Disclaimer: I do not own Yu Yu Hakusho or any of its characters. I also do not own any game characters or lyrics that I may also put in here. Thank you.

Chapter Thirty-Three: The Change

"Yukina," crooned Kuwabara as he parked the car and turned to look at his wife. "I know you insist and everything but," Kuwabara covered her hands with one palm, "I don't think she hates you, I really don't, Karen's just not the type."

Yukina stared up at him earnestly, "I know she doesn't hate me."

"Then why today," Kuwabara frowned, his small eyes darting to the side. "Urameshi says she hasn't been too well since the...since the incident a few weeks ago and maybe we shouldn't be here today," he hurried on as Yukina's perfect eyebrows furrowed, "she hardly talks anymore. That accident really shook something up."

"She's brave," Yukina bit her tongue as the words came out a little harsher than she intended. "She's very brave," she tried again, this time softer, "brave enough to handle anything, even what happened a few weeks ago. Don't make her sound like she can't manage any affair."

Kuwabara seemed confused as he released his wife's hands. "I wasn't saying she isn't brave. She is –"

"The way you and Yusuke talk, like when we invited them over for dinner the other night," she lowered her eyes, "Yusuke kept mentioning needing added guards for when she comes back, because she's the weakest one." Yukina grew somewhat irritated as she remembered their night with the Urameshis. "She was sitting right there." She turned in her seat to glare up at her husband the way a wife a does whenever she wants to put her husband on the spot, "how do you think she felt? Did you guys ever ask her about how she felt about extra guards?"

"Urameshi," began Kuwabara hesitantly as he searched for the right words, "h-he's just worried. You know how he is, Kina, and well, added guards wouldn't be so bad. She just can't protect herself as well as the other priestesses and besides, Hiei wants them too, for when he's not around."

Overwhelming sadness and guilt filled her as Kazuma mentioned Hiei not being around. Hiei wasn't around because of her and all because she claimed her mate with a bite mark, sealing her fate with that of a human. She had never planned to leave the bite mark, because it could have killed Kazuma. She was going to use a scent claim, but her body disagreed.

Yukina should have had a baby six years ago, but the human air changed her, and falling in love with Kazuma halted the process. She had met her life mate, which explained the flame between them. When they finally mated, her instincts, raging for a baby, loving for her mate, spurred her into leaving the mark. No one ever accounted for such a thing to happen. Ice koorimes were not supposed to find a mate. Koenma, when he had spoken to her, surmised that that may be the very reason ice koorimes were isolated, so that they may avoid making claims to demon males and creating a race of fire demons. Yukina's instincts were uncontrollable compared to the controllable decisions of demons, of her brother.

Instincts were strong, but not that strong. They could be controlled, except for her, the ice koorime that left her home without the full knowledge of what should happen should she find a life mate. Hina, her mother, had not found a mate, but she fell in love and birth twins. Yukina thought the same would happen to her when she found love, too, but she found a mate. Her brother wasn't an ice koorime. He was a fire demon born from an ice koorime. He had control over his instincts. He could make the sound decisions that she could not – and he was angered that she had committed a drastic mark.

She was terrified after she had placed the mark. Yukina had been sobbing as Kazuma clutched at his neck with a pained cry. However, his spirit energy automatically began healing the wound and she hurried to help with her own energy. What if he was a plain human and she without healing powers to help him – what would she have done?

The damage was done… but she didn't regret the mark. She was guilty for hurting Kazuma, but he wasn't angry. He was terrified that she was bound to him. They had had to talk to Koenma and she had been a mess in the office. She cried until the ogres had to sweep up the hirui stones at her feet as they piled up into peaks. She kept thinking of the outcome of almost killing Kuwabara with her bite. If she had, she would have never forgiven herself for her actions, uncontrollable be damned.

Kazuma was remaining home with her for two months to allow her to adjust to her claim before setting off to help escort the priestess teams. Koenma was stressed should Kazuma die, as it would affect her and her brother. Hiei pulled a lot of weight with Mukuro. She was Hiei's twin sister. Yukina feared what may happen to Kazuma, but she believed in him. He was strong, stronger than others believed. If he should fall, she would join him with no regrets.

The bite happened accidently, but she loved him more than her own life. She would follow him in death because without him would kill her anyways.

Now, her brother was gone to calm the hurt she had done to him. It hurt her to know she chased him away, not from herself, as she could handle the pain, but because she separated him from Karen. She saw the sadness in Karen's eyes when she came back to the house. Yukina cried more, knowing they hadn't had time to spend with one another because of her actions. She had even tried to hurt Karen, but she had a measure of control to halt the shard she sent. Yukina knew Karen didn't hate her for her actions, but she felt the need to apologize to her friend.

She loved Karen. The young woman saw the same thing she saw in her brother – that sliver of light residing in him that he had hid from the world. Over the past few years, he had been withdrawing from life. She saw the added hardness to his eyes. She prayed for there to be someone brave enough to fight him, make him see that he had a purpose again. She didn't know if Karen was strong enough for her brother, because he was more aloof than when she had met him. However, she knew Karen had a strong heart, strong enough that she may be able to make him see. Yukina only hoped her brother would not chase away the young woman. Brother, let your heart breathe, she thought.

Kuwabara slipped a finger beneath her chin and turned her to face him. Yukina stared up into his gentle face, finding comfort in the small smile he was giving her. "He'll be back," Kuwabara assured as he did every night since the argument with her brother. "He will." He had even chanted the same phrases after Hiei had left him with the black eye and bruises.

