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Alice Alive

Chapter Twenty-One: Endlessly, She Said

By, Kajihenge Yoko


Still each time I always meant,

Every word,

Every one,

Though in time they finally bent,

Every word,

Every one.

Every word.

"I will wait for you," she said,

"Endlessly."

"I will wait for you," so spoke,

Misery.

I returned to you but found,

My empty home,

The radio told me to stay,

As it burned down,

I sang alone,

You will outlast my love.


Botan's face is lackluster and clearly upset. Her downcast pink eyes are disappointed, and we can all tell that she's angry with herself. Keiko holds Puu to comfort herself more than anything, and Shizuru and I exchange a grimace. Yukina stands silently to the side, and Atsuko tips her head back and looks at the steadily graying sky.

"Come on man, have a heart! I've been here since last night," a blue demon teenager explains to the beefy ticket-taker.

"Yeah, well I've been here two nights," says another demon.

Another one flips his hair out of his face, giving a scoff. "Lighten up, dude. We won't tell if you won't."

The ticket-taker unfolds his huge arms and swings a huge club at the crowd around him. "How many times do I have to tell you jerks? You'd best back up before I take your heads off. You ain't got no ticket, you ain't got no seat. There's no ifs, ands, or buts about it, got me?"

Keiko's shoulders slump.

"It sounds like it's impossible for us to get in," Yukina says, turning to us.

Botan puts her hands together, frowning. "I'm sorry girls, I was so preoccupied when I spoke to Koenma, I completely forgot to ask about tickets. I'm afraid we won't be able to watch the fights."

Shizuru's eyes light up and she cracks her knuckles. Atsuko's eyes fall on her in a grin. "Well you know what they say," Shizuru says, looking at me. "Desperate times call for desperate measures."

I return her grin.

"You're not gonna charge the bouncer again, are you?" Keiko asks, worried. She glances between me and Atsuko.

"Unless you have a better idea?" Shizuru asks, raising her eyebrows.

"You're also forgetting I'm an exorcist," I tell Keiko, putting my hands on my hips. "The bouncer's no problem for me alone, but if you feel like punching him, Shizuru, Atsuko, I'll let you two take care of it."

"Attack is really our only option," Yukina says thoughtfully, eyeing me.

Botan brightens up. "Why, Yukina, you're just full of surprises!"

"Hmm," Shizuru murmurs, looking across the crowd. A green-skinned demon has caught her eye, and he returns her surprised look. He's got curly black hair pinned under a beret, and bright yellow eyes. He gives off a sleaze ball vibe as he saunters over.

"Well, what do we have here? It's the oh-so-lovely friends of Koenma. You know, this day just keeps getting better!" he says, stopping in front of us.

"I know you," Botan says, pointing at him accusingly. "You're that sleazy scalper who tried to con Koenma into buying those fourth-rate tickets!"

The scalper laughs. "How nice of you to remember me. I'm touched! I don't mean to be presumptuous, but I couldn't help noticing you foxy ladies are in need of a hand, eh?"

"Foxy ladies?" I mutter, twitching.

"Well, we sure as hell don't need one of yours," Shizuru snaps.

"Oh I see, my mistake," he says, slipping his hand into his coat's inner pocket. He pulls out six tickets and waves them in the air. "Well, then I suppose you wouldn't mind me selling these elsewhere, huh?"

"Um, are those what I think they are?" Keiko asks, peering at his hand.

"You bet they are, sweet stuff, and they happen to be six of the best seats in the house," he laughs, "And for you I might be willing to part with these for about five-thousand clams a piece!"

Shizuru suddenly snatches the tickets out of his hand, and looks at them in disbelief. "Jeez, I'm such an idiot! Can you believe the tickets were in my hand the entire time?"

"Hey! You better give those back!"

Shizuru moves the tickets behind her back and waves them there pointedly. "I guess I could be wrong, but these look a lot like our tickets. Don't they?"

Keiko nods, uncertainly.

"Botan?"

She seems just as hesitant, but she claps her hands together anyway. "Yes, those are definitely our tickets! Definitely!"

I grin at Botan who quickly uncaps a marker. She quickly takes the tickets from Shizuru's hand and scribbles our names on all of them, demonically fast. Her face turns more and more kitty-like with every passing millisecond.

"All right, girls, that's very funny, but the joke's over! Just give me back my tickets, okay?"

Shizuru's mouth widens into a smirk. "But our names are on them. They must be ours," she says smugly, as Botan slips her ticket in her hand. She hands out all of them, putting her own into her very kitty-like mouth.

"What do you mean?" the scalper snaps, getting more and more agitated.

"Here," Shizuru says, holding up her ticket. Her name is written boldly in a fuschia marker.

Yukina and Keiko hold up their tickets too, smiling slightly. "Here, see?" they say. I hold mine up too, showing the bold katakana that made up my name, giving him a devilish grin. Atsuko shoves hers in his face, with a loud "See, jackass?".

Botan grins through the ticket in her mouth. "Told you so," she says in sing-song, capping her marker.

"Thanks for holding them for us, though," Shizuru says lightly.

The scalper sighs in defeat, pushing his beret back and tugging on his hair. The crowd behind him babbles in amusement at the exchange.

"You see, we really didn't need your help after all," Shizuru says, walking away, with a flip of her hair. I never realized my best friend was so sassy until this moment. I giggle and trail after her.

"Thank you for our tickets," Yukina says politely.

"Sorry for the misunderstanding," Keiko says.

"Hope you learned that it won't pay to take advantage of people!" Botan adds.

I hear the scalper sigh again as the other girls follow us. "I could never resist the charms of one beautiful woman, much less six crafty ones," he mutters.

Atsuko bursts into laughter as we make our way down the corridor. She claps a hand on Shizuru's shoulder. "Did you see his face?"

We crack up about it the entire way into the stadium, praising Shizuru's brilliance and quick reflexes.

When we come to a stop at the end of the corridor, and look down at the stadium in surprise. Something is wrong. Juri looks annoyed, holding her long green mermaid tail in one hand and glaring at our team.

"Both teams need to find a player soon. Because if you don't, I'll be forced to disqualify you and forfeit this match, and that's not good," she snaps into her mike.

I see Toguro smirk under his sunglasses across the stadium, tipping his chin up at Juri slightly. He says something that I can't quite hear. A second later though, the large triangular doors behind him open, and out steps Sakyo. He saunters calmly into the arena, looking as sharp as usual in his very expensive suit. Gucci, maybe?

"What's going on?" Keiko asks. "Why is everyone just standing around?"

I blink, realizing that I must have gotten ahead of the rest of them without realizing it. "I think they're each short a player. Juri just said they each need another."

"Oh," she murmurs in reply.

Yukina peers down at Sakyo coming through the doors. "Does anyone know who that strange man at the gate is?"

I glance at Shizuru, who's squinting down at the arena. She gasps when she can see him properly.

"It's Sakyo," I answer Yukina, taking the attention off Shizuru. "He's the owner of Team Toguro."

Botan blinks at me. "How do you know that, Alice?"

I bite the inside of my cheek. "Kurama told me."

"Hey, Shizuru," Keiko says beside me. I glance up and see Shizuru's spacing out. There is a mild look of horror in her eyes, like when she gets a premonition. "Earth to Shizuru!"

She blinks, snapping into focus.

"Is something wrong?" Keiko asks.

Shizuru masks her true feelings like she normally does. She forces a smile. "No, just a little dizzy."

A demon growls loudly nearby, in the column to the left of us, three rows down. "Hey, does that big-shot even know how to fight?" he yells.

Sakyo apparently heard him, from all the way down at the bottom of the arena. I wonder about the acoustics of this stadium. Sakyo's head picks up and he eyes the general direction the demon's yell came from. "Well, to be honest, I don't even plan to participate in this match. Granted, my prescence allows Toguro to continue, but all it means for me is a better view. I'll stake my life on Yusuke's team being defeated before my turn arrives." He pauses. "Now let's begin."

I blink, still a bit amazed that I heard him. He must be at a good place down there where the sound waves of his voice bounce up to me.

The audience cheers and Koto yells into her microphone. "That's what I call putting your mouth where you money is!"

Juri still looks annoyed. "Toguro is prepared, now present your fighter or the finals are over," she says to Yusuke.

Yusuke has the same grimace he did when he walked in on me and Hiei. Kuwabara nudges him, muttering something to him. Juri looks on with one hand on her hip, and one eyebrow cocked, waiting.

After a moment, Juri makes up her mind. "Since Team Urameshi has failed miserably to produce a fifth player, Team Toguro will be named the winners by default!"

"Hold it, missy!" I hear a familiar voice say. "Patience is a virtue!"

Trumpets sound suddenly, and the triangular doors behind the boys crack open, spilling smoke into the arena. After the smoke clears, I see Koenma standing there in his human world form.

If you haven't noticed this about Koenma's human world form, he's kind of dreamy. He sort of reminds me of a young Leonardo DiCaprio, except maybe a bit taller. He's got clear brown eyes, porcelain skin, and every iota of him screams prince. Koenma looks like he just stepped out of a shoujo manga, really.

