by Somnambulicious

Rating: M

I don't own either
Inuyasha or YuuYuu;
Somebody else does.

Chapter 17: Awakening

Koenma slumped back against his chair with a groan, rubbing his forehead. Why? Why does this always have to happen in my office?

Chaos had erupted the moment Hiei walked through the portal with an unconscious, disheveled miko in his arms...and none of the group's supplies that he and Kagome had ostensibly gone back to Makai to retrieve. Despite his weakened state, Inuyasha was screaming for blood, while the houshi and Kurabara tried their best to hold Sango back. Kurama leaned casually against the wall, not bothering to hide the amused glint in his eyes. Yuusuke, on the other hand, stood wide-eyed and frozen in place, before dropping to the floor in a fit of laughter. It was Yuusuke's reaction that finally made the fire apparition break his silence.

"Find something funny, tantei?" Hiei asked, glaring at the boy who was now trying to pick himself up off the floor.

"Hell, Hiei," Yuusuke said as he regained his composure, "I knew you were a strong little punk, but couldn't you go easy on her the first time?" In an instant, the room was shrouded in silence, and Yuusuke looked around in confusion. "Wait a minute, I was just kidding! Can't you guys take...a...ahh..." Yuusuke turned back to the fire apparition, who had his head cocked to the side and a smug grin on his face. He glanced over at Inuyasha, whose left eye was twitching furiously as he wrinkled up his nose. "Aw, shit. I'm gonna shut up now."

"Yes, I believe it's time for all of you to shut up now," said Koenma, looking pointedly at the seething hanyou. "So Hiei, care to explain why Kagome is sleeping and my paper pushers are currently retrieving the items you were supposed to bring back with you?"

"No." Hiei turned to leave, but found that the office door wouldn't budge. "Open this door now," he demanded, but Koenma merely shook his head.

"You aren't going anywhere until I get some answers."

Hiei sighed and shifted Kagome to a more comfortable position in his arms. "Thieves arrived before we did. I had to fight them."

"That doesn't explain why Kagome is unconscious," Koenma pointed out.

Inuyasha snorted. "Hell, it doesn't explain why you smell like--"

"You will hold your tongue, hanyou, unless you want me to rip it out for you," Hiei snarled. "You are hardly in any condition to fight."

"The hell I'm--"

"Shut UP!" Koenma bellowed. The last thing he needed was a fight to break out in his office. All those carefully stacked and sorted piles of paperwork...Koenma shuddered. "Hiei, you will tell us what happened. I find it hard to believe that killing mere bandits took a whole three hours for you."

Hiei glowered at the demigod. He didn't relish the idea of admitting that he'd been injured, but the prospect of going into any kind of detail about his private life was even less appealing. "The final bandit managed to injure me before I defeated her. Kagome healed the injury."

"She healed it?" Inuyasha asked incredulously. "That's a lie. Kagome couldn't even heal a scraped knee."

"Count yourself lucky that the miko is so fond of you," Hiei said, his eyes narrowing at the hanyou. "Otherwise you would find yourself eviscerated where you stand."

"You trusted an untrained miko to heal you?" Koenma asked, his eyes wide with disbelief. "Have you gone mad? We have healers here in Reikai that could have taken care of you, without the added risk of purification!"

"Not this injury," Hiei said with an almost imperceptible shudder. The memory of the Jagan's blinding pain was still fresh in his mind. "I doubt you have a single being in your employ who would dare to touch the Jagan, much less heal it."

"This thief managed to injure the Jagan?" Kurama asked, finally breaking his silence. "But if Kagome is untrained, how did she heal it without accidentally purifying you in the process?"

"She had help," Hiei replied cryptically. "Now if we're through with the interrogation, the girl needs to rest and recover her strength. Open the door."

Sango, however, wasn't satisfied with this abridged version of events. "What do you mean, help? Who helped her?"

Hiei ignored the taijiya's question. "Koenma, if you don't open this door now, I'll blast my way through."

"Hang on, shorty, I'm not through with you yet," said Inuyasha, stepping forward to tower over the fire apparition. "You haven't told us everything. Why is Kagome so exhausted? And what the fuck possessed you to make you do that at a time like this?"

Hiei let his youki flare up in response to the hanyou's threatening stance. "I have told you all you need to know. Kagome's welfare is my concern now."