Seeing the honest goodness shining within her husband's eyes, Yukina couldn't help herself as she reached up to cup his face, bringing him closer to kiss him softly. She was lucky, extremely so, to have Kazuma Kuwabara as a husband and mate.

Leaving the car, it was rather easy, despite the overwhelming crowd, to make their way through the busy outside holding area of the train station. Kuwabara's large frame shielded Yukina from the crowd, keeping her safe from pointy elbows and the eager shoes waiting to crush her feet. Up ahead, Yukina saw Yusuke, his arm around Keiko's waist, while he talked with a very tall, russet skinned man. Nearby, Karen was leaning against the guardrails and looking down at the train tracks.

Hardly taking her eyes off of Karen, Yukina exchanged a few words with Yusuke and Keiko before excusing herself to see Karen. As she approached Karen, Yukina took note of the heavy sadness hovering around her friend and the guilt clawed at Yukina.

Karen seemed pensive, appearing not to notice the voices buzzing around the station or the whistles of approaching trains. She was somewhere else, lost in thought. She was suffering. Tear stricken, Keiko explained to Yukina that it had happened ever since the temple incident. She cried that Karen hardly talked to her, that she knew Karen was having trouble sleeping, and the she worried for her adoptive daughter. Yukina felt even guiltier, knowing she had added more to Karen's suffering by driving the young woman's mate away.

"Hello, Karen," greeted Yukina as she came to stand beside the young woman.

Karen looked startled as she straightened against the rails. Eyeing Yukina, she hurriedly put on a half-hearted smile, "Yukina, how are you? I didn't know you were...coming today."

"I wanted to wish you a safe trip," answered Yukina as she raised her eyes to stare up at Karen, but Karen averted her eyes.

Karen laughed quietly, seeming only to do so to please Yukina, "thank you, but you didn't have to come."

Yukina rested her hands on top of the rails and stared up at the sky. She felt the slight breeze above and closed her eyes in grief. The words blurted out in a rush, needing to be expressed, "I'm sorry."

"Please, don't apologize."

"But I am," Yukina insisted, "I would never hurt you." She turned toward Karen and reached for the young woman's hand. Holding her hand softly, Yukina murmured, "Karen, you're my friend. I –"

Lifting her eyes, Karen smiled at her kindly. "I know it was instincts. If you wanted to, you could have hurt me, but you controlled yourself enough to try to fight your anger. I know you wouldn't hurt me, Yukina, so there's nothing to apologize for, okay?"

"Yes, but there is also Hiei," Yukina eyed the ground, "he left because of me. You two didn't get to have any time together."

"He's coming back," answered Karen firmly. "He just needs time."

"You won't take my apology, will you?" asked the small ice demon when they had grown silent. Yukina should have known that Karen never planned on accepting her words.

"No," answered Karen, that same forced smile on her face.

"Then, I also won't accept this back." Reaching into a fold of her kimono, Yukina pulled out the necklace she had planned on giving Karen weeks ago.

Eyeing the necklace, Karen stared at the small glimmering gem. It looked like one of the tears Yukina had cried when her brother had left.

"My mother gave this to me," explained Yukina softly. "My people are all women and when our time comes to give birth, we only give birth to a baby girl, but my mother, she defied the sacred laws and mated with a man." Yukina eyes glazed over as she recounted her past. "At the time of our birth, we shed a tear, a special tear that is different from the other hirui stones, but because my mother mated with a man, she gave birth to twins and so she shed two tears, one for each of us."

Smiling, Yukina reached for Karen's hand to drop the sacred tear into the young woman's palm. Karen held the stone as if it would break at any moment.

"It's beautiful," awed Karen.

Karen seemed enthralled by the story as she leaned back against the rails while admiring the necklace. It made Yukina happy to share her family's history with her brother's mate. Sighing, Yukina decided to reveal a little more of the story. It may help Karen be stronger to battle her brother's silent ways.

"I realize Hiei hasn't shared his past with you, but you should know it," Yukina reached for Karen's hand as the woman made to disagree. "No, you need to know. My people, us women, are not allowed to mate with men as we are cursed with a boy child, a demon born of fire, like my brother. It need not matter what type of demon our father was, Hiei was always going to be of fire." Yukina's eyes darkened at the memory. "Hiei, as my people think of him, is the cursed child of fire. He was cast away from our floating island and the act killed my mother."

Karen was admiring the necklace with a solemn expression. Yukina eyed the stone, "I grew up having to hear of the elders talk of my mother's evil act and of my 'cursed' brother, but I never believed it. My mother loved us, and when I was old enough, I left my village to find Hiei. Even though I had never known him, I knew he was alive.

"… and you ended up in Human World."

"Yes, and I found my brother and met all of my friends, Kazuma...and you."

Feeling no sense of loss for the trinket, Yukina folded Karen's fingers over the necklace. She suddenly felt elated, as if this was something her mother would have wanted, to share this gift with her brother's mate.

"I want you to have it."

Immediately, Karen shook her head and held out the necklace. "No, I'm sorry, but I can't accept this. It belonged to your mother." Karen moved forward to hand the necklace back but Yukina stepped away with a bright smile. "Please, Yukina, you should be giving this to Kuwabara or your children!"