"Let's sit down," Botan says, glancing at her ticket. She spots the gap of empty seats to our left, past the demon who yelled at Sakyo. "This way, girls!"

We follow her, and squeeze past the demons already sitting in the row, and take our seats.

Koenma approaches the rest of the guys, flipping his red cape over his shoulder. He's clearly saying something to the rest of them, but I can't make it out. Maybe because he's facing away from me.

Botan leans forward, raising her eyebrows. "So this is what he meant when he told me he had business to attend to."

"Way to go, Koenma, sir! You knock him dead!"

We look over to our right just in time to see George the ogre burst into tears. I think they're tears of pride, but I decide I'm not really interested.

Below us, Kuwabara points a finger at Koenma's chest. "I don't think this is a great idea - we don't even know if he can fight!"

"Believe it or not," I hear Koenma say, "fighting is not high on my list of priorities. So, I've implemented an escape route." Koenma whips around suddenly and his long red cape flips up to reveal a green jetpack attached to his back. "The KoenmaTron 5000!"

For a brief second, I let the image of a chibi Koenma come to mind, soaring off into the sunset, and calling, "Later, bitches~!"

But, really, that's probably more Yusuke than anything.

Beside me, Botan nearly leaps out of her seat. "I can't believe him!" she yells, hands forming claws. "Augh!"

In the arena, Yusuke brings his fists up saying, "Let's go." He turns to face Juri, but she holds up her hand.

"Wait a second, you can't just switch! The rules say that a new player can't be brought in unless an original player is dead," she protests.

I blink. "Dead?"

Dead.

Oh…God.

Oh, God! Genkai!

Beside me, Botan flinches. Her face crumples for a second before she puts on a forced smile.

How could I forget that happening? I even felt Toguro's energy, and her energy with it! Kurama practically gave it away the day before yesterday! Am I really, really that stupid?

I bit back a pang of melancholy with the knowledge that Koenma had plans to bring her back to life. It's not like I'd ever really talked to her or anything, but losing her is still upsetting. Especially when my eyes fall on Yusuke's tense shoulders. I know how much he cared about her.

Cares, I tell myself firmly. She'll be back.

"About that," Yusuke begins, hesitating.

"It's all right, I don't mind," Sakyo says, still in the range of acoustics that will allow me to hear what he's saying.

Juri shrugs. I don't think she really cares, honestly.

"All right!" Koto exclaims, "There's finally a full roster, so get ready for the bloodiest massacre of the Dark Tournament, yet! Ladies and gentlemen, it's taken us seven long days to get here - welcome to the finals!"

And with that, Karasu approaches the ring and stares at Kurama. His index finger goes to his temple and flicks away, like he's miming a gun going off.

Kurama's green eyes narrow as he looks past Kuwabara (who's saying something while punching one hand into the other), and then he moves forward as well.

"It's been decided," Juri announces, as Kurama and Karasu step up onto the ring. "We will begin the final with Team Toguro's Karasu, and Team Urameshi's Kurama!"

"Folks, I guess you could say this whole Tournament has been one heck of a rollercoaster, and finally, finally, we can get to the most awesome loop-de-loop part of the ride!" Koto exclaims.

The crowd cheers, yells exploding from the stands. Atsuko waves a large bottle of sake in the air, adding her voice to the shouts.

Man, Koto can sure work a crowd.

"By the sound of the stands, everyone is a fan of the tall, dark, and gruesome Karasu!" she continues.

"We're rooting for Team Urameshi!" Atsuko bellows, waving her sake bottle in the air.

"Are you kidding me?" Keiko demands, glaring down at Koto. "You couldn't pay me to root for that vampire wannabe weirdo!"

"I don't know," Shizuru jokes, "he does have some beautiful hair."

"Don't forget your stretches, Koenma, sir!" George exclaims. I blink, surprised to see him on the other side of Botan. He must have moved when I was thinking about Genkai. He's holding a huge, spiky club that's as long as I am tall. He gives it a look of surprise. "Huh? This was supposed to be Koenma's. Guess I'll just use it to scare people." He pumps it in the air above his head and starts yelling, "Kurama, Kurama!"

We pick up his cheer and start shouting with him. "Go Kurama! You can do it!"

"Your hair is much prettier!" I shout, cupping my hands around my mouth.

His shoulders twitch, so I know he heard me, and I snicker into my hands.

Yusuke looks up at us, frowning, probably thinking that we're going to start a riot in the stands.

Kurama and Karasu face off, and Juri lifts her hand. "If everyone could give me their attention please, I'll explain the rules of the ma -"

"Come on, lets see some blood!"

"Let's go!"

Demons start heckling Juri, and I sort of feel bad for her, but Botan's looking glum again. Keiko notices this time too.

"You don't look so good," she says, shifting Puu in her arms. "Are you feeling okay?"

Botan jumps at Keiko's words, and she immediately forces a smile that swiftly turns into her kitty-face. "I'm feeling great! In fact so great, all I want to do is smile! Hahaha! You know, there should be a law against feeling this great!"

Keiko takes her words at face value, while Shizuru and I exchange a look. She sighs.

"Hey, where's the old lady?" Atsuko asks. "Why ain't she in the final?" She frowns thoughtfully, glassy eyes narrowing slightly. "I wonder if the semifinals were too hard on her? What do you think, Botan?"

"Huh? Oh, right, right," Botan says. "She must be too tired." She gets to her feet, straightening her jacket around her.

"Hey, where are you going now?" Keiko asks, glancing down at the arena. "The fight's starting."

Botan gave an empty chuckle. "Oh, just need some fresh air, that's all." She slips around George and dashes up the steps to the corridor.

"That girl," Keiko mutters looking after her. She turns to Shizuru and me. "She's been acting like a basket case for days. I hope she's okay."

Shizuru gets to her feet. "I'll go check on her."

Keiko turns to me when she leaves. "Do you think Botan's all right?"

I smile, deciding that I don't want to make Keiko worry about Botan, and I sure as hell don't want to be the one to tell her about Genkai. "I'm sure whatever it is, Shizuru can sort her out," I finally say, curling my hands into fists on my lap.

Keiko is quiet as we wait for their return, but Juri does a pirouette and begins the fight before their return.

Atsuko passes me her sake bottle, but I pass it back to her. I don't need to be a blubbering, drunken mess while the boys fight for their lives. She shrugs at me, and downs some more.

I turn my eyes to the fight below. Kurama's right foot slips from his left, widening his stance. Karasu says something to Kurama, which of course, I can't make out. Kurama replies in his soft mellow voice that I can't hear so much as feel in my bones. The bracelet on my wrist seems to flex its energy.

Kurama's hand goes palm up, and he's suddenly surrounded by rose petals. I know this move from when he used it on Genbu, but something about the petals seem different. They seem shinier somehow. I bet the edges are sharp.

"Oh, wow," Koto comments, "Kurama's surrounded by rose petals! Karasu must stink!"

Kurama's arms extend from his body, probably in some sort obscure martial arts stance that no one's ever seen before. I've seen Kurama fight enough to know that he fights efficiently. Nothing is wasted with him. Everything he does has a reason. He's like a machine.

One of the petals slices Karasu on the cheek, and I can tell the crow demon's making some sort of observation about it. He doesn't seem to really care about the petals though, because he keeps walking toward the cloud. His arms twitch around him and the petals surrounding him explode.

Kurama's green eyes widen in surprise. For the slightest millisecond, his eyes flick up to me in the stands, and I raise my eyebrows at him and purse my lips.

Told you so, Kurama.

His attention is back on Karasu before I know it, which is probably the smart thing to do. Karasu suddenly leaps straight up into the air, and Kurama dodges out of the way as he suddenly comes at him from the side. After that, it's a bit hard for me to follow, but I can see the flash of Kurama's fire-engine red hair, and the long black sweeps of Karasu's blurred arms.

"What an attack!" Koto exclaims. "It's just the way I like it! Confidence with a hint of malice!"

Kurama suddenly appears up in the air with his rose whip in hand. The whip lashes out at Karasu, who is still on the arena floor, but before it can make contact, it explodes right in the middle. The light from the explosion highlights Kurama's face; his eyes narrowed and teeth gritted together as annoyance flashes over his face.

Kurama is left with the handle of his whip when he lands on his feet, and he glares at Karasu. He tosses the handle aside and fists his hands, settling into a defensive-looking stance.

Karasu seems like he's talking again, and I frown at the sketchy acoustics of the stadium. Frankly, I don't know shit about sound waves, so I have no idea what could be improved. But no doubt something has to be done. Then again, I probably don't really want to know what Karasu is saying.

The crow demon leaps at Kurama again and continues taking swipes at him, although this time Karasu seems to be more ruthless. But Kurama seems to be dodging everything well. Karasu, even though he hasn't landed a hit yet, still seems to be keeping Kurama on his toes, otherwise I'm sure Kurama would have counterattacked by now.

Kurama's energy in my bracelet seems to flex again, and I think he's getting close to transforming into his youko form.

