I found out that this thing actually has 4 reviews…But because of that little problem on 6/4, I've never seen a one of them…Drat, I was hoping to write with a little help here…

Disclaimer: I don't own Yu Yu Hakusho, but Noriko and Mizu-Matan are mine. Feh.

Lilies and Roses

Chapter 2: Ambush

"Kurama's been acting rather strange, hasn't he, Yusuke?" Botan asked quietly, blowing on her tea before taking a sip.

"Why do you say that?" Keiko took a drink from her own cup. "Isn't he always calm and deep-thinking?"

"Yes, but he's been much more…spaced-out lately." Botan sighed. "And he hasn't reported back to the Spirit World at all this past week. I think he's been staying in the city the whole time."

"That is strange for him." Yusuke nodded. "He usually likes the park."

"You said he started acting strange after your battle with that girl, Noriko." Botan said quietly. "That most likely has something to do with it."

"You mean that swan-demon?" Yusuke nodded. "He did say something about them being partners…but I don't know what that has to do with…"

"What kind of 'partner'?" Keiko interrupted. She still didn't know a whole lot about Spirit World or any of the fine points of the group's history.

"Kurama used to be a notorious thief." Botan explained. "I did a little research on this Kumi Noriko character. It wasn't very well-known, at least not to the officials in Spirit World, but she was Yoko Kurama's partner in plundering ancient treasures. She wasn't as prominent as he was in the reports, because she wasn't a human killer. Her strategy was to trick male opponents into giving her the gems and such, then letting Kurama kill them to keep it quiet."

"She sounds like one of those spies in the old war movies." Keiko whispered.

"She was quite a bit like them." Botan agreed. "She was extremely beautiful, but she was supposed to have been killed years ago by a large group of demon hunters who finally caught up with them."

"Then again, so was Kurama." Yusuke nodded. "Maybe she managed to save herself the same way he did."

"It is a possibility." Botan nodded. "But still, it's not like him to go running all over town for an old partner, even if their team did last twenty years…"

~ * ~ * ~

Kurama leapt swiftly through the night, jumping from rooftop to rooftop with the speed that only a demon could have. He paused a moment on the roof of the tallest building in town, letting his senses search the streets for a unique energy pattern.

"Noriko…" he muttered quietly. "I know you're here. Where are you?"

He hesitated only a moment longer, then dashed off the end of this roof and onto the top of the next. His mind was lost in itself, floating back in the memories of days gone by…

He shook his head, trying to clear his thoughts. But they kept drifting back to that same moment. Pale white skin…long black hair…an enchanting smile that easily lured men into her grasp. She was sending that smile back at him as she ran ahead, through the woods that they had made their home…

"Noriko…" he sighed, staring up at the moon. "I swore…I promised I'd find you…How could I have forgotten?"

He stopped, turning at a sudden feeling, then leapt back over three buildings and found him back at Sarayashiki Junior High. He glanced around, starting to stroll across the white roof. "I find myself here more and more often…"

"I thought it might be appropriate." a voice said from above him. He looked up and saw Noriko sitting above him on the top of the stairwell. "No one comes to school Friday night."

"Very astute." Kurama nodded, smiling that smile again.

Noriko jumped down from the roof and faced him. He was about a head taller than her, so she was looking up at him as she smiled. "It's been a long time, hasn't it, Kurama?"

"Indeed it has, Noriko." Kurama locked eyes with her. "Indeed it has…"

Noriko examined his a moment, then ran her fingers curiously through the long, red hair. "I just can't believe it…" she muttered. "They couldn't have…gotten you too…"

"Don't you worry about any of that." he whispered, gently taking the hand and gripping it in both of his. "We should never dwell on the past. Think more of the present."

Noriko sighed, pulling her hand away. "I can't believe that either…" she muttered. "I can't believe you're working with that…human…"

"Yusuke?" Kurama laughed a bit. "He's really not so bad, once you get to know him."

Noriko made a face. "That's not the Kurama I know talking."

"Sometimes that's a good thing." he whispered, brushing his fingers through her hair. "Being human…It's taught me a few things, Noriko. I'm wiser than I was…I know more about what really matters…Hope, true happiness and most importantly…more about love."

"Love." Noriko sneered, pulling away again. "Humans know nothing about love."

Kurama was taken aback. Noriko leaned against the end of the roof, gazing out over the greenery the same way Kurama had a few days earlier. But her blue eyes were filled with a troubled sadness.

"Noriko…" he started, but she cut him off.

