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Author's Note: Another update that took less than six months. And it's one of the longest ones yet. Gasp!
Disclaimer: I do not own Yu Yu Hakusho. I am not making any money from writing this. But don't steal my plotline, thankies!
In Which the Tantei Rise Up
"He couldn't even beat me," Elder Toguro cackled. "He had to let the fox stop me. Because he's weak. And doesn't deserve to be called 'Tantei.'"
"I gave up that business anyway," Kuwabara retorted with more bravado than he felt.
"Because you couldn't keep up with them. You became irrelevant."
That stung. And Kuwabara couldn't help but think back to the Dark Tournament and the matches he'd lost. And getting his soul taken by Kaito. And to getting kidnapped by Sensui. And Elder Toguro's disgusting return. Once Sensui had been defeated, Kuwabara had had enough. The team had been officially disbanded at that point anyway, what with Yusuke's now active demon blood gone hairdresser from hell and all.
It didn't hurt matters that all three of his teammates had awoken inane demonic powers while he remained woefully human in comparison, Jigen-to or no.
Kuwabara shook his head. Around him, the demons were watching him like a lion watches an antelope… only held back by the presence of his friends. Didn't matter that he could destroy most of them with little effort. The sheer number of the vermin, though…
No, once more he was being guarded by his much more powerful allies. He could see that truth reflected in Toguro's eyes and it sent a shiver down his spine.
He could sense the power levels of his allies as clearly as those of his enemies, and his friends' powers were at another level altogether beyond his, maybe even two or three. He suddenly felt very out of place—like an imposter. Toguro was right—he was irrelevant, swallowed up by his friends.
Kuwabara hung his head. "You're right," he whispered. "I don't belong in the same league as them. I never deserved to be called 'Tantei.'"
"You are a loner, Hiei Jaganshi," Seiryu said with a smirk. "Though our elements oppose each other, we are not nearly so different."
"I doubt that."
Hiei ground his teeth. He was no Seiryu… was he?
Seiryu took a step forward and Hiei unconsciously stepped back. The widened smirk on the ice demon's face was Hiei's only indication that he'd moved. Anger boiled up within. He did not back away from an enemy; no matter the odds, a true warrior never backed away from a fight. But the deceased Saint Beast had touched on a nerve—and feelings were one of the few things Hiei tended to either run from or squash.
"They put so much faith in you, Hiei," Seiryu said, indicating his three captive teammates. "But is it justified?" His allies had grown silent during the exchange, watching on curiously. Their gazes made Hiei tense.
"Hn." In truth, that was a good question. He knew—knew—he held strong loyalty to those three (well, maybe less to Kuwabara), but he had to, so often, be coerced into fighting alongside them. Hell, he'd even left them while Sensui, along with his Seven, had gathered strength.
But he came back.
Only because Sensui's plan would have caused him trouble as well. Once more, his motives were selfish.
Just like Seiryu. Damn.
Touya grasped at his middle with a grimace—several ribs were at least cracked if not broken. It hurt to breathe—and he was short of breath as it was. He swallowed instead and found the taste of blood present in his mouth.
"Dammit," he muttered.
A blow from Risho struck Jin squarely in the chest and sent his tumbling across the ground, halting in front of Touya's hunched form. The wind master coughed and slowly pushed himself into a kneeling position.
"This is no goo', Touya," he gasped. "His armor's too strong."
"He has to have a weakness," Touya replied, eyeing the earth master. Risho was watching them with an amused smirk on his face. Touya really wanted to wipe that look off his face—or his head from his body; the end result would be the same, after all.
"If your ice an' mah wind can't break through th' earth, what do we do?" Jin asked wearily. Bruises were forming on his face, Touya noted, and the wind master didn't bruise easily; demons in general didn't bruise easily considering their violent natures. It was a testament to the hardness of Risho's armor.
"Ichigaki gave him some kind of power up," Touya said flatly. "We have to find a way to negate it. On his own, Risho is no match for us."
