Chapter 11- The Novarium

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Hiei was surprised when Kurama, upon releasing his shoulders, nearly stumbled. Hiei moved immediately to support him.

"What's wrong?"

Kurama closed his eyes tightly for a moment. "It feels like when I was back home." In the dark, it was hard to gauge if his vision had changed, but surprisingly— and fortunately— the vertigo left as quickly as it came. Kurama allowed Hiei to lead him to the bed, and drew Hiei down to lie next to him.

Hiei shifted his arms and settled on his side. "But your youki was out of control when you fled, and it isn't now. It's shielded."

"Then the problem must not be my youki." Kurama exhaled, letting go of anger before it could surface. "I don't know why I can't… sense the cause of this. I can't feel any energy but my own, but Kuwabara saw a demon in the spiritual link while he was unconscious. Nothing I can think of matches his description, however."

"I'm surprised that you left an enemy of yours alive," Hiei laced his fingers together, "though that can be remedied. Any guess as to who it is? "

"The concept of influencing another's youki indirectly, especially from a distance, indicates a demon with substantial skill in psychic or magical arts. I doubt psychic, because that would be much too direct, and too easily detectable. But with the other, there's the question of logistics, seeing as magic these days is practically a lost art. That leaves just one question."

"What you could have possibly done to piss off a magician." Hiei finished.

"Yes." Kurama said softly.

"Better to be safe, and leave all your enemies dead."

"Which is advice I usually heed." Kurama closed his eyes. After a moment he asked, "Why were you in the ningenkai?"

"Mukuro let me off duty."

"That can't be the only reason."

"... Why does it matter?"

Kurama expected as much. He explained, "I think it's convenient you happen to be around the night I almost harm my family, even though you didn't know about what was happening to me at the time. Yusuke, Kuwabara, and I would have been asked to resolve, or at least notified of any demon conflict, and the reason I don't believe you were visiting Yukina is because I cannot accidentally project enough youki to be registered from beyond the city limits." Kurama continued softly, "I have wonder if you were waiting during that time to confront me."

"Who says I was waiting for you?" Hiei replied. "Maybe I was looking for Yusuke. Or, maybe I didn't have to patrol the border for once, and you like to obsessively overanalyze everyone around you."

"Only the people I care about." Kurama drew the blankets around them. "See you in the morning."

And once again, Hiei was the one to lie awake in bed. Even if sleep came easily to Kurama, Hiei doubted he would get much rest. Rarely did he sleep in a bed, and never had Kurama sought to be so close to him. It felt new, strange, and oddly comforting.

Still, he could not forget that the fox confessed a love for him. Such a thing Hiei only saw in other humans and demons, consumed by their love and primal lust that tossed and drowned them like pieces of drift in a tidal wave, or thinned and left them entangled in bitterness and hurt. Was it foolish to think that he and Kurama were different? That this could work?

The last few years had quelled his spirit, forcing Hiei abandon the desire to regain a connection he couldn't admit that they had. After the movement of changing times and worlds had split their paths, was it naïve to think that they were partners again, something more?

I don't want to lose him.

As carefully as he could, Hiei turned to his side and let his eyes close as the familiar pain settled over his descent into half consciousness.

Kurama, I've missed you.

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The sun had barely risen past the horizon the next morning when Hiei was digging through the closet that he used for storage instead of clothes. He found the pair of boots that hadn't been mercilessly worn down yet. After sheathing his katana to the scabbard at his waist, Hiei quickly turned to leave. He nearly jumped in surprise.

Kurama uncrossed his arms and stepped aside from the doorway. The silence confirmed to Kurama that he wasn't expected to be there. Focusing on Hiei's questioning gaze, he said simply, "I'm coming with you."

Together with Hiei's chosen team of four, they met Yusuke at the rendezvous point and traveled together to the thick woods of the novarium, encountering no trouble along the way. When they reached the edge of the clearing where the old, looming tower stood, Hiei insisted on going in with his team alone.

"You two should wait as backup." he told Kurama and Yusuke. "I can handle this myself."

"And you're saying that I can't." said Kurama.

"I'm saying that this is enough of a risk as it is."

"Hey," Yusuke interrupted, sidling up to Kurama, "why don't we give Hiei a head start and then follow him in?"

Eventually it was agreed upon, and Kurama and Yusuke waited in the thicket.

"How long until we go in?" Yusuke asked after half an hour, fiddling with the little black communicator. "That twerp. He's not going to signal us with this thing."

"Probably not."

"Is everything all right between you two?"

"… Yes. Why?"

