Peneia Teke: Hello! This is a story that started out as a one shot, but I decided to see where it would go if I expanded it.
This story is dedicated to Firekeeper727, my awesome beta reader, and Hero Girl of Brien to make up for the fact that I'm keeping Inevitable Fate as a one shot.
Disclaimer: Trust me. You'd know if I owned Yu Yu Hakusho.
Chapter One: Sacrifice
"It's unusual, wouldn't you agree? I mean there's no motive behind these so called 'manipulations'…" Botan mused out loud. She was currently located on the rooftop of Sarayashiki Junior High, playing the part of 'school girl' while attempting to explain the details of Spirit World's newest dilemma to one, Yusuke Urameshi. "And the scariest part is he strikes randomly. We can't find any pattern at all." She wrapped her arms tightly around herself to block out the biting wind. Why had Koenma decided to give them a mission on such a cold, blustery day?
"Yeah…" Yusuke said, scrunching up his face in thought. "That is weird. Almost like he's in it for his own sick pleasure." The final bell had rung twenty minutes ago and the groups of students leaving the building were becoming fewer and farther apart.
"Urameshi! I knew I'd find you up here! Guess what?" a familiar voice exclaimed as Kazuma Kuwabara rushed toward them, nearly running the Spirit Detective over in his excitement. "The arcade across town just reopened, and they have a new game called Triple X! Everyone's talkin' about it! It's, like, the sickest thing since that... one…" he trailed off, having apparently just noticed the ferry girl. "Oh, hey, Botan. What's goin' on?"
"Hello, Kuwabara," Botan greeted distractedly, "It's actually good that you're here. I was just filling in Yusuke about his new case."
"New case, huh? Looks like I got here just in time." He leaned against the wall and shoved his hands in his pockets, trying to appear nonchalant. His news of the arcade was quickly pushed aside.
"Yes, well, as soon as the other two get here I can explain what's going on," Botan said, folding her arms over her chest. "Koenma wants you to finish this case as quickly as possible, Yusuke."
"What're you tellin' me for?" he grumbled, "I'm not the one who's running late."
"Yeah, that's a first."
Suddenly, the side door opened, and Kurama stepped out onto the rooftop. He raised a hand in greeting and walked slowly toward them, as if meeting friends on the rooftop of a school was an every day occurrence. They exchanged greetings, and Kurama apologized for his tardiness.
"I had some work to finish up in the biology lab," he explained.
"No surprise there," Kuwabara muttered.
"Hey, look… I think it's Hiei." Before Botan had even finished her sentence, a black streak flashed passed them, and Hiei seemed to appear out of thin air, looking irritated. For just a split second an expression of pain flickered across his face, contorting his features into a grimace. He composed himself quickly, however, and no one seemed to notice the sudden change. Or if they had, they didn't say anything.
"Well, that was good timing."
"Ok," Botan said, calling their attention on her, again. "As I've already told Yusuke, we've had several reports of humans becoming possessed by demons and committing various crimes across the city. Many of them have disappeared afterwards without a trace. The demons we believe to be behind this aren't particularly bright and most don't work well together, so it's possible they're uniting under a leader." She looked around at them all, letting her words sink in. "Koenma has given you three days to solve this case. Normally-"
"Three days? He gave me more time when I was trying to track down Hiei and Kurama, and that was with the threat of his dad."
"Please don't interrupt, Yusuke. As I was saying, normally, he wouldn't set a time limit, but it's getting out of hand, and some humans have even died!"
"Well, that's just great. How the hell are we supposed to find these... whatevers when we don't even know what they look like?" Yusuke asked bitterly.
"Oh, I almost forgot." Botan reached into her kimono and pulled out a slightly crumpled photo of a hooded figure with its back turned to the camera. It seemed to be retreating into the forest surrounding the park. "This was taken a day or two ago by one of Spirit World's personnel. The image isn't very clear, but it's all we have to go by."
