Standard Disclaimers: Inuyasha and Yuu Yuu Hakusho belong respectively to Rumiko Takahashi and Yoshihiro Togashi.
Notes: It occurred to me as I was working on the next chapters that I had more bits and pieces of this completed than I did for BAON's next update. So after a few quick questions to some trusted sources, I decided to focus on cleaning this up and having it out. SO! Hopefully this will work to satisfy the impatient long enough for me to finish up "other" things.
For all of you who have been leaving me such nice emails and reviews for this, thank you so very much. It's so nice to hear such sweet compliments for this, and it's even helped me convince Puppy to post more what she wrote for us that led to this story.
Best Laid Plans
:"If I do this… If I agree, you have to prove to me it will last forever."
"If there is one fear you don't need to have, my dear miko, it would be that I would promise you anything less.":
Hiei turned a sharp glare on Kurama, obviously expecting the kitsune to know the answer he was looking for. Why did this woman assume so quickly that we're here for someone?
'I don't know,' Kurama answered calmly. His brows drew together in frustration at the nagging sense that he was missing something important. Something simple. 'No one has ever had that kind of reaction.'
I'm fully aware of that. Hiei rolled his eyes. What kind of shrine is this? I've never been in a place that gave off this sort of sentient vibration but didn't attack. And that woman-
'Quiet.' Kurama made an impatient motion with his hand when he heard a soft voice respond to call from deeper in the house.
They were left standing alone at the open door as the older woman followed that answer. Disappearing around a corner while they all leaned in an instinctive effort to see around the divide to what was occurring in the house. Hiei frowned when he realized what he'd done, straightening his posture and folding his arms.
You look foolish, Hiei pointed out to cover his own embarrassment. You aren't going to see around wood.
'Shut up, Hiei, I'm listening.' Kurama shot him a quelling frown and gestured into toward the entryway with his head. 'The acoustics in the house are good for eavesdropping.'
Almost on cue, the older woman's voice reached their ears. Making a vague sound they couldn't quite identify before the harsh sound of glass striking glass made them wince. "Here, give me that, Kagome-chan, I'll finish this."
"Who is it?" The oddly soothing voice came in the midst of more domestic sounds… dishes being set to a table or perhaps in a sink if Kurama wasn't mistaken.
"It's three of your friends."
"Oh? From the school?" The girl's voice was louder now, as though she had turned towards the hallway.
Silence fell inside and Kurama's frowned deepened. The way the woman had said it… It was a ridiculous notion, but it was almost as though she knew the three of them weren't exactly human. But if that was true, why would she have been so calm? And why would she have instantly called into the house for "Kagome?"
The air around them seemed to still, before the permeating warmth stirred and actively twine around their legs. Hiei's attention snapped down, clutching at the hilt of his katana. Fox-
'Don't,' Kurama held his hand up to stop Hiei from actually drawing the weapon. 'If you do anything right now that can be perceived as a threat, it'll be bad. Let's wait and just make sure she's the miko. And see if she's willing to talk to us.'
I am not dying for you today, Kurama.
'I'm not intending to die, stop being so goddamn twitchy.' Kurama pinned him with a stern glare. 'If the miko had the control or the desire to kill us, don't you think she would have done it by now?'
Something knows we're here. Hiei tilted his head back and glared up at the windows of the peaceful house. Something strong.
'And if you don't calm down and let her come to us, you're going to make this infinitely more difficult.' Kurama slid back a step from the door, taking a deep breath and forcing himself into a more casual stance. 'Try to look harmless.'
Hiei gave him a dry look.
'That's not helping.'
What would be your brilliant suggestion on how I accomplish that, Kurama? Hiei didn't bother to tone down the sarcasm in his voice.
'You could smile.' Kurama folded his arms across his chest, irritated at all the problems he knew he was going to have with the two most volatile and unpredictable members of his "team."
One corner of Hiei's lip curled up, twisting the look on his face into something malicious and openly sadistic.
Kurama looked pained. 'Not like that.'
You said smile. Hiei's eyes glinted with amusement, but he let the smile fade into a much more neutral expression.
The sound of light footsteps approaching the door stopped Kurama from replying to that. He sent one more stern glare at Hiei with a warning to behave, and even elbowed Yuusuke to remind him of their delicate position. Kurama took a deep, calming breath and let it out slowly. Bracing himself against any reactions this miko might have, he quickly put on his most disarming smile.
