A Long Winter

Disclaimer: based on "Angel" by Aerosmith (copyright 1987).  All of the standard rites of non-ownership apply.  Yu Yu Hakusho is not mine and I doubt that I could even stake a claim for it.  Also, I'd like to thank Rose Thorne, who did a fantastic and speedy beta and reassured me that they were more or less in character, even if I wasn't following their known history to a tee…  Thanks, Rose-san!!!

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Hiei looked around disdainfully at the throng of people all around him, all of whom were moving from place to place as though there was no tomorrow.  There were foolish ningens everywhere, all of them chatting or laughing or "having fun," a concept Kurama still hadn't managed to beat into his demon brain.  The demon hated it; everything he saw in this scene simply served to remind him that there was nowhere in the Ningenkai-or, in his opinion, any other world-where he belonged.  He was the Forbidden Child, and that single mistake, for all that it had been made before his birth, had cast his fate in stone.

And the worst thing of all was that he was cold.  The fire demon had discovered that he didn't respond very well to the cold weather on this strange world, and he now found himself in the midst of winter without any place to go.  His situation was not one easily envied and he knew it.

Scowling, the demon began to walk faster-not fast enough to please him, but slow enough not to arouse suspicion.  Growling deep in the back of his throat, Hiei moved quickly away from the crowd, avoiding visual contact whenever possible.  He knew very well that Kurama would come out to look for him sooner or later, and Hiei wanted to make sure it was later; preferably long after he'd found a place where Kurama wouldn't be able to find him.

Hiei had accepted Kurama's offer of board during the winter months but he had grown increasingly impatient with the redhead's attempts to soften Hiei's attitude and had left, despite the knowledge that the winter season was at its most bitter.  The two of them usually got along fairly well, their past linked together as it was, but lately it seemed as though Kurama was purposely trying to irritate him.  Perhaps it was cabin fever, perhaps not, but Hiei couldn't stand it any longer.  Kurama would be trying to find him soon, but Hiei did not particularly want to be found and planned to find a cave or cover of some sort where he could stay the night.  The only real downside to his plan was that Hiei didn't know where to look; back in the Makai he had known of places where he could stay and wait for the pursuit of whoever was after him to end or for unfavorable weather to ease.  Here he knew of no such place, and Hiei wasn't entirely certain that he would be able to survive the night without that benefit.

He had already considered going to several people and demand to stay the night, but had found that each possibility was less and less favorable.  Going to Yukina was out of the question; she would willingly pull some strings and let him stay at Genkai's temple, but that would mean that Hiei would have to risk letting her find out the truth about her brother and Hiei wasn't sure if he could stand that.  Kuwabara, the rock with feet, was also out of the question.  Hiei wouldn't have gone to that baka's home for anything, even if he was chopped into sixty thousand pieces, put in a box, and shipped to the house.  Urameshi, the spirit detective, had been a tempting possibility-for a few moments-but not even he would take Hiei's vulnerability to the cold in stride as easily as Kurama had.  Hiei had also faintly considered breaking into the house of Urameshi's woman, Keiko, as an experiment, but decided he valued his life far too much.  He had seen the girl bring the spirit detective to his knees on more than one occasion.

He shivered as a cold wind went through his cloak.  Pulling the fabric of his clothes tighter around him, trying to keep his body heated for as long as possible, he slowed his pace.  There was no sense in rushing now that he was out of the city.  Frowning vaguely, his eyes passed over the darkening twilight.  It would be night soon, and Hiei still had no place to go.

The wind picked up again and Hiei's eyes burned as the breeze shot straight into them.  Squinting, he felt his eyes water as they were stung by the wind.  Cursing, Hiei tried to hold back the threatening tears by shutting his eyes, but to no avail; a single bead of water coursed down Hiei's cheek and fell to the ground as a tear gem.  Scowling, Hiei picked up the gem and pocketed it, knowing better than to leave it out in the open for anyone to find-especially if that "anyone" was Kurama.  He wouldn't make it so easy for the youko-not if he could help it, anyway.

Damn Kurama for forcing him to escape into the cold!

