(Part I)

Living with my mother, for as long as I can recall, has been sheer pleasure. Though I was not always her ideal son, I must admit. It is only after her arms were permanently scarred by my carelessness that I have fully come to appreciate the love she bore me, and that I have been able to reciprocate in return. Yet there are times when I cannot look at her without shame, for I know that I am not fully human. I am a youko, more than 400 years of age--a fox demon, a cunning thief, a more than able fighter. However, I have not experienced the fulfillment in all those years in Makai as I have as Shiori's son.

But she does not know who I truly am, and that secret haunts me to no end. I fear the day when she will find out that her ideal son is but a lie. And I wonder if she will love Kurama as she had Shuichi Minamino. For I am both, I know--a human and a youko, a fox and a man. I love her, for she is the only mother I have truly come to know. She binds me to Ningenkai with ties forged from love that I have been unable--unwilling--to break. Yet my greatest fear remains. That one day, those ties will be shattered, and I will lose the love that has given me such comfort all these years. And I must return to being Youko Kurama of Makai with a heart more scarred and sundered than it has ever been before.

Shiori peeks at the door silently and watches her son as he bends over his book, brows furrowing in concentration. She smiles and closes the door quietly, afraid that she might disturb him from his studies. She smiles fondly, proud that he has turned out to be so intelligent, well mannered, polite and very handsome. He was all she ever hoped her son to be, and more. He was also caring and affectionate to a fault. Yet there were times when she would catch a strange gleam in his eye, almost akin to regret and despair. She had never asked him about it, because during those times, he seemed more distant, more removed to himself. But she was immensely curious about this change in him. It was like he was a completely different person. Still her son, but somehow more mature, with a depth of knowledge and wisdom far beyond his years.

One thing that had initially surprised her was his affinity for plants. He certainly had a green thumb--in fact, he grew some of the nicest roses she had ever seen, and often made a present out of them for her. He assisted her in gardening, and somehow he could coax a dying plant back into full growth. When she had teased him about it, he smiled enigmatically and shrugged good-naturedly. Somehow, those entrancing green eyes of his had seemed a shade darker, even bordering on brown. Then, in a blink of an eye, he was congenial Shuichi Minamino once again, and she would wonder if she had imagined the whole thing. She got the impression that he was certainly a complex person, pleasant on the surface but somehow with an undercurrent of something sly and dangerous underneath. Regardless, though, he was her son. And she loved him that alone.

She was fixing dinner when she heard a knock on the door. Thinking that it was perhaps Kazuya and his son who was likewise named Shuichi, she hurried to open the door. She had begun dating him recently, and her son did not show any signs of objecting. In fact, he had smiled, embraced her fondly, and told her that she deserved to be happy and have someone she loved she would grow old with. She had detected an odd catch in his voice when he said that, and he suddenly seemed more withdrawn. But that moment passed, as always, and now the two Shuichis were getting along rather well. The knocking intensified, and Shiori was snapped out of her reverie. And so she unlatched the door, smiled and pulled it open--

--Only to find a monster with a huge gaping maw and steel fangs grinning maliciously outside.

Her first thought was to scream, but she was held speechless by its hypnotic gaze. Its gleaming red eyes held her in place, while her mind reeled as she thought of how this monster could suddenly appear outside her home. And her thoughts turned to her son, how she could keep him safe and prevent him from having to face this horror. The monster stepped toward him, saliva dripping from its maw in glee, reaching for her with its black talons. It lifted her off her feet gruffly and hoisted her on its back, and she could smell the acrid odor emanating from it. She found herself wanting to beat at it, but to her horror, her body would not respond, and she was helplessly being abducted.

~Hn? Nani?!~

My eyes narrowed as I sensed a strange ki just outside the house. It appeared to be the ki of some demon from Makai, though how it had come so close without me sensing its approach was surprising. Somehow, the monster had managed to keep its presence from me, and that alone spoke of skill and power. My heart began to pound as I thought of my mother downstairs, and how she would be helpless having to face this horror. So I dropped by books and raced for the door, hoping that I was not too late.

But I was. I saw the monster with my mother on his shoulder, and she appeared to be in a trance, for her body was limp and her expression was vapid. I snarled in rage. This intruder had hypnotized my mother somehow, though to what end, I did not know. She had done nothing to deserve this after all. So that would mean that this demon was after me, and another human got caught as a consequence. I briefly recalled Maya, and how Hiei had attacked us some years back when I first met him, confusing me for someone else. But this was no Hiei--far from it. The Koorime did tend to be violent, but his rage was tempered with dark reason. This youkai did not appear to have Hiei's inhibitions.

