Standard Disclaimers: Inuyasha and Yuu Yuu Hakusho belong respectively to Rumiko Takahashi and Yoshihiro Togashi.

Notes: I give up. SoM, Ookami… (mostly SoM) You guys win and get your gift fic. –sighs miserably and shakes head- Okay… to explain, while working on BAON, it seems another author (this would be SoM, as she very well knows) has placed a curse on me. A curse in the shape of a Chibi-Bishi who has taken up residence on my shoulder and spends almost all of his time kicking me in the head and insisting that he can make a much more interesting story. I have no idea if this is or is not true, but for the sake of my sanity, and peace from those who have discovered this… I'll post the rough beginnings of the idea.

However! I won't continue it until after I've finished BAON. (Or rather, I won't seriously continue it… I may sporadically add bits as they come to me.) –shrugs- It's just one of those things. I can't commit to this seriously when I'm so focused on the other story. I suppose you can say that this is just an outline of a future plan, and you may notice a few recurring themes along with a few different ones. But my Chibi-muse is dictating, and we'll just have to see what spin gets put on the previous ideas. This will be shorter (Gods, I hope it's shorter), darker, and- well, we'll just have to see…

Best Laid Plans

:Blood Moon Rising:

::"Just like that?" her disbelief was just as obvious in her voice as it was in her expression.

"Just like that. You may not believe me, but I assure you, my dear, I have found myself in the mood to be… indulgent," those unblinking eyes never released her gaze as he dipped his head to her in a semblance of respect. "You and your friends are free to leave without interference from me."::

:-:-:

"Are you sure, Yuusuke?" Botan's voice drifted through the communicator, worry coloring the normally carefree tone.

Yuusuke swore darkly under his breath, lifting the communication device back up to eye level to hiss at the screen more directly while still keeping his focus on the small figure racing along in front of him, blurring in and out of the shadows seamlessly. "Botan, am I in the habit of making shit up that will mean more work for myself?! I'm running down the middle of the park trail at midnight, and I sure as hell ain't doin' it for my health!"

"Okay, okay!" Botan hurried to try and placate him before she caught the nasty end of what promised to be a prime temper working its way free. "What do you want me to do? Portal? Information?"

"Having Kurama or Hiei get over here to take over would be helpful," he gritted out, slanting a quick scowl at the screen. "I can't chase him forever and he's too fast for me to head off. He knows the area, and that's putting me at the disadvantage!"

"Well don't take my head off, Yuusuke, I'm trying to help!" Botan frowned right back at him, folding her arms across her chest in protest to being the outlet for his frustration despite her attempts to be accommodating. "Now where are you?"

"What the hell do you mean where am I?" Yuusuke burst out, wincing slightly when the echo reverberated back much louder than he'd intended. He swore again when the small youkai threw a scarlet-eyed glare back over him shoulder, censure flashing in those inhuman eyes over the noise, "Little fucking bastard… Botan! Now ain't the time to be playing around and getting cute with me, all right? Just wake one of 'em up and tell them to get their 'superior' youkai ass out here to help me catch this punk before he gets away!"

"I'm not playing around!" Botan shouted back, bringing a smirk to Yuusuke's face when he caught the almost indistinct flinch of the youkai ahead of him. "Wherever you are, I can't get a clear read on you, okay? There's something in that area is distorting what our equipment can pick up, something big."

What the hell? Yuusuke almost stopped short at that, restraining that urge when the youkai ran under a street lamp, momentarily giving him a flash of pale skin, and lips quirked up in a sardonic smirk. He's listening to me, dammit all, he knows there's a distortion in the area! Yuusuke promptly forgot all about trying to make a judge on his brief sighting of the youkai's face under a new flash of anger. "Shit, he's laughing at me… Botan, could this youkai be the one screwing that up? Messing with the readings up there?"

Botan shrugged, giving him an apologetic smile, "I guess?"

"You guess?!"

"Hey, we haven't have any unregistered youkai passing the barriers in months, Yuusuke," Botan protested, looking at something off screen that he couldn't even begin to guess at. "You're supposed to be in Kyoto this week for that convention or whatever, aren't you? I don't think any of the youkai with permits to live in that prefecture have any sort of spiritual distortion… Are you close to the city?"

"Unless I've run a lot fucking farther than I thought, I'm still in the general area," Yuusuke drawled out, only half-joking as he frowned and he tried to backtrack the tangled path the youkai had run him through the darkened streets and parks until now. "I think I'm up north a little, I don't know. We've gotten turned around a few times, but I'm definitely not in the city. Too many trees."