Hiei tried to find a treetop, a cave-anything-where he could take shelter for the night, but saw nothing.  Giving up grudgingly, he collapsed on the ground, back against a scrawny, half-dead excuse for a bush, hoping it would turn away even a little of the wind but knowing that it was more likely to burst into flames.

Actually, Hiei realized with a start, that was fairly likely.  Getting to his feet, Hiei wrapped a hand around the base of the bush and tried to focus his ki towards it, waiting for something to happen.  Long minutes passed, but there was nothing.

"Damn it!" Hiei cursed loudly, voice echoing in the wintry hell.  The cold was keeping him from concentrating on even the simplest task and sapping his strength besides.  He hadn't even managed to singe the damn thing!  Scowling, he sat back down, glaring at the tiny bush and, finally, deciding there was nothing else to do, Hiei reached for his katana.

It took only a second to slash the pathetic plant into slices fine enough to pass as saw dust, but it took an even shorter amount of time for Hiei to realize that he'd just done a stupid thing.  First off, Kurama would scold the fire demon if he ever found out, and secondly he was now without even a hope of shelter.

And, to top matters off, it was starting to snow.

Clenching his fists and reasoning that he had no other choice, Hiei started back towards the city, to Kurama's apartment.  Keeping his temper in check was hardly worth dying in the night after all, unless Hiei wanted to play the suicidal, and if Kurama pissed him off too much he could always threaten to go back to the Makai.  For some reason, Kurama hated the idea of Hiei escaping back to the world of the youkai, almost as if he was afraid that the fire demon wouldn't come back.

It seemed to take longer to get back to Kurama's apartment than it did to leave it.  Standing in a tree outside the youko's window, Hiei frowned.  The curtains were drawn, but Hiei could see that the lights were on.  The fox was still awake, and still waiting for him.

Sure enough, Kurama looked up from the book he was reading as Hiei came in through the window.  "Well," the youko began, "that didn't last long, did it?"

Hiei glared, furious with both himself and the fox.  "Shut up."  Didn't the youko understand that coming back was hard enough without the needless taunts?

Kurama shrugged.  "All right.  But it surprised me to find you back so soon, and without a fight.  I was going to start looking for you soon and I half-expected to have to thaw you out when I found you."

"Are you trying to tell me that I'm weak?" asked Hiei with a snarl.  "If you are, I could prove you wrong."

"Thank you for the offer, but no.  I wasn't suggesting any such thing, Hiei.  I simply thought that it would be too great a blow against your pride to come back after so gallantly stating your independence and stalking off into the cold wilds."

"You don't know what you're talking about."  Hiei sat dejectedly on the floor, as far away from Kurama as possible without going into the room that he'd been given for the winter.

"Really?  I seem to remember being more full of myself than even you are now, years ago.  Don't you remember that?"

The fire demon grunted, not bothering to respond to such a stupid question.  Kurama knew as well as he did that most of those who lived in the Makai had large egos; it had been Kurama's challenge to keep his contained at all, and it had taken many years for him to successfully portray any of the humbleness that could keep a being alive.  His death in previous years had helped a little, but when Kurama returned to the Makai for good, he would no doubt be considered an oddity.

"Hiei, are you paying attention to me at all?"

The fire demon hadn't been, obviously, letting Kurama's words slide right past him as he remembered the youko as he had once been.  He never would have dared shut out anyone else's words, as any phrase or sentence could be important to his survival and success in life, but he found that he was doing it more and more often with Kurama.  The youko never minded; he was tolerant enough to repeat himself if necessary.

"What were you saying?"

Kurama had gotten up and walked to speak to Hiei more or less face to face.  The youko was squatting low in order to meet Hiei's eye.  "I was offering to show you how my pride was derailed."

Hiei snorted.  "Then go ahead and tell me, fox."

"I said I wanted to show you, Hiei, not tell you.  May I?"

Slightly curious as to how Kurama planned to show him something like that, Hiei shrugged.  "Whatever."

A grin spread over Kurama's face and Hiei suddenly began to regret the casual acceptance, wondering what the fox had in mind.  Kurama had never even given Hiei a hint as to how he'd managed to gain such self-control and Hiei found that he was nervous to be let in on the secret.  His body tensed at the look in Kurama's eyes and he tried to back away, to leave the room, but his back met only the wall.