"You staking a claim?" Inuyasha asked gruffly.

"The girl is mine. Any fool who dares to challenge me will be shown no mercy." The room suddenly became uncomfortably warm as Hiei completely unleashed his youki, backing his claim with a display of his raw power.

Inuyasha's eyes narrowed, and he slowly circled Hiei, gauging the strength of the smaller youkai who presumed to make a claim on his friend. Hiei was much stronger than he'd suspected, and there was an undercurrent of a more sinister power that made the hairs on Inuyasha's neck stand on end. He finally came to a halt in front of Hiei and gave a curt nod.

"If she's willing, the claim stands for now. I still need to see your fighting skill in action before I make a final decision, though," Inuyasha pronounced. "You had better take good fucking care of her."

Hiei rolled his eyes at that last remark. He hated going through the stupid formalities of making the claim, but he understood that to the inu, working out the pack hierarchy was instinctive, and Inuyasha wasn't going to relinquish his status as the girl's primary protector without making sure that Hiei was suitably equipped to provide for and protect her. Which I am.

Koenma cleared his throat, bringing everyone's attention back to him. "If you're finished posturing now, the door is open, Hiei." With one final growl of warning, Hiei clutched the miko tighter to his chest and disappeared through the door. "And the rest of you, get back to your room. You're far from recovered at this point."

Once his office was, once again, blissfully empty, Koenma leaned back in his chair and breathed a sigh of relief. At least that's out of the way now, he thought, grimacing at the pile of unprocessed papers on his desk. Now, to get back to work.

Kagome awoke with a start, and probably would've jumped right off of the bookcase if Hiei hadn't tightened his hold on her. "Hiraikotsu!" she yelped in a panic. "Where is it?"

'Safe with the taijiya,' Hiei said with a chuckle.

'And my sword?' she asked, fumbling about in the semi-darkness for the wakizashi. Hiei took her hand and guided it toward the hilt of the purifying sword. With her weapon clasped tightly to her chest, Kagome relaxed. Then she finally took in her surroundings and looked up at Hiei with confusion written all over her face. She recognized the massive room as one of Reikai's many file storage areas, and this was an old one, if the thick coat of dust on the shelves was any indication.

"Hiei? Why are we on top of a bookcase?"

'Because there are no trees inside the Reikai palace,' Hiei replied logically.

"...oh." Her stomach grumbled loudly, and Kagome blushed. "I guess I worked up quite an appetite, huh?"

'Understandably so,' Hiei responded as he helped her to sit up. He reached over and picked a small tray up off of the bookshelf, setting it carefully in Kagome's lap. Kagome gave a squeal of delight when she saw what was on the tray.

"Unagi domburi? Gyoza? And tea! You thought of everything, Hiei!" she said, reaching over to give him a quick peck on the cheek. She muttered a quick "Itadakimasu" under her breath before she attacked the unagi domburi.

Hiei actually found himself blushing from her enthusiastic gratitude for the meal that he'd "procured" from Koenma's desk. Reikai's security hadn't improved at all since he'd stolen the Shadow Sword. What a strange turn of events this was: a scant few years after breaking into Reikai with the sole purpose of taking over Ningenkai, here Hiei was, stealing food for his miko lover and actually blushing from her attentions. He tried not to think about it too much.

'Are you feeling okay? How's my little Jagan-chan?' Kagome asked as she stuffed a rather large strip of eel into her mouth. Hiei simply rolled his eyes at her, so she reached over and poked his bare chest with her chopsticks. 'Are you ever going to wear a shirt again?'

'You're the one who took it off,' Hiei reminded her as he batted the offending chopsticks away. 'I thought you preferred me this way.'

Now it was Kagome's turn to blush. 'You do have a nice chest,' she admitted, her eyes lingering on his well-defined muscles, 'but I like your robe thing, too. It's rather sexy, in a sort of dark and mysterious way.'

Hiei nearly fell off the bookcase at that. First, she called the evil implant in his forehead 'Jagan-chan,' and now she was saying that his clothes were...'sexy?' If he wasn't careful, this girl would ruin his carefully-built reputation as a cold-blooded killer. What in the seven hells have I gotten myself into?

'Oh! How could I forget? How are the others?' Kagome asked, oblivious to Hiei's consternation.

