Final Battles

When the exhausting, overdramatic, let's-run-away-from-the-collapsing-stadium routine was finally over, Hiei noticed Kurama gently shrugging the detective off him without really thinking anything about it. Yusuke should have picked someone less injured to lean on during that mad flight anyway; of course Kurama didn't want to carry the boy for a second longer than was necessary.

But a moment later, when Kurama casually put a hand on Hiei's shoulder, he held it so tightly that Hiei glanced at him; then he did a double take, and moved into a position that he could support Kurama's weight. Not a moment too soon; the instant Hiei's back was in front of him, Kurama gripped his shoulders with both hands and slumped forward, his feet dragging.

Several people cried out in various stages of alarm--making it all the more necessary for Hiei to keep his head. He gripped Kurama's forearms tightly, taking the kitsune's body weight up through the hold, and turned around to help him lower himself to the ground. "Lie down," he said firmly. "I have your weight." Hiei was aware that by the time blood loss caused a swoon it would cause confusion, so he coached the disoriented kitsune step by step. "Lie down--careful. Put your shoulders down. Now your head."

When Kurama finally stopped clinging to him and lay down, Hiei quickly scanned his body. Though Hiei had no particular skill as a healer, the Jagan allowed him to at least see where others were hurt. Kurama had re-injured himself on the escape from the stadium--badly. In a voice no more than a whisper--more to himself than to the now unconscious Kurama--Hiei asked, "Are you this determined to die today, fox?"

This caused a stir in the circle around them--Hiei had forgotten there were others watching--but the next thing he knew, his sister was kneeling next to him, looking terrified and gently touching Kurama's chest. "I can help," she said simply.

Hiei let her get on with it. Kurama had completely expended himself, and he needed energy from someone else if he was going to live through the night.

Hiei suddenly became aware of the detective nattering away on his other side, talking to their unconscious friend as though it would do some sort of good. "Kurama--god, don't do this, not now." If Hiei had been less numb, he might have reacted to the despair in the boy's voice. "We won. Not now."

Hiei glanced at him, and observed, "You're not exactly a portrait of health yourself, Detective. Perhaps you should lie down as well, since you can't do anything to help him."

The detective's pet ferry girl made a small squeaking noise at this, and bounded forward as though it had only now occurred to her that her healing skills, too, might be of some use. Hiei had noticed she didn't tend to offer help to demons--she had certainly let Kurama deal with the deadly vetch by himself, in the third round, so she would be of no use now. Hiei watched dispassionately as Yusuke protested that he was perfectly alright and didn't need any help while at the same time inelegantly collapsing to the ground. Now that the life-and-death situation was over, it seemed all of their injuries were catching up to them at once.

Hiei glanced at Kuwabara, to see if the big oaf was going to make it three out of four and collapse, but he seemed to be holding his own. Then Hiei put his attention back to the pair he was kneeling by--and was completely blindsided by how much progress Yukina had already made. The fox was in no danger of death. Had he ever been, or had Hiei overreacted?

A moment later, when Yukina removed her hands and sat back, Kurama was breathing deeply and peacefully and his energy was stable, if low. Hiei looked at Yukina mutely; she seemed tired, but content. "He'll be fine," was all she said.

Hiei nodded once, still in shock. He noticed the detective looking at him intently, wanting a confirmation of Yukina's statement; he nodded again in his direction. Yusuke stopped fighting Botan so suddenly she squeaked again. By this point the detective's woman was kneeling on his other side and yelling at him for being so careless as to nearly die, and Kuwabara's sister was laying down the law over something or other with a bit more dignity than Keiko could muster--and Koenma was giving Hiei a piercing look. Hiei returned it blankly--the toddler was probably upset at the thought of losing his two most valuable captives before he could milk every last drop of use out of their bail. Nobody seemed to be acting like they all would have avoided coming this close to death if they could have done so.

