Trial and Error

Kurama stared at the bottle in his hand, pensively. He thought back to what Suzuka had told him upon receiving it.

"The bottle, Kurama, contains the Fruit of the Previous Life, handpicked from the upper realms of the Spirit World. Allow me the pleasure of a few more words and I'll give you a warning. This fight was the first time those items were used. I still can't tell you exactly how they work, or what side effects they could have upon their user."

Well, as they say in the human world: Nothing ventured, nothing gained, Kurama thought, setting off in search of Hiei. The fire demon was in the woods unwrapping the bandages from his right arm when Kurama found him.

Hiei didn't look up at Kurama's approach. "What do you want, fox?"

"I require your assistance. I have received an item that could prove very useful in my next match," Kurama explained.

Hiei looked up, glancing at the bottle in the kitsune's hand. "And what does that have to do with me?" he questioned.

"I need to test it. I would like for you to be there in case something goes wrong. Yusuke needs to be notified if I die before the fight," Kurama replied, simply.

Hiei looked at him, skeptically. "Do you think you will die?"

"I highly doubt it, but one can never be sure, especially when the item in question was received from a previous opponent."


"Thank you, Hiei."

The fire demon sat down on a rock, making himself comfortable. Kurama removed the cork from the bottle, sniffing the contents. It took an extended period of exposure to the smoke before the transformation took place during my fight with Ura Urashima, so I think a large portion is required to change me, Kurama mused. With a slight shrug of his shoulders, the kitsune put the bottle to his lips, swallowing two mouthfuls of the potion.

Hiei watched, his face devoid of any emotion. "So, how long should it take before you know if it worked?"

"I'm not sure," Kurama admitted. He sat on the ground opposite Hiei, leaning against the trunk of a tree. "I suppose we'll just have to wait and see."

After about twenty minutes, the kitsune stood up, brushing dirt off his pants. "Well, I suppose it didn't work, after all. Thank you, Hiei. I'll leave you to your training now," Kurama said, walking through the trees towards the stadium.

Hiei watched him leave. I wonder what that potion was supposed to do? He mentally shrugged his shoulders. It doesn't matter, anyway. Clearing his mind, Hiei unsheathed his sword and began his training.

Less than five minutes later, Hiei's concentration was broken by a high-pitched shriek. Curious, he turned towards the sound. Several demons could be heard breaking through the undergrowth, heading towards where the fire demon was practicing. Preparing himself for a quick fight, Hiei awaited their arrival.

A very young child, dressed in a loose-fitting white tunic and pants, stumbled out of the bushes. His eyes were wide with terror as he glanced over his shoulder to check the progress of his pursuers. His silver hair, fox ears and tail, identified him as a fox demon. Not looking where he was running, the small kitsune didn't see the fire demon until he ran into his leg. The toddler fell back, cradling a large bottle to his chest to keep it from breaking. Hiei glared at the child, expecting him to run away and leave him alone. The koorime's frown deepened when the boy looked up at him and smiled. I can't even scare a kid anymore? I must be losing my touch, Hiei thought, more than a little put out by this knowledge. His musings were interrupted by the arrival of three large demons.

Immediately, the kitsune jumped up and ran around Hiei, hiding behind his leg. The small child barely reached Hiei's knee. He peeked out looking at the demons, his golden eyes wide and fearful.

Hiei was shocked by the child's audacity. The boy was obviously terrified of the lower class demons chasing him, but didn't even hesitate to use the fire demon as a shield. Hiei wasn't sure if he should be insulted or not.

The demons looked at Hiei threateningly. "Give us the kid, shrimp. He's ours," one of them growled.

"Yeah, we saw 'im first!"

Hiei shrugged, indifferently. "If you want him, you can have him. It's no concern of mine," he said, stepping to the side.

The first demon ran up and grabbed the child before he could get away. "It's been awhile since I had a kitsune!"

The toddler shrieked in terror, dropping the bottle he had been holding as he was lifted into the air. "Hiei!" he screamed, struggling to free himself from the demon's grasp.

Hiei looked at the bottle as it rolled to a stop at his feet. He recognized it as the same bottle that Kurama had drank from earlier. Why would the child-- Hiei was jerked out of his thoughts when the boy screamed his name. It all clicked together in his mind. You've got to be kidding.

