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[[Why are we here?]]

[Surely you know the point of a bath.]

The Dragon’s silence is a mocking one. Hiei sinks deeper into the bath's warm water, frowning. The creature is undoubtedly powerful and now part of him, but the smaller demon is unprepared for the Dragon’s… talkativeness.

[[We know the point of a bath. We understand removing the blood of enemies.]] The Dragon speaks in Hiei’s mind, as it always does. [[You are here for another reason.]]

[Say it, would you. I don't like word games.] Hiei responds, frowning growing into a scowl now. He scrubs his hair clean and then rinses off, becoming more annoyed as the conversation progresses.

[[You are avoiding the Fox.]] The Dragon states. It sounds like an accusation, but with the smugness of fact.

Hiei snorts in pure derision. [I am not.]

[[That is a lie. Your heart is beating faster.]]

“Shut up.” Hiei says out loud. The Dragon laughs at him for this, the sound continuing even as Hiei steps out of the bath and begins to dry himself off.

[[He needs you.]]

[No he doesn’t. What do you know about Kurama, anyway?]

The Dragon doesn’t answer with words. Instead it shows Hiei what the fox looked like earlier that day on the sidelines, green eyes trained on Hiei’s form during his fight with Bui. The fox is battered from his own match with Karasu, wounds still seeping, but he’s looking towards Hiei as if the smaller demon is all he can see. Hiei hadn’t seen this in the moment, but the Dragon had.

[[He cares for you.]] The Dragon observes.

[He cares for many.] Hiei argues, pulling on his clothes.

[[We think you are different.]]

Hiei sighs, glaring down at his arm. The creature resides there now like living ink, a constant similar to the Jagan.

“Leave it alone.” The smaller demon warns. He picks up the cloth he uses for warding the Dragon in, and the creature growls in fierce protest.

“You can’t keep talking endlessly.” Hiei glares, starting to wrap the cloth around his arm. “When these are on, you’re quiet.”

The Dragon offers no protest. Hiei continues until his arm is covered in white bandages, then lets out another sigh. Despite his long hibernation after fighting Bui, he’s still tired. More rest sounds like a wise idea.

Kurama is already in his own bed, bandaged and lost in thought. He’s undoubtedly bothered by his final fight still, along with Genkai’s loss, and the hundreds of other things Kurama always seems to think about at once.

The fox seems relieved to see him, though. He smiles, and Hiei thinks back to the image the Dragon showed him. Kurama does look at him a little differently than the others, but Hiei expects that. They’re partners.

“Glad to be finished with this place?” Kurama asks, though he already knows the answer.

“Hn.” Hiei responds, along with a nod. The smaller demon switches the lights off, settling on his bed. Kurama doesn’t move for a few moments, but then he lays down too.

[[Go to him.]]

The Dragon’s voice startles Hiei. He glares at his bandaged arm, furious. [I told you to be quiet.]

[[We will be. This is important.]] The Dragon emphasizes, making Hiei’s arm burn for a moment. The smaller demon clutches at his bandaged wrist, wondering if the Dragon has the power to remove the wards or not. It shouldn’t -- Hiei’s in control completely now -- but he’s not certain.

He's not certain about this entire situation either, and while it seems the Dragon can't read his mind -- the entity just observes closely, and senses Hiei's physiological changes -- it's strange that the Dragon is suggesting Hiei cross the boundary between their beds. It's something that's entered the smaller demon's mind a few times during the Tournament, ending in a multitude of scenarios, but he never went through with it.

[...He would say if he needed me.] Hiei argues, mental voice quiet.

[[He said it with his eyes.]]

“That is ridiculous.” Hiei mutters under his breath. Kurama, still awake, sits up slightly in response to his voice.



[Shut up!]

“Hiei, are you alright?”

Hiei definitely doesn’t feel alright. The Dragon is insistent and now that he thinks about it, Kurama is looking at him like he wants to say something but isn’t. That’s not the fox’s style by any means at all. What's happening?

The Dragon is pulling at the wards, making Hiei grit his teeth. The smaller demon gets off of his bed and crosses the gap between it and Kurama’s. The fox blinks at him, looking so very tired and vulnerable. More than Hiei’s ever seen from him before.

Kurama doesn’t start a difficult conversation. He pulls the blankets back in silent invitation, letting Hiei join him. The smaller demon settles down next to Kurama and is surprised when -- within moments -- the fox rests his head on Hiei’s shoulder.

Hiei lets the strange feeling of trust settle through him. He doesn’t move away, but he doesn’t move to get any closer either. He’s learned over the years that closeness with Kurama feels very dangerous, like exposing himself to something unknown. In small doses it’s tolerable; too much and the smaller demon can’t think straight. This is absolutely one of those can't-think-straight situations.