Without speaking to anyone, Hiei shouldered Kurama's weight and began heading back to the hotel. A few people ran forward to help--not their teammates, they were all still wrapped up in their own dramas, but the annoying foes who thought the fact their lives had been spared made them allies now. Hiei issued a growl that caused them all to stop and back away by ten feet or more, and then he continued slowly on to the hotel.

Kurama woke up about two thirds of the way back to the hotel, enough to support himself the rest of the way with only minimal help. He was adamant in wanting a shower as soon as they got to their room, and after that managed to make it to his bed before falling unconscious again. His energy didn't drop dangerously again, though; it was a healing sleep, not the body shutting down. Only then, watching him sleep and really believing for the first time since he'd felt that hand on his shoulder that Kurama would be alright, did Hiei allow himself to start to feel.

First, the shaking started. Hiei moved to his own bed and lay down on his back, staring at the ceiling and trembling and trying hard not to blink. If he didn't blink, then any traitorous moisture that formed in his eyes could seep out the corners, and not have a chance to form into tell-tale gems. No one knew he had inherited that koorime trait, and he didn't intend anyone to ever find out. He wasn't crying, anyway. He was justifiably tired, and the body was going through a set of physical reactions, not emotional. Nothing significant.

Being close to death was nothing new for Hiei. Being close to death day after day after day, forced to fight impossible battles one after another with no chance to win and no choice not to--that was new, yes. But what made it the worst was the element of force to it, the way that someone else was in charge of his fate. The fact that he had not chosen to be here.

No--that wasn't accurate. He had made a choice to be here; he could have declined the invitation. He doubted Toguro would have bothered to track him down, and he could have easily dealt with the fools the Tournament Committee would have dispatched. The others would have suffered for it. Even if Hiei's defection had not been used as justification for killing them, they could not have won without him on the team. So it wasn't Toguro who had control of Hiei; it was Yusuke, who had first angered the brothers, Yusuke and the old woman and yes, maybe the fool too, and--


The strategist. Who planned so carefully for everyone's survival except his own. The one who chose to be so polite, so kind, and maybe Hiei was the only one who understood how completely it was a choice, because someone with Kurama's brilliance had no need to be kind to get just exactly what he wanted. The one who made Hiei think of a cold winter lake--you could toss a stone and watch the ripples, but the lake would soon return to its original stillness. Beyond understanding, and beyond touch.

And yet.

There was solace, in those eyes. Something that Hiei had only just seen, these past few days, for the first time ever in the eyes of another living being. The look not of someone who was trying to understand, or who thought they understood; but of someone who understood so deeply and completely that it was past understanding, it just was. Anybody who felt a need to say they understood didn't, anyway; if you truly understood someone, there would be no need to announce it, it would just exist. And maybe you wouldn't notice it until--

Or rather, would pretend not to notice. Would avoid noticing it until the circumstances became such that you couldn't ignore it anymore. To say he had only just seen it was a lie to himself, the worst kind of deception. He had been seeing it for years now. He just hadn't--understood? No, acknowledged. He hadn't been willing to acknowledge it.

Was it exhaustion, that made him want to acknowledge it now?

Hiei remained perched on the side of his own bed, watching Kurama sleep and the sun fall slowly towards the earth, for hours. Once someone knocked on the door; it was Yusuke. Hiei told him, not with words but with a flare of hostile energy, to go away. Yusuke demanded to know if they were both alright and if Kurama had woken up at any point; Hiei asked what he planned on doing about it if the answers were no. Something in his tone must have made the boy decide to leave. Hiei was well aware he was provoking gossip--by looking after Kurama for so long a time, by doing it when it wasn't strictly necessary any longer, by possessively shielding him from the rest of the group. All those things were unlike him--or at least, unlike their perception of him.

Kurama didn't stir again until after the moon had risen and begun its nightly journey across the sky. Hiei remained motionless, watching him. Hiei was the first thing Kurama turned his face to, already knowing before his eyes were even opened where the other demon was. And Kurama kept looking at him--probably wondering, like everyone else, why Hiei had persisted in staying with him like this. They remained eye-locked for a few minutes, neither of them moving. There was no awkwardness, just questions, and Hiei offered no answers. After a moment Kurama's eyes showed acceptance, and only then did he look around to take in his surroundings, glancing at the sky to determine how late it was. "Where is everyone?"