There was a black blur and the demon holding the kitsune howled in pain. It's hand flopped on the ground, twitching uselessly. Hiei stood behind it, his katana in his left hand while he held the child with his right. The trembling kitsune huddled close to him, clinging to Hiei's shirt.

"I changed my mind. If you leave now, I may let you live," Hiei said.

The demons, believing they had the advantage because of their numbers and not willing to give up such a tempting meal, charged at Hiei. The fire demon ran towards them, seeming to disappear. A few seconds later, Hiei calmly walked away, picking up the bottle the child had dropped as the pieces of the demons fell to the ground behind him. The kitsune in his arms giggled.

Hiei walked until he could no longer smell the corpses, stopping by a stream. He set the child on the ground. "Kurama?" he asked, somewhat hesitantly.

The child pointed at himself. "Me!"

Hiei sighed. That's what I thought, but I had hoped I was wrong. "I'm guessing this potion is the reason why you are now a child," he said, holding up the bottle. "Do you have any idea how long it lasts?"

Kurama cocked his head to the side, looking at Hiei curiously. His eyes lit up. "Play!" he said, smiling brilliantly.

Okay, let's try a different approach, Hiei thought, removing the bandana covering his Jagan eye. "Kurama, I need to know if the potion's effects are permanent or only temporary," Hiei said, looking into Kurama's thoughts in the hopes of finding an answer.

The potion...unknown side, pretty butterfly, Kurama thought, his eyes drifting to the insect flying over Hiei's shoulder. He watched it as it landed on a blade of grass. Pretty...I want it! he thought, crouching down on his hands and knees. He tried to pounce on the insect, but the butterfly managed to evade his grasp.

Hiei watched Kurama clumsily chase the insect around the clearing, not quite believing the situation he found himself in. Okay, Kurama's potion has somehow turned him back into a very young child-- Becoming bored with the butterfly, Kurama sat down on the ground, picked up a stick and began chewing on it. Who is still teething, apparently. He can't focus long enough to be of any help and I don't know if the potion is permanent or if there is a way to reverse it. Hiei sighed. And just how, exactly, am I suppose to explain to Yusuke that one of our team members cannot fight because he has been reduced to infancy?!

Kurama entertained himself, collecting stones. He stuck the shiny ones in his pockets, throwing all of the others into the stream, giggling as they hit the water with a soft plonk. Hiei watched the youko child, thinking about the problem at hand. Not finding a solution readily available, the fire demon decided to wait and hope that the potion wore off soon. Looking at the demon gore still covering his sword in disgust, Hiei took out a cloth and began to clean his weapon. He leaned the sheath against a tree behind him, watching as Kurama came over and flopped down next to him. The young kitsune looked bored.

Hiei was wiping the last bit of grime from his sword when he heard a loud crunch closely followed by a whimper of pain behind him. Turning around, he saw Kurama drop his sheath on the ground, one hand cradling his jaw. Hiei grabbed the sheath, inspecting it. The kitsune had left teeth marks on it.

"No! My sheath is not a chew toy! Bad Kurama!" Hiei scolded, moving the sheath out of the child's reach.

The kitsune looked at the ground, his ears laid flat at Hiei's tone and cringing at the anger in the fire demon's voice. "Sowwy, Hiei," he whimpered, still cradling his aching jaw.

Hiei looked down at Kurama, noticing the tears forming in the young child's eyes. The kitsune seemed to withdraw into himself, bringing his knees up to his chin with his tail curling around his ankles. He looked so sad that Hiei couldn't stay upset with him. Kurama really was an adorable child... What am I thinking! I'm starting to sound like Yukina! he thought, shaking his head. He turned away. "Just don't do it again," he said, his tone slightly softer than before.

Kurama's ears perked up a little bit. He looked up, hopeful, at Hiei. Seeing the fire demon had his back to him, he asked, tentatively, "Hiei mad-- me?"

Hiei gave an audible sigh. "No, I'm not mad. Just don't do it again."