You still look foolish, Hiei couldn't resist jibing, just to see the minute signs of the kitsune's smile tighten at the edges.
But in the next instant, Kurama's expression shifted to shock. His smile vanished, eyes widening and brows almost disappearing under his bangs the instant the girl stepped down into the entryway. Hiei started to reach out, curious at the bizarre reaction when Kurama grinned in genuine delight, and started to laugh.
At Hiei's curious look, he shook his head with a self-deprecating chuckle. 'That's why I recognized the name of the shrine.'
Hiei and Yuusuke both turned to look at him with varying degrees of surprise and demand coloring their expressions as the kitsune took a step forward and bowed deeply the instant a young woman wearing a rather old-fashioned keikogi stepped out of the house.
"Higurashi Kagome." Kurama raised his head, eyes flashing gold as he met her startled gaze. He turned to one side long enough to make his companions feel included in the introduction. "A Kyudo expert with international renown and the long-standing, not-so-secret crush of my former college roommate."
The introduced "Kagome" blinked, visibly taken aback for a moment. Just as quickly, her brows rose and answering laughter bubbled up before she could stop it. Her entire countenance instantly relaxed from guarded curiosity into delighted surprise. And when his arms opened expectantly, she stepped forward into his enthusiastic embrace without the slightest hesitation.
Leaning back, Kagome flashed him a dazzling smile and teased, "Well, well… if it isn't the infamous Minamino Shuuichi. What in the world are you doing at my shrine at this hour of the morning, hm?"
"O-oi… you two… know each other?" Yuusuke looked back and forth between them with a disoriented sort of awe.
"By reputation mostly," Kagome shook her head to deny a closer personal association. "Our paths never seemed to cross for long despite several attempts to the contrary."
"You have a gift for dodging invitations," Kurama acknowledged.
"Practice." Kagome winked at him.
"Although," Kurama turned his nose up and flashed a smug smile, "we did become close at the wedding of a mutual friend several years ago." Kurama turned his full focus back to her in a sweeping look of admiration. "You have obviously been taking excellent care of yourself since then, Ka-chan."
"Mm, and you have been practicing too." She thunked him on the chest with her knuckles lightly, unable to stop her lips from twitching up at the blatant flirtation. "Again, I'm flattered, but no thank you. Though it's good to see you've finally managed to straighten out your ki. I was a little worried you were going to have serious problems."
"I did tell you there was no reason for concern." Kurama dipped his head to recognize the compliment and silently thank her for the show of affection. Delighted that she was so quick to reengage in the same easy banter they had indulged in at their first meeting. "And you know you can always change your mind."
Kagome reached up and poked the center of his forehead. "All those good looks are going to your head again, Shuu-kun. The very hint of anything intimate between you and me would send Houjo spiraling off into screaming insanity, and you know it."
Kurama couldn't help but chuckle at the reminder, taking that as his cue to ask, "How is Houjo these days?"
Kagome couldn't quite keep the surprise out of her voice, "You don't keep in touch?"
Kurama was the one to wink this time, lifting one hand to tap a finger to his lips. "I didn't feel it would be appropriate. Given the circumstances."
"That is entirely your fault for being prettier that Eri." Kagome didn't look the slightest bit sympathetic to that piece of information. "Houjo might not have told her everything about what happened, but the way he still looks at you makes her suspicious."
"I refuse to take full responsibility when you are the reason Houjo's wife questions his ability to let go of old relationships," Kurama accused dismissively, eyes practically sparkling with suppressed laughter. He chuckled at the blush that spread over her face at his counter-blame. Satisfied that he had scored a victory, Kurama kept one arm around her waist and turned his attention around to her shrine. Curiously looking over the grounds with open interest, he absently murmured, "I thought you still lived in Tokyo. When did you come here?"
Kagome smiled, but to the keen observer, a hint of pain flickered across the surface of her eyes. "There was a fire… We lost everything. But my grandfather's brother asked us to take over his shrine here. He was too old to take care of it by himself, and-" she trailed off with a shrug.
