"In the Least Likely Places"

          Kurama stuffed his hands in his pockets as he walked down the street.  He was smiling, humming even, watching the sky.  Today was a good day, he wasn't really sure why.  He briefly wondered where Yusuke and the gang were.  Maybe he should find Hiei and do some training.  Then he shrugged both thoughts away.  Why spoil a rare moment of peace?

            A movement out of the corner of his eye caught his attention.  He turned quickly toward the alley.  What he saw made his gaze narrow in anger.

            Three men had surrounded a young woman.  She was struggling, but against three opponents, all larger than herself, she was no match.  Her dark blue hair clung to her sweaty face and curled up around her neck.  Her brown eyes were wide and filled with pain.  How long had they been at her?  As he watched the men grabbed the woman and disappeared around a corner.

            Without a thought Kurama ran off after them.  Whoever she was she could not possibly deserve whatever they had planned for her.  A hint of regret flitted through his mind as he realized his peaceful afternoon had just abandoned him, but he had no thought of turning back.  He had seen her for a reason, he was meant to stop this atrocity. And after all the things he had done, the things Yoko had done, did he really deserve peace?

            Kurama stopped at the entrance to an old warehouse.  He had an uneasy feeling about this place.  Whether it was his ability to sense spirit energy, his sense of smell, his thief's instinct, or just plain human intuition, he didn't know, but something was not right.

            Cautiously he entered the building, being sure to keep in the shadows.  He could hear low voices, muffled, in the distance.  He heard a clank that sounded something like a manhole cover.  They were headed into the sewage system?  If that wasn't cliché he didn't know what was.  He ran toward the far corner of the warehouse careful to make no noise.

            There was no one there, but, as he had suspected, there was a manhole.  With a sigh he approached the cover, wrinkling his nose in distaste as he removed it and prepared to drop inside.  He'd need to burn these clothes when he got home, he'd never get the stench out.  Such waste.  But it could not be helped.  He carefully lowered himself into the manhole, then dropped the last few feet landing with catlike grace.

            Where had they gone? 

            He squinted in the dark; he couldn't smell them, in fact, he was trying not to smell at all, the stench was nearly unbearable.  He was tempted to release his petal shield, filling the drain with the sweet scent of roses, as he had done when fighting the first of the four saint beasts.  But he knew the idea was folly.  It would alert his prey to his presence. 

            He stepped forward and felt a wave of nausea hit him.  He staggered.

            Get a hold of yourself Kurama he berated this is no time for a weak stomach

            Drawing himself up he forced himself to draw breath, pushing back the waves of nausea.  Soon he was able to walk once more.  And now he found that he could detect a whiff of human scent.  He followed it.

            After several long minutes he came to an unusual opening in the pipe.  This opening had clearly not been placed by any reputable source.  It was jagged and small, just large enough for a man to enter through if he ducked his head.

            Cautiously Kurama stepped through emerging into a large underground room.  It was crude and filthy, and the smell had not improved, but it appeared to be empty.  He gave a small sniff.  Yes, the scent was still there.  He quickened his pace now.

            Whoever these people were, they evidently had some sort of organization, power, if they were able to do all this.  Who knew what vile plans they had in mind for the blue haired young woman.

            Turning a corner Kurama sensed something behind him, but before he could react a bag was thrown over his head and his hands were confined. The last thing he heard before he blacked out was the echo of his own thoughts.

            Fool Yoko taunted.  And he knew it was true.  He had been careless and now he would pay the price…

***

            Kurama groaned as he woke up.  He was lying on something cold, hard, and uncomfortably damp.  He shifted slightly, trying to sit up, but it was difficult since his arms were still tied behind him.  He wondered if there was anything with which to fray the rope, but the ground felt perfectly smooth.

            He shook his head, willing his eyes to adjust to the darkness of the room so that he could see where he was.  At least the bag was gone, he could almost breath were it not for the stench.

            Now he could see the faint outline of bars before him and a wall a few feet away, but nothing much more.  He used his feet to push himself backwards into the wall behind him.  Pressing against it with the backs of his hands he felt for any outcroppings or chinks on which he might snag the unwanted restraints.  No such luck.

            He stilled as he heard footsteps approaching.  The door clanged open loudly and he almost winced.  Two men pulled him roughly to his feet and dragged him toward the opening.

            "Who are you?" he managed hoarsely.  "What do you want?"