“Hiei.” Kurama says softly. He’s quite obviously using Hiei as a pillow now, and soon falls asleep. As odd as the position might be, Hiei feels… comfortable. The Dragon is also silent now, no longer pulling at the wards. This must be what it wanted.

The smaller demon drifts off eventually, looking across the gap at his abandoned bed.

In the morning, Hiei wakes up to a mass of red hair clouding his vision. That and the weight of Kurama’s body suddenly shifting away from his, making him feel quite disoriented. The smaller demon makes a noise of pure displeasure at the sunlight streaming in through the windows.

“As much as I dislike this place, it feels strange to leave.” Kurama says quietly. The tone of his voice gets Hiei’s attention. He’s being emotional about something, not just stating a fact. The smaller demon sits up, making a noncommittal noise. Kurama isn’t wrong.

“Thank you.” The fox says suddenly. “For sleeping here last night. I needed it.”

Hiei’s staring, but Kurama isn’t looking at him. So the Dragon was right after all. He was needed and he did something and he helped. Hiei’s quite unused to these things, even less to the feeling it gives him.

“It wasn’t… unpleasant.” Hiei mumbles. Kurama looks at him then, clearly surprised. The fox smiles at him, and Hiei thinks for a moment that his eyes are tricking him. That smile is definitely brighter than the sunlight.

There isn’t much to pack up and take with them; Hiei doesn’t believe in owning much anyway. Kurama has a small bag that he adds some of Hiei’s damaged clothes to. The smaller demon wonders if that means he’s expected to visit the fox’s home after this, or if Kurama will just have them ready whenever he stops by next.

After getting Yuusuke and Kuwabara, they end up in the small cafe in the lobby. Hiei doesn’t want to be there, doesn’t want to deal with any more socialization, but Kurama places a cup of coffee in front of him with a stack of sugar cubes and the smaller demon supposes he can spare a few moments.

“How can you drink that much sugar?” Kuwabara asks, making a face. “You’re gonna die from that stuff.”

“How can you be so insufferable?” Hiei returns, adding all of the sugar to his coffee. It dissolves and he drinks from the cup deeply, liking both the heat and sweetness.

[[The Fox takes care of you well.]]

Hiei almost spits out the coffee. He doesn’t, though he does make an odd sound that gets Kurama’s attention beside him. The redhead doesn’t say anything, just asks with a look if Hiei is alright.

[We’re partners.] Hiei reasons, shaking his head slightly.

[[What does that mean?]]

[We’re allies. We help each other.]

[[Are these others also his allies?]]

Hiei looks at Yuusuke and Kuwabara who are, of course, arguing about nothing and getting Kurama involved in it somehow.

[I suppose. He calls them friends.]

[[But they are not partners.]] The Dragon parses out, sensing that Hiei uses the word in a particular way.

[No. That’s just me.]

[[So you are special.]]

“Enough.” Hiei mutters. He’s growing tired of this banter.

“We weren’t even talking to you, shorty.” Kuwabara points out loudly, thinking that Hiei’s talking to him.

Before Hiei can say anything, they’re interrupted by the group of demons that assisted them when the stadium collapsed. Everything soon becomes a wall of noise -- too many conversations -- and Hiei’s jaw clenches as he drinks more coffee.

[[What is that one? The Wielder of Ice.]]

Hiei watches Touya talking calmly with Kurama. It seems that the fox’s mercy for the shinobi is appreciated to an annoying degree.

[He’s nothing.]

[[But we sense your rage.]]

Of course Hiei still carries rage at Touya. He hates anyone that tried to kill Kurama during the course of the Tournament, especially those that came close to succeeding. Most are dead, at least, yet Touya gets to walk away… not only that, he gets to sit here now and smile at Kurama with confidence and admiration, like he’s…

[[A threat.]] The Dragon pieces together Hiei’s feeling before the smaller demon gives a name to it. [[Shall we devour him?]]


[[But he offends you.]]

[Almost everyone offends me.] Hiei replies, drinking deeply from his cup.

[[Not the Fox?]]

[You’re obsessed with Kurama. Stop it.]

[[We are focused as you are focused, that is all. We like his effect on you.]]

Hiei stares straight ahead. There’s some ugly arrangement of flowers on the table, something pink and smelling faintly stale. It’s nothing like the flowers Kurama keeps at his home, even the ones that are tame Ningenkai versions of wilder plants.

Someone is saying something to him, and he has to ignore the voice of the Dragon to offer a glare and a monosyllabic response. The group of demons eventually leaves, bound back to the mainland on one of the earlier boats. Hiei is grateful when his sister and the rest of the women show up, as it means they can now leave the damned island.