"Where do you think at this time of night?"

"I suppose I should have phrased my question better. I wanted to know if everyone is alright."

He would. "As far as I know, yes. You and Yusuke were the only two that there was concern over; the younger Toguro missed that idiot and the older one unfortunately didn't do enough damage. And I recovered in my hibernation."

Kurama cocked an eyebrow and spoke mildly. "Is that what you've been telling everyone? Then we'll go with that for now. The girls are alright?"


"And I presume from your wording that there's no longer any concern over Yusuke."

"That ferry girl apparently does have some justification for existing. Yukina helped you, by the way."

"Yes, I'm aware."

"You responded well to her energy."


"Amazingly quickly, in fact."

Kurama held his eyes, candidly addressing the issue Hiei had been drawing circles around. "Her energy is incredibly similar to yours. It was easy for me to accept her healing."

"I could have donated energy to you."

"There was no need. Besides, at your current levels you'd be a corpse if you tried."

"But I could have." It was a question.

"Yes." Kurama said no more. Something he had chosen not to explain to their teammates after the Maze Castle mission--he said it would make them uncomfortable--was that the transfer of raw power required not so much that you be of the same species but that you be of the same mind and heart, sharing some sort of deep bond. Hiei had never considered before tonight that he and Kurama might share enough interest in each other to complete such a transfer.

No--not interest. He had always been interested in Kurama; the fox was an incredibly valuable asset, one deserving of some maintenance. They put time and energy into each other because it was good business. When had that changed? It had to have been long before this Tournament--it felt like forever, suddenly, now that he was acknowledging it. But when?

Kurama was still watching him, politely, inquiringly. Interested in his reaction. "That was a hell of a fight," Hiei commented, making his tone as casual as possible. "Are you alright?"

"I'm fine." Kurama eyed Hiei with a slightly perplexed expression--probably wondering why Hiei was bothering to sound disinterested when it was obvious he had just spent hours staring at Kurama sleeping. "I think I'm in better shape than you are, actually."

Hiei made a dismissive motion, half a shrug and half a shake of his head. Kurama pushed himself to a sitting position, his eyes narrowing slightly as he looked at Hiei sternly, pinning him more effectively than he could have physically done. "Why are you pretending that nothing happened to you?" Kurama asked. "Your whole energy has changed. And it's not just a new energy, a different signature, it's--raw. Like a wound that doesn't have new skin over it yet. You don't know how to handle it, so you're vulnerable."

Hiei shrugged. "So? I'm sitting in a hotel room with you. Everyone not in the room who has any notable power is either dead or newly Yusuke's groupie. It doesn't matter."

"Thank you for excluding me from the 'Yusuke's groupie' category. But you need to take this seriously, Hiei. Nobody's ever mastered this power. We don't know what it will do to you."

"Are you frightened of me?" Hiei asked scathingly.

"Of you? Hardly. For you, perhaps."

"You're annoying me. Don't bother being ridiculous about my injuries until you've taken care of your own. Those wounds need to be cleaned, or they'll fester."

"They are clean."

"That's not what I'm talking about."

Kurama's expression tightened, and his eyes turned angry. "Then you're the one being ridiculous. You should know me better than to think Karasu's cheap psychology could really wound me."


"In fact, I find it insulting that you're still thinking about it."

In response, Hiei moved from his bed to Kurama's. He didn't try to touch him or invade his space, simply got up and sat down again next to him. He met Kurama's inquiring gaze without blinking or looking away--just being there. Waiting.

It didn't take long for Kurama to look away, tension appearing in every line of his body. "This is pointless," he said softly. "Karasu was unimportant. Powerful, yes, and that made the fight significant, but everything beyond that was irritating mind games. Nothing to still be concerned over."

"I agree with everything you say," Hiei said readily. "You have no idea how much I agree with it. But you are upset. Deeply. So tell me what it is."