            Neither man even spared him a glance. 

            Soon they arrived outside another door, this one far sturdier than that of his cell. The men stopped and untied his hands though they did not release their grips on his arms.  Kurama stood rubbing his wrists wondering why they had freed his hands.  Suddenly the door creaked open and he was thrust through it.

            Kurama stumbled as he was forcibly propelled forward.  He stopped, blinking rapidly as his eyes were exposed to a bright light.  Gradually his eyes adjusted and he could see that he was in a sort of pit, or arena.  All around were high walls, and beyond those, stadium style seating.

            In those seats were demons and humans of the seediest and worst kind.

            It took only a moment for him to catalogue all this, and only half a moment more to realize where he was… and what he was expected to do.

            This was an underground (and highly illegal) gladiatorial arena.  He had heard of such places but had never had any desire to see one.  In these dingy and uncouth places the worst kind of scum, the mostly wealthy scum, gathered to watch, and bet on, street fights. They were like cock fights, only worse.

            The opponents in a given match were often people with no connection to the criminal element, much like himself.  At other times they were hardened cons looking to pick up a little extra cash and have a good time beating someone to a pulp at the same time. 

            He could only pray that his opponent was not one of these.  He hated to think what he would have to do if it was.

            As he thought of this he also remembered the reason he had come here. The girl! she would never survive such a fight.  Had they brought her here simply for the 'pleasure' of watching her die?  What sort of sick entertainment was that?  It wouldn't even be a fight, it would be murder.  Far better to have shot her in the alley than make her undergo such brutality.  He wondered if she was already dead.

            His thoughts were interrupted by a loud burst of noise from the crowd.  He looked up toward the opposite side of the arena.  The door was just now opening.  He planted his feet apart, forcing himself to look up – to be confident, strong.  He had to be ready to face whatever came through that door.  It wasn't always a human, or even a demon, opponent.  These rings had been known to pit man against beast – dogs, bears, even lions.  He focused his attention prepared to assess his opponent.  And what he saw shocked him.

            Into the ring stumbled the blue haired woman.  Her deep brown eyes blinked furiously as they instinctively hid from the lights.  She struggled to regain her balance and Kurama resisted the urge to rush to her.

            She was far the worse for wear, her clothing was torn, her hair tangled.  It was difficult to tell where the scratches let off and the dirt began.  One entire sleeve of her blouse was missing and there was a large gash on her right cheek.  Evidently someone had tried to have a bit of pre-fight 'fun' with her.  He wondered how far they had gotten.

            But at least she wasn't dead.

            Her eyes had adjusted now and they flitted around the dank cavern in confusion.  Clearly she had no idea where she was.  Then her eyes fell on him.  She looked uncertain as to whether to be afraid of him or comforted by his presence.  She made toward him but was stopped as a large man with a heavy electric prod came out.  He waved it menacingly at her. 

            Kurama turned to see another man approaching himself.  In terse sentences the man explained to him what was expected of him.  He would fight – to the death – or a fate worse than death would befall him.  The man grinned wickedly, tapping the prod against his leather boot, and Kurama had no doubt the man would greatly enjoy it if he chose the second option.  He decided not to give him the pleasure.

            He turned back to see the young woman watching him.  Her eyes were wide.  Evidently she had been given a similar ultimatum.  He allowed just enough sympathy into his gaze that she could understand he did not wish this.  Her own eyes studied him sorrowfully.  Looking at her he knew she had no experience with fighting.  But she did look athletic, lithe and toned.

            Slowly an idea took form in his mind.  He glanced quickly around the room.

            There.

            In the far corner was a grate.  Unlike the rest of the metal fixtures this was not rusted, but shiny.  Not iron then and probably very new.  He would guess that it was steel, possibly titanium.  Their captors likely had little fear that anyone could break through it.  And ordinarily they would have been correct in this assumption.  But Kurama was well equipped to handle such an obstacle.  He reached a hand thoughtfully into his full, red, locks, fingering a single rose seed.  It was all he would need.

            "Come on pretty boy!" a voice taunted from the stands.  "Get on with it!"

            "Plenty 'o time t'wash those curls later boy!" another called.

            Kurama fought back his disdain.  He needed to focus.

            Slowly he approached the girl, circling and forcing her to do the same.  He wasn't fond of telepathic communication, it was a strain on him.  But he was capable of it, providing her mind was sufficiently advanced.  He certainly couldn't speak to her, not with those guards watching.