Kuwabara and Kurama's expressions had turned grave, but Hiei looked pissed. "Hn…You dragged me all the way out here for this? I say if the humans aren't strong enough to ward off a few weak demons, then they don't deserve the right to live."
"Damn. What crawled up your ass and died today?" Yusuke asked, giving the fire demon a weird look. "I mean, I don't like people much, either, but I'm not gonna sit around and let a bunch of stupid demons wreak havoc in my city."
"You said it, Urameshi!"
"Hiei," Botan said, "I really wish you wouldn't discriminate against humans like that. They're stronger than you give them credit for, just look at Yusuke and Kuwabara…" She trailed off when she saw him flinch slightly in pain, though it was obvious by his expression that he was trying to hide it.
"Hey… What's wrong, Shrimp?" Kuwabara asked, snapping him out of his stupor. "You look kinda pale."
"I'm fine." Hiei scoffed, turning his head away in disgust.
"Hiei…" Kurama warned softly, giving him a pointed look. "It's not wise to disregard your well-being. Take a day or two off. We can manage."
Hiei shot him a scathing glare and Kurama frowned back at him. They held each other's gaze for a moment until the red head glanced away. Botan had a feeling this wasn't the first time the topic had come up. "Ridiculous. I don't need your concern." Hiei sneered. Then he turned and disappeared with a zip of crackling air, leaving them all to stare after him.
Hiei sat crouched in a large tree, hand clutched around the hilt of his katana as he waited for an opening to move in. His breath came out in short clouds of steam, the only way to tell he was affected at all by the chilly weather. He could sense Yusuke, Kuwabara, and Kurama nearby as they waited patiently below him, well out of harm's way. Botan was hovering close to the canopy of the trees on her oar, though most of the branches were devoid of leaves.
They had locked onto the hideout of the human-possessing-demons and were now waiting for them to make the next move. They didn't have to wait for long.
Hiei stiffened at a surge of energy behind him and leapt from the branch seconds before it exploded, sending shards of wood in every direction. He landed heavily on the ground and rolled back into thicker foliage. The presence he'd felt swelled and disappeared before he could get a lock on it. The fire demon cursed and spun around, but the forest was quiet as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened.
"You ok, Hiei?" came the muffled voice of Yusuke from his right.
He nodded, moving swiftly toward the Spirit Detective. "Whoever these demons are, they're more powerful than we thought. We can't afford any mistakes. Stay alert."
"I couldn't even feel their spirit energy," Kuwabara complained.
"Yes," Kurama added quietly, "I didn't sense them until they were right on top of you, Hiei. They are somehow able to block…" He trailed off as his ears picked up the subtle sounds of movement in the distance, and he raised his arm when Yusuke opened his mouth to speak. "Quiet." He started to take a step forward when a sudden loud screech shattered the heavy silence, and the ground beneath them erupted in a spray of dirt, fire, and smoke. All four were thrown back in surprise.
Hiei hissed in pain as he was thrown against a tree but recovered quickly and was soon on his feet in a defensive stance. He could feel energy all around him and caught the movement of a black, shadowy figure in one of the trees. "Kurama," he warned, unsheathing his katana.
Hiei leapt toward the figure, catching it off balance with a wild swing of his sword. As it fell into the brush, Kurama took the opportunity to summon his rose whip, slicing cleanly through the creature's chest cavity. The demon made a low gurgling sound in his throat and lay back, unmoving.
The fire demon cursed and ducked to the side as a dagger whistled passed his head, imbedding itself within the trunk of a tree. He glanced up in time to see Botan swoop passed on her oar toward the direction the dagger had come, and a burst of blue energy shot from her hands, startling one of the demons out of the trees. Before the creature had even hit the ground, Hiei was on him, cutting his head clean off his shoulders. The body slumped to the ground, splattering him with blood. "What are you doing?" Hiei demanded, noticing Botan still hovering worriedly above him. "Get out of here."
