smug surprise at her statement was all but a physical presence in the room. Kuwabara whispered a soft, but heartfelt 'Oh', as Yusuke made a sound of barely contained pride. Kurama shifted in his seat to view Hiei, who glared at the woman, then his teammates.
Idiots. A bunch of idiots he was stuck with.
He'd been defeated in this crusade. He could already see it in Urameshi's eyes.
"You want to see us fight, huh? Has the old bat been talking us up?" Yusuke flexed his arm and grinned.
Offering a slight nod, Iruni dared to look at them and her blush grew brighter. Turning away from them completely she stiffly walked over to her counter and busied herself with some meaningless task.
"Genkai talks about you a lot." Iruni huffed. "About how strong, but thick-skulled, her apprentice is. I never thought I'd get to meet you."
"You want to see me fight?" Yusuke pointed at himself, self-satisfied and gleaming.
"Genkai doesn't say much about the others, if anything at all. Generics. Yukina has spoken to me about Kuwabara though. But I'd really like to see what Genkai's dimwit is like in action." Iruni stopped her fingers from peeling the label off of the can in her hands.
It wasn't that far from the truth. Genkai had told her a lot about Yusuke and his antics. She complained mostly, but Iruni always saw the muted pride on her face. Even the affectionate, disparaging nicknames and comments were enough to tell her that their bond was special. She really did want to see him in action again, considering his growth. Setting the can back on the counter and ignoring the corner she'd been subconsciously worrying over, she stared down at her hands, nearly forgetting the men in her kitchen or why they were there for a moment as she lost herself in her thoughts.
Genkai suggested Yusuke had grown so exponentially in just a few years that she'd hardly believed the woman. But Genkai did not lie. Not to her, not to anyone that she knew. And through the previous weeks of her spying, she'd been forced to acquiesce. Yusuke was forged of something new, unbreakable and wholly bright. This man was a far cry different from the snot-nosed little shit she'd witnessed battling it out during the Dark Tournament years before. In many ways the same, but those were less important. It lined his body, edged his movements, the strength he'd gained and the confidence to wield it.
Iruni closed her hands into fists, mind focused on a distant desire.
If some half-blooded child could grow this way, surely she could too. Her mind turned to Kurama and his inordinate progress. She'd been in school with him most of their lives. She'd watched his power slowly ease its way back into him, watched him grow. And again, the last few years had seen such a lurch in that movement she'd been surprised by his presence when they'd entered their first university class together. Very much the same gentle faced young man, with those careful, intense eyes of his. But also so different. Faster, lighter in personality, more demonic that she'd ever seen him when he walked silently through the hall with that secret knowing smile he wore.
He was her canary, this existence her coalmine. If Kurama could work his power through his limbs with such grace, carry it like a badge, she could too. Even as the thought struck her, she dismissed it, her lips pressing into a line.
The problem was her lack of a catalyst, something she'd known for years. These men had seen their battles, worked for what they had. Their power hadn't come to them naturally, it had been carefully cultivated through years of toil and experience. Just as hers had once come to her. But while they'd been battling demons who far outclassed them, she'd been a spectator.
Breathing out through her nose she narrowed her gaze on her fists, tightening them. Hiding from him. Trying to keep herself cloaked in anonymity. Avoiding any degree of attention. That's why she was so desperate for the sword. Even with this handicap, the sword would be more than enough.
She was so close. So very close.
She could practically feel the rough binding of the hilt in her palms, creating callouses as the weight extended through her arm as another piece of herself. How she longed for it. The desire to test the sharpness on the pad of her thumb. The way it cut through her enemies like the embodiment of her will.
So, so, very close.
Her eyes moved slowly to the side, realizing only then how intently Hiei focused on her. His gaze seared her, locking her into place. Whatever showed on her face had betrayed some piece of her thoughts, she was sure. Her mistake, losing herself in this moment. But the Jaganshi didn't seem alarmed. If anything, his expression rang of mild interest, maybe judgement. Her back remained to the others and she moved her eyes away from his face without saying a word about his staring.
The ward would keep her safe for now.
"When do we leave?" It was intentional, turning away from the fire demon and facing the others with her back to him.
Any other moment in her life and she wouldn't have dared to give her back. It would have been a rookie mistake, but he was proverbially chained and she needed him to continue thinking of her as a sloppy child. So, for the second time despite her raging instincts, she kept him behind her. He needed to question her ability to survive. They all did. They needed to believe that without them she'd die on this mission. It would keep them too close to see anything else.
"Tonight." Yusuke told her with a wide grin. "You sure you want to do this? You looked a little freaked out there."
"I'm sure." She nodded firmly, planting her feet in a natural stance. "Trust me, there is no other place I'd rather be."
Probably one of the first honest things she'd said to them, and it would probably be one of the last.
Chapter 4: Historical Inaccuracies
Chapter 4- Historical Inaccuracies: In which the team faces down Amon-Shinpi’s supposed goons and Iruni drops her guarded secret because she’s petty.
This chapter is entirely from Iruni’s point of view. I wanted to warn everyone of the shift from third to first person because whoa buddy would that be confusing. Also, I want to say thank you to everyone who reviews and reads. It means a lot to me, and I love hearing from you all. I also just like that people are reading this story considering how long and inconsistently I’ve been in and out of this game. Anyway, this following week will be a bit hectic for me but I have the next chapter drafted. As well as roughly 87 pages worth of story. Finessing it into something coherent will be an ordeal, but I’ll give it my all.
I adjusted the sleeves of my jacket, glad I’d brought it to ward off the evening’s chill. Yusuke had stayed true to his word and we were picking our way through a dark forest toward the source of everyone’s chagrin. The team prepared themselves to battle a monster. I prepared myself to take what was mine. I could almost taste the sweet thrill of success already. Father had always warned me not to get ahead of my circumstances, but it was a character flaw that seemed to follow me from one life to the next.
They kept me in the middle of the group, just I’d anticipated. On my left, Kuwabara worked to keep in step with me. A noticeable effort on his part seeing as how his stride was twice as long as my own. But he seemed determined to stay beside me, scanning from left to right with palpable concentration. Endearing.
Urameshi led the charge, swaggering at the point position, leading us toward certain victory. His large brown eyes would glance back at me every so often, to gauge my confidence I’m sure. If he expected me to waver, he was mistaken. I kept my expression arranged, carefully neutral. He never let his attention linger for too long.
Kurama walked at my back. Not ideal, but I couldn’t show my discomfort. The fox hadn’t seemed to guess at my deception so far. I was probably safe.
I don’t enjoy dealing in uncertainties. I prefer more control. I like to know my odds.
I also don’t trust him. Youko had been a devious, deceitful apparition. A legend, sure. Impressive in a variety of ways. But I would never have given him my back. Not in this life or the previous. I’m not nearly young or naïve enough to make that mistake. And yet, there he was, diligently bringing up the rear.
Hiei was home in the trees, flitting through the branches with practiced stealth. Buried in shadow, his presence was only discernable because I searched for him. That was another demon I didn’t want surprising me.
I didn’t trust Kurama.
I straight loathed Hiei.
Every time I glimpsed him, his cloak, his shadow, those bloody red eyes, my shoulder rolled of its own accord. An involuntary reaction. The tender, bruised flesh remembered his assault as if it had a mind of its own.
More than once I caught his gaze fixed on me. My twitch seemed to amuse him.
He wouldn’t be laughing by the end of the night. I had to fight down a smile at the thought of it. Soon, so soon, I would have my prize. Despite my efforts the corners of my mouth tipped up.
Years. I’d been hunting for my sword for years. Twenty-three to be exact. All my wretched existence. And now it was so close. I could nearly wrap my hands around the hilt. All I had to do was walk into the demon’s lair with the all-too-eager team of men.
At the start of our trek, Hiei had suggested simply using me for bait.
He had no idea our positions were reversed.
They would battle the grunts, I’d use that as my distraction and head off the imposter. Child’s play. If I was lucky, I’d flee without incident as they continued to grapple with their opponents.
I don’t believe in luck.
I wouldn’t get out of this without a fight. Hiei, more than likely, would leap at the chance to challenge me again.
My shoulder rolled.
No. I couldn’t fight him again. Not now, anyway. I’d never survive it. If he knew what I was he’d come at me without mercy, full strength. I couldn’t handle an all-out battle with an S-class demon, much less four of them as I’m sure the rest of the team wouldn’t be far behind.
My fingers toyed with the only weapon I brought. An Infinity Chain. Thin, innocuous, but quite useful. Tied around my wrist as it was it could’ve been mistaken for a set of silver bracelets. I hated the damned thing. Finding it had been an ordeal. I’d had to enlist Shikari’s help. I don’t like asking for help. Even then, I’d done most of the work actually retrieving it. The weapon had been forged by someone I knew before. But my hate was centered needing it at all, not the quality of the weapon.
I used to be a king.
I used to be powerful. I faced down armies on my own and came out the victor. I guarded my family and protected our lands.
I was a sentinel.
Now? Now I was nothing. A distorted reflection of my former self. A checker piece on a chess board.
But with the sword, I could rise again. I could finally win this quarter century long fight.
I had to survive tonight.
He was coming.
It was my duty to stop him.
So I wouldn’t fight the Reikai Tentai. I would get my sword. Then, as sick as it made me feel to even think of considering it, I’d surrender. That was the plan I’d decided on the minute I’d realized I could use these men to achieve my goals.
I used to be a warrior.
Now I’m a coward.
My eyes glimpsed Hiei again. He kept darting from my right side ahead toward our destination and back. No doubt that accursed evil eye of his was wide open, scouring the forest for dangers and fixed on their targets. He was such a menace.
“You okay?” Kuwabara earned my attention, his tone and face both laced with concern.
“Are you?” I asked him quietly, eye brow crooked. “You look pale.”
A bead of sweat rolled down the line of his neck, absorbed into the crew neck of his t-shirt. Exertion from the hike or fear of what was to come? I couldn’t quite tell.
“Yeah, It’s the energy in the air y’know? Always ties me up in knots. I hate the way it feels.”
Energy? Did he mean the auras leading us straight to the cliché hideout nestled into the forest’s thickness? We were hunting our prey. How could he be so deeply affected by such a minor display of power? But as I watched him look around, shoulders hunched and hands shoved into his pocket, my confusion faded. I thought, maybe, I understood.
Above all else, Kuwabara was human. Totally and completely. He probably felt things differently, more profoundly due to that. His exposure to the Makai had gifted him with a perspective he had never asked for. He wore this experience like a weighted chain around his neck. It was likely that he didn’t know how much information about himself he radiated, but I hungrily accepted every detail all the same.
Kuwabara was an honest man at the very center of his nature. He didn’t mind displaying his emotions or reactions. Kind to a fault too, I surmised, as he stepped closer to me when the auras ahead grew in strength. A good man.
No wonder Yukina adored him so.
Sliding two fingers into my pocket I produced a piece of gum, offering it to him. He blinked at me, clearly confused by the act.
So incredibly honest.
It was refreshing.
“To ease your stomach.” I explained lightly. “Though the mint might be an issue. It’s potent. You won’t be able to hide from your enemies.”
“I don’t hide.” He snatched the gum from me, tossing it into his mouth defiantly.
This time I didn’t repress my smile.
“Thanks. So, do you feel sick or anything? The heebie jeebies?” He spoke around chewing.
“No.” I turned my attention back to Urameshi’s back.
“No? It doesn’t bother you?”
Kurama was listening raptly behind us. I could feel the pressure of his probing gaze. He’d begun to watch me the minute I’d warned Kuwabara about the mint. A slip on my part perhaps, but fostering potential had always come naturally to me.
“I don’t feel anything.”
Maybe I should’ve chosen different words. It could’ve been the utter apathy of my tone. Either way, Kuwabara’s brows pulled down and Urameshi shot me a wary glance.
“You can’t sense energy?” Kuwabara frowned, rubbing his neck. “That must be weird.”
I shrugged. There was no reason to correct him on this matter. I could sense energy just fine. Probably better than he could, at any rate. But it didn’t affect me the same way. The auras trying to menace us up ahead weren’t my problem. Therefore, I was ambivalent toward them.
“Both of you shut up. They’ll hear us.” Hiei dropped from a tree to my right, his usual sneer deepening into a scowl.
With some amusement I noticed that my conversational partner had jumped. Crimson eyes glared at him, an unspoken complaint clear in his biting gaze. Then Hiei turned to me with a look of annoyed expectation. He thought I’d argue.
I stared back, unconcerned with his sudden appearance or his advice.
“Six.” Hiei turned to Urameshi. “One with barely any energy at all. Four low level grunts. A lower B-class.”
B-class? I mulled that over. A higher rating that I’d figured. Toying with my chain I considered my options. I looked toward the clearing that had come into view. A shiver ran down my spine.
I hadn’t felt this excited in decades.
“Alright. We’ll take out the lackeys then the boss.” Yusuke laid out the obvious course of action. Did they really need this spelled out for them? “Mikamoto, you stay out of the way. Let us handle this.”
I nodded. He wanted to prevent me from becoming a burden or a distraction. Fair enough. Plus, that fit into my plan. Let them handle the meat shields.
The boss was mine.
“I want the boss. You keep taking the good fights.” Kuwabara whined.
I’ll admit not glaring at him took more effort than it should have. He didn’t know. Still, if he intruded on my fight I’d have to hurt him.
“When he inevitably fails, like usual, I’ll take over.” Hiei snorted, derisive as ever.
What was his problem? Did he hate Kuwabara for a reason or was he too insecure to allow someone else into the spotlight? Perhaps he was just thirsty blood. Either way, he was being rude to his comrades. The overwhelming ego of male demons shouldn’t surprise me anymore, and yet, it always found a way to.
“Shut up! I won’t fail. B-class is easy for me now too.”
“I’ve yet to see you win.”
“No one yanked your chain, shrimp.”
“I thought you didn’t want us to give away our position.” I interjected coolly, eyes on Hiei. “Could you stop instigating an unnecessary fight?”
Kurama stifled a laugh behind his hand as he walked up to my side, whispering a sincere thank you.
“She got you.” Urameshi teased the fire demon, hands on his hips as he bent down to grin at the shorter man. “Maybe we should keep her around to keep you in line.”
An offer I’d refuse even if I wasn’t planning on ditching them in a few minutes.
Hiei scowled at him, then cut me a vicious glare. Perhaps expecting me to shrink under his harsh scrutiny. I suppose there were demons who withered under his stare, terrified of him and his powers. How disappointing for him that he had no such effect on me.
I wasn’t afraid, I merely knew my limits.
Ignoring him and his ire, I shifted my eyes to Urameshi, waiting for the signal so we could get this mission underway. Now that I knew how close we were I could barely keep myself from running ahead. He inhaled and let it out slowly, then marched us down the hill leading toward the abandoned factory.
Worn, chipped bricks stained by the elements even in the darkness of night. Broken windows filled with steady yellow light. Vines creeping up, filling the spaces between the bricks and the cracks of the glass. Left to rot after it had shut down years before the old factory was slowly being devoured by the forest around it. A flicker of light caught my attention.
I held my finger out to the little bug, allowing it to land and rest for a moment. Softly, with more feeling than I meant to display, I smiled at the little creature. I’d always loved fireflies.
“Stay behind us.” Kurama’s order sent the insect back into the air.
I lowered my hand without a response. Constantly being reminded that I was a liability had, at best, grown tiresome. I couldn’t rightly be bothered, seeing as how I’d carefully cultivated this image. Still, right or not, I was annoyed. But I kept my mouth shut about it, following at the back of the pack.
It was just as Hiei had reported. Urameshi pushed through a rusted metal door, the hinges loud and abrasive as they strained to open at all. We were greeted by five apparitions. Four armed, already jabbering about murder and the like. The usual talk of blood hungry idiots being used as distractions. Behind them, a woman with grey skin. Her fearful expression tried to be stern as she took us in. It wasn’t convincing.
The leader’s caretaker, then. Perhaps a mistress, from the state of her upknot and fine kimono. A woman who put effort into her appearance, even out here in the forest. Likely an unrequited affection on her end, no matter her role. She’d pose no threat and that might spare her life. I moved my attention back to the grunts, a quick overview revealing unimpressive energies. What they lacked in strength they bolstered in weaponry, it seemed.
“Hiei should go left, Kurama right.” I suggested, eying the weapons. An old habit of mine, trying to control the outcome of a battle by playing to the strengths of those involved.
Kurama was clever. Quick. Fluid. Fighting a demon laden with potions and gases would be easy for him, especially with his cynical spirit. Hiei’s aggressive speed would topple the demon with the spear, a quick and easy fight for him. Yusuke had chosen correctly already, challenging the demon with the sandals that would enhance its speed and jumps. Kuwabara faced off with the largest, a boar. This one’s nose ring doubled his raw strength, and even then, I’d guess he was merely a lower C class. Perhaps mid.
Trinkets and tricks.
Not that I was any better at the moment. But still my pride wouldn’t allow me to lump myself in with them. I may be lacking in power but I’m a trained fighter. I have skills.
Hiei pointedly ignored me, I noticed. He threw himself into a fight against the poison wielder in what I was sure was a defiant act. Moron. I had years of experience in battle, assessing opponents. He was making this harder on himself because he was immature and spiteful.
But, he wasn’t my problem.
When he choked on the thick grey smoke he’d been caught in, I felt no pity for him. Watching for a moment, I made sure they were all adequately engaged before I strolled through the center of the factory floor. This was working out better than I had hoped. Ducking under a flying pot, I ignored Urameshi’s command for me to retreat.
He should be more worried about that demon flitting around him, knocking him down.
“Pull out his ring.” I told Kuwabara as I passed, barely sparing him a glance.
The boar had gained the upper hand, nearly goring the carrot top. At my suggestion, Kuwabara nodded, following the order quickly. He grabbed the ring and yanked on it, twisting the boar’s head in the process and I heard a startled cry of victory from him.
I liked Kuwabara.
A shame, really, considering how this was going to play out.
My feet stopped in front of the female demon, looking her over.
“Call him.” I demanded, fixing her in place with my stare. Having lighter eyes seemed to unnerve a lot of people. It had always been that way for me, in this life and the one before. Something about the shifting hues of blue just made demons and humans alike weary. My fingers worked the knot in the chain, loosening it.
“Never. I’ll die first!” She rushed me.
Heaving a sigh, I stepped to the side, avoiding her futile attempt at capturing me or taking me down. What would she do if she succeeded? I doubted she knew.
“Fine.” I eyed her from the side, unimpressed. “But I’m not going to kill you.”
She came at me again. Slow. Uncoordinated. But desperate. She wouldn’t stop until I backed off or she was down. I hated this. Fighting the weak like this, it had never set well with me. The grunts were weak, sure, but they were fighters. They were armed. This woman was just deluded pawn trying to protect a demon not worth her time.
My fist connected with her chest anyway, doubling her over, and a pang of guilt shot through my chest before I could stifle it. I heard the air rush out of her. She gagged on the pain, arms wrapped around her middle. Maybe I had hit her too hard. I forced myself not to think about it. To dismiss it. This was a fight she had started. I slammed my elbow across her face, watched the whites of her eyes show as they rolled up into her head as she listed to the side. My arms slid under hers, forcing me down into a kneel as I carried her weight to the ground. I needed to beat her, but I didn’t have to cruel about it.
Whoever this idiot worked for, they didn’t deserve her or her loyalty, allowing a creature like this to fight me. They should’ve been here already, fighting in the thick of it with their men.
My anger started to grow. And I already had so much of it to manage. What sort of coward was this imposter anyway? Someone whose name carried no strength so they stole another. Someone who hid behind the weak and the passionate, pretending to be a leader. A demon of the lowest caliber.
I had considered leaving them alive, using them as a distraction for the team to fall on while I made my getaway. But now I had changed my mind. Killing them might open me up to attention I didn’t want, but I couldn’t just allow these deeds to go unpunished.
Someone shouted behind me. I dodged the spear with ease, tossing it an annoyed glance before I continued on my way.
“You’ve got visitors. As a king shouldn’t you greet us formally?” I called, aware that my tone betrayed my utter lack of respect. “Unless you’re not who you say you are, coward.”
That got me the response I wanted. Father had always said I had a way with words. A throaty rumble tore through the factory, the bay door at the back flying its tracks. I had to roll over the floor to avoid getting hit. Rising to my feet, dusting years worth of dirt off my shirt, I watched the entrance of this supposed king of demons.
I had been a king once, but I had never wanted to be. It was a punishment for my atrocious failures. A burdensome reminder that as a knight I shouldn’t have survived my liege. I did not wear the title as a badge of honor. I wore it as an oath to pay for my sins.
This imposter thought himself royalty as he glared down at me. Shrouded in dense armor he stomped toward me on heavy feet, eyes ablaze. He assumed the title made the man. It must have sounded good to someone who had never been shackled by it. This demon thought that if he wanted it bad enough the power would come to him. It was the truth lining his eyes. The hope as his hand wound around the scabbard of a sword older than either of us. It was the desire that kept his back straight under the burden of his armor so that he could lift his chin and look down his nose at me.
I could read him like a worn novel.
He dove at me, saying something I didn’t care to hear. My eyes were glued to that red scabbard. I evaded his advances until he realized he couldn’t simply catch me. Not with his movements restricted by the plates of metal he’d donned. We stood several feet apart in a world of our own.
“Get away from her!” Urameshi bellowed, I’m sure rushing to save me.
My eyes went from the sword to the face of the demon holding it. It looked small in his meaty fist. I didn’t bother memorizing his features. I wouldn’t have any need to remember them. The knot came undone, my chain sliding loose from my wrist.
“You scuffed it.” I gestured to the sword. “A rude way to treat something that isn’t yours.”
The chill in my voice was more habit than intention at this point. Father had always been impressed with my voice and its effect on others, especially during battle. He claimed of all my weapons, it was his favorite. Thinking of him pinched the corners of my eyes as the familiar cold entered my blood. Shame. Pain. Loneliness. The things I always felt when I remembered my family.
“This is mine!” The demon roared.
“Then use it.” My command startled him.
And gods help him, he tried. But the sheath would not relinquish the blade. Footsteps behind me. I didn’t bother looking. There was no more time.
Before I had been too fast for most demons to see, let alone fight. By the time I attacked, I only got to witness their mortal fear. It’s why I won. I always won.
Until I didn’t.
I rushed him, no hesitation holding me back. Looping my Infinity Chain around one meaty wrist, I swung up and kicked him under the chin. I allowed him to swipe at me, trying to push me back. Every ounce of his struggle worked to aid me in ensnaring him. All his fitting only wrapped him tighter in the web I created.
Mine was a weapon manipulated by energy. It would grow or shrink as I desired. It was unbreakable. Undeniable. Relentless in its mission.
It was a good metaphor, I think.
The armor was meant to make its wearer immortal, unable to be dealt damage. But in the face of my rage, even immortals bow. I tugged the wire and brought him to his knees. Lifting my chin, I looked down at him.
The armor was indestructible.
The body underneath? Not so much.
My Infinity Chain slipped through the uncovered joints in the plates, winding around the bare flesh underneath. Fusing some energy into the chain I pulled again. His body separated, cut through with all the resistance of wet clay. Arms and legs, hands and feet. All that stood was a torso with a yowling head, screaming out profanities and idle threats.
My feet carried me to the sword and the minute I touched it I felt at home. The familiar thrum of energy reached into my soul, filling a spot I hadn’t realized had been empty since before I died. Tying the chain around it, I fixed the sheath to my side. The blade slide free without complaint under my hands. Swiping once, I silenced those yowling cries forever. Good riddance.
Silence rushed in. Four sets of eyes glued to me. Four emotional states ranging from fury to fear.
I sheathed the sword.
I wasn’t born a king. I earned my title. I was born a princess. The first princess.
I had never wanted that either. I never cared much for pre-ordained positions. I was a princess by birth, but I worked hard to become a knight. A warrior. A sentinel.
Becoming a king was never my purpose or goal. It was the brand of my failure. It was a title thrust onto me. I rebuked it. As with everything in my life, I chose my own path. I shouldered my burden without the glory it could have brought me.
The people, my people, called me a king.
But that wasn’t the name they cried when they needed help.
“I surrender.” I lifted my hands and knelt down on one knee.
The Jaganshi ripped the sword from me, shoving me face down against the grime streaked floor. His nails cut into my scalp and he clawed his hand in my hair, pinning me down with a knee pressing into my back. I’d definitely have bruises from this later. I could hear him snarling over me despite my obvious compliance.
“Who are you?” He seethed, heat pouring into me with every sharp syllable.
I didn’t struggle in his hold. In another lifetime, I could’ve killed Hiei. We would have been closely matched, but I would’ve won. But that was before.
Before I fell. Before I failed. Before this accursed existence robbed me of my power and dignity and the release of death I’d been vying for.
Even then, even in the end I had some pride. Not much else, but I’d always had pride to spare. I’d made him choke on his rage, reminding him how to address me properly. Showing him that nothing he could do would make him stronger than me. He could never surpass me, the best he could ever hope for was an even match.
I suppose I should’ve listened to my screaming instincts and been more cautious in dealing with the murderous demon pressing his weight into my spine. But I was too overwhelmed with my accomplishment to care. I had the sword. And for the first time in twenty-three years I could say it.
I could say my name.
“Lord Amon-Shinpi Takani.” I grinned, the name tasting so sweet on my tongue despite the swirl of dust I inhaled with the words. “But you may call me your highness.”
A growl, feral and furious, then pain as it sparked through my head. Hiei’s vengeful punch robbing me of consciousness and any way to talk my way out of this. I’d be lucky if he didn’t kill me.
And yet, my last thought would have surely sent him over the edge if he’d been able to hear it. I was glad the ward was still intact for this moment otherwise I would have surely felt the cold metal of his blade rip into me. But as I appreciated that he’d stiffened upon hearing my name, recognizing me for a moment as the demon I once was, I couldn’t help the two words, I barely managed to keep them locked behind my lips.
Chapter 5: Clerical Error
In which the team tries to figure out who to do with Iruni/Amon-Shinpi. Kuwabara gets nagged, Genkai shows up, and Hiei ultimately takes Shinpi's fate into his own hands.
This is the longest chapter so far, and the next few are much shorter. It was all I could do to progress the story where I wanted it go. Thanks for reading!
Iruni winced, pain coursing through her bones, biting at the back of her skull. Raising cautious fingertips she pried at the area. Sticky. Wet. The makings of a scab as well. How hard had Hiei hit her? How long had she been out? Her senses felt muted and she wasn’t sure if that was the fault of the quite likely concussion she was now sporting, or if it was because of the enchanted shackles binding her to the wall.
Sitting up was a tedious chore, but she did it anyway. The room spun for a moment, her stomach rolling with it.
Definitely a concussion.
“They may have blocked my energy, but I still know when I’m being watched.” She opened her eyes slowly, fixing on the spot where Kurama sat.
He tipped his head to one side, silent as death, and ran his eyes over her as if he was meeting her for the first time. She supposed, in a way, he was. And this was the first time he was allowing her to see him too, his knees crossed over one another, rose carefully spinning by the stem in his long, delicate fingers.
Shuichi looked innocuous enough if you didn’t know anything about him.
Kurama, on the other, looked nothing short of the danger he was.
Silence filled the room, other than the sound of her chains scraping against one another. The sound aggravating her tender nerves, echoing in her ears. She could use her arms freely but if she were to stand, she’d be able to take a single step before the restraints stopped her. Looking around she began to assess her accommodations, noting the mirror behind the fox, the stone floor with its drain in the center, a small metal toilet, a bucket of water, the bed she was sitting on with its thin mattress.
Honestly, as far as prisons go, it wasn’t the worst she’d ever been in.
The problem was less about being in prison and more where that prison was located. Even with the door closed she knew she was in Spirit World. She’d done this to herself, she chided internally, because she couldn’t help but take a jab at Hiei. As usual her mouth had landed her in hot water. Pressing her lips into a line she touched her head again. Of all her plans, this one had to be at least in the top ten worst she’d ever had.
“Hiei hit you too hard. You’ve been unconscious for some time.” Kurama’s cool voice snaked over to her. “I’ve brought a salve that should dull the pain a bit, Iruni.”
“I refuse.” She told him, an equal chill in her tone. His eyes narrowed only slightly, but she caught the warning he’d cast at her. “Anything you give me will have the primary benefit of working in your favor and not mine. A toxin to kill me or a toxin to make me speak. Either way, I’m not interested.”
Yusuke, Kuwabara, Botan, Koenma and Hiei watched from behind the two-way mirror. The cell was dim, the low watt bulb above the two demons inside casting thick yellow light downward and outside of that light, leaving shadows. At the woman’s words, Yusuke raised an eyebrow.
“If I wanted to poison you, why would I wait until you give your consent?” Kurama asked her, the rose no longer a plaything in his hands, but an idle weapon as he held it still.
Iruni stared at him, her expression plainly telling him she had no reason to answer his question.
“You have to be in pain.” Kurama pressed, as if this would sway her.
“I’m always in pain.” She responded callously, shifting until her back was to the wall and her legs criss-crossed. Placing her hands on her knees, then turning them palm up, she closed her eyes.
“Is she ignoring him?” Koenma balked at the display.
“She’s hiding.” Hiei corrected him, quiet, his eyes glued to the scene. “She’s in more pain than she wants to let on.”
“Huh, maybe if someone hadn’t wailed on her like a punching bag that wouldn’t be the case.” Yusuke shot him a harsh look. “You’ve gotta control your temper.”
“She knew what I’d do when she opened her mouth. Have no fear, detective, she planned for this.” Hiei tossed back, unapologetic. He tightened the fist tucked under his left arm all the same, the bandages on his knuckles were speckled with blood. He’d be damned if he would admit to the detective that he’d lost control of his strength in the moment.
He almost killed her.
Because this monster had gotten so close to Yukina and he’d been the only one to see it. She could have slaughtered them all, if what Koenma described was true. He hadn’t been able to restrict himself when she’d tossed out that haughty line. Surely a powerful demon lord could handle a blow to the back of the head without dying.
And yet, he’d also forgotten how miserably frail human bodies are even with powerful demons residing in them.
“She’d already surrendered.” Kuwabara glared at Hiei. “Man, you’ll cross any line won’t you? Hitting a girl, no problem. Hitting someone who already gave up, no problem.”
Hiei ignored him. Or at least acted like had was ignoring him, because truthfully, he hadn’t cared that she’d surrendered in the moment. He’d forgotten about it as soon as she’d declared who she was to them. The idiot.
What he wanted to know, more than anything, was why. Why had she told them in that moment? Why hadn’t she tried to fight? Why had she woken up in a prison with a look of drained curiosity and not confusion?
She didn’t speak again, back of her head resting gingerly against the stone wall as her eyes closed. Kurama waited, then stood, leaving the jar behind.
“I’m too aware of your tricks, fox. Take it with you.” The words were cold, and when he looked over his shoulder her eyes were still closed.
Kurama casually picked the jar up and slid it back into his pocket, pausing a moment to study her again.
“And my name is Amon-Shinpi. If you can’t manage that, you may call me Shinpi.” She kept her eyes closed but the admonishment was clear in her tone. “But I won’t answer to Iruni again.”
Iruni Mikamoto had never been a very noticeable girl, aside from her startling blue eyes. She was small, and for a long time he’d thought she was slight. But carrying her here had allowed him a brief examination of her body. Mostly focused on making sure Hiei hadn’t caved in the back of her skull, but he’d checked for additional weapons as well. She was actually quite muscular, this fact hidden under her long sleeve shirts and pants.
He tried to pinpoint any moment in their past together where he should have suspected her, but nothing came to mind immediately. She’d always been quiet, removed from the other students. She’d built up enough walls around her that she had practically faded from existence. Intelligent, though. She’d scored just on the heels of Kaido, if he remembered correctly. A generic student by most other accounts.
She participated in clubs, she read her books, she ate her lunches alone.
A memory came to him suddenly as he stared at her downturned face.
“You’re Minamino, right?” Mikamoto sat across from him on the train, her little legs criss-crosed in her seat since they couldn’t seem to touch the floor. Dark hair cut into an angle over her shoulders, bangs a fringe across her forehead. Large blue eyes that felt a little too probing for his taste.
“And you’re Mikamoto.” He offered her a practiced smile, and it seemed to catch her off guard. But by now he was used to this game, the girls who couldn’t help but approach him.
Her hands tightened on the violin case cradled safely in her lap, her eyes glued to its surface for a moment.
He was nearly charmed that a simple smile had been enough to dissuade her. He’d been mistaken. She cast him a look from under her bangs, a strange chill entering the car under the weight of her gaze. He felt very suddenly like he was on a precipice.
“You love your mother, right?” She asked him and his eyes widened.
“Naturally.” He responded, but he was careful now. His mother. His human mother who had somehow earned his affections. What did Mikamoto want with her?
But she seemed troubled by his answer, nodding and sinking into herself. She didn’t speak again for several minutes and he watched her warily the whole time.
She slid to her feet, face hidden by the shadow of her hair as she kept her chin tucked. She walked to the doors and exited once the train stopped.
Kurama shook himself free of the memory. Nothing had ever come of it and Yusuke had entered his life around the same time. It had fallen to the wayside as an unusual encounter and nothing more. Mikamoto didn’t talk to him again after that, but now he wondered how long she’d known who he was. Had she asked him that because of their shared nature? Or had it been a cry for help?
He left the cell heavy in thought.
“That was a waste of time.” Hiei told him when he entered the side room where the rest waited.
“She’s not going to just freely admit her secrets and her guard is up. We’ll have a difficult time interrogating her.” Kurama explained to them all.
“I’ll go.” Hiei bared his teeth.
“I’ll send in a member of the SDF.” Koenma shut Hiei down quickly. “We want information, not a blood bath.”
Matsuma, a generic member of the Spirit Defense Force with his tall stature and cropped pale hair, sat on the bench across from the woman while Hiei and Botan watched from behind the glass. Hiei had refused to leave, wanting to do as much observation as he could. It was imperative that they learn as much as possible. She’d offered little movement or reactions since Kurama had left. Now her lips quirked up slightly, her eyes peeling open as she studied this newcomer.
“Interesting.” She spoke and this time her tone was lighter, nearly amused. “You’re awfully angry for someone I’m quite sure I’ve never met. Did they send you in to beat the truth out of me?”
“Go ahead. I won’t fight you.” She offered a pleasant smile, but her eyes had turned sharp. “Do you mind telling me why you hate me so much?”
“You’re an abomination.” He told her, getting to his feet.
“Ah, I see.”
He struck her across the face with a closed fist and she let her body move with the hit, head jerking to the side.
Botan gasped, covering her mouth and Hiei frowned.
“If Koenma wanted her tortured, he should’ve asked me. At least I wouldn’t have been so brutish about it.” Hiei voiced, eyes narrowing.
But the woman held true to her word, she made no move to defend herself. When Matsuma hoisted her to her knees by her shirt front she merely hung in his hands.
“What was your goal in human world?” He growled in her face.
She didn’t answer him, teeth a little bloody as she continued to smile and he slapped her again. She made no move to stop him and offered no indication she intended to speak.
“You’ve done this all wrong. You don’t start with the head, especially if your captive is already suffering from a brain injury of some kind. You start slowly, with the extremities. Toes, fingers, hands, feet. Work your way up. Take your time.” The chuckle she allowed at his expense enraged him. “I won’t talk to a boar like you. Bring me Kuwabara.”
“You don’t get to dish out orders, you piece of Makai filth.” He trembled with the urge to just beat her.
All too suddenly he wasn’t holding her anymore. She’d finally brought her hands up, pushing his away from her with ease. Then she drug him forward, the movement bringing him to kneel one legged on the bed. The warded chain wrapped around his throat and she tugged.
“This isn’t a fight. You’re entirely outmatched. This will be a massacre.” She assured him, then just as suddenly the chain slacked.
Matsuma coughed, scrambling backwards to get away from her. He didn’t stop until his shoulders hit the wall behind him, allowing him to pant for breath and nurse his budding bruises.
