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Counting Crows

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O Rose, thou art sick!

The invisible worm

That flies in the night,

In the howling storm,


Has found out thy bed

Of crimson joy:

And his dark secret love

Does thy life destroy.


The Sick Rose, by William Blake.



"What were you thinking, pet?"

Kurama was resolved. He was a fox, not a dog! Karasu could treat him like an inanimate object to his heart's desire, he would never give in. For Inari's sake, yes! He was not going to roll over and bare his belly to Karasu; he was not going to compromise his position, though it was tenuous, by revealing his emotions on his face; and he was absolutely not going to come willingly from his hole-up in the corner of the room.

Kurama couldn't stop his instinctual growling as Karasu's eyes raked his body, prying at the dignity he'd built up over the last few days. He was ashamed to realize he was falling back into his old spirit-fox warning sounds, as though he were a kit marking his first territory. He was only consoled by the fact that it was virtually impossible to fortify oneself to the point that Karasu's actions had any less impact than they were having. Kurama understood that the sight of Karasu was too unsettling for his current fragile state of mind.

His lower brain kicked in, and he found himself holding a mop he'd picked up on a whim from a room's supply closet between him and Karasu. It was a desperate attempt to hamper Karasu's further movements, and a security measure for Kurama. The panic Karasu inspired interrupted the normally smooth motion of his hands, and he gripped his ad hoc weapon so hard it let out an agonized creak.

"Pet, pet, really now. Put down the weapon. Or keep it, if you wish, though I do warn you..." Karasu trailed off gently, flawless in his threats. The sound of his voice cut through the sanctity of Kurama's mind and burst the dams that had been built in Karasu's absence. Kurama allowed himself to be flooded with rage, suppressing the other, more dominant emotions of fear and humiliation. He was afraid of his shame and ashamed of his fear; it was quite a conundrum, one he solved by careful repression. Rage, though, was identified as a healthy emotion, and Kurama filled himself with it, taking strength from his hatred of the anathema that was Karasu.

"Did something interrupt you? Not still fantasizing about Toguro, I hope," Kurama spat. Karasu's eyes curved up as he smiled graciously at his young captive from beneath his mask. He saw the needlings for what they were, the snarls of a caged and helpless animal that couldn't bring itself to appease its master. It would be allowed to pass, for now. There would be plenty of time later to show the fox the error of his ways.

Kurama realized that his tone was improper for the situation, and likely to bring him pain. He leaned the mop against the wall, firmly overriding his base instincts with his higher brain. A fight would do no good, he reasoned: it would only lead to torture. He felt a soft swathe of hopelessness deaden him as he realized that all roads led to torture.

"Well, dearest Kurama," Karasu began. He took his time, touching the walls and ornaments as he circumvented the bed to get to the alcove Kurama had fortified. "You know I dream only of you; for now, at least. But that is immaterial. Why did you break Sakyo's vase? For caltrops? Those would never work on my feet, lovely. You learn nothing from time. I may have to punish you for this," he said. Subtle intelligence laced every oblique threat, and that, and the ugly, corroding scent of silk and gunpowder, made Kurama's lips twitch in hatred and disgust.

Karasu bent down and pinched one of the caltrops, picking it up and admiring it. He felt a dull ache at the loss of the beauty the china represented. It brought a smile to his lips, and his lust increased exponentially as he imagined his toy as this vase, shattered and broken into something useful. He smiled wider, glad of these thoughts and glad that his new pet was being creative.

"Is this an attempt to keep me out?" Karasu asked, his voice light.

"No," Kurama replied, his voice equally light, "I can't keep you out. Those men of Toguro's, on the other hand, keep grabbing me in the halls and gesturing when I pass. I'm sick of the lewdness, and I have no desire to see any demon's tongue but my own." He chose his words carefully, keeping half their implications under fastidious wraps, but Kurama's fury hadn't died down. His rage betrayed itself in his refusal to turn and give Karasu the benefit of his attention. It was a feeble gesture, and he knew it, but he wouldn't give even an inch of himself over to the rapist.

Karasu's hideous voice came again. "Don't worry, sweets, I'll take care of them. I'm surprised it bothered you so much!" Kurama watched him out of the corner of his eye.

Karasu made his way through the piled furniture and caltrops, neatly sidestepping a hunting trap made of rich, red cords and a long handled brush. The threads were tied together and fastened to a chandelier by means of the bed, which had been stripped of its king-sized mattresses and put on its side. The bed's metal webbing and wooden beams had served as the first of Karasu's obstacles. The curtains, in the interest of privacy, hadn't been taken down, though their decorative rope was ripped from the red and gold velvet and used to make both the traps, and to rig buckets of ammonia to the ceiling. Karasu wondered how he was going to ferret out the maids Kurama had corrupted, then realized that he hadn't bribed anyone, but had merely stolen the requisite items.

Annoyance flared in Karasu's cold chest as his suspicions came to a head. A trap this intricate and obvious had no practical purpose, he thought. His pet was neither childish nor puerile; he would never be this—loud. If Kurama wanted to set traps they would be heavily concealed and ruthlessly efficient. In fact, this simplicity didn't suit Kurama at all. No, if that's true, Karasu thought, then the fox was lying his pretty little teeth out! This was all a way to alert him to Karasu's return and give Kurama time to prepare himself. More than that, it was a memorandum on how unsafe he was, and how much he despised his captor's more amorous attentions. Karasu's eyes narrowed as his thoughts came to a halt. I mean really, destroying the bed?

Karasu turned, almost at Kurama's alcove, and righted the bed frame in one smooth jump. Unperturbed by Kurama's guarded expression, Karasu motioned trace-eyes, created without explosive materials, to undo the traps and take down the ammonia buckets. An extra warning was sent through Kurama's mop. It exploded with a satisfying boom, lighter sounding than gunpowder, and splinters ricocheted in every direction. Karasu, an artisan to the last, orchestrated it perfectly. Not a scratch marred Kurama's beautiful face. Kurama twitched at the minute pains the splinters left, but held his tongue. His eyes took on a hooded look.

"That was an unpleasant display of misery. Don't repeat it. Now, pet, I'll sit here and watch as you put the room back in order. There's a good fox. Don't forget the mattress."

At first, Kurama wanted to resist, but that didn't last long. He saw the barely concealed lust in Karasu's eyes, and began to clean, reluctantly, with stiff dignity and a haughty expression. He made sure to bend from the knees to prevent Karasu from getting a good view of his ass. As he went, Kurama controlled himself from laughing at the vulgar curses he could hear echoing in the back of his mind as Youko flexed his long-dormant vocabulary, enraged that he was doing what Karasu said and not what he himself wanted. Kurama couldn't stop a single chuckle at Youko's admonition of what would happen to Karasu were he ever to meet his old friend Teinosuke, a rock demon. Kurama supposed it was Teinosuke—he was the only demon with an even seven-foot penis he could remember. His laughter died in his chest when he saw the cold fury on Karasu's face. For one second he froze in place, his instincts telling him to stop the predator from seeing him.

Kurama cut himself back, dulled his eyes, and tried to keep an angry scowl from his face. As he finished picking the last of the china caltrops off the floor and righting the furniture (his final wall of defense), he was confused. He didn't know what he should be showing. His Youko side demanded arrogance, that he do the work in a huff with his head held high. His good sense advised neutrality, but was afraid a bland look would give Karasu the impression that he'd won something useful.

In the end, both logic and pride were taken up, and Kurama put on a falsely listless half-expression. It was with this unconsciously wily look that he got the second mattress out from the front of his niche, and with it, made the bed (sans pillows and sheets). He dragged a chair, just as pompous and overstuffed as Karasu's, to the front of his captor's odd perch. Kurama sat down as primly as his human fluidity would allow. He vowed that he would not back down from this fight, no matter how heavily things were weighted in Karasu's favor.

"Dearest fox..." Karasu began.

"I'm not your dearest anything."

"Dearest fox—I think you've disobeyed me. I told you not to get in any trouble."

"Have I gotten into trouble, though? No one seems to think so. You yourself are more amused than anything." Damn you. "If you had left me something to do, I wouldn't have had to spend the week entertaining myself."

"Fox, fox, fox, really now. There are any number of things you might've done. They have quite an extensive library, I'm told," Karasu said, the sneer in his voice unmistakable.

"Yes, well, if I had weapons, or spirit energy, or any other means of protecting myself, I would've spent more time there. As it is, this hole-in-the-wall is crawling with demons, and I seem to be the pearl in their oysters. It's only a matter of time before an upstart with a grudge decides he'll risk your anger for a taste of me."

Kurama didn't add that this hadn't stopped him from arranging one or two things with the help, visiting the library, perfecting various escape plans, or mapping out the defenses of the mansion (in his mind, never on paper). Actually, rearranging the room like this was just a welcome home present (i.e. a thumbed nose) for Karasu. He'd assembled it in an hour after overhearing the gossip that Toguro and the higher-ups would be returning. He rather liked the feeling it gave him, actually, all this planning and counter-planning.

That never stopped him from missing his friends and family. Kurama tried to keep his mind on subterfuge and escape, but occasionally, as he ate, he would smell his mother's fresh inari-zushi or nikuman. When that happened, he could feel himself freezing and breaking apart in rapid succession, like an ice sculpture made imperfectly in a temperate winter; and he couldn't handle himself. Instead of mourning in Karasu's vaulted rooms, he'd hightail it to his new den, a closet at the other end of the mansion. That, in fact, was the original home of the pilfered ammonia, but nowhere near where he chatted up the maids.

Kurama had taken steps to keep this new hiding place from Karasu. He remembered the frenzy the psychotic demon had worked himself into when his original den, a nook under a back staircase, was found after two days' searching. That had been his first mildly successful attempt to rescue himself from Karasu's lascivious attacks. It hadn't ended well. He would never run from the deranged man again unless he had a solid hope of escaping.

Karasu interrupted him from his thoughts.

"Now you're arguing with me. I'm disappointed by your lack of wit, Kurama. Come here."

He would not.

"Come here."

He would not.

Karasu sighed theatrically. "Come here or I'll destroy that little closet you've taken up, pet, and treat you like I did when you tried to escape the first time. Those servants you've subverted may also die, and really, wouldn't that be tragic?" The glint in his eyes belied any guilt he claimed to feel. Kurama acquiesced.

"Good. Now, why are you wearing those clothes? I thought I explained how you were to dress in my presence."

He would not.

"No? Another game, lovely? You'd think you'd get tired of them. They do have such nasty ramifications, after all.

"Very well then. I suppose I'll have to..." His voice lowered to a pleasurable hum. "Take care of it myself."

Karasu rose fluidly and smirked under his mask as he saw the silken head fall well below his eyelevel. His smirk widened as he noticed Kurama's shoulders become taut, the lean muscles rigid with anger. Kurama refused to look into his captor's face and ignored the smooth chest peeking out of the jacket in front of him. Karasu's cruel smile lightened to a commiserating expression as he bent down to look his pet in the eye. He wasn't disturbed by the frosty scowl that marred the beautiful face, or the way those juniper eyes snapped and cursed quietly at his daring. Instead, he took a moment to massage the leather-clad shoulders of Kurama's magnificent form.

He'd already noticed that Kurama had taken to wearing a jerkin of some kind, almost certainly stolen from a demon's room. Underneath the jerkin was a mismatched pair of jeans and comfortable looking house slippers. All together they created a bland, peasantish sort of outfit, plebeian and kind. It didn't match the fire of Kurama's hair or the lightest brush of tan on Kurama's skin in the slightest, which made Karasu more than pleased to grasp the bottom of the loose-fitting jerkin and lift it up, ever so slowly, the pads of his fingers grazing the skin he found beneath.


"Stop what?"

"Stop it."

Inari, Karasu was driving him to monosyllabic sentences. He was turning into Hiei! ...Hiei.

Karasu laughed and continued his slow removal of the shirt, lightly pressing his palms and fingers into Kurama's abdomen. Kurama twitched as he felt those teasing hands slide over his stomach muscles, appreciating them, and then pause on his pecs to ghost over his rosy nipples until they stood to hard points. His gentle hands became rough as they played with them, alternating between harsh tugs and soft, provoking strokes. Karasu breathed in deeply, reaching under the smell of aged leather and at the sweet, spicy herbal aroma of an ancient fox trapped in a youthful body. Karasu wanted to imprison this simulacrum boy in his arms, make him his forever; ignore Kurama's will in favor of his own lust. He was restraining himself with difficulty.

Kurama felt a thrum of involuntary pleasure that cracked his stolid exterior and caused him to panic slightly. He reached out to grab Karasu's hands, trying to force them down and away with only the strength of his will. Karasu pressed his own will into Kurama's instead, tweaking his nipples in a way that would have been playful, if it hadn't been so harsh. He heated the skin of his wrists with a series of minor explosions, intent on making Kurama regret grabbing them. Kurama winced as the uncomfortable heat stabbed his fingers, but didn't stop trying to lower the jerkin.

Karasu broke the silent struggle first. "This could all be avoided if you said please to me, fox."

"I'll never beg you for anything, no matter what. Now stop manipulating me and stop trying to take off my clothes, crow." Fear, which had stripped him of his voice, now carried it back, with a specialized edge of anger.

"Crow? May I remind you that the slave doesn't give nicknames to the master?"

"Slave? Slave implies that I've been broken to halter. I haven't. I'm your captive, nothing more. Now let go of me!"

"Slave, captive, you quibble over details. Now, say please or get off my wrists. Whichever seems more convenient."

"I'll do neither!"

"Then I'll have to take alternative steps," Karasu chuckled, his voice steely under the amusement. He sounded truly delighted by this turn of events.

Karasu rotated his hands and unsheathed his quest class nails, ripping through the leather like parchment to get at the soft arms of his ward. He grasped the available wrists, smiling adroitly as Kurama hissed in pain.

"Now..." Karasu stood to his full height, a head and a half above Kurama's smaller body. He pulled the hands up and away, noticing how Kurama fisted them, and then walked forwards, raising his hands to chest level and teasing the skin of his wrists with fiery nails. "You will apologize, on your knees, begging me for forgiveness. Then, you'll take off your clothes of your own accord and put on the ones I arranged for you. As a sign of my continued goodwill, you will proceed unmolested. Nothing more will be said of this until tonight. If you don't want to do this, I'll tear those charming garments off your back, throw you onto the bed, and rape you until you bleed; potentially with what's left of your sword over there. You'll then spend the rest of the week nude, with increasingly brutal reactions for every article of clothing you put on. As an added assurance, I might even sell you to those associates of Sakyo's. Do you think you'll enjoy that, lovely? Those old men? I've heard that ningen businessmen are especially lurid. Is that true? Do you understand what I'm saying, little fox?"

Kurama had never understood anything more clearly in his life, but Inari above if he was going to back down. His ire had risen past snapping point, and he was not going to trade his pride for an evening spent mildly humiliated and only slightly hurt. It could be because he'd gotten a weeklong break from this depravity, but he would not and could not betray himself to the monster.

"No? Well then."

Karasu's eyes flashed red as he flung down Kurama's hands, flipped him around by his shoulders, and thrust him, stumbling, a short distance before forcing him over the bare mattress. Kurama flailed and kicked, trying to fight his way out from under Karasu's hard body as his mind reeled and coiled with panic. His breath snarled between his teeth and soft growls ripped their way from the back of his throat. Karasu laughed, ignoring the resistance and oblivious to both Kurama's Youko side's longing for attack and his Shuuichi side's longing for help. He pushed Kurama's two hands into one of his own, yanking them into prisoner of war position, behind the head. The other hand re-extended a glowing claw to cut through the thick leather as easily as if it were flimsy silk.

Kurama gasped, snarling in animalistic rage as he was dragged upwards by his wrists, into Karasu's chest. His head shook from one side to another, the muscles in his arms twisting with pain. His hair tangled with Karasu's as he attempted to snap at the hand that held his arms painfully in place. He resisted ferociously, to the point that its futility was pathetic. Still, he struggled with all the pride his kitsune spirit allotted to him. His mind swung and heaved, the panic not abating as images of past torments raced through his mind.

The claw drew a bloody line of fire down his chest, bisecting him neatly in two as it stripped him of his shirt. He hissed and began to shiver as the jerkin, which had seemed so asexual and safe when he first laid eyes on it, was sliced from neck to pelvis. Kurama shuddered clumsily, his teeth bared in a vicious snarl. A close observer would have sworn there was a flash of gold in those juniper eyes.

Karasu let go of the crossed wrists and pressured the back of Kurama's neck, bending him awkwardly over the bed again. Kurama's frantic kicks and stomps, which would have been debilitating if backed with spirit energy, did nothing at all. Kurama tried to push himself up, but was met with limited success as he felt the back of his shirt being pulled by an eager hand. That, however, was not what terrified him.

It was the turgid cock he could feel pressed against his lower back that terrified him. It seemed to burn a hole through Karasu's pants and his own skin, and he imagined the grotesque thing as a weapon to be used against him. The cock, along with the long legs that straddled his own, created friction and fear that he didn't think he could stand.

Karasu pushed harder on his neck, and he shrieked into the featherbed, his fingers arched from gripping the bottom edge of the second mattress. He managed to push it over until it was no longer under him, and he splayed his arms on the first mattress, trying to keep himself from suffocating or being forced to bend at the waist. His eyes and hands were full of fat white indentations of cotton. He thought they were the ugliest thing he'd ever seen, and he reviled them, their maker, and most of all their user. He could hear Karasu chuckling from behind him, obviously enjoying every second of the fight. Kurama started to shiver uncontrollably. His whole body ached with dread and heat.

"Stop! Stop! I'll do as you ask, just stop this!"

Karasu laughed, loud and hard, and forced Kurama's chest to the first mattress, his arms strained to sharp angles. He reached beneath Kurama to grasp roughly at the flaccid shaft in his pants, ripping holes in the denim and arousing a pained groan from his captive. Karasu closed his eyes and shuddered with delight as he felt the flesh beneath him, cupped harshly in his hand. He pressed his pelvis into Kurama's backside, bending down and grinding it as a sign that he was ending this on his own terms. Kurama shivered harder as he felt the insistent need push into his cleft through both their clothes.

Then, while Kurama hissed into the bed, Karasu stood back, willing his now full-blown erection away. There would be time for that later, he reasoned. It was a challenge, though, with that delectable little morsel bent before him, sweaty and disarrayed like a whore. Kurama's shirt was open and his face was red; his delicate mouth succulently gasped in air. It was utterly tempting to Karasu to let go of all control, to forfeit his games of the mind and carnally torture the little kitsune. Epicurean thoughts ran through his head, filling him with sanguine lusts and twisted pleasures. The things he could do to that luscious half-human, half-vulpine boy!

Karasu reminded himself of the necessity of waiting, and merely focused on the lines of blood where his nails had ravaged. He returned to his seat, a little away from the bed, and resumed a brooding expression.

In truth, it was an act. He was wondering how long he would allow Kurama before picking him up and dragging the rest of his clothing off. He knew, however, that it would be a more solid victory to force him to do it all himself. Karasu smiled and neatly arched his eyebrows, thinking about subjugating the little bitch while he protested and fought. It would happen as soon as he put his clothes on: everything would be made more delicious if he was lulled into a false sense of security. Kurama would have shuddered to see Karasu like that, his erection standing tall, tenting his pants, and his face sculpted with licentious emotion.

Kurama, however, had his eyes squeezed shut. He wished he could steal another pair of fine earrings or a tote of rice for the shrine to Inari he had hidden down a secret passage on the fourth floor. It would be by Inari-sama's grace that he would escape this accursed mansion, this disgusting bed, and this depraved man. Now, as he thought of sitting, holding a mop like an infant holding a toy, thinking of how clever he was for finding a way of showing his hatred without showing his hatred, he reviled himself. He had thought his scheming would protect him. He had thought, somehow, that he would have escaped before Karasu's odious return. Instead, his plots had been brushed aside, and now he suffered a return to humiliation that would break down any man's resolve.

Youko spoke vitriolic words from the root of his soul, telling him to get his sweet ass out of such a docile position, apologize, change clothes, and be done with it. He could go to the library and lose himself in books after that. Actually, he still wasn't finished with The Brothers Karamazov. He'd first read his father's copy of Dostoevsky when he was ten, if his memory was accurate - or was it his mother's? He couldn't remember. He wondered whether his mother was still alive.

"Pet. You're avoiding." Karasu adjusted himself in the chair, his eyes filled with the submissive form and the lovely image it made - his toy, half on the bed, ankles splayed, face dead with misery. Yes, certainly delectable. Karasu re-extended a nail and dug it carelessly into the innards of the armchair, wishing it were his slave. Kurama didn't wait for him to become bored of sitting.

Kurama pushed himself up with careful dignity. He drew in a long breath and turned around, his fingers and thumb rubbing together the only sign of how out-of-control he felt. Karasu didn't miss it. Kurama walked over to the beast's fireside chair, keeping his head up and his eyes neutrally welcoming a friend. He tried to pretend that this was a game he was playing with Yuusuke. Yes, this was a consensual S&M game, and he would look up after the apology into laughing brown eyes, not ones of bitter, lustful wine. He kept this fantasy firmly in place as he knelt.

"I apologize. I was wrong. I beg forgiveness." It was amazing that Karasu's face didn't break from the force and depths of cold contained in those eight words.

Karasu chuckled, wrenching Kurama from his unconscious mind and into an open, vulnerable state. "All is forgiven, my little slave. Now put on the marks of your status." Kurama bristled at the insult, but thought better of saying anything. He stalked proudly to the newly righted armoire, glad to be so far away from Karasu.

Kurama took the tunic off as one would a button-down shirt, arms through the middle, while he leaned forwards and wished to various gods that he could change in a separate room. He could feel those rapacious eyes on his back and buttocks, and he tried futilely to ignore the value judgments they placed on his skin. The house slippers were flung to the side, obviously suffering vicariously for Karasu as they bounced from the wall. Kurama didn't care for a second that the fleur-de-lis wallpaper was dented. He partially rushed, wanting this to be over with, and partially tried to maintain a dignified front - and he was painfully aware that the two objectives didn't mesh well.

An unexpected bomb detonated by his neck, tossing his vision into disarray. Kurama jumped and growled, whipping around to face his antagonist. When he saw those wanton eyes linger on his pinkish-brown nipples, erected by the cold, he flushed bright crimson from shame and anger. Kurama glared Karasu down as one would an attacking bear. His lips remained closed.

"That angle is better, pet. Strip from there."

Karasu took off his mask and smiled benignly into the enraged face of his unwilling lover. Kurama made the decision to throw his shoulders back and keep his will steady as he undid the denim fixings. Karasu reached into his own tightening pants and toyed with his cock, gripping it, but blocking it from becoming too hard. He was enjoying the view of the blushing, resistant kitsune, and he enjoyed it all the more as his toy shucked clothes rapidly, his red-feathered sex finally appearing, shuddering and shrinking because of the movement and cold air.

Kurama turned around and walked the last two steps to the wardrobe, his ego deflating as he went. A drawer was opened and violently rummaged through for an outfit that wouldn't rape his self-respect along with his body. The underwear was easy to choose, though Karasu had basically stocked the drawer with sex toys and fetish panties. Kurama quickly settled on a pair of white women's underwear with blue flowers and lacy edges, which was pulled out, and, with a twist of disgust, put on.

The actual outfit was much harder to choose. After a while, though, the decision was made. Kurama found a delicate faux-kimono that was much too modern and a good foot too short, and pulled it out. It was revealed to be deep ebony in color, with delicate brown stems and leaves reminiscent of bamboo entwined skillfully around the front and back. At rare intervals, little gold and white flowers were embroidered carefully along the fabric. It wrapped tightly across Kurama's abdomen and fastened with gold hooks; but, despite its lavish exterior, there was something tawdry and cheap about the kimono. Kurama bit a hook and was almost surprised his teeth didn't sink through gold leaf to a brass interior.

Despite that, it looked stunning on Kurama, accentuating his eyes and skin and clinging to his supple curves; but it was also too light, freezing cold, and very revealing. The neck dipped down and the bottom rode up, and Kurama wished fervently for his warm school uniform: for any pants, in fact. It offended him to be so exposed, and offended him more that the clasps of the kimono fastened on the wrong side, a joke on Karasu's part to signify that he was a walking corpse.

Kurama winced and bowed his head at the chuckle that came from behind him, knowing he'd had an avid audience throughout his performance.

"Fox," Karasu murmured, his velvet voice seeming to caress the skin uncovered by the outfit. "I've gotten you a present I think you'll enjoy." His voice was false and overly bright, as if talking to a child or simpleton. A muscle in the corner of Kurama's mouth worked ceaselessly as he suppressed the need to destroy this dark youkai, to kill him, to rape him with knives, to TWIST that hateful body until there was nothing left. Karasu, still oblivious or uncaring, got up and strode across the room. He reached into a hidden pocket of his black coat and pulled out something that sent Kurama's mind into passionate alarm. Karasu's eyes twinkled with good will, but that only compounded the fear, causing Kurama to whip around and stagger in horror. He backed into the mahogany with a clatter and grasped the armoire's open drawer, knowing, above all else, that he would not submit to being collared like a dog.

Karasu toyed with the black leather as he came to rest in front of Kurama. "You don't... like it?" His eyes belied his amused expression by flashing red. "But pet, it would look so good on you..."

"Keep away from me," Kurama snarled into the handsome face, leaning forwards and keeping a firm grip on the handle of the open drawer. His sharp, edged voice interrupted Karasu's simpering and cracked through the room. For a moment, it was as though Kurama was himself again; vibrant and strong, with a whip in hand, ready to castrate his enemies with a single flick of the wrist.

It was only for a moment. The difference in their powers was still all encompassing, and the wards kept any chance Kurama had of fighting back deep inside. Dark, lascivious power welled up from Karasu as he took a menacing step towards his prey. Kurama lost his head completely at the sight of those shameless eyes and that cruel smile, now out for the world to see. Kurama, frightened, knew that power, knew that look, and knew what the next step in this dance routine would be.

Kurama darted to the side and flung the drawer clothes-first at his attacker, before ducking and running pell-mell towards the door. He listened with mounting terror to the thunk of the drawer being smashed away with a cat's swipe. The fear welled up as it always did: in hot, angry spurts, filling his mind and filling his body. He screamed the agony of a dying animal as he felt arms lock around him, and then choked on the hand that reached up to stifle him. Kurama knew he'd never escape that vice. He kicked and fought anyway, sinking his teeth into flesh and growling between bites, but reduced to shuddering and gasping as he was spun around and thrown to the floor by hard hands. He tried to roll over and crawl away, but only got a short distance before a knee sank into the hollow of his back, pinning him.

Kurama screamed again as a hand fisted in his hair. Without any real warning, the kimono he was wearing was yanked off him by brute force. Kurama gritted his teeth and allowed his forehead to be pressed into the floor as the gold clasps gave, some straightening, and some coming completely free from the decorative silk, hitting the wood with soft pings. He gasped at the cold flesh and the cold floor, then came closer to his senses as the irony of forcing him to put on the clothing only to rip it off a minute later hit him fully. He almost burst into hysterical laughter, but instead calmed himself and mustered his intelligence about him.

"This is just another rape," he thought, focusing on that fact. "You've done this before. He takes pleasure out of your fear. Don't give it to him." Youko's grumbled assurance that revenge would be sweetly extracted at a later date, sounding from a far corner of his mind, helped to a point. Now brought back to himself, Kurama closed his eyes and attempted to control his ragged breathing. He numbed himself to the hands plundering his body, and thought instead ofThe Makioka SistersAfter the Banquet, and the other books he'd finished in the last week. He pretended to himself that he was giving a lecture to his Literature class on the texts' worth. Kurama, like many rape victims before him, dissociated himself from his perilous surroundings and buried his soul and mind in a land of his own invention. Like, yet unlike many rape victims before him, his dissociation led to disaster.

"And the lotus flower symbolized..." Kurama whispered, his face tight with concentration.

"The what?" The hands stilled. The ravishing fingers paused. The nibbling mouth arose from its place at the juncture of his shoulder.

Kurama froze.

Karasu flipped him over with a single, violent toss of his arm. Kurama's hand flung up in retaliation, but it was grabbed and slammed back to the floor, more than hard enough to bruise. Kurama found himself staring into sanguinary eyes and flashing ivory teeth. The sable hair and lithe body filtered out the light that filled the room, throwing Kurama's face into partial shadow. It was only the frightened green of his eyes that shined, though his teeth were visible as he unconsciously bit his lip. Karasu leaned down and pillaged the vaguely defined mouth, running his tongue over the teeth and tasting blood as his harsh pressure caused Kurama to chew through his own lips.

"Your mind was wandering." He was practically smoking with temper. "Do I bore you, Kurama?"

"Of course." Kurama regretted the automatic insult as soon as it left his mouth. He trembled as he felt gentle hands grasp his upper arms, and yelped, more in fear than in surprise, as the quest class nails unsheathed and buried themselves in his skin. Kurama could feel the pain throughout his body as the acidic ends cauterized the wounds and burned his flesh. His eyes rolled into the back of his head as the fingers began to move and twist, slicing zig-zag rents into his biceps. When the nails of one hand receded from his arm, he let out another yelp. His newly righted eyes saw his own skin attached to the glistening purple. There was next to no blood; only the tips of the fingers, which had disturbed the cauterization, were dabbed with crimson. Kurama thought that Karasu looked like his fingers were newly dipped in raspberry jam, and wondered at that strange analogy before everything blanked to white.

Karasu grinned lecherously down at the gaping hole his bomb had just blown in Kurama's stomach, feeling his arousal increase in the wake of Kurama's shriek. Intestines gleamed wetly in the subdued light. Karasu wondered what would happen if he fucked this hole instead of the other, more usual one: but he decided against it. He was worried that his actions might kill his pet, or at least make him unusable for a few days. Of course, he planned to kill Kurama when all the strands of pain and suffering came together; but now was far too soon. The kitsune wasn't anywhere near being broken!

It had been a stroke of bad luck that Toguro had stopped him from taking the little fox on their trip. Really, it had all been officiating difficulties that needed thuggish intimidation to sort out. Sakyo was putting his plan into action with the usual amount of circuitousness and aplomb, but Karasu didn't mind. It was just a shame to miss time with the flawless creature that looked up at him now with such a terrified, wavering expression. Another two explosions rent the air, and finally, to Karasu's delight, a tormented scream echoed through the room.

"You've made me angry. Don't you realize that? You've given me no choice but to punish you."

Kurama shuddered at Karasu's psychosis, and shuddered harder as his underwear was torn off, burning him as it went. He glared up into his captor's face, daring him to do his worst, refusing to back down and refusing to blush as fanatic eyes and hands drank in his newly exposed skin.

He couldn't suppress those damnable shudders, though, as his legs were bent and parted to either side of Karasu's hardened form, then lifted bodily into the air. A swift, erotic kiss was placed on his still-flaccid shaft, but Kurama was immune to this as his ass was lowered to the ground again. Karasu was obviously working himself into a frenzy of adoration as two claws pressed against one of his nipples. He hissed in pain as the nub, erected still by the cold, was burnt and cut by the backs of the nails. Karasu grinned and pushed down harder, listening to the sounds spilling from Kurama's mouth as his flesh sizzled.

He controlled himself from slicing the nub clean off, deciding that it might get lost or become impossible to reattach. His other hand picked eagerly at the wounds on Kurama's stomach and thigh, pinching and poking the exposed flesh in an almost gentle fashion as Kurama's nerves caught on fire. Karasu's eyes glittered strangely as he noticed the pool of blood that was forming around the floor, reaching the oriental carpet, several feet away. His face relaxed into a frown, then tightened as he saw that the holes were already healing. Karasu grinned wolfishly to himself at the realization that Sakyo's exclusion of healing abilities from Kurama's warding were as he had said. He took a moment to feel the annoyance of not being able to ask for power equal to Toguro's. Bui had tried to wish for that most wondrous of prizes, but Sakyo blackballed him and Toguro forced him to ask for something else. Karasu couldn't find it in his deranged mind to be overly morose about this turn of events; this prize was just as good, and much more fulfilling in the moment.

Kurama ground his teeth together, trying to stop himself from crying out as he felt his body being tortured. Still, it wasn't until he felt clawed fingers at his opening that he stopped making a high keening sound, such as one normally hears from kicked dogs.

"No!" Kurama sat up suddenly and tried to move himself back, away from the fingers burning his hole. His face curled into a growl as he saw Karasu leer at him and mockingly coat his fingers in half-congealed blood, taunting him with the possibility of lubricant. It was a false assurance; the claws were still out and wickedly sharp, promising him nothing but pain. Karasu took one hand from the nipple it was tormenting and instead used it to grasp an arm, pulling Kurama sideways and back into position.

"What do you think, fox? Ask me nicely and I may shorten the nails. Say nothing, however, and I'll make them... longer." As he said that, the nails stretched farther out, looking as though they would rupture his bowels if they were forced inside. Kurama knew what he had to do.

I... I... Please..." He took a deep breath, focusing on his life, and with it, his hope. "Please make them shorter. Like that... they'll kill me. Please don't." Kurama remembered his boastful assurance about begging only a few short minutes ago, and thought he would die from the shame and hatred that filled his veins and overwhelmed him. He pushed himself back under control as he felt helpless tears of rage well up in the corner of his eyes, and fixed his eyes on the blood, his blood, that formed a deep, rusty pond by his side. He hoped his hair could hide the sheen.

Karasu noticed something glimmering in the green under the thick bangs, and reached out a hand to straighten his face and hold it, so he could review it at his leisure. A sadistic smile widened from one side to the other as Karasu saw how close he was to tears, and how those jade eyes swept closed from shame. A low-pitched laugh found its way out of Karasu's cold throat.

"Why, little fox, you shouldn't stop those tears, it's unhealthy! Let them out, all of them. Show them to me, sweets."

That garnered no reaction, so he leaned in to ravish Kurama's mouth, which grimaced perfectly and jerked with muscles working in anger and anguish. The lips didn't part for him, so, without any more preamble than that, he thrust his fingers all the way up into Kurama. The claws were at a slightly more reasonable length, as Karasu wanted to reinforce the idea of begging for mercy. A strangled cry tore itself from Kurama's maw, but it was muffled. The lips remained sealed. A few lone tears escaped unnoticed, mixing with the sweat that coated his body in an unnatural sheen. Karasu's face degenerated into a snarl as he scissored his fingers viciously, then hooked them, hoping to open the mouth. More strangled sounds came from the orifice; but the jaw was clenched, and the slight dignity that came from denying his mouth to the rapist was more important to Kurama than pain.

Karasu dipped his head to the burnt nipple, biting it ferociously between his teeth as his fingers continued to rape Kurama. He felt his insides being ripped and torn mercilessly, and he pressed his lips together at the explosive agony. There was no pleasure; his prostate was being harmed instead of stimulated. Kurama longed for an end to the pain, feeling all of himself, soul included, as a brutalized husk. He wanted to take this pain with dignity, but he could hear the tormentingly human wails coming from the back of his throat and out, pleasing Karasu and betraying Kurama.

An erotic idea popped into Karasu's head, a new twist to his psychosis, and a smile graced his lips as his eyes moved to the alcove where his toy had spent the day. He removed his hands from the blood-slicked entrance, frowning as he sheathed the nails and began to lick the dirty fingers clean. They were a deep vermillion shade of red, covered completely in blood that dripped down the palm and back of his hand and colored long ribbons onto the wrists. His smile curved again at the bitter taste of Kurama, and the sweet, floral aroma of his life.

Kurama shuddered weakly as he felt the heat and cold of Karasu's body retreat, and then collapsed to the ground. He'd been half-sitting, his legs and hips angled for the painful intrusions Karasu forced on him. His head rocked gently back and forth, and his eyes were pressed so tight that the tears he'd been repressing spilled onto his cheeks. He didn't want to feel anything anymore. He wondered dully what the sociopath would do to him next, what more he would be forced to endure. His mind, so frenetic during the torture, now focused on teasing the power he could feel clasped tightly in his chest. He nudged it to his injuries, trying to replenish blood before he lost more of it at Karasu's hands.

His eyes opened weakly at the sound of approaching footsteps, and he flopped his head to the side, intently focusing on what Karasu had planned for him. Kurama's eyes widened to twice their normal state when they saw the mop handle clasped in those bloodless hands.

"No. No! Get away from me!"

Kurama tried to crawl backwards, away from the sadist and his improvised instrument of torture. He tensed as Karasu disappeared from sight, and then cringed when he reappeared in front of him, faster than Kurama's eyes could follow.

Kurama's quick in-breath turned into a mindless howl as a backhanded slap reopened all his wounds and sent him rolling along the floor, dizzy and sick, smearing blood across the wood. He didn't roll far. A foot slammed into the small of his back, so hard that he thought his ribs must have been shattered, and his spine crushed into uselessness. He twitched his legs blearily and thanked Inari that his backbone was still in working order. His lower ribs, on the other hand, were a siphon of fire inside of him. He could feel their jagged edges cutting into his organs and causing what might become fatal internal bleeding.

He gritted his teeth as he felt a larger body smother his smaller naked one, feeling the Makaian silk heavy against his skin. Kurama reminded himself that he had had worse damage to his stomach than this. He wouldn't die. That fact did not please him.

Karasu grabbed the flaccid cock with one hand as the other, holding his impromptu dildo, angled Kurama's hips and forced him to his knees. Blood streamed down the formerly pristine legs, bruised here and there from being thrown about the room, with gaping holes where Karasu's bombs had struck. Karasu licked at one of the shredded rents, tasting the blood and feeling the texture of the muscles that were now bared to the open air.

The man pressed his tongue to the puckered hole he saw in front of him, tasting more of the blood and intimacy of his captive. It dropped down and curled along Kurama's balls, taking one backwards into his mouth and sucking harshly. Kurama, feeling an increased sensitivity, had begun growling as he felt his tormentor's mouth on him, and the growls grew louder and became interspersed with groans as arousal shot through his thin body. The shady pleasure flooded him, causing his cock to twitch and fill, bit by tormented bit. Kurama nearly cried out from the shame, fighting his physiological reactions with all the force in his body. His fingers dug into the wood flooring, drawing even more blood as he tried to control himself.

Karasu turned and lay beneath him, yet another devilish idea teasing his brain. He pulled Kurama's hips down and licked excitedly at the reddened, blushing shaft that was now situated above his head. His tongue pressured the delicate cock from base to tip, curling along the sides and swirling against flesh. He didn't take it into his mouth, but his tongue pleasured Kurama as the blood coming from above dried and was not replaced.

Karasu's right hand felt the hard, silken skin of his captive's thigh, massaging and cutting and gripping it with hunger. His other hand was splayed on Kurama's stomach, propping him up in the perfect position for Karasu to taste him. Karasu reveled in the drops of precum that fell onto his forehead and soaked into his hair. When he heard soft, confused hums of pleasure overtake the distressed growls completely, he smiled the smile of a predator and slipped out from under Kurama. Soon, he was above him once more, and he pulled Kurama back into a kneeling position.

Kurama felt the dire need to cut away all the places Karasu had touched, and despaired as he realized that there was no square inch of his body, though he had only suffered this for three weeks, that hadn't known Karasu's molestation. He thought of stripping his skin off, all of it, or scouring it away with iron wool. Kurama felt that he might vomit from the crushing abasement, and vindictively hoped that Karasu would force him to suck him off.

"Now, fox, I'm not going to fuck you with this. I'm going to put it in, and then you're going to pleasure me with your mouth as I twist it. Do you think you can handle that, sweets?"

Karasu was obviously mocking him. He saw the green tinge to his face and heard him swallowing frantically; he saw his ass clench at the idea of being violated with splintered wood; and he also saw that Kurama couldn't talk, and guessed jubilantly that he'd begun controlling the urge to vomit. Karasu's eyes shined demonically, his teeth flashing in the dreary light of the room as he spread Kurama's supple legs. They slipped in the liquid that had pooled and spattered over the hardwood floors and went wider than he intended. Karasu slapped the rounded ass in front of him and laughed when Kurama jerked in pain and humiliation.

Kurama felt his body as one constricting column of fire. His arousal burned between his legs, his insides twisted and groaned, and his outer skin was one throbbing mess. The only parts he could feel were the places where Karasu had cut him or burnt him or bruised him. An angry welt was growing on his face where Karasu had struck him, which was unusual. The bastard generally protected his face.

Kurama was falsely sure that he would soon pass out from the collective pain. He groaned, though, knowing that would bring no relief. The demon would simply pause in his play and reawaken him before continuing.

"Should I be cruel?" Karasu wondered aloud. "Should I shove it in? Should I force it in? Hmmmm."

Hearing that, Kurama let out an inordinate howl as he felt the thin, jagged wood poke into his hole. Karasu tried to push it in, but instead of opening, the points just penetrated the skin around his entrance, drawing blood. Karasu frowned, then smirked and wedged his five fingers into the hole (aided by their thinness). He spread it with demonic strength, impossibly far, almost past what the virginity charm would allow. Kurama yelled shrilly as the wood was fitted in. Then the fingers left, and Karasu thrust forward with wanton disregard for his captive's well-being.

The pain was monumental. Kurama couldn't think, he couldn't see, he couldn't hear, he couldn't do anything but feel his bowels rupturing and tearing around the invader. He began to seize and shake, twisting around from side to side as he sobbed so as to rake his whole body. The wood wasn't thick, but it was sharp, and the flayed edges sent splinters into his rectum, each of which burned with the force of a conflagration. His wounded ribs were jarred and shaken by the mop and his throes of agony. The sobs turned to screams, and then back to sobs, filling the air and filling his mind. Kurama's hands clutched at his face and hair, desperately using them to take his mind off the pain that lacerated his body. He was unaware of the man who walked slowly over to stand in front of him. He was unaware of the sick gratification on the man's face. He only became aware of his captor when he desperately reached back to remove the offending wood and was jerked upwards by his hair.

"How does it feel, Kurama? Tell me."

Kurama only huffed and spat at him as a final expression of defiance. Karasu chortled to himself at the spirited showing. The chortles quickly escalated to giggles, then cackles, getting progressively louder and more sanguineous as he reveled in Kurama's pain. In the end, he broke into maniacal peels of glee that filled the room more fully than the desperate screams of his victim ever could.

It was then that the door banged open.

To be continued.

Chapter Text

Poet to Bigot

By Langston Hughes

I have done so little

For you,

And you have done so little

For me,

That we have good reason

Never to agree.

I, however,

Have such meager


Clutching at a


While you control

An hour.

But your hour is

A stone.

My moment is

A flower.

To Kurama's tired glance, the way Toguro's body could barely fit through the small doorway made him look bizarre and almost hilariously out of place. To Karasu's embittered eyes, however, the mismatch of door and man made him seem even larger and more imposing than usual. Their reactions to him were a strange paradox - the weaker and smaller of the two was able to summon a shadow of mirth, but the larger and more powerful one saw Toguro's entrance with an edge of fear he would never admit to.

"Karasu, Sakyo's trying to sleep. Stop fucking the fox in the bedroom and take him to the torture chambers. This is why we have torture chambers."

Toguro's countenance was an imperturbable mask, and his careful, measured air supported him. 'I'm doing a job I don't enjoy, but one I'll do regardless,' that air said. Karasu recognized it, and hated it. He unfolded from his gleeful position and tried to control his mounting resentment as he saw just how unperturbed Toguro was. As his handsome visage twisted in steadily increasing increments, the outrage he felt slowly ascended to greater heights. Toguro quirked his lips a little, amused by the look on Karasu's face; aware that Karasu caught the motion, but also aware that he didn't care for even a second what Karasu did or did not catch.

Toguro stopped regarding his employee so calmly for a moment, glancing curiously around the room instead. It was unusual for him to come into Karasu's chambers; Karasu usually understood the fine lines of living in an employer's house, and handled his toys with more subtlety and restraint - largely because in the instances where he didn't, Ani had a tendency to break them. The fox must be a special acquisition to Karasu, Toguro thought, for him to act so excitedly.

"This is none of your concern, Toguro," Karasu hissed, breaking his ruminations.

"It became my concern when you interrupted my employer's sleep. Now let him go or take it to the dungeons."

Toguro felt no need to explain properly. It wasn't Kurama who was breaking Sakyo's sleep: it was hurried phone calls from Sakyo (or rather, Toguro)'s most trustworthy guards, each assigned to an individual acquaintance, both to be their dog's body and to watch them. Toguro had gotten royally sick of forwarding them, and went to deal with the problem directly. He left a pouting Ani and an enigmatic Bui (pulled from his rooms for the task) to guard Sakyo. That contemplation caused Toguro to suppress a rueful smile. Most people hearing about an incident like this would think that the guests wanted to help the screaming victim; in this case, however, the opposite was true. If one of Sakyo's famously gory spectacles was underway, they wanted in on it.

