(A/N): Hi. I'm alive. This chapter was a pain in the ass. I'm not very happy about it sucking the life out of me. I don't have kids yet so I shouldn't feel this tired.
Hope you take something enjoyable and or meaningful from this longer than normal segment.
Also, to everyone who reviewed? You're awesome. Honestly and totally awesome. Happy Hundo. Reviewer number 100 feel free to make a request.
Atsuko jolted awake with a smothered yell, sheets tangled between her legs and the fading sense of fear on her tongue. She winced immediately after the sharp motion, head chiding her heavily and the near thirty year old woman groaned before flopping back onto her mattress.
The image of Izumi lying on the ground bleeding out with Yusuke face down unmoving next to her was a fuzzy image her mind quickly suppressed.
It's been years since she had dreams like those. What could have possibly brought that back?
"Yusuke, get me some water." She ordered grumpily, voice slightly muffled by the pillow she dragged over to cover her face. The sun didn't seem to care that she wanted nothing to do with it.
It took Atsuko an embarrassingly long time to realize no one answered her, not even to tell her to get it herself. The lack of response usually indicated that her kids were at school and she had woken up in the early afternoon. Not an unusual occurrence so Atsuko merely grunted at the silence and mustered the willpower to stretch and groggily pull herself from bed, strange dream already forgotten.
The mother of two rifled around the kitchen for a glass, finding one in the dishwasher, and leaned against the counter as she sipped on water until her head felt less like it was trying to implode.
Chestnut eyes drifted lazily over the surprisingly tidy kitchen, which showed that Izumi or Keiko had been here sometime recently because the last time Atsuko clearly recalled her home it was littered in trash. The counter tops were wiped clean and the calendar that her last fling Shohiro found somewhere was once again tacked to the wall.
Atsuko's muzzy brain shuttered briefly at that.
Izumi had the annoying habit of crossing out the days of the week as the month progressed. Neither other Urameshi continued the habit so Atsuko noticed that half the month was clear even though she vividly remember last night as Michi's birthday, which was the 26th of the month. The last clearly marked day was the Saturday of a three day weekend Izumi was excited about.
Alertness crept upon Atsuko like a drug. That was over a week ago.
No one had touched the calendar since then and Izumi was far too OCD with such things to leave it to its own devices.
Which means Izumi hadn't been home since…
Atsuko frowned. Her brats hadn't mentioned anything of the sort. Yusuke and the blue haired girl said he'd be gone for the weekend, to which Keiko took that message in surprisingly good fashion. Izumi's little boyfriend, Shuiichi, hadn't been by either and neither had Kazuma.
With a huff, Atsuko set her glass down after one last swallow and headed towards the phone. Shiori would probably be home and her fox of a son would know Izumi's haunts better than Atsuko.
A self-depreciating smile curled her lips as she snagged the phonebook from under the table leg it was balancing. Sometimes Atsuko didn't feel like she knew her kids at all anymore. Izumi may be a carbon copy of Atsuko at her age but they were nothing alike.
For one, Atsuko was fairly certain her daughter had yet to even kiss a boy let along get to third base.
The line rang merrily much to the discomfort of her raging headache but soon enough a sweet feminine voice picked up the phone.
"Minamino residence, this is Shiori."
Brown eyes crinkled in a smile. How the hell had Izumi found this angel of a woman? Atsuko wasn't one for manners but she at least gave an effort to be polite to the woman on the other line. Despite knowing how much of a fuck up of a mother Atsuko was, Shiori never judged. "Hey Shiori-san, it's Atsuko. Sorry to be blunt but has Izumi been by recently?"
The phone rustled on the other end and worry threaded through the kind woman's dulcet tones. "Ah, no. I'm sorry. The last I saw Izumi-chan was during our brunch Saturday. She was wearing an adorable sundress. Has something happened?"
Atsuko ignored the brief flash of concern. She'd done worse things when she was young and her father hadn't cared a whit where she went. Atsuko learned how the world worked at a young age and she was granting her kids plenty of opportunity to figure out what they wanted to do with their lives without her leading them astray.
She may be a lush, but she didn't force the mafia lifestyle down her kids throats or corner them into selling to keep anyone else happy. No, Atsuko made sure her kids knew not to follow her example.
"Atsuko-chan?" Shiori prodded worriedly drawing Atsuko from her turbulent thoughts. The chan probably should have annoyed her but Atsuko was over ten years this woman's junior. It wasn't exactly invalid.
"Ano. It's probably nothing, Shiori-san." Atsuko assured, not wanting to agitate the newly healthy widow. But… "If you get a chance, can you let Shuiichi know she forgot her calendar after your brunch? Girl can be so forgetful and I'm never here when she gets back."
Atsuko heard a brief rustle that indicated a head nod. "Of course, Atsuko-chan. Shuiichi should be home any minute now."
The mother of two smiled, grateful. "I appreciate it Shiori-san. Tell the boy I said hello, ok? Bye."
After hearing the reciprocating farewell, Atsuko placed the phone back on the receiver and pressed her forehead against the cool plaster beside the device.
