This kinda came out of nowhere. I was just sitting at work, doing monotonous inventory, and just sort of talked my way through the first third of the story. It wrote itself from there. Since I'm kinda proud of how well it came out, and I haven't posted in almost forever, I thought "what the hell?" Enjoy!


PS. This update is to fix all the little spelling errors and other things that have been annoying the crap out of me since I posted it. It is not a rewrite, nor is there new material added. Since I've spend so much time fussing with it, I have started writing the sequel everyone wants so badly, but it's still only a half-formed set of arguments in my mind, so it will be a while yet. Thank you for your patience.

"Come here to gloat?"

"I came to get you out."

Hiei's snort said exactly what he thought of that and the one who said it. Kurama didn't blame him. After all, he was the one on the other side of the bars, free to walk away at any moment he chose. He was also the one who had helped put Hiei behind those bars, which was as good as putting him there personally.

"Who said I need your help?" There was scalding sarcasm poured into the 'your help,' but Kurama paid no attention to it. Rather, he made a great show of slowly looking over the wards that had been placed around the cell. Plastered would have been a better term. Not a single square inch of space, not on the walls, not on the ceiling, not even on the bars themselves, was left bare. A ward of some size, some strength, some measure was attached wherever there had been room. He suspected that if Hiei had actually possessed the ability to levitate or perhaps fly, instead of using celerity to appear as if he was, the floor would be covered in talismans too. It was rather surprising Hiei could even breathe with all the restriction.

He let his gaze linger on every ward because he knew Hiei was watching him now, trying to figure out how sincere his words were, why he could possibly offer them, and what the cost would be to accept them. Kurama remained quiet while the fire demon came to whatever conclusions he was going to, only meeting his gaze again when Hiei said, "I'm going to kill you first."

It was as much an empty threat as it was a promise; a bait to get more information so that a decision could be made. The fox spirit smiled inwardly. Hiei could be so intelligent, quick and precise in his reasoning, so thoughtful to the outcome of a situation—when he let himself be. Kurama hadn't decided yet whether this was because Hiei was simply young and lacked the experience, or rather if it was a side effect of being a Koorime Imouko. Outwardly, his face remained neutral. "That would be your right," he said softly. When Hiei's eyes widened just a bit, he knew the implications had thrown off whatever balance the fire demon was keeping.

Defecting was one thing, betrayal another. If it had only been the first, it might never have come to this. Hiei would have eventually come to take that which Kurama had walked away with. Blood would have been involved, but when they parted again, the score would be even and they would be free of each other. By defecting and then betraying, nothing short of death could free either of them from the other now. Kurama would spend his life constantly watching, waiting, anticipating when and where Hiei would strike and Hiei would spend his life calculating what would cause the most pain, how intense and lasting he'd make it and forever watching for Kurama's preemptive attack.

All consequences Kurama had accepted when he'd made his decision. And now, Hiei knew that, too. He eyed the fox spirit warily. "Why?"

"That's a loaded question. Which do you want me to answer first?"

"All of them," Hiei snapped. "Why are you here?"

"I told you. I'm here to get you out." Kurama shrugged. "Unless, of course, you'd prefer to stay here."

"And I said I'd kill you."

"And I said that was your right. Should I have brought a transcriptionist? Though I suppose if our conversation continues like this, there wouldn't be much need."

Hiei was glaring hard enough a couple of the wards started to activate. "I meant it."

"As did I."

They lapsed into silence again. Hiei's mind was working feverishly, forming, accepting or dismissing ideas at a rate that left Kurama a little green with envy. On-the-spot calculations, such as what Hiei was engaged in, were not his forte. He disliked them to the point that myriads of alternative plans were made during the initial planning stage. To what most saw as a split-second turn around to a given situation was merely a switch to a pre-planned course of action. He could see the long standing implications better when at a healthy distance from them. As was proven by the fact that he now stood in the Reikai dungeon, arguing with Hiei.

"You never answered the question," the other demon finally said. "Why are you here? What reason could you possibly have to want to free me, knowing I'm going to kill you and you were going to die?"

Kurama almost smothered his smile. Almost. "You're my partner."

"Damn it, fox, stop playing mind games with me! You turned your back on me. You helped my enemy. You are the reason I'm currently bound and suffocating in this cell. The least you can do is stop the clever manipulation and give me a straight answer!"

"I am giving you a straight answer. I'm here because I'm your partner. And while I'm not going to dress up or defend what I've done, my actions have all been in deference to you."

Hiei snorted again. "You expect me to believe that?"

"You have no other option. You've already gone through all the possibilities, calculated the risks and gains, yet still nothing presents itself as a plausible answer. Therefore, the only answer left is the one I provide."

"You don't know what the hell I think." It was defiant, but weak.

"What would I gain by lying to you now?"

"Another nail to hammer into my coffin?"

