No matter how long Sanosuke worked as a cop, he never quite lost his amazement over the way squad cars inevitably showed up the moment a crisis was
over. He'd carried the oddly dressed redhead into the hospital and immediately been bombarded by people in white uniforms. It gave him a good reason not
to get injured in the future. Those women were half his height, but their voices held a note of iron that nearly had him cringing. Luckily for him, an older man
had come to supervise the chaos, and Sano had placed the potential suspect and victim on a small wheeled stretcher. And as the short hyper driven women
separated him from his previous burden, Sanosuke made his latest mistake. The lifesavers rushed off down the hall so quickly he forgot to take the man's
sword. He realized that a few seconds after the swinging doors clipped shut, the original calm easing back in the air of the hospital lobby. And then, as he
was about to go after that piece of evidence, the brief respite was broken, the silence scurrying away in the wake of loud sirens. The crisis was over, and the
troops had arrived.
Ambulances and police cars had specifically different sounds, when it came to wailing sirens, so Sanosuke wasn't surprised when a cruiser pulled right to the
front of the hospital. He'd asked the receptionist to make the call while he was dealing with the over-exuberant medical staff, so Sano was expecting the chief
to be behind the wheel. That man had a uncanny ability to show up every time he made a mistake, and an infuriating habit of telling the entire force about
every mistake within twenty-four hours. Sano sighed in relief when he saw who the young driver was. Large dark eyes caught his as the oddest officer on the
force waved him over.
As far as looks were concerned, Sano had spent weeks before anyone could convince him Soujiro wasn't sixteen at the oldest. The dark-haired officer was so
small, with a somehow childish face, and tendency to smile pleasantly at even the most gruesome of crime scenes. The seeming youth had one of those
smiles on now, and Sano leaned over the car. "You got my call," he started, "The suspect-"
"There is a situation at a warehouse one point eight miles from here," Soujiro interrupted, smiling when the younger, if much taller, man blinked in surprise.
"We've sent men to the location you gave, but we have reports of screams from this warehouse, the last one having sounded not too long ago. The officer on
the scene requested backup, and Hajime-san told me to pick you up. It must be your cult."
Of course Saitoh had something to do with it. Sano might have expected as much. But it couldn't have been his cult, no one in that barn had survived except
him, and the sword-bearing stranger. Remembering that weapon, Sano frowned back at the hospital. "I have a situation here," he muttered. "As far as I can
tell the entire cult was wiped out, and the only suspect is in there."
"If he's injured, then he can stay there," Soujiro said, his expression only lightly amused. "Hajime-san is waiting at the warehouse. You know how impatient he
Sanosuke knew exactly what he was talking about, and there was no point arguing about it. Soujiro squealed tires the moment he shut the passenger door
behind him, making the taller man stare in surprise. "A little impatient aren't you?" Sano murmured, looking over the young man's glinting eyes. "Did they
send you straight from the station to get me?"
"Yes," Soujiro nodded, not looking away from the road. "The officer who requested backup called for a medical unit as well. It could be a witness, or a
survivor." Sano was shaking his head beside him, and Soujiro raised an eyebrow. "I didn't think your cult had any enemies."
"Neither did I," Sano muttered, "and they're not *my* cult. I still don't see why I got assigned to infiltrate them."
"Because you're expendable." Wide dark brown eyes flew to him, and Soujiro's lips twitched at Sanosuke's look of outrage. "I'm too good an officer to risk
sending into a group of fanatical killers. And we all know Hajime-san doesn't like you." The young man gnashed his teeth, and Soujiro smiled when Sano
turned to glare out the window. It wasn't that simple. Almost all of the older members of the force were aware of Saitoh's unusual reaction toward the tall
officer. Their chief had never seemed to enjoy tormenting anyone so much as he did Sanosuke, and there were a number of bets running as to whether
Saitoh would end up killing or merely attacking the outspoken youth. The man's order to pick Sano up, along with the absolute coldness in the man's tone,
made Soujiro lean toward the 'attack' side, with less possibility of outright murder. It was a quick drive to where red and blue lights had created a beacon on
the crowded street, so Soujiro pushed his curiosity aside. He wanted to know more about Sanosuke's claim that 'his' cult had been wiped out, but the yellow
tape holding back curious onlookers took precedence. Besides that, a tall dark-clothed shape had separated itself from the crowd of officers just outside the
door to the warehouse.