"I'll see what I can do about getting someone else out to help you, but you're not giving me much to go on," Botan scolded in disapproval for the lack of useable information. "Do you see any street signs around? Anything that can narrow it down a little?"

"No time to look at the street," Yuusuke nearly rolled his eyes in exasperation. "It's trying to do something in the shadows, make me lose sight of it. This ain't one I can take my eyes off of, Botan."

The youkai tossed another glance back over his shoulder to gauge their distances before he suddenly made a hard right turn, effortlessly leaping up to clear the high wooden fence in front of it. Yuusuke let out a huff of exertion as he followed close behind, coming down easily into a deserted construction lot almost directly of the youkai's heels and smirking when he saw the scarlet glow of its eyes narrowing in obvious displeasure. Yuusuke let out a humorless chuckle, and muttered more to himself than for his audience's benefit, "Yeah, that's right, punk. You should've realized by now you ain't running from a normal human."

The youkai made a sound of disgust loudly enough to reach Yuusuke's ears, not breaking pace as he pivoted to face his pursuer, shifting his weight to slide backwards more easily as he tensed down into a semi-crouch. Jyaki gathered thick and heavy in the air around his diminutive body as he shot upwards, focusing on Yuusuke directly in a way that had the detective's eyes lighting up in satisfaction. "Fucking finally!"

"Yuusuke?" Botan's voice sounded slightly panicked as he dug in his heels, skidding to a halt in the loose gravel as well. "Yuusuke, what's happening over there!?"

"Gotta go, Botan," Yuusuke informed her almost cheerfully, already closing the communicator. "Bastard's finally stopping to have a real fight."

"Wait, Yuusuke, don't-!" the communicator clicked shut, effectively putting an end to whatever she might have said as he stuffed it down in the pocket of his jeans.

"Figured out you can't run fast enough to get away from me and decided to stop wasting my time, did ya?" Yuusuke grinned broadly, tensing in preparation to jump after the youkai and bring him down as quickly as possible.

"You're the one wasting time by forcing me to stop and kill you."

The sound of his voice had Yuusuke drawing up short, eyes widening under a sudden flash of shock as his momentum abruptly died. Confused and more than a little alarmed, he squinted up to try and get a better look at the youkai's face with the moonlight against him, What the hell?! He sounds like-? This really is just a-? SHIT, did a youkai take over the body of a little kid?

The street lamp just above the fence flickered on and spilled its light out across the lot, eerily reflecting across scarlet eyes as the youkai turned a scowl at the uncooperative machinery. He frowned, but looked towards Yuusuke again as he hovered just above the startled detective's height with the light clearly revealing just how young the boy he was facing truly was. Yuusuke shook off the daze with effort, a blistering line of curses spilled from him as he reabsorbed his ki in a rush and rapidly attempted to rethink his strategy.

The air seemed to thicken with the increasing tension as they stared at each other until the youkai made a disparaging sound and held up one hand. A prickle of awareness shot down Yuusuke's spine, warning him to dodge away from a rippling wave of jyaki just as the ground below him shattered. Rolling to a stop in the packed dirt, he turned an angry glare up at the youkai hovering so nonchalantly in the air above him. Gritting his teeth, Yuusuke got back to his feet and wracked his brain for a way to get the youkai out of such a young child without hurting the borrowed body.

"Don't think I'll go easy on you just because you're a fool," the boy's lip curled up in icy disdain as he held up one hand again and obviously gathered his jyaki for a second attack. "You're out of your league in facing me, retrograde."

Fuck, how did a guy like this slip under the radar? These attacks aren't weak, Yuusuke brought his hand back into position to fire off a warning shot, not in the least bit surprised when the boy fluidly dodged under the attack without losing his hold on the focus jyaki. "You get out of that kid all peaceful like and I might be more inclined to let you off without killing you, punk bastard!" he stared down the sight line of his finger as he aimed more carefully, refocusing on the central line of ki shifting darkly through the small body .

One brow arched in a strangely aristocratic motion, "How pathetic… You really don't know anything, do you?"

"Last warning."

"Take your best shot," the youkai smirked wickedly, flashing slightly pointed canines against his lower lip as his eyes took on a deeper glow that seemed to bleed into his pupils and erase all semblance of a normal human's gaze. "You'd just better hope your aim is more accurate than your perception. I'm only in the mood to give you one."

Yuusuke's jaw clenched hard enough to make the muscle in his cheek twitch under that mocking taunt, "If that's how you want to play it, asshole, I ain't gonna go easy on you. I'll just have to get out of that kid by force!"