Is it sad that I'm not more worried?
There wasn't much she could do other than send someone more qualified to hunt down her kid. Yusuke disappeared for days at a time and avoided Atsuko like the plague but Izumi was more responsible than that, more considerate. She wouldn't have vanished without telling her why unless she hadn't meant to go at all.
Atsuko's head tilted and she spied a half empty bottle of some favored whiskey of Watanabe Hiroshima, good drinking pal and second in command of the Kaiden yakuza branch, half tucked under her futon. She considered for a moment and then dismissed the impulse. Last night was enough of a binge.
If Shuiichi couldn't find her daughter then Atsuko would try the Kuwabara residence. This unfortunately meant dealing with Kuwabara Kazuma's father. That man left no illusions to how he felt about Yusuke and Izumi's rearing and Atsuko only dealt with him when she absolutely had to.
Hopefully it wouldn't come to that. Shiori's little red head was a bloodhound when it came to finding Izumi. She'd place her faith in him.
"Maybe I could check out that grocery store gig Jiro was talking 'bout. I could use the employee discount."
"Shuichii, have you been able to visit Izumi-chan, lately?"
Kurama had paused then, mind flicking rapidly through the possible reasons his mother could ask that. All were found wanting.
"No, mother." Kurama remembered saying thoughtfully. "Izumi hasn't been available like she usually is after school. Is something the matter?"
A flicker of concern crossed his mother's expression and was masked quickly. The thief in him had to admire her attempt to hide it. "It's probably nothing, son. Atsuko-chan called and said Izumi-chan forgot her calendar after our brunch. I don't really know what she means… Shuichii?"
Kurama was too much of a professional to allow his face to shift, but his mother sensed something wrong regardless. Her concern was the only thing to stay his worry. "Odd," He heard himself say. "I'm not sure either, but I think I know who to ask to find out. Would it be alright it I stayed over a friend's house mother?"
Kurama was already contacting Hiei to use his Jagan, expecting his mother's approval, so he was caught off guard when she said nothing and instead placed a gentle hand on his face.
Startled emerald green eyes shifted down to her face and Shiori surprised him once again. "Stay as long as you need, Shuichii. Give Izumi-chan and Yusuke-kun my best. I'm sure you'll find her in no time."
The fox spirit found himself bemused by the woman's insight but said his promises obligingly. Spending only a perfunctory moment to pack a bag, Kurama spared a moment to kiss his mother on the forehead before carefully closing the door and walking down the sidewalk.
He managed to suppress the sense of urgency until he was out of sight of his home and safely hidden in an alley before darting up the side of the building and beelining it to Hiei's newest haunt.
"So your human is missing again?" Hiei greeted in his typical way. "I didn't realize this was a common occurrence." Kurama managed a slight smile.
"Apparently, it's a new hobby of hers."
Hiei snorted and a low light glowed beneath the band that covered the fire demon's forehead. Ruby eyes sliding shut preparation. "How long has she been gone?"
Kurama's lips tilted downward and he ran a hand through his hair. "Long enough for Atsuko to notice."
The brunette's brow quirked. "Interesting…. Well I'll expect payment later, fox. I don't work out of charity."
"Of course, Hiei." Kurama replied, knowing the fire apparition wouldn't have done anything if he truly didn't want to and no flimsy agreement for unspecified payment would motivate him to assist. This, more than answering Kurama's call, showed Hiei cared what happens to the aggravating girl, even if it was only for the entertainment value she provides him.
Time passes, more than Kurama expected before Hiei's expression changes.
"We have a problem." Ruby eyes flicker to the theif's face and there is a dangerous look of annoyance that flashes back. "Wherever she is, there are wards that my Jagan cannot pierce."
Kurama's face blanked which oddly enough makes Hiei smile.
"That is… concerning. Perhaps there is another who would know her whereabouts."
Hiei tilted his head in thought. "The blue haired loudmouth or the dumb one?"
Kurama spares Hiei a glance before turning on a heel and heading to the nearest weakpoint between worlds. Though Kuwabara would more than likely be able to assist, the Spirit world clearly has forgotten who Izumi belonged to. It'd be best to remind them.
Izumi opened her eyes to someone shaking her.
She frowned sleepily at the blurry blue blob, mind sluggishly trying to recall the last thing she remembered.
"Boton?" Izumi questioned muzzily, at a loss as to why she felt so tired. Was something wrong? She hadn't seen the blue haired river styx girl this distraught since she enlisted her to help Yusuke with Spirit World problems. (Apparently the blue haired nonhuman was the only one who could stomach the Urameshi twins. Everyone else kept far outside of their path.)
Furthermore when had she fallen asleep? Last she remembered she was talking to Yusuke about his tortu- uh training.
The blue haired girl relaxed visibly at the recognition, though her brow remained creased as Izumi forced herself to sit up.
"Izumi! Oh, thank Yama you're alright! When I came down to check on you and saw you unresponsive…"
The brunette shook her head slowly, trying to shake the cotton from her mind. "When'd you get here Boton?"
