Hiei was sitting on the far side of the couch when Kurama came back into the living room.  The jaganshi had his back pressed into the corner, half turned with
his legs curled in front of him.  Kurama gave a bright smile to his lover, setting the tray on the table.  The youkai's eyes flicked open with a vague frown, but he
accepted his coffee without comment.  Sitting near him, Kurama leaned an arm on the back of the couch and folded his legs so he was facing Hiei.  Teacup in
hand, he waited for those lowered red eyes to look up.

After spending most of his life avoiding the many mind-altering plants in the Makai, Hiei was surprised at his attachment to caffeine.  Kurama had explained
that the drug hadn't been proven absolutely addictive, but Hiei did appreciate the bite in the drink.  The taste didn't hurt either.  A few silent moments passed
as he drank the hot coffee, ignoring the gaze he could feel on him.  But his patience ran out quickly enough.  His lips curved into a slight frown as he lowered
his mug and met Kurama's steady stare.  "What?"

"I'm sorry."  Red eyes blinked in evident confusion, but Kurama kept his expression sober.  "I'm sorry you didn't trust my strength enough to tell me what was
wrong."

The words were delivered in such a calm tone that they caught Hiei by complete surprise.  And he couldn't tell from those bright eyes what Kurama was
feeling.  As for himself, his frown darkened into a confused scowl.  "What are you talking about?" he muttered, his hand tightening on his mug.  He knew what
the kitsune was talking about, but he wasn't going to admit it.

Kurama wasn't fooled at all, and he tilted his head, leaning more on the back of the couch.  "Mukuro told me the last time she saw you a youkai had crossed
into her territory.  That was him, wasn't it."  All pretense of confusion left Hiei's face, the scowl deepening into a glare.  He wasn't surprised when his lover
didn't bother to answer that question.  "What did he say to you?"  Hiei's knuckles were white around the mug, and Kurama plucked it away.  He was impatient
for answers, but he didn't act that way, filling the cup and handing it back with only a calm look.  "I kept wondering why you would have purposely gone into a
battle knowing you'd lose.  I didn't expect that of you.  And I didn't understand why, even when you knew you were bound to lose, you refused my help."

"Who needed whose help," Hiei growled, glaring into the cup.  It was his safety net now, he realized that, and devoted his entire attention on the dark liquid
inside.  "If I hadn't followed you, you would be dead now.  I told you to stay out of this."

"It's just between you and him," Kurama said, his eyes glinting as he stared at Hiei, "that's what you keep saying.  If that's true, I admit, I'm very confused.  Why
would he say you thought I was his target, if this is just between the two of you?  And if I were his target, how could you not tell me, if only to warn me?"  His
lover flinched, and Kurama almost winced when those red eyes closed.  He would have preferred for Hiei to simply tell him, but he didn't want to force the
information out.  Making him feel guilty was easier, if more painful.  "I had no idea what I was running into."

"You weren't supposed to go."  Hiei's eyes snapped up with a sharp glare, anger hiding the pain that curled inside him.  "If you had just stayed out of it, you
wouldn't have needed to know anything.  I didn't tell you because it was better that way.  I knew you'd do something stupid, and you did.  By chasing after him,
you gave him just what he wanted.  You gave him a hostage."  Kurama's calm reproach slipped into confusion, and Hiei blocked the sight, his right hand
moving over his eyes.  He felt sick to his stomach, a churning nausea that made his lips curl back.  "You can't rely on me for that."

"Hiei..."

"He thought he could use me against you," Hiei said, his hand falling to his lap.  For some reason, the admission eased his sickness, a creeping numbness
setting over him instead.  "That's why he came to Mukuro's territory.  He's an S class.  But you know that now."  His dull gaze moved over Kurama's wide green
eyes, a small smirk curving his lips.  "He took you out with what, one hit?"  Kurama's mouth opened, but he snorted, shaking his head.  "Don't feel insulted,
Kurama, I didn't fare much better.  He's too fast to be your enemy.  You can't fight at any distance with him."