Kurama leaned forward suddenly and kissed the startled fire demon.

Thoroughly surprised, it took Hiei a long moment to react-a moment that Kurama took full advantage of.  Disengaging from Hiei's warm mouth, the fox lifted Hiei in his arms, holding him.  Hiei snapped out of his shocked trance in time to protest.  Punching the youko who held him captive, not gently, he started to struggle.  Kurama's grasp only tightened and Hiei was ushered into the bedroom he'd been given for the long winter.

"Put me down!" Hiei snapped.  Kurama shot him a bemused look.

"I thought you wanted me to show you how someone taught me that pride has a price.  Didn't you, or did I hear you incorrectly?"

"You damn fox!  You tricked me!"

Kurama shook his head.  "I did not.  You brought this upon yourself."  His fingers clenched against Hiei's inner thigh.  "Now be good or I'll tell Yukina on you."

Hiei stopped struggling almost immediately, folding his arms over his chest and silently deciding not to make this easy for the youko.  As if sensing the thought, Kurama smiled, dropping Hiei onto the bed with a thud.  Before Hiei could escape, Kurama had a hold of the demon's wrists and forced them upwards.  It wasn't an easy thing to do and took Kurama some time to accomplish; when he finally managed to tie the demon's hands together with a thick chain and fasten them to the left bedpost, a thin gleam of sweat had appeared on his brow.  Wiping it away with his sleeve, Kurama smiled as Hiei started to tug on the bonds.

"Calm down, Hiei.  It's not as though we've never done this type of thing before."

"That was a long time ago," Hiei protested, red eyes narrowing.

Kurama appeared momentarily thoughtful.  "That's true.  And I seem to remember that you were always the one who took the role of dominant."  With a wicked gleam in his eyes, Kurama, still standing beside the bed, leaned down as if to whisper confidentially to Hiei.  "Maybe it's time for a change of pace, hm?"

Hiei pulled at the chains, making the bed shake, but to no avail.  Kurama smiled, watching the demon struggle, and started to unlace the demon's boots which covered Hiei's wildly kicking feet.  Snarling, Hiei kicked again, aiming for Kurama's face, but the youko managed to move out of the way in time so that Hiei's foot hit only the top most part of Kurama's shoulder.

"Stop that, Hiei.  I never did anything like that to you, did I?"

"Well, I never did anything like this to you," the demon retorted, yanking at his chained hands.  "Did I?"

Kurama frowned.  "Actually, yes.  You did."

Hiei froze, all thought of escaping suddenly abandoned.  "When?"

"The first time.  I was being egotistical again, so you jumped me from behind and threatened to kill me if I did anything to piss you off."  Kurama smiled, noticing the brief look of surprise that flashed across Hiei's face.  "Remember now?"  Hiei nodded slowly.  "I thought you did.  And since you told me to show you how someone managed to bury my pride, I'm doing almost the exact thing you did to me."

Hiei started to pull on the chain again.  "Damn you, fox!  What are these things made out of?"

Kurama shrugged.  "I don't know, really, but I got them from the Makai.  I was told that they were very good at restraining wild animals.  You know, wolves, tigers, dogs… demons…"

"You damn youko!  Let me loose!"

"Say please."

Hiei stared.  "What?"

"Say please and I'll let you loose."

It was going to be that easy?  "Fine," Hiei snapped.  "Pl-pl…" He sputtered a bit and Kurama laughed.

"I couldn't do it either when you asked me to, remember?  Except I think I was supposed to be begging and pleading, really.  And I did.  Eventually."  Kurama straightened up from where he was by Hiei's feet and walked back up to the bedpost, where he started to undo Hiei's bonds.  "There-all done.  I hope you learned a little lesson in humility, Hiei."

Sitting up and rubbing his wrists, Hiei snarled.  "Shut up, fox."

"All right."  Kurama smiled.  "Get some sleep, Hiei."  Turning on his heel, Kurama left for his own bedroom, shutting the door behind him.  Hiei scowled at the closed door for a long while before he lay back down on his bed, arms crossed over his chest.

Finding that this was uncomfortable, Hiei rolled over onto his side, eyes trained on the snow outside the window.  His wrists throbbed from his struggles with the chains and his feet were pained from having been kicking as Kurama tried to hold the boots still.  Having a thought, he quickly sat up and tugged off the boots, dropping them on the floor before he lay back down.