The slightly upturned nose scrunched. "Not too long ago." She fidgeted and Izumi frowned as the girl somehow managed to shift leg to leg in seiza.
She really didn't have the emotional capacity to worry about what had Boton nervous but Izumi was too polite not to ask.
"Are you ok, Boton?"
Boton gave a horrendously fake laugh. "Of- Of course I'm ok! It's not like there' s some legendary demon thief missing and we have no idea where he is. Hahahahahahah."
Izumi sighed. "If you're that worried, why are you here? Kurama has no reason to come to me."
Izumi hadn't left Genkai's since the tournament. She was pretty sure only a few days had passed. Nothing that would warrant Kurama being concerned let alone to go off the grid to find her, especially if Yusuke called in and told Ma they were hold up over here….
Izumi resisted the urge to smack herself in the forehead. Of course Yusuke wouldn't think to do that.
Boton cleared her throat anxiously and scooted closer. "Well, the last we saw of him he'd managed to find a way to the spirit world to ask one of the attendants about yours and Yusuke's whereabouts. Koenma and I were out at the time but half the Spirit World was in chaos by the time he left."
Izumi stared wide eyed at the ferry girl. "Say that again?"
"Er… the tapes were pretty clear. Kurama was looking for information about you and he managed to go through each of our departments until someone squealed out Genkai's location. That was over a week ago."
Brown eyebrows creased and Izumi hardly noticed as her Spirit energy perked within her. "How long have I been here, Boton?"
The blue haired girl's head tilted in thought. "Hmm, Genkai said after your last episode you hadn't woken up again. I came to see for myself but honestly you got up fairly easy in my opinion-" Izumi covered her mouth as the woman began to babble.
Trying not to roll her eyes in exasperation, Izumi kept her voice level. "Time Boton. How much time?"
Izumi peeled her hand away and Boton had the grace to look sheepish. "Er nearly a month now."
The blue haired apparition threw up her hands in defense. "Now hold on a minute Izumi dear. There's no need to look at me like that-"
"Did anyone think to let our family know where we were? I think two kids going missing for a whole fucking month is grounds for folks to start worrying!"
How had the world not fallen into destruction with these idiots at the helm of its defense?
Boton looked offended and managed to draw enough ire to put her hands on her hips in a huff. "It is the Detective's responsibility to keep their human relatives updated. We can't be accused of misleading the human populous for personal gain. It's a rule you know."
Izumi's eye twitched and a growl started at the base of her throat, all fatigue from earlier fading in the wake of her gall. "Kurama. Isn't. Human." And Yusuke clearly has proven himself to not care about informing others of his moments of life and death.
"Kurama is still very much on probation and it is highly inappropriate for him to be demanding information from us, let alone the Spirit world offering sensitive information to a person in his position."
Izumi snorted, hearing Koenma in the answer and shook her head. She forced herself to calm down and not strangle yet another 'guide'. With false patience, Izumi cradled her head in her hands and spoke slowly. "The sooner you tell him I'm fine, the sooner he'll pop back up. Yusuke's fine, I'm fine."
Cue petulant twist of spirit energy into the head. Izumi hissed and cradled her skull more gingerly. "Mostly fine." She amended grudgingly. "But that couldn't be all." The twin wondered aloud. Something must have triggered his worry.
The ferry girl giggled nervously before tensing at a loud crashing sound. Izumi dragged her mind away from thoughts of red hair and rolled her eyes at the following shout. "Damn you, HAG!"
"Don't worry about that, Boton. It's just, Yusuke."
Boton didn't look convinced and Izumi fought the urge to make a snippy comment. She was tired, mentally, no matter the long bout of unconsciousness her pissy spirit energy kept forcing her into. All she wanted to do was go home and be a normal student. Just thinking about the amount of work she'd have to make up made her cringe. Yusuke could obviously handle himself. He didn't get his ass kicked by a serial killier demon.
It was definitely time for Izumi to pack up and go home. Genkai certainly wasn't being helpful with her inner demon and Yusuke didn't really have the required energy to stay up long enough for Izumi to fully explain the problem (she tried once, got two sentences in before she heard snoring.)
Kurama was out there somewhere by Hiei causing havoc and the sooner Izumi showed back up in Kaiden, the sooner Boton and company would get off her back for not knowing where he is. She wasn't his keeper for crying out loud.
Mind made, Izumi made it to her feet with minor struggles and managed to shoo Boton away as the teen made her way to the tub. Izumi could smell herself, which was more of an indication of her lack of movement than any timeframe , and her cat like sensibilities were greatly ruffled. A bath sounded wonderful.
And who knows maybe she'd take the time to ruminate on how to deal with her rebellious spirit energy.
Nah, probably not.
Izumi sneezed, head throbbing, and fought the urge to scream as she tried yet again to drag her Spirit Energy from the unmoving ball it stubbornly wished to remain in since her disastrous fight with Rando.
A month had passed since her defeat and subsequent last resort.
