Chapter 1 – Yukina's Brother
Mukuro's fortress was the pinnacle of perfection. It was dark, it was a veritable maze of criss-crossing corridors that a fool could easily lose themselves for days trying to navigate, and the air within the fortress was drenched with the odours of blood, death and decay, making it like a more concentrated version of the already acrid air that pervaded every part of demon world. The walls pulsated and throbbed, the truly elite and most violent and relentless of warriors all resided there and were on-hand for a bloody sparring session whenever so challenged, and the whole operation was run by Mukuro herself, who, thanks to her typically holding back or restraining large amounts of her true strength and ability, was arguably the most powerful demon ever to have existed. It was as though all the truly best and most impressive things about demon world and demon life had been condensed down into one building: and Hiei was a key part of it.
Walking through the corridors at a leisurely pace, his sword softly clanking against his leg and the hirui stone hanging from a chain around his neck rolling from side to side beneath his shirt, Hiei was contented to find himself alone. He had just finished a shift on the border patrol, which had involved travelling around the patrol route – the long road that ran around the periphery of demon world – and, even though his shift had been uneventful, the journey itself still took three days to complete. After three days of being cooped up with three of the dullest guards imaginable conducting an uneventful patrol, Hiei was more than a little bored, and so he had decided that the first thing he needed to do was find someone to fight. Before sleeping, before bathing or even before changing his clothes, Hiei really just wanted to add the scent of fresh blood to the scents already hanging around him; which currently included only the typical scents of the interior of Mukuro's fortress and the mildly offensive scents of his own sweat accumulated over the last few days.
And so, when Kirin stepped out into his path, Hiei allowed himself a crooked grin.
"Hn, your timing is oddly appropriate," Hiei addressed him. "I hope you're well-rested. I've been working the patrol for three continuous days without food or sleep and I'm a little tired, so I'd say that should make us about even, provided you're currently at your own personal best."
Hiei stopped in front of Kirin – who stood at easily twice Hiei's height – and looked up at him expectantly.
"You're especially lucky that I'm feeling generous today," Hiei added. "I'll let you choose the location for our combat and I'll even let you have the first shot for free."
"That's very funny Hiei," Kirin monotonously replied. "But I'm not here for myself. I'm here on behalf of Lord Mukuro. She's requested that you join her in her chambers immediately."
Hiei's grin widened to near painful proportions.
"Yes," he hissed. "A battle with Mukuro would be far more fitting – she is, after all, the only opponent truly worthy of my skill."
"…Okay," Kirin muttered.
He stepped aside and Hiei continued past him, only vaguely curious as to why Kirin continued to follow him as he made his way to Mukuro. Moving at a much quicker pace than before, fuelled by his zeal to engage in an intense session of physical violence and bloodshed, Hiei quickly reached his destination, his by then maniacal grin faltering slightly when he entered Mukuro's chambers and found three of her top guards already present. When Kirin followed him in and closed them all into the room, Hiei's grin faded further, and his eyes darted about the others in frustrated confusion.
"I would say I'm surprised that it took so long for you to get here, but since you've been so busy lately, I suppose only a fool would find your tardiness to be an unforeseen outcome."
Hiei turned his attention to Mukuro upon her words, his grin vanishing entirely. She looked genuinely angered and disappointed – and whilst her anger (the source of her ultimate power) was usually something he relished seeing, her disappointment was something he never enjoyed witnessing – and he noticed then that she was holding a remote control in one hand and an envelope in the other.
"What the hell is all this?" Hiei growled, glancing around the other guards present before fixing his eyes onto Mukuro again.
"You took the words right out of my mouth, Hiei," Mukuro flatly replied. "I thought you and I had an understanding. I thought we had come to an agreement about your affairs with regards to your friends. I don't appreciate you lying to me and I don't appreciate you taking advantage of my men and my trust and I really don't appreciate you making a fool of me."
Hiei growled in frustration and balled his fists at his side.
