Summary: Kurama sighs after a certain fire demon.....

This is a Yuu Yuu Hakusho story based on the YYH anime. For information on that and pictures of the characters, look here.

Warnings: Some violence, some angst, some badly translated Japanese. 


Lessons

by Josephine Darcy

 
 

Evening in the city, and Kurama walked quietly beside his friends down the crowded street. Gleaming colored lights from the night clubs lining the strip shone all around them, the sound of music and laughter drifting out into the night air. He glanced thoughtfully at the group around him. Yusuke and Kieko were holding hands; Kuwabara and Yukina walked closely together and whispering softly over something amusing. And he. . .he was lonely. Shuuichi Minamino--most sought after boy in school, and here he was on a Friday night without a date. Didn't seem fair somehow.

 A group of young men walked passed them, throwing whistles and cat calls toward the girls in their group. Yusuke and Kuwabara glared at them in anger until they realized that the majority of the cat calls were being directed at Kurama--then both boys broke into teasing laughter.  Kuwabara playfully hit Kurama's arm. "I keep telling you to cut your hair, Kurama!" he grinned.

 Kurama just rolled his eyes in annoyance. "Doesn't bother me, Kuwabara," he assured him. "If there's something you'd like to tell me however. . ." He broke off and shot a suggestive leer at his friend.

 Kuwabara glared at him until he realized that the other three were all laughing in amusement. "Leave Kurama alone," Keiko ordered. "I like his hair." She grinned impishly at him as she reached out and tugged on one of his long red locks. Kurama smiled, enduring Yusuke's glare as they all continued walking.

 At Yukina's insistence they stopped for ice-cream. While waiting for their order, Kurama became aware of a quiet presence standing beside him, and he smiled in delight at the small fire demon who'd silently joined them. "Hiei! Where'd you come from?" He hadn't felt Hiei's presence anywhere near them all night---despite the youkai's tendencies to follow him. He wondered what Hiei had been up to. As it was, it was rare for him to join them on such a human-filled evening. He avoided human crowds like this--avoided human customs like spending Friday night among the clubs of the city.

 "Hn," Hiei grunted, shooting Kurama a dark glare before looking away again. His lovely face was set in a dark frown, garnet-colored eyes shadowed behind too-long lashes. There was something pensive in his stance, and he watched the humans moving past them along the street warily.

 Impulsively Kurama ordered a second dish of ice-cream for Hiei. The fire demon stared at him in confusion for a moment when he handed it to him, making no effort to take it from his hand. "Go on, Hiei," Kurama urged. "It's just ice cream. It won't hurt you."

 There was just enough of a challenge in his voice that Hiei had no choice but to reach out and take the dish. Hesitantly he took a bite, and nearly choked a moment later, his eyes growing wide in shock. "It's cold!" he accused as if mortally offend at the desert's temperature.

 "Leave it to Hiei to state the obvious," Kuwabara joked. "Of course it's cold! It's called 'ice' cream for a reason."

 The glare Hiei shot Kuwabara was warning enough and Kurama quickly placed a restraining hand on the small demon before Hiei could smash his ice cream in the human's face. "It's supposed to be cold, Hiei," Kurama assured him. "That's why we like it. It taste good on a hot night."

 "I'm not hot!" Hiei insisted and he dumped the dish into a trash can. Kurama sighed. So much for buying Hiei a treat.

 Hiei heard his sigh and glanced curiously up at him. "Something wrong?"

 Kurama smiled. Hiei couldn't possibly be concerned about him, now was he? Unlikely. The little fire demon tolerated his presence---more so than anyone else in the world he realized, and he was flattered by that--but concern was probably pushing the bonds of their friendship a bit far.  Pity---he wondered what Hiei would do if he told him just exactly how much he cared for him. Probably run in terror, Kurama answered his own question. Either that or laugh in his face. There were certain human emotions that Hiei just didn't seem to have any use for.

 "No," he answered Hiei's question. "Nothing's wrong." He tossed his own ice cream away, his appetite suddenly gone.  He had better things to do than moon over a rude, ill-mannered fire demon--lots of better things to do---couldn't think of any of them at the moment, but he was certain something would come to him.

 The others finished their ice cream, and they continued down the street, stopping periodically by store fronts so Keiko and Yukina could peer into the windows at the displays. The four boys waited patiently while the girls ooed and ahed over the clothing on sale, both making plans to come back tomorrow when the shops reopened.  Keiko apparently spotted a dress she just had to have, and dragged Yusuke over to look at it. At his offer to buy it, she squealed in delight and threw her arms around him, kissing him soundly on the lips.

 Kurama watched them in amusement, but Hiei just snorted in disgust and looked away. Surprised that Hiei had noticed at all, Kurama nudged him. "Something wrong?" he asked, repeating Hiei's own earlier inquiry. He doubted the fire demon would answer.

 Hiei surprised him however. "What's the point in that?" he asked.

 "The point in what?"

 He made a vague motion with his hand toward Keiko and Yusuke, both still caught up in their kiss. "That," he insisted. "That biting ritual humans go through."

 Biting ritual? It took every ounce of Kurama's centuries of self-control to prevent the laughter from escaping him. "They aren't biting, Hiei," he corrected. "They're kissing."

 Hiei gave him a dark look that spoke volumes of annoyance. "Baka! I know what it's called, stupid fox," he glared. "That's not what I asked."

 Kuwabara had over heard the question, and he and Yukina joined them, giving their other two friends some privacy. "The little runt doesn't know the point behind kissing?" Kuwabara snorted in amusement. "Figures! Who'd want to kiss him anyway?"

 Yukina's soft reprimand of Kuwabara was all that kept Hiei from launching himself at the human once again. "I'm sure lots of people would like to kiss Hiei," she insisted. "Maybe he just hasn't decided who he wants to kiss." She'd meant it kindly---they could all see that. But it had embarrassed Hiei anyway.

 "I didn't say I . . ." Hiei broke off, and Kurama could swear there was a blush creeping into the demon's face. He found the sight incredibly endearing. "I just said, I don't see the point behind it--that's all."

 "For humans it's a precursor to mating," Kurama explained--deciding that maybe a more technical spin on the subject might set him at ease.

 "Hn!" Hiei grunted flatly, glaring at Kurama in disbelief. "If it's a precursor to mating, then explain that." He pointed across the street toward two other people locked in a passionate embrace. They were back in the shadows of a doorway, but even from across the street Kurama and the others could tell that the couple in question were in fact two guys. "Even I know you need a female to mate."

 So much for the technical spin. Kurama smiled while Yukina blushed deeply and Kuwabara began making choking noises of disgust. The noise caught Keiko's and Yusuke's attention, who broke off their embrace to join them. They laughed when Kuwabara filled them in on the conversation, noting the glare of utter contempt on the fire demon's face.

 "Okay, mating was probably the wrong word to use," Kurama admitted sheepishly. "Let's just say that children are not the be all and end all of mating."

 "What's that supposed to mean?" Hiei demanded.

 "It feels good, Hiei," Yusuke explained with a grin. "We kiss because we like it--and because it shows the other person that we love them."

 It was a terribly romantic thing to say, and Kieko sighed in delight and threw her arms around Yusuke to kiss him again. He quite happily returned her affection, and would have gone on doing so if the rest of the group hadn't broken them up and forced them to continue their stroll down the street.

 "That answer your question?" Kurama asked Hiei curiously as they walked, amazed that the fire demon had even expressed an interest in such a ritual.

 Hiei shrugged and looked away thoughtfully. "Not really," he admitted, much of his usual gruffness gone. He just shrugged and continued walking, head down as he walked so that Kurama could not see his expression, and couldn't fathom out what might be going through his mind.

 "I'm glad you could join us," Kurama told him softly as they walked.

 Hiei just gave him a long look, before shrugging and looking away again. Kurama smiled--it was enough just to have there. He didn't feel nearly so lonely anymore.

**************************************

 Hiei sighed as he walked along side the others, his thoughts swirling around chaotically in his head. He was both annoyed and unsettled, and asked himself for the hundredth time what he was doing there. Ultimately he just didn't want to face spending the evening alone again, like he did nearly every Friday night. It had become a ritual for Kurama and his friends to get together every Friday evening and goof around--Hiei normally avoided them. But since he normally sought out Kurama's company for a few hours in the evening---or at least followed the fox from a discreet distance--he was left alone when Kurama found something else to do. He was tired of waiting for the fox to come home, just so he could sit in the tree outside Kurama's window and watch him sleep. Boredom and something he could only define as loneliness had driven him to join the group this night.

 Kuwabara was his usual obnoxious self, only Yukina's company making him even remotely bearable. Hiei wouldn't of course ever say anything too rude to the human in front of Yukina, and everyone seemed to know it. For some reason that stupid human made Yukina happy, and that was reason enough for Hiei not to kill him. But the man certainly did grate on his nerves.

