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Lost Among the Stars

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            “Matsuura, come to the board and solve the equation.” Itou-sensei smiled mercilessly. I stood, refusing to tremble despite my growing headache. Concealing my youki was exhausting. Or at least, covering with the degree of vigilance that I had was. Perhaps I was being overly cautious, but . . . I avoided glancing at the boy, Minamino, sitting in the next seat as I stood. I’d done well concealing my presence so far- insomuch that he hadn’t noticed. If he had, he’d done a better job of hiding his reaction.

            It wasn’t like I didn’t want him to know who I was- and if he already recognized me, he hadn’t let on at all. It was just . . . I’d meant to go to him before class started. I’d gotten there early- so early, that I’d been the first person to arrive. I’d sat in my seat, giddy at the thought of meeting him, the Kurama, thrilled at my luck, eaten alive by butterflies. Until he’d come in. He walked in behind a group of chattering boys as they discussed their favourite actresses, smiling in reply when one asked his opinion. But his eyes had remained vacant while he spoke. All the pleasant things I seemed to know about Kurama vanished in an instant, overshadowed by my sudden realization that while he might have softened, the cold cruel heart he’d had as a youko hadn’t disappeared completely. Kurama was still ruthless, still cold, and how would he react to me, to my pitiful little story?

            “Any time, Matsuura.” Itou-sensei said drily, and a quiet chuckle circulated the classroom. I cursed inwardly as I looked at the blackboard; the problem was impossible for me to solve. I’d been lucky in the first part of the morning, the first lesson had been English –which I’m all but fluent in- followed by literature, something I’ve never needed help with, no matter the language. Gym had followed that, and there certainly hadn’t been a need to pry into anyone’s brains for answers then. My luck had seemed to run dry.

            I forced a smile, resigned. It was a chance I had to take. All right, I didn’t have to, but my pride forbade me from admitting I couldn’t answer the question and slinking back to my seat. I took a deep breath, and opened my mind a fraction of an inch. First, I touched Itou-sensei, but his thoughts were consumed with gloating and perverted nonsense: ‘Always good to take the pretty ones in class down a notch right off; Matsuura’s the last in this class. Damn kids are looking older and older, no sixteen year olds had figures like that when I was a kid! Too bad for me-’  I left before his thoughts got any worse.

            It was harder for me to concentrate on a single mind if I couldn’t see the person, but despite the bigger risk, brushing the mind of one of the students would have to do. Kurama was right out of course; he’d feel my prying in an instant. Kaito would do nicely, though. I opened my mind just a bit wider, though when I stretched back to reach Katio, I miscalculated, dancing across the minds of most of the other students before I could stop myself. Including his. I shuddered as I felt him realize my invasion. I tried to shake the feeling of dread away, quickly skimming to another student’s mind and absorbing the proper method of solving the accursed math problem.

            With a final self-indulgent smirk at Itou-sensei, I returned to my seat, quailing under the steely green gaze of Kurama. I held his eyes, though I felt sick. All the friendliness and warmth had drained from his face, a cold look of appraisal replacing it. He said nothing as Itou-sensei droned on about the lesson, but as I snuck glances at him out of the corner of my eye, the more I fidgeted, uncomfortable. He had to know it was me, right? I’d let my control over my aura drop slightly, just enough for him to register my youki, recognize that it was me, that I had next to no power, that I wasn’t a threat- his lack of a reaction was driving me mad! Dammit, he was just too controlled. I ground my teeth, staring resolutely ahead.

            “You realized that was me,”  I put the not-question directly into Kurama’s mind, chancing a look as I did. His eyes remained resolutely ahead, though I felt him cordoning off certain parts of his thoughts.

            “By me, you mean Matsuura Chie?”

            “Yes. I was trying to be careful but I suppose I’m just too inept,”  I lamented.

            “Don’t be hard on yourself, I felt nothing until you were in front of the blackboard.” I felt his irritation at that, and smiled inwardly. “Who are you really, and what are you doing here?”

            “I’m here to get an education, the same as you, Kurama.” He inhaled sharply when he heard his name, his nostrils flaring as his eyes turned sharply to me. I blushed profusely. “Relax, I’m not a threat!”

            “Why should I believe you?”

            “Why shouldn’t you? As I’m sure you can tell, I have next to no power and I’ve done nothing but sit in class all morning without incident- until my dumb ass couldn’t answer a math problem.”

            “I don’t like getting caught off guard, nor do I like the idea of another demon sitting beside me for the better part of a morning without my suspecting it once. The fact that you would use your telepathy to cheat in class does nothing to ease my suspicions.”

            “Cheat!” Not that he was wrong, but I still felt offended. “Look man, not all of us have thousands of years’ worth of knowledge to fall back on. I can tell you right now I’m not some super genius either- ahh, look. can we discuss this during lunch?” The conversation was quickly spiraling out of my control, much to my dismay, and I was eager to end it. “I doubt this will ease your mind at all, but you’re fucking scary. Even if I was interested in causing mayhem or whatever you think I’m up to, you’re far more powerful than I am. You’d crush me in an instant, and believe me, my sense of self-preservation would prefer to avoid that.”

            “I can tell you believe that.”

            “It’s the truth. To be frank, I’m quite new to all this, and my eavesdropping and stuff is simply a way to camouflage myself. I don’t have any interest or aptitude in fighting and even if I did, you’re a top-class demon. I wouldn’t dream of crossing you.

            “Fine, we’ll talk at lunch.” I felt a prickle of his amusement, and let out a breath I hadn’t realized I held.

           

            The rest of class passed quickly enough, and when the lunch bell rang, I lingered in my seat, slowly putting my books away. Kurama did the same, pretending not to pay any attention to the other students as they grouped together and talked.

            “Hey Matsuura-chan, have lunch with us!” Igarashi Kenji, the boy who sat in front of me, gave me a brilliant smile as he stopped by my desk. The girls behind him twittered jealously, giggling. Somehow, I’d had the impression that Kurama would be the one with girls fluttering around him, giving me jealous looks for daring to smile at him. Instead, that was Igarashi, an admittedly handsome boy who proclaimed to be the soccer club’s star player.

            “Oh! I’d like to but I’ve already made plans to eat with someone,” I said, feeling slightly embarrassed with his attention.

            “With who?” Igarashi said, frowning at me. “I’ve barely seen you talk to anyone.”

            “Kenji-kun, were you watching her?” One of the girls, Honda Mariko I thought, sighed heavily and shot me a dirty look. Igarashi blushed faintly and glared at her.

            “Not really, I just noticed, you know? Anyway, Matsuura-chan, eat with us!”

            “I’m sorry, Igarashi-kun, but I do have plans-”

            “Matsuura-chan has already agreed to eat with me.” Kurama said, smiling pleasantly as he stood. His voice was calm and even, but his smile failed to reach his eyes.

            “With that nerd?” Igarashi almost looked offended, and I did my best not to giggle at his expression.

            “I’m sorry, he asked first.”

            “Yeah but when? I never saw him talk to you at all.” Igarashi persisted. I was a little flattered honestly; I wasn’t interested in the slightest but it was rather nice to think that I’d drawn him in, if only out of novelty.

            “I have to admit we were passing notes in class.” Kurama said smoothly. “If you’ll excuse us?”

            “Pardon me,” I said, bowing slightly as I stood, grabbing my bento before following Kurama out of the classroom. He lead me to the roof, a place not expressly forbidden to students, although we weren’t encouraged to go up there. A perfect place for a confidential meeting, I thought.

            We settled ourselves against the wall farthest from the door without speaking, my nerves steadily fraying the longer Kurama stayed silent. I played with the handkerchief tying my bento, rubbing the material between my fingers in a vain attempt to keep my cool. What did he think of me? I knew he wasn’t happy that I was there, in his class, in the seat next to him. His opinion of my cheating intrigued me though; I hadn’t expected such an intense reaction to something I thought of as trivial. Admittedly, he probably worked hard to maintain his purportedly perfect grades, though it had to come easier to him than to me or any of the normal human students.

            “Matsuura Chie.” His quiet, level voice broke through my thoughts.

            “Yes,” I couldn’t look at him. I hadn’t lied when I’d told him he was scary. His coldness didn’t surprise me, but having Kurama’s detached, calculating gaze focused on me was unnerving, all the more so knowing how ruthless he could be in the face of a threat. I just hoped I could convince him that I wasn’t something to be afraid of.

            “You’re a demon.” It wasn’t a question, but I answered it anyway.

            “I think I must be, yes.” Kurama raised an eyebrow but said nothing. “Just over a year ago, I awoke in a strange bed in a strange room. I had a strong sense that I wasn’t supposed to be there, but no real reason to think that. As I was trying to puzzle that part of my existence out, I heard two voice coming from the hall. I couldn’t understand the language they were speaking, but I realized without too much effort, I could reach out and touch their thoughts. One was a doctor, the other was Jin-papa. Er, Matsuura Jin. They were discussing me; the strange foundling lying unconscious in the next room. The doctor was horrified that while I bled and breathed, I had no heartbeat.” I stopped, placing a hand on my chest. I still felt nothing, and still felt a vague sense of horror at the lack of any kind of sound or movement. Kurama eyed me silently, further unsettling me. I cleared my throat and continued before I lost the nerve. “The doctor didn’t notice me in his head, but Jin-papa did. He’s quite spiritually sensitive for a human. He got rid of the doctor, and came in to speak with me. It was hard to communicate at first since I didn’t know any Japanese, but I was eventually able to get the meaning across. I kind of transferred my feelings, sorting through his head for the proper words. It gave both of us a massive headache,” I remembered fondly, chuckling to myself.

            “You speak Japanese quite well now.” Kurama said. I shrugged.

            “Well, that’s a product of my cheating I guess. Jin-papa used to be a teacher, but if I hadn’t been able to sift through his mind and pick up what he meant I doubt I’d speak or read well enough to attend school.”

            “What language did you speak?”

            “When I first woke up I didn’t have any words, just feelings and pictures. But as time went on and Jin-papa shared things with me –books and tv and stuff- I recognized English far easier than Japanese. The structure just made more sense to me.”

            “Do you know what caused such an intense amnesia? It seems rather far-fetched to me that you could wake up without even having a proper sense of any language.” he said, frowning. I smiled thinly, and held up my bangs to reveal the jagged sunburst of a scar that covered most of my right temple.

            “Pretty sure it was this. Jin-papa told me I was lying in an alley with my head in a puddle of blood when he found me. He said he thought I was dead, but carried me home when I started to cough.” I let my hair drop, somewhat self-conscious of the scar. “I don’t remember anything before waking up in Jin-papa’s house, I can’t even remember getting hurt.”

            “None of your memories have returned?” Kurama said, skeptical, his voice cold. “Then how do you know my name?”

            “Well, it’s like . . . I get flashes of personality. Like earlier, I kept thinking how I’ve always hated math although the reason of why I hate it isn’t there. It’s the same way with you.”

            “Explain.” That was undoubtedly a command. The tone of his voice rankled, but I answered without comment.

            “Jin-papa told me it was for the best that I go to high school, that it’d be easier to find work and stuff with a degree. I didn’t want to at first since I kind of have the feeling that I’m a bit older than high school –like, I totally have the memory of getting home from work and cracking a beer.” I paused, laughing, but continued when I saw the impatience in Kurama’s eyes. “Anyway. He’s got enough money to forge paperwork and all that and we compromised, settling on entering me as a second year; I’d been aiming for third year and Jin-papa said first year- but anyway, you don’t care. Um, I’d all but decided on somewhere else, but Jin-papa forced me to tour Meiou. He used to teach here, and always liked the school. When I saw one of the boys in that god-awful wisteria uniform, something clicked. It made me remember things.”

            “What kind of things?”

            “Fights mostly. And if I’m honest, I seem to remember a lot more about Yusuke than I do about you.” I said, frustrated. I had respect for Yusuke, perhaps an admiration, though I wouldn’t hesitate to say it was Kurama that I cared the most about. It puzzled me, irritated me, and knowing Kurama had no idea who I was made it worse.

            “Urameshi Yusuke?” Kurama seemed only mildly surprised that I knew that name. I nodded, crossing my arms across my chest.

            “I know all of you; Yusuke, Kuwabara, Hiei, you.”

            “That’s hardly surprising.” Kurama said dismissively. “Many apparitions know of Yusuke since he became the Spirit Detective, and I doubt any of us could go unnoticed after winning the Dark Tournament.”

            “Then why would I recognize your uniform months before the tournament took place?” I said, irritated. “I took the tour here before the entrance exams in December. And even if I simply know you guys by reputation, how do I know little details like- like in Maze Castle, when you were fighting the Saint Beasts, how Yusuke volunteered to take Hiei’s part of the Gate of Betrayal, how-” I continued to rattle off minute trivia about their exploits, Kurama’s face growing more serious as I did.

            “I can’t deny that it’s troubling that you know as much as you do, but you’re psychic. Knowledge like that means little when you have the means to get it without being found out.”

            “I didn’t rifle through your mind to get that!” I said, my voice rising as I began to lose my cool. He didn’t believe me, he didn’t recognize me, and I was beginning to grow afraid of where this knowledge had come to me. Had I somehow just plucked it from the air?

            “I’m not saying that you did; I’d like to think if you tried I’d feel you. But some of the things you’ve said make me think that if you’d sifted through anyone’s memories, it would have been Yusuke. In that case, it makes no sense that you’d come to my high school-”

            “Oh my god! Look, I can’t deny that you’re cute and all,” Surprise flickered across Kurama’s face as I said that, but I ignored my embarrassment as I continued. “But  didn’t come here in some lame attempt to hurt you, and I’m not lying! What can I do to make you believe me? I know more about you and your stupid friends than I do about myself! I was just hoping that . . .” He watched me coldly, and the longer I stared him down, the more rattled I became. I had no idea why it was so important he believed me, but it was. I needed him to have some sort of clue to my identity because I had nothing else. I was immensely grateful to Jin-papa and the life he’d given me, but the thirst I had for my true self was different. I needed to know who I was, what I was.

            “Hoping what, exactly?” I closed my eyes against the prickle of tears.

            “I was just hoping you’d recognize me.” I said, my voice cracking as the last of my reason left me. “But you have no idea who I am, do you?” My telepathic powers were pervasive; it took less effort to slip into another’s mind than it did to stop myself. Without thought or reason, my mind drifted towards Kurama’s. As soon as I felt the brush of his consciousness against mine, I dropped my defenses without thought. I shared my despair, my loneliness, my complete lack of hope with him, throwing open the barriers of my mind and pulling him in. It was a desperate, last-ditch effort to convince him I was telling the truth, and even as I did it I knew it was incredibly foolish.

            Fury bloomed in Kurama’s eyes as he realized what I’d done, though it slowly turned to a mirror of my own anguish as my mind enveloped his. Dimly in the background, I heard the bell ring. Frustrated, with myself and with Kurama, I pushed him out of my mind and ran towards the classroom, leaving him and my untouched bento behind.

Chapter Text

            I hid in the infirmary the rest of the afternoon, afraid of Kurama’s reaction, and ashamed of my own impulsiveness. I’d also given myself a doozy of a headache doing that; surprised or not, Kurama still had some mental blocks in place and forcing my mind past them had strained me.

            “Stupid, stupid, stupid-!” I muttered under my breath, burying my face in the pillow. Desperate or not, I should’ve had better control of myself, I thought grimly. There was no sense in hiding from Kurama either but I couldn’t bear to face him, not yet. I just needed a little more mental fortitude -and for this headache to go away.

            I turned to the other side of the small cot, wrapping the blanket more tightly around myself as the last bell rang. I decided to linger for at least another twenty minutes; that would give me enough time to sneak out while Kurama was busy with club activities. Tomorrow, I would have the energy to deal with him, I told myself. It was mentally draining to be as vigilant around him as I preferred; I hated the idea of saying the wrong thing and ending up with him as my enemy.

            “Fujiwara-sensei, is Matsuura-chan from 2-C here? We have her homework,” I screwed my eyes shut at the quiet, cultured sound of Kurama’s voice. Of course he came. Though ‘we’ struck me as odd.

            “Oh, Igarashi and, hm, Minamino?” The nurse paused, chuckling to herself. “Yes, Matsuura-chan is here; in the farthest bed by the window. You guys are good students, so please keep an eye on things here for a little bit while I pop out for a smoke.”

            “Sure thing, sensei!” Igarashi’s voice, loud and confident, boomed throughout the infirmary. Briefly, I considered feigning sleep- even if Kurama knew I was faking, it’d be harder to call me on it with Igarashi there. Still, he’d know I was being a coward and the idea bothered me. Grudgingly I sat up, half-heartedly fluffing my bangs.

            “Hello Matsuura-chan.” Kurama whisked open the curtain separating the cot. Igarashi bounced up beside him, blushing faintly as he came closer.

            “Hey Matsuura-chan! Feeling better?”

            “Oh, hey.” I forced myself to smile. “Yeah, my headache’s mostly gone now.”

            “Great! Oh, we got your homework,” Igarashi looked over his shoulder at Kurama, almost like he’d forgotten he was there. Kurama merely smiled, holding up the books.

            “Thank you! It sucks to get behind on the first day,”

            “If you need help with anything let me know!” Igarashi said eagerly. “I’m not as smart as Minamino-kun but I’ll let you copy stuff if you need to.”

            “I’m sure Matsuura-chan doesn’t need to resort to cheating.” Kurama said, amusement glittering in his green eyes. I resisted the urge to stick my tongue out, giving him a sharp look instead which seemed to amuse him more.

            “O-of course she doesn’t! Ah, shit, I have to go help with the soccer club’s recruitment-” Grimacing, Igarashi looked at the clock above the door. “If you feel up to it, come check it out! We, uh, need a new manager since Kiwamoto-sempai graduated. See ya!” Without waiting for a reply, Igarashi dashed off, the tips of his ears bright red. I exhaled, repressing a laugh, and watched his back disappear.

            “Are you feeling better, Matsuura-chan? You still look rather pale.” Kurama said. Without looking, I could feel his eyes dissecting me, observing, calculating, judging. I met them momentarily, quickly looking away.

            “Like I said, my headache is mostly gone, though I do kind of feel hungover. Queasy and a little bit . . .” I held up a fist as I trailed off, flexing and unflexing my fingers to indicate the pounding in my head. Kurama snorted, tossing the books at the end of the bed and crossing his arms over his chest.

            “I feel about the same, actually.” I blushed, quickly looking down, and curled my fingers in the redness of my skirt.

            “I’m sorry! I really shouldn’t have-” I stopped, cautious of my words. “I shouldn’t have been so forward.”

            “That’s one way to put it, I suppose.” he said, almost sounding as if he wanted to laugh. “I admit it’s easier to believe your story after that.”

            “So you believe me then?”

            “I believe you’re sincere.” he said, his eyes narrowing. It wasn’t quite what I wanted –not that I knew what I wanted anyway-  but it eased my mind somewhat, thinking that he believed me. He started to say something but stopped as Fujiwara-sensei returned, being scolded by another teacher for smoking. “Matsuura-chan, why don’t you come with me to the gym? They’re holding the all the different club recruitments there.” There was a note of artificiality in his voice, as if he was dissatisfied with even asking the question.

            “I wasn’t really planning on joining a club.” I said, trying not to think too deeply about it.

            “You ought to, it’s an essential part of the high school experience.” He smiled, and I didn’t have to read his mind to understand he wanted to keep me at school as long as he could to keep tabs on me.

            “Well, I’m not joining the Rare Plant Protection club,” I muttered. Kurama gave me a quizzical look, though I wasn’t sure why he’d be surprised. I’d proven I knew plenty of other things about him without him telling me.

            “There are plenty of choices.” he said softly. “I can escort you through the gym if you’re still feeling weak.”

            “Why not?” It was an offer I felt obligated to accept. It didn’t hurt, I thought, to play along. Kurama was the best lead I had on regaining my memories, even if he didn’t know me, and I felt it was worthwhile to keep in his good graces. Forcing a smile, I gathered my things and let Kurama lead me to the gym.

 

            It was more crowded than I’d thought it would be, and the strength of so many thoughts surged against my mental barrier. I winced, closing my eyes, and did my best to shake it off. Kurama, walking attentively at my side, watched me with concern.

            “Are you all right?”

            “Ah, mostly. It’s just a little loud in here,” I said, gesturing vaguely. He nodded, his eyes sweeping through the crowd.

            “If you’re not feeling well-”

            “I’m fine!” I insisted. “Let’s just find a club and get this over with.” Kurama chuckled at my vehemence.

            “Of course. What do you think you’d like? Since you’re opposed to the Rare Plant Protection club.” he said mildly.

            “No sports teams.” I said firmly, dreading the idea of running around and sweating. Athletics were definitely not my thing.

            “Oh, not even the soccer club?” Kurama gave me an innocent smile which widened as I blushed.

            “No!”

            “Igarashi-kun will be disappointed.”

            “Igarashi-kun can-” I started, hurriedly stopping myself as I caught sight of the booth for the soccer club. There was a crowd of both boys and girls around it, and I was tempted to simply turn down another aisle, but Igarashi saw me before I could.

            “Matsuura-chan!” He grinned, waving excitedly, and purposely ignored Kurama.

            “Hi!” I laughed nervously, acutely aware of the glares of the girls in the crowd. “How’s the search for a new manager going?”

            “Igarashi-kun said you’d be interested.” a third year I didn’t recognize said. He lazy looked me over. “You’re Matsuura-chan, right? The cute new transfer student in his class-”

            “Sempai!” Igarashi cut him off, mortified. The third year snickered.

            “Actually, I don’t know anything about soccer,” I said quickly. “I doubt I’d be of much help to you guys; you should have a manager who understands the game.”

            “Matsuura-chan is right.” Honda Mariko flounced up beside me, giving me a suspicious but nonthreatening glare. “The soccer club needs a knowledgeable manager!”

            “Yep! I’d rather join something non-athletic anyway.”

            “Join the literature club then!” The sudden quiet voice surprised me, and I turned around to look at the source. A serious faced girl with a straight black pageboy cut and large round glasses sat beside Kaito Yuu at a card table across from the soccer club’s. As we approached (leaving Igarashi to settle the renewed battle for the manager position), he looked from me to Minamino and sneered.

            “Saitou-chan, it’s not necessary to ask them.” he said.

            “The club will be dissolved if we don’t get more members.” Saitou said dismissively. “In or out?” She pointed at Kurama.

            “I’m already in a club, I’m simply walking with Matsuura-chan as she felt poorly earlier.” he said. Saitou frowned, though Kaito smirked in relief. She turned to point at me.

            “You? Say yes!”

            “Ah, well, I do love books, but I prefer to enjoy the stories without in-depth analyses and reading too much into symbolism.” I said. There was something about Kaito that unnerved me, and I couldn’t quite place it. He was too serious for my taste, too straight-laced and somewhat snobbish when it came to literature if his behavior in class was any indication. He didn’t strike me as a bad person, but something told me to avoid him all the same.

            “I’ll admit we have a habit of picking books apart, but that doesn’t have to be the only thing we discuss!” Saitou said quickly. “Last year we’d write essays and short fiction of our own, and we’d discuss the stylistic merits of a work as well, not just the abstract.”

            “That’s a little more appealing I guess.” I said weakly.

            “If you join, we’d only need one more member to stave off dissolution!” Saitou said, an edge of desperation to her voice. I liked her, I realized abruptly, and I felt bad thinking her club might disband.

            “Did the rest of the club graduate?” Kurama said. Saitou sighed, nodding.

            “Yeah. It wasn’t all that big to begin with and Yamagata-sempai warned me it might be hard to keep it going, but I can’t let it die like this!”

            “Even if it does die, we can still meet up after school and discuss things ourselves.” Kaito said with a shrug. Saitou rolled her eyes. “It might be more fun that way, honestly.”

            “It’s not the same. Besides, having dissenting opinions and debates is fun!” She turned to me. “You’re Matsuura-chan, right? Please say yes!”

            “I guess I can’t say no to that,” I said reluctantly.

            “Great!” Saitou said, and launched into a long speech about the specifics. I only registered about half of what she said, even missing where she said the clubroom was. I decided to worry about that tomorrow, eager to get home and relax. As gracefully as I could, I extracted myself, promising to show up for the meeting with my favourite book. To my surprise, Kurama still lingered beside me.

            “I would’ve thought you’d sneak off in the middle of that.” I said, after the two of us had meandered out of hearing range. He smiled.

            “I can’t say I didn’t think about it.”

            “But?”

            “Let’s go to an arcade.” I stared at him, utterly confused.

            “What?”

            “Don’t you like video games, Matsuura-chan?” Kurama said with an innocuous smile.

            “Well yeah, but I didn’t think you did.” His smile widened.

            “It’s quite satisfying to hear you say that.” I stared at him a moment longer before laughing a bit too loudly.

            “All right, let’s hit up the arcade.” I said, though I was careful to tamp down any interest I might have in anything irrelevant to my current problem- including the sneaking suspicion that I’d either had a crush on Kurama in the past, or was starting to develop one now. 

 

            The train ride to the arcade was uneventful. I felt somewhat awkward, sitting quietly beside Kurama, but once we stepped off the train . . . I was surprised he took me somewhere so far away. Weren't there arcades closer to the school than a train stop away? But I followed him without complaint as he lead me through unfamiliar streets.

            "Here we are," he said, ushering me through a door. I looked around the room as I entered, careful to build up my mental barriers against the crowd.

            "Is there a special-" I hesitated, lacking the courage to ask him about his reasons directly. He smiled pleasantly at me as I paused. "Any special games you wanted to play?"

            "Hm, I've gotten quite fond of Goblin City, though it's always hard getting a turn; it's quite popular." he said. Something niggled in the back of my mind . . . Goblin City, that sounded familiar. "However, it's been a little easier to get to since Mortal Kombat II came out last week." Mortal Kombat definitely struck me as familiar, and I had distinct memories of playing -and losing. "Do you like any games in particular?"

            "Ah, I really like Dragon Quest. Jin-papa lets me play his son's NES."

            "You didn't mention a brother."

            "He and Jin-papa's wife died in the same car crash." I said quietly. "It was a couple years before we met." I tried to speak as casually as I could. After all, it wasn't really my family, I'd never met them. I felt closer to them than I probably had a right to, since Jin-papa spoke about them often, and it almost felt as if I knew them myself. Still, I felt awkward admitting it.

            "I'm sorry to hear that." Kurama murmured, gently guiding me through the machines. I shrugged.

            We stopped in front of the Goblin City cabinet, which only had one kid playing it, no line behind him; he hadn’t been kidding about the decline in popularity. Kurama reached into his pocket, pulling out a hundred yen coin, and placed it on the side of the console.

            "Would you mind waiting here while I get more change?"

            "Uh, sure. But let me give you something first, you don't need to pay for it all-"

            "Don't worry, it's my treat." Kurama smiled and was gone. I snorted, shaking my head, turning to focus on the game.

            The kid was good, I noted, watching as he easily made his way through a side-scrolling shooter. Why did this game look so familiar? It definitely wasn't something Jin-papa had for the NES. Was it somehow connected to Kurama and his friends? It would make sense, since the majority of my memories seemed to involve them somehow. But I hadn't known that Kurama liked video games. It still struck me as odd, and being in an arcade with him had to be one of my more surreal moments of my short life (length relative to my memories at any rate). After the kid easily beat the shooter, a screen came up with an oni and what looked like a slot machine. He pressed a button and it spun, landing on 'LVL: 10 GENRE: PUZZLE GAME: 777' came up. The kid groaned, but reluctantly started the game. Kurama came up behind me as I watched, the colored blocks lazily disappearing from the screen as he progressed. They soon built up, and I could hear him swearing under his breath as they did. It didn’t take long for the entire screen to be filled, the kid wandering off muttering curses as he lost.

            "Do you play this game a lot?" I said, watching as Kurama moved to take the Player 1 place. He gestured me to take Player 2 before speaking.

            "I've played it in the arcade once or twice, but I've mostly played it at home. My soon-to-be stepbrother enjoys it quite a bit also."

            "Oh, that's right. His name is Shuuichi too, yeah?"

            "It is." I laughed, shaking my head.

            "It's still really weird thinking of you playing NES at home in your pajamas on a weekend."

            "What did you think I do for fun?"

            "Reading or gardening I suppose. I never really thought about it."

            "Hm." Kurama was silent as he scrolled though the avatar options. I followed suit, finally settling on the female mage sprite. I preferred playing as a warrior, but Goblin City seemed different than the other games I'd played; it seemed like the seven different characters were just for show since it seemed to be comprised of mini-games instead of a more traditional RPG format.

 

            We played through several rounds of the game, the image of familiarity never quite disappearing from the back of my mind. It was enjoyable, however, and soon I'd all but forgotten it.

            "Hey, Kurama!" I looked up at the familiar sound of the voice, somehow unsurprised to see Kuwabara trotting towards us. His group of friends looked on with interest as he approached, but wandered off.

            "Kuwabara, what a surprise to see you," Kurama said, smiling easily as we finished the latest mini-game. I repressed a snort. Surprise my ass, it was obvious that he’d taken me here on purpose on the off chance Kuwabara or Yusuke might wander in. Undoubtedly not even off chance, Kurama probably knew for a fact one or both of them came here often.

            "Who's this? Wait a minute, you got a girlfriend now or something?" He looked vaguely jealous.

            "No, nothing like that. This is Matsuura Chie."

            "Nice to meet you." I said, bowing slightly. Kuwabara looked surprised at my politeness, bowing in return somewhat awkwardly.

            "Yeah, you too." he said. He stared at me for a second, as if there was something on the tip of his tongue he couldn't quite think of.

            "There a reason you brought her to see me? I mean, it kind of feels like that. I know you don't do coincidences and shit," he said quietly, his stare firmly focused on me.

            "You don't recognize her?" Kurama’s voice was low, the merest hint of an edge to his words.

            "Why would I?" he said, scowling. I frowned, though I wasn't especially bothered by his revelation. If Kurama hadn't recognized me, why should he?

            "She knows a great deal of our exploits." Kurama paused, lowering his voice to barely above a whisper. "Matsuura-chan is a demon, a telepath."

            "Like a mind-reader?" Kuwabara eyed me warily, casting a glance over his shoulder at his friends, who had all gathered around the new Mortal Kombat cabinets. I nodded.

            “That’s basically what my powers boil down to. I woke up about year ago after some kind of accident with practically no memories, but when I saw the Meiou uniforms I remembered Kurama, and eventually the rest of you.”

            “What kinda things do you remember?” Kuwabara said, his face suddenly serious.

            “Umm, mostly things that happened after Yusuke died. Like his adventures as a ghost,” I stopped, grinning, suddenly sure of the best thing to say to Kuwabara to get him to believe me. “Before Yusuke came back, you had a dream where you kissed him. Like he was sleeping beauty, and you-”

            “Sshhh!” Kuwabara cut me off, his face a mixture of embarrassment and nausea. “How the hell could you- I mean, no way in hell I’d dream about kissing Urameshi! No way, nuh uh!” I giggled, though it quickly died in my throat. I’d picked that memory because I knew instinctively that Kuwabara hadn’t told a soul about it, so if I mentioned it, he’d have to believe I was psychic.

            “You never told anyone about that.” I said. Kuwabara looked uncomfortable, refusing to look in either my or Kurama’s direction, but nodded. “If you never told anyone that, how the hell did I . . . ?” I trailed off, nausea twisting knots in my stomach.

            “There are several things you told me earlier that there’s no way you could have known.” Kurama said evenly. “Even if you were friends with Yusuke, you say you’ve been living with Matsuura Jin for the last year, presumably with these memories. You have detailed information about the fights from the Dark Tournament, but claim not to have attended.”

            “Hey, we only got back from there like two weeks ago!” Kuwabara looked at me intently, rubbing his chin. “What kind of things do you remember? When’d you start remembering them?”

            “I remember the fights and some other details,” I said, evading the question of when. I honestly wasn’t sure myself. It could have been while the Tournament was happening, it could have been after, or . . . It could have been before. I shuddered, unwilling to think about it.

            “Sounds kinda vague.” Kuwabara shook his head. “But if Kurama thinks you’re genuine I can’t argue.”

            “Kuwabara, do you know where Yusuke is? I would like his input on this.” Kurama said.

            “He skipped out after lunch so I dunno. Might be at the pachinko parlor nearby, but he likes to go to different ones sometimes.” he said, shrugging.

            “Look, I don’t have time to go on a protracted search for Yusuke.” I said, wincing as I glanced at my watch. “Jin-papa should be home soon, and he told me he wanted to go out to dinner somewhere to celebrate my first day of school.”

            “Jin-papa?” Kuwabara said, raising his eyebrows with a snort. I blushed, awkwardly adjusting my bangs.

            “He found me after I was hurt, and adopted me afterwards.”

            “So kinda like Kurama’s mom?”

            “Kinda, yeah.” I said, with a faint smile.

            “Shall we continue this discussion tomorrow then?” Kurama said. “I would like some time to think on things myself.”

            “If Urameshi shows up to class tomorrow I’ll talk to him. If he doesn’t, I’ll find him and kick his ass until he agrees to come.” Kuwabara said confidently. I nodded, then after saying my goodbyes, retrieved my schoolbag and hurried off to the train station. I told myself not to think too deeply about when my memories of the four of them had ‘returned’, though the more I told myself to ignore it, the more I obsessed.

 

Chapter Text

            "I’m home," I said, walking into the kitchen. From the shoes in the hall, I could tell that Jin-papa was already there. I followed the scent of smoke into the living room, shaking my head when I saw him propped on the couch, a cigarette in one hand and a book in the other. He looked like a typical Japanese businessman, short dark hair (though it was starting to silver at the temples) which was combed into an almost old Hollywood style. His pencil mustache added to the image, as did his habit of smoking like a damned chimney. I'd told him to quit smoking, that he'd get lung cancer or emphysema or who knew what else; but whenever I nagged him about it he'd get a faraway look in his eyes and say something about being able to meet Ami sooner. I'd given up trying to stop him. How would I feel if I'd lost the love of my life? He wasn't actively seeking death, and I felt like I couldn't really admonish him for being eager to see her again.

            "There you are, Chie." he grinned, putting down the book and sitting up half-heartedly. He adjusted his thin, wire-framed glasses, and set his cigarette in the ashtray after taking a deep final puff. "How was school?"

            "Well, a little worse than I expected, actually." I said with a sigh, and sat where his feet had been a moment earlier. Jin-papa chuckled.

            "Didn't meet that boy of your dreams?"

            "He's not-!" I stopped, blushing, and rubbed my face. "I met Kurama, yes. But he doesn't recognize me at all."

            "No? That's too bad." Jin-papa frowned, shaking his head. "You were so sure he'd know something."

            "I really thought he would." I fell back against the couch.    

            "Are you sure he's not lying? I know you're shy about going for the mind meld-"

            "I wasn't shy at all,” I said, snorting at the Star Trek reference, and told him what had happened on the roof. To my annoyance, Jin-papa laughed.

            "So forcing yourself on the boy you like, eh? You're worse than I was when I was your age,"

            "One; I don't like him, not like that." I said stubbornly. "And secondly, we're not even sure how old I actually am. And is that supposed to mean you forced girls or something-?"

            "Of course not!" Jin-papa said, indignant, and pushed his glasses up. "I was pushy, but never that pushy. Do you really have that bad of an opinion of me?"

            "No." I smiled, pushing his shoulder. "So, all you can eat sushi?" Jin-papa grumbled.

            "How about conveyor belt sushi instead? Get as much as you like, but only one gold plate."

            "Only one?"

            "If you'd stayed in class the whole day I might've been more generous, but . . ." Jin-papa trailed off, shrugging, and stood.

            "I did join a club," I said with an expectant grin. "Well, Kurama kind of encouraged me to, I think he wants to keep me in school as long as he can to keep tabs on me. He's a careful guy."

            "Hmm." Jin-papa frowned. "Are you sure that's what he wants?"

            "What else would he want?" I said, confused.

            "Well, I- I don't know." Jin-papa's expression faltered briefly, and he shook his head. "What club did you join?"

            "The literary club." I paused, frowning slightly. "I didn't really want to -Meiou's the kind of school with super intellectual students who get way too into their academics, but I guess they were facing dissolution if they didn't get two more members."

            "So you joined out of pity?" Jin-papa chuckled.

            "More or less. I do like the one girl in it, Saitou Riko. She seems nice."

            "Still, you skipped class! Club or no, you're limited to one gold plate." Jin-papa said, wagging his finger at me.

            "All right." I  gave an exaggerated sigh and stood myself. "Give me ten minutes to change out of this god-awful uniform and we'll go."

            "I don't understand why they board changed them." Jin-papa said with a frown.

            "What do you mean?"

            "When I taught at Meiou, the uniforms were navy. The girls' had kind of a black and navy plaid, and the gakuran were a really nice shade of dark blue." Jin-papa shrugged. "Ah well, times change I suppose." I frowned, regarding my red sleeve with interest. Blue seemed a much better option, and it almost . . . I could almost see it. At least, I could almost see Kurama in a blue gakuran. My blazer was firmly blood-red.

 

            I hurriedly changed into a pair of jeans and a sweater and quickly bounced down the stairs. Jin-papa sat on the couch, finishing his cigarette and the tail end of his book. I stood in the doorway, content to watch him for a moment. The man really was too kind to me, I thought. I understood that my dropping into his life was a dose of excitement that he desperately needed, but there were times over the last year where I felt like I was taking advantage of him. He wouldn't let me get a job ("You're not going to do anything worthwhile without a degree so just go to school"), barely let me do any of the cleaning ("Why the hell should I pay the maid of you do it?"), and overall just . . . spoiled me. He bought clothes, let me read his books, would take me out to nice restaurants; all without any expectations to pay him back. And it wasn't as if he wanted anything else, either. Jin-papa only saw me as a kid, regardless of whether I was a demon or a half-demon or even simply an adult.

            "Ready?" He smiled at me, looking up as if he'd felt me watching him. Given his spiritual acuity, there was a good chance he might have. He set his book open on the coffee table, and stubbed his cigarette out in the ashtray.

            "Yep! Oh, before I forget," I said, crossing the room to join him. "Can we stop at the bookstore first? I need to bring a copy of my favourite book to club activities tomorrow."

            "Isn't there a copy of it in the library? Hey, what is your favourite anyway?"

            "Well, I thought about it a lot on the train home from the arcade-"

            "Arcade?" Jin-papa raised an eyebrow.

            "Didn't I tell you?" I laughed somewhat nervously, though I doubted he’d be mad. "Kurama took me to an arcade after class; one where one of his friends hangs out."

            "One of your . . . mutual friends?"

            "Yeah. Kuwabara didn't recognize me, either." I said dejectedly.

            "Don't let it get you down." Jin-papa patted my shoulder. "Your memories of them have to mean something, right?"

            "I guess,"

            "What are you so glum about?"

            "Kurama said something like . . . Like that it's possible I just picked this stuff up out of the air. I mean, I'm psychic so it's possible right? And that I knew things about what was happening to them at the Dark Tournament before it happened-"

            "What do you mean, before it happened?" Jin-papa said, suddenly serious. I shrugged.

            "Exactly that. I started to remember things about them around last November, right? When we first toured Meiou. He told me that they only got back from the tournament a few weeks ago, less than that. So if I remembered these things before they even happened, how can I say they're memories?"

            "That's . . . that is a bit different." Jin-papa frowned, and despite his efforts to keep his face neutral, I could see how it bothered him. "But you are a demon, he confirmed that?" I nodded. "There has to be some connection. You said these guys deal with the Spirit World on a regular basis, yes? Even if they don't recognize you, Spirit World might have some kind of clues about what happened to you."

            "But what if I'm a criminal? What if I was injured fleeing from Spirit World authorities for whatever reason, and going to them for help just gets me arrested?" I said, newfound anxiety spewing out with a vengeance as soon as I gave it a foothold.

            "Relax, Chie." Jin-papa squeezed my shoulders, looping his arm around me in half a hug. "Even if you're a wanted criminal, there's no way I'd let them take you from me. I've lost enough in this lifetime, I won't let anyone take you too, not even Enma himself." I laughed, resting my head on his shoulder. Realistically, I knew there was little Jin-papa could do to fight for me, especially against Spirit World. What chance did a fifty-three year old man have against Yusuke Urameshi? Nonetheless, it was comforting to hear him say he'd try.

            "I'm so lucky you're the one that found me." I murmured. Jin-papa gave me a final squeeze.

            "So am I. But let's get going, eh? Sushi isn't going to wait for us you know!"

 

 

            Class seemed to drag endlessly the next day. I felt jumpy around Kurama, convinced there was something he was hiding from me. What it might be, I had no idea, but the feeling persisted through lunch. I'd let Igarashi bully me into joining him and his friends for lunch, Kurama tagging along. Igarashi seemed irritated, but didn't say anything. Lunch went smoothly enough, though the afternoon classes made me feel as if time was being dragged through molasses.

             I could feel Kurama watching me as the last few minutes of class dragged on. He seemed as impatient as I was for the day to be over as I was, though there was a microscope edge to his gestures.

            "Is there something bothering you?" I gave in to my temptation, starting a telepathic conversation. Kurama's eyes flickered to me instantly.

            "What makes you say that?"

            "I can tell that you've been on edge all day. If you're worried about me disappearing on you, don't be."

            "While that's reassuring, that's not what has been on my mind."

            "Oh?" I left it hanging open; unwilling to pry, but unwilling not to show interest.

            "I spoke with Kuwabara for some time after you left; it seems as if his powers have gone into hibernation since returning from the tournament. I can't help but wonder if you're involved somehow."

            "Why would I do something like that?" I was horrified at the thought. Kuwabara was a good person, and one of my favourites even if I didn't actually know him.

            "I never said I thought you did it purposely." Kurama's tone was less than reassuring, however. "Regardless, Kuwabara told us to meet him at his house after club activities. He says he'll be sure to bring Yusuke, and perhaps finally we can get some answers."

            "Do you think Yusuke and I know each other?"

            "It makes the most sense. When you- on the roof yesterday, I got the impression that you knew more about Yusuke than any of us."

            "Oh, you mean when I mind-melded you?" I chuckled to myself.

            "Mind-meld?"

            "Dude, don't tell me you don't know what Star Trek is," I gave him a horrified look.

            "No, I've never heard of it. Do you mean Star Wars?"

            "No! Star Trek is different." I was disappointed; Jin-papa had told me that Trek wasn't very popular in Japan (though he very much enjoyed the original series, and we'd frequently watch the tapes together) but I guess I'd hoped Kurama might know.

            "What's a 'mind-meld'?"

            "Well, one of the main characters, Spock, is a Vulcan, a kind of alien that's stronger than humans and has different abilities, one of which is the power to join his mind to another's- kind of like what I did yesterday, but more controlled. Jin-papa happened to think of it yesterday."

            "I must confess I don't watch much tv." I could feel Kurama's amusement at my expense clearly, and decisively resisted the urge to give him a dirty look.

            "Don't hate because I'm a better nerd than you are."

            "A better nerd?"

            "Yep. You don't get nerdier than Star Trek. The new one's airing at nights now, though it's only in the second season. I think I like it better than the original, though Spock is still my favourite."

            "Perhaps I'll check it out some time," Kurama gave me an indulgent smile. The bell rang almost instantly afterwards, the two of us lingering in the classroom.

            "Matsuura-chan, are you coming?" Kaito appeared beside my desk with a bored expression.

            "Right, club activities." I forced a smile, though I did appreciate him waiting for me, saving me the awkwardness of having to ask him where the club room was.

            "Don't forget about our plans later." Kurama smiled at me.

            "Our-? Oh right." I laughed awkwardly, feeling Kaito's curiosity burning into the back of my head. "I won't forget."

            "You two are rather close, aren't you?" Kaito surveyed us coolly. "Got a date after school, perhaps?"

            "A date? No-"

            "You sound jealous, Kaito." Kurama said, chuckling.

            "Me, jealous? Hardly." Kaito snorted. "It's just that dating is against school rules. I was surprised that you'd be breaking that particular rule, Minamino, that's all."

            "Don't worry, Kaito. Matsuura-chan and I are simply friends."

            "Uh. let's just go  to club activities, okay?" I was embarrassed, too embarrassed to even look in Kurama's direction. I wasn't sure if he could tell, but didn't feel like checking, either. I didn't like the idea of him finding it so funny, though I had no real reason to. One of the perils of being a high school girl, I thought, and followed Kaito out without a backwards look.