The youkai twisted to the side rapidly when Yuusuke fired off his next attack, frowning in irritation at the strength in that ki grazing past him. All humor faded from his expression as he held his small hand out towards the detective and splayed his fingers wide. The wave of shouki instantly tore through the lot, giving Yuusuke no time to dodge as it raced at him, splitting at the last moment to spiral out in a confining circle around his position. Yuusuke brought up his arm instinctively to cover the lower half of his face, shying away from the noxious fumes making his eyes water and his throat burn as the force of the attack threatened to drive him to his knees. Choking and coughing, he struggled to back away from the strongest concentration of the oppressive power. Finally he managed to force his weakening legs to jump out of the circle just as the energy snapped back up into the boy and reabsorbed with only a fain ripple to indicate it had been released at all. Yuusuke stumbled as he landed, barely catching himself on one knee, and blinking furiously in his efforts to clear away the involuntary tears blurring his vision as the sound of mocking laughter filled the air around him.

"Fuc-!" Yuusuke's voice broke off in a fit of coughing before he managed to get himself back under control and snarl out viciously through his temporary blindness. "Fucking coward! Get back here and fight! I ain't done with you!"

"You aren't worth the trouble, you bothersome halfwit," the youkai snorted, the voice still echoing oddly around him without any definite direction. "It's very late, and you're very boring. Go home."

"Why you little shit-!"

"And you're far too vulgar," the boy cut him off with a sound of disapproval. "I don't allow such crass things as you to follow me past this point. But if you leave this area, I'll let you live, retrograde. I can be generous. After all, it's been a good night for me."

Yuusuke gripped his throat, dropping to his knees and gagging when the oppressive jyaki returned in full force, steadily increasing and pressing in on him from all directions. It seemed to force its way into his lungs, stealing his breath and spotting his already blurred vision until he could feel himself wavering at the brink of consciousness.

It felt like an eternity, like falling into nothingness over and over when the feel of the jyaki slowly began to fade. The pressure in his chest eased, and Yuusuke gasped loudly at the painful rush of clear air into his starved lungs. Coughing wracked his body, and he sluggishly cursed the weakness in his body when that act alone left him panting and shaking. He forced his eyes to open, blinking as his focus wavered for a moment before clearing and leaving squinting up at the moon in confusion. Frowning, he took stock of his body, wondering when he'd been knocked off his feet as he weakly turning his head to stare up at the high concrete walls surrounding the park.

Wait, the frown deepened, and he shook his head hard in a futile effort to knock the haze clear from his thoughts. This isn't right. T-the park…? How did I get back to the-?

The dazed thought trailed away in realization when his line of sight landed on the motionless figure sitting atop that wall with all the arrogant grace of a lord surveying his domain. The boy was obviously waiting, watching Yuusuke intently as he sat with one knee carelessly tucked to his chest and his black hair fluttering out behind him like a banner in the weak glow of the streetlamps. Dispassionate scarlet eyes stared down at him, cold and hard as Yuusuke gasped and struggled to hold onto his elusive consciousness.

"B-bastard," Yuusuke choked out, pressing his hands against the cold grass as he fought to lever his body up. The muscles in his arms gave out, dropping him back to his original position as his stomach lurched, and everything around him started to swirl and dip in nauseating chaos.

The youkai let out a snort, rising to his feet with fluid ease, "Don't forget that you're the one who attacked me first. And while you can still hear me… tell whoever sent you to stay away or I'll kill them, understand? Next time I won't hesitate."

Yuusuke tried to raise his head again, straining at the effort it took just to see the boy turn and stuff his hands in his pockets as nonchalantly as a human doing nothing more suspicious than walking home from school. His head throbbed as he turned it to follow the direction the youkai began to walk along the wall before the lack of oxygen took its toll and sent him pitching backwards into the soothing darkness.

:-:-:

::"There is just one small question I have for you, miko, if you feel so inclined to suffer my curiosity."::

:-:-:

An insistent, not-so-gentle nudge in the ribs from what was unmistakably a booted foot had Yuusuke grunting in protest and rolling onto his side as he reflexively grumbled out, "Fuck off and die, I'm sleeping."

"It's rather impolite of you to summon us so insistently and choose to sleep through our arrival, Yuusuke," Kurama's singularly melodic voice drifted through the pounding in Yuusuke's ears, making him groan and fling an arm up over his head to block it out. Apparently undaunted by the continued "hints" that he'd like to remain in his resting state, Kurama continued with a more leading reminder. "Botan seemed to be under the impression you were in grave danger."