"It doesn't feel right to give to Kazuma. I've explained this to him and he agreed with my reasoning," she blushed prettily. "As for my children, I shall produce special tears for them when they are born and I will love them as my mother loved us."

"Yukina," whispered Karen in a last protest.

Taking the necklace, Yukina slipped it over the slightly, shorter woman. "This is actually my brother's necklace." Karen's lips parted a little at the news. "He didn't think I would realize he switched our stones when he returned mine. The demon energy died from the stone six years ago, but it is still special." She lowered her eyes and stared at the necklace against Karen's chest. "Hiei hasn't worn the necklace, or mine, for years now."

If Karen was curious as to why Hiei didn't wear the necklace, she didn't ask. Staring proudly at her mother's tear glittering from where it rested, Yukina pulled Karen against her into a warm hug. "Don't give up."

Takeo whistled as he held his bound hands out to the guard releasing him from the glowing cuff. Off to the side, Yusuke chuckled as the guard waved his hands and the glowing cuffs disappeared. Free, Takeo happily saluted the guard with a crooked grin.

"Man, it feels good to be free," proclaimed Takeo cheerily.

Yusuke walked with Takeo when they set off down the hallway. "Did they treat you alright? Koenma says you've been questioned kind of heavily."

Takeo rubbed his wrists, thinking glumly of his imprisonment. "They were fine enough. I didn't expect to just breeze by without a second glance. I knew what was in store once I decided to join the good side. However, those tests," Takeo's eyes darkened and he shook his head, "were horrible. It felt like every inch of my body and mind was being dissected."

Yusuke cringed. "It was those tests testing to see if you were being controlled, right?" Takeo nodded with a grimace. "Yeah, I heard those were a pain in the ass."

Takeo snorted as they stopped before an elevator. "Pain in the ass is an understatement. Try undergoing those tests for a few weeks."

Yusuke showed a card and a guard nodded before punching in a few numbers into the keypad along the wall. The elevator doors opened and the men headed inside. Yusuke settled back against a wall and the doors inched together.

"Why did you join Cain in the first place?" Yusuke stared pointedly at Takeo. "You don't seem like the evil type of demon."

Takeo's face darkened. "I wouldn't say I'm not evil. I've done my share of dark deeds."

Yusuke frowned as he noticed Takeo's face darkening. The half-breed was contemplating his past and Yusuke waited patiently.

"I'm guessing you haven't been informed of my story, have you?" asked Takeo, his bangs hiding his eyes.

Yusuke crossed his arms and said, "I wanted to hear it from you personally."

"Well, I was like any demon really, just wanted to be strong and rule," Takeo waved his hand, "or something along those lines." He stared thoughtfully up at the elevator ceiling. "I stumbled across Cain by accident. Cain wasn't as strong as he was now, but he was still something to behold, even in his weakened state." Takeo closed his eyes and voiced painfully, "all I remember from that fateful day was staring into his eyes and then I awakened, weeks later, standing before a human village in Demon World." Takeo was staring at the ground, his face dark and voice tight. "The village was burnt to the ground. Cain had acted through me."

"You were brainwash?"

"Cain can possess, brainwash, and control both mind and body, but only if the one being control wants nothing more than darkness and power. He was trying to use it on Hiei, you know."

"Yeah, Hiei already mentioned that," mumbled Yusuke. "Lucky for us, he grew out of that phase. At least we know the extent of Cain's mind control."

Yusuke glanced at the flashing numbers that indicated the floors they were zooming past. They still had a way to go to reach their destination.

Takeo eyed Yusuke, "I eventually fought against Cain's control to regain some semblance of my mind. I guess it impressed him and he made me an offer to join him." Takeo sighed as his voice lowered. "So, I stayed as it seemed like the best thing to do, given that he had grown stronger. Go with the power and you shall gain power." Takeo's eyes glinted with some sort of emotion as he went on, "but then Cain captured that priestess and he tortured her for weeks...I never felt right about taking a human life. I assume it is because I'm part human."

"Is that why you sided with us," asked Yusuke. "Or because Karen saved you?"

"They both saved me." Takeo slipped his hands in his pockets. "Palei trusted me. She saw something in me that was good. I felt good again. The same with Karen," he grinned then, "beautiful woman."

"Yeah, well, you know she's taken," Yusuke crossed her arms.

"Oh, I know," sang Takeo, "but I couldn't help toe the line for fun. I admire her. I am not smitten with the beautiful woman. I owe her my life and want only her friendship. I respect her," he pouted and his eyebrows furrowed, "but her mate is mean."

Yusuke laughed at the expression on Takeo's face. "Ah, that's what you get for 'toeing the line'. You should know better than to put your energy on her."

Takeo shrugged. "I just wanted to see how strong the claim was on her. I was only being curious, you know, having fun." He tilted his head thoughtfully. "I love women. I never got to talk to the priestess Valon, but she's kind of feisty." Grinning devilishly, Takeo said, slyly, "Hokushin came and paid me a visit down in the dungeons. He explained that your wife was a sight to behold." Takeo's words were murmured slowly to tease Yusuke, "I mean, that smile in her picture –"

Yusuke curled his fists and the knuckles popped menacingly. "What –"

"Joking," Takeo held up his hands, "Hokushin did no such thing but he does seem to admire your wife and family."

After a moment, Yusuke settled back against the wall where he inspected his knuckles, somewhat smug as he said, "yeah, I know I'm lucky."

