Makai Tournament: Choices

By: Yami no Kokoro

Hiei's POV

Hiei sighed, sinking back in to his position against the wall in one of the Makai Tournament's viewing chambers. His preliminary match had been nothing short of a joke, but for some reason he still felt exhausted.

It was because of these stupid emotions racing through him-they were able to wear him out more completely than any of the tests Mukuro had managed to throw at him in his past year of training. His head was still spinning from the cool welcome he had received from Kurama this morning, and the last real conversation they'd shared- though now spoken one hundred days before- kept returning to send spirals of confusion, anger and jealousy through him.

Yes...jealousy. That was the most prominent feeling taking residence in the jaganshi's weary form as his eyes followed the blind king that had been the fox's master across the enormous viewing screen. His match was the last of the preliminaries still going, and every apparition with half a brain was watching the once-king of Gandara intently for any sign of a weakness as he tackled the task of destroying his newborn son. In front of him stood Mukuro, arms crossed and good eye fixed intently on her main rival, and Hiei could almost picture the same focused expression on Kurama's face right now...wherever he happened to be.

With gritted teeth, his own gaze turned to the floor.

He hadn't expected this to become so painful. When he and the kitsune had each received their Spirit of Words from opposing rulers it had been Hiei's intent to become a spy for Mukuro. His loyalty to Kurama and the detective came before that to some random king he had never met before, but Kurama had been of a different opinion.

"Hiei, once you depart for demon world we will be on opposing sides. You understand that, right?"

Hiei smirked, stepping away from the fox's window and closer to the pensive figure perched on the bed before him.

"Hn. Obviously, Kurama. I'm no fool. We'll probably have to pretend we've severed our relationship or they'll never believe we're willing to fight each other."

Crimson bangs fell in a soft wave over Kurama's eyes as his head dipped lower. The fingers laced on his lap tensed.

"No, Hiei. I don't think that we'll have to pretend."

Something about Yomi had the kitsune chained. Some debt, or something from their past together... Hiei had tried to understand what about the blind king had made Kurama pledge a loyalty against his allies with one simple Spirit of Words, but he came up blank.

Well no, that wasn't true, but the one option the jaganshi could think of was too sickening to contemplate for long.

"...I don't understand, fox." Hiei paused in his approach, the cold determination in Kurama's voice making his hand dart to his sword, though he knew he would never draw it. "You think that Yomi will just let you-"

"Hiei." The word seemed to hurt Kurama to say, and his hands on his lap turned white. "We are going to war. I don't know if you or Yusuke understand the true danger of what we are getting into now. This isn't a game, this isn't one of Koenma's petty missions. We are joining a war, and we have all chosen to take opposing sides."

The kitsune's lowered gaze was beginning to bother Hiei. If what he thought Kurama was getting at was really true then he wanted the fox to meet his eyes and say it outright. He was before the bed in an instant, grabbing the other's stiff shoulders and shaking him slightly.

"We aren't going to war, Kurama. I never said that I really wanted to join Mukuro's world domination scheme- from what I hear he's hardly fit to rule an entire world anyway. We're only doing this so we have a chance to get stronger, and a chance to get inside information for-"

Again he was cut off, this time by the faint shimmer in Kurama's eyes as they finally looked up to meet his. It looked almost as though he was near tears...but Kurama didn't cry. He was one of the most calm and stable people that Hiei had ever known, but now his gaze conveyed pain, confusion... he seemed almost lost.

Despite this, his voice was still like steel as he responded.

"As I said, we aren't doing this as a team, Hiei. Yusuke goes to Raizen to confront his 'father' and finally discover who and what he really is. You go there for power and information and I... I owe Yomi something, Hiei. That's why he summoned me, and he knew that I would come. I'm not saying I agree with him, or plan to stay loyal to him, but I may never return from Gandara, Hiei, and if I do I may not be the way I am now."

At that time the words had been enough to jar Hiei. He'd had no clue as to their meaning, but it seemed to him that they were laced with fear. His first thought was that Kurama thought he was going to be killed when reaching the realm of Yomi, but that made no sense. If he had any suspicion that the king was going to take his life than he wouldn't be going- Kurama wasn't afraid of experiencing pain, but was never one to go seeking death.

If that had been the kitsune's fear then the debt he owed Yomi must have been a great one.

"What do you think is going to happen to you?" Hiei was surprised at how soft his voice had gotten. It was as though all of his breath was stolen away by his koi's obvious anxiety.

Kurama seemed surprised by Hiei's change in demeanor as well, and his hands unclasped, moving for a second as though he wanted to wrap the other in a tight embrace, before he caught himself. Hiei almost wished that he hadn't stopped-he'd always discouraged any physical comfort or cuddling in their relationship, but now would welcome any reassurance from the other that he could get.