Iruni sat back on the bed, crossing her legs with a vicious smile as she cupped her chin with her palm, watching him. “Would you like to start again?”
Hiei raised his eyebrows at the display of raw strength. Her energy was entirely bound at the moment.
“She’s hurt.” Botan frowned, noting the bleeding cuts on the other woman’s face. “How can Koenma allow something so vile?”
Hiei shot her a withering glare. “She nearly killed him.”
“He started it.” Botan’s frown deepened. Then she marched from the room.
Hiei didn’t bother asking where she was going. He didn’t need to. She was going to Koenma to complain. Now would be his best chance. Unsupervised, he could enter the room, kick Matsuma out and take over. He’d get her to talk.
But even as the thought crossed her mind those blue eyes scanned over the glass of the mirror and the smile fell into a stoic expression.
“I’ll be waiting.” She voiced, before turning her attention back to Matsuma. “Don’t you have a report to make? Get out.”
He did as he was told and the woman watched him skitter with a look of sheer disgust. Mumbling something Hiei couldn’t quite make out, she waited a moment, staring at the door. When her eyes scanned back to the mirror, she winced, bringing her hand up to her face. She ran her tongue over her teeth and spit a thick glob of bloody saliva to the side.
Reaching up, she tore off her left sleeve and started to rip the fabric, using it to dab at the blood on her face and clean her wounds.
It had taken a second for Hiei to realize she was actually using the mirror as just that, a mirror, and hadn’t actually been staring at him through it. She might not have even known he was there. So he waited, watching her go through the process of doctoring herself. All the while his eyes kept training to her left shoulder. The skin was an angry blueish color, deep purple at its worst. He wasn’t sure why the sight of it bothered him but he almost used the intercom to tell her to cover it up.
“You’ve got to be kidding me.” Hiei deadpanned at the door as it opened, Kuwabara walking into the cell in time with Botan, Kurama and Yusuke walking into the observation room. “Are you idiots trying to get him killed?”
“He’s been warned to keep back.” Kurama commented, though his tone spoke volumes on how he felt about the situation.
Inside the cell, Shinpi tilted her head, eyes roving over the carrot top while she remained silent.
“I heard you wanted to see me.” He put his hands in his pockets, standing close to the door.
She adjusted herself again, pulling up one knee so she could rest her hand on, freeing up enough chain to gesture with the other.
He glanced at the bench across from her, then back to her. In measured steps he walked over, sinking down onto the bench with a wary glance in her direction. She watched him too, scanning over his form with eyes that made him feel naked. He shifted, a little uncomfortable under the intensity of her gaze.
“You lack refinement.” She told him quietly, eyes narrowing slightly. “And discipline. I don’t know who’s been in charge of your training, but they should be killed.”
Yusuke and Kurama glanced at each other, confused.
“What?” Kuwabara visibly loosened up.
“Don’t tell me you can’t understand basic criticism. That will make this all more difficult on you.” She told him coolly. “You have no form, no composure in your fighting technique. You look like a child wrestling with his friends. Given your power level, I’d have expected you to have at least mastered one form of martial art and yet, you act like a bumbling idiot. I’m disappointed in you.”
“He’s getting chewed out by our prisoner.” The Spirit Detective whispered to Kurama.
“Hey! I try okay! Sorry I’m not like Urameshi and gifted with super blood or something.” Kuwabara shot back at her. “You demons are judgmental as hell.”
“You don’t fail to win due to blood. You fail to win due to discipline.” She snapped at him. “Get your head out of your ass, Kuwabara. I’m trying to help you.”
“If you care about Yukina, you’ll listen to what I have to say. She deserves to be with someone who can keep her safe, not just happy. What happiness will she have if you get killed due to a stupid mistake?” Iruni raised her voice. “So shut up and listen to me.”
Kuwabara clammed up at the mention of Yukina. Inside the observation room Hiei tensed, arm throbbing with his anger. He waited.
“I don’t even need you to describe your current regimen to me. I already know you’re slacking off. At minimum, you should be allotting one hour a day to improving your physical endurance and one hour on your honing your spirit energy. You’ve gotten lucky with natural skill and haphazard training. It’ll take more than that to see you through life.” She leaned back, her shoulders pressing into the stone behind her. “And your defense is shit too. You should be sparring as often as possible with your allies. You let yourself be tossed around like a ragdoll. It’s disgraceful.”
“How do I train my spirit energy though?” He asked her, leaning forward. “I’m not like Yusuke. I don’t have demon blood or whatever.”
“You’re focusing too heavily on heritage. Yusuke won the genetic lottery. You’ve got raw skill that can be developed. If you stop treating every fight like a street brawl and actually focus on developing some semblance of a style.”
“Hey, I’ll have you know I was a the top punk at-“
“I. Don’t. Care.” She let all emotion leave her face. “Don’t bore me with your juvenile credentials. I was wiping out armies before your father was born.”
“And if I hear you use Urameshi’s blood as an excuse for your own ineptitude one more time, I will knock your teeth down your throat when I’m out of here, you got it?”
Her eyes moved to the mirror and she cocked an eyebrow. Then her lips lifted as a smug grin started to curve her mouth. Her eyes met Hiei’s through the glass, and again he wondered if she could see him through it.
Lifting a finger to gestured with it toward the door and Hiei followed the path she drew just as the door opened, Genkai walking into the cell.
“Get up, dimwit. It’s time to hash this out with Koenma.” Genkai’s gravely tone snapped at the woman. “You’re lucky I bothered to come.”
“I’m infinitely grateful.” Shinpi assured her then gestured lightly with her hands. “I’ve spoken to Kazuma so this is divine timing, as usual Master Genkai. However, these chains have proven more restrictive than I’d like to admit.”
“If you’d actually use your damn energy you’d be free in no time.”
“Is this really the time for such displays? I’m trying to make a bid for freedom, after all.” Shinpi smiled lightly. “Do you mind?”
“Moron.” Genkai walked over with a key and unlocked the shackles.
Stretching her arms overhead, Shinpi leaned to one side then the other, careful of her aching head. Gesturing with an open hand to Kuwabara she continued to smile.
“You’ll begin your training now. Focus your energy into her palms and keep it there for an hour. If you can’t manage then you’ll make it up to me through physical punishment.” The lighthearted warmth in her smile totally went against her threat. “How far can you run, Kazuma?”
“I dunno, like, five miles probably? It’s been a while.”
“So one hour of energy training. If you fail you’ll owe me a ten mile run.” She turned then to follow Genkai. “That seems like a nice gentle way to start.”
Kuwabara nearly fell over at her casual demand, fear crossing his face. “Are you serious?”
“Deadly.” She cast the response at him with a look over her shoulder.
“Send me to train at Genkai’s. She knows my character well enough and I respect her. After all, I didn’t actual break any rules by taking on that roach. And there’s nothing wrong with me refusing to offer my actual name to strangers.” Amon-Shinpi expressed blandly. “I’ve never caused a single problem for your little spirit lackeys and I don’t intend to start now.”
Her finale followed up an entire conversation of explaining the recent events to him, sparsely detailed. Genkai seconded a few of her statements, like them knowing each other and Shinpi’s lacking any reason to create havoc in human world. But Koenma remained unconvinced of her altruism. He kept bringing up the sword and its known power, her deceptive personality and hinting at her previous life. Repeatedly she disregarded his concerns, explaining them away with ease.
“You’ve obviously thought this through.” Koenma sneered at Amon-Shinpi. “What’s your goal?”
“I want to kill Hiro.” She told him simply, as if this were the most obvious thing in the world. “And you’re going to let me. After that I don’t particularly care what happens, but Hiro is my problem and I will be the one to handle him.”
“Hiro?” Koenma leaned back in his chair, assessing her. “What’s this have to do with him?”
“Everything.” She assured him, remaining firm in her stance. “And I suspect its him prying humans from their world, so it’d be prudent of you to allow me to continue.”
“Why would he be doing that?”
“Because he’s looking for someone.” She responded, eyes narrowed.
“You.” Kurama surmised, eying her. “He’s looking for you, isn’t he?”
“Yes.” She spoke the word through her teeth, fists curling at her sides. “But not Amon-Shinpi. He’s looking for Iruni, as the last descendent of Kuya Takani.”
“Wait, what?” Yusuke gaped at her.
“Kuya was my sister. My twin. My current incarnation is her great-granddaughter. And this body is all that remains of our bloodline, which Hiro is desperate to control.” Shinpi explained, terse and frigid. “It all goes back to the sword and the territory I once called home. Neither will obey someone other than a Takani.”
Silence followed her admission, and she hated it. But she allowed it, allowed them their moment of quiet understanding as the importance of that statement settled on them.
“Does he need you alive?” Koenma asked, quiet and grave.
“Only until he can produce an heir with this body. Once the bloodline continues, he can dispatch me.”
Everyone shifted, silent glances moving across the room around her. An uncomfortable dance as part of a wordless conversation that didn’t include her. She remained in the middle, eyes glued to the leader of Spirit World.
“It’s imperative that I kill him before that happens.” She pressed the weight of that sentiment into Koenma, sure, but into the rest of them too. Genkai looked at her, frowning deeply, but saying nothing.
“I mean, we can kill him.” Yusuke announced. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but we’re pretty damn capable.”
“No. I will be the one.” She didn’t look at him. “Put me under Genkai’s care. Allow her to vouch for my intentions, if you must involve someone else. I will heed her.”
“She will.” Genkai assured him. “We’ve been discussing this for some time.”
“If Hiro knows who is he looking for, why is he taking so many others?” Hiei tilted his head to the side, probing her with his gaze.
“I don’t know. Perhaps because he thinks a Takani daughter will prove too powerful for him, even after all this time. Maybe for amusement. There is even the option that he simply enjoys it. I’ve never understood this side of him.” She narrowed her eyes with the last words, as if that fact vexed her. “I’ll return to my cell until you decide.”
“If he’s after you to gain power, fighting him would put you right where he wants you.” Koenma pointed out. “I don’t think it’s a sound strategy.”
“He’s after a human descendent. He has no idea who I am.” She declared, rolling her eyes. “No one knows of my situation outside of Genkai. And she only knows because I had to offer some token of trust to her. He’ll be unprepared.”
“This is a lot of work to go through just to kill someone when you failed to last time.” The Spirit Prince remarked sharply. “Taking over a human body. Luring my team into your clutches.”
Her brow furrowed at his accusation.
“I used these ones to get the sword, that much is true, but as for taking over a human body I did no such thing.” Shinpi frowned, head tipped to the side. “I didn’t ask to be reincarnated.”
He paled at her words, then glanced at Botan, who raised her eyebrows high onto her forehead. Looking around the room, Shinpi noted the looks of surprise and suspicion.
“Did you seriously think someone would want this?” She asked Koenma, now thoroughly confused. “I hate every moment I’m alive, especially in this frail little body. I went after Hiro with every intention of dying. If I’m alive, it’s because your side wanted it, not me.”
“Impossible. I wouldn’t have accepted a request like this.” He gestured to her. “Father would have punished me for even thinking about it.”
“Well, I certainly didn’t ask to be born.” She crossed her arms. “I went into that fissure expecting to die. It took years of rebuilding my awareness for me to realize what had happened.”
Another bout of silence, this one far more tense and thrilling with mutual confusion and wariness.
“I’ll look into it.” Koenma told her, offering a single dip of his chin. “While I do, mind telling me why you didn’t end this existence you seem to loathe?”
“I tried. Once. But my human mother intervened. After that I learned that Hiro was still alive and renewed my mission to rid the world of him.” She waved a hand through the air. “Surely your books will indicate the attempt, at the least.”
“Then do your research. Come get me when it’s time to go.” She turned on heel and marched from the room, head high, and willingly allowed the SDF members on the other side to escort her back to her cell.
“I’ll go through her records.” Botan voiced quietly.
“Thank you, Botan.”
The rest of the team remained behind, no one wanting to be the first to speak. Koenma stewed at his desk, conflicted, as he rubbed the seam of the leather on the armrest of his chair.
“What do we know about Hiro?” Kurama asked, the safest question in the situation.
“I don’t know much. Just that his name is pieced with Amon-Shinpi’s consistently. A student, maybe? He was powerful by all accounts, but not a Takani. What I do know from looking over her record is that they were close and then they were trying to kill each other.” Koenma leaned forward, cradling his head in his hands. “This is a mess.”
“Do you know something?” Hiei turned to Genkai with harsh scrutiny. “Since you two seem so close, I imagine she spilled her secrets to you.”
“He took something from her, and she went after him for it. She failed the first time, retreated and came back a second time. He should’ve died. I’m not sure why he didn’t.” Genkai didn’t react to Hiei’s fiery gaze. “This is deeply personal to her.”
“But can we trust her?” Yusuke asked, grim.
“Allow me to decide.” Hiei told the rest of the group, his eye moving to Genkai with an obvious sneer. “Unless there are any objections.”
“Do what you must.” Genkai responded evenly. “But I’ll warn you that assaulting her privacy won’t sit well with her.”
“I’m not worried about her opinion of me.” Hiei assured the elder in the room. “Just bring her here. We’ll allow the Jagan eye to do the rest.”
The others turned to Koenma, waiting for him to okay this exchange. Tension rang clearly in the room until the toddler bobbed his head twice.
“If anyone can see her character right now, it’ll be Hiei. We’ll allow him to make the final call.” Koenma acquiesced to the demon’s demands, but looked grim in doing so. “If you find her guilty, Hiei, we’ll take her back to the cell to await her sentence.”
“I don’t care.” Hiei rolled his eyes back to Genkai. “I’m only interesting in outing her for the liar she is.”
“Good luck with that.” Genkai smirked then, something hidden behind her words.
Hiei posted himself behind the glass again, watching as Yusuke made himself comfortable on the bench across from the woman who once again sat chained to the wall. New bruises and cuts marred her face, over the bridge of her nose and under her eyes. Gifts from the SDF, he was sure.
Given her propensity for running her mouth, he was also sure she’d earned them.
Yusuke sighed, leaning forward to begin speaking to her. Shinpi watched him, mildly interested but reserved.
“What?” Yusuke squinted at her.
“Amon-Shinpi.” She repeated offhandedly. “Iruni isn’t my real name and I see no reason to continue going by it in this situation. You don’t call Kurama Shuichi. I went over this with Kurama.”
He sat back and assessed her. “Amon-Shinpi is a mouthful though. We don’t call him Youko either.”
“M’lord works just as well.”
“You little shit. Don’t make me throttle you. I’m not fucking calling you that.”
She laughed, genuine and bright, a startling occurrence to both men, and then nodded.
“Yukina calls me Hichi.” She allowed, still smiling. “But that is for my closest friends. You may call me Shinpi.”
He nodded slowly, then went on. “Shinpi, or whatever, what’s your plan here?”
“I thought that was clear.”
“No, I mean, what is your plan? You know, over all? We were ordered to bring you in for questioning and you lost the sword you were looking for.” Yusuke leaned forward, one hand on his knee as he waved the other around. “You’re pretty much trapped here.”
“Ah, I see your confusion.” She nodded, her smile turning wicked. “You’re under the impression my being here is your idea.”
Hiei stiffened behind the glass.
“I will assure you, Detective Urameshi, my being drug here was my plan.” Amon-Shinpi leaned forward elbows on her legs and hands clasped together. “If I’m to accomplish my goals, I need Spirit World’s assistance. Hiro is powerful and I will defeat him. But to do that without interference from your team requires me to make it known ahead of time. If your lot appeared mid-battle, it would throw my strategy off. If I can land Koenma’s blessing for this then he won’t send his lackeys after me for the use of my energy.”
Yusuke leaned forward and opened his mouth, eyes falling into a dull stare as he considered her words. Then he closed it, continuing to stare. She waited for him to speak, her expression shifting into something lighter, more genuine again.
“You knew who we were at the beginning.”
“How long have you been planning this?”
“The goal has been the same for years. However, intertwining with your team was only recently a piece of the plot.” She explained.
“And you knew you’d get placed here?”
“It was a high probability.” She nodded. “Once you agreed to bring me I knew I would either have to fight you all to escape with the sword or I’d be forced to surrender. The former wasn’t even a real option. As it stands, the Jaganshi would have killed me without hesitation.”
“I wouldn’t have let him-“
“You can’t stop him.”
Silence followed the statement and Hiei shifted behind the glass, pushing off from the wall to stand straight and stare at the woman through the glass. Her eyes moved from Yusuke and they met Hiei’s through the glass. She stared at him too, almost as if she could actually see him. He wondered again if she could.
“I’ve seen his kind before. And they stop at nothing.”
Hiei narrowed his eyes.
Amon-Shinpi shifted her gaze then, back to Yusuke but her expression had grown grim. “Anyway, surrender was the only choice. And it allowed me access to Spirit World.”
“Did the SDF guys rough you up?” The sharp edge to Yusuke’s tone piqued her interest.
“You can’t blame dogs for their behavior when they haven’t been properly managed.” Shinpi told him lightly.
“I can. I’ll knock their teeth out.” He argued. “You can’t let people just beat you up, Shinpi.”
“Much like when Hiei threw me to the floor, I’m not in a positon to fight. I also don’t need your concern.” She spoke quietly, with more softness. “I assume you didn’t come here just to interrogate me. Your team has reached some decision.”
“Hiei is going to take a look at you.” Yusuke told her with a nod. “He’ll decide what happens next.”
Wrinkling her nose, she looked away from him, weighing her options. A dangerous bet. “And if I refuse?”
“Not an option, sorry.” Yusuke shrugged uselessly.
Even without being in her head, Hiei knew what she was thinking in that moment. Her expression gave her away. He might not have recognized it except that he’d seen it on his own face a time or two. And the others all at least once. In that moment, without hesitation, she had accepted the fact that she was about to die.
“So, I’m to undergo the Jaganshi’s assessment then.” Shinpi kept herself toward the door so she could see everyone in the room after Yusuke walked her back into the office. “That’s the price for your cooperation?”
“Don’t get ahead of yourself. No one agreed to work with you.” Hiei warned her. “This time tomorrow you might be wasting away in that little cell.”
“I’ll be dead, actually. No doubt the ruling will be execution if you find me guilty of anything. Spirit World won’t allow me to exist and prove they’ve made an error in their paperwork.” She corrected him without much care. “So the terms are either pass your test and get what I want, or fail and die. I’m used to working within those odds.”
“Are you saying you’ll go through with this test?” Kurama asked her carefully. “We’d like your consent.”
Her eyes flicked to him then back to Hiei. Huffing she offered a useless shrug. His casual allowance didn’t undermine Yusuke’s words from earlier.
“If it’ll ease your conscience, sure. I accept the terms I’ve been given and will allow the Jaganshi access to my mind.” Shinpi reached up and unbound her hair, pulling the ward out from the strands of black. Shredding the paper she gripped the tattered pieces in her fist.
Hiei stepped in front of her, the Jagan already open and boring into her with its relentless stare. Raising a hand in front of her face, his spread his fingers wide, so close she could trace the patterns that created his fingerprints.
“Stay still.” He warned her, closing his crimson eyes to focus his attention.
And just like that he began.
Chapter 6: The Condition
In which Hiei peruses Shinpi's memories and decides her fate.
Hiei had scanned memories before, to vet for Mukuro or the team mostly. Humans, in particular, starting their lives out in pitifully predictable ways. The first murky memories were always distant, soft, often soothing. The scent of a parent. The sensation of being held. Small, idiosyncrasies that human world alone indulged in. His first taste of Shinpi’s human memories weren’t what he expected. Firstly, they were incredibly sharp and clear.
Secondly, one of her first memories was of noise. Loud, indistinct voices. The words muddled together, but the emotion was clear. Anger. And then the sniffling, soggy eyed face of her human mother, bending over her and brushing hair away from her face, whispering with a broken smile. She didn’t seem to notice the blood dripping from her nostril.
But Shinpi did.
She noticed it all, her eyes captured everything her mother tried to hide. The bruises, the tears, the fear when her father walked into the room without a smile. The little girl with a mind older than the combined ages of her parents understood everything.
“I’ll protect you.” Her first sentence wrought tears from her mother’s eyes and sobs from her chest.
The woman clutched her close, buried her face in the little girl’s hair even as small, thin arms weaved around her. And it became an oath burned into every drop of blood running through Shinpi’s body. Protect her. The years wore on, and the abuse continued. The marks were mostly in places easy to cover.
The occasional black eye swallowed by layers of makeup.
When Shinpi was just over two-and-a-half, she had her first memory of her before life. It came suddenly, and unbidden, while her mother drove her to daycare and wind streamed in from the open car windows. A simple memory, but real nonetheless, of her playing in the air currents in her homeland.
She stared at her tiny fingers and palms, then curled them into fists and held tightly to that memory. More came after, and eventually, she had them all, but that first one was important. It reminded her who she was. What she was capable of.
Hiei found this oddly frustrating. What good was the information if she couldn’t use it? Her hopeful pride in that moment chafed him, because he’d have been irate. He chose to move on. The next set of memories didn’t sit any better with him.
When Shinpi was six, her father hit her for the first time. A backhanded slap across the face for interrupting him on a business call to ask for food. Her mother cried herself to sleep in Shinpi’s bed that night, apologizing over and over, but Shinpi simply told her to stop.
She had never expected this woman to protect her. There were fighters and there were victims, and this woman couldn’t raise her hand to save herself much less anyone else. It would be up to Shinpi, and remembering her utter failure to stop one power-thirsty bastard before she decided she would not make that same mistake again.
So Shinpi started to think, dream, and scheme. She had a family once before, she remembered, who loved her. A father who carried her on his shoulders and taught her the importance of healing, of patience and compassion. A mother who fought with all the grace of the wind, who told her to be strong and keep her head up no matter what. A sister who kept her spirit warm, who reminded her who she was when she got lost. A grandfather who laughed and told her she was just like him, a warrior and the world wasn’t ready for her. A younger brother who idolized her. And those loved ones were ripped from her without mercy.
She supposed, the time would come, when she should be the one to lack mercy.
Hiei’s thrum of annoyance was clear. None of this was what he cared about. He wanted to prove her a liar, a coward. The trivial details of her family life didn’t concern him. But he had to wade through the shallows if he wanted to get deeper.
When Shinpi was eleven, she had her first period and the pain was so intense she vomited on her sheets. Her father refused to clean them, told her to do it herself. He scolded her for staining her mattress. Her mother came to help, and he grabbed her by the hair and yanked her out of the room.
This was also when Shinpi realized she could feel the elements again, calling to her through the filament of her humanity. The water pipes in the bathroom burst, flooding the floor, when she walked out of her bedroom, shoulders squared and eyes glued to her fathers.
Whatever he saw on her face, it loosened the fist in her mother’s hair and allowed the woman to slump to the floor.
For the first time in over a decade, she grinned and it was the least human expression she had ever plastered over her features.
Hiei paused here, reassessing the emotions in the memory, the thrill of power. This was more of what he was looking for. Unlike the Shinpi before him now, this girl brimmed with rage and energy. It overflowed from her. He wondered what happened.
Her power had always been wound around her emotions and unlike before she couldn’t control herself. Every flicker of impatience, anger, frustration, sadness and guilt sparked some wild arch of her energy. So she saw herself as the danger she was, afraid of hurting her mother or some other innocent, and she bottled the power up so tightly it would never see the light of day. She worked day and night to collapse it against her bones, until no one would have been able to sense it. She created a void around herself, the absence of her energy unnatural and yet perfectly fitting for this unusual hell she’d found herself in.
Ah, so more of the same cowardice and hiding. That seemed about right to Hiei. But also, drive. She started training herself. Small things meant to build muscle and stamina, but she did them with great dedication.
During her childhood, she avoided making friends. She didn’t want anyone to come home with her. She didn’t want to go home with anyone else, because from her experience human parents were the worst. Her peers lamented their families constantly. Whining about all the rules and the misunderstandings. It seemed quite the bother for everyone and she had a hard enough time managing her family, she didn’t need the added stress.
By the age of thirteen, Shinpi had hit her limit. But she tried to quell her constant rage, eyes glued to the veneer of the table when her father bellowed his discontent with meals. She bandaged her mother’s cuts with light fingers and soft murmurs of comfort. And her mother would apologize, beg for forgiveness.
“I would never blame you for his sins.” Shinpi told her, one day, dabbing disinfectant on a cut along her mother’s collarbone. “He’s not one of us, we don’t really need him.”
“One of us?”
“What’s a Takani?”
“Our family. Peacemakers and warriors. Healers and kings. We come from a line of strength and that is still in us. He doesn’t have that. His anger is due to his weakness, not ours.” Shinpi explained softly. “Kuya, the mother of our line, she was brave. We are too.”
And her mother stared at her as though she’d become the moon, full of soft light and mysterious comfort. Shinpi looked back and offered a smile.
“We’re Takanis.” Her mother repeated, and it sounded like a chant.
“And no man will take that from us.” Shinpi nodded, leaning forward.
There wasn’t a day she didn’t regret that conversation. It had left a charred mark on her soul, leading to the tragedy it did. It was her fault, entirely. If she hadn’t put hope in her mother’s heart, lit that fire in her spirit, it wouldn’t have blazed so bright so quickly and burned their lives to the ground.
But then again, perhaps it was better to die fighting.
The regret, pain, felt fresh and new. Hiei rebuked against it, disapproving of the emotions while dismissing them. But the words were interesting, the sentiment in the moment ringing true and clear. Even in her hot anger she sought to offer comfort and hope. Unusual for a demon. More so, he supposed, for a human in her position.
She threw herself into her secret training. Developing her body as best as she could given her resources. Practicing her techniques even if she refused to call on her power.
That same year she noticed Shuichi for the first time, truly. They’d always been in school together, but he had never quite earned her interest. Not until she heard his guarded secret totally by happenstance, putting her violin in its case after a long practice for a concert coming up. He must’ve thought the school empty or her too oblivious to be a problem.
Or maybe his brash friend simply didn’t care for his privacy. Because the cloaked apparition had no issue calling him by that secret name here, of all places.
“Kurama.” The shorter boy approached, all harsh edges and darkness. “Let’s go.”
“Just another moment, Hiei, I’m nearly done.”
Shinpi pressed her right shoulder, then her back, against the wall near the cracked door of the music room. Her tongue stuck to the roof of her mouth as her eyes widened, while she desperately called on every trick she knew to cease the frantic rhythm of her heart.
Kurama. Minamino was speaking to a demon who called him Kurama. She’d heard stories of the thief. But this boy looked nothing like the man she’d heard described in legends. A flicker of hope ignited in her, and shaking, she dared to allow it to spark.
Could it be?
Was it possible?
Was there someone out there like her? The mere question made her look down at her hands with a smile, some lost part of her coming back to life as she considered the possibility. Another demon, buried in a human body like her. What could that mean?
Why did it give her hope?
Hiei startled at the memory. He hadn’t expected it. He turned over three times, searching for deceit and finding none. Simply hope. No ill will directed toward Kurama or himself. No reflex of using the information for her own gain. She had known for a decade, then, and had never uttered a breath. He scoured any thoughts connected to this moment and found them empty of malice. She didn’t trust Kurama, she didn’t particularly care for his charming personality, but it had never occurred to her to use his secret against him.
Because she still looked to him for hope. His strength and growth and family, it all meant something more to her. If this thief, known for his selfish antics, could find love and acceptance and humanity, surely she could too. And yet, her newer memories found this to be a childish wish. There was no hope for her. Only her path.
When she was fourteen, Shinpi came home to the usual sound of yelling. She dropped her backpack on the ground by the door, desperate to change out of her school uniform. The violin case came next, more gently. Her spine grew rigid as she turned toward the kitchen, eyes wide when she heard something new.
Her mother screaming back. Her tension ran down Hiei’s spine.
Her mother telling her father to leave. That they didn’t need him. That he would never lay a hand on them again. Not her, and definitely not her daughter.
They were Takanis, and they were stronger than he could ever understand.
“What the hell is a Takani?” He bellowed.
“Something amazing!” She screamed back, with all the fire of a dragon’s breath. Her words brought down the house around their ears, filling it with heat and power.
He slapped her as Shinpi came to stand with her toes just on the other side of the threshold of the kitchen’s entrance. And to everyone’s shock, her mother’s hand reeled back and her fist slammed against the side of his face in return. Her knuckles hit his jaw with a crack of thunder, and the sound of it echoed. It was her first and final act of defiance.
Muted pride, defiance, the passion of vindication lapped at the memory and Hiei in it. Shinpi’s reactions visceral and pure. And just as suddenly as their heat washed over her, it disappeared, replaced in seconds by the cold emptiness that haunted her most days still.
At the age of fourteen, Shinpi watched her father stab her mother in the stomach, chest and arms with a kitchen knife until she stopped twitching. Blood pooled under his socks, bringing a shine to the black cotton.
“Clean this up.” He spit at her, the bloody image of the barbarian he truly was.
Humans were the worst. Hiei had to agree. Even he found this moment distasteful.
Shinpi turned and walked into the living room. With purpose she stepped onto the navy blue couch, using the back of it to reach the red sheathed sword fixed to the wall. A family heirloom handed down on her mother’s side. A useless trinket, her father had called it repeatedly. He had laughed when Shinpi expressed interest in learning to use the sword.
He’d told her the damned thing didn’t even open. It was a piece of junk. Just like her mother. Joke was on him, though.
“And what are you going to do with that, worthless brat?” He stared at her from the kitchen’s threshold, blood streaking over his shirt and pants.
“That should be obvious. I’m going to kill you.” She told him with all the emotion of informing him of the weather.
“You’re a coward just like your mother. You won’t do anything.”
“I am a coward. That much is true.” She agreed.
She pulled the blade free of the sheath, holding it out to her side as she stared at him. He eyed the sword, then her, and she knew that look.
He was afraid of her.
And he had every good reason to be.
For fourteen years, she’d avoided the weapon. It reminded her too much of her failures. It was a relic that meant nothing but pain for her. Worse than that, she couldn’t control it. The flames had always danced with her emotions, but in this body her emotions had their own will. So when the fire came, she couldn’t stop it. Not that she had really tried.
Her father died screaming, full of fear and begging for mercy and it wasn’t enough. She wished she’d had time to make him fully understand. She wanted him to suffer as her mother had suffered for countless years, but the fire was raging and there was nothing for her to do. She wasn’t about to die with this worthless lump of quivering flesh.
So she grabbed her backpack, her violin and walked out the door until she got to neighbor’s house, an old woman who had always complimented her mother’s gardens. Hiei recognized the wizened face as the old woman who had spoken to Kurama outside Shinpi’s gates.
“My house is on fire.” Shinpi told the woman, surely covered in burns and blood. “Could you call the authorities?”
“Was anyone still inside?” The woman asked, seeming to already know the answer.
Shinpi didn’t answer her at first. “He killed my mother.”
“He must have gone mad, to kill such a lovely woman and then set the fire himself. You’re a brave girl, trying to save them.” The woman told her, an unspoken knowledge shining in her eyes. “A shame, truly. I’m sure he’ll have attempted to take his own life in the process.”
“I’m sure you’re right. I think I saw him attempt suicide with a sword.” Shinpi looked over her shoulder at the smoke pouring from the windows and the growing brightness engulfing her home. “Truly, some sort of madness.”
“Guilt erodes the mind.” The old woman stated and Shinpi nodded.
“Are you going to report me?” Shinpi asked and the woman merely smiled a particular kind of smile. It spoke they bonded by some truth. The smile of a kindred spirit.
“For what, dear?” The woman asked, the picture of doddering innocence.
She lost the sword that day. Initially, Shinpi had guessed the police had taken it. But eventually she came to understand a demon had whisked it away, sensing the flare of power she’d unleashed.
The pitiless reaction earned a modicum of Hiei’s respect. Maybe less, because she’d chosen then to slack off on her training. To give up for a while. But it also explained her connection to the blade and why it was so formidable. Koenma’s concerns rang valid. And with a sneer, Hiei realized he had gotten her. He had what he needed to put this coward out of her misery. But he delved onward, looking for more recent memories.
She spent some time somewhere foreign to him, surrounding by a few humans who held her closely and listened when she didn’t speak. It was oddly wonderful to her, their strange acceptance of her brusqueness and her cutting glares. The language they spoke was just as unfamiliar and unnecessary as their faces to him.
When Shinpi was fifteen, she sat across from Minamino Shuichi on a train and asked him if he loved his mother. He was quiet, but she’d heard his mother was incredible ill.
“Naturally.” He answered her, looking up from the book in his lap.
She nodded, her fingers tightening around the case of her violin. Then she slid out of her seat and waited for the doors of the train to open as they slid into her stop, her face surely contorted in shadow. She had wanted to ask more, but a new presence had forced her away.
Well, not new, just unfamiliar. That dark energy swirling around a body much too small to contain it all. She ducked off the train and let the dream of reaching out to Shuichi fall to the pavement.
They weren’t alike, after all, even if he was also a demon.
She couldn’t rightly claim to naturally love anyone, not even her mother, after what she had allowed to happen. That night, she said a prayer for his mother, wishing her well. It felt like a silly thing to do, reaching out to deities who probably didn’t exist, but it was all she had in her arsenal.
She heard later that Shiori Minamino made a full recovery, inexplicably, and she liked to think her prayer had landed on the right ears.
Months later, as she sat in the stands of a massive arena on an island full of demons, she watched as Shuichi, here known solely as Kurama, and his team battled against insurmountable odds. Every fight left her raw with amazement. Shinpi grew exhausted with how often this team deceived her sense of battle. Barely any fight came out as she called it.
What an invigorating thing, to be wrong when it wasn’t her life on the line.
“What’s he doing? He’ll never fight again!” She cried, grabbing Shikari’s arm as she gestured wildly toward the cocky demon calling on a power too wild for him to manage.
That’s how they met, Shikari and Shinpi. In the stands of The Dark Tournament, one of them petrified of Hiei’s Darkness Flame and the other so entirely invested in the match they couldn’t imagine dying. Shinpi pulled her hand back, suddenly realizing she’d grabbed a stranger, but grabbed Shikari again a moment later to haul her away from a stray bolt of flames that struck through their section of the seats.
She stood up right after, running to the railing separating fans from the arena floor and leaned over it, eyes wide and mouth in a full lilting grin. Hair blowing in the rush of energy, her body trembled with excitement. The cobalt of her eyes glittered in the face of the danger.
“You’re more dangerous than they are, aren’t you?” Shikari whispered, looking down at her with all the confidence of a startled rabbit.
Shinpi didn’t answer her, but instead offered only a look, and that was all it took. Shikari swallowed, and from that moment on, she stayed close to Shinpi throughout the matches and several times after that. Their loose alliance was less to do with any sense of companionship and more about need.
Hiei cared less about Shikari and more about how Shinpi had regarded him. He stuck here for longer than necessary, fidgeting with the memory as if savoring it. Rolling it around to memorize its edges. He didn’t like that she had seen them all in battle. It put everyone at a tactical disadvantage, and with little prodding, he found her thoughts mimicking that sentiment. But still, Hiei found himself partial to the way she thought of them. At the very least, it was interesting.
“What are you?” Shikari had asked at some point after, while they worked together to get the Infinity Chain Shinpi had set her mind on having. “Why aren’t you afraid of anything? These demons are powerful.”
“I’m afraid of plenty.” Shinpi remarked by way of answering. And Shikari accepted it, not delving further.
Shinpi met Genkai soon after, seeking out the old psychic after she’d been revealed in the tournament.
“I saw you fight.” Shinpi sat across from the old woman, sipping on jasmine tea.
“Then you should know I’m supposed to be dead.” Genkai snapped at her.
“You’re not the only one.” Shinpi set her cup down and just like that, she poured out her history to the old woman.
Her whole story, spilled out to this woman known for her ruthless nature toward demons. Shinpi would’ve called herself insane if she’d been able. This was the least sensible thing she’d ever done, but the gamble seemed sure to her. She couldn’t place why she thought Genkai would help her, but she did.
It was a gut feeling.
“You couldn’t have picked a worse time. I’ve got three snot nosed psychics coming to my door any minute.” Genkai complained. “I’m not a tutoring service, you know.”