Kurama refused to sigh. "I gain nothing. You know as well as I that Koenma would just as well assume to forget you're down here. By getting you released, I'm putting my life as well as the lives of the ones I cherish in your hands. What is the gain in that?"

"A swift death."

"Any death you bring me will be lingering and painful and we both know it." This time, Kurama allowed himself the sigh. "I know my words have little meaning to you right now, but what I say is the truth. I walked away because you cannot accept what I've done and I helped your enemy because it kept you alive."

New connections and possibilities were swimming in Hiei's eyes. "What do you mean, 'I cannot accept what you've done?'"

Now it was time for Kurama to wear the irritated look. "You know full well why the Ankoku Mirror was my choice. I even flatter you by saying you knew what my intent was all along, that it influenced your decision to ask me in the first place."

"How could I not have known?" Hiei asked venomously. "All you did for months was bemoan—"

"STOP!" Kurama snarled, his anger making his energy spike and the wards around them activate. "See? Even now, you cannot accept my feelings, not even when I courted death for her, willing to give up my life for her lifetime of happiness. Why does Yukina, a person you've never known, never plan on sharing your life with, mean so much more than Shiori, a woman who has already given up her child to save a monster and continues to love and cherish that monster with all her heart? Because she is human? You cannot accept, so I took the chance for acceptance away from you. I walked away."

Hiei's eyes were wide in surprise, though what his surprise was over was anyone's guess. Kurama took a deep breath and closed his eyes, struggling to regain his composure. It was still a wound too new, a hope too fragile, despite what he knew about the Ankoku Mirror's magic. Anger was too costly right now; he needed to remain as even as he could. When he felt calm and collected again, he returned his gaze to Hiei, who was now watching him quietly.

"And me still being alive?" he asked, as though nothing else had happened.

With a silent 'thank you,' Kurama responded, "What did you expect to happen if you killed Yusuke?"

"To continue with the plan: make as many servants as possible and then—"

"—find yourself surrounded by Hunters, and then in a shallow grave, if indeed there was enough left of you to bury."

"You don't know that."

"Yes, in fact, I do. You know killing a human is an instantaneous death sentence. Even without Enma-Daioh's explicit instruction, they would track you down and no number of zombie servants would have stopped them."

"If I had actually stabbed him, which was rather the intent of that thrust," Hiei countered, "then he would have turned just like all the others."

Kurama shook his head. "What you intended to do and what you would have done are two different things. While you may have intended to subjugate him like all the others, the blow I took was only one of many had you been allowed to continue. I don't doubt for a second that you would have hacked him apart before realizing what you'd done. Your anger tends to blind you like that.

"But let's suppose for a moment," he continued on, "that you show the restraint and didn't kill Yusuke. The Hunters are still the next level of defense. You've bought yourself two or three days of freedom, which is more than enough time for you to demonize the majority of Tokyo. You'll still be sentenced to death for monopolizing nearly a million human lives." He cocked his head to the side. "Besides me, have you ever heard of another who survived being a Hunter's target?" Kurama let the silence linger to prove his point.

"Suppose you're right," Hiei said slowly. "That everything you predicted came to pass and you did save my life—and I'm not saying you did—why would you do that for me? And how would I be able to trust you again?"

The fox spirit smiled. "I have done this, and will do it again, for you because you are my partner. You haven't run away, you haven't died, and you haven't tried using my reputation to enhance your own. In fact, you're the only one, partner or not, who has never tried to compare me to my legend. Instead, you've taken me at face value, with what you've learned by fighting with me, against me, and the conversations we've had in the mean time. This is precious to me and I will do what I must to protect it.

"And if you do choose to believe that I have done these things for you, then your trust in me should only be reaffirmed, for now you know the lengths I will go to in order to protect you, even if it must be from yourself."

He could almost see the acceptance in Hiei and forcefully denied himself any show of relief. An emotional plea was always a risky thing, but doubly so when he was trying to use it to reach one who had closed himself off to all but one outlet. Kurama had already thrown that card in his fit of anger; it would be useless to try and use it again. Truth be told, he hated bringing Yukina up at all, but sometimes the only way one got Hiei's undivided attention was to slap him in the face.

They continued to regard each other quietly for some time. And though he had ensured that no one would miss him in the human world for quite a while, Kurama was growing tired of the oppressive dungeon air and becoming slightly nauseous from pain. He had very purposefully chosen to stand during this meeting, despite how the stomach wound continued to pain him. Of course there were going to be side effects from a demonizing sword being used against an all too human body that housed a demon soul. He had not anticipated, however, that those side effects would manifest as an inability to be healed through energy or plant manipulation. Human medicine was his only recourse. Both injuries had been sutured closed, his hand by a doctor when he had not been fast enough to hide it from his mother, and his stomach on his own. He had told everyone that his hand was a kitchen accident. A perfectly acceptable excuse given the ups and down in his life right then. But there was no adequate excuse to be given for the gash that made it look like he had tried to commit ritual suicide.