Neither youkai paid any attention to Kurama's dry, helpless sobs, though he was barely aware of the neglect. He gasped and wheezed, fistfuls of blood-soaked red hair clutched in his hands as he tried to suppress, control, and redefine the pain.

"It isn't necessary!" Karasu said mockingly, hatred transforming his violet eyes to an angry red.

Hearing the whine in his captor's voice, Kurama roused himself. His brain might be rusty and bent, and the voices around him might be sounding with a slight ring, but that still wouldn't undo him. Tipsy and sick, he grappled out of the stupor and began to look on the conversation with fear. He knew whom Karasu's anger would be taken out on, and further, who would suffer for Toguro's transgression. Panic, his ever-present friend, reached within him once more and told him in no uncertain terms that he had to get out of there.

"Of course it's necessary. You need to restrain yourself, Karasu." Toguro grunted in a businesslike fashion. Privately, he viewed this scene between Karasu and his prize with a rush of bitterness. He could easily see that Yuusuke Urameshi's failed attempt to kill him and save his friends was personified in the broken victim who knelt at Karasu's feet.

"I don't," Karasu spat. "You have no power over this. It seems only right that I use my prize in any way that I wish."

Karasu tried to keep his tone lofty, but his eyes crackled and exploded under his rapidly lightening hair, and his lips slowly degenerated into an animal-like snarl. The skin around his temples became harrowed with sharp tussocks and miniature valleys of skin and veins. In an everyday setting, Karasu could contain the hatred and antipathy he felt towards his employer, though it was a struggle; but when enjoying the body of his prey, he expected a certain level of independence. He wanted, at those times, to rise above Toguro's bondage and into a world of vicious domination and searing pleasure.

Toguro seemed to have missed this nuance in their relationship. Then again, nuances were never paramount in Toguro's mind. To him, Karasu was his worker until he or Bui became strong enough to argue. Employment like this had few rules: there was no such thing as special provisions; perks included anything Toguro's employers didn't want, and then it had to be light enough to carry or able to walk on its own; and between jobs, nothing was expected except grudging obedience. Toguro's requirements were simple and straightforward, and, though he didn't hide the fact that he disliked his employees, he still treated them with general respect and didn't usually attempt to hamper their movements.

Kurama took full advantage of the pause, and pulled out the mop. Each inch of wood, gently removed from his ass, was in some new way, and on some new level, more and more agonizingly painful as it dragged through his rectum and out of him. More splinters flicked from the mop and embedded in his flesh as Kurama sank white teeth into an arm to stifle the screams. In no time at all he tasted blood. When the mop was out, and carefully placed on the floor, he steeled himself for the next part in his frantic plan.

Getting up for Kurama was a bit like the efforts of a ball on a ship to stay still. He staggered to his feet, and immediately stumbled to his feet and hands, his heels jerking in the air and his ass thoroughly on display for Toguro and Karasu. Youko groaned from his favorite part of the brain, the occipital lobe, seeing amusement on Toguro's face from between his legs as he struggled to get to relative safety.

He managed a few forward motions like this, then pushed upright and limped, humiliated by his tipsy balance and by the other men's presence, into the bathroom. Kurama sighed, his usual pride wounded at how ridiculous he must have looked, running away from Karasu with nothing even resembling grace or dignity. He slammed the door and locked it with fumbling fingers, hearing the bang in the same way one hears the closing of a coffin lid. He wondered why Karasu hadn't followed him.

Kurama staggered again, fell, and finally crawled into a corner, jerking into a kneeling position (with the help of the wall and sink), and feeling drunk with pain. As he turned to lean into the wall, he let the weight of his body rest on his knees, trying to relieve his excruciatingly torn ass. Youko realized that he had been reduced to the posture of a trapped animal and groaned again, but Kurama ignored his alter ego and focused on getting out of this predicament. It was looking worse and worse the more he thought about it. The monster would displace his aggression onto something easy to handle, and Kurama was the nearest helpless thing able to fulfill that role. Kurama shuddered at that thought, and put his considerable intelligence to finding a way to reinforce the door.

"Fox." The promised voice was quiet and sinister with suppressed violence. "Open the door."

For a moment, Kurama froze in fear; but he quickly rallied, sucking in a breath to make a desperate bid for cold reasoning. "Don't take it out on a bystander! I have nothing to do with Toguro, I've done nothing to you. Don't torture me in his name!" He hoped that would get through to Karasu, if nothing else could. It was a bleak sort of hope. He knew in the back of his mind that nothing he could do would stop, or even hinder, the assault.

"I," Karasu began, obviously trying to control his rage, though Kurama found himself unable to breathe, "will not be spoken to like that. Get out here, or I'll go to the dungeons and have a little taste of your mother."

Kurama blinked, stared at the door, then blinked again. His mouth opened completely outside his control. The sudden onslaught of knowledge and cruel images made Kurama sickeningly glad he was in a bathroom, as his eyes widened to waif-like proportions. Bile began to burn his tongue before he realized, in the same all-or-nothing way he had realized the extent of Karasu's threat, that seconds were precious.

Kurama's form blurred as he whipped open the door, ignoring his pain, ignoring Toguro (who still stood in the front doorway), and knowing that all the heat his body had been subjected to was gone - replaced instead by a chest-full of sinking, icy cold.

Botan and Koenma's assurances were for naught. They had his mother. That phrase kept repeating in his mind, like a fearful litany: they had his mother. Kurama's eyes became wider and more livid as implication after implication spun through his head. Anger tightened his muscles until they bulged, and blood poured from his stressed wounds. The mature Shuuichi Kurama was taken over completely by the vicious Youko within him, and Kurama gorged himself on his newly reborn strength and resolve.

Karasu shivered to see him like that, all the humanity melted from his face and his eyes shining gold with ferocity and bloodlust; but Karasu couldn't allow himself any weakness in front of Toguro, and he refused to lend strength to Kurama's foolish assurance. He forced a sneer, allowing it to widen as he realized that Kurama, no matter how apoplectic his rage, was still helpless, and still vacillated on some level between terror and anguish. Shame, Karasu realized with a burst of acrimony, had run its course.

"I hate - I despise - I revile you," Kurama snarled. He put all the sentiment he had built up since the first time he was forced down and fucked into submission behind those words. Kurama's voice was lower and rougher than usual, and hoarse from screaming, lending the words an ambiance that sent chills down Karasu's spine. Immediately upon recognizing his fear, however, his rage reached new heights. Bombs began to hang like jewels in the air around Kurama's stolid body, threatening his wellbeing as Karasu, bit by bit, lost control. Kurama didn't care; he met the violet gaze levelly.

"I will not be spoken to like that, you little whore." Karasu moved with all the speed of his fury, grabbing Kurama by his hair and jerking his head back roughly; but Kurama was beyond pain.

"If I'm a whore, then you, Karasu, are nothing more than a disease-ridden pimp; and a lackluster one at that. Now, and for all time, keep your god-damned manicured hands off my mother!" Kurama's helpless rage caused Youko to surface fully for the first time in a long time.

Karasu let out a growl and slammed Kurama's defiant form into the doorway, digging his back into the wood paneling. Kurama bared his teeth at him, and Karasu, his sanity disintegrating, detonated bombs haphazardly, focused only on which parts of the body they should hit. Despite fierce resistance, every time a bomb struck a strangled cry sounded from the base of Kurama's throat. Karasu brought all his acrimony into an open, taloned palm, and slammed it into Kurama's stomach with enough force to make Toguro stagger, decimating what was left of Kurama's lower ribs while jerking his head to the side. He was rewarded with a spout of vomit and blood. Karasu stepped back and flung Kurama to the floor, and was on him again in an instant, giving Kurama no time to bounce. He straddled him, wrapping spidery fingers around the graceful throat.

"Hurt me. Kill me. Rape me," Kurama choked, his anger unabated. His voice, a light baritone usually, now scratched from his throat with only a smidgen of grace. "Take your anger out on me until there's nothing left, until I'm an empty husk. But for every bruise on her body, I will show you pain a thousand times more horrific than what you have given to me."

For a second, Karasu's eyes burned, incensed and crimson: but then a cruel smile lightened the brutality of Karasu's unmasked face. The halo of blond, kinky hair began to recede back to black, marking his more sane insanity's return. Karasu would not allow Kurama to win, and causing him to fight on his slave's terms was tantamount to him winning. He ignored Kurama and addressed Toguro.

"I'll gag him, I suppose; though this is the last time I take orders about my cute little fox-boy." His eyes gleamed with a sickly light as he saw Kurama twist at that nickname. Kurama obviously wanted to destroy him even more after hearing Yuusuke's term of endearment dribble from his bloodless mouth.

Toguro chuckled deeply, the timber of his voice thrumming through all present. It wasn't clear who or what he was laughing at, only that he found something about this situation darkly amusing.

"Good night, then." After that terse goodbye, Toguro left Kurama to his tormentor. Karasu got up.

"Get on your hands and knees and crawl to your clothes," he purred, his anger now carefully sublimated into sadism and faux restraint. "Bring back the underwear and that pretty kimono. Oh, and your little weapon. We can't forget that, now, can we?"

Kurama felt his eyes and face go dead as he struggled to his clothes like a dog, the position and the movement hurting more than he thought he could possibly describe. He was Elmire, he was Chrysippus, he was Lucy (1); it was his lot to suffer the degradation Karasu offered. Through the haze, he supposed that Chrysippus was the most apt allusion. Kurama was the Peloponnesian boy, kidnapped by his tutor and raped so brutally he died because of it. It gave him perverse pleasure to imagine Karasu as Laius. Karasu would destroy him, leaving nothing left, and no one could stop him - but perhaps Inari would create misfortune as punishment for the bastard's callous arrogance. He knew it was an empty hope, but he wished it all the same as he crawled, clothing in hand, to Karasu's original seat.

The pain escalated to an anguished wave after seeing Karasu perched like the sparrow he was, toying with his own sleek hair. Kurama knew that he'd never abhorred anyone in either of his two lives with the intensity that he despised Karasu. The edges of his mind were indistinct from blood loss, but he hardened himself, knowing that he would only lose more.

Karasu undid his pants to spite Kurama, with a flourish that he convinced himself was elegant, but which was to Kurama's mind disgustingly pompous and unlike the suave crow. As a rule, he didn't wear underwear.

Karasu watched in twisted, manic glee as Kurama sat on his haunches, the cock dripping, reddish-purple with blood, rock-hard and throbbing with need only half a foot from Kurama's grimacing face.

"You know what I want, lovely."

Kurama carefully placed the dirty, blood-soaked clothes and wood to the side of himself, taking as much time as he could with that simple task. When he was finished fiddling with the silk and cotton (not wanting to even look at the soiled wood), he summoned his Youko detachment into his heart and mind and mustered an expression of misery and wide-eyed innocence. The fear and submission he'd felt before were gone, leaving him achy, and empty of anything except fury and pain.

All that was inside him was a rock in his chest as he slowly licked the shaft from base to tip, wincing at the taste of musk and precum. Karasu groaned shamelessly as that rose petal mouth opened wide and engulfed him. His hands threaded through vermillion strands, and then fisted, forcing his shaft all the way to the back of Kurama's throat.

Kurama reached up and desperately fisted the base, trying to keep the cock from choking him. Karasu grabbed the hand and drew it away, then forced himself forward. As Kurama gagged and struggled for breath, Karasu pushed open Kurama's throat and shoved his dick the final distance. No sooner was he seated then he began to thrust, using the hand still entwined in Kurama's hair to hold him in place so he could fuck his mouth. Pleasure exploded in front of Karasu's eyes, increased by the feeling of Kurama swallowing him and his throat tightening from his blatant inability to breathe. Kurama fought the urge to vomit with his entire mind, focused on pleasing the sadist, the bastard, the anathema that held him in place with a bloodless grasp. Right then, with blood loss and deprivation of air dulling his mind, it was all he could do. He would start attempting to discover the veracity of Karasu's claims after that.

"Yes, yess. That's perfect, darling, just like that."

Kurama used his tongue half-heartedly, but towards the end, as he felt the cock tighten in his throat, he found he was too dizzy to do much but hang and let his mouth be raped.

Kurama gagged as acidic saline assaulted his nose and throat, forced down into his windpipe by Karasu's long, sadistic thrusts. The cock twitched, then receded from his mouth. Before he could lean over to cough up the fluid, the hand in his hair dragged him upwards to a waiting mouth. Kurama scrabbled, trying to get his feet placed, but Karasu kicked them out from under him so that he hung suspended in midair. Karasu's hard lips muffled his grunts of pain as a tongue dragged itself through Kurama's bruised mouth, swabbing for cum. Kurama coughed and wheezed as he tried to get air into his lungs. The lips receded, only to be covered by a hand, two fingers of which delicately pinched his nose closed.

"Swallow, pretty. Swallow, and then you may breathe."

As always, as was becoming a repulsive habit, he acquiesced. A grimace of disgust filled his face as he ingested the noisome liquid. Finally, as his chest began to sear in earnest for want of air and as spots exploded in front of his eyes, the hand receded and he was allowed to crumple into a fetal position on the floor, hack up the semen, and suck in the much-needed breaths.

His vision cleared, and he watched out of the corner of his eye as the mop handle and an ornate, lacquered hashi were brandished.

"Do you know what sounding is, lovely?" (2)

Kurama's eyes widened, and then dulled. He nodded his head wearily, worried that his captor might want confirmation. He had known that Karasu wouldn't be so easily sated, but he had no choice. It was either him or Shiori, and that was no contest. His mother had always and would always mean more to Kurama than his own pride and happiness ever could.

It was going to be a long night. He cringed as Karasu got up from his chair and bent over him, already erect again. A long, long night.

The next day, Kurama shifted in pain as he sat, a pile of books wedged between his hands and his chin and a few scrolls tucked untidily under his arms. The library was a charming room, he thought; it provided a welcome change of pace from the dreary debauchery of Karasu's quarters. Here and there along the long chamber were little clusters of baroque fauteuils and varnished tables, which created artistic, disagreeable places to read. They were lightened by fresh flowers and uncoordinated vases Kurama routinely stole from around the mansion and used to brighten up the room. Solid pine bookcases were almost marginalized by the expanse of amber carpeting, which was pleasant and soft to Kurama's bare feet. The library was beautiful, really, and Kurama admired whoever had decorated and built it. He had no inkling that the architect was none other than his captor's employer, Sakyo; he was understandably biased against any member of Team Toguro.

It was afternoon already, and the sun shimmered down at Kurama through the high windows, warmly radiant when compared with the subdued lighting of Karasu's room. He'd slept through the day after his homecoming session with the bastard had finally, thankfully ended late last night. Kurama carefully suppressed memories of himself lying on the floor, spent, used, and covered in disgusting fluids. He suppressed further the images of crawling to the bathroom and scrubbing his body, trying to keep his sobs low enough that Karasu couldn't hear him.

He vowed he would never remember again the pain and humiliation of reaching inside his own rectum to remove the splinters, piece by piece. He'd had to pull them out one at a time as he healed his flesh in a wedge, doing it in such a way that the splinters were pushed out and down to a place where his two fingers could nab them. He could still feel a few, up beyond his reach, small and annoying as they poked at his flesh; but he contented himself that the tears had healed without garnering an infection. He had been almost certain the unsanitary conditions would have caused one. The bacteria that thrived in his colon would usually love a chance to taint the body that housed them, and the damage had been extensive. Karasu had been in an adventurous mood, especially when it came to that damned collar.

Kurama tore his awareness away from those memories once more, and focused on distracting his mind. He thumbed the worn, tattered cover of the book he'd chosen, a Makaian volume categorizing thousands of different poisons and ki solutions and their effects, and started flipping through it methodically. He wasn't surprised to find a demon book in Sakyo's library. The man had obviously done many dealings with many youkai, and certain Makaian books were well known to be worth the money.

Kurama sneezed, his sensitive nose offended by the dust and grime that soiled the engraved human skin. His other hand, now that the rest of the books had been safely stacked to his side, fiddled with the collar locked around his neck. Kurama had already figured out the supposedly impossible yoki lock that Karasu had ordered for him. It was shameful, really: all he had needed was a letter opener and an enchanted magnet (found in a desk in one of the spacious offices that dotted the mansion), and it had come undone like a charm. Now he could take the collar off at will, but that was almost pointless. It was probably imbued with a tracking charm he had to neutralize or trick. Unlike collars created with ningen electricity, something as simple as water or blunt force wouldn't do it. He'd have to find a solvent that was safe for (admittedly more durable than usual) human skin, yet lethal to yoki charms; further, one that he could order, steal, or make for himself with his limited resources. He'd been thinking of this since he woke up, along with the decision of which youkai to service or drug in return for a look at his mother.

"Even a look would do no good," he sighed.

As a kitsune, he was adept at recognizing fakes and illusions; but without access to his ki it was just a matter of guess and check. If Karasu really splurged when buying the illusion, it would lock and copy directly from his memories and create an almost perfect match, even in personality and memory. Usually it was necessary for a shape-shifter to touch someone to replicate so perfectly, but there were illusions that had the same basic effect. These were easily dispensed with, though - all that was needed was a touch where the person was thought to be, and they were gone. In short, he'd have to get inside the dungeons.

It would take careful planning and all the cunning he possessed to outsmart his captors and verify that his mother was really his mother. In that case, he thought, how was he going to escape with her? While this conundrum played itself out in his head, he decided that in the meantime he needed to destroy or reroute the tracking charm. That was the first step.

Kurama itched to be far from here, safe in a protected ningenkai with his mother and stepfamily. He longed, cliché though it may seem, to run: just to run. He wanted to jog and dash and climb in a forest, perhaps in the suburbs around his ningen home; but certainly, and with no qualms, to run. Sometimes he thought it was the confinement that unnerved and destroyed him more than anything else. He was going insane from shame and boredom, each in its irregular place. Kurama recognized Youko's influence in this; he'd felt this way before he was old enough to walk stably. Still, it was worse now. He hadn't been outside for weeks, and in his kitsune heart of hearts, he missed direct sunlight and the out-of-doors. The forcefield keeping him in place was a wide sphere, and the bottom of the first floor and the grounds were not included.

It was then that he came up with the first of his many daily schemes, stoppers to keep himself from going insane in the asylum.

Toguro was as unflappable as always on the outside. On the inside, however, beneath the veneer, he was mystified. He'd been summoned to the library by a panicked aid, and made his way there with limited understanding of what the gibbering demon meant by "slaves attempting to escape." Normally he wouldn't bother with such a mild issue, but Sakyo had no need of him for an hour or two, and candidly, he was sick of listening to the obsequious kowtowing of Sakyo's 'acquaintances' (lackeys, his mind first supplied). He'd decided to go along with whatever problem had arisen, and tersely told Bui to get Karasu and guard Sakyo. He almost regretted the trip now that he saw the bookshelves knocked over and cleverly rearranged, despite the fact that each was approximately twelve feet in height. It was a great showing of mind over matter, and the burly man allowed a smile, impressed in spite of himself at the escapee's daring.

"What are you doing?" he asked.

"Nothing," a mildly familiar voice replied. Rustling sounds filled the air, before the lovely young man came walking from the outside of the window and back into view. There was a soft thump as Kurama landed closer to Toguro, a hateful sneer adorning his face. Toguro's visage became a fraction of a millimeter more enigmatic at the sight of that bitter countenance and the sound of that glacial voice. Kurama, sharp-eyed as always, noticed this and wondered at it. Had he triggered something? It wasn't important.

"I'll ask again. What are you doing?" This time there was a threat tingeing Toguro's voice. He was more than a little annoyed that he would have to wade into Karasu's mess once again, and he had no time for empty shows of defiance.

"...Sunbathing." Kurama said, put off by Toguro's tone. "I find myself without access to any places with sunlight, and so I... made one."

The bookshelves, all formerly austere and filled with dry tomes on everything Sakyo's decorator thought impressive (the useful books were hidden in the back), held up one shelf that reached out of the window and wall (how had he managed to break a wall? Toguro wondered), creating an extended platform. It was unclear to Toguro how any of this had been done, though he did see that some ropes and pulleys had been used. The books were half in the shelves and half in clumsy piles along the floor.

Kurama hesitated, and then began to climb back up the shelves. He had to stop this time. A moderately bearable night's sleep hadn't healed all his internal and external wounds, and he was in a catastrophic amount of pain. His bravado was just that: bravado. He felt fear begin to curl along his face as his façade cracked and restructured itself.

"I'm showing him my back," he thought. Instincts began to kick in. "He could hurt me, he will hurt me, he has that power and I could never stop him."

Somehow, it seemed worse to him that he was at the mercy of Yuusuke's murderer than that he was at the mercy of his own. He would die readily before letting Karasu realize this, but selling him to other people, sharing his degradation around like so much wine, scared him more than anything Karasu alone could possibly do. Kurama returned to himself and went back to his perch, struggling to hide the pain he was in, and the terror he felt. Unfortunately, concealing them from a fighter of Toguro's caliber was useless.

Time passed, as immutable as it always was, the silence between the two men making the minutes both crawl and fly. Toguro was confident enough in Karasu and Bui's abilities to allow himself a few minutes to find a book. It could be boring as hell, working for Sakyo.

He realized he'd left it too long when a grating voice snickered, "Brother! Here you are."

Kurama grimaced and immediately began to climb the rest of the bookcase, intent on getting as far away from the nauseating metamorph as he could. His bare feet pattered softly against the wood and leather, and he almost reached a dip he could hide behind before the voice jangled his nerves once again. Aniki Toguro would not be so easily shied from.

"And the little fox, too! How droll. Tell me, child, have you missed your daddy?"

"My... who?" Kurama's mind refused to compute that information. His father? His... daddy? The very idea of someone fulfilling that hyper-sexualized role (as Ani made it clear he was intending) filled him with boiling, seething, rollicking brands of hatred and ever-deepening disgust.

"Karasu. Your dear father." Aniki couldn't keep a straight face, and started to giggle uncontrollably. Kurama wanted to vomit. He was filled completely with the urge to destroy the bastard and grind his bones to dust. "Your dearest father who left, and has returned home gloriously! Have you been a good boy while he was gone?"

Kurama deadened his face and stared straight ahead as tentacles reached out. He kept his chin up and his disgust open as he was dragged painfully down the bookshelf and over to the front of the annoying little monkey he was unable to fight. He filled himself with the knowledge of how he would fight, were he able to. He had seen the bastard sparring against various demons in the indoor training ring, and Kurama thought the sin tree would do great justice by the repulsive primate.

"Karasu will not be pleased." Toguro had just found a book he'd enjoyed many years ago and settled in. He was a man as well as a professional, and he had a good sense of when he was actually needed and when an employer was relatively safe. Toguro stood against the wall near the record player and tape set. He'd moved the bookcase that formerly blocked his view, wanting a look at all entrances and exits at one time. He'd put the room back in basic order, working around the bookshelf Kurama was sitting on, but there was nothing to be done for the hole Kurama'd made in the wall.

"Why not?" The castrato's voice sounded maniacally pleased by this line of questioning. "He's just going to give his uncle a little kiss, that's all!"

Kurama hissed in rage. He thought vengefully of the sin tree, and the pain it would create; he thought of the shoulder-monkey locked in the tree's crushing embrace. He thought of Aniki screaming in pain, howling, begging for the torment to end... "I'm not a child," he said, through clenched teeth.

"Then shall I kiss you like an adult? Maybe do other adult things to you? My tentacles are almost endless in potential." Kurama snarled and kicked out vigorously with his unrestrained legs. They didn't remain unrestrained for long. He shuddered and jerked as his legs were secured, forced open and guided so that they wrapped around the smaller youkai's waist. The larger tentacles pressed Kurama's tensed and resistant body to his own, draping the thin form against himself. With their height difference, such intimacy would not have been possible had his legs not been wrapped so securely.

Kurama wanted to kill. Homicidal rage bubbled up from within him, filling his lungs and blocking his air passages. Instead of destroying the ugly little man, though, he schooled his features into a grimace of disgust and stared at a convenient spot far above the shoulder-monkey's head. He couldn't resist a choice shudder, though, as he felt something very erect and obviously ballooned press against him. It seemed even more dangerous and grotesque than Karasu's, but he would suffer through it. At least it didn't have the repugnant intimacy of Karasu's touch.

Kurama turned his head further up and looked at the ceiling, beginning to sweat with fear and hatred. He barely noticed as Otouto Toguro left the room, and just focused on the vaulted ceiling, where an elegant pattern of gold leaf welcomed Kurama's escaping mind.

He ignored the almost human mouth that bit idly at his throat. The yellowed teeth didn't care; they grazed his fluttering pulse, and a decayed tongue swabbed the salt off his skin. Kurama grimaced further as the tongue lengthened, dispelling any illusions about humanity as it reached up and traced his lips. He curled his face as his sensitive nose picked up the rotting fetidity of Aniki's breath.

Ani panted in excitement, his lust increasing by the moment as he saw the ugly look he brought onto that beautiful face. He moaned in anticipation, pleased by the pretty boy and his sweet-tasting skin. Neither the rapist nor his victim noticed the man who had been summoned by the younger, larger brother's stoic command.

"Toguro, if you wanted the fox you could've asked me. We might've reached a nice agreement, you and I."

"Come back a little later, Masky." The sneering indentation on the nickname sent a spasm of hot rage through Karasu's narcissistic body.

"Your abilities as a nomenclator are astounding." He was sneering right back. "And why should I leave? That's my property you're molesting."

"Oh, you have that nice little virginity charm on him. What can some fun do to that? You'll hardly notice the difference, I promise. Our sweet kitsune will be just as sweet. But maybe a little more frightened, hm? A little more compliant? A little more traumatized?" The levels of impiously maniacal glee that were folded into Ani's voice were terrifying to behold.

Karasu hesitated for a moment, but at length decided to join in with Ani's taunts, unable to pass up a chance to put his slave back in his subservient place. "What do you say, darling? You're always so vocal when I'm nearing this point. Perhaps you'd like Ani better than me? Perhaps you'd enjoy him inside of you? He can give it all kinds of textures, you know."

Kurama spoke for the first time since Karasu had entered the room. "I'm... trying not to vomit, actually. But really, you or him, it makes no difference." He turned his head to the side, disdaining both his tormentors in lieu of destroying them.

"Your bravado will get you nowhere. You're shaking; trembling like a little girl about to be hit. And I doubt you have such a look of revulsion on your face when Karasu beds you." Ani sounded as though he had just been told it was Christmas for a week, and he was getting a barely legal masochistic whore for his present.

Karasu almost broke it off then, his greed solidifying inside him; but he remembered Kurama's arrogance the night before. Rage mounted inside him as he thought of the burning, vibrant eyes and the snarled insults. Kurama watched in steadily increasing terror as, once again, Karasu's sanity flew out the window.This is the perfect chance, he thought. I can punish the little bitch for angering me last night. Smiling to himself, he stalked up to Kurama, ordering an ecstatic Ani to let him go. Ani frowned, not wanting to give up his new play-toy or obey an underling's orders, but a virile grin widened across his face when he saw the light in Karasu's eyes.

Kurama fell flat on his ass, but was on his feet and backing away in an instant, his fear compounded by the sight of Karasu's searing gaze. He felt Youko curl up in his hypothalamus, attempting to stimulate it to rage instead of terror as he backed off, wide-eyed, trying to keep both of the older men in his line of sight as they advanced on him. Suddenly, in a burst of speed, Karasu was there, gripping the shoulders of his kimono in tight hands. Kurama blushed bright crimson with shame all along his resistant body as the kimono was dragged down to his hips.

Kurama now thoroughly regretted his decision not to wear any of the underwear (most of which fit more comfortably under the term fetish panties or thongs than the staid moniker 'underwear') Karasu had chosen. He closed his eyes and breathed in deeply through his nose, trying to calm himself and keep his mind on more important matters than what the sadists did to his body.

The deliberations that came to mind were too horrible, however, and the surroundings equally so, so he dissociated once more and became a listless doll in Karasu's embrace. Karasu felt the torpor overtake his toy, and laughed viciously as he flung him into Ani's waiting arms. Tentacles wrapped themselves around him and in no time at all he was being slammed against the bookcase next to the wall uncovered by Otouto Toguro's former whims. He bit the wooden shelf between his teeth, tasting the sinuous texture of pine as he felt his legs being spread and his arms being secured.

Ani slid an approximation of a hand along the supple back and thighs, marveling at how smooth the skin was, and yet how hard the muscles lay beneath. His hand strayed to Kurama's ass, enjoying the tremors his ministrations left behind.

Kurama whimpered in fear, Youko having removed himself from all active parts of the mind and curled up in the parietal lobe, as something pulsating and warm was fitted over his flaccid shaft. He bit into the shelf so hard he left permanent indentations as two more approximate hands spread his buttocks. Something pressed against his hole, and he shivered, closing his eyes tight. He was being held so securely he couldn't struggle, but his mouth was unrestrained as Karasu spoke up from the side.

"That's all, Ani? I would've thought there'd be spikes!"

"You're quite right, Karasu." Ani sounded delighted by this turn of events, Karasu equally so. Both youkai were enjoying Kurama's abasement and fear at the depravity he had no choice but to succumb to.

Kurama released his locked jaw and pulled away from the wood, finally managing to speak up as terror filled him. He remembered the pain the mop handle had shown him, and he knew that this plot would reap similar rewards. "You'll kill me, dammit! You'll kill me! I can't lose any more blood, I haven't replenished enough yet. For Inari's sake, look at my wounds!"

It was true. Both of them could see that he was paler than usual, and the partially healed rents were bold strikes against his skin.

"Fine then, child." Ani sounded put out. "I'll give you a nice texture that won't hurt, hm? You'll like it, I promise." He didn't bother seeming even remotely sincere. Kurama tried to protest that he was, in truth, older than Aniki, but only found his mouth restrained.

With Karasu, rape was a slow, winding process, drawn-out and terrifying. He escalated and escalated, until finally he had reached the height of pain and humiliation that he sought. With Ani, rape was disgusting: more disgusting than usual, at least. Kurama supposed there were other words for it. It was unsanitary, it was tacky, it was almost pedophilic in its nuances, and it made Kurama want to vomit on principle. He endured it with the forced patience of a trauma victim trying to cross the street.

Finally, after eons and eons of grief, it was finished. Ani yelled Kurama's name over and over again in wanton delight, while he pumped the studded dick (now shrunk back to its usual unremarkable proportions) in and out. Kurama groaned helplessly into the elastic flesh, the studs creating a pleasurable sensation that sent his mind into spasms of horror. He thanked Inari that Ani was a premature ejaculator, which he was sure was a beloved favor from his god as he swept his eyes around the bright room.

Ani didn't seem to care that Kurama was still partially erect (never having become fully hard) as he slipped out of that impossibly tight hole. He ordered Kurama to clean off his cock with his tongue, expecting terrified and wavering obedience. Karasu was off to the side, anything but hard, yet still pleased by the look on his slave's face.

"I refuse." Kurama had reached snapping point long ago, but there was little or nothing defiant he could do while so thoroughly restrained. In his ecstasy, though, Ani loosened the bonds on his mouth and body, and Kurama twisted free and stalked, or rather limped, over to the raunchy-looking kimono that was his only clothing.

"You . . . refuse?"

"Yes. Wipe yourself off on a book, if you must. I won't clean you." Kurama felt woozy and disoriented by blood loss, a feeling he was beginning to become familiar with. Ani had tried spikes anyway; halfway through, when Kurama noticed with fierce joy that the shoulder-monkey was having trouble staying legitimately hard.

Kurama's hand reached for the clothing, but was stopped by the heel of Karasu's boot. Metal plates, attached to the sole and toe for usage in kicks, crushed and shattered his wrist as they slammed down. Kurama screamed, all the anguish he'd been keeping inside during Ani's rape now streaming out. His mouth formed a perfect chasm as he howled his pain and misery in the air.

"You'll wipe my dear teammate off, pretty, with that talented little tongue of yours. If you don't do that," oh how Kurama had begun to hate those words, the bargaining, the way he forced him to choose. "Then I'll put a leash on you, and, naked as the day you were born, you'll come with me to a nice dinner with Sakyo's associates. We'll see what happens there. Do you understand?" Kurama despised those words, hated them oh-so-much. Do you understand that one day I'll kill you? Kurama thought. Do you understand that, crow?

"Put the leash on, then. I won't fraternize with this enemy any more than I can help. Though you could have the decency to allow me a bath first." Despite his snarled words, there was a glazed look in his eyes and he was shaking.

"A bath sounds lovely. We'll take it together."

As the leash clicked onto the collar's ring, Kurama sighed hatefully. He'd walked into that one.

"Stop touching me."

"Oh, fox. How could I? Your flesh is so beautiful, so delicate, and..."

"I'll clean myself, Karasu. You're free to clean yourself as well, but I'm not cleaning you and you're not cleaning me."

Karasu chuckled lustily, and grabbed Kurama's forearm with hard fingers. As Kurama instantaneously resisted, Karasu backhanded him sharply.

"You're so dirty, lovely." Karasu was starting to sound like a character out of bad pornography, in Kurama's opinion. It would've been funny if it hadn't made him feel so soiled and degraded. "We need to clean you." Kurama was privately sure that it would take something along the lines of acid or steel to cleanse him properly.

Karasu's hands dipped down to the flesh hanging between Kurama's legs, and carelessly massaged it. As he felt the organ respond blearily to his ministrations, he smirked and grasped the shower nozzle in bird-like hands.

"Dirty, dirty. How shall I clean you?" He waved the nozzle menacingly, the titanium rope swinging from side to side with an eery glint. Kurama tried to battle the feelings of lowness and uncleanliness, of being dirty and disgusting; he would withhold any victory he could from the greedy bastards. He swallowed and felt his teeth grind a bit, wishing he could beat Karasu to death with the very implement he was holding. Kurama glanced at the long coil rope that connected water to spout, and decided that it might be easier to strangle him. Karasu smiled when he saw him look.

They both stood in the frontal outer shower that led the way into the ofuro. The baths were one of the few truly Japanese touches in a mostly Western mansion, and were separated from the Western toilets (which were also comfortable and spacious) by two or three doorways. The powder blue tiles of the open, waterproof floor were elegantly inscribed with various patterns, some Chinese in origin, some Japanese, and some even Korean. In front of the shower nozzles was a bamboo bench, carefully rounded and beautified, an expensive commodity that was used as a seat for bathing. It was uncomfortable, but it lent an ambiance to the room that Kurama usually admired.

There was a small line of steps, covered with wood lattice, leading up from the shower room and into the marble ofuro, which currently steamed with torrid, bubbling water. At Karasu's request a servant had drawn a bath; but the servant had left a while ago, with furtive looks towards the two men who cleansed their bodies before relaxing in the bath. Kurama was privately sure that in this instance the cleansing would leave him more disgustingly filthy than he had been before it started.

Karasu slammed Kurama's body down on the bench, causing him to arch and clench his teeth in pain. Blunt force was all that was needed to reopen the wounds that ripped his insides apart.

"We need to get you clean, yes?" The sickly way Karasu was treating him and the crude look in his eyes brought the familiar taste of gall to Kurama's throat and mouth. Kurama closed his eyes and forced himself to endure as Karasu finished lathering a washcloth with ginseng-and-ginger soap, and used it to slowly, erotically, and wickedly cleanse his body. The cloth teased his nipples into an erect position, and bathed his face. The washcloth and the washcloth's owner didn't bother caring about the way that face turned bright red with fuming rage. Ironically, the spicy smell of the soap rejuvenated Kurama even as the eroticism of its motions dulled his spirit and violated him.

Shudders came again as that almost gentle, yet terrible hand wrapped around his shaft and began to pump. Kurama's chin jerked with hatred and fear as he grimaced in ever-deepening disgust. He stood up suddenly, wincing and shuddering as the hand didn't release his phallus, but instead twisted it in a painful, businesslike manner.

"Karasu, do you want to taste Aniki Toguro the next time you... the next time you rape me? I'll clean. You can get in the bath." Kurama refused to deign the eldest Toguro with a nickname. He closed his eyes and shuddered again at the pause his mind had supplied before saying the word 'rape.'

"Your insolence is never-ending, fox. Fine, then: I'll leave you to it. But there is one place I know you'll forget to clean, and since it's the most important place of all, and the one place I don't want to find any bits of Ani in, do you mind if I wash it for you?" It was a rhetorical question. His voice was as velvety and smooth as always.

Kurama began to shiver harder as he was rearranged and leaned against the bamboo bench. He shut his eyes tight and whispered prayers to himself as he felt something smooth and metallic press against his opening. Karasu hardened with lust, seeing those legs tremble as he placed the shower nozzle, a small cylinder, against the semen-stained entrance. We can't have that, now can we? He thought to himself. He turned the power on the side of the head to its highest frequency, and then, gently, using his hands and the showerhead, cleaned away the cum. When the entrance was once again pert and uncontaminated, and the ring of muscle once more beautifully tensed, he decided to escalate himself again.

Kurama was in hell. He whimpered and wheezed in terror and shame as the shower head was pressed into him. He shut his eyes, only to open them again as the nozzle was misused, cleaning him in a way that made him feel as though it were motor oil that hit his skin instead of water. He suppressed that thought, and groaned aloud as he realized that all he had done recently was repress, repress, repress. It was a basic rule of psychology that all repressed urges eventually exploded; perhaps it was the same with repressed feelings? Kurama didn't know, and he was suddenly distracted as the shower nozzle was fitted in.

Karasu was, as always, uncaring of the soft sounds of pain and protest from Kurama's perfect mouth as he fucked him with the showerhead, cranked up to full. Kurama twisted and whined, scrabbling and bucking as Karasu reached beneath him to fondle his retracted balls, curious of them. Semen and blood mixed with the water, and was scooped out of Kurama's ass by casual flicks of the wrist. Occasionally, the water or the metal brushed up against his prostate, eliciting aroused grunts from deep within him.

Kurama tried to relax, attempting to control the pain of his wounds tearing around the new intrusion. He felt battered and broken by the constant stream of trauma; his nerves were wearing thin, and his emotions were spinning out of control. He tried to restrain his desperate need to fight back - there seemed to be something so wrong about trying to kick when a foreign object was violating his rectum. Of course there was nothing wrong with fighting back, but in this case... he couldn't. He didn't know why, but he couldn't. He could only endure, and hope to garner revenge in excess.

The shower nozzle was taken away when Karasu was finished. Kurama was flipped around and forced to lie on the bench, his position moved so that he was on his back. His hair hung in curled masses of crimson that pillowed his head, shining with health that he didn't feel. His penis was half-erect, blushing with unwanted desire and turgid from revolting pleasure. His skin was dampened by water, his nipples hardened, and his eyes shined with misery and bleary hate.

In short: he looked stunning. So stunning, in fact, that Karasu was barely aware of himself as his cock took the shower nozzle's place. Kurama's legs were spread harshly to the sides, levered from the hips and knees and held in place by stone grips on the rosy insides of his shins. Karasu didn't waste any time before thrusting forward, not giving Kurama time to adjust before moving. He groaned, feeling Kurama's tight warmth surrounding him and sending heat coiling along his body. Kurama shut his eyes tightly and screamed as all his wounds, all his many, many wounds tore around the monstrous, familiar invader.

Kurama gulped and gasped, his back screaming, his legs screaming, his insides screaming, his head rebounding with screams, but most of all his mouth screaming. He was terrified, he was in pain, and he couldn't quite place why what Karasu was doing was so much worse than what Ani had done. It had something to do with the... the intimacy, the way Karasu made him feel like everything inside him was exposed for the world to see. Karasu made things personal; he didn't just treat him like a whore, he treated him like a treasured love-slave. The difference was astounding, horrifying, and more than a little confusing.

But he would never be foolish enough to mistake these absolutely wrong, in every way despicable feelings for love or lust or longing of any kind. The only thing he felt for Karasu was hatred and fear; those, though, he felt in droves.

Finally, he felt the familiar warmth of Karasu releasing his seed deep within his unwilling victim. The only parts of his body that had been touching Kurama were his hands, hips and cock, which receded with a slippery-wet 'shlick.' His legs where unceremoniously dropped, and he was pushed off the bench with no care or finesse. Kurama hit the floor with a sickening thunk and lay there dejectedly, trying to recover himself as Karasu cleaned, briskly and efficiently. Karasu finished quickly, and climbed the stairs to relax in the ofuro, content that his slave would soon join him.

Kurama picked himself up slowly. He crawled, aware of his lack of an audience, to the metal claw Karasu had replaced the shower nozzle into, and began to clean himself. Black spots danced across his vision. He leaned against the bamboo that had lacerated his back and wrenched out his hair, and cursed the gods, cursed Toguro, cursed Karasu, and cursed his luck. He honestly didn't know how long he could hang on like this. He tried to get up, tottered for a bit, and was aware of the floor rushing to meet him as everything dissolved into darkness.

To be continued.

Chapter Text

"What does one want when one is engaged in the sexual act? That everything around you give you its utter attention, think only of you, care only for you... every man wants to be a tyrant when he fornicates."

— Marquis de Sade (Philosophy in the Boudoir)




Karasu looked irritably down at his victim. How like him to fall unconscious after such a mild session. Really, Kurama was far too weak!

He turned his back on the baggage that lay crumpled behind him, and spread his legs in the ofuro. He was determined to enjoy himself, fox or no fox. Though - and here his mind paused, whirling with delicious imagery - though it would have been a joy to ravage the little kit in the bath. The blood would have mixed with the water so gloriously, creating a fragrance that would cling to them all day. It would accentuate the floral-smelling bath salts a reticent servant had mixed into their water. Karasu chuckled libidinously at the thought, and called another servant via intercom to massage his back. When they arrived, Karasu leaned into the timidly probing hands, not allowing himself to be aggravated by the fact that it was a nobody, a servant who tended to him, and not Kurama. He set about his ruminations with aplomb, his sinuous back stretching and relaxing under the hands, looking, with the curtain of black hair, very like that of a panther coiled to spring. His contemplations were never-ending, coming quickly and leaving with equal speed.

They began thus: the various weak luxuries of the human world harried and fulfilled him, responding to the empathy with powerlessness he'd always felt. He decided that empathy, though his original term, wasn't right at all, and didn't match what he was feeling. Instead, he could say that he felt a certain oneness with the pitiably beautiful, those who brought meaning to the world with their frailty. Idiocy did not interest him, and he found nothing but repulsion in ugliness; but to be conversely strong, yet weak - to be conversely beautiful, yet tawdry and vain - it called to him, and he was not one to dissuade himself from answering the call. He saw many things in Kurama, a number of which Kurama didn't see in himself. Quite a few of those, too; the attributes that Karasu despised and adored; were truthfully absent from the psyche of the lovely kitsune.

But Karasu's mind worked on many levels, and what he'd just deliberated was under his current consciousness, in his arch-consciousness. The very vanity he secretly despised was evident in spades in his main thoughts, which were as follows: that it was true, Youko was better looking, but also unassailable; whereas Shuuichi, pretty Shuuichi, could be bullied and bought and terrorized to the edge of sanity. He was resistant and proud enough to score petty victories, but vulnerable enough to lose major ones. Yes, Karasu thought, Kurama was a great find. His youthful appearance and ancient soul made a nice notch on Karasu's bedpost, and it had been a long time since he'd come across something so beautiful. Karasu's deliberations meandered pleasantly down these roads, lost in the red locks and juniper eyes of his newest acquisition, and the far-off hues of those that came before.

A groan and half-hearted rustlings from behind him broke his reverie. A smirk crossed his face as he listened to the soft sound of flesh sliding over tile. He touched the simple wood box that sat next to the ofuro, a demon medicine kit he had found in Kurama's things from the Dark Tournament. He had had all the useless or dangerous concoctions discarded, and filled it instead with blood-replenishing potions - one of which Karasu took out now, his fingers trailing over the tips of the flasks until they slid down the bottle of choice. In a usual fit of malice, he had redone the ki lock (originally responding only to Kurama's yoki signature) and made it react only to himself. He held the strong belief that it was too powerful for the youryoku trickle Kurama could now produce, though he couldn't have been more wrong about that fact. All of this was banished from Karasu's mind as he strode over to Kurama, his balance impeccable on the slippery floor.

"Here you are, lovely. Drink this."

Kurama shut his mouth with a click of teeth and resisted, his mind and body not working together to tell him what it was Karasu was trying to feed him. Karasu ignored the resistance and levered Kurama's mouth open with a practiced air, supporting the lithe body with an arm that hooked around his back to keep his mouth ajar. Karasu poured the liquid down Kurama's sputtering throat. Seconds later, an icy mouth descended to join those pert lips, sealing them. Kurama remembered this feeling and spasmed violently. One of his knees knocked painfully into the bench, but Karasu was unfazed. A kick aimed for Karasu's stomach instead sent the shower nozzle spinning. His groans and obedient swallows were all muffled by the lips' hard pressure.

