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Survivor's Guilt

Chapter Text

“Spirit gun!”

Blue light blazed for a moment, illuminating the park and its few occupants, before sputtering from existence. Kuwabara glared at Yusuke, annoyed he’d wasted his time coming out on this trip and also that yet again Yusuke had taken a fight from him.

“You could’ve killed me, man! Watch where you aim that thing!” The carrot top yelled, getting to his feet from where he’d been knocked onto the ground moments before. He toed the demon beside him, assured it was dead by the gaping hole in its chest. “Even on your off days you’re still pretty strong.”

“Everyone seems strong to you.” Hiei pointed out, arms crossed as he watched from beside Kurama. “It must be boring being so helpless all the time.”

“I’ll show you helpless.” Kuwabara grunted, rolling up the sleeves of his button down.

Hiei glared at him, ducking under the large swinging fist with ease. The short skirmish ended when Kurama checked the time on his phone and announced it to Yusuke.

“Oh shit! I’m late!” The Spirit Detective grabbed his hair. “Keiko is going to murder me! I don’t have blood on my clothes do I? I think the restaurant has a dress code against that.”

“You’re fine.” Kurama smiled at him, despite grabbing Yusuke’s collar to adjust it. “Is tonight the night then? You do seem dressed up.”

Hiei glanced toward the trees over his shoulder, eyes narrowed as he tried to pick up movement he was sure he’d just seen. No one seemed to notice his attention wavering.

“I mean, I got the ring and all, it’s just picking the right time and place. And now she’s on me about getting another job and I think she’ll say no if I don’t have one.” Yusuke sighed heavily.

“Just ask her, man.” Kuwabara deadpanned. “At this rate, she’s going to ask you.”

“Hn. I don’t see the need for any of it.” Hiei threw out, still scanning the canopy and branches of the dark woods. “Who wants to be tied down anyway? And your woman is plenty bossy as is. Why formalize the arrangement?”

The other three men stared at him, then rolled their eyes to each other.

“Things aren’t going well with Mukuro?” Yusuke guessed, raising his eyebrows. “You’ve been coming back a lot more lately.”

“Mukuro and I aren’t involved.” Hiei repeated tersely, for the millionth time in his tenure. This conversation was becoming tiresome. “I just don’t understand your anxiety. Your woman and you live together. You sleep together. She’s obviously not going anywhere despite your constantly disappointing her. At this point, marriage would just be redundant.”

“Gee, thanks man.” Yusuke scowled at him. “You’re a real ray of sunshine.”

“Aren’t you late?” Hiei reminded him with a glare.

The fire demon cut his eyes to the trees again, brow pulling down. There is was again, the faintest tremor of the branches out of place. But when he scoured the shadows he came up empty again. This time, Kurama noticed and turned to him as Yusuke sprinted full bore across the park yelling out is goodbyes.

“What is it, Hiei?” Kurama focused his attention on the trees too.

“Did you pick up any unfamiliar scents?” Hiei asked, glancing at the redhead.

“No.” The fox demon shook his head slightly.

“Okay, well, you two are obviously about to do something weird and demony so I’m off.” Kuwabara waved at them. “I’ve got to finish studying anyway.”

“Actually, I’ll walk with you.” Kurama offered with a warm smile. “I promised Shizuru I would give her movie back the next time I saw you.”

They both turned to Hiei, but he was already gone.

“Does that bother you?” Kuwabara asked. “His little disappearing acts are sort of rude.”

“Hiei is off in his own world. It’s when I hear him I get concerned.” Kurama laughed.

The fire demon rolled his eyes, perched in the trees. Nothing. No aura, no demons, no energy signature. Nothing. But he knew someone had been here. He could feel it despite the lack of evidence. Someone had been here watching him and the others without being detected. The fact Kurama hadn’t noticed something was off was unusual. The fox was always in tune with his surroundings and could pick a demon out of a throng of humans with incredible accuracy every time.

So, maybe their spectator hadn’t been a demon? No. That seemed unlikely. A human wouldn’t have pulled off an escape in the time he’d taken to flicker from beside the others to the branch. Maybe it was nothing. Maybe it was something.

If they were being watched by someone adept enough to deceive the team, then it was likely the culprit would come back. He’d just be vigilant and wait for his chance to catch them in the act. Hiei’s lips pulled up in a malicious smirk.

Poor creature didn’t even know what fate they’d just resigned themselves too.

….

“Mikamoto, looking good today.”

Iruni didn’t even lift her eyes from the book she poured herself over, sitting by herself in the university cafeteria. “That’s not a compliment and I’m not interested in talking to you.”

“Sheesh, what a bitch.” The man rolled his eyes. “I’m trying to be nice to you.”

“No. You’re trying to get me to be nice to you.” She flipped a page. “We’re done, please go.”

He grumbled and walked away. Blue eyes cut to his back, narrowed, as she watched him walk from under the fringe of her dark bangs. Honestly, these people were the absolute worst. What an entitled group of cretins. Her eyes fell back to the page, her expression shifting back to neutral. Annoyed, she turned back to the previous page, realizing she couldn’t actually remember reading it. That’s what she got for staying out so late.

High tailing it away from the park had felt disgraceful, but there was no way she could survive a showdown with the Jaganshi at this point. He wasn’t even supposed to be there. Of all the members of the Rekai Tentai, he was the one she’d been diligently trying to avoid. Minamino thought nothing of her, they’d been in school together for years. The human boy, Kuwabara, seemed to have decent enough senses but her energy was low enough he never got disturbed by her presence. She’d put herself close to him a few times in crowds to be sure. Urameshi was too obtuse to care. But the Jaganshi, Hiei, he was a problem.

Which he’d proven when he’d tracked her into the woods the night before. She’d been so careful. Sitting up wind, forcing her energy to flicker out, being silent and still. Of course, it had taken him a while to notice her at all. That was promising. And he hadn’t immediately jumped to using his Jagan, a small blessing. But still, it had been too close and if she was going to get what she was after, she’d need to be cautious.

And everyone knows the best defense is a good offense.

That’s why she picked up her book and headed toward the lawn, aimed at a particular redhead under a large tree. Minamino looked innocuous enough if you didn’t know anything about him. Fair featured, startling red hair, intelligent green eyes and a kind smile. He spoke well, talked about his family fondly. His scores were always high and he seemed to study relentlessly. But Iruni knew better. She knew his secret and she pinned it under her tongue as she sat down beside him, her back straight.

Every member of the rag-tag team had a weakness, a break in their defenses. Kurama’s was his curiosity and his reliance on his senses. The idea of toying with his family never crossed her mind, his defenses were too substantial for threats. If she played her cards right she’d win his trust and his interest in her would continue on as benignly as ever.

“Don’t be mistaken. I’m not here to confess some ridiculous attraction to you.” She stated, eyes scanning over the courtyard as he looked over at her with an expectant expression. “You’ve been followed all day, I just thought I’d let you know. The man looks like someone with ill intent and I’d hate to see your mother crying on the news if something happened to you.”

Kurama blinked. Then he glanced over to the street where he noticed Hiei lurking. Green eyes moved back over to the woman who’d come to warn him of this apparent danger.

“He’s actually a friend of mine, but thank you for your concern Mikamoto.” He nodded his head. “Hiei does look a bit rough on the edges. So far you’re the first person to ever say something about it though.”

“There’s been a lot of disappearances lately. It would be a shame for something to happen because I didn’t speak up. Sorry for my mistake, all the same.” She glanced at Hiei, frowning.

“I’m surprised you noticed him, actually. Most people don’t.” Kurama looked over too.

“Maybe that’s why so many people are going missing.” She closed her eyes and stood up, unfurling herself as Hiei came to a stop a few feet away, his crimson eyes narrowed on her. If those were the only two he was using, she was fine. “Anyway, have a nice day. I’ll see you in class on Wednesday.”

She arched a wide curve around Hiei to avoid getting too close to him, her shoulders stiff as she hauled her bag high onto them. Kurama waited for her to go before explaining the situation.

“She has a point. If more humans were aware of their surroundings, they’d avoid trouble.” Hiei pointed out. Then with a bit of an edge he added. “She’s not another one of your suitors is she?”

“No. She very specifically told me she wasn’t.” Kurama rose and shouldered his bag. “Where did you run off to last night?”

Hiei told him. The redhead mulled over the information.

“Given the uprising in activity as of late, it’s good you checked it out. We’ll have to let the others know to be careful.” Kurama then checked his phone. “Oh, Yusuke didn’t propose last night.”

“He’s never going to.” Hiei rolled his eyes. “I’ve never seen someone so powerful beaten so thoroughly.”

Kurama chuckled. “Keiko does have a certain power over Yusuke, doesn’t she?”

“I don’t get it. If he wants to marry her, why is he dragging his feet? He should either do it or stop worrying about it.” Hiei grumped. “I’m tired of constantly hearing about his plans and schemes and them never amounting to anything.”

“He wants to do it right.”

“Perfectionism will get him nowhere.”

Kurama glanced at Hiei. “Would you be any different if it were you?”

“Of course. I would just handle the situation.” Hiei told him firmly.

“You would just propose the moment it occurred to you to do so?” Kurama tilted his head. “That’s rash, Hiei. Some things need to thought about.”

“If someone catches my interest enough for me to think that I want to stay beside them then I won’t hesitate to act on it.” Hiei shook his head.

Iruni paced her home. Thirty-eight steps from the kitchen sink to the couch in the living room. Back and forth. Arms behind her back, eyes narrowed in thought, she stalked from one side of the house to the other deliberately and yet totally lost to her surroundings.

He was coming, she could feel it.

She’d been biding her time, waiting for the right moment to get what was hers. She’d already located the sword once, but when she went to retrieve it from the old psychic on the mountain, it was gone. Now she had a suspicion of the location, but needed a plan. If she was correct, and she normally was, then she’d have to use the Spirit Detective and his team to her advantage.

Kurama was a start. Her warning did well with him. He’d seen it as an act of kindness from a quiet girl.

What she wanted to do was wait for the Jaganshi to disappear back to his side of the line so she could handle the rest of the team. It would be no problem for her to garner their trust and use it. But Hiei? Hiei would remain suspicious and there was no doubt he’d eventually turn that third eye to her and she’d be found out. All she needed was to put space between them.

But she didn’t have time to wait.

He was coming.

Stopping on the threshold of the living room she let her hands fall to her sides, her face lifting toward the ceiling.

With enough time, she could have carefully integrated herself. Then Hiei’s skepticism would have been dismissed as his own paranoia. Now, she’d have to work with shoehorning her way into the team’s trust. It was trickier. A higher risk. But the payout would be the same.

She needed the sword, they were the means to that end. She needed to get their attention on her in a positive way. She needed to become indispensable as fast as possible.

Her lips pulled up, revealing her teeth.

What they were going to need was an expert. How fortunate that no one was more qualified to fill that role than her. And in the meantime, she’d garner their attention with a little pawn.
….

“You’re saying we were followed?” Yusuke rubbed his neck as he spoke to Kurama. “And Hiei couldn’t catch the guy?”

“They had already fled according to him.” Kurama nodded.

“Why isn’t shorty here to tell us this?” Kuwabara demanded.

“I am here.” Hiei announced himself, making Kuwabara jump with a grimace. “Idiot. You just learned someone is watching us. Be more aware.”

“Don’t take it out on Kuwabara that someone is faster than you.” Yusuke warned Hiei. “It’s not his fault this guy got away.”

“Hn. Don’t you have a woman to disappoint?” Hiei grumped at Yusuke, shoulders hunching. “Isn’t there some ridiculous date you need to be on?”

“Don’t drag Keiko into your temper tantrum.” Yusuke rolled his eyes. “But yeah, I do gotta meet her for a movie. Kurama said this was important though so I told her I had to come.”

“Her purse must be heavy with your balls locked inside.” Hiei noted dryly, earning a glare.

“I’m sure it’s this way.”

The voice cut through the conversation before Yusuke could snap back his response at the shorter demon. Hiei dared him to, all the same, bowing up to the taller man before they all looked over at the two women stumbling out of the trees.

“See? I told you.” Iruni straightened her shirt, squaring her shoulders. Her eyes moved over to the team.

“Mikamoto?” Kurama blinked in surprise. “What are you doing wandering around this time of night? It’s not safe.”

“I can handle myself.” She told him, picking a bit of leaf from her shoulder and flicking it to the ground.

The woman who walked up to her side stood several inches taller than she did, hair a tangle of wild blonde curls. Sharp nails bore chipped polish. She carried the distinct aura of a demon around her, eyes scanning the team. Her fear of them was obvious as she stepped back to stand behind the human girl who seemed none the wiser of her companion’s heritage.

All four men narrowed their gazes on the demoness, who flitted her attention between them and the human who’d been walking with her.

“Say, Minamino, have you seen any fireflies?” Iruni stepped forward with her innocent question, her exasperation obvious. “Shikari has never seen them. I’ve been hoping to find some to show her.”

“No. I haven’t.” Kurama shook his head. “You’ve been wandering the woods together?”

“Safety in numbers.” She nodded.

“Hn. Humans.” Hiei muttered, rolling his eyes away. “They have no sense of self-preservation.”

Iruni flicked her gaze to him, then back to Kurama.

“I think what he means is, you were just warning me about being safe earlier today. For you to wander around the woods at night seems a bit hypocritical, even if you have a friend with you.” Kurama looked passed Iruni to Shikari, who seemed to shrink under his attention. “There are all sorts of dangers in those trees. I’d hate for you to get hurt.”

Iruni turned to look at Shikari over her shoulder, a cool expression in place. Then she looked back at the four men, eyes bouncing from each of them to the next. After a moment she shook her head with a chuckle.

“You’re all so tense.” She remarked. “It’s like you’re waiting to be attacked. I hadn’t realized two women could be so scary.”

The statement eased them a little. Yusuke spoke up. “Nah, we were just surprised by you two popping up out of nowhere. Can’t be too careful, right?”

“Of course. I’m sorry we startled you.” She bobbed her head to his words. “Well, we’ll be on our way. If you happen to see any fireflies, please let me know. I’m dying to show them to Shikari.”

And with the demoness in tow, she walked by the team without seeming to notice the aura of the fighters.

“Your friend has unusual taste.” Hiei glanced at Kurama. “Do you think she realizes her companion could have easily killed her in those trees?”

“Doubtful. She didn’t seem to notice anything out of the ordinary. She didn’t react to us either and I was intentionally letting my energy increase.” Kurama shook his head. “She noticed you earlier, but I think she’s merely observant. Maybe a little sensitive like Shizuru. But the demon with her didn’t seem to be dangerous towards her.”

“No, but she sure as hell knew who we were. Did you see her face?” Yusuke frowned. “She looked like she’d seen something terrible when they came out. Maybe she pulled back because of us.”

“No, that’s not it.” Kuwabara stared after the two women. “I don’t know if it was us she was afraid of.”

The others looked at him. Hiei was the one who spoke up, annoyed.

“Idiot. What else would it have been?”

Kuwabara remained quiet, but troubled. The demon had definitely stepped behind the girl when she noticed them. But it wasn’t the act of someone using a human shield to protect themselves. It looked like the way a child might hide behind their parent. The girl never changed, never faltered when she saw them. It was like she wasn’t surprised at all. But the demon was. He turned to look at the direction they walked off in again, brows pulled down. The others wouldn’t believe him if he said it, seeing as how the girl’s aura was nonexistent.

But that was the thing that he had noticed about her. It wasn’t that she had low energy. It was that there was nothing to her aura at all. When she’d walked passed he’d been looking for it, any flicker around her. But a vacuum surrounded her, an intentional emptiness, engulfing empitness.

He’d never seen anything like it before.

“Maybe the SDF would be a better choice, sir.” Botan played with her ponytail nervously, running her hand over the strands of cerulean blue repeatedly. “If it really is him, then shouldn’t we send them instead?”

“No. I think it would be better if the team handled it.” Koenma poured over the papers on his desk, reading through the reports. “It’s on Human World territory and if we send in the SDF it could cause a fight. You know how Yusuke gets.”

“But sir.” She protested, frowning. “This is bad.”

“It might get worse.” He admitted, sighing heavily. “With the artifacts, he’ll be nearly impossible to stop. Honestly, the team is our only choice. They’re stronger than the SDF, especially as a unit.”

“I don’t like it.”

“You don’t have to.” Koenma’s eyebrow twitched. “Just get the case to them, Botan. That’s an order.”

Chapter Text

Yusuke squirmed in his seat, annoyed with the sudden call and for having to host as usual. These freeloaders always ate all of his good food. Well, most of them. Kurama always brought snacks to share. At least their illustrious brat king wasn’t making a physical appearance or his pantry would be done for. Who knew a toddler could pack away so much food?

Botan held open a laptop with Koenma’s face on it, her anxiety as clear as day in the way her shaking hands gripped the device. The others all lounged around the apartment in various states of interest. Hiei glared out the window, bitter he’d been drug here for another waste of his time. If he’d slept in the park instead of at Kurama’s this wouldn’t have happened, but the threat of rain kept him indoors. Kurama sat on the couch near Yusuke, legs crossed at the knees, hands folded neatly in his lap. Kuwabara lazed on the floor between them, legs stretched out under the coffee table, hands full of a can of soda and some chips as he snacked.

“What’s the deal, pacifier breath?” Yusuke griped. “You sent Botan screaming down here just to make us wait?”

“No.” Koenma let his shoulders fall. “I have a case for you. I think it might be a decent challenge.”

Botan twitched.

“An artifact was recently stolen from our vault. A set of armor that can make the user nearly invincible while enhancing their strength. The demon who claims to have it is already quite powerful and possibly equipped with several other weapons. I need you to retrieve the armor and attempt to arrest them.” Koenma explained matter-of-factly.

“Arrest?” Kurama perked up. “Why?”

“They may have information pertinent to another problem I’m working on.” He told the fox demon easily. “I suspect they are connected to the missing humans.”

“What are the other weapons? Who is the demon?” Yusuke waved his hand in the air. “You’re not giving us a lot of info, here.”

“The demon wields a sword that can conjure flames and is quite destructive. In recent reports it appears he’s amassed a bit of a cult following, and they’ve been attacking humans for food. Reports of poisons being used as well.” The Spirit Prince explained. “But we don’t know how many followers he actually has ascertained, or what their goal is. That’s why I want him brought in alive if at all possible.”

“Sir.” Botan glanced at the screen.

Yusuke noticed the edge to her voice, the paleness of her face.

“Who is it?” Yusuke demanded. “I notice you haven’t given up a name. Botan looks like she’s about to have a stroke.”

Koenma stiffened and grumbled. “The demon goes by the name Amon-Shinpi.”

Kurama tilted his head toward the screen.

“I was under the impression the Takani Clan had all died.” He offered, a dangerous cut in his voice.

“You know about this guy?” Kuwabara craned his head back to look at the redhead, mouthful of chips allowing crumbs to fall as he spoke.

“Not much. Just that Amon-Shinpi was known as a formidable demon back in his day. He was a part of a small clan who ruled their own small slice of Makai. He’s said to have been undefeated until his death at the hands of another demon who wanted his power.” Kurama explained. “It’s possible that the battle ended with him just being injured.”

“Sounds like another waste. This one can’t possibly be stronger than us.” Hiei noted. “What’s the point?”

“Hiei! If this is really Amon-Shinpi you should take it seriously. This demon fought against Mukuro you know.” Botan chided him. “Twice.”

That earned his attention, his eyes moving over to her to assess if she was telling the truth. A demon who fought against Mukuro and survived? Once may have accounted for luck or her mercy, but twice? That was an accomplishment.

“Fine.” He allowed. “But if this is a disappointment, I’m taking it out on you.”

His eyes were fixed to the screen to indicate Koenma as the recipient of his temper.

“Honestly, I hope it is. Our historical records suggest Amon-Shinpi could be quite brutal and was incredibly strong. Not to mention highly intelligent. If this is your opponent, you might want to stay on your toes.”

“Could he cloak his presence?” Hiei wondered aloud.

“It’s a possibility.”

The team each exchanged looks with one another and then nodded.

“You got it, we’re on the case.” Yusuke offered a thumbs up and then slammed his fist into his palm. “This guy has no way of getting passed the four of us.”

Iruni shouldered her bag higher as she crested the steps that lead up to the temple. A small line of sweat fell down her neck, an annoyance. The air seemed a bit cooler up here, a welcomed breeze dancing around her skin and through her ponytail. Closing her eyes she enjoyed it for a moment, then turned her face up to clear sky.

“Oh. Hello.”

The soft call caught her attention, turning her eyes toward the young woman in a yellow dress. Aquamarine hair pulled back over her shoulders with a matching yellow ribbon, crimson eyes dancing with light.

“Are you here to see Genkai?” Yukina asked and Iruni nodded, noting the basket in her hands. She seemed to be struggling to hold it.

“I’m early.” Iruni explained. “May I help you?”

“Oh, I couldn’t ask yo-“ Yukina’s gentle dismissal was ignored, the basket carefully removed from her hands. Iruni’s fingers brushed hers in the movement, a small contact, but it triggered some recognition in the demoness anyway. “You know, I’ve never been able to shake the idea that we’ve known each other a long time, Iruni.”

“It does feel like a lifetime, doesn’t it?” Iruni nodded following the other woman toward the clothes line.

Blue eyes cut over her shoulder, her expression falling into a snarl as she dropped the basket and rolled out of the way. Hiei landed where she’d been standing, pure bloodlust on his face as he stared at her. Schooling herself not to react to the waves of malice and fury rolling off of him was a feat.

Yukina blinked at him, alarmed by his sudden and hostile entrance. “Are you alright?”

He growled, not taking his eyes off of Iruni, not offering an answer.

Iruni raised an eyebrow at him as she gauged the way he faced her. Did he really see her as a threat? What had changed in the two days since the park? Had he used his Jagan and found her out?

No. If he had he would’ve known who she was and wouldn’t be hesitating to approach her. He was on high alert for another reason, but what had tripped this reaction? She stole a glance at Yukina, then back to the fire demon as she straightened out, moving to step in front of the ice maiden.

She’d narrowed it down to two possible scenarios, either Hiei was furious because an unknown entity had come to close to Yukina, or he wanted the ice maiden for himself. Either way, the plan would be the same. Iruni would do whatever it took to keep her plan in action, even face Hiei in a pointless fight. But more than that, she would defend Yukina with her very life.

“Yukina, go inside. I won’t let him hurt you.” Iruni stepped one leg back, assuming a fighting stance.

“Wait.” Yukina moved to get between them but Iruni pushed her back, carefully remaining in front, acting as a guard.

Yukina was one of the few beings still alive Iruni would actually fight for. She owed the koorime a debt that had yet to be repaid. While defending her might throw Hiei off her trail, if his intention was also to protect the ice apparition, that was aside from the fact she’d have done it anyway. Something dark entered her eyes as she squared off with the fire demon and he saw it.

For the first time, Hiei really looked at her. Even through her blouse her muscles were prominent. The billowy long sleeves helped to hide them, but there they were. Her stance reeked of training. The look in her blue eyes had darkened them to indigo and behind the gaze he recognized the mind of a trained fighter.

Perhaps even a killer.

His lips lifted in a baring of his teeth that was partially a smirk and mostly a snarl.

“That’s an intense expression for a little human girl who has wandered too far from home.” Hiei acknowledged.

“Watch who you call little.” She told him coolly.

He flickered, appearing behind her with a raised hand. When he lowered it to strike her on the back of the neck she twisted away her knee slamming into his stomach with enough force to send him back a step.

In a full-fledged fight, she’d never win. Not now. But Hiei was holding back, she could tell. His energy was barely out. He still viewed her as human and as long as that was the case she might be able to win. All she had to do was let him underestimate her until the right moment presented itself.

Either his team would show him and stop him or she’d gain the upper hand.

Her eyes narrowed as she jumped back when he stepped forward, keeping space between them. Landing on her toes, she raised her fists. The look on Hiei’s face turned malicious, the eyes of a predator enjoying dancing with his prey lighting his face. Were she a lesser being, she might’ve had the sense to be afraid. But she didn’t have time for petty things like fear. Not when her goals were so close.

Not when Yukina still hadn’t gone into the damned temple to get Genkai.

Hiei’s biggest weaknesses were his pride and his tendency to assume his strength could resolve everything. If she managed to beat him, she’d be facing his temper for certain. But also his curiosity. Being beaten by a human woman would be a huge blow, one he’d want to deal back when he could. Even now, she could see it on his face that her hit had bothered him.

He would keep coming at her until he won, normally this would assure him victory. Unfortunately, she’d seen him fight before.

The fire demon didn’t know it, but he’d already lost.

“Back off.” She warned him. “I already told you, I won’t let you hurt her.”

“I’m not interested in hurting Yukina. Right now I’m interested in hurting you.” Hiei pointed out, rolling his shoulders and then his neck.

She had enough time to question his use of the ice apparition’s name before he blurred again, moving to strike her from behind. Iruni shook her head, not falling for his feign as he appeared in front of her this time. She side stepped his attack and this is how they continued for a few minutes. The team was around them soon, watching with fascination as she kept her defenses in place. She hadn’t been able to strike him again, but she’d also managed to deftly avoided any of his attacks.

“Hiei, are you really fighting a girl?” Kuwabara complained. “Come on, man, have some class.”

Hiei didn’t seem to hear him as he sped up, and this time his punch landed on Iruni’s abdomen, sending her flying back. She hit the ground and rolled before pushing herself back to her feet. Blood trickled from the corner of her mouth but she raised her fists again, planting her feet even as her bones seemed to shake in her body.

“Stay down.” Hiei demanded. “Another hit like that and I’ll kill you.”

“It’s good that I don’t intend to allow another.” She pointed out, a grin growing.

Hiei stared at her, his teeth grinding together. Who did this mouthy woman think she was? Fine. She wanted to die? So be it. He drew his sword and she eyed the weapon without so much as a single ounce of fear.

“You’re all the same. Overconfident in your own abilities.” Hiei told her, rushing forward.

“Hiei!” The entire team yelled his name.

“You can’t kill her!” Yusuke reminded him.

“What happened?” Kurama turned to Yukina, who explained Hiei’s sudden appearance and the ensuing fight. “Ah, so they both believe they are defending you.”

She nodded.

“Hiei, I think there’s been a misunderstanding.” Kurama called. “Mikamoto wasn’t here to harm Yukina.”

Hiei ignored him too. He sped at the woman while she dodged his initial swing, ready to slice into her stomach. She stopped suddenly. The blade cut through her shirt as she pivoted her body, her arms wrapping around his as she shifted her stance and sent him flying over her head. Panting, she smirked at him, watching as he lay stunned on the ground.

“What was it you said before? Stay down?” She tossed the words back at the demon, eyes gleaming.

Hiei didn’t present any warning, his was just suddenly there. His sword thrust where Iruni’s chest had been, his mind screaming for blood. How dare she? HOW DARE SHE?

“Perhaps before tossing out insults about overconfidence, you should be honest with yourself over your own capabilities.” Iruni offered evenly, crouching on Hiei’s sword with a neutral expression. A small pocket knife pressed against his forehead, the blade angled toward his Jagan eye. Blood spilled to the ground from her hand as she gripped the sword’s blade to steady herself. “Don’t move or you’ll get cut. You’ll have only yourself to blame.”

Hiei shook in his rage, jaw locked, eyes radiating the fire brewing inside of him as he stared at Iruni. Her gaze back was cool, even, yet still carried a certain darkness to it. Her own anger buried under layers of careful masks.

“I’m going to back off now. Don’t attack me again.”

“Don’t give me orders you foul little-“

“Hiei!” Yukina ran over. “What are you doing? You could’ve killed her! Are you alright Iruni?”

“I’m fine, Yukina. Thank you.” The woman nodded, unmoving. “Please back away. I don’t want you caught up in this one’s temper.”

“Hiei would never hurt me.” Yukina sighed. “I was trying to tell you that from the beginning.”

Iruni let go of the sword and slipped off of it, pocketing the knife and backing away from the fire demon slowly, her eyes never leaving him.

“You can’t stay out of trouble, can you?” Genkai’s voice rang over the group of them. They were surprised to see her staring at the blue eyed woman. “Did you have to drag it here with you?”

“I thought you might get bored with me otherwise, Master Genkai.” Iruni bowed her head slightly. “Apologies for the commotion.”

“Don’t apologize unless you mean it, Mikamoto. Get inside. Your tea is ready.” Genkai then looked at the others, who stared wordless. “You all might as well come too. I have a feeling you’re all after the same thing.”

“Jasmine with milk and honey?” Iruni turned her back on Hiei completely, offering the old woman a warm smile.

“Naturally.” Genkai nodded and started moving toward the door as the other woman caught up with her.

“Wait, wait, wait. You two know each other?” Yusuke ran to catch up with them in the entry hall. He moved his eyes between the two women. “How? When? Why?”

Iruni glanced at him, but didn’t answer. Genkai looked at the woman over her shoulder, then let her eyes rove toward Yusuke.

“We met when Sensui almost destroyed the barrier.” Genkai explained easily. “She’d encountered a problem around that time and needed my help.”

Iruni nodded, taking a seat across from Genkai at the table that had been set up for them. Posture perfect, she accepted her tea as Yukina offered it and tossed a dazzling smile at the youkai. “As always, thank you, Yukina.”

Hiei visibly bristled at the display. Kuwabara and Yusuke both edged away from the demon, keeping themselves out of immediate striking range.

“I hadn’t realized you were sensitive.” Kurama turned his attention to his classmate, mentally flipping back through years of their interactions.

“I’m not. That’s not why I came.” She shook her head, then frowned as she picked at the cut in her shirt. Not saying anything, but her face expressing all of her disappointment, she lifted the teacup and sipped. Her gaze fell on Kuwabara though, having to cut to the side to see him as her head tilted just slightly to the side as if she were listening to something far away.

He swallowed, not quite sure what to call the sensation pricking at his nape. It wasn’t fear, exactly. But again, even as his eyes strained he couldn’t pick up her aura. Only the intense emptiness where her energy should have been. And she’d caught him staring, fixing him with that look that sent his senses reeling.

Then her lips lifted, her eyes moving away without addressing the situation at all.

“So, what are you doing here?” Yusuke demanded of the woman, slamming his hand on the table and resting his other fist on his hip.

“I made an appointment.” She told him coarsely, eyes pinching slightly. “Which, perhaps, you should have thought to do.”

“Fat chance of that.” Genkai snorted. “Yusuke doesn’t think about anything until it’s happening. He’s a creature of pure instinct and came here without calling, as usual.”

“Yeah, well, this is important business grandma.” The half demon turned to face the old psychic. “And don’t pretend you’re bothered by me popping by.”

“Popping by would imply you didn’t have to take a train to get here.” Genkai snapped at him. “Now shut up and sit down. Mikamoto is right, she made an appointment. And she was here first.”

“This is ridiculous.” Hiei muttered, rolling his eyes. “We’re on a timeline.”

“If you’d all stop griping like children, I would be able to ask my questions and go.” Iruni closed her eyes, sipping the tea as a chill entered her tone.

Hiei snapped his gaze to her, lips curling back over his teeth. “You might not want to run your mouth.”

“I haven’t heard anything new.” Genkai ignored Hiei and fixed her attention on the woman across from her.

“I have.” Iruni sighed, pulling her hair down from her ponytail and allowing it fall around her in a cascade of black ink, her fingers running through the strands to pick out the debris her match with Hiei had left behind. “However, I’m concerned with what I learned. I wanted your advice. I met a woman who told me she thought she knew who had the sword. Naturally I was overjoyed at first. But she implied it was a demon, a strong one. I’m not sure how to proceed.”

“You don’t. Hiei was going easy on you and you barely managed to survive. My advice is to forget about it.” Genkai sipped her own tea, the callous statement falling easily from her lips. “Even you have your limits.”

“I had a feeling you’d say that.” Iruni’s gaze softened, warmed as she stared at her hands, folded neatly on the table now. Then her fingers tightened as she interlaced them. “But I can’t help but feel like I need to see him with my own eyes. I want to see the face of the demon who stole from me.”

“Did you get a name?” Genkai seemed to think she knew the answer.

“I did, but I don’t believe its accurate. From the lens of my research at least.” Iruni let her hands relax. “The name I was given was Amon-Shinpi, but I have no reason to believe that to be true. It’s likely an imposter.”

“Likely?” Genkai barely smiled, but seemed amused none the less.

“How do you know that name?” Kurama asked her, walking around so he could view Iruni’s face while he questioned her. “And more than that, how do you know anything about demons?”

“I’m a descendent of one.” As lightly as the truth flew from her lips, it landed with a thud on the minds of each of the men in the room. “My great-great grandmother, Kuya, was a demon. According to family lore, that is, and Genkai helped me to verify it.”

Kurama glanced to Genkai who nodded, acknowledging the truth in the words.

“So, how do you know about Amon-Shinpi?” Kurama’s gaze probed her, searching for lies.

Perfect. She had to fight the urge to smile, her plan clicking into place perfectly, even with the heavy heat of Hiei’s gaze beating against her back. She might be sore tomorrow, but she’d be on her way to the last stages of this plot.

“I came across the name in my research. When I searched through my ancestry and came across my demonic heritage, I dove into all the books I could find. I wanted to learn everything I could about demons, their world, their habits. That led me to Master Genkai. She was able to help me confirm my lineage and verify some of the information I’d learned.” Iruni explained, allowing one hand to gesture in the air, her face carefully neutral.

Whether it was her story or the fact he couldn’t sense the lies, she couldn’t say, but Kurama looked bothered.

“Unfortunately, all the works I’d gathered were destroyed in the fire a few years ago. It’s all up here now.” Iruni tapped her temple. “But my mind is a steel trap.”

“Which only makes you more hard headed.” Genkai complained. “I’ve warned her off this path several times and she insists she can handle it.”

“Not like anyone is going to miss me if something happens.” Iruni laughed, a slightly bitter sound.

Kurama frowned, suddenly remembering the fire she mentioned. Tidbits that had scattered through his memory about this woman rushed back, and he pieced together her history with them. She’d always been a quiet, reserved girl. She played violin when they were in grade school. She also participated in cross country and archery. They’d gone to different high schools, losing contact.

Not that he would have reached out to her, they’d rarely spoken.

But he did recall seeing her family name mentioned in the paper a few years before. A terrible incident. Her mother had been stabbed to death by her estranged husband, who then attempted to burn the house to the ground with Iruni still inside. It was something that had stuck out to him, the name familiar but too distant for him to really care.

Now as he looked at the way she studied her empty teacup, he realized he wasn’t the only one who had thought that way. Even now, in the last semester of college as they were, she had no friends he could name. No associations. A life devoid of connections, except apparently Genkai and Yukina.

Is that why she threw herself into the fray to protect the ice maiden? Is that why she didn’t seem in a hurry to leave? She was enduring his questions with uncharacteristic tolerance.

“So the books are destroyed. That sucks.” Yusuke complained, tossing his head back. “We really could have used them.”

“Why?” Iruni squinted at him.

“We’re looking for this asshole too. Our sources seem to think it might actually be Amon-Shinpi for real.” The team leader didn’t bother looking at her, his attention moving to his mentor. “You don’t have copies here, do you? I thought old bats like you kept copies of everything just in case.”

“Idiot. They weren’t my books. I don’t have anything on the subject here. It’s too obscure.” Genkai snapped at him. “Why would I have a book on one particular demon out of the millions?”

“Don’t bite my head off, grandma!” Yusuke yelled back at her. “It was just a question.”

“A stupid question, as usual. Ask Koenma for information. I’m not a damn library.” Genkai glared at her pupil.

Iruni sat back in her chair, her eyes scanning over them. Every word devoured and locked away. Her scrutiny brought her to Kurama’s face and she didn’t hide her interest from him. Let him see it, it would only make her seem more genuine. If she seemed curious, caught off guard, it would help.

“I’ve been trying to recreate my notes.” She announced, blinking at Yusuke. “I hadn’t quite gotten to Amon-Shinpi yet, but I can try to write out what I remember tonight. Shuichi can retrieve the notes from me tomorrow and give them to you, if that’s alright. I can’t guarantee they’ll help very much though.”

Yusuke stopped mid-insult, mouth still hanging open. “Really?”

She nodded and then a dangerous glint entered her eyes. “Well, on a condition, that is.”

“A condition?” Kurama frowned, glancing at Genkai.

The old woman looked bothered, but it was more annoyance and frustration than fear. She knew what was about to be asked and didn’t like it, but not for the reasons he had suspected. That was interesting.

“If I’m right, you’re looking for the information because you intend to fight.” Iruni told them. “I want to come with you.”

“No.” Hiei was the one who answered, sliding off the window sill to walk over to the others. “I won’t be put in charge of babysitting another useless waste like her. She’d only be good for bait. Although-“

“Hey man, just because she embarrassed you doesn’t mean you get to be a dick.” Kuwabara glared at the shorter mon.

“It’s bad enough you’ll be coming. We don’t need another distraction.” Hiei scoffed, crimson eyes boring into the woman in question. “Genkai is right. I barely tried and almost killed her. Imagine if someone without restraint got ahold of her.”

“Well, consider it.” Iruni shrugged.

“You said this demon stole from you. What did he take?” Yusuke eyed the woman. His suspicion showed in the way he squinted at her, getting too close to her face.

“A family heirloom. A sword.” She told him dully. “I’ve been looking for it for ages. It went missing after the fire.”

“Sword?” Kuwabara tapped his chin. “It didn’t have any weird magical abilities did it?”

“It’s a sword.” Iruni rolled her eyes. “It was just an old sword in a red scabbard that belonged to my great grandfather. It’s sentimental to me.”

Genkai raised an eyebrow at the bold honesty in those words. And these boys were eating it up. Of course they were. Idiots. She had to commend Iruni though, on her talent for bending words to her will. All the information she gave them was easily assessable if they knew where to look, and therefore worthless. But she made it sound like she was divulging powerful secrets to confidants.

But one thing was certain, she was right, if she faced this threat alone she’d likely die. Her energy was still a gaping hole at this point and she didn’t seem to be in a hurry to alter that. Genkai had offered a handful of times to help her unlock her power, and each time was refused.

“I’ll write the notes either way.” She stood and pressed the lines out of her slacks, once again toying with the cut in her shirt with a grimace. “Just let me know your answer.”

“There are other ways to get what we need.” Hiei spoke, the dangerous edge to his brusque voice trailing behind the woman as she walked away. “We don’t actually need you.”

“Oh, that’s right, here.” Yukina rushed over to Iruni and handed her a few pieces of parchment. Crimson eyes traced the shape of the wards. “Genkai prepared these for you as you asked.”

“My sincerest thanks.” Iruni bowed her head to Genkai then smiled at Yukina. Her eyes scanned over to Hiei, the papers in her hands tipping down. “Well, good luck with your other options.”

She’d done it on purpose, let him see the wards against psychic invasions. Against his Jagan. His fist curled in his pockets, his glower fixed on where she’d been standing.

“May I walk you out, Mikamoto?” Kurama rushed to follow her out, walking passed the agitated demon to do so.

“If you insist.” Her tone had returned to the cool, casual tone she normally used as she stepped to the side allowing Kurama to lead the way.

But Hiei didn’t miss the slight smirk that crossed her face as she turned away, following at the fox’s heels like a trained dog.

“Why did she need wards?” Hiei demanded immediately, turning to face Genkai. “You’ve just armed a potential enemy.”

“Mikamoto isn’t interested in fighting you. She’s not an enemy.” Genkai told him. “Stubborn, yes, but not inherently evil.”

“I would have liked to judge her for myself.” Hiei growled at her. “Were the seals your idea or hers?”

“Hers. But I think they were a suggestion from another friend after her encounter with your group the other day. Shikari is a flighty creature, prone to rolling over and showing her belly at the first sign of trouble.” Genkai explained.

Hiei thought about that. “The blonde woman. Yes, I remember her. She was petrified of us. So, that foul woman accepts the advice of skittish apparitions?”

“I’m sure you’ll get your chance to judge her when Yusuke inevitably accepts her offer to help.” Genkai thumbed toward her pupil, as he stood with his hands on his hips, a grin growing on his face. “He’s already got that dumbass smile on.”

Hiei had to agree. Only trouble would follow now. But he didn’t miss the way the old psychic deftly avoided answering his question. Genkai’s protection of the woman earned his interest. If nothing else, that meant she was worth watching. The rest was going to be a waiting game at this point.

Chapter Text

Kurama walked beside Iruni over the expanse of the temple's lawn. The laundry basket from earlier lay forgotten a few yards away, disregarded in the heat of battle, most of the clothes still inside. He paused to note the impression in the grass from where Iruni had been thrown. The back of her shirt bore stains of brown and green from the impact. Blades of green wilted to brown, likely where Hiei had landed and his rage had grown palpable.

"Dangerous company you keep." Iruni earned his attention, standing at the top of the stone steps. Her study of him was careful, precise, but also detached. "I'm surprised. I had always taken you for a milder personality."

"It seems we both have our secrets." Kurama allowed with a smile. "I would have never taken you for someone with demonic lineage."

"Because I'm not like your friend." She stated this as fact, not a question, blue eyes flicking toward the temple where the others waited. "You can relax if you're worried about it. I'm not a mazoku. Genkai has already done her tests on me. They came up empty."

For reasons she wouldn't disclose. The old woman alone knew her secret and it would remain that way until it absolutely could not. It would have been hard for her to be half-demon and containing a demon's spirit all at once. Though she bet it would have sent Spirit World into a panicked flurry if it had been the case. Sardonic amusement flitted over her face for a moment at the idea of it, but died away quickly.

"Were you hoping to be?" Kurama tilted his head to ask the question, and despite his best effort his curiosity didn't ring innocence.

She saw the guarded malice underneath his surface. Precise, careful, intelligent and cold Kurama. Ready to defend his friends. Ready to fight. She shrugged and closed her eyes, folding her hands behind her head as she began her descent.

He joined her in seconds, matching her stride easily.

"I think they'll decide to let you come." He told her after a few more moments of silence. "After all, it sounds like you have information we desperately need. Although, I might advise you to avoid using those."

He tapped the parchments in her hands with a sly smile.

"Hiei doesn't appreciate being thwarted, and you doing it twice in a day won't win you any points with him." Kurama explained when she crooked a questioning eyebrow.

"What do these have to do with him?" Iruni squinted at the fox, coming to a stop two steps behind him. It allowed her to look down at his face unobscured.

And Kurama seemed to realize his mistake as soon as she'd spoken, his eyes widening only for a nanosecond before he shook his head and waved a hand to dismiss her question. His noncommittal deference only caused her to tip her head to the side. For a moment, he'd forgotten that just because she'd encountered Hiei didn't mean she knew about the Jagan. He'd simply assumed that was the need for the talismans.

Now he struggled to answer her question without possibly giving up valuable information, while also trying to discern if she was tricking him or not.

Why did she need psychic protection wards if not to use against Hiei?

Iruni watched him flounder with wary amusement. She probably shouldn't be toying with them this way, not when she was trying to earn their trust, but she couldn't help it. How many chances did one get to pull one over on Kurama of all demons? Of course the wards were to protect her from Hiei.

But for just a moment, she got to see Kurama look uncertain and it was a treat.

"Tell me about your friend, Shikari." He deflected her question with a warm smile, rubbing the back of his neck.

Her eyes traced the movement, knowing full well what he was doing but unable to let him see it. Part of her tensed, waiting for the rose to appear in his fingertip when his hand fell away. But it didn't. So she stepped down to his side once more and continued to walk, chatting easily, but without offering too much. The basics that could be verified without too much effort. That she and Shikari had met a few years before. That Shikari offered her information about Demon World and helped her find this missing heirloom.

Kurama listened with rapt attention, not bothering to disguise his genuine interest. It made it deceptively easy to speak to him, when he prompted her so gently with his questions. But still, Iruni locked herself up, her guard higher than his charm could reach.

"And Yukina? How did you two meet?"

"She saved my life, but I doubt she thinks of it as such." Iruni's expression softened considerably, her eyes fixed on a distant memory as she smiled.

Yukina.

That precious little girl with a heart of gold, despite her frigid upbringing. A treasure to behold. The ice maiden reminded Iruni of her own sister who had long before died. That intense, radiating innocence. There was no defense against that power and only two things came of it: you wanted to protect it or you wanted to crush it.

Her mind took her to a lifetime before, when she'd been wayward and struck. The child's kindness had thawed her heart for a moment and she'd never forget that. She had yet to repay the woman still, but she was working on it. One thing at a time.

"I'd like to hear more of that story someday." Kurama offered her a smile full of kindness.

Iruni's heart skipped a beat, her blood running cold as her confusion grew at the expression. A genuine smile, full of warmth and interest. From Kurama? Was this a trick? Her eyes fell to the ground as her mind raced to connect dots that were nowhere near each other. Kindness was unexpected from this one, especially of the genuine variety. She'd been prepared for a polite yet one-sided interrogation, not an actual conversation.

"Maybe we could talk more." She responded carefully. "After this business is done."

He nodded as their feet landed on the cobblestones at the base of the steps. His hands carefully hidden in his pockets.

Readying an attack? No. Not here, he'd have done it where the others could have come quickly. A habit, then. Her adrenaline slowed as quickly as it appeared. She waited for him to say something, crossing an arm behind her back to grab her other forearm, watching his face without much of an expression.

A gentle breeze swept between them, curling through their hair and around their bodies. A secret for her to keep, as a distant memory came along with the tendrils of wind, and with it confidence in her abilities. If Kurama did attack, she could deflect it. His speed wasn't nearly as impressive as Hiei's and despite his reputation, he was quite the humanitarian.

"I'll hold you to that." He told her with warmth that glittered in his eyes.

Her cheeks colored, pink rising up despite herself. So this was the Shuichi all the women flocked toward. She could feel the pull. His eyes sparkled with good intentions, his soothing voice telling of his gentle nature. And yet, she felt this was a trap. A way to undermine her obvious defenses. So she narrowed her eyes and lifted her chin.

This one was far too charming but she was too stubborn for fall for his tricks.

"You'd be lucky to hold me at all." She snorted the quip then widened her eyes in surprise at herself.

Kurama laughed. "You've got more spirit than you let on."

He had no idea how right he was. But she was glad her mistake hadn't cost her anything important, merely an embarrassed flush and some pride.

"Did you want my address?" She tilted her head then, a smile tugging at the edge of her mouth. "Or perhaps my personal number, Shuichi?"

"Are we on a first name basis now?" He pulled a pen and paper from his pocket, ever the prepared one. "Seems forward of you, Iruni."

"You didn't know? Once you share your evil ancestry with someone you are immediately on a first name basis." She told him dryly, writing out the information and he laughed again. "I'll work on the notes tonight."

"Thank you." He nodded, accepting her offering with a brush of long fingers over her own.

Iruni left him then, turning on heel and glancing back to make sure he'd not bothered to follow her. Her back remained straight until she got to the train where she was sure she was alone. There she let the pain of the fight show, wincing as she touched her bruised shoulder. She was lucky it was still in the socket, the impact of her fall had been intense. And the graze of Hiei's sword had let a mark on her stomach. Bruised ribs, aching joints and a pounding head.

Genkai was right. She'd barely survived that fight. Annoyed, she pressed her head against the cool glass of the train as it rushed down the tracks back toward the city. It helped ease the throbbing growing in her skull. Clutching the wards tighter in her fist, she closed her eyes.

Underprepared and severely outclassed. But Kurama seemed confident they'd allow her to come. She only had to get there. After that, their advantage over her wouldn't matter anymore.

Once she got that sword, it would all be worth it.

......................................................................................................................................................................................................

"Clever fox." Hiei smirked, amused by Kurama's antics as usual, as he paced down the street with the team two days later. "Or should I say, foolish woman?"

"I wouldn't in such a hurry to call Mikamoto a fool, Hiei. She has obviously been far more aware than we gave her credit for." Kurama lulled his response, hands in the pockets of his jeans at the team walked.

"You mean than you gave her credit for." Hiei noted, not adding his thought that Kurama had only bothered to plant the seeds on the woman out of sheer spite for deceiving him.

Which was why they were here. Kurama had accepted Iruni's address and while she'd been distracted by his hand brushing hers, he'd placed a sprinkling of burr like seeds over her shoes and the rolled cuff of her pants. He'd been able to sense her general location since, which helped them confirm her address and her routine.

Genkai had suggested the ploy wasn't necessary, but Kurama wasn't so sure. Iruni held more secrets than he liked and was apparently good enough at hiding them that he hadn't even been aware how many there were. Genkai had also confirmed that the seals were likely against Hiei, advice given by Shikari, but the extent of Iruni's knowledge was largely unknown. He hadn't enjoyed learned that either. He figured if she'd found the seeds, she'd have plucked them off. And if she could sense energy, she'd have noticed them immediately.

And yet, it seemed she hadn't. For a few days he'd been able to follow her loosely around the city, and she'd been none the wiser. She'd also been far less interesting than he'd hoped. Her demon accomplice hadn't come around and the woman herself hadn't done much more than attend classes and go back to her house.

"I didn't know you could use those things to track people." Kuwabara walked backwards, arms folded behind his head.

"If I infuse them with my energy, I can sense where they are." Kurama flexed his hand around the extra seeds cradled there, then released them into the depths of his pockets. "It's not a trick I need to use very often."

"Crafty bastard." Yusuke cut his eyes behind him, grinning.

"Apparently not as crafty as I wished." Kurama came to a stop in front of the small house, eying the unusual flowers growing by the gate. Small iridescent purple petals and thin, sharp leaves. He frowned. The plant was innocuous enough for something pried out of the Makai, but still, he hadn't intended for it to be planted.

And when, exactly, had they been planted? Because he was sure as of yesterday evening that she'd still had the seeds on her shoes.

"They just sprung up. I noticed them this morning." An elderly woman smiled at the group of men, picking her way down the sidewalk with a cane. "Poor girl hasn't bothered with gardening in years. I'm glad to see something new growing."

"Would this, by chance, be the Mikamoto residence?" Kurama offered his warmest, kindest smile to the old woman and watched its effect as she blushed, bobbing her head readily.

"She's not in though." The elderly woman continued to smile. "Left first thing this morning."

The team exchanged a look while Kurama thanked her. She went on her way as they congregated near the gate, trying to decide their next move. They'd come to inform the woman she could join them, providing she had relevant information to their case. If she could identify their target as an imposter, it would be greatly helpful.

"Do you think she ran off and got herself killed?" Hiei asked hopefully, not in a hurry to endure the woman's company again. His pride still felt sore from their fight two days before. Sure, he could have killed her, but the fact she'd managed even her miniscule victory rubbed him the wrong way.

"You're blocking my gate." Iruni voiced from behind them, arms laden with grocery bags as she scowled at them. "Please move. These are heavy."

Not to mention uncomfortable. Her arms were still sore from her fight, her shoulder a murky purple-blue at this point, and the weight of the straps had become an endurance test of controlling her reactions. When the team parted, allowing her to slip through, she went directly to the door and pushed it open. It wasn't until after she disappeared inside that Yusuke started to follow her.

"Yo. You need help?" He tilted his head, craning around the entry hall to peek into the kitchen.

"Now that the hard part is done? Certainly." The dry response earned her a flat stare. "Well, don't just stand there letting the air out. Get in."

They followed her irritated command easily, the door shutting a little too loudly behind Hiei who initially refused to walk further into the house than the entry. Partially because he didn't want to take off his shoes, mostly because he didn't want to be there at all.

The other three hung about uselessly, meandering on the cusp of the kitchen and hall. Yusuke couldn't help himself, his eyes scanning around what he could see of the house with all the interest of a child entering a new store. Kuwabara too, looked around, though mainly his focus kept coming back to the dark haired woman putting away her groceries. Kurama smiled at her, but received no such courtesy back, as she rolled her eyes away, still set on her silent task.

The walls in the entry were empty, other than the hooks for coats that were currently bare. Further down the hall too, the walls remained a clean white. The kitchen offered space for a single apron to hang, but nothing else on these walls either. The counters were as cleared as possible, clean. The table only adorned by coasters, napkins and salt and pepper shakers. No magnets or pictures on the refrigerator. Very personal effects at all, it seemed.

"You can sit at the table." Iruni nodded toward the small in-kitchen table, set up with three chairs with the fourth side pressed to the wall. From the wear of the varnish, it appeared she generally only used one spot. The typed notes were already laid out there, ready to be reviewed.

Kurama pulled the top sheet away and scanned over the contents with interest. Every so often he cut his attention back to Iruni, watching as she prepared tea and food for herself. She didn't offer any more prodding or direction to them.

"Aren't you dying in that shirt?" Kuwabara eyed the small women with heavy speculation. The long sleeved blouse seemed unseasonable in the growing warmth of the quickly approaching summer. "I'm in shorts and I'm already sweating."

"I'm fine." She told him, not bothering to look over her shoulder as she spoke.

Kurama passed the pages around the table as he read through them. The sparse notes were very cut and dry, matter of fact. A physical description of the demon they should expect to see. A quick overview of the artifacts in his possession. A brief summary of Amon-Shinpi's character and power, though these descriptions were vague.

"Who told you about the armor?" Yusuke asked her, moving slowly through the words.

"Genkai. I called and asked if there was more information I should try to find for you. She gave me a list of items and told me to describe them." Iruni placed a tray on the table, five teacups and a plate of light snacks. "Is your dour friend content haunting my hall?"

"Hn. I hadn't realized this was going to be all day affair." Hiei voiced from behind her.

The immediate reaction to his presence caught his attention, and Kurama's from the look of it. Her back straightened, pulse rising, as she quickly stepped away to keep space between them. The startled look on her face almost satisfied him. Good. She'd learned her lesson then. But the way she flinched from his presence with a resolute glare suggested another reason for her movement.

"You can relax. I'm not going to attack you." Hiei told her, helping himself to the snacks. "You humans are so skittish. Where is all that fire you had before?"

She didn't answer him. Something he noted, as he lifted his attention to her once again. His eyes flicked to her shoulder and she flinched under the sudden scrutiny, turning away from him slightly, as if to shield the left side of her body from his view. Now that was interesting. Was she still injured from their skirmish? Amusing. Humans truly were a waste of energy.

"Something wrong?" He asked, a deliberate smirk crossing his features. "You look frightened."

"Hiei, don't be a dick." Yusuke called and the fire demon rolled his eyes. "Who wouldn't be scared of your creepy ass sneaking up behind them? You still give me the willies and I've known you forever."

"I'm not afraid of him." Iruni's terse response to Yusuke made him lift his eyebrows. "I'm just not eager to find myself at his mercy again."

"So you admit it." Hiei gestured to her then, now thoroughly enjoying himself. "That you are utterly outclassed?"

"I admit that I don't have the strength to beat you, yes. However, I am positive I have way more class than you." She shot back at him, and the comeback made the others chuckle.

"Might want to check your tongue before you lose it." Hiei advised, still smirking. "Since you're trying to avoid starting another fight with me. I won't bother with mercy next time."

"I don't intend on there being a next time." She told him firmly, nostrils flaring. The momentary break in usual composure ended quickly as she collected herself. "Is the information helpful?"

"Yes, quite." Kurama nodded.

"If she provided us with everything, we should go." Hiei pointed out. "What's the use of bringing cannon fodder along?"

"We told her we'd take her." Yusuke shrugged, watching the woman bounce her eyes over them. "He's an ass, just ignore him."

What poor advice for him to offer. Hiei was a practiced killer. If she ignored him she'd be setting herself up for a potential attack. Even with his friends around, he didn't seem all that interested in adhering to Spirit World's rules about not attacking humans. She imagined it was a constant burden to him.

"I'll be able to identify the sword." She told them as a unit. "You're worried this demon has the Takani blade, yes? I suspect what he has is my family heirloom, but I'll be able to tell you once I see it. That alone should be sufficient reason to bring me."

"You could just tell what it looks like." Kuwabara suggested. "Not that I agree with Hiei, but it doesn't sit well with me that we're dragging you along. This could be really dangerous and scary."

"I could, but I won't." She forced a smile and it looked as fake as it felt.

"You're awfully determined, aren't you?" Kurama smiled and it touched his eyes.

Yes, she was. He had no idea. And his false friendliness wasn't going to sway her. She was going with them and that was going to be the end of it. With the ward securely in place in her hair, hidden in the strands beneath her bun, they couldn't count on Hiei to pry the information out of her. Taking her was their only choice. But they still seemed skeptical, at odds with the idea.

Fine.

Then she'd have to use a secondary element to boost the odds into her favor. It would be risky, but knowing their personalities, it should work.

Iruni toed the ground, a slight blush coming into her cheeks while chewed the inside of her lip. Then, resolute and obviously embarrassed, she spoke quietly, as though she didn't really want them to hear her.

"I also, well, I'd like to see you fight." She muttered, refusing to meet their eyes.

Honestly, she didn't need to see them. Their smug surprise at her statement was all but a physical presence in the room. Kuwabara whispered a soft, but heartfelt 'Oh', as Yusuke made a sound of barely contained pride. Kurama shifted in his seat to view Hiei, who glared at the woman, then his teammates.

Idiots. A bunch of idiots he was stuck with.

He'd been defeated in this crusade. He could already see it in Urameshi's eyes.

"You want to see us fight, huh? Has the old bat been talking us up?" Yusuke flexed his arm and grinned.

Offering a slight nod, Iruni dared to look at them and her blush grew brighter. Turning away from them completely she stiffly walked over to her counter and busied herself with some meaningless task.

"Genkai talks about you a lot." Iruni huffed. "About how strong, but thick-skulled, her apprentice is. I never thought I'd get to meet you."

"You want to see me fight?" Yusuke pointed at himself, self-satisfied and gleaming.

"Genkai doesn't say much about the others, if anything at all. Generics. Yukina has spoken to me about Kuwabara though. But I'd really like to see what Genkai's dimwit is like in action." Iruni stopped her fingers from peeling the label off of the can in her hands.

It wasn't that far from the truth. Genkai had told her a lot about Yusuke and his antics. She complained mostly, but Iruni always saw the muted pride on her face. Even the affectionate, disparaging nicknames and comments were enough to tell her that their bond was special. She really did want to see him in action again, considering his growth. Setting the can back on the counter and ignoring the corner she'd been subconsciously worrying over, she stared down at her hands, nearly forgetting the men in her kitchen or why they were there for a moment as she lost herself in her thoughts.

Genkai suggested Yusuke had grown so exponentially in just a few years that she'd hardly believed the woman. But Genkai did not lie. Not to her, not to anyone that she knew. And through the previous weeks of her spying, she'd been forced to acquiesce. Yusuke was forged of something new, unbreakable and wholly bright. This man was a far cry different from the snot-nosed little shit she'd witnessed battling it out during the Dark Tournament years before. In many ways the same, but those were less important. It lined his body, edged his movements, the strength he'd gained and the confidence to wield it.

Iruni closed her hands into fists, mind focused on a distant desire.

If some half-blooded child could grow this way, surely she could too. Her mind turned to Kurama and his inordinate progress. She'd been in school with him most of their lives. She'd watched his power slowly ease its way back into him, watched him grow. And again, the last few years had seen such a lurch in that movement she'd been surprised by his presence when they'd entered their first university class together. Very much the same gentle faced young man, with those careful, intense eyes of his. But also so different. Faster, lighter in personality, more demonic that she'd ever seen him when he walked silently through the hall with that secret knowing smile he wore.

He was her canary, this existence her coalmine. If Kurama could work his power through his limbs with such grace, carry it like a badge, she could too. Even as the thought struck her, she dismissed it, her lips pressing into a line.

The problem was her lack of a catalyst, something she'd known for years. These men had seen their battles, worked for what they had. Their power hadn't come to them naturally, it had been carefully cultivated through years of toil and experience. Just as hers had once come to her. But while they'd been battling demons who far outclassed them, she'd been a spectator.

A coward.

Hiding.

Breathing out through her nose she narrowed her gaze on her fists, tightening them. Hiding from him. Trying to keep herself cloaked in anonymity. Avoiding any degree of attention. That's why she was so desperate for the sword. Even with this handicap, the sword would be more than enough.

She was so close. So very close.

She could practically feel the rough binding of the hilt in her palms, creating callouses as the weight extended through her arm as another piece of herself. How she longed for it. The desire to test the sharpness on the pad of her thumb. The way it cut through her enemies like the embodiment of her will.

So, so, very close.

Her eyes moved slowly to the side, realizing only then how intently Hiei focused on her. His gaze seared her, locking her into place. Whatever showed on her face had betrayed some piece of her thoughts, she was sure. Her mistake, losing herself in this moment. But the Jaganshi didn't seem alarmed. If anything, his expression rang of mild interest, maybe judgement. Her back remained to the others and she moved her eyes away from his face without saying a word about his staring.

The ward would keep her safe for now.

"When do we leave?" It was intentional, turning away from the fire demon and facing the others with her back to him.

Any other moment in her life and she wouldn't have dared to give her back. It would have been a rookie mistake, but he was proverbially chained and she needed him to continue thinking of her as a sloppy child. So, for the second time despite her raging instincts, she kept him behind her. He needed to question her ability to survive. They all did. They needed to believe that without them she'd die on this mission. It would keep them too close to see anything else.

"Tonight." Yusuke told her with a wide grin. "You sure you want to do this? You looked a little freaked out there."

"I'm sure." She nodded firmly, planting her feet in a natural stance. "Trust me, there is no other place I'd rather be."

Probably one of the first honest things she'd said to them, and it would probably be one of the last.

Chapter Text

I adjusted the sleeves of my jacket, glad I’d brought it to ward off the evening’s chill. Yusuke had stayed true to his word and we were picking our way through a dark forest toward the source of everyone’s chagrin. The team prepared themselves to battle a monster. I prepared myself to take what was mine. I could almost taste the sweet thrill of success already. Father had always warned me not to get ahead of my circumstances, but it was a character flaw that seemed to follow me from one life to the next.

They kept me in the middle of the group, just I’d anticipated. On my left, Kuwabara worked to keep in step with me. A noticeable effort on his part seeing as how his stride was twice as long as my own. But he seemed determined to stay beside me, scanning from left to right with palpable concentration. Endearing.

Urameshi led the charge, swaggering at the point position, leading us toward certain victory. His large brown eyes would glance back at me every so often, to gauge my confidence I’m sure. If he expected me to waver, he was mistaken. I kept my expression arranged, carefully neutral. He never let his attention linger for too long.

Kurama walked at my back. Not ideal, but I couldn’t show my discomfort. The fox hadn’t seemed to guess at my deception so far. I was probably safe.

I don’t enjoy dealing in uncertainties. I prefer more control. I like to know my odds.

I also don’t trust him. Youko had been a devious, deceitful apparition. A legend, sure. Impressive in a variety of ways. But I would never have given him my back. Not in this life or the previous. I’m not nearly young or naïve enough to make that mistake. And yet, there he was, diligently bringing up the rear.

Hiei was home in the trees, flitting through the branches with practiced stealth. Buried in shadow, his presence was only discernable because I searched for him. That was another demon I didn’t want surprising me.

I didn’t trust Kurama.

I straight loathed Hiei.

Every time I glimpsed him, his cloak, his shadow, those bloody red eyes, my shoulder rolled of its own accord. An involuntary reaction. The tender, bruised flesh remembered his assault as if it had a mind of its own.

More than once I caught his gaze fixed on me. My twitch seemed to amuse him.

Bastard.

He wouldn’t be laughing by the end of the night. I had to fight down a smile at the thought of it. Soon, so soon, I would have my prize. Despite my efforts the corners of my mouth tipped up.

Years. I’d been hunting for my sword for years. Twenty-three to be exact. All my wretched existence. And now it was so close. I could nearly wrap my hands around the hilt. All I had to do was walk into the demon’s lair with the all-too-eager team of men.

At the start of our trek, Hiei had suggested simply using me for bait.

He had no idea our positions were reversed.

They would battle the grunts, I’d use that as my distraction and head off the imposter. Child’s play. If I was lucky, I’d flee without incident as they continued to grapple with their opponents.

I don’t believe in luck.

I wouldn’t get out of this without a fight. Hiei, more than likely, would leap at the chance to challenge me again.

My shoulder rolled.

No. I couldn’t fight him again. Not now, anyway. I’d never survive it. If he knew what I was he’d come at me without mercy, full strength. I couldn’t handle an all-out battle with an S-class demon, much less four of them as I’m sure the rest of the team wouldn’t be far behind.

My fingers toyed with the only weapon I brought. An Infinity Chain. Thin, innocuous, but quite useful. Tied around my wrist as it was it could’ve been mistaken for a set of silver bracelets. I hated the damned thing. Finding it had been an ordeal. I’d had to enlist Shikari’s help. I don’t like asking for help. Even then, I’d done most of the work actually retrieving it. The weapon had been forged by someone I knew before. But my hate was centered needing it at all, not the quality of the weapon.

I used to be a king.

I used to be powerful. I faced down armies on my own and came out the victor. I guarded my family and protected our lands.

I was a sentinel.

Now? Now I was nothing. A distorted reflection of my former self. A checker piece on a chess board.

But with the sword, I could rise again. I could finally win this quarter century long fight.

I had to survive tonight.

He was coming.

It was my duty to stop him.

So I wouldn’t fight the Reikai Tentai. I would get my sword. Then, as sick as it made me feel to even think of considering it, I’d surrender. That was the plan I’d decided on the minute I’d realized I could use these men to achieve my goals.

I used to be a warrior.

Now I’m a coward.

My eyes glimpsed Hiei again. He kept darting from my right side ahead toward our destination and back. No doubt that accursed evil eye of his was wide open, scouring the forest for dangers and fixed on their targets. He was such a menace.

“You okay?” Kuwabara earned my attention, his tone and face both laced with concern.

“Are you?” I asked him quietly, eye brow crooked. “You look pale.”

A bead of sweat rolled down the line of his neck, absorbed into the crew neck of his t-shirt. Exertion from the hike or fear of what was to come? I couldn’t quite tell.

“Yeah, It’s the energy in the air y’know? Always ties me up in knots. I hate the way it feels.”

Energy? Did he mean the auras leading us straight to the cliché hideout nestled into the forest’s thickness? We were hunting our prey. How could he be so deeply affected by such a minor display of power? But as I watched him look around, shoulders hunched and hands shoved into his pocket, my confusion faded. I thought, maybe, I understood.

Above all else, Kuwabara was human. Totally and completely. He probably felt things differently, more profoundly due to that. His exposure to the Makai had gifted him with a perspective he had never asked for. He wore this experience like a weighted chain around his neck. It was likely that he didn’t know how much information about himself he radiated, but I hungrily accepted every detail all the same.

Kuwabara was an honest man at the very center of his nature. He didn’t mind displaying his emotions or reactions. Kind to a fault too, I surmised, as he stepped closer to me when the auras ahead grew in strength. A good man.

No wonder Yukina adored him so.

Sliding two fingers into my pocket I produced a piece of gum, offering it to him. He blinked at me, clearly confused by the act.

So incredibly honest.

It was refreshing.

“To ease your stomach.” I explained lightly. “Though the mint might be an issue. It’s potent. You won’t be able to hide from your enemies.”

“I don’t hide.” He snatched the gum from me, tossing it into his mouth defiantly.

This time I didn’t repress my smile.

“Thanks. So, do you feel sick or anything? The heebie jeebies?” He spoke around chewing.

“No.” I turned my attention back to Urameshi’s back.

“No? It doesn’t bother you?”

Kurama was listening raptly behind us. I could feel the pressure of his probing gaze. He’d begun to watch me the minute I’d warned Kuwabara about the mint. A slip on my part perhaps, but fostering potential had always come naturally to me.

“I don’t feel anything.”

Maybe I should’ve chosen different words. It could’ve been the utter apathy of my tone. Either way, Kuwabara’s brows pulled down and Urameshi shot me a wary glance.

“You can’t sense energy?” Kuwabara frowned, rubbing his neck. “That must be weird.”

I shrugged. There was no reason to correct him on this matter. I could sense energy just fine. Probably better than he could, at any rate. But it didn’t affect me the same way. The auras trying to menace us up ahead weren’t my problem. Therefore, I was ambivalent toward them.

“Both of you shut up. They’ll hear us.” Hiei dropped from a tree to my right, his usual sneer deepening into a scowl.

With some amusement I noticed that my conversational partner had jumped. Crimson eyes glared at him, an unspoken complaint clear in his biting gaze. Then Hiei turned to me with a look of annoyed expectation. He thought I’d argue.

I stared back, unconcerned with his sudden appearance or his advice.

“Six.” Hiei turned to Urameshi. “One with barely any energy at all. Four low level grunts. A lower B-class.”

B-class? I mulled that over. A higher rating that I’d figured. Toying with my chain I considered my options. I looked toward the clearing that had come into view. A shiver ran down my spine.

I hadn’t felt this excited in decades.

“Alright. We’ll take out the lackeys then the boss.” Yusuke laid out the obvious course of action. Did they really need this spelled out for them? “Mikamoto, you stay out of the way. Let us handle this.”

I nodded. He wanted to prevent me from becoming a burden or a distraction. Fair enough. Plus, that fit into my plan. Let them handle the meat shields.

The boss was mine.

“I want the boss. You keep taking the good fights.” Kuwabara whined.

I’ll admit not glaring at him took more effort than it should have. He didn’t know. Still, if he intruded on my fight I’d have to hurt him.

“When he inevitably fails, like usual, I’ll take over.” Hiei snorted, derisive as ever.

What was his problem? Did he hate Kuwabara for a reason or was he too insecure to allow someone else into the spotlight? Perhaps he was just thirsty blood. Either way, he was being rude to his comrades. The overwhelming ego of male demons shouldn’t surprise me anymore, and yet, it always found a way to.

“Shut up! I won’t fail. B-class is easy for me now too.”

“I’ve yet to see you win.”

“No one yanked your chain, shrimp.”

“Witty.”

“I thought you didn’t want us to give away our position.” I interjected coolly, eyes on Hiei. “Could you stop instigating an unnecessary fight?”

Kurama stifled a laugh behind his hand as he walked up to my side, whispering a sincere thank you.

“She got you.” Urameshi teased the fire demon, hands on his hips as he bent down to grin at the shorter man. “Maybe we should keep her around to keep you in line.”

An offer I’d refuse even if I wasn’t planning on ditching them in a few minutes.

Hiei scowled at him, then cut me a vicious glare. Perhaps expecting me to shrink under his harsh scrutiny. I suppose there were demons who withered under his stare, terrified of him and his powers. How disappointing for him that he had no such effect on me.

I wasn’t afraid, I merely knew my limits.

Ignoring him and his ire, I shifted my eyes to Urameshi, waiting for the signal so we could get this mission underway. Now that I knew how close we were I could barely keep myself from running ahead. He inhaled and let it out slowly, then marched us down the hill leading toward the abandoned factory.

Worn, chipped bricks stained by the elements even in the darkness of night. Broken windows filled with steady yellow light. Vines creeping up, filling the spaces between the bricks and the cracks of the glass. Left to rot after it had shut down years before the old factory was slowly being devoured by the forest around it. A flicker of light caught my attention.

A firefly.

I held my finger out to the little bug, allowing it to land and rest for a moment. Softly, with more feeling than I meant to display, I smiled at the little creature. I’d always loved fireflies.

“Stay behind us.” Kurama’s order sent the insect back into the air.

I lowered my hand without a response. Constantly being reminded that I was a liability had, at best, grown tiresome. I couldn’t rightly be bothered, seeing as how I’d carefully cultivated this image. Still, right or not, I was annoyed. But I kept my mouth shut about it, following at the back of the pack.

It was just as Hiei had reported. Urameshi pushed through a rusted metal door, the hinges loud and abrasive as they strained to open at all. We were greeted by five apparitions. Four armed, already jabbering about murder and the like. The usual talk of blood hungry idiots being used as distractions. Behind them, a woman with grey skin. Her fearful expression tried to be stern as she took us in. It wasn’t convincing.

The leader’s caretaker, then. Perhaps a mistress, from the state of her upknot and fine kimono. A woman who put effort into her appearance, even out here in the forest. Likely an unrequited affection on her end, no matter her role. She’d pose no threat and that might spare her life. I moved my attention back to the grunts, a quick overview revealing unimpressive energies. What they lacked in strength they bolstered in weaponry, it seemed.

“Hiei should go left, Kurama right.” I suggested, eying the weapons. An old habit of mine, trying to control the outcome of a battle by playing to the strengths of those involved.

Kurama was clever. Quick. Fluid. Fighting a demon laden with potions and gases would be easy for him, especially with his cynical spirit. Hiei’s aggressive speed would topple the demon with the spear, a quick and easy fight for him. Yusuke had chosen correctly already, challenging the demon with the sandals that would enhance its speed and jumps. Kuwabara faced off with the largest, a boar. This one’s nose ring doubled his raw strength, and even then, I’d guess he was merely a lower C class. Perhaps mid.

Trinkets and tricks.

Cowards.

Not that I was any better at the moment. But still my pride wouldn’t allow me to lump myself in with them. I may be lacking in power but I’m a trained fighter. I have skills.

Hiei pointedly ignored me, I noticed. He threw himself into a fight against the poison wielder in what I was sure was a defiant act. Moron. I had years of experience in battle, assessing opponents. He was making this harder on himself because he was immature and spiteful.

But, he wasn’t my problem.

When he choked on the thick grey smoke he’d been caught in, I felt no pity for him. Watching for a moment, I made sure they were all adequately engaged before I strolled through the center of the factory floor. This was working out better than I had hoped. Ducking under a flying pot, I ignored Urameshi’s command for me to retreat.

He should be more worried about that demon flitting around him, knocking him down.

“Pull out his ring.” I told Kuwabara as I passed, barely sparing him a glance.

The boar had gained the upper hand, nearly goring the carrot top. At my suggestion, Kuwabara nodded, following the order quickly. He grabbed the ring and yanked on it, twisting the boar’s head in the process and I heard a startled cry of victory from him.

I liked Kuwabara.

A shame, really, considering how this was going to play out.

My feet stopped in front of the female demon, looking her over.

“Call him.” I demanded, fixing her in place with my stare. Having lighter eyes seemed to unnerve a lot of people. It had always been that way for me, in this life and the one before. Something about the shifting hues of blue just made demons and humans alike weary. My fingers worked the knot in the chain, loosening it.

“Never. I’ll die first!” She rushed me.

Heaving a sigh, I stepped to the side, avoiding her futile attempt at capturing me or taking me down. What would she do if she succeeded? I doubted she knew.

“Fine.” I eyed her from the side, unimpressed. “But I’m not going to kill you.”

She came at me again. Slow. Uncoordinated. But desperate. She wouldn’t stop until I backed off or she was down. I hated this. Fighting the weak like this, it had never set well with me. The grunts were weak, sure, but they were fighters. They were armed. This woman was just deluded pawn trying to protect a demon not worth her time.

My fist connected with her chest anyway, doubling her over, and a pang of guilt shot through my chest before I could stifle it. I heard the air rush out of her. She gagged on the pain, arms wrapped around her middle. Maybe I had hit her too hard. I forced myself not to think about it. To dismiss it. This was a fight she had started. I slammed my elbow across her face, watched the whites of her eyes show as they rolled up into her head as she listed to the side. My arms slid under hers, forcing me down into a kneel as I carried her weight to the ground. I needed to beat her, but I didn’t have to cruel about it.

Whoever this idiot worked for, they didn’t deserve her or her loyalty, allowing a creature like this to fight me. They should’ve been here already, fighting in the thick of it with their men.

My anger started to grow. And I already had so much of it to manage. What sort of coward was this imposter anyway? Someone whose name carried no strength so they stole another. Someone who hid behind the weak and the passionate, pretending to be a leader. A demon of the lowest caliber.

I had considered leaving them alive, using them as a distraction for the team to fall on while I made my getaway. But now I had changed my mind. Killing them might open me up to attention I didn’t want, but I couldn’t just allow these deeds to go unpunished.

Someone shouted behind me. I dodged the spear with ease, tossing it an annoyed glance before I continued on my way.

“You’ve got visitors. As a king shouldn’t you greet us formally?” I called, aware that my tone betrayed my utter lack of respect. “Unless you’re not who you say you are, coward.”

That got me the response I wanted. Father had always said I had a way with words. A throaty rumble tore through the factory, the bay door at the back flying its tracks. I had to roll over the floor to avoid getting hit. Rising to my feet, dusting years worth of dirt off my shirt, I watched the entrance of this supposed king of demons.

I had been a king once, but I had never wanted to be. It was a punishment for my atrocious failures. A burdensome reminder that as a knight I shouldn’t have survived my liege. I did not wear the title as a badge of honor. I wore it as an oath to pay for my sins.

This imposter thought himself royalty as he glared down at me. Shrouded in dense armor he stomped toward me on heavy feet, eyes ablaze. He assumed the title made the man. It must have sounded good to someone who had never been shackled by it. This demon thought that if he wanted it bad enough the power would come to him. It was the truth lining his eyes. The hope as his hand wound around the scabbard of a sword older than either of us. It was the desire that kept his back straight under the burden of his armor so that he could lift his chin and look down his nose at me.

I could read him like a worn novel.

He dove at me, saying something I didn’t care to hear. My eyes were glued to that red scabbard. I evaded his advances until he realized he couldn’t simply catch me. Not with his movements restricted by the plates of metal he’d donned. We stood several feet apart in a world of our own.

“Get away from her!” Urameshi bellowed, I’m sure rushing to save me.

My eyes went from the sword to the face of the demon holding it. It looked small in his meaty fist. I didn’t bother memorizing his features. I wouldn’t have any need to remember them. The knot came undone, my chain sliding loose from my wrist.

“You scuffed it.” I gestured to the sword. “A rude way to treat something that isn’t yours.”

The chill in my voice was more habit than intention at this point. Father had always been impressed with my voice and its effect on others, especially during battle. He claimed of all my weapons, it was his favorite. Thinking of him pinched the corners of my eyes as the familiar cold entered my blood. Shame. Pain. Loneliness. The things I always felt when I remembered my family.

“This is mine!” The demon roared.

“Then use it.” My command startled him.

And gods help him, he tried. But the sheath would not relinquish the blade. Footsteps behind me. I didn’t bother looking. There was no more time.

Before I had been too fast for most demons to see, let alone fight. By the time I attacked, I only got to witness their mortal fear. It’s why I won. I always won.

Until I didn’t.

I rushed him, no hesitation holding me back. Looping my Infinity Chain around one meaty wrist, I swung up and kicked him under the chin. I allowed him to swipe at me, trying to push me back. Every ounce of his struggle worked to aid me in ensnaring him. All his fitting only wrapped him tighter in the web I created.

Mine was a weapon manipulated by energy. It would grow or shrink as I desired. It was unbreakable. Undeniable. Relentless in its mission.

It was a good metaphor, I think.

The armor was meant to make its wearer immortal, unable to be dealt damage. But in the face of my rage, even immortals bow. I tugged the wire and brought him to his knees. Lifting my chin, I looked down at him.

The armor was indestructible.

The body underneath? Not so much.

My Infinity Chain slipped through the uncovered joints in the plates, winding around the bare flesh underneath. Fusing some energy into the chain I pulled again. His body separated, cut through with all the resistance of wet clay. Arms and legs, hands and feet. All that stood was a torso with a yowling head, screaming out profanities and idle threats.

My feet carried me to the sword and the minute I touched it I felt at home. The familiar thrum of energy reached into my soul, filling a spot I hadn’t realized had been empty since before I died. Tying the chain around it, I fixed the sheath to my side. The blade slide free without complaint under my hands. Swiping once, I silenced those yowling cries forever. Good riddance.

Silence rushed in. Four sets of eyes glued to me. Four emotional states ranging from fury to fear.

I sheathed the sword.

I wasn’t born a king. I earned my title. I was born a princess. The first princess.

I had never wanted that either. I never cared much for pre-ordained positions. I was a princess by birth, but I worked hard to become a knight. A warrior. A sentinel.

Becoming a king was never my purpose or goal. It was the brand of my failure. It was a title thrust onto me. I rebuked it. As with everything in my life, I chose my own path. I shouldered my burden without the glory it could have brought me.

The people, my people, called me a king.

But that wasn’t the name they cried when they needed help.

“I surrender.” I lifted my hands and knelt down on one knee.

The Jaganshi ripped the sword from me, shoving me face down against the grime streaked floor. His nails cut into my scalp and he clawed his hand in my hair, pinning me down with a knee pressing into my back. I’d definitely have bruises from this later. I could hear him snarling over me despite my obvious compliance.

“Who are you?” He seethed, heat pouring into me with every sharp syllable.

I didn’t struggle in his hold. In another lifetime, I could’ve killed Hiei. We would have been closely matched, but I would’ve won. But that was before.

Before I fell. Before I failed. Before this accursed existence robbed me of my power and dignity and the release of death I’d been vying for.

Even then, even in the end I had some pride. Not much else, but I’d always had pride to spare. I’d made him choke on his rage, reminding him how to address me properly. Showing him that nothing he could do would make him stronger than me. He could never surpass me, the best he could ever hope for was an even match.

I suppose I should’ve listened to my screaming instincts and been more cautious in dealing with the murderous demon pressing his weight into my spine. But I was too overwhelmed with my accomplishment to care. I had the sword. And for the first time in twenty-three years I could say it.

I could say my name.

“Lord Amon-Shinpi Takani.” I grinned, the name tasting so sweet on my tongue despite the swirl of dust I inhaled with the words. “But you may call me your highness.”

A growl, feral and furious, then pain as it sparked through my head. Hiei’s vengeful punch robbing me of consciousness and any way to talk my way out of this. I’d be lucky if he didn’t kill me.
And yet, my last thought would have surely sent him over the edge if he’d been able to hear it. I was glad the ward was still intact for this moment otherwise I would have surely felt the cold metal of his blade rip into me. But as I appreciated that he’d stiffened upon hearing my name, recognizing me for a moment as the demon I once was, I couldn’t help the two words, I barely managed to keep them locked behind my lips.

Worth it.

Chapter Text

Iruni winced, pain coursing through her bones, biting at the back of her skull. Raising cautious fingertips she pried at the area. Sticky. Wet. The makings of a scab as well. How hard had Hiei hit her? How long had she been out? Her senses felt muted and she wasn’t sure if that was the fault of the quite likely concussion she was now sporting, or if it was because of the enchanted shackles binding her to the wall.

Sitting up was a tedious chore, but she did it anyway. The room spun for a moment, her stomach rolling with it.

Definitely a concussion.

“They may have blocked my energy, but I still know when I’m being watched.” She opened her eyes slowly, fixing on the spot where Kurama sat.

He tipped his head to one side, silent as death, and ran his eyes over her as if he was meeting her for the first time. She supposed, in a way, he was. And this was the first time he was allowing her to see him too, his knees crossed over one another, rose carefully spinning by the stem in his long, delicate fingers.

Shuichi looked innocuous enough if you didn’t know anything about him.

Kurama, on the other, looked nothing short of the danger he was.

Silence filled the room, other than the sound of her chains scraping against one another. The sound aggravating her tender nerves, echoing in her ears. She could use her arms freely but if she were to stand, she’d be able to take a single step before the restraints stopped her. Looking around she began to assess her accommodations, noting the mirror behind the fox, the stone floor with its drain in the center, a small metal toilet, a bucket of water, the bed she was sitting on with its thin mattress.

Honestly, as far as prisons go, it wasn’t the worst she’d ever been in.

The problem was less about being in prison and more where that prison was located. Even with the door closed she knew she was in Spirit World. She’d done this to herself, she chided internally, because she couldn’t help but take a jab at Hiei. As usual her mouth had landed her in hot water. Pressing her lips into a line she touched her head again. Of all her plans, this one had to be at least in the top ten worst she’d ever had.

“Hiei hit you too hard. You’ve been unconscious for some time.” Kurama’s cool voice snaked over to her. “I’ve brought a salve that should dull the pain a bit, Iruni.”

“I refuse.” She told him, an equal chill in her tone. His eyes narrowed only slightly, but she caught the warning he’d cast at her. “Anything you give me will have the primary benefit of working in your favor and not mine. A toxin to kill me or a toxin to make me speak. Either way, I’m not interested.”

Yusuke, Kuwabara, Botan, Koenma and Hiei watched from behind the two-way mirror. The cell was dim, the low watt bulb above the two demons inside casting thick yellow light downward and outside of that light, leaving shadows. At the woman’s words, Yusuke raised an eyebrow.

“If I wanted to poison you, why would I wait until you give your consent?” Kurama asked her, the rose no longer a plaything in his hands, but an idle weapon as he held it still.

Iruni stared at him, her expression plainly telling him she had no reason to answer his question.

“You have to be in pain.” Kurama pressed, as if this would sway her.

“I’m always in pain.” She responded callously, shifting until her back was to the wall and her legs criss-crossed. Placing her hands on her knees, then turning them palm up, she closed her eyes.

“Is she ignoring him?” Koenma balked at the display.

“She’s hiding.” Hiei corrected him, quiet, his eyes glued to the scene. “She’s in more pain than she wants to let on.”

“Huh, maybe if someone hadn’t wailed on her like a punching bag that wouldn’t be the case.” Yusuke shot him a harsh look. “You’ve gotta control your temper.”

“She knew what I’d do when she opened her mouth. Have no fear, detective, she planned for this.” Hiei tossed back, unapologetic. He tightened the fist tucked under his left arm all the same, the bandages on his knuckles were speckled with blood. He’d be damned if he would admit to the detective that he’d lost control of his strength in the moment.

He almost killed her.

Because this monster had gotten so close to Yukina and he’d been the only one to see it. She could have slaughtered them all, if what Koenma described was true. He hadn’t been able to restrict himself when she’d tossed out that haughty line. Surely a powerful demon lord could handle a blow to the back of the head without dying.

And yet, he’d also forgotten how miserably frail human bodies are even with powerful demons residing in them.

“She’d already surrendered.” Kuwabara glared at Hiei. “Man, you’ll cross any line won’t you? Hitting a girl, no problem. Hitting someone who already gave up, no problem.”

Hiei ignored him. Or at least acted like had was ignoring him, because truthfully, he hadn’t cared that she’d surrendered in the moment. He’d forgotten about it as soon as she’d declared who she was to them. The idiot.

What he wanted to know, more than anything, was why. Why had she told them in that moment? Why hadn’t she tried to fight? Why had she woken up in a prison with a look of drained curiosity and not confusion?

She didn’t speak again, back of her head resting gingerly against the stone wall as her eyes closed. Kurama waited, then stood, leaving the jar behind.

“I’m too aware of your tricks, fox. Take it with you.” The words were cold, and when he looked over his shoulder her eyes were still closed.

Kurama casually picked the jar up and slid it back into his pocket, pausing a moment to study her again.

“And my name is Amon-Shinpi. If you can’t manage that, you may call me Shinpi.” She kept her eyes closed but the admonishment was clear in her tone. “But I won’t answer to Iruni again.”

Iruni Mikamoto had never been a very noticeable girl, aside from her startling blue eyes. She was small, and for a long time he’d thought she was slight. But carrying her here had allowed him a brief examination of her body. Mostly focused on making sure Hiei hadn’t caved in the back of her skull, but he’d checked for additional weapons as well. She was actually quite muscular, this fact hidden under her long sleeve shirts and pants.

He tried to pinpoint any moment in their past together where he should have suspected her, but nothing came to mind immediately. She’d always been quiet, removed from the other students. She’d built up enough walls around her that she had practically faded from existence. Intelligent, though. She’d scored just on the heels of Kaido, if he remembered correctly. A generic student by most other accounts.

She participated in clubs, she read her books, she ate her lunches alone.

A memory came to him suddenly as he stared at her downturned face.

“You’re Minamino, right?” Mikamoto sat across from him on the train, her little legs criss-crosed in her seat since they couldn’t seem to touch the floor. Dark hair cut into an angle over her shoulders, bangs a fringe across her forehead. Large blue eyes that felt a little too probing for his taste.

“And you’re Mikamoto.” He offered her a practiced smile, and it seemed to catch her off guard. But by now he was used to this game, the girls who couldn’t help but approach him.

Her hands tightened on the violin case cradled safely in her lap, her eyes glued to its surface for a moment.

He was nearly charmed that a simple smile had been enough to dissuade her. He’d been mistaken. She cast him a look from under her bangs, a strange chill entering the car under the weight of her gaze. He felt very suddenly like he was on a precipice.

“You love your mother, right?” She asked him and his eyes widened.

“Naturally.” He responded, but he was careful now. His mother. His human mother who had somehow earned his affections. What did Mikamoto want with her?

But she seemed troubled by his answer, nodding and sinking into herself. She didn’t speak again for several minutes and he watched her warily the whole time.

She slid to her feet, face hidden by the shadow of her hair as she kept her chin tucked. She walked to the doors and exited once the train stopped.

Kurama shook himself free of the memory. Nothing had ever come of it and Yusuke had entered his life around the same time. It had fallen to the wayside as an unusual encounter and nothing more. Mikamoto didn’t talk to him again after that, but now he wondered how long she’d known who he was. Had she asked him that because of their shared nature? Or had it been a cry for help?

He left the cell heavy in thought.

“That was a waste of time.” Hiei told him when he entered the side room where the rest waited.

“She’s not going to just freely admit her secrets and her guard is up. We’ll have a difficult time interrogating her.” Kurama explained to them all.

“I’ll go.” Hiei bared his teeth.

“I’ll send in a member of the SDF.” Koenma shut Hiei down quickly. “We want information, not a blood bath.”

Matsuma, a generic member of the Spirit Defense Force with his tall stature and cropped pale hair, sat on the bench across from the woman while Hiei and Botan watched from behind the glass. Hiei had refused to leave, wanting to do as much observation as he could. It was imperative that they learn as much as possible. She’d offered little movement or reactions since Kurama had left. Now her lips quirked up slightly, her eyes peeling open as she studied this newcomer.

“Interesting.” She spoke and this time her tone was lighter, nearly amused. “You’re awfully angry for someone I’m quite sure I’ve never met. Did they send you in to beat the truth out of me?”

“Yes.”

“Go ahead. I won’t fight you.” She offered a pleasant smile, but her eyes had turned sharp. “Do you mind telling me why you hate me so much?”

“You’re an abomination.” He told her, getting to his feet.

“Ah, I see.”

He struck her across the face with a closed fist and she let her body move with the hit, head jerking to the side.

Botan gasped, covering her mouth and Hiei frowned.

“If Koenma wanted her tortured, he should’ve asked me. At least I wouldn’t have been so brutish about it.” Hiei voiced, eyes narrowing.

But the woman held true to her word, she made no move to defend herself. When Matsuma hoisted her to her knees by her shirt front she merely hung in his hands.

“What was your goal in human world?” He growled in her face.

She didn’t answer him, teeth a little bloody as she continued to smile and he slapped her again. She made no move to stop him and offered no indication she intended to speak.

“You’ve done this all wrong. You don’t start with the head, especially if your captive is already suffering from a brain injury of some kind. You start slowly, with the extremities. Toes, fingers, hands, feet. Work your way up. Take your time.” The chuckle she allowed at his expense enraged him. “I won’t talk to a boar like you. Bring me Kuwabara.”

“You don’t get to dish out orders, you piece of Makai filth.” He trembled with the urge to just beat her.

All too suddenly he wasn’t holding her anymore. She’d finally brought her hands up, pushing his away from her with ease. Then she drug him forward, the movement bringing him to kneel one legged on the bed. The warded chain wrapped around his throat and she tugged.

“You…said…you..wouldn’t..fi..fight.”

“This isn’t a fight. You’re entirely outmatched. This will be a massacre.” She assured him, then just as suddenly the chain slacked.

Matsuma coughed, scrambling backwards to get away from her. He didn’t stop until his shoulders hit the wall behind him, allowing him to pant for breath and nurse his budding bruises.

Iruni sat back on the bed, crossing her legs with a vicious smile as she cupped her chin with her palm, watching him. “Would you like to start again?”

Hiei raised his eyebrows at the display of raw strength. Her energy was entirely bound at the moment.

“She’s hurt.” Botan frowned, noting the bleeding cuts on the other woman’s face. “How can Koenma allow something so vile?”

Hiei shot her a withering glare. “She nearly killed him.”

“He started it.” Botan’s frown deepened. Then she marched from the room.

Hiei didn’t bother asking where she was going. He didn’t need to. She was going to Koenma to complain. Now would be his best chance. Unsupervised, he could enter the room, kick Matsuma out and take over. He’d get her to talk.

But even as the thought crossed her mind those blue eyes scanned over the glass of the mirror and the smile fell into a stoic expression.

“I’ll be waiting.” She voiced, before turning her attention back to Matsuma. “Don’t you have a report to make? Get out.”

He did as he was told and the woman watched him skitter with a look of sheer disgust. Mumbling something Hiei couldn’t quite make out, she waited a moment, staring at the door. When her eyes scanned back to the mirror, she winced, bringing her hand up to her face. She ran her tongue over her teeth and spit a thick glob of bloody saliva to the side.

Reaching up, she tore off her left sleeve and started to rip the fabric, using it to dab at the blood on her face and clean her wounds.

It had taken a second for Hiei to realize she was actually using the mirror as just that, a mirror, and hadn’t actually been staring at him through it. She might not have even known he was there. So he waited, watching her go through the process of doctoring herself. All the while his eyes kept training to her left shoulder. The skin was an angry blueish color, deep purple at its worst. He wasn’t sure why the sight of it bothered him but he almost used the intercom to tell her to cover it up.

“You’ve got to be kidding me.” Hiei deadpanned at the door as it opened, Kuwabara walking into the cell in time with Botan, Kurama and Yusuke walking into the observation room. “Are you idiots trying to get him killed?”

“He’s been warned to keep back.” Kurama commented, though his tone spoke volumes on how he felt about the situation.

Inside the cell, Shinpi tilted her head, eyes roving over the carrot top while she remained silent.

“I heard you wanted to see me.” He put his hands in his pockets, standing close to the door.

She adjusted herself again, pulling up one knee so she could rest her hand on, freeing up enough chain to gesture with the other.

“Sit.”

He glanced at the bench across from her, then back to her. In measured steps he walked over, sinking down onto the bench with a wary glance in her direction. She watched him too, scanning over his form with eyes that made him feel naked. He shifted, a little uncomfortable under the intensity of her gaze.

“You lack refinement.” She told him quietly, eyes narrowing slightly. “And discipline. I don’t know who’s been in charge of your training, but they should be killed.”

Yusuke and Kurama glanced at each other, confused.

“What?” Kuwabara visibly loosened up.

“Don’t tell me you can’t understand basic criticism. That will make this all more difficult on you.” She told him coolly. “You have no form, no composure in your fighting technique. You look like a child wrestling with his friends. Given your power level, I’d have expected you to have at least mastered one form of martial art and yet, you act like a bumbling idiot. I’m disappointed in you.”

Yusuke snickered.

“He’s getting chewed out by our prisoner.” The Spirit Detective whispered to Kurama.

“Hey! I try okay! Sorry I’m not like Urameshi and gifted with super blood or something.” Kuwabara shot back at her. “You demons are judgmental as hell.”

“You don’t fail to win due to blood. You fail to win due to discipline.” She snapped at him. “Get your head out of your ass, Kuwabara. I’m trying to help you.”

“Yeah well-“

“If you care about Yukina, you’ll listen to what I have to say. She deserves to be with someone who can keep her safe, not just happy. What happiness will she have if you get killed due to a stupid mistake?” Iruni raised her voice. “So shut up and listen to me.”

Kuwabara clammed up at the mention of Yukina. Inside the observation room Hiei tensed, arm throbbing with his anger. He waited.

“I don’t even need you to describe your current regimen to me. I already know you’re slacking off. At minimum, you should be allotting one hour a day to improving your physical endurance and one hour on your honing your spirit energy. You’ve gotten lucky with natural skill and haphazard training. It’ll take more than that to see you through life.” She leaned back, her shoulders pressing into the stone behind her. “And your defense is shit too. You should be sparring as often as possible with your allies. You let yourself be tossed around like a ragdoll. It’s disgraceful.”

“How do I train my spirit energy though?” He asked her, leaning forward. “I’m not like Yusuke. I don’t have demon blood or whatever.”

“You’re focusing too heavily on heritage. Yusuke won the genetic lottery. You’ve got raw skill that can be developed. If you stop treating every fight like a street brawl and actually focus on developing some semblance of a style.”

“Hey, I’ll have you know I was a the top punk at-“

“I. Don’t. Care.” She let all emotion leave her face. “Don’t bore me with your juvenile credentials. I was wiping out armies before your father was born.”

He paled.

“And if I hear you use Urameshi’s blood as an excuse for your own ineptitude one more time, I will knock your teeth down your throat when I’m out of here, you got it?”

“Yeah.”

“Try again.”

“Yes’m.”

“Better.”

Her eyes moved to the mirror and she cocked an eyebrow. Then her lips lifted as a smug grin started to curve her mouth. Her eyes met Hiei’s through the glass, and again he wondered if she could see him through it.

Lifting a finger to gestured with it toward the door and Hiei followed the path she drew just as the door opened, Genkai walking into the cell.

“Get up, dimwit. It’s time to hash this out with Koenma.” Genkai’s gravely tone snapped at the woman. “You’re lucky I bothered to come.”

“I’m infinitely grateful.” Shinpi assured her then gestured lightly with her hands. “I’ve spoken to Kazuma so this is divine timing, as usual Master Genkai. However, these chains have proven more restrictive than I’d like to admit.”

“If you’d actually use your damn energy you’d be free in no time.”

“Is this really the time for such displays? I’m trying to make a bid for freedom, after all.” Shinpi smiled lightly. “Do you mind?”

“Moron.” Genkai walked over with a key and unlocked the shackles.

Stretching her arms overhead, Shinpi leaned to one side then the other, careful of her aching head. Gesturing with an open hand to Kuwabara she continued to smile.

“You’ll begin your training now. Focus your energy into her palms and keep it there for an hour. If you can’t manage then you’ll make it up to me through physical punishment.” The lighthearted warmth in her smile totally went against her threat. “How far can you run, Kazuma?”

“I dunno, like, five miles probably? It’s been a while.”

“So one hour of energy training. If you fail you’ll owe me a ten mile run.” She turned then to follow Genkai. “That seems like a nice gentle way to start.”

Kuwabara nearly fell over at her casual demand, fear crossing his face. “Are you serious?”

“Deadly.” She cast the response at him with a look over her shoulder.
...................................................................................................................

“Send me to train at Genkai’s. She knows my character well enough and I respect her. After all, I didn’t actual break any rules by taking on that roach. And there’s nothing wrong with me refusing to offer my actual name to strangers.” Amon-Shinpi expressed blandly. “I’ve never caused a single problem for your little spirit lackeys and I don’t intend to start now.”

