Part 2: Sharing Sight, Hiei vs. Kenshin
The trip was distorted, almost nauseating in a watery sort of way. Koenma’s office turned hazy and melted around them as all of the air disappeared. Then
there was a sensation of freefall before the gray blur was replaced by grass on a hill to one side of the small group, dirt beneath them, and a rushing brown
river to the other side.
The colors and sounds hit Kuwabara like a fist to the stomach. He gulped and crouched over his knees so he could pant until his stomach uncurled. It felt as
if he’d swallowed something vile and living that wanted to ooze its way back out again.
Yusuke took the shift in scenery better, mostly because he’d spent considerable time without a body after his first death. Compared to dangling from the back
of Botan’s oar, or even Koenma’s pudgy hand, the timeshift was tame. The only problem he had was getting used to the ground under him. His legs felt a
For Kurama, it was electric. He understood the reason long before he felt the change, some sort of instinctive mental lapse that made those few seconds last
for hours. By the time his feet were placed on firm dirt, his body was alive with the knowledge that he was stronger than he’d ever been. The energy fairly
crackled in his nerves and his hair flickered silver as he saw something that wasn’t real, yet was perfectly real.
He was seeing through his own eyes, only they were the eyes he’d looked through long before his youko death. There was a forest passing by him, sounds of
his own running feet mixed with the feet of his pack. He could almost feel the treasure curled in his arm, the thick Makai air rushing through his hair. He was
there, at that very moment, a youko in his element. And he wondered, as the scene paled, if he’d been aware of that in the past, that for a few days, there
had been two of him.
The sound of the river met with Kurama’s ears at the same time his friends appeared, all of that having passed in a matter of seconds. He was washed with a
touch of the youki of his past self – the Kurama who was at that very moment making a daring escape in the Makai. And since the energy was his, it settled
into his new human body like a kit curling in his family nest. Invigorating and natural all at the same time.
Kurama might have closed his eyes to make the moment last longer, if someone hadn’t shoved against his side. He jerked back and stared at the little demon,
who appeared to have fallen over.
Hiei was back on his feet a second later, scowling at Kurama’s curious gaze. He turned away and focused his entire attention on Yusuke and Kuwabara,
almost forgetting what he’d just seen.
Just as Kurama had suffered a sense of being in two places at once, Hiei had gone through the same. Only in his case, it had been disorienting. He wasn’t
settled on having two completely different sets of memories, and seeing a glimpse of his past self – a child smiling at his mother’s gem in a tree too tall for
bandits to get him if he dozed off – had tipped the scales. Literally, it had been enough to send him sprawling once the vision passed.
Now he scowled and tried to appear as though nothing had happened. Inside, he was calmer, more set on the reality he wanted to have. Yukina was alive in
the Makai at that very moment. If there was anything he needed to shut up those false memories, it was knowing that. He might have lived a life where she
died as a child, but he wasn’t going to accept that version. He’d change history to what it should have been, or he’d die in this world. He’d spent a lifetime in
that false reality, and he wasn’t going back.
Kuwabara groaned, mumbling something about melting walls and sticky dirt. And Yusuke found that he really did have bones in his mushy legs. He managed
to kick his friend in the shin hard enough for the tall orange-haired boy to yipe at him.
“What was that for?” Kuwabara demanded.
Yusuke smirked and shrugged carelessly. “Target practice? The way you were bent over, you were practically begging for a kick. I didn’t want to get my
shoe dirty or I’d have kicked you somewhere else.”
The taller boy hunched his shoulders and launched himself forward, a quick tussle being just the thing to distract him. The two demons glanced at each other,
and Kurama sighed as he turned his back to his friends and set himself to looking over their surroundings.
“I don’t know this area at all,” said Kurama, his eyes flicking down to Hiei. “I never came to the Ningenkai until after I died.”
“Youko is alive, then.”
Kurama gave a sly smile, his eyes gleaming a bit as he focused on the rushing river, almost seeing the forest he’d glimpsed earlier. “Of course. Did you think
I was younger than you, Hiei?”
His friend didn’t answer, and Kurama glanced back over, pausing yet again on that odd scar on Hiei’s face. “How old were you when you met them in this
Hiei was tempted not to answer, namely because his age was one of those personal facts he didn’t share with anyone. Even the Reikai only had estimates
about his age, most of that based on the myth of his origin. But he had no reason to keep Itsuki’s secrets.
