Title: The Third Betrayal
Author: Blossomwitch
Pairing: Hiei/Kurama
Rating: K+
Notes, Warnings, Disclaimers, Etc: This fic contains a fair number of spoilers (in specific the end of the series, the Three Artifacts arc, the end of season two and the beginning of season three). It also contains a few obscure demon laws which I made up and therefore actually own, unlike YYH. Hiei is ever so slightly OOC in this fic, but I think it can be attributed to grief and/or shock.

The Third Betrayal

The room was too small for the three boys who sat in it. Not too small for their bodies - there was plenty of room physically, but they kept apart from each other all the same. Kuwabara was sitting at the table, staring at the wooden surface blankly; Yusuke was pacing back and forth angrily, and Hiei was staring out the window, looking like he might take flight any moment.

But their anger, their bewilderment, and their frustration at being useless - that was what was filling every corner of the room, leaking out through the cracks in the windows and doors, threatening to cause the small cabin to explode.

The cabin was so small that there was only other room in it, from which the three had been summarily evicted. After the battle Hiei had dragged Kurama here, safe from unfriendly eyes, before racing off for help. Fortunately Koenma's spies had caught wind of what was going on and the rest of the team had already been on their way. Now Botan and Genkai had banished the hovering, useless boys to the other room while they tried to keep Kurama alive.

Nothing much had been said yet. Yusuke found himself distantly curious over how Hiei might have evicted the actual residents of this cabin, but wasn't sure he wanted to know. He also had some choice words concerning stupidity and reliance on your teammates; but looking at the way Hiei was staring out the window at nothing, Yusuke had decided not to say them. It might have been easier when they had first arrived; but as the minutes had become hours of silence, each boy realizing in the privacy of his own mind that Kurama might not make it, the silence had become nearly impenetrable.

Much as he would have liked someone to blame, Yusuke was unable to lay into Hiei for what had happened. He could tell how deeply worried and guilty Hiei already felt - and detecting any emotion other than anger from the fire demon almost disturbed Yusuke more than not knowing what was going on in the other room.

Predictably, it was Kuwabara who finally broke the oppressive silence. "Guys," he said in a hushed, subdued voice, "what are we gonna do if he doesn't make it?"

Way to be reassuring, pal. But Yusuke was unable to answer Kuwabara's question. It wasn't like this was the first time he had been faced with the prospect of one of his friends dying, not even the first time he had feared for Kurama's life. But it was looking more and more like it would be the real thing this time.

It was Hiei who spoke next. Without turning away from the window, he said, "Die, I suppose."

"What?" The silence was finally demolished by Yusuke and Kuwabara's identical squawks.

"This was my fight." Yusuke found himself seriously disturbed by the lack of emotion in that voice he usually associated with anger and scorn. They had fled from Hiei's tone, and been replaced with a quiet determination that was frightening. "I betrayed him by allowing him to fight in my place. I have to make restitution for that."

"And you dying is gonna make it better?" Yusuke asked incredulously.

"Perhaps."

"Man, I've always thought you were stupid, but this really proves it!" Kuwabara exclaimed. "From what I heard Kurama wanted to fight!"

"That makes it okay for him to die in my place?"

Neither of the boys said anything; Hiei took their answer as silence as nodded slightly, still staring out the window, apparently composed. "This is the third betrayal. If Kurama forgives me..."

"I'm sure he can do that without you having to die," Yusuke interrupted angrily.

"You don't understand." A hint of anger returned to Hiei's voice.

"Well, enlighten me!"

Hiei finally turned around. He faced the other boys with his arms folded across his chest, his face set as though he had already anticipated each of Yusuke and Kuwabara's arguments and rejected them all. "I have to die if Kurama dies. There are so many bonds between us now that I honestly don't know if I could survive it even if I wanted to. But it doesn't matter; I have to make restitution. Otherwise it doesn't work."

"What doesn't work?"

Hiei looked at Yusuke appraisingly for a moment before apparently deciding to explain. "What would you expect to happen if you betrayed a demon?"

Yusuke shrugged. "Probably he'd try to kill me."

"Exactly. Forgiveness is not in our nature. When it occurs it is worthy of notice. There is an old demon magic that creates a bond between demons when betrayals pass between them and are forgiven - it reaches its full power at the third betrayal. I have to make this right, or I'll lose Kurama."

Yusuke was momentarily stunned into silence. He'd never seen Hiei like this. Never imagined seeing Hiei express regret for anything he'd done, much less fear at the thought of losing somebody. Of course everyone knew Kurama and Hiei went way back... but how close exactly were they?

Closer than Yusuke had known, if the expression on Hiei's face was anything to go by.

"Look, man, it would be stupid of you to go and die now," Kuwabara said angrily. "What was the point of Kurama taking that fight in the first place if you're just gonna go get killed afterwards? It makes a mockery of what he did."

Hiei's eyes flashed angrily. "I wouldn't expect you to understand," he said with a hint of his normal disdain. "You talk of being bound to Yukina, but if you really were, you would know what I'm talking about. I am not able to live if Kurama dies."

"So explain this mythical bond that you've got," Yusuke said, trying to steer the demon away from talk of death.

Hiei turned back to the window, his voice becoming flat again. "The bonds are countless."

"Count them," Yusuke said firmly. "If two of my friends are gonna die I'm damned well gonna know why."