 "Who would want to kiss him anyway?" Kuwabara asked earlier. For some reason those words had stung a hell of lot more than they should have. Why did he care, he asked himself. He thought the whole kissing thing stupid anyway.  Affection, love, tenderness--they were all pointless. Well, maybe not pointless--but they certainly had nothing to do with him.

 Still the sight of those two men kissing one another had disturbed him; and the explanations he'd gotten had confused him all the more. Okay--they did it because either it felt good, or because they were expressing emotion? Or was it because of both? Or neither? And why would it feel good anyway? Seemed stupid enough to him--it was a simple touch, nothing more. He didn't like anyone to touch him.

 Except Yukina, he amended. He didn't mind that. She'd hugged him once, and he'd liked that. But then, she was his sister--that was only natural. But no one else.

 Well. . . maybe not *no* one else. He glanced thoughtfully up at the fox. Kurama touched him sometimes--a hand on his shoulder or arm, a pat on the back, an annoying ruffle of his hair as if he were a small boy instead of a fire demon. And it always seemed to be Kurama who tended his wounds after a battle.  Anyone else and he'd flinch away in annoyance--but he didn't mind it when Kurama touched him. Didn't mind it at all. Kurama's hand felt warm, reassuring, soft--like a summer breeze.

 Annoyed, he shook the thought away. Next he'd be spouting poetry, he scolded himself. Kurama's touch meant nothing at all.

 He glanced at Yusuke and Keiko--the two of them had gotten ahead of the group again and were holding hands as they walked, occasionally whispering to one another so that their shoulders brushed together. They liked to hold hands, he'd noticed, almost as much as they liked to kiss---and they really did like to kiss. A lot.

 He supposed Kuwabara and Yukina kissed when no one was looking--couldn't say he thought much of his sister's tastes, but that was her business he supposed.

 And Kurama---he frowned. He'd never seen Kurama kiss anyone, though there were certainly enough willing girls at his school who were constantly throwing themselves at him and making sappy, puppy dog eyes at him. Willing boys too, for that matter. He'd spied from the trees near the school often enough as he'd watched Kurama leave campus. He'd seen the cluster of girls who'd stared after the Kitsune longingly, and more often than not there'd be a boy or two nearby with the same hopeful expression in their eyes. Kurama rarely gave any of them a second look.

 But that didn't mean that he never did, Hiei told himself. He wasn't around all the time---maybe Kurama took some of those offers when Hiei wasn't around. And even if he disregarded all the humans who'd sighed after him, there were tons of youkai who'd given him similar looks. He'd heard stories about Kitsune--the word most often used to describe them was notorious. Kurama probably had more experience in manners of the flesh than Yusuke and all the others combined.

 He tried to picture it, tried to picture Kurama locked in an embrace with any one of the number of people who'd stared after him so hungrily. It was easy to imagine--Kurama was beautiful.  Everyone who saw him wanted him, and he could have anyone in the world. But somehow the images that sprang to Hiei's mind filled him with fury and pain. He didn't want to imagine it, didn't want to see it.

 Stupid fox, he cursed silently to himself. Why couldn't he just stay out of Hiei's dreams like a good little Kitsune? He made everything far too complicated.

 "What are you glaring at Hiei?" Kurama asked suddenly, startling Hiei from his thoughts.

 Hiei stared up at the fox in alarm, seeing amusement in those beautiful green eyes. For one brief moment he imagined what he must look like to the Kitsune---an annoying little pest, a Forbidden Child no one wanted, outcaste and alone, painfully ignorant of the human world the fox so obviously loved. Good only for his skill in battle. "Who would want to kiss him anyway?" he heard Kuwabara's words echo in his head once again. Who indeed? Certainly not someone like Kurama.

 "Nothing, fox," he snapped, torn between anger and a deep hurt that threatened to swallow him whole. "Nothing at all." With that he sped away faster than even the Kitsune's eyes could follow, and left his friends behind in the world he didn't belong to.
 

************************************************

 He was gone, just like that, and Kurama tried to sense where Hiei had gone. But he'd hidden his presence completely from sight, and with his speed he could be miles away by now. Damn! Kurama cursed silently. What had gotten into the little youkai tonight? If he didn't want to be with them, why had he shown up at all? It certainly hadn't been to ask about kissing, had it?

 "Where'd the runt go?" Kuwabara asked curiously.

 Kurama shrugged. "I don't know. He just took off."

 "Something bugging him?" Yusuke questioned.

 "Something's always bugging him," Kuwabara laughed.

 "Maybe he's just lonely," Yukina said softly, her gentle eyes filled with tenderness for the Forbidden Child she secretly believed was her brother, despite his denial.

 Could that be it, Kurama asked himself. Could Hiei be lonely? But if that were the case why did he leave? Surely if he were lonely he'd stick around, seek out their company more often. Thinking Hiei might be lonely was nothing more than wishful thinking on his part. If Hiei were lonely, Kurama could think of a hundred different ways to alleviate that---and he knew with a painful certainty that he'd never be allowed to try any of them.
 

***********************************************

 It was no good---sleeping. He just couldn't seem to manage it. Every time he tried, he saw Kurama behind his eyes. The stupid fox just wouldn't get out of his mind. He found himself cataloguing every moment the two of them had ever spent together---every word he'd ever said, every look he'd ever given him, every touch they'd ever shared. It was getting down right ridiculous. And it was all perfectly pointless. Just like kissing.

 Maybe if he talked to the fox, he reasoned. Maybe if he spoke a few more words to him tonight, or better yet, picked a fight with him, maybe then he could get some sleep.

 He zipped through the trees toward Kurama's human home, wondering if the stupid fox had even made it home yet. Most likely he was still out having fun with his friends---perhaps even kissing one of those many admirers who might have followed him out on a Friday night.

 There was a single light on in Kurama's bedroom, the one over the desk. And as Hiei settled onto the branch outside the window, he could see Kurama inside the room, dressed in nothing more than a pair of pajama bottoms. The desk light played along the finely carved muscles of Kurama's chest and arms, and the sight of all that smooth skin did something decidedly strange to Hiei's inside. Stupid fox, he thought in irritation, he should wear more clothing. Anyone might be sitting outside his window peeking in.

 Kurama looked up from his desk suddenly and glanced toward the window. Hiei cursed silently--he'd forgotten to mask his power, and the fox had sensed him. He sighed as Kurama opened the window. "You going to sit out there all night?" he asked quietly. "Or are you going to come in and tell me what's bugging you?"

 Hiei grumbled under his breath. How did Kurama always know when something was bugging him? He was very careful to mask his thoughts, but somehow the fox always knew. He climbed in through the window and moved into the bedroom.

 Kurama sat down patiently on the edge of his bed. "Well?" he prompted.

 "What makes you think anything is bothering me?" Hiei demanded, looking anywhere but at Kurama. Somehow the sight of the fox sitting on the bed like that half dressed was making him very uncomfortable. He glanced at the window thinking this had been a bad idea all around. Maybe he could still slip out.

 Kurama rose swiftly and slid the window shut. "No you don't," he scolded softly. "You've pulled the disappearing act once tonight all ready."

 "Kurama!" Hiei glared in warning. The fox knew how much he hated to be trapped by anything. Maybe he could start a fight after all! He moved toward the window, and raised one hand to push the Kitsune aside. But as his hand came in contact with Kurama's bare skin, something sharp and electric sparked between them. Hiei pulled back his hand as if stung. Okay--fighting wasn't a good idea after all--fighting required touching, and he was in no mood to touch any one tonight.

 "Hiei?" Kurama asked uncertainly. "What's wrong?"

 "Nothing's wrong." Hiei insisted angrily. "Move out of the way. I want to leave."

 "Is it because we were teasing you earlier today about kissing?" Kurama pressed, making no move to step away from the window.

 Damn the fox! Why couldn't he just leave well enough alone? "Forget about kissing," Hiei insisted. "I don't care about kissing."

 Kurama sighed tiredly, something sad entering his eyes. "No, I suppose you don't," he agreed. "Then what is it? You can't tell me nothing is wrong. I can see something is bothering you."

 "I just want to leave," Hiei replied. "You're in the way. That's what's bothering me."

 "If you wanted to leave, then why did you come here in the first place?" Kurama demanded. "Why bother coming to see me at all?"

 The fox didn't want him to come see him any more---was that it? Trust a Kitsune to tell him in such a round about way.  But the fox was right--he didn't have any real reason to be here, nothing beyond the simple fact that sometimes he just had to see him. And apparently that wasn't reason enough. Pain twisted his heart, and he turned away from the fox so he wouldn't see the hurt in his eyes.

 "Hiei?" Kurama asked softly, moving hesitantly toward him.

 His movement freed up the window, and Hiei dodged swiftly past the fox and made it to the window ledge.

 "Hiei! Please!" Kurama's soft words stop him more surely than anything else could have. There was confusion in the fox's lovely voice, and hurt deeper down. He didn't want to hurt Kurama, but sometimes he just didn't understand what was going on between them.

 Hiei sighed and stopped, poised on the window ledge, but still inside the room. He glanced back at the fox. He was standing nearby, making no move to reach out and restrain him, but the soft pleading in his eyes was restraint enough.

