Disclaimer: Yu Yu Hakusho and all related characters are the property of Yoshihiro Togashi and are used without his knowledge or permission.
Warning: This is set after the end of the series so there may be one or two minor spoilers for the anime ending.
Hide and Seek
"Hide and Seek: Wanting to hide. Needing to be Sought. Confused about being found."
Kuwabara jerked out of sleep.
Someone was in the house.
He rolled out of bed before he thought it all the way through, but by then his senses had already told him there was no one else in the building with him. He rubbed a hand over his eyes and scratched his back, ignoring the reproachful glare Eikichi was shooting him from the foot of the bed. He concentrated for a moment, looking for traces of reiki or youki, but didn't see anything out of the ordinary.
Someone might have been there. His sister lived there, after all and he might have heard her leaving. Or someone might have been at the front door, or…
He flopped back down on the bed. Too early to think of another reason. Eikichi wandered over and nosed at him until Kuwabara scratched his ears.
It was almost ten so he gave up on sleep and pulled on a t-shirt, making his way down to the kitchen with the graceless stumble of a man who was still on the wrong side of a morning caffeine hit. He yawned into his fist and braced himself against the wall as he wandered into the kitchen. He could smell cigarette smoke in the kitchen and the lingering aroma of coffee and bacon, and he scowled at the stove. He didn't actually expect Shizuru to cook for him, but he was willing to live in eternal hope. One day he'd wake up to breakfast in bed.
Of course, the day that happened he wouldn't get to enjoy it because it would probably mean Shizuru was possessed by a demon or something and he'd have to kill it.
There was a couple cups of coffee still in the pot and he eyed it critically for a minute before giving up any pretense at pickiness and pouring it into the biggest mug he could find. He shoved it in the microwave and leaned against the counter thinking x-rated thoughts about breakfast until the timer went off and he juggled the steaming hot mug as he hooked a chair with his foot and sat down.
That was when he noticed the note.
It was stuck to the table with one of Shizuru's steak knives, almost up to the hilt. He looked at it for a minute, then leaned down to look under the table. The blade of the knife had gone all the way through. Huh. Probably not Shizuru, then. She might get pissed enough to ruin her own table just to get a message across, but he didn't think she had the upper body strength to get it through the wood. Well. He sipped the coffee for a minute, ignoring the burn as he thought about it. Maybe if she'd used a hammer. But he was pretty sure he would have heard that.
He gave the knife a good yank to get it free and tossed it into the sink. The note was written on blank notebook paper, the hiragana printed in precise lines.
Forty-seven hours, seventeen minutes, 33 seconds.
He frowned at it for a minute, then flipped it over in case someone had decided to provide an explanation. No luck.
He scowled at the note while he finished his coffee. He hated ominous shit.
Shizuru had raised an eyebrow at the damage to her kitchen table, but claimed not to know anything about the note. Kuwabara believed her, because accusing Shizuru of lying wasn't worth dying for.
Maybe it was a count-down. Maybe something was going to happen in two days.
There were probably other explanations, but he couldn't think of any that seemed more likely. He toyed with the idea of asking someone for advice, but his team was gone; Hiei was with Mukuro and Kurama was in the Makai until summer, fulfilling his obligations to Yomi. Urameshi might pop up at any moment, but Kuwabara figured he'd be more likely to get good advice from a stray cat.
He held onto the note and kept his eye open, just in case.
He wasn't sure what to do with himself these days. School was over and university didn't start for three more weeks. There was nothing to study, and it seemed like studying was about all he'd done for the last four years. His social life really was ridiculous, but aside from study sessions and lunches with Keiko, the only demands on his time the last few years was the occasional demand for a reikai tantei – which, apparently, was Kuwabara's job these days since Urameshi's… whatever. At least Koenma seemed to think it was. Kuwabara dealt with the occasional rogue demon or makai beast, but the half-bloods and the regular demons seemed content to leave things as they were.
Sometimes he almost wished for a little rampage, just to keep things interesting. Nothing life-threatening or bloody, but maybe some property damage.
For the first time since he was fourteen, his life was almost normal. Turned out, normal sucked.
