Title: Imploring Hearts, Unspoken Vows

Author: Rose (aka Buffybot76) and Riomi

Email: vampmistress76@hotmail.com or riomi_sess@msn.com

Rating: R (for severe violence)

Pairing: Hiei/Keiko (with mentions of Yusuke/Botan)

Summary: When Keiko's sanity, as well as her life, is on the line, which of the Spirit Detectives is the one to save her? The one least expected!

Disclaimer: We do not own the characters mentioned within this fic. They belong to their creator who is, sadly, not us.

Author's Note: There is mention of graphic character death within this fic, you are forewarned.




The sound of pounding footsteps echoing throughout the white walled corridor of the hospital's psychiatric ward caused the young brunette at the nurses' station to look up from the book she had been so intently reading. She arched an eyebrow at the four young men rushing toward the station, each wearing varying expressions of concern and worry.

"May I help you?" she asked, her tone as polite as she could make it despite her aggravation at being interrupted during the best part of her novel.

"You sure can, lady," the teen with the slicked back, black hair began a bit rudely, but was cut off by another who had long red hair so beautiful that the nurse felt a hint of jealousy.

"What he means is, we would be grateful if you could give us Keiko Yukimura's room number, please."

The nurse snapped a glare at the greasy haired boy, then tilted her head to the soft spoken one with pliant eyes. "I'll need to know your relationships with the young lady, I can't just let anyone in, you know."

This caused the rude young man to lose the trivial amount of patience he had left, because before she had a chance to stop him, he had left down the patient corridor and began swinging open doors in search of the girl named Keiko.

"Please handle your friend, I cannot permit him disturbing the other patients." she scolded in a high-pitched voice in hopes that one of her colleague's would bear assistance.

"I'll take care of Urameshi, you guys give her the information she needs." the taller, gruff-looking boy voiced and followed the trail of havoc that the boy deemed Urameshi left behind.

It was the shortest of the bunch that spoke up this time, "Hn, forgive our friend, his relationship with the girl is somewhat beyond friendship and he is truly worried for her. Tell us how to gain the rights of passage to see Yukimura-san." his voice was cool but, his eyes held a tinge of impatience.

The nurse soon understood and reluctantly showed them the way. She lead them down a hall opposite the one that Urameshi had gone down during his rampage, causing the young man to blush slightly in embarrassment. They finally reached a room marked 323 and the nurse knocked softly once before opening the door. She turned to the others, giving them a stern glance.

"I can only allow one person at a time, so you need to take turns. She's unresponsive at the moment though... has been since they brought her in. But feel free to speak to her normally when you do go in. You never know, it might help." she stated. The other three young men instinctively stepped back, allowing Yusuke Urameshi to be the first to enter.

Yusuke attempted to swallow back the lump which rose into his throat as soon as he saw Keiko's condition. She lay on the pristine sheets of the hospital bed, her mahogany hair spread about her, laying across her pillow in disarray, in striking contrast to her pale, sweat-sheened skin. Her light brown eyes, which were sunken in slightly, held a dullness to them as they stared up at the ceiling in such a way that it was obvious that she wasn't seeing it at all. Her gaze was turned inward, shutting out all surroundings and other presences.

Images began to assault Yusuke's mind as the memory of the last time he had seen Keiko emerged. It had been before she'd left to go on vacation with her family, only a few days ago.

~*~Flashback~*~

Yusuke sat atop the roof of Sarayashiki high school with Botan. Despite his better judgement and lack of tact, he chose that spot for he and his assistant to meet in order for them to share, yet again, another private moment. He had just drawn the blue haired girl close, their lips meeting in a heated kiss, when the exit door flew open, allowing Keiko to emerge from the opening. They had jerked apart quickly, but not quickly enough. He'd seen the hurt and betrayal in her brown eyes, and knowing he should have done this sooner, resolved himself to straighten things out once and for all.

Botan left in a daze while he chased after Keiko, who, as before, had begun stumbling toward the door with tear-filled eyes. He'd finally caught up, grabbing her shoulder to spin her around. Once again, he should have saw it coming, but instead went blissfully unaware until the moment Keiko turned on him viciously. Her open palm made familiar contact with the flesh of his cheek, turning his head with its force. Yusuke stood, stunned, as he rubbed his cheek gingerly. He'd deserved it, he knew, but it still hurt like a son of a bitch.

"K-Keiko, I.... I-" Yusuke began.

"DON'T!" Keiko cut off his stumbled attempt to explain, turning her head from him in a dismissive manner. "Just... don't, Yusuke. Let's just.... forget this ever happened and put it behind us." Her voice had a note of finality in it that was unmistakable.

Yusuke nodded in acceptance, knowing that if he pushed the subject, he would wind up losing her altogether. Things had been awkward between them for the following days, each one barely speaking to the other if not simply avoiding them altogether. Until she'd come up to his house the day before she'd left, telling him that she and her family were going on vacation for a few days.

"Listen, I know we can't be more... but I'd really appreciate it if we could at least be the friends that we were, Yusuke." she whispered softly, her soft brown eyes pleading in such a way that it left him with no other choice but to comply.

How could he not? She was, after all, his best friend.

~*~End Flashback~*~

"Keiko.." Yusuke's voice left him as he stared miserably at the empty shell before him.

Closing the distance between himself and the bed, he lowered himself down onto the edge, catching Keiko's limp hand into his own. He noted with a wince, how clammy it felt, like it didn't belong to a living being at all, but a corpse instead.

This couldn't be Keiko. At least, not the Keiko he knew. The Keiko who would berate him for being late for class or for not being totally honest. The Keiko who had enough energy to rival his own if she were put under his circumstances...no, this couldn't be her.

Out of sheer discomfort, he hesitantly ceased contact with the lifeless extremity that belonged to the unrecognizable girl. He rose to his feet and eyed a clipboard that was bluntly placed out of contrast with the ivory walls next to the exit. He stepped towards it and quickly skimmed through the hastily-jotted doctor's notes...

'Yukimura, Keiko...17 years of age...traumatic encounter...post-traumatic stress...unresponsive to surroundings...'