 "What?" he growled.

 "Don't leave," Kurama pleaded quietly.

 "Why not?"

 For a moment Kurama seemed at a loss for word, and with an annoyed growl Hiei opened the window.

 "I'm lonely," the fox said suddenly, his words once again stopping Hiei from leaving more surely than any chain. Kurama? Lonely? Didn't seem possibly. He had everything anyone could ever want. Friends, family, admirers--people like him didn't get lonely.

 "Go talk to your mother--or that brother of yours," he bit out. "Go be with your family."

 "They're all gone for the weekend," Kurama admitted. "Besides, that's not what I mean exactly.  They couldn't cure this type of loneliness."

 Hiei sighed and sat down on the window ledge, resolved to remain a little bit longer. The fox was being confusing again, but the obvious distress in the green eyes denied him the ability to just walk away. "I don't understand," he told the Kitsune.

 Kurama smiled at him. "I know. It's not important." There was something decidedly secretive in that smile, and Hiei decided he'd probably never truly understand the fox. "I was glad you joined us tonight though."

 Us? Ah, he meant in the city. "You were lonely there? But you had your friends with you."

 "It's not the same," Kurama explained. "I was sort of the odd man out. I guess I should have brought a date."

 A date? Hiei frowned--he meant one of those fawning, puppy-dog eyed young human girls who sighed after him all the time. He snorted in disgust. "So we're back to that kissing thing again, are we?" he demanded.

 Kurama grinned and shrugged. "I guess so. Sorry, but it really is quite nice. You should try it sometime."

 The fox was crazy, and Hiei made certain his expression conveyed this belief. Bad enough that Kurama admitting to wanting a date--wanting to take one of those annoying humans with him the way Yusuke took Kieko everywhere. Hiei didn't even want to picture it---if Kurama had been there with someone else, holding hands, kissing---Hiei never would have gone within ten miles of them. But now the fox wanted him to consider kissing someone; with two exception (and Yukina didn't count) he couldn't even stand anyone touching him. Kissing would be a disaster---especially since the only person he'd even consider kissing (or perhaps dream about kissing would be more accurate) wouldn't want someone like him--not when he could have anyone in the whole world.

 "Baka," he hissed, using his annoyance to cover up the deep spark of hurt that threatened to overwhelm him. "I'm leaving."
 

*************************************

 Kurama stared at Hiei in alarm. He'd done it now--angered the little fire demon past the point of no return. He'd never should have brought that subject up again, since it was obviously a subject of annoyance to him. Most likely it reminded him of Kuwabara's teasing.

 "Hiei," he cut in quickly, holding one hand out to stop the fire demon. He stopped himself from grabbing the youkai, knowing that would only succeed in driving him farther away. "I'm sorry. I won't bring the subject up again. I know you're not interesting in kissing anyone."

 Hiei was silent for a long moment, his eyes locked intently on something outside, body poised to leap from the window ledge to the tree branch. But he was still, as if weighing Kurama's words to decide if he needed to leave or not. Kurama hoped he'd decide to stay a while, just to talk, even if it was only about unimportant things. Maybe he could bring up Hiei's favorite subject---fighting. Hiei would never refuse a conversation about a good fight. But even as he searched his mind and his centuries of experience for a decent fight to tell the youkai about, Hiei surprised him with his next words.

 "It's not that I'm not interested in kissing," he said quietly, still not looking at Kurama. There was a faint flush in the demon's cheeks, and Kurama thought his heart might stop. Hiei *was* interested? Impossible! This was too much to hope for. He waited pensively for the demon to finish his thoughts, praying silently that he wouldn't change his mind now that he'd opened up slightly.

 "I just wouldn't know how," Hiei finished at last, giving a little shrug as if to say it wasn't important. But Kurama had heard a deep insecurity in the tone of his voice, and he hoped the need he heard as well wasn't entirely imagined. Could Yukina have been right? Could Hiei really be lonely?

 Nothing ventured, nothing gained, he told himself, and as a Kitsune impulse had always been his rule of thumb. He took a cautious step toward the fire demon, knowing he was probably setting himself up for an angry explosion of outrage. "I could teach you," he offered.

 Hiei turned to glare at him sharply, those garnet eyes narrowing to slits, and Kurama braced himself for the blow he was certain would land. But other than the look, Hiei didn't nothing. Anger, and something else Kurama couldn't quite define, flittered across Hiei's face.

****************************************************

 Hiei couldn't believe it. It was beyond imagining.

 "You want me to stand there and watch you kiss someone?" he demanded with a deep growl.  Never, he cursed silently. The thought of the Kitsune locked in anyone's embrace stirred such emotions inside him that he wanted to flee back to the Makai and never returned. Being alone was better than this! Being alone was better than watching the only bright thing in his life fall into someone else's hands.

 He raised his hand to grasp the side of the window frame, his muscles tensing to leap to the tree. Time to leave--time to flee before anything more hurt him tonight. He wished now he'd never asked about kissing, wished he'd never brought the subject up, and wished that he'd never fallen under the spell of the fox.

 Kurama's hand closed over his own on the window frame, stopping his flight. "No!" Kurama insisted. "That's not what I meant." His hand was warm and soothing, delicate but still strong as it held him in place. The touch flooded Hiei with warmth, and he knew his face was heating. He didn't want to be held immobile, but he didn't want to move away from the fox either. Instinct warred with need inside him. "I meant I could kiss you," Kurama explained. "Teach you that way."

 He didn't hear it correctly. He couldn't possibly have heard what he thought he had. Kiss him? The fox was actually offering to kiss him? Something had gone terribly wrong with the world as he knew it. He was sitting on Kurama's window ledge in the middle of the night with a half naked Kitsune beside him, holding his hand, and offering to kiss him. He felt suddenly light headed, and knew there could only be one explanation for
what was happening.

 He turned slowly to glare at the fox, not caring now that his confusion and hurt was probably clear in his eyes. It didn't matter any more--Kurama was doing this on purpose, and in a matter of moments, after a few more painful words, Hiei was going to leave and never return to the Ningenkai.

 "You're playing a game with me, fox," he murmured, only vaguely aware of the fact that his voice sounded young and hurt. It didn't matter any more--already it felt like there was deadly ice running through his veins.

******************************************

 Kurama frowned. He couldn't possibly be seeing what he thought he was seeing in Hiei's eyes. Fear, pain, and beneath all that a desperate longing. The youkai's voice sounded breathy and uncertain, and Hiei's hand was trembling in his own.  He tightened his grip on Hiei's hand and tugged him gently. The fire demon moved unresistingly, stepping down from the window ledge to stand before him, looking lost and unsure about everything in the world.

 Gently Kurama cupped the delicate face in one hand, tilting Hiei's chin up toward him. "No game, Hiei," he whispered, and closed his mouth over the demon's own.

 He'd meant the kiss to be a simple thing, but the touch of Hiei's lips was light and gentle and so sweet that Kurama couldn't resist moving in for more. He knew this small youkai before him could kill with deadly accuracy, but his kiss was innocence itself. Kurama had to taste more of him, and he licked gently at Hiei's lower lip. He heard Hiei gasp at the sensation, and he repeated the action, coaxing the fire demon's lips apart with his own. Hungrily he dipped his tongue between those sweet lips, deepening the kiss in a manner he'd secretly hungered after for ages. It was like tasting fire itself, and the white hot desire that flashed through him blinded him to everything but his need for this demon.

 Small, but strong hands closed around his arms, but not, as Kurama feared, to push him away or fling him across the room. Hiei pulled him closer, a desperate sound of need escaping his lips as he hungrily returned Kurama's kiss. He felt Hiei's tongue touch his own, stroke against him, and he wrapped his arms tightly around the fire demon, drinking greedily of the delights of that mouth. The little youkai was trembling in his arms, shaking with need, and his response was everything Kurama could have ever hoped for. He never wanted to stop.
 

*******************************

 It couldn't be happening, a voice screamed in Hiei's mind. Kurama couldn't really be holding him, kissing him--that couldn't really be Kurama's tongue licking greedily at his own---and nothing in the entire world could feel this fantastic. Hiei thought perhaps he'd caught on fire. The ice was gone from his veins, the thought of leaving fled from his mind, the panic of imprisonment forgotten. He struggled to pull Kurama closer, knowing instinctively that the grip of strong, imprisoning arms around him should feel wrong--but they didn't. They felt wonderful. He heard a sound, a groan of desperate need, and realized in some shock that the sound was coming from him. Oh, Baka, he thought in panic. Kurama would be disgusted, he'd push him away, tell him he could never want an annoying little runt like him; and when that happened, Hiei knew he'd die.