Karasu suddenly leaps into the air again and dives at Kurama, but he dodges out of the way of course, and straightens expectantly.

That's when one of Karasu's invisible bombs explodes on Kurama's arm.

It's that moment, after I see that expression on his face, where his eyes widen and his entire face freezes for an eternal painful second - it's in that moment that everything becomes entirely too real for me. It's not the gush of blood flowing down his arm, staining his white sleeve, nor the visibly torn up skin that made up his wound. But that look in Kurama's green eyes, that says he was clearly not expecting what just happened, and how his body goes rigid with agony…and…and…

Oh, God.

I can feel my eyes burning as my hand goes to cover my mouth. I stifle a cry, and Keiko's hand goes around mine, squeezing it.

Karasu raises his arm again, and Kurama quickly gets to his feet and runs to dodge whatever's coming. But Karasu leaps up and lands in front of him.

The next bomb goes off on Kurama's leg. I flinch at his pained expression again, but he forces the look from his eyes and instead scowls at Karasu in fierce determination. I feel myself relax at the change and nibble my bottom lip, watching nervously. I try to get a hold of myself.

By now, Shizuru and Botan have returned from talking and they look on in anticipation.

Karasu holds his hand out, fingers curled up slightly like he's holding something, and I imagine that something is a bomb. His youki concentrates in his palm, and there is a dazzling display of yellow light that forms a black ball. Suddenly there is a demonic-looking pack of dynamite in Karasu's hand.

And then he hurls it at Kurama.

The explosion blows back a whoosh of motlen air through the stands, and blinds me with its brilliant orange and yellow lights. I clench my jaw and squeeze my eyes shut to keep from crying, because Kurama must be so, so hurt right now.

But suddenly, I feel a familiar gold-green youki encasing my wrist. It runs up my arm and over my body, and it feels like running barefoot in the woods - a wild, unearthly magic - and it doesn't stop until it has me surrounded like a cocoon. It feels electric on my skin. Alive.

Shizuru blinks at me. "What the hell is on you?" she demands, stretching a hand out to me. Her fingers twitch away in pain as soon as she comes into contact with the youki though, and she glares suspiciously at the bracelet on my wrist and then down at the smoke-covered arena. "Well, we know Kurama's alive at least."

I hear Botan give a sigh of relief.

Karasu stands outside of the smoke, and he swiftly brings up his hand, eyeing the rose stabbed through his palm. His other hand crushes the flower and yanks it out, throwing it aside. He waits, arms spread apart slightly.

Youko Kurama's energy crackles in shadows around the stadium. With it comes and overbearing sense of dread, a flash of gold eyes, and the sour tang of sadism. The girls cringe beside me, but I believe I've built up an immunity to his energy from the bracelet because it isn't bothering me as much as it did the last time I met him. And even at that time, Youko Kurama's energy wasn't that uncomfortable. I get the feeling that Kurama planned ahead for this, but I wonder if that's not a bit illogical. Surely, he didn't expect to return to his youko form in this lifetime?

But then again…he is Kurama. He's forever two-hundred steps ahead of everyone else.

Koto examines the energy in wonder. "I've seen this all before! This battle's in for a heart-stopping face-lift!"

The smoke clears with a few more crackles of his energy, slowly, tauntingly, revealing the tall silver figure of Youko Kurama. His bright gold eyes pin Karasu, and his mouth splits, flashing his feral eyeteeth.

My own teeth clack together in some sort of reaction at the sight of him that I can't really describe. He's enthralling, otherworldly, and yet he's so unbelievably terrifying that my hands tremble in my lap. His ear closest to me twitches in my direction, and his eyes flick up to my face immediately, without having to search the crowd.

There's a shadow of a smirk around his wide mouth, specifically meant for me. And then his eyes swiftly return to Karasu, and his smirk widens.

"No surprise, I was right!" Koto says. "It's that foxy Youko Kurama!"

George pumps his fists in the air. "You go, King of Thieves! You're my man!"

The silver fox demon gives Karasu an intent look. His hand reaches up and brushes a trickle of blood away from his chin. "A youkai who can create and control bombs…I'm happy to meet a quest class demon, but I'm going to kill you." His expression becomes predatory, golden eyes flashing mercilessly.

Karasu's arms weave through the air and then there are two green bombs floating beside him. "It's you who will die," he says.

I tense, finding it incredibly annoying that I can hear some things down there, and miss others.

"Now, I see," Kurama says, golden eyes on the bombs. "You create monsters that act as invisible bombs."

Karasu's arm flies forward in a go motion, and his bombs shoot toward Kurama.

Kurama's hand rakes through his silver hair and two bright red roses manifest inbetween his fingers. With a flick of his wrist, they're suddenly in the little bomb creatures' foreheads, and they promptly explode.

"How very clever," he says, golden eyes regarding Karasu like a lion regards an antelope. "That's why I had such difficulty fighting you while I was trapped inside. Luckily for me, I found a way to break free from Minamino Shuichi just in time to finish you."

I find myself pulling a frown. Why is Kurama refering to himself like there are two of him? To me, it's always seemed like 'Minamino Shuichi' was nothing more than an alias and a human body. Whenever Kurama was a child in that body, his personality was that of Youko Kurama's. Being in the human world for fifteen years has definitely changed him from when I first met him, but he's never been anyone but himself.

Maybe Kurama is merely simplifying everything. His human body obviously has a certain amount of reiki attached to it, and probably more than the average human even, when you consider that it must compensate for his demon soul. But then there is that powerful youki from his soul as well. So maybe refering to his reiki as "Minamino Shuichi" and his youki as "Youko Kurama" is really just a scale to figure out how scary he plans to be that day.

Karasu narrows his eyes over his mask. "That's fascinating, but nothing more than a loser's excuse. You weren't able to beat me then, and you won't be able now." He shoves his hands in his pockets and green balls of energy manifest around him like a cloud. His voice comes out like a hiss. "But you're welcome to try."

The green balls manifest into eyeball monsters that remind me very much of the one we met at the Gate of Betrayal. These are smaller though. Their batlike wings propel them forward to Kurama who leaps out of the way as they detonate in the spot where he was just standing. He twists and flips through the air like an acrobat, avoiding the rest of the bombs.

Karasu laughs. "When you come from the quest class of demons, you can create all sorts of things. These little jewels are what I like to call trace-eyes," he offers, watching Kurama dodge. "Once these bombs set their sights on you, they will follow you forever."

Kurama's golden eyes flash with a saccharine danger. "Have you ever heard of ojiki? It's a plant that only grows on Earth's South America." He continues to dodge Karasu's trace-eyes like he is rather unimpressed. "The ojiki is incredibly sensitive to movement, and when it senses any kind of vibration, it will quickly close its leaves around its prey," Kurama adds.

"I have no interest in gardening," Karasu replies flatly.

Kurama lands and stops across the ring from the crow demon. All of the trace-eyes quickly surround him, and I nibble my lip, wondering what he's doing. Why is he just standing there, looking at Karasu past all the bombs?

"My, my, looks like you're surrounded," Karasu observes mildly. "What's a boy to do?"

A sort of devil-may-care expression comes over his eyes, and his mouth pulls into a slight smirk. "I thought you'd know better than to corner an animal like a fox, Karasu," he says, tone goading. "We have a tendency to show our teeth."

His youki suddenly explodes around him like a tornado, and what happens next is really to fast for me to see. When the smoke clears, all I know is that there is suddenly a gigantic purple Venus fly-trap thing taking up the ring, and the trace-eyes are gone in several mini-explosions.

Kurama stands in the middle of his plant, watching Karasu. "An ojiki plant is quite dangerous regularly, and it is several times more sensitive and more lethal when grown under a demon's energy." His eyes flick to Juri crouched at the edge of the ring. "You - unless you want to be plant food, don't move."

Karasu and Kurama stare at each other while the ojiki writhes, agitated - maybe by the crowd, or by Kurama's energy, or a combination of both. It's sharp thorns are thrown into contrast underneath the bright stage lights above the ring, and the mouths at the end of the stems open in toothy (fangy?) shrieks. The purple leaves unfurl, revealing more mouths, although these remind me of a kraken's mouth. The whole thing is actually a bit like a plant kraken, I observe with a frown.

S.S. Karasu, going down in five…

"It looks like it's zeroed in on you," Kurama says with mock worry. "All your trembling must have caught its attention."

The kraken mouths of the plant fall on Karasu, but he leaps out of the way, and out of the way again as another follows in its wake.

"Uh, okay," Koto says as he dodges the ojiki, "The tables have done a one-eighty, and now Karasu's running around like a cockroach in a tap-dancing convention!"

Four…

"How does it feel to be the one pursued?" Kurama asks darkly.

Karasu tosses Kurama a dirty look as runs away from the purple mouths. He's blocked by several more stems breaking through the ring's concrete floor though.

Karasu pauses, turning to glare at Kurama. Kurama watches him with a slight smirk, and then the ojiki mouths start shooting laser beams of red demonic energy at Karasu.