“Less than a year after this day,” said Hiei. “I met them during the uprising that followed. Sensui had merged with Shishio by then. Itsuki recognized me, so
he took me with them. A familiar face, as he called it. He never considered what he’d do if the ghost became one with Sensui. After the revenge was
complete, Itsuki was just along for the ride.”
There was a hint of sympathy in Hiei’s expression that Kurama was surprised to see, but he thought he understood it. He and Hiei had both been disturbed to
hear the depth of Itsuki’s obsession with Sensui, torn between the need to get away from it, and a mutual decision that the demon was better off dead. They’d
been open about that at the time, each proclaiming his desire to kill the man. Itsuki had smiled and looked at them as if they were kindred spirits.
“Did he plan to take you up on your offer of a quick death?” asked Kurama.
Hiei smirked, a soft snort sounding as he looked away. “Eventually, I think he wanted to. At the time neither of us could do anything but watch the carnage.
He didn’t know me the way he thought he did. He thought I was kind…”
A small, bitter, and evil sneer had twisted Hiei’s face when he glanced back. “In that reality, I killed more humans than Sensui. Did you see the way Koenma
shuddered to look at me?”
“You were one of them…” said Kurama.
“You would have been, too, if he’d found you. Itsuki spent years tracking you down before you disappeared into the Ningenkai after your youko death. You
must have thought they planned to kill you after what Sensui did to your pack. I never saw you in that reality.”
“It’s difficult,” Kurama admitted, “to imagine you working with Sensui, a human, even if it were to your advantage.”
Hiei glared suddenly, his posture defensive and angry. “I couldn’t defeat him in this time. What chance do you think I stood against him without even the
jagan to enhance my skills? I didn’t work with him, I worked for him. The only reason Sensui let me live was because Itsuki knew me.”
From what little Kurama knew of Hiei’s past, the demon had gotten his jagan when he was still a cub, by demon standards. He would have been utterly
defenseless against someone capable of murdering masses of demons and humans alike. And raised in such an environment, a cub would grow to become a
killer himself, possibly relishing in the kill the way a hound would. As familiar as Kurama was with Hiei’s ruthlessness in battle, he could imagine how easily his
friend might have become a disciplined killer.
“I understand,” Kurama said sharply, “I’m sorry.”
Hiei snorted. “Keep your apologies. It never happened. When we finish here, it won’t exist anymore.”
“Hey, Hiei! Can I borrow your cloak? We got a little wet…”
The two demons turned to stare in disbelief at the sopping teenagers behind them. Yusuke’s hair was hanging around his face, washed right out of its normal
slicked style so that he looked like a soggy puppy. And Kuwabara was grouching next to him, half-naked as he wrung brown water out of his blue shirt.
“You idiots,” Hiei sighed.
“Really,” Kurama agreed, a smile tugging at his lips and belying his lecturing tone. “The future of our world is depending on us, and the two of you are taking
“He started it!” Kuwabara yelled, with a finger pointing at Yusuke. “Kicked me while I was down!”
“You’re the one who shoved me in the water,” Yusuke scoffed.
“You pinched my ass!” Kuwabara crowed, horror and disgust marring his face. “What kind of fighter are you?!”
Kurama broke into quiet laughter, hiding his smile behind his hand. And Hiei let out a choked little snort despite his glower.
There wasn’t a hint of shame in Yusuke’s wide grin. As far as he was concerned, all was fair in war with Kuwabara. Beating him in a straight fight was boring.
Making him squeal like an affronted girl? Now that was fun.
“What’s the matter?” Yusuke taunted. “I bet you wouldn’t complain if Yukina pinched you.”
Hiei let out a low growl, and Kurama winced sharply. Kuwabara simply flushed a bright, starstruck red.
“Not now,” said Kurama. “We should see where we are. Koenma said we’d arrive near the place this Himura lives, so we should find him first. Then we can
see about hiding till Sensui shows himself.”
“Sensui showed up on their lawn,” said Hiei. “Itsuki showed me the scene more than once. He’ll arrive right on their lawn, a small building made of paper and
wood with a thin wall around it. Three children and the target were outside, the children died first. Then there was a woman and an old man. Sensui, or
Shishio at that time, saved his target for last. He mutilated the man’s lover, or partner – Itsuki was never sure which - then killed him. It took a few hours, so
even if we were late, we’d still be able to intervene before the target dies. After the first one, he had two more humans he sought out before the revenge pact
Kuwabara’s face screwed into a suspicious scowl. “How do you know all that?”
“Itsuki’s void imprints what he sees from within it,” Hiei sniffed. “He didn’t take part in the murders.”
