Eye to Eye

"Ouch, ouch, ouch," Kuwabara muttered, in perfect time to Kurama's steps.

Kurama chuckled fondly, as they approached their makeshift campsite. His arm was wrapped securely around Kuwabara's waist, and his other hand clamped onto the muscled arm. Kuwabara had leaned a fair amount of his weight onto the smaller teenager. Kurama didn't really mind; Kuwabara would not need the support if Kurama had not just beaten him anyway.

Kurama's policy of teaching was somewhat old-fashioned. He preferred to teach by rote: memorize and repeat. Worry about understanding it later. He also was not afraid to use excessive force. Using excessive force against Kuwabara, in fact, was a must.

Their training sessions, by default, were brutal. Kurama was teaching Kuwabara to defend against crafty, versatile opponents, and trying to build on his strength in the process. The best way, Kurama thought, to go about this was to associate certain common maneuvers used by demonic fighters with extreme pain. If Kuwabara's brain was programmed to think "This technique means serious injury," he was that much more likely to allow his survival instinct protect him. Already, he was showing extreme improvement.

Another quirk to Kurama's teaching was that he absolutely refused to teach someone he knew was hopeless. Flat out would not do it, no matter what the circumstance. His methods were too harsh to be wasted, and his energy too precious.

If Kuwabara was as hopeless as the delinquent liked to imply, Kurama would have just told Hiei to deal with it, and washed his hands of the affair. But the innate curiosity Kurama had nurtured since childhood was piqued; here was a boy with tremendous spiritual powers, and almost no control. Just like Kurama's second-favorite object of study, one Yusuke Urameshi. But here was where Yusuke and Kuwabara differed: Yusuke didn't really care about increasing his strength. He was perfectly content as long as he could win a few street fights now and again. Kurama shared this philosophy, in his own way.

Kuwabara strived for improvement. A bizarre perfectionist, in a way. He would go to any lengths to improve. Winning some fights was not enough. Kazuma Kuwabara could not stop, would not stop until he could win them all.

This philosophy was, amusingly enough, shared by Kurama's number-one favorite person to puzzle over: Hiei. It had triggered more than a few laughing fits, the way Kuwabara and Hiei seemed to be tied to each other. They were so much alike, and yet so different. And then there was the whole Yukina Issue...

Kurama had almost died laughing, as he watched Yusuke, Hiei and Kuwabara escort Yukina back to her home. Botan and Koenma had given him a few strange looks, but it had been worth it.

Even now, as he set Kuwabara on the log they used as a bench, he was struggling not to smile at the absurdity of it all.

Gently as he knew how, Kurama peeled the blood-soaked shirt from his student's back. Kuwabara had a tendency to duck and cover when Kurama attacked from above. It was a good strategy in some ways, as it prevented his heart from being pierced. On the bad side, however, if Kurama had been using a weapon such as a club, his spine might have shattered.

Kuwabara winced slightly; the cloth had adhered to his skin when the blood dried; staining his body a sickening, brownish color. He wondered idly if a few fibers still stuck to his open wounds, and if they could infect him. Stupid Akashi and that science test; it had gotten him hooked on science, and, worse, studying.

Kuwabara watched as Kurama crushed a few leaves between a pestle and mortar, creating a thick, gooey substance. He recognized the concoction as Kurama's preferred disinfectant. He had become well acquainted with the fox spirit's methods of healing. They were not as warm and comforting as Genkai, Botan or Yukina's white magic, but they got the job done. Kurama had told him that he didn't trust magical healing. It was too easy to make a mistake, the demon-teen explained, and you can't undo such powerful white magic. Kurama's way, if he made a mistake, he could catch it and redo it.

Mistakes. Kuwabara hated making them, and yet he seemed quite adept at it. Kurama assured him it was natural; he was new to fighting with a weapon. Kurama had told him plenty of stories of when he was first learning weapon control. A couple of them had sent Kuwabara to the ground, rolling with laughter, some had him nodding in sympathy, and some had just been... strange.

"You're going to have to take your shirt completely off," Kurama said suddenly, stirring Kuwabara out of his thoughts. "I can't get to that slash across your chest."