            Conversation was nonexistent as we walked, though that suited me just as well. I needed a little time to collect my nerves, to reassure myself that Kurama was just baiting Kaito, that he didn't mind anything by it.

            "Good, you two slackers are finally here!" Saitou looked up happily as we walked into the club room. Two small first years sat across from her, nervously flipping through their books. "Let's all introduce ourselves, shall we? I'm Saitou Riko, second year, and president of the club. My favourite book is The Tale of Genji." She turned expectantly to Kaito, who rolled his eyes but continued.

            "Kaito Yuu, second year, vice president. Favourite book is Kafka's The Trial. And let me officially note the idiocy of deciding our positions with jan-ken-pon."

            "So noted." Saiou met my eyes and we giggled.

            "Um, Mastuura Chie, also second year. My favourite book at the moment is Moby-Dick." I'd mostly picked it at random, though it was one book that had stuck with me after finding it in Jin-papa's library. He'd had a Japanese copy, though somehow last night we'd found an old English paperback at a used bookstore. I'd stayed up reading it far later than I should have.

            "I'm Fuujita Satoshi and my favourite book is Yonsenmanpo no Otoko." The boy was think and bookish, with short hair and a serious expression. The first year girl beside him grinned awkwardly. She was tall, looked athletic, and had a rather short pixie cut that seemed to be popular.

            "Um, I'm Oda Sawako and I don't really read that much . . . My favourite manga is Dragon Ball though!" she said sheepishly, holding up a tankoban.

            "What are you doing in the literature club if you don't like reading?" Kaito said, irritated. Oda laughed, elbowing Fuujita.

            "Well, I was going to join the tennis club but I separated my shoulder last summer so I had to quit playing. The boys' club already had a manager so I just tagged along with Sato-kun."

            "Kaito, don't be rude!" Saitou hissed. "Doesn't matter what you like to read! Manga is a good way of telling stories too. Hopefully before the end of the year we'll all have a better appreciation for literature!" she said brightly.

 

            We all gave brief descriptions of our books, as only Kaito had read everything everyone had brought (he was even quite knowledgeable about DBZ, much to my surprise). Fuujita and Oda had skipped out early, called away by their teacher to help with something for the class, leaving the three of us alone.

            "I like Oda, it's refreshing to have someone so cheerful with all of this heavy discussion." I said. Saitou nodded.

            "She's cute, isn't she? And don't you think," she paused, lowering her voice. "That the two of them might be, you know . . . together?" She giggled.

            "Oh! You mean like-?" I held out my pinky, gesturing that she might be his girlfriend. Saitou nodded.

            "It's cute! I hope they can be discreet about it. Most teachers don't care about the no dating rule unless students are really obvious about it, though."

            "Does that happen a lot?"

            "Oh, you know. There are always kids who get too wrapped up in their relationships to study properly, who waste time making gooey eyes at their boyfriends and stuff. There are teachers who are super strict about enforcing the rules too." Saitou said, shaking her head. Kaito ignored us, flipping through my book. I'd told him he could borrow it if he liked, seeing as he'd never read the English version. There was a light knock on the door, and Kurama popped his head in.

            "Matsuura-chan, are you finished? We should get going."

            "Yes, I'm done." I stood, suddenly nervous.

            "Don't tell me you guys are dating." Saitou said with a chuckle. I blushed.

            "No! We just- we're meeting a mutual friend, that's all."

            "Oh?" Kaito set down the book. "I wasn't aware Minamino had friends outside the school."

            "Of course I do, Kaito. But let's be going, Matsuura-chan."

            "Y-yeah. I'd hate to keep them waiting." I said as cheerfully as I could muster. "You can borrow the book if you like, Kaito-kun. Just give it back when you finish."

            "Thank you, Matsuura-chan. I'll have it for you tomorrow." I nodded, bowing to the both of them, and followed Kurama out.

            "Is Kaito always so snarky with you?" I asked, once we were far enough down the hallway.

            "Mostly. It irritates him I always get the tops marks in exams."

            "Do you antagonize him on purpose?"

            "Antagonize?" Kurama said innocently. "I can't help getting top marks, Matsuura-chan."

            "But I don't imagine you mind poking him, either." I said, chuckling. Kurama allowed himself a small smile.

            "I admit it is . . . interesting to see his reaction when they post test results."

            "What's he like when he beats you?"

            "That's only happened in one literature test so far." Kurama said casually. "Last year, around the time I met Yusuke. I wasn't exactly concerned with his swaggering around, however."

            "No, I guess you wouldn't be." I murmured, knowing exactly when that must have been; when his mother was in the hospital. It was unsurprising he'd let himself slip a point or two in the rankings because of it. "Hey, why do you get top grades all the time? Wouldn't sitting in the middle of the pack be less conspicuous?"

            "Who said I wanted to be inconspicuous?" Kurama raised an eyebrow.

            "Well, I guess I just assumed," I said, chided.

            "To be honest, that was my original intention. But entering elementary school, the work was so easy I couldn't hold back. I'd never had any formal schooling before, obviously, but I'd always enjoyed reading when I had spare time."

            "I guess it makes sense you didn't have a demon high school or whatever you attended." I said, giggling at the thought.

            "No, but as I said, the school work here was quite easy to begin with. As I got older, I simply stuck with it, studying as much as I needed to maintain my grades."

            "I imagine it made your mother happy." I said offhandedly, thinking about Jin-papa. He'd told me that my grades didn't have to be perfect, he'd be proud of my efforts no matter what. I knew I didn't have it in me to fight Kurama and Kaito for the top (not without resorting to lots of cheating), but I was aiming for the top ten. The work was difficult, however, and I wasn't sure of my chances- especially with calculus looming over my head.

            "Yes, she's always been quite proud of my grades." Kurama said, his voice taut. I faltered mid-step, had I said the wrong thing?

            "Sorry! I didn't mean to-"

            "Don't apologize." Kurama said dismissively. "It's a bad habit of mine, to get testy and overprotective."

            "I can understand. It's a big vulnerability to care for someone, to have the need to protect them." I paused, Jin-papa's and my conversation from last night springing to mind. We continued in silence, each wrapped in our own thoughts. I was nervous about meeting Yusuke. Kuwabara's powers disappearing bothered me as well. I wasn't shocked, I realized. I felt almost as if . . . I'd expected it to happen. Was I just picking up stray thoughts from the air? It bothered me more than anything else. I wasn't precognitive, I thought firmly. I never had any visions about missing the train if I had an extra piece of toast in the morning, or anything like that. All my memories or visions or whatever the hell they were, concerned the four of them. Yusuke was the most prominent, I supposed, but Kurama struck me as the most significant.

            Was that because I'd remembered him first? I thought he was a little more interesting than the others, but that could simply be due to the fact that I knew him the best so far. Well, I had the most interaction with him, if that counted. Maybe meeting Yusuke would spark a memory in me, illuminate something I'd forgotten, even if it was him pursuing me while I fled from Spirit World authorities. I shivered at the thought. Regaining my memories was important, but did I want them if it was like that? If I was one of the myriad demons that set out to cause trouble in the human realm?

            "Hey Kurama, how do you know if you're the type of demon that eats humans?"

            "What makes you say that?"

            "I just . . . I guess I'm worried."

            "Does looking at a human ever make you hungry? Does normal food not satisfy you?"

            "No."

            "Then I wouldn't worry myself unnecessarily if I were you. There are many kinds of demons that don't feed on human flesh or souls, so relax." I nodded, though I was only partially satisfied. Silly fears like being a man-eater were easily dismissed, but the anxiety that I could be a criminal had nagged me since last night. If I was somehow a bad guy, there was next to nothing I could do to face Kuwabara (even as powerless as he was), much less Yusuke or Kurama. I had no fighting skills, and only the most rudimentary control over my telepathic abilities.

            Still, I did my best to smother my unease. There was a possibility that Yusuke recognized me for a different reason, or that he wouldn’t recognize me at all. I decided that would be better than the alternative, and debated the merits of giving up my search for my identity. Granted, part of me would never be satisfied not knowing, but . . . would sacrificing the life I had now for the unknown be worth it? I shivered, and again tried to force my worries to the back of my mind.

Chapter Text

            “Here we are.” Kurama said, pausing at the gate of a small one-storey house. I shifted nervously, watching the clouds skitter quickly through the sky, powered by the increasing wind. Unconsciously, I shivered. Early April could still be chilly, though it wasn’t bad compared to- to what? My thoughts trailed off, and I scowled inwardly. Kurama raised an eyebrow as I lingered at the gate, already halfway up the path.

            “Sorry,” I said, hurrying to meet him. We took the last few steps in silence, and Kurama firmly but politely knocked. There were grumbling, indistinct voices behind the door before it swung open.

            “Oh, it’s you.” Shizuru stood in the doorway, a vague look of surprise crossing her face as a cigarette dangled from her mouth.

            “Hello, Shizuru-chan. Is your brother here?” He smiled warmly at her.

            “Yeah, him and Yusuke are holed up in his bedroom.” she said, stepping aside to let us in. “Who’s this, your girlfriend?” Kurama’s smile wavered slightly.

            “This is Matsuura Chie, a friend from school.”

            “She’s like you.” Shizuru said, eyeing me more carefully. I laughed nervously, shaking my head.

            “I mean, I’m a demon, yeah, but not like him.” I said quickly, my words spilling out as my nerves enveloped me. Shizuru raised an eyebrow, and I could feel the intensity of Kurama’s look without turning towards him and continued to ramble on without much thought. “Like I’m just a telelpath, nothing cool like a kitsune or anything. And I can’t fight for shit so yeah,” I laughed awkwardly, embarrassed by my frankness, and brushed my bangs off my forehead, out of my eyes. Shizuru looked me over once more, then laughed as she turned to Kurama.

            “I like her. Kazu-chan’s in his room, I’m sure you know the way.” With a casual wave of her hand, she walked off. Kurama watched her go a second or two longer than I expected, an unreadable look on his face. I said nothing, too pleased with Shizuru’s compliment to appreciate his expression. The memories I had of her were far fewer than any of the boys, but she was cool.

            “Follow me.” Kurama’s voice interrupted my thoughts, and once again, I hurried to catch up him. Even before we stepped into the hallway, I could hear Yusuke and Kuwabara’s voices clearly.

            “You met her yesterday? What’s she like?”

            “I dunno, nice I guess? Got kind of a bitchy face though.” Kuwabara said. I frowned, though I didn’t take offense. It felt as if it wasn’t the first time I’d been told I had a bitchy resting face.

            “Bitchier than Keiko?” Yusuke snickered.

            “Keiko is like, super not-bitchy to everyone but you.” he said with a snort.

            “Is that supposed to mean something, funnyman?” Yusuke said, though he burst into laughter as soon as he spoke. There was a bit of a crash and more laughter as Kurama opened the door. Yusuke held Kuwabara in a headlock, forcefully noogieing him as Kuwabara clutched at his arm. Catching sight of the two of us, they broke apart.

            “Hey Kurama.” Yusuke gave him a thin smile before turning to me. “That’s her then?” I did my best not to tremble under his gaze. I could feel his strength, the tight appraisal in his eyes, and I was reluctant to show him any weakness- not only because he was strong, but because my memories implied I had a deep respect for him as a fighter and as a person.

            “I’m Matsuura Chie,” I said, careful to keep my voice steady, and held out my hand. Yusuke frowned, confused at the gesture, but shook it off with a humorless laugh as he took my hand.

            “Urameshi Yusuke.” he said, squeezing it much harder than I expected him to. I squeezed his lightly, unwilling to get caught up in whatever testosterone laden contest it might be.

            “You have no idea who I am, do you?”

            “Nope.” he said, dropping my hand with a shrug. I sighed heavily, unable to stop myself from grimacing.

            “Yeah, after meeting Kuwabara yesterday I didn’t think you would, but still . . .” I trailed off, sighing, and stood awkwardly beside Kurama while Yusuke took a seat on the bed next to Kuwabara.

            “You’re certain you’ve never seen her before, Yusuke?” Kurama pressed. Yusuke scowled, his shoulders jerkily shrugging as he stuffed his hands in his pockets.

            “I can’t tell you I never passed her in the street but I definitely never spoke to her before.” he said. “Kuwabara told me you met this demon and she knows like a creepy amount about us but that’s about it.” He looked expectantly at Kurama, who obliged.

            “Yesterday was the first day of the new term, and Matsuura-chan was a new transfer student. I sensed nothing unusual about her, until calculous, where I felt a spike of youki and someone –Matsuura-chan- touching my mind. I wasn’t sure it was her until she initiated a telepathic conversation. I was somewhat alarmed to hear her call me Kurama, though she was quick to assure me of her peaceful intentions.” he said, his voice level, looking completely at ease with the situation. I appreciated the chance to see Kurama’s point of view on what happened, though I honestly wasn’t sure I wanted to hear it. “I spoke with her during lunch, where she revealed that she’s been living in the Human World for the last year or so with a man named Matsuura Jin. Her only memories were of the four of us, including several details about our adventures that it would be seemingly impossible for her to know unless she was on intimate terms with one of us. Of course, I wondered at her true motivation, as well as the possibility that she was purposely culling such details from my mind.” I frowned at the accusation, though I had to grudgingly had to admit that he was justified to suspect me like that.

            “What changed your mind?” Yusuke said, leaning forward, serious. “I’m guessing you did,”

            “Yes, you’re correct.” Kurama paused, glancing at me. His eyes were a neutral, vaguely icy green, and I wondered if his friendliness had simply been a front to keep tabs on me. I looked away, feeling irrationally dejected at the thought. It was the logical course of action from his point of view, I told myself. “Matsuura-chan got upset, and in an effort to convince me of her intentions, pushed her consciousness into mine.”

            “Uh, what?” Yusuke said, exchanging a skeptical glance with Kuwabara.

            “Neither of you have seen Star Trek, have you?” I said, though I had little hope.

            “Yeah, I love those movies!” Kuwabara said eagerly.

            “Not Star Wars,” I said, unable to stop myself from smiling. “Star Trek. It’s a tv show.”

            “Yes, well,” Kurama said, hiding a smile. “It’s difficult to explain, but Matsuura-chan opened her mind to me, and afterwards, I had to admit she’s genuine. Rather, her memories of us seem to be genuine, as does her amnesia.”

            “Huh,” Yusuke said, crossing his arms across his chest. He surveyed me carefully, and all I could almost feel his gaze penetrating my thoughts. “You ever met a demon that could do shit like that, Kurama?”

            “I’ve met fortune tellers and others with telepathic and precognitive abilities in the past, but nothing quite as detailed as what Matsuura-chan described to me yesterday.” Yusuke scowled at Kurama’s words. “There are several possibilities that come to mind, though I’m not sure how likely any of them are. One, Matsuura-chan is on good terms with one of us, and has been filling in the blanks by skimming our minds for the details.” Kurama said.

            “I have not! I knew that stuff before I met you.” I interrupted, petulant.

            “While I believe you’re genuine, it would be rash to dismiss the possibility you might be doing it unconsciously.” Kurama said, giving me a patient smile.

            “Okay, but you at least would have felt me poking around your mind-”

            “Matsuura-chan, you underestimate your own abilities.” Kurama said drily. “I sat beside you for hours yesterday without sensing the barest hint of your youki, and aside from the mind-meld as you called it, I have been surprised by how little I feel your presence when we communicate telepathically.” I stared at Kurama, shocked at his words. Jin-papa had always told me that my telepathic abilities were uniquely strong by human standards, but I’d thought for sure by demon standards I’d be average, or more likely less than that.

            “Yesterday I was just being hyper-vigilant because you scared me, that’s all.” I insisted.

            “That guy scared you?” Yusuke said, though he came across as more curious than disparaging. I blushed anyway.

            “I mean . . . I was excited at first, I’d been waiting to talk to him since I started remembering things. But when he got to class, he had such a false face on, you know? All I could think of was how easily he could see me as a threat, and I honestly wasn’t sure I wanted to approach him before I blew my cover in math class. I, uh, was trying to read someone’s mind for the answer to a problem and accidentally the whole class.”

            “Accidentally what the whole class?” Kuwabara said. I frowned, shouldn’t he get the joke? Frowning harder, I realized I didn’t get the joke.

            “I accidently barged into the whole class’s minds instead of one person’s. Kurama’s the only one who noticed though, I think.” I said, embarrassed. “It’s hard to focus on one person if I’m not looking at them.”

            “Wait a moment, you touched everyone’s mind like that yesterday?” Kurama said, his eyes narrowing on me. I shifted uncomfortably.

            “Well, at least half, I’m not sure exactly. And definitely not on purpose!” I said defensively.

            “That isn’t the point. Without meaning to, you were able to touch that many minds?” I shrugged helplessly, confused as to why that made a difference.

            “Yeah. . . ? It’s like –my telepathy and stuff- it’s like being in a crowded room. You can’t help hearing other people’s conversations. So I don’t drive myself insane, I’ve gotten into the habit of putting, like a shower curtain around my mind to keep out the noise. I can stick a hand out to touch someone’s thoughts, but yesterday I tripped and ripped it down for a second. I-isn’t Hiei’s Jagan power like that?” I said, hesitant, my eyes flickering across the three of them. Kurama frowned.

            “Not to my knowledge, no. But I’m not overly familiar with Hiei’s Jagan abilities, either.”

            “They’re not natural so that might have something to do with it.” I said, covering my mouth with my hand, rubbing my jaw as I thought.

            “So we’ve got a demonic mind reader who’s crazy good at it.” Yusuke said, breaking the silence that had settled over us. “And who knows way too much about us even though we’ve never met her.”

            “We can’t be certain of that yet.” Kurama interrupted. “I haven’t been able to get in touch with Hiei, and I was reluctant to contact Spirit World before meeting with you today.”

            “If you’re thinking one of us knows her, it might be Genkai or Keiko or Yusuke’s mom or even my sister!” Kuwabara said. “They all know basically what’s happened since the Dark Tournament.”

            “Shizuru-san didn’t recognize me when she opened the door, and frankly, I doubt Genkai would talk to a demon about you guys.” I said quickly. “And I’m not saying it’s impossible it’s Keiko-chan or Atsuko-san or even Yukina-san, none of them seem as tangible to me as the four of you, Hiei included.”

            “While I admit the extent of Matsuura-chan’s powers is worrying, as is her knowledge of us, I don’t feel she’s a threat. However, Yusuke, you are the Spirit Detective. If you feel she might be a danger, I won’t stop you from acting as you see fit.” Kurama said calmly.

            “Fuck, I don’t know.” Yusuke grimaced, running a hand through his hair. “I’m more used to solving problems I can punch than shit like this.”

            “It can’t hurt to ask Koenma about her, can it?” Kuwabara said. The thought sent shivers down my spine but I refused to let my fear swallow me.

            “Yeah, that’s probably the best, right?” I said, wincing at the way my voice trembled.

            “Matsuura-chan, is something wrong?” Kurama said. I flushed, looking intently at the floor.

            “I . . . I’m just nervous, I guess. I don’t know if I’m- if I’m a criminal. I guess I’m scared that I’m already on Spirit World’s shitlist.”

            “There’s nothing to be afraid of, Matsuura-chan. I doubt you’ve committed a crime of any kind.” Kurama said, and I couldn’t help but believe there was sincerity behind his words.

            “Just because of the mind-meld?” He chuckled.

            “It did give me a better insight to your character than I would’ve otherwise gotten, but I also haven’t heard of any serious crimes committed by anyone with telepathic abilities, either.”

            “Koenma hasn’t sent me any cases like that.” Yusuke added.

            “It was like a year ago when I was first hurt; do you think-?”

            “Relax, Matsuura-chan.” Kurama brushed my arm, the gentle touch of his fingers calming me, no matter how brief.   

            “I’m sorry, I just feel so- like I don’t have control of anything in my life. I want answers, but I don’t want the wrong ones, I guess.” I laughed weakly, wishing I could fall against Kurama’s shoulder, but unable to let myself do so. No matter my memories, I’d really only been acquainted with him a day, and it was inappropriate to even think that way.

            “I’m going to call Koenma then,” Yusuke said, pulling a small, pink compact out of one his pockets. I nodded, unable to argue. There was a pause after he opened it, but Koenma’s voice eventually emanated tinnily out of the small device.

            “Yusuke? I’m surprised to hear from you. Is it important? I’m quite busy-”

            “Why else would I call, binky-breath?”

            “Charming as always.” Koenma sighed, and I did my best to repress a laugh. “What is it?”

            “Er, Kurama found a stray demon at his school, she’s a telepath. He doesn’t think she’s a threat, and after meeting her I don’t think she is either but she knows a lot about us. It’s fucking weird.”

            “You’ve become quite famous in all three worlds, Yusuke; especially after winning the Dark Tournament.” Koenma harrumphed.            

            “She knows things that she definitely wouldn’t know without knowing one of us.”

            “Like what?”

            “Uh, Kurama, like what?” Yusuke looked up.

            “Do you mind-?” he said, gesturing to Yusuke to handle him the communicator.

            “Go for it.” he said, and tossed it to Kurama. He caught it deftly, quickly straightening it to speak with Koenma.

            “Hello. Matsuura-chan has knowledge of several things that should only be in Spirit World’s archives, if that. Details of our fights with the Saint Beasts, things that happened in the Tournament,” Kurama went into further detail, repeating most of what I’d told him yesterday. Koenma reflected briefly, sighing heavily and shaking his head.

            “I’ll trust your judgment that she isn’t a threat for now.” he said finally. “I’ve gotten behind on my work because of the Tournament and I still haven’t caught up- not to mention some troubling reports . . . You said she was a telepath?” Kurama nodded. “I’ll look into it when I can. For now, keep an eye on the girl, okay?”

            “Of course.”

            “Good.” Without another word, Koenma hung up, leaving a hiss of static. Yusuke groaned, rolling his eyes as Kurama tossed the communicator back. I felt a strange lack of relief; I hadn’t been arrested, but I hadn’t gotten any answers either. Still, I knew I should be relieved for a longer respite. No news was good news, as Jin-papa liked to say.

            “What was all of that about?” Kuwabara said.

            “Couldn’t you hear him?” Yusuke said, giving him a strange look. Kuwabara grimaced, shaking his head.

            “I haven’t been able to use my reiki at all since we got back from the tournament; not even my ESP is working right.”

            “Shit, that’s not good.” Yusuke gave his friend an apprehensive once-over. “Basically, Koenma told us he was too busy to bother, and told Kurama to keep an eye on her. Suits me fine,”

            “Yeah, I’m kind of useless at the moment, so I’ll leave it to you Kurama.” An awkward silence settled over the room, and none of the boys had to speak to give me the impression they wanted to discuss Kuwabara’s predicament in private. I wanted to stay –curious about it myself, and willing to help if I could- but I knew they didn’t want me there.

            “If you guys are done with me, I guess I should get home.” I said, moving reluctantly towards the door. None of them made a move to stop me, so without a good reason to impose on them any longer, I left, wondering if I could get any details out of Kurama tomorrow in class.

            I knew they didn’t trust me much, that I was undoubtedly overstepping my boundaries, but it bothered me. I liked Kuwabara very much, and I was worried. Sure, he’d be fine from any human threats, but the peace after the Dark Tournament couldn’t last forever. Koenma had mentioned troubling reports- I stopped myself, frowning intently. What use was it to worry? Whether I was concerned or not, I doubted that Kurama would share anything with me. They owed me nothing, and I needed to get that through my head. I could offer my help to Kurama tomorrow, but there was no reason for them to want or accept it. Despite my (Planted? Imagined?) memories, I was still an outsider, I thought grimly. There was nothing for me to do but focus on myself- at least for the moment.

Chapter Text

            “Matsuura-chan, you look terrible,” Saitou said, watching me thoughtfully as she unwrapped her bento. For the last month, Saitou and Kaito had joined Kurama and me during lunch. Kaito was somewhat frostily aloof, though it didn’t stop him from engaging Kurama in spirited debates that sometimes spanned the entire break. Their rapport was hilarious, though I did my best not to laugh too openly at them, and Saitou’s company was frankly the most enjoyable part of the school day for me. We had a great deal in common; similar taste in books, manga, games- everything, it seemed, except men; something I’d always believed to be essential to an enduring friendship.

            “I had a hard time sleeping last night,” I said lightly. “All kinds of weird dreams, you know?”

            “Like what?” Kurama said, his voice carefully casual. I shrugged, surprised at his interest. He’d accepted my offer of help with Kuwabara’s problem last month with a polite ‘thank you’, but had been decidedly evasive about that (and any other other-worldly subject) since. The way we interacted at school, it almost felt as if we were both normal teenagers.

            “Well, it’s been a kind of recurring theme.” I said, shrugging. “A pair of giant white hands, covered in eyeballs, turns up somewhere in my dreams almost every night. Like last night, I was at the beach and they helped me build a sandcastle until a giant wave came and I was running and running and they were behind me . . . It’s hard to describe, but the tone of the dream became really dark then, and it felt like something bad would happen if the wave got me. Something worse than drowning.”

            “I don’t know about the eyeballs, but hands are usually a positive image in dream symbolism.” Saitou said. “I believe they generally represent self-awareness, taking control of your destiny, things like that.”

            “Don’t tell me you believe in that nonsense.” Kaito said, snorting.

            “I don’t believe in it absolutely!” Saitou said, blushing, and gave him a dirty look. “Symbolism in general can be useful, and I think interpreting one’s dreams can be beneficial if only to get a subjective understanding of the unconscious mind!” I swallowed a giggle as they continued to bicker, briefly catching Kurama’s eye. He gave me a stern look, and I could feel his mind straining at me.

            “What is it?”

            “You’ve dreamt of those hands before?”

            “Pretty frequently, yes. Why?”

            “Have you ever tried to summon them when you weren’t sleeping?”

            “What?”  I choked on my canned coffee, sputtering and wheezing, waving off Saitou’s concerned questions. “Why the hell would I?”

            “There is a type of demon called ‘the Dark Stroke’. Little is known about them, though rumours persist of their telepathic and trans-dimensional abilities, aided by pairs of shadow hands.”

            “Like the ones in my dreams,” Unconsciously, I held my breath. "Have you ever met one? Is that how you recognized the hands just from a description?”

            “I’ve never met a Dark Stroke in person, though there was a time where the talents of a telepath could have been highly advantageous for a heist I was planning. I was put in touch with someone who supposedly knew a Dark Stroke, but nothing ever came of it. Still, the shadow hands are one of the defining characteristics of theirs, or so rumour has it.”

            “Huh.” I sipped my coffee reflectively. Dark Stroke . . . the name sounded familiar, though I couldn’t put a finger on why.

            “After school, would you try summoning the hands? I admit, it would be a long shot, but there’s no harm in trying.”

            “Might as well, yeah? Better than nothing.”

            “Anyway,” Kaito said, sighing heavily. “I’m going to have to miss club activities today, so give my apologies to Fuujita and Oda.”

            “Huh? Why?” Saitou said. A queerly cold feeling settled over me as I glanced at Kaito. I could almost touch the smugness radiating off of him, brushing against my mind with a clammy, gel-like consistency. I felt like I was going to vomit when he made the briefest of glances at Kurama and smirked, though there was no reason for my sudden nausea.  

            “I have an important appointment.” he said dismissively, then focused sharply on me. “Say, Matsuura-chan, are you all right?”

            “I’m fine!” I said quickly, forcing a smile. “Just too much caffeine and too little sleep. You know,”

            “Maybe lay off the coffee?” Saitou raised her eyebrows, staring intently at the still-full can in my hand. I laughed guiltily and took a sip.

            “I’m fine!” I insisted. The four of us continued to chat as we ate our lunches, though inwardly I debated whether or not I should mention Kaito’s oddness to Kurama. It was strange enough to bother me, but was it really significant?

            Reflectively, I sipped my coffee and thought. It wasn’t unusual for Kaito to act weird, and while Kurama might believe I had some fashion of precognitive abilities, I didn’t think so, and it felt wrong to instigate something based off of one funny feeling. I snuck a look at Kaito, telling myself that patience was a virtue. Perhaps it would be best to keep an eye on him after lunch, then tell Kurama after club activities if still bugged me then.

 

 

            “Say, do you want to go to a café with me today?” Saitou said. Fuujita and Oda had left, but the two of us lingered in the clubroom after we finished tidying it up. “I overheard a couple girls in my class talking about this new place that opened that has really fancy desserts and this super-hot guy running it!”

            “Well, I kind of have plans with Minamino-kun, but nothing firm.” I said, crossing my hands behind my head beneath my ponytail. Saitou grimaced, rolling her eyes, and rested her chin on her hands as she leant on the table.

            “I should’ve guessed the allure of a hot guy wouldn’t work against you,” she lamented.

            “What’s that supposed to mean?”

            “Oh, come on. I know you guys can’t say outright you’re dating, but anyone with eyes can see you and Minamino-kun are close. Closer than close!”

            “That’s not- where are you getting this from?” I sputtered, feeling my face burn. Saitou smirked.

            “I mean, you’re always together, aren’t you? When we met, he was escorting you around the gym to look at different clubs! You guys meet after school, always have lunch together-”

            “I always have lunch with you and Kaito too, does that mean we’re dating?” I said as drily as I could. Saitou gave me a look.

            “You know that’s not the same thing! Are you really trying to tell me there’s nothing going on between you two? I thought we were friends,” she said, hurt and disappointment coloring her words. “I told you about my feelings for Kaito!” I sighed heavily, rubbing my face. I couldn’t exactly tell her he was probably keeping an eye on me for Koenma’s sake!

            “I can tell you a hundred percent he’s not interested in me.” I said finally.

            “Did you confess already and get turned down?” Saitou asked, a sticky-sweet sympathy in her voice. I blushed harder.

            “What? No-” I was cut off by a loud voice frantically shouting ‘Kurama’ in the hallway- a vaguely familiar voice, though I had little doubt who it was. I met Saitou’s eyes; she’d heard it too. Wordlessly, we stood and made our way to the door, opening it in time to see Kuwabara storming through the school, Botan on his heels.

            “What is that guy doing?” Saitou whispered, hiding in the doorway. I scowled, taking a step forward as he drew closer.

            “Being an idiot. Oi, dumbass!” I crossed my arms across my chest, giving him my fiercest glare. Didn’t he know Kurama used a pseudonym at school? Kuwabara stopped, frowning as he caught sight of me.

            “Matsuura-chan?”

            “Matsuura-chan, you know him?” Saitou squeaked. I glanced back at her with an apologetic smile.

            “Yeah, he’s actually one of Minamino-kun’s friends.”

            “Look, I don’t got time for introductions right now.” Kuwabara grumbled. “Where’s Kurama?”

            “Minamino-kun is probably still with his club.” I said pointedly. Kuwabara was unbothered by my sharp words, though Botan looked a little taken aback.

            “If you know where he is-” I cut him off with a wave of my hand.

            “Come with me.” I sighed. “Looks like I’ll have to give you a raincheck on the café.”

            “That’s fine,” Saitou said with a weak smile. “But, uh, Kurama?”

            “Oh, that!” I giggled, trying my best to sound natural. “That’s just Minamino-kun’s nickname.”

            “Um, okay.” Obviously, she didn’t quite believe me, but I didn’t have time to convince her. I motioned for Kuwabara and Botan to follow me, and headed for the biology lab where the Rare Plants Protection Club met.

            “Excuse me, did Kuwabara say your name was Matsuura-chan?” Botan said, popping up beside me as we walked.

            “Yeah,”

            “Okay. Well, Matsuura-chan, how do you know K- Minamino?”

            “She’s a stray demon Kurama found at school.” Kuwabara said matter-of-factly. “She’s got telepathy or something and all kinds of freaky memories of us at the Dark Tournament and shit.”

            “What!” Botan froze, frowning when Kuwabara and I failed to stop before jogging up to eat the half-step we gained on her. “And you never told Koenma about her? Are you even sure she’s a demon and not just one of the humans with a newly developed strange power?”

            “We talked to Koenma last week. He seemed pretty busy, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he totally forgot.” I said as kindly as I could as we approached the Rare Plant Protection Club’s room. She’d seemed hurt that Koenma would keep something like that from her, and I wanted to reassure her in the small way that I could. “Anyway, this is it. Allow me,” Without waiting for answer, I knocked. There was muted conversation before Kurama opened the door. I wondered if it was intuition, or if he’d somehow known it was us. Foxes did have a good sense of smell, I remembered.

            “Matsuura-chan, what good timing. I was just going to find you.” Kurama said placidly, before turning back to his clubmates. “My apologies, sempai, but as I said I have to leave. Tell me who you choose as club president next time.” With a friendly smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes, he stepped out of the lab and into the hall, gracefully closing the door behind himself. His smile disappeared when he caught sight of Kuwabara and Botan, however. “What’s going on?” I held up my hand before Kuwabara could speak.

            “The room next door is empty, let’s talk there.” I said after performing a quick mental sweep of it. Kurama met Botan’s eyes and nodded, and the four of us trooped inside.

            “Kuwabara, Botan, what are you doing here?” he said, watching as Kuwabara closed the door.

            “Read this.” He crossed the room with alacrity, removing a crumpled piece of paper from his pocket and shoving it Kurama’s hands. Unashamed, I stepped beside him to read over his shoulder.

            “We’ll be waiting at Yojigen Mansion at 11 o’clock. Bring as many others as you like, but make sure that Kuwabara, Hiei, and Kurama come. If these conditions are not met, we cannot guarantee Urameshi’s life.” Chills wracked my body and unconsciously, I clutched Kurama’s arm. The handwriting was immaculate, so tidy and neat that it could easily be mistaken as typed. But I recognized it immediately- even without the faint but lingering psychic impression of the writer. I brushed my fingertips along the paper, snatching my hand away when I touched the ink.

            “What’s wrong?” Kurama’s clear but troubled voice cut through the fog that had settled around me. I tried to suppress my shudder, but clung more tightly to his arm in spite of myself.

            “I- this is Kaito’s handwriting.”

            “How can you be sure?” he said, his eyes flicking back to the paper.

            “Yesterday, for club activities, we exchanged essays that we wrote comparing- it doesn’t matter what. But all of us marveled at how perfect Kaito’s writing was; it looked like he’d printed it off a computer.” I swallowed thickly. “Besides, I can sense traces of his aura on the paper.”

            “Kaito Yuu is a completely normal human being, there’s no way-”

            “The three who challenged Urameshi were all normal humans.” Kuwabara said bluntly. “Right after class, we were going to meet Botan when these three guys challenged him. He was bored and they all seemed normal, so he went with them when they challenged them to a fight. Puu came and found us after, lead us to the note.”

            “And that’s why Koenma sent me to meet him in the first place; apparently, there have been numerous reports of normal human beings developing supernatural powers, primarily centered in Mushiyori City.” Botan said, visibly irritated.

            “Kaito lives in Mushiyori,” I said, paling. “Saitou-chan and I went over there last weekend to work on homework. His mom’s nice,”

            “I wasn’t aware the two of you were close enough to spend time together outside of class.” Kurama said.

            “We’re not, but Saitou-chan was nervous to go alone- she’s got a crush on him.” I said, frowning, and rubbed my chin. “I didn’t sense a damned thing!” I was irritated with myself. I refrained from wholesale mind-reading out of a mixture of politeness and a desire to hold onto my own sanity, but if I’d been able to sense something- my stomach dropped as I remembered his strange smugness during lunch.

            “We need to find Hiei; we can worry about who did it later.” Kuwabara said.

            “Do you have any idea where he is? Spirit World has him on probation, don’t they?” I said, turning to Botan. She scowled.

            “He is, but we only have a general idea of his whereabouts. He’s somewhere in the city, but that’s all I can say for sure.” she said. “Kurama, have you seen him at all?”

            “I haven’t heard from Hiei since we returned from the Dark Tournament.”

            “If we could only use Hiei’s Jagan eye to find Hiei . . .” Botan lamented. I met Kurama’s eyes, snorting at the insensibility of that statement.

            “I might not have a Jagan eye, but I am telepathic.” I said with a shrug. “I’ve never really tried to look for someone over such a large area before but I guess there’s no harm in trying.”

            “But you have used your telepathy to find someone?” Kurama pressed.

            “Yeah, once or twice I lost Jin-papa while we were out shopping. But sweeping a department store or the mall is a little less intensive than a whole city! And I don’t know if I can do it without having communicated telepathically with him before.”

            “Why not?” Kuwabara said. I shrugged, blushing as I realized I still held onto Kurama’s arm. Without looking at him, I stepped back as unobtrusively as I could.

            “It’s like- you wouldn’t try looking for someone in a crowded train station with a blindfold on, would you? Yeah, you might be able to find them, but it would take too long and it’d be easier for the person you’re looking for to realize they’re being targeted. Hiei’s got telepathic abilities of his own, and I can guarantee you he’s got more experience with them than me. If I’m blindly looking for him, there’s a good chance he’ll find me first and he has no idea who I am or why I’d want to talk to him.”

            “You make a good point.” Botan said, then frowned, crossing her arms across her chest. “It’s too bad that you can’t lend one of us your powers.”

            “Matsuura-chan,” Kurama said after a protracted silence. “This might be a long shot, but is there any way your mind-meld might be of use?”

            “I mean, maybe.” I frowned deeply, feeling my forehead wrinkle. “I don’t know how long I can really hold the merging of two consciousnesses, and I have no idea if I can hold it while I’m looking for someone else.”

            “You can merge your consciousness with another’s?” Botan said, looking somewhat stunned.

            “In like, the barest sense.” I said with a shrug. “I was found lying in an alley with massive head trauma and amnesia about a year ago. When I first woke up, I had literally no memories, not even of language. To communicate with the man who found me, I’d open a broad telepathic link. Instead of just the surface thoughts, I’d pick out the underlying memories and meanings of the words and share my own base emotions in an effort to process everything. It’s difficult, and honestly, quite taxing if the person is unwilling . . . or surprised.” I avoided looking in Kurama’s direction, embarrassed.

            “Matsuura-chan, on behalf of Spirit World, I’d like to emphasize the importance of this mission. I know it might be hard on you to do it, but this is our best shot at finding Yusuke. Time is of the essence, and I’m sure if you do this favor for us, Koenma would give you leniency-” I cut Botan off with a frown.

            “Leniency for what, exactly? You had no idea who I was until five minutes ago.” I was careful to keep my voice level, detached, aloof, despite the way I trembled inside. The fear I was some criminal on the run from Spirit World hadn’t entirely left me, despite Kurama’s reassurances otherwise. We couldn’t really say for sure- not yet.

            “Oh!” Botan flushed, looking away. “I just assumed- my apologies.”

            “Well, whatever. I was going to try anyway, bribes or not. I don’t want to see Yusuke hurt.” I said testily, though the relief surging through me almost made me laugh.

Chapter Text

            “Now, before you start, I should tell you Koenma has given me a few options to ensure Hiei’s cooperation.” Botan said, her face strangely serious. It didn’t fit the positive, bubbly image I had, though it was hardly surprising Yusuke’s kidnapping would affect her.

            “Do you really think that pipsqueak would say no?” Kuwabara grumbled. Botan pressed her lips tightly together. 

            “There’s no way to tell. I absolutely have to guarantee Yusuke’s safety, and I have no desire to take chances.” she said with a prim yet superior look. “When I informed Koenma of the situation, he thought it best to have some leverage.”

            “Can we just get on with it?” Kuwabara grumbled. He was on edge, teetering between anxiety and anger. “There’s only six more hours left.” My heart tugged as I watched him crack and recrack his knuckles; not having his reiki abilities must make the situation far more difficult for him. I cleared my throat.

           “He’s right. Tell us what Koenma said.”

           “Obviously, we’d prefer to use this as a last option,” Botan leant against one of the lab tables, standing on her tiptoes to sit on the edge as she held up her index finger. “But our trump card is the complete dissolution of his parole. Do try and convince him to help of his own accord, though.” Kurama and I nodded.

           “I think it might be best if I left the talking to you.” I said. He assented with a dry smile. I swallowed, suddenly nervous, and let my eyes fall to the floor. “Um, okay, since this is the first time- since I’ve never attempted telepathy on such a large scale, or over such a long distance –especially mind-melding with someone- I’d appreciate if you humored me with a couple things.”

           “Such as?” Kurama raised an eyebrow. Flushing, I took a step closer.

           “Ah, well, first off, I think maintaining contact during the search would help hold the connection.”

           “A reasonable request.” he said quietly, and held out his hand. I shook my head, swallowing thickly as I took another step closer.

           “Admittedly, this is a little self-indulgent.” I forced myself to smile despite my nerves, and raised my left hand. I placed it on the right side of Kurama’s face, my pinky resting on his forehead, my ring finger just above his eyebrow, and my middle and index fingers on his cheek, right below his eyes socket. Amusement flickered shallowly in the green depths of his eyes.

           “You’re quite committed to your Star Trek, aren’t you?” he said. I laughed, my nerves dissipating at once.

           “You watched TOS?”

           “I was able to track down some of the episodes on video.”

           “Ha, that’s great! I can probably lend you the tapes Jin-papa has if you want.” But before Kurama could answer, Kuwabara cut him off with a gusty sigh, glaring at us both. “Right, not the time. Let’s get started,”

           “I’m ready.” he said. I placed my other hand on his shoulder, for balance and as a backup; the more contact the better.

           “My mind to your mind; my thoughts to your thoughts,” I murmured, holding his gaze until the unflinchingly green of his eyes enveloped my consciousness. I opened the telepathic link slowly, unwilling to rush and potentially hurt us both, not when Yusuke’s life might rest on successfully finding Hiei. His eyes wavered goldenly, and for a second I was convinced that he was somehow turning into his youko form. It was startling to realize the golden flickers were my own eyes. I connected our minds completely, not allowing myself to be distracted despite the oddity of looking at my face out of another’s eyes.

           I was blown away by the meticulous organization of his thoughts. His mind was ruled by such a beautiful pattern of logic, I openly marveled at its precise splendor in spite of myself. His impatience filtered to the surface, and I quickly shuttered off my wonder (and my embarrassment). Kurama brought up the memories of his telepathic conversations with Hiei, and I drank in the feel of the connection, as well as Kurama’s feelings at the time. The most intoxicating was the high he felt during the theft of the three artifacts, the rush of danger, the thrill of a heist successfully completed. Kurama swept the memories away with a decided shortness; too personal. I couldn’t hide my disappointment, but I understood.

           Holding onto the feel of Hiei’s mind, I set out on the task at hand. Starting with the lab, I let our consciousness seep outwards, slow waves dripping out in an even radius. I touched Kuwabara and Botan almost immediately, dismissing their minds just as quickly. I ignored the other students as I urged the boundary of my telepathy onward, the more minds I touched, the easier it became to overlook them. Not Hiei, not Hiei, not Hiei- I moved past the boundaries of Meiou without realizing it, though I refused to stop, speeding up as I pressed on. Down hills, up streets, into all the buildings- I hunted everywhere. There was a sudden prick of recognition, of strange familiarity, and I chased each crumb until I found Hiei sitting in a tree in a park.

           “Hiei.” I was unable to stop the pleasure from creeping through my thoughts. “I’ve been looking for you.”

           “Who the hell are you?” He was angry at being found, anxious of what danger we might put him in.

           “My apologies, it’s Kurama. I’ve made the acquaintance of a Dark Stroke, and she’s helped me to find you.”

           “Why are you looking for me, fox? If I can’t go back to the darkness, I’d like to be left alone.”

           “Yusuke’s been kidnapped.” Kurama explained patiently. “The culprits demand that the three of us –you, Kuwabara, and myself- meet them at Yojigen Mansion at eleven tonight.”

           “It’s pitiful. He thought he was the best after winning the tournament, but he should know that there’s always someone stronger.” Hiei’s malicious glee irritated me, though I was reluctant to say anything. I knew who Hiei was, knew his exploits with the other three, but I couldn’t say I knew him enough to cajole him in any useful way.

           “And it doesn’t interest you, who might be stronger than Yusuke?”

           “It doesn’t concern me.” Hiei said dismissively, though I could tell it did pique his interest. “I’m sick and tired of fixing his mistakes.”

           “What if we were to face an unknown power?” Kurama’s thoughts were cloying, enticing. “Kuwabara and Botan told me something of interest; humans with strange powers have appeared.”

           “Those humans kidnapped Yusuke?” I was surprised by Hiei’s level of interest. I wouldn’t have guessed that he might be tempted by an unknown challenge. He’d always struck me as the type more concerned with self-preservation or his own pride. Nonetheless, I slid deeper into his mind, trying to sharpen those instincts. I felt it working at first, but I pressed too hard, and I felt the flare of Hiei’s temper as he realized what I was up to.

