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Kurama touches his hand to Karasu’s face at the edge of where the plant that’s gagging him sits and smiles, vicious and a little cruel. It’s what Karasu wants, the lines between Yoko Kurama and Shuichi Minamino blurring. There is humanity in him yet, but it’s nice to ignore it for a moment. Being a human all the time is tiresome.

“Have you learned your lesson yet?” Kurama looks down and Karasu’s eyes burn with fury. There a bombs floating around them and Kurama ignores them. The balance between them is delicate, and Karasu knows better than to upset it. “Poor thing, caught and gagged.”

Karasu looks like he would say something, if he could. He can’t, though, which is the point. There’s nothing Karasu likes more than running his mouth when they’re together, and Kurama finds it tiresome, sometimes. All demons have a penchant for grandstanding—he would include himself in that number—but Karasu revels in it. He’ll run his mouth whenever he has a chance, and sometimes it’s fun to listen to him but other times Kurama would prefer his silence. He’ll take that silence by force, if necessary.

As if it’s nothing, vines rise from the ground and lift Karasu with them as they grow. Silence is what Kurama wants, but this is what Karasu wants and he’s been good so Kurama is inclined to grant it. It’s unsurprising, maybe, that a bird would want to be higher. Kurama doesn’t prefer it, but then there’s that between them—a fox is a hunter and crows are opportunistic. It’s how Kurama always manages to catch Karasu, even when Karasu believes himself to be the hunter between them.

“Here we are again,” Kurama says, looking up at Karasu. “The hunter becomes the hunted. How are you going to get out of this one, hm?”

It’s the same choice as always: the vines holding Karasu up are a particular plant that Kurama has cultivated to be resistant specifically to Karasu’s bombs. That’s the challenge of it and Karasu has never disappointed. Vines sprout up, forming themselves into a chair, and Kurama sits to watch as Karasu struggles. The newest variant on this vine has thorns, so it tears at Karasu’s skin as he struggles. Knowing him, however, that’s a benefit.

The struggle dies down after a few minutes, and Kurama smiles. He’d neglected to mention that the vines would drain the energy of whatever they held in their grasp., but it seems that Karasu’s found that out for himself. Even though they’ve settled into a particular pattern now, it’s always best to change it up so nobody gets too bored. After all, if Karasu got too bored then he wouldn’t keep coming around to play and that would be a real pity, now wouldn’t it.

“Well? Now what are you going to do?” Kurama doesn’t move from where he’s seated and so the vines don’t move either. “Seems you’ve gotten yourself into an impossible situation.”

Like clockwork, Karasu’s hair shifts from black to blonde. He’ll use himself as a bomb, which is something of a showstopper trick. Unfortunately, Kurama has seen it one too many times—a fancy trick is only good for as long as it takes your opponent to figure it out and while previous iterations of the vines he’s currently using had succumbed to the sheer force of Karasu exploding, they’ve been getting more resistant to the attack and he think it might not work as well when Karasu is continually being drained of his energy.

He still tries, though, and Kurama has to applaud the tenacity of it, if nothing else. But, just as quickly as it came, Karasu’s hair has faded back to black. He looks like he wants to say something, and Kurama waits for a moment before the vine that’s been in Karasu’s mouth moves away. The sound of his breathing is ragged, and it takes a moment before he’s able to say anything.

“Finish me,” Karasu says, voice raspy and soft. “Don’t you know it’s rude to leave someone hanging?”

“That may be true, but it’s never been my style to kill things that don’t deserve it.” The fact that Karasu is Quest-class was enough when there had only been two choices: to win or die trying. Now that they’re past that, that they’ve entered into this odd arrangement, it’s at odds with the parts of Kurama that would rather keep Karasu alive and suffering. “I’m not sure you’ve earned the right to die yet.”

“What would I have to do to prove myself worthy?” The words are almost desperate, like Karasu knows that’s how Kurama likes to hear him. “What will it takes for you to finally kill me?”

“You can start by figuring your way out of those vines,” Kurama says, nonchalant. The parts of him that are and always have been Shuichi Minamino think that death would be better than letting Karasu suffer. The parts of him that are Yoko Kurama say he isn’t worth it. Not yet, anyway. “If you’re clever enough for that, maybe I’ll leave you here to die today.”

He won’t, and they both know it but the sentiment is nice. The vine moves itself back into Karasu’s mouth before he can respond and Kurama waits. It takes a moment, but the vines start falling away. If he focuses, Kurama can see that Karasu’s made a knife and is slowly cutting himself free. It’s slow going, because Karasu’s energy is still being drained and he doesn’t have as much energy as he normally might.

Eventually, Karasu drops from the vines, lying there and trying to catch his breath. Kurama rises, walking over slowly before pressing his hand to one of the cuts on Karasu’s body. Something will grow there, eventually, and it won’t let Karasu die. Not yet anyway. There’s still so much that they can do together, and Kurama would hate for that to be cut short.

“Sorry I can’t stay,” Kurama says, standing up again and straightening his clothes. “I have more important things to do than watch you die. You know how it is.”

Karasu says nothing and Kurama doesn’t expect him to. The vine gagging him is still exactly where he put it, after all.