"But I can see them all from up here! They're surrounding you!"
"I don't need your help." Hiei growled as one of the demons came charging out from the brush, sword raised. He spun and lashed out at his attacker with a solid kick before lunging forward with his blade. "You'll just get in the way."
The two connected swords with a shower of sparks before Hiei was forced back a step, feeling suddenly light headed. The cloaked figure took advantage of the opening to swing at Hiei's unguarded torso.
"SPIRIT GUN!" There was a loud rumble, followed by a flash of light, and Hiei leapt back as the cloaked figure tumbled forward, surprise clearly etched on his face. The ball of light swallowed him and thundered through the forest, leaving a trail of shattered and broken trees as it went. Yusuke sighed and lowered his pointer finger. "What's wrong, Hiei? You don't usually leave yourself so vulnerable," he grinned, casting a curious eye upon his small friend.
Hiei grunted and shoved his hands in his pockets. "It was nothing. I'm fine."
"Yeah but… you look like hell. You sure you're ok?"
Hiei turned sharply to the black haired boy, glaring at him in irritation. "It isn't your concern."
"It is if you can't hold your own weight, Hiei," he replied seriously. Their eyes locked in a glaring match for several tense seconds.
"Hey, Urameshi! If you don't mind givin' me a hand over here…?" came Kuwabara's slightly panicked voice. "I can't hold all of 'em off for long!"
"Hang on, Kuwabara!" Yusuke shouted. He shot one more concerned glance at Hiei and reluctantly turned away to find the carrot top. "I'm comin'!"
Although Hiei refused to admit it, he knew Yusuke and the others were right; there was something wrong. He couldn't focus on his opponents, couldn't summon enough energy to make a decent attack; his movements were sluggish, giving his enemies enough time to anticipate what he'd do next. The world suddenly began to spin around him, and he felt like he was going to be sick.
His attention was snapped back to reality when Botan cried out in pain, and he looked up in time to see her fall from her oar and hit the ground with a sickening thud. A cloaked demon landed gracefully next to her, and Hiei's eyes widened as the creature began summoning a swirling, orange-colored aura. It draped over Botan like a blanket.
Hiei stiffened, and the air around him crackled as he raced through the trees. He had far too little strength to attempt the Dragon of the Darkness Flame technique, but the Fist of the Mortal Flame, the human fire, would suffice nicely. Smirking, he reached his arm before him and began manipulating the technique with his remaining demon energy. A flame engulfed the surface of his right hand, and he slammed it into Botan's offender, watching with pleasure as the creature burst into flames.
The demon tore away from him and fell to the ground. His body writhed in pain as it was incinerated under the fire's powerful heat. The orange aura covering Botan disappeared, and the deity remained still for a moment before slowly pulling herself to a sitting position. She looked around in confusion before spotting the fire demon. "Hiei? You… you saved me?"
Hiei's eyes were unfocused when he looked at her. "Don't dwell on it. No one else was on hand." He shoved his hands in his pockets and turned his back on her, but the badass image was ruined when he lurched forward and threw up blood, splattering his already blood soaked cloak. He collapsed to his knees as his legs gave out and braced himself with his arms, breathing heavily.
Botan's hand flew to her mouth. "Oh, Hiei! You're hurt!"
"I'm not…" He brought a hand over his stomach as waves of pain rolled over him in steady, piercing beats. His chest heaved as he coughed up more blood, and bright specks of light danced before his eyes while darkness loomed at the edges of his consciousness. Numbness finally settled over him, and the last thing he remembered before he blacked out was the sound of Botan's voice as she called out his name.
Botan ran over to his side and touched him gingerly on the shoulder, but he didn't move. Her eyes widened as it finally dawned on her just how much it had cost him to save her life.
Botan sat quietly next to Hiei's bed, watching him sleep. He looked so peaceful when he was unconscious, so calm, like he hadn't a care in the world.