Kurama nodded, happy that he wasn't in trouble. A noise caused him to look up. Pretty bird, he thought, using his claws to climb up into the tree. The bird hopped into the higher branches, pursued by the kitsune kit. When they reached the top of the tree, the bird flew away. Kurama stared mournfully after it.

It was about this time he realized exactly how far away the ground was. Considering the best way to go about getting down, he did the first thing that came to his mind.

Hiei jumped, not expecting the piercing shriek that indicated Kurama was in trouble. He turned around, locating the kitsune in the uppermost branches of the tall tree behind him. Hiei resisted the urge to massage his temples, as the child wailed again.

"Hiei!" Kurama screamed. His eyes were tightly closed, tears sliding down his cheeks as he clung to the tree branch for dear life.

He opened his mouth to scream again, when Hiei's emotionless voice interrupted him. "What do you want, now?" he asked, perched a few branches below the kitsune.

"Help!" Kurama yelped, still refusing to open his eyes.

Hiei sighed. Now I have to save him from the plants he loves so much. Kurama, you had better grow up soon! he thought, jumping onto a branch closer to the child. Hiei tried to pick him up, but the kitsune refused to let go.

"Do you want me to get you down or not?" Hiei asked, annoyed.

"Yes..." came the tentative reply.

"Then let go."


"I could cut the branch off, if you'd rather not let go of it," Hiei offered, loosening his katana in its slightly-chewed sheath.

Kurama flinched at the sound, grasping the thin branch even harder. A soft crack was heard.

Seeing how terrified the kitsune was-- and wanting to spare his eardrums the pain caused by Kurama's scream if he cut the branch off --Hiei relented. "I won't let you fall," he assured the trembling child. The boy didn't move. "You have to trust me, Kurama," he added, softly.

Hesitantly, Kurama let go of the branch. He whimpered as he felt himself fall before being caught and held securely in Hiei's arm.

"Baka fox," Hiei said, jumping down to the ground. He tried to set the fox down, but Kurama would have none of it. His eyes were still closed tightly and his hands were buried in the material of Hiei's shirt, refusing to let go.

"Kurama, we're out of the tree. You can let go of my shirt," Hiei informed him. The kitsune kit just curled closer to Hiei, burying his head in the fire demon's shoulder.

He giggles after watching me slay a few demons, but being stuck in a tree has him so frightened he won't let go of me? Hiei thought, incredulously. Not knowing what else to do, Hiei sat at the base of the tree and waited.

Gradually, Kurama peeked over Hiei's shoulder, noticing they were indeed safe on the ground. His hands loosened their death grip on Hiei's shirt, although he stayed nestled in Hiei's lap. The adrenaline having worn off, Kurama's eyes began to droop and he yawned, leaning his head back against Hiei's shoulder.

The koorime chuckled. "You look like you need a nap, Kurama."

As soon as the words had left his mouth, Kurama was out of his arms and running across the clearing. "No! No nap!" he yelled, disappearing into the bushes.

Hiei blinked. That was all it took to get him to let go of my shirt? ... What was that all about, anyway? he wondered, staring in the direction Kurama had run off in. There are still a lot of demons wandering around the island. I can't leave him alone in his current condition, Hiei thought, standing up. "Kurama, come back here!"

"No nap!" came the faint reply. There was the sound of someone tripping and falling on the ground.

Hiei crossed his arms. "If I have to chase you down, I guarantee you won't like the consequences. I'll count to three and you had better be back here before I finish! One!"

Hiei thought he could see a little bit of mist through the trees, but it was early in the morning on an island, so he ignored it. "Two!"

There were soft footsteps coming back towards Hiei.


"All right, Hiei. I'm here. There's no need to punish me," Kurama said, smiling slightly as he emerged from the bushes. He was once again a ningen adolescent.

Hiei just glared at him. "It's about time that potion wore off."

Kurama smiled, embarrassed. "Forgive me, Hiei-- the mind of a child makes it impossible to concentrate on anything for more than a few seconds," he explained.

Hiei snorted. "So I noticed," he replied, adjusting his sword in his belt.

Kurama winced as his eyes landed on the sheath. "I am truly sorry about chewing on your sheath, Hiei," he apologized, his cheeks turning crimson. "Would you like me to replace it?"