Suddenly the mouth withdrew and Kurama sat up with a gasp. He immediately collected himself and wiped his own mouth delicately, looking anywhere but at Karasu. Karasu said nothing, and left the room. He didn't bother to shrug on a robe. When he returned, it was with something that sent Kurama's phlegmatic emotions into sudden and immediate overdrive.

"I'm not wearing that," Kurama hissed quietly, his battered pride once again raising its head to sniff the winds.

"Why not, lovely? Isn't this the outfit you wore when I won you? If you had the nerve to wear it there, I don't see why you can't wear it here."

"Somehow I remember having a shirt and pants on when I chose that."

There was a pregnant pause. Karasu regarded Kurama with a smokey expression. "We could always go see what Ani's doing," he finally stated. "And I thought it rather kind of me to offer you anything to wear at all. I did promise you a trip in the nude, after all."

Kurama wasn't sure which appealed to him less: meeting a bunch of horny old ningen wearing nothing but his yellow tunic, or meeting a bunch of horny old ningen naked. On one hand, the tunic would make him feel safer; on the other hand, it might prove more erotic.

I can't face this without any protection, he decided after quick consideration. He accepted the clothing and pulled it wordlessly over his head, glad that the long tails covered his more precious attributes better than Karasu's usual choice of outfits. His hips, however, were bare and exposed, and his long legs peeked out from between the swirls of fabric. He decided he'd just have to ignore the gapping holes and huge patches of dried, stiffened blood. They couldn't be helped. In the meantime, Kurama readied himself for the leash, knowing Karasu would probably make him walk on his hands and knees or three steps behind him or something equally degrading.

"Oh, and one more thing, fox." Kurama jerked a little, wondering what humiliations would be added on top of those he had already suffered. Karasu smirked, and held up something small and round and purple, with a string dangling from the end. Kurama backed away soundlessly, recognizing a vibrator when he saw one.

Kurama tried to sit next to Karasu without thinking, hearing the leash click off in a dull sort of way. The collar had become a familiar weight around his neck, and he adjusted it now automatically as he pulled out a chair with shaking hands and sat down gingerly. His mind was fuzzy and clouded from the unwanted gratification of the toy deep inside him, numbing his senses and sending shocks throughout his system. It never quite occurred to him that the seat next to Karasu's was just for show, an oversight that was quickly rewarded with a vicious backhand, which swung straight into his nose because of the awkward angle as Karasu kept a hand on the chair to keep it from toppling. The brutal cuff was followed by a shove that would've dumped him unceremoniously onto his side, but for his catlike grace and balance that remained flawless even with the vibrator stimulating him.

The chair was pushed in, and an iron hand on his upper arm jerked him sideways. He felt his shoulders being compressed as he was forced to his knees, jarring the vibrator, which once again pushed mercilessly into his prostate. He trembled and bucked at the pleasurable agony that shot through his thin form and nearly overwhelmed him, his lips jerking in anger and unwanted desire. He tried to hold in the heat and rage by closing his eyes, accepting the position and settling into a meditation pose. He was given no warning for the hand that fisted in his hair and bent him until his hands were forced to the floor as a counter-balance. Kurama straightened up once the hand receded, knowing what his crowish captor wanted, but feigning ignorance. Karasu snarled at the blatant disobedience and pulled Kurama's head down again with a grip on the silky hair, this time twice as violently. He held it there, pushing him into a bowed position.

"Hands and knees, darling," Karasu sneered officiously when Kurama once again straightened himself. Karasu was obviously putting on a show for the myriad interested and often ugly faces that turned to look. Kurama numbed himself to the attentions of Sakyo's associates, ignoring the way they craned their gawkish human necks for a glance at the proud fighter brought low. Still, Kurama felt the familiar hatred build up, until he was sure he was seconds from leaping up and attacking whoever was nearest, barehanded and ki-less though he may be. After a pointed moment of keeping his head up and his back perfectly erect, he shifted to his haunches and put his hands on the ground. He heard Aniki Toguro giggling at him a few chairs down, and his muscles tensed.

That was a bad mistake. The vibrator, suddenly compressed, sent shivers of delectation through Kurama that undid his resolve and nearly destroyed him. He began to tremble, and was unable to stop a soft moan from escaping him at the unwanted spasms of need.

"What's wrong with him?" A familiar voice asked, its tone wrapped in ice.

Kurama found himself being dragged up and onto the chair, where he was flipped over and forced to his knees. The tunic was peeled carelessly away, and Kurama couldn't stop an angry, humiliated blush at the laughter that echoed from one side of the room to the next. He was once again amazed he didn't die from the shame that choked his breath and filled his chest cavity with fire.

"Why, the poor boy has gotten so used to being used that he needs something inside him day and night, or he feels uncomfortable," Karasu crowed, amusement filling his dead eyes.

"That's a barefaced lie," Kurama hissed, balancing between the chair he'd first tried to sit in and the edge of Karasu's, feeling his bare feet resting on metal. He glanced back and saw two things: the crossed tops of his feet sitting on Bui's lap, and Karasu's raised palm. The hand that connected with his ass sent his whole body rocking, as pain-filled gasps were torn from his throat. The feeling of the vibrator being forced farther into him and clenched made him cry out louder. "Inari...!" Kurama started, before he was interrupted by another forceful blow.

"Speak - when - spoken to, lovely." Karasu snarled into the pink shell of Kurama's ear, each word punctuated by a vicious open-palmed smack on his ass. Karasu grunted in effort as Kurama's body shook with humiliation and pain. He growled, and was rewarded with more hard smacks. A hand went down to hide himself with his tunic, feeling intolerably vulnerable, and Karasu laughed and slowly traced the bared opening with his finger. He watched as it tensed, and then loosened, trying to resist his fingers and the feeling of the vibrator all at once. Karasu could feel his concupiscence grow as he dipped one slightly clawed finger to run along Kurama's length, feeling it stiffen in response to his antics.

"It's never this... this... shameful and degrading," Kurama thought wretchedly. "It's as I feared. Karasu's being egged on, so he's giving life to all of his sickest, darkest, most perverse desires. Everything is amplified when he's doing it in front of an audience, and soon..." He never got a chance to finish that thought.

Karasu laughed as he held the frantically buzzing vibrator in his hand, relishing the strangled gasp he'd torn from Kurama's beautiful mouth. Kurama's forest green eyes rolled up into his head, taking his self-control with them. Hoping to rip more sounds from those perfect lips, Karasu slowly reinserted the toy, using one long finger. He was pleased by the soft laughter and moans that sounded near him. Kurama shuddered and gasped when a certain spot inside him was finally hit, eliciting obscene murmurs from the wolves that surrounded him. That was all Karasu needed. He turned the vibrator up to its highest frequency and re-taped it to Kurama's inner thigh. Then, he arranged Kurama so that he straddled his own lap, their bound erections pressing against each other as Karasu twisted the collar, cutting off Kurama's airway with merciless jerks of his hands.

"Next time you'll do what I tell you instantly, hm, Kura-tan?" he said in a carrying whisper as Kurama's mouth opened quietly, his fingers digging busily into the theoretically weak parts of Karasu's hands, trying to preserve his quickly narrowing windpipe. Chuckles sounded in response to that. Karasu smiled. He was a narcissist at heart, and, though he hated sharing his things, he loved an audience.

"Now, get on your hands and knees beside me and wait for further instructions. If you're good, you might even eat." With that, he released his hand from the back of Kurama's collar. Kurama closed his eyes tightly and breathed in deeply through the nose before crawling down beside Karasu, a plan forming in his mind. Every movement was laced with pain and pleasure that sent his worn emotions into overdrive. He was getting a little better at fighting his physiological reactions, though: he wasn't completely hard. Karasu smirked when he saw that. He had planned to just enjoy his dinner and let Kurama stew, but a better idea came to mind when his eyes fixed on the bulge of the still partially flaccid cock under the cloth.

Kurama found himself dragged under the table and positioned on his knees. He bit back a howl as the small vibrator seemed everywhere inside of him at once. His legs were spread. When he tried to shift to his hands and knees, a velvety voice instructed him not to move. Kurama had never felt so abused and violated in his life, and earned a kick when he moved anyway, unwilling to sanctify Karasu's control over him.

Kurama was terrified, alone, and surrounded by enemies he had no power to fight. His hyper-aware senses were completely filled with what would happen next, and he despaired as he realized that his only ally, Youko, was not responding to his pleas. Youko refused to lend his sullied companion any kind of dignity, deciding to shut himself down and let the brunt of the pain be born by his human equivalent. Kurama, feeling desperate and tired, tried to relax in spite of the instinctual need to tense; tried to keep his mouth shut, in spite of the way his higher brain ordered him to shout insults and curses at everyone present; and, despite all that, felt his face twitch with fear and disgust completely outside his control.

Then the steel-toed boot sandwiched his half-erection between it and his stomach. He snarled rather than gasped, and found himself incapable of words as Karasu resumed eating, idly stimulating Kurama's cock with his boot. Kurama clamped down on his lower lip. He closed his eyes, tensed his body (the shoe already putting pressure on the vibrator to the point that a few clenched muscles made no difference) and began to fight for his control.

He struggled against his body's needs and his wounded emotions with everything he had. As he fought, he formed plans, each less daring and more intelligent than the last, until finally he managed to remove himself from the situation and come up with a vague outline of what needed to happen. Karasu, unaware of Kurama's resolve and unable to tell how hard the cock was through his thick soles, bantered lightly with the man sitting across from him, too proud of his sick accomplishments to maintain his normal aloof silence. Kurama heard the clink of a fork dropping near him, and was on it and concealing it in a second. He reached up and discreetly unlocked his collar, not wanting to have to waste precious moments doing it later on. Then he pulled out the vibrator, holding it in his hand to disguise the noise.

It was time.

"Karasu..." He said softly, a triumphant edge to his voice.

Karasu froze. He started putting pressure on Kurama's cock, preparing to punish him for what he did next. "Yes, darling?"

"I told you last night. I despise you." With that, he sunk the fork's prongs deep inside Karasu's erected dick and overturned the chair he was sitting on with a skilled tug on the back legs. He leapt out of his subservient place, dodging Karasu's grasping hands as he snatched up an astounded-looking Bui's dinner and ran straight to the only place he knew that was close by but blocked off from Karasu. He juggled shoving food into his mouth and yanking off the tape that held the vibrator in place as he went. He began by kicking things and people out of his way and into Karasu's, but stopped when he realized that left a clear trail to the door he was aiming for. He rounded a corner and threw everything he was holding but the plate onto the ground, and went on his way again.

Toguro, Kurama knew, thought that the key to his room was safely in his pocket, and that the yoki lock on the door was relatively impenetrable, and quite a lot of other things that were blatantly untrue. Kurama had, unknown to any of his captors, worked and worked on that lock until it responded to his youryoku as well as Toguro's, thinking it the perfect safe home. It had been a daunting task, but he'd managed to accomplish it before the more powerful of Toguro's henchmen (not to mention Toguro himself) returned from their trip.

After that, all he had needed was the key (the original plan was to make a copy of the key, but upon seeing his chance, he sped things up a bit), which he had taken as he walked by him on the way into the dining hall. That had been nerve-wracking, though he hid his fear well behind the agony of the toy inside of him. He'd concealed the key in one of the many secret pockets of his tunic, which he noticed with a burst of foul temper had been completely stripped of the tools, weapons and seeds he'd kept in there. After that, it had become a question of biding his time; but the humiliation had started too early, and his plans had been sped up.

He reached the room, and was relieved to find the hallway empty. He inserted the key, listening to the bellow of rage from behind him. After that it was just a question of slipping in, locking the door (which he did in record time), and finding a hiding place for him and his dinner. He knew that it would be a long time before he ate again after this little stunt, and he'd like to enjoy the food while he could. Sakyo's chefs were excellent.

As Kurama burrowed into the dirty clothes piled in the closet (hoping to hide his scent), he shivered in fear. His senses, still very overactive, focused on the soft, menacing footsteps his acute hearing picked up approaching the door. He closed his eyes and held his body perfectly still, suppressing his ki with the expertise of a thief as he imagined Karasu following the sudden ending of the trail, his rage mounting. He hoped Toguro would play along.

The man in question laughed to himself at the spirited display and watched with amusement as Karasu staggered to his feet and yanked the fork out of his manhood. The humor flagged when he saw the cold, deadened look of fury on Karasu's face. The boy was obviously in for it, Toguro thought, shaking his head.

Toguro wasn't one to humiliate his opponents, certain circumstances aside. It wasn't his style to wish depravity on an adversary who fought a brave and skilled fight. It had been a damned shame that Urameshi had died before killing him, and it was not for nothing that the promised death of his friends and family hadn't been carried out. The fighters had been killed, certainly, but the mothers and sisters and girlfriends had all been spared. That was his special request to Sakyo, to counter-balance his brother's wish.

He hadn't been lying when he said that torture was not amusing if the victim didn't fight back. He knew Bui felt the same way, which was why he looked uncomfortable when Kurama was around. It repulsed them both to see someone as strong and vibrant as Kurama being degraded and violated on a daily basis for no better reason than his youthful body and pretty face. Toguro knew that Karasu felt he had more motive for it than that, but he also knew that his justifications were all vanities. Kurama nearly killed Karasu, and Toguro knew Karasu well enough to know that being taken to the brink of death by a half-grown human boy (kitsune spirit or not) had enraged him. Karasu reacted to the rage the only way he knew how: with unrestrained outbursts and brutality. He had the emotional responses of an exceptionally dangerous child at times.

Speaking of children, Toguro realized that Kurama's youth was another major catalyst to him, and with him, to Bui. The fighter was no more than a child, ancient soul and mature countenance aside. His body was that of a sixteen-year-old boy, and Karasu was undoubtedly a full-grown man, emotional age notwithstanding. It was a disturbing combination. Toguro, however, could stomach his distaste and section it off, unlike Bui, who hid his disgust under his armor. Toguro, perceptive as he was, sensed the revulsion easily. He also picked up a hint of jealousy emanating from his burly subordinate, but for whom, or why, Toguro wasn't sure (though he had his guesses), and he refused to dwell on it. In the end it was all very simple. Toguro needed Karasu, Karasu wanted Kurama, so Karasu would be allowed his cruel revenge on the boy for as long as he felt it was necessary.

Toguro turned to his current employer and murmured something in his ear. Sakyo laughed coldly and inclined his head, before getting up and following Toguro out of the lavish dining room. The howled laughter at the sex slave's escape had settled into excited chatter, all the guests hoping that Kurama's punishment would be administered in front of them, in broad daylight. They had watched the Dark Tournament to a man, and easily recognized the erstwhile fighter. It excited and titillated them to see him forced into such a compromising position, and they were not alone. The demons in Toguro's employ had been watching sidelong as Karasu disciplined Kurama. They were eyeing each other and leering, wanting nothing more than to help with the search, and maybe be given a front-row seat, or even allowed participation, in Kurama's taming. If, that is, they were the ones to find or corner the fox.

Toguro whisked Sakyo away from all of that and back to the long stretch of empty hallway where their own chambers resided. With Karasu and every sadist and demon that could be spared now on a rampage to find Kurama, it was better to be in one's room. The mansion was in such an uproar that it would be almost too easy for a skilled assassin to navigate. Toguro smiled at the impact Kurama was having on all these dozens of people (earning a strange look from Sakyo), before he made his employer pause. He quickly swept the two rooms for any sign of life, and smiled again, just a quirk of the lips at a private joke, as he registered a burning bright spot coming from his closet. The boy hid his ki and scent well, but there was nothing he could do to fool Toguro.

Toguro's room was adjacent to Sakyo's, and, for security purposes, the door between them had no real lock. Instead there was a ki contraption that was geared towards Sakyo, Aniki and himself. The quarters had its own bathroom and ofuro, and to the side of the room was a heavily guarded, rarely used door that led to the hallway. Toguro was generally confident that no one could get through that door without tripping one of his traps, so he hadn't entertained the possibility that Kurama was hiding there. He chided himself for his lax judgment. Kurama was clever, however, to exploit the ki blockers that hung along the inside wall. It was no wonder that Karasu hadn't known he was in there.

Once Sakyo was situated, he closed the door between their rooms and walked up to the closet, opening it calmly. "Boy, how did you get in here? And what do you want?"

For a second there was just a mound of clothes in the hamper. Then the mound began to move, revealing a wildly blinking Kurama, who stood up and took a deep breath of fresh air. He stepped out of the closet with slightly less inherent grace than usual and brushed himself off. Toguro smirked as he removed one huge pair of boxers from his shoulder and threw them carelessly back into the closet. The plate was left on a shelf, for now.

"I have a proposition for you," Kurama said, his green eyes feigning coldness and disinterest that he didn't feel. He'd thought long and hard about the conundrum of his mother - namely who to ally himself with and what to do - and eventually came to the realization that only one person could stand up to the belligerent crow.

"Oh?" Toguro said, his inflection flawless, as one of his eyebrows raised slightly.

"You know, of course, that I'm considered quite a renowned thief." Toguro said nothing, but inclined his head in response, his mind whirling.

Up close, Kurama was extremely enticing. Even Toguro had to admit that. The fox was beautiful to a fault, pretty as sin; his body looked petite and breakable to Toguro. The same protective instinct he always felt when near something delicate and small made itself known. It didn't help that the hair on Kurama's head was thick and inviting, or that the bangs fell above the big green eyes in a way that made one long to brush them aside. Toguro was resisting the urge to ruffle that hair and caress that skin with a difficulty that confused him, though Kurama was largely unaware of the internal conflict he caused.

Toguro recognized that his demon side was playing tricks, but even as he thought that, he thought of holding the boy, which he repressed with greater difficulty. The child (and he reminded himself forcefully that this beautiful creature was indeed a child) had suffered enough at Karasu's hands for ten lifetimes; it wasn't up to Toguro to add to his pain. Still, it made no logical sense to him that Kurama would look at him so naively after everything that had been done to and around him by and in the name of Toguro.

He's faking it, he thought calmly. His carefully hidden regret that that guiltless face was lying to him was heightened by the falsely innocent tilt of Kurama's head, though he was only barely aware of it. He dealt with his emotions through his usual method of sounding the tips of the emotional icebergs inside of him, identifying the emotion so he could section it off and work it out quietly in a private moment. Despite all of that, his poker face never cracked; and Kurama was only able to guess at the reason for the swirls of energy coming from Toguro.

All of this passed through his mind in a flash, as he let out another soft grunt of ascent.

"I have hiding places yet that I know no one has found, with defenses I can tell you how to trick." Kurama kept his voice even and unafraid, though inside he was straining to hear what Sakyo was doing in the next room, and dreading the second, which he knew would come soon, when he was at the mercy of the merciless Karasu once again. If this plan didn't work in its entirety, he would be alone again, and in pain that made his knees shake just thinking about it. "Inside them you'll find treasures beyond your wildest dreams."

"So you want to hire me?" Toguro chuckled, his voice warmly amused as he walked over and sat on the sturdy couch he had brought into this room years ago, when he first started working for Sakyo. His eyes sparkled behind the glasses that hid his expressions from passer-by. It was not every day that one was propositioned by one's subordinate's teenaged slave; there was much to excite Toguro's sense of the ridiculous in this meeting.

"Of a sorts, I suppose."

Toguro spent a split second thinking of the things he could coerce Kurama into doing, before quashing it all and saying calmly, "I refuse."

Kurama's shock was sudden and all encompassing. "What?"

"I refuse. I'm sorry, boy, but I need Karasu more than you, and Sakyo's paying me enough right now to make even the most beautiful gold seem cheap."

"But what..." Kurama was gaping like a landed fish, his mind unable to wrap around the fact that he'd failed. He'd failed, and now he, his mother, and potentially his to-be brother and stepfather would all suffer under Karasu's heel. "What? Please, there's no one I can ask, there's nothing I can do. No one other than you is powerful enough to defy Karasu. Please, I'll do anything! I'll give you everything I have, I'll tell you the locations of the most secret and valuable of my treasures, if you'll only let me see my mother." He despised himself for this show of weakness, but Toguro seemed like the type to be swayed by... well, he hated to call them that, but feminine wiles. He was desperate enough at this moment to compromise his pride willingly in return for the slightest chance of saving his family. A thespian to the last, he clasped his hands and widened his eyes, trying desperately to excite some sympathy in this monster of a man.

"See if she's an illusion, you mean." Toguro was as forthright as always, his voice deep and gravelly.

"Yes." He didn't deny it. There would be no point denying it. Toguro got up and walked over to Kurama, who saw him coming and started to shake. Willful tremors coursed through his body, so delicate next to Toguro's, as a humongous hand tilted his head up, a calloused thumb inadvertently touching his lips.

"You're afraid of me, even under the play-acting," Toguro said ruefully.

Kurama made a show of steeling himself, responding, "Yes. You could hurt me easily - betray me to Karasu - do any number of things. I have no power to stop you. Even if I was in my Youko form at full power, with no wards or restraints, I couldn't stop you." The last words had a ring of truth about them he didn't appreciate.

Toguro chided himself for finding Kurama's trembling and the feel of his lips caressing his finger erotic. He removed his hand from Kurama's face and plopped it on his head in a long-forgotten gesture, ruffling the red hair briskly. He didn't mistake the way Kurama closed his eyes and cringed slightly as his hand rose, obviously expecting to be grabbed or hit. It was one of the first true reactions he'd exhibited in this short aside.

"Boy, your mother is real. Don't doubt that. I'm sorry."

Kurama stood for a second, deliberating his next move. Finally, he shuddered, and, to Toguro's consternation, broke into sobs. He choked on them, covering his mouth with a hand and curling the other arm protectively around his belly; but Toguro wasn't taken in. "That's enough. Your theatrics won't work on me, fox."

Kurama immediately stopped crying. "It was worth a try," he murmured, smirking at Toguro from under heavy lids. Toguro chuckled to himself, and was about to say something more when a sudden, harsh banging on the door interrupted them. Toguro's small eyes flickered to the offending portal, and once again he found himself aggravated by his lax judgement. Toguro reached up and pinched the bridge of his nose, pushing his sunglasses up as he did. It was incredibly annoying to have subordinates coming and going at all hours of the day and night.

"Toguro!" Karasu's voice was unmistakable, even through the thick door - muffled, but still smooth as butter. "Did my ears mistake me? I thought I heard my little fox crying. I can't seem to find the whore anywhere, and his trail ended right outside your door. You're not harboring a fugitive, are you?"

Kurama froze. His cunning, his wiles, and his intelligence all fell away as terror filled him so completely he thought he'd collapse into unconsciousness (for what seemed like the fifth time in two days), or even, at a stretch, dissolve into helpless tears. It's all over, he thought. My desperate plan failed, and now Karasu will punish me and mine dreadfully for my many transgressions. Shit.

"Karasu," Toguro said, his eyes on the head that had begun to shake subtly. He exerted his yoki to cover Kurama's signature. "There's no one here but me. Unless you think me fool enough to be unaware of a trespasser, look somewhere else." Incensed growls sounded from behind the door, before the energy faded. Several tense moments passed (for Kurama, at least) waiting for the sadist to prowl to another part of the mansion.

Once he was sure his aggressor was gone, Kurama collected himself and stepped back to lower into a graceful bow. "Thank you. Thank you!" He whispered breathily, just in case Karasu returned. Toguro looked down at him for a long, speculative moment.

"What else were you planning to do when you saw your family, boy?" Toguro finally murmured. The smile slid off of Kurama's face. His eyes went blank. "Am I right in my thinking? Did you intend to kill them?" Kurama's physiognomy looked like a mask. "Answer me."

Kurama's mind raced, trying to find a way out of telling the truth. When he couldn't come up with any viable options, and the silence had stretched uncomfortably long, he decided he had no choice but to tell the truth. Toguro had seen through every obfuscation so far, and this was too important to risk alienating him. "...Yes. To spare them pain." He's perceptive, Kurama thought. Perhaps a bit too perceptive. Bui might've been a better choice.

Toguro snorted. "Tell me where the treasure is. I'll kill them in any way you wish, and I'll pass on any messages you wish to send. I won't interrupt Karasu's ownership over you, though, and I won't take you there. If I did, you'd only kill yourself. In fact, on that note, come here."

Kurama looked up at him, the naive, soft look in his eyes vanishing and replaced by hard mistrust. I underestimated him, Kurama thought.

Toguro bared his teeth at the boy in a parody of a smile. "Finally the true fox shows his face. Come here, I won't hurt you. I'm just going to check for weaponry and poisons. I'll lock the bathroom door and closet, but I'll be back too soon for you to hang yourself with the bedsheets, I promise you." He paused. "Though I am sorry, boy." He smiled, this time for real.

Kurama closed his eyes, allowing the unutterable emotional pain to augment without resistance. It started with an ache in his chest, which quickly blossomed into something larger, and hungrier, reaching deep inside him to fill him with searing agony. On the one hand, his mother deserved to be in heaven, safe from the depravities of the bastard Karasu. On the other, the purely selfish urges inside him didn't want to deprive himself of the one person who meant as much to him as, if not more than, himself. With the last of his supports torn away, his life would quickly degenerate into a morass of pain and misery, filled with daily horrors and unspeakably grotesque tortures. He supposed that he might lose himself at some point, and the thought scared him more than any other had before. Karasu was truly cruel, to put him in a position where he must destroy the only few people - the only person, really - who still brought comfort in their thought, and who kept him from feeling unbearably alone and afraid.

Toguro saw the conflict written on Kurama's face and took momentary pity on him. "Come over here and let me search you. After that, you can sleep in the bed while I go and take care of things. I'll leave a pencil with no eraser (1) and a sheet of paper next to you; I expect you to write down complete instructions. When I go to whichever of your hideouts you're thinking of, know that I'll probably survive any traps you've set and come back displeased if you've given me the wrong information. Neither of us wants that. And if you do think of a way to kill yourself, I promise I'll see that you regret it."

Kurama submitted to the examination with painful dignity, and was relieved when Toguro didn't abuse his position. After doing all the promised errands, Toguro left. Kurama wrote down the instructions, feeling totally exhausted, and unable to continue moving forward for another minute. The ball was now in Toguro's court, and he would just have to hope that the competent man would lob it back at just the right altitude for his next hit. Despite his whirling mind and excited psyche, he fell asleep with natural ease and only marginal trouble. It had been a long time since he'd slept in a bed that wasn't tainted by Karasu's touch.

He never saw the bitter smile his captor wore upon seeing Kurama dwarfed by the oversized bed, his face turned upwards with the innocence of sleep. He was spared the feeling of those arms he despised wrapping around him and lifting him away. He never saw the drug-laced cloth cover his mouth and nose, and never noticed the slightly satirical smile on Toguro's face from where he stood in the hall. Karasu had been informed that this punishment would not be overly sadistic, and that the list of Kurama's crimes would not include orchestrating the death of his family, a task that Toguro had carried out with the highest possible mercy and deference. Toguro spared a thought for how he was going to make Karasu respect this warning.

Kurama was numb to the deliberations and preparations that surrounded him, and when he finally awoke he was disoriented and confused. He found himself naked, with his back screaming in agony from the hard, curved contours of his... what was this? A cage? Kurama's hands slowly groped in the complete darkness, his eyes closed (though it made no difference) as he felt with his fingers, a trick he had picked up long ago for grave robberies in the middle of the night. No, not a cage: there were no bars. His hands drifted upward, but then with a soft thump hit the top, to find it was as curved as the floor. That made no sense to Kurama. He reached forward, and only managed a short distance by leaning before his hands hit metal. This, too, was curved.

"A sphere? A metal sphere?" he said aloud. He half expected a sarcastic answer to ring from wherever Karasu was lurking, but there was none. He blinked and breathed in deeply, hating the recycled, metallic scent in the air. For one moment, he thought of Toguro and his mother. Was he betrayed? Was his mother dead? Worse, was she alive? Kurama pushed all thoughts along this line out of his head and set about exploring his new accommodations.

It appeared to be too small for any kind of remote comfort, but large enough to fit someone about Kurama's size. The metal punished whatever bit of Kurama's body touched it, and the curves were murder on his aching back. He wondered how long he'd been here. Kurama swung slowly forward onto his knees, unable to reach both sides of the wall to push against and stopper his descent. Soon they were overcome by twinges of pain as well.

Finally he found what he was looking for: a long slit, which, when traced by the sensitive pads of his fingertips, traveled along the sphere's sides in a circle, bisecting this strange contraption. He tried a few methods of forcing the obviously hinged globe open, but failed, and quickly gave it up for lost.

"Sensory deprivation," he said in his mind, and then forced himself to repeat out loud. "He's trying to drive me insane." There was an awed quality about his voice. It was abysmally dark in here, and utterly cold, but thankfully not dank. He wondered vaguely if he was going to die in this little sphere, his last scraps of sanity fleeing into the darkness. He would waste away without a sound, without light to see him go, with no stimulation of any kind other than the biting, numbing cold. He wondered with clinical detachment whether the psychosis would set in before or after the first full day. What he came up with to combat these thoughts of an unenviable and seemingly unstoppable descent into madness was less of a plan and more of a desperate attempt at defiance. He would not succumb so easily.

With that resolve solidified inside him, he began to sing at the top of his lungs: quite heartily, in fact, under the circumstances. His mind proved itself to be an excellent encyclopedia of melodies and tunes, which he utilized to the extents of its abilities. He ended up singing snatches of anything from show tunes, to jazz, to youkai folk songs, to modern ningen pop songs, to just loud hums of half-remembered rhythms. He spent a good four minutes on the refrain to The Foundations' "Build Me Up Buttercup."

All of this worked for a while. He felt his courage wax triumphantly as his ears rang painfully with the echoes of his songs. His throat cringed at the pain, but he forced himself to reach the highest notes, the most disastrous lows. Pushing himself made the time seem full, and the terror easier to bear.

Slowly, though, the wane set in. He found his voice getting rougher, and quieter. Breath was becoming increasingly difficult to draw, sticking in his throat or garbled by his saliva-less mouth. He was panting, but somehow his lungs wouldn't fill. It was as if the air was turning into pancake batter, only more metallic. When he noticed this, he tried to sing loudly again, but found that he couldn't remember how. His mind was fizzing around the edges, and his voice wove in and out, fading little by little as words left him. Finally, after what felt like days, but what had actually only been about four and a half hours, there was nothing but a heavy silence carefully punctuated by his beating heart and rapid breath.

His thoughts once again strayed, this time to pleasanter paths. He thought of Yuusuke, mostly. He closed his eyes and summoned the teenaged detective's face with the care of a lover. Even that, though, began to gray around the edges as minutes went on, and it brought little relief to Kurama's suffering. He'd begun to idolize his old team member - to put him up on the pedestal that the deceased or infirm hold in our minds. The kindness, the strength, the wit that the boy had shown from the moment he and Kurama had met were all he could conjure up. With nothing to fall back on, he'd forgotten all the things that had made Yuusuke himself. In fact, it's possible to take it a step farther - he'd forgotten all the things that had made Yuusuke human. Kurama began, in those moments, to see his team captain in the light of a worshiper at a temple, a carven image to pay homage to and prostrate oneself before, but not a sentient being as flawed as any other. He no longer saw Yuusuke as a boy, but as a god, a beacon of hope that had been snuffed out.

The thoughts of Yuusuke were at length replaced by other, less pleasant ones, as he skittered around the dilemma of his mother like a frightened crab. He found he had to relieve himself, and began to focus on repressing his bodily urges. He wasn't worried though. As a youkai, he could stop himself from using the bathroom for... for days on end; weeks, even. He certainly hoped his confinement... didn't last that long, but... Oh god, he thought. Why isn't... why aren't the words forming?

The truth was that Kurama's mind had already started to fail him.

He sat in the dark for an even longer while, the amiable contemplations long past, jumping at every thought that teased his imagination and every unexpected shift in his own position. Sometimes he thought he could hear voices, but found them to be nothing but wisps of his brain decomposing. He became acutely familiar with the smooth curve of the sphere. It filled his whole reality; there became nothing for him but the darkness and the slowly winding heat that overtook the cold.

Claustrophobia, until then just a whisper in the distance, suddenly, and for no easily ascertained reason, asserted itself with greater force. Youko felt a panic attack coming in the shuddering muscles and nerves of his human body, and retreated to the depths of their combined minds with a curse.

"Is it getting hotter?" Kurama whispered, hardly daring to form the words.

It hit him then, like a clash of cymbals in the darkness. His whole body filled with the knowledge of what the heat and difficulty breathing meant.


They'd left him without any holes for air.

To be continued.

Chapter Text

I loves you, Porgy,

Don't let him take me

Don't let him handle me

With his hot hands...

If you can keep me

I wants to stay here

with you forever—

I've got my man

I loves you, Porgy,

Don't let him take me,

Don't let him handle me

And drive me mad.

If you can keep me

I wanna stay here,

With you forever

I've got my man

Someday I know he's

Coming to call me

He's going to handle me and hold me so.

It's gonna be like dying, Porgy

When he calls me

But when he comes I know

I'll have to go...


Excerpt of "I Loves You Porgy," sung by Nina Simone, written by Ira Gershwin, DuBose Heyward, and George Gershwin in 1935.




Kurama jumped up and smacked his head on the top of the sphere he was trapped in, his balance collapsing under a sudden and dizzying turn of mind and awareness. He couldn't remember which way was up, and his frantic, unreasoning attempts to understand that subtlety of space and time made him fall into a crumpled heap on the lower half of the chamber. He degenerated into a jutting mass of elbows, and writhed madly, trying to find a way out of this mess and earning nothing but bruises for his trouble. While the jerks and twitches and escape attempts that filled his life for the next few minutes were admirable, the struggles used up the hypothetically dwindling air supply even faster.

When he thought of this, Kurama bundled himself up on the bottom of the chamber and tried to regulate his breathing. If only he had his plants, he thought (his first lucid thought in a while), he could have used them to convert carbon dioxide into oxygen. That couldn't save him now, though—his plants were far away, a remembered dream of competency and power. Kurama's breathing sped up against his will as he thought of the possibility of suffering brain damage from asphyxiation. As his breathing increased and increased, he grew weaker and weaker. Feeling himself growing weaker, his breathing increased. It was an endless cycle that eventually culminated in his mind shutting down as he passed out, entering what looked like a deep slumber. In actuality, the man who'd been watching the last twenty minutes with undiminished glee thought with a curse, it was something much more dangerous.

The truth was, Kurama had been in no real peril, neither of madness nor of suffocation. The sphere was designed to slowly strip its victim of sanity, it's true, but it did so most easily through the use of a thick leather gag, the lack of which was the only concession made to Toguro's unfathomable announcement as he brought Karasu to his room. When it came to the tank's oxygen, Karasu's sardonic diatribe summed it up perfectly: there would have been enough, if the stupid little whore hadn't begun to hyperventilate. In all fairness to Kurama, though, the pump had been lowered too much, and he was left with only enough oxygen for drawing normal breath—not the panicked gasping he'd been reduced to. But that's all apropos of nothing.

When Kurama awoke, an eternity after that first realization, and a full hour after being rescued by his captor from the terror and torment that had reduced him to a pitiable ball on the floor of Sakyo's contraption, he thought quietly to himself that the events of the last few hours had to have been a dream, a nightmare of epic and hideous proportions. A little while after that flight of fancy passed, however, he realized that the burning in his lungs as he gasped for breath meant that what had transpired was not a dream, but his terrible reality.

Kurama began to shiver uncontrollably, afraid of what was to come, but more afraid of the exaggerated quiet that filled his head. He wasn't surprised to find that he hadn't been allowed clothing or blankets as he slept (or rather, as he lay comatose on the ground), and sat up from the uncarpeted flooring of Karasu's rooms with a soft sigh. Kurama welcomed the noise, but the second sound of the door opening received a frown and a shiver of fear.

He made himself look up at the person who'd just entered; but, rather than be confronted with the face of the familiar intruder, he was instead confronted with the object in his hands. Kurama's heart stopped beating. It was only for a moment, but it was there, an anomaly in the rhythm that brought a smile to Karasu's face.

"Do you know what this is, lovely?" Karasu asked, his tone conciliatory. Kurama looked on, aghast, getting up slowly as he stared at the item in Karasu's hands. He thought of his body—his beaten, tired, lacerated body—and how little more it could stand. "It's a cat-o'-nine-tails, dearest fox. I didn't like what you said to me during dinner yesterday." Karasu dropped the whip to the ground, handle and all, and slowly began advancing on Kurama. Kurama stood and met Karasu's gaze, trying desperately to keep his eyes and will steady as he faced up to the monster that had walked out of his nightmares and taken control of his life.

From outside the window Kurama broke to try and get out of Karasu's room, people stood and laughed, listening to the business-like sounds of Kurama's beating. It began with the thumps of the chase, then the grunts and scrabbles as he was dragged across the room, and then, finally, the horrible denouement of the cracks, punctuated by soft whimpers. The whole charade brought enjoyment to all the men and women who stood listening to it, happy to have seats to the next stage of Kurama's degradation. Karasu had chosen a time when Sakyo had all his business partners outside to take his revenge. From inside the room, Kurama could hear their laughter as he broke into sobs, barely able to stop himself from pleading with Karasu or curling into a supplicating gesture around his hands, which were lashed to the bedpost. Off to the side of the outdoor party, Toguro frowned to himself at the decadence of Karasu's display.

"You don't look very pleased," Sakyo murmured quietly in his ear.

Toguro grunted noncommittally. "I've never been a fan of Karasu's shows, Mr. Sakyo. It's nothing."

Sakyo laughed. "I find them quite enjoyable, really. Much more interesting than that match of his."

There had been a dot camera—the highest technology money could buy—in the sensory deprivation chamber. It could see in the darkness, and hear without the usual whir of mechanics and electricity, and yet it was so new even in the Makai that Kurama hadn't known enough to look for it (though in the early hours, when he was still coherent, he had suspected the presence of something like that).

Kurama's slow descent into madness had been eagerly viewed on a cinematic screen by all the mansion dwellers that could be spared. His frantic escape attempts, each more desperate than the last, had been a serious point of interest, and when he lolled on the bottom of the sphere, his eyes half-closed and dull, and his naked body shivering with fear, a veritable orgy had occurred among both humans and demons. Toguro found it all distasteful, and Sakyo watched in another room to get away from the vulgarity that surrounded him.

Despite his hatred of crudity, Sakyo's tastes were just as reprehensible in their own way. He preferred quiet viewings to loud, rambunctious orgies, though The Three Senses was one of his favorite torture devices. He had had many an excellent private masturbation while watching victims, usually females, break down under its effects. This time had been no exception.

He'd been impressed with Kurama's performance, actually. He'd held onto himself longer than most, and some of his efforts to flee had been quite intelligent, though tainted by his surroundings and feelings of desperation. One of his escape attempts, though Kurama would never know it, had almost worked. On top of that, his fear had been practically palpable, and Karasu wasn't the only one who found the little fox attractive. Kitsune were a specialty of Sakyo's, one of his favorite types of demon to break. He'd often thought Karasu too lenient and roundabout with the boy, and when Karasu was obviously torn between the brutal punishments he wanted to administer and Toguro's warning, Sakyo had been happy to step in.

Inside the room, Karasu smirked at the sight of Kurama's shivering, blood-streaked back cringing over his formerly white sheets. He was kneeling above the shredded coverlet, his beautifully rounded ass sitting on his heels and his cock resting limply on the bedding. Hopeless, helpless tears rolled down Kurama's face as Karasu's lecherous eyes moved from the cock and focused on the way Kurama's ankles curled in to protect his balls. Karasu, his erection straining once more against the waistband of his black pants, traced one of the stripes from its tip to where it ended on the right mound of Kurama's ass. His tongue replaced his hands in this endeavor, and he lapped up the blood in one smooth stroke, loving the feel of Kurama arching in pain and flinching away from his touch.

"You haven't spoken since you woke up, my beautiful fox," he observed in his usual light, amused tone, a thin line of red dribbling down from his stained lips. "Tell me what you think of your punishment."

Kurama turned his head away, battling his hatred and shame. Karasu reached over and grasped the handle of the whip, then carefully placed his hand where Kurama could see it. Kurama didn't need any more warning than that.

"You're a sick man," he whispered, surprised at the hoarse sound of his own voice. He hadn't wanted to speak again after Karasu had told him his mother was dead; but in this new life, where all he could do was spare himself pain, it made no difference whether he talked or not. His mourning was still the same, his pain still as deep, his agony, both in terms of soul and body, still too debilitating to be believed.

His mother, his brother, his stepfather, his would-be lover, his friends; every last one of them had been ripped away from him, like layers of skin being peeled off with a knife. He'd survived it, in a way—but a part of him was still back in his ningen house, going through the mundane instances of his life: helping little Shuuichi with his homework, chiding Yuusuke and Kuwabara for skipping school, watching his mother brew tea.

Here and now, in the depths he'd sunk to, humiliations were starting to become the norm for him. He almost—almost—welcomed the pain of the whip as a way to distract himself from his emotional trauma (a fact he chose not to share with Karasu). That almost, however, was impossibly large, and he'd never consider an easy route like suicide or self-mutilation. He would ride this out to the farthest conceivable end—whether that end showed itself to be perdition or a realization of all the retributions he'd dreamed of.

He shuddered as Karasu reached around his body and began to pet his cock, as if it were an animal. Kurama was ashamed at the pleasurable sensations that augmented within him, but he resisted his arousal with newly found skill. All he had to do was think of his mother and he was able to stop himself from responding to the feather-light touch. He felt a stroke at his entrance, and closed his eyes. As Karasu traced it with his finger, he let his head fall on his pinioned hands with a sob.

Karasu placed a surprisingly chaste kiss on Kurama's neck, smiling into the warm skin and soft hairs, feeling Kurama's heartbeat speed up with fear as his breathing hitched in expectation of a bite. "It doesn't always have to be like this, darling. I could be gentle with you, you know," he taunted.

Kurama bit back a soft yip at the feeling of Karasu's nail and fingertip teasingly entering him, and turned his head to fix Karasu with his hardest, most involved glare. "Lie to me all you want, bastard. It would be disgusting and disgraceful no matter how you did it."

He gasped and arched away from the finger that penetrated him dry, and then cried out as it hooked. Tears streamed down his face (what a difference a few days can make, hm? Karasu thought) as Karasu chuckled, regarding him calmly. The finger left with a cruel twist.

"I've decided to make good on my threat to sell you, if only for today. Your first client will arrive in a minute. I expect you to acquiesce as though it were me, understand?"

Kurama did, but said nothing, lowering his head to the knot holding his hands in place and surreptitiously teasing it with his mouth. His forelocks drooped submissively around him, in stark contrast to the anger on his hidden face. He felt Karasu place a light kiss on his forehead and then watched from under his bangs as he left.

Now was the time to act, Kurama thought. He'd already untied the knot that bound him to the bed, and it was the work of a moment to pull his hands free, rubbing them emphatically to get feeling back in his wrists. Karasu, unfortunately, was not quite finished with his slave yet, and entered at exactly the wrong moment for the genesis of Kurama's plan. As he pattered lightly to the broken window, he felt familiar arms wrap around him, eliciting a pained yelp as his wounds were callously jostled.

"Ah ah ah!" Karasu hummed, dragging the vaguely uncooperative escapee back to the bed. "I forgot to restrain you properly."

Kurama sneered at his captor, but said nothing. That irritated Karasu mildly. Usually the kitsune was more vocal; and, truth be told, he liked it that way. With the hushed silence Kurama seemed to have become prone to ringing in his ears, he couldn't quite find it in himself to talk. It was annoying, aggravating, and the insipid defiance that Kurama showed by keeping that pretty mouth shut couldn't be allowed to continue.

Karasu wrapped a hand around one of Kurama's wrists and slammed it into the headboard with a mirthless smile. He relished the strangled gasp he'd wrenched from that seductive mouth as the shackles clicked into place. Kurama resisted half-heartedly, trying in vain to escape Karasu's body as it pressed him into the headboard. He found himself bent over the wood by the hard abdomen that leaned against his own, and then slammed into the wall by a hand on the back of his head.

He yelped at the pressure that was put on the bleeding stripes, and mustered a growl as the second half of the manacles looped around the bed and were fastened to his other wrist. Karasu stopped the pressure of his hand grinding Kurama's head into the wall, and instead moved it and its counterpart to Kurama's hips. He yanked Kurama backwards and thrust himself forwards, so that two of the more intimate parts of their bodies were crushed together. Kurama hissed in pain, tears falling freely from his eyes.

"Perhaps," came Karasu's husky whisper, "I should break you in for them, hm? We could have a little lesson in manners, so you'll know how to treat customers. Who knows, you might even enjoy it." Kurama shook his head, panicked, and shuddered in fear as a long finger traced down his throat. He gulped, and felt the finger impede his Adam's apple. "What do you think, Kurama?"