Kurama could see Yuusuke flinch sympathetically at the news. Sighing, the kitsune gently squeezed her into another half-embrace to show his sympathy. "I'm sorry to hear for your loss, but at least no one in your family was hurt."
"We were very lucky," Kagome agreed easily. "It was years ago now, Shuu-kun, but thank you. Kyoto has been good for my family, and the history here is absolutely beautiful. There are times it feels like we never lived anywhere else."
Hiei tilted his head to one side as he studied the interaction between this miko and his friend. This is a strange human, Kurama.
'Don't be rude, Hiei. She is not,' Kurama defended quickly. 'Kagome has always had a love of nature that sets her apart from other humans.'
No wonder you two get along. Hiei snorted at the offense Kurama seemed to take on her behalf. Does she know? I saw your eyes.
Kurama subconsciously tightened the arm around her waist for a moment. 'Does she know what?'
You know exactly what I'm asking, Kurama, don't play stupid with me, Hiei warned.
He slanted a bland look to the hybrid and shrugged faintly. 'Kagome knew from the beginning. She reached for my ears in the dark before she realized she was reaching for the echo of my soul.'
Hiei blinked, almost amused by the thought of how disconcerting such an experience would have been for Kurama. Why in the hell were you somewhere dark with her if you didn't know her?
'Surprise party,' Kurama answered. 'We happened to be in the same place when Houjo's- well, now she's his wife. But she turned out the lights and Kagome was behind me. She was so embarrassed-'
"How about you? What brings you and your friends to Kyoto?" Kagome's questions drew them out of their private discussion before Kurama could relive that particular memory. "And don't tell me it was just to see me, Shuuichi. The holiday letters I've gotten from you and your mother were addressed to my old shrine. You had no idea I was here."
"Yet I find it quite a pleasant surprise." Kurama distractedly raked his hand through his hair and nodded to admit the truth of her observation. "But you are correct, Kagome. I'm afraid we're on more of an official visit."
"Oh?" Kagome cocked her head to one side curiously.
Kurama gave her one of his most cajoling smiles, giving her a nudge to show he wanted her input. "We're investigating a report from the area that could possibly involve a human possession."
Yuusuke tensed in alarm, hissing out a curse under his breath at the nonchalant explanation of their presence. That nearly changing to a full-on growl when Kurama simply waved back at them in dismissive reassurance.
"From a malevolent spirit?" Kagome ignored the obvious disapproval from his companions and folded her hands behind her back.
"That's what we're here to find out." He nodded and smiled at the look of concentration that came over her face. 'Ah… I'd forgotten how cute she looks when she's thinking of something serious.'
This is sick, Kurama, even for you. Hiei shot him a disgusted look. Propositioning a miko? Have you finally gone completely insane, you idiot kitsune?
'Kagome is a sweet miko, Hiei.'
Probably because she's a child who doesn't believe youkai actually exist. The hybrid let out a snort as he sized up the young miko carefully. But when he reached her eyes, he paused and frowned.
'Don't be an idiot, Hiei.' Kurama continued despite Hiei's lack of response, clucking his tongue in chiding. 'She's not that much younger than my "human" body. She's just aging well.'
That's one way to say it.
"No one has come to my shrine for an exorcism for a while. Not for anything serious on that scale, at any rate." Kagome folded her arms over her chest, absently plucking at one of her kimono sleeves. Her lips compressed slightly as she looked towards the massive tree. "And none of the spirits seem concerned enough to cry…"
Yuusuke was instantly rolling his eyes, mouthing "fake" at Kurama's back in hopes the kitsune would somehow catch it. Irritated at the lack of response, he shoved his hands down into the pockets of his jeans. Muttering softly to Hiei, "Fuck. I told you this was a stupid idea."
"Except there was something strange that appeared last night." A faintly troubled look crossed her face, but she shook it off quickly and continued in a calm voice. "Something powerful was in town. A strange aura, and not something I've felt here before. That might be worth your while to look into."
Hiei arched an eyebrow in surprise at the information. Fighting back a smirk of wicked amusement as Yuusuke sputtered and fell silent beside him.
Kurama's smile warmed with affectionate pride. "What time was that, Kagome?"
"Late… probably close to midnight if I was going to guess." Kagome shrugged and offered him an apologetic look. "I was meditating in the shrine and I wasn't wearing a watch. I asked Ma-chan if he noticed anything on his way home, but he said he hadn't noticed anything particularly unusual."