The elevator doors binged open and they both stared at each other, a moment of deep trust and new friendship passing between them.

"So you'll fight with us to the end," asked Yusuke as he held a hand out.

Takeo's eyes hardened as he thought of little Palei and Karen's bravery. Grasping Yusuke's hand, Takeo smiled dangerously.

"Until that bastard is dead or I'll die trying."

The train ride was long, devastatingly long, but not to the point of boredom, more of an observation. I didn't mind sitting for hours, watching the changing scenery as the train sped forward. For hours, I thought of nothing and simply surveyed cities flickering by in a blur. After a while, the cities disappeared and villages appeared. After that, there was nothing, but withering trees, that held brief snow along the peaks.

My companion, a tall man with russet skin and dark shades covering his eyes sat across from me in the small booth. His black hair was cut short into a crew cut, but the hair was thick. He spoke only once to reveal his name, Jet, in a voice so deep, even whispering one would be able to hear him across a large room. He was built like a soldier, muscles bulging out of his black tee. He acted like a soldier, the way he sat without moving. His body seemed to be alert for any sign of danger.

I didn't bother Jet by questioning him incessantly, although I did want to ask why he was wearing shades in a lighted up train. However, it wasn't any of my business. I was determined to leave him alone until lunchtime approached. I found the bento boxes Keiko had made and I offered him one. For a long time, I held the box out to him. He made no move to take the lunch, seeming determined to remain in his seat like the perfect guard.

For all I know, he could be asleep beneath the glasses, as he sat frozen in place, but I cleared my throat anyways, "My mother made you a lunch." I assumed it was Jet's lunch because the box was much larger than the other bento box.

Jet's head twitched a tiny bit in my direction, but other than that, he made no other attempt to take the box. I set the lunch on the little, foldout table before us. Feeling as if I needed to try harder to make the offer, I tried for another tactic. "It would be a shame to let it go to waste." With that, I unsnapped my chopsticks and began shuffling through the contents of my lunch.

Keiko's meals was good, was always good. They were richer in flavors, more so, than the meals I had created. Even the aroma was thick and savory, which was probably what, brought Jet around as he reached for the lunch I set aside. I didn't say anything, but he nodded his head in gratitude. Eating in silence, even with a stranger, was comforting, and allowed me to think of home.

With lunch long gone, I went back to staring silently out the window. After a while, my butt tingling with painful pricks from sitting too long was the perfect sign for realizing that we had finally made our destination. I grateful stood up along with Jet, spending a minute just stretching, before grabbing my backpack and heading off the train.

Outside, the train had stopped at an old wooden train station. The station was small and faded. The sign in the front was no longer readable, and the owner, a tiny old man, was swaying away in a rocking chair on the front porch. Other than the station, train, tracks, barren trees, and two dirt roads, nothing else existed. The sound of the train's whistle rang in the air and soon, the train left, speeding away into the distance. I stared after the locomotive sadly.

"Karen," Jet called hesitantly in his deep voice.

Jet was standing near the left road, holding my suitcases, one large and one small, and waiting for me to follow him. Reaching up, I grabbed the necklace, Hiei's necklace, and absorbed some sort of strength as I watched the train fade away completely. Finally, I turned and trailed after Jet while he led the way with a calm pace.

Spirit World was holding back on portal uses, as they were draining to create, and the guards were being used completely as it is. I didn't mind. Travelling by portal created a nasty feeling.

Jet could probably reach the temple in a matter of minutes, but he remained dutifully at my side He was quiet like a rock – rocks probably talked more than he did. It was a long walk, maybe a little over an hour, before we reached a set of stairs. Jet's patience was truly tested then, as I struggled after him up the half-mile long stairs. I didn't know if they would ever end, but eventually they did and who better to greet us at the top but Genkai, a frown marring her aged face.

"You're late," snipped Genkai as she stared at us with indifferent eyes.

Jet calmly answered in his resonant voice. "The train was delayed at a few stops."

Seeming uncaring for the explanation, Genkai merely nodded, "fine," then she turned to me, "I'll show you to your room." With that, Genkai entered the temple, leaving me alone with Jet once again.

I reached for my suitcases, "thank you, Jet, but I can carry it now."

Nodding, Jet handed the cases over, bowed his head, and then disappeared around the temple without a word. I stood there for a minute, simply staring up at the huge double doors. Vaguely, I was reminded of the past. There was the long set of stairs behind me and two doors before me while Hiei was forcing me inside after he had hunted me down in Tokyo… Sadly, as abrupt as the images of Hiei appeared, I forced them away to head inside.

The huge door shut with a deafening boom, seeming ominous in the quiet temple as it echoed. Inside, Genkai was waiting for me with a stoic expression with her hands clasped behind her back. She continued to gaze up at me, eyes never wavering. She was staring at me as if she was waiting for me to do something, but the only thing I did was avert my eyes, as her gaze grew uncomfortable.

"Tsk, tsk, tsk," Genkai clucked. "We have a lot of work to do."

I didn't question Genkai. I actually didn't have a lot to say these days and was only determined to do as I was told, because it seemed as if that was what everyone wanted.

"I told Yusuke and Hiei that I would supervise you. They probably assume I mean to watch over you when Lena is away, but that is not the case." She walked swiftly down a hallway. "What they don't know is that I will be training you to defend yourself."

"Defend?" I asked softly, struggling to keep up with her as I toted my luggage.