“Psychics?” Shinpi frowned. “Does this have anything to do with the increase in apparitions?”
Genkai leveled her with a harsh stare, then smirked. “You might of use to me, Mikamoto. I’ll help you if you help me. Yusuke is a dumbass who gets easily distracted. Once I bring his attention to this matter, I want him to focus on it.”
Shinpi crooked and eyebrow, and with that conversation their allegiance and friendship was born. While Genkai ran Yusuke and his team around Mushiyori battling psychics and saving the world, Shinpi tracked down lower class apparitions that snuck through the gaps in the barrier, eliminating them with her Infinity Chain.
So the old woman and Shinpi had been in league for years under their noses. Hiei raged against that idea, but also, the shining respect in her memories of Genkai made it hard for him to argue her as a threat. She’d meant what she said, she valued Genkai and would listen to her.
Shinpi left Japan again, visiting more strange places full of foreign faces and languages. It seemed she crept her way back to the temple between these adventures, but she was still gone for months at a time. She went back to the place she’d gone when she was in her teens, reconnecting with those faces. Hiei didn’t understand it, her defiant loyalty to these useless humans who lived half a world away from her.
But whether he understood her motivation or not, he couldn’t deny the loyalty. It rang clear. Just as it did when she thought about the old woman who took her in after her house burned down or Genkai or Yukina. A piercing, relentless surge of protective loyalty surrounded all them. But eventually, she had to come back to Japan. She had to make decisions and live up to her name.
Over the following years, Shinpi visited the temple often. She met Yukina again, a charming apparition who had saved her before but didn’t quite know how they knew each other. They became friends. But Genkai alone truly understood the cryptic and guarded conversations she had with the young woman. She advised Shinpi to keep up her life, go to school, get good grades, maybe even a land a job.
Shinpi had always suspected that Genkai hoped she’d give up this relentless pursuit.
But she never did. And eventually, after years of searching and sifting, she finally found her chance. Shinpi caught wind, through Shikari, of the sword’s whereabouts. And a plan formed. Things were proceeding according to her whims when she found out about him.
He was looking for the sword and the woman who had owned it before it was stolen from the ashes of her home. The woman whose neighbors had heard her scream that she was a Takani. And since he wouldn’t find her, what with her being dead, he would find undoubtedly search out her daughter.
And the confrontation she’d been avoiding thinking about, yet mindlessly plotting, suddenly seemed too close. Her search for the sword escalated because if he was coming, she needed to be prepared.
So, she started to watch. Crouching in trees cloaked in darkness, looking for her way into the group of detectives so she could fulfill her plan. Wandering passed them on the streets. Eating at their ramen stands and playing near them in arcades. But it seemed fate had other ideas. Years had passed since the King’s Tournament and everyone knew Hiei’s status. He rarely entered Human World anymore, and when he did it was unlikely to see him in the cities. Only the temple. Her one relief in all of this was that she wouldn’t have to deal with him or his Jagan eye.
So why, for the love of the gods, was he staring at her through the branches of this tree in this damned park in the middle of this fucking city?
The plan adjusted from there. There wasn’t any time to wait for him to leave. She just had to figure it out. Play to their weaknesses. Infiltrate the group as quickly as possible. At this point it didn’t matter if they trusted her, as long as they needed her.
Hiei found this particularly vindicating and amusing. Her intense reactions to him held sharper edges than most of her other emotions. Good, he’d use that to his advantage. It also seemed that under the veneer of her neutrality, she was a whirlwind of quick thoughts and harsh emotions. Her mind picked out things he wouldn’t have thought to look for.
Her memories of Yukina were fond, warm and protective. Sincere dedication. Duty. Nothing Hiei needed to worry about.
Their fight had gotten to her. It made her feel weak, another point Hiei savored. But it also fueled her. She needed to get stronger. She needed the sword to even the gap.
Her conversation with Kurama hadn’t been as effective as the fox had thought. She’d been more than aware of his games the entire time and while Hiei guessed he should have been concerned, he more amused than anything else. She tolerated so much for her façade. Even Kurama tracking her through the city for two days before she spitefully planted his seeds by her gate.
Her fondness for Kuwabara too, seemed genuine. She felt him honest and refreshing, something to be molded and utilized. In Kuwabara she saw boundless potential that was going untapped and she wanted him to see it too. She would make him see it.
Hiei examined her thoughts that lead her through the warehouse. Through her fight. Her honor raging against the imposter. Her guilt at striking the woman. And her release at saying her own name. Worth it.
Was it though? It had lead her here to this office surrounded by members of Koenma’s little team, the Spirit Defense Force lurking outside, waiting for another chance to chain her up and beat her. Genkai at her side, quiet and strong as a pillar, a monument of patience and sardonic wisdom.
He stood before her with his hand out and the Jagan wide open, his presence in her head barreling through her lifetime of memories to decide if she had anything in her redeemable enough to merit saving. His crimson eyes closed in concentration, a crease settling into his brow. If he weren’t who he was, she’d have admitted he was handsome.
As it was, her shoulder hurt just looking at him.
He probably thought that was funny. Cocky little bastard. But his poor humor wasn’t her problem. His sense of morality was.
It was over before it started, in her opinion. Even with Genkai’s appraisal, they’d all go with Hiei’s decision. And she knew what he’d decide. She’d made her peace with herself before he’d even set eyes on her the first time. Hiei knew this was true. And her astounding ability to map out a situation was nearly mesmerizing as he watched it unfold.
In her mind there was nothing about her worth saving. She was a coward, a murderer, and a liar by default. Her mere existence was an affront to the senses, his probably more than any other.
Hiei opened his eyes slowly, but the Jagan didn’t close. He lowered his hand, scrutinizing the woman before him. The shreds of paper in her fist crinkled as her grip tightened, her eyes pinching and her lips pressing into a hard line. But her head remained high, her shoulders squared.
“What do you think?” Koenma prompted from behind him.
Hiei glanced back at the toddler, then disregarded him, instead choosing to focus solely on the woman.
“I already know what he’s going to decide.” She told them, so sure of her fate.
Hiei couldn’t allow that, could he?
“Shut up. Wait until you’re asked to speak.” Hiei told her firmly. “I have questions.”
She crooked an eyebrow.
“Do you still believe what you told Mirna?” He asked.
Hearing her human mother’s name spoken aloud sent a bolt of pain and reverence through her ribs. Shinpi couldn’t hide her shock, or confusion. Her eyes scoured over him.
“Yes.” She answered him in a hoarse whisper.
“Why didn’t you say anything about what you heard that day in the school?” He demanded, and she pulled her brows down.
His vague and yet precise questions confused her. She’d been anticipating accusations, details, contempt. This interrogation left her concerned, preparing for an attack. Hiei sort of enjoyed it, the power he had over her in this moment.
“Why would I?” She asked him in return.
“It would have made decent leverage.”
“I’m not interested in blackmail.”
He nodded, scanned the room, then let his gaze settle back on her once more. “My last question, before I make my decision. Why would you pray for someone you don’t know?”
“I didn’t realize knowing someone was a prerequisite for not wanting them to die.” She responded coldly. “She’s an important fixture merely for the reason that she is loved. Isn’t that reason enough to want her healthy and happy?”
Hiei turned to look at Koenma over his shoulder, his tone haughty. “Release her into Genkai’s care.”
“What?” Shinpi blinked at him repeatedly.
“I said to release you to Genkai.” He repeated, turning back to her with clear annoyance. “Is that a problem?”
“Alright.” Koenma frowned, leaning back in his chair but agreed. “If you think that’s best.”
“Well, on a condition, that is.” Hiei’s use of the phrase she’d trapped the team with raised the hair on her nape.
This was going to be worse than execution, she could already tell. Hiei’s lips pulling up in a harsh smirk, only served to confirm her belief.
“A condition?” Koenma asked. “What is it?”
“She’s got to beat me in a fight before she can get that sword back.”
Rotten bastard! She shook in her quiet anger. How dare he? Who the hell does he think he is?
Hiei looked at her over his shoulder, silently raising a finger to his temple and she paled.
“Oh, and no more seals. We’re all going to be allies from now on, so we won’t need secrets.” Hiei tacked on verbally, but his voice whispered through her mind. You should be happy, I just spared your life.
Her teeth sank into her bottom lip to keep her mouth closed. Hiei shoved his hands into his pockets, glowing with a disproportionate amount of self-satisfaction for his good deed. Walking toward her, he turned his attention to Genkai, that smirk still firmly in place.
“I’ll send word to Mukuro that my return will be delayed.” He told her. “Since I’m going to be so very busy helping Shinpi earn her sword back.”
Genkai offered a sagely nod, then glanced up at the woman next to her. Steam practically rolled off of Shinpi’s skin, but she said nothing.
“What do we do with the sword?” Kuwabara asked, gesturing to the scabbard on Koenma’s desk. “Does it go into the vault or what?”
“I’ll hold onto it.” Hiei offered, and no one missed the actual twitch that shook Shinpi’s body at the utterance of the words.
“Hiei’s really enjoying this, huh?” Yusuke leaned over to Kurama, who nodded back. “I haven’t seen him this happy since the barrier fell.”
“I agree. And I’m a little concerned.” Kurama admitted, quietly.
“Do I get any say in this?” Shinpi finally spoke up, her voice calmer than she expected it to be.
Hiei plucked her sword from the desk, offering her a look that boiled her blood. “You get to say thank you.”
Her teeth audibly clacked together, grinding as she clenched her jaw shut. Her eyes went to the sword then back to his face, then around the room, before closing. Her eyebrow twitched even as she took a deep breath in and let it out slowly.
“I have a request.” She ignored Hiei, stepping around him to see Koenma clearly. Before she could get interrupted she went on. “I’d like to train Kuwabara while I’m under Genkai’s watch.”
The room stopped. Then Yusuke snorted before falling into a fit of hysterical cackling.
“Damn, Kuwabara how fucking terrible are you at fighting that someone wants to train you while they’re on parole?” Yusuke jabbed at his friend, tears in his eyes.
“Shut up, Urameshi! She just seems my potential unlike your dumbass!” Kuwabara yelled back. “I think it’d be great, personally. I mean, come on, how often does a super cool demon take on a pupil? I’m all for it, especially if it means that I get to beat you.”
“Yeah right.” Yusuke chortled.
“Is this acceptable to you?” Shinpi looked away from the arguing boys to confer with Koenma. “Genkai and Hiei work to polish me or punish me, or whatever their goals are, and I work to strengthen Kuwabara.”
“Why do you want to do that?” Koenma asked her seriously. “I’m skeptical that a demon like you would do this out of the goodness of your heart.”
“Because I like him.” She shrugged and that was the end of the conversation.
Koenma squinted at her. She stared back, unfazed. Her hands slid into her pockets with a sigh and she turned away from him.
“Suit yourself. Master Genkai, whenever you’re ready.” Shinpi nodded to the older woman without a smile. They started to walk off together, side by side, chatting idly. When they passed Hiei, Shinpi didn’t bother lowering her voice. “The last demon who scuffed that scabbard was quartered.”
“Is that a threat?” He asked her, a little too hopeful that it was.
“Merely a statement of fact.” She responded coolly. Enjoy your meager, undeserved sense of power while it lasts.
“I’ll be sure to keep it somewhere safe then.” Hiei assured her darkly.
Brushing passed him, she groaned to Genkai. “I hope the baths are prepared. I feel like I just wallowed in a pit of filth.”
Hiei cut a glare at her back, his fingers tightening around the sheath.
“I thought you didn’t like babysitting.” Yusuke pointed out after a moment, grinning at Hiei. “Have you got a thing brewing for her?”
“What?” Hiei growled at him, disgusted. “This isn’t babysitting. It’s revenge. I’m going to utterly destroy her. She’ll never get this useless hunk of metal back.”
“Sure.” Yusuke nodded, not at all subtle with his tone. “Revenge.”
“I’d rather crawl into bed with an actual dog.” Hiei informed harshly. “That woman is vile. She’s mouthy and petulant, and overall a coward.”
“So why did you speak up for her?” Koenma asked him, clearly annoyed.
“Because, the one common thread through all of her memories was the desire to keep others safe. She might be a coward, but she’s a coward with honor.” Hiei snapped at the prince.
It was the truth, but only part of it. Her drive to protect others intrigued him, and it did speak of her character, but it wasn’t what had tipped his decision. He’d honestly still been more than willing to send her to the gallows, ready to gleefully announce how she’d murdered her father, until he’d seen her memories of the tournament. Vain, maybe, but her sense of amazement watching him fight pleased him. The Dragon of The Darkness Flame had never been done before, and it had leveled part of the stadium, but she hadn’t fled with the other cowards.
She’d run towards the fight full of the brightest emotions he’d felt while he’d been scanning her thoughts. Intrigue, wonder, happiness, awe and the unmistakable light of a competitive spirit. In the face of his overwhelming power her reaction hadn’t been to cower from it. She had wanted to challenge him. Her excitement lingered in his mind, thrilling with his own.
The others claimed she was powerful, once. She remembered it that way too. If that were true, he wanted to test it for himself. He knew she’d do just about anything to get her hands on this sword. He had no doubt she’d fight him tooth and nail for it.
It was purely selfish, giving her this pardon, but he wanted to see if she could really do it.
He wanted to know if at her best, she could beat him.
And he wasn’t going to give up until he found out.
Chapter 7: The Truth
In which Shinpi sulks, Hiei gets frustrated and Genkai reveals the trick to getting Shinpi to talk.
Shinpi lounged in the bath, hair piled atop her head, strands sticking to her cheeks and neck from the steam rising off the water. The hot water eased the aches in her muscles. The Epsom salts Genkai had suggested were wonderful, the herbs sprinkled into the water working with them to calm not just her wounds, but her ego.
The relaxation she’d eased into strained, her eyes opening slightly as she shifted in the water.
On a condition, that is. She’s got to beat me in a fight before she can get that sword back.
Her eyes closed again, nostrils flaring as she sank deeper into the water until it reached just under her nose. Forget him. Forget his petty smirk and his poor attitude. Forget the fact he had invaded her memories and used them to his advantage like the scoundrel she’d taken him for. Forget the pride on his face as he picked up her sword.
Forget the way he had lingered at the memory of her watching him fight for so long she relieved it twice while he turned it over.
Arrogance at its finest.
Just forget it.
And definitely don’t think about him invoking her human mother’s name. Don’t focus on how easily it rolled of his tongue, without hesitation, as if he’d known her all his life.
Do you still believe what you told Mirna?
No. Don’t think about it. Just don’t.
She sank deeper into the water until it came to just below her eyes, relaxing and allowing the heat to invade her.
I’ll be sure to keep it somewhere safe then.
She dunked under the water, no longer bothered with getting her hair wet as she pressed herself down to the bottom of the bath. Surrounded as she was this way, her senses dampened, her mind quieted down. This was the right way, her way. Water had always been there to comfort her. If she had gills, she might never find a reason to step onto land again except to experience the sensation of wind over her skin.
By the time she left the bath, the water had grown tepid, and so had her temper. Complacent for the moment, she wandered through the halls of the temple to find the room Yukina had arranged for her. She didn’t make it far before her feet came to a stop, heavy lids raising only slightly to assess her roadblock.
Hiei regarded her, head to toe, looking thoroughly unimpressed.
“Is my robe not to your standards?” She asked him blandly, wrapped in the temporary garment with her bag of clothes and toiletries dangling from her hand. “You seem like you’re dissatisfied with something.”
“You’re not on vacation.” He told her, eyes narrowed.
“Alright.” She didn’t react to his statement.
“You took your time in the bath.” Hiei pointed out, as if this bolstered his point.
“Do you not bathe?” Shinpi asked him calmly, head tipping only barely to the right.
Hiei faltered, surprise then annoyance flitting across his features before he stepped closer to her. “Don’t get smart.”
“Apologies, I hadn’t realized intelligence could offend you. I’ll try to keep myself at your level.” She crossed her arms, not smiling.
“What did I just say?” Hiei growled at her. “While you’re in there taking your sweet time, you could be training.”
“Oh, is that what’s bothering you? You can relax. I have no intention of fighting you.” Closing her eyes, Shinpi moved to walk around him.
Hiei’s eyes flashed wide, his mind processing what she’d just told him. On autopilot his arm shot out across her body, wrapping around her far shoulder and stopping her in her tracks. His fingers tightened as he understood her, his eyes moving to watch her from the side.
Her eyes opened too, slowly and with clear aggravation.
“What do you mean you have no intention of fighting me?” He demanded. “I’ve got your precious sword, the whole reason you did all of this-“
“Should I doubt your honor, Hiei?” She asked him and the ice in her tone made him clench his jaw. “I had taken you as a man of your word.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You told me you’d keep it safe, didn’t you?” She brushed his hand off of her with her own scowl, turning to face him. “As long as you’re being honest, I have no reason to fight you. The sword is safer in your hands at this moment than it would be in mine.”
He blinked once.
“If Hiro were to come for me today or tomorrow or even this week, I wouldn’t be able to defeat him. And honestly, I’d rather die than be captured. If the sword is safe from him, and he kills me, his mission will be a total failure. So, really, you’ve done me a kindness in confiscating it.” She informed him, her scowl slowly turning into a shit-eating-grin. “As long as you have that sword, I have nothing to worry about.”
Hiei stepped forward, leering over her with a snarl.
“Are you really content with that? With your precious artifact in my care?” He demanded of her. “I thought better of you.”
“You thought I’d show you my all, didn’t you?” She grinned up at him and it wasn’t a friendly expression. “I could tell from the way you focused on my memories. I’ll admit, I had to think on why you would speak up for me, but I eventually figured it out. You’re selfish and prideful. It would make sense for a small minded creature like yourself to crave victory over me. No doubt Koenma regaled your lot with legends, right? And you wanted to test me to see if they were true.”
Her words struck at the truth and he hated her for it.
“Except you didn’t take one thing into account.” She tilted her face up and a devilish light grew in her eyes.
“What’s that?” He asked her harshly.
“My utter and total lack of respect for you as a warrior.” Shinpi told him, lowering her voice as if she were whispering her needs to a lover. One finger traced down his cheek and jaw line, her body nearly leaning into his while her teeth bared in that hateful grin. “I don’t fight dogs, Hiei. So you might as well run home and sit at Mukuro’s feet where you belong, and beg her to forgive your absence like a good pet.”
She pulled away from him, jutting her chin upwards and watching his anger bubble up from the pits of his being. He hunched his shoulders forward, teeth bared as he fixed her with a heated glare.
“Shut your-“ He started to raise his voice immediately and her grin only grew.
Until her expression broke, eyes darting to the side as another voice interrupted them softly. Hiei glanced over to Yukina too, sure his fury was still painted over his features.
“You’re supposed to be resting!” Yukina scolded immediately, coming down the hall. “You heard what Genkai said! You need to heal up before you can start training.”
Hiei pulled back, confusion sweeping over him.
“Yes, I know. I was just on my way to bed when Hiei stopped me for a chat. That’s all. I promise I’m not fighting, Yukina.” Shinpi sighed. “Right, Hiei?”
Her trying to pull him into her deception made him snort.
“I heard Hiei yelling.” Yukina pointed out with a frown.
“Yes, because he didn’t like our discussion. But I very plainly told him I wasn’t going to fight him.” Shinpi explained, opening her hands in a wide gesture. The movement caused her robe to fall down her shoulder. She pulled it back up quickly. “There it is, Yukina. It’s not my fault he can’t take no for an answer.”
“You two are impossible.” Yukina complained, hands on her hips. “I can’t have you shouting at each other and bickering all the time. Honestly. Hichi, get to bed. Hiei, leave her alone.”
Hichi? Hiei stared at Shinpi, scanning her. Yukina hadn’t seemed to see it. Blue eyes moved to meet his, a barely apparent squeeze of the lids warning him to keep his mouth shut for once. It happened in an instant, but he understood. He pulled back, nodding, mostly to Yukina but also the woman beside him.
Why she’d want to keep the handprint he’d left on her a secret wasn’t his business, but he would abide her will on this one. Yukina would go off on him if she saw the mark. He hadn’t even meant to leave one, but he must’ve grabbed Shinpi’s shoulder with too much force to stop her from getting around him. He’d been distracted by his thoughts, not paying attention to his actions. Still, for her to not react at all in the moment, it proved she was stronger than Yukina thought. The mark was already an angry bruise, it must’ve hurt.
“Fine.” Hiei shoved his hands into his pockets, closing his eyes. “You’re spared for the moment, Shinpi. We’ll finish our conversation tomorrow.”
“I’ll wait with bated breath.” She nodded to him curtly, then followed Yukina to her room.
Hiei glared at her back then strode the opposite direction. He found Genkai outside in the garden, sitting on a boulder with a cup of tea. She didn’t say anything as he walked up to her but he knew she was waiting for him. The old woman had that habit.
“She’s a handful, isn’t she?” Genkai asked him, teacup still held up to her mouth before she sipped.
“She’s all but impossible to deal with.” Hiei agreed. “Every time she opens her mouth I want to smack her.”
“Suppress the urge if you can. Once you get passed that part things get interesting.” Genkai assured him with a knowing smile. He looked her over. “She’s got a wealth of knowledge behind her, Hiei, and even you could stand to learn something from her.”
“Be as contrary as you’d like, but there was something about her you wanted to preserve otherwise you would’ve told Koenma and the others the truth.” Genkai told him easily, turning her attention upwards.
“I wanted a fight. It seems I’ll be left wanting.” Hiei complained. “A waste of my time.”
“She’s going to be raw with me over it, but I’ll tell you one of her secrets.” Genkai unraveled herself, coming to standing on the boulder so she could look down at Hiei. “Amon-Shinpi doesn’t lie unless it is the absolute only option. She’ll tell you as much of the truth as she can, treating any hidden details as erroneous, but she won’t lie. She might choose not to speak at all in some cases.”
He thought back on their encounter in the hall, her haughty speech about why she wouldn’t fight him. Yukina had accidentally offered the whole the truth though, pointing out that Genkai had forbidden the act. A detail Shinpi hadn’t thought to mention. It had been misleading.
“Why does that matter?” He asked Genkai cautiously.
“Because once you know she won’t lie to you, all you have to do is learn to ask the right questions.” Genkai jumped off the boulder and landed easily on her toes, making her way for the temple. “Questions, perhaps, along the lines of why her opinion of you became so tainted so quickly and what that has to do with Mukuro.”
Hiei considered it, nodding slowly. Then his eyes opened wide as he jerked his body around to face Genkai’s retreating figure, a memory bursting to the surface.
“Back then, when you said she wasn’t interested in fighting me,” Hiei demanded, surprised, “that wasn’t about the seals at all, was it? You were telling me that she didn’t see me a worthy opponent. And you knew I’d get a chance to search through her head, didn’t you?”
Genkai turned to him, already up the steps, and her grin looked a little too familiar to the one the blue eyed woman had worn not long before.
“Like I said, Hiei, you could stand to learn something from her.” Genkai told him.
And he realized, that it wasn’t just Genkai who had known what would happen when Yusuke accepted the woman’s condition.
It had been her.
Shinpi had come to the temple knowing the team would be there. She’d called ahead to Genkai to arrange it. The old woman had no doubt discussed the issues of her plan with her then, and Shinpi had outlined her corrections. When the woman had offered her condition, Genkai hadn’t been the least bit surprised. Annoyed, more than anything. Kurama had found that unusual.
But it made perfect sense to Hiei now, because Genkai shouldn’t have been surprised. Shinpi had already crafted the plan and run it by her.
That’s why the old woman had been so insistent Shinpi wasn’t their enemy. Stubborn but not inherently evil, that’s how she’d described the woman.
By the time he realized the depth of the plot, Genkai’s grin had grown, patronizing wisdom glaring at him over the distance of the garden. He straightened himself, looking up at her as she stood on the steps.
“You get it now?” She asked him.
He smirked, a glint entering his crimson eyes as he lifted his chin. “Yes.”
Now all he had to do was figure out how to use this new information to get what he wanted out of the woman. He decided to start by following Genkai’s advice. Ask the right questions. Accept her partial truths.
Tomorrow he’d start by finding out what she found so upsetting about him and Mukuro.
Chapter 8: An Inch of Progress
In which Hiei manages to gain a little ground in his goals and weasels information and a promise from Shinpi.
Shinpi bobbed and weaved around the punching bag, flashing out strikes against it with her taped fists and wrapped legs. Bouncing on her toes, she flitted, spinning and landing a strike with her forearm. Then her left leg. Then right elbow. And around she went, pumping out punches and kicks against the swaying heavy bag until the sound of the floorboards creaking sent her rolling over the floor, a glare aimed at the intruder as she tensed to spring forward.
“There’s that vicious look again.” Hiei commented. “You seem to be recovering well.”
Shinpi slowly unwound herself, rising to her full height to stare back at him where he leant against the doorway. Offering no response, she looked toward the punching bag. Then slowly back at the apparition now blocking the only exit.
“You looked like you knew what you were doing.” Hiei went on, gesturing loosely to the bag. “Did you wrap your legs yourself?”
“What do you want?” She demanded, cutting him off. “You didn’t come here for small talk.”
“I had some questions.” He nodded at her curt tone. “When you have a moment.”
“Sure.” Shinpi then flipped back onto her hands, twisting to wrap her legs around the punching bag. Pulling herself to sitting she threw her weight back, twisting once more with such force it snapped the chain. When she landed on the floor, the bag still between her thighs she landed three powerful punches where a chest and then face might be, if perhaps someone Hiei’s height had been caught in the attack.
Getting off the bag, she stood up and straightened her clothes, walking to her water bottle and taking a hearty drink before nodding to Hiei.
“Go on.” She allowed, thoroughly unimpressed with his mere presence.
“I thought you weren’t supposed to be training.” Hiei pointed out, toeing the bag as he moved toward Shinpi.
“I thought were here to ask me questions, not annoy me with your observations.” She rebutted, beginning to peeling the tape from her fists.
Genkai’s words came back to him, and he decided to test their merit.
“Fine, I’ll rephrase it. Does Genkai know you’re training?” Hiei poised the question.
Shinpi eyed him, then offered a singular silent nod. Her eyes scanned over him, then around the room for a brief second. “You’re baiting a conversation. Why?”
Hiei started, surprised. When he didn’t answer immediately, Shinpi turned to face him again.
“What information are your probing for? I know when I’m being interrogated.” She told him coldly. “Your body language is stiff. You’re being unusually careful with your words and tone. You’re not very good at this.”
“This isn’t an interrogation, it’s a conversation.” Hiei pointed out. “I wanted to ask you about something Botan told the team before we encountered you.”
She waited for him to go on, clear suspicion lining her expression.
“When we were warned about facing Amon-Shinpi, Botan told us he was a formidable demon who had faced Mukuro twice and won. I want to know more about that.” Hiei pried, easing into the subject as best he could. Jumping right in seemed out of the question. “And maybe you could explain why she thought you were a man.”
“Because of the mask.” Shinpi answered easily, waving her hand through the air, but offered no elaboration. “You’re Mukuro’s lapdog, why don’t you ask her?”
“I’m asking you.” Hiei stated firmly.
They stared at each other, caught in a moment of silence. Hiei went to ask again, but Shinpi spoke first.
“Are you hoping for some incredible tale?” Shinpi asked him emptily. “Some sense of what your master was like before she softened herself? I’m not interesting in feeding into fantasies, especially not yours.”
“You’re avoiding the conversation.” Hiei pointed out. “Why don’t you want to talk about the only victory that I can for certain say you have to your name?”
Just as Genkai had warned him. Shinpi would rather not speak at all than lie. Hiei found it interesting that this is the conversation in which she was choosing to be silent. He had imagined she’d revel in her victories, it seemed the sort of vain thing she’d subscribe to.
“You don’t think of them as victories.” Hiei realized suddenly, eyes widening. “Why?”
“For the same reason I couldn’t count throwing you onto the ground as a victory.” Shinpi answered quietly, glaring a hole into the floor as her fists curled at her sides.
Hiei understood. Her victory over him had been short lived, he’d retaliated immediately and it had resulted in a stalemate. Had her fights with Mukuro been the same? An enemy out of her league that she’d managed to only momentarily disable?
“Is that why you hate Mukuro?” Hiei asked, mildly confused. “Because you couldn’t beat her?”
“No.” Shinpi responded, voice turning to acid. “That is not why.”
“Genkai told you.” Shinpi stated this as fact, not bothering to elaborate on what she meant. “And you use this information to ask me why I despise Mukuro?”
Not hate. Despise. An interesting correction to his statement, Hiei figured.
“It was suggested that your feelings toward Mukuro would explain your opinion of me.” Hiei acknowledged.
“I’ll save you the history lesson, Jaganshi, and skip ahead to what I feel for you.” Shinpi offered, capping her water bottle. “I admired your courage and power, but you knew that. You reveled in it. I loathe you now, for that exact arrogance. For your inflated sense of worth. For turning the power you worked so hard for against the people that trusted you. You chose to side with Mukuro in what would have been a war instead of your allies. You spit your insults at me, but at least when I had power, used it to help those that counted on me.”
Hiei remained quiet, his jaw tightening as she spoke. The heat in her words and the sudden break in her stoic mask put him on edge. A snarl on her face, fire in her eyes, she looked nothing like the woman she’d been seconds before. He wondered what this version of her might be like, how she’d respond if he lunged at her. Would she go left, right, or face him head on?
“So, it’s a matter of principle then.” Hiei surmised, keeping his tone lofty. “I’ve insulted your already worthless honor by not living up to your arcane standards. Only the strongest survive in our world, why wouldn’t I follow Mukuro?”
“You’re not a very good liar.” Shinpi leaned forward to warn him.
“What part do you think I’m lying about?” Hiei wanted to know, sheer curiosity driving the question.
But realizing she’d pulled at the correct thread, Shinpi didn’t answer. Her anger melted away into spite, a wry smile stealing over her features. Hiei had come here to get to her, it was an obvious enough ploy. He wanted to goad her into an altercation. However, now she was the one who was in control of the conversation.
Without answering him, she tilted her head to the side. “How did Mukuro pry such strong loyalty from you? Surely it wasn’t just her charm. No. It must have been something you wanted that you couldn’t attain for yourself.”
“Are you suggesting I’m charming enough on my own?” Hiei asked her, raising his eyebrows.
“Power? You could have attained it on your own.” Shinpi walked closer to him, the careful quiet footsteps of a predator. The wry smile continued. “Fortune? You’re a thief. Maybe it was the prestige? But again, I think working with Urameshi would have afforded you that in some way. No, it was something else. Ah. I think I’ve got it.”
Shinpi stopped so close to him they could have brushed against one another.
“Acceptance.” Shinpi told him, eyes watching every subtle change in his expression. “Mukuro took a look at you and when the rest of Makai was ready to boil you alive for your sins against your own, she took you in. It would be sweet if it didn’t benefit her so greatly.”
“Watch it.” Hiei warned her, no longer in the mood for her conversational origami.
“Do yourself a favor and when you crawl home to your master, ask her the questions you’ve been asking me.” Shinpi pulled back, spinning on heel. “See if you’re still interested in pursuing this worthless vendetta then.”
It wasn’t until she’d been gone for several minutes that Hiei realized what had happened. She’d usurped the conversation entirely, avoiding his questions and putting him on the defensive. Growling, he kicked the heavy bag, forcing it to roll roughly over the floor.
“Bitch.” Hiei seethed, glaring at the doorway. “I’m going to rip her in half.”
“How are you feeling?” Yukina asked Shinpi as they sat down for lunch, Genkai taking the head of the table.
“My head is still a little fuzzy, honestly.” Shinpi admitted, sounding mildly annoyed.
“Maybe you shouldn’t have been flipping around the training room like an idiot then.” Genkai pointed out, offering a stern glare. “What were you hoping to accomplish, exactly?”
“Nothing, I suppose. I just wanted to move some, but when the Jaganshi came in I may have lost my temper.” Shinpi offered the information readily, looking less than pleased. “I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t offer him any friendlier advice on how to interrogate me.”
Yukina looked between the two women with a frown.
“I merely informed him you aren’t a liar, dimwit. Not to mention, you two will need to learn to speak to each other without it coming to blows.” Genkai snapped. “Your skull is harder than Yusuke’s, you know. Instead of inciting a rage, you could have just humored him.”
“Hard pass.” Shinpi closed her eyes, taking a bite of food. After swallowing she went on. “I have no reason to get along with such a petulant, arrogant fool.”
“Funny, I was thinking the same of you.” Hiei announced, taking a seat across from Shinpi at the table, nodding to Yukina as thanks for his food. “Artful and shameless retreat you made earlier. It must be your signature move to run away from your problems.”
Yukina sighed, giving up on any idea of peace for the moment and instead silently eating her food.
Shinpi went on eating in silence. Hiei stole a glance at her face and saw her eyes were closed. Raising his eyebrows he chose to continue eating in silence as well.
“I’m going to make you two hold hands all day if you don’t start learning to at least pretend to get along.” Genkai warned them both, earning empty stares. “Whether either of you likes it or not, you’re a team. Hiei, your job is supposed to be protecting and training Shinpi. Shinpi, your job is supposed to be working with Hiei.”
Shinpi pushed away from the table abruptly, not bothering with the rest of her meal. Without a word she walked out of the room and a few seconds later, out of the temple altogether.
Yukina eyed the half-eaten meal with a worried frown, then moved her attention to Genkai. “She won’t do it, you know.”
“I know.” Genkai sighed, annoyed. With a stare, she leveled Hiei. “If someone could’ve kept his mouth shut and his grudge to himself, this would have all gone more smoothly for everyone.”
Hiei huffed to himself, rolling his eyes away from the old woman. He wasn’t about to point out that it wasn’t a grudge that fueled him, but curiosity. He wanted to fight Shinpi, the Shinpi who had seen him at his then-best and craved a challenge. The woman he was dealing with felt like a paltry substitute.
“She’ll come around if she wants her sword back.” Hiei pointed out.
“Oh, you.” Yukina fussed at him, pursing her lips. “You don’t get it at all. Shinpi may be hard headed, but at least she sees clearly. You’re letting your goals blind you.”
“To what?” Hiei drawled, annoyed but not wanting to snap at his twin.
“You’re not the only prideful creature in the temple anymore.” Yukina explained then nodded toward the window. Hiei glanced out it, then back to the ice maiden. “Shinpi is doing this all for a reason.”
“Yeah, because of some fool named Hiro. I’m aware of her motives.”
“You aren’t.” Yukina assured him. “Hiro is her target, but he isn’t her goal and he isn’t what drives her.”
That gave the fire demon reason to pause and think. After a moment of consideration, he looked over at Genkai, who nodded without a word.
“I was asking the wrong questions.” Hiei spoke, mostly to himself, regrouping mentally. A new plan of attack was needed then.
Fuming, Shinpi marched around the temple toward the gardens. The wind whispered around her ankles, and she ignored it. This was going to be harder than she’d thought. Dealing with Hiei and his prying, his hunger to prove his strength over her.
Picking up a chunk of wood and an axe, she started to split firewood. Her mind wasn’t in the task at all. To avoid stewing in her frustration with Genkai and Hiei and the world at large, she started to make plans for the space around her. Yukina had expressed she’d like a greenhouse to keep some plants for the winter. And a trellis or arbor. Some benches so people could come out and enjoy the space. It would be a commitment, but she had time to waste. She could transform this space into the thing of magazines and dreams.
Movement to her left earned her attention, expecting Hiei but finding a cumbersome demon approaching. Her lips pulled up to the left.
Being sequestered in the mountains did have its perks. Spinning the axe in her fingers, she planted it in the ground. She’d get to practice on some moving targets which had always been far more satisfying than punching bags. Plus, it would alieve some of her aggression.
Shinpi took a step backwards, the outside of her foot barely grazing a small clay flower pot. Her lips quirked up on the left side, the movement of casting the pot at her attacker too quick for them to defend against. The pot shattered on its arm and Shinpi took the moment to advance. Her fist slammed against their raised forearm, forcing them to stagger from the impact. Spinning she made to kick them, this attack getting deflected. The demon shoved her away.
