Hiei watched with no small amount of pent up frustration as Kurama entered the ring after a small discussion with Yuusuke. He knew that the fox would already be planning away, but he had serious doubts about both his and Yuusuke's ability to beat all five opponents with the masked fighter, Kuwabara and himself out of it for just now. They only needed to buy time; they didn't necessarily have to win. As long as they kept it to a tie, either the masked fighter or himself would be able to finish it off once they were out. He could already feel his arm starting to tingle in the energy the force-field was emitting. Still, despite the fact that he should have his mind on the match, he couldn't help recalling the moment the night before when he and the fox had been sitting together.
"Hiei. I believe it will be much harder than we anticipated to win this tournament." Kurama's sudden statement made Hiei look up to him in wonder. Kurama was looking across the room. There was a certain sadness to his eyes that made Hiei reply softer than he usually would have done.
"Is this because of your fight with Roto? Don't worry Kurama, that won't happen again. The ones using cheap trickery and threats will have been decimated in the fighting, just like Roto was."
"No, Hiei." Kurama said, his voice firm but tinted with sorrow. "Although that is a rather heavy concern, it is not what I was thinking. The organisers of this event do seem to be against us. I am not entirely sure than we will be allowed to win…" Hiei was again looking up at him in wonder.
"Well. We can only fight." Hiei stated, slightly less warmly than before. If all Kurama was worried about was politics, what did it matter to Hiei?
"Yes I suppose you are right, Hiei. However, I cannot help worrying about tomorrow." Hiei was by now just enjoying the company, barely listening to what Kurama was saying at all. "Did you notice the tournament fighting arrangement graph? We are against Dr. Ichigaki's team to begin with, but the way the graph is set out, we have an extra battle with team Masho to do before we are level with the other advancing teams. I have a hunch that we may be forced to fight two in a row." How Hiei's attention was no where other than Kurama, his lips drawn back with distaste.
"You're joking." He stated, but as Kurama looked him in the eye and slowly shook his head, Hiei grunted. "Hn."
"All I'm saying is, try not to waste too much energy in the first match." Kurama said, and Hiei grunted an acknowledgement.
"And the detective?" Hiei asked, but Kurama shook his head.
"Even if he knew, do you think he would change the way he fought? I believe we should keep this to ourselves. It may no happen, after all it was only a theory."
"Yeah but one that sounds all too likely to be real." Hiei stated, and Kurama smiled.
Hiei berated himself. Kurama had been right after all, and he was low on energy despite his advanced warning. Still, he snapped his attention back to the ring to see the fight already underway. Kurama's opponent seemed to have put make-up on, Kurama's arms and legs looked like they weighed a ton each. This development was obviously recent, as the announcer was describing Kurama's problem. Hiei noticed the links around his wrists and ankles. Kurama had been careless.
"Damn it Fox. You gotta focus on beating him. Stop playing." Hiei muttered, trying to clench his fist as the energy soothed it. He still needed a while. A loud gasp from the commentator, echoed by the crowd, made Hiei look back up from his arm to see the rose whip fastened around Kurama's hair. A shiver ran down Hiei's spine. Kurama looked good with his hair back at the worst of times, but now he was in the midst of battle it was almost unbearable. Hiei tried to look away, a little embarrassed by his sudden admiration of Kurama's beauty. Hiei watched as the mortally wounded Gama ran around, almost flailing. Kurama dodged easily despite the weights, obviously not willing to strike again. Gama fell to the floor, speaking to Kurama, who was looking at him with an expression of shock that Hiei would know from a mile away, despite not being able to see his face. What had Gama said? He couldn't hear from inside the crackling shield, damnit! Hiei realised it must have been another spell as Kurama's energy suddenly dipped and virtually disappeared. There was red energy crackling around Kurama for a few moments, and then was gone. He leant forward, clenching his hand tighter. This was going to be bad. The next fighter got into the ring, and Kurama stayed where he was. Touya was the ice shinobi, and Hiei was wary of the powers he had at his disposal. With Kurama weighed down and his energy sealed, could even his Fox come through with a win?
There was a brief pause as Kurama talked to Touya, and Hiei silently hoped it had been long enough when the commentator began the match.