"I have no idea what you're talking about!" he snapped irritably.
"I'm talking about what you've been doing the past few days and where you've been," Mukuro calmly replied, the look of anger still present on her face and the distinct air of disappointment still painfully evident in her stance.
"I've been doing my duties the past few days in the places I am meant to do them," Hiei said.
"I see," Mukuro said, nodding her head. "I thought you were working a shift on the border patrol these last few days. I thought that was your duty. Apparently your loyalties lie elsewhere, however."
"What the hell are you talking about?" Hiei roared, the last remaining shred of his patience vanishing.
Mukuro stepped up to the desk she was standing on the other side of, turning the envelope in her hand upside-down and emptying the contents out onto the desk surface. She flung aside the empty envelope and then spread the papers out across her desk before pointing at them and glaring at Hiei expectantly. He watched her for a moment longer before approaching the desk and lowering his eyes to what she had placed there. At first he could not see what she was so irate about: all he could see was a selection of monotone photographs of a patrol unit performing their duties. After a second scan of the photographs he readied himself to tell Mukuro, in no uncertain terms, how irrational she was behaving: but he stopped short as his eyes landed on a photograph of himself tearing his sword through the chest of one of the patrol guards.
Hiei slowly reached a hand out towards the photograph, his eyes locked onto it unblinkingly. As he picked up the picture, he saw that the demon attacking the guards was undeniably him: a sword-wielding demon with a shock of spiked black hair in an attack stance Hiei had been using since he could stand upright. Hiei moved his eyes from the photograph in his hand to the others still splayed over the desk, his eyes widening slightly as he then noticed that he was in every one of them. He slowly picked up each photograph in turn, finding depictions of himself physically fighting an entire border patrol unit, disabling every one of the officers.
"This is a mistake," he said quietly, holding up the last photograph towards Mukuro.
"You're damn right it is," Mukuro replied, her tone dangerously low.
Hiei looked up at her and shook his head.
"This isn't me," he said, shaking the photograph at her. "This isn't me in these photographs. Do you think this is me? How can you possibly think that this is me?"
Mukuro snatched the photograph from his hand and held it up for the others in the room to see.
"Don't make a fool of me, Hiei," she said, her tone still low and threatening. "I know this is you. What I want to know is why. I told you before, if you need to go to the living world to see your friends or your sister, you can go. I don't even place restrictions on when or how long you go and yet you still felt the need to behave this way. You abandoned your duty as a patrol officer, attacked your colleagues, over-powered them, and stole away to the living world like an irresponsible child."
"Don't call me a child," Hiei growled.
"You've behaved like one," Mukuro growled back, before slamming the photograph down onto the desk. "You've humiliated me and made a mockery of the patrol! You clearly have no respect for your fellow officers, for the spirit of the border patrol or for me to do something this inconsiderate and reckless."
"You're the one being inconsiderate!" Hiei blurted out as his anger flared. "I already told you that's not me in those photographs! The guards in those photographs are not even from the same unit I was on patrol with! Ask the men who were with me and they'll agree that this could not possibly have been me!"
Mukuro narrowed her eyes but appeared to regain some of her calm. Hiei assumed that he had got through to her with his last statement: it was a very rare thing for him to be accused of carrying out a rotten scheme that he was not actually guilty of committing, and so being on the defensive as a falsely accused innocent was generating some unusual feelings within him. He felt relief – something he rarely did – when Mukuro's expression softened into a smile.
"For someone who has worked the border patrol for close to two full years, I thought you might have planned this a little better," she said. "Anyone else might have considered that neither the time nor the location were correct for what you did."
"What?" he muttered, relief giving way to confusion.
"But then again, forward planning and consideration never were your strong points, were they Hiei?" Mukuro asked, holding up the remote she was still holding in one hand.
Hiei moved his eyes to the remote, wondering what it had to do with him. Was he being accused of having stolen it? What was happening?