'They were up when we arrived back from Makai,' Hiei said with a shrug. 'The hanyou felt well enough to threaten me, so it would appear that they are on the road to recovery.'

Kagome groaned. 'Inuyasha did that? I guess I'll have to have a talk with him.'

'That won't be necessary,' Hiei said. 'We have come to an understanding of sorts.'

Kagome's chopsticks slipped out of her fingers and clattered against the tray. "You...and understanding?" she whispered, wide-eyed. "And nobody had to be maimed or dismembered?"

'Not yet. The hanyou respects my claim.'

'Claim?' Kagome asked, tilting her head to the side. 'What-- Oh. Oh, no! So everybody knows now?'

'Of course,' Hiei said with a snort. 'You didn't actually believe you could hide something like that from an inu, did you?' He narrowed his eyes and leaned toward her. 'Why? Are you ashamed?'

'Of you? Never!' Kagome replied quickly. 'It's just--' She sighed and picked her chopsticks up off of the tray for another mouthful of rice. 'I know I should be used to having absolutely no privacy by now, but I'm still not comfortable with my friends knowing every little detail of my private life.'

'That won't matter for long,' Hiei said dismissively. 'Once that vile hanyou has been defeated, you can be free of all of this.'

"You would think so, wouldn't you?" Kagome murmured.

"What was that?"

"Hm? Oh, nothing," Kagome replied, patting his arm. "Hey, are you hungry?" She took one of the gyoza between her thumb and forefinger and lifted it to Hiei's mouth. After a moment's hesitation, he opened his mouth ever so slightly, taking just a tiny bit of the crispy dumpling between his teeth. He chewed thoughtfully and decided that it wasn't half bad. He would allow Kagome to feed him more.

Hiei leaned back against the wall and laced his fingers behind his head. He opened his mouth expectantly, and Kagome giggled. She slid her hand under the plate of dumplings, balancing it carefully on her palm as she positioned herself to straddle Hiei's legs. She put the gyoza to his mouth again and shivered when the tip of his tiny fangs grazed ever so slightly against her fingers. Her reaction did not go unnoticed by Hiei, and beneath the strong odor of the food, he could smell a slight tinge of arousal in her scent.

Kagome silently studied Hiei's features as she hand-fed him the rest of the dumplings. She could hardly believe that this youkai -- this youkai, of all the people in the world -- was relaxing complacently as she fed him from her own fingers. So beautiful, she thought, and her mind wandered back to images of that beautiful face wearing an entirely different expression, his eyes lit up with a fervent heat as he buried himself in her. How different he looked now, with his eyes half-lidded, almost lazy. Kagome shook her head. No, lazy wasn't the right word.

Kagome's forehead furrowed slightly as she set down the now-empty plate. She carefully poured a cup of steaming hot tea and quietly asked, "Hiei? Are you happy?"

Hiei immediately stiffened. Happy? What kind of an absurd question was that? It wasn't something that he'd ever considered. Ever. He dutifully opened his mouth when Kagome lifted the cup of tea to his lips and took a sip, considering exactly how to answer her without offending her.

'I am comfortable,' he said after a moment's hesitation. He hoped that she would think he'd misunderstood her, and not press the issue.

Kagome ran her fingers through her hair, her brows knitting together as she absently sipped from the same teacup. Either he misunderstood the question, or he's being evasive. Kagome put her money on the latter.

"That's not what I meant, and you know it." Her expression softened, and she lifted her fingers to brush along the line of Hiei's jaw. "Are you happy with me? I need to know, please."

Hiei felt his resolve melting from the earnest look in Kagome's eyes. What was it about this girl that made him soften so? 'I am comfortable with you,' he amended.

Kagome smiled. It wasn't a declaration of undying love and devotion, but it was probably as much as she'd ever get the fire apparition to reveal to her. Still grasping the half-empty teacup, she wrapped her arms around his neck and leaned forward to brush her lips over his.

A soft growl of satisfaction rumbled deep in Hiei's chest as Kagome all but melted in his lap. He intensified the kiss, sweeping his tongue across the line of her lower lip, and frowned when he felt her stiffen in his arms. The teacup slipped out of her fingers as her hands flexed, and she winced as it shattered on the floor far below.

"Hiei, I'm not--"

He silenced her protest by shifting her in his lap so that she was sitting sideways, her legs dangling over the edge of the shelf. 'I know,' he assured her, leaning in to nibble along the rim of her ear. 'You need time for your body to recover.'