"What?" I gape, turning to Shizuru. "Is that plant shooting lasers?"

Three…

Kurama spares a glance in my direction again, golden eyes meeting mine over the crowd. A corner of his mouth tugs up in amusement at my semi-amazed, semi-horrified expression. I think I'm a bit more amazed than horrified though, at least until I feel a shift in the energy surrounding me, and it feels a bit more like a caress than the encasement feeling I had. It brings me back to the other night, one hand on my hip and his other hand around my wrist, crushing his stupid bracelet in my skin.

I scowl at him, and his smirk widens.

He's definitely a sadist.

Two…

I turn my eyes away from him pointedly, staring at Karasu. At this moment, he's running up a thorny vine with a glowing green bomb in his hand, and he lobs it into the an open mouth that tries to eat him.

The mouth blows up immediately in a fireball, and Karasu leaps away and the plant screams, writhing. Karasu stops on the ground, facing away from the flames and as his shoulders drop, another kraken mouth bursts out of the flames. There's just enough time for me to see a cornered look on Karasu's masked face.

"The ojiki also responds to aggression, so it'll be all the more viscious when you attack," Kurama says as the smoke clears. He puts his hand to his head like a gun, mocking the way Karasu did it earlier. "You're going to have to find a smart way to kill it, or else…bang."

The imaginary gun fires.

Three more mouths surround Karasu, but he doesn't move in time. One of the leafy mouths grabs him up and wraps its leaves around him, squeezing. His mask pops off with a cough of blood, and more mouths wrap around him until there's nothing to be seen of him under the purple leaves.

One.

"I thought it was going to last much longer than that…I would have liked to played with him a little longer before he died," Kurama says, turning away.

"That was the most beautiful thing I've ever seen! Kurama's plant just grabbed Karasu and juiced him like a fresh orange!" Koto exclaims. "I never thought botany would be so deliciously gruesome!"

"I can't believe it, Kurama won!" Keiko says with a smile.

Shizuru puffs on her cigarette, watching Kurama turn away from his plant to head back to the rest of the boys. "Don't get me wrong, I love my bro, but it's nice to see someone not embarrass himself for once."

I snort.

"Hey Juri, get the led out! It's time to tell us who's won!" Koto yells.

Juri blinks from her stunned position on the ground. "Oh, right," she says, getting to her feet. "Um, it looks like Karasu's been soundly defeated, so the winner of the first match is Team Urameshi's Kurama!" The ball of purple leaves devouring Karasu's body lowers to the ground for some reason, right next to Juri. "Hey, stay back!" she tells the plant.

Kurama stops.

And then the ball of leaves explodes.

"Gah!" I exclaim, shielding my face from the hot rush of air and the bright flash of light. "What the hell?"

"Apparently, Karasu isn't as dead as we thought!" Botan cringes, watching the smoke clear.

"I wouldn't count me out just yet," I hear Karasu say from the middle of the smoke. He becomes visible after a second, looking greatly unharmed.

"Oh, I'm so, so sorry, that was entirely my fault! Everyone ignore what I just said! The fight will now continue, okay?" Juri says, defeated. "This is insane…" she mutters leaping off the ring.

Kurama and Karasu stare each other down. I wait, wondering what Kurama is thinking. The youki surrounding me is still perfectly calm and collected.

"You look surprised, Youko. Did you think that was the last you'd see of me?" Karasu asks, smirking slightly. He opens his mouth, and from the corner of my eye, I see Sakyo step behind Toguro. Karasu's energy starts to crackle around him, and his hair lightens until it's as blonde as my own hair.

"Your blonde is much prettier," Shizuru reassures me when I look at her.

"Definitely," Keiko agrees, hugging Puu to her chest.

"What on earth is Karasu doing?" Botan wonders. "He's just sucking in a bunch of air! Is he trying to make his lungs explode?"

I blink. "Ah…you might be onto something, Botan." Karasu's youki is getting so intense that I can see it manifest.

Kurama takes a step back from Karasu and narrows his eyes. The energy around me feels prickly, and I think he must be thinking about eighty plans at once.

Karasu laughs and pulls his hands apart, green energy splitting between them like threads. A ball appears in front of him and it grows bigger and bigger as his laughter gets louder. Kurama takes another step back as Karasu leaps into the air.

He hangs there for a minute, laughing, green youki surrounding him like a circle. I'm suddenly, maybe even inappropriately, reminded of that metallic spherical object that Lady Gaga wore in her video for "Bad Romance". And then Karasu dives at Kurama, youki crackling like lightning.

Several things happen at once.

This explosion is monstrous enough to blow a hole the size of Texas into the stadium's wall, killing everyone sitting on that side of the ring (and I think briefly that it doesn't make sense because Karasu was diving on our side, so Kurama must have somehow deflected it at the last moment, thereby protecting us), and Kurama's youki disappates from my body and completely disappears. I gasp and peer down at the ring, but all I see is smoke and rubble. Hiei stands at the top of the wall surrounding the fighting arena though, so I think everyone is okay.

I yell at him. "Hiei!"

He glances over his shoulder, red eyes landing on me. His words are telepathic and very welcome. "He's alive, naturally."

I give a sigh of relief and sit back in my seat.

Beside me Botan and Keiko let go of each other, having grabbed each other's shoulders out of fright. Shizuru's and Atsuko's hands come down from their ears, and Yukina takes her hand away from her mouth.

"Kurama's alive," I tell them, hand going to cover my bracelet.

Below us, the smoke clears enough for me to see Yusuke push a block of concrete wall off of him and get to his feet. His eyes sweep to us, and seeing that we're fine he whips around to see about everone else. Koenma is laying in a pile of rubble, and Kuwabara is sitting up, holding his ears and wincing. Hiei drops off the wall and lands beside the rest of the boys like a cat.

Koto peeks over her desk, examining the ring in shock. There's chunks missing from it, and it's blackened and scarred around a pit in the middle. Karasu stands still, hands spread apart. "Now that's devastation! A significant part of the ring has been wiped out, and there are corpses everywhere! And Kurama's nowhere to be seen!" Koto says.

Some rubble in a corner shifts, and I feel my heart leap in a combination of hope and dread. I'm glad Kurama's alive, but how injured will he be?

The blocks of concrete fall away, and Kurama, red hair, green eyes, human, climbs out of the heap. I bite my lip. Why isn't he still in his youko form? His green eyes pierce Karasu, but I can't get any thoughts off of him.

Koto gasps. "Oh, wow! Kurama's like a nasty virus! You just can't get rid of him! However, it does look like this last explosion has taken it's toll, because now he's back to his original human form."

"This isn't good," I mutter, watching Kurama get up carefully. His movements are slow and pained, and I can tell he's really injured. I feel the back of my eyes burn, but I force that feeling down. Crying won't help anyone.

Karasu approaches Kurama, casually, hand in his pocket. "Forgive me for disturbing your train of thought, but shouldn't you take this time to pray?" he asks, spreading his hands apart. "After all you're about to meet your creator," he laughs. "You can ask him why he flawed with you!"

Kurama's jaw clenches. His hand goes to his hair, and he pulls out a rose, extending it out to his side. His attempt to manifest it into his rose whip fails, however, and his eyebrows pull together and his teeth grit in a frown.

Karasu observes this with a smile. "You're too weak, Kurama, you can't even control the most basic of your attacks. Make this easier on yourself and give in. I promise it won't hurt too much."

"Wow, fight fans, the suspense is in the air here at the Dark Tournament, because everyone knows that one more solid attack by Karasu means curtains for you-know-who!" Koto commentates.

I frown at Kurama's back and look at Karasu again.

"If you think about it, death really isn't so frightening. Who knows…you might even enjoy it." Karasu tips his head slightly.

Kurama tosses aside his thorny stem and rushes toward Karasu, leaping in the air and twisting himself in the air with a front flip. He lands lightly and barrels toward the now-blond crow demon, and sweeps his leg out in a kick.

Karasu leaps in the air though, avoiding Kurama's leg, an evident look of surprise in his eyes. Kurama quickly follows him, sweeping his hand in the air in front of Karasu's face, and strands of Karasu's blonde hair go flying under the force of his strike. Karasu ducks away and lands, skipping back out of Kurama's range.

Kurama lands just as quickly, and follows Karasu closely, not allowing him to make a counterattack. Kurama is using this time to think of his own final attack, I'm guessing. He can't let this fight drag out any longer.

"Aw, man!" Koto exclaims. "Kurama's launching a full-blown assault on Karasu, but so far it's useless! Blondie's dodging each punch and I can't take it anymore! I need some blood!"

Karasu's hand starts glowing green again, and he hurls the ball of youki at Kurama, but Kurama leaps over it and hits Karasu in the chest with the heels of his hands together. His blow knocks Karasu back across the ring, sending the crow demon skidding on the balls of his feet.

Kurama drops his hands, exhaling, waiting.

Karasu looks down at his bruised chest. "You're just full of surprises. But I thought you'd be more original." His hand brushes his sternum, and retracts, holding something between his fingertips. A trickle of red blood rolls down his chest. "You really thought this would work," he says, astounded. "It's called tact, Kurama, you should really consider using some."