"Kuwabara was telling me a bunch of stuff at the temple after you guys left while I was trying to enjoy these amazing dumplings Yukina cooked—" Yusuke shook his head, "three years of demon-dieting really blows. Anyway, I listened and made fun of him because since when the hell did Kuwa become one of those I know how you tick, people-person types, you know? He told me you guys were pissed off and fighting the whole time he was there, and because of that he swears that Hiei's in love with you."

"Kuwabara swears that Hiei is in love with me." Kurama repeated slowly.

"Yes." Yusuke laughed.

"That's, um. Well. Do you agree with Kuwabara?"

"Sure, you're the only one that can get him to hang out with us, but Hiei? He probably hasn't even done anything with Mukuro yet. He seems happy to stay with her, but when I ask, he just ignores me and keeps saying they're not together…" Yusuke smirked, "maybe Kuwabara's right. Hey," Yusuke leaned in, "don't hurt him."

"When you said you made fun of Kuwabara, you're giving the impression that you think it's ridiculous. And yet, it interests you enough to ask me right now."

"… Yeah?"

"I think you're trying to bait me."

"W-What?"

"I'm sensing some odd behavior. If you were going to reveal the truth behind a friend's feelings, you'd start with teasing. Concern just doesn't seem appropriate for preluding that kind of shock value. Or comedic value, however you want to look at it. I have to think you have other motives."

"Eh… you're right. I was the one who suggested Hiei's in love with you."

"But you believe it's the other way around. You're not surprised that I'm not surprised to this 'news'. You also wanted to see how I would react to Hiei not telling you if he's romantically interested in Mukuro to get me to confirm the status of their relationship, and how I feel about you implying that Hiei prefers her company over mine." Kurama sighed.

Yusuke's face fell. "Look, I didn't mean to mess with you…" he said before noticing Kurama wasn't upset at all. "I hate when you do that! Stop avoiding the question."

"You didn't ask one."

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"Sir, we've found someone." reported Serge. "He's barely conscious, but his energy is alive and fluctuating." Serge stepped aside to revel the demon in question, held up by the other two demons. "Where's Kiteru?" he asked.

"He hasn't met back here, yet." replied Emix.

"We'd better find him."

"Gods, no one should have to babysit his ass." Faure drawled.

"Where did you find the wretch?" Hiei demanded.

"This way." Serge answered.

They moved through the corridor, down two spiral staircases and entered a dungeon littered with rusting metal, and various broken objects. "He was lying in a heap in that corner. Might as well've been dead."

"This doesn't tell us anything—" Hiei began, interrupted by a muffled explosion from above that shook the ceiling."

Racing back upstairs, it took them minutes to locate the source. As their footsteps echoed off stone, Hiei heard a familiar voice before they turned the corner.

"Don't shoot."

It was Kurama, and Yusuke was going to fire the spirit gun. Kiteru was hovering in mid-air, practically ablaze in purple flare, held up through the power of another dark crouched figure in front of him.

"Kiteru!" yelled Serge.

"What do you mean, 'don't shoot'!" cried Yusuke incredulously. "Generally, you stop the ones that are causing the pain!"

"Not if you want them both to die!" Kurama snapped.

"Fight it, you fool!" Hiei snarled, but Kiteru's screams escalated. Hiei almost didn't see the dart-like motion of the seed that entered the demon by the neck. Immediately the olive skin began to blister and stretch over the site of entry, revealing the wriggling snake-like shapes that expanded and burrowed deeper into the demon's flesh. Its arms went limp as it choked and gasped, and the aura around Kiteru waned and he fell to the floor, moaning. Serge went to check on him, as Hiei, Yusuke, and Kurama approached the barely twitching figure of their enemy.

"Well, what the hell." Yusuke grumbled. "I couldn't shoot him, but flesh-eating tentacles are a-okay?"

"Pain, then paralysis." said Kurama. "To have one floating in the air like that," he gestured, "meant that they were too strongly connected for you to use an attack like the spirit gun. The pain needed to be increased gradually enough to overcome the brain until he let go, not all at once, and I imagine that you would've shot both of them if the aura conducted the blast."

"Instead of obstructing it physically, you used its threshold of pain, then paralyzed it to prevent further action. You used the nerves of the spine. Plus, it's still alive." Hiei concluded. His expression of approval was short-lived, turning into a scowl of annoyance. "When did you two come in here? I didn't give the signal."

Ignoring him, Kurama stated, "We can take him in for questioning."

"Okay, is he a 'he' or is it an 'it'?" Yusuke reached down to turn over the demon. "Wait a sec," Yusuke squinted as the demon's bloodshot eyes darted madly from each of their faces, "That blue-haired punk. I saw this guy in the human world the day I freaking came back!"

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