“Well. Things are finally getting interesting.” Shinpi smirked at her opponent and they launched into a lightning quick trade of blows.
Ducking under a kick, Shinpi launched upwards, slamming her elbow into the side of the demon’s head. It grabbed her and did a semi-circle, throwing her over the wood pile she’d been working on. He picked the hatchet out of the ground and spun it in his long fingers. Scrambling on her back, Shinpi rolled and crawled to escape the downward strike he used to try to embed the tool in her. The blade of the hatchet bit into the ground beside. Immediately, Shinpi threw her arm over that of her attacker and throwing her weight onto her shoulder blade and bucking her knees into his chest. Using the moment to flip over, she got to her feet and pulled the weapon out of the ground.
Panting, she came at him. Far more precise and vicious, she landed three shallow blows against his arms before the blade got stuck in a tree to their left. Growling, she released the handle and punched him across the face. He raised his hand to strike her back when the point of a sword showed through his chest, a quick spray of blood following. Stepping back, Shinpi glared at Hiei as the body dropped off his blade.
“I thought you were too weak to fight.” Hiei told her, tone biting.
“I never said that.” She pointed out, wiping sweat off her forehead. Her hand came away tinged red from the droplets of blood that had hit her face. Making a face, she shook her hand to clear the wetness from her skin.
“Semantics.” Hiei argued. “If you can flit around swinging axes, you can spar.”
“Sound logic if we were discussing sparring, but we weren’t. We were discussing whether or not I’m fit enough to fight you. I’m not.” Shinpi wiped her hands on her pants, yanked the axe out of the tree and back to the wood pile. “Come to continue your pointless interrogation?”
She set up a piece of wood and waited for him to answer while she swung down and split it. Hiei watched her for a few strikes before finding the right arrangement of words. Having to slow down and pick his phrasing was a frustrating hindrance.
“What does Mukuro have to do with Hiro?” Hiei finally just spit out the question. The axe bit into the chunk of wood and got stuck.
Shinpi stared at it for a minute, then let go of the handle. She didn’t answer him.
“Fine. Why are you so determined to kill Hiro? What is he to you? What do you get out of this?” Hiei chose a different path and watched her grow impossibly more still. Her eyes remained fixed the axe handle.
“Don’t you have children to terrify?” Shinpi asked him, swallowing. Her jaw tightened around the words. “Or perhaps a village to raze?”
“You’re avoiding answering.” Hiei pointed out. “I’m only going to keep asking.”
“Yes, I have heard of your propensity for torture.” She acknowledged. Then she lifted the axe, the wood coming with it and slammed both against the stump she’d been using as a baseboard. The wood splintered into fragments.
Hiei raised his eyebrows.
“I don’t care what Yukina says. Or Genkai. You’re a selfish creature driven by your pride and your need to prove your worth.” Shinpi told him. “You and Mukuro deserve each other. And just like her, you’ll turn your back on your friends when they need you because it won’t serve you in any way to save them. And they’ll die and you won’t feel an ounce of regret because any life that isn’t your own has no worth to you.”
Shinpi pulled the axe up and then grabbed another piece of wood. Hiei stared at her, surprised by the outburst.
“I don’t understand.” He told her after a moment.
“How could you?” She demanded, a sharp inhale following the words. “Like I said, you two are the same. Only this time I have the experience to see you for what you are.”
“I’m not Mukuro.” Hiei told her. “And I haven’t turned my back on my allies.”
“Allies. You’ve known them for the better part of a decade, maybe longer, and when you think of them, they still aren’t your friends.” Shinpi told him.
Hiei frowned at her. “Your deference for language is going to an issue.”
“A temporary one, I can promise you.” She assured him. “Once I get done with Hiro you won’t have to worry about my deference for anything.”
“Because?” Hiei titled his head.
She looked at him oddly, raising her eyebrow. “Because I’ll be dead. I thought I’d made that obvious.”
Hiei barked a laugh. “You’re more of a coward than I took you for.”
“Upset you won’t be the one to drive a blade into my chest?” Shinpi asked him with a snarl.
“Spirit World made you seem like some sort of legendary creature. You thought of yourself as one. I’ve been stuck with a whining ghost of an apparition.” Hiei scoffed. “A pathetic, pale image of what you used to be.”
Shinpi picked the axe up and judged its weight in her palm.
“Honestly, it probably would have been kinder of I’d left you to be executed.” Hiei shook his head.
And that was all Shinpi needed. That fraction of a second of his attention to not be directly on her. Suddenly her leg pulled his out from under him, forcing him backward, an elbow across his jaw, knocking his chance at balance away from him. He hit the ground. Shinpi grabbed his hair, yanking his head to the side, and the upper corner of the axe bit into the ground by his exposed throat, the blade resting against the thin skin just close enough to barely break through. A thin line of blood welled up and slid along his neck down to the grass under him.
Hiei stared up into the face of the woman pinning him down, her knee pinned into his diaphragm, her nails digging against his scalp. Her lips lifted back and revealed teeth that looked ready to tear into his flesh. She leaned closer to him.
“You’re right, I’m not how I used to be. I used to be faster and I would not have hesitated to take off your head.” She hissed at him, her voice so dangerously low, he raised his eyebrows.
Then she crouched over him, weight supported on her arms and toes as she hunkered down, eyes scanning the forest close to them. Hiei’s position allowed him the advantage of watching her expressions without any barriers. Shinpi squinted, gaze darting and then she pulled her lip back over her teeth.
“We’re being watched.” She spoke like a breeze, so quiet he almost didn’t hear her.
“How many?” Hiei asked her, tensing as he prepared himself for a fight.
“Too far away to count.” She admitted. “My senses aren’t what they were. But I can feel it on my nape.”
Hiei cautiously lifted one hand, and rested his fingers on the base of her neck to feel the hairs raised there. Curious. She had sharper senses than she gave herself credit for because he hadn’t noticed a thing. Or she was just paranoid and on edge, sensing something that wasn’t there.
Shinpi went rigid, a snarl tearing from her as Hiei wrapped his hand around the back of her neck. He rolled them both, pinning her to the ground with a hand splayed over her upper chest, crimson eyes sweeping over the area. With a tilt of his head he closed his eyes and allowed the Jagan to open. She watched him, so still she might have been carved from stone. When Hiei opened his eyes again, he glanced down at her, something near fascination playing in his eyes for a single second.
“What is it?” She asked him, tilting her head back to keep the tree line in her sight.
Hiei trained his hand upwards, fingertips grazing her exposed throat. Again, she went into that utter stillness but this time he didn’t mistake it for anything but what it was. Not an act of defense but one of preparation. The tension of an ambush predator waiting to spring.
“There is no one watching us from the forest.” Hiei told her, removing his hand from her throat and teetering back off of the balls of his feet to place his heels on the ground. He remained in his position over her.
“So Koenma, then.” She assumed, making a face. “His semi-omnipotence is an unfortunate thorn in this already dangerous patch of roses I’ve found myself in.”
“That intelligence of yours will get you into trouble.” Hiei warned her, tapping a finger between her eyebrows. “I also doubt it was you he was watching.”
She glared at his hand before he withdrew it. “You then?”
“Likely.” Hiei agreed. “The others fear for your safety under my care.”
“Care is a generous term.” She stated dryly.
Hiei’s lips pulled up into a smirk, a little vicious and completely smug. “I’m a generous man.”
“I suppose you haven’t outright murdered me yet.” She allowed darkly. “Though it’s only been a day, so, you’re probably working your way up to it.”
“I have no intention of soiling my hands with your pathetic blood.” Hiei assured her, tilting his head again as he looked down at her. “I want to know I’ve beaten you at your best. That will take time. And time is something we both have in abundance at the moment.”
Shinpi remained silent under him, but her anger was palpable. He couldn’t help stoking those flames a little. Her attitude drew it out of him, this malicious streak.
“And Genkai has a point, it’s my job to keep you safe.” Hiei went on, and he knew her damnable pride would reel against him for it.
“I don’t need your protection, lapdog. Get off of me.”
“Until you show me your teeth, demon girl, I’ll have to use my discretion on that matter. And my assessment is that in the first thirty-six hours you’ve been here at the temple you’ve already been attacked by a stray demon.” Hiei pointed out.
“I have to fight you to prove I don’t need your help.” Shinpi stated and her jaw tensed around the words.
“What else do you have to fight for?” Hiei asked her and the flash of his teeth sent a thrill down her spine she hadn’t anticipated.
“My family.” Shinpi told him and it came out in a breath, not a hiss like she’d wanted.
“Your family?” Hiei leaned forward onto his toes, one hand resting on the ground over her shoulder so his face hovered over hers. “Mirna and your wretched human father?”
The fact he remembered her human mother’s name and not her father’s knotted her stomach in a way she didn’t enjoy. But she shook her head the barest inch.
“The Takanis.” She clarified and again, it was quieter than she’d meant it to be.
“Hiro killed your family?” Hiei surmised and she stared at him.
“I don’t like hearing his name.” Shinpi pressed her lips into a line. “I don’t like being reminded of his existence at all.”
“Did Hiro kill your family?” Hiei pressed, eyes narrowing slightly.
Her eyes pinched closed and her fingers dug into the ground her them. The wind circled them, playing between their and it grew cold despite the building heat of coming summer.
“My curse killed them. And it won’t end until I die too.” Shinpi kept her eyes closed when she spoke and the words were dripping with pain. “Hiro was merely the vessel, but it was me. My mere existence will destroy everyone I care about.”
Hiei blinked, all animosity leaving his face in his surprise. “People aren’t cursed, Shinpi.”
“I’m not a person.” She reminded him and the resolution in the words brought his hand around her throat again. A slight squeeze of fingers. “What are you doing?”
“Checking for a pulse.” He told her, then tapped the vein running under the thin skin of her neck. “I want your attention, Shinpi. All of it.”
Cobalt blue eyes met his gaze and Hiei wasn’t even sure why he was so angry with her. He didn’t understand why her speaking of being cursed had unfurled a deep heat in his stomach that riled his blood. But he didn’t enjoy the sensation and he was going to make sure she didn’t put him through it again.
“You’re not allowed to die while you’re under my care.” Hiei told her firmly. “I won’t allow it. Vendetta or not.”
“That’s not up to you.” She growled up at him, her own anger matching his.
“It really is.” He assured her. “The minute I vetted you, your life became mine to manage. It’s out of your hands.”
As if to demonstrate that her life was now in his, Hiei gave a slightly squeeze to her throat.
“I’ll make you strong enough to kill Hiro without your survival coming into question, and when you do, you’ll face me again. And again. Until I’m satisfied that I’ve done what no one else seems to have done. And if you can’t meet my standards, you’ll never face your enemy. I’ll make sure of it.” Hiei told her, tone turning cold. “I will hunt him down myself and tear him apart and you’ll never get your revenge.”
“You’re a bastard.” Shinpi bared her teeth. “This has nothing to do with you.”
She shoved her hands up against his chest, prying him off of her. When Hiei captured her wrists they ended up face to face, both roiling with fury.
“My sword, my life, and now my revenge. What else are you going to claim of mine?” Shinpi raged at him. “Selfish monster. I hope your allies learn what sort of man you really are Jaganshi.”
“I will take whatever I want until you decide to stop me.” Hiei told her, fire in his eyes.
“You have no shame.” She seethed. “All of this for what? For bragging rights that you’ve defeated a demon who is already dead?”
“It’s not just about defeating you.” Hiei assured her.
“Then what?” She demanded. “What are you getting out of this? Pleasure?”
“Some of that, yes.” Hiei nodded. “But more than anything, I get to know I raised a legend from the dirt and forged them into something more than they ever were. After I’m done with you, there will be no denying that I turned you into what you’re going to become. Whenever someone utters your name, you’ll have to remember that it’s because of me.”
“Prideful prick.” Shinpi spit at him. “I will never allow our names to be intertwined that way. That selfish mentality is why I’m going to rip Hiro into pieces. And when I’m done with him I’ll came after you with all the fury of hell fueling me.”
And then Hiei smirked.
“Why are you smiling?” She trembled in her anger. “What is funny about this?”
“So it’s a deal then. When you defeat Hiro, you’ll face me.” Hiei told her.
Shinpi’s mouth opened then snapped shut. Her cheeks turned red, embarrassment and rage coloring her skin. It screwed up her mouth.
“And a woman of honor like yourself wouldn’t go back on a promise, would you, Shinpi?” Hiei lowered his voice into a dark whisper.
“You baited me.” She accused quietly, full of malice. “Do you have any honor?”
“I’ll have yours before the end of this and I think that’ll be more than enough to sustain me for a while.” Hiei pulled back from her. “You should get back to your recovery, Shinpi. I’m not known for my patience.”
She watched him get to his feet and stewed for a moment longer on the ground. An idiot. She’d been an idiot and walked right into his trap. He was smarter than she gave him credit for, manipulating the conversation and her the way he had. From Kurama this would have been expected, anticipated even.
Another thrill shuddered down her spine as she considered what this might mean for her.
“Oh, and you’re not to engage in any more fights until I’ve cleared you for combat.” Hiei told her as he started to walk away. “If you’re not fit enough to face me, you’re not fit enough to face anyone. You’ll train on your own until I say otherwise.”
“You can’t control what I do.” Shinpi got to her feet and glared at him. “I’ll do whatever I feel is necessary.”
“I can’t control you.” Hiei agreed, but the look he delivered on her over his shoulder hitched her breathing. “But I can make you regret any poor decisions that may run through that precious brain of yours. And I will make you regret them.”
He headed back into the temple and left her outside. Shinpi swallowed, unsticking her tongue from the roof of her mouth. With a wild cry, she grabbed the axe out of the ground and slammed it repeatedly into a tree until it toppled over. Heaving, she stared at the weapon in her hand and then at the temple.
This inane filthy bandit wanted to place himself between her and her goals so badly? Fine. She’d train and play his game. He wanted to see her teeth? She’d embed them in his throat and tear it out.
He’d learn to regret coming between a predator and its prey.
Chapter 9: Water from Stone
In which Kurama gets the bulk of screen time, Yukina uses cabbages as leverage and HIei and Shinpi get a piece of each other.
Kurama stifled a yawn with the back of his hand, tears forming at the corners of his eyes as they begged for more sleep. Unfortunately, they’d be denied just as they had been for the last week. There was work to do and a demon to confront. But he’d come armed, an arrangement of files tucked into his backpack as he ascended the stone steps leading up to Genkai’s tunnel.
So much for a quiet weekend, he sighed. He’d meant to take some time for himself even going so far as requesting the Friday and Saturday off from work so he could rest. He’d been certain that the team’s fight against Amon-Shinpi would require much of his strength. However, he hadn’t accounted for their target being an imposter and the real thing being carefully hidden under their noses. So instead of his body needing a break it was his mind. Scouring Spirit World’s records for nights that felt endless had eaten up his week.
And now it was Saturday and he had woken up at a hellish four a.m. to catch the earliest train he could to Genkai’s.
All so he could meet with Amon-Shinpi and talk her history over with her. Ask his burning questions. And also check on her, he admitted. Hiei hadn’t contacted any of them about her progress since they’d arrived at Genkai’s and he was mildly concerned that his hot-tempered friend had done something regrettable. Koenma seemed to second his tentative uncertainty and had turned to watched Hiei on the screen in his office, Kurama at his side.
They were surprised to find that Amon-Shinpi had sensed their intrusion, acting immediately to protect Hiei from the threat as she crouched over him. Kurama had to admit, he was relieved they were getting along. Hiei had chimed in moments later, his Jagan carrying his brusque warning to butt out to them.
Kurama hadn’t bothered checking on them since, seeing as how all seemed to be going well.
Or so he had thought.
“I told you, you aren’t fighting until you’re ready to face me.” Hiei’s voice snapped as Kurama crested the staircase. He followed the sounds of bickering suddenly feeling all the more exhausted until he came to stand beside Yukina, who put out with the demons before her.
“I told you I’d do what I needed to.” Shinpi grit the words from behind her teeth. “Stop interfering.”
“You were warned.” Hiei turned to face the demoness, eyes narrowed. “I told you you’d regret not listening to me.”
“I’m not afraid of you.” Shinpi toed up to him, clearly meaning her words. “If I hadn’t moved, Yukina might’ve been harmed.”
“Call for help.”
“From you? I’d rather be killed.” Shinpi scoffed. “Dish out your punishment, Jaganshi. Reveal your true colors as I see them.”
So much for getting along, Kurama thought.
“All week it’s been this way.” Yukina complained to him quietly. “On her own, Hichi is quite nice. She’s warm and charming and quick to help. But whenever Hiei enters the room she turns into a contrary mess who manifests confrontations from thin air. Hiei’s not much better. He goes out of his way to challenge her at literally every turn.”
“At least the temple isn’t quiet anymore.” Kurama told her, a small smile gracing his mouth. “You did say you wanted the place to liven up.”
“Oh sure, throw that at me.” Yukina sighed, forlorn. “Are you here to talk some sense into them?”
“Not so much, no.” Kurama said apologetically. “I came to speak to Amon-Shinpi.”
“I’ll make you favorite dumplings if you manage to convince her to trust Hiei, even a little.” Yukina bargained. “Or if you can just manage to help her see the merit in humoring him for her own gain. Anything to keep the arguing to a minimum.”
“I’ll do my best.” Kurama promised.
“It’ll be cabbage soup if you don’t.” Yukina’s bright smile made him chuckle as he accepted her threat.
She’d come such a long way since she’d been found in Tarukane’s keep. Once so still and quiet, the picture of soft innocence she now held her own prowess. It was easy to miss under the layers of kindness and her generally warm nature, but it was there. In some ways, she was more like her brother than the fire demon seemed to recognize.
“Great. Another one.” Shinpi turned to spot Kurama over her shoulder, her expression dulling. “Come to back up your comrade on his ridiculous crusade?”
Yukina looked at Kurama with a look that spoke of her annoyance with this clearly normal attitude.
“Not quite. I came to speak with you.” Kurama smiled gently. “You did say we could talk after our last mission, but I haven’t had the chance until now.”
Surprise straightened her back, shoulders pulling down as she stared at him. Hiei stood behind her, clearly forgotten. His sneer revealed how he felt about being suddenly ignored. Crimson eyes glared at Kurama, whether for the intrusion or something else the fox didn’t know.
“I remember.” Shinpi admitted, skeptical. “I hadn’t expected you’d want to accept. Surely, you think me as horrible as your ally here. Why sully your time with my company?”
The self-disparaging comment made Yukina sigh at Kurama’s side. Again, this seemed something commonplace.
“No one thinks that way about you.” The ice maiden chided her, hands moving to her hips. “You have to stop saying such horrible things about yourself, Hichi.”
“It’s not like anyone minds.” Shinpi shrugged, but her tone had softened considerably.
“If you think you’re so horrible, what does that say about the people who care about you? What’s it say about me? You think I have poor taste in companions?” Yukina challenged her with a slight heat to her voice.
To Kurama’s surprise, Shinpi’s blue eyes widened, her skin paling before a rush of color flooded her cheeks. She looked away from Yukina, shirking down into her shoulders.
“Not at all. You’re a wonderful person, Yukina. I would never say a bad word about you.” Shinpi confessed, embarrassed. “I didn’t mean to insult you.”
“Oh she gets an apology.” Hiei huffed, crossing his arms. “But I get contempt and your smart mouth spitting nonsense around the clock.”
Shinpi didn’t engage with him, choosing to walk away instead. Her hands slid into her pocket, and again being ignored by her seemed to inflame Hiei’s temper.
“We were discussing your punishment!” Hiei reminded her hotly.
A cold blue gaze caught him over her shoulder, no emotion in the expression. “Do your worst. It won’t be the first time I’ve been tortured. It likely won’t be the last. But I won’t discuss this in front of Yukina anymore, it upsets her too much.”
Then Shinpi brushed passed Kurama to head toward the temple.
“Find me when you’re ready fox. I’ll be around.”
Kurama sighed. He’d expected some resistance but he hadn’t anticipated walking in on a brawl. Shinpi paused at the threshold of the door, one hand on the wood, her eyes fixed toward the interior but her voice carried to him unhindered by the distance or angle, despite how quiet she seemed.
“You look tired. Take a name before you seek me out.”
Hiei glared at her retreating figure. “That woman is the worst.”
“Oh, you.” Yukina frowned at him. “Why are you being so hard on her?”
“She’s the one who isn’t following the rules.” Hiei pointed out. “We had terms. She broke them. I can’t just let it slide.”
“You could.” Yukina told him. “You just want to provoke her. Can’t you see your way isn’t working?”
“She’s training, isn’t she?” Hiei shot back coolly and the ice maiden pressed her lips together.
“I’m going to go get started on lunch. I’ll prepare the cabbage for dinner while I’m at it.” She turned and walked toward the temple as well, leaving her threat lingering behind her for Kurama.
“What do you need to talk to her about?” Hiei asked, stepping over to Kurama as his annoyance simmered down. “Whatever it is, good luck getting her to speak directly about anything. That woman prides herself on her verbal prowess and she will avoid saying anything at all at all costs while making you feel like she’s answering you.”
“No luck on your end?” Kurama guessed.
“I managed to pry a few details from her, and a promise for a true fight. Other than that she’s been careful not to say much to me.” Hiei complained, shoving his hands into his pockets. “When I walk into a room she flees.”
“How is her training going?” The fox looked around the temple grounds, noting the body the two demons had been arguing over when he’d arrived. “She’s picking off the weak, I see.”
“She’s not supposed to. I told her she wasn’t to fight until she was ready to fight me.” Hiei snorted. “She’s testing my patience. I don’t much about her training other than what Genkai tells me, which isn’t much.”
“I thought you two were getting along. When Koenma and I peeked in, it seemed she was protecting you.”
“You must have begun watching right after she tried to decapitate me with an axe.” Hiei smirked then. “I wish she was like that more often. It would be better than this dismissive business she’s resigned herself to.”
“Give it time. I’m sure she’ll want to kill you again sometime.” Kurama quipped and Hiei glared at him, making the fox chuckle. “What did she tell you?”
“Her and Mukuro have history. From the sparse details, I’ve managed to gather Mukuro betrayed her in some way. And that she intended to die when she faced Hiro again.” Hiei looked up at the sky, squinting at the growing cluster of clouds above. “It’s been raining more lately.”
“It’s the season.” Kurama told him. “You said intended, so she’s changed her mind?”
“I forbid it.” Hiei shrugged, still gazing up at the light grey clouds. “So she doesn’t get a choice in the matter.”
Kurama eyed his friend, brows raising slightly. He didn’t think it would be so simple, and yet Hiei seemed entirely sure this had resolved the issue.
“Why does she want to die?” The redhead asked instead of arguing.
“She thinks she’s cursed.” Hiei’s tone held an edge, his eyes narrowing as he drug his attention to the temple. “What an idiot. I’ve never met someone so invested in undermining their existence.”
“It must be difficult.” Kurama nodded, also looking toward the temple. “I can’t imagine what it must be like for her to have endured what she has. To lose her family, her land, and then be stuck in a frail body when she thought she’d be dead. This must be nightmarish for her. A hell unto itself.”
Hiei frowned, shifting his weight slightly from foot to foot as Kurama spoke.
“It’s likely she doesn’t have much to live for.” Kurama went on, calm but sympathetic.
“She’d have plenty to live for if she’d just fight.” Hiei spoke quietly, almost begrudgingly. “It’s her own fault she’s this way. She could take back what’s hers, she just doesn’t want to.”
“Fighting won’t bring her family back.”
Hiei stopped talking, bothered to his core by Kurama’s words. What an annoying feeling, the sudden heaviness in his guts. He hated it. He hadn’t considered that part of Shinpi’s explanation nearly a week before. She’d told him she was fighting for her family. That it was her fault they were dead. Was that really something to kill herself over though? He couldn’t imagine why.
“You never answered me about why you’re here.” Hiei pointed out, changing topics. He’d gotten used to these sort of conversational tactics from dealing with the woman.
Kurama smiled at him. “I’ve been researching you charge. I just want to check on some facts, maybe learn something about her.”
Hiei eyed the backpack with heavy speculation. “Hn. Good luck with that. You’d have better luck wringing water from stone.”
“Did you sleep?”
Kurama stopped, halfway into the room and glanced at Shinpi as she lounged on the windowsill with a book propped up against her bent leg, the other hanging from the window. Outside the clouds had grown heavy with rain, this room saturated with the scent of a coming storm. Wind fingered through her dark hair but she didn’t seem to mind.
“I’m afraid not.” Kurama answered her, pulling the door closed behind him as he entered the room fully. A small library of sorts, perhaps it could be called a study save the lack of a desk. A sitting room would be a better name, he decided, noting the comfortable chairs set up in the center.
“Be careful with forced sleeplessness, it affects the functions of the brain.” She flipped a page in her book idly. “You wanted to interrogate me?”
“Not so much. I did have some questions, but I wouldn’t say it’s an interrogation.”
“Ah, yes. Hiei never calls them what they are either, these conversations.” She nodded, eyes glued to the page. “You can sit you know. I doubt I’m a threat to you.”
He wasn’t so sure.
Kurama turned a chair so he could see her and claimed it as his own, opening his backpack and pulling the files out. She glanced at him, blue eyes roving the papers and manila folders before returning to the yellowed page of the leather-bound book in her hand.
“Someone did their homework.” She commented from her post, tone carefully ambivalent. “With that much paperwork, why do you need me?”
“Spirit World has a way of the smudging the details in their favor.” Kurama admitted. “I found discrepancies.”
She eyed the papers again, then him. A careful sweep of her attention from his hands to his face. Her attention went back to her book. After several minutes Kurama decided she wasn’t going to speak again without being prompted so he began to talk.
“I read up on your family history. The Takanis, that is. I found it all quite interesting.” Kurama told her. “You have an interesting heritage.”
She turned a page in her book.
“Your territory too, seems unusual, especially in Makai.” He went on. “An oasis is nearly unheard of, especially one as peaceful as yours was. Very peculiar how it seems to have appeared from nowhere when your grandfather settled on it.”
When she didn’t respond in anyway, Kurama shifted in his seat. Hiei was right. This was one vault that seemed inaccessible to him.
“Your sister, Kuya, she came to Human World with her human husband, didn’t she? She settled and started a family here. By all accounts she was a bit like Yukina in personality. I thought that was interesting. Is that why you are so protective of Yukina?”
Another page turned.
Kurama kept the sigh trapped in his chest, trying not to show his growing tiredness with this one-sided conversation.
“Who was Kin Jiro?” He asked her and this time she visibly reacted.
Kurama wanted to retract the question the minute he’d spoken it. The impact on her was immediate, the pain on her face undeniable. Her lips fell open in silent anguish, The skin of her knuckles bleeding to white as her grip on the book tightened mercilessly. Swallowing, she tried to compose herself.
Her eyes moved to his lap, to view the papers he’d been flicking through and she slid off the windowsill to walk over to him. With shaking hands, she pulled the single sheet from the pile, her eyes glued to the face portrayed in the black and white copy of the portrait he’d found. A young boy, messy black hair and wide eyes with a cheeky grin. She staggered to the wall, sliding down it to rest on the floor, the paper clutched in her hands.
A shaky breath several minutes later let Kurama know she hadn’t forgotten him. “What’s it say about him?”
“The file?” He asked and she nodded.
“He was a good boy. It says that right?” Her voice quaked and she tried to keep it under control. “Spirit World has to know he was just a child. He never did a thing wrong in his life. He was a good boy.”
It sounded like a plea. Kurama looked down at the papers in his lap. “It doesn’t say much at all. Merely the name with some accounts that he was a Takani. Only ever seen with you. Until-“
“Until Hiro took him from me.” Shinpi nodded and brushed her fingertips over the boys grinning face. “My heart and soul. Everything I was, stolen in a breath. I will never be the same person again without him.”
Kurama realized he had touched on something incredibly private but he couldn’t think of a way to backpedal out of this conversation. He couldn’t seem to think of a way to go on either. He hadn’t mean to expose Shinpi to what obviously was the catalyst of her fall. Much less had he intended to unwittingly discover it. The name was tossed in with a group of others, family, but the connections weren’t exactly explained.
But the boy’s name was on a list of deceased relatives with the rest of the Takanis.
He should have known, looking at the dates.
He’d been a hapless, sleep deprived fool.
“My boy.” Shinpi whispered the statement with a sigh and when Kurama looked at her, she was inexplicably smiling despite the unshed tears in her eyes. “I never thought I’d get to see him again. Thank you, Kurama.”
The warmth in those words felt suffocating when he knew he’d caused her so much pain.
“I’m sorry, I hadn’t realized he was your child.” Kurama told her quietly. “I would never have so casually-“
“He was my brother.” Shinpi shook her head, inhaling through her mouth after shaking her head. After another few seconds she was steadier. “I raised him. Mother and father died when he was just over a year old. All we had was each other at the time, Kuya already gone to raise her own family. But brother or not, he was my boy.”
She walked over and pulled a chair next to Kurama’s, angled toward him. “I was raising him to be a king, you know. And he would have been the best of us. He was strong like me, but he had this shining light in him. It was so bright. He got that from mother, I think. Oh, and he was so smart. There wasn’t a day that went by when he didn’t impress me. Kin was the only consolation I had after my parents died.”
She smiled again, looking at the picture before sliding it back to Kurama. He accepted it and placed it back in the pile, examining the boy with more interest than he had before.
“Hiro killed him because he couldn’t get to me.” Shinpi explained, her tone hardening. “He died because I’m a failure. I should have never left them alone. But I was idealistic at the time, I thought Hiro and I were going to rule the world together. I didn’t see the harm in leaving Kin at the regent and answering Mukuro’s summons alone, as she requested.
“When I showed up, she told me I was a fool. That I’d made the gravest of errors. She had never sent for me, and she certainly wouldn’t have trusted Hiro alone in my stronghold. He was a monster, she said, and I’d been blind. That I’d brought whatever was happening on myself. I’ve never run so fast in my life, trying to get back to the castle.
“But I was late. I was so incredibly late. Hiro had taken my brother and placed him in chains, had carved his heart from his chest. It had all been a farce, all our years together. A ploy to get to our power, to claim our land and blood. He wanted to be the strongest. I lost myself. I destroyed it all to get to Kin, even though I knew he was gone. I felt it in my soul the minute he died. I was crazed, in mourning and angry with myself. A combination that made me weak.
“Hiro survived the havoc I wrought. I barely managed to as well. My energy spent, my brother gone, the kingdom in shambles and the person I thought I could trust now my enemy, I wandered to regroup. To try to pull myself together enough to end it all once and for all. It took years. I kept finding myself drifting out of fugue states in the strangest places. A floating village of ice, for instance, where a small girl took me in and tried to help me.”
Kurama stared at her, and she played with her hands, an unusually insecure motion he hadn’t expected to see from her.
“When I asked Mukuro for help, she denied me. Told me to handle it myself. She wasn’t risking her armies on my cause. I had done this to myself. So I did. I came to Human World, weak and withered, and passed the sword to Kuya’s oldest living descendent and told her to pass it down her family tree. But only to the girls.” Shinpi sighed. “Takanis were never born female. Not until myself and Kuya. But Kuya’s family was all female.”
She took a breath to collect her thoughts and went on, the pain in her chest aching around the hole she was reminded resided there. The hole where her family was meant to be.
“After a few more years, my strength began to grow again. I toyed with my time, I devolved into something hideous and monstrous and stopped caring about my family’s pacifism. I had never cared for it, honestly, but I had abided by it. With them gone and my name disgraced, there was nothing for me to protect. So I killed without pity, I took what I needed, and I kept myself numb anyway I could.” Shinpi went on. “Eventually, I came out of the haze to find myself nearing my complete strength and I set my plan into motion. I confronted Hiro and decimated his armies with every wave he sent after me. We warred for nearly a week before it was just us, ragged and exhausted. And just when he thought he’d gotten me, his hand in my chest like it had been in my brothers, I opened the earth underneath and made it swallow us whole.”
“I know it will ring hollow, but I’m sorry.” Kurama told her, reaching over to place his warm hand on her arm. He offered a comforting squeeze. “I’m sorry that your rebirth put you in a position to lose it all over again. When you tell Hiei this he’ll-“
“He cannot know.” Shinpi pulled back from him quickly, alarmed. “That one can never know.”
“Why?” Kurama demanded.
“Because I have enough of my failures thrown in my face by that wretched man. I will not allow him to use Kin against me as well.” Shinpi explained hotly. “You cannot tell him, Kurama. You can’t. If you do, every conversation will turn into a burr of him using my brother to motivate me to meet his goals. I won’t have it.”
“If he looks, he’ll find most of what you’ve said in the files.” Kurama frowned at her. “Your history is mostly documented.”
“I don’t care about my history. You cannot tell him about Kin.” She implored him. “Please, Kurama.”
Swallowing, Kurama nodded, but he winced. “If I may ask something in exchange for my silence on this matter?”
“I should have presumed blackmail.” Shinpi frowned at him, her expression dulling. “How in character for you.”
“I’m actually just the middleman on this one. Yukina asked me to convince you to humor Hiei a bit. She’s tired of the fighting.” Kurama admitted. “She wants to see you two getting along.”
“Impossible.” Shinpi shook her head. “I have no respect for Hiei. For that matter I can’t imagine why you have any either. He chose to fight with Mukuro instead of any of you. How can you forgive that betrayal?”
“Hiei needed someone who could help him. He never worked against us.” Kurama assured her.
She simply stared at him, unconvinced.
“Hiei doesn’t want you to die. That has to count for something in his favor.”
“He wants me to live to fight him. He doesn’t care about me or my wellbeing. His motivations are entirely selfish.” Shinpi pointed out. “I will not subject myself to someone like him again. As far as I’m concerned he should be licking Mukuro’s boots, not here annoying me.”
Kurama sighed. Cabbage soup it was for dinner.
“Hiei believes that you are more than you think you are. I’m beginning to think he sees something you don’t.” Kurama told her, giving up on the conversation.
“He sees plenty I don’t. That’s why he got that damned third eye.” She pointed out dryly but the comment made the fox chuckle. The sound wrought a smile from her. “I suppose, for Yukina, I could try to find a compromise.”
Kurama hid the fact this news perked him up.
“I don’t know what good it will do though.” Shinpi sighed.
“He told me you came after him with an axe. He said he wished you were like that more often.” Kurama hinted.
“He should be careful what he wishes for.” Shinpi smirked. “Be a shame if something happened to that handsome face of his because he was running his mouth.”
Kurama raised his eyebrows, leaving the commentary alone. Then he passed the copy of the portrait back to her. “Keep it. Spirit World has the original and I don’t need it. Plus, it’ll keep Hiei from examining it in your file.”
She accepted it and bit her lip to keep the tears at bay, but one slid down her cheek anyway as she cradled the paper against her chest. “Thank you.”
Sighing heavily, Shinpi stalked into the kitchen knowing Hiei was taking his tea inside to avoid the rain. She stared at him, then glared at Kurama, then back to the fire demon. Hiei raised his eyebrows then pulled them down, glancing at Kurama then back to Shinpi. Her file lay open before him, a paper clutched in his bandaged hand.
“Well, are we going to spar or not?” She demanded of him, annoyed.
Hiei blinked at her, setting the paper down as he tilted his head to assess her.
“Did Kurama drug you?” He asked her seriously.
“Shut up. I want to be able to protect Yukina. You’re getting in my way. If sparring with you proves my capabilities, then I’ll do it. No weapons. Just us.” Shinpi gestured between their bodies. Then she looked toward the window behind him. “Training room?”
“Right now?” Hiei asked her, but a light had entered his eyes.
“Right now.” She nodded. “Don’t get your hopes up, Jaganshi. You still clearly overpower me at the moment.”
“I’ll prepare myself to be disappointed by you, as usual.” Hiei remarked getting to his feet. He followed her out of the kitchen, allowing Yukina and Kurama to stare at each other.
“Do you need help preparing the dumplings?” Kurama asked slyly, a grin on his face.
