(A/N: This is it! Sorry I wound up lacking in Kurama's pov, this just wrote itself better from Hiei's. Enjoy!)
Chapter 6: Test
You should come up here.
Hiei thought it, but he didn't project the thought into Kurama's mind. Instead he sat unmoving on the bed, composing his thoughts and watching the sky darken through the window. Plenty of lines had been crossed tonight; there was no need to interject while Kurama was with his mother.
Kurama returned to his room exactly when Hiei would have expected him on a normal night, neither rushing nor delaying their inevitable confrontation. He walked to his desk chair and sat down, regarding Hiei with a masklike expression that proved he was still very angry.
Hiei kept his own posture relaxed, refusing to become tense in response to Kurama's tension. "You want to know why I didn't kill you," he stated. It was not a question. Hiei's withholding of this information had been the most highly contested point of argument between them the past few months.
Kurama's expression sharpened, showing interest, but he did not speak. Hiei took a deep breath. "Because you do your best work with a partner."
Realization dawned slowly on Kurama's face. "And. . . I repay my debts."
"Yes," Hiei said grimly.
"You knew." Kurama looked thunderstruck, his expression veering between anger and delight. "You knew this would all happen. That I wouldn't sacrifice a partnership if I could avoid it. And that I could have killed you at the warehouse, if I'd meant to end things. But I only injured you enough to save Yusuke's life. So you knew I still valued you as a partner despite my betrayal. You knew I would fix this if you let me."
Kurama took a moment to absorb all this. He cocked his head. "All this went through your head in the split second after you stabbed me but before I blinded you?"
Hiei thought about lying, but decided it wasn't worth it-Kurama would know. "Considerably after," he admitted.
"Then you still haven't told me why you didn't kill me."
"For that split second? I didn't want to."
"Do I have to have another reason? Or are you the only one entitled to declare 'I like you' and leave it at that?" Hiei asked defensively. "I was in shock and my instincts told me not to cause you any further harm. Afterwards, I realized the way things were likely to play out, and I chose to come to you because I knew you would be able to figure out what needed to happen between us. And you have," Hiei insisted. "I understand your betrayal, you understand mine, we know where we stand and how much to trust. We've said everything we need to except enough. I want to be done with games and tests. I don't want you to assume that everything I do is meant to push you. And when I touch you, Kurama, I really don't want it to matter. But not because I'm nothing to you. Because you're so used to me being in and out of your space, because you trust me to be there so much that you barely notice. That's the way I want it to not matter."
Silence. Kurama's expression was thoughtful, but Hiei couldn't read a positive or negative reaction there. "Fox," Hiei said tiredly when the silence stretched on, "it took me hours to come up with that many words that accurately describe how I feel." He said the word feel with extreme loathing. "I know you can do the same in a matter of minutes. So do me the honor."
Kurama smiled thinly. "I think you overestimate my abilities. But I will do my best."
He stood up, taking the rose from his hair to idly twirl it between his fingers, turning his back away from Hiei to look out the window. An alarm went off in Hiei's mind. This was the stance Kurama took when he wanted to hide his expression from Hiei. He had done it the first night they met; he had done it the moment he decided to betray Hiei. Did he not realize that Hiei knew what he was doing?
"I appreciate your honesty," Kurama began. "And I appreciate that it is difficult for you to articulate your thoughts like that. Most of all I appreciate your telling me why you didn't kill me. It solves a mystery for me. Your reasoning is sound, except for one thing. I left this option open, but that doesn't mean I have to choose you."
He turned. His face was a mask again, even moreso than before. "If, as you claim, you believed from the beginning that I would accept you as a partner again, then everything we have gone through the past few months has been false. A set-up for something you thought of as an eventuality. I dislike the idea that you're manipulating me, and dislike even more the thought of what you might be manipulating me into."
There was something wrong-something inherently wrong with Kurama's posture, what he was saying, something that didn't make sense. But Hiei couldn't put his finger on what it was. "Do you think I'm that patient?" he asked instead. "To spend months trying to repair our partnership only to lead you into something? Ask yourself if that's my style."
Kurama shook his head. "It's not. I think you've learned how to do it from me."
Hiei couldn't think what to say to that. "You know me too well, Hiei," Kurama said forcefully. "You know too much about me. I've tried to give you a way to trust me again, but you persist in subtly attacking and undermining me. I don't think you can forgive me. And if I can't trust you, I have to end this."
The rose uncurled into a whip, and Kurama leapt for him.
It was like the first time at the warehouse, with Hiei paralyzed in shock. No-no, this is different. That time he had simply been unprepared for Kurama to attack him. This time, his disbelief in what was happening came from a completely different source.
Hiei made the riskiest decision of his life, and did not move.
The rose whip made contact first, lashing his wrists together without cutting. Kurama tackled him a half second later, pinning him flat on his back to the bed. His free hand grabbed Hiei's hair and yanked his head to the side. Kurama's teeth scraped over Hiei's jugular.
Hiei was still. He could feel Kurama's breath on his neck, the tension of the pull on his hair, the loss of circulation in his hands. It could have lasted an hour or thirty seconds, he didn't know.
Then he felt weight and warmth as Kurama collapsed against him. Laughing.
"You are insane," Hiei hissed angrily. His body started shaking with a flood of unusued adrenaline, worse than he had known he could tremble. He couldn't control it. Kurama's hair was in his face and he didn't know if he even dared to move it.
Kurama just kept laughing, his face pressed into the mattress. It was the long, shaky, uncontrolled laughter of utter relief. He actually sounded hysterical. He spoke, and Hiei just barely managed to make out what he was saying between the laughter and the mattress muffling his voice. "That's the way it doesn't matter. That's the way I want it not to matter."