My nails grind into my palms.

Karasu gives a small laugh. "I must congratulate you though. You've injured me more than once and that is practically unheard of." He tosses whatever he has in his hand in the air and it blows up with a small crack.

Kurama shifts his weight, sliding his left foot back.

But something like a bear trap bursts through the concrete and clamps around his ankle, making both of us jump in shock. A bomb appears at the bottom of the trap, narrowing its wide eye and giving Kurama a toothy grin.

"Shit," I curse, feeling the blood drain from my face.

"That's what I call my mad bomb," Karasu says mildly, and I immediately want to sock him in his pretty face.

The bomb explodes, and Kurama gives a yelp of pain that makes me flinch and squeeze my eyes shut. I don't want to see this. I don't want to see you hurt, Kurama.

My teeth sink into my lip as he hits the ground. I wait for him to get up, to move, but only after my heart rate reaches a dangerous range does he get up on all fours. Blood oozes from his leg, and from his earlier wound to his arm. Forcing himself, he finally manages to straighten to his feet.

I hear Yusuke yell. "Don't move another inch, Kurama, you're surrounded by bombs!"

Kurama freezes, and at the same time we both notice the green spheres of youki hanging in the air around him. I can't count them all. There must be thirty or forty of them, waiting to blow Kurama up.

My eyes are burning again.

"Didn't you say wouldn't be afraid of things you could not see?" Karasu asks, and I frown, realizing that I must have missed that. "Well, here's a better look. You know this entire battle has been an exercise in futility. You're weak. You're tired." Karasu approaches Kurama. "You're powerless. You're pathetic."

Kurama watches him.

"Yet it seems you have a masochistic streak that wants indulging," Karasu continues, smiling slightly. "So," he raises his hand, "here goes."

"Aaah!" Kurama yells as one of the bombs detonates on his right hip. Another quickly follows on his left shoulder, and he yells again, and it's followed by another bomb and another, and another and another -

I finally feel my control falter, and I muffle a strangled cry into my hands. Shizuru's hand is immediately on my back, and I watch another bomb blow up on Kurama's leg through my tears.

He drops to his knees, bloodied and trembling.

"I can't watch him suffer like this," Keiko says, turning her face away.

Shizuru's nails dig into my back. "Karasu is such a bastard," she growls. "He's clearly playing with him now. I wish…I wish he would just end this."

"I don't ever want to hear you talk like that again," Botan snaps, curling her hands into fists. "Kurama will beat him. Kurama can't die, he just can't! I've already lost one person I love to Toguro's team - I won't lose another!"

"Fight on, Kurama!" Atsuko bellows for all of us.

"Go, Kurama!" Yukina shouts, cupping her hands around her mouth.

"Get your victory on, Kurama!" George hollers at the end of the row, waving Koenma's spiky club. "Go, fight, win!"

"You can do it, Kurama!" Botan and Keiko yell together.

I wipe my cheeks. "Kurama," I say, but it comes out too weakly. Then I suddenly feel this wave of fire inside of me and it incinerates my tears and propels me to my feet and I suck in this huge breath of air -

"Kurama!" I scream down at him, "If you die, I'll never forgive you as long as I live!"

And then the fire leaves me as quickly as it came, and I collapse back into my seat. Shizuru puts her arm around me and we watch Kurama tense together, so I know he heard me. And I'm glad. Even if cheering for him is all I can do, I'm glad I can do it.

Karasu looks up right at me, and he smirks. "Is that girl special to you Kurama? Will she cry when I kill you? I know, I'll tell you what her face looks like as I'm killing you, okay?"

Kurama gets to his feet again, eyes flashing. "Leave her out of this, you bastard." He doesn't look back at me, and for that I'm grateful, because I'm sure I have a very maniacal look on my face.

Right now, I want to have Hiei's speed so that I can rush down there and rip out Karasu's throat with my teeth. I want tear him limb from fucking limb with my viridian coils, and I want to put his head on a pike.

But then Karasu's hand twitches and the rest of the bombs start detonating in painful green blasts, and I'm reduced to empty trembling as Kurama's screams tear through me like knives, like acid, and I can't I just can't -

Oh, God, why is this happening?

Kurama drops to the ground face-first, and I know he's out. He's covered in more blood than can possibly be in his body, his clothes are singed and burned, and he's so still. He's so, so still. I can't move. I can't breathe.

The crowd bursts into cheers and I feel my mouth tremble. And unfortunately in that moment, Karasu chooses to look straight at me, and I squeeze my eyes shut so that I don't have to see his smile. I can feel his eyes burning into me though.

"The crowd is going wild here, and rightly so, Kurama's down and I don't think he's getting back up!" Koto says. A demon suddenly appears beside her and snatches the mike out of her hands.

"Do it! We don't have all day!" he yells at Karasu.

She snatches her mike right back from him with a loud Give that back! and another demon comes up behind her and drops his arms around her, tongue lolling out. Koto winces and cries into her mike, "Juri, count! For the love of good hygiene, count!"

I don't find myself very sympathetic for some reason. Maybe it's because this whole fucking stadium can go to hell right now, and I wouldn't give a rat's ass.

Juri bounces into the ring, and says, "Okay! He has until the count of ten! If he stays down, Karasu wins! One! Two!"

I watch agitatedly, listening to Juri's count, and hoping, praying Karasu doesn't do anything else to Kurama while he's down. I don't care if he loses the match. I don't care. I just want him alive.

Around the count of eight, Kurama shifts, and the blood trickling from his wounds starts gushing. No, no, just stay down, Kurama, just stay down, don't move pleasepleasepleaseit'senough

But he doesn't stay down, and his energy, his reiki and youki both mix together and manifest in a bright purple energy that surrounds his entire body as he gets to his knees. Karasu makes a move to attack, but Kurama's energy output increases tenfold, to the point where his hair flies back under his power. A plant explodes from his body, and it shoots at Karasu, latching into the chest wound Kurama put there earlier.

Kurama's eyes roll into the back of his head, and he falls to the ground one last time.

I watch frozen, as the vampyric plant sucks Karasu's blood from his chest. The crow demon looks shocked, and he gets paler and paler with every passing second. Finally, he falls to the ground and the plant moves on top of him, and I'm not sure if it's eating him or not, but I don't really care at the moment.

Kurama isn't moving.

"Oh, Kurama, please get up," Botan prays, standing.

"He isn't moving," Yukina says, worriedly, hands clasped in front of her. "Do you think he's dead?"

"Of course not!" Botan insists. "He can't be!"

Shizuru frowns at the ring. Her voice wavers. "He sacrificed himself to kill Karasu."

I shake my head, shoulders trembling. "Stop it, Shizuru," I choke out.

Her hand rubs my back.

"Please wake up," Keiko says, clutching Puu.

I squeeze my eyes shut and cover my face because I can't look anymore. I can't watch this man that I love more than anything in the world be dead. I can't do it, and god damn anyone who can.

Botan suddenly screams. "Alice! Alice! Look!"

Shizuru tears my hands from my face, and I see him getting to his feet, slowly, weakly, and and…

I burst into tears all over again, burying my face in my knees. Shizuru promptly yanks me up and tells me to wipe my face and stop crying, damn it, because he's turning this way and is this how I want him to see me?

I do as she says and I try to compose myself. But I know my face is red and it'll be pretty clear to Kurama that I've been crying anyway, so when his eyes meet mine, I try not to think about how I look too much. His mouth pulls into a small smile that I return before ducking my head. I feel a sudden inexplicable shyness, and when I glance back at his face, he's still watching me although he looks puzzled now.

Yusuke runs to him, leaping onto the platform. Kurama's strength fails him after a moment, and he drops to his knees. Yusuke catches him around his arms and helps him down gently. He's grinning at Kurama, happily. They murmur words I can't hear, but Kurama is definitely frowning.

"And the official announcement says, the winner of match one, is Karasu!" Juri says into her mike, pointing at the very dead crow demon.

"What?" Botan shrieks.

I see Yusuke turn into a statue.

"I think he stayed down too long when Juri was counting earlier," I say, rubbing my sweaty palms against my knees.

"Why that's…that's…" Botan struggles, furrowing her brow. "It's bullshit, that's what it is!"

I stare at Botan. I've never heard her curse before. Keiko gasps beside her in surprise.

"Well, Botan, I guess you've been hanging around Yusuke a little too much, haven't you?" Shizuru comments, lighting a cigarette.

Yusuke pulls Kurama up and takes him off the platform as gently as he can while fuming. Kurama winces with every step and I just want to go down there and and

I don't know. Something.

"It was the ten-count," Juri explains into her mike. "Kurama made his counter-attack from a fallen position, but I had already finished the countdown before that time."

"The cheering of the crowd drowned out the counting," Koto adds, and I can see her watching a TV at her desk. "I checked the video record, and it confirms that Kurama did attack after the time limit."

"Only two more to go and Team Toguro wins!" a demon down front shouts.