"He has lost a great deal of demon energy," Kurama murmured, coming to sit beside her, "and his body isn't generating more itself. This could be dangerous."
Botan's eyes widened as she leaned closer toward him in anticipation. "He'll be ok, though, won't he?"
"I'm not sure. I've heard of this happening before, but I've never actually witnessed its effects."
"What do you mean?"
Kurama's expression was grave. "All living creatures have energy constantly flowing through their bodies. It's the life source that keeps us alive, though it affects demons and humans differently." He paused, searching for the right words. "When a demon exerts too much of his strength and doesn't allow himself time to recuperate, such as in Hiei's case, he risks the chance that his body stops harmonizing with its own demon energy. Somehow, the link between the two is blocked, though I'm not entirely sure why. His body becomes weak and vulnerable, making even mild illnesses difficult to fight off." He glanced at her with a raised eyebrow. "Do you understand?"
"Yes," Botan murmured. "Then this is my fault…"
Kurama shook his head. "No, it's not, Botan. Hiei's been gambling with his health for quite some time now. It just took an incident like the one yesterday for his own stubbornness to catch up to him."
When he looked at her the expression on her face was gravely serious. "Ok, then. What can I do?"
The kitsune sat for a moment, looking thoughtful. "I believe the only way to help him right now is to reintroduce small amounts of spirit energy into his body and hope it will stimulate the flow, again, naturally. Because spirit energy is a more pure form of demon energy, it will help draw out the energy trapped within Hiei's body."
Botan's eyes darted to Hiei as he grunted and turned over on his side. "That's it? That's all I have to do?" she asked, surprised. At Kurama's nod, she gave a small sigh, "Alright. I'll do my best."
"Just remember," Kurama warned, "I know you want to help, but this could take a lot out of you too. Don't push yourself so hard that you end up in a condition similar to him."
Botan stared at the floor, her lips in a tight line. "He saved my life, yesterday. I owe it to him to do whatever I can."
The red head sighed and gave a slight nod. "I understand." He stood up, his gaze serious. "Unfortunately, I will be unable to assist you, but I know you'll take good care of him. I just want you to promise me you'll take care of yourself as well."
She smiled and reached out to give his arm a slight squeeze. "I promise." Kurama smiled and turned, walking briskly from the room and shutting the door behind him.
Later that night, after Botan had informed Koenma what had happened and gotten his permission to carry on with her plan, she made herself some tea and settled down again next to Hiei's bed. Once he woke up, she knew the fiercely independent fire demon wouldn't be willing to cooperate.
Botan sighed and looked back down at Hiei, almost falling out of her chair when she found him watching her through one open eye.
"Hiei!" she exclaimed loudly, "You're awake!"
He grunted and struggled to sit up. "Where am I?"
Botan began fidgeting with her hands. "You're in Kurama's room. We brought you back here after you passed out in the forest." At the blank expression on his face, she continued, "You used a lot of energy out there, and we figured this would be the best place for you to recover since his mother will be out of town, visiting relatives, for the next few days. The others went back out to finish scoping the area; we never captured the leader behind the operation. They should be back soon." Hiei nodded but made no attempt to lie back down, and Botan wondered whether he really understood everything she'd just told him. He still looked pretty out of it. "Would you, um, like something to eat?" she asked tentatively. To her relief, he nodded, again, in agreement. "Good, you should be hungry. You've been asleep for a long time," she babbled.
He eyed her suspiciously. "How long?"
She drew away nervously. "Um, more or less ten hours?"
"What?" Hiei exclaimed, scaring Botan even more than she already was. He threw off the covers and pulled himself shakily from the bed.
"No! Lie back down. You have to rest!" Botan exclaimed, moving to stand in front of him.
"I think I've done enough of that," he growled in annoyance. "Get out of my way. I'm leaving."