"Ma-chan?" Kurama questioned, unable to place the nickname.
"Hold up just a goddamn minute!" Yuusuke snapped out before Kagome could answer. Stalking forward, he grabbed Kurama's shoulder and jerked him out of the way to scowl down at the miko. "You felt an aura?"
Ah, and there goes our 'fearless leader' to offend yet another human female and make our task infinitely more difficult, Hiei drawled out. Unable to fully hide his entertainment at Kurama's supremely aggravated frown. Think she'll speak to you again? You are the one who brought him to her peaceful home.
'He came on his own; Kagome won't hold his behavior against me.' Kurama shot Hiei a warning glare.
You have more faith in humans than I do.
'Inanimate objects have more faith in humans than you do.'
Hiei shrugged that off, intrigued as he watched the miko stand so calm in the face of Yuusuke's bluster. She was blinking up at the taller boy, eyes shining brightly as she bit down on her lower lip. Privately, he couldn't help but wonder just what kind of people this human associated with for that much mirth to be so poorly hidden in her eyes.
Kagome –for her part- was having an increasingly difficult time containing her laughter. It only became more awkward the longer this man loomed over her with what she imagined was a threatening expression.
For a human.
I guess some things are just universal, she couldn't help but think. Forcing herself to keep a straight face, she nodded to verify he'd heard her correctly. "Yes. I felt the aura."
"How?" Yuusuke demanded.
Kagome's shoulders started to shake as she folded her arms over her chest. "The usual way."
'She's either about to start yelling or laugh her ass off.' Kurama frowned slightly as he took in the faintly liquid sheen that made those uncommonly blue eyes stand out even more.
She's laughing at him. Hiei shot him a dry look at being unable to make the distinction. His stance relaxed minutely as his fear of purification began to ease. Replaced by the more enjoyable prospect of seeing Yuusuke's attempts at intimidation fail so very miserably against a rather petite human girl. You're slipping more than a little if you can't tell the difference in her eyes.
'Hush. Kagome has always been a little tricky to read.' Kurama returned the hybrid's look with a frown of his own.
Hiei arched an eyebrow, not bothering to mask his disbelief. Now I know you're slipping. Her emotions are more obvious than that last female you saw fit to seduce.
'I was hungry,' Kurama defended loftily.
Kagome finally lost her tenuous hold on her laughter, slumping back against her doorframe. Wrapping her arms around her waist, she let the clear sound ring out across the courtyard. Yuusuke stumbled back a step in surprise, staring at her as though she'd completely lost her mind. When she didn't appear to be stopping any time soon, he turned a pleading look back on Kurama and Hiei for help.
Hiei shrugged and slipped his hands down into his pockets. "I would laugh at you too."
"I'm sorry." Kagome waved one hand in an apologetic gesture. "I'm terribly sorry, I shouldn't have laughed. It's just that it's been a very long time since anyone got in my face like that over what I can do. Déjà vu moment, you know."
Kurama smoothly brushed Yuusuke aside again and gave him a dark scowl of warning not to try that again. He stepped into Kagome's line of vision, drawing all her attention back to himself. "You have nothing to be sorry for. Please forgive him, Kagome. He's more accustomed to being around people who don't hold any comprehension of real magic or power."
Kagome's expression brightened and she nodded once to show she understood. "Ahh, got it. Your friend is used to the diluted priests."
"Something like that." Kurama smiled.
She leaned around the kitsune to catch Yuusuke's gaze. "You shouldn't go around assuming things without reason in your line of work. There are still bloodlines that have strong ties with the past. You aren't the only one who deals with real spirits and real methods to handle them. No matter what you might have been told by your superiors."
I believe I'm seeing why you like this miko. Hiei smirked at rising flush on Yuusuke's cheeks.
'She sounds so sweet when she's obviously voicing disapproval, doesn't she?' Kurama lifted his hand to hide his appreciative perusal under the guise of brushing his bangs out of his face. 'She did it to me too, when she turned me down. She had left before I realized she'd said no.'
'It was a strictly human party, jackass,' Kurama reminded him irritably. 'I wasn't exactly planning on having to be on my guard for one cute girl. Even if she had been able to see more of me than my avatar shell.'