Kurama could hear condemnation in Hiei's low voice, the sentiment at odds with the amusement glinting in those dull red eyes.  Did Hiei blame himself for not
being strong enough?  He was almost hurt that Hiei had so little faith in him, but he wasn't going to comment on that when the youkai was finally telling him
what had happened.  And with so strong an enemy, hearing his battle tactics would come in far too handy to interrupt now.  There was one thing that bothered
him enough to speak up.  "Why didn't you have your sword?" Kurama asked, his voice soft.  With an enemy too fast for distance attacks, Hiei always used his
sword.  But he hadn't had it.  Mukuro had given him the sword along with the rest of Hiei's things earlier.

That question made Hiei's dark smirk ease into a depreciating glower.  "I was patrolling.  There wasn't time to go back for it."  Remembering that first encounter
made him think of something he'd wondered about before.  Time had seemed so important then, mostly because he'd thought Kurama in the Makai.  But after
being left at the kitsune's home in the human world, he was fairly sure that had been a lie.  He would have asked, but he thought he knew the answer.  He'd
been the fool himself to believe Kurama had come to the Makai.  There was no reason for Kurama to come there.  The redhead was chewing on his lower lip
when Hiei glanced up at him again, and he recognized the impatient tint in his lover's eyes.  "The kokoryuuha doesn't work on him," he commented, his tone
careless.  "I didn't know that at the time, but it doesn't."

"You tried it, then," Kurama said, watching Hiei's quick nod.  The admission wasn't reassuring, but it certainly explained how weak Hiei had been afterward.  
"But not on yourself?"

"There wasn't time," Hiei sniffed, glaring at his coffee cup.  Talking about this didn't seem as hard as before, and he shifted against the couch, drawing his legs
up so he could lean his elbows on his knees.  "He must have seen the tournament in the Makai, my fight with Mukuro.  He ripped the kokoryuuha, using the
same method she did."  Kurama's eyes widened, just a bit, and Hiei smirked.  "Doing that doesn't take as much effort as you think, kitsune.  Mukuro held back
when she did that.  Biula didn't."

"Biula?"

Hiei's teeth snapped shut, and his hand darted forward suddenly.  Grabbing a fist of Kurama's red hair, he jerked the kitsune's face close to his.  Green eyes
stared at him in wide surprise, and he glared into them, baring his teeth.  "Listen to me," he growled, a sharp wave of nervous anger burning his veins.  "If you
even think about going after him again, I will knock you out myself."

Leaning forward of his own volition, Kurama placed a soft kiss on Hiei's lips, smiling when the youkai's eyebrow twitched.  "Hiei, I'll never do what I did to you
again.  You have my word.  Locking you in that kekkai is a mistake I'll regret for the rest of my life."  The smaller youkai blinked at him, and he brushed a light
hand over Hiei's cheek.  "I promise, I won't even think about doing that again."

The kitsune hadn't exactly promised not to go after Biula, but Hiei decided not to press the matter.  Kurama's soft vow made his skin crawl.  Moving back again,
he sniffed at those wide, bright green eyes.  "As I said," he continued, his back relaxing a little when Kurama nodded, "he didn't hold back.  It took most of his
energy to tear the kokoryuuha.  I was not at full power then, I had trained too much and wasn't expecting the challenge.  You know what happened when
Mukuro did that in the tournament?"

Kurama nodded slowly, still leaning a bit closer to Hiei than he'd been before the little 'warning.'  "The youki doesn't return.  That's the difference between
using it on something, and having it severed, right?"

"Yes.  If it is intact, I can draw it back and retain some part of the youki I expended.  But once it's severed it burns out.  If I had used it on myself before he
ripped it, I could have defeated him at once."

"Are you sure of that?" Kurama asked, being careful not to look too doubtful.