Five days after the fight, Izumi woke feeling physically fine but her Spirit energy was weaker than a new born kitten, and she hardly could feel it within her. The resulting freak out following that revelation forced Genkai to knock her out. The next time Izumi woke her Spirit energy was far more prevalent but almost mulish in its reception of her.
As if it blamed her for putting it in its previous state.
Izumi was baffled at the reaction and mildly perturbed that it seemed her Spirit Energy was throwing a tantrum.
"You're not even alive, how the hell can you ignore me?!" Izumi snapped at it, frustrated and scared and at wits end with what to do because it was always a part of her, she saw that now, and having it pretty much lock itself up and ignore her left her feeling oddly adrift. As if Yusuke decided he wasn't going to give her the time of day anymore.
It shifted as if to turn its back on Izumi and pulled tighter upon itself, only letting the barest wisps of itself to thread through her body and keep her alive.
A thud sounded just outside her temporary room and Izumi cast an impatient look to the doorway as the shoji screen slid open. Her foul mood lifted greatly as Yusuke crawled in, moaning and carelessly flopping onto Izumi's neatly set up sleeping area, head burrowing into her side.
"Tough day?" She asked with a fond smile, raising a brow at the slightly smoky smell to him. The teen must have just gotten out of the baths because his hair was still damp (and he learned after the first time not to crawl in her bed filthy or else. Her imitation of Sleeping Beauty left him clingy).
"That hag is crazy." Yusuke complained with a shudder.
Izumi smirked. "But you wouldn't change what you're learning in a heartbeat."
Her brother grumbled something halfheartedly but they both knew the truth. Yusuke was meant to learn from a hard ass. Meant to be challenged every step of the way because nothing pushed her brother further than beating someone he admired. Genkai held the dubious honor, especially after she managed to heal not only Kuwabara but Izumi's physical issues in a fraction of the time it would take modern medicine. Nothing gained Yusuke's trust more than taking care of those he valued.
Not to mention Genkai was a little hellion who could kick her brother's ass up and down this obnoxious mountain that the pink haired hermit claimed as her own.
"Whatever," Yusuke finally deflected, chestnut eyes peeking out from her lap and peering at her intensely. "How are you, though?"
Izumi's face crumpled slightly and she shrugged, never thinking she'd be so miserable when her near sentient (probably actually sentient) spirit energy remained dormant within her. A few years ago and Izumi would have welcomed this occurrence, but now…. Now…..
"Still ignoring you then?" Her brother answered for her with a frown.
Izumi let herself fall back on the bedding with a sigh. "I don't know what to do." She admitted anxiously. It was a rare time for Izumi to openly acknowledge when she was out of her depth but there was little alternative here. She really had no idea.
Yusuke arched a brow. "Granny didn't say anything?"
Izumi grimaced. "Nothing worth listening to." The teen shot back moodily.
What good was apologizing going to do? Her Spirit energy was a part of her, it should be totally cool with Izumi using it to save Yusuke's life. It shouldn't be pissy because it didn't like her decisions. IF it wanted her to do something different it could learn how to communicate properly, by using words. She wasn't going to bow down because it wasn't considered in her plans to protect her brother.
Damn thing wasn't more important than Yusuke.
As if in response to her thoughts, her spirit energy bristled before shrinking down moreso, compressing so tightly Izumi felt ill. Yusuke seemed to sense the change because he straightened abruptly with a brow creased in concern.
Izumi waved him off, breathing ragged. "I'm fine."
Genkai twitched at the shrill voice of her knuckleheaded apprentice. Brat couldn't seem to focus under normal circumstances so Genkai had to get creative to light a fire under his ass in order to see any progress in his meditation. Cue bonfire meditation at its finest. If the brat ended up a little singed the first few tries it was his own fault. Now only the edge of his shirt smoked a bit before he could channel his energy to properly protect himself from the danger. Genkai honestly though it would take him longer than a week to get it right after his sister healed but she was pleasantly surprised.
Dimwit certainly had the instincts to take her techniques and thrive. The maturity however…
The old woman sighed setting down the tea she had just brewed and slowly made her way to her wayward student. The only thing that got the boy this riled up had to do with his sister and her problem was honestly out of Genkai's hands.
True to form, once the little psychic turned the corner to peer into the Urameshi siblings somehow shared rooms, she found the boy fluttering rather uselessly around his sister who was gasping on the floor, spirit energy sullen and spitefully curled within her.
Genkai sighed again. "What now, dimwit?"
Yusuke normally would have taken that moment to glare at her but his worry was a powerful thing. Chestnut eyes turned to her anxiously. "I don't know what's wrong with her. One second we were talking and the next, she started breathing funny. Can you-"
Genkai shooed him away with an underpowered spirit wave blast that the boy should have learned to be ready for by now, honestly. Ignoring, the whelp's yelp and the subsequent crash of ruined shoji screens, the woman knelt down despite her rebellious knees and focused on the girl's aura.