"It's hopeless." Hiei said, mostly to himself, but the masked fighter spoke up beside him.
"There is one weapon Kurama can use: Time." Hiei looked back to Kurama, knowing that he was still stalling. If anyone could fight in that condition, he thought, it would be Kurama. Hiei barely felt the need to listen to the rest of the masked fighters words, focussed on his obviously worrying kitsune. He was soon thinking about his fight with Seryu, but knew that Touya far outmatched even that ice demon. Sure enough, a blast of cold air ran over him as the ring froze, a barrier rising from the island under Touya's command.
Suddenly there was movement, and Touya was blowing shards of ice Kurama's way. Kurama leapt out of the way, but his seals glowed brightly. Hiei sighed in relief as the weights were lifted, but quickly held his breath again as the shards swept past Kurama, slicing easily into his soft, pale skin. Hiei watched as small sprays of blood flew off his fox. He was mesmerised. He watched as Kurama landed on the floor, and then quickly leapt off again. He wasn't going to go down easily, that much Hiei knew. But how would he do against the ice shinobi? He watched as Kurama and Touya ran around the ring at speeds surpassing human following, but very few of the eyes watching were human. Hiei caught a glance of Kurama's expression as he faced him on the way round the ring. Kurama was trying to come up with a plan, but Touya wasn't giving him the time. Shards were flying in every direction, and Hiei knew that although Kurama was blocking his vital points, he was being wounded quite badly. No matter how quickly he moved, the sheer volume of shards overcame him, slicing into his flesh. Hiei felt his body tense. He hated to watch the kitsune fight. He always got himself hurt. Hiei was drawn from his thoughts as Kurama hit the floor heavily. He wondered for a moment of Kurama was down, but knew he was again only buying for time. His wounds, however, were beginning to worry Hiei. As Kurama stood, he stumbled backwards, making Hiei worry further. His Kurama was hurt worse than he was showing, and Hiei had a feeling that it was about to get much worse.
Kurama was off again, and Hiei followed him easily, watching with interest as he began rubbing his chest. Realising he was trying to null the curse, Hiei silently applauded his fox. He watched as Kurama tried to call his rose whip, but wasn't particularly surprised when he cried out in pain, falling to his knees with the rose still in his hand. Hiei felt his sympathy almost burn into him. That had to have hurt.
"To release enough to beat me you'd have to bleed yourself dry!" Touya said with a grin, and Hiei rolled his eyes.
"Don't give him ideas." Hiei muttered to himself. He knew full well that Kurama was probably considering doing just that if he couldn't find another way. Another set of ice shards flew towards Kurama, and he tried to dodge only to be thrown back to the floor with a cry of pain.
"I sure know that expression!" The commentator called "Pure lovely excorticating agony!" Hiei gripped his fist tighter. How much more was Kurama going to take? He knew full well that he wouldn't give up until he was dead. Kurama was kneeling on the floor, blood dripping to the ring. Hiei could see his expression clearly from his vantage point. He was trying to think of a plan, but knew his time was running short. The pain glinting behind those emerald orbs made Hiei's heart thump loudly in his ears. Why did it hurt to watch him force himself unsteadily to his feet? Pain was echoed in everything about Kurama, his posture, his breathing, his beautiful eyes…
Those same eyes had been watching Hiei as he slept, but contrary to Kurama's thoughts, Hiei wasn't asleep. Kurama leant down and rubbed a small piece of Hiei's fringe from his eyes. Hiei couldn't help blushing, glad the room was dark enough that Kurama wouldn't notice. Why was he hiding it? Was he enjoying the touch and just didn't want it to end? If he pretended to wake up now, he'd have to force the fox away like he always did, and he wanted to just enjoy the moment… Soft fingers ghosted over his cheek, and Hiei felt his breath catch before he forced it back to a deep, even rhythm. He couldn't let Kurama know he was awake. He was in for another shock, however, when Kurama bent down, his lips inches from Hiei's. Hiei could feel his warm breath on his cheeks and suddenly yearned to close the gap. His wish was soon granted without him having to move, though, as Kurama pressed their lips together in a gentle but firm kiss.