           “Look, I can’t hold this forever.” It was true; the effort at keeping the connection to Hiei and the mind-meld with Kurama was demanding. I refused to openly admit my irritation at getting caught, however. “If Kurama can’t tempt you with an interesting fight, perhaps a bribe from Koenma will stir your blood.”

           “And what’s he offering?” Hiei sneered, though his interest was far more pointed.

           “Complete freedom. Botan said that if you agree to help, Koenma will dismiss your parole. She didn’t mention what they’d do if you refused- but I imagine you have a better understanding of the dark side of Spirit World than I do.”

           “If I’ll be exonerated, then I accept.” Hiei said after a brief pause.

           “Your Jagan can find others easily, right?” My mind pulsed as the connection weakened. “Find Kurama and the others by ten thirty or the deal’s off.” Without waiting for a reply, I severed the telepathic link and quickly began to reel my –our- minds back in. It wasn’t as fast or as controlled as I would have liked, but the pain was beginning to grow and I didn’t want it to dissolve without attempting some kind of control. Separating myself from Kurama’s mind was simpler, though I was far more reluctant to do so. My mind was a jumbled mess at the best of times, never mind the huge swathes of foggy memories and the outright holes. I hated to leave the beautifully organized channels of Kurama’s mind.

            But finally we parted, and the first thing I saw when I opened my eyes was the verdant, neutral cool of Kurama’s. My hands still pressed into his face and clutched his shoulder, and I dropped them as I took a step back.

            “Ah shit, I think I might have bruised you a little,” I said softly, biting my lip as I noticed the blood pooling faintly beneath the skin of his cheek. His eyes flicked down and he shook his head dismissively.

            “It’s nothing.”

            “Well?” Kuwabara grunted, taking a step closer, impatient. “You find him or not?”

            “We found him. He’s agreed to help us.” Kurama said. Kuwabara and Botan sighed in relief, Botan giggling softly as she fell against Kuwabara’s shoulder.

            “That’s a load off my mind!” she said. “We have some time to breathe a little before we meet them tonight.”

            The three continued to speak, and finally, the pulsing mass of pain I’d kept at bay engulfed me. It danced behind my eyes, swallowed my mind, beating angrily at my consciousness- even my scalp hurt. In an effort to alleviate some of the pain, I tore the ribbon from my ponytail and pulled my hair free. Groaning, I ran my hands as aggressively through it as I dared.

            “Are you okay?” Botan’s concerned voice cut through the pain, and I forced my eyes open.

            “Just a headache, I get them sometimes.” I said with a smile (though it was probably more a grimace than anything) and waved her off. “I’ve got stuff for it in my bag, which I’m pretty sure I left in the clubroom. So if you’ll excuse me,” I offered them a shallow bow before turning to the door.

            “Matsuura-chan, wait a moment.” I stopped immediately at the sound of Kurama’s voice, and slowly, turned back to face them, cursing my weakness. “Are you coming with us tonight?”

            “Uh, what?” I said, too floored by the question and too distracted by the pain to answer coherently. I could only stare at him for what felt like a straight minute, too overcome by surprise to even fully register my headache. Did he want me to come? Even if was only as extra insurance as Kuwabara was out of commission, I was flattered.

            “Are you going to join us at Yojigen Mansion tonight?” he repeated calmly. “Hiei and myself should be enough to take on whatever opponents subdued Yusuke, but I can’t say I’m sure of it. If Botan is correct and these are normal humans with freshly acquired powers, chances are they won’t have the mental discipline to resist you.”

            “If you really think I’ll be useful, of course I’ll come.” I said, feeling my face burn, pleasure bubbling up from my stomach, heady and fizzy like I’d just chugged half a bottle of champagne.

            “I do.” 

            “All right, definitely!” I laughed stupidly, grimacing as it reflected off the pulsating ache in my mind. “Um, if you like, you can hang out at my place until it’s time. I don’t live too far away from Yojigen Mansion, maybe like a ten minute walk.”

            “Of course.” Botan said quickly. “It’ll be good to be close se we can prepare.” There was an undertone to her voice, an insistence that struck me as off, but the pounding in my head made me overlook its significance.

           

 

            “You live here?” Kuwabara said, somewhat taken aback. I shrugged, blushing faintly, and pushed open the gate. It wasn’t quite a mansion, though it was teetering on the edge. Two storeys, beautifully tended gardens in the front and back, large open rooms with luxurious furnishings, and a gloriously huge library- suffice to say, I understood Kuwabara’s astonishment. It took me almost six months after Jin-papa had found me to get used to the size and the opulence of the house.

            “It’s not a big deal.” I said quickly.

            “You said your father was a teacher, did you not?” Kurama asked, the first to follow me into the yard.

            “Yeah, he’s principal of a middle school now actually. His wife was the daughter of the CEO of some large trading company or something, and even though her parents disowned her after her ‘unsuitable’ marriage, they let her keep her trust fund.” Ami had been a shrewd investor also, growing her small fortune into a rather large one by the time their son, Seiichiro, had reached high school. Jin-papa told me plenty of stories of the two of them, and I wished I’d been able to meet them both, Ami especially. She seemed like a lot of fun.

            I guided the three of them to the living room, unsurprised to find Jin-papa still wasn’t home after a brief scan of the house. Our maid, Imura, was thankfully gone also; Wednesdays being her half-day. Imura was a nice woman, in her early forties, and utterly devoted to Jin-papa. While I appreciated how she had taken care of him after Ami and Seiichiro’s deaths, it was obvious she didn’t like me and that irked me to no end. She was always polite, but her unwavering belief that I was a gold-digging delinquent that was after Jin-papa’s money had worn thin after the first few months. Obviously, she had no idea what I really was, but she was aware that I wasn’t really Jin-papa’s niece and I knew she resented him taking me in. 

            “Does anyone want tea? Or coffee?” I said, deciding it was polite to offer.

            “Tea for me, please.” Botan said, taking a seat on the one side of the couch. Kuwabara sat on the opposite side, towards the middle, while Kurama took my favourite chair. It was an old-fashioned leather armchair, buttery soft dark brown leather with metal rivets trailing up the wings, and comfortable as hell.

            “Uh, I’ll take a Pocari if you got it,” Kuwabara said, scratching his face.

            “I’ll have coffee if you don’t mind.” Kurama smiled amiably. I nodded, giving them a particularly half-hearted bow, and made my way to the kitchen.

            My mind blanked out as I set the kettle to boil, measuring leaves into the teapot and coffee into the French press. Automatically, I grabbed one of the serving trays Imura kept, filling it with cups, a sugar bowl, and a small pitcher of cream retrieved from the fridge. Busy hands kept me somewhat distracted, though my thoughts drifted uncomfortably towards Kaito and his strange behavior this afternoon. I should have said something to Kurama- I knew I wasn’t imagining things! He’d been acting odd since Monday, though I’d attributed that more to me and Saitou’s visit Saturday, explaining it away as two socially awkward teenagers sorta kinda drifting towards romance.

            The kettle rasped, trying desperately to whistle, and disrupted my train of thought. I shook off my guilt as best I could -what could be done about my feeling about Kaito now? I filled the French press before setting it back on the burner; just short of boiling otherwise it’d scorch the coffee grounds, but tea needed a full boil to properly steep. Scarcely a minute later the kettle began to scream in earnest, and I quickly poured it in the teapot.

            “Should be enough time to change,” I murmured, glancing back towards the living room. Part of me felt like it would be rude to leave my guests unattended, but I hated the idea of hanging out in my uniform all night. Shaking my head, I bounded out into the hall and up the stairs. It was a large house –too large, I thought sometimes- but I was a good runner, nor was I overly picky about what I changed into. Barely bothering to close the door, I quickly undressed, dropping my uniform to the ground without much regret. If I was going to spend the night helping rescue Yusuke (I paused, giggling at the thought), I assumed I’d be skipping school tomorrow to sleep. Absently, I slipped into the first pair of jeans I found, grabbing the still-clean grey and navy flannel I’d worn yesterday.

            I hurried down the stairs and the hall to the kitchen, taken aback to see Kurama surveying my tea tray. He looked up as soon as I set foot on the tiled floor, a gentle smile on his face that didn’t quite reach his eyes.

            “Ah, there you are, Matsuura-chan.” he said, taking a moment to appraise my change of clothes.

            “Sorry.” I said, feeling somewhat uncomfortable.

            “No need to apologize.” he said, seeming vaguely bothered by it, almost as if my apology offended him. “Would you like some help?”

            “I’m good.” I said, meeting his eyes and quickly looking away. Nervously, I made my way to where Kurama stood. As my headache receded, I grew more aware of him and it set me on edge. A mind-meld was an intimate thing, and Kurama was the only person besides Jin-papa that I’d experienced it with. Jin-papa and I were close, and the meld enhanced that closeness. Kurama and I were . . . Not. There was an odd dichotomy of intimacy and strangeness that hung between us, leaving me exposed.

            “What’s this?” His voice made me jump. I laughed it off as best I could, though I felt my face burn as I looked up at him.

            “The French press?” I traced my finger along the glass, admiring the mixture of water and the grounds as it steeped. “It’s a coffeemaker, obviously, but instead of brewing the coffee by dripping water through the grounds, you pour hot water over them and let it steep like tea. It gives the coffee a richer, stronger taste which is why I like it.”

            “I’ve never seen one before.” Kurama said idly. “Mother had a plastic cone she’d make coffee with, though Hatanaka bought her a new electric one recently.”

            “Jin-papa is a bit of a coffee snob, I guess it’s rubbed off on me a little bit. Though I can’t lie, I’ll drink any kind I can get my hands on.” I said with a wry smile.

            “Yes, I’ve noticed. You usually drink at least one can during lunch.” Kurama paused, meeting my eyes with a level smile. “Speaking of lunch, do you remember our conversation?”

            “You mean about my weird dreams ?” I said lightly, reaching past Kurama to grab a glass for Kuwabara’s drink, flinching when my sleeve brushed his shoulder. I promptly turned away, crossing the kitchen to the icemaker in the door of the fridge.

            “Yes.” Kurama said, his voice quiet yet firm behind me. My breath caught, though I wasn’t sure why. I’d been hungry for answers since I woke up in Jin-papa’s spare room, and finally having a clue as to what I was, who I was . . . Shouldn’t I be happy?

            “You want me to try summoning them? The hands,” Ice clinked dully against the glass as blood rushed through my ears. I wanted to try, wanted to finally have an answer, a name, but there was something about ‘Dark Stroke’ that echoed, well, darkly in my mind. “I’ve heard it before.” I murmured, looking up to meet my own eyes in the chrome finish of the refrigerator.

            “You have?” Kurama’s words were stark, sharp as they cut through the cottony sound of my pulse. Still staring myself in the eye, I reached up and snapped my fingers as if possessed by an unknown force. There was a gentle pop, and the reflection of three pairs of hands appeared dimly behind me. I felt their youki as soon as they’d appeared, and it was identical to mine.

            “Kurama, are you okay? I felt a flare of Matsuura’s energy and-” Botan skidded to a stop, slipping slightly on the tiled floor, Kuwabara crashing in right behind her.

            “What the hell is that?!” he exclaimed. Unsure, but needing to see the hands for myself, I slowly turned to face them.

            Six impeccably white hands floated between myself and the others, each just larger than my head, with taut alabaster skin studded with lidless eyes. They had no iris as far as I could see, only a large black pupil in the exact center. Hesitantly, I snapped my fingers again. Right on cue, all six hands stiffened abruptly and swung to attention, facing me. Controlling them felt foreign and natural all at once, like trying to move an arm or leg that had completely been consumed by pins and needles. They were mine and not mine, familiar and strange.

            “I was right.” Kurama said firmly, only the faintest edge of self-satisfaction in his voice. Reluctantly, I tore my eyes away from the hands, catching the triumphant glitter of his eyes as he stared at them.

            “Right about what?” Botan snapped. “Do you have an idea of what this is exactly?”

            “Matsuura-chan is a Dark Stroke.”

            “A what?” Kuwabara said, frowning as he too stared at the hands.

            “A rare type of demon that controls shadow hands, with highly advanced telepathic and trans-dimensional abilities.”

            “I didn’t think they really existed.” Botan said weakly. I frowned.

            “Why not?”

            “As I said Matsuura-chan, Dark Strokes are quite rare; you’re the first I’ve ever met. Rumours persist that their ability to travel to alternate dimensions has lured the majority of them to damnation or paradise, depending who you talk to.”

            “Alternate dimensions,” I said softly, looking back to the shadow hands. The thought nauseated and excited me, sending throbbing spirals of pain through my temples.

            “Those are just rumours, Matsuura-chan, rather old rumours at that. I wouldn’t let it bother you.” Kurama said with a slight frown, as if he’d guessed my headache returned.

            “I think I need something a little stronger than coffee.” I laughed harshly as my head continued to pound. With a wave of my hand, I dismissed the shadows, turning back to fridge where I knew Jin-papa had an open bottle of Bailey’s.

Chapter Text

            It was just shy of eleven o’clock when the five of us approached Yojigen Mansion. Hiei had appeared dutifully at ten thirty, remaining surly and irritable as Kurama and Kuwabara explained the details. including who I was and why I was there. He seemed to have only a passing curiosity as to why I knew what I knew about them, and a faintly respectful disinterest in me. I was somewhat flattered at that attitude, I never would have thought that my meager abilities would be enough to earn his respect, grudging or not.
            “It’s here,” I said, shivering at the way the shadows played over the crazy architecture. It was ugly as sin and somewhat ridiculous in the daylight, but the darkness erased some of its more bizarre elements, giving it a vaguely creepy air.

            “The house is quite strange.” Hiei said, frowning as he looked it over.

            “It seems it was made by an unknown artist, and was left abandoned when he died a few years ago.” Kurama said.

            “Let’s get on with it.” Kuwabara growled. “Botan, I think you should stay here. You’re not a fighter, and it’s gonna be dangerous.”

            “I’m not a fighter either,” I cut in before she could reply, and both of them glared at me.

            “Besides, I’m the only one who can use the Seven Items!” Botan said, clutching the suitcase of Yusuke’s forgotten detective tools. Kuwabara frowned and looked away, the lack of his reiki clearly upsetting him. I wanted to say something encouraging, but I couldn’t quite find the words. I settled for a hearty slap to his shoulder instead.

            “Let’s go.” Kurama murmured, taking the first steps up the crooked, overgrown path to the porch. It was as dilapidated and creepy as the rest of the property, though a brightly white piece of paper was tacked up just above the doorknob.

            “Whoever enters this house must not say hot?” Kuwabara said, scowling in confusion. “What’s with that?”

            “Let me see it.” I said, pushing my way past him. I frowned as I brushed my fingertips along the ink. The lingering psychic impressions were stronger than the ransom note Kuwabara had brought, so there was no mistaking it.

            “Did Kaito write this as well?” Kurama asked.

            “Yeah, it’s definitely him.”

            “Is it a riddle or something?” Kuwabara said. I shrugged.

            “Kaito’s more of a fan of puns as far as I know. Besides, it reads more like a warning, don’t you think?” I said. Kurama pursed his lips, taking the initiative and opening the door.

            “Regardless, we all need to stay on our guard.” he said quietly.

            As soon as we crossed the threshold, a wall of wet, humid heat hit us, as did a disturbing sensation that I couldn’t quite place. It felt a little bit like vertigo combined with an intense feeling of pins and needles, and it set the hair on the back of my neck straight up. The feeling stirred a memory in me, though not one I could readily place. More like the memory of a dream I had when I was a kid; airy and vague but with a strangely definite presence.

            “What’s with this room?” Botan groaned, fanning her face. “It’s so h-” In a flash, Kurama was beside her, his hand covering her mouth.

            “Don’t say it.”

            “Kurama, did you feel it?” Hiei said. Kurama nodded, taking a step back.

            “Yes. When we stepped into the room, it was like we’d crossed into a totally absurd space.”

            “Or a different dimension.” I added, without really knowing how I knew.

            “A different dimension?” Hiei snorted, raising an eyebrow.

            “Yes!” I blushed faintly, unable to look at him. “I can’t say for sure, but the feeling is . . . familiar.”

            “Welcome to the House of Four Dimensions.” Kaito stepped out from behind a large bookcase, an odd smirk dancing across his features. “I’m glad that all of you could make it. Matsuura-chan as well; I had my suspicions you were involved but I wasn’t sure.”

            “That’s definitely one of the assholes that took Yusuke.” Kuwabara said, forcibly calm. “So he’s that Kaito guy who goes to your school?”

            “Yes. As I’ve said, we’re not particularly friends, and he’s not supposed to know about Yusuke, Hiei, or Kuwabara.”

            “Neither was the girl. What do you think the chances are she told him?” Hiei’s voice shocked me.

            “I did not!” I said, offended that he could insinuate that I was behind all of this, or at the very least, the one who leaked information about the four of them.

            “It wasn’t Matsuura-chan. Merely . . . Someone.” Kaito said calmly.

            “Then who was it? What exactly do you know?” Kurama persisted.

            “And why did you kidnap Yusuke?” Kuwabara shouted, taking a step closer.

            “We were told you won the Dark Tournament recently, which is apparently quite the feat. My congratulations.” Kaito gave the same creepy smirk, crossing to the middle of the room and taking a seat in one of the chairs. “Minamino-kun, you’re more impressive than I thought. Not only are you the top of the class, you’re quite skilled at manipulating plants. You know, I’d like to see that. Care to give a demonstration?” I could feel the anger radiating off Kurama as Kaito laughed. “What’s with the evil look? I’ve never seen you with that expression at school. Then again, we’ve both kept things from our peers. Recently, I’ve discovered I too have certain special abilities . . . Part of the reason I invited you here was to issue a challenge. I’d like to measure my powers against yours, see who comes out on top.”

            “Are you screwing with us?” Hiei snapped, his hand closing around the hilt of his katana. “I have little tolerance for human fools! Are you not aware of who you’re dealing with?” Kaito snorted, giving him an exasperated look as he reached for one of the books strewn across the small table in front of him.

            “I’d like to see it,” he paused, licking his thumb, and flipped through the pages. “But you’ll just be wasting your time.”

            “Shut up!” Hiei snarled, unsheathing his katana and crossing the room before any of us could see, much less caution him against it. He swung at Kaito, but before he could connect, there was a flash of energy that formed a barrier. As it met the blade of the sword, it sparked, and the katana broke under the strain, the tip clattering harmlessly to the ground. Hiei jumped back, staring at the broken hilt. “What?”

            “You see?” Kaito said smugly. Botan inhaled sharply and Kuwabara muttered curses, while Kurama and I stared in disbelief. Kurama stared in disbelief at least. I- I was less surprised. I couldn’t explain why, but I had a strong sense of déjà vu. Everything about the room, Kaito, the strange circumstances of Yusuke’s abduction . . . It was if I’d experienced it before.

            “What does it mean? It broke before I hit him.” Hiei muttered, still staring at his broken katana.  

            “This is a room where only words have strength. In my territory, you don’t have a choice but to fight according to my rules.” Kaito said, snapping his book shut.

            “Rules . . . Like the note posted at the door.” Kurama said.

            “That’s right!” Kaito smirked, setting the book back on the table. I frowned; had he picked it up merely to look as cool and unconcerned as possible when Hiei attacked him? Of course he had, I told myself. Kaito was a prideful bastard, and he wouldn’t waste an opportunity like that. “One day, I noticed I could create a strange space around me. In this space, physical violence won’t work. Not against anything.” A queer expression flickered across his face, regret mingled with pain and anger. I frowned, wondering if he’d been bullied as a child and how severe the bullying had been. Kaito was our enemy at the moment, but I couldn’t easily dismiss our growing friendship. Saitou’s crush –and therefore her constant gushing about him- had made me look more carefully at Kaito, see him in a better light than I had those first few days at school.

            “Kaito-”

            “Hiei.” he cut me off with a sneer, his bravado from before back in full force. “You may be a master of swordplay and sorcery but here in my territory, you’re nothing more than an ant.”

            “He’s trying to provoke you, Hiei.” Kurama said, fighting to keep his voice calm and failing slightly. Hiei’s youki flared with impatience. He stared at Kaito, his burning gaze focused with laser precision.

            “So what? The word hot should do something to me?! If I say hot you believe you can kill me?!” Hiei said, pure incredulous contempt lacing his words, gaining strength as his voice rose.

            “Hiei!” Kurama shouted, and I could hear the horror in his voice at his friend’s impulsiveness.

            “You stupid fuck,” I muttered, groaning. Kaito snickered, calmly folding his hands together.

            “Too bad, you talk too much.” he said. Hiei’s body stiffened, his aura flaring visibly. Botan screamed his name as his aura grew, concentrating in a beam that flew across the room to Kaito. He held his hand up, palm out, to catch it. Hiei’s aura curled into a ball, floating obediently as if under his command. His body, lifeless and drained of colour, fell to the floor.

            “In my territory, anyone who says the taboo loses their soul.” He paused, smiling. “Now we’ve got two hostages: Urameshi is upstairs, the soul of Hiei is in my hand. What will it be, Minamino? Do you flee, or do you fight?”

            “Fight, obviously.” I said, stepping forward.

            “I was asking Minamino, not you, Matsuura-chan.” Kaito frowned. “Though I admit, I’m interested as to how you’re acquainted with them. As I’ve said, I thought you might be . . . different, but I couldn’t quite place the feeling. It’s not quite as strong as Kurama’s aura, you see. But the two of you are rather close and I’ve been curious.”

            “I’m a demon, like Kurama and Hiei. Though a different . . . species? I don’t know. I was found in an alley a little over a year ago with almost no memories.” I paused, unwilling to go into too much detail under the circumstances. “I came to Kurama for help.”

            “Has he been able to help you?” Kaito paused, as if he wanted to say something else, but didn’t.

            “Not really.” I shrugged, taking one of the chairs and sitting as casually as I could, though I trembled inside. I hope Kurama and Kuwabara didn’t mind me taking the initiative. “There isn’t much he can do, as there aren’t a lot of leads.”

            “My . . . informant told me quite a bit about their powers.” Kaito gestured behind me. “But obviously, they had no idea about you. Tell me, Matsuura-chan, what can you do?”

            “Don’t tell him nothing!” Kuwabara barked.

            “He’s right, we should hold on to whatever advantage we’ve got!” Botan added. I glanced over my shoulder at them, my eyes finally settling on Kurama. His face was blank, offering me no opinion. Obviously, it would be foolish of me to spill the beans entirely, but I wanted to give him some kind of answer. Frowning as I debated my choices, I turned back to Kaito and snapped my fingers. The six shadow hands sprung to life beside me and I smiled slowly.

            “I’m apparently something called a Dark Stroke. It’s a rare type of apparition, and even I’m not exactly sure of all my abilities quite yet.” It was a safe answer, I told myself. Enough information to pique his interest, but not enough to give away my talents- unless he happened to know what a Dark Stroke was.

            “Those are the hands you dreamt about, are they not?” Kaito said, his voice level, though I thought I could detect microscopic fissures in his cool.

            “They are. I didn’t think I’d actually be able to summon them, but there you go.” I said with a dismissive snap of my fingers, and the hands disappeared. “Kaito, what about you? How long have you been able to do this?”

            “I first realized my talent about a month ago, though it wasn’t until recently that I began to fully explore how powerful it can be.” Kaito cleared his throat, finally tearing his eyes away from where the hands used to be. “Among those of us who can use this power, we call it the ‘territory’. Mine has a radius of ten meters maximum. Anyone with magical abilities who sets foot inside it should feel an odd sensation. As you can see, this is what I can do . . .” Kaito smirked again, holding up Hiei’s soul. Kurama stepped forward, his face grim.

            “And if we win, we’ll get his soul back undamaged?”

            “I don’t know, maybe.” Kaito leant back in his chair, adjusting his glasses with his free hand. “I can’t tell you for certain; I’ve never lost. Anyway, your two choices are the same: either you turn back or you stay and fight me. The decision is yours.”

            “No!” Kuwabara came up beside Kurama. “There’s a third choice; we leave Hiei and go on! It’s the best option!”

            “No you cannot!” Botan said, pushing Kuwabara’s shoulder.

            “Why the hell can’t we? He’d leave us!”

            “I mean, that is what Hiei would do.” I shrugged, avoiding Botan and Kurama’s eyes as they glared at me. “Don’t hate because I’m right.”
            “Yeah, don’t hate!” Kuwabara said indignantly.

            “That’s enough!”

            “Oh come on, it’s his own damn fault he got his soul stolen. He always does what he wants, he didn’t even listen to Kurama this time!”

            “Huh, going on without him- that’s not a bad idea.” Kaito said, surprised yet amused as he watched the two of them bicker. “You’re not as dumb as you look.”

            “Mind your own business, asshole!” Kuwabara shouted.

            “Anyway, I’m ready,” The four of us looked down the short hallway to the stairs, where a kid with a ridiculous purple hi-top fade and a nondescript school uniform loitered, loudly chewing bubblegum.

            “To go further, you need to go through that door –and he’s the only one with a key.” Kaito said flatly, though I could see the hints of a smirk around his lips. Before anyone could caution him, Kuwabara stomped across the room, settling in front of Hi-top-kun. He stood as tall as he was able to, which was a good four inches or so above Hi-top-kun’s head (though not his hair), and gave him what I assumed to be his most intimidating, delinquent-esque glare.

            “Gimme the key. Now.”

            “I don’t think so.” Hi-top-kun smirked, and leisurely blew a large pink bubble, popping it as obnoxiously as he could in Kuwabara’s face. To his credit, Kuwabara didn’t flinch at the scraps of bubblegum that flew towards him.

            “I don’t got a lot of patience for bullshit right now. Gimme the damn key!”

            “Aw, why don’t you make me Kuwa-chan?” Hi-top-kun said, the babyish note in his voice as he said ‘Kuwa-chan’ grating even my ears.

            “You little- take that!” Kuwabara shouted, taking a step forward as he threw a hefty right hook. But before it connected there was a flash, and Kuwabara’s fist connected with the same barrier that had protected Kaito earlier. He let out a muffled grunt of pain while Hi-top-kun laughed.

            “We already said you can’t use violence, don’t you remember? You’ve got to be a good boy here.” Hi-top-kun poked Kuwabara’s forehead, still giggling as he tucked the key in his breast pocket. Kurama watched the exchange –and where Hi-top-kun stuck the key- carefully, his lips pressed together in a thin line.

            “There’s no other choice; we must play by his rules.” he said softly, his glare focusing pointedly on Kaito. Botan went to collect Kuwabara as he continued to make vague threats and curse out Hi-top-kun, while Kurama took a seat beside me.

 

            Silenced pervaded the room as Botan and Kuwabara settled in the other chairs, broken only by Kuwabara’s impatient sighs and the steady tick of a large grandfather clock that was settled in one corner of the room. Kaito had picked up his book from before, and seemed to be reading it in earnest while we watched. It was just like him; unconcerned with the social niceties, focused instead on himself. It reminded me of the literary club. He’d sit there reading his book, not looking at any of us even after Saitou called the meeting to order. Though of course, she was always able to drag him out of his shell- usually by snatching his book away.

            “I’m really starting to go stir crazy just sitting here!” Kuwabara said, grimacing as he rocked gently in his chair. He eyed Kaito as he continued to ignore us before leaning back to whisper to Kurama. “There isn’t a way to kick his ass, is there?”

            “I believe we can all go through the door at least.”

            “What, really?” Kuwabara said, his voice rising slightly with excitement.

            “Yes. But we must get Hiei’s soul back first.”

            “Are you sure?” Kurama glared at him, and I swallowed a giggle, fanning myself as I continued to sweat. “So, uh, Kurama, what’s this asshole like?”

            “We’ve been in the same class since last year, though we never spoke until last week.” he said calmly. I don’t know why, but it surprised me. Perhaps he didn’t count debates in the classroom, but I found it strange that neither of them had exchanged a word in over a year. Admittedly, Kaito was awkward as hell around anyone but Saitou, and I could easily see him quietly seething over Kurama’s higher grades and never saying a word to him. “He’s been famous for his knowledge since he enter Meiou. He’s the first real genius the school’s known.”

            “Isn’t that simply an indirect method to boast about yourself?” Kaito frowned at him disdainfully, contempt radiating off him in waves. “You always get higher grades on exams than I do.”

            “Yes, but you’re a literary master. You’ve published well-regarded essays on philosophy and  literature- you’re acknowledged by the best as a word specialist.”

            “A genius huh?” Kuwabara frowned at him. “He doesn’t look like it.”

            “Thank you.” Kaito looked up from his book, chuckling.

            “Wait a minute; Kaito you’ve been published?” I said, awed. Not only published- published and well-regarded and called a word specialist! “Dude, that’s fantastic! What magazine? I want to read it!”

            “It’s not that big a deal.” Kaito blushed faintly, though he was obviously pleased with himself. “Amano-sensei reads one of the magazines I was published in last year and made a big deal of announcing it to everyone.”

            “It is a big deal though!” I insisted. “I’m surprised you’re being so modest about it.”

            “I suppose it is against character for me, isn’t it?” Kaito snorted, setting his book in his lap. “In all honesty though, I had no interest in parading it around school because there isn’t a point to bragging to a student body that doesn’t care. They already know I’m smarter than they are, and even something as monumental as that simply goes over their heads.”

            “I mean, you’re not wrong.” I paused, frowning, and shook my head. “Either way, I still want to read it!”

            “Matsuura-chan, you’re more than welcome to read them, but I suppose I should warn you that my serious writing is most likely above your head.”

            “Excuse me?” I sat up straighter, glaring furiously at him. Kaito only shrugged.

            “You’ve said yourself you have a disdain for any real analysis of a work and obviously that comes from a lack of understanding-”

            “My preference for enjoying the merits of a novel’s plot without stripping it bare to look for any coincidental piece of symbolism has nothing to do with my intelligence you prat!” I sneered.

            “Matsuura-chan,” Kurama’s voice was light but held an undertone of warning. I glared furiously at Kaito though I refrained from even flipping him off, and leant back in my chair, crossing my arms petulantly across my chest. Letting Kaito rile me up was a mistake, and it bothered me that he’d gotten underneath my skin so quickly.

            “Ugh, it’s obvious what you’re trying to do!” Kuwabara said suddenly. “Turning up the heat in this stupid room to sweat us out and make us say the magic word! You must think we’re all stupid or something!”

            “Actually, my hobby is growing tropical plants. Twenty-seven degrees with eighty percent humidity- I suppose it might be uncomfortable for those not used to it.”

            “Jesus, this heat is getting me,” I muttered, and began to unbutton my flannel. I slipped it off my shoulders, letting it fall to the back of the chair, and drank in the minutely cooler feeling of the humid air directly on my skin. As I stretched, I became acutely aware of first Kaito’s eyes on me, then suddenly, I realized everyone was staring. “What? I’ve got a tank top on!” I blushed, crossing my arms self-consciously across my chest, glancing down at my camisole. It was admittedly a little clingy, but it had a moderate neckline with an abundance of lace that covered any cleavage.

            “You’re the one stripping in a room full of teenage boys!” Botan said prudishly, her cheeks flushed as she clipped Kuwabara on the shoulder.

            “I wasn’t looking!” He reddened, immediately snapping his face forward. I grimaced, sighing heavily.

            “Don’t give me attitude about taking off my flannel shirt in a room designed to grow tropical plants! You guys might be okay sweating your asses off but I am sensitive to the heat!” I scowled at her, rolling my eyes, and avoided looking at Kaito or Kurama- I didn’t want to see if either of them were staring at my chest. Botan harrumphed, crossing her arms and staring off in the opposite direction of where I was sitting.

             “There are refreshments in the fridge over there. Feel free to help yourselves.” Kaito said after a prolonged pause, clearing his throat as he flipped a page.

            “Yeah, drinks with truth serum!” Kuwabara scoffed, standing abruptly. “You drink first.”

            “You know, I never thought of that!” Kaito looked genuinely impressed. “Hey, you are pretty sharp.”

            “Should I take that as a complement?” Kuwabara said, snorting.

            “Let me get the drinks- I need to do something!” Botan bounced to her feet, all but skipping to the mini-fridge. “There’s quite a lot! Kuwabara, would you like an orange juice?”

            “Yeah,”

            “I’d like one as well.” Kurama said. Botan looked to me.

            “Um, water is good, thanks.”

            “Hey, can you get a couple glasses and some straws so we can share with each other?” Kuwabara said eagerly. Botan sighed, rolling her eyes.

            “Is that all?” But before Kuwabara could answer or even snicker at her, his body stiffened, his aura focusing and flaring before shooting across the room into Kaito’s waiting palm.

            “Two down,”

            “But why?” Kurama said.

            “Kuwabara didn’t really say hot! It’s not fair!” Botan shouted, pointing at Kaito. Kurama and I stared at her in shock, not able to believe her carelessness. Her face paled and she covered her mouth, hysterical laughter bubbling out. “I said it . . .” Her body stiffened as well, her soul crossing the room to join Hiei and Kuwabara’s.

            “You didn’t ask me so I said nothing, but the rules here are quite strict.” Kaito said, carefully balancing the three souls in his left hand while adjusting his glasses with his right. “You can’t use any words with the taboo in it, nor any word with the sound of the taboo word.”

            “I see, so that was . . .” Kurama muttered, his brow creasing. I was surprised at the thoroughness, though I probably shouldn’t have been. Kaito’s territory was an extension of himself and was notoriously meticulous.

            “Is Botan usually that dumb or has Yusuke’s kidnapping affected her that much?” I said, staring in disbelief at her soul as it writhed with the others. Kurama’s lips pressed into a thin line, his flickering to me.

            “Botan can be . . . ditzy upon occasion, but it has been rather extreme tonight.”

            “I guess I can understand why but still.” I shook my head, running a hand through my bangs and across the top of my head.

            Sweat clung to my forehead and the back of my neck, and I could feel the edges of my mind start to soften. Heat has always affected me since I was a small child, that I was sure of. I was weaker, more susceptible to losing my temper, and just generally unhappy. Frankly, I was a liability. I didn’t think Kaito would hurt us, but there was a chance I was wrong- and no matter how small I liked to think that chance was, it was too dangerous to risk it.

            “Look, none of us are going to say it now,” I said finally, glancing to Kurama. He was solely focused on Kaito, his hands folded tightly in his lap, his eyes crackling with temper. “Honestly, I can see that the two of you are itching to duke it out alone, and neither of you are going to get serious until then. I’m in the way,”

            “Matsuura-chan-” I cut Kurama off with a wave of my hand. I could tell he’d guessed what I’d planned to do, but there was nothing he could do to change my mind.

            “I trust you to win, Kurama.” I said quietly, giving him the most sincere smile I could muster. It had to look terribly forced; I was drowning in anxiety at the prospect of speaking the taboo, tendrils of legitimate fear curling around my resolve. I had no doubt Kurama would win, but I was still scared. I forced myself to say it before I lost my nerve. “Hot.”

            I gave Kurama a final, forced grin and flashed him a peace sign as my body begin to stiffen. I felt my youki expand, and there was an eerily familiar sensation settling in my stomach. It gathered behind my bellybutton, staticky and painful as I felt my youki continue to build. I blacked out as my aura flared and the pain peaked.

Chapter Text

            As a soul, I was aware of little. I could see nothing, though if I focused my youki I could vaguely sense the room as well as Kurama and Kaito’s auras. It was tiring, however, and I was reluctant to waste my energy on such an endeavor. I resigned myself to meditation, hoping that Kurama would quickly win. Time passed with an unbearable sluggishness, enhanced by my complete inability to measure it.

            After what felt like an eternity, I felt the brush of something on the edges of my soul. Cold fingers touched my psyche and then suddenly, I was awake. I gasped at the shock, feeling as if I’d been plunged into an icy lake. Kurama’s eyes were the first thing I saw, followed closely by the sensation of his arm wrapped around my shoulders, helping me to stay upright.

            “Matsuura-chan, are you okay?” I nodded, unable to speak. My fingers curled in the front of his uniform as he brushed my bangs out of my eyes. I cleared my throat, leaning into his chest perhaps a shade closer than strictly necessary.

            “I knew you’d win.” I said, surprised with the clarity of my voice. Kurama smiled, covering my hands with his, resting it on top of mine for a moment before gently detaching my grip.

            “I appreciate your confidence, but that was a tremendously foolish thing to do. You had no way of knowing I’d win for sure.” he said, frowning slightly as I moved to stand on my own, a vaguely suspicious light in his eyes. “Or perhaps you did know.” I scowled. tempted to snap a denial at him, but hesitated.

            “I don’t have any memories of the fight between you and Kaito.” I said carefully, though I wasn’t entirely sure. Bits and pieces came to me, but how much was correct and how much had my soul unconsciously picked up? “All I can say is that I don’t feel any real animosity from Kaito or Yanagisawa.”

            “Yanagisawa?”

            “Oh, um, that’s Hi-Top-kun isn’t it?” I said.

            “Hi top-? Do you mean the boy with the odd haircut?” Kurama frowned. “He never said his name.”

            “He didn’t? I thought-” I stopped myself, rubbing my chin as I thought. “The third one is Kido. He’s got Yusuke upstairs.”

            “How do you know this, Matsuura-chan?”

            “How do I know anything I know?” I said helplessly. “I just know them!”

            “Do you know anything else about them? Who they’re working for, what their motivations might be?”

            “They’re both friends of Kaito’s, they all live in Mushiyori City. After Kaito broke the taboo himself, to see what would happen, they went to-” I stopped myself, my eyes growing wide. Genkai. They’d gone to Genkai for advice after Kaito had lost his own soul, and then she had devised a test for Yusuke –which he’d failed miserably by allowing himself to get kidnapped.    

            Images flooded my brain- Sensui, the Seven Psychics, the tunnel to the Makai . . . It was my favourite part. Part of what, though? Something shifted, glitching in the back of my mind. I almost grasped the sense of it but it flickered out before I could understand it completely. I realized suddenly that Kurama was staring at me, and I did my best to shake it off. But what could I tell him? This was a test, I couldn’t spoil it. He’d figure it out before the end anyway, but I shouldn’t give him any hints. I’d probably meddled more than I should have, I thought, biting my lip.

            “Where did they go, Matsuura-chan?” Kurama said, his voice deceptively even. I groaned, covering my face with my hands.

            “I can’t tell you!”

            “What? Why not?”

            “Look,” I paused, peeking out from between my fingers. “Once you revive the others and we head upstairs to rescue Yusuke, it’ll be super clear to you, I promise. I just- I remembered things. I don’t know if I should tell you or not; I don’t want to interfere with what’s going to happen! It’s like the Prime Directive in Star Trek, don’t interfere with the natural development of an alien society? I don’t want to screw things up by telling you anything important!” I felt my voice skew hysterically as I continued to speak, my hands slipping down my face to gesture wildly.

            “That’s a convenient way of avoiding the question.” Kurama eyed me coldly. I squeezed my eyes shut, vigorously shaking my head.

            “I promise it’s not that.” I opened my eyes as Kurama sighed tersely and turned away. Without thinking, I reached out to grab his sleeve. “Hey,”

            “Matsuura-chan.”

            “I swear I’m not involved with this, Kurama. I swear it on my mother’s grave.” He held my gaze unflinchingly.

            “When did your mother die?”

            “When I was sixteen.” I said promptly, though it felt like a rote response; something I knew –or rather, had known- something so totally ingrained in my mind I could remember it without truly remembering, like the joke I’d tried to tell Kuwabara about how I’d ‘accidently the whole class’. I only had the vaguest sense that I had a mother, fragile unclear memories of childhood, but a firm knowledge that she was dead. I didn’t understand why I could only remember bits and pieces, but it frustrated me. I felt greedy, wanting everything at once- I knew I should be grateful to be remembering anything at all.

            “I believe that you weren’t involved in Yusuke’s kidnapping, but if you have pertinent information and you keep it from us you can’t claim to be innocent, Matsuura-chan.”  Kurama pulled his arm back, shaking his head.

            I watched with simmering irritation as he turned his back to me, taking one of the souls Kaito had collected. Part of me wanted to scream out that Genkai was Kaito’s mysterious ‘Someone’, that this wasn’t dangerous- anything to make him believe me, to trust me again. But it wasn’t my place to spoil it, and I had to deal with the consequences of opening my mouth before I knew what I was saying. I turned away, walking to grab my flannel that still draped the back of the chair I’d been sitting in.

            “Matsuura-chan, are you all right?” Botan appeared beside me, her gentle voice a shock.

            “Oh! I’m fine,” I forced a smile, slipping my arms through the sleeves. “How are you? It’s an odd feeling, having your soul taken and shoved back in.”

            “You broke the taboo as well?” Her eyes widened, her mouth dropping open in surprise.   “Yeah. After you did, I could tell that Kurama wanted to fight seriously, and I knew he probably wouldn’t with me there.”

            “You broke the taboo on purpose?” Disbelief burst from every facet of her words, tempered with a hint of awe. I flushed, shrugging.

            “I knew he’d win. A battle of wits between a high school student –genius or not- and a kitsune with thousands of years of life experience? Easy bet.”

            “Yes, when you put it that way . . .” Botan trailed off, and we both watched as Kuwabara gasped back to life. “Do you know how old Kurama is exactly?”

            “Well, I’ve never asked him, though I get the feeling he’d say he doesn’t remember. By estimation; at least a thousand years for a fox spirit to turn into a proper demon, I’m guessing at least another five hundred to a thousand years for him to garner a good reputation before the thing happens with Yomi-”

            “Yomi? One of the big three in Makai?” Botan said, her voice low, startled. “What happened between the two of them?”

            “It’s not my business to tell you that.” I said, uncomfortable. I’d done it again, rattling off spoilers before I realized their importance. “But anyway, I’m guessing another five hundred to a thousand years after that before he was forced to hideout in Human World. So; conservative estimate being 2,016 years, and less conservative, 3,016. Admittedly, I have no real way of knowing the exact lengths of time between the placeholder events I mentioned so I can’t be sure.”

            “What are you guys talking about?” Kuwabara said, approaching the two of us.

            “I was trying to guess how old Kurama is.” I said lightly.

            “He’s sixteen, isn’t he?” I met Botan’s eyes and laughed.

            “Well, technically that’s right- and technically correct is the best kind of correct. But I meant how old he was before coming to Human World.”

            “Huh. Never thought about that,” Kuwabara said, scratching his chin. “Yo, Kurama, how old are you?” Kurama glanced in our direction before shoving Hiei’s soul back into his prone body, lying spread eagle on the floor. He’d revived Botan and Kuwabara the same way, I mused. Not me- he’d held me upright, letting me lean into him as I regained my composure . . . His cold eyes turned in my direction forced me to shake off any thoughts heading in that direction. After reviving me, he’d probably realized it was easier to do it that way.

            “As you said earlier, Matsuura-chan, I haven’t kept track. If I had to guess however, I would say around 3,516.” he said, smiling faintly, coldly, as he said sixteen. Unconsciously, I shivered.

            “Shit! You’re like way older than Genkai even!” Kuwabara said, laughing, and swatted Kurama heavily on the back. I hid my reaction to her name as best I could, though I thought it might be safer to watch Hiei struggle to sit up instead. I hoped Kurama hadn’t noticed the minute changes in my face as Kuwabara said Genkai, or if he had, hadn’t connected it.

            “Are you going to tell them what I said earlier?” Outwardly, Kurama didn’t react.

            “If I did, it might be easier to persuade you to tell us the truth- I can tell you’d be uncomfortable with the three of us pressuring you. But if I did, I couldn’t be sure it would work. It may force you to tell us what you know, or it may simply create a tension between us that would hinder our progress.”

            “I won’t tell you. Telling you would interfere with the whole thing and honestly, I don’t know what would happen to Yusuke if I told you.”

            “Yes, you’re telling the truth.” Kurama’s thoughts relaxed a bit, though not completely. “Admittedly, since our mind-melds, it’s been almost too easy to sense any deception on your part.”

            “I guess that’s good since that means you trust me.” I chuckled inwardly, though I honestly wasn’t sure. I liked having Kurama trust me, but it made me nervous that he could see through me so easily. I had nothing of importance to hide from him, at least for now, but what would happen once Genkai revealed the tunnel to Makai? Already, there were details concerning its construction and the ensuing fight between Team Urameshi and the Seven Psychics I wasn’t sure I could tell him with irrevocably changing the outcome. After learning what was at stake, would he be as content to trust me?