He was tired and wanted to get some sleep, but he couldn't help but feel slightly guilty about the memory Kurama had brought back up after so many years of trying to forget about it.  He hadn't been able to help himself that day; all his frustrations-not just those with the fox-had built up until they had nowhere to go but out and Kurama had made some sort of smart remark at just the wrong time…  It had been an effort to help relieve his stress, not to ruin Kurama's ego, but it had worked for both.  Too damn well, for that matter.  Hiei had enjoyed it immensely and had bedded with Kurama that night, with no protests from the youko himself.

Hiei frowned as he remembered.  After that night the two of them had stayed awake most evenings, talking together.  Sometimes he would hold Kurama against his chest, possessive and proud of the fox he had managed to conquer.  Oftentimes they would do more than hold one another, sweating and moving together in time as they could.  There had never been any romance involved, none of the hugs or kisses that other couples tended to dwell on.  Just the wild and passionate release, night after night, and the companionship, the comradory, and the dissolving of the tension they had built up in the long hours of light.  There was nothing more to it than that.

But once Kurama had left the Makai and been reborn as a ningen, Hiei had known that there was more to it than that.  Once Kurama had gone Hiei had been left with a hollow pit within him.  There had been many nights where he had reached for his fox and discovered that there was no one within his reach that he could hold or share his occasional night terrors with.  He had  been relieved to meet and join up with Kurama again, as a team.

But being a team once more meant that the old irritation and competivity had been sparked up again; Hiei had been surprised to find that Kurama was stronger than ever and was hard-pressed to keep his short and frangible lead.  He had missed the fox perhaps, but it was the constant friendly rivalry he had missed the most, not Kurama himself.

Right?  Hiei rolled over on his bed, scowling.

For some reason, he couldn't make himself believe that he had missed Kurama for that alone.  Sighing, he let himself decide that he'd missed the companionship, which was closer to the truth than Hiei had ever dared to venture.  While the fox had been gone, Hiei had spent several nights wondering how he'd managed to live his life alone for so long before Kurama had shown up.  It hadn't been so hard back then; he'd had a routine: kill, steal, fight, and find a place to hide at night while he got some much-needed sleep.  When Kurama had entered his life, the picture had changed only slightly.  The normal routine had become something along the lines of bicker, fight, steal, kill, and go home.  Hiei snorted.  They'd actually had a home of sorts back then.  He remembered it well: it was cave, a place where they stored their things and slept on occasion, but they'd also used it as a place to come back when times were tough, so Hiei guessed it could be called a home.

Hiei had left the cave for good once Kurama had left.  The cave wasn't a place for a person to live in by themselves; it got to be cold and lonely without Kurama. Hiei had left behind the uncountable amount of gold and precious things, not to mention an assortment of weapons and clothes which would have come in handy several times afterwards, simply so he wouldn't have to spend his time all alone in that cave.  He hadn't been back to the place since then.  He'd tried to tell himself that it wasn't good to stay in one place for too long, but he knew, somewhere in the deepest recesses of his mind, that he hadn't returned mostly because the cave hadn't been his, not entirely.  Going back without Kurama would have been like trespassing, which Hiei normally held no qualms about, but he couldn't bring himself to challenge the memory of what he'd shared with the fox.

The fire demon scowled.  He hadn't thought about any of this shit in years!  Damn Kurama for resurrecting thoughts that were meant to stay buried!  His hand unconsciously reached into his pocket for the tear gem he'd shed earlier and he shook his head.  He'd already wasted too many of those on the fox.

What exactly was Kurama expecting, anyway?  Did he want an apology?  Hiei puzzled over that one.  The fox knew him better than that; Hiei had never really apologized to anyone in his entire life and he sure as hell wasn't going to start now!  Besides, Kurama had never complained about it all before!  There had been several times when the fox had been the one to start up the erratic nightly activities, usually by pinning Hiei down and trying to provoke the demon until Hiei went ahead and did something.  The fox's libido had been surprisingly demanding.

Hiei's eyes widened as a few thoughts clicked into place.  Oh.  Shit.