He quickly averted his gaze to the inanimate floor, feeling as if he had looked at something too personal to continue. The clipboard notes had proven his wave of uncertainty to be false. This girl was Keiko, or more so, what was left of Keiko. He scurried back to her bedside and reclaimed her lax hand, his eyes full of shame, of not being there to stop whatever had emptied one of his dearest friends.

"Who did this to you, Keiko?" he whispered brokenly. "What happened? Please, tell me. It's okay, it's me, Yusuke."

His pleas went unanswered, the girl didn't even flinch when his hand gripped hers tighter in building fury. Yet the spark of life in her eyes that passed swiftly when his name was mentioned went unnoticed due to a heavy knock on the door.

"I'm sorry, but visiting hours are about up. If you want to give your other friends some time to see her, you'll have to leave." the nurse said after she had slid open the door.

Yusuke nodded numbly, rising up from his kneeling position to reluctantly cross the room. Glancing back once at the motionless figure, Yusuke sighed deeply before exiting. Stepping out of the room, regret tugged at his heart. 'Maybe', he thought, 'just maybe, if I were still with Keiko, this would have never happened...but, Botan...' inwardly he tried his best to shake away his qualms.

He turned to the nurse just as Kuwabara passed by to enter into the room, closing the door behind him.

"What happened to her?" His voice held a hardened edge that caused the nurse to become nervous.

Meanwhile, the sharp click of the heavy hospital door closing behind the Spirit Detective's sidekick, caused Kuwabara's heart to skip a beat in panic. This place gave him the heebie jeebies. Outside of the room, dozens of spirits were running amuck, but the second he stepped into this room, there was nothing but an unnatural silence. That could only mean that even the ghosts that flowed freely through the hospital corridors were too frightened to haunt this very room. This was very odd and more than obvious to the simple Kazuma Kuwabara.

He scaled the room, almost believing it was empty due to the lack of any life energy, until his gaze landed on the inert form of Keiko. His body tensed at the perception of her deathly pale figure and darkened eyes that stared upward with no particular motive.

Slowly, he crept to her bedside, almost feeling like he was invading her personal space and didn't belong there. Standing over her unmoving body, he began to fidget, unsure of what to say or do.

"Keiko..? It's me, Kuwabara..."

No verbal answer was given by the fragile looking girl. Hastily he removed his gaze, but by doing that he missed the small tick of life that passed through the pale girl's eyes when his name was mentioned. This was too much for him to bear, this girl looked dead. Her essence of life was utterly diminished and it was hard to grasp that this girl, once overflowing with nothing but the purest of energy, lay there like a cadaver waiting to be mourned over. Kuwabara took another glance at Keiko and immediately his eyes brimmed with tears, yet he, for once, didn't allow them to fall.

He tightened his fist to gain control of his emotions and voiced an unwavering promise, "You'll get better, Keiko. If I can't help you myself, then Urameshi will."

The only reaction he received was the light uneven breaths that gave proof that there were indeed two life forms in the room. His heart sank in grief and he sullenly took his leave.

Meanwhile, outside of Keiko's hospital room...

"What do you mean, you can't tell me anything!?"

"I'm sorry, but I cannot give out that information. I'm only allowed to speak with close family members or- " the nurse began, but suddenly broke off as if she had remembered something important that contradicted what she had just said. Instead, the woman's eyes took on a pity-filled expression before continuing. "You will have to wait until the doctor comes back through. He normally makes his rounds every Tuesday between six and twelve o'clock. I'm sure he will be able to fill you in more on what is wrong with your friend."

"It's quite alright," the red head politely injected, "We understand. Thank you for your help."

The nurse nodded, turning from the boy who was obviously seething due to her lack of cooperation in the information department, before making her way back to her desk and her neglected novel. Kuwabara reemerged from Keiko's room then, his eyes seeming a bit shiny and red-rimmed.

The next to enter was Kurama, and he remained inside for his allotted time to visit the unresponsive girl who had made such an impression upon him with her fiery spirit, kindness and loyalty.

The red haired kitsune stood at Keiko's bedside, his hands tucked into the pockets of his fuchsia colored uniform. His emerald green eyes shone with such sadness at the lack of the familiar aura of life which he'd found always seemed to surround this particular human. She exuded so much kindness and loyalty that Kurama often wondered how her energy level could be so low, with a spirit so immense. Shaking the idle thought aside, he returned his attention to the girl lying motionless on the bed. As Yusuke and Kuwabara before him, Kurama was struck at the drastic change which had come over the girl since last he saw her. Her eyes had been shimmering with such happiness that just the sight of those soft brown orbs had warmed his soul... both of them.

It was no secret to Kurama that his Youko side had taken an interest in Keiko. He himself had a soft spot for the lithe brunette. But Kurama knew of her feelings toward Yusuke, even though they were broken up as of late, and as a result, Shuichi, the human side of Kurama, always had his hands full at keeping the fox spirit in check. He would chide his demon half, questioning why he had such an interest in the girl. Youko would simply scoff each time, replying that she was 'cute'.

Sighing deeply, Kurama retracted one of his hands from deep within his pants pocket, and reaching out, cupped a cold, clammy cheek with his palm. A wave of emotion overwhelmed the normally calm and collected red head, and Kurama felt the pricklings of wetness at the corners of his eyes. Drawing back his slender hand, he reached beneath the fiery mane of his hair, and with a quick flick of the wrist, withdrew a single white rose.

He twirled the perfect flower between his fingers, silently contemplating the intimacy of the gesture, before reaching down and gently tucking the short stem behind Keiko's ear so that the soft petals nestled within the mahogany curls. With a slight smile, he withdrew his hand and turned to leave, glancing over his shoulder briefly to softly say, "From Kurama...." before continuing toward the exit.

Thus, he too, missed the flickering recognition of his name in Keiko's eyes...

When he returned, everyone turned to look at the final member of their group who had yet to go in.

"Hn. No, thanks, the present smell in this facility is sickening," the fire demon stated cooly. Inclining his head slightly, he continued, "And seeing as how that baka nurse said visting hours are almost over we should leave now and be done with this place."

With that said, Hiei turned around before he could see their expressions. 'So predictable...,' he thought. The baka would be glaring at him, fists clenched. The detective would be ready to punch him, at the first sign of movement. The loss of the woman was something he wouldn't take lightly. Kurama.... ah, Kurama was harder to predict, at times, impossible. He decided to turn around, and see the kitsune's reaction.