 

            I stayed silent as Kurama led us through one door and then the next, pausing at the note Yanagisawa had left on the third. I even played along in the search for the third key, though I could tell Kurama was suspicious of my half-hearted attempts. After Botan’s Psychic Spyglass found nothing, he called off the search and woke Yana.

            “So, how do you feel?” Kurama said, watching impassively as Yana groaned and struggled to sit up. He started at Kurama’s words, looking uncomfortable as he eyed us.

            “You beat Kaito, huh?” Yanagisawa forced a smirk as he forced himself to stand. “Not bad.”

            “Where’s the third key?” Kurama said. His face was serious, coldly detached. I shivered, glad that he wasn’t look at me with such an expression- though I had to wonder how long it would be before he turned those icy green eyes on me.

            “One was on Kaito, but we couldn’t find the last one, even with my Psychic Spyglass!” Botan cut in.

            “That’s why you woke me up?” He snickered, shaking his head. “Probably a good idea though. Who knows what would have happened to Urameshi if you’d forced the door?”

            “Yes, that’s what the note said.” Kurama held it out. Kuwabara grunted, scowling.

            “What kind of nutjob designed this house anyway? Three freakin’ doors to get into one room!” he muttered.

            “If you know where the last key is, I’d suggest you go get it.” I said quietly.

            “Yeah, you guys did beat Kaito so fair is fair. Wait here a moment and I’ll go get it.”

            “Who says we’re letting you go off alone?!” Kuwabara barked. “We’re all coming with you!”

            “I agree. I feel it would be best to accompany you.” Kurama said, settling his lips in a thin line.

            “Whatever floats your boat.” Yana said with a shrug.

            “I’ll wait here then,” I said. I knew he’d bring us the real key without any tricks, so it was pointless to follow him.

            “I’ll stay with Matsuura-chan while you boys keep an eye on him!” Botan said firmly. I raised my eyebrows, surprised. I hadn’t expected her to stay behind.

            The boys trooped out after Yanagisawa; Kuwabara brazen, eager, Hiei silent, and Kurama serious, giving me an unreadable glance over his shoulder. Botan and I lapsed into silence, though I had the feeling there was something she desperately wanted to say to me.

            “What is it?” I said finally, not bothering to hide my amusement as she opened and closed her mouth, struggling to find the correct words. Botan flushed, then abruptly shook her head and looked me in the eye.

            “Matsuura-chan, Kuwabara mentioned earlier that you have ‘freaky memories’ of the four of them at the Dark Tournament, correct?” I nodded, unsure of where she was going with that line of questioning. “Forgive me for prying, but you said earlier you were found in an alley with a head wound and no memories of even language. How did these memories of Yusuke and the others surface? Did you go to the Dark Tournament with Matsuura Jin and-”

            “No, I didn’t go.” I cut her off with a smile. “Jin-papa wanted me to go to high school so I could get a proper job and stuff, so we toured a couple different ones. I’d all but decided on this all-girls school with super cute uniforms when he asked me to tour Meiou, where Kurama goes. Jin-papa used to teach there, and he said it was an excellent school. When we got there, I saw some boys in those god-awful uniforms and a whole flood of memories of Kurama came to me. Gradually, that turned into memories of all of them, starting with Yusuke’s death and then everything after. So I was determined to go to Meiou, to see if Kurama was still there, if he had any idea who I was . . . But he doesn’t- none of them do.”

            “Do you have any memories of yourself?”

            “Kind of. A lot of it has been blanks- like I didn’t even know I was a Dark Stroke until this afternoon.” I shrugged, brushing my bangs off my forehead. “I’m fairly sure I was raised as a human, maybe even had a human mother. I know she’s dead, though I barely can remember her face. I have vague memories- I think I had a job I hated, a tiny apartment somewhere . . . I loved Star Trek and nerdy shit like that. But I don’t really remember who I am.” I paused, shaking my head, somewhat startled that I had clearer memories of the fiction I consumed than who I was as a person.  

            Before she could reply, the boys returned- Kurama in front, key in hand. Botan gave me a final, uncertain look before grabbing her case of detective tools and following the four of them through the doors. I lingered at the back, feeling uncertain.

            “What’s with this?” Kuwabara burst through the doors first, glaring angrily at what I knew to be a hall filled with staircases. “First all those freakin’ doors, and now stairs?” Yanagisawa smiled as we all filed in.

            “Urameshi is on the second floor. However, each of you must use a different staircases to get to him.” he said.

            “I suppose there is a reason you’re separating us.” Kurama murmured, taking a step in front of Kuwabara as he began to sputter.

            “Of course there is- but you’ve still got to do what I say. At least, if you’re concerned with Urameshi’s life that is.” Yana chuckled meanly. Inwardly, I was quite impressed with his acting skills. Kaito more than likely had a grudge against Kurama because of school, but as far as I remembered, Yana and Kido were in awe of Yusuke the delinquent -and probably Kuwabara too. Hiei and Kurama (and myself) were clearly not human, and I had to admire their composure in the face of it. They were barely aware of their powers a month, probably aware of demons and Spirit World less than a week, and they were able to bluff like experts.

            “Wait one minute!” Botan eagerly stepped forward, wielding her detective tools. “When you’re in a fix, Detective Tools Number Five!” She grinned eagerly, flipping open the case and holding up a small round tag with a border of spirits lining the outer edge. “Mejiru Seals! They’re quite handy for transporting prisoners, as only the person who stuck them on can remove them! Naturally, it will fall off in case of death. The border changes based on the health of the person who placed it: blue, healthy; yellow, a light wound; red, a critical wound.”

            “I see.” Kurama said, taking one of the labels from Botan. “We’ll write our names on the seals and place them on each other- that way, we’ll know if something happens.”

            “Do what you want.” Yana said, sighing. “I don’t care.”

            Botan passed around the seals and a marker, and we each took turns sticking them on each other. I smiled as I watched Hiei follow along obediently- evidently, he was embarrassed about his earlier foolishness. I said nothing either- feeling too guilty to speak or even meet Kurama’s eyes while we traded seals.

            We climbed our chosen stairs without much comment, and my doubts continued to build. The longer we stayed in Yojigen Mansion, the more I was convinced I shouldn’t be there. The memories were becoming stronger, making it more and more obvious that my presence was wrong. There were some memories I had of the Dark Tournament that had come to me last December- before the tournament had taken place. In addition to that, I was becoming more sure that those memories of mine were older than just a few months. I felt out of sync with time. My heart beating frantically, I reached out to Kurama without a thought as I took the stairs two at a time.

            “Kurama, is there- can Dark Strokes move through time?”

            “I’ve never heard any rumors of such.” Kurama thought testily. “Is this the time to be thinking of such things, Matsuura-chan?”

            “I guess not. But it’s been bothering me, why I seem to know the things I do. And not just that- thinking about them, it feels like memories I’ve had for a while. That’s why I thought that maybe . . .”

            “I will admit that little is known of Dark Strokes or their powers. However, I’ve never come across even a whisper of a rumour about any demon being able to travel backwards through time or forwards for that matter.”

            “Yeah, it was a stupid thought.” I did my best to convey joviality as I cut the connection, though it came off as shaky and uncertain to myself. Still- I was reaching the tops of the stairs. Genkai was up there somewhere, and I hoped that maybe she could give me some answers.

Chapter Text

            The five of us entered the second floor almost at the same time. The sight of Yusuke, standing motionless in front of a large stage light greeted us, no doubt puzzling the rest of them.

            “Why are you just standing there?” Kuwabara –rather, Yanagisawa- barked, pointing at Yusuke. “We thought you’d been captured!”

            “Don’t come any closer! If he steps on your shadow you won’t be able to move!” he said, sweat beading along his forehead. I gasped along with the other four, and took a step backwards. Watching us, Kido gave a thin smile.

            “True. But I’m not your opponent. Urameshi, there’s an imposter among those five.”

            “Huh?” Yusuke’s eyes darted between us before flicking back to Kido.

            “You have ten minutes to figure out who it is. As for the rest of you, you may only speak when Yusuke asks you a direct question.”

            “An imposter? He’s got to be kidding!” Not-Kuwabara barked.

            “There’s no way someone could disguise themselves so quickly!” Botan snapped, indignant.

            “I believe I asked you to shut up. Don’t forget I have the lives of the hostages in my hands,” He took a lazy step towards Yusuke, his fingers outstretched towards his face. “You know, if there’s an imposter amongst the five of you, that means I’ve got another hostage, hmm? If something bad happens to me, they’ll be executed.”

            “Everything is quite well planned.” Kurama said, his mouth a thin line. He glanced towards me, but I quickly looked away. Was this the point he realized?

            “Nine minutes and counting, Urameshi. What do you think?” Kido smirked, watching as Yusuke’s eyes roved over the five of us once again.

            “I can’t believe there’s really an imposter,” he muttered, grimacing. “They all look pretty authentic.”

            “Eight minutes, thirty seconds.”

            “Kuwabara! What’s your birthday and blood type?”

            “Figures you’d suspect me first!” he sneered. “But . . . Do you even know either of those in the first place?”

            “Er- I guess I don’t!”

            “Then why bother!” Not-Kuwabara snapped. I had to admit, Yana was pretty good at playacting Kuwabara.

            “Then what’s your sister’s name?”

            “Shizuru. She just turned nineteen, and her type is Sugawara Bunta or Takakura Ken.”

            “What, really?” I couldn’t help laughing. Sugawara Bunta was one of Jin-papa’s favourite actors, known for his roles as yakuza in the 1970s. Both of them, as far as I knew, were older. “I thought she liked pretty boys like Brad Pitt or something! I didn’t know she liked old guys!”

            “I dunno, she says they’re distinguished or somethin’! I don’t care!”

            “Sorry, sorry! I’m the last one who should be judging someone’s taste in men.” I said.

            “What’s your taste in men, Matsuura-chan?” Yusuke said, clearly grasping at straws. I decided to humour him with an answer anyway.

            “Weee-ll, not that we ever discussed it; blonde bishonen with a French accent, or super manly guys with a nice thick beard. Like Jonathon Frakes in the new Star Trek.” I said, allowing myself an indulgent smirk at the thought of Will Riker. I wasn’t sure of much, but I was pretty damned sure Riker was one of my first crushes.

            “Yeah, okay, that was useless.” Yusuke sighed, turning to Kurama. “What’s your mom’s name?”

            “Minamino Shiori, aged forty. She’s engaged, and will remarry in the fall.”

            “That’s great!” Yusuke beamed. “Am I invited?”

            “Seven minutes,” Kido announced, sounding bored. Frustration mingled with perversion as Yusuke looked to Botan.

            “What are your three measurements? In the right order too!”

            “I know I never told you that!” Botan said, her face completely red.

            “What are you talking about? You totally did! It was on the roof of the school that time!” Yusuke persisted. Botan faltered, biting her lip as if actually considering it.

            “No I did not, you idiotic pervert!” she said finally, her face bright red.

            “Damn! Failed it,” Yusuke muttered.

            “Hmph. This stupidity is making me nauseous.” Hiei sneered, glaring at the both of them.

            “Fine, it’s your turn then!” Yusuke said. “What’s your little sister’s name?” The two of them stared intently at each other before Hiei frowned again.

            “It’s useless to tell you, you already know. This game is idiotic.” he said. Yusuke grimaced, glowering at him.

            “What a minute, this guy has a little sister?” Not-Kuwabara said, doing a perfect Kuwabara snicker. “I bet she’s as ugly and bad tempered as he is!”

            “I’ll kill you.” Hiei glared at him.

            “That’s right, I forget Kuwabara’s the only one who doesn’t know.” Botan said, her eyes falling on me as she turned to Kurama. “Well, perhaps Matsuura-chan as well,”

            “I know.” I smiled, shrugging.

            “Be quiet, both of you!” Kurama whispered.

            “Why am I the only one who doesn’t know, huh?” Not-Kuwabara barked.

            “Ah, it’s complicated,” Kurama said, glancing at Hiei, who bristled.

            “What are you looking at me for?” he snapped.

            “We don’t have time for this now!” Kurama said, and I was surprised to hear the control slipping from his voice.

            “At least tell me her name! You guys are pissing me off!” Not-Kuwabara said. I watched him as carefully as I dared, wondering if Yana was stirring things up on purpose. Certainly no one questioned his outburst, and it had never struck me as particularly out of character, but I had to wonder whether Yana was playing up the reaction to kill time.

            “Five minutes left.” Kido announced.

            “We’ll talk about this later.” Kurama said, clearly irritated.

            “Yeah, we better!” Not-Kuwabara turned to Yusuke and pointed. “And what about you, huh? Spotted the fake yet?” My eyebrows shot to my forehead. It wasn’t the sort of line you questioned in the heat of things –it could possibly be something Kuwabara would say- but hearing Yanagisawa say it, knowing he’s the fake . . . It leant a totally different attitude. Perhaps he had been playing Kuwabara a little too hard on purpose.

            “I don’t know, you piece of crap!” he shouted.

            “Four minutes, thirty seconds.” Kido said. Yusuke glared at him, before turning to uneasily look the five of us over.

            “Hey, what are those things on your chest?”

            “One of the special detective tools, the Mejiru Seal!” Botan said, surprisingly annoyed as she pointed at Yusuke. “I already explained it to you once!”

            “Oh yeah, that’s right!”
            “You’re the suspicious one,” Botan muttered, disdainful as she watched his sheepish grin.

            “I remember- only the person who stuck them on can take ‘em off, right?”

            “Correct!” Botan beamed at him, pleased he remembered, and pointed at the seals on her scarf. “Both humans and demons have their own unique energy –like a fingerprint- and the Mejiru Seal will only react to the energy of the person who placed it. There’s no way an imposter could remove it.”

            “Botan, you’re a genius!” Yusuke grinned. Kido smirked as we all gathered in a circle to remove the seals. In unison, we took the edge of the closest seal with our name on it, and gently peeled it off. Of course, none of them stuck.

            “We all were able to take them off?” Botan said, staring at the seal in her hand with confusion. “There’s no way the imposter would have been able to!”

            “There never was an imposter.” Hiei said derisively, tossing his seal to the floor. “It was a trap.”

            “Yes there is.” Kido smiled thinly. “Without a doubt, there’s an imposter among you. If you can’t figure out which one it is, I guess that means you don’t need the real one then- so the real one can die. They can be replaced and you wouldn’t notice anything!”  Yusuke glared at him, silent, sweat beginning to drip down his forehead. Kido looked down at his watch and smiled again. “Times up! Who do you think it is? Urameshi, I’ll release you from my territory. However, if you attack me, the real one will die. Pick out who you think it is, then hit them with all your might.”

            “What?!” Yusuke glanced towards us.

            “The only way to release Yanagisawa’s copy is to make him suffer. But you only get one chance!”

            “You piece of shit, what are you trying to prove?!” Yusuke said, remaining stock still though Kido stepped off his shadow.

            “’Someone’ asked us to. Not that we aren’t enjoying it, but . . .” Kido broke off, shrugging. “It’s time to act! Make your choice, or else the real one dies!” There was a pause, and Yusuke looked each of us over as thoroughly and briefly as he could.

            “I’ve made my choice. Don’t take it personally.” he said quietly, and took a step forward. “I hope I’m right!” In a flash, he crossed the room, landing a solid right hook to Not-Kuwabara’s face. I smiled as I watched him fall; I knew Yusuke would pick the right one, and I was glad my presence didn’t alter things too badly.

            “You actually figured it out,” Kido said, watching Yana’s still form. “How’d you know?”

            “He was the easiest one for me to hit.” Yusuke shrugged.

            “I see,” Kido smiled.

            “Kurama and Hiei are too smart to let themselves get captured like that. Matsuura-chan too- dunno much about her but I figure a girl with her kind of psychic powers ain’t gonna get kidnapped.” I was too far away to hear Kurama’s whisper, but there was no mistaking the innocent expression on his face as Hiei flushed and looked away. I swallowed a laugh and turned back to Yusuke. “And if you assholes were cowardly enough to harm Botan, it wouldn’t matter if I lost. I would’ve come back to slaughter the lot of you.” Yusuke’s words reverberated against the ensuing silence, the only sound Botan’s sniffling. She wiped at her eyes as unobtrusively as she could, blinking quickly to dispel her emotion. I reached out to squeeze her shoulder, giving her a small smile.

            “Well done! I’m impressed!” Kido said brightly, clapping. His lighthearted tone disturbed the somber feeling that had settled over the room. Even though I’d half anticipated his reaction, his joviality startled me.

            “Shut the hell up! Where’s Kuwabara?” Yusuke said, shaking off his momentary confusion.

            “Yeah, now it’s your turn!” Botan said forcefully, taking a step forward as she spoke.

            “I’m sorry, we don’t get a turn. We’ll return Kuwabara- but first, let’s introduce our sleeping partner.” Kido smiled, and the doors behind him seemed to swing open on command.

             “What the f- you’re the sleeping partner?!” Yusuke goggled as Genkai stepped through the door. Unconsciously holding my breath, I glanced to Kurama, flinching when I found him staring at me.

            “When did you realize?’” I asked, looking back ahead as Yusuke continued to shout at her.

            “When I finished climbing the stairs- just as you said, Matsuura-chan.”

            “So you understand why I couldn’t tell you? I didn’t want to-

            “I’m so sorry!” Kido’s shout cut me off. He dropped to the floor, bowing towards Yusuke. “I’m so sorry, I really didn’t want to do this. Please forgive me!”

            “You don’t have to apologize.” Genkai said, more kindly than I had anticipated. Her eyes scanned the group, lingering on mine with an unreadable yet stern expression.

            Nausea rolled through me as she looked away, the rest of her words echoing dimly in the background as my head began to pound. My eyes screwed shut and my hands clenched in the cuffs of my flannel. I’d always gotten little headaches whenever I remembered something; just a little bit of pain, easily soothed away with a couple ibuprofen or a cup of coffee. But this- this was something different, more intense. Did that mean that I was on the verge of an important memory? Or was it simply the disappointing side effect of overextending myself? A mind-meld coupled with a long-distance fishing expedition, summoning and toying with my shadow hands for a good portion of the evening before we’d come to Yojigen Mansion, keeping my youki as tightly under wraps as I could in the face of the dangers within . . .

            “Matsuura-chan, are you all right?” I forced my eyes open at the sound of Kurama’s voice. I was startled to see him beside me, the others looking on with mingled expressions of worry and annoyance.

            “I . . . Headache. Sorry, I should be fine. Please continue,” I said quietly.

            “As I was saying, Hiei.” Genkai said, her eyes lingering on me a shade longer than necessary. “If you really fought Kaito, he wouldn’t stand a chance. But-! He took your soul. You lacked vigilance.” Hiei scowled and looked away, unable to argue. “The same goes for you, Yusuke.”

            “If I’d known what his power was he never would have tricked me!” Yusuke’s shouts vibrated unpleasantly into my headache, and I ground my teeth to try and combat the pain.

            “You moron!” I winced as Genkai shouted back. “What kind of enemy is going to tell you his powers? If an enemy captures you, you’re as good as dead!”

            “Er,” Yusuke swallowed, then abruptly shook off his shame. “Okay, but who the hell’s the enemy you keep talking about then? It’s not them, so who?”

            “We went to Genkai for advice on our powers. We all knew Urameshi through his reputation for fighting, though we had no idea he had powers as well until Master Genkai told us.” Kido paused, swallowing heavily. “But the only reason we have these powers is because of the tunnel to Demon World!”

            “A tunnel to Demon World?” Botan repeated, her tone half-skeptical, half serious; she didn’t want to believe such a thing was possible. My mind swam- Sensui wanted the tunnel to Makai. Itsuki –another Dark Stroke- was digging the tunnel so to speak, and Kuwabara-

            “Yes.” Genkai’s voice was somber. “The spiritual successors to Sakyo on this earth.”

            “Spiritual successors to Sakyo?” I said derisively. Sensui was undoubtedly warped, but knowing his true motivations, I could never equate him to that money-hungry piece of shit. As wrong as Sensui was, he at least had some kind of distorted morality, a higher goal. Sakyo just wanted to get richer. “Come on, that’s-” Bile rose in my throat and I clamped my mouth shut, covering it with both my hands. My eyes watered and the room flickered around me, the nausea quickly building the more I tried to swallow it back.

            Unconcerned with the rudeness of it, I threw open Genkai’s mind and searched for a bathroom- I was not about to puke in front of a single person in that room, the least of which was Kurama. I ignored the voices behind me as I ran right for it, shoving past Kuwabara as I crossed through the doors Genkai had come in through. Crashing into the bathroom just in time, I slammed the door shut with a wave of my hand.

            I continued to hug the toilet as my head spun. Sensui, the Seven, the boys- their faces mingled and spun together, shimmering like heatwaves on the road on a summer day. Wrong- there was something was wrong with them! Their faces were coloured, and then they weren’t. There was a strange stillness to their black and white portraits, almost as if- as if it was a manga.

            “No,” I said weakly, screwing my eyes more tightly shut. What kind of memory was that? A manga? What kind of nonsense- I stopped, unable to deny the flood of details that poured into my mind. Not just details of the plot; my opinions of it, my irritation of how the anime changed certain things and cut things out, merch I had -including an embarrassing amount of Kurama figures. It wasn’t just a manga, it was the manga. My manga. It was the first series I’d ever gotten into, the one I reread at least once  a year, the one more than anything else that had called to me since I was that dorky fourteen year old girl reading Shonen Jump for the first time. I’d even found out years later that my birthday had fallen on the date of its premier in Japan; December 3rd, 1990. I shuddered- December 3rd had been the day Jin-papa had found me last year too, and consequently, the date we’d chosen as my birthday when we’d bought my forged documents. There really was no such thing as a coincidence, was there?

            For a moment, I was able to accept it. I couldn’t quite reach the parts of myself that weren’t connected to Yu Yu Hakusho, but it was something more than I’d had this morning. The porcelain felt pleasantly cool beneath my cheek, and was comforted by its familiar solidity- I’d definitely spent my share of mornings hungover, I thought with a wild giggle, and opened my eyes.

            That was a mistake. Everything felt normal- the toilet felt like a toilet, the feel of my clothes on my skin was reassuring and familiar, even the way my throat burned felt like nothing out of the ordinary. But when I opened my eyes- it was animated. Groaning, I sat up and promptly fell against the wall, staring at my outstretched hand. It certainly looked a bit nicer than the YYH anime I remembered; slightly more realistic (though my stomach rebelled at the thought), but still warm with the richness of traditionally drawn anime.

            “I’m not dealing with this now.” I said, rubbing my face. I’d have to unpack the implications of being thrust into an alternate reality later on; Kurama and the others would probably be waiting for an explanation when I got back- if they didn’t come looking for me.

            And what the hell could I tell them? Oh yeah, I know all this shit about you guys because I’m an otaku from the future and this is, conveniently enough, my favourite series! And no, I’m not giving you any spoilers!!1

            “Shit. Shit shit shit shit shit.” I hissed, furiously rubbing my face. No matter how insignificant, I’d changed things by coming with them to Yojigen Mansion. Without realizing it, I’d spoiled things and changed them. The outcome was still the same tonight, but what would happen later on, when there was more at stake than Genkai’s test? If the Chapter Black saga didn’t play out exactly right, Yusuke wouldn’t die again and be reborn with his demonic atavism, wouldn’t be pulled into Makai politics with Kurama and Hiei and worst of all, Koenma might not overthrow his father for the betterment of all three worlds.

            Frantic, I chewed my lips. As much as I’d love to see the upcoming fights in person, there was no way I could let myself be involved. They could handle everything perfectly well without my interference, and if my meddling changed things I’d never forgive myself. No, it would be better to keep my head down and stay out of Spirit World’s affairs, I told myself, nodding. But what could I tell Kurama? I couldn’t tell him the whole truth because I wasn’t sure if he would be satisfied to let things happen. I couldn’t lie, because thanks to my damn mind-melding, the bastard could tell.

            I cradled my head in my hands, lost.

Chapter Text

            Eventually, I forced myself to stand. Stress cushioned my muscles, leaving me lightheaded as I felt my whole body tremble. It was a strangely delicate feeling, feather-light and fleeting like the sable tip of a paintbrush dragged wildly just beneath my skin.

            I peered in the mirror above the sink, frowning as I stared at the reflection; turning my face this way and that, pulling my bangs away from my face, anything I could think of to try and kindle some kind of recognition. I looked like myself, though without a solid knowledge of who that was, it was meaningless.

            Shaking it off as best I could, I turned on the taps full blast. I cupped water in my hands, cautiously drinking some to get the taste of vomit out of my mouth. I rinsed and spat, filling my hands with more water to splash my face. It did little to dispel the cloudiness that had descended along with my revelation, but it made me feel marginally better.

            “Matsuura-chan?” There was a light knock on the door, and I winced at the accompanying sound of Kurama’s voice.

            “I- I- fuck.” I furiously rubbed my face, leaning against the wall. “Go away.”

            “Are you all right?”

            “I’m not dead.” I paused, my face still buried in my hands, and bent at the waist. I couldn’t be nice to him, niceness was weakness. I needed more time to deal with whatever the hell this was, time to mentally accept it, and time to decide what the hell to tell him. “Fuck off.”

            “The knock was just a courtesy, I assure you.” he said.

            “You’re not going to kick down the door.” I scoffed, smirking at my reflection as I straightened. There were several gentle scraping noises, and the door swung open. Kurama smiled mildly, looking satisfied with himself though somehow not smug.

            “You underestimate me, Matsuura-chan.”

            “You didn’t even use your youki!” I said, startled and prickly. I don’t know what I expected, really. My mind still quivered, numb with the shock, unable to handle Kurama or the added burden of the memories I had of ‘Kurama, my favourite fictional character’. It was a mild way to describe the obsession that had begun when I was fourteen, but it would have to do. I wasn’t ready to admit to myself just how much he’d meant to me, eons away from being comfortable with him getting so much of a whiff of those feelings.

            “I’ve been picking locks since before I had a human shape.” he murmured, a vaguely genuine amusement glittering in his eyes. “What happened?”

            “I . . . remembered things.” I said, finding myself unable to lie to him. It was vexing.

            “What kind of things?”

            “Things I’m not going to tell you.” I said as firmly as I could. I didn’t dare look at him.

            “Your Prime Directive.” Kurama murmured. I nodded solemnly.

            “It’s important.”

            “More important than a tunnel into Makai?”

            “Look, this isn’t something you guys need my help with. Trust me.”

            “Are you in league with whoever is opening the tunnel?”

            “What?” I turned to him, flabbergasted.

            “Genkai called them the spiritual successors to Sakyo and you were offended by that.”

            “Well, that’s not-” I stopped, shaking my head. “I’m not helping them, but earlier, when I remembered this was all Genkai’s doing, I remembered the reasons why she’d done it in the first place. I remembered who was responsible for – for the tunnel. I remembered the rest and- I know why I know these things.”

            “Don’t leave me in suspense.” Kurama raised an eyebrow, the rest of him emotionless and  composed in the face of my rambling.

            “It’s insane!” I cried, running both my hands through my bangs and along the top of my head. “I don’t know if I believe it,”

            “You believe it.” Kurama said, carefully surveying me as I began to pace in the confined space of the bathroom. “You believe it, and it scares you.”

            “Yeah.” My shoulders drooped, and I had to consciously stop myself from dropping to the floor as nausea rolled through me again. “Have you heard of multiverse theory, Kurama?”

            “I know there are multiple planes of existence, Matsuura-chan.” he said with a dry smile.

            “Not just Makai and Reikai.” I said dismissively, pointing at him. “You mentioned before that according to legend, Dark Strokes were lured off to different dimensions. Multiverse theory –insomuch as I understand it, which isn’t super thoroughly I admit- basically states that there are many different planes of existence, I guess. Different dimensions, and like a lot of them.”

            “And you’re from one of those different dimensions?”

            “I have to be. A dimension where magic, where the supernatural, doesn’t exist. I sure as shit wasn’t able to do all this back home.” I muttered. “Anyway, this. This is- I don’t remember me. My mind is still a goddamned blank as far as that goes,”

            “But you did remember something.”

            “I did. Sorry, I’m babbling- it’s been hard for me to process.”

            “I can see that.”

            “Why thank you.” I said with a snort, pausing to take a deep breath before I continued. “The things I remembered about you all . . . All the stupid details, the things I had no business knowing- it’s a- I remember it as a manga in my dimension.”

            “A manga.” Kurama repeated blandly.

            “I told you it was fucking crazy.” I laughed, still not quite able to believe it myself. “Pictures of you guys flooded my brain- colour scenes, fights, blurred with black and white images. It’s hard to describe, but it all kind of blended and then it hit me; it’s a manga.” I reached out, brushing my mind against his. I showed him scenes from the anime first, slowly transitioning from that to some of the coloured pages I remembered to the stark black and white of Togashi’s art. I closed with an image of my hands holding a tankoban, rings I didn’t remember wearing glittering on my fingers as I turned a page.

            Kurama was silent when I slipped out of his mind. Staring intently on the wall to my right, his normally composed face began to subtly crumple. His eyebrows were knitted furiously together, a small wrinkle deepening between them. His eyes, hazy and unfocused, and I could practically see the way his mind leapt behind them. The longer he stayed silent, the thinner his lips became, twisted into a grimace.

            “That last scene you showed me,” he said, swinging his eyes to meet mine. “What in the seven hells was that?”

            “You mean my hands with the book?”

            “They were your hands?” His eyes flickered down to my left hand, but he said nothing else. I glanced down at my hand before replying, suddenly horrified. I’d been wearing a wedding ring. I’d been married? Was I still married? This was another thing I’d have to mentally unpack later, I decided, and did my best to push the thoughts away.

            “Yeah, who else would have a first person POV in my head?” I said, forcing a jovial tone. Kurama ignored it.

            “It looked . . . different.”

            “Different perceptions of reality, man. I think that’s why I get so nauseous when I remember stuff. It’s a mindfuck.”

            “In all honesty, Matsuura-chan, I was certain you were . . . losing it, I suppose would be the term.”

            “That’s kind of reason I dropped it in there. Seeing is believing and all that.” I grinned weakly at him. “Do you believe me now?”

            “I find it hard to believe my life is a manga in another dimension, but I can’t argue with what you’ve shown me.” There was a pause. “Could you show me more?”

            “More?” I flushed, searching through the scant memories I had of . . . home? The word felt disjointed when I applied to that place, and there was a twinge of guilt thinking of Jin-papa. Whatever my old life had been, this was home now.

            “Was that the only thing you remembered?” Kurama said gently.

            “It’s not that!” I said quickly. “It’s just that most of the other things I remembered have to do with Yu Yu Hakusho, and it’s embarrassing. I’m such an otaku,”

            “You, an obsessive fan about something? I can’t believe it, Matsuura-chan.” Kurama smiled as I blushed harder.

            “Okay, fine, whatever.” I muttered, closing my eyes as I established a psychic link. Nothing as strong as a mind-meld, but a little more robust than the standard psychic tendrils I sent out for telepathy.

            As I sifted through the things that had resurfaced, I was careful not to show spoilers. Watching the anime and bitching about all the weird accents in the Dark Tournament, lamenting Atsuko’s subpar role compared to the manga, DVD boxes with them on it, my collectibles (though only a general shot of the shelves I had everything on, not specifically my YYH figures).

            “Do you have any memories of people?” Kurama’s thought startled me.

            “Ah, not really. I couple vague memories of group get-togethers, and a few memories of me getting ready to cosplay, but that’s it.” Though he didn’t specifically state it, I felt Kurama’s interest in seeing an image of me.

            Buoyed up by the feeling, the headiness of my favourite character being curious about me, I almost flashed him a shot of my finished Itsuki cosplay, but thankfully I stopped myself just in time. It’d be weeks until they met in person, but I wanted to be as cautious as I could. Kurama most likely was familiar with Sensui by reputation at least, and as Itsuki had helped him with his missions for part of his time as Spirit Detective, I didn’t want to chance it.

            I showed him instead a memory of my putting on makeup for the cosplay. I had the outfit on, but not the wig, and definitely not the six prop hands I’d rigged up. It was simply me alone in our embarrassingly untidy bathroom, my hair pulled back as I leant over the sink, blending foundation along my cheekbones to look more masculine.

            As I relived it, I looked through my old eyes into the mirror. Non-descript dark hair, an oval face, pale complexion. My long German nose, my small but plump lips, my hazel eyes that had clearly come from the mystery man my father was. I’d always hoped I was part Japanese, but then I’d had no way of knowing which part of Asia he was from. My mother was Irish-German, explaining one half of my DNA, but my father . . . His existence was never discussed. I broke the contact, flinching away as I took a step back. How much of that had passed between us?

            “Sorry,” I said, my voice taut. I was mad at myself for getting too drawn in by the memories, especially while I’d had a link to Kurama. Luckily, it hadn’t been spoilers, but I bristled at the negligence of it.

            “It’s all right, Matsuura-chan.” he said softly, and by the gentle tone of his voice I knew he’d heard my thoughts about my father.

            “So, where’s everyone else?” I said, eager to change the subject.

            “They went downstairs to wake Kaito.” Kurama shrugged. “I imagine they’ve been discussing the tunnel.”

            “That’s right- only three weeks until it’s open as far as Koenma knows.” He was wrong, though I planned on keeping that to myself as long as I could.

            “Three weeks?” Kurama frowned.

            “They opened it to the second stage- where humans developed strange powers- just before the Tournament ended. And I’m only telling you this much because that’s all Koenma knows at this point. He should’ve called right after they woke up Kaito.”

            “You aren’t going to help us?” Kurama seemed stunned.

            “Of course not! Things in the Cha- in the tunnel arc need to happen exactly right, or the ending won’t happen. It’s such a good ending, Kurama.” I said wistfully. It was one of the best out of any manga I’d read, if only because all four of them ended up so happily. Kaito liked to mock my love of happy endings, but I had a bad habit of getting too emotionally involved with the characters. I thought they all deserved to lead a good life once the story was done.

            “You came tonight, Matsuura-chan.”

            “That’s before I knew! Besides, I didn’t fuck anything up, not really anyway. I don’t want to take any more chances.”

            “But by assuring me how good the ending is, you’ve all but told me we’re successful in stopping the tunnel from reaching completion.” he said evenly.

            “I never said that.” I said, raising my eyebrows. “Even if the tunnel opens –human eating demons nonwithstanding- how many demons do you really think are drooling at the idea of  breaking into Ningenkai to rape and pillage? Demons overall aren’t the monsters that Reikai likes to make them out to be. Surely you know that?” Kurama held my eyes for much longer than I thought he would, long enough to make me uncomfortable, wondering if I’d revealed too much.

            “Very well.” Kurama closed his eyes, slowly shaking his head.

            “If my presence drastically changes things, I’ll help. I promise.”

            “I’ll hold you to that, Matsuura-chan.” He smiled.

           

 

            The two of us made our way downstairs, joining everyone else in the large front room where Kaito had greeted us when we’d first arrived. The atmosphere was tense; Hiei standing apart, Kuwabara glowering at him.

            “What’s going on?” Kurama murmured as we joined Kaito, Kido, and Yanagisawa.

            “Hiei just said that he doesn’t care what happens to the earth. He won’t help us, but he won’t help them, either.” Kaito said, frowning. I determinedly held my tongue, not looking at either of them.

            “Do you really believe that bullshit?!” Kuwabara bellowed. Hiei snorted, turning to face the door.

            “Yes. I’ll return to the darkness.” he said softly, and left without another word, slamming the door with a satisfying bang that reverberated throughout the room.

            “That bastard! I can’t believe he’s really such an asshole!”

            “He’ll come.” Yusuke grinned confidently at Kuwabara, punching him lightly on the shoulder. “Right when we need him the most, he’ll show up. Bet you anything.”

            “He’s confused.” Kurama said, stepping forward. “Humans aren’t the only ones affected by the tunnel opening.”

            “Well, I think it’s better if we leave him for now. Finding more information on the enemy is our top priority.” Genkai stood in the center of the room, eyeing each of us carefully. She stopped when she got to me, frowning slightly. “First on the agenda is going home to get some sleep, it’s nearly dawn now. We’ll reconnoiter tomorrow, and split into groups to scout out Mushiyori.”

            “Tomorrow’s Friday, and I’d rather not miss school if I can avoid it.” Kaito said, pushing up his glasses. Kido and Yana snickered, elbowing him, though Kaito ignored their antics.

            “Fine, Saturday then.” Genkai said with a snort. “Keep your wits about you until then- no risky moves on your own.” There was a murmur of agreement, and the six of them split into groups of three; Yusuke, Kuwabara, and Botan, and Kido, Kaito, and Yana. Genkai stayed in the middle, watching me.

            “Um, Master Genkai- about earlier. I’m very sorry! I shouldn’t have barged in your mind like that!” I bowed to the waist and stayed there.

            “There was no harm done. Straighten up!” she barked. “Matsuura Chie, Kurama’s stray demon girlfriend, hm?”

            “Girlfriend?” I blushed hotly as Genkai smirked. “I’ll give you stray, but it’s not like that between us.”

            “He told me you were something called a Dark Stroke, some kind of psychic demon.”

            “That’s right, though I admit I don’t know much about my powers. I can use telepathy pretty freely, and a little bit of telekinesis as well.”

            “She also can do something she calls a mind-meld.” Kurama said. “She can merge her consciousness with another’s, allowing a complete flow of their mind and memories.”

            “You’re also quite adept at breaking down mental barriers.” Genkai said, pursing her lips. “That’ll be useful when we scout things out in Mushiyori.”

            “Er,” I didn’t quite know how to tell her no. “I’m sorry, but consider me Switzerland on this one. I don’t want to get involved.”

            “What?” Genkai glared at me, and the quiet conversations of the others stopped.

            “I’m not a fighter and I don’t want to get involved!” I insisted. I knew it was a lame excuse, but I couldn’t tell everyone the truth; I had no idea how it would affect them.

            “Matsuura-chan, I can’t believe you!” Kuwabara stomped over to me, bristling with temper. “I know Hiei’s the kind of asshole demon who doesn’t give a shit about humans, but I didn’t think that you were too!”

            “That’s not it at all!” I said furiously, taking a step closer to him and pushing his chest. “We don’t know who these people are, or what their fighting abilities may be! Right now, I’m a liability. I can’t fight for shit. I can’t run without turning into a wheezing mass of regret, and I can’t hurt someone else! I don’t have the stomach to kill. These guys have to be powerful, and I don’t want to put you all at risk if you have to end up protecting me. You don’t need me. The four of you are the strongest beings on earth right now, S class demons be damned. You don’t need my help to win.”

            “Matsuura-chan,” Kuwabara said, his face flushed.

            “If you’ll excuse me, I’m going home and getting some sleep.” I said, bowing lightly, and made for the door.

 

            I jogged leisurely home, not so fast that I tested my endurance, but enough to ease my eagerness to put some distance between myself and the boys. I hoped Kurama would keep his mouth shut about what I told him. There was little I could do but trust him for now, and pray I didn’t have to try and erase anybody’s memory.

            As rounded the corner and approached the house, I noticed there was a light on. My chest tightened guiltily. Had Jin-papa been waiting up for me, worrying? I put out a final burst of speed as I swung open the gate and ran up the path.

            “I’m home!” I opened the door with a careless bang, kicking my shoes off haphazardly before dashing into the living room. Jin-papa sat on the couch, smiling blearily at me.

            “There you are!” he said, standing and crossing the room. He pulled me in tight hug. The scent of smoke enveloped me, and I had to blink back tears. My mother had been a smoker too, I remembered suddenly. She had never hugged me so tightly, though.

Chapter Text

            I watched Jin-papa attentively after finishing the explanation of what I’d remembered. I’d been frank about everything, including my surety that I came from at least twenty years in the future. He laughed weakly, staring intently at the pattern of the carpet. His hands shook wildly as he pulled out his cigarettes, striking his cherished old zippo (an anniversary present from Ami years ago) three times before the spark caught.

            “Fucking hell.” he muttered, taking a shaky drag. “My whole life, I’ve been nothing but a damned extra in some punkass delinquent’s story?” It was a rather unfair way to describe Yusuke, but I knew it wasn’t the time to correct him. I watched in silence as he aggressively smoked his cigarette, letting the ash nearly consume it before stubbing it out in the ashtray. He stood, glaring, and headed to the small bar on the other side of the living room. “I need a drink,”

            “Me too I guess,” I smiled faintly. Jin-papa grunted, pulling out two stubby crystal glasses. He took out a small tray of square ice cubes from the mini-fridge beneath the bar, plunking a couple in each glass. Muttering curses, he put them away, closing the door with a slam. I wrinkled my nose as he took out one of his nicer bottles of whiskey- I wasn’t particularly fond of it, but I didn’t want to seem rude. He poured one glass half way, nudging it towards me, and filled his to the top.

            “I’m sorry, Chie. I don’t know how to handle this.” he said, sighing deeply before taking a long draught of whiskey. He set his glass on the bar and lit another cigarette, smoking it less franticly than before.

            “I don’t either,” I said, laughing, and cautiously sipped mine. There was a pause where Jin-papa stared incomprehensibly at the floor, and I watched him. What could I say to make him feel better? Was there anything I could say? “You know,” I said finally, suddenly inspired. “When I was younger-”

            “When you were younger- how many years from now is that?” Jin-papa said, snorting smoke out of his nostrils.

            “I’m not really sure, I was like twelve so 2002, 2003? About ten years from now,” Jin-papa cursed, taking another hefty drink. I hid a smile as I drank myself. “Anyway, there was this cartoon I watched about the Justice League, you know, DC superheroes; Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman. There was this one episode where Green Lantern, Hawkgirl, and the Flash were transported into the world of Green Lantern’s favourite comic. The way they explained it, or rationalized it I suppose, was that the guy who drew the comic in Green Lantern’s world was on the same wavelength as the alternate dimension, and was able to pick up people and events happening there. It wasn’t an invention, and it both worlds were presented as equally real. I always loved that idea, and I liked to think of the stories I read were actually happening somewhere.”

            “Can’t lie, that does make me feel a little better, not being pigeonholed into a background character in a manga.” Jin-papa stared at the solid oak of the bar, smiling faintly as he exhaled. “Part of being human is thinking you’re the center of the world, I suppose. Always thinking you’re the main character when you’re just an extra.” He grinned, albeit weakly.

            “You’re not just an extra, Jin-papa.” I said forcefully, placing a hand on his forearm. He chuckled, the sound muffled by the cigarette clamped between his teeth, and covered my hand with his.

            “Thank you, Chie.” He patted my hand before reaching for the bottle of whiskey, topping of my glass and refilling his. “Tell me, what’s the future like?”

            “Hmm,” I sipped my whiskey, trying not to taste it as I thought. Most of my memories centered around Yu Yu Hakusho, though the harder I thought, the more small details came to life. Other manga I liked that hadn’t been even thought of yet, American cartoons I enjoyed, the newer Treks that hadn’t even begun to air in the States, music that I could just barely remember . . . I inhaled sharply. The internet. I was living in a pre-internet world. At the very least, before the internet I knew and loved and wasted far too much time on. No smartphones either, I realized, just huge, clunky ‘80s-esque phones. And pagers. I shuddered.

            “Well?” Jin-papa prodded.

            “I remember a lot of pop-culture type things. Anime, Star Trek, books- stuff like that. And the internet,” I said, more mournful than I intended. “It’s so much better twenty years from now.”

            “The internet?”

            “Yep. It’s great- shit, it’s hard to explain, but it’s great. Computers, you know? But all interconnected; the sum of human knowledge, shitty memes, great memes, games, videos- anything and everything. Ooh, and you should invest in Apple or Microsoft. Or both, both is good.” Investment advice was probably not quite kosher if I was striving to keep the Prime Directive, but I doubted telling Jin-papa which stocks to buy would affect the plot much, and honestly, that was more my concern.

            “Hmm, I think my broker mentioned something about Microsoft last quarter, I’ll have to look into that.” Jin-papa rubbed his chin, taking a lazy puff off his cigarette. “Do we ever get flying cars?”

            “No.” I said, chuckling as I sipped my whiskey. “I’m pretty sure someone was testing a self-driving car, but nothing in the air. I think the most technologically advanced things I’ve seen were computers. They can make them super tiny but tens of times more powerful than what they have now.”