Mention of the spiritual liaison had memories of the previous night rushing back in full force, snapping Yuusuke's eyes open to find sunlight making a bright, painful halo around Kurama's bent head. Danger! Shit, that's right! I was chasing-

When the battered man abruptly shot up, Kurama barely had time to jerk out the way and save them both from what would likely been a painful collision, "SonofaBITCH"

"I take it your hunt did not go as well you had hoped then," the kitsune recovered his composure with ease at the resounding curse despite the way it made his ears ring and the nearby birds take flight in protest. When Yuusuke seemed inclined to dissolve in an impressive flurry of inventive profanities, Kurama sighed and slanted a curious look at the hybrid leaning back against the sun-warmed wall with his eyes closed. Well, now we know there is no permanent damage to him. Have you found anything about the youkai he was chasing yet?

Just the remains of the jyaki that led us here, Hiei cracked one eye open, closing it again in deceptive nonchalance as he allowed the Jagan to feel out the unfamiliar and uncharacteristically clear surroundings as best it could under the restraining band. Those idiots were correct about the level of distortion. Whatever is making this vibration around the city is making trying to track this youkai difficult. I can feel too many old shrines here, old holy blood purifying its tracks out of the air.

That's hardly encouraging, Kurama frowned at the implication, turning his attention back down to their leader when the snarling choked off. When he discovered Yuusuke clutching at his throat as though in pain, Kurama knelt and reached out to press one finger against the center of the gagging man's forehead to perform a more thorough search for soul for internal injuries, "Yuusuke? Yuusuke, what happened? Botan said you were attacked in this area and called for us."

Yuusuke's hand lifted, shoving Kurama away irritably and grinding his palms against his clenched eyes at the ungodly headache pounding away at his skull. "Yeah, yeah, I called. Saw this little punk run out of a school after hours with youkai blood on his hands, so I chased him. Thought he was one too, but it's a kid, a little kid being possessed."

"Are you certain?" Kurama's brows rose in surprise. How would a youkai have passed into Ningenkai and made a possession without Reikai being alerted? That hasn't happened in ages.

I could think of a few reasons.

Koenma isn't that inept, Hiei, Kurama pointed out after that snide remark. Not any more at least.

Now he makes us monitor for youkai presences, of course the methods have improved.

"Hell no, I ain't certain!" Yuusuke hissed out, groping around to brace his fist on the ground and push himself unsteadily to his feet. Practically radiating frustration when his legs refused to cooperate, he lashed out, slamming his fist against the wall beside the unperturbed hybrid. Eyes closing, Yuusuke slumped forward to rest his forehead on the stone and expounded on his observations, "But he looked like a kid, smelled like a kid, and sounded like a kid, so I'm making a guess. The energy was too strong to fit the body."

"Yelling at Kurama won't absolve you of failure," Hiei snorted when Yuusuke seemed to be gearing up to continue. He opened both eyes to enjoy the man's expression with all his senses, reveling in just how easy it was even now to rile their so-styled leader into a full rage as he dug deeper into the cause of Yuusuke's distress, "You underestimated your opponent, Urameshi, the fault is your own."

Kurama quickly held up a hand to forestall an all-out battle when Yuusuke drew back with every intention of redirecting his anger against Hiei's head this time, "Arguing will not solve this problem. For now, Yuusuke, we'll trust your guess and assume we're looking for a human child under the influence of a dark spirit. That means we need to find it and exorcise it as soon as possible to prevent damaging the child permanently."

That would have been a good fight, Fox, I don't appreciate your interference, Hiei let out an indecipherable sound and folded his arms back behind his head, turning his attention to the more tedious matter of filtering through the fading pulse of jyaki for some hint to their intended prey's origins.

We have more important things to be worrying about than assuaging your boredom by goading Yuusuke into another fight, Hiei, he gave the hybrid a pointed frown and knelt to rest his hand on the grass for anything else the spirits within the plants could add to their search. Save it for attacking this youkai when we succeed in tracking it down.

Hn, Hiei inwardly sighed with reluctance, but backed off and let the kitsune inject his false calm into their surroundings to smooth the chaotic ki in the park and calm the restless spirits. After long minutes of nothing but staring alternately down at Kurama's motionless form and up at Yuusuke's agitated pacing in front of the wall, Hiei gave the kitsune an impatient mental push, Well? Are you having more luck conversing with your non-sentient little minions about getting us some useable information?