Hiei was about to make a rude comment when he remembered how dejected Kurama had looked when the fire demon had yelled at him. Hiei turned away from the fox. "Hn. You left teeth marks, but you didn't actually damage it," he replied, nonchalantly.

Although Kurama was relieved that Hiei wasn't upset about incident, he had been hoping the fire demon would demand a new sheath. That way, Kurama could destroy the old one, obliterating the evidence of such an embarrassing event.

There was an awkward silence, before Kurama noticed something jabbing him in the leg. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out a handful of shiny rocks. He looked at them curiously. "Hiei, what was I wearing?" he asked, looking through the pile of stones in his hand.

"A smaller version of the outfit you wore when you transformed into Youko Kurama during your fight. Why?" Hiei asked, not sure what significance his clothing could have.

"Hm, that's interesting. Apparently, the potion changes not only the body, but the clothes to fit the new form, as well. A bit of an odd side effect, but useful," he mused, still looking through the rocks. One in particular caught his attention and he picked it out of the pile to examine it. His eyes widened in recognition. "Um, Hiei?"


"I think you might want this back," Kurama said, handing him the hirazuki gem.

Hiei's hand immediately flew to the cord around his neck, feeling for the stone. It was gone. "How did you...?"

"I think I latched on to it when you disposed of those demons that were chasing me. It must have broken off," Kurama explained, shrugging his shoulders apologetically.

Hiei took the gem, glaring at Kurama as he placed it in his pocket.

Kurama walked over, shoulders slumping slightly, and picked up the bottle that contained the potion. He turned towards Hiei. "So, are you ready to try it again?" he asked, smiling brightly to hide his fatigue.

Hiei's eyebrow twitched.

"What?" Kurama asked, innocently. "I know the potion works, but I do not know the correct dosage to use in order to allow me to transform to an adult youko. Can you imagine me trying to fight as I was a few minutes ago?"

"Hn. You were terrified of three low class demons," Hiei replied, disdainfully.

"Exactly. I would be killed as soon as I entered the ring, if the girls didn't get to me first," Kurama said, muttering the last part. He shuddered, thinking how Botan would react upon seeing the kitsune kit. As an adult, he could fend her off; but as a child, he'd be defenseless. He sighed. Sometimes, it was hard being so cute and cuddly. Hiei's voice broke through his thoughts.

"Sometime today, Fox. I still have more training to do before my fight tomorrow," he said, making himself comfortable on the ground. "And try not to take so much this time."

"Of course. I didn't realize that the liquid, because it is denser than the smoke, would be much more potent, as well. I'll take a little bit, this time," Kurama replied. He paused. "How long did the potion last?"

"I don't know. I didn't keep track."

"Would you please keep track this time? I need to know how long I will be able to keep my youko form," Kurama said. Hiei nodded. Looking back at the object in his hands, the red head uncorked the bottle and took a sip of the potion.

Hiei drew his sword, resuming his practice while they waited for the potion to take effect. Kurama amused himself by growing a seed into a rose and back again. A light mist began to form around the kitsune after about twenty minutes of waiting. It seemed to come from nowhere, thickening and concealing Kurama inside it.

Hiei lowered his sword and waited until the smoke was cleared by a faint breeze. He blinked, looking around. "Kurama?" An infantile wail met his ears, causing the fire demon to flinch. He looked down.

On the ground where the kitsune had been standing, now lay a ningen baby. He had a tuft of bright red hair on his head and was dressed in a light blue body suit with a puppy on the front of it. His arms and legs were flailing uselessly as he screamed at the top of his baby lungs.

Hiei stared at the infant in front of him. No. Not again. I refuse! I will not put up with another child! But, I can't leave him here. I know! I'll just give him to that ferry girl, and let her take care of him! Yes, that will work! Hiei thought, taking a step towards the child. He paused, remembering Kurama's muttered comment about the girls, earlier. On the other hand, Kurama will not be pleased about that. Females seem to lose all intelligence when dealing with babies. When they find out it is Kurama… Well, they'll probably continue to fawn over him, commenting on all the 'cute' things he did as a baby. The fox would kill me. Hiei briefly contemplated dodging plants in both worlds for the rest of his life before shaking his head. Kurama would kill me.

