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Running Up That Hill

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Full moon. Summer moon. It shines through the gaps in the curtains, calling out to me, but I ignore the tug on my senses. I have work to finish, accounts to balance, letters to compose. The clack of the computer keys is the clatter of thousands of tiny beetles ticking against my ears and eating away at my nerves.

You’re working far too hard,’ my mother keeps telling me.

This is the life I have chosen, though, and I plan to be successful, no matter how monotonous the task.

Tonight, the monotony is broken by a breath of air near the window and a quiet hush of familiar youki. It’s no surprise he chose an evening like this to return. He told me several times that nights when the moon rises full and yellow were his favorites, for they are the nights when the magic of the human world vibrates the strongest. On nights like these, he said, he almost felt at home.

I glance over my shoulder and take in the sight of Hiei removing his boots. He sets them neatly under the open window and then removes his sword before flopping down on the bed. He tugs away his cloak and scarf and casts them aside as though this is his room, and he has just returned home after a tiring day.

“In search of another bouquet?” I ask.

He arches his brow and frowns.

“No.”

“Then, what can I do for you?”

“Do I need a reason to come see you?” he says, then rolls his eyes. “I’ll leave.”

I shake my head and muster a laugh before I turn back to the glare of the computer screen.

“I’m almost done,” I tell him. “As soon as I finish, I’ll come keep you company.”

Behind me, I hear the rustle of fabric as he makes himself comfortable on the bed. He’s lounging with both hands behind his head, no doubt, or simply resting on his side, gazing at nothing in particular. This room could be called spartan at best. Excluding the potted plants, there’s not much to look at.

“How’s patrol duty?” I ask, just as I save the most recent file of many.

“Hopelessly boring,” he replies. “It’s only been four months and I’m already sick of it.”

“You could always desert,” I suggest.

“And have the new ‘president’s’ men after me? No thanks.”

I return to my chore, battling to remain focused rather than submit to carelessness. As pregnant moments of silence drag on, the feat becomes more and more difficult. Hiei has brought more than the magic of the moon inside with him. Something far more threatening - a question - hangs in the air. The inquiry builds like pressure inside a stopped bottle, until I can feel it gnawing at the inside of my skull.

Finally, Hiei pops the top, and says,

“Kurama.”

“Yes?”

“That day… when you returned home. When I asked you to deliver Yukina’s tear gem…”

My hands still for the second time since I began working. The relentless press, like expanding air, sinks from my head, to my mouth, to my stomach. I feel tonight’s dinner churn uncomfortably against the intrusion.

“You made a crude joke,” he continues. “You said you weren’t interested in me.”

“I suppose I might have said something along those lines,” I say. I remember precisely what I said, of course, and all the frayed emotions and crushed promises that spurred me to say it. I rarely forget.

“Why?”

“Why did I make a joke?”

“What did you mean by that?” Hiei asks, but the request for information feels more like an accusation.

I give in to the reality that my work is through for the night, and spin in the desk chair to face him. He sits up on the edge of the bed, feet hovering a centimeter off the floor. His gaze has hardened to the point of a knife.

“I didn’t mean anything by it,” I say. “I was teasing you. Nothing more.”

“Tch, it’s never ‘nothing more’, where you’re concerned,” he spits. “There’s always more.”

“Then, perhaps I used humor to clear the air between us,” I sigh. “So I could leave the Makai with a clean conscience, and my ties to it neatly cut.”

“Ties to me?” Hiei asks. Some of the acidity has drained from his voice, replaced by… what? Confusion? “Does my alliance with one of Yomi’s old enemies offend you so much that you decided to end ours?”

“Of course not,” I say, shaking my head. He’s danced close to the truth, but to the wrong beat. “You’re always welcome to come to me if you require assistance or advice.”

“Then what did you mean,‘that way’?” Hiei straightens a bit, leaning far enough that his toes dust the floor, as though he’s ready to spring. “Romantically? Sexually?”