"I think... I think..." He stopped for a moment, his voice just barely above a whisper. "I think... that the day I kill you will be the best day of my life, you deranged bastard."

Karasu paused, trying to decide whether to be offended by that, and then leaned in, sinfully close to Kurama's silken lips. "I look forward to it, fox," he breathed, smiling as he felt Kurama's frantic gasps on his cheek. Then, finally, he got off the bed, fixed his clothes, and strode out the room with all due solemnity. Kurama glared poisonously after him.

A few tense moments passed for Kurama as he worked frantically at the lock of the fetter, finding it more difficult than he'd anticipated. He'd only need another minute before he could use the chains as a bludgeoning weapon to escape from his... his 'client.' He tried to focus on the positives, which consisted of rich images of himself leading Karasu on a merry dance around the mansion, and perhaps finding a way to break the barrier. He'd hide the break until the opportune moment for escape, of course, and then it would be a question of seeing how far he could run without spirit energy.

It probably won't be that far, with Karasu on my trail, he thought, pessimism quickly overtaking his forced optimism.

That getaway was not to be, though, any more than his escape out the window was possible before it. The door opened with an ominous creak, and a rather large, rather ugly, and entirely unfamiliar demon strode hesitantly into the room. Kurama's nose twitched at the nervously overconfident look on his lumpy face. The demon immediately began to disrobe, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world to walk into a room containing a chained prisoner and start taking your clothes off, with neither a by-your-leave nor a polite address to the captive audience. Kurama hissed in disdain.

"You're my... ah... client?" Kurama sniffed, his dander rising. "I could kill you with my hands tied behind my back. Why don't you come over here and see if you can rape me?"

The demon snickered. "Oh, honey. It's not just me."

Kurama tensed as the door opened again, and then growled aloud as he recognized some of the nine youkai that entered as those who had fondled or laughed at him in the hallways. He'd managed to beat a number of them in the past, but some were too powerful for his current defensive abilities. Seeing a large group of interested and odious youkai intent on having their way with him filled Kurama with neither joy nor hope. To be degraded and used by such an obnoxious and motley crew, whose members sported pathetic power levels and rather flimsy grasps of hygiene, rankled him on a level he'd never quite been rankled before.

"It'll take more than you ten to subdue me," Kurama sneered, derisive.

"Show him the thing, Tada-kun!"

"Let's do it without that. He needs a lesson in humility, eh, Tadaharu?"

"Alright, alright!" Tadaharu, the first youkai and obvious leader, hissed as he turned from his gang and back to Kurama. "Karasu-san said it would. He told us that this'd even the playing field, though, and I hope it does," Tadaharu drawled facetiously. "We're all paying good money to have a chance at your showy ass." He held up a semi-precious stone that Kurama, despite his extensive knowledge of both demon, spirit and human world minerals, couldn't place. It was light lavender in color, and had been crafted into a loose gem shape and then bisected. Beautiful silver hinges held the two halves together, incongruous with the stone itself, which looked like one of the cheap love talismans available for a few pieces of gold at market fairs in more thickly populated areas of the Makai.

Tadaharu opened it with a rather ridiculous look of concentration, and placed it on the floor. He advanced on Kurama, who knelt, aloof from him and his cronies, barely able to muster any apprehension about their plan. As a superior youkai, he was so unused to looking at vermin like these as a threat that even now, even when in some ways he was as much at their mercy as Karasu's, he couldn't find it in himself to be afraid.

Then the first sparks of pleasure shot up his body, so suddenly that he started in fear. The gang of youkai exchanged grins as they watched Kurama's unclothed cock come up and hard in a comparative instant. The second spike of pleasure hit, and Kurama bucked into the wood to put some pressure on his aching shaft.

"Oh, oh, oh, n-n... ooooh..." He said, soft sounds of need escaping his lips. His mind was white-hot with blissful emotion, and the center of his reason very quickly erased to blank. It was lucky for him that he never heard the soft, sinister chuckles of the C-class demons as they surrounded him. It was lucky for him that he was so aroused he never focused on the feeling of his legs being spread roughly and his pelvis bucking wildly as his cock was manipulated by clawed hands.

It was unlucky for him that Youko was watching the whole thing, and thus a part of his mind still saw himself as he was under the influence of that mysterious jewel: back arched, legs open, writhing and sweating and groaning wantonly in pleasure, a look of utter arousal on his face. He thrust back against his captors in an effort to reach an incredible level of gratification, and impaled himself on the variety of things they used on him, from their fingers to their cocks to various objects they'd brought with them out of a perverse desire to see them inside someone.

Kurama knew full-well that the mouth was an erogenous zone, but, though he'd known that, he'd been amazed (though still far from in control of himself) when one of the demons stood straddling his arms and presented him with his dick, and all he'd wanted to do was lick it and suckle it and feel it in his mouth. He was a frantic, hedonistic ball, needing nothing more than to be fucked by something bigger and harder, to be filled, to have something, anything, relieve him of his aching lust.

It had grown dark and Sakyo's associates were long gone by the time they were finished. Kurama, though bruised, bleeding, and striped with cum, was hard again. He collapsed once more against the headboard and wall, having lost every ounce of strength to the ceaseless orgasms. He couldn't and didn't want to control his obscene moans as he rubbed his cock into the shredded, liquid-soaked bed sheets, wanting desperately to feel some kind of friction there. Tadaharu, stepping back into his pants, leaned down and closed the jewel.

Everything froze, as though he'd been thrown suddenly into the depths of the ocean or doused with ice water. His eyes, closed tightly with pained arousal, sprang open in horror as he looked down at himself. His cock went from full-mast, to half-mast, to stowed in the space of a minute. He was panting, he was bleeding, he was tingling miserably from what had just transpired, and, more than all the rest of it put together, he was ashamed. He let his head fall on his hands, still fastened tightly to the bed.

"What a whore," a demon said from behind him. His shoulders tightened in anger, while a burst of self-hatred shot through him like a bolt. It rankled, he thought. He realized that he was sticky, but unable to clean himself; at least not without the presence of mind or the appropriate energy to finish working the lock. It rankled, and even if Karasu's judgment day was far off, these drones would find that theirs had just begun.

Kurama unfastened himself from his chains when the first wave of fatigue was staved off, and slipped out of the room. He performed all the errands he'd realized he needed to do, then refastened himself to the post in order to catch a few nods of sleep without exciting suspicion in his captor's mind. Karasu, entering only a couple of minutes after he'd drifted off, took great pains to roll up his sleeves and clean him. He signaled the servants he brought with him to dry and remake the bed as he unfastened Kurama from the charmed manacles that had held him enthralled, a specious smile on his face. Karasu carried him into the bathroom, drawing a warm bath and lowering Kurama into it, careful not to wake him. Kurama was in the middle of a fitful sleep, and whined softly at the hands that cleaned off the blood, sweat, and cum that were spattered across his aching frame.

Karasu had to refill the tub several times with the help of servants, because each time the water would become colored by the filth that covered Kurama. The multiple ejaculations of eleven men, and the dried blood from his earlier whipping (aided by fresh blood as the scabs on his back cracked and peeled), were making it difficult to clean Kurama; but Karasu was finally satisfied. He lifted Kurama out of the pink-tinged water, and bandaged him carefully, a sickly smile on his face as he did it, before finally laying him gently on the clean, king-sized bed. He was amused to see that they actually had to bring in a new top mattress. He'd have to wait until the old one was laundered before doing something like this again.

"Good night, my sweet fox," he whispered, as if to a lover, and then left.

That night at dinner, Kurama wasn't present to view the early casualties of the plan he'd set in motion, though Karasu was. He breezed into the lavish dining room, content that Kurama wouldn't defy him again tonight, and brushing aside the compliments on his choice of punishment. He sat in his usual seat with that same odd, lascivious smile on his face, no longer hidden by his mask as he ate. Aniki Toguro kept giving him sly, knowing glances, and Otouto and Bui were both pointedly ignoring him.

With all of this together giving him barely a pause, the dinner was progressing smoothly, buoyed by the soft chatter and occasional snickering laughs from the cultured humans who surrounded him. Suddenly, the more acute of the humans and demons in the room started looking towards the door. Karasu immediately noted several things about the man that was about to enter the room: the intruder was bleeding, the intruder had no wounds, the intruder smelt of death, and the intruder was none other than Tadaharu, the lumpy-faced demon Karasu'd unleashed on Kurama earlier that day. The doors finally opened with a bang that startled only about half the hall's occupants. Tadaharu staggered into the main dining room, blood dribbling from his eyes and ears, and, in fact, every orifice (including the seat of his pants, to Karasu's disgust).

"He's killing us," He sobbed, his hands open in a supplicating gesture. "He's killing us!" A mouthful of blood coated his chin as he said that, and then, a horrified expression frozen on his face, he collapsed.

Toguro rolled his eyes at all the needless drama, stood up, and calmly removed Sakyo's plate from in front of him with one smooth, oddly majestic gesture. Karasu also stood, and, causing greater shock than the entrance of Tadaharu, dashed his own plate into the wall in a fit of rage.

"Toguro, more of your men will die today. I think you know what I'm talking about. I wouldn't put it past him to try the rest of us, too, so don't let anyone eat until I figure out the traitor he's subverted from the serving staff," was Karasu's slightly cryptic answer to everyone's unasked question. "Or," he said, his anger tilting the cynicism dripping from his voice, " could kill them all." Having delivered that speech, he strode out, his eyes terrifyingly demonic. He was obviously overcome with ferocious ire, and his birdlike fingers made soft circles on his pants, a sign that he was already preparing the bombs he would use. He looked truly livid, but this time Toguro could spare no pity for the fox.

"I wonder why Kurama chose now?" Sakyo asked calmly. "I don't think I understand his logic. If he had the power to kill demons, why not kill humans?"

"My demons are served first, and if they don't die, I eat a bite. If I don't taste poison, then the humans get food. It's much more difficult to poison anybody but the demons. Still," Toguro continued, made unusually verbose by a feeling that he should answer his employer's question in full, "I think this isn't going to be an epidemic. Most likely only those ten will die." He paused, and looked over at the doorway. "But this is dangerous. If he can get to them, it's only a matter of time before it's us as well. And, why now..." Toguro thought for a moment. "I'm not sure. He was probably trying to send a message he felt was too important to wait. Or maybe he felt he was losing himself so much that he had to strike back somehow. It's understandable, if foolish." He almost regretted the kindness he'd shown Kurama yesterday night, and sat down to continue eating his food. It was severely unlikely that Kurama had access to poisons strong enough to kill Toguro.

The door's bang was so loud that Kurama, despite his insensibility during Karasu's gentler ministrations, jerked awake, staring around him wildly. He saw the searing expression of pure hatred on Karasu's face and began to crawl numbly backwards, his mind blanking in fear. Almost immediately, he was entangled in the covers and fell off the bed with an ungraceful thump. A hand fisted in Kurama's hair and he was dragged up, completely off his feet, the blankets letting out a rasping cough as they slipped delicately away, revealing his naked, bandaged body. He was lowered until the tips of his toes could touch the ground, and then immediately dragged off by his hair. His feet strained and twisted, trying to keep up with the momentum of the madman wrenching out what seemed like huge patches of his scalp.

"Karasu, stop! What's going on?" He knew exactly what was going on, but at that moment he'd do anything to ameliorate Karasu's rage. A part of him had serenely believed that upon being flouted once again, Karasu would keep his cool and not do something in the heat of the moment that only Kurama would regret. Unfortunately for Kurama, Karasu felt he'd been disobeyed just one too many times in the last few days.

He found himself being taken to the large wooden antechamber on the third to fourth floor, right above a stone antechamber on the first and second floors. Kurama recognized it as the place where Toguro's low-class minions ate, trained and slept. He was unsurprised to find that it was in an uproar. Demons flickered back and forth around the plates piled in the middle of the floor. The nine promised bodies were laid out on a sheet, their limbs grotesquely twisted and their multi-colored blood staining the floor in pools. Kurama's face went blank as he was thrown forward, his legs contorting oddly as he was pushed to his knees. Kurama was held in place with a hand on his upper arm, while a foot dug into the top of his back, bending him over. He let his head hang down. Blood oozed from his bruised feet and his scraped knee, but he ignored that and the pain of his back, staring at the floor. He was the very picture of fatigue.

"Demons! This half-human upstart defied me and killed Tadaharu and his gang, your own comrades! What will you have of him?" Karasu shouted to the assembled youkai, as much a thespian as Kurama at times.

"Give him to us!"

"Kill him!"

"Break his bones!"

"Rape him, rape him! Show him what it means to mess with demons!"

With two-or-three-dozen demons in this antechamber, there were a lot of suggestions, all the youkai tripping over each other to come up with good ideas. The usual options arose, one-by-one: horrific torture and starvation, degradation, abasement, and subjugation. There were some who wanted to see him forced to perform sick sexual acts, some who thought that Aniki-san should be consulted (he was considered an expert on psychological torture), and others who believed Kurama should simply be fucked until he stopped thinking.

It was only in the rape fantasies that the demons showed any originality, though much of it offended even Karasu's sensibilities. In truth, people died often enough around these demons that they weren't too scuffed about another ten casualties; but the chance to torture and humiliate someone as seductive and beautiful as Kurama came very rarely to low-class demons like these. Toys like Kurama belonged to the higher-ups, not the scabs. They were all excited to get a chance at him, almost as much as the first ten had been earlier that night.

Finally, Karasu smiled. He leaned down so that only Kurama could hear him, and whispered, "What do you say, lovely?"

Kurama remained completely remote, ignoring them all in a frantic attempt to retain his sanity. "Do as you will," was his only answer. He closed his eyes, as if in pain, and tried unsuccessfully to control his shaking. Karasu grinned, and hurled Kurama to the wolves that waited for him.

"'Do as you will,' he says!" Karasu mocked loudly, moving from the entranceway to the side of the large door in order to lean against the wall.

And when they're done, he thought, I will never let the little kit out of my sight again. He'll stay with me always, performing any task I wish to see him do. He'll be beside me wherever I go, whomever I'm with, until he understands that it's useless to resist me.

He smiled again as the first demon dragged Kurama to his feet by the ever-popular hold on his hair, and captured his lips in a bruising kiss, his hand reaching around to knead Kurama's unresisting ass.





To be continued.

Chapter Text

You have shown me the sky, but,

What good is the sky,

To a creature who'll never

Do better than crawl?

Of all the cruel bastards

Who've badgered and battered me,

You are the cruelest of all.

Don't you see what your gentle

Insanities do to me,

Rob me of anger

And give me despair.

Blows and abuse

I can take and give back again,

Tenderness I cannot bear.


— Lyrics excerpt from the song "Aldonza," from the Broadway musical "Man of La Mancha."




Kurama knelt primly, unmindful of the harsh wooden floors or the thin, largely ornamental carpeting of Sakyo's rooms. He was too busy keeping up appearances to acknowledge the terror that was setting him on fire or the malaise that blunted his mind. He was resolved, and nothing in this world or any other would cause him to falter in the midst of so many enemies; certainly nothing so petty as his stinging knees.

In some ways, this encounter could be described as a bizarre trip to the principal's office. Kurama had vandalized school property and flaunted the administration's rules, and now he had to pay for it. The difference was that in this case, the principal had a thing for torture, the referring teacher was a sick sadist, and the student's light skin was crisscrossed with scars and flaws from repeated rape, beatings, and associated afflictions. Kurama almost laughed aloud at his own dark joke, though not a muscle in his face twitched. He was getting better at controlling himself, he decided, with a small glimmer of self-satisfaction.

He took a moment to glance around the room, careful to be surreptitious, and used his peripheral vision to focus on the beautiful surroundings. Sakyo had filled his bedchamber with rich colors and odd knick-knacks that heightened the mystique, all carefully placed to offset one another and create a den of rather striking iniquity. His bed looked quite a ways more comfortable than Karasu's, though it wasn't helped by the disconcerting piece of artwork that hung above it: apparently, if Kurama's eyes didn't fail him, an original Francis Bacon. Kurama was only moderately surprised to find something so blatantly disturbing (not to mention exorbitantly priced) in Sakyo's bedroom.

The malformed, twisted figures in the painting glowered and shrieked down at all present, an ironic counterpart to his captors' handsome faces. The overall effect was sepulchral and gloomy, which managed to heighten the thickened feeling of Kurama's fear—though the increase was so insignificant and well hidden he wasn't aware of it himself. It was certainly beautiful, in its own grotesque way: brilliantly painted, with careful brush strokes and an eye for the dismal and the chilling. Still, Kurama wouldn't want it to meet his gaze in the dark, right before he went to sleep. It seemed more likely to give one nightmares than pleasant dreams, though Kurama had to admit that if anyone deserved a nightmare or two, it was Sakyo.

Kurama awaited their verdict with limitless patience and a back so perfectly erect it lent him dignity that everyone in the room, and one in especial, found incongruent with his station. Sakyo, the ringmaster of this chorus of fools, sat in a wheeled chair carved from aged rosewood. The black velvet seat-covers accentuated his commanding stature nicely (which was, in point of fact, why he'd had the chair made), and it had the effect of simulating a more imposing figure than Sakyo should normally have commanded in the presence of men as daunting as Toguro, Bui, or Karasu.

Sakyo was in the midst of studying Kurama, much in the same way one would pour over one's accounts or the behavior of a troublesome child. His narrow, shockingly blue eyes were only rarely hidden by a full blink as he took in the smooth, guileless face of Karasu's modern-day Spartacus, and the curves, slightly less shapely than they used to be, that completed this upstart's youthful body. Sakyo's chastising eyes didn't miss any part of the naked form that knelt below him, though his expression was a peculiar one—as though he were in conversation with an old friend (which was certainly out of the ordinary: Sakyo had no friends, old or otherwise). He didn't seem to notice Kurama's position as a well-placed and highly intelligent former enemy whom he'd just realized might still pose a significant threat.

Kurama was skilled enough at reading other people's physiognomy to see the almost Karasu-like intensity of focus and madness in Sakyo's eyes. The human laid a finger against his lips in simple repose, looking so deep in thought that no one was in a hurry to disturb him, least of all Kurama. Only the soulless depths of his eyes—his horrific, almost demonic eyes—seemed alive. It was all a strange paradox: his twisted soul shone out of those irises, but his body was almost drab and straight in its humanity, and would even have been pristine if it weren't for the mysterious scar that marred the right side of his face. Kurama found the electric blue of his eyes comparable, or even alike, to Karasu's, and put up another level of his guard. Sakyo had proven himself resourceful in the past, and he had enough power to force many damaging limitations on Kurama.

"Good morning," Sakyo finally began, his voice bored under its amusement. Kurama's mouth twitched at the cruel inflection, measuring Sakyo against Karasu in his mind and suppressing a wince at the unfavorable results. Karasu was more of a showman, and Sakyo passed himself off as a gentleman; but it was clear that at heart the two were very similar. "I hope you spent a pleasant evening. I understand Karasu kept you entertained?" There could be no doubt that he knew everything that had transpired the night before. Kurama's stomach began to churn with shame and anger, but he continued to look blandly ahead of him, keeping his eyes from focusing on anything, and because of it, seeing nothing—including the infuriating smirk on Sakyo's face. Unfortunately, reality threatened to overwhelm him with the sheer force of hatred contained within him, coupled with the memories of the humiliations he'd been subjected to, things that would have left a weaker man in tatters. Sakyo began again, saying, "I don't believe we've had a chance to talk, Kurama; though it seems that you're responsible for relieving me of ten of my finest men—not to mention my entire kitchen staff."

Toguro, standing to the right of Kurama, hid a private smile at the high estimation of Tadaharu and his gang. Kurama, meanwhile, wouldn't allow himself a single pang at their deaths. He was in danger: danger that was potent and horrifying enough to far outweigh anything those peons had been forced to suffer. He closed his eyes and said nothing, practicing some of his more useful meditations in an attempt to endure the piercing and complex emotions that had become as familiar to him as his own mother.

Karasu, standing behind him, realized what he was doing and kicked him sharply in the side, his hands never leaving his pockets. He was still enraged that he'd been disobeyed so consistently over the past few days, and further aggravated that someone completely uninvolved, and a human at that, had requested the presence of his slave without more than a cursory inquiry into Karasu's own mind. Kurama was only momentarily unbalanced by the kick, catching himself with a hand and then rocking back into place. He wouldn't be upset so easily. There was very little he had left that they could take from him; if he could hold on to anything, he would do so—and right now he clutched his dignity and awareness with all his strength.

Sakyo allowed him a few more moments to respond, before saying presumptuously, "I will let Karasu know when I've constructed a suitable punishment." He turned back to his desk, proving that the wood was actually on a clever axle, as Kurama had suspected. Despite his momentary pleasure at the chair's workmanship, he hissed under his breath at the obvious relish of Sakyo's clear dismissal. He was no child, Kurama thought, to be castigated and then ignored! The pressure of the collar as Karasu yanked on his neck stifled the sound, and, with an unperturbed expression fixed onto his face, Kurama straightened up smoothly, rocking back onto his heels to arise. He quashed his body's need to collapse as he followed Karasu out of the room, his face set with grim determination.

Kurama's eyes remained hooded and weary and his body stiff and unresponsive as they meandered towards Karasu's destination. He stared straight ahead and strode robotically, going through the motions without feeling them, guided only by the imposing feel of Karasu's hand on his now-familiar collar. As they rounded another featureless corner, passing by paintings and tapestries that could easily have financed a large apartment in the most affluent parts of Tokyo each, Karasu paused, as though something had just come into his mind. Suddenly, he whipped around and thrust Kurama into the wall by a compulsive hand on his bare collarbone, relishing the startled, half-stifled gasp and thump that his motions brought. Kurama stumbled and tried to turn his head away as Karasu bent down and swiftly snapped off his mask to force a kiss. Karasu rejected Kurama's feeble attempts at escape, slipping his mask into a pocket and using a harsh grasp on Kurama's shoulder and another on his chin to turn his cheek back and hold him in place.

Kurama felt the creaking pressure on the hinges of his jaw, and finally opened his mouth and closed his eyes, reluctant to see himself consent to Karasu's tongue. Karasu pillaged his captive's mouth with all the grace and style he could muster, needing to remind himself that it was he, and not Toguro or Sakyo, who was in possession of Kurama. His firm mental assertion that the fox was his to do with as he pleased, and the fancy that he would be able to refuse Kurama's punishment, whatever that punishment may be, were both as wrong as they were reassuring to the deranged man.

Karasu finally broke the kiss when Kurama, his hands fisting in Karasu's coat, bit his tongue hotly, needing to breathe and unwilling or unable to submit so completely to Karasu's control. Karasu immediately drew back and slapped him, hard enough to leave a mark, and then wordlessly replaced his mask to drag Kurama the rest of the way by an iron grip on his aching shoulder. Their destination, it turned out, was a bare little cranny of the mansion, an antechamber that Karasu often spent the day in when he wasn't playing with Kurama or, when under duress, pandering to Toguro. Kurama generally gave this area a wide berth, and a stony look came onto his face as they entered it and walked straight to a room Kurama had only made the mistake of entering once.

When Karasu had first found it, it had ingratiated itself by being full of possible targets and out of the way, secluded enough to be both the perfect place for his training and food for his misanthropic nature. In his usual arrogant, roundabout way, he'd gotten permission from Sakyo to destroy it accordingly—though he'd fully intended to use it and its occupants whether he was given the permission or not. He wouldn't even have asked if it weren't for Toguro's demand that Karasu make sure he didn't destroy something valuable (inadvertently or not) wherever he chose to train. Karasu pushed Kurama into one of the corners less cluttered with debris, and then stalked to the lone survivor of the fine oak chairs that had once populated the room. He sat down briskly, crossing his hands and legs to entertain a long-overdo look at his prize.

Kurama's body, beaten and defiled, and his eyes, flickering from exhaustion and pain, were not yet damaged enough to hide how appealing he was, and Karasu was of the firm opinion that no one could look upon Kurama without thinking the word "beautiful." The harmonious grace of his limbs was only heightened by the imperfections from Karasu's rough treatment, in Karasu's opinion. A fine latticework of cuts, burns, bruises, and bomb-related tears spread across his body, especially on his arms and between his legs, creating an artistic rendition of sanguinity, suffering, and erotic, insalubrious pain, all of which further heightened Karasu's desire.

New bruises were layered on top of older ones, creating a mottled patchwork of black, blue, and purple on the drained white canvass of his once pink and healthy skin. On top of those were whip marks, some from early yesterday afternoon; others from later, when Karasu had used a whip to keep Kurama awake all night long, until every demon had had his fill. Even now, the shadows under Kurama's eyes only accentuated the disdainful, haunted green.

"I want you to get on your knees and touch yourself for me, Kurama," came Karasu's abrupt order. He was struck by the idea of seeing Kurama try to pleasure himself now, when he hadn't the power or vigor to do so; an idea that appealed to Karasu in ways none of the others he'd entertained had.

Kurama pretended not to hear, once again deep in meditations. Exhausted, pained, and fully aware that he had no viable options left to resist (or do anything more defiant than ignore), he swayed where he stood and was unable to bend his mind even to basic survival. He was much more tired than he'd been letting on: in truth, he could barely stand. He didn't have the energy or the will to become aroused, and thus he couldn't even make things easier on himself by acquiescing a little more than normal.

He coughed, only coughed, when a bomb detonated on his shoulder: not big enough to do real damage, but big enough to hurt. Kurama swayed more obviously as the pillars of his legs twisted where they stood, and then he sank tiredly to his knees. He leaned back against the plaster of the wall, which was pockmarked from explosions and decorated by huge chunks of the lavish wallpaper that had been peeled off or simply decimated by the force of Karasu's bombs. He closed his eyes, trying to see if he could nap through the torture. At this point, his body ached for rest, and if Karasu were to put him on a bed to rape him in comfort it would be a dreamer he forced himself on, and not an awake and fighting Kurama. He'd put on a good show for Karasu's bosses, but for Karasu himself he could muster no emotion in the state he was in, not even hate.

Karasu saw all of this, and became extremely irritated. How dare Kurama be unable to stay awake for a few simple days. Must his weakness continue to show itself like this? It was insufferable!

"Now pet, if you're going to act like that I won't allow you any food today," he purred smoothly, his lips curling with distaste beneath the metal fixture of his mask as he looked on his captive's final limitations.

"An excellent idea, Karasu. And then I'll keel over into unconsciousness again, and you'll never have any fun with me," Kurama snarled, finding his voice and his sarcasm in the same part of his brain. He managed a yelp as another small bomb went off.

"You try my patience, little fox."

Kurama, unwilling to cause himself more pain, closed his eyes and leaned further into the wall, letting his head rest on a burnt, shredded tapestry. Fatigue and weariness were sunk into every line of his body, and Karasu realized immediately that he was fighting a losing battle. A muscle worked in his cheek as he gazed down his mask at Kurama; and, for once, his annoyance was sincere. He looked too... too defenseless, too weak, too pathetic, and too little of a challenge; and Karasu was no idealist, nor given to nostalgia—he wouldn't hang on to something already broken. For the first time since he'd come into possession of Kurama, he found himself suffering from a severe case of ennui. He entertained a few possibilities, things he could do to keep his toy from becoming truly uninteresting, but all of these melted away as one option—one permanent, terrible, drastic option—repeated itself quietly in his psychotic head.

He could always kill him, the whispered voice said.

Oh, he'd fantasized about it many times, and the differing ways it could happen: Kurama bound, beaten, broken, brought to the pinnacles of Karasu's insanity and giving up his life for it; but at that moment he wanted nothing more than to ravage his kitsune one last, long time, and then find an ingenious, sadistic, flawless way to take his life. Vicious animation began to lace his crow-like features as he contemplated how he would end it, leaving nothing behind but the shattered body of yet another damaged toy. His grasping soul delighted in this new idea, dancing with it, completely enamored with the chance to turn the oh-so-deliciously-alive Kurama into a lifeless body, an object for his enjoyment.

Yes, Karasu thought, this was the perfect time. Kurama was proving more trouble than he was worth, and in an instance like this, when he was so weak but so far from being truly tamed, wouldn't it be better to destroy him? Karasu found himself rising gradually from his chair, his muscles moving of their own accord, a sort of concentrated madness overtaking him as the idea ran through his mind with incredible, horrific force. More and more, the images of the last throes of Kurama's beautiful body—the twisted, terrified, pleading look on his face, the perfect circle of his bloodstained lips—filled and fulfilled him, sending the last of his reason skittering away across the floor.

Controlling his excitement, he kept his hands inside his pockets as he walked casually towards his prey, in a half-moon construction instead of a straight line. He almost circled him, as a panther would circle a kill, the click of his footsteps against the wood flooring sounding a soft and menacing metronome. Kurama shivered against his will as each step got closer, his heart leaping into his throat as he began to consider what could be on Karasu's mind, acutely aware of the change in his captor. Suddenly, he didn't want to open his eyes. Something was coming, his instincts told him—screamed at him, really—something he didn't want to see, and the footsteps got closer and the feeling more potent as Karasu's resolve hardened inside him. A demented, gleeful look overtook his face, a look of pure relief. "Finally," he thought. "Finally, I'll see what he looks like under me, dead as if asleep, his body completely, undeniably mine as his soul hangs above weeping."

"If," he added in the slightest hint of an echo, his lips forming a careful smile under his mask, tasting the words his mind supplied, "I leave a soul."

He reached the corner Kurama had unconsciously begun to cower in, his hands coming out and drifting down as his knees bent, the sick fascination on his face speaking volumes. Suddenly, just as his fingers began to wrap gently—yet so, so violently—around the thin, graceful throat, those gorgeous green eyes snapped open and glared up at him with fearful defiance, the lips set in a thin, hateful line. A charged moment passed between the two men, each in a very different position: one the helpless slave, and the other, the brutal and narcissistic master. Karasu's long, spidery fingers paused, shivering with desire and centimeters from Kurama's gulping throat; and then, with the long moment and all its tension shattered in the course of his next few movements, adjusted himself to tug gently, almost fondly on the black leather of his collar as he smiled acrimoniously into Kurama's face.

"Get up. You are of no use to me like this. I'll retire to my rooms for now, and allow you some sleep. But first, I want you to thank me for my charity, my pretty little fox."

Kurama wouldn't thank him. Kurama couldn't thank him. Kurama was convinced that he had just attained a level of terror unmatched in any of Karasu's previous frenzied sessions. He was flooded by more panic than anything had the right to hold without its heart stopping, though he hid it as much as he could. He had seen what was contained in those harsh violet eyes: a floodwater of certain, far-from-instantaneous death.

It was comparable to the first knowledge of just whom Kurama was facing in the Dark Tournament and what he'd wanted: Kurama had only just remembered that Karasu's dearest wish was to decimate him, to destroy him in the sickest, most abhorrent of ways, and keep the corpse for days afterwards as an idle amusement, before discarding it like so much rubbish. Facing annihilation by a hated enemy was so much more frightening when there were no friends, no rules, and no tournament commentators to keep the enemy from giving life to his true fascination with mortality and carnage. Kurama was struck by a sudden, petrifying image of the carcass that was once him, splayed out beneath Karasu, unable to fight any longer as the last of the light was raped from his eyes.

Kurama was devoting too much of the little energy he had left to those deliberations, shocked into wakefulness by the sudden, entirely unexpected level of threat. He remembered now one of the early theories he'd had in the terrible first few days he was brought here, a theory that was proved true in these last moments. Karasu would kill him the second, the absolute instant he looked at him and felt nothing but boredom. On that day, there would be no kindness, no temperance, no mercy inside him for his victim: just a violent, shameful end, suited to Karasu's tastes. In the space of a single minute, Kurama had gone quite literally from as safe (from death, at least) as one could be in the hands of a megalomaniac killer, to the brink of miserable destruction. The thought chilled him to the bone.

"Say thank you for my charity, fox."

Kurama stared at him, stunned by the implications his mind was making at lightening speed.

"Ah, well, if you won't..."

"Thank you," Kurama snapped. Karasu cocked an eyebrow, feigning shock at Kurama's tone as Kurama looked up at him stolidly. Kurama had said it, but now he wasn't sure what to do. It was paralyzing, this knowledge that he could be killed for nothing more than a moment of fatigue or an instance of reticence. Should he have continued to say nothing? Should he have come up with a clever crack? He must push himself, he must, for the idea of dying without meting out proper revenge scared him more than he would have believed possible, before Karasu.

He would die, and there would be no one of their little band of heroes left to save the world: and they, the infamous they, would have won the day in a blaze of hateful glory. Their victory would come over the bent backs of the ningenkai's ersatz defenders, and with that victory they'd leave the last of the human world, and all its inhabitants, in rags. The word sobering couldn't even begin to describe that thought, for Kurama hadn't been particularly joyous or jovial before its onset. His resolve stiffened inside of him, telling him with no uncertainty that he'd have to get back into working shape if he were going to survive this hell.

With those thoughts gnawing at his mind, Kurama trailed wearily after Karasu as his captor strode out of the room in his usual distractible way. Kurama's earlier resolutions melted under the appalling circumstances he was forced to survive in. Radical acceptance did him no good now, he thought bitterly, and when he attempted to make a list of all the things he needed to accomplish in the near future, it ended quickly, after only three phrases: interest Karasu, escape, and garner revenge in excess. It was all easier said than done, even the newly added first one. Karasu had time and time again proven himself as fickle as he was cruel, and something that would appease him one day would not the next. Worse, endgame for Kurama was a brutal, bloody, humiliating death at Karasu's hands. Kurama found it coldly ironic that he had taken to thinking of his survival and continued sanity as a game.

He was so deep in thought that he almost collided with Karasu's back when Karasu paused to open the door, his long fingers wrapping soundlessly around the brass knob, turning it with a dull, ominous click while his yoki slid inside and undid the lock. Kurama kept his head down, glaring daggers at Karasu's lower back, careful not to glance anywhere lower than the base of the shreds of Karasu's coat.

"Are you going to let me in?" Kurama forced himself to snap rudely, wondering if disrespect was the answer to his plight. Karasu paused, and turned to look at him, his graphite pupils dilating inside the carefully hooded eyes as he slowly reached up and undid his mask again, dropping it into a chamber of his lilac-lined coat. That was the only warning Kurama was given before the hated hands were suddenly on him, and the despised lips pressed forcefully against his own. An arm wrapped around his back in a despicable mockery of an embrace as horrifically strong fingers grasped one of his buttocks, using it as leverage to lift him up and slam him against the wall, his knees forced apart by Karasu's legs.

For the second time that day, he was shocked into wakefulness, and began to struggle with wild, desperate abandon. His arms and legs flailed, and punches and kicks landed without procuring any damage as Karasu began to move, thrusting into him through Karasu's clothes. The arm behind his back moved to force aside a defiant leg as Kurama tried to jerk his head, and with it, his lips, from Karasu's stranglehold. He finally succeeded, and hissed as Karasu began to nip and suckle the soft crevice of his neck, his quick, harsh movements contrasting sharply with his gentle, lavishing mouth. Seeing the white skin of Karasu's exposed shoulder joint in front of him, Kurama wasted no time in chomping down, biting with the force of a fighter instead of that of a lover, and snarling at the blood he drew.

"Oh, lovely..." Karasu breathed into his ear, his mouth pausing only to find and graze a soft earlobe, "you think that hurts me?"

Kurama shuddered violently, fear mounting and solidifying inside of his fine juniper eyes. "Not again," he begged, addressing his pleas to the gods of fate and his own mind. "Please, Inari, not again." There was no answer to his appeal, unless it was Karasu's pelvis moving into his own, dry humping him as he tried frantically to remove himself from the situation; and finding himself unable to do so because of the shock and suddenness of Karasu's attack.

All things, both good and bad, must come to an end; and Kurama's flustered state was no exception. "He's breaking down my barriers," Kurama thought, fear finally giving way to cold reason. "He's trying to unnerve me, to disintegrate my defenses by taking away any level of comfort and expectance he can. He wants me to be always on my guard, for in doing so, I'll become careless, and give up more than I mean to. I can't allow him to win." That last thought came with a sudden surge of will, a maelstrom of necessity. "I can't allow him to win! His victory means my destruction." His hand went up and suddenly fisted in a long lock of Karasu's hair, wrapping it around his fingers in a clear warning and putting enough pressure on it to pull several strands out. Karasu snarled into his throat, biting just the tiniest bit harder than he needed to as a warning, drawing a small crack of blood that teased Karasu's mouth and further excited his lust.

"Let go of my hair, pet, or I'll become very angry with you," Karasu murmured into Kurama's milky skin, his usual light, amused tone belied by the licentious panting and the dark, dangerous look in his violet eyes. Kurama controlled a fearful gulp, but he was decided. He refused to back down, refused to submit, and if, in doing so, he was forced to cause himself pain, what of it? No one could say it was unjustifiable.

"Do you really want to defy me yet again, pet? I was merely refreshing myself before letting you sleep; I was even going to have them bring up a tray of food so you could eat when you became hungry. Instead, though, I suppose we could always go to the dining hall. I think I'd enjoy hurting you in front of all present, darling." Kurama closed his eyes and shuddered violently, a shudder that rocked his thin form in its entirety, wondering exactly what Karasu meant by his use of the word 'hurt' instead of a more obvious one like 'fuck' or 'rape,' before his hand slowly relaxed and unwound, his face averting itself from shame. "Good boy," Karasu chuckled, and then adjusted their positions in order to carry Kurama through the threshold and lay him gently on the bed, as if he were a newly wed bride.

Upon being allowed to lie down in such a soft, clean place, Kurama unconsciously relaxed, and let his suddenly loosened limbs lie gently and unresistingly on the sheets. His head lolled, his neck no longer functioning well enough to support it. It was days since he'd really slept without being drugged, and the idea of lying on a bed, even Karasu's bed, even with Karasu intent on having his fill before allowing him sleep, was enough for him to drift off regardless of the consequences.

Karasu disrobed swiftly, pausing only to pull his mask out of the pocket he'd thrust it in and place it carelessly on the nightstand, while he listened to the light, even breathing of his little fox. He was willing to hold himself back, if only this once. He knew that his plots were best served by shattering another level of Kurama's guard, and he wanted Kurama to regain his health, and with it, his ability to fight. There was nothing so amusing or fascinating to Karasu as the way Kurama struggled, and so he was willing to present his slave with a sabbatical in order to reap a greater bounty of pain from him later.

Goosebumps formed on Kurama's skin as he was lifted up again, feeling Karasu's diaphragm expand with a sigh as his unresisting flesh slid along Karasu's. Karasu felt the indents his whip had left as testaments to Kurama's beauty as he drew back the coverlet, laid him in his bed, and rolled him over so he was face down, following soon after. Kurama turned his head to the side and relaxed further into the safe feeling of the blankets, drifting into a deeper sleep and portioning off his body to Karasu, who proved himself categorically uninhibited with taking advantage of someone so completely defenseless.

To him, in fact, there was something exceptionally delicious and arousing about this game of pretend, something he hadn't quite realized before. Where normally the bellicose look on Kurama's face was necessary for his excitement to build, now he became enamored with the idea of Kurama's body betraying him in the innocence of sleep, enjoying the rape in his dreams. To do so, of course, Karasu would have to refrain from his usual idiosyncratic brutalities; but it could be done, if only for such a rewarding and memorable experience.

He felt the caged bird of Kurama's heart flutter a little faster as his hands began to caress the silken skin, moving close to him under the covers in a travesty of a lover's intimacy. His gentle motions put the lie to the cruel look on his face. Mine, he thought, his hands moving lightly over Kurama's back and down to his ass, the indents of his vertebrae and formerly taut, now relaxing muscles exciting Karasu's desire even further. He shifted so that he lay atop his captive's unresisting body, and groaned softly, just a patter of breath, at the feeling of Kurama's thin form underneath his, submitting to his control. He began to move without penetrating, rubbing his cock, erected from their tryst in the doorway, along Kurama's cleft while raining little kisses along the beautiful back and neck. All of those caresses were centered on faults in Kurama's skin, places where fists or whips or hard contours had struck with a vengeance.

"Stop, stop..." Kurama mumbled tiredly, whining, rolling over onto his side, and moving away from his captor, too deep in his dreams and too snug and comfortable to put up much of a fight. Karasu groaned louder, his cock becoming fuller and thicker as soft sounds of lust and dominance were murmured to himself, the darkness of the room contrasting with the white sheets and Kurama's pale skin, until all he wanted was to have him over and over, to rape him again and again, to partake of Kurama until there was nothing left of the original being, nothing left on any of the planes of any of the worlds. There was so much he wanted to do; but currently he was busy trying to decide how best to make Kurama moan, shiver, and sigh in willing pleasure as he fucked him, something that would normally be beyond Karasu's capacity to do without the aid of an outside drug.

Kurama was fighting against his own groggy mind and the lovely feeling of the pillows and bed on his beaten, tired body. He tried unsuccessfully to rouse himself, but found that he was too sleepy to care. He didn't think Karasu was going to hurt him on this occasion. Was it really such a betrayal to give in just this once, and earn himself a few needed winks of sleep? It would aid him in later assignations to have his wits completely about him, and if he refused Karasu this then there might not be another day to have his wits about him—his wits, in fact, would never be about him again.

Part of him screamed that it was a clear betrayal, wildly attempting to verify that he wouldn't awake later in the day to find himself lying demurely in Karasu's abhorrent embrace. In all, though, in the purely objective point of view, he was just too tired to put up a good fight: that was the long and short of it. He was exhausted, and there was no way he could force himself out of the gentle, cocooning arms of sleep and back to a reality so destructive and terrible that it could barely be called reality at all.

Karasu flipped his faux lover back over onto his stomach gently, adoring the parameters of this make-believe affair. Some hidden part of him, buried under his adult life, was curious about what it felt like to fill oneself sexually without the usual mind-games or gleeful dominance. It was a masked piece of him, one he'd never acknowledged—and the fact that he hadn't acknowledged it was what made him such a terror to any reasoning person. Whereas a man like Toguro, Yuusuke, or Kurama based his sexuality around the idea that his partner was a living, breathing being who should be treated as such, that knowledge never entered into Karasu's calculations. He was the supreme narcissist, and no one should ever give him the gift of doubt. Karasu is one of those in any world who deserves to be relegated to the lowest branches of hell.

Karasu started by kissing his way down Kurama's lower back, before slowly ghosting over his ass to take one of the soft globes of Kurama's testicles into his mouth. Kurama moved, letting out a soft little cry as his legs switched positions, one coming up and the other going down. That testicle was gently bathed and bounced by a skillful tongue, and then released in favor of the other one. Karasu's mouth compressed the ball sack to reach the first curls of soft red pubic hair at its base. He angled Kurama's hips up, watching hungrily as the beautiful velvet cock rose and hardened bit-by-bit, becoming fuller and tighter under Karasu's ministrations. He released the balls, and, in his excitement, used Kurama's hips to turn him over rather more forcefully than his plan called for.

Kurama's exhausted eyelids fluttered quietly, and a garbled protest trickled out from between his lips. When Karasu took Kurama's partial erection into his mouth, Kurama finally swam out of the haze, panting frantically, almost wheezing, as his lowered defenses allowed the insidious pleasure to augment and cultivate within his body. His hands went down and pushed and dragged harshly at Karasu's head, causing Karasu to retaliate by digging his fingers and nails into Kurama's thighs, leaving ten miniature bruises culminating in cuts on his already defiled skin.

As Kurama groaned feebly, Karasu snorted, impatient with Kurama's protests, and intent on satisfying this fantasy. "Go back to sleep, lovely. You'll feel no pain. If you allow yourself to enjoy this, in fact, I'll give you tomorrow as your own to do and go wherever and whatever you see fit. Within reason, of course," he trilled, his voice a soft singsong.

Kurama lifted his head, his heavy eyes and panting breaths showcasing his mind, the cogs of which turned rustily and ineffectually, unwilling to probe that promise for the lie or double meaning it was sure to contain. Finally, he collapsed, his chest heaving with pants, his arms angled next to his head in a position of surrender. A few tears leaked unnoticed from the corners of his eyes at the way he was handing himself over with such a small, insignificant fight. Bitter explanations that he wouldn't have been able to stop him no matter what he did made no impact on the bleary shame. Karasu smiled in triumph, and returned to the cock he had so haphazardly decided to please.

Kurama worked to go back to sleep, hoping that a pleasant dream would spare him from this torment. Karasu bobbed and sucked, one hand keeping his long, luxurious hair out of the way of the pretty little cock, not wanting to swallow the slick black strands. He lifted his mouth up, a thin string, mixed pre-cum and spittle, pulling from the tip and then dripping from his chin. He looked down speculatively through his slit-like eyes, and an idea, as devious as every idea that came before it, suggested itself idly in his mind.