"I'm sorry to steal it from you Hiei, but you know as well as I that you wouldn't allow it awake. I…" He paused, not willing to speak what his heart was screaming. "I love you, Hiei… So, make sure you take care tomorrow, okay?" Kurama's voice was gentle, pleading. Hiei had to catch himself before he answered. He let his eyes open as he heard Kurama's footsteps retreat from the room, and then sat up, touching his lips thoughtfully. The fox loved him?
Touya's hand sprouted an ice blade and he swished it through the air to his side dangerously. The commentator said something, but Hiei couldn't hear her. He leapt forward and stood just inches away from the shield. He wanted to help. He couldn't just make himself sit by! He clenched his hand again, knowing he wasn't ready. Just a little longer. Just a little longer.
Kurama steadied himself, both poised for the inevitable clash. When it came, Kurama leapt out of the blade's reach, missing a beheading by mere inches. Continuing to dodge the blade that swept to close to him for comfort, Hiei realised that Kurama wasn't buying time for his spell to wear off, but for Hiei and the masked fighter. Hiei felt his concern grow as their met for a brief instant, and he knew that Kurama was going to do something stupid. Most likely brilliant, but stupid none the less.
Hiei's eyes widened as he watched Kurama fall to the floor, his arm sliced open from wrist to elbow. Damn that Fox! Hiei watched as he got himself slowly from the floor, his arm dripping pure crimson droplets to the ground. He knew that he was planning something, but what? Hiei watched in disbelief as Kurama ran off, Touya quickly following. The fox wasn't moving right. It wasn't his usual fluid motion. He was hurting, Hiei knew, and that was something that for some reason, broke Hiei's heart. Did he perhaps feel the same way about Kurama as Kurama did for him?
Hiei narrowed his eyes as the final blow was about to be made, but Kurama's energy flared and Hiei watched in awe as the death plant sprouted from Kurama's hands and caught the ice blade while piercing Touya's chest. No… The plant wasn't from Kurama's hands, but from his wounds. Idiot! Kurama really was going get himself killed! Hiei watched as the barrier dissipated and the commentator started the ten count. He watched in horror as Touya began to rise, but sighed in relief when he fell back to the floor. His Kurama was safe. He wouldn't be fighting again in his condition. Hiei could feel Kurama's energy fluctuate and dim, as if he was fighting to stay conscious.
Kurama was speaking to Touya, his eyes seemed to fill with tears. Hiei watched, despair gripping him, as Kurama's eyes closed and his hands fell to sides. He took a momentary solace in the fact that he was standing, but soon realised that it made little difference to the fact that he wasn't coming to any time soon… if at all. The commentator soon quelled his fears by confirming a heartbeat, and Hiei found himself sighing in relief.
His sigh was soon replaced by a gasp as the taller fighter, Baken, moved onto the ring. After a small exchange that Hiei couldn't hear, a voice boomed over the crowd, announcing that the next fight would be Kurama vs. Baken. Hiei growled to himself, striding towards the shield. He wasn't about to let anyone beat around his fox. Especially when he had no hope of fighting back. Momentarily distracted by the raiser of the shield, Hiei turned back to the ring to see the commentator thrown out and Baken standing menacingly over the beautiful redhead. Kurama looked peaceful, and the thought of what Baken was about to do made Hiei's hand clench tighter. His eyes narrowed as Baken his Kurama hard, causing him to fly back across the ring. Wasn't there anything he could do?! He watched helplessly as Kurama was kicked across the ring. Why was this so painful to watch? Did he care that much for Kurama?
Distracted from his thoughts, Hiei realised that the commentator was nearing the end of the ten count. Looking to Kurama's still form hopefully, he realised that Baken was lifting him. The commentator stopped short of ten, and Hiei swore to himself. This bastard needed a painful death. Hiei actually flinched as Baken's fist forced its way into Kurama's stomach. Why couldn't he do anything?! The next few hits forced a lump into Hiei's throat. Kurama hit the floor, the force of the punches ripping his top to free him. Blood trickled thickly down his face to the arena. Hiei watched as his Kurama's life slipped over the tiles, beautiful in every way it looked and moved, except that the more beauty there was over the tiles, the less there was inside Kurama. The commentator put herself between Kurama and Baken, and Hiei felt a rush of relief until Baken hit her, throwing her easily from the ring. Hiei felt his body shaking. He had to do something.