“Hiei…” The rhythm of our exchange has quickened now. He’s backed me into a hole with no exit, and as a fox, I can only bare my teeth or roll over and submit. “Well… to be honest…”

“Spit it out!” he snaps. His interjection has lit a fuse beneath him, and he jumps to his feet at last.

“If you must know… I made that jab as a means to protect myself,” I say. “Your fight with Mukuro was enlightening, to say the least.”

I recall the spectacle they put on at the tournament: a rousing display that completely captivated those in attendance. I doubted any but myself comprehended the symbolism behind their exchange, however. As I watched that infamous tyrant cast away the Darkness Flame, knowing full well what such a feat must mean, I felt a cherished part of me shrivel and crumble apart. He broke her chains, in more ways than one, and she must have fractured his as well… in a way I could not.

“But, I’m happy for you, Hiei,” I say. Hollow words, but the only ones I can find the courage to speak. “Finding someone who interests you, and who returns that interest, is often a rewarding experience.”

“Interest—”

His eyes widen slightly. I can see a glint of moonlight in the scarlet of his irises even from here.

“Is that what you think?” He barks out a quick fit of vicious laughter. “I had almost grown to believe you’re as intelligent as you claim to be, Kurama, but you really are a fool.”

“What… do you..?”

He responds by taking a step away from the bed. He crosses the room, close enough to glare down at me… not to touch. His hands remain clenched at his sides, but his heat reaches me. A heavy flutter of wind fans the flames and whips them into a frenzy that laps my skin, threatening to burn.

“I’ve been waiting all these years for you to stop dancing around me and make your move, and then you say that to me?”

After fourteen centuries of diverse experiences, shock, awe, and surprise have become all but foreign concepts. Rarely do I feel the thrill of utter bewilderment, even after growing up again in human skin. Agitated feelings race, competing with logic and wisdom for a place of supremacy in my mind. In the end, all three mental states become locked in a triple stalemate within my brain, and the only reply I am able to blurt out is:

“What?”

“Idiot,” he hisses. “This was supposed to be an equal partnership, but your relentless stupidity is forcing me to do all the work.”

Though pride compels me to point out the severe hypocrisy of his claim, the urge is blown out of the water when he closes the gap between us and combs his fingers down through a lock of my hair. He’s made gestures like this before as demands for attention, or even for sheer practicality, raking out matted blood or debris after a battle to keep me presentable. This time, his action holds a charge behind it the likes of which I’ve never felt… at least, not from Hiei.

“I’m no good at this sort of thing, these saccharine endeavors,” he confesses, still looming closer. “I was counting on you to move in for the kill. Just as I said the day we met, your human naivety has spoiled you.”

He sighs as he bends down to meet me, and mutters “Oh well,” just before mashing his lips against my mouth.

I see - I feel - as his tongue prods past my teeth, how the belief in my own intellectual superiority has been my undoing. So sure I had counted all the cards in the deck, I failed to see the hand being played right before my eyes. With every card laid face up, the truth feels as natural as the gleam of the moon on a summer night like this one. I speak my own truth by wrapping my arms around the small of Hiei’s back. I tug until he comes to rest in my lap, still exploring the surface of my tongue with interest.

When Hiei pulls away, I suck in a deep breath before saying, “Let’s move to the bed.”

He leads. I follow. Hiei sinks back against the pillows and yanks me on top of him, where I remain, kissing down the side of his neck. A typical demonic heart, the beat in Hiei’s chest remains slow and uneven, barely perceptible. He can no doubt feel mine, thrumming inside me as though my ribs are the skin of a drum. I run my lips along his jaw, back to his open mouth. I toy with the points of his dainty fangs as I taste him, swallowing down more of his essence with every pass.