For now, he was lucky. Shiori was still in the hospital, regaining strength, and the medication given for one injury worked on both. No clever little lies were needed for his continued disappearances and the abundant amount of bloody gauze in the trash. But he purposefully restricted the amount of painkillers he took and had not taken any today so as to have a clear head during his talk with Hiei. As beautiful as hydrocodone and several hours of mind-numbing sleep were beginning to sound, Hiei would notice. Any appearance other than strong, healthy, and unaffected would be fatal. So he remained standing, his bandaged hand in his pocket, ignoring the signs his body was giving him to sit down and rest.

Something must have shown through, because Hiei's eyes narrowed again and he actually took a step back. "You're manipulating me," he said coldly.

Kurama grit his teeth, trying to steel himself and only partially succeeding. "Would you feel better if I said yes?"


Whatever Hiei said next was lost as the world tilted unhealthily on its side before darkness washed over Kurama's senses. He pushed himself back—the hallway wall was only a few inches behind him. That was why he was standing there after all, in case he needed to catch himself. But the wall was too cold against his back and his shirt was sticking uncomfortably to his skin. Without realizing it, he had begun to sweat, a sure sign he had a fever that was becoming dangerously high. He bent in half, bracing his hands against his knees in an effort to relieve both the sharp pain in his abdomen as well as clear his head.

Slowly, the darkness receded and Kurama opened his eyes (not remembering when he'd closed them) to see Hiei hovering as close to the bars of his cell as the wards would allow. Though his hands were still in his pockets, the other demon was leaning forward, eyes slightly widened and unguarded. Kurama couldn't help but smile. Hiei immediately went back on guard, rocking back on his heels.

"Sit," he commanded. The fox spirit debated for a moment whether to try refusing, but he had started to shake from the strain of remaining upright. Besides, his illusion of strength had shattered. Other than making himself sick and passing out, he would gain nothing. So he gave it up entirely, biting his lip and wrapping his arms around his stomach as he gradually let gravity bring him to the floor.

It seemed like a very long time between the moment he actually reached the floor and the moment the vertigo and nausea abated long enough for him to relax. It was only when he was sure the room had stopped spinning and that he wasn't going to lose what little breakfast he had eaten that Kurama once again looked to Hiei. The fire demon had started leaning forward again, but only the barest thread of concern was showing through his eyes.

"Trying to guilt me into something now?" The words lacked conviction, as they always did when Hiei was trying to show indifference, but was really interested in the answer.

Happy with the change, Kurama smiled, stretching out slightly. "Trust must start somewhere."

He was eyed warily. "Are those…"

"An unfortunate consequence of my current status. Neither should leave much of a scar, but it will be at least two months before the stitches come out."

"Bastards," Hiei spat. "They didn't want to, but they still gave me something for my injuries."

"They tried. So far, they've responded to nothing but the most basic of care. These wounds will simply heal at their own rate, and I will endure the discomfort and inconvenience until they do."

Hiei pinned him with another glare. "Why are you doing this? Showing me your weakness…"

Kurama laughed softly, wincing but unable to help himself. "Truthfully, I never intended to reveal how injured I still am. I was hoping to present a strong front that you could find little wrong with and from there, convince you of my sincerity. This is merely yet another thing I have sorely overlooked in the past week. It's become a trend with you." Hiei snorted, but it didn't have the scorn. "But as I said, trust must start somewhere. If you think I'm manipulating you, which I'm not trying to do, then the trust must start on my end.

"I have given you my name, the location of my home, access to that home and the life I hold there. I have shown you my weakness, the limit of my current ability and the limits I will go to in order to protect what is valuable to me. You have more than enough information to utterly destroy me in any fashion you choose." He paused, waiting until their gazes held before continuing. "I trust you not to use that information against me. I trust you to watch my back and keep me safe when I can't do it alone. I trust you as I have trusted few others. Tell me, what else must I do to prove this to you?"

The unguarded look had returned. Hiei must not have been able to repress it, for he looked away sharply. "Hn. You trust too much. You barely know me."

"Perhaps," Kurama agreed softly, also looking away. "But I have lived long enough to know what I can work with, what I can work around, and what will simply get in my way. We might not exactly be litter mates, but you have all the qualities I find important and few of the ones I find annoying, the most important being your honour." He sighed. "And even if I'm wrong, I still thank you for these past few years of companionship. Your presence has been rather refreshing and I have enjoyed the experience immensely."

He knew Hiei was regarding him again, but Kurama didn't look back. He was more concerned about stifling the lethargy that was beginning to creep through his body. He couldn't tell if the damp feeling under the bandages was a result of the fever or a tear in the stitches.

"…So was it Koenma's intent to have you come down here and bleed all over the place until I agreed to whatever terms they're offering?"

It hurt like hell, but Kurama still laughed. Definitely a tear, then. "Does that mean you're ready to hear them?"