He went back to the task at hand, lathering up Kurama's cock, suctioning the tip and then dragging it into his throat. He delighted in the half-conscious writhes and soft whimpers of his prey, and continued swirling his tongue and stimulating his captive's desire until Kurama was nearly crying from pleasure he didn't want and didn't need—though the gathering tears were actually caused more by unsatisfied exhaustion than the hateful gratification.

With a short gasp, Kurama began to thrust unknowingly and frantically into Karasu's mouth, jerking as he came. Karasu stifled a cough, allowing his mouth to recede and bringing two fingers up to his lips to coat them with semen and saliva. Then he idly swallowed the rest, relishing the oddly sweet, oddly salty, incredibly bitter taste of cum sliding down his throat. His slicked, dripping fingers went down as his other hand levered Kurama's hips over, angling Kurama to his knees and keeping him there with his arm. After coming, Kurama was so relaxed and tired he'd drifted into another bout of slumber. He really is too trusting, Karasu thought cynically, before beginning to tempt the relaxed ring of muscle with his moist fingertips.

Kurama didn't wake when Karasu slid his fingers inside, the tight walls contracting at the intrusion; some deep, instinctual part of Kurama fighting against this violation just as hard as his outer thoughts and feelings usually did. Karasu took no notice, angling his fingers to find the prostate with practiced ease. When he heard Kurama's soft, breathless moan, he smirked an irascible smirk and began to move his fingers expertly.

Kurama's velveteen cock came partially up, leaking little droplets of mixed cum and pre-cum onto the sheets, mussing them as his naked body began to react to the pleasure as though it were not being given against its owner's will. That was the shame of physiological reactions—nerves, when stimulated properly, are unable to answer with anything but pleasure. Those answers set off other answers that no one, unless they possessed a Herculean level of self-control that even Kurama couldn't replicate, can fight against. Kurama's breathing sped up as his body began to sweat again, his hips jerking artlessly at the intrusion.

Karasu was utterly mesmerized by the willing reactions of his sleeping fox, so different from those of his waking self. "Is this what it would look like if I were his lover instead of his master?" he thought. "How droll." He almost laughed, but instead removed his fingers carefully, violent excitement dancing along his face as sparks of pleasure exploded in his body. He leaned forward and pressed his fully prepared self into Kurama's entranceway, licking his lips unconsciously. His hands gripped his unwilling lover's hips, and he pushed forward, breaching the outer ring, and seated himself with exaggerated slowness, caught up in the game. He pushed himself to please Kurama for the sake of destroying him.

This rape was longer and slower than usual. By the end of it, Kurama was so deep under that he was spared much of the internal torment Karasu wanted him to feel. Their unbalanced tryst drifted on for what seemed like an eternity: but the end did come, finally, just as Karasu began to feel bored by this new scheme. He strained and arched, grinding into Kurama ruthlessly as his muscles contracted. Wheezing, panting breaths dragged themselves out of his mouth as he preformed the final few thrusts, each shallower than the one before it, until all of his seed was inside Kurama and out of him, and his shaft only rigid because the muscles and tissue hadn't settled down completely yet.

Kurama's cock was hard, but not fully; he was susceptible to pleasure, but not that susceptible. Karasu collapsed on top of Kurama in a tangle of limbs, sated and spent, Kurama's legs straightening and his breath forced out by Karasu's weight. Karasu pulled aside Kurama's hair and sank his teeth into Kurama's neck harshly; but Kurama, unwilling to wake up for the rape, was certainly not going to wake up for a bite.

Karasu slipped himself out and collapsed to the side, panting. Kurama whined, and was dragged into an embrace with the same motion a child would use to drag a toy. Kurama stirred and murmured, the image of grasping, suffocating arms, crushing him, squeezing him, killing him, taking over his formerly pleasant, if cartoonish dreams of a utopian life with Yuusuke and the rest of the Reikai Tantei. Karasu resolved to allow himself a catnap while restraining Kurama with a cruel embrace, wanting to see the look of horror on Kurama's face when he awoke. Karasu rarely slept, and so they rarely slept together: but in an instance like this, it was too good a chance to squander. He was so very pretty, after all.

While deliberations turned and came to a head in other parts of the mansion, Kurama slept fitfully, disturbed by Karasu's presence and his ice-cold skin. It was hours before his eyes opened and his body restarted fully, forcing itself back to functioning with an arduous blink and an exaggerated yawn. He finally came to his senses and awoke with a start, his body's retroactive need to protect itself lurching into action as he sat up suddenly. He panted for a moment, clutching the bed covers nervously in sweat-slicked palms, before turning and looking down into a sickeningly familiar smirk. Karasu was glowing luminously white and pink in the soft red light of the sun, which lay down to rest, completely unmoved by the plight of its kitsune ward.

Kurama glanced quickly at the lasciviously amused expression on Karasu's alabaster face, and then, just as quickly, glanced away. He closed his eyes and longed for the dreams that were already fading as he moved the sheets to his chest and pushed back so his ass was hidden by the pillows and headboard. His mind kicked rustily back into action, the gears finally grinding to work as the last cobwebs of sleep were brushed aside.

After a few seconds of fighting back another yawn, not wanting to seem cozy or at his ease, he remembered something from that morning, and decided he might as well ask about it. "There was a promise of yours to do with tonight, if I didn't... if I didn't resist." Kurama managed to say scornfully. He was as ashamed of what had happened that morning as he was of most of the actions that he had taken in the recent past, but unwilling to let it rule his life. His eyes shut tightly at the feeling of Karasu's cold flesh moving against his.

Karasu sat up casually, and turned a bit to the side to press against Kurama, the last of the blankets falling softly away as Karasu shifted, revealing his hip and his now-flaccid cock. Kurama turned over, exposing his back to Karasu in a clear dismissal of the eyeful of sculpted body he'd gotten. Karasu chuckled, feeding on Kurama's obvious humiliation as a hand went out to stroke the tense muscles and allow a single, lightly calloused finger to slip down the ridge of his backbone and to the mounds of treasures that lay beneath. Upon reaching those, his hand turned over, slid beneath, and grasped. Kurama jerked with his shame, and felt his lips contort in disgust at the molesting hand.

"Tomorrow, lovely; tomorrow." Karasu chuckled, and then paused, gazing at Kurama with a strangely intrigued expression on his face. His cruel eyes traversed the curve of Kurama's thin form, which was still mostly hidden by the thick, tented blankets. "Sakyo..." Karasu began, and a noticeable chill went down Kurama's spine at the name, "...has finally decided on a punishment." Kurama turned and stared at him, openly horrified. He mind raced, wondering what form the discipline would take. He ran some quick actuary tables, speculating on whether he would be able survive this newest punishment with his spirit intact; but his keen mind faltered and gave up as the frozen grasp of fear reached inside him to take his heart in its hand. Something told him that Sakyo was not the type to plan in half-measures—his plots, in fact, were likely to be ten times more Machiavellian than those of Karasu. "I allowed you some sleep, but now I think it's time for you to face the night. Don't you agree?"

Karasu turned and reached down to the floor beside him, his body twisting as he did. Once straightened, he brought two strange, dissimilar objects carelessly into Kurama's line of sight, each one registering immediately in Kurama's mind as a significant cause for alarm. He began to inch away, pushing the covers to a place where they wouldn't impede his movement as he tried to crawl backward, to the edge of the bed. Karasu took no notice, knowing that Kurama could never run far or fast enough to get away from his encircling arms, and began to squirt the odd liquid from its unmarked container (the first object) and onto a simple white cloth (the second). He folded the cloth and rubbed it together to allow the liquid to seep in, keeping his face a good distance away. These two items had been prepared and placed by his bed while Kurama was still sound asleep.

Kurama recognized that he was about to be drugged, and attempted to escape over the side of the bed without a sound. Karasu was not in the mood to toy, however, and in one movement Kurama found himself dragged back and straddled by Karasu's naked body as the cloth was pressed forcefully against his nose and mouth, regardless of his attempts to fight. Kurama held the trunk of his body still and tried not to breathe, clawing at the hand with all his might as his legs kicked and tangled with the sheets; but his mind began to cloud anyway. Finally, he felt a hand reach back and encircle his cock, and gasped. The gasp allowed enough of the fumes to enter his nervous system to impair the workings of his mind.

In that heady instant, he forgot why he was holding his breath, and subsequently breathed in deeply. He passed out almost instantly, drifting into a nauseous simulation of unconsciousness, his limbs becoming rubbery and ineffectual as the aroma of the nameless drug dragged tears out of his eyes, all of which streamed uselessly down his flushed cheeks. His final moment of awareness was the feeling of Karasu removing the cloth and tossing it away, before contorting to take a nipple in his mouth and bite harshly.

When he awoke, it was to find that his body had been twisted and turned in on itself until it was forced into an odd and uncomfortable position, one that the human body was not meant to entertain for long periods of time. He tried to open his eyes, and became momentarily confused (a remnant of the drug, no doubt) when no light presented itself. It was only momentarily, however; he quickly realized what the lack of light and the disgusting taste of rubber on his tongue meant. The gag and blindfold seemed to point to some sort of sexual torture, which meant that he needed to focus on what was restraining him, and categorize each item so he could decide how best to neutralize it. Each piece of the bondage get-up would eventually have to be removed for him to get out of this horrible situation sane, and at the very least he had to make mental notes on which ways he shouldn't move if he didn't want to experience pain.

Hard metal between his knees and weights on his shins were forcing him to remain kneeling, with leather and painful, interlocking buckles keeping his arms at ninety-degree angles. Something had been attached to the collar around his neck, and when he tried to move backwards he found, with a spark of real, pure horror, that some sort of chain was securing him to something—probably a headboard. He could inch forward a little, but attempts to pull to the side unbalanced him and attempts to pull back were entirely unsuccessful.

Other varying straps and cold metal buckles were guiding his body into this weird position, the most noticeable being some kind of basket-like codpiece over his flaccid cock. He wheezed, realizing with a shiver that there was no way to get out of such a full-body affair unless there was a flaw in it that he could sense with his current, purely ningen capabilities. To be caught half-out, in that same line of thought, was just setting himself up for pain. Despite fierce mental discipline, as the minutes ticked on Kurama began to become almost beside himself with dread as he thought of the torments that were soon to be inflicted upon his helpless body.

A door opened behind him before he had gathered his wits enough to try and free himself, and he instantly began to shudder in real fright and alarm, cringing away from the direction the sound had come from. The door slammed shut, producing a sharp movement from Kurama, and a pair of heavy, unfamiliar footsteps thumped and creaked towards the bed, each one accompanied by a jerk from the bound form that had been left kneeling powerlessly on the mattress. The shaking nearly escalated into a seizure as Kurama felt the presence get closer, and the bed sink significantly down, as if someone rather large had just sat on it. The leather blindfold was untied and calmly removed, but Kurama kept his eyes closed a moment longer before he opened one, turning his head as much as he dared to look at the man who would abuse his flesh. The identity of his to-be rapist surprised him.

Toguro smiled at the way Kurama's eyes opened and widened in shock as he reached down to unknot and unbuckle the strings keeping the ball in Kurama's mouth. The saliva-slicked gag was removed with a painful creak of Kurama's jaw, giving him his first good look at what had been shoved between his teeth. It was a hollow sphere, with little holes allowing him to breathe: more than uncomfortable and frightening enough to cause Kurama a silent shudder of true fear. If he had hyperventilated with that in place, or some sort of erotic asphyxiation had been tried, he might easily have suffocated. When it was on the bed and Kurama was able to drag deep breaths in through his abused cavity, he sighed and closed his eyes, still not fully rested. He swallowed all the saliva that had collected with a grimace of disgust, and then spoke softly.

"Toguro? Why are you here?"

The burly man smiled his enigmatic smile, looking amusedly through his sunglasses at Kurama's outlandish gear. "Sakyo has decided on your punishment." The smile slid into a soft frown, and it seemed oddly as though Toguro's normally piercing eyes wouldn't focus on him, but instead were concentrated on a point of his forehead: though it was hard to tell through the sunglasses. "I'm it."

Kurama blinked, the fear replenishing itself inside of him. "What? Why?"

Toguro ignored his questions (for now, at least) and began, after a moment of silent repose, undoing all the restraints binding Kurama to the bed. The collar went first, then the arm cuffs; the ropes followed soon after, succeeded by the halter on his hip that Kurama hadn't tested enough to understand, though it wouldn't have allowed him to bend very far over if it had remained on, and was partially comprised of the basket that had covered his cock. Soon enough the last of the sadomasochistic fetters had been removed, and Toguro, after another moment of hesitation, stood up.

As he stood, he looked down at Kurama in a way that was somehow very different from his expression a moment before. In that instant, he resembled nothing so much as a statue—a being of wood and marble, and not flesh. Kurama didn't look at him, putting up a useless front still, secretly frightened by the motionlessness of Toguro's face.

Kurama rubbed the various parts of his body that had begun to chafe, and stretched his cramped muscles with a strenuous hiss. A huge hand on his shoulder distracted him, and he looked over at Toguro just in time for him to see a sudden movement. His eyes widened significantly as he started backwards with fear, but all that had happened was that Toguro had taken off his sunglasses and placed them on the table beside the bed—a table which Kurama hadn't noticed before, but found oddly familiar.

Toguro sighed again, coolly pinching the bridge of his nose as he murmured, "I want you to understand, boy. Sakyo asked me what the worst thing he could do to you was, something so awful you wouldn't attempt anything like that again." His voice sounded far away as he said it, like that of a god speaking from some facsimile of heaven, booming and deep as Kurama cringed further against the headboard, wondering what all this was about, and fighting the sinking suspicion that he knew.

Toguro continued. "I answered him with this: he trusts me on a deep level, probably because of the absence of trustworthy people around him. If I were to betray him on that same deep level, it would almost certainly create a bigger impact than one would necessarily think; bigger, at least, than any extended torture sessions. So here I am, boy. I am sorry about this, but I've been given a job and I'll perform it."

Kurama began to shake, and brought his unclothed knees closer together, his brain making the connections for him. There was a desperate feeling of necessity about this conversation, though part of him disbelieved each connection as it was made. This couldn't be right— or so his thinking went, at least. Why would Toguro go through all the trouble not to hurt him only a few short days ago, and then turn around and rape or torture him anyway? Even the naïve inclusion of torture as a possibility proved that Kurama still had hopes, still trusted Toguro enough to think that he wasn't looking forward to another rape. Kurama didn't want to believe that one of the few people he'd subconsciously allied himself with, though certainly not befriended, was actually just another enemy, as capable of hellish acts as all the rest.

And there was no misconception to be made, no matter how Kurama longed for it—Toguro was as proficient in the ways of brutal exploitations as Karasu in most respects, even if those exploits didn't bring him the same enjoyment (or, for that matter, any enjoyment at all). Sakyo understood Toguro and Kurama's covert relationship better than Kurama had. He'd ordered all the restraints put in place to further confound Kurama's emotions, forcing him to see Toguro in the unconscious light of a rescuer. Sakyo knew that no matter what he said, Toguro would remove the gear, and the confusion of roles would make the inevitable 'betrayal' that much more traumatizing. Strategy, and the strategy of destruction, was one of Sakyo's favorite games to play; and he was good at it.

Toguro allowed Kurama some time to come to terms with the situation, but when Kurama finally came back to himself enough to open his mouth and protest, Toguro, always the biggest and strongest in any company by a wide margin, leaned down to silence him with a kiss. It was softer and gentler than the ones Kurama had become used to, but still sent unpleasant shivers racing up and down Kurama's spine. As Toguro's huge jaw bumped into his, his mouth snapped shut and he seemed to shrink into himself, retreating to the safe haven of his own mind. The smell of sweat and blood that clung to Toguro cut into him like a blade; and when he realized he was being pulled closer, something in the back of his mind snapped.

Kurama's reaction to his self-control shattering was sudden and sharp. He kicked and clawed violently, the terrified shivers returning with a vengeance as some part of him he didn't understand screamed that this was wrong, wrong, wrong, and he had to stop it. He was grabbed by the hips and pulled down, forcing his upper body to lie completely on the bed, his head and neck pillowed by his hair. The mildness of the motion didn't make any difference to his distracted psyche: this was absolutely, positively wrong on a fundamental level, wrong in a way that made almost no sense, wrong like it had felt the very first time Karasu had held him down and raped him. He didn't want this, he didn't want one of the few people that he'd liked and respected to see him as they all saw him: a vessel for sexual pleasure, a well two inches deep.

When one huge hand went down almost mechanically to stimulate one of his nipples, and the other drifted unfeelingly towards his cock, his eyes began to fill with the salt of tears that he fought with all his might, his chest heaving. Kurama seemed miniature, like a life-size doll that only came up to his aggressor's waist, when compared with Toguro's giant hands. The sheer, improbable difference between Toguro's colossal strength and massive body and his own slender versions of both made Kurama feel utterly fragile and breakable; and, added on to that, unbearably hopeless.

Toguro had assumed a detached and disapproving methodology, distancing himself from his surroundings, as if he were a voyeur of this act and not a participant. He understood that Kurama's incredible response to Sakyo's scheming meant that he had been eerily right about what was needed to make Kurama tick. The flailing arms annoyed him, so he grasped Kurama's two wrists in one large hand and forced his arms to fold to his chest. Kurama looked oddly as though he were praying, though he lay fully on his back.

"Stop struggling, or I'll tie you back up," Toguro instructed, something about Kurama's resistance getting under his skin. He worked to convince himself that the irritation at Kurama's thrashes stemmed from how unnecessary they were, and the undeniable truth that they merely exacerbated the brutality of the proceedings; but he was lying to himself, albeit purposefully. His emotions were retreating behind one of his walls, but, no matter what he believed, they weren't ameliorated. Things like this always galled Toguro. He did enjoy his job, despite what some might say in his defense; but at moments like now, when he was expected to harm the innocent, he couldn't quite ignore how much the nature of the actions demeaned and disturbed him.

Kurama kicked his assailant solidly in the thigh with his bare foot, obviously aiming a bit to the side (though the kick would've done no damage wherever it connected), and Toguro reached over and picked up one of the restraints, in a bizarre parallel to Karasu's actions with the whip the day before. Kurama, wild-eyed, and overcome by the grim look on Toguro's face, slowly let his body lie limp beneath his attacker, his foot sliding off the thigh to rest on the bed, turned inwards to protect himself.

It would've taken a man much crueler than Toguro to be unaffected by the look on Kurama's face. The gleam of tears made it obvious that, for Kurama, the world was sinking into perdition once again. His eyes closed into thin, watery slits, and his skin seemed to glow in the light shed by the bright fixtures around the room. He reflected that light with the sweat on his body, even refracted it at places where Karasu's marks marred his skin. In the harsh glow he looked truly macabre, like the corpse of a victim of a violent crime—a fitting look, in many ways. He was obviously suffering, though he didn't fight anymore; instead, he lay down and shook as he tried to force his confused emotions into a manageable ball, and so keep them from running rampant through his body.

At Toguro's further urging, he swallowed, closed his eyes, and laid his head back down, turning it to the side and struggling with his tears. He tried not to allow his chest to spasm with unvoiced sobs. He didn't want them to be right. He didn't want the method of his final destruction to be so obvious and facile for them. He didn't want to give in, either, but his defenses weren't responding to his pleas. Though he fought to control himself, something about the fact that it was Yuusuke's killer, and the man who had protected him—Toguro—that would be having his way with him this time affected him as very little had affected him before.

He had to clench his jaw to stop his teeth from chattering, and when Toguro inquired if he wanted to get under the covers, if he was cold, his ignominy was unmatched. It was so—so human (for lack of a better word), so comforting, and yet so disgusting and inhuman at the same time because of the subtitle to every query: Whether you are or you aren't, I'm going to rape you. In Kurama's mind, Toguro's question sounded like this: Are you cold? Well, whether you are or you aren't, I'm going to rape you. It filled Kurama with hatred and antipathetic fury at life, at Karasu, at Sakyo, at the universe; but, no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't seem to direct them at the right person. With nowhere for those emotions to go, he began to experience a terrible emptiness, as though he had been drained of all feeling. Toguro's actions were hollowing him out, starting at the inside and working their way around.

And Toguro, despite the occasional rough, yet kind word, was unmistakably performing the job he'd been given. One of his hands cupped Kurama's entirely flaccid cock, ignoring the way both Kurama's legs clenched futilely to protect himself. As he held the shaft between his fingers and palm, his other hand slowly undid the buttons of his coat, one fastening at a time. He didn't miss the way Kurama flinched and shook harder as each one slipped out. Toguro let go of Kurama's dick and shrugged out of his jacket.

He would perform this job, innocence be damned. He would. No amount of pleading or obvious agony would deter him. With that resolve firm in his mind, he climbed onto the bed, ignoring the tenseness of Kurama's muscles; which, despite Kurama's general lack of resistance, were entirely stiff and far from pliable. His back, legs, and thighs were ramrod straight, if Toguro was to ignore the shaking, and his face set in a permanent grimace. Toguro undid his pants. Kurama, opening his eyes enough to see that, clutched the sheets spasmodically in his hands as the only sign of how terrified he was. When the door between Sakyo and Toguro's rooms swung open, just as Toguro was about to unveil his growing manhood, both the room's current occupants were shocked. A muscle worked in Toguro's giant jaw as he realized who it was. Kurama, who had picked up his head to identify the intruder, let it fall to the side and shut his eyes tightly.

"Get out, Ani," came Toguro's low grunt.

"And miss all the fun, brother? Really now! You'd think you had exclusive rights to the little whore, the way you've been acting. Fallen in love, have we?" Aniki giggled, his words lurching around with his psychotic thoughts and irregular thinking patterns, before he paused to survey the situation. And what a situation it was, he thought, with his little brother kneeling above a helpless, tormented-looking fox. "A good ride, hm? Or haven't you started on him yet?"

"Brother..." Toguro began, his voice sharp and deadly; but Aniki took no notice.

"If I were you, I'd begin with the mouth; make him choke on you! Karasu and I have been talking, and that is by far the most erotic position you can put him in." He noticed the bondage gear lying on the bed, and continued his diatribe unremittingly, his flat, evil eyes shifting to fix on Kurama's panting form, which was clutching the sheets in white-knuckled rage and shaking in shame and terror. "The little foxy is here all alone now, but of course you knew that already."

It wasn't that he couldn't resist the needling; he didn't want to. There was no part of him, body, mind, or soul, that wanted to stop himself from upsetting or horrifying Kurama. In fact, it was the opposite: he loved nothing so much as the open disgust of the people around him. "Really, you had all of this coming, child. If you'd just been a good boy, Karasu would have treated you much nicer than he has been, and Sakyo wouldn't have gotten involved. Still," he continued, obviously amused and delighted by the whole terrible situation, "I think it's better this way. Don't you, brother?"

"Aniki," Toguro growled, his voice so dark and thick that, though the potent rage wasn't directed at him, Kurama froze completely. "Get out. Now, before I throw you out; or you won't like the consequences."

The smile on Aniki's effeminate face slid into a snarl. "But brother!"

"No. Get out. Go find Sakyo to get you a call girl if you need it that bad."

Aniki stood fuming for a while, debating his options; and then spun on his heel and hunched out of the room. He knew when Otouto was serious and when he was not, and that tone had brooked no argument. Once Toguro had satisfied himself that his elder brother had left the area, and not just stood outside to listen, he turned back to the beautiful fox on the bed. Kurama looked like he had transcended the mortal planes into something unearthly; or he would have, if it weren't for his chin wobbling in internal pain and his hands clutching the sheets. "Boy, calm down. I'm not going to hurt you."

Kurama's eyes opened slowly, and he turned his head to look at Toguro, an otherworldly light about his face. "You think," he asked, "that this doesn't hurt me?"

Toguro sighed, his poker face cracking for one second as he looked down at his frightened victim. Then it was gone, and the mask was back up. "Get on your knees, boy. I won't make this painful or embarrassing for you."

"Don't—don't force me to participate in my own rape. Please, Toguro. Please," he said, appealing to all the humanity left in the burly demon's body with muted desperation. "Don't exacerbate my shame that way."

Toguro's jaw clenched oddly, and his hand went up. In a bizarre parallel to their first major meeting, Kurama flinched, expecting the harsh pain of a huge hand crushing his bones to dust or cuffing him for talking back, the two things Karasu had taught him to expect. Instead, once again, the hand plopped on his head and ruffled his long red hair in a fatherly sort of way. It made Kurama want to scream and shout and cry, to be treated so gently by his rapist. He barely remembered why this was happening, but at this point, he wanted it to stop; he just wanted it to stop.

I feel like Aldonza, he thought bitterly, though I can't tell which part of the story I'm acting out.


Kurama looked away, his hands clutching the sheets still, his scarlet hair a satin halo around his head. Toguro grunted, pulled down his pants and boxers, and spread Kurama's trembling legs as soothingly as he could. There was another moment of hesitation, but then, with a final sigh of longing (and Kurama didn't care for what), Toguro began.

Later that same night, Toguro found himself walking down the corridor that contained Karasu's room. It wasn't by accident, nor was it particularly purposeful; but when a familiar, tormented scream ripped through the confines of his mind, it was instantly regretted.

Karasu's voice was loud and clear as it snarled words that cracked Toguro's hard heart. "You liked it, didn't you, Kurama? You loved it when he touched you. Why don't you show me the faces you made?" The last word was a grunt of exertion, and another sobbing wail broke through the closed door, still a ways down the hall.

"No, no please, stop, stop!" Kurama pled brokenly. There was a brief scrabbling sound, as though he'd tried an impromptu method of escape.

"Did you say that to Toguro, hm? Or did you just beg him to fuck you, little whore?"

The cadence of 'No, no's that were ripped from Kurama's throat seemed to make no difference. Karasu was clearly not in the mood to let up for even a minute. Toguro remembered that this was part of Sakyo's plan, to only inform Karasu after everything had taken place exactly who would be administering the punishment. The theory, which was once again proven true, was that such an exacerbation of Karasu's inherent jealousy of and hatred for Toguro would cause an unprompted rounding-out of the earlier rape. Karasu, given an outlet for the rage he'd felt when Kurama had systematically organized the release-by-death of his family and the murder of Toguro's men, was obviously wasting neither time nor pity on the fox. Toguro winced, regretting his part in all this.

"I think I'm tired of listening to you lie, Kurama. Should I close that mouth for you?"

Toguro paused once more, his hand itching to place itself on that doorknob and twist it open, and do many other things beside. Then, with an irritated scowl, he turned and leaned against the wall, still a little ways down from the door to Karasu's room, and fished out a cigarette. Since Kurama's current piteous state rested partially in his own hands, he decided he would stand vigil outside the door. He had a passably noble idea of intervening if, and only if, Kurama's life was in danger. The occupants of the room, unfortunately, were shown to him by his acute senses. He felt the need for a bracing shot of whiskey, or something along those lines.

Several hours passed in a seemingly endless march, one behind the other, as Toguro felt Kurama grow weaker and weaker. He used up all the cigarettes left in his pack, but he didn't move from his post by the door. Finally, he heard what he hoped (at first, at least) would prove to be the end of a particularly gruesome torture session in the next words Karasu spoke, words that were the newest installment of the running commentary Karasu had been keeping up, probably for the audience he was fully aware stood outside the door.

"If you make your way into the showers and up to that pretty ofuro before I'm finished bathing, fox, and then help me clean myself of all this blood, I'll wash you, dry you, treat and bandage your wounds, put you in a nice, clean shirt, and you'll be allowed to sleep on the bed. Tomorrow will be yours, just as I promised. Wouldn't that be lovely, pet?"

There was a long pause, before finally Kurama returned with a barely audible whisper. "And... if I d-don't...?"

"If not, I'll take a brief sabbatical and resume," Karasu chuckled, the smile in his voice entirely too evident for Toguro's tastes.

"Please, please..." Kurama wheezed. He slurred the words as he made fully human sounds for the first time in veritable hours, instead of the animalistic whimpers he had been reduced to. "L-Let me sleep. I c...I can't make it there. Please." But, while Kurama's requests and pleas had been observed and at least partially answered by Toguro, with Karasu they fell on deaf ears. There was the sound of a blow, and Kurama let out a sharp gasp.

"I'll be in the bathroom, lovely. I look forward to your presence."

"I...won't last much longer, if...if you continue. Please." Kurama's hoarse, painful voice, just barely above a whisper, illustrated that the hours of torment, the days of torment, the weeks of torment had humbled him. He was no longer above begging.

"Whether you do or you don't is up to you, sweets. It's entirely in your hands." Karasu didn't even sound winded, but he was pitching his voice oddly. He obviously wanted their silent watcher to hear everything that went on. There was malicious excitement beneath Karasu's seemingly blasé voice as he gleefully punished two people with the act of degrading and brutalizing one.

Toguro, standing outside, glowered at the opposite wall. His hand itched strangely, demanding with the small part of his brain that was still human that he stop this despicable act from happening; but he ignored it, lifted himself from the wall, and meandered back down the corridor, picking up speed as he began to distance himself from Karasu and his slave. He didn't bother trying to justify it. It wasn't that he couldn't protect the boy, and it wasn't accurate to say that he didn't want to—though it was true, he either extended full protection or none at all: anything less would only cause Kurama more pain in the long run. But, though his motives weren't obvious, they were there.

Toguro shut his thoughts and feelings down and blanked his senses to the challenges from Karasu's portion of the mansion as he strode with increasing firmness back to the dull quiet of his rooms. The last thing he became aware of in the chamber he was so categorically avoiding was Kurama beginning the laborious journey from the patch of liquid-spattered flooring he lay sprawled on, to the baths, forced to do it on his knees because of the weights Karasu had just lashed to the backs of his shins.

Toguro, upon reaching his room, nabbed something that looked like scotch from the cupboard Sakyo had had installed in his room out of gratitude for a job well done. The cupboard was mostly stocked with artisan packets of orange juice, but there were also several harder drinks that Toguro rarely touched. He broke that vow now as he measured out a shot into one of the heavy glasses that were also stacked one on top of the other to the side of the cupboard. Toguro took a swig of the liquor, made a face, and then went into the bathroom to pour the rest down the sink, bottle and all.

Finally, he just sat on his couch. He didn't relish the idea of sleeping in the bed Kurama had been raped on earlier this evening, so he avoided that, too, and put his senses on full alert in an effort to protect Sakyo; but, when Toguro felt Sakyo and Aniki entertaining some girls in the room next door, he did something uncharacteristically unprofessional: he shut himself down, opening his employer up to attack, and just meditated. Sometimes, though he did maintain that he enjoyed his job, he was unable to cope with the horror that his contractors, associates, and men all perpetuated. On those rare nights, he usually had mechanisms in place that got him through the endless darkness; but tonight, he felt it would be best to let himself suffer for a while. He laughed, softly, angrily, pointlessly, in his own head. Lord knows he deserved it.



To be continued.

Chapter Text

"And I would rather have my sweet,

Though rose-leaves die of grieving..."

—Ezra Pound, excerpt from his poem "An Immorality."






Karasu's upper lip curled into a sneer as he felt Kurama's final, tangible hopes break down in the wake of Toguro's quick exit, his tail between his legs. How rewarding this session was proving to be, Karasu pondered. How wonderful to get retribution on two of the most infuriating people in his life, and do it in such a delightful way. Karasu was pleased that Kurama had failed the requirements for a cessation of the torture, though it had taken the introduction of a loophole to secure that failure. He didn't care for particulars of that nature, however—all that truly mattered to him was that the failure had happened, leaving Kurama stranded and crushed, a combination that Karasu found wonderful. At this point he had every intention of making good on his promise of punishment—which was ironic, because he never had any intention of making good on his promise of relief. He was getting too uninterested to continue properly, however, and he fully realized that Kurama was at a breaking point, which made it necessary to adjust his plans slightly.

For his part, Kurama had all but passed out. Unconsciousness lapped at the edges of his vision as his warped mind tried to wrap itself around the fact that he'd failed, and now the cataclysmic pain would continue as if he hadn't tried to stop it at all. At this point, every movement was an act of futility. His limbs were in excruciating agony, almost numb with it as they hung from their joints, each one heavier than solid lead. His body was a slab of butchered meat, and his healing abilities, all in tandem, were barely keeping enough blood inside him to survive. If Karasu were honest with himself, he would realize with chagrin that some of the scars Kurama had garnered from this session would never heal, no matter how long Kurama lived.

Kurama was unable to even hold his head up as he was towed along Karasu's floor, part of one of the artistically placed rugs catching on his body to be drawn along with him. It was blatantly obvious that Kurama couldn't walk anymore, which made him categorically unable to stop the feeling of being callously dragged over the bumps and imperfections of the flooring. The weights that were tied firmly to his shins were no help, forcing his body to lengthen, and his bones, some already broken, creaked wearily under its influence. When Karasu finally decided that they'd reached their destination, Kurama felt himself being suspended above the ground by his wrists, swaying lightly as the weights pulled him straight up and down, dragging a pained moan from between his lips as his numerous wounds were jostled and stretched.

I could really die, Kurama thought, with surprising clarity. Tonight, out of punishment for a rape that I never wanted and never enjoyed, I could be killed. For being raped, I could be killed. His graceful wrists were both clasped and crushed in one of Karasu's bird-like hands, leaving him no choice but to play the limp, dangling rag doll, hanging completely at Karasu's mercy. Kurama wanted to let out a bitter laugh, but couldn't even manage a whimper as the gag that had been used earlier, then taken off, then used again, was picked up.

It wasn't the kind of gag one utilized in childish, consensual S&M games, meant to excite and stimulate without doing real damage—this was a much more dangerous version, designed for use on a person whose masochism bordered on self-mutilation, or an unwilling participant. It was comprised of a wooden block that was intended to fit into its wearer's mouth, with stiff, crackling leather covering the lips and encircling the victim's head. It was impossible to breathe through, and earlier it had had to be taken off when Kurama began bleeding internally: with nowhere for the blood entering his mouth to go, the gag nearly caused Kurama to asphyxiate. Karasu had left it on for a little while after he noticed Kurama suffocating silently into unconsciousness, briefly pretending that he would let him die.

Kurama was barely aware of the rope that was slung over a rafter (which was, despite its ostensible usefulness, really rather pointless when it came to the actual mechanics of this building) before being used to lash his wrists together. When the thick, brutal cord was tightened and tied to one of the bed's opulent legs, leaving him swinging miserably from the ceiling's peak with his toes hovering just above the ground, he didn't look up and didn't protest. He had been brutalized past any ability or determination to react to his surroundings.

Karasu took a moment to fiddle with the needles he had forced through Kurama's nipples, and another exhausted groan rewarded his attempts. He reached up and gripped Kurama's chin, which clenched uselessly to stop him from re-using the saliva-slicked gag. The muscles were severely weakened, however, and it was the work of a moment for Karasu to open Kurama's lips and force the wood inside. Kurama, who had briefly picked his head up to plead with his eyes for some semblance of mercy, let it fall again as the gag was buckled into place, wrenching out some long strands of soft crimson hair.

What came next dragged tears out of Kurama's shadowed eyes, darkened to jade and olive, and forced them to drip down from the tips of his eyelashes to his nose and chin, before falling on Karasu's bowed head. Karasu sank to his knees, and slowly, monstrously, began to drag his silky tongue up Kurama's flaccid, innocuous shaft. His finger entered Kurama's clenched hole with some difficulty, forcing itself in until it was able to begin teasing the unresponsive bundle of nerves with ease and care, gentling him through the motions until slowly, painfully, Kurama's cock became a little harder.

Kurama had lost too much blood to enter true arousal, but Karasu viewed Kurama's slight erection as unacceptable. He stood, looking through narrowed lids at his broken toy, and stalked into the bathroom, returning shortly with three of the crystal vials of blood-replenishing potions. The gag was removed, giving Kurama's tormentor leave to lovingly feed the potions and a fourth flask of water to his suffering victim. Kurama gulped down the needed liquids and sighed in relief as the water helped relieve his painfully parched throat.

Then, realizing that his plot might succeed more easily if Kurama were at a better angle, Karasu lowered Kurama from where he was dangling until he was folded uneasily into a kneeling position, the carpet that had been dragged beside him providing a thankful cushion to his punished knees. His upper body sagged against his bonds, wrists still drawn despondently above his head. Karasu rose to collect a few things from their hiding places around the room. Once they were retrieved, he strode back to his helpless captive with an insidious and violent smile and set his new plan into action.

Karasu whispered sweet nothings, gentle things, imitating a different voice as he promised Kurama pleasure and release that Kurama didn't crave, not even a little. Kurama's unsteady shoulders shook—but even as they did, he slowly opened himself up against his will as the replenished blood allowed him to heal some of his wounds. The decrease in fatigue and pain, the gentle voice, and the soft feeling of hands caressing his body broke through his suffering and began to light dim candles, even as his mind shrieked and bayed that this was a ruse, a trick he must fight.

One of the needles was removed, a soft cloth dabbing away the blood, before a mouth covered it, lips and tongue moving smoothly against the little nub of flesh. Kurama yelped through his nose as the nipple was gently suckled and touched, nothing harsh, nothing more than a little painful happening. The mouth went down to the tip of Kurama's cock, placed a gentle kiss on its slit, and then slowly teased and tormented it until it stood farther up, mostly hard.

The cock ring was fitted on, and Kurama, knowing that that was the real objective of Karasu's sudden pseudo-kindness, sobbed. The second part of Karasu's hidden burden, a rough dildo of impressive size, caused Kurama to arch and whine as it was pushed into Kurama's slightly more relaxed passage. Kurama shook with exhaustion, despising himself for his weakness. He understood through the haze his keen mind had been reduced to that his depleted body would be brought to the peak of orgasm and then denied. He wept, unmoving, as Karasu prowled around to his other side.

"What do you say, lovely? Do you want me to take it off? You'll have to speak up if you do."

Kurama didn't rise to the bait as he hung his head and tried not to feel. Karasu chuckled sordidly as he surveyed his handiwork. The saliva-drenched gag was fitted into an unresisting mouth, and the leather straps fastened into place with no regard to its wearer. Kurama sighed softly against wood as Karasu continued teasing his cock with a hand.

Karasu moved behind him, and Kurama groaned harder against the gag, trying not to bite it hard enough to create a potentially dangerous splinter as the edge of the dildo was grabbed, and the stiff, unlubricated leather began to move inside him, force-fucking him slowly, the blood from the already lacerated entrance pooling around the leather and dripping down to the ground. Kurama began to moan, his hanging head swinging tiredly back and forth, his hips swaying beyond his control with the movement of the dildo, and his blood-and-sweat-soaked hair drooping lifelessly around him. He sent dim, unheard prayers to any god of any religion he could think of—though in his battered state, he couldn't think of many.

Karasu, not getting the reaction he wanted and feeling a bit unstimulated by the lack of response, got up and left. Kurama didn't register anything as having changed beyond the fact that the pain had lessened, and hung there limply. He was convinced that he'd reached the peak. Karasu couldn't do anything more to him tonight—he had nothing more to lose.

"You know, ningen scientists have an interesting method of getting semen samples out of their primate test subjects, Kurama. I was discussing it with the Elder Toguro earlier, and he got me this so I could experiment with you."

Terrified shivers, coupled with exhausted thoughts, rebelled violently as Karasu's words violated the strange calm that had overtaken Kurama's brutalized state. He tried to clench his knees and open his eyes, but found that his muscles were detached from him, barely cooperating with his commands. Something metallic touched the base of his cock just as he finally managed to wrestle his heavy eyelids open. Kurama looked up into the intrigued amethysts that bore into his face, and allowed more tears to escape, sliding down his cheeks and pooling over the thick leather of the gag. Then the electric shock began.

To say it was painful gives no measure to the true agony of having one of the most intimate and sensitive parts of one's body be assaulted by a strong electric current. The skin of Kurama's cock sizzled and burned as his muscles jumped out of his control, involuntary semen leaking out of Kurama's engorged head. The muscles tried to release in full, but the cock ring was stopping the flow of blood, prolonging the erection, adding to the indescribable levels of suffering Kurama experienced under Karasu's tutelage. When the current stopped an eternity of seconds later, Kurama pulled himself up so that he was balanced on the balls of his feet, his legs finally clenching as he lowered his head in surrender to the pain. His slender body assumed an odd parody of a fetal position as he sobbed bitterly, listening to Karasu cackle.

Kurama kept his knees together through pure force of will, lifting them up in a vain attempt to protect himself. He fully expected Karasu to taunt him, to torture him, to continue with this sick game until he'd taken everything he wanted from his helpless captive. With that expectance running through his mind, he knew exactly what would happen when his knees were forced aside and the cock ring taken off.

Kurama braced himself as much as possible, his whole body shaking in pitiful terror, tears soaking his cheeks as he turned his head into his arm and tried to prepare for even more pain to be added to his already overwhelming supply. The proud fox was so abjectly fearful that even Karasu, who had been about to place the small cattle prod against Kurama's cock once more, stopped himself—barely able to come with any reasons at all why he should show his fox such mercy—and stroked Kurama's cheek. Kurama flinched away from the hand that caressed him, his shaking escalating into a near seizure as he swallowed loudly.

Karasu removed the gag, unbuckling it from behind Kurama's head with a strange, uncharacteristic tenderness. Kurama cringed away from the monster, panting, wondering what new plan Karasu was about to implement, what more he would be faced with, what more he had no choice but to endure. The rope that kept him kneeling upright was cut right above his limp wrists by a slash of Karasu's extended quest-class claws.

Kurama's hands went down to his cock and cupped it, his shoulders falling forward until he knelt in a protective position with his face pressed into the floor, sobbing more than Karasu had ever seen him sob before. Somehow, it was inexpressibly irritating to Karasu. He scowled silently down at his prey, knowing he should punish Kurama for infuriating him, and persuading himself that he wasn't because of a variety of vain reasons that had no basis in the layered confusion of reality.

Kurama sobbed himself into the blankness of sleep that night, staying in a state bordering on unconsciousness for the next thirty-two hours. Karasu never moved him into a more comfortable position, and never dressed his wounds—he never cleaned the blood or semen from his body, and even, at one point, aggravated with his own show of relative mercy and aroused by the pitiful way Kurama lay crumpled there, thin shoulders rising and falling so softly with each raspy breath, flipped him over and masturbated over his supine form, leaving the room immediately after. He knew Kurama was conscious enough at that point to realize what was happening, and finally felt satisfied with himself at the thought. He seemed content to allow Kurama to live or die by his own will, somehow forgetting how little the human body could handle.

In the end, Toguro, having seen nothing of Kurama for longer than a day, went into Karasu's room unannounced and found him as Karasu had left him—broken and bleeding, his wrists still tied above his prostrate head. It was Toguro who took pity on the helpless fox, and carried him away from Karasu's chambers to his own washroom. It was Toguro who pinched two fingers together until the rope snapped, and unwrapped it from Kurama's chafed-raw wrists. He was gruff, but when the softest sounds of absolute agony came from behind lips rimmed with new and drying blood, his massive jaw tightened imperceptibly, and he eased up, just a bit.

Kurama's pitiful form weighed nothing in his arms as he impersonally removed the things Karasu had left so casually on and in Kurama, which included everything from the needle that had been so long in his flesh that his body had begun to assimilate to it, to the dildo that Karasu had never bothered to remove. Something very akin to sympathy was beaten down within Toguro, though even at his most purely cognizant level he was unsure of what explanation he would give his subordinates, if any at all, to keep them from thinking he had gone soft. He smirked at that, knowing it would take several beatings to get everything back in line, and glad of it, glad for a tangible way to release the guilt that was, like it had all those years before, starting to eat him up inside.

Toguro shifted Kurama's fragile, feeble form so that it fit into the crook of his arm, checking with a hand over the small mouth for breath, and denying his relief when he felt it. He put his hand on the forehead, and was unsurprised to find it clammy and hot—the boy was hosting some sort of infection, probably several, which was to be expected after the damage he had sustained.

Toguro's tub was even larger than Karasu's, resembling a sento in width and shape more than any simple bath. It had been built of obsidian and veined marble to accommodate Toguro's great size, taking up an impressive amount of space with that accommodation. With one hand, Toguro turned on and adjusted the fat water spigots that fed everything—gleaming stainless-steel monstrosities that provided a counter for the fairytale qualities of the tub itself—knowing better than to put anything in the foaming liquid that might irritate Kurama's wounds. It wasn't proper etiquette to use the bath to clean him, but the showers would never be thorough enough, and Toguro put aside his hang-ups easily for the sake of the boy. As he waited for the bath to fill, pausing to pop one of Kurama's shoulders back into its socket and straighten some broken bones (making a note to splint them later), he set about checking the injuries and abrasions, old and new, that filled Kurama's skin. Once the bath was full and the preliminary examination complete, steam curling pleasantly off the water's surface and Toguro assured that none of Kurama's wounds were immediately fatal, he paused, looking from the water to himself.