Kuwabara winced, remembering that slash. Kurama's Rose Whip had twisted around the trees every which way, no matter how hard and fast Kuwabara had tried to dodge. To his credit, it had taken a good six or seven minutes for the whip to catch him, but when it did... Ouch.

Carefully, he unbuttoned the buttons along the front. One had been pressed into a cut on his stomach, Kurama had had to help him work it out. It hurt to move his arms (he swore Kurama had given him at least a few fractures), so he again needed help pulling the formerly yellow shirt off. It was currently the color of the dried blood that saturated it.

"You know," Kuwabara began, as Kurama applied disinfectant to the now accessible gash across his broad chest, "there's something I don't get."

"What would that be?" the doctoring fox asked, distracted.

"How come, when it comes to training, you're a bastard and Hiei's the nice one?"

Kurama looked up with a grin. "Hiei's a strange person. Sometimes he's perfectly easy to understand, you know? Other times..." Kurama shrugged helplessly. "I'm as clueless as the rest of you."

"I could say the same for you."

A ghostly figure, shrouded in shadows and camouflaged by black dress, was barely visible beyond the clearing. Hiei occasionally dropped by their campsite to trade news and share some dinner. He spent most of his time networking; trying to learn the news of the Tournament. Where the contestants gathered, who might be competing, and other such things. He also spent a great deal of time trying to track down Yusuke, to no avail. The detective had left the other three in the city the evening Toguro had challenged them, yelling something about hags and torture. Kuwabara had interpreted that as "Training with Genkai," but no matter how many times Hiei visited her temple, he could find no signs of life.

"Hello, Hiei," Kurama greeted. "I wasn't expecting you for a few more days."

Hiei nodded. "I wasn't, either. But I thought it fit to warn you both: the secondary teams are gathering in three weeks' time. I don't know the name of the place, but I know how to get there."

"Three weeks?" Kuwabara exclaimed. "Damn it. I'll never be ready."

Hiei frowned. "What the hell happened to you?" Kuwabara was much more injured than usual. Hiei was well aware of how brutal Kurama could be in a fight; he liked how such a docile appearance hid such a cold calculator. Hiei was also aware that Kurama was aware that he could not afford to be too merciful. Even as a youko, he wasn't very strong, in a purely physical sense. The rumor was his best punch couldn't bruise a baby ice maiden.

But Kuwabara was a lot more than bruised. He was scraped, cut and bloody from the shoulders down. Currently, Kurama had a cloth dunked in warm water, provided by the 'never-going-out' fire Hiei had so graciously planted in their camp and the River Sticks, and was attempting to wipe the dry blood from Kuwabara's torso.

"Put a little too much energy into my Rei-ken and lost control," Kuwabara admitted, annoyed with himself. He paused in his mental self-beration as Kurama's cloth swiped over him again. It tickled.

"Ah," Hiei murmured. "That's the greatest difficulty to weapons control: controlling the weapon."

"How... fitting," Kuwabara said dryly.

"Done," Kurama said. "Don't bend anything."

"How tight are these?" Kuwabara asked, tugging at the many bandages Kurama had looped around him.

"Any tighter and I'd start calling you Ramses."


Hiei knelt before the fire to check it. Glancing up to make sure Kurama and Kuwabara were distracted (Kurama was mixing a few herbs and Kuwabara was attempting to pull his Walkman out of his backpack without bending his arms or waist), he prodded the fire, injecting a tiny bit of demonic energy. Specifically, demon world energy.

The greatest challenge (and the reason he was leaving Kurama to teach Kuwabara swordsmanship) of the Black Dragon was simply getting it into the human world. While the dragon resided in another plane, separate from any world, it was closely linked to the world of Hiei's birth. Getting it into the Human Realm was difficult; the Spirit Realm, just short of impossible.

The trick was to be able to summon demonic energy first, before attempting the dragon. The easiest energy for Hiei to summon was fire. The fires of the Human Realm were easy to summon while in the Human Realm, he had taught himself that first. He now spent his every waking moment (and most of his sleeping ones) making sure he could maintain the fire in the other two's camp. Kuwabara had thought he had gone insane and decided to be nice, and Kurama had appeared disinterested, but Hiei knew better.

Little by little, he was turning those human flames into demonic ones. Hopefully, by the time the tournament started, he would be able to maintain a one-hundred percent demonic fire.