"You attacked the guard unit and fled to the living world right next to the tournament arena during news week, you dumbass!" Mukuro snapped. "Koto caught the entire thing on camera!"
"What?" Hiei echoed.
Mukuro pointed the remote at a screen mounted in the back wall of her office and the screen flickered to life, showing a patrol vehicle stopped beside the tournament arena. Koto had obviously been running with the camera as the film was bouncing and flickering and changing perspective almost constantly, but even though the quality of the film was poor, the events depicted were unmistakeable: Hiei watched in silent, slack-jawed horror as he flicked about the screen with his usual, deft speed, cutting down the guards with a combination of sword swipes and punches laced with black flames. Once he had downed all the guards he paused long enough to look about himself, at one point looking directly at the camera. The shot zoomed in on his face and his crimson eyes narrowed as they looked directly into the lens. Koto apparently then panicked, as she could be heard yelping off-screen and the shot dropped to the ground, which bounced around as she apparently ran away. After several awkward seconds of footage of the ground, the camera swept up again in time to show Hiei scaling the side of the patrol vehicle and launching himself through the open portal to the living world.
As the video turned to static, Mukuro – and the rest of her guards present in the room – turned to Hiei expectantly.
"How can you think that was me?" Hiei said.
"Because it very clearly was you," Mukuro flatly replied. "How can you continue to deny it, despite the overwhelming evidence of your guilt?"
"I'm not guilty!" Hiei insisted. "Ask the others who were in my unit: I did not leave the vehicle I was working in for three solid days!"
"Hiei, I'm very disappointed in you," Mukuro said.
Hiei's eyes doubled in size: the only thing worse than hearing what she had just said was seeing the look on her face which confirmed that she truly felt that way.
"I expected so much better from you," she continued. "I trusted you. I was prepared to forgive your actions if you had been prepared to take ownership of them, but in light of your arrogant lies and unwillingness to stand by your stupid mistake like a real man, I'm going to have to let you go."
"What?" Hiei roared.
The others in the room all took a step back, leaving only Hiei and Mukuro standing by the desk.
"It's not a decision that I've come to lightly," Mukuro said with a sigh. "But I can't keep you on if I can't trust you."
"This is ridiculous!" Hiei said.
"Excuse me," Kirin said, stepping forward. "I'm sorry to interrupt, but there is just one thing–"
"Damn right you're sorry!" Hiei snapped, rounding on him. "Shut your mouth and stay out of this!"
"I think you'll want to hear what I have to say, Hiei," Kirin calmly replied.
"I already know what you have to say, Kirin," Hiei spat back. "You're going to ask for my position as Mukuro's second in command. I haven't even left yet and already you're moving in to steal my position!"
Kirin waited until Hiei had finished speaking before moving his gaze to Mukuro.
"Sir, could you rewind that video and start it again?" he said.
Hiei tore his sword from its sheath and pointed the tip at Kirin's throat. Kirin calmly pinched the tip of the blade between his thumb and forefinger and pushed it to one side.
"If you watch the video again, I think you'll notice that it's not actually Hiei attacking those guards," Kirin said, giving Hiei a slightly tiresome look as he spoke.
"I find that hard to believe," Mukuro said. "But I would like it to be so, and so I will do as you ask, Kirin."
As she rewound the video Hiei slowly lowered his sword and Kirin withdrew his fingers from the blade. Hiei kept his sword in his hand and he gave Kirin one last disdainful glower before they all turned to the screen to watch the video one more time. Hiei sneered as he again saw himself darting about faster than the lazy lens of the camera could follow.
"There, pause the video!" Kirin said suddenly.
Mukuro responded immediately, pausing the video on the shot of Hiei standing looking directly at the camera, just before Koto had zoomed in on his face. It was a full-body shot of Hiei standing next to the front end of the patrol vehicle. He was standing still and tall, his feet shoulder-width apart. The black cloak that draped over his upper body and ended below his knees obscured most of his shape from scrutiny, but his bandaged right hand could just be made out at his side, clutching the hilt of his bloodied katana. The bandana around his forehead looked a little grubby and the white streak that arced around the his front section of hair looked a little askew as his hair was slightly ruffled from all the manoeuvres he had just performed.