            Don't be frightened, and do not react he thought toward her.

            He thought he saw her eyes widen almost imperceptibly, and then they returned to normal, fear clouded.

            He feinted toward her and she moved back.

            Who are you?

            He almost smiled, she could understand him and she could reply.  That made things easier.

            A friend, I want to help you  She kicked at him and he caught her leg, turning it to flip her, while being careful not to actually hurt her.  At least she knew to keep fighting. That was good.

            I saw you in the ally.  Did you come after me?

            Yes

            Thank you  she rose and ducked away from him, darting behind him and jumping on his back.

            Do you see that grate he told her as he made a show of struggling to get her off.  After all, he didn't look wonderfully impressive, no reason to reveal his true strength before the time was right.  Let them think him weak.  He carefully positioned himself so that she could see the grate without being obvious.

            Yes. I see it.  It looks strong

            Looks can be deceiving he pulled her over his shoulder and they both rolled onto the floor, scuffling.  we're going to get out through that grate he was certain her eyes widened that time.  Clearly she found that hard to believe.  Fortunately, with all the dust their scuffling was creating no one else could see.  He rolled them toward the grate.  The guards didn't even bother coming, they just stood at the iron doors, smirking, enjoying the show.

            How?

            I can't tell you, but I need you to trust me.  On the count of three

             She eyed him searchingly, as though assessing both his sincerity and his sanity.  Then she gave a slow nod.

            Good, one… two… he reached up into his hair. Three  he jumped up, summoning his rose whip, and sliced through the grate.

            To her credit she did not pause, though it must have been a shock to her.  She too jumped to her feet and dove through the grate.  Jumping through after her Kurama grabbed her hand, pulling her to her feet, and ran as fast as he could.

            He could hear the confusion behind them as the dust cleared and the guards realized what had happened. He chuckled, they had probably never had anyone escape before.  He ducked into a side pipe and pulled the girl after him.  Slashing his whip he sliced another opening in the pipe, this one above them.  With a glance over his shoulder he boosted her up and then jumped, catching the edge with his fingers, and pulled himself up through the hole. 

            They ran across the top of the cement pipe, crouching so as not to hit their heads, until they reached a full size pipe.  That probably meant they were under a street now.  He pressed his ear to the ceiling, listening for the sound of cars.  There were none. 

            Hopefully that meant this was a parking lot or ally. They would look a little funny coming up out of the ground like this, but they had no other option.

            Once again he slashed upward, this time in a smooth circle, and the light of day shown through.  He boosted the young woman once more and pulled himself up, then he replaced the section of asphalt he had removed.  Without slowing to see if anyone were near he ran through the streets, heedless of the strange looks they were receiving.  They looked as though they had been through a war zone.

            As they reached the city proper he slowed, it was unlikely they would be found.  And they probably would not be tracked later, though he would keep an eye out.

            He turned to the young woman beside him.  "I think we're safe.  You might want to keep an eye out for the next week or so though.  And don't take any walks alone in alleys."

            She nodded.

            As he turned away she caught his hand causing him to look back at her.  Her eyes were filled with a wonderful warmth that he had not expected.  After all, she had just seen him do things no human could do.  Most people would have been afraid of him, or at least wary, whether he had just saved their lives or not.

            "Thank you." She said softly.  And he smiled at her.

            He squeezed her hand lightly, "You're welcome." Then she released him and they both walked away.

            Now that he had time to think his own stench made him ill.  He needed a shower, and he probably needed to contact his friends.  There was no telling how long he had been out down there.  He could have a lot of explaining to do.

            He was right.  They were waiting for him.

            As he listened to Botan and Kuwabara ream him for disappearing he thought about the blue haired woman and a soft smile stole across his lips.

            He wondered who she was.  Why she had been in that alley anyway.  What would have happened to her had he not followed her?  What was she doing right now? 

            As he pushed these thoughts out of his mind the memory of her soft eyes and her warm hand on his own came to him.

            He smiled.

~~~~~~~~~

            Yeah! Finished the first in the series.  I've got, I don't know, five to eight more about these two.  And in the next one she gets a name!!! Happiness ^__^  I'm working on it, but I promised I would finish my other Yu-Gi-Oh! story first L Oh, well.  It'll get done someday…  Please Review!!! (seriously, I'm begging.  Just write your name so I know people are reading)