Hiei frowned, his eyes darting away for a second.  "Not absolutely sure, no, but I think so.  His physical strength is greater than mine without his youki, but not
much greater than Yusuke's.  Holding back the kokoryuuha burned half his youki in that battle.  If I had called it back then, and used it on myself, the
difference in physical strength would have disappeared."

"But he would still have the speed advantage," Kurama commented, his mind twisting around the information.  He had moved above his anger for the moment,
and was thinking of the enemy in a detached strategy mode.  There were ways around speed, provided they could keep the enemy at some distance from
him.  He had a few plants that were best used as a distraction.  He knew Hiei probably wouldn't welcome any talk about joint efforts in defeating Biula, but that
didn't stop him from thinking of the possibilities.  From what he'd seen, Kurama knew the youkai was physically stronger than him, and calling plants was
difficult with such a fast enemy not giving any room to move.

"I don't need speed if I have the strength advantage," Hiei reminded him, his brows drawn.  The kitsune blinked suddenly, and Hiei could practically see a
thought passing over Kurama's face.

"Unless he immobilizes you," Kurama frowned, his eyes glinting as he remembered his own encounter.  Hiei frowned and nodded in agreement.  "But you
injured him," he said, thinking of the fresh wounds he'd seen on the large demon's arm and shoulder.  "Was that your ensatsu ken?"

"That was my mistake," Hiei snorted, glaring at his cup.  "That's the reason I ended needing your help.  If I had kept to the plan you never would have been
involved again.  The ensatsu ken did cut him, but only because he was distracted.  He didn't expect retaliation."

"He didn't expect..."  Kurama's eyes glinted, and he frowned, catching Hiei's eyes.  "What happened after that first battle with him, Hiei?  You said he thought to
use you against me, but you seem to be his target."  He knew Hiei was the demon's target, but his lover obviously believed what he'd been told.  Kurama
wasn't sure how to break it to him that Biula had managed to trick him from the very start.  Hiei would not take hearing that news very well, he was sure of it.  "I
followed you to the Makai after you ran off that morning.  Why did you answer his call?"

Hiei wasn't the least bit surprised to hear that Kurama had followed him.  That was, after all, one of the reasons he'd hidden.  But he hadn't realized Kurama
had felt the 'call.'  Hiei's lips jerked into a sneer, and he pressed back against the couch.  "He wants to eat you."  That blunt statement made Kurama's eyes
widen in surprise, and Hiei snorted softly.  "He's one of those types.  Too long without ningen food, so now he feeds on youkai.  You commented once on my
blood," he said, his eyes flashing a bit at that pleasant memory before hardening again.  "I've had experience with those types in the past.  His plan was to use
me to keep you alive for multiple feedings.  A foolish plan that wouldn't have worked, but the end would have resulted in two deaths, neither of them his.  The
pact was that I come when he calls, and so long as I live it remains between us."

That was what Kurama had suspected from Biula's admission, and his eyes narrowed in reproach.  "You took my place."

"No," Hiei spat, glaring at the redhead, "I did not.  If it were you, you would have fought and died.  Or worse, your ningen weakness would have made you
sacrifice yourself.  What I did was agree to accept his challenges.  I don't die.  Don't fool yourself into thinking I would sacrifice myself for you.  I'm not that
kind."  His voice rose, the words coming in a sharp biting tone.  "Never expect that from me, Kurama.  It won't happen.  I can't do that.  Even if I wanted to, I
couldn't."  And he had wanted to.  He'd tried to protect the unconscious kitsune.  And he'd failed.  In the end Biula's preference had left the fox alive, it had
nothing to do with his efforts.

Something was horribly wrong.  Kurama found himself staring into Hiei's eyes, and they were so wild.  The anger in his lover's voice didn't match the look in
those wide eyes, the pain written there, the pleading.  It was as if Hiei's words were both a warning and an apology.  And it took all of his control not to pull him
into his arms and tell him that he already had, he was.  Whether Hiei understood what it meant to 'sacrifice one's self,' Kurama knew he already was doing
that.  But he couldn't tell him that.  He was already being as open and blunt as he could without crossing the line into blurry territory.  "I understand," he lied,
nodding gently, "I wouldn't expect you to kill yourself for anyone, you're far too proud for that."  His lips curved in a tiny smile, and he nearly winced when Hiei's
expression relaxed.  Sometimes he hated being so good at manipulation.  