“Later. I want to watch this.” Yukina brushed her hands on her apron then peeling it over her head. “Let’s make sure they don’t kill each other.”
Kurama chuckled and agreed, wandering after her. Genkai eyed him in the hall, falling into step beside him.
“Strange turn of events.” She told him, suspicious.
“Truly.” He nodded.
“We should set parameters.” Shinpi declared, standing a few feet away from Hiei as she stretched her arms. “We already established no weapons. How will determine a victor?”
“I’ll be the judge.” Genkai announced. “Goal will be to incapacitate your opponent, trying to avoid knocking them unconscious. I’m not sure your brain can take much more damage, girl.”
“That’s fair.” Shinpi winched, nodding. “Hiei, do you agree?”
“That you’re brain damaged? Absolutely.” He smirked. “Also I accept the rules.”
“Ass.” She frowned, then dropped her arms. “On your word, Genkai.”
Shinpi remained still as Hiei surged forward, accepting the brunt of his attacks with a formidable defense. She deflected his punches easily enough, her blocks preventing him from causing any actual damage to her body. Then Hiei stumbled forward as she side stepped him, her foot hooking around his shin and pulling the leg from under him. He spun and growled at her.
“You lean pretty heavily on your upper body. Makes your lower half an easy target.” Shinpi told him, dully.
“Are you going to fight or not?” He demanded and she shrugged. When he lunged at her, she again evaded him. “Shinpi.”
He moved toward her again, and again she deftly avoided being captured. The next time as well, earning and annoyed growl from the fire demon. His eyes widened when she giggled in response, hiding her smile behind her hand.
“This is sort of fun.” She admitted. “You’re sort of adorable when you’re annoyed.”
He moved faster and still couldn’t managed to wrap his hands around her little throat. Soon they were a blur of quick pounces and quick getaway, an odd dance forming. Hiei turned to lunge at her from the side and found an arm around his throat from behind, forcing his head back as a painful pressure jostled his Adam’s apple.
“Pay attention to your surroundings, Hiei. You’re too focused on where I am.” Shinpi chided lightly. Then she pushed him away from her and grinned.
The expression was light, actual enjoyment painted in her eyes. Hiei had to blink at the display for a moment. A mistake, it seemed, as Shinpi ran forward and slammed the heel of her hand into the underside of his chin. She spun, the back of her elbow nailing him in the solar plexus. As he tried to recover his breathing she reached under his arm, locking her grip as she shifted her stance and sent him crashing down against the floor.
Another rush of air wheezed out of his lungs and Hiei lay stunned for a moment before rolling to a plank and pushing himself up, his crimson eyes full of fire as they locked on the twinkling cobalt of Shinpi’s gaze.
“Did you enjoy that?” He asked, tone low and menacing. “I hope you did because you’re going to pay for it.”
“Big words from a man who can’t catch me.” She teased him, her grin growing. “Come on, Hiei. I’m waiting for you.”
Something about her words, or maybe her voice when she spoke them, pried a smirk from him. Then she grunted as he appeared before her, his fist slammed against her abdomen. When she doubled over, he grabbed her shirt to hoist her to her toes but she raised her arms and slipped out of the garment and rolled backwards over the floor to get out of the situation.
Chest heaving, clad in her workout sweats and her sports bra, Shinpi nodded at him, a new spark in her eyes as well.
“Again.” She demanded, her grin turning feral.
Hiei couldn’t wait to oblige her. He went to grab her and she slammed her knee against his inner thigh, a palm strike landing under his shoulder blade. When he whirled around, his hand clamped around her wrist and drug her close. Shinpi grunted, and when she made to hit him with the other hand, he captured that one too.
“Caught you.” Hiei panted the words, surprised he’d had to work harder for this victory than he’d originally supposed he would.
“But can you keep me?” She asked him, tilting her head up with her own breathless question.
Then she planted one foot on his hip, using that to brace herself as she threw her weight back. Hiei held fast, which is exactly what she’d hope for. Her other foot came up and planted in the crook of his shoulder then both legs moved around his neck. Hiei recognized the position too late, Shinpi’s thigh’s tight around his neck and head as she threw her weight back, breaking his hold, and drug his upperbody with her as she landed on her hands and sent him once again careening against the floor.
Instead of regrouping, Hiei simply rolled the minute her thighs loosened and he pinned her down, one knee planted against her hip, the other trapping an arm. His grip on her throat was a bruising warning, but a hair from actually strangling her.
“I’d like to see you get out of this one.” Hiei swallowed, trying to catch his breath.
Shinpi’s eyes burned like blue fire and it made him hungry for another round. She struggled in his hold, a fruitless effort at best. But then she grinned and her free hand came up, stopping a half-foot from Hiei’s jaw because Genkai called the match. But the space was enough for him to have felt it, the sudden disorienting pressure in his ear and jaw.
“Shinpi, lower your hand.” Genkai demanded when the woman didn’t do it automatically.
“Do it.” Hiei goaded the woman under her. He wanted her to hit him with her energy. He wanted to know what it felt like colliding with his skin.
But she let her arm fall back to the ground with a dull sound, moving her eyes from his face as she seemed to lose herself in thought instantly. Hiei waited another second before getting off of her, mildly annoyed with Genkai’s obvious interference. As he straightened, Shinpi raised her hand to him.
“Be a gentleman for once in your life, scourge, and help me up.” She demanded and Hiei raised his eyebrow before grasping her hand and hauling her to her feet. “Are you satisfied?”
Hiei wanted to tell her know. That he wasn’t. That the sense of her power had left him anything but satisfied with their fight. But he didn’t press it.
“You can fight when provoked.” Hiei allowed, jutting his chin away from her. “But you have a long way to go.”
“That wasn’t a yes.” Shinpi told him, rolling her eyes and crossing her arms over her chest.
“I’m aware.” Hiei informed her, bending to scoop her forgotten shirt off the floor before tossing it to her. “Next time will be better.”
That earned a look from the woman as she accepted her shirt from his hands. “It might be a while before there’s a next time.”
“Then I suggest you make the wait worth my time. I expect to be able to use some of my energy next time we spar.” Hiei told her.
She pulled her shirt back on and glanced at Genkai, who stared at the two of them. Then she looked back to Hiei and he distinctively got the idea he was missing something pivotal. He turned to stare at the old woman, eyes narrowed and she greeted him in kind.
“It’s not your energy I’m worried about.” Genkai announced, then frowned at Shinpi. “You could have brought the whole place down if you’d unleashed in here.”
“Hardly. I’m out of practice, not entirely without control.” Shinpi huffed. “At worst I’d have busted his eardrum.”
“You can’t permanently disable any of our fighters, Shinpi.” Genkai spoke like this wasn’t the first time she’d had to utter the phrase.
Hiei, Yukina and Kurama all lifted their eyebrows. Shinpi merely heaved a sigh, clearly put out.
“I’m hungry.” Shinpi announced, as if to dissuade any further conversation. “We should start on dinner, Yukina.”
“I’ll prepare snacks. Kurama is assisting me tonight.” Yukina smiled at her. “You should go take a bath, Hichi. And you too, Hiei. You both worked hard.”
Hiei huffed, rolling his eyes as he crossed his arms over his chest. Kurama, Genkai and Yukina filtered from the room leaving him alone with Shinpi.
“She was worried I meant to kill you. I didn’t.” Shinpi explained before he could ask her to. “It was a good session, I enjoyed myself. But don’t for a moment think that means I like you or what you stand for, Jaganshi.”
“Hiei.” Hiei corrected her.
Shinpi cast him a quizzical look.
“My name is Hiei, not Jaganshi.” Hiei told her, assessing her reaction. “You should use my actual name.”
She squinted at him, her the vein in her jaw ticking away, but then she opened her mouth. And closed it promptly after. Then, after a moment of consideration she spoke. “Hiei, then.”
Hiei immediately regretted asked her to call him by his actual name. The way she said it, without spite or fury, made him swallow. He’d heard his name all his life and for some reason, he felt like he was hearing it in a new way.
They stared at each other awkwardly for a moment, a new and unusual current of tension running between them that had nothing to do with wanting to beat the consciousness out of each other. Then, Shinpi brushed her palms against her pants and rocked her weight from her heels to her toes and back.
“Well, I’m going to go bathe.”
“Me too.” Hiei hurriedly nodded, looking for any excuse suddenly to flee the room. They both rushed towards separate bath rooms, neither eager to be left alone again. And neither could quite pinpoint why.
Chapter 10: A New Breed
In which Hiei reads about Shinpi's past and comes up with a 'sure-fire' plan.
Hiei poured himself over the pages, sequestered in the reading room so he could be alone with his thoughts. Kurama’s files were immaculate and informative as always. There was a table of contents in the front, the pages were numbered, all one fifty-seven of them, and Hiei was certain he’d find cross-references in the back. Not that he looked. The typeface made it easy enough to scan each sheet before laying it to the side in Hiei’s own form of order.
Hiei had long suspected that Kurama’d begun numbering things this way not to aid him in finding what he needed but so the fox could piece everything back together when he finished with it.
Hiei’s mind didn’t work like Kurama’s. Where the fox was capable of forming mental fractals to connect dots, jagged arches or spiraling octagonal patterns weaving between ideas to eventually come to a point, Hiei tended to be more linear. Their conversations had been rife with Kurama requesting Hiei become more flexible in his rigid thinking, to see things from other perspectives. Particular when it came to understanding the pea-brained human population Kurama would remind Hiei that their experiences were vastly different than his own and he needed to take that into account.
Hiei scoffed at the mere idea on every occasion. It wasn’t his job to understand these pathetic creatures. He didn’t care about their lackluster lives or perspectives. And why should he? Where would it ever benefit him?
The fire demon sank into his shoulders slightly, back pressed to the front of an armchair as he staked his place on the ground for more space. Shinpi’s words swam back to him despite himself, her accusation he’d betray his allies if it didn’t benefit him to aid them. The woman was a gnat even when she wasn’t around. He went back to the papers in his hands, eyes probing each word for a deeper truth.
Kurama had organized the file from furthest to most recent histories of the woman. Hiei had no desire to read about her as a child. How could that help him now? She was an adult. It didn’t matter where she grew up or with whom. Instead of heeding the chronological order Kurama had established, HIei picked through the multitude of pieces and began to pile them into stacks of what he wanted to know and what he didn’t. Then what was useful and what wasn’t. Finally, what still applied and what could be forgotten. Because even though the papers spread before him all described and articulated the woman under his watch, she wasn’t the same being she’d been when this was gathered.
If she didn’t get her ass in gear, she might never be that being again.
A bandaged hand lifted another page and Hiei stared at it dully. Another account of Shinpi’s past transgressions, though she hardly seemed the criminal sort. Most of the information was about her political affiliations. For instance, her stalwart alliance with Raizen. He could have anticipated that. But he hadn’t thought that Mukuro and the woman had been friends, really, until he read that they’d had a long prospering relationship. The details of how that ended were sparse.
Summarized in less than two sentences: Amon-Shinpi sought Mukuro’s aid in overthrowing Hiro, but was denied. She died before any formal action could be taken against Alaric.
In black and white, there it was. Shinpi had gone to Mukuro for help and had been turned away. No reason was given as to why, no matter how much Hiei read. He’d have to ask one or both of them. He thought about it and decided that question could be added to the list he wanted to offer to his commander.
Shinpi wasn’t likely to give him any more clarity than the paper in his hand had.
Hiei found this effort of Kurama’s to be mostly useless to him, but there were redeemable bits of information awaiting him in the text. For instance, he learned that Shinpi was a wolf demon, and an elemental. Like one of her ancestors she held control over more than one element, a rare occurrence in her line. Wind and water. According to reports of her death, earth if only in one rage-induced incident.
His mind wandered to their grappling match outside the week before and how the air between them had shifted around their bodies, seemingly out of season with its chill. A subconscious effort of hers, he imagined, as he hadn’t sensed her energy in the least bit.
Another frustration he wanted to address with her but would bide his time for.
Shinpi, by all accounts, had been brimming with power. Before her alliance had formed with Mukuro, how that came to pass continued to elude the fire demon, Alaric and the Takani’s had gone to war over land. Namely, Mukuro had attacked the smaller territory in her quest for expanding her own borders. She’d expected little resistance, Hiei was sure, given the details of the rest of the pack that resided in the oasis.
She was met with utter disaster.
Amon-Shinpi, left unabated, had destroyed armies and sent the pieces back to Mukuro in carts. She left only a single survivor from each wave to depict the carnage in detail to Alaric’s masked king. Stories of funnel clouds the size of mountains tearing through battlefields, of mudslides that swept soldiers to their deaths, storms that shook the earth and sky alike.
Mukuro had attended a battle once, seen what Amon-Shinpi was capable of and immediately withdrew her troops back to her own lands. This was meant to be the end of the war. But a small faction had refused to leave, had acted alone and attacked the Takanis after the truce was announced. The faction had killed the king and queen.
Amon-Shinpi blamed Mukuro for the attack. Demanded to be seen by the masked king. They met outside the Takani territory in a desert known for its deadly mirages. Amon-Shinpi had won their fight that day. But it wasn’t her control of the elements that landed her success but her efficiency in combat. Between a sandstorm, a tornado, and quick-thinking Shinpi had managed to disorient Mukuro enough to disable her.
She’d claimed the king’s mechanical arm as a trophy and after that for some inexplicable reason, they were allies.
Hiei didn’t understand it at all. But he was impressed.
He desperately wanted to face that Amon-Shinpi. The one on paper in front of him, recounted by legend and eye witnesses. The one who had won Mukuro’s respect.
Setting the paper down, he eyed the still-closed door. The temple was quiet, nearly everyone asleep. Kurama was there in a guest room, slumbering away so deeply that he might not have woken for an earthquake. But Hiei still refused to the leave the room because he’d noticed Shinpi kept odd hours, and she often wandered the temple late. He didn’t want to bump into her.
The awkward tension after their sparring match had lingered after their showers and through dinner. Neither of them could seem to leave the room fast enough.
If he was lucky, she was hiding in her room the way he had sequestered himself here.
“Hiei?” Yukina pushed the door open, bringing in a tray of tea of some light snacks. “I thought you might like something if you’re going to be up so late.”
“Hn.” He gruffly nodded and accepted the mug she held out to him.
Yukina settled into one of the chairs and eyed the stacks of paper with some interest and some distaste. “Is all of this about Hichi?”
“Why do you call her that?” Hiei demanded. “No one else does.”
“She asked me to.” Yukina admitted with a light blush. “An old nickname from her family. We are very close friends.”
“Which family?” Hiei wondered aloud, eyes trained on his sister for merely a second before wandering back to the papers spread around him.
“Her previous, I think. She said it came from her grandfather, since she was so much like him.” The ice maiden sipped her own tea. “Are you learning anything helpful?”
“I’ve learned she’s annoying.” Hiei grumped, frowning. “And that she’s an animal apparition, wolf to be exact. Makes her calling me a dog a touch ironic.”
“Oh, yes, she told me that.” Yukina nodded and Hiei jerked his attention to her so quickly she flinched. Her tea sloshed in her cup, dangerously close to the brim.
“She told you? When?” He demanded. He’d been toiling away for hours trying to unlock any piece of that woman’s puzzling mind and she’d just been giving the answer key away to others.
“The first night she was here, when I went in to heal her head wound.” Yukina explained softly. “She confessed the whole history of how we know each other to me and allowed me to ask as many questions as I wanted.”
“So she’s being difficult just for me.” Hiei complained.
“Perhaps she opened up to me because I haven’t battered her skull or left bruising handprints on her arms.” Yukina responded coolly and Hiei had the decency to look at least a little embarrassed by the passive admonishment. “Hichi is a good person, Hiei. She enjoys taking care of people. And she’s always been helpful to us when she visits.”
“How did you know she was a good person if she was lying the whole time?” Hiei asked her seriously. “She could have been anyone. She wasn’t what she said she was.”
“She was always Hichi to me. She always will be.” Yukina sighed. “It doesn’t matter her hair color or what name she uses. She’s the same. In fact, this Hichi is calmer and more decent than the one I met all those years ago.”
Hiei blinked at her, then tipped his head to the side as he sipped his tea. “Her hair?”
“She was a natural redhead.” Yukina nodded with a warm smile. “Her hair was brighter than Kurama’s. It’s how I found her in the snow, when I did. Took ages to stop her shivering. She’s not very adapted to the cold. But she said she couldn’t feel it. I think, then, she couldn’t feel much of anything. It’s hard to notice sensations when your heart has been so thoroughly wounded.”
The twins remained quiet for a moment. Hiei turned back to the papers with an annoyed huff.
“Did she happen to tell you anything else?” He pried, leaning his head back against the armchair he’d propped himself against as he sat on the floor.
“I didn’t ask many questions.” Yukina admitted with a small shrug. “It wasn’t worth the pain it would have caused her.”
“You’re too gentle with her.” Hiei rolled his eyes. “She’ll walk all over you.”
“Someone has to show her kindness or she’ll forget what it feels like. Between you and Genkai, who is left but me?” Yukina sighed. “Genkai tries to keep Hichi on the right path. She guides her and they are friends, they talk, but she’s not nearly as soft as I am. She had no issues with cutting through Hichi with her words if it means driving the point home. You’re the same. But someone has to soothe the wounds or they’ll never heal.”
Hiei once again fell silent as he regarded his sister. She sat loosely arranged in her armchair, feet drawn up onto the cushion and her hair loose around her face and shoulders. A relaxed, pleasant woman in her home.
He felt dirty and out of place sitting next to her, as though his mere presence might infect her.
“You two seemed to get along well enough today though. I’m glad. You’re both so important to me, it would be hard having you at each other’s throats.” Yukina spoke quietly, but her smile grew. “I feel like we are all a family, don’t you think?”
Sometimes, more often recently than ever before, Hiei wondered how much Yukina knew. But he never pried into her head to find out. She’d offer him that smile, a little too bright, eyes a little too sharp, and say something like she just had. And Hiei would reel for a second, wondering if she knew his secret.
He didn’t want to know if she knew. He was better off not knowing, actually. It was best if he never addressed the pointed tone she used with him at times. Because after all these years, he wasn’t sure what he’d do if she admitted they were siblings. He didn’t know how to be a brother.
It was part of why he’d been staying away from this world for so long. To put space between him and any crazy notions Yukina may be harboring about family.
“Sparring with someone is easy.” Hiei admitted, quick to change the subject. “It has nothing to do with liking them. I trained Kuwabara too, for a time, remember.”
“You should see Genkai and Hichi spar. You’d enjoy that.” Yukina offered him a knowing smile. “They pair together nicely.”
“I didn’t know the old woman still partook.” Hiei raised his eyebrows.
“She doesn’t often.” Yukina acknowledged.
The room lapsed back into silence and it was comfortable. The two of them drank tea as Hiei pawed through the pages littering the floor. Yukina eventually left him, bidding him goodnight and reminding him to get some sleep if he could. But an idea struck Hiei between the eyebrows and his feet found the floor before he carried himself to the bookshelf.
Reclaiming his spot in front of the chair, he cracked open the old tome and scanned the table of contents in the front before flipping to the section that he needed.
Hiei had a lot of blind spots in his working knowledge of other breeds of demons. His facts were vague, the basics, enough to aid him in a fight. For instance, about wolf demons he knew not to get bit by them because their damn teeth could tear your flesh clear from your bones. But beyond that, and that they were quick footed creatures, he didn’t know much off the top of his head. Human world didn’t have wolf demons and neither did Alaric.
Human World did, however, have wolves and he suspected there would be some overlap.
So he read the section of the book about grey wolves. How they were a pack creature, generally in groups of five to eight but in ones as small as two. Only the alphas mated, the rest of the pack comprised of offspring normally. Adults all pitched in to care for the young. Their territories could range from a few hundred to a thousand miles in diameter. Wolves howled as a form of communication, to alert the pack of their location or to convey some warning. Each wolf had a distinctive howl, a unique voice.
Lone wolves, those who lost their pack by discharge or their own will, rarely howled. These wolves had a shorter lifespan as well.
He moved onto domesticated canines. He found these creatures too craved companionship. They were loyal as well. They also communicated in unique voices and had an array of barks with various meanings. Without socialization they could turn aggressive, shy or skittish. It was noted that domesticated canines could become depressed if they were denied proper companionship.
It must be difficult. To lose her family… Kurama’s words swam to the forefront of Hiei’s thoughts. Pursing his lips, the fire demon adjusted his position on the floor.
Some of her behavior was starting to make sense to him. Her protectiveness of Yukina. Her loyalty, as unfathomable as it was, to her foreign human friends, Yukina, Genkai. Her desire to aid Kuwabara, admittedly the weakest of their “pack”.
A wolf that had been displaced could be welcomed into a new pack. The pack had to be willing to take them in and the wolf had to be willing to accept.
Hiei continued reading until his eyes began to hurt and eventually, he haphazardly piled the papers back into their folder and left it on the floor. He wandered outside to find a tree and hoisted himself up into it on arms that were shakier than they should have been from his sparring match earlier. Grey light began to filter through the clouds and he groaned, closing his eyes and taking what rest he could for the moment as his thoughts whirled around a forming plan.
Dogs could be trained. They just needed a firm hand, bountiful rewards and immediate consequences. If he put his mind to it, he could get Shinpi to heed his commands. It would take time and breaking her of her stubborn attitude, but Hiei felt confident he could manage. How hard could it be? All he had to do was establish his dominance over the woman, then a routine.
He fell asleep smirking.
Hiei wandered back to the reading room sometime after the bustle of the morning had started in full. The tree he’d perched in had incessantly dripped water on his head, the leaves still slick with the earlier rain. He’d gotten very little sleep and his demeanor wasn’t done any favors by that fact. His patience was already absent when he jerked open the door and stepped inside to find the files he’d left cradled in delicate hands.
Shinpi lounged in the chair he’d posted against the night before, one of the manila folders in her careful fingers, one leg draped over the arm of the chair and the other pulled up to rest the file against. She didn’t spare him a glance as she read over the pages, turning them over with only the sound of the sheets brushing each other.
“What the hell are you doing?” Hiei demanded, marching over to her. He reached out to yank the file back but she offered it to him before he could. “This has nothing to do with you.”
“Perhaps you shouldn’t have left it out.” She lulled the statement.
Hiei looked at her again. She was being unusually languid this morning, looking far too relaxed in his presence. Where was the usual annoyance cast over her expression? Then he realized her eyes were shadowed with heavy bags.
“It’s not Hiro.”
Hiei frowned, raised his one eyebrow and tilted his head. “What isn’t?”
“The culprit.” She gestured to the file in his hand. A comprehensive list of missing persons that Kurama had brought along on his trek. There was a post-it note on the inside of the folder that listed possible suspects and Hiro’s name had been on the list.
Because in Spirit World she’d suggested him.
She’d been wrong.
“You’re looking for a small cluster of low level apparitions. Three or four, I would think based on the numbers. They must be in the city proper too, which might make it hard to find them. Scents tend to mingle and get washed away in the city. There’s just too much going on.” Shinpi remained in the seat.
Hiei eyed the file.
“What makes you so sure?”
“Not his type.” She answered with a frown. “Hiro craves power. He likes to prove himself and lord it over others. These people are too weak to catch his attention. He’d be more likely to target someone like Kuwabara.”
Hiei nodded, accepting the information.
“I’m not looking for anything. I’ve been too preoccupied here.” Hiei told her, tucking the file against his side, under his arm. “The team is handling this one.”
Shinpi squinted at the far wall, her mind at work. Chewing her lip in thought, she tipped her head back and moved her gaze to the ceiling.
“You don’t use your Jagan as much as I assumed you did.” She commented, still mostly in thought. “I had thought when you threw your tantrum about the wards that you’d be rifling through my thoughts constantly. And yet you haven’t.”
“Where is that coming from?” He asked her, then he walked closer and noticed the other file.
The one about her, that included her entire history. The one he’d been so dedicated to reading last night. The reason he hadn’t skulked outside until dawn had nearly broken and a large part of why he was so exhausted. It was there, closed, sitting in her lap.
Shinpi followed his line of attention. Then the left corner of her mouth quirked up, her fingers drumming over the file as her expression turned mildly devious.
“It’s Kurama’s.” Were the first words he could think to utter in his own defense, sure this was about to become an argument over invading her privacy.
“I’m aware. Him and I discussed it yesterday.” She told him, that same devious grin lilting on her face. “I would have thought you’d have done the research before becoming my guardian.”
Guardian? That didn’t seem right. Hiei scowled. That implied a far more altruistic reason for him dragging her here. Parole officer seemed to fit better, in his opinion. Warden.
“There wasn’t time.” Hiei pointed out. “I needed to make an assessment in the moment.”
“One that pointedly didn’t include my past life.” Shinpi pointed out. “Why is that?”
“Required too much energy and I knew the information was in Koenma’s books. Your previous memories are tightly guarded, it seems, and they also had little to do with the discussion. Your human life was up for question, not your former.”
Hiei squinted at her, not quite glaring, merely assessing her befuddling amusement.
“Did the file shed light on anything for you?” She asked him lightly, toying with the open edge of the manila folder. “Any burning questions you need clarified?”
“No.” Hiei narrowed his eyes then. “I don’t know what it is, but you’re up to something.”
Her grin widened and then she slid off the chair, rolling to her feet and handed him the file as she passed him on the way out of the room.
“Yukina and I are walking Kurama to the train then going into town to do some shopping.” She announced. “Genkai has her own business today. Are you going to supervise us?”
Hiei thought about it. He saw no reason to go with them. Shopping wasn’t high on his list of preferred activities. But not going meant allowing Shinpi to wander off with Yukina. Would she come back on her own? Would she start trouble?
“I’ll think about it.” Hiei told her firmly.
“Alright. We leave in an hour.” She left him alone then, still confused and wondering what the hell she was up to.
Whatever it was, it wasn’t good. Especially not for him.
Hiei spun and left the room to hunt down Kurama. They hadn’t had much of a chance to speak since the fox had arrived. Leaving the sitting room meant he didn’t notice that Shinpi had replaced the books he’d been reading on their proper shelves. Which meant he hadn’t drawn the lines between her smile and the fact she knew he’d been brushing up on his understanding of domesticated canines and wild wolves.
Hiei walked off to find his ally to discuss the woman and her strange behavior. Ask some clarifying questions about wolf demons. Kurama was a fox, which was close enough.
Shinpi waited patiently, already plotting and preparing how to handle Hiei’s obviously grave misunderstanding of her. He thought he could treat her like a house pet? A dog? She couldn’t wait for him to begin. What would he do first? Pet her head? Offer her a treat? Get her a squeaky toy? Her delight was entirely nefarious because she intended to string Hiei’s misunderstanding along as long as she could.
Why? Because it would be fun.
Plus, in its own way, it was sort of charming that Hiei was putting in so much effort to try and understand her. It was more than she’d ever given him credit for. While it might be entertaining, it was also endearing.
Something she would deny with her dying breath.
Chapter 11: We All Float
I watched and It got inspired. Shinpi shoehorns her way into her first mission and Hiei's misunderstanding gets explained.
It had been two weeks since Kurama’s last visit to the shrine. It seemed the mood had improved in some ways. He didn’t walk into an argument this trip at the very least. Instead, Hiei, Shinpi and Yukina were all settled into the kitchen. Yukina eyed Hiei with obvious concern mingled with curiosity, as if she couldn’t quite understand what it was he was doing. Shinpi, however, merely continued reading her book at the table while Hiei took a few bites of his own food before nodding at her.
Kurama raised his eyebrows at the curt demand. If possible, they rose higher when Shinpi obliged Hiei without condemnation for his tone. Placing a bookmark into the novel, she closed it and it set about eating. Hiei frowned, eying her plate.
“You have less meat than I do.” Hiei pointed out.
“Too much makes me feel sluggish.” Shinpi nodded at his statement. “I asked Yukina to offer more vegetables.”
“I asked her to give you more meat.” Hiei countered, eyes narrowing.
“Which is why it’s on your plate and not mine.” Shinpi responded breezily, not looking at him. Then her gaze flicked to Kurama but she said nothing.
“Just in time.” Yukina beamed at his entrance and offered him a plate of piping hot food immediately. “You must have taken the early train again.”
“Indeed.” Kurama nodded and took a seat next to Hiei while Yukina claimed the one beside Shinpi. He smiled at her, and she offered a tentative smile back. “How have you been?”
“Oh, you know, surviving.” She shot Hiei a look. “Barely.”
Hiei harrumphed, rolling his eyes. “Your stamina would increase if you’d eat more meat.”
Kurama had a feeling this was an ongoing conversation. How unusual for Hiei to be so adamant about someone else’s dietary choices, though.
“I was actually considering trying a raw diet. You know, fruits and vegetables and raw foods. I think it would help.” Shinpi interjected and then smiled at Kurama, luring him into the conversation. “What do you think, Kurama? Do you eat meat at every meal?”
“Not at all.” Kurama glanced at Hiei. “I think a diet heavy on vegetables would be fine.”
“She needs more protein.” Hiei glared at Kurama, his tone final.
Shinpi ducked her head to hide her smile. “I’m alright, Hiei. I had plenty for dinner. Ever since you spoke to Yukina, she’s made sure my meals are heavy on the animal and light on the -how did you put it?- bait. We’ve gone through enough beef in the last week to buy stock in a ranch.”
Hiei frowned at her.
“Too much protein can cause fluctuations in moods.” Kurama piped up. “While a certain amount is necessary to regulate hormone production, too much can actually have the opposite effect. Our Shinpi should listen to her body. If she says she needs less meat, then she needs less meat.”
Hiei shot Kurama a withering look when he said the word our something the fox didn’t miss. Then the fire demon’s scowl shifted to an expression of thought. Maybe Kurama was onto something with his idiotic speech.
“Hiei’s been very earnest about this new training regimen he’s placed me on, including the dietary portion. Unfortunately, he’s failed to take into account some of preferences. All that aside, it’s been fairly effective.” Shinpi offered to Kurama with a warm grin that lit up her cheeks and eyes. “He means well, but if you could help me convince him to stop shoving protein down my throat I’d be grateful.”
Kurama nodded and Hiei glared at them both before pursing his lips.
“I want to speak with you.” Hiei nodded toward the hall and Kurama sighed, taking his last bite before getting to his feet as Hiei left the room.
“Why are you being so indulgent?” Kurama asked the woman before following his friend down the hall.
“Keep watching.” She offered, finishing her food with a guarded smile.
Kurama frowned, puzzled, and followed in Hiei’s wake only to be drug into a room by his wrist a few steps later, the door thrown shut behind him. Hiei whirled to face him, speaking through his teeth.
“You need to convince Kuwabara to spend some time at the temple.” Hiei declared, seemingly resentful of having to even speak the words.
“He’d be delighted if you asked him.” Kurama pointed out dully.
“No. It needs to be mostly his idea.” Hiei frowned. “I think if I do it, she’ll know.”
“Shinpi, obviously. Keep up, Kurama.”
Kurama blinked, closed his eyes, inhaled, and opened them to stare at Hiei again. “Why does Kuwabara need to come here?”
“So Shinpi can develop a pack.” Hiei stated as if this were the most obvious thing in the world. Incredulous, he stared back at Kurama. “You said yourself losing her family contributed to her suicidal tendencies. Wolves need a pack. Kuwabara is a decent enough fit and it gets him out of our hair for a bit if she takes him in.”
“If he’s here, he’ll be right in your hair, Hiei.” Kurama pointed out, nearly amused. “What makes you think Shinpi will accept him as a packmate?”
“She likes him. She said so. And I saw the way she thought of him when we were headed toward her imposter. She finds him worth investing in.” Arms crossed over his chest, Hiei narrowed his eyes. “She needs something.”
“You’re taking your newfound responsibility seriously suddenly.” Kurama noted. “What happened? Did you two come to an understanding?”
Any hope Kurama had died with Hiei’s next words.
“A master needs to tend to their dog.” Hiei stated simply, nonplussed. No arrogance or malice in his tone. “As a wolf Shinpi requires certain things, and to get her to reach her potential, I need to make sure those things are supplied. That’s why I’ve taken over planning her training. To establish which of us in charge. I’ve had a few weeks to put it all together, but she hasn’t seemed to notice. She’s starting to follow my commands without barking about it.”
Shinpi’s secret smile suddenly took on a tsunami of meaning for the fox. Keep watching, she’d said. Because she knew what Hiei was up to and was bearing it with humor. Kurama sighed, shoulders sagging as he shook his head slightly.
“Does Shinpi realize you think you’re her master?” Kurama dared to ask, almost fearing the response.
“It’s our dynamic. I’m in charge.” Hiei shrugged. “Whether she consciously realizes it or not, it’s what it is.”
“Wolves don’t have masters, Hiei. House pets do. Shinpi is a wolf, wild. She’s no more likely to obey a master than I am. If anything you’d be her alpha and honestly, I don’t see her responding to that very kindly.” The fox wasn’t even sure what this emotion he was feeling could be called. Humor? Concern? Bewilderment? Some mixture of amusement with a dash of knowing this wouldn’t end well.
“Dogs are descended from wolves. Some of their mannerisms are the same.” Hiei pointed out, a true point but not one that aided this argument.
“Is this why you’ve been bothering her about her food?” Kurama asked suddenly, green eyes glittering with laughter. “Because wolves are predators?”
“That and she bruises easily.” Hiei admitted.
“Iron deficiency aside, don’t you think she knows how to take care of herself? She’s been doing it for a while now without our interference.” The fox tipped his head to the side. “I’m also still confused on why you’re taking such an active part so suddenly.”
Hiei didn’t answer right away, his eyes darting to the side. It took a few moments of silence for him to find the words.
“I read her file.” Hiei explained, and it was obvious by how slow he spoke that each word was carefully chosen. “When Shinpi’s family was thriving, she was disastrously powerful. Her power seemed to decline when she became king. I want to fight the Shinpi who faced Mukuro’s armies, not the one who died at Hiro’s hands.”
Until Hiei finally growled at him to say something and the fox still remained quiet for a moment, collecting his own thoughts.
A knock at the door prevented him from the detailed admonishment he was about to offer his shorter friend for his selfishness. The door slid open and Shinpi looked at them, expression grim as her eyes glanced between their faces.
“You two have guests.” She announced, tone hard. Then her eyes settled on Hiei. “Looks like you’re helping with the case after all.”
Hiei glanced at Kurama, arching a single brow before they followed her out to the living room. Koenma and Botan waited. The Spirit Prince bore his teenaged form, pacifier clutched between his incisors. Botan wore a pair of jeans and a light colored tee, her fingers playing with the hem of her shirt.
“What are you doing here?” Hiei demanded of them the minute he saw them.
“More have gone missing.” Koenma told him quietly, looking quite serious. Brown eyes glanced over to watch Shinpi as she leaned against the wall, watching the room intently. “You don’t have to stay.”
“And yet I doubt you harbor the power to remove me.” She told him coolly, none of the jovial light from earlier remaining in her eyes. “I’ve been watching the news, Koenma. You’ve allowed this to continue for too long.”
“We’re stretched thin. The border patrols are meant to prevent this sort of thing.” Koenma tensed at her accusation.
“The minute you knew they weren’t enough you should have acted. Your hesitance cost lives.” Shinpi leveled him with such a cool glare that the Spirit Prince swallowed. “Because your ineptitude, a child has died.”
Hiei jerked his attention to the woman and the ice that entered her voice when she’d spoken her last sentence. Her body vibrated with tension, jaw tight, and her eyes held no mercy as they bore into Koenma. Kurama watched too, warily aware of why she would be responding so strongly to this news.
“I’ve been here for three weeks. Nearly half a week passed before your team agreed to bring to me the imposter. A week before that I confronted Kurama about his menacing shadow. A month ago. That was when I made a point to bring the missing persons to Kurama’s attention. When I walked in on a conversation about your team being on high alert. And yet, still, this tragedy occurred.” Shinpi went on, remaining against the wall mostly because if she got too close to Koenma she wasn’t sure what she’d do.