 But it didn't happen. Kurama just tightened his arms around him and pulled him closer against him. And Hiei felt his body growing hot and hard in a manner he'd never experienced before. He felt Kurama's hand knot in his hair, a gentle tug that pulled their mouths apart, ending the kiss as they both gasped for breath. But rather than release him, the fox nuzzled his neck, and he felt Kurama's lips moving hungrily against his skin. He moaned in pleasure when Kurama gentle bit his earlobe, running his tongue around the edges of his ear. The Kitsune was awakening feelings in his body that he'd never knew existed before, and it was all he could do to hang on for the ride.

 But all at once it became too much and not enough. Emotions hit him with such ferocity he couldn't think, couldn't breathe, could barely contain himself. Strength, power, passion---those were things reserved for battle, but this wasn't a battle and he didn't want to hurt Kurama. But he wanted something, desperately, and not knowing where or how to channel such need alarmed him.

 He pulled abruptly away from Kurama, pushing at the fox and then holding him at arm's length.

 Kurama gazed at him in startled confusion. His skin was flushed, his eyes dark, dilated, his lips swollen from the kiss. He thought the fox had never looked so beautiful---he was almost painful to gaze upon, and the need to possess him was nearly overwhelming.

 "Hiei? What's wrong?" Kurama asked in concern. "Didn't you like…..?" he broke off uncertainly.

 Of course---the fox was trying to teach him how to kiss! Hiei was thinking now it was a lesson he could have done without. It wasn't real, something that incredible couldn't be real---or rather couldn’t be real for him. This fox, Kurama's kisses---they were reserved for someone else, someone beautiful, someone who wasn't a Forbidden Child.  Yes, he could have gone his entire life without ever learning what it was he'd be missing forever. It was a cruel joke, a cruel game---but then ultimately that was what the Kitsune were best at. They were thieves all of them--they stole things, money, treasure, hearts, souls. And Hiei had made the mistake of believing he had nothing the fox could take.
Without a word he fled to the window, pulling it open.

 "Hiei! Wait!" Kurama protested. "I'm sorry!"

 But in a flash Hiei escaped. He didn't want to hear Kurama's words. Didn't want to hear what he might be sorry about, what he might be regretting. He had regrets enough for both of them.

************************************************

 They were summoned by Botan the following morning. Kurama, for one was glad of the distraction. He'd spent most of the night worrying about what had happened with Hiei. He'd gone too far, he guessed, pushed Hiei too hard. He should have stopped with a simple kiss, nothing more intense than that. But Hiei had seemed to respond so well to his touch. But the look on Hiei's flushed face when he'd pushed him away had been one of a person shocked and alarmed.

 He sighed sadly as he waited in Koenma's office for the rest of the gang to show up. He'd been so lonely last night, and for one moment he'd thought at long last that Hiei was going to change all of that. He'd wanted more than just friendship from the fire demon for a long time now. He'd just never expected to get a chance to show Hiei that. That had been hard enough---but to have gone this far only to have him reject him was a thousand times worse. Who ever had said it was better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all didn't have any idea what they were talking about. Loosing sucked!

 The others arrived shortly, Yusuke and Kuwabara arguing heatedly over some sporting event. Kuwabara slapped Kurama on the back, nearly knocking the Kitsune off his chair with the greeting.

 "Good to see you too, Kuwabara," Kurama coughed.

 "Where's the shrimp?" the tall boy asked loudly.

 Had Hiei been present he would have hit Kuwabara for such a comment. As it was he was conspicuously absent.

 "Ever notice that for someone who moves so quickly, he's always late?" Yusuke teased.

 "He'll be here," Kurama insisted, hoping that Hiei would indeed show up.

 They all heard Lord Koenma long before he reached the room. He was complaining to George about all the paper work and expense reports and a thousand other details that bogged down his day. He pulled open the doors to the office, quickly scanning the room and spotting the three Reikai-Tantei detectives. "Where is…." He began angrily. But even as he spoke a dark figure zipped into the room and came to rest near Yusuke, still and expressionless as usual.

 Kurama smiled hesitantly at the fire demon trying to judge his mood. Hiei glanced his way briefly, his face impassive, but he might as well have been looking at a stranger for all the reaction he gave Kurama

 "Now that you're all here, I have something quick, something easy for you do," Koenma began as he sat down at his desk. He tossed a file down in front of Yusuke. "Three S class demons are killing people downtown and eating their hearts. Take care of them."

 "Something quick? Something easy?" Yusuke demanded. "Three S class demons? Since when is that easy?"

 "Oh, come on," Kuwabara boasted. "We've defeated armies of demons and netherworld gods. I, Kuwabara Kazuma, could do this blindfolded!"

 Yusuke gave his friend a disbelieving stare as they all gathered around the file to study their opponents. Two of them were monstrously large, humanoid in shape, but more reptilian in form--dark green leathery skin, huge jaws filled with thousands of razor sharp teeth, enormous protruding horns crowning their skulls, clawed hands. They were like something out of a nightmare.

 The third was as opposite to them as night was to day--a beautiful young man with long silver blue hair and pale skin. His face was a study of delicate angles and large violet eyes, his seductively shaped lips curved into a wicked smile. Kurama gasped when he saw the photo.

 "You know him?" Yusuke guessed.

 Kurama nodded, and now he could feel Hiei's garnet gaze upon him. "His name is Hyroshi. I haven't seen him in centuries actually. He's always had a reputation for being a bit of a heart breaker, but I don't remember him being a killer."

 "Well, now he doesn't break hearts, he eats them," Koenma announced. "The other two demons are actually half breeds. They’re called Gog and Magog."

 "You mean they're half mortal?" Yusuke asked in surprise.

 Koenma shook his head. "No, not mortal. They're half Netherworld demons--they were created when the Netherworld nearly destroyed us. They're young, but very powerful. We're not really certain what sorts of powers they have, but they have to be stopped. As near as we know Hyroshi had a bad love affair a number of years ago that drove him quite insane. He killed his ex-lover, and in a fit of rage devoured the heart. Since then he's developed a taste for hearts and discovered that human hearts are much easier to get than demon hearts. Gog and Magog have similar tastes in cuisine and the three of them decided to team up."

 "That's sick!" Kuwabara exclaimed in disgust.

 Hiei just shrugged unsympathetically. "Humans are probably better off without their hearts anyway."

 Kurama glanced at the youkai in surprise, wondering if that was truly a note of bitterness he heard in his voice.

 "That may be so, Hiei," Koenma agreed. "But unlike some demons, humans can't live without their hearts. Now got get those three and stop them. They're completely throwing off my schedule."

 They all recognized a dismissal when they heard one. They left the office and headed back to the Ningenkai. Botan dropped them off down town near the location of the last murder. All of them could feel the residual lingering effects of foreign youki, but were unable to trace its direction.

 "Well, now what?" Kuwabara complained. "How are we supposed to find these three?"

 "You said you knew this Hyroshi, Kurama," Yusuke began. "Do you have any idea where he might go?"

 Kurama didn't want to tell any of them anything about his former relationship with Hyroshi. They had been more than just acquaintances so many years ago. For a brief while that had also been lovers. Their affair had been brief and uninvolving like so many of his relationships in the past, but somehow Kurama didn't think either Yusuke or Kuwabara would react well to the news. For all their powers they were both still human at heart.

 Gender meant little to the typical androgynous immortal Kitsune--typically they went through relationships so quickly that over the centuries if they limited their choice to just one gender, sooner or later they ran out of options. But Yusuke and Kuwabara still typically thought with the preconceived notions of humanity. He doubted they would understand his former insatiable nature. His own humanity had taught him to search for quality rather than quantity, and he found his own previous history rather shallow in retrospect. But gender still was not a consideration as he'd lost his heart to Hiei long ago.

 As for Hiei---he had no idea how he'd react to the news that he and Hyroshi had been intimate. More likely than not he'd react with indifference or perhaps disgust for Kurama's bad choice---either way Kurama wasn't certain his heart was up to dealing with either option.

 "I didn't know him very long," Kurama explained, leaving the extent of their relationship at that. "But I remember he was very fond of heights. He liked to look down from high places and see the world pass by."

 "Well, that's a place to start then," Yusuke announced. They all looked upward. They were surrounded by tall skyscrapers. The possibilities were numerous, and they all sighed. "Up," Yusuke decided and he headed into the nearest tall building.

 Kuwabara and Kurama followed him inside to the elevator, but Hiei took a more direct route, choosing to scale the outside of the building directly in leaps made so swiftly the human eye could not follow.

 He was standing on the edge of the building roof when the others arrived, his long black leather coat billowing in the wind. Other than the four of them, the roof was empty.

 But from their vantage point on the roof they could see so much of the city spread out before them. They searched for youki, Hiei unmasking his jagan to look more closely at the signs and portents all around them. He pointed out a brilliant flare then, a dark force burning from a nearby rooftop. Hiei was gone then in a flash, racing to fight while the others quickly followed.

 They raced across the rooftops of the buildings, leaping dangerous expanses in a effort to reach their quarry and join Hiei. Already the fire demon was locked in combat with a sword-wielding Gog, Magog moving to attack from behind. Hyroshi was leaning casually against an air-conditioning unit, watching the battle in amusement. He looked up in surprise as the others arrived. His violet eyes widened in glee and recognition.