"If you wish to speak, you shouldn't mumble." Genkai glanced sideways at me. "I'm an old woman now, you have to speak up."

I didn't say anything, choosing to stay quiet, but also pondering why she seemed to be crossed with me. I had spoken to Genkai on a number of occasions and we had hit it off well. Was it something I did?

"Defense," she continued. "If there is one thing I can't stand, it's the look of fear in a woman's eyes." She stopped suddenly and glanced up at me expectantly. "This will be good for you and what I teach you will aid you for when you travel to a temple."

I wasn't sure what gave me away, but Genkai seemed to sense that I was close to saying something before shying away. "Objections, Urameshi?"

"You act as if I will be allowed in any temple."

"Why shouldn't I act as such?"

I reflected back to the few weeks of listening to Yusuke and Hiei make guard plans for me while they were away. "Hiei and Yusuke won't let me." I stared at the ground. "I'd probably get in the way."

Genkai grunted, not like Hiei, but like a cranky, old, feminist woman, "well, while you are here, we will assume you are to be given a temple." She set off again, eyes faced forward.

I noticed a lot of empty rooms, not as if they had been empty for years, but as if they had been recently abandoned. The doors were open and I tried to get a good look inside, but Genkai was already turning again. I hurried after the tiny woman. Finally, Genkai stopped before a room and stared up at me, again assessing me with those flinty eyes. This time, I held her gaze.

"You'll be training with two teachers." She spoke sharply and I straightened my shoulders, feeling like she was lecturing me in some sort of boot camp. "When Lena isn't here, I will train you, and when she is, I will still train you." She leered at me. "You and I are about to become close friends."

For some reason, I felt wary, because I don't think we were going to be friends, at least not in the normal way. It almost sounded like a warning.

"As you might have noticed, hardly anyone is here." She indicated to the empty rooms that we had passed, resuming, "many of the priestesses are gone, some on vacation and some in Human World to take care of the temples. There are a few priestesses here, but they are off doing their own things, meditating and such, but you're behind, very behind, and not very strong," she raked a critical eye over me and my self-esteem fell, hitting bottom, but it didn't hurt because it didn't have a long ways to fall.

"You're dead weak and you're definitely not a fighter, but that doesn't mean you can't learn to defend yourself." Genkai's voice was sharp and commanding, cutting to the bone. "I won't teach you to fight but I can teach you to stay alive."

Genkai led me into the room, her voice no longer cold, but informative. "There are no phone lines out here so your cell won't work. However, if you write a letter, Jet will see to it that it is delivered. He is your official guard and will assist in training as well as protecting, so get used to him."

The room was simple, like my room at her other temple in Tokyo. There was two of everything: futons, desks, bookshelves, and wardrobes. The room was split evenly, with one side already occupied. I noticed a few pictures up on the right side of the room and a couple of posters.

"The kitchen is free to use, but Koenma has provided a cook." I set my stuff down on my side of the room as she continued speaking. "I'll allow you free time and you may do as you please. There is a beach nearby and you may roam around in the surrounding forest. You're safe here. We have plenty of guards overseeing the compound should you need time alone."

I stared over at the one window in the room, admiring the bit of sunlight that had cut through the winter clouds and hit the glass pane. Crossing over, I held out a finger, but the frail light wasn't enough to warm me.

Genkai's voice cut through my moment, "tomorrow, at dawn, you start training, so I suggest you get plenty of rest. I'll train you as hard as I've trained any student, that includes, Yusuke, and if he told you about any of it, you will heed my words about resting."

Meeting Genkai's eyes, I nodded, unsure of what to say. I was somewhat hesitant, nervous actually, about this training. I thought Lena would be the only one teaching me, but if Genkai insisted, I would do as she asked.

It was quiet now as she stood staring up at me and slowly, I turned away to begin unpacking. I heard her walking back to the door, but before leaving, she paused to say one last thing.


It was still early in the day, but the words were sincere, grandmotherly, and I glanced up. She was staring at me, this time with a small smile and soft eyes.

"Goodnight, Genkai."

With that, she left, closing my door and leaving me to stand alone in the quiet room. I stared back out the window and clutched at my necklace as I contemplated the coming days.

Hiei's eyes raked over the various demons, taking in their sizes. Some were large, yes, towering above nine feet, at least, and others were built like large apes, muscles bulging in the dim light. Yet, size, the muscles and height, it didn't matter to Hiei. It only mattered if one could wield their strength with expertise, using their mind to strategize. He eyed the dull expression of the largest demon. Apparently, strategizing would not be in everyone's favor.

Hiei closed his eyes and bowed his head, seeming to appear annoyed at just viewing the demons that had lined up in the middle of the room.

"If these are the new men, if I can even call them that," he grimaced at the nearest one, "that I will be commanding, I have little faith in them surviving even a human riot." Hiei muttered scathingly as Mukuro stood beside him. "I'd rather command newly born demons."

"I have another group, more experience demons, but these," she nodded over at the demons, "need the most work." Mukuro chuckled as Hiei's eyes glinted with annoyance as two demons began fighting, tackling each other while arguing over statuses. "I think a majority of them simply wanted the chance to train under my second-in-command. It seems you're still a celebrity."

At Mukuro's words, Hiei stared over at a particularly vicious demon, eyes glowing white, and teeth gleaming in the light as he actually chuckled while eyeing Hiei. The demon nudged his neighbor and they both stared pointedly at him while cackling. He refrained from rolling his eyes.