“Yeah,” Kuwabara muttered, “I remember looking through that eye thing of his. But how do you know what happened?”
“He showed me.”
Kurama put a restraining hand on Kuwabara’s shoulder when the teen looked ready to explode in a few dozen questions, none of which Hiei would answer.
“Hiei survived in that timeline,” Kurama explained. “What matters now is that we may have to get very close to the target if we’re going to prevent his death. If
Itsuki took Sensui – or this Shishio person – right to Himura, then won’t be able to intercept him the way Koenma suggested. We’ll have to actually be there.”
“So how are we supposed to do that?” asked Yusuke. “We can’t just tell him we’re here to stop some ghostly demon duo from changing history. Can we…?”
“I doubt anyone would believe that,” Kurama agreed. “For now we should focus on finding Himura and locating the place where they stage the attack.”
Hiei darted up to the crest of the hill that bordered the river. He gave a quick look at whatever was visible from there. Then he called back to them. “The town
is nearby. The sun was over the building the morning of the attack, so we should head this way.”
The others followed, not arguing when Hiei led the way toward the small town. They were nearing the first of the buildings when Kuwabara and Yusuke
exploded in a flurry of quiet exclamations. Since neither of them knew a thing about history, even their own Japanese history, they were confounded by the
Kurama winced at the stares they were bound to receive from the locals.
His own clothing was reserved, slacks and a simple button-down shirt, but the bright green silk was bound to attract attention. Of course, he was tame
compared to how strangely Kuwabara and Yusuke were going to appear. The two boys were still in their matching school uniforms, only the blue and green
shades differentiating them. Oddly enough, Kurama suspected Hiei would fit in more than the rest of them. Even with his small stature, his cloak was
Worse than their clothing, though, was their appearances. There were people ahead of them, and as far as Kurama could tell, none of them were any taller
than Yusuke. That meant Kurama and Kuwabara were bound to stand out a head above any crowd.
“It’s like a festival,” Kuwabara was saying, his voice hushed as much as possible considering how loudly he normally spoke. “Only the clothes aren’t as clean
or pretty. Look! That woman’s carrying a bucket – a wooden bucket…!”
Kurama ducked his head, rubbing his fingertips over one temple. Beside him, Yusuke was laughing at Kuwabara’s excitement, and adding to it by pointing out
the sandals the men were wearing. The two didn’t seem to notice that their little group was getting as many funny looks as Kuwabara and Yusuke were
One man actually dropped the turnip he’d been holding, his mouth hanging open when he caught sight of Kurama.
“I swear,” Kurama muttered quietly, “I’ll kill the first person to mistake me for a girl and tell me my pants are immodest...”
“What are you talking about?” asked Hiei, having sidled back at Kurama’s quiet whisper. “How could anyone mistake you for a girl?”
“That’s easy!” Kuwabara laughed, grinning over at Kurama. “Some girls I go to school with thought he was my girlfriend a few months ago. You should have
seen his face. I bet people think that all the time.”
“No way,” Yusuke mocked. “No one would think an ugly dolt like you could get a girl as hot as Kurama.”
“I could so get a girl as hot as Kurama!” Kuwabara started, only to flush and growl when he realized what he’d said. “You’re sick, Urameshi. You think Kurama’
Kurama’s eyebrow twitched, and he sent a droll look down at Hiei. “It’s a human thing.”
“Obviously,” Hiei snorted.
“Oi,” Yusuke said sharply, his head tilted back so he could sniff at the air. “You guys smell what I smell?”
“I’m starving!” Kuwabara said plaintively. “Kurama, you have any money on you?”
Kurama sighed. “I honestly doubt they’d take modern money, Kuwabara.”
“What’s up with that?” asked Yusuke. “Koenma sends us down here two days in advance with nothing to eat and no money? Where are we supposed to stay
while we wait?”
“I’m really hungry,” Kuwabara prodded. “Shizuru was being a pain last night, so I skipped dinner. I haven’t eaten all day…”
“Why are you telling me that?” asked Kurama, a little testy. “The last time I offered to grow a plant for you to eat, you threw a fit.”
“That’s because I’ve seen the plants you grow! They’re like animals, acid dripping psychotic things, or that gross death tree thing all old and creepy looking.”
“Exactly,” said Kurama. “My plants aren’t good enough for you, so you can just go without.”
“Oi,” Yusuke breathed, “you’re being awfully harsh, Kurama. You didn’t miss out on breakfast today, did you?”
Kurama scowled and looked away, his arms folded over his chest. And Hiei rolled his eyes at the three of them. A flicker and bit of sneaking later, Hiei tossed
something at the redhead.