Then you should pay more attention to her current disapproval as well.
"What's the worst case you ever been on then, huh?" Yuusuke challenged before Kurama could step in and stop him. "Just cause I ain't all up on shrines or monks or mikos- that doesn't mean I'm some kinda amateur! What have you ever done that could've gotten your ass killed?"
"Yuusuke!" Kurama's voice lowered sharply, his eyes narrowing as they flashed bright gold.
"It's all right, Shuuichi, it doesn't bother me," Kagome spoke up before the two of them could degenerate into a full argument. Shaking off troubled memories, she sighed and folded her arms over her chest. Patiently, she waited for the staring match to taper off. Allowing herself a brief moment of internal arrogance, she brushed her fingertip down over where she knew her first youkai-given scar rested. If you only knew, little boy…
Carefully, she kept her thoughts off her face. Once she was certain she had Yuusuke's attention, Kagome offered him a smile that didn't quite reach her eyes. "So are you wanting me to show off my scars for you? Will that stand to work as proof?"
She reached down to grasp her sleeve, holding it as though just waiting for him to say yes. "When I was fifteen a youkai tried to tear open my stomach. It's been a long time, but you can still see some of the teeth marks in the depression. Or you can still see some of the ones on my arm still from the time my grandfather's Noh mask was possessed and tried to transfer itself onto my body. After it had eaten several people first in failed attempts, of course."
Yuusuke backed down quickly, admittedly floored at the abrupt shift his accusation had caused to her demeanor. All relaxation was gone from her stance and her face. Now she looked harsh and focused, putting him distinctly in mind of Genkai's demeanor every time he suffered through her 'instruction.'
He looked to Kurama for help and winced at the increasing disapproval in the kitsune's eyes. "I- Sorry… sorry I asked."
Kagome waved his apology aside with a tired sigh and smoothed down her sleeve. "No, it's quite all right. You have every reason to be skeptical and I'm sorry if I offended you. I already know there aren't very many people left in this era who believe in youkai or even miko anymore. The last thing the ones that are left need to be doing is fighting each other over petty things."
Hiei shifted his weight just enough to draw her attention away from Yuusuke. "Where did the energy go? The one you sensed last night."
"It disappeared in the park." Kagome gratefully redirected the conversation, but went perfectly still the moment her eyes landed on Hiei. Her eyes widened in absolute shock, pupils constricting as she took an involuntary step back. O-oh…
Following the source of her disruption back to the stoic hybrid, Kurama swore under his breath and hurried to reassure her. "This is a friend of mine, Kagome. Hiei is- ah, intense, but you have nothing to be afraid of from him."
"No." Kagome pressed a hand to her heart, unable to tear her gaze off the youkai even as she forced herself to regain her badly scattered calm. "That's not… I'm not thinking of that."
"If I intended to kill you, miko, I would have done it by now," Hiei informed her shortly. A faint note of exasperation sneaking into his voice over Kurama's mental prodding.
What? You scowled, I reassured her.
'I didn't mean like that!' Kurama hissed.
Then be more specific next time.
"Hiei recently left ranks, Kagome. He doesn't mean to be so tactless or rude." Kurama gritted out, inwardly berating himself for being so stupid as to bring either of his companions along. He reached for her wrist, brushing his fingertips over her skin to break the strange enthrallment Hiei's presence seemed to be holding her in.
Yes I do.
Kagome started slightly at the contact, looking down at her wrist and back up to Kurama's face. A hint of a blush touched her cheeks as she forced her mind back to the present. Looking from the nearly pleading desperation in the kitsune's eyes to the particularly bored almost-scowl on the hybrid's face, she could quite contain a faint smile. Kurama just seemed so determined to put her at ease despite his friends' prickly attitudes. And looked so incredibly frustrated that neither of them were making his repeated attempts easy.
She gently covered Kurama's hand, patting it absently in a soothing gesture. "I think your friend knows exactly what he's doing, Shuu-kun."
Hiei's brows rose, mildly grateful both Yuusuke and Kurama had turned to stare at the miko in surprise. It saved him having to conceal his own sudden interest as he tilted his head to regard her more intently. When she met his stare and held that smile, Hiei snorted and glanced towards the massive tree again. Perhaps this miko is not completely hopeless after all.