"Two more to go!" the crowd starts cheering. "TWO MORE TO GO! TWO MORE TO GO!"

"Ugh!" Botan cries in annoyance, clawing her hands again.

"You just don't get it," the older Toguro says, yellow eyes fixed on Kuwabara. Apparently, there were some other words that I missed because of the annoying crowd. However, when Toguro starts talking, they quiet down for him.

"Oh! So you all shut up for the shoulder-monkey!" I hear Kuwabara shout angrily. He isn't standing at a good place acoustically-speaking, but he's loud enough that I can't miss his voice.

"Because they know that whenever I open my mouth I have something of importance to say. You're observation is, as usual, short-sighted and incorrect. Even if by some cruel, cosmic joke you survive your matches, you forget that the champions are each granted a wish. Once our team wins, and mine is awarded, I'll wish for the death of all your friends."

Yukina and Keiko flinch in response, and I can't have that.

"Oh, ow, my feelings!" I cry sarcastically, clutching my chest, staring down at the shoulder-monkey. "How fucking original!" I shout, pointing at him. I don't particularly want to draw his ire, but I want to diffuse the tension up here, and this is the best way I know how. Yusuke and I share a serious cockiness problem.

Kurama's eyes sweep up at me like I've gone mad.

His yellow eyes find me in the crowd and he gives me a feral grin. "Perhaps something special could be arranged for you, Alice Regnier."

I feel my blood run cold.

How the fuck does he know my real last name?

My reaction is exactly what he's looking for, and he gives a shrill laugh. Below me, I can see Kurama's and Hiei's eyes both narrow, but it's Kuwabara who actually says something. His hands curl into fists and takes a step toward the elder Toguro, shoulders tense as all hell.

"You leave her alone, you jackass! A real man doesn't pick on girls!" Kuwabara explodes, furious. He turns to the crowd as they began yelling and chanting again. "I've had it up to here with all of this moronic chanting! Shut. Up!"

"Forget world peace," Yusuke scowls, setting Kurama down against the platform. "Now I'll just wish for muzzles!"

Hiei steps forward, smirk in place. "Want to know what I'll wish for when we beat them? The bloody death of every one of those Tournament committee members, so that I'll never be pulled into one of their carnivals again."

Sakyo looks amused for some reason.

The elder Toguro drops from his brother's shoulder, and I think yes, someone beat how he knows my name out of him, but Bui steps forward instead, clanking in his huge armour. Elder Toguro looks surprised, but steps aside, saying something that I can't hear to the boys.

Hiei suddenly appears on the platform and I feel a swoop of excitement in my belly. Of all the fights in Yu Yu Hakusho, Bui and Hiei's fight is the most memorable and my most favorite. There's just something about Hiei's fighting style that just makes my fighting spirit soar. It may have something to do with the fact that he's all offense, and his confidence is practically bottomless. I just know that after I watch him, I want to be just as cool as Hiei.

Bui moves closer to the center, huge armour clanking with every step. Bui, if you don't know, is like the perfect bad guy. He's got perfect Darth Vader breathing, a huge crazy-tall stature, and of course that creepy awesome armour. He looks like he just stepped out of hell, and gives off the same aura as Pyramid Head does from Silent Hill. And then, when he takes off that armour, he turns out to be some cross between an angel and an X-Men.

Bui and Hiei stop and size each other up.

Juri lifts her hand and begins. "Measuring at four foot ten without his hair - Hiei!"

I frown, wondering how old those stats are, because I'm about five foot two in heels and eye level with Hiei at the same time. Then again, they could have just fudged his height. I mean, I really can't imagine Hiei standing patiently still while someone with a measuring tape stands over him. Possibly they really did have his true height at one point - maybe a year ago when Koenma arrested him for being all thievy and stuff - but I can assure you, he's definitely not four-ten anymore.

I figure Hiei must be fairly young for a demon, even though he's probably older than me.

Juri's eyes turn to Bui, indicating to him. "At nine feet, Bui!"

"Wow! Nine feet? That's tall," Koto comments, "And that's more than enough man to go around, ladies!"

I don't think I'm that interested in Bui, thanks anyway, Koto.

"Then again," she continues, "Hiei has proven on numerous occasions that kickass things come in short packages, too! I have no idea who's gonna win this one people, but I can state with certainty that it's gonna be exciting!"

Bui's hand comes up and his red youki flickers. An axe the size of an elephant (no exaggeration) materializes in his hand, blade gleaming in the stage lights.

Hiei smirks, says something in a low voice that I can't quite hear, and tosses his coat aside with an incredible ability to get out of sleeves. Everyone's eyes are immediately drawn to his heavily bandaged right arm. He's got some sort of belt wrapped over the dressing, and a seal over his wrapped fist. I do know that it's to bind the dragon - the Kokuryuuha. I have to hold myself still because otherwise I would be wriggling in my seat with excitement, and that might concern the girls.

Kurama is on his feet again at this point, holding his side where he's still bleeding a bit. He stands next to Yusuke and Koenma, narrowed green eyes on Hiei.

"And now, the second match of the final round of the Dark Tournament - ready, set, go!" Juri announces with a twirl and a wink. She's actually a pretty cute girl, I guess. She probably gets hit on a lot.

And then Bui lifts his axe in the air, running toward Hiei with frightening speed, armour clanking loudly all the way. With a leap in the air, Bui's axe comes down viciously fast, burying into the concrete ring.

Of course, Hiei is already behind him, looking more annoyed than anything. "Your aim is as broad as your axe," he comments scathingly. "Could you at least try to hit me next time?"

I see Bui's hand tighten around the handle of khis axe, and he lifts it slowly, taking a huge chunk of concrete with it. With a spin of his arm, the block goes flying at Hiei, and naturally misses. It smashes into the wall of the arena, breaking into what audience is left there from Karasu's explosion. Bui quickly follows up with another block, and another, and then just all of the blocks of concrete in his reach, effectively ruining the ring.

Hiei dodges every single one with insulting ease. Most of them crash into the audience, and I start getting a bit nervous as one crashes about four columns to the right of us.

"Nobody can explain to me why the combantants keep attacking the audience!" Koto says. "Though it does make the pain more widespread, and I do love that!"

"I may be a small target, but this is sad," Hiei says, holding his hand out in front of him. His youki increases, disintegrating the bandage covering the Jagan. Fire covers his left hand as he draws breath. "Prepare yourself - for the Fist of the Mortal Flame!"

Then Hiei just starts smashing the blocks of concrete Bui keeps tossing at him. They crumble underneath his monstrous strength, shattering like eggshells. With his back to us, I suddenly realize that if Hiei was not doing this and he had continued to dodge, all of the blocks would have crashed into our column and undoubtedly into us girls.

My eyes slide over to Yukina. I know that it's for her benefit, but I can't help but warm to the idea that maybe Hiei's thinking of me too. At least a little.

I almost miss the next part, still watching Yukina, but I see her eyes widen at something in the ring and I quickly turn to look. Hiei had apparently stopped the swing of Bui's axe with only his flaming fist. The muscles in his arms are taut, but his mouth pulls into a slight smirk of amusement as his youki crackles against Bui's.

The head of Bui's axe suddenly breaks off the handle and goes flying over his shoulder - barely missing Juri - and crashes somewhere in the audience behind her.

Bui retreats, leaping backwards and steps out of a crouch, drawing out his entire nine foot stature. He holds his arm out, and his red youki crackles in his hand again, and another axe - although a bit different from the first with a chain and all - appears in his hand.

"At least you're consistent," Hiei says, eyeing the axe with a mixture of annoyance and disbelief. "Consistently foolish."

Bui throws the axe, and Hiei's youki flares so brightly I can see the red aura around him. His left hand stretches out, catching the blade of the axe in his fingertips, and then he fucking vaporizes it.

A thrill of awe and excitement shoots through me.

Hiei, I just want to be you when I grow up.

"I warned you that that would be a foolish maneuver, but you refused to listen, much to your disadvantage, and my boredom." Hiei states darkly, glaring at Bui. "And that is not forgivable."

Bui's eyes glow red in the shadows of his helmet. "Sorry to bore you. I'll remove my armour." His voice is deep, whispery, but also velvety. Also scary as hell - but in a good way - like a bad guy in a horror movie.

Hiei's expression changes from annoyed to interested.

"Did you hear that?" Koto's voice asks. I half-listen, more interested in Bui than anything. "Bui spoke for the first time in this Tournament! His timbering voice so richly deep that my two little cat ears are tingling! In fact, my whole body's got shivers…"

"You should know two things, Hiei the swordsman," Bui says, undoing his arm guard, "I was saving this for someone else. And this is the highest compliment I give."

"Hm, I'm honored, really, I am," Hiei says, giving Bui a doubtful look with a smirk twisting his mouth. "But do you really think you can take a direct hit from me without any armour?"

"I'll handle it," Bui replies. He pulls his guard free from his forearm and tosses it aside. It lands behind the boys with a loud boom, creating a crater in the ground.