“There,” said Hiei.
Kurama’s eyes widened at the little pouch, his face going a shade paler. “Hiei, you didn’t…”
“Why not?” Hiei sniffed. “They’re only hu-“
“All right, kid,” a playful voice spoke up, “give it back. You’ll make Jo-chan clobber you.”
The three froze, Kurama wincing painfully as he turned to see who Hiei had robbed. Hiei simply scowled at being called a kid, and whipped around to see who
had the quick eyes to spot his theft.
The man was quite tall, a few inches taller than Kuwabara. He was broad-shouldered, his muscular chest bare and tan beneath a loose white jacket.
Bandages were wrapped around his abdomen and his right hand, and his wild spiky brown hair was held out of his face with a red bandanna. For all his
height and stature, his face proclaimed him young, bright brown eyes glittering above an amused smirk. He was holding a hand out at Hiei, not seeming the
least bit angry.
“Come on,” the man prodded. “There’s no pride in thievery if you don’t admit when you’ve been caught. Not that there’s much pride in it to begin with…”
He frowned a little, tilting his head as if he were thinking about his words. He didn’t notice the way Hiei’s expression changed sharply.
Hiei caught his breath, his eyes widening. His gaze darted past the young man to look at the female he’d snitched the purse from. As he’d suspected, she
was another familiar face. The woman he’d seen in Itsuki’s void was much younger in person. At the moment, she was riffling through her robed outfit,
unaware that her friend had already caught the thief. Beside her, a young boy – also familiar – was scuffing his feet in the dirt and looking impatient.
“I’m very sorry,” Kurama started, his expression pained. “He’s young and-“
“The lover,” said Hiei. “Or partner.”
Kurama blinked and snapped wide eyes down to Hiei. “Him?”
“Hold up,” Yusuke blurted. “What are you guys talking about?”
“What did the chibi do?” Kuwabara asked at the same moment, his suspicious eyes shifting from the tall stranger, down to Hiei.
Kurama shook his head, a perfectly coined look of harmless friendliness taking over his face. “I’m very sorry, sir. My friend was having a bit of fun with you,
that’s all. Here is your purse. And I believe we’re looking for an acquaintance of yours. Himura Kenshin?”
The man’s amused expression switched into one of wary suspicion. “Why?”
“Sanosuke! What are you doing? I thought you were going to help me find my-“
The girl stopped short of the small group, her big blue eyes locking on Kurama for an instant before shifting over the others. She ended up staring at Kurama’
s outfit, a small frown pulling her eyebrows together.
“They’re looking for Kenshin,” Sano explained, frowning at the strangers as he finally noticed their odd clothing.
He opened his mouth to question the redhead who’d spoken to him, only to clamp his jaws shut instead. A familiar weight had landed on his shoulders, teeth
tugging on his spiky hair in what was the most annoying sensation he’d ever run across. “Not now, Yahiko!”
“You took it!” the boy accused, still chewing on Sano’s hair as if he were some rabid sort of animal. “She was trying to say I did it, and here it was you all
“I didn’t take it,” Sano scowled, “that kid did. I just got it back.”
He reached up and calmly pulled the boy off his head, setting the squirming youth on his feet. Then he handed the pouch to the black-haired girl. That taken
care of, he turned dark eyes on Hiei. “I doubt friends of Kenshin would be the thieving sort. Who are you?”
“We’ve never actually met him,” Kurama admitted, speaking for the group. “And we’re not really the…thieving sort. My friend was just testing you. We have
reason to believe Himura-san is in danger. If you know where we can find him, we’d be much obliged.”
“Ob-what…?” Kuwabara muttered, frowning down at Yusuke. “Why’s he talking so funny?”
Yusuke elbowed him in the side, telling him without words to keep his trap shut. If Kurama had a plan, they’d do well to play along. Kuwabara shoved his
elbow away and gave him a confused look.
“What was that for?” he asked. “And why was that kid chewing on him? People here are really weird…”
He sucked in a deep breath and lumbered toward the tall stranger, doing his best impression of intimidation. “Look here, you. We’ve come a long way to see
this guy, so if you know where he is, you better start talking. The future of-“
Yusuke jumped up and tackled Kuwabara, dragging the taller boy to the ground and muzzling him with a very tight headlock. Kurama sweatdropped, and Hiei
raised an eyebrow.
“Don’t mind him,” Yusuke grinned. “He’s a little stupid.”
“And ugly,” Hiei put in.