It had taken awhile, but Hiei had finally recognized the signs.  Kurama had been irritating him for about a week with all his false and silly ideas about being humble and righteous; Hiei knew Kurama didn't exactly fit either definition, no matter what other people thought about him.  Kurama could be a cocky and arrogant bastard if he wanted to be.  All that talk about pride and humility had led to the situation tonight: Hiei had left and come back to an irritating fox who had chained him to the bed and figuratively poked a stick inside Hiei's head.  It was an almost familiar concept.

Grunting, Hiei got to his feet and headed for the door to Kurama's room.

He didn't bother knocking, simply opening the door and standing awkwardly in the doorway, arms crossed over his chest as he gave Kurama a very pissed off look.  Kurama looked up at him from his seat at his desk and smiled, standing up.

"I wondered when you would figure it out," said Kurama, laughing softly.  Hiei grunted.

"You've gotten sneaky, fox."

"I've always been sneaky; it's in my nature.  You've just gotten slow at realizing when I'm up to something."  Kurama tossed his hair over his shoulder.  "So now what, Hiei?"

Hiei shrugged.  "You could make it easy and get on the bed."

"Where's the fun in that?  Besides-I've never made it easy.  And when did you ever bother with a bed before?"

"I found out they were soft."  Not exactly one to waste words, Hiei grabbed Kurama and forced the fox onto the bed, kissing him fiercely, which surprised both Kurama and himself.  Hiei scolded himself for having picked up the annoying ningen trait, but quickly reprimanded himself for having scolded himself.  Kurama sure didn't seem to mind it; in fact, he was reacting rather well.  Hiei fought back a slight smile, wondering if the fox's libido was still up to challenge...

beep beep beep beep…

Kurama woke the next morning to the sound of his alarm clock going off.  With a sort of sleepy bewilderment, he opened one groggy eye.  It was 9:30.  Why the devil had he set his alarm for nine thirty?  For that matter, why hadn't he already been awake to turn it off?  He was an early riser, almost always up just before seven o'clock with no exceptions.  He frowned, staring at the clock some more.

beep beep beep beep…

Rolling over a bit so he could reach the alarm better, he paused as he felt something beside him move.  Looking over his shoulder to see the still-sleeping demon, Kurama smiled, reaching up to turn off the clock before it woke Hiei.  The mattress shifted beneath him and Kurama stretched his arm a little bit further.  Why was the clock so far away from the bed?

A growl stopped him and an arm slipped around his waist.  "Get back here, fox."

"What about the alarm?  I've got to get up and get ready for a new day."

Hiei snorted.  "I don't give a damn about the alarm and I'm not going to waste a perfectly good gem on you."  That statement confused Kurama for a moment but he decided not to ask about it.  Instead he went ahead and shut off the alarm before going back to curl up in Hiei's arms.  It was a little hard to do, the fire demon being so short, but he managed.  After a long minute, Hiei opened an eye to peer at him.  "You remember our old cave in the Makai?"

"Yes, of course.  What about it?"

There was a long pause before Hiei went on.  Kurama was half-expecting the demon to tell him that he'd destroyed the place in a fit of rage or to bring up one of their several "encounters" there.  Perhaps even to ask him if he wanted to go back.  What Hiei did say surprised him.

"Do you think anyone's been able to get inside of it yet?"

Kurama blinked.  "What?"

"Neither of us have been there in years.  Do you think the traps still work or has someone gotten through them to the gold?"  The serious look on the demon's face and the absolute absurdity of the question itself amused Kurama and he started to laugh despite himself.  Watching the fox, Hiei scowled.  "What?"

Kurama swiped at his eyes.  "What makes you ask that, Hiei?"

"I had a good cloak in there," said Hiei, voice dripping with a sarcasm Kurama hadn't known the demon possessed.  "Why do you think, fox?"  Kurama shrugged, letting the question drop, and Hiei looked around the room, his fingers curling up in Kurama's hair.

"Hiei?"

"What?"

"You said you were going back to living on your own once the winter ended," Kurama reminded him.  "How long do you think this winter is going to last?"

The corners of Hiei's mouth turned up into what was almost a smile.  "A long time," he said carefully.  "I think it's going to last for a long, long time."

--Owari--