My hand wanders down the front of Hiei’s body, pausing when he sucks at my bottom lip and sends a thrill shooting through me. Once I regain my senses, I continue my journey, over the firm ripples of his abdominal muscles, and when he makes no move to stop me, into the valley between his thighs. Hiei’s length is rigid against my hand, straining against the inner seam of his loose pants. I take this as an invitation to tread further, but before I do, I ask him,

“Have you… done this before?” I’m shocked by the shyness tainting my own voice, recalling too late all my jaded experience has faded behind the shade of another lifetime. As Shuuichi, I am walking into uncharted territory. The idea that I may soon travel this path from the very beginning sends a ripple of exhilaration down my spine.

“Why does it matter?” Hiei asks.

“It will let me know how to proceed,” I say.

“No,” he says, “but I’ve seen enough to know what’s involved.”

“Knowing and doing are often leagues apart,” I tell him, before reminding myself that for an impulsive being like Hiei, the two are often one and the same.

“There’s a certain thrill to be had in taking on challenges that are out of one’s league,” he says. His voice has melted into an eager purr, and he locks his arms around my neck to pull me in for another kiss.

Exploration turns to action. With one hand, I unbuckle the stack of belts standing in my way, still glued to his lips up above. The loosening of fabric grants me access to the warm space under his shirt. I’ve touched him countless times, mostly to bind his arm or tend his wounds. Never before have I registered just how unblemished and smooth he is. A warrior raised in the wilds of Demon World should feel coarse and rugged, but only his hands have taken such abuse. Somehow, the rest of Hiei has escaped clean.

A surge of air jumps through my throat when he gasps. Hiei moans lightly - a soft sound of surrender - and rocks his head sideways against the pillows. Beneath his shirt, I circle one nipple with the tip of my finger, teasing until the flesh tightens. So… he enjoys this, or, doesn’t hate it, at least. Free of his kiss for the time being, I push his shirt up towards his neck, then tilt my head down. I palm one pectoral muscle, and press my lips to the one that remains exposed. He’s warmer than I’ve ever felt him, or perhaps a kiss is simply the best way to perceive this kind of warmth.

I pepper kisses over every inch of skin I’ve revealed so far, but want more, and Hiei seems willing to give me what I desire. As soon as I lean away, he casts off his shirt, and begins undoing my buttons carefully. He slides my shirt down my arms, and an appreciative smile catches the corner of his mouth. We switch places, with Hiei crawling over me on all fours, mirroring everything I’ve done to him. He takes the game one step further, as he often does, and sucks one of my nipples between his teeth. A surge of arousal pulses in my groin, chased by a pleasurable shiver I can’t hold back.

Rather than moving up to grace my neck, he trails down, sweeping his rough hands over my ribs, to my stomach. There, he stops, sits on my thighs, and stares at me.

“You shouldn’t hide all the time,” he says.

Hiei often pulls statements out of what others perceive as thin air. For him, his comments and appraisals feel perfectly appropriate. His train of thought simply carries ideas long past the point where everyone else has forgotten. I work to follow the path his mind has taken so far, coming to rest, at last, on the network of twisted scars etched across my abdomen.

“It’s not a matter of hiding,” I say, “though… I’m in no hurry to show off, either.”

“Hn… at first, I thought it was vanity that kept you covered up,” he responds. “I see now, there’s more to it.”

Briefly, I regret not turning the lights off. We’ve already swum deep into dangerous waters. This sort of exchange is new to both of us, and I fear any unseen bumps in the road may throw the whole experience off kilter. Swallowing down my trepidation, I tell him,

“My old body didn’t carry evidence’ of past encounters the way this one does. I prefer not to reveal more information than necessary, especially to an enemy.”

“Maybe…” Hiei begins, as he leans back towards me, “…you could just stop hurting yourself.”

He kisses my stomach, and traces each scar with his fingertips. Eventually, he reaches the waist of my jeans and undoes the metal button. A quick zip and a few backwards tugs lead my pants past my ankles and onto the floor. Hiei massages up and down my legs a few times with both hands before he plucks at the hem of my long briefs.