'Back off, Hiei.' Kurama ground his teeth almost audibly, struggling to contain his desire to knock their heads together and be done with it. 'Kagome is much more sensitive than any other human I have ever met. I'd rather she not figure out exactly what you and Yuusuke are now. She is not stupid, and if you get careless, she will.'
She probably already knows.
"You're welcome to ask any of the souls here about that energy." Kagome finally spoke again. She tilted her chin up to look at the sky, giving off the appearance of being deep in thought. "Kyoto has plenty of spirits that enjoying chatting if you show them you can hear them. But if you're right about the boy, please don't make an effort to exorcise the possessing creature on your own. It's too easy for a child's soul to be misdirected."
Yuusuke's curiosity obviously perked at her request. "Why do you say that?"
"Because it's true," Kagome answered simply. Her eyes closed when the wind around her kicked up, catching her hair and fanning it out around her.
Kagome lifted one hand to curl over her shoulder, letting her chin drop towards her chest to hide her expression. No, sweetheart, it's nothing to be worried about. I'm all right. The man is here with two other youkai. They're just confused.
Hiei's focus snapped back to her, his eyes narrowed. Youki.
Kurama was instantly alert, muscles tensing as they darted around the shrine. 'Where?'
Around the miko, Hiei clarified. He closed his eyes as well, focusing on allowing the Jagan to get a clearer line on the signature. But it makes no sense. It was close. Wrapped completely around her for a moment, then it just disappeared.
I don't think so.
Kagome swallowed, absently sliding the hand on her shoulder to curl loosely around her own throat. Still mostly focused outside herself, she sighed and expounded on her request, "It takes a lot of care and specific energy to break Hell's Chains if you have to pull the soul back. And I don't like fighting the Tatarimokke. It's only doing what it has to," Kagome continued blithely. Oblivious to the trio of stunned looks her casual announcement had brought snapping to her face.
Kurama… Hiei barely noted that he was walking forward until he was standing directly beside the kitsune. Dismissing his uncharacteristic behavior, he snuck a glance at Kurama's profile. Just how did you meet this person?
'Completely by accident.' Kurama whispered in awe. 'Kagome is a human. A young human miko and she has pulled a child's soul free of a Tatarimokke and Hell's Chains?' He was silent a moment before a smug smile curled his lips upward. 'Damn but I have great taste.'
Hiei could no more stop his eyes from rolling than he could have stopped the sky from falling. You have openly admitted that she turned down your proposition.
'The good ones always take time and effort.' Kurama sighed in appreciation for whatever fantasy was running through his head at the moment.
A faint, metallic chirp snapped them all out of their respective dazes. Kagome's eyes cleared in an instant, making a sound of disgust as she lifted her wrist to stare at her watch. "Damn. I'm going to be late."
Kurama's expression shifted to contrite concern despite Hiei's telepathic mockery. "I'm sorry, Kagome, have we interrupted your morning?"
"Oh not too badly," she assured him easily and laughed. "It's my fault. But I have my advanced classes this morning, so they're better at managing themselves. Still, I need to get my gear together and leave. Are you planning to be in town long, Shuuichi-kun?" Kagome pivoted to open the front door.
"At least a while more yet," Kurama promised, eyes briefly flickering gold.
"We'll have to have lunch or dinner so I can tell you all about your heartbroken boyfriend and his wife."
Kurama's lip twitched and he pressed a hand to his heart. "It would be my pleasure."
"No love motels." Kagome help up one finger to dispel any thought he might have in that direction.
Kurama put on his most innocent expression. "The thought never crossed my mind."
"Mmhm." Kagome winked at him again before calling back into the house, "Mama! Can you bring me my bag? I need to go!" When the affirmative call came from inside the house, Kagome turned and clasped her hands in front of her. "I'm sorry to cut this short, Shuu-kun…"
"No, no." Kurama shook his head and took both her hands in his, lifting them to his mouth to press a light kiss on each one. "We understand you have prior obligations, Ka-chan. It's good enough for me to have a promise for later."
"Gods help the women of Kyoto." Kagome couldn't stop herself from giggling, taking back her hands and ruffling his hair as though he was one of her younger students. "You haven't changed much, and it is good to see you again."