"Let go of her, kisama," I screamed, adopting a fighting stance. A thought crossed my mind of my mother watching me fight, but I did not care if she discovered the truth at that very moment. I wanted her safe.

"Such impatience, Kurama," a low booming voice resounded from its gaping mouth. It did not appear to come from the youkai itself, but from somebody who was somehow directing it. "So you actually care for the life of this pathetic little ningen woman. Interesting."

"Don't you address my mother that way!" I said evenly through gritted teeth.

"Or what, kitsune?" the voice was plaintive, mocking.

I smiled darkly. "Or I'll make you pay."

"At least you haven't lost your fighting edge in that ningen body," the voice replied. "Make no move now or my servant will tear her to bits. I will take her until you track me down. Then we will fight."

"Who are you?" I asked, glancing from the monster to my mother, and I had to wonder if she could hear the conversation and all that it implied. "What do you want from me?"

"You once stole something of value from me once, you see," the voice said reasonably. "And for that, I am taking your precious mother with me. Oh, and please don't make me wait too long, Kurama. I just might get a tad impatient, and I'm sure you don't want her to bear the brunt of my bad mood. Ja mata!"

The monster let out a barking laugh, then shimmered and vanished, taking Shiori with it. And I was left gaping, glaring at the empty space before me. Now, it would seem I have lost my mother, and I fear my secret along with it.

I beat my fists against the wall in frustration. Yusuke and Kuwabara had heard what happened and rushed to the house. I briefly outlined the details of the abduction, telling them that I had no idea as to the identity of the master of the demon who took her. It could have been anyone from Makai, since I'd made lots of enemies and rivals then, and living as long as I had, there was no way of remembering them all. So Yusuke contacted Koenma, and we were told that he had known about the strange disruption, and that the youkai had gone back to Makai, taking my mother with it. Yet Makai was a huge place, and I had no starting point to begin my search. I had excellent tracking skills, but I needed some sort of clue. And that I did not have.

Regardless, however, I had no recourse but to go to Makai to recover my mother. So I squared my shoulders to begin for the journey ahead. The two had volunteered to accompany me, for which I was grateful. So the three of us made the transition to another world, and I was back to the forest where I first started my career in thievery. Hiei we did not have with us…yet, for I get the feeling that he will detect our presence and at least look us up. I had no idea what he was up with Mukuro, only knowing that it involved killing and destroying, two concepts not at all alien to the fiery youkai. But aside from wanting to see him, his skills would be valuable to us, for as an assassin, he was one of the most deadly in Makai.

We decided to make camp for the night, hoping that somehow my presence would attract some sort of clue or reaction from my unknown foe. Yusuke and Kuwabara dozed off easily after a while, but I did not feel tired or sleepy at all. As Youko Kurama, I had gone days at end without food or sleep, for in my hunts and journeys it had become necessary at times. My ningen body was less versatile, but there was enough rage and fear in me to fuel energy into my body. So I sat with my back against a tree, staring into the fire. I did not know how long I sat there, pondering on my enemy and my mother, before my eyes were met across the fire with a familiar red glow.

"Hiei," I murmured, inclining my head to acknowledge his presence. He was still black-clad, his katana across his lap as he sat across the fire from me. And he seemed darkly amused.

"I did not think to see you here," he replied softly, "not for another sixty years or so, at least. Of course, that changed with what happened, I supposed."

"So you know about it," I nodded. "Then do you also know who was behind it?"

"Shureya," he stated matter-of-factly, his hate apparent. "Once a warrior in Mukuro's army. A good one. Till he left to found one of his own."

"I take it he did something to incur your ire?" I inquired, slightly amused. "Aside from leaving your force, I mean?"

"Feh, he could have left for all I care," Hiei said, glaring at me across the fire, the glint in his eyes blending perfectly with the licking tongues of flame. "He did not have to attempt to poison me, however. And fight me in my weakened state to prove that he was the better fighter."

"So what's the story?" I asked, rising from where I sat to sit beside him. He glanced at me but said nothing. I laid a hand on his shoulder, ignoring the low growl from my temperamental friend. "Come on, it's me--you can trust me with your little story."

"Trust you, kitsune?" he muttered, smirking. "Hn, I haven't forgotten that you're a clever, beguiling thief--for starters. But that's really beside the point. You are my friend, Kurama. I value that enough. And I suppose you need to hear something about him before you rush off to face him.

"I don't know his background exactly, but that's hardly surprising, since I don't inquire. What for? Anyway, Shureya is a sword-wielder, but more than that, he is an ice youkai…with roots from Koorime. From the moment he arrived, he stated that he intended to seek out the Dark Child, and made it known that one day, he will challenge me. His threats are idle and nothing new, so I generally ignored them--and him. Till one day I found him in the armory, stealing weapons and armor. Of course I challenged the bastard, and he drew his sword and agreed. Which suited me fine, since I wanted him dead.