"You don't understand, Hiei, you're sick," Botan tried to reason. "There's something wrong with your demon energy. If you don't rest, your condition will continue to worsen, and you could die!" Ok, so maybe she was exaggerating a little, but she was desperate to make Hiei understand how important his condition was. The fire demon chose to ignore her and began walking toward the door.
"Wait, Hiei!" Botan called after him. "How do you think Yukina would feel if something happened to you?"
Hiei stopped at the mention of his sister and glanced over at her with a frown. "She doesn't know, so it wouldn't make any difference."
"Yes, it would! She cares about you whether she knows you're her brother or not. She talks about you all the time!"
Hiei turned to face her, judging her. "What does it matter to you? You don't even like me."
Botan took a step forward, her hands on her hips. "That's not true, Hiei! You're my friend, and I don't like seeing you in pain! I… I want to help you." She looked down at the floor. "I know you think I'm annoying, and we've never been particularly close, but please trust me this one time."
There was an awkward silence as Hiei watched Botan with a raised eyebrow. Finally, he sighed and crossed his arms over his chest, turning his head away; a sign Botan knew he'd given in. She gave him a brilliant smile. "Ok! How about I go make us some soup and tea?" she asked happily.
Hiei shrugged and sat down on the edge of the bed, staring out the window. "Do what you want."
"Alright, then. I'll be downstairs, if you need anything," she called over her shoulder.
Botan hummed softly to herself as she picked up the whistling tea kettle and turned off the burner. She then poured some chicken noodle soup into two bowls, and placed everything on a large tray. Making her way up the stairs, she smiled as the door to Kurama's room came into view. "Hot soup coming up. Just what the doctor ordered!" she announced, backing in through the door. Her eyes scanned the room for her patient, but the bed remained empty, and the large glass window had been opened a crack. Botan set the tray onto Kurama's small bedside table and hurried over to the window. "Hiei?" she called, poking her head out into the cold. "Hiei, where are you?" There was a note of panic in her tone.
"Stop yelling. I'm right here." Botan's eyes darted to the nearest tree to her left, meeting the annoyed, narrowed ones of the fire demon.
She tried to contain her surprise. "What are you doing out there? You should be inside."
"What does it matter," Hiei scoffed, "as long as I'm 'resting'?"
Botan stomped her foot in aggravation. "Would you stop being so stubborn for once? It's cold outside! And your body uses more energy when it's cold to keep you warm! You're just going to get sicker if you stay out there!" She nearly jumped out of her skin when he appeared next to her out of seemingly thin air, arms crossed over his chest. "Gah! Um… Oh. Uh, how did you…?" she glanced back from him to the window and back again.
Hiei rolled his eyes and stalked toward the table containing food, helping himself to a bowl of soup. He eyed it for a moment with distaste. Usually, something so lacking in substance didn't appeal to his appetite, but he hadn't eaten much in the last couple of days, and his stomach growled in hunger. The blue haired deity joined him on the bed, watching him eat.
After a few minutes of silence, Hiei glared up at her in annoyance. "Do you mind?"
"Um…" she pulled back a few inches, looking nervous. "How does it taste?"
Hiei looked at her for a moment and nodded his head slowly. "It'll do for now," he said and went back to eating. Botan sighed and helped herself to some soup as well.
They ate in contented silence for a while until Botan remembered something important. "Hiei?" she asked suddenly, feeling apprehensive. The demon glanced at her out of the corner of his eye. "I never got the chance to thank you."
"Oh, you know. For helping me, yesterday. I don't know what I would have done if you hadn't been there."
Hiei glanced away. "…It was nothing."
"It meant something to me," she murmured. Hiei shot her a curious look, and Botan stood up embarrassedly. "Well, I should probably leave you alone," she smiled. "But don't hesitate to call me if you need something. Oh, and… Hiei?" The small demon raised an eyebrow questioningly. "Please don't disappear on me again."
Peneia Teke: Thanks for reading! Please leave a review.
Chapter revised 3/30/08