Part 5:  Playing Catch-up

It wasn't a far trip to the village, but Hakkai kept the pace slow on the way back.  He wasn't really annoyed at his friend's behavior, but he did feel the need to
talk to him about it.  While he hadn't heard much about the youko, he could tell Kurama had a short temper.  The only question was whether that temper was
aimed toward flirts in general, since youkos were known to do their own flirting, or those directed at Hiei in particular.  

From what little Hiei had told him before they set out, the two friends had a lot of history, most of that concerning their involvement with the Reikai.  His real
information had come from Bui, who'd warned both he and Gojyo not to take the kitsune's human form to be any reflection of his real nature.  Good advice
since they'd already seen the demon wasn't nearly as 'passive' as his redhaired form led one to believe.

"You might as well just say it," Gojyo commented, shooting a sly smile at his quiet friend.  "I know you're not creeping along for the fun of it."

"I don't want to see you get into trouble," Hakkai frowned.  "Why are you pushing this so much?  It's one thing to taunt Bui when he's watching, but he's never
going to know whether or not you flirted while we were gone.  And provoking Kurama like that is just going to cause problems when we get back."

"Well, it's not just about Bui, you know.  I like a challenge."  Shrugging lightly, Gojyo smiled.  "And Hiei's so...gah.  I don't know how to put it, challenging.  It's
like he doesn't know his own appeal, and that just makes me want to show it to him.  He almost reminds me of you when we met."  Hakkai blinked at him, and
he gave a teasing wink.  "Except I didn't plan to sleep with you, just torment you till you cracked."

"I knew you were all talk from the moment I saw you," Hakkai smirked, shaking his head as an arm fell around his shoulders.  "It's all about the fun of the chase
with you.  No sense of responsibility at all."

"Ah, don't be mean about it," Gojyo sighed.  "I have a long life ahead of me.  What fun would it be to settle down without enjoying myself first?"

"Like you'd ever settle down."

"I might."  Gojyo flicked his gaze around before leaning closer to Hakkai, his voice a conspiratorial whisper.  "You know, if I'm right about Hiei, I wouldn't mind
keeping him around for a while."

"You'd get bored within a week," Hakkai said, rolling his eyes.  "When have you ever kept anyone around for more than two days?"

Gojyo pouted, pulling back with a wounded look.  "I kept you, didn't I?"

"Only because I didn't fall for your teasing," Hakkai reminded him.

"Yeah, well, there's a first time for everything.  In the meantime, I'm having a ball with that fox.  He's even worse than Bui. It's one thing to be shy about liking
him, but the fox is oblivious.  They're both pathetic.  They act like he's not a hot blooded demon."

Hakkai sighed.  "Not everyone jumps a person just because he's attracted.  There are consequences and responsibilities to think about first.  And Hiei
himself.  He barely even notices Bui's interest in him, what makes you think he'd want you?"

"Because I am interested in him," Gojyo smirked, "and unlike that prude, I'm not afraid to let it show.  He might think I'm just playing now, but once he catches

"If I didn't know it would only encourage you, I'd tell you that you don't stand a chance."  Hakkai shook his head, resignation making his shoulders slump
beneath Gojyo's heavy arm.  "He might put up with you, but that doesn't mean he's the least bit attracted to you."

"All in good time, my pretty friend, all in good time.  If demons were attracted just from having me touch their shoulders, you'd be all over me by now."  Bright
hazel eyes flicked to him, and Gojyo grinned, ruffling a hand over Hakkai's dark brown hair.  "You sure you're not a eunuch?"

Hakkai let out a long sigh.  "Gojyo..."

Laughing, Gojyo prodded him to pick up a quicker pace.  "Come on.  I probably gave that fox ideas.  Can't have him all alone with my catch."

"You haven't caught him yet."

"Yet being the key word," Gojyo smirked.

The clearing wasn't very small, but Kurama and Hiei had taken a little corner of it, namely an overhanging tree.  Still in his youko form, Kurama was seated
beneath it, talking up to the limb above where Hiei had stretched out to wait.  

They looked over when the other two returned, a twitch of annoyance the only negative reaction Kurama had.  Since Hiei had commented on his unusually
quick temper, he was determined to hold it in check.  If Hiei, as impatient as he'd always been, could resist blowing up at the kappa, surely he could do the
same.  After all, he was supposed to be the calm one.  

Despite his decision, Kurama couldn't help but be annoyed at the way Gojyo's gaze immediately sought out Hiei.

"You're not going to stay up there, are you?" Gojyo frowned, moving to stand in front of Kurama, his attention directed to the dark-eyed demon above him.  