From there, he would try to summon a Kokuryuu; a Black Dragon.

'And hope it doesn't eat me,' he thought morosely, gazing intently at the flames. Pretty.

Fire was pretty, but he thought snow was prettier. His sister loved playing in the snow. Fire was destructive. Snow was gentle. Fire was angry. Snow was demure.

Hiei was destructive. Yukina was gentle. Hiei was angry. Yukina was demure.

Hiei was Bad, Yukina was Good. That was just the way he saw the world.

Hiei didn't realize he was completely overlooking things like blizzards and the fact that Yukina had survived capture for five years by being an angry, emotionless little shell of herself.

"Hiei, stop staring at the fire, you're gonna kill your eyes," Kuwabara snapped, annoyance at not reaching his Megallica CD (which he had imported for a lot more money than he should have) seeping into his voice.

"I've got one to spare," Hiei automatically retorted, the said spare eye glowing under his headband as he spoke.

Kuwabara flinched. Hiei would not admit it under torture, but freaking out Kuwabara was one of the few perks to his life, currently. And it wasn't really even a perk, just a stress reliever.

Kurama frowned, as he poured water over the mixture he had carefully mixed. Various, good-tasting herbs and a little fish, and ta-da: Kurama's Rough and Ready Fish Soup. Kurama wasn't exactly a chef extraordinaire (he left the cooking up to his capable mother, usually), but he could survive, and make it bearable.

"Fish soup again?" Kuwabara asked, recognizing the smell as it was set over the fire to cook.

"The rabbits are too fast for me to catch," Kurama responded, smiling wryly. "Trust me, I'd much prefer a juicy, roasted rabbit."

Being out in the woods again made him nostalgic, and doubly homesick. He missed a freshly caught rabbit dinner, and he missed his mother's delicious and carefully prepared meals. He missed his cozy, grass-lined den in the demon world, and his warm, fluffy bed in the city.

"After this, I'm never eating fish again," Kuwabara grumbled. "No matter how you cook it, once we get out of this stupid Tournament, I'm never gonna eat another fish."

"I'm sure they'll be pleased to hear it," Hiei said sarcastically. "I'll tell you, though: when I'm through, I'm never going to eat Kurama's cooking again."

"Yeah," Kuwabara agreed. "I'd rather get punched by him, you know?"

"Especially since his punches don't even hurt."

"He hits like a girl."

"He looks like a girl."

"Shame he can't cook like one."

Kurama shook his head. They went through that routine every time the three of them sat down to eat. Kuwabara and Hiei both derived some sort of pleasure (or stress relief) from slamming Kurama every evening. It didn't bother him, not really. People had said much worse about him than "you hit like a girl" and "you can't cook."

Much, much worse.

Still... "I'd like to see you two cook something. I'd pay, even."

Hiei raised his eyebrows. "If the great thief would actually pay, I may just have to give it a shot."

"Don't pay me," Kuwabara grinned, "Just buy me the next Megallica CD as soon as they release it."

Kurama just smiled, and doled out the fish soup. "Who's hungry enough to eat my terrible cooking?"

"Sadly enough," Hiei said, holding out one of the tin bowls Kurama had packed. Kuwabara also extended his bowl.

Once they had settled in, Kuwabara took a tentative bite. "What kind of fish is this?" he asked. "It's almost good."

"I'm not sure," Kurama admitted. "I'm a fox, not an otter. I never found it very useful to know one fish from another."

Kuwabara frowned uneasily, and looked down at his bowl. "So... this fish could be poisonous, and you wouldn't know?"

"Haven't died yet," Hiei pointed out. "Besides, Kurama is the underworld's authority on poison treatment. If anything happened to us, he could figure out how to counterattack it."

"Unless he was also poisoned," Kuwabara argued. "Then he'd die with the rest of us."

Kurama smiled serenely. "Handled. The herbs I add are not only for taste; they're the strongest poison treatments I have that taste good." He turned to Kuwabara. "I'm not bold enough to live off of a food source I know nothing about, without precautions."

Kuwabara nodded sheepishly and took another bite. He was panicking for no reason, he told himself sternly. Hiei might let them all die (Kuwabara strongly suspected he was a sociopath), but not Kurama. Nerves, that's what it was. He was just nervous over fighting a bunch of demons.