Her finale followed up an entire conversation of explaining the recent events to him, sparsely detailed. Genkai seconded a few of her statements, like them knowing each other and Shinpi’s lacking any reason to create havoc in human world. But Koenma remained unconvinced of her altruism. He kept bringing up the sword and its known power, her deceptive personality and hinting at her previous life. Repeatedly she disregarded his concerns, explaining them away with ease.

“You’ve obviously thought this through.” Koenma sneered at Amon-Shinpi. “What’s your goal?”

“I want to kill Hiro.” She told him simply, as if this were the most obvious thing in the world. “And you’re going to let me. After that I don’t particularly care what happens, but Hiro is my problem and I will be the one to handle him.”

“Hiro?” Koenma leaned back in his chair, assessing her. “What’s this have to do with him?”

“Everything.” She assured him, remaining firm in her stance. “And I suspect its him prying humans from their world, so it’d be prudent of you to allow me to continue.”

“Why would he be doing that?”

“Because he’s looking for someone.” She responded, eyes narrowed.

“You.” Kurama surmised, eying her. “He’s looking for you, isn’t he?”

“Yes.” She spoke the word through her teeth, fists curling at her sides. “But not Amon-Shinpi. He’s looking for Iruni, as the last descendent of Kuya Takani.”

“Wait, what?” Yusuke gaped at her.

“Kuya was my sister. My twin. My current incarnation is her great-granddaughter. And this body is all that remains of our bloodline, which Hiro is desperate to control.” Shinpi explained, terse and frigid. “It all goes back to the sword and the territory I once called home. Neither will obey someone other than a Takani.”

Silence followed her admission, and she hated it. But she allowed it, allowed them their moment of quiet understanding as the importance of that statement settled on them.

“Does he need you alive?” Koenma asked, quiet and grave.

“Only until he can produce an heir with this body. Once the bloodline continues, he can dispatch me.”

Everyone shifted, silent glances moving across the room around her. An uncomfortable dance as part of a wordless conversation that didn’t include her. She remained in the middle, eyes glued to the leader of Spirit World.

“It’s imperative that I kill him before that happens.” She pressed the weight of that sentiment into Koenma, sure, but into the rest of them too. Genkai looked at her, frowning deeply, but saying nothing.

“I mean, we can kill him.” Yusuke announced. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but we’re pretty damn capable.”

“No. I will be the one.” She didn’t look at him. “Put me under Genkai’s care. Allow her to vouch for my intentions, if you must involve someone else. I will heed her.”

“She will.” Genkai assured him. “We’ve been discussing this for some time.”

“If Hiro knows who is he looking for, why is he taking so many others?” Hiei tilted his head to the side, probing her with his gaze.

“I don’t know. Perhaps because he thinks a Takani daughter will prove too powerful for him, even after all this time. Maybe for amusement. There is even the option that he simply enjoys it. I’ve never understood this side of him.” She narrowed her eyes with the last words, as if that fact vexed her. “I’ll return to my cell until you decide.”

“If he’s after you to gain power, fighting him would put you right where he wants you.” Koenma pointed out. “I don’t think it’s a sound strategy.”

“He’s after a human descendent. He has no idea who I am.” She declared, rolling her eyes. “No one knows of my situation outside of Genkai. And she only knows because I had to offer some token of trust to her. He’ll be unprepared.”

“This is a lot of work to go through just to kill someone when you failed to last time.” The Spirit Prince remarked sharply. “Taking over a human body. Luring my team into your clutches.”

Her brow furrowed at his accusation.

“I used these ones to get the sword, that much is true, but as for taking over a human body I did no such thing.” Shinpi frowned, head tipped to the side. “I didn’t ask to be reincarnated.”

He paled at her words, then glanced at Botan, who raised her eyebrows high onto her forehead. Looking around the room, Shinpi noted the looks of surprise and suspicion.

“Did you seriously think someone would want this?” She asked Koenma, now thoroughly confused. “I hate every moment I’m alive, especially in this frail little body. I went after Hiro with every intention of dying. If I’m alive, it’s because your side wanted it, not me.”

“Impossible. I wouldn’t have accepted a request like this.” He gestured to her. “Father would have punished me for even thinking about it.”

“Well, I certainly didn’t ask to be born.” She crossed her arms. “I went into that fissure expecting to die. It took years of rebuilding my awareness for me to realize what had happened.”

Another bout of silence, this one far more tense and thrilling with mutual confusion and wariness.

“I’ll look into it.” Koenma told her, offering a single dip of his chin. “While I do, mind telling me why you didn’t end this existence you seem to loathe?”

“I tried. Once. But my human mother intervened. After that I learned that Hiro was still alive and renewed my mission to rid the world of him.” She waved a hand through the air. “Surely your books will indicate the attempt, at the least.”

“They will.”

“Then do your research. Come get me when it’s time to go.” She turned on heel and marched from the room, head high, and willingly allowed the SDF members on the other side to escort her back to her cell.

“I’ll go through her records.” Botan voiced quietly.

“Thank you, Botan.”

The rest of the team remained behind, no one wanting to be the first to speak. Koenma stewed at his desk, conflicted, as he rubbed the seam of the leather on the armrest of his chair.

“What do we know about Hiro?” Kurama asked, the safest question in the situation.

“I don’t know much. Just that his name is pieced with Amon-Shinpi’s consistently. A student, maybe? He was powerful by all accounts, but not a Takani. What I do know from looking over her record is that they were close and then they were trying to kill each other.” Koenma leaned forward, cradling his head in his hands. “This is a mess.”

“Do you know something?” Hiei turned to Genkai with harsh scrutiny. “Since you two seem so close, I imagine she spilled her secrets to you.”

“He took something from her, and she went after him for it. She failed the first time, retreated and came back a second time. He should’ve died. I’m not sure why he didn’t.” Genkai didn’t react to Hiei’s fiery gaze. “This is deeply personal to her.”

“But can we trust her?” Yusuke asked, grim.

“Allow me to decide.” Hiei told the rest of the group, his eye moving to Genkai with an obvious sneer. “Unless there are any objections.”

“Do what you must.” Genkai responded evenly. “But I’ll warn you that assaulting her privacy won’t sit well with her.”

“I’m not worried about her opinion of me.” Hiei assured the elder in the room. “Just bring her here. We’ll allow the Jagan eye to do the rest.”

The others turned to Koenma, waiting for him to okay this exchange. Tension rang clearly in the room until the toddler bobbed his head twice.

“If anyone can see her character right now, it’ll be Hiei. We’ll allow him to make the final call.” Koenma acquiesced to the demon’s demands, but looked grim in doing so. “If you find her guilty, Hiei, we’ll take her back to the cell to await her sentence.”

“I don’t care.” Hiei rolled his eyes back to Genkai. “I’m only interesting in outing her for the liar she is.”

“Good luck with that.” Genkai smirked then, something hidden behind her words.
...................................................................................................................
Hiei posted himself behind the glass again, watching as Yusuke made himself comfortable on the bench across from the woman who once again sat chained to the wall. New bruises and cuts marred her face, over the bridge of her nose and under her eyes. Gifts from the SDF, he was sure.

Given her propensity for running her mouth, he was also sure she’d earned them.

Yusuke sighed, leaning forward to begin speaking to her. Shinpi watched him, mildly interested but reserved.

“Iruni-“

“Amon-Shinpi.”

“What?” Yusuke squinted at her.

“Amon-Shinpi.” She repeated offhandedly. “Iruni isn’t my real name and I see no reason to continue going by it in this situation. You don’t call Kurama Shuichi. I went over this with Kurama.”

He sat back and assessed her. “Amon-Shinpi is a mouthful though. We don’t call him Youko either.”

“M’lord works just as well.”

“You little shit. Don’t make me throttle you. I’m not fucking calling you that.”

She laughed, genuine and bright, a startling occurrence to both men, and then nodded.

“Yukina calls me Hichi.” She allowed, still smiling. “But that is for my closest friends. You may call me Shinpi.”

He nodded slowly, then went on. “Shinpi, or whatever, what’s your plan here?”

“I thought that was clear.”

“No, I mean, what is your plan? You know, over all? We were ordered to bring you in for questioning and you lost the sword you were looking for.” Yusuke leaned forward, one hand on his knee as he waved the other around. “You’re pretty much trapped here.”

“Ah, I see your confusion.” She nodded, her smile turning wicked. “You’re under the impression my being here is your idea.”

Hiei stiffened behind the glass.

“I will assure you, Detective Urameshi, my being drug here was my plan.” Amon-Shinpi leaned forward elbows on her legs and hands clasped together. “If I’m to accomplish my goals, I need Spirit World’s assistance. Hiro is powerful and I will defeat him. But to do that without interference from your team requires me to make it known ahead of time. If your lot appeared mid-battle, it would throw my strategy off. If I can land Koenma’s blessing for this then he won’t send his lackeys after me for the use of my energy.”

Yusuke leaned forward and opened his mouth, eyes falling into a dull stare as he considered her words. Then he closed it, continuing to stare. She waited for him to speak, her expression shifting into something lighter, more genuine again.

“You knew who we were at the beginning.”

“Correct.”

“How long have you been planning this?”

“The goal has been the same for years. However, intertwining with your team was only recently a piece of the plot.” She explained.

“And you knew you’d get placed here?”

“It was a high probability.” She nodded. “Once you agreed to bring me I knew I would either have to fight you all to escape with the sword or I’d be forced to surrender. The former wasn’t even a real option. As it stands, the Jaganshi would have killed me without hesitation.”

“I wouldn’t have let him-“

“You can’t stop him.”

Silence followed the statement and Hiei shifted behind the glass, pushing off from the wall to stand straight and stare at the woman through the glass. Her eyes moved from Yusuke and they met Hiei’s through the glass. She stared at him too, almost as if she could actually see him. He wondered again if she could.

“I’ve seen his kind before. And they stop at nothing.”

Hiei narrowed his eyes.

Amon-Shinpi shifted her gaze then, back to Yusuke but her expression had grown grim. “Anyway, surrender was the only choice. And it allowed me access to Spirit World.”

“Did the SDF guys rough you up?” The sharp edge to Yusuke’s tone piqued her interest.

“You can’t blame dogs for their behavior when they haven’t been properly managed.” Shinpi told him lightly.

“I can. I’ll knock their teeth out.” He argued. “You can’t let people just beat you up, Shinpi.”

“Much like when Hiei threw me to the floor, I’m not in a positon to fight. I also don’t need your concern.” She spoke quietly, with more softness. “I assume you didn’t come here just to interrogate me. Your team has reached some decision.”

“Hiei is going to take a look at you.” Yusuke told her with a nod. “He’ll decide what happens next.”

Wrinkling her nose, she looked away from him, weighing her options. A dangerous bet. “And if I refuse?”

“Not an option, sorry.” Yusuke shrugged uselessly.

Even without being in her head, Hiei knew what she was thinking in that moment. Her expression gave her away. He might not have recognized it except that he’d seen it on his own face a time or two. And the others all at least once. In that moment, without hesitation, she had accepted the fact that she was about to die.

Interesting.

...................................................................................................................

“So, I’m to undergo the Jaganshi’s assessment then.” Shinpi kept herself toward the door so she could see everyone in the room after Yusuke walked her back into the office. “That’s the price for your cooperation?”

“Don’t get ahead of yourself. No one agreed to work with you.” Hiei warned her. “This time tomorrow you might be wasting away in that little cell.”

“I’ll be dead, actually. No doubt the ruling will be execution if you find me guilty of anything. Spirit World won’t allow me to exist and prove they’ve made an error in their paperwork.” She corrected him without much care. “So the terms are either pass your test and get what I want, or fail and die. I’m used to working within those odds.”

“Are you saying you’ll go through with this test?” Kurama asked her carefully. “We’d like your consent.”

Her eyes flicked to him then back to Hiei. Huffing she offered a useless shrug. His casual allowance didn’t undermine Yusuke’s words from earlier.

“If it’ll ease your conscience, sure. I accept the terms I’ve been given and will allow the Jaganshi access to my mind.” Shinpi reached up and unbound her hair, pulling the ward out from the strands of black. Shredding the paper she gripped the tattered pieces in her fist.

Hiei stepped in front of her, the Jagan already open and boring into her with its relentless stare. Raising a hand in front of her face, his spread his fingers wide, so close she could trace the patterns that created his fingerprints.

“Stay still.” He warned her, closing his crimson eyes to focus his attention.

And just like that he began.

Chapter Text

Hiei had scanned memories before, to vet for Mukuro or the team mostly. Humans, in particular, starting their lives out in pitifully predictable ways. The first murky memories were always distant, soft, often soothing. The scent of a parent. The sensation of being held. Small, idiosyncrasies that human world alone indulged in. His first taste of Shinpi’s human memories weren’t what he expected. Firstly, they were incredibly sharp and clear.

 

Secondly, one of her first memories was of noise. Loud, indistinct voices. The words muddled together, but the emotion was clear. Anger. And then the sniffling, soggy eyed face of her human mother, bending over her and brushing hair away from her face, whispering with a broken smile. She didn’t seem to notice the blood dripping from her nostril.

 

But Shinpi did.

 

She noticed it all, her eyes captured everything her mother tried to hide. The bruises, the tears, the fear when her father walked into the room without a smile. The little girl with a mind older than the combined ages of her parents understood everything.

 

“I’ll protect you.” Her first sentence wrought tears from her mother’s eyes and sobs from her chest.

 

The woman clutched her close, buried her face in the little girl’s hair even as small, thin arms weaved around her. And it became an oath burned into every drop of blood running through Shinpi’s body. Protect her. The years wore on, and the abuse continued. The marks were mostly in places easy to cover.

 

The occasional black eye swallowed by layers of makeup.

 

When Shinpi was just over two-and-a-half, she had her first memory of her before life. It came suddenly, and unbidden, while her mother drove her to daycare and wind streamed in from the open car windows. A simple memory, but real nonetheless, of her playing in the air currents in her homeland.

 

She stared at her tiny fingers and palms, then curled them into fists and held tightly to that memory. More came after, and eventually, she had them all, but that first one was important. It reminded her who she was. What she was capable of.

 

Hiei found this oddly frustrating. What good was the information if she couldn’t use it? Her hopeful pride in that moment chafed him, because he’d have been irate. He chose to move on. The next set of memories didn’t sit any better with him.

 

When Shinpi was six, her father hit her for the first time. A backhanded slap across the face for interrupting him on a business call to ask for food. Her mother cried herself to sleep in Shinpi’s bed that night, apologizing over and over, but Shinpi simply told her to stop.

 

She had never expected this woman to protect her. There were fighters and there were victims, and this woman couldn’t raise her hand to save herself much less anyone else. It would be up to Shinpi, and remembering her utter failure to stop one power-thirsty bastard before she decided she would not make that same mistake again.

 

So Shinpi started to think, dream, and scheme. She had a family once before, she remembered, who loved her. A father who carried her on his shoulders and taught her the importance of healing, of patience and compassion. A mother who fought with all the grace of the wind, who told her to be strong and keep her head up no matter what. A sister who kept her spirit warm, who reminded her who she was when she got lost. A grandfather who laughed and told her she was just like him, a warrior and the world wasn’t ready for her. A younger brother who idolized her. And those loved ones were ripped from her without mercy.

 

She supposed, the time would come, when she should be the one to lack mercy.

 

Hiei’s thrum of annoyance was clear. None of this was what he cared about. He wanted to prove her a liar, a coward. The trivial details of her family life didn’t concern him. But he had to wade through the shallows if he wanted to get deeper.

 

When Shinpi was eleven, she had her first period and the pain was so intense she vomited on her sheets. Her father refused to clean them, told her to do it herself. He scolded her for staining her mattress. Her mother came to help, and he grabbed her by the hair and yanked her out of the room.

 

This was also when Shinpi realized she could feel the elements again, calling to her through the filament of her humanity. The water pipes in the bathroom burst, flooding the floor, when she walked out of her bedroom, shoulders squared and eyes glued to her fathers.

 

Whatever he saw on her face, it loosened the fist in her mother’s hair and allowed the woman to slump to the floor.

 

For the first time in over a decade, she grinned and it was the least human expression she had ever plastered over her features.

 

Hiei paused here, reassessing the emotions in the memory, the thrill of power. This was more of what he was looking for. Unlike the Shinpi before him now, this girl brimmed with rage and energy. It overflowed from her. He wondered what happened.

 

Her power had always been wound around her emotions and unlike before she couldn’t control herself. Every flicker of impatience, anger, frustration, sadness and guilt sparked some wild arch of her energy. So she saw herself as the danger she was, afraid of hurting her mother or some other innocent, and she bottled the power up so tightly it would never see the light of day. She worked day and night to collapse it against her bones, until no one would have been able to sense it. She created a void around herself, the absence of her energy unnatural and yet perfectly fitting for this unusual hell she’d found herself in.

 

Ah, so more of the same cowardice and hiding. That seemed about right to Hiei. But also, drive. She started training herself. Small things meant to build muscle and stamina, but she did them with great dedication.

 

During her childhood, she avoided making friends. She didn’t want anyone to come home with her. She didn’t want to go home with anyone else, because from her experience human parents were the worst. Her peers lamented their families constantly. Whining about all the rules and the misunderstandings. It seemed quite the bother for everyone and she had a hard enough time managing her family, she didn’t need the added stress.

 

By the age of thirteen, Shinpi had hit her limit. But she tried to quell her constant rage, eyes glued to the veneer of the table when her father bellowed his discontent with meals. She bandaged her mother’s cuts with light fingers and soft murmurs of comfort. And her mother would apologize, beg for forgiveness.

 

“I would never blame you for his sins.” Shinpi told her, one day, dabbing disinfectant on a cut along her mother’s collarbone. “He’s not one of us, we don’t really need him.”

 

“One of us?”

 

“A Takani.”

 

“What’s a Takani?”

 

“Our family. Peacemakers and warriors. Healers and kings. We come from a line of strength and that is still in us. He doesn’t have that. His anger is due to his weakness, not ours.” Shinpi explained softly. “Kuya, the mother of our line, she was brave. We are too.”

 

And her mother stared at her as though she’d become the moon, full of soft light and mysterious comfort. Shinpi looked back and offered a smile.

 

“We’re Takanis.” Her mother repeated, and it sounded like a chant.

 

“And no man will take that from us.” Shinpi nodded, leaning forward.

 

There wasn’t a day she didn’t regret that conversation. It had left a charred mark on her soul, leading to the tragedy it did. It was her fault, entirely. If she hadn’t put hope in her mother’s heart, lit that fire in her spirit, it wouldn’t have blazed so bright so quickly and burned their lives to the ground.

 

But then again, perhaps it was better to die fighting.

 

The regret, pain, felt fresh and new. Hiei rebuked against it, disapproving of the emotions while dismissing them. But the words were interesting, the sentiment in the moment ringing true and clear. Even in her hot anger she sought to offer comfort and hope. Unusual for a demon. More so, he supposed, for a human in her position.

 

She threw herself into her secret training. Developing her body as best as she could given her resources. Practicing her techniques even if she refused to call on her power.

 

That same year she noticed Shuichi for the first time, truly. They’d always been in school together, but he had never quite earned her interest. Not until she heard his guarded secret totally by happenstance, putting her violin in its case after a long practice for a concert coming up. He must’ve thought the school empty or her too oblivious to be a problem.

 

Or maybe his brash friend simply didn’t care for his privacy. Because the cloaked apparition had no issue calling him by that secret name here, of all places.

 

“Kurama.” The shorter boy approached, all harsh edges and darkness. “Let’s go.”

 

“Just another moment, Hiei, I’m nearly done.”

 

Shinpi pressed her right shoulder, then her back, against the wall near the cracked door of the music room. Her tongue stuck to the roof of her mouth as her eyes widened, while she desperately called on every trick she knew to cease the frantic rhythm of her heart.

 

Kurama. Minamino was speaking to a demon who called him Kurama. She’d heard stories of the thief. But this boy looked nothing like the man she’d heard described in legends. A flicker of hope ignited in her, and shaking, she dared to allow it to spark.

 

Could it be?

 

Was it possible?

 

Was there someone out there like her? The mere question made her look down at her hands with a smile, some lost part of her coming back to life as she considered the possibility. Another demon, buried in a human body like her. What could that mean?

 

Why did it give her hope?

 

Hiei startled at the memory. He hadn’t expected it. He turned over three times, searching for deceit and finding none. Simply hope. No ill will directed toward Kurama or himself. No reflex of using the information for her own gain. She had known for a decade, then, and had never uttered a breath. He scoured any thoughts connected to this moment and found them empty of malice. She didn’t trust Kurama, she didn’t particularly care for his charming personality, but it had never occurred to her to use his secret against him.

 

Because she still looked to him for hope. His strength and growth and family, it all meant something more to her. If this thief, known for his selfish antics, could find love and acceptance and humanity, surely she could too. And yet, her newer memories found this to be a childish wish. There was no hope for her. Only her path.

 

Only him.

 

When she was fourteen, Shinpi came home to the usual sound of yelling. She dropped her backpack on the ground by the door, desperate to change out of her school uniform. The violin case came next, more gently. Her spine grew rigid as she turned toward the kitchen, eyes wide when she heard something new.

 

Her mother screaming back. Her tension ran down Hiei’s spine.

 

Her mother telling her father to leave. That they didn’t need him. That he would never lay a hand on them again. Not her, and definitely not her daughter.

 

They were Takanis, and they were stronger than he could ever understand.

 

“What the hell is a Takani?” He bellowed.

 

“Something amazing!” She screamed back, with all the fire of a dragon’s breath. Her words brought down the house around their ears, filling it with heat and power.

 

He slapped her as Shinpi came to stand with her toes just on the other side of the threshold of the kitchen’s entrance. And to everyone’s shock, her mother’s hand reeled back and her fist slammed against the side of his face in return. Her knuckles hit his jaw with a crack of thunder, and the sound of it echoed. It was her first and final act of defiance.

 

Muted pride, defiance, the passion of vindication lapped at the memory and Hiei in it. Shinpi’s reactions visceral and pure. And just as suddenly as their heat washed over her, it disappeared, replaced in seconds by the cold emptiness that haunted her most days still.

 

At the age of fourteen, Shinpi watched her father stab her mother in the stomach, chest and arms with a kitchen knife until she stopped twitching. Blood pooled under his socks, bringing a shine to the black cotton.

 

“Clean this up.” He spit at her, the bloody image of the barbarian he truly was.

 

Humans were the worst. Hiei had to agree. Even he found this moment distasteful.

 

Shinpi turned and walked into the living room. With purpose she stepped onto the navy blue couch, using the back of it to reach the red sheathed sword fixed to the wall. A family heirloom handed down on her mother’s side. A useless trinket, her father had called it repeatedly. He had laughed when Shinpi expressed interest in learning to use the sword.

 

He’d told her the damned thing didn’t even open. It was a piece of junk. Just like her mother. Joke was on him, though.

 

“And what are you going to do with that, worthless brat?” He stared at her from the kitchen’s threshold, blood streaking over his shirt and pants.

 

“That should be obvious. I’m going to kill you.” She told him with all the emotion of informing him of the weather.

 

“You’re a coward just like your mother. You won’t do anything.”

 

“I am a coward. That much is true.” She agreed.

 

She pulled the blade free of the sheath, holding it out to her side as she stared at him. He eyed the sword, then her, and she knew that look.

 

He was afraid of her.

 

And he had every good reason to be.

 

For fourteen years, she’d avoided the weapon. It reminded her too much of her failures. It was a relic that meant nothing but pain for her. Worse than that, she couldn’t control it. The flames had always danced with her emotions, but in this body her emotions had their own will. So when the fire came, she couldn’t stop it. Not that she had really tried.

 

Her father died screaming, full of fear and begging for mercy and it wasn’t enough. She wished she’d had time to make him fully understand. She wanted him to suffer as her mother had suffered for countless years, but the fire was raging and there was nothing for her to do. She wasn’t about to die with this worthless lump of quivering flesh.

 

So she grabbed her backpack, her violin and walked out the door until she got to neighbor’s house, an old woman who had always complimented her mother’s gardens. Hiei recognized the wizened face as the old woman who had spoken to Kurama outside Shinpi’s gates.

 

“My house is on fire.” Shinpi told the woman, surely covered in burns and blood. “Could you call the authorities?”

 

“Was anyone still inside?” The woman asked, seeming to already know the answer.

 

Shinpi didn’t answer her at first. “He killed my mother.”

 

“He must have gone mad, to kill such a lovely woman and then set the fire himself. You’re a brave girl, trying to save them.” The woman told her, an unspoken knowledge shining in her eyes. “A shame, truly. I’m sure he’ll have attempted to take his own life in the process.”

 

“I’m sure you’re right. I think I saw him attempt suicide with a sword.” Shinpi looked over her shoulder at the smoke pouring from the windows and the growing brightness engulfing her home. “Truly, some sort of madness.”

 

“Guilt erodes the mind.” The old woman stated and Shinpi nodded.

 

“Are you going to report me?” Shinpi asked and the woman merely smiled a particular kind of smile. It spoke they bonded by some truth. The smile of a kindred spirit.

 

“For what, dear?” The woman asked, the picture of doddering innocence.

 

She lost the sword that day. Initially, Shinpi had guessed the police had taken it. But eventually she came to understand a demon had whisked it away, sensing the flare of power she’d unleashed.

 

The pitiless reaction earned a modicum of Hiei’s respect. Maybe less, because she’d chosen then to slack off on her training. To give up for a while. But it also explained her connection to the blade and why it was so formidable. Koenma’s concerns rang valid. And with a sneer, Hiei realized he had gotten her. He had what he needed to put this coward out of her misery. But he delved onward, looking for more recent memories.

 

She spent some time somewhere foreign to him, surrounding by a few humans who held her closely and listened when she didn’t speak. It was oddly wonderful to her, their strange acceptance of her brusqueness and her cutting glares. The language they spoke was just as unfamiliar and unnecessary as their faces to him.

 

When Shinpi was fifteen, she sat across from Minamino Shuichi on a train and asked him if he loved his mother. He was quiet, but she’d heard his mother was incredible ill.

 

“Naturally.” He answered her, looking up from the book in his lap.

 

She nodded, her fingers tightening around the case of her violin. Then she slid out of her seat and waited for the doors of the train to open as they slid into her stop, her face surely contorted in shadow. She had wanted to ask more, but a new presence had forced her away.

 

Well, not new, just unfamiliar. That dark energy swirling around a body much too small to contain it all. She ducked off the train and let the dream of reaching out to Shuichi fall to the pavement.

 

They weren’t alike, after all, even if he was also a demon.

 

She couldn’t rightly claim to naturally love anyone, not even her mother, after what she had allowed to happen. That night, she said a prayer for his mother, wishing her well. It felt like a silly thing to do, reaching out to deities who probably didn’t exist, but it was all she had in her arsenal.

 

She heard later that Shiori Minamino made a full recovery, inexplicably, and she liked to think her prayer had landed on the right ears.

 

Months later, as she sat in the stands of a massive arena on an island full of demons, she watched as Shuichi, here known solely as Kurama, and his team battled against insurmountable odds. Every fight left her raw with amazement. Shinpi grew exhausted with how often this team deceived her sense of battle. Barely any fight came out as she called it.

 

What an invigorating thing, to be wrong when it wasn’t her life on the line.

 

“What’s he doing? He’ll never fight again!” She cried, grabbing Shikari’s arm as she gestured wildly toward the cocky demon calling on a power too wild for him to manage.

 

That’s how they met, Shikari and Shinpi. In the stands of The Dark Tournament, one of them petrified of Hiei’s Darkness Flame and the other so entirely invested in the match they couldn’t imagine dying. Shinpi pulled her hand back, suddenly realizing she’d grabbed a stranger, but grabbed Shikari again a moment later to haul her away from a stray bolt of flames that struck through their section of the seats.

 

She stood up right after, running to the railing separating fans from the arena floor and leaned over it, eyes wide and mouth in a full lilting grin. Hair blowing in the rush of energy, her body trembled with excitement. The cobalt of her eyes glittered in the face of the danger.

 

“You’re more dangerous than they are, aren’t you?” Shikari whispered, looking down at her with all the confidence of a startled rabbit.

 

Shinpi didn’t answer her, but instead offered only a look, and that was all it took. Shikari swallowed, and from that moment on, she stayed close to Shinpi throughout the matches and several times after that. Their loose alliance was less to do with any sense of companionship and more about need.

 

Hiei cared less about Shikari and more about how Shinpi had regarded him. He stuck here for longer than necessary, fidgeting with the memory as if savoring it. Rolling it around to memorize its edges. He didn’t like that she had seen them all in battle. It put everyone at a tactical disadvantage, and with little prodding, he found her thoughts mimicking that sentiment. But still, Hiei found himself partial to the way she thought of them. At the very least, it was interesting.

 

“What are you?” Shikari had asked at some point after, while they worked together to get the Infinity Chain Shinpi had set her mind on having. “Why aren’t you afraid of anything? These demons are powerful.”

 

“I’m afraid of plenty.” Shinpi remarked by way of answering. And Shikari accepted it, not delving further.

 

Shinpi met Genkai soon after, seeking out the old psychic after she’d been revealed in the tournament.

 

“I saw you fight.” Shinpi sat across from the old woman, sipping on jasmine tea.

 

“Then you should know I’m supposed to be dead.” Genkai snapped at her.

 

“You’re not the only one.” Shinpi set her cup down and just like that, she poured out her history to the old woman.

 

Her whole story, spilled out to this woman known for her ruthless nature toward demons. Shinpi would’ve called herself insane if she’d been able. This was the least sensible thing she’d ever done, but the gamble seemed sure to her. She couldn’t place why she thought Genkai would help her, but she did.

 

It was a gut feeling.

 

“You couldn’t have picked a worse time. I’ve got three snot nosed psychics coming to my door any minute.” Genkai complained. “I’m not a tutoring service, you know.”

 

“Psychics?” Shinpi frowned. “Does this have anything to do with the increase in apparitions?”

 

Genkai leveled her with a harsh stare, then smirked. “You might of use to me, Mikamoto. I’ll help you if you help me. Yusuke is a dumbass who gets easily distracted. Once I bring his attention to this matter, I want him to focus on it.”

 

Shinpi crooked and eyebrow, and with that conversation their allegiance and friendship was born. While Genkai ran Yusuke and his team around Mushiyori battling psychics and saving the world, Shinpi tracked down lower class apparitions that snuck through the gaps in the barrier, eliminating them with her Infinity Chain.

 

So the old woman and Shinpi had been in league for years under their noses. Hiei raged against that idea, but also, the shining respect in her memories of Genkai made it hard for him to argue her as a threat. She’d meant what she said, she valued Genkai and would listen to her.

 

Shinpi left Japan again, visiting more strange places full of foreign faces and languages. It seemed she crept her way back to the temple between these adventures, but she was still gone for months at a time. She went back to the place she’d gone when she was in her teens, reconnecting with those faces. Hiei didn’t understand it, her defiant loyalty to these useless humans who lived half a world away from her.

 

But whether he understood her motivation or not, he couldn’t deny the loyalty. It rang clear. Just as it did when she thought about the old woman who took her in after her house burned down or Genkai or Yukina. A piercing, relentless surge of protective loyalty surrounded all them. But eventually, she had to come back to Japan. She had to make decisions and live up to her name.

 

Over the following years, Shinpi visited the temple often. She met Yukina again, a charming apparition who had saved her before but didn’t quite know how they knew each other. They became friends. But Genkai alone truly understood the cryptic and guarded conversations she had with the young woman. She advised Shinpi to keep up her life, go to school, get good grades, maybe even a land a job.

 

Shinpi had always suspected that Genkai hoped she’d give up this relentless pursuit.

 

But she never did. And eventually, after years of searching and sifting, she finally found her chance. Shinpi caught wind, through Shikari, of the sword’s whereabouts. And a plan formed. Things were proceeding according to her whims when she found out about him.

 

He was looking for the sword and the woman who had owned it before it was stolen from the ashes of her home. The woman whose neighbors had heard her scream that she was a Takani. And since he wouldn’t find her, what with her being dead, he would find undoubtedly search out her daughter.

 

Shinpi.

 

And the confrontation she’d been avoiding thinking about, yet mindlessly plotting, suddenly seemed too close. Her search for the sword escalated because if he was coming, she needed to be prepared.

 

So, she started to watch. Crouching in trees cloaked in darkness, looking for her way into the group of detectives so she could fulfill her plan. Wandering passed them on the streets. Eating at their ramen stands and playing near them in arcades. But it seemed fate had other ideas. Years had passed since the King’s Tournament and everyone knew Hiei’s status. He rarely entered Human World anymore, and when he did it was unlikely to see him in the cities. Only the temple. Her one relief in all of this was that she wouldn’t have to deal with him or his Jagan eye.

 

So why, for the love of the gods, was he staring at her through the branches of this tree in this damned park in the middle of this fucking city?

 

The plan adjusted from there. There wasn’t any time to wait for him to leave. She just had to figure it out. Play to their weaknesses. Infiltrate the group as quickly as possible. At this point it didn’t matter if they trusted her, as long as they needed her.

 

Hiei found this particularly vindicating and amusing. Her intense reactions to him held sharper edges than most of her other emotions. Good, he’d use that to his advantage. It also seemed that under the veneer of her neutrality, she was a whirlwind of quick thoughts and harsh emotions. Her mind picked out things he wouldn’t have thought to look for.

 

Her memories of Yukina were fond, warm and protective. Sincere dedication. Duty. Nothing Hiei needed to worry about.

 

Their fight had gotten to her. It made her feel weak, another point Hiei savored. But it also fueled her. She needed to get stronger. She needed the sword to even the gap.

 

Her conversation with Kurama hadn’t been as effective as the fox had thought. She’d been more than aware of his games the entire time and while Hiei guessed he should have been concerned, he more amused than anything else. She tolerated so much for her façade. Even Kurama tracking her through the city for two days before she spitefully planted his seeds by her gate.

 

Her fondness for Kuwabara too, seemed genuine. She felt him honest and refreshing, something to be molded and utilized. In Kuwabara she saw boundless potential that was going untapped and she wanted him to see it too. She would make him see it.

 

Hiei examined her thoughts that lead her through the warehouse. Through her fight. Her honor raging against the imposter. Her guilt at striking the woman. And her release at saying her own name. Worth it.

 

Was it though? It had lead her here to this office surrounded by members of Koenma’s little team, the Spirit Defense Force lurking outside, waiting for another chance to chain her up and beat her. Genkai at her side, quiet and strong as a pillar, a monument of patience and sardonic wisdom.

 

And Hiei.

 

He stood before her with his hand out and the Jagan wide open, his presence in her head barreling through her lifetime of memories to decide if she had anything in her redeemable enough to merit saving. His crimson eyes closed in concentration, a crease settling into his brow. If he weren’t who he was, she’d have admitted he was handsome.

 

As it was, her shoulder hurt just looking at him.

 

He probably thought that was funny. Cocky little bastard. But his poor humor wasn’t her problem. His sense of morality was.

 

It was over before it started, in her opinion. Even with Genkai’s appraisal, they’d all go with Hiei’s decision. And she knew what he’d decide. She’d made her peace with herself before he’d even set eyes on her the first time. Hiei knew this was true. And her astounding ability to map out a situation was nearly mesmerizing as he watched it unfold.

 

In her mind there was nothing about her worth saving. She was a coward, a murderer, and a liar by default. Her mere existence was an affront to the senses, his probably more than any other.

 

Hiei opened his eyes slowly, but the Jagan didn’t close. He lowered his hand, scrutinizing the woman before him. The shreds of paper in her fist crinkled as her grip tightened, her eyes pinching and her lips pressing into a hard line. But her head remained high, her shoulders squared.

 

“What do you think?” Koenma prompted from behind him.

 

Hiei glanced back at the toddler, then disregarded him, instead choosing to focus solely on the woman.

 

“I already know what he’s going to decide.” She told them, so sure of her fate.

 

Hiei couldn’t allow that, could he?

 

“Shut up. Wait until you’re asked to speak.” Hiei told her firmly. “I have questions.”

 

She crooked an eyebrow.

 

“Do you still believe what you told Mirna?” He asked.

 

Hearing her human mother’s name spoken aloud sent a bolt of pain and reverence through her ribs. Shinpi couldn’t hide her shock, or confusion. Her eyes scoured over him.

 

“Yes.” She answered him in a hoarse whisper.

 

“Why didn’t you say anything about what you heard that day in the school?” He demanded, and she pulled her brows down.

 

His vague and yet precise questions confused her. She’d been anticipating accusations, details, contempt. This interrogation left her concerned, preparing for an attack. Hiei sort of enjoyed it, the power he had over her in this moment.

 

“Why would I?” She asked him in return.

 

“It would have made decent leverage.”

 

“I’m not interested in blackmail.”

 

He nodded, scanned the room, then let his gaze settle back on her once more. “My last question, before I make my decision. Why would you pray for someone you don’t know?”

 

“I didn’t realize knowing someone was a prerequisite for not wanting them to die.” She responded coldly. “She’s an important fixture merely for the reason that she is loved. Isn’t that reason enough to want her healthy and happy?”

 

Hiei turned to look at Koenma over his shoulder, his tone haughty. “Release her into Genkai’s care.”

 

“What?” Shinpi blinked at him repeatedly.

 

“I said to release you to Genkai.” He repeated, turning back to her with clear annoyance. “Is that a problem?”

 

“Alright.” Koenma frowned, leaning back in his chair but agreed. “If you think that’s best.”

 

“Well, on a condition, that is.” Hiei’s use of the phrase she’d trapped the team with raised the hair on her nape.

 

This was going to be worse than execution, she could already tell. Hiei’s lips pulling up in a harsh smirk, only served to confirm her belief.

 

“A condition?” Koenma asked. “What is it?”

 

“She’s got to beat me in a fight before she can get that sword back.”

 

Rotten bastard! She shook in her quiet anger. How dare he? Who the hell does he think he is?

 

Hiei looked at her over his shoulder, silently raising a finger to his temple and she paled.

 

“Oh, and no more seals. We’re all going to be allies from now on, so we won’t need secrets.” Hiei tacked on verbally, but his voice whispered through her mind.  You should be happy, I just spared your life.

 

Her teeth sank into her bottom lip to keep her mouth closed. Hiei shoved his hands into his pockets, glowing with a disproportionate amount of self-satisfaction for his good deed. Walking toward her, he turned his attention to Genkai, that smirk still firmly in place.

 

“I’ll send word to Mukuro that my return will be delayed.” He told her. “Since I’m going to be so very busy helping Shinpi earn her sword back.”

 

Genkai offered a sagely nod, then glanced up at the woman next to her. Steam practically rolled off of Shinpi’s skin, but she said nothing.

 

“What do we do with the sword?” Kuwabara asked, gesturing to the scabbard on Koenma’s desk. “Does it go into the vault or what?”

 

“I’ll hold onto it.” Hiei offered, and no one missed the actual twitch that shook Shinpi’s body at the utterance of the words.

 

“Hiei’s really enjoying this, huh?” Yusuke leaned over to Kurama, who nodded back. “I haven’t seen him this happy since the barrier fell.”

 

“I agree. And I’m a little concerned.” Kurama admitted, quietly.

 

“Do I get any say in this?” Shinpi finally spoke up, her voice calmer than she expected it to be.

 

Hiei plucked her sword from the desk, offering her a look that boiled her blood. “You get to say thank you.”

 

Her teeth audibly clacked together, grinding as she clenched her jaw shut. Her eyes went to the sword then back to his face, then around the room, before closing. Her eyebrow twitched even as she took a deep breath in and let it out slowly.

 

“I have a request.” She ignored Hiei, stepping around him to see Koenma clearly. Before she could get interrupted she went on. “I’d like to train Kuwabara while I’m under Genkai’s watch.”

 

The room stopped. Then Yusuke snorted before falling into a fit of hysterical cackling.

 

“Damn, Kuwabara how fucking terrible are you at fighting that someone wants to train you while they’re on parole?” Yusuke jabbed at his friend, tears in his eyes.

 

“Shut up, Urameshi! She just seems my potential unlike your dumbass!” Kuwabara yelled back. “I think it’d be great, personally. I mean, come on, how often does a super cool demon take on a pupil? I’m all for it, especially if it means that I get to beat you.”

 

“Yeah right.” Yusuke chortled.

 

“Is this acceptable to you?” Shinpi looked away from the arguing boys to confer with Koenma. “Genkai and Hiei work to polish me or punish me, or whatever their goals are, and I work to strengthen Kuwabara.”

 

“Why do you want to do that?” Koenma asked her seriously. “I’m skeptical that a demon like you would do this out of the goodness of your heart.”

 

“Because I like him.” She shrugged and that was the end of the conversation.

 

Koenma squinted at her. She stared back, unfazed. Her hands slid into her pockets with a sigh and she turned away from him.

 

“Suit yourself. Master Genkai, whenever you’re ready.” Shinpi nodded to the older woman without a smile. They started to walk off together, side by side, chatting idly. When they passed Hiei, Shinpi didn’t bother lowering her voice. “The last demon who scuffed that scabbard was quartered.”

 

“Is that a threat?” He asked her, a little too hopeful that it was.

 

“Merely a statement of fact.” She responded coolly. Enjoy your meager, undeserved sense of power while it lasts.

 

“I’ll be sure to keep it somewhere safe then.” Hiei assured her darkly.

 

Brushing passed him, she groaned to Genkai. “I hope the baths are prepared. I feel like I just wallowed in a pit of filth.”

 

Hiei cut a glare at her back, his fingers tightening around the sheath.

 

“I thought you didn’t like babysitting.” Yusuke pointed out after a moment, grinning at Hiei. “Have you got a thing brewing for her?”

 

“What?” Hiei growled at him, disgusted. “This isn’t babysitting. It’s revenge. I’m going to utterly destroy her. She’ll never get this useless hunk of metal back.”

 

“Sure.” Yusuke nodded, not at all subtle with his tone. “Revenge.”

 

“I’d rather crawl into bed with an actual dog.” Hiei informed harshly. “That woman is vile. She’s mouthy and petulant, and overall a coward.”

 

“So why did you speak up for her?” Koenma asked him, clearly annoyed.

 

Hiei scowled.

 

“Because, the one common thread through all of her memories was the desire to keep others safe. She might be a coward, but she’s a coward with honor.” Hiei snapped at the prince.

 

It was the truth, but only part of it. Her drive to protect others intrigued him, and it did speak of her character, but it wasn’t what had tipped his decision. He’d honestly still been more than willing to send her to the gallows, ready to gleefully announce how she’d murdered her father, until he’d seen her memories of the tournament. Vain, maybe, but her sense of amazement watching him fight pleased him. The Dragon of The Darkness Flame had never been done before, and it had leveled part of the stadium, but she hadn’t fled with the other cowards.

 

She’d run towards the fight full of the brightest emotions he’d felt while he’d been scanning her thoughts. Intrigue, wonder, happiness, awe and the unmistakable light of a competitive spirit. In the face of his overwhelming power her reaction hadn’t been to cower from it. She had wanted to challenge him. Her excitement lingered in his mind, thrilling with his own.

 

The others claimed she was powerful, once. She remembered it that way too. If that were true, he wanted to test it for himself. He knew she’d do just about anything to get her hands on this sword. He had no doubt she’d fight him tooth and nail for it.

 

It was purely selfish, giving her this pardon, but he wanted to see if she could really do it.

 

He wanted to know if at her best, she could beat him.

 

And he wasn’t going to give up until he found out.

Chapter Text

Shinpi lounged in the bath, hair piled atop her head, strands sticking to her cheeks and neck from the steam rising off the water. The hot water eased the aches in her muscles. The Epsom salts Genkai had suggested were wonderful, the herbs sprinkled into the water working with them to calm not just her wounds, but her ego.

 

The relaxation she’d eased into strained, her eyes opening slightly as she shifted in the water.

 

On a condition, that is. She’s got to beat me in a fight before she can get that sword back.

 

Her eyes closed again, nostrils flaring as she sank deeper into the water until it reached just under her nose. Forget him. Forget his petty smirk and his poor attitude. Forget the fact he had invaded her memories and used them to his advantage like the scoundrel she’d taken him for. Forget the pride on his face as he picked up her sword.

 

Forget the way he had lingered at the memory of her watching him fight for so long she relieved it twice while he turned it over.

 

Arrogance at its finest.

 

Just forget it.

 

And definitely don’t think about him invoking her human mother’s name. Don’t focus on how easily it rolled of his tongue, without hesitation, as if he’d known her all his life.

 

Do you still believe what you told Mirna?

 

No. Don’t think about it. Just don’t.

 

She sank deeper into the water until it came to just below her eyes, relaxing and allowing the heat to invade her.

 

I’ll be sure to keep it somewhere safe then.

 

She dunked under the water, no longer bothered with getting her hair wet as she pressed herself down to the bottom of the bath. Surrounded as she was this way, her senses dampened, her mind quieted down. This was the right way, her way. Water had always been there to comfort her. If she had gills, she might never find a reason to step onto land again except to experience the sensation of wind over her skin.

 

By the time she left the bath, the water had grown tepid, and so had her temper. Complacent for the moment, she wandered through the halls of the temple to find the room Yukina had arranged for her. She didn’t make it far before her feet came to a stop, heavy lids raising only slightly to assess her roadblock.

 

Hiei regarded her, head to toe, looking thoroughly unimpressed.

 

“Is my robe not to your standards?” She asked him blandly, wrapped in the temporary garment with her bag of clothes and toiletries dangling from her hand. “You seem like you’re dissatisfied with something.”

 

“You’re not on vacation.” He told her, eyes narrowed.

 

“Alright.” She didn’t react to his statement.

 

“You took your time in the bath.” Hiei pointed out, as if this bolstered his point.

 

“Do you not bathe?” Shinpi asked him calmly, head tipping only barely to the right.

 

Hiei faltered, surprise then annoyance flitting across his features before he stepped closer to her. “Don’t get smart.”

 

“Apologies, I hadn’t realized intelligence could offend you. I’ll try to keep myself at your level.” She crossed her arms, not smiling.

 

“What did I just say?” Hiei growled at her. “While you’re in there taking your sweet time, you could be training.”

 

“Oh, is that what’s bothering you? You can relax. I have no intention of fighting you.” Closing her eyes, Shinpi moved to walk around him.

 

Hiei’s eyes flashed wide, his mind processing what she’d just told him. On autopilot his arm shot out across her body, wrapping around her far shoulder and stopping her in her tracks. His fingers tightened as he understood her, his eyes moving to watch her from the side.

 

Her eyes opened too, slowly and with clear aggravation.

 

“What do you mean you have no intention of fighting me?” He demanded. “I’ve got your precious sword, the whole reason you did all of this-“

 

“Should I doubt your honor, Hiei?” She asked him and the ice in her tone made him clench his jaw. “I had taken you as a man of your word.”

 

“What are you talking about?”

 

“You told me you’d keep it safe, didn’t you?” She brushed his hand off of her with her own scowl, turning to face him. “As long as you’re being honest, I have no reason to fight you. The sword is safer in your hands at this moment than it would be in mine.”

 

He blinked once.

 

“If Hiro were to come for me today or tomorrow or even this week, I wouldn’t be able to defeat him. And honestly, I’d rather die than be captured. If the sword is safe from him, and he kills me, his mission will be a total failure. So, really, you’ve done me a kindness in confiscating it.” She informed him, her scowl slowly turning into a shit-eating-grin. “As long as you have that sword, I have nothing to worry about.”

 

Hiei stepped forward, leering over her with a snarl.

 

“Are you really content with that? With your precious artifact in my care?” He demanded of her. “I thought better of you.”

 

“You thought I’d show you my all, didn’t you?” She grinned up at him and it wasn’t a friendly expression. “I could tell from the way you focused on my memories. I’ll admit, I had to think on why you would speak up for me, but I eventually figured it out. You’re selfish and prideful. It would make sense for a small minded creature like yourself to crave victory over me. No doubt Koenma regaled your lot with legends, right? And you wanted to test me to see if they were true.”

 

Her words struck at the truth and he hated her for it.

 

“Except you didn’t take one thing into account.” She tilted her face up and a devilish light grew in her eyes.

 

“What’s that?” He asked her harshly.

 

“My utter and total lack of respect for you as a warrior.” Shinpi told him, lowering her voice as if she were whispering her needs to a lover. One finger traced down his cheek and jaw line, her body nearly leaning into his while her teeth bared in that hateful grin. “I don’t fight dogs, Hiei. So you might as well run home and sit at Mukuro’s feet where you belong, and beg her to forgive your absence like a good pet.”

 

She pulled away from him, jutting her chin upwards and watching his anger bubble up from the pits of his being. He hunched his shoulders forward, teeth bared as he fixed her with a heated glare.

 

“Shut your-“ He started to raise his voice immediately and her grin only grew.

 

Until her expression broke, eyes darting to the side as another voice interrupted them softly. Hiei glanced over to Yukina too, sure his fury was still painted over his features.

 

“You’re supposed to be resting!” Yukina scolded immediately, coming down the hall. “You heard what Genkai said! You need to heal up before you can start training.”

Hiei pulled back, confusion sweeping over him.

 

“Yes, I know. I was just on my way to bed when Hiei stopped me for a chat. That’s all. I promise I’m not fighting, Yukina.” Shinpi sighed. “Right, Hiei?”

 

Her trying to pull him into her deception made him snort.

 

“I heard Hiei yelling.” Yukina pointed out with a frown.

 

“Yes, because he didn’t like our discussion. But I very plainly told him I wasn’t going to fight him.” Shinpi explained, opening her hands in a wide gesture. The movement caused her robe to fall down her shoulder. She pulled it back up quickly. “There it is, Yukina. It’s not my fault he can’t take no for an answer.”

 

“You two are impossible.” Yukina complained, hands on her hips. “I can’t have you shouting at each other and bickering all the time. Honestly. Hichi, get to bed. Hiei, leave her alone.”

 

Hichi? Hiei stared at Shinpi, scanning her. Yukina hadn’t seemed to see it. Blue eyes moved to meet his, a barely apparent squeeze of the lids warning him to keep his mouth shut for once. It happened in an instant, but he understood. He pulled back, nodding, mostly to Yukina but also the woman beside him.

 

Why she’d want to keep the handprint he’d left on her a secret wasn’t his business, but he would abide her will on this one. Yukina would go off on him if she saw the mark. He hadn’t even meant to leave one, but he must’ve grabbed Shinpi’s shoulder with too much force to stop her from getting around him. He’d been distracted by his thoughts, not paying attention to his actions. Still, for her to not react at all in the moment, it proved she was stronger than Yukina thought. The mark was already an angry bruise, it must’ve hurt.

 

“Fine.” Hiei shoved his hands into his pockets, closing his eyes. “You’re spared for the moment, Shinpi. We’ll finish our conversation tomorrow.”

 

“I’ll wait with bated breath.” She nodded to him curtly, then followed Yukina to her room.

 

Hiei glared at her back then strode the opposite direction. He found Genkai outside in the garden, sitting on a boulder with a cup of tea. She didn’t say anything as he walked up to her but he knew she was waiting for him. The old woman had that habit.

 

“She’s a handful, isn’t she?” Genkai asked him, teacup still held up to her mouth before she sipped.

 

“She’s all but impossible to deal with.” Hiei agreed. “Every time she opens her mouth I want to smack her.”

 

“Suppress the urge if you can. Once you get passed that part things get interesting.” Genkai assured him with a knowing smile. He looked her over. “She’s got a wealth of knowledge behind her, Hiei, and even you could stand to learn something from her.”

 

He huffed.

 

“Be as contrary as you’d like, but there was something about her you wanted to preserve otherwise you would’ve told Koenma and the others the truth.” Genkai told him easily, turning her attention upwards.

 

“I wanted a fight. It seems I’ll be left wanting.” Hiei complained. “A waste of my time.”

 

“She’s going to be raw with me over it, but I’ll tell you one of her secrets.” Genkai unraveled herself, coming to standing on the boulder so she could look down at Hiei. “Amon-Shinpi doesn’t lie unless it is the absolute only option. She’ll tell you as much of the truth as she can, treating any hidden details as erroneous, but she won’t lie. She might choose not to speak at all in some cases.”

 

He thought back on their encounter in the hall, her haughty speech about why she wouldn’t fight him. Yukina had accidentally offered the whole the truth though, pointing out that Genkai had forbidden the act. A detail Shinpi hadn’t thought to mention. It had been misleading.

 

“Why does that matter?” He asked Genkai cautiously.

 

“Because once you know she won’t lie to you, all you have to do is learn to ask the right questions.” Genkai jumped off the boulder and landed easily on her toes, making her way for the temple. “Questions, perhaps, along the lines of why her opinion of you became so tainted so quickly and what that has to do with Mukuro.”

 

Hiei considered it, nodding slowly. Then his eyes opened wide as he jerked his body around to face Genkai’s retreating figure, a memory bursting to the surface.

 

“Back then, when you said she wasn’t interested in fighting me,” Hiei demanded, surprised, “that wasn’t about the seals at all, was it? You were telling me that she didn’t see me a worthy opponent. And you knew I’d get a chance to search through her head, didn’t you?”

 

Genkai turned to him, already up the steps, and her grin looked a little too familiar to the one the blue eyed woman had worn not long before.

 

“Like I said, Hiei, you could stand to learn something from her.” Genkai told him.

 

And he realized, that it wasn’t just Genkai who had known what would happen when Yusuke accepted the woman’s condition.

 

It had been her.

 

Shinpi had come to the temple knowing the team would be there. She’d called ahead to Genkai to arrange it. The old woman had no doubt discussed the issues of her plan with her then, and Shinpi had outlined her corrections. When the woman had offered her condition, Genkai hadn’t been the least bit surprised. Annoyed, more than anything. Kurama had found that unusual.

 

But it made perfect sense to Hiei now, because Genkai shouldn’t have been surprised. Shinpi had already crafted the plan and run it by her.

 

That’s why the old woman had been so insistent Shinpi wasn’t their enemy. Stubborn but not inherently evil, that’s how she’d described the woman.

 

By the time he realized the depth of the plot, Genkai’s grin had grown, patronizing wisdom glaring at him over the distance of the garden. He straightened himself, looking up at her as she stood on the steps.

 

“You get it now?” She asked him.

 

He smirked, a glint entering his crimson eyes as he lifted his chin. “Yes.”

 

Now all he had to do was figure out how to use this new information to get what he wanted out of the woman. He decided to start by following Genkai’s advice. Ask the right questions. Accept her partial truths.

 

Tomorrow he’d start by finding out what she found so upsetting about him and Mukuro.

Chapter Text

Shinpi bobbed and weaved around the punching bag, flashing out strikes against it with her taped fists and wrapped legs. Bouncing on her toes, she flitted, spinning and landing a strike with her forearm. Then her left leg. Then right elbow. And around she went, pumping out punches and kicks against the swaying heavy bag until the sound of the floorboards creaking sent her rolling over the floor, a glare aimed at the intruder as she tensed to spring forward.

 

“There’s that vicious look again.” Hiei commented. “You seem to be recovering well.”

 

Shinpi slowly unwound herself, rising to her full height to stare back at him where he leant against the doorway. Offering no response, she looked toward the punching bag. Then slowly back at the apparition now blocking the only exit.

 

“You looked like you knew what you were doing.” Hiei went on, gesturing loosely to the bag. “Did you wrap your legs yourself?”

 

“What do you want?” She demanded, cutting him off. “You didn’t come here for small talk.”

 

“I had some questions.” He nodded at her curt tone. “When you have a moment.”

 

“Sure.” Shinpi then flipped back onto her hands, twisting to wrap her legs around the punching bag. Pulling herself to sitting she threw her weight back, twisting once more with such force it snapped the chain. When she landed on the floor, the bag still between her thighs she landed three powerful punches where a chest and then face might be, if perhaps someone Hiei’s height had been caught in the attack.

 

Getting off the bag, she stood up and straightened her clothes, walking to her water bottle and taking a hearty drink before nodding to Hiei.

 

“Go on.” She allowed, thoroughly unimpressed with his mere presence.

 

“I thought you weren’t supposed to be training.” Hiei pointed out, toeing the bag as he moved toward Shinpi.

 

“I thought were here to ask me questions, not annoy me with your observations.” She rebutted, beginning to peeling the tape from her fists.

 

Genkai’s words came back to him, and he decided to test their merit.

 

“Fine, I’ll rephrase it. Does Genkai know you’re training?” Hiei poised the question.

 

Shinpi eyed him, then offered a singular silent nod. Her eyes scanned over him, then around the room for a brief second. “You’re baiting a conversation. Why?”

 

Hiei started, surprised. When he didn’t answer immediately, Shinpi turned to face him again.

 

“What information are your probing for? I know when I’m being interrogated.” She told him coldly. “Your body language is stiff. You’re being unusually careful with your words and tone. You’re not very good at this.”

 

“This isn’t an interrogation, it’s a conversation.” Hiei pointed out. “I wanted to ask you about something Botan told the team before we encountered you.”

 

She waited for him to go on, clear suspicion lining her expression.

 

“When we were warned about facing Amon-Shinpi, Botan told us he was a formidable demon who had faced Mukuro twice and won. I want to know more about that.” Hiei pried, easing into the subject as best he could. Jumping right in seemed out of the question. “And maybe you could explain why she thought you were a man.”

 

“Because of the mask.” Shinpi answered easily, waving her hand through the air, but offered no elaboration. “You’re Mukuro’s lapdog, why don’t you ask her?”

 

“I’m asking you.” Hiei stated firmly.

 

They stared at each other, caught in a moment of silence. Hiei went to ask again, but Shinpi spoke first.

 

“Are you hoping for some incredible tale?” Shinpi asked him emptily. “Some sense of what your master was like before she softened herself? I’m not interesting in feeding into fantasies, especially not yours.”

 

“You’re avoiding the conversation.” Hiei pointed out. “Why don’t you want to talk about the only victory that I can for certain say you have to your name?”

 

Again, silence.

 

Just as Genkai had warned him. Shinpi would rather not speak at all than lie. Hiei found it interesting that this is the conversation in which she was choosing to be silent. He had imagined she’d revel in her victories, it seemed the sort of vain thing she’d subscribe to.

 

“You don’t think of them as victories.” Hiei realized suddenly, eyes widening. “Why?”

 

“For the same reason I couldn’t count throwing you onto the ground as a victory.” Shinpi answered quietly, glaring a hole into the floor as her fists curled at her sides.

 

Hiei understood. Her victory over him had been short lived, he’d retaliated immediately and it had resulted in a stalemate. Had her fights with Mukuro been the same? An enemy out of her league that she’d managed to only momentarily disable?

 

“Is that why you hate Mukuro?” Hiei asked, mildly confused. “Because you couldn’t beat her?”

 

“No.” Shinpi responded, voice turning to acid. “That is not why.”

 

“Then-“

 

“Genkai told you.” Shinpi stated this as fact, not bothering to elaborate on what she meant. “And you use this information to ask me why I despise Mukuro?”

 

Not hate. Despise. An interesting correction to his statement, Hiei figured.

 

“It was suggested that your feelings toward Mukuro would explain your opinion of me.” Hiei acknowledged.

 

“I’ll save you the history lesson, Jaganshi, and skip ahead to what I feel for you.” Shinpi offered, capping her water bottle. “I admired your courage and power, but you knew that. You reveled in it. I loathe you now, for that exact arrogance. For your inflated sense of worth. For turning the power you worked so hard for against the people that trusted you. You chose to side with Mukuro in what would have been a war instead of your allies. You spit your insults at me, but at least when I had power, used it to help those that counted on me.”

 

Hiei remained quiet, his jaw tightening as she spoke. The heat in her words and the sudden break in her stoic mask put him on edge. A snarl on her face, fire in her eyes, she looked nothing like the woman she’d been seconds before. He wondered what this version of her might be like, how she’d respond if he lunged at her. Would she go left, right, or face him head on?

 

“So, it’s a matter of principle then.” Hiei surmised, keeping his tone lofty. “I’ve insulted your already worthless honor by not living up to your arcane standards. Only the strongest survive in our world, why wouldn’t I follow Mukuro?”

 

“You’re not a very good liar.” Shinpi leaned forward to warn him.

 

“What part do you think I’m lying about?” Hiei wanted to know, sheer curiosity driving the question.

 

But realizing she’d pulled at the correct thread, Shinpi didn’t answer. Her anger melted away into spite, a wry smile stealing over her features. Hiei had come here to get to her, it was an obvious enough ploy. He wanted to goad her into an altercation. However, now she was the one who was in control of the conversation.

 

Without answering him, she tilted her head to the side. “How did Mukuro pry such strong loyalty from you? Surely it wasn’t just her charm. No. It must have been something you wanted that you couldn’t attain for yourself.”

 

“Are you suggesting I’m charming enough on my own?” Hiei asked her, raising his eyebrows.

 

“Power? You could have attained it on your own.” Shinpi walked closer to him, the careful quiet footsteps of a predator. The wry smile continued. “Fortune? You’re a thief. Maybe it was the prestige? But again, I think working with Urameshi would have afforded you that in some way. No, it was something else. Ah. I think I’ve got it.”

 

Shinpi stopped so close to him they could have brushed against one another.

 

“Acceptance.” Shinpi told him, eyes watching every subtle change in his expression. “Mukuro took a look at you and when the rest of Makai was ready to boil you alive for your sins against your own, she took you in. It would be sweet if it didn’t benefit her so greatly.”

 

“Watch it.” Hiei warned her, no longer in the mood for her conversational origami.

 

“Do yourself a favor and when you crawl home to your master, ask her the questions you’ve been asking me.” Shinpi pulled back, spinning on heel. “See if you’re still interested in pursuing this worthless vendetta then.”

 

It wasn’t until she’d been gone for several minutes that Hiei realized what had happened. She’d usurped the conversation entirely, avoiding his questions and putting him on the defensive. Growling, he kicked the heavy bag, forcing it to roll roughly over the floor.

 

“Bitch.” Hiei seethed, glaring at the doorway. “I’m going to rip her in half.”

 


 

 

“How are you feeling?” Yukina asked Shinpi as they sat down for lunch, Genkai taking the head of the table.

 

“My head is still a little fuzzy, honestly.” Shinpi admitted, sounding mildly annoyed.

 

“Maybe you shouldn’t have been flipping around the training room like an idiot then.” Genkai pointed out, offering a stern glare. “What were you hoping to accomplish, exactly?”

 

“Nothing, I suppose. I just wanted to move some, but when the Jaganshi came in I may have lost my temper.” Shinpi offered the information readily, looking less than pleased. “I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t offer him any friendlier advice on how to interrogate me.”

 

Yukina looked between the two women with a frown.

 

“I merely informed him you aren’t a liar, dimwit. Not to mention, you two will need to learn to speak to each other without it coming to blows.” Genkai snapped. “Your skull is harder than Yusuke’s, you know. Instead of inciting a rage, you could have just humored him.”

 

“Hard pass.” Shinpi closed her eyes, taking a bite of food. After swallowing she went on. “I have no reason to get along with such a petulant, arrogant fool.”

 

“Funny, I was thinking the same of you.” Hiei announced, taking a seat across from Shinpi at the table, nodding to Yukina as thanks for his food. “Artful and shameless retreat you made earlier. It must be your signature move to run away from your problems.”

 

Yukina sighed, giving up on any idea of peace for the moment and instead silently eating her food.

 

Shinpi went on eating in silence. Hiei stole a glance at her face and saw her eyes were closed. Raising his eyebrows he chose to continue eating in silence as well.

 

“I’m going to make you two hold hands all day if you don’t start learning to at least pretend to get along.” Genkai warned them both, earning empty stares. “Whether either of you likes it or not, you’re a team. Hiei, your job is supposed to be protecting and training Shinpi. Shinpi, your job is supposed to be working with Hiei.”

 

Shinpi pushed away from the table abruptly, not bothering with the rest of her meal. Without a word she walked out of the room and a few seconds later, out of the temple altogether.

 

Yukina eyed the half-eaten meal with a worried frown, then moved her attention to Genkai. “She won’t do it, you know.”

 

“I know.” Genkai sighed, annoyed. With a stare, she leveled Hiei. “If someone could’ve kept his mouth shut and his grudge to himself, this would have all gone more smoothly for everyone.”

 

Hiei huffed to himself, rolling his eyes away from the old woman. He wasn’t about to point out that it wasn’t a grudge that fueled him, but curiosity. He wanted to fight Shinpi, the Shinpi who had seen him at his then-best and craved a challenge. The woman he was dealing with felt like a paltry substitute.

 

 “She’ll come around if she wants her sword back.” Hiei pointed out.

 

“Oh, you.” Yukina fussed at him, pursing her lips. “You don’t get it at all. Shinpi may be hard headed, but at least she sees clearly. You’re letting your goals blind you.”

 

“To what?” Hiei drawled, annoyed but not wanting to snap at his twin.

 

“You’re not the only prideful creature in the temple anymore.” Yukina explained then nodded toward the window. Hiei glanced out it, then back to the ice maiden. “Shinpi is doing this all for a reason.”

 

“Yeah, because of some fool named Hiro. I’m aware of her motives.”

 

“You aren’t.” Yukina assured him. “Hiro is her target, but he isn’t her goal and he isn’t what drives her.”

 

That gave the fire demon reason to pause and think. After a moment of consideration, he looked over at Genkai, who nodded without a word.

 

“I was asking the wrong questions.” Hiei spoke, mostly to himself, regrouping mentally. A new plan of attack was needed then.  

 


 

 

Fuming, Shinpi marched around the temple toward the gardens. The wind whispered around her ankles, and she ignored it. This was going to be harder than she’d thought. Dealing with Hiei and his prying, his hunger to prove his strength over her.

 

Picking up a chunk of wood and an axe, she started to split firewood. Her mind wasn’t in the task at all. To avoid stewing in her frustration with Genkai and Hiei and the world at large, she started to make plans for the space around her. Yukina had expressed she’d like a greenhouse to keep some plants for the winter. And a trellis or arbor. Some benches so people could come out and enjoy the space. It would be a commitment, but she had time to waste. She could transform this space into the thing of magazines and dreams.

 

Movement to her left earned her attention, expecting Hiei but finding a cumbersome demon approaching. Her lips pulled up to the left.

 

Being sequestered in the mountains did have its perks. Spinning the axe in her fingers, she planted it in the ground. She’d get to practice on some moving targets which had always been far more satisfying than punching bags. Plus, it would alieve some of her aggression.

 

Shinpi took a step backwards, the outside of her foot barely grazing a small clay flower pot. Her lips quirked up on the left side, the movement of casting the pot at her attacker too quick for them to defend against. The pot shattered on its arm and Shinpi took the moment to advance. Her fist slammed against their raised forearm, forcing them to stagger from the impact. Spinning she made to kick them, this attack getting deflected. The demon shoved her away.

 

“Well. Things are finally getting interesting.” Shinpi smirked at her opponent and they launched into a lightning quick trade of blows.

 

Ducking under a kick, Shinpi launched upwards, slamming her elbow into the side of the demon’s head. It grabbed her and did a semi-circle, throwing her over the wood pile she’d been working on. He picked the hatchet out of the ground and spun it in his long fingers. Scrambling on her back, Shinpi rolled and crawled to escape the downward strike he used to try to embed the tool in her. The blade of the hatchet bit into the ground beside. Immediately, Shinpi threw her arm over that of her attacker and throwing her weight onto her shoulder blade and bucking her knees into his chest. Using the moment to flip over, she got to her feet and pulled the weapon out of the ground.

 

Panting, she came at him. Far more precise and vicious, she landed three shallow blows against his arms before the blade got stuck in a tree to their left. Growling, she released the handle and punched him across the face. He raised his hand to strike her back when the point of a sword showed through his chest, a quick spray of blood following. Stepping back, Shinpi glared at Hiei as the body dropped off his blade.

 

“I thought you were too weak to fight.” Hiei told her, tone biting.

 

“I never said that.” She pointed out, wiping sweat off her forehead. Her hand came away tinged red from the droplets of blood that had hit her face. Making a face, she shook her hand to clear the wetness from her skin.

 

“Semantics.” Hiei argued. “If you can flit around swinging axes, you can spar.”

 

“Sound logic if we were discussing sparring, but we weren’t. We were discussing whether or not I’m fit enough to fight you. I’m not.” Shinpi wiped her hands on her pants, yanked the axe out of the tree and back to the wood pile. “Come to continue your pointless interrogation?”

 

She set up a piece of wood and waited for him to answer while she swung down and split it. Hiei watched her for a few strikes before finding the right arrangement of words. Having to slow down and pick his phrasing was a frustrating hindrance.

 

“What does Mukuro have to do with Hiro?” Hiei finally just spit out the question. The axe bit into the chunk of wood and got stuck.

 

Shinpi stared at it for a minute, then let go of the handle. She didn’t answer him.

 

“Fine. Why are you so determined to kill Hiro? What is he to you? What do you get out of this?” Hiei chose a different path and watched her grow impossibly more still. Her eyes remained fixed the axe handle.

 

“Don’t you have children to terrify?” Shinpi asked him, swallowing. Her jaw tightened around the words. “Or perhaps a village to raze?”

 

“You’re avoiding answering.” Hiei pointed out. “I’m only going to keep asking.”

 

“Yes, I have heard of your propensity for torture.” She acknowledged. Then she lifted the axe, the wood coming with it and slammed both against the stump she’d been using as a baseboard. The wood splintered into fragments.

 

Hiei raised his eyebrows.

 

“I don’t care what Yukina says. Or Genkai. You’re a selfish creature driven by your pride and your need to prove your worth.” Shinpi told him. “You and Mukuro deserve each other. And just like her, you’ll turn your back on your friends when they need you because it won’t serve you in any way to save them. And they’ll die and you won’t feel an ounce of regret because any life that isn’t your own has no worth to you.”

 

Shinpi pulled the axe up and then grabbed another piece of wood. Hiei stared at her, surprised by the outburst.

 

“I don’t understand.” He told her after a moment.

 

“How could you?” She demanded, a sharp inhale following the words. “Like I said, you two are the same. Only this time I have the experience to see you for what you are.”

 

“I’m not Mukuro.” Hiei told her. “And I haven’t turned my back on my allies.”

 

“Allies. You’ve known them for the better part of a decade, maybe longer, and when you think of them, they still aren’t your friends.” Shinpi told him.

 

Hiei frowned at her. “Your deference for language is going to an issue.”

 

“A temporary one, I can promise you.” She assured him. “Once I get done with Hiro you won’t have to worry about my deference for anything.”

 

“Because?” Hiei titled his head.

 

She looked at him oddly, raising her eyebrow. “Because I’ll be dead. I thought I’d made that obvious.”

 

Hiei barked a laugh. “You’re more of a coward than I took you for.”

 

“Upset you won’t be the one to drive a blade into my chest?” Shinpi asked him with a snarl.

 

“Spirit World made you seem like some sort of legendary creature. You thought of yourself as one. I’ve been stuck with a whining ghost of an apparition.” Hiei scoffed. “A pathetic, pale image of what you used to be.”

 

Shinpi picked the axe up and judged its weight in her palm.

 

“Honestly, it probably would have been kinder of I’d left you to be executed.” Hiei shook his head.

 

And that was all Shinpi needed. That fraction of a second of his attention to not be directly on her. Suddenly her leg pulled his out from under him, forcing him backward, an elbow across his jaw, knocking his chance at balance away from him. He hit the ground. Shinpi grabbed his hair, yanking his head to the side, and the upper corner of the axe bit into the ground by his exposed throat, the blade resting against the thin skin just close enough to barely break through. A thin line of blood welled up and slid along his neck down to the grass under him.

 

Hiei stared up into the face of the woman pinning him down, her knee pinned into his diaphragm, her nails digging against his scalp. Her lips lifted back and revealed teeth that looked ready to tear into his flesh. She leaned closer to him.

 

“You’re right, I’m not how I used to be. I used to be faster and I would not have hesitated to take off your head.” She hissed at him, her voice so dangerously low, he raised his eyebrows.

 

Then she crouched over him, weight supported on her arms and toes as she hunkered down, eyes scanning the forest close to them. Hiei’s position allowed him the advantage of watching her expressions without any barriers. Shinpi squinted, gaze darting and then she pulled her lip back over her teeth.

 

“We’re being watched.” She spoke like a breeze, so quiet he almost didn’t hear her.

 

“How many?” Hiei asked her, tensing as he prepared himself for a fight.

 

“Too far away to count.” She admitted. “My senses aren’t what they were. But I can feel it on my nape.”

 

Hiei cautiously lifted one hand, and rested his fingers on the base of her neck to feel the hairs raised there. Curious. She had sharper senses than she gave herself credit for because he hadn’t noticed a thing. Or she was just paranoid and on edge, sensing something that wasn’t there.

 

Shinpi went rigid, a snarl tearing from her as Hiei wrapped his hand around the back of her neck. He rolled them both, pinning her to the ground with a hand splayed over her upper chest, crimson eyes sweeping over the area. With a tilt of his head he closed his eyes and allowed the Jagan to open. She watched him, so still she might have been carved from stone. When Hiei opened his eyes again, he glanced down at her, something near fascination playing in his eyes for a single second.

 

“What is it?” She asked him, tilting her head back to keep the tree line in her sight.

 

Hiei trained his hand upwards, fingertips grazing her exposed throat. Again, she went into that utter stillness but this time he didn’t mistake it for anything but what it was. Not an act of defense but one of preparation. The tension of an ambush predator waiting to spring.

 

“There is no one watching us from the forest.” Hiei told her, removing his hand from her throat and teetering back off of the balls of his feet to place his heels on the ground. He remained in his position over her.

 

“So Koenma, then.” She assumed, making a face. “His semi-omnipotence is an unfortunate thorn in this already dangerous patch of roses I’ve found myself in.”

 

“That intelligence of yours will get you into trouble.” Hiei warned her, tapping a finger between her eyebrows. “I also doubt it was you he was watching.”

 

She glared at his hand before he withdrew it. “You then?”

 

“Likely.” Hiei agreed. “The others fear for your safety under my care.”

 

“Care is a generous term.” She stated dryly.

 

Hiei’s lips pulled up into a smirk, a little vicious and completely smug. “I’m a generous man.”

 

“I suppose you haven’t outright murdered me yet.” She allowed darkly. “Though it’s only been a day, so, you’re probably working your way up to it.”

 

“I have no intention of soiling my hands with your pathetic blood.” Hiei assured her, tilting his head again as he looked down at her. “I want to know I’ve beaten you at your best. That will take time. And time is something we both have in abundance at the moment.”

 

Shinpi remained silent under him, but her anger was palpable. He couldn’t help stoking those flames a little. Her attitude drew it out of him, this malicious streak.

 

“And Genkai has a point, it’s my job to keep you safe.” Hiei went on, and he knew her damnable pride would reel against him for it.

 

“I don’t need your protection, lapdog. Get off of me.”

 

“Until you show me your teeth, demon girl, I’ll have to use my discretion on that matter. And my assessment is that in the first thirty-six hours you’ve been here at the temple you’ve already been attacked by a stray demon.” Hiei pointed out.

 

“I have to fight you to prove I don’t need your help.” Shinpi stated and her jaw tensed around the words.

 

“What else do you have to fight for?” Hiei asked her and the flash of his teeth sent a thrill down her spine she hadn’t anticipated.

 

“My family.” Shinpi told him and it came out in a breath, not a hiss like she’d wanted.

 

“Your family?” Hiei leaned forward onto his toes, one hand resting on the ground over her shoulder so his face hovered over hers. “Mirna and your wretched human father?”

 

The fact he remembered her human mother’s name and not her father’s knotted her stomach in a way she didn’t enjoy. But she shook her head the barest inch.

 

“The Takanis.” She clarified and again, it was quieter than she’d meant it to be.

 

“Hiro killed your family?” Hiei surmised and she stared at him.

 

“I don’t like hearing his name.” Shinpi pressed her lips into a line. “I don’t like being reminded of his existence at all.”

 

“Did Hiro kill your family?” Hiei pressed, eyes narrowing slightly.

 

Her eyes pinched closed and her fingers dug into the ground her them. The wind circled them, playing between their and it grew cold despite the building heat of coming summer.

 

“My curse killed them. And it won’t end until I die too.” Shinpi kept her eyes closed when she spoke and the words were dripping with pain. “Hiro was merely the vessel, but it was me. My mere existence will destroy everyone I care about.”

 

Hiei blinked, all animosity leaving his face in his surprise. “People aren’t cursed, Shinpi.”

 

“I’m not a person.” She reminded him and the resolution in the words brought his hand around her throat again. A slight squeeze of fingers. “What are you doing?”

 

“Checking for a pulse.” He told her, then tapped the vein running under the thin skin of her neck. “I want your attention, Shinpi. All of it.”

 

Cobalt blue eyes met his gaze and Hiei wasn’t even sure why he was so angry with her. He didn’t understand why her speaking of being cursed had unfurled a deep heat in his stomach that riled his blood. But he didn’t enjoy the sensation and he was going to make sure she didn’t put him through it again.

 

“You’re not allowed to die while you’re under my care.” Hiei told her firmly. “I won’t allow it. Vendetta or not.”

 

“That’s not up to you.” She growled up at him, her own anger matching his.

 

“It really is.” He assured her. “The minute I vetted you, your life became mine to manage. It’s out of your hands.”

 

As if to demonstrate that her life was now in his, Hiei gave a slightly squeeze to her throat.

 

“I’ll make you strong enough to kill Hiro without your survival coming into question, and when you do, you’ll face me again. And again. Until I’m satisfied that I’ve done what no one else seems to have done. And if you can’t meet my standards, you’ll never face your enemy. I’ll make sure of it.” Hiei told her, tone turning cold. “I will hunt him down myself and tear him apart and you’ll never get your revenge.”

 

“You’re a bastard.” Shinpi bared her teeth. “This has nothing to do with you.”

 

She shoved her hands up against his chest, prying him off of her. When Hiei captured her wrists they ended up face to face, both roiling with fury.

 

“My sword, my life, and now my revenge. What else are you going to claim of mine?” Shinpi raged at him. “Selfish monster. I hope your allies learn what sort of man you really are Jaganshi.”

 

“I will take whatever I want until you decide to stop me.” Hiei told her, fire in his eyes.

 

“You have no shame.” She seethed. “All of this for what? For bragging rights that you’ve defeated a demon who is already dead?”

 

“It’s not just about defeating you.” Hiei assured her.

 

“Then what?” She demanded. “What are you getting out of this? Pleasure?”

 

“Some of that, yes.” Hiei nodded. “But more than anything, I get to know I raised a legend from the dirt and forged them into something more than they ever were. After I’m done with you, there will be no denying that I turned you into what you’re going to become. Whenever someone utters your name, you’ll have to remember that it’s because of me.”

 

“Prideful prick.” Shinpi spit at him. “I will never allow our names to be intertwined that way. That selfish mentality is why I’m going to rip Hiro into pieces. And when I’m done with him I’ll came after you with all the fury of hell fueling me.”

 

And then Hiei smirked.

 

“Why are you smiling?” She trembled in her anger. “What is funny about this?”

 

“So it’s a deal then. When you defeat Hiro, you’ll face me.” Hiei told her.

 

Shinpi’s mouth opened then snapped shut. Her cheeks turned red, embarrassment and rage coloring her skin. It screwed up her mouth.

 

“And a woman of honor like yourself wouldn’t go back on a promise, would you, Shinpi?” Hiei lowered his voice into a dark whisper.

 

“You baited me.” She accused quietly, full of malice. “Do you have any honor?”

 

“I’ll have yours before the end of this and I think that’ll be more than enough to sustain me for a while.” Hiei pulled back from her. “You should get back to your recovery, Shinpi. I’m not known for my patience.”

 

She watched him get to his feet and stewed for a moment longer on the ground. An idiot. She’d been an idiot and walked right into his trap. He was smarter than she gave him credit for, manipulating the conversation and her the way he had. From Kurama this would have been expected, anticipated even.

 

Another thrill shuddered down her spine as she considered what this might mean for her.

 

“Oh, and you’re not to engage in any more fights until I’ve cleared you for combat.” Hiei told her as he started to walk away. “If you’re not fit enough to face me, you’re not fit enough to face anyone. You’ll train on your own until I say otherwise.”

 

“You can’t control what I do.” Shinpi got to her feet and glared at him. “I’ll do whatever I feel is necessary.”

 

“I can’t control you.” Hiei agreed, but the look he delivered on her over his shoulder hitched her breathing. “But I can make you regret any poor decisions that may run through that precious brain of yours. And I will make you regret them.”

 

He headed back into the temple and left her outside. Shinpi swallowed, unsticking her tongue from the roof of her mouth. With a wild cry, she grabbed the axe out of the ground and slammed it repeatedly into a tree until it toppled over. Heaving, she stared at the weapon in her hand and then at the temple.

 

This inane filthy bandit wanted to place himself between her and her goals so badly? Fine. She’d train and play his game. He wanted to see her teeth? She’d embed them in his throat and tear it out.

 

He’d learn to regret coming between a predator and its prey.

Chapter Text

Kurama stifled a yawn with the back of his hand, tears forming at the corners of his eyes as they begged for more sleep. Unfortunately, they’d be denied just as they had been for the last week. There was work to do and a demon to confront. But he’d come armed, an arrangement of files tucked into his backpack as he ascended the stone steps leading up to Genkai’s tunnel.

 

So much for a quiet weekend, he sighed. He’d meant to take some time for himself even going so far as requesting the Friday and Saturday off from work so he could rest. He’d been certain that the team’s fight against Amon-Shinpi would require much of his strength. However, he hadn’t accounted for their target being an imposter and the real thing being carefully hidden under their noses. So instead of his body needing a break it was his mind. Scouring Spirit World’s records for nights that felt endless had eaten up his week.

 

And now it was Saturday and he had woken up at a hellish four a.m. to catch the earliest train he could to Genkai’s.

 

All so he could meet with Amon-Shinpi and talk her history over with her. Ask his burning questions. And also check on her, he admitted. Hiei hadn’t contacted any of them about her progress since they’d arrived at Genkai’s and he was mildly concerned that his hot-tempered friend had done something regrettable. Koenma seemed to second his tentative uncertainty and had turned to watched Hiei on the screen in his office, Kurama at his side.

 

They were surprised to find that Amon-Shinpi had sensed their intrusion, acting immediately to protect Hiei from the threat as she crouched over him. Kurama had to admit, he was relieved they were getting along. Hiei had chimed in moments later, his Jagan carrying his brusque warning to butt out to them.

 

Kurama hadn’t bothered checking on them since, seeing as how all seemed to be going well.

 

Or so he had thought.

 

“I told you, you aren’t fighting until you’re ready to face me.” Hiei’s voice snapped as Kurama crested the staircase. He followed the sounds of bickering suddenly feeling all the more exhausted until he came to stand beside Yukina, who put out with the demons before her.

 

“I told you I’d do what I needed to.” Shinpi grit the words from behind her teeth. “Stop interfering.”

 

“You were warned.” Hiei turned to face the demoness, eyes narrowed. “I told you you’d regret not listening to me.”

 

“I’m not afraid of you.” Shinpi toed up to him, clearly meaning her words. “If I hadn’t moved, Yukina might’ve been harmed.”

 

“Call for help.”

“From you? I’d rather be killed.” Shinpi scoffed. “Dish out your punishment, Jaganshi. Reveal your true colors as I see them.”

 

So much for getting along, Kurama thought.

 

“All week it’s been this way.” Yukina complained to him quietly. “On her own, Hichi is quite nice. She’s warm and charming and quick to help. But whenever Hiei enters the room she turns into a contrary mess who manifests confrontations from thin air. Hiei’s not much better. He goes out of his way to challenge her at literally every turn.”

 

“At least the temple isn’t quiet anymore.” Kurama told her, a small smile gracing his mouth. “You did say you wanted the place to liven up.”

 

“Oh sure, throw that at me.” Yukina sighed, forlorn. “Are you here to talk some sense into them?”

 

“Not so much, no.” Kurama said apologetically. “I came to speak to Amon-Shinpi.”

 

“I’ll make you favorite dumplings if you manage to convince her to trust Hiei, even a little.” Yukina bargained. “Or if you can just manage to help her see the merit in humoring him for her own gain. Anything to keep the arguing to a minimum.”

 

“I’ll do my best.” Kurama promised.

 

“It’ll be cabbage soup if you don’t.” Yukina’s bright smile made him chuckle as he accepted her threat.

 

She’d come such a long way since she’d been found in Tarukane’s keep. Once so still and quiet, the picture of soft innocence she now held her own prowess. It was easy to miss under the layers of kindness and her generally warm nature, but it was there. In some ways, she was more like her brother than the fire demon seemed to recognize.

 

“Great. Another one.” Shinpi turned to spot Kurama over her shoulder, her expression dulling. “Come to back up your comrade on his ridiculous crusade?”

 

Yukina looked at Kurama with a look that spoke of her annoyance with this clearly normal attitude.

 

“Not quite. I came to speak with you.” Kurama smiled gently. “You did say we could talk after our last mission, but I haven’t had the chance until now.”

 

Surprise straightened her back, shoulders pulling down as she stared at him. Hiei stood behind her, clearly forgotten. His sneer revealed how he felt about being suddenly ignored. Crimson eyes glared at Kurama, whether for the intrusion or something else the fox didn’t know.

 

“I remember.” Shinpi admitted, skeptical. “I hadn’t expected you’d want to accept. Surely, you think me as horrible as your ally here. Why sully your time with my company?”

 

The self-disparaging comment made Yukina sigh at Kurama’s side. Again, this seemed something commonplace.

 

“No one thinks that way about you.” The ice maiden chided her, hands moving to her hips. “You have to stop saying such horrible things about yourself, Hichi.”

 

“It’s not like anyone minds.” Shinpi shrugged, but her tone had softened considerably.

 

“If you think you’re so horrible, what does that say about the people who care about you? What’s it say about me? You think I have poor taste in companions?” Yukina challenged her with a slight heat to her voice.

 

To Kurama’s surprise, Shinpi’s blue eyes widened, her skin paling before a rush of color flooded her cheeks. She looked away from Yukina, shirking down into her shoulders.

 

“Not at all. You’re a wonderful person, Yukina. I would never say a bad word about you.” Shinpi confessed, embarrassed. “I didn’t mean to insult you.”

 

“Oh she gets an apology.” Hiei huffed, crossing his arms. “But I get contempt and your smart mouth spitting nonsense around the clock.”

 

Shinpi didn’t engage with him, choosing to walk away instead. Her hands slid into her pocket, and again being ignored by her seemed to inflame Hiei’s temper.

 

“We were discussing your punishment!” Hiei reminded her hotly.

 

A cold blue gaze caught him over her shoulder, no emotion in the expression. “Do your worst. It won’t be the first time I’ve been tortured. It likely won’t be the last. But I won’t discuss this in front of Yukina anymore, it upsets her too much.”

 

Then Shinpi brushed passed Kurama to head toward the temple.

 

“Find me when you’re ready fox. I’ll be around.”

 

Kurama sighed. He’d expected some resistance but he hadn’t anticipated walking in on a brawl. Shinpi paused at the threshold of the door, one hand on the wood, her eyes fixed toward the interior but her voice carried to him unhindered by the distance or angle, despite how quiet she seemed.

 

“You look tired. Take a name before you seek me out.”

 

Hiei glared at her retreating figure. “That woman is the worst.”

 

“Oh, you.” Yukina frowned at him. “Why are you being so hard on her?”

 

“She’s the one who isn’t following the rules.” Hiei pointed out. “We had terms. She broke them. I can’t just let it slide.”

 

“You could.” Yukina told him. “You just want to provoke her. Can’t you see your way isn’t working?”

 

“She’s training, isn’t she?” Hiei shot back coolly and the ice maiden pressed her lips together.

 

“I’m going to go get started on lunch. I’ll prepare the cabbage for dinner while I’m at it.” She turned and walked toward the temple as well, leaving her threat lingering behind her for Kurama.

 

“What do you need to talk to her about?” Hiei asked, stepping over to Kurama as his annoyance simmered down. “Whatever it is, good luck getting her to speak directly about anything. That woman prides herself on her verbal prowess and she will avoid saying anything at all at all costs while making you feel like she’s answering you.”

 

“No luck on your end?” Kurama guessed.

 

“I managed to pry a few details from her, and a promise for a true fight. Other than that she’s been careful not to say much to me.” Hiei complained, shoving his hands into his pockets. “When I walk into a room she flees.”

 

“How is her training going?” The fox looked around the temple grounds, noting the body the two demons had been arguing over when he’d arrived. “She’s picking off the weak, I see.”

 

“She’s not supposed to. I told her she wasn’t to fight until she was ready to fight me.” Hiei snorted. “She’s testing my patience. I don’t much about her training other than what Genkai tells me, which isn’t much.”

“I thought you two were getting along. When Koenma and I peeked in, it seemed she was protecting you.”

 

“You must have begun watching right after she tried to decapitate me with an axe.” Hiei smirked then. “I wish she was like that more often. It would be better than this dismissive business she’s resigned herself to.”

 

“Give it time. I’m sure she’ll want to kill you again sometime.” Kurama quipped and Hiei glared at him, making the fox chuckle. “What did she tell you?”

 

“Her and Mukuro have history. From the sparse details, I’ve managed to gather Mukuro betrayed her in some way. And that she intended to die when she faced Hiro again.” Hiei looked up at the sky, squinting at the growing cluster of clouds above. “It’s been raining more lately.”

“It’s the season.” Kurama told him. “You said intended, so she’s changed her mind?”

 

“I forbid it.” Hiei shrugged, still gazing up at the light grey clouds. “So she doesn’t get a choice in the matter.”

 

Kurama eyed his friend, brows raising slightly. He didn’t think it would be so simple, and yet Hiei seemed entirely sure this had resolved the issue.

 

“Why does she want to die?” The redhead asked instead of arguing.

 

“She thinks she’s cursed.” Hiei’s tone held an edge, his eyes narrowing as he drug his attention to the temple. “What an idiot. I’ve never met someone so invested in undermining their existence.”

 

“It must be difficult.” Kurama nodded, also looking toward the temple. “I can’t imagine what it must be like for her to have endured what she has. To lose her family, her land, and then be stuck in a frail body when she thought she’d be dead. This must be nightmarish for her. A hell unto itself.”

 

Hiei frowned, shifting his weight slightly from foot to foot as Kurama spoke.

 

“It’s likely she doesn’t have much to live for.” Kurama went on, calm but sympathetic.

 

“She’d have plenty to live for if she’d just fight.” Hiei spoke quietly, almost begrudgingly. “It’s her own fault she’s this way. She could take back what’s hers, she just doesn’t want to.”

 

“Fighting won’t bring her family back.”

 

Hiei stopped talking, bothered to his core by Kurama’s words. What an annoying feeling, the sudden heaviness in his guts. He hated it. He hadn’t considered that part of Shinpi’s explanation nearly a week before. She’d told him she was fighting for her family. That it was her fault they were dead. Was that really something to kill herself over though? He couldn’t imagine why.

 

“You never answered me about why you’re here.” Hiei pointed out, changing topics. He’d gotten used to these sort of conversational tactics from dealing with the woman.

 

Kurama smiled at him. “I’ve been researching you charge. I just want to check on some facts, maybe learn something about her.”

 

Hiei eyed the backpack with heavy speculation. “Hn. Good luck with that. You’d have better luck wringing water from stone.”

 


 

“Did you sleep?”

 

Kurama stopped, halfway into the room and glanced at Shinpi as she lounged on the windowsill with a book propped up against her bent leg, the other hanging from the window. Outside the clouds had grown heavy with rain, this room saturated with the scent of a coming storm. Wind fingered through her dark hair but she didn’t seem to mind.

 

“I’m afraid not.” Kurama answered her, pulling the door closed behind him as he entered the room fully. A small library of sorts, perhaps it could be called a study save the lack of a desk. A sitting room would be a better name, he decided, noting the comfortable chairs set up in the center.

 

“Be careful with forced sleeplessness, it affects the functions of the brain.” She flipped a page in her book idly. “You wanted to interrogate me?”

 

“Not so much. I did have some questions, but I wouldn’t say it’s an interrogation.”

 

“Ah, yes. Hiei never calls them what they are either, these conversations.” She nodded, eyes glued to the page. “You can sit you know. I doubt I’m a threat to you.”

 

He wasn’t so sure.

 

Kurama turned a chair so he could see her and claimed it as his own, opening his backpack and pulling the files out. She glanced at him, blue eyes roving the papers and manila folders before returning to the yellowed page of the leather-bound book in her hand.

 

“Someone did their homework.” She commented from her post, tone carefully ambivalent. “With that much paperwork, why do you need me?”

 

“Spirit World has a way of the smudging the details in their favor.” Kurama admitted. “I found discrepancies.”

 

She eyed the papers again, then him. A careful sweep of her attention from his hands to his face. Her attention went back to her book. After several minutes Kurama decided she wasn’t going to speak again without being prompted so he began to talk.

 

“I read up on your family history. The Takanis, that is. I found it all quite interesting.” Kurama told her. “You have an interesting heritage.”

 

She turned a page in her book.

 

“Your territory too, seems unusual, especially in Makai.” He went on. “An oasis is nearly unheard of, especially one as peaceful as yours was. Very peculiar how it seems to have appeared from nowhere when your grandfather settled on it.”

 

When she didn’t respond in anyway, Kurama shifted in his seat. Hiei was right. This was one vault that seemed inaccessible to him.

 

“Your sister, Kuya, she came to Human World with her human husband, didn’t she? She settled and started a family here. By all accounts she was a bit like Yukina in personality. I thought that was interesting. Is that why you are so protective of Yukina?”

 

Another page turned.

 

Kurama kept the sigh trapped in his chest, trying not to show his growing tiredness with this one-sided conversation.

 

“Who was Kin Jiro?” He asked her and this time she visibly reacted.

 

Kurama wanted to retract the question the minute he’d spoken it. The impact on her was immediate, the pain on her face undeniable. Her lips fell open in silent anguish, The skin of her knuckles bleeding to white as her grip on the book tightened mercilessly. Swallowing, she tried to compose herself.

 

Her eyes moved to his lap, to view the papers he’d been flicking through and she slid off the windowsill to walk over to him. With shaking hands, she pulled the single sheet from the pile, her eyes glued to the face portrayed in the black and white copy of the portrait he’d found. A young boy, messy black hair and wide eyes with a cheeky grin. She staggered to the wall, sliding down it to rest on the floor, the paper clutched in her hands.

 

A shaky breath several minutes later let Kurama know she hadn’t forgotten him. “What’s it say about him?”

 

“The file?” He asked and she nodded.

 

“He was a good boy. It says that right?” Her voice quaked and she tried to keep it under control. “Spirit World has to know he was just a child. He never did a thing wrong in his life. He was a good boy.”

 

It sounded like a plea. Kurama looked down at the papers in his lap. “It doesn’t say much at all. Merely the name with some accounts that he was a Takani. Only ever seen with you. Until-“

 

“Until Hiro took him from me.” Shinpi nodded and brushed her fingertips over the boys grinning face. “My heart and soul. Everything I was, stolen in a breath. I will never be the same person again without him.”

 

Kurama realized he had touched on something incredibly private but he couldn’t think of a way to backpedal out of this conversation. He couldn’t seem to think of a way to go on either. He hadn’t mean to expose Shinpi to what obviously was the catalyst of her fall. Much less had he intended to unwittingly discover it. The name was tossed in with a group of others, family, but the connections weren’t exactly explained.

 

But the boy’s name was on a list of deceased relatives with the rest of the Takanis.

 

He should have known, looking at the dates. 

 

He’d been a hapless, sleep deprived fool.

 

“My boy.” Shinpi whispered the statement with a sigh and when Kurama looked at her, she was inexplicably smiling despite the unshed tears in her eyes. “I never thought I’d get to see him again. Thank you, Kurama.”

 

The warmth in those words felt suffocating when he knew he’d caused her so much pain.

 

“I’m sorry, I hadn’t realized he was your child.” Kurama told her quietly. “I would never have so casually-“

 

“He was my brother.” Shinpi shook her head, inhaling through her mouth after shaking her head. After another few seconds she was steadier. “I raised him. Mother and father died when he was just over a year old. All we had was each other at the time, Kuya already gone to raise her own family. But brother or not, he was my boy.”

 

She walked over and pulled a chair next to Kurama’s, angled toward him. “I was raising him to be a king, you know. And he would have been the best of us. He was strong like me, but he had this shining light in him. It was so bright. He got that from mother, I think. Oh, and he was so smart. There wasn’t a day that went by when he didn’t impress me. Kin was the only consolation I had after my parents died.”

 

She smiled again, looking at the picture before sliding it back to Kurama. He accepted it and placed it back in the pile, examining the boy with more interest than he had before.

 

“Hiro killed him because he couldn’t get to me.” Shinpi explained, her tone hardening. “He died because I’m a failure. I should have never left them alone. But I was idealistic at the time, I thought Hiro and I were going to rule the world together. I didn’t see the harm in leaving Kin at the regent and answering Mukuro’s summons alone, as she requested.

 

“When I showed up, she told me I was a fool. That I’d made the gravest of errors. She had never sent for me, and she certainly wouldn’t have trusted Hiro alone in my stronghold. He was a monster, she said, and I’d been blind. That I’d brought whatever was happening on myself. I’ve never run so fast in my life, trying to get back to the castle.

 

“But I was late. I was so incredibly late. Hiro had taken my brother and placed him in chains, had carved his heart from his chest. It had all been a farce, all our years together. A ploy to get to our power, to claim our land and blood. He wanted to be the strongest. I lost myself. I destroyed it all to get to Kin, even though I knew he was gone. I felt it in my soul the minute he died. I was crazed, in mourning and angry with myself. A combination that made me weak.

 

“Hiro survived the havoc I wrought. I barely managed to as well. My energy spent, my brother gone, the kingdom in shambles and the person I thought I could trust now my enemy, I wandered to regroup. To try to pull myself together enough to end it all once and for all. It took years. I kept finding myself drifting out of fugue states in the strangest places. A floating village of ice, for instance, where a small girl took me in and tried to help me.”

 

Kurama stared at her, and she played with her hands, an unusually insecure motion he hadn’t expected to see from her.

 

“When I asked Mukuro for help, she denied me. Told me to handle it myself. She wasn’t risking her armies on my cause. I had done this to myself. So I did. I came to Human World, weak and withered, and passed the sword to Kuya’s oldest living descendent and told her to pass it down her family tree. But only to the girls.” Shinpi sighed. “Takanis were never born female. Not until myself and Kuya. But Kuya’s family was all female.”

 

She took a breath to collect her thoughts and went on, the pain in her chest aching around the hole she was reminded resided there. The hole where her family was meant to be.