Hiei raised an eyebrow, not shifting from his relaxed spot on the wide limb.  He was laying on his stomach, arms folded beneath his head, so he didn't even
have to move to see the people beneath him.

"Maybe," Hiei sniffed.

"We brought food," Hakkai smiled, nodding to Kurama.  He handed the kitsune some before turning to hold some up for Hiei.  A quick swipe and his attempt
was foiled by a grinning kappa.

"Oh, no," Gojyo taunted.  "If he's hungry, he can come down and eat with the rest of us."  He looked up at Hiei, smirking at the demon's scowl as he put on a
deep purring tone.  "Be sociable, will you?  I promise to make it worth your time..."

Kurama's eyebrow twitched, but a low sound above him made his tail bristle.  Hiei laughed!  He thought it was funny.  What was wrong with the world?  What
had happened in the last few years to make Hiei think this obnoxious water sprite was funny?  And even worse than the laugh was the result.  It was all he
could do not to protest when Hiei hopped down to stand beside him.  If he hadn't known better, he'd swear Hiei liked the guy, and that just made no sense at

"My time is costly," Hiei smirked, eyeing Gojyo with amusement.  "How much do you have?"

Gojyo grinned, a light laugh making Hakkai smile behind him.  "Not that much right now, not if you're talking about food.  But I'll make up for that with good

"And good company is what you're known for," Hakkai teased.  He moved over to sit near Kurama, nodding for the other two to relax.  "After we eat, we should
probably get back on the road.  If we're going to camp out, then we can walk till dark before stopping.  There isn't much between here and the fortress, so it
doesn't matter where we set down at."

Kurama bit into his food silently, his eyes locked on the two demons to his right.  Hiei was eating with his usual single-minded focus, completely unconcerned
about the arm that was once again around his shoulders.  To his credit, Gojyo wasn't exactly flirting, not at the moment.  It was more like a friendly presence,
that arm.  And the more Kurama looked at it, the more a thought built in his mind.  

It reminded him of Yusuke.  Oh, not the flirting.  Yusuke had liked to tease Hiei as much as he did, but the boy had never been sexual about it.  No, it was just
the familiarity of that contact.  And it made Kurama wonder if that weren't the explanation.  Hiei didn't take the flirting seriously, passing it off as teasing.  So
maybe he accepted the contact because it reminded him of Yusuke, of their old camaraderie.  That thought was much better to handle, and Kurama held onto
it.  He'd never really touched Hiei himself, but their human friend had been tactile by habit.  Naturally, Hiei had shrugged it off at first, but he'd gotten used to it
after a while.  And it had been years since then.  

Maybe Hiei really was lonely.  Not, Kurama's mind spat sharply, for the sort of companionship Gojyo was offering.  No, Hiei probably missed his friends as
much as Kurama had, sitting in his solitary home in the Ningenkai.  Unlike him, Hiei couldn't just make a phone call, or walk a few miles to visit them.  He'd been
entirely cut off with Mukuro as his main companion.  No wonder he was letting an overly friendly kappa hang on him.  

Well, Kurama thought determinedly, if he wants a friend, he has one right here.  Hiei didn't need to settle for someone like that.

"Tell me more about this Kouga," Kurama said, his gaze locking on Gojyo.  The man seemed surprised by the attention, or surprised that he wasn't glaring at
him.  Either way, he blinked those wine red eyes and glanced over at Hakkai as if he needed confirmation.  What, did he not think Kurama was capable of
being civil?

"Well," Gojyo said, frowning at the fox's direct gaze.  "He's all right, considering he has the entire Makai under his thumb now.  He spent a few years watching
the Ningenkai before the tournament, so that's where he got his idea to have the people vote for their leaders.  Most of us think he's crazy to bother, but he's
gotten support from the current heads.  A lot seem to think they'll get..."

"Elected," Hakkai supplied, nodding to Kurama.  "Like the human elections. The current leaders believe they'll be elected by their people rather than having
their control taken from them in favor of someone else.  Re-elected, I think is the word."

"I see," said Kurama.  "Then they aren't concerned about the idea because they don't expect to lose their positions."

"But not everyone's that confident," Gojyo sniffed.  "Yomi hasn't really been stationary anyway, but there's little chance of him holding his position if the people
living on his territory get a chance to throw him down with a simple vote."

"Which will just make a small scale war," Hiei said, rolling his eyes.  "The entire idea is stupid.  The only reason Mukuro and Yomi have given their support is
because if they're both overthrown, they'd have a better chance of taking out Kouga together than they would apart."

"Surely Kouga knows that," Kurama said, frowning in concern. "I could understand why he'd have elections to settle the smaller territory disputes, but he can't
really expect to displace S class demons and get away with it."

