The value of life

A/N: according to canon, Kurama will live out the life of a youko. So, being the perverse person that I am, behold the other view; my first YYH AU. Or is it a divergence? Hey, come on, it's not nearly as much of a stretch as Hiei being in high school

Hey, Hiei.

His voice was everywhere, it seemed, these days. A flash of red in his vision, laughing green eyes mocking him in the darkness. Or else silver and gold, tall and aloof and a little mocking even in the relaxation of sleep.

Hey, Hiei.

Pride, he knew, was Kurama's sin of choice. A gentle, subtle, utterly unyielding kind of pride that many didn't even recognise – except those who had been destroyed by it. He knew Kurama had pride, was arrogant, but he hadn't quite realised how far that arrogance would go.

It had come as something of a shock to Hiei to realise that Kurama's human form was…ageing; it had taken him far too long to even notice the signs for what they were. Age was not a concept Hiei was familiar with, not when it came to youkai; it took millennia for youkai to age significantly once they'd attained their final growth. He'd taken the first silver strands as a sign of Kurama's youkai form showing through, and even teased him about his imperfect control – and been horrified when Kurama explained what they were. After that, it had become unmistakable.

His youko form had remained the same as ever, but as years went by, he could feel that power waning as well, imperceptibly but inexorably.

Years. An eyeblink to their kind – his kind – and suddenly each day seemed too short, unfairly short, and reminders of mortality were everywhere around him.

After a point Kurama had remained almost exclusively in his youko form, not letting Hiei see his human form. What vanity had prompted that decision, Hiei didn't know; he'd pieced Kurama together enough times that they should have no secrets, seen him at his worst and his best – there was nothing to hide, but Kurama did.

Pride, Hiei sniffed, but remained silent – he had nothing to contribute, and could make no complaints. Especially since Kurama had made him swear not to prolong his life artificially.

I've lived long enough, he'd said with an odd little laugh. And I'll be seeing you eventually, after all.

Hiei had lost his temper completely then and railed at him, calling him selfish and uncaring, told him that humanity had addled his brain – Kurama had not reacted at all, had simply smiled gently and let him leave when he vanished into the woods of the Makai and smiled gently and welcomed him back when he returned after two months.

He had been serene. Kurama had always been serene, calm and collected and always in control of his own life, and death, apparently. He'd cheated it once, and controlled it the second time, and he said he was tired.

Besides, he'd grinned, the afterlife holds fewer terrors for me now that I know it's run by a toddler. And Hiei, who had never become accustomed to how casually Kurama put himself at risk, snarled some sort of insult in answer and withdrew further.

It would have been easy to ask Kurama to live for him – easy and pointless. There was only so much a human's life could be extended, and there were some things they didn't ask of each other, no matter if the other would give it. If he had asked, Kurama would have accepted, and it was because he knew this that he didn't.

Besides, Hiei had memories.

He had always had a perfect memory. Everything stood out in acid clarity from the moment of his birth, nothing forgotten, nothing blurred or warped, damning and crystal. He only had to close his eyes to know – not remember, know – exactly how Kurama's hair felt against his back, the scent of every herb in his hair, his laugh, his face, the taste of his mouth. All of it, rendered with an archivist's meticulousness.

He envied his sister. He envied Urameshi. Both of them had suffered the same loss he did, but at least they were granted the forgetfulness that time brought. They had been granted closure, and oblivion, and progress, and all he was given was a ghost behind his shoulder

and loved though that ghost was, it was incorporeal, unreal, and it killed him that it was there, that he wanted it there

and the echo of a voice in his ears, painted in perfect clarity, blinding him to everything else.

Memory hurt.

Hey, Hiei.

And that familiar long-fingered nimble hand on his shoulder, turning him around to meet empty air, again and again.

Even his speed failed him here.

Typical of Kurama to simply seize his own opportunities and leave Hiei behind on whatever mad impulse had seized him this time. Typical that Hiei should be the one paying for Kurama's greatest gamble, the one that had given a youko a century-odd lease of life and saved a world and utterly shattered Hiei's heart. Typical, also, that Kurama should be heartless enough to also forbid him to try to follow.

Really, the fox had no consideration at all.

Typical that Hiei's last words to him had been harsh and bitter, angry and hurting, and Kurama had been… as he always was. Gentle and sweet and unbendingly cruel. Smiling, at the end.

I hate you, he'd said, three times, punctuated neatly by the faint clatter of something small hitting the floor and bouncing. He hadn't thought to find out what it was until much, much later.

I love you, too, Kurama had replied. And he'd grinned impishly, as if he knew something Hiei didn't.

But they both took debts seriously. It was instinctive to them. And until his debt to Kurama was repaid, until he could say that his sorrow was equal to the happiness those horribly short years had brought him, he could not break that promise and follow.

Hey, Hiei.

If only he could forget. If only he didn't want to remember. If only the sorrow were greater. If only the joy had been less intense. Possibilities, possibilities, Kurama would have laughed. What's the point of thinking of something that isn't? And there wasn't any point, but he couldn't stop himself.

So he waits, alone, except for that ghost who haunts him, a creature half of memory and half of desire.

Hey, Hiei.

And time runs towards its inexorable end.