December 4, 2007 – This is not a new chapter to an old story. I have been in the process of breaking down my stories into easier-to-digest formats – shorter chapters and the like. Please see note in Chapter One. Thanks!

Disclaimer – "Yu Yu Hakusho" and all known related characters do not belong to me. I get no monetary benefit from this. My benefit is the enjoyment of dealing with beloved characters.

"Partners, Friends: Part One - Kurama"
by DragonDancer5150

Chapter 3 – The Thief and the Assassin

Reaching the entry hall once more, the two turned toward the rear of the keep. This path was a much more familiar one to Kurama. They exited and descended the steps into a small courtyard below. From there, paths that stretched across nothingness led to other buildings floating on an abyss of clouds. Bokuma turned to the left, following the ledge along the drop-off to a forbidding keep, the prison. Two guards let them in and they crossed the entry hall, ignoring and being ignored by the administrative staff. He felt himself tense involuntarily as they approached, then passed, one door in particular in the corridor down to the prison proper. Bokuma, too, took note of it and threw a darkly promising grin over his shoulder.

They passed the common areas and delved down into the high-security section, deep underground. Kurama ignored the growls and muttered threats issuing from behind thick metal doors as they passed. Halfway down, Bokuma stopped in front of one such door, unlocking and pulling it open. "Bokuma?" Kurama heard a familiar voice growl. "Hn. Has our playtime come around again so soon?" Kurama shook his head, a small grin tugging at his lips. There was no mistaking that venomous sarcasm.

"You've got a visitor," Bokuma snarled, stepping aside.

Kurama took his place. "Hiei?" He looked in to see his friend and suppressed a murmur of dismay. Thick chains held the small youkai from heavy shackles on his wrists and ankles. He could not sense Hiei's Yoki and wondered if the shackles bound that as well. A talismanic card covered his forehead, sealing his Jagan eye. He looked unharmed but Kurama knew that his youkai healing rate was such that he could have been beaten an hour ago and Kurama would not be able to tell. At the very least, he needed a bath.

"K-kurama?" Hiei murmured in disbelief. At first, glad recognition glinted in his eyes at the sight of his old companion but then a scowl darkened his face. "What are you doing here? What do you want?"

Kurama turned on Bokuma angrily. "Unlock him from those! Hiei, are you all right?"

Hiei glared at him. "All right? Do I look all right? How dare you, Kurama? You're half the reason I'm here!"

"Perhaps," Kurama allowed mildly, having expected that. "Right now, I am the one getting you out."

Bokuma slapped his keyring into Kurama's hand, responding to his earlier comment. "I think not! You do it."

"Coward," Hiei sneered as Kurama stepped in and started fumbling for the right key. After several tries, with Bokuma watching in amusement and perhaps a hint of unease, Kurama found the one that fit the locks. Hiei rubbed his chafed wrists and stared at Kurama. "What's going on?"

"First, we're getting you cleaned up and your sword returned - " Kurama looked meaningfully over his shoulder at Bokuma as he unlocked the ankle cuffs. " - then we're going to Maze Castle."

"We're doing what?"

Bokuma led the two back to the common areas and to a small hot spring where Hiei could clean up while the warden fetched his belongings. Hiei lost no time stripping and getting into the water, pausing just an instant to enjoy the heat before taking to the task of scrubbing the grime from his body. Kurama sat on a bench at the edge of the water as he explained the situation, switching to telepathy when Hiei slipped beneath the surface. -- . . . So Lord Koenma is sending his human detective, Yusuke, to destroy the whistle and thereby kill the Makaichu. He has been going through some kind of special training with the human psychic, Master Genkai, but he is still going to need backup.--

"WHAT!?" Hiei sputtered as he broke the surface once more, his white-rimmed black hair plastered to his forehead. "Koenma expects me to help that human? He's the other half of why I'm here!"

"No," Kurama explained patiently, "actually, Koenma asked me to help Yusuke and I told him I would need a partner - a youkai partner. I found out that Bokuma has had more than one plaything lately."

"You, too, huh?" Hiei humphed, mollified for the moment. He toweled off and was dressing again when Bokuma returned.

"Don't get too comfortable with this," the warden jeered as he tossed Hiei his sword.

The swordsman deftly snatched it mid-air, then pulled it partway out of its scabbard and frowned, muttering, "Needs to be oiled - and sharpened." He looked meaningfully at Bokuma.

Kurama suppressed a grin. Trust Hiei to worry first about his weapon. "We do not have time for that. You can clean it when we get back."

"Yes, polish it up for me before you turn it back in," Bokuma chuckled derisively.

Kurama found himself hissing through his teeth. It was not an easy task to anger him, but Bokuma seemed to have a talent for it. "Bokuma - " He stood, hands clenching into fists.

Bokuma wagged a finger at him, even as he patted the whip coiled on his belt. "Careful, youko. You're still within the prison and so under me. Don't make me have to discipline you before I release you on your little errand for the boy-prince."

Hiei crossed his arms and fixed Bokuma with a defiant glare. "It must make you feel awfully important being able to bully and abuse people when they're bound up unable to defend themselves. I hope you realize that if you've been having your 'fun' with Kurama, it's only because he's been allowing it. Do you really think you could take him - or me - at the moment while we're not shackled down? I suggest you watch yourself."

Bokuma snarled. "How dare you?! You are still under the authority of the prison-"

"Which for now consists of just you," Hiei countered.

"Who will back you up?" Kurama asked softly, green eyes glittering dangerously.

They were in an area currently devoid of other inhabitants. Both the thief and assassin could have him down and be long gone before any help arrived. Bokuma realized this as well. He looked back and forth between the two of them, then scowled. "Batsukuno will hear of this," he warned as he turned and stalked off. "You two had better hurry. The sooner gone . . . the sooner back. Escort yourselves. I trust you still remember the way out?"

The two did not relax their stances until his footsteps were out of earshot. Kurama shook his head. "Friendly sort, as always. Ready?"

"Tell me again why I'm doing this?" the swordsman groused, throwing his cloak about his shoulders.

"Because youkai from Demon City cannot be allowed into the Human Realm and, in any case, the Makaichu infestation has to be stopped. Think of your sister, Hiei. If she really is in the Human Realm somewhere, she might become infected. Even if she is strong enough to be immune, what of the humans around her? If she is not already in some kind of danger or trouble, she will be."

"That's an awful lot of 'if's'."

"Besides, Koenma has promised he might be able to have us acquitted at the completion of this mission . . . What are you doing?"

"Might," Hiei stressed as he shook out his hands, then tried once again to pull the talismanic card from his forehead, Yoki glowing around his fingers. "Damn! It won't come off."

"Let me try. I'm sure it's magicked so that it cannot be removed by the one wearing it." Kurama jerked his hand back with a hiss of pain as soon as he touched the card, his fingers singed. He looked down to see the tips of Hiei's fingers similarly reddened. "Apparently there is a trick to it. It will probably require Batsukuno's touch to remove."

"Nice," Hiei growled, tying his headband in place over the card. "Let's get out of this madhouse."


Author's Notes: Please be sure to check my bio page for any updates, etc. Thanks!