Kurama tilted his head, curious at the odd note of seriousness that entered her voice. He let it slide for now, filing it away to bring up in a more private setting. But he still opened his arms to embrace her affectionately again. "We'll speak later."
Kagome smiled against his chest and nodded, closing her eyes and selfishly taking comfort in the feel of his strong arms holding her. It had been so long… Reluctantly, she eased out of his embrace and let her gaze wander to the ancient tree. Her jaw tightened, and she glanced at the kitsune out of the corner of her eye. "Be careful while you're here."
Hiei and Yuusuke both straightened at the tone, glancing at each other in a silent gauge of whether that was concern or a warning. Kurama didn't seem to be concerned, reaching out and tucking her hair back behind her ear.
"I will be certain to conduct myself with the utmost care, Kagome," he assured her softly.
"Kyoto is peaceful, but that doesn't mean something dangerous doesn't try to slip through the cracks now and then." Kagome looked up at him and shrugged, feeling a little silly for saying something that obvious to a youkai his age.
"But nothing recent?" Kurama repeated her earlier claim.
Kagome shook her head. "No, but I've- nevermind, it's nothing."
Kurama caught her chin before she could dismiss herself. "I've come to respect your opinions and senses, Kagome. Anything you can add would be most appreciated."
She chewed on her lower lip and exhaled heavily. "It's probably just my problem. I've been having nightmares a lot more frequently lately, but nothing substantial enough that I feel like I can call it a portent. They were never my expertise anyhow."
"We'll be careful," Kurama promised her. He leaned forward and kissed her forehead. 'This could be big, Hiei.'
And it could be nothing, Hiei reminded him with a shake of his head. Listen to her instead of reading what you want because you're bored. At least she's trying to be objective.
'Careful, Hiei, or I'll start thinking you might be fond of a little human girl.' Kurama taunted, reaching for his wallet to give Kagome a card with his private number. "Call if anything happens. Or if you find anything that can help us."
"I will. Besides, it's not like you can't find me if you really wanted to." Kagome nodded and accepted the card, sliding it into the front of her kimono and making Kurama's lips twitch. "The trees always did take your side over mine."
The sound of a horn stopped Kurama from responding, and they all turned to look in the direction the sound had come from. Kagome swore under her breath again, stepping back into the house to pull on her sneakers. Her mother was standing on the foyer step with quiet patience, holding a knapsack and a bow until Kagome took them from her.
"If classes run late, tell Masaru I expect to see his marks as soon as I come in please, Mama." Kagome slipped the bow across her chest with practiced ease and shouldered the knapsack. "I think I'm going to walk."
"Would you like me to pick him up, dear?" Mama hid her smile behind her hand.
"No." Kagome finally shook her head. "He'll probably come to the dojo after school anyhow. We'll eat something on the way home."
"Be safe, Kagome-chan." Mama gave her a hug, brushing one hand over Kagome's hair with a wistful smile. "The two of you, I swear… These games you play. Bring home rice, we're almost out."
"All right, call if you think of anything else." Kagome squeezed her mother's hand and stepped back outside, closing the door behind her. She stroked her fingertip habitually down the string of her bow. "Jii-chan had called for a taxi… but I think I'm going to walk and clear my head. If you have somewhere you need to go-?"
Kurama made a brief sound of understanding, "Ah. Thank you very much, Ka-chan, we actually could use a taxi."
"We could?" Yuusuke frowned at the acceptance.
'Hiei, if you would?'
Hiei shrugged and brought his elbow back into Yuusuke's gut hard enough to knock the wind out of him momentarily.
"Would you like company tonight? Or would I be intruding on your date with a student?" Kurama offered that broad hint in an effort to get more information on the mentioned "Masaru."
Probably the same "Ma-chan" she mentioned before, Hiei remarked.
'I realize that.'
Kagome chuckled and shook her head, reaching up to slap him on the chest. "Get settled in first if you're planning to be in town a while, Shuuichi. This is family night. Call me tomorrow, all right?"
Kurama smiled at the dismissal. "Tomorrow it is."
Kagome reached into her knapsack and pulled out a small charm, pressing it into his hand before she motioned for them to start back towards the Torii. "I'm sure you and your friends can find somewhere that will accommodate special needs."
"Oh?" It was Kurama's turn to look surprised, torn between looking at her face and looking at the charm she'd given him.