The little ghost girl who lived in the house next door waved at him through the window.
Forty-seven hours came and went without anything occurring. Kuwabara couldn't even say he was surprised. He folded the note into a small square and flipped the paper over his fingers until Shizuru threw a magazine at him and told him to stop.
Nothing happened for a couple days and Kuwabara almost forgot about it except for the hole in the kitchen table. He poked at it over his morning coffee, picking at the edge of the wood with his fingernail.
"You're going to ruin my table," Shizuru snapped.
"It has a hole in it," Kuwabara said. "It's already kinda wrecked."
She glared at him like it was his fault. He rolled his eyes at her and set his coffee mug over the hole. "Better?"
"A new table would be better," Shizuru said. "Don't you have a job or something?"
"Demon-hunting doesn't pay well," he said ruefully.
"Can't put it on a resume, either," his sister said, stubbing out her morning cigarette. "You'd think a guy who doesn't even have a job would find some way to make himself useful around the place."
He raised an eyebrow at her. "Is that a subtle hint?"
"No one's ever accused me of being subtle before," Shizuru mused.
He did the dishes to shut her up.
The little ghost girl stood outside and jumped up and down, pigtails bouncing, making faces at him through the window while he washed. Even after he dried the last plate, he had the weird feeling she was watching him through the walls.
Something woke him up again a few days later, something he couldn't identify when he woke aside from the lingering feeling that someone had been staring at him while he slept. He sat up and scanned the room in the dark, his heartbeat kicking up thunder against his ribs and the skin on the back of his neck crawling. No youki, no anything that made him think someone had been in the room with him.
He saw something out of the corner of his eye and was halfway across the room, stumbling over his backpack and his hand curled to call the reiken when he recognized the face pressed against the glass.
It took an act of monumental willpower to bite back the curse that came to his lips. Instead he scrubbed a hand over his eyes and settled for counting to ten in his head.
Footsteps in the hall warned of Shizuru's arrival before she opened the door. "Whatever you're doing, stop it."
"Neighbor girl's getting braver," Kuwabara said, letting more than a hint of exasperation in his voice. "She's definitely crossed the property line now."
A frown flickered over Shizuru's mouth and she switched her gaze to the window. "What do you think she wants?"
She smiled at them through the window, all teeth and crinkling eyes. Her forehead was pressed against the glass and she leaned forward, pursing her lips and puffing out her cheeks, making faces.
"Uh-huh," Shizuru said. "This is why I said no more pets."
Kuwabara rolled his eyes and was about to drop back onto the bed when he smelled something burning. He sniffed again. "Sis, did you leave something on the stove?"
The wall over the bed started smoking.
He backed away as the paint turned black and began to crack and peel. The smell turned acrid and harsh and Kuwabara waved Shizuru off even as the flames flickered and died, leaving scorch marks across the wall. Scorch marks that spelled out a clear message.
A frown flickered over Shizuru's mouth and she tipped her head to the side. "Did she do that?"
Kuwabara felt his hands curl into fists.
Twenty-six hours, nine minutes, eleven seconds.
The ghost girl was gone from the window.
Shizuru made him fix the wall, which sucked because this so was not his fault, probably, as far as he knew. He wanted to be out looking for whatever was doing this before it decided to burn more than the paint off his wall, but he didn't even know where to start looking. This thing left no trace, no youki – he hadn't even found footprints (or clawprints, or hoofprints, or tentacle prints. Would tentacles leave prints? He really hoped this thing didn't have tentacles, that never boded well). Which left him spinning his wheels and doing home repairs instead of trying to hunt this thing down.
The ghost girl sat in the tree outside his window and swung her legs back and forth while he scraped scorched paint off the wall. She didn't feel like the same presence that had woken him before. He kept an eye on her, just in case.
She was an older ghost. Kuwabara hadn't gotten her to talk to him yet – he wasn't sure she could anymore. The older ones sometimes regressed, becoming less like people and more and more just restless spirits. Children were always iffy, moreso than any other kind of ghost. Sometimes they wanted to stay with their family, sometimes they just wanted to play. Sometimes they threw the ghostly equivalent of a temper tantrum which, depending on the strength of the spirit, could be violent. Kids couldn't always be reasoned with, dead kids even more so.