            “Computers,” Jin-papa said thoughtfully. “Maybe that’s something you should look into, career-wise. I know you’ve been unsure what you want to do.”

            “That’s actually a really good idea.” I said. “Coding or maybe just IT in general. It will be pretty high demand in the next ten years. Better than being a bartender, that’s for damn sure.”

            “Is that what you used to do?” he said. I frowned, vague memories fighting to the surface. I shook them away, shrugging.

            “I think so. I think I might’ve been a waitress for a while too.”

            “Do you remember anything else about yourself? Anything personal,” he clarified.

            “I was born December 3rd, 1990.”

            “The day the manga was first published in Jump; you mentioned that.” Jin-papa said dryly. “How old do you think you were when you  . . . arrived?”

            “We’ve had this discussion before,”

            “Yes, yes.” He waved me off. “Nothing else come in, though? You mentioned you were twelve in 2003.” The memory of my hand sprung to mind, the foreign glitter of a wedding ring sparkling in the light. I took a long drink of whiskey and set the glass on the bar.

            “I was . . . married.” I said softly, and held my left hand, squeezing my ring finger.

            “Married!” Jin-papa looked stunned.

            “I know! I wasn’t wearing a ring when you found me,” I forced myself to smile. “Gives a little more credence to my estimate of ‘mid to late twenties’, eh? I think we had an apartment together. He was a slob,” I smiled a little more genuinely as I thought of the bathroom in my memory.

            “Well shit.” Jin-papa nudged my shoulder. “Now I feel like an ass, forcing a married woman back into high school.”

            “It’s okay, I’ve got a young face. I mean, I feel like a creep –especially since there’s this kid who seems to have a crush on me and it’s awkward- but I think you’re right, it’ll be easier for me to get a proper job if I graduate from a good high school.”

            “You’ll stay here?” Jin-papa looked more shocked at that than the fact that I’d been married.

            “Why wouldn’t I?” I said, zero hesitation. “I told you, my mother died when I was really sixteen. I don’t think I ever knew who my father is, and I don’t remember any other family.”

            “Your husband-”

            “My ex-husband for all I know. I didn’t have a ring.” I said, draining my glass. “Even if I remembered anything, I still don’t know how to cross dimensions yet. Besides, I’m at least twenty years too early, if not more.”

            “I suppose you’re right.” Jin-papa said, frowning as he stubbed his cigarette into the ashtray. “I’m sorry, Chie. I can’t imagine being stuck twenty years in my past, unable to go home.”

            “Don’t be sorry. Not having the internet sucks, and I’ll probably miss other things as I remember them, but I’m happy here.” Jin-papa grinned at me, blinking quickly, and looked away.

            “Can you practice that? Dimension hopping, I mean.” he said, after a protracted silence.

            “I probably could, but I’d be scared to without training.” I paused, suddenly thinking of Itsuki. “But- there is someone who could train me.”

            “Oh yeah?” Jin-papa raising his eyebrows as he pulled out his zippo and flicking it to life with a little more ease than before.

            “I’ll tell you, because I need to tell someone, and you’re like the only person I know not directly involved. The man responsible for the tunnel into Demon World, Sensui, has a partner called Itsuki who’s a another Dark Stroke. He’s kind of- well, he’s a real weirdo to put it mildly. He’s definitely got a screw loose at the very least. I have no idea if he’d even agree to train me, but it’s my only chance.”

            “I don’t know if I like the idea of you training with him.” Jin-papa frowned, taking a drag.

            “If it makes you feel better, he’s canonically gay, so I’ll be fine.”

            “Just because a man is gay doesn’t mean he isn’t a killer.”

            “Touché.” I laughed, finishing the last little bit of my whiskey. “I’ll be careful, I promise. There’s guarantee he’ll agree to it, either.”

            “But you said the boys will stop the tunnel- doesn’t Koenma arrest the people responsible?”

            “Er, actually . . . no. Sensui is killed in the final battle and Itsuki scarpers off with his corpse, never to be seen again.” The scene in the manga had always struck me as half romantic, half creepy.

            “With the dead body? What does he do with it?” Jin-papa grimaced, drinking his whiskey.

            “Considering Itsuki,” I paused, taking a reflective sip. “Best case scenario, he locks him up somewhere in a glass coffin a la Snow White. Worst case, I’d rather not think about.

            “Point taken.” Jin-papa paused, faintly green, and flicked the ash off his cigarette. “So if this Itsuki takes off with a corpse and refuses to train you, what are you going to do?”

            “I have no freaking idea.” I finished off the last of my drink, setting the glass on the bar with a little more force than I meant. “I guess I’ll have to cross that bridge when I come to it.”

            “Want some more?”

            “No, I should get to bed. I’ve got class tomorrow?” I said, hopefully leaving it as a question. Jin-papa frowned at me.

            “It’s late, but you know how important it is to have a good education. I can’t force you to go but-”

            “Yeah, yeah.” I said good-naturedly, and waved him off.

 

 

            Waking up the next day was rough. I’d drunk about a glass and a half of whiskey in the span of about twenty minutes, and even with my tolerance for booze, had left me feeling nicely drunk before I passed out. Three hours later, give or take, while I still felt a little bit of a buzz, I could feel the hangover threatening, adding to the generally shitty feeling of getting way less sleep than I needed.

            “Matsuura-chan!” Saitou approached me in the hall as I made my way back to home room- I’d ventured out to find one of the vending machines near the teacher’s offices and snagged myself a can of hot coffee.

            “Oh, hey Saitou-chan. What’s up?”

            “You tell me! I was so worried last night with you just running off with Minamino-kun and that delinquent from Sarayashiki!”

            “You know Kuwabara?” I blinked sleepily, unable to comprehend it. Saitou frowned, glaring at me.

            “Not personally, but I have a cousin who goes there and he’s told me all about Kuwabara and Urameshi, the uber-delinquent that not even hell wanted to keep,” she murmured, fear mixing with traces of reverence. I snorted.

            “Well, whatever. Kuwabara’s not a bad guy, not really.”

            “How does Minamino-kun know him?” Saitou pressed.

            “Through work, I guess.”

            “Minamino-kun has a job?” Saitou hissed, scandalized.

            “It’s not really a job,” I said, remembering too late that working was also on the list of the school’s prohibited activities. “It’s more like an internship or something. They definitely don’t get paid.”

            “The less I know the better,” Saitou snapped, waving me off. “Matsuura-chan, you didn’t even wear your summer uniform!”

            “Huh? Oh,” Too late, I remembered that we’d agreed to wear our summer uniforms. On autopilot this morning, I’d put on my regular uniform without thinking too much about it. It was a pity, because Meiou’s summer uniform was leagues cuter than the winter version. Instead of that awful blazer, there was a white, short-sleeved collared shirt, a similar but unpleated skirt, and a matching red plaid ribbon. “I’m sorry, Saitou-chan, I was really excited, too! I’m just so exhausted I can’t function.”

            “It can’t be helped.” Saitou said, patting my arm. “Did you have trouble sleeping again?”

            “Yeah, something like that.” I said, thinking about what happened. I still hadn’t had time to fully process what I remembered, though talking with Jin-papa last night had eased my mind a little. “If you stopped drinking so much coffee, you’d probably sleep better.” Saitou said, and jokingly reached for my can. I took a step back, clutching it to my chest.

            “Saitou-chan, I fully admit to having a problem, but I’ll die before I give up caffeine.”

            “You’re so funny, Matsuura-chan.” Saitou laughed, shaking her head. I grinned at her.

            “You know what? Call me Chie.”

            “What?!” Saitou blushed furiously.

            “I told you I grew up in the States, right? It’s weird for me to be so formal with it.”

            “Are you sure? It feels a little . . .” She trailed off.

            “I know we’ve only been friends a short time, but you’re my closest friend here.” I said, unusually candid in my sleep deprived state.

            “Closer than Minamino-kun?” she said, stifling a giggle. I flushed.

            “Boys don’t count.” I said, feeling childish and suddenly guilty. Saitou was my closest friend, but she had no idea what I really was. It wasn’t my place to tell her Kurama or Kaito’s business, but I knew I couldn’t keep up the lies that supported my life here and be the kind of friend I wanted to be.

            “I’ll call you Chie.” Saitou said firmly, as if to convince herself it was truly okay. “And if you want . . . you can call me Riko.”

            “Are you sure?” I said, surprised but pleased. Saitou –Riko- nodded, her cheeks bright red.

            “I’m sure.”

            “Awesome!” I bounced lightly on my heels. “You know, it’s suuuuper duper lame so feel free to say no, but we should get a pair of those best friend necklaces or keychains! “

            “You mean like those little plastic hearts that elementary students have?” Riko said, raising her eyebrows, giggling. “It is kind of lame, but okay. I . . . haven’t really had any girlfriends since elementary school, so I guess it fits,”

            “I don’t even remember if I had any friends back home.” I said, making myself sad as I spoke.

            “That’s terrible! You mean nobody has tried to get in touch with you since you moved to Japan?” I shook my head, blinking back tears.

            “It’s not like they’re intentionally ignoring me. I don’t think they are anyway. They just don’t know where I am. It was kind of . . . sudden, when I moved, and I wasn’t in the best health.” I paused, tucking a stray strand of hair behind my ear as I forced myself to smile. “I mean, that’s even if I had any close friends in the first place, you know? I totally could have been the mysterious loner type.” Riko shook her head, but met my smile with one of her own. It didn’t quite reach her eyes, but I appreciated the effort.

            “Let’s make a day of it Saturday!” she said. “I need to get my mom something for her birthday too, so let’s go shopping and get lunch.”

            “How about that café with the hot waiters?” I said, grinning.

            “Yes!” Riko said, glancing at something over my shoulder before quickly meeting my eyes again. I giggled at the strangeness of it, but was too tired to question it. “But what about Minamino-kun? Wouldn’t you rather spend a Saturday with him instead of hot waiters?”

            “What about Minamino?” I said flippantly, tossing my ponytail and ignoring the wash of pain it caused. “It’s not like we’re dating, and I highly doubt he’s the type to get jealous even if we were. Screw him.”

            “I wasn’t aware that’s how you truly felt about me, Matsuura-chan.” Kurama suddenly stood beside me, his voice serious but his eyes dancing with amusement. Riko collapsed against me, laughing much harder than I thought necessary. I put on a show of acting embarrassed, though I couldn’t quite make myself blush.

            “Some friend!” I said playfully, lightly pushing her shoulder.

            “I’m sorry Chie, I know it’s mean to tease you in front of the boy you like,” She smiled impishly as I blushed, unable to look at Kurama.

            “It’s not like that!” I insisted, hoping for the sake of my dignity that Kurama believed me. “And don’t you think for a second I won’t plan some kind of revenge involving Kaito!” Riko blushed gently, shrugging.

            “Go ahead, he’ll probably think you were joking anyway.” She forced a smile. “He’s completely oblivious.”

            “We should get to class,” Kurama said, clearing his throat. I caught Riko’s eyes and we dissolved into giggles again.

            “We should though,” I said, once I’d calmed down enough to speak. “I would like to drink this before it gets cold.” I traced a loving finger along the side of my coffee. Riko snorted, shaking her head.

            “See you at lunch then,” she said, patting my shoulder before heading towards the classroom. Kurama fell in step beside me as we walked toward ours, three doors farther down.

            “Ah, just to clarify, I’ve let Riko think that I have a crush on you. Since I can’t tell her the real reason we’re . . . Friendly or whatever.”

            “I understand.” Kurama smiled. “The two of you have gotten close.”

            “The first names you mean?” I told myself the hint of jealousy in his thoughts was simply my imagination. “I am fairly sure I’m from America, or at least the West. It’s been a little weird for me being so formal. If you want, you can call me Chie too.”

            “All right. I suppose it’s only fair, as you’ve been calling me Kurama.” I giggled, cracking the tab of my coffee as we walked into the classroom.

            “Fair would be me calling you Shuuichi.”

            “Go ahead.” He snorted.

            “Don’t tempt me, Shuuichi. I am silly and over-tired.” I said out loud, barely restraining my giggles. I turned towards my seat, sipping my coffee, starting when I saw Igarashi staring at me. His face was bright red, and there was no imagining the jealousy tinging his brown eyes green. Honda Mariko sat beside him, glaring at him and at me.

            “Oh, h-hi Matsuura-chan,” Igarashi said, frowning as he glanced at Kurama. “I didn’t realize you and Minamino-kun were that close already.”

            “We have spent a lot of time together lately, and I guess I’m a little more casual about it since I grew up in the States.” I smiled, shrugging.

            “Could I- would you mind if- if I- may I please call you by your first name as well? You can call me Kenji!” he said eagerly. Almost immediately, I could feel the icy glares of not just Honda, but every other girl in class.

            “Er,” On a personal level, I didn’t care what he called me, but I had no interest in leading him on, or in antagonizing the other girls. “Um, why don’t we wait until we know each other a little better?” I said as diplomatically as I could.

            “Oh. Yeah, that’s probably good,” Igarashi mumbled, visibly deflating. Uncomfortable, I scurried to my seat, followed by cries of the other girls assuring Igarashi he could call them by their first names.

            “Heartbreaker,” Kurama’s thought startled me; I’d forgotten to cut the link between us.

            “Ohoho, your eyes are looking a shade greener than normal, eh?” I giggled nudging his shoulder before sitting down.

            “Very,” He bent, whispering almost inaudibly in my ear. In spite of myself, I shivered. Amusement filtered from his mind to mine as he sat, reminding me I still had neglected to cut it.

            “Should be. Sixteen or not, he’s cute, and that great ‘90s haircut- man, I bet he’d show me the best thirty seconds of my life.” There was a pause, and then Kurama laughed out loud, startling myself and the others in the classroom. More than one person gave him an odd look before turning back to their conversations.

            “I have to say, I didn’t expect that out of you Ma- Chie.” Kurama said, smiling.

            “I’m sorry! Being this tired is like being drunk!” I said, adding telepathically: “And I love telling off-colour jokes when I’m drunk.

            “I’m glad to see the two of you are still friendly despite what happened last night.” Kaito said, keeping his voice low as he approached us, disapproval radiating off of him. I rolled my eyes, taking a long swig of my coffee.

            “I can see you’re still butthurt that I don’t want to get involved.

            “Butthurt?” he said, frowning, his English awkward but accentless. I flushed.

            “Sorry, it’s a bad habit of mine, American slang. Basically, it means feeling irrationally, selfishly, upset over something, often times something completely out of your control.” Kaito tightened his jaw, narrowing his eyes.

            “It’s hardly irrational to be upset at your refusal to help us stop the tunnel.” Subtly, I surrounded the three of us with an extension of my youki, which gave off an aura of ‘don’t pay attention’. It was an extension of my normal method of concealing myself, something I’d been practicing over the last few weeks. I’d gotten better at it much more quickly that I’d expected, and I suddenly thought of Maya. In the oneshot Togashi-sensei had written about Hiei and Kurama’s meeting, Maya had been the girl that had been crushing on Kurama and her spiritual acuity had been strengthened by his presence. I wondered if mine had too, or if it even affected other demons that way.

            “Kaito, Chie isn’t a fighter.” Kurama said. I could tell he’d noticed what I’d done and approved. Kaito was either oblivious or indifferent.

            “I’m not a fighter, nor are Yana or Kido. Or Botan, for that matter. Even Kuwabara, with his inability to use his powers, is willing to help.”

            “First off, all of you have trained with Master Genkai at some point, while I’ve never had any kind of formal training to handle my powers, much less anything combat related. And as for Botan, she may not be a fighter, but she’s an emissary of Spirit World, I’m sure she has ways of protecting herself.”

            “You’re a demon, Matsuura-chan. Are you telling me you don’t have methods of defending yourself?”

            “As I said last night, I have faith in Yusuke and the rest of you.” I said, impatient.

            “And you have no other motives for not getting involved, demon?” The tone of his voice as he said the word ‘demon’ angered me- superior, condescending. I stared at him, sipping my coffee.

            “That sounds a little racist, human.”

            “Kaito, enough of this.” Kurama said, his voice dangerously quiet. “Chie has other reasons not to get involved, and I don’t blame her. Besides, Saturday is merely a scouting expedition. There’s no need to be so . . . butthurt.” I almost choked trying to contain myself hearing Kurama A, say ‘butthurt’ in the first place and B, say it in such a serious tone. Kaito flushed, shooting me a poisonous glare before turning it on Kurama.

            “Perhaps your judgment is a little clouded.”

            “Meaning what, exactly?” Kurama’s voice was silky, disarming, but the icy undertones frightened me.

            “It’s nothing. I didn’t expect you to be the type so easily swayed by a pretty face.”

            “Give him a little credit, Kaito.” I said, snorting. “He’s far too sensible to fall for a honeypot.”

            “I’ll leave it for now. But don’t think I’ll forget, Matsuura-chan.” he said frostily. I scowled.

            “There’s an implication of ‘or else’ in that last sentence, Kaito. We’re friends –or I thought we were- so I won’t take offense, but you ought to be more mindful. I might not have been trained by Master Genkai, but I don’t need to open my mouth to use my power.” I flared my youki as I dispersed my concealing aura, making sure it was powerful enough for him to feel it. He paled, but said nothing before turning on his heel and walking away.

            “Chie,” Kurama murmured, and grudgingly, I reopened the psychic link between us.

            “What?” There was a pause as I felt Kurama gathering his thoughts, though I was polite enough not to peek.

            “Normally, I would recommend a little more caution, but I must admit I’ve done similar things in the past so I can’t fault you. However, I should warn you,”

            “Warn me about what?” A tremor of fear passed through me.

            “Botan and Kuwabara are both aware that you’re a Dark Stroke. For the time being, they’re mostly ignorant of what that means, but it won’t be long before Spirit World is aware of what you are. Koenma is undoubtedly familiar with the powers of a Dark Stroke.”

            “So what?”

            “It shouldn’t take him long to connect a tunnel being created to Makai to a demon capable of creating dimensional portals.” he thought, disapproval at my lack of foresight clearly evident. I felt my face drain of colour. I hadn’t thought of that at all, hadn’t even considered that Kurama would make that leap. “I might be mistaken, but you said last night you’d heard of ‘it’ before- ‘it’ being a Dark Stroke, correct? And if this world was mirrored in the manga in yours, it makes sense that you encountered the term there. Knowing that there is a tunnel being made between two different planes, it’s an easy conclusion that there must be a Dark Stroke facilitating its creation.”

            “Jesus fuck I underestimated you,” I ran a hand across the top of my head, staring in shock at my desk. Why hadn’t I realized Kurama would figure that out? Granted, I hadn’t given myself much time to think about it, but nonetheless, it’s something I should have seen. “Why bother warning me? Aren’t you suspicious too?”

            “Perhaps you give too much credit.”

            “What’s that supposed to mean?”

            “In respect to Kaito’s comment about being swayed by a pretty face.” Kurama shrugged, giving me a smile. “I trust you more than I would if you were a man.”

            “That’s a loose compliment.” I snorted, looking away as I blushed.

            “Don’t misunderstand, I’m not the sort of man to be tricked by seduction.” He tried to conceal it, but there was no mistaking the ‘any longer’ in his thoughts. “But you are attractive, and coupled with your naïveté and innate trust of me, it’s all too genuine for me to believe you’re a credible threat.” he thought dismissively. Bile rose in my throat; it hurt to hear him think of me that way, like I was nothing but a pawn or a curiosity. Maybe I had been too naïve, assuming that we had become friends at all during this last month. Regardless of whether he was more kindhearted than he was before, it didn’t mean he was incapable of using others to suit his own ends.

Chapter Text

             The rest of the day flew by in an exhausted haze. I felt oddly removed from myself as I continued the façade of being ‘Matsuura Chie’. As more memories filtered into and through me, I became more sure that it wasn’t really me. Maybe she was who I wanted to be; money, class, special powers, a father . . .

             Hazuki-sensei, the history teacher, droned on in the very back of mind as I tried desperately not to fall asleep. I’d done all right up until then- history was my last class, and generally difficult not to sleep through normally. Hazuki-sensei was a nice guy, but I’d be damned if he did everything he possibly could to make one of my favourite subjects boring as hell.

             Yes, it was one of my favourite subjects, I decided. I was all about good stories, and history was the best story of all. So what else? I liked puzzles of any kind, anything to make me think, and I loved dirty jokes. I was definitely crasser, more low-class than Chie was, probably because I was poor as fuck growing up. And probably after, I thought, remembering my bartending job. It was pretty decent money, but depending the cost of living where I was, the quality of the bar . . . I doubted I was more than comfortable.

             “Matsuura-chan!” Hazuki-sensei shouted, suddenly appearing beside my desk and slamming a book on it with a loud crack. The rest of the class laughed as I jumped. “No sleeping in class! Go stand in the hall if you can’t stay awake.”

             “I’m sorry sensei! Please forgive my inattention,” I said, blushing hotly as I stood and bowed. I left everything (inculuding my blank notes) on my desk and hurried out into the hallway.

             Closing my eyes, I leant against the wall and tried my best not to fall asleep standing up. It was a hopeless battle, and I soon succumbed to the brittle, bruised lethargy that enveloped me. I drifted back and forth between sleep and waking restlessly, bits of my dream merging with reality and leaving me disturbed.

             A tall slender man appeared, beckoning me, a faint but gentle smile on his lips. Despite his skinniness, muscle bulged through his thin white t shirt and black pants. His hair was black and surprisingly long, flowing straight down his shoulders, and his skin was a faintly olive tan.

             Another student walked past me, almost teasing me awake but not quite. I slipped back into the dream without effort. The man was still there, but six large hands with alabaster skin and dotted with wide, unblinking eyes now floated behind him. They waved, urging me closer. The man smiled, though there was a flicker in his golden eyes –so like mine in this world- that unnerved me.

             “I found you! Come with me.” His voice was deep and musical, but something inside me shuddered. I went to take a step back, but found my back against the wall. I swallowed heavily, shaking my head. “I can’t reach you from here, come to me. Don’t you want to go home?” He reached out, all hands straining. “The connection is fading! I’m strong enough to pull you through, but you have to come now!” His voice lost its musical undertone, traces of rage replacing it as a bell sounded in the distance. I clutched the wall, desperately shaking my head. “You know you don’t belong there!” he screamed, all his shadow hands surging forward. I whimpered as I felt one close around my shoulder.

             “Matsuura-chan, Matsuura-chan!” Igarashi’s voice cut through the last vestiges of my dream, and the guileless simplicity of it soothed me as I blinked awake. “Hey, are you all right? You’re crying,” he murmured, reaching up to brush the tears from my cheek. He was uncomfortably close, but I tried not to show how much it bothered me. I was still shaken from the dream, and I just wanted to pretend everything was normal.

             “Nightmare, you know how it is.” I said, laughing weakly.

             “I kinda figured. Are you all right?” he repeated, adjusting his messenger bag.

             “I will be,” I forced myself to smile.

             “You look pretty pale. Let me take you home,” Igarashi said firmly.

             “No need. I’ll escort Chie home.” Kurama smiled as he appeared beside him, holding my school bag and his. Igarashi grimaced, hesitating, then finally sighed as he took a step back.

             “Maybe you should, I can’t really skip practice today.” Igarashi turned to me. “Take care, Matsuura-chan. Try drinking ginger tea before you go to bed, it always helps me with nightmares. See you later,” With a flashy (if forced) grin, he walked off.

             “Chie, are you all right?” Kurama murmured gently, his fingers brushing my sleeve. I shied away from his touch, rubbing my eyes as I took a step back. I did not appreciate being forced against the wall in the face of all these men.

             “It’s nothing, a dream.” I said dismissively. Kurama’s eyes narrowed.

             “Are you sure?”

             “No,” I said. I wasn’t. I’d been stuck in that in-between, half-waking, half-dreaming sleep, so while it had felt more dream-like . . . Another Dark Stroke appearing was significant. “I dreamt a Dark Stroke was calling me.”

             “Calling you? How so?”

             “How the fuck do you think?” I grumbled, giving him a look as he stepped closer. “’Come here, I need you to come here’ and waving all his hands at me. I think he said he couldn’t reach me, and that . . . That I didn’t belong here.” I shivered, remembering the venom in his voice as he screamed.

             “Did you recognize him?” Kurama said.

             “No, it definitely wasn’t the other one from the manga.” I said. Even as tired as I was, it didn’t take me long to jump to the rather obvious conclusion of who he could be.

             “Another Dark Stroke,” Kurama muttered, frowning.

             “Don’t tell me you haven’t guessed? If he wasn’t part of my dream, he’s clearly my father. The Dark Stroke half of me had to come from somewhere! It could be some rando, but the odds of encountering another Dark Stroke not involved in the manga or myself are pretty low.”

             “True, but neither of us are familiar with the behavior of other Dark Strokes. It could be your father, but it is possible it’s someone else. Dark Strokes are uncommon, and this could be how they communicate with each other.”

             “Yeah, but it doesn’t make sense for some random Dark Stroke to seek me out. Why would anyone but my possible sperm-donor want anything to do with me?” Kurama gave me an indulgent smile as he handed my backpack.

             “We don’t know how rare a female Dark Stroke might be. Or for that matter, their courtship rituals-”

             “Nooooope. Nope, nope, nope.” I threw up my hands, awkwardly shouldering my bag before walking away. “I’m going home, I’m going to bed, and I’m not thinking about any goddamn courtship rituals.”

             “Why not? Courtship rituals can be fun.” Kurama said lightly, quickly coming up beside me.

             “What is with you today?” I said, frowning as I looked him over. He’d been more playful than I’d ever seen him, and it was weird- especially considering the danger the tunnel presented.

             “My apologies, Chie. I didn’t sleep myself last night, and our conversation after you regained some of your memories left me feeling more optimistic than I have in a long time.” I could only stare at him. “You said it was a good ending –the manga in your world. You hinted the tunnel opening might not be as disastrous as we’re being lead to believe, you know of my past with Yomi. Frankly, it opens up a world of possibilities.” I stopped mid-step, nausea bubbling through my exhaustion, and grabbed his arm, forcing him to look back at me.

             “No matter what I’ve said, you have to fight this. Those trying to open the tunnel aren’t as pure evil as Sakyo and the Black Book Club, but just because I understand their reasoning doesn’t mean I agree with it. It doesn’t mean their intentions are good!” He only smiled. “And that stuff about Yomi- it could’ve been included as a one-shot. Bonus material. Just because I know it doesn’t mean it’s important to the plot!” Kurama gave me another indulgent smile.

             “You’re bluffing.”

             “What? No, I-”

             “Chie, don’t worry. I have no interest in coercing the details out of you. But the possibilities your information suggests a brighter future than I imagined.”

             “A brighter future?” I repeated dumbly. He grinned at me, and without warning, butterflies surged in my stomach. It was the first time I’d seen such a genuine smile reach his eyes.

             “I won’t say anything else; it’s too easy to read you and I’d rather hold onto my hope for the time being. And don’t worry, I’m not planning on throwing any fights to see the tunnel open. I’ll play my part to the best of my ability.”

             “You better,” I said, though my words lacked punch. “Like I said last night, I don’t want to interfere, but if things start to go badly . . .”

             “I’ll keep you informed.” he said, and turned into the cloakroom so abruptly I almost missed him. Once I realized where he’d gone, I followed him in, grateful for the way the other groups of students ignored us. Aside from some slight tension from Igarashi’s fangirls, my friendship with Kurama and Riko and Kaito cemented me into the ‘weird nerd’ clique. I was fine with that- the less attention the better in my opinion- though a small part of the girl I had been when I was sixteen would probably be disappointed I’d gotten a second chance at high school and still was an awkward dork. I smiled to myself as I changed into my outdoor shoes, flushing when I realized Kurama was watching me.

             “What?” I straightened, smoothing out my skirt.

             “Come, I’ll take you home.” he said, and offered me his hand.

             “We probably shouldn’t do this at school,” I said, though I slipped my fingers between his without any real hesitation. “It’ll give people the wrong idea.”

             “I would imagine most people already do. I’ve noticed that any time two people of the opposite gender spend time together rumours spread. Students, teachers- humans are all very much the same in that respect.” Kurama shrugged, supremely unconcerned as we walked back into the hallway.

             “It doesn’t bother you?”

             “Why would it? Schoolyard gossip is of no concern to me.”

             “There’s that ‘no dating’ rule. We could get suspended or something, couldn’t we?” I said, conscious of the possibility of a teacher catching us as we walked hand in hand down the hall, though the thrill of holding Kurama’s hand outweighed any possibility of punishment.

             “There’s the small matter of the fact we aren’t dating, Chie.” Kurama said, chuckling. I blushed.

             “I mean, we are not anywhere close to dating according to my standards, but high schoolers in Japan are, like, super prudish if shoujo manga is any indication. I think us spending time together outside of class and calling each other by our first names basically counts. If anyone caught us holding hands, they’d declare us married or something.” I said with a snort.

             “And what are your standards? Simply for my own curiosity.”

             “Oh, well, you know; going out on dates, physical intimacy, actual romantic feelings.” I said, shrugging, feeling my face warm as I deliberately looked ahead. “What about you?”

             “I’ve never been one for dating as humans think of it. I’ve enjoyed my fair share of female company, but I learned the hard way that allowing someone close to you is weakness. Before I was forced to Ningenkai, I’d given up on romantic entanglements.”

             “Yeah, that makes sense.” I murmured, thinking of the cold, calculating bandit he’d been. The glimpses of a younger, more naïve Kurama, one susceptible to a sexy she-fox were interesting, though it definitely threw me off. It didn’t fit my image of him at all I thought as we finally stepped outside.

             There were a number of students gathered on Meiou’s front steps and meandering slowly through the gate. Most took no notice of us, though there were a few who looked pointedly at our hands and giggled and whispered. It bothered me, but I followed Kurama’s lead and ignored them.

             “Have you reconsidered dating at all? I mean- just because I’m curious, I’m not trying to hint at anything!” I added quickly, feeling my face flame.

             “I understand.” Kurama squeezed my hand, giving me an amused smile. “I suppose it’s something I’d be more open to now if I encountered the right person, but I haven’t gone out of my way looking for one.”

             “I totally get that,” I said, nodding.

             “How about you?” he said, a tad more hesitant than I’d expect.

             “Me, dating?” I stopped, looking down at my left hand without thinking. “I guess it’s not exactly top of my list either. I think I’d like to remember more about myself first.” We both had seen the rings on my hand the night before, and the weight of the knowledge hung heavy between us. I hadn’t outright told him anything, but I hadn’t missed his pointed look at my hand the night before. I wondered if he’d ask, or if he was waiting for me to say something first.

             I wasn’t sure what to say; I was reasonably sure that I’d been married at some point, though I had next to no memories of my husband, or even what our relationship had been like. I was curious, but in a detached, non-essential way, and my lack of drive to find out, to remember, bothered me.  I felt as if it was a turning point; I could chase down the memories I had of my old life –a life I would in all likelihood never get back- or I could forget them and try to live the life I had now to the fullest.

             The slivers of the memories that had returned -an absent mother, a job I hated, a tiny apartment with a vague shadow of an unfamiliar man- coupled with my concrete knowledge of all things fictional did illuminate one thing for me: I’d been unhappy with the life I’d had, and buried myself in books and manga and tv shows to escape. At least, I wanted to think it was the case. It was easier to pretend my other life was bleak and depressing than to acknowledge the possibility that it wasn’t.

             “There’s something on your mind.” Kurama’s voice broke through my thoughts as we approached the train station.

             “Oh, a lot of things.” I forced myself to smile.

             “I’m here to listen if you wish.” he said softly, though the underlying interest in his voice wasn’t hard to miss. Perhaps a bit meanly, I wrote it off as pure self-serving curiosity. Regardless, I  answered, telling myself it didn’t matter since he already thought me naïve and over trusting.

             “I’m just debating the pros and cons of even trying to remember my old life. Is it worth it to remember things that are only going to make me sad when I remember them enough to miss them? I’m happy here with Jin-papa, and as it is, I don’t think I can ever go home. I don’t know how to create any kind of portals, much less how to figure out which dimension is mine. Even if I could, I don’t remember the exact year I went missing, only that I think it must have been around twenty-five years from now.”

             “You didn’t mention that last night.” Kurama said, almost accusatory. I shrugged angrily.

             “Sorry for not thinking of it at the time!” I snapped, though I kept my hand in his as we got in the queue for the train. Surveying the crowd, I built up my ‘don’t-look-don’t-listen’ aura, conscious of unintended eavesdroppers. “The manga premiered in Jump on December 3rd, 1990 in Japan. Coincidentally, that’s my birthday, though it’s not really important. In the US, the anime and manga came out in the early 2000s, when I was a teenager. I’m missing quite a few years in between, but I’m reasonably sure that I was in my mid-to-late twenties when . . . when whatever happened to bring me here.”

             Kurama was silent as we got out our passes and went through the turnstile, and I could see the gears working in his brain as we boarded. I smiled to myself, enjoying throwing him for a loop a little too much. The train was crowded, but we managed to find two seats together.

             “This information adds a little clarity to your comment about time travel.” Kurama said finally.

             “I have felt a little out of sync with everything. It explains why no one seems to get my jokes either- they’re about twenty years ahead of their time,” I lamented. Kurama snorted, shaking his head.

             “I never thought that Dark Strokes were able to time travel. I never thought that any demon could.”

             “Admittedly, my own knowledge of Dark Strokes is fairly limited, since there’s only one in the series and his powers are only touched on briefly- but I’ve never heard of anything like that happening either. I don’t think Dark Strokes can; at least, they shouldn’t be able to.” I said, yawning, and settled myself against his shoulder. The more awake part of my brain screamed at the pure cheek of it, but overall I was too sleepy to care. This was probably my only chance to nap on Kurama’s shoulder, and I was going to take it!

             “Nonetheless, you’re here as impossible as it may seem.” Kurama said, vexation creeping through his voice. I giggled and closed my eyes, just for a second, to rest them.

             “Dude, as impossible as you think it is, it’s like fifty times more for me. Two, three years ago, I thought this whole world was fictional. But here I am, having a conversation with one of my favourite characters of all time like it’s no big thing.” I knew I’d hate how candid I was when I awoke, but I was too tired to filter anything.

             “I’m . . . your favourite?” Kurama was staggered, embarrassed.

             “Well, yeah. At first, it was just the whole smart, cute, more mature thing- that was always my type when I was younger. But the more I reread and rewatched, the more I appreciated your cold-bloodedness, your deviousness. There are so many different aspects to you, I just-” I paused, yawning, and snuggled against his shoulder as I drifted closer to sleep. “You’re my favourite.”

Chapter Text

             “Oh man, this coffee is the bomb,” I said, relishing the strong but sweet taste. I’d given in and ordered a special dessert coffee –loads of house-made whipped cream and raspberry and dark chocolate syrups- with some chocolate crepes and I did not regret it. After a morning of shopping which had bled into the afternoon, Riko and I had ended up at a café- the one with the hot waiters she’d mentioned before. It was the opportune time to tell her, I told myself. I’d been putting it off since we’d first met at the train station, telling myself that the mood wasn’t right, or that there were too many people around. The truth was that I was scared; scared that my one real friend in this place wouldn’t believe it or worse, fear me.

             “It really is good,” Riko agreed, sipping her mocha. “The food was delicious too.”

             “And the men,” I said with a grin, unashamedly ogling a waiter as he walked past in an effort to soothe my own nerves. Riko giggled, blushing at my boldness.

             “I can’t believe what a flirt you are! You’re never like that with Minamino-kun.” I flushed, shifting uncomfortably as I took another sip. Yesterday didn’t count, I told myself. It was all a little suggestive perhaps, but two bone-tired people were bound to get silly. I might have crossed the line by falling asleep on his shoulder on the train like some lame shoujo manga, but neither of us had said a word about it in the brief walk from the station to my house.

             “Well, Shuuichi and I aren’t into each other that way.”

             “You say that, but you call each other by your first names, and Oda-chan and Fujita-kun said they saw you holding hands after school yesterday!” Riko said, grinning as she leaned over the table. I choked as I inhaled whipped cream.

             “You’re only bringing this up now? We were together all morning and you didn’t say a word!” I said. It wasn’t unlike Riko to be able to hold her tongue, but I hadn’t gotten a single whiff of her secret. Admittedly, I had been preoccupied but still!

             “Honestly, I was just waiting for you to bring it up. I was hoping that one of you confessed.” Riko said with a disappointed sigh.

             “Neither of us have anything to confess!” I insisted.

             “If there’s nothing between you and Minamino-kun, then why are you so close that you’re walking around holding hands?”

             “Mostly, that was because we were both sleep-deprived, but there is something else.” I set my coffee cup carefully on the table, my face serious as I spread out my ‘don’t-look-don’t-listen’ aura around the table. “It’s complicated, and there are a lot of parts I don’t expect you to believe, but . . . I’ll tell you. You should know the truth.” Riko’s face paled, and she glanced from side to side as if she could feel my youki around us.

             “What are you talking about?” she said. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. It was now or never, I told myself firmly.

             “About a year and a half ago, I woke up in a strange bed in a strange place. I had no knowledge of anything, not even language, but I realized that I could sense other minds around me, and that without any effort, reach out and touch them.”

             “Chie, that’s crazy. Are you trying to tell me you’re a psychic or something?” Riko said, swallowing heavily. She looked skeptical, but I could tell she wasn’t outright dismissing me.

             “Or something would be accurate. I’m an apparition called a Dark Stroke. Well, half anyway.”
             “You’re telling me you’re a demon?” she hissed. It bothered me that she’d leapt right to the more monstrous connotation, but she wasn’t wrong, I thought, suddenly conscious of my lack of a heartbeat. I reached up to touch my too-still chest, frowning.

             “Yes.” Riko looked frantically around, her fingers curling into the tablecloth.

             “Chie, your lips didn’t move! What the hell is this?”

             “I told you it was a little unbelievable. But you can feel me though, can’t you? In your mind.” Riko pressed her lips together firmly and closed her eyes. I smiled as I felt her searching, doing my best to strengthen my presence. After almost a minute, her eyes snapped open.

             “I . . . I can feel you! What am I thinking right now?”

             “That Minamino-kun and I should just kiss and get it- hey!” I said, blushing furiously. Riko laughed heartily, taking a sip of her mocha.

             “You’re taking this well. Too well.” My eyes narrowed, and Riko looked away guiltily.

             “Full disclosure? I kind of knew about demons being real already. I thought you might be . . . . different, but I was never sure if it was your aura or Minamino-kun’s. It’s weird to have actual proof staring me in the face, though.”

             “What?” I fell back against my chair, momentarily stunned. “What? You can tell that K- Shuuichi and I are demons? How the actual f- wait. Kaito told you, didn’t he?”

             “Yeah.” Riko smiled sheepishly, seemingly unaware of how deeply she’d stunned me. I’d had no inclination at all that she was spiritually sensitive, none at all. “I’ve always been able to see ghosts and stuff like that, but it’s gotten worse lately. Just in the last month it’s felt like my sensitivity has gone into overdrive. Before you got to Kaito-kun’s house last week, he noticed me reacting to one of these horrible bugs-”

             “Urgh, yeah, those things were nasty. It was hard not to look at them!” The bugs- a side effect of the tunnel to Makai being opened.

             “You saw them too?” Riko shook her head, giggling. “So all of us could see them, and all of us pretended not to!”

             “Kaito’s got quite the poker face; one landed right on his cheek when he walked us to the station and he didn’t bat an eye!” I snorted, shaking my head. “But you saw one of those bugs, and he noticed, and explained things to you? What exactly did he say?”

             “There was a lot; he told me about the existence of demons and Spirit World. When I told him I’d seen more and more weird things like the insects lately, he kind of chuckled in that stupidly cute superior way of his and said that he had too.” She paused, shifting uncomfortably. “Some of it was kind of personal; I’m not sure he’d want me to tell you,”

             “I already know about his powers, Riko.” I said, perhaps a bit more snappishly than I should have. “I don’t know exactly what he’s told you, but he and his friends kidnapped one of Shuuichi’s friends last week.”

             “I guess knowing you know about Minamino’s involvement with the Spirit Detective makes it a little simpler.” Riko smiled faintly. “Kaito confessed pretty much everything to me; how they all got their powers and went to Master Genkai for help, and how she asked for their help with her student, who was Spirit World’s emissary- whose companion, coincidently enough, was Minamino-kun. He ranted about that for a while,” she said, suppressing a giggle.

             “I can’t believe he told you that.” I said, shaking my head. “I mean, I guess I can, but it’s so not his business. Shuuichi has his own reasons for keeping it private.”

             “I knew something was different about Minamino-kun anyway. I actually asked him first whether he’d noticed his strange aura, and that’s when he told me he wasn’t human. Don’t blame Kaito.” Riko huffed, her face slightly flushed.

             “Could you really tell?”

             “Well, yeah.” Riko tucked her hair behind her ear. “I mean, like I said, I’ve been able to see ghosts since I was a kid, had funny feelings and saw things I couldn’t explain. All Kaito really did was verify that there was another world out there, beyond what humans can see. Minamino-kun being a demon is the least of it, honestly. I’ve seen way weirder things.” I was silent, trying to process what Riko had told me. I knew that they were close, and logically, it wasn’t surprising that Kaito would want to tell her. But I’d always thought that the events of the manga stayed hidden from the majority of humanity; that no one besides the main characters ever really knew any of it had happened.

             “This world is full of surprises,” I muttered aloud, leaning back into my chair with a scowl.

             “This world? Do you mean Human World?”

             “Ah, not Human World exactly.” I smiled faintly, straightening a bit in my chair. This was the other half of the things that I wanted to tell her. “I meant . . . it’s a bit unbelievable, but I’m from another world.”

             “W-what world?”

              “That, along with a number of things, is still up for debate.”

             “Like what other things?” 

             “Who I am is probably the first, I guess.” I forced a smile.

             “If you’re not Matsuura Chie, who are you?”

             “I am Mastuura Chie; at least, that’s who I am now.” I said, more for my own benefit than hers. “Who I was before is up for speculation. I have some vague memories, but I wasn’t lying about the amnesia.”

             “What do you remember?” Riko said cautiously.

             “Mostly I remember pop culture stuff; books and manga and tv shows I like. My mom died when I was sixteen.” I paused, tipping my coffee cup forward, checking to make sure it was empty as I considered whether to mention my probable husband to her or not. “I worked as a bartender mostly, and I . . . I think I was married, though I don’t have any memories of my husband. Possible husband.”

             “Married?” Riko whispered, awestruck, her cheeks bright red. “Wait- wait a minute! ‘When’ you were sixteen? A bartender? Married?!”

             “I- well, I told Jin-papa I was older than a high schooler!” I said, blushing deeply myself. “He insisted I was younger, and I didn’t remember too much of anything before we compromised on second year of high school.”

             “So how old do you think you are?” Riko said with a petulant frown.

             “Again, I’m not really sure, but . . . late twenties at least.” I groaned, covering my face with my hands. “I feel so creepy the more I remember!”

             “You can’t help what was decided before you started to regain your memories.” Riko said, more kindly than I expected. I peeked at her through my fingers.

             “Yeah?”

             “Of course not! You do have a young looking face.” she said brusquely. “Though I can see why you’re so adamant that there’s nothing between you and Minamino-kun.”

             “I can’t argue with that. There is a bit of an age gap.” I chuckled weakly; several thousand years was certainly a gap. Her eyes narrowed.

             “You don’t sound sure. Is there something else you’re not telling me?”

             “Dammit Riko, you’re too perceptive.” I muttered, vigorously rubbing my face. “Okay!” I slapped my hands down on the table.

             “Okay?” Riko repeated, raising an eyebrow as I remained silent.

             “I told you everything else so I might as well tell you this too.” I took a deep breath, steepling my fingers together as I considered the best way to tell this. “So. The reason I chose Meiou High was because I had strange memories of Shuuichi and his friends fighting demons and stuff- his friend the Spirit Detective that Kaito told you about. I thought because I knew who they were and I was a demon, Shuuichi would recognize me, maybe have a clue as to who I really was.”

             “Did he?” I shook my head.

             “He had no idea. I stuck around him though, partially because I knew Reikai would want him to keep an eye on me, but also just on the off chance I’d remember something. And I did, last night. I regained a little of my own memories, but the big thing was that I remembered how I know Shuuichi.”

             “Don’t leave me in suspense!” Riko said, leaning closer. “How?”
             “I have to warn you, this is crazy. The craziest thing you’ll probably hear in your life.” I cautioned. Riko merely rolled her eyes.