[[Why are they all behaving this way?]] The Dragon asks once the group is out in the field and reunited with Genkai. Hiei himself can’t quite believe the old woman is corporeal once more, but for him it’s more intriguing than anything.

[Human sentiment.] Hiei answers. He wonders if he said the words aloud, because suddenly Kurama is looking at him.


Kurama waits until the others have started walking towards the beach and the boat awaiting them. When all are out of earshot, the redhead speaks.

“You’re awfully quiet.”

Hiei gives him a deadpan stare.

“More than usual.” Kurama emphasizes as they walk towards the beach slowly. With every step Hiei feels more and more glad to be rid of this stupid place.

“I don’t like crowds.” Hiei points out. It’s true, they both know that. He should tell Kurama about his telepathic link with the Dragon, but he isn’t ready to explain yet.

“No, you tend not to.” Kurama agrees, though he doesn’t look completely satisfied. When they near the boat, the redhead sighs.

“Hiei. You can tell me openly if last night bothered you.”

Hiei blinks in confusion. “Last night?”

“Sleeping together.”

[[Heartbeat.]] The Dragon points out smugly, not helping at all.

The smaller demon stammers. So Kurama thinks that’s the problem, even though Hiei said it wasn’t unpleasant to share a bed. What is he supposed to say when the fox is looking at him with those damned sad eyes like Hiei’s hurt his feelings?

“Hey, you guys! Hurry up already!” Yuusuke calls. He’s in an insufferably good mood now that the old woman is back.

“It’s not… that.” Hiei manages to say, shaking his head. Kurama looks him over slowly, then turns to board the boat.

If Kurama is upset with him, it doesn’t show clearly. The fox is his usual self on the boat ride back to the mainland, though a little more distanced than usual from the others. He engages in conversation with everyone, but Hiei can tell there’s a lot on his mind. Knowing Kurama, and how the redhead was the night before… it likely has to do with Karasu.

When they reach the mainland, Hiei watches his sister head off with Genkai to her temple. The old woman is a respectable fighter and Hiei will entrust his sister’s care for a short while to her.

The smaller demon follows Kurama home, though he enters the fox’s bedroom through the window while Kurama talks with Shiori downstairs. The redhead needs to keep up his lies to his mother, after all.

[[Who is the woman?]]

[You’re annoying.] Hiei responds, rolling his eyes. [She’s his mother.]

[[She smells human.]]

[She is. He’s human and not.]

The Dragon takes this answer in, pondering it. It seems the entity was only ever-present from Hiei's fight with Bui, and hadn't witnessed Kurama taking his demon form in his battle with Karasu. Yet, the Dragon calls Kurama 'the fox' as if it knows... It's all confusing, and Hiei doesn't want to think about it. The smaller demon tries to just enjoy the moment of silence, settling on Kurama’s bed with his back against the wall. The fox’s bed is much narrower than the one they shared the night before at the hotel.

Hiei can recall, acutely, the feeling of Kurama’s body resting against his own that very morning. He hadn’t been prepared for the sense of loss when the fox moved away from him, ending the unfamiliar closeness. Now that he thinks about it… if Kurama hadn’t spoken, would Hiei have tried to pull him back?

Would Kurama let such a thing happen? Why would Hiei even do that, besides being greedy for things he isn’t supposed to have?

Hiei’s thoughts are a confused mess, interrupted only by the Dragon cutting through the noise.

[[You summoned me because you are strong.]] The Dragon admits, it’s voice a little louder in Hiei’s mind than usual. [[You forget your strength around him now and then, do you not?]]

[[Shut up. I asked for your power, not your commentary.]] Hiei snaps. The Dragon goes silent for a long while, enough that if Hiei focuses he can hear Kurama and Shiori talking softly downstairs.

[[This place smells of growing things.]]

Hiei waves the hand not burdened with the Dragon in a dismissive gesture. [Kurama grows things.] The smaller demon points out obviously. There’s at least ten visible plants in the room, and probably more growing in dark places beneath the bed and in little corners. By now they all know not to bite at him like any random intruder.

[[It also smells of you.]]

[I’m here often.] Hiei admits. That’s just a fact, so he doesn’t see a problem with saying it.

[[Are we to call this home?]] The Dragon wonders, a low rumble.

Hiei hesitates. It’s not so much for the ridiculous idea that an ageless entity wants to know if it has any claim on this human house. No, it’s the idea that Hiei does think of this place as a home, even though he’s never said that word. How many times during the Tournament had he wished to be back here, sitting on the floor while Kurama scribbled away at his homework? Such a boring thing to want -- senseless -- and yet, the image is so strong.

“You can if you want.” Hiei finally answers, hearing the familiar sound of Kurama’s footsteps coming up the stairs.