Kurama sulked. That was the only word for it. He scowled, and worried at the skin on his lower lip, and glanced around the room to pointedly avoid meeting Hiei's eyes. Normally it was difficult to be more patient than Kurama, but this was one time Hiei sensed he could wait him out, so he didn't react to the display of adolescence. After only a few moments of pouting Kurama looked at him again, a little resentful, but mostly just vulnerable. "I miss my old body."

Hiei blinked. "I know you won't think that's worth being so riled up over," Kurama continued. "But to me it is. When I was Youko, anyone could take one look at me and realize they would be dead if they even tried to--no one ever looked at me and wanted to kill me, possess me--just for being..."

"Beautiful," Hiei filled in for him.

Kurama nodded. "Beautiful. Nobody wanted to destroy me--not by killing me, but by breaking me, owning me. And maybe having lived so long without that experience has made me more vulnerable to it. You--you will never be able to understand how it makes my skin crawl just to think of how possible it was. It wasn't mind games, Hiei. I know beyond doubt what he wanted--I would have died before I lost that fight." Kurama's fist had clenched, and Hiei didn't think he was aware of having done so. "And the worst part of it is how weak this body is--this taunting, beautiful body that I hate. I've been able to avoid thinking about it before now, been able to work around it. But the truth is that this body is a liability, both in appearance and weaknesses. And while Karasu and people like him I can escape from, my own body I cannot."

Neither of them spoke for a moment. Hiei kidded himself that he was waiting to see if Kurama was done speaking, but that last sentence had held definite finality to it. He was just struggling to come up with a response. It was quite rare for him to have to reassure Kurama, and previously unheard of for him to actually want to.

"It doesn't matter what body you're in," he finally said, simply. "You are Kurama. Even in the weakest body, you will find a way to win." Quieter. "And if you cannot, I will be next to you."

A searching look; then a smile. Hiei didn't know what to say; he felt like he needed to say more, explain himself better, but that smile hadn't asked anything else of him. It was like everything Kurama had just spoken of had been resolved for him. He was at ease again, so much so that he lay back down, moving carefully to avoid jarring his injuries, and closed his eyes with a sigh. Hiei stayed where he was, sitting next to the supine fox, watching him.

They stayed that way, silent, for quite some time. Hiei knew Kurama had not fallen back into sleep, but he seemed content to just lie there with his eyes closed and rest. Normally if Hiei had been sitting on the same bed as Kurama the fox would have been alert and upright, inquisitive as to what Hiei was up to. Normally if Kurama had been resting, Hiei would have either disturbed him until he got up or left. Hiei wondered, again, what had changed.

Finally, Hiei spoke. "Fox."

"Yes, Hiei?"

"Let me see."

Kurama's eyes opened to small, green slits, just enough to look at Hiei. "See?"

"What happened."

Kurama's eyes opened fully. He stiffened; hesitated. "How unlike you to ask for something like that," he finally said, softly. "There's no purpose to it now."

Yes, there is. Hiei held Kurama's eyes resolutely. "Let me see. It needs to be healed."

"You mean you need to heal it."

It was Hiei's turn to stiffen. It took him a minute to form a reply. "I'm no healer."

"Then what are you asking for?" Kurama's tone was not an inquiry, but a challenge.

Hiei couldn't answer. He had never been at such a loss to explain his own actions; all he knew was that it felt right, now, to muddle through these impulses in Kurama's company--and that in and of itself was bizarre. There was no hope of explaining. He just looked at Kurama, and waited for acceptance or rejection.

Kurama's brow creased. He was skilled at interpreting Hiei's silences, but his expression said he didn't quite know what to make of this one. "Is this the final battle?" he asked softly. "I thought we were done fighting--that we would rest tonight. But it seems that we still have one more battle to go, you and I."

"This doesn't have to be a battle," Hiei said, and his voice was strange and fierce to his own ears.

"No, but it will be. Because it's between you and I. We don't know how to do anything else." There was sorrow in his voice.