“There have been distractions.” Koenma stated pointedly, staring back at her with all his muster. “Dead demon kings making dramatic comebacks, for instance.”
She took a step toward him, teeth bared. “This is not on my hands, but I will happily go and handle this. Say the word, Koenma, and I will show you how I would manage such threats.”
“Enough.” Hiei spoke harshly, glaring at the woman. “This has nothing to do with you.”
Her fury turned to him and he glared back at her, not bothered.
“Bureaucratic nonsense.” She spit at them all before reigning herself in through great effort. Seething, she crossed her arms over her chest and fell silent, but her fury was undeniable.
“What happened?” Kurama asked, entering the conversation. “When we spoke a few weeks ago, you said someone was looking into the situation based on Shinpi’s recommendation.”
“They did. They found nothing.” Koenma ran a hand through his hair and chewed on the tip of the pacifier. “Cold trails. The incidents stopped for nearly a week and then picked up. The tragedy Amon-Shinpi mentioned happened yesterday.”
Kurama hadn’t realized she’d been watching the efforts to fixatedly. He glanced at the woman and watched her glare daggers into Koenma. To her credit, she kept her lips pressed to tightly together the color bled from them.
“I had Yusuke look into this matter as well, given how close he is to it.” Koenma went on with his explanation. “He said he caught up to one of the perpetrators but they got away.”
“He let it go.” Shinpi’s words whipped through the room like ice shards in a storm. “Urameshi is more than capable of taking down a D-class demon.”
“Extenuating circumstances occurred, he had to make a choice. He made the right one. But it cost him the trail, there’s hasn’t been progress in days.” Koenma frowned at the woman. “That’s why I’m here. I’m hoping you two can meet with Yusuke and retrace his steps. Put an end to this.”
“I’m busy.” Hiei dismissed him immediately.
Shinpi tensed behind him, unnoticed.
“Kurama can go.” Hiei went on, oblivious to the ire he’d drawn toward himself.
Kurama, however, hadn’t missed the shift in Shinpi’s attention and caught her eye. With a scant shake of his head he silently begged her to control her temper. She stared at him, then glanced at Hiei, then settled back against the wall retracting the single step she’d taken.
“You’ll go.” Shinpi declared and the statement caused Hiei to turn to face her, bewildered. “If it helps make it worth your time, I’ll go with you.”
“I don’t need your help.” Hiei snapped at her. “Our time is better spent here, getting you-“
“You’ll see a side of me you’ve never seen if I manage to find these degenerates.” Shinpi cut him off, staring hard into his eyes. “What was you said? Make it worth your time? I’ll rip them into pieces and drop them at your feet if you take me with you.”
Botan and Koenma both paled at her words, but Hiei’s interest was piqued. He considered it.
“You’ll follow my orders.” Hiei told her firmly.
“Every command to heel and attack.” She assured him. “I’ll be the perfect pet, if you take me.”
The hint that if he refused she would be less than compliant seemed to whiz passed him, Kurama noted. Hiei was fixated on getting Shinpi into battle, into getting her to obey him he missed her unspoken threat entirely. The fox didn’t much care for that blindness. The fact Shinpi seemed to be relying on it bothered him more.
“Fine.” Hiei turned back to Koenma. “I’ll go and Shinpi will come with me.”
Shinpi raised her eyes to Koenma, but her expression remained neutral. A mask carved into stone, revealing nothing of her inner workings.
“She’s too volatile. I’m afraid of the damage she’d cause.” Koenma explained when Hiei glared at him. “Besides, she’s not sanctioned by Spirit World, Hiei. She’s not an agent and we can’t vouch for her.”
“I can.” The quiet voice that entered the conversation brought all eyes to Yukina. “I’ll put my name on the line for Hichi’s character. She’ll work with Hiei and the others or I’ll suffer the consequences.”
Shinpi glanced at her, then back to Koenma but again remained silent.
“I don’t think so.” Hiei argued with Yukina. “If anyone is responsible for Shinpi’s behavior, its me.”
“Of the two of us, I’m the one she won’t disappoint.” Yukina told him calmly, no room for argument in her tone. “She will find a way to make this happen, with or without approval. It’s better to trust her instincts and allow her to participate. I trust Hichi with my life.”
The room remained quiet for a few seconds, no one moving intentionally but all eyes moving from Yukina to Shinpi, who accepted their gazes without flinching.
“I,” Botan swallowed her discomfort and pushed more steadiness into her voice, “I think Yukina is right. I think we should allow Shinpi to join the boys. She’ll never earn our trust if we never give her a chance to.”
Shinpi almost reminded them all that she didn’t give two shits about their trust, she just wanted to maim the demons responsible but bit back the response. It wouldn’t help her. If Yukina vouched for her, she’d have to be careful of how she responded. The ice maiden was right in her assumption that Shinpi wouldn’t do anything to bring her to harm. Her hands would be metaphorically bound and Hiei’s commands would carry more weight. A small fee, to get her what she wanted.
The blood of her enemies.
She never made promises she didn’t intend to keep. Hiei would surely see a new side of her if he allowed her to do what was necessary. She’d find the trail and she’d destroy the creatures responsible for this havoc.
No more mothers would cry because of them.
“Fine.” Koenma relented, looking thoroughly uncomfortable with doing so. “She can go. But if she harms any person or causes any unnecessary chaos, Yukina won’t be the only one paying the price.”
Hiei glared over his shoulder and Shinpi could practically feel the proverbial leash he held getting yanked tighter as his fist curled at his side. She met his hot gaze, and the warning therein, without any change in her expression. Let him wrap a choke-chain around her throat to keep her in line, she didn’t care.
“She’ll be on her best behavior.” Hiei announced and his tone clearly stated that if she wasn’t, Koenma wasn’t the one she needed to worry about. “Isn’t that right, Shinpi?”
“Sir yes sir.” She responded coolly. “You have my word.”
Kurama frowned at the edge in her eyes, the emptiness in her voice. For the first time he felt like they were glimpsing a bit of the demon underneath her layers of humanity and masks. And the demon residing in those guarded depths was relentless in her pursuits. Blue eyes moved over to meet his gaze, a spark lighting the cobalt. She knew he’d seen it, the break in her cover. It showed in the way her lips rose in a secret grin.
Hiei and Kurama walked side by side as if this were something they did every day. It surprised Shinpi, how naturally the fire demon slid into the bustle of the city. Her reports of him, the rumors, they had all indicated that Hiei lacked the ability to conform. Watching next to Kurama told a new story.
Hiei merely disliked the act of hiding himself in Human World, but he wasn’t incapable of it. His actions now dictated that he was more than willing to do what needed to be done if it meant meeting his goals.
She watched him from behind, mildly interested in this revelation. It had never occurred to her before that he’d go to such lengths to fit in. Not when he’d worn that demonic cloak and outfit at every encounter she’d had with him. So, had that been a display of his unwillingness to care about whatever had drawn him back into this world, or had it been a remark on him being thrust unprepared into the equation? She had never thought to ask.
Hiei’s bandaged arms were hidden under the long sleeves of a leather jacket. His t-shirt, plain black, matched his worn black jeans and abused combat boots. Despite the dark palette, his human attire didn’t stand out garishly against the backdrop of the bustling city. Even the white scarf tied around his head seemed natural, a display of some gang relation and not the sort of unusual bandaging that might drag attention to the unusual third eye marring his forehead.
“Keep up.” Hiei glanced over his shoulder at her, his tone a warning as his eyes narrowed slightly. “You’re falling behind.”
“A half step is hardly treason, Hiei.” Shinpi drawled the words, annoyed with this sudden guardian spirit seizing him. “I’m a big girl, I can handle myself.”
“I’m not concerned with your ability to fight. Don’t run off.” Hiei returned his gaze forward. “I don’t want to waste time chasing you.”
“It was my idea to come, I have no reason to run.” She reminded him quietly, her shoulder nearly pressing to the back of his as she appeared just behind him and Kurama.
Crimson irises slid over to her, then back forward.
“Yusuke is just ahead.” Kurama informed them both, a deep inhale explaining his statement. “Are you able to track our scents, Shinpi?”
Hiei frowned at the warmth in his tone.
Shinpi offered a singular nod in answer. “I’ve had them memorized for longer than you’ve known my name.”
An honest remark that made the fox chuckle. “I suppose I should’ve expected as much.”
“And yet, you continue to underestimate me.” She agreed coarsely. Then to Hiei, “I’ll do the tracking once we find the cold trail.”
“You’ll do what you’re asked.” Hiei shot back at her. “Nothing more or less.”
She pressed her lips together and glared at him.
“It’s not a commentary on your abilities, Shinpi. We’ve been a team for years, you’ll only get in the way if you aren’t directed properly.” Hiei explained lightly. “Being in the way compromises our goals.”
“Understood.” It made sense, but she still didn’t like it.
“Perhaps when we rendezvous with Yusuke, we can split into teams. I’ll go with Shinpi and you and Yusuke can follow your path.” Kurama offered with a smile. “We’ll cover more ground that way.”
“No.” Shinpi dismissed the idea with a frown. “It makes no sense for me to go with you. The two best trackers shouldn’t be together. One of us has to be Urameshi and the other with Hiei to have the best chance of success.”
Kurama raised his eyebrows at her, surprised by insistence. “You want to go with Hiei?”
“No.” She admitted with a grimace. “But I suspect that’s the way the dice will roll. Ah, there’s the detective.”
“Sup.” Yusuke lifted his chin in a nod toward them, a glower on his face as he leaned against the side of an alleyway. His eyes scanned over Shinpi, ten met Kurama’s. “Koenma seemed pissed about that.”
“It wasn’t a pleasant interaction.” Kurama agreed. “But I believe it’s for the best.”
“Shinpi’s a wolf. It’ll help to have her nose.” Hiei added, glancing around. “Where did you lose them?”
But Shinpi had already started to walk into the alley, eyes heavy lidded as she inhaled the mingle of scents. Unusual. Closing her eyes entirely she crouched down and ran her fingers over the ground, raising them to her nose. Frowning, she fell onto her palms and knees, leaning her face close to the ground.
“You really look like a dog with you do that.” Hiei remarked, amused, at her side. “Maybe I should get you a collar with tags informing people who to return you to.”
She scowled at him, opening her eyes. “They were here.”
“How do you know?” Yusuke demanded. “Have you met them before?”
Shinpi stood up and looked over her shoulder at him, clearly annoyed by his accusation. “Because it smells like sewage. They’re using the tunnels under the city.”
He glanced at Kurama and Hiei, who each took a turn looking at the woman then back to the detective. “You seem sure about that.”
“Am I being suspected of something?” She demanded, turning to face him with a frown. “Because I deserve to know if I am. I came to find the one’s responsible for these acts. You need me for that, but I don’t need you.”
At her words, Yusuke laughed. A true sound, no bitterness, and he grinned at her with a shake of his head. Hiei frowned at him, then rolled his eyes and Shinpi got the impression this was a common quirk of the detective’s.
“Her convictions are steadfast.” Hiei remarked dryly. “Are you done?”
“Yeah, I’m done. Just checking.” Yusuke shrugged off the wall and sauntered over to Shinpi. “Alright newbie. Once we’re in there, will you be able to find them?”
“It’ll depend.” She admitted. “It won’t happen all at once, if that’s what you’re asking. But given time, yes, I’ll be able to find them.”
“Sounds good to me.” Yusuke slapped a hand onto her shoulder and ducked his head close to hers. “Lead the way your majesty.”
No one missed the sudden tension ringing through the woman at his jibe. Shinpi stiffened, eyes darting over Yusuke’s form and face, before she let all expression drain away from her. Back to her stony mask, she tilted her head and started walking, taking point of the group. But the tension remained in her shoulders, easily seen through her light grey t-shirt.
“How’s she been?” Yusuke lowered his voice and trailed behind with Hiei, eyes glued to the woman’s back. “Is she always this easily rattled?”
“Rattled isn’t the right word.” Hiei shrugged, his voice quiet as well. “Something about this case is personal to her. I thought she was going to attack Koenma over it. Her training has been going decently. She’s following the regimen I designed for her, at least.”
“She doesn’t have kids does she?” Yusuke joked but the comment gave Hiei pause, his forehead wrinkling as the fire demon thought about it. “It’s a joke Hiei. We know she doesn’t have kids.”
“I know.” Hiei shot back, tersely. “She did seem particularly bothered by the death of the child involved though. It’s possible she has some affiliation with children. Maybe another piece of her wolf demon heritage? I read that all members of a pack are responsible for the safety of the pups.”
“That’s neat. So if any of us have kids we know they’ll be safe with Auntie Shinpi.” Yusuke laughed from his belly. “Imagine her finding out your kid is getting bullied. Oh man. That’d be a trip.”
“Don’t do that.” Hiei glared daggers at Yusuke.
“Do what, make jokes?”
“Don’t get attached to her.” Hiei stated coldly. “She’s not on our side, Detective. She has no desire to be on our side. You’re setting yourself up for disappointment.”
“Hey, as long as she’s with us, she’s one of us.” Yusuke shot back, his tone growing hot. “Maybe if you weren’t such a brooding dick all the time, she’d be on our side by now.”
“If you wanted someone charming, you should have decided to put Kurama in charge of her.” Hiei huffed, crossing his arms over his chest.
“We didn’t decide shit. You took this on, all on your own. That makes it your job to win her over. So stop being an ass and start treating her like she’s a member of the team. Captain’s orders, short stop.” Yusuke shot a half-hearted glare to the fire demon. “She’s got no one, Hiei. No one. You remember what’s that like, don’t you? Have some empathy.”
“She did it to herself.” Hiei ground out. “I’m not about to coddle her because you want a new plaything.”
“Oh yeah, I’m the one who wants to her use as a prop for my training.” Yusuke deadpanned and Hiei bristled.
The sound of metal scraping against concrete drug their attention away from their conversation, barbs poised to fly from both tongues. Turning, they saw Shinpi standing beside the open manhole, eyebrows raised as she regarded them.
“This prop is doing your job for you.” She told them both, no inflection in her tone to indicate how she might have interpreted their conversation. “If it weren’t Yukina’s name on the line, I would leave you both here and handle this alone. As it stands, I unfortunately have to heed your commands, so please stop your argument.”
“You have heed commands anyway.” Hiei shot back at her with a glare. “It’s in your nature.”
Her cool stare back didn’t hide the sudden fire in her eyes. Instead of responding she gestured to the entrance to the sewer with her left hand.
“Without a map we’ll need to be cautious. We don’t want to get separated.” Kurama cut into the conversation, sidling up to Shinpi. Despite his soft words, he looked entirely disapproving of the conversation he’d interrupted.
“If we do, I’ll just whistle.” Hiei huffed, glaring at Shinpi before being the first to jump down into the hole. “That’s what your kind respond to, isn’t it?”
“Hiei!” Kurama’s mouth fell open, but the fire demon was gone. Turning to Shinpi he frowned. “I’m sorry he’s-“
“It’s fine.” Shinpi cut him off, staring at the hole. Yusuke went next, looking between them with a frown of his own. After he went in she raised her eyes to Kurama and the mask broke slightly. “He doesn’t know, Kurama. I haven’t corrected him.”
“Why are you letting him insult you?” Kurama asked quietly, a cool thread of anger in his voice. “As a wolf, I imagine this is particularly frustrating for you.”
“It’s frustrating because he doesn’t understand, but I’m not actually insulted by him calling me a dog. I’ve never seen the point in elitism of species that way.” She sighed and eyed the hole. “Hiei doesn’t know that what he’s doing could be considered vulgar. I almost don’t want to give him the power of that knowledge. Any other demon and I would take offense, but for Hiei, right now, this is him trying.”
Then she jumped into the hole and Kurama followed quickly, allowing the four of them to reconvene. Yusuke was loudly complaining about the stench, fingers pinching his nose as he gagged. Eventually he pulled his shirt up over the bottom half of his face, glaring into the darkness around them.
“This is gross.” He whined. “Can you really smell anything?”
In poor timing Shinpi started coughing, the harshness of all the grotesque scents too much for her to take in at once. Trying to force herself to breath tears pricked at her eyes and she wiped at them furiously, then at the base of her nose as she tried to focus on the task at hand. Taking a deep breath she tried to just plunge herself into the overwhelming mixture of smells and it was an immediate mistake. She wretched the side of them, doubling over in the burning pain of being sensorially assaulted.
“Yo.” Yusuke’s eyes widened and he glanced worriedly at Kurama. “Is she okay?”
“Unlikely that she is.” Kurama frowned and he walked over to Shinpi, rubbing her back in light circles.
“Shinpi’s nose is almost as sharp as Kurama’s. Maybe they’re the same.” Hiei pointed out to Yusuke wit his own frown. “Our senses of smell aren’t even close. This is disgusting to me, but it must be nearly torturous to them.”
“Go back up, both of you. Hiei and I will handle this.” Yusuke ordered and nodded at the fire demon.
“No. I can help.” Shinpi wiped at her mouth with the back of her hand, her breathing ragged as she straightened. Looking far more harried than any of them had scene from her, she wiped her palms on her jeans. “It just takes a second to adjust to everything.”
“Yusuke’s right. You should go back, there’s nothing down here worth damaging your senses over.” Hiei started firmly.
“No.” Shinpi repeated, planting her feet firmly. “I’m coming with you.”
They stared at each other for a long second, the moment stretching thin until Hiei narrowed his eyes and then nodded.
“Don’t slow us down.” He warned her.
“Tch. I should be worried about you slowing me down.” She stomped around him and Yusuke to take point again. “This way.”
Yusuke chuckled at their defiant new ally, and Hiei himself smirked at her back. “Don’t get too far ahead, Shinpi.”
“What, have you forgotten my leash?” Shinpi shot back at the fire demon and the joke make his smirk widen.
“I prefer using voice commands, you know that. But I suppose I could fashion a lead if you’re feeling uncooperative.” Hiei drawled back and she rolled her eyes to the front again.
There was the distinct mutter of her calling him an ass. In the dark tunnels their footsteps and voices echoed off the rounded walls. While they walked Kurama assessed Shinpi and Hiei, hands in his pockets as he played over their interactions. She was correct, it didn’t seem that Hiei was trying to be rude or insulting the bulk of the time. He simply didn’t understand the inherent differences of dogs and wolves. But she played into his ill-formed ideas, bantering with him with misleading jibes. And for Hiei to try to send her back, knowing they could use her help, it was a sign that he was actually trying to do what was best. In his own misguided way, Hiei was trying to take care of Shinpi.
He just didn’t really know what the hell he was doing, the fox decided.
Shinpi lifted her face, eyes closing as she inhaled in short sniffs. In the back of her mind she was humorously aware that Hiei was right, she did look like a dog when she behaved this way. It was hard to avoid, really, at least she didn’t have the ears and tail to go with the look at the moment. Extending her right hand out in front of her, she dipped her chin down and allowed the barest inkling of her energy swim outward. The air in the tunnels was still, dank and malicious, but it answered her call just as it should. Taking a moment to pull drafts from each of their available paths, they’d come to a four-way split in the tunnels, she assessed the scents on each wisp of air brought back to her until she found an anomaly worth pursuing.
Turning left, she followed the bend in the path and continued to drag the scents toward her to help keep them pointed toward their goals.
Then she stopped, the sudden inaction forcing Yusuke and Hiei to bump into her from behind.
“They’re here.” She whispered, body tensed to the point of shaking.
“Who?” Hiei demanded, reaching for his sword.
But a laugh answered him before Shinpi could. Sloshing of water around large legs and feet and the muffled, fearful whines of a piteous creature unable to escape it’s gruesome fate. Even in the darkness the team could see well enough, their demonic senses picking through the shadows with ease as the demon rounded the next bend. A small being hung from its meaty hand, the face captured by the demon’s palm as the body of the child was drug carelessly through the water.
Shinpi’s aura spiked without warning, the sudden and heavy scent of rain filling the sewer and coating the men around her in the breeze of her energy. Her breathing went shallow, nostrils flaring as her eyes glared into the face of this interloper. And then her gaze glanced at the child in his grip, the one who was crying and sniffling and yet trying so hard to be quiet.
Trying desperately to appease the monster so he could survive.
“You came to the wrong tunnels.” The demon laughed again, the sound echoing in grating waves off the stone sides of the sewer. “Have you come looking for a snack?”
“We came for you.” Shinpi remained still. “How many are there?”
“Why don’t you come with me and find out?” The demon grinned at her, a nefarious expression marring its features as pointed teeth bared themselves. Then he inhaled and his eyes widened. “You smell lovely. So clean.”
“Is that the same child?” Shinpi asked her question with ease, unbothered by the hungry leer raking over her form.
“Yes, he’s old. He’ll lose his freshness. I was going to find another when I heard footsteps.” The demon lifted the child by the face and squeezed its thick fingers so that the boy cried out. “Are you hungry?”
“Let him go.” Her demand stilled the demon, even as easily as it fell from her lips. “We both know that child won’t satisfy your hunger. Besides, I’m sure I will be far more appetizing. You said it yourself, I smell lovely.”
“Shinpi.” Hiei hissed at her.
“Shut up.” She muttered back.
“I’ll go with you.” Shinpi opened her hands in an easy gesture and it was that movement that brought attention to the fact her aura had disappeared again. The scent of rain lingered, cleansing the air, but the thrill of power was gone. “Seems a fair trade, doesn’t it?”
“I am pretty hungry.” The demon agreed. “And you do seem like you’d taste delicious.”
“So we have a deal-“
Shinpi’s eyes widened, along with the others as the demon raised the boy up and bit off his left arm in one quick motion.
“But I think I’m hungry enough for both.” He grinned at her with blood coating his teeth and spraying over his face as the boy screamed.
There was no stopping her. It all happened so fast that Kurama and Yusuke were left in stillness as Shinpi lurched forward with such speed that even Hiei didn’t see her move at first. Her strike revealed the knives she’d strapped to her ankle, hidden under pants. The kunai bit into the demon’s right eye, then Hiei’s sword severed through the arm below the elbow, the demon’s screams echoed by the splash of grey water as the appendage fell. Shinpi snatched the child from the useless fingers.
Her energy swam to the surface in a rush of green light, her hands cradling the child to her chest and one pressing against the ruined stub of his arm. The light flowed with warmth into him, stilling the bleeding as the jagged wound began to scab. The child’s cries died away as his eyes rolled into his head, the pain and shock of it all too much for him to endure as he passed out.
Kurama ran to her, backpack already slung open as he began to search for the limited medical supplies he always kept handy. The roll of gauze did little more than offer a layer of protection to the open skin and meat of the child’s arm.
“You have to take him to a hospital. I’m not skilled enough to repair this in its entirety. He’ll need blood.” Shinpi spoke earnestly, helping Kurama wrap the wound. “The risk of infection is too great as well.”
“What are you going to do?” Kurama demanded as she shoved the boy into his arms, the green light fading to nothing when their contact broke. She closed his backpack for him and slid the strap over his shoulder.
“What I volunteered for. I’m going to find the rest of them and destroy them.” Shinpi informed him with such heated malice that the fox had to blink. “Go.”
He nodded and fled back the way they’d come. Hiei glanced back at Kurama, deflecting a strike from the demon who yowled before them.
“Go with him!” Shinpi urged. “He’ll need your help getting back!”
Then Yusuke raised his finger, tip glowing blue, and the demon scrambled away. It tripped in the water then fled down the tunnels. Yusuke and Shinpi looked at each other and nodded, tearing after it. Neither was concerned with the grey water destroying their shoes or pants.
Hiei hesitated to follow them, not wanting to leave either of them to face this threat, but Shinpi’s words echoed in his head like they had off the tunnels. Growling, he spun and hastened after Kurama. She was right, the fox would need him to guide them back through the tunnels after they managed the child. Yusuke and Shinpi were strong enough to face a small group of apparitions, he had to remember that.
Yet it didn’t ease the sense of distrust he had for the idea or the mild anxiety gnawing at his guts.
Shinpi had proved herself capable of fighting. Yusuke was an S-class. They’d be fine. Hiei repeated the words silently. But every time he did the same question threatened his train of thought, even as he caught up to Kurama and they hurried to the nearest hospital.
If they were going to be fine, then why did it feel like he’d just abandoned them?
Chapter 12: Hello Darkness
In which Shinpi reveals some of her energy and Hiei demands a rematch.
Yusuke watched Shinpi loosely, observing her tactics as she tipped her head from side to side eying the tunnels sprawled before them. So many junctures. They’d lost their foe and she was determined to find him again. Find all of them, she’d muttered. But for now they were alone, tracing the veins in the underbelly of the city with their sopping shoes and ruined clothes.
He could see the appeal to her, he guessed. Though he didn’t quite understand Hiei’s thought process. Sure, Shinpi seemed strong enough. She’d moved nearly as fast Hiei back at the beginning and watching someone whip out healing powers was surreal. He’d never seen a demon heal other than Yukina. But beyond that she hadn’t displayed enough power to be called interesting. Hiei insisted there was something under the surface, Kurama had relayed as much to the rest of the team.
What was the short stop seeing that he wasn’t?
Shinpi glanced at him over her stiff shoulders, one eye raking down him with evident distaste for what she found. In the darkness her eyes seemed nearly black. Yusuke stared back, gauging her as well.
“Am I not performing to your satisfaction?” The words lacked emotion, an empty question from an empty source.
“Why do you talk like that?” Yusuke asked her, frowning. “You’re so formal and stuff. But every now and then you act like a normal person.”
She didn’t answer him, instead choosing to study the paths before them. In a quick movement she was walking again, having chosen their course in some strange divination Yusuke couldn’t quite pinpoint. That was annoying too. How was she guiding them through the tunnels? He snorted.
“Jeez, no wonder Hiei likes you. You two act the same.” Yusuke huffed. Then he raised his voice in a poor imitation of both demons, apparently. “I’m a demon and I don’t care about people. I’m better than everyone around me. I have secrets, oooooooh.”
That got him no response so he went on.
“You know, I was a king too. We’re on the same level, so you don’t get to act high and mighty with me.”
“Didn’t you quit?” Shinpi asked him, eyebrow raised as she came to a stop.
Yusuke glared off to the side.
“It wasn’t an accusation, but you did, didn’t you? I sort of envy you for that. I always wished I could quit.” Shinpi sighed heavily and then looked around them. “Why are you trying to talk to me?”
“Why wouldn’t I?”
“Hiei says I’m a dog. He treats me,” She frowned and tried to pick the right word, “like I’m a pet project. I can’t imagine what interest you might have in me.”
“Kurama talks to you.”
“Kurama understands more than the rest of you.”
That put an end to that particular line of arguing. Yusuke unsettled his gelled hair with a comb made of his fingers. Then he rested his attention back on the woman with me.
“Hiei was right you know, you shouldn’t get attached to me. I’m not one of the demons who wants to bolster your ranks, Urameshi. I have my own goals and your team is just a means to an end. I’m not here to make friends.” She gestured to him loosely. “It’s admirable that you’re attempting to reach out, but it’s a useless venture. Besides. I’m not the type of person you want to associate with.”
“Why’s that?” He wondered, but the way he lulled the words made it seem like he had the answer.
She didn’t answer him, instead choosing to remain still for a few moments, debating how to proceed with the conversation. Yusuke breezed past her, hands in his pockets. He’d lead the way until they came up to their next set of choices then he’d let her talk to the spirits or whatever it was that she was doing. Shinpi followed him a few steps behind, her footsteps barely making a sound while his crunched and sloshed in sloppy echoes.
“Look. The thing is that we know.” Yusuke sighed, twisting around to watch her reaction to his words. “Koenma, Kurama, and me. We all know you killed your human father. And we know that Hiei knows too, and that he chose not to tell us for some reason. I guess I’m just hoping that reason is because you’re worth protecting.”
“I can assure you, nothing Hiei does for me is for my protection.” Shinpi frowned, glaring ahead of them. “His actions are selfishly driven, always. I meant it when I told you that you wouldn’t be able to stop him. I’ve been on the receiving end of the attentions of those like him before.”
“You can’t really be comparing him to Hiro.” Yusuke stopped her, pulling on her arm to bring her to face him.
“Hiro?” Shinpi blinked up at him, surprised. “Of course not. Hiro and Hiei are nothing alike. Even my rage isn’t so blinding, Urameshi. Give me some credit. I meant he’s just like Mukuro.”
“Ruthless.” Shinpi nodded and exhaled, deflating with the action. “Persistent. Dominant. Powerful. Loyal, until he won’t be. They are quite similar. As my grandfather would have said, they are souls stitched from the same cloth. I’ve known Mukuro for over a century and no amount of gossip will convince me that she’s softened her edges.”
Yusuke searched her face, then dropped his hand from her upper arm. Tilting his head, he continued to look her over.
“At any rate, even if he were the type to coddle, Hiei wouldn’t find anything worth protecting in me.” Shinpi shook her head and continued to pick their path through the aged sewer tunnels. “A murderer, a liar by default, a coward. I’m surprised he could stomach the idea of me long enough to let me live at all.”
“Psh. Stomach. Are you kidding me? I’ve never seen Hiei lie to keep someone alive before. He told us that the common thread he saw in you was your need to protect others.” Yusuke shoved his hands into his pockets and grinned at her, an expression so carelessly bright that she felt the need to avert her eyes. “He called you a coward with honor. That’s a compliment coming from him.”
“I’ll still my quickened pulse.” Shinpi rolled her eyes. “As similar as they are, Hiei lacks Mukuro’s delicate tongue.”
“You got pretty familiar with Mukuro’s tongue, hmm?” Yusuke leered at her, wiggling his eyebrows.
Shinpi smirked at him, refusing to say anything. It left him in her wake, mouth gaping open as he tried to decipher her silence.
“Wait, I was joking. Did you and Mukuro really… I mean… Is Mukuro?” He swallowed. “Are you?”
“I’m many things, Detective. You’ll have to be clear with your questions.” Shinpi teased him lightly, her tone so flippant he couldn’t make heads or tails of the answer.
“Kurama said you were a good fighter. I’m sort of jealous Hiei has you all to himself. Fighting ancient demons is sort of my jam.” Yusuke glanced at her. “Maybe sometime you and I can spar.”
She stopped and stared at him, scouring his face. “All of you seem insistent that Hiei is the one in control here. It’s my body and my training, no matter what he thinks of himself. If you want to spar with me, then spar with me.”
“I like hearing that.” Yusuke grinned at her, every bit the feral child he’d always been.
“Besides, if he sees me fighting you, it’ll drive him crazy. I like to find new ways to annoy him.” Shinpi winked at Yusuke with a grin of her own. “He’s sort of cute when he gets frustrated, don’t you think?”
“Homicidal comes to mind way before cute.” Yusuke laughed. “You’re pretty cool.”
Her smile lightened, softening on the edges and finally reached her eyes. It was a subtle change that made him realize that their previous exchanges had been more acts than natural reactions. This, though, this seemed like she was offering a real piece of herself. But then her eyes darted to the side, narrowing and she slid into a fighting stance as easily as breathing.
The growl that tore from her throat preceded three demons launching at them from the darkness beyond their path. Shinpi shook her head slightly and launched forward, jump kicking the first and spinning through the air to grasp a second by the shirt. Yusuke lingered back, hands still in his pockets as he watched her fight on her own. His eyes widened as her movements seemed to slow, her left fist pulling back as her right palm rose with fingers splayed. She caught the fist of an attacker and then used it to spin it into one of its comrades, the action launching her back through the air into a kick that took the third to the ground.
The air in the tunnel shifted, sliding around her ankles as Shinpi slid back on the balls of her feet. Running forward again, she kneed the largest of their attackers in the jaw. Her legs wrapped around its neck after the movement, her hands slamming against its temples so hard it’s eyes bulged. One, two, three strikes to the face and it went down with a resounding thud against the stone path they followed. A succession of quick strikes to the next one’s back rendered it unable to even cry for help, and the last fell hard with a kick to the back of its head.
Yusuke let out a whistle, long and loud, eyebrows raised. “Damn, you’re a maniac Shinpi.”
Okay, so maybe Hiei’s attentions were well-placed. And maybe Kurama was right to ask Yusuke to reach out to Shinpi since Hiei seemed to avoid it at all costs. She could be a real asset to their team, fighting like that.
“I sort of get why Hiei doesn’t want to share. I bet you give him a run for his money.” Yusuke clicked his tongue and grinned at her, offering a harmless finger gun. “But you and me have a date, right? You, me and some good ole fashioned getting-to-know-you fist fighting.”
“Sure.” She nodded, a careful smile in place. “I’ve been hoping to fight you for a while, actually. I want to see if I measured your fighting style correctly. But when you come to the temple, bring Kuwabara. If you don’t, I won’t pay any attention to you.”
“You got a thing for that idiot or?” Yusuke raised his eyebrows.
“He reminds me of someone I used to know.” Shinpi shrugged. “I think he has raw potential, I’d like to polish it.”
“You sound like you’d like to polish something of his alright.”
“Lewd.” Shinpi flattened her expression. “I’m not attracted to Kuwabara.”
“Got the hots for Kurama? Can’t blame ya. He gets all the attention.” Yusuke nodded, teasing her with a grin as he leered over her.
“Kurama would be a more attractive prospect than say, you for instance.” Shinpi agreed with her own smartelic smile. “But no, I’m not romantically interested in Kurama.”
The rounded a corner and Yusuke’s next suggestion was lost in the pained grunt he offered when metal bat collided with the side of his head. Shinpi jumped back, feet sliding in the water as she tensed herself to spring forward but the bat remained poised over Yusuke’s groaning figure by the demon beside him. Two more approached her from the front, her fists curled and she remained poised to fight, but made no move to.
“What’s the matter doggy, can’t attack without a command?” One of the demons laughed, the grating sound rubbing off the stones of the tunnel.
“Lower the bat.” Shinpi demanded, eyes narrowed.
“If you insist.” The demon bared his teeth and Yusuke grunted again as the bat dropped around the side of his face.
Hiei paced the hall of the hospital with his hands behind his back, earning alarmed glances from the nurses and staff as they milled about. Waiting for Kurama to finish his conversation with the human police was a waste of his time. He could have just stayed behind with the others.
Another pang of anxiety wracked through his innards and he bit back against it, eyes narrowing.
Yusuke was a powerful demon. The strongest of them all, really, there was honestly no reason to worry about him. But the sense of something going wrong continued to eat at Hiei’s nape and stomach, a disgusting parasite burrowing into his being. He hated this feeling. He needed to trust Yusuke. He needed to remember that through the years, Yusuke had fought valiantly for others a lot less worthwhile than Shinpi.
The aggravating feeling persisted, growing worse when he thought of the woman. Why? Shinpi was decently capable of defending herself. She’d held her own against him twice, hadn’t she? Of course that was without him using his energy. And it was a solo fight.
Not against demons who wanted to kill her. Not against multiple attackers. Not in the dark, sequestered and unable to seek help if she needed it.
He shook his head and glared at the door as it opened, his hands falling to his sides as Kurama came out, looking exhausted.
“I think that worked.” Kurama kept his voice low. “But I have more to do here and I’d like to contact Koenma.”
“How long is that going to take?” Hiei growled at him. “While we’re up here wasting time-“
“I agree.” Kurama lifted a hand to cut off Hiei’s rant. “You should go back. You’ll be more useful there anyway.”
An honest statement if there ever was one. Hiei was useless at this bureaucratic nonsense that humans seemed to love to indulge in. He had no patience for paperwork or length, detailed accounts of events. This was a task tailor made for the fox.
Without a goodbye he darted from the building, glad to be moving again. The pale walls of the hospital had felt suffocating as he’d grown more and more restless. Racing through the streets, a sentient shadow, it relieved some of that tension. But it didn’t appease the frustrating anxiety. No, he imagined he’d have to see the woman and the detective alive and well before that went away.
Yusuke groaned, reaching forward before falling mostly into the grey water, arm extended toward Shinpi as the demons cackled above her, one of them clawing a hand around her throat, another fisting her hair, the last leering into her face. He tried to call her name, to offer some assurance that he was still there but the words couldn’t get passed his swollen lips. Another groan and he managed to lift his head, his left elbow finding ground under his shoulder to support his weight.