"Kurama?" he murmured when the other failed to respond. Kurama shook his head, parting his lips and then sealing them again. Hiei continued to clutch the other's shoulders, wavering between impatience and concern until the kitsune spoke.

"Hiei, you haven't had many alliances in the past, and I'm sorry to be the person to break one of your first. For now I must align myself with Yomi, for the well beings of all parties, including you."

"Sure." His voice had returned, and was thick with sarcasm. "I'm sure that choosing to side against me really is in my best interest, Kurama."

Focus was coming back to Kurama's expressive eyes, and with it a shield from his emotions that Hiei hadn't encountered while they were alone for months. He suddenly had no idea what the kitsune was thinking.

"I don't have to explain my decision to you, Hiei. I wish you the best of luck in Mukuro's territory, and I hope we both survive and have a chance to work this out better after the war. If we both still wish to pursue a relationship later we'll talk then, but neither of us can afford the weakness of a partner now. As of now this relationship is severed." His voice caught for the barest instant, the only sign that anything he said was upsetting him. After that, as he continued, his voice was a bit gentler, his eyes still ice cold. "Please, forget everything between us by the time you reach Alaric. It will be best if circumstances go the way I suspect they will."

It was stupid, Hiei decided, that over a year since Kurama had ended their tumultuous relationship the words in his memory still stung the jaganshi. He'd never pictured them ending that way- if anyone was going to end things it was supposed to have been him.

He wasn't supposed to still be hurting...

He flinched away from the faint voice he picked up over the viewing screen- the voice of Yomi, the one who had caused all these problems in the first place, who had inexplicably stolen Kurama away from him with a few simple sentences about allegiance and stolen light.

Determinedly blocking out all outside noises Hiei returned to his musing, for some reason desperate to relive each painful meeting with the kitsune since that night. Perhaps he would find some new understanding and finally be able to forget as Kurama had asked.

Strange as it was, Hiei had felt he needed to follow Kurama's order to forget him, ever since that night. He'd come to trust Kurama more than any other, and if the fox said it would be best not to think about their relationship for a time than Hiei would attempt to do so. After a few weeks in Alaric he had become so focused on training that thoughts of Kurama rarely entered his mind.

If he did what the fox said then he was sure things would work out alright, or at least better. He'd never been steered wrong by him before.

"Fool." He muttered, and Mukuro's gaze turned away from the screen.

"Yes." She admitted. "The boy actually thinks Yomi is trying his best to beat him. Really though, he's just playing cat and mouse with his own son...which goes to show how heartless Gandara's former ruler really is."

"Hn." Hiei agreed distractedly. Mukuro raised a brow at him, before turning back to the screen.

Mukuro's words were true, though. Yomi didn't seem to understand much about loyalty between blood...or between friends. Only a hundred days ago he had ordered Kurama to kill Yusuke if the detective caused any trouble, and likely assumed that the kitsune would do it. Hiei had been concerned- well, 'concerned' really was too strong a word for his suspicion- that he would heed the order as well. After all, perhaps his debt to Yomi was stronger than that to Yusuke.

Yet without thought, it seemed, Kurama severed his alliance, standing beside the detective and declaring that if Yomi made an enemy of Yusuke they would be enemies as well. Hiei had been elated by the response. In just seeing Kurama again through his Jagan all of the emotions he had locked away for half a year had come rushing back to him, surprising him with their power and depth. It was shocking, how much Kurama could still effect him even after so much time apart, but he welcomed the emotions.

Whatever Kurama had to take care of in Yomi's service, it seemed he had completed. Which meant that things could get back to the way things had been before this ridiculous war.

"Fool." He breathed again, this time so softly that Mukuro didn't seem to pick it up amongst the other demons' chattering. Though Kurama's service to the blind king had ended that day, it seemed he was still unwilling to continue anything with the jaganshi.

Hiei had gone to talk to him that night.

"So... it seems you don't enjoy staying in any one alliance too long, Kurama." He hadn't meant to start the conversation sounding bitter, but that's the way the words chose to escape his lips. Kurama stopped walking so quickly that his robes and hair continued forward for a moment after he froze. His breathing quickened just barely, and he glanced up and down the palace hall before turning to the window Hiei stood in.

"Hiei...what are you doing here?" His words came out a hiss, and he stepped toward the window as though wanting to push the other out. Hiei hopped down onto the floor, crossing his arms.

"My master wanted to visit the neighboring country and decided to take me along. Why?"

The kitsune shook his head.

"Everyone here knows you are Mukuro's second, Hiei. If they find out you're here they will kill you without question." His concern brought a small smirk to Hiei's lips- it seemed the kitsune did still have feelings for him.

"Then it's a good thing you aren't going to tell anyone that you saw me."

Kurama glanced down the hall again, before repeating, "Why are you here?"

Hiei had to consider the question. It simply hadn't occurred to him to leave Gandara without talking with Kurama, but at once he remembered the way they had left things, and he couldn't think of what to say.