"My human 'mother'…" she sighed. "Abandoned me when I was just a baby. I don't even remember her, but I was picked up by the local orphanage…In Germany." she closed her eyes, shuttering in remembrance. "It was…horrible…Not only was the food terrible and the conditions awful, but the woman who ran the place was insane…"

Kurama caringly slipped his arm over her shoulders, but she didn't notice. She was too lost in her own memories. "Then, when I was ten years old, I couldn't take it anymore. I ran away. But no matter where I went, no one would help me. I was beaten… mugged…tortured…I don't really know how I survived. I guess the demon in me just held out. Then…Then the Master found me…"

"Master?" Kurama suddenly understood and grabbed her by the shoulders. "You don't mean…Mizu-Matan?"

She pushed him off. "It's not your concern."

"Of course it is." Kurama insisted, suddenly stern. "I can't believe you lowered yourself to working for that waterfall spirit!"

"I don't have a choice!" Noriko's eyes held a look of real pain in them. Kurama stopped short, letting go of her. She was staring up at him, and the tears were welling up. "You don't understand…I was under him for help, he saved me…But now I can't…I just can't…"

She let out a stuttering sob that was trying to hold itself in, then buried her eyes in his shoulder and cried. Kurama hesitated a moment, then put his arms around her and kissed her gently on the forehead.

Botan was flying over the town, looking this way and that for any sign of Kurama. She spotted a flash of bright red hair at the school building and was sure it was him. "Oh!" she smiled. "Hey Kurama…"

She stopped in mid-air. Kurama hadn't heard her. From the look on his face, she doubted if he heard anything. He was holding a young girl with long, white-blonde hair close, his eyes were closed and he was whispering something to her.

"So that must be the infamous Noriko…" Botan whispered, then got tickled. "Wait until I tell Yusuke and Keiko about this!"

She stopped. A dark shadow was creeping up on the two, slowly scaling the side of the school building. An evil energy radiated from it, and she knew it must be Mizu-Matan.

"Kurama!" she shouted, diving down. "Behind you!"

I don't know if Kurama heard her or not, but his eyes suddenly flew open. "Move!" he exclaimed, pushing Noriko over to the side. The tile where they had been suddenly shattered under the force of a blast of water.

A deep, dark laughed filled the air as the two stumbled to their feet. There was a man standing above them, with long, tangled blue hair and sea green eyes. His skin held a bit of a blue tint to it, and he was dressed in some sort of dark blue clothing that they'd never seen before. Mizu-Matan.

"Well well well." he snickered. "There you are, my little indentured servant."

"I am nobody's servant." Noriko sneered, reaching back into her pocket for her seeds.

"And who is this?" Mizu-Matan's voice held a very fake surprise in it. "Why, could it be the famous Yoko Kurama, back from the dead?"

Kurama glared, positioning himself between Noriko and the waterfall spirit. "Noriko, stay back." he warned.

"What?!" she insisted. "What do you think I am? I'm not some weakling, you know!"

"Are you sure about that, girl?" Mizu-Matan hissed. "Have you forgotten why you joined up with this fox in the first place? Because you weren't strong enough to kill the owners yourself."

"That's not why!" Noriko cried, turning red in the face.

"And that's why you needed me, little swan." Mizu-Matan continued cruelly. "You didn't have the strength to survive without someone else's help…"

"That's enough." Kurama stopped their conversation. He snapped his wrist and the rose shot out into the full-fledge Rose Whip. "Noriko will remain here, Mizu-Matan."

"Oh, you think so?" Mizu-Matan reached into his cloak and pulled out a long sword. It was made of silver, but the silver had been melded with a sort of hard blue gem, Kurama supposed must be sapphire, so it was a strange, swirl pattern. "We'll just see, Yoko-Kurama."

"Wait, Kurama!" Noriko cried, but he charged forward.

Kurama leapt forward, cracking his whip. Mizu-Matan countered it easily with his sword, the tip bouncing savagely off it and striking the wall next to him, shattering it. Kurama snapped it around again and this time struck him on the cheek, causing a long, red cut.

Mizu-Matan ran his hand over his cheek, looking at the bright red blood coming from it. "Not bad." he nodded. "But you skills have been weakened by that human form."

"That's a matter of opinion." Kurama sighed, snapping his whip forward again.

Mizu-Matan closed his eyes and held out one had. The Rose Whip stopped in mid-air, changed direction and hurled back at its owner. Kurama leapt out of the way just barely in time.

"What is this…?" he wondered outloud.

"I don't know." Noriko admitted. "Somehow he controls the water inside the plants…"

"You talk too much." Mizu-Matan was fast. Before Noriko could react he'd speared a shallow cut in her shoulder, then struck up the side of the head with the flat of his blade. She slid across the title and hit the wall, stunned and wounded.