“And ugly,” Yusuke agreed cheerfully.
Kurama slapped a hand over his face as Kuwabara promptly garbled and struggled that much harder. They were starting to attract a crowd…
“Please,” Kurama managed to say, his expression a pained grimace. “Could we go someplace private to discuss this? It’s urgent that we find Himura-san.”
“What do you want with Kenshin?” the girl asked, still staring disapprovingly at Kurama’s outfit. “And why are you dressed that way? I don’t mean to be rude,
but…it’s a little immodest for a woman to wear pants like that...”
Hiei blinked sharply and raised an eyebrow at Kurama. “Are you going to kill her, now? You’d save Shishio the trouble of twisting her head off when he gets
The girl reeled back at what she took to be a threat against her life, and Sano stepped in front of her. He stared in confusion and anger at Hiei, who, if the
voice was anything to go by, didn’t look as much like a kid as he had a few minutes ago.
“Did you just threaten her?” asked Sano. “And what do you mean, when Shishio gets here? He died weeks ago.”
“We know,” said Kurama. “And no, we’re not threatening the lady.”
He gave a weak smile to the girl, trying to hide how irritated he was at the reproof against his…feminine modesty. “I’m not a woman.”
“He doesn’t look it,” the boy chipped in, his eyes going boldly over Kurama’s silk shirt. “He’s not even crossdressing like Kamatari did. You’re a moron,
Kaoru. Just because he’s prettier than an ugly girl like you doesn’t make him a woman.”
Yahiko grinned when the girl flushed a dark, angrily embarrassed pink. He barely winced when she promptly beaned him over the head with her fist.
“Okay, okay,” Sano spoke up. “I don’t know how dangerous the lot of you are, but one more person watching this show, and we can start selling tickets. We’
re meeting Kenshin at the Akabeko, it’s a restaurant a short walk from here. I guess you guys can tag along if you want to see him so badly.”
“Thank you,” Kurama nodded.
The crowd, which was rather large, trickled away when the seven of them began moving. Sano and the girl led the way, Yahiko tagging along behind and
sending funny looks at Kuwabara’s head.
Kuwabara quickly put his hands over his hair just in case the rabid kid decided to jump him and start chewing. He didn’t realize Yusuke was giving him rabbit
ears from behind.
Hiei sidled next to Kurama, his voice quiet. “Are you planning to tell them?”
“I think we’ll have to,” said Kurama. “If Itsuki opens his void right where they are, they’ll be affected whether they’re warned or not. Telling them and saving
their lives will cause fewer ripples in history than trying to prevent the attack and failing. Do you know how Itsuki found them?”
“Shishio told him where to go,” said Hiei. “But Itsuki said he could sense the target. That’s how they knew where he’d be. He had a very high level of reiki.”
“You mean has,” Kurama corrected, “he’s still alive.”
Kurama blinked at the fatalistic tone. Hiei was staring at the tall stranger with a cold, dead look in his eyes. “Hiei, do you think we’ll fail? What aren’t you
“This isn’t Sensui we’ll be facing,” said Hiei. “It’s Shishio. Sensui never wanted us dead, or we’d have been killed within a few minutes of our fight with him.
Shishio will kill anyone who interferes. With Sensui’s powers and that mindset, we may be lucky if he decides to kill us quickly...”
That dark, pessimism struck Kurama as sharply as Hiei’s wary expression. He eased a bit closer to his friend and did something he rarely did in public, or at
all. He placed a warm hand on Hiei’s shoulder and squeezed lightly. Red eyes flicked up to him before turning forward again. Hiei didn’t shrug off the contact.
“It isn’t like you to give up without a fight,” Kurama said quietly.
“No,” Hiei agreed.
But it was, at least in that fake reality. He’d learned quickly that fighting was as pointless as guilt. And he couldn’t help but wonder which was the part of him
that curled in fatalistic certainty of their defeat – his true self, or that cowed person he’d become. He knew too much about their enemies to imagine a victory,
no matter how they tried to combine their efforts. All it would take was for Itsuki to lend a hand.
After their last encounter, Itsuki wasn’t likely to take Kuwabara into his void. Meaning, once inside, they wouldn’t be able to escape until Itsuki was ready to let
them go. He wouldn’t let anyone interfere with his dream of having Sensui alive and well again. Even if Hiei explained to him what would happen once the pact
was sealed, he’d be too stubborn to listen.
Hiei snapped out of his thoughts when Kurama lifted his hand away. They’d found their target. Even if Hiei hadn’t known what the man looked like, he’d have
felt the suppressed power hovering over the slender human.