Kagome giggled nervously. "Well, you weren't exactly gentle," she reminded him.

Hiei cocked an eyebrow. "I don't seem to recall any protest on your part." He wrapped an arm possessively around her waist. 'There will be ample time for such activities in the future. For now, I am not unaware of the limitations of your human body.'

Kagome frowned, trying not to take that as an insult, since she was certain he didn't mean it that way. Somebody needs to teach him some social skills, she mused. Maybe I could-- Reality hit Kagome like a blow to the chest when she suddenly remembered that she wouldn't be around to attempt such a thing.

"I think I need to bathe now. After cheering you on in that slaughter, I probably need a good cleansing." Her mood was suddenly somber, and Kagome wanted the time alone to think.

Hiei buried his nose in her hair and inhaled deeply. 'Nonsense. You smell wonderful. You smell like me.'

"And dirt and old sweat," Kagome added. "Besides, I'm really sore, and I think a few minutes under the waterfall would make me feel better."

'Very well,' Hiei said, dipping his head to nip at the pulse point on her neck, 'as long as we can spare the time later to get you smelling properly again.' He was pleased to note the musky edge to her scent.

"Later," Kagome promised, pressing a brief kiss to his lips. A slight tensing of Hiei's grip around her waist was all the warning she had before he slipped off of the bookcase and whisked her off to the bathing pool.

Half an hour later, an unfortunate barefooted oni discovered the remains of the shattered teacup in the most unpleasant of ways.

Kagome waited beside the waterfall while Hiei retrieved her backpack. Once he was out of sight and she was finally alone, Kagome sighed and shrugged out of her yukata. It's a good thing I brought extra underwear, she thought wryly. Wait a minute, what's this? Kagome felt an unfamiliar weight against her collarbone, and she leaned over to look at her reflection in the pool. A necklace of black fangs encircled her neck. Where did this come from?

'Hiei?' she called out in her mind. 'Where did the necklace come from?'

'Spoils of battle,' he replied nonchalantly, and Kagome suddenly recalled the necklace that Izumi had been wearing. 'The serpent lost them when I knocked her out. They are fangs from an infant dragon, quite rare.' He paused, waiting for her reaction. When none came, he asked, 'Are you not pleased?'

'What? Oh, yes! I just didn't expect it, that's all. Thank you very much. They're lovely.' Kagome pulled her hair up off the back of her neck and admired the way the fangs glistened in the light. She had to admit that it was a bit macabre, but the gift was so completely Hiei that she couldn't help but smile...and it was far better than the severed head of an enemy. 'I've never had a guy give me something like this before. I mean, Houjou used to bring me herbal remedies and orthopaedic sandals, but--'

'Who is this Houjou?' Hiei interrupted, and Kagome could practically feel his frown. She giggled.

'He's a boy, a human boy I went to school with. I went on a few dates with him, but nothing ever came of it. He was just so...ordinary. I was jumping between times at that point, and while Houjou was a very nice boy and all, I was always so bored when I was with him. I don't think he could ever understand or accept the way I am now.' There was a hint of sadness in her mental voice, and Hiei waited silently for her to continue. 'I've lost so many of my old friends because of the way my life is now...Yuka, Eri, Ayumi...and I feel like I should be sad about that, like I'm a terrible person because I don't really miss them. They all think I've either joined a gang or dropped off the face of the earth...both of which are pretty much the truth,' she said with a giggle. 'Okay, I'm going to bathe now. You should probably go find your robe thing. If you like, I'll make you a new headband when I'm through.' Kagome dismissed his silence as a positive answer and stepped into the pool.

She finally let her cheery facade fall as the cold, clean water of the falls washed away the dirt and grime she'd accumulated in her brief trip to Makai. I have to tell him, she told herself firmly. I can't keep it a secret forever, and he trusts me. Tonight. I'll tell him tonight, after the others have gone to bed.

When she was thoroughly clean, Kagome continued to stand under the waterfall, staring at the rippling pool. He really is serious about this, she thought. The food...the necklace...the scent thing...oh, gods, what have I done? Her eyes widened in horror, and she slowly sank to her knees. She felt the kami of the waterfall reach out to her, wrapping itself around her soul comfortingly as if in answer to her unspoken prayer. I'm the first person he's ever allowed to get this close to him, and after all we've been through, after all he's shared with me...I'm going to have to leave him. She clutched the bar of soap to her chest and sobbed brokenly. I'm such an awful person. I've let down everyone I friends...and now Hiei. I'm such a fool. I should never have allowed him to get involved in this.