Pain, sadness, worry, self-hatred, betrayal –
Genkai rocked back at the abrupt wash of feeling. The girl still hadn't made peace with her very spirit. Still it hugged itself in negative feelings, hurting from its perceived abandonment. It was a simple solution, though a difficult one to enact, especially if the girl continued to feel it was her right to sacrifice herself in such a way.
The pink haired psychic was absolutely fascinated by these twins. How the boy could be that much of a stubborn jackass with a spirit energy that thrived off desperation was something she had never considered possible. It was natural for desperate creatures, human and demon alike; to gain a little more of a boost when their life was in jeopardy, but this boy's response was stunningly unique.
It wasn't just a slight boost, it practically quadrupled the boy's standing spiritual energy! How was this possible? Where did the extra boost come from? How did it manipulate his will and desperation into such strength? She didn't know. She wanted to know, and she was going to test the limits of her pupil's abilities or he'd die in the process.
(Not actually. She needed him now that he killed the only other person who would have developed her technique faster and more through than she could ever hope to accomplish)
And where Dimwit was a wash of untapped potential screaming to be nurtured, the girl was almost reluctant in her use of her Spirit energy.
Izumi treated her very essence as if it were separate from her and Genkai had to wonder if that contributed to its odd near sentience. The girl's spirit energy felt abused, abandoned even and it didn't want to serve a master that was going to be so careless with itself. It was as if Izumi's self preservation were given a form of its own. Similar to her brother, but far more proactive in its actions. The girl's spirit energy devoured Rando. Even if Dimwit hadn't managed to kill the demon, the hunter wouldn't have survived a year with his very spirit being poisoned from the inside out. Genkai almost wished Kuroko and all her irritating tendencies would show up so Genkai could figure out the enigma that was this girl's strength.
But, she supposed that was a lesser concern.
Because Izumi had acted in such a self destructive manner, her very own spirit didn't seem to trust her with their safety, choosing to leave her practically defenseless rather than aid her in putting herself in situations where Spirit Energy would be needed.
She was in Time Out so to speak.
Genkai ran a hand over the girl's chest, pushing just enough healing ki to ease the girl's breathing and prod the surly spirit energy within.
Rolling her eyes as the sullen swirl of dark blue energy hissed at her for daring to check in on its host, Genkai straightened and cast her light brown eyes to the Yusuke shaped hole in the wall.
"What the hell was that for grandma?!" The boy howled out, kicking the mangled screen out of his way and stomping back over.
"Your sister is fine. She just needs to do what I told her and stop being stubborn." Izumi made an annoyed noise in between breaths that the elder psychic ignored. Sniffing delicately, Genkai lifted her hand. "More importantly, we obviously need to work more on your defensive ability."
Genkai tried not to cackle. It was unseemly to take enjoyment from terrorizing someone weaker than herself.
If she had it her way, soon that wouldn't be the case.
As Urameshi Yusuke turned tail and ran, rightfully wary of his self appointed sensei, Genkai spared one last glance at the downed Spirit Detective.
"The only one you're hurting right now is you, girl. I suggest you find something worth living for other than your brother's life."
Izumi fell back with a wheeze. "Don't… tell me how… to life my life… Sempai."
Genkai snorted. "I thought that was the whole point to a sempai."
With one last gravely chuckle, Genkai moved away to lay more violence on her resilient student.
It took Izumi embarrassingly long to get her feet back under her and hobble outside. Yusuke's shouts of pain had died down which let Izumi know they somewhere in the forest. Now she could make her way to the steps and enjoy the outside air, all without worrying about Yusuke hovering around dodging energy blasts. She moved to one of the pillars and braced her back against the red column, feet stretched out facing the northern edge to the forest. If she were any taller they'd dangle off the edge.
"If this is the best I can expect to do for the rest of my life, I can kiss being Yusuke's partner good bye. Hell, I can kiss my soccer position goodbye." Izumi sighed, voice lowering to a whisper, "I can barely walk let alone run.
And her control right now was a joke. Izumi had never felt so…. Adrift. She'd always had the means of getting what she needed done. It was one thing to have her opportunities be limited by Koenma getting in the way but to have her own body, own spirit betray her?
Izumi looked down at her hand and carefully flexed it. Why was she being punished for taking care of the person she loved?
With a breath, Izumi gathered her will and yanked, hard, at her spirit energy. It flailed with a yowl, moving in spurts to her hand. Each flash of energy pulsed with a stab of pain until it felt like she was drawing glass through her veins and pushing it out her fingertips. She wouldn't scream. Couldn't scream, because screaming would draw others and they'd tell her she was doing it wrong and being reckless and stupid-
She could feel her Spirit howling, feel it thrashing and furious it was being called upon and forced to yield. By the time the teen's hand glowed a visible blue, she'd already bit clean through her lip.
Izumi released her mangled flesh with a growl, teeth bared and stained red. "You really wanna test an' see what I'll do to keep Yusuke safe? I promise… you won't like the answer."
Heat spread from her belly and surged to an aching burn that bled out into the rest of her body. Izumi gasped at the shift, control wavering.