"No, but you're going to pass out from anemia or your fever first." With a sound that resembled a sigh, Hiei sat down on the floor with his legs half crossed and leaned against his knee. It was a variation of the pose he always took while resting in the window. Kurama smiled at the gesture and the unspoken meaning behind it.

"They want us to help him."

"They want us to what?" Hiei blinked. "Why is there an 'us' in that statement?"

"We are to serve our parole defending the Ningenkai. We are to accomplish this by making sure Yusuke completes his missions successfully. There is an 'us' because my word means less to Koenma that it does to you."

"So they'll punish you too if I do something they don't like. Tell me that wasn't your move."

"The convenient lie is no. The inconvenient truth, however, it that it was only a passing comment until I turned it into the situation before us."

"They were going to give you a separate trial and you refused?!"

"There was no trial. Gouki was dead, you were unconscious. While I was in neither category, I was far from being considered competent. I don't think I was intended to hear the remark, but Koenma was complaining rather loudly how he wished he could just try us all at once and be done with it before Enma-Daioh returned. I then suggested that a trial was unnecessary."

"And he bought that?"

"I didn't give him much of a choice, playing on his fear of being caught as I was. I told him that really, the only thing either of us was truly guilty of was breaking and entering and theft. You never actually killed anyone and all the humans you subjugated returned to normal with no lasting repercussions, so there was no evidence you'd done anything in the first place. The only thing you were culpable for was the planning of and participation in the break-in. And since you were acting as a guard while I worked the locks and Gouki took out the security force, your crime was actually much less than mine."

A twitch of a smile touched Hiei's face. "Nice…"

Kurama returned the smile. "I merely pointed out the loophole. Koenma was the one who dived through it. It was completely his idea, however, that we serve together and protect the human world with his spirit detective."

"That means I'm going be stuck in that realm for a while, doesn't it?" It wasn't really a question, so Kurama didn't respond. He instead closed his eyes and rested his head back against the wall. It was starting to become unbearably cold now and he could feel little shivers crawling across his skin. He was beginning to seriously doubt whether or not he could get back to his feet at this point.

"Kurama." There was a warning in the tone, but that wasn't what made the fox spirit straighten and take notice. Hiei almost never used his name. The same warning was on Hiei's face, but Kurama couldn't seem to puzzle out what it was for. It wasn't until the fire demon was apparently satisfied that he was awake and attentive that he continued. "Was it Koenma's idea to have you be the one bearing the offer?" he asked quietly.

Kurama frowned. He was missing something. "It was a matter of convenience. He doesn't want to see you. I do." It wasn't until Hiei's face started to close off that Kurama realized what the warning and the question had really been asking. "Hiei, I've told you twice now why I've come here. I will say it once more. I have come to get you out. Koenma's offer is the easiest and fastest way to that end, but I'm not leaving until you're free."

The disdain was back as Hiei surged to his feet. For the first time, he turned his back to the only one who had visited since he'd awoken in the cell. Kurama stared at him until it became apparent Hiei had dismissed him. Then he growled.

It almost didn't happen, but somehow Kurama got, and kept, his feet under him. While he rested before trying to walk, he unbandaged his hand and flexed it until the wound began to seep. Covering both hands in his blood, he walked over to the bars and began carefully, one at a time, pulling the talismans off. Even though his youki was terribly low, the wards sent an angry, crackling energy over his skin, trying to fend him off like ants swarming to protect the nest. The presence of human blood and his demonic aura confused the spells that were guarding, but only enough to allow Kurama to pick at them. They still burnt and numbed his hands, draining what energy he had left, making it hard to focus. The fox persisted; it didn't matter since he wasn't trying to undo, merely loosen the constraint. Not only were there too many levels to break through, but breaking even the smallest, lightest one would bring security down on their heads. So he moved them, little by little, cautious not disrupt the patterns they had been arranged in too much.

When the opening was big enough, he tested the metal; it was weak. Mostly likely due to years of strain suffered by holding up so much focused energy. He jammed his shoulder and knee between two bars and twisted. It didn't give easily, but the metal slowly bent under Kurama's force. All of his stitches had now torn in one way or another, leaving the air heavy with the scent of blood and scorched flesh. He hissed as he pressed himself in further, giving one last push at the bars before finally meeting Hiei's surprised gaze and offering his gory, blistered hand to the other. It was the same hand Kurama had purposefully cut to throw blood into Hiei's face, blinding the jagan and giving Yusuke the edge. Now it was swollen, angry red lines criss-crossing the skin that bled and bubbled, offering freedom and trust. Kurama wore the same look of conviction and determination.

"I have come to free you, even if it means I must crawl in there and drag you out by force."

It took all of three seconds before the surprise gave way to something much more akin to satisfaction. On anyone else, it might have been an expression of gratitude or happiness, but not on Hiei. With a smirk, he bit down on his own hand until he, too, was bleeding freely. "Stupid fox," he said, gripping the offered hand tightly.

Kurama neither winced nor made any other indication he felt any pain at the strong way his hand was being held. He simply held Hiei's gaze and replied, in all seriousness, "Yes, I am."