"Easier said tha' done, mate," Jin muttered with a wince as he pushed himself to his feet.
"Are you boys done whispering yet?" Risho called out.
Touya bristled at being called a 'boy,' considering he was much older than the earth master. Despite his youthful appearance, Touya had been the oldest and most experienced member of his Shinobi team. But he also knew Risho was trying—and succeeding—to get under their skins, to cause them to become careless in the fight.
"I'm more than willing to give you time to make some futile plans since there's no way you can beat me, but I am growing bored," Risho continued.
"Arrogant bastard," Touya growled, eyes briefly scanning the camera crews that had ended up on their side of the wall. "He's enjoying the media attention."
"You keep tha' up, Risho," Jin hissed. "We'll see who wins in th' end."
"I have no doubt of that," Risho agreed smugly. With a roar, he summoned spikes of earth from the ground and shot them at the two ex-Shinobi.
Touya cursed under his breath and threw up an ice shield. His ribs creaked in painful protest at the sudden movement, but Touya pushed the pain to the back of his mind. The spikes battered the shield, rattling his arms with each strike. His entire body shook from the effort of holding up the barrier—the spikes kept coming in a shower of sharpened earth, leaving Touya unable to move from his cover.
He spared a glance to see that Jin had taken to the air and was blocking the spokes with miniature tornadoes in his hands. Considering air was always moving, he couldn't just put of a barrier of his element, causing him to expend more physical effort than Touya.
The impish demon landed next to Touya once all the spikes had clattered harmlessly to the ground. "We can't keep defendin', Touya."
"I know," the ice master muttered. "But we need a plan of attack."
"You're the plans guy!" Jin exclaimed. "Always were!"
Touya grimaced, Jin's high-pitched squeak grating on his ears. "Doesn't mean I couldn't use some help," he retorted.
"Now, now, don't bicker, boys. You're about to become living weapons, after all."
Jin and Touya fell over in the rush to turn around—and find Risho standing behind them. Touya's eyes flew wide. When had…
"Over mah dead body," Jin spat, covering for his shock.
Risho's face lit up. An earthen sword—much like Touya's own ice sword—formed over his arm. "I can arrange that as well."
"If you continue as you are, you will snap. It's only a question of when," Sensui said so matter-of-factly that it gave Yusuke pause.
"No, I won't!" he exclaimed as he recovered, completely rejecting the idea.
"How long before," Sensui pressed," you become like me?"
"Jaded as hell and willing to kill everyone?" Yusuke retorted as his mind scrambled to cover up what was just underneath the surface. "I don't think I'll ever get to that point."
Sensui regarded him curiously. "You don't really believe that, though."
Well damn. Yusuke hated the whole Spirit Detective-predictability factor; hated it when they fought when the bastard was alive and hated it now when he was dead.
"You don't know what I believe," Yusuke retorted much more confidently than he felt. He'd always been a good bluffer, he thought.
"Don't I?" Sensui's lip twitched and he took a step forward, forcing the filing students to part in order to make a path for him. "You believe people deserve peace and since you've got the power, you can protect them. Save them from knowing about what goes bump in the night."
"That's impressive," Yusuke returned, "but a bit noble for me, I think."
Sensui just smiled. Bastard. "You believe in your team and that together you can face anything." Another step.
"Hallmark card?" Yusuke retorted, forcing himself to remain cocky.
"And you believe that you'll never lose them." Another step.
Yusuke crossed his arms. "We're not immortal, I know that. Hell, I've died. Twice. Thanks for that, by the way." Sensui's smile widened slightly. "And I can't count the number of times I've seen them almost die." He was pretty sure Kurama had died that time against Karasu, too, even if only for a moment. He's been sure Toguro had killed Kuwabara… and he had actually killed Genkai…
"And yet they all remain. I can see it in your eyes—you don't really think they'll die—at least stay dead," Sensui continued as if Yusuke hadn't spoken. "You've had so many close calls come out alright that you're programmed to believe it." His step brought him within ten feet. Too close.