Not right- pain- self hurt- not right- need life- need pain- pain protects
But if Izumi couldn't control her very spirit, if it left her feeble and a liability while the people she cared about were thrown in life threatening situations... what was she supposed to do? Izumi didn't let shit happen to those she loved, to anyone really if she could help it. She wasn't going to sit and be a victim for Yusuke to worry over and save. She wasn't going to have Kurama pissing away the freedom he found by breaking into the Spirit world (again) to search or her. She'd rather not be a factor at all to her precious people hurting.
Pain protects- life- must live- need life
Izumi's face twisted and she glared at her fading hand. "What the fuck does that even mean?"
Hands, warm and smelling of the earth curled along either side of Izumi's face, breaking her concentration and releasing the dwindling hold she had on her spirit energy. It crooned oddly before shifting back to the hole it dug for itself within her, leaving Izumi shivering and hollow. Chestnut eyes lifted, tears staining her lashes and making her vision blurry, but nothing and no one had hair like his.
"Kurama." She croaked out, lips sticking from the blood painting a trail down her chin.
Once they'd passed the wards, Hiei took barely a scan before pointing Kurama towards the towering dojo and darting off to find Yusuke. He must have sensed the distress and expected Kurama to handle it. Typical.
But Kurama had never seen Izumi like this. The normally tantalizing spice of her spirit energy was barely a whisper, pained though it was. Her cheeks, streaked with tear tracks and ruddy, were hot under his palms. Emerald eyes traced the lashes clumped together into five points on either side of her ridiculously expressive gaze and Kurama's jaw clenched at the lost look.
He could ask what she was doing, but the slow growing blisters on her right arm and the disturbing potency in the air let him know she was trying and failing to do something with her Spirit energy. Something Genkai probably told her not to do.
Looking at her now, the teen's absence made a lot more sense and a corner of Kurama's mind snarled at it being worse than he imagined.
But no…. something more is wrong. She's .. breaking.
Gently, with far more care than Kurama shows anyone other than Shiori, he swiped beneath each eye.
"You… are a troublesome pet."
That got a snort out of her and Izumi brought her injured arm up to clutch the front of his sports coat.
"Look who's talking, foxy." He released her face but stilled when her head dropped to his chest, forehead pressing against his sternum. "I'm the one they go to when you start going on a rampage in other people's homes." The grip on his jacket tightened. "What were you thinking? I can't believe you'd risk staying with Shiori. What if they-"
She yelped as Kurama shifted his hands behind her back and under her legs, lifting Izumi into his arms. He twisted and with flawless grace took her place on the ledge before situating Izumi into his lap. Kurama silenced her budding complaint with a glare. Izumi glared back but got distracted as his left hand threaded through his hair and withdrew a seed.
"You're bleeding and burned," He answered patiently, drawing the seed to his lips and blowing softly. A purple flower with thick succulent stems birthed from his closed fist and eagerly latched onto her injured arm. To Izumi's credit, she managed to swallow the shriek at the tickling sensation Kurama was sure she had to feel and instead glowered at him.
"Is this really necessary?"
Kurama hummed. Emerald eyes slid to her face, sharp and disapproving but it was the fear in him that made his voice harden. "As necessary as your self inflicted torture."
He hated the concept of fear, felt it very few times in his life. The first time he experienced it in this weak human form was that day where the first person he would grow to love threw themselves in harm's way for his sake.
It was just as infuriating an emotion now as it was then.
Stubborn child didn't so much as flinch at the danger she was currently sitting on. "Don't you lecture me on being reckless."
With his free hand, Kurama curled his fingers under her chin. "You aren't reckless, Izumi, merely a magnet for dangerous people."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
He sniffed and pushed the rage that fought to flash out after watching what was done to her. "I saw the tapes, Izumi."
She frowned and tilted her head. "Tapes?"
"Of the Tournament."
Her eyes lowered and she let out a quiet, "Oh." Izumi sighed, long and slow. "I had to do something. Yusuke and Kazuma couldn't have handled that alone."
Kurama shut his eyes and saw the casual way Rando shattered her body and punted her across the swamp like she was an unwanted mutt. His human, brutalized and played with like a toy. But it wasn't the casual disregard for his enemies life that pissed Kurama off the most. It was Izumi's seemingly ignorant last ditch effort to save her brother. She didn't know it could kill her. She only wanted to stop Rando. And that, that absolute lack of forethought and idiotically human response to do something, anything, made him furious.
Izumi, his Izumi, was more intelligent than thoughtlessly reacting in desperation.
"Throwing every drop of Spirit Energy you have into an attack is a sure way of making sure Yusuke and Kazuma handle everything alone. Especially now," He continued mildly, eyes tracking the newest bead of blood that curled from her lip, "that you can't even defend yourself."
Izumi tried to jerk away but Kurama was in no mood to entertain her behavior. His grip shifted to the base of her neck and fisted in her hair not unlike her less than gentle treatment at the pool. She balked at the manhandling but his current plant hybrid was for more than just healing dermis injuries, it had grown to twine around the slight teen's arm and thighs. Kurama flexed his youki enough for the plant to squeeze warningly. Izumi stiffened, doe eyes wide in disbelief and budding panic. The acrid scent of fear started crawling up his nose and the fox spirit sneered at the scent, offensive and wrong coming from his human.