             “Tell me! Nothing can be crazier than you being an old married demon lady,”

             “Promise me you won’t have an existential crisis.”

             “I promise.” Riko said.

             “One final question; you’ve heard of multiverse theory?” She gave a curt nod and I continued. “I’m from an alternate dimension, one where ghosts and spirits and magic aren’t real. Probably not even aliens. One where Shuuichi and his friends’ adventures are a manga and anime.” To my great surprise, Riko simply nodded, though her face turned faintly green.

             “Since I first read up on multiverse theory in middle school, I always liked to think that the stories I read really happened somewhere else. I thought it was completely impossible, just me being a stupid kid- at least, I did until last week when Kaito . . .” She trailed off, picking at one of the cloth napkins. “Um, how did you get here? From your dimension.”

             “That’s a good question,” I said with a sigh, and fell back against my chair.

             “Don’t you know?” she said. I smiled, tapping the side of my head.

             “Amnesia. I think it might have something to do with me being a Dark Stroke though. In addition to your basic ration of psychic powers, they’re –we’re- known for the ability to make intra-dimensional portals. Something happened, and I ended up here. What that was, I have no fucking idea. I don’t remember much about my previous life, but like I said, it was a dimension without the supernatural.”

             “It sounds boring,” Riko said with a weak chuckle.

             “It was! At least, I think it was. Probably why I drowned myself in so much fiction. I liked the possibility of magic,” I felt unsure, but the idea held the tender possibility of the truth.

             “Did you know a lot about the manga Shuuichi is from? Was it finished by the time you got transported here?”

             “I knew practically everything about it- it was my favourite!” I said with a grin. “Yeah, it had finished before I ended up here. Actually, right now, it’s the beginning of my favourite arc.”

             “Really? What’s it about?”

             “Spoilers.” I said with a sly smile.

 

 

             “Wait a minute,” I said, lingering in front of the game shop’s window display. Several games were lined up in front of a ‘Top Sellers!!’ sign, and there was no mistaking the horned yellow hood on one of the boxes. Riko groaned, trotting back to where I’d stopped to stare inside.

             “What is it, Chie? I really can’t miss the next train, Mom’s already going to yell at me for being late.” she said. I smiled apologetically as I glanced back at her. We’d sat chatting the café a lot longer than either of us had intended after my big reveal.

             “Goblin City- I keep forgetting it’s not just an arcade game.” I said, more to myself than to her. Kurama mentioned that he played it at home when we’d gone to the arcade, and when Riko and I had gone to Kaito’s house to study I’d noticed he had a copy for his Atari. It had pulled at me then, though I didn’t know why. Now I did, and all I could think of was Game Master. My heart ached- Amanuma was just a lonely little kid, and I always thought that the way Sensui had engineered his death to be one of the cruelest things he’d done- would do, I thought, scowling as I mentally corrected myself. Of course, Koenma would bring him back to life and he’d live happily ever after but . . . But not before Kurama had to kill him. I closed my eyes, unable to escape the memory of his face afterwards. It was always one of my favourite pieces by Togashi-sensei; the raw brutality of the emotion in the art scorching my soul from the first time I’d read the manga. There was no escaping it- Amanuma would have to die so that they could pass, and frankly, I doubted that any of the others were capable of killing him. Genkai perhaps; she could be cold when she needed to be, though I honestly couldn’t picture her brashness affecting him the same way Kurama’s detached, matter-of-fact attitude would.

             “If you want to get a copy, do it quick!” Riko’s exasperated voice cut through my mental fog like a clear bell.

             “I don’t want- I couldn’t,” It felt like bad luck to for the ghost of the idea to brush against my thoughts. Me, playing Goblin City?

             “Then let’s go if you’re not! Like I said, I have to catch the next train!”

             “No, hold on a sec- I do want it.” I said, suddenly breathless, and ran into the store without waiting for her reply. I found the SNES games immediately, and with shaking hands, grabbed a box. The cover art was even more gorgeous up close. Like most of the older RPGs that Seichiiro, Jin-papa’s son, had, Goblin City eschewed screengrabs for a detailed picture of the characters. The Goblin King sat laughing on his throne, painted in exquisite detail, while seven shadows loomed in front of him, arms at the ready.

Buying a copy of the game didn’t necessarily mean anything, I told myself. I’d enjoyed playing it at the arcade with Kurama, that was all. It was different than most games I was used to, therefore more interesting and worth a playthrough. As much as I tried to rationalize my sudden desire to play Goblin City with bullshit excuses, I couldn’t ignore the voice in the back of my head that had started out whispering but now screamed. What if I’m good at Triple Seven? What if I become good at Triple Seven? Amanuma’s death was necessary, but maybe Kurama killing him didn’t have to be.

             I bought the game with little more hesitation, scarcely believing what I was doing. It was a foolish idea, I thought bitterly, tucking the game guiltily into another shopping bag as I hurried outside to meet Riko. I’d probably be crap at it anyway, I told myself. Even if I practiced, I’d probably suck hardcore and this stupid, stupid plan of saving Kurama from the pain of killing Amanuma would never come to fruition. Still, it might be worth a shot . . . I’d already mostly decided I’d join them in their journey into the cave; other than that there weren’t many options to meet with Itsuki, and I needed to convince him to train me. If I was going to tag along anyway, I might as well make myself useful.

             “Chie, there you are!” Riko said. “Come on, we need to hurry!” She grabbed my hand and started running down the street towards the station. Easily keeping pace, I laughed. After today, my heart felt lighter than it had in a long time. Riko’s steady practicality soothed me, and telling her who and what I really was eased my conscience. I’d been so afraid that she’d reject me, but she’d taken everything in stride, and it gave a fragment of hope that my fears of ruining the happy ending to my favourite manga would prove to be just as fruitless.

Chapter Text

             The sun was beginning to set as I made my way home from the train station, bathing the neighbourhood in golden glow that perfectly matched my mood- I was buoyant after talking to Riko and getting rid of the guilt that had plagued me about keeping secrets. My impulsive purchase weighed me down somewhat, but it was more like a tremulous excitement than a lead-lined dread. I’d practice for a bit and go from there; it wasn’t practical to spend time worrying about something that might not even matter.

             Before I turned the last corner to the house, I felt Kurama’s aura lingering and my optimism bottomed out. He was probably dropping by to give me an update on their scouting mission, but . . . I didn’t want to see him. What if he saw I’d bought Goblin City and realized it was significant? He probably wouldn’t be able to guess why, but I’d underestimated his foresight before and I was hesitant to do it again. On top of that, I was embarrassed about the other day. I hadn’t seen him since he’d walked me home, and I was absolutely mortified thinking of how I’d fallen asleep on him. On his shoulder! I cringed as I drew closer, feeling my face burn.

             “Hello Chie,” Kurama’s voice startled me despite knowing he was waiting, and my blush deepened. I was such an idiot.

             “Hey man, what’s up?” I said as casually as I could, forcing myself to smile as he met me in front of the gate. It was odd seeing him in civvies, I thought. It was the first time I’d seen him that he wasn’t in that awful school uniform, and it flustered me. Wearing a colour that actually complimented him, he looked even more attractive than usual.

             “Not much. I’ve come by to report what happened today.”

             “Report? Now I feel like Koenma or something,” I laughed genuinely at that thought. “Come in.”

“Yes,” Kurama said, meeting my smile. We walked in silence to the door, pausing inside to take off our shoes. Kurama followed as I took a quick detour to the den, where Jin-papa was holed up smoking. I knocked lightly before opening the door.

             “I’m home,” I said, standing in the doorway, Kurama behind me.

             “Chie, there you are!” Jin-papa looked up from his armchair, a book spread in his lap and a cigarette dangling from his lips as he grinned. “And Kurama too, I thought I felt you outside.”

             “My apologies; if I’d known you could sense my aura, I would have come in.”

             “Don’t worry about it. Hey Chie, did you get my smokes?” Jin-papa said. I scowled at him as I shifted my shopping bags to one hand to dig through them.

             “Yeah, yeah. Enjoy your cancer sticks, old man.” I said tartly. I didn’t like buying cigarettes for him, but there was so little he asked me to do for him I didn’t want to refuse. Still, I didn’t have to be happy about it, and once I’d found the box, I tossed them directly at his face. I felt a blip of surprise coming from Kurama, which spread when Jin-papa caught  it with perfect ease mere centimeters from his nose.

             “Thank you, my dear! You kids have fun,” he said brightly, eagerly unwrapping the cellophane despite already having one in his mouth. I grumbled, holding up my free hand in a half-assed wave as I turned to leave.

             “Sorry about that.” I said, closing the door behind me.

             “It’s no trouble.” Kurama said, then paused. “I had no idea he was so spiritually aware.”

             “A lot of humans here can see ghosts and stuff. More than- well, more than back home.” I said, thinking of Riko. I couldn’t be sure, but I didn’t think I’d ever met anyone who’d really seen a ghost in my past life.

             “There does seem to be a decent proportion of those who can, though not normally to this degree. Your presence here must have accelerated it.”

             “Oh, probably. I’ve lived here a year and a half just about, and Jin-papa and I communicate telepathically a lot too.” I snapped my fingers, summoning one of my shadow hands, and handed it my shopping bags. “Bedroom, please.” I said, and shooed it towards the stairs. I didn’t need to give it verbal commands, but psychosomatic or not, it helped.

             “You’ve gotten more comfortable with them, I see.” Kurama said, his eyes following my hand up the stairs.

             “A little. I spent most of the morning practicing with them, actually. And you know what? It’s not as hard as I thought it’d be. Like, when I was a kid, I could never comprehend how a chameleon could process looking in two completely different directions at once. It bothered me a lot, like, how was it even possible? How did its brain do that?” I stopped, blushing as I caught Kurama’s amused smile. “I was weird. Anyway, I thought trying to do stuff with six extra hands would completely fuck with my head, but it hasn’t at all! On top of that, those eyes on the hands? I can see out of them! Being a demon is so trippy.” I said, laughing.

             “You mentioned that you didn’t have powers in your previous life,” Kurama said.

             “Oh, I definitely did not.” I said, conscious after I spoke that I’d cut him off. I continued on anyway. “The difference between what I had been capable of as a human and what I’m capable of now is astounding.”

             “Has it been difficult for you? During my . . . childhood, there were moments that were unpleasant because of the change.”

             “What do you mean?”

             “After I was reborn, the first year or so I was almost completely human biologically.”

             “I never thought about that,” I paused, reaching up to touch the left side of my chest. “Did you have a heartbeat?”

             “I did. It was an . . . interesting experience, though I don’t miss it. Even as a baby, my hearing was sharper than a normal human’s and the sound of the thumping was distracting, especially when I was trying to sleep.”

             “I don’t really think about it much, but it’s always kind of shock when I suddenly realize it’s gone. Like I know I’ve got a core doing the same thing or however demonic biology works, but still,” I trailed off, slowly letting my hand fall. My powers were fun to play with, and I could use them with a natural ease. I thought of them as part of myself, not something vaguely disconcerting and alien like my lack of a heartbeat was. More than anything else, my non-beating heart made me realize that I wasn’t fully human anymore.

             “It bothers you.”

             “Huh?” I looked up, confused.
             “It bothers you that you aren’t human, doesn’t it?” Kurama clarified.

             “I guess a little. I don’t think I ever imagined that I was actually half demon, at least, not seriously. It’s shocking when your fantasies come to life.” I chuckled weakly, thinking of my childish desires to be a half demon like Inuyasha or the numerous horrible Mary-Sue OCs I’d created as a tween and teenager. Kurama frowned.

             “Being a demon was a fantasy of yours?”

             “I’ve always wanted to be more than what I was. Half of my adolescence was filled with dreaming about being a kitsune or a geisha assassin or a Star Fleet officer. Hell, probably most of my adult life too if you want me to be honest. I remember more fiction than real memories, and there’s probably a reason for that, you know?” I paused, giving him a wry smile. “Anyway, you said you were going to give me a report on today, right? Do you mind if we do that in the kitchen? I still have to make dinner.”

             “Sure.” Kurama said, and followed me down the hall. I motioned him to take a seat at the center island.

             “Want anything to drink?” I said, glancing at him over my shoulder before opening the fridge and pulling out the covered bowl of dough that I’d left to rise this morning.

             “No thank you.” he said.

             “Okay,” I nodded, setting the bowl on the island, opposite Kurama. I snapped my fingers, summoning two of my shadow hands, which fetched a large round baking sheet and a container of cornmeal and set them beside the bowl. I washed my hands and turned on the oven to preheat, mentally commanding my hands to bring out the toppings I’d asked Jin-papa to prep for me and the mason jar of the last of my homemade tomato sauce. Kurama was silent while he watched them move rather awkwardly through the kitchen. He shook his head as I approached the island before finally speaking.

             “Myself, Kuwabara, Botan, and Kaito went to a field near Mushiyori City where Spirit World estimated the center of the tunnel to be. We searched for a while, but we were followed. There wasn’t much else to see, so we went to the meeting place to wait for Yusuke’s group.” As he spoke, I took the saran wrap off the bowl, dumping it on the pan and beginning to knead it. The dough was cool but not sticky, easily yielding to the movements of my hands once it warmed.

             “You didn’t find anything?” As far as I remembered he shouldn’t have, but he should’ve realized that the tunnel started underground.

             “Based on our lack of discovery, I believe the tunnel is underground. Also . . . Kaito reiterated his lack of trust in you. While waiting for Yusuke, he pressed myself and Botan about what powers a Dark Stroke has.”

             “What did you tell him?” I said, trying vainly to keep my voice level as I squashed the dough with a particular vehemence.

             “I told him what little I know about them. I don’t mind misleading Kaito, but I have no interest in lying to Kuwabra or Yusuke to protect you.”

             “No, that’s totally fair. I wouldn’t ask you to.” I said, trying to smile before looking back down at the pan. I concentrated on spreading the dough out in a thin, even layer over it. I needed to be patient –not just with the dough, though it was easy to tear if I wasn’t careful. “Did Kaito . . . figure out the same things you did? That there’s another Dark Stroke carving out the tunnel,”

             “No. When he asked for details on your trans-dimensional capabilities, I simply told him that you were the only Dark Stroke I’ve met, and that I’d only ever seen you use your telepathic abilities.”

             “I appreciate you being discreet for my sake,” I smiled, pausing to look up at him before continuing to roll the edges of the dough. He watched my hands with an aloof curiosity, as if ignoring my comment.

             “What are you making?”

             “Pizza! It’s, like, my lifeblood. Most of the places around here are garbage so I decided I’d try making my own a while ago.” It had come to me with a surprising quickness, like most cooking did. I was far from a chef, but I enjoyed working in the kitchen, and especially baking. Which was a good thing because bagels, another one of my favourite foods, were also hard to come by in  Japan. A few bakeries offered them, but they didn’t taste quite right; they weren’t crispy or chewy enough. And the flavours- plain was usually available, but most of them seemed to be sweet (matcha and raisin and anko), and I hadn’t been able to find a good cheddar or even an everything bagel that was worth it.
             “I never thought it was particularly bad.” he said with a faint smile. I snorted, shaking my head.

             “That is a hundred percent because you never had good pizza. I’m not like a master at it, but nothing beats fresh dough and homemade sauce.” I said, nodding to the mason jar.

             “You made that too?” He seemed surprised, and I couldn’t help grinning.

             “Yep! Jin-papa grew the tomatoes.”

             “Not you?” Kurama gave me a smirk, raising an eyebrow.

             “Nope, I can’t garden to save my life. I probably have a black thumb.”

             “A black . . . ?” Kurama repeated, glancing discreetly at my hand. I laughed openly, slightly embarrassed that I’d translated the idiom so literally from English.

             “It’s an expression. A green thumb means that you’re good at growing things. A black thumb is kind of a play on it, meaning that I suck. To quote a show that hasn’t been imagined yet; ‘everything I touch dies!’ –so Jin-papa handles growing the tomatoes and the little herb garden.” Kurama snorted, shaking his head. “Don’t look at me like that! Not all of us have demonic mastery of plants.”

             “If you’d like, I can help you.”

             “I might take you up on that.” I said, feeling somewhat flustered. Kurama, offering to help me garden! It seemed too good to be true. “Aw shit,” I groaned, looking at my pizza crust- neatly rolled out on a pan that hadn’t been dusted with cornmeal, or even sprayed with oil. With a gentle flick of my finger, I urged it upwards and sprinkled cornmeal underneath it before letting it float down. It settled heavily on the pan, and gingerly, I spread the dough out evenly again. “What happened with Yusuke?”

             “His group encountered another telepath, a human that had been changed by the proximity to the tunnel. With his help, they looked for whoever was responsible for building it. They found someone Yusuke is sure is the culprit; a tall, thin man with slicked back hair, dressed in black. A human, whose mind boiled with rage and killing intent, and who kept repeating ‘With the seven of us, well dig a grave for everybody. Dark Angel, Gatekeeper, Sniper, Gourmet, Game Master, Doctor, Seaman.’” Kurama paused, watching me carefully, undoubtedly noting my complete lack of surprise.

             “That sounds like the right guy.” I said, meeting his eyes briefly before quickly looking away. I opened my jar of sauce, pouring some on the dough.       

             “What’s his name?”

             “Come on, no spoilers!” I laughed weakly, grabbing a spoon from a drawer behind me and focused on spreading the sauce evenly.

             “I’ll recognize his name then?” Kurama asked, leaning closer, his eyes sharply green.

             “I assume so. I don’t know if you would’ve ever crossed paths, but I’d be more surprised if you haven’t at least heard of him.” His lips settled thinly together, but he said nothing else about it.

             “Murata, the telepath, was attacked by a second man that they didn’t see; shot with a projectile of chewing gum. He wasn’t killed, though he was injured somewhat badly. They took him to a hospital, where they encountered another of the enemy. Another human who called himself Doctor.” He described in detail their confrontation as I put the toppings on my pizza. It matched my memories of the fight exactly, and I was slightly relieved that nothing had changed.

             “It seems like everything is happening  like I remember it.” I said once he’d finished. Kurama was silent, his fingers woven together as he rested his hands on the counter in front of him. His expression unnerved me, though I couldn’t quite say why. He was too serious, too still. Trying to ignore the feeling, I took my pizza, summoning one of my hands to open the oven door for me before I slid it onto the pizza stone nestled on the bottom.

             “Did you know how badly hurt Kido would be, Chie?” Kurama’s voice startled me, and I closed the oven door with a little more force than I meant.

             “I . . .  I didn’t forget, but I didn’t think about. He’ll be all right.”

             “I haven’t changed my mind in regards to knowing the future, but I feel like it might not be entirely up to me. I’m not the only one putting my life on the line in this fight, and who’s to say whether things can be resolved more easily knowing what will happen?”

             “Absolutely not.” I said, firm. A chill swept over me, and the image of that beautiful ending, the world where humans and demons lived peacefully together began to break apart. “Several things happen in the final battle that will affect the future of all three worlds, Kurama. Look, I feel bad that Kido and Murata got hurt, and believe me when I say that I hate keeping this a secret. But this is more important than me, and I refused to breathe a word of what’s going to happen -especially if you try and use that information to your advantage. If something changes and alters the course of future events, I’ll never forgive myself.”

             “There are ways of making you talk.” Kurama said softly, his voice coldly serious. I shivered, but didn’t let myself be bowed by his threat.

             “Go ahead and torture me if you think that’ll get you want you want.” I bluffed. I really, really had no desire to let Kurama torture information out of me, but I couldn’t give anything away for just a threat. “I have a high tolerance for pain, though I bet you’ve gotten some deus ex machina demon plant that’s like a truth serum. There’s nothing stopping you, you know I’m not a fighter. Do it.” I goaded him, but inside I trembled like a leaf. He stood, the scraping on his stool on the tile like nails on a chalkboard. He crossed the room, stopping in front of me. I almost screamed. Was he really going to do it?

             “I have no desire to hurt you, Chie.” he said finally.

             “I have no desire for you to hurt me either.” I said with a laugh that bordered on hysteria. “But that’s the only way you’ll get anything out of me.” He sighed, shaking his head.

             “I don’t plan on torturing the information out of you.”

             “Oh thank god,” I breathed, hastily crossing myself. I stared at my hand after I’d finished, unsure of where the gesture had come from. I wasn’t sure, but I thought that I was an atheist. I shook it off; there were bigger things to worry about than that. “Wait, was that just a test?”

             “I was curious to see how strongly you objected to telling me. I believe that you should give Yusuke and the others the option of knowing the future or not, but I understand your reluctance. I won’t force you.” He paused. “Did you think I would? You bluffed well enough but I could tell you were afraid.”

             “I know you’re capable of doing something like that. I like to think you wouldn’t do that to me, but . . . I guess I can say I wouldn’t count on your kind heart if you really considered me a threat.” I said, awkwardly hooking my thumbs into the pockets of my jeans.

             “You don’t trust me?” He sounded loosely offended by the idea, which irritated me.

             “Trust but verify, man.” I snapped. “Look, I know you won’t feed me to one of your man-eating plants on a whim, but if you really thought I was standing in your way by keeping my spoilers to myself or whatever else, I know for a fact you’d do anything you thought necessary. Besides, why make the threat if you didn’t want me to believe it on some level?” That silenced him more effectively than I’d counted on, and we faced each other in uncomfortable silence.

             “I suppose I did want to scare you.” Kurama mused after what felt like an hour. “You’re always quite certain of yourself and your actions, even under pressure. I wanted to push you, to force something out of you.”

             “What’s the verdict then? Did you get what you wanted?”

             “I’m not sure what I wanted. I didn’t expect your reaction, however.” he said, amazement faintly lining the layers of his words. I snorted at that.

             “Well, I can’t imagine you’d be happy with anything but the unexpected.”

             “I’ve never met anyone else who can read me as well as you do, Chie. Did you gain that much of an advantage from our mind-melds?” I blushed hotly at the thought.

             “I- I don’t think it’s from that. I tried not to snoop,” I said. I hadn’t trespassed too deeply into his thoughts either time I’d mind-melded with him, but even the bits I’d gathered then had little to do with it. Kurama had been my favourite fictional character for over ten years. I’d read the source material countless times, read and wrote innumerable fanfics and character studies, obsessively plotted out all the facets of his personality for my own amusement, because there had rarely been any person, real or imagined, that had fascinated me like he did. I used to joke that he was my first love, but I couldn’t deny the truth in it.

             When I was fourteen, reading Shonen Jump for the first time, the attraction had hit me like a ton of bricks. His looks, his coolness, his maturity- Kurama turned my head far more effectively than any boy I’d known in real life. My feelings changed as I grew older from a fanatical, puppy dog idolation to a deep admiration and affection. For ten plus years of my life, I loved him (for lack of a better word); how could I confess that was why I knew him so well?

             Now, faced with him standing hardly a meter away, his delicately green eyes holding mine, I felt like a weirdo. An obsessive weirdo; something that I’d tolerated in myself, I was suddenly sure, because Kurama hadn’t been real. A fictional character had been safer to fawn over than an unobtainable crush on a distant coworker or even a celebrity because I’d been so certain I’d never have to live through the moment where he’d awkwardly realize what a creep I truly was.

             “If it isn’t from the mind-melds, what do you think it is?” Kurama said, and the innocent question nearly undid me. I swallowed thickly and tried to smile.

             “You’ve only known me for the month or so since school started, but in a way, I’ve known you almost my entire life.” I said, unable to look at him. “I first read the manga when I was fourteen, and it was my favourite from the moment I did. You know what an obsessive nerd I am, right? For ten plus years, Yu Yu Hakusho was my thing. I obsessed over it more than anything else, even Star Trek. I know you –and the rest of you boys- ridiculously well. That’s part of the reason that I don’t want to give any of you spoilers. Do you really think Yusuke would act any more prudently with a little foreknowledge?” Gently, I tried to guide the conversation away from the fact I was a weird otaku and back to matters at hand. Kurama seemed to take the bait, or at least, he pretended to so I could save what little face I had left.

             “You do have a point, Chie. I won’t ask this of you again.” He gave me a small smile. “But I should be going, I told Mother I’d be home before dark.”

             “Yeah, of course.” I said, swallowing the urge to invite him to dinner. As much as I’d like to see what he thought of my cooking, I needed to get him out of my house so I could breathe freely again.

Chapter Text

             “Matsuura-chan, do you know why Minamino isn’t here?” Kaito said, his words sharp, laced with an underlying worry he tried his best to hide. He didn’t want to ask anything of me, but he knew there was no one else who might know. I paused unwrapping my bento, letting it rest in my lap. The three of us sat outside as we usually did, nestled under a secluded bunch of cherry trees. Sakura season had passed, and few other students were interested in them anymore.

             Kurama’s absence had caused me no small panic this morning, either. He’d left soon after our conversation Saturday night, and although I hadn’t heard from him, I didn’t think he’d been hurt. As far as I knew, he agreed with Genkai that acting alone would be dangerous.

             So, if Kurama wasn’t injured and knowing he wasn’t the type to play hooky just for kicks, the only other option was one I dreaded: today was the day he went to visit Koenma. It felt too soon- wasn’t there a few more days’ gap between the incident with Doctor and Kuwabara’s meeting with Seaman after the Megallica concert? I’d been thinking Friday at the earliest. After all, what kind of band had a concert on a freaking Monday night?!

             Everything would go down tomorrow, I realized grimly. After Kaito informed Kurama about the incident with Seaman, he’d rush over to Yusuke’s place during lunch or maybe before. Then, Sensui would kidnap Kuwabara and sic Sniper on Yusuke, which lead to Hiei’s rejoining the group. That night, they’d enter the cave. Morning classes had passed by in an anxious blur as I worried over everything that might happen, not even thinking about what I’d have to tell Kaito.

             “First things first, let’s clear the air. Since Riko and I are such good friends, I thought it was only fair to tell her exactly what I am. Doing so, I realized you’d done the same thing.” I sent a telepathic aside to Riko: “He doesn’t know that I’m from another dimension, and I’d like to keep it that way, okay?”

             “Okay.” She gave me a small smile. Kaito paled, looking at her.

             “You told her?”

             “I did not! Chie figured it out when I didn’t freak out as much as she thought I would. She knows we’re good friends too so I’m not surprised she guessed. It’s good to get things out in the open, isn’t it?” she said.

             “I suppose. It will be less awkward eating lunch together this way.” Kaito frowned. “But stop evading my question. Do you know where Minamino is?”

             “I have a guess.” I said, sighing heavily. I didn’t want to be right about it, but I didn’t think there was any alternative. “He stopped by Saturday after your little scouting mission to brief me on the details. Talking things through, I think he got an idea of who might be digging the tunnel.” I may have given him the idea, but Kaito didn’t need to know that. Besides, anything I told him probably would’ve occurred to him at some point anyway.

             “Did he say who?” Kaito said, leaning forward. I shook my head.

             “He didn’t really say anything.”

             “What does that mean?” Riko said with a snort. I gave her what I hoped was an embarrassed look.

             “I am a telepath, you know. I try not to spy on people’s thoughts, but . . .” I trailed off, hoping Kaito would follow the path of what I wasn’t saying. “I think he might be in Spirit World. It seems like Koenma might know more than he’s telling us.”

             “How sure are you?” Kaito pressed. I shrugged, cracking my can of coffee.

             “Reasonably. I’ve checked a pretty decent radius around the school, and I can’t find his youki anywhere. I’m not a hundred percent sure of course, but knowing he might be in Spirit World coupled with the fact I can’t find him . . . I think it’s safe to say I’m sure.”

             “What do you mean, ‘checked’?” Riko asked. I gestured awkwardly.

             “Well, I’m psychic. I can survey a fair distance away from where I currently am, and since I’ve communicated with Shuuichi telepathically before, it’s much easier to pick him out of a crowd than it would be to find a stranger. I’ve looked and I can’t find him.”

             “Minamino could simply be out of your range.” Kaito said.

             “Could be.” I sipped my coffee. “But he could be in Spirit World too.”

             “I think I’ll skip club activities today. I need to inform Master Genkai and the others of Minamino’s absence as soon as I can.” Kaito frowned, shaking his head. Riko groaned.

             “You too? I guess we should just cancel then. Oda-chan and Fujita-kun found me during homeroom and said they can’t come today, either. They’re going to some concert tonight and want to have enough time to get ready.”

             “The Megallica concert?” I said, suddenly chilled. Part of me had been hoping that Kurama really had gotten sick somehow, that I was wrong about what day it was. The confirmation set off a fresh wave of dread.

             “Yeah, Fujita-kun is really into them.” Riko said, eyeing me closely as if she could tell it was more significant to me than I wanted to let on.

             “That’s so weird, he seems like such a straight-laced little kid.” I said, with a giggle.

             “Little kid? He’s only a year younger than us, Matsuura-chan.” Kaito said. I met Riko’s eyes and shifted uncomfortably.

             “I think it’s because he’s shorter than I am. And he’s so skinny!”

             “You’re quite tall for a girl. And not that, ahem, . . . small.” Kaito said, flushing awkwardly. I laughed heartily, unbothered by his comments. I knew I wasn’t fat, though I might’ve taken his comments that way when I really was sixteen.

             “Nah, that’s my mom’s half of my genetics I suppose.” I said, patting the swell of my hip with satisfaction. Most other girls in our class were rail-thin and modestly curvy, though there were exceptions of course- a few girls were chubby or more developed than average.

             “Your mother wasn’t Japanese?” Riko said with surprise.

             “Nope, she was Irish and German I’m pretty sure. Probably some other bits sprinkled in there but I don’t remember.” I said with a shrug. “I’m surprised you haven’t noticed, I get told a lot I look pretty hafu. Even my hair is way lighter than average!”

             “Honestly, I thought you dyed your hair.” Riko said with a giggle. “I know you grew up in the States, but I guess I just assumed both your parents were Japanese. I don’t really care about that sort of thing though, so I never really thought about it.”

             “Yet another reason why you’re my best friend,” I said with a grin.

            

 

             Despite the brief respite during lunch, the rest of the day passed in a worried blur. During afternoon classes, I’d made the rather rash decision to bring Kurama his homework. I doubted the wisdom of intruding on his private life, but the tug of desperate curiosity of where he’d been all day spurred me on regardless. Amano-sensei, our homeroom teacher, gave me his address almost too easily, making a few comments about how cute she thought we were as she wrote it down. I blushed but said nothing; it was convenient to let others think that we were a couple.

             On the train, I tried not to think about how angry he might be. Finding out his address and going there on my own was a risk. I couldn’t be sure he’d be okay with me showing up on his doorstep uninvited- honestly, I was pretty sure he’d be the opposite of okay with it. It was tempting to say forget it, to just go home and practice Triple Seven for one more night and let Kaito tell him what happened to Kuwabara in the morning.

             I spent almost all of Sunday night playing Goblin City, and not just practicing Triple Seven until my fingers cramped, though I did plenty of that too. The console version of Goblin City was an absolute beast: the gimmick of the game was the seven ‘mini-games’, though they were anything but mini. I’d expected them to be a lame little blurb of a game like in Mario Party, but each of them had a lengthy playtime and each genre had several different options; for sports games, there were tennis, bowling, soccer, etc. Even getting up at five a.m. as I did every morning, it’d taken me until noon to beat three of the games.

             I lost the fourth game (I’ve always hated shooters and they’ve always hated me), but luckily enough, the fifth was Triple Seven. It was actually quite fun; I’d always been a sucker for the match three type games on my old phone and Triple Seven did it beautifully. It was easy enough to start, the speed of the blocks progressing evenly, slowly ramping up the difficulty until I could barely keep pace. But keep pace I did, settling into a nice rhythm as I cleared line after line. I won relatively quickly after finding my groove- I’d lucked into a medium-easy difficulty, and the Goblin King couldn’t keep up.

             By beating the game I unlocked the free play mode, where I was able to play any of the games I’d already beaten. Of course, I played nothing Triple Seven until my fingers spasmed and my eyes burned like Aizawa’s from Boku no Hero. Even then, I forced myself to continue after a quick run to the convenience store for snacks. I was doing well, but I needed to be perfect if I wanted this idiotic plan of mine to come to fruition.

             If I went home and left things to play out naturally, I’d have one more night to practice Triple Seven. I was sorely tempted, but I doubted my brain would let me rest. I needed to find out exactly what Kurama talked about with Koenma- the manga was never particularly clear on that, though it was obvious Koenma didn’t tell him anything important. Still, I was curious as to what Kurama would tell me.

             I lingered in a coffee shop at the train station, waiting for a flicker of his youki before walking to his house. Even after I did, I circled the block a few times, fighting with my nerves for the courage to approach.

             It was a small but well-kept one storey house, with a lush garden that towered over the fence. I smiled at that, unsurprised at the vivacious plant life. I wanted to think of the softer side of Kurama now, if only to bring myself good luck. My non-existent heart in my throat, I pushed open the gate and walked up the path to the front door and hesitantly, knocked.

             “Yes?” I recognized the woman who opened the door immediately as Shiori, Kurama’s mother. I knew her to be in her forties, but I couldn’t say she looked older than her early thirties. She still looked young and pretty, and had a sweetness to her aura even at first glance.

             “Um, hello Minamino-san. Is Shuuichi home?” I said with a smile, not needing to playact the nerves of a sixteen year-old girl meeting her cr- meeting her friend’s parent for the first time.

             “Shuuichi?” She raised her eyebrows at my familiarity, but didn’t bother to hide her smile. “Yes, he’s here. Are you a friend from school?” she said, glancing down at my uniform.

             “Ah, yes. I’m Matsuura Chie. We’re in the same class, and I, um, brought his homework.” I said, patting my bulging messenger bag.

             “Oh of course, Matsuura-chan! Come in, Shuuichi’s mentioned how close the two of you are.” Shiori beamed, eagerly motioning me inside. I toed off my shoes before following her into the front hall.

             “He has?” I repeated dumbly, astounded that he’d mention me to his mother at all. Shiori nodded, glancing back at me as she lead me down the hall.

             “It’s a bit surprising –a pleasant surprise, of course. My son had been quite the loner up until he met Yusuke-kun last year. Until he mentioned you, I didn’t think he had any close friends at school, especially not a girl friend, and such a pretty one!”

             “We’re friends, but I’m not his girlfriend.” I said, blushing hotly.

             “Oh, I know that!” Shiori smiled, patting me gently on the shoulder. “A friend who’s a girl- is that better?”

             “Much,” I said, cringing as my voice cracked. Shiori giggled, suddenly stopping in front of a door with a little plaque that read ‘Shuuichi’s Room’, and knocked gently.

             “Shuuichi, are you still awake? Matsuura-chan from school is here with your homework,”

             “Come in,” Kurama’s voice was groggy but welcoming, though I began to sweat regardless- I still wasn’t sure how he’d react.

             “Hey man! I brought you notes and stuff,” I said with forced cheer after Shiori opened the door. Kurama sat propped up with pillows in bed, still wearing pajamas. I could tell he was still a little out of it after returning to his body, and hopefully soothed enough by his mother’s easy acceptance of my presence not to be angry about it.

             “Thank you, Chie. Can you stay for a little and go over some things with me?” He phrased it as a question, but the sharpening green of his eyes made me know better.

             “Sure thing.” I crossed the room, pulling out his desk chair and settling a respectable distance from the bed, plopping my messenger bag at my feet.

             “Would you two like some tea?”

             “No thank you, Mother.” Kurama said pleasantly.

             “Let me know if you need anything- but this needs to stay open.” Shiori smiled and opened the door a little wider. In spite of myself, I squeaked, feeling my face burn as I looked to the floor.

             “Mother,” Kurama admonished, his cheeks lightly pink when I snuck a look at him. Shiori merely laughed as she walked away.

             “I’m sorry Chie. Mother has been worried with my disinterest in romance, especially since Hatanaka-san’s son recently discovered girls.”

             “It’s all right, I just wasn’t expecting her reaction. It must be a relief that you’re not completely against giving her grandkids one day.” I said with a weak laugh. Kurama snorted, watching with disinterest as I began to dig through my bag.

             “Is there a reason you’re here?”

             “Uh, duh?” I tossed a note packet at him. “To give you homework.”

             “Chie,” Kurama said warningly. I blushed, concentrating on sorting out papers.

             “It’s not like I was worried when you didn’t show up to school today or anything, okay? I know you can handle yourself, and that you’re not dumb enough to go charging into their lair alone. But you weren’t in class, so . . . I just wanted to check.”

             “I appreciate your concern.” he said, the ghost of  smile hovering at his lips.

             “Are you really sick? You look a bit peaky but that could be from your mom joking about us macking,”

             “Macking?” Kurama raised an eyebrow, repeating the English.

             “Er. Never mind the slang- I’m sure you can guess what it means anyway.” Kurama chuckled, taking a notebook from me, both of us starting when our fingers brushed. Settling his hands in his lap, he cleared his throat.

             “I’m not sick, I skipped school so I could go to Reikai and see Koenma. I’ve suspected that he knew the identity of the culprit, but couldn’t quite place why. All of yesterday I was thinking about what you said, how I should know of whoever might be digging this tunnel to Makai. It was irritating- the answer danced just out of reach, until I started to consider who Koenma might be on close terms with that I would recognize by reputation even if we’d never met. Eventually, it came to me: Sensui Shinobu.” Hearing him say the name made me shiver. Emotionlessly, he noted my reaction and continued. “He was Yusuke’s predecessor as the Spirit Detective, disappearing ten years ago under mysterious circumstances. I still had yet to regain my old power then, but I made sure to keep abreast of the rumours swirling in the underworld. There was talk that he’d gone crazy, that he’d met a demon too powerful even for him and run away- any number of more inane, unsatisfactory reasons.”

             “It’s, ah, quite surprising that a former Spirit Detective would go rogue and want to open Ningenkai to demons, though.” I said, faltering. Kurama watched me impassively, clearly not buying my half-hearted denial. “What did Koenma say?”

             “He refused to see me.” He smiled wryly. “I sat outside his office for hours waiting, but he said he was too busy. I would’ve stayed longer, but I knew Mother would be returning home from work, and I didn’t want to worry her.”

             “I suppose I can’t lie and tell you you’re wrong.” I said finally, and leant back in the chair. “It is Sensui.”

             “But why would he-?”

             “You’ll find out tomorrow when you see Yusuke.” I said, hoping it would be the end of his questions.

             “Very well. You’ll join me?”

             “I wouldn’t miss it for the world.” I grinned. “I know I said I don’t want to get involved, but this is moving faster than I expected, and I’d like to be on hand.”

             “Do you think things have changed?” Kurama sat up a little straighter. I shook my head.

             “No. But I thought there would be more time before- before you skipped school to see Koenma. I can’t help being a little curious too. Now that I’ve had some time to adjust, it’s exciting to be involved, you know? I was horrified at first, so scared that I might fuck things up that I just wanted to run away and make you all forget you’d met me.”

             “Do you think you have the power to do that?”

             “Who knows? I’m always surprised at what I can do. I won’t, though. I’m like, invested now.”

             “Are you?” Kurama chuckled.

             “Yeah! When I was out shopping with Riko Saturday, I suddenly realized that there’s a chance I can help you in the final battle. Something small I can do that won’t change anything.” I knew I shouldn’t tell him, but I was aching to tell someone. It frightened me to give voice to the tender little hope I had of taking away the pain of Amanuma’s death, but it made it a little stronger too.

Chapter Text

             The next morning as I walked from the train station to school, I felt a strange, simmering dread. It would happen today. I’d known that for almost a full twenty-four hours now, but the thought still caught in my throat. I’d played Triple Seven for a bit last night, but I didn’t stay up as late as I wanted to, instead going to bed early enough that I got a full eight hours of sleep. Whatever happened today, I had to be alert.

             Turning the last corner before Meiou, I stopped, surprised to see Kurama striding determinedly away from the gate. He caught sight of me, veering closer, grabbing my arm and turning me to march with him as he passed.

             “Did you know that Kuwabara and Yusuke went missing last night?” he said, his voice deceptively smooth. I sighed, trying vainly to take back my arm as I fell into a more natural pace beside him.

             “They aren’t missing, but yes, I knew.” His fingers tightened painfully, but I didn’t react.

             “What do you mean, not missing?” Kurama said sharply.

             “Kuwabara was at the Megallica concert with his friends. Yusuke got all pissy and went to play pachinko. Did Kaito tell you they had no idea where they went or something?”

             “No, but he mentioned that neither returned before he and Yana left.”

             “They came back later than that,” I said, snatching my arm back as I felt Kurama’s grip loosen. I already felt the bruises forming, and I wondered if I should ask him for whatever magical plant-based whatever he’d used on his face last week. Despite me bruising his cheek after our mind-meld, his skin had looked perfect the next day at school.

             “I need to call Yusuke- do you know if there’s a payphone closer than the station?”

             “A payphone?” I’d lived in the 90s for almost two years, but I was suddenly hit with a massive wave of nostalgia, perhaps because of the press of burgeoning memories that I’d uncovered in Yojigen Mansion. I didn’t remember everything yet, but various memories rose to the surface more and more frequently.

             Growing up, payphones had littered the street corners of whatever city I’d lived in, gradually disappearing until the glass and steel boxes were a rare sight. There was a time when I was very young that we hadn’t had a landline, I remembered suddenly. So my mother would take me (or I’d follow her, depending on how strung out she was) to the payphone on the corner if she needed to call anyone.

             “Yes, a payphone.” Kurama said mildly, giving me a look.

             “Right, sorry- I think there’s one at the 7-11 up the block.” I said, shaking out of the memories. This was far from the time.

             The 7-11 wasn’t far, and Kurama’s speed-walking got us there even faster. He slid into the booth almost immediately, closing the door before I could sneak in behind him. Snorting, I leant on the side. Once Yusuke or Atsuko picked up (I wasn’t sure who, as I couldn’t hear anything through the glass), the conversation went quickly.

             “I need to go to Yusuke’s. It seems there was an incident last night. Kuwabara encountered one of the Seven after the concert, and he and his friends were hurt, though not severely. He was able to catch the man who attacked them though.” Kurama said.

             “Am I invited?” I said as lightly as I could. I wanted to go –needed to go- but if he didn’t want me to . . . I’d consider it at least.

             “Didn’t you say you wouldn’t miss it for the world?” Kurama gave me a faint smile. 

 

             The train ride to Yusuke’s place went quickly enough, though not so quickly that I couldn’t build up my anxiety. I wasn’t worried about what would happen, not really, but I was nervous to meet Yusuke again. Although I’d seen him briefly at Yojigen Mansion before I’d run off, this would be the first time I’d see him after regaining my Yu Yu Hakusho related memories. Kurama was the most prominent of course, but Yusuke . . . I identified with him a lot. I adored him, honestly. I’d always considered him my favourite protag, the character I’d most like to hang out with. It turned my guts to soup thinking of meeting him again. What if he didn’t trust me? Worse, what if he didn’t like me?

             “Took you long enough,” Yusuke muttered, yawning as he yanked open his front door. Kurama hadn’t even needed to knock. “You brought Matsuura too?”

             “Yes, she’s finally realized the seriousness of the matter, and offered her help.” The lie irked me though I said nothing. I wanted to keep my cover after all. “How are Kuwabara and the others?”

             “Still sleeping. Mostly just cuts and bruises, but they saw Seaman use his powers.” Yusuke said, stuffing his hands in the pockets of his sweatpants. He nodded to the three boys spread out on futons in the living room in front of us. Genkai and Botan sat drinking tea in front of a table to the left of the boys, between them and the rest of the apartment.

             “Kurama, Matsuura.” Genkai said, frowning slightly as she sipped her tea.

             “Yo,” I said, giving them an awkward smile.

             “Good morning you two! Would either of you care for tea?” Botan said brightly.

             “Ah, no thanks.”

             “No, no thank you.” Kurama said.

             “As Yusuke said, the three of them are fine. The only problem is that they saw Seaman and Kuwabara use their powers.” Genkai said.

             “I have something that can make them forget if you think that’s for the best.” Kurama said.

             “Dream Flower Pollen?” I asked. Kurama nodded, reaching into his hair and pulling out a few seeds. He laid them in the palm of his hand, and they grew rapidly, roots and vines tangling together as they shot up. In seconds, leaves and buds bloomed, the delicate silver flowers opening to reveal an abundance of orange-yellow pollen at the center.

             “Chie, you mentioned you wished to try removing a person’s memory, correct?” Kurama said. Genkai gave me a sharp look, her eyes narrowing as she appraised me, and I fidgeted under her scrutiny.