Kenshin Himura was small, shorter than Yusuke and almost as petite as Hiei. His face was elfin, his long red hair pulled back into a low tail that let strands fall
down around his face and dip into his wide blue-violet eyes.
Kurama almost raised an eyebrow at the effeminate looking man. He couldn’t see why the girl had thought him a woman, when she spent time with someone
who looked like that. It must have been the man’s faded magenta top, which was open in the middle to show glimpses of his chest. Or maybe it was because
his loose white hakama was much more modest than Kurama’s close-fitting slacks. Regardless, Himura was much more effeminate than Kurama was.
“I was beginning to worry,” Kenshin said, smiling at the three, and tilting his head at the strangers. “Who are your friends?”
“No idea,” said Sano. “They wanted to see you in private, but I thought it would be better to talk with them here.”
Instead of leading them back to the dojo, was the unstated warning. Kenshin’s expression shifted a bit, a little more on guard than it had been. He turned to
look over the strangers. And his gaze was immediately drawn to Hiei. His eyes narrowed.
For a stark second, Hiei wondered if the man recognized him. Then he shoved the thought aside. He’d only seen a vision of what had happened, he hadn’t
been there. And even if he had, Himura wouldn’t remember something that hadn’t happened yet. So why was he staring at him like that?
“I see,” Kenshin said softly. “Let’s go inside, then.”
He turned and gently pushed Kaoru to enter first, never taking his eyes off Hiei. His manner was instinctively protective. He made sure he was between his
friends and the strangers when they entered the dim restaurant.
Yusuke raised an eyebrow at the looks the man was sending back at them, and he tilted his head so he could whisper to Kurama. “Is it just me, or is he
looking at Hiei like he knows what he is?”
“It’s not you,” said Kurama, his eyes narrow.
The man did have quite a bit of reiki, though it was suppressed at the moment. It was possible he could sense something off about Hiei’s energy. Kurama
doubted the man would recognize him as a demon, but sensitive people – Kuwabara for instance – felt the difference. It made him wonder how powerful
Kenshin was when he wasn’t holding his energy in.
The tantei stood back as the four strangers spoke to the woman in charge of the restaurant, who arranged for them to have a seat far from the other guests.
The group, once they’d taken a seat, resembled nothing so much as a family, from the boy’s greedy eyeballing of the food and the way the girl smacked his
hand before he could get any, to the fond smile the redhaired man gave the pair. But that image was broken when the man turned to look up at them.
They sat down across the steaming food, Kuwabara letting out an involuntary sigh of longing. Yusuke bopped him over the head for it. And a sharp look from
Kurama kept the two from launching into another display of immaturity.
“I know this will sound strange,” Kurama said, speaking to the redhaired man. “We have reason to believe an old enemy of yours, someone you believe to be
dead, is planning to attack you again. We’re here to protect you against that attack.”
“And you’re talking about Shishio,” said Sano. “We don’t just believe he’s dead. We know he’s dead. He burned up from the inside. No one lives through
Kenshin blinked wide, confused eyes at Sano. “Shishio?”
“Yeah,” Sano nodded. “They said something about him hurting Jo-chan.”
Kaoru froze where she’d been about to smack Yahiko with his own hand. She quickly released him and turned to frown at Kenshin. “But I never even met him.”
“What makes you believe he’s alive?” Kenshin asked, his gaze going to Hiei.
Kurama answered instead, and noted that Kenshin frowned when he received nothing but silence from Hiei.
“It’s very complicated,” said Kurama. “To make it as simple as possible, an old enemy of ours has managed to find Shishio’s spirit. He’s currently inhabiting
the body of our enemy, and he’s going to use that body to kill all of you, but particularly you, Himura-san. We plan to stop him. In order for us to do that, we’ll
need your cooperation.”
“Wow,” Yahiko breathed, his brown eyes as wide as saucers. “They’re completely nuts. And they sound so normal…”
Hiei glared heatedly at him, but Yahiko ignored it. He shifted impatiently and prodded Kaoru. “Can I eat now? What’s the point of coming here if we can’t
eat? You guys can talk to them while I eat, can’t you?”
Kaoru scowled and huffed at the boy. “Fine, just keep quiet.”
With a wide grin, Yahiko did just that. Only he wasn’t exactly quiet. Kurama winced at the loud sounds as the boy decimated the heated meat, his enthusiasm
so strong it dampened even Kuwabara’s hunger.