It was difficult removing his coat with Kurama in his arms, keeping an eye on the young man's neck, which stretched out, exposed, ringed with a circle of strangulation marks that blossomed where his rapist's fingers had dug into flesh. Kurama's head lolled quietly to the side, one of his arms dangling precariously from the cradle Toguro had formed. Deciding that getting the rest of his outfit wet was permissible, he slowly lowered Kurama into the bath, silently relieved when the boy, deep within his own mind, never stirred as the water engulfed him softly. Toguro pulled out some charmed oils he kept on the off chance he ever received a wound that needed such aid, glad to have them as he hefted the soft cotton of a washcloth, keeping a second and third on standby and having no need to remind himself to be thorough.

His face became more and more grim the longer it took to clean Kurama, wiping up the blood that still oozed sluggishly from several unhealed wounds and the stains and clumps of day-old semen. It wasn't until he tried to clean between Kurama's legs, however, where he could already tell some serious damage had been sustained, that he elicited a reaction from Kurama. The seemingly lifeless body shook beneath his fingers as he examined the burns, working with one hand while the other kept Kurama's head above water. His features flickered into a look of distaste, and the guilt, an emotion he hadn't allowed himself to feel in years, overcame his throat and filled his mouth with bitter gall. It made him want to strangle the last life from this meager body, tear down the angelic kitsune and let his soul escape to better places.

His regret was stifled, replaced by a desire to clean and treat all wounds, utilizing a detached, clinical approach to the battered body below him. Kurama's juniper eyes opened dully once he was reasonably clean, as if consciousness were triggered by a lack of discomfort, and Toguro was surprised by the absence of the usual cunning light in Kurama's eyes. He was lifted from the bath and placed on a towel, stretched out quickly over the tile of Toguro's bathing room—much less lavish than Karasu's (barring the tub itself), by Toguro's own request. The oil was used again and again, and an extensive medical kit Toguro also kept close at hand in case there were ever a need, whatever that need might be, was opened for the sutures contained within. When Kurama was nicely stitched up (Toguro proving himself proficient with the needle, though it was marginalized in his massive hands), and gauze, bandages, burn salve and all else necessary had been applied as needed, Toguro looked down speculatively at the boy.

Kurama had woken up more thoroughly at some point, his eyes opening a little wider and his breathing becoming less regulated. Despite this return to consciousness, however, no sound crossed his lips, not of pain, nor of embarrassment, and the shaking had subsided long ago. Toguro tilted Kurama's head up and pressed his hand, improvised into a cup, against the lush mouth, allowing some of the cool water he'd just filled it with to dampen Kurama's lips and trickle down his throat. An intensely needy look on his face, Kurama's hands went up and gripped weakly at Toguro's, trying desperately to get more of the water into him.

"Calm down, boy. I'll give you more."

Kurama blinked a few times, his fingers feeling the scarred knuckles dimly, and then winced. "To...guro?" he rasped.

"Don't talk." With that same odd tenderness, Toguro reached into the bath and under the spigot he'd turned to cold and left running, maneuvering another palm-full of dribbling water to Kurama's cracked, bleeding lips, which Kurama suckled greedily.

Kurama swallowed, and attempted to speak again. "I n-need—"

A giant hand pressed compellingly against his forehead in a warning. "Don't talk," Toguro repeated, and blinked as Kurama began to shake miserably in combined exhaustion, effort, and fear. Kurama's eyes closed tightly against imagined retribution, and Toguro, seeing that and feeling the piteous tremors, took his hand away. Kurama neither saw nor felt the fingers that twitched or the jaw that tightened as he withdrew—and in his skittish state, he would undoubtedly have misunderstood their origin even if he were aware enough to notice. Toguro's hand left cool rivers on Kurama's forehead, wet now, along with the rest of his body, his bangs sticking to his skin from the pressure of Toguro's fingers. Toguro saw that, and unhesitatingly began to use another terrycloth, a new one, to clean his face.

"I'm sorry, boy. Your hair will have to stay like this. Shampoo would get into your wounds."

Kurama swallowed again, his whole body tense with the effort of talking, causing the stains on the bandages to spread like wings. "Leave—it. I with it—when the time comes." He collapsed back, his throat catching with pants and his shoulders shaking. Toguro watched his chest rise and fall frantically, Kurama gulping to try and aid his dry throat.

"Don't talk," Toguro said yet again, ignoring the look in Kurama's eyes as they cracked open to stare up at him sharply in anger, and gave him another drink of water. "If you don't mind it, I have an undershirt you can wear. In the meantime, boy, I need to splint your broken bones." Kurama's eyes closed again, too dulled to wonder why he was being shown this unprompted kindness. He slowly drifted off as Toguro worked.

When Toguro was finished, he looked at the pretty face, so very far from peaceful, and scowled openly, carrying Kurama to a bathmat so he could finish drying him off—he had gotten wet again, somehow. Finally, Toguro carried Kurama into the familiar atrium, and laid him on his bed, not finding it in himself to be amused by the parallel of the last time Kurama had slept there.

Toguro pulled out an undershirt meant to be worn under one of the suits he kept for occasions when an employer required it, and briskly dressed the boy in it, his scowl softening slightly at the sight of the thin, too-big material enveloping Kurama like a canopy. He laid him under a sheet, folding the thicker blankets up with care and tenderness that few of his enemies would believe him capable of. That task complete, Toguro resigned himself to sitting on his couch and closing his eyes, settling into a meditative state while he pondered what he was going to do about keeping Sakyo well-guarded while keeping Kurama safe. He was surprised by how much he wanted to ignore the first objective in favor of the second.

"He's staying here?" Sakyo asked, his inflection only a hair above bored.

"For the time being. He'll go back to Karasu when I deem him ready," Toguro grunted, seeing no need to elaborate further.

Sakyo laughed quietly. "I've heard you've issued an order that he's not to be touched."

Toguro tilted his head up, smiling to himself. He pushed his glasses up with a calloused forefinger, looking over at Sakyo calmly. "I have."

Sakyo smirked again, amused—and something close to intrigued—by the sudden turn in Toguro's temperament. "You're a strange man, Toguro," he murmured, his voice icy with pleasure.

Toguro grunted in assent, his mind already returned to his room, gazing at Kurama's alternatively fitful and listless slumber. Toguro had woken him up several times now to force him to drink some water and sip some warm, nutritious broth (with a few healing herbs dumped in for good measure), but after every one of those meals Kurama had drifted off again, his body demanding rest so he could heal at an appropriate pace. Toguro knew that at the rate he was currently mending, the last wounds would be gone in a few days. Still, Toguro was sure even then (and had issued the orders to match it) that he wouldn't throw Kurama back to his master for at least a week—maybe longer. Maybe, and the hardest portions of Toguro's heart denied this vehemently, never.

Sakyo had lost interest in their conversation and begun talking with the chief engineer again, a long finger tracing the schemata unfolded before them. He was clearly elated at how smoothly their plan was going, the fantastic reserves of money he'd earned in the Dark Tournament and out siphoning slowly away into the construction and management of the machines needed to build the portal to the Makai. He laughed dryly at a feeble joke the engineer had just relayed, his eyes so purely ice and his smile so self-contained that the nervous chuckles caught in the man's throat. He glanced quickly into Sakyo's sculpted eyes, and then hurriedly went back to explaining the current positions of the preliminary equipment. Sakyo nodded, smiling coldly at the man, and then turned back to look at Toguro.

Toguro was strange, always strange—Sakyo never quite knew where things stood with his subordinate, and he liked that. It kept things fun. Still, his sudden interest in the boy was bizarre, and because of it, Sakyo found a plan coalescing in the back of his head that he would have to think on further.

On the bed, Kurama's petite form had been still as a cadaver for hours, dwarfed by the size and height of the mattress below him and the gaping cloth of the shirt, his mind too exhausted to dream. When he did awaken, the first thing he noticed as he blinked at the room swimming hazily back into view was the smell of his own semen on the sheets, Toguro never having thought to have them cleaned. His heartbeat sped up, and he twisted under the blanket that rested so oppressively, and yet so lightly over his body, realizing listlessly that he was no longer naked. He blinked a bit, and then curled his fingers and hooked his elbow to gently rub the white cotton of the undershirt's sleeve, marveling at its tight weave, forgetting momentarily the year, the place, and the wonders of ningen technology. The shirt fit him more like an oversized poncho than anything he was used to wearing, and as he sat up with an achy sigh, blinking owlishly around the room, he felt it slip down, softly, revealing a pale shoulder. He put it back into place with a suspicious glance toward the door.

He was in Toguro's personal quarters, that much was certain. The distinctive, oversized couch settled in a nook by the bed was a firm reminder of that, as was the lack of any sort of windows. Toguro's (and, by association, Sakyo's) rooms were not located on the edge of the mansion, in order to limit the access points an assassin could use to enter. With Toguro's monochrome walls and lack of personal effects, Kurama got the feeling he had been confined to a cell, albeit a large and clearly inhabited one. He saw a nutritious-looking soup sitting in a serving bowl on the lacquered nightstand beside the bed, and hesitated. After a quick deliberation, Kurama decided that Toguro was not one for poison, and that he'd need strength to face whatever was about to happen—and so, brought the tureen tentatively to his lips.

He'd barely taken a sip before his hunger took hold of him, and he almost choked on the broth as he frantically tried to swallow all of it at once. Once finished, he licked at the fatty globules that had stuck to the bottom, his hard eyes searching for a method of escape, resistance, or anything else that could be of use. He was assaulted by his thirst, the salt in the soup demanding to be relieved by cool water, and so replaced the bowl onto the table with little concern. As he slipped guardedly from the bed, creeping into the Western bathroom on the balls of his feet, he made as little noise as possible, every movement defended suspiciously. The days when he saw this room as a potential refuge were long gone.

As he leaned over the sink, not quite recovered enough to fight the lightheadedness his blood loss and long slumber had given him, he glanced into the opaque surface of the mirror, glimmering almost seductively above his eyes. He'd been unable to find the light switch in the mere seconds he'd looked, and he wasn't quite sure why he peeked up at the dark glass, knowing that there weren't enough reflecting colors for a good view. Still, once he had taken a glimpse, he stopped, mesmerized. Dainty fingers reached up to feel the contours of what he saw in his smooth likeness, trying to ascertain whether it was really his own.

His face, once full and round and kissed by sun, was now pale and ever-so-slightly gaunt, with gauze he had been too numb to notice taped to his cheek, and fading bruises standing out boldly against pallid skin. Waifish and ghostlike were too kind descriptions, but close enough to what he saw staring at him that they nudged into his mind. The hollows of his cheek stood out prominently in the dark room, and he was almost pleased by the liquid unreality of his eyes behind his thick crimson lashes, which, though always unhelpful to the femininity of his appearance, now made him look like a ghost of a lovers' suicide. He closed his lids in pain for a moment, however, knowing that there was still one word that described him, even now, that his mind was dancing around.

Beautiful. He was, as always, beautiful.

Putting it all from his thoughts, he turned the right knob—an enameled crystal gem with a smoothed down sapphire of impressive size pressed into it—as far as it would go, assuming it to be cold, and tilted himself to press his lips to the spigot, suckling the cool, refreshing water that poured out. With his eyes closed and his eyebrows knotted in bliss, he noticed and put aside the opening of the room's door and the heavy footsteps behind him. He flinched, still drinking, as the lights flicked on and burned through his eyelids.

"Trying to drown yourself?" Toguro asked, amused.

Kurama removed his mouth from the fountain, a few droplets falling sweetly from his lips as his throat worked. He listened to the hiss of the water beating against the bowl of the sink and swirling down into the drain, refusing to speak or turn around, his fingers tightening imperceptibly against the cool porcelain sides. His location and his purpose came rushing back, making him want to vomit up all the soup and water he'd just gulped down (which was unsurprising—he'd eaten far too much, far too quickly, for his shrunken stomach).

A few more footsteps came from behind him, and a large hand rested lightly on his shoulder. "Kurama—"

He moved, and a voice which Kurama couldn't, wouldn't recognize as his own, hissed, "Don't touch me."


"Don't touch me!" Kurama cringed into the sink, rounding his shoulders, knowing he was very likely about to be beaten or worse.

Instead, there was a deep, heavy sigh, and the rich voice spoke again. Kurama knew Toguro's face was easily accessible in the mirror, and spitefully refused to tilt his head up and look. "Come in here. I got you some clothes."

Kurama paused, listening to the footsteps turn and retreat, and then straightened to follow him. He kept his eyes closed, not wanting to see the hateful face, and navigated by his uncanny memory of the room's make-up, feeling the slick cream tile of the bathroom give way to thick, springy carpet beneath his feet.

Once in to the main room, he finally blinked open forested eyes and took Toguro's burden (unwieldy for Kurama, dwarfed in Toguro's hands) from him, still avoiding his face composedly. His hands and feelings numb, he unfolded it, and was greeted with simple cloth pants of a soft ivy color and a light shirt—no undergarments, but it would do. Kurama briefly considered thanking Toguro, and almost did, but left instead, determined to ignore any indebtedness he might feel towards the towering man. As he exited back into the bathroom, clutching the clothes like an amulet, a giant palm rested on his shoulder, inducing a shudder as it enveloped it kindly. "Aren't you going to thank me?" Toguro asked, his voice forcefully amused.

Kurama's chin, formerly tucked into his chest, rose softly, belying the stone look in his clear, crystalline eyes. "A few days ago, you raped me," he said, and then continued into the bathroom.

Toguro winced, glad that the angle was wrong for Kurama to see it in the mirror. He had a feeling, however, that the fox knew of his small show of remorse anyway, though it was a feeling he couldn't substantiate beyond a momentary hesitation of Kurama's foot to floor.

Kurama came out quickly, limping just enough to take away the briskness of his stride. The clothes fit fine, though Toguro had done the measurements by sight alone. With the intention of outlining the events of the day for Kurama, Toguro began to speak, his tone forthright and brusque, but no more than that. "You've been added to this room's key lock, so feel free to come and go as you please, Kurama. I'm not holding you prisoner here. The rabble has orders not to molest you, and if any of them cross those orders, you come to me. Sakyo's personal tailor will be around sometime later to take more accurate measurements, so order any clothes you like." Feeling Kurama's trepidation, he added quietly, "He won't hurt you, boy."

"Sakyo's personal tailor? And what have I, lowly slave that I am, done to deserve that?" Kurama scoffed. His sarcasm was entirely caustic and bitter, sounding ugly coming from those sweet, moist lips.

Toguro didn't answer his mock question, looking calmly into Kurama's eyes through the dark lenses of his sunglasses, his good will drying up. Kurama turned from him with a shiver, seeing the anger creeping into the huge angles of Toguro's face. "Don't speak to me like that, boy," Toguro grunted. "You're not so jaded yet."

Kurama cringed, hearing the muted incensement in Toguro's voice, but some desperate part of him couldn't back down, wouldn't. "Boy," he sneered, refusing to look Toguro in the face, his shoulder rising defensively. "By God, you're sick. You see all this done to me, you do all this to me, and you still call me boy."

Toguro's jaw worked, his rage solidifying quickly. "I'm doing nothing to you right now, little fox. Stop biting. You won't enjoy my anger."

Kurama said nothing, but kept his face averted, clearly too terrified to continue, and clearly wishing to, despite that. Toguro looked at him, memories coming back sharply to his mind, one right after the other.

The brown-haired woman lay before him, neck snapped, her pleasant face strangely peaceful and incongruent with the dingy cell. She was unharmed other than the obvious angle of her cause of death, for which Toguro was glad. The fox's sacrifice had not been in vain.

"Mister Toguro?" an aid whispered behind him, respecting the depressed sobriety that had fallen over the room. "The other prisoners you asked for are in the next few cells. Do you want me to get the keys, sir?"

Toguro sighed. "That will be fine." He cleaned his already immaculate sunglasses with a cloth he kept in his coat pocket, and walked towards the next concrete cell, putting them back on as he went.

The boy's tearless, red-framed face stared at the wall, brow creased in pain. His wrists were pinned to the bed, his hips jarring with every powerful thrust, soft sounds working their way through clenched teeth. Toguro felt something within the boy tear, and eased his movements slightly, aware of the slick of blood against his cock as Kurama arched, unable to fight down a half-bitten shriek.

Rousing himself suddenly from those recollections, Toguro's vision focused on Kurama, who steadied his exhausted, quivering body with one hand on the bed. "Boy—don't look this particular gift horse in the mouth. At this point, I mean you no harm. Respect that."

Kurama said nothing, and, after a hard look at his shivering form, Toguro left the room.

Kurama had limped through the hallways to find the new bouquets with features so blank and a face so carefully guarded that even the demons had let him be. By virtue of the new stone irises and dilated pupils that built the wall between his surroundings and his heart, he was allowed to return to the library unscathed, his eyes dull and his arms full of beautiful flowers. Still, as he stepped through the lavish doorway he shuddered violently, offended by the familiar feeling of curled fibers submitting to his bare soles.

Long ago, when he had first found this room, the feeling of expensive industrial carpet caressing the calluses of his feet had been thick and pleasant, bringing to mind the warm winter blankets his mother had kept in the linen closet in case of a sudden storm, and the rag carpet that complemented—perhaps used to complement, by now—his mother's bedroom. At that moment, however, it was neither kind to his feet nor a pleasant memory, but a brutal reminder of things over and gone—though he still couldn't bring himself to look forward to the soft cotton slippers he had been promised this morning by the tailor. When Toguro became tired of him and tossed him bodily back to Karasu, he had no doubt that the incensed demon would rip them from his feet if need be, and he would be back to the sordid, humiliating outfits he had been forced to wear in the past.

The past, he thought. A few days before. And the future—a few days hence. So much to look back on, so little to look forward to, and damn Toguro. False hope springs from false kindness.

The bunches of flowers he had left in this room an impossible number of days ago—days he wanted to call years—were all faded and withered, bent like dead bodies over their glass and porcelain keepers, the victims of lazy housekeeping. The sight had been too dismal for Kurama, and he'd felt almost glad to be given something to do, even if it was only himself and his own desire for a moment of beauty that gave it. The innocence of the flowers he found were a mockery to him, but Kurama outthought his own distress and convinced himself that the dead and dying flowers needed to be given their funeral rights, like any other living being. Besides, Kurama reasoned, everything felt like an affront to him now, and there was no need to make the plants suffer for it.

He worked quickly, replacing one bouquet with another in smooth order, until all the wilted greenery was held under one arm, and the fresher plants, roses, lavender, and lilies, carefully settled into their new homes. They needed fresh water and nutrients as well, but that was more than Kurama had energy for—and besides, Kurama felt an obligation to give these dead plants places to meet their eternal rest and sow their living seeds.

With that in mind, when he first thought of throwing them away he knew almost instantly that he wouldn't do that. These plants had become his, his to keep, his own metaphor for himself, and he couldn't bring himself to discard them so casually. It took some deliberation to decide what he would do instead, but a memory he had stored somewhere deep inside himself was raised as he glanced speculatively around the room, his emotions still painfully numb, and solved the problem. Arms full of sagging hydrangea and peonies and the delicate corpses of Queen Anne's Lace, he walked over to the windows, all arching grandly over the long outer wall. He glanced quietly up at the one he had broken (now repaired) with the slightest ghost of a smirk, and then turned away to the final of those towers, the largest one, which reached almost to the ceiling and turned the sun's rays into glittering, glaring things.

It took his keen eyes only seconds to find what he was looking for, tucked away behind a satin couch and a lacquered table that had been carved discreetly from jointed pieces of white oak. In the nicest of the reading nooks that were pressed up against the wall below the windows, there was a section of the great glass monstrosity he had found to be carefully hinged to open inward, a window within a window. He walked over to its remembered location, gaze perfectly calm, and knelt on the fabric of the lounge to reach up and undo the ornate iron and wood butterfly latch, tugging a knob to allow it to swing back with a loud, long creak of poorly-oiled hinges. No sooner had he done so, however, than tremors began to vibrate down his thin body, making him shake like an epileptic in the midst of a seizure. He found himself, quite suddenly, fighting down the bitter, brutal sobs he had been repressing all day, their presence hard spasms in the back of his throat, completely overcoming him as he curled against his arms to offer some comfort against the hideous tides of pain. This was the final undoing of his pride, making him weep like a child against the unforgiving upholstery of the couch.

It was a glistening spring day outside his dark and dapper prison, heavy with the smell of approaching summer. The air, warm and sweet, carried with it the twitters of inland birds, the fragrance of a thousand herbs and flowers, mosses and lichen, bushes and trees, the scampering of wild things, and the billion little scents and sounds that had once put Kurama at his ease. He dropped the dead flowers in a smoky cloud of broken petals and scattered seeds, all he had left of the outside, and gripped the edge of the glass with all his might, until permanent indents had been dug into his flesh, just breathing, trying as hard as he could not to cry.

When the dead and dying flowers had been thrust hurriedly from the window, all propriety forgotten, Kurama closed it with a bang that made the panes quiver, wiping the last of the tears from his eyes angrily, like a boy who doesn't want his mother to see him upset. Some defense of his own will had been surmounted by that moment, pushed aside recklessly for the tides of emotion held within his body. Remembrances of the world outside this accursed mansion—the world he had once belonged to, lived in, counted himself aloof from but among—were becoming rare, but when they happened, he was defeated by them without fail.

Kurama didn't bother reaching down to the place where Youko resided, which he would have done only a week ago when conquered by feeble sentiments like this. Asking for the white fox's detachment to help ease his suffering was pointless, and had been for days now. His other half no longer responded to his pleas, burying himself far into Kurama's mind in a frantic attempt to keep Shuuichi's suffering from breaking through. It was a desperate, last-ditch effort to protect their combined soul from all the dangers that plagued it, and a crushing blow for Shuuichi. The loss of Youko's voice, always assuring him of the possibilities for revenge and retaliation, was further wearing away at him, making him believe earnestly that he wouldn't be able to hold on for much longer. He felt an explosion coming, and he was terrified to discover what form it would take. At this point, any loss of control could be ruinous.

Kurama, suddenly unable to abide this room and the memories it held, turned around sharply to leave, at a run if need be, and started in shock, his eyebrows driving up into his hair. He hadn't been alone for some time, though he had no knowledge of it, and that alone was enough to fill him with horrific fury. Looking into deep cobalt eyes below thick cerulean hair, he cringed in hatred—and then stood tall, back erecting itself out of pride. Bui would not startle him.

Bui glowered at him a moment longer, armor-less, for once, and then moved to the side and nodded his head in the direction of the door, his actions just as guarded as Kurama's. "You wanted to go, right? I won't stop you," he said, the thrumming timber of his voice sounding so deep and rich that it made the fox shiver.

Kurama stared, shocked, and then abruptly began to walk towards the space the burly demon wasn't occupying, his movements mechanical and his face lightly flushed with shame. When they were broadside, those dark blue eyes never once leaving Kurama, Kurama stopped, his own eyes hidden by thick, lustrous bangs. "You..."


Kurama paused, meditating on his next sentence. "Nothing. I just wanted to thank you."

Those eyes looked down at him imperviously from below the nasty-looking scar on his forehead. "For what, kitsune?"

Kurama's face was impassive, all emotions held behind a thick screen that Bui could not see into—that no one could see into. "For dropping the fork," he said, and then kept walking, those impartial eyes still fixed onto his thin back. He left behind nothing but a mess of pods and crumbled leaves on the seat Bui had caught him weeping on, the only sign of the frantic despair of a few moments ago.

Bui's eyebrows went up, almost amused, and then he closed both eyes and sighed. That boy would rip his heart out, and he knew it.

The quiet the demon and human thugs of this mansion had allowed Kurama had to end, and it did, finally. He was jumped on his way back from his second trip to the library, his arms full of music and books, and, though none of them was brave enough to disobey Toguro's orders directly, when he stumbled hard-faced back into the man's rooms his new clothes had been ripped open and a darkening bruise stood out on his beautiful face. Kurama, banal tasks the only thing he could seem to bring himself to do, pulled out a sewing kit he had discovered on his extensive search of Toguro's room while Toguro wasn't there, and began stitching his shirt back up, proving himself as neat and dexterous at needlework as he was at everything else.

That occupied him for a while, focusing his mind on the cloth in a strange form of meditation. When the shirt was nearly as good as new, Kurama got up and put one of his spoils from Sakyo's library into the upright tape deck he had unearthed from a side room and dragged back to Toguro's chambers. That was how Toguro found him later in the day, sitting on the floor with his back against the edge of the bed, head resting idly on the mattress and rose lips pursed as he hummed the song quietly to himself.

"Arirang, Arirang, Arariyo..."a woman sang, her voice undulating slowly with the melody, the lyrics beautiful in her mouth. Toguro looked around, trying to distinguish between the origin of the haunting tune and the warm, sweet murmur of Kurama's voice, before his dark eyes finally settled on the bulky tape deck Kurama had placed in the corner of his room.

"What are you listening to?" Toguro asked bemusedly, one eyebrow rising against his will.

"Arirang," Kurama said after a slight hesitation. "A Korean folk song. Beautiful, isn't it?"

Toguro walked over to Kurama's seat, footsteps heavy against the plush carpeting, and knelt down before him, taking a pliant chin into his hand and turning it so the boy's right cheek was more visible. Kurama winced, but didn't react any more strongly than that. "Who did that?" Toguro grunted.

"Does it matter?" Kurama responded bitterly. "It was no one worth castigating."

"It does. My men need to respect my orders. Those that don't must be punished. You know how this works, kitsune."

There was a short hesitation, before Kurama said softly, "I do. A tall one, with green skin and noticeable fangs. A short one, also green, but purple as well—some form of frog demon, I believe. And there were others, but I'm sure those two will implicate everyone but themselves."

Toguro snorted, half amused, and then squatted there, Kurama's chin still in hand, listening to the song. "By god, we need something cheerful."

"Arirang not to your taste?" Kurama inquired, smiling to himself, though his voice was still lower than normal. His tone reminded Toguro of long-ago discussions around hearses and funeral pyres, and it caused the man to frown, his amusement evaporating. There was a duality about this discussion that he didn't like, and it was ruining his currently pleasant disposition.

"It doesn't suit my mood. Do you have any of Misora Hibari-san's?"

Kurama laughed, unable to keep it in, but sucked in a breath when the fingers on his chin tightened slightly. He looked into the dark, menacing face, and then looked away, waiting patiently for Toguro to release him.

"Do you?"


Toguro let him go, and stood up. "Then put it on." He leaned back, aloof, watching Kurama tuck a pretty forelock behind his ear and rise gracefully to his feet, barely coming up to Toguro's chest. He walked quietly to the tape deck, kneeling politely in front of it to fiddle with mechanisms outside of Toguro's line of vision. Soon, he had returned, and Kimi wa Matroos Umitsubame began to play, grainy and lively against the stark reality of Kurama's nearly dead eyes.

Toguro listened in silence for a while, and then left. No sooner had he walked out the door than Kurama, glaring openly at its other side, walked over to the tape deck and put in a cassette version of Songs for Swinging Lovers—not out of a dislike for Misora-san, but as a belated snub towards Toguro. Sinatra's voice calmed Kurama slightly, and he reclined once more in his former spot on the floor by the bed. That was how Sakyo found him.

The first thing Toguro noticed upon re-entering his room was a passionate big band riff blaring out from the tape deck, sounding triumphant and joyful as it cut through the scene before him. The second was Kurama, red-faced and moaning, bent over the side of Toguro's couch—Sakyo behind him, his slacks around his ankles. Kurama had his palms pressed into the sofa's arm, as if trying to push through it to safety, his cock rubbing painfully against the rough upholstery.

Hearing the door swing back, Kurama's face averted itself from the world, turning into the cushions of the couch in humiliation and shame, too far gone to react more than that to Toguro's entrance. He hissed as his head was dragged up by a sudden wrench of his hair and jerked abruptly by a compulsive palm against his soft cheek, angling him so that his tear-glazed, empty eyes were fixed right on the sunglasses's lenses.

"Good afternoon, Toguro," Sakyo chuckled. "I hope you don't mind, but the poor boy seemed lonely."

Everything froze, the song the only merciless noise in the quiet of Kurama's hallowed gasps and whines. The vocals cut in suddenly, earning a jerk from the form draped over the couch and a few more wrinkles in Toguro's forehead.

"I would sacrifice anything, come what might, for the sake of having you near,

In spite of a warning voice that comes in the night, and repeats, how it yells in my ear! "

Toguro's mind raced, some deep part in him wishing he could snap the businessman's neck: but it was poise and calm that prevailed. His jaw worked, all the possibilities and probabilities warring with each other inside his head. Finally, his face at its most impassive, he looked straight into those broken green pools, his punishment for what he was about to do, and said in a low, guttural voice, "Be done quickly. And Mr. Sakyo—"

"Don't you know little fool," the singer crooned, "You never can win—"

Sakyo, laughing, performed a particularly harsh thrust into the agonized fox, his hand moving from Kurama's face, which remained tilted towards Toguro independent of Sakyo's actions, to grip the creamy swell of Kurama's ass, his cock slamming cruelly into and out of Kurama's body with no thought to Kurama himself. The other hand, not to be outdone, continued to form a fist in Kurama's hair, holding his body in a stark arch that allowed Sakyo to penetrate even deeper into his victim. "Yes, Toguro?"

"Why not use your mentality,"

"Don't do this again," Toguro grunted. Kurama looked at him, his heart feeling like a stone clutched so tight it bled, and then sobbed at the sensation of Sakyo angling a thrust directly into his sweet spot, fingers arching and nails clawing into the couch, his teeth gritted painfully.

"Step up, wake up to reality!

But each time I do just the thought of you makes me stop just before I begin,

'Cause I've got you—"

With that, Toguro turned and left, half blocking out the last line. He could still hear it, though, as he retreated down the hall for the second time in one week, deep in his own mind. His head raised itself in speculation and his hands sank deep into his bottomless pockets, controlling himself from all the thousand conflicting things he wanted to do.

"Under my skin.

Yes, I've got you—"

And then he turned a corner, and could hear no more.

Toguro brought Kurama dinner that night, leaving without saying a word. Kurama had defied all expectations by bathing as soon as Sakyo left, changing into the new clothes the tailor had dropped off just as Sakyo was returning to his own room, leaving Kurama a crumpled mess beside the couch, curled up and crying. The elderly tailor had seemed embarrassed by this display, and left quickly, for which Kurama was grateful. He refused to show his fear of staying in this room, which Sakyo had unlimited access to, and was even more determined not to show his fear of leaving it, where it was only a limited amount of time before he ran into Karasu. He changed his bandages himself, with some difficulty, and ate every bite of the light, nutritious dinner with all due grace and poise.

When Toguro came back, he was curled up in a corner reading a book, his knees and legs straight and the novel resting in the crest of his lap. He hosted too strong an aversion to the bed and couch to sit or lie on either one, preferring the floor, which was carpeted well enough not to punish him. Toguro walked over to his little fortress, footsteps harsh in Kurama's ears, and lifted the cover with his boot.

"Washington Square?" Toguro read, putting a light accent on the words.

"Do you know it?" Kurama asked him coolly, still avoiding the dark black lenses that served as eyes, looking instead at the underside of the square jaw and the massive Adam's Apple that bobbed on his short, stocky neck.

"No." Toguro's reply was cut and succinct.

"It's one of Henry James's novellas. An American author, who none-the-less seemed to hate America. You haven't heard of him?"

Toguro stood quietly, frowning down at the slim book Kurama held in his lap. "You're reading it in English," he said, more as a statement than a question.

"It's better that way, isn't it?"

"Why..." He paused momentarily, and then plowed inexorably ahead. "Why do you seem so untouched, boy? I thought—"

"You thought what?" Toguro looked down at him, seeming shocked, though it was difficult to tell beneath the controlled stoicism of his face. "You thought I'd be distraught? I am, but no more than any other day since I came to this wretched place. You thought I'd be destroyed? There's nothing left, Toguro. Nothing left inside me. Everything is being worn away, and it honestly doesn't matter whether you give me a week or a month or forever, it would still wear and wear and wear, stone turned to sand and then washed away by water." His voice began to pick up power, turning from something supremely reasonable into a hysterical tirade. "I can't feel anything anymore. I can't feel anything!" He was shouting now, standing up, his glassy eyes heavy with tears. "Not a damn thing! And you think I'm untouched..."

"Boy—" Toguro placated, moving closer to gentle the kitsune's helpless fury.

"Untouched!" And then the flood works opened, and Kurama collapsed to the balls of his feet, knees bending until he fell back against the wall with a thump and slid down it, sobbing, his shaking hands rising to shield his face. "Inari, nothing could be further from the truth."

Toguro spent a moment looking down at the distressed boy below him, surprised by how much the display affected him, though there was nothing recognizable on his face. "Would you like to run, Kurama?"

"Where?" Kurama asked immediately, cynically. "To whom? Everyone I've ever loved is dead, Toguro! Many by your own hand!"

Toguro sighed, massaging the bridge of his nose, accepting Kurama's anger because he knew it was fully justified. "For you, I think, anywhere is better than here."

"Karasu will chase me."

"He will, but you're clever. I think you can manage it."

The prospect of escape, which had been buried for weeks in the daily problems of survival, came up full force, calming Kurama down, finally. He looked up at Toguro harshly from his position on the floor, no longer crying, though his eyes were red and his cheeks streaked and stained with tears. "You have a way to break the barrier I'm under." It was not a question.

"I helped make the barrier, boy—I could do more than break it. It's a stone, one that repels you slightly and keeps you within a certain distance of it."

"A stone?"

"A boulder, more like. Unwieldy, so you can't steal it. And here," Toguro reached into one of the many pockets of his coat, and pulled out a little green bag, tied up with a string. "...Is a few chips off its bottom. With these on you, you should be able to leave the barrier and go wherever you want. Once you go far enough away, the spell will be canceled—though not the warding. That was so it wouldn't kill you if you escaped, so don't think Karasu didn't plan for this, boy. Stay vigilant."

"Where will I go?"

"That's your business. Sakyo wanted to know if I could move the stone down, so that they could have some sort of—" Toguro paused again, looking down at the wide green eyes that stared up at him searchingly. "He called it a foxhunt. I don't think you want to stay for that."

"On the contrary," Kurama murmured, the cold and cunning that had been suffering with the rest of him finally brought back to the surface as Youko stretched and awoke inside of him. "That is exactly what I need to stay for."


Kurama's lips curved open and up, and Toguro's eyebrows rose significantly, practically into the line of his hair, surprised by the bloodthirsty ferocity of the kitsune's grin. Before he left this mansion for good, Kurama had some plans to lay.

To be continued.

Chapter Text

Outside the house an ash-tree hung its terrible whips,

And at night when the wind arose, the lash of the tree

Shrieked and slashed the wind, as a ship's

Weird rigging in a storm shrieks hideously.

Within the house two voices arose in anger, a slender lash

Whistling delirious rage, and the dreadful sound

Of a thick lash booming and bruising, until it drowned

The other voice in a silence of blood, 'neath the noise of the ash

"Discord in Childhood," by D.H. Lawrence.







"What are you plotting, boy?"

Kurama, indecisive, tapped the hem of his tunic lightly. "You could betray me, Toguro. It would be foolish to reveal my plans to you."

"I could," Toguro agreed, voice rough. He slid his hands into the deep pockets of his coat and cleared his throat. "I don't think I will. Besides, I'm interested to see what form your revenge will take."

Kurama's pale lips, shiny from the tears, curved delicately. "Wait," he said, and levered to his feet with a steadying palm on the wall, ignoring Toguro's offered hand. Toguro adjusted his sunglasses, watching as Kurama stalked out the door like a man possessed, scrubbing at his moist cheeks, leaving Toguro to wonder silently just what he had put into motion.

Toguro snorted, dismissing it, and then thumped back onto his couch, examining the little book he'd just bent down to pick up. Turning the pages curiously, the neat cover tiny in his giant hands, he settled further into the couch and began to read.

Kurama, meanwhile, was driven by his need to find a quiet place to start thinking this escape attempt through. He moved in a daze, staring at the mansion around him and imagining it burned to the ground, the panels and sculptures all petrified wood and ash. It was only by luck that he wasn't indulging a delirious grin when he noticed his captor on the other end of a long hallway, eyes trained on Kurama, cool and sharp as amethysts.

His gaze hit Kurama like a stone hits a preening bird, and Kurama felt his stomach drop away suddenly, leaving him raw and panicky and unable to catch his breath. Still, the new temperance of his will wouldn't let him cower or run, the first instincts to conquer his senses. He was determined to stand his ground, and keep walking.

Karasu's head crooked as he considered the approaching fox.

"Did you enjoy it?"

Kurama stopped, culling all emotion from his face, blanched of the triumphant blush he'd been wearing before now. He cursed Karasu for not letting him pass with his neck straight and his back erect, as he'd wanted to. "Did I enjoy what, Karasu?"

"Fucking him?" Karasu said offhandedly, his eyes glittering above his iron mask. "Being the debauched little slut you are? Was it the muscles, Kurama? I've heard he has a massive cock—maybe it was the sight of it that led you so far astray. I know how much you love a good, hard fuck."

"And how would you know what I like in a good and hard fuck?" Kurama sniffed, emboldened by hope. "You've only given me poor ones, Karasu."

Kurama barely had time to gasp when a hand clutched his hair with familiar brutality and twisted him, his breath trampled out as he was whisked off his feet and slammed into the wall between two rattling paintings. Karasu planted a hand on one side of Kurama's head, forcing against the fox with fierce dominance, molten eyes staring into Kurama's tight face as Karasu used his hand in Kurama's hair to angle it up.

"Mark my words, you little bitch," he hissed, his breath a metallic caress on Kurama's curling lips, "when you're back in my arms, you'll never escape from them again—you'll lose even the ability to want to." Karasu paused, shuddering dementedly as Kurama stifled a whimper of fear. His hand left the wall to run over the trembling body before him, slowly, carefully, his fingers creeping over the flesh like spiders. He looked down at Kurama and choked on his lust, blinking sweat from his dark eyes, and sighed, bunching the cloth of Kurama's top and dragging it up, feeling Kurama quiver. Pressing himself further into his captive, arching his hips so his mounting erection was ground into Kurama's stomach, Karasu's eyes rolled slightly as he lost himself momentarily in hunger.

"No," Karasu snarled, and pulled back, leaving Kurama breathlessly cringing into the wall, a shaking hand crossing his body to steady himself against the smooth texture of the paint. "No, you're whoring yourself to Toguro, and I cannot excite his anger." He was speaking to himself. One finger, idle, patronizing, traced down Kurama's cream-colored throat, the only part of Karasu touching him now. Kurama's shoulder rose in defense; Karasu's features were unreadable.

Kurama fought to keep himself from averting his eyes, all his self-possession crumpling as he pushed further into the wall, trying to subdue his pounding heartbeat. Karasu watched Kurama from beneath heavy, lowered lids, his face cocked impassively to one side, thin lips tightening behind the smooth contours of the mask. "Soon, Kurama," he promised, his tongue darting out seconds later to probe his own lips and taste the iron and salt, and then turned and swept off down the hall, leaving Kurama shaken and cold.

"Rest assured, Karasu," he muttered between gritted teeth, "I'll never be back in your arms again."

Kurama was aware of the preparations that were taking over the manor: seats being moved to the garden; a cage, a great monstrosity of iron and wood, glimpsed as it was unloaded from a helicopter and maneuvered to the front lawn; the jubilant glances of the mansion's occupants as they snickered behind hands when he walked by, not bothering to keep their lust or excitement from their eyes. Through it all, he was clearly expected not to have noticed or suspected what was going on, but he didn't mind the charade. The bastards were so involved in their own orgiastic fantasies that they had no eyes for the quiet arrangements he was making when he could, whispers into ears, suggestions, the laying of seeds that would cultivate and grow, or not, on their own.

At the same time, he was trying to ferret out the right method of dealing with Toguro, who could upset or destroy his plans with the slightest change of heart. Kurama was forced to rely on the man's goodwill, which was constantly irritating—even frightening. It dug beneath his skin, a burr he couldn't pull out, that something as fickle and impervious to reason as Toguro's day-to-day emotions and loyalties was the catalyst by which his plans were made or broken. It was lucky, however, that he wasn't spending the days in Karasu's keeping—if any of his captors had been paying closer attention to him, they would undoubtedly have seen the frantic euphoria that was starting to take him over, like catatonia over a schizophrenic.

Three days after his plans had congealed, Kurama waited anxiously in Toguro's rooms. His eyes focused on the ground, lax with thought—the burgundy carpet gave in to his feet as he paced quietly, stifling all the sounds he should have been making, even down to his heartbeat, as he practiced stepping without a footstep, tracing the lines of the room with his soft grey slippers.

The tailor's clothes were so comfortable and well made that they were nearly devoid of the swishing usually associated with loose cloth, and Kurama was grateful for that. He was wearing another of the set of tunics he'd ordered, this one black with royal blue highlights, as he'd asked. When he'd ordered it, he hadn't been thinking of using it and its matching satin pants to help him move about at night—he'd known that lights never turned off in the mansion, and black would make him stand out all the more. For what he wanted to do tonight, however, black, with its outline interrupted by blue, was the perfect choice, and he commended his good luck in ordering it.

His head tilted to look at the digital clock sitting on the nightstand, familiar enough with Toguro's abrupt schedule to measure the time he'd need against the time he'd have with relative accuracy. He didn't want to trust Toguro with any more knowledge than he had to, and so hoped to be back from this errand long before Toguro returned. Kurama paused from his pacing and put a finger to his bottom lip, plucking it, waiting for the garish numerals of the clock to turn.

With a soft click that resonated in the quiet room, numbers changed, now reading 3:30 A.M., a time when most of the mansion was asleep or busy with some late-night amusements Sakyo had put together. Kurama stepped over to the bed and crouched beside it, reaching down beneath its mattress, jerking blankets out of the way. He knew what would happen if the wrong person caught him outside, and so he was determined to take every precaution he could. With that in mind, he'd stashed a ball of string and a dark cloth to disguise his fiery red hair under Toguro's mattress.

Because of his demonic nature, Toguro rarely needed sleep, and Kurama knew he was using that as a reason to lend Kurama his bed every night. It was another kindness that Kurama couldn't fathom and refused to rely on, sleeping mostly on the floor or in another room, guarded against entry. Hopefully if he did come back Toguro would think that was where he was, and wouldn't guess the truth. Kurama supposed he'd probably guess it anyway, but that was a separate issue, one he wouldn't address tonight.

Kurama opened the vent he'd unscrewed with ease days ago and pulled out the little bag of ashes he'd stolen from a fireplace in the kitchen, a special brick oven used to cook foods flavorfully. He walked out to press his ear to the door of Toguro's room, focusing on stirrings outside the wooden rim of his world. When he was sure there was nothing, and no one was coming, he opened the door with a click, feeling the slight burn of the wards as they checked his identity and let him pass.

With all the knowledge of a former thief, he padded down hallways, ears cocked for opening doors or approaching footsteps, making his way down a pre-mapped, pre-meditated route. Several times he ducked into an empty room or hallway's bend to escape a passing throng of demons or a self-important, greedy-eyed human, walking with intent to its destination. When Kurama slipped down a bend near the torture chambers, the distant reverberation of a scream sent shivers up his spine—but he was determined, and he would not be shaken. He walked with resolution and care, making his way by statues and through side ways, controlling his fear with a tight fist as he occasionally brushed the two little bags in his pocket, fingers soft, glad for the loops he'd wired into the security cameras along this route, which had taken the longest of all his planning.

Kurama slipped into a bathroom right outside his destination, and looped the string he'd stashed under the bed around his hair, pulling the untamable mass of spikes and forelocks into a tight bun and twisting it, the edge of the tie in his mouth. When his hair was secured and knotted back, he covered it with the black cloth, wrapping it all around his head and then fastening it into place, checking it all in the mirror. He examined himself, turning off the lights of the bathroom to judge the effect.

He knew he looked ridiculous in the harsh industrial lighting of the halls, but he didn't mind. He'd found this passageway weeks ago, at the start of his captivity, and followed it as far as the barrier would let him. It was a panel of the wall like any other, built of foreign wood that his bandit's eyes had immediately picked out as hinged. He'd pressed it then as he pressed it now, shutting it behind him after stepping quietly from light to darkness. He closed his lids for a moment, allowing himself time for his ningen eyes to adjust, and then opened them again, taking in the dim surroundings with the dilated pupils of a fox at dusk.

Strips of chemical light and cracks between the planking where rays came through, dancing on the floating, idle dust, led forward down this narrow escape route, easing Kurama's passage as he walked. Wood dust and bent nails itched at the soles of his feet through the slippers, but he made his way towards the rough set of stairs regardless. He guessed, correctly, that the worker who had made this warren had been killed once he was done, so the pathway (which seemed to have several other entrances, some of which even Kurama was not sure he knew the opening to) wouldn't be found. Kurama didn't spare a thought to it after the first one.