Conversation had never been his strong point.

Kurama allowed him to contemplate for a moment before he looked away, seeming frustrated.

"Hiei, I told you to let me go. You haven't."

"You've terminated your allegiance to Yomi. That was the reason you ended things, wasn't it?" Thin red brows creased, and Kurama glanced at the ceiling as though looking to his fox god for assistance.

"I ended things, Hiei, because we would be going to war against each other, and we still are unless you choose not to enter Yusuke's tournament. Now the only difference is that we will be battling one-on-one instead of with opposing armies."

"Don't be an idiot, Kurama. We can fight and still be on good terms. You'll be battling Yusuke, and you seemed friendly enough with him this afternoon."

"My relationship with Yusuke is very different than ours. The war isn't finished and I will not allow any feelings for you to distract me in this tournament, Hiei. And I will not allow you to continue to be distracted by something that will never go anywhere anyway."

Hiei didn't understand what the fox was telling him. One moment it seemed as though he cared-was protecting him, even- and the next it sounded like he didn't want the relationship at all. Why wouldn't they have a chance together? What made Kurama so determined to fight in this tournament- and fight like Yoko would, with no loyalties? Did Kurama even still love him or not? He couldn't decide which of his thousand questions to ask first, but decided to go with the one that didn't make him sound like a whining ningen adolescent.

"What makes you so determined to win this tournament, Kurama? It never seemed to me like you wanted to rule the world."

"I don't!" The words were almost shouted, and Kurama paused, taking a breath to recompose himself. It seemed that only around Hiei was he able to lose control of his carefully checked emotions like this, and the jaganshi wasn't sure whether he should take that as a compliment or not. After a moment he continued, much more softly.

"I have no aspirations of actually winning this tournament, Hiei. In fact, I'd hate it if I did-having to stay in demon world away from my family for the three or four years until the next 'election' was held."

Hiei shook his head.

"So why-" The kitsune was still talking.

"All I want out of this is to get far enough to fight against Yomi." The king's name made Hiei flinch.

"This is still about him, Kurama? You've forced me away twice now in his name. Tell me what hold he has over you!"

Kurama met Hiei's furious gaze, but looked away after a moment, blinking twice quickly.

"Yomi and I have a past, Hiei, and he's been using that to his advantage for some time. He's made me...I've been..." He sighed. "Let's just say that Yoko hasn't enjoyed having to become subservient to him, and during the tournament I'll have a fair chance to win back my dignity. I'm going to do my best to show him that- king or no- we are still on even ground, and I'm not going to let anything stop me from getting to that fight. Anything, Hiei, and if we are matched against each other before that time comes I won't hesitate in doing everything possible to defeat you."

Everything possible...Hiei hadn't expected Kurama to go easy on him if they fought, and would have despised him if he did, but the venom in the fox's tone when he spoke those words... he must either truly hate Yomi or love him to want to fight him so badly, and for Hiei it was a toss-up to decide which one. That was hardly the important thing anyway.

Whichever emotion it was that he felt, it was clearly stronger than any he held for Hiei.

"Everything possible, Kurama? You know I don't surrender, and knocking me out would be difficult." Hiei's words were spoken through gritted teeth, his nails cutting into his crossed arms. "Are you willing to kill me over Yomi?"

Kurama had met his eyes again, and Hiei had never seen him look so coldly reminiscent of Yoko in his ningen form.

"If that's what it takes, Hiei, then yes."

The jaganshi felt tired again, his head throbbing from the stress of trying to work through these memories. He didn't even know why he was bothering- after all, Kurama had made his decision about them and Hiei wasn't one to go begging another person for love and acceptance. If it came to battling Kurama during this tournament then he would treat the kitsune as any other opponent- he wouldn't kill if it wasn't necessary, but if it was...

If it was necessary to kill the fox...

Then he would. Their relationship was over. Their ties were severed. In this tournament it was every demon for himself, and Kurama had willingly forgone any chance of ending things between them peacefully. If it came to his death at Hiei's hands then it had been his own choice, and Hiei wouldn't feel any pain or guilt over it.

Kurama had been given more than one chance to choose where his priorities lay, and he had chosen Yomi over Hiei.

Mukuro turned to him, mentioning something about the fight he hadn't been paying one bit of attention to. Ignoring the woman's words, he found himself confiding before he could stop himself.

"I don't care." Luckily, his traitorous mouth was able to keep his words as vague as that, and Mukuro seemed not to notice he wasn't speaking of the fight.

He didn't care whether Kurama and Yomi shared a past. He didn't care what the debt the fox owed Yomi was. He didn't care whether Kurama wanted to face Yomi out of hatred or out of some sordid love, or whether Yomi felt the same way about him. Kurama had chosen Yomi; in whatever context it was, the blind king was more important.

And Hiei didn't care.