Grips never slackening, gazes never straying from the other, Kurama guided Hiei through the weakened wards and past the bars. Their hands only released once they were both standing on the same side—the outside.

While Hiei took a moment to enjoy his new freedom, flaring his youki with an almost manic smile, Kurama leaned against the wall, trying to scrape together the last vestiges of his strength. The fire demon had yet to actually voice his intentions. Kurama refused to underestimate the situation again, even if he was doubtful Hiei would break a blood bond. So he was justifiably surprised when Hiei pulled him away from the wall, picked him up, and began walking to the stairs that lead out of the dungeon.

"Relax," he growled softly when Kurama remained tense. "You aren't going to make it up the stairs in your condition. While the healers fix whatever you've done to yourself, I'll tell Koenma I accept. Then you're going to stay put until those things heal properly, even if it means I have to sit on top of you."

It was awkward considering Kurama was a full head taller than Hiei, but the fire demon never once dropped him during the long climb. Kurama wrapped his arms around Hiei's neck and relaxed. As weird as the situation had turned out to be, it felt good to be held. Somehow, the warmth Hiei radiated was helping with the pain. He couldn't remember the last time he hurt this much. Between the pain, the fatigue, and the worry, it was almost more than he could bear. Kurama grit his teeth and clamped his eyes shut, burying his face in the space between his arm and Hiei's neck. He tried to keep his breathing in check, but a small, shuddering sigh still managed to escape. If Hiei noticed that, or the dampness on his neck, the demon kept it to himself, his only reaction being a shift to a more secure grip about half-way up.

When they reached the administrative level, Kurama was glad his face was obscured. Now that his moment of true weakness had passed, he was slightly embarrassed to have hurt himself so badly that he needed to be carried. It was all vanity, and he was tempted to tell Hiei to put him down, but he found he really didn't have the will to argue about it. He didn't even have the energy to laugh or chide when Hiei started barking commands for healers and Koenma, both of which came rather quickly with a large number of guards when Hiei's youki flared in annoyance.

He had to stifle a whimper when Hiei finally set him down to let the healers deal with whatever damage the wards had inflicted. He had to check his hands when Hiei stepped away to argue terms with Koenma so that he didn't cling. It was an odd feeling, being almost completely detached from the things going on around him but being so very aware of exactly where Hiei was and what he was doing. He couldn't hear what Koenma was saying, or what the fire demon's reply was, even though they were only a few feet away. Yet he knew the moment Hiei's eyes landed on him, checking on the progress being made and ensuring the fox spirit was still there. Blood bonds were known to cause some strange side effects, especially considering how different the various youkai tribes were from each other, but it still didn't really explain such a sharp awareness of the other.

There was still quite a bit of pain when the healers finished, but there was nothing to be done about it. Any damage around the sword wounds refused to be healed, which meant the new stitches were sewn through blistered skin. The majority of the swelling had gone down and the skin along the rest of his body was no longer carrying the angry red marks of the wards. His energy had been drained horribly, but like the pain, only time would make it better. He still felt dizzy and sick, but at least he could stand on his own again. Koenma issued a sharp command to stay out of trouble and they both walked out of the Reikai without a backwards glance.


The sun was half set by the time Kurama began numbly fumbling with his keys. The extra damage to his hand made handling objects even more difficult and his exhaustion was pretty evident. They had had to stop three times for him to regain some strength once they'd returned to the Ningenkai. Neither he nor Hiei had said anything since leaving the Reikai dungeon, the fire demon simply following along beside him. Now that they were finally back at Kurama's house, the fox spirit had probably expected Hiei to disappear. Instead, Hiei took the keys out of his hand and unlocked the door for him.

"Go find whatever the human healers are giving you, take it, and go to bed," he said. "I'm going to scout the area first. Leave the window open; this won't take long."

Kurama nodded mutely. Hiei watched him fumble with his shoes for a moment before deciding it was okay to leave. He closed the front door behind him, locking it again with the keys he still held before flitting to the rooftop. The fox spirit had laid an ingenuous web of traps to keep errant youkai away from his home; traps Hiei had been caught in no less than three times before Kurama had shown him how to detect them. The energy signature was so minute it was easy to miss if one didn't know what to look for. There were two levels, a periphery that activated the traps and then the traps themselves. Hiei skirted along both, making minor adjustments and additions as he went. Kurama's network was good. However, if Hiei was going to be spending a great deal of time there from now on, he wanted his own precautions in place.

Satisfied at the new arrangements, he made a third run, noting all the presences that could prove threatening. There was nothing the traps couldn't handle, but with Kurama's energy so low, there was no point in taking chances. Right now the fox spirit was a hindrance, not a help. He accepted that; it was his fault, after all, for making Kurama push harder than his body could really allow to prove his sincerity. He still didn't understand what made him so trustworthy in the other demon's eyes, but no one had ever really trusted him before. And though he'd deny it to his dying breath, he wanted to be worth that trust.