Kurama shot him an irritated frown for the disruption, Don't get bitchy with me because my methods are more effective than yours right now. It isn't my fault that the jyaki was purified before you could pick it apart.

Is that a no? Hiei couldn't resist taunting just to see minute tightening of the kitsune's lips.

Would you like to know what these spirits are telling me, or would you rather I handle this one on my own? Kurama's eyes flashed gold as he rose to his feet, one eyebrow arched in sharp arrogance. You can take Yuusuke back to Reikai to get him examined for the extent of his injuries; I'll contact you when I have finished tracking down this youkai and exorcising it.

I didn't think I'd hit your head hard enough or often enough to knock your brain loose, but apparently I was wrong, Hiei rolled his eyes, pushing off the wall to casually walk over beside the kitsune. Now what did they tell you?

That's actually the disturbing part, Kurama simply ignored the hybrid's insulting remarks, a hint of concerned bemusement flickering through his eyes as he walked to the nearest tree and rested his palm against the rough bark. It says it recognizes the jyaki.

Recognizes how? It's familiar with the youkai that gives off this energy? Hiei's brows lowered, prodding at the kitsune when he lapsed into thoughtful silence. Fox-

"Be quiet, I'm speaking with stronger spirits to find out," Kurama scolded, closing his eyes as he let his forehead rest lightly against the tree above his hand. Spirits are very selective, and they can be temperamental. Not to mention they're sensitive and I need to be focused when I'm calling out to them. Besides, they say they don't much like you.

I'm crushed.

And that's not helping matters with them any, Kurama cracked one eye open to fix him with a stern warning. We're strangers here, and the spirits in this place are mostly peaceful sorts. They don't want us causing strain on that balance and upsetting their health.

Hiei turned to face him, all taunting gone under the underlying severity in the kitsune's thoughts. They think we would cause strain?

That's what they say, Kurama nodded, leaning back from the tree with a pensive look up into the branches. The owner of the jyaki has been here for a long time and it has never caused problems with nature. They are loathe to give up the youkai's location and change the state of their relationship with it after they saw the way Yuusuke attacked last night.

Even though they can feel that it's evil ki?

They say we don't understand, Kurama sighed and shook his head to convey his own lack of understanding with the bizarre arrangement. But they say there's a miko who lives nearby, a very powerful one. If she trusts us, then the spirits in this place will be more open to accepting us and answering my questions.

Are you hearing your plants right? Hiei snorted dryly. They're telling you, a kitsune, to go announce yourself to a miko? We're supposed to go search her out on our own when Yuusuke's the only one of the three of us with any human blood in him? And even that is questionable since his regression.

I'm repeating what this tree's spirit is telling me, Kurama let a thread of his own youki pour into the tree as a sign of gratitude for the help before drawing his hand away from the bark. It says that we'll find her if we can find the god's tree. The miko is the one who protects it.

Which god's tree? Hiei cocked his head slightly to one side.

Kurama shrugged, That's all it said, the spirit didn't specify which god blessed the tree.

"You two planning to do more than stand there having eye-sex or should I give you some privacy?" Yuusuke loudly cleared his throat, irritated that he was obviously being kept out of the loop with whatever connection the two youkai shared.

Hiei shot him a disgusted look for the crass and wholly inaccurate description for his discussion with the kitsune, "Kurama believes that we should locate the strongest miko in this area and question her about the possession."

"Riiiight, because present day human miko hear so much about real shit like this," Yuusuke rolled his eyes. "You guys lookin' to get us thrown in an asylum?"

"Unless you have a better idea," Hiei challenged, one brow arching up in a clearly derisive action. "We'd be eager to listen since you proved yourself so proficient in dealing with this youkai last night."

"Listen, you pissy little fucker, I already told you it's inside a human kid!" Yuusuke rounded on him crossly, pointing directly at the smaller youkai for emphasis. "I ain't gonna run in blasting when the youkai has a hostage like that! I could have killed the host by accident."

"You may have to kill the human child anyway," Hiei pointed out nonchalantly. "Not to mention your attack of conscience will prove useless if the possessed child is killing off more innocents to survive. By sparing one, you'll only have empowered it to kill more before we track down where it is hiding."

"We'll deal with that if we have to, but for now, killing this kid is out of the question, Hiei, you got that?" Yuusuke gritted his teeth against the sharp bite of truth in Hiei's more ruthless logic. He pinned the hybrid with an unwavering glare, refusing to back down until Hiei acquiesced to the command with a shrug and turned to stare off into the park.