Sanosuke's back tensed the moment those dark eyes hit him, and he was suddenly reminded that he was *not* dressed for duty and looked liked he'd
stumbled out of a splatter movie set. How could he have forgotten? Of course, Soujiro hadn't looked at him funny, but then, he could have been wearing
clown make-up and the other officer would merely give him that small, careless smile. Saitoh came to a halt in front of him, and Sano bristled, folding his arms
over his chest. He hadn't exactly had time to wash the dried blood off. "It's not mine."
"Obviously," Saitoh snorted, his sharp dark eyes snapping past the tall youth to the crowd of onlookers. The blood-smeared officer was certainly attracting
attention. If it weren't bad enough that Sanosuke was nearly naked, the top half of the man's white pants were positively soaked in red, as was his torso and
arms. But he was standing steadily enough, and there didn't seem to be any pain hidden in Sano's scowling expression. With a slow smirk, Saitoh stepped to
the side and waved a hand toward the open doorway. "You can make your official report after you survey the scene."
The captain's mocking tone made Sano's eyebrow twitch, but he managed not to glare at the man. He ignored the quite murmurs as the crowd's attention
shifted to him, and he was almost glad to be inside and out of their sight. At least, he was relieved for a few seconds. It didn't take any longer than that to
realize it was better outside.
The bodies, the positions, and the blood combined to hit him in one instantaneous mental blow that nearly left him reeling in the doorway. It was too similar, it
was almost frightening. A single empty cloak lay not far from the door, and Sanosuke's eyes dropped to it as he tried to collect himself. He could feel Saitoh's
eyes on him, and he straightened resolutely. There was no way he'd give that man reason to look down on him. Forcing his expression into a decisive one,
he looked around the room.
The fire was nearly identical to the one at the barn, and he said as much, the chief following silently behind him. From his own experience, he was able to
recreate the scene, and he had an inappropriate but strong surge of satisfaction when he saw Soujiro taking notes.
Referring to the fire, he explained the importance of the diameter. It only took one look to know the extinguished fire was the same size as the one he'd seen,
built with the same cinder blocks the cult was partial to. The bodies wouldn't be touched until he surveyed the scene, so Sano stepped around them, keeping
his report to other aspects for the moment.
The sacrificial basin he recognized immediately. Almost identical to the other, this one hadn't been 'perfect' enough for use. That confirmed his initial thought
that the cult would not have attempted two ceremonies at the same time. He remarked on the visible slice that had severed the large support beam, his
memory bringing him back to the sword he'd failed to get earlier. But he brushed the nagging thought aside as he finally moved to the bodies. It was there
that he stopped, his eyes widening as he stared into the familiar, if bloodstained, face of the man closest to the basin.
Sano felt a strange sensation creep over his neck, his gaze tracing the wound emblazoned between the man's eyes. A moment later, he turned to look at
Saitoh. The man was watching him, his usually infuriating smirk not affecting him this time. "He wasn't a full member," Sano said, his eyes dark. "It's the same
cult, but he didn't have the training to take part in an actual ceremony." Saitoh raised an eyebrow at him, and Sanosuke frowned, now recognizing some of the
others. "They couldn't keep the patterns straight," he recalled slowly, "so they weren't even allowed to witness the other attempts."
Soujiro stood back, noting how calm Sanosuke's voice was. This was one of the man's skills, his ability to notice and recall details. Although it wasn't often
that he got to see the usually short-tempered officer in his element, he gave the man credit for being as good as he was. If he hadn't been, he wouldn't have
made it onto Saitoh's squad. Sanosuke didn't seem to know the names of the victims, so Soujiro moved away when another officer waved to him from the
doorway. The message was quick and bad
With repressed haste, Soujiro moved between the two men, catching Saitoh's gaze, before looking at Sanosuke. "The squad called from your barn," he said
quickly, "no survivors. But another call came in as well, from the hospital. Your suspect's gone."
* * *
It wasn't always easy being perfect, but Kurama excelled at it. After so many years of practice, he'd formed a flawless excuse to give his mother by the time he
reached his home. The warehouse had been in a cheap district, the dark alleys making it easy to hold to the shadows. Actually approaching the house he
shared with his ningen mother was more difficult, but it helped that he'd spent half a lifetime playing the unseen thief in his own world. The Jaganshi slept
through the entire trip, and Kurama knew by the low youki he kept tabs on that the demon didn't move while he rambled off his story. Ever the understanding
and unsuspecting woman, his mother never doubted that he'd rushed off so suddenly because a fellow classmate was in dire need of help for a test Monday
morning. She was so happy to hear of his good deed that she didn't complain when he chose to eat in his room. A few moments of soft spoken apology and
he was clear.