But the damage had been done, and there was no turning back now. Hardening her resolve, Kagome stepped out from under the water and took a deep breath. Tonight...yes, tonight she would tell him the truth. No more secrets, no more hiding. I'll tell him the truth and accept the consequences. Kagome didn't dare to hope that he'd forgive her. She didn't think that she deserved it.

All eyes were on Kagome the moment she shuffled into the room, wearing a white cotton yukata that Hiei had "borrowed" from Botan. Most of the group were lounging in varying levels of disarray on the futons; Kurama, of course, sat cross-legged on top of a carefully folded blanket, and Hiei sat with his back against the wall. Kagome caught Sango's searching gaze and smiled reassuringly, dropping her backpack in the corner before sitting next to Hiei with her legs tucked primly beneath her.

"How are you all feeling?" Kagome asked, absentmindedly fingering the string of fangs around her neck.

"I believe we're doing quite well, considering what happened," Kurama said. "From what Koenma told us, we owe you our lives."

"Oh, it was nothing," Kagome said with a dismissive wave of her hand. "I'm just glad you guys are actually conscious already."

"The healers of Reikai are highly skilled," said Miroku. "Two of them were just here while you were sleeping." Kagome didn't miss the way he emphasized the word sleeping or the knowing glint in his eyes. She couldn't stop the idiotic grin that spread across her face.

"So how long will it be before we can start the search again?" she asked.

"The healers think we should be in top form again in a couple of days," said Yuusuke. He stretched his arms up over his head and yawned. "Until then, we're just gonna be really tired. Lots of sleep."

"Speaking of healers," Sango said, locking her gaze on Kagome, "Hiei says that you healed him while you were in Makai. How did you manage to do it without purifying him?"

Kagome quickly looked to Hiei, wondering how much of the story she was free to tell. He shrugged and leaned back against the wall with his hands behind his head, and she took that to mean she could tell the whole story. "It was just a small cut on the Jagan. It helped me to separate my reiki from my--"

"It?" Kurama interrupted. "Surely you don't mean--"

"Yeah, the Jagan. Anyway--"

"Whoa, whoa, wait up a minute!" said Yuusuke, his eyes wide with disbelief. "You mean to say that you let that...that thing control you?"

"Yep! Anyway, like I was saying, my reiki--"

"Man, that thing creeps me out," Kurabara cut in. "I don't think I would let something so totally evil like that take over my mind."

"It's not that evil!" Kagome said. Seeing the incredulous looks she was getting from Yuusuke and Kurabara, Kagome felt compelled to further defend the Jagan. "It is not!"

"No," said Kurabara, pointing an accusing finger at Hiei's forehead, "I have a sense about stuff like that, and that implant thing is totally evil."

"Hold on," said Sango. "You're talking about his third eye? It's implanted?"

Kurabara nodded sagely. "That's what gives him all those creepy telepathic powers and lets him use the Jaou Enkiru Kokuryuhaa."

"It's Ensatsu, you pathetic moron," Hiei snapped. "Say it right or don't say it at all."

"So you're a telepath?" Sango asked. Hiei sighed heavily and nodded.

"You guys don't know much about Hiei, do you?" asked Yuusuke.

Inuyasha crossed his arms over his chest and huffed. "Keh. He's strong. Kagome likes him. What else do we need to know?" He blushed at the grateful smile Kagome flashed at him.

"You mean you just accepted him without knowing what kind of powers he has or anything about his past?" asked Yuusuke. "That's a pretty stupid way to lead, if you ask me."

"You knew next to nothing about Hiei when we showed up at the Maze Castle," Kurama reminded him.

"Yeah, well I wasn't given much of a choice, was I?" Yuusuke shot back. "Besides, I'm older and more experienced now."

"Experienced?" Inuyasha barked out a laugh. "How long have you been doing this tantei thing?"

"Five, maybe six years now," Yuusuke said defensively. "Why? What's that got to do with anything?"

"Grew up like a normal human, didn't you? Family, school, no clue that youkai even existed, right?"