 

“After a few more years, my strength began to grow again. I toyed with my time, I devolved into something hideous and monstrous and stopped caring about my family’s pacifism. I had never cared for it, honestly, but I had abided by it. With them gone and my name disgraced, there was nothing for me to protect. So I killed without pity, I took what I needed, and I kept myself numb anyway I could.” Shinpi went on. “Eventually, I came out of the haze to find myself nearing my complete strength and I set my plan into motion. I confronted Hiro and decimated his armies with every wave he sent after me. We warred for nearly a week before it was just us, ragged and exhausted. And just when he thought he’d gotten me, his hand in my chest like it had been in my brothers, I opened the earth underneath and made it swallow us whole.”

 

“I know it will ring hollow, but I’m sorry.” Kurama told her, reaching over to place his warm hand on her arm. He offered a comforting squeeze. “I’m sorry that your rebirth put you in a position to lose it all over again. When you tell Hiei this he’ll-“

 

“He cannot know.” Shinpi pulled back from him quickly, alarmed. “That one can never know.”

 

“Why?” Kurama demanded.

 

“Because I have enough of my failures thrown in my face by that wretched man. I will not allow him to use Kin against me as well.” Shinpi explained hotly. “You cannot tell him, Kurama. You can’t. If you do, every conversation will turn into a burr of him using my brother to motivate me to meet his goals. I won’t have it.”

 

“If he looks, he’ll find most of what you’ve said in the files.” Kurama frowned at her. “Your history is mostly documented.”

 

“I don’t care about my history. You cannot tell him about Kin.” She implored him. “Please, Kurama.”

 

Swallowing, Kurama nodded, but he winced. “If I may ask something in exchange for my silence on this matter?”

 

“I should have presumed blackmail.” Shinpi frowned at him, her expression dulling. “How in character for you.”

 

“I’m actually just the middleman on this one. Yukina asked me to convince you to humor Hiei a bit. She’s tired of the fighting.” Kurama admitted. “She wants to see you two getting along.”

 

“Impossible.” Shinpi shook her head. “I have no respect for Hiei. For that matter I can’t imagine why you have any either. He chose to fight with Mukuro instead of any of you. How can you forgive that betrayal?”

 

“Hiei needed someone who could help him. He never worked against us.” Kurama assured her.

 

She simply stared at him, unconvinced.

 

“Hiei doesn’t want you to die. That has to count for something in his favor.”

 

“He wants me to live to fight him. He doesn’t care about me or my wellbeing. His motivations are entirely selfish.” Shinpi pointed out. “I will not subject myself to someone like him again. As far as I’m concerned he should be licking Mukuro’s boots, not here annoying me.”

 

Kurama sighed. Cabbage soup it was for dinner.

 

“Hiei believes that you are more than you think you are. I’m beginning to think he sees something you don’t.” Kurama told her, giving up on the conversation.

 

“He sees plenty I don’t. That’s why he got that damned third eye.” She pointed out dryly but the comment made the fox chuckle. The sound wrought a smile from her. “I suppose, for Yukina, I could try to find a compromise.”

 

Kurama hid the fact this news perked him up.

 

“I don’t know what good it will do though.” Shinpi sighed.

 

“He told me you came after him with an axe. He said he wished you were like that more often.” Kurama hinted.

 

“He should be careful what he wishes for.” Shinpi smirked. “Be a shame if something happened to that handsome face of his because he was running his mouth.”

 

Kurama raised his eyebrows, leaving the commentary alone. Then he passed the copy of the portrait back to her. “Keep it. Spirit World has the original and I don’t need it. Plus, it’ll keep Hiei from examining it in your file.”

 

She accepted it and bit her lip to keep the tears at bay, but one slid down her cheek anyway as she cradled the paper against her chest. “Thank you.”

 

 


 

Sighing heavily, Shinpi stalked into the kitchen knowing Hiei was taking his tea inside to avoid the rain. She stared at him, then glared at Kurama, then back to the fire demon. Hiei raised his eyebrows then pulled them down, glancing at Kurama then back to Shinpi. Her file lay open before him, a paper clutched in his bandaged hand.

 

“Well, are we going to spar or not?” She demanded of him, annoyed.

 

Hiei blinked at her, setting the paper down as he tilted his head to assess her.

 

“Did Kurama drug you?” He asked her seriously.

 

“Shut up. I want to be able to protect Yukina. You’re getting in my way. If sparring with you proves my capabilities, then I’ll do it. No weapons. Just us.” Shinpi gestured between their bodies. Then she looked toward the window behind him. “Training room?”

 

“Right now?” Hiei asked her, but a light had entered his eyes.

 

“Right now.” She nodded. “Don’t get your hopes up, Jaganshi. You still clearly overpower me at the moment.”

 

“I’ll prepare myself to be disappointed by you, as usual.” Hiei remarked getting to his feet. He followed her out of the kitchen, allowing Yukina and Kurama to stare at each other.

 

“Do you need help preparing the dumplings?” Kurama asked slyly, a grin on his face.

 

“Later. I want to watch this.” Yukina brushed her hands on her apron then peeling it over her head. “Let’s make sure they don’t kill each other.”

 

Kurama chuckled and agreed, wandering after her. Genkai eyed him in the hall, falling into step beside him.

 

“Strange turn of events.” She told him, suspicious.

 

“Truly.” He nodded.


 

“We should set parameters.” Shinpi declared, standing a few feet away from Hiei as she stretched her arms. “We already established no weapons. How will determine a victor?”

 

“I’ll be the judge.” Genkai announced. “Goal will be to incapacitate your opponent, trying to avoid knocking them unconscious. I’m not sure your brain can take much more damage, girl.”

 

“That’s fair.” Shinpi winched, nodding. “Hiei, do you agree?”

 

“That you’re brain damaged? Absolutely.” He smirked. “Also I accept the rules.”

 

“Ass.” She frowned, then dropped her arms. “On your word, Genkai.”

 

“Go.”

 

Shinpi remained still as Hiei surged forward, accepting the brunt of his attacks with a formidable defense. She deflected his punches easily enough, her blocks preventing him from causing any actual damage to her body. Then Hiei stumbled forward as she side stepped him, her foot hooking around his shin and pulling the leg from under him. He spun and growled at her.

 

“You lean pretty heavily on your upper body. Makes your lower half an easy target.” Shinpi told him, dully.

 

“Are you going to fight or not?” He demanded and she shrugged. When he lunged at her, she again evaded him. “Shinpi.”

 

He moved toward her again, and again she deftly avoided being captured. The next time as well, earning and annoyed growl from the fire demon. His eyes widened when she giggled in response, hiding her smile behind her hand.

 

“This is sort of fun.” She admitted. “You’re sort of adorable when you’re annoyed.”

 

He moved faster and still couldn’t managed to wrap his hands around her little throat. Soon they were a blur of quick pounces and quick getaway, an odd dance forming. Hiei turned to lunge at her from the side and found an arm around his throat from behind, forcing his head back as a painful pressure jostled his Adam’s apple.

 

“Pay attention to your surroundings, Hiei. You’re too focused on where I am.” Shinpi chided lightly. Then she pushed him away from her and grinned.

 

The expression was light, actual enjoyment painted in her eyes. Hiei had to blink at the display for a moment. A mistake, it seemed, as Shinpi ran forward and slammed the heel of her hand into the underside of his chin. She spun, the back of her elbow nailing him in the solar plexus. As he tried to recover his breathing she reached under his arm, locking her grip as she shifted her stance and sent him crashing down against the floor.

 

Another rush of air wheezed out of his lungs and Hiei lay stunned for a moment before rolling to a plank and pushing himself up, his crimson eyes full of fire as they locked on the twinkling cobalt of Shinpi’s gaze.

 

“Did you enjoy that?” He asked, tone low and menacing. “I hope you did because you’re going to pay for it.”

 

“Big words from a man who can’t catch me.” She teased him, her grin growing. “Come on, Hiei. I’m waiting for you.”

 

Something about her words, or maybe her voice when she spoke them, pried a smirk from him. Then she grunted as he appeared before her, his fist slammed against her abdomen. When she doubled over, he grabbed her shirt to hoist her to her toes but she raised her arms and slipped out of the garment and rolled backwards over the floor to get out of the situation.

 

Chest heaving, clad in her workout sweats and her sports bra, Shinpi nodded at him, a new spark in her eyes as well.

 

“Again.” She demanded, her grin turning feral.

 

Hiei couldn’t wait to oblige her. He went to grab her and she slammed her knee against his inner thigh, a palm strike landing under his shoulder blade. When he whirled around, his hand clamped around her wrist and drug her close. Shinpi grunted, and when she made to hit him with the other hand, he captured that one too.

 

“Caught you.” Hiei panted the words, surprised he’d had to work harder for this victory than he’d originally supposed he would.

 

“But can you keep me?” She asked him, tilting her head up with her own breathless question.

 

Then she planted one foot on his hip, using that to brace herself as she threw her weight back. Hiei held fast, which is exactly what she’d hope for. Her other foot came up and planted in the crook of his shoulder then both legs moved around his neck. Hiei recognized the position too late, Shinpi’s thigh’s tight around his neck and head as she threw her weight back, breaking his hold, and drug his upperbody with her as she landed on her hands and sent him once again careening against the floor.

 

 Instead of regrouping, Hiei simply rolled the minute her thighs loosened and he pinned her down, one knee planted against her hip, the other trapping an arm. His grip on her throat was a bruising warning, but a hair from actually strangling her.

 

“I’d like to see you get out of this one.” Hiei swallowed, trying to catch his breath.

 

Shinpi’s eyes burned like blue fire and it made him hungry for another round. She struggled in his hold, a fruitless effort at best. But then she grinned and her free hand came up, stopping a half-foot from Hiei’s jaw because Genkai called the match. But the space was enough for him to have felt it, the sudden disorienting pressure in his ear and jaw.

 

“Shinpi, lower your hand.” Genkai demanded when the woman didn’t do it automatically.

 

“Do it.” Hiei goaded the woman under her. He wanted her to hit him with her energy. He wanted to know what it felt like colliding with his skin.

 

But she let her arm fall back to the ground with a dull sound, moving her eyes from his face as she seemed to lose herself in thought instantly. Hiei waited another second before getting off of her, mildly annoyed with Genkai’s obvious interference. As he straightened, Shinpi raised her hand to him.

 

“Be a gentleman for once in your life, scourge, and help me up.” She demanded and Hiei raised his eyebrow before grasping her hand and hauling her to her feet. “Are you satisfied?”

 

Hiei wanted to tell her know. That he wasn’t. That the sense of her power had left him anything but satisfied with their fight. But he didn’t press it.

 

“You can fight when provoked.” Hiei allowed, jutting his chin away from her. “But you have a long way to go.”

 

“That wasn’t a yes.” Shinpi told him, rolling her eyes and crossing her arms over her chest.

 

“I’m aware.” Hiei informed her, bending to scoop her forgotten shirt off the floor before tossing it to her. “Next time will be better.”

 

That earned a look from the woman as she accepted her shirt from his hands. “It might be a while before there’s a next time.”

 

“Then I suggest you make the wait worth my time. I expect to be able to use some of my energy next time we spar.” Hiei told her.

 

She pulled her shirt back on and glanced at Genkai, who stared at the two of them. Then she looked back to Hiei and he distinctively got the idea he was missing something pivotal. He turned to stare at the old woman, eyes narrowed and she greeted him in kind.

 

“It’s not your energy I’m worried about.” Genkai announced, then frowned at Shinpi. “You could have brought the whole place down if you’d unleashed in here.”

 

“Hardly. I’m out of practice, not entirely without control.” Shinpi huffed. “At worst I’d have busted his eardrum.”

 

“You can’t permanently disable any of our fighters, Shinpi.” Genkai spoke like this wasn’t the first time she’d had to utter the phrase.

 

Hiei, Yukina and Kurama all lifted their eyebrows. Shinpi merely heaved a sigh, clearly put out.

 

“I’m hungry.” Shinpi announced, as if to dissuade any further conversation. “We should start on dinner, Yukina.”

 

“I’ll prepare snacks. Kurama is assisting me tonight.” Yukina smiled at her. “You should go take a bath, Hichi. And you too, Hiei. You both worked hard.”

 

Hiei huffed, rolling his eyes as he crossed his arms over his chest. Kurama, Genkai and Yukina filtered from the room leaving him alone with Shinpi.

 

“She was worried I meant to kill you. I didn’t.” Shinpi explained before he could ask her to. “It was a good session, I enjoyed myself. But don’t for a moment think that means I like you or what you stand for, Jaganshi.”

 

“Hiei.” Hiei corrected her.

 

Shinpi cast him a quizzical look.

 

“My name is Hiei, not Jaganshi.” Hiei told her, assessing her reaction. “You should use my actual name.”

 

She squinted at him, her the vein in her jaw ticking away, but then she opened her mouth. And closed it promptly after. Then, after a moment of consideration she spoke. “Hiei, then.”

 

Hiei immediately regretted asked her to call him by his actual name. The way she said it, without spite or fury, made him swallow. He’d heard his name all his life and for some reason, he felt like he was hearing it in a new way.

 

They stared at each other awkwardly for a moment, a new and unusual current of tension running between them that had nothing to do with wanting to beat the consciousness out of each other. Then, Shinpi brushed her palms against her pants and rocked her weight from her heels to her toes and back.

 

“Well, I’m going to go bathe.”

 

“Me too.” Hiei hurriedly nodded, looking for any excuse suddenly to flee the room. They both rushed towards separate bath rooms, neither eager to be left alone again. And neither could quite pinpoint why.  

Chapter Text

Hiei poured himself over the pages, sequestered in the reading room so he could be alone with his thoughts. Kurama’s files were immaculate and informative as always. There was a table of contents in the front, the pages were numbered, all one fifty-seven of them, and Hiei was certain he’d find cross-references in the back. Not that he looked. The typeface made it easy enough to scan each sheet before laying it to the side in Hiei’s own form of order.

 

Hiei had long suspected that Kurama’d begun numbering things this way not to aid him in finding what he needed but so the fox could piece everything back together when he finished with it.

 

Hiei’s mind didn’t work like Kurama’s. Where the fox was capable of forming mental fractals to connect dots, jagged arches or spiraling octagonal patterns weaving between ideas to eventually come to a point, Hiei tended to be more linear. Their conversations had been rife with Kurama requesting Hiei become more flexible in his rigid thinking, to see things from other perspectives. Particular when it came to understanding the pea-brained human population Kurama would remind Hiei that their experiences were vastly different than his own and he needed to take that into account.

 

Hiei scoffed at the mere idea on every occasion. It wasn’t his job to understand these pathetic creatures. He didn’t care about their lackluster lives or perspectives. And why should he? Where would it ever benefit him?

 

The fire demon sank into his shoulders slightly, back pressed to the front of an armchair as he staked his place on the ground for more space. Shinpi’s words swam back to him despite himself, her accusation he’d betray his allies if it didn’t benefit him to aid them. The woman was a gnat even when she wasn’t around. He went back to the papers in his hands, eyes probing each word for a deeper truth.

 

Kurama had organized the file from furthest to most recent histories of the woman. Hiei had no desire to read about her as a child. How could that help him now? She was an adult. It didn’t matter where she grew up or with whom. Instead of heeding the chronological order Kurama had established, HIei picked through the multitude of pieces and began to pile them into stacks of what he wanted to know and what he didn’t. Then what was useful and what wasn’t. Finally, what still applied and what could be forgotten. Because even though the papers spread before him all described and articulated the woman under his watch, she wasn’t the same being she’d been when this was gathered.

 

If she didn’t get her ass in gear, she might never be that being again.

 

A bandaged hand lifted another page and Hiei stared at it dully. Another account of Shinpi’s past transgressions, though she hardly seemed the criminal sort. Most of the information was about her political affiliations. For instance, her stalwart alliance with Raizen. He could have anticipated that. But he hadn’t thought that Mukuro and the woman had been friends, really, until he read that they’d had a long prospering relationship. The details of how that ended were sparse.

 

Summarized in less than two sentences: Amon-Shinpi sought Mukuro’s aid in overthrowing Hiro, but was denied. She died before any formal action could be taken against Alaric.

 

In black and white, there it was. Shinpi had gone to Mukuro for help and had been turned away. No reason was given as to why, no matter how much Hiei read. He’d have to ask one or both of them. He thought about it and decided that question could be added to the list he wanted to offer to his commander.

 

Shinpi wasn’t likely to give him any more clarity than the paper in his hand had.

 

Hiei found this effort of Kurama’s to be mostly useless to him, but there were redeemable bits of information awaiting him in the text. For instance, he learned that Shinpi was a wolf demon, and an elemental. Like one of her ancestors she held control over more than one element, a rare occurrence in her line. Wind and water. According to reports of her death, earth if only in one rage-induced incident.

 

His mind wandered to their grappling match outside the week before and how the air between them had shifted around their bodies, seemingly out of season with its chill. A subconscious effort of hers, he imagined, as he hadn’t sensed her energy in the least bit.

 

Another frustration he wanted to address with her but would bide his time for.

 

Shinpi, by all accounts, had been brimming with power. Before her alliance had formed with Mukuro, how that came to pass continued to elude the fire demon, Alaric and the Takani’s had gone to war over land. Namely, Mukuro had attacked the smaller territory in her quest for expanding her own borders. She’d expected little resistance, Hiei was sure, given the details of the rest of the pack that resided in the oasis.

 

She was met with utter disaster.

 

Amon-Shinpi, left unabated, had destroyed armies and sent the pieces back to Mukuro in carts. She left only a single survivor from each wave to depict the carnage in detail to Alaric’s masked king. Stories of funnel clouds the size of mountains tearing through battlefields, of mudslides that swept soldiers to their deaths, storms that shook the earth and sky alike.

 

Mukuro had attended a battle once, seen what Amon-Shinpi was capable of and immediately withdrew her troops back to her own lands. This was meant to be the end of the war. But a small faction had refused to leave, had acted alone and attacked the Takanis after the truce was announced. The faction had killed the king and queen.

 

Amon-Shinpi blamed Mukuro for the attack. Demanded to be seen by the masked king. They met outside the Takani territory in a desert known for its deadly mirages. Amon-Shinpi had won their fight that day. But it wasn’t her control of the elements that landed her success but her efficiency in combat. Between a sandstorm, a tornado, and quick-thinking Shinpi had managed to disorient Mukuro enough to disable her.

 

She’d claimed the king’s mechanical arm as a trophy and after that for some inexplicable reason, they were allies.

 

Hiei didn’t understand it at all. But he was impressed.

 

He desperately wanted to face that Amon-Shinpi. The one on paper in front of him, recounted by legend and eye witnesses. The one who had won Mukuro’s respect.

 

Setting the paper down, he eyed the still-closed door. The temple was quiet, nearly everyone asleep. Kurama was there in a guest room, slumbering away so deeply that he might not have woken for an earthquake. But Hiei still refused to the leave the room because he’d noticed Shinpi kept odd hours, and she often wandered the temple late. He didn’t want to bump into her.

 

The awkward tension after their sparring match had lingered after their showers and through dinner. Neither of them could seem to leave the room fast enough.

 

If he was lucky, she was hiding in her room the way he had sequestered himself here.

 

“Hiei?” Yukina pushed the door open, bringing in a tray of tea of some light snacks. “I thought you might like something if you’re going to be up so late.”

 

“Hn.” He gruffly nodded and accepted the mug she held out to him.

 

Yukina settled into one of the chairs and eyed the stacks of paper with some interest and some distaste. “Is all of this about Hichi?”

 

“Why do you call her that?” Hiei demanded. “No one else does.”

 

“She asked me to.” Yukina admitted with a light blush. “An old nickname from her family. We are very close friends.”

 

“Which family?” Hiei wondered aloud, eyes trained on his sister for merely a second before wandering back to the papers spread around him.

 

“Her previous, I think. She said it came from her grandfather, since she was so much like him.” The ice maiden sipped her own tea. “Are you learning anything helpful?”

 

“I’ve learned she’s annoying.” Hiei grumped, frowning. “And that she’s an animal apparition, wolf to be exact. Makes her calling me a dog a touch ironic.”

 

“Oh, yes, she told me that.” Yukina nodded and Hiei jerked his attention to her so quickly she flinched. Her tea sloshed in her cup, dangerously close to the brim.

 

“She told you? When?” He demanded. He’d been toiling away for hours trying to unlock any piece of that woman’s puzzling mind and she’d just been giving the answer key away to others.

 

Typical.

 

“The first night she was here, when I went in to heal her head wound.” Yukina explained softly. “She confessed the whole history of how we know each other to me and allowed me to ask as many questions as I wanted.”

 

“So she’s being difficult just for me.” Hiei complained.

 

“Perhaps she opened up to me because I haven’t battered her skull or left bruising handprints on her arms.” Yukina responded coolly and Hiei had the decency to look at least a little embarrassed by the passive admonishment. “Hichi is a good person, Hiei. She enjoys taking care of people. And she’s always been helpful to us when she visits.”

 

“How did you know she was a good person if she was lying the whole time?” Hiei asked her seriously. “She could have been anyone. She wasn’t what she said she was.”

 

“She was always Hichi to me. She always will be.” Yukina sighed.  “It doesn’t matter her hair color or what name she uses. She’s the same. In fact, this Hichi is calmer and more decent than the one I met all those years ago.”

 

Hiei blinked at her, then tipped his head to the side as he sipped his tea. “Her hair?”

 

“She was a natural redhead.” Yukina nodded with a warm smile. “Her hair was brighter than Kurama’s. It’s how I found her in the snow, when I did. Took ages to stop her shivering. She’s not very adapted to the cold. But she said she couldn’t feel it. I think, then, she couldn’t feel much of anything. It’s hard to notice sensations when your heart has been so thoroughly wounded.”

 

The twins remained quiet for a moment. Hiei turned back to the papers with an annoyed huff.

 

“Did she happen to tell you anything else?” He pried, leaning his head back against the armchair he’d propped himself against as he sat on the floor.

 

“I didn’t ask many questions.” Yukina admitted with a small shrug. “It wasn’t worth the pain it would have caused her.”

 

“You’re too gentle with her.” Hiei rolled his eyes. “She’ll walk all over you.”

 

“Someone has to show her kindness or she’ll forget what it feels like. Between you and Genkai, who is left but me?” Yukina sighed. “Genkai tries to keep Hichi on the right path. She guides her and they are friends, they talk, but she’s not nearly as soft as I am. She had no issues with cutting through Hichi with her words if it means driving the point home. You’re the same. But someone has to soothe the wounds or they’ll never heal.”

 

Hiei once again fell silent as he regarded his sister. She sat loosely arranged in her armchair, feet drawn up onto the cushion and her hair loose around her face and shoulders. A relaxed, pleasant woman in her home.

 

He felt dirty and out of place sitting next to her, as though his mere presence might infect her.

 

“You two seemed to get along well enough today though. I’m glad. You’re both so important to me, it would be hard having you at each other’s throats.” Yukina spoke quietly, but her smile grew. “I feel like we are all a family, don’t you think?”

 

Sometimes, more often recently than ever before, Hiei wondered how much Yukina knew. But he never pried into her head to find out. She’d offer him that smile, a little too bright, eyes a little too sharp, and say something like she just had. And Hiei would reel for a second, wondering if she knew his secret.

 

He didn’t want to know if she knew. He was better off not knowing, actually. It was best if he never addressed the pointed tone she used with him at times. Because after all these years, he wasn’t sure what he’d do if she admitted they were siblings. He didn’t know how to be a brother.

 

It was part of why he’d been staying away from this world for so long. To put space between him and any crazy notions Yukina may be harboring about family.

 

“Sparring with someone is easy.” Hiei admitted, quick to change the subject. “It has nothing to do with liking them. I trained Kuwabara too, for a time, remember.”

 

“You should see Genkai and Hichi spar. You’d enjoy that.” Yukina offered him a knowing smile. “They pair together nicely.”

 

“I didn’t know the old woman still partook.” Hiei raised his eyebrows.

 

“She doesn’t often.” Yukina acknowledged.

 

The room lapsed back into silence and it was comfortable. The two of them drank tea as Hiei pawed through the pages littering the floor. Yukina eventually left him, bidding him goodnight and reminding him to get some sleep if he could. But an idea struck Hiei between the eyebrows and his feet found the floor before he carried himself to the bookshelf.

 

Reclaiming his spot in front of the chair, he cracked open the old tome and scanned the table of contents in the front before flipping to the section that he needed.

 

Hiei had a lot of blind spots in his working knowledge of other breeds of demons. His facts were vague, the basics, enough to aid him in a fight. For instance, about wolf demons he knew not to get bit by them because their damn teeth could tear your flesh clear from your bones. But beyond that, and that they were quick footed creatures, he didn’t know much off the top of his head. Human world didn’t have wolf demons and neither did Alaric.

 

Human World did, however, have wolves and he suspected there would be some overlap.

 

So he read the section of the book about grey wolves. How they were a pack creature, generally in groups of five to eight but in ones as small as two. Only the alphas mated, the rest of the pack comprised of offspring normally. Adults all pitched in to care for the young. Their territories could range from a few hundred to a thousand miles in diameter. Wolves howled as a form of communication, to alert the pack of their location or to convey some warning. Each wolf had a distinctive howl, a unique voice.

 

Lone wolves, those who lost their pack by discharge or their own will, rarely howled. These wolves had a shorter lifespan as well.

 

He moved onto domesticated canines. He found these creatures too craved companionship. They were loyal as well. They also communicated in unique voices and had an array of barks with various meanings. Without socialization they could turn aggressive, shy or skittish. It was noted that domesticated canines could become depressed if they were denied proper companionship.

 

It must be difficult. To lose her family… Kurama’s words swam to the forefront of Hiei’s thoughts. Pursing his lips, the fire demon adjusted his position on the floor.

 

Some of her behavior was starting to make sense to him. Her protectiveness of Yukina. Her loyalty, as unfathomable as it was, to her foreign human friends, Yukina, Genkai. Her desire to aid Kuwabara, admittedly the weakest of their “pack”.

 

A wolf that had been displaced could be welcomed into a new pack. The pack had to be willing to take them in and the wolf had to be willing to accept.

 

Hiei continued reading until his eyes began to hurt and eventually, he haphazardly piled the papers back into their folder and left it on the floor. He wandered outside to find a tree and hoisted himself up into it on arms that were shakier than they should have been from his sparring match earlier. Grey light began to filter through the clouds and he groaned, closing his eyes and taking what rest he could for the moment as his thoughts whirled around a forming plan.

 

Dogs could be trained. They just needed a firm hand, bountiful rewards and immediate consequences. If he put his mind to it, he could get Shinpi to heed his commands. It would take time and breaking her of her stubborn attitude, but Hiei felt confident he could manage. How hard could it be? All he had to do was establish his dominance over the woman, then a routine.

 

He fell asleep smirking.

 


 

 

Hiei wandered back to the reading room sometime after the bustle of the morning had started in full. The tree he’d perched in had incessantly dripped water on his head, the leaves still slick with the earlier rain. He’d gotten very little sleep and his demeanor wasn’t done any favors by that fact. His patience was already absent when he jerked open the door and stepped inside to find the files he’d left cradled in delicate hands.

 

Shinpi lounged in the chair he’d posted against the night before, one of the manila folders in her careful fingers, one leg draped over the arm of the chair and the other pulled up to rest the file against. She didn’t spare him a glance as she read over the pages, turning them over with only the sound of the sheets brushing each other.

 

“What the hell are you doing?” Hiei demanded, marching over to her. He reached out to yank the file back but she offered it to him before he could. “This has nothing to do with you.”

 

“Perhaps you shouldn’t have left it out.” She lulled the statement.

 

Hiei looked at her again. She was being unusually languid this morning, looking far too relaxed in his presence. Where was the usual annoyance cast over her expression? Then he realized her eyes were shadowed with heavy bags.

 

“It’s not Hiro.”

 

Hiei frowned, raised his one eyebrow and tilted his head. “What isn’t?”

“The culprit.” She gestured to the file in his hand. A comprehensive list of missing persons that Kurama had brought along on his trek. There was a post-it note on the inside of the folder that listed possible suspects and Hiro’s name had been on the list.

 

Because in Spirit World she’d suggested him.

 

She’d been wrong.

 

“You’re looking for a small cluster of low level apparitions. Three or four, I would think based on the numbers. They must be in the city proper too, which might make it hard to find them. Scents tend to mingle and get washed away in the city. There’s just too much going on.” Shinpi remained in the seat.

 

Hiei eyed the file.

“What makes you so sure?”

 

“Not his type.” She answered with a frown. “Hiro craves power. He likes to prove himself and lord it over others. These people are too weak to catch his attention. He’d be more likely to target someone like Kuwabara.”

 

Hiei nodded, accepting the information.

 

“I’m not looking for anything. I’ve been too preoccupied here.” Hiei told her, tucking the file against his side, under his arm. “The team is handling this one.”

 

Shinpi squinted at the far wall, her mind at work. Chewing her lip in thought, she tipped her head back and moved her gaze to the ceiling.

 

“You don’t use your Jagan as much as I assumed you did.” She commented, still mostly in thought. “I had thought when you threw your tantrum about the wards that you’d be rifling through my thoughts constantly. And yet you haven’t.”

 

“Where is that coming from?” He asked her, then he walked closer and noticed the other file.

 

The one about her, that included her entire history. The one he’d been so dedicated to reading last night. The reason he hadn’t skulked outside until dawn had nearly broken and a large part of why he was so exhausted. It was there, closed, sitting in her lap.

 

Shinpi followed his line of attention. Then the left corner of her mouth quirked up, her fingers drumming over the file as her expression turned mildly devious.

 

“It’s Kurama’s.” Were the first words he could think to utter in his own defense, sure this was about to become an argument over invading her privacy.

 

“I’m aware. Him and I discussed it yesterday.” She told him, that same devious grin lilting on her face. “I would have thought you’d have done the research before becoming my guardian.”

 

Guardian? That didn’t seem right. Hiei scowled. That implied a far more altruistic reason for him dragging her here. Parole officer seemed to fit better, in his opinion. Warden.

 

“There wasn’t time.” Hiei pointed out. “I needed to make an assessment in the moment.”

 

“One that pointedly didn’t include my past life.” Shinpi pointed out. “Why is that?”

 

“Required too much energy and I knew the information was in Koenma’s books. Your previous memories are tightly guarded, it seems, and they also had little to do with the discussion. Your human life was up for question, not your former.”

 

“Ah.”

 

Hiei squinted at her, not quite glaring, merely assessing her befuddling amusement.

 

“Did the file shed light on anything for you?” She asked him lightly, toying with the open edge of the manila folder. “Any burning questions you need clarified?”

 

“No.” Hiei narrowed his eyes then. “I don’t know what it is, but you’re up to something.”

 

Her grin widened and then she slid off the chair, rolling to her feet and handed him the file as she passed him on the way out of the room.

 

“Yukina and I are walking Kurama to the train then going into town to do some shopping.” She announced. “Genkai has her own business today. Are you going to supervise us?”

 

Hiei thought about it. He saw no reason to go with them. Shopping wasn’t high on his list of preferred activities. But not going meant allowing Shinpi to wander off with Yukina. Would she come back on her own? Would she start trouble?

 

“I’ll think about it.” Hiei told her firmly.

 

“Alright. We leave in an hour.” She left him alone then, still confused and wondering what the hell she was up to.

 

Whatever it was, it wasn’t good. Especially not for him.

 

Hiei spun and left the room to hunt down Kurama. They hadn’t had much of a chance to speak since the fox had arrived. Leaving the sitting room meant he didn’t notice that Shinpi had replaced the books he’d been reading on their proper shelves. Which meant he hadn’t drawn the lines between her smile and the fact she knew he’d been brushing up on his understanding of domesticated canines and wild wolves.

 

Hiei walked off to find his ally to discuss the woman and her strange behavior. Ask some clarifying questions about wolf demons. Kurama was a fox, which was close enough.

 

Shinpi waited patiently, already plotting and preparing how to handle Hiei’s obviously grave misunderstanding of her. He thought he could treat her like a house pet? A dog? She couldn’t wait for him to begin. What would he do first? Pet her head? Offer her a treat? Get her a squeaky toy? Her delight was entirely nefarious because she intended to string Hiei’s misunderstanding along as long as she could.

 

Why? Because it would be fun.

 

Plus, in its own way, it was sort of charming that Hiei was putting in so much effort to try and understand her. It was more than she’d ever given him credit for. While it might be entertaining, it was also endearing.

 

Something she would deny with her dying breath.  

Chapter Text

It had been two weeks since Kurama’s last visit to the shrine. It seemed the mood had improved in some ways. He didn’t walk into an argument this trip at the very least. Instead, Hiei, Shinpi and Yukina were all settled into the kitchen. Yukina eyed Hiei with obvious concern mingled with curiosity, as if she couldn’t quite understand what it was he was doing. Shinpi, however, merely continued reading her book at the table while Hiei took a few bites of his own food before nodding at her.

 

“Eat.”

 

 Kurama raised his eyebrows at the curt demand. If possible, they rose higher when Shinpi obliged Hiei without condemnation for his tone. Placing a bookmark into the novel, she closed it and it set about eating. Hiei frowned, eying her plate.

 

“You have less meat than I do.” Hiei pointed out.

 

“Too much makes me feel sluggish.” Shinpi nodded at his statement. “I asked Yukina to offer more vegetables.”

 

“I asked her to give you more meat.” Hiei countered, eyes narrowing.

 

“Which is why it’s on your plate and not mine.” Shinpi responded breezily, not looking at him. Then her gaze flicked to Kurama but she said nothing.

 

“Just in time.” Yukina beamed at his entrance and offered him a plate of piping hot food immediately. “You must have taken the early train again.”

 

“Indeed.” Kurama nodded and took a seat next to Hiei while Yukina claimed the one beside Shinpi. He smiled at her, and she offered a tentative smile back. “How have you been?”

 

“Oh, you know, surviving.” She shot Hiei a look. “Barely.”

 

Hiei harrumphed, rolling his eyes. “Your stamina would increase if you’d eat more meat.”

 

Kurama had a feeling this was an ongoing conversation. How unusual for Hiei to be so adamant about someone else’s dietary choices, though.

 

“I was actually considering trying a raw diet. You know, fruits and vegetables and raw foods. I think it would help.” Shinpi interjected and then smiled at Kurama, luring him into the conversation. “What do you think, Kurama? Do you eat meat at every meal?”

 

“Not at all.” Kurama glanced at Hiei. “I think a diet heavy on vegetables would be fine.”

 

“She needs more protein.” Hiei glared at Kurama, his tone final.

 

Shinpi ducked her head to hide her smile. “I’m alright, Hiei. I had plenty for dinner. Ever since you spoke to Yukina, she’s made sure my meals are heavy on the animal and light on the -how did you put it?- bait. We’ve gone through enough beef in the last week to buy stock in a ranch.”

 

Hiei frowned at her.

 

“Too much protein can cause fluctuations in moods.” Kurama piped up. “While a certain amount is necessary to regulate hormone production, too much can actually have the opposite effect. Our Shinpi should listen to her body. If she says she needs less meat, then she needs less meat.”

Hiei shot Kurama a withering look when he said the word our something the fox didn’t miss. Then the fire demon’s scowl shifted to an expression of thought. Maybe Kurama was onto something with his idiotic speech.

 

“Hiei’s been very earnest about this new training regimen he’s placed me on, including the dietary portion. Unfortunately, he’s failed to take into account some of preferences. All that aside, it’s been fairly effective.” Shinpi offered to Kurama with a warm grin that lit up her cheeks and eyes. “He means well, but if you could help me convince him to stop shoving protein down my throat I’d be grateful.”

 

Kurama nodded and Hiei glared at them both before pursing his lips.

 

“I want to speak with you.” Hiei nodded toward the hall and Kurama sighed, taking his last bite before getting to his feet as Hiei left the room.

 

“Why are you being so indulgent?” Kurama asked the woman before following his friend down the hall.

 

“Keep watching.” She offered, finishing her food with a guarded smile.

 

Kurama frowned, puzzled, and followed in Hiei’s wake only to be drug into a room by his wrist a few steps later, the door thrown shut behind him. Hiei whirled to face him, speaking through his teeth.

 

“You need to convince Kuwabara to spend some time at the temple.” Hiei declared, seemingly resentful of having to even speak the words.

 

“He’d be delighted if you asked him.” Kurama pointed out dully.

 

“No. It needs to be mostly his idea.” Hiei frowned. “I think if I do it, she’ll know.”

 

“Who?”

 

“Shinpi, obviously. Keep up, Kurama.”

 

Kurama blinked, closed his eyes, inhaled, and opened them to stare at Hiei again. “Why does Kuwabara need to come here?”

 

“So Shinpi can develop a pack.” Hiei stated as if this were the most obvious thing in the world. Incredulous, he stared back at Kurama. “You said yourself losing her family contributed to her suicidal tendencies. Wolves need a pack. Kuwabara is a decent enough fit and it gets him out of our hair for a bit if she takes him in.”

 

“If he’s here, he’ll be right in your hair, Hiei.” Kurama pointed out, nearly amused. “What makes you think Shinpi will accept him as a packmate?”

 

“She likes him. She said so. And I saw the way she thought of him when we were headed toward her imposter. She finds him worth investing in.” Arms crossed over his chest, Hiei narrowed his eyes. “She needs something.”

 

“You’re taking your newfound responsibility seriously suddenly.” Kurama noted. “What happened? Did you two come to an understanding?”

 

Any hope Kurama had died with Hiei’s next words.

 

“A master needs to tend to their dog.” Hiei stated simply, nonplussed. No arrogance or malice in his tone. “As a wolf Shinpi requires certain things, and to get her to reach her potential, I need to make sure those things are supplied. That’s why I’ve taken over planning her training. To establish which of us in charge. I’ve had a few weeks to put it all together, but she hasn’t seemed to notice. She’s starting to follow my commands without barking about it.”

 

Ah.

 

AH.

 

Shinpi’s secret smile suddenly took on a tsunami of meaning for the fox. Keep watching, she’d said. Because she knew what Hiei was up to and was bearing it with humor. Kurama sighed, shoulders sagging as he shook his head slightly.

 

“Does Shinpi realize you think you’re her master?” Kurama dared to ask, almost fearing the response.

 

“It’s our dynamic. I’m in charge.” Hiei shrugged. “Whether she consciously realizes it or not, it’s what it is.”

 

“Wolves don’t have masters, Hiei. House pets do. Shinpi is a wolf, wild. She’s no more likely to obey a master than I am. If anything you’d be her alpha and honestly, I don’t see her responding to that very kindly.” The fox wasn’t even sure what this emotion he was feeling could be called. Humor? Concern? Bewilderment? Some mixture of amusement with a dash of knowing this wouldn’t end well.

 

“Dogs are descended from wolves. Some of their mannerisms are the same.” Hiei pointed out, a true point but not one that aided this argument.

 

“Is this why you’ve been bothering her about her food?” Kurama asked suddenly, green eyes glittering with laughter. “Because wolves are predators?”

 

“That and she bruises easily.” Hiei admitted.

 

“Iron deficiency aside, don’t you think she knows how to take care of herself? She’s been doing it for a while now without our interference.” The fox tipped his head to the side. “I’m also still confused on why you’re taking such an active part so suddenly.”

 

Hiei didn’t answer right away, his eyes darting to the side. It took a few moments of silence for him to find the words.

 

“I read her file.” Hiei explained, and it was obvious by how slow he spoke that each word was carefully chosen. “When Shinpi’s family was thriving, she was disastrously powerful. Her power seemed to decline when she became king. I want to fight the Shinpi who faced Mukuro’s armies, not the one who died at Hiro’s hands.”

 

Kurama stared.

 

And stared.

 

And stared.

 

Until Hiei finally growled at him to say something and the fox still remained quiet for a moment, collecting his own thoughts.

 

A knock at the door prevented him from the detailed admonishment he was about to offer his shorter friend for his selfishness. The door slid open and Shinpi looked at them, expression grim as her eyes glanced between their faces.

 

“You two have guests.” She announced, tone hard. Then her eyes settled on Hiei. “Looks like you’re helping with the case after all.”

 

Hiei glanced at Kurama, arching a single brow before they followed her out to the living room. Koenma and Botan waited. The Spirit Prince bore his teenaged form, pacifier clutched between his incisors. Botan wore a pair of jeans and a light colored tee, her fingers playing with the hem of her shirt.

 

“What are you doing here?” Hiei demanded of them the minute he saw them.

 

“More have gone missing.” Koenma told him quietly, looking quite serious. Brown eyes glanced over to watch Shinpi as she leaned against the wall, watching the room intently. “You don’t have to stay.”

 

“And yet I doubt you harbor the power to remove me.” She told him coolly, none of the jovial light from earlier remaining in her eyes. “I’ve been watching the news, Koenma. You’ve allowed this to continue for too long.”

 

“We’re stretched thin. The border patrols are meant to prevent this sort of thing.” Koenma tensed at her accusation.

 

“The minute you knew they weren’t enough you should have acted. Your hesitance cost lives.” Shinpi leveled him with such a cool glare that the Spirit Prince swallowed. “Because your ineptitude, a child has died.”

 

Hiei jerked his attention to the woman and the ice that entered her voice when she’d spoken her last sentence. Her body vibrated with tension, jaw tight, and her eyes held no mercy as they bore into Koenma. Kurama watched too, warily aware of why she would be responding so strongly to this news.

 

“I’ve been here for three weeks. Nearly half a week passed before your team agreed to bring to me the imposter. A week before that I confronted Kurama about his menacing shadow. A month ago. That was when I made a point to bring the missing persons to Kurama’s attention. When I walked in on a conversation about your team being on high alert. And yet, still, this tragedy occurred.” Shinpi went on, remaining against the wall mostly because if she got too close to Koenma she wasn’t sure what she’d do.

 

“There have been distractions.” Koenma stated pointedly, staring back at her with all his muster. “Dead demon kings making dramatic comebacks, for instance.”

 

She took a step toward him, teeth bared. “This is not on my hands, but I will happily go and handle this. Say the word, Koenma, and I will show you how I would manage such threats.”

 

“Enough.” Hiei spoke harshly, glaring at the woman. “This has nothing to do with you.”

 

Her fury turned to him and he glared back at her, not bothered. 

 

“Bureaucratic nonsense.” She spit at them all before reigning herself in through great effort. Seething, she crossed her arms over her chest and fell silent, but her fury was undeniable.

 

“What happened?” Kurama asked, entering the conversation. “When we spoke a few weeks ago, you said someone was looking into the situation based on Shinpi’s recommendation.”

 

“They did. They found nothing.” Koenma ran a hand through his hair and chewed on the tip of the pacifier. “Cold trails. The incidents stopped for nearly a week and then picked up. The tragedy Amon-Shinpi mentioned happened yesterday.”

 

Kurama hadn’t realized she’d been watching the efforts to fixatedly. He glanced at the woman and watched her glare daggers into Koenma. To her credit, she kept her lips pressed to tightly together the color bled from them.

 

“I had Yusuke look into this matter as well, given how close he is to it.” Koenma went on with his explanation. “He said he caught up to one of the perpetrators but they got away.”

 

“He let it go.” Shinpi’s words whipped through the room like ice shards in a storm. “Urameshi is more than capable of taking down a D-class demon.”

 

“Extenuating circumstances occurred, he had to make a choice. He made the right one. But it cost him the trail, there’s hasn’t been progress in days.” Koenma frowned at the woman. “That’s why I’m here. I’m hoping you two can meet with Yusuke and retrace his steps. Put an end to this.”

 

“I’m busy.” Hiei dismissed him immediately.

 

Shinpi tensed behind him, unnoticed.

 

“Kurama can go.” Hiei went on, oblivious to the ire he’d drawn toward himself.

 

Kurama, however, hadn’t missed the shift in Shinpi’s attention and caught her eye. With a scant shake of his head he silently begged her to control her temper. She stared at him, then glanced at Hiei, then settled back against the wall retracting the single step she’d taken.

 

“You’ll go.” Shinpi declared and the statement caused Hiei to turn to face her, bewildered. “If it helps make it worth your time, I’ll go with you.”

 

“I don’t need your help.” Hiei snapped at her. “Our time is better spent here, getting you-“

 

“You’ll see a side of me you’ve never seen if I manage to find these degenerates.” Shinpi cut him off, staring hard into his eyes. “What was you said? Make it worth your time? I’ll rip them into pieces and drop them at your feet if you take me with you.”

 

Botan and Koenma both paled at her words, but Hiei’s interest was piqued. He considered it.

 

“You’ll follow my orders.” Hiei told her firmly.

 

“Every command to heel and attack.” She assured him. “I’ll be the perfect pet, if you take me.”

 

The hint that if he refused she would be less than compliant seemed to whiz passed him, Kurama noted. Hiei was fixated on getting Shinpi into battle, into getting her to obey him he missed her unspoken threat entirely. The fox didn’t much care for that blindness. The fact Shinpi seemed to be relying on it bothered him more.

 

“Fine.” Hiei turned back to Koenma. “I’ll go and Shinpi will come with me.”

 

“No.”

 

Shinpi raised her eyes to Koenma, but her expression remained neutral. A mask carved into stone, revealing nothing of her inner workings.

 

“She’s too volatile. I’m afraid of the damage she’d cause.” Koenma explained when Hiei glared at him. “Besides, she’s not sanctioned by Spirit World, Hiei. She’s not an agent and we can’t vouch for her.”

 

“I can.” The quiet voice that entered the conversation brought all eyes to Yukina. “I’ll put my name on the line for Hichi’s character. She’ll work with Hiei and the others or I’ll suffer the consequences.”

 

Shinpi glanced at her, then back to Koenma but again remained silent.

 

“I don’t think so.” Hiei argued with Yukina. “If anyone is responsible for Shinpi’s behavior, its me.”

 

“Of the two of us, I’m the one she won’t disappoint.” Yukina told him calmly, no room for argument in her tone. “She will find a way to make this happen, with or without approval. It’s better to trust her instincts and allow her to participate. I trust Hichi with my life.”

 

The room remained quiet for a few seconds, no one moving intentionally but all eyes moving from Yukina to Shinpi, who accepted their gazes without flinching.

 

“I,” Botan swallowed her discomfort and pushed more steadiness into her voice, “I think Yukina is right. I think we should allow Shinpi to join the boys. She’ll never earn our trust if we never give her a chance to.”

 

Shinpi almost reminded them all that she didn’t give two shits about their trust, she just wanted to maim the demons responsible but bit back the response. It wouldn’t help her. If Yukina vouched for her, she’d have to be careful of how she responded. The ice maiden was right in her assumption that Shinpi wouldn’t do anything to bring her to harm. Her hands would be metaphorically bound and Hiei’s commands would carry more weight. A small fee, to get her what she wanted.

 

The blood of her enemies.

 

She never made promises she didn’t intend to keep. Hiei would surely see a new side of her if he allowed her to do what was necessary. She’d find the trail and she’d destroy the creatures responsible for this havoc.

 

No more mothers would cry because of them.

 

“Fine.” Koenma relented, looking thoroughly uncomfortable with doing so. “She can go. But if she harms any person or causes any unnecessary chaos, Yukina won’t be the only one paying the price.”

 

Hiei glared over his shoulder and Shinpi could practically feel the proverbial leash he held getting yanked tighter as his fist curled at his side. She met his hot gaze, and the warning therein, without any change in her expression. Let him wrap a choke-chain around her throat to keep her in line, she didn’t care.

 

“She’ll be on her best behavior.” Hiei announced and his tone clearly stated that if she wasn’t, Koenma wasn’t the one she needed to worry about. “Isn’t that right, Shinpi?”

 

“Sir yes sir.” She responded coolly. “You have my word.”

 

Kurama frowned at the edge in her eyes, the emptiness in her voice. For the first time he felt like they were glimpsing a bit of the demon underneath her layers of humanity and masks. And the demon residing in those guarded depths was relentless in her pursuits. Blue eyes moved over to meet his gaze, a spark lighting the cobalt. She knew he’d seen it, the break in her cover. It showed in the way her lips rose in a secret grin.

 


 

Hiei and Kurama walked side by side as if this were something they did every day. It surprised Shinpi, how naturally the fire demon slid into the bustle of the city. Her reports of him, the rumors, they had all indicated that Hiei lacked the ability to conform. Watching next to Kurama told a new story.

 

Hiei merely disliked the act of hiding himself in Human World, but he wasn’t incapable of it. His actions now dictated that he was more than willing to do what needed to be done if it meant meeting his goals.

 

She watched him from behind, mildly interested in this revelation. It had never occurred to her before that he’d go to such lengths to fit in. Not when he’d worn that demonic cloak and outfit at every encounter she’d had with him. So, had that been a display of his unwillingness to care about whatever had drawn him back into this world, or had it been a remark on him being thrust unprepared into the equation? She had never thought to ask.

 

Hiei’s bandaged arms were hidden under the long sleeves of a leather jacket. His t-shirt, plain black, matched his worn black jeans and abused combat boots. Despite the dark palette, his human attire didn’t stand out garishly against the backdrop of the bustling city. Even the white scarf tied around his head seemed natural, a display of some gang relation and not the sort of unusual bandaging that might drag attention to the unusual third eye marring his forehead.

 

“Keep up.” Hiei glanced over his shoulder at her, his tone a warning as his eyes narrowed slightly. “You’re falling behind.”

 

“A half step is hardly treason, Hiei.” Shinpi drawled the words, annoyed with this sudden guardian spirit seizing him. “I’m a big girl, I can handle myself.”

 

“I’m not concerned with your ability to fight. Don’t run off.” Hiei returned his gaze forward. “I don’t want to waste time chasing you.”

 

“It was my idea to come, I have no reason to run.” She reminded him quietly, her shoulder nearly pressing to the back of his as she appeared just behind him and Kurama.

 

Crimson irises slid over to her, then back forward.

 

“Yusuke is just ahead.” Kurama informed them both, a deep inhale explaining his statement. “Are you able to track our scents, Shinpi?”

 

Hiei frowned at the warmth in his tone.

 

Shinpi offered a singular nod in answer. “I’ve had them memorized for longer than you’ve known my name.”

An honest remark that made the fox chuckle. “I suppose I should’ve expected as much.”

 

“And yet, you continue to underestimate me.” She agreed coarsely. Then to Hiei, “I’ll do the tracking once we find the cold trail.”

 

“You’ll do what you’re asked.” Hiei shot back at her. “Nothing more or less.”

 

She pressed her lips together and glared at him.

 

“It’s not a commentary on your abilities, Shinpi. We’ve been a team for years, you’ll only get in the way if you aren’t directed properly.” Hiei explained lightly. “Being in the way compromises our goals.”

 

“Understood.” It made sense, but she still didn’t like it.

 

“Perhaps when we rendezvous with Yusuke, we can split into teams. I’ll go with Shinpi and you and Yusuke can follow your path.” Kurama offered with a smile. “We’ll cover more ground that way.”

 

“No.” Shinpi dismissed the idea with a frown. “It makes no sense for me to go with you. The two best trackers shouldn’t be together. One of us has to be Urameshi and the other with Hiei to have the best chance of success.”

 

Kurama raised his eyebrows at her, surprised by insistence. “You want to go with Hiei?”

 

“No.” She admitted with a grimace. “But I suspect that’s the way the dice will roll. Ah, there’s the detective.”

 

“Sup.” Yusuke lifted his chin in a nod toward them, a glower on his face as he leaned against the side of an alleyway. His eyes scanned over Shinpi, ten met Kurama’s. “Koenma seemed pissed about that.”

 

“It wasn’t a pleasant interaction.” Kurama agreed. “But I believe it’s for the best.”

 

“Shinpi’s a wolf. It’ll help to have her nose.” Hiei added, glancing around. “Where did you lose them?”

 

But Shinpi had already started to walk into the alley, eyes heavy lidded as she inhaled the mingle of scents. Unusual. Closing her eyes entirely she crouched down and ran her fingers over the ground, raising them to her nose. Frowning, she fell onto her palms and knees, leaning her face close to the ground.

 

“You really look like a dog with you do that.” Hiei remarked, amused, at her side. “Maybe I should get you a collar with tags informing people who to return you to.”

 

She scowled at him, opening her eyes. “They were here.”

 

“How do you know?” Yusuke demanded. “Have you met them before?”

 

Shinpi stood up and looked over her shoulder at him, clearly annoyed by his accusation. “Because it smells like sewage. They’re using the tunnels under the city.”

 

He glanced at Kurama and Hiei, who each took a turn looking at the woman then back to the detective. “You seem sure about that.”

 

“Am I being suspected of something?” She demanded, turning to face him with a frown. “Because I deserve to know if I am. I came to find the one’s responsible for these acts. You need me for that, but I don’t need you.”

 

At her words, Yusuke laughed. A true sound, no bitterness, and he grinned at her with a shake of his head. Hiei frowned at him, then rolled his eyes and Shinpi got the impression this was a common quirk of the detective’s.

 

“Her convictions are steadfast.” Hiei remarked dryly. “Are you done?”

 

“Yeah, I’m done. Just checking.” Yusuke shrugged off the wall and sauntered over to Shinpi. “Alright newbie. Once we’re in there, will you be able to find them?”

 

“It’ll depend.” She admitted. “It won’t happen all at once, if that’s what you’re asking. But given time, yes, I’ll be able to find them.”

 

“Sounds good to me.” Yusuke slapped a hand onto her shoulder and ducked his head close to hers. “Lead the way your majesty.”

 

No one missed the sudden tension ringing through the woman at his jibe. Shinpi stiffened, eyes darting over Yusuke’s form and face, before she let all expression drain away from her. Back to her stony mask, she tilted her head and started walking, taking point of the group. But the tension remained in her shoulders, easily seen through her light grey t-shirt. 

 

“How’s she been?” Yusuke lowered his voice and trailed behind with Hiei, eyes glued to the woman’s back. “Is she always this easily rattled?”

 

“Rattled isn’t the right word.” Hiei shrugged, his voice quiet as well. “Something about this case is personal to her. I thought she was going to attack Koenma over it. Her training has been going decently. She’s following the regimen I designed for her, at least.”

 

“She doesn’t have kids does she?” Yusuke joked but the comment gave Hiei pause, his forehead wrinkling as the fire demon thought about it. “It’s a joke Hiei. We know she doesn’t have kids.”

 

“I know.” Hiei shot back, tersely. “She did seem particularly bothered by the death of the child involved though. It’s possible she has some affiliation with children. Maybe another piece of her wolf demon heritage? I read that all members of a pack are responsible for the safety of the pups.”

 

“That’s neat. So if any of us have kids we know they’ll be safe with Auntie Shinpi.” Yusuke laughed from his belly. “Imagine her finding out your kid is getting bullied. Oh man. That’d be a trip.”

 

“Don’t do that.” Hiei glared daggers at Yusuke.

 

“Do what, make jokes?”

 

“Don’t get attached to her.” Hiei stated coldly. “She’s not on our side, Detective. She has no desire to be on our side. You’re setting yourself up for disappointment.”

 

“Hey, as long as she’s with us, she’s one of us.” Yusuke shot back, his tone growing hot. “Maybe if you weren’t such a brooding dick all the time, she’d be on our side by now.”

 

“If you wanted someone charming, you should have decided to put Kurama in charge of her.” Hiei huffed, crossing his arms over his chest.

 

“We didn’t decide shit. You took this on, all on your own. That makes it your job to win her over. So stop being an ass and start treating her like she’s a member of the team. Captain’s orders, short stop.” Yusuke shot a half-hearted glare to the fire demon. “She’s got no one, Hiei. No one. You remember what’s that like, don’t you? Have some empathy.”

 

“She did it to herself.” Hiei ground out. “I’m not about to coddle her because you want a new plaything.”

 

“Oh yeah, I’m the one who wants to her use as a prop for my training.” Yusuke deadpanned and Hiei bristled.

 

The sound of metal scraping against concrete drug their attention away from their conversation, barbs poised to fly from both tongues. Turning, they saw Shinpi standing beside the open manhole, eyebrows raised as she regarded them.

 

“This prop is doing your job for you.” She told them both, no inflection in her tone to indicate how she might have interpreted their conversation. “If it weren’t Yukina’s name on the line, I would leave you both here and handle this alone. As it stands, I unfortunately have to heed your commands, so please stop your argument.”

 

“You have heed commands anyway.” Hiei shot back at her with a glare. “It’s in your nature.”

 

Her cool stare back didn’t hide the sudden fire in her eyes. Instead of responding she gestured to the entrance to the sewer with her left hand.

 

“Without a map we’ll need to be cautious. We don’t want to get separated.” Kurama cut into the conversation, sidling up to Shinpi. Despite his soft words, he looked entirely disapproving of the conversation he’d interrupted.

 

“If we do, I’ll just whistle.” Hiei huffed, glaring at Shinpi before being the first to jump down into the hole. “That’s what your kind respond to, isn’t it?”

 

“Hiei!” Kurama’s mouth fell open, but the fire demon was gone. Turning to Shinpi he frowned. “I’m sorry he’s-“

 

“It’s fine.” Shinpi cut him off, staring at the hole. Yusuke went next, looking between them with a frown of his own. After he went in she raised her eyes to Kurama and the mask broke slightly. “He doesn’t know, Kurama. I haven’t corrected him.”

 

“Why are you letting him insult you?” Kurama asked quietly, a cool thread of anger in his voice. “As a wolf, I imagine this is particularly frustrating for you.”

 

“It’s frustrating because he doesn’t understand, but I’m not actually insulted by him calling me a dog. I’ve never seen the point in elitism of species that way.” She sighed and eyed the hole. “Hiei doesn’t know that what he’s doing could be considered vulgar. I almost don’t want to give him the power of that knowledge. Any other demon and I would take offense, but for Hiei, right now, this is him trying.”

 

Then she jumped into the hole and Kurama followed quickly, allowing the four of them to reconvene. Yusuke was loudly complaining about the stench, fingers pinching his nose as he gagged. Eventually he pulled his shirt up over the bottom half of his face, glaring into the darkness around them.

 

“This is gross.” He whined. “Can you really smell anything?”

 

In poor timing Shinpi started coughing, the harshness of all the grotesque scents too much for her to take in at once. Trying to force herself to breath tears pricked at her eyes and she wiped at them furiously, then at the base of her nose as she tried to focus on the task at hand. Taking a deep breath she tried to just plunge herself into the overwhelming mixture of smells and it was an immediate mistake. She wretched the side of them, doubling over in the burning pain of being sensorially assaulted.

 

“Yo.” Yusuke’s eyes widened and he glanced worriedly at Kurama. “Is she okay?”

“Unlikely that she is.” Kurama frowned and he walked over to Shinpi, rubbing her back in light circles.

 

“Shinpi’s nose is almost as sharp as Kurama’s. Maybe they’re the same.” Hiei pointed out to Yusuke wit his own frown. “Our senses of smell aren’t even close. This is disgusting to me, but it must be nearly torturous to them.”

 

“Go back up, both of you. Hiei and I will handle this.” Yusuke ordered and nodded at the fire demon.

 

“No. I can help.” Shinpi wiped at her mouth with the back of her hand, her breathing ragged as she straightened. Looking far more harried than any of them had scene from her, she wiped her palms on her jeans. “It just takes a second to adjust to everything.”

 

“Yusuke’s right. You should go back, there’s nothing down here worth damaging your senses over.” Hiei started firmly.

 

“No.” Shinpi repeated, planting her feet firmly. “I’m coming with you.”

 

They stared at each other for a long second, the moment stretching thin until Hiei narrowed his eyes and then nodded.

 

“Don’t slow us down.” He warned her.

 

“Tch. I should be worried about you slowing me down.” She stomped around him and Yusuke to take point again. “This way.”

 

Yusuke chuckled at their defiant new ally, and Hiei himself smirked at her back. “Don’t get too far ahead, Shinpi.”

 

“What, have you forgotten my leash?” Shinpi shot back at the fire demon and the joke make his smirk widen.

 

“I prefer using voice commands, you know that. But I suppose I could fashion a lead if you’re feeling uncooperative.” Hiei drawled back and she rolled her eyes to the front again.

 

There was the distinct mutter of her calling him an ass. In the dark tunnels their footsteps and voices echoed off the rounded walls. While they walked Kurama assessed Shinpi and Hiei, hands in his pockets as he played over their interactions. She was correct, it didn’t seem that Hiei was trying to be rude or insulting the bulk of the time. He simply didn’t understand the inherent differences of dogs and wolves. But she played into his ill-formed ideas, bantering with him with misleading jibes. And for Hiei to try to send her back, knowing they could use her help, it was a sign that he was actually trying to do what was best. In his own misguided way, Hiei was trying to take care of Shinpi.

 

He just didn’t really know what the hell he was doing, the fox decided.

 

Shinpi lifted her face, eyes closing as she inhaled in short sniffs. In the back of her mind she was humorously aware that Hiei was right, she did look like a dog when she behaved this way. It was hard to avoid, really, at least she didn’t have the ears and tail to go with the look at the moment. Extending her right hand out in front of her, she dipped her chin down and allowed the barest inkling of her energy swim outward. The air in the tunnels was still, dank and malicious, but it answered her call just as it should. Taking a moment to pull drafts from each of their available paths, they’d come to a four-way split in the tunnels, she assessed the scents on each wisp of air brought back to her until she found an anomaly worth pursuing.

 

Turning left, she followed the bend in the path and continued to drag the scents toward her to help keep them pointed toward their goals.

 

Then she stopped, the sudden inaction forcing Yusuke and Hiei to bump into her from behind.

 

“They’re here.” She whispered, body tensed to the point of shaking.

 

“Who?” Hiei demanded, reaching for his sword.

 

But a laugh answered him before Shinpi could. Sloshing of water around large legs and feet and the muffled, fearful whines of a piteous creature unable to escape it’s gruesome fate. Even in the darkness the team could see well enough, their demonic senses picking through the shadows with ease as the demon rounded the next bend. A small being hung from its meaty hand, the face captured by the demon’s palm as the body of the child was drug carelessly through the water.

 

Shinpi’s aura spiked without warning, the sudden and heavy scent of rain filling the sewer and coating the men around her in the breeze of her energy. Her breathing went shallow, nostrils flaring as her eyes glared into the face of this interloper. And then her gaze glanced at the child in his grip, the one who was crying and sniffling and yet trying so hard to be quiet.

 

Trying desperately to appease the monster so he could survive.

 

“You came to the wrong tunnels.” The demon laughed again, the sound echoing in grating waves off the stone sides of the sewer. “Have you come looking for a snack?”

 

“We came for you.” Shinpi remained still. “How many are there?”

 

“Why don’t you come with me and find out?” The demon grinned at her, a nefarious expression marring its features as pointed teeth bared themselves. Then he inhaled and his eyes widened. “You smell lovely. So clean.”

 

“Is that the same child?” Shinpi asked her question with ease, unbothered by the hungry leer raking over her form.

 

“Yes, he’s old. He’ll lose his freshness. I was going to find another when I heard footsteps.” The demon lifted the child by the face and squeezed its thick fingers so that the boy cried out. “Are you hungry?”

“Let him go.” Her demand stilled the demon, even as easily as it fell from her lips. “We both know that child won’t satisfy your hunger. Besides, I’m sure I will be far more appetizing. You said it yourself, I smell lovely.”

 

“Shinpi.” Hiei hissed at her.

 

“Shut up.” She muttered back.

 

“I’ll go with you.” Shinpi opened her hands in an easy gesture and it was that movement that brought attention to the fact her aura had disappeared again. The scent of rain lingered, cleansing the air, but the thrill of power was gone. “Seems a fair trade, doesn’t it?”

 

“I am pretty hungry.” The demon agreed. “And you do seem like you’d taste delicious.”

 

“So we have a deal-“

 

Shinpi’s eyes widened, along with the others as the demon raised the boy up and bit off his left arm in one quick motion.

 

“But I think I’m hungry enough for both.” He grinned at her with blood coating his teeth and spraying over his face as the boy screamed.

 

There was no stopping her. It all happened so fast that Kurama and Yusuke were left in stillness as Shinpi lurched forward with such speed that even Hiei didn’t see her move at first. Her strike revealed the knives she’d strapped to her ankle, hidden under pants. The kunai bit into the demon’s right eye, then Hiei’s sword severed through the arm below the elbow, the demon’s screams echoed by the splash of grey water as the appendage fell. Shinpi snatched the child from the useless fingers.

 

Her energy swam to the surface in a rush of green light, her hands cradling the child to her chest and one pressing against the ruined stub of his arm. The light flowed with warmth into him, stilling the bleeding as the jagged wound began to scab. The child’s cries died away as his eyes rolled into his head, the pain and shock of it all too much for him to endure as he passed out.

 

Kurama ran to her, backpack already slung open as he began to search for the limited medical supplies he always kept handy. The roll of gauze did little more than offer a layer of protection to the open skin and meat of the child’s arm.

 

“You have to take him to a hospital. I’m not skilled enough to repair this in its entirety. He’ll need blood.” Shinpi spoke earnestly, helping Kurama wrap the wound. “The risk of infection is too great as well.”

 

“What are you going to do?” Kurama demanded as she shoved the boy into his arms, the green light fading to nothing when their contact broke. She closed his backpack for him and slid the strap over his shoulder.

 

“What I volunteered for. I’m going to find the rest of them and destroy them.” Shinpi informed him with such heated malice that the fox had to blink. “Go.”

 

He nodded and fled back the way they’d come. Hiei glanced back at Kurama, deflecting a strike from the demon who yowled before them.

 

“Go with him!” Shinpi urged. “He’ll need your help getting back!”

 

Then Yusuke raised his finger, tip glowing blue, and the demon scrambled away. It tripped in the water then fled down the tunnels. Yusuke and Shinpi looked at each other and nodded, tearing after it. Neither was concerned with the grey water destroying their shoes or pants.

 

Hiei hesitated to follow them, not wanting to leave either of them to face this threat, but Shinpi’s words echoed in his head like they had off the tunnels. Growling, he spun and hastened after Kurama. She was right, the fox would need him to guide them back through the tunnels after they managed the child. Yusuke and Shinpi were strong enough to face a small group of apparitions, he had to remember that.

 

Yet it didn’t ease the sense of distrust he had for the idea or the mild anxiety gnawing at his guts.

 

Shinpi had proved herself capable of fighting. Yusuke was an S-class. They’d be fine. Hiei repeated the words silently. But every time he did the same question threatened his train of thought, even as he caught up to Kurama and they hurried to the nearest hospital.

 

If they were going to be fine, then why did it feel like he’d just abandoned them?

 

Chapter Text

Yusuke watched Shinpi loosely, observing her tactics as she tipped her head from side to side eying the tunnels sprawled before them. So many junctures. They’d lost their foe and she was determined to find him again. Find all of them, she’d muttered. But for now they were alone, tracing the veins in the underbelly of the city with their sopping shoes and ruined clothes.

 

He could see the appeal to her, he guessed. Though he didn’t quite understand Hiei’s thought process. Sure, Shinpi seemed strong enough. She’d moved nearly as fast Hiei back at the beginning and watching someone whip out healing powers was surreal. He’d never seen a demon heal other than Yukina. But beyond that she hadn’t displayed enough power to be called interesting. Hiei insisted there was something under the surface, Kurama had relayed as much to the rest of the team.

 

What was the short stop seeing that he wasn’t?

 

Shinpi glanced at him over her stiff shoulders, one eye raking down him with evident distaste for what she found. In the darkness her eyes seemed nearly black. Yusuke stared back, gauging her as well.

 

“Am I not performing to your satisfaction?” The words lacked emotion, an empty question from an empty source.

 

“Why do you talk like that?” Yusuke asked her, frowning. “You’re so formal and stuff. But every now and then you act like a normal person.”

 

She didn’t answer him, instead choosing to study the paths before them. In a quick movement she was walking again, having chosen their course in some strange divination Yusuke couldn’t quite pinpoint. That was annoying too. How was she guiding them through the tunnels? He snorted.

 

“Jeez, no wonder Hiei likes you. You two act the same.” Yusuke huffed. Then he raised his voice in a poor imitation of both demons, apparently. “I’m a demon and I don’t care about people. I’m better than everyone around me. I have secrets, oooooooh.”

 

That got him no response so he went on.

 

“You know, I was a king too. We’re on the same level, so you don’t get to act high and mighty with me.”

 

“Didn’t you quit?” Shinpi asked him, eyebrow raised as she came to a stop.

 

Yusuke glared off to the side.

 

“It wasn’t an accusation, but you did, didn’t you? I sort of envy you for that. I always wished I could quit.” Shinpi sighed heavily and then looked around them. “Why are you trying to talk to me?”

 

“Why wouldn’t I?”

 

“Hiei says I’m a dog. He treats me,” She frowned and tried to pick the right word, “like I’m a pet project. I can’t imagine what interest you might have in me.”

 

“Kurama talks to you.”

 

“Kurama understands more than the rest of you.”

 

That put an end to that particular line of arguing. Yusuke unsettled his gelled hair with a comb made of his fingers. Then he rested his attention back on the woman with me.

 

“Hiei was right you know, you shouldn’t get attached to me. I’m not one of the demons who wants to bolster your ranks, Urameshi. I have my own goals and your team is just a means to an end. I’m not here to make friends.” She gestured to him loosely. “It’s admirable that you’re attempting to reach out, but it’s a useless venture. Besides. I’m not the type of person you want to associate with.”

 

“Why’s that?” He wondered, but the way he lulled the words made it seem like he had the answer.

 

She didn’t answer him, instead choosing to remain still for a few moments, debating how to proceed with the conversation. Yusuke breezed past her, hands in his pockets. He’d lead the way until they came up to their next set of choices then he’d let her talk to the spirits or whatever it was that she was doing.  Shinpi followed him a few steps behind, her footsteps barely making a sound while his crunched and sloshed in sloppy echoes.

 

“Look. The thing is that we know.” Yusuke sighed, twisting around to watch her reaction to his words. “Koenma, Kurama, and me. We all know you killed your human father. And we know that Hiei knows too, and that he chose not to tell us for some reason. I guess I’m just hoping that reason is because you’re worth protecting.”

 

“I can assure you, nothing Hiei does for me is for my protection.” Shinpi frowned, glaring ahead of them. “His actions are selfishly driven, always. I meant it when I told you that you wouldn’t be able to stop him. I’ve been on the receiving end of the attentions of those like him before.”

 

“You can’t really be comparing him to Hiro.” Yusuke stopped her, pulling on her arm to bring her to face him.

 

“Hiro?” Shinpi blinked up at him, surprised. “Of course not. Hiro and Hiei are nothing alike. Even my rage isn’t so blinding, Urameshi. Give me some credit. I meant he’s just like Mukuro.”

 

“Mukuro?”

 

“Ruthless.” Shinpi nodded and exhaled, deflating with the action. “Persistent. Dominant. Powerful. Loyal, until he won’t be. They are quite similar. As my grandfather would have said, they are souls stitched from the same cloth. I’ve known Mukuro for over a century and no amount of gossip will convince me that she’s softened her edges.”

 

Yusuke searched her face, then dropped his hand from her upper arm. Tilting his head, he continued to look her over.

 

“At any rate, even if he were the type to coddle, Hiei wouldn’t find anything worth protecting in me.” Shinpi shook her head and continued to pick their path through the aged sewer tunnels. “A murderer, a liar by default, a coward. I’m surprised he could stomach the idea of me long enough to let me live at all.”

 

“Psh. Stomach. Are you kidding me? I’ve never seen Hiei lie to keep someone alive before. He told us that the common thread he saw in you was your need to protect others.” Yusuke shoved his hands into his pockets and grinned at her, an expression so carelessly bright that she felt the need to avert her eyes. “He called you a coward with honor. That’s a compliment coming from him.”

“I’ll still my quickened pulse.” Shinpi rolled her eyes. “As similar as they are, Hiei lacks Mukuro’s delicate tongue.”

 

“You got pretty familiar with Mukuro’s tongue, hmm?” Yusuke leered at her, wiggling his eyebrows.

 

Shinpi smirked at him, refusing to say anything. It left him in her wake, mouth gaping open as he tried to decipher her silence.

 

“Wait, I was joking. Did you and Mukuro really… I mean… Is Mukuro?” He swallowed. “Are you?”

 

“I’m many things, Detective. You’ll have to be clear with your questions.” Shinpi teased him lightly, her tone so flippant he couldn’t make heads or tails of the answer.

 

“Kurama said you were a good fighter. I’m sort of jealous Hiei has you all to himself. Fighting ancient demons is sort of my jam.” Yusuke glanced at her. “Maybe sometime you and I can spar.”

 

She stopped and stared at him, scouring his face. “All of you seem insistent that Hiei is the one in control here. It’s my body and my training, no matter what he thinks of himself. If you want to spar with me, then spar with me.”

 

“I like hearing that.” Yusuke grinned at her, every bit the feral child he’d always been.

 

“Besides, if he sees me fighting you, it’ll drive him crazy. I like to find new ways to annoy him.” Shinpi winked at Yusuke with a grin of her own. “He’s sort of cute when he gets frustrated, don’t you think?”

“Homicidal comes to mind way before cute.” Yusuke laughed. “You’re pretty cool.”

Her smile lightened, softening on the edges and finally reached her eyes. It was a subtle change that made him realize that their previous exchanges had been more acts than natural reactions. This, though, this seemed like she was offering a real piece of herself. But then her eyes darted to the side, narrowing and she slid into a fighting stance as easily as breathing.

 

The growl that tore from her throat preceded three demons launching at them from the darkness beyond their path. Shinpi shook her head slightly and launched forward, jump kicking the first and spinning through the air to grasp a second by the shirt. Yusuke lingered back, hands still in his pockets as he watched her fight on her own. His eyes widened as her movements seemed to slow, her left fist pulling back as her right palm rose with fingers splayed. She caught the fist of an attacker and then used it to spin it into one of its comrades, the action launching her back through the air into a kick that took the third to the ground.

 

The air in the tunnel shifted, sliding around her ankles as Shinpi slid back on the balls of her feet. Running forward again, she kneed the largest of their attackers in the jaw. Her legs wrapped around its neck after the movement, her hands slamming against its temples so hard it’s eyes bulged. One, two, three strikes to the face and it went down with a resounding thud against the stone path they followed. A succession of quick strikes to the next one’s back rendered it unable to even cry for help, and the last fell hard with a kick to the back of its head.

 

Yusuke let out a whistle, long and loud, eyebrows raised. “Damn, you’re a maniac Shinpi.”

 

Okay, so maybe Hiei’s attentions were well-placed. And maybe Kurama was right to ask Yusuke to reach out to Shinpi since Hiei seemed to avoid it at all costs. She could be a real asset to their team, fighting like that.

 

“I sort of get why Hiei doesn’t want to share. I bet you give him a run for his money.” Yusuke clicked his tongue and grinned at her, offering a harmless finger gun. “But you and me have a date, right? You, me and some good ole fashioned getting-to-know-you fist fighting.”

 

“Sure.” She nodded, a careful smile in place. “I’ve been hoping to fight you for a while, actually. I want to see if I measured your fighting style correctly. But when you come to the temple, bring Kuwabara. If you don’t, I won’t pay any attention to you.”

 

“You got a thing for that idiot or?” Yusuke raised his eyebrows.

 

“He reminds me of someone I used to know.” Shinpi shrugged. “I think he has raw potential, I’d like to polish it.”

 

“You sound like you’d like to polish something of his alright.”

 

“Lewd.” Shinpi flattened her expression. “I’m not attracted to Kuwabara.”

 

“Got the hots for Kurama? Can’t blame ya. He gets all the attention.” Yusuke nodded, teasing her with a grin as he leered over her.

 

“Kurama would be a more attractive prospect than say, you for instance.” Shinpi agreed with her own smartelic smile. “But no, I’m not romantically interested in Kurama.”

 

The rounded a corner and Yusuke’s next suggestion was lost in the pained grunt he offered when metal bat collided with the side of his head. Shinpi jumped back, feet sliding in the water as she tensed herself to spring forward but the bat remained poised over Yusuke’s groaning figure by the demon beside him. Two more approached her from the front, her fists curled and she remained poised to fight, but made no move to.

 

“What’s the matter doggy, can’t attack without a command?” One of the demons laughed, the grating sound rubbing off the stones of the tunnel.

 

“Lower the bat.” Shinpi demanded, eyes narrowed.

 

“If you insist.” The demon bared his teeth and Yusuke grunted again as the bat dropped around the side of his face.

 


 

Hiei paced the hall of the hospital with his hands behind his back, earning alarmed glances from the nurses and staff as they milled about. Waiting for Kurama to finish his conversation with the human police was a waste of his time. He could have just stayed behind with the others.

 

Another pang of anxiety wracked through his innards and he bit back against it, eyes narrowing.

 

Yusuke was a powerful demon. The strongest of them all, really, there was honestly no reason to worry about him. But the sense of something going wrong continued to eat at Hiei’s nape and stomach, a disgusting parasite burrowing into his being. He hated this feeling. He needed to trust Yusuke. He needed to remember that through the years, Yusuke had fought valiantly for others a lot less worthwhile than Shinpi.

 

The aggravating feeling persisted, growing worse when he thought of the woman. Why? Shinpi was decently capable of defending herself. She’d held her own against him twice, hadn’t she? Of course that was without him using his energy. And it was a solo fight.

 

Not against demons who wanted to kill her. Not against multiple attackers. Not in the dark, sequestered and unable to seek help if she needed it.

 

He shook his head and glared at the door as it opened, his hands falling to his sides as Kurama came out, looking exhausted.

 

“I think that worked.” Kurama kept his voice low. “But I have more to do here and I’d like to contact Koenma.”

 

“How long is that going to take?” Hiei growled at him. “While we’re up here wasting time-“

 

“I agree.” Kurama lifted a hand to cut off Hiei’s rant. “You should go back. You’ll be more useful there anyway.”

 

An honest statement if there ever was one. Hiei was useless at this bureaucratic nonsense that humans seemed to love to indulge in. He had no patience for paperwork or length, detailed accounts of events. This was a task tailor made for the fox.

 

Without a goodbye he darted from the building, glad to be moving again. The pale walls of the hospital had felt suffocating as he’d grown more and more restless. Racing through the streets, a sentient shadow, it relieved some of that tension. But it didn’t appease the frustrating anxiety. No, he imagined he’d have to see the woman and the detective alive and well before that went away.

 


 

Yusuke groaned, reaching forward before falling mostly into the grey water, arm extended toward Shinpi as the demons cackled above her, one of them clawing a hand around her throat, another fisting her hair, the last leering into her face. He tried to call her name, to offer some assurance that he was still there but the words couldn’t get passed his swollen lips. Another groan and he managed to lift his head, his left elbow finding ground under his shoulder to support his weight.

 

“Hiei’s dog, do you think she can do any tricks?”

 

“I bet she’ll do whatever we tell her too.”

 

“Sit up like a good pet.”

 

“Maybe she’ll beg.”

 

“Oh she’ll definitely beg.”

 

They yanked on Shinpi’s hair, kicking her legs until her knees buckled under her. Gritting her teeth she kept quiet, glaring up into their hideous faces.

 

“Ah, looks like Hiei might not have done so well training her.” One of them remarked.

 

“Keep up that snarling and your master will have to find a new pet.” The leader growled, then he forced her lips into a smile, his dirty fingers pulling at her cheeks and mouth. “That’s better Fido.”

 

A flash of teeth followed by a scream of shock and pain. A spray of blood, the color muted to shiny black in the low light of the sewer as it streaked over Shinpi’s chin and cheek. She spit the finger she’d bitten off of the demon to the side, eyes narrowed. He screamed profanities, grabbing his injured hand to stimy the flow of blood from his severed thumb.

 

“You should know its rude to tell a woman to smile.” Shinpi remarked coldly. “And I am not the Jaganshi’s pet.”

 

Her words brought the leader’s attention back to her. Without hesitation he struck he across the face, the back of his wounded hand catching her against the cheekbone.

 

Her head barely turned from the impact.

 

Yusuke inhaled sharply when it did, her narrowed gaze completely visible to him for the first time. Here in the dim underground, her usually cobalt eyes shone like black embers. And the fire filling them wasn’t the sort people used to keep themselves warm at night. Not even close.

 

He’d seen that murderous glint before. Once in Kurama’s gaze, when he faced the Elder Toguro before they squared off with Sensui. Many more times it had flitted through Hiei’s eyes. But on Shinpi it startled him.

 

It had been so easy to forget what she was when she smiled and snarked with Hiei.

 

But the woman was a demon, through and through.

 

He shouldn’t have let himself forget, not even for a moment. He was just happy that the darkness in her expression wasn’t meant to strike his core with fear. When she turned to her captors it was without flourish or grandeur. Her words fell out as cool statements of fact. Her movements precise and unforgiving.

 

A force of nature taking its course.

 

She put one foot under her, allowing her to come to a kneel while the other two demons kept their grips tight on her throat and hair, each of them claiming one of her slender wrists in their meaty palms. Their thick fingers did little to contain her as she continued to stand, jerking herself free with head tall and grace lining each movement. Even stained as she was with muck and grime, she radiated a feral sense of pride. Her left arm came loose first, allowing her to slam the palm into the demon on her right’s sternum. The grip on her throat abated immediately, angry claw marks marring the skin there as the demon flew to the side.

 

The wall of the tunnel cracked and bowed under the impact of his weight before he slunk into the water.

 

Her right arm now free, she reached back and wrapped it around the wrist of the hand in her hair, pulling it close before her other elbow bit into the demon’s nose, then his diaphragm. His hand spasmed and he released her, crumbling behind her like a paper house.

 

“I allow the Jaganshi to think he has control of me because it entertains me. I can assure you, he holds no actual love for me.” Shinpi rolled her shoulders, then flexed her hands getting the circulation to move correctly after her awkwardly held position from before. “More importantly I am not, nor have I ever been, a damsel in distress. An unfortunate oversight on your part.”

 

“Shut the hell up!” He flashed toward her, and the water sloshed with his movements. “You’re just a human pet! I’m not scared of you!”

 

She dodged under is assault easily, bobbing and weaving before her hand came up and clawed around his larynx. She drug him close to her and inhaled by his cheek, her lips pulling back to reveal a vicious smile as she threw him away from her.

 

“I was willing to play along with you until you struck Urameshi.” Shinpi explained, sardonic amusement painted over her face. “You forced my hand, I’m afraid.”

 

“What are you?” The demon scrambled back, trying to put space between himself and Shinpi as she remained still, regarding him with skepticism.

 

Her eyes moved up to the ceiling of the tunnel they’d trapped themselves in. Tilting her head, she mused how to answer him. No telling who might be eavesdropping around the bends and twists of this labyrinth of filth.

 

“An apex predator.” She finally responded and bared her teeth again, the left side of her grin lifting farther than the right. “A natural disaster. Oh, darling, I’ve gone by so many names over the years. Perhaps you’ll scream a new one while you tell me what’s happened to the rest of the humans.”

 

He locked his jaw.

 

She didn’t seem to notice or care as she stalked toward him, her gaze a shot in the dark that froze his movements as she looked down her nose at him. In the shadows this way, he thought he saw fangs in the row of her teeth. Her nails looked longer, sharper and the expression she offered left nothing human to her features.

 

The demon screamed before she ever got the first hit in, rousing his comrades from their stupors. They rushed Shinpi from behind and she laughed, kicking the leader in the face before spin kicking the second in the neck. The third she punched under the chin. They regained their feet quickly and with his numbers in his favor, the leader got to his feet too.

 

Shinpi smirked, one hand raising. The water around all their legs and Yusuke’s body began to crest into small waves as if disturbed into movement. The air grew thicker, nearly a physical weight to it. With a twist of her body, she cut a kick toward the largest of them and his arm severed as an arch of wind slashed through the appendage as it thought held no more substance than gauze. Throwing her hand down into the water, it bowed then swelled, following her arm up in tendrils that surrounded her.

 

Whipping the lashes of water at the demon with the missing arm he shouted as he was drug into the increasing depths. Bubbles formed where he’d been submerged, the signs of a struggle that ended quickly.

 

Yusuke forced himself to sitting, the water creeping up to his chest. The increased volume slowed the other two demons but not Shinpi herself. She spun and ducked as if nothing had changed, the tendrils now gone as she blocked the physical strikes aimed at her face with her arms. He couldn’t get the warning on his tongue to fall out, instead choking on it as the leader slammed a kick into Shinpi’s hip.

 

She went down like a ton of bricks, her hip displaced by the hit. Grunting she attempted to get her foot back under her and failed. Giving up on the futility of walking, Shinpi growled and continued to block from her compromised position. The air shifted and her eyes widened.

 

Another arm claimed by the battle, flying through the air and landing with a splash as Hiei entered the fray. His eyes glimmered in the dark, the color of the sun as seen through garnet and Shinpi sucked in a sharp breath at his entrance. One look at her, to which she offered a scant nod, and Hiei went after the demon he’d maimed. A hand wrapped around Shinpi’s throat, hauling her to her one good leg.

 

“I’ll kill her.” The leader pressed his nails into the already wounded and raw flesh of Shinpi’s throat, his eyes on Hiei. “I’ll kill your precious little dog.”

 

Hiei let the body of demon he’d been facing fall into the murky water, turning to glare at the woman and her captor.

 

“You’d be doing me a favor. That woman is nothing but trouble.” Hiei complained hotly. “In fact, if you don’t manage to kill her, I might just do it myself.”

“Fuck you.” Shinpi snarled at him.

 

Yusuke was suddenly understanding Kurama’s hesitation in bringing the woman with them. He’d been right. Hiei and her couldn’t be in the same room. He groaned.

 

“This is all your fault.” Hiei pointed out to her, anger lighting his aura. “The Detective is injured because you ran off like an imbecile. I had to come rescue you.”

 

“I don’t need rescuing halfwit.” She shot back at him. “This situation is under control.”

“His control, not yours.” Hiei pointed out with a growl.

 

“Always mine.” Shinpi bared her teeth.

 

Yusuke saw Hiei’s lips quirk into the barest smirk then. “Prove it, woman.”

 

Shinpi grabbed the leader’s hand and pried it from her throat before wrenching her arm back. The pressure in the tunnel shifted, channeling through her palm as she slammed it against the demon’s ear. There was no time for him to cry out. They couldn’t have heard it anyway. The force of the air she shoved into his cranium through his ear canal rocketed through his skull, shattering it, and sending a shockwave out the other side of his body that rippled over the water and slammed into the already damaged wall of the tunnel, further denting it to the point the bricks fell into the water and exposed the earth underneath the stone.

 

Yusuke and Hiei both winced, their ears ringing from the intense shift of pressure. Shinpi hobbled to the best height she could and glared at Hiei before limping her way slowly over to Yusuke. Falling into the water at some point in the four feet remaining between them, she crawled the rest of the way.

 

“The only point he made that was worth a damn was that your injury is my fault. I’m sorry Urameshi.” Shinpi lifted her hands to his battered face and ruined shoulder. “I hope this atones, even in a small way, for what I’ve caused.”

 

Yusuke went to ask her what she was doing and gave up when the words came out as nothing more than mangled chewing sounds. She nodded and closed her eyes, a green light radiating from her hands and pressing into his skin. His eyes widened, the swelling going down immediately under her soothing contact. It tingled in his muscles, whispered over his bruises like a gentle breeze. Shinpi’s energy coursed through his body until he raised his hands to hers and pulled them away from his cheeks.

 

“What the hell was that?” He demanded, glad his words finally worked correctly.

 

“A token of apology.” Shinpi offered him a gentle smile. “Can you walk?”

 

“Can you?” Hiei demanded of her, clearly annoyed. “What happened to your leg?”

 

“My gracious host kicked my hip out of place.” She sighed, rolling her eyes to meet crimson. “How like you to show up after I’d been properly maimed.”

 

“Oh shut up. Just be happy I came at all.” Hiei warned her.

 

“Surely, if it hadn’t been for Urameshi, I wouldn’t have seen your lovely face at all.” She agreed darkly. “Tch. You’re the worst, Jaganshi.”

 

“What did I say about shutting up?” Hiei growled, trudging through the water toward her. Stooping down, he grabbed her arm and forced it around his shoulders, dragging her up with him. “Is that the technique Genkai stopped you from using on me?”

 

“Yes.” Shinpi agreed, wincing as she tried to put her weight on her right leg. “Granted, I wasn’t aiming to kill you.”

 

“I’m glad.” Hiei acknowledged, frowning at the mess she’d left in her wake. “The minute you can walk, I’m going to put you back in traction Shinpi. I’ve been trying to get you to display your energy for weeks and some disgusting low-bred peon pries it out of you. You’ll pay for that offense.”

 

“Naturally.” She sighed heavily.

 

Yusuke walked over to her other side and took her left arm over his shoulders too, just as Hiei had done. Her eyes flashed to him, confusion clear in her furrowed brow. Hiei’s gaze wasn’t confused so much as aggravated by the addition of Yusuke’s help.

 

“I’ve got it.” Hiei told him with a glare.

 

“We’re a team.” Yusuke didn’t argue with Hiei, ending the conversation with his easy statement.

 

They were quiet for a while, picking their way slowly through the tunnels. Yusuke broke the silence as Shinpi and Hiei argued about which way to turn.

 

“You’re not a dog, by the way.”

 

Shinpi went rigid in their grasp, the words plucking at something he hadn’t meant to touch. Hiei shot Yusuke a quizzical look.

 

“What?” Hiei demanded.

 

“They were saying things to her. Calling her a dog. Saying shit like she was your pet.” Yusuke explained, frowning. Then he turned back to Shinpi’s suddenly guarded gaze. “I’m sorry they said that shit to you.”

 

“Don’t be. Hiei says it all the time.” She responded quietly. “They only used those insults because they heard him using them earlier.”

 

Hiei glanced at her face. “You are a dog.”


“I’m a wolf.” She didn’t correct him with malice. In fact, her voice held no emotion at all. “Dog is actually a grave insult to my kind. It implies we’re domesticated and weak, nothing but servants or pets.”

 

Hiei’s grip on her wrist loosened then grew firmer than before. When he spoke next, it was through his teeth. “You should have told me.”

 

It was the closest to an apology Yusuke had ever heard Hiei mutter without being cajoled into the admission by Yukina or Kurama.

 

“For all your research I assumed you knew and were doing it on purpose to bait me at first, but I realized you simply didn’t understand.” Shinpi admitted. “After all, I’ve called you a dog several times. I was sure you understood the context. But you didn’t. And honestly, the idea of giving you the power to insult me didn’t seem like it would be in my favor, so it was easier to just deal with it.”

 

Hiei scowled.

 

“What did I tell you about that brain of yours?” Hiei complained to her. “Stop figuring everything out. You only seem to get halfway through any point anyway. I wasn’t doing it to bait you. I was doing it to-“

 

“To what?” Yusuke craned his head forward to peer at Hiei.

 

“Yes, Hiei, do tell. You left us hanging.” Shinpi stared at him dully. “I’m intrigued.”

 

“It doesn’t matter. I see now it was all in vain.” Hiei huffed, refusing to answer her. “How long do you think it will take you to heal?”

 

“That depends.” Shinpi hedged.

 

“On?”

 

“Who resets my hip.” She sunk into her shoulders. “It’s going to hurt like a bitch. If Genkai does it, she won’t bother healing my wounds. But Yukina doesn’t know much about popping joints back into place.”

 

“We’ll have Botan take a look.” Hiei told her. He looked over to Yusuke. “She can do it.”

“Yeah, of course!” Yusuke bobbed his head. “She’ll be excited to help too.”

 

Shinpi didn’t seem so convinced but she didn’t argue with them.

 

“I suppose I should say this while its fresh.” She grumbled, looking consternated about her next words. “Even though I had the situation well in hand, as you saw, I should thank you for coming. Your interference allowed for a shorter fight, which I appreciate given my injury. I still could have finished it on my own, but I suppose your presence was helpful.”

 

Yusuke chortled, trying to repress the sounds. “You sound like Hiei.”

“Hardly.” Hiei smirked. “I would have never actually said thank you.”

 

“True.” Yusuke outright laughed. “She’s at least got that over on you.”

 

“Shinpi has plenty over me.” Hiei admitted. “That final technique was impressive. I’ll have to find a way to block it.”

 

Neither of them missed the way Hiei’s words made the woman smile, her bottom lip caught in her teeth to fight the expression that bloomed over her cheeks and mouth, lighting her eyes. She didn’t respond to his statement, instead keeping her eyes trained ahead of them.

 

“You missed her water whips.” Yusuke declared and just like that the rest of their trek to the mouth of the sewers was filled with Yusuke’s rapturous details of the fight from what he could see of it. Hiei listened in rapt attention, scoffing now and then. Shinpi only corrected him one or twice but mostly just laughed along with Yusuke’s vigorous recanting of events.

 

“I’d like you tell all my stories from now on.” She declared as the stumbled onto the hill beside the gulch the sewer emptied into. “You make me sound far more interesting and amazing than I actually am.”

“Humility doesn’t suit you.” Hiei mumbled to her and she shot him a dirty look.

 

“You were a badass!” Yusuke told, nodding to himself. “I mean, I thought they had you for sure! I can’t believe you were able to whip their asses so thoroughly.”

 

“Given enough time to recuperate, perhaps I could offer you a firsthand experience on said ass whipping techniques.” Shinpi made the offer seem unwilling but Yusuke readily agreed, bellowing he’d teach her a thing or two.

 

She laughed again, shoulders shaking with the movement. Hiei watched her from the corner of his vision, trying not to be obvious about observing her.

 

Hours later after Botan had done her work, which had not been done without complaint, Shinpi lounged in Yusuke’s living room on the couch. Hiei perched on the windowsill, listening to the sounds of the city as Keiko and Yusuke slept soundly in their bedroom. Yusuke had apologized offhandedly about not having another bed to offer but Shinpi had waved off his concerns. A couch was plenty. Hiei never used a bed anyway and Shinpi was already in their debt for allowing her to spend the night and borrow some clothes. She’d thrown all of her sewer water stained attire away the minute she’d stripped for her shower after Botan had finished with her.

 

Keiko had been asleep before they’d arrived and they’d tried to keep the commotion to a minimum to avoid waking her, at Yusuke’s begging. He griped that he didn’t want her to yell at him for ruining his clothes. Shinpi had shushed him and shooed him to his room, telling him to go be with his girlfriend. No need to fret over demons, she’d said, they were fine.

 

“You enjoy being around Yusuke.” Hiei’s comment came unbidden, but casual as if they’d been having a perfectly normal conversation about the topic.

 

Shinpi picked her head up from the arm of the couch and stared at him. He wasn’t looking at her, instead his face still pointed toward the glass of the window. She couldn’t see his reflection and wasn’t sure if he could see hers, given the angle.

 

“I like his energy.” She agreed, reticent.

 

“He makes you smile and laugh. You don’t do that at the temple, not even for Yukina.”

 

The observation earned a quizzical head tilt from the woman, her brows pulling down.

 

“I suppose I don’t laugh much.” Shinpi sat up and looked at her hands, pulling her attention away from Hiei’s back. “I don’t normally have much to laugh about, honestly.”

 

Hiei nodded, not that she could see it. He watched her through the glass, noting the line of her shoulders as they fell slightly.

 

“Unusual of you to notice.” She told him softly.

 

“I didn’t until tonight. I suppose it’s a case of not realizing something is missing until you see it filled in.” He told her just as quietly, neither of them wanting to rouse the Detective or his woman.

 

Her lips quirked, the threat of a smile, but it fell away before it truly had a chance to form. Her hands stopped fidgeting with each other. Leaning back against the couch, she stared up at the ceiling with that look that clearly meant she’d been lost to her thoughts. Hiei was surprised to find himself able to discern the expression without pause.

 

“Does Yusuke really think I’m on your team?” She asked the question so delicately, as if she was afraid for him to hear it and respond.

 

Hiei weighed his answer carefully, measuring what he knew about Shinpi against the truth of the matter. For all his misgivings about her nature, he knew one thing still stood as fact. Shinpi was a wolf who wanted a pack, a family. She’d lost hers. Lone wolves rarely howled, maybe that’s why it had never occurred to her to call for help tonight. The communicator in her pocket had gone unused because she’d believed he wouldn’t have come for her even if she’d called.

 

“He normally means what he says.” Hiei told her, a bit firmer with his tone. “If he says you’re on the team, then that’s what it is.”

 

“Why wouldn’t he take your opinion on the matter into consideration?” She wasn’t talking to him, he knew, but merely vocalizing her many thoughts. “Your word was good enough to determine my fate in Spirit World. Why wouldn’t you carry the same weight here?”

 

“I do.” Hiei told her carefully, watching this declaration settle on her brow. It creased the skin and pursed her lips. “As hard as it may be for you to understand, I don’t have an issue with you being on the team if you’re willing to fight like you did tonight.”

 

Her mind rolled around the idea, turning it this way and that. Hiei suppressed a chuckle as her head turned slightly while she examined her thoughts. Silence lapsed between them and he allowed it to stand. If this was the end of their conversation that was fine.

 

“I’ve never been on a team before.” Shinpi seemed puzzled by the mere idea of it as she laid back down. “Seems like there might be a lot of rules. I’m not sure I’m built for that sort of thing.”

 

The barely audible musings made Hiei smirk as he turned to glance at her. She couldn’t see him, he knew that. She cuddled into the couch, still muttering to herself about the ludicrousness of the whole affair and of Yusuke. When Hiei passed her on the way to the front door of the apartment after her breathing had evened out he glimpsed a smile on her sleeping face.

 


 

 

“Get away from me.” The demon scrambled back, a useless attempt to put space between himself and Hiei.

 

“I’m glad you’re still alive. I thought I’d killed you on accident.” Hiei offered a malicious grin. He sank down in front of the demon, teeth showing as he spoke. “I needed one of you alive. I’m glad you didn’t disappoint me and die while I was gone.”

 

The bodies of the demon’s leader and comrade rested where they’d fallen, Shinpi’s trophy case of victory for the night. Hiei glanced around the tunnel and observed the damage in more detail now that he wasn’t pressed to get the woman and Detective medical attention. After a few moments he turned back to the creature cowering from him.

 

“You have something I want.” Hiei informed the demon, eyes narrowed to prevent any argument. “You’re going to give it to me.”

 

“If you let me live I’ll-“

 

“You don’t get to make demands.” Hiei unwrapped the Jagan. “You’re going to die either way. Don’t test my patience on the matter.”

 

Without any other warning the fire demon jerked into the demon’s mind, prying through his memories relentlessly. He saw the events that had transpired over the past months, but they hardly mattered. Piles of dead humans meant little to him. Then he came up on tonight, on them listening to the conversations above through the manhole covers. The fear of facing the detectives. The excitement when Shinpi and Yusuke alone progressed into the sewers.