"That decision and its consequences are our responsibility," Hiei remarked blandly, slipping his hands down into the pockets of his coat as he readjusted and refined the Jagan's method of searching more specifically with his own youki. His eyes narrowed slightly as his fanning senses slipped over a line where the jyaki weakened almost to nothing, curiosity sparking when either side of that single path had a more definite echo of its presence.

Kurama was turning, mouth open to speak when he realized Hiei was already walking away from them, Where are you going?

To find you a miko and a god's tree, Hiei repeated the spirit's instructions dryly. It stands to reason that tracing the path with the least amount of jyaki will take us to the strongest concentration of holy energy.

Kurama just shook his head, lengthening his stride to catch up with Hiei's pace and calling back to Yuusuke to get him in motion after them as well. And you wonder why it's so difficult for others to get along with you.

It's not a concern I lose sleep over, Hiei openly scoffed at the sardonic taunt as well as the suggestion he gave half a damn how he was commonly viewed. I make no secret that I have little to no patience for humans and their idiocy and this is a perfect example. If Yuusuke had been making any effort to think, he could have followed the youkai quietly and waited for our arrival before trying to attack it. Thanks to his error, we're on an idiotic search for a miko and a fucking tree.

Don't be so lazy, Kurama chided with a soft laugh, even more amused at the scowl it earned him from the shorter youkai. Come on, Hiei! When's the last time you saw a real miko? It could be more fun doing it this way.

Miko kill youkai, remember? Hiei resisted the urge to sigh and let Kurama see he was getting to him. I'm not psychotic enough to go hunting out that kind of problem just because I'm bored.

You'll get old before your time if you don't learn to loosen up more often, Kurama sighed in exaggerated disapproval.

The last thing I need is a depraved kitsune wearing a human disguise inflicting his ideas of "fun" on me, Hiei slipped one hand down and back enough to feel the reassuring bulge of his sword hilt in its concealed position.

Fine, fine, Kurama dragged a hand back through his hair in a smooth, practiced motion just to further irritate the hybrid. But the sex is good.

Hiei's eyebrow twitched, but he stubbornly refused to rise to the bait.

"Oi!" Yuusuke jogged a bit to catch up and fall in step with the silent pair, jerking his thumb back in the opposite direction. "Wouldn't it make more sense if I showed you guys the school he came from before we start looking around outside the city?"

Kurama briefly glanced down at Hiei to see if he wanted to respond to that, smirking to himself when the hybrid simply closed his eyes in his stereotypical, silent dismissal. Shaking his head, he focused on Yuusuke to explain their chosen course of action, "If the trail disappears completely, or is too old to properly track, yes. But better to learn what we can from where the youkai was trying to go now while there is something of a trail, than to go where we know he's been. And if we can find a miko with real awareness in this region, we'll have a chance to try for a few more answers."

"From a miko," Yuusuke muttered a few choice curses under his breath when they nodded calmly. "Look, it ain't gonna do us any good to chase a maybe, you know. And chances are it's trying to blend in if that's the body it picked, not to mention how well it knew where it was going. So if that's the case, it would be in school right now and we can catch it there."

"You can follow whatever lead you'd like," Hiei pointed out without the slightest change in his tone. "Kurama and I aren't stopping you, but I should point out that we have been hunting and finding youkai skilled at hiding themselves since before you were born. We also don't intend to hold your inadequacies up against our own considerable experience as you have proven yourself somewhat capable of finding victory after all."

"You're an asshole, Hiei."

"Hn," Hiei's smirk was back under the frustration in Yuusuke's response. "I'm not so weak-willed as to change who and what I am simply because I am trapped in this ridiculous contract."

Snob, Kurama lifted his hand in an authoritative motion to stop Yuusuke from getting into it with Hiei again.

Pervert.

I happen to embrace my singular eccentricities, Kurama returned loftily. However, I do not appreciate your insult to my unique morality.

Shameless pervert, Hiei amended.

That's better.

:-:-:

::"You can't be serious. A question? You did all this, tricked them -tortured them, and use them to demand I come here just so you can ask me a question?" the increasing disbelief was clearly written on her face as she stared up at the elegant figure staring down at her.