"Yeah, yeah."

"And when you did find out and started to play the Mighty Youkai Hunter, you had a hell of a lot of help, didn't you?"

"All right! What's your fucking point?"

"I've been doing this shit my whole life, fighting fang and claw just to survive. No teacher. No fucking mentor. I know what it's like to do things you're not proud of. We all do," he said, gesturing to Kagome, Sango and Miroku. "Hell, even Kagome's had to do shit she regrets. None of us is perfect, but we trust each other with our lives. I'm sure you've had to do that too, right?"

"Well...yeah, of course," Yuusuke said, glancing sideways at Kurabara.

"Good," Inuaysha nodded. "Then you'll understand. Kagome may not be the strongest fighter in my group, but she's never wrong about people. Never. Good leader has to know when he can delegate stuff to other people like that." Satisfied that his supreme logic had trumped the human's criticism, Inuyasha leaned back against the wall and tucked his hands into his sleeves with a superior smirk on his face.

"Uh-huh," Yuusuke said dryly. He hooked his hands behind his head and flopped down on his back, grinning up at the ceiling. "I'm sure it has nothing to do with that girly necklace she makes you wear."

"Just what the fuck is that supposed to mean?"

Kurama cleared his throat, hoping to diffuse the situation before it got out of hand. "Ah, Kagome, weren't you telling us how you healed the Jagan?"

"Oh, right!" Kagome snapped out of the daze induced by Inuyasha's sudden display of something resembling maturity. "Like I was saying, the Jagan helped me separate my reiki from my purifying energy, and that's what I used to heal it."

I knew there was something blended about her energy! Youko said excitedly. Ask Hiei about it!

Youko? I thought you were asleep. Why are you so interested in Kagome's energy now? Kurama asked with no small amount of suspicion.

Just ask him. I have my reasons.

Kurama rolled his eyes and turned to Hiei. "Youko wants to know--"

"It felt like sei kou ki."

Hiei's blunt statement immediately drew Yuusuke's attention away from the growling hanyou. "Sei kou ki? You mean like Sensui? I thought it took years of training to develop that!"

"He said it was like sei kou ki, Yuusuke. Perhaps the purifying energy..." Kurama frowned and stood up, silently cursing the residual effects of the shouki that left his legs feeling weak and unsteady. He crossed the room slowly and knelt down in front of Kagome, lifting a hand to get a better feel of the girl's energy. He stopped short at Hiei's possessive growl.

"Hiei, you do realize that if Kagome wishes to gain more thorough control of her abilities, she's going to need help," Kurama chastised.

"You can help me?" Kagome asked. For years, Kaede had attempted to help her gain some measure of control over her powers, but Kagome remained able to do little more than channel her energy into hamaya and the wakizashi.

Kurama smiled gently at the tentative hopefulness shining in Kagome's eyes. "I can't promise anything, but kitsune are pretty much the experts on energy."

"We can do this someplace more private," Hiei cut in. "I doubt she will be comfortable with having an audience."

"You sure you're up to that, Kurama?" asked Yuusuke. "We're supposed to be getting plenty of rest to recover from the shouki."

"I appreciate your concern, but I'll be fine." Besides, Youko added silently, if the miko really is what I think she is, we're going to benefit from this training just as much as she will. Kurama stood and turned on his heel, only to find himself nose to nose with a suspicious hanyou.

"You'd better not be up to something funny, kitsune." Inuyasha turned his most threatening glare on Kurama, who returned his stare with bland disinterest. "We didn't come this far just to have Kagome drained by some hungry kitsune."

"I'll keep an eye on him," Hiei offered, much to everyone's surprise. "But I doubt it will be necessary. Kurama would not be foolish enough to jeopardize Kagome's safety."

"We should probably draw up some plans before you guys run off," said Yuusuke. "We need to be ready to head out as soon as we're all recovered enough." He propped himself up on his elbows to get a better look at Kagome. "Koenma filled us in on the short version of what happened with Naraku, but I'd like to hear the details."

Kagome shifted uncomfortably, smoothing out the fabric of the yukata. She couldn't tell them the whole truth, but glossing over the details would give the impression that Naraku was a weak opponent. She worried her bottom lip between her teeth while she tried to decide exactly what to tell them.