'Ah, yes, the look of contemplation. I should have known.'

The silence was broken by the enraged growl bursting forth from Yusuke's throat as the teen threw himself bodily at the fire demon. He was abruptly pulled up short, however, as Kurama latched onto one arm, and surprisingly, Kuwabara grabbed the other.

Hiei's expression remained blank, not wishing to contemplate the power the human girl could have over such powerful beings. With one last "Hn." he disappeared down the corridor.

~*~

Darkness crept along the halls, allowing shadows to invade every nook and crany of the hospital. Every room was devoid of lights as they had been all extinguished for the night with the exception of the one at the nurse's station. In room 323, the presence of shadows were increasingly more so. They moved along the floor and walls, ascending to the very ceiling, all seeming to converge upon the small form on the bed, kept at bay only by the shaft of moonlight which spilled through a single window and fell upon the lone bed.

Then, from the bowels of silence, a soft click emerged, signifying the release of a latch. The window which lead to the outside world swung open soonafter, allowing yet another shadow to enter the room. This shadow, however, had a purpose.

The new shadow crept forward, also being drawn toward the girl lying on the bed, its stealth and grace putting all the rest to shame. But unlike the others, which were driven back by the moonbeams that streamed into the room from the window and bathed the girl in its silvery light, this shadow advanced steadily. Closer it crept, until it reached the ring of natural light before hesitating for just one instant. Then, in one step, the shadow drew apart from the others, revealing itself to not be a shadow at all.

With the moonlight at his back, Hiei closed the distance between himself and the bed, until he stood beside it, looking down upon Keiko's body, his eyes filled with something that if Kurama--or any of the other spirit detectives for that matter--been present, they would have been astonished to see such emotion never before witnessed within the fire demon's red eyes.

The eyes trailed over the inert form slowly, never wavering at the pitiful sight before them. His eyes moved until finally settling upon the pale rose still perched in her hair where Kurama had placed it earlier.

"Hn, baka, fox." Hiei murmured, his lips turning upward in the slightest of smiles.

Absently, he brushed his fingertips against her flaccid, yet clammy cheek. "What is it about you that has captured the hearts of so many?"

He didn't get an answer, hadn't expected one. He didn't even know what had possessed him to ask such an inane question. What should he care about her methods of manipulation? She was half dead anyway, his only intent of coming here was to give his proper respects.

Earlier he could smell death lurking in the area, ready to take the souls of those nearly lost, and it seemed that it was making a point to come here last, but inevitably it would come. It would have only been right for him to say his farewell, but he would be damned if he were to show weakness for this human in front of his inferiors.

He removed his pliant touch from her hollowed features and put his hands behind his back, diminishing the urge to reach out again. Hiei narrowed his eyes and tried to look at the girl with disgust but found the only outcome to be pity. It was always obvious, the shell that now lay before him once had a spirit so immense that it looked as if she held an angelic glow, even he couldn't deny that. Either way, this girl was on the brink of death and there was nothing he could do about it. Not that he wanted to do anything about it. She was a human girl and death was a natural occurance for mortals such as her.

Feeling he had spent more than enough time deploring for what was left of the girl name Keiko, he turned away ready to take his leave, but the most unexpected thing happened...

'Where is he?'

It was a faint feminine voice smothered in anguish and fright, but it wasn't verbally voiced, it was echoing in his thoughts, almost as if someone was using telepathy. He turned back around to face the girl who remained unmoving, nothing changed in her features but he was more than sure that he felt a slight change in her aura. While he continued to stare at the girl's still form he failed to notice the shadows of the room become darker and all light slowly fade away, neither did he acknowledge the slight tug of his own soul being pulled from his body... until it was too late...

~*~

An eeire sense of wrongness assaulted Hiei as he slowly became aware of his surroundings. A sense of something being out of place, of not being as it was the last time he had seen it. The fire demon could not fathom what it could be, but his wariness kept him on his toes. Everything seemed to be the same; the human female still lay motionless upon the bed, enveloped in moonbeams and surrounded by the darkness of the hospital room. And yet, there was still something odd about the normalcy of it all. As if it were all a hoax, a cleverly set ruse in order to distract him, to submerge him in a false sense of security.

He smirked. Well, it wasn't going to work.

The image of Keiko's body suddenly began to unweave, deteriorating in front of the fire demon's cautious gaze, like a spool of unraveling thread. The figure faded away into nothingness, leaving the apprehensive Hiei in utter darkness. Suddenly, some unseen entity, disclosed by the inky blackness that surrounded him, took hold and began forcing Hiei downward. And though he attempted to struggle, he found the force was overwhelming, resulting in him kneeling on the ground.

Eyes narrowing dangerously, he attempted to speak, "Who is behind this sorcery? Show yourself!" his mouth formed the words, yet no sound emerged.

As if in response to his inaudible demand, a scene appeared before him, as if he were sitting within a darkened theatre and the main attraction had just begun...

A beam of light appeared in the middle of the obscurity, piercing the enveloping blackness and expanded until it revealed the inside of a dwelling. Two middle aged humans, one male and one female, sat at a table in front of a large window. The scenery beyond depicted a vision of vast forest and a shimmering lake in the distance. The male was reading a paper while the female flipped through a magazine idly.

As he observed, Hiei couldn't help but notice the distinct similarity between them and the human girl, Keiko. He continued to watch as soon another person came into view wearing a swimsuit with a towel wrapped around their dainty waist. It was Keiko, her eyes having regained their original exuberance, and she smiled as she expressed her desire to go to the lake for a swim. The parents nodded, continuing with their activities. All seemed normal. But Hiei could sense something very wrong, as his view automatically followed Keiko to the lake.

She walked out onto the small dock, untucking the towel from her waist and letting it drop to the hardwood surface. Hiei found he could not turn his eyes away, nor did he want to, and he allowed his gaze to take in the subtle dips and curves of Keiko's body. She stood, poised in a way that indicated she was about to dive in. But at that moment a piercing scream split the pleasant silence. He could visibly see Keiko's body tense up, her head snapping back in the direction of the cabin she had just left. The direction in which the scream had emerged.