Kuwabara figured she'd been haunting the house next door for at least twenty years or so, judging by her clothes. He'd made a point of smiling at her or waving and saying hello when no one was looking and sometimes she would wait on her front porch for him to get home from school. He'd tried asking her name, or finding out what she needed, but she didn't seem to understand the question. Or she didn't want to answer.
The fact that she was wandering around more freely could be a good sign. It might mean she was letting go of the attachment that kept her from moving on. He hoped so. Little kids like that didn't deserve to be bound forever to the earth.
So he scraped at the wall and played his music too loud and made faces right back at her while she giggled silently into her hands.
He had just finished the first coat – and damnit, the color wasn't matching, Shizuru was totally going to make him paint the whole room – when he felt the presence again. No reiki, no youki. Just a feeling that something was there and watching him. He set the paint brush down in the pan and scanned the room. Not here. Somewhere. He glanced out the window and the little girl was still sitting there, her head craned back as she stared up at the roof.
Kuwabara called the reiken to hand and braced himself with a kekkai before he leaned out the window and followed her gaze. He saw the edge of the roof and the tree branches with the bright green buds and leaves of early spring, but that was it. Well, screw that. If this thing thought it could set his house on fire it was going to get re-educated real fast. He planted one foot on the windowsill and was braced to reach up and grab the eaves when the presence faded as quickly as it had arrived. He relaxed his guard for a moment until he saw the piece of paper fluttering out of the sky.
He caught it by leaning backwards halfway out the window, which was an awkward position to be in when Shizuru and her boyfriend du jour started walking up the front walk. He rolled his eyes and snatched the paper out of the air while Shizuru muttered something about putting bars on the window and padding on the walls.
The ghost girl vanished abruptly as Shizuru let the front door slam behind her. Kuwabara spared her a glance as he eyed the paper warily. The message was different, but familiar.
Seventeen minutes, thirty-four seconds. Improvement.
A cold chill ran down his back as he crumpled the paper into a ball and threw it at the wall. It wasn't a warning. Someone was timing him.
"This has been going on for a week now?" Keiko studied the note with the focused concentration that had made her top student of every class she'd ever been in.
"I thought it might be Shizuru's way of telling me to move out at first," he said, making a joke of it.
Keiko looked skeptical as she brushed her hair out of her eyes. "She'd just hire someone to pack all your things and leave them on the porch while you were away."
He grinned into his soda. "And then bill me for the expense."
She giggled. "Or just start charging you rent."
"Quiet!" Kuwabara scolded. "Don't give her ideas. She hears everything, you know that."
They were in one of the back booths at the Yukimura restaurant. Keiko's dad occasionally gave Kuwabara dirty looks – whether because he thought Kuwabara was putting the moves on his little girl or because he still held a grudge about that thing when he was possessed by Urameshi, Kuwabara wasn't sure. Keiko insisted her parents both liked him, but Kuwabara didn't need to be a mind reader to know that Keiko was lying.
"So if it wasn't a countdown to some terrible thing, what is it?" Keiko asked, deliberately keeping her voice down.
"I think I'm being graded," Kuwabara said. He tapped the paper, his finger hitting the word 'improvement'. "I think this thing or person or whatever is timing me. Seeing how long it takes me to notice that they're there watching me."
"That's creepy," Keiko said. "Like a stalker." She looked worried, her brow furrowed and her lips curving into a frown. "Is it a demon?"
It might be. If it was, it was a powerful one, strong enough to hide its youki from him. He didn't think telling her that would make her feel better, though, so he obfuscated. "I didn't sense youki, any of the times."
"That just means it's more powerful than you," Keiko said sharply.
He grinned and sat back in the booth. "Teach me to try and sneak one past the smartest girl at Tokyo University."
She grinned back at him. "Not yet, I'm not."
He changed the subject and they talked about school and what classes they were taking and how many years Keiko thought it will take her to get her degree and what medical school she was already planning to attend if only she could get the grades. "What are you going to do?" she asked him and he caught himself blushing as he answered her without thinking about it. "Pre-law. Criminal forensics."