“Last piece,” he says.

I pull myself into a sitting position and jingle the unhooked buckles of his belts.

“You as well.”

Hiei tosses his pants away without any care at all, but drags out the process of removing my final garment, adding a touch of dramatic showmanship by kissing all the way down my leg. Once he’s laid me bare, he sits back and takes in the sight. I wonder if he’s ever seen anyone in this state, other than himself. But, rather than comment on the size or shape of my endowment, or the fact that my erection twitches involuntarily under the heat of his scrutiny, he hums and says,

“You’re hairy…”

“Ah…” For some reason I can’t quite define, a hot flush rushes up my neck. “Well… you’ve seen me before.”

“Tch, changing clothes,” he says. “It’s not like I was examining you this closely.”

“I’d say I’m average,” I reply. “Your hair is a completely different texture, that’s all.”

I drag my finger down the almost invisible line pointing like an arrow below his navel. It leads to a member totally swollen with lust, even though we’ve barely gotten started. After giving me a moment to appreciate him, Hiei returns the favor, tempting me back to the pillows once more.

“I like it,” he croons, only a breath from my ear. “I like seeing the full picture of who Kurama is. It feels like a secret worth stealing…”

I’m not sure if it’s because we’ve operated on the same wavelength so many times in the past, but Hiei has pulled a sentiment from my own thoughts and used it against me. To be frank, I’ve held apparitions in my arms who were far prettier, at least by conventional standards, but none quite as unique as Hiei. Not one has displayed such a balanced mix of impish beauty and unkempt masculinity. The cut of his muscles matched against the youthful lines of his face stills my breath and sends a flutter of butterflies through my chest. When he kisses along my neck, I can barely contain an amorous moan.

Hiei turns my hand over and kisses the inside of my wrist, next. For someone who has supposedly never been intimate before, he has a decent handle on what sorts of actions might drive me wild. He admits to his inexperience, though, when he combs my hair behind my ear and says,

“You’ll have to coach me from here.”

An open field lays before me, and I may take any path I want. Whatever trail I blaze, tonight, Hiei will race down it willingly, I’m sure of that. All the antagonism he displays in public has dissolved into sincerity and genuine curiosity. Though we have often partaken in lively back-and-forth battles of wit, trading lighthearted insults and taunts, I know that, alone with me, Hiei is far more likely to cut close to the meat of what he truly feels. He’s fessed up concerning his lack of knowledge, but, as always, he is eager to learn.

“To start, I could… use my mouth on you,” I suggest. “If you like.”

“Mouth…” His skepticism shows in the quirk of his brows and his shallow frown. “Where?”

My eyes flick downward before I can rein in the impulse.

“There?” he asks. “That’s something people normally do?”

“Sometimes.”

The thoughtful flames behind his eyes flare up. He’s considering my proposal. Ultimately, he must accept the idea, because he reclines beside me and lures me over top of him with a gentle tug on my hair. I bend to kiss his throat, trailing down, but this time, I don’t stall at his chest. I keep moving, painting a path with the glistening wetness left behind by my kisses. I hear his breath hitch slightly when I reach the soft dip between his abdomen and thigh. I squeeze both hips, hoping the pressure will center him, before I take the first plunge.

“A-ah…” I glance up and catch him digging his fangs into his lower lip. He’s no doubt remembered my family members lie sleeping right down the hall. As rude as he can be, Hiei is not completely without courtesy.

He gets by on deep, stunted breaths as I lick up and down his length. Still bracing against one hip, I take him into my hand to hold him at attention as I swirl my tongue round and round. He’s hotter here than anywhere, and I taste salty beads of arousal, even more so when I wrap my lips around and swallow him down. I plunge forward as far as I can, then draw back, rolling my tongue against the soft glans as I do.

