A/N: This is set after the Three Artifacts arc. It's a sequel to my fic Arrogance, and I'm not certain how much of it is understandable on its own. I highly, highly, highly recommend reading Arrogance first. (Also, like Arrogance, I hope to continue it but for now it should be read as a stand alone). Thanks to the Countess of Monte Cristo for reminding me to get off my read and post this. :)
"You really ought to lock this."
Kurama jumped. He not only jumped, he jumped so hard he hit his head on the desk lamp and dropped the book he was reading. He had not felt anyone approach.
He took a moment to compose himself. There was no hope of pretending to be unaffected, not with the elaborate display of shock he had just given, but he could at least control his voice. "Damn," he said dryly. "I must have forgotten to reset the wards against you."
No such thing had been forgotten, of course. Kurama took another moment to smooth out his face, and only then did he swivel around in his desk chair to face the other person. He did not stand up-there was no point to it. They both already knew every plant in the room was bristling.
There was a trace of a smile on Hiei's face-whether it was for Kurama's blatant lie about the wards or for his dropped book, Kurama wasn't certain. Hiei was trying to look relaxed, but his feet betrayed him-instead of standing with one foot one half onto the windowsill, showing off his balance as was his habit, both feet were firmly planted and ready to propel him away if necessary.
"How did you get out of jail?" Kurama asked, equally motivated by burning curiosity as to how Hiei'd managed it and similarly urgent need to know if there would be a large contingent of angry guards arriving shortly in the backyard.
"I did what you did," Hiei replied, his tone indicating this ought to have been obvious.
It took Kurama a moment to figure out what Hiei meant. It took him a much longer moment to decide if it was safe to laugh. In the past it would have been, but the rules had been broken into shards, and now they were being rewritten with every passing second.
In the end, it wound up not mattering whether it was safe or not. He couldn't help it. He laughed softly, only a little, but he did laugh. "You mean... you and Yusuke?" Hiei showed no reaction, but he would have contradicted Kurama if he were wrong. "You, me, Yusuke," Kurama continued, unable to help a broad smile. "This is going to be-fantastic."
"I fail to see how you arrive at that conclusion. It's going to be torture."
"Where's your sense of irony?"
"We never have agreed very well on whether irony implies humor."
Kurama paused. The atmosphere between them had suddenly changed, and judging from Hiei's expression he hadn't meant for it to happen. It had been a slip of the tongue, to say we never do this or we always do that, not a deliberate move on his part. Yet deliberate or not, it had happened, and Kurama briefly debated moving in that direction. No-there was enough danger in the present moment. No need to go looking for it in the past.
Danger. But not immediate. Between Hiei's revelation that they were teammates again and the slip of familiarity he had just made, it seemed unlikely that his presence in the window signaled the beginning of a fight. Not a physical one, at least.
So Kurama decided to pretend the slip hadn't happened. He assumed a casual pose, crossing his ankles and leaning back in the chair. "So, I take it you're free to move about human world?"
"Don't tell me I'm supposed to keep an eye on you."
"A criminal like yourself? Please. It's the idiot human who's supposed to do that."
"He's actually very nice," Kurama observed.
"I hate him."
"You haven't gotten to know him."
"I despise him and everything he stands for."
"...Perhaps you're right, this may not work too well."
"Of course I'm right. I despise you, also."
"Then why are you in my window?"
"To see how you would react."
"Ah." Kurama had to admit that, in Hiei's situation, he would have done exactly the same thing. "Are you still planning on killing me?"
"You assume that I've been planning to in the first place."
"...I note that your statement, while giving the appearance of rejecting that notion, does not actually do so."
There was limited tension in either of their voices. This discussion might be quite relevant to the future, but for the present-Kurama's plants, now returned to a docile, dormant state, said enough about what they both thought about the possibility of violence being carried out in the present.
Kurama cocked his head and considered Hiei. "So... are you?"
"If I was, would I tell you?"
"A fair point."
Silence descended, with Kurama looking at Hiei curiously and Hiei looking back blankly. Hiei seemed to have nothing further to offer, so Kurama decided to push him a bit and see if he could get a reaction. "I have several justifications for my actions, by the way."
"I'm well aware of that. I note that she's still alive."
Kurama said nothing. He didn't know what he could say-yes, Shiori was alive, no, he wasn't sorry for his betrayal, because yes, he'd gotten what he wanted. It bothered him to be wordless in front of Hiei. He didn't know how safe he was. He did know, however, that Hiei was watching his face closely and probably reading every thought that went through his head. "You left me no choice," Kurama said finally.
Hiei looked at him wordlessly for a moment before giving a single nod of acknowledgement. "A mistake I won't make again."
Kurama smiled, doubly pleased-pleased that a future was implied, and that Hiei would show enough humility to admit to having made an error. Come to think of it, it was an act of humility for Hiei to even be here-back in Kurama's territory, within reach of Kurama's snares. A concession.
The kind of concession that Hiei was so terribly fond of throwing Kurama when he least expected it. And since Kurama never expected Hiei to concede in anything, it always provoked a reaction in him. Then Kurama would have to scramble to figure out why Hiei had done it, and Hiei would smirk at his discomposure, effectively turning the concession into a victory.
Just like he was starting to do now, a hint of a smile creeping over his face. He was playing Kurama.
Spurred by the smile, Kurama decided to push harder. "I missed you," he said simply, wondering if there was any chance it would be taken at face value.
Hiei's face darkened immediately. He crouched like he was preparing to spring-not at Kurama, out the window. "You tried to have me killed."