“So,” Sano started, “you’re here to protect us from Shishio’s ghost. Which is using the body of your enemy?”
Yusuke grinned and patted a consoling hand on Kurama’s shoulder. “It does sound pretty far-fetched. You have to admit it, Kurama. Like you said earlier,
who would believe that?”
“It is true, though,” Kurama frowned. “Because of his crimes, Shishio’s spirit was held in an afterlife prison. Our enemy broke into that prison and gave him a
body to possess. If you have to, consider him reincarnated in a new form. He is alive again, and he is going to kill all of you.”
“All but you,” Hiei said to Sano. “He leaves what’s left of you behind. I suspect you kill yourself a few hours later.”
Sano stiffened, his face a mask of surprise and outrage. “I’d never kill myself!”
Kenshin put a calming hand on Sano’s arm, and turned dark, dangerous eyes on Hiei. Now that he’d heard the dark one speak, he was determined to
question him. He could sense the stranger’s battle aura, and it was darker than any he’d ever encountered.
“Your friend says you come to protect us from what may happen,” said Kenshin, “but you speak of it as if it has already happened. Explain.”
“Explain what will happen, or how I know it will happen?” Hiei returned.
Kurama drew in a sharp breath, but Hiei began before the redhead could stop him. Kenshin wanted to know. Then he’d tell him exactly what he wanted to
know. Hiei’s eyes narrowed and snapped over to the boy, who was currently eating with only one curious eye on them.
“The boy,” said Hiei, “and two girls younger than him. They die first, blown into the wood and paper building. The landing leaves them sprawled and twisted,
broken. She,” to Kaoru, who leaned closer to Kenshin and looked horrified, “comes out of the ruined building, an old man with her. She is caught by the
throat, her head twisted and torn off. The old man dies with a hand through his stomach, tearing him in half. You,” to Sano, “are mutilated and broken, but
still breathing. The target is last,” to Kenshin, “tortured and beaten to death. It takes hours before you die. Afterward he goes after a tall man with two
swords, and an older man with deadly eyes. Do you want to know how they die?
“I know this will happen, because it has already happened. I’ve seen it happen. I can show it to you, if you want to live it twice before you die.”
“Hiei,” Kurama said sharply, his eyes full of reproach. “They won’t die if we help them.”
Hiei stared for a moment before leaning back, his arms folded and a careless expression on his face. “Right…”
“You can show us,” Kenshin repeated, his voice a tight whisper. “Are you threatening to do the things you’ve described?”
“No,” said Hiei. “I can show you what I saw. It’s right here.”
He brushed his hand over his bandanna, a flash of dark purple lighting behind the white cloth. Kurama hissed and shot a look toward the people on the other
side of the restaurant.
“Not here,” Kurama said sharply. “There are too many people here. The affect that could have on the future is too severe.”
“So remove the witnesses.”
Kurama shot a look at Kenshin, taking in how closed the man’s expression was. He didn’t believe any of it. He saw them as an enemy. He’d never allow
himself, or his friends to be alone with them. He didn’t and wouldn’t trust them without proof.
Kuwabara jolted a bit when Kurama reached a hand toward his hair. Beside him, Yusuke winced and looked decidedly wary.
“What are you going to do?” asked Kuwabara.
“Put them to sleep,” Kurama frowned. “Only because he won’t believe without proof.”
That was sent to Kenshin, who gave no response at all. He simply stared at the four of them with dark, distrustful eyes.
Kurama pulled a small seed from his hair and held it in his palm. He let them watch as it sprouted tiny feathery tendrils. Then be lifted his hand and blew
against the seedling. Dust shimmered across the room, only a few people noticing it before they all began to sag.
The girl who’d greeted the group collapsed in a chinging of shattered glass, her tray falling to the floor. And Kenshin bolted from his seat, a sword held with
the tip pressing lightly against Kurama’s throat.
“What did you do?” Kenshin demanded.
“He removed the witnesses,” Hiei answered.
Kenshin froze, his eyes going wild. He hadn’t seen the stranger move. Soujiro was faster than him, but even he couldn't go from a seated, unprepared stance
to super speed in a matter of seconds. Beside him, Sano's face was a deathly white.
Hiei was crouched on the short wall behind Kenshin, his sword dangling down over Sano's shoulder so the sharp edge brushed the human's bare neck. He
stared hard at Kenshin, his eyes flicking from the place where the man's sword touched Kurama's skin, to Kenshin's shocked face. Then he shifted his grip so
that a small trickle of blood trailed down Sano's neck.