"Bullshit." But Sensui was making a bit too much sense.
"So what happens if one of them really does die? As you said, you're not immortal." The students were now surrounding them in a circle as they moved, leaving a clear space between the two former detectives. Yusuke idly wondered why the bell hadn't rung yet. He found that he couldn't speak. He wasn't such a good buffer, after all.
"You snap," Sensui answered for him. "And with your power, you'll do a lot of damage. You'll kill other loved ones." His smirk dropped. "And you will be just as jaded as me."
"No, no, take one step that way and you're stuck as 'Suuichi.' But we both know that's not the real you, Kurama," Yomi said from the demon side of the fork. "You are so much more than that, old friend. Even I can see that without sight."
"But take a step that way and you'll forever be Youko Kurama, scourge of the Demon World," Hatanaka countered from the human side of the fork, alongside his mother and step-brother.
"Make the right choice, Kurama," Kuronue said, appearing next to Yomi.
"Who are you?" Shuichi asked.
Who am I?
Kurama pursed his lips. No matter how often he told himself that he was at peace with his decision, that he would live in the present, nearly two millennia of life did not just erase itself. He still awoke from nightmares about his days in Demon World—and felt its draw as well.
But his mother remained his anchor. His family now held him in the Human Realm… because he loved them and wanted to protect them. His life was now full of humans that he wanted to protect.
He told himself, told the others, that he had made his decision. But he had always been a damn good liar—even to himself. Every day was a struggle, two sides pulling him in opposing directions, irrevocable directions, paths that did not meet.
Suuichi ached to be at his mother's side, to be her perfect son, the perfect older brother for Shuichi. Suuichi felt his mother's draw and pulled Kurama toward the human side.
Youko, on the other hand, knew where he belonged. He wouldn't allow a scrawny human to keep him from the land he had all but reigned over as the legendary bandit. Kuronue's memory remained an open wound centuries later and it seemed a poor way to remember his legacy by gallivanting among humans—beings long derided and thought of as little more than food or slaves; lesser beings at the very least. Yomi's presence only served to remind him of his past—and the now-blind demon's survival a testament to the fact Kurama could never escape it.
"Suuichi," Shiori pleaded.
"Youko," Yomi countered.
"Suuichi," Hatanaka called out.
"Youko," Kuronue said with an outstretched hand.
"Brother?" Shuichi asked uncertainly.
Kurama was frozen, feeling his two halves battling. And suddenly there were two. Suuichi and Youko Kurama stood side by side, looking at each other curiously.
Koenma felt his hopes of a relatively peaceful solution (meaning defeating Ichigaki and his men, minimal innocent bloodshed) to the matter fall with the Tantei. With Jin and Touya on the ropes against Risho and the other Dark Tournament fighters occupied elsewhere by the droves of Ichigaki's captive demons, it looked as though the worst case scenario had come to pass.
Mukuro cursed under her breath while Yomi pursed his lips. Though he could not see the coverage, the victorious cries of the human announcers painted the picture clearly enough. Enki sighed and turned to Koenma.
"Well Koenma, what do you suggest?"
"This will only be the beginning," the prince said gravely. "Ichigaki will use Yusuke and the others as living weapons and come to Demon World. Then to Spirit World.
Despite the overwhelming threat he had to face now, Koenma couldn't help but feel a deep sadness at the loss of his former Spirit Detective team. He had grown fond of them over the years—fonder than he should have by a long shot. To see them laid out and at Ichigaki's mercy broke his heart. And knowing that Ichigaki would take them alive and use them against their wills—like his fighters from the Dark Tournament—to conquer the other two worlds was almost too much to even consider. It was with a heavy heart that he pushed his personal feelings down to do his duty.