Once again, Hiei found himself without words. He couldn't even define it to himself, much less to Kurama. He just sat there, looking at Kurama silently, hoping that the fox would be able to figure it out because Hiei sure as hell couldn't.

He did. "You don't want to fight," Kurama said slowly, quietly. "You're really not trying to fight with me."

Hiei shook his head. Kurama studied him a minute longer--trying to figure out how Hiei had changed. It would have been a battle, before. It might still be one--they were both fighters to the core. It was hard to put that aside. But nonetheless, the tension slowly seeped out of Kurama's body, and Hiei realized he had consented a long time before Kurama settled himself back against the pillow and said simply, "Go ahead."

So he wasn't going to help. Hiei supposed that was fair; it was his muddled and confused impulses, not Kurama's, that were causing this interaction. Therefore, it wasn't Kurama's burden to do something about it. Nonetheless, it was intimidating--to reach out and touch the edge of the white shirt, pause, test his reaction. There was none--only watchfulness.

Hiei wished there was some way to do this without touching him.

Kurama had changed after showering into the simple style of shirt and pants he wore under his fighting tunics, without bothering to add a tunic as he knew he would soon be asleep. Both garments were white but not translucent, high and long in the right places, and Kurama looked quite uninjured with their camouflage. The only sign of battle was a small cut, high and far back on the left side of his face--that and the look in his eyes, which could be ignored if chosen, but Hiei did not so choose. He needed to know what had caused it, needed it fixed, and he needed it in a way that was past testing his partner for possible weaknesses that he would have to cover, past shoring up the partnership as a unit of battle. Unnerving as it was, he needed to know for himself.

Kurama's expression was unfathomable as he watched Hiei unbutton his shirt; he lifted himself slightly off the bed to allow for its removal, and lay back down for Hiei to see. The contrast between upper and lower body was now striking. The wound that had nearly eaten the left side of his torso, the hip and lower stomach, demanded the eye's attention first; only the top half of it was visible, but it was still easily the worst. Then there were the numerous holes in his arms, the cut across his collarbone, over the right ribs, center chest--Hiei stopped cataloguing. There were too many, and anyway they weren't the problem--not entirely.

Hiei glanced at Kurama warily before attempting the next step, but Kurama showed no more reaction to the removal of his pants than he had to the removal of his shirt. Nakedness was not normal between them, but it was not unheard of either. Sometimes injuries had to be tended to, bodies straightened and warmed and healed even if their possessors didn't care much for the process. They had both done that before, forced healing on the other at the end of a whip or sword. And it was what Hiei meant to do now, find whatever it was that was shadowing Kurama's eyes and force it out--

Except there was no force in this. Except Kurama was watching him curiously, not offering any hindrance as of yet, and Hiei thought that he had been both right and wrong--because it wasn't a battle, but Hiei didn't know what to do now that it was not. He was, as he had said, no healer. The less complex injuries of the body were one thing; and often a soul could be left to tend itself. But what to do now that body and soul had been wounded together, now that he sensed they had to heal together or would not heal at all?

Or--was the real question, was it Kurama's body and soul that he was attempting to heal by doing this?

Hiei laid a finger over the jagged, shallow gash on the fox's collarbone. Finally, a reaction; Kurama's breathing sped up. Hiei wasn't sure what it meant. Fear and arousal were the obvious contenders, but it could have been anything. Kurama's eyes didn't change; curious, attentive, accepting. Hiei traced the edges of the wound. "This wasn't direct?"


"I didn't see any shrapnel."

"I didn't see the bombs half the time either. I have no doubt they were there nonetheless."

Hiei nodded. His fingers moved, curiously, to a bloodier wound on Kurama's arm--a bomb must have exploded, right here, where his fingers were touching. Kurama's jaw tightened as Hiei traced the wound. Pain. That reaction was much easier to identify, one he was accustomed to. Hiei almost felt like pursuing it, just for the sake of familiarity. But another part of him cringed from the pain in those green eyes--and when had that become painful? When had he acquired empathy?