The window was open to Kurama's room, but there was no other sign that he'd been in the room. Hiei checked the whole house. It was hard to tell old energy paths from new ones and the smell of Kurama's blood had permeated the air. His stomach clenched as an unusual wash of anxiety thrilled through him. He remembered having a similar feeling when Kurama had stepped between him and Yusuke (was that the brat's name?) and he hadn't been fast enough to avoid plunging the sword into Kurama's stomach. Had his check not been thorough enough? Had something gotten through? Been waiting for the fox's return? With a growl, he pushed the unwanted questions aside and took back to the rooftops.

It took a few heart-stopping minutes, even with the jagan, to locate the faint, but unique energy that was Kurama. It was moving rapidly away, though not fast enough that Hiei would have a hard time catching up. But if another demon had really captured Kurama, why were they headed into the city? Then another thought struck him and he growled in disgust. As tempting as it was to just leave at that point, Hiei followed, easily beating Kurama to his destination and with enough time to figure out exactly what words he wanted to use to tell the damn fox to go to hell.

The words failed him when Kurama stumbled out of the train station and nearly went head first down a very long flight of stairs. He steadied the shaking form, allowing Kurama to lean against him until they had made it to a place where the fox spirit could sit. Even in the obnoxious florescent light of the city, Kurama was too pale, skin shining from a thin layer of sweat. His breath was ragged and his eyes were starting to unfocus. Hiei waited until Kurama had calmed before starting on his tirade.

"Damn it, fox, are you trying to kill yourself?"

"My mother—"

"—is fine. You got your wish out of the Mirror."

Kurama just shook his head. "I said I'd visit at six. It's already a quarter to seven. She'll worry…" Hiei just snorted and Kurama glared at him. "This is why I left without you. You still don't accept my feeling for her."

Hiei bit back his reply, settling for returning Kurama's glare. They stared angrily at each other for a while before Hiei sighed and held out his hand. "Come on."

"I'm not going home," Kurama replied defiantly.

"Did I say anything about taking you home?" the fire demon snapped impatiently. "You're going to do whatever the hell you want anyway. I can't just let you go alone. Maybe if you see that she is fine, you'll stay the fuck still for a while."

It was a rare moment when someone caught Kurama off guard, when the layers lifted from his eyes and he stopped calculating, when the human youth balanced out the demon reserve. In that moment, some would have considered Kurama beautiful. They would have been fools because the smile that appeared next made everything else pale in comparison. Hiei looked away before his thoughts ran away, hoping the blush that was crawling up his neck stayed under the scarf. When Kurama's hand touched his, he instinctively grabbed and pulled. Kurama took an extra step, arms circling Hiei's shoulders the way they had when the fire demon had carried him out of the Reikai dungeon. At first, Hiei though he had just pulled too hard and needed to steady the fox spirit. It wasn't until Kurama whispered "thank you" that he realized he was being hugged.

Kurama let go as soon as the words were said. Hiei snorted and turned completely. With a hand on his shoulder to keep steady, they started walking through the evening crowd. It was a pain, walking so slowly, with so many people around and no hint of a direction. Hiei felt exposed, and small. It brought to the surface every instinct he had to protect himself, the desire kill all the people around him and run away to safer location. He suddenly found himself wishing that he had killed Koenma's spirit detective. Facing the Hunters would have been a lot less unsettling. The only thing that kept the near hysteria in check was Kurama's hand, which squeezed his shoulder intermittently. With that one hand, Kurama guided him through the less populated side streets, gently turning him in the directions they needed to go. It tightened when Hiei stiffened, relaxing again only when Hiei relaxed. It briefly crossed his mind that this was the true reason behind the hand resting on his shoulder, but said nothing of it.

They arrived at the hospital with no incidents. Before Kurama could suggest going in alone, Hiei walked to the doors. If anything, it was more unnerving to be in the building than on the street. The white of everything only made him more conspicuous, and there was less space to move in even if there were fewer people. He had a powerful desire to retch at the smell of antiseptics and made a firm mental note to never complain about the herbal remedies Kurama subjected him to. How healing could be done in such a place was beyond him, but most human tendencies were. In fact, the only real issue that presented itself was how to get to the third floor. Kurama tried to simply take the stairs, but Hiei wouldn't let him climb them. Conversely, Hiei wasn't ready to step into the sliding metal coffin everyone called an elevator, no matter how short the trip might have been. Declaring it a test of trust, Kurama pushed Hiei into the stairwell and took the elevator himself. Hiei then promised himself to complain as loudly as he could about Kurama's healing methods. Maybe then the fox spirit wouldn't look so damn smug.

When Kurama stepped off the elevator, it was like nothing had happened. Other than his skin being slightly paler than normal, there was no outward sign that anything was wrong. He walked with his normal fluid grace, eyes clear and focused, without hesitation or reservation. Even knowing that it was all an illusion, Hiei was having a hard time believing that anything had been wrong in the first place. He sighed inwardly and followed Kurama down the hall, where they were greeted by a few of the others on the floor before arriving at Shiori's door.