Kaoru swallowed sharply, her eyes on Sano's neck and the bright edge of that sword. "Kenshin...?"
"Enough," Kenshin said sharply. He shifted back and sheathed his sword, not breaking eye contact with Hiei. "I would not have drawn blood."
"Not with that sword," Hiei remarked. "I have no problem drawing blood."
He leaned back, flicking his sword to the side so a few flecks of blood flew off the clean surface to spot the dark floor. Then he slipped it into the sheath
hidden beneath the back of his cloak. That done, he hopped down to stand beside the redhead.
"Hiei," he said, his tone as calm as if he hadn't just threatened to kill the man's partner, or lover, whichever the case were.
Kenshin's eyes narrowed as he slowly resumed his seat, putting the two of them at eye level. "Like the mountain. What are you?"
He really did seem to, as far as Hiei could tell. Hiei gave a slow smirk and pulled the band off his jagan. Kenshin didn't move, though his pupils contracted
abruptly. Hiei stared into those wide eyes as he leaned a bit closer.
"You don't see," Hiei murmured, "but you will...see what I saw..."
Sano turned sharply, just in time to catch Kenshin when the smaller man reeled backwards. He took one glance at that bright, glowing third eye. And the eye
closed before he caught more than a glimpse of Kenshin's face, shadowed and bloody, with glazed, lifeless eyes.
"Not for you," Hiei said in rebuke.
He turned away and retied the cloth over his forehead. Kenshin was gasping, but he paid him no mind. It would take the human's mind a few minutes to sort
out the images and sounds he'd sent him in those short seconds of contact.
"Kenshin!" Kaoru cried, leaning over Sano's shoulder. "Kenshin? Are you all right?"
"Easy, Jo-chan," Sano said quietly. "I don't think it hurt him."
"No," Hiei said casually, taking a seat next to Kurama. "It didn't hurt him. It shocked him, tore at his soul, but it didn't hurt him. It won't hurt him until, unless, it
Kenshin let out a shuddery breath and made as if to pull away. Sano shifted him up so he could lean upright on his own. Dazed violet eyes flickered to him,
and he had another flash of that sight he'd caught when he'd looked into that eye. He'd seen Kenshin's death. What had Kenshin seen...?
"Is it true...?" Kenshin whispered, his voice as haunted as his pale face. "That was Shishio...?"
Hiei nodded. "In Sensui's body. The power of that body is beyond any human I've ever seen. In Shishio's control, you stood no chance against it."
"Why would he do that?" Kenshin asked fervently. "Why? He was never so...to do that..."
"Because he could," said Hiei. "In the few weeks that have passed since his death here, he has spent two hundred years in hell. The things a person can
dream in a place like that...you and your friends were lucky to die the way you did. Others who died after you had it much worse. I can show you those, if you
need to see it."
Kenshin jerked his head down, his eyes closing tight. "No. I don't need...I don't want to see any more. I believe you."
"Kenshin...?" asked Kaoru.
Pained violet eyes flickered open and slid over Sano, Kaoru, and Yahiko. Then they cooled to a more normal blue-violet shade as Kenshin took a deep,
calming breath. "It's all right, Kaoru-dono. I won't let it happen."
"We really died...?" asked Kaoru. "You...you saw us die...?"
"How can he be a demon? Hell and ghosts and demons...maybe I'm the one who's nuts..." Yahiko whispered to himself, only half aware of what was being said
outside his panicked imagination.
"It won't happen," Kenshin repeated firmly. "It won't."
"Not if we can help it," Kurama said quietly. "To help, we'll need your cooperation."
"Yes," said Kenshin.
He turned to look over the sleeping people in the restaurant. Then he frowned at Kurama. "Will they recover from this?"
"It's only sleep," Kurama assured him. "Just a simple sleep. They'll be confused, as if they'd been drugged or drunk. And they'll pass off anything strange as
having been a mere daydream. We can leave them here to wake on their own. The lady will think she saw you out and simply forgot about it during her daze."
"I guess that's a free meal, then," Sano said weakly, trying a faint smile on Kenshin. "It'd be a first for you."
Kenshin's breath caught for a moment, his expression making Sano look concerned. Then he ducked his head and wiped the back of his hand over Sano's
neck. He stared at the blood smeared over his hand. "It won't happen..."
"We should go to the dojo," Kenshin said, rising sharply and nodding to Kaoru. "If I may invite them?"
"Of course," Kaoru said quickly. "I mean, if you think that's best..."
"I do," said Kenshin. "If we're going to protect ourselves, we'll need all the help we can get."
* * *