Dedicating his time to studies and pleasing his mother, Kurama had made quite a stable routine for himself. The moment he tossed open the window of his
bedroom, he felt a wave of excitement to have broken free of that boredom. Yes, he was angry that the ningens had managed to humiliate and nearly kill him,
but it was almost worth it. He didn't just have himself an unconscious youkai, he had a true legend, and a mystery as well. His eyes glittered merrily when he
hopped from the window to the tree outside his room. The dark-haired demon was just where he'd left him, half hidden behind the flowering bushes close to
the house. He allowed a minute or two of hesitation, crouching over the shadowy Jaganshi as he enjoyed the rush in his blood. Just being near another
demon made his dormant half twitch for freedom. He could almost feel the wisps of silky hair slashing along the back of his knees. But this wasn't really the
place to attempt a transformation. He had a demon to take care of.
The Jaganshi was limp when he picked him up, holding the slight demon in one arm so he could balance himself after a quick leap onto the tree. He'd been
surprised when he first made his exit from the scene of the massacre, surprised that the demon hadn't moved a single muscle. But the breathing was steady
enough. His only complaint was the sticky damp cloak that did its best to stain his clean clothing. He'd done well to sneak inside and change before his
mother realized he was home. He didn't like to think of explaining how the white outfit had gotten blotched with dull maroon smears all along his chest and
side. That made two sets of clothing ruined in one day. It was a record for the perfect student and son. Kurama smiled at the thought. He hadn't realized he
was so bored with his life until this evening. Being a human was nothing if not dull.
Clothes aside, Kurama knew better than to risk dirtying his bed sheets, so he carried the demon with him as he crossed to his bedroom door. His mother had
always respected his privacy, rarely venturing into his room, but he wasn't going to take any chances. Pulling a seed from his thick red hair, he conned the
tiny vines into a tight shield. Anyone coming near that door would register a silent but blatant alarm, giving him more than enough time to hide his guest in
case of an unexpected interruption. With a little thought, he added a silencing benefit to the shield, forming a sort of kekkai not unlike the one he'd found
himself in earlier. It didn't take long to finish the work, but Kurama found himself shifting with impatience by the time he was done. He had to slow himself to
keep from bounding into the bathroom with his prize. If he hadn't known better, he'd think his mind had regressed to childhood. He felt just like an adolescent
youko who'd just made his first successful infiltration and theft from a dangerous fortress.
His bathroom was done in a pale blue and white mix, and Kurama kicked the soft rug into the corner. He'd always been a naturally neat youkai, but he did his
best to be an immaculate human. The Jaganshi was still a dead weight when he lowered him onto the floor, and Kurama sighed, crouching near that dark
head. When was he going to wake up? He could always strip the demon and tend his wounds without waiting. The idea did have Kurama's lips twitching with
a sly smile, but that was no way to thank the demon for having saved his life. As odd as their conversation had been, Kurama knew he had the youkai to
thank. He sighed again, scowling for a few moments with his green eyes on the ceiling. His heightened state was definitely due to that rush of youki he'd
gained from the demon. He knew that, but it didn't help him deal with the excess energy any. Impatience got the best of him quicker than he'd expected.
Leaning over the demon, he tugged open that sticky black cloak and blinked at the cuts. They looked a little better, clotted a bit. But they still needed
Kurama's fingers tapped the floor for a second before brushing over the demon's chest, his eyes darting to those closed eyes. As with the last bit of contact,
there was a tiny rush of youki transfer and then nothing. But the Jaganshi's skin was rather cool, almost clammy. He pursed his lips, green eyes flicking from
thick black hair and dark lashes, over to the nearby tub. A few more impatient seconds passed before he sighed yet again. "Okay, either you're in a coma, or
you're one of the best actors I've ever seen. And I have watched enough movies for a hundred ningen teenagers." Silence answered his soft words, and
Kurama frowned, folding his arms over his chest. His fingers tapped on his arm for a second before he leaned over the demon. "If you can hear me, you
might want to wake up. I have been known to take advantage of vulnerable youkai in my wilder days." Red eyes snapped open to glare at him, and Kurama
jerked back in shock, nearly hitting his head on the wall. He hadn't really expected the youkai to wake up, certainly not with such a lucid and heated scowl.
The black-haired demon didn't move, only those slitted red eyes focused to the side. Kurama stared for a second before regaining his composure. "I was
teasing," he said, smiling a bit when one slender eyebrow rose. "Really, I didn't think you would hear that. But I am glad you are awake. Do you have a name
besides Jaganshi? I went by Kurama, not too long ago." That gaze continued to stare at him, and Kurama's eyebrows twitched at the prolonged silence. "You
don't have to talk if you don't want to. I just thought it might be better if we were on a first name basis before I got you naked."