"Then we must prepare for war," Mukuro said. Her tone was as heavy as Koenma's heart . It must hurt her to see Hiei downed, and by someone so seemingly beneath him.
"We cannot attack since passage to the Human Realm has been blocked," Yomi added.
"But we can stand ready for when they do attack," Enki finished.
Koenma nodded. "There's no way to know where they will start their assault, but I think we can count on the human media to keep us informed."
"Then we shall call our armies to arms."
"You never deserved to be called 'Tantei'?" Yusuke demanded in disbelief. "What kind of crap are you spouting now, Kuwabara?"
"I knew you were dumb," Hiei added with a snort, "but this exceeds even my expectations."
Kuwabara's cheeks burned. "Watch it, Shorty."
"You've never held the team back, Kuwabara," Kurama piped up, sounding rather nonplussed at the idea. "It's always the four of us."
"For better or for worse… or whatever," Yusuke supplied with a grin.
"Mostly for worse," Hiei couldn't resist saying, but backed down at Yusuke's and Kurama's frowns.
Kuwabara perked up. "Really?"
"Byakko," Kurama pointed out.
"Tarukane," Yusuke listed.
"Ichigaki's humans," Hiei said.
"Elder Toguro." Kuwabara opened his mouth, but Yusuke glared him silent. "Dude, you annihilated him. He's just a freak."
"You cut down the kekkai between the worlds single-handedly," Kurama added with an amused smile.
The demons surrounding him broke into excited chatter at this. After all, it took a lot of power to summon a Jigen-to of that magnitude. It was a one-in-three-worlds type feat.
"And you still fight rogue demons in the city on your own," Kurama continued over the chatter.
Kuwabara flushed. "You guys still help."
"But we're not always around," Yusuke shrugged. "You can pretty much single-handedly protect the city."
Warmth built up within Kuwabara at each mention of his victories and his friends' assurances that he held his own for the team. He might have teared up, but he didn't want to ruin the moment.
"I do deserve to be called 'Tantei'!"
Elder Toguro was slowly backing away from the group as Kuwabara's confidence grew. Kuwabara turned on him and pointed a finger.
"You're wrong. I am a Spirit Detective and a man among men." His friends line up behind him. "Screw you."
"Of course our faith is justified," Yusuke said in surprise. "Hiei's always there to save our asses when we need it."
Hiei looked over at the former Spirit Detective in surprise. "Yusuke…"
"Are you stupid or something?" Kuwabara demanded. "I mean, you think I'm dumb, but damn."
Hiei ground his teeth but still considered the boys' words. They had faith in him and never doubted it. Considering they had started as enemies, Hiei would never understand Yusuke. Yet that mystery was what made him so magnetic.
"I kidnapped the Yukimura girl and tried to kill you," Hiei pointed out.
"And stabbed me in the stomach," Kurama added helpfully. Hiei was about to snap at the fox—that incident had never really been resolved between the two of them, and now definitely wasn't the time—but saw green eyes sparkling back at him with… amusement? That deflated him completely.
Yusuke snorted. "And I kicked your ass as payback. That's ancient history."
"You've saved all our asses enough that we trust you," Yusuke interrupted, crossing his arms. Hiei knew that stubborn posture well; Yusuke would have no argument on this.
"I…" Hiei couldn't find a way to voice his concern.
Kurama, however, seemed to know exactly what was bothering him. "Hiei, the fact that you were willing to die to avenge Yusuke's death at Sensui's hands says everything."
Hiei blinked, not having considered that. It had seemed so natural—the only thing to do at the time. And if he had to do all over, he would have done the same thing.
Kurama nodded at him. "We demons are, by nature, selfish creatures. To be willing to die for a human," Yusuke coughed and the fox smiled, "for someone you thought human is as selfless as you can be."
Hiei took a moment to consider this. It had never been in his nature to care for others (except Yukina, and even then from a distance) and he had derided Kurama for years for his willingness to care and die for others. But meeting Kurama and eventually Yusuke and Kuwabara had changed everything.