Kagome glanced at his companions, hanging back slightly until Hiei had fairly dragged Yuusuke past the archway. Leaning up on her toes, Kagome put her mouth next to his ear and whispered, "There's a barrier around a hotel and hot-spring run by a family with trace amounts of the blood. Lots of nature."
"You do know just how I like it." His fingers curled around the gift.
"Just don't break too many hearts while you're here, Kurama." Kagome dropped back down to a normal stance. She turned and bowed slightly to Hiei, "It was nice to meet you. And… interesting." Her line of sight drifted over to Yuusuke. "Good luck finding what you're looking for."
Hiei nodded and Kurama quickly joined them to grab Yuusuke and pull him down the steps before the young man could possibly say anything else rude after Kagome had been so helpful. At the bottom of the stairs, he fairly threw the cursing man into the taxi before turning back to blow Kagome a kiss.
Kagome laughed and made a flicking gesture with her hand. "Get out of here. I'm already late enough."
"I'll call you tomorrow, honey." Kurama grinned and slipped into the taxi, crowding Yuusuke over against the door.
Hiei reluctantly climbed in last, glancing up to the top of the steps. Kurama reached across him and pulled the door closed, asking the driver the names of all the nearby hotels. Ignoring the kitsune, he propped his elbow on arm of the door. Keeping his focus on Kagome a moment more as the laughter on her face faded to a more somber expression. She turned away from them, frowning back at something only she could see as the wind around her kicked up again.
The taxi pulled away from the steps, and Hiei resigned himself to this uncomfortable and impossibly inconvenient mode of human travel. It was easy to tune out Yuusuke's snarled threats at Kurama over 'what the fuck just happened' with the kitsune's miko friend. Especially with the horrid chemical odor of fake flowers in this car making his head ache. But if Kurama could take it without flinching, he'd be damned if he made any indication of his own discomfort.
A faint pulse of jyaki threaded through the pure ki surrounding the shrine and snapped Hiei's attention right back around to the miko. Twisting to follow the source, he found himself staring back up the steps through the taxi's window. Up to the top of the ancient stairs and higher until his eyes landed on the diminutive figure sitting on top of the Torii.
Glowing scarlet eyes narrowed at Hiei as their silent watcher rose to his feet.
The boy's face turned down toward where Kagome stood, lifting again to meet Hiei's gaze more directly. A clear, silent warning flashed in those inhuman eyes. Dangerous and possessive… The scowling child held up his hand and allowed jyaki to swirl visibly above his palm. Twining up around the youkai's arm and giving off a staggering pulse of menacing force before absorbing back into his skin.
The scowl abruptly changed to a smirk and the boy pivoted, dropping down behind Kagome. Hiei's hand curled into a fist, fighting the urge to throw open the door of the taxi and rush to confront the youkai.
Daylight… too many eyes, too many humans, Hiei reminded himself sharply. Instead, he watched the boy walk to her side casually and lean against her hip. The ominous glow faded from his eyes when the miko rested her hand affectionately on the child's head. Just in time to have completely disappeared by the time she looked down at him.
"Hm?" Kurama broke off his quiet argument with Yuusuke and glanced over his shoulder.
You and I need to return here this evening.
'Why? Did you think of something we should have asked her?' Kurama frowned at the absolute certainty in they hybrid's voice. Hiei shook his head, still craned around awkwardly to stare out the window and snaring Kurama's curiosity. Ducking down to put his own eyes at the same level, Kurama stared back toward the shrine as well. At the sight of the boy wrapping his arms around Kagome's waist, his brows arched in surprise. Subconsciously he pressed one hand on Hiei's thigh to lean closer to the window and studied the interaction between the two. 'Is that her brother?'
Hiei slanted a quick, sharp glare at the kitsune at the placement of his hand. Searching that inhumanly pretty face for a sign he was doing it on purpose. Satisfied that there was no hidden agenda behind the contact, Hiei let it slide rather than draw attention to it.
Glancing back over his shoulder, Hiei made sure Yuusuke was still distracted giving their irritated driver instructions on everything he thought they needed in a hotel. Shifting to hide his actions further, Hiei lifted his hand and pressed his fingertip to the window to point directly at the pair.
The youkai is inside that boy.