"Lawyer?" she asked, with a big smile.
He shook his head, already knowing what her reaction would be. "Cop."
Her fingers tapped against the table as she met his gaze and held it for a long minute. "I'm not even surprised," she said. "A little worried. I'd hoped maybe-" She bit her lip, then shrugged. "I'd hoped you at least would be safe now. But you're going to be a good cop."
"Don't start worrying yet," he said in as dry a voice as he could manage. "There's still four years of university and the police academy. Plenty of opportunity for me to flunk out."
He'd been trying to make her smile and he succeeded. Keiko worried over Urameshi's frequently absent hide more than she should have. He didn't want her worrying over him, too.
"We'll make Kurama help you study again," Keiko said. "It worked very well last time."
Whatever he was about to say next – he's pretty sure it was something vaguely insulting about Kurama's criminal tendencies – was lost when he realized they were being watched.
"He's here," he said in a low voice. Keiko's eyes went wide and he reached across the table to grip her wrist. "Don't worry. I don't think we're in any danger here."
The bell on the door chimed as Mrs. Yukimura stepped in, her arms full of groceries. Her husband took the bags begfore Kuwabara could offer to help, and Mrs. Yukimura came over to the table, holding out a white envelope. "Kuwabara-san. I found this on the sidewalk. I think you must have dropped this outside."
It had his name written on it. He accepted it with as charming a smile as he could and thanked her. He didn't open it until she was gone and when he did, the folded piece of paper inside had the same familiar writing.
Twenty-four seconds. You're learning. Catch me if you can.
Keiko picked the paper out of his hands and frowned at it. "If we pretend for a minute that whoever this is isn't trying to hurt anyone… this is almost like a game. Like… hide and seek."
Kuwabara propped his chin on his fist and glared at the paper. "I hate games."
Four more letters appeared that week, one left for him on his keyboard, another on the kitchen stove where it nearly caught on fire. A third dropped out of the sky as he was taking out the trash. The fourth was written in dry-erase marker on the refrigerator.
All of them were under a minute. All of them were urging him to catch his stalker.
Kuwabara wanted to know how he was supposed to catch someone who didn't have reiki or youki (or at least had enough to shield it from him) and could, apparently, move faster than he could see.
Something woke him in the middle of the night for the third time in two weeks, but this time it wasn't a mysterious presence.
He recognized the spirit of the little girl before he even opened his eyes. She was curled up in a ball on top of the covers next to him, her eyes closed in a mimicry of sleep. He blinked at her for a minute, trying to figure out when exactly she learned how to cross the threshold into the house – not easy for any spirit to do uninvited, and twice as hard when the house was protected by wards and blessings, like his was. Two psychics in one house made for a tendency for weird things to happen and Shizuru had had the house protected before they even moved in.
Well, most of those wards were meant for dangerous or evil spirits. If the kid just wanted someone to play with, she might have been able to slip through. He toyed with waking her, but she wasn't hurting anything and it was really late. Maybe he could just kind of roll over and pretend he didn't see her. Playing dumb was something he had a lot of experience with.
Orange light flickered and danced over her face. It looked like candlelight and he spent a sleepy minute trying to figure out why Shizuru would have put candles in his room before he realized the whole room was lit by firelight.
The house next door was on fire.
He swore under his breath and rolled out of bed. He grabbed his jeans and was tugging them on when the air around him grew sharp with bitter cold. He shivered, a move that turned into a shudder when the ghost wrapped her arms around his waist and leaned against his side. She was painfully cold to the touch and he had to stop himself from pulling away. "Honey, I need to go help the people who live in your house." Instead of letting go, she tightened her grip on his waist until it was almost painful.
He craned his neck to look out the window. Flames were licking at the windows of the second floor of the house, but no one else seemed to have noticed yet. The ghost's fingers were clutched into his side, her nails digging into his skin through the cloth of his t-shirt. He didn't want to hurt her, she was just a little kid.
"Shizuru," he called, keeping his voice level. "Sis, I need a hand here."