"He is a fool," Hiei commented, leaning his shoulder against the couch.  "He thought he could have a willing victim."  His eyes trailed over Kurama's face, and
he looked away.  He'd denied the possibility at the time, but a small part of him wondered if Biula might have been able to get just that.  Kurama's blind chase
after the youkai had come as a complete surprise.  It made him wonder if he really understood the former youko as well as he thought he did.  "We agreed
only that I would answer his calls, not that I would not attack him.  The problem is timing."

"If he keeps calling you every day, you'll never have a chance to regain your strength," Kurama said, frowning when Hiei nodded.  "So you won't last long.  No
matter what latent talents you have for healing, repetitive pain will burn your spirit out."  Red eyes frowned at him, and Kurama leaned a tad closer, tapping a
light finger between Hiei's eyes, just below the shielded jagan.  "Not your youki, your spirit."  His voice softened as he held Hiei's gaze.  "Mukuro told me to look
at your eyes, Hiei.  She said she'd seen your look before."

Hiei gritted his teeth, turning his face toward the couch as he growled under his breath.  "She's so damned nosey.  If I had anywhere else to go, I'd never work
for her."

"You're always welcome here," Kurama said, frowning in irritation.  No matter how many times he'd offered Hiei a more permanent place in his home, the
youkai continued to act as if no one welcomed him.  It was as if he were invisible in Hiei's mind, never considered as a home, just a pastime.  The demon
merely snorted at his comment, and Kurama sighed.  "What look was she talking about, Hiei?"

"How would I know?" Hiei sniffed, shaking his head.  "I was tired.  The stupid woman wouldn't move out of my way."  His eyes narrowed suddenly, and he shot a
light glare at Kurama.  "You're too heavy."

Kurama's mouth opened for a second, but he closed it with an amused frown.  "And I always considered myself rather slender."

With a vaguely bored movement, Hiei sipped the coffee still in his cup.  It was cool, but he drained it anyway.  "You are slender, but you're too tall."  He glared
at the cup for a moment before sighing and setting it on the table.  "I couldn't carry you to the nearest portal."  The kitsune shifted beside him, but he didn't
look back, pouring himself more coffee from the pot on the tray.  "Don't do that again.  You can't rely on me to protect you.  If I hadn't killed half her men in the
past, Mukuro's guards would have killed us both with no effort.  You're lucky they're afraid of me."

Scooting closer to Hiei, Kurama slipped an arm over the youkai's shoulders, his eyes glinting when the demon didn't tense at all.  With a sigh, he rubbed his
face against Hiei's neck before leaning his head on his shoulder.  "Your reputation is nearly as big as mine now, you know.  Only someone as stubborn as you
would have bothered carrying me.  You didn't have to do that, but I thank you for it.  I am abnormally tall as a youko, aren't I."  Hiei snorted, his shoulder
shaking in a hint of laughter, and Kurama smiled, nuzzling his shoulder again.  "You know, Yusuke commented on how heavy I was during the tournament, and
that was in human form."

"He just wanted to hide the fact that he liked getting his hands on you."  Hiei's lips twitched when the kitsune pulled back with wide eyes.  It took a moment
before Kurama realized he was teasing, and Hiei shook his head when the teen pressed against him again.  "I haven't seen him in nearly a year. He still with
that female of his?"

"Keiko," Kurama smirked, pressing a quick kiss on Hiei's cheek.  "Be nice, you know he cares about her."

"She's abusive," Hiei muttered.