But, Hiei thought bitterly as he stared at the screen, there was no mistaking that he was looking at his self.
"Damn, you're right, Kirin…" Mukuro muttered.
Hiei's eyebrows shot up in an involuntary show of his surprise.
"It looks exactly like him, but there you can see it's not him," Kirin said.
"Yes, of course," Mukuro agreed.
Hiei squinted at the screen, beads of sweat forming at his temples as he felt a little foolish for not being able to see what Mukuro and Kirin apparently could: it seemed absurd that they could tell the figure in the video was not him but he could not.
"See his shoulder is the same height as the top of the grill," Kirin said.
"And in actuality, he's barely taller than the top of the grill," Mukuro said.
"So whoever that is can't be Hiei," Kirin said.
"Because he's about seven inches too tall," Mukuro said.
Hiei's face dropped.
"I thought I noticed the difference when he hopped up the side of the vehicle and when he jumped at the portal too," Kirin added.
"Yes," Mukuro agreed, restarting the video and watching the remainder. "Yes, I see… His legs are clearly too long, the strides he's taking and the angle he launches himself into the portal at… Yes Kirin, you're right. That can't possibly be Hiei."
As the video finished and the screen dissolved into a sea of static again, Mukuro turned to look at Hiei.
"It appears I was wrong, Hiei," she said. "And I'm glad of it. I didn't want to have to let you go."
Hiei slowly lifted his sword, pointing it across the desk at Mukuro, who remained unfazed by his gesture.
"That's it?" he asked quietly. "He's taller than me? You needed to see that he was taller than me to believe that I was not guilty? You couldn't have figured it out by asking my unit like I twice suggested you do, you couldn't have listened to my side of the story, you couldn't have simply realised that I would never do something this stupid? Do you really think so little of me that you need to use something as perfunctory as my physical appearance to justify my innocence? Don't you know my character well enough – after three years in your service – to know that I am not that selfish and short-sighted?"
Mukuro said nothing, and somehow her lack of a response was more telling than any answer she could have given. Hiei slowly lowered his sword and looked around the others. None of them looked surprised that they had been proven wrong, but equally none of them appeared to feel any remorse for having suspected him in the first place – not even Mukuro.
"Bastards," Hiei growled, roughly resheathing his sword. "You're all bastards!"
He spun on his heels and marched out of the room, stomping his way through the corridors of Mukuro's fortress to the nearest exit, which he gladly left through. He then broke into a run, running far and fast, until he started to feel the ache of his exertion. Then, and only then, he ran with direction, taking himself to the nearest hot spring, which he gladly dived into, fully clothed. He swam the length of the pool underwater before emerging and dragging himself out to sit by the water's edge.
It had been a long time since he had felt so angry about anything and it had been an even longer time since he had felt so rejected.
It was like being abandoned by the bandits who had raised him the day they had realised that he was too strong for them to control any more.
It was like being cast out of the ice village all over again.
"There's no way genetics is an actual science. There's no logic to any of it. And that's what science is all about, right? Logic."
Keiko sighed and sat back hard in her chair.
"What?" Kuwabara asked, turning to her. "It doesn't make sense is all I'm saying!"
"You're not supposed to argue genetic theory, Kuwabara," Keiko patiently replied. "You're just supposed to memorise it and apply it to the questions."
Kuwabara jammed the end of his pen into his mouth and began chewing on it as he turned his attention back to the mock exam paper on his desk.
"It's past nine o'clock already," Keiko added.
"Yuh-huh," Kuwabara muttered, as though he had not really heard her.
"And we're still on biology…" Keiko said.
"We still have to go over chemistry, maths and geography."
"And after that you promised me you'd help me study for my history exam."
"Whoa, check this out: an atavism is an actual thing!"