He followed the stairs suspiciously, using the light to show him where the nails were that stuck out from the wall and floor all around him. He wheezed slightly at the cloying dust and decomposing spider's webs, suppressing a cough, knowing that he was passing rooms and halls and that the wrong sound could be noted, remembered, and reported to the wrong ears.

At times he found the whole thing amusing. This was the truth of Sakyo's mansion, the sordid insides hidden behind the opulent exterior. It was like Karasu, like Sakyo himself: a beautiful façade that hid something dark and rotting, fetid. As he followed the narrow crevices and stairs leading straight and down, straight and out until he was much farther than he'd gone the first time, he couldn't quite contain his joy.

At times he almost laughed, knowing that he was below the mansion itself, the wood turning to earth, carefully stilted to prevent collapse. One earthquake, Kurama knew, and these walls would fall like an anthill in rain, flooding with soil that he would suffocate in. Those were the kind of morbid imaginings he indulged in as he made his way toward the very thing that had made him choose this passage in the first place: air.

He had felt it all the way up there, even through the dust and cobwebs—there was a susurration around him that had told him where this passageway headed. He'd investigated it as much as he could in the last few days, and finally decided it led where he wanted it to, and was worth a try, at least. Preoccupied with his thoughts, but always on alert, he crept along, feeling as the floor of the tunnel slowly tilted up. He paused, smearing every exposed inch of his glowing ivory skin with the ashes to dull his profile, and then walked on.

The dirt gave way to concrete when he reached the final distance, and then a latched door loomed out of the darkness in front of him. He disabled the alarms with skill, forced the lock, and then he was out.

It was strange—a few days ago, just the smell of the outside had overwhelmed him, but now, as he stood on the formless shapes of dewy grass that soaked through his shoes, he felt nothing. He did take a deep, fortifying breath of the warm spring night as he began to pick his way behind hillocks and over the well-groomed lawn, knowing this was the most dangerous part of his plan and determined to do it quickly and mindlessly.

His heart didn't leave his throat until he was safe under cover of the trees, suddenly feeling alive again, for the first time in eons. He tilted his head to see the sliver of smog-haloed moon through the gnarled, muscular boughs of the trees, and wiped away the tears that clouded his eyes, dripping from his lashes and becoming murky as they streaked through the cinders smudging his face. He looked back at the artificial lights of the mansion, whose prodigious size he had never considered before this moment. Windows, windows, he thought with a scowl, and any one could hold a face that would betray me.

He was breathing deeply now, feeling, even through the wards, the hum of the plants around him singing in his blood. He slipped through copses of berried shrubs and low-hanging trees, scratched and caressed by the vegetation that entwined in the loamy undergrowth of the forest, and was afraid this was all a beautiful dream. They responded welcomingly to the flickers of his power that escaped their entrapment, shaking leaves at him, animated partially by the radiating power of Toguro and his minions.

He reached a likely-looking place, a dense little thicket of brush that he seated himself under, settling in, amazed that he hadn't tripped any of the traps and alarms crisscrossing this wood. He pulled out a kitchen knife from a makeshift sheath he'd been keeping concealed on himself at all times, a soft smile on his face as it winked mischievously in the light of the moon.

He lay it vertically on his arm, and sliced, cutting open the vein carefully, feeling the pain and the blood spill with something masquerading as numbness, and began to pray—not to Inari, for once, or one of his more familiar Gods, but to Enma. His lips mumbled as he called on Enma's grace, twitching a little as he threw in the name of Koenma. He prayed for so long that he began to start going through back-up plans in his head, worried that he'd miscalculated the effects of this.

In the end there was no need. Just as he began to feel dizzy, lips stilling as he looked around for something to use to stem the flow of hot blood, a thump sounded across the bushes at a clearing, just a flowered little break in the trees, and seconds later a force tackled him, slamming him onto his back with a soft something between his legs and long arms wrapping around his neck, hot breath on his face. He flinched.

"Kurama!" she yelped, wrenching with sobs, and he smiled, looking up into lavender eyes that were creased and leaking with tears.

"Hello, Botan," he said, something gentlemanly and cold in his demeanor that made her sob harder, her oar abandoned near the break in the trees she'd just barreled through as she clung harder to his thin form, all pretenses of control forgotten. He looked up at the sky, smiling strangely, and patted her back. "Before we have our reunion," he said, a ray of his old self shining through, "I don't suppose I could trouble you with closing up my wound?"

"Yes, yes, of course," she sniffled, pushed off balance by the strange way Kurama was speaking to her. She straightened, realizing she'd gotten blood and ashes on her nice new kimono, and then blushed, aware that she was straddling a thinly clothed Kurama.

Botan looked closer at her friend, and her sobs bubbled up again, defiant against her attempts to stop them. Quickly but gently, she turned over the arm in question, her hand bathed in light as she poured all her efforts into re-knitting the cartilage and replenishing blood, tears dripping onto the skin even as it reformed.

"That's better," Kurama sighed once it was over, flexing his fingers, his forearm still stained with vermillion streaks of blood.

"No it's not," Botan whispered, and then collapsed against Kurama's stomach, weeping. "Kurama..."

He hesitated, fingers tightening, and then patted her awkwardly, his big green eyes looking somewhere far away from her. "Calm down. I don't mean to be cruel, but I have very little time to work with, and I need to move."

She rubbed her eyes, nodding, confused by the cool manner he was using with her. "Anything! What do you need?"

"The Reikai has an extensive library. There are two things I require from it. If you have previous knowledge of one of the things, then I need you to brief me on it—but this, all of this, I need it quickly." "Come with me, Kurama," she whispered, trying to wrap her mind around his urgency. "You'll be safe in Reikai. We'll protect you. You won't—" she nearly broke into sobs again, but held it in. "You won't have to be h-hurt any more."

"It's easier to destroy something from the inside than the out." Kurama said longingly, something in his voice that Botan couldn't place as she blinked up at Kurama with her big, gentle eyes. "If Sakyo's plans are allowed to gestate, it's not only the Ningenkai that will be breached. Nowhere will be safe—except maybe the Makai." He almost smiled. "Believe me, though," and suddenly the calm, professional sound of his voice was faltering, "I wish I could. How—" he paused gently, summoning courage, unable to look Botan in the face. "How is my mother?"

Botan looked at him, at the torment that curled his features, and smiled, moving to get off him and help him up. "She's doing fine. She forgives you, Kurama. I don't think she ever blamed you in the first place. Her soul is resting in heaven, and pretty soon she'll go through the cycle of rebirth like everyone else."

"But she was—" Kurama couldn't continue, his hand curling into a fist, ripping at the clumps of dirt and the roots of the thicket below him.

"She was unharmed," Botan said kindly, "except for her death. Nobody touched her, Kurama, so don't worry about that."

He breathed out and put his palms together, suddenly looking lost, and young, as he curled up with his hands to his forehead, muttering, "Thank Inari." On an impulse, he kissed the balled fists, muttering again, "Thank Inari."

The bitterness of knowing that his mother would never be his mother again was something that he would give in to later—for now, after the brief moment of elation, he had forgotten his objectives. Botan saw that, and asked, "What do you need from the library, Kurama? And how will I get it to you?"

Kurama sighed, recalled to himself. "I need to know how to cancel the ward he put on me," he said, trying to hide the conflict from his face. "I think I've neutralized the barrier, but the ward—"

"Oh, is that all?" she said brightly. "I can do that!"

He looked up sharply. "You know how to neutralize wards?"

Botan beamed, thrilled to be able to help. "Come with me! We'll go to Spirit World and get the other book you need. Besides—" she stopped. "How much time do you have?"

"Theoretically I have about a half an hour, starting now."

"That's plenty of time! Hurry up, let's go!"

Kurama looked at her, every cell in his body magnetically drawn to the relief she offered. Still, he knew that one viewing of what he had lost would deprive him of all will, probably forever. It was hard enough seeing Botan.

"I'm sorry, Botan. I can't risk it. And don't come back here after today—I'm putting you in danger, but I saw no other way to get this to Koenma. Here," he pulled out a piece of paper, folded up. Every inch of the paper had been scribbled over in neat kana with a series of instructions. "Give it to him. He'll know what to do."

Kurama glanced in the direction he had just come from, and then turned to peer into his friend's smooth, pretty face, wet from tears, and colored with a blush that he admired. Her health and happiness was almost a taunt. Kurama hoped no one was paying attention to the security cameras, and that he had kept reasonably within the reach of the ones he had looped. "Now, you said you could remove this ward for me—?"

The door cleaved in half with a crunch, jolting off its hinges with the force of the blow and hanging limply from the doorway, the flayed splinters jutting dangerously through the glossy white paint. Karasu crumpled, gathering himself to roll and launch at Toguro, his handsome face twisted into a snarl. Quicker than thought, a massive hand clamped over his wrist, and he was dragged off the ground sharply, leaving him arched and hissing in the stifling quiet of the room.

Karasu's ruthless blow to the man's chest, a brutal but feeble attempt to rip out his heart, couldn't even penetrate his coat—Toguro barely felt it. Karasu tried to form his bombs, his glass eyes wide and livid, but Toguro, still holding him up by his wrist, shook him like a rag doll, forbidding him from attacking.

"Toguro!" Karasu hissed, spitting rage as his milky limbs angled and jerked, twisting viciously to be free, trying to bend so he could hurtle his acid-drenched nails into Toguro's neck, where the skin was thinner and arteries beat just below the surface. All of Karasu's pallor drained quickly as the seams of his midnight coat started to rip from the strain of Toguro's hand, the bones of his wrist grinding against each other painfully.

"You forget your place," Toguro growled, his glasses flashing, his eyes enraged behind them. Murmurs surrounded him, egging on his annoyance. "Learn to hold your tongue. Raping a helpless captive does not a man make—that I can promise you. And if you still think me unmanned—" suddenly he smiled, lips quirking into a bloodthirsty grin that sent shivers down Karasu's spine. A giant hand shot forward, and Karasu's lips widened beneath his mask. "Perhaps I'll persuade you."

"Sir!" the ogre mewled, still blubbering, his big blue face shiny with tears.

"All of you, be quiet!" Koenma announced, making a censoring motion with his hands. "Kurama gave us some instructions."

"What are they?" Hiei asked sharply.

Koenma harrumphed loudly, leaning back in his chair. "He says this, first of all: don't let Yuusuke and the rest become involved. They're in soul forms right now, and the slightest attack of one of my captors would erase them not only from the ningenkai, but from all three worlds, forever."

"Real men don't abandon a friend in need!"

"Koenma, sir..." "Shut up ogre," Koenma interjected, exasperated. "Guys, just calm down! Kurama's got a plan."

"Kurama's gonna beat their asses," Kuwabara crowed, "I just know it!"

"We'll start analyzing the letter and making sure every bit of it is followed to a T. And Yuusuke—" The teenage former-detective, leaning against a corner of Koenma's office, crooked his face up. "Try to look a little happier, alright?"

Yuusuke glowered at the floor, his milk-chocolate eyes almost closed. Suddenly they opened wide. "Botan," he said sharply. She jumped.


"I'll ask the question no one else will. How was he?"

The jovial mood split in half, and suddenly every member of the former-Tantei was staring at Botan, who shifted nervously. She mouthed, trying to force words through, and then finally said, "He was wounded—a lot. When I broke the warding he let me heal some of them, the internal ones. He said the external ones had to stay, or it would look wrong. It was—" she began, and then stopped, her eyes drifting away from her friends' faces with a secret pain. "It's just, there were a lot. I couldn't even heal them all. I'm—I'm surprised he was walking, let alone..." and she stopped again, her round lavender eyes filling with tears. Yuusuke's chin was tight, the muscles standing out as he clenched his teeth. "And emotionally?"

A gentle sob escaped, and the Tantei stared at her dumbly. "...He was trying to hide it from me, so I don't think I really..." she trailed off, staring at one of the ornate pillars that climbed up the wall of the neat little office, not looking anyone in the eye.

"Does he blame me?" Yuusuke muttered, asking the only question that really mattered, his voice hushed. "Did you—did you talk about me?"

She started, and looked at him, mouth open. Then she smiled wetly, a sun coming out on a rainy day, and said, "Not even a little, Yuusuke. Not even a little."

The huge hand cupped behind Karasu's head, and then he was being slammed through wood panels and into plaster, his scrabbling hands and legs writhing against the cedar planks.

"Is this what you think makes a man, Karasu? Eh? Control?"

Karasu growled unintelligibly, his face horrific under the mask that was being ground into his cheek, grunts and hisses forced through his nose from the hand's pressure. He struggled jerkily, bucking away from the man's massive hand. Then he froze, eyes wide as Toguro forced up against him, the buttons of his big, rough coat digging into Karasu's narrow back. Karasu's fingers arched against the wood. He tried to form another bomb, but Toguro shook him sharply.

"Do you understand? Are you capable of understanding? If I wanted your pathetic ass, I could have it. Count yourself lucky I don't." Then Toguro stepped back and dropped him unceremoniously, the touch of Karasu's flesh somehow oppressive. Murmurs echoed around him as the crow fell into a crouch, his eyes round and wide, little veins full to bursting as his irises flooded with crimson, staring at Toguro, his breath coming in ragged huffs. One of his hands worked, opening and closing menacingly as he built explosions from the ground up. Toguro couldn't even muster enough curiosity to keep watching him—he turned, and walked towards the stunned crowd.

"He's about to blow," Toguro said conversationally. "I would get everyone out, Sakyo."

Sakyo never had the chance. Toguro watched, black eyes smoldering behind his glasses, as everything was encased suddenly in heat and air, followed moments later by the hellish boom. Karasu's husky roars laced the chaos of the explosions, and for minutes the chains of fire and screams of a burning servant stifled all other noise, lending to the white hot confusion. Toguro kept his eyes in front of him, flexing his power, his angular face blank.

The explosions tapered off slowly, the clouds of smoke thinning to wisps. People gasped and choked around Toguro, noxious, sulfurous nebulae stroking eyelids and noses and seeping through open mouths to infiltrate jerking throats. Amazed murmurs began to ring from every side of the room, fat businessmen and grimy youkai alike feeling body parts to make sure they were still there.

In the center of the room, where all eyes were drawn, Karasu knelt, staring wide-eyed at the wall inches from his face. It was untouched. There was a narrow ring around him in which existed ash and ruins, and the servant's caved-in corpse, but everything else was untouched—pristine. Karasu stared.

"I couldn't let you destroy this mansion, could I?" Toguro said with bitter humor. "Now calm down and clean yourself up." He walked towards the second entrance to this room, looking so untouchable that Karasu could find no recourse but to soundlessly beat the floor, humiliated, emasculated—the floor that had received the brunt of his massive explosion. When it gave out, he didn't even have the grace to land on his feet.

A single youkai chuckled, overcome by the humor of the situation, and in seconds he was ripped apart, his intestines spattering his neighbors with gobs of blood and fecal matter. The door to the room below the antechamber they were gathered in was ripped of its hinges.

Kurama, coming out of the passageway, heard that inarticulate scream of fury and hate and felt a shiver creep up his spine. He glanced around him as he closed the wall panel, heading straight to the empty room he had already scoped out; or rather, to its adjoining bathroom. He fixed his hair, removing all the plant matter and dirt that clung to his clothing with a little flex of his power, and washed off the ashes quickly. The string and black covering for his head were stuffed into a hidden compartment under the sink, to be retrieved at a later date.

Karasu caught him as he was walking out.

After it was over, Kurama couldn't remember everything that had happened in the rushed few minutes between being captured and being rescued by Toguro, who levered Karasu off of him, and saved his life. A few things stuck in his mind—the suddenness, the pain, the fear, the animal nature of the man above him—but it wasn't until after the initial attack that he became aware of what was truly happening.

The nails of one of Karasu's hands were extended, and buried to the fingertips in his hip, slicing muscle and rending bones with awful imprecision. His other hand was buried to the wrist inside Kurama, rammed in, explosions Karasu either didn't or couldn't control tearing into the lining of his intestines.

The room spun about Kurama's head, Karasu's voice a jealous hiss in his ear, promising him things Kurama couldn't understand, the few that registered making him whimper and thrash in bestial fear. When Toguro came stalking down the hall, Kurama was sobbing and pleading wildly, completely undone, all pride overcome by the shock and brutality of the attack. He felt himself rip as Karasu was forced away from him, and cringed as the man, completely beside himself, was dragged down the hall. He heard breaking glass, and Toguro yelling at Karasu to come back when he'd calmed down.

The next thing he knew, he was lying on his side in Toguro's bed, shaking, sweating, and feverish.

The next few days he was in and out, the old wounds from his last session with Karasu clamoring for relief amidst the new wounds from Karasu's loss of temper. He would wake, eat something, drink something, and then he was unconscious again. This time, Toguro damned his image and had a healer come in and tend to Kurama. It seemed important to him that Kurama stay alive, that his loss of his own temper not result in Kurama dying in agony, as this death undoubtedly was. Kurama screamed in his sleep.

Days passed.

Toguro jerked the heated face toward him, his fingers digging into Kurama's chin. "Drink this," he muttered.

Kurama rolled half-opened eyes, all whites, and widened his mouth, suckling ravenously at the sweet water Toguro held to his lips—not out of a tap, like last time, but ice water in a glass cup. He leaned up to guzzle more, his parched tongue arching out from chapped lips, but Toguro would only let him take little swallows.

"Be more careful, boy." Kurama blinked open red-rimmed eyes and stared at him, gulping to aid his dry throat. "My men are well-trained. Did you honestly think they wouldn't notice that the security cameras were looped?"

A blush crept up Kurama's neck. A miscalculation—and it could mean everything, could cost him what little he had left. "What . . . happened?" he gasped.

Toguro looked away, rubbing at the five o'clock shadow on his square jaw. "Karasu caught you. Reopened your wounds, caused a serious infection. You almost died," he said, and it sounded like a rebuke.

Kurama coughed dryly, his head falling to the side. Toguro tilted it back up and gave him another mouthful of water. "Why was—why was he so enraged?" Kurama huffed, and then curled up under the sweat-stained blankets, his lungs spasming with chokes. He looked over finally, finding Toguro sitting impassibly, watching him.

"Am I a fool?" Toguro wondered aloud. His thick fingers drifted out and rested on a soft, damp cheek. "I'm sabotaging Sakyo, throwing my own men to the dogs, sacrificing, no doubt, my chance for a good clean death with a worthy enemy, and you," he murmured, his fingers tightening, "can't even keep it in your damn head that my men have been trained to notice things like camera loops, or a silly little fox skulking around in a headband."

Kurama said nothing. Somehow, there was nothing he could say.

"What were you doing in the forest?" Toguro rumbled.

Kurama looked him straight in the eyes. "None of your business."

Toguro tightened his fingers. "Then I'm done playing nurse to you, kitsune. You go back to Karasu."

Kurama closed his eyes, shivering helplessly. "You would kill me? You would give me back to that monster because I wasn't careful enough in my plotting? For Inari's sake, Toguro—"

"The foxhunt is in a few days," the man interrupted. "Sakyo has decreed that you won't leave this room until then. I hope your trip into the forest was worth it." Kurama fixed him with his worst, most pointed glare, crimson brows knotting together and eyes spitting fire.

A big hand covered his face, and he closed his lids against gruff calluses. "Don't blame me for your stupidity, fox. Don't."

Toguro, seeing the enraged twist of Kurama's lips, bared his block teeth in a snarl. His hand left Kurama's eyes, which opened and glared, and balled into a fist. He slammed it down next to Kurama's head, manipulating the force he needed automatically. Kurama's eyes widened as the bed spasmed violently, listening to the cloth rip and the springs let out cut screeches as they bent. His face relaxed with fear.

"What were you doing?" Toguro asked, voice a growl.

"I was—" Kurama started, his eyes darting away, still unsure whether he should be telling the truth. Toguro tightened his massive jaw and raised his hand to cuff Kurama, holding it threateningly in the air. Kurama raised his shoulder and put up his hand. "Wait!"

Suddenly decided, he looked around desperately and lunged at the side table, whimpering as his wounds were jostled, the wood rattling as he leaned on it, knuckles white. He grabbed a waterlogged leaf of spinach from a tray of food not yet cleared, and clutched it in his palm, sending bolts of spirit energy into its dormant chloroplasts.

Toguro watched, already calmed, as it blossomed in his hand, green tendrils bursting through the gaps between his fingers and entwining with his wrist. Kurama's thin shoulders relaxed minutely as he stared at the growing plant, which wrapped around his knuckles and began to sprout, covering his palm in hanging, crisscrossing green.

"I see," Toguro grunted. "You had the ward removed." He extended a big thumb, and stroked the leaves lightly, making the delicate creation dip and nod, turning a weird, pus-colored green. "That's all I wanted to know, boy. If you're awake," he added, blurring Kurama's suspicious preoccupation with his raised palm, "I'll order you something fresh to eat. Don't leave, or you'll regret it."

Kurama glowered, watching the man get off the bed and walk towards the door, floorboards groaning, and then turned and shivered the second the door was closed, staring in horror at the dent in Toguro's mattress where his fist had slammed down. His fingers traced the wide depression, and he swallowed, looking back towards the door. He must stop himself from angering Toguro—that much was clear.

Kurama found himself pacing again, and stopped, staring at the smooth, unornamented paint on the wall, tapping his toes. The strange boredom was back, that stir-crazy feeling that made his skin itch and his fingers long to be sunk to the wrist in any of his captors' intestines. As Youko opened up a bit more from his protective place in Kurama's mind, his urges and hatreds welled up, making Kurama's daydreams turn violent—more violent than they already were, at least. In some ways, he reveled in it, the blood-thirst that coated his tongue, goaded by the semi-friendly voice in his mind, but the added restlessness he could do without.

He turned sharply as the door opened, every muscle on alert, and didn't relax when Toguro walked through, ducking his bulky head automatically, pausing in the doorway with his giant hand hooked over the doorframe. They had a brief moment of discomfort, watching each other, and then Toguro snorted. "The hunt will be tomorrow. Start preparing yourself now."

"Am I to wear some kind of ceremonial garment or something?" Kurama sneered.

Toguro looked at him. "I meant emotionally, boy. Stay strong. This won't kill you."

Kurama's jaw clenched. Suddenly, the ceaseless curiosity that was eating him up inside, another side effect of Youko's interference, boiled over. "How did you end up working for Sakyo?"

Toguro snorted and cocked an eyebrow, entering the room and shutting the door. "That was many years ago."

"I'll settle for an overview," Kurama said coyly, stepping back and seating himself on the bed, fixing Toguro with cunning eyes.

Toguro watched him, head tilted heavily. After that he sighed, his face growing lax with memories. "It was a long time ago." His piercing eyes fixed on Kurama, sending a shiver up the boy's spine. "Sakyo was an up-and-comer known for ruthlessness and charm. The demon trade was young; I'd been pretending to be human and working as a top-level bodyguard before that point, but I'd made a name for myself. Sakyo was attracted to the name."

"Were you loyal to him?"

"Maybe at one point. It's a matter of pulling my punches."

Trepidation forgotten, Kurama gripped the edge of the bed and leaned forward, eager to hear more. "I don't follow."

"What's your objective?" Toguro growled, ignoring Kurama's statement in order to inspect his clever face, which flinched at the sudden accusation.

Kurama's chin dimpled, trying to quell Toguro's suspicion. "Curiosity, nothing more."

Toguro paused, a great thumb pressing against his lips. "As I said, the foxhunt's tomorrow. Be prepared."

He was out the door before Kurama could retort, making the fox's eyes narrow. That was undoubtedly useful information, doubly so because Kurama appeared to have struck a nerve. He mused, wondering exactly what nerve he'd struck.

That night, Kurama dreamt a memory. His dim gasps of pain awakened Toguro, who was in the midst of a rare night of being worn enough to sleep, relegating Kurama to his favorite position with blankets on the floor. Toguro opened his eyes with a quiet grunt, listening to Kurama's hushed, frantic whimpers.

The boy was curled up under his blankets, shaking hard, his hair falling over his eyes. One of his forelocks was being ground manically in the edge of his mouth, his teeth almost gnashing. Toguro understood that Kurama was having an Incubus Attack, a dream outside of REM sleep, and sat back calmly, debating whether to wake him up.

"No," Kurama sniffled abruptly, sounding achingly young. Delicate fingers clutched the blankets so hard that small rips were growing in the fabric, his hands trembling violently. He moaned again, a long, drawn out animal noise of pain, high-pitched and whining.

"I'll never, Karasu—"

Toguro watched Kurama, no longer quite as calm. The boy's voice resonated from his memories with the same words, and he sighed, realizing what Kurama was recalling. The Toguro Team's suite, the day after they'd won the tournament, had echoed with that voice for hours, as Karasu forced himself on his prey for the first time, Kurama snarling, hissing—and groaning—and then, finally, sobbing, broken over the rack of agony.

Toguro hadn't been able to get any sleep that night as he listened to the rabid thumps and keening whines, always serenaded by soft, sadistic chuckles and low whispers as Karasu raped Kurama, again and again. Toguro remembered the next day with a spark of guilt he'd sublimated at the time. Karasu had forced Kurama to walk out and down to the foyer, naked and soiled, for a force-fed breakfast kneeling at his feet. Toguro closed his eyes and saw the raging shame and horror in the boy's eyes, the bruise standing out boldly against his cheek, the slickness between his legs. He saw his eyes twist with hate every time he noticed someone's gaze on his vulnerable body.

Then it had been gauche. Now it was sickening.

"Please," Kurama wept, huddled against his arms, unconsciously trying and failing to soothe himself. Decision made, Toguro eased out from under the covers, and walked over to the boy, his burly body clad only in boxers and a shirt. He touched him, and Kurama, suddenly roused, flailed and let out an awful screech. He threw himself backwards and screamed for seconds, green eyes wild, face drawn with fright and lips shivering. He looked like a ghoul in the darkness, nothing alive, a creature that Toguro stood over and considered until finally the howls choked, and abruptly ended. Kurama curled over his knees, gasping for breath, a shaking palm rising to his face.

"Feeling better?" Toguro asked, and Kurama could have sworn there was real pity in his voice.

Kurama, kicking his legs to untangle them from the futon's sheets, ignored him, shame on his face. Toguro paused, and then went back to his own bed. The remainder of the night passed in silence.

The next morning, Kurama awoke to a bleary haze, his human body demanding further rest. Massaging the sleep from his eyes with his knuckles, he looked over cautiously and found Toguro's bed empty. Nudging back the covers of the futon, his legs scraping over the cold carpet and his fingers combing back his gnarled mat of hair, he listened to the strange sounds echoing through the room for a moment, and then got to his feet with a breath and tracked them, creeping towards the bathroom door.

Toguro was humming an old folk song to himself, the vibrations of his voice so deep they sent shivers down Kurama's spine. The door was open and the lights were on, Toguro leaning carefully over the sink. It was such an astonishingly banal thing to do that Kurama couldn't believe at first what he was seeing. He'd lived with Toguro for days now, it didn't seem possible that he'd never once seen Toguro shave. It was strangely fascinating.

"Is something interesting you, kitsune?"

Kurama blinked, unnerved, and then asked out of curiosity, "Why do you use a straight razor?"

Toguro squinted, baring his stocky neck and stroking the last of the shaving cream from the square undercut of his jaw with the long, delicate blade. He tapped it against the sink sharply when he was done. "I'm more used to them."

"A habit picked up from your father?" Kurama asked, watching the faucet turn on and the last of the lather wash away with interest. Toguro snatched a towel from a golden rack next to the sink, and used it to pat his dripping cheeks, half turning to glance at Kurama out of the corner of his eyes.

"My father has nothing to do with it." Kurama's lips pressed together at the finality of his tone. "I'll be out in a bit. Go clean yourself in the bathing room."

"I'll be filthy soon enough," Kurama pronounced bitterly.

"Maybe, but I've always found a good bath fortifies me when I've got to do something I have no desire to."

"Is that why you tasted of soap when you raped me?"

Toguro turned, and there was a long, awkward pause as he stroked the last of the moisture from his cheeks with the towel and then snapped it down to the sink with a crack, his black eyes never leaving Kurama's face. Kurama felt himself quail at the grim set of his jaw, and the anger radiating from his broad face. Toguro turned and stalked towards him, and Kurama stumbled back, cringing in instinctual fear at the expression he wore.

Toguro brushed by him, his rough skin rubbing against Kurama's soft flesh and making the fox take in a long, shaky breath, overwhelmed by memories. Without saying another word, Toguro began to dress. Kurama, staring fearfully after him, got an eyeful of his muscled body and immediately turned away, back rigid, his frightened, skittish mind focusing on the fact that Toguro could have him overpowered in a second, have him down, his clothes ripped—that he could spread his legs like he did that night without any trouble, no matter how Kurama tried to keep them closed. Kurama's knees felt like jelly.

Toguro finished changing, his back to Kurama, who had his back to him, and then put on his sunglasses with a sigh. "I'll come and get you in a bit," he murmured, and then walked out of the room. Kurama, his head bowed, didn't look after him.

Once he'd left, Kurama took a deep, fortifying breath, and relaxed his fisting hands. He craned his neck and bit his sultry lips, lashes lowered. Turning sharply to the side, he walked over to the box the tailor had brought his new clothes in, a neatly jointed cube of solid, lacquered oak, unornamented besides the lacquer. Kurama had been keeping it tucked in a corner of Toguro's wide room with his futon, which he paused now to roll up and push to the side. That task completed, he knelt on the carpet and opened the box, which he had been using as an impromptu wardrobe, and rummaged through it.

Finally settling on a pair of white pants and a teal tunic with an intricate design of cream and darker blues, suggesting waves without actually depicting them, he gathered himself and walked into the bathing room. As always, it was huge, like everything else in this damned mansion, with a sable tub inlaid in marble, light glinting off the spigots and the showers. The design reminded Kurama forcefully of the one in Karasu's chambers, and he dumped his clothing on a simple wood bench, his mind full of Karasu's bamboo.

Kurama stripped himself carefully of the light shirt and pants he'd been sleeping in, and automatically began to fold them, a force of habit, before placing them next to his fresh clothing, much more gently this time. Reaching for the top-grade shampoo and the generic bar of soap, he turned on one of the showerheads and began cleaning himself, feeling numb. He scrubbed and scrubbed until his skin felt raw, lathered his hair and scrubbed again, before washing out the lather. It was all so simple and plebeian, despite his lavish surroundings, that it comforted him a bit, cooled his nerves. He remembered the shower and bath in his ningen house, and almost cried, but didn't, taking a few slow, deep breaths.

He was going to be raped today. He was going to be chased, overpowered, and then fucked—he was sure of that. It could be endured, however, if only for the gestation of his plans for retribution. He couldn't check on any of the seeds he'd planted, which had lent to his maddening anxieties these last few days, but in some ways, that could prove to work for him instead of against him. If he wasn't watching them, it was that much more likely that they would be assumed to be natural—that his involvement would remain unknown.

Not for the first time, as the gentle thrum of the water washed away the remnants of last night's fear along with the soapsuds that slipped from his skin, he prayed, to Inari, to the great kitsune of old, to Koenma, hoping the brat would hear him. He would need a little divine intervention to make it through the foxhunt so he could put his real plans into action.

Forgoing the bath, Kurama toweled himself dry and picked up his new clothes, carrying them quickly into the other bathroom, where he'd left a brush he'd pilfered from the transsexual Miyuki's room before he was placed under house arrest. Stroking the bristles through the gnarls of his hair, still naked, he was blissfully unaware of his surroundings until he heard the side door open. He froze. As slow footsteps approached the bathroom's door, Kurama shuddered, quickly putting down the brush and reaching stubbornly for his clothes.

"No no, kitsune," Sakyo murmured, his voice tight with amusement, "leave them off."

In a few steps, Sakyo was across the tiled floor and placing his hands on Kurama's bare, delicate waist. Seconds later, one of the man's hands slid up and over the slim muscles of his chest, feeling them jump, to the velvety nub of a nipple. He caressed it in little circles, watching Kurama's face tighten and his body react through the mirror. Kurama didn't miss the way his hand had paused on one of his scars, stroking the puckered, healing tissue on its journey up.

"Get your hands off me," Kurama hissed.

Sakyo smiled, his handsome face gleaming with cruelty. "I'm just appraising. I expect a good show today—I gave you enough time to heal, so much that you apparently had time to plot as well. Don't disappoint me."

Kurama's chin tightened, trying not to show his fear that Sakyo knew just how deep his plots ran. "I assume Karasu will be there."

"He hasn't returned yet from Toguro's exiling. Let's hope he's not out in the forest, waiting for you, hm?"

Kurama began to shake slightly with rage at the mocking tone of his voice. "If you're done appraising," he gritted out, "I am more than healed enough to put on a—a good show. Your business is concluded. Leave."

Sakyo laughed outright, the hand still on Kurama's hip straying to curl around his flaccid cock, massaging it crudely. "How could I leave so quickly, kitsune? Put your clothes on. Toguro is outside waiting to escort you to the game." He released Kurama then and stepped back, watching as Kurama, humiliated, stayed still for a moment. Then, breath hissing, he pulled on his clothes an article at a time, doing so quickly, desperate for covering. Once dressed, he turned to glower at Sakyo, eyes bright with wounded pride.

"Come." Sakyo's command was light as he turned and left the room, though he still smirked darkly. Kurama followed, not knowing what else to do. True to Sakyo's word, Toguro stood outside the door, hands deep in his pockets and face impassive. A huge hand pulled out and encompassed Kurama's shoulder, guiding him forward as they walked down the hall towards an elevator. Kurama's eyes narrowed furiously as he tried to keep up with Toguro's long stride.

This could be endured, if only for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow—his escape, his revenge, and his ability to take his own life back from the bastards that had stolen it. His will would be tested today, but he had no doubt he would come through safely. There was too little they could do they hadn't already done, and his desire was too strong, too strong by far for these cretins. It was just a waiting game now.

Chapter Text

The Crow and the Fox

By Jean de la Fontaine

Master Crow, perched on a tree,
Held a cheese in his beak.
Master Fox, attracted by the smell,
Said something like this:
"Well, Hello Mister Crow!
How beautiful you are! how nice you seem to me!
Really, if your voice
Is like your plumage,
You are the phoenix of all the inhabitants of these woods."
At these words, the Crow was overjoyed.
And in order to show off his beautiful voice,
He opened his beak wide, letting his prey fall
The Fox grabbed it, and said: "My good man,
Learn that every flatterer
Lives at the expense of the one who listens to him.
This lesson, without doubt, is well worth a cheese."
The Crow, ashamed and embarrassed,
Swore, but a little late, that he would not be taken again.








Kurama narrowed searing eyes against the dazzling sunlight and stinging breezes carousing around Sakyo's house, pregnant with dust and pollen. His knees stumbled; his head ached, nostrils flaring to take in all the overpowering scents while he blinked away tears. For a moment, Toguro was practically dragging him forward, a big hand draped over Kurama's shoulder, boots crunching the gravel around the entrance.

The guards manning the door stood to immediate attention as they passed. One was human and fondling the handle of his gun, his face dissatisfied but professional. The other was a leering youkai who smelt strongly of soap, dressed up in an ill-fitting suit for the occasion that clashed with his poison green skin. Kurama thought he saw the demon fitfully adjusting his white collar as he glanced back, and knew with a sense of bitterness that he could guess why the demon was so irritated—if he was on guard duty, he wouldn't participate in the hunt.

The comfortable and luxurious platforms Kurama saw once his vision cleared gleamed with bright colors and expensive wood, silk pillows and cashmere blankets folded against the morning cold, tucking Sakyo's elite guest list in like garish, overweight children. A man glistening with grease, sweat and gold pawed into the dress of a girl wearing little more than her tight smile. Others smoked and ate oysters and other hors d'œuvre with apparent pleasure, sipping cocktails and holding discussions in murmurs Kurama strained to hear, men's voices wrecked by years of cigars and fine wine and women's higher and too nasally. Kurama watched it all coldly. Huge black screens were set up in front of the platforms, sleek and state-of-the-art, reflecting soulless faces back into the crowds. Kurama couldn't look at them without feeling nauseous, so he didn't.

He struggled once, just a toss of his shoulders that drew eyes, as Toguro led him stoically to the cage sitting in front of them all, an odd and enormous thing, built like an old-fashioned rig for a traveling zoo, the sort of place you'd expect to find a bear or a lion. Or perhaps a fox,Kurama thought caustically. The carnival atmosphere of the whole consortium roused Kurama's anger, but it burnt low. He didn't comment, didn't curse or rage, simply because he didn't have the strength left to do so.

The cage, which was based off a flat wooden bottom, was raised off the ground and reachable by stairs. It didn't have cushions or any comfortable places to sit, but there was a narrow bench lining the edges that dispelled any ideas of this being a cage for animals. No animal needed a ledge like that—this was something built either for demons or humans. The bars were iron, and spotless, the barbaric, antiquated feeling of the cage offset by the fact that it was obviously new, and had been oiled recently.

Kurama was marched up the stairs to an open door he hadn't been able to see at first, and then his knees half buckled as he was pushed in perfunctorily, more for theatrics, he realized bitterly, than anything else. Kurama sniffed, recovering his balance easily, one hand drifting over his sore shoulder. He raised his head, noting the cage's two entrances: one to the side, which was slamming shut, and one opening towards the forest's fringe. The woods shivered under the wind, rustling leaves and branches woven into a dense and uninviting tangle, bathed in weird mats of shadows and light, and an uncomfortable quiet. The songbirds were silent, chased from hearing range by all the fuss over the foxhunt.

Kurama stood for a moment, gazing quietly at the thick russet trunks that interlocked in front of him, the woods dissolving into an impenetrable gloom after a few feet, and then turned on his heel and sat gracefully on the bench, hating that the oil on the bars was seeping through his tunic. The sharp, acrid scent of bloody iron and grease made him sneeze—Kurama hated it almost as much as he hated his own vulnerability. In a show of bravado, Kurama twisted to lie crosswise on the bench, gaze resting idly on the striped world surrounding him, one lackadaisical arm hanging through the iron bars as his feet rested neatly on the bench, one on top of the other. It was studied boredom—nonchalance was satisfying, and made his pulse pound a little less.

"Has the betting been concluded?" Sakyo's voice carried across the wide lawn. Kurama looked at him, forcing casual contact between their eyes.

Affirmative murmurs made Sakyo smile. "Before I bring out your pursuers, Kurama, please open the festivities properly. Sing us a song."

Sinister hums echoed around him, and Kurama, thinking back to his stint in the isolation chamber, felt his lips draw back from his teeth in a snarl. Refusing to let that continue, he sat up and glanced around him, taking in eager faces, dark trees, a blue sky, and crushed, bleeding grass. "What shall I sing?" he asked dryly.

"Something tasteful, that reminds you of your situation. A lack of compliance will result in our tying your hands when we release you."

I was right, Kurama thought, they do intend to chase me. Bastards.

Wanting to send a message without provoking outright aggression, Kurama deliberated. Kurama had always been allowed to roam during the duration of his time with Karasu for the same reason he wasn't all that worried about his hands being bound. Every time Karasu tied him up, chained him up, locked him in a cage, the second Karasu was gone, Kurama escaped. There had been a progressive series of restraints for Kurama in the early days of his captivity, eventually discarded as useless. Still, there was no point in defiance right now—it wouldn't even succeed in making Kurama feel courageous. He disposed of his longing to spit in Sakyo's direction.

Finally, laying his head back down, he cleared his throat and began to sing, the rest and recuperation he'd had under Toguro's care giving his voice strength.

"There may be trouble ahead, but while there's moonlight and music, and love and romance, let's face the music and dance."

There was a moment of silence. The day Kurama'd spent locked in the isolation chamber, the recording device had given a metallic ring to the kitsune's voice, and fear had taken away its depth. Many of the listeners were surprised to find that Kurama actually had a smooth, melodic voice, sweet and warm, like melted chocolate or dripping honey. He had a close enough range to Nat King Cole, whose version he was modeling after, that the oily jeers that had been itching to fill the air were shocked into silence. Sakyo's eyebrow rose as he placed the song, wondering why Kurama would choose something whose meaning was so transparent. Still, Kurama's voice rose, toying with the lyrics and melody, matching them to his own tones.

"Before the fiddlers have fled—before they ask us to pay the bill—"

Toguro blinked and pushed his sunglasses up the bridge of his nose, leaning back on his heels where he stood to Sakyo's right. He recognized Kurama's topic, and was amazed by the banality the beautiful voice was sent to, like a prized stallion playing at a hurt leg. Kurama had chosen a real emotion to appease them, but there was very little real wrapped up in his ironic choice—it was half a sentiment, in Toguro's opinion, chosen to skirt over all Kurama's sore spots. Though the look on Kurama's face was pained, he'd chosen well. His watchers were assuaged without him debilitating himself.

"And while we still have the chance, let's face the music and dance."

Kurama's meanings slipped away as he closed his starry green eyes and just sang. It was not something he did around people—not often, anyway—but as a lover of music, and in his own way vain, Shuuichi Kurama and Youko before him had perfected their voices. Kurama allowed himself to enjoy the song, lifting above his circumstance for moments at a time, regretting how often reality brought him down.

"Soon, we'll be without the moon, humming a diff'rent tune, and then…"

"He has a wonderful voice," Sakyo admitted. "I thought so last night, even if the context was different. Care to shed any light on that, Toguro?"

Remembering Kurama's screaming nightmare, Toguro smiled, noncommittal. He was enjoying the music.

"There may be teardrops to shed. So while there's moonlight and music, and love and romance—let's face the music and dance."

Toguro smile widened, remembering American records from long ago with this song on it.

"Dance—let's face the music and dance."

Aniki was bored. Music was not his style, and the enjoyment of a humiliating experience for Kurama remained an unfulfilled promise. Glancing into the forest, his eyes focused on the barest hint of a presence—and he smiled, his first true smile of the day. His brother hadn't noticed. Aniki gestured obliquely, shooing the watcher back to the forest, and continued his ghastly smirk, stifling a giggle. If Toguro had been sensing the perimeters, if he had been looking, if he hadn't been caught in a trap unlikely for him—a reverie—he might have caught on to the sabotage happening under his nose. Even then, though—would he have helped?

As it was, he was on another dais and focusing on Kurama too intently for that. Sakyo, in turn, was watching Toguro, trying to equate this infatuation with what he knew of the man.

"Soon, we'll be without the moon, humming a different tune, and then…!"

Some of the crowd, uncultured men in their own right, had already lost interest. There was blood lust in the air—a song, no matter how well sung, couldn't quench it.

"There may be teardrops to shed. So while there's moonlight, and music, and love and romance, let's face the music and dance! Let's face the music, and dance!"

"Very nice," Sakyo complimented as the last note cut off, and Kurama's head spun, the crown of his skull rapping painfully against the bars. The curative powers of music, Kurama thought wryly, fixing Sakyo with a disdainful, belligerent stare. He stopped himself with difficulty from souring—or better yet, poisoning (if only he'd known for sure that a demon wouldn't stop him!)—Sakyo's tea. Even such a brief illicit use of power would clarify the fact that it was no longer bound inside of him. Since the power had been there all along, if only allowed into avenues of healing, it wasn't a sudden blaze of light—the power that was already there and circulating through healing venues was now able, though Kurama was meticulous in conserving the illusion that it wasn't able, to create, grow, twist, entwine, mold, and otherwise manifest itself within his beloved plants.

"Now, let's get to the bones of the matter," Sakyo said with a blank, empty smile. At an unknown signal, a side door swung open and demons jostled their way out. It was immediately apparent why they'd been chosen.

One of the groups that formed from the milling youkai was picked for beauty. They looked eager to go, grinning snidely at their kitsune prey with shapely, humanesque faces. They would all make a lovely picture with the young fox—none of their skin-colors jarred with Kurama's face or his hair.

The next group was chosen for their brutality and ugliness, boar demons, pig demons, bull demons, all bestial male animal spirits of particularly virile brands. They would put on a show of domination and disgusting force, but it was unlikely that this team would win, Kurama thought; all of their eyes were small and stupid.

The final group made Kurama's jaw tighten. This was the only one whose members were obviously armed and outright leering.

They were also, by Kurama's astute estimation, guess, or outright knowledge from previous encounters, all violent sadists, to a man.

Aesthetic misery, repulsion and loathing, or debilitating pain,Kurama thought. He sighed gently, already trying to examine each demon, planning his own capture.

The group that Kurama had dubbed the aesthetics was to go in last, Sakyo's attendant revealed as he outlined the rules of the game, the bestial group first, the sadistic group second. The aesthetics don't have a chance, Kurama thought glumly. The bestial have a better shot, especially if the sadists decide to let them win. I don't doubt all the groups will get a chance at me once I'm caught.