Hiei moved away from the wound, looking for a way to continue without causing Kurama unnecessary pain, but there were no other shallow wounds like the one on his collarbone. Was this what he'd needed to see so badly--the extend of the damage? But this was only part of it.

He decided not to avoid the worst of it any longer. He placed a hand on the wound low on Kurama's torso and hip, the bloodiest and deepest of them--he touched it very lightly, but Kurama cried out nonetheless. A soft cry, involuntary--it could have almost been the sound a lover made, and Hiei stared at him. Kurama looked up at the ceiling for a moment, controlling himself. "Continue," he said simply.

Hiei stared a second longer. Then he looked back at the wound. He didn't know what good it would do, but he let his hands move over it, very gently probing, discovering the depth and area, mapping the damage. Kurama stiffened and made another slight noise--and again, Hiei thought of a lover--but he did not ask for Hiei to stop.

They both jumped at a sudden banging on the door, not at all polite. "Are you guys alright in there?" Yusuke demanded. "I heard a noise."

The two demons shared a look of exasperation, the moment shattered. "Fine," Kurama called succinctly.

"You sure?" The doorknob resisted a turn, and Hiei spared a moment to be grateful they'd locked it--he couldn't imagine what would happen if Yusuke came in right now. "Why's the door locked?"

"Generally when people lock a door it's because they don't want anyone to come in," Hiei replied with irritation.

"Whatever," Yusuke grumbled from the other side. "Just promise me everything's okay."

"As I said, we're both fine, Yusuke. I don't know what you heard," Kurama lied smoothly. "Go back to sleep."

Yusuke hesitated for a moment; then they heard feet shuffling and felt his energy withdraw. They shared another exasperated look. "He's going to be protective for awhile," Kurama sighed.

"He's always protective."

"Worse than usual, I mean. The boy's only fourteen, after all. He thinks this is his fault, that we all came so close to death."

"Idiot. It was Toguro's fault."

"He'll never see it that way." Kurama's glance sharpened slightly; and somehow, with that infinitesimal gesture, he managed to take in the whole situation they were in, the way Hiei was kneeling over him, fully dressed, and his own nakedness. "We all like to take responsibility for things we didn't cause."

Hiei narrowed his eyes just as slightly in response. "Yes, we do," he said, deliberately tracing another wound.

Kurama smiled languidly. "Touché."

Hiei caught the double entendre--he knew this was a human word meaning "touch," but that it also stood for contact made between fighters. "Touché," he echoed, looking at the bloodstains his fingertips were leaving in their wake, trailing blood from old wounds to new ones.

Hiei glanced back and forth from the wound he was touching, raw and pink and gruesome, and the serene expression on Kurama's face. Such disparity; which was the lie, and which was truth? How could such ugliness and such beauty coexist--surely they couldn't both be true.

Then Hiei seized on something; an anomaly. He stretched to reach the scratch on Kurama's face, high on his left cheek. He touched it, unable to trace the edges because it was so small, so thin; and as he did so, he looked at Kurama inquiringly.

Kurama smiled--a twisted expression. His mouth was amused, but his eyes were dull. "He meant to leave my face unharmed. A tribute to beauty."

"So why didn't he?"

"Oh, he did. That one was mine. Stray rose petal."

Hiei cocked his head. "Nothing of yours is ever stray."

Another smile; this one more genuine, secretive and predatory. "True. I may have done that deliberately. Just for the sake of spite."

Hiei wondered at the mix of health and poison he was seeing now in Kurama's eyes, and which one it was that was overpowering the other. Wondered how deep the poison ran, for Kurama to deliberately injure himself--however small--just to anger someone who wanted to own his body. Wondered why Kurama was showing it to him now--to let it be healed, or if it was some other reason. Wondered why the overpowering need to do something was building in him, slow and steady and too great for him to fight off. He was exhausted, sick of wondering, ready to completely and utterly lose control to whatever it was.