Kuwabara jumps, and shouts something in observation that I can't quite make out. Probably something about it being heavy, and how crazy it was that Bui can still move so well despite the heavy armour.

Bui kneels, working on his shin guards, and Hiei waits somewhat patiently with folded arms.

"Nney, hey, spikey-haired boy!" Atsuko calls, waving her sake in the air, clearly very drunk already. "Get 'im while he's off guard, eh?"

Botan holds up her hand. "That's not really his style…"

George looks like he readily agrees. "Yeah, Hiei! If you hit him while he's kneeling, he won't be able to fight back!"

"George, Botan already said that that goes against his way of fighting. Hiei's too awesome for that, or did you not see him vaporize an axe?" I ask, raising my eyebrows at him.

George slumps a bit with an uneasy smile, "Right, right," he says, giving a small bow.

I watch Bui toss away his armour until all he's left with is his helmet.

"Most fighters wear armour to protect themselves from their opponent," he says straightening. "But I'm the opposite. I actually wear it to protect my opponents from myself." And with that he removes his helmet and his mask, tossing them aside. His face is narrow, with a large purplish scar on his forehead. His hair is almost the same color as Yukina's, if not a bit more blue. His youki spikes, an odd minty color surrounds his fist. "You see, my powers are so great that I simply cannot control them on my own."

Hiei looks entertained enough. Maybe even pleased.

Bui puts his arms out to the side, and his energy explodes everywhere. It shoots up in a column around him and lifts him in the air, and I feel a bit like I'm in a sci-fi flick. The way he holds himself reminds me of Jesus on the cross, but so alien.

Oddly, his energy doesn't bother me though. Neither did Karasu's actually, for some reason.

Hiei's red youki flares in response and he leaps into the air at Bui for an attack, but the attack must not have worked out because Hiei is back on the ground again. Bui dives at him, and Hiei responds with throwing a spiral of fire at him. The flames engulf Bui for a moment, but he forces them away with another flare of his youki, and then he shoots a ball of green energy at Hiei.

Hiei fires another round of flames at the ball, and it sort of compresses and explodes under the pressure, sending offshoots of youki to the unappreciative audience.

Bui fires another blast of energy with a roar, but this one is shaped like a shuriken.

Hiei dodges of course, but after that I can't quite make out what's going on, except for the fact that the shuriken that Bui fired is moving very erratically. I can't see Hiei, but I think that's because he's moving too fast for me to follow him. I get the idea that he's actually moving the shuriken somehow, and it ends up crashing back into Bui.

It slams Bui into the ring with an explosion of light so bright that I have to shut my eyes against it. It dies down and I blink, seeing afterimages in my vision.

Bui stands calmly in the center of the crater his attack created, looking up at Hiei with an expectant expression. His youki explodes again, lifting him out of the crater in a beam of light. He hovers in front of Hiei. "I told you you had to try and top me, Hiei. Maybe now you'll begin to take me more seriously and show me the respect I deserve." I can feel his energy powering up for an attack. He lands on the opposite side of the crater from Hiei. "My attacks are designed to only be as strong as necessary to take out my opponent. As you can see, that's not even enough to put a dent in me." His youki lifts him into the air again. "Take that any way you like."

"So…it takes a lot more than that to bang you up?" Hiei says, smirk crossing his face. "Here comes a lot more." He picks up his right arm and tears the seal from his fist. The dressing on his arm becomes unwrapped quickly, and I can feel the dragon's youki again. And if I squint my eyes a bit, I can make out the black dragon tattoo on Hiei's arm past the sudden dark purple aura surrounding it.

Kurama turns and looks up at us. His mouth is pressed in a worried line as he scans our faces.

I frown at him, but he turns to face Hiei again before he can give me a satisfactory reason for that look.

"It's been pulling at the bandages for some time," Hiei says, as his arm basically bursts into flame. "I couldn't hold it for long." He gives a dark laugh, red eyes flashing at Bui dangerously. "You're the next sacrifice to the Kokuryuuha!"

Then the dragon pulls from his arm and circles Hiei like a cat. Black energy rolls off the dragon as it shoots up in the air, and at the same time, Bui powers up again, floating in the air in his column of green light.

"Wow," Koto says, "Fire is leaping from Hiei's arm, and excited goosebumps are screaming from mine! The big boy is back!"

I rub my own arm, feeling my own thrilled goosebumps.

"Ugh," I hear Shizuru mutter beside me. I turn and see her arms wrapped around herself as she gives a shudder.

"What's wrong, Shizuru?" Keiko asks, furrowing her brow. "You look so pale!"

"I feel so cold all of the sudden," Shizuru replies, shivering again. I'm guessing it has to do with Hiei's dragon, because it's actually quite warm inside the arena.

Oddly, I'm not frightened at all like I was last time. However, I don't think that has anything to do with the change in mine and Hiei's relationship. I wonder if my mind is just protecting itself, somehow?

"Do you need a doctor?" Yukina and George ask together.

"No, thanks."

"No, I feel it too," Botan says, pink eyes narrowing. "Something dangerous is coming and her gift of awareness only makes it scarier."

Hiei's attack grows and changes, leveling up higher and higher. The air is full of his youki. But slowly, slowly, the dragon's energy starts mixing in with his, and it begins to take over, and the atmosphere grows heavy under its influence. Black lightning crackles, and it feels like there's a powerful thunderstorm inside the arena. Outside of it, I hear the sounds of concrete falling apart.

"Take it from someone who was in the ring the first time - this attack is not the same! It's like a super-hyper-mega dragon!" Koto says, sounding a bit worried.

I get the sense, suddenly, that Hiei's attack is ready - fully charged - and he races toward Bui. "Kokuryuuha!"

The dragon flies at Bui, a solid shadow, crackling energy, purple flares, and sparks of flame. Its great jaws yawn open to swallow Bui, and I hear him give an awful scream as the dragon barrels into him like a train.

Bui seems to be holding his own all right though. His green energy is fluctuating in response to the attack, but the dragon hasn't swallowed him, and Bui even manages to stop its momentum.

"I hope you don't think that dragon is completed," Hiei growls, pulling back his fist as a hot white youki engulfs it. He shoots the youki at the dragon, and it surrounds it so that all I can see is the dragon, which had been multicolored and skeletal before, grow into something more solid. The light stays around it, and the dragon continues it's outraged attack on Bui, sending him in a dizzying spiral around the arena.

I can't really see Bui underneath his bright green energy, so it sort of looks to me like the dragon has a glowing green Rudolph nose.

Don't tell Hiei I said that.

"Amazingly, Bui's avoided instant vaporization, but the dragon's strength is immense and it's bulldozing him around the stadium! Something has to give!" Koto exclaims.

Yeah, so the stadium gives. Also, all the youki in the air starts melting the weaker demons in the audience.

Koto sounds thrilled. "All right people, this is only the mayhem you can expect from the final! The weaker ones in the crowd are being instantly incinerated! It's hell in a basket, and I love it all!"

The dragon bursts through the far side of the arena, blowing about half of the roof off and killing everyone on that side of the ring. Outside, the sky is unnaturally red, but that's likely due to the dragon's influence. I can't see Bui anymore, but from the still writhing black and white hot form of the dragon, I can tell he's still holding on.

"Does anyone know how to make a shield?" I ask, watching Hiei leap up higher on broken beams so that he has a better vantage point of the dragon's attack.

"Well, I can sort of make one," Botan says, pink eyes wide as she takes in the dragon. "It does take a bit of effort though."

"I'll hold it with you," I tell her. Making shields and barriers really isn't that hard. It's actually harder to hold them up because you have to keep your mind focused on it, and if you're like me and suffer from "monkey mind", then it's not exactly your forte.

"I can help too," Yukina pipes up, and I feel her youki flare and bubble around us.

I push out a layer of my own psychic energy, which I realize I hardly ever use. I'm so used to wielding that holy energy instead, but I can't use it now because it would counteract Yukina's stable demonic energy. Unfortunately, my hold on my own energy is shaky at best, but I persevere, fixing a gaze at Hiei's back.

Botan adds her own candy-pink reiki, letting it sit over my layer like a thick quilt.

Beside me, Shizuru relaxes her tense shoulders. "That feels so much better."

Bui's energy flares in the distance, and I get the sudden dreadful feeling that something is about to go terribly, horribly wrong.

When the dragon turns and starts careening back into the arena, straight at Hiei, I know I'm right.

It crashes into him with a screech, and he disappears. I don't know if the dragon swallowed him, or if he just ended up buried under some rubble, or the damn thing sent him into outer-fucking-space, but my heart drops all the same. The beast continues to screech and writhe in the air, and I would think it a magnificent thing if I weren't so damned hacked off at it.

Hiei, you stupid moron - where the hell are you?

The sky changes back to blue, red seeping away like a nightmare gone, but there's still something in the air. Something saying this fight isn't over yet.

"What a manuvoeur! Bui managed to force the Kokuryuuha away from himself and directly toward Hiei, causing the three-eyed warrior to be swallowed by his own beast of destruction!"