"Like Koenma probably told you, I dragged you all out of that gully one by one. By the time you were all safely out of the shouki, I was completely exhausted, and the kugutsu took me by surprise. He-- He could have killed us all and taken the jewel, but he didn't. He just--" Kagome took a deep breath and lowered her eyes. "He was taunting me, making fun of me, and I was lucky enough to hit the core of the kugutsu with my first hamaya."

"What did he say?" Yuusuke pressed. "It could be important."

Kagome still refused to raise her eyes. Hiei must have sensed her discomfort, because she suddenly felt his hand resting lightly on the back of her neck, and the tension melted out of her shoulders. "He said-- He said my choice of allies was funny, and he made fun of me for associating with criminals, and he said other things, things that made me so angry. Then he told me he wanted to slow us down so he could spend more time with--" She faltered and choked back a sob. "--with Souta."

The room was completely silent, with the exception of Kagome's quiet sobs. Sango scooted nearer to her friend and reached out to offer a comforting hug, but Hiei growled softly and pulled Kagome into his lap. Sango drew back in confusion.

"Oh, come on, Hiei." Kagome giggled as she wiped the tears from her eyes. "Sango's a girl. It's not like she's going to jump me or anything."

Hiei quirked an eyebrow at her. "Izumi was female as well. That didn't stop her." Kagome giggled again and rested her head against Hiei's shoulder, giving Sango an apologetic grin. Sango shrugged off Hiei's behavior as the overprotectiveness of a male youkai and returned to her futon.

"Who the hell is Izumi?" asked Yuusuke, his curiosity piqued at the thought of girl-on-girl action.

"She was the third of the bandits who had designs on your belongings. She seemed to have an...unhealthy fondness for Kagome," said Hiei.

"Unhealthy?" Yuusuke did a poor job of hiding his amusement at Hiei's obvious jealous streak. He bit his lip in an attempt to stop the wide grin that threatened to cross his lips, but he couldn't hide the bemused sparkle in his eyes.

Hiei set his jaw and leveled an unwavering glare on Yuusuke. "It turned out to be very unhealthy for her."

"Ahem. We should be getting back to the subject at hand," said Kurama. "More specifically, why Naraku didn't kill us all and take the jewel shards when he had ample opportunity to do so."

"Isn't it obvious?" asked Inuyasha. "The bastard's toying with us. He's fucking sick."

"I'm afraid I have to disagree with you," said Miroku, shaking his head. "Naraku may derive pleasure from his twisted mind games, but that's not reason enough for him to pass up such an opportunity. There must be something more, another reason to delay us."

"He did say that he wanted more time with Souta," Kurama pointed out. "Now the question is whether he was merely taunting Kagome, or there's some truth to that statement."

"But what could he possibly want with Souta?" asked Kagome. "He's just a little kid. He doesn't have any special powers or anything."

Kurama sighed and shook his head. "I don't know. But there's got to be a reason for him to delay us."

"Which means that we've really got to find the bastard before he finishes whatever his plans are," said Yuusuke. This was all too reminiscent of the ordeal with Sensui, and Yuusuke was starting to get a headache. "The question is, how do we find him?"

Nobody could come up with an answer to that. That is, until Kurabara finally added his two cents. "Man, it's too bad Kagome doesn't have one of those spooky Jagan things. Then I bet we could find him in no time."

Yuusuke stared at his best friend in slack-jawed amazement. "Kurabara," he said, in an awed, almost reverent tone, "you're a fucking genius." Kurabara wasn't sure what he'd said that made him a fucking genius, so he did the smart thing and kept his mouth shut.

"He's right! I can't believe we never thought of it before!" Kurama turned to Hiei, his eyes practically glowing with excitement. "Hiei, you can use the Jagan to access Kagome's--"

"Out of the question." Hiei's abrupt denial startled Kurama, but Kagome knew the reasoning behind his refusal.

"Hiei, please," Kagome said softly. "This might be our only chance to find Naraku before he's finished with whatever he's planning to do to my brother."

"Absolutely not. I am not willing to take that risk, and neither should you."

Kagome stiffened and drew back from him. "He's my brother. Of course I'm willing to take that risk. Please, Hiei," she said, searching his eyes for any hint that he might reconsider, "help me find my brother."

Miroku coughed, drawing everyone's attention to himself. "Excuse me, but what risk are you talking about? How exactly can Hiei help find Naraku?"