“Mmmhhh…”

Hiei’s hand rests on the back of my head. He toys with my hair idly, slipping the strands through his fingers and scratching my scalp. He’s closed his eyes. His breathing evens out as he sinks into the experience.

“Is it okay..?” I ask, when I pull back to give my aching jaw a break. “It’s been a long time since I’ve done this.”

“Stop talking…” he mutters, his eyes still closed, and every muscle limp as though he’s fallen to the bed, drunk. “Just…”

“All right,” I say, breathing out a laugh.

The way Hiei morphs so easily from an elusive shadow to an obtrusive statue, blunt and solid, still fascinates me. I kiss his thigh, then dive back in. I suck and lap my tongue. He tastes so good. He’s bathed recently, the fragrance of herbal soap is still fresh… almost as if he knew where tonight’s confrontation might lead. Some Jagan masters are said to possess precognitive abilities, though Hiei has never demonstrated such a gift. When his shaft pulses sharply against the roof of my mouth, I cease to care what brought him here. My only yearning is to tease him past the point of tolerance and drink him down.

“Ahh… Kurama…” he gasps. “S-stop!”

“Stop?” I ask, still grasping him against my palm.

Hiei raises his head off the pillow slightly. For possibly the first time ever, his face appears flushed and red. A feverish blush has overtaken his cheeks.

“I’m almost at my limit,” he says, “and I haven’t done anything to you, yet.”

The hand still holding his erection tenses slightly. I gulp down a bated breath and stare up at him.

“And what is it that you want to do to me, Hiei?”

He sits up. With a gentleness to which I’m unaccustomed, he guides my hand away. Hiei swaps positions for the second time tonight. He offers me his place against the pillows and grazes his calloused fingers over my lips and chin.

“I want to bury myself inside you,” he says: full of confidence, no inhibitions, no secrets. “I want to see the infallible Youko Kurama squirm.”

The me of one hundred years past hisses his displeasure. How dare this ignorant, presumptuous child make such a claim? But, the me of right now pushes him away and smothers his objections. I want to experience Hiei’s heat from the inside out. I want to feel full and sated for the first time in decades, and I want this wild being of fire to fill me. I want him to force me onto my back, pull my hair, sink his teeth into my neck. I want him to stimulate me until I can stand it no longer and I bathe his chest in liquid lust.

Robbed of my tongue, I nod. I slip my arm around his shoulders and kiss him, eyes closed. Fumbling to the left, I somehow yank open the drawer of my nightstand, and find a tiny bottle of lotion. Thick and oil based, it’s not the best option, but it’s the most convenient choice I have, for now.

“Use this,” I whisper. “Otherwise, it will be painful.”

Hiei’s mouth hangs open slightly, just enough to show the tips of his teeth.

“Kurama…”

He cups both cheeks and presses against my lips, kissing feverishly, breathing me in. With his tongue still dueling mine, he spreads my legs, and spreads the lotion against me. His index finger slips inside. The intrusion feels alien and uncomfortable, but only for a beat. The instant I exhale and release the tension tangling me up, my muscles draw him in. He must notice the change, for he glides a second finger in and scissors them open.

“Ahhh…”

How long have I been waiting for this? I’m not sure. Hiei has struck a chord within me and I clench around his fingers - push against the incursion. He slips in and out, stroking the most hidden reaches of my body. The jolts that ricochet from my groin to my heart numb all logical thought. I want to take him in. I want him to throw me over the edge towards oblivion. I want to hold the memory of his seed filling me in my hands and fawn over it.

“More,” I gasp. “Please!”

At some point, Hiei added a third finger, I can’t even recall when. He yanks all three away and positions his hips. I lock my ankles around his waist and hug him against me. His skin is a length of hot stone against my chest and stomach, but I endure the burn, and hold on. He probes into me, wider than anyone his size has a right to be. I cling to him as though letting go might fling me past the outer rim of the universe. After banishing the initial pain, I welcome him, and oh… how he delivers. Hiei sheathes his manhood all the way to the hilt and I wince, not with discomfort, but with disbelief.