"Even I am struck with bouts of curiosity from time to time," he pressed one hand over his heart and bowed to her. "I knew without proper incentive, it might prove difficult to encourage your attendance. But not matter, miko, you are here, and you may choose to answer or not as you see fit. I will still allow you to leave peacefully. To be fair to me, believe me when I say that I am not without some sense of my own honor. I believe one must offer a sort of trade in the midst of delicate negotiations…"::

:-:-:

For some reason, I have a weird feeling I should recognize this place, Kurama frowned lightly, glancing at the ancient stone adorning the shrine's open gate. He hung back, and reached out to trace his fingertips thoughtfully over the elegantly, expertly crafted lines of archaic kanji giving the shrine's name. Only to jerk his hand away in startled reflex when a crackle of holy magic sent a vibration of warmth shooting up his arm and straight to the core of his being. Kurama froze, pressing that hand over his heart warily as the ki made its way through him like warm honey, spreading out through every inch of his body. His eyes went wide at the oddly searching sensation that pulsed through him, sinking deeper into his soul and beating heavily once with his heartbeat before it inexplicably, harmlessly faded away.

Why would you recognize a shrine? Have you been trying to figure out how much holy magic you can withstand again, you twisted pervert? Hiei turned a particularly dry look down on the distracted kitsune.

Kurama blinked, frowning up at him as he searched for any sign the hybrid had been aware of the intense scan he had just endured. But when not even a glimmer of realization flashed through the claret eyes, Kurama hesitantly brushed his own confusion aside and began climbing the daunting stairs. Energy seemed to curl up around his feet, sinuously caressing up his calves with every step as the spirits began to stir and reach up for him. Ignoring the oddly primal feel of the stone beneath him, Kurama instead focused on responding to Hiei's inquiry as normally as possible. Increasing my tolerance for such power is not a perverted action, Hiei. But no, I haven't explored the Kyoto shrines in a few centuries. I've been busy.

Hn, Hiei snorted in disgust, slipping his hands into the pockets of his black jacket. You realize that your fascination with the human education system is absolutely disgraceful.

I happen to realize that I make an excellent professor, Kurama turned his nose up in lofty arrogance, unable to restrain his curiosity as the spirits seemed to push and tug at him until he reached the well-kept courtyard behind Hiei and Yuusuke. Besides, I know more about human level botanicals than any of their so-called professionals could hope to learn in a hundred lifetimes. They're lucky to have my expertise at their disposal in even a limited capacity.

Yuusuke had come to a stop just outside the Torii, reaching up anxiously to rub the back of his neck under the tingling pulse that seemed to be almost tangibly grasping up at him from even the dirt. He winced as he looked around the quiet courtyard, taking in the simplicity of the charms and decorations on the structures as he imagined how much they would have had to listen to if they'd brought Kurabara. "Shit. This place feels weird."

"The power here is much stronger than other temples I've visited ever since I was much younger," Kurama murmured in awe, his own perusal of the shrine coming to a halt when he found the incredible tree practically vibrating under the amount of holy energy stored inside it. That's it that's the god's tree the other spirit was talking about, it has to be. Which deity does this miko serve if the blessing is that potent?

Maybe if you're nice, she'll tell you before she purifies you into ash, Hiei drawled out, side-stepping the "accidental" elbow aiming for his chest.

I can convince the spirits here that you're a suspicious presence, Kurama warned him, folding his arms over his chest as he let the barest touch of his youki stir the air at his feet. I'm just a harmless kitsune, after all, drawn here by my love of nature. You're the dark and brooding youkai radiating dangerous jyaki and being rude to their memories with your disrespectful ways.

I'll make sure someone plants flowers on your grave, Hiei made a point to let Kurama see his hand moving to rest over the hilt of his sword again. This is neither the time nor the place for your tricks.

A wise youkai knows how to create the time and place as he sees fit, Kurama dipped his head in a mocking bow, but obliged Hiei's offset nerves by turning to address Yuusuke's concerns. "It's definitely an old line, and the power here hasn't faded like the others." His attention was pulled back towards the tree again, sending thoughts of tormenting Hiei far from his mind as he murmured out, "But it almost feels… intelligent."

"Intelligent? What, it's like a shrine that can think? You're kidding, right?" Yuusuke turned a sour look on him.

Kurama shook his head, dispelling his odd fascination with the tree with effort as he faced Yuusuke again and made an expansive gesture to illustrate his point, "Is it burning us? We can feel it brushing us, trying to touch our souls, and it definitely feels the youki in us, but it let us walk past the Torii. Now it just feels like it's waiting to see what we do."

Yuusuke reached up and covered his eyes with one hand, pinching the bridge of his nose to chase away the lingering ache. "All right, fuck it. Have it your way, Kurama, it's a thinking shrine. Why the hell did the jyaki trail head towards it then? Wouldn't the shrine have figured out that the youkai throwing all that off was bad news and fried it?" Yuusuke rocked his weight from heel to toe impatiently, scanning the layout until he identified the walkway leading to the main house.