The infant's cries had been gradually increasing in volume while Hiei was considering his options. "Stop, stop, STOP!" Hiei yelled, covering his ears in a vain attempt to block out the sound. The baby only screamed louder.

What do you want?! Hiei thought, all but ripping the bandage off his Jagan eye. He focused on the baby, trying to figure out what was wrong. Although there were no coherent thoughts, the koorime picked up on a general sense of exhaustion and a sharp feeling of pain.

Pain? Did he hurt himself? Hiei wondered, venturing closer to the infant. He picked up the child, relieved when the crying ceased almost immediately. Looking down, Hiei saw a sharp rock. So that's why you were crying. I have to say, Kurama, you have a good set of lungs for such a young body! he thought. The fire demon gathered some ferns to make a soft bed and laid the baby on it. As soon as Hiei set him down, Kurama began to scream again.

"What?! You're tired, so go to sleep! I made you a bed, what more do you want?!" Hiei demanded of the infant. As expected, the infant's piercing shriek was the only reply he received.

More than a little annoyed, the koorime picked up the child to look for any rocks or something else that might be making Kurama uncomfortable. The infant was quiet while in his arms, but resumed wailing when Hiei set him down again.

Noticing a pattern, the fire demon picked the child up. Silence. He set him down. Painfully loud screaming. He picked the baby up again. Blissful silence. Hiei sighed. Why me?

Kurama yawned, giving the koorime a clear view of his toothless mouth. At least I don't have to worry about him chewing on my sheath this time, Hiei thought, watching as the infant snuggled closer to his body, a small hand loosely clutching his shirt. Hiei waited a few minutes to make sure the child was asleep before trying to lay him on the ferns again.

Waking at the sudden absence of warmth, the baby started crying.

Grudgingly, Hiei replaced the infant in his arms. How humiliating. I had better make sure no one sees this-- at least, no one that I can't kill afterwards. I would never hear the end of it if the detective happened to witness this, he thought. He walked over and settled down against a tree, the baby cradled in his lap, as he used the Jagan eye to carefully scan the area around him.

After what seemed like an eternity to the fire demon, a mist began to gather around the baby. Recognizing it as a sign Kurama was about to change back, Hiei quickly placed the baby on the ground, backing away. Kurama was already hidden in the fog and, thankfully, no screams were heard before the transformation took place. The smoke cleared to reveal a teenaged Kurama lying on the ground. The red head slowly opened his eyes, blinking as they adjusted to the light. He looked around, noticing the position he was in. What am I doing on the ground? "Hiei…?" he asked, disoriented.


Turning towards the sound of the voice, Kurama spied the koorime standing several feet away and looking very annoyed. Slowly standing up, the kitsune brushed himself off and looked at Hiei, his tired gaze questioning.

"You need to take a lot more than just a little sip. I don't want to go through that again," Hiei said.

"Why? What happened?" Kurama asked, curious.

Hiei crossed his arms and turned away. "Hn." It seemed the kitsune didn't remembered what happened and Hiei intended to keep it that way.

Kurama stared at the fire demon curiously before shrugging his shoulders. Something embarrassing had happened and if Hiei wasn't going to tell him, there wasn't much he could do about it. There is no way I can force the information out of him if he does not wish to share. Although, it seems to me that I must have done something that is humiliating to Hiei. Otherwise, he would have no qualms informing me of the embarrassing things I did, Kurama mused.

The fox looked around the clearing, locating the bottle that contained his potion. He picked it up before looking at Hiei. "You said I need to take a lot more than a sip, correct?"

"Yes." I don't want to deal with another baby, Hiei complained, mentally.

Uncorking the bottle, Kurama drank about a mouth full and a half of the liquid inside. I'm so glad it doesn't have a taste, he thought, counting the number of times he had taken the potion today. He sat down. "How long did that transformation last?" he inquired.

"Twenty to twenty five minutes," Hiei replied, fiddling with the hilt of his sword.

Kurama studied him. Hiei seems a bit nervous. Was my last transformation that bad? he wondered, a smile tugging at his lips.