“Kurama…” he says. “Are you…?”

“Yes,” I plead. “Yes!”

His first thrust has me gagging on a scream.

“Hiei…” I wrap my arms around his shoulders. He rocks the both of us, and I hear the head board thump the wall. “Ah… Oh God…”

I dig my nails into his back, hard enough to wound. Fleetingly, I think how sorry I am, but the worry feuds with another throb of sheer pleasure and ultimately, is crushed. Hiei forces his hands into the space between my shoulders and the bed and holds me against him. He’s bending me in half as he thrusts. The shift in position exposes a point of vulnerability inside me, and Hiei strikes with deadly precision. I gasp so quickly I almost choke.

“Ah!” My hands have begun to shake. “There… right there.”

Hiei remains buried, but his movements become quicker, shallower. Now that’s he’s found his target, he’s determined to torture an explosion of rapture out of me. His raspy grunts sound to the beat of the ripples expanding through my stomach. I crane my neck forward, straining to reach him, but Hiei meets me halfway and captures my lips. We breathe and gyrate together. Even this kiss is electric enough to draw another pre-orgasmic surge from my core.

I curl my toes and grip his biceps. I taste a climax welling in the back of my throat, becoming more real with every pass. This is real. He’s real. Hiei’s swollen heat is moving inside me. I rock my head back against the pillow. The bare expanse of sweat drenched skin must be too tempting for him to resist. Hiei swipes his tongue over my neck, grating with his fangs when he reaches my trapezius.

He jostles me a bit when he props his entire weight on one elbow. I don’t notice the journey of his free hand until it wraps around my cock. He’s slowed his pace to match the slide of my foreskin over the dripping head. This dual attention shatters my last semblance of composure. I gouge my nails into his shoulders again and writhe. Every breath draws the growing orb of pleasure to the surface. The throb is so strong… My human body has never been pushed this far.

“Hiei…” I try to still the quaking in my thighs, but can’t. “I… nnng!”

“Don’t hold back…” Hiei’s breath condenses against neck. “Come for me, Kurama…”

He steals my sanity with that request. I clamp my eyes shut. My jaw hangs limp and I gasp for oxygen. I reel my voice in. I can’t scream… But I can’t hold it in, either. I bring my hand to my mouth and sink in my teeth.

“Hiei… A-ah…!” An explosion detonates, and expands. My whole back tenses: as rigid as a board. “Hiei… Hiei! Aahhh!”

I’ve fallen from a great height into a sea of bliss. Gradually, the pulses decrease in intensity, and finally tick to a stop. My heartbeat chases the thunderous eruption and fights to keep me conscious. I feel faint, outside myself. But reality sinks in its claws as soon as my brain can register feeling again. Hiei is still moving within me, rolling his pelvis in time with my contracting muscles.

Once my convulsions subside, Hiei glances down at the splatter of fluid across my chest. The sight cracks a whip behind him, and he picks up speed. He bucks his hips forward, his head propped against my trembling shoulder. The increase in stimulation when I already feel so over-sensitized is nearly too much to bear. I hold on for the ride, taking in the rasp of his frantic breathing. Finally, Hiei lurches over me for the last time, and lets loose a guttural sound halfway between a growl and groan, right in my ear. Then, he collapses, panting, limp, and spent.

I rub both hands up and down his damp back, cementing this moment in my mind as I caress.

“You’re sure this is your first time?” I hum. That he was able to stave off his own release for so long to wait for me is astounding. Rarely have I known such an impulsive creature to demonstrate such self control.

“Other than with my hands,” Hiei murmurs.

His heat slips free of my body. I suddenly feel empty, but my heart fills again when he nudges at my chin and bites into my neck. He braces himself on his hands, rising high enough to smile down at me with a dreamy, far-off look in his eyes. As soon as he shifts to crouch on his heels and looks down at himself, though, his smile pales, and all the misty light recedes, leaving his scarlet irises dull.