The sound of rapid heartbeats echoed in synchronized fluidity with the racing foot falls that reverberated audibly in the air. They mingled with ragged gasps of breath and Hiei could sense that all belonged to the girl, Keiko, as she set out in a mad sprint back toward the dwelling which her parents occupied. He was compelled to once again follow Keiko, and he observed that her progress toward the cabin seemed oddly slow and drawn out.

Another scream pierced the air, this time louder, as Keiko finally drew nearer. By now she was almost to the door, her outstretched hand within inches of the handle. For an instant, Hiei felt Keiko's apprehension as if it were his own. Through the window, he could see everything, an open view of the horrors which awaited Keiko inside.

The sound of the door flying open was heard as Keiko hastily entered, drawing the attention of the demon which stood over the crumpled forms at its feet. Hiei struggled to move, growling his frustration when he found he still could not. His attention was brought back to the scene playing out before him when the demon acknowleged Keiko's presence with a peculiar choice of words.

"About time you got here. You were just about to miss the best part."

Keiko's eyes widened in horror as they registered first her mother's, then her father's battered bodies lying on the ground. Her hand raised futily to subdue a gasp before reaching out imploringly toward her parents.

"Mother... Father.... Nooo!"

Taking an instinctive step forward, Keiko suddenly tensed when, with a gesture of a clawed hand, the demon had her entire body enveloped in an orangish colored energy. The binding forced her to remain in her current position, her feet planted magically to the floorboards of the cabin, facing toward the carnage that was soon to follow.

Hiei increased his struggles to free himself from whatever bound him, but much like Keiko, he too was condemned to only look on. He watched uneasily as Keiko's eyes began to fill with tears when the demon decided that drawing out the entertainment was a good idea, and so filled his victims with youki, keeping the human couple alive even as he began removing body parts.

Vocal chords frozen in unimaginable terror, Keiko could only manage the tiniest of whimpers as her parents were brutally butchered before her eyes. Their agonized pleadings reaching out to their daughter, begging for her to save them even as their life's blood drained from their mortally wounded bodies.

Being mentally connected to Keiko as he was, Hiei felt the exact moment when the human girl's sanity shattered, plunging them both into an eternal suffering so intense that it actually wrung a scream from the fire demon's lips.

And then, just like that, it started again.

Like a video camera set to loop the film it was playing, Hiei was once again seeing the man and woman sitting at the table. All body parts in their proper place, no inflicted wounds or looks of horror. Again, Keiko came bounding down the stairs and Hiei's brow furrowed in confused frustration as he was once again forced to follow her to the lake, to witness her tempting charms. And as before, the piercing scream came. All played out exactly as before... to a point.

Just as the despicable creature raised its claws for the final killing swipe, the mental voice he had heard before this nightmare had begun, spoke again. This time, it was was quite clear who had spoken as he saw the bound Keiko's lips move in sync to the words.

"Where is he?"

Heavy thuds of footsteps could be heard beyond the walls of the cabin, causing both Hiei and the murderous demon to look toward the offending sound. Keiko's eyes lit up with optimism, but seeing that she was still unable to move, she couldn't see the door swing open and reveal a boy with slick black hair, clad in a green school uniform. Hiei saw it though.

He saw the boy stop just paces from the door and take in the scene before him. He saw the flare of fury burn in deep brown eyes as his aura spiked and charged at the demon, who was frozen with surprise, claw still suspended in the air.

As soon as the boy met with Keiko's line of sight, her lips formed his name, yet the sound never left them. Hiei caught this oddity but continued to watch the boy engage in battle with the fiend. A number of punches were exchanged and it looked as if the boy had the upperhand until an unexpected blast sent him across the room opposite Keiko. That's when Hiei felt an ovewhelming wave of emotions that coursed through him from the link of mental pain he somehow shared with the shattered girl. It was worse than the first time around, when she first shut herself out to the world, taking him with her. This time, the heavy sadness could only be the result of a promise being broken.

And almost as if the boy sensed the same terrible sadness within the girl, he brought his head up and stated comfortingly in means to protect, "It's ok. It's me, Yusuke."

The feelings of mental turmoil diminished and a warm sensation of hope spread along the reluctant observer's body, not only originating in the girl but suprisingly from himself as well.

Yusuke sprang to his feet and for a second time charged at his enemy with seemingly all his strength but... right before his eyes, along with the other observers', the demon disappeared, causing him to halt in sudden confusion.

That's when both Hiei and Keiko's eyes widened in shock; the unnamed demon appeared behind the young Spirit Detective, stabbing it's fierce claws through his back with a sickening gushing sound that echoed thoughout the vacation house.

Yusuke was unable to make a sound as the claw push past his ribcage and clutch his heart. By the time the claw broke through his chest, he was no more.

Pulling his hand out of the Spirit Detective's back, his hand still clutching the beating heart, the demon glanced at the horrified girl with malice and crushed the organ, sending a smattering of the still warm blood across her face. Yusuke's lifeless body fell over with blank eyes and a heavy thud.

Hiei looked on in paralysis, resulting from the girl's emotional turmoil that had somehow become fused within him. His thoughts wandered to the meaning of this crude illusion. Didn't the girl think higher of the Urameshi boy than to have him killed so grotesquely in this nightmare of a fantasy?

Bringing his focus back to the endless looping scenery, he watched the events unfold for a third time, knowing every step and tear lost by memory. When the question that altered the last delusion was repeated, Hiei was ready to see the young Spirit Detective bound into the room a second time but when the door burst open, it exposed a tall, gruff looking orange-haired boy, with nothing but determination gleaming in his eyes.

Without even pausing to look at the distorted figures of Keiko's parents, a blade made of nothing but bright chrome rei energy appeared in his calloused hands.

As the fight began, Hiei knew already that the boy didn't have a chance due to his predictable moves and sloppy tactics, but these thoughts couldn't block out the feelings of the girl who had nothing but sheer confidence radiating off of her for the sword-wieding youth.

For every blow that the demon dished out, the sentiment of confidence ebbed away. Though just when it looked as if the boy were down for the count, and the girl's hope was nearly non-existent, Hiei saw the demon step away from him, leaving him for dead on the wooden floor.