He could see that now.
And it surprised him that he was okay with the change. He looked at his three captive allies. They were nodding and smiling confidently at him.
Seiryu was full of shit and would pay for this. Hiei turned on the ice demon. Seiryu only had a moment to register shock before his head tumbled from his shoulders. The ice cages holding the other three vanished as Hiei sheathed his sword.
"I don't think jaded suits Yusuke," a new voice broke into the ex-Spirit Detective heart-to-heart.
Yusuke nearly gave himself whiplash to find the source of the voice. Kurama stood leaning against the nearest classroom doorframe with that knowing smile on his lips. Normally that smile infuriated Yusuke—fox boy knew too much; it wasn't fair—but at this moment it was a welcome sight. But memories of Kurama's many near-death experiences sprang to mind and his relief faded back to depression.
"Cynical, maybe. Sarcastic, definitely. Cocky, of course. But jaded? No."
Yusuke turned to see Hiei perched o the window railing across from Kurama. Rather than be pleased by the fire demon's appearance, visions of Hiei's pain and struggles over their past cases took the place of Kurama's.
"I don't know why he's so depressed all of a sudden," Kuwabara's unmistakable voice added. Yusuke looked up to see Kuwabara standing beyond Sensui with the students filing around him as well. He couldn't help but picture Kuwabara's major falls either.
"You of all people should know," Yusuke snapped at Kuwabara before he realized what he was saying. "You're the only human—you'll live the shortest of us all." And then it hit Yusuke—he didn't want to see Kuwabara age and die while he stayed young. He didn't think he could handle it. Damn demonic lifespans.
Kuwabara shrugged. "No one's immortal, Urameshi. We play the cards we're dealt."
How philosophical. Seemed actually going to school had done wonders for him.
Kuwabara rubbed the back of his neck. "I'm okay with growing old and dying—assuming some demon doesn't get me first." He said the last part off-handedly, but Yusuke groaned. Kuwabara just waved him off. "Look, Urameshi. We all chose to fight with you for our own reasons." He pointedly stared at Hiei, who in turn ignored him. "But we've made our choice. Whatever happens, happens. No regrets because it's our choice."
"Kuwabara is right, Yusuke," Kurama said smoothly.
"Says the however-many-thousand year-old demon," Yusuke muttered.
Something crossed Kurama's face that Yusuke couldn't read. "I, of all people, know about being afraid of loss and death," he said coolly and Yusuke knew he'd said something stupid. "I became who I am now to avoid dying, remember?"
Yusuke flinched, having conveniently forgotten that minor detail in his angst. Kurama made it easy to forget his dark past.
"We've all made our choice," he said more gently. "Whatever comes of it, we will face. You cannot worry over that."
"Hn," Hiei agreed. "Don't add that burden to what you already carry, Yusuke. It'll get you—and possibly us—killed."
"Pain and loss are a part of life. Worry about the here and now," Kurama added.
"But if I snap and lose it…" Yusuke trailed off.
"The rest of us will be here for you," Kuwabara said simply. He grinned. "And would be really happy to kick your ass for you."
Yusuke couldn't help but smile at that. "Not likely." But their words were making sense. He had once told Sensui that he didn't deal in what-ifs, and yet that was exactly what he was doing. He could sure be dense sometimes.
Yusuke turned to Sensui, who had remained silent through the exchange. "If something happens, I have people here for me. We'll get through it. Your problem was you were a loner." He grinned. "My team is so much better than you ever were."
Suuichi and Youko Kurama were looking at one another in disbelief when the presence of three new figures behind them caught their attention. Yusuke, Kuwabara, and Hiei took in the scene with mild curiosity.
Yusuke took the initiative and called out, "The hell, Kurama…s?"
"Torn between your human and demon sides," Hiei observed. "I thought you had solved this."