"Well, I'll be sure to warn him of that the next time I see him," Kurama smiled.  "But Yusuke asked about you a few weeks ago.  They seemed to be getting
along just fine.  Not like us."  Hiei's head shifted, but he couldn't see him with his face pressed into his shoulder.  Staring at Hiei's shadowed neck, Kurama
tightened his arm a little, pressing a bit closer.  "I missed you, Hiei.  I was beginning to wonder if you would ever come back.  Mukuro thought you wouldn't."

"It's none of her business what I do," Hiei spat, arching his head as he tried to see the kitsune's face.  He didn't mind having Kurama curled up next to him, but
he had a strong urge to see those green eyes.  He wanted to watch them when he asked the question burning in his mind.  After a moment of shifting, he
finally tugged on Kurama's hair until the kitsune lifted his head.  Hiei's eyes narrowed.  "If you missed me, why haven't you replaced me yet?"

Kurama didn't even bother hiding his frustration.  With a sigh, he shook his head.  "You don't replace someone you miss," he said, his tone seemingly patient.  
"You want them back."  His small lover stared for a second, then Hiei smirked, raising an eyebrow.

"I didn't think I was that good," Hiei commented.  The kitsune gave him a bright smile, but he shook his head at him, his own smirk fading into a sober
expression.  "Every time I came back here, I wondered if you would have a new lover.  I don't know how you've done it in the past, but I have no interest
in...taking turns."

A low groan passed Kurama's lips and he grabbed Hiei's shoulders, pressing his forehead against the youkai's chest.  The demon tensed, and he sighed
against Hiei's shirt.  "You're never going to stop thinking of me as promiscuous, are you.  Hiei, you're the only one I've had sex with in over eighteen years, the
only one this body has ever known.  Until you don't want me anymore, you're going to stay the only one.  I don't know how to convince you of that, but it's true."

The very idea of a monogamous youko made Hiei's face pull into a doubtful scowl, and he sniffed at the thick red hair near his chin.  "How can you stand to
wait between visits?"

"I can't," Kurama muttered, rubbing his cheek against Hiei's chest.  He was still half-sitting on the couch, but he'd turned his lover enough to be comfortable.  
"You think it's easy for me to sit here wondering what you're doing?  It isn't just the sex, Hiei, you know that.  I like to see you.  We have so much in common."

"We did," Hiei commented, frowning as Kurama's arms moved around his waist.  "But we don't anymore, not much."  The kitsune was hugging him.  He could
feel the strong grip pulling him closer to Kurama, and he stared at the teen's red hair.  Normally a hold like this would make his skin prickle, but all he felt was
warm uncertainty.  "Kurama, if it isn't the sex-"  He blinked, smirking for a second, "and I don't believe that for a minute, but if it isn't, then why have you never
once come to see me?"  The redhead turned green eyes up to him and Hiei's smirk faded.  "I wasn't planning to come back."  His right arm moved, fingers
catching a bit of hair and he looked at the red strands with a vague frown.  "Do you want to know why I wasn't going to come back, Kurama?"

Kurama's eyes widened and he swallowed roughly.  He didn't want to know.  He didn't even want to hear that Hiei hadn't meant to come back.  What did he
have to do to tie Hiei to him?  Any admissions of his feelings, his need, would merely chase him away.  He wanted to shove Hiei against the couch and scream
his feelings into his face, force him to listen and know how much it hurt to hear that Hiei hadn't planned to come back.  Those red eyes were directed on the
hand in his hair, and Kurama closed his own eyes, a deep breath clearing his throat.  "Tell me why."

"I didn't see a reason to," Hiei said, a tiny smile twisting his lips as he watched the silky hair fall through his fingers.  It was like water.  "It was getting too
troublesome.  I was angry each time I left, as if something wrong had happened.  And I felt the same when I started thinking of visiting you.  Why was I doing
it?  I never cared if I had sex before, so there's no excuse for my wasting time crossing borders to have it.  We had a link when I was in the Ningenkai, I had
nothing else to do.  We don't have much in common now.  You have your human world and I..."  His gaze had shifted, and he felt ice creep along the back of
his neck as he stared into Kurama's wide green eyes.  What was that?  Why did they hurt so much to look at?  "I..."