Keiko's face dropped.
"Like Urameshi with the whole mazoku thing, right?" Kuwabara continued, undaunted by the withering look Keiko was giving him. "Check this out: it says an atavism is a genetic throwback that can occur and an example is a chicken being born with teeth! Whoa! I wonder if Puu grew teeth when Urameshi turned into a demon? It wouldn't surprise me, he did get all big and powerful after Urameshi transformed…"
Keiko sighed in despair.
"Sounds like someone could use a snack break," Shizuru said as she entered the room. "How about some hot chocolate and a cookie?"
"Yeah!" Kuwabara said, grinning at his sister.
"What about you, sweetheart?" Shizuru asked, turning to Keiko.
"Coffee," Keiko flatly replied. "Black."
Shizuru smiled sympathetically.
"I really appreciate you helping my baby bro out like this," she said.
"It's no problem," Keiko lied. "Next year is the last year of high school, it's important we do well in the exams this term."
"Are you sure I can't tempt you with a cookie?" she asked. "Yukina just baked a whole batch of them. They smell amazing."
"Yukina's so considerate!" Kuwabara said, smiling goofily. "She's my little angel in the kitchen!"
Keiko and Shizuru exchanged concerned looks.
"I'm leaving the room before he finishes that sentiment," Shizuru muttered.
She turned and started to go but stopped halfway to the door and visibly tensed.
"Shizuru?" Keiko said, rising from her seat at Kuwabara's desk. "Are you okay?"
"Someone's approaching," Shizuru said, turning around to look at her.
She paused before slowly turning to her younger brother.
"Hey Kazuma?" she said slowly. "Are you… Expecting a visit from Hiei?"
"Hiei?" Kuwabara echoed. "No way! He almost never comes here since he went "back to the darkness"!"
"Well it feels like he's on his way here now," Shizuru replied.
Kuwabara scrunched up his face and concentrated, shortly feeling the same thing his sister apparently could.
"Oh hey, yeah!" he muttered. "I think that is Hiei… But why would he come here at this time of night?"
Shizuru, Kuwabara and Keiko all exchanged confused and worried looks, the moment only ending when they heard someone knocking on the front door. They all then hurried out of the room, but as they reached the top of the stairs a streak of aqua-blue passed below them as Yukina started for the door with uncharacteristic agility. Kuwabara shoved past Keiko and his sister, ignoring their complaints, and ran down the stairs two steps at a time. He reached Yukina an instant after she had opened the door, finding what looked like a slightly bedraggled Hiei standing on the porch. It was dark and had started to rain outside and Hiei had gotten wet on his journey over; the front section of his hair was plastered against his bandana-clad forehead and the ends of his spiked hair were drooping slightly, weighed down by water.
Kuwabara narrowed his eyes: Hiei's voice sounded different.
"Yes?" Yukina said.
"Miss Yukina, daughter of Hina of the ice village of demon world?"
Hiei did something Kuwabara had never seen him do before: he smiled. It was not the half-crazed, murderous sort of grin Hiei usually gave, rather it was a genuine, warm, heartfelt smile. He pulled open his scarf and uncovered a hirui stone attached to a chain before lowering himself to one knee. He held the stone in one hand and formed his other hand into a fist, pressing it to his chest.
"Miss Yukina, my name is Inukasai," he said. "I'm your brother."
Yukina gasped and Kuwabara froze on the spot.
"M-my brother?" Yukina said faintly.
"Yes Miss Yukina, that's correct. I've been searching for you for quite some time and by luck I made contact with a demon who told me you now resided here, in the living world. I risked much to come here to meet with you."
Yukina clasped her hands by her chest and stepped out onto the porch to stand in front of Inukasai – who, Kuwabara thought, looked disturbingly like Hiei.
"I've been searching for you too, brother!" Yukina gushed. "I tried to find you for some time without success and I even asked a very knowledgeable demon with a gifted eye to help me find you, but even he could not find you, even though he has been looking for almost three years now."