He glanced up at Kurama and Hiei. They and Yukina, and the beasts working for Tarukane were his only experiences with demons. Yukina, Kurama and sometimes even Hiei weren't so bad.

Those sellouts at Tarukane's, however...

Kuwabara had never really let on to anyone except Yusuke just how disturbed he had been. That a member of his own race and species could be cruel enough to capture a defenseless young girl and force her to cry, just for his own gain?

Granted, maybe Kuwabara should have paid more attention in history class. That was full of wars about humans being awful to each other. All people, all races, and all that fun stuff. Still, it sickened him.

Tarukane and everyone under him deserved to die. Kuwabara felt that, and that feeling frightened him. He didn't like killing. He had joked about sending Urameshi back to hell, yeah, but it was just a joke. He'd never intentionally kill someone. Not even that pipsqueak, Hiei.

But if someone as terrible as Tarukane still existed (and Botan had assured him, Tarukane didn't), he deserved a painful death. But if Kuwabara was the one forced to give it... It was a chilly feeling, running up his spine. He hadn't been able to kill Byakko, even.

A demon. He couldn't kill a demon. He hadn't killed Toguro, thank goodness. Or Tarukane. Yeah, they deserved it, but he could not live with himself, knowing he had taken a life.

He sighed softly. This was just a complicated world, and driving him crazy.

Hiei had heard Kuwabara sigh, and wondered vaguely what the foolish human could be thinking. Not enough to look (and risk getting caught; Kuwabara's ESP was quite sensitive), but still.

Shaking his head, the dark demon glanced up into the starry sky. So pretty. Like jewels, the stars glittered, putting on a free show. Anyone who cared could just look and admire.

"Do you know any constellations?" Kurama asked suddenly. His neck was also craned upwards, perusing the massive black blanket, shining with glitter.

Kuwabara followed suit, discarding the rest of his barely-edible dinner. "Not many," he said. "A few Zodiac signs, but other than that, I'm a constellation idiot."

Hiei bit his tongue. Too easy a shot to take, he consoled himself. And he wasn't in the mood for a verbal sparring match.

And Kurama was giving him a very evil, very serious, 'don't-ruin-my-evening- or-I'll-kill-you' look. Yikes. Hiei swore he heard a skunk behind him drop dead.

Kuwabara chuckled at the Evil Kurama and Freaked-Out Hiei. Truthfully, he and Kurama had been planning that. Next time Hiei looked contemplative, Kurama would bring up stars, Kuwabara would call himself stupid, and they'd see what Hiei would do under the influence of the 'Kurama Is Mad' look. The results were better than Kurama had promised; Hiei's angular red eyes were rounding out by the second, and looked as if they would pop any minute.

Except... the third eye... was... focusing on something... oh, crap... Kuwabara's head, and brain, and thoughts...

"Damn you both," Hiei said flatly.

"Couldn't resist," Kurama said, instantly cheery. Kuwabara and Hiei both flinched. That was a worse mood swing than a PMS-ing Shizuru.

Kurama shook his head. "You both scare easily," he commented.

"Kuwabara doesn't," Hiei said unexpectedly.


"He listens to that Megallica crap, doesn't he?" Hiei said innocently. "I heard some of that so-called music; it's terrible."

Kuwabara glared. Part of him wanted to beat the stuffing out of Hiei for daring to insult Megallica, and part of him was really curious...

"Where the hell did you hear Megallica?" he demanded.


"Around where?"

"My CD changer?" Kurama questioned, amused. "I'm something of a fan, myself."


"Have you played my videogames, too?" the fox asked.

"No. They're stupid."

"You play videogames?" Kuwabara asked, surprised. "You didn't seem the type."

Kurama grinned. "I hold the high score on the Tetris game at The Tree's Energy Bookstore and Café."

"Tree's Energy?" Kuwabara repeated. "No wonder I never heard of you; none of the street gangs go near there. It's Meio Academy's territory."

"Well, I'm a freshman at Meio," Kurama offered. "We hang out there because the owners and all the employees are alumni. Meio students get discounts and whenever I renew my score, I get a free vanilla crème."

"I spend most of my time at the Sarayashiki Arcade and Las Megas," Kuwabara said. "Come in sometime, my friends and I can't figure out the Tetris game to save our lives."