"You have a lover who never once came to see you," Kurama whispered, his voice rough.  "I had no idea that would bother you.  I thought... I didn't think you'd
want me to come looking for you.  You never wanted anyone to know about us, and I didn't think I could sneak into Mukuro's territory without her noticing.  
And...I didn't want to intrude on your space."  

"She already knew," Hiei admitted.  For some reason knowing Kurama had wanted to visit him made his eyes spark.  His hands moved, playing a bit with the
long red hair on the kitsune's shoulders.  "Why do you think she gave me a room?"

Guilt flooded over his senses, but Kurama managed to return Hiei's partial smile.  He couldn't imagine how it must have felt.  She had given Hiei a room, and
he had never visited.  But his lover's eyes were bright with humor, so he shoved down the part of him that twisted painfully.  "Your bed," he whispered, forcing
a smile to reach his eyes.  Hiei's lips curved to show a flash of white, and he could have cried when the youkai let out a soft laugh.

"That smug thing led the way.  It was the first time I'd ever been in that room.  I think she expected me to jump you the moment she left.  The idiot didn't seem
to notice you were unconscious."  Hiei's smile faded a bit when Kurama's arms tightened around him.  The kitsune moved, face hidden on his shoulder, and
Hiei blinked, not sure what to make of it.  His fingers twitched, but he hid them in thick hair as Kurama squeezed him.  Kurama shook against him, and he
stared, not sure if it was laughter or not.  "Kurama...?"

"I want to share that bed with you," Kurama mumbled, one of his hands moving over his eyes, "I would love to share that bed with you."

"I never used it," Hiei said, his voice soft.  

"I put you there."  And Hiei had looked so wrong in that bed.  Because it hadn't been meant just for him.  Kurama clenched his teeth, trying not to squeeze Hiei
too tightly.  He couldn't keep thinking things like that.  Even if Hiei thought he was laughing, he would notice if his eyes were red.  "I didn't realize I had an
invitation to visit you there," he managed, "or I would have come much sooner.  I would love to visit you there."

The embrace was starting to feel oddly nice, and Hiei returned it hesitantly, his hands still buried in that silky red hair.  This wasn't the sort of contact he was
used to having with Kurama, but it didn't feel sexual, just...nice.  "Most of Mukuro's men saw me carry you in.  Everyone in the Makai will know before long that
you've taken up with me.  There won't be any hiding it now."

"I don't mind if all three worlds know."

Hiei's lips curved in a smirk, and he sniffed at Kurama's sweet scented hair.  "You wouldn't say that if the Idiot or your ningen mother knew."

"Hiei?"

The kitsune didn't lift his head, that warm word spoken against his neck, and Hiei turned his face a bit.  "What?"

Kurama blinked, licking his lips as he wondered if he should push.  "Could we lie down?" he asked slowly, loosening his arms a little.  He was doing good just to
be holding Hiei.  He was hugging him and Hiei wasn't the least bit tense.  "I just want to...cuddle."

Hiei blinked, pulling lightly on Kurama's hair so he could see the kitsune's eyes.  "Cuddle?"

"Mm."  Shifting back on the couch, Kurama kept his arms around Hiei, drawing the smaller youkai with him.  His nerves were alight when Hiei didn't argue, and
he pulled his lover close, the two of them lying on their sides.  "You're so warm, I want to be close to that.  I've missed this."

His face was near Kurama's chest, and Hiei into his pale shirt.  "You can't have missed this.  We never did this."

Kurama's eyes were closed, but he sighed when a hand curled in the hair that fell over his shoulder.  Hiei was pressing as close to him as he had on the bed
earlier, and Kurama's arms tightened around his shoulders, one hand dipping into the soft curve of his back.  "I like this..."  He loved this.

* * *
TBC



FEEDBACK

FANFICTION INDEX