Both Suuichi and Youko shook their heads.
"I have lived too long to be forsaken," Youko said in his deep voice.
"The Human World has changed everything for me," Suuichi disagreed. "I cannot leave it—or Shiori."
"Why does it have to be one or the other?" Kuwabara asked. The two Kuramas looked at him—their gazes equally unsettling. "Ever since I've known you, you've been a… hybrid, I guess. Part human, part demon."
"Leaving one behind for the other only creates regrets," Hiei added. "Though I greatly admire Youko Kurama's legend."
"The Kurama I know," Yusuke broke in over Hiei's unhelpful musing, "is like Kuwabara said—part Suuichi, part Youko. But the two parts created a unique person—or demon, whatever. Not Suuichi. Not Youko. Kurama—the ancient, insanely smart thief who has learned compassion and friendship."
"The unique Kurama is the one we know and love," Kuwabara said. At Yusuke's snicker, Kuwabara's hurriedly added, "In a totally manly way, of course."
"Don't deny either part of yourself; embrace them both," Hiei said over the childish argument that had broken out between Yusuke and Kuwabara over the comment.
"Strength and knowledge," Suuichi said, looking at Youko.
"Compassion and bonds," Youko said, looking at Suuichi.
In a flash, the two Kuramas were gone. As the haze of red and silver lifted, the red-headed Kurama stood there, untold centuries of knowledge reflected in his green eyes. This was the unique hybrid.
Kurama smiled at his friends and they all nodded back. Yusuke and Kuwabara grinned while Hiei remained deceptively stoic. The fox turned back to the figures on other side of the fork.
"You are all a part of who I am. I choose all of you."
Ichigaki pulled four collars from his coat pocket and made his way to the fallen fighters. "I shall secure them before they awaken and transport them to our highest security prison," he told the remaining media. "They have been tried for their crimes and found guilty. But to kill them would be to stoop to their inhuman levels. They will rot under our, the Organization's, guard."
In truth, of course, he would begin experimenting on them immediately. He had wanted Yusuke's body ever since the Dark Tournament, but the other three piqued his interest as well. And he would use their immense powers to take over all three worlds. With Team Urameshi and their friends under his control, he would be unstoppable. He grinned. After so long, his plan would finally be realized!
As he knelt over Kuwabara's form, he paused in collaring him when he thought he saw a finger move. He blinked. Must have imagined it. The potion was perfect, adapted from dream manipulation powers; this gas would keep the user weighed down (and therefore unconscious) by facing them with their biggest fears and insecurities. It was a hell in their own heads that they could not escape. None he had tested, even Risho, had been able to overcome its effects alone. His plan was flawless.
He went to collar Kuwabara again but this time there was definitely movement—his whole right hand. Just a twitch…
Ichigaki instead bent over Yusuke, who had fallen protectively near Kuwabara. As he went to collar the ex-Spirit Detective, he noticed Yusuke's leg move.
Suddenly panicked, he turned to Kurama, who was moaning softly—consciousness would be the next step.
Hiei's face had contorted into a frown—his features had been slack only moments before, Ichigaki was sure.
The troll doctor slowly backed away, unnerved by the apparent failure of his proud experiment. "T-there seems to be traces of the gas in the area," he lied to the television crews. "I m-must wait a moment."
As his mind struggled to comprehend what was going on—this hadn't been in his calculations!—he watched in shock as his enemies rose.
Kuwabara, then Hiei, then Yusuke, and finally Kurama all opened their eyes and pushed themselves to their feet. They all quickly found Ichigaki, and their eyes were dangerous, no, murderous.
"You think you can hold us by our insecurities?" Kurama demanded coldly.
"Big mistake," Kuwabara informed him.
"We are not so weak," Hiei said.
"Our team—we've got each others' backs," Yusuke confirmed. "We'll face whatever you've got and beat it. Together."
Author's Note: There you have it. And I like reviews, so please leave one!