 

Hiei reviewed these memories until they felt like his own. Everything that had to do with Shinpi, stolen from the demon and etched into his own mind. But he resurfaced unsatisfied. The fight itself had been too much for these underclassed idiots to appreciate. This demon could barely make out Shinpi’s quick movements and the memories were tainted by fear and loathing. Hiei scowled, annoyed, because this was the first chance he’d had to see her fight and all he could do was watch a shitty, grainy copy of the actual events. But even then, it was impressive. Shinpi had an array of skills he hadn’t thought to consider. She seemed quick to adapt to her surroundings.

 

It made the urge to shake her awake with a challenge that much harder to ignore. Yet he managed. He had other things to do and she still needed to recuperate.

 

What Hiei needed was someone to talk to.

 


 

“Honestly man, if she fights like that all the time, I understand your obsession.” Yusuke rubbed the back of his neck, eyes fixed on the depths of his coffee mug. “You should have seen her. And even before we were cornered, she kicked serious ass.”

 

“I did see.” Hiei admitted quietly, staring at his hands as they wound around the paper cup Yusuke had bought for him. He didn’t need to look to know the detective was staring at him. “I didn’t kill my opponent. I waited until Shinpi fell asleep and then I left, going back for him. I reviewed his memories. I saw everything.”

 

“You don’t sound happy.” Yusuke pointed out, frowning.

 

“His senses were too dull to appreciate what was happening.” Hiei scowled at his drink. “Her movements were blurs to him. I didn’t get to witness the finesse I’m sure she etched into each strike.”

 

“You’re pissed you didn’t get to see her in full glory, huh?” Yusuke nodded and then leaned back in his chair. “And you drug me out here at the ass crack of dawn to talk about it because you didn’t want her hearing.”

 

“Kurama doesn’t get it, Detective. Not the way you do.” Hiei allowed and it sounded to Yusuke like he was making a case for himself. “My obsession bothers him. He thinks I’m forcing my will on the woman.”

 

“Aren’t you?” A brow arched, the question sliding out easily.

 

Hiei’s grip on his cup tightened.

 

“Dude, I said I got why you wanted to fight her, but honestly, I feel like you’re in deeper than you think. I’m not sure exactly what is going on here, but I know it’s something.” Yusuke pointed a finger at Hiei, his hand wrapped around his coffee. “Shinpi said she felt like nothing you did was for her benefit. It was all selfish.”

 

Hiei inhaled slowly, glaring at his fingers. Then he released his cup and slid his hands over the table then down to his knees as he leveled Yusuke with crimson irises that demanded the other understand.

 

“None of you get it.” Hiei declared and the statement obviously annoyed him. “Even she is so buried in her own turmoil she doesn’t understand.”

 

“Explain it then, because honestly with the dog comments and the verbal harassment you kind of come across as an ass.” Yusuke pointed out dryly, leaning forward. “I don’t think you’re a bad guy, Hiei, but I think something about Shinpi makes you a little worse than you used to be.”

 

“Goddammit, I wish everyone would stop pretending she’s some delicate princess that needs protecting.” Hiei growled at him, his temper lost. “She’s not like your woman or even Yukina or Botan. She’s a warrior. She was made to fight.”

 

“How demons do you know that can heal people?” Yusuke demanded and Hiei ground his teeth together. “Because at my last count, it was literally just Yukina.”

 

“Mukuro-“

 

“Has tech, sure, but she doesn’t put her energy on the line. Shinpi? She used life energy to save that kid. She’s a healer. And a fighter. I don’t think you’re giving her enough credit.”

 

Hiei scowled and he knew this conversation was a lost cause. If Yusuke wasn’t going to understand his motives no one would. He’d hoped the detective, in his bull-headed glory, would at least see the merit in what he was trying to do but like Kurama he came up just short of the actual goal. Hiei drank his coffee and glared with menace at the side of the café they’d claimed for the discussion.

 

Picking his words very carefully, aware that he currently stood on precarious ground with his team Hiei spoke again.

 

“I’m not the fool you take me for.” He told Yusuke, not bothering to look at the other man. “I understand her potential, Detective. Possibly better than she does herself.”

 

Yusuke scanned him then frowned. “Then why are you being such a dick?”

 

But Hiei didn’t answer him. He merely got to his feet, drained his coffee and marched away with his hands in his pockets, the crumbled remains of his cup the only indication he’d been at the table at all.

 


 

“Yours were ruined.” Hiei pointed out, dropping the shoe box in Shinpi’s lap while she stared at it. “You’ll need a pair to travel to the temple, yes?”

 

“Yes.” She answered him quietly.

 

Botan raised her eyebrows, staring at Yusuke who offered a shrug in response. They sat quietly by the wayside as Hiei marched through the apartment to the woman on the couch, gifting her with the box of shoes without so much as a glance toward his hosts.

 

“This isn’t an act of benevolence. I’ll want repayment.” Hiei pointed out when she edged her fingers along the sides of the box. “I want to fight you again.”

 

“A sparring match for shoes?” She mused, and then finally met his gaze. “Why?”

 

“You’re going to show me what you’re made of.” Hiei told her and there was no room for argument in his voice. “If some half-assed demon in a sewer deserves your energy, then so do I.”

 

“I had something to fight for.” She pointed out, raising her eyebrows. “The child, the detective. I had reason to call on my powers.”

 

“I’ll give you a reason.” Hiei assured her.

 

She pressed her lips together then assessed him, eyes roving down then up. Her lips quirked to the left, that lopsided grin tugging at her mouth.

 

“We’ll see.” She nodded. “Thank you for the shoes.”

 

And the words were followed with a smile too genuine suddenly. Hiei nearly reeled from it, but refused to let her see it had surprised him. Fists hidden in his pockets meant she couldn’t see how he’d tightened his fingers into his palms. But her smile didn’t waver even as she hid it behind her hand, sparing him a glance before darting her eyes away.

 

“Maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to be your pet.” She ventured, a teasing lilt to the words and Hiei frowned openly, drawing a giggle from her. “You’re taking such good care of me.”

 

“Shut the hell up before I make you swallow your teeth.” Hiei snapped at her. “Now put on the shoes so we can leave I’m tired of being in the city.”

 

“I was hoping to get some shopping done while we were here, though.” Shinpi didn’t lose the light in her eyes, but her smile faded. “Who knows when you’re going to let me leave that mountain again.”

 

“Woman, we both know that if you wanted to leave you’d find a way. Get your shopping done. You have two hours.” Hiei rolled his eyes away, avoiding looking in Yusuke’s direction. “Don’t make me come get you.”

“Sir, yes sir.” She grinned again and Hiei couldn’t help but slide his eyes back to her to study the expression.

 

It looked more natural than the stony mask she usually wore. He swallowed.

 

“And when we get back, you’ll spar with me.” Hiei told her firmly.

 

“Whatever you want, Hiei.” She agreed readily, rising to her feet and crossing close to him. “Are you going to chaperone me today?”

 

“You don’t need a babysitter.” Hiei hadn’t meant to lower his voice, but it happened anyway. “You’ll come back in time.”

 

Something about her expression shifted, minute but enough to draw his attention. A slight spark in her eyes, a different twist in her grin. He wasn’t sure what it meant or why it happened, but it made him narrow his eyes to cover how interested he was in studying the change. What he didn’t notice at all was his own reaction. A slight softening of his stance, head tilted barely to the side in a reflection of Shinpi’s body language. His lips pulled into a smirk, eyes glued to her face.

 

It wasn’t until she walked toward the door and his gaze followed her that he realized Botan and Yusuke were staring at them wearing matching expressions of knowing a secret that was too good. Hiei glared at them and jerked his attention away, not wanting to suffer their annoying questions he was sure were coming. He made his way toward the door as well, waiting for Shinpi to get her new shoes on before opening it.

 

“Thank you for your hospitality, I’ll wash the clothes and send them back as soon as I can.” Shinpi bowed her head to their hosts.

 

“Go.” Hiei pulled the door open and nodded to it. Shinpi walked through, tossing a wave over her shoulder to Yusuke. Before following, Hiei allowed the door nearly the full way, turning his attention to the two people at the small table in their kitchen. “I don’t know what you two are thinking, but cut it out. It’s annoying.”

 

Then he left and slammed the door behind him. They waited a heartbeat before sharing a knowing look and Botan giggled, shaking her head while Yusuke just grinned.

Chapter Text

A bandaged fist connected with Shinpi’s mouth, jerking her head to the side and sending her to the ground. Hiei and Shinpi had been locked in a sparring match in the forest, him so eager to test her strength he had barely let her deposit her bags before pulling her out here. Shinpi’s fingers dug into the ground.

 

Hiei sprang back, the closest thing to alarm he could muster crossing his face as he landed in a crouch. Every one of his instincts burned that he needed to stay away.

 

He hadn’t felt this way since he’d encountered Kurama’s anger for the first time.

 

The woman uncoiled, licking at the blood on her lip before using the back of her hand to wipe it away where it dripped on her chin. When her eyes found him, cold and brilliantly blue, the alarms sounded again.

 

Danger.

 

Nothing had changed, not on the surface. She was the same human woman she’d been the second before, but now, the way she watched him, he knew he’d made some critical miscalculation. He shouldn’t have allowed them to get so far from the temple. He’d separated himself from the rest of the team. It was his own fault for acting so recklessly and forcing her out here to spar with him while the others lounged around the shrine. He should have requested an intermediary like their last fight.

 

The idea shocked him as he realized he’d been planning his failure. How? How had she ripped this mentality out of him?

 

Coldness crept down his neck, over his shoulders and into his veins as his eyes widened. His breath hitched in his chest, trapped behind an invisible wall in his throat. Her small, nimble fingers pressed under the hinge of his jaw and along the sides of his neck, the touch light but he might as well have been caught in a vice.

 

“I like that expression on you, it’s pretty.” She spoke in such a gentle, careful tone. Her fingers pressed into his flesh with more firmness. “It smells intoxicating too, your fear. I could just bottle it up to wear.”

 

Hiei swallowed, trying to recover himself.

 

“But it’s an unnatural scent on you, as lovely as it is. I hope I never have to smell it again.” She kept her voice as soft as it had been, which only put him further on edge.

 

The sensation of dangling himself over a cliff, vultures above and sharks below, gnawed at him. Trapped, no right direction to flee. Hiei felt her shift behind him, the heat of her body closing against his. Her chest nearly touching his back, her breath warming the cup of his ear as her hands snaked around him. One dipping down to ensnare his throat, the other raking through his thick hair, clutching the strands at the scalp.

 

“I’m sorry I thought about killing you.” Shinpi whispered the apology against his ear, lilting and in no way sincere. “I honestly I hadn’t realized you’d sense something so benign. An exciting possibility for me, I think.”

 

And just as suddenly as her presence had come, it slipped away. Her fingers trailed over him and through his hair, featherlight and sending chills over his skin. He shivered and wasn’t sure if it was the passing threat or the way her nails had glanced over his nerve-endings. She looked down at him as she walked around to his side, smirking as though she’d just conquered some huge feat.

 

Hiei couldn’t help himself, he glared up at her with enough malice to send her reeling. Or he’d hoped to, but the smirk remained, those blue eyes fixed on him.

 

“That’s better.” She told him, tilting her face away from him so he could no longer read her expression. “I definitely prefer that hot glare to anxiety on you. Far lovelier.”

 

“Fuck you.” Hiei got to his feet, fists curled at his sides.

 

“Another round then.” She shot him a look and if he almost mistook it playful. She lifted her hands stepped back into her usual stance. “Give me your worst, Hiei.”

 

He flew at her, not needing to be told twice and didn’t relent until he had sufficiently recovered his pride. She didn’t trip his instincts again. More infuriating, she seemed to be enjoying his barrage of punches and kicks, grinning when he wormed through her defenses. It was always a trap. He should’ve fought her more like he did the fox, they had so much in common, but his anger wouldn’t allow him to wearily calculate her intentions.

 

“I give up.”

 

The admission of defeat came out strangled, Hiei’s hand wrapped firmly around her throat. His fingers dug into her skin, the juncture of his thumb to his forefinger placing an uncomfortable amount of tension against her windpipe, crushing the bones. The bark of the tree behind her bit into her shoulders and back through her shirt. Even without him strangling her it was hard to breath, she was sure he’d broken at least one of his ribs and it had slowed her down enough for him to catch her.

 

Hiei pressed her more firmly into the tree, snarling down at her, tightening his grip.

 

She knew what he wanted from her wasn’t words. It was a display. He wanted to break her, see her wince or cry out. He wanted to know he still had the upper hand but she wasn’t going to give in to that desire. His anger burned her skin, glowed in his eyes. She wondered if he ever directed that passion toward anything other than causing someone else pain.

 

Sweating and trapped, but too stubborn to feed Hiei’s ego, Shinpi gripped at the cracks in the bark, hands trapped down at her sides to avoid presenting herself as a threat. More pressure. She made a sound, but refused to show her discomfort.

 

“Is your pride really worth dying over?” He demanded of her, the first words he’d spoken since he’d swore at her. The rage subsided to cool analysis as he scoured her face. “Any more pressure and I’ll break the bones.”

 

So stop it then. She thought bitterly, but she couldn’t have vocalized the sentiment even if she’d wanted to. The restriction of oxygen was started to dull her senses, pressure building up in her face.

 

“You’re not afraid.” Hiei seemed interested in this development. “You either trust me not to kill you, or you don’t think I will.”

 

It was neither. She just didn’t care either way. Sure, she suspected he wouldn’t go through with the ordeal of actually killing her, it would be too much effort to deal with the aftermath for him. But it wasn’t trust that made her feel that way. She had no doubt, that given the chance without consequences, he’d have snapped her neck a long time ago. It boiled down to convenience, really, an easy calculation to make. He’d choke her until she lost consciousness, maybe a little after, but then he’d drop her and leave her there to recover on her own that way if something happened it wasn’t on his hands.

 

“Shinpi.” Hiei spoke her name like a command and she answered to it before she realized what she was doing, moving her eyes to meet his even as her lids grew heavier. “Why haven’t you fought back?”

 

Her eyes shot open, confusion beating against her muddled brain. What was he talking about? She’d already given up. He was the one who wouldn’t relent. Fighting would only make this worse. She’d seen his temper.

 

“Hiro won’t stop when you ask him to.” Hiei lowered his voice, dark with a new edge she didn’t fully recognize. From the momentary flash in his eyes, he hadn’t known what it was either.

 

Her tired arms raised and she wrapped her hands around his wrist, biting her teeth together as she tried to muster up the strength to pry him off. It was difficult, when she couldn’t breathe. Her hands and feet felt so far away, almost detached from her body. As much as she hated to admit it, Hiei was right. Hiro wouldn’t stop. He’d only stop when she was dead. She had to be prepared to fight through the impossible.

 

But her hands couldn’t follow her directions anymore and her fingers lost all sensation, her grip going slack as black crept into her vision. All at once the train whistle of losing consciousness swallowed her, darkness rushing over her sight and feeling leaving her body. Her last discernable thought was that she was not going to thank Hiei for this lesson.

 

It was probably her imagination, the dark chuckle that followed that bitter sentiment.


 

“There was a moment where I legitimately thought she was going to kill me.” Hiei told the fox as they lounged on the couch together, Hiei’s feet propped up on the coffee table.

 

“You say that almost fondly.” Kurama noted, amused.

 

Hiei, for all his valor and complaints, was drawn to those things that triggered new sensations in him. If he’d actually felt threatened at any point during his fight with Shinpi, he’d pulled something from the experience that juxtaposed any normal reaction. From the slight curl of his lips and the way he peeled his eyes open, Kurama could guess the woman had earned some respect from the fire demon.

 

“It reminded me of you, but was also different.” Hiei tried to explain, but the words weren’t coming.

 

How to describe the twisting coil of danger that had seized him? Or how the woman had caught him by surprise, moving faster than he’d expected and appearing behind him? She could have snapped his neck, if she’d been inclined to. And her hands had promised that exact demise, until they’d curled through his hair and around his throat. He couldn’t rightly describe that either, the thrill of being trapped by her.

 

Kurama would either laugh or think he was insane.

 

“It happened so quickly.” Hiei worked to try and get the point across, trying not to lose himself in his own thoughts. “I was on her, I had the upper hand. I struck her across the face and suddenly, I just felt it.”

 

Danger. He’d felt the primitive warning sounding off in his brain that he was in danger.

 

“The look she gave me. I can’t describe it. But I felt it.” Hiei didn’t bother trying to elaborate further, sure the fox got the idea. After all, he’d produced similar results from Hiei during one of their first skirmishes.

 

This had been different, though. Hiei couldn’t pin down why. It wasn’t just the sense of danger that had alarmed him, but something deeper, more specific. The sensation that he was being hunted. That’s the only thing he could think to call it.

 

He’d been prey for the first time in his life, and it wasn’t something he was likely to forget anytime soon.

 

Her damned compliments rattled through his brain too, forcing him to roll his shoulders to loosen them. Every word he remembered her speak tried to birth a shiver down his spine. It wasn’t fear. He wasn’t sure what it was. Excitement, maybe? It had been a long time since he’d felt a match so intensely.

 

Kurama studied his friend, who’d gone quiet, and noted the flitting emotions flashing through Hiei’s eyes. Confusion, amusement, pride and a few even Kurama couldn’t identify in him.

 

“I’m going to fight her again.” Hiei’s quiet admission had been more a thought that accidentally got vocalized than a topic of conversation, so Kurama treated it that way.

 


 

 

Kuwabara wheezed, continuing to run as Shinpi sat on the bench she’d built for Yukina, a book open on her lap while she drank tea, purple handprints decorating the skin of her throat. “Pace yourself, Kazuma, you’re only at four out of ten.”

 

“I…told...you…five…was…my…limit.” The lumbering carrot top ran passed her.

 

“I told you to keep up with your training.” She shot back coolly, flipping a page in her book. “And here we are.”

 

“Yeah, so, I thought Koenma vetoed this.” Yusuke swept a hand around the grounds, encompassing Kuwabara’s track.

 

“Koenma, technically, did nothing but question my motives. I was the one who ended the conversation. And since he didn’t actually outright deny me, I’m doing it.” Shinpi drawled, amused with herself as a glint entered her eye. “But you’re not here to argue the semantics of Kuwabara’s training.”

 

“I’m not.” He grinned at her, offering a harmless finger gun.

 

“I’m going to warn you, Hiei did a number on me yesterday. I’m not at full health.” Shinpi placed a bookmark against her page and closed the tome in her lap, setting it on the bench. “I’d like to keep this purely physical.”

 

“Aw, come on. I want to see those fancy elemental powers.” Yusuke pouted and Shinpi laughed at the childish reaction. “But I guess whooping your ass the old fashioned way will be fun too.”

 

They made their way toward the open swamp grounds, leisurely in their pace and without tension. It was nice, to begin a sparring match in good standing. Her fights with Hiei had been pressured, the expectation too high. With Yusuke it felt like she was about to have a laugh with a friend. It was a characteristic that earned her bemused respect, and helped her understand his impressive appeal to his allies.

 

It didn’t elude her that demons flocked to Yusuke. Aside from Kurama and Hiei, he’d earned the wholly noticed respect of Yomi and Mukuro, of a slew of A and S-class demons in Makai. Even at The Dark Tournament, he’d caught the attention of his powerful foes with his indomitable spirit.

 

The sense of being watched turned her attention over her shoulder as she walked beside Yusuke, finding a pair of crimson eyes boring into her with unusual curiosity. Kurama too, followed them out, a small smile on his face as though he were eager to watch this showdown and what it entailed. Strange, she hadn’t meant to put on a show. Tilting her head, she looked forward again to notice Yusuke had come to a stop.

 

“Here good for you?” He gestured to the field around him.

 

“Sure.” Shinpi nodded, allowing her arms to fall to the side as a secretive smile stole over her features. “Oh your mark, Urameshi.”

 

He nodded, grinning like a madman and said, “Go.”

“He’s a fool to rush her head on.” Hiei muttered, hands in his pockets as he watched the fight begin.

 

Shinpi stepped swiftly to the left, pivoting her body as Yusuke ran at her, one foot hooking his ankle and causing him to stumble. He grumbled, climbing to his feet, and then wiped at the tip of his nose with his thumb.

 

“You think she’ll win?” Kurama mused, glancing at Hiei as crimson eyes remained fixed on the sparring parties.

 

“No. She’ll lose.” Hiei assured him, a smirk pulling at his mouth. “And Yusuke will revel in it, but it won’t be his choice.”

 

“You think Shinpi will throw the fight.” Kurama surmised, earning a slightly nod. “Why?”

 

“Because this isn’t about winning, it’s about understanding her opponent.” Hiei’s smirk grew. “She’s capable of ending this match whenever she wants to, but she’ll chose to dance around Yusuke until he takes her down and then she’ll submit. It’s the same she did with me.”

“I remember.” Kurama nodded. “You believe she’s gauging our styles?”

 

“I think she’s cataloguing our weaknesses.” Hiei remembered when he ran through Shinpi’s thoughts, darting sparsely through her memories.

 

She knew that seeing them in the tournament had given her an advantage, but she also knew they’d grown. She wanted to see how much. With Kuwabara, she wished to foster growth. With the rest of them, she wanted to arm herself with as much information as possible.

 

“Will you fucking stand still?” Yusuke grumbled, deflating some. “How the hell are we supposed to fight when your running away the whole time?”

 

Cobalt eyes slid toward Hiei and Kurama, then back to Yusuke. Shinpi sighed, shrugging, and then she was gone. The heel of her palm slammed into Yusuke’s chest, crushing the air from is lungs before he could react. The same hand moved up, smacking against the underside of his chin and throwing his head back. As he reeled, Shinpi swept his legs from under him, delivering a second hit to his chest that careened him into the ground.

 

“Did I break anything?” She asked him, crouching beside his prone figure as brown eyes gaped upwards toward the rolling white clouds.

 

His eyes moved to hers, noting her light tone and almost amused expression.

 

Yusuke planted one hand on the ground and spun his legs around, forcing Shinpi to leap back from him if she wanted to keep her legs under her. She flipped onto her hands then sprang to her feet, falling into a practiced stance. Eying each other with wicked grins, she tossed him a wink then beckoned him to come get her.

 

Yusuke launched a barrage of strikes toward her face and chest, her small hands deftly canceling out each attempt. No matter how fast he moved, she kept up.

 

“She’s fast.” Kuwabara balked, sweat pouring heavily over him and drenching his tee.

 

Hiei tossed him a look of utter distaste, brows drawn down. “Brilliant commentary.”

 

“Leave Kazuma alone. He’s never seen me fight really.” Shinpi shoved Yusuke’s arm to the side and ducked under the leg he cast at her.

 

“Can you truly say any of us have seen you fight? Really?” Hiei shot back at the woman, annoyed she was eavesdropping when she should be paying attention to her opponent.

 

Blue eyes darted to him, an expression infuriatingly vague crossing her features when she didn’t answer. Then she yelped, Yusuke’s fist slamming into her stomach and doubling her over. Wincing, she wrapped her arms around herself and staggered, forcing herself to straighten.

 

“Are you okay?” Yusuke put his hands up so she could see his palms, concern robbing him of his playful grin.

 

“I’m fine.” She swallowed heavily, swaying slightly. “Let’s get back to it.”

 

But one arm remained around her middle, her eyes pinched and he shook his head. “You’re hurt.”

“I’ve had worse. Come on, let’s fight.” She stepped toward him, losing all signs of humor.

 

“Nah, it’s okay. I can wait.” Yusuke nodded at her, lowering his hands and placing them on her hips.

 

“Don’t take pity on me. My enemies sure as hell won’t.” The words flew from her mouth before she could stop them and her eyes widened as tension racked over her shoulders under Hiei’s immediate scrutiny.

 

The fire demon was there suddenly, hoisting up the front of Shinpi’s shirt and glaring at the deep purple and black bruises marring her skin. Kuwabara barked a protest, throwing out some line about a woman’s privacy. Even Yusuke called out in annoyance. But Hiei ignored them, his eyes glued to Shinpi’s.

 

“You should have told him you were injured at the offset.” He scolded her hotly. “And you should have told me.

 

“You’re the one who opened my eyes to the fault in my logic. If I’m going to get stronger, I’m going to have to accept pain.” She jerked back from him with a scowl. “You were right. Hiro wouldn’t stop.”

 

Hiei’s nostrils flared as he fought with his anger for a moment. “So you fight back, not enter the fray when you’re unfit for battle. How am I supposed to fight you again if you’re dead on your feet?”

 

“As usual it comes back to your needs.” Shinpi growled at him. “I’ll fight you right now, Hiei, if it will shut you up for five minutes.”

 

“What I want is a fight with you taking it seriously. I want to see that energy Yusuke was boasting about.” He growled back at her. “In your condition you’re barely able to handle an easy going skirmish.”

 

“You’ll see my power when I’ve decided you’ve earned it.” She bared her teeth and then looked around at the concerned faces of the other men. “I’ll be fine in a few days.”

 

“Then in a few days I’ll give you a reason to level up.” Hiei warned her darkly, eyes narrowed. “Until then you’re done. I don’t want to see you fighting until your ribs have healed.”

 

“For the last time, you don’t get to decide what I do.” Shinpi toed up to him, reclaiming the step back she’d taken. They stared in each other’s faces, both with fists at their sides. Hiei’s hand flashed out, fingers digging into the worst of her bruise and he watched the color drain from her face.

 

“Idiot.” He rolled his eyes and stomped away from her, allowing to wallow in the pain.


 

“They approached me near the mountain.” Hiei explained to his comrades, mostly bored, as he described the messenger his leader had sent. “Mukuro would like me to come back. It’s been a while and I need to check in.”

 

It had been a day since Yusuke had sparred with Shinpi and the woman’s attitude hadn’t improved much. As it was she was currently fussing over being coddled as she helped Yukina with the temple’s chores. Hiei was glad she’d found something to occupy her time so she might actually heal. The handprints he’d left on her throat had faded to an ugly yellow-green. He only hoped her ribs looked better.

 

Knowing the wench, she was training behind his back.

 

“When do you leave?” Kurama asked idly.

 

“Hn. I’ll go in a few days. There’s something I want to do.” Hiei didn’t vocalize what it was that kept him from answering Mukuro’s call immediately.

 

“Be careful.” Kurama offered and then glanced at Genkai, who stared at Hiei as if the demon could hide nothing from her. “I’m leaving in the morning to head back. Yusuke and Kuwabara will too.”

 

“Hn. Is that woman satisfied with the regimen she put him on?” Hiei asked, genuinely curious.

 

Shinpi’s insistence on creating the perfect routine for Kuwabara had caught his interest. She truly believed she could craft a half-way decent fighter from the man. Despite his age and his limitations. Hiei didn’t understand her drive, but he couldn’t deny it.

 

“I think so, yes.” Kurama answered and then smiled.

 

Hiei merely nodded, stalking from the room and heading for the back of the temple. He’d avoided encountering Shinpi since he’d jabbed at her bruises and he planned to keep it that way until she was well enough to fight him one more time before he left.

 

He wanted to go back to Mukuro with the knowledge that the woman was well on her way to her former intensity. The thought of leaving before he was positive she could handle herself tightened the muscles under his shoulders.

 


 

 

The air between was thick with frustration and fury. Shinpi didn’t bother with a smile for him. Hiei stared back as seriously. He hadn’t told her why he was forcing her to fight him today. He’d only asked if she’d healed enough to handle him. If she knew he was leaving the next morning she might pull some stupid trick to postpone. Hiei didn’t want that.

 

He needed this.

 

Yukina waited nearby, watching with concern creasing against her forehead and the corners of her eyes. Genkai was nowhere to be found.

 

Good. Hiei didn’t want the old woman’s interference this time.

 

Let Shinpi raise her hand with the intent to kill. At least he’d know she was capable of the act.

 

He blurred forward, a plan in his head about how this would unfold. Shinpi, for all her calculations and stubbornness couldn’t back down from a challenge. Not from him. That much had grown evident in the last weeks. She told him he had to earn her power, so that’s what he’d do. He’d push her until she had no choice. And if he had to stomp all over whatever strange balance they’d struck in Urameshi’s apartment, so be it.

 

She met him in kind, furious. Deflecting his blows, meeting his fervor with her own. Good. He wanted her angry.

 

Throwing Shinpi to the ground, Hiei planted his foot firmly between her shoulder blades, his weight forcing her down. “Get up, princess.”

 

Shinpi growled, enraged by the disrespect and her own weakness. How far had she fallen? Allowing this humiliation? She might as well slit her own throat and save Hiro the trouble of getting her blood on his shoes.

 

“I said, get up.” Hiei applied more pressure, snarling down at her.

 

And this one. With his haughty attitude and side glances. This damn waste of energy was able to pin her down with one foot, his dirty boot staining her shirt as she struggled to keep herself from collapsing entirely. He called her princess. Who the hell did he think he was?

 

Her knee found a way under her, allowing her to regain some of her strength as she tried to stand.

 

“You know, despite all your previous words, this looks like a bow to me.” Hiei told her, a dark expression on his face. “We must’ve confused you with someone else. Honestly, you’re nothing compared to the image history painted.”

 

Her teeth ground together as she forced her arms to straighten, her foot coming onto the toes and slowly, she began to creep upwards.

 

“Hn. I don’t know why I’m bothering to waste my time.” Hiei pressed forward, forcing more weight onto her back. She didn’t buckle or budge, holding steady. Her eyes were so intent on the ground, she didn’t seem him smirk. “How are you supposed to beat Hiro if you can’t even stand up to me? First you let me strangle you and now this. I’m beginning to think you like being beaten and ridiculed.”

 

“Hiei!” Yukina’s voice carried over to them as she came running from the laundry line. “Let her go!”

 

“No.” Shinpi growled the word, her fingertips and then first knuckles digging into the ground. “Don’t stop him.”

Hiei glanced down at her face, the sheer determination displayed there enough to encourage him. He applied more weight.

 

“Back off.” He turned to Yukina, a cocky expression making her eyes narrow. “She’s the one who accepted a challenge from an opponent she couldn’t beat. This is her fault.”

 

“You’re being cruel!” Yukina continued to rush forward. “Hiei, leave her alone!”

 

“No.” Shinpi repeated the word and then the wind shifted directions.

 

The earth started to groan and she managed to yell before the swamp underneath them sprung up like a geyser, creating a wall between the ice maiden and the fire demon. Shinpi screamed out and her energy poured into the air, a tangible thing of wind and mist, smelling like rain. Hiei’s eyes widened, his balance thrown off for just a second until a grin splayed over his features.


This was the woman he’d been reading about. The one who had Spirit World worried. He was happy to meet her. Shinpi got her feet under her and she stood, Hiei’s foot sliding off of her in the process. It left her panting for breath. Her skin covered in the mist surrounding them, her chest heaving. She reached up and yanked her shirt over her head, falling into a fighting stance as she continued to pant, facing down the fire demon in her training pants and sports bra.

 

Hiei assessed her and then couldn’t seem to hide his pleasure as he tipped his head down once and slid one leg back, raising his hands to mimic her position.

 

“It’s a pleasure to finally meet you.” He told her over the rush of water in the air.

 

“Let’s see how you feel when you’re at my feet.” She spat at him and the energy she released was unreal.

 

Hiei couldn’t help but glance down her, her arms swollen with muscle, her stomach lined with it. She’d dedicated her human life to her training, it was obvious. No part of her lacked the visible representation of her efforts. But she was still in a human body.

 

He’d see how far that could take her now that she was playing seriously.

 

No one would pull as much from her as he would, he knew it. And he was about to make sure she knew it too.

 

When she attacked, it was with a such a ferocity that Hiei was pushed back. Constantly he found himself on guard, playing defense. When he got the upper hand, she flipped it around. Her energy came at him like a barrage, her fists and legs extending beyond their reach. He noted that she never seemed to call on her elements against him and he didn’t push it that far. The wall of water remained active and he knew that must require a fair amount of her attention.

 

The fight went on for hours. Hiei deflecting kicks and punches, slams of Shinpi’s intense strength. Shinpi planting herself and refusing to lose, accepting more than her fair share of pain.

 

The sun had gone down by the time they were standing in front of each, each heaving, sweat dripping off of their chins. Neither made a move, both waiting for the other to display some last tenant of their strength. Make some mistake. Attack.

 

“Is that really all you’ve got?” Hiei demanded, despite the fact that if he took a step he’d surely fall to his knees. His legs were shaking, his arms raised but weary. Shinpi looked composed, pouring sweat but otherwise steady.

 

It was an illusion.

 

 Years of work had perfected this careful mask. Her body ached in every muscle, some bones likely bruised if not broken. She could pretend until she lost consciousness, though, that she was in control and fine. She wasn’t. Hiei had taken every ounce of energy she had and expended it. The fact he was still standing irked her. The fact she allowed it because she couldn’t continue was worse. But still, he didn’t make a move and as she watched him tremble from exertion she knew she had one more chance. One last shot.

 

The water died, the wall falling, as she lurched toward him, her fist directed at his face. And yet, between springing from her place and connecting with Hiei’s jaw, her eyes rolled up until her head. Darkness swam over her senses without mercy. She never knew if the hit connected or made an impact.

 

Hiei caught her by the shoulders, the addition of her weight sending him back a step in his exhaustion. Her right arm fell over his shoulder, the punch definitely meant to connect with his cheek. It missed him by a few inches, her hand loosening as she lost consciousness halfway to him. And that’s how he caught her, mid-punch and asleep. It had taken hours but he’d manage to exhaust her. His pride might never fall again. But even as he snorted, forcing himself to act irritated, his hands slid around the woman who fell against him. Shinpi’s face rested against his shoulder, her entire body slack and there was nothing for him to do but hold her as he regained his strength for a moment.

 

By the time he walked into the temple, Shinpi on his back, everyone else was asleep. He deposited the woman on her bed as gently as he could given their awkward position. He even took the shoes off her feet and pulled the blanket up around her. When he closed the door behind himself, his eyes glanced over to Genkai who watched him from her post against the wall to his left.

 

“Took you long enough.” She noted. “She must’ve been tougher than you thought.”

 

“I still went easy on her.” Hiei rolled his eyes. “But yes, she held more power than I’d thought.”

 

“Yukina is furious.”

 

“She’ll get over it.”

 

“And Amon-Shinpi?”

 

“She’ll survive to see tomorrow. Don’t wake her in the morning, let her sleep. She’ll need to recover.” Hiei closed his eyes for a second longer than he meant to. “That body is still human.”

 

“For now.” Genkai nodded. “But I imagine she’ll only continue to strive for her former perfection.”

 

“You think she’ll find a way to get her old body back?” Hiei perked up at the idea of it. He’d like that. The idea of facing the woman in her former glory aroused his interest. “Hn. That might be worth my time.”

 

“You look tired, Hiei. Get some rest.” Genkai pushed off the wall and began to walk away.

 

He didn’t respond, just aimed himself toward a seldom used room at the back of the temple. By the time he made it there, his legs were nearly completely useless and his body was shutting down. He hit the futon as darkness swam into his mind without even getting the chance to wonder who had prepared the room for him in the first place.

 

He was surprised to find Shinpi awake, already on the lawn running through stances when he crept out the door. Dawn had barely broken, sweeping shadows still covering most of the grounds in darkness while the red-orange light crept its way through the treetops and over the mountain. Even Genkai wasn’t awake yet.

 

“You’re leaving?” Shinpi eyed his cloak then rolled her eyes, coming out of her practice at his intrusion.

 

“Yes.” Hiei walked down the steps, still sore from their fight the day before.

 

“Do you have an estimated date of when you’ll return?” She focused on him a little too intently, as if probing him.

 

“No.”

 

“I see.”

 

Silence rung between them, something unspoken whispering through the blades of grass like the gentle wind. Hiei took a step toward her. She didn’t move back and her expression didn’t shift.

 

“Is there a date I should return by?” He asked her, a slight smirk growing.

 

“It doesn’t matter when you come back. I was only asking out of curiosity. Yukina and the others will want to know.” She kept her expression schooled.

 

“Ah, for the others.” He nodded and she narrowed her eyes. “When I get back, do you think you’ll be strong enough to beat me?”

 

“Most likely.” She offered a subtle nod. “Within the month I should be able to at least pound you into the ground like a railroad spike.”

 

Hiei’s smirk grew. “Sounds promising. I’ll see you in a month then.”

 

“Tch.” She looked away from him. Then softly, she asked, “Did my last hit connect? I can’t recall how the fight ended.”

 

“You passed out halfway to me and I ended up having to carry you back to the temple.” He offered, daring another step. She glanced back at him and he realized he’d crossed some invisible threshold of her comfort by coming this close. With still two feet between them it appeared he’d entered her bubble of personal space.

 

“It won’t happen again.” She spoke firmly, as if he’d accused of her something she had to deny.

 

“I thought you didn’t speak in certainties you can’t control.” He teased, looking down at her with his chin lifted. Her cheeks filled with color. “I enjoyed exhausting you. It’s my new goal every time we fight. You’ll fight to win. I’ll be fighting to draw it out for as long as I can.”

 

“Creep.” She glared at him. “Don’t get used to it. Next to you see me I’ll be a new caliber of demon.”

 

“I look forward to it.”

 

Chapter Text

Hiei sat across from Mukuro, catching her up on his time in Human World with dry, sparsely detailed stories. He had a reason for indulging her when he normally wouldn’t have bothered. She had information he wanted. Questions only she could answer danced in his head, so he humored her idle interest in the other half of his life. They were finally nearing the topic he’d been slowly drawing towards since he’d stepped foot in the castle and they’d begun this debriefing session.

 

He rounded the topic of Shinpi with some reservation, prodding Mukuro by first just informing her of his mission that had started this whole mess. He made a show of nonchalance as he continued to distract himself with sharpening his sword, focusing more on the task than on the answers he provided, so it seemed.

 

“They found the Takani blade?” Mukuro furrowed her brow. “What’s the use of that? Only Amon-Shinpi was capable of wielding the sword.”

 

“Perhaps she was the only who chose to, but anyone of the Takanis could have used it.” Hiei shrugged.

 

If he hadn’t looked up to speak the words, he wouldn’t have noticed the sudden rod of tension that straightened Mukuro’s spine. Or the wideness of her eye, the pupil contracted. She gathered herself quickly, but when she spoke next it sounded like a warning.

 

“What would define being a Takani?” She asked him.

 

It was Hiei’s turn to furrow his brow, setting the whetstone on the table in a measured motion as he focused on his commander. “Blood, from what I heard.”

 

“Perhaps a heart?” She scanned over him and then looked away, an unpleasant thought portrayed on her face.

 

“I would have assumed someone with a Takani heart would have to be a Takani.” Hiei pointed out.

 

“I’m a fool.”

 

Hiei sheathed his sword. He didn’t like this conversation. He’d only meant to pick her brain about Shinpi, but now he could tell he’d revealed something to her she hadn’t seen before.

 

“Mukuro.” Hiei said her name carefully. “What have you realized?”

 

“Who has the sword now?” She eyed him. “Spirit World?”

 

“I do.”

 

That stopped her short, then allowed her exhale fully.

 

“I’m sad to say I’m relieved. If it fell into Hiro’s hands now, it would be a war.” Mukuro nodded. “I’m going to assume you’ve stashed it somewhere safe.”

 

“Hiro?” Hiei stared at her, hard and probing. “How could Hiro possibly use the damn thing?”

 

“I didn’t think he could until you said any Takani could use it. Since he’s had the boy’s heart transplanted into him, he must be able to wield the power.” She waved one hand through the air as if the details were meaningless. As if she hadn’t just shaken Hiei’s own understanding of the situation to the core. “But I’m relieved to know he can’t get his hands on that weapon. The havoc he’d wreak; it would ruin what tenuous peace we’ve been able to keep since the barrier fell.”

 

Hiei worked to form his next words around his dry tongue. “What boy?”

 

Mukuro swept her eyes over him, likely noting the tightness around his eyes and the gravel in his voice. Blinking once, then tipping her head to the side she frowned.

 

“The last Takani.” She told him quietly, her own tone neutral. “A young boy. I can’t recall his age, I’m not sure I ever knew it. Amon-Shinpi didn’t like anyone prying into her son’s life. She kept him fairly well hidden. I only ever saw him twice.”

 

Hiei thought, perhaps, a train had manifested and slammed into him. The immediate shock of the words battered at his mind and he remained quiet for several minutes, trying to process them while Mukuro continued explaining. Her chatter barely registered, but in some way he also heard every syllable.

 

“When she showed up in Alaric, stating that I’d summoned her I knew her for the fool she was. It was a shame, honestly. Amon-Shinpi was the strongest of her people, a reluctant but capable leader, and far more intelligent than she had any right to be. I don’t know how she missed the evil in her own home. I told her as much. I learned what happened when she sought my help years later, desperate to put Hiro down for murdering her child. I can’t rightfully imagine what she must have gone through, walking in on him carving the boy’s heart out. When she came begging for my aid, she wasn’t the same demon I’d befriended. She died not long after that. My only solace in the whole affair was that Hiro hadn’t managed to get her heart too.” Mukuro sighed heavily, the memories bitter and unpleasant. “It’s better that she went, I think. If you thought I was chained by my past you would have loathed to see that woman. There was no recovery for her, nothing that could have eased the darkness that consumed her. Death was truly the only mercy she had left.”

 

Hiei’s hands fisted against his pants, under the table where they couldn’t be seen. He tightened his jaw until his pulse sung in his ears, eyes glued to his whetstone.

 

Only until he produced an heir with this body.…It’s imperative I kill him before that happens.…No. I will be the one….Because I’ll be dead. I thought I’d made that obvious. Her words, Shinpi’s words.

 

“Honestly, it probably would have been kinder if I’d left you to be executed.” His words, callous and cold. He hadn’t realized what she was fighting for. Yukina had tried to warn him. Hell, reviewing it all, Shinpi herself had said it in not so many words.

 

“What else do you have to fight for?”

 

“My family.”

 

Hiro had taken it away from her, hadn’t he? It was war that claimed her parents, but Hiro who broke the woman so completely it echoed in this new life of hers. Hiro who had taken their child and cut him open like an animal. Hiro who had stripped the woman of any will to live beyond killing him. He’d turned her in a vengeful spirit. A corporeal poltergeist.

 

“I always wondered what Shigure charged for the transplant.” Mukuro mused, mostly to herself. Hiei’s silence made him nothing more than a sounding board for her thoughts now. She continued to talk as if she couldn’t stop herself, like he’d uncorked some preciously full bottle inside her that she now had to spill before closing again. “Hiro was always a monstrously selfish creature. I can’t imagine him parting with anything for the sake of a surgery.”

 

Shigure did this? Shigure took Shinpi’s child’s heart and shoved it into the walking abomination that was her mortal enemy? Hiei’s nails cut into his palms. If the man wasn’t dead already, Hiei would have loved to kill him now.

 

“I was the fool.” Hiei spoke, fury lacing every word as it mounted in him, the air around him growing hazy with heat. “I was the fool for not recognizing what she was fighting for.”

 

Mukuro shot him a puzzled look, confused by his sudden vehemence and his words.

 

“I’ll see him dead at her feet. Some crimes even I can’t forgive.” Hiei raised his gaze to meet Mukuro’s and the intensity of the fire in his eyes made her tilt her head. “Shinpi lives and I will make sure Hiro pays for his crimes against her.”

 

Mukuro raised her eyebrows, then they fell and a grin claimed her mouth.

 

“Why are you smiling?” Hiei demanded, hot and tense.

 

“I knew you were guarding a secret. If she’s letting you call her Shinpi, you two must be close friends.” Mukuro drawled, amused. “How long were you planning on keeping this from me?”

 

“I never intended to bring you into it.” Hiei stated dryly. “It didn’t concern you.”

 

“How did she manage to escape?” Mukuro pressed. “Did she tell you? I’d enjoy the story, I think, of her fooling death.”

 

“She fooled nothing. She died. She’s been reincarnated into a human body.” Hiei frowned. “She cropped up on the case we were working on, looking for what turned out to be her imposter. She’s a shadow of her former self. And she holds no love for you.”

 

Mukuro sighed again, her expression falling. “I had always hoped she’d survived.”

 

“She claims you betrayed her.” Hiei’s tone suggested he agreed in that moment. “That you turned your back on her when she needed you most. She says you and I are alike in that way.”

 

Mukuro remained silent for a few moments, then looked away from him. A softer look entered her eye before she turned, her shoulders falling slightly.

 

“I didn’t want to be the one to kill her.” Mukuro admitted, raking her fingers through her cropped copper hair. “But I knew that if she managed to defeat Hiro, it would be with a wrath too strong to control. I had seen her in battle before, Hiei. I knew what she was capable of. The extent of her victory would have destroyed everything near her. I would have had to kill her.”

 

“Death was the only mercy left for her.” Hiei repeated her words from just moments earlier. “I’ve been calling the woman a coward for months now.”

 

His sentence didn’t need the words to display his sentiment to Mukuro. His tone and expression said it all. He’d been accusing Shinpi of cowardice, but maybe it was Mukuro he should have slung the insult toward. She understood immediately, as she had the habit of doing. Her lips pursed but she didn’t argue.

 

“There are times, Hiei, when you must choose between being a villain to your friend to attempt to protect them or find yourself complicit in their destruction.” Mukuro sighed the words. “Her frustrating political stances aside, Amon-Shinpi was my friend. She was bound to die that day. I simply couldn’t be the one to put her down.”

 

Hiei frowned, but he thought about Yusuke. Kurama. Mukuro herself. If any of them ever grew too powerful for their own good, or went astray, he wasn’t certain what his actions would be. He couldn’t say for sure he’d have the gall to run his blade through Yusuke’s heart to keep himself safe.

 

Instead of dwelling on that thought, Hiei explained the situation to Mukuro as it was when he left. How he was training Shinpi. His desire to face her in a fight.

 

“You’ll need to keep yourself in peak form, then.” She tapped a finger to her chin, a specter of double meaning lining her statement.

 

“I suppose so.” Hiei agreed, his anger having slid away a bit, but not so far gone it couldn’t seize him again at any moment.

 

“What will you do if her victory over Hiro doesn’t quell her anger? What if it’s not enough?” Mukuro asked the question as if she’d been trying to find the right moment to shoehorn it into the conversation.

 

But it wasn’t her words that clacked Hiei’s teeth together and made him push away from the table to stomp from the room. It was the underlying meaning. The hidden question, peeking from between each syllable, that sent him to the training room with the desire to destroy.

 

Are you willing to be the one to kill her?

 

He didn’t want to think about it.

 

“My advice, if you ever do find yourself face to face with Amon-Shinpi’s temper, is to never let her see all of your skills. That woman wields one of the most adept minds I’ve ever encountered. She can pick out flaws you didn’t realize you had and use them against you with cutthroat precision.” Mukuro sighed wistfully, her mind falling back into a memory. “She’s the one who informed me that when I intend to feign a left swing, my eyes squint.”

 

“Why would she tell you that?” Hiei wondered, annoyed, standing on the threshold of the room. “Why arm her opponent?”

 

“To prove that even I had weaknesses. She lost our fight that day, but I left holding her in a higher regard.” The king seemed to be admiring something far away, a warm smile gracing her features. “Her potential was always wasted on that mediocre plot of land she called home.”

 

Hiei slammed the door behind him.


 

 

 

“Upset you won’t be the one to drive a blade into my chest?”

 

Hiei opened his eyes, exhausted yet unable to sleep. He stared at the ceiling of the room he only used when he was like this. Sore. Soaked with sweat. Unable to stave off the claws of sleep for a moment longer. Despite his desperate need for it, sleep wouldn’t come.

 

Every time he closed his eyes he was faced with Shinpi’s hot anger again. Her lashing words which all suddenly made so much more sense.

 

His eyes glared holes into the ceiling above him.

 

A child.

 

The memory of her visceral reaction to hearing that a child had died swam through the haze of exhaustion again. He’d been trying not to think about it for days. Despite his attempts, it haunted him, waiting for the right moment of weakness to crop up again. Shinpi charging headfirst into battle to save a human boy. Shinpi pouring her energy into the frail creature in some wild attempt to save its life.

 

He hadn’t really questioned her motives. He’d chalked it up to morality.

 

A child.

 

Her child.

 

A little boy she loved so dearly that losing him turned her into a monster too dangerous for even Mukuro to trust.

 

“My curse killed them.”

 

Hiei pinched his eyes closed, bringing his hands up to cover his face. Shut up.

 

It’s likely she doesn’t have much to live for.” Kurama’s words stung in a new way. The unsettling weight they’d brought to Hiei’s guts doubled, growing cold.

 

Shut up. Hiei repeated to his thoughts, frustrated with his mind for not relenting. For not shutting down. For subjecting him to these thoughts he didn’t want to have.

 

Fighting won’t bring her family back.”

 

He sat up. Did Kurama know? Had she told him, during their little interrogation session that had somehow made the woman exhausted yet impossibly lighter for that night? Was the fox harboring this secret? If so, why not tell him? Why not tell the team?

 

It seemed like the sort of important detail they deserved to know.

 

Their child.

 

Shinpi’s. But also Hiro’s, wasn’t it?

 

Mukuro hadn’t said as much, but that’s what Hiei took from the conversation. The ultimate betrayal, the most disgusting of behaviors. A man murdering his own offspring for power.

 

Hiei’s fists curled, his nails biting against the bandages he’d wrapped around his palms.

 

What a fucking nightmare Shinpi must have found herself in. Believing she’d been summoned by a friend only to be called a fool. Only to find the accusation correct in the worst possible way. To come home and find her lover carving into her child’s chest, unable to stop him, unable to undo the damage.

 

And then to lose.

 

To lose everything. The fight. The child. The lover. Her land. Her power. Her life.

 

“Death was truly the only mercy she had left.”

 

“I went after Hiro with every intention of dying.”

 

Hiei opened his hands and stared at them, unsure what the coil of heat winding through his stomach and up his spine meant. It was more than anger. He couldn’t place the emotion. Maybe some sort of resolve?

 

Every accusation of selfishness that Shinpi had hurled at him hit home. She’d been correct. Just as Mukuro had warned, she’d pinpointed his character and showed it to him. Even then he’d refused to see. He’d only been thinking of himself, of how to raise her power out of her so he could compare it to his own. Using the woman as a measuring stick suddenly felt tasteless. He still wanted to fight her with his all. He wanted to see how powerful she could be. But that should’ve been secondary.

 

He should’ve been trying to train her to face Hiro.

 

He didn’t know anything about Hiro accept that now, he’d defeated Shinpi twice. That he was looking for a way to the sword. That he was an abhorrent creature that needed to be exterminated. But by Shinpi. This was a job for her and her alone.

 

Hiei wondered now, knowing what he did, why she hadn’t embedded that axe in him when he threatened to kill Hiro if she didn’t shape up. He hadn’t known the extent of her true fury. He’d thought it was a petty quest for vengeance. A pissing contest because Hiro had managed to take her out. He hadn’t really thought on why.

 

Dwelling on Shinpi’s sordid past, scowling down at his hands, Hiei lost himself in thought. He knew his way hadn’t been working, Yukina had even pointed it out, but he was going to push anyway. Shinpi deserved to be stronger. She deserved having the best chance possible of defeating Hiro and reclaiming what little solace she could from the act. Would it bring her child back from the dead? No. And it would never fill in the scars on her soul. But it would, hopefully, ease the pain some.

 

Even a little relief would be worth the effort, wouldn’t it?

 

And he understood why she’d collapsed her power into herself, suddenly. Mukuro’s refusal to help her face Hiro sparking the revelation. When Shinpi lost control of herself, it was a cataclysmic event. Something so dangerous even the likes of Mukuro feared the outcome. If that had happened in that small house, killing humans….

 

Shinpi would have never forgiven herself if she’d killed her human mother.

 

Spirit World wouldn’t have given her the chance. They’d have sent the Spirit Detective and his crew after her, calling her a rogue, manipulating the situation. Shinpi would have died at the hands of Yusuke and even himself, amongst the others. They’d have reveled in their victory for years to come, not knowing the true extent of the situation.

 

Hiei would have never gotten that moment.

 

The memory of Shinpi’s fingers resting against his neck and jaw. Her hands wound in his hair and around his throat. The spark of fear, adrenaline and excitement that flowed through him when she’d captured him. He’d have never gotten to experience that if she hadn’t had the foresight to keep herself in check during the most tumultuous years of a human beings existence.

 

The Jagan twitched at the thought, an anomaly that made Hiei wince, reaching up to touch the skin around the third eye as it peeled itself open suddenly. A mind of its own, Hiei had said on more than one occasion. And it hadn’t appreciated his recent train of thought.

 

Hiei found himself viewing Shinpi as she poured herself over a desk, notebooks and pens scattered around the surface despite the pristine nature of the rest of the space. Her back straightened, her hand reaching up to finger the hairs risen on her nape. Looking around the space she frowned, then glanced up at the ceiling with an offended, yet dull, expression.

 

“I don’t need to be babysat, Koenma.” She snapped the words, glaring upwards. “Idiot.”

Then she turned back to her work, shaking her head as irritation tensed her shoulders.

 

Alive.

 

Not Hiei’s thought, but the Jagan’s.

 

The image dissolved as suddenly as it had manifested, leaving Hiei to reel from the sudden lurch with a headache. He grimaced, the pain only adding to his exhausted frustration.

 

What the hell had that been about?

 

Of course she was alive. If she couldn’t handle a week without him, there was little hope at all for her. Funny how she assumed it was Koenma watching her and not him, given her adamant hatred of the Jagan Eye. The implant sent a thrill down Hiei’s spine at the suggestion and the fire demon mused about that before deciding it wasn’t worth the time to think about at the moment.

 

But the thoughts ceased, his mind suddenly quiet and Hiei found relief in the silence. His eyes drifted closed and he fell back against the stiff mattress of his bunk, unconscious sometime between the beginning and the end of the fall.

Chapter Text

“You’re all wrong, obviously most adept character in the franchise is Leia.” Shinpi waved her hand through the hair, messenger back draped across her body as she walked between the three men.

 “Uh, dude, are you forgetting about Luke?” Yusuke gaped at her, offended.

 “Fuck Luke.” She leveled him a determined glare. Then, with a considerate pause tacked on. “Fuck Luke, but honestly, I’d let Han Solo fuck me.”

 Kuwabara choked on his can of coffee (Sweet and creamy), as his face tuned the same color of Kurama’s hair. Whether it was the crass wording or the statement itself, the rest of them never knew. He stared at the woman as if he was seeing her for the first time and she were some concerning, ethereal creature.

 Shinpi offered him a smile.

 It did not help.

 “I should have guessed you’d be partial to Leia. I am as well.” Kurama ventured to suggest, chuckling as Kuwabara floundered to join the conversation. “An intelligent woman of great skill and determination. Seems right.”

 “I’ve dressed up as her for several costume parties.” Shinpi lifted a finger, her other hand occupied with the sparkling guava juice she’d conned Yusuke into buying for her.

 “Do you still have the costume?” Kuwabara asked meekly.

 “Of course. It was expensive.” She nodded, grinning.

 “Okay, but, white robes or golden bikini?” Yusuke leered, waggling his eyebrows.

 “Both, naturally.” Shinpi responded, her voice a warm summer’s breeze and the Spirit Detective stopped walking to stare after her.

 “That’s hot.”

 “You can borrow the bikini sometime. I think it’d look nice on you.” She winked at him, and then lowered her voice as she leaned toward Kurama. “I also have a Han Solo costume. It’s nearly a perfect replica of what he wore in second film. I spent a lot of money on that. It even has the gun.”

Kurama laughed, eyes sparkling. “Again, I shouldn’t be surprised.”

 “I still think it’s just really cool you even watched the movies. Sis never wanted to go with me.” Kuwabara complained.

 “We should watch them together. I’m sure she’d find a way stomach the experience.” Shinpi offered with a wolfish smile.

 “Stop hitting on my sister.”

 “Stop having an attractive sister.”

 “Gross.”

 Blue eyes cut to him, a dangerous glare glinting in the sunlight.

 “I mean gross because she’s my sister, not because you’re a… y’know.”

 “Wait? You really are?” Yusuke jumped headfirst back into the conversation, eyes wide. “I thought that thing you said about Mukuro was a joke.”

“You’ve slept with Mukuro?” Kurama’s eyes widened too.

 “I said nothing. You implied I’d been intimate with Mukuro and I simply didn’t bother correcting you.” Shinpi sighed heavily. “Boys.”

 “I didn’t realize you were a lesbian, is all. I mean, you’re not exactly, you k’now.” Yusuke waved a hand at her. “Butchy. So, are you like a lipstick lez or what?”

 “Deliver me patience because if you give me strength I will abuse it.” Shinpi looked up at the sky earnestly and robbed another chuckle from Kurama’s throat at her plea.

 “Most demons are actually very sexually open, Yusuke. A partner’s sex doesn’t matter as much as compatibility. There are several species, if you’ll remember, and we don’t all fit together.” Kurama decided to step in and save the woman. Or more, save the others from the woman.

 “Ooooooh.” Both Kuwabara and Yusuke nodded.

 “Also might I add that you have a very skewed idea of what a lesbian is.”  Shinpi interjected. “Not all gay men are feminine, not all gay women are masculine. Idiots.”

 Yusuke went to say something else, sarcastic from the look of it, but Kuwabara thoughtfully shoved him.

 “Still.” Kuwabara glared at her. “Stop hitting on my sister.”

 


 

 “Your hands are magical.” Shinpi lulled, grin wide and comfortable. “Thank you, Shizuru.”

 “I can’t let a mane like this go unattended.” Shizuru quipped, offering a pleasant smile in return as she finished trimming Shinpi’s hair in the kitchen before both women began to clean up.

 Kuwabara sulked near Yusuke and Kurama as the men waited in the living room to start the movie night. “I really wish she wouldn’t hit on my sister.”

 “I really wish they’d makeout.” Yusuke joked and earned himself the brunt of Kuwabara’s body weight as the other man attacked him.

 Kurama eyed them, then turned the page of his book. “She’s going to beat you both if you scuff her table again.”

 Yusuke shoved the coffee table to the side with his foot as he rolled, moving to pin Kuwabara to the ground.

 “God, I just wish they’d kiss and get it over with.” Shinpi smirked as Yusuke came up, sputtering his indignation as Shizuru laughed behind her. “You two would make a handsome couple.”

“I approve.” Shizuru lulled and grinned as Kuwabara barked a protest. “Aw, come on baby brother. It’s just a joke.”

 “You’re in a good mood.” Kurama pointed out, eying Shinpi as she came to sit in the other armchair near him. It prevented her from sitting on the couch with the other three, allowing her proximity without being forced to touch anyone else.

 “I suppose I am.” She allowed, eying him.

 “It’s been nearly four weeks since Hiei left, hasn’t it? He should be back any day, really.” Kurama went on as if this were a casual conversation.

 This was about as casual as pointing a loaded handgun at her, in her opinion.

 “Is that true? Time sure has flown without that barbarian breathing down my neck.” Shinpi countered idly. “I hadn’t realized. I’m sure he’ll fly in demanding his fight, any moment now.”

 “Indeed.” Kurama eyed her.

 “Indeed.” She agreed, eyes narrowing. “Let’s turn on the movie.”

 “Thanks for hosting this little viewing party. I’ve never seen these films before.” Shizuru leaned toward Shinpi, who allowed her tense moment with Kurama to pass. “Sorry my baby bro is such a bother.”

“Don’t be. I enjoy Kazuma’s company.” Shinpi waved her hand in the air. Then with a sly smile, “I enjoy yours moreso.”

 Shizuru’s eyes widened and she blushed but Yusuke turned out the light and Kuwabara pointedly turned on the VCR.

 “I hate it.” Kuwabara leaned to Yusuke to mutter.

 “Don’t ruin this for me.” Yusuke whispered back, eating a fistful of popcorn as he glanced over at the two women.

 “You’re disgusting, Urameshi.”

 “God, I want them to get disgusting.”

 “What does that even mean?”

“Will you two idiots shut up? I can’t hear.” Shizuru swatted her hand against the back of Kuwabara’s head, forcing silence into him.

 Kurama glanced at Shinpi as the opening credits scrolled. The smile she’d donned for Shizuru had faded, her face falling into a stoic stone mask once again. Her jaw looked tight, even in the harsh shadows the blue light of the television allowed. Glimpsing her hands confirmed his theory, as he noticed the fists she’d curled against her thighs.

 Her open body posture was a ruse. This entire night was. Just as her needling Kazuma about his sister had been, though he didn’t doubt she might actually harbor an attraction toward Shizuru.

 He didn’t think she’d ever act on it.

 Because all of this was a carefully crafted act, meant to convince them she’d grown to trust them. That she considered herself their friend and that they were in her good graces. 

But in between the scenes of a galaxy far, far away, he couldn’t deny what he saw in her. As surely as anything, a predator sat in their midst, coiled to spring at the first intrusion. But there was a loneliness that lined the defensive tightness of her muscles. A forced isolation.

“We can go.” Kurama offered quietly, leaning toward her to do so without drawing the attention of the others in the cramped space.

Immediately she softened, her fingers unfurling from her palms and she pulled her knees into her chair. With a slight shake of her head a light entered her eyes. She said the next word with an honesty he hadn’t fully anticipated.

“Stay.”

 

Chapter Text

It almost felt good to be back, the warm clean air of Genkai’s vast estate fingering through Hiei’s hair in welcome after his longer than anticipated absence. He’d meant to be gone for a month, as he’d discussed with Shinpi, but one thing after another continued to come up. He’d found more and more time passing and suddenly two months had gone by.

 But he was here now.

 Too bad the women didn’t seem to be.

 Hiei walked into the temple, shirking off his cloak as he scanned the interior. Disappointment welled up when he realized that it was just Yukina and the old woman in the old shrine. His scowl must’ve betrayed him, because Genkai shifted those probing eyes of hers to him as if he’d spoken.

 “Looking for someone?” She asked coyly.

 “Who would I possibly be looking for? Only two people lived here the last time I checked.” Hiei grunted, crossing his arms.

 “Oh, Hiei! You’re back.” Yukina walked into the room with a smile. It seemed his absence had made his last day beating the power out of Shinpi a thing of the past. “Will you be staying long?”

 “He’s looking for Hichi.” Genkai told the ice maiden with a smirk.

 “I never said that.” Hiei countered with a glare. “Senile old fool. Though I could ask you where you let that woman run off too.”


“Hichi went home a few weeks ago. She asked me to give you a message.” Yukina walked out and returned a few moments later with a note.

 

Given how incredibly late you are, I will assume our

rematch is to be postponed, Jaganshi. A shame, really.

I was looking forward to destroying you. I’ll work you

into my schedule at my earliest convenience.

 

A-S

 

He smirked, pocketing the note. Aloud, he huffed. “That woman thinks way too highly of herself.”

 “She’s supposed to be coming back for a check-in with Genkai in a few days.”  Yukina told him. “I think she’ll be happy you’re here.”


“I doubt it.” Hiei rolled his eyes.

 But it relaxed him some to know she would be coming to the temple. It meant he didn’t have to make an excuse to hunt her down. Not that he needed an excuse. As a member of the team, checking in on a parolee would well within his responsibilities. This was just easier.

 He could wait a few days.

 It would give him time to focus on how he was going to approach her about the information Mukuro had given him.

 Except, by the next afternoon he had already wasted all his patience. He realized Yukina had never actually offered an exact date and with the old woman haunting every fucking hallway there was no way he could ask without it being turned around on him. He was about tired of Genkai’s sly glances. So he was stuck waiting with no actual end in sight, an infuriating concept.

 Two days later Hiei stalked into the kitchen, done with his round of training for the day. Wiping sweat off his chin with his right arm, he came to a sudden stop.

 “When the hell did you get here?” He demanded staring at Shinpi, who sat across the table from Genkai sipping from a cup of tea.

 “I’ve been here for three hours.” She deadpanned, setting her cup down. “Is that an issue?”

 He turned to Genkai, bristling and ready to shout at her for not telling him, but the old crone smiled at him and he forced his lips to press into a thin line. Yusuke was right. She was a bitch.

 “No. It’s not an issue.” Hiei glanced back at Shinpi. “I got your note. Yukina isn’t a messenger pigeon.”

 Shinpi crooked an eyebrow, then turned back to Genkai. “Anyway. That about covers it. Kurama and I meet up weekly and will continue to do so until school is done. Kazuma comes over one or twice a week for me to check his progress. Yusuke has, for some ungodly reason, taken it upon himself to initiate some friendship that seems to be solely based on his ability to play video games at my place.”

 “Sounds like Yusuke.” Genkai nodded. “Any issues?”

 “Other than Yusuke? No. Everything has been fairly quiet.” She sighed, head tilted to the side. “It’s been almost boring.”

 Hiei moved around them, getting himself a glass of water as he watched them talk. Shinpi glanced at him a few times.

 “What?” He snapped at her.

 “I’m just trying to figure out why you aren’t wearing a shirt.” The cool response slipped easily from her lips.

 “I was training.” He huffed. “Is that a problem?”

 “It was an idle thought, not an actual conversation starter.”

 They stared at each other before she rolled her neck and shoulders, averting her gaze. Finishing her tea, she got to her feet, smoothing out the skirt of her dress. Hiei swept his eyes over her, surprised by her attire. A dress? How were they supposed to spar if she was in a damn dress?

 “So, same time next month?” Shinpi asked Genkai with a sincere smile. “I wish it was easier to get out here.”

 Hiei pushed off the counter. “I thought we were going to fight.”

 Genkai hid her smile behind her cup.

 “I don’t have time.” Shinpi told him, all hints of expression draining from her face. “I had time, you know, weeks ago when you were supposed to be back. But currently I’m all booked up. As the note said, I’ll have to work you into my schedule.”

 Hiei glared at her, tensing to argue when she stood up and bowed her head to Genkai then bid Yukina farewell. Her hasty retreat made it hard for him to shove insults at her without seeming desperate.

 It also meant they didn’t have a chance for him to question her on what he’d learned at Mukuro’s. Or to offer his new plan. He wanted to make her stronger so she could see Hiro dead at her feet. He wanted to eliminate the question of her success from the equation. He wanted to test her again, see if she’d progressed, find her weaknesses and pad them.

 He got the opportunity to do none of it because before he knew it, she was gone.


 

“Has this become a habit for everyone?” Hiei glanced around at his allies, strewn about in various states of comfort in Shinpi’s living room. The woman herself had disappeared into the kitchen some time before, preparing food for her guests like a decent host, not a woman whose home had been over taken by her parole officers.

“Basically.” Yusuke lulled to the fire demon, followed by a pain groan as he lost the round of his video game to Kuwabara, who hollered in victory.

“In your face, Urameshi.” Kuwabara beamed.

“And you’ve allowed this.” Hiei directed his statement toward Shinpi as she waltzed in with a tray of snacks.

“Allowed seems a stretch.” She muttered, glancing around. “It sort of happened and my protests fell on deaf ears. I just don’t actively force them out.”

That made more sense.

“She fucking loves us.” Yusuke snorted, sticking his tongue out at the women. “She just doesn’t like to admit it.”

“Hey, how’s Miss Momozono doin?” Kuwabara helped himself to a handful of crackers. Shinpi glared at Yusuke then turned her attention to him. “She said her hip was bothering her when I saw her at the market.”

Shinpi nodded. “I eased the pain. She’s been well. We are having dinner tonight.”

“She’s a nice lady.” Kuwabara nodded with a warm smile. “I’m glad you have her around.”

“Who?” Hiei felt like his absence had entirely cut him from the loop of information. Not mention the social circle.

Shinpi needed to invest in more seating if her home was to become the new hangout, he decided.

“My neighbor. You might remember her from that time you pilfered my memories.” Shinpi told him coolly. “Sachiko is a lovely old woman. She took me in when my parents died.”

What a delicate way to cover her act of brutal murder. Hiei rolled his eyes. “I remember her. You’re close?”

She didn’t answer him, casting him an appraising look instead.

“So, how was Mukuro doing?” Yusuke sounded only partially interested, most of his attention fixated on the game as his fingers mashed against the buttons on the controller. “You were gone for a while. Trouble?”

Hiei nodded curtly. “Seems that something is upsetting the peace to the west of Gandara, but it’s unclear what. Mukuro met with Enki and the others. They’re going to increase patrols and attempt to determine a cause.”

Shinpi glanced at him, brows pulled down and she looked away when he caught her stare.

“Sounds like it’s under control.” Kurama offered.

“For now. I suspect I’ll be called back.” Hiei frowned. His annoyance earned him several glances. He ignored them, too busy watching Shinpi who seemed determined not to look at him again.

She pointedly locked her neutral mask into place, not daring to let Hiei of all people see that his update had gotten under her skin. Her palms rubbed against her pants, thoughts whirling around her skull like leaves tossed about in a storm. West of Gandara? The timing was too perfect.

It was him. He was preparing to make a move. Strange though, that he would draw attention on himself at this crux. A rookie mistake? No. A flagrant display of power meant to alert the kings that he didn’t fall into their realm of control? Could be. He had the ego for such acts. It was an omen, one that sat heavy on her mind. There was no mistaking this.

Should she inform Hiei? Of all of them, he seemed the one most likely to be drawn to the front lines if there were a confrontation.

Sparing him a considering glance, she decided against it. She had no proof. And her word would be meaningless to the kings, especially as she was. Who heeded the warning of ghosts?

Shinpi found green eyes glued to her face, and it made her stare back at the fox without blinking, refusing to let him see his attention had surprised her. Narrowing her eyes, she rolled them away from him.

“Are you alright?” Kurama softened his voice to ask the question, but it was a ploy and she wasn’t about to fall for it.

“Perfectly.” She nodded, a crisp movement. “I’m planning out the groceries I need to buy for dinner.”

“Oh, hey, we should go do that.” Yusuke set the controller down. “I need to pick some stuff up too.”

Shinpi openly grimaced, a long suffering sigh escaping her. They could at least pretend that they weren’t supervising her every movement. Every day these idiots showed up at her house, all or one of them, and followed her around like an imprinted duckling. Not only was it annoying, it had started to become such a regular thing that she’d nearly forgotten to be weary of the act.

 She’d almost started to consider herself amongst the team’s allies.

 A decent manipulation on their part, bolstered by their movie nights and friendly questions, but that was the effect of proximity on the psyche. She just had to keep herself at a distance and wait out their patience.

 “Come on, let’s go!” Yusuke grinned at her, tossing his arm over her shoulder and tucking her to his side. “By the way, when are we going to get to finish our fight? You’ve been putting me off. I want to pound that pretty face into a new shape.”

 “As if you’d be able to land a hit on me.” Shinpi teased him, slightly stilted. “You should have come with me to the temple the other day. We could have done it then, but I’m not going back for a few more weeks. I have classes to finish up.”

 “Ugh, I forgot you were as big a nerd as Kurama.” Yusuke pretended to gag. “You telling me you’d rather be studying then beating me up? Jeez. What a stab to the heart.”

 With a grin, Shinpi ducked from under Yusuke’s arm, foot hooking out to cause him to stumble. When he moved to catch himself, she grabbed his arm and tucked it behind his back, landing with a knee on his lower back and a perfectly pleased grin lighting her eyes.

 “Cheater.” Yusuke whined, cheek against the floor. “You’re a dirty, dirty cheater Shinpi.”

 “And you’re an easy target.” She released him and then hid her smile behind her hand, giggling. “Come on, idiot, let’s get going. I’d like to be back before Sachiko comes over. I don’t want her to have to wait on me because you’re slow.”

 The smile she hid died away quickly as she caught herself. These were the moments she needed to be wary of, she cautioned herself.

 These men weren’t her friends, no matter how easily the act came to them.

 It startled her that the thought of it almost made her sad.


 

How had they gotten here? Kurama was trying to figure it out. They’d been doing fine, walking toward the store when Hiei had commented on something offhandedly about the way Shinpi reacted to Yusuke. She’d responded with a dry remark, and it had turned into the two of them standing in the middle of the sidewalk launching verbal jabs at one another while the rest of them watched. Sighing, Kurama pinched the bridge of his nose and counted backwards from ten.

It had been a fairly peaceful two months, and he was now starting to feel Yukina’s pain. Hiei’s presence directly impacted the way Shinpi responded to anything.

“Your social skills are so lacking that even I have a hard time justifying your lackluster presence and I was literally raised by wolves.” Shinpi told Hiei, eyes going up and down with a sneer. “Not just my father, who was an actual wolf demon, but I mean literal wolves. Giant, furred, four legged mammals that I can now for certain say had better manners than the likes of you.”

“Being raised by wolves makes sense to me, seeing as how you’re a complete bitch all the time.” Hiei tossed back at her, arms crossed over his. “Animal apparitions sit a little lower on the totem pole so I’m not surprised that you lump yourself in with actual animals.”

“Watch it.” Kurama muttered, and Hiei huffed in response.

“That might offend me if it came from someone whose opinion touted even a modicum of my respect, but I don’t make a habit of consulting loveless bandits on my self-presentation. Especially not ones that probably roamed the countryside all alone due to being such a huge dick that they couldn’t make any friends. Anyone who’s been wearing the same outfit since, and this is just a ballpark guess, they were nine, has no business talking down to anyone else about their origins.” Shinpi crossed her arms too.

“While we’re on the subject of wardrobes, let’s discuss the hapless disaster that is yours. You’re trying so hard to fit in with the humans that you’ve completely disregarded any credible attire that could pass as fighting gear. And I’ve had these clothes for less than a year, thank you.” Hiei narrowed his eyes at her. “But no doubt that was some poor attempt to comment on my height, which is so original, I’m truly wounded.”

“It wasn’t a comment on your height, it was a comment on your immaturity. You found something comfortable and refused to give it up because it gave you some weird sense of stability in the tumultuous world you love to call home. That’s the same style, cut and color of attire you’ve been wearing since the Dark Tournament. In and of itself, that tells me that you have a hard time moving on and growing. You’re a stagnated, overrated, loud mouthed prick who thinks the world owes him something because nobody hugged him as a child. Except it doesn’t. No one owes you anything and you should really drop the act of being a total loner because it so insanely clear that your friends love you and you care about them and this whole façade is done.” Shinpi gestured down him and then back up before waving her hand to the side.

“Goddamn.” Yusuke pulled back and looked at Kurama, eyebrows high on his forehead.

The fox leaned back too, his eyes darting back and forth between the two demons who were staring each other down. Hiei rolled his shoulders, dropping his arms to his sides as he assessed the woman in front of him.

“Is that why you insist on wearing those wretched excuses for clothes? Because your human mother begged you to and you finally bent to her will only to have her die so now you decide to walk around as a living shrine?” Hiei demanded. “Because as much as you’ve been trying to degrade me with my background, we all know yours. You live in a constant miasmas of unwarranted guilt that not only weakens you, but has negatively impacted literally every aspect of your life. You’re so afraid of failing someone again you won’t even accept the hands extended to you by the team because deep down you know that if you get attached to us, you won’t be able to go through with this ridiculous suicide mission you call a plan.”

Shinpi stepped back, then narrowed her eyes nostrils flaring.

“Don’t sit there and pretend to understand my motives for not wanting your second rate team foisting themselves into my good graces.” She growled at him. “My fear of failure is nothing new and it can’t be used to undermine me. And neither can my guilt, because while you see it as a miasma, I carry it like a badge. I know my mistakes and I allow them fuel to me to carry out my revenge. Not all of us managed to wow a king into supporting us by ripping off our shirts, so in the absence of a literal army, I will handle this the way I have handled my family’s business for centuries. On my own and without hesitation or mercy.”

“And you’re going to fail because you’re a stubborn moron who can’t see that there is an actual king who has thrown his support behind you” Hiei gestured toward Yusuke. “But you don’t actually care about that because you’d rather die a martyr and be done with bane that is your existence. I don’t doubt that you’ll fight without mercy. I doubt you’ll fight with enough restraint to make it back to the people who care about you, of which you have more than your fair share. While you’re sitting there disparaging me over my connections, you’re blind to your own. So why don’t you just shut that pretty mouth of yours for five fucking seconds and allow us to help you?”

Shinpi blinked, and Hiei too suddenly realized that at some point during this argument they’d stalked toward each other so that he had to dip his chin to see her face at all. In each other’s faces, shoulders lifting and falling with harsh breaths, they stared at each other.

“Maybe I don’t want people caring about me.” She told him. “Because as I’m sure you’ll agree, I’m more trouble than I’m worth. No amount of support is going to change how this ends. And I don’t want anyone else getting hurt because of me.”

“More of those guilt ridden excuses.” He swallowed, wetting his lips. “My second rate team may not live up to your standards, but we have each other’s backs, even when one of us might not deserve it.”

“That’s careless.” She faltered, looking away. “Stupid. That’s how people end up dead.”

“Wouldn’t be the first time.” Hiei noted with a touch of humor. She looked back at him. “You can accomplish more than revenge if you want to, you know. Your inherent value is higher than that.”

 The responding quizzical, searching light that passed into her eyes caught him off guard. He almost repeated himself, softer. Almost. Instead he swallowed, the corners of his eyes pinching under her scrutiny as he tried to pry understanding from her expression. He felt every second stretch into a minute, each minute an eternity. They must’ve been staring at each other for five or six lifetimes, by his count.

“Why do you say things like that?” Shinpi asked him, barely even a whisper. “You ruined a perfectly argument.”

“Because I mean them.” Hiei wasn’t even sure she could hear him. “We can go back to fighting. I have a list of annoying habits of yours I can go off on at a moment’s notice.”

“The moment’s gone.” She shook her head. “I’ve lost my momentum. You win.”

She patted his chest twice, her hand falling uselessly down afterward, her fingertips trailing over his front. Her eyes had moved to the side of his face, unfocused. Nodding to nothing before she turned away from completely.

“I’ve got to go.” She announced to no one in particular.

“Dude.” Yusuke and Kuwabara muttered in unison, glancing at each other and then to Hiei. “Duuuude.”

Then, quietly under his breath, Yusuke pulled Kurama and Kuwabara to him in innocent headlocks. “I told you two he had the hots for her.”

“I heard that.” Hiei whirled around with a vicious glare. “Keep your mouth shut detect-“

An explosion cut off Hiei’s threat, the ground beneath their feet trembling as the sun set. Eyes wide all four of them turned toward the stream of black smoke pillaring upwards towards the clouds. Another world-shaking boom rattled through the air, punctuating the screams of humans as they fled. A tidal wave of sobbing, screaming beings flooding the street.

 Kuwabara was the first of them to launch forward, “That’s Shinpi’s block!”

 His word trailed after him and Hiei stepped to follow when Yusuke grabbed his arm and nodded toward a second pillar of smoke. “He’s got it. That’s where the most power is coming from.”

 Kurama, Hiei and Yusuke peeled off toward the second epicenter even as another eruption shook the windows in the buildings as they ran passed. Power, not so much that they couldn’t handle it but more than should have come over the border without warning. Not just one either, but several signatures touting as at least B-class. Hiei and the others skidded to a stop in front of the veritable army, greeted by sneers.

“If you’re here the target must be close.”


 

“Shinpi!” Kuwabara panted her name as he slowed to a walk.

The street was in ruins. Concrete sticking out jaggedly over the furrows that had been drawn through the asphalt of the road, the sidewalk missing large chunks of cement. Shinpi’s house was intact but damaged, visibly shifted from its foundation. Her gate was missing, the lawn a disaster of upturned earth and scorched grass. The houses around her were leveled, toppled to the ground like flimsy paper reproductions.

He stopped walking as he saw her, her name falling to silence on his tongue. What could he say? What could he do in this moment as another monumental strike in the distance quaked the ground under their feet?

He was powerless.

Shinpi cradled the silver haired Sachiko Momozono in her arms, pulling the old woman into her small lap. Even in this advanced stage of life, she was taller than Shinpi. Pain dug lines into Shinpi’s face, into the woman in her lap. The void surrounding Shinpi began to quiver as Kuwabara watched, his eyes widening as he saw it convulse on itself.  Expanding. Cracking.

“I can’t mend this.” Shinpi clutched at those frail shoulders, bowing her head over the woman. “I can’t fix all the damage. But I can ease your pain. I’m so sorry. I should have been here.”

“It’s not your job to fix everything.”

Blue eyes squeezed closed, anger beginning to cloud her mind.

“Do not defend my incompetence.” Shinpi demanded, tone harsher than she’d meant it to be in these final moments, because they were assuredly final moments. She knew the feeling of someone dying in her arms too well to mistake it for anything else. “You cannot forgive me for this.”

“I never blamed you, darling girl. No one blamed you. You’ve always done what you had to do.” A shaky hand rose, blue veins easily seen through wan skin. A thumb wiped a tear from Shinpi’s cheek, streaking russet in its wake. “Hichi, you are good. I love you.”

 “I…” She felt more tears fall, hot and angry against her icy skin in this moment. In this deplorable moment. “I love you too.”

 Her lips pressed to the woman’s wrinkled forehead, and the vacuum shifted, breaking open and unleashing a wave of intense green light, pouring it into and over the body cradled in the demoness’s arms. Blue eyes opened to careful slivers, the expression of agonized love clear as day in the light.

 “Be good.” The woman whispered and the light faded as her eyes closed, her lips still parted. Her chest lifted a few times, as if she was in a deep sleep, and then fell to never rise again.

 Shinpi placed her cheek to the forehead she’d kissed, the energy fading. Kuwabara took a step forward, toward her, not sure what he was going to do except offer comfort. Even over this space he could feel the intensity of her sadness and anger. Her emotions leaking from her like a dam with holes pierced through the stone.

 “Be good.” Shinpi repeated the words to herself, maybe an oath, but more of a lament. The tears stopped as she opened her eyes fully and she grit her teeth together.

 The sudden explosion of youki forced Kuwabara to his hands and knees, the green light a beacon. Shinpi stared up at the ever darkening sky with an expression the purest rage he’d ever seen. He’d thought he’d known anger when Yusuke had died at Sensui’s hands. But this, this was so much worse. The ground around her didn’t stand a chance under the force of her fury, cracking and buckling in on itself. Gently, she laid the woman on the ground, stepping over her body in the direction the others had run.

 Wind sharper than anything he’d ever felt before cut around him. Shaking, his fingers digging into the ground, he could only watch as she started to walk away. The wind followed her, lifting her hair and twirling through it.

 It took all his willpower to get his feet under him, running to catch up to her until she blurred, too fast for him to see, and he panted. Well, at least he knew where she was going. Then a pressure raised the hairs on his arms and neck, bringing his eyes to the sky. The clouds were starting to swirl against one another, moving toward the others. He started running again.

 These demons were unfamiliar. A faceless army.

 Shinpi arrived in time to see Hiei cut down another three demons, sweat dripping from his chin and jaw, a curse about the numbers falling from his tongue. Kurama nursed a wound to his thigh and eye, rose whip lashing. Yusuke was on the ground, grappling with the demon trying to pin him there. The cold wind that followed her stayed close to her skin.

 No mercy, no hesitation, she whipped her leg around to cut an arc of wind at Yusuke’s attacker, a gash forming on its chest. Running forward, she jumped and landed a solid hit to the demon’s jaw. Then another under its chin. This one sent the top of its skull outward in a spray of brains, blood and bones. Her body twisted away and ignored the detective on the ground, targeting Kurama’s enemy now. Blood pounding in her ears, she could hardly hear the startled cry of her prey.

 Be good.

 She surged, sliding into a kick that took out the demon’s ankles. She rolled him and slammed her foot onto his shoulder blade, twisting his arm at an angle that led to an audible pop followed by a scream. Spinning it the other way, she broke it again, then slammed his head into the ground.

 Seething, full of rage and without a target she screamed up to the sky and the swirling clouds started to braid into a funnel. She would tear this whole damned city off its foundation and send it back into the earth from which it was risen.

 You are good.

 She spun as there was a crunch on the rubble. The lead demon coming out of hiding to face her in her infinite fury. Again, his face sparked no recognition from her. He’d been sent here to retrieve her, she had no doubt. He’d be sent home as all her enemies had been.

 In pieces.

 Stalking toward him she growled, deep and throaty. The glass on the ground around them vibrated under the pressure of her energy. He stared her down, as if this would do anything but fuel her rage. He had no idea what he’d been sent to do. No idea who she was. It didn’t matter, it wouldn’t excuse him. More demons came out to flank him, pouring from seemingly nowhere, all baring their teeth and eyes clouded with bloodlust.

 She’d faced larger, more powerful armies before.

 The funnel above them grew stronger, the sound of it barreling down on them beginning to howl. Kuwabara panted, showing up to the edge of the fight. He started to shout at her, but she didn’t bother listening. Yusuke screamed something that she also ignored. If they were smart, they’d run away. They’d get to safety. If they didn’t, it wasn’t really her problem.

 These men weren’t her friends. They were officers of Koenma. Their entire existence in her world was meant to keep her in check.

 Good fucking luck with that today.

 “Do you have the sword?”

 Her body trembled. The sword? The sword? They’d murdered so many people, spilled so much innocent blood, and all of that for her sword? This entire block was destroyed. Limbs showed under piles of rubble.

 Sachiko was gone.

 Because of a goddamn sword she didn’t have.

 As she walked passed Hiei, he planted his feet, but the power of the vortex around her started to drag him forward. His eyes widened as he planted his sword into the ground and held onto it, refusing to give another inch. The rubble started to lift off the ground, feeding into the forming vortex around the woman as she came to a stop. His arms and legs strained to keep him being dragged along with the rocks and debris.

 Tremendous. The power around the woman was tremendous. And chaotic. It would suck them all in at this rate. Where had this come from?

 “We have to stop her!” Kuwabara called to him over the insufferable noise.

 How were they supposed to accomplish that? Hiei turned back to the woman, and thought they’d have an easier time fighting a hurricane. Knocking her unconscious would work in theory, but he doubted they could get closer without earning her attention. He reached up and untied the bandana, allowing it to be swallowed by the funnel cloud threatening to fall on them. The Jagan opened and he focused on her.

 Which is when she turned to look at him and he froze. Her eyes pierced him and he was struck by the haze of pure murderous intent he saw.

 “I thought you’d be enjoying this.” Her voice carried through the gusts and noise with ease, as if the elements held no bearing against her. “You wanted to see it, didn’t you? Would you really deprive yourself of this chance?”

 See it?

 Understanding seized him as he looked up.

 Mukuro’s armies, sent home in carts, pieces so mangled they couldn’t be identified. He swallowed. So this was more of her power. Their sparring match hadn’t prepared him. When she’d said that by within a month she’d be able to beat him, he hadn’t believed her. The Jagan fell to half-closed, shuttered for the moment. He didn’t bother vocalizing his answer, and she seemed to accept his upturned face as consent.

 “Keep them away from me if you value their lives.” She warned him and her attention was fixated solely on her opponent. Hiei was nothing more than dust in the wind.

 “What the fuck are you doing?” Yusuke hollered, barely heard.

 Hiei wouldn’t have answered him even if he could have. Admitting that he was refusing to stop Shinpi out of sheer curiosity would have meant dragging his team’s ire onto himself. It was better to watch, to wait, than anything else.

 He wanted to see her in action. But also, in a deeper part of himself, he wondered if he could even stop her. It was easier to whisper through their minds to keep back, that they had to wait this one out.

 Shinpi raised her hand. Hiei licked his lips. The other three men held onto each other, trying to stay as close to the ground as possible. With a cold glare, she dropped her hand and the funnel hit the ground. The demons screamed as the micro-twister tore through their horde. Shinpi used her hands to guide the formation of wind, directing it through the mass of bodies until no one but the leader stood. Throwing her hand to the side, the tornado disappeared, sputtering from existence. Even with its disappearance the skies above did not clear. The wind around the demoness did not dissipate.

 She was on the leader in a flash, taking him to the ground and straddling his chest. He shoved a piece of pipe through her left arm. It didn’t slow her down. Ripping it out, she wielded it with her other hand to beat against his face. How many times had she hit him? Five? Ten? A hundred? She lost count, continuing after feeling him convulse under her and grow still. Snarling, she continued until a hand wrapped around her raised wrist as she tried to swing again.

 Then the hand fell away and arms slid under hers, a face pressing into her shoulder, soft heat bringing attention to just how incredibly cold she felt. The pipe fell from her fingers, her arm sagging down to her side as she allowed Kuwabara to hold her. His tears wet her shirt, a mild annoyance that she didn’t quite mind. She couldn’t will herself to feel anything at the moment.

 “You’re a good person!” He told her, his grip tightening on her. “She thought so too!”

 I’m not a person at all. Shinpi thought darkly. I’m not even really alive, am I?

 Hichi, you are good.

 Her chest ached, her bottom jaw quivering under the strain of how hard she bit her teeth together as the first few drops of rain started to fall, the winds still raging around her like knives. He must’ve gotten cut coming so close to her. She could only imagine what he might look like.

 “Let us help you.” Kuwabara begged into the space between her shoulder blades. “Please, Hichi, let us help you too.”

 “I’m not…” She began as the rain started to grow heavier. Her head tipped down, bangs shadowing her eyes even as she squeezed them closed. “I’m not worth saving!”

 Her cry penetrating the storm, tears falling down her cheeks.

 “You’re wrong. Anyone who can love as deeply as you do is worth saving.” He whispered, pressing harder against her back. “I won’t let you go, Hichi!”

 I love you.

 Shinpi choked and the storm broke in full, a sudden torrential downpour as she sobbed. But the winds stopped and her energy collapsed against her again, delving back into her bones where it couldn’t hurt anyone.

 “I’m sorry.” Kuwabara told her and she clenched her fists. “I’m so sorry that you’ve lost so much, Hichi.”

 She couldn’t fight him anymore. She couldn’t push the feelings down, pretend she wasn’t cut open and raw. The blood running down her arm felt cold, but Kuwabara was warm. His kindness radiated from him. Giving up, she bowed her head, devastated. Broken. In a pain that ran deeper than the wound she’d received.

 “Okay.” She relented, saying the only thing she could think to say to make him stop trying so hard. Her body loosened, her eyes opening in a heavy lidden way. “Okay, Kuwabara. Okay.”

 Her soft defeat made the arms around her come undone, robbing her of the warmth but also allowing her the space she wanted. She just sat there on top of the demon she’d brutally killed, staring at the mess she’d made of his head, and said nothing more.

 “Can you walk?” Kurama’s voice, concerned and gentle, delicate even, as he picked his way over to her.

 “No.” Shinpi responded emptily. “I’ll probably be asleep soon. Don’t wake me. Don’t let Yukina waste her energy healing me either.”

Hiei made a sound through his teeth, glaring down at her. But she didn’t respond. The expression faded some. He had been ready to throw an insult, but the words died before they were manifested. Even as he watched, she sagged forward, lost to a hopefully quiet oblivion for a while. Stooping he grabbed her arms and tugged her onto his back.

 “Can you manage?” Kurama asked him, eying the exhausted woman.

 “She’s lighter than she looks.” Hiei snorted, rolling his eyes. “We should get going before the human authorities show up and we have to explain ourselves.”

“Good plan.” Yusuke nodded, frowning at the destruction around them. “If we got caught this would be a real disaster.”

Chapter Text

There were no chains, merely several wards and seals. Some applied directly to Shinpi’s skin to keep her power where it could be contained.

 Not that she had any energy to expend anyway.

 She’d lost control. What a stupid mistake. What had she been thinking? It didn’t matter, even though she knew the answer. What mattered was that she was in a state of exhaustion she hadn’t felt since she’d lost her brother and the subsequent fight to Hiro and yet the detectives couldn’t seem to find it in their hearts to leave her alone. Her judgment would surely be coming from on high at any moment, one of Koenma’s agents delivering the news of her execution with a flurry.

 She just wanted to die in peace, dammit.

 Yet Yusuke demanded she understand that they would fight for her, the last thing she wanted.

 “Just leave me here.” Shinpi struggled through the words, emotion lighting every syllable. Her raw pain filled the room, turned the air to a cold mist. Maybe she had more energy left than she’d realized. “Do what you’ve wanted to for months now and just go.”

 Hiei’s hand slapped against her cheek before anyone could stop him. Shinpi sputtered, her head craned to the side, eyes wide in her apparent shock at his action. But Hiei kept his hand in the air, prepared to lower it against her face once more as his eyes narrowed to dangerous slivers. If the room had been cold in the wake of her pain, it turned frigid when he spoke.

 “I have not wasted months of my energy just to have you kill yourself.”

 Yusuke gaped at the fire demon, shifting forward slightly but not quite enough to intervene. Kurama glanced between Hiei and the woman, alarmed, but equally unwilling to move. Kuwabara balked, biting back on his quick barb about Hiei’s grotesque manners. None of them acted to protect her because all of them saw her visceral reaction to Hiei’s words.

 Her immediate glance toward him, some small hope in her eyes that died as quickly as it came.

 So when Hiei wrapped his fist in her shirt and hoisted her toward him, no one stopped him.

 “I’m so utterly disappointed in you that you’re hard to look at, but I’ll work through the misery to get my point across.” Hiei locked eyes with the woman and refused to allow her gaze to wander. “You’re coming back with us. That isn’t a suggestion or a request. It’s a demand.”

 “Why?” She asked him, quiet and furious.

 “Because you’re a member of the team.”

 “No. Why are you trying so hard?” She demanded of him and her hands lifted to his wrists but she didn’t try to pry him off of her. Tears entered her eyes but didn’t quite spill over her lashes. “Why do any of you try at all? I’m better off here. You all saw, I can’t even control myself anymore. I’m a monster. I-“

 The resounding echo of Hiei’s palm colliding with her cheek a second time preceded the redness that welled up on her face from the impact. Shinpi stilled, surprised once again.

 “I answered you.” He warned her. “You’re a member of the team. For better or worse, you’re one of us.”

 “I’m not.” She whispered, hoarse.

 “Shinpi, look at me.” Hiei bowed his head closer to hers and she flinched from the intensity of his gaze. “I do not waste my time on creatures undeserving of my attention. I don’t have the patience for it.”

 “Implying I’m deserving, but you still haven’t said why.” She tightened her grip on his wrists, willing him to understand her confusion. To make sense of it. “All of this energy, all of this collusion, what’s it for? What do you get out of it, any of you?”

 “We get you, dumbass.” Yusuke stepped forward and placed his palm on the crown of her head. “In all your stupid glory.”

“Yeah.” Kuwabara nodded, moving to place a hand on her shoulder. “You’re smart and witty and you keep Hiei on his toes so that’s nice.”

“Not to mention your years of battle experience have proven indispensable.” Kurama tossed in, moving to her other shoulder. “On top of all of that, we get to participate in the development of a truly talented, compassionate creature. The question is why wouldn’t we support you?”

“You round out the team.” Yusuke nodded. “We could use a feminine touch, don’t you think? Keep all us stupid boys in line. You’ve got a knack for that sort of thing.”

She eyed them, face going slack as they spoke and defeat clearly washing over her. They all saw it and with every added hand on her body, she seemed to shrink.

“You get me.” Shinpi repeated the words and seemed lost in them. “The monster who nearly destroyed an entire street. The woman who can’t control herself. The creature who has allowed everyone she’s ever loved to come to harm. Me. I’m not worth fighting for.”

Hiei dropped her shirt and stepped back, disgust clearly written on his face. When Shinpi glimpsed his reaction she looked away.

“Not worth fighting for.” Hiei repeated cruelly, snorting. “Tch. I saw a woman bereaved acting to prevent further carnage from her opponents. Someone so devastated by the loss of a single life they could not contain their grief. I’ve never met a demon so singularly capable of delivering on the reckoning of their ire as you are, because I’ve never met another demon who cares as deeply as you do about the people around you.”

Shinpi’s eyes widened, her gaze lifting to meet his, confusion pulling her brows together and opening her lips.

“You are exactly the sort of creature we should be fighting for.”

Her mouth formed a startled ‘o’ before she could stop herself, her gaze roving over him.

“You can have your moment of moronic self-doubt and penitence. Fine. But when we come to collect you, I expect you to come with us without argument.” Hiei snapped at her. “Throwing your life away will only bring dishonor on the memories of those who died believing in you.”

Her fingers curled into her palms on her legs. One by one the hands on her lifted and retracted to their hosts, each man walking out the room on their own and leaving her behind to fold in on herself, tears in her eyes and the echoing pain of emptiness in her chest. How many times would the space between her lungs ring with this hollowness?

How many more tragedies would she orchestrate by her mere existence?

The questions made her sink her teeth into her lip until she tasted blood, eyes squeezing closed and she curled into a ball on the bunk to settle into her guilt and grief while she had time to indulge before Yusuke realized he wasn’t going to win this particular fight.

Koenma would never let her go, not now.

But Hiei’s disgust made it easier for a coward like her to leave that discovery to be delivered by anyone but her. Let them exhaust themselves fighting for nothing.

They’d eventually come to realize the futility of it.

Of her.

And the first sob rolled from her chest and with it the dam gates broke open.


 

“Be good.”

 Shinpi dug her nails into her scalp, curled in on herself like a fern that had yet to unfurl. Teeth bared, she made herself as small as possible as she tried to control herself. Here, her energy was the distant hum of powerlines. The seals that had been unceremoniously slapped onto her did their job. Koenma’s cautious heart did him a service in this act. If she’d been left untethered she would have surely killed them all without malice.

 The storm inside her was not burdened with a sense of morality, it merely existed to rage. They were right to contain it, because clearly she could not.

 “You are good.”

  I’m not. I’m really not.

 She snarled at herself and it strangled into a sob, pulling from her chest by its own will. The force of it shook her but still, she refused to grow any larger.

 “No one blamed you.”

 Her cry of rage and pain filled the cell Koenma had thrown her into, echoing off the warded walls the way the words echoed in her mind. Such a kind woman did not deserve to die so horribly. This curse would be the end of her, it was ravenous and ruinous and she was a harbinger of death to anyone kind enough to love her. It was better this way, alone. Better to be trapped in this flimsy prison than wandering the streets where she might endanger anyone around her.

 Behind the glass, Hiei watched her with Kuwabara. Neither of them spoke as the woman shrank in on herself, collapsing like an imploding star. Her cries rang piteous and broken even through their small space.

 “Why can’t we go in there?” Kuwabara whispered, distraught. “She’s suffering, man. Why won’t they let us help her? They let us in before.”

 “She’s a danger to herself and others.” Hiei spoke on reflex, tone empty.

 What a joke. After they’d filed out of the room half a day earlier, the SDF has shown up with a key and locked the door behind them. No one was to enter the room without the guards. Koenma’s orders. And no one had.

 Shinpi had spent the following twelve hours alone, a pitiful wailing creature, so small she almost seemed to be a lost child in the hold of monsters while the team was forced to look on, equally helpless to assist her.

 “Do you really believe that?” The carrot top frowned.

 Hiei hesitated to answer, then he looked over at his towering ally. “No. I don’t. But Koenma does and he locked the door.”

 “Watching her is breaking my heart.”