His sister appeared in the doorway, bathrobe neatly tied, firelight reflecting off her eyes, giving her an ominous look. "This is what you get for treating restless spirits like pets," she pointed out, and Kuwabara rolled his eyes at her.
"Let go," Shizuru commanded. The ghost buried her face against Kuwabara's side and Shizuru's voice hardened. The next time she spoke her voice echoed in the small room and even Kuwabara felt the compulsion in her tone. "I said let go."
He stepped away as soon as the grip on his waist loosened. "Try to keep her here," he told Shizuru. "She doesn't want me going after the couple in her house."
Shizuru didn't take her eyes off the ghost. "There might be a reason for that, you know."
He could think of three off the top of his head, and only one of them was even slightly innocent. "I know. Just keep her here. I'll get the neighbors."
Getting too close to the ghost might let her get a grip on him again, so he made for the window instead. He could see the girl's reflection in the window before he opened it, watching him with narrow eyes.
That, he thought as he swung his legs over the windowsill, was one upset little kid.
The tree where she had sat and watched him paint was within easy reach of the window. He pushed off the windowsill and jumped, grabbing onto a branch and swinging himself up into the tree. He could hear the crack and pop of the fire now. The entire first floor of the house seemed to be engulfed, flames licking at the windows and slowly spreading onto the porch and up the walls. He scrambled from branch to branch about as gracefully as a drunk on a balance beam, but made it to the far side without falling or embarrassing himself too badly. He could reach one of the second floor windows from his branch and he peered through the glass. He could make out the master bedroom, and see the couple that lived there lying in the bed. It looked like they were still asleep.
Gripping the tree with one hand, he reached over to pound on the glass. "Fire," he shouted, when neither of them so much as twitched. "Hey. Fire. Wake up!"
That wasn't right. There was no way they were sleeping through this much noise. He summoned the reiken to hand, the bright orange reiki flaring briefly against the darker red and orange of the fire, then smashed in the bedroom window.
He swore constantly under his breath, repeating it like a mantra as he let go of the tree and swung a leg across the windowsill. Broken glass scraped against the wood but didn't cut through his jeans as he grabbed the top window with both hands and hauled himself inside. More glass crunched under his bare feet, but the cuts were minor and he ignored them as he crossed the room toward the bed.
The husband turned his head to stare at Kuwabara as he approached, and Kuwabara was about to chew him out for laying around when he saw the man's hands.
Or rather, didn't see them.
His arms were at his sides, as if he'd been asleep lying on his back, but his forearms and hands disappeared into the mattress, not through a hole or puncture, but as if the mattress had dissolved and reformed around his hands.
"Crap," Kuwabara said.
The wife was lying on her stomach, her hands tucked under her pillow, but from the way she was moving, he was willing to bet she was in the same situation. Neither one of them looked like they were going to be able to pull free.
"I'm going to cut you loose," Kuwabara said, raising his voice to carry over the sounds of the fire. "And we're going to get out of here."
"My sister," the man said. His voice was scratchy from the smoke and maybe fear and he stared up at Kuwabara. "My sister. We didn't know. We didn't-" he broke off with a strangled sound, staring past Kuwabara. "Tori."
The little ghost girl was there, standing by the broken window. And she looked pissed. Her eyes were solid, milky white and she stamped her foot on the floor as she opened her mouth and screamed.
It was like being hit with one of Urameshi's solid right hooks – or a ki blast. It hit Kuwabara in the chest and threw him backwards over the bed. He hit the floor on his back and shoulders, his legs sprawled over the bed. He clawed at the wood, pushing himself away from the bed as the mattress began to give way beneath his legs, trying to suck him down like it had Tori's brother and his wife.
He pulled himself to his feet, not taking his eyes off the little girl. "Tori," he said. "It's okay. Whatever's wrong, we can fix it."
And shit, shit, he wasn't good at this. Shizuru could put the fear of god into anything on earth, including the already dead. He knew how to exorcise a spirit, in theory, but he'd never had to before. And he didn't want to start with a little girl who made faces at him through the window.