Her reaction was more of a tell than anything that she was not thinking straight.
With a huff, Kurama drew the teen's face near his and pressed a soft kiss to her brow. "Izumi, breath."
She shuddered, breaths coming in gasps, and it took him running his nose along her cheek as he rumbled soothingly for her to start calming down. His simple test to get her Spirit energy to react resulted in her nearly having a panic attack. He paused, leaning back slightly to read her facial expression. "This isn't like you hime…."
Her laugh was wet and wobbly, eyes pressed shut and crinkled. Kurama's instincts tore at him to do something, anything, to draw her from this unacceptable pit of something he was beginning to recognize as true and utter helplessness. His hybrid creation tugged at his youki, demanding more so it could finish its job with her injuries but Kurama's gaze wouldn't move away from her face.
"I- hic- know. I just- I don't- I can't-" She sniffled and licked her blood crusted lips, grimacing at the taste. That was good though, it would distract her and make her think but Kurama needed to feel her calm down. Needed to smell it. But more than anything he needed to understand.
The fox spirit shifted and drained his youki from the eager plant that was straining for Izumi's face. It withdrew with a unhappy gurgle and returned to the seed it began from with a pop. In the wake of the plant's disappearance, Kurama drew Izumi closer, allowing her to fit against him as securely as his mother once held him. Though there were no maternal thoughts running through his head now and he sneered at his human body's feeble attempts at distracting him.
Female and close did not equate potential mate. Human bodies were so dreadfully simplistic. Pushing the unhelpful thoughts away, Kurama laid his cheek on her forehead and ran a careful hand along Izumi's newly healed arm.
She immediately stiffened at the proximity but his low chuckle and the continued patient way he merely waited helped her calm and sink into his embrace.
"Why are you afraid?"
She stilled at his whispered question, bristling as he knew she would, but in the end she surprised him and curled more into his hold.
"M not afraid." She rasped back, face half covered against his chest.
"You're not happy." He returned. "And I know fear, Izumi-hime. There are few scents like it."
She snorted wetly. "Don't be a creep."
In return, Kurama leaned forward more and licked the exposed side of her face with a loud purr.
Izumi flailed immediately, indignant shout already in the air, but pulling away only gave Kurama more access to bath her face. "Gah, Kurama! Stop! Would you quit- gahhh- acting like a dog?" Her struggles were pretty pointless with the way he wrapped her in his arms but her reaction was more amused than angry, laughter starting to burn out the sadness, the fear.
"You always told me to be honest with myself, 'Zumi." The green eyed demon answered with a smirk, hands aiding in getting her to laugh by trailing along her sides.
Izumi squeaked out a curse, tears starting to come to her eyes anew before she gave an admirable imitation of a growl. "I swear I'll bite you if you don't st- st- sTOP!"
Kurama lifted his nose and stilled his hands, but not before nipping her lightly on the ear in reprimand for threatening her betters. She pulled her shirt straight, elbowed him in the side for good measure, but to his chagrin, remained in his lap and actually made herself more comfortable.
Izumi let her right leg dangle off and leaned her head back against his shoulder. "Yeah…. Actually." A pause. "Thank you."
Kurama let his chin lean against her temple. "Thank me by answering me, hime."
She was quiet for a long while, but Kurama was a creature of patience. "I don't want anyone to die."
Kurama arched a brow. "Izumi-"
"I won't have them die for me!" She cut off, hands balling into fists. "My spirit energy… It's mad at me because I protected Yusuke. Because I was willing to sacrifice myself to save Yusuke, now it won't answer me, it feels like it's barely there and I don't- I can't let other people fight for me. I can't let them die for me because I'm too weak to protect myself."
Kurama could feel the self hatred, the anger, the worry, but most disarmingly the fear within her of losing someone. Of losing them because they wanted to save her.
And he couldn't help but shake his head at his hypocritical human woman.
"In some things, Izumi, you will not have a choice." She started at his voice, not expecting an answer but he shook his head when she opened her mouth to continue. "If Kuwabara saw a chance to protect you from harm at great cost to himself, do you think he would hesitate for an instant? Would Keiko, powerless, loyal Keiko blink before throwing herself in danger to take care of you? If there is a choice between saving you or saving himself, which do you think Yusuke will decide? "
Izumi shook her head, over and over and over again but Kurama was never one to shield the truth of the world from others.
"Koenma could offer any of those humans a choice at expense to themselves if it was a way to protect you. Do you know what they would say?"
"No!" Izumi snapped. "They deserve to live." She twisted and locked eyes with him, chestnut eyes fierce and desperate. "You have to stop them, Kurama. Promise me! Promise me you'll keep them from throwing their lives away-"
"For you?" Kurama interrupted, emerald eyes unreadable. She truly did not understand her value or she refused to. And she obviously was not understanding the point her was trying to make. Kurama leaned close, pressed a chaste kiss to her nose, smiled and said very clearly, "No."