The dragon flickers out of existence in the sky, and I frown at the spot as the crowd starts cheering around us.

I hear Juri begin a half-hearted announcement after Koto rouses her from her apparent nap. "Uh…Hiei can't compete without a body…so, the official winner can only be -"

The spot I've been staring at flickers black again, and I can't contain my smile. The black energy grows and fluctuates, spiking and reddening, and then it explodes with a BANG and a bright blue wave, and sends Juri backward screaming.

A familiar humanoid shape appears in the bright blue light, surrounded by the dragon's black energy. The sky turns dark and stormy, and a blue-black column of lightning shoots down into the remains of the concrete ring. It's blinding, but I keep my eyes on the light anyway. The energy twists around Hiei's obscured figure, bathing him. Baptizing him.

"This brings out my next attack," he says, still glowing and straighting slowly. "It's a little different." The light fades then, and Hiei stands there - the perfect picture of health. His face tips up, and he smiles slightly with a dark chuckle.

Bui's face breaks out into a sweat. His eyes widen. "Explain this!"

Hiei turns a bit nonchalant.

"I can't really articulate what happened here, people! It looked like the dragon had eaten Hiei, but now the demon's back and appears to be unharmed," Koto commentates.

"Something gigantic is still here. I can't explain it," Shizuru says, "but Hiei's attack is on its way."

Botan complains. "Alice, you really aren't doing your part with this barrier! Are you even paying attention?"

I blink and focus on the shield again. "Sorry Botan, shields aren't exactly my specialty." I guess I'm about as balls-out as Hiei when I fight. The best defense is a good offense in my book and his. I guess that's why I like watching him fight so much.

"He looks wrong," Yukina says, hand curling against her face as she examines Hiei.

Keiko blinks. "Why's that, Yukina? I don't think he looks any different from when he disappeared a minute ago. Except that wound on his arm isn't there anymore…"

Botan frowns, tapping a finger against her chin.

Down in the arena, something sort of interesting happens. Hiei takes a step toward Bui, and Bui steps back, looking terrified.

"Countless centuries," Hiei begins, Jagan glowing, "countless masters trying to harness the power of the Kokuryuuha…" Bright blue youki flares around him, engulfing him, obscuring him from view. "Only I have had the courage, the strength, and the abandon to realize its glorious potential. I have the power of the black dragon, because now I am the dragon."

Bui suddenly flies at Hiei in a seemingly desperate attempt to prove to himself that Hiei isn't as powerful as he seems. He hits Hiei in the face, but it has zero effect on Hiei. Bui only has the strength to turn his head and barely that - even though hits Hiei multiple times. Hiei is in a whole other class of demon, and he's rubbing it in Bui's face.

Smirky bastard.

"Bui unloads like an angry toddler in a therapy session, but Hiei is absolutely unaffected!" Koto shouts.

Bui runs at Hiei again, grabbing him up and tossing him in the air. Hiei soars almost comically, limbs going whichever way they may. Bui follows and slams him into the ceiling, and when that has no effect, Bui throws him back to the ground creating a crater for his body. I wonder if Hiei is going to give up this passivity soon, because even though I know he's doing it to psyche Bui out, it's beginning to annoy me.

Hiei gets to his feet and smirks at Bui.

The larger demon flares his green youki again and runs at him, but Hiei catches his fist. Bui yells for some reason, and his aura disappears, and he falls to the ground at Hiei's feet.

"Insane! Hiei has actually sucked away Bui's battle aura - the source of all of his power!" Koto explains helpfully.

"Come now," Hiei says, "can't you even test me?"

Bui straightens, gritting his teeth. I can tell he's not going to last much longer. Hiei's breaking him mentally. He takes a hesitant step and then runs fully at Hiei.

Hiei curls his hands at his side and he's suddenly holding a huge crackling ball of that bright blue youki. It expands around Hiei, and Bui makes a sizzling sound when he come in contact with it. He goes flying through a part of the roof that's still intact, and Hiei hurtles after him, blue youki unfolding into a white-blue dragon.

Way up in the air, I see Hiei punch Bui in the face - one strike - and Bui goes crashing back into the stands like a fallen satellite from space.

Hiei drops down next to him, light as a cat, and inspects him. I can't see Bui lying there from where I'm sitting, but I can see Hiei's posture relax slightly, in that small miniscule way he did with me this morning, and I know that it's over.

"Both are outside the ring - I'll start the count!" Juri says, and then she trips on a block of rubble from the ring. She gets up quickly though and begins counting. "One!"

Hiei jumps back into the ring as she hits eight, but Bui stays down, defeated.

"And ten! The second fight is over! Hiei takes the point!" Juri exclaims with a wink.

The crowd roars in response, and the girls and I explode with cheers.

"He did it!" Botan exclaims, jumping up and down in her seat. The other girls praise him around me, but I keep my eyes on Hiei.

His expression is tired, and I can tell that attack took a lot out of him. He's saying something to the boys, pointing his finger at them, eyelids drooping more and more with every passing second. His knees buckle finally, and he collapses to the ground in a dead faint. Or sleep.

I squint down at him. He looks awfully peaceful. Sleep then, I suppose.

"I've just received a message that there will be a long intermission while the replacement ring is brought in," Koto says, "Feel free to move around the parts of the stadium that still exist. And as always don't forget about the snack bars!"

"Shall we go say hi to the boys?" Botan asks.

"Yes!" Keiko says, getting to her feet and brushing off her clothes.

We all get up and start squeezing our way past the demons in our row and then head down the column to the wall. I don't actually think there's typically a way to get to the arena through the wall, but since Hiei destroyed half the stadium, there probably is now.

Shizuru suddenly stops in front of me. "What's that creep doing?"

I look around her and see Elder Toguro standing with the rest of the boys, looking like he was threatening Kuwabara.

Probably it should have been Shizuru to do this, but I didn't want to miss my chance. I blow past Shizuru and Botan, force my way through the throngs of demons in my way and slam into the wall surrounding the arena. Glad to be wearing jeans today, I hop up and swing my legs over the wall, glaring at the older brother. "Hey, asshole!"

"Alice!" I hear Kurama shout, horrified.

It's a long drop to the ground - about eight feet - but adrenaline and rage make me (stupidly) drop from the wall anyway, but I land smoothly on the balls of my feet and dash towards the stringy-haired bastard. I have tunnel-vision. I want to beat answers out of him.

Kuwabara snatches me around my middle though, lifting me up from the ground, and I squirm against him. "What the hell are you doing?" he demands in my ear.

"Put me down, damn it! I want answers, Toguro!" I demand, trying to hit Kuwabara's shins with my heels. I feel him flinch behind me.

The bastard has the gall to laugh at me. "My, my, Alice Regnier, you're quite a bit more feisty than I was led to believe." His face splits into a mocking grin as his hand reaches for me, but with as much anger propelling me at this moment, my viridian coils are already moving to wrap around his stupid creepy hand.

Koenma, of all people, steps in the middle of this. His back to me, I can feel Kuwabara relaxing his hold on me, and my feet finally touch the ground. Koenma's outstretched arm is about level with my neck, and his chin tips down at Elder Toguro in warning. "Let's save it for your round with Kuwabara, shall we?"

Toguro shoves his hands in his pockets and cackles, turning and walking away.

"Hey!" I shout after him angrily. "I'm not done -"

Koenma whips around, brown eyes narrowed in a glower, which is a lot more impressive on his adult face than his baby one. I balk under the weight of his anger and snap my mouth shut.

"What do you think you're doing?" he demands. "Do you know how much nerve that took for me to do? I'm a diplomat - not a fighter!"

I gape at him. "Are you kidding me, Koenma?"

He scowls at me through the mafuken.

"Sir! Koenma, sir, are you all right?" I hear Botan call behind me. I turn and see her and the other girls leaning over the wall. "You're not hurt, are you?"

"I'm fine, Botan. I'm a man, aren't I?" he says in reply, setting his hands on his hips. I blink, realizing that he's posturing to look cool for Botan, which means - he likes Botan.

"Just checking, sir!"

Kurama moves to stand beside me and wraps his hand around my wrist. I avoid his face because I know he's only glaring at me too. I look at the ground instead.

"Could you possibly explain what on earth was going through your mind the moment you rushed at such a powerful demon?" His voice is smooth and velveteen, and I know he's very angry at me by his quiet tone.

"Nothing," I answer honestly, still staring at the ground.

Yusuke claps a hand on my shoulder, grinning down at my face. "Hey, you wanna just take both of them for us? I bet you could win this whole Tournament single-handedly - I'll even give you Kuwabara's wish!"

"Hey!" Kuwabara shouts indignantly.

I crack a smile at him, appreciating the joke. Kurama doesn't, however, and his hand only tightens on my wrist. "You should go say hi to Keiko," I tell him, knowing that Kurama is about to take me somewhere and scold me like a child. I really don't want other people to see that.

Kurama tugs on my arm, leading me away through the triangular doors.


Sorry for the wait.

The anime always takes me awhile to write out because I don't want to be too inconsistent.

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I eagerly await your words, as always. :)