"Noriko!" Kurama gasped.

"Don't take your eyes off me, Yoko!" Mizu-Matan cackled. He plunged his weapon into Kurama's side, purposely missing his vital organs.

Kurama felt a strange lack of power as the sword was yanked back out. It was like all his strength had been suddenly sucked out of him, replaced by the pain. His right arm gave an involuntary spasm and the whip dropped to the ground.

Noriko stirred in the corner, regaining her senses. The arm under her cut had gone numb, and it was working down the side of her body. It took her a moment, then she saw the red-haired boy down on one knee, clutching a bleeding wound on his right side.

"Kurama!" she gasped. "Above you, watch out!"

He looked up, just as a rush of water poured down on him, flattening the fox demon to the ground. Mizu-Matan smiled, then reversed the pressure before his prey drowned. It sucked up like it was going through a straw, lifting Kurama up with it. He could hardly move, let along fight, because the vacuum created by the pressure was sucking blood out of his wound and doubling the pain.

"No!" Noriko stumbled to her feet. Her right arm hung useless at her side. "I'm the one you want! Leave him out of this!"

"Not anymore." Mizu-Matan grinned evilly. Kurama had stopped moving completely, his eyes were closed in pain. "He's a much grander catch than you are. And respects his wish, you'll be staying right here."

He laughed at the angry look on Noriko's face as started to pull away, into the darkness. "Come and get him, if you like. That is, if that wound doesn't claim your life first…"

Noriko gripped the wound on her shoulder, limping forward through the dull ache of her arm and leg. "No…Kurama!" she gasped, watching Mizu-Matan and his captive vanish into the night. "Kurama! Kurama!"

~ * ~ * ~

"Hurry, Yusuke!" Botan urged. She was flying above him on her oar, racing through the town at full speed. "I know he's here, I can feel him!"

"Are you totally sure it's this Mizu-Matan guy?" Yusuke called up. "I mean, what if it's some other demon?"

"If it is, we have even more to worry about!" Botan exclaimed. "The energy I felt was coming from the school, and I'm sure I felt an animal spirit there, too! It could have been Kurama!"

"Yeah, but it could have been that Noriko, too!"

Yusuke slid into the schoolyard. The grass was soaking wet, more than usual, and there were puddles of water all over. Not to mention what seamed to be several large chucks of roof.

Yusuke looked around, stuffing his hands in his pockets. "Whatever you felt, it's gone now, Botan." he muttered. "And I don't see a sign of Kurama."

Botan glanced this way and that, confused. Then she heard a small whimper and her head dropped in surprise. "Yusuke, on the roof!" she called, swooping in for a landing. "There's a girl, and she's hurt!"

Yusuke broke into the school and spirited up the stairs. When he got to the roof, Botan was already leaning over the blonde-haired figure, nursing what seamed to be a serious wound on her left shoulder. When he saw her face, Yusuke slid to a stop.

"It's that swan-demon!" he gasped. "Noriko!"

"Are you sure?" Botan asked in a breath.

"Defiantly." Yusuke looked down at the wound. "Well, this explains the animal signal, but do you think…Kurama…"

"No…" Botan was examining the cut before she attempted to heal it. "This isn't the kind of wound a whip would make. It's to short and deep, this was done by a sword. And that's not all…It's poisoned."

"What?" Yusuke did a double-take.

"The blade that did this must have been soaked in poison." Botan nodded. "It's a special kind do, it's only fatal to demons. Thank goodness for her that she's got this human body, or she'd be dead by now."

"You're not going to help her, are you?" Yusuke asked.

"Of course I am, Yusuke!" Botan chided. "Isn't it obvious by now that she's very important to Kurama, at least?"

"Speaking of Kurama…" Yusuke looked around. "This place is covered with blood. I don't think he did this."

"No." Botan agreed. "It must have been Mizu-Matan."

"But why would he attack his own worker?" Yusuke wondered out loud.

"I'm not sure." Botan shrugged. "There. I've done all I can. But I don't know how long it'll be before she wakes up…"

The girl started to move. She groaned a bit, and muttered one word in fractured syllables before passing out again. "Ku…ra…ma…"

Botan stiffened, looking up at Yusuke. "Did you hear that?" she whispered.

"Yeah." Yusuke was distracted, leaning over something to the side. "And I think I know what it means…"

He turned around, holding something in his hands. Botan put a hand to her mouth, holding back a gasp. "Oh dear…"

"Yeah." Yusuke nodded grimly, looking down at Kurama's abandoned Rose Whip, half-wilted and no where near as green as it should be. "I think we have a problem."