"You have fifteen minutes, fox," he said, stuffing his hands in his pockets and leaning against the wall. Kurama looked ready to protest again, but smiled and entered instead.

It was boring listening to them talk, the mundane comments about the weather and school and how Shiori was feeling and how it must be such a bother coming all the way here at night and how it was no trouble at all and was there anything she needed? Hiei couldn't help but sneer at the easy way Kurama lied to the woman he supposedly cared so much about. He flinched, though, when Kurama's words came back to him

Why does Yukina mean so much more than Shiori?

Because Yukina will never know, he thought. We will never have these meaningless conversations. I will be dead to her and she will be safe and that's all that matters.

He looked up as one of the people who had greeted them earlier approached. "Excuse me, Minamino-san, may we borrow your son? The doctor wanted to look over his stitches before visiting hours are over."

Despite being out in the hallway, Hiei could hear Kurama blanch at the thought of explaining the sorry state of his hand to a human healer. There were a handful of weak and rather pitiful attempts to get out of it, but a stern command from Shiori sealed the fox's fate. Hiei wanted to laugh, but settled for smirking instead. Kurama threw an ugly look his way as he left, which only made the fire demon start to chuckle.

Everything settled once more, and then, "Um…excuse me? I know you're out in the hall. May I…may I talk to you for a moment? Before Shuichi comes back?"

Hiei considered ignoring the request, but found himself stepping through the doorway anyway. It was the first time he'd actually seen the woman Kurama called mother. It was obvious that the fox's human form had been mostly derived from her. The way her face was rounded, the way her hair fell, her slight build, delicate looking hands, her expressive gray-green eyes, all of it reminded him of Kurama in one way or another. The only striking differences were that she was obviously female and her hair was jet black. It was also apparent that she'd been sick for a while. She waited quietly while he looked her over, smiling softly. When his eyes met hers again, she took it as a sign to speak.

"I want to thank you, for being my son's friend. I know this is our first face-to-face meeting, but I know you two have been together for a while now, and I want you to know that our home is always open to you, should you need anything.

"Anou…I know this might be a bit forward, but could…would you please watch over him?" She smiled sadly at her hands. "I know he keeps things from me, secrets that he feels he can't share for one reason or another, but I also know how much that hurts him. He's been so lonely and I can't help but feel like it's my fault. So please, may I ask this of you? To be someone he can turn to, someone he can share his secrets with? Will you please take care of him when I can't?"

"He doesn't need to be taken care of," Hiei replied. "He's very good about getting himself out of any trouble that comes his way. You worry too much."

Shiori just stared at him. Then she smiled, which took Hiei completely off guard. "Maybe you're right. But I'm his mother. It's my job to worry about whether or not he's eating right or sleeping enough or to nag him about his homework or laundry or staying out late. But…" she sighed. "But he doesn't do any of those things. He's always been this little self-sufficient person, never asking for anything, never making any sort of selfish demand. He brings home perfect grades, keeps the house immaculate, cooks dinner…comes to the hospital even when he's not feeling well—things I should be doing for him. I know it's been hard since his father died, but I feel like I took away his childhood by not being there."

"You're wrong." Hiei turned toward the door. "You've given him everything he's ever wanted. All the things he does is to say thank you. Thank you for your love. Thank you for your acceptance. Everything." He glanced back over his shoulder. "And since I'm already his partner, there's no point in making a separate promise to you for the same thing."

The smile Shiori gave him was almost as beautiful as the one Kurama had given him outside the train station. "Now I realize why my little Shuichi likes you so much. You understand him so well. Thank you, Hiei." She bowed.

Before embarrassment and the sappy emotions running through the room could make him sick, Kurama returned. The fox spirit look confused as to why Hiei was inside, but Shiori commanded his attention before anything more than a look was passed. Hiei made his way back out into the hall to wait until Kurama was finished. With a parting nod to Shiori, they slowly made their way out of the hospital. As soon as they hit the street, Hiei pulled Kurama to a deserted area. For the second time that day, he picked the fox spirit up and carried him, snarling that he would be damned if he would let Kurama out of his sight again because who knew where the stupid fox would end up if left alone.

When they got back to the house, he forced Kurama to sit on the bed while he checked over the bandages. Then he forced Kurama to take whatever medications he was supposed to take and lay down. He then rechecked the house, making sure everything was locked down, and made a sweep around the area again. This time when he returned, he was greeted by one very drugged out fox spirit.

"Hydrocodone does that," Kurama explained, showing off one of the bottles he had on the nightstand. "I don't really think it's much of a pain killer, though. All it does is make you so high that you don't care about the pain anymore." He curled up with a soft moan. "And dizzy. Makes you really dizzy."

"Idiot. Go to sleep if you don't like it."