"It's the eye," Kurama explained patiently. "Theoretically, he can use the Jagan to access Kagome's unique ability to sense the Shikon no Tama and amplify it, allowing him...or sense the shards from a much greater distance." He shook his head. "Like I said, it's only a theory, but it would seem to be the best chance we've got at the moment."

"And you're okay with this, Kagome?" asked Inuyasha. He wasn't sure he liked the idea of that strange creature in Hiei's forehead probing into Kagome's mind.

Kagome nodded enthusiastically. "If the Jagan could my healing powers on itself, I don't see why it couldn't use my ability to sense the shards. The last experience was..." She trailed off, and her eyes glazed over at the memory of what the Jagan's presence had felt like, piercing her very soul as if it had belonged there all along. When she realized that everyone else was staring at her and waiting for her to continue, Kagome blushed and ducked her head. "Well, it wasn't unpleasant," she finished quickly with what she hoped was a casual wave of the hand.

"Then why is Hiei so against it?" asked Sango.

"Hiei is afraid that the Jagan won't let go of my mind. He thinks that it has some sneaky plan to-- Well, I'm not sure what he thinks it would do to me, but I didn't sense any malicious intent from it. I think it was just curious." And happy, she added silently. Very, very happy. "Besides, even if it did try to hurt me, I have no doubt that Hiei's strong enough to make it stop."

Hiei narrowed his eyes at her. 'That was low, woman. Even for a human.'

'What on earth are you talking about?' asked Kagome, putting on her most innocent expression.

Hiei choked back an involuntary growl. If he refused to go along with this ridiculous plan now, he would look like a weakling to the others, like he wasn't strong enough to control the Jagan. The rest of his team would begin to question his ability to restrain the malevolent desires of the implant, and Kagome's friends would, no doubt, attempt to steer her away from his company. She had backed him into a corner with all the skill and feigned innocence of a master con artist. He was impressed.

"Very well," Hiei said reluctantly. "But only on two conditions."

"And what would those be?" Kagome asked. It had taken her a while, but she was finally learning to ask about the conditions before she walked blindly into provisional agreements.

"One, you will allow the fox to help you gain some control over your abilities. Two, this idiotic experiment will cease the moment either of us senses anything amiss."

"It's a deal!" Kagome squealed and threw her arms around Hiei's neck. He glared over her shoulder at Yuusuke and Kurabara, who were both suffering from feigned choking attacks. Kagome turned her bright eyes to Kurama. "When can we start?"

"Now, if you like," Kurama replied. "As Hiei suggested, we should find a more secluded location. I believe there is a spot near the gates to paradise that would be ideal for our purposes. It's not too far from the palace, and I should be able to make it there with a little assistance."

"Okay then," Yuusuke said through a jaw-cracking yawn. "You guys go on. I'm beat. If you see Botan, tell her to bring us some more food."

"Wait a second," snapped Inuyasha. He turned to Kagome, and his eyes softened with concern for her. "Kagome, are you sure about this?"

Kagome smiled gently at him. "I am. I've wanted to learn how to use these stupid powers for so long, but this is the first time I've found somebody who might actually be able to help me. Besides, this might be my best chance to find and free Souta."

"And you're sure about everything else, too?" Inuyasha asked.

Kagome didn't have to guess about what he was getting at. She leaned against Hiei and smiled. "I'm happy," she said softly.

Inuyasha gave a curt nod. "Good," he said. "That's all I needed to hear."

Yuusuke clasped his hands next to his cheek and did his best impression of a dreamy sigh. "Aww, isn't that sweet?"

"Shut up, Urameshi!" Kurabara reached over to clobber his friend over the head. "It is sweet!"

"Yeah, so sweet I think I'm getting a cavity," Yuusuke muttered under his breath while he rubbed his head.

At this point, Kagome's face was red enough to rival her eyes. She had forgotten for a moment there that they had a roomful of observers. "Okay, then! Let's get going!" She sprung to her feet and offered Kurama a hand, but he wisely declined her offer when he saw the threatening glint in Hiei's eyes. Kurama stood slowly on his own and inclined his head to the rest of the group before he followed the miko and the fire apparition out of the room.

Hiei glanced back over his shoulder and frowned at the kitsune avatar. He had a really bad feeling about this...

Edited 17 May 2005