"But at that moment, my body stiffened, and my sword dropped from my hand. I clutched my throat, noting the tightness there. I'd been poisoned, I knew, by someone skillful enough that it went by unnoticed till then. He stood over me with a mocking smile on his face, and I will not forget that soon. I raised his sword to strike, but I managed to tap enough strength to call on the Black Fire Sword. I sliced his arm off, and he fled. I found a way to survive the poison, but I could not find him. I was to seek him out, but then I heard he took your mother.

"So naturally that brings you back to Makai. And since we both want him dead, I'll be joining you. Even if we do have that oaf with us." He shot a dark look at the snoring Kuwabara.

I snorted, knowing that Hiei disliked the thought of Yukina going out with Kuwabara, yet knowing that he was somewhat glad that there was someone taking care of his sister. I did check on her once in a while for him, nothing that she seemed to be getting along well with Genkai, and that Kuwabara tended to visit her often. She seemed to be warming up to his open honesty and admiration, and it was evident that he did like her very much. So I left them alone, much as Hiei has left Yukina alone, afraid of exposing the fact that he was her brother. Just as I was afraid of introducing Kurama to my mother who only knew Shuichi.

"He does help, you know. Kuwabara-kun isn't that bad a fighter," I replied, grinning at him in the dark. Hiei returned my smile with a level gaze. I returned his look unfazed. Eventually, Hiei looked away and snorted, his hand gripping his katana. While I suspected he did occasionally want to slice me up when I teased him, our friendship had come to mean something to the oft-isolated Koorime. As it had to me.

"Do you actually have any sort of plan, Kurama?" Hiei asked suddenly, facing me with a serious expression on his boyish face. "Though I wouldn't put it beyond you to show up at his front door and demand Shiori's release, given the situation."

I have considered that scenario, I amended silently. But now that I knew something about this Shureya, it wouldn't be surprising if there were traps for us all the way to this youkai's lair. I fell silent for a while, pondering. While the simplest way would be to assume my youkai form and traunt him, I didn't want to risk my mother's safety on the state of his temper. Already, he seemed to me cold-blooded and dispassionate, not far from what I had been as Youko Kurama before I came to Ningenkai. Yet even I did not stoop to abducting mothers and holding them for ransom. The thrill for me had always been in tracking and searching, in stealing and gaining power. Certainly not in holding weaker people captive and using them as some sort of shield against opponents.

We sat together in companionable silence, staring into the fire. I was worried whether my mother was safe or not. I was silently cursing Shureya for involving her in this, and damning my secret along with it. Mostly, however, I berated myself for never telling Shiori the truth. The word "coward" kept coursing through my head, burning like liquid fire. But then again, how could I have risked losing her love--the one thing I knew I valued more than life itself? Yet did I deserve that love, knowing that Shuichi Minamino was partly an illusion, an adage to the complex being that was Youko Kurama? Now that illusion was about to be laid bare. I could only pray that Shiori will not despise me after this affair was over. Though, I thought glumly, I would deserve it.

Shureya paced about the room, occasionally glancing at the ningen woman who was bound to the wall by iron chains. He was sure that Kurama must have heard who was behind his ningen mother's abduction by now, and was taking steps to find him. Certainly if he had met up with Hiei, the Koorime would have mentioned him. After all, Shureya had heard that Kurama and Hiei were friends at the very least. Yet it has been two days, and they have not arrived. Do they think his skills trivial, making him wait this long? Shureya clenches his remaining fist and snarls, once again glaring at the ningen woman chained to the wall. He had thought that he would use her to draw Kurama into his lair. So far it has been futile. Kurama was in Makai, but apparently he still hadn't bothered to seek out his mother.

"So maybe you haven't gone soft as I thought," Shureya murmured, his mood turning blacker. His hand strayed to the hilt of his sword clasped by his side. It has been a long time since he had begun to plot his revenge against Kurama, he thought. He mentally cursed the fox demon for being so damned attractive. In youko form, he was both beautiful and deadly--qualities which drew Mariko to the youko.

He had been barely out of his youth then, an ice youkai learning to harness his powers. And he had fallen in-love. There had been then among the Koorime a beautiful maiden with long velvet hair, gray eyes and a sultry smile. Her name was Mariko, and he grew up admiring her beauty and strength. She was a feared warrior among them, capable of calling on the winds to perform her devastating ice attacks. He had made advances at her, but he had been politely ignored. He waited as he grew older, training hard in order to at least be able to match her in strength. Yet before he could propose to her, she left in search of a legendary thief.