Gojyo shrugged, tossing a smirk to Hiei before shaking his head at Kurama.  "He's strange that way.  He says it'll be more interesting than having Mukuro and
Yomi take each other out.  The way I see it, if he just kept this election thing to the weak demons, nothing would happen.  Mukuro and Yomi would eventually
get their grudge match and both of their territories would be up for grabs.  That sort of opening would cause all sorts of chaos.  But if the two were to focus on
him instead of each other, then everyone else would stand back to watch the show."

"Mukuro likes the idea," Hiei said, smirking as well.  "She says she'll have her match with Yomi whether they both fight Kouga first or not.  They're getting bored
with losing the tournaments, so this is a nice stir-up for them."

"Because they've never been matched?" asked Kurama.  He remembered what Hiei had said in the Reikai, and raised an eyebrow at Hakkai.  "Was the last
tournament rigged?"

"Oh, sure," Hakkai said, his smile as pleasant as ever.  "Very few demons would make it as clean as Yusuke did when he ran the tournament.  The idea was to
keep the stronger demons matched up so none of them would rule.  No one knows who actually rigged the drawing, but it was obviously rigged."

"I told you," Hiei sniffed, his expression settling into a scowl.  "No way would I have been matched with Mukuro again by chance.  And Yomi and Shura?  Twice
in a row?  Impossible."

"But Yomi defeated Shura last time," Kurama commented, "and Mukuro went on to fight after her last match with you.  Whoever rigged the drawing must have
known you and Shura were stronger now."

"I think it was Kouga," Gojyo smirked.  "He was the only S class not matched with another of his own level. Just don't ask me how he managed to rig it.  That's
one of his little secrets."

Hiei rolled his eyes and scowled at Gojyo.  "Bui knows, so it's not much of a secret."

"Yeah, well, Bui knows a lot of things.  Doesn't mean he tells them to anyone."  Gojyo's expression smoothed into a flirtatious smile.  "I'd tell you, though, if it
was me."

Snorting at the man's smile, Hiei shook his head.  "That's why Kouga hasn't told you."

Hakkai laughed, catching Kurama's attention.  "It's true, of course.  Gojyo and I might be serving Kouga, but he doesn't confide in us much.  Mukuro is the
same way with her second, so it levels things out."  

He turned his smile on Hiei, tilting his head a bit.  "Does she trust the ones under you, Hiei?"

"There aren't any," Hiei said, shrugging.  "Her men don't trust her at the moment, so it's just as well that she not trust them either."

"Oh, yeah," Gojyo grinned, "I heard about that.  Must be tough for her."

"It's her own fault," Hiei sniffed.  "I told her to fix it."

Gojyo gave the demon a light squeeze, grinning even more.  "I'm glad she didn't.  I couldn't very well go after you if she'd claimed you as her mate."

"Hn.  Like I'd let her, even if she were interested."  Hiei turned, smirking at Kurama.  "If I didn't know better, I'd say she has her sights set on Yomi."

"No!"  Kurama jerked back against the tree, his face twisted in distaste.  "You aren't serious."

Hiei gave a solemn nod, though his lips still curved in that sly smirk.  "And the way the two are set to tear into each other, I'd say it's mutual.  No other reason
she'd keep waiting to get herself fixed up.  She doesn't want to fight with him if there's a chance of anything coming from it.  She'd test his strength first."

Kurama shivered as his mind gave him rather lurid images of the two demons in question.  "The children they would have..."

"Stronger than Shura," Hiei shrugged.  "Come to that, did you know he's sterile?"  The fox turned wide golden eyes on him, and he nodded.  "He's been going
wild on the females in Yomi's territory but so far nothing has come from it.  Yomi is quite displeased."

"Well," Kurama sniffed, "that's what he gets for creating him in a lab.  He should leave that sort of manipulation to the humans."

"You don't seem to like him much," Gojyo commented, frowning over at Kurama.  "Why are you still his second?"

"Don't ask me."  Kurama shook his head, frowning at his folded arms.  He and Yomi definitely had history, and they had parted on good terms - good
considering he'd tried to assassinate the demon not too long ago.  But with Shura, Yomi had made his own second.  Why the man hadn't replaced him with his
'son' was beyond him.  "It's Shura's responsibility."

Hakkai gave a sad smile, shaking his head at the youko.  "Shura doesn't have any responsibility.  He was created to be a stronger duplicate of Yomi, and
that's just what he is.  The difference is that Shura didn't get the life experience Yomi did.  He grew up in a matter of months.  Now he's a full grown demon with
the mind of an adolescent."