 "Kurama!" he greeted. "So the stories are true. You are masquerading as one of these pathetic humans now. But still so lovely."

 Surprised that Hyroshi had recognized him, Kurama experienced a momentary pang of unease.

 "Hyroshi," he nodded, schooling his features to remain calm and impassive. "I understand you've got a new hobby?"

 Hyroshi just smiled. "Human hearts---yes, they're quite divine. But there nothing quite like the heart of former lover."

 Kurama paled, understanding now that they'd somehow walked into a trap. Hyroshi knew what he looked like now, knew that he'd be sent after him. He doubted that Kuwabara and Yusuke had caught the reference, but he suspected Hiei, even locked in combat, had heard and understood. The fire demon paused briefly, katana raised to reassess the situation.

 Hyroshi moved then, shouting to his companions. "The other three are yours, but leave the Kitsune to me!" And with that the three of them attacked in earnest.

 Gog and Magog were much faster than they appeared, and in a flash they were evading even Hiei's sword strikes. They came at the group, fangs dripping, swords flashing, radiating powerful nether world power.

 Yusuke and Kuwabara went after Gog, leaving Magog for Hiei. Kurama pulled a rose from his hair, calling out for his rosewhip as he went after Hyroshi. Fast as lightning Gog and Magog moved together, joining their powers to form a powerful netherworld energy blast. They chose a moment when Hiei, Kuwabara and Yusuke were all together, and unleashed it, hitting the three Reikai-Tantei detectives. The flare of light was blinding. Kurama, locked in combat with Hyroshi, flinched away in pain. The blast lifted Hiei, Yusuke, and Kuwabara off the ground, and threw them across the rooftop. All three of them vanished over the side of the building.

 The dust settled, everything calming and stilling for a brief moment. Their opponents gone Gog and Magog turned as one toward the lone Kitsune. Hyroshi smiled and the three of them moved in on the fox.

 Kurama swallowed nervously. His friends were gone, he realized, blown off the top of the building by a youki blast equal in force to a small bomb. They were gone, possible dead. He was alone---left facing three demons who seemed intent on eating his heart. He backed way, gripping his rosewhip tightly in one hand.

 "Poor little fox," Hyroshi laughed. "All alone with the big bad monsters."

 "Why are you doing this, Hyroshi?" Kurama asked, wondering if he could talk his way out of this somehow.

 "Let's see. . . ." Hyroshi mused with a smile as Gog and Magog moved in behind Kurama. The fox cracked his whip trying to keep them at bay. "I believe you once told me---just do it, it feels good. Well, I took your advice Kurama. This definitely feels good!" And with that they leaped at the fox, attacking in force.

****************************************************

 The blast struck Hiei full in the chest, and rather than resist he let it carry him backwards, riding the shock wave off the side of the building. He realized as he fell that Yusuke and Kuwabara had been caught in the blast too. The fall from the building would be too much for the two humans--youki or not---he'd have to catch them.

 He used his speed, racing down the glass face of the building and catching hold of the two humans. Then leaping, he carried them across the open expanse of air toward the rooftop of a lower building nearby. The three of them tumbled together across the rooftop, Yusuke and Kuwabara both groaning in pain from the blast and the fall.

Hiei pushed Kuwabara off of him, racing to the edge of the building to look for Kurama. He knew the Kitsune would have been able to break his own fall off the building, but there was no sign of the fox.

 "What hit us?" Kuwabara groaned.

 "Quick and easy, my ass!" Yusuke cursed as he pulled himself to his feet. "Why aren't any of these assignments ever quick and easy?"

 As they spoke, all of them heard the distinctive sound of the rosewhip cracking over and over again. "Kurama!" Hiei shouted, realizing now that the Kitsune had been trapped alone with those three demons.

 He leaped, racing with all his speed toward the far rooftop, fearing the worse. Kurama was a good fighter, and a powerful Youko, but he wouldn't last long against those three. Craft , guile, deception--those were the fox's greatest weapons, and his personal involvement with Hyroshi may have addled his normally quick mind. The stupid fox tended to be guided too much by his emotions--more so since he'd become human. And Hiei had certainly caught the reference Hyroshi had made about being an ex-lover.

 He reached the rooftop and took in the scene in an instant. Kurama had caught Magog with his rosewhip, the long thorn ridden length wrapped around the creature's scaled throat. The Kitsune had one hand wrapped around the whip's hilt, and was still leaching out his power along the length of the vine to strength the whip, tightening its grip, choking Magog and tearing deep into his throat.

 But Gog had caught Kurama, impaling him from the back with his katana, just below the shoulder blade so that the bloody tip of the sword stuck out through Kurama's chest--high enough that Hiei prayed it had missed both the Kitsune's heart and lungs. But Kurama was trapped, held immobile by the sword, all his weight resting on the blade as blood drained from his body.  And Hyroshi---the youkai was leaning over the fox smiling, his hand knotted in the front of Kurama's tunic. He pulled the fox toward him, Kurama crying out in agony as the blade slid within him. Laughing, Hyroshi kissed him, forcing himself upon the Kitsune even as he drew one hand back. His hand was incased in a gauntlet of metal, the fingers covered with wicked blades, poised to rip out Kurama's flailing heart.

 Rage flooded Hiei, and he roared with fury, racing toward Hyroshi, intent on killing him. Within the single beat of a heart, he struck Hyroshi full force, knocking him away from the Kitsune and stabbing him through the heart. Hyroshi gasped in shock, his beautiful face twisted in horror as he stared at the sword protruding from his chest. Hiei spared him only one hate filled glare before violently twisting his blade and ripping upward, severing the youkai's life. Then he turned swiftly toward Gog.

 Gog had yanked his sword from Kurama's body, leaving the Kitsune lying in agony on the rooftop. Even the youki power flowing along the length of the rosewhip had faded, giving a badly wounded Magog a chance to tear himself free from the thorns.

 "Kurama!" Hiei cried in horror, thinking the fox dead, lost to him after all this. He could not bear that thought---not Kurama, could not imagine a world without that beautiful smiling face. No one in any of the worlds he had traversed had ever accepted him so wholly as the Kitsune---without him there would be no more light left in his world at all. Never again to feel that burning flame of desire Kurama had ignited in him just yesterday.

 Gog raised his claw, shot another blast of youki at Hiei. The fire demon dodged aside, and the blast took out an industrial sized air-conditioning unit on top of the building, leaving a gapping hole in the roof.

 He attacked Gog, swords clashing as Hiei drove Gog back with a shout, rage strengthening his blows. He would kill this thing, hurt it the way it had hurt Kurama.

 Magog struggled to his feet, but even as he moved forward to aid Gog, Yusuke and Kuwabara arrived.

 "Rei gun!" Yusuke shouted and blasted Magog striking the creature's horned head with a ki blast. Stunned and bleeding, Magog did not see Kuwabara as he summoned his spirit sword, bringing it down toward him, slicing through his already torn throat and severing his head.

 The death of his companion distracted Gog briefly, and in that instant, Hiei sliced open his chest. Four more blows too fast to be seen tore open the creature's body and throat. Gog fell back, Hiei's sword imbedded deep in his chest. Hiei left him there dying, choking on his own blood.

 In an instant, Hiei was at Kurama's side, gently lifting the Kitsune in his arms. Kurama groaned in pain, the sweetest sound to Hiei's ears---the fox wasn't dead! There was still a chance to save him. He just had to get him to Yukina.

 "Is he?" Yusuke asked in horror, his face pale as he and Kuwabara joined them.

 "No," Hiei said curtly. "I have to get him to Yukina though. He's badly injured."

 "Hiei," Kurama whispered, opening his pain-filled green eyes. "I’m sorry."

 Hiei frowned. "Sorry?" But Kurama's eyes closed before he could ask what he meant. Hiei didn't know what the fox was sorry for, but he intended Kurama to live long enough for him to find out!

*********************

 Kuwabara and Yusuke paced nervously in the temple courtyard, waiting impatiently while Yukina and Genkai tended to their fallen comrade. Nearby in the shadows, Hiei waited, still and unmoving, his red eyes focused intently on a window through which he could see his sister bent over the prone body of the fox. Kurama would be alright, he told himself. Kurama would go on living, extolling the value of human life, playing his games, breaking hearts---generally making Hiei's life far more difficult that it had to be and consequently infinitely less lonely. He had to live; Hiei could accept nothing else.

 "We miscalculated!" Kuwabara cursed. "We could have been more careful, should have guessed that this might have been some sort of trap for Kurama."

 "How were we supposed to know that?" Yusuke demanded. "Kurama didn't even guess, and he knew the guy!"

 "I don't know!" Kuwabara yelled back.

 Hiei ignored both of them. They'd been arguing like that ever since they'd brought Kurama in. The enemy was dead and Kurama was alive---that was all Hiei cared about at the moment. He could assign blame late, after he knew for certain Kurama would be alright and he had chance to review the fight in his head. More likely than not he'd blame Kurama himself---for his lousy taste in lovers. If Hyroshi was the sort of creature Kurama gave his affections to, then it was no surprise that he'd thought nothing of kissing a Forbidden Child like himself.