Kurama felt the hot flush of anger pouring through him. "I did not," he replied vehemently. "I would never have allowed Yusuke to kill you.
"Allowed? You were gushing blood from a hole through the abdomen and unable to walk. You couldn't have allowed anything."
"He would have listened to me. If it had come to that point-which I do not believe would have ever happened-he would have stopped if I asked."
"Listen to me, Hiei. Forget your pride and just listen for a minute, because it's important that you understand this. I betrayed you, I walked out on you, but I did not set you up to die. Yusuke isn't anywhere near strong enough to kill you with one blow-even with my interference, he was barely able to knock you out. And it's in neither his personality nor his job description for him to kill you once you were down."
"Why interfere at all, then? You already had your prize."
"I was trying to save his life, you egotist. It wasn't about you. Yusuke wouldn't have killed you, but you would have killed him. Considering that I owed him both mine and my mother's lives, I thought it would be ungracious of me to allow that to happen."
"You did all that to repay him?"
"I don't like to be indebted. You know that."
Hiei scowled slightly. Interesting-he had not liked Kurama's very deliberate "slip," referencing the past just as Hiei had done earlier. Or maybe he had just disliked Kurama's answer altogether.
Either way, he had nothing further to say. The two lapsed into a brooding silence, staring at each other. Kurama had not moved from his chair, nor Hiei from his crouch. As the silence went on it transformed into its own kind of battle: each of them trying to read the other's face, and wondering how open to keep his own expression, or energy, or eyes. They knew where they were not-they were not at war, and they were not at peace-but that didn't mean they knew where they were.
Kurama was the one to eventually break the stalemate. Keep your friends close, he thought as he sighed and stretched, deliberately shattering the tense tableau, and your enemies closer. And someone who has extraordinary potential to be both, should be kept closest of all. "Hiei, would you make up your mind if you want to be inside or out? It's getting cold."
Hiei blinked. Kurama's words, and demeanor, were suddenly those of a month ago. As though nothing had happened. Hiei considered for a moment, his face inscrutable. Then he came inside and shut the window.
Kurama, hoping Hiei couldn't hear him, slowly let his breath out. "I suppose you'll be back to sleeping on the carpet," he said. "Do you want one of my blankets, or do you think the cooties will get you?"
Hiei sent him a withering glare. "Just because you're cold doesn't mean I am."
"So that's a yes on the cooties." Hiei looked like he was struggling to form an appropriately vicious response, but Kurama didn't wait for him to find one. He turned and went into the bathroom to get ready for bed. Hiei, who in the past had liked to nag Kurama during this process (particularly when Kurama's mouth was full of toothpaste), did not follow him. He was still sitting at the base of the window when Kurama came back into the room, and remained there as Kurama got into bed and turned out the light. He could have been a statue.
They were a long time silent in the dark before anything changed. Kurama was far from asleep, but lay motionless, his mind racing. Now that the initial skirmish was over, he let himself dwell on his disbelief that Hiei was here, in his room, just like before. Well-no, not just like before, because before they had been comfortable enough that Hiei would have slept next to him in bed. But still, he was here, unbelievably here...
...but was it so unbelievable? Why had Kurama left the window open and the wards down, if he had not thought there was a possibility that Hiei might return?
"Kurama." Hiei's voice cut softly through the darkness.
"Yes, Hiei?" Kurama did not turn towards him. There was enough light that he would have been able to discern some expression on Hiei's face, and visa-versa. He preferred to face the ceiling.
"If I had chosen to kill you, I could have."
"Yes." Kurama wasted no time in acknowledging that.
"You managed to place the first strike well. But I had enough time to make another dozen strokes before you blinded me."
"How fortunate for us both that you did not."
"You counted on my shock to save you?"
Kurama made a noncommittal noise that could have been taken for assent, except that Hiei knew better. "No, that's too much of a risk for you. You couldn't have known how long it would take for shock to end and fury to start. So you were willing to die for him?"
"I do hate to be indebted."
"Someone you'd known for a day. Because he saved your life, you would hand it right back so that he could live."
Kurama lay still for a moment. He debated. But in the end, he knew he owed Hiei the truth. "No."
Hiei said nothing. He didn't have to; Kurama could feel the weight of his waiting. It was like he'd given Kurama one of those glances he used to use in the place of words; except here, in the darkness, it was all expectation and silence. "I guessed that you wouldn't kill me," Kurama said. "I can't explain how I knew. It was instinctive. And I fully expect you to call me arrogant. Maybe I was. But I knew that you wouldn't do it."
Hiei was silent for a long moment. "You are arrogant," he said finally, in a quiet and subdued tone.
"Your turn. Why didn't you kill me?"
"You don't know?"
"Then I won't tell you."
Now Kurama did turn to face him. "I'll figure it out," he challenged. "You know I will. That's one of the things you hate about me, that I get all your secrets from you whether you wish it or not. If I were you, I would save myself all the poking and prodding and tell me now."
Hiei looked at him with an unreadable expression. His voice was cold. "This wouldn't be any fun if I didn't throw you a curveball now and then."
Kurama didn't reply. He lay back down, shaking at the bitterness with which Hiei was able to quote back to him his own words from months ago. His mind was teeming with questions but not another one he was willing to ask, not tonight. Just to be able to sleep in the same room was enough for tonight.
But they didn't sleep. They stayed where they were, quiet and motionless, waiting for sleep to come but too aware of the other's presence to actually find it, until dawn came through the window.