"Scary," Hiei shivered.  "An adolescent Yomi wandering the hills."

Kurama couldn't help but laugh at that image.  "Yomi was bad enough when he was younger.  I can't imagine him as a teenager."

"Well," Hakkai said, stretching and climbing to his feet.  "If you stick around after the talks, you'll probably see both Yomi and Shura.  If things go the way we
expect, the two are bound to be showing up.  Even if they do get to keep their territory, I know Yomi will want a 'talk' with Kouga."

The others stood, gathering what little remained of the meal.  They headed back to the trail, which Hakkai said would take them in a relatively straight path to
the fortress.  As they settled into a steady pace, Kurama made his first move to displace Gojyo's presence over Hiei.  

It was strange for him, since he really couldn't remember ever touching Hiei outside of necessity - wrapping his arm after using the kokoryuuha, for instance.  
Very few youkai were tactile with friends or simple comrades.  That sort of contact was reserved for lovers and enemies.  But he'd been living as a human for
years, and humans were naturally tactile.  Not sure what Hiei would say, Kurama eased close enough to him to drop a light hand on the demon's left shoulder
as they walked.  And it was noticed immediately.  Gojyo shot him a sharp look, while Hiei blinked up at him in visible surprise.  Determined to act natural,
Kurama smiled down at his friend.

"It's too bad Yusuke couldn't come with us," Kurama said lightly.  "This reminds me of our missions together."

Hiei blinked a bit before looking forward again, his face falling into a light scowl.  "It does.  But he'd be bored once he found out we won't be doing any fighting."

"Probably," Kurama laughed.  "I doubt he's settled down that much in the last few years.  Though Keiko has certainly done her best to get him adapted being a
respectable young man."  Gojyo was still glaring at him from the other side of Hiei, and Kurama ignored it.  "They're married now, did you know?"

"I figured," said Hiei.  "That's why he went back, so he could live his life as a normal ningen.  Any children yet?"

Kurama smirked, shaking his head.  "No, not yet.  He was worried that they'd have too much demon inheritance from him, since his demon blood awakened.  I
think they're going to wait to see if he ages normally first.  He's been suppressing his demon side, so they're hoping that will keep it from transferring to the

"It skips generations,” said Hiei, “so that shouldn't matter.  Whatever the child might inherit would sit dormant his entire life."  

Gojyo's hand fell onto his right shoulder, and Hiei's eyebrow twitched as he found himself between two tight grips.  He'd wondered why Kurama had touched
him, but now he had an idea.  A glance up at the fox found Kurama glaring over his head, and he didn't need to look to know Gojyo was returning that glare.  
Hiei’s shoulders hunched, shrugging off both hands.  A second later and he was ahead of them, scowling back over his shoulder.  

"If you want to play with each other,” he growled, “leave me out of it."

"Now look what you did," Gojyo frowned, looking at Kurama.  "Just can't keep your hands to yourself, can you."

"Me?!"  Kurama bristled, glaring at the offending kappa.  "I was just talking to my friend."

"And I was just keeping my friend company," said Gojyo.

"Since when is he a friend of yours?"

"Obviously since I met him and made friends with him.  I didn't know youkos were so dumb."

"What would a kappa know about intelligence?"

"Enough to know a jealous fox when I see one."

"Better than a perverted water sprite.  And I'm not jealous, I'm just watching out for my friend."

"Your friend's a big boy, he can watch out for himself."

"They get along wonderfully," Hakkai commented, smiling down at Hiei as they preceded the arguing demons.  "You'd think they've been bickering for years."

"If you could tell when you aren't wanted,” Kurama growled, “he wouldn't need to."

"And if you knew when to mind your own business, we wouldn't be having this discussion."

"Idiots," Hiei sniffed.  "Reminds me of being back with Yusuke and Kuwabara.  If they come to blows, we'll have to separate them."

"Don't tell me what is and is not my business,” said Kurama.  “I've known him a lot longer than you've have."

"Like it matters how long you've known him,” Gojyo scoffed.  “Real demons have needs.  A real youko wouldn't just sit around growling at the competition."

"Yes," Hakkai sighed.  "We wouldn't want them to hurt each other."

"What competition?  All I see is a horny kappa who doesn't know when to quit."

"And all I see is a pent up youko who just realized his friend is a prime catch, about to be snatched up by someone else right under his nose."

"Then again," Hiei grumbled, "if they kill each other, it'll be a more pleasant trip."

"Pent up?!  Keep flapping that mouth of yours and I'll show you pent up."

"Nothing worse than a sex-deprived youko.  And I thought I was bad."

"It would certainly be quieter," Hakkai sighed.

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