If these demons were smart, they would do well to keep from angering him. He wasn't in the greatest moods. Hiei doubted he would ever be in a great mood until he saw his mate again. He hadn't been able to see her as long as he liked, but his sister's drastic actions changed his visit.

He closed his eyes as he thought about the declaration his mate had made while she chased him. He had planned on leaving without seeing her after the argument. However, he couldn't explain why he kept walking down that driveway. He couldn't make himself move faster than the agitated walk from his sister, from the idiot, from everyone. Before, he could have left without anyone noticing. He had done so for years.

Then, she had to come chasing after him. He was going to leave with acknowledging that woman, but she was calling his name. His body wanted to turn, but he fought that temptation. He needed to find his discipline again. It was slipping further away every day.

He held her that last night. He hadn't expected to sleep so peacefully, with her resting atop his body. She fit perfectly against him. She hardly moved while she slept compared to the times she had nearly kicked him off the bed. The soft breaths against his neck were soothing and pleasant. The feel of her curves were relaxing, as if his body took pride in knowing she pleased him physically. The way she said 'goodnight' was foreign to his ears, but he responded to it warmly with a kiss. He enjoyed the heat that lulled him to sleep after the long travel he made to visit his mate.

He wasn't sure why he kept making the long trip back when he knew he couldn't stay long. He kept going back to Human World, to Hakone, up to her room, and in her bed. It was like a tug on his body and he was reeled back to her side. When he was near, his mind felt at peace. Everything made sense the closer he arrived to Karen.

He was losing it.

He knew she had those human feelings for him. He had heard the words in her head for a long time, but she never voiced them. When she declared them, in the winter air, he hadn't expected that to be the extra tug that would lure him back to her again. He hadn't expected to kiss her as if he couldn't go without a last taste of her lips. He hadn't expected to have to force himself to pull away from her just to regain some control.

He was weakening.

But he had three months to pull himself together. He would waste the absence from her by training these weaklings into a decent patrol force. Perhaps, being back in Demon World would make him more tolerant against the pull she had on him. She was safe in Human World. She was safe from the duties of her soul. He had made sure to make all the arrangements. Otherwise, he wouldn't be wasting time training these things.

She can have her soft, human ways. If she needed to say the expression, she can, but he wasn't that far gone. He would claim it, as he claimed her first kiss, and everything else that would follow.

For now, he had these bastards to deal with.

"Well, they're ready," informed Mukuro and she gave Hiei a knowing look. "Try not to kill off too many."

Hiei grunted. Mukuro settled herself into a throne-like chair, eyes glinting as she watched Hiei walk calmly into the middle of the room. Taking his time, he walked down the line of demons and when he passed the two chuckling demons, the demons suddenly fell to the ground with blood seeping from their throats. The rest of the demons gasped. The fighting demons hurried to stand, both sweating bullets as Hiei swept by them.

"I'll only say this once," Hiei commanded, his words rolling off his tongue slowly. "I order, you follow."

"I order, you follow."

Those were Genkai's first instructions when I had arrived thirty minutes late one morning. Having overslept, I scrambled into clothes and made to dash out the room. Then, I met Genkai's furious eyes as she waited outside the door. From then on, through rain or shine, I promised to arrive on time. As punishment, I spent two hours running, not jogging, but actually running.

It was hard, legs cramping, as I stumbled past dead roots, acquiring a multitude of scratches that stung in the cold wind. To make matters worse, Genkai was constantly at my ear, taunting me into a silent fury. And when I thought we had finished after two hours, she demanded I run up those blasted stairs, cackling as I tripped numerous times.

Genkai actually enjoyed seeing my struggle to run so much that she made it a daily routine. Every morning started the same. Every morning I felt like hiding from Genkai, but I also waited eagerly for her instructions. It was a love-hate relationship.

My training with Genkai seemed, as if it was the only time that, I ever felt anything. It was as if I was still there, a living and breathing woman. Other times, I was invisible to the world and myself. At least with Genkai, she made me feel pain. The pain awakened me enough to see the world, but then it would end, like air that dies in the lungs. I would be lost again.

Body trembling with fatigue, I fell for the hundredth time. My left knee hit a particularly sharp step and trembled at the ache. I was barely half way up the torturous stairs, but I remained kneeling and breathing raggedly. I inspected my hands. I was transfixed by the blood and dirt caking my palms, as the colors was twisting in a weird fascination.

"Giving up, Urameshi?" asked Genkai. She chuckled rudely, "are you a quitter?"

I lifted my head tiredly and eyed Genkai as she ran up the stairs backwards. She appeared bored, as if running up her stairs was hardly worth the effort. My body was tired, beginning to weaken to the point that I didn't know if I could stand. I had always stood up and continued for her, but maybe this was it for me. I couldn't do it. I was failing.

"Get up, Urameshi," Genkai yelled, voice ringing loudly in my ears. I should have jumped up in shock, but I was exhausted. I bowed my head weakly.

She continued to yell, ordering me to finish to the top, but I shook my head. I was always going to fail because I wasn't strong enough. Everyone knew I was going to fail. I was too weak. I'm a coward. I was barely aware that I was mumbling the words aloud until Genkai growled angrily at me.