So he leaned forward, and suddenly his face was hovering an inch from Kurama's. He remained there a second or two, unsure what he meant to do, unsure whether he should touch the wound or Kurama's mouth. He had just enough distance to see Kurama's eyes widen. They stayed wide when Hiei pressed his lips against Kurama's--barely a kiss, just a gritty, needy, greedy touch. And his hands, too, fisting in Kurama's hair--greedy, insistent, suddenly impatient. Give it to me. Give it to me, now, all of it, I'm ready--

Fingers dug into his waist, painfully. Hiei wasn't sure if the grip was preparatory to pushing him away or pulling him closer. He suspected Kurama wasn't sure either, because the moment stretched on--Hiei's mouth against Kurama's, not kissing, and Kurama's hands on him, not moving, and both of them lying half-tangled with the other, listening in silence to the demand coursing back and forth between them. Now. Give it to me. Give it to me and I'll give it back, it's time and I'm tired, I'm weary and needy and just give me yourself now, please give it, I can't wait anymore.

Then Kurama kissed him back. Or kissed him, more accurately, since it had not quite been a kiss before. It was barely one now--demanding, like Hiei's touch had been, insistent and impatient and little bloody from where they bit each other's lips. The tension that had been steadily building flowed through them now like they were conducting wires, and there was more blood and a little fumbling, flailing limbs, but neither managed to knock the other aside because even as they fought they clung to each other. They had to fight, but they weren't willing to be separated, not now, not after all the battles. So they kicked and bit and scratched, undignified and unskilled, and all the while they kissed, clinging to each other's shoulders, not daring to let go of what had finally been given.

Eventually the tension seeped through and away from them, and they found themselves lying on their sides genuinely kissing, without blood or teeth to it. Hiei, tired and contented, lazily began cataloguing all the new sensations; the warmth of another body flush against his was strange, disturbing and comforting at once, and the sheets were crumpled and sticky from the wound on Kurama's torso bleeding all over them in the tussle, and his mouth tasted of blood and spice and everything was... as it should be. Somehow.

"Take your clothes off," Kurama muttered, in one of the brief spaces of time when their mouths were separated enough for speech.

Hiei raised an eyebrow at him. "Why?" There was no question of pursuing their intimacy further than this tonight; even if they'd had the energy, Kurama's wounds would not permit it.

Kurama shrugged. "Fair's fair." Then a hint of mischief entered his eyes. "Let me see, Hiei," he said deliberately, echoing Hiei's earlier demand.

Hiei snorted. Without further comment he lifted himself up just far enough to systematically strip, and chucked his clothes into a far corner. Then he lay back down and allowed Kurama to examine his wounds the same way he had been examining Kurama's. He had not been injured nearly as dramatically, either in body or spirit, but he knew Kurama would be feeling the same need to touch, heal, understand, that Hiei had. Fair was fair.

Still, when Kurama leaned over him to touch his arm, gently exploring the wardings with his fingertips, Hiei tentatively put his other arm around Kurama's shoulder and back; a small touch, but it changed things. Suddenly Kurama was not so much leaning over him to examine him as lying against him; gradually, equally tentatively, Kurama ceased supporting his own weight until he was resting against Hiei. Cautiously accepting; cementing the change; confirming it. It was some time before either found the need to speak. "Does this mean we can't fight anymore?" Hiei asked.

Kurama made a small, amused noise. "You think we could stop even if we wanted to? No, we're still allowed to fight."

Reassured--for he would have hated to be unable to fight with Kurama--Hiei went on to ask, "So, do you know what happens after this?"

"Not a clue," Kurama admittedly cheerfully. "But really, do you care?"

It was Hiei's turn for a small noise of amusement. "No, not really." They both knew it would be alright--now that it had been seen, and understood, and accepted. The rest would sort itself out.

It wasn't long after that final acknowledgement that they fell asleep; and satisfied that things were well with each other, they were both able to sleep deeply this time, limp and motionless but for the breath stirring each other's hair. There would be another battle tomorrow, and the day after that, always--but for tonight, the battles were finally done.