Inukasai smiled again – and again Kuwabara flinched as he still felt as though he was looking at Hiei smiling like he was not a reckless killer who controlled the dragon of the darkness flame.
"Oh Miss Yukina, I have so much to tell you," Inukasai said. "May I please enter your home so that we might talk?"
Yukina turned to Kuwabara, who quickly hid his look of confused horror behind a nervous grin that he forced for her benefit.
"Would it be alright if my brother came inside, Kazuma?" she asked.
"Sure thing, baby!" Kuwabara replied, stepping back and grinning at Yukina.
Yukina re-entered the house and Inukasai rose to his feet, first politely bowing his head at Kuwabara and then stepping over the threshold.
"Hold it right there," Shizuru said, stepping forwards.
Inukasai stopped, his eyes growing large and his mouth forming a small o-shape. When Kuwabara saw Yukina pull the exact same face he realised that there was a resemblance between the two: and he wondered why his sister looked so angry.
"Are you sure you're Yukina's brother?" Shizuru asked.
Inukasai tilted his head slightly as though he had not even understood her question.
"It just seems a little odd," Shizuru added.
"Are you getting a bad feeling from him, Shizuru?" Keiko asked.
Shizuru turned to look at Keiko, giving her a long look before turning to Kuwabara, her attention again lingering before she finally looked down at Yukina.
"Ah, it's specifically you three…" she muttered. "The only three people who don't actually know…"
"What?" Kuwabara echoed.
Shizuru ignored him, turning instead to Yukina again.
"Is this really what you expected your brother to be like, sweetheart?" she asked the ice maiden.
Yukina turned to Inukasai and smiled sweetly.
"He is clearly an emiko," she said. "And he holds himself like a brave warrior; Rui told me that my brother was a brave warrior."
"Rui?" Inukasai echoed, turning to Yukina. "You have had contact with Rui since I visited the ice village?"
Yukina's smile widened and her eyes watered with the sheer force of her delight.
"Yes!" she said, nodding her head. "She told me all about you and your visit to the village! I'm so sorry you didn't get to meet our mother."
"It's alright," Inukasai replied. "I had already suspected that our mother had perished. My father had warned me that it must be so."
"Your father?" Yukina asked.
"Yes," Inukasai replied. "As I said, there is so much I would like to talk to you about. There is much I can tell you about my life, and I should dearly like to hear about your life: but unfortunately, I fear I will not be long in this world."
"Oh no, you're dying?" Kuwabara blurted out.
Inukasai smiled and chuckled softly.
"My apologies," he corrected himself. "A poor choice of words on my part. I meant that I will not have long in the human world before hunters come after me. It took me a month of searching to find a portal here and when I tried to pass through it, a border patrol unit caught me. I was forced to fight them in order to come here and although I successfully overcame them, it will only be a matter of time before they pursue me to this world."
"Oh well, this is your lucky day, Inukasai!" Kuwabara said cheerfully. "Because I happen to know some pretty powerful people in demon world who can get you off the hook!"
Inukasai smiled and turned to Yukina.
"Sister, would you be so kind as to introduce me to your friends?" he asked.
"Oh, of course!" Yukina said. "This is Kazuma Kuwabara."
"How's it going?" Kuwabara said.
Inukasai bowed his head in reply.
"This is our friend Keiko Yukimura," Yukina said, holding out a hand towards Keiko.
"Pleased to meet you," Keiko said, bowing her head at Inukasai. "I'm so glad Yukina finally found her brother!"
"I likewise," Inukasai replied, bowing his head at Keiko.
"And this is Kazuma's sister Shizuru Kuwabara," Yukina said, indicating Shizuru with a wave of her hand.
"A pleasure," Inukasai said, bowing at Shizuru.
"Yeah…" Shizuru replied, her face still decidedly sceptical.
"Hey, why don't we get those drinks and cookies now, Shizuru?" Keiko suggested, ushering Shizuru towards the kitchen against her will. "Kuwabara, why don't you give us a hand?"