"I would not belittle their sacrifice by telling them you aren't worth it. If there was a way to save you both, I wouldn't allow such a thing to happen, but in the end, it is there choice. And you, Izumi… you are mine."
"How can you say that? They're not like us, they haven't lived. We have! I have!"
Kurama snorted. "You barely made it out of your teens, Izumi. You haven't lived and if I have a chance to save you, you're going to be saved."
"Not at the cost of anyone else! If it's ever between Yusuke and I, you have to save Yusuke!"
Izumi's blind devotion to Yusuke normally was a mild irritant but right now it was unacceptable. No one was going to dictate to him his actions. So Kurama made sure he spoke clearly as he answered her. "If it's between watching you die or slitting Yusuke's throat, I would kill Yusuke without a second thought."
Izumi stared, mouth open in disbelief. "No you wouldn't. I would hate you. Yusuke is your-"
"And Yusuke would thank me, if it meant saving you." The fox returned unconcerned.
The sentence didn't seem to make sense in her mind. She just stared at him, uncomprehending.
"You don't seem to understand that Yusuke would do the same."
"Yusuke would never kill you." She whispered mechanically.
"Well, probably not that, your brother has much more empathy and far less immorality to him than I do." Kurama amended. "He'd do everything short of killing me if it would save you and depending on how far someone pushed him before hand, he might go through with it. But the point isn't what I would do, the point is that you are telling those you care about that they are forbidden from trying to care for you. You say this all because you value one life over everyone else's."
Izumi's lip started to curl but then she stopped it and took a breath. "Yusuke is the only reason I'm even here. I have to protect him."
"And he has to protect you. It's hard to protect someone who throws themselves into danger as much as Yusuke does himself."
Kurama merely watched her quickly silence the protest.
"Yusuke is the only one that matters." Izumi stated firmly, an edge to the words that signaled she didn't want to discuss it anymore. But her eyes flickered away as she said it and Kurama had to stop himself from smiling.
"Do you know what would happen if Yusuke died, Izumi?"
She blinked at him, surprised at the question.
"Yes, you do. You would ache for years after. In the following weeks, you would put out your rage, your hurt, your sorrows, and then you would pull yourself together to take care of the people he left behind. You would clean up after your mother, keep Keiko from falling into depression, push Kuwabara to pay attention to his studies, graduate and move on with his life. You would accept all the condolences, silence all the scorners and take care of everyone Yusuke loved because that is the type of person you are. You live for other people. Inwardly, you would grieve and stew in your pain, but you would set it aside for the sake of these others 'who don't matter as much as Yusuke'."
Izumi rolled her eyes and held up a hand. "Stop making me sound like that. Anyone would do-"
"No." Kurama snapped, patience tearing for an instant at her deliberate obtuseness. "Do you know what would happen if you died?"
She glared at him, but held her tongue.
"All those little connections you made in life: all those students you went out of the way to speak to when your brother would ignore them, all the store clerks you annoyingly greet every time you drag me to that accursed mall, all the kids at the elementary school you and Yusuke visit because you forced him to help coach baseball, all of the seemingly innocuous persons you see on a regular basis would notice your loss. But they don't matter. Let me speak on what apparently does, matter.
Your family would fall apart. Yusuke would break. He'd throw himself from one fight to the next, angry that he wasn't there to do anything to save you and neglect your mother to sink further into her vices. He would push Keiko away to the point where she would lose that charming cheeriness that she has about her. Kuwabara would try until he died to pull Yusuke from the spiral of destruction he entered into and no one would be able to make things right again because Yusuke is a creature of passions and just as he loves with the whole of his heart, he mourns with it too. Perhaps in time, relationships would be mended but it would never be the way it was. I hope, that at least, would matter."
Kurama moved abruptly, dumping Izumi from his lap, and pushed himself up to stand.
"You may put Yusuke at the top of your list of people to protect, but everyone knows what would happen if you were to perish. It's time you start valuing your own life for the worth that it is and live, because this life is the one you have now. It's yours and yours alone so what you do with it should be grand enough to have earned a second chance.
Besides, I would be very displeased with you if you died without my permission."
(A/N) Fuck this chapter, man.
For those of you who think I'm making Izumi more important than she is. I'm not trying to. A lot of things changed because of her influence and Yusuke is very self-destructive, he'd do and say some pretty shitty things if Keiko died so I can imagine him doing something similar if Izumi croaked.
This is also a point that no matter how much you think you don't matter, you've affected at least one person's life today. Probably on the terms of dozens just by smiling or saying hi or lending a pencil when someone needed it. Too many people think you have to have hoards of ppl around you to mean you matter but you don't.
I'm going to move on to Lady Black next (fuck me) and update Circumstance because that has been sitting on my computer for a while but I wanted to get this out here. The delay was not intentional and I have not abandoned anything. If it gets abandoned I will post something.
(unless I die and then yall should be much more concerned with my soul then the next chapter)
Next chapter: Goddamned Saint Beasts (finally)