There was silence for a moment, and Yusuke was afraid that Hiei had retreated back into himself. But miraculously, the demon began to speak. "It was secrets at first," he said softly. "Shared secrets. My sister, his identity. We knew each other's secrets. Then, we promised to protect them. We were bound when we fought together, when we stole together, when we trusted each other to be at our backs. All of this creates a tangible bond between demons."

Hiei turned and fixed Yusuke with a cold stare. "Then the first betrayal came. You shouldn't have too much trouble figuring out what it was, Detective: you were there."

Yusuke had to think for a moment. "When Kurama left your alliance and turned himself into me?"

"When he interfered in our fight. He took a stroke that would have killed you if it had landed. He made it possible for you to defeat me. I thought I would never see him again after that. But he surprised me by the lengths he went to to repair the betrayal. The deal that got us out of jail was only supposed to extend to him; but he offered Koenma his own life for my freedom. Now if either of us breaks the law, we are punished as one; another bond we share, though this one was forced on me. It's been damned inconvenient; it would be ungrateful of me to get Kurama tossed into jail. And even if I'd wanted to leave him after that, it would have been so easy for him to revenge himself on me. But I never wanted to. He could have walked away from me but he didn't; that betrayal caused me to trust him more, in the long run."

Yusuke and Kuwabara were silent, listening in awe to the spectacle of Hiei speaking so many sentences in a row. And the demon showed no signed of slowing down; it was like some giant Hiei soul purging. Yusuke only hoped the demon wouldn't want to kill them afterwards for having heard it all.

"Of course the next bond that formed between us was teammates, along with you two." Even upset as he was, Hiei managed to inject some disdain into the words 'you two.' "Then, he kept me from murdering and sending us both to jail again... and then the Dark Tournament."

Yusuke thought for a moment that Hiei was done talking; he turned around and looked out the window again, silent. But before he could think of anything to say to fill the silence Hiei started to speak again.

"The second betrayal came at the end of the Dark Tournament. Of course by that time we were all bound to each other, whether we deny it or not. Yet things happened between Kurama and myself in those weeks that were just between us. There were more bonds. We never told you, but Kurama died in that tournament."

Yusuke's eyes widened with shock. "Just for a moment. Killing Karasu killed him, actually separated his soul from his body for a moment - until I fed him enough energy to pull himself back together. I gave it to him even knowing I would need all my strength for my own fight. And it paid off: when I was swallowed by my own dragon, all I could see was darkness and Kurama. He followed me halfway into wherever it was I went, followed me just far enough that I could see him and find my way back. So we were now indebted to each other, beyond a shadow of a doubt, with our lives. And it still wasn't enough. On the way back to the mainland, Kurama told me that he loved me. That he wanted to be my lover."

A series of emotions shot through Yusuke; first, satisfaction that what he had halfway suspected about his two friends was true; second, shock for the same reason; third, anger at what he thought Hiei was saying. "And that's the second betrayal?"

"No, Detective. I betrayed him that time. I told him I wanted nothing to do with his emotions and I took off. Why do you think I resisted joining you for so long during the confrontation with Sensui? I fled from you all because I couldn't bear to be around him. It wasn't that he was angry with me; I was angry with myself, for being afraid of my own emotions. But I couldn't stay away forever. So I came back and told him the truth."

"Which was?" Yusuke asked when Hiei hesitated. Kuwabara didn't seem to have recovered from the revelation of romance between his teammates yet; he was still staring slack-jawed at Hiei.

"That I loved him, but I couldn't be his lover. Not yet. And he accepted it, and forgave me. The second betrayal was mended." Hiei placed his hands on the windowsill, hunching his shoulders. "That's how things stood until today."

"I still don't get how letting him fight Mukuro is a betrayal," Yusuke said. Kuwabara finally managed to close his jaw.

"You weren't there, Detective. I was ready to take this fight. I made him beg me to step down in front of dozens of spectators. I made him beg." Hiei's voice was strained.

"But Hiei, it made sense for Kurama to fight Mukuro. I do know something about this part of demon law. You were Mukuro's student; it gave her a power over you that made it nearly impossible for you to defeat her, no matter how strong you get. That's why the rule about champions stepping in was put in in the first place, so that if a student wants to break away from the teacher he can actually have a shot at winning. Kurama knew all that as well as any of us. And if all this stuff you're saying about bonds is true, it was really his place to be the one to fight for you."

"It is never anyone's place to fight for me," Hiei said harshly. "If I can't beat someone then I deserve to be killed by them. But I let love distract me; I let Kurama talk his way into standing in front of me, protecting me, and even though he won he's lying in there bleeding his life away. Tell me this is not a betrayal."

Yusuke tried to formulate a response, something about Kurama being smart enough to know the risks of what he was getting into. But while he was putting his thoughts in order, the door to the other room opened.

Three heads whipped towards it; then Botan gave a gasp of surprise as a black blur shot past her into the room. Yusuke and Kuwabara were a bit slower on the uptake but they too rushed past her. Just inside the door they stopped short.

Kurama was awake and alert, bandages wrapped around his torso and left arm with only a faint tinge of pink showing through them. He was leaning up from the bed, largely supported by Hiei. The fire demon had pressed his lips against Kurama's in a fierce, yet somehow chaste, kiss.

You don't need a third betrayal, Hiei, Yusuke thought, watching Kurama melt into Hiei's arms. You don't need to make restitution, and you don't need him to forgive you. You're already bound as tightly as you could ever need to be.