"You were brave enough to sacrifice yourself as a diversion. Where is that bravery now, Urameshi? Where did that strong woman go, the one that fearlessly went in the hole to help Valon?" Genkai grabbed the back of my shirt and yanked me up a step. I hissed as she dragged me to the top. "Hiei says you're weak and pathetic and you take it, huh, just take it like that?" I blushed slightly, not realizing that I had uttered those words at some point, too. "Yusuke needs to dictate your life and decide what is right and wrong?" The color of my shirt was biting into my throat and the fabric pressed against my windpipe painfully. "Let's just let them decide for you. From now on, no more decisions for you – how does that sound?"

"Stop it," I called out breathlessly as she pulled harder. A sharp step made a gash against my right kneecap, as she pulled me with her to the top. I saw the blood smearing behind me.

"What was that?" asked Genkai mockingly. "Are you speaking up now, Urameshi?"

How can she be so strong? She hauled me up another step. I struggled against her when my lungs screamed for more air. "I can't breathe!"

"Do you have to ask Hiei for permission to breathe?"

Now she was hitting low and I swung my arm up out of exhausted anger. She let go, but kept at me, taunting me as I pushed myself up. I climbed up a few steps and staggered toward the temple entrance while she walked beside me.

"Fight back, Karen, fight back against me!" she deliberated pushed me down. "I never said walk, did I?"

I bit my tongue, holding in my anger. My eyes narrowed up at her, but she smirked in response. I stood, fighting against the pain. Blood streaked along the dirt on my legs and trickled down to make trails. I continued up the stairs.

I wasn't quitting.

Yusuke stood with his arms crossed and grinned. "Man, they're looking good."

Hokushin stood beside Yusuke, watching his many brothers sparring with one another. They were all moving like lightning and using moves that were newly taught to them by Takeo. "Has Takeo contacted you, Lord Yusuke?"

"No," replied Yusuke, "but Jin and him will find the rest of the guys. Chu probably past out somewhere on his search for them – can't put too much trust in that big guy."

Yusuke took the letter that a small bald boy delivered him. Opening it and scanning the contents, Yusuke nodded to himself.

"Looks like we'll be getting our first priestesses in this area in a –" he checked the note again, "a couple of more weeks, month at the latest. Did we get the new monitors set up? I need a conference meeting by the end of the weak to confirm this."

"Yes, we did," confirmed Hokushin. When Yusuke didn't say anything further, Hokushin glanced at the bird upon Yusuke's head. Puu had a glum little tilt to his beak. "By the way, Puu seems a little down as of late."

"Probably those test he underwent with Genkai and Spirit World." Yusuke glanced up with his eyes and frowned. "They still can't tell me if anything is wrong or give a good reason why I'm unable to tap into my full demon energy or anything. Kurama suggested that I had gone on too long without using it. He said it's like an athlete coming out of retirement. I'm stiff. Puu seems to be taking the brunt of it and went back to his chubby self."

Hokushin nodded, but then, slyly, he said, "… or he's sad because you miss your family?"

"Me," Yusuke waved a hand at his chest. "No," but Yusuke was lying and Hokushin could tell. "Okay, so maybe."

Hokushin was quiet a moment before glancing sideways at Yusuke, saying, "why not write a letter to your wife and Karen?"

"You know I don't write," exclaimed Yusuke. "It'll be embarrassing seeing as how I dropped out of school." Yusuke made a face as he thought of his family. "They'll laugh at my handwriting and what if I spelled something wrong?"

Hokushin pulled out a pad of paper and pencil, hand poised to write as he looked at him. Yusuke had a feeling Hokushin had been planning this. Why else would he carry around writing material? "I'm an excellent speller and I can write –"

Yusuke slapped Hokushin in the back of the head, hissing, "Hokushin, don't be so loud! You'll make everyone think I'm stupid!"

Still fuming, Yusuke began walking while ignoring Hokushin's pleas for him to write home.

Days pass both slow and fast. The fast elapsing time was painful, marking my body with bruises and cuts. They were simple injuries that healed with the right healer, but still painful in acquiring them. The slow elapsing time happened often, when I was alone, waiting for something to happen, but not knowing what it was I was waiting for – I guess waiting for someone to hear me screaming in this madness.

A blast of light gleamed brightly and I needed to move, jump out of the way, but I was tired, and the bullet slammed into my shoulder. It hit hard, hard enough that I stumbled onto my knees. The bullets shouldn't normally hurt so much, but after days of attempting to dodge and block, my body was extremely tender. The skin was tender enough that even the small bullets were causing fist-sized bruises. I stared tiredly over my shoulder, silently begging for a reprieve. Genkai and the SDF guard woman stared back. Genkai's gaze was hard and without mercy. The guard's expression was one of pity.

"Get up, Urameshi!"

I felt like mocking her words, but I remained crouched in pain. It was always the same phrase, day after day, as I was either lying or sitting at her feet, having failed numerous times. Dodging skills should be easy, but it wasn't. I was aching in every place imaginable, even my left eye ached. The aches should fade, she said, but they weren't, and I was hurting. She's cruel, I thought, as she demanded me to stand again. Genkai's words were piercing my ears. I shook my head. I can't, I argued. I can't get up.

Unheeding her words, I continued to huddle there on the ground and it must have annoyed her, no angered her, because she brutally ordered the SDF to fire more shots. I could hear the energy bullets whizzing toward me. I made an effort to move, an honest effort, but it wasn't enough as they connected with my back. They slammed into my muscles like fists and I yelled. Or did I? Did I even have a voice anymore?