Kuwabara ignored Keiko's hint that Yukina should have a moment alone with her brother, instead turning his back on Keiko and Shizuru and turning to grin at Inukasai.
"So Inukasai, where have you been all this time?" he asked.
"Let's sit down first," Yukina suggested.
She led the way to the living room, indicating for Inukasai to sit in the best armchair – usually occupied by Mister Kuwabara – and she and Kuwabara sat down opposite him on a sofa.
"I come from a mountain village known as Inugoya," Inukasai explained. "My father is the leader of the tribe of demons that have lived there since the dawn of time."
"You live with your father?" Yukina asked.
"Yes," Inukasai replied. "Our mother had already warned him that I would be cast from the glacial village upon my birth and so he was already on the ground waiting for me. Our mother had promised to bide her time and chose her moment to escape the ice village with you. She said she would meet us and we would be together as a family. She planned to move to our village, where she and my father would have raised us together."
"I would have loved to have been raised with my brother," Yukina said quietly.
"I would have liked that too," Inukasai said. "It was difficult for me growing up in the village: the tribe my father leads is a tribe of dog demons."
Kuwabara snorted in amusement, but when two pairs of very solemn red eyes fixed onto him he quickly sobered.
"Uh, sorry," he corrected himself. "It's just that you don't really look so much like a dog demon, Inukasai."
"That's because I'm not a dog demon, Mister Kuwabara," Inukasai replied. "I'm a fire demon, an emiko, as all male children born to an ice maiden are. The identity and powers of my father are irrelevant: ice maidens only give birth to either another ice maiden – which they conceive automatically upon their one hundredth birthday – or they give birth to a male fire demon, which they conceive from relations with a man."
"Oh wow," Kuwabara muttered.
"By chance, our mother had relations with my father just one day before her one hundredth birthday, just one day before her automatic conception with Yukina," Inukasai added.
"Gees, they didn't put this in the genetics exam…"
Inukasai smiled patiently but shortly shifted his attention to the door as Shizuru and Keiko entered the room. Shizuru placed a tray of tea down on the table in the centre of the room and Keiko laid a plate of cookies next to it. Keiko began preparing tea for everyone and Shizuru turned her attention to Inukasai, narrowing her eyes at him.
"So, Yukina's brother," she said. "Take your coat off. Make yourself at home."
"Oh, thank you," he said.
He stood up and removed his cloak, placing it over the arm of the armchair before sitting down again. Shizuru eyed him over curiously: he was even dressed the same as Hiei, down to the pointed black boots and black vest. He was not as muscular as Hiei and he was definitely taller – taller enough to be noticeably taller than Yukina and a little taller than Keiko, but still shorter than either Kuwabara or Shizuru – but he was otherwise physically identical to Hiei. His arms were bound in bandages, only the upper halves of his upper arms and his fingers exposed to view, he was carrying a sword at his left hip – implying that he, just like Hiei, was a right-handed swordsman.
"Nice bandana," Shizuru commented, pointing at the bandana around his head.
He smiled in what looked like a self-conscious manner and touched a hand to the bandana.
"Yes, I like to make myself bandanas when I am on a specific mission," he said. "This is my lucky bandana: I knew I would need luck on my side to escape to this world and to track down my sister."
"Oh hey, I make my own bandanas like that too!" Kuwabara said.
Inukasai smiled and began removing his bandana. Shizuru leaned forwards, watching his movements carefully, fully expecting him to expose a jagan eye when the bandana came loose; but instead he removed the length of cloth to reveal nothing more than a plain forehead.
"This is made from a cloth blessed by the priestess of our village," he said.
"That's nice, kid," Shizuru said bluntly, recovering a packet of cigarettes from her jeans pocket. "So tell us why it's taken you so long to find Yukina."