Hiei's fingers jerked, breaking his focused paralysis, and he sneered at the strange redhead. Any movement on his part detracted from his limited healing, but
anger tended to distract him. "What *are* you?"
"Ah, so you are still capable of speech." Kurama smiled when the demon's lips twitched to show one small pointed fang. "I'm a spirit fox in human form. I was
a youko before being reborn to this body. I suppose you could say I'm a ningen youko."
A wave of irritated anger accompanied a bout of bitter pain as Hiei closed his eyes. As if this strange summoning wasn't bad enough, he was at the mercy of a
youko. His muscles whimpered when he forced them into motion, tight skin pulling at the barely sealed wounds. He ignored all of it until he had pushed
himself into a sitting position, red eyes snapping open to glare at the smiling demon. "You'll be a dead youko before long," he growled, his low voice echoing
in the enclosed room. That caught his attention, and he tensed, shoulders hunching reflexively. He absolutely hated enclosures.
"Why do you say that?" Kurama blinked, tilting his head to the side. "And what's your name? I really would like to have something to call you."
"I don't care what you would like," Hiei sniffed, his eyes shifting to the closed door across from him. If he could get his body working, he'd be out of this trap in
seconds. A tentative flex of his legs told him it was a very big and unlikely if. He'd been wounded, nearly bled to death, and drained of almost all of his youki.
He was doing well not to have fallen onto his back yet. Green eyes framed by dark lashes entered his vision, and Hiei flinched back. The redhead was
leaning far too close him.
Kurama blinked at the Jaganshi, taking in the wide red eyes that slowly narrowed back into a glare. He felt a hint of disappointment at not having gained a
name yet, but it was joined by sparked interest. "You know, I think I'm going to like you. If you were at full power, what would you do?"
"Kill you and finish my task," Hiei said succinctly, not giving an inch from those sparkling green eyes that made his skin prickle with nervousness.
A quick smile flashed over Kurama's face, and he nodded. "That's what I thought. All I ever heard about you was that you showed up during the war and
wiped out entire battlefields--both sides. The Jaganshi kills everything in his path. When I saw you earlier I wondered about the legend, but you do sound
rather evil. Tell me, if you want to kill me, why didn't you do it before?"
Hiei scowled, leaning back a breath so his shoulder pressed the edge of the tub. How could he admit that he'd thought the demon an innocent human? Even
after hearing that the red-haired male was a youko, he sensed no evil from him. As many youkai as he'd killed, he'd never taken the life of an innocent. He
held his stubborn silence until the redhead smiled at him, his eye twitching in response. "How do you do that?" he muttered, glaring quickly.
"Do what?" Kurama blinked, easing back a bit.
"Seem as innocent as that child," Hiei spat. Honest confusion passed over the youko's face, and Hiei noted with irritation that the expression made him look
even more innocent, almost lovely. "How do you mask it?"
"Mask..." Red eyes followed him as he leaned back further, and Kurama felt a niggle of humor pull his lips. "You find me innocent?" he smiled, his eyes
sparkling merrily. "Is that why you didn't kill me with the others?" The demon's eyes narrowed angrily, making his smile turn sly. Lifting a hand, Kurama trailed
his fingers through the silky red hair that fell over his shoulder. "I'm not masking anything, Ja-chan. I suppose you find me innocent because in this body I
am. I'm only a seventeen year old ningen, after all."
The name tore Hiei's eyes away from that red hair, his expression twisting in outrage. "What did you call me?"
"Ja-chan," Kurama smiled, his eyes glittering. "Jaganshi-chan. You don't want to tell me your real name, so I picked one for you. I take it you don't approve?"
One black eyebrow seemed to have developed a rapid twitch, and Kurama nearly laughed at the sight.
"Hiei." The youko blinked, but he didn't care. Every bit of him bristled at the insult, and if he'd had the strength, he'd have cut the fool's tongue out.
"Mm," Kurama nodded, smiling at the demon, "Hiei is much nicer." He tilted his head, tugging a bit on his long forelock and noting how Hiei's eyes flicked down
to the movement. "Did you know that's the name of a ningen mountain? Kurama is as well. So ironic...maybe it's fate."
That soft tenor was like a screech to Hiei's limited patience, and he longed to disappear. He wanted nothing more than to lay immobile until he'd healed
enough to kill the idiot so he could go back to stasis. The fact that the youko was still alive had to be the thing tying him to the human world. In the past he'd
been called, killed every evil being in sight, and immediately been taken back to his dark den of flames. There was nothing so wonderful as that deep sleep.