She was screaming again and pushing me to stand, always stand. Why was she pushing me so hard when I was barely able to breathe? What did she want from me? Didn't she know that I wasn't strong enough to live up to her expectations? I am trying with everything I have, but it's just not enough for you, is it, you old woman!

"Just say the words, Karen, say you're ready to quit!" Genkai lightly toed my leg and the small action felt like a kick. "You've got a tongue, Karen, so yell at me to stop and we'll stop. Otherwise," she nudged me harder, "get your ass off the ground."

I am standing – I stood up shakily – but I'm still going to fall.

The guard disappeared and I knew, about a second before she appeared again, that the next bullet was most likely going to be it for me. It pinned me in the stomach and air whooshed out of me like a deflating balloon. Flying back, I ended up on the ground, the cold, familiar ground. I was dazed and tired and this cold ground was the only thing catching me these days, because I couldn't catch myself.

I'm not getting anywhere, I mused, nowhere at all. I stared up at Genkai as she came into view and she was angry, but looking closely, she seemed sad, as if she needed me to fight back. I wished I could, be just a little bit stronger, but it wasn't happening. I'm sorry, Genkai.

Staring past her, I simple stared up at the dead branches hanging above me. The pain was already beginning to fade, and in its place, came the nothingness that seemed to plague my mind when I was alone. Was I so far gone that not even the pain Genkai inflicted could bring me back, make me feel alive?

"Fight, Karen, fight!"

I'm not a fighter. I'm just not. I can't be like the others and I know it, so why do you keep asking me to fight, Genkai?

"Urameshi, get up and stand."

I closed my eyes.

"Get the hell up," she yelled.

She kicked at my side and I went rolling across the ground. Lying face down, I coughed up blood. The coppery taste was bitter and I watched it pool beside my face.

"Do you need more? Should I do what he did?"

I bucked wildly when she placed a foot against my back. I felt her lifting my right arm up and the memory of him roared in my veins. I could not go through this again! I will not go through this again!

She laughed when I ripped my arm from her hands. She had been barely holding onto my limb. I pushed myself up weakly.

"Take you stance, then!"

Shut up.

"You are pathetic, aren't you, Urameshi!"

Shut up!

"Damn, weakling!"


I was breathing heavily, as I staggered onto my feet. "I know what I am and I don't need you to remind me!" I faced the guard and knelt into the defensive stance Genkai had shown me. "Fire it, then! You wanted me to stand, well here I am!"

Dodge a bullet, I'll show you how to dodge a bullet, because I can. I might get hit, I might only dodge one out of a hundred, but I'll dodge one, Genkai, I'll dodge one so you can shut up!

The woman was running, trying to throw me off guard, but I was already off guard. Still, I hunkered down, watching tiredly as the woman weaved in and out of the trees. I had already seen this pattern, so dodging – I whirled out of the way, sloppily missing the blast – should be easy this one time, just this one time.

I hit the ground, narrowly avoiding the streak of light above me. I landed awkwardly, not in the way Genkai had shown me, but I wasn't perfect, and neither was my fall.

Something snapped back to life in me. My voice felt like it was ripping from my lungs as I yelled for Genkai to shut up. I could fell the winter air biting into my skin. How long had it been since I last felt the wind? I could see more clearly, as if a veil was lifted to reveal the world again.

There was a whistle in the air and I stiffened. I was too late to move as the guard fire. BOOM – It hit my head and the collision was strong enough to make me bite my tongue. Tasting blood, I staggered against a tree and hugged the wintry bark.

Images flooded my bleary mind. I remembered Keiko posing in front of a mannequin and speaking in a fake, rich accent. Kenji hit the ground after missing a bouncing tennis ball and I yelled for him to shake it off while his rival's fans sneered. Yusuke was racing me up the hill and he had chocolate stained teeth, sniggering when I tripped back down the hill.

It was automatic as I hit the ground and rolled away from the next blast.

Keiko was smiling, eyes shining with tears as she walked down the aisle in the white kimono-like dress. I saw the tears flowing down her cheeks as the vows were read. I saw her eyes alighted with such love.

I rolled back onto my feet and glared at the guard.

Yusuke's hand was trembling nervously as he drank from the sake cup, almost splashing the liquid on himself. He handed the cup to Keiko with an anxious smile and she stared up him beneath her lashes.

I crossed my arms, blocking my face from the oncoming blast. It hurt. My arms burned, but it was better than my face, right? I was just protecting my vitals, right Genkai, and damn, it hurts, but I'm still standing!

Hiei was holding me in his arms and rubbing my side while I cherished his warmth. I could feel the little light he tried to hide. I could feel it piercing my heart.

I fell to my knees as the last shot rang out and tears fell from my eyes. My fingers dug into the dirt and trembled, not in fear, in anger, for allowing Cain to affect me so – to try and end my life from my loved ones. Cain made me afraid and I hated him.

I sobbed. "I don't want to be scared of him anymore!"

Genkai knelt down and placed a hand on my back. "You see now why I've pushed you." She lifted my face and stared at me. "It is okay to fear, we all do," she narrowed her eyes, "but allowing fear to enter our lives is when we are defeated. Acknowledging fear is what makes us stronger."

She allowed me to bow my head and cry the tears I kept from everyone. Genkai ran a withered hand through my ponytail.

"You are strong." She patted my head. "Welcome back, Karen."