There was a soft sigh as Kurama rolled onto his back. "I don't like sleeping under it, even though that's half the point. It feels like…" He turned all the way over. "It feels like I'm losing my body again…" he finished softly.

Hiei thought about that for a moment before he moved from his spot on the window sill. Hesitantly, he sat on the edge of the bed and placed a hand on Kurama's shaking shoulder. "You're not dying," he said just as softly. "You're sick and injured, yes, but you're far from death. And I will make sure nothing else happens to you." Kurama didn't move, but his other hand came up to lightly touch the one on his shoulder. Relieved that he wasn't going to have to deal with another breakdown that night, Hiei decided it was time to ask the question that had been plaguing him since their visit to the hospital.

"How did your mother know my name?"

"How did you know I got my wish from the Mirror?" Kurama countered.

"Don't answer a question with a question, fox," Hiei growled. "She knew I came here and what my name was. How the hell did she know?"

Kurama half rolled back to look at the fire demon. "She does have quite a bit of spiritual awareness. She had too, otherwise she couldn't have carried my soul, regardless of how diminished it was, to full term. She doesn't know how to use it, and she laughs is off as woman's intuition, but it's there.

"After the first couple of months that you started coming here, she cornered me about it, the strange warmth she could feel throughout the house, but in my room especially. I told her I had a very shy friend who sometimes stayed with me. She immediately insisted upon being introduced to you and yelled at me for a good half hour about how mean I was to make you climb the tree to get into my room. The only way I could pacify her was to tell her your name. In exchange, she would never enter this room while you were here." He shuddered slightly, taking several deep breaths before looking at Hiei again. "Now answer my question. How did you know I got my wish from the Ankoku Mirror?"

The fire demon shrugged. "Why else would the Detective have it? You wouldn't hand it over to me when you turned traitor, which means that until it had served its purpose, you weren't going to give it up." He blinked when he saw Kurama pouting. "What the—"

"Well that wasn't very fair. My answer was more involved. I get to ask another one."

Hiei sighed, rolling his eyes. "I thought this stuff was supposed to put you to sleep," he grumbled.

"It's getting there," Kurama insisted. "Deal with it. I get one more question." The fire demon snorted and was gifted with another smile for the effort. "You were surprised when I yelled at you earlier. Was it that I compared my mother to Yukina, or that I was willing to give up my life for her?" A pause. "Or am I completely off the mark?"

Hiei hesitated, looking back toward the window and wondering why in the nine hells he had thought it was a good idea to move from that space. The easy thing to do would be to lie. Ignoring the question was right out because Kurama probably wouldn't let the subject drop until he got a satisfactory answer. Did he even know what had startled him so much about the outburst in the first place?

The raw emotion. That was what had shocked him. Hearing the tears and frustration nearly crack the voice that had always been so calm, so cool. Seeing anger overwhelm the carefully closed off countenance, turning him wild and aggressive. The pain… It had hurt that Kurama would risk his life not once but twice for humans who could never appreciate the savage beauty that raged before him in that moment, who would never understand the kinds of blood soaked thoughts and machinations that made up a youkai's existence.

He'd never said it out loud, had admitted it only once to himself after their initial meeting, that Kurama might be the only who could understand him. What it meant to be an outsider among your own kind. What it meant to be hated and feared. A demon soul in a human body—was there any better definition for a half-breed? Since he could remember, there had only been one drive; revenge. He'd had it, and it had been as bitter and unfulfilling as everyone had ever told him it would be. In the end, he had walked away with another purpose; Yukina. Never once had it occurred to him that anyone could possibly understand what he was going through…until he met Kurama.

Kurama, who had offered aid to an idiot without demand of compensation.

Kurama, who had synced with him in a moment of desperation in a way Hiei had never thought two individuals possibly could.

Kurama, who kept his silences and spoke the things he thought as if he knew Hiei couldn't voice them himself.

"All of the above," he finally said softly. When he didn't receive a response, he looked over to see Kurama had already fallen asleep. Hiei didn't know whether to feel exasperated or happy that his response hadn't been heard. Instead, he reached out and brushed the fine red hair from the fox spirit's face. "Stupid fox," he muttered.

"I already agreed to that," Kurama murmured back, making the fire demon freeze. Kurama curled deeper under the blankets and relaxed again. Just to make sure, Hiei reached out and touched his fingers to Kurama's temples, using the jagan to gently push the already fuzzy mind into true sleep. Satisfied that he wasn't going to have a drugged fox wandering around in a daze in the middle of the night, Hiei shook his head again and stood, returning to the window.

It was okay, he decided some time later, that Kurama hadn't heard his answer. The fox either already knew what he was going to say or would question him again some other time if it was really that important. And it wasn't important. The only thing that was important was that soft, steady breathing from the bed. Feeling an odd sense of peace settle over him as he watched the other sleep, he realized that presence was all that really mattered.

So this is what it means to be partners…