About twenty minutes later, the familiar mist once again formed around the kitsune, obscuring him from view. Kurama certainly does love making a dramatic entrance, Hiei noted, waiting for the smoke to clear.

"Well, that didn't work," a high-pitched voice remarked. The fog dissipated, revealing a youko child that was about as tall as Hiei. He wore the same style of white loose fitting tunic and pants that he'd been wearing during his other youko transformations.

Hiei glared at the child. Kurama is doing this on purpose! I just know it! "What do you think this is, Kurama?! Hiei's Day Care?!" he yelled, venting his frustrations. "You were an adult youko for over a millennia! How hard is it to get the amount of potion you drink right?!"

The kitsune's tail flicked in annoyance. He put his hands on his hips, returning the koorime's glare. "It's not my fault, Hiei! You're the one who told me to take a lot more than just a sip! You should have been more specific!" Kurama yelled in his defense, pointing at the fire demon, accusingly.

"Hn." Hiei turned away, seating himself on the ground, and proceeded to inspect his sword, pointedly ignoring Kurama. Baka kitsune.

The child stuck his tongue out at Hiei before sitting on the opposite side of the clearing, playing with the plants that were growing there. After about ten minutes, he was bored out of his mind. Curious, he glanced over at Hiei. The koorime was still working on his sword, ignoring everything around him. An impish grin slowly spread over Kurama's face as he looked at the plants underneath Hiei and then at the stream several feet away from the fire demon.

Hiei froze, feeling the ground beneath him squirm. Seeing the plants moving, Hiei sheathed his sword and glanced over at Kurama. The fox was focusing completely on the flower in his hand, very obviously trying to make it look as though he wasn't controlling the plants moving Hiei. The fire demon stifled a chuckle at the kitsune's attempt at looking innocent, turning instead to see where he was being relocated. He noticed the stream was getting very close.

Having a good idea of what Kurama had in mind, Hiei attempted to stand. The plants pulled sharply on his ankles, trying to trip him, but the koorime quickly jumped on top of a boulder bereft of any flora. "Kurama."

Hiei's tone informed the kitsune that he was in trouble, his ears reflexively lying flat before he was scolded. Trying his best to act innocent, he smiled at the fire demon. "Yes, Hiei?"

"I know what you are trying to do. If you value that long, silver hair of yours," Hiei paused, flicking the blade partway out of the sheath. Kurama clutched his hair, protectively. "I suggest you stop, unless you would like me to give you a crew cut," Hiei finished. Smirking at the wide-eyed kitsune who was still clutching his hair, Hiei jumped into a tree, settling himself on a branch.

Cut my hair? Cut MY hair?! I don't think so! I'm not getting a crew cut, uh-uh, no way! I'll make sure of that! Kurama thought, looking at the koorime in the tree. An idea struck him and he giggled.

Thinking Kurama would cause no more problems, Hiei was considerably surprised when the tree he was sitting in threw him into the stream. He came up, sputtering and coughing as he looked over at Kurama. The kitsune was nowhere in sight. "KURAMA!" Hiei roared, scaring a few birds out of a tree.

Still laughing, the kitsune ran for all he was worth. He yelped in pain as a hand grabbed his hair, jerking him backwards. Managing to get his feet back underneath himself, he caught a glimpse of the enraged fire demon behind him. The child struggled to free himself, his eyes widening in fear as Hiei unsheathed his katana in a slow and deliberate motion.

The koorime cursed, releasing the silver hair as mist enveloped the kitsune, changing him back to his human form. The teenager looked at Hiei, amused. "You look a little damp," he informed the dripping demon, his breathing a little heavier than normal.

Hiei suppressed his anger, unconsciously raising the temperature of his body. Steam began rising from his clothes as the heat dried them.

Kurama cocked his head, looking at Hiei curiously. "I had always assumed that the phrase 'steaming mad' was just a figure of speech," he commented, walking back to the clearing, his pace slow.

Hiei followed, glaring at the kitsune. "You owe me, Kurama," he ground out. "Babysitting you was not exactly how I intended to spend the last day of training we have before the finals."