Kurama was dead weight on him, completely limp except for the convulsions of laughter, and the hair was really getting annoying, but Hiei didn't move, telling himself that this was fair retribution for the way he'd invaded Kurama's space earlier. "You're a terrible liar, fox," he commented, doing his best not to sound like he'd just been terrified.
"I'm a fantastic liar and you know it." Kurama finally moved, propping himself up on his elbows and shifting his weight off Hiei. "I'm the best liar you've ever met or heard of. I'm so good at it that I built an empire around it in Makai. And you knew I was bluffing." He smiled at Hiei like this was the highest compliment anyone had ever paid him. "Even with your life at stake, you knew. You trust me, so I can trust you."
"It's that simple?"
"Of course." Kurama's expression sobered. "You'd never betray me, Hiei," he said quietly. "Not intentionally. I've known that about you for a long time. You have too much honor to attack a former ally without warning them the alliance was over-unlike me. So if you trust me, it almost goes without saying that I can trust you."
Hiei had not thought of it that way before, and wasn't sure he liked Kurama's conclusion. What if he was mistaken in Kurama again? Although it hardly seemed possible. If the first betrayal and the last few months of working together hadn't taught Hiei everything he needed to know about staying alive around Kurama, he deserved to be killed.
Kurama shifted so he was lying on his back next to Hiei. Their arms were next to each other and Hiei could feel Kurama's shaking, which pleased him. "I guess I should clarify, I agree with everything you said. You're through pushing me, then?" Kurama asked.
"I know what I need to. You're done manipulating me?"
Kurama looked at him with surprise; Hiei tried to keep his face deadpan, but it didn't work. Kurama chuckled, and Hiei couldn't help a grin. "Never," Kurama acknowledged. "But I promise to play nice."
Hiei raised an eyebrow. "What you just did, that was playing nice?"
"I'm sorry. I had to be certain."
Staring at the ceiling, Hiei allowed himself to wonder, "What would you have done if I hadn't known you were bluffing?"
"I'm trying hard not to think about it. I advise you to do the same."
After only a moment's reflection Hiei realized that this was the wisest course. The odds against the current outcome had been immense; no use thinking about what might have been.
Something touched his palm-Kurama's fingers, barely brushing against his skin. At first Hiei thought there had been no meaning behind the touch, but then he realized Kurama had left something very small and light in his hand.
Hiei held the seed up to look at it. "Last one?"
"Last one," Kurama confirmed. "You were very close to finding it."
Hiei examined the seed. It didn't look like anything special, but then, he was used to seeing these things when they were fully grown and snacking on someone. "You're unarmed, then?"
Kurama made a noncommital noise, which Hiei interpretted as meaning, well, I don't have any seeds on my person, if that's what you mean. Hiei grinned. "I'm keeping this."
Kurama turned his head to look at Hiei. "What for? Planning on learning to summon?"
Hiei had planned on relenting if Kurama protested that the seed was rare or valuable, but his placid reaction showed Hiei that it was something Kurama could replace easily. "Trophy," he said smugly
"Keepsake," Kurama countered, smiling.
Hiei glared at him. "Trophy."
"Favor. Token. Memento."
Hiei flicked the seed back at him. "Nuisance."
Hiei glared but did not say anything. Kurama's soft laughter filled the dark room, reminding Hiei that he might have won the battle but he would never, ever win the war-Kurama would always be twisting his victories into something Hiei hadn't intended, forever catching him off balance.
He could live with that.
Hiei couldn't remember falling asleep. When he woke up he was still lying sideways on Kurama's bed and sunlight was streaming through the window. Kurama's absence was all the proof Hiei needed of the change in their relationship. If Hiei had still mistrusted Kurama on some level, he would have woken when Kurama moved.
Kurama had not only gotten out of bed and presumably ready for school without waking Hiei, he'd managed to return the seed to Hiei's palm. Hiei looked at it dumbfounded for a moment, before saying "Huh," softly, and putting it in his pocket.
That afternoon, Hiei was summoned to Koenma's office by a nervous looking ferry girl. Kurama was already there when Hiei arrived, and from his uniform Hiei guessed they'd taken him straight from school. "Cut the timing a bit fine on figuring things out, didn't we?" Hiei said telepathically.
"I don't like space between one adventure and the next." The slight hint of a smile on Kurama's face was all the acknowledgment he gave of their mental conversation; he appeared to be perfectly focused on what Koenma was nervously telling them. Something about a demand and an insect invasion and-the Saint Beasts? Koenma must want them dead. Well, it might not be impossible-Hiei wasn't counting on much help from Yusuke, but he and Kurama stood a chance.
While Koenma prattled nervously and lackeys swarmed around them, creating the portal they would shortly be shoved through, Hiei went to stand shoulder to shoulder with Kurama. Casually, he transferred a seed from his pocket to Kurama's.
"Already? I thought you might keep it awhile."
"It's a different seed, oh great plant master," Hiei informed him smugly. He caught Kurama's expression of surprise as he subtly fingered the seed. Hiei had spent most of the day looking for something rare. "See if you can make something of it."
Kurama grinned. "Interesting curveball."
Hiei couldn't keep from grinning also. They were back to curveballs, not tests. At last. And not a moment too soon.
Koenma broke off his nervous explanations to look at them suspiciously. "What are you two grinning about?"
"Just glad to be of use," Kurama replied blithely. Hiei smothered his laughter.
Koenma's eyes narrowed, darting between the two of them. "He thinks we're up to something," Kurama said, managing to make his mental tone sound wounded.
Kurama gave Hiei a conspiratorial look, and then stepped forward to the portal. Hiei was only too happy to follow.