 Hiei shuddered. Was that the sensation gripping his chest? This racking, disgusting, burdened sense of empathy that welled up each time Shinpi sobbed, turning his blood to ice and making it nearly impossible to keep from breaking the glass. Watching her suffer, alone, agonized him. Being with these fools for so many years had whittled down his emotional defenses. What a useless thing, empathy. What good did it do him in this moment?

 What good was it doing her?

 “Koenma’s fear makes him a fool.” Hiei responded to Kuwabara, covering for his own inner workings. “Shinpi is no more likely to kill us now than she was when we first met her.”

 A strangely double edged comment.

 “You’ve really turned a corner when it comes to Hichi.” Kuwabara noted, wincing when another guttural cry of pain heaved from Shinpi’s chest.

 Hiei watched the woman and wished she’d look at the glass like she had before. Glare at him through the panes, make him feel like she could see him when she couldn’t. He wanted her to know they were there.

 He could lift a hand and tap on the two-way mirror. Earn her attention.

 But he knew better. Whatever she was suffering through, it was consuming her so entirely she wouldn’t want their interference. She’d submitted to Kuwabara before, but didn’t she deserve a moment with her grief? Koenma was truly a startled child if he found this woman to be a threat in this crisis. She mourned the loss of a human’s life with such intensity she’d wrought wrath from the heavens themselves.

 What fault could Spirit World find in such stark love for humanity?

 But even as he tried to manipulate the situation in his mind, he knew he was only presenting half the facts. It wasn’t her love for the old woman that bothered Koenma, but her uncontrollable outburst. They’d stood no chance against her when the dam on her power burst and that was the issue.

 Mukuro’s warning swam back to him and he shirked away from it.

 “I just wish I could hug her, you know? Tell her it’ll be okay.” Kuwabara sagged against the wall and exhaled. “She’s just hurting so much.”

 “You’re an idiot.” Hiei snapped at him. “What about this will be okay? No amount of cajoling will bring the woman back from the dead.”

“It’ll get better.” Kuwabara defended himself.

 “Not to her.” Hiei countered. “This is just more fuel for her suicidal fire. Another death to tally against her soul. Another failure to count before she dies. If you go in there with your ridiculous notions of hope she’ll never forgive you.”


 

Yusuke had his foot planted on Koenma’s desk, leering over the grim faced toddler with a harsh glare. “I said let her go, Pampers.”

“Yusuke.” Kurama sighed the name, exhausted with this ongoing fight. “It’s not working.”

“I don’t give a shit.” Yusuke reared back and stomped on the desk. “Let her go!”

“You saw her.” Koenma used the remote and a video played of Shinpi’s fight. Her manipulation of the clouds and air, the tornado that fell on her enemies without mercy. The relentless beating she’d offered the leader of the demons who had come for the sword. “I can’t let that wander the streets.”

“That.” Yusuke pulled back a darkness stealing over his expression. “That. Isn’t that how the SDF referred to me?”

“It’s not the same.” Koenma pressed his lips thin. “I was already nervous about this when Hiei vouched for her, Yusuke. Then we found out she’d killed her human father, a crime I rightly shouldn’t have let go. I only overlooked it as a favor to you, but you’re all out of wishes. My hands are tied.”

“She was pissed! She lost someone!” Yusuke bellowed. “For fuck sake, Koenma, come on.”

 Kuwabara had explained it to all of them, sitting in this office while Shinpi had been warded and locked away. That Sachiko had been killed, that Shinpi had tried to heal the woman’s pain. Their small conversation and how broken it left his heart to hear, especially when he saw the tear roll over Shinpi’s usually stoic cheek. And what followed was a manifestation of her anger and her heartbreak.

 Because there was no denying this was the work of a broken heart.

 “She saved us.” Kurama posited. “She didn’t have to, but she did. Before she went after the demons, she single handedly took out each of our opponents. Hiei said-“

“Hiei’s intentions have obviously been compromised.” Koenma stood up abruptly. “He allowed her to walk out of here knowing she was a murderer. I don’t care what he says right now.”

 “She told him to keep us back.” Kuwabara entered the room, sullen.

 “Which proves presence of mind.” Koenma shot back at him. “Why are you fighting so hard for her? You barely know her.”

 The room grew quiet.

 “If we can get her on our side, she’ll be a steadfast ally. Spirit World could use someone like her.” Kurama commented quietly. “Imagine that on the border.”

 Yusuke shot the fox a dirty look. But he merely shook his head, a shiver of crimson to still the argument.

 “She’s a healer too.” Yusuke turned to Koenma.

 And so the argument renewed.


 

Botan knelt, cautious, beside Shinpi’s quivering form.

Did a demon that powerful have any right to look so incredibly small? Hiei hated the display of it.

“Please.” Botan begged. “Your arm-“

“Let it rot.” Shinpi refused to look up, head tucked into her hands as she remained in a ball. “Leave.”

Botan didn’t budge, but the three SDF agents all tensed at the command. Matsuma amongst them. Hiei sneered at the display, his palm resting against the hilt of his sword.

“I want to help you.” Botan reached out, her hand resting against Shinpi’s shoulder.

The immediate change alarmed everyone in the room. Shinpi stilled, one cold blue eye cutting toward Botan with pupil shrunk to a pinpoint. The air in the room felt imposing, suddenly, as if the whole room had knives pointed at the occupants.

“Put your goddamn knife away.” Shinpi hissed the words.

Confusion danced over Botan’s expression. Then she looked behind her to see one of the SDF members had drawn a blade, which trembled in her hand. The woman seemed pinned under Shinpi’s gaze as the demoness bared her teeth, uncoiling.

“I said put it away!” Shinpi rose her voice. “Do you even know how to use that? Pulling a weapon when a noncombatant is present, you’re a useless-“

The opening of her body allowed them all to glimpse the raw ruined flesh of Shinpi’s upper arm. A hole through the muscle, blood fresh and old mingling with the scent of sickness. The appendage seemed useless at her side and all at once Hiei realized she hadn’t been using it at all during the end of her fight. Botan took advantage and pushed her hand to the wound, cutting off Shinpi’s words as soft light flowed.

Shinpi jerked away as if she’d been scalded, eyes wide. The SDF reacted, moving toward the demoness with weapons drawn. Botan squeaked, throwing herself over Shinpi’s form. But it was Hiei that stopped them. The two women peered up at his back as he came between them and the guards. Hand off his sword, Hiei merely stood glaring and daring them to continue their path of assault.

“Get out.” The fire demon growled. “You have no business in here. Trigger happy idiots.”

“Move.” Matsuma demanded.

“You move.” Hiei snarled. “I’m not going to watch you beat a powerless, injured creature just because the merest excuse cropped up.”

“All of you leave.” Shinpi demanded, very carefully peeling Botan off of her with her good arm. Her voice lacked its usual authority. Mostly she just sounded tired. “I don’t need any of you here.”

“But your wound!” Botan fretted, flapping her hands uselessly. “It’ll get infected.”

“Good.” Shinpi collapsed back in on herself, once again turning into a tightly curled ball.

Hiei watched over his shoulder, his teeth gritted together. When they all filed out of the room, Botan hanging back with Hiei near the door, he touched the arm of the SDF agent with the keys. The man pantomimed locking the door, then walked away and Hiei placed his hand on the handle.

“You aren’t supposed to be in there.” Botan whispered. “And you’re definitely not allowed to manipulate the SDF with your Jagan, Hiei.”

He raised an eyebrow, silence meeting her statements. Then she nodded, gripping the front of her kimono.

“Try to convince her to allow me to heal that arm. It’s already starting to fester.” Botan kept her voice quiet.

He nodded and ducked back into the room, in open defiance of Koenma’s orders that no one be allowed inside without the SDF. Shinpi wasn’t going to kill them. She didn’t even seem to be capable of fighting at the moment.

“I have nothing to say to you.” Shinpi spoke with a voice of ice.

Hiei knew this already. He looked her over, noting the way her dark hair fanned over her back and shoulder to keep her face hidden. Knees drawn up, pressing her crossed arms to her face. He didn’t offer a rebuttal, instead having to convince himself he wasn’t insane for trying to do this.

But Mukuro’s stories had been irritating him for hours. Her not so cryptic warnings buzzing too loudly for him to ignore.

“Death was truly the only mercy she had left.”

“You must choose between being a villain to your friend to attempt to protect them or find yourself complicit in their destruction.”

There was a third option, one that would have never occurred to him even a handful of years ago. But it seemed the obvious, if not most treacherous, path.

Hiei stiffened before he dispelled the discomfort. This wasn’t about him. A difficult thing to remember, but it had never been more true. Shinpi’s constant burrs against his selfishness fueled him. Sitting on the lumpy mattress, he reached over and placed his palm on the crown of her head without a word. The world came to a point, all sound and movement beyond the two of them nonexistent.

Shinpi lifted her head, tearstained face peering up with such a wild look of incredulous awe that Hiei almost retracted from her. But he didn’t. Instead, he smoothed his hand over her hair and then repeated the motion.

“What are you doing?” Shinpi swallowed a throat full of needles.

“You have to stop this crusade against yourself. You need more faith in the people who have faith in you.” Hiei responded, anything but easily, laying his hand to rest on the top of her head again.

“You’re petting me.” She whispered hoarsely, confused.

Two months ago, she’d have laughed at his audacity.

“Shinpi, it’s going to eventually be alright.” Hiei emphasized the sentiment, and watched her eyes grow glassy as the light died in them. He’d done what he’d warned Kuwabara not to do.

But Kuwabara was a warm presence in Shinpi’s life and it was better if she chose not to forgive Hiei. He could absorb her ire. They already had such a tenuous relationship, her hating him more wouldn’t make that much of a difference. But Kuwabara? Kurama? Yusuke? She needed them. They made her smile, laugh. So he could mutter these stupid, useless comforts and allow her to rage against him for it.

“She’s gone, Hiei, she’s dead. Because of me. Because of my curse-“

“I’ve told you already, you aren’t cursed. You’re an idiot, maybe, but your troubles aren’t some divine punishment.” Hiei argued with her. “The woman died because those demons killed her. Not because of you.” 

“Because of my sword.” Her eyes began to mist. “Because she knew me.”

“Shinpi, let me ask you.” Hiei pulled his hand back and watched her eye him with heavy speculation. “Do want to feel this way?”

“What?” She stared at him.

“I’m asking if you want to endure this grief.” Hiei repeated. “Because I can take it from you, if you don’t want to carry it.”

And the offer made her stare at him, her mouth falling open. Her eye scanned over his face and she rubbed at her eyes suddenly to clear them. Sniffling, she peeked at him and it seemed demure with her reddened face and trembling lips.

“I can manage it.” Shinpi told him quietly.

“That’s not what I asked. I asked if you wanted me to take it from you.” Hiei pointed out quietly.

“What would you do? Take away the memory of her death leaving me to wonder where she went? Change it to losing her peacefully?” Shinpi wondered, sniffling again.

“If that’s what you want.”

“I don’t.”

Hiei’s lips pulled to the side, the threat of a smile as she shifted to sitting beside him.

“If I don’t remember I can’t honor her, can I? I need this. I just… I’m so tired of killing the people I love.” She turned her attention to her hands. “I’m sorry for all the trouble I’ve caused all of you. I still believe it would be best if you left me to Spirit World.”

“Tch. Coward.” Hiei eyed her, but his tone lacked bite. “As if I’d hand you over now that I’ve finally seen what you’re capable of.”

“Ass.” Shinpi frowned at her lap and then glanced at his hands. “I hope I never face you with that sort of rage.”

“Me too.” Hiei admitted, relaxing some. This conversation was easier. He noticed her glance at his hands again and it made him tip his head to the side. He waited for a moment, waiting to see if she’d ask. But she didn’t.

 So he lifted his hand and smoothed it over her hair again, an action that made her close her eyes and lean toward him just enough to make the motion easier. Neither of them spoke about it. When Hiei heard the others walking toward them he lowered his hand back to his lap and Shinpi opened her eyes, staring at the door.

 “Yusuke went to bat for you.” Hiei told her quietly. “Kurama too. They’ve been working to convince Koenma you’re worth trusting.”

 “Insanity.”

 “If they can trust a thieving murderer hellbent on destroying humanity, they can trust a woman who can’t help how deeply she loves.” Hiei remarked, rising to his feet and walking toward the door. He left before the others arrived.

 “Sorry for leaving you here all alone.” Yusuke pushed open the door and came in, immediately moving to sit beside Shinpi. Kuwabara posted on her other side, arm around her shoulders. “I heard Botan tried to help out but you told her to leave.”

 Shinpi’s face spasmed into a frown, confusion creasing her the skin between her brows when Hiei appeared beside Kurama, reentering the room. He stared at her and then Urameshi, and she all at once understood.

 “I’m not worth Botan’s energy.” She spoke quietly, looking away from Hiei. “I’ve come to terms with Koenma’s wishes. I understand that I presented myself as a danger. Whatever comes next, I’m prepared to accept in the fullest.”

 “You’re going home.” Yusuke told her with a grin, but even to her it seemed forced. “After a little cooling off period, that is. I told Koenma to shove his punishment up his ass. You’re a member of the team and we’re not leaving without you.”

 “Surely the threat of your constant badgering is what got him to see your point.” Shinpi attempted to joke, but her voice lacked any inflection. “I wish you hadn’t.”

 “I know.” He slipped his arm around her and pulled her close and the action made her close her eyes as Kuwabara pressed against her from one side and Yusuke the other.

 When was the last time someone had held her like this? She accepted the contact, glad for it. It had been so long since anyone but Yukina had thrown their arms around her. Touch starved, that’s how one of her psychology professors described this feeling. She missed her family, suddenly, and the intensity of the emotion that echoed in her chest sent her crawling back from both men with a look of fear. That’s right.

 That’s why she hadn’t allowed herself to be coddled.

 As much as she wished she could remain between the two of them for a while longer, at ease with the warmth of their bodies, she couldn’t stand the memories. Not now.

 Everyone stared at her.

 “Sorry. I should’ve asked.” Yusuke lowered his hands to his lap, dejected.

 “Don’t be sorry.” Shinpi spoke, then swallowed and tried to soften her suddenly jagged edges. “You did nothing wrong. Thank you, actually. Touch brings me great comfort but I simply, I can’t-“

 “It’s alright.” Kurama raised a hand to cut her off, crouching down to offer her a smile. “You don’t owe us an explanation.”

 But she did.

 Because she wanted them to know that it wasn’t their fault she was this way. It was just…who she was now. If they’d met her before her fall, she’d have relished in their embrace, taken great comfort in it. Hell, she’d have trapped them in a hug herself. But that was when she had a pack, when she was allowed to be consoled.

 “One day.” She promised instead, so tired of feeling suddenly.

 “One day.” Kurama agreed softly, and he dared to place a hand on the mattress by her leg.

 With great reservation, Shinpi looked at his hand and then covered it with her own, her fingertips pressing into the skin on the back of his hand. It was a small gesture, but one of the largest she could offer right now.


 

There was no way to postpone the conversation. Hiei had hoped to debrief his team in a more ideal location, not here in Spirit World, and possibly over food. But it had to happen now.

“Mukuro turned Shinpi away because she was afraid that if she aided her, she’d have had to kill her. She finds Shinpi to be unstoppable in moments like what we witnessed.” Hiei vocalized with a scowl. “It was heavily implied I needed to be prepared to end her life if she got out of control.”

“Fuck Mukuro. Shinpi is good people. She just needs us to remind her.” Yusuke crossed his arms over his chest.

 “I’m not arguing that.” Hiei glared, already on the defensive. “But it’s going to take more than words to prove we have her back, that she can be better. We have to do to Shinpi what you idiots did to me. The impossible.”

 “Getting through her walls won’t be easy. She’ll likely sniff out our intent early on. It’s possible she’ll believe we’re manipulating her.” Kurama voiced, frowning.

 “Then let’s use her relentless logic against her.” Hiei smirked.

 “Make it impossible to deny we’re on her side.” Kuwabara nodding, understanding.

 “She won’t make it easy. She’s going to push us.” Kurama pointed out. “We have to be prepared for not just her temper but her guilt.”

 “Easy or not, it’s what we gotta do.” Yusuke let his hands fall to his hips. “Shinpi is one of us, whether she believes that or not. Our job now is to show her what that means.”

Chapter Text

Shinpi glowered, seething as Hiei waltzed into her house like a second shadow, hot on her heels. It was nearly two in the morning, she was beyond exhausted, and quite frankly, did not have time for this. Once again her fate had been decided without her. Once again she was on the receiving end of Hiei’s so-called guardianship.

At least at the temple she’d had space to avoid him.

How would she accomplish that in her small home?

“If I’d known I was having company I’d have arranged the second room.” Shinpi spoke in stiff tones and curt pauses. “I’ll find linens for the bed.”

“I’ll sleep on the couch.” Hiei glanced at her, completely aware of her misgivings. “Don’t strain yourself.”

She stared at him, lips pressed into a line, and then nodded before looking around the hall they stood in. “Bedrooms are on the second floor. As is the full bath. This is a half-bath and has the laundry machines.”

She gestured to a door on her right.

“You’re free to eat what you want in the kitchen. Try to keep the noise down. I have a final tomorrow.” She made her way to the stairs and Hiei tipped his head to the side, watching her flee.

Very suddenly he was alone, free to wander the bottom floor unabated. Keep it down? He wasn’t Yusuke. He wasn’t about to start playing those infernal video games or shouting at some sports match on the television. He made his way into the living room and checked the sliding glass back door to make sure it was locked before closing the blinds. Settling onto the couch, he propped his legs up and considered the events of the last two days.

Shinpi had been kept in Spirit World for nearly forty-eight hours, mainly to be sure she wasn’t a threat to anyone else. Not once since they’d told her she’d be released had she made a move to comment on Hiei’s odd behavior. He was relieved, honestly. The moment of compassion was the last thing he wanted thrown back at him right now.

Her frustration at finding out she’d be guarded round the clock had seemed dim compared to the outrage he’d anticipated. They’d all expected more pushback from her, actually. Her annoyed compliance bothered Kurama the most, the fox wasn’t able to make heads or tails of why she made such a minor fuss.

Hiei guessed once she rested she’d tell them what she really thought.


 

The scream jerked Hiei from his sleep and he threw open Shinpi’s door with a loud enough sound that she launched from sleep with sweat dripping down her temples. Panting, she stared at him, eyes distant as if she weren’t seeing him at all.

Hiei looked around the room. Nothing was disturbed except the woman herself.

“A bad dream.” She explained and then laid herself back against her pillows, pulling one to her chest as her eyes fluttered closed. “Just a dream.”

He was left to cool the sudden rush of blood through his veins on his own. Quiet crept in again and he frowned, leaving the door open as he made his way back down the stairs to the couch.


 

Shinpi pursed her lips before clicking her tongue. Arm in a sling, bandage winding around her wound, she huffed a sigh of indignation at Hiei’s attire. “You don’t have to come.”

“We told you, one of us will be with you at all times.” Hiei remarked, tilting his head to the side.

“Another conversation for another day.” Shinpi agreed, scowling. “But Kurama is at the university. I don’t need two of you to keep me in line.”

“Hn.” Hiei shrugged, slipping on his boots. “I’ll pass you off to Kurama then.”

Shinpi tensed. “I don’t need a babysitter.”

“I agree.”

“Then stop this ridiculous act.” She gestured to him, to encompass his jeans and tee, his plainly human clothing. Kurama had dropped off a duffle bag two days before filled with Hiei’s possessions. His whetstones, his cloak, and the entirety of his human wardrobe.

“You’d prefer if I ran around your campus in my regular clothes?” Hiei mused, smirking because he knew this wasn’t the point at all. “Sword and all?”

But this was the first time Shinpi had protested his presence, really, and it felt like she might be shaking off the miasma of grief that had enshrouded her. She was finally coming back to herself. If annoying her cut through the haze, then annoy her he would.

“I’d prefer it if you didn’t run around my campus at all.” She complained, running her left hand through her bangs.

“Me too.”

“Then don’t?”

“Not an option.”

A long suffering sigh answered him, birthing a true smirk from him. “You just said-“

“You’re injured. You can’t be wandering around without protection if armies are going to crop up looking for you.” Hiei pointed out.

She frowned, then glared at him.

“So, if I heal…”

“I’ll still be here because you shouldn’t have to face armies alone.” Hiei pulled open the door and breezed out of the house. “You’re going to be late, Shinpi.”

She watched him walk away for a moment then slid her shoes on, hating them. But it was a presentation and the professor had been very clear she had to wear business attire. So she walked out of the house with the heels on, complimenting her pencil skirt and blouse. Hiei carried her messenger bag without complaint, but he eyed her shoes with clear distaste.

“How are you supposed to run in those?” He demanded.

“It’s for a class. I just have to get through that then I can change back into pants and tennis shoes.” She heaved another sigh. “It’s my first class of the day.”

“What possible subject could you be studying to require such impractical shoes?” Hiei griped. “If you get caught in those, it won’t be my fault.”

“I can always just stab my assailant with the heel.” She flashed a grin, but it died quickly. “I’m presenting my paper on the increasing rate of anxiety disorders in school age children so I have to dress professionally.”

“Tch. Professionals can’t wear practical shoes?” Hiei rolled his eyes.

“I didn’t have time to buy flats, what with being imprisoned and all.”


 

Just like the last two days, Hiei didn’t actually pass Shinpi off to anyone. Kurama only shared a single class with her and it wasn’t until that afternoon. So Hiei lingered at the back of the lecture hall, hovering by the door looking thoroughly out of place as Shinpi wove her psychological theories to her audience. It was the third presentation he’d heard her offer in two days and he had to admit, she was good at talking.

When she spoke it was with a collected authority that held the audience in rapt attention. Passion laced her words, emphatic as she made her points, but it wasn’t the overwhelming rhetoric of crazed zealots. More the adamant speech one would expect from a leader imploring their citizens to take action. To ease the worries of the listeners. She spoke like all the trust in the world could be placed on her shoulders and she would never disappoint those that held her aloft.

Hiei narrowed his eyes as the middle aged woman grading Shinpi grabbed the woman’s arm and pulled her to the side. They held a quiet conversation and Hiei watched as humor danced through Shinpi’s cobalt eyes, lighting them and pulling at her lips for the first time in days. She shot him a look and then shook her head. The other woman looked over too, frowned, and then nodded.

“What was that about?” Hiei demanded, glaring when she finally joined him.

“She wanted to ask if I was in trouble. It seems you look like a thug.” Shinpi chuckled and the sound made Hiei glance at her.

She hadn’t really smiled at anything in days. It was almost refreshing to hear amusement ringing in her tone.

“Idiot.” Hiei huffed. “What did you tell her?”

“That you’re a private investigator that I’ve established a working relationship with.” Shinpi seemed thoroughly amused by this idea. “We’re looking for the scoundrels who mugged me and injured my arm.”

Hiei smirked at that. “I’m sure if I wander the city I’ll still find pieces of them lying about.”

Shinpi laughed, and his smirk grew.

“A lot of the girls have been asking about you, actually.” Shinpi’s tone turned teasing. “They think you’re handsome.”

“Humans will never cease to confound me.” Hiei let his head fall back. “Pining after demons, do they have no sense of self-preservation?”

“Please, be a bit louder.” Shinpi nudged him with her arm and he raised his eyebrows as he righted his head. “You aren’t complimented, not even a little?”

“Absolutely not. I don’t care if these fools find me attractive.” Hiei snorted. “Do you enjoy their petty affections?”

“What are you talking about?”

Hiei rolled his eyes and didn’t answer her. If she didn’t notice the constant barrage of gazes on her, he wouldn’t bother her over it. He could feel her staring at the side of his face. Shooting her a cold glare, she glared back and turned away.


 

“Hiei?” Shinpi frowned and glanced at the demon while he perused the cafeteria’s options. Then she turned her attention back to the man in front of her.

“Yeah, he’s been around you all the time.” The man waved a hand.

“No, we aren’t romantic. We have a professional relationship.” Shinpi remarked easily.

“Oh, I see. I sort of figured, since most guys might not appreciate how to treat you. You know, since you aren’t like other girls.”

Hiei glanced toward their table, attention drawn by movement. He watched Shinpi shift, her expression and body language becoming focused and predatory. The slight tilt of her mouth not meant to be friendly but a challenge. And the hapless fool caught in her sight seemed none the wiser. Instead, he smiled back at her. Hiei crept closer, not wishing to interrupt, but not wanting to miss whatever this was.


“How?” Shinpi crossed her legs at the knees and the intrusive human man followed the movement with a hungry gaze. When she leaned forward, chin cupped in her palm, his eyes moved up to her chest, the v-cut of her shirt revealing some skin normally hidden.

“How?” He repeated the question dully.

Hiei stayed out of sight, but watched, thoroughly amused. He crossed his arms over his chest, in no hurry to continue prowling for food. He wanted to watch this play out.

“How am I different from other women? I’d like a list.” She told the man, tilting her head.

“Oh, uh-“

She waited patiently. Her curious stare seemed to glue his tongue into place.

“You’re, uh, just different.”

The pathetic response birthed a heavy sigh from her as she leaned back in her hair, draping her left arm over the back. Her gaze never lifted from him, though. Those cobalt eyes sharper than knives as they pinned him into place. With the slightest nod to the side from her, he got up and walked away.

“Enjoying the show?” She didn’t need to look at Hiei to know he was watching.

He took over the now empty chair across from her. Leaning back, he assessed her with a smirk. That answered his earlier question of whether or not she appreciated the attention of these mindless idiots.

“Are you disappointed he couldn’t answer your question?” Hiei asked her. “You should be more gentle with them. It’s hard for weak men to respond to a woman who so completely intimidates them with a single look.”

“A request of mercy? From you?” She grinned at that, revealing her canine on the left side. “How unusually philanthropic of you.”

“I enjoy watching you shoot these idiots down. I’d just like for it to last longer.” Hiei explained.

“Ah, so not a call for mercy but to prolong the suffering. That is more like you.”

“You dodged my question. Are you disappointed he couldn’t answer you?” Hiei tipped his head to the side, curiosity ringing clear in his eyes.

“It’s not worth answering.” Shinpi leaned forward, offering him a smile that revealed teeth in a less friendly way. “I don’t need a man to list the reasons I’m amazing. I just need him to know them.”

“So if he had told you that you were the most powerful creature in this wretched place, you wouldn’t have been flattered?” Hiei’s casual tone didn’t merge with his wicked grin.

“That does play to my vanity, sure, but how would he know? It’s an empty compliment from someone whose opinion I don’t want.” She waved her hand loosely through the air.

“Should it matter whose mouth speaks the truth?” Hiei asked and watched some color enter her cheeks as he watched her process his question. She shot him a look, mostly suspicious.

“It matters to me.” Shinpi informed him, averting her eyes.


 

“Shinpi, wake up.” Hiei grabbed the woman by the arms and revealed himself a fool.

She came up all teeth and nails, her clawed hand catching him by the throat, biting through the skin. Hiei’s eyes widened as she spun them, snarling into his face as she pinned him to her bed by straddling his torso. Her teeth glinted in the low light from the hall, her eyes empty of recognition. All at once she withdrew, her back hitting the dresser as she lifted her left hand to cover her mouth. Shaking, she stared, unable to look away as Hiei sat up slowly.

He reached a hand up to his neck, noting the blood on his fingertips when he pulled them away. Swallowing birthed a bruising ache in his throat.

“You were screaming in your sleep again.” He informed her, the instinct to retaliate only barely kept at bay. “You’ve done it every night this week.”

“Nightmares.” She whispered.

“No, not nightmares. These are worse.” Hiei glared at her, thankful she’d had the presence of mind to back off because he wanted to make her bleed right now.

“Are you okay?” She shrank again, he watched her grow smaller.

He didn’t answer her, jaw locked.

“I’m going to come over.” Shinpi kept her placating voice quiet. A mistake, as Hiei demonstrated by raising his voice.

“Don’t treat me like I’m the skittish fucking animal here!”

She flinched, stopping three steps from him.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” He snapped at her. “Do you always attempt to kill people in your sleep?”

“They get worse when I’m stressed.” Shinpi swallowed, not meeting his eyes. “May I approach?”

Her asking him only aggravated him further but he tossed a sharp yes toward her. Tentatively she walked over to him, and with measured control, she gently pressed her fingertips to the flesh of his throat. Swallowing, eying his face and receiving a glare but not a snarl, she allowed her energy to come to the surface.

Soft green light highlighted the wounds, and in the process her apologetic expression. Hiei grabbed her wrist, jerking her hand away from him but not releasing her.

 “If you have the energy to heal me why is your arm still in that sling?” Hiei demanded.

 “It doesn’t work that way.” She told him quietly. “I’m not done. Release me.”

He stared at her then let her go. She went back to her task quietly.

 “I haven’t been able to use my powers to heal myself since my parents died.”

 Hiei squinted at her. “Why?”

 “Because I can’t heal someone I loathe.” She responded easily.

 He watched the light flicker to nothing, the clean scent of her energy filling the room even as she holstered it. “What are the dreams about, Shinpi?”

 She sighed and shook her head. “It’s not important. I’ll find a way not to disturb you. Perhaps, though, you avoid shaking me awake if you have to deal with me.”

 “You hate being touched more than I do.” Hiei tossed out the offhand comment and it earned a quizzical head tilt.

 “Not at all.” Shinpi frowned at him. “I don’t hate being touched. I simply get overwhelmed.”

 “Go back to sleep.” Hiei got off her bed and walked toward the door. “You need to gather your strength.”


 

“Oh dear, I had hoped they wouldn’t get worse.” Yukina sighed on the other side of the phone. “Losing Miss Momozono hurt her deeply. And with finals….”

 “You knew?” Hiei asked, frowning into the phone. He hated using the stupid contraption, and he hated asking for help even more. But he was certain Yukina would have the answer and he couldn’t just abandon Shinpi to run to the shrine. Her study date at Kurama’s home would only last so long.

 “Of course I did. I’ve known Hichi for years, Hiei.”

 “She told you?”

 “No. I happened to witness one for myself. It took a long time for her to allow me to help her.” Yukina made a noise. “I’m surprised she healed you though. That’s a good sign.”

 “All that proves is that she doesn’t outright hate me.” Hiei pointed out. “How did you get the nightmares to stop?”

“Oh, well.” She hedged, obviously trying to find a way to ease into the answer. “I’m not sure you’ll be able to help her, Hiei. Like I said, it took a long time for me to find the answer. And she’ll never ask for help. She’s stubborn that way.”

“You’re avoiding telling me.” Hiei pointed out dryly. “I’ll force it out of her if I have to.”

“That won’t work and you know it.”

Silence fell between them because he did know it, but he’d been hoping Yukina wouldn’t call him on it. But it seemed his plan worked anyway.

 “She sleeps better when she’s with someone.” Yukina told him, hesitant. “They’ll get less frequent as her stress alleviates, but in times like this I’ve generally found an excuse to sleep with her. It helps.”

 Hiei stared at the wall, blinking. “You…sleep with her?”

 “Sometimes.” Yukina allowed cautiously.

 “I thought you were with the oaf.” Hiei muttered, surprised by the wave of curious disappointment that washed over him. “I suppose you two are a decent enough fit for each other and it makes sense of her desire to protect you.”

 Another pregnant pause and then a genuine, tinkling laugh. He grit his teeth together.

 “Shinpi and I are not sexual partners, Hiei. I simply meant we sleep in the same bed from time to time. Like sisters.” Yukina continued to giggle.

 And there she was throwing out familial terms again. He huffed against the mouthpiece, glaring a hole into the wall.

 “She would never ask you to make yourself uncomfortable, Hiei. She grew up in a family that was very close. It was nothing for her to share her bed with her siblings or friends. Physical affection was a mode of communication for her. She told me it even facilitated the healing process, but she’s not in the habit of seeking it out.” Yukina let her laughter ebb away, but her voice remained humored.

 “She said something along those lines last night. That she gets overwhelmed.” Hiei narrowed his eyes and craned his head back. “Hn. I’ll see what I can do.”

 “Tell Hichi that I hope she’s well, please. I’m worried about her.”

“I’ll pass the message along.”


 

 

Hiei knew Shinpi had fallen asleep because she’d finally turned out the lamp in her room, the light no longer coming from under the door. She ran like clockwork, this woman, staving off sleep until the last second. Pushing open her door, he went in to check on her before the night terrors started. Being in her room this way felt invasive, but he wasn’t sure what else he was meant to do. He’d agreed with the others that they had to show Shinpi they’d have her back. That they could support her in any situation.

Even this one.

So when Shinpi’s face scrunched in her sleep he didn’t jostle her awake. Honestly, his throat hurt just from the memory of her nails. Instead, he inhaled and sat on the bed slowly. So irritatingly slow. Shinpi snarled in her sleep, head tossing to the side and he placed his hand over one of hers. Her nails bit into the back of his hand, but he didn’t pull back.

“You’re safe, you damn fool.” Hiei muttered to her, as quietly as he could and after a moment, her nails relented. But her grip on his hand remained.

Her breathing hitched and he frowned, slowly pulling his hand back so he could crawl to the empty side of the bed and post himself there. It allowed him to see her face, placing a hand on her head as she bared her teeth again. Yukina slept next to this? That woman was made of stronger will than he gave her credit for.

“Don’t touch me.” Shinpi growled in her sleep and he withdrew. Another rumble spilled from her chest and he rested his head against her headboard.

What was he even trying to do?

He wasn’t like Yukina. He didn’t have that aura of comfort she mustered in these moments. Her soothing, cool touch probably eased Shinpi into sleep in seconds. But he only agitated her even when she was unconscious.

This had been a mistake.

Shinpi rolled, her hand finding his leg and balling in the material of his pants. Hiei glared at her, almost snapping at her to wake up already when he saw it.

The creases in her expression smoothed out as she pressed her head against his thigh, inhaling deeply. All at once the tension in her body eased away, leaving her to breath steady breaths as she fell into a more peaceful sleep.

“Hiei.” She whispered his name with so much familiarity and comfort that he felt color rising in his face. Her lips quirked into a smile and she wrapped her arms around his leg, cuddling against him. “Hiei…”

If he’d been uncomfortable before, he was stricken now. Every muscle taut with unease as the woman happily inhaled his scent. She didn’t move again for a long time. Hiei knew because he couldn’t do anything but watch her sleep. He catalogued her strange, complacent smile. The peace on her face revealing something he’d never noticed, some warmth to her features that she’d hidden under practiced masks. Eventually, his muscles relaxed. He was able to shift slightly without waking her. Craning his head back against the headboard again, he made himself believe he was comfortable enough to sleep.

He wasn’t.

But he managed.

“Hiei?” Shinpi woke him at some point before dawn, sounding entirely unsure of his existence. “What are you doing here?”

“Your night terrors kept me awake. When I sat beside you to tell you to shut up you grabbed me. Then you relaxed, so I stayed.” Hiei muttered, pinching his eyes closed.

“Did I hurt you?”

“No.” But despite his attempt to pretend he could sleep in the same awkward position, his neck twinged and he grimaced. “If you’re awake I’m going to back to my room.”

She nodded as he peered at her, and he popped his neck as he slid off her bed and headed for the room across the hall that she’d set up for him on his second day. Shinpi watched him go, confused but a little relieved. She hadn’t slept that well in weeks. But even then, she didn’t dare bring it up to him. Not right then and not over breakfast.

And Hiei seemed all the happier for her not bringing it up at all.


 

Exhausted, Hiei groused the entire trip to the campus. How many of these damn classes did Shinpi have anyway? He was sure they’d gone every day this week and wasted time here. Between the tests that took hours to complete and the presentations, he wasn’t sure what could possibly be left for her to do.

And he was getting sick of being stared at. Girls would giggle and look away when he cut a glare toward them, or blush and duck their heads. Men would glare back and roll their eyes. The professors all cast him dubious glances of concern. He hated everyone here at the moment. This was last day, and then they could go back to Genkai’s.

Maybe he should’ve asked Kurama to take over today.

Instead, he closed his eyes and rested for a moment in one of the auditorium chairs. He wouldn’t fall asleep but the darkness behind his eyelids would be better than the glaring spotlights highlighting the stage. He chose to remain at the back of the room, where it seemed darkest.

He tried to ignore the mishmash of music that filled the space, one right after the other, tempos and melodies jarringly different from one another. Fast, slow, minimal and complex.

His eyes snapped open and he jerked forward when he heard Shinpi’s voice, pleading, emotional and full of pain. The bow in her hand strained against the strings of the violin in her grasp the notes embellishing her powerful voice. The lights fixed her into place, displaying the tears in her eyes for the world to see. She wasn’t able to hide in the beams, every nuanced and fleeting expression plain as day. Hiei found himself on his feet, weaving between the seats until he stood amongst the professor and students in the front row.

Her arm shook under the strain of use, the bandage still wound around her bicep where she’d been stabbed through nearly a week before. But her music never faltered. The sling rested around her, ready to be used at a moment’s notice.

He looked around, noting all eyes were transfixed on the woman bleeding her soul out on stage.

Her body moved with the swell of the music, with the emotion in her voice. Through the lights, through the thick pain in her eyes, she found him. And Hiei swallowed under the weight of the confession she was offering. The vulnerability she was allowing herself to display chafed him raw. He wanted to pull her from the harsh scrutiny of the lights. He wanted these feeble creatures to avert their awestruck gazes, wanted yell for them to have some decency.

But the violin fell from her shoulder and the music stopped as her voice’s last vestiges wavered to nothing and the room fell to silence in the wake of it.

Shinpi raised her chin, inhaled and exhaled slowly, then she curtsied into a bow, and the light went out.

Chapter Text

Instantaneous annoyance hit me when I walked over the temple grounds to the front door. The old woman and Yukina were nowhere to be found, and yet, Shinpi’s aura shone like a damn beacon. We had all agreed to watch over her. What possible reason did they have to leave her alone? Her arm had only just healed and that had only come to pass because of Yukina’s adamant interference.

What if she’d been attacked? What if she’d done the attacking? Did they lack common sense or just have that much faith?

I was surrounded by trusting fools.

Fools I apparently couldn’t leave alone for even a few hours. I had only needed to meet with Kurama. I had figured the temple would be the perfect in which to deposit Shinpi for that short time. We were already staying here a time to facilitate training.

Why had they left her alone? What mess was I going to have to clean up because of this?

She was easy enough to find, tucked away in the kitchen. I came in ready to berate her for whatever verbal sorcery she’d used to convince the others to leave her alone. I stopped and swallowed the words poised on the tip of my tongue, toeing the line of the kitchen without actually crossing into it.

Shinpi swayed, the neck of the bottle loosely gripped in her fist as she moved to the music, amber liquid inside sloshing gently with her movements. This rhythm was slow and I bothered my stomach lining the same way the song she’d sung a few days prior had.

We hadn’t talked about it.

We hadn’t talked about anything I’d done or witnessed in the last week and a half, actually. Shinpi studiously avoided any topic revolving around music or sleep. All for the best, in my opinion. As little as I wanted Shinpi to crawl off and die, I wanted the ridicule or moronic notions of our allies less. At the first hint I’d been in Shinpi’s bed or had an emotion of any kind, Yusuke would pounce and I’d probably have to beat him into a coma.

So, our mutual silence was for the best.

Shinpi had no idea I was there, that much was certain the moment she didn’t greet me with a barbed comment or a leer. How much had she drunk? I eyed the bottle but didn’t vocalize the question. I had my answer, in a way. She’d had enough not to notice me.

A concerning notion, if I were being forced to admit it. This woman had gone through pains to keep herself acutely aware of her surroundings the entirety of the time she’d been under my care. Even before that, from her memories, I got the impression she never quite stopped searching her environment for danger. A lesser being would have called her paranoid. I knew better. She was on guard and for good reason, always. Yet, here she was, drunkenly singing to herself with her eyes closed and her senses so dull she couldn’t tell an S-class demon lurked mere feet away.

I didn’t conceal myself, but I didn’t go out of my way to make myself known either.

Call me curious, I wanted to know what she did when I wasn’t around.

Who was Shinpi when she wasn’t seething at my mere presence?

I didn’t really expect an accurate answer, given her state. But when else would I get the chance to watch her with her knowing it? Even with the Jagan she’d reacted, knowing eyes were on her. For once I had the upper hand on Shinpi and I intended to use it to my fullest advantage.

I couldn’t understand the music pouring from the speakers or her mouth. More of the same gibberish she’d been indoctrinated into in her memories of foreign faces and dusty deserts. The tempo was slow, as were her movements, and the way she sang the songs gave the impression of feelings that went deeper than I wanted to explore.

Maybe I shouldn’t have been watching. Even I could tell this was a moment of cleansing, obtuse as I was often accused of being.

I stayed.

Shinpi took a long drink from the bottle, mid-song, and heaved a burdened sigh afterward. Something about the action caused her eye to flash over her shoulder and I knew without a doubt she’d finally noticed me because she fell into that predatory stillness that seemed more instinctual than mindful. I stared back, not bothering to mutter excuses or ask questions as the others might’ve done.

She looked away and took another hit from the bottle, turning her back to me.

Either the alcohol had her by the brain or she no longer considered me a threat. Either way, a concerning notion.

“Genkai said you were gone.” Shinpi’s voice lacked any of the usual bitterness or authority. The music continued to play, the slow beat catching her hips even as she tried to remain still. “I thought I’d be alone.”

“Are you always drunk when you’re alone?”

My sharp question forced the air from her lungs, her head turning as far away from me as possible. Even as drunk as she was, she still found the energy to get annoyed with me.

“I have my lapses.” She admitted finally, resentful and tired as she turned to face me. “What do you care? This would be the best time for you to finally get your fucking victory.”

The profanity caught me off guard. Shinpi swore, I knew this, but I couldn’t remember ever hearing her say fuck so casually. That was Yusuke’s level of vernacular. Shinpi was more likely to throw out flowery prose and scalding comparisons than vulgar four letter words. Then I realized she’d said this was a lapse. I’d never seen Shinpi drink and her memories hadn’t hinted at an addiction.

A vestige of her before self then, as she liked to think of it.

“So?” She demanded and blue eyes narrowed as she faced me.

I crossed my arms over my chest and glared back at her. “So what?”

“Are you going to fight me?”

“No.”

“Then what are you good for?” She rolled those same cobalt eyes. “Isn’t that the thing everyone seeks you out for? The one who can beat sense back into them? It’s not like you’re the shoulder to cry on.”

I remained silent, searching her over for a reason for her sudden demands. Shinpi never wanted to fight me. It was something she did to shut me up. Or in the instance of our first spar, to shut up Yukina and Kurama.

“Answer me. What else are you good for if you won’t fight me?” She demanded again. This time her voice sounded nearly pleading, despite the cool tone. Desperation tainted the edges of her words, fraying them slightly.

Again I didn’t answer her. Again she stared at me, nostrils flaring, and her entire posture seemed to collapse in on itself. Her shoulders falling, her eyelids coming down heavy, and she looked away from me. Without a word she raised the bottle back to her lips.

I could’ve accepted her challenge. Maybe I should’ve. When else would she so openly throw herself at my mercy? I couldn’t imagine her sober and near-begging me to throw down against her. But I didn’t want to fight her this way. The whole point was to beat her at her best after I made brought her to her peak. I couldn’t fathom her being the sort of demon to draw power from whiskey the way Chu seemed to. This would be a worse imitation than what I normally dealt with from her.

I still struggled to understand what she was trying to get out of the experience.

“Tch.” Shinpi sneered, rolling her eyes and the action seemed to make her dizzy as she noticeably stumbled to the side. Catching herself against the kitchen table she squeezed her lids closed. Swallowing, she didn’t look at me again. “Fuck you, Hiei. You don’t know anything.”

I tilted my head, not sure what I’d done to earn that particular comment.

“You don’t understand anything.” She glared away from me, seemingly determined not to look at me anymore. Another song started and she took another swig from the bottle before launching herself into it, eyes closing once more as she leaned against the table.

Even as far gone as she was, she had a decent voice.

“What’s your problem?” I stepped toward her and this time she cut her gaze to me, and I got the impression if I made another move she wouldn’t hesitate to come at me. Where was this fervor when I tried to pry it out before? “I didn’t say anything to you.”

“You don’t have to speak. I can hear what you don’t say.” Shinpi hissed at me, sneering again.

“And what is that?”

“It’s written on your face.” She looked away again, her grip on the bottle tightening.

“What is?”

“Your disgust. You think I’m pathetic. You don’t understand shit about me.” Her voice trailed off, growing quiet. “I don’t know why it matters.”

“I don’t either. Normally my opinion means less to you than a bug’s.” I rolled my eyes.

“I know I’m pathetic, you know. I know what I must look like to someone like you. Someone who has never known.” She continued as if I hadn’t spoken, lost to her own thoughts.

I cut my gaze to her face and shut my mouth on the words forming. Unshed tears threatened to spill over her bottom lashes, her expression nothing short of frustrated pain. Her pain bothered me and I wondered if now was the time to address Mukuro’s statements. Was the source of her pain her lost child?

Did mothers always mourn this profoundly?

I dared another step and when she didn’t look at me, I walked all the way to her and pulled the bottle from her unresisting fingers. She merely glanced at me as if she’d expected I’d take it from her sooner or later. Maybe someone else had trained her to expect being babysat when she entered these moods.

Someone from before.

Instead, I raised the mouth of the bottle to my lips and held her eyes with my own as I swallowed a hearty portion myself. Cobalt eyes widened, her mouth forming an unspoken ‘o’, as she watched me. I placed the bottle on the table between us and perched myself on the surface, my feet planted on the seat of the chair I had to pull out to make the action feasible.

I didn’t speak to her, didn’t ask any more questions. For a while we drank in silence, each of us taking sips from the bottle and setting it on the table between us instead of handing it off like true comrades might. The only sound the glass scraping against the wood and our quiet breathing.

I’d once gotten drunk with Yusuke and we’d practically been woven together as we shared the bottle of whatever grain alcohol he’d presented me with that night. Arms thrown over each other’s shoulders, we ended falling asleep in a tangled mess. He hadn’t let me live that down for nearly a full year. I avoided drinking excessively around him after that. With Shinpi I not only allowed for space but enforced it, sliding the bottle toward her once I had my fill after each of my turns and she allowed me the same curtesy.

Maybe that space is part of why her words hit me so hard.

“I died today.”

Blinking, a little bleary, I glanced over at the woman who’d spent the last half-hour silently drowning herself in alcohol at my side. It took me a moment to process her words. Her teeth caught her bottom lip, worrying at it absently.

“Stop that.” I scolded her, glaring, trying not to focus too heavily and what she’d said.

She listened, releasing her lip with a startled glance toward me. A light flush crept through her cheeks and I had the mindless appreciation that the extra color looked decent enough on her. It was after that hazy thought passed that I fully digested her words.

“You died today.” I repeated, and she nodded slowly, tentative suddenly. I raised my eyebrows, frowned, and grabbed the bottle. “I suppose that is a reason to celebrate.”

She hit me without thinking about it. Not an actual strike, but that sort of useless gesture people did with those they were comfortable with. The back of her hand slapped against the front of my shoulder, her glare falling short of ruthless.

“You’re such an ass.” She huffed.

“I hadn’t realized you remembered the day you died.” I shrugged, downing a burning throat full of liquor before rolling the bottle between my palms for something else to focus my attention on.

“I remember everything.”

I stared at the amber liquid as it moved in the clear confines of the glass that housed it. I didn’t really want to consider Shinpi remembering her death. It made sense. Yusuke remembered both of his. Kurama remembered his. Hell, even I could recall my close call in Mukuro’s training room. It made sense for Shinpi to remember.

I just didn’t want her to.

And I didn’t know why I didn’t want her to. I just didn’t.

“It hurt.” She made a face that I only glimpsed because her words caught me so off guard I couldn’t help but look at her. “I didn’t really think about it beforehand. I’d been in countless fights and battles. I’d been harboring a broken heart for so many years that I thought I knew pain, but when Hiro’s hand cut through my chest, it hurt.”

We fell into silence, mostly because I couldn’t reasonably follow up that sort of comment. She couldn’t possibly expect me to either. How was I supposed to respond? Saying sorry? Fat chance, woman. Tell her she’d had it coming? I couldn’t do that either. Silence was my only option, so I filled it by drinking more.

“You know, you’re the first person I’ve admitted that to.” Shinpi turned to look at me and I shouldn’t have faced her.

When she smiled all I could do was look at her mouth and realize that her lips were fuller than I’d ever noticed before.

I didn’t drink often. I especially didn’t get drunk. There were reasons for both.

Yusuke’s taunts about me developing an affection for this inane warrior woman resurfaced and I used them to muster up some form of defense against my own thoughts.

“That seems stupid.” I pointed out, attempting to be as harsh as I could. “You hate me.”

“Maybe there’s merit in telling because you’re an asshole. No one will believe you.” Her grin grew as she leaned toward me, her hand reaching out and wrapping around the neck of the bottle in my hands. It forced us closer than we normally allowed ourselves to get. “What would you even say? That dying hurts? It’s nothing new.”

I tightened my grip on the bottle when she tried to take it away from me. Not that I wanted more to drink. I think I mostly just didn’t want to give it to her.

Maybe I enjoyed the way she leaned over me.

That stray thought wasn’t worth examining and I quickly refused to even acknowledge it had flown through my brain.

“I want to hurt you.” The words fell from my mouth before I could even think to stop them. Where had that come from? Shinpi seemed less surprised than I did. My shock at myself loosed my grip on the bottle and she pulled it away, drinking her fill before responding.

“I don’t hate you.” She told me idly, as though it was the easiest thing in the world for her to say. “I find you to be an ass who cares mostly for himself, but so am I. I can’t rightly hate you for that. If anything, I’d hate you for being an attractive ass, but even then it’s a stretch.”

It didn’t bypass me that this wasn’t the first time Shinpi had commented on my looks. She did it fairly often, honestly. She tossed words like lovely, handsome, attractive around like they held no weight at all. But she was the only one who used them. She was the only one who looked at me for longer than she had to and spit out some sort of nonsense along those lines.

I hated the ease with which she could call on those sort of compliments. Her comfort in using them.

But I also didn’t hate that she directed them toward me.

Infuriating woman.

Idiot.

“Maybe you should hate me.” I pressed, testing her. For what I didn’t know.

“Maybe.” She agreed without argument and she pushed the bottle into my hands. Her hands closed around mine, her fingers forcing mine to grip the bottle and the callouses on her palms felt oddly comforting. “But I doubt that’ll sway me.”

“Even though I just said I wanted to hurt you?” My voice came from the bottom of my throat, another unintended response.

“Because you said you wanted to hurt me.” She lowered her voice too, her hands sliding from mine to my knees. Or more the area just above my knees yet short of my thighs. I refuse to accept that for a second I’d hoped she would move them further up. “Maybe I want to hurt you a little bit too.”

I sucked in my breath, all too aware of her suddenly. Her dark hair framing her face. Her thick lashes lining cobalt eyes filled with a fire I didn’t want to stifle. Petal pink lips that might’ve made Kurama’s roses pale in envy, if Kuwabara were the one describing her. He had that romantic nonsense prattling around his brain constantly. I tried to focus on how annoying the softness of her features were, on how unbecoming her unblemished face was for a warrior.

Fuck this woman and her stupidly attractive arrangement of features. Fuck her and her fierce attitude. Fuck her enticingly muttered threat. I hated her so much that it didn’t feel like hate at all. But to consider another name for the heat in my veins would be insanity.

“God, I wish you would.” I told her, seething into the words, dipping my head forward to hold her gaze. “I really wish you would.”

“Careful Hiei.” She stepped forward, her hands still resting just above my knees and her body slid between my legs the bottle keeping our chests separated. “You’re dealing with a lethal predator you know. You might want to be careful what you wish for.”

“Fuck careful.” I growled. “If I wanted to be careful I wouldn’t have brought you here.”

“Do you want me to tell you about my last day on earth, Hiei?” Shinpi tilted her head, lips pulled into a grin that lifted more on the left than the right and I noticed the crookedness and felt more than a little annoyed that it seemed charming.

“Not even a little bit.” I told her firmly. “I don’t want to hear about how you died, Shinpi.”

“What do you want to hear, Hiei?” She looked down me and I couldn’t keep my tongue from sliding over my bottom lip because she kept saying my name like it was a secret.

“I want to hear you beg me for mercy.” I told her and our eyes locked.

“Well, on that front you’ll be left wanting.” Shinpi assured me, nothing short of a shit-eating grin lighting over her features, revealing canines that seemed a bit too sharp to be human but too dull to be demon. Caught in-between. She reached between our bodies and tugged on the bottle that I once again refused to relinquish to her at first.

Between the two of us, we’d nearly finished it. I didn’t trust what would happen if we managed to accomplish that feat. Yet, Shinpi still lifted the bottle to her lips, her blue eyes fixated on my own. I watched the mouth of the bottle meet her lips, then watched her throat move as she swallowed the contents and a primal portion of my brain enjoyed the display far more than it should’ve.

It was a small mercy that no one was here to watch me struggle to maintain my self-control.

“You’re warm.” Shinpi commented, as if she’d never particularly noticed before. Her fingertips dug into my legs a little, her grip firmer than before.

To pin me place or steal that heat, I wasn’t sure.

“I am.” I stated plainly because she wasn’t the first to say so. I ran hot, that’s what Yusuke said.

“I like it.”

My world narrowed around Shinpi’s words and I wasn’t sure what expression I offered in response but I hoped it looked annoyed. She pulled back from me at any rate so I guess I was successful. Kuwabara had, on occasion, accused me of having resting bitch face. In this moment that was my saving grace. What might’ve usually been an insult had saved me.

Because I felt anything but bitchy about her comment or the way she’d looked at me when she’d uttered it.

“When we’re sober, I’m going to drag you into a fight by your hair if I have to.” I warned her. It was the only thing I could think to say. I expected some push back, since that’s all I’d received for ages when provoking her, but this time she nodded to my words without argument.

“Sir, yes sir.” She told me, grinning still. “Thank you for listening to me, Hiei. And for being here.”

“Don’t ruin this for me.” I huffed, glaring. “I don’t want your sentimental misgivings.”

“Does that mean no hug?” She asked, tilting her chin down to eye me through her lashes.

“No hugs.”

“What if I win our next sparring session?” She questioned and I raised my eyebrows.

“What about it you win?”

Shinpi remained quiet for a second, gathering her thoughts. “Let’s wager. If I win, I get something I want from you. If you win, you get something you want from me.”

“Something I want?”

“Anything you want.”

I considered it. The proposition held merit. Anything I wanted from her? An opportunity I didn’t want to pass up. “I accept.”

She smiled then, and the expression whispered that I might’ve just made a huge mistake. A Sensui level mistake. What trick did she have up her sleeve to garner that confidence? I didn’t rightly care, honestly. I was eager for a true fight with Shinpi. Something worth the sweat I was sure to spill.

“Hmm. A deal then. You with your sword against me and my knives.” She told me even though we hadn’t discussed weapons. “I’m getting excited.”

“It’s about time.” I muttered, mildly annoyed that it took most of a bottle of whatever gut rot we were downing to draw the feeling from her.

“Why do you want to fight me so badly? I’m nothing compared to you.” She lowered her voice, eyebrows drawn down and her eyes didn’t meet mine but glanced lower.

She might’ve been staring at my mouth but I refused to consider it.

“Because you’re strong.” I told her honestly, easily. It rolled off my tongue like my name.

And yet, looking at her reaction, it was such a monumental thing to say. Her fingertips ghosted over my pants as she stepped back a half-step, her gaze raising to meet mine once more. Shoulders fallen, chin tipped down, she looked at me through those dark lashes of hers. From her pursed lips I knew she wanted to question me. She thought I was lying.

But she didn’t say a word.

“We’re equals on the field.” I went on, merely to keep her looking at me. I wasn’t sure why holding eye contact meant so much, but it was important. My fuzzy brain thought so, at least. “I want to see which of us is better.”

That shocked her. Her mouth fell open slightly, eyes wide and pupils contracted.

“Which of us is better?” She repeated.

“Did I stutter?”

“Hiei, you’re far bet-“

“Don’t you dare lie to me, Shinpi.” The words tumbled out before I could stop them or the growl that vocalized them. “I know you’re as strong as I am. I know you have more experience than I do. I want to see if I can live up to those odds. I want your best.”

Her fingers slid up my thighs a few inches, something I noticed but ignored as she leaned toward me. Her gaze softening bred a new heat in my veins, something that wasn’t quite the urge to fight. It trailed up my spine, raising the hair on my nape with anticipation all the same.

“You’ve surprised me.” She admitted, anything but meek as she grinned. “It’s been a very long time since someone has surprised me.”

“Maybe we’re finally getting even then.” I told her, smirking. “Since I had never suspected you were some legendary demon lord when you bared your teeth at me the first time.”

“Maybe.” She agreed, and her hands moved to my shoulders. “It’s sort of intoxicating, the idea that someone actually wants to face me.”

“As someone who wants to fight you, I can agree. It’s intoxicating.”

Her blush was immediate and I had to grip the bottle in my hands to keep them occupied because I had a feeling if I reached for her, I’d get more than a fight right now. Kurama had accused me, on the rare of occasion, of being a smooth operator. I had never taken him at his word before. Shinpi’s flush and blown pupils indicated that maybe I was better at this game than I thought I was.

Which brought to the forefront of my mind: Why was I even playing? Was I trying to seduce this woman? Was she trying to seduce me? Where would that leave us, if it were the case? Yusuke had declared her a teammate, an unspoken rule that she was off limits birthed from his remarks. Shinpi didn’t particularly look opposed to the idea of bedding me at the moment, but she’d been drinking long before I’d arrived.

This wasn’t the time.

Maybe the place, if I was being honest, but not the time.

“I thought Kurama had the silver tongue in the group, but you’re alarmingly dangerous.” Shinpi told me, pulling back. I didn’t stop her.

“Hn.” I uttered the sound to cover up the disappoint of her retreat. I couldn’t be blamed for her advancing on me. But pursuing her? That would catch me hell.

“So, it’s a deal, right? We’ll fight and whoever wins gets whatever they want from the loser. One thing.” She recanted the deal we’d just made and I knew she was about to make her getaway.

Probably for the best, because her scent was starting to get delectable and I wasn’t in the best place to control my reactions.

“A deal.” I nodded once, offering my hand to her. She accepted it, shook it twice then lifted my knuckles to her lips.

I was too caught off guard to comment on her actions before she whisked away from me.

“Have a good night, Hiei.”

I raised the bottle to my lips once more, drinking deeply until the liquor burned my throat and it was all I could taste or smell, anything to wash the taste of almost off of my tongue.

Chapter Text

 

Hiei passed by Shinpi's door, his eyes darting toward it before they shifted to the old woman acting as a specter in her own home. Genkai watched him with wry amusement.

"Are you going to go in?" She asked, nodding to the door. "Seems a little late for a courtesy call."

It was late. Very late. So late, in fact, he'd thought the old crone had already gone to sleep.

"Yukina's in there." He stated simply.

"And if she wasn't?" Genkai smirked at him and he wondered if she was fast enough to avoid his sword. It had been years since The Dark Tournament and her old bones should have withered some by now. "You look guilty, Hiei. Defensive even. Were you up to no good?"

"I was checking on a teammate, hardly a capital offense." Hiei shoved his hands into the depths of his pockets, strolling toward her. "What of it?"

"Have you been helping Amon-Shinpi with her night terrors?" She asked and he frowned at her correct assumption. "That must be hard for you."

"It's a part of the job." Hiei spoke simply. "Why are you lurking in the dark?"

"I was waiting for you."

He sneered at that, rolling his eyes. But he didn't argue with her.

"You saw her." Genkai told him. Not a question, but a fact. "Earlier tonight in her moment of weakness."

That made Hiei raise an eyebrow.

"What exactly are you about to argue over?" She huffed. "Spit it out, Hiei."

"I am not convinced that Shinpi is as weak she wants everyone to believe, including herself. Tonight's lapse, or whatever it was, hampered her senses but I got the impression she was more than capable of defending herself should the need have arisen." He spoke in a clipped tone. "Her idiocy is not the same as weakness and mistaking it for such will get someone killed."

A grin cracked over Genkai's dry lips. "I meant it colloquially, Hiei. Sorry I offended your sensibilities."

Color doused Hiei's cheeks, his teeth grinding together. He was in no condition to be meeting Genkai head on. "Whatever. What did you want to know about her drunken self-pity session?"

"You've told me everything I needed to hear." The old woman offered him a single infuriating look. Then she started walking toward her room.

"I hate you." Hiei muttered the expression, hunching down into his shoulders.

With another glance toward the door, Hiei paused before beginning his retreat to the back of the temple, gathering himself. Normally he'd have slipped outside and found himself at home in a tree or even on the roof of the old temple, but with his awareness still muddled by the persistent clutches of the alcohol he'd indulged in it was better to remain inside. Away from anything and anyone who might want to disrupt him.

Shinpi's door slid open and whatever look Hiei cast toward it troubled the woman who greeted him. He'd almost hoped it was Yukina. But cobalt eyes, not crimson, scanned over him.

"Oh, Hiei, you're awake?" Shinpi blinked, looking far too exhausted to be on her feet.

"I was headed to bed." He kept his voice quiet, eyes darting the way Genkai had gone. Now would be the perfect time for that old bat to make an appearance.

"Don't let me keep you." Black hair shivered with the gesture of looking down the hall and back to him. "Is there something you're looking for? You keep staring that way."

"Nothing." Hiei responded quickly, then frowned at his own reaction. "I'm still drunk."

"Oh."

Silence fell between them and he remained in place despite saying he'd been headed to bed. Shinpi made no move to leave her door either.

"Well, goodnight."

"Why are you up?"

They spoke over one another and Hiei pressed his lips thin as Shinpi did, they both went to speak again and then clamped their mouths closed. After a brief staring contest, Hiei charged ahead.

"Dreams?" He asked her, gesturing toward her room loosely. "Is that why you're up at this ungodly hour?"

"Actually, I heard voices." Shinpi explained smoothly. "I thought I'd see who was partying outside my door."

"Oh." Hiei nodded, and looked up and the down the hall again. "We're still fighting tomorrow?"

He'd meant it as a firm statement. A demand. Perhaps an order. But the trailing lilt had made it into a question and he heaved a sigh, turning to face the end of the hall so she couldn't see his face.

"You're a bit of a lightweight, huh?" Shinpi surmised and then laughed as he spun to shoot her a glare. The movement made him stumble, only further annoying him because it proved her point. "Need help getting to your room?"

"No." He responded curtly. "Why aren't you still drunk?"

"I am." She assured him, then smiled. "I'm just standing still so it's easier to pretend."

"Then what were you offering to do? Stumble with me to my room?" He demanded.

"The idea does hold some promise. But you're right, you're probably better off without me." She shrugged. "And yes, we're still fighting tomorrow."

"Don't forget in the morning." He warned her, eyes narrowed. "I don't want you to make excuses, so don't forget."

"I'm a woman of my word. I said we'd fight, so we will."

"I like that about you, even if it is foolish." Hiei remarked. "Always making promises to keep them. It makes you predictable, but it's honorable none the less."

"You should go to bed before you say something too kind to me." Shinpi smiled again and Hiei studied the expression.

"That's nice." He muttered, and with horror realized he'd vocalized the thought he'd been having. Shinpi furrowed her brow, head tilting to study him. He covered the fleeting mistake quickly. "That you're worried about me when you can't keep yourself out of trouble."

"Ah, there he is, my favorite fire demon. I thought I'd lost you in there for a moment." Shinpi giggled behind her hand and Hiei bit his cheek to keep from saying something about it. "Goodnight, Hiei. I'll see you tomorrow."

"Tomorrow." He agreed.

When she slid back into her room Hiei released some of the tension that had been holding him upright with a burdened sigh. What the hell was going on with him? He was never drinking again. Picking a careful path toward his room, he closed his eyes as he passed the reading room.

"Fuck you." He shot at Genkai, not even having to look to know she was grinning at him. "You're not as intuitive as you think you are, you old hag."

"Still feeling defensive I see."

"I'm going to be feeling your bones break in my hands if you don't stop with that simpering nonsense." Hiei huffed back at her, eyes narrowed and fists at his sides.

A thin, grey brow arched and he knew the silent warning for what it was. Hard not to recognize the signs of the old woman getting ready to knock someone out when he'd seen her go after Yusuke so many times. Nostrils flaring, Hiei just rolled his gaze away and stalked the rest of his way to his room. Whatever she was thinking, it was wrong. He could tell from the lines of sardonic joy on her face.


Hell was a real place and it currently resided solely in Hiei's sloshy brain. Every moment birthed a new ache and the lights weren't fucking helping.

Neither was that incessant mechanical whining from the kitchen.

"Shut it off or I'm going to break it." He warned, marching into the room with a snarl.

"Smoothie?" Shinpi turned to him with a neutral expression, offering a glass. "It'll cure what ails you, my friend."

"We are not friends." Hiei snapped and jerked the glass from her hand, downing half of the contents in one go before choking on it and sputtering. He wiped at his mouth, offended she'd had the audacity to feed him whatever pond slime this was. "What the hell is wrong with you?"

Shinpi merely tipped her own glass toward him after filling with the vile green gunk from the blender's pitcher. She raised it to her lips and Hiei watched helplessly as she drank the entire thing without pausing to breath or request a priest for her last rights. Exhaling after she finished, she licked her lips and set the glass on the counter.

"You're a monster." Hiei told her, horrified.

"A fact I have never denied." She agreed. "Still up for our fight later?"

"Yes. You're not weaseling out of it." Hiei then glanced at the glass he still held. "This isn't poison is it?"

"Oh, Hiei, please." Shinpi put a hand over her chest in offense. Then her eyes glittered as she kept that neutral expression locked into place. "Would it matter since you've already finished half of it?"

His glare could have rotted spring saplings to their roots. Yet, as usual, the woman remained unbothered.

Out of spite Hiei drained the rest of the glass and shoved it into her hands. "I'm going to beat you harder than necessary for making me drink that disgusting swamp water."

"It's a smoothie." Shinpi sighed heavily. "I'm unappreciated in my time."

"Yeah, poor you." He rolled his eyes and hated to admit the action didn't give him a headache. "What toxic garbage did you just feed me?"

"Wheat grass, spinach, a banana, coconut water, cinnamon." She ticked off the ingredients. "Heavy on the wheatgrass. I drank some last night too."

He just stared at he as if she'd grown a second head, letting his expression of curious disgust do all the talking before making sure she understood. "I'm going to really enjoy hitting you today."

"If you manage the act, I'm certain you will." She agreed. "I won't make it easy on you."

"I'm sure you'll be your usual annoying flighty self darting around like some sort of bug." Hiei complained. "Today is a contest, don't forget that."

"I could say the same to you." Her words turned cold.

"What exactly does that mean?" Hiei demanded.

"It means, if you give me your all, Hiei. I'll return the favor." Shinpi let the words spill from her and it didn't seem to register to the demon before her that she'd just revealed the secret to getting her to do what he wanted.

All he had to do was give her a reason.

Was that so hard for him to comprehend?

Watching him stare at her, no recognition in his cinnabar eyes, she had to think that maybe it was. Maybe he didn't understand. She couldn't just spill her power out for no reason, she couldn't just come to him without something to lean on. Without proof he could handle it. Her fists curled at her sides because she wanted him to understand. She wanted Hiei to get it, to just give her something to hope for.

Just one little sign.

Please.

Those wide crimson eyes stared at her, blinked and then his expression shifted as he watched her. She wasn't sure what caused the change but hope seized her like the restrictive claws of an unseen monster.

"Promise me." Hiei told her after a few more seconds of silence.

Shinpi's brow furrowed, her eyes squinting to assess him. "Promise what?"

"That you'll match me." He stepped toward her. "So far you've half-assed every fight between us, and I want your word that if I come at you you'll be able to defend yourself. I don't want to hurt you because you can't handle what you ask for. I want to hurt because you can."

Another lapse in the conversation, if it could even be deemed as such. Then a quirk of her lips, a knowing bow of her head.

"I promise, Hiei." She kept her voice low, a smirk stealing over her lips.


"Heard you and your girlfriend were going to hash things out today." Yusuke rested against a tree, Kurama and Kuwabara flanking him as Hiei marched their direction. "I couldn't miss this."

"That nosey old woman." Hiei hissed under his breath, searching for Genkai and finding her further down the field with Shinpi. If anyone had called Yusuke, it was her. "This was only decided last night. How the hell did you morons manage to make the arrangements to come up so quickly?"

"Oh, Hichi called me." Kuwabara lifted a finger. "Before she went to bed. It woke up sis. Anyway, she said I had to be here to study the fight so I told the guys. Thought we'd make a day of it."

Great. Just, just fucking great. Hiei glared balefully at the lot of them then shifted his attention away. "Good. I'm sure she'll need your moral support after I absolutely demolish her."

"What are you betting?" Kurama asked casually, the glint in his eyes was anything but. Hiei didn't fall for the ruse.

"You'll know when she does." Hiei snidely huffed, then he stalked his way toward the two women waiting for them, the others following behind him. "Did you bring your little knives, Shinpi?"

"Did you bring your sword?" She asked, mocking his tone.

"Naturally."

"May I inspect it?" She revealed the two long knives she had strapped to her legs and the set of kunai she kept on her arm today.

Grousing quietly, Hiei handed her his sword and accepted her knives. Freshly sharpened just like his sword. Well cared for, no nicks. If it had been anyone other than Shinpi he'd have been mildly impressed. As it was, this was the level of intention he expected from the woman.

"If you cut me, just make sure it's done right. I don't want any more scars at the moment." Shinpi grinned at Hiei, handing his sword back to him after studying the craftsmanship. "That is a lovely tool you have there."

As if he could actually mangle her. Beat into the ground? Sure. Threaten to maim her? Definitely. Maybe even cut her a bit. But to actually deeply wound her so that it would scar intentionally?

Hiei snorted, not nearly as amused or confident as she was. Maybe he should leave the sword out of this one. But if he did, the team would never let him live it down. They'd start it on him as if he had feelings for the stupid woman. Not to mention, she'd specifically demanded he use it. She had a plan. He'd just have to trust her not to get herself killed by his hand.

"I won't promise anything." He told her expecting a cool response. What he received was glittering eyes and a blinding grin.

This goddamn woman was wrecking his senses.

Shinpi relished in it. The way he looked at her. So confused and yet trying to maintain his power, as if he had a chance. As if she hadn't already won. The minute he'd agreed to this fight, he'd lost. She'd wipe the floor with him and enjoy every moment that he pouted and seethed afterward because teasing Hiei had quickly become her favorite habit. It outpaced drinking by miles.

"It's a best of five. The first to three wins." Genkai announced to both of them, and each nodded.

"Before we start," Shinpi let that same frustrating grin grace her face as she spoke, her tone lofty, "I want you to know what I'm fighting for."

"I don't care."

"I'm sure." She assured him, another dangerous glint in her eyes. "If I win I'm requesting a new guardian. Or, more specifically to the terms of our arrangement, I'm asking you to step down."

Hiei stared at her, blinked, closed his eyes and sighed, rubbing at his face in his frustration. "Why?"

"Why not?" She shrugged.

"That's not an answer."

"Isn't it though?" Shinpi shrugged. She'd never outright answer him, not right now. Maybe later, if he won and asked her again she'd tell him she wanted him to fight for her. She wanted to see if he actually wanted her here, or if this was some misplaced sense of obligation. A flutter of hope had ignited in her that maybe, just maybe, she could rely on this bundle of idiots she'd become tethered to.

It felt impossible. The mere thought that these men would want to help her, would want her around, it reeked of deceit.

She'd been a fool once and vowed to never fall into that role again.

Because even if she wanted to believe it, she couldn't. Not yet.

Her wager put Hiei in the precarious position of fighting for her no matter what his original intention had been when he'd arrived. Either he wanted her around bad enough to defeat her or he didn't.

She wasn't going to make it easy on him either.

So, if Hiei truly thought she was capable of more than vengeance, if this team that kept trying to include her was worth more than their temporary usefulness to her, she'd use this fight to find out. She'd put Hiei in traction if she had to. He wanted her to prove she could handle his energy? She'd been waiting on the same from him.

She'd seen how he'd looked at her when she'd cut through that army. Overwhelmed, resigned. He'd been outmatched and he knew it.

Yet he still asked for her to come at him full force.

Maybe he was just as suicidal as she was.

"So that's how it's going to be." Hiei looked her over, unimpressed.

"Yes, that's how it's going to be." She nodded once, arms at her sides before she shot a glance toward Genkai.

"Find your mettle, Shinpi. You're going to need it." He glanced at the old woman too, then back to his current target. "Don't cry to me when you get yourself hurt."

"I like it when you're haughty, Hiei, it makes the taste of defeating you that much sweeter." Shinpi flashed a smile that disappeared as quickly as it had come, but a spark ignited in her eyes.

"One. Two." Genkai pressed her lips into a line, hand raised into the air, then dropped it. "Three."

One moment Hiei was on his feet, the next he wasn't. It was that simple. Shinpi took his legs from under him with a smirk and slammed her palm into his chest, forcing him into the ground. When he flipped back to his feet, she spun behind him looping her arm around his as he tried to rear his elbow back into her. Hiei snarled, turning to reach for her and watched as she danced from under his fingertips, kicking off a tree and flipping over a branch so she could land a few feet away from him.

It had all happened so fast he didn't feel the wire until he saw the light of the sun glint off of it. His arms encircled, the end in the woman's hands trailing up above them.

Shinpi winked at him and all too late he realized the trap he'd walked into. With a roar of rage from him, she tugged on the wire she'd wound around his wrists and forearms, forcing his hands together. Her somersault with the tree had been a trick, a tool to throw the wire over a sturdy branch and now she used it as leverage to pull Hiei to his toes, his arms effectively bound. Her energy traced through the wire and over his skin, petrichor filling the air.

In less than a minute she'd managed to capture him.

Hiei was positively seething, teeth bared as he struggled against his bonds, trying to find knots to undo. There were none. If nothing else, her taste in weaponry was superb.

"One for me." Shinpi smirked at him. "You know, my crueler tendencies want me to leave you like this and see if you can get yourself out."

"If you were half as smart as you think you'd run the minute I'm free." Hiei warned her darkly, snarling. "I'm going to kill you."

"Promise?" Shinpi winked again, walking forward while he was still trapped. He had to look down at her, dangling on his toes the way he was. "You look sort of delectable, all defenseless. It's making my darker needs rise up."

"Fuck you." Hiei growled the words. "Let me go so I can destroy you."

"You do know how disappointed I'm going to be if you're lying, don't you?" She wrapped her hand around the bottom of his jaw, her grip bruising. "If you lose, I'll do more than walk away from you, Hiei. I will make sure you never disappoint anyone ever again."

"Shinpi that's enough." Genkai warned and the dark haired woman hesitated before releasing the fire demon from her trap. "Reset, we'll begin the second round."

"Just a quick reminder that the first to three wins." Shinpi told Hiei as she unraveled his hands.

"Don't get ahead of yourself." He warned her, eyes narrowed, fists curled at his sides.

"I barely saw her move." Kuwabara muttered, glancing at Kurama and Yusuke. "What about you two?"

Yusuke's lips pressed into a line, answer enough.

"Even Hiei was caught off guard by her speed." Kurama offered. "Though, I doubt he'll be caught unaware again."

"Relax detective, I'm not going to intentionally kill your friend." Shinpi shot Yusuke a look, rolling her eyes. "Hiei's a big boy, he can handle himself."

"It's not him I'm worried about. You're literally playing with fire." Yusuke pointed out to her. "He means it when he says he'll kill you."

That earned a secretive smile and Shinpi shifted her gaze to the fire demon. "Ready for round two, handsome?"

"Are you, princess?" He sneered at her, rolling his shoulders.

Genkai barely had the count finished when he blurred forward, sword drawn and slashing down at Shinpi. Her knives came out in the same breath, the sparks of their blades colliding only stilling them for a moment. Shinpi ducked under Hiei's sword, slashing a line into his shirt. He cut the back of her tee open in kind. At the sight of bandages around her torso he withdrew a step, anger and concern mixing in his expression.

"Are you injur-"

Her knee slammed into his gut with enough force to knock the air from his lungs. Shinpi grabbed his right wrist and arm, flinging him into a tree. Leaves shook free of their stems, falling down around them, fresh and green. Red eyes glared against blue, then roved down to the blade in her hand. The one she'd stolen from him during her attack.

"Come now, I know I didn't hurt you that bad." She flashed another grin, devious and scathing, falling into a practiced stance with his sword. "This match isn't over yet, Hiei. Get up and fight me."

He pulled himself to his feet, nodding as he looked her over. His expression infinitely more dark that she'd seen it yet sent a chill down her spine in the best way.

"You took mine." She reminded him.

The game became keep away for a few minutes, Hiei attempting to pry the sword from the woman's hands and failing. She left more than a handful of cuts on his chest and arms, all shallow, fully controlled.

Warnings.

Hiei didn't heed them. His fury drove him to wrap an arm around her neck from behind. The sharp pain that announced the tip of his sword pressing just under the upper left side edge of his ribcage brought him to stillness. Shinpi pressed further, drawing blood as if to remind him of her intention.

"I will drive this right through your lung, even if it means turning around and healing you right after." Shinpi warned him, holding steady.

"You wouldn't dare." Hiei growled.

The blade sank into his chest a few inches, widening his eyes and tightening his hold on the woman. His grunt of pain was the only indication she'd followed through.

"Enough. Two Shinpi. Zero Hiei." Genkai stated coolly, then glared at Shinpi. "You're on thin ice."

Shinpi just grinned, withdrawing the blade slowly. She used her tattered shirt to clean the tip of the weapon before sliding into the sheath on Hiei's side herself, holding his gaze the entire time she did so. Then her hand came up to his chest, palm growing slick with his blood as it pressed to his wound. That calming green light appeared, and with the warmth of whispering energy as it sealed the gash. When she went to pull back, Hiei grabbed her wrist, squeezing.

"Where has all this fight been for the last few months?" He demanded. "Suddenly you feel confident enough to waste your energy between matches? Since when?"

"I told you I'd heal you, so I did." Shinpi yanked her arm from of his hold, still close enough to him that their personal bubbles overlapped. "Does it matter where the fight is coming from? It's here now."

"It matters." Hiei narrowed his eyes.

"You should focus a little more on the fact you're losing and a little less on pedantic questions." Shinpi warned him. "Once I when this next match you'll have plenty of free time to think without all the responsibility of being a caretaker. You can even go back to your station and never see my face again. Now shut up and hit me."

She pulled away from him and went back to her starting position, some of the jovial spirit gone. The fire in her eyes remained but it seemed less friendly.

Hiei liked it.

Not that he'd ever tell this crazy bitch that.

"Fine." Hiei rolled his neck side to side, popping it, then stretched his arms. "You want to act like a bitch, that's how you'll be treated."

One brow shot up on her forehead, her expression of mixture of surprise and annoyance. "Careful, Hiei. I'm doing my best to not maim you beyond reason."

"What the hell for?" He demanded, eyes narrowed. "Maim. Scar me. See if I give a damn because I have no qualms with doing the same to you."

She offered a single snort of derision then tensed as Genkai began the count.

This time Hiei saw it coming. Her fingers fiddled with the loose wrapping of her Infinity Chain just before Genkai lowered her hand. He watched the thin wire come undone. And he was able to avoid it because of that. When she went to loop it around his wrist again, he shoved her arm away and kicked her hamstring. It forced her off balance and allowed him to spin and land a solid hit to her jaw.

She hit a tree with an audible groan, tenderly rubbing face as she got to her feet. Hiei hardly allowed her time to recover, sword out and slashing. It put her on the defensive, forced her to dance back and under his blade. He watched her grow more and more annoyed with her position. The anger lined her face.

It was almost laughable; how sure she'd been that she was going to win this.

She slid under his blade and surprised him by brings both of knives down toward his chest in an X. The two lines appeared on his chest, but he'd leapt back before she could dig too deep. In his haste she whipped her leg around and nailed him in the side. His grip on his sword switched and he slashed it across her side.

Yusuke swearing echoed all their sentiments as the blade hit its mark, biting through Shinpi's shirt and into the soft area just above her hip. The woman's eyes widened her mouth falling open as she pressed a hand to the wound.

So much for not scarring her, Hiei thought, eyes flashing wide.

"Ow." Shinpi staggered back, brows pulling together as she studied her hand in awe of the liquid ruby painting her skin.

Hiei stared at his sword, then traced his attention back to the woman he'd just injured. He stepped toward her, blade held at his side.

Genkai snorted, rolling her eyes which drew Kurama's attention. He furrowed his brow then glanced toward the fight that had yet to be called. Hiei reached for Shinpi.

"Are you too hurt to go on?" He asked her seriously.

"God, you are the worst." Shinpi told him, her eyes shifting from agonized to accusing as she looked up at him through her bangs. A darkness descended on her that seemed to change the way the air tasted. The breeze felt sharper suddenly.

Hiei barely avoided the knife she arced toward his chest, and even more narrowly threw up a block against the second one she had aimed for his throat. He shoved her arm away but Shinpi merely spun and planted her foot against his stomach and sent him stumbling back. His brought his sword up and her knives bit against it, metal creaking against metal.

"The fight isn't over, asshole." She reminded him. "And I am not a china doll who needs your constant fretting."

He forced her knives to the side, his fist slamming into her chest. Shinpi slid back on her toes, eyes full of darkness so deep they had turned from cobalt to indigo. Her lips quirked up into a smirk and she offered a wink. Hiei frowned and then blinked as his shirt literally fell to pieces around him, cut along the seams.

She lunged at him and their blades clashed repeatedly, each of them growing faster and faster. When Hiei attempted to punch her again, she pirouetted around him, her fingers grazing the edge of his jaw and earlobe as he surged forward away from her, those damn warning bells screaming again.

Shinpi just offered a small shrug as if this were a disappointment but one she didn't truly mind. But when he smirked at her, she blinked. Then her eyes widened and she hit her knees, Hiei's hand tugging the Infinity Chain he'd stolen off of her arm during their exchanges. When she'd spun around him, he'd looped it around her throat. He wrapped his foot in the chain and planted it on the ground, forcing Shinpi down to all fours. The dark glow of his eyes as he looked down at her bit directly into her ego, tearing it open.

"I see why you like this little toy. There's a nice sense of control to using it." Hiei watched her seethe. "Perfect for disciplining an unruly puppy."

"I will rip your throat out with my teeth." She growled the words, eyes glued to his. "There will be no putting you back together when I'm done with you."

"You'll have to catch me first." Hiei continued to smirk. "Remember? I told you. You're fighting to win, princess. I'm trying to draw it out for as long as I can."

He began to walk closer, pulling on the wire to keep it taut and allowing her to rise to her knees again. She heaved her breaths, teeth bared as she menaced him with a look.

"There's the expression I've been waiting for." Hiei took her chin in his hand, the heat from the night before fanning back to life from the ashes he'd been sure he'd smothered with alcohol. "I've been wanting to see your teeth, wolf girl."

"Keep your hand on my face and I'll give you an impression of them." She warned him darkly.

Hiei kneeled, his hand trailing from her chin to her throat where his fingers closed, clamping down. "Have it your way."

"Hiei one, Shinpi two." Genkai didn't wait for any signs of distress before calling this round. Her eyes glued to Hiei. "Take it down a notch, Hiei."

"No." He responded firmly. Then to Shinpi as he wound her chain around his wrist. "I'm keeping this."

"For what will surely be the most empowering thirty seconds of your pitiful life." Shinpi snapped at him, rubbing her neck. But her lips lifted just after. "I'm actually having fun. It's been a long time since someone has been able to keep pace with me.

"If you'd gotten your head out your ass sooner, we could have been doing this all along." Hiei pointed out dryly.

"I don't like sparring with people I don't trust." Shinpi told him flippantly, blinking when she noticed the tremble of tension that racked over his form. "Are you alright?"

"I'm fine." Hiei sneered at her, crossing his arms and jutting his chin away from her. It made her tip her head to the side, she glanced to Genkai for answers but received only a dull stare.

The other men all exchanged knowing looks. It was Yusuke who snickered under his breath, "Looks like Hiei is going through another tricky change."

Crimson eyes cut to him with intent to kill glittering in the irises.

When Genkai offered the count again Hiei jumped back, a knife biting into the ground at his feet. Shinpi smirked and threw another, the kunai fanned between her fingers. He jumped up, spin kicking the next toward the detective.

"Watch it!" Yusuke hollered at him, brandishing a fist. "I will pull this fight over you little shit!"

Hiei ignored him, too preoccupied with Shinpi's thighs wrapping around his head. She wrenched herself back, twisting both their bodies before they hit the ground so she landed on top. A quick jab to the nose was met with a hand around her fist to stop the next strike. Hiei turned his face and sank his teeth into her thigh, earning a cry of surprised pain. Shinpi pulled his hair, forcing his head back and snarled at him.

"I will-"

"What?" Hiei asked her, smirking as she stopped midsentence at the pressure of the knife he pressed to the side of her throat. "Be distracted so I could get the upper hand?"

She swallowed without answering him, eyes focused on his hand. When he pressed the point into her skin, welling up a drop of blood, she sneered slightly.

"Let go of my hair." Hiei demanded and she tightened her hold.

"Slit my throat, see if I care." Shinpi hissed. "It's your day that will be ruined, not mine."

Hiei swallowed. "Let go of my hair."

He adjusted his grip moving the knife upwards, pressing the tip to her temple. Shinpi grew completely still, barely even breathing. Her hand fell away from his hair immediately.

"Ah, you may not care about your life but that brain of yours has some leverage I see." Hiei licked his lips. "I should have known. Next time I'll just start there."

Shinpi seethed quietly but didn't move to retaliate. Genkai called the match in Hiei's favor and the woman peeled herself from him without a care. Stretching her arms, she glared at him.

"A tie is not a victory." Shinpi reminded Hiei when he smirked at her. "What are you planning on doing once your post here is vacated?"

"You can't get rid of me that easily." Hiei tossed the knife toward her, watching as she deftly caught it between her fingers.

Shinpi frowned, collecting her knives as she considered his words. She slid them back into their pouch on her side then peeled her ruined shirt over her head. The sarashi wrap underneath earned her some stares as the team all studied her.

"It's not an injury, unclench." She stared at the lot of them. "I was just more comfortable with this chest wrap over a sports bra today. It's how I used to dress when I was training."

"You'll have Yukina heal that." Hiei gestured to the gash he'd left on her side.

"It's not that bad." Shinpi shrugged. "I can let it heal on its own."

"I'm not arguing with you over this every time. Yukina will heal it." Hiei demanded.

"How about, if you win you can make me." Shinpi told him coolly, following his lead back to their starting positions. "Other than that you should remember you aren't the boss of me."

"Of course I'm not, no man can control a tempest." Hiei's words brought color to her cheeks and he reveled in it for a moment before darting forward.

Shinpi's shocked call when Hiei swept her feet preceded her landing on her hands and flipping back to her toes with a pleased grin. "You're learning. I like it."

He came at her again, and they traded blows until they tied up. Shinpi took Hiei's wrist and twisted his arm behind his back, grabbing his throat from behind. He slammed his foot on her instep then reared his heel back into her thigh. Spinning from her hold, he dropped his fist against her cheek. She spun around, leg arching through the air and Hiei slid back on to toes, arms lifted against the cut of wind that bit into his skin. His canines showed when he grinned maliciously, his fire coming to his palms easily.

Shinpi deflected his attacks, her palms cracking and burning with every strike she accepted. But she refused to show him how badly it hurt her. Instead she pulled his arm down, raised her leg and hooked it around his neck, forcing him to the ground. Her heel dropped where his face had been as he rolled to the side, pushing up and spinning on his hands to sweep her legs again. So he had learned a new trick but had yet to master it. She catalogued that for a later time. Shinpi deftly jumped into the air, avoiding his attack and when she threw her knives they held a knew edge as the wind carried them with more force. One cut Hiei in the forearm, another grazing his thigh.

He pulled out his sword and she bobbed and weaved around all his attacks. When he got too close, she caught the blade in her fist, blood trickling down her arm from the fresh gash on her palm. Eyes glued to his, she slammed her elbow on his wrist then wrenched the weapon from him, tossing it to the feet of their allies.

The action opened her up just enough. Hiei's fist hit her sternum with enough force to send her careening into a tree. The leaves that fell turned into weapons, spun with Shinpi's wind, they sliced at Hiei relentlessly while she recovered herself. He accepted the attack, running forward as she tried to get to her feet. His punch nearly pulled the tree from the ground, the whole thing lifting an inch or two before settling back into the earth.

Shinpi wrapped her hand around his wrist, stealing back her chain but unable to tie to it around him before he swiped at her face with a roundhouse kick. When his next barrage of hits came, Shinpi tried to avoid the flames, forcing his attacks away by batting his wrists outward. Eventually, she had to give up on that tactic, as it slowed her down too much.

She landed a kick on the side of his head, and with it the pressure wave she'd demonstrated in the sewer tunnels, but to a lesser extent. Hiei stumbled, disoriented as his ear popped and began to ring, pain radiating down his jawbone and through his brain. Shinpi used the moment to slam her elbow into the other side of his face. His hand wrapped around her arm and he threw her to the ground before following her down. His wrapped his palms around her throat, squeezing as she fought to get him off of her. The heel of her hand pressed to the underside of his chin, nails raking down the side of his face.

He only bared his teeth in response, straddling her torso, tightening his hold.

Her hands fell from his face as she struggled to breath, trying to buck her hips and failing. Her fingernails dug into his shoulders, drawing bloody rivulets down the skin before she finally attempted to just break his grip and pry his hands off of her.

He was glad she was trying. He knew, in some logical part of his brain, that if she trusted him less or if he'd been anyone else he'd be dead. He knew she had tools in her arsenal now that could have injured or killed him. But she was restraining herself just enough and so was he. When Genkai tapped his shoulder he released the woman in his grasp immediately, sliding to his feet. He offered a hand to her, and she accepted it, allowing him to pull her to her feet.

Her hand covered his ear without hesitation and in a few minutes he could stand without leaning on her, his balance slowly recovering, the ringing gone. Shinpi recovered her breathing while she healed him but the angry red handprints remained around her throat. When she finished her task her hands delved into her pockets to hide the burns that were quickly becoming harder not to acknowledge.

"You're getting better about using your lower body." Shinpi confessed, sounding utterly condescending. "But you still have a long way to go."

"Do you always give advice to people who beat you?" Hiei demanded, eyebrow raised.

The look she shot him told him that his victory could very easily be taken away if he didn't tread carefully. Maybe one day they'd fight for real. No holds barred. It thrilled him to think about what she might to do him if she didn't have restrictions guiding her. Would she drop the skies themselves on him? Pull the air from his lungs? Plunge her knives into his chest or throat? So much potential for him to navigate and try to outsmart. He considered it all as he retrieved his sword.

"I should've left your eardrum busted." She huffed, turning her face away.

"I didn't ask you to heal me."

"I didn't want your face to scar." Her words were loose, meaningless.

Hiei reached up and touched his cheek, realizing she had healed the marks her nails had dug into his flesh. The rest of his cuts and furrows remained. His body ached.

But she'd healed his face.

"Scars mean nothing to me." Hiei crossed his arms, shrugged with the motion.

"I feel the same, but I'd rather not be the one to give them to you. It doesn't seem very friendly." Shinpi explained lightly. "Anyway, let me have it, Hiei. What is your single demand of me?"

He stared at her, then smirked.

She stared back, eyes narrowing. "Hiei. Tell me what you want from me."

He merely stretched his arms above him, then folded them behind his head and started to walk to the temple. She watched him pass, the pleasant glimmer gone and leaving only darkness in her gaze.

"Jaganshi. I'm not playing a game with you." Her sharp tone earned a glance from him.

"You said I could have anything I wanted from you." Hiei told her, turning partially to face her. "You never said I'd have to choose what that was right away."

Cobalt eyes widened, lips parting in surprise. Then came the anger. "You rotten bastard! It was clearly implied you'd need to have your mind made up! Now tell me what you want!"

"I think it'll be good for you to learn some patience and how to deal with not getting your way." Hiei turned and started walking again. "Not very becoming of a princess to throw tantrums every time the world doesn't revolve around her."

A knife bit into a tree directly beside him, narrowly missing his ear. Covering a thrill of anticipation tha curled through him, Hiei turned his head to glance back her, noting how it appeared she hadn't moved at all. Stuck in the same spot, hands still shoved into her pockets. But her eyes clearly claimed responsibility. Her glare sent another thrill through him. If he said just the right thing right now even Genkai's pull wouldn't be enough to stop Shinpi from barreling at him. The thought held a particularly sweet taste.

Instead, he said nothing and continued on his path.

"I'm going to kill him in his sleep." Shinpi muttered, eyes glued to Hiei's retreating back.

What a bastard. First, tossing out that title like it was his to use. Princess. Fucking princess. She was a knight, goddammit. A warrior. Secondly, him pulling this stunt with their wager. Withholding her punishment. What was he planning? Something devious, obviously. And then he had the audacity to give her his back? His back? They had just finished fighting! Who the hell did he think he was?

Her mind couldn't hold onto the anger for long. Frustration remained in her veins, tingling her nerves, tensing her muscles, but the anger dissipated. Hiei trusted her not to harm him, that's why he'd given her his back. It wasn't the blatantly disrespectful act her gut told her it was. That's why she hadn't actually aimed for him when she threw her knife. But it felt like a good enough excuse to seethe. Much better to be angry than to entertain the spark of delight she'd felt when he said she couldn't get rid of him. When he met her powers with his own, at the same level, it had thrilled her.

He looked like he'd felt the same in the moment, which was the only reason she didn't want him to see the damage he'd done to her hands. Would he come at her without restraint again if he could see the cracking, ruined skin of her palms? Probably not.

"Maybe I'll just settle for poisoning his dinner." Shinpi mumbled, her lips quirking up into a smile as she closed her eyes, a moment of peace washing over her. Then she glanced over at Kurama, Yusuke and Kuwabara all of whom stared at her with fascination and mild fear. "Non-fatally, of course."

"Get inside and get healed up." Genkai snapped at her. "Are you satisfied now?"

"Tch." Shinpi feigned feeling indignant. "Satisfaction from losing? Come now Genkai."

"Don't be a brat." The old woman warned her.

"I'm older than you." Shinpi reminded with a smirk, but then she nodded. "It was a decent enough fight though, wasn't it? He's coming along marvelously. By the end of this I might have actually helped him achieve a new level of power. That would be something."

She made her way to the temple, leaving the others behind.

"Wait, is she training Hiei?" Yusuke asked, flitting gaze from the Shinpi to Genkai.

But Genkai didn't answer immediately because she couldn't. She didn't know. Shinpi had never mentioned showing an interest in Hiei's progress before this moment.

"It would appear, at the very least, she'd invested in his growth. She has her reasons." Genkai responded the only way she could. Shinpi generally had a thought out analysis for her actions, each movement a piece of the overall strategy. It's why Genkai didn't play chess with her anymore.

But it was unusual for her to say something she'd obviously been holding close to her chest.

"I'm correct in assuming she could have won if she'd been in the mindset of actually killing Hiei, aren't I?" Kurama asked quietly. "At the end, when he was choking her, she very well could have done any number of moves that would have permanently injured him."

"Yes." Genkai acknowledged. "She could have taken his head off his shoulders with that kick if she'd had the mindset. At this point, I'm not sure what limits she's instilling on herself and what is in effect because of her human body."

"Well, I mean, you have to take into account her emotional state too." Kuwabara interjected, earning a few glances from the rest of them. "Shinpi's power comes from her emotions. She was able to do all that stuff when Miss Momozono died because she was angry and heartbroken. But she trusts Hiei and feels safe enough around him that she doesn't think he's going to kill her."

"Since when?" Yusuke frowned. "Before he left they were at each other's throats. Even when he came back she dressed him down in the middle of the street."

"I dunno man, I'm just telling you what I think." Kuwabara shrugged. "'Sides, she said she trusted him didn't she? When they were fighting."

"Ha, maybe Shizuru's out of luck and the little monster has the hots for Hiei now." Yusuke joked and Kuwabara offered a sigh of relief.

Even Kurama chuckled at the declaration, shaking his head. "I disagree. I feel as though maybe she sees the value of Hiei as an ally. Shizuru may, very much so, still be of interest."

"Guys, please stop trying to get Shinpi to date my sister. I don't know if my mom and dad can handle having another demon around." Kuwabara groaned. "They're like, crazy nice to Yukina but they ask so many questions and stuff. And Shinpi isn't anywhere near as calm or gentle. Could you imagine dad asking her what Demon World was like for her?"

"Yeah, she'd tell him all the gory details of being king." Yusuke barked a laugh.

They continued their conversation as they made their way toward the temple, and Genkai trailed far behind, wondering if Yusuke's joking declaration hadn't hit closer to the mark than they seemed to want to believe. While perhaps not romantic, it was entirely possible if not likely, that Shinpi's opinion of Hiei was changing for the better. Investing herself in another person, like she was with Kuwabara, might mean she was allowing connections to form with others again. She trained Kuwabara so that someone would be able to keep Yukina safe. All Genkai could hope for was that Hiei proved to be interesting enough to keep Shinpi invested in him, even after this Hiro situation was resolved.

And if that was the case…

They might've just found the ticket to not just bringing Shinpi onto the team but ultimately to saving her life.

Chapter Text

 

Kazuma sat in front of Shinpi in the training room Hiei had found her in months before. Pouting, he collapsed his energy, sagging his shoulders with a heavy sense of failure.

"What's the point?" He stared at his large palms, still hot from calling his energy into them for half an hour.

Shinpi continued her practice of the same technique, opening her eyes to scan his expression. "To make calling your energy not second nature but first. It should always be easily assessable to you, as it is you."

"No, I mean, why are you even bothering? I can't hold a candle to you guys anymore." He sighed, slumping, refusing to meet her eyes. "You asked me to come up to see you and Hiei fight."

"Yes, and I asked you to reflect on what you saw. An easy assignment for a college student." Shinpi smiled at him softly, knowing he wouldn't glance at her. "You've had two weeks, are you finally at a conclusion?"

"Yeah, my conclusion is that you're wasting your time and this is bs." He huffed. "I mean, there were moments during that fight where even Yusuke and Kurama had problems tracking you two."

"And what was your first reaction to that?" Shinpi prodded, continuing to hold her ball of energy as if she could have done it all day.

He finally glanced at her, wondering if she could. Genkai had told them all she was far older than them. Hell, even Hichi herself had reminded them that Kurama was the only one older than her in the group. Why was she wasting her time on him?

"That I'm hopelessly behind." He muttered. "What were you trying to show me? Because all I feel is discouraged."

Shinpi finally let her energy peter out and folded her hands in her lap. "I was trying to show you your greatest weakness, Kazuma."