This frustrated him to no end, so he too left Koorime in an effort to determine her whereabouts and learn about this thief. He learned that his name was Youko Kurama, a name feared in various circles in Makai. A four-tailed kitsune, cunning beyond match and beautiful beyond words. This angered him even more, to learn that he had been bested in Mariko's affections by who seemed to be the better youko. Still, obsessed with the idea of finding Mariko and making her his bride, he found her one day in a forest far from Koorime, in the embrace of the silver-haired youko. He hid in the bushes behind them, watching the look of adoration in Mariko's face and the calmly admiring expression on the youko.

Then Youko Kurama had kissed her, and his world exploded. He saw his hope of having her fade away, as Kurama gently lifted her and carried her deeper into the forest. He had considered pursuing them and challenging Kurama, and the idea began to appeal to him more and more. As he rose from concealment for pursuit, he found a hedge of thorny bushes blocking his way. He cursed silently as he hacked at the branches with an ice-sword, knowing that with each passing moment, he was losing Mariko. Apparently the fox was the cause of this, for he had heard that he could control plants with deadly impunity.

Since then, he had been filled with thoughts of revenge. He trained harder and pushed himself to gain new techniques and grew more powerful. Then he began to track Youko Kurama down, but each time, he was lost in a web of stories about his exploits, some false leads. The fox could hide well, and he had Mariko with him. One day, though, he found out that Mariko had returned to Koorime with haunted eyes, apparently terrified and nearly insane. He hurried back to his homeland, but by then, Mariko had died. He was there during her wake; it was then that he swore vengeance against the deceitful fox.

Still Kurama does not come. And Shureya begins to feel his rage building to greater proportions. He whips his sword from its sheath and stalks toward Shiori. She still appeared to be dazed, and from the tear streaks on her cheeks, he could gauge that she had been weeping silently all the while. A pang of pity tugged at him, but only for a moment. He dismissed the thought of mercy with a wave of his hand, thinking about Mariko. Shiori will suffer if Kurama does not come. He deserves no less than his ningen mother's death for his past crimes against his beloved.

He jammed the hilt of his sword against Shiori's chin and forces her to meet his gaze. His eyes were hard and colder than the ice-spikes he wields in combat. She stares at him confusedly yet defiantly. There was strength in this woman, he concluded. It was too bad that she bore the reincarnated Kurama. For that alone she was his foe.

"Why are you doing this to me?" Shiori murmurs weakly. She had not eaten at all for two days, only given water to drink, and even that was seldom. "What have I or my son done to you?"

"You, nothing," Shureya replied, noting that the ningen woman still refused to acknowledge that her son was anything other than the ningen he appeared to be on the surface. "Your son…well, I intend to kill him." He grit his teeth. "For causing her pain and death."

"But…he had never hurt anything in his life!" Shiori protested, as she found the possibility of her gentle son causing pain absurd.

"Ningen life, perhaps, and even that I doubt," Shureya shrugged, "but certainly not his youko life. He is a five-tailed kitsune thief, Shiori Minamino, and I will prove it to you when Kurama--I mean, Shuichi Minamino gets here."

"He will not come," Shiori stated flatly, glaring at him. "You will not hurt him."

"Oh, but he will come," Shureya let out a short, ugly laugh. "He loves you, or at least thinks he does. And he will face retribution and death."

Shiori did not reply, but averted her eyes from his frenetic gaze. He must be mad, she thinks, to regard her son like he was a killer and thief. And yet, a dark corner of her mind protested. With all that she has seen and experienced in this strange world so far, why should it be surprising that her son was really a youkai in disguise? She protested violently to the thought, but to her horror, logic did adhere to the possibility that Shuichi was not entirely human. And, she mused bitterly, had been using her and deceiving her all these years for his own veiled agenda.

She wept silently, bowing her head, heedless of the commotion that seemed to come from the hall outside. She caught a faint flash of silver before something heavy hit her on the head and she relapsed into darkness, where at least, she found peace.

This fanfic is in response to a question my friend Kath posed on what if I did a fic where Shiori discovered who Kurama really was. A simple confession did not appeal to me as much, however, as having them in a dangerous situation where Kurama must show her his youko half. So there, this is the first part of this fanfic. My take at angst coming up next. This is non-yaoi fanfic. If you find any implications otherwise, that's certainly as valid an opinion as any. Comments, suggestions, anything--send to ryquest. I'd love to hear 'em. =)

Yu Yu Hakusho is a copyright of Yoshihiro Togashi / Shue Isha Fuji TV, Studio Pierrot. This fanfic is for non-commercial, entertainment purposes only.

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