 Jealousy burned through him---a far more terrible fire than any he'd ever known. He couldn't stand it! He kept picturing the fight over and over again, not the sword, the blood, the look of pain in Kurama's eyes, but rather the instant Hyroshi had kissed the Kitsune. He'd seen it at last---another creature laying claim to the fox---and willing or no, Hiei had a new image to play through his nightmares now.

 It would be someone like Hyroshi, he decided. Not twisted and evil, filled with a sickening hatred, but someone powerful and beautiful like that. Someone worthy of the Kitsune who would claim the fox eventually. And when that happened Hiei would want to kill them both--but not being able to--not being able to bring pain to Kurama , he'd either burn to death within his jealousy or freeze within the ice of loneliness Kurama had so briefly held at bay. He didn't welcome either option, and the futility of it enraged him. Kurama had done this to him, Kurama was to blame---all because of one fatal kiss!

 Kieko and Kuwabara's sister arrived, running into the temple to help Yukina and Genkai. Hiei figured they'd probably ooh and ah over the fox, coddling him in a manner Kurama alone seemed to inspire in female humans. Hiei growled in irritation, wishing they'd all just leave. Even among these people---humans he essentially considered if not friends then certainly comrades in arms---he did not have any solitary claim to the fox.

 Kuwabara heard his low growl and turned to glare at him. "What are you growling about, Shrimp!" he demanded angrily. "Don't you care what happens to Kurama?"

 "Kuwabara!" Yusuke exclaimed in shock.

 "What?" the big human shouted back, waving his hands in the air. "He stands there expressionlessly, not saying a word and growling when someone shows up to help Kurama. He doesn't care about anyone!"

 "I should have let you fall," Hiei murmured coldly, just loud enough for Kuwabara to hear. It shut the human up---evidence enough that Hiei cared at least enough for even Kuwabara's miserable life to save it.

 Kuwabara grumbled something under his breath---an apology perhaps--and moved away. Hiei let him go, knowing that the human's ill-thought words were nothing more than a by-product of concern for Kurama. He could understand the reaction. He personally felt like killing something, and it simply irritated him all the more that Hyroshi and Gog and Magog had ultimately died so quickly.

 Through the window he could see that the healing light of Yukina's youki had faded. He stiffened nervously as his sister stood and headed for the door. He couldn't tell if Kurama was alive or not, couldn't yet sense the Kitsune's youki.

 But his sister was smiling gently as she stepped into the courtyard, and the relief that slammed through Hiei nearly made him cry out loud.

 "He'll be fine," Yukina said unnecessarily. And Kuwabara and Yusuke whooped in joy. Kuwabara ran forward and caught Yukina around the waist, lifting her up and swinging her around. Hiei couldn't even find it within himself to be angered by Kuwabara's forward treatment of his sister, his relief was too great.

 He followed silently behind the others and stood in the doorway, watching as Yusuke and the others crowded around the fox. As he'd guessed the girls were all fawning over Kurama, plumping his pillows and checking his bandages.

 Kurama's skin was pale, and despite the healing youki, his left shoulder was bandaged. But amazingly his eyes were open, his lips curved in a gentle smile so indicative of Kurama's warm personality.

 "Kurama! You're alive!" Kuwabara shouted in joy. "We thought for sure we'd lost you this time!"

 "What happed to Hyroshi?" Kurama asked, and Hiei felt a stirring of jealousy in his soul at the sound of that creature's name on the fox's lips.

 "He's dead," Hiei growled. "They're all dead."

 Kurama smiled at him, his eyes somewhat sad. "Arigatou, Hiei," he said quietly.

 Hiei frowned, so maybe the fox hadn't been concern for Hyroshi after all. But still, Hiei wasn't certain how to react, so he fell back on an age old habit and simple turned away in silence. Kurama would live. He was surround by friends and fawning women. There was no reason for Hiei to remain.

 He left the temple in a flash of shadows, leaving Kurama to the others. He'd return to the Makai, he decided. It was the best place for him. Or rather would be if Kurama's youki didn't still feel so weak.

 He paused on a treetop not far from the temple. Kurama's youki level was much too low. If someone attacked him now, he'd never be able to defend himself. And he certainly couldn't trust the fox's safety to Yusuke and Kuwabara. Those two were far too easily distracted.

 He'd have to stick around then he decided---just until Kurama was strong again. But he'd keep his distance. He'd gotten to close already to the fox. It wouldn’t do for a fire demon to get burned twice.

 Kuwabara, Yusuke and Kieko helped Kurama home about an hour later. Hiei watched from a distance, keeping an eye on their progress. Kurama was walking, but looked tired and worn out. Thankfully his family was still not home and with tomorrow being Sunday he did not have to go to school. No explanations would be required.

 Hiei crouched quietly on a tree branch not far from Kurama's home, hidden from view of any curious humans. Keiko, Yusuke, and Kuwabara stayed with Kurama for perhaps another hour, but eventually with night falling they too had to head home or face awkward questions of their own.

 From his perch in the tree he could hear Kuwabara cursing loudly as he walked. "That selfish little shrimp!" he hissed and Hiei stiffened, waiting to hear what words of derision the human had for him now. Selfish little shrimp had to be him--he knew no one would ever call Kurama that.

 "He's supposed to be Kurama's friend. He knows we can't stay with him! Why didn't he stick around? It's not like he has anywhere else to go---Kurama's the only one who'll tolerate him. And right now Kurama could use someone to watch his back. He seems really unsettled." They turned a corner and vanished form sight, leaving Hiei glaring after them.

 The fact that Kuwabara was speaking in defense of Kurama was all that kept Hiei from chasing down the human and choking him. That and the fact that he was essentially right. Hiei really did have no place else to go, no family to return to, and Kurama really was the only one who tolerated him. Still, it hurt to hear.

 He sped toward the tree outside Kurama's window and peered cautiously into the darkened room. Kurama was asleep on the bed, his chest bare save for the white bandage on his shoulder.

 Unable to help himself, Hiei slowly opened the window and entered the room. He kept a healthy distance between himself and the Kitsune, not wanting to accidentally wake him. It wouldn't do either of them any good to have Kurama wake up and find him hovering over him like a love sick fool. Instead he sat silently down in a chair on the far side of the room, his gaze moving hungrily over the Kitsune's sleeping form.

 He frowned in concern, noting the unnatural paleness of Kurama's skin. The long locks of Kurama's red hair spread out like blood on his pillow, and Hiei had the sudden desire to touch those locks, run his fingers through them.

 Hiei's heart contracted in his chest, a tight vice gripping it. The fox was so beautiful--quite the loveliest thing he'd ever seen. Delicate, graceful, with a quiet strength of personality that left the fire demon breathless. It seemed impossible to him now that Kurama had ever kissed him--like something out of a dream, or a wish he'd imagined in his loneliness. Surely it hadn't meant anything to the fox. He gave his friendship freely--to anyone who asked. But anything more would surely be reserved for someone other than a Forbidden Child.

 Unbidden the image of Hyroshi came to mind. The image filled him with rage. So hateful to imagine that youkai touching the fox.

 They'd obviously been lovers, but even still Kurama had not loved him. Or if he had, then this love humans spoke so highly of was a fleeting thing--something that demanded a brief intimacy and then could be caste off with such certainty that Kurama had welcomed Hyroshi's death. But Hyroshi had been beautiful and powerful, worldly---all things Hiei was not. If Kurama had not loved Hyroshi, what chance did an outcaste fire demon have?

 He tried to tell himself that it didn't matter. He had no use for love anyway. Certainly no need for it. But still he couldn't imagine his life without Kurama in it. And after last night, he couldn't imagine spending the rest of eternity without ever again feeling Kurama's touch. But it wasn't just Kurama's touch that he wanted, and he understood the distinction. Just as he understood that he couldn't blame Kurama for the fact that the Kitsune were just generally so flighty. The blame lay entirely with him and his own stupidity for wanting some claim over the fox in the first place.

 Kurama stirred suddenly in his sleep, and his youki flared slightly. Hiei froze, wondering if he should leave. He didn't want Kurama to wake and find him there. But a moment later he realized that Kurama wasn't waking--he was simply restless, possibly slightly feverish from his wound. He moaned softly in his sleep, turning uneasily in his bed, pain etched onto his face. Again his youki flared oddly, and Hiei suspected the Youko was running a fever.

 Hiei frowned. Perhaps he should go get Yukina, have her check out the fox to make sure he wasn't relapsing? But he didn't want to leave Kurama alone long enough to get Yukina. He glanced at the telephone near Kurama's bedside. He'd seen the fox use it a number of times to talk to Kuwabara and Yusuke, but Hiei wasn't entirely certain how the ningen device worked. He knew it required a code of some sort, a series of numbers, but he had no idea which numbers. Kurama had started to explain it once to him, something about your voice traveling through that wire that went into the wall right beside the rose vine…..