He frowned at her.

Then she leaned forward, one hand on the wooden floor between them, her other tapping a finger to his forehead.

"Your greatest weakness is not realizing your immense strength." She declared. "I've been the same. Frustrated that I wasn't progressing as quickly as I'd like. Stilted in my growth. Overwhelmed by the idea of failing. These things are lies."

"Are they though?"

"Let us recount what you saw in my fight with Hiei." Shinpi told him, shifting back to her half-lotus position. "You saw nothing, because we were too fast for you. You reacted by feeling hopelessly outmatched. Then you saw two fairly well matched apparitions battling for power, each one taking damage and dealing it."

"Yeah. It was kind of cool to see you get the best of Hiei." He admitted, but it wasn't a happy thought for long. "You're trying to train him too, right? I mean, he'd get a lot farther than I would. You're wasting valuable time on me."

"I waste nothing." Shinpi scolded him quietly, sighing. "Kazuma, do you know why I said that Hiei was showing improvement?"

"No."

"Because in our first fight he barely used his lower half at all. He was top heavy, easy to knock down, easy to evade. He demonstrated a grasp of the critique I gave him, applied it, and improved himself. Not only admirable for someone as stubborn as he is, but also necessary." Shinpi spoke quietly. "You think that the rest of us are better than you, but we are not. We merely adapt to our situation."

"You beat Mukuro."

"By the skin of my teeth and her good humor." Shinpi assured him. "Had she'd been in the mindset, she'd have slaughtered me."

"Okay, so you weren't trying to show me I'm useless. So what then?" He demanded.

"We all have areas of weakness." She impressed this on him, staring into his eyes. "What separates the great from the dead is how we handle them."

He furrowed his brow.

"Your mindset is going to get you killed before your lack of strength ever will." She went on. "When you see an opponent who outmatches you, you think immediately of failure. You should, instead, focus on why they are capable of beating you and how to even the odds."

He frowned outright, thinking for a few minutes.

"Has anyone told you about how we fought Sensui?" He asked quietly. "When we were stuck, helpless, in Uraotoko, Sensui told Yusuke he was predictable. He could name all his moves and it was like the guy was invincible. I thought it didn't matter. I thought we'd still win, because, I mean, we always won. But we didn't. Not at first. I was the only one who didn't see what was happening. I never want to underestimate an opponent like that again."

Shinpi reached out and flicked him between the eyebrows. He squawked, glaring at her. She did it again. And again. Until Kuwabara raised a hand and grabbed her wrist, stopping her. So she used her other hand. He grabbed that one too, before she had the chance to flick him.

"What the hell?" He groused. "I'm trying to tell you something serious and you're sitting here playing games."

Shinpi withdrew her hands with a smile, and laughed.

"Are you trying to garner my pity, Kazuma?" She asked him with a bright expression. "How silly for you to make such excuses."

"It's not an excuse!"

"You're overthinking and underthinking all at once. Remarkable." Shinpi teased him. "When I flicked you the first time, what did you think?"

"Geesh, she's annoying." He muttered darkly.

"And the next time?"

"She better stop."

"And then you stopped me. When I went to use my left hand, you stopped that to because you had established a pattern and knew how to break it." She lifted a finger. "You need to see a problem, identify the source and craft a solution, Kazuma. Do not wallow in your fears. You'll have time for regrets when you're dead."

"What does that even mean, Hichi?" He complained. "I don't get it."

"It means," she paused before smiling at him with a sly expression, "that speed is rarely an asset when you can't use your feet or when you meet a wall."

He blinked at her, then stared, then blinked again. Then his eyes widened.

"Follow my practice, Kazuma, and I'll show you how you can beat anyone. I'll teach you how to see as I do." She gestured to her temple. "I didn't win any wars through sheer strength alone."

He nodded vigorously and then dove back into his practice with gusto, making her smile broaden.


"Shinpi, it's time to spar." Hiei walked into the reading room where the woman leaned against Kurama's legs, sitting on the floor while the redhead sat in one of the armchairs. They'd adopted the position as habit over the last few weeks. Both of them had their noses buried in books. "Come on."

"One moment, Hiei, I need to finish this page." She spoke calmly, eyes scanning over the page in question. "What's the goal today?"

"Win."

"I'll be over in a moment." She lifted her attention to him.

Crimson eyes scanned toward Kurama, narrowed slightly, then Hiei nodded and turned and left the room without another word. Long fingers skimmed over the top of Shinpi's hair, causing her to turn and crane her head to look up at the fox demon's face.

"Do your best to avoid handprints today. Yusuke has been getting quite agitated about the bruises Hiei's leaving on you." He warned her evenly. "He wants to discuss it with Hiei."

"Thank you for playing interference." Shinpi nodded. "I've been trying to explain to him that I'm never in true danger, but he doesn't seem to quite get it."

"It might be more helpful to tell him that you're intentionally allowing Hiei to choke you." Kurama pointed out. "Hearing you're capable of breaking the hold is a far cry different than hearing that you're baiting the interaction in the first place."

Shinpi heaved a sigh. "I suppose I just assumed that he understood that no one gets close to me without me desiring it. I'll talk to him in no uncertain words and explain that by allowing Hiei to force a display of submission from me, it calms him down. Hiei very much so wants me to rely on him for my safety, something I'm not truly interested in, but by allowing this he gets to feel like he's the dominant being and that I need him. It makes him happy. I doubt Hiei even realizes it's what he's doing, but I'll play into it because it keeps the tension to a minimum."

She looked toward the door as she trailed off, a small smile pulling at her lips.

"You know, if his desire to protect wasn't buried under layers of confusion and years of being denied any affection, the displays would probably be less…"

"Brutal?"

"Anyway, I'll break him of the habit eventually. But for now it also builds up his confidence. Every victory over me fuels his strength." Shinpi waved her hand through the air. "I should get going."

"You should still avoid allowing Hiei to lay his hands on you until you speak to Yusuke." Kurama told her firmly. "To avoid unnecessary complications."

Shinpi nodded as she got to her feet, stretching her arms above her head. "As usual, you've made a correct assessment, Kurama."


"…So, they're getting along." Koenma bobbed his head once as he looked at Genkai where she stood before his desk, hands behind her back.

"It's more than that. Shinpi is opening up to him in ways she isn't with the others yet. While she's taken Kuwabara under her wing, she still keeps herself fairly closed around him. Kurama and her have a different relationship, she confides in him but it's more that she uses him to navigate the group with the least amount of peril. Yusuke she sees too infrequently to establish a strong bond at this point. But Hiei, she's inciting some sort of relationship with him. She trusts him within reason, has told him personal information about herself and has allowed him to see parts of her she's kept hidden from the others." Genkai explained. "It's imperative we foster their friendship or whatever it is to our best ability."

"To keep her on our side?" Koenma guessed, leaning back in his chair.

"To keep her alive." Genkai spoke sternly. "Amon-Shinpi could be a great asset to Spirit World, but she has to survive to accomplish that. In order to survive what's coming she'll need-"

"A reason. You want to make sure the ties between her and the boys are made of steel before she faces Hiro so that she won't risk breaking them." Koenma frowned. "I thought you said Yukina would be enough."

"That was before the idiot started to train Kuwabara." Genkai heaved an annoyed sigh. "Every time I've tried to give her a reason to keep living she's undermined it. But, with Hiei, it seems that she's fueled by curiosity. She wants to see where he'll end up because he keeps her on her toes. I'm hoping that'll be enough."

Koenma nodded. "And Hiei is alright with this?"

"Her desire to die disturbs him. I think he sees himself in her, a little, when he lost himself after Sensui." Genkai shrugged. "He wants her to be strong enough to give him a run for his money, but I think he also feels that she's wasting her potential on guilt. His opinion of her is high enough for him for him to tolerate some kind of relationship."

"What do you want me to do?" Koenma eyed her. "What can I do that you can't? You're around them more than I am."

"I want you to partner them. Make them rely on each other. Force them to forge those bonds of steel." Genkai demanded. "The sooner the better."

"You want me to put Shinpi on a case? After what she did?" Koenma laughed. "My track record with Spirit Detectives is bad enough without including a demon. Not to mention, you know I'm intentionally not endorsing her as a member of the team. Her usefulness is better served outside the regulations of this office."

He opened his hands to encompass his office.

"Don't endorse her. Use her. She's got talents the others don't have. Maybe Yusuke won't have to cross dress for cases anymore." Genkai raised an eyebrow and smirked as Koenma thought about it, a sleezy smile cracking over his face. Then he caught himself, nodding. "She'd make a perfect liaison."

"I think I have the perfect case." He pushed the button for the intercom on his desk. "Jorge, bring me that file Botan was talking about yesterday."

"I'll have the two of them report to Botan when it's done." Genkai assured him. "Imagine being the one who rehabilitated Amon-Shinpi, bringing her to Spirit World's side. Her loyalty is infallible once given. This is a worthwhile investment."

"I'll be sure to pitch it that way when I'm inevitably questioned about this." Koenma snorted.

Shinpi held the file folder Botan had given her, scanning through it quickly then closing it with a snap.

"I'm not a member of your little squad." She handed the file back. "And I doubt Spirit World wants to risk putting me in the field after my little episode a month ago."

Hiei made a sound of disparagement. "Little episode."

Blue eyes cut to him from the side, one brow arching as Shinpi stared at him. Then she turned her gaze forward again, assessing Botan's bright smile.

"Oh, come now Amon-Shinpi!" Botan handed the folder back and clapped her hand so together. "We need your expertise on this one. Koenma's orders! You're to be a liaison working with Hiei to bring this one in."

"Why?" Hiei demanded, snatching the file from under Shinpi's arm and quickly perusing it. "Oh. Good luck with getting her to agree to this one."

"I'll do it." Shinpi stated firmly, eyes narrowed against Hiei's declaration.

"Perfect!" Botan beamed at them both then held her hand out and her oar popped into existence from seemingly nowhere. "We'll leave it to you two then! After you're done just let me know and I'll come and gather your report."

"You're so easy." Hiei smirked at Shinpi holding the file out to her. "You'll do anything to spite me."

"You give yourself too much credit." She huffed, accepting the folder and cracking it open again. "I'm only doing this to foist myself into Koenma's good graces so maybe he'll lift all these damn restrictions. I'm growing tired of being babysat."

"Maybe you shouldn't have dropped a tornado in the middle of a city." Hiei continued to smirk at her.

"Maybe I should drop one here." She tossed back, not bothering to look up with the cold warning. "A demon trafficker who conducts most of his business in clubs. We'll need to coerce him where he's most comfortable, that means we'll need to blend in. And you'll have to leave your sword at home."

"I don't need it to get information from someone like him." Hiei assured her, clenching his fists.

"Perhaps we try this my way first?" She suggested, donning a dull expression.. "If that fails then we'll turn to violence."

Hiei rolled his eyes.

"He's human, Hiei. You can't risk losing your temper with him." She sighed, running her fingers through her bangs then the length of her hair.

"I have some restraint." Hiei pointed out darkly.

"Enough?" She wondered and the question pressed his lips together. "My way first, then if I fail you can do whatever you want."

"Fine." Hiei snapped. "But don't forget which one of us is actually in charge of this, liaison. If I deem your mission a failure I'm taking over whether you like it or not."

"Sir, yes sir." Shinpi tossed a sarcastic salute his way. "I'll need to go home to prepare. His usual hunting grounds don't open until nine. Meet me then at my home and we'll make our way over."

"If they open at nine, why wouldn't we want to be there right then?" Hiei demanded, arms crossing over his chest.

"Oh, darling. No one goes to a club right when they open." She patted his shoulder with a look of pity. "You should really get out more."

His sneer made her chuckle as she withdrew her hand.


Hiei arrived at Shinpi's door promptly at nine. He frowned at the state of the house, noting the cracks in the walls from where it had shifted on its foundation weeks before. The lawn was still a warzone, pox marked with a crater and furrows of upturned dirt. It seemed she'd made no attempt to hire the contractors she'd said she would.

Another task he needed to speak to her about. On his list somewhere under Why didn't you tell me you had a child? This night might prove the opportunity he'd been searching for. They'd be alone, in fairly private circumstances. It would be the perfect time to initiate the conversation.

He decided against it at the sound of her voice, the light in her eyes when she greeted him.

It could wait for another day. He convinced himself it was for the sake of the case. An upset Shinpi would prove problematic.

"You clean up nice." Shinpi tossed the compliment to Hiei with a sly smile, eyes roving over his clothes.

Hiei stared at her, unsure of how to respond to her. That lit up expression gave him pause, and he covered his confusion by narrowing his eyes. "You've seen me in clothes before."

"Yes, but I've never seen you dressed up." She pointed out, reaching over and adjusted the collar of his garnet colored button down. "You look lovely in this shade."

Hiei watched her hand withdraw back to her side warily. He almost commented on her outfit. It suited her, in a way. Well, in the way that form fitting outfits suited the bodies of women. The skirt followed the shape of her hips and thighs without any sense of decency. None of the other women in the group dressed that way, at least not that Hiei had ever seen. And her blouse, a white number with billowing sleeves and a deep v-cut that showed more of her than she normally displayed. Her Infinity Chain looped around her neck, down between her breasts and disappeared under her shirt, not before hinting that the metal circled flesh he could see. Her hair done up in top knot that spilled curls down her back. Makeup coloring her cheeks, lips, eyes.

Instead of remarking on any of that Hiei found himself saying, "Those shoes again?"

Whether it was his observation or his tone, Shinpi rolled her eyes.

"The heels complete the look. Don't worry, I've been practicing running in them." She assured him. "And if I can't keep up with you, just leave me behind. I'm practically armed to the teeth."

Hiei looked her over again. "With what?"

"Anything is a weapon in my hands, Hiei. You should remember that." Her smile seemed to prove her point because it definitely made him feel like he was being held at knife point. Then in a conspiratorial whisper she added. "Plus, I have two knives in the soles of my heels."

She slid a shoe off and displayed the underneath to him to demonstrate, then slid the shoe back onto her foot, frowning when it didn't slide on immediately, the straps not cooperating.

"I hate these things." She seethed the admittance.

"Idiot." Hiei rolled his eyes, kneeling to slide high heel onto her foot, making quick work of the clasp. "Why are you wearing them if you hate them?"

"Where else am I going to stash my knives in this getup?" She demanded.

From his position by her feet, Hiei had to look up to speak to her, his hand resting on her calf. She had a point. It's not like she could hide a thigh sheath under that leather-like skirt. Maybe under her shirt?

"From experience I can say your body is as dangerous as any knife, Shinpi." Hiei told her, and even he seemed surprised by his words. He stood up quickly, stepping back. "Let's go. I don't want to deal with this all night."

"Lead the way, handsome." She gestured toward her door and followed Hiei out, each step that she took sure and unwavering.

The heels have her height over him, something he didn't want to mention. How she could function in them was beyond him. But the idea of the small blades tucked through the heel and following the underside of the shoe swam back to him, his mind replaying her deft fingers producing the blade and then hiding it away again. In another life, she'd have made one hell of an effective assassin. Maybe she'd been one already.

Hiei glanced over to her, tracing over her appearance again.

All this effort on her part, and it was to be wasted gathering intel from a piece of human scum.

It was almost unfair.

He tried to shake the thought free, the movement of his head earning Shinpi's attention.

"You don't approve?" She guessed, eying him with that neutral expression he'd come to understand was a mask. "I promise, Hiei, every piece of this outfit was chosen to meet a need. It's all practical in the scheme of tonight's adventure."

"No wearing a bra is practical now?" Hiei looked away from her, eyes focusing down the street as he berated himself not for only noticing but commenting on the absence of the garment. "You're normally at least a little demure. It's almost as though you're taking advantage of the situation to get away with what you normally couldn't."

"I can wear what I want, whenever I want, for whomever I want." Shinpi assured him darkly. "This isn't my first time seducing information from a man, Hiei. There's a specific type of woman these sorts enjoy and tonight I'll have to be her."

"Her. You're deadly enough as yourself. Any man who doesn't appreciate that deserves whatever pain you give them." Hiei sneered.

"Careful darling," Shinpi brushed her nails down the back of his neck and it sent a shiver down his spine, "you're being awfully charming again. Better say something insulting to even it out."

"I won't cover for the truth." Hiei growled at her, brushing her hand away from him.

"Tell me, Hiei, is it that you don't approve of the outfit or that you don't approve of its purpose tonight?" Shinpi asked him coolly, fingers moving to play idly with the chain where it trailed down her chest.

Hiei watched her hand for a moment, then averted his attention. He didn't answer her. Why bother? She'd already drawn her own conclusion before she even asked the question. They walked on in silence for several minutes, Hiei with his hands in his pockets and Shinpi playing with her chain.

"I don't like your tie." Shinpi announced and it made Hiei spin to the side with a glare. "It doesn't suit you."

"Who asked you?"

"No one." She nodded to his accusation. "Kurama dressed you, didn't he?"

"Shut up. This will be a lot easier on both of us if you save your interrogations for our target."

"He chose a lovely outfit, but he shaped you into his form, not your own. Kurama, he can pull off a top button done up and a tie where it's meant to be." Shinpi slid her hand under the black silk material of Hiei's tie, then hooked one finger over the knot, tugging on it. "You're not a formal man, Hiei."

Hiei tried not to swallow or even breath as he grew still, because Shinpi's expression had shifted from neutrality to something darker and more dangerous and he wasn't sure what to do with it. So he allowed her to adjust his tie, loosening it, and didn't stop her from undoing his top two buttons. Honestly, it felt better this way, but he wasn't about to tell her that.

"Perfection. There's a man I'd sell my soul for." She adjusted his collar and offered him a smile that glinted in the streetlights so that he had to question its meaning. "Anything you'd adjust about me?"

Hiei pulled back from her hands with a frown and started walking again, head spinning with confusion. Was she practicing on him? Is that what this was? A warm up exercise before they met their mark? That would make sense. He had to admit, if this was her during practice she would lethal during the actual mission.


"Our mark uses English to make his deals. But he does know and speak Japanese, so, let me do the talking." Shinpi kept her voice quiet as she spoke to Hiei. "I'll let you know when we've gotten what we need."

"Fine. Don't waste our time." Hiei warned her. "I don't want to be here all night. I hate places like this."

"Places for people to interact and get physical? Shocking." Her tone dripped with sarcasm despite her smile. "Just let me handle this since you're not the type for subtle persuasion."

"Hn. You know me so well." Hiei shot back at her, rolling his eyes.

Shinpi led him to the bar, ordering herself and him a drink. Her elbows on the counter, she bent at the waist and lifted onto the toes of her heels, scanning the bar with expert precision. Even with the easy going smile Hiei could've made her for the predator she was. It lined her muscled calves and unwavering attention. After she'd acquired their drinks, a generic but higher end beer for him and a vodka soda for her, she led him to a booth.

"What are we doing?" Hiei demanded quietly, glaring at the throng of dancers clogging up the main floor of the club.

"We are hunting our prey." Shinpi soothed him quietly. "Have some faith in me, Hiei."

He sneered at her words but nodded nonetheless. Koenma and Genkai had chosen to believe she was the perfect candidate for this mission. He could trust in that truth too. After a few sips and lounging, Shinpi signaled one of the cocktail waitresses and ordered a drink, directing to a man in a dress shirt talking up a woman at the bar. When given the drink and directed to who ordered it, the man glanced their way.

Hiei tensed and beside him Shinpi seemed to force herself to relax. She lifted her glass and offered a knowing smile. The man sauntered over, glancing at with a raised eyebrow.

"He looks tense." The man spoke in proper English, his accent smooth and crisp.

"He's the dragon who guards me, it's his job to be at the ready." Shinpi responded in a similar accent, her English perfect. "His only fault is that he doesn't understand a word of English."

She extended her hand to the man, knuckles up, and he slid into the booth as he accepted her offer, placing a brief kiss to her knuckles.

"Your English is very good." He complimented, scanning his eyes over her. "A woman of superb taste, I see."

"In all things." Shinpi agreed, adjusting herself to angle toward him, knees crossed which forced her skirt to ride higher onto her thighs. With a smile she sipped her drink. "I have a policy not to conduct business once my glass is empty so I'll be brief. I heard you were the man to see if I was looking for a certain type of companionship."

"Told by whom?" The man scooted toward her, obvious in his intentions as he slid his gaze down her.

Hiei sipped his beer for something to do, his attention on the man. Shinpi had her knives and her chain, yet he'd had to come unarmed. His sword would have drawn attention. So he sat, fists curled against his legs, and he watched. It's not like he could understand a thing she was saying at the moment, so he had to pay attention to how she spoke, to her posture, the subtle differences those who didn't know her may have missed.

Shinpi dropped the name of someone else in the file she'd memorized throughout the day. When the man scanned over her again she sighed.

"I can see you're not interested in helping me curate my superb taste. A shame. I suppose I'll have to contact someone else." She shook her head, a disappointed scowl settling onto her face as she set her drink down. "Enjoy your drink."

"Wait, wait." The man put a hand on her knee. "In this business you can never be too careful. What, exactly, are you looking for?"

"Something small, elegant, but hardy." Shinpi ran her finger over the rim of her glass, watching the man while Hiei scanned the club. "My dragon needs something to devour."

The man glanced at Hiei, who offered a stoic stare in return before going back to looking over the club. The finger's on Shinpi's leg crept higher onto her thigh. She sipped her drink.

"I think I have the perfect piece." The man scooted closer and started to speak. Explaining in loose details a few younger female demons he'd acquired. He told her about their personalities, their looks, rated their attractiveness for her without being asked.

It took a lot of effort not to slam his head down against the tabletop, but Shinpi managed to cover the urge with a coy smile. Equally difficult was not breaking the fingers playing against the bared skin of her thigh. But she managed, continuing with their conversation as if she didn't have a care in the world.

He gave her everything she needed, a date and place to meet where she could inspect the merchandise. A joke about how maybe her bodyguard could test the girls for durability. Shinpi nearly snorted, trying to imagine Hiei in such a position. He'd be disgusted with her for dragging him into this charade. For even having to pretend to be interested. She swallowed her own misgivings and confirmed the details of their meeting.

"You know, you look like the sort of woman who needs to be devoured herself." The man slid his hand up further, and it took all her reserved not to physically recoil from the unwanted contact.

But she couldn't blow their cover. There were at least three young women who needed her to endure so they could get rescued. She could tolerate this slimeball if it meant saving them.

Shinpi edged closer to Hiei, her shoulder overlapping his from behind. The fact she actually pressed against him made him glanced at her. She'd invaded his personal space on several occasions but this was the first time she'd ever gone out of her way to touch him this way. Her expression remained light, airy, the sort of smile someone donned when they didn't understand what you said and were going to laugh anyway. A decent actress, this woman, but that wasn't what bothered him.

It was the underlying tension running through her body. Easily missed if someone didn't know her.

But Hiei did know her, and he knew she'd never press herself against him this way unless she had to. When it came to proverbial corners, she had backed herself into his. Glancing down, he caught sight of the fingers teasing the hem of her skirt, the hand resting possessively on her thigh.

Her fist tightened against the upholstery of their shared seat, knuckles pressed down into the plastic fabric as if she didn't trust herself to do anything else with her hands.

Hiei moved his attention to their mark, the man who so casually laid claim to a woman he could never dream of possessing. The arrogance of these men, seriously. Shinpi was, at her peak, at least an A-class demon. Even now, subdued and sequestered to a human form she sat at a B-class if he had to guess. And this roach of a being thought he could just touch her? That she'd what, bow to his will because he smiled at her and called her pretty?

Hiei had once seen Shinpi make a man nearly cry in a Starbucks lobby for hitting on her.

Yet now, she did nothing. She sat and she laughed when it was appropriate and she allowed this creature to snake his oily fingers over her thigh like it was his to begin with.

Fuck that.

Did you get what we need? Hiei pressed the thought against her mind without even bothering to ask if it was alright. The sooner this was done the better. For both their sakes.

Blue eyes shifted to his, a subtle nod, then a charming smile and gracious laugh that rang a little too loudly in the booth. Hiei glanced back at the beady eyed bastard trying to seduce the woman at his side. Tilting his beer to his mouth in uncharacteristic fervor, Hiei drained the liquid from the glass then licked his lips. Without any warning, he reached out and wrapped his hand around the back of the man's head and drug him into a fervent kiss, Shinpi stuck between them.

Shinpi gasped, her hand flying up to cover her mouth. The man sat shocked for a second before sputtering and pulling out of Hiei's tightened grip with more effort than he was used to exerting, the demon was sure.

"The next time you try to touch what doesn't belong to you, just remember, there are plenty of us out here who can and will do the same to you." Hiei growled at him before grabbing Shinpi by the wrist and tugging her after him out of the booth.

"I didn't know she was taken, sorry!" The man balked, wiping at his mouth. "Jesus man."

"She's not mine. She's nobodies. Shinpi belongs to herself." Hiei leaned forward over the table and sneered. "And if you so much as think about touching her again, I'll know. And I will hurt you. I don't harbor her bleeding heart for idiots like you. I'd rather just extinguish you all."

"That's enough. Let's go." Shinpi touched his back lightly, frowning slightly. "He gets it."

Hiei wasn't so sure, but even as he narrowed his eyes he pulled back.

"Like I said, my dragon is always ready to act in whatever manner I need him to." Shinpi told the man in English, no smile. Then she nodded to Hiei.

With a glare etched into his face, he stalked from the bar with Shinpi at his side, neither of them touching now.

And honestly, she was glad he seemed to be trapped in his thoughts because it meant he wasn't paying attention to her. She wasn't sure what he'd see on her face, but she knew it wouldn't be good. Not with the way she was blushing, her teeth worrying her bottom lip as she replayed the vehemence in Hiei's voice as he defended her honor. Not for his sake, but for her own. When was the last time anyone bothered to stand up for her in a situation like that?

When was the last time someone cared more about her autonomy than their stake in her power?

Swallowing, she eyed Hiei's back and rolled her lips together to wet them. The scene had lit a fire in her blood that had nothing to do with embarrassment or anger. She liked the way Hiei spoke about her. She enjoyed his desire to defend her without equating himself with the offended party. The way his voice sounded when he was angry was so…alluring when it wasn't directed at her. A searing pang of hunger that had nothing to do with eating hit her and she fought it back.

When Hiei finally glanced over his shoulder at her, she had managed to school her expression into something that didn't quite betray her thoughts.

Hiei huffed, rolling his eyes away from her. "I didn't do that because I thought you couldn't. I did it because I knew you wouldn't."

"Hmm?" Shinpi tilted her head, stepping up to his side.

"I know you're capable of handling the situation. I also know you'd rather not jeopardize the mission. I don't give a shit about the mission." Hiei declared. "No one has a right to your body."

"No one but you." Shinpi mused, raising her eyebrows.

Hiei shot her a look that clearly told her he didn't appreciate her snide remarks at the moment but she hadn't meant it as a jibe.

More of an offering.

But it was probably better he didn't actually know that at this point.

"I'll admit, I'm a little jealous of our friend back there. Whose thigh do I have to touch to get you punish me?" Shinpi teased him, checking his shoulder with her own and just as before he misread her flirtation.

Now this could be interesting.

"Shut up." Hiei sighed. "I only did that because I wanted him to understand what he was doing."

"Of course. Thank you." The sincerity in her voice, coupled with the quick bowing of her head, made Hiei glance down her once with heavy skepticism. "I'm glad we're on the same side, Hiei."

"Hn."

"I admit, having an ally as handsome as you might be difficult, but I'm willing to endure." Shinpi went on, and watched him roll his eyes even though she hadn't shifted her tone at all. The sincerity was still there. It seemed Hiei was just obligated to ignore it. Her arm looped through his and she felt him stiffen in her grasp but he didn't shake her off. "I wouldn't want to face these missions with anyone but you."

"Kurama would have handled this more aptly." Hiei let his shoulders fall slightly. "And you two make a charming couple. It would have been more believable and probably saved you the discomfort you experienced."

"But Kurama and I lack this particular chemistry. This is something I share with you and you alone." Shinpi smiled at him, warm and bright and honest. "If anything, Kurama and I get along because we are so similar, but that's also a hindrance."

"He adores you." Hiei nearly choked on the words for the bitterness they left on his tongue.

"And I him, but it's an adoration that is built on mutual understanding." She pointed out. "It's platonic at heart."

Hiei eyed her. "And we're not platonic?"

"I suppose that's up to you, isn't it?" She winked at him and it made him frown.

Seriously, this was too much fun. How long could she continue to be honest with him while he took it for lies? Her flirtations were falling on deaf ears and she wondered when he'd tune into her frequency. If he tuned in at all.

"No one appreciates me the way you do." Shinpi softened her tone and released him, clasping her hands behind her back.

He watched her for a second, suddenly wondering if he'd missed something important. It took a scant second for him to decide he hadn't. Shinpi was a decent enough actress, she'd proven that tonight. And she flirted effortlessly, even when she didn't seem to realize she was doing it. He had no doubt she was putting on airs to tease him, some weird quirk of hers using this as a way to show she'd grown more comfortable with him tonight. Not that he minded, because the way her skin felt against his when she held his arm was tolerable. But he wouldn't take advantage of it.

And he definitely wouldn't pursue it.


"We managed to rescue not just the three demonesses, but also found the compound where the others were being held. Twelve in total. The extraction team Koenma sent already handled them and the culprits. The mission was a brilliant success, in my opinion." Shinpi explained.

"A success? You injured three human guards." Matsuma snorted as he raked his eyes down Shinpi. "Did you even show restraint or does an abomination like you even know what that means?"

"We acted with due force." Shinpi stated firmly. "Non-lethal combat. There were guns. We were forced to disarm the guards not just for our safety but that of the hostages."

"Your safety is meaningless. Who cares if a few demons get shot?" Matsuma glared at her. "Koenma is out of his mind of trusting a monster like you. First you show up, in a human body like you have any right to be alive in the first place. Then you get a human woman killed. You leveled a city. You attacked without restraint or regard for the life around you. Now you make up pale excuses to accommodate your thirst for violence. You're nothing but a pathetic animal and Koenma should have never allowed you to walk free. If it were up to me, you'd be in chains like the dog you are. You should have been executed the minute that woman died because of you."

Hiei glanced as Shinpi, who remained quiet throughout the ordeal. Every word thrown at her glanced off her to any outside speculation, but he could see them when they hit home. This idiot was getting to her more than she'd every show him, more than she'd ever admit to anyone. She was enduring it, keeping her lips pressed into a line, her chin tucked just slightly, shoulders tense and pulled down as she kept her arms behind her back.

"One more word and I'm going to feed you your own tongue."

The brusque interruption brought Matsuma to silence. Hiei didn't move, but he made sure everyone was looking at him before he continued.

"Shinpi has gone above and beyond the expectations we set for her at every turn. She's an exceptional soldier. The only reason she's not choking you to death is because she cares more about how the team is perceived than she does herself." Hiei expressed, his tone dry. "She doesn't deserve your abuse and I won't tolerate it."

Blue eyes moved over to him, eyebrows pulled down in an expression clearly meant to ask him if he had lost his mind.

He hadn't.

"I guess criminals really do flock to each other." Matsuma grunted at him, clearly unimpressed.

Hiei stiffened, eyes narrowing. "I'd rather be a felon than a coward who waits for his enemies to be chained up before he beats them."

Shinpi raised her eyebrows, glancing between the two men. Botan also looked between them, worrying her lip.

"Hiei, this isn't the way." Botan crept up to his side, bending down slightly to keep her voice quiet. "Koenma is going to-"

"Like I care." Hiei snapped at her, shrugging away. "I've wanted a piece of this idiot for months."

"I accept that challenge." Matsuma toed up to the fire demon, sneering. "It'd be a pleasure for me to put you in your place. Just like I did with your little friend."

"Shinpi had you on the ropes at her weakest, I'm not really concerned." Hiei tossed back, glaring up at his opponent.

"Matsuma, leave." The order came out firmly, Shinpi's tone entirely even and her expression carefully neutral. "Like it or not, Hiei is a member of Koenma's team. Threatening him in any capacity is beyond your rights. Hiei, stand down."

Hiei glanced at her, eyes narrowed, ready to argue. But she'd shifted, her chin raising and the fire in her eyes aimed entirely at Matsuma. The other man glared at her, his mouth open and poised to throw out some insult or threat.

"Botan, escort Matsuma back to Spirit World. Given the situation I believe it would be better for Hiei and I to offer our reports through other, more dependable channels." Shinpi continued, turning her attention to the ferry woman. "If Koenma has questions, you can direct him to Hiei."

"You do not get to give me orders." Matsuma started to raise his voice and the glare she delivered on him made him stop talking. "You or your piece of trash fr-"

The cutting glare Shinpi delivered on him cut him off midsentence, the words sliding back down his throat and settling uneasily in his stomach.

"Say whatever you want about me, but you will address Hiei with the respect he deserves. He's done more for Spirit World and Human World than you ever have." She warned him, no longer neutral. The chill in her voice could have formed frost. "If I were you, I'd tread very carefully with my next words, Matsuma."

And Hiei was left with a strange sense of pride in her as Matsuma followed her command. The SDF patrolmen glanced back at the fire demon but carefully avoided speaking again. Botan went with him, casting studious and curious glances over her shoulder at the two demons left behind in the field. Neither of them spoke again until the others were gone.

"Shinpi." Hiei started and she raised a hand to cut him off.

"Don't use me to advance your petty disagreements with Spirit World again." She told him.

"That's not why I did it." He turned to walk back to the temple. "I just didn't appreciate him speaking that way to a member of my team."

Silence met his answer and he dared to look over at her. She'd fallen into step with him quickly, her eyes on the sky.

"Thank you." The words seemed to leave a bad taste in her mouth, but she offered them despite it. "Although, again, I'd like to point out I'm not on Koenma's payroll and therefore not a member of your team."

"I'm surprised by your knack for diplomacy. Your intervention probably saved us trouble." Hiei remarked easily, trying to keep the compliments to a minimum.

"A necessary skill." She assured him. "One that doesn't come naturally to me. I'd rather have fought him, honestly. It's much more satisfying."

Hiei smirked, nodding his agreement. "Something we can agree on, finally."

"By the way, about your valiant defense of me. You said I don't deserve anyone's abuse. Does that mean I don't get to look forward to yours?" A grin threatened to appear on her lips, her tone turning teasing. "I'll miss our banter."

Hiei allowed her to see his smirk, something near teasing on his face. "Obviously not. Foolish woman, can't you read between the lines? I'm an implied exception."

Her responding grin made him avert his gaze. It was too warm, too friendly. He wasn't prepared for it or the way it made him feel. To an outsider they must've seemed like old friends, he thought, bickering in the same way he did with Kurama. Not rivals. Not a parolee and her officer.

The idea didn't leave a sour coating on his tongue.

"So you're saying we're exclusive." She raised an eyebrow, her tone entirely teasing.

"Exclusive?" Hiei frowned. Where had she pulled that word from?

"As rivals. If you're the only exception, wouldn't that make us exclusive rivals since you insist we aren't friends and I insist we aren't teammates?" Shinpi nodded, gesturing with one hand. "I'm a jealous woman, Hiei. I take these sorts of things very seriously. I better not see you out there menacing some other poor demon when you're supposed to be menacing me."

Hiei grabbed her arm, yanking her roughly to face him and she didn't seem to enjoy the experience. Her face screwed up in her surprise. He didn't care.

"Trust me. There is no one out there I want to fight more than you." He assured her, enjoying the discomfort that crossed her eyes followed by a light blush coloring her cheeks. "But can you be truly exclusive with Hiro still alive?"

She surprised him by moving to her tiptoes, pulling the arm he held tightly back so that he had to move forward. Her voice a whisper against his ear he could tell she wasn't smiling anymore. It wrung a heat in his blood he embraced full heartedly.

"Hiro is as an enemy. He's as good as dead. But he's not good enough to be my rival, he never was."

A shiver ran down Hiei's spine, excitement tugging at his lips. He tugged her arm to the side, forcing her to list to the left and then snaked one of his legs between hers, hooking it around her calf and sending them both to the ground. He had her pinned in mere seconds, wrists by her ears as he trapped her beneath him. She bucked her hips upwards, arching her back and throwing off his balance just enough to roll them. Crouched over him, she pressed her forearm into his throat, face hovering over his.

"I'm going to savor every moment I get to beat you." Hiei swallowed, the movement plain under her arm. "I will draw every last trick out of you before this is done. I won't stop until I'm satisfied that I've beaten you at your best."

The darkness that crept into her expression seemed to have little to do with anger. Arrogance coupled with satisfaction played in her eyes, on her mouth.

"That might take a while." Shinpi's smooth tone adding to the heat in Hiei's blood, making him all the hungrier for the fight brewing between them. "Sure you have the stamina?"

He broke her hold on him and launched himself after her, thoroughly enjoying every near-miss of her dancing away from his clutching fingers. The faster she moved the more effort he pushed into catching her. Oh and when he did, he was going to show her.

He'd show her that she had no reason to doubt his claims.

No one would challenge her like he would. She'd be hard pressed to find someone as dedicated to pushing her and beating her. And until the day came that they finally settled the score between them, he'd keep her around. He'd keep idiots like Matsuma at bay.

Because in a way her moronic logic was correct. They were exclusive. Her energy, her challenges, her best, it all belonged to him. No one else was half as worthy of it. And he'd show her by coming at her with everything. Never going easy on her. Never settling for anything less than the most she had to offer. So he hoped she was enjoying her little game of dodge for the moment, because it wasn't going to last long and he planned to make her pay for it. Not that he really thought she'd mind. Shinpi had her own reasons for agreeing to this little arrangement.

And from the look in her eyes, she was looking forward to this just as much as he was.

It was because of that glow in her cheeks, that spark in her eyes that Hiei decided not to use this moment to corner her with questions that would only open her raw wounds. He already knew what she'd lost. He didn't need her to rehash it for him. As long as they held the same goal in mind, getting her stronger than she'd ever been, it didn't matter.

Shinpi could grieve her loss without his interference.

He'd merely act to give her a way to fulfill her vengeance. And he could do that without telling her what was driving his change of heart. His reasoning didn't matter. Only the outcome.

Shinpi had to defeat Hiro on her own terms. Unquestioningly. Only then could Hiei resume his bid for a fight against her. Only then could he stomach the idea of straying her attention from her pained past. But she didn't need to know that, not now, not necessarily ever.

He lunged for her and she wasn't quite so quick to evade him this time. When he cocked his fist back to strike her, he saw her eyebrow raise, her stance shift and he knew on some level she understood. For the first time it felt like they were meeting on even ground. He let his punch fly and waited to see what she'd do with it.

Chapter Text

 


Shinpi moved her rook over the checkered board, then pulled her hand back and smiled at Kurama across from her. He scanned his attention then adjusted one of his pieces to head off her strategy. They were nearing the end of the game and his lips pursed with that conclusion in mind.

"I'm a little disappointed at your strategy." Kurama admitted to her, hands folded together with his chin resting on top. "Genkai suggested this would be far more challenging."

"Genkai knows me well." Shinpi nodded and moved another of her pieces idly, still smiling.

She'd begun to do that a lot more lately, smile. Sometimes it even reached her eyes and lit up her face, he noticed. More often, though, it was this expression that passed as well-meaning and warm but lacked the sincerity her true grins offered. She'd shifted her mask from one of neutrality to carefully cultivated happiness. For whose benefit, he wasn't sure. He made his move and she didn't hesitate to knock over his king with a small flick of her fingers.

Kurama stared down at the fallen monarch, then shook his head. "I see you've been playing your own game. Here I was protecting a queen you were never truly interested in."

"Do me in, Kurama." She laughed, tossing her head back. "I believe it would be checkmate in three moves for you, yes?"

"Yes."

"A fun game."

"Perhaps next time you'll even play by the rules." He chuckled back to her. "How infuriating that you make up your own goals when those of the game have been so well established."

"If we all craved the same victories the world would lack depth." She leaned back in her chair as he reset the pieces. "But I suppose, for you, I can play to the expected standards."

It was a close game, one that ended in a stalemate. Shinpi's smile had grown gleaming and dangerous towards the end and Kurama found it all the more rewarding for that reason. Normally, a tie would have annoyed him. But a tie with Shinpi felt somehow appropriate. It had taken them a while to reach this point at all, the game deft and devious and their strategies and counter-strategies constantly in fluctuation.

The stalemate held a distinctly sweeter taste to him than the victory he'd earned because she'd been playing a different game.


Shinpi spun on her hands, legs wound around her attacker's neck. The demon was forced off its feet and then to the ground as she flipped them using the strength of her calves. One knife to the brain later, the fight was over. Shinpi pulled herself up as if nothing had happened at all. She'd lured the demon into the alley to keep it out of sight, having glimpsed it following her, Hiei and the Kuwabara siblings as they made their way to meet Yusuke and Keiko for dinner.

A bother, really, that she'd managed to get dirt all over pants when she was trying to make a good impression the first time she met Yusuke's girlfriend. In all her time with this group so far, Keiko had been carefully hidden out of reach. It was important to establish a good relationship with this woman if she wanted Yusuke to continue to feel amicable toward her.

Not to mention, she was genuinely curious to meet his Keiko.

"Please tell me you didn't add the pageantry for a Kuwabara." Hiei glared at Shinpi as she brushed dirt off her palms. "That was the move I've seen you practicing."

"It was." She acknowledged, smirking slightly. "It's a fluid movement now."

Her lack of answer in regard to his first statement earned a dull look from him. So she was trying to impress Kuwabara's sister.

Honestly.

"Wow Hichi! That was super cool!" Kuwabara ran up to them, throwing himself between the two demons. Shinpi smiled at his fervor. "I can't believe how fast you are! And you're so little but you were able to toss that big guy around no problem. I know I shouldn't be surprised anymore but it's always so cool to see."

"Don't call me little." Shinpi sighed, but she was smiling despite the light reprimand. "Anyway, I believe we were on our way to dinner, weren't we?"

"Yeah!" Kuwabara pulled her with him, arm around her shoulders, until he walking with his sister again.

Hiei uncrossed his arms, watching the three of them walk away. Shinpi smiled brightly, full of warmth and energy as she flexed and spoke with the Kuwabaras. They all laughed. Slowly, he began to follow them. She fit in with them easily. Hands in his pockets he looked up at the sky, counting the buildings and clouds. This mundane pace was a pain.

He looked down to his side, blinking without much else of an expression. Shinpi had fallen behind with him, her arm threaded through his.

"You'll get lost if you don't watch where you're going." She told him. "It would be a shame if you didn't make it to dinner."

"I'm sure I'd be sorely missed." Hiei snorted.

"Naturally." Shinpi agreed fully, nodding once. "I, for one, think food tastes better when you're at the table. I'm sure the others agree."

"I doubt it."

"You're being sour." Shinpi sighed, but still the smile persisted.

"You're free to leave me alone." Hiei pointed out, dryly.

"I'm okay with sour, sometimes. It makes me appreciate the sweet things when they come along." She pretended not to hear him. A breeze circled them, and he got the impression it wasn't a natural occurrence. "I find it interesting that when you're reticent, you literally withdraw into yourself. Your aura becomes less pronounced, you radiate less heat."

They came to a stop as Hiei pulled his arm from hers, turning so he could better see her face.

"Is that what you were up to?" He asked her, eyes narrowing. "Gathering more information?"

"How can you trust someone with your life but not trust their motives?" She asked in return.

"Answer me."

"I'm always gathering information, it's what I do." Shinpi sighed then, her warm expression fading as she shoved her hands into her pockets, shoulders hunching against a cool gust of wind. "But to answer the question you won't ask, I made the choice to come walk with you because I wanted to."

"Why?"

Shinpi stared at him and his sudden hostility, then looked away. The seriousness that crossed her face made him even more annoyed.

"I thought we were moving passed this, but it appears I was wrong." Shinpi spoke, mostly to herself. Then she started to walk away, a glower blossoming. "It's a rare day that I can accuse myself of being an idealist."

Her rambling continued as she walked, chin tucked down, eyes on the ground. Hiei watched her for a second, eyes narrowed, then followed. He took longer strides until he caught up to her, his fingers catching the sleeve of her hoodie and tugging. It brought her to a stop but she didn't look at him. Instead she pulled her arm free. Hiei grabbed the sleeve again.

"Answer me." Hiei demanded, staring at the side of her face.

"I refuse." Shinpi told him, empty of all emotion. When she attempted to pull away again, he tightened his grip on the fabric.

"Why?" Hiei asked and he wasn't sure what the question was meant to regard at the moment. Why had she come to get him? Why had she walked away? Why was she refusing to look at him? Why was he angry with her for it?

Her movement happened before he could react. Sometimes he forgot that he was dealing with a creature who'd lived at least two of his lifetimes. She reversed his hold on her sleeve and pushed him back, pressing him against the chain link fence blocking an empty lot to their side. Her thin fingers wrapped around his wrist, pinning the arm slightly above his shoulder. A few people hurried down the sidewalk, whispering in hushed tones. Hiei ignored them.

He should have been frustrated that he'd been manhandled so easily. Or angry that she was again holding out on him during their sparring sessions. This woman was obviously capable of far more than she let on at any given moment. So why wasn't he annoyed? Why was he excited by the fierce look in her eyes?

Why did she make him question everything?

Her grip relaxed slowly, but Hiei didn't move. The anger he'd seen gave way to something more turbulent and less amusing.

Hurt.

"I don't like bitter things." Shinpi told him quietly, withdrawing entirely and the wind seemed to rage against her, throwing her hair over her shoulders. She rejected it by pulling up her hood. "But right now the thing I like least of all is the way you look at me."

"Explain." Hiei remained against the gate.

"You don't actually care about knowing, Hiei." Shinpi shoved her hands back into her pockets and looked away, the hood casting a shadow over her face. "You don't like knowing things. You don't like understanding. So I won't explain, because there's not enough language in the world to get you to understand if you don't want to."

He let his arm fall back to his side, back pressing against the fence.

"We should catch up to the others. I'm sure the detective and his woman are already waiting." He told her after another moment of silence, pushing off the fence. He tried to steal a glance at her face, but she kept it in shadow. "They'll start without us."

She walked without responding to him. Hiei glared ahead of them, passersby fleeing the path where his gaze landed. When he shoved his way into the restaurant where the others waited it still took a few seconds to register that Shinpi wasn't with him anymore. Scowling, he wondered if she'd gotten herself lost.

"Thanks for checking on Hichi." Kuwabara cut off Hiei's train of thought. "She used the mirror to let us know she wasn't feeling well and that you stayed behind for a bit to check on her. I guess she put too much into that fight after all."

Hiei settled into his seat, nodding. "She needs to learn to pace herself."

"It must be hard, when so much of her energy is in constant demand." Shizuru lulled the words. Kuwabara tilted his head, but Hiei just offered a cool glare. "Fights like that must take a lot out of her when she tries so hard to avoid them."

"You're underestimating her." Hiei responded. "Shinpi is more than capable of allotting her energy. She chooses not to. She wastes it on useless pursuits."

"If she's pouring so much of herself into it, can you really call it useless?" Shizuru asked him, the pointed question narrowing his eyes. "She's choosing to put her energy into something even though it's not paying off right away. You might see it as a waste of time, but I think most people would view it as an investment."

Yusuke made a joke then, cutting into the tension without actually addressing it and the meal started in earnest. Shizuru didn't talk to Hiei anymore about Shinpi, and the conversation flew from one topic to another, most of them lighthearted and trivial. The fire demon glanced at the empty chair between himself and Kuwabara a few times. Shinpi had thought to call the others before disappearing, to keep them from worrying and in the process she made sure no one would blame Hiei for her absence. While the others laughed and told stories, he thought about the evening.

"Hey, have Hichi check in with us, okay? I want to know she's okay." Kuwabara clapped a hand on Hiei's shoulder before they parted ways. "I feel bad she didn't get to join us."

"She'll be fine." Hiei assured him.

After the others left he went back into the building and made an order to go. It was too late and too far for her to justify taking the trains back to the temple. Besides, he had a suspicion she'd want to be alone. Truly alone. So he directed himself through the streets until he passed through a gate decorated by purple flowers. There were lights in the windows, but when he knocked no one answered.

He tried again. Still nothing. "Shinpi, I brought you food."

Silence.

Fine. If she wanted to be this way, he'd play her game. Hiei rounded the small house and entered the backyard. With barely any effort he leapt to the second story window, sliding it open and placing the food on her desk before he realized he wasn't alone in the room.

Shinpi didn't even bother covering herself before she struck him in the throat, then the chest, sending him flying off the windowsill and to the ground below with a loud groan. Hiei lay there for a moment, dazed.

"Hiei?" She ducked her head out the window, the headphones now gone from her ears. "You startled me! Are you alright?"

He held up a single finger then slowly sat up.

"Just use the door." Shinpi told him, pulling back into her bedroom. He had barely walked into the living room through the sliding glass door when she ran down the stairs.

"Nice pajamas." He commented, eying the matching set. A pink short sleeve button down and matching shorts that were far too short. Her cheeks turned the color of the cloth. "Your instincts seem sharp as ever."

"What the hell were you doing?" She demanded. "Who climbs in through a window?"

"I tried the front door but you weren't answering. I thought you were ignoring me. I didn't know you were bathing." He argued, frowning. "I brought you food."

"I saw." She pulled back, her concern fading with her attitude. "Kuwabara already asked me to check in with him. You didn't need to come."

"I'm not here for him." Hiei told her firmly, glaring.

It left a sentence unspoken between them, but she couldn't determine which sentence. I'm not here for him. I'm here for me. Or I'm here for you. Knowing Hiei, there was nothing left unsaid and she was just being whimsical again. When Hiei made no move to continue speaking, Shinpi just shook her head and started back up the stairs.

"I appreciate the gesture. Have a goodnight." She offered callously during her ascent.

"It's not a gesture, it's a bribe." Hiei followed her up the stairs, as usual ignoring any hint of propriety. "I want you to talk to me."

"I already told you I have nothing to say." Shinpi reminded him. "And I've already eaten."

"That's a lie." Hiei told her and sent a rod down her spine. "You said you wouldn't talk, not that you had nothing to say."

Sighing, she pulled her hair out of the bun she'd slapped it into for her bath. Fussing over the strands of black for something to do, she took a seat at her desk. Hiei chose to sit beside her, on the desk itself. Glaring at him she almost pushed him out the window again.

"You missed your opportunity with Kuwabara's sister." Hiei spoke idly, pilfering through the plastic bag and pulling out a carton of dumplings, opening it and prying one out.

"Don't do that." Shinpi kept her eyes on her fingers as she messed with her hair.

"What am I doing?" He swallowed the food with a raised eyebrow. "The food will get cold. You should eat."

"Why do you do this?" She asked him quietly, bringing attention to the slight tremor in her hands.

Hiei set the cheap chopsticks from the bag on the top of the container, drawing one knee up so he could rest his arms on it while he looked down at her.

"I'm trying to talk to you." Hiei told her. "Why are you-"

"That's not what you're doing." Shinpi tucked her chin down, her bangs covering her eyes so she wouldn't have to look at him. She squeezed her eyes shut anyways, just in case. "You come here for no reason, saying you want to talk and the first thing you say is about Shizuru. You don't want to talk about Shizuru."

"What do I want to talk about?" Hiei returned her quiet tone with his own.

Her teeth ground together. This was infuriating.

"I don't know." She told him, dropping her hands to her lap. "I'm not sure if you even want to talk at all. I think sometimes you just can't help it."

"Help what?" Hiei tilted his head, attempting to see her face and failing.

"Is this another of your tests? Some challenge to my fortitude?" She demanded, shaking slightly, fists on her bare legs. "How many times are you going to pull the rug from underneath me? I thought you'd be satisfied by now."

Hiei didn't answer, the realization behind her words creeping on him slowly.

"How many more times am I going to think we're passed this only to be reminded that we're never going to be? Why do you follow me and put on these gregarious acts? I thought we'd come to an understanding, finally. You are a far better liar than I knew." Shinpi bit her lip, then let it go, a shaky breath passing through her lips. "I just don't understand why you keep doing it."

Her body went still, Hiei's hand sliding under her bangs to lift the hair away so he could look at her face. The shock of it pried her eyes open, her lips parting. It took all her effort not to look up into his face.

"I think you're right, I think you don't understand." Hiei told her carefully. He watched her struggle not to meet his gaze. "You seem to be under the impression that I'm here to hurt you. I'm not. I'm here because I want to be."

"I don't believe you." Shinpi told him, biting her lip again. "I don't believe anything you say to me."

"Mm. Another lie. You're on fire tonight." Hiei tisked twice. "Why don't you believe me?"

"I'm done answering your questions. Move your hand." She went to brush his hand away from her face only to utter a small gasp as his fingers wrapped around hers, Hiei moving fluidly to press her captured hand to the desk as he slipped off of it to lean over her.

"By not answering, you're making this easier for me." He informed her lightly. "I've had a lot of time tonight to reflect on our conversation. Do you realize how off putting you can be? When you say things about people that they might not have even noticed themselves, it's frustrating. You notice too much about everything."

"Get of-"

"I'm not done talking." Hiei cut her off and to his surprise it worked. She shut her mouth immediately, teeth worrying the inside of her bottom lip. "What I don't understand is why you take it so personally when people react poorly to your intrusions. You're a powerful creature. Coupling that with your intelligence, you can't actually be surprised when people get wary of your intentions. You pinpoint weaknesses and get offended when people get defensive. What do you expect them to do?"

She kept her eyes averted, slightly narrowed, and didn't answer him.

"You're right, I trust you with my life. If someone were to attempt to kill me right this moment, despite your anger with me, I know you'd fight to save me. You're an honorable person." Hiei told her. "But I don't know your motives. If I weren't in possession of your sword, my life would be forfeit and I know that too."

"Keep the sword then." Shinpi told him, a hiss. "It has no weight in this conversation. And you have no idea what you're talking about. Let me go, Jaganshi."

"Stop using that name." Hiei put a hand on the back of her chair. "You only use that fucking name when you're angry."

"I use it when you're a stranger to me."

Hiei blinked, puzzled by her words. When he was a stranger? What leap of logic had she made now?

"I'm the same." Hiei told her, brows pulling down.

"You're not." She assured him, chin jutted away, eyes focused on her wall.

"What's the difference then?" He demanded, curiosity ringing in his voice.

"Hiei is my friend, rival, whatever word appeals to you. Whoever you are right now, it's not the same man. Whoever you are right now is more interested in controlling me, hurting me, than anything else." She told him and despite the strength she mustered, her voice still quivered slightly. Bottom lip trembling slightly, moisture pooling into her eyes, she continued to avoid looking at him. "Or I'm just a fool. I've simply come to understand your necessary tolerance as something more than it is. It wouldn't be the first time I've allowed myself to impress meaning on a man who wanted nothing more than to kill me."

The comparison to Hiro scalded him, as he was sure it was meant to. But what dug into his stomach like a knife was the actual pain on her face as she spoke. Then the resolute acceptance.

"I know when someone is forcing themselves to care. I've seen that expression enough now to see through it. The way you look at me. It's the same." Shinpi bit into her lip again, leaving a spot of blood in her wake before continuing, the tears kept at bay by the action. "I thought we'd breached this wall, but we haven't. It will never come down. You'll always want to control me. I simply have to stop forgetting that just because you don't openly show your contempt doesn't mean it isn't there."

"Idiot." Hiei sighed the word, tipping her chair back onto the rear two legs until the back of it hit her desk. The action forced her to finally meet his eyes, her body going rigid. His slid his other hand under her chin, tipping her head back.

"You're not about to profess how all this is some bent form of affection I drive out of you, are you? Because again, I've heard it before." She tried to mistake the softness in his expression for malice.

"We've been having two different conversations." Hiei told her, letting out a heavy sigh. "You're right, I didn't understand. It never occurred to me you'd think I was manipulating you."

"What are you doing?" She caught the glow of the Jagan, her eyes flicking to his forehead. "Now you have to double check my answers?"

"It's not for you." Hiei assured her. "Well, not your mind, anyway."

He took her captured hand and placed it over the bandana concealing the Jagan. Just like that Shinpi was drug into Hiei's mind, a disorienting experience at its least significant. Quickly, flashes of memory screamed through her, the emotional snippets lingering just long enough for her to get a sense of them. Hiei's admiration for her tenacity and quick-wit. His annoyance with her when she gets herself into trouble. Unease when she flirts with Kurama, and now a Kuwabara. Confusion at her interest in training Kuwabara in general, but also respect. A flood of memories like a tidal wave, the culmination nearly too much for her to process, but nothing resembling hatred. No true malice, though he had wanted to smack her around a few times. No deceit.

"I'm dizzy." Shinpi announced when the Jagan closed and Hiei raised his eyebrows, grabbing her by the shoulders when she nearly fell from her chair. "That is not fun."

"You get used to it." He smirked.

"I hope I don't have to do it often enough to form a resistance." Shinpi put one hand on his arm, the other on the desk, her feet on the floor on as she inhaled through her nose. A few breaths that way and she was able to open her eyes without listing to the side. "All of that suggests you aren't trying to own or hurt me, I'll agree to that point. But why did you get so angry with me earlier?"

"Because I didn't know that my aura grew weaker when I was in thought." Hiei snapped at her. "No one knows that. Why do you notice those sorts of things?"

"I think a better question is why don't you?" Shinpi raised her eyebrow.

Hiei smirked at her fully. "Because I don't care what my aura does."

She rolled her eyes and immediately regretted the decision, the dizziness returning. Hiei chuckled as her grip on his arm tightened.

"This was more what I was expecting from our conversation earlier." He informed her, amused. "I say something challenging, you say something smart, I tell you it was never important anyway."

"Infuriating, but in character for you." Shinpi grumbled. "Also, I didn't say it because it was important. I merely commented on it because I found it interesting. You're not very forward with your emotions, having some sort of signifier is helpful."

"So what am I supposed to do about yours?" Hiei asked her curiously.

"My what?"

"Emotions. It's not like you're very forthcoming with your moods." Hiei pointed out.

"I'm very forthcoming. You being obtuse isn't my problem." Shinpi huffed, blinking a few times then eying the dumplings. She reached over to it and stole the chopsticks Hiei had been using.

Hiei frowned at her, a dull expression in place. "Yes, you're very open."

"So we agree." Shinpi nodded. Then she grinned at him, eating one of the dumplings. "Relative to you, at least."

"I don't have an argument against that." Hiei allowed, looking to the side. "I thought you'd eaten already."

"I did. Emotional turmoil makes me hungry." She dared him to question her. "Besides, you've got that damned Jagan don't you? What more do you need?"

Hiei raised his eyebrows. "That's not the first time you've suggested I use my Jagan so frivolously."

"It's a powerful tool you're underutilizing." She shrugged. "I've been very interested in how little you seem to rely on it."

"I was strong before I got it, I can be strong without using it." Hiei told her.

"But you're stronger when you do." Shinpi eyed him.

"Genkai suggested I not invade your privacy if I wanted to stay on your good side. I'd hate to be caught in one of your temper tantrums as I currently lack the defense against natural disasters." Hiei smirked then, using his fingers to pluck a dumpling from its package.

"You had no problem shoving yourself into my head during our mission." She pointed out, digging through the bag for the rest of the food he'd bought. She set out the carton of rice and the daifuku.

"Extraordinary circumstances." He drawled, climbing back onto the desk so he could perch there and eat. Shinpi righted her chair, angling toward him.

"Perhaps what we need a code word." Shinpi suggested, teetering her chair back onto two legs and pressing her shins to the desk for balance. Her eyes roamed the ceiling in thought as she pushed some rice into her mouth.

"A code word?"

"Yes. To signal when you want to use your Jagan on me or when I think you should." She drug her eyes to his face.

This vast improvement in Shinpi's mood made Hiei relax considerably. Watching her eyes light up with thought, her lips quirk with smart remarks, it soothed part of what had been bothering them. As they shared the little boxed dinner straight from the containers, he allowed himself to enjoy the moment.

"What sort of word?" Hiei asked her.

"Parley." Shinpi tipped her head to the side as she looked up at him. "It's a call for opposing sides of a dispute to reach an agreement. Perfectly suitable for rivals, don't you think Hiei?"

"And what? I say the word when I want to enter your mind and you say it when you want the same?" He assumed.

"I have a feeling we're going to be going on more missions together. I think it'd be useful." She nodded.

"Fine."

They ate in amicable silence for a few minutes. Shinpi picking at the rice and a few more dumplings and Hiei moving onto the confectionary sweets. He passed one to her and she accepted it with a nod.

"I've never pretended to understand romance or why people would want to deal with it." Hiei spoke as if he were carefully parsing through the words, making a face the whole time, something between a sneer and a grimace.

Shinpi turned him with shock clearly displayed on her face. When he caught sight of it he looked away quickly.

"I understand that you need more than rivalry to," he waved a hand through the air uselessly, "function. You need companionship."

She continued to watch him, and it slowly dawned on her that he looked uncomfortable as if his next words unsettled him. What a turn of events. She had suspected this sort of transition would take longer for them. It had only been a few weeks since they'd gone on their mission together, hadn't it?

"You and Shizuru would make a decent enough couple. She wouldn't have been my first choice, but, I could see you two getting along." Hiei swallowed and it looked like he'd tasted something foul.

It took a moment for his words to register and then Shinpi laughed, nearly falling out of her chair as the loud, honest sound filled the room, her eyes watering. That had not been what she had been expecting, not by a long shot and through her humor she couldn't manage tell Hiei that Shizuru had already rejected her, politely, but assuredly. They were friends, and honestly, that was probably for the best.

Hiei's dull expression at her outburst only doubled her fit. With a growl he shoved a piece of daifuku into her mouth in an attempt to get her to stop.

"You're a pain in the ass." He snapped at her.

"I'm so sorry, Hiei. You're trying so hard to be decent and a doting rival and here I am." She continued to giggle as she chewed. "You just looked absolutely pained."

"Well, I am endorsing a Kuwabara. At least it's the tolerable one." He sneered at her.

"You don't approve of my choice?" She teased him.

"Well, not everyone can have my discerning taste." Hiei smirked back.

"Oh yes, you seem quite the picky fellow. What with your ragtag team of misfit friends." Shinpi snapped her chopsticks at his nose, not caring that she was being rude or that she had rice on her chin. "I mean, look at you, sitting next to your rival and eating sweets even though every other word out of my mouth makes you want to shake me."

"Maybe I like that in my companions." He pointed out, eying her devilishly. "It might not be typical, but it's refined."

That stopped her short and then Shinpi rolled her eyes away from him, laying the utensils down and rubbing at her mouth. "I'd like to see how you function around me when you don't have to be under my ass all the time."

"At the rate you get in trouble, you'll never be rid of me and we'll never find out." Hiei snorted, rolling his eyes too.

Because he'd turned his face away he missed the slight squint she offered the far wall, the cogs in her head turning rapidly to dissect the truth in his words. He was right. At this rate, she'd never get her freedom back. Not that she minded Hiei's company some of the time, but it would be interesting to see how his opinion of her changed if they weren't forced to tolerate each other through sheer proximity. People often chose the path of least resistance and that included during social interactions. With Hiei living across the hall in her spare room or at the temple, training with her, acting as her guardian, they had no choice but to get along to some degree or it would be impossible to function.

So what would happen if all of that just… went away?

Her gaze flickered back over to the fire demon beside her, face smooth as she examined the possibilities. In all honesty, if Hiei's attitude were just the effect of their prolonged proximity, she wanted to know.

"What?" Hiei demanded and she tilted her head, offering a coy smile.

"I can't admire a masterpiece?" She asked him and it made his eyes widen a fraction before snapping closed and he huffed which naturally produced a grin from her.


Three days later cobalt eyes scanned over the information in the manila folder, an expert gaze picking out the relevant information with ease before she nodded and handed the file back to Koenma. They sat in the read room together, chairs angled toward one another so they talk as if they were old friends. It was a shame that this was a business meeting, and a dubious one at that.

"Seems like Spirit World might get a bit of a troublesome image if they were to actively intervene in Makai politics." Shinpi vocalized the thought idly.

"Truly. It's unfortunate that I can't just send the team in to handle this ordeal, what with the current climate." He agreed. "I'm glad we see eye to eye on this one."

"Well, my vision might get clearer if my head wasn't so clouded with my current predicament." Shinpi lulled and picked at her nail before raising her eyes to meet his pointedly. "If only so much of my time wasn't currently preoccupied by other forces I might be able to think of a way for Spirit World or resolve this mess without getting its hands stained."

His lips pressed into a line and he tossed a bit of his cape over his shoulder, sucking on his pacifier with great irritation. "I was under the impression you enjoyed your circumstances."

"I enjoy the company, but as with many things, it would taste sweeter were it not forced on me every day." She reached over and plucked a piece of lint off his shoulder, rolling it between her thumb and forefinger idly. "If I had more free time…"

"Fine. I'll lift that provision of your parole." Koenma caved and she smiled at him.

This man presented himself as made of stone but he was nothing but a house of cards. One little nudge and he crumbled.

"But if you abuse this, just know, I won't protect you." He warned her darkly.

"I've never been fond of being protected. It's unbecoming of a knight." Shinpi fussed over his hair for a moment, not even to intimidate him but because part of it had been bothering her for minutes now and she needed to fix it. "Much better."

Koenma watched her hand withdraw and blinked. "After this next mission."

"Of course." She agreed readily, because it made sense. If Koenma announced she no longer needed to be monitored day in and out for no reason it would be suspicious. But, as a reward for a job well done? For collaborating with his little team? She doubted anyone would question it. After all, she'd been on her best behavior as of late.

The reading room door opened and Kurama stood on the other side with Hiei. They both assessed the two occupants with mild surprise and then suspicion.

"Koenma was cajoling me into going on a case with you lot." Shinpi supplied the answer before they asked the question and that only made Kurama's suspicion grow. "But he's failed to mention who all would be going so far and what the details are. He's not very good at this."

Koenma sputtered indignantly and Shinpi flashed a smile toward him that was all teeth. Hiei raised his eyebrows then rolled his eyes.

"Stop giving her options and just tell her to do it." Hiei demanded, arms crossed over his chest. "Shinpi, if I'm going, you're going. And if Koenma's bothered to come here, you can guarantee he wants all of us on this one."

"Oh, well, if you're going." Shinpi rolled her attention to the fire demon. "How could I say no to the opportunity of showing off for my favorite parole officer?"

Hiei sighed, exasperated. He turned to Koenma. "What is it?"

"Trouble in the mountains. A small town has been experiencing a slew of missing persons and finding this when they go to look." Koenma passed over another folder, different from the one he'd slipped behind his back.

Kurama and Hiei eyed the gory photographs before Shinpi rose to her feet and trotted over to them. Her lips pressed into a line and she raised a dark gaze to Koenma, but it was Kurama who spoke next.

"We'll need to pack for a few days. This trip will likely see us camping in the mountains at least overnight." He announced, snapping the file closed. "I'll contact Yusuke and Kuwabara."

"Already done." Koenma rose to his feet. "Just handle it as soon as you can. We can't allow anyone else to get taken."

"Naturally. We'll leave once we're packed and ready." Kurama nodded. Koenma bobbed his head and left the room.

Shinpi clasped her hands behind her back. "This is sort of exciting."

Hiei and Kurama both eyed her, but she radiated sincerity. Her eyes were bright, the corner of her mouth turned up. When she looked at them the grin split fully across her face.

"I bet I can find the culprit before you do." Shinpi told Hiei with a knowing glint in her eye.

"We'll all be working together." He pointed out, but a smirk had come to life on his lips. "But, no doubt, I'll be able to apprehend them first."

"Oh, I like that. It's a challenge then. Whoever gets the bad guy wins." Shinpi declared and Kurama chuckled at her enthusiasm.

"What will I win this time?" Hiei wondered smugly.

"The knowledge that you bested me." She shrugged. "Gloating rights."

"Hn. Not very interesting."

"Would you like to use your one wish to force me to come up with something better?" She began to walk down the hall with the two of them, eyes to the side so she could see Hiei in her periphery.

"Nice try. I'm keeping that one in my pocket until I need it most." Hiei smirked at her. "Gloating rights it is."

"May the best demon win." Shinpi turned her gaze forward and felt a thrill run down her spine. This rivalry business was actually fairly fun.

She hoped it stayed that way once Koenma made the big announcement upon their return.

Chapter Text

As it turned out, Yusuke and Kuwabara needed time to get their acts together before they could disappear for a few days on a 'very important mountain hike' as Kuwabara had phrased it. This meant that Kurama had gone back to his home and Shinpi and Hiei had gone to hers. Her house became the arranged meeting spot for the next morning where they'd all gather, then take a bus as far as they could before hiking the rest of the way to their destination.

Hiei had been impressed that true to form, once they'd gotten to her house, Shinpi had packed everything she'd need in less than hour. She'd offered to bring along anything he needed but he'd openly scoffed at the mere idea. All he needed was his sword, and perhaps his cloak. And he'd be damned if asked her to carry either for him.

Speaking of swords, he eyed the wood one she'd placed by her backpack. It was handmade, she'd informed him. She'd done the work herself, shaping the blade and sanding it to a decent enough edge. It was still wood, and he couldn't fathom it being useful, but she was insisting on bringing it along.

He was sure there was something to be said about her sword envy, but the joke eluded him.

"Do you cook?" Shinpi asked him later that evening, reaching for her apron.

"No."

"Too bad. I was going to ask for your help." She shrugged off his lack of usefulness and set about the task herself. Chopping vegetables, making the rice, preparing the meat and allowing it to cook slowly.

Hiei fell asleep at the table, his back against the wall. The sound of the ceramic plate sliding over the wood of the table awoke him and uncertain amount of time later. He pried his eyes open to glance first at the food, then the woman who offered it.

Shinpi stood with a knowing look, seemingly unimpressed with him. As usual. Her fists planted on her hips, eyes pinched at the corners, her mouth pulled slightly to one side. He stared back, not particularly caring for her attitude at the moment. He was tired. He was allowed to sleep. Then she frowned at him and shook her head, turning away and making a plate for herself. He didn't wait for her before starting to eat, surprised that the food was flavorful, the meat tender. Making a contented sound, he realized how hungry he'd been.

Her cooking had improved over the weeks as he'd grown used to it.

Shinpi slid into the seat across from him, not offering a word. She merely looked at her own food quietly, flour streaked over her right cheek. The apron hung on its designated peg by the oven.

"This is good." Hiei offered noncommittally, not keen to start a conversation on the matter, but still feeling he should say something.

She nodded, accepting his compliment as she continued to eat her own meal. He went back to eating. He wasn't sure when but she had placed a glass water on his side of the table, the condensation on the outside of the glass telling him it might've been there for a while. How long had he been asleep?

The timer on the stove buzzed, a high pitched ringing that grated on his nerves. She got to her feet to stop it before he could bark at her over the racket. The smell of something sweet and baked drifted through the kitchen when she pulled the oven door open, withdrawing the small cakes from its depths. Placing them on the stovetop, she stared at them for a long second then went back to the table to finish eating.

Hiei eyed them, glancing over a few times. Chocolate cake? He looked back at the woman, then leaned back in his chair.

"There is a perfectly good bed upstairs." She told him, her voice breaking the silence that had fallen between them. Hiei raised his eyebrows. "You don't have to sleep in a chair. You might as well be comfortable when you nap, Hiei."

After she finished eating, she collected the plates and washed them immediately. In fact, he noted, she washed everything right after using it. He'd seen Urameshi cook several times and the detective let things pile up until he absolutely had to do dishes. Shinpi seemed determined to keep her sink empty at all times.

She liked things in their place, orderly and clean. He'd learned this well enough.

Shinpi set about placing the cakes on a wire cooling rack, moving onto whatever never step she had undertaken. Fascinated, Hiei leaned against the refrigerator to watch her. She'd pulled a bowl from the refrigerator, large and metal, and attached it to a machine with a whisk built into it. Then she turned it on, allowing it whir as it whipped the contents of the bowl for a few minutes. She checked the consistency a few times then, when she was happy, stopped the machine, washing the detached whisk before removing the bowl and sliding the machine into a cabinet below the counter.

Placing the first layer of cake onto a large plate, she scooped some of the filling out, smoothing it then adding the next layer of cake and so on until it stood four small layers high.

Hiei swallowed, eyes glued to the dessert as she sprinkled it with confectionary sugar, leaving the sides and top unfrosted. His tongue made a pass over his lips.

Shinpi caught the look and chuckled. If he ever looked at another being like he looked at cake, they were done for. The desire on his face was real. But she noticed that he never asked if he could indulge. So, leaning against the counter, she smiled at him.

"You can have some." She told him and he stepped toward the cake, so she lifted her hand. "When you ask for it."

He stopped, glaring at her. "And if I don't?"

She smiled at him. He didn't like this smile. It was far from benevolent.

"I could just scrap the whole thing." She shrugged, not bothered.

"You'd waste all that time and effort out of spite?"

"My entire existence is fueled by spite. Wasting a cake is the least that I'm capable of."

He believed her.

"I could just take it." He pointed out, walking forward until their toes nearly touched. He wasn't even sure why he was arguing over a damned slice of cake. But her expression brought it out of him.

"You'd have to get through me first." She slid the plate further behind her. "Is it really so hard to ask me for some?"

"Is it really necessary?" He placed his hands on the edge of the counter on either side of her, narrowing his eyes on her face. "At this point, I think you're just trying to start a fight with me."

"I am." She agreed without reservation. Then, lowering her voice, added. "Are you going to take the bait?"

Hiei's fingers dug into the countertop, but it wasn't anger curling in his stomach. It was a different warmth, something more pleasant and entirely unexpected as he looked into her eyes, debating his next move. She expected him to fight her, he realized that, and he wanted to.

"May I have a slice?" He asked her instead, voice rougher than he'd meant for it to become.

"Just a slice?" She tilted her head, soft confusion and smug pleasure mingling in her expression. "You could have asked for the whole thing."

The warmth intensified.

"Help yourself, Hiei." She shrugged, gently pushing out of the box of his arms. "See you in the morning."

And she left him in the kitchen, mildly confused but with an entire cake to devour.


Hiei refused to board the bus once it arrived. He'd waited with the lot of them, hands shoved in his pockets and a glower etched onto his face.

"I'll meet you there." He spoke firmly, then his eyes narrowed on Shinpi. "Do not cause trouble."

"It's a bus to the mountains, Hiei. How much trouble do you expect me to find?" She demanded, thoroughly amused.

"You seem to pull it out of thin air. It manifests around you." He pointed out. "So, I repeat, do not cause any trouble."

"Maybe a little trouble?" She teased, holding her fingers a hair apart. "A small commotion? A band-aid emergency, perhaps?"

"I'll be around." Hiei turned his attention to Yusuke, expression annoyed. "Keep an eye on her."

Then he was gone and Shinpi was left hiding her giggle behind her hand as she shook her head. "Honestly, what's he expecting me to do?"

The bus ride passed without event. In fact, Shinpi slept most of it, napping peacefully with her head on Kuwabara's shoulder as they bounced along the pot-holed road to the mountains. And even her dreams were pleasant and uneventful. By the time they met up with Hiei at the base of the mountain, everyone was rearing to get started and stretch their stiff legs.

The first stretch of their hike was mundane. Yusuke griped the entire time about trees and nature and what a waste it was that he couldn't have stayed home to play video games. Kuwabara argued with him, annoyed, and kept defending the 'beauty of the planet'. Kurama and Shinpi shared knowing looks like two older siblings. Hiei caught of a few of those looks and it bothered him, but he couldn't tell why.

The annoyance didn't stop until after Hiei slayed their first feeble opponent. A stray demon, nothing capable of ripping a human being apart, that had come at them from the trees. An easy enough victim, nothing that required his true skill. In fact, dispatching the wretch had been more instinctual reaction than intent. But it had been Shinpi's quick reflex of pivoting around Yusuke that sent the demon onto Hiei's sword.

"Spectacular." Shinpi's bright exclamation turned Hiei's attention toward her. She tossed him a wide grin that lit up her face. "We make a good team; don't you think Hiei?"

Hiei stared at her, caught. An uncomfortable sensation shuddered in his chest just before his entire body went warm. Swallowing, he tried to gather a response, unable to look away from her glowing expression.

"We are a team." He said dully, then closed his eyes and realized what an idiot he sounded like. "It's natural that we all work well together."

"Well, I meant us specifically, but I suppose you're right." Shinpi chuckled. "You're pretty graceful when you fight. I hadn't realized before."

Hiei felt his ears burn and crossed his arms to glare away from the woman hoping to cover the unnecessary blush with feigned annoyance. "I don't need your compliments."

Shinpi tilted her head, studying him, then shrugged.

"Whatever you say, Hiei."

Her casual response irked him, making him sink into his shoulders. How could she respond so lightly when he was obviously trying to be off-putting? What the hell was wrong with her? And for that matter, what was wrong with him? Why had he lost his composure at the sight of her grin?

So what if it had been coupled with some moronic declaration? It was meaningless. Shinpi was just the sort of person who said things. She'd openly admitted to being benignly encouraging without realizing it. It was in her nature.

Yusuke elbowed Kurama with a questioning expression and the fox demon just offered a headshake in return. Who truly could understand Hiei's strange reactions? They hiked until the sun went down, still no contact with the apparent threat lying in wait in the shroud of trees. When they made camp, it came with the assignment of watch keeping shifts. Just in case. And as Hiei made the fire, the rest of them started to tell stories.

Shinpi listened raptly to them speak. Yusuke about some of his time training in Makai, Kuwabara about what it was like dealing with Yusuke as a teen. Kurama offered a tale or two about his days as a thief. Hiei pitched in with a story of his own as a bandit. Then all eyes moved to Shinpi and she stared back with curiosity.

"What is it?" She asked them, reaching up to touch her face. "Have I got something on me?"

"You've been quiet." Yusuke teased, leaning forward and grinning at her. "Come on, you have to have some good shit in that past of yours."

Hiei tensed, and it went unnoticed. But the rod straightening his spine didn't go away because he was worried the detective was plucking at the wrong string. Now was not the time for them to begin hounding Shinpi about her past. What would they do if she lost her cool here in the mountains? If she remembered her child too profoundly and her rage came back?

To his immense relief her lips pulled up to the left a bit and she leaned back on her stump, staring up at the glimmering sky.

"I had more good moments than bad, honestly, but the bad ones were fairly encompassing in how terrible they were." She admitted. Then hummed to herself as she tried to come up with a story to tell them. "Oh, alright, you'll enjoy this one Yusuke. When I was a teenager, I ran away from home. It's a long story leading up to that. Anyway, the first place I thought to flee to was Tourin. Something about the clockwork of Raizen's hunger just made me feel at ease."

She went on to weave the story for them. Young, out of her lands and on her own for the first time, steel-headed and angry. She'd showed up on Raizen's proverbial doorstep with the clothes on her back, a fire in her eyes and said, 'Train me'. He naturally refused, laughing, and even though he had a working relationship with her father he sent her away. Told her to come back when she could beat him. She refused to go. His energy alone threw her from his tower.

But she wasn't deterred. She climbed back up and demanded him train her again. He laughed and again threw her from the tower.

So, instead of climbing up again, she stood at the base of his tower and stared at it. Raizen called out to her, asking if she was so easily deterred, even as the sky above them darkened and swirled.

"What were you doing?" Kuwabara asked, leaning forward.

"Well, I figured, if I couldn't pull the king from his tower, I'd pull the tower from the king." She smiled at him, then laughed and it was that high tinkling sound she'd only offered a handful of times. "I never managed the feat, because Hokushin approached me. The tornado went the way of the wind and I spent a few years hanging out with them before moving onto my next goal."

"He should have hit you harder." Hiei grunted, eying her. "Your hard head obviously needed it."

"True. I could easily be accused of being a willful child. Luckily I grew out of the worst of it." She offered and smiled at them all.

Yusuke laughed at that, beaming. Kurama chuckled too.

The night waned from there. Eventually, they all settled in. The campfire was mere embers when Hiei glanced down from his post on the tree he'd adopted. It was soft at first, the initial sounds of Shinpi's distress. He hopped down and walked over to where she lay on the ground, bag cushioning her head, sleeping bag unzipped as it lay under and over her. He knew her fits well enough to know when one was coming.

So he knelt by her head and placed his hand on her crown, waiting until her face smoothed out before moving onto Kuwabara who slept a few yards away. He kicked the carrot top lightly in the shoulder. "It's your turn."

"Right, right." Kuwabara yawned and stretched, slowly waking himself up from an uncomfortable sleep. "Thanks for taking the first shift."

"Just don't get us all slaughtered in our sleep." Hiei grumbled, walking back to Shinpi.

Kuwabara watched as the fire demon lay down next to the woman, arm folded under his head and making sure to keep some distance between them by rolling onto his side away from Shinpi. "You're not going to look down on us from a tree, shorty?"

"Not tonight." Hiei grumped back, eyes already closed.

Kuwabara hummed something under his breath and distracted himself with trying to stoke the fire to life so he could heat up water for some instant coffee. Almost as though she sensed the attention on her had slipped away, Shinpi moved, nuzzling against Hiei's back in her sleep.

And it kept happening that way. No matter how he shifted, or growled at her.

Hiei grunted, shoving Shinpi's leg off of him as it hooked around his hip, her face nestled between his shoulder blades. "We're not that close. Stop it."

Murmuring some vague agreement she scooted closer to him. He knew she was asleep. He knew it wasn't intentional, but still, this was the third time tonight she'd tried to cuddle up to him. Hiei suspected it had something to do with the chill in the air. Another time, under different circumstances, and he may not have been so bothered, but the team was there and he knew he'd catch shit if they woke up to him allowing the woman to spoon him.

Rolling to his back so he could sit up on his elbows, Hiei cast a glare at the woman. Him being down here was for her benefit to start with. The last thing any of them needed was for her to have one of her nightmares. She continued sleeping soundly, another annoyance. Wasn't she supposed to be a warrior? She should have more situational awareness. Without a lot of care about waking her, Hiei took her shoulder and rolled her to her other side.

Shinpi groaned, swatting at his hand. Well, that was a minor improvement.

Laying down behind her Hiei slipped and arm around Shinpi's waist, being sure to trap her top arm underneath his lest she react wildly to the intrusion. Her breathing hitched in her sleep, a soft growl voicing her complaint, but then her breathing evened once again. Smirking, Hiei closed his eyes. He'd rather be caught in the dominate position, and this way Shinpi couldn't do anymore of that nuzzling or cuddling.

In theory, anyway.

Hiei squeezed his eyes shut against the beginnings of consciousness sometime later, annoyed at the obvious light behind his lids. His arm flexed around a figure, bringing them to stillness when they tried to struggle in his hold.

"Stop it." He warned quietly, still tired.

The weight on his chest resumed and he settled back against the edge of sleep once more, content for the moment. It didn't last long.

"Hiei, as comfortable as this is, I need to move." Shinpi kept her voice quiet and he could hear the humor in her tone.

Peeling his eyes open slowly, he looked down at where her head lay against the hollow of his shoulder, her arm draped over his chest while his pinned her into place beside him. At some point he'd rolled onto his back and it seems he'd drug the woman with him. One of her legs was strewn over his, the exact thing that he'd been trying to avoid.

"You should have thought of that before I got comfortable." Hiei told her lightly, closing his eyes and letting his head fall back to the ground. "Shut up and sleep."

She let out an indignant huff, put out with him. It made him want to grin as she settled into her confinement, the hand on his chest beginning to draw absentminded patterns over his shirt. Then she shifted, her adjustment putting an awkward pressure on his shoulder and elbow and her leg making his hip feel strained. Hiei opened one eye to look at her.

"I know you're doing that on purpose." He told her blandly. But he let her go, letting his arm around her go slack so she could sit up and stretch her arms. Then he went back to dozing comfortably, only barely aware of her disappearance.

It wasn't much longer before he joined the others around the campfire, noting two of their party were missing.

"Yeah, Hichi and Kurama went scouting." Yusuke clued him in looking mildly annoyed. "After she captured a demon last night they wanted to be sure there weren't traps waiting for us."

Hiei stared at him. "When did she capture a demon? She was asleep all night."

"Huh? No, man. She ended up taking over for Kuwabara at some point. She went back to bed when it was my turn." Yusuke gestured to the fire demon. "You must've slept like a rock to miss the commotion. That's not like you."

He was right, it wasn't. Unless he was in a totally secured environment, Hiei was always on guard. Even then, he still generally slept on edge and rarely for more than a handful of hours at a time. It was only then he realized he had slept through most of the night. And Shinpi must've been far more aware than he thought, not to mention stealthy. He couldn't remember being disturbed at all by her leaving. Had she come back to find him on his back and cuddled against him? Damn that woman.

"Dude screamed like a stuck pig." Kuwabara made a face. "She's really terrifying sometimes. I hadn't even noticed the guy before she was on him."

"Woke up from a dead sleep just to save your ass. I think she's got the hots for you." Yusuke teased the carrot top.

Kuwabara didn't accept the joke, instead looking mildly bothered. "Yeah. I mean, if she hadn't, that guy would've gotten the jump on me."

Yusuke sobered up too, frowning and glancing away from them with a narrowed gaze. Hiei followed the track of his attention and found a figure lying on the ground several yards away, tar-like blood coating the ground under it. A heavy creature covered in sharp spikes, clawed hands. Kuwabara would have been cut through.

"Did it injure her?" Hiei asked them, still staring at the mangled body Shinpi had left behind. He hadn't smelled blood on her. Had she managed to bath?

"No. It didn't have a chance." Kuwabara smiled then. "Hichi is really something, huh? She came out of nowhere. One minute everyone was asleep and I was watching the site and the next I hear this crazy scream and she's just there with her wooden sword and the thing is dead."

"She was pissed too." Yusuke nodded at the carrot top. "Took off to make sure no one else was around. Came back after a dip in the river. Told us we were in the clear for now, then spent twenty minutes laying into Kuwabara before sending him to bed."

"Man, I thought sis was a tough customer. Hichi has nothing on her. I felt like I was a little kid being yelled at by my mom." Kuwabara rubbed his neck, a sheepish blush coating his cheeks. "She's really something."

"Gross dude, I didn't know you had a mom fetish." Yusuke poked Kuwabara's cheek with a dull look. "That's just weird man."

"Ew! It's not like that you disgusting punk! She's just amazing, is all! I look up to her! Besides, at least I didn't accidentally call her mom when she woke me up." Kuwabara tossed the insult and it made Yusuke holler out indignantly, then throw himself at the other man. They were wrestling while Hiei watched until voices turned the fire demon toward Kurama and Shinpi.

"Did they catch you up or have they been wasting all morning being idiots?" Shinpi asked him, gesturing to the two men wrestling.

"They gave me an overview." He told her with a nod, then glanced at Kurama. "Did you two find anything interesting?"

"No, I'm afraid. We suspect it was a chance incident. Between the two of us we couldn't pick up any more trails." Kurama shook his head.

We. Kurama was tossing that word around a lot recently, wasn't he? And since when did he stand so close to people? If he got any closer to the woman they'd be touching.

"Sounds like you two make a good team." Hiei told them, and it earned strange looks from both demons.

"We did scout a better path." Shinpi shot Hiei one more glance then turned to the other two. "Are you two morons listening or am I going to have come over?"

"We're listening." Kuwabara choked the words, trapped in a vicious headlock.

"What's wrong with our current path?" Yusuke demanded. "I mapped it out myself."

"That's a good start. It's too obvious and its low lying. The new path might take a bit longer but it's a higher vantage and allows for crosswinds." She gestured to Yusuke.

"I don't care which way the wind blows." Yusuke let go of Kuwabara to put his hands on his hips.

"That's because you aren't a tracker." Shinpi shot back at him. "Kurama and I are agreed that the new path is more ideal. It runs us near the town as well, within the circumference of the attacks, and it follows the river. It puts me at a tactical advantage."

"Well, if you and Kurama are agreed." Hiei stared at Shinpi, then flicked his gaze to Kurama. "Then we should all just go along with it."

"You woke more irritable than usual." Shinpi stated callously. "And to think you got more sleep than any of us."

He bit his teeth together. "Let's get going."


"Gross." Yusuke made a face as Hiei examined a pile of human fingers left under a tree. The ground was tacky with spilled blood; more than a few fingers would cause.

"They're old. A few days at least. Matches up with Koenma's timeline." Hiei got to his feet and looked over at the others. They all exchanged looks, then nodded and started moving on.

"Fine. Your trail was better." Yusuke grumped, hands in his pockets and a glower on his face.

"If it makes you feel better, I would have preferred yours. I'm not a fan of heights these days." Shinpi told him stoically, eying the slope to their right that cut off at a jagged edge and lead to a plummet that lasted at least twenty feet.

Hiei scoffed at her admittance.

"Laugh all you like, Hiei, but once you fall to your death you tend to learn a new respect for gravity." Shinpi responded coolly and it earned a glance from him.

"I thought Hiro killed you." Kurama voiced the thought Hiei'd been having.

"His hand cut through my chest and my heart, and I would have died either way. But it was the fall into the chasm that did me in. I brought him down with me but it was my body that took the fall, not his. My bones that broke." She lost her attention to the abyss of her memories that she had become lost in. "A rather unpleasant feeling. I don't wish to relive it."

Hiei stared at her, lips pressed into a line.

I remember everything. She'd said as much before, but he hadn't truly appreciated the extent to which the words were true. He'd been studiously hoping to avoid learning that information. No one asked her about her death. She didn't offer the information and they were all happier for it.

Hiei stalked ahead of them to get away from Shinpi and her damned memories. Her dead stare irked him and he had no time for it. Maybe it was his anger that prevented him from deflecting the energy blast that took him in the side of the head, forcing him off the narrow natural bridge he'd been crossing high above the curve of the river that carved itself through the mountain. Maybe it was the fact the blast had come from a place too far off to detect initially. Or was it too close? He didn't have to time to really consider it as the darkness swallowed his mind even as he felt wind in his hair from behind, limbs floating around him as he careened toward the ground.

Yusuke bellowed something and took off in the direction the blast had come from like a gunshot. Kuwabara froze in place, hunkering down and drawing his sword to life without hesitation. If she'd had time, Shinpi would have been proud of him. As it was, she was already in motion, shirking off her backpack as she used a full sprint to launch herself through the air, arms winding around Hiei's unconscious form. The interruption to his fall forced them aside from the rocks he'd been aimed for, mostly. She placed one hand over his nose and mouth from behind, her body under his as they hit the water with a geyser like splash.

What she'd done didn't register until she was submerged. The actions had been entirely instinctual. One thought breaking through the rest and driving her into motion.

Protect him.

Hiei's eyes flew open, a startled call surging from his mouth as the water closed around them. He expected to feel the rush of water into his lungs, but it didn't come initially. Not until he felt the impact of rocks through Shinpi's body, her shoulder colliding with the sharp boulders under the surface of the river. Her hold on him slipped, the air bubble she'd formed around his face popping. His hand closed on her wrist as the current attempted to drag her away. Sinking down, dragging Shinpi with him, Hiei snarled.

What a fucking waste he was.

The water couldn't be kept from his burning lungs forever, and he relented against the urge to breath against his will. Water surged down his airways and he choked on it, his hand releasing Shinpi's wrist. Streams of darkness filtered through the water from her back, proof of her injury and he hoped she managed to get to the surface instead of dying down here with him. Hopefully the others would be able to pull her from the water's clutches. If he was lucky they'd…

they'd…

pull….him…

pull…him...too

Hiei's eyes closed, a numbness entering his body that swallowed his brain. Darkness awaited him, darkness and cold.

Shinpi's eyes opened and bubbles escaped her mouth as she realized her situation. Her throat ached from breathing in water. Her eyes hurt. The murk was nearly impossible to see through but she swam down anyway, her legs having to pick up the slack of her ruined left shoulder. Driving herself downward, she scoured the bottom of the river and took the current head on in an exhausting battle until she found Hiei. Her right hand wrapped in his shirt and she used his weight to force her feet against the muddy river floor. Then she pushed off, Hiei in tow.

They broke the surface with a wild gasp of air from Shinpi, her head tossed to the side as she spit out mouthfuls of green river water. With great effort she hauled Hiei with her to the shore. It took even more work to pull him up onto the grassy, muddy, ledge.

Blood ran down her arm and back, droplets of scarlet falling to the blades of technicolor green underneath her knees as she rolled Hiei to his back and bent to place her ear to his chest. No sound. No movement that she could see. Frowning, she sat up and tried to figure out if she could reasonably perform CPR with one arm. Unlikely. Nodding to herself, she closed her eyes, using her right hand to find Hiei's lungs or at least where they should be for any humanoid demon like him.

It took a raw, deep breath that burned in her chest and throat to focus herself. Forget the urge to cough that battered against her senses. Ignore the cold chill of the water clinging to her skin and hair. Disregard the numbness entering her left hand. Focus only on Hiei.

She drug her fingers over his chest slowly, connected to the water in his lungs. Visualizing the pathways, she guided it from the man's still chest upwards through his throat and finally out of his mouth and nose.

Hiei gagged, then sputtered, coughing up the remnants even as green energy swam into him to fix whatever damage had been done.

"Shh. Shh." Shinpi urged him when he tried to sit, her right hand smoothing over his bangs then through his hair. "You're alright, Hiei. Though, for a second I thought you'd wasted my effort in saving you by dying."

"What happened?" Hiei demanded, reluctantly remaining with his head in Shinpi's lap as he peered up at her through tired crimson eyes.

"You were an idiot and got knocked unconscious then off a bridge by a completely inferior opponent." She informed him with a small smile. "To keep you from being impaled by a formation of jagged rocks, I dove out to force us into the water. I remember misjudging my velocity and we landed too close to boulders. I hit my shoulder and then I woke up and you were drowned."

"How did you know I couldn't swim?" Hiei asked her curiously.

"I didn't. I thought you were still unconscious from your fall." She admitted then grinned. "What sort of man can't swim?"

"I can't." Hiei growled at her. Then he sat up, rubbing his head.

"Of course you can't." Shinpi giggled and shook her head, but the movement made her sway. Swallowing, she closed her eyes to regain her balance. "I know it's not your forte, Hiei, but I need your help. May I borrow one of your belts?"

"What for?" Hiei demanded, glaring at her. Then he saw the blood flowing down her arm, deep and dark. It stained the grass under her palm, turned the dirt to mud when it mingled with the water dripping off of the woman. "Your injury-"

"You're going to clean and cauterize it for me. But first, I need your belt." She held out her right hand to him expectantly.

Hiei pulled one of the two belts from around his waist, extending it to her. He watched as she folded it in half and then nodded at him.

"This will do. I need you to get the rock shards out of the cut." She informed him as if this were easy for her.

How often had she had to talk someone through being a field medic? Hiei waste much time wondering as he crawled behind her, studying her gash. It pulsed with blood and aside from the large chunk of sharp rock imbedded in it there were smaller bits. Shinpi placed the folded bet into her mouth, biting against it as he plucked out the pebbles and pieces.

"This large one, it's going to hurt." Hiei warned her.

She offered only a steady, stiff, nod and stared at the river. Hiei took that as consent and tugged on the piece.

Shinpi did her best to suppress any sounds of pain, but Hiei heard them. The guttural utterances she offered. A few breathes sharper, more haggard than the rest. The whine of the leather under her teeth. A deep growl that rumbled through her chest as if she were truly a whole demon again. After several minutes of wiggling and maneuvering, he got the three-inch piece of jagged rock out of her flesh.

The blood came more freely now, pouring down her back with her heartbeat. It coated her shirt and stuck to his fingers. Hiei called his fire to his hand and glanced at Shinpi's face. He thought about counting. About warning her. Then he thought against it and pressed his flaming, scorching finger into her wound and grimaced as she couldn't stave off the high keening sound of pain that erupted from her throat. It took a few seconds, no longer, and the deed was done.

Shinpi panted when Hiei retracted from her, the heat gone yet somehow remaining. She thought, for a second, that she might always feel it. It took a minute for her to regain enough composure to pull the belt from her mouth.

"I forgot how awful that feels." She admitted to him, right hand gripping the grass as if it had insulted her family. "Thank you, Hiei."

"I've stopped the bleeding but I can't fix the underlying tissue. You need a healer or a hospital." Hiei told her firmly. "We need to find the others."

"They've headed in the wrong direction." Shinpi turned to face him, offering back his belt riddled with teeth marks. "The under current and the surface do not end up in the same place. But if we follow the river we'll find them."

Hiei nodded, accepting her expertise in this arena.

Then he watched as Shinpi, through sheer stubborn will, yanked her shirt over her own head and ripped it into pieces with her teeth and one good hand. He stared at her, amused on some level.

"You could ask me to help." He told her, smirking as she failed to tie a knot in the ruined fabric. "What are you doing?"

"Making a sling." She told him as if it should've been obvious. "I need to support my arm until we get to a healer."

"I am literally sitting here with two good hands." Hiei informed her and then took her project away.

He fashioned the sling for her, draping it under her injured arm and then knotting it behind her neck, attempting to keep the knot itself off her spine so it wouldn't form a pressure point.

"Is that alright?" He asked her. "I'm not exactly a professional medic."

"It'll suffice." She told him, but her smile clued him into her joke. "You're not too bad with your hands."

"They have their uses."

"I bet they do."

Again that tone that made him wonder if she knew she sounded flirtatious. But now wasn't the time to address it so he didn't. Instead he nodded and helped her to her feet.

"Do you have an idea where the others will go?" He asked her.

"Naturally. I have ideas about everything." She reminded him with a smile and then laughed lightly, before settling into a coughing fit that had her bowing her head. Shaking it off she grimaced. "I guess I inhaled more water than I realized."

He allowed her to pick their direction, but then he took the lead. The sky grew dark, laden with clouds, and the wind had picked up before the first few droplets splattered against their downturned faces. Hiei pulled Shinpi by the arm into the safety of a hollow, a jut of rock overhead shielding them from the rain. The ground beneath their feet was relatively dry and the space was decent enough for the two of them to share.

"This will do for now." Shinpi told him, and he noticed her voice sounded airy.

She coughed so hard she had to grip Hiei's forearm to stay upright. Her skin paled, her eyes growing heavy lidded with the fit. And then she slowly pulled herself upright, looking all the more exhausted for the effort. He noticed the thin sheen of sweat glossing her brow and temples with pursed lips.

"You're ill." Hiei reached for her head and she stepped back, avoiding his fingers with deft evasion.

"It's nothing." Her response left a lot to be desired, as breathless as it was.

"We'll rest here." He told her with a glare. "There's no use pushing you to the brink of death. Conserve your energy and strength, Shinpi."

"The others…"

"Stop wasting your energy worrying." He snapped. "Sit down and rest."

"I'm only listening to you because the rain is making the rocks too slick to climb." She warned him, plopping herself down.