"Most of my efforts have involved trying to find the ice village," he replied as Shizuru slid a cigarette from the packet. "When our mother failed to return to him, my father unfortunately became very withdrawn. He wouldn't tell me where the ice village could be found, and I was forced to investigate on my own. I travelled for many years and to many places before I finally found what I sought: and even then, my trials and tribulations were far from over. Approaching the ice village and getting someone there to speak with me was almost as difficult as finding the village had been. And even then, I came away with only the confirmation of my mother's death and the knowledge that my sister had moved on. It was some time more before I discovered she had come to this world."
Shizuru flicked her lighter at her cigarette a few times before shaking it angrily and trying again. When it still failed to produce a flame, Inukasai rose to his feet again.
"May I?" he asked.
Shizuru gave him a puzzled look and he smiled, snapping his fingers, a translucent black flame igniting from the tip of his thumb. Shizuru nodded and cautiously leaned towards the flame, aiming the end of her cigarette into it. When the tip of her cigarette began to glow, Inukasai withdrew his hand, the flame vanishing.
"You're a useful little guy to have around…" Shizuru muttered, before taking a long draw on her cigarette.
He was not Hiei, and Shizuru was almost certain that he was in no way related to Yukina: but he did seem pleasant enough, and both Yukina and Kuwabara seemed to like him. Curiosity besting caution, she sat down and listened along with the others as Inukasai continued retelling his life story.
Hiei glared over his shoulder as the patrol vehicle stopped on the road below the hill he was sitting partway up. He was not entirely surprised to see Mukuro disembark the vehicle and dash up the hillside to join him, but he was surprised when the first words that came out of her mouth were not the apology he felt sure that she owed him.
"I already admitted I made a mistake, don't sit up here and sulk like a petulant little child, Hiei."
Hiei growled and leapt to his feet.
"You look terrible," Mukuro added. "Get back home, clean yourself up, get some sleep and we'll talk in the morning."
"I'm not sulking and I'm not a child!" he growled.
"Yes you are and yes you are," Mukuro flatly replied. "And now you're making a fool of yourself too. Is your obstinacy really worth your dignity? Because right now you're sacrificing your dignity to make this pointless stand."
"Don't talk to me about dignity! I haven't sacrificed my dignity, you slaughtered it when you called me up in front of your men and set about humiliating me! You didn't even listen to me! What if that bastard on the video had been the same height as me? What then?"
"Then he would have been you."
"But he isn't me: and that's the whole point! You just assumed the worst about me before I'd even had the chance to defend myself!"
"I didn't assume the worst, I just don't trust you. Not when it comes to your friends in the living world."
Hiei paused, his mind only focusing on the middle part of Mukuro's answer.
"You don't trust me?" he asked.
"In matters relating to your friends, I don't trust you not to choose them over me or any of your duties," Mukuro calmly replied. "I never have and I don't think I ever will. Not now."
Hiei tensed again.
"What do you mean "not now"?" he demanded. "Nothing has changed: that wasn't me in that video!"
"But look at how defensive you've become," Mukuro replied. "You're acting this way because you know that could have been you. You know that, if the need arose, you would do exactly those things to benefit yourself or your friends, even at the expense of me, the border patrol or demon world in general."
"I'm not acting out of guilt, you idiot, I'm acting out of anger," Hiei snarled. "You're treating me like I'm the one who's misjudged and made a fool of you!"
Mukuro shrugged and Hiei's anger flared. He turned and started to leave, only stopping when Mukuro called his name. He waited for her to say something else, refusing to so much as turn around until she did; but when she finally did speak, she said the last words he wanted to hear.
"You're over-reacting. This is just childish."
Without any further hesitation, Hiei ran off.
Next Chapter: Kurama meets Inukasai and finds he needs a second opinion, so he calls in Yusuke; but by then Inukasai has very successfully ingratiated himself with Kuwabara, Yukina and Shizuru. After some more moping, Hiei eventually tracks down Yusuke, but doesn't like what he sees when he finds him. Chapter 2: Hiei's Sister