 Hiei sat up straighter. As near as he knew there wasn't supposed to be a rose vine growing up the side of Kurama's bedroom wall.

 Amazed, he watched as a dozen such vines appeared, growing at a rapidly excelerated speed, branching out in all directions, filling the room with a veritable forest of rose vines. Hiei drew back farther into his corner of the room, alarmed by the sudden greenery.

 In moments Kurama was surrounded by roses, the plants forming a protective shield around the Kitsune's form. In the darkness, the deadly thorn-covered branches began blooming, blood red roses opening right before Hiei's startled eyes. He could feel the sudden odd flare of Kurama's youki again, followed by another unsettling moan from the Kitsune.

 Kurama was having a nightmare! A fever-induced nightmare, and in his terror he was using his youki to protect himself the only way he knew how. His beloved roses were growing, surrounding him, protecting him. But far from easing his sleep, the release of his youki only seemed to be disturbing Kurama all the more. His sleep grew more and more restless, his aura growing distraught.

 Hiei stood paralyzed, uncertain what to do. He wanted to go to the Kitsune, wanted to comfort him in some way. But he wasn't certain Kurama would want that. Wasn't certain how Kurama would treat his presence there in his room after what had happened last night. Nor was he entirely certain that Kurama's roses wouldn't rip him to shreds if he approached.

 Kurama's youki flared again, and this time Hiei noticed that it was beginning to grow noticeably weaker. This was draining the fox, something that couldn't possibly be good in his condition. And then Kurama spoke, ending Hiei's indecision once and for all.

 "Hiei," Kurama called in his sleep. "Don't leave!"

 Don't leave! Hiei's heart contracted in his chest. Instantly he drew his sword and hacked swiftly at the rose vines, cutting a path through the vines. If Kurama need him, Hiei couldn't refuse.

 He reached the Kitsune's bedside and sat down beside the fox. He reached out hesitantly and touched Kurama's hair. The locks felt like silk against his callused fingertips. And like the vines surrounding them, there was the scent of wild roses that clung to the Kitsune--like the smell of spring time in the Maikai. Hiei fought the urge to lean down and bury his face in Kurama's hair. Instead he let the strands slip from his fingers. But as if of its own volition his hand drifted toward Kurama's face. He gently ran his fingers over the pale skin, frowning at the unnatural warmth. Still his touch seemed to calm the distraught fox, and he settled in his sleep.

 "Hiei," Kurama sighed, and his youki flared again. The vines closed in once more, effectively sealing off Hiei's only path of escape to the window.

 Worried that Kurama was extending too much energy, Hiei decided he had no alternative but to wake the Kitsune, calm him enough so that he'd stop wasting his youki on unnecessary protections. And if Kurama wondered why he'd been hanging around his bedroom, he'd just have to lie and tell him that Yusuke or Yukina had asked him to keep an eye on him.

**************************************************

 Someone was shaking him, a gentle hand pressing hotly against his unwounded shoulder. "I'm here, Kurama," a deep, beloved voice murmured quietly. And then with a touch of impatience added, "Wake up, fox. Can you here me?"

 "Hiei?" Kurama murmured. He opened his eyes, trying to clear his vision before meeting the garnet gaze of the fire demon. Instantly Hiei removed his hand from Kurama's shoulder. "Hiei, what's wrong? What happened?"

 Hiei frowned. "You've grown a forest in your room, stupid fox," he explained, his voice calm, neutral. "Stop wasting your youki. I'll guard you tonight. Yukina said you needed to rest."

 Kurama took a moment to glance uncertainly around the darkened bedroom. His eyes widened a bit as he noticed the thick surrounding hedge of roses. "Oh, dear! Kaasan is going to kill me!" He couldn't imagine what his mother would say when she walked in here and found this rose briar in his room.

 Hiei shook his head in disgust.  "You can get rid of them before your ningen family gets home."

 Kurama nodded, and immediately tried to gather his weakened youki to remove the plants. A low angry growl from Hiei broke his concentration and he glanced uncertainly up at the fire demon.

 "Not now!" Hiei ordered. "Baka! Do it when you have your strength back. I told you, you need to sleep right now. Quit worrying about everyone else."

 "I'm alright, Hiei," Kurama said softly, though truthfully he felt awful. Yukina had warned him that he'd be weak for a few days, and he hated feeling so helpless. He was glad the fire demon was there beside him, even if Hiei was angry with him at the moment.

 "No, you're not okay," Hiei contradicted him. "You're wounded and you lost a lot of blood, and you're running a fever."

 "Is that why I'm so cold?" Kurama asked, shivering. He felt completely drained, and his skin had grown chilled.

 "Cold?" Hiei reached out and gently touched the fox's face. The fire demon's hand was so warm, and the gesture itself touched Kurama's heart. Could Hiei actually be concerned about him? Could Hiei actually care about his well being? He felt hope blossoming in his soul. Hiei had been so cold to him earlier that Kurama had thought he'd ruined everything between them with his stunt the night before.

 "You've lost too much youki," Hiei cursed under his breath. "You can't maintain your own body temperature any more."

 Unexpectedly Hiei placed both of his hands on Kurama's chest and began channeled his own energy into the fox. Kurama gasped at the contact, the sheer intimacy of the act flooring him. He felt Hiei's power surround him, infuse his body, seep deep into his soul. And he knew that all Hiei had to do was open his jagan and he'd be able to see directly into Kurama's mind and heart. But despite the gift of power he was freely giving Kurama, Hiei kept his third eye resolutely shut, his features remaining cold and impassive as if the exchange meant nothing at all to him. And the moment he'd transferred enough youki into Kurama to sustain him, Hiei broke the contact and turned away, refusing to meet Kurama's gaze.

 Angry or not, Kurama knew Hiei would not have shared his power with him if he didn't care at least a little. Cautiously, he reached out and clasped Hiei's nearest hand in his own. He felt the minute shiver that moved through Hiei's body at the contact, and the fire demon turned unreadable ruby eyes on him.

 "Thank you, Hiei," Kurama murmured softly, both grateful and delighted by Hiei's actions. Surely this meant that Hiei cared for him. Surely this wasn't just a sense of loyalty to a wounded teammate? It had to be more than that, and he couldn't resist pushing Hiei a bit more to see if he'd reveal anything of his feelings. "But I'm still cold."

 Shocked Hiei's eyes narrowed.

 Kurama grinning mischievously up at him. "Warm me up, Hiei," he asked hopefully, his eyes shining playfully.

 Hiei paled, and Kurama felt the hope inside him shudder and fade. He had hoped Hiei would smile, or blush, or at the very least growl in that annoyed but tolerant way of his. He hadn't expected the fire demon to pale. That couldn't be good. He'd pushed Hiei too far again.

 Instantly the playfulness vanished from Kurama's eyes, and he gazed contritely up at the fire demon. "I really am cold, Hiei," he said softly, hoping to appease the youkai.

 "What do you expect me to do about it?" Hiei snapped at him angrily.

 Kurama flinched away and released his hand. There was nothing at all tolerant about that tone of voice. Hiei was genuinely angry. "Nothing, I guess," he sighed, his heart clenching painfully in his chest. He'd blown it for certain now. Unable to face Hiei, he rolled over onto his side, turning his back on the angry youkai.

 Shivering from both the cold and from the emotional distance between the two of them, Kurama lay there in silence, listening for the sound of Hiei leaving the room. He knew the thorns blocking the path to the window would not delay the fire demon for long. A few swipes of his sword and he'd be gone from the room, and quite possibly from Kurama's life. Why couldn't he have just kept his mouth shut? He shouldn't have teased Hiei, shouldn't have started flirting with him again.

 And then, so unexpectedly, he heard Hiei curse softly under his breath. There was a movement behind him, but rather than leave the room, Hiei lay down beside Kurama and wrapped his arms around his shivering body. Fire demon that he was, Hiei extended his youki and raised his own body temperature, surrounding them both in a halo of warmth.

 Stunned by the action, Kurama felt his heart melt inside him. Hiei! Hiei was lying beside him, holding him in his arms! He hadn't left, had turned away in anger or disgust. Sighing in pleasure, Kurama turned toward the warm youkai, moving in Hiei's arms so that he could rest his head comfortably on the fire demon's shoulder, their arms locked around each other. The embrace felt like coming home, and Kurama sank into the embrace, content to stay forever.

 "I'm sorry about last night, Hiei," Kurama said quietly, giving Hiei the only peace offering he could.

 "I don't want to talk about that," Hiei growled, his voice sending gentle vibrations through Kurama's body.

 He had guessed that much. Still it hurt to hear. For years Kurama had dreamed about kissing Hiei, beginning a relationship with him. And Hiei didn't want to even talk about it. Kurama sighed unhappily. "If we don't talk about it, we'll just. . . "

 "Did you love him?" Hiei demanded, cutting off Kurama's words.

 Kurama frown uncertainly. What was Hiei talking about? "Love who?"