He'd willingly given up his miserable demon life for that gift of imprisonment. The last thing he wanted was to be bound to a youko because he'd failed to kill
the demon when he had the chance. His eyes had fogged with his thoughts, and Hiei nearly fell over when fingers brushed his stomach. "Kisama!"
"Not so loud," Kurama hushed quickly, blinking at Hiei's blazing eyes. "And be careful or you'll hit your head on the tub."
The redhead was undoing the white belts that circled his waist, and Hiei grabbed the youko's hands, baring his teeth. "What do you think you're doing?!"
"Oh," Kurama smiled, "I'm undressing you. Remember? I said I wanted to wait until we were on first name basis, and we are. You are far too dirty for me to let
you in my bed. Besides, those cuts could do with a nice warm wash. As low as your youki is, they could get infected."
Bed? Wash? Hiei's eyes widened until they nearly filled his face, and he threw the youko's hands away from him, shoving his protesting limbs into motion until
he'd scooted a foot away. "Stay away from me! You'll die painfully enough-don't make me draw it out."
Kurama raised an eyebrow, giving the short demon a doubtful look. "You're still threatening me?" He reached a hand toward that dark head but paused when
Hiei snapped at him, flashing white teeth clicking together audibly. "Calm down. There's no need to be so defensive. If you were strong enough to bathe
yourself, I wouldn't intrude. But you aren't. I'm just going to wash you up, put some herbs on your cuts, and let you sleep." The jaganshi's expression didn't
change one bit. Kurama smiled. "And when you're all healed, you can try to kill me. How's that for a deal?"
The Jaganshi didn't make deals. Hiei's eyes narrowed, his left hand curling into claws and tearing at the bandages over his right arm. The youko jerked back,
startled by the sudden movement, but he didn't pay him any attention. All he had to do was kill this one. Stasis would heal him as well as anything.
Blood spotted the floor, dripping from the long rips, and the faded gray bandages fell in torn ribbons. All playfulness left Kurama's face as he crouched near
the small demon, watching the bright blue jagan that snapped open to glare at him. That previously small level of youki burgeoned, sharp black wisps of flame
swirling Hiei's right arm and heating the small room. Kurama's eyes narrowed, his gaze falling to the dark tattoo that swirled around that tense wrist, curving up
nearly to the demon's shoulder. "The dragon? Are you really so determined to kill me?" The jaganshi must have gained from that rise in energy. Kurama
remained low on the floor when Hiei stood suddenly, drawing a slender blade from low on his back. "You really are evil, aren't you. But don't think killing me
will be easy, Jaganshi, Hiei."
The increased youki made Hiei heady, his vision blurred just enough for him to waver on his feet. But it was his reserve, and it would serve its purpose. All he
needed was one hit and the youko would be dead. His right hand curled about the hilt of his sword, blood from his clawed arm warming in his palm. Narrow
green eyes were watching him, and he scowled at them, baring his small fangs. Even now he sensed no evil from the male, not a single drop. But this time
that would make no difference. Dark youki focused on steadying his stance. For a moment he was motionless, then he darted forward. His vision seemed
locked on those green eyes, and he choked when his leap was frozen halfway to his target. His muscles locked, the jagan closed, and the strange green
swirling sword that had appeared to block his weapon was completely unnecessary. Hiei stared at the odd vine sword originating from Kurama's wrist. His grip
loosened against his will, and his eyes snapped down when the blade clinked against the white floor. He couldn't attack him.
The jaganshi's speed should have gotten him despite his quickly-grown plants, but Kurama never got a chance to block that blurred sword. The black-haired
demon halted as if he'd struck an impenetrable barrier. Wide red eyes met his gaze, screaming the disbelief and painful confusion. He barely managed to
catch Hiei when the slight demon pitched forward, losing consciousness as abruptly as he'd gained it. That hidden store of youki disappeared just as quickly.
Kurama stared at the bowed head, his plants swirling back into a tiny vine that disappeared in his sleeve. "Why did you stop?" he whispered, lifting Hiei so he
could see the demon's closed eyes. "What is this task you want to finish? And how am I going to get answers from you when you knock yourself out by using
energy needed for healing? Jaganshi Hiei..."
The demon really was small, he barely reached Kurama's shoulders no matter how dangerously he glared. Looking from the tub to Hiei's pale face, Kurama
sighed. "All that fuss just to avoid a bath." He turned on the water, wetting a dark rag and laying the demon on the floor again. With a small smile, he picked
at Hiei's thick hair. "I'd never have thought the Jaganshi would be so modest."
* * *