             “I told you I’ve thought about it, sure, but I wouldn’t want to try it on Kuwabara’s friends! I’d never forgive myself if I fucked up their minds somehow.”

             “Don’t do anything, but perhaps you should enter their minds and pay attention on how this pollen works.” I nodded, impressed at Kurama’s consideration. It was in his best interest for me to get stronger, even minutely, but it pleased me nonetheless.

             As Kurama released the pollen toward the three sleeping boys, I opened my mind and brushed against Kirishima’s. Kurama spoke softly in the background, repeating that the fight with Seaman had simply been a dream, that nothing unusual had happened after the concert. The pollen worked rapidly once they inhaled it, and the changes it made to Kirishima’s memories were incredibly subtle. They shifted ever so slightly as Kurama continued to speak, his words reinforcing the changes. Taking a chance, I moved a psychic tendril across one of his memories, trying to strengthen the dream-like aspect of it the way the pollen did. To my surprise it worked, and hesitantly, I touched the rest and strengthened them as well.

             “Did that help you?” Kurama said once I’d opened my eyes. The flowers in his palm had been shrunk back down to seeds, which he tucked back into his hair.

             “It did. Thanks for suggesting it,” I said. Kurama smiled at me briefly before turning to Yusuke.

             “I have enough herbs to treat everyone’s injuries; where’s Kuwabara? You said his were the worst.”

             “Actually, Kurama, Genkai and I took care of healing everyone. At least, we took care of the worst of their injuries.” Botan said with a smile.

             “I see. No offense to either of you, but I would like to take a look at Kuwabara at least. I might have something that could help.”

             “None taken! Of course you’re concerned,” Botan said.

             “Kuwabara’s sleeping it off in my room, c’mon. Fucker made me stick Seaman in my bed too- said he was hurt worse than he was.” Yusuke said, and the two of us followed him. I felt Genkai’s eyes on me the whole way, and I was glad to be out of her presence. If there was anyone beside Kurama smart enough to see through my bullshit, it would be her. Kuwabara was sprawled out on the floor of Yusuke’s room, lying on top of several pillows and the blankets, wearing only a pair of boxers.

             “Jesus,” I hissed, blushing hotly as I violently looked away.

             “What’s wrong?” Kurama asked, alarmed.

             “I just saw a whole hell of a lot more of Kuwabara than I ever wanted to.” I muttered, staring at the floor as I used telekinesis to tug his boxers into place- a brief gag in one panel of the manga, though it’d been censored then.

             Yusuke looked between the two of us before breaking into raucous laughter. Even Kurama hid a chuckle as he kneeled beside Kuwabara, carefully pulling back to blankets to look at his wounds. I watched impassively as I could as Kurama looked him over, shooing away Yusuke’s hands once he’d stopped laughing enough to try and poke at him. Kuwabara had gotten hurt- not quite as badly as Kido, though the technicalities weren’t important. Kurama’s words stung, even days later. This was far from the worst of what would happen. I knew that, and still . . .

             Kido was still in the hospital. Kuwabara and his friends were hurt. Murata, the amateur boxer from Mushiyori who’d developed telepathy of his own with the widening of the tunnel, was in all likelihood, dead. If I’d told Yusuke and the others what I’d known, would they have been hurt? If I’d gone with them on Saturday, would Murata have been eaten by Elder Toguro? Was I being an egotistical ass thinking I could have changed the flow of events?

             Coming clean now wouldn’t solve much, I told myself. Things needed to happen the right way today, for the sake of all three worlds. I closed my eyes, unable to watch as Kurama and Yusuke tended to Kuwabara. I’d have to watch Yusuke die, have to watch how Kuwabara broke watching him die. I’d have to watch Kurama and Hiei watch him die. Oh, the fight would be glorious to watch- but.

 

             But.

 

             I knew there was no way in hell I could tell them. Maybe I could spare Kurama the pain of killing Amanuma, but I couldn’t spare any of them Yusuke’s death. I turned away, finding myself walking out of Yusuke’s room before I realized what I was doing.

             “Matsuura-chan, are you all right? You look pale.” Botan said. I winced as Genaki turned to look at me.

             “I’m fine, just figured I’d give them some space.”

             “Come, sit with us and have some tea.” Genkai said. It wasn’t a question, and reluctantly, I crossed the room to obey. I sat awkwardly at the end of the table, not particularly close to either of them, but still not far enough for my liking. Botan took on of the several empty cups off the tea tray, setting it in front of me before filling it.

             “Um, thank you.” I said, fidgeting in place. I watched the steam curl up from the tea, and half-heartedly closed my hands around the cup. I didn’t pick it up, merely savouring the warmth as it seeped into my skin.

             “I’m glad to see you’ve changed your mind, Matsuura-chan.” Genkai’s voice startled me almost as much as her words.

             “O-oh?”

             “This is a dangerous time, and Yusuke and the others will need all the help they can to stop the tunnel. Speaking of which,” Genkai set her cup down, eyeing me with a frosty caution. “The tunnel is being dug by another Dark Stroke, isn’t it?”

             “How would I know?” I snapped. “I’m not involved with that at all!”

             “I’m sorry, Matsuura-chan. I believe you and we can tell Kurama does,” Botan said with a bit of a giggle. “I spent some time researching the legends about Dark Strokes over the weekend after what happened Saturday. I was just discussing what I’d found out with Yusuke and Genkai before you and Kurama arrived.”

             “Dark Strokes are one of the few demons capable of creating a portal to another realm, and they are incredibly uncommon. I find it hard to believe that if there’s a Dark Stroke digging this tunnel that you aren’t involved somehow.”

             “I’m not involved!” I said, my voice cracking. “You’re right- it makes sense that a Dark Stroke is behind the tunnel but it’s not me!”
             “I didn’t say it was you.” Genkai snapped. “I’m not a big believer in coincidence. You’re suspicious, Matsuura-chan.”

             “Kurama trusts me,” I said weakly, fear twisting through my gut.

             “Which is why I’m talking to you first.” she said sharply. “I haven’t forgotten your little slipup in Yojigen Mansion. I alluded to those digging the tunnel as the spiritual successors to Sakyo and you were offended. You know who they are, Matsuura-chan.” I was silent as my mind raced. Genkai wouldn’t be satisfied with just anything, but I couldn’t tell her the truth- at least, not the whole truth.

             “Look,” I said, pausing as I tried to think. “See, when I got here, I woke up with no memories. Amnesia, like in a soap opera or something. Gradually, I started to remember stuff, though it was all about the boys and their adventures- nothing about me. That night, in Yojigen Mansion . . . something slipped. The block in front of my memories started letting more through and-” I stopped, shaking my head. “It’s unbelievable, but I remembered things that haven’t happened yet. It scared me, I didn’t want to get involved with this because I think I know how it ends and I don’t want to change that.”

             “You don’t have any idea where these . . . memories came from?” Genkai prodded. I couldn’t read her, unable to tell how much if any of my story she believed.

             “Not really. I have a guess, but it’s crazy!”

             “Tell me.”

             “I . . . I think I’m really some kind of fortune teller. I mean, I think I can see the future.” It was a garbage excuse, and I held my breath as I waited for her to call me on it.

             “And the future you see, it’s worth protecting?” Botan said. She leant forward over the table, clearly taken in by my bullshit.

             “I think it is.” I said softly. “If things happen the way I’ve seen them, the end result will be peace between all three realms.”

             “Demon World, at peace with anyone?” Genkai snorted, shaking her head with a mixture of disgust and disbelief. “You’re quite the dreamer, kid. But that doesn’t matter- if you know the culprit, you need to tell us.”

             “No I don’t.” I said, shaking my head.

             “What was that?”

             “I don’t need to tell you- everything will make sense once Seaman wakes up.”

             “So what? Why should I wait if we’ll find out anyway?”

             “It’s not my place to tell you.” I said quietly. “Honestly, I shouldn’t be here. If I’d realized that my memories were really visions or whatever they are, I never would have gotten involved with any of you. I went to Kurama for help because I thought he might know who I really am, but . . . If I could, I’d make you all forget you met me so things could happen naturally.”

             “Would you?” Genkai said. I looked away, focusing on my untouched tea.

             “If I’d known what this was at the beginning, I would have gone to an all-girls high school with cute uniforms and stayed as far away from Kurama and the rest of you as I could.” I said firmly. It was nice to say, and if I had remembered why I’d known all those things, maybe I would have considered it. “It’s too late to change things now, and I’m not skilled enough to erase anyone’s memories. All I can do now is stand by and hope my presence doesn’t fuck everything up. Excuse me,” I said, and stood abruptly, walking back towards Yusuke’s room before Genkai could question me further.

             When I walked in, Yusuke sat in a chair in front of his bed while Kurama stood off to the side, his hands in his pockets as they watched Seaman –Mitarai Kiyoshi- struggle to sit up. The two of them glanced at me as I got closer, though their attention remained focused on the bed. 

             “Uhhh,” Mitarai groaned. “Where am I?”

             “In my bedroom. I found him last night carrying four guys on his back.” Yusuke said, gesturing at Kuwabara sprawled out behind him on the floor.

             “The others are safe, though they talked about you. We made them forget what happened.” Kurama said.

             “Now you’re gonna tell us everything. No use hiding anything either, we’ve got a friend who can read minds.” Yusuke pointed his thumb at me. Mitarai hesitated, sweat beading his forehead as he glanced between me and Yusuke. He closed his eyes, his mouth trembling as his fingers clutched in the blankets.

             “In fact,” His eyes snapped open, burning with hatred. “We shouldn’t have the right to live.”

             “You and your friends?” Kurama said, raising an eyebrow.

             “I’m talking about mankind!” Mitarai shouted, leaning forward. The pain in his mind was so loud, so insistent, that the dregs brushed against my mental barrier. It was a tortured, desperate feeling, and I couldn’t strengthen my mind against it fast enough. “I’m sure if you watch the tape you’ll agree with me.”

             “A videotape?” Yusuke said, puzzled. “Which one?”

             “It’s called the ‘Black Chapter’. It’s a tape that will show you all the terrible, cruel things humans have done.”

             “The Black Chapter?!” Kurama repeated, horrified.

             “That’s right.” Mitarai said, hysteria edging his words.

             “You’ve heard if it, Kurama?” 

             “Yes. It’s part of Spirit World’s archives; a secret document that holds all of humanity’s atrocities. I know Hiei was interested in it at one point. There’s thousands of hours of the worst things anyone could imagine.” He paused, regarding me with a thoughtful look. I shifted guiltily under his gaze. “I didn’t think it would have a link with this story, however. It’s getting clearer.”

             “You don’t know what humans have done, that’s why you’re still playing heroes! If you watched that tape, you’d agree with me- human beings don’t deserve to live!”

             “Yeah, so?” Yusuke growled, knocking over his chair as he leapt to his feet. He stomped closer to the bed, leaning in so his face was centimeters from Mitarai’s. “So fucking what? Is that why humans should end up as meat for monsters?” Mitarai was silent, his eyes wide and his breathing ragged. Guilt and hatred dominated him.

             “Yes.” he said, his voice barely above a whisper. “You don’t know what you’re talking about- you’re just lucky to live in a peaceful place. Have you ever seen a line of children waiting to be killed? The look of delight on a torturer’s face as he sizes up his next victim? The sight of a mother whose child is killed right in front of her?! Don’t you understand that the people enjoyed doing it?! Humans can kill their best friends and still laugh! Maybe you don’t realize it, but I’m sure you can do it too!” As Mitarai spoke, his voice grew louder and louder until he was screaming.

             “Then you’re like that too?” Yusuke said calmly.

             “Yes! You, me- anyone,” he said, tears mingling with the sweat that ran down his face.

             “I asked Kuwabara why he saved you. You wanna know what he said?” Yusuke paused. “He told me you looked like you were waiting to be saved. I laughed my ass off at the time, but looking at you now, I see what he meant.” Mitarai’s face crumpled. Slowly at first, but once the tears welled in his eyes dribbled over, he collapsed into himself with broad, hiccupping sobs.

             “When I sleep, I see the video in my dreams . . . ! The faces of the dead surround me, like I’m the one who killed them and I-I-I-I- I feel too guilty to live!” He bowed his head, tears falling on his hands as he clutched the blankets. “I don’t know what to do, it’s like I’m going mad-! I don’t know what- I wish someone would tell me. Tell me what to do because I can’t- I can’t! I’m fed up. Shit, I’m fed up! I’m fed up, I’m fed up, I’m fed up!” He babbled hysterically, and I recognized the signs of a panic attack. I crossed the room, pushing Yusuke aside to stand beside Mitarai.

             “Shh,” I said softly, brushing my fingers against his temple. The torment in his mind scared me but I couldn’t stand by and let him drown in it. I knew what it was like to be swallowed whole by anxiety; the first months after Jin-papa had found me had been dominated by the crushing terror of not belonging, of taking advantage of a kind old man, of who and what I really was. 

             Lightly at first, I entered his mind, dispelling the despair and guilt as slowly as I could so as not to frighten him more. Recalling the subtlety of the Dream Flower pollen, I brushed his thoughts with calm, murmuring telepathically that it was time for sleep. I didn’t know what to do to ensure it was a dreamless sleep, so I added that into my telepathic whispers, hoping the suggestion would be enough. Mitarai gradually settled, and I helped ease him into a lying position.

             “Yusuke, I think he needs to rest.” Kurama said softly.

             “Yeah,” Yusuke said, nodding, and the two of us followed him out of the room.

Chapter Text

                 “A video that has all the terrible things humans have done . . . That’s some scary shit.” Yusuke said. The three of us stood in the hallway outside his bedroom.

                 “I guess.” Kurama shrugged. “Most humans wouldn’t be able to last longer than five minutes . . . It must have changed his worldview completely.”

                 “The poor kid is clearly traumatized from being forced to watch it.” I said vehemently, shuddering. Mitarai’s despair lingered in my mind like the remnants of a nightmare.

                 “I’m not surprised humans are like that to him now. It’s for that reason so few have the right to watch that tape,” There was an air of wistfulness to Kurama’s voice that had Yusuke and I glaring at him.

                 “Stop! You’re giving me the creeps,” Yusuke said.

                 “Sorry, sorry!” Kurama smiled, holding up his hands. “By the way, Yusuke, I didn’t tell you what I did yesterday.”

                 “That’s right- Kaito said you ditched class.” Yusuke said, eyeing him expectantly.

                 “I went to see Koenma.”

                 “Koenma? Why didn’t you just use the tv?”

                 “I needed to see him in person.” Kurama said, giving me a quick glance. “I believe Koenma knows who the enemy is. After what Mitarai told us about the tape, it’s getting quite clear.”

                 “What?” Yusuke growled, rigid with shock.

                 “I think it’s time to-” Before Kurama could finish his sentence, Yusuke stormed into the living room, yanking open the briefcase that sat next to Botan on the floor.

                 “Listen up toddler-bitch! I want an explanation right the fuck now or I’m stopping everything!” Yusuke shouted, pointing aggressively at the screen.

                 “He’s fast,” Kurama murmured. I laughed weakly, more amused by the shock on Genkai’s face than anything. Yusuke barked out an explanation of what Mitarai had told us, and after, Koenma was silent for a moment before speaking.

                 “They’ve used that tape? I understand,” he said, his voice unexpectedly soft.

                 “Why the fuck didn’t you tell us you already had a suspect?”

                 “There was no proof. In fact, we had trouble admitting it was a possibility. I had trouble admitting the possibility.” Koenma amended, a trace of regret colouring his words.

                 “Explain yourself.” Yusuke demanded.

                 “Let’s begin with this.” Koenma said quietly. “I believe the boss is Sensui Shinobu. That man was a Spirit Detective.” The screen fizzled, and a picture of a young Sensui popped up. “This is a picture of him when he worked for us. He was still in high school.”

                 “That’s the guy I saw. The same, but older!” Yusuke said, his hands clenching into fists.

                 “He had a great sense of justice. A truly great man,” The screen went back to Koenma. “Before vanishing ten years ago, he was troubled by one thing: do humans have the right to live? Not long after he started asking that question, he disappeared with the tape. But why now, after all this time . . . ?” Koenma trailed off, shaking his head. “Yusuke, you must be careful, Sensui is strong! I’ll come to Earth too.” Without waiting for a reply, the screen went black.

                

                 A short while later, we sat gathered at Yusuke’s kitchen table. Koenma, in adult form, sat on one end, Yusuke the other, with myself and Kurama on one side and Genkai and Kuwabara (roused from sleep once Koenma announced his intentions to visit) on the other.

                 “I can’t believe the enemy used to be on our side,” Yusuke muttered, leaning his elbows on the table.

                 “But what made him change? Why does he oppress the ones he defended for so long?” Kurama addressed Koenma, but part of me wondered if he was asking me as well. Koenma was silent, sucking his pacifier reflectively before speaking.

                 “As I’ve said, Sensui has a great sense of justice. As a child, he was incredibly sensitive to monsters and malevolent spirits. He had to constantly defend himself against attack. Early on, before we ever met, he had decided that those monsters were his enemies.” Koenma paused, resettling his hands on the table. “But there was something that made him change. In fact, it was the last case I ever assigned to him. His mission was to close the portal to Makai for good.”

                 “Same as us,” Kuwabara said, his voice quiet. Yusuke tensed but said nothing.

                 “At that time, the tunnel wasn’t nearly as big as it is now. It was only about ten meters wide, and let nothing but the weakest demons through. The ones responsible for the opening were a secret organization- the Black Book Club.” All three of the boys stiffened at the name. “The man in charge of capturing the demons was Sakyo.”

                 “Sakyo?!” Kurama repeated.

                 “That asshole was doing this shit since I was in kindergarten?” Yusuke said. I remained silent, curling my fingers in the soft cotton of my skirt. He was one of the two villains I hated the most; not just a rich asshole, but a truly evil man with no reason for his actions other than greed.

                 “Yes. He captured demons to sell as protection to any who could afford it- he was the one who began it all. At least, began it in this century.” Koenma said. “Spirit World became aware that a huge transaction would take place in the mountains, so Sensui and his companion Itsuki were sent to take care of it. Their mission was quite the success; back then, Sakyo was using a demon much weaker than the Toguro brothers and Sensui and Itsuki were able to easily dismantle their headquarters. But Sensui saw something he never should have seen.”

                 “What?” Yusuke said quietly. Koenma closed his eyes.

                 “What Sensui saw there was something that was the exact contradiction of his beliefs; a scene where humans delighted in torturing demons.” Koenma said, and I closed my eyes, unable to stop the memory of those pages in the manga. The blood, the brutality of it- and Sensui’s tortured screams.

                 “It sounds like the mission we did at Tarukane’s castle.” Kuwabara said.

                 “There’s a fundamental difference between the two of you and Sensui.” Koenma said sharply. “Sensui killed every human in that room.”

                 “There was no man there. None.” I said softly, tears pricking my eyes as I thought of young Sensui’s bloodstained face. To the rest of the table, it was an offhand comment, simply me passing judgment on the actions of others. I glanced up, catching Koenma’s glance. He stared at me, his eyes just slightly wider at the shock of my words. He shook out of it quickly, and I wondered if anyone else had noticed. Koenma cleared his throat and continued.

                 “Sensui’s passion for Chapter Black began that day. I did my best to curb his interest in it, but nothing I said reached him. He became convinced that all of humanity was inherently evil and needed to atone for their sins.”

                 “And that’s why he wants to open a tunnel to Makai,” Genkai said, her mouth a tight line as she sipped her tea. She looked across the table at me, something unreadable in her eyes.

                 “Sheesh, that’s why I can’t stand guys like that,” Yusuke groaned. “They go from one extreme to the other.”

                 “That’s why I chose someone a little more irresponsible as the new detective,” Koenma smiled faintly. Kurama chuckled.

                 “I see!”

                 “Yeah, yeah everyone pile it on,” Yusuke muttered as Kuwabara snorted with laughter.

                 “I can’t explain why he’s only shown up now, or what he’s done in the last ten years.” Koenma said suddenly. “But Yusuke, you should know- once he begins something, Sensui won’t stop until it ends.” Before Yusuke could reply, the sticky inside-out feeling of someone’s territory being deployed washed over us. Kurama and Yusuke leapt to their feet and rushed towards the window. On the next building over, the silhouettes of a tall, lean man and a boy leant against the railing.

                 “Sensui,” Yusuke growled, staring furiously out the window. The pull of the territory surged as the boy raised his hand, pointing first at us before slowly moving to the right. Kuwabara flinched.

                 “Mitarai’s in danger!” He knocked his chair over with a clatter and stormed towards Yusuke’s bedroom. There was a crash as Kuwabara yelled from the other room, followed closely by the unmistakable sound of shattering glass.

                 “What the fuck is he talking about?!” Yusuke snarled, staring out the window as Sensui spoke. I couldn’t hear him either, and simply had to watch as he flapped his lips.

                 “I think Mitarai was manipulated from the beginning.” Kurama said.

                 “Hmm,” Genkai murmured, staring intently out the window.

                 “What? You can hear him?” Kurama smiled.

                 “Yes.” Kurama smiled.

                 “I can read lips.” Genkai added.

                 “Bastard!” Kuwabara roared from the other room. “Once we’ve used him we can kill him, is that it?! Come on Urameshi, he’s gonna pay!” He yelled, running full tilt out of the bedroom and towards the stairs. Yusuke joined him without hesitation. Kurama, Koenma, Genkai, and myself stood dumbly around the table, staring at the door outside as it swung back and forth from the force Kuwabara used to open it.

                 “This is serious!” Botan said, rushing to join us. “Mitarai just told me that Kuwabara is Sensui’s target! With his newly awoken powers, he can rip open the barrier Spirit World has in place and fully open the tunnel!” Her words ran together in a hysterical babble.

                 “Chie, you and Botan stay here with Mitarai.” Kurama said. I wanted to argue but he, Koenma, and Genkai disappeared down the stairs before I could even open my mouth.

                 “Figures,” I sighed, and followed Botan back into Yusuke’s bedroom. I stationed myself at the window, watching the tiny figures below.

                 “What’s going on down there?” Botan said, joining me.

                 “Looks like Yusuke and Kuwabara are staring down Sensui and Sniper.”

                 “Is that Atsuko?” Botan said, pointing at a woman who approached the building, her arms full of plastic bags.

                 “Yeah, I think so. That’s the rest of them too.” We watched in silence as they moved below, neither of us gifted with supernatural hearing or the ability to read lips. Mitarai stood slightly behind Botan, fretfully watching the scene below.

                 “Sensui is strong- I don’t know if Urameshi can win.” he said, worrying his lip as Yusuke approached Sensui, alone. They moved, reiki flaring, and exchanged blows almost faster than I could see. Yusuke had a momentary advantage, but Sensui punished him quickly with several vicious kicks. “See?” Mitarai whimpered.

                 “Shh!” Botan said. The two parted, and dread gathered in my stomach as Sensui created a ball of reiki. A little bit of talk, and then he kicked it. Yusuke dodged with little effort, but it careened around him, as if it had actually been aimed elsewhere. As the reiki grew closer, the dread solidified.

                 “Oh fuck.” I said. Before I could think or say anything else, it slammed into the building. Luckily, it hit the other window, shattering the kitchen where we’d been talking to Koenma and not the bedroom. The explosion rocked the entire apartment however, and all three of us were knocked down as the world around us tilted.

                 “Mitarai!” Botan cried, jumping on top of him as the bookcase fell. I let out a stream of curses as I struggled to sit, reaching out with my telekinesis to try and push the bookcase, to stop it from landing and crushing them both. I sent it flying backwards with enough force to slam back into place and crack the drywall.

                 “You guys okay?” I stood and ran towards them. Botan tenderly extracted herself from the tangle of their limbs as Mitarai groaned.

                 “We’re fine, thanks to you!” she said, inescapably cheery in spite of what happened. I helped Botan to her feet, brushing debris from her shoulders. As we went to look after Mitarai, Koenma and Genkai materialized in the doorway. 

                 “Are you hurt?” Genkai said.

                 “We’re a little shaken up, but fine.” Botan looked down at Mitarai, wilting a bit. “Oh dear! I tackled you pretty hard, didn’t I? I’m sorry!”
                 “It’s fine, you didn’t-” Mitarai broke off, groaning as Genkai and I helped him to sit up. “Why did you do that? You could have been really hurt!” He stared angrily at Botan.

                 “I wasn’t though, thanks to Matsuura-chan! You used your telekinesis to stop the bookcase from falling on us, didn’t you?” She beamed at me. “Thank you,”

                 “Don’t worry about it,” I said awkwardly, flustered under her praise, and pushed my bangs off my forehead just as Kurama ran into the room.

                 “What’s going on? Are you all unharmed?”

                 “It’s fine, they’re all uninjured.” Koenma said.

                 “Mitarai got a little squished, but he’ll be fine.” I added, trying to smile. Kurama frowned at me. “Botan tackled him when the bookcase fell.”

                 “She did it to save me,” Mitarai said, his voice trembling. “It was falling on me, and she covered me with her body-!”

                 “Don’t worry, she’s tough.” Genkai said with a smirk, patting Botan roughly on the shoulder. “Even if Matsuura hadn’t pushed it away from you two, Botan would have been fine.” Mitarai stared blankly at Botan, confusion swimming across his features.

                 “But why did you do all that for me?! I’m your enemy!” he demanded. Genkai snorted.

                 “Yes, why did you do that?” Botan paused.

                 “I don’t know. It was like a reflex, I think. I just saw the bookcase falling and acted without thinking.” Mitarai stared at her in disbelief, his mouth hanging slightly open. Botan laughed, waving it off. “To tell the truth, I didn’t think too much about it!”

                 “We don’t think when we save people; in those moments, you mustn’t ask yourself questions. Mitarai, you’ve only seen one side of humanity. If all humans acted like you expect them to, I wouldn’t be on their side.” Kurama said gently. “I don’t want to lecture you- we need to leave before the police arrive. You’re free to come with us, or to choose your own path. But . . . I won’t spare you the next time we meet.” The chill that settled over the room wasn’t from the breeze blowing through the hole in the wall. Mitarai froze, staring at the floor in front of him. “Let’s go- there should be an emergency exit at the rear of the building.”

                 “And don’t worry about the cops- I can get rid of them!” Atsuko said with a grin, poking her head into what was left of the room. We nodded, Koenma disappearing in a flash, zooming upwards to Reikai.

                 “I can help us get out of here without being noticed,” I said, and cloaked us in my ‘don’t-look’ aura. Genkai gave a look of surprise, but said nothing as we filtered out of what was left of Yusuke’s apartment, though I paused to snag my schoolbag on the way out.

                 We made our way to the emergency exit in silence. When I felt Mitarai join us, albeit a good distance behind, I made sure to cloak him as well.

                 “Kuwabara was kidnapped.” Kurama said, once we exited the building. Botan gasped, but Genkai merely scowled and shook her head.

                 “He acted like a fool as usual I’m sure.” she said. “I’ve got a hotel room nearby, let’s go there and discuss our next steps.” We nodded in agreement, following Genkai as she turned right. I lingered behind, watching Mitarai. He stood in front of the doors, staring after us.

                 “Wait!” he said, and took a hesitant step towards us.

                 “Would you like to give us a hand?”

                 “You want to help?” Kurama and Botan spoke in unison, holding out their hands with matching smiles. I joined them, urging Mitarai forward with a wave.

                 “Um, yes. I’d like . . . I want to help save Kuwabara.” Mitarai said, jogging slowly up to join us.

                 “Hurry up.” Genkai said tersely, pausing on us as she looked up and down the street. “I’d like to get away from here as soon as possible. Come,” We nodded, and followed after her.

 

*

 

                 “Ah, look! Hiei is with him!” Botan called out, bouncing in place as the two distant figures approached. All of us –Kurama, Genkai, Botan, Mitarai, Kaito, Yana, and myself- stood in the field beyond Irima Cave. We’d been sitting around Genkai’s hotel room, bringing Kaito and Yana up to speed, when Hiei had reached out to Kurama telepathically, cryptically telling us to meet Yusuke near the cave.

                 We’d all complied, though there was a bit of argument between everyone whether Hiei would be with Yusuke or not. Botan and Yana were undecided, Kurama and Genkai were sure he’d come, and Kaito and Mitarai were sure he wouldn’t. I demurred, saying I didn’t know him well enough to guess, though of course I knew he’d be there.

                 “Looks like we’re all together,” Genkai said, sighing briefly but unmistakably as Yusuke and Hiei approached, a gentle smile enveloping her features.

                 “Hey!” Everyone’s here, great!” Yusuke grinned, slowing his jog to a stop, Hiei following suit.

                 “Oh Yusuke, I’m glad you’re all right!” Botan rushed him, pulling him into a fierce hug, then pushing him back to look at him. “Are you all right? You seem hurt.”

                 “I’m fine, just a couple bumps and bruises from this guy,” He stuck his thumb at Hiei. “After he took care of Sniper for me, he helped clear my head with a friendly match.” Botan clicked her tongue, shaking her head.

                 “Well, I’m happy neither of you were seriously hurt. Let me,” Botan settled her hands on Yusuke’s shoulders and closed her eyes. A blue light enveloped her hands, sinking slowly into Yusuke’s skin. As it did, the faint bruises and scratches littering his skin faded.

                 “Thanks! You should do Hiei too, I got him good a couple times.” Yusuke said. Hiei snorted, giving Botan a glare as she took a step towards him. She stopped, blanching.

                 “It’s a good idea to be entirely healthy before we head into the cave- if we head into the cave.” Kurama said levelly.

                 “What do you mean, if?” Yusuke barked, crossing his arms over his bare chest.

                 “Let’s wait a moment and discuss it after Botan heals Hiei.” Kurama smiled. Hiei grimaced, but motioned Botan closer.

                 “Yusuke, here.” Yana bent and reached into his schoolbag, which he’d brought with him when we’d left for the cave. He rummaged around for a minute before pulling out a baggy white t shirt and throwing it at Yusuke.

                 “Thanks man,” he said, grinning, and pulled it over his head. I hadn’t thought of it until I saw it, but it was never explicitly stated in the manga or the anime where Yusuke got another shirt. Mystery solved, I thought, giggling to myself.

                 “To sum up,” Kurama said, his voice carrying over the field, snapping all of us to attention. He paused as we gathered in a loose circle around him. “We know there were seven of them to begin with. Yusuke took care of Doctor, Mitarai has joined us, and Hiei dealt with Hagiri, but there are still four enemies left. We think they’re in the cave with Kuwabara right now. Sensui said there are two days left before the gate opens- four days earlier than what was planned. I believe it’s Itsuki’s power growing that is accelerating the process.”

                 “Itsuki did say it was faster than what he first thought.” Mitarai said, frowning.

                 “Anyone can see that- look at our fair city. Well, once fair.” Kaito stopped, glancing out towards the flickering lights of Mushiyori.

                 “Yet another reason we need to storm the cave now, before the gateway can open any wider. We don’t have a choice, especially since they have Kuwabara.” Kurama said, his mouth pressed into a thin line. “He’s their key to breaking Spirit World’s barrier. We think they’ll let him live until that step.”

                 “Don’t forget Gourmet.” Mitarai said. “Even if he doesn’t agree, Gourmet could eat him to gain his powers.”

                 “Ah shit,” Yusuke swore, grimacing.

                 “I forgot to ask earlier, but was there a Toguro that was eaten?” Kurama asked.

                 “Yes.” Mitarai nodded grimly.

                 “You keep saying eaten, but how does that work? Does he just start gnawing on the guy’s shoulder or something?” Yusuke said.

                 “No, he swallows them whole. His territory is inside his stomach.” Mitarai explained.

                 “What’s the use of standing here?” Hiei spat. “We could be talking about this while heading into the cave.”

                 “Wait a minute!” Genkai barked, stepping forward. “We should choose a team to go in.”

                 “All right Grandma, who do you think should go?” Yusuke said, his jovial demeanor melting away in an instant. I’d never seen him like this –not in person anyway- and it was sobering.

                 “Yusuke, Kurama, Hiei; you three go into the cave. No need for more, it could be dangerous.” she paused, gesturing to the rest of us. “We’ll stay up here and keep watch. They might still have allies lurking outside.”

                 “Please, let me guide you. Irima Cave is like a labyrinth.” Mitarai said.

                 “Can we really trust you?” Hiei said, sneering. Looking like a kicked puppy, Mitarai’s gaze fell to the ground.

                 “I . . . I want to save Kuwabara. He saved me once, so- please, let me help.” he said softly, looking up to meet Yusuke’s eyes with a sudden fit of determination. Yana tapped Yusuke’s shoulder, holding up his hand and whispering something. Yusuke shook his head.

                 “I believe you. Let’s go.” He reached out, knocking his knuckles lightly against Mitarai’s arm. I blinked quickly, looking away. Man, I was a mess. I wanted so desperately to tell them, to assuage their fears for Kuwabara’s safety but I didn’t dare. The happiness of all three realms- I closed my eyes, forcing myself to breathe. Although I knew I couldn’t say a word, Yusuke’s death wavered in the back of my mind, fighting against my better intentions.

                 “Yusuke!” Genkai called out. The four of them stopped, looking at her expectantly. “Does this remind you of anything? “

                 “Huh? Oh yeah- when those guys kidnapped me!” Yusuke said, pointing at Kaito and Yana.

                 “Don’t lose your temper, I’m sure that’s what they’re aiming for.”

                 “Don’t worry Grandma.” Yusuke grinned. “I’ll come back and give you what’s left of Sensui’s corpse.” Genkai snorted, waving them off.

                 “Okay, let’s go!” Yusuke cried, throwing his fist in the air. I watched as their figures retreated into the distance, more unsettled than ever. The next few hours would be the some of the worst of the night, where I was unable to do anything but sit on my ass and wait.

 

 

                 I sat meditating for the two hours it took them to hike down to Gamemaster’s blockade and back. No one else seemed interested in conversation except Botan, and even her interest waned after the first half hour.

                 We sensed them before we saw them. As I stood, I ignored the worried murmurs as I wiped the stray bits of grass that clung to my legs and skirt, feigning  as much anxiety as I could.

                 “I don’t see Sensui’s corpse,” Genkai said drily as the four of them approached. In spite of myself, I snorted. Genkai was freaking great.

                 “We ran into a little problem- Gamemaster.” Yusuke scowled.

                 “To continue, there needs seven of us.” Kurama said, stepping forward.

                 “Seven?” Botan repeated.

                 “Gamemaster’s territory can bring video games to life.” Mitarai explained. “He’s chosen the game Goblin City, which requires seven different players.”

                 “Goblin City? I’ve played that before.” Genkai said.

                 “As have I.” Kaito said, adjusting his glasses.

                 “Me too.” I said.

                 “Who should we take with us then?” Yusuke turned to Kurama.

                 “Kaito and Yana certainly.”

                 “What, why me?” Yana demanded, looking pale. “I’m not really into video games, yeah?”

                 “Your Copy, duh.” I giggled rolling my eyes. “If you come that gives us a freebie.”

                 “Chie, Genkai, how good are you at the game?” Kurama said, looking between us.

                 “I’ve only had time to beat it once,” I admitted. “I played it a lot over the weekend but it was mostly Triple Seven on free play. Match three games are my jam.” I looked away as innocently as I could as Kurama’s eyes narrowed on me.

                 “I’ve beaten it once as well. I can’t say I have a specialty, but I prefer fighting games and shooters.”

                 “As I said, Kaito and Yana  must come with us.” Kurama said.

                 “It’s a pity Hiei has to come,” I sighed, crossing my arms across my chest. “I doubt he’s ever played a video game before.”

                 “And what of it? I have no intentions of staying behind.” Hiei snapped.

                 “Yeah, but you’re also dead weight in this case.” I said, my frustration making me ruder than I normally would be. Obviously, I was the one who shouldn’t go if I was trying to keep things canon, but this was the one place I thought I could be helpful and it burned to have to sit out.

                 “Perhaps Hiei doesn’t need to stay behind.” Kurama said.

                 “What do you mean? Gamemaster’s territory won’t let us through unless there’s seven exactly.” Mitarai said.

                 “Yes, but Hiei can accompany us down the tunnels and wait outside his territory while Chie joins us to play the game. It’s more advantageous the more players we have that are familiar with the game.”

                 “You expect me to sit and do nothing?” Hiei said, temper searing his words.

                 “Have you ever played a video game before?” Yusuke said. 

                 “Ch,” Hiei glared at Yusuke, but said nothing else.

                 “It’s settled then.” Kurama glanced around the group. “Botan, please stay here and keep an eye out. Don’t hesitate to find Koenma if you sense something has gone wrong.”

                 “Right.” Botan said determinedly. “Good luck! I’ll be here.”

 

                 Aside from Kurama’s lantern plants, it was entirely pitch black. The air was surprisingly fresh and cool; if I hadn’t been walking I probably would’ve been chilly wearing only my light summer uniform. I felt a bit self-conscious going into a fight in a damn skirt, but there was nothing I could do about it at this point.

                 We settled into a loose single file line, though the tunnels were wide enough for about three people to walk shoulder to shoulder. Mitarai, Yusuke, and Kurama in front, followed by Genkai and myself with the rest of the boys in the back, Hiei last of all. We walked in silence- there wasn’t a lot that could be said as we all power-walked to keep up with Yusuke’s pace.

 

                 About a half-hour into the hike, Kurama slowed as unobtrusively as he could until he walked beside me. He brushed his fingers along my arm, meeting my eyes with as meaningful a look as he could manage in the cave’s gloom.

                 “Did you want a private conversation? I asked, allowing my faint amusement to filter through our telepathic connection. He smiled briefly before looking back ahead.

                 “Yes, thank you. You mentioned yesterday there was one small thing you could do to help. Did you mean this?”

                 “Yeah. It wasn’t quite the truth, however. “I happened to see the game while I was out shopping over the weekend, and I thought . . . Hiei doesn’t do anything other than sleep during this round, so I thought maybe I could help. There’s some differences between the manga and the anime here, and I don’t know how my presence in this dimension has affected things. I don’t know if I’ll be of any use, but I’m hoping I’ll be better than nothing.” I trailed off, shrugging.

                 “I appreciate your help even if you’re not being entirely honest.”

                 “What are you talking about?” I stiffened, insulted, and ignored the slithering fear that raced up my spine. I didn’t want him to realize what I was doing.

                 “At first, I thought you joined us simply to make contact with Itsuki- either because you wanted more knowledge about your abilities or to see if he could possibly return you to your dimension.”

                 “Okay, you got me there.” I admitted nervously. “Part of the reason I wanted to come is because I wanted to see if Itsuki would be amenable to training me. I don’t know that I want to go home, but I would like some guidance before attempting to rip a hole into an alternate reality.”

                 “But there’s something else, isn’t there? Something involving Triple Seven.” Cautiously, I cordoned off my thoughts, gradually narrowing our telepathic link. Of course he figured it out. “Tell me.”

                 “I don’t have to tell you shit. I’m sorry if I end up being a distraction; it was a selfish impulse on my part.”

                 “Chie-” I cut the link decisively, glad for the darkness that covered my red cheeks. It was stupid to think he wouldn’t pick up on that, stupider to think that I could take the final battle with Amanuma without him figuring out something was up.

Chapter Text

                 “Welcome to Goblin City! Only seven may enter.” A loud, boyish voice boomed from behind it. We formed a loose circle around Yusuke and Kurama, looking at each other in agreement and entered Gamemaster’s territory. Hiei watched us, scowling before sitting against one of the walls of the cave.

                 Passing through the doors gave me the predictable sticky feeling of walking into someone’s territory. The room was sparser than I remembered; large and open, with industrial-like metal walls and flooring and of course, the large screen that took up almost an entire six meter section by itself. The only decorations were the two game stations, and the lottery wheel off to the side of the Game Maou’s throne. Amanuma lounged in it, his yellow horned hood leaving his eyes barely visible. He didn’t look like a ten year old kid; his eyes glittering with a strange malice as he watched us. In spite of myself, I shivered.

                 “Hey Kurama, how do you play this game?” Yusuke whispered as we drew closer.

                 “What? I thought you knew!”

                 “Nah, I’ve just seen it in a magazine. I’m more into fighting games so I never got around to playing it.” Yusuke said a bit sheepishly. Kurama frowned, sighing, and rubbed the spot between his eyebrows.

                 “You see the slot machine over there? The level of the game is decided by turning it, and it ranges from one to ten. Each player plays one game only. Once the team reaches four victories, they win.”
                 “Are you ready yet?” Amanuma huffed impatiently, fidgeting underneath the yellow cloak. “I don’t care if you are, I’m going to turn it! Aren’t you guys in a hurry anyway? If you don’t speed up I won’t play with you at all!”

                 “This brat is pissing me off!” Yusuke said, grimacing at Amanuma.

                 “That’s what happens when you make a kid the Dungeon Master.” Kaito quipped.

                 “I didn’t realize you were into D&D Kaito.” I said, giggling.

                 “Never mind that- we need to make a plan.” Kurama said, mildly irritated. “Myself, Chie, Genkai, and Kaito have played the game and beaten it at least once. Yusuke and Yana have not, though Yana can copy Kaito as needed.”

                 “I haven’t beaten the game, but I have played it. I’m pretty confident I could beat the sports games.” Mitarai said.

                 “Good, that gives us a better advantage . . . Gamemaster must have chosen this game because he’s very familiar with it. Before we face the Game Maou, we’ll need to win three of the games. Ideally, I’d like to do this without losing.”

                 “Since we all have different strengths, it shouldn’t be that hard.” I looked around the circle, avoiding Kurama’s eyes, and continued. “Mitarai can take the sports games, Kaito or Yana the puzzles, Genkai said she was competent at shooters and Yusuke, you’re good at fighting games, aren’t you?”

                 “Yeah. You said you were good at matching games, right?” Yusuke said. I nodded. “But what about Kurama?”

                 “He’ll be our ace in the hole.” I said.

                 “Time’s up! I’m choosing the first game now and I don’t care if you’re ready or not!” Amanuma shouted.

                 “Okay. Genkai, Mitarai, Yana: you need to win games. Yusuke, if there’s a fighting game, you must win it. I’ll take care of the rest.” Kurama said. We nodded.

                 “Slot start!” Amanuma said. Dutifully, the oni standing next to the slot machine cranked the handle. It spun for a solid thirty seconds before it plinked into place, sounding eerily like the big wheel on the Price is Right. “We’ll start with a tennis game, level seven.”

                 “I’ll begin, if no one objects?” Mitarai glanced between us then stepped forward. As he approached the game station, a large blue oni hologram crackled to life at the opposing controls.

                 “My game devils adjust to match the level of the game, okay?” Amanuma said cheerfully. We were silent, though he didn’t seem to notice as the giant screen sprang to life.

                 “Mitarai, it’s been a while.” Amanuma glared at him, smiling with brittle temper in his eyes. “Sensui-san was right- you are a traitor. . . .Unless you’re planning a double-double-cross. I’d have a better opinion of you if you did!” Amanuma said. Mitarai said nothing.

 

                 The game started easily enough, a few short rallies and Mitarai scoring quick points. None of us spoke, the only sounds being the tinny, eight-bit sound effects from the game- until the Game Maou’s taunting began.

                 “You told me once that we were the same, didn’t you Mitarai?” Amanuma said. “That the other kids at school avoided you. Sensui-san says that people don’t avoid you for the same reason as me though.”

                 “Shut the hell up!” Yusuke shouted. Amanuma smirked.

                 “It’s part of the game.” Kaito said with a shrug. “The Game Maou taunts the player in an effort to distract him.”

                 “Doesn’t mean I have to like it,” Yusuke muttered.

                 “Sensui-san said you were rejected because you were weak. I stayed away from people because they’re too stupid. Don’t you think we’re opposites?” Amanuma certainly made a good Game Maou in the sense that his little kid bragging was supremely grating.

 

                 I was impressed with Mitarai’s fortitude in the remainder of the game. Amanuma spent the rest of the thirty minute match making cutting remarks just as he went to serve or make a critical swing. Mitarai never let it bother him or if it did, he never let it show. He didn’t make every point or win every match, but he never visibly reacted to Amanuma’s assholery.

                 “One victory!” The six of us relaxed microscopically as Mitarai ended his game with a win.

                 “Tch,” Amanuma scowled, crossing his arms petulantly under his cowl.