 Hiei shivered in irritation. "Hyroshi!" he snapped. "Who else?"

 "Hyroshi?" Kurama asked in disbelief. "No, of course not."

 "But you were lovers?" Hiei pressed.

 Kurama hesitated, embarrassment flooding through him. So he had been right. Hiei had caught the references Hyroshi had made. He didn't know how to answer the fire demon, too ashamed by his own poor judgement. "That was a long time ago, Hiei," he protested uncomfortably. "A different life time."

 "Answer the question, fox," Hiei insisted. "Were you and Hyroshi lovers?"

 Kurama sighed unhappily. "Yes," he admitted, feeling his face grow pale. What must Hiei think of him, picking someone like that as a lover? An enemy---even though at the time Hyroshi had been quite sane.

 "And today, were you happy to see him die?"

 Kurama blinked uncertainly and tilted his chin up to look at Hiei. "Happy? Not precisely happy. But he was hurting people, and he needed to die. He needed to be stopped."

 "Now do you see why I don't want to talk about yesterday," Hiei stated flatly.

 "What? What does Hyroshi have to do with yesterday?"

 "You didn't love him, but you were lovers. And despite this you won't shed any tears over his death. Between that and your little lesson in kissing yesterday, I've learned just about all I ever want to know about love!"

 Kurama flinched at Hiei's words, shock flooding through him. He felt as if Hiei had just punched him in the stomach. Not only did Hiei not want to talk about their kiss yesterday, but he sounded as if he was thoroughly disgusted by Kurama's advances. "Hiei!" he protested, feeling his heart cracking inside him.

 "Be quiet, fox," Hiei growled. "Go to sleep. You're supposed to be resting. I told you I don't want to talk."

 "You mean you don't want to talk to me," Kurama corrected sadly, tears filling his eyes. His last bit of hope died. Hiei wanted nothing to do with him. Pain pierced his soul, his heart shattering into a million pieces. He couldn't stay here. Couldn't stand to lie so near the youkai and know Hiei would never love him. He tried to move away, tried to escape Hiei's embrace, not wanting to shame himself further by crying in front of the fire demon.

 The fire demon tightened his hold on the struggling Kitsune. "What's that suppose to mean?" Hiei demanded.

 Kurama struggled for a moment longer, realizing finally that even at full strength he couldn't get away from Hiei if the youkai didn't want him to. He gave up and stopped struggling, lying limply in Hiei's arms.

 "What's that suppose to mean!" Hiei asked again, tightening his hands on Kurama's arms.

 "You don't want to talk to me because of Hyroshi," Kurama explained miserably. "You think I'm an idiot for something that happened centuries ago."

 "Baka!" Hiei cursed. "I couldn't care less who you loved or didn't love. I have no interest in your stupid ningen emotions."

 Hiei's words were like daggers in Kurama's heart. He'd fooled himself into thinking that Hiei might be jealous. But he'd been wrong. Hiei didn't care about his past, didn't care about his future. His only concern was for the well being of a teammate, nothing more. All else was just 'stupid ningen emotions' and Kurama knew exactly what Hiei thought of all things human.

 Kurama grew still, a chill filling his body despite the heat of Hiei's body. "Is that all it meant to you?" he asked the fire demon sorrowfully. He ought to just shut up, he told himself. Why give Hiei any more reason to hurt him? But somehow he couldn't help himself from asking. "Just a *lesson* in kissing?"

 "That's what you intended it to be, wasn't it," Hiei stated coldly, the hardness in his voice painful to bear.

 "No," Kurama admitted weakly. "I wanted to kiss you."

 He felt Hiei stiffened, and he guessed that he'd done it at last. Now that Hiei knew, he'd leave for good. Not even for a teammate would he endure such a display of stupid ningen emotions. "What?" he hissed in shock.

 "I wanted to kiss you," Kurama repeated sadly. "I didn't think I'd have another chance, so I took the one offered."

 "Why!" Hiei demanded.

 Kurama sighed heavily, shifting restlessly in the fire demon's arms. "Oh, Hiei! I’m sorry!" he exclaimed, feeling the hot tears stinging his eyes. "I know you're not interested in me or my 'stupid ningen emotions', and I never should have gotten carried away like I did. I didn't think you'd dislike it so….."

 "Stop!" Hiei ordered angrily. He released the fox and sat up, and Kurama felt suddenly so cold, the last of his warmth leached away. What would life be like, he wondered, without the fire demon continuously beside him? "Answer my first question, fox! Why did you want to kiss me?"

 Kurama stared up at him in misery, his eyes burning with his unshed tears. "Hiei," he protested weakly.

 "Answer the question!"

 Kurama's closed his eyes, unable to meet Hiei's angry gaze any longer. "Because I love you," he said simply, knowing that Hiei would leave now.

 "You love me?" Hiei repeated, his voice filled with disbelief.

 "I'm sorry, Hiei," Kurama cut in quickly. "I know you don't want anything to do with me or my ningen emotions, but I can't help….."

 "I want nothing to do with your ningen emotions because you caste them aside so easily!" Hiei shouted at him. "You said yourself….you couldn't care less what had happened to Hyroshi. How can you. . ."

 "I didn't love Hyroshi!" Kurama protested. He sat up suddenly peering deeply into Hiei's eyes. He felt the world still around him. Could he have been wrong? Could he have been mistaken? Did Hiei really care? He was too afraid to hope. "I told you that. I didn't love Hyroshi. I never loved Hyroshi. Our relationship was a meaningless little fling that I quickly forgot about---because that's what I did back then. I didn't know any differently. I didn't know what love was. I didn't know anything about love until I became human."

 "And now it's different?" Hiei asked. "Now you love me?"

 "Yes," Kurama nodded. "I have ever since I first met you."

 "How long?"

 "What?" Kurama stared at him in confusion.

 "How long will you love me? How long till you decided I'm some meaningless little fling and you forget about me?"

 Kurama's eyes widened in horror. "I'd never do that, Hiei! Haven't you heard what I said? This isn't like my feelings for Hyroshi. I didn't have any feelings for Hyroshi. I didn't have any feelings at all. I can no more stop loving you or forget about you than I could cut out my own heart. I'll love you forever, Hiei." A tear escaped and slipped down Kurama's face as he spoke. "Even if you never love me back."

 Hiei studied Kurama's pale face for a long silent moment. His gaze followed the path of a single tear down Kurama's cheek. Kurama held his breath, not certain what was going through Hiei's mind. Would he leave? Did he care? His features were so impassive, revealing nothing at all of what he was feeling.

 Slowly, Hiei reached out an unsteady hand and brushed the tear away from Kurama's face.

 Kurama flushed and looked away in embarrassment. "I know," he whispered. "You think I'm weak because I cry.  You think. . . ."

 "I think that I don't want you to cry because of me," Hiei said gently. "I'm not worth it."

 Kurama looked up, eyes wide. "Hiei! You're worth everything to me! Don't talk that way about yourself. You're the most wonderful, incredible. . ."

 "Ill-mannered, rude," Hiei broke in again.

 Despite the tears, Kurama smiled. So unexpected to have Hiei make a joke. "Yes, that too. But also passionate, loyal, brave. . .."

 "Cold, arrogant, irritating, possessive," Hiei added.

 "Only when you want to be," Kurama agreed. Then paused and frowned. What had Hiei said? Could he possible mean that the way it sounded? "Possessive?"

 Hiei nodded. "Of you."

 For a moment Kurama just stared at me, searching Hiei's face for some explanation. Hiei's features remained impassive, unrevealing. "Hiei?" Kurama asked uncertainly, wanting to hope again, wanting to touch the fire demon.

 "It wasn't just a lesson," Hiei told him.

 Kurama's heart leaped in his chest. "Hiei, are you saying. . .." Kurama began.

 Hiei leaned forward and kissed the fox, capturing Kurama's mouth with his own. Sweet as honey, Hiei's kiss was everything Kurama had ever craved, and he melted into Hiei's embrace, opening his mouth beneath Hiei's greedy touch. They sank back onto the bed, bodies pressing against one another as Hiei plundered the Kitsune's mouth.

 Lack of oxygen finally made the fox pull back, gasping, joy filling his heart, his mischievous fox spirit laughing happily inside him. "You want another lesson, Hiei?" he breathed, his fingers sifting lightly through Hiei's hair. His touch sent shivers through the fire demon's body and he smiled in delight at the sight of the need in Hiei's eyes.

 Hiei's eyes widened. "There's more than just kissing?"

 Kurama grinned and nodded. "Much more. Might take a few centuries to teach you everything though."

 Hiei smiled. "That's okay," he assured him. "I've got a few centuries to spare. So do you."

 "I do?"

 Hiei nodded, his eyes gleaming ferally. "I told you I was possessive, fox. Now that I've caught you, you're not getting away."

 "Wouldn't have it any other way," Kurama purred happily.

 Then pulling the fire demon back into his embrace, the Kitsune began the next lesson.
 
 


 

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