He swore loudly in his head and began tearing down the shields he kept around his sixth sense. Reiki wasn't going to do him much good here.
"What happened to her?" he asked Tori's brother. "Why is she still here?"
"She died," the man said, his eyes wide with fear and still glued to the ghost. "She, she was burned. Fire. She started a fire in the kitchen. It was an accident! Has she been here all along?"
"I think she has," Kuwabara said grimly. He was slowly peeling away layers of defense and the wide-open feeling of his sixth sense made him feel vulnerable. "I think she's mad. You're sure it was an accident?"
The man lifted his head enough to give Kuwabara a baffled look. "What else could it be?"
"They left me all alone." The ghost flickered in and out of place as she spoke. "They left me all alone in my tomb to die forever." She solidified again and her eyes were normal now as they fixed on Kuwabara. "No one came. I left, but no one saw. No one heard. Except you."
Crap, Kuwabara thought. "Tori, they didn't know you were still here." He risked taking a few small steps closer to the bed, trying to breathe evenly through the smoke in the air. He dropped the rest of his shields without worrying about finesse, trying to keep her in his mind's eye. "Let them go, all right?"
"I hate them," Tori said. She lowered her head and glared at them from behind her bangs. "I hate you, too," she told him, her voice deep and echoing. "You can't leave."
He flung himself over the bed again, slapping both hands against the floor and pushing reiki through his palms and fingers, envisioning a solid wall between her and them. It only partially worked, but it was enough to keep him from getting going flying again when she threw another wave of energy at him.
The floor was getting warm under his hands, and the fire was a continuous roar in the background now. Tori's sister-in-law was sobbing into her pillow and the smoke was thickening in the air, making all their throats raw. His sixth sense was wide open and he could feel the terror coming off the couple in waves, mixed with sorrow and guilt from the brother. Tori herself was rage and hate and underneath that a chasm of loneliness that sucked at Kuwabara and tried to pull him down into it.
With his shields down, he recognized his stalker as soon as the presence appeared on the roof.
I don't have time for games, he thought fiercely in the direction of the roof. And then he threw his head back and tossed dignity to the wind. "Hiei! Hiei, these people need help!"
The fire demon appeared perched on the windowsill. "What are you doing, idiot?"
"Get them out of here!" Kuwabara waved his hand behind him at the couple on the bed. "I'll deal with her, just get them out!"
Hiei narrowed his eyes. "Deal with who?"
Tori tipped her head to the side. "No one can see me. No one ever sees me. I thought you could see me."
Kuwabara held both hands out in front of him. "I can see you, Tori. I know you're here."
"I'm leaving," Tori said. "I'm not staying here anymore."
"Okay. That sounds like a good plan." Something dark and ugly was building up around her, a mass of emotion and intent that overwhelmed the smell of smoke and made his head ache. "I can help you leave."
Tori closed her eyes and every piece of furniture in the room began to float off the ground.
"Hiei," Kuwabara said. "Get. Them. Out."
He moved before Tori could, wrapping both arms around the little girl and dragging her against his chest. She was cold and her skin seared him where he held her, but he didn't let go. The miasma around her was pulsing with her anger and her sense of betrayal, and Kuwabara swallowed hate and fear and abandonment. It beat its way under his skin, sinking into his flesh and seeping through his blood until he could taste it. He shuddered as Tori screamed against his shoulder.
He spread his hands out against her back, palms flat against her spine, and reached inside her soul, pulling out the rest of that darkness. He could feel the heat of the fire as the flames burst through the door, the floor, consumed the walls. He heard glass breaking and wood creaking and his head ached as he breathed in smoke.
The ghost clawed at his sides, but she was weakening. Without the hate and sadness that had kept her bound here she was just a scared little girl who had never wanted to hurt anyone.
"Kuwabara!" Hiei's voice. Kuwabara opened his eyes, looked up at Hiei.
The fire demon approached cautiously, pushing the flames back a little with each step. Kuwabara wrapped his hands against Tori as the little ghost began to fade.
She disappeared from his arms like a wisp of smoke, and Kuwabara folded up on himself.