"I'd get mobbed just for setting foot there in my uniform," Kurama said. "Meio is not a popular school among Sarayashiki students, I hear."

Hiei rolled his eyes. "Just for your uniform?"

"Meio uniforms mean 'geek' to anyone who sees them," Kuwabara commented.

"Yeah. Humans are like that, sometimes."

"Are demons?" the resident human questioned.

"Usually," Hiei admitted. "Usually."

"So are spirits and ghosts, and the others in spirit world," Kurama pointed out. "It's all part of being a... being."

"How eloquent," Hiei muttered.

Kuwabara sighed. "You know, I'm all for a good street fight, but I prefer to have a reason. If my gang is going to get beaten up, I won't let it be for no reason. It's a waste."

"Mm," Kurama said. "I hate unnecessary bloodshed." He pulled a hairbrush out of his knapsack. "What say we finish up, and turn in?"

"Yeah," Hiei said. "Kuwabara still needs some more sense beaten into him."

"Oh, go buy platform shoes," Kuwabara snapped, without missing a beat. A perfectly pleasant evening, and Hiei just couldn't leave it. Always had to get an insult in. Stupid pipsqueak.

"Please, children, not tonight," Kurama murmured, spreading out the large blanket they slept on.

"Fine, fine," Kuwabara muttered, trying to again retrieve his Walkman and his quilt. "He started it."

"And I'll finish it, if you don't shut up," Hiei returned, pulling off his overcoat, and unfastening the sleeves and buttons. With all the catches undone, it became perfectly nice covers. The red and black silk making it up was pleasantly cool to wrap up in, despite the dark colors.

"I repeat: you STARTED it. YOU should be the one shutting up."

Kurama rolled his eyes. "How about I finish it?" he suggested. "And then I take the bottom blanket, and you both sleep on the cold ground?"

"Good night, Hiei," Kuwabara said, fast and way too cheerfully. He settled down on the fluffy quilt Kurama had so thoughtfully provided, and tucked himself into his thin sheet. "'Night, Kurama."

"Pleasant dreams, Hiei, Kuwabara," Kurama said softly, pulling his own silk blanket around himself.

Hiei snorted. "Yeah, right. We'll dream about the Toguro brothers killing us all, that's pleasant."

"It's just being polite."

"Shut up and sleep."

"Geez, shorty, are you allergic to pleasantries?"

"I'm allergic to stupidity."

"Then how do you stand yourself?"

Kurama winced at that one.

"Better question, how do I stand YOU?"


Kurama groaned out loud, yanking the blanket with all his strength...

And out from under his two companions.

"Good night, children," the redhead said cheerfully, ignoring the dumbfounded looks they gave him.

"Let's not say he's weak like a girl anymore," Hiei suggested, blinking his three eyes simultaneously.



Megallica is a parody on Metallica, obviously. It's a rock group Kuwabara likes. He likes it so much that when Sensui is preparing to open the Demon World Doorway, he decides to go to their concert, and then karaoke instead of helping Yusuke save the world. Yusuke is really pissed off then, because Hiei ditched them all, Kuwabara is at a concert, and Kurama has gone to Spirit Realm to talk to Koenma. So Yusuke goes to the arcade.

The gang has to play a live version of a popular arcade game in order to reach Sensui at one point. Kurama says that he can more or less beat the game eight or nine times out of ten. And he recognizes it before Yusuke does. I figure Kurama is pretty good at arcade games, then.

Las Megas is the arcade Yusuke and Botan find Kuwabara in when Yusuke needs that kiss. Obvious parody on Las Vegas. Sarayasiki is the name of Kuwa- chan's school, and he also mentions a Sarayashiki arcade. The Tree's Energy is my own invention, and if you think it's odd that a café/bookstore has a Tetris game... so do I. I'm mainly imagining the Barnes and Nobles/Starbucks by the mall, and this little pizza place my parents used to go to that had a Pac-Man game sort of fused together. And the name is a sort of play on Kurama.

And the River Sticks is from the Shonen Jump manga, I swear it. It's the river that divides Sarayashiki Jr. High's territory from Kasanegafuchi's. It's another parody on the River Styx, and let's imagine it runs far out of the city.