Hiei watched as Baken advance, gripping Kurama's top and pulling him from the floor. Hiei gripped his wrist. He'd release another dragon if he had to. He wasn't about to let the only person who cared for him die in front of his very eyes! Concentrating his energy, he began to call on the dragon. Damn the tournament. He wasn't going to let this happen. Just as Baken's fist was closing in, Hiei prepared to release the dragon only to find that Baken had frozen mid-swing. Hiei stopped, and followed the large fighter's gaze to his team leader, and then to Yuusuke. Hiei realised, with a smile, that Yuusuke had been about to release a bullet. Baken threw Kurama from the ring towards Yuusuke, and Hiei had to fight the urge to break out of their prison and run to his fox. His energy was barely noticeable anymore, but at least he was alive. Hiei felt the relief was over him and sighed. He watched as Yuusuke lifted Kurama's torso from the floor, and saw the blood still seeping from his hairline. He felt fear bite into him once again. He wouldn't lose the fox, surely? He'd always been there since they'd met. He wasn't about to leave now… Please not now. He watched as Yuusuke put Kurama down against the ring and stood up, glaring at Baken with blood-thirsty eyes. Hiei smiled. He knew that his revenge would be three hundred fold. Hiei watched Kurama's face for any sign of life. He stared, waiting. Life was there, he knew it was. He just had to see something to make absolutely sure. Suddenly emerald eyes met red, and the two held their shared gaze for some time, ignoring the fight waging over their heads. Suddenly the revenge didn't matter to Hiei anymore. Kurama was okay, and that was all that mattered.
Still, when Hiei looked up to see Baken thrown from the ring, he smirked. That was the perk of having Yuusuke around, he supposed. Revenge without the work. He watched as Yuusuke leapt down from the ring and knelt by his Kurama. They spoke for a moment, and Hiei realised from their gaze that Kurama's problem was not the beating he had received, but the death plant inside his blood. Kurama smiled up to Yuusuke, apparently making a joke of some kind, and Hiei sighed happily. As long as Kurama could still smile, he had nothing to fear. Hiei clenched and released his fist, smiling wider. He only needed a little bit more time now.
His eye was once again caught by Kurama, and the two shared an exchange that went outside the need to speak. Hiei was just beginning to wonder how he'd been watching the red haired demon when there was a huge impact in the stands. There the leader of team Masho fell and Kuwabara was claimed the winner. Hiei barely acknowledged it as the force field went down, instead looking back to Kurama to see his eyes closed. Hiei began to walk over, but Yuusuke was already at Kurama's side.
"Let me help." He said, pulling Kurama to his feet. Kurama swayed slightly, leaning against the wall and refusing the steadying hand that Yuusuke offered.
"Thank you, Yuusuke, but I have to decline. I am fine, so please go and help Kuwabara." Yuusuke nodded and left, leaning over the unconscious partner and rubbing his head. Hiei hesitantly stepped up to Kurama, leaning against the wall beside him.
"Kurama?" Hiei asked, and Kurama looked down to him.
"What is it, Hiei?"
"I wanted to…" Hiei stopped. He really didn't know what to say. How could he tell the kitsune that he loved him? He considered this for several minutes, thinking through several scenarios, all of which seemed inadequate somehow.
"Hiei, as much as I hate to interrupt your thinking, we should be going." Hiei looked up, a very slight blush over his cheeks. Yuusuke and the others had already followed Kuwabara from the arena. Hiei nodded, looking at Kurama sceptically as he stumbled.
"Do you need help, Fox?" Despite his best efforts, Hiei couldn't quite hide the concern.
"Not… Yet." Kurama said, gripping his arms through which the death plant was still growing.
"Kurama." They both turned to see Touya supporting himself on the wall a few feet away, and Kurama smiled.
"Touya. I'm glad to see you on your feet." Hiei grunted. Now wasn't the time for socialising.