                 “Amanuma, you’re right.” Mitarai paused as he turned to face the boy. “I was weak, and I was too scared to face it, so I decided to go along with his plan to damn all humanity. I was weak . . . but I’ve changed.” They locked eyes, and there was a split second where I thought he’d been touched by Mitarai’s words. Instead, Amanuma let out a gusty sigh and rolled his eyes.

                 “Yeah yeah, whatever . . . Let’s play the next game!”

 

                 Genkai and Yana, copying Kaito, won their subsequent games, a shooter and a weird puzzle game that mashed Tetris and Minesweeper. Like the home console version I played, each game took a ridiculous time to finish, neither one of them taking less than an hour. Sensui’s strategy was flawless, I had to admit. I couldn’t think of a better game to waste our time, or any game that suited his more coldhearted motive.

                 “Great! Now we’ve got three wins- just one more!” Yusuke crowed, pumping his fist in the air.

                 “Finally, it’s my turn to play!” Amanuma’s face lit up in a twisted smile as he jumped out of his throne, throwing his yellow hood off with a dramatic twist.

                 “Hm, he’s copying the game right down to the letter, isn’t he?” Kaito said.

                 “Yes. That will be good for now.” Kurama’s voice was very slightly stilted. “Yusuke, listen to me very carefully. If Amanuma is the same level as the Game Maou in the game itself, Kaito or I should be able to beat him. But I think he’s actually a lot better than that- no doubt why he chose this game. Most likely, neither you or Chie could win against him. If Kaito or I lose . . . leave this place.” Yusuke stared at him intently, and I could see his mind working through the entire significance of his words. Hell, I knew the outcome and I was still unnerved by Kurama’s uncertainty.

                 “And now, I’d like some action.” Amanuma said cheerfully, tapping the slot machine as it rattled. As I knew it would, it landed on a quiz game. “Ugh, I hate those-!”

                 “I’ll take care of this.” Kaito stepped forward, pushing his glasses up his nose. “I’ve never lost a quiz game in my life.”

                 “We’re counting on you! One more and we win!” Yusuke said, pointing aggressively at Kaito’s back. Humming joyfully, Amanuma practically skipped to the controls, looking like a child to me for the first time since we’d arrived nearly three hours ago.

                 “He looks confident. Mitarai, what do you know about his power?” Kurama said.

                 “Honestly, not much. This is the first time I’ve seen it. I know he can materialize games into reality, and that we’re actually fighting in the game’s world.”

                 “Hm.” Kurama didn’t say anything else, though he caught my gaze and held it for an uncomfortably long time.

                 “I’ll explain the rules,” Amanuma said. “The first person who buzzes gets to answer the question, and whoever gets ten points first wins. Wrong answers won’t make you lose points, but if you get three wrong you lose.”

                 “I know.” Kaito said flatly.

                 “Game Maou vs. Kaito! Quiz start!” The tinny voice of the announcer rang through the hall, and Kaito readied himself at the buzzer, starting intently at the screen. Amanuma didn’t move, standing perfectly still with his arms crossed against his chest.

                 “What’s he doing? He’s just standing there,” Yusuke snapped. He was nervous, I realized suddenly. I looked to Genkai and Yana, reaching a tendril of my youki in their direction. I couldn’t read their body language as I could read Yusuke’s, but it was easy to see the unease in their minds.

                 “What are you doing?” Kaito said, annoyance lacing his words.

                 “I’ll give you a handicap.” Amanuma said, not bothering to look in Kaito’s direction. “You can answer the first five questions.”

                 “Handicap? I don’t think I need one.” Kaito said quietly. He seemed calm, but after getting to know him over the last few months, I clearly saw the way anger coloured his gestures.

 

                 Kaito breezed through the first five questions, leaving Yusuke and Yana bursting with excitement. Things were proceeding exactly as they should be. It was a good thing- I didn’t want things to change, but . . . I wasn’t looking forward to taking my turn and ending the game. I knew Koenma would come along and revive him so killing him shouldn’t matter. I had to stop thinking about it, I told myself firmly. I tried to clear my mind and calm down, though my rapidly beating heart wouldn’t let me. There was so much energy in the air, too much tension and anxiety swirling around to properly relax.

                 “Ah, I think I’ve got it!” Amanuma’s peppy voice cut through my thoughts. “It’s time to strike back!” he said excitedly, and bounced in place at the podium. The more he played, the more he seemed like a normal kid. It broke my heart, further weakening my resolve.

                 “What do you mean? You were testing me for the first five questions?”
                 “Idiot! That’s not what I was doing. I never expected much from you,” Amanuma blew a raspberry at Kaito and turned back to the podium. “You’ll see.”

                 “Question Six!” Before the announcer could read the question, Amanuma hit his buzzer.

                 “If you buzz before the question is read, it doesn’t show up on the screen.” Kurama murmured.

                 “He’s trusting his gut?” Yusuke said.

                 “What is the name of the planet that’s been in the news because of its possible impact with the Earth in the year 2000? The answer is B, Tortitous.” Amanuma said, selecting B as he spoke.

                 “Right answer!” As Yusuke and Yana recoiled in surprise, the question and the possible answers popped up on the screen.

                 “He answered without seeing the question?! Does he have some kind of divination power?” Yusuke said.

                 “He must know all possible combinations of questions and answers.” Kurama said.

                 “That’s impossible, the questions are randomized!” Kaito adjusted his glasses.

                 “It looks random, but there is a logic to it. It takes me about five questions to figure it out.” Amanuma said, just a trace of condescension to his words. “Was five enough for you?”

 

                 Amanuma swept the next nine answers. Kaito tried to guess before the question was read himself but predictably, he wasn’t able to.

                 “Kaito is disqualified. Game Maou wins!” the announcer said. I felt the tension gather in the boys around me.

                 “I didn’t notice there was a pattern to the questions.” Kaito said, bitterly. “I’ve lost.”

                 “You did great, though. I’d like to play against you again sometime!” Amanuma said with a bright smile. Kaito frowned, confused.

                 “Under different circumstances, perhaps.”

                 “Grrr . . . I can’t believe Kaito lost.” Yusuke muttered.

                 “Yeah, that kid sure is strong.”

                 “We have to count on Kurama now . . . Hey, I didn’t think of it, but what are the consequences of losing in this territory?” Yusuke turned to Mitarai, who shrugged.

                 “Kaito looks fine,” Yana said, nodding to the other boy as he walked back to where we were gathered.

                 “He’s strange.” Kaito said, frowning.

                 “You’re all right?” Kurama asked. Kaito nodded.

                 “I’m fine. Nothing happened when I lost- I thought he’d take my soul at least. It seems as if all he cares about is playing games. It makes me wonder if he understands what’s he’s doing by helping Sensui.”

                 “Perhaps . . .” Kurama trailed off, rubbing his chin as he thought. I could see his eyes dance as his mind worked, and it made me uneasy. In my excitement after thinking of a way to help I hadn’t remembered, but Kurama figured out what Sensui’s motives were before the game of Triple Seven started.

                 “Did you figure something out?” Yusuke prodded. Kurama straightened.

                 “Like in the original game, I think there’s no risk in losing . . . but we’ll be killed if we give up.”

                 “What?!” Yusuke said.

                 “In this game, when a team loses four games, there’s a game over screen where you can either continue or give up. If you choose continue, you’ll begin a new game. But if you choose to give up, the screen reads ‘The End’, and the players’ graves are shown.”

                 “Wait, does that mean . . . ?” Yusuke froze, his eyes widening. “Does that mean we’re gonna have to play this stupid game until we win?! We’ve already been here for three and a half hours!” he shouted, his voice steadily rising in volume.

                 “Amanuma has no intention of killing us.” Kurama said calmly. “This game is merely a ploy to waste our time while the barrier continues to open.”

                 “You’re right!” Amanuma laughed, bounding over to the slot machine and cranking the handle himself. “When the time is right, I shall release you from my territory. Until then, you’ll just have to wait and play with me.” he said in an odd, affected voice, then laughed again.

                 “He’s only here to give those assholes more time. No wonder he’s laughing.” Yusuke spat, his fists curling into fists.

                 “There’s no other way? We’ve already been here for ages!” Yana said, groaning.

                 “Nothing except winning against him.” I said, remembering Hiei’s lines. I needed to fudge it a bit however, since I obviously hadn’t been trying to unleash my demonic flames during the previous games. “If I’m right, it’s like Kaito’s territory- no violence allowed. We have to play by his rules.”

                 “There’s no other way? I dunno if I could win,” Yusuke said.

                 “I don’t know, but I suspect Chie is correct.” Kurama said, his eyes narrowing almost imperceptibly as they met mine. Guiltily, I looked away.

                 “Maybe . . . but if I’m correct, I’ll feel somewhat guilty making Amanuma lose.” he said finally.

                 “What are you talking about?”

                 “Amanuma doesn’t realize how strong his power is.” A shadow crossed over his face, and I knew he’d figured it out.

                

                 The slot machine clicked into place. It landed on Triple Seven, and a pit opened up in my stomach. It scared me, but I still wanted to do it. Had to.

                 “Triple Seven- Matsuura-chan, that’s the game you like, right? A matching game?” Yana asked. I nodded.

                 “It’s kind of like if Tetris and Bejeweled had a baby, and that baby had a baby with Sudoku.”

                 “. . . what?” Yana looked at me blankly.  

                 “I’m not sure what Bejeweled is but Matsuura is otherwise correct.” Kaito said, giving me an odd look.

                 “That’s right, Bejeweled isn’t a thing in Japan yet, huh?” I laughed nervously, tucking a stray piece of hair behind my ear, studiously avoiding Genkai or Kurama. “Um, anyway- the blocks fall with different numbers one through seven. To clear a line, the blocks need to add up to seven. To clear the seven blocks, you match three.”

                 “It’s giving me a headache thinking about it.” Yana grimaced.

                 “You can play for hours. It’s simply a matter of concentration.”

                 “Hours?!” Yana swore as he and Kaito chattered listlessly on.

 

                 Kurama turned to the podium. Frowning, I grabbed his arm.

                 “We agreed that I would take Triple Seven.” I said quietly.

                 “Chie, this isn’t the time. I don’t think you understand what needs to be done.”

                 “You don’t?” I scoffed, raising an eyebrow. His eyes flashed greenly with understanding followed by temper.

                 “This is not your fight.” he said coldly, shaking my hand off of his arm.

                 “Let me do this!” I said. Kurama settled his lips into a thin line, his temper flaring as he leaned in to whisper in my ear.

                 “I know why you thought this would help, but this is not a game. No matter how much you’re enjoying participating in your favourite story, this is not something small you can change to make yourself feel better. Stay out of it.” Without another look in my direction, he stalked up to the podium.

 

                 I stayed where I was, my eyes screwed shut as I tried not to let my temper or my embarrassment sway me. His stony disappointment made me sick, but I knew it was my own fault. How vain was I to think I could pull one over on Kurama and snake his fight? This was the second time I’d somehow underestimated him, and I was beyond disappointed in myself.

                 “What was that about?” Yusuke asked quietly.

                 “I wanted to help, and I guess I . . . I overstepped. This fight is important, and I shouldn’t have tried to do it myself.” I said with a shrug. Yusuke looked at me reflectively, frowning.

                 “Amanuma, may I ask you a question?” Kurama said as he settled himself at the podium.                 

                 “Sure?” Amanuma gave him an odd look.

                 “Did Sensui ask you to choose this game?”

                 “Yeah! He’d said it’d be the perfect finale. Besides, it’s one of my favourites.” he said cheerfully. Kurama stiffened, his fist clenching.

                 “Do you really understand what Sensui is trying to do?”

                 “Yeah I know.” Amanuma said matter-of-factly. “There’ll be a lot of monsters coming to wreck stuff. School will be cancelled then, so that’ll be cool. But I’ll be safe in my territory. No stupid monster can beat me at video games!” There was silence, and Kurama slowly looked from Amanuma to the screen.

                 “If you lose this game, you will die.” Kurama spoke evenly, without any trace of emotion. “Did you know that too?” Amanuma froze with shock, but quickly recovered.

                 “You’re mean- trying to confuse me to win, huh? It’ll take more than that to beat me.”

                 “You’ve seen the ending of this game several times, haven’t you?” Kurama persisted. “When the boss loses, it actually shows his dead body. That’s pretty rare in games, isn’t it? Your power will do the same to you. There’s one thing I’m absolutely certain of- this is the first time you’ve used this particular game with your power.”

                 “Well, yeah.” Amanuma looked a bit more nervous. “But only because I need seven other people! Nothing has ever happened to me in the other games.”

                 “I think you’ve never used your power on a dangerous game before this one. Those that evoke death are rare . . . I’m sure Sensui stopped you in the past.” Amanuma’s eyes widened at Kurama’s words, and he seemed stuck in place.

                 “Wait a minute- you said that Sensui had no intention of killing us!” Yusuke said, taking a few steps forward.

                 “You’re right. Sensui doesn’t want to kill us at all. Do you want to know what I think? I think Sensui is willing to sacrifice Amanuma to reach his goal.” Kurama said. Amanuma started, though anything he started to say was cut off by the announcement of the game’s start.

                 “We can sit here and play as many times as we need to, but if Amanuma loses just once, he’s dead.” Yusuke ground his teeth. “Sensui did this on purpose.”

                 “Amanuma had no idea.” Genkai said. “Sensui hid the truth from him, though he knew we’d realize it- he probably thought we wouldn’t be able to kill a child like that. But Kurama won’t hesitate. That’s why he spoke to him so seriously- he tried to unnerve him to gain the advantage. It’s cruel, but there wasn’t another choice.”

                

                 We watched in silence as they played. Kurama cleared his blocks with ease, while Amanuma struggled. They didn’t pile up as quickly as the manga and anime had made it seem. He wasn’t as speedy as Kurama, but Amanuma didn’t immediately tank either. Excruciatingly, they piled up as Amanuma trembled.

                 “Amanuma’s side is getting kinda high,” Yana said.

                 “He looks disturbed,” Kaito nodded.

                 “Tell me, is there another way to end it?” Amanuma said suddenly, completely stopping his movement of the blocks. Kurama paused before answering, though his eyes never left the screen.

                 “Is there a way to dissolve your territory in the middle of a game?”

                 “Not while I’m playing as an NPC!” Amanuma said, and frantically turned back to his controls. “One of us has to lose!”
                 “I have no intention of losing.” Kurama said after a flicker of hesitation. “You knew what Sensui was planning. You played knowing the consequences.” Amanuma stopped again, his body shaking as he tried unsuccessfully to blink away tears. My fingers curled in my skirt, digging into my palms despite the material. Tears burned in my eyes. I knew he’d be okay in the end, but it didn’t change the pain of his death- for him or for anyone else.

                 “I never thought it’d end up like this,” he stopped, hiccupping as his voice broke. “I don’t want to die . . .”

                 And then the screen flashed, proclaiming our victory. There was a stutter to the feel of his territory, and then suddenly it and the room disappeared. All that was left was the original rocky walls of Irima Cave, and the body of a small boy.

                 “Kurama-“ Yusuke reached out, taking a step towards him. He hadn’t moved when Amanuma’s territory dissolved, standing where the podium had been, his hands clenched into fists at his sides. Yusuke started when he saw his expression. Kurama’s back was turned to me, but I didn’t have to see his face to know what it looked like.

Chapter Text

                 Genkai stayed with Yana and Kaito while the rest of us followed Mitarai as he guided us through the tunnels. I had expected more of an argument when I tagged along behind them, but Kurama was too angry and unsettled to object- I half wondered if he’d even noticed my presence, though I knew better than to believe that. Yusuke had given me an appraising look, but he hadn’t said a word.

                 “That’s it. They’re about fifty meters ahead, down the big tunnel on the left.” Mitarai said, stopping. It had taken us just shy of an hour to reach this point, the air gradually growing hotter and more stagnant as we approached. “Let’s hurry on,” With that, we followed Mitarai down the final passageway and into a large, well-lit cave.

                 There was a large lake in the center, with a small boat a few meters off shore. A large tv sat between us and the water, a black leather couch between us and the tv. A man –Sensui- lounged on the couch, his arms spread along the back of it with a familiar casualness. Itsuki stood beside the couch, his back facing us as he focused his complete attention on the hideous, pulsating crack in the air above the lake that stretched down almost to the water. Neither the anime or the manga had done it justice, I thought grimly. Large cracks split the air, light growing brighter and dimmer as the faintly visible shapes of demons surged behind it. Heat shimmered in front of it- or was it power? Both, I decided.

                 Kuwabara let out a muffled cry from the boat, and Yusuke walked a little deeper into the room, calling out his name.

                 “Glad you could make it.” Sensui said, though he didn’t move from his position on the couch. Itsuki glanced back at his, his eyes stopping at me. I cloaked my youki with more vigilance than I had in months, unwilling to reveal myself to him until after Kurama defeated Elder Toguro.

                 “It’s far stronger than it was.” Hiei said, closing his eyes as he took a deep breath, a smile dancing behind his stern look. “A normal human would die with one breath of pure Makai air.”

                 “This movie’s pretty good, but there’s only thirty minutes left.” Sensui continued as if he hadn’t heard Hiei speak. “To tell you the truth, the plot’s fairly standard. It starts off with love, then devolves into depraved violence and murder. But the song at the end . . . it’s hauntingly beautiful. It should start to play as the tunnel opens completely.” As Sensui stood, screams from the tape rent the air, thin and hollow as they echoed around the cave, blending into the faint sounds of water and the there-but-not-there groaning from the demons clawing at the barrier.

                 “Huh?” Mitarai started. “Itsuki’s standing? He’s usually in that boat in the lake . . . but he left Kuwabara-kun tied up.” Hearing him, Itsuki smiled, his golden eyes glittering as he glanced from us back to the tunnel.

                 “I no longer need to do anything. The tunnel will open on its own soon. Even I couldn’t stop it now.”

 

                 The cracks in the air surged, dimming, and hands and claws surged through the barrier towards Kuwabara as a cacophony of voices screeched together in harsh guttural tones.

                 “Meat! Meeeeaaaaaaaaat!”

                 “It’s been hundreds of years!”

                 “Human meat!” Sensui chuckled, watching as the barrier receded and the demons’ hands faded from view.

                 “Those are mostly C class demons; all they can think about is food. The more reasonable, intelligent ones should grow to B class. A class demons- they could be considered to the ‘god’ of various religions or mythical beasts from ancient stories. I’m sure they’re waiting somewhere, listening . . . waiting for the tunnel to open.” Sensui beamed as the cracks of light vacillated again. “In half an hour, you’ll all bear witness to a new chapter in the world’s history. You’ll probably be the only witnesses to an event that no one else saw or even knew about- celebrities beyond any foreign actors or fitness models.”

                 “Shut the fuck up already, you’re just talking trash.” Yusuke spat, taking a decisive step forward.

                 “If you want to do something about it,” Sensui paused, gesturing imperceptibly to Itsuki. “Makibara.” Was I the only one to notice the subtle flex in Itsuki’s youki as ‘Gourmet’ stepped out of thin air? “Defeat him, and I’ll free Kuwabara.”

                 “What?” Yusuke froze. Sensui smiled.

                 “Generous isn’t it? I could use him as a shield, threatening his life to prevent you from acting.” Sensui said. Itsuki smiled adoringly at him. Knowing what to look for, I saw the telltale love-light in his eyes. I felt a bit . . . improper as I watched him watch Sensui. They were one of my favourite ships in the show, one I’d sought out and written fanfic for regularly. It was weird watching them together in person- I felt like some kind of creep.

                 “Don’t trust him.” Kurama’s whisper interrupted my musing. “We should play along until we have a chance to rescue Kuwabara.”

                 “Kurama,” Yusuke whispered back, a faint smile on his face as Mitarai took a few steps forward stopping as Makibara spoke.

                 “Hey, I know you want to rescue Kuwabara, but Sensui-san might change his mind of you try anything funny. He said he’d return him if you beat me, didn’t he? Oh, and Kurama . . .” Makibara smirked cruelly, his expression losing the faintly idiotic expression it had worn earlier. “Are you that upset about killing Amanuma? You’re putting up a good front but you’re pretty torn up about it, aren’t you? Hmm, interesting,” Makibara stopped, his gaze flicking towards me. “You resent the girl for keeping the truth from you.”

                 “Shit!” Yusuke muttered. Makibara laughed.

                 “Ding ding ding! You got it- congrats! I ate that Murarta guy and gained his tapping ability.”

                 “Kurama-” Yusuke started.

                 “Back off.” Kurama pulled a Rose Whip from his hair, his entire body stiff with temper. “I’ll kill him.” With an imperceptible flick of his wrist, Kurama sliced the top of his head off. Everyone flinched except me, who had been expecting, relishing the moment. This fight with Toguro was one of my favourites. Quick and to the point, intensely brutal and cold. It was delicious.  

                 “Wh-what happened? I never even saw . . .” Mitarai stuttered. Kurama sneered dispassionately at Makibara’s corpse.

                 “Drop the act. You aren’t fooling anyone, Toguro. Get up.” Yusuke started, but Sensui glanced back at Itsuki and smirked. “The foul stench coming from this body could only be you.” It was silent for what seemed like ages, then faint demented laughter rose from the corpse. It shuddered, spurting blood as Elder Torguro’s head grew slowly out of what had been Makibara’s jaw.

                 “Not too shabby, fox. You’re nose has gotten sharper.” Yusuke and Mitarai started, staring in horror at it. Blood clung to the greasy grey strings of his hair and his pasty skin, his eyes a furious black as he stared down Kurama. Toguro snickered meanly, licking Makibara’s blood from his lips. and I could feel his territory extending as he read their minds. I left mine partially open, leaving decoy thoughts of disgust and horror at the top of my mind while carefully hiding my true thoughts from him. I used as little youki as I dared, unwilling to give Itsuki a clue. “Exactly- he tried to eat me, but I was the one who came out on top. It’s a long story . . . My younger brother practically annihilated me, but there was enough left to survive. I floated out at sea, recovering little by little. I’d regenerated about half my head by the time I’d washed ashore. I started sending out telepathic signals on a special wavelength . . . a signal that only the strongest, most evil being could receive. I was prepared to wait for years, decades even, but almost immediately, he showed up. Sensui.” Toguro turned, looking back at him.

                 “When he told me about Urameshi, my successor, it was like . . . fate. Now I’m certain it was- and it’s time to fulfill my destiny and destroy humanity.” Sensui paused, chuckling as Kuwabara shouted incomprehensibly from the boat. “I gathered like-minded companions, those who would gain abilities from the tunnel’s opening.”

                 “It’s a good thing they found this guy.” Toguro interrupted, giggling like a girl. “I love the brutality of his abilities. You remember the day he ate me, don’t you Mitarai? Poor Makibara- too bad he didn’t know about me. I’m like a cockroach. He panicked as I began to overtake his mind, growing crazier and crazier as I slowly took over. His descent into madness was one of the most hilarious things I’ve ever experienced!”

                 “Enough.” Kurama flicked his Rose Whip. “You’ve had your fun, you scum.” I knew that the ‘this ends here you soulless fuck’ line wasn’t strictly accurate, but I was still mildly disappointed that he hadn’t said it. Okay, maybe a bit more than ‘mildly’- Elder Torguro’s maniacal laughter cut into my thoughts.  

                 “Bring it on- I’m way stronger than last time! I can regenerate my body forever, absorb any conceivable power! I’m invincible! And I’ll be taking your pathetic abilities next!” Kurama stared him down in silence, raising his arms as smoke began to pour out of his sleeves. It enveloped them completely, hiding them from view.

                 “Smoke?! What the hell’s going on?” Yusuke barked, staring uselessly at the cloud as it expanded.

                 “I think it’s spores actually.” I said, crossing my arms across my chest, smirking as Toguro began to shout. I was tempted to peek inside, but I didn’t want to interfere.

                 “M-mother fucker! Die, die!” Toguro roared in frustration.

                 “Dammit! What the actual fuck is going on in there?” Yusuke said.

                 “I only hear Toguro’s voice,” Mitarai said hesitantly. 

                 “Kurama told us to back off, but if something went wrong-!” Yusuke began, but Hiei cut him off.

                 “Wait.” He pointed into the smoke, where a faint shape made its way toward us.

                 “He’s finished.” Kurama stepped out of the smoke, his face like steel.

                 “He is?” Yusuke stared at the spore-smoke as Toguro continued to scream inside of it. “Wh- bu- who’s he fighting? What’s he fighting?”

 

                 The air began to clear, revealing an odd tree that had grown around and into Elder Toguro. Thick, woody stems cradled him, thinner branches and roots pierced him- his body, his arms, his face. Toguro’s eyes rolled back into his head as he whimpered.

                 “The ‘Tree of Wicked Thoughts’, or the ‘Sinning Tree’, is a parasite that traps its prey with illusions. I planted the seed when I sliced Makibara’s head off.” Kurama said calmly.

                 “So the smoke wasn’t for blinding Toguro, but to keep the tree’s illusions from spilling to the outside.” Hiei said, watching thoughtfully as Kurama rejoined us.

                 “Damn you! Why . . . why can’t I kill you?” Toguro moaned, the last syllable rising to a scream of frustration.

                 “Yes.” Kurama smiled thinly, glancing over his shoulder. “The Tree of Wicked Thoughts won’t let go until its prey dies- but Toguro will just keep healing himself. He can’t even escape by suicide. For all eternity, he’ll remain trapped in that illusion, fighting my shadow.” he murmured, another of Toguro’s screams punctuating his sentence. Kurama’s eyes focused on him, icy chips of bottle green glass with traces of satisfaction too strong to be hidden behind them. “You aren’t even worthy of death’s embrace.”

 

                 Cold and brutal, I thought, watching Toguro suffer with a grim satisfaction. It was one of my favourite fights, though it was highly disappointing that I never got to hear him say ‘This ends here, you soulless fuck’. Maybe if things went well and he didn’t hate me for not warning him about Amanuma’s death, I could somehow convince him into saying it. The thought cheered me almost as much as Elder Toguro’s eternal torture.

                 “Now there’s only you two.” Kurama said, turning to face Sensui and Itsuki. They stood motionless at the shore of the lake. Yusuke tensed, taking a step forward.

                 “You said you’d free Kuwabara if we beat him. You can try to stop us, but we’re taking him back one way or the other.”

                 “Relax, I’ll keep my word.” Sensui said, chuckling. He glanced at Itsuki, his smile widening.

                 “But a question first.” Itsuki said, his eyes finding mine across the room. A chill washed over me as I realized he knew. “How is it that you knew of Amanuma’s death, Matsuura Chie?”

                 “What the hell are you talking about?!” Yusuke snarled.

                 “You’re asking, but you already guessed, haven’t you?” I met Itsuki’s eyes, holding  hand up at Yusuke as I approached them. “I’ve gotta admit, I came to help you but I also had a selfish reason, too.”

                 “What?!”

                 “I’m a Dark Stroke,” I said simply, turning back to Itsuki and took another step forward. He smiled thinly, his eyes roaming over me.

                 “I knew as soon as I saw you. The attempts you made to conceal yourself were quite entertaining. Here, take your friend back.” There was a flash, and I felt hands around my arms- large hands- and then I was standing unsteadily beside Itsuki. Kuwabara, still tied up, sat where I had been standing; the other boys crowding around him, though Kurama paused, watching me.

 

                 But my attention was quickly and wholly demanded by Itsuki. He brushed aside my mental barriers, initiating a mind-meld.  It wasn’t like my feeble attempts with Kurama, or the grasping, desperate connections I made with Jin-papa when we’d first met.

                 Itsuki threw open all my mental barriers with ease, probing every thought, every feeling- but it wasn’t one way. He opened his mind just as completely to me, urging me to explore his mind as freely as he explored mine.

                 A purely demonic psyche was fascinating, as was the total openness of it. There was a wildness, a feralness to his memories. He felt everything so entirely, so completely . . . it reminded me of the heady intoxication of Kurama’s memories of stealing the three treasures with Hiei and Gouki. Everything I found in Itsuki’s mind had that same intense purity of feeling with it, uncluttered by human morality. Morality was one way to put it, but it wasn’t quite right. It was more to do with the humanness rather than the morality.

                 My previous mind-melds gave me a shallow illusion of duality, a mere flicker of what the mind-meld with Itsuki was. Ours was impossible to describe. In the moments our minds connected, I truly felt as I was both myself and Itsuki, and I knew he felt the same. He exposed every part of himself, and I struggled to do the same.

                 We felt the same anguish at the black shadowy nothing that had swallowed up most of my previous life. Taking the lead, we probed it, pushing against the cracks and the memories that had escaped it, relishing the knowledge of Yu Yu Hakusho, thrilling at the reality of my home dimension, the tentative mystery of my husband.

                 Our mind reeled in pain but we pressed on, forcing, pushing against our defenses. We wanted to stop- I wanted to stop. Our minds disentangled just enough for us to make that distinction. Itsuki, more powerful, more experienced, plowed forward, not caring for the pain, only interested in the mystery of it. He couldn’t hide the subtle swell of pleasure at hurting me either, despite feeling the pain himself. He pushed until the blackness was at the point of bursting. The pain was excruciating, building inside me to the point where I couldn’t stand it any longer.

                 “Stop!” I roared, pushing back with everything I had as I forced Itsuki out of my mind and as far away from me as I could.

 

                 I slowly came to, first aware of a throbbing headache, then a creeping lethargy that sapped my muscles and my ability to stand. I breathed greedily, swimming between what had just happened and the present. Itsuki’s hoarse laughter dragged me closer to reality.

                 “What is it?” Sensui’s voice was low and steady.

                 “It’s custom for Dark Strokes to open their minds to one another when they meet. This girl was raised by humans however, so I had to force her mind open. It’s fascinating- she grew up in an alternate dimension, one where your successor’s adventures have been turned into an anime.” Itsuki paused, laughing. My stomach sank, and I couldn’t look across to where the boys were. “She’s quite the fan, borderline obsessive really. Especially for Kurama, her inner turmoil about him is incredibly amusing. Do you want to know the most amusing thing?”

                 “Tell me.” Sensui said. Itsuki’s grin sharpened, twisted.

                 “She’s from the future. I don’t quite understand how, but she somehow ended up here, now, almost thirty years in her past.”

                 “Oh?” He sounded vaguely disinterested, disappointed that that was the most amusing thing. After our mind-meld, it was frighteningly easy to read him.

                 “The anime was finished in her time. She knows every detail of what happens next- and now, so do I.”

                 “You’re right Itsuki, that is interesting.” Sensui smiled, a dark satisfaction spreading across his face as he turned to me. He studied me, poring over every detail of my appearance with a critical eye, his expression guarded. “Don’t tell me what happens; your excitement tells me enough. I want to feel everything.”

                 “As you wish.” Itsuki said, inclining his head in Sensui’s direction.

                 “What the fuck Matsuura!” Yusuke bellowed, his shout echoing throughout the cave. Shame burned through me. I couldn’t face them, didn’t dare.

                 “Now.” Sensui murmured. Without a word, Itsuki flexed his youki, and his Uratoko swallowed the boys. There was a crunch, then the Uratoko spat Yusuke back into the cave.

                 “I’ll take care of the others.” Itsuki said, and grabbed my shoulder. He initiated another mind-meld, a lighter one than before, but even so I was too weak to resist. “Do exactly as I do.”

                 “Why should I?”

                 “You came here to learn from me, didn’t you?” He glanced at me, smirking, then began to melt into the ground, half in this dimension, half in the Uratoko. I followed the movements of his brain, copied them as best I could. It was like feeling how a person threw a baseball, their desire to throw it syncing into the impulse travelling down the neural pathways to their arm, experiencing the same stretch and pull of their muscles. The ease of it surprised me as the two of us melted through the ground and into the Uratoko.

                 “Someone must be controlling it.” Kurama’s voice was the first thing I sensed that wasn’t Itsuki. It was soothing, familiar, but the comfortable feeling was quickly dissipated by the realization they all probably thought I’d betrayed them.

                 “Indeed. The Uratoko is my pet.” Itsuki smiled. “It seems you’re already aware, but I am the Dark Stroke Itsuki.”

                 “Let’s go asshole! I’m gonna kick the shit out of you!” Kuwabara bellowed, some of the intimidating effect lost as he slowly listed to one side as he floated. Itsuki chuckled, holding up his hands.

                 “Take it easy- I don’t want to fight any of you. I only want to watch their fight.” Itsuki said. Kurama frowned. “We may be enemies, but each of us care for one of the men out there.”

                 “All right then, what do you even like about Sensui?” Kuwabara snorted.

                 “Everything.” Itsuki said, a fluttering sigh chasing his words. “His strength, his weakness. His purity, his ugliness . . . his sadness. I love everything about him that makes him human.” Itsuki paused, beaming at the ghostly image of the young Sensui that appeared beside us. “When we first met, I was his enemy. Whispers in the darkness said ‘No creature that meets Sensui returns alive’. He was unbelievably strong, and killed every apparition he fought. Yet, he didn’t kill me.” The image shifted, opening to what had to be Itsuki’s memory of their first meeting.

                 “Any last words?”

                 “. . . I wish I could live one more day.”

                 “Why?”

                 “Toguawa Jun’s performing on ‘Hit Studio’,”

                 “Heh, I watch that every week.”

                 “It was funny- that one trivial sentence made me seem human to him yet he was completely numb with shock.” Itsuki said tenderly, the memory fading to a large image of young Sensui, looking bright and happy- like an actual fourteen year old boy.

                 “There are lots of different kinds of demons, huh?” the image of Sensui said, his tenor voice echoing through the emptiness that surrounded us.

                 “We chatted for about an hour, but when he said that he suddenly looked younger and much more innocent. I felt like I’d found a lover and a time bomb.” Isuki’s voice turned a bit darker, starkly sexual. It was an act, I knew. Not that he hadn’t been attracted to Sensui from the start, but our mind meld had shown me that Sensui’s innocent smile had lit a spark of genuine affection in Itsuki.

                 “You’re beginning to sound a little . . . twisted.” Kuwabara muttered, his face red.

                 “You could’ve stopped Sensui from turning out the way he did.” Kurama said coolly. Itsuki shrugged, pushing his hair back, off of his face.

                 “Possibly. But I wanted to watch him degenerate as the world hurt and tainted his soul . . .” Itsuki’s voice was low and clear, with a sharp undertone of excitement that built as he spoke. “Imagine a cute little girl who wholeheartedly believes in the stork delivering babies growing up to star in porn. Things like that delight me. I watched as Sensui realized the ugliness inside humans, and changed into what he is now. He became divided, not wanting to continue yet being unable to look away. He despaired . . . and became much, much stronger.”

                 “Seems to me like you’re at the source of all of this. You fucking psycho! You make me wanna puke.” Kuwabara said, his fists clutched loosely at his sides. Itsuki chuckled.

                 “Don’t take it the wrong way. I never forced Sensui into anything. I am but his shadow. I watched him change and helped him achieve his goals- and will continue to do so.”

                 “No.” Kurama said, gliding a step closer. I could feel his youki swell with his anger.

                 “I thought you’d be smart enough to realize you can’t. Kill me, you’ll be trapped in my Uratoko forever.”

“Not necessarily- Chie could get us back to our dimension.” Kurama said quietly. Itsuki smirked, his smile broadening a shade too much, making his face look somewhat demented.

“Are you sure? She’s never created a portal before. Besides, our minds are still linked, fox. If you tried anything, I’d destroy her without a second thought before you could finish.” Itsuki said coldly. He didn’t want to, more out of his reluctance to die than any attachment to me, but he would rip my mind to shreds in an instant if he felt he needed to.

“He’s right. “ I said thickly, my voice hoarse. “We’re still connected by a low level mind meld. Itsuki could turn my brain to jelly super easily if he felt like it, and then you guys would be stuck here. Let’s just watch Yusuke’s fight.”

 

The eyes of the Uratoko opened wider, giving us a wider view of Yusuke and Sensui as they exchanged blows.

 

“Matsuura- you know what’s gonna happen, right?” Kuwabara said, his voice oddly quiet.

“Yeah.”

“We’re gonna win, aren’t we?” We watched in silence as Yusuke took another punishing blow.

“It’s not my place to tell you that. My being here has already changed things, if only slightly. Telling you how things should end might do more harm than good at this point. I won’t risk it. Like Itsuki said . . . I’m a shadow.” Kuwabara said nothing else, and we all watched as the fight continued mutely below.

 

                 “Hell yeah! That’s the Urameshi Organ Smasher!” Kuwabara shouted excitedly as Yusuke hit Sensui with a flurry of punches to the stomach that sent him flying into the lake. “I remember when he hit me with that, I couldn’t eat for a week!”

                 “This was before he became Spirit Detective, right?” I asked, smiling.

                 “I doubt he would have survived otherwise.” Hiei said with a snort, glancing at me before turning back to the fight. It was the first I’d heard him speak.

                 “Holy shit, look at all those scars . . . all that talk was true.” Kuwabara said. Indeed, as Sensui climbed out of the water. Yusuke’s barrage had destroyed his shirt, revealing crisscrossing scars that enveloped most of his body. His muscles glistened as the water ran off of him like sweat, a vaguely pouty expression on his face as his hair freed itself and slipped into his face. I flushed, looking away when I realized Itsuki’s ogling had bled through the mind-meld.

                 “Not exactly, Kuwabara. These are all scars I gave myself during my training. I never got a single one in battle.” Sensui stopped, looking up at us as his voice filtered through the Uratoko.

                 “What-? How can he-?” Kuwabara stuttered.

                 “You’re maintaining a mind-meld with me and Sensui? I never noticed!” I said, aghast. Itsuki smiled thinly.

                 “I partitioned his thoughts away from you. If you’re a diligent student, you may be able to learn to do the same thing.”

                 “Is that-?” Kuwabara said, breaking off as Sensui’s energy ball floated out of the water behind him. “He can still control his energy from that far away?!”
                 “One thing after another,” Kurama said, sighing. Sensui shouted, the noise vague but still reaching through the Uratoko, as dozens of balls rose around him.

                 “Holy crap! There’s so many- if you add ‘em all up, they’re at the same level as Urameshi’s Rei Gun! Maybe even stronger!” Kuwabara said.

 

                 Sensui ran at Yusuke, launching the balls as he did. Yusuke tried to dodge but was overcome by the sheer number of them- Sensui coming in with a kick while he was distracted. Kuwabara shouted his name as Yusuke hit the ground and was immediately swarmed by Sensui’s energy.

                 “Dammit . . . ugh, that all you got?” The smoke cleared, and Yusuke jumped to his feet. Sensui laughed.

                 “I knew you were tough, but you still can’t win. The second reason being that you’re almost defenseless against attacks that come from multiple directions.”

                 “What?”

                 “You’re too used to one on one fights. I, on the other hand,” Sensui smirked as countless balls of energy balls appeared, surrounding him. “I developed the Resshuu Shiendan because I had to fight large numbers of enemies all at once, and all by myself. There’s no way a single opponent, especially you, could dodge them all.”

                 “G-goddamn . . .” Yusuke’s voice was quiet, almost inaudible in the Uratoko. “He just used up all that reiki and he’s already doing it again?”

                 “This is bad.” Kurama said, more to himself than to any of us, his entire attention focused on Yusuke and Sensui. “How can there be such a large gap between them?”

                 “And the third reason you can’t win: overall spirit power.” Sensui smirked, his lips pulling across his teeth with an excruciating slowness. “If your maximum capacity is ten, then mine’s one hundred!” Just as his voice stopped, the energy sprang towards Yusuke, once again engulfing him completely and sending him sprawling to the ground. “That’s twice now. This technique can’t be dodged.” Yusuke struggled to sit, watching with a faint trace of horror as once again, Sensui surrounded himself with balls of reiki.

                 “Get up Urameshi! Get the hell up!” Kuwabara screamed, punching the air.

                 “Shut the fuck up!” Yusuke jumped to his feet. “I’m fine! Who gives a shit if you got ten times the reiki as me? You could fart on me and it’d hurt more than those things.”

                 “Is that so? We’ll see how you feel after a few more hits.” Sensui’s reiki surged, but Yusuke charged through it.

                 “That didn’t hurt!” Smoking in places where he’d been hit, Yusuke emerged. “If I can’t dodge them I’ll just eat the damage!”

                 “He decided that each ball had to be weak and charged straight through.” Kurama chuckled, crossing his arms across his chest. “That’s just like him, changing strategies in a heartbeat.”

                 “What happened? Where’s the rest of them?” Yusuke taunted as he and Sensui exchanged punches faster than I could see. “That’s one of your stupid reasons I can’t win down- now all I have to do is stop you from reading my attacks! So how about this?!” Yusuke punched Sensui back, then dove into the lake.

                 “Wha-?” Sensui watched in silence as Yusuke swam a few quick laps, laughing madly.

                 “Did ya predict this?! What’s my next move gonna be?”

                 “Why are you swimming, you crackhead?!” Kuwabara said, looking as if a vein would pop out of his forehead any minute. I giggled as Hiei snorted, somehow looking down his nose at him.

                 “I think you answered your own question.”

                 “Whew, I feel great!” Yusuke leapt out of the water, slicking back his hair with a laugh. “Now back to the fight,” Shouting, he charged Sensui, who merely smiled.

                 “Another head on charge? That must’ve just been a break to recover and-“ He stopped, shocked, as Yusuke tore off the remnants of his t shirt and wrapped them around Sensui’s wrist in a single, lightning fast motion. “That’s why you jumped in the water!”

                 “Finally got a hold of you- now you’ve got nowhere to run.” Yusuke grinned. “Eat this!”

 

                 He smashed his fist into Sensui’s stomach, sending the other man flying. But Yusuke was on top of him in an instant, barreling punch after punch into him in a bloody blur. He cracked Sensui across the jaw and as he reached back to hit him again, there was a sudden buildup of reiki. It exploded out of Sensui’s right fist, slicing through Yusuke’s stomach, buoying him up off of Sensui and sending him flying a short distance away.

                 “Urameshi!” Kuwabara screamed. Sensui stood, an unreadably furious expression contorting his features. His right hand was gone, revealing the large barrel of a gun.

                 “Unbelievable,” Kurama muttered, his jaw clenching.

                 “You little fuck! I’m sick of your cocky ass, you piece of shit!”

                 “What happened to him?” Kurama said, his hands falling to his sides as he leant closer to get a clearer view.

                 “He’s acting weird, and he looks different too.” Kuwabara said, frowning.

                 “He switched.” Itsuki said, oddly expressionless. “Kazuya’s the only one who uses that hidden Kikou Gun.”

                 “’Kazuya’? I thought his name was Sensui Shinobu?” Kuwabara pointed rudely at him. Kurama started, glancing briefly towards Itsuki and myself before back at Sensui.

                 “Multiple personalities,”

                 “Correct. Sensui created several different personalities to deal with the never ending battles, as well as the trauma of his last mission for Koenma. There are seven of them, if you include his true self ‘Shinobu’.” Itsuki said, worry flickering through his mind though he kept it carefully hidden from the rest of them.

                 “S-seven?” Kuwabara stuttered.

                 “I never knew that,” Mitarai swallowed heavily.

                 “Up until now, he’d been fighting as ‘Minoru’. A reasonable, prideful man who talks too much.” Itsuki said, the faintest traces of affection lining the description. “It appears that the unexpected counter attack from Urameshi shocked him into calling out ‘Kazuya’. He tends to specialize in finishing the job- he’s an insane murderer who’d delight in killing a newborn baby.”

 

                 Sensui walked forward, pausing for a fraction of a second beside Yusuke’s still form before kicking him viciously into the air, a sick, wet thud echoing into the Uratoko as he made contact. Yusuke screamed as he fell back to the ground.

                 “That’s how ya pull off a surprise attack!” Sensui sneered. “Lemme add somethin’ to Minoru’s list. The fourth reason you can’t win?” He broke into smug giggles. “I came out!” He straightened his arm, levelling it squarely at Yusuke. I closed my eyes as he fired at him, Yusuke’s screams mixing with his laughter and the sound of the reiki hitting him. Tears pricked my eyes as I clutched uselessly at my skirt.

                 “Wooo, that screamin’ sounds nice.” Sensui grinned widely, his eyes dancing with malice and delight. “Yer sendin’ shivers down my spine.” He bent, grabbing Yusuke by the hair. He pulled his face back, settling the barrel of his gun underneath Yusuke’s chin. “Too bad I gotta kill ya. Bye bye,”

                 “Stop!” All of us turned to the entrance to the cave. Koenma stood just inside, his adult form radiating an imposing reiki.