Kurama paused." You have my gratitude, Hiei. I am indeed in your debt for the assistance you've offered me today. And, as you know, I always pay my debts," he replied, his voice serious


Kurama reached the clearing, searching around a little bit before finding what he was looking for. His movements were slow and lacking his usual grace. "Here it is," he said, holding up the bottle. "Ready to try again?"

Hiei studied Kurama critically, noting his slumped shoulders and tired eyes. "Are you sure you can handle it? You look exhausted," he said, his previous anger towards the kitsune gone, but not forgotten.

Kurama shook his head. "The transformation is somewhat draining, but I don't have the luxury of postponing the tests. I have to find the correct amount to change me into an adult youko before my fight with Karasu tomorrow. I'll be fine," he replied.


Smiling slightly, Kurama put the bottle to his lips, swallowing a mouthful of the potion.

Hiei looked to the side, seemingly uninterested. Please get it right this time-- this is becoming ridiculous!

After about fifteen minutes, the change took place. Hiei noted that this one took longer than the others and there was even a bit of lightning within the smoke, adding to the overall affect. As if it wasn't flashy enough before. Vain fox, Hiei thought, waiting patiently. The very air seemed to be thrumming with power

The mist cleared away to reveal an adult Youko Kurama, stretching luxuriously. "It's so nice to be out again," he said, looking at Hiei with a mischievous glint in his eye. "You've been such a wonderful babysitter, Hiei."

"Hn. It's about time you got it right," Hiei said, turning away.

"Would you like to spar with me?" Kurama asked, folding his arms and looking at Hiei, challengingly.

"What?" he asked, stopping and looking at Kurama.

"Spar with me. You haven't been able to train for more than a few minutes for the last two to three hours and I will only be in this form for a short time. Why not make the most of it?" the kitsune asked. He plucked a blade of grass, growing it into a sword. "How often do you get an opportunity like this?"

He studied the fox, appraisingly. Shrugging, Hiei drew his own sword and lunged at Kurama. The kitsune met his attack head-on, blades locking before the youko threw Hiei back. The koorime landed in a tree, quickly jumping out and charging at Kurama again. The kitsune danced to the side, evading Hiei's thrust and countered, swinging his blade towards the fire demon's neck. Hiei ducked, his superior speed allowing him to dodge the stroke. Rather than stop his momentum, Kurama continued the spin, planning to turn a full 360 degrees to face Hiei again. The fire demon raised his sword to attack the kitsune's unprotected back when he was blinded by silver hair slapping his face and getting into his eyes. Kurama, anticipating this, smoothly swung his sword down as he turned to face Hiei, going for the fire demon's legs. Hearing the blade whistling through the air, Hiei jumped back, blinking his eyes rapidly.

"Long hair has more uses than just plant storage and cosmetic effects," the youko commented, waiting until Hiei was ready to continue. "It can be very useful in battle."


Having regained his sight, he rushed toward the kitsune again. They exchanged blows, neither being able to land a hit. Seeing an opening, Hiei jumped over the youko, flipping in mid air. "Long hair also has its disadvantages," he said, grabbing a fistful of Kurama's hair as he landed, forcing the kitsune to bend backwards into an awkward position.

"Only if your opponent is unarmed," the youko replied, his voice slightly strained.

Suddenly remembering what Kurama stored in his hair, Hiei released the silver strands and jumped back in a desperate attempt to avoid whatever plants that the youko might send after him. He barely avoided being impaled on the grass blade. Hold on, he attacked with his sword? He could have easily captured me in his vines and who knows what else he carries in his hair. Why didn't he...? Hiei wondered. He remembered how tired Kurama had looked before the transformation. Actually, the only thing he has done using spirit energy is create that sword. He doesn't seem to be tired from the change, yet he is conserving his energy. Either he is tired and is hiding it extremely well, or the exhaustion is only felt in his natural form. The latter makes sense-- a demonic transformation, even with the aid of a potion, would be very draining for Kurama's ningen body, Hiei realized, studying the youko. Seeing the first tendrils of mist curling around Kurama's feet, Hiei sheathed his sword.

"Finished already?" the kitsune asked, changing his sword back to its original state.

"Your time's up."

The youko noticed the smoke thickening and swirling around him. "So it is," he replied, just before his head was engulfed in the mist.