"If I knew the answers to that, we wouldn't be here looking for signs of the youkai," Kurama arched an eyebrow at Yuusuke's continued irritability. "I understand you think we're wasting our time here, however, it seems a fair guess that we are really not going to get anywhere just standing here and sniping at each other."

And you accuse me of goading him, Hiei drawled out tauntingly.

He started it.

How old do you claim to be again? Hiei rolled his eyes at the childishness of that defense.

Older than you, Kurama slanting the hybrid a sly look, sliding his fingers into his hair to show he was ready to back up his words. I can prove it if you'd like.

I refuse to engage in a pointless battle on holy grounds to satisfy your ego, Hiei turned his back on the kitsune, more interested in the strange vibrations the shrine was giving off, and allowing the Jagan to feel about for the possible sources. So that's what a god's tree looks like?

Amazing, isn't it? Kurama's entire demeanor softened as his gaze went to the ancient tree again, holding back the urge to ignore the human dwelling in favor of the ancient foliage. This miko can't be all bad if she's taken such exquisite care in preserving the spirits inside a tree that old. She obviously cares a great deal about nature.

That doesn't necessarily mean anything, Hiei pointed out. You can't judge her just on the condition of the plants around her shrine.

You can tell a lot about a human by their surroundings, Kurama maintained crisply. Say what you like, but we won't rule out the possibility that this miko will not be as close-minded as the ones we've experienced before.

Are you trolling for sex?

I believe in leaving my options open, Kurama smirked as they followed Yuusuke along the walkway towards the house. Especially if she's attractive.

Yuusuke was still muttering, swearing under his breath as he approached the quiet home and reached out to rap his knuckles firmly on the wood before he stepped back to wait for an answer. "Someone had better be home."

Hiei rolled his eyes behind Yuusuke's back, sliding his hands out of his pockets in favor of folding his arms over his chest, "You're behaving as impatiently as that other human idiot."

"You stay out of it!" Yuusuke pivoted to snap back at him, pointing a finger at Hiei and bristling in irritation when that only earned him another of the hybrid's cool smirks.

A sound from within the house distracted him from continued his verbal –and potentially physical- spar with the hybrid, encouraging him to face the house again and straighten his posture to a much more authoritative stance. The sound of footsteps moved closer, and Yuusuke took a step forward, readying himself to demand information when Kurama's hand came down on his shoulder, "Now what?!"

"Yuusuke, Hiei is right," the kitsune shook his head, pinning him with a stern frown. "You don't think we can be blunt and actually outright ask the family here if they've seen a youkai within the last few days, do you?"

"Foolish idiot," Hiei muttered under his breath at Yuusuke's answering silence.

"All right, listen you-!" Yuusuke had just started to pull back his fist with every intention of planting it in Hiei's smirking face when the door slid open with quick snap and had them all freezing in place.

An older woman stepped out of the house with a polite, welcoming smile on her face and giving off a vibe of domestic peace so strong that Kurama was starkly reminded of his own mother. The one stark difference being the strength of health and vitality radiating from her and licking along his senses, Thisis a strong human, especially if she's as old as I think she is.

You're not here to eat, Kurama, Hiei prodded him sternly, looking straight at the human woman with guarded curiosity over her lack of reaction to finding three less than normal "men" standing on her doorstep.

Now matter how much he grew up -or cleaned up for that matter- the youkai blood that had awakened within Yuusuke promised to keep a certain roughness to his appearance. And granted, Kurama's face had a tendency to dazzle and charm anyone, but experience over the years since they'd been forced to work with each other had proven Hiei's presence was generally enough to make any humans they met nervous enough to overlook even the kitsune's appeal. There was just absolutely no way in any layer of hells that anyone could mistake him for a peaceful human on the best day, even if they didn't have the slightest iota of spiritual awareness.

Not to mention this woman had opened the door to the sight of Yuusuke with his fist obviously up and ready to start attacking him.

She blinked without ever losing that calm expression, turning her attention meticulously to each of them in turn without saying a single word. Her perusal even went so far as to thoroughly, carefully look them all up and down before she turned back to the house just as calmly as she had exited. Kurama winced at the sign of dismissal, taking a step forward with his hand lifted in preparation to get her attention and start smoothing things over. His mouth opened, preparing to turn on the charm and make their apologies for the lack of manners to prevent any suspicion when she called back into the house loudly and startled them into stillness all over again.

"Kagome-chan! It's for you!"

:-:-:

::"How much… do you love your friends?"::