Looking back at the girl, the assassin gave her an eerie glare that made her eyes quiver and left Hiei with the natural effect of shuddering. It was as if the murderer knew the boy would rise and come after him because when he did get up and poise the sword to impale the demon from behind, a maniacal smirk materialized on his face, with his gaze never leaving the shaken girl.

Turning back to face the boy, the demon took hold of the end of the blazing spirit energy and bent it into the shape of a 'U', pointing the offending tip toward the wielder, he shoved it mercilessly into his mouth. This caused the girl to gasp and call his name in a low broken whisper, "Kuwabara."

With a quick jab to the curve of the energy, the demon sent the sword through his head and out the back of his throat, causing thick red liquid to ooze out of each excavation. He took a step back letting Kuwabara Kuzuma fall limply to the ground, his eyes wide in shock for his own demise. A heavy thud followed and the spirit sword slowly faded away leaving a gaping hole in its wake.

Hiei tore his eyes away from the horrid scene. Even though he thought the boy to be the biggest baka he knew, no one deserved to die in such a fashion, especially when fighting for the right cause. Such injustice didn't sit well within the fire demon, but he had no other choice but to witness the acts and experience the mental punishment the girl inflicted upon herself.

And just like that, it started again...

This time around, Hiei felt Keiko's every emotion. The happiness followed by a carefree feeling that was soon dispelled by an icy grip of apprehension and fear soon followed by outright horror.

In the back of his mind, a lurking suspicion began to emerge. The identity of the would be hero this time could only be one other person besides himself. Sure enough, the figure appearing in the open doorway was none other than the red haired kitsune.

With green eyes tinged with a molten gold, Kurama strode forth with a determined stance to place himself protectively between Keiko and her demon tormentor. He stared the demon down a moment in his way of studying the opponent, awaiting the demon's first move.

The evil being cocked its misshapen head to the side, observing the kitsune in turn before a malicious grin appeared on its contorted face. With a threatening growl the demon launched an attack first, causing his red haired opponent to tense slightly in preparation for a defensive move.

With a graceful leap into the air, the red-headed rogue swiftly evaded the demon's charge, summersaulting over the massive form to land on his feet behind it. As he turned, a hand moved to swipe beneath the heavy mane of fiery tendrils to reemerge with a single red rose within its grasp.

"You're a despicable being who lacks skills and grace, prepare for the end." The soft spoken kitsune stated, flicking his wrist as he ordered the small plant's transformation. "ROSE WHIP!"

The rose abruptly grew at an advanced rate, its stem elongating into a heavily thorned whip-like vine which Kurama weilded with ease as he prepared to attack. Hiei could sense the relief rolling off of the girl in waves as she watched the ensuing fight, but somehow, the fire demon sensed something terribly wrong about the whole situation. The scenes before had played out in much the same way, with both would-be rescuers having the upper-hand before the demon suddenly turned the tables. With widening eyes, he easily predicted the outcome of this battle as well.

The crack of the whip filled the air as its tip was sent in the demon's direction with deadly accuracy. But then, as if it were being manipulated by some unseen force, the whip suddenly quivered, pausing in mid-air as it changed direction, veering back in the startled kitsune's direction. With a strangled gasp of shock, Kurama could only stiffen as the tail of the whip wrapped around his own neck.

"Kurama!" The name left the horrified girl's lips even as the coiled whip tightened upon the soft flesh it was wrapped around. The sickening sound of rending flesh was accompanied by the demon's blood-curdling laugh before Kurama's head lolled forward, eventually falling completely from his shoulders to land on the floor with a heavy thunk and rolled to a stop at the whimpering girl's feet. The fuschia-clad body followed the decent to the floor with much the same sound.

All coherent thought was lost with the fire demon. All he could do was thoroughly convince himself that the most recent act performed before him was nothing more than a figment of this girl's unbalanced imagination. Yet, he couldn't push away the disturbing image of his closest comrade's disjointed head and empty, cypress eyes staring up at the mentally tormented girl..

He tried his best to take his eyes away from the unsettling imagery as it faded away at the most tedious pace, and started again for the fifth and hopefully final time. He couldn't escape the foreboding feeling of what was to come next...him.

This time, however, when the scene progressed to the point of his supposed appearance, the door remained tightly closed with no sign of his familiar form whatsoever. Hiei was suddenly overcome with such deep, heart-rending dispair that he could only moan as he turned back to Keiko's tear-stained face. Hiei's pity towards the girl grew as he now knew the meaning of her anguish and need for emotional relief. She was reliving a nightmare mentally only to have her heroes fail when she needed them most to succeed.

"Where is he?"

The question fell from her lips again. Although this time, as if her words were the key, whatever unseen force had kept him immobile up until this point was dispelled, allowing the fire demon free reign of his movements. His first reaction was instantaneous.

There was no time to figure out what exactly made those words trigger his release, the only thing he had in mind was to give the fiend what he felt it deserved. Even though he was in an illusion and all the things he saw were false, it looked real enough to him, and that was all the fuel he needed to hurl himself through the picture window, shattering the plate glass effectively as he landed deftly inside the cabin. Crouching low at first, Hiei rose to stand fully at the same time withdrawing his katana from its sheath. Holding the sword outward, signalling out the gawking demon, he smirked.

"Release her or die."

The offending demon gave a knowing smirk and snapped his fingers, causing the once trapped girl to topple over onto the wooden surface. Hiei looked at the girl, his expression blank, but his eyes held understanding. Quickly, he snapped his vision back to the demon, already knowing he had some trick in store for him. A face off was the inevitable result as neither demon made the first move. It was almost as if the evil one was apprehensive about going against him. This made Hiei smirk again as he continued to stare down the hideous monstrosity.

That's when something clicked. He wasn't only some part of the girl's depicted anguish, this thing had its own conscience, it was its own being, housing itself in her fragile mind. He couldn't understand why he hadn't noticed the signs earlier. The girl wouldn't put her idols in such a position just to have them fail voluntarily. No, this thing had every part in her torment, using mind games to feed on her web of misery. And now, he would be the one to untangle the web.

"You," Hiei growled, his voice dark and dangerous. "I'm sick of you and your disgusting mind games.