Hiei grew smug when she complied none the less. Her breathing continued to be labored, but it seemed to be alright while they were in here. The sweat has lessened, at least. He sat beside her, looking out over the mountainside for a few minutes before turning back to inspect his rival.

Shinpi's face went against her fighting spirit, in his opinion. It was soft, highly feminine. Her wide blue eyes framed by a dark fringe of lashes, small unbroken nose, pink lips with only one scar and it was incredibly faint. He had to stare at her to see it at all. Hadn't she ever been punched in the face before? He was sure he'd done it a few times. Why were her features still so perfectly arranged? So delicate? It was annoying, knowing she was a seasoned fighter but not being able to tell by looking at her. And yet, he couldn't seem to help himself. Every time he swiveled his head back in her direction to scan the woods around them, he swept his eyes over her once more.

Hiei glanced over her profile again as he thought about it, wetting his lips as he tried to pick the correct words for his thoughts, which he immediately berated himself for. He'd never had issues speaking his mind before, why should he start now?

"Your face is more frustrating than Kurama's."

His eyes widened, staring to the side where he couldn't see her, realizing immediately that he was an idiot and maybe he should have dedicated a few more seconds to arranging the thought. Stealing a peek at her, he saw Shinpi blink in surprise a few times then flatten her expression.

"Care to elaborate?" She asked him dully, clearly unimpressed.

Hiei swallowed. Had he meant to impress her? He couldn't really tell what his own goal was here.

"I've always thought Kurama's face was annoying because it's so soft. People underestimate him because of it. And yours is worse." Hiei fumbled, noticing her cool stare. "Worse in the way that its distracting. I mean, it's so feminine how can anyone fight you seriously?"

"Sorry that my face isn't up to your standards?" She phrased it as a question.

"I said it was frustrating and distracting, I didn't say I didn't like it." He shot back at her. This time he'd been looking at her so he closed his eyes and turned his head away.

Shinpi tilted her head, eyebrows pulled down in her confusion as she fixated on the demon next to her with careful attention. What the hell had gotten into him? Why was Hiei talking about her face all of the sudden?

Frowning, she reached over to him, sliding a hand under his bangs to press to his forehead. Hiei stiffened, attempting to pull away, but she scooted closer, fingers trailing the bandana down to the knot on the back of his head. When he turned to look at her his expression was riddled with confusion.

"What the hell are you doing?" He demanded.

"I'm trying to see if you have a fever." She told him firmly, then pursed her lips. "The bandana is in the way. Take it off."

He went to protest, to tell her that he didn't have a fever and also how moronic it was for her to check, considering his elevated body temperature in general. But the words didn't come and his hand went against him, untying the knot on its own. Then Shinpi got to her knees, leaning over him, right hand pushing back his bangs as she pressed her lips to his forehead. And he froze, unable to think of a single thing to yell at her or how to even just move his body away from her.

If he hadn't been running warm before he was now, for sure, as he felt color flood his face, his eyes wide as he sat struck by the audacity of this woman.

"You feel warmer than usual." She noted, pulling back and releasing him.

Hiei couldn't put his bandana on fast enough, glad for the space between them suddenly. Glad he had something to do that meant he didn't have to look at her. Why was he acting like this? It was just Shinpi.

"Do you want to rest? I can keep watch for a while." Shinpi offered softly, worriedly passing her eyes over her companion despite the pallor of her own skin. "I can wake you when the storm breaks."

Hiei eyed her, not sure if he should accept her generous offer or not. "I'm fine."

"We're going to wait it out anyway, might as well get something out of it." She pointed out, looking back at him with a grin. "Besides, it'll double as a break from having to see my frustrating face."

He felt color rising again, heat lapping at his cheeks as he huffed, pressing his back against the rock. Pulling his knees up, he rested his arms on them, closing his eyes.

He hadn't meant to actually fall asleep but he must've at some point because now he was blinking himself awake. The rain was coming harder than it had before and it had grown darker. How long had he been out? Shifting, he rolled his shoulders to loosen them. The mist from the rain had dampened his shoes at the toes, making him frown.

"It'll break soon." Shinpi told him quietly, arms wrapped around herself while she sat criss-cross. He didn't miss the slight tremor that ran over her body, or the gooseflesh raising on her expose skin. And there was a lot to be exposed with her sitting there in a sports bra and pants.

Hiei moved closer to her, closing the gap between them so his side nearly pressed against hers. Nearly. Not quite. She looked over at him with unguarded curiosity and that was another thing that annoyed him about her. She'd gone from neutral and passive to all of these emotions constantly flickering across her face. But only when she comfortable, he reminded himself. Only amongst those she trusted and wanted to be open with.

"You're cold." Hiei pointed out, in answer to the questions she apparently wasn't going to ask.

"I'll be fine." She assured him. "Don't make yourself uncomfortable because of me."

"I'm more comfortable beside you." He hadn't meant to say that out loud. Before she could call him on it he hurriedly went on. "You took the better half of this hollow. The other side is sloped."

She didn't seem to believe him but didn't press the issue. "Thank you for you sacrifice, then."

"Hn."

Hiei settled against the rock again, one shoulder tucked behind her as she sat upright, not using the back of the hollow for support. It would've been more effective if he could put a leg on either side of her, her back to his chest, he noted mentally but he wasn't about to ask her to move. Especially not to crawl into his lap when he'd already been acting like a total idiot this entire case.

What was it about Shinpi that did this to him? Sometimes it was easy, they teased each other, trained together. Kurama had remarked on their banter more than once. But sometimes, when they were alone, he just couldn't seem to function on that level. His mouth went dry, his tongue becoming the most useless muscle in his body. And despite the fact that they grappled on several occasions, wrestling each other in full contact, the idea of touching her now seemed different. He couldn't think of a single time when he'd focused this much on how one of his other teammates had affected his behavior.

"I thought you liked the rain." Hiei told her idly, curious when a strong gust plowed past them and made her shiver violently.

"I love the rain. It's the cold I can't stand." She responded easily. "I've always been sensitive to the cold."

"Seems like a maladaptation for a wolf demoness." He pointed out, the corner of his mouth tilting up.

"I was born and raised in a tropical oasis." Shinpi explained, curling in on herself a little. The wind had been moist and left the hairs on her arms standing on end. Trying not to shiver or let her teeth chatter, she kept talking. "I never really had to experience cold until I was older. I was thoroughly unprepared."

"Sounds amusing." Hiei smirked.

"I'm sure you would've thought so." She agreed, smiling too. "Anyway, I've never really grown accustomed to the co-"

Another bone numbing wind tore through their small hollow, and she stopped talking, gasping angrily at the intrusion. Shivers no longer seemed to cover the sudden convulsions shake her bones, the cold intense and biting. God how she hated this. And then, just as suddenly, warmth. Her eyes widened, rising to Hiei's face.

His hand on her shoulder, then tracing down her arm to where it locked against her other. Then his touch fell down to her leg, the weight of his palm and fingers on her thigh. Her blood was on fire. And her heart stammered, just a moment, at the soft expression on his face. Did he even realize he was making it? That gentle look of concern that burned against her preconceived notions of him? Swallowing her tongue and any words that had been trying to fall off of it, she moved closer to him.

"If you tell anyone about this, I'll kill you." She warned him, moving until she was pressed to his side. His arm circled her, and the shivering stopped after a few seconds.

Hiei was glad her head was tucked down otherwise she might've been able to look at him and he wasn't sure he wanted that. Even now, he was grappling with the fact she was pressed against him so willingly, the hand on her thigh his own. It shouldn't have mattered, but it did.

Fighting back the sudden urge to sleep that Hiei's heat brought along with bone thawing comfort, Shinpi idly figured that if she'd been in his lap, against his chest, this would be more effective. But she wouldn't dare ask. Pressing so close to the fire demon was already crossing lines for the both of them. She couldn't impose any further.

No matter how badly she wanted to.

Chapter Text

 

The sky above seemed bruised, black and blue and purple with the heaviness of the clouds laying in wait overhead. It reflected the injured patches of skin showing through ripped cloth and leather. Red hair billowed in the whipping wind, no longer contained at the back of his head. And before him, a man of taller stature who raggedly pulled himself to his feet.

Hiei looked at his hands, his long narrow fingers. His palms were bleeding, cracked and blistered. A web of marks ran up his left arm looking very much like the surface of a glass breaking. His skin was a mirror for the lightning that flashed overhead, and once again it crashed into him, and once again he raised that tired left arm to absorb the blast and direct it through him to the ground. The ground that buckled and bowed under the blown soles of his soft leather boots.

In a blur the man attacked, launching forward and they were engaged in hand-to-hand combat. Hiei avoided all the worst hits, knowing full well what this man was after. He would rather die than give it to him.

The ground cracked and caved.

And so did his chest, the act of splitting his attention between two tasks proving too much after such a long fight. He looked down to see a long, tanned arm buried under his breast, spearing through him. He felt the crunch of bones as they snapped, watched the wave of blood that spilled out over the other's skin.

The arm withdrew and the worst possible smile greeted him when he looked up at the man's face.

"You don't have the energy to live." That gleaming, gutless grin. Those hateful golden eyes. God, how Hiei wished he could pluck them from the man's skull. But blood was filling up his throat and spilling down his chest and back and there was no more time.

"I have just enough to take you with me." Hiei's voice sounded airy and dark, the threat of winds that could tear apart a brick house. With those words the earth split open as if it were a mouth desperate to consume. Hiei's feet found no support and he feel backwards, one hand clutching the man close to ensure he came down too.

The fall was dark and the longer the air blew upwards and filtered through Hiei's long red hair, the more blood that rose on the wind, the colder it all grew.

His teeth rattled in his skull when he finally hit the bottom, every bit of him breaking at once and it hurt. Blinding, pure pain. A choking breath that crushed out of his lungs. And then, almost as terrible:

Nothing.

Hiei jerked awake with wide eyes and hitched breathing, the sensation of weight shifting off of him jostling him into consciousness. Glancing to the side he scanned over Shinpi's image, her pale skin and shadowed eyes. The slight flush to her cheeks and a sheen of sweat beading on the back of her neck, forehead and temples. With a well-hidden tremor, she stretched her one good arm.

He grabbed her wrist without saying anything, searching her over again and again. His fingers tightened their hold but the bones were all intact. She was there, beside him, whole and alive. He must have looked insane, grabbing onto her the way he had.

Yet he couldn't force himself to stop.

"Hiei, are you alright? You look ashen." Shinpi asked him calmly, cobalt eyes scanning his face. "Are you still feeling ill?"

He was, in fact, feeling ill. But not from some malady.

He didn't know how to tell her he'd seen her nightmare firsthand. If that's even what it was. She hadn't screamed or called out that he remembered. It had been foolish of him to fall asleep when he knew she was as well. How it happened he couldn't say. He'd never accidentally intruded on another's dreams before out of sheer proximity. But it didn't change what he'd seen.

What he'd felt.

"We should find the others." He released her just as suddenly as he'd grabbed her, rising quickly to his feet without waiting on a response.

Shinpi followed him without any more questions, though an aura of curiosity and concern hovered around her. He tried to ignore it, his hands in his pockets as they picked their path. She had to take a break not long after they started, her coughing worse than it had been the night before.

"What does Hiro look like?" Hiei asked her, trying to sound casual about it.

Shinpi blinked, wiping her mouth after spitting out a nasty collection of phlegm.

"You're far more handsome." She sidestepped answering, plastering a smile onto her face that did little to hide her aversion to the subject. Then she tipped her head, eyes roving over him again. "Why do you ask?"

"I'd like to know who to look out for." Hiei felt that was a valid enough reason, he even managed to keep his tone steady and brusque. She couldn't argue against it, at least. It would make sense for them to need the information.

"He was a man. Tall." She shrugged. "He had blond hair, tan skin and gold eyes."

The man from her dream. Hiei nodded, trying not to let it bother him.

"You're acting stranger than usual." Shinpi tried to walk up to Hiei's side but he sped up, doing his best to avoid getting close enough for her to read into his expression. "What's this sudden interest in Hiro?"

"I told you." Hiei warned her harshly. "Stop asking me to repeat myself."

She went to say something else but another voice interrupted, announcing they'd found the team.

"Where the hell have you two been?" Yusuke snapped at Hiei and Shinpi as they rounded a bend in the mountain's path.

"Oh, well, you know we were just taking in the sights." Shinpi tossed back sarcastically, making a point to shift her slung up arm with the statement.

Hiei smirked at her biting remark. "Shinpi needs a healer."

"What, to fix that bitchy attitude?" Yusuke guessed, putting his hands on his hips.

"No one in the three realms is strong enough to accomplish that feat." Hiei muttered and it earned him a chilling glare from the woman beside him who'd had about enough of him that morning.

Yusuke looked between them, then his expression fell. He dug into his pocket, pulled out a bill and slapped it into Kurama's waiting palm. "Stupid fucking insightful fox. I hate betting against you."

Shinpi eyed the exchange without humor, expression dull.

"You're all a waste of my time and energy, I hope you know that." She strode away from Hiei toward Kurama and held out her hand. He pulled a bill out from his own wallet and handed it to her, sliding Yusuke's into its place. "Not a bad cut though. You were right, as usual Kurama."

"He was very sure of himself. It was an easy gamble." Kurama chuckled.

"Fools are often overly confident." Shinpi agreed.

Then she blinked, watching with a tilted head as Kuwabara peeled his shirt off, leaving him in just his muscle tank. He extended the fabric to her with a stern nod and she tentatively accepted it.

"A lady shouldn't have to walk around without a shirt on." He blushed and rubbed his neck. "I mean, if Hiei were half a man he'd have given you his."

Hiei looked down at his blood and river water stained garment, then glared back at Kuwabara. "She didn't ask."

"You're so hopeless. It's no wonder Yusuke lost his bet." Kuwabara accused and that bristled the hair on Hiei's nape. "Any man worth his weight wouldn't need to be asked to take care of a girl. He'd just do it."

Hiei went to snap something scathing at the towering carrot top but Shinpi interjected in a smooth tone.

"Hiei took very good care of me, Kazuma. Please don't heckle him about it." She reached up with her right hand to cup her pupil's cheek. "He cleaned out my wound and even sealed it for me when I asked him to."

Hiei sneered at the display.

"You mean this burn?" Kurama asked, assessing the damage done to her back. Then his gleaming green eyes shifted to Hiei. "How chivalrous."

"She asked me to." Hiei pointed out, growing annoyed. "I don't know what spell she's cast over you all, but it needs to stop."

"Weren't you cold though? All your stuff is with us. And Hiei didn't even lend you his shirt or anything. It's not like he needs it to stay warm." Kuwabara frowned at his mentor who shook her head.

"Hiei has very warm hands." She told him and watched his face turn the color of Kurama's hair. Her teasing grin revealed that she'd been putting on airs, even as Yusuke sputtered. "He built a fire. He's not so useless."

Hiei's expression hid any emotion he might've been feeling, which was good, because he was confused and irritated. For a moment he thought she'd been about to reveal that they'd spent a good portion of the night leaning against one another. He had eventually built a fire, after the rain stopped.

But Shinpi had still slept with her head on his shoulder.

It had been a long, quiet night.

Yusuke eyed them with heavy suspicion, glancing between the two shortest members of their party repeatedly until Hiei thought for sure he'd make himself dizzy. "I dunno, I feel like something happened between you two." He pitched his voice into a whisper and cupped a hand around his mouth as he bent to Hiei's ear. "Did you two make out or something? Come on, you can tell me."

"No."

"She showed you her underwear, didn't she? What color was it? Something saucy like black or red, right?"

"Yusuke." Shinpi called while Kurama applied some salve to her shoulder. She hooked her thumb in the waistband of her pants. "Would you like to check for yourself?"

Her suggestive leer and smarmy smirk made Yusuke balk, and she smirked evilly as he stepped behind Hiei as if to hide from her. Then her attention settled on the fire demon, who had glanced down to her hand and hadn't removed his eyes in time to avoid her catching him. Her eyebrow raised and she pulled the hand away.

"Fine. You two didn't do anything." The detective shoved his hands into his pockets and kicked a rock. "You can't blame a guy for assuming. Two people, lost, alone in the woods. It's one complaint of being cold away from starting a round of uncomfortable nature sex."

"I very much so can blame you." Shinpi told him with a chuckle. "It's not like Hiei is even-"

Her next words were lost as she sprang from Kurama's hands. Very suddenly she had Yusuke's head to her chest with her left arm, even as injured at it was, and her right arm extended in front of her. Blue eyes turned to stone with the rest of her as the ball of energy thrown at him hit a curve of green energy and skittered over the surface, trailing to nothing as it broke apart. Shinpi bared her teeth. A barrage of the blasts came and the same thing happened to all of them as the heady scent of petrichor filled the air, a large circle of wind spinning around the team and forcing them to step closer to her.

"A shield?" Kurama asked her, surprised, touching the field of Shinpi's energy that formed around them all once they were in range. "Impressive."

"Every knight worth their weight in armor carries a shield." Shinpi told him easily as she released her energy.

"Let me guess. You can't use it to defend yourself. Only people you don't loathe." Hiei's voice rumbled behind her and with it came a spike of heat.

"You know me so well, Hiei." Shinpi glanced back at him without a smile. "Though I wish you'd know me a little less loudly when we're so completely surrounded."

And she was right, of course. During the attack a group of demons had come from the rocks above, below and the sides of them leaving them nowhere to flee. Shinpi studiously raised her hands, palms out, and stepped back behind Yusuke and Kurama. The fox demon eyed her.

"Wolf demons." He spoke the word like it was her fault.

"It's not like they're mine personally, which, unfortunately will prove to be more of a problem than if they were." She assured him. "An established pack isn't going to take kindly to a rogue's presence if they sense what I am. It's probably best that we avoid that subject."

Hiei eyed the beings around them. Humanoid. Dressed in skins and furs. Some had triangular ears atop their heads and bushy tails that hung to their calves. Others merely had ears like a human's, but curved to a mild point at the tip. Long nails and bared fangs. Enough of them to definitely take down a few stray humans and tear them apart. They stood at least as tall as Yusuke, if not taller.

Shinpi slipped Kuwabara's shirt over her head and stooped to slide the wooden sword through her belt loops. Hiei glanced around at the numbers. Ten. Not enough to pose too serious a threat to the team.

A man broke through the crowd and Shinpi snorted, having to turn her face away from him to hide her irritation. His lumbering form was as tall as Kuwabara, thick dark hair tied up in a ponytail at the back of his head. Furs wrapped around his waist over pants clearly made of treated animal skin. Barefoot. He wore no shirt other than a cape also made of fur, tied over his shoulders by leather string.

"We don't appreciate intruders in our territory." He spoke with a throaty growl. "My name is Katsuo. This is my pack."

"Yeah, well, we don't appreciate having to come out to this shitty mountain." Yusuke groused. "But someone here has been killing humans and now we gotta real problem on our hands."

"Perhaps, don't insult their land." Shinpi kept her suggestion quiet. Then louder, though she kept herself hidden. "We're here to help find the culprit so that no one else needs to disturb you."

The man blinked at the sound of her voice, then shuffled to the side slightly to get a look at her between the shoulders of Kurama and Yusuke, who moved closer together to keep her out of sight.

"Who are you?" Katsuo asked curiously. "You're the one who defended these men. You're quick on your feet."

"I am." Shinpi agreed coolly. "I won't tolerate these men being harmed."

"Parley."

Shinpi started, glancing at Hiei to be sure she'd even heard him correctly, the word had been muttered so quietly. He raised his eyebrows slightly but kept his expression neutral. With a subtle nod she acknowledged his request.

"What are you doing?" Hiei demanded, his jaw tightening even as he refused to speak the words aloud.

"Trying to avoid a fight." She glanced at him, eyes narrowed just the barest bit. "Not all of them are guilty. We need their help finding the right demon. Cooperation would be best, if it can be had."

"Leave her alone." Kuwabara moved to Shinpi's other side when the alpha went to walk around the group, his eyes glued to the spot he knew she was standing in.

"Move." The man flickered his gaze to the carrot top, unimpressed.

"I said leave her alone." Kuwabara repeated hotly, planting his feet, ever the valiant warrior.

Shinpi sighed heavily, her annoyance clear in the exhale and before he had a chance to produce his sword she had whipped herself around Kuwabara and used her right hand to grab the fist aimed for his chest. The action forced Kuwabara to blink, then look at his mentor with awe and a little hurt. Her fingers tightened over knuckles much larger than her own, and her gaze fell flatly onto the man towering over her. Her left arm might be useless, but her legs sure weren't.

Her slammed her right shin into the outside of Katsuo's thigh, buckling the leg before she spun and bit her fist into his high cheekbone. He went to strike her and she ducked under it. Every hit he attempted to land she avoided by twirling, ducking or arching her body away, each movement lined with control and grace as if she were performing a dance for them. Even her opponent had a tinge of appreciation lighting his eyes. Her left foot kicked out the back of his knees, forcing him down while she had her back to him and her arm laced around his throat from behind, her teeth grazing his earlobe as she hissed her next words.

A pang shot through Hiei's guts at the display of it, something hot and fierce and he couldn't quite tell if the emotion was excitement or jealousy. He dismissed either notion quickly enough. Yusuke hollered Shinpi's name in support, slamming his fist into his open palm and suggesting she kick the man's ass.

"I told you I would not tolerate anyone harming them." She reminded, putting more pressure on his throat with her arm. "We are here to help you. Stop being a fool."

"You're left arm is weak, you haven't used it." He pointed out darkly. "I will rip it off your body and-"

"You're right. I need a healer and I suspect your pack harbors one. It would be kind of you to offer them to me." She made it sound like a suggestion but the demand rang clear in her tone.

"I will not have my pack-"

Shinpi flung him to the side, sending him rolling over the boulders of the mountain's face. Her footsteps fell silent as she stalked toward him, her presence feeling all the larger and more oppressive as she barreled down on the man.

Kurama and Hiei glanced at each other, subtly testing the other's reaction before they both turned back to watch.

"I'll just have to give you a reason to see them yourself." Shinpi growled the words and landed another punch on his face as he tried to rise. And then another, until he fell back to the ground with panting breaths. She knelt with one knee on his chest, her fingers circling his throat and bowed her head so it was mere inches from his.

Katsuo's demeanor changed entirely with his new position, his eyes growing light and his lips parting. Dark irises flickered back and forth, eyes scanning over Shinpi's expression and face even as her fingers tightened. Then he relaxed in her hold, blood streaming down his cheek and from his nose, and now from the nail marks she was leaving on his throat. Panting, he studied her and then smiled while holding eye contact. Shinpi dug her knee into his chest, head tilting in a knowing way.

"You're going to help us. You're going to respect my friends. And you're going to bring me that fucking healer." She demanded harshly, her unwavering stare still boring into the man below her.

"Fuyuko you heard the woman. Come heal her." Katsuo commanded and a wolf demon with triangular ears broke through the others and marched over immediately. "Tell me what you need from me."

Shinpi sneered at him. "I need nothing from you. Consult my friends, this is their job, not mine. I'm just here to make sure no one gets killed."

She pulled off the wolf demon who laid still a moment longer before following her to her feet. He bowed his head to her and took her hand, brushing his lips against it. The display earned a derisive snort from Hiei and Shinpi alike, and a dark look of amusement from Kurama.

"Of course she's a true alpha." Kurama muttered, sounding mildly annoyed. "Why wouldn't she be?"

"So much for avoiding a fight." Hiei huffed, walking over to Shinpi as she fell into a wracking coughing fit. "Are you proud of yourself?"

"That wasn't a fight. I was establishing dominance and you'll note he's very cooperative now."

"We have teas that will help with your cough." The younger man healing her told her softly. "It'll cure your fever as well."

"Thank you, I'd appreciate it." Shinpi got to her feet. "Lead the way Fuyuko."

His eyes widened and then he smiled a bit before bobbing his head readily, moving to guide her away. Hiei went to follow but she shook her head.

"Stay with your team." She advised. "Find what information you can from these guys. I'll come back."

He frowned at her willingness to walk away with strangers, but turned to listen to Yusuke explain the situation to the alpha. It wasn't until a few minutes later that he noticed Kuwabara was gone and Kurama offered the explanation that he'd followed Shinpi through the hidden entrance that lead into the mountain side.


 

"You didn't need to do that." Kazuma complained as he watched attentively over the process of Shinpi getting healed and the preparation of her tea. "I coulda taken him."

"I know." Shinpi didn't smile. "Honestly, I was hoping he'd try something. I'm sorry Kazuma, I ruined your chance to prove what you've learned. I just woke up angry this morning and needed someone to take it out on. Plus, we need this pack's cooperation, but it didn't have to be me to earn it. I should have stayed behind you."

He obviously hadn't expected her honest apology, because he floundered for a moment. "Why are you so pissed off?"

"I had a dream. It wasn't a good one. And then Hiei started asking me questions that drudged up some old anger." She admitted, accepting the brew as it was passed to her in a clay cup. "It's one of the uglier sides of my personality, my selfishness and it certainly reared its head just now. How can I make it up to you?"

He stared at her hard.

"You think I coulda won?" He asked her quietly, toying with his fingers as he spoke.

"I know it." She smiled softly. Then with a grin added. "If it hadn't been you he was attacking I might have let it slide, but you're precious to me and it's hard to step back and not protect you."

He blushed then, and fussed with the back of his head. "Aw, man, you can't keep saying stuff like that. It's embarrassing Hichi."

She chuckled lightly, before coughing again. He put a worried hand on her shoulder. "I'm alright, Kazuma. Just the remnants of my dip in the river."

"You know, I think you'd have done it for any of us. You like us." He teased her, moving his hand to the top of her hair and mussing it up. "You moved to defend Yusuke too. And you jumped after Hiei even though you hate heights."

"It seems Kurama is the only sensible one amongst you lot." She sipped her tea coyly. "So far he's the only one who hasn't needed my help."

"I shoulda sensed that demon." Kuwabara agreed, crestfallen and it earned a head tilt from his mentor. "You woke up and saved me like it was nothing. It was pretty amazing but it shouldn't have had to happen."

"Kazuma." Shinpi lowered her voice to a conspiratorial whisper, eyebrows drawn down and together. "It's in my nature to protect those I care about dearly. It's purely instinct. Please, I beg you, don't take it as a comment on your abilities. I have acted rashly to protect perfectly capable fighters my entire life."

"Is that why you threw yourself after Hiei?" He asked curiously, genuinely interested in her answer. "Instinct?"

But she started at his question, eyes widening as if she hadn't considered her own motives. There was no chance to answer because Fuyuko returned to them with a salve and bandages and began to work on Shinpi's shoulder as she drank her tea. And she was thankful for the distraction, even as her eyes flitted toward the healer with slightly pinched corners.

 


 

 

"You're free to stay among us to resolve this issue as your woman recovers." Katsuo offered to the three men, hands on his hips and feet shoulder width apart.

"She's no one's woman." Hiei had meant to sound indifferent, callous even, but the words came out like a warning.

"Surely one of you has had the sense to stake a claim on her." Katsuo stared at him, incredulous.

"The sensible thing is to give her a wide berth and hope she doesn't kill you in our sleep." Hiei responded in a dry tone. "She has no time for romance and she lacks the patience for anything that isn't her goal. Trying to entice her is ill-advised."

"I'll have to come to that conclusion myself." The man's face split into a grin, his eyes flashing toward the entrance to the mountain's lair that earned a sneer from the fire demon. "A woman like that, she should be held in high esteem."

Hiei huffed, rolling his eyes. This idiot's idol flattery was only going to get him killed. Shinpi had never even hinted at caring about the men who flirted with her. He'd seen it firsthand on several occasions now. Wolf demon or not, the man stood no chance.

Shinpi's tastes were too discerning. The only thing she courted was revenge and this man was not the way to find it.

"Speaking of the visage of beauty." Katsuo looked passed Yusuke and Hiei to where Kuwabara and Shinpi were coming out of the cave. "Are you feeling better? Did Fuyuko work to your expectations?"

His obvious need to please the woman earned him a dour look from Hiei and one of amusement from nearly everyone else.

"I'll continue drinking the tea he gave me." Shinpi allowed, eyes narrowed on the alpha as she passed a sachet of herbs to Kurama for safekeeping. "I've changed my mind. I do need your help."

"Anything." The man grinned, raising his chin and puffing out his chest. "What is it you need?"

"Clothing and access to the area, uninhibited." She demanded, her stance similar to his.

It was obvious they were subtly squaring off with one another. Shinpi to prove her power over the man and Katsuo to regain whatever pride he could while simultaneously drooling over the woman.

"It's dangerous to wander this mountain." Katsuo argued. "Even someone as fierce as you would need a guide."

"I'm an expert tracker." Shinpi told them all, nonplussed by the whole affair.

"Of course you are." Hiei and Katsuo spoke in unison but in vastly different tones. One unamused and the other enamored. Crimson eyes glanced toward brown, an eyebrow raised.

Did these animals have no shame?

"I'd still feel more comfortable if someone were to accompany you." Katsuo paced closer to her, his fingertips skimming over the line of her jaw.

Hiei waited for her to catch his fingers with her teeth but the moment never came. What a disappointment.

"Beautiful." Katsuo breathed the word as if it was the first time he'd ever uttered it, eyes glued to her face. "You're a daunting woman Miss?"

"Mikamoto." She gave her human last name and it visibly confused her traveling companions. "Your empty compliments mean very little to me, you should know that."

"Mikamoto." He tested the name and nodded. "Perhaps there will come a time when I'll earn the privilege of your first name."

"I doubt it." She assured him. "As for needing a guide, I'll have Kurama with me. There's no need to pull you away from your pack. I'm sure you have very important things to do."

Her tone suggestion she thought just the opposite. But it didn't faze the alpha in the least bit. He merely nodded and placed a hand on her shoulder to guide her back through the mountain pass that lead to the inner sanctum, asking her about her preferences in attire.

Beyond the initial rock-formed tunnel that served as the entry there lie a small village in the heart of the mountain. It seemed nestled between peaks with an expanse of sky overhead and natural walls on all sides. A fairly protected home. A waterfall cascaded down the back wall from their entry-point, providing the wolves with a pool of crystalline water. Moss softened the jagged edges of boulders and rock faces. Several shacks and huts had been built, each with a designated purpose.

The wolves milled about, watching the newcomers warily even as they were lead in by Katsuo. Shinpi scanned her attention over every face she saw, quick and sharp assessments running through her mind. Hiei tipped his head to the side slightly, glancing at her. He hadn't bothered requesting entry to her thoughts. He wanted to know why she hadn't brushed that lumbering fool's hand off her body yet. Katsuo had allowed the appendage to travel to Shinpi's back.

Instead, Hiei became fascinated by the woman's adept perception of those around her. She felt absolute in her judgements, brushing several of the wolf demons off her suspect list with only those precursory glances. Was she correct? How could she be so confident with so little information?

"Your men will have to accept this for lodging." Katsuo spoke only to Shinpi now, as if the rest of them didn't exist despite her telling him twice to address Urameshi as their leader. "I'm sure it'll do for their brief stay."

"We'll make do." Shinpi deftly shut down his obvious attempt to separate her from the others.

Katsuo smiled, not even ashamed of being caught in the act. "If you find it uncomfortable you're free to seek refuge elsewhere."

She didn't respond to him, eyes scanning over the building. Kurama, Hiei and Kuwabara marched into it.

"You said something about clothes?" Yusuke glanced at Shinpi who nodded back to him so he turned to Katsuo. "Where do we go for that?"

"I'll escort her to our stock." Katsuo narrowed his eyes. "She'll be free to choose whatever she wants from what we have."

"While I'm gone, why don't you mingle, Yusuke? Packs as established as this one tend to have all sorts of interesting stories to tell. I'm sure they have expert craftsmen as well. You might it interesting." Shinpi suggested lightly, but her intent rang clear.

She would keep Katsuo busy for a while so he could investigate.

"Yeah, I haven't met many wolf demons. It'll be cool to get to know a few." He nodded. "I'll just settle in first."

Shinpi turned back to the alpha and allowed him to guide her away, their conversation quiet.


 

"I didn't find jack shit." Yusuke complained, one arm tossed in the air to emphasize all of the nothing he'd found, his other arm slung over the back of the bench situated to one side of the table in their hut. "How about you?"

Hiei scowled in answer from his post at Yusuke's side. The wolf demon's he'd investigated came up empty. He should have trusted Shinpi's instincts instead of wasting time double checking. As it turned out, her snap assessments had been fairly accurate.

"Fuyuko said there was some talk a while back about the human town." Kuwabara announced, leaning on the table between the three of them with his elbows. "I guess the pack and the town have been pretty good to each other. The wolves keep scarier demons from the area and the humans provide aid when needed, food and stuff."

"Then why are they hunting down the humans?" Hiei demanded hotly.

"I mean, have we considered that they're not?" Kuwabara frowned at him. "Just because they're wolves doesn't make them killers."

"The woman suspects the killer is amongst them." Hiei pointed out darkly.

"Yeah, she seems pretty sure about that." Yusuke agreed, but he didn't look happy to do it. "I heard her talking to Kurama before they set out to examine the area. She's positive our guy is around here somewhere."

"I find it odd she suspects a single killer instead of the whole pack." Hiei craned his neck back to stare at the shoddy ceiling and the light peeking through the spaces between bundles of thatch.

"You've got a point, actually." Yusuke agreed. "I was thinking that too."

"Did her arm at least work before she trotted off with the fox?" Hiei moved his gaze to Yusuke.

"Oh, you didn't see her?" Kuwabara turned to face the fire demon. "Yeah, Fuyuko worked some serious magic on her shoulder. It'll still scar but she can use it just fine. Her cough is still pretty bad though."

Hiei wrinkled his nose with the information. "It's been steadily getting worse."

"What happened?" Kuwabara and Yusuke prodded in unison.

Hiei stared at them both like they were idiots. "Nothing. She caught me, injured herself, kept me from drowning and then I did what I could for her shoulder. After that we went as far as we could at her pace and made camp."

"She breathed in a bunch of water." Kuwabara turned to Yusuke with the news. "When she hit the rocks at the bottom of the river she was knocked out. Came to a little too late. She didn't worry about it at first because Hiei was in such bad shape."

"I was fine." Hiei snapped at him. "I merely went unconscious for a time while I was underwater. It's not as if it were serious."

"That's called drowning." Yusuke smirked at him. "Aww, did she have to give you mouth to mouth?"

"I'm about tired of your insinuations, detective. The woman and I don't have anything lewd going on behind closed doors." Hiei growled. "Why she even bothered jumping after me I'll never know. All we tend to do is fight or argue."

"She said it was instinct." Kuwabara told Hiei with a shrug. "You were in trouble and she moved without thinking about it because she wanted to protect you. I guess it's just how she operates or something. She said she's always been like that."

Hiei cursed inwardly as that damn shuddering rocked his chest again, warmth spreading through him. She'd dove after him purely on instinct? Out of a desire to protect him? What sort of fool was she? And yet, the warmth didn't fade with his internal grumbling, only grew stronger.

"Instincts like that get people killed." Hiei responded with annoyance.

"Well, in this case, they kept your stubborn ass alive." Yusuke huffed at the fire demon. "God, when are those two smart asses getting back? I'm hungry."

"So go eat." Hiei glowered at him.

"Katsuo wants to wait for Mikamoto to get back." Yusuke griped, rolling his eyes. "That guy is a little creepy with his obvious obsession."

"His persistence does leave something to be desired." Hiei agreed, sneering. "She's done nothing but rebuff him yet he seems to be assuming he can still win her over."

Almost as if summoned, the hut door opened and Kurama walked in deep in conversation with Shinpi. Hiei stared at her, unblinking, as he took in her outfit. She was dressed like all the other wolf demons, leather and fur abound, except unlike the majority of the demons she wore soft-soled leather boots.

They reminded Hiei of the dream he'd intruded on and he abruptly snapped his attention back to her face.

"They pack is preparing dinner." She announced to the room, breaking whatever conversation she'd been having with the fox. "He said if you're hungry you should join them now."

"Thank god." Yusuke shot up from his seat. "I thought he was going to make us wait forever."

Kuwabara's stomach growled at the moment too, and he blushed as he hurried after Yusuke. Kurama glanced at Hiei, frowned, then turned his attention back to Shinpi.

"We'll finish our conversation later." He assured her, an odd reaction that Hiei made sure to note.

She touched his arm and nodded, almost as if she were reassuring him. The contact lasted longer than it needed to, in Hiei's opinion.

"Seems you've managed to wrap another man around your finger." Hiei accused darkly, eyes narrowed as the woman sauntered over to him.

"All of Katsuo's doting is getting annoying." Shinpi complained, coming to sit beside Hiei in their borrowed hut.

She kept a good half-foot between their bodies, something he noticed immediately. It seemed her affinity to physical affection wasn't extended to him today and he was thankful. He'd had about as much contact with her as he could take.

"I thought for sure you'd be basking in it, princess." Hiei dared to use the moniker in this private space, and it earned the reaction he'd hoped for. Shinpi sneered at him. "Aren't you used to people worshiping the ground you walk on?"

"No. I'm not actually. I wasn't raised to expect such things." She growled at him. "I didn't come of age as a princess until after my grandfather died and at that point I was on the run, so."

That caught his attention. "I thought you were born into your title."

"Technically." She allowed. "By my grandfather's designation. But I wasn't raised with the intent to serve the thrown so soon. I was raised with the other children, not above them. It was extremely important to my father and mother that I relate more to the commonwealth than I did to royalty."

Hiei scanned his eyes over her, either impressed or surprised. It was a toss-up of which expression grew light in his eyes.

"Don't worry Hiei, I still slept in a castle and dined in a hall. I'm just as pretentious as you suspect in some ways, I'm sure. I don't want to totally shatter your image of me."

"The only image I have of you is this one." Hiei pointed out, sweeping a hand to encompass her form. "And even without castles and halls you're still pretentious."

Her brow arched. "I suppose I have to make up for my annoying face in some way."

His cheeks colored for a flash before he controlled the reaction, snarling at her to shut up.

"It was a slip of the tongue."

"Perhaps the next time your tongue slips it'll be more enjoyable for both of us." She kept her tone light, even. Not her usual obvious flirtation, and it earned a suspicious glance from the man at her side. "What have you learned about our gracious hosts?"

"That your magnetism transcends reason." Hiei groused. "That idiot pack leader practically drowns in his own saliva every time he so much as thinks of you. But he's not the one we're looking for."

"You sound disappointed. Were you hoping for a piece of him?" She put her hand on the expanse of bench between their bodies, leaning toward him with a leering grin.

"Perhaps if he got a piece of you he'd shut up." Hiei snapped at her, refusing to look her in the eye. "It's been less than a day and I'm already tired of his pining."

"Are you suggesting I seduce Katsuo to shut him up?" Her tone betrayed her genuine surprise.

Hiei tensed, because he had been suggesting it but not in seriousness. When he dared to glance at the woman her lips were pursed as if he'd done something dissatisfactory. Not that he could blame her in this instance.

"No." Hiei covered his comment with a glower. "I was suggesting your rip the lummoxes throat out."

Those too keen eyes scanned him again and he shot to his feet, tired of being watched so closely and thoroughly. Shinpi could keep her damn assessments. He didn't want or need them.

"I thought we were competing to see who could end this misery faster." Hiei pointed out as he marched to the door. "You're falling behind."

"I'm not." She assured him, moving to take up more space on the bench he'd vacated. It meant that she propped her legs on the surface crossing the at the ankles and leaning back on her palms. An expanse of thigh showed under the high cut hide-and-fur sarong wrapped around her waist, and a sliver of her muscle-lined abdomen peeked from between the sarong and the leather vest tied shut she wore as a shirt.

"You're not what?" Hiei asked her, realizing he'd been staring for far too long without saying anything.

It was hard to focus with her looking as natural as he'd ever seen her. Did she wear these sorts of clothes in her homeland? Was she as feral a creature as she appeared to be in this moment? It suited her, even if it wasn't the case. She could easily have been this pack's prize princess if she wanted to.

Her lips pulled into a guarded, lopsided grin.

"I'm not falling behind. I have my suspects. I've already begun investigating them in fact." Shinpi shook her head slightly and it caused her hair to shiver freely, a wave of black that contrasted against the paleness of her exposed arms and legs.

Hiei took a step away from the door toward her, his intent lost the minute Yusuke came sauntering into the small hut. The detective let out a low whistle as he studied Shinpi and the woman winked at him. Hiei hated the easy display of it.

"Damn, Hichi. Looking good." He gave her a thumbs up and it earned a genuine chuckle from her that she didn't bother hiding behind her hand.

"They're just clothes." Hiei glared at the back of Yusuke's head as the man walked over to the bench, apparently either done eating or having come to fetch them.

Yusuke slid an arm under Shinpi's legs, lifting them and then letting them fall over her lap instead of telling her to move. She seemed amused by his brazen behavior, shaking her head. But it was the detective who turned to Hiei quizzically when the fire demon's aura spiked, just barely. Hiei turned without a word and marched out of the building altogether. The sooner he found this man-eater the better.

"You two fighting?" Yusuke wondered, turning his attention to Shinpi.

"He's in one of his moods." She shrugged. "I think he may be upset I'm slacking off on this case."

"Are you slacking?"

"Of course not. I've already discussed my suspicions with Kurama and he's doing the legwork." She waved a hand through the air.

"I dunno. I feel like it was me that set him off." Yusuke glanced toward the door.

"I doubt it. Hiei's recent behavior has one common thread: me." Shinpi pulled her legs off of Yusuke's lap and leaned back against the bench. Her toes barely grazed the floor for the height of the seat, so she swung her feet back and forth idly. Staring at the ceiling she went on. "It seems that any display of affection toward his allies from me bothers him. My only guess at this time is that he doesn't trust my motives."

Yusuke snorted, because that was about as far from his guess as she could have gotten. "You think so, huh?"

"You have a different theory?" She piqued at that revelation.

"Hiei trusts you." Was all Yusuke would say on the matter and that earned a puckered expression. "If he didn't, he wouldn't have let you come."

"Again, I'd like to remind you that Hiei doesn't control my actions." Shinpi responded dully.

"No, but he does report to us and Koenma. And if he thought you were untrustworthy he would've made sure you weren't here." Yusuke dug his pinky into his ear as he spoke then flicked the bit of wax he produced to the ground.

Shinpi watched with disgusted fascination.

"I wasn't aware Hiei reported to anyone." The sudden chill that entered her tone made Yusuke cast a sidelong glance her way. "This was never brought up to me. What, exactly, does he tell you people?"

"About as much as he would tell anyone, I guess. Most of his updates are just him saying you're still alive and that you hadn't managed to kill anyone." The detective shrugged. "Why, you hiding something?"

"I just hadn't realized my conversations with him were privy to the whole of Spirit World." She frowned deeply.

"Oh, dude, they aren't. Trust me. Trying to get him to say anything specific is like pulling teeth." Yusuke groused. "He's a fucking titanium vault. And when you come up? He goes right into lockdown mode. Unless he thinks you're in immediate danger, he doesn't have shit to say about you without being forced."

"And the rest of you? What do you have to say about me?" She asked quietly, withdrawn slightly.

Yusuke frowned along with her, and then sighed heavily. "To Koenma? Not a damn thing."

"And to each other?" She pressed, her teeth worrying her bottom lip. "Do you all meet up and discuss me behind my back?"

"We talk, yeah, but it's not a conspiracy or anything. Mostly we just try to figure out how we can help you or if you'll make food when we show up at your place. Oh, last week Kuwabara and I did get into a fight because I know you're the one who knocked his high score off at the arcade and put in my name." Yusuke hit her in the shoulder for that, a light punch that did little to ease her tension. "Hey, loosen up. We've got your back."

"You should answer Koenma's questions. Protecting me at the expense of his trust is foolish." She got to her feet and brushed her hands down the front of her borrowed clothes.

"Psh. Foolish is my middle name!" Yusuke followed her to his feet with a guffaw. "Diaper boy can bite me if he thinks I'm giving him any dirt on one of my friends. And he knows it too. You know, when we talk to him he never asks too many questions. I think he wants to be kept in the dark."

That earned her attention when she was halfway to the door, and she turned to study Yusuke for signs of dishonesty. But his words made sense, especially given her recent conversation with the prince. Interesting. Perhaps she'd been too hard on the demi-god. If he'd been actively trying to suppress information about her, he might be more trustworthy than she'd previously assumed.

"I like you, Urameshi." She told him with all the certainty in the world.

"Yeah, you're not too bad yourself. Y'know, for a girl." He laughed and slapped a hand onto her shoulder, walking out of the hut with her. "So, we going to talk about how wolf-boy is practically humping your leg?"

"It's nothing worth discussing. He's not my type." She brushed off his leer. "I'm not currently interested in being courted, even if he were."

"Y'know, Hiei said something like that to the guy. Told him he was wasting his time and it was ill-advised to try to get into your pants."

That birthed a sinister smirk from the woman, who then chuckled deviously to herself. "It's funny that Hiei fancies himself an expert on the subject considering his total lack of experience."

Yusuke chortled, moving from having a hand on her shoulder to just throwing his entire arm there as if they were the oldest of friends. Shinpi allowed him to continue to ramble jokes off at Hiei's expense, a wide grin on her face that crinkled the corners of her eyes. Yusuke's behavior was often infectious and even she wasn't entirely immune to it.

Her mind turned back to her conversation with Koenma and the inevitable outcome of this mission. How would these boys react to her freedom? Would they continue to speak to her so freely? Would Yusuke still come over to ransack her video game cabinet? Would Kuwabara want to keep up their weekly training schedule? Her scheduled Sunday afternoon lunch dates with Kurama, would they be forfeit? And Hiei, would he scurry back to Mukuro once he was no longer mandated to be her guardian?

The grin slipped as her thoughts robbed her of her jovial mood.

In order for her arrangement with Koenma to work out, she needed the freedom to move when she pleased. She couldn't accomplish her given task if she had an impertinent fire demon attached to her hip. But she also hadn't demanded an absolute separation, had she? Just freedom. Space.

It startled her to realize that she was grappling with missing these idiots. The idea that they'd no longer want to be around her bothered her. When the hell had that happened?

Her eyes flickered to Yusuke as he told another lewd joke about Hiei and her lips once again found the footing for a smile. She wasn't sure when she'd started to genuinely feel invested in these men, or accepted by them, but couldn't deny it made her happy.

Chapter Text

"Get down here, Hichi."

Shinpi swirled around the top of the tree she stood in, one hand tracing over the trunk as she moved her feet deftly to the next branch so she could peer down at her father, a tall man with messy black hair and cobalt blue eyes. "You called?"

"You're up too high, Hichi. Come down, please." He yelled back up to her and she grinned brightly with a smile lacking a few teeth that had yet to grow back in before simply stepping off the branch and landing in a crouch in front of him, the thirteen foot fall seemingly nothing for her.

Kotaru frowned at his daughter then ruffled a hand through her red hair and sighed. "You're going to give me a heart attack. Must you tempt the fates?"

"If not me then who else?" She asked stretching. "Even fates should stay on their toes, father."

"Don't get smart, darling."

"Sorry."

"Leave the girl alone. She harbors the Takani spirit in full." Hichirou walked toward his son and granddaughter, his wife Aina at his side. "She's adventurous and this little speck of land will never be enough to feed her soul."

Shinpi flashed the old man a grin that brightened the forest around them. "I'm going to go see the world someday, just like you grandpa!"

"Maybe, someday." He agreed and smiled at her with the same blinding, lopsided grin. "For now my girl you have work to do."

"I don't like the other children. They're boring." Shinpi complained, sulking. "They have no drive to learn. And they dream so small."

"Amon-Shinpi, those are your people. Speak more respectfully about them." Her father admonished sharply. "Just because they don't share your vision doesn't make theirs any less important."

"Unless it is." Her grandfather interjected and earned an elbow to the ribs from his wife.

"Stop it. Let Kotaru parent his child." Aina warned her husband. "Darling girl, you need to heed your father."

"But grandfather says that there's so much more than this place and I want to see it. One day I'll go out into the world and what good will mingling with the village boys do then? What are they teaching me that I can take with me to Tourin or Alaric?"

"We don't go to Alaric, Amon-Shinpi. And neither will you." Kotaru hushed her sharply. "Mukuro isn't nearly as kind as Raizen. We don't mix with him. You know that."

"I don't want to mix with him, I want to beat him." Shinpi flexed her tiny arm, still thin from her youth. "I'll show him whose alpha."

"But, first, you'll tend to your lessons." Aina took her granddaughter's hand and smiled down at her with overflowing kindness. "Today is history. Perhaps I'll be able to tell you why it's so important to know your people inside and out as well."

"It's because without them we have nothing." Shinpi heaved a sigh. "But I don't want to rule I want to fight."

"There's no need to fight. We're a peaceful nation and we'll keep it that way as long as we can." Kotaru frowned at his willful child. "Now, go. You're late. Kuya is still waiting because you promised you'd walk her to school and-."

"-a Takani always keeps their promises. We're honorable people and we need to act like it." Shinpi finished for him, her tone bored and mildly whiny. "If it's for Kuya, I'll do it."

He watched as she walked away with her grandmother.

"She's just like you." He turned to his father with a scowl. "She thirsts for a power that will ruin her."

"She wants to be strong enough to protect what she loves. There's no harm in that." Hichirou shook his head.

"She's stubborn. She wants to fight, and she wants to leave. I don't know where she gets these notions from."

"I'm also perplexed." Hichirou lied very poorly and then smiled at his son. "Indulge her hungers, Kotaru. Fulfill her longing heart. She's a good girl and she'll grow up strong. You don't want her resenting this place for holding her back."

"This is her home; it can't hold her back." Kotaru argued.

"Just as it never held you." Hichirou reminded easily, a light sparking in his eyes. "If you'd never run away from home I'd have never been blessed with such beautiful, intelligent, and willful granddaughters."

"She's too young." Kotaru switched gears, walking beside his father. "She's not ready to face the world or the other kings. She speaks off the cuff and acts brashly. All she'll accomplish is getting herself killed."

"She's a child."

"That will not spare her from them."

Hichirou gave up for the moment and began to walk in silence.

That night, long after the sun had set, a redheaded young girl walked into Hichirou's private study with wide blue eyes and a studious glance toward his shelves. She deposited an armful of books onto his desk before marching to a shelf she hadn't perused yet and scanned the spines of the leather bound tomes.

"What happened to your face?" Hichirou asked of his granddaughter, noting her concerted effort to keep her bruised cheek from his view.

"A boy called Kuya ugly and pulled her hair so I hit him. He hit me back. But I won in the end." She assured him. "I'll always win for Kuya."

Her certainty was undeniable. But her hand faltered over the spines of the books and fell uselessly to her side.

"I'm still too weak though. By my age you'd already begun to master wind." She turned to face her grandfather with a gaze too probing for a child, too astute. "Why can't I feel the elements yet?"

"It'll come." He promised her.

"When?"

"When it's your time."

"I'm tired of everyone telling me to wait all the time." Shinpi stomped one foot onto the cold stone floor. "How can I keep Kuya safe if I can't use the wind? What good am I as a firstborn if I don't have any elements to call on? My role is to keep everyone safe and if I can't do that-"

"You're putting too much pressure on yourself." Hichirou smiled at her, walking around his desk to crouch in front of the young girl. "Who do you think you need to protect her from, anyway?"

"Anyone, everyone." Shinpi responded with vehemence. "Father may believe we are safe from conflict, but I'm not so convinced. The new children talk of war and overlords and blood thirsty brutes. It's what they flee. It's why they're here."

"Our gates are open to anyone who is willing to abide our rules."

"Which is kind, but that doesn't keep our people safe if we are attacked." She argued. "If the demons who struck this fear into those children come, we need to be able to fight. I need to be able to fight."

"Your father, mother and I are enough."

"You're old and father would prefer to talk someone into submission." Shinpi told him. "Mother is the only one who would choose to fight and even then, she listens too much to father."

"One day you'll understand why." Hichirou grinned at her and chuckled behind his hand.

"No man will ever dictate my actions." Shinpi stared at her grandfather as she planted her feet and crossed her arms. "Kuya can get married and become queen when her time comes, and I'll serve as her right hand the whole time to keep her safe."

"Like I said, you'll understand one day." Hichiro patted her on the head and smiled at her. "Someday you'll meet someone whose motives you don't question. When they ask you to be still, you'll do it because you trust them to have your best interests in heart."

"I already have that person: Kuya."

"Then you are luckier than most, because many of us spend our lives searching for someone to listen to."

Shinpi sat by the fire in the center of the small village, a notebook poised on her lap as she recalled her memories and those filled in by her grandfather's now lost journals. The man transcribed every day of his life onto paper and at some point in the distant past she'd read all those words. After he was gone. After her father and mother had been killed. It eased her pain on days when the world seemed harshest.

Her pen set idle against the lined paper, her habit of keeping a daily journal seeming to matter little as she realized no one would ever see them. For her, her grandfather's journals had lit hope and offered guidance when she needed them most. And most of her life up to now had driven her to detail her days in and out in bound notebooks.

So why was it so hard to describe her day today? Why couldn't she call on the words to speak of her saving Hiei the day before? What was blocking her?

"That's not an expression I thought I'd ever see on your face." That brusque tone could only belong to one man.

Shinpi turned to watch as Hiei looked her over. "And what, exactly, was my expression?"

"Doubt." He told her, stalking closer but only enough so that he could keep his voice low. He didn't dare get within an arm's length of her.

"Sometimes you're too perceptive for your own good." She offered him a wan smile.

"Who knew all it would take to intimidate you was an empty piece of paper." He commented, glancing at her notebook. "What are you writing?"

"Nothing, apparently." She closed the notebook and set it aside "I'm surprised you're awake."

"I don't normally sleep much." Hiei explained, sitting a little away from her as he faced the fire. It allowed shadows to dance over his face. "I hadn't expected you to be out here."

"Where did you think I would be?"

"With your new friend."

His distaste for Katsuo rang clear in his tone. It made her wonder. He'd been a grump about the other man since their first encounter. If she didn't know better she'd think Hiei disliked the man for no other reason than Katsuo's interest in her. But that didn't seem very Hiei of him, even if she wished it was.

"Friend might be a stretch." Shinpi turned to examine the fire as well. "Katsuo is handsome, sure, but he'd not very interesting. And he definitely lacks the draw I'd seek if I were going to bother with a relationship."

"I didn't ask." Hiei told her coldly.

"And yet, I offered." She shrugged, not bothering to look over at him. "Thank gods for men like you, Hiei. Otherwise I might've already grown bored of this existence."

"How many men like me do you know?" His voice was impossibly close to her ear and she turned her face to see that he'd gotten within inches of her. She'd let her guard down as it was becoming increasingly easy to do in the fire demon's presence.

"I suppose, at the moment, it's just you. That's more than enough." Shinpi studied his fierce expression, the dangerous light in his eyes and the hard set of his mouth.

"You're still ill. You should be asleep." He changed the subject. "You're pale, and you're sweating again."

"I'm in front of a fire and beside an attractive man, a little sweat is normal."

"Don't try to lie to me." Hiei warned her. "You've got a fever. I thought that healer was supposed to be helping you. Why are you still sick?"

"These things take time." She assured him with the lightest pat on the knee.

Hiei glanced down at her hand and then up to her face. "You've been awfully physical with everyone lately."

"Perhaps I'm growing more comfortable with you all." She suggested and she meant it. After her realization earlier that night she had few doubts on the matter. "Besides, you're one to talk. You chose to sleep next to me the other night and I know for a fact I had nothing to do with that."

Hiei snarled at her, jerking his face away. "You were going into one of your fits. I didn't want you attacking anyone or giving away our position with one those blood curdling screams you release."

"Ah, so an act of benevolence. Thank you." She teased and Hiei hated her for it a little bit. "Feel free to sleep next to me anytime, Hiei. You're warm and your scent is comforting so I doubt I'll complain too much."

He stared at her, scrutinizing her expression.

"I have a hard time believing you find any part of me comforting." He stated seriously. "No one has ever commented on my scent before."

"I imagine to most others your general presence is a sign of bad luck on their part." She agreed.

"And you don't feel the same?"

"I don't believe in luck. I believe in chance, in odds and variables." Shinpi shrugged, eyes still intent on the flames dancing before them, warming her face and legs and arms. "When you're in these moods, you're a pillar Hiei, and I'm thankful."

"I'm the same as always." Hiei argued, turning his gaze toward the fire as well, scooting a little closer to her. "You make strange distinctions from nothing."

She still didn't even glance at him and he found it mildly annoying. Normally Shinpi held uncomfortable amounts of eye contact during conversation. He leaned closer to her.

"And in your opinion, where do the odds land when it comes to my general presence?" He lowered his voice and Shinpi finally turned to look at him. It meant their faces were only separated by a few inches, he was so close to her.

"The odds are in my favor whenever you're close by." Shinpi licked her lips and scanned his expression. "Hiei?"

"Hmm?" He tipped his head to the side, a small smirk of satisfaction clear on his face as he angled himself toward her, adjusting the way he was seated to do so. Her hand came up and very lightly she ran her fingers over his cheek.

"Did you really think I wouldn't notice you trying to steal my journal?" She let her expression fall flat, her hand moving to pluck the notebook from his fingers as he slowly drug it across the ground behind her. "Decent effort, but you have a tell."

"Oh?" He raised an eyebrow and cast the book a sidelong glance. He'd get his hands on it sooner or later. She couldn't guard it all the time and now he knew whatever was in it was worth knowing. "And what is that?"

Shinpi leaned so close to him her hand overlapped his. It made him rear back as her other hand came to rest on side of his neck, her lips brushing the shell of his ear and sending a shock through his entire being he was barely able to hide.

"You only get close to me when you want something." She whispered the statement and then retracted completely, forcing space between them that he wished didn't exist.

"That's not true." Hiei defended himself and he wasn't sure why he felt the need to do so.

"It's normally information you're after." She told him easily, as though she were speaking facts and not utter nonsense. "Sometimes it's my compliance with your whims. But it's always something."

The fire in front of them flickered a little brighter. "As if you haven't been doing the same."

Shinpi glanced at Hiei's face, noting the hard set of mouth as his jaw clenched to the point a muscle stood out. His brilliant garnet eyes, full of their own very real fire, that narrowed on her in blatant accusation. And something else. Now that was interesting, she'd struck a nerve without meaning to.

"I touch you because I like to. Sometimes it has added benefits, but I'm not the one who demands space between us. You are. Physical contact is a way of comfort and communication for me. I try to avoid it with you because I know how uncomfortable it makes you." Shinpi shrugged again, watching as her words only seemed to dig her deeper into Hiei's ire. "How have I possibly managed to piss you off so much by telling the truth?"

Hiei tensed and she knew she'd hit another chord in him. One he didn't want her touching.

"I hate that you think you understand the way my mind works." Hiei told her and the words came out hot. "Your assumptions-"

"They aren't assumptions. I've already told you, I hear what you don't say." Shinpi cut him off and her own tone turned hushed and dangerous.

"Oh, so you're a psychic now?"

"I use the information you give me to decipher the enigma of your behavior." She curled her fingers into her palm on the ground, knuckles pressing into the dirt much the same way Hiei's were. "We've discussed this."

"Have you ever considered just asking me fucking questions?" Hiei growled at her. "Instead of all this underhanded nonsense you're so partial to?"

"And if I did, would you even answer them?" Shinpi accused. "What is wrong with you? You've been acting strange this morning. What did I do to you last night that could have possibly caused you to become so angry with me?"

"Don't flatter yourself. You have little to no effect at all on how I act." If that wasn't one of the most daring lies that Hiei had ever uttered. It was one he wanted to believe himself, but it was becoming more difficult by the day.

"If you don't tell me I can't stop doing it." Her voice broke a little, the mask of anger cracking just enough for him to see her confusion underneath, a little pain.

"You didn't do anything." Hiei meant for it to comforting, to stop that awful expression from forming on her face. But it had the opposite effect. Shinpi pulled back further from him, her eyes moving away as if he'd slapped her. Her lips parted.

"I see." Shinpi pulled her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around them and he felt her withdraw.

Discomfort chewed at his stomach burrowing its way down from his chest and her behavior reminded him too much of their argument in the alley. It bothered him to discover just how desperately he hated the idea of Shinpi hiding from him. He went to reach for her shoulder and she shirked away so he dropped his hand. Knowing he was going to regret it, knowing the woman would probably hold it against him until one of them died, he invaded her thoughts without the preamble of their code word.

He had to know what she was thinking. He wanted to put a name to that cursed expression on her face.

Hiei grimaced, unfortunately correct. He did regret doing this. Shinpi was running through a catalogue of her behaviors, examining each one to try and figure out exactly where she'd gone wrong in the past few days. Despite him telling her she'd done nothing. Because the idea that he hated her over nothing cut through her like a knife and it made her feel cold. There had to be something. Some explanation. She just had to find it and address it, maybe not out loud, but somehow and things would reset.

She didn't want to part ways with Hiei like this. He'd surely never come back. The thought made her sink in on herself. She'd never get to fight with him again, or tease him, or engage in a witty back and forth. Those thoughts hurt her. She didn't want it to be this way. What had she done? What could she do? Did Hiei just truly dislike her so much? He'd argued against it before, hadn't he?

And no glaringly correct answer came to mind. Nothing that could have caused him to become so angry with her. Maybe she'd taken too many liberties last night, falling asleep against him. And the thought that touching her disgusted him so much it could affect him for days afterward only turned her more cold.

She'd rather have died of hypothermia. At least then she wouldn't have to face the reality that when this mission was over there was every likelihood she'd never see Hiei again. Once Koenma told them all that she was free…

"What the hell do you mean free?" Hiei couldn't suppress the outburst and it made the woman whirl to face him, her eyes wide and her mouth fallen open in true disbelief.

"Were you reading my mind just now?" She whispered the question, as if she couldn't actually believe it to be true. Hiei sat struck, berating himself for being a moron internally, avoiding her gaze. "Get a good look, Hiei? Satisfied?"

"Answer my question. What do you mean free?" Hiei didn't turn to look at her, he was too busy trying to battle back the barrage of dangerous emotions clamoring for his attention. "What deal have you made with Koenma?"

"Fuck you." Her words came out ragged and when Hiei dared to look over at her he noticed the firelight bouncing off of the wet trails on her cheeks. "Why don't you just invade my privacy again? Take what you want? It didn't bother you a few seconds ago."

"I didn't do it to take anything. I wanted to know what you were thinking." Hiei defended himself, bristling.

Shinpi's breath came quick and uneven, her anger quickly coming to a point. "I hope you're happy."

"I'm not." He assured her. "Answer my goddamn question."

"I don't owe you any explanations." She seethed.

"Why do you think I'm going to cut ties with you? Where are you going? Where do you think I'm going?" Hiei shifted, crawling toward her and Shinpi remained fixed in place, baring her teeth.

In her furs, with that fierce expression and the firelight dancing over her eyes, Hiei couldn't help the pang of heat that coursed through him. Goddamn, this woman was a ruinous one. She had no idea either. He could tell. She was pissed off and ready to kill him and she had no idea just how tempting she looked.

"Tell me." Hiei demanded, stopping as his hands came to rest by her knees. Shinpi leaned back and on her hands to keep space between their bodies but had otherwise remained in place.

"What do you care?" Shinpi snarled at him, looking quite menacing. "Won't you be happy to be rid of me?"

"I don't intend on being rid of you, so whatever stupid plan you're trying to put into motion, stop it." Hiei sneered.

"It's already done." She smirked at him and it was a twisted expression full of anger and resentment and pain. Hiei wanted to wipe it off her face. "Once we find the culprit and make our report to Koenma, he's going to announce that I don't need any more babysitters. I'll be free from you."

"Oh, is that all?" Hiei smirked too, daring and sadistic as he tilted his head. "If you think something as small as bureaucracy will keep me away from you, you're sorely mistaken. I'm not that easily dissuaded."

"You need to back off me before I hurt you." Shinpi warned him as he crept a hair closer, hovering over her. "While I might normally enjoy playing these games with you, I'm not in the mood and it's your own doing."

Every instinct and muscle and nerve in Hiei's body knew he needed to back off of her. He knew he was pushing her too far and that she meant her words. This woman was ready to tear his throat out and she would follow through with her threat. He'd triggered a rage in her and she wasn't afraid to unleash it on him. The warning bells sounded again, that imminent feeling of danger creeping up his spine.

And yet, he found himself saying, "I'd like to see you try."

The heel of her hand bit into his ribs with enough force to snap two of the bones. Hiei went flying back and landed on the ground gasping for air. Shinpi was on him in a second, so quick he barely had time to raise his arms in a cross block to keep her fist from slamming into his face. Any of her usual grace was lost in her harsh movements, and in the back of his mind he was smug for that fact.

Who else could produce such a visceral reaction from this woman but him?

Let the other fighters have her carefully thought out strategies and graceful annihilation. He was more than happy to turn her into a howling, mad-eyed animal.

Hiei captured one of her wrists and listed her to the side but in trying to get the upper position, he only managed to give Shinpi an opening. She shoved her feet under his hips and kicked him off her. They separated and ran at each other. Fists, elbows, knees, legs all slamming into one another without mercy or hesitation. Blood running down both their noses and from their split lips they came to a pause again, a few feet between them.

Shinpi hadn't activated her energy and Hiei knew she was struggling to keep it that way. The urge to crush him must have been a nightmare to fight against. But she had to protect her identity and those instincts were stronger than the ones fueling her rage. She took a step toward him, teeth bared in a snarl, as Hiei took a step as well.

And then Shinpi stopped eyes and mouth opening in surprise as Katsuo came to a sliding stop between them, his own snarl directed at Hiei and Hiei alone.

"Move." Hiei demanded, stalking toward the wolf demon. "You have no place in this fight."

"What pleasure could you possibly get from beating on this woman?" Katsuo demanded, refusing to budge.

"More than you could possible know." Hiei spit the words, chest heaving. "Move. I won't tell you again."

"I won't let you lay another hand on her." The alpha slid his feet apart, his hand cocking back and covered in youki.

Hiei smirked, eying the display. This was his chance to be rid of this fool. And the idiot was giving it to him freely. Katsuo went to release his punch and found it trapped in a hand smaller than his. Shinpi stood between the two males, eyes cold and hair catching on the wind their warring auras created. The energy surrounding Katsuo's fist died immediately in the crush of her grip.

"I don't need you defending me." She snarled at the man.

"That man has every capability of killing you. I won't stand for it." The alpha snarled back at her.

"Hiei's capabilities mean nothing when he lacks the conviction to use them." Shinpi released Katsuo's fist. "You've fought me, you know I can handle myself. What would cause you to intervene so foolishly?"

"That creature is far stronger than I am." Katsuo sneered the words, glaring at Hiei over Shinpi's shoulder. "Beating me doesn't prove you can handle him."

"So you admit you stand no chance against me." Hiei gloated from behind the woman, who shot him a warning look. "You are a fool then. You would have only become fodder."

"If it kept you from harming Mikamoto, then it would have been a worthy sacrifice." Katsuo growled at the fire demon.

"She doesn't need your help." Hiei growled back.

Shinpi had turned to watch Hiei talk, her eyes roving him freely. Whatever she saw made that gaze turn dark, even the firelight unable to touch the shadows forming in her expression. Hiei narrowed his eyes in return. Then with a raised eyebrow, she turned away from him and picked up the hand she'd captured mere moments before. Her green energy came out, pouring into the appendage and Katsuo watched with raptured fascination.

"Sometimes I forget myself, I'm sorry for hurting you." Shinpi allowed her temper to cool, her voice softening. "You didn't even flinch when I broke your hand."

"You were angry, operating on instinct. Mistakes happen." Katsuo told her, lids falling partially closed.

The unholy rage that burned in Hiei when Shinpi lifted the alpha's hand to her lips could have turned even a diamond to ash. She made sure he could see the smile she offered the other man, the way she gently toyed with his hand before sliding her fingers between his.

"I think I'll take you up on that offer. I think I'd feel more comfortable sleeping next to you tonight." Shinpi spoke so softly.

Hiei tasted blood, he bit down on his tongue so hard to keep his thoughts from flying loose. When Katsuo tugged the woman to his side, Hiei about launched himself at him.

Sharp, bitter and barely contained Hiei growled through Shinpi's mind, "He wants something from you too."

And his rage only doubled when she responded, coldly.

"And he very well may receive it."


"So, uh, want to talk about it?" Yusuke eyed Hiei.

"No."

The fire demon continued to sit at the table, hands clasped together as if he were unsure what they'd do if he untwined his fingers. He remained perfectly still as he bore a hole in the bench across from him, his glare so scathing even Kurama hadn't crossed into its path. The fox demon frowned.

"Would you at least tell us where Hichi is?" Kurama sighed, entirely put out.

Hiei shifted his attention to the redhead and merely stared. Then he went back to glaring at the bench.

"Someone woke up on the wrong side of the bed." Kuwabara glanced at Hiei warily.

"That implies I slept." Hiei warned the carrot top.

"Alright, I'm going to go ask anyone if they've seen her." Yusuke got up from his seat and headed for the door. He pulled it open and on the other side stood Shinpi, who had blood doused across the front of her garments and staining her hands. A few drops clung to her cheeks.

"Fuck dude." The detective jumped near out of his skin. "What the hell happened to you?"

"Oh, none of its mine." Shinpi waved a hand through the air. "I was hunting."

"With Katsuo?" Hiei's drawl rose the temperature in the room a few degrees as his eyes cut to her.

The three other occupants of the room stared at him then shifted their attention back to Shinpi, who eyed the fire demon with obvious distaste.

"Indeed, with Katsuo. He's actually fairly charming, in his own way. We thoroughly enjoyed each other's company last night." Her words struck an obvious chord because Hiei bared his teeth in disgust. She turned to the others. "Breakfast is ready. Certified fresh by yours truly."

"Do you mind explaining?" Kurama glanced from to Hiei then back.

"This is between Hiei and myself and that's where it will stay." Shinpi refused him. "Speaking of which, may I have a moment alone with you, Hiei?"

He thought about telling her to fuck off. It was obvious in the set of his mouth. But he glanced at the too-interested faces of his allies and nodded once. Shinpi nodded in return, looking far calmer than she had the night before. She had no issue crossing into the path of his glare or sitting directly across from him at the table, her chin raised and shoulder's pulled down, her perfect stature the exact opposite of Hiei's hunched shoulders.

The others watched her settle into her seat and the silence that followed before finally trickling out of the hut. Another few minutes passed when Shinpi scowled at the door, but it was Hiei's voice that broke through the silence.

"We know you're all still there." He announced, and a faint swear seeped through the walls before the three others finally went away. He settled his attention on Shinpi and said nothing.

"You had no right to enter my thoughts." Shinpi realized he wasn't going to speak and so she charged into this fight head on.

Hiei stared at her, unreactive.

"What did you see?" She asked him, and he realized she was being very careful.

Too careful.

"Apparently not what you're hiding." Hiei drawled. "I should know to expect secrets from you by now, I suppose."

"I'm entitled to my privacy." She warned him.

He merely raised an eyebrow. She still hadn't shifted her stance. But he noted she was chewing her lip between carefully constructed sentences.

"Stop that." He told her. "Nervous habits don't become you."

That caught her interest, but she let it pass without dwelling on it. "You didn't answer me."

"Didn't I?" Hiei threw the words at her with more bitterness than when she'd uttered something similar to him during their fight at Genkai's.

"Hiei, I don't want to do this. I don't want to sit here and fight with you all day." Shinpi's shoulders sagged and she looked away from him, leaning back against the bench. "But if this is the way you want it, then fine. Hate me. Invade me. I don't care anymore."

Except she did and it was obvious. She cared far too much and Hiei hated her a little bit for that reaction, because it broke one loose from him. He'd been doing so well schooling himself into cultivated anger. All night he'd spent dwelling on his fury. He wanted to hold onto it for as long as possible.

Goddammit.

"I like fighting with you." Hiei told her, less harshly than any of his previous statements. "I don't intend to stop anytime soon, even if you are free of me."

Shinpi blinked at him, brow furrowed.

"I didn't realize I was still someone you needed to escape from." Hiei glared at her coldly. "I find it strange that you were so afflicted by the thought of my absence when in the end it's the thing you are vying for."

"Hiei." She breathed his name like a sigh and leaned forward over the table slightly. "This isn't about escape."

"What is it then? What is so terrible about me watching over you that you've consulted Koenma behind my back to put an end to it?" Hiei snapped at her.

Shinpi visibly started at his frustration and his words. Her eyes did a quick scan over his face and she melted. Just softened immediately and Hiei felt himself building walls against whatever idiotic assumption she'd come to.

"I didn't mean to hurt your feelings, Hiei." She reached for his hand and he jerked it away, his expression disgusted and horrified as if she'd just done something foul before him.

"You did not hurt my feelings." Hiei snarled at her.

"Well, you certainly hurt mine." She retracted her hand and Hiei looked at her as if she were about to attack him. "But that's not the point and you don't particularly care, so I'll spare you the details. What is important is that what I want isn't your absence, Hiei, it's just space."

"You assume I'm going to leave and you're still going to go through with this." Hiei accused. "Some part of you wants more than space, it wants me gone."

"Not true." She shook her head. "I don't want to be babysat any longer. I want to be able to choose when I go to Genkai's and when I train and when I have company. I don't want to lose you or the others. I just… is it too much to ask that I be allowed to be my own person again?"

It wasn't. If their positions were reversed Hiei would have had much less patience for the situation that Shinpi had shown. He'd have grown resentful early on that his life was dictated by others.

"Are you going to go back to daydreaming about suicide?" Hiei asked her in a guarded voice. "Just because I won't be tethered to you doesn't mean you get to go and die."

"It's not currently on my list of things to accomplish." Shinpi swallowed.

"We're still to train together. This doesn't put an end to our rivalry. If anything, it should intensify it. If I find out you're slacking off when I'm not around-"

"Of course." She cut him off gently. Hiei deflated some, that particular vein of anger cooled. Shinpi inhaled to steady herself. "I'm relieved, honestly. I thought you'd bite at the chance to be rid of me."

"That's because you're an idiot." Hiei told her firmly.

And she laughed, nodding. "Did you tell the others?"

"No. But you should." Hiei wrinkled his nose. "You should know that at this point, it's not Spirit World that makes you a part of the group. Your companionship has value to them."

"Thank you." She smiled and it made his guts twist up. Annoyed, he huffed and glared to the side.

"Are you intending to stay here with your new lover?" He asked and this new stream of anger was fresh and unfettered. The memory of Shinpi kissing Katsuo's hand the night before and then walking off with him set his blood on fire.

"Lover?" Shinpi made a face and that earned Hiei's attention. "I was protecting Katsuo last night, Hiei. I thought you had picked up on that when I glared behind you."

Behind him? "You mean that bitchy look you tossed me before telling me you were going to go sleep with the fool?"

"I said no such thing." Shinpi rolled her eyes. "I believe my words were that he might receive what he wanted from me."

"He wants your body." Hiei snapped. "Don't play dumb about this. You told him that you would sleep next to him."

"I'm not dumb." She snapped back at him. "I was angry with you."

"You were going to allow that moron to touch you because you were angry with me?" Hiei seethed. "Seems foolish on your part. I don't care who you take to your bed. I was only angry that he interrupted our fight."

"Ah, my mistake. For a moment you looked murderously jealous." Shinpi's accusation bristled the fire demon before her. "I'm glad to learn that isn't the case. You'll always be my number one rival, Hiei, but it would be inconvenient if you started to get in the way of my other relationships. A woman needs more than training to keep her warm at night sometimes."

"What relationship, you barely know him." Hiei scoffed.

And the stare she delivered on him told him he needed to keep his mouth shut or she was going to test this new theory of hers about his jealousy. In fact, he was fairly certain he could expect to see the woman doing a lot of tolerating of the alpha. He hated the idea of it.

"What did you see behind me?" Hiei changed topics and watched as Shinpi raised an eyebrow perfectly aware of what he was trying to do.

"Someone." She pursed her lips. "I wasn't able to see their face, merely their eyes, but they were definitely watching us. And when I announced I was going with Katsuo, they narrowed. I think someone may be after him."

"Not our problem." Hiei shrugged. Honestly, is someone managed to murder the man it would be one less issue for him to deal with. Refusing to stop a murder was a slight bit better than committing one, wasn't it?

"If someone is after Katsuo, it's almost certainly because of his position. If he were killed a new alpha would be able to rise. Even if he was killed by spirit detectives for allowing humans to be murdered in his territory." Shinpi explained to him.

"You're suggesting Katsuo is being set up?" Hiei piqued at this development. "So, not only do we need to look for a killer, but also a saboteur."

"A smart one at that." She nodded. "But not smarter than me."

He smirked and it was the first semi-friendly expression he'd offered her.

"I didn't sleep with him, by the way. I know you don't care, but I want the air cleared. I didn't sleep at all, actually. Katsuo's presence wasn't conducive to such things."

"I thought you found him comfortable."

"More comfortable than you in a rage." She shrugged. "Can you blame me? At that point you looked ready to commit a murder and I wasn't about to let it be mine."

"Bullshit, woman." Hiei narrowed his eyes.

"Fair enough." Shinpi rose from the table and the look she set on him was nothing short of predatory, especially coupled with the blood still marring her clothes and face. "Maybe I didn't trust myself to be around you when the firelight caught your eyes so beautifully. So, I suppose, my discomfort was with my lack of control, not yours. I may not affect your behavior but I can't deny you effect mine."

Hiei licked his lips and followed her to the doors. He reached for her wrist, fingers just barely skimming over the skin when the door flew open. He wasn't sure what he'd been about to do once he grabbed her, but he was actually thankful he hadn't been given the chance. When the door opened he drew his hand back so he could shove it into his pocket while he stared at Yusuke.

"It's Kuwabara." The detective said and Shinpi was gone like a bat out of hell before he could say anything more.


Kurama stood with his rose whip out, Katsuo wounded behind him. The alpha had the tusk from the boar they'd been preparing for breakfast stuck in his side when Shinpi came to a sudden halt next to the fox. Her upper lip pulled back in a snarl as she saw Fuyuko kneeling over Kuwabara's prone form. The carrot top was ashen, eyes dull and his breathing labored. His energy felt weak.

"He collapsed. Then the healer ordered them to attack Katsuo." Kurama shifted and looked around at the wolves that surrounded them. "He's controlling them somehow."

"He's a psychic." Hiei announced, joining them with Yusuke, Jagan open. "Mind control."

"A true alpha has unquestionable sway over his pack." Fuyuko rose to his feet as he explained. Several wolf demons aimed arrows at the team, others waiting with claws out. "Kastuo has no right to claim himself as leader. That role should be mine."

Shinpi took that moment to glance back Hiei with a smirk. "Told you."

"Congratulations." Hiei responded dully. "You still didn't suspect him."

"Actually, she did. She had me watch him from a distance." Kurama explained. "He tried to poison her with that tea he made. I'm assuming for someone else it would have been quite effective."

"As demonstrated on your friend here." Fuyuko gestured to Kuwabara. "Which leads me to you, Mikamoto."

Shinpi tensed as he addressed her, crouching just slightly as if preparing to be attacked.

"You're not really a human at all, are you?" Fuyuko surmised coldly, taking in her behavior.

Shinpi adjusted her stance, it was a small movement but one that clued Hiei into her intentions. He went to say her name and found a hand clamped over his mouth and chin, blue eyes narrowed on him from the side, dark and glittering dangerous promises. She barely breathed their code word.

"Names have power, Hiei, you should wield them carefully." Was all she thought before releasing his face. Her expression remained fierce. To the others it must have seemed absurd, him allowing the woman to grab him. So he growled at her, jerking away from her hand.

"Don't do that again." He warned her, and part of him meant it.

"I knew you'd pick up on it." Shinpi turned her attention toward the wolf demon. "That tea you made was still quite potent. It put me off my feet, but luckily I have a friend far more gifted in herbalism who was able to taper the side effects."

Dark brown eyes flickered to Kurama then back to the woman.

Yusuke glanced at her too, realizing her complacent behavior the day before had been induced. Her whispered conversations with Kurama made more sense suddenly, as well as her aversion to the meals provided by the wolves. She'd needed time to recuperate her strength after Kurama's help.

It clicked for Hiei then as well, that perhaps this was why she'd been so tolerant of the alpha's advances. Not just to keep up appearances but because she hadn't had the energy to manhandle him and continue her investigation. Had she suspected this vein of reasoning all along? Is that way she'd been posting herself at Katsuo's side?

"I'd like to extend the choice of forfeiting to you." Shinpi offered, tension roiling through her muscles even as she spoke. "Give yourself up quietly. You're only going to bring disaster on your pack otherwise."

"If I manage to end all of you, the only thing I'll bring my pack is great fortune." Fuyuko snarled at her.

Shinpi didn't seem amused or impressed by his declaration and her eyes strayed from him to Kazuma, who lay on the ground behind him. Her concern wasn't hidden. Neither was her anger.

"Out of all of them, you said he was the one you wanted to protect the most. Instinct, you called it." Fuyuko pointed out. "You defend him like a mother would its pup."

Hiei glanced at Shinpi, confusion clear in his eyes at the utterance of that statement. There was no way Shinpi had forged some sort of maternal affection for that bumbling idiot, was there? Her face betrayed nothing. The statement could be true or not and she wouldn't confirm either way.

"Kazuma is dear to me." Shinpi allowed. "But if he's weak enough to die here there's nothing I can do about it."

Yusuke shot her a withering look that she pointedly ignored. Kurama and Hiei remained impassive at her words.

But Shinpi had glanced at the carrot top again and saw his eyes open, watching her. It was a slight squeeze of her lids that carried her message to him. Her words held no weight. They were a ruse to get him to his feet. And Kuwabara, from behind the wolf demon, offered the scantest nod in response.

"Shall we dance, then?" She asked the healer and he offered her a heartless smile in return. The wolf demon's around them closed in.

From the beginning Yusuke's optimistic belief in his teammates had glued them all together. They defended each other, they fought together, they fought for each other. Even through the jabs and biting remarks and the years of silence and distance and life changes, they all would clearly die for each other on any given day of the week. It was a kinship born of mutual understand. A brotherly protectiveness that coiled around the four of them, binding them together.

There was something different about the way Shinpi acted to protect them. It hung in the air around her, around them. It felt familiar, the sort of action that comes from earned affection, but also, and still, different.

"You're mistaken." Shinpi spoke clearly, coldly and without hesitation. "In both your position in this fight and over your meager self-appointed title. I was clear when we arrived that I would tolerate these men coming to harm. You've brought this on yourself."

Her words shivered through the gathering of animal youkai, many of whom shifted and darted glances at one another then at their newfound leader. Their alpha, as he called himself, who looked about ready to piss himself at the sheer authority in her voice. It was the same that she'd used on Matsuma all those weeks ago. Hiei recognized it for what it was immediately.

The voice of an unwavering leader.

"And if we harm you?" Fuyuko uttered the words. "Will they defend you as vehemently?"

"They know better than to assume that I'm the one who ever needs protecting."

Shinpi bowed her head, and from under her bangs her eyes shone like blue embers. The wind circled her feet as they slid out into a wider stance, her hand poised above the wrapped hilt of her wooden sword. A quirk of her lips was all the warning she offered before her pooling her energy into the instrument and her insistence on bringing along suddenly made more sense to Hiei. When the wave of wolf demons attacked, she greeted them with an unrelenting wall of destruction. The sword bit through skin and clothes as sharply as any metal blade, fortified as it was.

And just like their fight what felt like ages before, Hiei noted she was intentionally avoiding permanent damage. Superficial wounds, minor cuts, but she deftly changed the angle of her blade to keep from claiming limbs. Her body spun when the choice to stab through the stomach was obvious. A melee attack came instead, her knee digging into the soft flesh. The wind took a few off their feet, pushed some others back. None the less, her benevolence didn't save them from a staggering loss. Within minutes Shinpi was the only one on her feet in the circle of demons, the rest bleeding and groaning, battered but alive on the ground as the haze wore off for them.

It was a sight to behold. Hiei memorized it as such, again noting that Shinpi's actions carried a certain dancer's grace. It was a terrifying notion, that her brand of violence could be delivered with such beauty inherent in the movements. Terrifying and endlessly appealing. His chest warmed and that damned shuddering came back in the wake of his admiration. He could watch her all day, given the opportunity.

Just not today, as the fates would have it, because Kuwabara had gotten to his feet unusually quiet. Even as shaky as his legs seemed to be, as dangerous as his pallor had grown, he radiated confidence in his next actions. He grabbed one of Fuyuko's wrists and jerked it behind the demon's back before hooking his foot around the other man's ankle to throw him off balance. When they hit the ground, Kuwabara dug a knee into the wolf demon's spine, gripping both wrists with one hand as he wound something around them.

"Thanks for lending this to me." Kuwabara tied off the Infinity Chain and looked up at Shinpi, panting. "And for showing me how to use it."

"Maybe I'll be able to get you your own someday." She smiled at him as Kurama ran over, already on the move to concoct an antidote for the poison in the carrot top's system. "You saved the day, Kazuma."

"You helped. A little." He grinned at her. "I feel like I'm gonna hurl."

Her arms cradled Kuwabara's head to her chest delicately, brushing away the dirt from his cheek before being assured that he was fine. Green light poured into him to ease what she could of his symptoms. When Kurama took over she rose to her feet with purpose.

"Being protected is never my priority." Shinpi offered in response to some question the fox was bound to ask. "I don't doubt you have my back, I merely don't see the need to test the sentiment. Pack protects pack, it's simply understood. It goes without saying and I'm aware of that."

"So, we are a pack to you?" Yusuke kept his hands in his pockets, eying the woman with cautious optimism.

"Are we not to you?" Shinpi responded easily, knowing he wouldn't fight her. "I am a protective person by nature. I don't like when people touch things that are mine."

Hiei had stooped to begrudgingly help the alpha, yanking the boar's tusk from his side and slapping a few layers of gauze over the wound. The man's brown eyes were alight as he stared at the woman.

"I think I'm in love." Katsuo grinned at Hiei looking very much so like a lovesick fool and the fire demon just rolled his eyes, wishing the wound had been more severe than it was.


"So, you two are okay?" Yusuke asked Hiei, who shrugged.

"As good as we can be as rivals." The fire demon responded coolly.

"Psh. Rivals. Yeah. More like rivals with benefits." The detective snorted, crossing his arms. "Can't fool me buddy."

"The rivalry is the benefit, detective." Hiei smirked, but his attention had wavered when Shinpi came out of the mountain hideaway.

Katsuo followed at Shinpi's heels like a trained dog, stars practically in his eyes.

"Are you sure you won't stay? We could use a matriarch. These boys need someone to keep them in line and now we could also those talented, healing hands of yours." Katsuo told her again, the bandages on his side freshly changed. Shinpi pulled a face and then smoothed out her expression.

She'd offered to heal him and he'd asked her not to. He wanted the scar to remember her by, even though she hadn't been the one to give it to him.

"I have my hands full enough." She nodded toward the group of men she'd arrived with.

"I'd like it if you stayed. With me." He touched the back of her arm lightly, but it stopped her still.

"I don't know you nearly well enough to care about what you'd like or wouldn't." Shinpi told him coolly and it seemed to make him swoon all the more. "Besides, you're barking up the wrong tree. I'm a committed woman."

He glanced in the gang's direction, then back to her. "Not the fire demon."

She just offered him a shrug and looked over too.

"Hiei doesn't seem like much when you first meet him. Callous, rude, thick-skulled. But he's grown on me. We're currently quite serious as rivals." She assured him. "Just yesterday he assured me I couldn't get rid of him."

Hiei glanced their way, eyes roving over the pair before his lips quirked upwards. Shinpi offered him a similar expression in return.

"I've found a new lust for life in the process of finding ways to best him." Shinpi admitted and there was no mistaking the smug smirk Hiei offered. "Which reminds me," she threaded her arm through Katsuo's, "how would you rate my performance on this mission?"

"All of your performances are amazing." He started to gush. "Sensual. Radiant."

"And, of all the members of the team, who picked out the culprit?" She pressed on.

"You're asking leading questions." Hiei muttered under his breath, glancing at her. She flashed a smile toward him as her and Katsuo came to a stop fairly close to the group.

"You did." The alpha responded.

"And, who beat your boys into submission and convinced them not to misbehave or bother their human neighbors?"

"I get it." Hiei growled.

"You did." Katsuo still answered her.

"Just making sure." She patted the man's arm and withdrew from him. "I like to know I'm doing a good job."

"Are you done playing with your food?" Hiei demanded, arms crossed over his chest. "If the detective has to spend one more day without electricity he'll go mad. Or maybe we should leave you here and you can become a matriarch."

"Don't be jealous, Hiei, I've already told Katsuo that I'm all yours." She left the side of the other man to toe up to the fire demon. "After all, I'm not done proving how much better I am at everything yet."

Kuwabara nudged Kurama and nodded toward the scene. Yusuke peeked between them to watch too.

"You won gloating rights, not a championship, simmer down." Hiei told her, unimpressed. "And it's hardly a feat that you wrangled in a pack of mongrels. It's only natural that they listened to you."

"Doesn't matter. The deal was that whoever sequestered the most bad guys won. And I did that." She lifted her chin and crossed her arms. "Just admit I won."

"Before getting lucky with your finger pointing-"

"It was an informed deduction."

"-you also managed to get yourself critically wounded, incredibly sick, and Kuwabara nearly killed."

"None of which changes the fact that I won. And that I want to hear you say it." She crept toward him, a single finger poking into his chest. "You may like to pocket your proceeds, Hiei, but I'm feeling the urge for instant gratification."

Hiei looked down at her finger digging into his ribs and then up to her face with a fiery expression.

"Fine." Hiei relented with a throaty rumble. "You won."

"I hope our next case is as exciting." She stayed close to him, and Hiei nodded, casting a look behind her to Katsuo.

The alpha glanced over the pair of them and didn't seem to enjoy what he saw. That earned some satisfaction from Hiei.

"Your intelligence is definitely one of your better assets." Hiei allowed, smirking as he returned his attention to Shinpi. Then he lowered his voice. "But I'm faster than you where it counts."

"Want to test that theory?" She nearly pressed her chest to his as she grinned at him.

"First one to the base of the mountain wins." Hiei nodded and then he was gone in a blur. Shinpi took off after him, leaving the others gaping behind them.

"Tell her she's welcome back anytime. The fire demon isn't." Katsuo turned to Yusuke. "You can tell him I'm sorry for the hitting him with my energy. Looked like he took quite the fall."

"Yeah, I'll pass it along. Stay out of trouble. I don't want to have to come back here." Yusuke grinned at the other man who nodded once then turned to return to his pack. "Alright Kurama, are you ready for a new bet?"

"Surely you don't think we're going to catch them in the act." Kurama cut off the deal before it could get started.

"Nah, I say we gather up our friends and start a pool. I give those two a few weeks before they're making the beast with two backs." Yusuke started walking down the side of the mountain with his arms tucked behind his head. The other two men trailing behind him.

"Oh, I say we wait until we get a calendar. I want to pick the right day." Kuwabara announced and Kurama chuckled beside him.

"Perhaps we should consult a moon chart while we're at it." The fox offered with humor.

"So you agree then?" Yusuke tossed a cocky grin back at them. "Those two are one good moment away from ripping each other's clothes off."

"Perhaps." Kurama allowed with a smile. "But it'd be best if we didn't actively interfere."

"Yeah, yeah." Yusuke waved his hand through the air. "I don't think they need our help anyway."

Chapter Text

It was so early in the morning even the sun was having trouble waking up. The sky still held most of its darkness, only the very edges gilded as light began to threaten to creep upward. Some stars even remained, though they were steadily fading.

"You still haven't told them." Hiei walked beside Shinpi as they scanned the valley between mountains at the edge of Genkai's land. "Putting it off will only make it worse."

"If it's so important to you, you tell them." Shinpi rolled her eyes away from him.

"It needs to come from you." Hiei stopped walking. "Why are you avoiding it?"

"I'm not avoiding anything." She sighed. "I'm just trying to find the right way to approach it. I don't want anyone else having your reaction."

"Finding out from Koenma will guarantee a poor reaction, especially from the detective." He crossed his arms over his chest.

"Then use your prize to make me." Shinpi turned to face him.

"Not going to happen. Do it on your own." Hiei smirked at her then looked around. "Is this good enough?"

"It'll do." She nodded, her own grin daring. "Are you sure about this Hiei? I'd understand if you wanted to back out."

"Do I look like a coward?" Hiei demanded of her and she shook her head as she walked toward him.

"It's just, once I take it off there's no telling what might happen." She put a hand on his forearm, her chest brushing against his. "It might change things between us."

He peered into her eyes, no longer smirking. "Maybe I'm alright with things changing between us."

"Then give it to me." She breathed the words full of excitement so palpable it traveled into Hiei. He looked around again as he worked the clasp of his cloak with one hand. "You're nervous. That's sort of cute."

"If we get caught…" He let the rest of his sentence trail off, sure she understood the repercussions for this indulgence. "This is the only time we will do this. Merely to sate my curiosity on the matter."

"You say that now, but you might change your mind after." Shinpi slid her hand over his left hip and he wrapped his hand around her wrist to stop her. "I'll forgive you if you do."

"It's not your opinion I'm worried about." Hiei pointed out, frowning. "Don't forget that until Koenma makes his announcement, I'm still responsible for you. Don't make me regret this."

"I can't take this anymore, Hiei. Give it to me." She demanded in the most frustratingly enticing tone he'd ever heard. With one more scan to their surroundings, Hiei relented, releasing her hand. Her body pressed flush to his. "It's been so long, I almost forgot what it felt like in my hand."

Hiei schooled his expression, merely raising one eyebrow as she untied the red scabbard from his side. Then she was a few meters away from him, studying the weapon with satisfaction.

"Did you miss me?" She ran her fingers over the sheath and Hiei stepped closer as he felt a strange secondary energy vibrate through the air. "I hope Hiei has been taking good care of you. It's a shame you won't let him sharpen you, you must feel so dull."

Using her thumb to press upwards, she broke the seal that had been placed on the blade, tearing the thin paper easily. Throwing the sheath to Hiei, who caught it singlehandedly, Shinpi made a display of running her fingers down the flat sides of the sword. Hiei watched in rapt attention, waiting.

"Do it." He told her.

"Patience, darling. It'll be worth the wait." She promised and moved her hand to grip the hilt, running through a quick succession of katas.

Her movements were well-practiced, smooth, precise. Hiei's impatience grew as he tossed his cloak to the ground, the scabbard on top of the black fabric. He withdrew his own blade and Shinpi offered him a glinting smile that revealed too much teeth. Excitement thrilled through him, lighting him up like the sun slowly climbing the horizon.

"That's a pretty picture." She lifted her chin toward him and then her blade clashed against his and the resulting shock of energy forced him back a few centimeters. Shinpi didn't hesitate to put him on the defensive, her skills an even match for his, at least at this warmup pace.

"Do it. I want to see it." Hiei demanded and Shinpi grinned again, spinning and calling her wind around the blade. As the air swirled from point to hilt it caught on fire, burning bright blue and traveling over her hand halfway up her forearm. The flames matched the fire dancing in her eyes.

Her energy output nearly doubled from that simple action and Hiei growled low in the back of his throat before launching at her. She met him easily wearing that teasing grin and he smirked back at her, increasing his speed. When he threw a hand under her blade, forcing it upwards and out of the way the fire shifted and without warning Shinpi was shoving the weapon back into its scabbard all that distance away, her breathing haggard. She dropped it onto Hiei's cloak without ever breaking the stare she cast the red sheath.

"We're done?" Hiei blinked, confused. They'd only just gotten started. He knew she had more in her. He could feel it. He wanted to feel it. A flare of dissatisfied frustration overtook him for a moment.

"We're done." Shinpi nodded, wiping her palms against her pants, not looking at him. "You shouldn't have touched it. I told you not to before we came out."

"You said I couldn't use it." Hiei argued.

"I said you couldn't touch it." She shot him a look. "He doesn't like when outsiders handle him. I can't always contain what happens."

"Explain." Hiei eyed her, unable to fight back his growing disappointment that they hadn't gotten more in before she'd had to put the sword away. He'd honestly been expecting to have to pry the thing from her hands.

"He was going to kill you." She pressed her lips into a line and then glared at the sword. "Stubborn old man. He really doesn't like you. What have you done to him?"

"It's a sword, Shinpi." Hiei told her with an expression that plainly stated he thought she'd lost her mind.

"The sword is of little consequence. It's a weapon, nothing more." She wrinkled her nose as she weighed her next words. "I told you, didn't I? My grandfather's spirit is bound to the blade. That's where the power comes from."

"He's sentient?" Hiei glanced at the weapon in question.

"He's something." She muttered. "Next time you'll follow the rules and we'll be able to go for longer. I'm warmed up with nothing to do. What a bother."

"You seem confident there will be a next time." Hiei smirked, sheathing his own sword as he walked close to her side. "I wasn't all that impressed with your technique. Maybe I don't want to fight you and your sword again."

"Then I'll just have to beat you and take it by force." She lowered her voice with him so close, facing him over her shoulder.

Hiei raked his eyes down her and settled his gaze back on her eyes. "Don't threaten me with a good time, Shinpi. I'd enjoy nothing more than you coming at me full force for once."

"You say such pretty things. Truly a man who knows his way around a woman's heart." She looked him over too, her gaze a little too heated for discussions of sparring. "You know, if you let me handle the sword more often I'd be able to control it better. We've fallen out of sync."

"Maybe I need to start sweet talking the relic. You've accused me of being charming, maybe those skills will sway the old man to my side." Hiei smirked.

"How very thief-like of you to consider ways in which to steal my prized possession." Shinpi ran her tongue over her bottom lip.

"Well, technically, until you beat me it's my prized possession." Hiei reminded her with his own smirk. "You don't seem in any hurry to regain it."

"Again, with not listening to me. I hope this doesn't become a nasty habit of yours." She picked the sword up, reaching over to Hiei's side and tying it into place slowly. "It's safer in your hands for now. Not to mention you and I have a deal."

"Oh, is that what's holding up your progress? And here I thought you just wanted an excuse to keep me around." Hiei teased her and it brought a pleasantly surprised look to her face.

"I'm not sure I enjoy you learning to see through me." Shinpi backed a step away from him. "It makes you far more dangerous than you already are."

"And like most dangerous things, I find myself in your orbit." Hiei smirked and this expression seemed darker.

Shinpi looked him over again and then took another step back. Hiei advanced on her, reclaiming the step she'd put between them. Her mouth went dry suddenly, under his unwavering attention. He tipped his head to the side, a certain glint coming into his eye as his lips twisted upward further.

"Why is your heart beating so fast, Shinpi?" Hiei lowered his voice carefully, refusing to look away from her face. "If I didn't know better, I'd say you were nervous."