“Hiei’s dog, do you think she can do any tricks?”
“I bet she’ll do whatever we tell her too.”
“Sit up like a good pet.”
“Maybe she’ll beg.”
“Oh she’ll definitely beg.”
They yanked on Shinpi’s hair, kicking her legs until her knees buckled under her. Gritting her teeth she kept quiet, glaring up into their hideous faces.
“Ah, looks like Hiei might not have done so well training her.” One of them remarked.
“Keep up that snarling and your master will have to find a new pet.” The leader growled, then he forced her lips into a smile, his dirty fingers pulling at her cheeks and mouth. “That’s better Fido.”
A flash of teeth followed by a scream of shock and pain. A spray of blood, the color muted to shiny black in the low light of the sewer as it streaked over Shinpi’s chin and cheek. She spit the finger she’d bitten off of the demon to the side, eyes narrowed. He screamed profanities, grabbing his injured hand to stimy the flow of blood from his severed thumb.
“You should know its rude to tell a woman to smile.” Shinpi remarked coldly. “And I am not the Jaganshi’s pet.”
Her words brought the leader’s attention back to her. Without hesitation he struck he across the face, the back of his wounded hand catching her against the cheekbone.
Her head barely turned from the impact.
Yusuke inhaled sharply when it did, her narrowed gaze completely visible to him for the first time. Here in the dim underground, her usually cobalt eyes shone like black embers. And the fire filling them wasn’t the sort people used to keep themselves warm at night. Not even close.
He’d seen that murderous glint before. Once in Kurama’s gaze, when he faced the Elder Toguro before they squared off with Sensui. Many more times it had flitted through Hiei’s eyes. But on Shinpi it startled him.
It had been so easy to forget what she was when she smiled and snarked with Hiei.
But the woman was a demon, through and through.
He shouldn’t have let himself forget, not even for a moment. He was just happy that the darkness in her expression wasn’t meant to strike his core with fear. When she turned to her captors it was without flourish or grandeur. Her words fell out as cool statements of fact. Her movements precise and unforgiving.
A force of nature taking its course.
She put one foot under her, allowing her to come to a kneel while the other two demons kept their grips tight on her throat and hair, each of them claiming one of her slender wrists in their meaty palms. Their thick fingers did little to contain her as she continued to stand, jerking herself free with head tall and grace lining each movement. Even stained as she was with muck and grime, she radiated a feral sense of pride. Her left arm came loose first, allowing her to slam the palm into the demon on her right’s sternum. The grip on her throat abated immediately, angry claw marks marring the skin there as the demon flew to the side.
The wall of the tunnel cracked and bowed under the impact of his weight before he slunk into the water.
Her right arm now free, she reached back and wrapped it around the wrist of the hand in her hair, pulling it close before her other elbow bit into the demon’s nose, then his diaphragm. His hand spasmed and he released her, crumbling behind her like a paper house.
“I allow the Jaganshi to think he has control of me because it entertains me. I can assure you, he holds no actual love for me.” Shinpi rolled her shoulders, then flexed her hands getting the circulation to move correctly after her awkwardly held position from before. “More importantly I am not, nor have I ever been, a damsel in distress. An unfortunate oversight on your part.”
“Shut the hell up!” He flashed toward her, and the water sloshed with his movements. “You’re just a human pet! I’m not scared of you!”
She dodged under is assault easily, bobbing and weaving before her hand came up and clawed around his larynx. She drug him close to her and inhaled by his cheek, her lips pulling back to reveal a vicious smile as she threw him away from her.
“I was willing to play along with you until you struck Urameshi.” Shinpi explained, sardonic amusement painted over her face. “You forced my hand, I’m afraid.”
“What are you?” The demon scrambled back, trying to put space between himself and Shinpi as she remained still, regarding him with skepticism.
Her eyes moved up to the ceiling of the tunnel they’d trapped themselves in. Tilting her head, she mused how to answer him. No telling who might be eavesdropping around the bends and twists of this labyrinth of filth.
“An apex predator.” She finally responded and bared her teeth again, the left side of her grin lifting farther than the right. “A natural disaster. Oh, darling, I’ve gone by so many names over the years. Perhaps you’ll scream a new one while you tell me what’s happened to the rest of the humans.”
He locked his jaw.
She didn’t seem to notice or care as she stalked toward him, her gaze a shot in the dark that froze his movements as she looked down her nose at him. In the shadows this way, he thought he saw fangs in the row of her teeth. Her nails looked longer, sharper and the expression she offered left nothing human to her features.
The demon screamed before she ever got the first hit in, rousing his comrades from their stupors. They rushed Shinpi from behind and she laughed, kicking the leader in the face before spin kicking the second in the neck. The third she punched under the chin. They regained their feet quickly and with his numbers in his favor, the leader got to his feet too.
Shinpi smirked, one hand raising. The water around all their legs and Yusuke’s body began to crest into small waves as if disturbed into movement. The air grew thicker, nearly a physical weight to it. With a twist of her body, she cut a kick toward the largest of them and his arm severed as an arch of wind slashed through the appendage as it thought held no more substance than gauze. Throwing her hand down into the water, it bowed then swelled, following her arm up in tendrils that surrounded her.
Whipping the lashes of water at the demon with the missing arm he shouted as he was drug into the increasing depths. Bubbles formed where he’d been submerged, the signs of a struggle that ended quickly.
Yusuke forced himself to sitting, the water creeping up to his chest. The increased volume slowed the other two demons but not Shinpi herself. She spun and ducked as if nothing had changed, the tendrils now gone as she blocked the physical strikes aimed at her face with her arms. He couldn’t get the warning on his tongue to fall out, instead choking on it as the leader slammed a kick into Shinpi’s hip.
She went down like a ton of bricks, her hip displaced by the hit. Grunting she attempted to get her foot back under her and failed. Giving up on the futility of walking, Shinpi growled and continued to block from her compromised position. The air shifted and her eyes widened.
Another arm claimed by the battle, flying through the air and landing with a splash as Hiei entered the fray. His eyes glimmered in the dark, the color of the sun as seen through garnet and Shinpi sucked in a sharp breath at his entrance. One look at her, to which she offered a scant nod, and Hiei went after the demon he’d maimed. A hand wrapped around Shinpi’s throat, hauling her to her one good leg.
“I’ll kill her.” The leader pressed his nails into the already wounded and raw flesh of Shinpi’s throat, his eyes on Hiei. “I’ll kill your precious little dog.”
Hiei let the body of demon he’d been facing fall into the murky water, turning to glare at the woman and her captor.
“You’d be doing me a favor. That woman is nothing but trouble.” Hiei complained hotly. “In fact, if you don’t manage to kill her, I might just do it myself.”
“Fuck you.” Shinpi snarled at him.
Yusuke was suddenly understanding Kurama’s hesitation in bringing the woman with them. He’d been right. Hiei and her couldn’t be in the same room. He groaned.
“This is all your fault.” Hiei pointed out to her, anger lighting his aura. “The Detective is injured because you ran off like an imbecile. I had to come rescue you.”
“I don’t need rescuing halfwit.” She shot back at him. “This situation is under control.”
“His control, not yours.” Hiei pointed out with a growl.
“Always mine.” Shinpi bared her teeth.
Yusuke saw Hiei’s lips quirk into the barest smirk then. “Prove it, woman.”
Shinpi grabbed the leader’s hand and pried it from her throat before wrenching her arm back. The pressure in the tunnel shifted, channeling through her palm as she slammed it against the demon’s ear. There was no time for him to cry out. They couldn’t have heard it anyway. The force of the air she shoved into his cranium through his ear canal rocketed through his skull, shattering it, and sending a shockwave out the other side of his body that rippled over the water and slammed into the already damaged wall of the tunnel, further denting it to the point the bricks fell into the water and exposed the earth underneath the stone.
Yusuke and Hiei both winced, their ears ringing from the intense shift of pressure. Shinpi hobbled to the best height she could and glared at Hiei before limping her way slowly over to Yusuke. Falling into the water at some point in the four feet remaining between them, she crawled the rest of the way.
“The only point he made that was worth a damn was that your injury is my fault. I’m sorry Urameshi.” Shinpi lifted her hands to his battered face and ruined shoulder. “I hope this atones, even in a small way, for what I’ve caused.”
Yusuke went to ask her what she was doing and gave up when the words came out as nothing more than mangled chewing sounds. She nodded and closed her eyes, a green light radiating from her hands and pressing into his skin. His eyes widened, the swelling going down immediately under her soothing contact. It tingled in his muscles, whispered over his bruises like a gentle breeze. Shinpi’s energy coursed through his body until he raised his hands to hers and pulled them away from his cheeks.
“What the hell was that?” He demanded, glad his words finally worked correctly.
“A token of apology.” Shinpi offered him a gentle smile. “Can you walk?”
“Can you?” Hiei demanded of her, clearly annoyed. “What happened to your leg?”
“My gracious host kicked my hip out of place.” She sighed, rolling her eyes to meet crimson. “How like you to show up after I’d been properly maimed.”
“Oh shut up. Just be happy I came at all.” Hiei warned her.
“Surely, if it hadn’t been for Urameshi, I wouldn’t have seen your lovely face at all.” She agreed darkly. “Tch. You’re the worst, Jaganshi.”
“What did I say about shutting up?” Hiei growled, trudging through the water toward her. Stooping down, he grabbed her arm and forced it around his shoulders, dragging her up with him. “Is that the technique Genkai stopped you from using on me?”
“Yes.” Shinpi agreed, wincing as she tried to put her weight on her right leg. “Granted, I wasn’t aiming to kill you.”
“I’m glad.” Hiei acknowledged, frowning at the mess she’d left in her wake. “The minute you can walk, I’m going to put you back in traction Shinpi. I’ve been trying to get you to display your energy for weeks and some disgusting low-bred peon pries it out of you. You’ll pay for that offense.”
“Naturally.” She sighed heavily.
Yusuke walked over to her other side and took her left arm over his shoulders too, just as Hiei had done. Her eyes flashed to him, confusion clear in her furrowed brow. Hiei’s gaze wasn’t confused so much as aggravated by the addition of Yusuke’s help.
“I’ve got it.” Hiei told him with a glare.
“We’re a team.” Yusuke didn’t argue with Hiei, ending the conversation with his easy statement.
They were quiet for a while, picking their way slowly through the tunnels. Yusuke broke the silence as Shinpi and Hiei argued about which way to turn.
“You’re not a dog, by the way.”
Shinpi went rigid in their grasp, the words plucking at something he hadn’t meant to touch. Hiei shot Yusuke a quizzical look.
“What?” Hiei demanded.
“They were saying things to her. Calling her a dog. Saying shit like she was your pet.” Yusuke explained, frowning. Then he turned back to Shinpi’s suddenly guarded gaze. “I’m sorry they said that shit to you.”
“Don’t be. Hiei says it all the time.” She responded quietly. “They only used those insults because they heard him using them earlier.”
Hiei glanced at her face. “You are a dog.”
“I’m a wolf.” She didn’t correct him with malice. In fact, her voice held no emotion at all. “Dog is actually a grave insult to my kind. It implies we’re domesticated and weak, nothing but servants or pets.”
Hiei’s grip on her wrist loosened then grew firmer than before. When he spoke next, it was through his teeth. “You should have told me.”
It was the closest to an apology Yusuke had ever heard Hiei mutter without being cajoled into the admission by Yukina or Kurama.
“For all your research I assumed you knew and were doing it on purpose to bait me at first, but I realized you simply didn’t understand.” Shinpi admitted. “After all, I’ve called you a dog several times. I was sure you understood the context. But you didn’t. And honestly, the idea of giving you the power to insult me didn’t seem like it would be in my favor, so it was easier to just deal with it.”
“What did I tell you about that brain of yours?” Hiei complained to her. “Stop figuring everything out. You only seem to get halfway through any point anyway. I wasn’t doing it to bait you. I was doing it to-“
“To what?” Yusuke craned his head forward to peer at Hiei.
“Yes, Hiei, do tell. You left us hanging.” Shinpi stared at him dully. “I’m intrigued.”
“It doesn’t matter. I see now it was all in vain.” Hiei huffed, refusing to answer her. “How long do you think it will take you to heal?”
“That depends.” Shinpi hedged.
“Who resets my hip.” She sunk into her shoulders. “It’s going to hurt like a bitch. If Genkai does it, she won’t bother healing my wounds. But Yukina doesn’t know much about popping joints back into place.”
“We’ll have Botan take a look.” Hiei told her. He looked over to Yusuke. “She can do it.”
“Yeah, of course!” Yusuke bobbed his head. “She’ll be excited to help too.”
Shinpi didn’t seem so convinced but she didn’t argue with them.
“I suppose I should say this while its fresh.” She grumbled, looking consternated about her next words. “Even though I had the situation well in hand, as you saw, I should thank you for coming. Your interference allowed for a shorter fight, which I appreciate given my injury. I still could have finished it on my own, but I suppose your presence was helpful.”
Yusuke chortled, trying to repress the sounds. “You sound like Hiei.”
“Hardly.” Hiei smirked. “I would have never actually said thank you.”
“True.” Yusuke outright laughed. “She’s at least got that over on you.”
“Shinpi has plenty over me.” Hiei admitted. “That final technique was impressive. I’ll have to find a way to block it.”
Neither of them missed the way Hiei’s words made the woman smile, her bottom lip caught in her teeth to fight the expression that bloomed over her cheeks and mouth, lighting her eyes. She didn’t respond to his statement, instead keeping her eyes trained ahead of them.
“You missed her water whips.” Yusuke declared and just like that the rest of their trek to the mouth of the sewers was filled with Yusuke’s rapturous details of the fight from what he could see of it. Hiei listened in rapt attention, scoffing now and then. Shinpi only corrected him one or twice but mostly just laughed along with Yusuke’s vigorous recanting of events.
“I’d like you tell all my stories from now on.” She declared as the stumbled onto the hill beside the gulch the sewer emptied into. “You make me sound far more interesting and amazing than I actually am.”
“Humility doesn’t suit you.” Hiei mumbled to her and she shot him a dirty look.
“You were a badass!” Yusuke told, nodding to himself. “I mean, I thought they had you for sure! I can’t believe you were able to whip their asses so thoroughly.”
“Given enough time to recuperate, perhaps I could offer you a firsthand experience on said ass whipping techniques.” Shinpi made the offer seem unwilling but Yusuke readily agreed, bellowing he’d teach her a thing or two.
She laughed again, shoulders shaking with the movement. Hiei watched her from the corner of his vision, trying not to be obvious about observing her.
Hours later after Botan had done her work, which had not been done without complaint, Shinpi lounged in Yusuke’s living room on the couch. Hiei perched on the windowsill, listening to the sounds of the city as Keiko and Yusuke slept soundly in their bedroom. Yusuke had apologized offhandedly about not having another bed to offer but Shinpi had waved off his concerns. A couch was plenty. Hiei never used a bed anyway and Shinpi was already in their debt for allowing her to spend the night and borrow some clothes. She’d thrown all of her sewer water stained attire away the minute she’d stripped for her shower after Botan had finished with her.
Keiko had been asleep before they’d arrived and they’d tried to keep the commotion to a minimum to avoid waking her, at Yusuke’s begging. He griped that he didn’t want her to yell at him for ruining his clothes. Shinpi had shushed him and shooed him to his room, telling him to go be with his girlfriend. No need to fret over demons, she’d said, they were fine.
“You enjoy being around Yusuke.” Hiei’s comment came unbidden, but casual as if they’d been having a perfectly normal conversation about the topic.
Shinpi picked her head up from the arm of the couch and stared at him. He wasn’t looking at her, instead his face still pointed toward the glass of the window. She couldn’t see his reflection and wasn’t sure if he could see hers, given the angle.
“I like his energy.” She agreed, reticent.
“He makes you smile and laugh. You don’t do that at the temple, not even for Yukina.”
The observation earned a quizzical head tilt from the woman, her brows pulling down.
“I suppose I don’t laugh much.” Shinpi sat up and looked at her hands, pulling her attention away from Hiei’s back. “I don’t normally have much to laugh about, honestly.”
Hiei nodded, not that she could see it. He watched her through the glass, noting the line of her shoulders as they fell slightly.
“Unusual of you to notice.” She told him softly.
“I didn’t until tonight. I suppose it’s a case of not realizing something is missing until you see it filled in.” He told her just as quietly, neither of them wanting to rouse the Detective or his woman.
Her lips quirked, the threat of a smile, but it fell away before it truly had a chance to form. Her hands stopped fidgeting with each other. Leaning back against the couch, she stared up at the ceiling with that look that clearly meant she’d been lost to her thoughts. Hiei was surprised to find himself able to discern the expression without pause.
“Does Yusuke really think I’m on your team?” She asked the question so delicately, as if she was afraid for him to hear it and respond.
Hiei weighed his answer carefully, measuring what he knew about Shinpi against the truth of the matter. For all his misgivings about her nature, he knew one thing still stood as fact. Shinpi was a wolf who wanted a pack, a family. She’d lost hers. Lone wolves rarely howled, maybe that’s why it had never occurred to her to call for help tonight. The communicator in her pocket had gone unused because she’d believed he wouldn’t have come for her even if she’d called.
“He normally means what he says.” Hiei told her, a bit firmer with his tone. “If he says you’re on the team, then that’s what it is.”
“Why wouldn’t he take your opinion on the matter into consideration?” She wasn’t talking to him, he knew, but merely vocalizing her many thoughts. “Your word was good enough to determine my fate in Spirit World. Why wouldn’t you carry the same weight here?”
“I do.” Hiei told her carefully, watching this declaration settle on her brow. It creased the skin and pursed her lips. “As hard as it may be for you to understand, I don’t have an issue with you being on the team if you’re willing to fight like you did tonight.”
Her mind rolled around the idea, turning it this way and that. Hiei suppressed a chuckle as her head turned slightly while she examined her thoughts. Silence lapsed between them and he allowed it to stand. If this was the end of their conversation that was fine.
“I’ve never been on a team before.” Shinpi seemed puzzled by the mere idea of it as she laid back down. “Seems like there might be a lot of rules. I’m not sure I’m built for that sort of thing.”
The barely audible musings made Hiei smirk as he turned to glance at her. She couldn’t see him, he knew that. She cuddled into the couch, still muttering to herself about the ludicrousness of the whole affair and of Yusuke. When Hiei passed her on the way to the front door of the apartment after her breathing had evened out he glimpsed a smile on her sleeping face.
“Get away from me.” The demon scrambled back, a useless attempt to put space between himself and Hiei.
“I’m glad you’re still alive. I thought I’d killed you on accident.” Hiei offered a malicious grin. He sank down in front of the demon, teeth showing as he spoke. “I needed one of you alive. I’m glad you didn’t disappoint me and die while I was gone.”
The bodies of the demon’s leader and comrade rested where they’d fallen, Shinpi’s trophy case of victory for the night. Hiei glanced around the tunnel and observed the damage in more detail now that he wasn’t pressed to get the woman and Detective medical attention. After a few moments he turned back to the creature cowering from him.
“You have something I want.” Hiei informed the demon, eyes narrowed to prevent any argument. “You’re going to give it to me.”
“If you let me live I’ll-“
“You don’t get to make demands.” Hiei unwrapped the Jagan. “You’re going to die either way. Don’t test my patience on the matter.”
Without any other warning the fire demon jerked into the demon’s mind, prying through his memories relentlessly. He saw the events that had transpired over the past months, but they hardly mattered. Piles of dead humans meant little to him. Then he came up on tonight, on them listening to the conversations above through the manhole covers. The fear of facing the detectives. The excitement when Shinpi and Yusuke alone progressed into the sewers.
Hiei reviewed these memories until they felt like his own. Everything that had to do with Shinpi, stolen from the demon and etched into his own mind. But he resurfaced unsatisfied. The fight itself had been too much for these underclassed idiots to appreciate. This demon could barely make out Shinpi’s quick movements and the memories were tainted by fear and loathing. Hiei scowled, annoyed, because this was the first chance he’d had to see her fight and all he could do was watch a shitty, grainy copy of the actual events. But even then, it was impressive. Shinpi had an array of skills he hadn’t thought to consider. She seemed quick to adapt to her surroundings.
It made the urge to shake her awake with a challenge that much harder to ignore. Yet he managed. He had other things to do and she still needed to recuperate.
What Hiei needed was someone to talk to.
“Honestly man, if she fights like that all the time, I understand your obsession.” Yusuke rubbed the back of his neck, eyes fixed on the depths of his coffee mug. “You should have seen her. And even before we were cornered, she kicked serious ass.”
“I did see.” Hiei admitted quietly, staring at his hands as they wound around the paper cup Yusuke had bought for him. He didn’t need to look to know the detective was staring at him. “I didn’t kill my opponent. I waited until Shinpi fell asleep and then I left, going back for him. I reviewed his memories. I saw everything.”
“You don’t sound happy.” Yusuke pointed out, frowning.
“His senses were too dull to appreciate what was happening.” Hiei scowled at his drink. “Her movements were blurs to him. I didn’t get to witness the finesse I’m sure she etched into each strike.”
“You’re pissed you didn’t get to see her in full glory, huh?” Yusuke nodded and then leaned back in his chair. “And you drug me out here at the ass crack of dawn to talk about it because you didn’t want her hearing.”
“Kurama doesn’t get it, Detective. Not the way you do.” Hiei allowed and it sounded to Yusuke like he was making a case for himself. “My obsession bothers him. He thinks I’m forcing my will on the woman.”
“Aren’t you?” A brow arched, the question sliding out easily.
Hiei’s grip on his cup tightened.
“Dude, I said I got why you wanted to fight her, but honestly, I feel like you’re in deeper than you think. I’m not sure exactly what is going on here, but I know it’s something.” Yusuke pointed a finger at Hiei, his hand wrapped around his coffee. “Shinpi said she felt like nothing you did was for her benefit. It was all selfish.”
Hiei inhaled slowly, glaring at his fingers. Then he released his cup and slid his hands over the table then down to his knees as he leveled Yusuke with crimson irises that demanded the other understand.
“None of you get it.” Hiei declared and the statement obviously annoyed him. “Even she is so buried in her own turmoil she doesn’t understand.”
“Explain it then, because honestly with the dog comments and the verbal harassment you kind of come across as an ass.” Yusuke pointed out dryly, leaning forward. “I don’t think you’re a bad guy, Hiei, but I think something about Shinpi makes you a little worse than you used to be.”
“Goddammit, I wish everyone would stop pretending she’s some delicate princess that needs protecting.” Hiei growled at him, his temper lost. “She’s not like your woman or even Yukina or Botan. She’s a warrior. She was made to fight.”
“How demons do you know that can heal people?” Yusuke demanded and Hiei ground his teeth together. “Because at my last count, it was literally just Yukina.”
“Has tech, sure, but she doesn’t put her energy on the line. Shinpi? She used life energy to save that kid. She’s a healer. And a fighter. I don’t think you’re giving her enough credit.”
Hiei scowled and he knew this conversation was a lost cause. If Yusuke wasn’t going to understand his motives no one would. He’d hoped the detective, in his bull-headed glory, would at least see the merit in what he was trying to do but like Kurama he came up just short of the actual goal. Hiei drank his coffee and glared with menace at the side of the café they’d claimed for the discussion.
Picking his words very carefully, aware that he currently stood on precarious ground with his team Hiei spoke again.
“I’m not the fool you take me for.” He told Yusuke, not bothering to look at the other man. “I understand her potential, Detective. Possibly better than she does herself.”
Yusuke scanned him then frowned. “Then why are you being such a dick?”
But Hiei didn’t answer him. He merely got to his feet, drained his coffee and marched away with his hands in his pockets, the crumbled remains of his cup the only indication he’d been at the table at all.
“Yours were ruined.” Hiei pointed out, dropping the shoe box in Shinpi’s lap while she stared at it. “You’ll need a pair to travel to the temple, yes?”
“Yes.” She answered him quietly.
Botan raised her eyebrows, staring at Yusuke who offered a shrug in response. They sat quietly by the wayside as Hiei marched through the apartment to the woman on the couch, gifting her with the box of shoes without so much as a glance toward his hosts.
“This isn’t an act of benevolence. I’ll want repayment.” Hiei pointed out when she edged her fingers along the sides of the box. “I want to fight you again.”
“A sparring match for shoes?” She mused, and then finally met his gaze. “Why?”
“You’re going to show me what you’re made of.” Hiei told her and there was no room for argument in his voice. “If some half-assed demon in a sewer deserves your energy, then so do I.”
“I had something to fight for.” She pointed out, raising her eyebrows. “The child, the detective. I had reason to call on my powers.”
“I’ll give you a reason.” Hiei assured her.
She pressed her lips together then assessed him, eyes roving down then up. Her lips quirked to the left, that lopsided grin tugging at her mouth.
“We’ll see.” She nodded. “Thank you for the shoes.”
And the words were followed with a smile too genuine suddenly. Hiei nearly reeled from it, but refused to let her see it had surprised him. Fists hidden in his pockets meant she couldn’t see how he’d tightened his fingers into his palms. But her smile didn’t waver even as she hid it behind her hand, sparing him a glance before darting her eyes away.
“Maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to be your pet.” She ventured, a teasing lilt to the words and Hiei frowned openly, drawing a giggle from her. “You’re taking such good care of me.”
“Shut the hell up before I make you swallow your teeth.” Hiei snapped at her. “Now put on the shoes so we can leave I’m tired of being in the city.”
“I was hoping to get some shopping done while we were here, though.” Shinpi didn’t lose the light in her eyes, but her smile faded. “Who knows when you’re going to let me leave that mountain again.”
“Woman, we both know that if you wanted to leave you’d find a way. Get your shopping done. You have two hours.” Hiei rolled his eyes away, avoiding looking in Yusuke’s direction. “Don’t make me come get you.”
“Sir, yes sir.” She grinned again and Hiei couldn’t help but slide his eyes back to her to study the expression.
It looked more natural than the stony mask she usually wore. He swallowed.
“And when we get back, you’ll spar with me.” Hiei told her firmly.
“Whatever you want, Hiei.” She agreed readily, rising to her feet and crossing close to him. “Are you going to chaperone me today?”
“You don’t need a babysitter.” Hiei hadn’t meant to lower his voice, but it happened anyway. “You’ll come back in time.”
Something about her expression shifted, minute but enough to draw his attention. A slight spark in her eyes, a different twist in her grin. He wasn’t sure what it meant or why it happened, but it made him narrow his eyes to cover how interested he was in studying the change. What he didn’t notice at all was his own reaction. A slight softening of his stance, head tilted barely to the side in a reflection of Shinpi’s body language. His lips pulled into a smirk, eyes glued to her face.
It wasn’t until she walked toward the door and his gaze followed her that he realized Botan and Yusuke were staring at them wearing matching expressions of knowing a secret that was too good. Hiei glared at them and jerked his attention away, not wanting to suffer their annoying questions he was sure were coming. He made his way toward the door as well, waiting for Shinpi to get her new shoes on before opening it.
“Thank you for your hospitality, I’ll wash the clothes and send them back as soon as I can.” Shinpi bowed her head to their hosts.
“Go.” Hiei pulled the door open and nodded to it. Shinpi walked through, tossing a wave over her shoulder to Yusuke. Before following, Hiei allowed the door nearly the full way, turning his attention to the two people at the small table in their kitchen. “I don’t know what you two are thinking, but cut it out. It’s annoying.”
Then he left and slammed the door behind him. They waited a heartbeat before sharing a knowing look and Botan giggled, shaking her head while Yusuke just grinned.
Chapter 13: Payback
In which Shinpi startles Hiei, fights Yusuke and earns some respect.
A bandaged fist connected with Shinpi’s mouth, jerking her head to the side and sending her to the ground. Hiei and Shinpi had been locked in a sparring match in the forest, him so eager to test her strength he had barely let her deposit her bags before pulling her out here. Shinpi’s fingers dug into the ground.
Hiei sprang back, the closest thing to alarm he could muster crossing his face as he landed in a crouch. Every one of his instincts burned that he needed to stay away.
He hadn’t felt this way since he’d encountered Kurama’s anger for the first time.
The woman uncoiled, licking at the blood on her lip before using the back of her hand to wipe it away where it dripped on her chin. When her eyes found him, cold and brilliantly blue, the alarms sounded again.
Nothing had changed, not on the surface. She was the same human woman she’d been the second before, but now, the way she watched him, he knew he’d made some critical miscalculation. He shouldn’t have allowed them to get so far from the temple. He’d separated himself from the rest of the team. It was his own fault for acting so recklessly and forcing her out here to spar with him while the others lounged around the shrine. He should have requested an intermediary like their last fight.
The idea shocked him as he realized he’d been planning his failure. How? How had she ripped this mentality out of him?
Coldness crept down his neck, over his shoulders and into his veins as his eyes widened. His breath hitched in his chest, trapped behind an invisible wall in his throat. Her small, nimble fingers pressed under the hinge of his jaw and along the sides of his neck, the touch light but he might as well have been caught in a vice.
“I like that expression on you, it’s pretty.” She spoke in such a gentle, careful tone. Her fingers pressed into his flesh with more firmness. “It smells intoxicating too, your fear. I could just bottle it up to wear.”
Hiei swallowed, trying to recover himself.
“But it’s an unnatural scent on you, as lovely as it is. I hope I never have to smell it again.” She kept her voice as soft as it had been, which only put him further on edge.
The sensation of dangling himself over a cliff, vultures above and sharks below, gnawed at him. Trapped, no right direction to flee. Hiei felt her shift behind him, the heat of her body closing against his. Her chest nearly touching his back, her breath warming the cup of his ear as her hands snaked around him. One dipping down to ensnare his throat, the other raking through his thick hair, clutching the strands at the scalp.
“I’m sorry I thought about killing you.” Shinpi whispered the apology against his ear, lilting and in no way sincere. “I honestly I hadn’t realized you’d sense something so benign. An exciting possibility for me, I think.”
And just as suddenly as her presence had come, it slipped away. Her fingers trailed over him and through his hair, featherlight and sending chills over his skin. He shivered and wasn’t sure if it was the passing threat or the way her nails had glanced over his nerve-endings. She looked down at him as she walked around to his side, smirking as though she’d just conquered some huge feat.
Hiei couldn’t help himself, he glared up at her with enough malice to send her reeling. Or he’d hoped to, but the smirk remained, those blue eyes fixed on him.
“That’s better.” She told him, tilting her face away from him so he could no longer read her expression. “I definitely prefer that hot glare to anxiety on you. Far lovelier.”
“Fuck you.” Hiei got to his feet, fists curled at his sides.
“Another round then.” She shot him a look and if he almost mistook it playful. She lifted her hands stepped back into her usual stance. “Give me your worst, Hiei.”
He flew at her, not needing to be told twice and didn’t relent until he had sufficiently recovered his pride. She didn’t trip his instincts again. More infuriating, she seemed to be enjoying his barrage of punches and kicks, grinning when he wormed through her defenses. It was always a trap. He should’ve fought her more like he did the fox, they had so much in common, but his anger wouldn’t allow him to wearily calculate her intentions.
“I give up.”
The admission of defeat came out strangled, Hiei’s hand wrapped firmly around her throat. His fingers dug into her skin, the juncture of his thumb to his forefinger placing an uncomfortable amount of tension against her windpipe, crushing the bones. The bark of the tree behind her bit into her shoulders and back through her shirt. Even without him strangling her it was hard to breath, she was sure he’d broken at least one of his ribs and it had slowed her down enough for him to catch her.
Hiei pressed her more firmly into the tree, snarling down at her, tightening his grip.
She knew what he wanted from her wasn’t words. It was a display. He wanted to break her, see her wince or cry out. He wanted to know he still had the upper hand but she wasn’t going to give in to that desire. His anger burned her skin, glowed in his eyes. She wondered if he ever directed that passion toward anything other than causing someone else pain.
Sweating and trapped, but too stubborn to feed Hiei’s ego, Shinpi gripped at the cracks in the bark, hands trapped down at her sides to avoid presenting herself as a threat. More pressure. She made a sound, but refused to show her discomfort.
“Is your pride really worth dying over?” He demanded of her, the first words he’d spoken since he’d swore at her. The rage subsided to cool analysis as he scoured her face. “Any more pressure and I’ll break the bones.”
So stop it then. She thought bitterly, but she couldn’t have vocalized the sentiment even if she’d wanted to. The restriction of oxygen was started to dull her senses, pressure building up in her face.
“You’re not afraid.” Hiei seemed interested in this development. “You either trust me not to kill you, or you don’t think I will.”
It was neither. She just didn’t care either way. Sure, she suspected he wouldn’t go through with the ordeal of actually killing her, it would be too much effort to deal with the aftermath for him. But it wasn’t trust that made her feel that way. She had no doubt, that given the chance without consequences, he’d have snapped her neck a long time ago. It boiled down to convenience, really, an easy calculation to make. He’d choke her until she lost consciousness, maybe a little after, but then he’d drop her and leave her there to recover on her own that way if something happened it wasn’t on his hands.
“Shinpi.” Hiei spoke her name like a command and she answered to it before she realized what she was doing, moving her eyes to meet his even as her lids grew heavier. “Why haven’t you fought back?”
Her eyes shot open, confusion beating against her muddled brain. What was he talking about? She’d already given up. He was the one who wouldn’t relent. Fighting would only make this worse. She’d seen his temper.
“Hiro won’t stop when you ask him to.” Hiei lowered his voice, dark with a new edge she didn’t fully recognize. From the momentary flash in his eyes, he hadn’t known what it was either.
Her tired arms raised and she wrapped her hands around his wrist, biting her teeth together as she tried to muster up the strength to pry him off. It was difficult, when she couldn’t breathe. Her hands and feet felt so far away, almost detached from her body. As much as she hated to admit it, Hiei was right. Hiro wouldn’t stop. He’d only stop when she was dead. She had to be prepared to fight through the impossible.
But her hands couldn’t follow her directions anymore and her fingers lost all sensation, her grip going slack as black crept into her vision. All at once the train whistle of losing consciousness swallowed her, darkness rushing over her sight and feeling leaving her body. Her last discernable thought was that she was not going to thank Hiei for this lesson.
It was probably her imagination, the dark chuckle that followed that bitter sentiment.
“There was a moment where I legitimately thought she was going to kill me.” Hiei told the fox as they lounged on the couch together, Hiei’s feet propped up on the coffee table.
“You say that almost fondly.” Kurama noted, amused.
Hiei, for all his valor and complaints, was drawn to those things that triggered new sensations in him. If he’d actually felt threatened at any point during his fight with Shinpi, he’d pulled something from the experience that juxtaposed any normal reaction. From the slight curl of his lips and the way he peeled his eyes open, Kurama could guess the woman had earned some respect from the fire demon.
“It reminded me of you, but was also different.” Hiei tried to explain, but the words weren’t coming.
How to describe the twisting coil of danger that had seized him? Or how the woman had caught him by surprise, moving faster than he’d expected and appearing behind him? She could have snapped his neck, if she’d been inclined to. And her hands had promised that exact demise, until they’d curled through his hair and around his throat. He couldn’t rightly describe that either, the thrill of being trapped by her.
Kurama would either laugh or think he was insane.
“It happened so quickly.” Hiei worked to try and get the point across, trying not to lose himself in his own thoughts. “I was on her, I had the upper hand. I struck her across the face and suddenly, I just felt it.”
Danger. He’d felt the primitive warning sounding off in his brain that he was in danger.
“The look she gave me. I can’t describe it. But I felt it.” Hiei didn’t bother trying to elaborate further, sure the fox got the idea. After all, he’d produced similar results from Hiei during one of their first skirmishes.
This had been different, though. Hiei couldn’t pin down why. It wasn’t just the sense of danger that had alarmed him, but something deeper, more specific. The sensation that he was being hunted. That’s the only thing he could think to call it.
He’d been prey for the first time in his life, and it wasn’t something he was likely to forget anytime soon.
