"Well, Jin," said Kurama, sounding unfairly amused in his own right as his voice cut across the awkward silence. "Now that you've found him, what did you plan to do?"

"Oh! Right!" Jin turned to Touya, looking pleased with himself and so excited that his ears went pointy. "Listen, mate, I met these two blokes after the match – little guy named Rinku and a mountain of a scrapper named Chu. They wound up on the wrong side of Urameshi two matches before we did. But they've still got their room, and they mean to see how it all ends. They've even got room for two more in their midst – thought you and I might take up with 'em for a bit. What do you say?"

Kuwabara exchanged his own look with Kurama, and saw that the fox actually looked relieved. He couldn't say that he blamed him, either. While he still had his grudges against Rinku for the way the little brat had won their fight, he hadn't seemed the bloodthirsty type, and Yusuke and Chu had obviously taken to each other. If he was forced to pick two demons he would trust not to stab him in the back…all right, he'd actually choose the former team Ichigaki, but Rinku and Chu would be a close second.

Then he looked back at Touya, to see how he was taking the news, only to find that Touya was looking back at him. Their gazes met, and Touya smiled, perhaps taking Kuwabara's reassurance for his own.

"That sounds perfect, Jin." He stepped back enough to bow to his comrade. "Thank you. Although…" He drew back a bit when Jin made to put an arm around him. "I would rather walk, if it's all the same to you."

"Aw, come on! That'll take forever and a day! They're halfway across the island from us, you know!"

"I think we'll have a good deal to talk about on the way."

Jin sighed, looking put upon, but then he mustered up a good natured smile. "A chance to hear you do some talking? Eh, I'd walk for a chance at that."

Kuwabara knew then that Touya would be okay. Jin and Touya weren't entirely as dissimilar as they seemed. Besides, he felt confident in his assessment that Jin really did want to help. Kurama seemed to think the same, and Touya seemed to be slowly slipping back at ease.

Even if he'd been all ready and raring to take the Ice Shinobi under his wing, the situation as it stood now was enough for him.

It was going to be a bummer to part ways with Touya. He'd thought they were really getting along, and Touya seemed to have felt the same, and okay, maybe, at some point he'd found himself getting just a bit attracted to the ice demon. After all, Touya was shy but curious, honorable and tenacious, reserved but not without a spark of life and intensely loyal. And, all right, he was one of the prettiest boys Kuwabara had ever laid eyes on.

But he had his own team to look after, and the road ahead was still a long one. It probably wouldn't be safe for Touya anywhere, but it would probably be a bit less dangerous with three demons out of the fight to watch his back.

"Well, then, Kurama." Touya bowed to the fox demon with far less reservation and wariness than he'd shown earlier. "And…Kuwabara." Instead of bowing, Touya crossed the distance between them that Jin had made. And, after a second's hesitation, the last dregs of uncertainty, he held out a hand. "You've both been very kind to me. Far more than I deserved. I hope to have the chance to repay you, one day."

"Ah, don't sweat it." But Kuwabara took Touya's hand firmly in his to shake. He felt then that they were sealing a contract between them, some sort of oath, and even if he didn't know just what it was, it was a nice feeling. "We were the ones paying you back, remember? We're square. But, hey, take care of yourself out there. Things are probably only gonna get even weirder from here."

"I have no doubt. And so…I hope you'll do the same." Touya smiled without any hint of sadness, regret, or bitterness. It was a beautiful sight to see, even as he released Kuwabara's hand, and stepped away. "Until we meet again."

Kuwabara couldn't help but beam in reply. "Count on it!"

He and Kurama stayed, waving, as Jin and Touya walked off. The other two demons looked back at them for a while, waving back, until the distance became too great, and the foliage cover too dense, and they were forced to turn away or walk headlong into a tree. Then the two Shinobi were forced to step around one, and were gone from sight.

"Well," said Kurama, after that. He looked at Kuwabara and smiled. "That was certainly an interesting diversion. But I'm glad we took it."

"You and me both." Now that he was left once again with only one demon to focus on, Kuwabara could see the edges of exhaustion creeping back into Kurama's bearing. "Hey, come on. What's say we head back to the room? Urameshi's probably torn half the place apart looking for us by now."

"That sounds like a fine idea." When Kuwabara gallantly offered an arm, Kurama took it and leaned against him with only a chuckle and no difficulties about his honor or his pride or anything stupid like that. "Lead the way. I think this is about the point I would have insisted mother take a rest, so I suppose I can't complain."

Yusuke had not, in fact, demolished anything while they'd been gone. He was still incredibly pissed off, though, especially when Kuwabara refused to tell them what had kept them out so long. The fact that Kuwabara didn't stop smiling all through his tirade only added fuel to the fire, but Kuwabara didn't care in the slightest. He knew that he'd done a good thing today, and no one could take that away from him. Yusuke would cool off, and Touya would be all right, and his team would kick Toguro's ass and walk away winners. What more could he ask than that?

A long way away, still in the forest but nearing an edge, two demons walked together. One stared at the sky, one stared at the ground, but the air was filled with the sound of their voices talking. It was still a ways to go to get to their new accommodations, but they had a lot to say to one another along the way. Questions to ask, matters to discuss, things to learn about their teammate that they'd never known before…and, in the end, all Jin and Touya could do was wish that they'd taken the plunge to talk like this long ago. At the least, they had their whole lives now to catch up.


And that's a wrap! I hope you enjoyed reading my little experiment. I have a few more ideas for other fics that might play off of this one or tie into similar ideas or pairings, but, you know how it is. That doesn't mean a thing until I actually get them written, if I ever do. Keep your fingers crossed for me, my fair readers!