"Nervous isn't quite the right word." She swallowed, her breath coming out low while she planted her feet.

Hiei looked her over appraisingly. "I'm not satisfied with the way our morning panned out. I have pent up energy that needs releasing."

"I guess I'll just to do something about that, won't I?" Shinpi spoke from behind him, and Hiei was forced to duck to avoid the kick she'd aimed at the back of his head.

They came at each other, swinging arms and legs. Hiei called his mortal flame to his hands and Shinpi threw up a cross block in front of her face, air smothering the fire before it made contact with her skin.

"Clever." Hiei declared, his kick swinging over her head as she crouched below him so he dropped the foot down. She jumped back. "But you can't use those petty trick on this."

He called the Darkness Flame into his fists and that sent her flitting away from him, forcing him to pursue. He should have known better than to chase the woman. She spun around in a semi-circle, her toe dragging over the thick green grass. It wilted and turned brown, the water pulled from the ground, roots, and blades of emerald slithering up over her leg in a creeping line. The kick she lashed at him whipped the water so hard it cut through his shirt. She twirled around and another kick kept him from advancing too close.

Shinpi flashed him a teasing grin, winking before motioning for him to come closer.

"I thought you wanted me to show you all my tricks, Hiei." She reminded him.

"I didn't think you'd be so willing to take me up on it." He bared his teeth in a grin that only flashed for a second before disappearing.

"It's more fun for me when you think you know what to expect." The water snaked up her back and then around her neck before winding around her arm. "But you'll be disappointed to find that even when you think you've pinned me down, there's often a new trick up my sleeve."

"How could I possibly be disappointed by that?" Hiei rushed her, a barrage of fire-engulfed punches that were all met with Shinpi's water covered hands.

His intent focus on trying to discern her next move, how she was planning to use that water against him was enough of a lure that he didn't see her true strategy. When she sent a right hook toward his face, breaking through his defenses, he was entirely distracted from the circle of air she'd formed around them that closed in with enough force that it took his feet from under him. When he landed on his back, momentarily stunned, Shinpi tossed him a brilliant grin.

He wasn't entirely sure if the warmth that spread through him was in reaction to that look or his own embarrassment for falling for such a stupid trick. Well, turnabout is fair play. She was so busy gloating she didn't even notice his hand until it grabbed her ankle and yanked, sending her careening to the ground right on her backside. She gaped at him, and it made him chuckle as he rose to sitting.

He recognized this emotion well enough: satisfaction.

"That was underhanded." Shinpi told him, making no move to get up.

"I'm an untrustworthy man." Hiei told her. "Being a bandit and such."

"Oh please, if you're untrustworthy I'm a kitten." She tossed him a look. "I got you good."

"It won't work twice."

"Is that a challenge?" Shinpi's eyes began to glitter with mischief.

"Maybe." Hiei leant forward, unable to hide his amusement. "If you want to take it as one, I don't think I'll be able to stop you."

"You're finally learning." She smiled again.

"I only need a lesson beaten into me so man-" The last words choked, caught in the angry growl Hiei birthed as a spear bit through his shoulder, forcing him forward. Blood trailed down the wood to the ground. Before he could pry it out, Shinpi was on her feet.

"What is this?" He demanded, breaking the wood and yanking it out of his own shoulder. He got to his feet.

Shinpi lowered her voice to a whisper, her order just for him and not the prying ears of the demons approaching them. "I'll handle this."

He ignored her, setting his venomous glare on their opponents.

"Well, well, well. This is unexpected." A voice boomed from the throng, a short, stocky demon with tusk-like teeth stared at the two them. "Here we've come to capture a sword and instead we get the head of the bastard of Alaric."

Shinpi slid her feet apart, her eyes narrowed as they darkened.

"You'll get this sword over my dead body." Hiei declared bitterly. "And even if you had it, you couldn't use it without the catalyst."

The demon slid his gaze over to Shinpi. "Lucky for us, you've brought the catalyst with you."

Hiei stiffened, taking a step to place himself in front of Shinpi. The act made something in his head swim, his vision blurring slightly. Shaking his head to clear it, he bared his teeth, trying to plant himself despite the growing weakness of his limbs.

"Hiei?" Shinpi glanced at him as he swayed.

The demon let loose a booming laugh. "I see even you aren't immune to poison, Jagan Master."

"Poison?" Hiei grimaced. "The spear."

"I'd assure you that the effects will pass, but you won't live long enough to recover." The demon laughed. And then three more spears were launched. One caught Hiei in the leg, another took Shinpi in her side even though she jumped back in an attempt to dodge it.

Her movement seemed restricted and Hiei realized as he fell to the ground that she was trying to stick close to him, but she was forced back with a snarl, her hand on her side to stifle the bleeding there. Hiei tried to get to his feet only to have another spear shoved into him, tearing a vicious loathsome growl from his chest as he snarled at his attackers. With Shinpi pushed back, they dared to approach him, as prone as he currently was. Without much care, they ripped the red sword from his side and threw the it onto the ground at Shinpi's feet. She regarded it with a cool blue gaze.

"Use it." The demon demanded.

Shinpi merely glanced at the weapon, then at the group lingering behind Hiei looking ready to fight or flee at any moment, depending on how this next moment went. Well, wasn't that smart of some of them? Too bad they'd never live to another day.

Gravel and dirt scraped his cheek as Hiei tried to move his head to keep her in sight. Shinpi was his responsibility. If he let something happen to her…The team would never let him live it down. Did these idiots have any idea who she was? If she opened that sword, she had every likelihood of winning. They stood no chance. If they'd really been watching for long enough to know she could handle the blade, they should've seen her in action.

The fools were signing their own death warrant. This would be over quickly.

"I refuse."

Hiei's eyes widened. Shinpi seemed to remain firm in her resolve, stepping over the sword toward him and his group of attackers. She couldn't possibly be this hard headed.

What was she thinking?

"I made a promise." She told them flippantly. "And I keep my word. I will not use that sword. I don't need it any way, I can handle you all just fine."

Hiei didn't get to see what she did. His vision was swimming too profoundly and his body refused to accept orders anymore so he couldn't turn his head. He did hear a lot of screaming though. And there was no doubt that it was Shinpi's energy that flared. One other voice whimpered pathetically as her shoes came into his view again, before she crouched and rolled him over. With care she placed her hands over his wounds, pouring that precious healing energy into him.

Even as bleary as his eyes were, he could see the strain in her face. There was red splattered over her cheeks and neck.

"Hiei, you've lost too much blood. You're going to lose consciousness soon." Shinpi's face hovered over his own, her hands moving to cradle his head. "I'll take care of you, but don't make it hard for me. And if you die I consider our arrangement void."

"You wish." He fought against his lead eyelids, a battle he quickly lost.


Hiei came to with a growl, swinging his way into consciousness with all the vigor of jumping into the thick of battle. It took a moment of quiet for him to realize that not only was the fight over but that he was also safely back in the temple. A few bandages covered his injuries. He was at least partially healed, even if he was still sore and raw.

With a start he launched himself onto his feet and headed for the door of Shinpi's room, throwing it open. Where was she? Peering into her room proved useless, she wasn't there and her bed was made. Voices filtered down the hall and he stalked toward the kitchen.

She was at the counter as usual, making food. When had the detective and Kurama arrived? Damn it. How long had he been out?

"Hey, look who finally decided to grace up with his presence." Yusuke elbowed Kurama with a grin. "Get enough beauty sleep dragon boy?"

Hiei ignored him and his snickering to march over to Shinpi.

"Lunch will be-" Shinpi was cut off midsentence by Hiei's hand spinning her to face him.

Buttons bounced off the counter and the floor as he ripped her shirt open, his eyes fixated on the mound of bandages and medical tape that was her side. Who had bandaged her? They'd done an awful job. He realized after a second that she had likely done it herself to cut down on anyone fussing about her.

"Uh, Hiei?" Yusuke had gotten to his feet, his chair and Kurama's skittering back in their haste.

The fire demon's grip on the material of her shirt tightened, his lip pulling back over his teeth. Shinpi kept her eyes on his face, her gaze fading quickly from startled to hard understanding.

"The last time a man tore clothes off of me this way I had a much better time." She sighed heavily, put out with the whole day. "Do you mind allowing me to cover myself? I wasn't expecting Kurama and Yusuke to get to judge my bra today."

All too suddenly Hiei seemed to realize what he'd done, jerking back as if she'd struck him. His cheeks glowed from embarrassment and anger. Offering her just enough space to allow her to close her shirt, he didn't bother averting his gaze. She'd specifically noted she hadn't wanted the other two looking at her, not him. If she had a problem she'd let him know.

"Mind telling me why you're undressing me?" She asked coolly.

"I remembered you'd gotten injured. When I woke up I thought we were still out there, and it all came back suddenly. If I was here in the temple it meant you brought me back, injured, by yourself." He left it at that his tone growing hot.

Shinpi glanced behind him to the other two, her lips pressing into a thin line. Squinting slightly, she returned her attention to him.

"It's fine." She assured him.

"It's not. You could have been killed. You should have accepted the sword."

"I agreed to follow the rules you set. You said I couldn't use the sword until I beat you. A trivial situation like that won't be enough to make me go back on my word." She responded to him, but again her eyes moved beyond him to the others. "Hiei, could we perhaps finish this privately?"

"Why?" He demanded.

"Because she had just gotten done telling us you were napping after a hard training session. We didn't know she was injured." Kurama's tone grew hard.

"You lied?" Hiei frowned, blinking at her.

"No. I didn't lie. We were training." She reminded him. "We happened to be attacked and it worked into a simulation and a way of testing my current abilities. I performed with excellence, by the way, despite my injury."

"Idiot." Hiei let his head fall back. "I've told you how many times that details like that are important, especially if you feel like you shouldn't offer them."

"I didn't want you getting in trouble." She pulled her brows down, looking away from all them. "You kept complaining that I'd gotten injured on your watch. I assumed that was because the team would punish you."

"It's because I'm supposed to be taking care of you." Hiei snapped before realizing what he'd said. After a second of silence, he added quickly. "I took responsibility for your well-being and I lapsed in that capacity. Idiot. Don't try to cover for me again."

"You're berating me for defending you." She pointed out. "Besides, you weren't in any space to be saving anyone. I thought for sure you'd die."

"I also remember that." He noted darkly. "Don't think I'll let that slide."

"Anytime and place. After piecing your useless ass back together I have no reason to be afraid of your empty threats." She shot back at him, stomping forward one step, her arms coming uncrossed to jut a finger under his nose. "If anything, you should be thanking me!"

His eyes dipped down before he could really help himself, noting the suddenly exposed flesh of her chest. If she'd been concerned before about the others seeing her undergarments or wound, it had faded in the wake of her indignation. But when she noticed his attention had wandered, even for the split second it had, she blushed scarlet and yanked the shirt closed again.

"And I thought Yusuke was the pervert!" She yelled at him, stomping around him on her way to her room. "Go to hell, Hiei!"

He followed her with his eyes, then looked over at the other two. He wondered, for just a moment, what her reaction would have been if they hadn't been there. If she hadn't had to cover for him. If there was no one else but him to see the navy lace under her shirt. He dispelled the thoughts quickly.

"So that's what I've been dealing with. Why are you two here?" Hiei asked them blandly, already at his wits end. "Talk fast. When she comes barreling back in here no one will get a word in edgewise."

Yusuke went to say something and he got nowhere as Shinpi came marching back into the kitchen, her shirt clasped closed by her fist.

"And you're welcome for making sure you didn't die by the way!" She yelled at him. "Do you have any idea what a pain it was healing you and carrying you when I was battling the same damn poison? You're lucky I didn't get exposed as much as you! And I fixed the hole in your shirt, you ungrateful bastard."

"You're such a pain in my ass." Hiei raised his voice to match hers. "You overextended yourself! It's not my fault you can't do things the easy way."

"You're infuriating!" She stomped her foot.

"You're infuriating!" Hiei stepped toward her, fists at his sides.

"Oh my god, just make out already." Yusuke threw himself back into his chair.

"Shut up." They both snarled at him, then turned back to each other. Shinpi swept a narrowed gaze over the fire demon then jerked away, stalking toward her room.

"We are not done!" Hiei warned her, immediately moving to follow. "Your little antics aren't getting you a free pass this time, Shinpi."

"Oh shove it up your ass." She threw the door to her room open. "I was never in danger."

"There were at least twelve of them." Hiei cornered her, following Shinpi into her bedroom so they could hammer out this argument.

"You say that as if it were a problem." Shinpi rolled her eyes, turning to face him after closing her door. She paced further into the space trying to keep her tone low and even. "They were weak. It was simple."

"They were enough to disable me." Hiei pointed out sharply.

"They got lucky. Your back was turned." She argued. "In a head on fight you would have utterly trounced them. It would have been a nonevent."

"I remember you getting injured." He glared at her, gesturing to her side.

"What are you actually asking me, Hiei?" Shinpi sighed, uncrossing her arms and it meant her shirt fell open.

She'd done it on purpose, Hiei had that feeling about it, so he kept his attention carefully trained on her face. With the slightest tick of her eyebrow she checked his expression. The corner of her mouth pulled down, just slightly, and she shrugged off the garment. A bold move.

"Are you in the habit of undressing in front of men?" Hiei asked her darkly.

"It's nothing you haven't seen before." She seemed incredibly sure of that as she walked to the closet to pick out a new top. "You're not the first platonic companion I've had, Hiei. First rival, perhaps, but definitely not the first male tasked with keeping me out of trouble."

Hiei bit his teeth together at her words. He wasn't the first to be in this position? It irked him that she was so readily dismissing him. "Must have been a useless waste who held the post before me, considering you died."

"That's not nice, Hiei. I miss my little bird every day." Shinpi told him coolly.

Hiei studied the way the muscles in her back moved when she reached for a hanger. He was quickly forgetting why he was so angry and that was a problem. He couldn't allow her to have this sort of pull over him. The sight of bare flesh shouldn't have been able to send his tongue sliding over his bottom lip, and yet here they were. Was she seriously so blind she couldn't see the way he was eying her? Or did she simply not care? Was this an act of willful ignorance or just blind trust?

Why did it matter? It didn't change anything either way. She was still forbidden fruit, even if he did decide he was hungry.

"It's not like you care about a little exposed skin, anyway." Her tone had grown a bit annoyed. Then she turned and held up two shirts, one green and the other black. "Which one flatters me more?"

"The black, since you're bound to get blood on it with that wound." Hiei stared at her. "I'm not here to be your-"

"But I'm wearing dark jeans. Don't you think the black is a little monochromatic?" She frowned at him, holding the shirts out from her as she studied them. "But you are right. I do have a wound."

"Yes, and we're not done talking about-"

She placed the green shirt back in the closet and pulled the black off the hanger, sliding it easily over her head before undoing the fly of her jeans and shimmying them down her hips, thighs and legs until they hit the floor. She slung them over their own hanger as Hiei watched, enraptured and confused, while she perused her limited section of bottoms.

Hiei drug his eyes up from her bare legs, and then found his attention straying toward them again. She had nice legs, if he was being honest with himself. Sturdy. Strong. The kind that could either kill a man or promised to wrap around him in the sweetest of tortures.

Yusuke was wrong. Her panties were the same shade of indigo lace as her bra, not black or red as the detective had suggested during their last mission.

"Lace seems like a strange choice for a warrior." Hiei found the words spilling out of his mouth as the observation struck him.

"I'm done fighting for the day." She shrugged, looking over her shoulder at him. "I like to wear nice things when I'm not sweating up a storm."

Did that mean she always wore such luxurious undergarments when she wasn't training? Hiei swallowed.

"You were berating me for saving you." Shinpi waved a hand at him. "Go on, get it out of your system."

"I was." Hiei stated dully, then blinked and cleared his head. "I was, because you're an idiot. You should have used the sword and avoided risks. Even if you're you that many opponents can easily get overwhelming. Your stubborn nature-"

Shinpi finally selected a pair of lighter wash jeans and stepped into them, having to jump and wiggle just a bit to get them to slide up over her backside and hips. Hiei hadn't realized he'd stopped talking to watch.

"My stubborn nature?" She prodded, zipping up the pants before walking toward him.

"Your stubborn nature is going to get you hurt, or killed." Hiei had to work to remind himself of his point.

"We have an agreement. If I backed out of it when things were challenging, what sort of woman would I be?" She demanded of him.

"One who lives to annoy me for another day." He seethed the words. "I'm not joking around, Shinpi. The stunt you pulled today was dangerous."

"I never said you were joking. I can tell you're very serious." She assured him. "It doesn't change the fact that you're wrong."

His eyes narrowed. "Am I now?"

"You don't understand the nuances of the sword's power. It was safer not to use it until I can regain control of it." She spoke easily, but firmly. "I didn't have time to make mistakes. You were pinned down and injured. My first priority was recovering you. I accomplished my goal. That's all that matters to me."

"You're a fool." Hiei snapped at her.

"I can't argue with that." She muttered under her breath, sounding annoyed again. Then to him, she sighed. "What do you want from me, Hiei? I'm not going to apologize for knowing my own limits when you clearly do not."

Hiei bristled at her tone and went to sneer at her when she stepped closer to him, her fingers brushing the back of his right hand. She gently took it into her own, studying his fingers as she lifted it before her face. He watched her without an expression.

"I don't know why you don't trust me by now." Shinpi ran her thumb over his palm after she flipped his hand over, her tone reserved, quiet. "But, if you'll give me the chance, I'll show you why you should."

Hiei had the thought that he would not be made into the villain in this. She had acted rashly and she deserved an earful for it. He wouldn't bow to her charms or relent just because she-

Was she kissing his fucking palm?

Goddammit.

The Jagan flared and Hiei was drug into the recent memory almost as if being forced by someone else's hand. Through Shinpi's eyes he looked down an all he felt was visceral, riotous anger. Her knee was planted firmly in the back of the demon under her, one hand buried in his hand forcing his face into the stagnant, murky water of the swamp. The bubbles from his mouth and nose popped on the surface but his attempts at flailing did little to help him.

Shinpi's attention flickered to Hiei, lying on the ground near her unconscious but breathing steadily. She'd done what she could for his wounds for now. He'd live. No thanks to these assholes. Her anger redoubled.

They had made a fatal error, attacking him. Surely, they'd assessed Hiei as the larger threat.

They'd been wrong.

Shinpi jerked the demon's head up, allowing him to gasp for air. "Who sent you?"

"No one!" The panicked answer tore a growl form her chest. "The boss heard a rumor!"

"Tell me." She left no room for argument and no doubt of what would happen if he didn't comply. At the first hint of hesitation on his part she shoved his face back toward the water.

"Something about a sword! A red sword! It's supposed to be powerful!" The demon planted his hands on the bank, terror straining his voice.

"You came prepared." Shinpi growled the accusation.

"We didn't know the general of Alaric had it! We got lucky!" He whimpered.

"Wrong thing to say." Shinpi forced his face back into the water. "That man is a dear friend of mine. If he had died I'd have been furious."

Shinpi stepped back from Hiei's hand, allowing it to fall back to his side as she eyed his face with cultivated neutrality. He opened his eyes slowly, savoring the sharp edges of her absolute rage. The lingering, subtle fear that he was more injured than she knew coated his tongue and it satisfied some part of him to know that he was the cause of the emotions. Despite her honed ability to control her reactions on the surface, Shinpi still felt everything deeply.

"There were more of them. What happened to the bodies?" Hiei asked her quietly, because he had no doubt there were plenty of bodies.

When he looked her over, Shinpi looked ready to flee even though this was her room.

"Does it matter?" She responded calmly. "I won. You're alive."

"Why are you nervous?"

Her eyes widened a fraction before she told him, "I have no reason to be nervous."

"I know, that's what makes it so curious." Hiei stalked toward her, his hand resting on the side of her neck before she could flit away. He bowed his head and inhaled along the line of her throat.

Shinpi's reaction wasn't what he'd expected and it was better than he'd dared to hope. She craned her head to the side, allowing him access to that expanse of smooth skin, her lips parting in a sigh that shuddered down her form. Hiei glanced down at her balled fists with a smirk of satisfaction. The fact she didn't shove him off of her thrilled him in a feral, unspeakable part of his mind.

"You smell of anxiety and anticipation, princess. I wonder what the cause could be." Hiei spoke the words so that his breath fanned against her throat and she shivered again.

He was quickly growing greedy with the desire to see what other reactions he could claim from this stubborn woman. So greedy, he had forgotten why he'd actually followed her into her room or why he'd been so angry. Shinpi's scent filled his senses and clouded his judgement.

Was his doing the same to her?

"I've been waiting on your temper to rear its ugly head." Shinpi whispered the response. "I thought you'd find my tactics to be…unsatisfactory."

"You're in luck, then, that I find them to be very satisfactory." Hiei told her quietly before raising his mouth to the outer shell of her ear. "But I don't think the others will share my view on this one."

He pulled back from her personal space and watched as she resettled herself, fussing over her clothes and shaking her head as if to dispel the gooseflesh risen on her skin. Her eyes hardened on him and Hiei smirked at her, breezily making his way toward her door.

For once, it was him who had put Shinpi on her toes.

"The black brings out the fire in your eyes far better than the green." He tossed the statement her way before ducking out of the room and he heard her frustrated growl as the door clicked closed behind him.

Shinpi pinched her eyes closed, allowing herself to catch her breath now that she was alone. Her hand traveled up to her neck and she turned to stare at the door for a moment, one small flicker in her soul wishing it open again. With great effort she shoved the notion away.

Not now.

Playing games was well and fun, but she couldn't risk letting this stray from that territory. Sure, she adored Hiei. He had his own sort of charm about him that drew her like a moth to a flame, but theirs wasn't a romantic relationship. It couldn't be. For one, Hiei would never allow it.

Of course… if romance didn't need to be involve… maybe…

No.

And yet, she glanced at the door one more time. Just in case.


At the first hint of extra company, Hiei had made himself scarce. He had no desire to be a part of another dinner party, something he'd made clear before disappearing. He'd fend for himself.

Which left Shinpi on her own to face down the suddenly nerve wracking task of meeting Yusuke's girlfriend. Where these jitters had come from, she couldn't really say, but doubt had started to creep in the minute Yusuke had announced Keiko was on her way to stay the night at the temple.

"It's about time you two meet anyway." He'd waved his hand through the air.

Kurama had expressed how important Keiko's opinion was to Yusuke. He'd told her about how long the two love birds had known each other and about that time is when the nerves began. What if Keiko didn't like her? What would that mean? She'd been tasked with making good impressions before, but this felt different.

With her coming announcement lingering on the horizon, this meeting held the utmost importance. To keep Yusuke's friendship she needed to win Keiko's.

Dealing with people was so exhausting. There was only so much she could take and even less that she could plan for accurately when dealing with a completely unknown agent. Wiping her palms on her jeans she inhaled steadily and let it out slowly. The sound of footsteps in the hall had brought her to her feet just before the detective and his guest came into the living room.

Shinpi's eyes shifted from Yusuke to the woman beside him. With a flick of her gaze, she took in the woman's appearance head to toe. Then she looked back to Yusuke with the small tilt of her head. An attractive woman, about his age. Long brunette hair and large, warm brown eyes fringed in dark lashes. A steady smile plastered on her face, but also a vein ticking in her forehead. Her elbow dug into Yusuke's ribs suddenly, her first words tense.

"Yusuke. Aren't you going to introduce me to your lady friend?" She spoke through her teeth, smile still in place.

Shinpi smiled then, a genuine expression, admiring the way the woman doubled Yusuke over without trouble. "You must be Miss Yukimura. I've heard nothing but good things about you. Next time aim for the space just under the sternum, it'll have a better impact."

"Jesus Christ Shinpi, don't give her pointers." Yusuke complained, rubbing his ribs. "Keiko this is Shinpi."

Blue eyes moved over to meet his gaze, a coy smile playing over Shinpi's features as Keiko assessed her.

"I understand everything." She warned him with a friendly smile, but the bright expression made him balk, sweat forming on his forehead as instant dread hit him.

"Everything about what?" Keiko looked between them, lips pursing. "Is he up to something again?"

"A constant state of being, without question. But hardly anything to worry about." Shinpi offered with warmth. "So, Miss Yukimura, I take it your beloved hasn't mentioned me much."

"You'd be right about that." Keiko frowned then, arms crossing. "He's said something a time or two about some case he's been on lately."

"Oh, come on Keiko. Don't look at me like that. Shinpi is really Hiei's problem anyway, I just try to check in sometimes." Yusuke whined, tossing his head back. "She's a friend but…"

"Urameshi, you don't have to lie to protect me. Not from her." Shinpi sighed softly, unfolding herself and rising to her feet. Turning to Keiko she gestured loosely to Yusuke. "I've asked those that know of me to keep it a guarded secret, Miss Yukimura, so any deception on his part is my fault. I've found myself on the wrong end of a powerful enemy and while I gain the strength to handle it, keeping myself hidden is of great importance to me."

Keiko softened immediately, nodding twice before casting a glance at Yusuke. That single look expressed her apology and her sudden understanding.

"So, I've heard that you teach." Shinpi interrupted the moment with the statement and just like that the emotion cleared the air, Keiko lurching headfirst into a lengthy description of her job.

Yusuke eyed the demoness and then mouthed a thank you to which she offered a scant nod.

It was hours later when Shinpi found Yusuke rummaging through the cabinets that she decided to corner him. A wicked grin in place she leaned against the counter beside him, her missing energy and her soft footsteps allowing her closer than most would've gotten without him noticing.

"So this explains the ring box you've been carrying around. I thought it was a good luck charm. Turns out you're just a hopeless fool." She studied her nails with that smirk, taking pleasure in the way he jumped at her intrusion.

"Keep it down." He shushed her harshly, dropping to a whisper.

"Your reason for the delay?" She pressed idly. "Concerns or timing?"

He looked around the empty kitchen, bowing his head closer to hers. "Both?"

"Ah, the classic dilemma." She nodded, dropping her hand and moving her gaze to study his face. "May I offer you a piece of advice?"

"Sure. I'll take all I can get." He nodded readily.

"You cannot conjure the perfect moment because you are not perfect." Shinpi expressed quietly. When his face fell she went on. "Which is what she loves about you. You're focusing too much on planning."

"Coming from you that feels like a real dig." He pointed out with a small grin.

"That's how you know it's true. In this case perfectionism will get you nowhere. Instead, embrace a moment that defines the two of you and your love for each other, and allow for flaws. A date to the park ruined by rain that leaves you both laughing, a failed attempt at cooking a meal, those moments are startlingly perfect, Yusuke. Trust in them." She offered him a lighthearted pat on the shoulder and then pushed off the counter. He stopped her with his stare. "What?"

"That's the first time you've used my first name." He told her with a grin. "Thanks princess."

Her expression dulled in a microsecond. "Don't call me that."

"Aw, come on. I thought we were having a moment." He teased her, leaning forward with his hands on his hips.

"You were having a moment. I was just pointing out what an idiot you are." She pointedly glanced over his shoulder to Keiko who had come into the kitchen quietly, a wide smile on her face. Yusuke looked back his girlfriend with a grin that radiated love.

Shinpi walked away from them, allowing the couple to have a moment. When she rounded the entry into the hall, she came to a stop. Hiei leaned against the wall a few feet away, watching her carefully. She assessed him warily, then pulled her shoulders back to march passed him.

"I didn't take you for a romantic." Hiei admitted, pushing off the wall to fall into step beside her, to her obvious chagrin.

"I'm a complex woman, Hiei. I have many facets." She told him with a sigh. "I used to believe in romance but seeing as how I was duped so thoroughly, I find it hard to face it again myself. However, for others, I'm all for it."

He remained quiet, listening to her talk. Then, in the most reserved tone he'd ever used with her. "Hiro."

"The center of all my problems other than my stubborn nature and stupidity. I was enamored with a man who seemed enamored with me. It was a tiger trap and I find the spikes still embedded in my heart and soul, even after all this time." She paused and then made a face. "I'm sorry, I'm boring you with my rambling, idle confessions."

She shook herself and smoothed her hands over her clothing before shoving them into her pockets.

Hiei wasn't sure what would be the worse decision, admitting he was interested in hearing more or letting Shinpi think he didn't care at all about her past. If he continued down that path she might stop with these little moments. But if he pressed her, she might shut down.

"Oh, by the way." She turned to him again. "I think it would be best if you kept the sword on you from now on. As a precaution. I'd feel better if it were actually guarded and not tucked away under some loose floorboard in Genkai's room."

When Hiei shot her a scathing look she shrugged.

"I've known where it's been hiding for a while." She admitted, that careful neutrality back in place. "It took me a while to find it though. You're clever putting it in Genkai's room. The wards she keeps in place were a good touch."

"You're worried someone else will come for it." Hiei didn't need to ask, he knew this to be true.

"I am." She agreed readily.

"Why don't I stash it in your room, then? Since you're so noble you won't have any issues keeping your hands off of it." He teased her.

Her gaze swept down him, then back up. "Even I can only take so much temptation before I give in, Hiei. Faced with the sword every day, it would only be a matter of time before I succumbed and put my hands all over it."

"It's hard to imagine you succumbing to anything." He admitted, his hands in his pockets. "I figured your desire to prove someone else wrong would win out over any amount of temptation."

"In this one instance, Hiei, you may be thinking too highly of me. I have plenty of weaknesses, I'm just very good at hiding them." She teased.

"Unless those weaknesses are children. Or Kuwabara." He noted.

"Or you." She tacked on and it made him frown.

"No. Not me. You're not allowed to get weak over me." Hiei told her, eyes narrowed. "I don't want to be an excuse for you to get yourself hurt or killed."

She didn't readily agree or tease him and that only agitated him further. When he went to grab her arm she carefully stepped out of reach, veering toward the living room where she knew he'd drop the conversation. Hiei made a sound of frustration beside her.

"You've made yourself clear, Hiei." She assured him before breezing into the room, taking a seat beside Kurama.

Hiei pursed his lips, scowled and then marched into the room after her, sinking down onto the couch on her other side. Kurama glanced at him, puzzled.

"Don't force yourself." Shinpi muttered. "We're done discussing this."

"Fine." Hiei accepted her clear warning. "As long as we're agreed."

She said nothing and he shot her a look. She ignored it.

"Later." He promised her.

"No." She refuted and it made him stiffen. "If you're not going to relax and enjoy the company, then get lost."

He smirked, realizing his proximity had put her on edge, and settled into the couch, widening his stance some. Shinpi stubbornly refused to budge so his leg pressed against hers. Without another word to him, she involved herself in the conversation going around the room.


Yusuke swore, moving to spike his controller onto the floor when Shinpi's hand flashed out to catch it before it collided with the hardwood. After a moment of him cooling down, she offered it back to him. After another minute of stewing, he accepted and settled back next to her on the ground.

"What's up with you and Hiei?" Yusuke asked her, glancing her direction as she selected her character from the lineup of the fighting game they were playing.

"The same as usual, we are determined to out stubborn each other over something trivial." Shinpi responded easily, her focus on the television screen.

He nodded, and they started playing again. Between rounds he asked, "How do you feel about him though?"

"Right now? I feel annoyed. But in general I like him. He keeps me on my toes." Shinpi continued to tap away at her controller without breaking her stride. "He'll get over this little tantrum."

"You don't think he's being weird lately?" Yusuke didn't even swear as she offed his character again.

"Not really. I'll admit we've entered new territory. I would even go so far as to call him my friend." She shrugged. "Why? Is he being weird to you?"

Yusuke wrinkled his nose and leaned back on his hands, his controller in his lap. "I mean, sort of? He just seems to be different around you."

"Oh, well, he loves to ride the high horse of being my savior." She informed. "I swear if we have one more conversation about it being his job to keep me safe, I'll strangle him."

"Cut him some slack, he's not used to being charge of someone else's wellbeing." Yusuke teased her, grinning. "It's not like you make it easy for him."

"Why would I? It's far more fun to annoy him." Shinpi grinned back.

"Just between us, I think he likes it that way."

"I do too." Her admittance came with more reverie than either of them expected. Then she shook herself. "Anyway, when are you going to propose?"

She chose the right topic because Yusuke started to lament his previous attempts at wooing Keiko into being his wife. It was a relief to be able to listen and nod. It definitely helped to keep the topic off of her and Hiei. Somewhere between the story of how he asked Keiko to marry him when he was fifteen and coming back from Demon World Shinpi decided she was going to tell Yusuke and Kurama the next day about her arrangement with Koenma. She'd Kazuma to inform him too.

It was only courtesy, after all.

Chapter Text

"I don't understand." Koenma stared up at his father's face, confusion written into the shape of his brows. "Are you saying you're the one who authorized this?"

He held a piece of paper aloft, shaking it slightly.

"It's not for you to understand." King Enma looked down from his seat. "All you need to know is that it was designed this way."

"But-"

"That's enough."

Koenma pressed his lips together and then nodded, the paper crinkling in his hand as he tightened his fingers into a fist at his side. Without another word he left. When he made it back to his office, Botan was waiting with her nails caught in her teeth.

"Did he explain?" She asked him nervously.

"No. But he did answer me on one front." Koenma walked over to his desk, grabbing a folder he kept in the top drawer because he'd needed to look it over so often lately. Smoothing out the paper he placed the reincarnation approval form back where he found it and then stared at the two photographs paper clipped to the opposite side of the file. He closed the folder on both sets of blue eyes that stared back at him.

Botan watched him, her frown deepening.

"He's the one who approved Amon-Shinpi to be reincarnated into her current form." Koenma kept his voice quiet, his eyes moving to the door as if he feared someone would barrel in and interrupt them. "This isn't like Kurama at all. There was never a Mikamoto to erase. That body was always going to be hers."

Botan straightened, her blue hair falling over her shoulder as she swiveled to face him. "But why?"

And Koenma's face grew grim as she watched, his fingers toying with Shinpi's file, playing with the edges of the papers he'd been ceaselessly trying to make sense of for months. With a hard tone he finally answered her.

"That would be the question, wouldn't it?"


Yusuke stared at her without blinking. It was obvious he was trying to intimidate her into caving. Shinpi wasn't falling for it. Her back remained straight as she stared back at him.

"This is bullshit I hope you know that." He finally responded to her, huffing. "A big, fresh, steaming pile-"

"Yusuke." Keiko touched his shoulder and he glanced toward her before shooting a glare at Shinpi.

"I can't believe after everything you didn't even both to tell us you were meeting with Koenma behind our backs." He accused and the blue eyed woman flinched slightly at his heated tone. "This isn't how friends act, your highness. It's bullshit. You should have come to us first."

"It wasn't a conspiracy." Shinpi argued quietly. "I wasn't trying to rile everyone up."

"I told you it'd be worse if you waited." Hiei muttered behind her, arms crossed while he leaned by the door to keep her from fleeing the room.

"Oh, well of course Hiei knew." Yusuke gestured to the fire demon, getting to his feet to pace.

"I found out by accident. It wasn't my place to bring it to your attention." Hiei remarked dryly, glaring at Yusuke.

"He'll come to understand." Kurama told Shinpi, cupping his hand over one the fists she'd balled on top of her leg. She allowed the hand to relax and moved to holding his, her thumb absently stroking his skin.

Hiei watched the interaction and felt a tug of anger. His lips pressed into a line.

"I'm not any happier about it." He announced, turning his attention back to Yusuke. "I think it's foolish and selfish."

Shinpi flinched again.

"It's not like I'm kicking anyone out of my life." She finally spoke, addressing everyone in the room before honing in on Yusuke. "Yusuke, we're friends are we not?"

"I don't know, are we? Because this doesn't feel like something a friend would do." He snapped at her. "I thought you liked hanging out with us."

"I do." She told him firmly.

"Then why?" He demanded, pointing at her. "Why are you ghosting on us? We're a team."

"For the last goddamn time I am not a member of your team." She was on her feet, Kurama's hand long forgotten in her frustration. "I have never been a member of your team. Spirit World would never endorse me, and I've said it a million times. I'm tired of hearing about it as if somehow, being united by work should be more important than willing participating in each other's lives. I would rather know that our friendship is based outside of Spirit World's demands, personally, but if me not being your parolee puts an end to this then fine."

"You're more than a parolee!" Yusuke yelled at her. "You're my friend and I don't understand why you had to hide this!"

"Because I wasn't sure if he'd go through with it!" Shinpi yelled back and then clamped her mouth closed. Silence rang as she recovered her calm. "Yusuke, I meant what I said on the mountain. This doesn't change that for me."

The implication that she felt it changed things for him made him glower. "Yeah, well, it doesn't change nothing for me either. You're still my friend even if you are an idiot. I don't like this at all though. It feels fishy."

"I agree." Hiei voiced.

"See, even Hiei thinks so." Yusuke gestured toward the fire demon again.

"I'm afraid I disagree with both of you, then." Kurama spoke from the couch. "I think it's high time that our Hichi be allowed to return to her life."

"Of course you agree with her." Hiei's scathing remark earned a glance from the fox that warned he might need to cool his tone. "You two are always colluding together. I wouldn't be surprised if you put the thought into her head."

"And why are you so against this?" Kurama pried and it struck a nerve, making Hiei's jaw locked up. "You, out of all of us, hate being confined. I'd have thought you'd sympathize a bit more with Hichi's plight, Hiei. All she's asking for is the chance to live her life. Were you not granted that very same thing?"

Hiei didn't respond because nothing he could say would keep him out of trouble.

"And it's like she says, it's not like she's going anywhere. We're still free to visit you, aren't we?" Kurama turned to the woman and she nodded, relaxing some with his support.

"I'd be upset if you didn't." She admitted and reclaimed her seat beside the fox. "Honestly, the worst part about convincing Koenma of this was wondering if you'd all celebrate being rid of me. I… I wasn't sure if our ties were only tangled because they had to be. I'd like to know that even without it being a job, I could still rely on you all."

"Ugh." Yusuke threw his head back. "Now I feel bad. That's not fair."

Keiko smiled and then moved to sit on Shinpi's other side. "I'm sorry he's such a loud jerk."

"He's right to be angry. I should have brought it up sooner." Shinpi allowed, glancing Hiei's way. "I was just wary of what the reception to the news would be. But really, this doesn't have to change anything. It just means that when we hang out, it'll be as friends. And it won't have to be every day. You'll all be able to return to your lives as well."

Hiei stalked from the room. With Yusuke settled he had lost his only ally in this fight. They heard the front door slammed closed a few seconds later. Shinpi started, turning to glance at his now empty post by the door. Her frown was prominent, her confusion clear as day.

"He's known for a week. Why is he still so angry?" She muttered to herself. But Kurama glanced at her curiously and she squinted at him, then pulled her attention to Yusuke and Keiko before getting to her feet. "Now I get the immense pleasure of having to tell Kazuma over the phone."

Yusuke winced, and rubbed the back of his neck. "I'd start with the fact you'll still be training him."

"I appreciate the advice." She sighed and raked her fingers through her bangs. "What a nightmare. You were supposed to be disposable. I blame your damnable charm, Yusuke."

Kurama laughed at her disparaged tone as she left the room and it made Yusuke grin. But the expression fell quickly. His brown eyes locked onto green.

"They're up to something and it's not good." He kept his voice low, more than aware of their friend's keen hearing.

"I agree. But I can't fathom what it might be at this point." Kurama nodded sharply, once.

Keiko looked between them. "You know what she needs? A nice day out on the town with some gentler personalities she can let her guard down around. I'd need a break from all of you too."

Kurama's smile unfurled slowly, his eyes moving from Yusuke to the intelligent brunette on the other side of the couch. Yusuke glanced between them.

"You're a genius, Keiko. Yusuke is lucky to have you on his side." Kurama declared warmly. "I think you're right. I think our darling Hichi might very well need a change of company. A day out with the girls sounds exactly what this situation calls for."

Yusuke grinned then, nodding silently.

"Will she agree to it?" Keiko wondered, looking over to her boyfriend. "She doesn't know us all that well."

"If you get Yukina to ask her, she'll do anything." Yusuke announced. "She can't say no to Yukina."

"She can't say no to anyone if they ask her the right way. Yukina might seem suspicious at this juncture, Yusuke. I think this might be a job for someone else we know." The glint to that weighted green gaze spoke of plots already in action.


Hiei had only come back because Kurama had come to fetch him. He was covered in sweat and still had anger to expel. With the detective still here maybe they could get some decent sparring in. He needed to clear his head, beating on Yusuke normally helped. If nothing else, he'd find himself exhausted at the end of the day.

Koenma sat in the armchair, eyes flicking around the room after his announcement, seemingly annoyed no one had reacted.

"Yeah, yeah, we know already. Don't wet yourself." Yusuke waved a hand through the air. "She told us this morning."

Koenma shot Shinpi a look. "You were supposed to keep it to yourself."

"It was unavoidable." She shrugged. "Hiei found out and from there the situation deteriorated."

Hiei shot her a look too, because that was certainly not how the events had transpired in his view. "Is that how it happened?"

"That's how it happened." Shinpi affirmed.

"Well, that's it then. You're on your own." Koenma waved a hand at the demoness. "Don't kill anyone. Try not to cause any disturbances."

"I know." She sighed, relieved but unable to relax. "It feels strange, now that it's unofficial. So much of my time is mine again. What should I do with it?"

"Nothing devious." Koenma warned her and that earned a guarded glance from the woman.

She got to her feet and seemed a little lost for a moment as to what to do with herself. Hiei scoffed at the display. If she was so uncertain she shouldn't have gone through with this move. But he didn't announce his thoughts, instead glaring at her before averting his gaze altogether. Foolish woman.

"Let's celebrate by going shopping!" Botan trotted over to Shinpi's side, winding her arms around the shorter girl's. Her brilliant smile made Shinpi visibly wince. "Oh, come on, it'll be good for you to relax a day and you just said you didn't know what to do with yourself. We'll keep you out of trouble!"

"I don't find shopping relaxing." Shinpi spoke as if this weren't the first time her and Botan had had this conversation. "Besides, my clothes are fine."

"Oh! A girl's day! We can take Yukina and stay at our place and leave the boys here to pummel each other." Keiko came over on Shinpi's other side, taking that arm into her own. Both women leaned into the smaller girl. "It'll be a blast. Plus, it'll allow us to get to know each other better."

Shinpi darted her gaze between them, a light blush on her cheeks.

"Please?" Botan wiggled with Shinpi's arm still in her grasp. "It'll be so much fun. And it'll be good bonding like Keiko says."

Shinpi craned her head away from Botan, looking mildly pained. "I should have never told you I have a hard time saying no to pretty girls when they smile. You're the devil, Botan."

"Close, but not quite." Botan beamed, bouncing slightly. "Is that a yes?"

"I have conditions." A blue eye cut toward amethyst. "You can have your shopping day for a price, Grim Reaper."

Botan blinked, her expression blank for a second and then she laughed brightly and planted a kiss on Shinpi's cheek when it was offered to her. Keiko laughed too, kissing the other cheek without prompting and Shinpi's face turned pink but she was smiling, purely smug with the moment.

"Hey, no fair." Yusuke complained. "That's my girl."

"For now." Shinpi winked at him and then settled into her captivity. "Alright ladies, whisk me away."

"Are you really going to squander your first day of freedom shopping?" Hiei asked her dully, eyes raking over the scene before him with clear distaste written on his face.

"Don't worry, handsome, I'll buy something nice for you." Shinpi teased him with her full-hearted grin and it made him hunch his shoulders.

"That's not the point." He muttered, looking away.

Was this why she wanted out from under him so badly? So she could go shopping with pretty girls on her own? She looked more than pleased with Botan's affections and it left him feeling disgruntled. Then, very suddenly, he realized that other than her toying with alpha a week or so back he had only really seen her show interest in other women.

Was it possible…

No. She'd said she'd been enamored with Hiro. But then again, that was a long time ago and she'd also said he was the reason she didn't particularly seek romance for herself.

Hiei squinted at her, trying to puzzle this one out without outside help when Kurama leaned over to him.

"She's interested in all parties." Kurama kept his voice pitched low.

"I don't care." Hiei whispered back sharply annoyed the fox had been able to guess at his thoughts.

Kurama just stared at him without an expression until Hiei looked away.

"Don't get into trouble, okay? We'll meet up later." Yusuke shot a harmless finger gun Shinpi's direction. "And keep my girl safe, y'hear me?"

"I might just keep her in general." Shinpi shot back to him smugly.

Yusuke yelled something at her and she chuckled before the girls pulled her off to get ready for their adventure, leaving the three boys behind with Koenma. It felt weird, after so many months with Shinpi barging into the meetings or being forced into them, to have her absent. They all looked around at each other.

"So, what's new?" Yusuke asked finally, turning Koenma to break the silence.

"Nothing you can help with." Koenma admitted. "There's been a bit of trouble with some demons but it's a delicate situation. Demon World has asked to handle it themselves so if we get involved it'll be a nightmare. I'm actually meeting with the king tomorrow about it."

"Ugh, now that Shinpi's all rehabilitated and stuff it's going to be boring." Yusuke whined, throwing himself onto the couch with no grace. "I can't believe that after five months this is it."

"It's not as if she's moving to another country." Koenma rolled his eyes. "I just need her to be free of supervision for this next stage."

"You need her to be free of supervision?" Hiei locked onto Koenma with a guarded expression. "Why? What do you get out of her being free?"

He'd expected Koenma to falter or sweat like he normally did when he was lying but the prince merely stared back at him.

"In order to be sure that she's actually been rehabilitated and that she's not a threat, I need to see how she operates without your interference. Left to her own devices does Amon-Shinpi continue to act to protect? Or does she seek to destroy?" Koenma explained. "This will be a very telling period and she needs to succeed in presenting herself as a productive member of society."

"There are doubts ringing through Spirit World about her motives, then." Kurama sank down into an armchair and regarded Koenma. "The SDF?"

"Yes." Koenma nodded. "There's been some suspicion that she's been manipulating you all."

"It's her own fault for having a silver tongue." Hiei grumbled. "She has a habit of talking her way out of trouble and bewitching people. This sort of suspicion is to be expected."

"It's not just her way with words, Hiei." Koenma made a face. "There's talk of bribery."

"Bribery?" Yusuke sat up. "What the hell does she have that any of us want?"

"Power." Koenma grimaced. "Shinpi has trained under several old masters, including her grandfather Hichirou. He was a powerful elemental, his weapon of choice: fire. Some of her techniques would be quite…appealing to the right demon."

Hiei stiffened. "I don't need her techniques."

"It's not just you, Hiei. There's also the matter of her holding influence in the Makai. Her connection to Mukuro, as strained as it is, could sway the balance of politics on that side if she were to misuse her efforts. I've been trying my best to convince the SDF and father that she's on our side, and that she will remain there but the fact remains-"

"That she's a demon." Kurama finished the sentence for him. "Her relationship with Mukuro was personal, though. They had very different political stances."

"Yeah." Yusuke nodded. "Not to mention she was an ally of the old man back in the day. Shouldn't that hold some weight?"

"What's important isn't the past, but the present. Whatever Shinpi does next has to be her own decision." Koenma frowned at them all. "I don't like this anymore than you do."

"What happens if she slips?" Yusuke asked.

Hiei glanced at him, then to Koenma with a look that made the prince swallow.

"He'll order us to take her out." It was the most certain thing in the world. "Or, because we've been compromised, the SDF will intervene."

"It's the worst case scenario, and we're going to work to avoid it." Koenma looked toward Yusuke to avoid Hiei's heated stare. "She's still your friend. It's not like contact with her is forbidden, and trust me it took a lot of convincing to lift that particular clause-"

"She wanted you to forbid us from contacting her?" Hiei demanded, stepping toward him.

"Actually, no. That clause came from a station higher than my own. Shinpi was the one who argued against it and eventually got her way." Koenma tipped his head to the side. "She was vehemently against the idea that you lot should be barred from seeing her. In fact, she said she'd rather not change the status quo if that were the price for her freedom."

"She was going to stay on parole just to keep us around?" Yusuke grinned. "That little shit."

Hiei turned and left the room. He'd heard all that he needed to.

"Hiei knew before the rest of us and yet he still seems agitated by this change." Kurama watched the doorway for a moment.

"Genkai said those two were getting close. She thinks they understand each other." Koenma shrugged. "I'm glad that he's been taking his role seriously. I was almost afraid that his influence on Shinpi would prove to be too volatile."

"I think it may be the other way around." Kurama announced. "I'm a bit worried he might not know what to do with himself now."

"He'll do what he always does when he gets bored. He'll go back to Mukuro." Yusuke shrugged.


"Adorable!" Yukina and Botan cried, eyes full of light as they stared at Shinpi.

The woman offered a pained expression in response, wondering how she'd been so thoroughly manipulated. But alas, she had been. Honestly. She needed to raise her defenses around these girls. Even as she thought it Keiko tossed out her own glowing review and Shinpi felt her fight leave her.

"You look lovely." Keiko spoke softly, with a smile of her own. "But you look uncomfortable."

"I'm not totally opposed to dresses." Shinpi plucked at the deep purple fabric clinging to her waist before it flared around her hips slightly. "I'm just not in the mood to wear one."

"Aw, boo." Botan put her hands on her hips. "I've never seen you in a dress."

"I have, a time or two." Yukina voiced. "She always looks lovely in them."

"Thank you. But I feel like it's more of a shorts sort of day." Shinpi walked away from the dressing room and plucked a pair of olive green shorts from a rack. "I could actually use some new workout clothes, now that I'm thinking of it."

"Oh, workout clothes. I make Yusuke buy the cheapest things because he just goes through them so fast." Keiko complained. "What is it with those boys and tearing their clothes? I swear."

"It's unavoidable at times." Shinpi responded absently, ducking back into the dressing room. She pulled the curtain closed. "When Yusuke spars with Hiei, for instance, there's the guarantee of burns. Kurama and his whip and petals would easily destroy most fabrics. Even against me his clothes aren't safe, I'm afraid. What with my knives and whatnot."

"Knives?" Keiko blinked as Shinpi came out of the stall again wearing the olive green shorts and a loose white top. It looks quite casual. Keiko walked over and knotted the shirt at Shinpi's belly button. "That's cute. I approve."

"I'll admit that's definitely more you." Botan nodded. "Now for some cute accessories!"

Shinpi glanced at the ferry girl with a nod, then turned back to Keiko. "I fight with a multitude of weaponry."

"Sounds dangerous." She pursed her lips.

"Not for Yusuke, I couldn't bring myself to harm a hair on that boy's head." The raven haired girl shrugged, then smirked. "Well, not seriously anyway."

"Aren't you worried about someone else coming to attack you?" Yukina asked quietly. "I worry about you being on your own now that your energy is back. It was easier for you to blend in before."

Shinpi shrugged. "I can handle pretty much anything that comes my way."

Botan frowned and the demoness caught the expression. Shinpi wrinkled her nose, looking away toward the large windows of the store front.

"I mean, diplomatically of course. I'm certain that if I'm in peril I'll call for help and allow the correct authorities to handle the situation." Shinpi declared and it sounded stiff. Botan cast her a look at the obviously rehearsed speech but received nothing in response.

"Do you have any plans?" Botan asked her, changing topics and then made a kitten sound, putting a pair of fake cat ears on her head. "Perhaps there's someone you've been hoping to have time to see?"

Shinpi laughed and shook her head. Yukina giggled too, grabbing a pair of ears and then placing them on Shinpi's head. The blue eyed girl blinked owlishly.

"Why does that work so well?" Keiko asked, surprised. "They look almost natural on you."

That earned a wolfish grin, and Shinpi lifted her chin casting a heated look Keiko's way. The human woman blushed profusely.

"I wonder." Shinpi stated with that same expression before pulling the ears down and examining them. She shrugged and tossed them into the basket of accessories they'd accumulated before hauling it all to the counter and paying for it despite the shocked protests of the other women. In the end she ignored them and merely handed them each a bag of their chosen goods before directing them to a shop that carried workout gear she wanted to try out.

"I'll be right back." Shinpi declared as they made their way toward a small place for lunch, arms loaded with bags. She handed hers to Botan. "I just saw something I wanted to grab."

"We'll come with you." Yukina offered only to receive a headshake.

"Go get our seats. I won't be long. I'd like a soda." She told the ice maiden and then started to retrace her steps back the way they'd come.

With a glance toward the side mirrors of the cars on the street she made sure the others were headed off before her shoulders stiffened and she blurred right behind them, yanking a demon away from Keiko at the last second. She'd been waiting for that bastard to make a move since he started following them two blocks back. Keiko commented on the sudden breeze, rubbing the back of her neck but finding something to see when she turned around. Shinpi was already in the alley a few yards away, listening for the group to keep moving before turning her attention on the demon in her grasp. Her palm cupped over its mouth, her arm wound around its throat so she could keep it in place while she watched her surroundings.

"Bold choice, coming alone." Shinpi hissed in the demon's ear. "Were you sent?"

It shook its head as best it could.

"Good. Are you alone?" She demanded quietly, receiving a nod. That was all she needed to know. With a quick move tightened her grip. "You were going to kill her."

No response. She shook her head. A quick motion snapped the being's neck, and she hoisted the body into the dumpster she'd hid behind, rearranging the bags to cover him. Then she rolled her shoulders, straightened her clothes and plastered a smile on her face, preparing herself to face the girls as if nothing had happened.

That was the second one today.

Hiei looked down on her from his hidden spot on the roof of a building overlooking the alley, his energy completely hidden. He watched Shinpi scan the street, her gaze cool and relentless before she shoved her hands into the pockets of her shorts, her gait relaxed and he knew it was all an act. She was on high alert. And apparently she wasn't all that interested in sticking to what she'd told Botan.

Of course, she hadn't been in peril. It would take far more serious odds to make her believe she was. They really needed to be careful with how they worded things around this woman. She was a master of subtle manipulation. And apparently also a ruthless, remorseless killer when needed. It appeared she hadn't noticed him at all either.

Now, wasn't that just so very interesting? He'd wondered before what she was like when he wasn't around. And it seemed he had finally earned his chance to find out. A twisted smirk curved his mouth, then grew to reveal one of his sharpened canines.

Chapter Text

What an exhausting night. Shinpi came into her house about ready to keel over for need of sleep. That gnawing fatigue didn't stop her from scanning her house for foreign energy. The pit of her stomach hardened some when she found the spare room empty again. Pursing her lips, she shrugged off the frustration that she was alone, climbing her stairs slowly without bothering to turn on any of the lights.

It was probably best that Hiei wasn't around. If he caught her coming home at four in the morning reeking of Makai he'd undoubtedly have questions. Questions she couldn't rightly answer.

That didn't stop her from wondering exactly what business he had being so put out with her. What an ass. It had been nearly a month since she'd seen the cheeky fire demon. And he'd been nothing but a ghost since. The second bedroom still housed his duffle bag of disregarded human clothes, shoved into the back of the closet carelessly. She stopped outside the open door and peered into the room, eying the empty bed and wrinkled her nose before turning to her own room.

He'd turn up sooner or later.

He had too. They couldn't be rivals if they didn't ever fight again. Much less friends. And whether the petulant fool wanted to admit it or not, they were friends. He'd eventually succumb to that notion.

With a sigh she stripped out of her clothes and landed face first onto her mattress, smothering herself in her pillows.


Hiei glared at Mukuro, his fists raised as he tried to catch what he could of his breath. "What do you mean there's nothing I can do?"

She came at him in a flurry, far less exhausted than he found himself.

"She pursues her ideas to the very end, Hiei. Truly a predator to the very end." Mukuro explained lightly, landing a punch that sent her second in command sprawling back. "Why do you need to know how to dissuade her?"

"There has to be a way to keep her in line. I want to know what it is. Some trick to talking her out of her moronic ideas." Hiei got to his feet and raised his fists again.

"Talking? How unlike you." Mukuro teased him. "Perhaps our mutual friend is a good influence on you."

"Hardly. Beating her senseless just hasn't helped so I'm attempting a new tactic. Don't look too into it." Hiei scoffed and he came at her, managing to land a strike on Mukuro's ribs that caught her by surprise. Her fist bit into his cheek, sending back on his toes. "Shinpi's deference for language has to have some usefulness other than annoying me."

"Why does her freedom bother you so much?" Mukuro asked him, watching as he rubbed his jaw.

"Because she's going to squander it." Hiei offered the partial truth because it's all he wanted to say.

There was no need to vocalize his concern that left unsupervised, Shinpi would find more trouble for herself than she could handle. After watching her protect Keiko a few weeks before it had dawned on him. For herself she could endure any manner of tortures or slights. He'd seen it in action when she'd allowed Matsuma to berate her. But for those she held dear? She would act in any way she deemed necessary if it meant keeping them safe.

And that didn't even touch the subject of the fact she seemed to draw small armies out from the wood work.

He wanted to find a way to keep her from risking her life for others. There had to be something. He'd spent three weeks looking on from a distance. Most of the time it was boring work, watching her. She didn't leave an eventful life outside of her interactions with the team, if he were being honest. Mostly a homebody, she hung out with the others semi-frequently and then went home. She read books, she wrote in her journals, she went grocery shopping. She interacted with her neighbors loosely.

A stray demon had entered her block and she'd taken it out without hesitation. Even Hiei didn't know what she'd done with that body. It made for the third kill of hers he'd witnessed since Shinpi had left the temple and him behind. All of them were quick, clean. And yet, he doubted Spirit World would care.

He had enough information he was sure he could flip Koenma's mind about this. Surely, the godling would want Shinpi kept in check, but if he went to Koenma he would incur Shinpi's wrath. That wasn't going to help.

So, he found himself seeking Mukuro's help because she knew the woman for far longer than he had and he hoped she had some insight. Only, she'd been an empty well.

"Fine, if you can't answer me about how to talk her out of her plans, then tell me what you know about her. I'll come to my own conclusions." Hiei deftly avoiding a kick aimed for his inner thigh, leverages the movement into a strike of his own. Mukuro smiled at him and he smirked back. He was getting faster.

They separated and Mukuro nodded, her gesture for the end of their fight and the beginning of her speech. Hiei regained his breath as she spoke, listening with unwavering attention.

"I knew of Amon-Shinpi before I met her. I'd heard of her through the grapevine, so to speak. Her father, Kotaru, came to visit me at some point and I asked him about her. He refused to say a word. The Takanis were that way about their children, they wanted them as removed from the prying eyes of the other kingdoms as possible. So I had to find out other ways." Mukuro looked up at the muddled red sky. "My spies told me of not one but two princesses, both with flaming red hair. One with gold eyes who held a soft disposition, Kuya, who had already married and left the territory at that time. And then there was Amon-Shinpi. Blue eyes that sent shivers down the spines of my men, a body honed for combat. Unlike her sister, she didn't wear the royal garb of her family, she wore the tunic of the guards. She was second in command then, I believe."

Hiei had no problem believing that. He merely nodded for her to continue.

"Even then, you must understand, that the Takanis were not a formidable clan. They had no army, they didn't delve into outside politics. They held some sort of alliance with Raizen, but it didn't seem he sent them troops of any kind. I was not afraid of a pack of wolves, even if they had one steel-gazed princess." Mukuro smiled then. "So we went to war.

"I knew the Takanis were elementals. I had heard stories of their patriarch, Hichirou. His power was great, fire and air, but it paled in comparison to my own. They represented no threat and without an army they were practically begging to be picked off. I had never understood why no one else had tried. Their land was the thing of legends, an oasis of blue skies and fresh air. I sent my men in with the knowledge that Hichirou had been dead for years and that the new king, Kotaru, was a pacifist at heart.

"I had not prepared them for Amon-Shinpi because I hadn't realized I would need to worry about her. A little wild-hearted princess? Who would have thought she'd hold more strength than her entire family combined? How was I to know she'd spent a chunk of her youth training outside the boundaries of her territory? I suppose, if I had known, or if I'd been more careful things may have ended differently.

"The first wave of my men was returned to me with only a single survivor. The rest arrived in carts. I was told a story of wolves that hunted them relentlessly. Of a redheaded girl on a mountainside who had summoned a tornado the size of the peak. Her presence was foretold when the sky turned black as night for the rain clouds. They'd stood no chance.

"So I sent another wave. I received another train of carts and another single survivor. More stories of storms and natural disasters. The same with the third wave. Landslides, tornados, thunder storms, floods. It was as if a reckoning had fallen upon my army. They'd started to call her the Tempest Princess and she was a ghost story they told each other in the barracks. So I gathered my own elements and sent them out to meet her. I watched from afar, to see if the stories were true."

Mukuro paused and leveled Hiei with a particular stare that he didn't bother reading into. Her eyes swept over him, noting how he'd perched on boulder in the training room to listen to her. His gaze never left her face, his lips pulled up on the sides, a glimmer of excitement running through him.

"She'd brought an army of her own, a mixture of demons and those wolves of hers. Beasts so large they stood taller than the princess herself. They would have stood no chance but when my new army approached, Amon-Shinpi told them to hold strong. Some of the them may die, she may die, but not before they beat back these invaders. The sky darkened and I couldn't look away.

"She told my men to retreat. Said she knew they'd heard of her and that if they valued their lives, they should turn tail and run. With her people behind her she would not lose. Not to them, not to anyone. Naturally they didn't. She didn't like it, I think that's what caught my interest at first. When they refused to pull back Amon-Shinpi looked bothered. She didn't want to fight. But that wasn't about to stop her from doing so.

"The sky fell through and the battle started. When she moved, it was like watching someone dance in the middle of a war. So beautiful and strange and incredibly powerful. The storm only seemed to bolster her defensive capabilities. She swept men to their deaths with a landslide. And she moved so quickly. Whenever one of her people was in danger of losing their life, she would appear with her blade out, deflecting whatever attack as meant for them. Her wolves attacked with a fury, containing the struggle so that no one could flee. When I saw the vortex she was forming I knew the stories to be true and this fight to be lost. I called the troops back. I was only vaguely surprised when she allowed the sudden retreat."

Mukuro looked down at her mechanical arm, flexing metal fingers into a fist. Her eyes darkened for a moment and then she sighed.

"Her parents were killed not long after. I had ended the war but some weren't satisfied with that. They wanted revenge for the fallen, they wanted that power for themselves. The king and queen fell and through their ashes Amon-Shinpi rose like a vengeful god. I heard a rumor it took three days for her storm to stop raging. When she summoned me, I answered, because I had to know her. A skirmish and the loss of my arm later, we were precarious friends." Mukuro announced and then tossed a look toward Hiei with serious consideration. "We knew each other for some time before Hiro entered the picture and ruined her. Perhaps she desperate for companionship. I could never figure out what pull he had over her. At any rate, I never learned how to dissuade her."

Hiei sat quietly, staring at her as if waiting for more of the story before turning his eyes to the side, his thoughts rushing at him faster than he could discern. "I'm glad I'm not the only one who thinks her fighting style holds a strange grace to it."

"Is that all you learned from this?" Mukuro asked him, amused.

"I learned plenty." Hiei hopped down from his boulder, deep in thought. "I'll piece out how to use this information."

"If I'd had you back then I wonder if I still would have lost." His commander mused, and Hiei glanced at her with a glare. "Who would win? The dragon or the Tempest Princess? The darkest fire against the most wrathful storm. It would be a fight to remember at least."

"Hn. You may get to see it yet." Hiei smirked. "She still owes me an all out fight."

"Careful with your wishes, Hiei. If she's as cutthroat in battle as she used to be, she won't allow your affection for her to keep her from killing you." Mukuro warned him. "She's like me in that way."

"I never said I held affection for the woman." Hiei pulled his brows down. "I just think it'd be a waste if she managed to get herself killed."

Mukuro offered him a single, long blink, then rolled her eyes to the side and shook her head walking away from him, muttering under her breath the entire time. She stopped by the entrance. "Perhaps you should consider how your stance on her welfare may appear to the general public and to Amon-Shinpi herself, because if I've mistaken it for affection who knows what others are seeing. You should distance yourself, Hiei, lest you give the wrong impression."

Hiei frowned, because that was not what he wanted to do at all. That was the exact opposite of the point of this. He wanted to worm his way through Shinpi's defenses and post himself inside, where he could be sure she wouldn't be picked off by any stray passerby. Mukuro's smile grew as he frowned at her and it looked like she'd heard a secret she enjoyed learning.

Which only left him more frustrated and confused than before he'd come.


Shinpi smiled, increasing her pace until she was at the side of the towering carrot top she'd spotted halfway around the track of the park's outer edge. These mundane runs were slow for her, but she liked to do them as a form of meditation. The slower, constant pace was mindless and she could run through her thoughts while performing the act. She honestly didn't know how long she'd been running today.

"Kazuma!" She called and he turned face her with wild eyes and then a smile. "Are you on lunch?"

"Yeah." He nodded and held out the bento box. "What're you up to?"

"Just going for a quick run." She stretched her legs as she talked with him. "How is the summer job?"

"It's okay. I thought I'd get to do more hands on stuff instead of paperwork though." He frowned. "I have this weekend off and was planning on going up to see you guys at the temple."

Shinpi raised an eyebrow at that. "Am I supposed to be going to the temple this weekend?"

"Yusuke didn't tell you?"

"No."

"Oh, he was supposed to invite you! Idiot. He said he would the next time he saw you." Kuwabara sighed.

"Well, I saw him two days ago but he was rather distracted with the brutal beat down I gave him through the game we were playing." She flashed him a smile. "I'll be there. I'm assuming we'll be sparring?"

"Yeah!" He beamed back at her. "I've been keeping up with my training."

"I can tell." She assured him, then reached over and ruffled his pompadour. "I'm getting back to it. Eat all your food."

Shinpi waved and then began jogging again and Hiei couldn't fathom what she found worthwhile about the hideously slow pace she'd set for herself. He took a bite from the apple he'd swiped from a nearby market and lounged in his hidden space in the trees on the edge of the park, his energy completely withdrawn so he wouldn't draw anyone's attention. His week with Mukuro had done little to solve his problem. He huffed at the mere idea of it.

His eyes followed Shinpi's track around the space. Affection. What a joke. Mukuro had no idea what she was talking about. Maybe all the peace in Makai had softened her brain. Affection. Psh. He merely wanted to see Shinpi fulfill her revenge. That was it. Because once she killed Hiro he could square off against her. This wasn't affection, it was pure selfishness. He scoffed again, biting into the apple with gusto. Crazy woman. As he chewed, he came back around to her point though, one she'd repeatedly needled him with throughout his stay.

If this wasn't a form of affection then maybe he did need to withdraw some.

The thought didn't set well with him, and he sneered at it. How was it his problem if others misinterpreted his actions? He shouldn't have to change his behavior to appease anyone, much less faceless, nameless onlookers who should be minding their own business.

Shinpi stopped running a little way from him, stretching her arms above her head and looking around. He took another bite.

Affection. How stupid.

Mukuro had gone on to suggest he couldn't put distance between himself and Shinpi because he didn't want to. Moronic. He'd told her he would, just to shut her up. Not that he had anything to prove.

It had been a month since he'd spoken to the woman anyway. He could keep it up for a little longer. If only to keep tongues from wagging. Mukuro's tongue, in particular. She'd surely shut up about this nonsense if he showed up and declared he'd had little to do with Shinpi on this trip. Again, the thought didn't particularly appeal to him. The stray idea of jumping from his hidden location and attacking the woman to test her reflexes swam through his brain and he smirked.

That's how he wanted to be spending his time.

Shinpi took off again and he knew she was headed to her hovel of a home from the path she picked. Finishing his apple he stood up and headed for the temple. Kuwabara had said they'd all gather there this weekend. He could wait two days.


The temple was already alive with yelling when Shinpi crested the staircase, and it caused a genuine grin to split over her face. Yusuke and Kuwabara were arguing over something, she couldn't tell what, exactly, but their voices filtered through the walls to her and it felt oddly like coming home. What would she ever do if she had to go back to living in perpetual silence again?

But it was soft noise that drew her attention to the side, the mildest tug on her senses and she glimpsed Hiei easily. The grin broadened, her eyes growing bright.

"What?" Hiei demanded, glaring at her as he walked over.

"I'm just happy to see you, it's been a while." She told him without hesitation. "I thought you'd forgotten about me for a minute there."

Hiei faltered a step, eyes widening as a surge of warmth coiled through him. He hadn't felt the feeling of it in over four weeks, how strange for it to return now. It made him cut his eyes to the side to cover that her words had any effect on him.

"Tch." He shoved his hands into his pockets. "I hope you haven't been finding trouble for yourself."

"Hiei, you know very well trouble finds me." She teased and started to walk toward him until she was less than an arm's length. "Was you trip alright?"

"Trip?" He pulled his attention back to her.

"Yusuke said you were at Mukuro's this whole time." She tipped her head to the side, dark hair spilling over her shoulder.

"Hn. He needs to stop announcing my movements." Hiei huffed, sinking into his shoulders, running his eyes down Shinpi's form again. "What?"

"You look like something is bothering you." Shinpi told him, her smile fading. "Did something happen while you were over there?"

He stared at her and her concerned expression, then scoffed. "I'm fine."

"Well, I'm glad you're here." She offered him another smile, smaller. "Are you waiting for Kurama?"

"Yes." He told her a little too quickly, because he had actually been waiting for her but he didn't want her to know. "I'm surprised you two didn't arrive together."

And he was, because from his observation they'd grown thick as thieves. He'd even noticed the fox staying the night at Shinpi's house a few times over the last few weeks. The thought tightened the muscles under his shoulders and made him pop his neck.

"We were going to but he said there was something he needed to do and I didn't feel like waiting." She shrugged. "He's going to be a while. You should just come inside."

Hiei didn't respond in any way other than falling into step beside her as she made her way to the temple.


"Geez Kurama, took you long enough. What were you doing? Braiding your hair?" Yusuke griped as they all stood out on the lawn, his hands on his hips.

"Mother wanted to have a family breakfast." Kurama sighed. "It went longer than expected."

"Momma's boy." The detective teased. "Alright, alright. But I'm done waiting. I want to spar."

Shinpi sat on the steps leading to the front door of the temple and shook her head, smiling. "He's been dying for a free for all since I got here."

"Since he got here." Hiei declared from beside her.

Kurama glanced at them, swept his eyes over Hiei, who stared back, and then turned back to the detective. "Alright, Yusuke. Let me put my bag away."

Hiei flicked his gaze toward Shinpi, who had made no move to leave her spot beside him, and he pulled his brows down as Kurama made a point to walk in the narrow space between them. The feeling that he was being warned about something couldn't be shaken.

"That was weird." Shinpi commented, her eyes following Kurama's movement into the house. "Are you two fighting?"

"We weren't." Hiei took her lead and turned toward the door. Then he glanced back at her again. The door opened and Kurama stepped out.

"Hiei, I'm surprised you came back so soon." That careful drawl earned the fire demon's attention. "It seems like you only just left for Mukuro's. I look forward to fighting you."

Blue eyes fixed on the fox and Shinpi's expression shifted slightly. What the hell was he doing all the sudden? Why was he staring Hiei down? If she didn't know better, she'd say he was challenging the fire demon. And then her expression darkened.

That was the last time she confessed anything to that fucking fox. Goddammit. She should have never said she was bothered by Hiei's absence. It was just like Kurama to try to do something about it.

"Well, Hiei's first fight is mine." Shinpi declared, her eyes locked onto Kurama's as she shifted closer to the fire demon.

Hiei felt like he'd been caught in the middle of a dog fight and he wasn't sure why, or what they were fighting about, but this hadn't started until Kurama saw him next to Shinpi. A suspicion crept into his mind and he fought it back. But that probing green glare was hard to ignore.

"No."

Shinpi jerked her attention to Hiei like he'd snapped his fingers and said her name. "What do you mean, no?"

"I'm not interested in fighting you today. Bother someone else." He got to his feet.

Kurama's lips parted in surprise. Kuwabara sucked in his breath. Yusuke's mouth open. Hiei ignored all of them because Shinpi looked so conflicted. Her eyes scanned him, searching for something he was hoping she wouldn't find. He swallowed.

No. He couldn't allow this. He had to plant on his feet now, because if he caved he'd prove Mukuro right. He couldn't let Shinpi make him go back on his words.

"You don't want to fight me?" She retracted the small distance she'd come toward him in her silent dispute with Kurama.

"No. I don't." Hiei stiffened, forcing himself to show nothing. "Maybe later."

She nodded, rolling her lips to wet them and then got to her feet, wiping her hands on her pants. Without another word she walked over to Yusuke and Kuwabara, swinging her hands to clap them.

"What are you doing?" Kurama asked in his most dangerous whisper.

"I don't know." Hiei admitted. "What I need to, I think."

"You're being an ass." Kurama warned him.

"I'm always an ass." Hiei shot back, his temper flaring. "What do you care if I fight her or not?"

"She missed you."

That was not what he'd wanted to hear. Hiei tensed against the words and glowered. "Seems she found the perfect candidate for filling that gap in her life."

Kurama raised his eyebrows at Hiei's pointed accusation and then he smiled. Hiei hated that smile. It was conniving and meant he was about to lose something.

"Have it your way, Hiei." Kurama breezed past him to the grounds where he came to stand beside Shinpi. "Instead of a free for all I propose a two on two battle. You two versus Shinpi and myself."

"No fair." Kuwabara sagged.

"Come now, Kazuma. Show me all that training is paying off." Shinpi chuckled. "It's been too long since we've sparred."

Hiei remained on the porch, itching to fight but stubbornly refusing to join the fray. Kurama's proximity to the woman bothered him. But it could solve his problem. If Shinpi had Kurama close, then Hiei wouldn't have to worry. The fox had a special relationship with the woman. They got along. Shinpi said they understood each other.

That tightness in his back crept up his neck as he tightened his jaw while he watched.

Shinpi spun around Kurama, their bodies moving in time with one another like it was choreographed. Hiei watched them with awe and fascination. Her wind carried Kurama's petals at a higher speed, with more accuracy than Hiei had ever seen them used. Their symmetry left him chafed, their easy combination annoying his sensibilities. Fighting so close to one another meant their scents mingled. He hated it.

For someone who wasn't a team player, Shinpi liked to play with Kurama, didn't she?

And the fox seemed to be rather territorial as of late.

Hiei turned on heel and went into the temple without bothering to see who won. He was greeted immediately by Yukina, who smiled and extended a cup of tea to him. With some trepidation, he accepted her offering and then followed her silent direction for him to follow her into the kitchen.

"You looked like you could use some quiet company." She offered and sank into a chair with her own cup.

Hiei grunted in acceptance and sat down too, sipping the tea without a word. Yukina's presence still put him on edge, but she kept to herself. It allowed him to fall into his thoughts. His gaze trained on the contents of his cup. Why was he so frustrated about this? Kurama's defensiveness irked him. What right did the fox have to be so angry?

Why was he even bothering going through with this? So what if Mukuro had false ideas? He wanted to fight Shinpi. He wanted to be the one watching her back in a brawl against the detective. Was Mukuro's opinion truly so valuable to him?

He grimaced as he admitted to himself that it was important to prove his commander wrong because she was right. Maybe he did have a spot of affection for the woman. So what though? Comrades in arms built bonds. It was natural.

It was how he'd gotten sidled with the other three idiots.

"It'll get cold if you don't drink it." Yukina prodded him softly and Hiei looked up from the cup to her eyes. "I'm surprised you aren't out there with the others."

He sat back in his chair and left his cup alone, sighing. "I don't feel like fighting."

"Don't you dare lie to me Hiei, its unbecoming." The admonishment made the fire demon straighten in his chair, eyes darting to this sister. "You want to fight more than anyone else. So why aren't you?"

"You've been hanging out with that woman too long." He accused lightly. "She's rubbing off on you."

"If you don't want to talk about it, that's fine, but do not lie. Please." Yukina stared at him.

"Mukuro accused me of harboring affection for Shinpi and warned me that if anyone else saw it, there could be ramifications." Hiei spilled the words almost against his will because what else was he supposed to do when she stared at him like that. "I thought it would be better for everyone if such allegations were laid to rest."

"So you're not fighting."

"So I'm not fighting." He nodded.

"I'm sure Mukuro think she has your best interests at heart." Yukina told him, smoothly. "I think it's a shame that her lens is so narrow."

Hiei tilted his head.

"Hichi adores you, you know. And you two would make a good team, if you'd be willing. She'd probably even understand your reservations if you'd just tell her." The ice maiden goes on, sipping her tea as if she weren't scolding him. "And you can stop worrying about Kurama. His relationship to Hichi isn't the same as yours. She's made sure of that."

Hiei wasn't quite sure what to make of that information so he let it slip passed unquestioned. His mind stuck to the point though, that Shinpi was a reasonable being and if he approached her with these facts she'd help him resolve the issue. She had a tactical way about her. Surely she'd be able to come up with some plan, or at least a compromise. Something that allowed him to be on the lawn sparring with her without drawing the misguided attention of every wayward demon in the area.

His thoughts circled back to the mountains and their last case. Fuyuko taunting Shinpi because of her obvious affection for Kuwabara and how the wolf used the oaf to bait her.

Hiei decided it wasn't worth the risk. Even if he did hold a modicum of affection for the woman, allowing it to be known would only bring trouble for them both. Trouble neither of them needed, not with his station and her revenge plot. He'd just have to ignore these feelings and shove them down.

Yukina pressed her lips into a line as if she could guess his thoughts and tutted under breath. It's not too long after that the others came pouring back into the temple, filing through the kitchen in search of water and snacks. Hiei cast a glance down Shinpi's form without bothering to hide it, appreciating the hue of her fresh bruises.

"Looks like they were almost as good a match for you as I am." He meant it to be teasing but his tone came out harder than it should've. "Maybe you don't need me around anymore."

Shinpi shot him a cold look, capped her water bottle and headed for showers. "Get over yourself, Jaganshi."

The fire demon tried not to show his discomfort with the name he now knew put a wall between them. His fist curled against his leg under the table, where it could be hidden and he didn't toss out a reply before the woman disappeared into the hall.

He made up his mind to discuss this matter with her. The twisting in his guts at the use of that name cleared his head like a ringing bell cutting through silence. He didn't want so much space between them that they were strangers, he wasn't sure how he'd even react to such an outlandish scenario.

And, quite frankly, he didn't care to find out.


Kurama and Shinpi sat in the reading room, sharing the lounge. She leaned against his side as she flipped a page in the book she held, as if the words weren't meaningless lines before her unfocused eyes.

"I don't need you mounting some inane defense of me." She declared quietly and Kurama sighed, long suffering, against her.

"Your tactics aren't working." He told her.

"My tactics accomplish exactly what they are meant to. Leave it be, Kurama. I don't want your help with this."

"You two need to talk."

"No, we don't. Can you even imagine Hiei stomaching a conversation about feelings and how I missed him?" She demanded, incredulous. "He doesn't even think of us as friends."

Kurama's expression went over her head because she hadn't bothered to look at him. He had half a mind to just haul her out of the room and toss her into Hiei's lap and tell them to be done with all this nonsense. At the very least they needed to admit to caring for each other, even if it was just in a friendly capacity.

"You're going to turn my hair grey." He muttered instead, going back to his book.

"Was that a threat?" Shinpi asked, and it was with a cocky smile aimed at the yellowed pages of the tome in her hands.

Kurama just sighed because what else was he expected to do.


It was late. Late enough that Yusuke's snores could be heard radiating from his room like some sort of construction equipment gone on the fritz. Even Kurama had gone to bed. Hiei was nowhere to be found and hadn't been seen since Shinpi called him by that name. Even through dinner the little fire demon had been a ghost and Yusuke made sure to comment on his absence and taunt the trees while the rest of them ate in the garden and utilized the benches Shinpi had made over the course of her stays at the temple.

Even the trellis was almost done and she'd promised she would have a greenhouse underway by the time autumn came.

Despite the hour, Shinpi sat in the kitchen with Yukina and they shared a pot of herbal tea and caught up on the last few weeks they'd been apart. Yukina lets it slip that Kuwabara is outside practicing because he was inspired by the earlier sparring match and he really wanted to hold a candle to his mentor someday.

"He's dedicated." Shinpi smiled warmly.

"That's what I like about him." Yukina agreed readily and they share a moment of fondness for the human man. "I was talking to Hiei earlier, by the way."

"Not you too. I have enough to undo with Kurama's meddling." Shinpi lamented, letting her head fall back on her neck. "Just leave him alone."

"He needs a push." Yukina shrugged lightly. "And not from Mukuro."

Blue eyes narrowed at the sound of the name, and then scanned over the ice maiden curiously for the tone it was uttered in. Almost… aggravated. Before she could ask about why, Kuwabara's energy flexed in the yard, far more intensely than his training regimen required. With a sharp bark for Yukina to stay inside, Shinpi fled the temple, skidding to a stop at Kuwabara's side.

He knelt with a grimace that spoke of barely contained pain. His spirit sword lit up the night and cast shadows over his expression.

But his frustration isn't the problem. The demon attacking him earns Shinpi's studious attention, her eyes sweeping him head to toe then back up and it doesn't even take the first microsecond for her to know who and what he is. After all, she'd spent over a day in Makai watching him and his band on the border. Had he followed her here?

Koenma was going to get an earful about this as soon as she was sure Kazuma was safe. She should have never agreed to a hands off intelligence gathering mission. Demons like him only understood one boundary, and it was death.

She'd rectify her mistake tonight.

"No. Let me." Kuwabara found his footing and rose to his full height behind her, earning a neutral stare. "This was my fight."

Shinpi wanted to argue with him, but it would mean admitting to working for Koenma behind everyone's backs and right under their noses. The demon hadn't made her at this point so she was certain her cover was intact. So, begrudgingly, she stepped back and nodded. She'd let Kazuma do as much as he could.

"Keep your guard up." She warned darkly. "I can feel the malice rolling off this one."

While that was true, she also knew for a fact this demon manipulated emotions. He could pull them to the surface and use them against their host. The last thing she wanted was for Kazuma's progress to get stalled because of this.

"Work quickly." She tacked on the urging words and then tensely clasped her hands behind her back.

She'd never been good at this part.

Kazuma rushed the demon, who dodges him a few times. A ball of energy was thrown toward the carrot top but batted away with his sword. He barely got his first in when he seemed struck into stillness by the creature's wizened voice.

"You're just as weak as you think you are. Why bother fighting at all? You'll never compare to them."

Kazuma tried to keep the steel in his eyes, took another step forward before stopping and lowering his sword partially. Shinpi gnashed her teeth together at the sight of his hesitation.

"He's lying!" She yelled the words, hot and angry. "We've discussed this, Kazuma."

"She's lying to you to make you feel better. Because she cares for you. But you don't really deserve all that effort, do you?"

"I-I don't." The light from the spirit sword died in the shadow of his immense self-doubt. Darkness engulfed the scene, and all the beings in it. Kuwabara's voice came out lost and tired. "I really don't."

A ball of energy that should have killed him rolled off the curved surface of Shinpi's energy barrier, her body stationed in front of his. Without looking at her pupil she snarled at the demon before them.

"Do not insult me by calling me a liar again, Kazuma." Her voice lashed like the sudden wind surrounding them.

"I didn't-"

"I told you that you were worth my time. I told you that you were strong. Denying these facts is the same as calling me a liar." She lowered the hand she'd raised to protect him. "You're better than this, Kazuma. You need to start believing in that yourself instead of relying on other people to hold you aloft."

He wanted to believe her, he tried, but the words sounded like lies. He whimpered and tucked his head down, berating himself for falling for such a stupid trick, for disappointing her. It wasn't until her quiet, yet forceful enough cut through the night that he stopped. His raised head turned the demon's attention on the woman herself.

"Look at you. So prideful, so sure of your strength. You could never fall prey to such petty tricks. You'd like for them all to believe you have an iron-grip on your emotions, but you don't. You're nothing more than a roiling mass of pain and doubt yourself, you merely display it differently." That cracking voice accused joyfully.

"You cannot tell me what I don't know." Shinpi warned darkly. "I live in this miasma every day. There are no surprises for me here."

"Rage." His eyes glimmered through the darkness. "So much rage, but it's not directed outward. You direct that fire inwards, toward yourself. I wonder what would happen if we examined that further."

The sudden, blood-heating fury that swallowed her whole mingled with a sickening sense of turmoil. It cut through her logic and her defenses. It chewed its way to the surface through every barricade she'd erected over the last twenty-some-odd years. But even as it threatened to spill out she remembered Kazuma was so close behind her. She would not allow her ineptitude to bring him to harm.

"Give in." The demand came with another wave that consumed her sense of self-control.

"No." Shinpi hissed, doubling over as the weight of years of careful repression came undone. "Kazuma, run."

"You're okay!" He ran to her instead of away, throwing his arms around her. "Breathe, Hichi. It'll be o-"

"NO!" She shoved him back, cradling her head in her hands and digging her nails into her scalp. The pain of it grounded her, gave her something tangible to focus on for a second and the cloud lifted.

"Sheer stubbornness cannot save you."

Shinpi screamed as the pain of trying to contain her energy hit her full force. It was like holding a broken dam together with her bare hands, praying the water didn't rush out. But she couldn't seal the cracks the demon had made. Wind rippled around her, her frustration with the situation mounting into rage. The whips of air grew sharp, cutting through the underbrush and bushes around her as she gripped herself around the middle with another cry, this one wrathful and agonized.

Focus left her, the draw of her power too great to fight anymore. It was her own fault, she decided somewhere in the back of her mind, for not addressing this threat sooner. Her fear of exposure what made this possible. The small bursts she'd been using with the team hadn't been enough and her outpouring after Sachiko had merely set the stage for this cataclysm. Even as she had them, she knew the thoughts were not her own.

She wasn't alone and this could've been avoided if that bastard hadn't done this to her.

Feral instincts began to rise, a concerning call to behaviors she'd never been fond of allowing. Even at her worst she had tried to maintain some modicum of self-control. Only thrice before had she so thoroughly given into her anger.

The demon didn't know what hit him, her hand slashing suddenly through the air in a claw, the wind under her control slicing through him. Blood splattered against the bark of the tree behind him and she could smell it so clearly it could've been a taste rolling on her tongue. Wetting her lips she heaved her chest, senses too sharp and mind too numb.

Kuwabara scurried away from her backwards on all fours, clearly aware he was outmatched and facing something no longer quite human. She assessed him with a dark blue stare that lacked familiarity or concern. It felt decidedly the way Kurama's reversion had during the dark tournament and the carrot top wondered how she managed to revert without actually changing. On the surface she still looked like Iruni, dark hair and blue eyes. But her energy had shifted to something more chaotic.

"Leave." She told him coldly. "Before you get hurt."

He relaxed some then, understanding the words were not a threat but a warning. She wanted him safe. That meant Hichi was still in there, somewhere, despite this radical outpouring of her power that seemed reminiscent of a natural disaster brewing.

"Go, Kazuma."

But that cool, soft voice wasn't familiar to him. He swallowed and nodded, scrambling to his feet and nearly colliding directly with Hiei as the other demon skidded to a stop.

"What the hell happened?" Hiei demanded, flicking his attention between the woman and Kuwabara.

"I dunno man. One minute she's fighting, the next I'm kicked through the air and she's screaming and the guy is talking about her power. And all the sudden she's cutting people in half without even touching them." Kuwabara rushed through the explanation, stumbling over some of the words. "She told me to leave."

"And you were just going to listen?" Hiei growled. "Remember what could happen if she loses control, idiot! The SDF is just waiting for a reason to-"

Kuwabara's eyes widened and it was too late by the time they did. Shinpi had already appeared to Hiei's right side, her fist hitting him with so much force he went hurtling through the air until a tree stopped him. She walked over the fire demon slowly, looking nonplussed about her actions. Hiei grunted, getting back to his feet just before her hand wrapped around his throat, lifting him to his toes.

"This is what you wanted from me." She told him, darkness in her voice and eyes. "My power. Well, darling, this is my gift to you. I hope you're ready to receive it."

She slammed her knee into his stomach and then twisted, landing her other knee across his cheek bone. Hiei hit the ground on all fours, spitting blood. He barely managed to roll before she dropped a kick where he'd been kneeling, a small crater forming under the heel of her foot.

"Go!" Hiei yelled at Kuwabara. "I'll handle this."

"I'll get Genkai!" Kuwabara shouted back.

"No! I said I'll handle it! Just stop distracting me!" Hiei growled the statement, getting to his feet. Kuwabara hesitated, glanced at Shinpi as her aura flickered unbridled around her, then ran. "Those first shots were freebies, Shinpi. Don't think you've gotten the upper hand."

She stalked around him, unbothered by his bravado. "Come and get your present, Hiei."

"With pleasure."

He launched himself at her and they connected in a barrage of fists and legs. Spinning around him, she broke the attack and swung her leg above and downward in an arch. Hiei jumped back from the flux of energy, surprised still by the cut of wind that bit into his arms and made him bleed just under his eye. If he'd been slower to block she'd have taken off his head. Panting, he stared at her.

Was this really her true power?

Was he finally getting to meet the Tempest Princess? As she came at him again, and again, and again, he couldn't help but hope. And yet, there was something off about her attacks. He didn't think he was actually milking her power for all its worth, not truly.

Which should have terrified him because she was clearly his equal in this moment. He fled through the trees.

"I've always enjoyed chasing my prey." Shinpi's voice tickled his ear and he threw himself to the side, kicking off a tree to flip through the air.

Her wind attacks cut through the trees and left gashes on his arms and legs. Hiei didn't have a defense against them except running, which she never let him do for too long. Her kicks and punches rattled his bones. When he came at her, she accepted his blows without flinching or showing any sign of pain, her blocks precise as if she could read his movements before he even knew to make them. She evaded him countless times. Her lithe body swooping under his arms and around him, every ounce of her dancer's grace coming into play.

A monster. He was facing down a beautiful monster and it thrilled him as much as it sent sirens screaming through his brain.

The excitement of it drove him to push harder and see what he could get her to do. Would she kill him? He doubted it. But she'd obviously maim him. He wanted to push her fury as far as he could. He wanted to roll its taste on his tongue.

But when he went to strike her, she slid her left hand up his right arm, fingers dancing over his bandages and stirring the dragon underneath while her right hand skimmed his bandana. Hiei jerked back, landing several yards away to assess her.

She stared at him, blinking, and lowered her now empty hands while Hiei quieted those screaming alarms in his head. Dipping her chin down she peered over the distance at him, making no move to approach. That stare was the most unnerving he'd ever seen from her. Full on predatory glint shining in her dark eyes, but no smile lifting her lips.

"Are you frightened?" She asked him quietly, squinting slightly while she waited for his answer.

"You're slowing down."

"Am I?"

"You were herding me away from the temple. You obviously have more presence of mind than I anticipated."

"Hoping for an uneven fight?"

"Yes."

"In whose favor?"

"Yours."

Shinpi glanced over him then, seeing something new. He wished he knew what it was. Desperately, he wanted to open the Jagan and peer inside her head, understand what had happened and where this had all come from. But with the adrenaline in his veins and her touch still agitating the dragon, he didn't think it best to use his third eye. He could hardly contain himself in this moment, much less an ancient force of pure power. And she'd done her best to bait the beast with her spark of energy. If this had happened back when the dragon was new to him, she'd have called it out without his permission. They'd have both died.

Something he had no doubt she knew well enough.

"You seem to have conceded our fight. I suppose that means I win." Shinpi gestured to him lightly. "And here we didn't even get to use our weapons. I'm disappointed."

"We'll call the first round yours. Second will be mine." Hiei assured her, wetting his lips as he stalked forward.

"Second? Does that mean you're ready to give me your all?" She asked him quietly, the darkness in her eyes glinting under a veneer of playfulness.

He came at her suddenly, pushing her back with his battery of strikes. She had to work to keep up. Ducking and dancing around each other again, she seemed to have lost her sure footing. With a grunt she hit a tree, sliding down the trunk a few inches with a wince.

Hiei wound one of his hands in her hair near the roots at the base of her skull, taking control of her head, even as her fingers clawed into fists in his shirt, creating tears and holes. Growling deeply, he looked down into her eyes. "That's one you, one me."

"Tie breaker." She demanded and he nodded, but didn't release her.

Using her hair as a point of control, Hiei forced her to look up at him. And she seemed furious to comply, no doubt hating exposing her neck to him with that proud wolf spirit of hers. But what he saw in her eyes was similar to what he must've showing too. Blown pupils, parted lips in a slight snarl, a dark need radiating from her expression that was mostly bloodlust but something else too. His senses narrowed on the woman in his grasp, whatever higher intelligence he'd held fleeing leaving on his baser instincts behind.

"Goddammit woman, you're intoxicating when you want to kill me." He crushed his body against hers, his mouth claiming hers in a searing press of lips that turned into a connection of teeth and tongues.

Shinpi's hands unraveled from his shirt, her hips shifting against his and producing a throaty moan from him, her fingers finding new homes on the back of his neck and arm. Hiei took her right arm in his left hand and pinned it above her head against the tree, earning himself a warning growl. Dragging his teeth over her bottom lip cut the aggressive sound short, a mewl taking its place. He could barely contain himself at the sound, every animalistic desire in him crying for release. And from the way she ground against him, he wasn't the only one writhing in desperation.

"Hiei." She said his name in such a way it lit a fire in him. He started to kiss and bite his way down her neck, pride swallowing him whole when she allowed him access without hesitation. The hand that had been in her hair moved to hold her waist. Softer, more pleadingly she called him again. "Hiei."

"Say it again." Hiei lifted his lips from her skin to speak the demand against her ear. "I like hearing you moan my name."

He felt her weight sag suddenly. Startled, he adjusted himself to catch her as she slipped down the trunk, keeping her upright as her head rolled forward, eyes closed.

Unconscious.

He let his own head fall back as he swore, frustration ringing through every denied nerve ending in his body. Mentally swearing in strings that would have made the detective blush, Hiei slid one arm under her shoulders and the other under her knees, lifting her easily. He doubted she was seriously injured. It was more likely that whatever her earlier opponent had done to her had finally worn off, leaving her exhausted.

That knowledge did nothing to quell the fire that had been stoked to life in his veins. It didn't matter. He'd finish what he'd started when she awoke.

He could contain himself until then.


Shinpi had barely sat up in her bed, cradling her head with one hand, when her sword was thrown onto her lap. With cotton muddling her thoughts, she slowly moved to regard Hiei was stood beside her with his arms crossed over his chest. His eyes raked down her and she couldn't quite interpret why there was so much heat in his expression. If she didn't know better, he was waiting for something she wasn't ready to give. Lowering her hand to caress the red sheath she regarded the man who'd apparently been waiting for her to wake up.

"My sword?" Shinpi eyed the weapon with confusion. "Why?"

"You beat me last night during your little episode. It was without a doubt one of the best fights we've ever had." Hiei blinked, a scowl steadily marring his previously amused expression when she frowned. "Why do you look confused?"

"I just, I wish I remembered such a feat." She wrinkled her nose and then held the sword back out to him. "You should take this back. If I beat you I want to be conscious of it. Plus I still feel the sword is better off with you at the moment."

"You don't remember?" Hiei let his arms fall to his sides, not wanting to take that sword from her fingers. She stared at him and then to the weapon pointedly. He pressed his lips into a line, accepting it.

"I don't remember anything, really, after killing the demon." Shinpi shook her head, frowning. "I didn't hurt you did I?"

"Nothing. You remember nothing?" He pressed, imploring something to come back to her.

"No. Nothing. Why? What have I done now?" She frowned too, concerned.

Having dead spots in her memory wasn't something she could afford. One misstep and she'd find herself back in irons, Matsuma swinging an axe at her neck. Did Spirit World execute through beheading? She couldn't recall. Goddamn this headache. She hated this. It reminded her of some particularly empty memories before her death. Trying to ignore her own inner musings, she watched Hiei with concern for his silence.

Hiei opened his mouth to remind her of their heated kiss. To tell her that the scratches on his neck, chest and arms were from hers nails as they pressed together. Inform her that she had said his name in such a way he thought he might come undone.

But all that managed to come passed his lips was, "Nothing."

Because he wasn't even sure why he wanted her to remember. It had been a passionate moment, sure, but what good would have come from it? The fire in his veins raged against this denial. Every fiber of his being protested. He needed to shake off this feeling.

Shinpi didn't need distractions right now. She needed to find a way to unlock the power he'd seen last night whenever the whim struck her. Hiro would surely stand no chance against her then. Maybe after…

It confused him suddenly, that he cared so much about it. That he was willing to plan so far ahead for a chance with her. It made no sense. Maybe whatever had taken control of Shinpi's brain the night before had left its mark on him too. Something that drove down inhibitions and brought things to the surface that didn't need to exist. He held onto that reasoning to beat back the pang of heat that struck him when Shinpi stretched her arms over her head, tipping her head to the side to pop her neck.

He stalked from her room with her sword in tow, the weapon feeling more and more like a burden every minute it remained strapped to his side.

Chapter Text

"Shinpi said she has other plans, so maybe she'll be able to join you next time. It seemed to be that she was also annoyed that you waited until the last minute. Maybe ask her ahead of time, if you can."

Hiei kept his face carefully neutral as Kurama delivered the news to him. His hands in his pockets, he tilted his face away from the fox and huffed, trying his best to appear bored.

"If it's a tracker you need I'd be more than happy to lend a hand." Kurama went on to offer, smiling at his friend. "We haven't been spending much time together lately. It'd be nice."

"I'll be fine on my own." Hiei shut him down, glaring to the side. "I thought Shinpi's mind might help me resolve the case, but it's fine. I'll figure it out."

"Again, I could go with you."

"I don't need your help." Hiei turned and then he was gone, leaving Kurama to stare at the empty spot he had occupied.

Honestly. Kurama rolled his eyes. "You should have gone to ask yourself then."

He received no response, not that he'd expected to. Hiei had been mostly a memory the last few weeks. After his appearance at the temple they hadn't really heard from him again until he asked Kurama to ask Shinpi to go on a mission with him. The fact he didn't approach the woman himself was enough of tip that Kurama just had to slap his palm against his own face. These two were seriously going to be the death of him.

Between Shinpi's refusal to accept his help and her insistence that the status quo could continue and Hiei's awkward inability to address anything remotely emotional they were trapped in this strange stalemate. Hiei refused to approach the woman, despite it being obvious he desperately wanted to and Shinpi refused to go to him because she was certain it spelled doom for their 'budding friendship'.

He did wonder, though, what she had to do that was so pressing she couldn't postpone to accept Hiei's call. It wasn't like her to turn any of them down when they asked for her assistance. He wrinkled his nose and set about making his way home.

The truth would come out sooner or later.


"Good job." Koenma smiled at her as Shinpi stood across from him on the other side of his desk.

"You should have let me handle them my way to start with." She frowned, eyes narrowed. "If I had been able to eliminate them then Kazuma would have never been caught up in this."

"He's a strong man, he'll be fine."

"His mentality is fragile. He needs support and success to build up his confidence. Being overcome by such an underpowered enemy, despite the circumstances, did more harm than good." She gently splayed her hands over the top of the demi-god's desk despite wanting to c