Her damned compliments rattled through his brain too, forcing him to roll his shoulders to loosen them. Every word he remembered her speak tried to birth a shiver down his spine. It wasn’t fear. He wasn’t sure what it was. Excitement, maybe? It had been a long time since he’d felt a match so intensely.
Kurama studied his friend, who’d gone quiet, and noted the flitting emotions flashing through Hiei’s eyes. Confusion, amusement, pride and a few even Kurama couldn’t identify in him.
“I’m going to fight her again.” Hiei’s quiet admission had been more a thought that accidentally got vocalized than a topic of conversation, so Kurama treated it that way.
Kuwabara wheezed, continuing to run as Shinpi sat on the bench she’d built for Yukina, a book open on her lap while she drank tea, purple handprints decorating the skin of her throat. “Pace yourself, Kazuma, you’re only at four out of ten.”
“I…told...you…five…was…my…limit.” The lumbering carrot top ran passed her.
“I told you to keep up with your training.” She shot back coolly, flipping a page in her book. “And here we are.”
“Yeah, so, I thought Koenma vetoed this.” Yusuke swept a hand around the grounds, encompassing Kuwabara’s track.
“Koenma, technically, did nothing but question my motives. I was the one who ended the conversation. And since he didn’t actually outright deny me, I’m doing it.” Shinpi drawled, amused with herself as a glint entered her eye. “But you’re not here to argue the semantics of Kuwabara’s training.”
“I’m not.” He grinned at her, offering a harmless finger gun.
“I’m going to warn you, Hiei did a number on me yesterday. I’m not at full health.” Shinpi placed a bookmark against her page and closed the tome in her lap, setting it on the bench. “I’d like to keep this purely physical.”
“Aw, come on. I want to see those fancy elemental powers.” Yusuke pouted and Shinpi laughed at the childish reaction. “But I guess whooping your ass the old fashioned way will be fun too.”
They made their way toward the open swamp grounds, leisurely in their pace and without tension. It was nice, to begin a sparring match in good standing. Her fights with Hiei had been pressured, the expectation too high. With Yusuke it felt like she was about to have a laugh with a friend. It was a characteristic that earned her bemused respect, and helped her understand his impressive appeal to his allies.
It didn’t elude her that demons flocked to Yusuke. Aside from Kurama and Hiei, he’d earned the wholly noticed respect of Yomi and Mukuro, of a slew of A and S-class demons in Makai. Even at The Dark Tournament, he’d caught the attention of his powerful foes with his indomitable spirit.
The sense of being watched turned her attention over her shoulder as she walked beside Yusuke, finding a pair of crimson eyes boring into her with unusual curiosity. Kurama too, followed them out, a small smile on his face as though he were eager to watch this showdown and what it entailed. Strange, she hadn’t meant to put on a show. Tilting her head, she looked forward again to notice Yusuke had come to a stop.
“Here good for you?” He gestured to the field around him.
“Sure.” Shinpi nodded, allowing her arms to fall to the side as a secretive smile stole over her features. “Oh your mark, Urameshi.”
He nodded, grinning like a madman and said, “Go.”
“He’s a fool to rush her head on.” Hiei muttered, hands in his pockets as he watched the fight begin.
Shinpi stepped swiftly to the left, pivoting her body as Yusuke ran at her, one foot hooking his ankle and causing him to stumble. He grumbled, climbing to his feet, and then wiped at the tip of his nose with his thumb.
“You think she’ll win?” Kurama mused, glancing at Hiei as crimson eyes remained fixed on the sparring parties.
“No. She’ll lose.” Hiei assured him, a smirk pulling at his mouth. “And Yusuke will revel in it, but it won’t be his choice.”
“You think Shinpi will throw the fight.” Kurama surmised, earning a slightly nod. “Why?”
“Because this isn’t about winning, it’s about understanding her opponent.” Hiei’s smirk grew. “She’s capable of ending this match whenever she wants to, but she’ll chose to dance around Yusuke until he takes her down and then she’ll submit. It’s the same she did with me.”
“I remember.” Kurama nodded. “You believe she’s gauging our styles?”
“I think she’s cataloguing our weaknesses.” Hiei remembered when he ran through Shinpi’s thoughts, darting sparsely through her memories.
She knew that seeing them in the tournament had given her an advantage, but she also knew they’d grown. She wanted to see how much. With Kuwabara, she wished to foster growth. With the rest of them, she wanted to arm herself with as much information as possible.
“Will you fucking stand still?” Yusuke grumbled, deflating some. “How the hell are we supposed to fight when your running away the whole time?”
Cobalt eyes slid toward Hiei and Kurama, then back to Yusuke. Shinpi sighed, shrugging, and then she was gone. The heel of her palm slammed into Yusuke’s chest, crushing the air from is lungs before he could react. The same hand moved up, smacking against the underside of his chin and throwing his head back. As he reeled, Shinpi swept his legs from under him, delivering a second hit to his chest that careened him into the ground.
“Did I break anything?” She asked him, crouching beside his prone figure as brown eyes gaped upwards toward the rolling white clouds.
His eyes moved to hers, noting her light tone and almost amused expression.
Yusuke planted one hand on the ground and spun his legs around, forcing Shinpi to leap back from him if she wanted to keep her legs under her. She flipped onto her hands then sprang to her feet, falling into a practiced stance. Eying each other with wicked grins, she tossed him a wink then beckoned him to come get her.
Yusuke launched a barrage of strikes toward her face and chest, her small hands deftly canceling out each attempt. No matter how fast he moved, she kept up.
“She’s fast.” Kuwabara balked, sweat pouring heavily over him and drenching his tee.
Hiei tossed him a look of utter distaste, brows drawn down. “Brilliant commentary.”
“Leave Kazuma alone. He’s never seen me fight really.” Shinpi shoved Yusuke’s arm to the side and ducked under the leg he cast at her.
“Can you truly say any of us have seen you fight? Really?” Hiei shot back at the woman, annoyed she was eavesdropping when she should be paying attention to her opponent.
Blue eyes darted to him, an expression infuriatingly vague crossing her features when she didn’t answer. Then she yelped, Yusuke’s fist slamming into her stomach and doubling her over. Wincing, she wrapped her arms around herself and staggered, forcing herself to straighten.
“Are you okay?” Yusuke put his hands up so she could see his palms, concern robbing him of his playful grin.
“I’m fine.” She swallowed heavily, swaying slightly. “Let’s get back to it.”
But one arm remained around her middle, her eyes pinched and he shook his head. “You’re hurt.”
“I’ve had worse. Come on, let’s fight.” She stepped toward him, losing all signs of humor.
“Nah, it’s okay. I can wait.” Yusuke nodded at her, lowering his hands and placing them on her hips.
“Don’t take pity on me. My enemies sure as hell won’t.” The words flew from her mouth before she could stop them and her eyes widened as tension racked over her shoulders under Hiei’s immediate scrutiny.
The fire demon was there suddenly, hoisting up the front of Shinpi’s shirt and glaring at the deep purple and black bruises marring her skin. Kuwabara barked a protest, throwing out some line about a woman’s privacy. Even Yusuke called out in annoyance. But Hiei ignored them, his eyes glued to Shinpi’s.
“You should have told him you were injured at the offset.” He scolded her hotly. “And you should have told me.”
“You’re the one who opened my eyes to the fault in my logic. If I’m going to get stronger, I’m going to have to accept pain.” She jerked back from him with a scowl. “You were right. Hiro wouldn’t stop.”
Hiei’s nostrils flared as he fought with his anger for a moment. “So you fight back, not enter the fray when you’re unfit for battle. How am I supposed to fight you again if you’re dead on your feet?”
“As usual it comes back to your needs.” Shinpi growled at him. “I’ll fight you right now, Hiei, if it will shut you up for five minutes.”
“What I want is a fight with you taking it seriously. I want to see that energy Yusuke was boasting about.” He growled back at her. “In your condition you’re barely able to handle an easy going skirmish.”
“You’ll see my power when I’ve decided you’ve earned it.” She bared her teeth and then looked around at the concerned faces of the other men. “I’ll be fine in a few days.”
“Then in a few days I’ll give you a reason to level up.” Hiei warned her darkly, eyes narrowed. “Until then you’re done. I don’t want to see you fighting until your ribs have healed.”
“For the last time, you don’t get to decide what I do.” Shinpi toed up to him, reclaiming the step back she’d taken. They stared in each other’s faces, both with fists at their sides. Hiei’s hand flashed out, fingers digging into the worst of her bruise and he watched the color drain from her face.
“Idiot.” He rolled his eyes and stomped away from her, allowing to wallow in the pain.
“They approached me near the mountain.” Hiei explained to his comrades, mostly bored, as he described the messenger his leader had sent. “Mukuro would like me to come back. It’s been a while and I need to check in.”
It had been a day since Yusuke had sparred with Shinpi and the woman’s attitude hadn’t improved much. As it was she was currently fussing over being coddled as she helped Yukina with the temple’s chores. Hiei was glad she’d found something to occupy her time so she might actually heal. The handprints he’d left on her throat had faded to an ugly yellow-green. He only hoped her ribs looked better.
Knowing the wench, she was training behind his back.
“When do you leave?” Kurama asked idly.
“Hn. I’ll go in a few days. There’s something I want to do.” Hiei didn’t vocalize what it was that kept him from answering Mukuro’s call immediately.
“Be careful.” Kurama offered and then glanced at Genkai, who stared at Hiei as if the demon could hide nothing from her. “I’m leaving in the morning to head back. Yusuke and Kuwabara will too.”
“Hn. Is that woman satisfied with the regimen she put him on?” Hiei asked, genuinely curious.
Shinpi’s insistence on creating the perfect routine for Kuwabara had caught his interest. She truly believed she could craft a half-way decent fighter from the man. Despite his age and his limitations. Hiei didn’t understand her drive, but he couldn’t deny it.
“I think so, yes.” Kurama answered and then smiled.
Hiei merely nodded, stalking from the room and heading for the back of the temple. He’d avoided encountering Shinpi since he’d jabbed at her bruises and he planned to keep it that way until she was well enough to fight him one more time before he left.
He wanted to go back to Mukuro with the knowledge that the woman was well on her way to her former intensity. The thought of leaving before he was positive she could handle herself tightened the muscles under his shoulders.
The air between was thick with frustration and fury. Shinpi didn’t bother with a smile for him. Hiei stared back as seriously. He hadn’t told her why he was forcing her to fight him today. He’d only asked if she’d healed enough to handle him. If she knew he was leaving the next morning she might pull some stupid trick to postpone. Hiei didn’t want that.
He needed this.
Yukina waited nearby, watching with concern creasing against her forehead and the corners of her eyes. Genkai was nowhere to be found.
Good. Hiei didn’t want the old woman’s interference this time.
Let Shinpi raise her hand with the intent to kill. At least he’d know she was capable of the act.
He blurred forward, a plan in his head about how this would unfold. Shinpi, for all her calculations and stubbornness couldn’t back down from a challenge. Not from him. That much had grown evident in the last weeks. She told him he had to earn her power, so that’s what he’d do. He’d push her until she had no choice. And if he had to stomp all over whatever strange balance they’d struck in Urameshi’s apartment, so be it.
She met him in kind, furious. Deflecting his blows, meeting his fervor with her own. Good. He wanted her angry.
Throwing Shinpi to the ground, Hiei planted his foot firmly between her shoulder blades, his weight forcing her down. “Get up, princess.”
Shinpi growled, enraged by the disrespect and her own weakness. How far had she fallen? Allowing this humiliation? She might as well slit her own throat and save Hiro the trouble of getting her blood on his shoes.
“I said, get up.” Hiei applied more pressure, snarling down at her.
And this one. With his haughty attitude and side glances. This damn waste of energy was able to pin her down with one foot, his dirty boot staining her shirt as she struggled to keep herself from collapsing entirely. He called her princess. Who the hell did he think he was?
Her knee found a way under her, allowing her to regain some of her strength as she tried to stand.
“You know, despite all your previous words, this looks like a bow to me.” Hiei told her, a dark expression on his face. “We must’ve confused you with someone else. Honestly, you’re nothing compared to the image history painted.”
Her teeth ground together as she forced her arms to straighten, her foot coming onto the toes and slowly, she began to creep upwards.
“Hn. I don’t know why I’m bothering to waste my time.” Hiei pressed forward, forcing more weight onto her back. She didn’t buckle or budge, holding steady. Her eyes were so intent on the ground, she didn’t seem him smirk. “How are you supposed to beat Hiro if you can’t even stand up to me? First you let me strangle you and now this. I’m beginning to think you like being beaten and ridiculed.”
“Hiei!” Yukina’s voice carried over to them as she came running from the laundry line. “Let her go!”
“No.” Shinpi growled the word, her fingertips and then first knuckles digging into the ground. “Don’t stop him.”
Hiei glanced down at her face, the sheer determination displayed there enough to encourage him. He applied more weight.
“Back off.” He turned to Yukina, a cocky expression making her eyes narrow. “She’s the one who accepted a challenge from an opponent she couldn’t beat. This is her fault.”
“You’re being cruel!” Yukina continued to rush forward. “Hiei, leave her alone!”
“No.” Shinpi repeated the word and then the wind shifted directions.
The earth started to groan and she managed to yell before the swamp underneath them sprung up like a geyser, creating a wall between the ice maiden and the fire demon. Shinpi screamed out and her energy poured into the air, a tangible thing of wind and mist, smelling like rain. Hiei’s eyes widened, his balance thrown off for just a second until a grin splayed over his features.
This was the woman he’d been reading about. The one who had Spirit World worried. He was happy to meet her. Shinpi got her feet under her and she stood, Hiei’s foot sliding off of her in the process. It left her panting for breath. Her skin covered in the mist surrounding them, her chest heaving. She reached up and yanked her shirt over her head, falling into a fighting stance as she continued to pant, facing down the fire demon in her training pants and sports bra.
Hiei assessed her and then couldn’t seem to hide his pleasure as he tipped his head down once and slid one leg back, raising his hands to mimic her position.
“It’s a pleasure to finally meet you.” He told her over the rush of water in the air.
“Let’s see how you feel when you’re at my feet.” She spat at him and the energy she released was unreal.
Hiei couldn’t help but glance down her, her arms swollen with muscle, her stomach lined with it. She’d dedicated her human life to her training, it was obvious. No part of her lacked the visible representation of her efforts. But she was still in a human body.
He’d see how far that could take her now that she was playing seriously.
No one would pull as much from her as he would, he knew it. And he was about to make sure she knew it too.
When she attacked, it was with a such a ferocity that Hiei was pushed back. Constantly he found himself on guard, playing defense. When he got the upper hand, she flipped it around. Her energy came at him like a barrage, her fists and legs extending beyond their reach. He noted that she never seemed to call on her elements against him and he didn’t push it that far. The wall of water remained active and he knew that must require a fair amount of her attention.
The fight went on for hours. Hiei deflecting kicks and punches, slams of Shinpi’s intense strength. Shinpi planting herself and refusing to lose, accepting more than her fair share of pain.
The sun had gone down by the time they were standing in front of each, each heaving, sweat dripping off of their chins. Neither made a move, both waiting for the other to display some last tenant of their strength. Make some mistake. Attack.
“Is that really all you’ve got?” Hiei demanded, despite the fact that if he took a step he’d surely fall to his knees. His legs were shaking, his arms raised but weary. Shinpi looked composed, pouring sweat but otherwise steady.
It was an illusion.
Years of work had perfected this careful mask. Her body ached in every muscle, some bones likely bruised if not broken. She could pretend until she lost consciousness, though, that she was in control and fine. She wasn’t. Hiei had taken every ounce of energy she had and expended it. The fact he was still standing irked her. The fact she allowed it because she couldn’t continue was worse. But still, he didn’t make a move and as she watched him tremble from exertion she knew she had one more chance. One last shot.
The water died, the wall falling, as she lurched toward him, her fist directed at his face. And yet, between springing from her place and connecting with Hiei’s jaw, her eyes rolled up until her head. Darkness swam over her senses without mercy. She never knew if the hit connected or made an impact.
Hiei caught her by the shoulders, the addition of her weight sending him back a step in his exhaustion. Her right arm fell over his shoulder, the punch definitely meant to connect with his cheek. It missed him by a few inches, her hand loosening as she lost consciousness halfway to him. And that’s how he caught her, mid-punch and asleep. It had taken hours but he’d manage to exhaust her. His pride might never fall again. But even as he snorted, forcing himself to act irritated, his hands slid around the woman who fell against him. Shinpi’s face rested against his shoulder, her entire body slack and there was nothing for him to do but hold her as he regained his strength for a moment.
By the time he walked into the temple, Shinpi on his back, everyone else was asleep. He deposited the woman on her bed as gently as he could given their awkward position. He even took the shoes off her feet and pulled the blanket up around her. When he closed the door behind himself, his eyes glanced over to Genkai who watched him from her post against the wall to his left.
“Took you long enough.” She noted. “She must’ve been tougher than you thought.”
“I still went easy on her.” Hiei rolled his eyes. “But yes, she held more power than I’d thought.”
“Yukina is furious.”
“She’ll get over it.”
“She’ll survive to see tomorrow. Don’t wake her in the morning, let her sleep. She’ll need to recover.” Hiei closed his eyes for a second longer than he meant to. “That body is still human.”
“For now.” Genkai nodded. “But I imagine she’ll only continue to strive for her former perfection.”
“You think she’ll find a way to get her old body back?” Hiei perked up at the idea of it. He’d like that. The idea of facing the woman in her former glory aroused his interest. “Hn. That might be worth my time.”
“You look tired, Hiei. Get some rest.” Genkai pushed off the wall and began to walk away.
He didn’t respond, just aimed himself toward a seldom used room at the back of the temple. By the time he made it there, his legs were nearly completely useless and his body was shutting down. He hit the futon as darkness swam into his mind without even getting the chance to wonder who had prepared the room for him in the first place.
He was surprised to find Shinpi awake, already on the lawn running through stances when he crept out the door. Dawn had barely broken, sweeping shadows still covering most of the grounds in darkness while the red-orange light crept its way through the treetops and over the mountain. Even Genkai wasn’t awake yet.
“You’re leaving?” Shinpi eyed his cloak then rolled her eyes, coming out of her practice at his intrusion.
“Yes.” Hiei walked down the steps, still sore from their fight the day before.
“Do you have an estimated date of when you’ll return?” She focused on him a little too intently, as if probing him.
Silence rung between them, something unspoken whispering through the blades of grass like the gentle wind. Hiei took a step toward her. She didn’t move back and her expression didn’t shift.
“Is there a date I should return by?” He asked her, a slight smirk growing.
“It doesn’t matter when you come back. I was only asking out of curiosity. Yukina and the others will want to know.” She kept her expression schooled.
“Ah, for the others.” He nodded and she narrowed her eyes. “When I get back, do you think you’ll be strong enough to beat me?”
“Most likely.” She offered a subtle nod. “Within the month I should be able to at least pound you into the ground like a railroad spike.”
Hiei’s smirk grew. “Sounds promising. I’ll see you in a month then.”
“Tch.” She looked away from him. Then softly, she asked, “Did my last hit connect? I can’t recall how the fight ended.”
“You passed out halfway to me and I ended up having to carry you back to the temple.” He offered, daring another step. She glanced back at him and he realized he’d crossed some invisible threshold of her comfort by coming this close. With still two feet between them it appeared he’d entered her bubble of personal space.
“It won’t happen again.” She spoke firmly, as if he’d accused of her something she had to deny.
“I thought you didn’t speak in certainties you can’t control.” He teased, looking down at her with his chin lifted. Her cheeks filled with color. “I enjoyed exhausting you. It’s my new goal every time we fight. You’ll fight to win. I’ll be fighting to draw it out for as long as I can.”
“Creep.” She glared at him. “Don’t get used to it. Next to you see me I’ll be a new caliber of demon.”
“I look forward to it.”
Chapter 14: Mercy
In which Hiei and Mukuro discuss Amon-Shinpi and a revelation is had, even if it is a bit misinformed.
Hiei sat across from Mukuro, catching her up on his time in Human World with dry, sparsely detailed stories. He had a reason for indulging her when he normally wouldn’t have bothered. She had information he wanted. Questions only she could answer danced in his head, so he humored her idle interest in the other half of his life. They were finally nearing the topic he’d been slowly drawing towards since he’d stepped foot in the castle and they’d begun this debriefing session.
He rounded the topic of Shinpi with some reservation, prodding Mukuro by first just informing her of his mission that had started this whole mess. He made a show of nonchalance as he continued to distract himself with sharpening his sword, focusing more on the task than on the answers he provided, so it seemed.
“They found the Takani blade?” Mukuro furrowed her brow. “What’s the use of that? Only Amon-Shinpi was capable of wielding the sword.”
“Perhaps she was the only who chose to, but anyone of the Takanis could have used it.” Hiei shrugged.
If he hadn’t looked up to speak the words, he wouldn’t have noticed the sudden rod of tension that straightened Mukuro’s spine. Or the wideness of her eye, the pupil contracted. She gathered herself quickly, but when she spoke next it sounded like a warning.
“What would define being a Takani?” She asked him.
It was Hiei’s turn to furrow his brow, setting the whetstone on the table in a measured motion as he focused on his commander. “Blood, from what I heard.”
“Perhaps a heart?” She scanned over him and then looked away, an unpleasant thought portrayed on her face.
“I would have assumed someone with a Takani heart would have to be a Takani.” Hiei pointed out.
“I’m a fool.”
Hiei sheathed his sword. He didn’t like this conversation. He’d only meant to pick her brain about Shinpi, but now he could tell he’d revealed something to her she hadn’t seen before.
“Mukuro.” Hiei said her name carefully. “What have you realized?”
“Who has the sword now?” She eyed him. “Spirit World?”
That stopped her short, then allowed her exhale fully.
“I’m sad to say I’m relieved. If it fell into Hiro’s hands now, it would be a war.” Mukuro nodded. “I’m going to assume you’ve stashed it somewhere safe.”
“Hiro?” Hiei stared at her, hard and probing. “How could Hiro possibly use the damn thing?”
“I didn’t think he could until you said any Takani could use it. Since he’s had the boy’s heart transplanted into him, he must be able to wield the power.” She waved one hand through the air as if the details were meaningless. As if she hadn’t just shaken Hiei’s own understanding of the situation to the core. “But I’m relieved to know he can’t get his hands on that weapon. The havoc he’d wreak; it would ruin what tenuous peace we’ve been able to keep since the barrier fell.”
Hiei worked to form his next words around his dry tongue. “What boy?”
Mukuro swept her eyes over him, likely noting the tightness around his eyes and the gravel in his voice. Blinking once, then tipping her head to the side she frowned.
“The last Takani.” She told him quietly, her own tone neutral. “A young boy. I can’t recall his age, I’m not sure I ever knew it. Amon-Shinpi didn’t like anyone prying into her son’s life. She kept him fairly well hidden. I only ever saw him twice.”
Hiei thought, perhaps, a train had manifested and slammed into him. The immediate shock of the words battered at his mind and he remained quiet for several minutes, trying to process them while Mukuro continued explaining. Her chatter barely registered, but in some way he also heard every syllable.
“When she showed up in Alaric, stating that I’d summoned her I knew her for the fool she was. It was a shame, honestly. Amon-Shinpi was the strongest of her people, a reluctant but capable leader, and far more intelligent than she had any right to be. I don’t know how she missed the evil in her own home. I told her as much. I learned what happened when she sought my help years later, desperate to put Hiro down for murdering her child. I can’t rightfully imagine what she must have gone through, walking in on him carving the boy’s heart out. When she came begging for my aid, she wasn’t the same demon I’d befriended. She died not long after that. My only solace in the whole affair was that Hiro hadn’t managed to get her heart too.” Mukuro sighed heavily, the memories bitter and unpleasant. “It’s better that she went, I think. If you thought I was chained by my past you would have loathed to see that woman. There was no recovery for her, nothing that could have eased the darkness that consumed her. Death was truly the only mercy she had left.”
Hiei’s hands fisted against his pants, under the table where they couldn’t be seen. He tightened his jaw until his pulse sung in his ears, eyes glued to his whetstone.
Only until he produced an heir with this body.…It’s imperative I kill him before that happens.…No. I will be the one….Because I’ll be dead. I thought I’d made that obvious. Her words, Shinpi’s words.
“Honestly, it probably would have been kinder if I’d left you to be executed.” His words, callous and cold. He hadn’t realized what she was fighting for. Yukina had tried to warn him. Hell, reviewing it all, Shinpi herself had said it in not so many words.
“What else do you have to fight for?”
Hiro had taken it away from her, hadn’t he? It was war that claimed her parents, but Hiro who broke the woman so completely it echoed in this new life of hers. Hiro who had taken their child and cut him open like an animal. Hiro who had stripped the woman of any will to live beyond killing him. He’d turned her in a vengeful spirit. A corporeal poltergeist.
“I always wondered what Shigure charged for the transplant.” Mukuro mused, mostly to herself. Hiei’s silence made him nothing more than a sounding board for her thoughts now. She continued to talk as if she couldn’t stop herself, like he’d uncorked some preciously full bottle inside her that she now had to spill before closing again. “Hiro was always a monstrously selfish creature. I can’t imagine him parting with anything for the sake of a surgery.”
Shigure did this? Shigure took Shinpi’s child’s heart and shoved it into the walking abomination that was her mortal enemy? Hiei’s nails cut into his palms. If the man wasn’t dead already, Hiei would have loved to kill him now.
“I was the fool.” Hiei spoke, fury lacing every word as it mounted in him, the air around him growing hazy with heat. “I was the fool for not recognizing what she was fighting for.”
Mukuro shot him a puzzled look, confused by his sudden vehemence and his words.
“I’ll see him dead at her feet. Some crimes even I can’t forgive.” Hiei raised his gaze to meet Mukuro’s and the intensity of the fire in his eyes made her tilt her head. “Shinpi lives and I will make sure Hiro pays for his crimes against her.”
Mukuro raised her eyebrows, then they fell and a grin claimed her mouth.
“Why are you smiling?” Hiei demanded, hot and tense.
“I knew you were guarding a secret. If she’s letting you call her Shinpi, you two must be close friends.” Mukuro drawled, amused. “How long were you planning on keeping this from me?”
“I never intended to bring you into it.” Hiei stated dryly. “It didn’t concern you.”
“How did she manage to escape?” Mukuro pressed. “Did she tell you? I’d enjoy the story, I think, of her fooling death.”
“She fooled nothing. She died. She’s been reincarnated into a human body.” Hiei frowned. “She cropped up on the case we were working on, looking for what turned out to be her imposter. She’s a shadow of her former self. And she holds no love for you.”
Mukuro sighed again, her expression falling. “I had always hoped she’d survived.”
“She claims you betrayed her.” Hiei’s tone suggested he agreed in that moment. “That you turned your back on her when she needed you most. She says you and I are alike in that way.”
Mukuro remained silent for a few moments, then looked away from him. A softer look entered her eye before she turned, her shoulders falling slightly.
“I didn’t want to be the one to kill her.” Mukuro admitted, raking her fingers through her cropped copper hair. “But I knew that if she managed to defeat Hiro, it would be with a wrath too strong to control. I had seen her in battle before, Hiei. I knew what she was capable of. The extent of her victory would have destroyed everything near her. I would have had to kill her.”
“Death was the only mercy left for her.” Hiei repeated her words from just moments earlier. “I’ve been calling the woman a coward for months now.”
His sentence didn’t need the words to display his sentiment to Mukuro. His tone and expression said it all. He’d been accusing Shinpi of cowardice, but maybe it was Mukuro he should have slung the insult toward. She understood immediately, as she had the habit of doing. Her lips pursed but she didn’t argue.
“There are times, Hiei, when you must choose between being a villain to your friend to attempt to protect them or find yourself complicit in their destruction.” Mukuro sighed the words. “Her frustrating political stances aside, Amon-Shinpi was my friend. She was bound to die that day. I simply couldn’t be the one to put her down.”
Hiei frowned, but he thought about Yusuke. Kurama. Mukuro herself. If any of them ever grew too powerful for their own good, or went astray, he wasn’t certain what his actions would be. He couldn’t say for sure he’d have the gall to run his blade through Yusuke’s heart to keep himself safe.
Instead of dwelling on that thought, Hiei explained the situation to Mukuro as it was when he left. How he was training Shinpi. His desire to face her in a fight.
“You’ll need to keep yourself in peak form, then.” She tapped a finger to her chin, a specter of double meaning lining her statement.
“I suppose so.” Hiei agreed, his anger having slid away a bit, but not so far gone it couldn’t seize him again at any moment.
“What will you do if her victory over Hiro doesn’t quell her anger? What if it’s not enough?” Mukuro asked the question as if she’d been trying to find the right moment to shoehorn it into the conversation.
But it wasn’t her words that clacked Hiei’s teeth together and made him push away from the table to stomp from the room. It was the underlying meaning. The hidden question, peeking from between each syllable, that sent him to the training room with the desire to destroy.
Are you willing to be the one to kill her?
He didn’t want to think about it.
“My advice, if you ever do find yourself face to face with Amon-Shinpi’s temper, is to never let her see all of your skills. That woman wields one of the most adept minds I’ve ever encountered. She can pick out flaws you didn’t realize you had and use them against you with cutthroat precision.” Mukuro sighed wistfully, her mind falling back into a memory. “She’s the one who informed me that when I intend to feign a left swing, my eyes squint.”
“Why would she tell you that?” Hiei wondered, annoyed, standing on the threshold of the room. “Why arm her opponent?”
“To prove that even I had weaknesses. She lost our fight that day, but I left holding her in a higher regard.” The king seemed to be admiring something far away, a warm smile gracing her features. “Her potential was always wasted on that mediocre plot of land she called home.”
Hiei slammed the door behind him.
“Upset you won’t be the one to drive a blade into my chest?”
Hiei opened his eyes, exhausted yet unable to sleep. He stared at the ceiling of the room he only used when he was like this. Sore. Soaked with sweat. Unable to stave off the claws of sleep for a moment longer. Despite his desperate need for it, sleep wouldn’t come.
Every time he closed his eyes he was faced with Shinpi’s hot anger again. Her lashing words which all suddenly made so much more sense.
His eyes glared holes into the ceiling above him.
The memory of her visceral reaction to hearing that a child had died swam through the haze of exhaustion again. He’d been trying not to think about it for days. Despite his attempts, it haunted him, waiting for the right moment of weakness to crop up again. Shinpi charging headfirst into battle to save a human boy. Shinpi pouring her energy into the frail creature in some wild attempt to save its life.
He hadn’t really questioned her motives. He’d chalked it up to morality.
A little boy she loved so dearly that losing him turned her into a monster too dangerous for even Mukuro to trust.
“My curse killed them.”
Hiei pinched his eyes closed, bringing his hands up to cover his face. Shut up.
“It’s likely she doesn’t have much to live for.” Kurama’s words stung in a new way. The unsettling weight they’d brought to Hiei’s guts doubled, growing cold.
Shut up. Hiei repeated to his thoughts, frustrated with his mind for not relenting. For not shutting down. For subjecting him to these thoughts he didn’t want to have.
“Fighting won’t bring her family back.”
He sat up. Did Kurama know? Had she told him, during their little interrogation session that had somehow made the woman exhausted yet impossibly lighter for that night? Was the fox harboring this secret? If so, why not tell him? Why not tell the team?
It seemed like the sort of important detail they deserved to know.
Shinpi’s. But also Hiro’s, wasn’t it?
Mukuro hadn’t said as much, but that’s what Hiei took from the conversation. The ultimate betrayal, the most disgusting of behaviors. A man murdering his own offspring for power.
Hiei’s fists curled, his nails biting against the bandages he’d wrapped around his palms.
What a fucking nightmare Shinpi must have found herself in. Believing she’d been summoned by a friend only to be called a fool. Only to find the accusation correct in the worst possible way. To come home and find her lover carving into her child’s chest, unable to stop him, unable to undo the damage.
And then to lose.
To lose everything. The fight. The child. The lover. Her land. Her power. Her life.
“Death was truly the only mercy she had left.”
“I went after Hiro with every intention of dying.”
Hiei opened his hands and stared at them, unsure what the coil of heat winding through his stomach and up his spine meant. It was more than anger. He couldn’t place the emotion. Maybe some sort of resolve?
Every accusation of selfishness that Shinpi had hurled at him hit home. She’d been correct. Just as Mukuro had warned, she’d pinpointed his character and showed it to him. Even then he’d refused to see. He’d only been thinking of himself, of how to raise her power out of her so he could compare it to his own. Using the woman as a measuring stick suddenly felt tasteless. He still wanted to fight her with his all. He wanted to see how powerful she could be. But that should’ve been secondary.
He should’ve been trying to train her to face Hiro.
He didn’t know anything about Hiro accept that now, he’d defeated Shinpi twice. That he was looking for a way to the sword. That he was an abhorrent creature that needed to be exterminated. But by Shinpi. This was a job for her and her alone.
Hiei wondered now, knowing what he did, why she hadn’t embedded that axe in him when he threatened to kill Hiro if she didn’t shape up. He hadn’t known the extent of her true fury. He’d thought it was a petty quest for vengeance. A pissing contest because Hiro had managed to take her out. He hadn’t really thought on why.
Dwelling on Shinpi’s sordid past, scowling down at his hands, Hiei lost himself in thought. He knew his way hadn’t been working, Yukina had even pointed it out, but he was going to push anyway. Shinpi deserved to be stronger. She deserved having the best chance possible of defeating Hiro and reclaiming what little solace she could from the act. Would it bring her child back from the dead? No. And it would never fill in the scars on her soul. But it would, hopefully, ease the pain some.
Even a little relief would be worth the effort, wouldn’t it?
And he understood why she’d collapsed her power into herself, suddenly. Mukuro’s refusal to help her face Hiro sparking the revelation. When Shinpi lost control of herself, it was a cataclysmic event. Something so dangerous even the likes of Mukuro feared the outcome. If that had happened in that small house, killing humans….
Shinpi would have never forgiven herself if she’d killed her human mother.
Spirit World wouldn’t have given her the chance. They’d have sent the Spirit Detective and his crew after her, calling her a rogue, manipulating the situation. Shinpi would have died at the hands of Yusuke and even himself, amongst the others. They’d have reveled in their victory for years to come, not knowing the true extent of the situation.
Hiei would have never gotten that moment.
The memory of Shinpi’s fingers resting against his neck and jaw. Her hands wound in his hair and around his throat. The spark of fear, adrenaline and excitement that flowed through him when she’d captured him. He’d have never gotten to experience that if she hadn’t had the foresight to keep herself in check during the most tumultuous years of a human beings existence.
The Jagan twitched at the thought, an anomaly that made Hiei wince, reaching up to touch the skin around the third eye as it peeled itself open suddenly. A mind of its own, Hiei had said on more than one occasion. And it hadn’t appreciated his recent train of thought.
Hiei found himself viewing Shinpi as she poured herself over a desk, notebooks and pens scattered around the surface despite the pristine nature of the rest of the space. Her back straightened, her hand reaching up to finger the hairs risen on her nape. Looking around the space she frowned, then glanced up at the ceiling with an offended, yet dull, expression.
“I don’t need to be babysat, Koenma.” She snapped the words, glaring upwards. “Idiot.”
Then she turned back to her work, shaking her head as irritation tensed her shoulders.
Not Hiei’s thought, but the Jagan’s.
The image dissolved as suddenly as it had manifested, leaving Hiei to reel from the sudden lurch with a headache. He grimaced, the pain only adding to his exhausted frustration.
What the hell had that been about?
Of course she was alive. If she couldn’t handle a week without him, there was little hope at all for her. Funny how she assumed it was Koenma watching her and not him, given her adamant hatred of the Jagan Eye. The implant sent a thrill down Hiei’s spine at the suggestion and the fire demon mused about that before deciding it wasn’t worth the time to think about at the moment.
But the thoughts ceased, his mind suddenly quiet and Hiei found relief in the silence. His eyes drifted closed and he fell back against the stiff mattress of his bunk, unconscious sometime between the beginning and the end of the fall.