The fog dissipated, revealing Kurama in his human form on his hands and knees, shaking slightly and breathing heavily. After he had gotten his breathing somewhat under control, he stood, swaying a little bit. "Thank you, Hiei," he said, turning to go. He stumbled, grabbing onto a tree to keep himself from falling. He paused, making sure he had his balance, before starting again.

"Where are you going?" Hiei asked, watching emotionlessly as Kurama struggled out of the clearing.

"I think I'm going to go and take a nap. Changing forms once is very tiring and this is the fourth time I've done it in a matter of hours. It also seems that the more powerful the transformation, the more energy it takes to sustain it, even for such a short period of time," Kurama explained, still panting for breath.

"Oh, you're going to take a nap? You were so opposed to the idea when I suggested it earlier," Hiei said, smirking.

Kurama smiled, weakly. "Even you should know better than to suggest to a child that he needs a nap."

Hiei shrugged, his expression becoming serious. "Do you need help getting back?"

Kurama shook his head. "I've kept you from your training too much already. I'll be fine," he said, disappearing into the trees.

"Hn." He can barely walk, yet he says he'll be fine. He knows how many demons are out to kill us. His pride will get him killed. Our team has already lost Genkai-- we can't lose anyone else before the finals if we want to win, Hiei thought, jumping into the trees. He started to follow the fox, taking extra precautions to remain silent and unseen.

Kurama hadn't made it very far, walking painstakingly slow and stopping to lean against a tree every few minutes.

Kurama really is exhausted. He probably wouldn't even notice me if I sat on the lowest branch of a tree he had to walk under, Hiei thought, using his Jagan to make sure there weren't any demons in the general vicinity.

Eventually, Kurama made it to the hotel where they were staying while at the tournament. Hiei remained in the trees, hidden from view. He didn't think the kitsune had noticed him until he heard Kurama's voice in his mind.

/Thank you, Hiei/ the red head said, telepathically.

How did he...? Hiei wondered, looking closely at the fox standing in the doorway of the building. He appeared to be laughing.

/In case you're wondering how I knew you were following me, you are half ice and half fire demon. A fire koorime. That gives you a very unique scent/ Kurama explained.

/Hn. We already lost Genkai and I don't trust the baka to win his fight tomorrow. The last thing we need is you getting killed because of your experiments/ Hiei replied. The kitsune turned to look back at the forest, and the koorime thought he could see the red head smile.

/Thank you/ Kurama repeated, before disappearing inside.

Taking one last look at the building, Hiei turned and disappeared into the forest to continue his training.

. . .

The next day, Team Urameshi, minus Genkai, stood inside the stadium on one side of the ring. Koenma had joined the team to fill the fifth spot and the finals were about to begin.

Kurama watched as Karasu stepped forward into the ring. The masked fighter raised his index finger to his temple, making eye contact with Kurama. "Bang."

Kuwabara slammed his fist into his open palm. "Look at him, trying to scare us with his dumb finger. Man, I'm gonna beat him until his mother doesn't recognize him!"


Everyone turned to look at Kurama. "I will handle him," he stated, walking towards the ring.

"Hey, Kurama, wait!" Kuwabara said, running up behind him. "Think you'll use that medicine stuff that Suzuka gave you?"

Kurama stopped at the edge of the ring, but didn't turn around. "Actually, I took some about two minutes ago. I've run a few experiments and found it takes a considerable amount of time to absorb into my body and change me."

"Ah! I don't know if you should take that stuff multiple times, buddy, it could be bad!"

The red head looked at Kuwabara like he was stupid. Hiei voiced his opinion in Kurama's mind.

/Baka ningen./

Kurama laughed, softly. "There's no way I would have shown up here without testing it, first," he said. He jumped into the ring.

"So, what's it do when you take it?" Kuwabara asked, a little nervous.

"Suzuka was right in assuming that it would change me. However, there is a time limit and I can only stay in that form for fifteen minutes," Kurama replied. "I'm not worried though. Fifteen minutes is more than enough." Kurama walked towards the middle of the ring, his movements mirrored by Karasu.

"Both players take their opening pose-- and begin!"

. . .

The End