The demon seemed frozen as its yellow eyes widened, comprehension dawning that it had been found out. That it was about to lose. Growling in protest, the demon charged at Hiei, but he simply lept into the air, sailing over it's head to land at the crumpled girl's side. The demon whirled around in rage as Hiei raised a hand to whip the white bandana from his forehead, revealing the jagon eye long enough to send a mental blast strong enough to knock the demon back against the far wall. It landed hard, slumping to the floor, unconscious if only for the moment. Hiei retied his bandana back into place and turned back to the trembling girl. Gathering her up into his arms, Hiei jostled her slightly, prompting her to focus on him.

Keiko looked up at him with anxiety subsiding within her cinnamon globes, searching for some kind of assurance that she was saved but, a commanding voice broke into her consciousness, 'He won't be down for long, but if you want to survive, then relax.' Instinctively her body tensed, she wasn't sure if the voice belonged to the boy whose arms she was now in or the evil being that had her captive at one point trying to place a trick on her.

Still staring at the boy, she saw his eyes widen as the voice reentered her mind, 'Is it death that you seek?'

Quickly she shook her head negatively and allowed her mind and body to go slack, realizing it was indeed the boy and he held no cruel intentions, at least not for her.

Hiei glared at the girl with near annoyance, as he felt her mind and body immediately relax in his hold, he had no time to waste. Without hesitation, Hiei delved into her mind, frantically searching for any sign of hope within the polluted orfice. He mentally winced at the utter wasteland it had become, filled with dark thoughts of helplessness, guilt and dispair. All of the things upon which the other demon fed. Among the sad memories were a myraid of bitter childhood moments, and then, a first spark of light in her darkened prison appeared. It was an image of the detective, and Hiei could feel nothing but the pure concern and innocent love she had held for him.

This was followed by an image of the baka, whom Hiei felt the girl held in high regards with his feelings of concern and brotherly tenderness.

Delving deeper, the fire demon paused as an image of the red headed fox emerged. Of a scene in which he had no knowledge of, playing out before his eyes. Keiko sat upon a bench, surrounded by an open area filled with random passers-by. She held herself hunched over, her face buried in her hands as her shoulders shook with her silent sobs. And then suddenly, Kurama was there, with a warm hand on her shoulder to ease their quaking and soothing words to ease her mind. He produced a rose from his hair in the normal fashion and presented it to her before smiling his mysterious smile and walking away.

Hiei felt the sadness fade away at the fox's gestures and a sudden affection bloom within her heart which caused him to frown. Shaking himself mentally, he went even deeper, continuing his task to extract each impressionable moment. He came to a jolting halt in her musings. An image of himself, the kitsune and the baka came into focus. They were standing idly at the corner of the Sarayashiki high school. The baka and himself were arguing no doubt, about what he wasn't quite clear yet. He dug deeper, trying to make out the conversation. When it became clear, he listened intently.

"I can't believe Urameshi, cheatin' on Keiko like that." The tall figure exclaimed.

"Really? I always thought you believed everything that enters that pea brain of yours." The image of himself stated passively.

"You talk alot of junk for someone that's shorter than my grandma." The baka retorted and balled his fists.

"Enough you two, now what is this you speak of, Kuzuma?" The kitsune intervined.

"Urameshi. He totally broke Keiko's heart." The brute clarified.

"That boy never deserved such a pure thing anyway, leave it to him to destroy such things." His image stated offhandedly.

The fox and the baka both looked at him in astonishment of his words, yet Hiei never looked their way to catch the wide eyed expressions. When his words were said he felt the girl warm internally with love and good-nature. He paused, trying to figure out how the girl actually witnessed the converstaion. Looking over the scenery a second time he caught a glimpse of the girl at the school gates only a few feet away from the small party.

His eyes widened as he saw her expression, one of surprise which quickly melted away as a soft smile emerged on her lips. He observed as she quickly turned away, leaving the scene without any of their notice. Hiei pulled back from her mind, having found all of the happy thoughts that had managed to survive the demon's influence. Surprisingly, they all centered around the four Spirit Detectives in one form or another. The brightest though, it seemed, centered around himself.

Refocusing himself upon the girl in his arms, his eyes widened when he saw the tender expression she was directing at him. Their eyes locked, his own softening in a way they never had before, but soon the groan of the awakening demon pulled his gaze away and he turned to glare venomously at the distraction. Cautiously lowering Keiko to the cabin floor, Hiei rose to face off once again with the demon who was just now regaining its footing.

"Time for the final round." Hiei smirked as the demon lurched toward him, only to be bombarded with numerous images of love, laughter, happiness and concern, which had been harvested from deep within Keiko's mind. The bright emotions were forceably thrust into the demon's awareness, causing a groan of pure agony to escape its lips as the beast crumbled to dust before reaching its target.

Hiei sneered at the remains of the demon a moment before turning back to the trembling girl behind him. Without thinking, he knelt down and gathered her into his arms again. Instinctively, her small hands began to clutch at the dark material of his shirt and she buried her face into his chest as her body began to shake with the force of her sobs. Closing his eyes, Hiei merely held her closer, not caring that the action was something very uncharacteristic of him. Slowly, he lowered his head until his lips hovered above her ear and he began whispering softly to her as one of his hands rubbed soothing circles on her back.

The sobbing disappated slowly, and after a moment, all was silent once more. Keiko shifted then, pulling back from him while still managing to remain in his arms. Her shimmering eyes, so filled with fear and torment only moments ago, were now clearer than they had been, and Hiei shivered involuntarily at the amount of love and devotion that filled them. Love and devotion directed toward him... and he basked in it.

A slender hand rose up, brushing Hiei's cheek tenderly as their eyes remained locked onto one another's for what seemed an eternity. And then, Keiko's lips caught his attention as they moved, forming a word, yet still unable to utter sound. And the word her lips formed was his own name.

~*~

"Hiei?"

A mellow voice called in surprised confusion, shattering the dreamscape that the fire demon and mahogany haired human girl were locked in. Hiei was the first to come to, finding himself in an indecent position on the twin hospital bed. The petite girl was wrapped intimately in his arms, her head tucked beneath his chin, which rested atop it. Their legs were also hopelessly entangled as the girl's small hands clutched him desperately to her.