"Thank you, Kurama." Touya said simply, and Kurama nodded as Touya turned away, making his way towards the other exit. Kurama pushed himself unsteadily away from the wall and stumbled towards the exit nearest them. Hiei followed carefully, making sure he was close enough to catch the fox if he fell.
"Where are we going, Fox?" Hiei asked, looking at the lifts they passed which would have taken them up to their rooms.
"I would like to go out into the forest, Hiei. It helps my power." Hiei understood, striding forward to walk beside Kurama, having to force his hands to stay in his pockets as the red-head stumbled forward.
After the agonising walk for both of them, they were far enough into the forest that they wouldn't be interrupted. Kurama stumbled, not catching himself in time to stop his fall. Instead of landing face first in the dirt, he found he landed atop of Hiei, who was now trapped beneath Kurama's significantly taller body. A blush lingered brighter over Hiei's cheek. He'd meant to catch the kitsune, but he'd been too slow. He could feel Kurama's breath on his cheeks, just like that night. This time, though, he knew he didn't want to hide his desire. He reached his hand up and pulled Kurama's head down, meeting their lips in a kiss. Kurama's eyes widened at the move, but he was soon relaxing into the feel of Hiei's lips caressing his own. Suddenly the dull aching in his body and the sharp pain of the wounds didn't seem to matter so much. What he knew did matter, though, was the death plant. It was taking his energy to restrain it from growing, but if he used all his energy doing that then he wouldn't be able to remove it. He had to remove it now, before he couldn't. He reluctantly broke the kiss and allowed himself to roll of Hiei. He propped himself up against a nearby tree and closed his eyes, trying to focus on the plant. His thoughts were disturbed, however, by the face of the smaller demon he knew was sitting not far off.
It was taking too long, Hiei thought as he watched Kurama's look of utter concentration. The plants were no longer visible, but Hiei knew Kurama was still working. Kurama groaned, slipping down the tree slightly. Hiei was quickly by his side, holding his shoulders to stop him slipping further. Green eyes flashed open, and Hiei knew there was something wrong.
"I can not do it, Hiei…" Kurama gasped, obviously at the end of his energy. "I can't get rid of the plant…"
"Yes, you can!" Hiei almost shouted, much more forcefully than he had intended. "No one else can manipulate plants, Kurama, you're the only one. You have to get it out." The urgency in Hiei's voice made Kurama's heart ache. But he just couldn't. The seed was already beginning to sprout once again.
"Hiei!" Kurama gasped again, gripping Hiei's coat as the unhindered plant ripped over his body. Hiei felt Kurama tense and twitch as it made its way out of his various wounds.
"Kurama!" Hiei shouted, grabbing Kurama's cheeks and forcing their eyes to meet. "You can do it, Kurama! You have to do it. Come on; take my energy if you don't have enough to do it yourself." Kurama's watery eyes searched deeply into Hiei's, and then he nodded, closing his eyes again. Hiei felt his energy leave him slowly, but watched as the plant devouring his fox stopped in its tracks, then retreated. Hiei watched as the wound on Kurama's arm opened, and the seed was forced out, landing on the ground. Kurama was shaking with the effort, and Hiei held him close. For some reason, seeing his Kurama shaking and hugging into his chest made him force himself to breath evenly. He hugged Kurama tightly, and felt Kurama's arms wrap weakly around his waist.
"Hiei…" Kurama whispered, his voice barely audible above the gentle rustle of the trees leaves above. "I love you…" Hiei didn't hesitate in his answer.
"I love you too, Kurama. Sleep though, Fox, and I'll make sure you stay safe." Kurama smiled into Hiei's bare chest. It felt warm and welcoming. He loved it… And Hiei had said he loved him too… Kurama muttered Hiei's name again as he fell into a much needed sleep, and he dreamt of roses surrounding a certain black haired demon. Hiei watched the smile on Kurama's beaten but none the less beautiful face, and looked up to the trees that seemed to be dancing in gratitude on behalf of the plant manipulator dreaming below. Hiei smiled, stroking the red hair with a heavy affection that he didn't know he possessed. His hair felt soft, and Kurama's breath on his chest calmed him. For the first time in a long while, Hiei felt completely at peace.