“You’re bleeding…”

I glance down as well. In the glare of this cursed light, the faint streaks of red are impossible to miss.

“It’s all right,” I assure him, and hand over a box of tissues from my nightstand. “That’s to be expected the first time. I’m sorry if I caused you any alarm, though.”

“You should have said something,” he mutters, as he wipes himself clean. “As per the terms of our alliance, I promised I would never hurt you.”

“To be perfectly honest,” I say. “I didn’t even notice. So, you needn’t worry.”

“Hn…”

After the mess on my stomach has been cleared away, I finally move to douse the light. We slip under the covers together, he to the right, I to the left. We’ve swapped places, for whenever Hiei has shared my bed in the past, he’s slept as close to the window as he can get without falling on the floor. An invisible, but very real buffer existed between us before. Closer to the wall, Hiei has left himself with no easy means of escape. My heart aches, longing to leap with delight over the prospect that he might stay. My brain kills the idea where it stands and quells the looming excitement. I can’t stray too far ahead of the present. Not now. Not yet.

I’ve been here in my dreams so many times: holding him in my arms, staring into his eyes, the warmth of his hard body stretched out along my side. In the theater of my mind, this scene always culminates the same way, but now… seeing him in the sharp focus of the real world, I’m not sure how this meeting will end. I only know that I don’t want it to.

“Hiei, I…”

“Kurama.”

I swallow down my words.

“Before you utter something stupid and sentimental, you should know the most dominant feeling I feel towards you isn’t love.” He cups my cheek, and in his eyes, I detect a softness that has rarely seen the light of day. “It’s trust.”

A sigh escapes me, one of relief.

“Then, I’m honored,” I tell him. “How many love affairs have come to a tragic end due to a lack of it?”

“Tch, I don’t know, nor do I care,” he says. “Right now, my only concern is you, and where this instability came from.”

I tilt my head. He’s strayed into the weeds, and I’m not sure where he’s headed.

“What do you mean?”

“You planted that seed of trust in my heart the day we met, when I woke up in your bed and realized you had healed me instead of killing me,” he says. While he speaks, he plays with my hair, allowing strands to glide between his fingers. He’s looking not at me, but the road behind us. “You were the first person I could show my back to, without fear of being stabbed. With you, there’s no trepidation or doubt. I know, if I falter, you’ll step in to pick up the slack.”

He zeroes in on my face again. A light nudge against my jaw brings us nose to nose.

“So… if I trust you, why can’t you trust in your own convictions?” he asks. “Or me…”

That warm, glowing feeling in my belly flips backwards and becomes tied in a knot. I think back to that midnight rendezvous under the bridge, when we stood among shadows and filth to watch Yomi’s and Mukuro’s messages play out on the wall. That shade tempted Hiei away from me, first with the allure of a challenge and the opportunity to snoop out information. Mukuro’s temptation grew to envelop more than Hiei’s quest for strength, though. She swallowed all of him, and the next time he graced my presence, he had become someone else.

“Because… you went away, Hiei,” I say. “Not just physically. Something between us faded while you were gone. I thought I had lost you for good.”

His eyes fall. He presses his hand to the center of my chest.

“Only because I lost myself,” he says. “Trapped in that dungeon for six months, at first fighting for my life every minute of every day thrilled me to my core, but as the weeks dragged on, I lost my way. I began to dwell on changes I couldn’t control: the averted apocalypse, our team fractured, my sister safe and happy. When we fought Sensui, not only did you and I surpass our uppermost limits, I watched Kuwabara evolve into someone who could protect Yukina… without me.”

A faint glimmer of fondness shines in his expression.

“But, Mukuro made me stronger,” he says. “She took care of me.”