He looked up and realized it was daylight out just as the sound of someone clearing their throat caused him to glance at the doorway. The red-headed kitsune stood, staring at him intently, waiting for some kind of explanation. A small groan pulled all attention back to the young girl that visably clung to Hiei's dark top, it caught them both off guard but the fire apparition quickly disengaged his hold on Keiko and with his demon speed left the room through the door past Kurama.

Kurama felt the soft gust of wind assault him in effect to Hiei's swift departure; he also saw Keiko beginning to stir. Now, he was torn between staying to see how Keiko was, and following Hiei to find out what exactly it was that he had walked in on. With one last glance at the pinkening complexion of the small brunette, Kurama used his own enhanced speed in order to go after his demon comrade.

~*~

A distinct blackened blur zipped through the hallways, exiting the facility before coming to a stop atop a cement fountain. Hiei perched there, arms crossed over his chest as he looked out over the courtyard. An unmistakable rose fragrance accompanied the evergreen scent of the square in a soft breeze, that floated its way to the fire phantom's sensitive nostrils.

"Well good morning, Hiei. Fancy seeing you here," a ripe voice tinged with sarcasm announced from behind the already annoyed demon.

Keeping his back towards the unwanted company, Hiei snidely replied, "Why are you here so early, fox?"

Kurama, being used to the fire demon's constant, uncouth manners, only buried his hands deeper into his roomy pockets, and stared willingly at his back. "I came to check up on Keiko, of course." tilting his head in slight apprehension, he added slickly, " However, it would appear that she was in good hands throughout the night."

Inwardly, Hiei was damning the kitsune to the seventh level of hell for stepping in and making such contemptous statements like this, and surely filling his mind with banal assumptions. He expected his red-haired assoiciate to tend to the girl before coming here to villify him for spotting him in a most undignified position.

Without a hint of irritation breaking in his voice, starting with a snicker, he reponded, "Whatever lewd thoughts you have concocted in that brain of yours about what just occured couldn't be farther from the truth."

Kurama was quick to reply with eyebrows arched in skepticism, "Oh? Care to explain, then?"

Hiei leapt smoothly from his perch on the fountain to face Kurama briefly before brushing past him, saying, "The girl is awake now, is she not? Ask her."

Kurama spun around, calling out the the retreating back of the fire demon, "Hiei," Hiei paused, but didn't turn around, instead he tilted his head slightly to the left in recognition that he was indeed listening. "At least stay yourself to see if she's really okay." Kurama requested.

Hiei closed his eyes briefly in contemplation but did not respond. Instead he continued on into the hospital, leaving Kurama to watch silently. 'He has more compassion then he's willing to display...' Kurama thought, a small satisfied smile sneaking onto the kitsune's lips before he moved to follow.

~*~

The pair of demons rounded the corner of the hall which lead to Keiko's room when shouting from the opposite end drew their attention. Both looked up to see Yusuke and Kuwabara gesturing to them frantically.

"Hey guys, she's awake! Come on, they're gonna let us in to see her as soon as the doctor's done checkin' her out." Yusuke exclaimed excitedly, as he waited impatiently for the two demons to reach them.

"Yeah, isn't that great!" Kuwabara added, a relieved smile plastered across his face.

Soon an elderly man exited the room and the nurse gestured for the four boys to follow. The nurse began to slowly open the door to room 323, only to be rudely pushed out of the way as a green clad form brushed past to enter first. The first form was followed by three others, one by one until all four Spirit Detective members were standing inside of the silent room. The bed was unoccupied, its covering strewn messily around, proof that it had indeed been used. The group took a cursory look around the room before, finally, four sets of eyes fell upon the slight form standing before the open window.

Keiko stood, staring out the window, her back presented to the group of young men who could do nothing but stand with uncertain awkwardness. Silently, they waited for Keiko to turn, to speak, to do anything that would prove she acknowleged their presence. Finally, after a long tension-filled silence, Keiko's soft voice wafted across the room to reach their ears.

Two words.

"I waited..." The words were barely above a whisper, but all present heard. No one really knew what she meant--except Hiei, who had an idea and continued to stare at the girl--they looked amongst themselves for an explanation.

They turned back to the girl when she shifted, slowly turning around, her head bowed. As she lifted her head, four small sighs of relief emerged at the sight of her skin, which held a creamy complexion replacing the waxen one it had held earlier. But as her eyes rose to meet them as well, they all noticed that they glistened with tears which were threatening to spill forth at any moment. Taking her acknowledgement as an opportunity to speak, Yusuke asked what was surely on everyone's mind at the present moment.

"What did you wait for, Keiko?" His voice slightly shaken with uncertain curiosity.

The girl looked past the inquiring boy, to the silent fire demon who watched her with his own level of precaution. He wasn't even sure if the girl remembered the moments which had played out in her mind, or if she was even aware that he was ever indeed been taken hostage into her mental nightmare. He surely didn't want to bring the memory back up to her and cause her to relapse into her fragile state, so he kept his stance, never wavering his impassive glare as the girl continued to look at him with intensity.

"Keiko..?" Yusuke repeated, looking back and forth in confusion between her and Hiei.

She continued to ignore him and took slow step towards the group, keeping her gaze glued to the silent fire demon. They were deliberately so, but soon took on a faster pace until she was suddenly dashing madly across the room, colliding with his chest and wrapping her arms tightly around his torso. This earned three shocked gasps from the other onlookers, though Hiei kept very still even though his own eyes were wide in shock for the sudden, unexpected action.

A muffled sob escaped the perplexing girl, her head buried deeply in Hiei's chest. He had no idea how to react. For once he was at a loss for words. No witty remark. No rude gesture. Nothing. What could he do when a girl in such a fragile state had him in such a vulnerable position? Deciding that the mortal girl needed some sort of comfort he placed his arms lighly and reluctantly around her shaking form, throwing a deadly glare at the fox demon, daring him to comment on his present position in contrast to his last.

Lifting her head slightly to look at the fire demon, Keiko formed a short whisper, her chin resting on his chest, "Thank you."

Hiei's gaze instantly diverted back to the sobbing female, eyes widening once again. What was she thanking him for? Deciding that there was only one way for him to know for sure, he opened up his mind to send a soft telepathic thought to the delicate mind of the girl.

'And what have I done to deserve your thanks?'