Her hate and anger were crawling under his skin, and he had to focus to find his center, find the emotions that weren't his and push them away. He could feel them seeping out his pores, dripping off him like blood.
"What was it?" Hiei asked. The fire demon was keeping a small distance between them, his Jagan focused on the thin red lines of hate that crawled across Kuwabara's skin like blood before evaporating into the air around them.
"Ghost," Kuwabara said. He held a hand up in front of him, watched dark energy flicker and form over his palm. It was cloudy and cloying and he was having a harder time getting this emotion out of him than the more violent hate. "She died alone. She just wanted someone to notice her, but no one ever did."
Hiei folded his arms over his chest. "You did."
Kuwabara shook his hand, letting Tori's loneliness evaporate into the room. "Not soon enough."
"You really couldn't see her?"
Hiei narrowed his eyes. "How was I supposed to see a ghost?"
Kuwabara rolled his eyes at the sky. "What kind of psychic are you?"
"I'm not a psychic," Hiei said. "I'm a Jaganshi." He managed to sound disdainful and defensive at once. "I read minds, I don't commune with the spirits. That sort of nonsense is a human trait."
The sun was bright and unseasonably warm. Kuwabara was content to sprawl on the grass and let it burn him. He could still feel Tori under his skin and he could imagine the sun baking the last lingering traces of her energy out of him. "And you were giving me shit for being unobservant."
Hiei sounded exasperated now. "I followed you for two weeks and you never noticed me."
"And you never noticed the homicidal ghost living next door," Kuwabara shot back. "And why were you stalking me anyway?"
Hiei didn't answer for a long moment and Kuwabara cracked an eye, watching the fire demon from beneath his eyelashes. It must be a doozy if Hiei was stalling this long.
"You're a target," Hiei said finally, and his voice made it sound like he was forcing the words out. "Do you understand that?"
Kuwabara opened his eyes all the way. "What, because of the tantei thing? That's not new, Hiei."
"Because of Urameshi," Hiei said. "How many demons were at the Dark Tournament? How many saw Toguro prove that all they have to do to destroy Urameshi is go after you?"
"Well most of them are dead now because Togure ate them," Kuwabara said. "And I'm sorry, destroy? Urameshi kicked Toguro's ass, remember?"
"How much more would he do now?" Hiei countered. "Yuusuke is more than he was then. Stronger. More powerful." He frowned down at Kuwabara. "More attached."
"Are you seriously trying to tell me you stalked me for the better part of two weeks, freaked out Keiko and destroyed Shizuru's kitchen table because you didn't want Urameshi to get mad if I died?"
"You have a blind spot," Hiei said like that was some kind of revelation. "You don't keep watch. Demons-"
"Four," Kuwabara said and if he sounded royally pissed off then it at least made Hiei stop and listen to him. "I don't keep watch on four demons. Yeah, I have a blind spot, Hiei and congratulations – you're it. I filter you guys out because I know you're not going to kill me. If Toguro or Karasu or Yakumo started following me around, them I'd notice." He propped himself up on his elbows and shot the fire demon a dark glare. "And speaking of blind spots, which one of us failed to notice the killer ghost? Oh, that's right. You did." He flopped back in the grass. "Urameshi may be more than he used to be, and you're right. He's stronger, he's more powerful and he's got a lot more enemies. But I'm not who I used to be. I'm stronger, I have more control and I have more friends. Toguro couldn't kill me even back then," he said, shielding his eyes from the sun. "What makes you think I'll let someone else kill me now?"
Hiei snorted. "Because any human child throwing a temper tantrum can get the better of you."
"Only the dead ones," Kuwabara said cheerfully. "Stop worrying. It really doesn't suit you."
He closed his eyes, but his shields weren't back in place yet – maybe never would be. Hiei was right about one thing; blind spots weren't good for someone in his line of work. Tomorrow he'd go find Genkai, take her up on the training she'd offered him four years ago – and he could feel the flare of embarrassed denial before Hiei snarled wordlessly and vanished into the sky.
This psychic thing might be handy after all.
I dedicate this story to Lady_Flamewing and MAFoxfire and Scheherezhad over on LJ.
c&c is always appreciated!