Took advantage of you, I think, as I might have, had human morality not tempered my darker urges. In the days when greed and sin ruled my heart, someone like Hiei would have made a delicious, bite-sized morsel. Young, eager, and without a place in the world, he would have been so easy to lure into my den, where I could strip away his identity and have my way with him.

I lost those impulses years ago, though. I lost my lover, my power, my very body. I lost everything that I was, but gained humanity, and so much more.

“Hiei… allow me to answer your original question more plainly,” I say. He glances up again. “I am interested in you, in every sense. But, I didn’t think you would appreciate that sort of attention, and when you decided to remain in Mukuro’s service, I grew certain…”

“I couldn’t answer your call, back then,” he states. “Until recently, I didn’t know how to respond to you. The only attention I’d received until I met you was negative. Feeling loved instead of loathed was a puzzle I couldn’t crack.”

“Hm, if you’ve learned to accept being loved, does that mean you’ll finally tell Yukina you’re her brother?” I tease.

The jab succeeds in lightening this heavy mood, and after glowering up at me, he prods the middle of my sternum and breaks into a smirk.

“One conundrum at a time, idiot.”

We soon grow drowsy, our effervescence sapped by sex and revelations. Hiei drapes one arm across my bare chest and tucks his head into the crook of my shoulder. I feel the light tugs of his fingers twirling my hair for quite some time, but eventually, he succumbs. I drift off to the sound of Hiei’s even breaths, leaving only the summer moon awake and lively.

Hours later, a soft rapping and the creeping glare of the sun drag my eyes open. From beyond the door, I hear my mother calling out,

“Shuuichi, I’m starting breakfast.”

A shift and soft moan beside me draw my attention away from her. Astoundingly, Hiei is still here, wrapped up in my blankets like a caterpillar in his cocoon. He rubs his bleary eyes and stares up at the ceiling, seemingly trying to make sense of his surroundings.

“I’ll be down in a bit, mother!” I answer.

Taps of slippered feet in the hall signal her retreat.

“I guess that’s my cue to go,” Hiei says, his voice weak and even rougher than usual. He sits up, yawning, and stretches his arms above his head.

“You could always stay for breakfast,” I suggest.

“Tch, I’ll spare you the chore of explaining when and how I got here,” he says.

“This body is fully grown, now,” I tell him. “It’s not as though there are any social mores stopping me from bringing someone to bed.”

“Another man?” Hiei questions. He slips past the foot board and the covers fall away, revealing the strong curves of his back, firm rear end, and angry, red fingernail imprints all across his shoulders. “I thought humans had some prejudice against that.”

“Times are changing,” I remark. “The culture as a whole is growing more progressive.”

“It’s about time,” Hiei huffs, as he wanders the room, collecting his scattered garments. “Brainless, backwards apes…”

I sit up just as he pulls his pants past his hips and buckles the bottommost belt.

“Hold on…” I say, beckoning him closer. “Not yet.”

Hiei raises his brow, but approaches. I press my lips to his abdomen and encircle his thin waist with my arms. His expression softens completely when he gazes down at me. He runs those blunt nails through my hair again, combing out the tangles. I could get used to this sort of doting, that is…

Another knock at the door - louder this time - snaps me out of my love-drunk daydream and makes me jump.

“Up and at ‘em, champ!” my step-father exclaims. “You’re going to make us late for work!”

“Just a moment,” I say, biting back a sigh.

Hiei escapes my embrace during the exchange to hunt down his shirt, cloak, and muffler. Fully dressed, he returns to my side. The sword clamped in his fist tells me I will only enjoy his company a few moments longer. Fighting against the clock, I leap to a question I wish I could leave unsaid.

“Hiei… before you go, I feel I must ask,” I say. “What… are we to each other, now?”

He cups my cheek. His eyelids sink, shielding that captivating scarlet beneath a warm shadow. Before he replies, he bends just far enough to taste my lips one final time. Hiei steps back, his hand already on the window frame, and simply says.

“Partners. Same as ever.”