Just the soft sound of her hero's voice in her private thoughts caused her to clutch him closer with need. His reply provided a comfort that filled a void from deep within her soul. That same voice held command in her dark place but now it was kind and soothing.

"Baka, because you were there when I called..."

By this time, Yusuke and Kuwabara were staring quite openly with gaping jaws. Kurama, on the other hand, had had his quota of shock for the day and could only look on in amused fascination. Kurama glanced toward Yusuke, noticing the look of boiling rage that was evident on the Spirit Detective's face.

'Poor, Yusuke...' The kitsune thought with a slight shake of his head. 'Confused, as usual.'

Turning his attention back to the surprising new development unfolding before them, Kurama told himself that he was happy. Happy for Keiko and Hiei, who so obviously needed each other. Despite his best effort, however, the red head could not dispell the small twinge of sadness that seemed to plague his heart for some reason. Clearing his throat slightly, Kurama nudged Kuwabara's arm, drawing his attention and motioned toward the door, indicating that they should give the two some privacy to talk.

Kuwabara could only stare wide-eyed from Kurama to the embracing pair as he muttered dazedly, "The shrimp and Keiko... all your fault, Urameshi... masaka..."

Kurama smirked in amusement as he lead Kuwabara from the room by his arm. Yusuke on the other hand, wasn't about ready to leave the room. The teen detective's face had began to turn an interesting hue of crimson that nearly matched Kurama's hair and he was on the verge of opening his mouth to demand an explanation as to why Keiko and Hiei were suddenly all lovey dovey when an oar suddenly bonked him on the head, knocking him out. Yusuke slumped into the waiting arms of his girlfriend, who had popped in only seconds before. Scooping him up without a word, though the bright grin she was wearing on her face at the moment spoke volumes to her delight at the obvious new couple, Botan very quietly exited the hospital room with her beau, leaving Keiko and Hiei alone.

Keiko, oblivious to the happenings around them, pulled back from the stunned fire demon, continuing to hold eye contact until she stood at arms length from him before looking away. "How did you..." she began, but broke off with a shuddering sigh before continuing. "How did you find me?"

"I didn't. It would seem you pulled me in." He replied.

"I..I don't understand." Keiko stuttered, shaking her head as confusion filled her eyes.

"You don't need to understand." Hiei replied, averting his gaze from her momentarily before looking back. "Do you remember anything?"

She nodded. "Yes. I remember everything."

He cursed inwardly, knowing he'd made himself look like a pathetic fool near the climax of the dream. "Most of it was an illusion." he said sternly, hoping she would think the last moments had been just that.

"No..it wasn't." Keiko shook her head in vehement denial. "It was real, I know it. The demon was real...you were real.... my... feelings... were real."

"Then how do you explain the fact that the others still live, when according to your dream, they all expired?" He didn't really want to do this to the girl but, he wasn't even sure about his own feelings for the brunette.

"Th-that.. that part was illusion." she replied, meeting his gaze. "But the rest... was real. Couldn't you tell?"

"How could you tell?" his reply caused himself to inwardly wince. She didn't deserve such treament after the trauma that he himself had experienced within her.

"Because I could feel you..." she spoke softly, stepping toward him again, one hand stretched out in entreaty to rest against his chest as the other took possession of his slack right hand. "Here..." she whispered, pressing her hand to his chest as the other brought his captured hand up to her own heart. "....and here."

Her warm words and soft touch awakened something inside of him that he had tried all his life to block out. This feeling was below him, but he couldn't resist it, this feeling of weakness to manipulation, this feeling of unplausible tenderness, this warm emotion...this feeling of love. He felt the barrier that had barred his heart from such things shatter at that moment, and knew instantly that it was due to her words... to her feelings... to her love. He felt himself growing weaker by the minute, and though he knew he should loathe the girl for making him feel this way... for making him *care*... he simply could not.

Keiko released her hold on Hiei's hand which remained in its present location, pressed against her heart. Her hand then trailed along the length of his arm to reach out, gently cupping the side of the fire demon's face with her palm. His red eyes flickered heatedly as he stared back at her. Gradually, Hiei allowed himself to lean into her touch, so gentle, so loving against his cheek that his eyes closed in utmost contentment.

He wanted to stay there, in this warmth, indefinately and was not especially pleased when that warmth suddenly departed. He opened his eyes to find that while they had been closed, Keiko had shifted closer, her face so near his own that he flinched slightly, an involuntarily reaction to her nearness. He was not used to being touched by another living being, at least, not like this. He had avoided it at all costs throughout his life, but now.... Now, it seemed he craved it. No, that wasn't quite right. He didn't just crave the touch... he craved her.

"Hiei..." She whispered, her hand that rested against his chest, rose to cup the other side of his face as she leaned even closer to softly press her lips against his own in a tender show of affection.

Unbidden, Hiei's own hand slid up from her chest, snaking behind her neck in order to maintain the sweet contact. A sudden warmth, unlike one he had ever known, engulfed Hiei then and he groaned against her mouth even as his free arm wrapped around her waist to draw her to him. With a small whimper of surrender, Keiko's small frame practically melted against Hiei's as she gave into the overwhelming urge to just be near him.

They remained engaged in the heart-felt kiss, reveling in the comfort and contentment it supplied before the sound of a soft knock followed by a startled gasp coming from the direction of the doorway caused their lips to cease contact as they turned to see the nurse standing in wide-eyed shock at what she had walked in on.

Blushing in embarrassment, the nurse quickly bowed her head as she muttered an apology. Clearing her throat, she looked back up at the pair and continued. "The doctor still has a few more tests he'd like to get done before he releases you. So if you're... erm, friend... wouldn't mind going outside for a time, I'm sure you'll be able to leave with him today."

With a bit of disappointment mixed with excitement, Keiko nodded to the nurse, who hastily left, before turning her gaze back to Hiei.

"I'll wait for you..." Keiko said gently, offering up a sweet smile.

Hiei only looked at her a soft glow in his crimson eyes, giving promise that he would return, leaving her to give a slight snicker at his unwavering facade, despite the fact that when she was in his arms and tasting his lips earlier, she had felt the barriers over his heart collapse and let her in. Either way, the look in his eyes he left her with was enough to satisfy her, causing her heart to flutter with the knowledge that that expression would only be reserved for her...

~*~

~ Finish ~