"Hunters: you may split up any way you want," the man continued. Kurama's lean muscles were uncomfortably tight as he listened without appearing to, putting every helpful nuance of the speech and the things revealed by it into memory.

It was stark and miserable, but Kurama was quietly relieved that his life was not in danger. Karasu would do a better job of hurting him than any of these bastards, and wouldn't ensure Kurama's survival at the end of his play. Kurama was glumly accepting of the pain and humiliation he was about to experience, and sat carefully, masking everything from his power to his expression, even down to his heartbeat. He presented his enemies with a blank wall. Let them feed on that,he thought bitterly.

The talks were concluded, and the attendant pressed a button. The door closest to the forest, as unadorned as the one on the side, opened.

"The fox has five minutes." Kurama's lips curled again, and then he was off, sauntering into the forest, where he slipped through the first of the undergrowth and, to the watchers, evaporated into the murky shade. It would be foolish not to put on a show—if he wasn't a good enough distraction, they'd make him a better one.

He cursed at the lack of discretion in the whirring sound that followed him, a glint of metal zigzagging through the sprawling greens of the trees as he ducked under the rotting corpse of a fallen tree. It was a simple enough construction in the Makai—akin to a video camera, but on the move—and Kurama was relieved. Yoki could take something like that out easily, but not simple ningen movements. They didn't know that his youryoku was unlocked. The bulbous camera, which was zipping along next to him now as he picked up speed to distance himself from his pursuers, had a dilating red eye that turned to a glowing neon streak when he glanced at it sideways.

Kurama was a master of the forest. He didn't need yoki or reiki to make himself difficult to find—covering his ki and scent was second nature, as was finding paths that would be nigh impossible to track or follow. He evaded the scent of his pursuers, and for a good twenty minutes, he kept himself safe. He revised his opinion of the bestial youkai's chances when they all barreled into the forest behind him, loud, grunting and mangling branches under too-big feet. The aesthetics' chances were also revised. Many of them were clever enough to follow the sadists' early tactics, and mask their noises under the stampeding bestials. The groups were splintering fast, though, and there were too many for Kurama to evade forever. If Sakyo hasn't electrocuted the edges of the wood,Kurama thought dourly.

It was tiring. He quickly realized why there'd been no traps or alarms in the forest when he'd met Botan: they'd been disabled for this day, even on the side opposite the preparations, where the passage led out, and he was glad for it. As he scrambled down a birch sloughing its skin, the papery bark slick against his palm, he forgot about his pursuers momentarily for its comforting presence. Birds scented his strange mix of human, demon, and animal and kept silent or twittered without a thought—he smelt too much of earth to bother them.

There were a few near misses with especially bright hunters, a sadist's trap almost tripped as Kurama tried to bypass a bear demon rooting around near where he'd hidden in a tree, a beautiful young water sprite almost succeeding in tracking him, but Kurama was confident, barely needing the help of his yoki to scope out those seeking him once they came within a certain distance. He was already preparing to orchestrate his own capture.

He'd worked up a thirst and an appetite as time went by, nobody having thought to feed him before he left and bitter forest herbs he snatched as he ran far from filling. A longing for some watercress was what brought him out of hiding, finally. He stopped short as he smelled and heard something delicious while bobbing through the mat of undergrowth covering the rich loam of the forest. There was a little crick running nearby, and Kurama, his fingers pausing for a moment to pop the tart bud of a wild raspberry in his mouth, began to massage his throat, feeling uncomfortably parched. He couldn't resist.

Ducking under boughs he barely touched, his feet naturally seeking the places that wouldn't leave a footprint he couldn't grow some oblique moss to replace, he suppressed all noise. It only took him a minute or two to get to the dainty brook that fell laughing down a stone pathway in the forest. Kurama scouted the edges of the winding creek, but there were wide embankments, and he couldn't find a place where the water hadn't pooled that wasn't out in the open. Finally, desperately thirsty, he sniffed the air, crouched under a tangle of bramble, panting delicately to himself. For a full three minutes he waited motionlessly, until his legs were horribly stiff, determined to make no sound, not to let his guard down. Relieved to hear nothing, Kurama finally broke the cover of the forest and eased down the stones, dipping his lips into brisk water and closing his eyes momentarily in bliss, forgetting the camera that still whirred near his head.

Pain, sudden and debilitating, made him aspirate water, and he flailed like a landed fish, choking, delirious, his lungs hacking. A helpful hand slammed into his stomach and the water, followed closely by a little bile, spat from his mouth and into the white foam of the creek, which carried it away, callous and jolly. Kurama's flails only tangled him further in the arms of what he finally realized was a weighted net, and he froze, survival instincts suddenly catching up.

The creature grinning at him was recognizably an aesthetic, but with a nasty smile. Long white hair hung in locks around his puckish face, curling next to a snub nose, and his teeth were white and even, the canines sharp and extended past what a human would find comforting. The hunter quickly refolded wings of iridescent grays and greens, giggling nervously to itself. Kurama coughed again, trying to appear unassuming, and asked, "How did you find me?"

"They gave us maps, didn't they, little beast? Ol' Rockham just had to wait where he could see the water—knew it would come eventually."

This could be my best chance for a decent capture, Kurama thought. But if I disappoint my watchers and go quietly, they might decide to up the ante. Perhaps if I escape, and allow him to recapture me again? Or make it overly histrionic? Make too much noise and lure another pursuer over and slip away while they're fighting?

His thoughts were startled out of his head by a scream that he didn't react to, arching over the forest, more near than far. The camera, which was trying for good angles, turned and captured white birds rising from a far portion of the forest. Rockham's brow crinkled as he glanced nervously about the clearing for information.

"Perhaps the game got too serious, eh, Rockham? Your brethren must be getting antsy."

"We were told—Sakyo-san said—"

Kurama's eyes narrowed. If he were right about the fact that all the pursuers would get a turn, why would someone kill a player? Perhaps one of the sadists was feeling frisky?

The wind changed directions, suddenly active, stirring up little ripples on the stream's surface to the left, away from where it was running. Kurama's eyes widened suddenly in horrified understanding, color draining from his face.

"Rockham, we need to go back."

"Is the little beast—?"

"We don't have time. If you value your life, take this off me and run."

Rockham smirked. "Tricks and guiles won't get it any…"

"Listen to me, you fool!" Kurama hissed desperately, interrupting the reticent demon insistently, half begging and half demanding. "Gunpowder! I smelled gunpowder! The wind has been running from here to there, he might find us any minute!"

Rockham hesitated, and that cost him his life. Kurama closed his eyes against the sanguine rain of coppery blood that spattered him. Rockham's lips mouthed, a thin line of red spittle dribbling down onto the clawed hand that had blossomed through his chest cavity.

Kurama cringed and closed his eyes at the explosion, horrified, feeling bits of internal organs spray him with another gush of blood. Karasu, in all his terrible glory, tossed the corpse to the side with a magnificent sweep of his arm, his face taking on new levels of demented perversion as he advanced on Kurama, claws out, scarlet hand opening and closing compulsively. Kurama was too frightened to resist.

Kurama moaned feebly as a small explosion detonated against his leg, the pain so much worse than he remembered. He flinched at a second explosion, and looked up to see the camera falling to the ground and bouncing once, its red lens shattered and metal frame bent. As the light in its eye faded, Kurama's heart beat frantically. He stared up at Karasu, and realized through a fog that for once in his life, he was frozen in fear.

There were catcalls and boos as the screen blanked to white noise, and Toguro, adjusting his sunglasses with a sigh, got down off the dais and began walking towards the forest.

"Ah, you remember me, Kurama. I'm so flattered."

"Karasu—please—" Kurama begged, struggling urgently with the net that wrapped him up in a crushing embrace.

"Pleading already, Kurama? Please,I want you to fuck me?" No one, in Kurama's opinion, should speak so calmly with a look in their eye like the one in Karasu's, and their whole body drenched in blood. Karasu's red tongue flicked out to sample Rockham's remains, splattered against his lips, and his face relaxed at the taste. Kurama shook convulsively in front of the horrible scene, knowing his own blood would soon be joining the hapless Rockham's. Gruesome sprays covered the clearing, the red reaching the water that carried it away, like unwinding spools of thread. A bit of intestine was caught against a rock, leaking a rivulet of blood into the current on either side.

The net was ripped away. Kurama had been trying sluggishly to escape it, but once it had vanished, he curled into a frightened ball at the loss of its comfort. It was something between Kurama and Karasu's frenzied lust, for blood, body, and soul, and now that it was gone, he was bare before his nightmare.

Kurama sobbed, still unable to resist, as a vice descended over his wrists and he was hauled to his feet, marking the beginning of the business of undressing him. Silence had descended, Kurama breathing in frantic gasps that only made the quiet more profound, and Karasu making no noise at all.

There was nothing teasing about it; the look on Karasu's face was not one of his usual cruel amusement or play. He looked livid and disgusted, the lust only a side effect. His eyes were bright, feverish, and passionate in their revulsion for Kurama. Kurama had never seen anything so terrifying. He couldn'tresist—it might break the dam, unleash the violence that was bubbling just below the calm surface. Karasu had gone on a spree—he reeked of blood, was drenched in it, maroon sheets of demon life coating both arms to the elbow, his coat sleeves rolled up to accommodate. The contents of someone's jugular were splashed across his chest and throat, and stained black cloth even blacker, further discoloring the violet.

Claws raked down Kurama's front to shred his clothing, Karasu smiling grimly at the fox's jerk and wail, without a scrap of fondness. The crow's talons rent fabric and skin indiscriminately. Then Kurama's tunic was torn from him so harshly his entire frame jerked down to his toes, almost ripping him off his feet. Kurama compacted into a little huddle, struck dumb, filled with the amazing fact that he was going to die.

"I wish I could play with you, Kurama. I wish I had hours, hours to show you precisely how kind I've been. Toguro, I fear, is already walking to us, so I will content myself in knowing the fox died unable to speak with his beautiful terror."

The idea of death, made more real by Karasu's words, drew Kurama from his fear, but no sooner did he glance at the woods than pain blossomed and he was suddenly shocked to find his open mouth moaning wetly into dirt. He blinked, amazed that the feelings that had been so far off from him before this point were now so real and so near, as close to him and as much a part of him as air. He lived his fear, he sucked it in and breathed it, he cried it out so hard his eyes reddened, and it brought nothing to Karasu but the faintest feelings of amusement and glee.

Kurama's right hand curled desperately in wet moss, a beetle mashed to nothing beneath his grip, and it was that very desperation that led him to sense the seed buried beneath the little green mat that bled like him. Karasu was dragging him back by his ankles, and Kurama tossed his head and pushed in his power, enough so that a tendril hooked into his hair, making the seed attached to it nestle itself in scarlet curls before the last of Kurama's modest clothing was torn from him, leaving him bare and aching against a tree, not having registered Karasu's throw until he was wedged between bark to his back and Karasu to his front.

"I want you to die with my cock inside you, Kurama. I want you to die a whore."

Karasu's breath in Kurama's ear, paired with his harsh, oppressive hands, made the fox's lungs hitch and spidery shivers crawl down his spine. Karasu leaned forward and tried to kiss Kurama, but Kurama turned his head away and cringed, a feeble, pitiful defiance that went unremarked. Karasu scraped teeth over Kurama's shivering neck, and Kurama sobbed. Kurama's breath hitched as he was shaken for a moment, hands on his arms jerking him, pulling him up.

"Kiss me," Karasu commanded.

Kurama, desperate, slipped the seed from his hair, tangled now and littered with leaves, and into his mouth, open and distorted by grief. Then, tremulous, he turned back, closed his eyes, and matched his own reluctant lips with Karasu's, barely parted.

Karasu dug his fingers cruelly into Kurama's arm and Kurama panicked, shoving the seed, along with his tongue, deep into Karasu's mouth. Luck, for once, was on Kurama's side—Karasu swallowed reflexively. Kurama immediately ripped his tongue away, slamming his power into the seed, frantic. He writhed, twisting free of Karasu and running faster than he thought his human body could go, the moment his feet touched dirt, almost directionless.

Karasu staggered, massaging his throat, his limbs twitching and jerking as the drug dulled his brain's electric impulses. He leaned over, eyes tearing, and vomited, lush and wet; the paralytic Kurama had just force-fed him splashed against a tree.

"Kurama…" he husked, eyes bright and glowing crimson with rage. He was in the forest in a second, despite his still-heavy limbs, giving chase.

Kurama ran. His heart pounded like a kettledrum, his pulse vibrated in his ears. Any moment now, he knew, Karasu could be on him, and his heart, so real, so rhythmic and overwhelming now, would never beat again. The thought gave his feet wings. A branch whipped him as he passed, slicing a bloody rent on his cheek, but he didn't notice. His awareness was focused on running, adrenalin-heightened senses screaming to him the location of Toguro, and behind him, Karasu. He fled from one and hurtled to the other, knowing that nothing and no one could save his life but Toguro, hoping against hope that his presence and approach meant he would help him, scared that Toguro would not, or could not, being too slow.

Karasu was gaining. Kurama could feel it, hear it, taste it, like the bile in his throat. Breathing was difficult and laborious, and sometimes Kurama forgot to do it, fear stripping him of everything but the ability to run. The explosions behind him as trees were blasted from Karasu's way brought tears to Kurama's eyes; he kept running. It was a race, and who would get to whom first?

Karasu was gaining; Toguro was too far. Kurama was racing the wind, but it seemed futile. So futile, in fact, that he screamed, just screamed, when he was grabbed, screamed, fought, clawed, a child having a tantrum but much more imperative than that. He didn't notice that he'd been grabbed from the front. Suddenly, he collapsed in his captor's hold, weeping. He gave up his life in that moment, gave up the fight, and just wanted to die already, without having to worry about pain or fear or death itself. He raised his gaze, expecting Karasu's sneering face, and blinked tear-filled eyes. Toguro's greeted him instead.

"Give him to me, Toguro." The voice came from behind, and Kurama shook his head silently, mouthing, no, no.He turned his head and saw his nightmare, Karasu, emerging from the sudden gloom of the thick forest, all black and red, violet and white, his eyes insane.

Toguro looked from one to the other, face grim, still holding the boy like a lover, or a frightened child. "If you kill him, Karasu, I will rape you in Kurama's place."

Karasu stopped his slow advance, staring. "What?"

"If you kill him, at any point between now and when I say you may, if you hurt him, rape him, lay so much as one finger on him, I will hold you down in his place. Hell, I'll do it every night, and let my brother have a taste. I'll make sure you regret it."

Kurama stared too, open-mouthed.

"I'm sick of this game you play. Besides, Sakyo has need of the boy, and this foxhunt was never meant to result in death."

Karasu was shivering in rage, his bony face grotesque. "I will not stand for—"

"You will stand for whatever I goddamn tell you to stand for. Leave. You have one week. After that week, I hunt you down and bring you back; your contract has not expired. There will be a barrier up before then, though, keeping you out. You clearly can't control yourself. Kurama, come."

Seeing that the boy was too stunned to walk, Toguro thoughtlessly picked him up and carried him in his arms back towards the mansion. Karasu tried to follow, incensed, but couldn't. He blew a crater in the forest, but it was useless. Like the night in Sakyo's mansion, there was a perfect, untouched circle. Stalking the temporary barrier of Toguro's power like a hyena at a kill guarded by lions, his rage cooled, hardened, and became ice. He hunched down, throwing the occasional bomb at the barrier, and thought. Is there anything so dangerous as that?

"You don't love me, Kurama."

Kurama blinked, shocked, still panting as he swayed with exhaustion in Toguro's arms.

"Remember that I'm not a protector. I've hurt you as much as I've aided you. The rapes will happen when we get back regardless. I haven't saved your body or your dignity—only your life."

Kurama looked down, overcome. "Thank you," he said, softly, fatigued and spent and feeling the adrenaline inside him wind down, despite the horrors still to be endured.

Toguro snorted, of the opinion that there was nothing worth thanking him for.

As Toguro had promised, the last of the pursuers fucked Kurama. Kurama was bleeding, tired, lay quietly in whatever position he was put in. When a sadist dug a knife into his side, he didn't scream. When a boar demon pulled away with a bloody cock, he only sighed, despite his agony. Through his whole body, despite the pain, humiliation, the jeers of the crowd, there was a sense, overwhelming and powerful, of life, of being alive.

Toguro took him back to his room, and this time simply called the healer. Again, Kurama was bathed, but he was already asleep, wrapped in the feeble illusion of being protected. That night, he had eight dreams: four were the best he'd had since coming here, four among the worst. Even his psyche was confused by the contrary actions of the demon.

For that night, however, there was no struggle, no plots in Kurama's mind. He slept the sleep of the dead, or the innocent. It was hard for Toguro, watching most of the night, to decide which.

To be continued.

Chapter Text

Mikado: See how the fates their gifts allot.

For A is happy—

B is not.

Yet B is worthy, I dare say,

Of more prosperity than A.

Ko-Ko, Pooh-Bah & Pitti-Sing: Is B more worthy?

Katisha: I should say,

He's worth a great deal more than A.

All: Yet A is happy!

Oh, so happy!

Laughing, Ha! Ha!

Chaffing, Ha! Ha!

Nectar quaffing, Ha! Ha! Ha!

Ever joyous, ever gay,

Happy, undeserving A.

Ever joyous, ever gay,

Happy, undeserving A,

Ko-Ko, Pooh-Bah & Pitti-Sing: If I were Fortune,

Which I'm not,

B should enjoy A's happy lot,

And A should die in misery —

That is, assuming I am B.

Mikado & Katisha: But should A perish?

Ko-Ko, Pooh-Bah & Pitti-Sing : That should be

(Of course, assuming I am B).

All: B should be happy!

Oh, so happy!

Laughing, Ha! Ha!

Chaffing, Ha! Ha!

Nectar quaffing, Ha! Ha! Ha!

But condemned to die is he,

Wretched, meritorious B.

But condemned to die is he,

Wretched, meritorious B.

Exeunt Mikado and Katisha.

The Mikado, Act Two, No. 8, Glee (Pitti-Sing, Katisha, Ko-Ko, Pooh-Bah and Mikado), written by Arthur Sullivan and William S. Gilbert.

Sakyo was sequestered in an armchair in his personal office, sipping brandy, when Toguro entered. A forgotten cigarette dangled from his other hand, threatening to drop ash onto the spotless black furniture. A dilapidated book, truly ancient, rested upright in his lap. Whatever he was reading, it amused him quite a bit: that was the closest to giddy Toguro had ever seen his employer.

Sakyo took an idle drag of the cigarette, remembering its existence, and glanced up at Toguro with a devilish smirk. "I'm reading quite an interesting old history, translated into Japanese some three hundred years ago. The original language was a demon tongue, unpronounceable."

Toguro sat on a nearby couch and made an inquiring sound, an attractive servant girl handing him his customary mug of black coffee with a tremulous bow. Toguro nodded slightly in thanks, and then turned back to Sakyo, who was once again drinking in the book with a greedy expression on his face.

Toguro inhaled the soothing aroma of the roasted beans and spread his muscled legs on the too-small couch, taking the first scalding sip. Sakyo, meanwhile, put the brandy down with a clink to turn the page.

"It's simply fascinating. Toguro, what do you know about the power structures of the Makai?"

"Not much," Toguro admitted, eyes unreadable behind the shades. "I know that most of the power in territories not governed by Reikai are divided between three demons, any one of which I would have to be suicidal to fight."

"Amazing," Sakyo mused. "And their names?"

Toguro cleared his throat. "Mukuro, Raizen, and Yomi. I believe those are the names."

"Yomi," Sakyo repeated, a practically sickening grin widening, showing off flashing white teeth. Toguro watched him with a calmly perplexed look on his face. "The entry into demon world is almost complete."

Toguro shrugged at that information, not appearing quite moved one way or the other.

"If there are those in power, then we should barter with them."

"I won't be able to fight an S-class, Mr. Sakyo. I'm only a low A-class, myself."

Sakyo smiled, amused. "Interesting. So there's a limit even to your colossal power. There's a lesson in that." He paused, mulling things over. "But diplomacy can be conducted without fighting. And I believe we have some leverage that this particular overlord will find intriguing."

Toguro cocked an eyebrow, waiting for an explanation. Seeing that, his employer took a deep drag of the cigarette, and held up the dusty old book with his icy blue eyes fixed on Toguro's face, and his lips quirked with enjoyment. "This excellent book, some of which I'm considering copying into modern Japanese and publishing, is a quaint biography of Youko Kurama, written by one of his men. It chronicles many daring exploits, and makes frequent note of the Youko's coital skills. Two names feature prominently: that of a bat demon named Kuronue, long deceased, and a canny young goat, Yomi. The notes put into the translation claim that this Yomi went on to be a King of the Makai, and interestingly, the moment he gained such power the legendary bandit Youko Kurama went into hiding. Intriguing, no?"

"Interesting," Toguro agreed, rubbing his neck idly and taking a gulp of his coffee, catching the heat and flavor on his tongue. "Would you like me to make some inquiries on your behalf?"

Sakyo chuckled and waved him off. "I'm taking care of it. The most recent news to come to me is that Yomi has been searching for his dear old friend for many years now, and the fox Kurama has become, ah, slightly less legendary trying to avoid his notice."

Toguro's mind suddenly flashed to Kurama under him, crying, his breath coming in painful gasps and sobs. "So you'll attract Yomi's attention?"

Sakyo smiled. "I believe my inquiries and the Dark Tournament have already done that. I'm expecting a subordinate to come any day. Let our little fox rest, recuperate, try to get rid of as many nasty bruises as you can."

"What should I do?"

"You remember the clown, Suzuki? He has something we'll need to prove the boy's identity. I would be grateful if you took care of that."

Toguro took another drink of his coffee and smiled predatorily. "The fruit of the past life. Easy enough." Tilting the mug back, Toguro drained it down to the last dregs and put it down. Sakyo buzzed a servant to take away his empty cup, and then leaned over and ashed his cigarette in the glass tray sitting on his side table, before sitting back to devour the final pages of the book.

Toguro arose with a grunt and left, the door creaking behind him.

It was five days since the foxhunt, but Kurama was still laconic, passive, depressed: not himself. Kurama knew, deep in his heart, that he would never be the self he once was again. Toguro had hoped that the boy would recover more easily, but those green eyes only kept getting duller, the emotional strain reducing the vibrant young fighter to irrationality and exaggerated fear responses.

He was only eating when Toguro shook him and threatened him if he didn't. He had acute attacks of anxiety that left him panicky and breathless, and nightly, though his body was inviolate, at least for a while, he was tortured and attacked in his dreams, making him sleep for a shorter time and at stranger hours.

Toguro could see the psychological strain this captivity was bringing on Kurama, so he allowed the increased clinginess, and did his best to counter the slowly building agoraphobia that was keeping Kurama silently in Toguro's room. Kurama no longer wept the way he once had, though sometimes at odd intervals passionless tears leaked down his face, coming unexpectedly and drying just as abruptly as they arrived.

Toguro entered his room brusquely, with a hearty bowl of English-style beef stew and a glass of water. He walked over to Kurama, who sat in bed like an invalid, staring at his slim wrists, marveling at the color. The skin would have been pale as a new piece of paper but for the sickly purple bruising that hadn't completely healed.

"Eat this," Toguro said abruptly, never one for mollycoddling. "Then go and take a bath. Put on fresh clothes."

Kurama stared at Toguro from the corner of his eyes.

"Your plan is working. I won't reveal more unless you get your head on straight." Toguro cocked his eyebrow. "You can either seize the moment, or wallow here until Karasu kills you."

Kurama turned unsteady eyes to Toguro, looking at him sharply. "It's . . . working?"

Glad to get a reaction, Toguro grunted in assent.

To Toguro's everlasting surprise, Kurama grinned then, widely, showing all his teeth. "Good," he laughed, and leapt out of bed, though his legs stumbled a bit from disuse.

"You've been acting," Toguro said. His tone was not accusatory—he was merely observing a phenomenon.

Kurama paused, eyes meeting Toguro's squarely for the first time in days and considering the burly demon. "It wasn't hard," he admitted. "The first three days were real. After that, I just continued the behavior. Better for you to think I was having a psychological breakdown than waiting for seeds to gestate."

"Very convincing," Toguro said ruefully, suddenly wishing he'd let the boy starve.

"It wasn't an act. Much of that was real, or urges I had. I can't fake nightmares," he said quietly. "I just gave in purposefully and did what I wanted to do, what I've wanted to do for weeks. If I were a weaker person, I would have broken down in such a way long ago; but I, I have more productive use for my trauma."

"Like involving all of us in the political intrigues of the Makai?" Toguro watched the boy smile sinisterly, finding himself equal parts annoyed that he had been taken in so completely and pleased to see life in that dead face again.

It was not the boy's previous life. It was a driven, miserable, painful existence Kurama lived now, and even if his plan worked, Toguro knew it would be up to Kurama alone to overcome as much of it as one can. Toguro remembered, unbidden, the boy's face as he'd seen it in the stadium of the Dark Tournament, free, happy, loved and full of tentative loving, intensely joyful. This was just a shadow of that.

But a shadow was better than nothing.

Kurama bathed quickly, as he always did, changed into a white wraparound shirt and green cloth pants, and wolfed down the beef stew while listening to the fruition of his plotting.

"This old acquaintance of yours, Yomi—he might not bite, you know."

Kurama snorted. "I know," he said simply.

"How did you get Sakyo the book?"

Kurama stared at Toguro silently. There would never be trust between them. What warped sense of it Kurama'd had had been rudely awakened the night of Toguro's rape.

But this was not important enough to alienate Toguro over, so, with reluctance, Kurama outlined how he'd instructed Koenma to give the book to the wife of one of Sakyo's many informants in the underworld. Kurama had chosen the man, scouted the woman, and made the instructions clear and simple enough even Koenma and the Reikai couldn't bungle it. The informant of Sakyo's was familiar with a man who did underground trades of rare books, on top of quite a bit of much less wholesome black market business.

That man was Sakyo's personal provider for rare or interesting books, a man whose taste in literature Sakyo trusted, an uncommon thing indeed. After all, much of Sakyo's library was not for show. Knowing of Kurama's captivity, the book had been put on the next shipment into Sakyo's collection, as Kurama had hoped. Sakyo would probe, but the story would hopefully hold up enough water not to lead back to Koenma, with Kurama's adequate and plausible scenario for the woman to have come by the book.

They were maddening, these seeds, especially since Kurama had to trust Koenma to handle frighteningly delicate situations. That he couldn't truly be in the middle of everything, pulling strings, was driving Kurama up a wall. Being able to sink into an emotionally and psychologically unhealthy place had been relaxing because of that, but now that the first sprouts were shooting up, Kurama needed to exercise what little direct control he could.

Kurama made a point of not springing back from his illness, though noticeably leaving the rooms more and coming out of the PTSD symptoms. Toguro found that the Kurama who existed when others were watching and the Kurama who lay up at night plotting, emerald eyes burning like fire, were two different people.

Kurama wasn't making a show of it, though. It still seemed quite involuntary. Sakyo expressed his sorrow that Karasu wasn't back to crush the final pieces of Kurama's mind, to which Toguro merely grunted, once, neither accepting nor denying. Kurama was shocked when Toguro helped him continue the ruse, bringing food for him as he had those five days.

They waited.

Karasu returned. He strode over the grounds bold as brass, sauntering to the front door, knocking on it promptly at midnight on the seventh day after his attempted murder. Kurama knew that he'd done more than skulked in the forest for a week, though how he'd occupied his time remained a frightening mystery. Kurama avoided him, which was difficult in and of itself. Karasu seemed to have a knack for knowing where Kurama was and showing up there, forcing Kurama to leave in a hurry. Toguro could see the look in Karasu's eyes when he watched Kurama in the dining room or library. Those amethysts were flat with hatred and a promised revenge.

Several times, Karasu cornered Kurama somewhere, stood in doorways as a small cruelty while Kurama sat in the room and shivered, finally brushing past him quietly, sometimes having to slide past his chest or edge over his legs, feeling those eyes on his back as he walked stiffly away. Cheap intimidation tactics, Kurama knew, but they worked more than he cared to admit. Still, the crow accepted he couldn't harm Kurama without harming himself, and he behaved, for now.

It didn't stop Kurama from having to duck into a bathroom and heave up the contents of his stomach, eyes tearing and heart palpitating dangerously with fear. Kurama was scared of Karasu, though his fear enraged him. Those occasional contacts of flesh or cloth brought back hordes of memories Kurama was trying with all his might to sublimate or forget.

Kurama was no fool. He knew that things weren't over with Karasu; he knew that Karasu had hardly been neutered by Toguro's command. There were more pressing issues at hand, however, and whatever Karasu was planning, he was playing it close to his chest.

Sometimes there were so many conflicting fears and desires, plans and counter-plans, possible reactions and possible counter-reactions in Kurama's head that he felt like he was going insane. He played a dangerous game, though he was currently out-strategizing Sakyo. Two supposed escape plans that were thwarted with difficulty by Sakyo and a great deal of Kurama allowing himself to be caught in places he shouldn't have been kept Sakyo from realizing that those were conceded pawns, not the rook or queen. It was dangerous, and Kurama was maintaining an ever more precarious balancing act when finally, finally, the fruit was ready to be picked.

Yuda, advisor to King Yomi of Gandara, walked through the rift Sakyo's engineers were stabilizing with a contingent of upper-B class warriors. Yomi's sharp ears had finally heard of the new existence his hated friend turned slave, and the bargaining table was opening.

"Marvelous," Yuda said again, scratching at the jowls of his shrunken, wizened neck. He turned and smiled unctuously at Sakyo. "I find this light blue sky and all those puffed pastry clouds quite relaxing. Perhaps Lord Yomi should have a mansion built here."

"If we conclude these talks favorably, I'm sure a suitable palace can be arranged," Sakyo said smoothly.

Yuda squinted at Sakyo shrewdly over the rim of an ornamented china cup, inlaid with gold and silver scrollwork and filled with a fragrant green tea. His toad mouth stretched into a wrinkled smile. "You are very confident," Yuda commented flatly, iron will and three thousand years of wisdom suddenly and uncomfortably reminding Sakyo of his comparative youth and inexperience, of the fact of his own humanity, though the gambler showed none of it.

Sakyo gave Yuda a sidelong glance. "Obviously the demon trade I have previously engaged in will be a detriment," he said bluntly. "But I am confident that Lord Yomi will see my position is sound, and we have quite some time to iron out details."

"The enslavement of demons is very likely to make Lord Yomi balk," Yuda warned. "I am willing to help pave your way, however. I do see the necessity of having a steward who is ningen himself for this plane of existence, and you do seem capable of the job."

Sakyo bowed slightly in acknowledgement of the compliment, taking a supremely casual sip of his wine.

"The trick," Yuda continued, "will be to lead Lord Yomi to see it."

Sakyo didn't bow, but nodded this time, a cool smile on his lips. "Let's see how this plays out," he said softly, and then the two men lapsed into pleasantries, sitting on the veranda looking out over Sakyo's manicured lawns.

The preliminary negotiations lasted, through Yuda (acting as ambassador), for some weeks. Kurama was forced to perform for his life, living every second he spent outside of Toguro's room on a stage. Toguro had to admit, his show put all other actors, human and demon, to shame. Kurama continued to try to escape, being caught with difficulty, and at the last minute. He even allowed a plot to assassinate Sakyo be foiled, and lead him to be warded, never letting on that Botan's pulling out of his power had shown him how to flood the ward, so to speak, like Byakko and Kuwabara, and overwhelm it. He had his power back within a week. Even Karasu, sharp-eyed and forever watching, was tricked. Unbeknownst to his captors, even Toguro, Kurama spent some time studying acting, and the presentation of the voice, body, and face. He funneled all of his strength into this veneer, of being horrified of Yomi, of avoiding Yuda; of being aware of what was going on and increasingly desperate in the face of it.

Finally, the talks reached a point that Yuda received authorization to bring a consort of men to Gandara, to continue the diplomacy more directly. The ensemble consisted of Sakyo, Kurama (the bribe), a small retinue of men (consisting of Toguro, Bui, Karasu, and Aniki), and several trusted servants, among them Sakyo's tailor and some of his favorite chefs, allowed rather magnanimously by Yomi when Yuda discovered the differences in demon and human cooking.

The expedition set off in secrecy one late night a month and a half after Yuda's arrival. Kurama was dragged from a hiding place, blindfolded, gagged, and chained, both wrists in Toguro's hand as Kurama knelt, shivering, on the uncomfortably thin carpeting in Sakyo's personal helicopter. Bui looked out the window to avoid the fox's pitiful form. Aniki divided his attention between snickering at the sight of Kurama and his drink. Sakyo was in discussion with Yuda, nursing his own whiskey. Toguro leaned back in his seat with his legs spread, his eyes closed, giving no clues to his own thoughts. Karasu's eyes, on the other hand, never left Kurama.

Kurama was cold thanks to an air vent that opened next to his knees, and had lost his innate sense of direction and time before the duration of the endless trip was finished, with all the skilled performances and genuine fear it required finishing with it. Then he was being dragged down metal steps from the copter, his clothes and hair plucked away from him and buffeted by the wind from the rotating blades.

They walked in an area of desolation, made to look like an abandoned granite quarry, though Kurama could smell the metal of the cameras and security checkpoints they passed, sense the youki of the demons guarding the entrance and the sweat of the humans with them. He didn't flinch, knowing they expected him to have the use of his keen nose, when the platform they all stood on started sinking, the rocks, sand and shale sinking with it.

Kurama had known their general geographical location since well before the foxhunt. This particular of Sakyo's mansion, despite its Japanese furnishings, was by no means in Japan, which was so densely populated that there were few places to hide anything the size of Tarukane's mansion, let alone something larger. Sakyo had mansions and hidey-holes in Japan, but had moved his main base of operations more recently (in an attempt to be near his portal to the Makai) to a mansion that was hidden somewhere in Southeastern Canada and the Northeastern United States. Kurama knew there were precious few parts of the Earth cold in summer, with enough untamed wilderness to hide a criminal community, and which sported wild raspberries, cranberries (there'd been a bog in one portion of the forest), Queen Anne's Lace (which was a weed never grown, but frequently found in flower arrangements in the areas it grew for its beauty), and birch trees.

Kurama was dragged forward when the sand covered platform reached its end, having ferried them deep within the bowels of the Earth, into a chamber of metal, surrounded by human and demon voices. The blindfold was removed, finally.

The base of where they stood was an expanse of dripping stone, carved from the landscape by a pool of water since drained, though it had been enlarged and metal-plated. The portal was the centerpiece, black machinery, bastardized from Makaian models, in a massive half-circle that stretched high above their heads. Engineers in lab coats shrunk from the dark energy crackling like lightning from the portal. Demons and human men with far too many guns stood guard.

"Lord Yomi has arranged for transportation on the other side," Yuda informed them.

"Then we shouldn't linger," Sakyo replied, and jerked his head forward, urging the party onward.

After a brief discussion, Toguro accepted the necessity of the parasite. When his coat was open and it had been affixed to him, Kurama was dragged up to the portal's hungry mouth. The rotting air of his homeland made his sensitive nose wrinkle.

Sakyo walked with Toguro, saying nothing. Bui lagged, covering the rear. The pocket dimension they entered was covered in a grey gloom. Floating was unsettling, but the sensation passed quickly, and they soon arrived at and dove through Spirit World's golden web, Bui struggling to fit.

As soon as they tumbled to the arable black earth of the Makai, Toguro took a few steps to the side to wrench Kurama out of the way of the portal and ripped off the parasite, crushing it with his fist.

The wounds on his chest bled, then healed. Toguro began to button his coat.

The permanent night lit only by jagged bolts of electricity was making the humans nervous. They were in Gandara, Kurama saw, but far to the south. This was at the edge of the Akaran forest, a three day journey by land to the capital. The plant species were distinctive enough: great meat-eating trees hung with gnarled creepers that lived by choking the life out of passing demons and absorbing the gristle left by the trees. Familiar too were the brown bark-faced wood sprites who blinked owlishly from their boughs. That species was rarely found in the north. The great expanse of the Nindrekian swamp spread before them, a lowland bog that would make up the first day.

Sakyo, looking out-of-place in his suit, had stalked ahead to speak with the delegation and guard Yomi had sent, a sign, Kurama saw with a pang of worry, that this cruel human's desires were being taken seriously. A massive mechanical insect, their transport, pawed the ground with its mandibles beyond them. Kurama turned back in time to see Karasu stalk through the portal and stop, back rigid. He seemed disturbed, which Kurama enjoyed.

Karasu slunk away from the portal to lean against the broad trunk of a tree. A creeper eased toward him, intending strangulation, and at Karasu's irritated gesture exploded with a hollow boom.

He's sulking, Kurama realized in wonder. But about what, or whom, Kurama couldn't guess.

Aniki Toguro, the last one of the party through the rift, crooked his chin and stabbed his fingers through a wood sprite, giggling. The rest of the sprites leapt away, chattering to each other in their strange tongue, as the creepers pulled the green-leaking corpse to the mouth of the tree, nestled between the boughs.

Within an hour, everything had been loaded onto the insect and the party was inside its hollow stomach. Sakyo may have looked out of place, but he didn't act it. He seemed completely at his ease inside the gizzard of a bug, which was more than could be said for his cook.

Toguro stood with his hand on Kurama's elbow, watching (as Kurama did) the sunless landscape pass by the windows carved out of the insect's thorax and paned with reinforced glass. Kurama looked over and tensed, seeing his erstwhile captor had joined them. Toguro, feeling Kurama's muscles clench, fixed Karasu with a commanding gaze.

Karasu didn't seem to notice it, barely glancing away from the window. A sour look pinched his face.

Conversation drifted from closer to the beast's gullet. "We'll stop the night in Rengar," Yuda said. "It's a small city to the north of here. The governor has promised a feast in the human style and entertainment, if you so choose."

Karasu whipped around, Kurama flinching from his sudden anger. "We cannot go to Rengar," he snapped.

Conversation died down, people turning to Karasu. The look in Karasu's eyes was livid and wild, like a cornered snake.

Sakyo said, calm enough in the face of Karasu's hysteria to mock him, "I was unaware that you gave the orders on this trip, Karasu."

A low hiss came from behind Karasu's mask. "Do not patronize me, human. We will not go to Rengar."

"And what—" Kurama dared to ask, eyes lidded as he watched Karasu, "—is in Rengar that you so fear?"

In a moment, Karasu had twisted and swung back his arm to backhand Kurama viciously. An arc of blood from Kurama's lips sprayed over the windows.

Slammed to the wall, Kurama fell. Karasu's next blow was caught, and twisted into a submission hold behind his back.

"We'll be back," Toguro said, and then simply opened the nearby door of the moving animal and dragged Karasu off by his twisted arm, black hair rippling like a banner. The door flapped, left hanging open.

Kurama stumbled to his feet, bracing himself against the armored thorax, and held the heel of his hand to his bloody nose. Not broken, it would heal momentarily, and he had another pressing problem to cope with.

Much as he gloated over Karasu's punishment, for the duration of it, his protector was gone. He could not defend himself without revealing the extent of his power and strength. And a defense would be needed, of that he was sure.

Kurama was unsurprised by the tongue that swabbed blood from his cheek, the spidery arm slung over his shoulder. He shuddered, jerking back toward the window, as an oily voice said in his ear, "Come now, pet, don't wipe it. The blood suits you." He looked right into Aniki Toguro's smirking face.

Yuda's voice cut through Kurama's sickening fear. "Is this an organization you lead or a rabble, Sakyo? Surely such vulgarity has no place at the bargaining table."

"This is true," Sakyo said calmly, and the Elder Toguro paused, his face twisting, before nipping Kurama on the cheek, smiling at the wince, and walking away. A shadow fell over Kurama's shoulder, and he looked up in terror. But it was only Bui, giving his own meager protection.

Kurama scowled, but leaned into his presence anyway, taking what shelter was offered.

Toguro brought a bruised and enraged, yet exhausted Karasu back after a solid hour. Kurama kept the eager smirk off his face, but they both stank of a beating, not of sex. Kurama controlled his face from falling, too, disappointed.

Toguro tossed Karasu into a corner, ignoring how he staggered, and came over to stand next to Kurama looking barely winded.

Karasu scraped his hair back from his face, feigning dignity, but still seemed oddly preoccupied and docile.

Karasu slumped over, his wine glass rolling from numb fingers, spilling red liquid on the carpet. The entertainers stood up, to the great surprise of the governor and Team Toguro.

"Sorry, sirs," a woman said coolly, "we cannot and will not perform with Beast in the room. Nor will you find a woman or man who would in this entire city."

Aniki Toguro giggled, then his ropy fingers jolted out, covering the door. Karasu was drooling from the sedative, looking oddly innocent with his cruel face relaxed. Kurama edged over and sniffed. Memory modifier, too. They didn't want Karasu to remember their faces.

"My my," Aniki said, "what has poor Karasu done to you? Tell us everything and we'll let you leave."

"Karasu?" the woman said, shocked. Aniki indicated him with his eyes, and she settled down, saying, "Oh, you mean Beast. I'm not surprised he changed his name, the name his mother dropped on his head was horrible."

Another woman spoke up, "Everything she did to that boy was horrible. I lived a few tenements down from him, everyone heard his screaming. I'm honestly not surprised he came back to kill half the neighborhood. Everyone knew and none of us helped. He killed my mother and father but—" She sighed. "—I don't exactly blame him for it."

"I do," the first woman said grimly. She pulled blue hair out of her face. "He was a vicious little bully. He terrorized all of us. The kids were all happy when his mother's pimp took him away. I hear some of the older kids pooled their money so they could buy time in his dungeon, and just taunt him and laugh. That was how much we hated him."

The second woman interrupted, "You were too young to understand, I suspect. I'm sure it felt like justice to you, but—it was so clear he didn't need to turn out that way." She was examining Karasu sadly. "I remember him as a toddler. He liked cats, couldn't bear to hurt them. His mother found out and tortured his favorites until he agreed to kill them. She was a sick woman."

The first woman snorted. "The apple doesn't fall far from the tree." She looked Aniki directly in the face, fearlessly. "Is that enough, sir? Please let us leave."

Aniki giggled, but withdrew his hands, staring at Karasu with renewed excitement.

The governor apologized profusely, but Sakyo demurred and said this was quite fine. They were put up in the night, each in their own rooms.

Karasu didn't rouse until the next morning, when they were back on the bug. The Elder Toguro had carried his unconscious, drooling form. He'd even brought his mask, which had been off to allow him to drink.

Karasu snapped awake and bolted up, staring around wildly. "What happened?" he groaned, wiping his face, grimacing at the tracks of drool.

"Oh, Beast, how good of you to join us," the Elder Toguro chuckled.

The reaction was everything Kurama could have hoped. Karasu's jaw fell slack. His eyes widened. You could see the goosebumps rising on his skin. He was so horrified he couldn't raise his temper.

"Where did you hear that name," Karasu asked. Aniki Toguro began to cackle. "Where did you hear that name, Toguro."

Kurama could physically see the debate crossing Aniki's head—betray the trust of those performers and get them all killed, or frustrate Karasu by refusing to answer the question.

He couldn't see the performers' death. Karasu was right in front of him, claws extending.

Kurama knew which one he'd choose.

"A little birdy told us. Tell me, Beast, how did you pick the name Karasu? Favorite type of bird shit staining that gutter you crawled out of? Can you still talk in that gutter drawl?"

Karasu's eyes bugged, his pale skin burning red with fury. He swiped fast enough he caught flesh—but he'd been goaded to attack and that made him utterly predictable. The flesh sliced cleanly and reformed, Aniki's smile still fully in place.

There was an insane light in Karasu's eyes, an expression that said he would damn consequences left and right. Kurama couldn't see them, but he was on high alert for the bombs he knew the madman was forming.

Toguro grabbed Karasu by the scruff of his neck and shook him brusquely. The bombs detonated harmlessly against Karasu and Toguro's skin.

Karasu writhed and shrieked, having reached a level of tantruming rage that was strange in that it was so obviously a forced change of emotion by Karasu to cover shame and horror. He was like an open book, something Kurama had never found him before.

Toguro wasn't looking at the man spitting and writhing like a snake gripped just below the fangs.

He was looking at Aniki, instead.

"A man is entitled to his past," Toguro told his brother calmly.

"Oh don't be like that. Didn't he tell us once he was son of a some la-di-da tengu nobleman, related to Sojobo himself? Really he's just a dockside brothel brat-cum-baby whore. Did you even know your daddy, Beast?"

"I knew him!" Karasu shrieked. His voice slid low. "I knew my father."

"Yeah? What was he, a kappa?" Aniki giggled at his own joke. "Where's the wings?" Aniki cooed to him. "Crow Tengu have wings, kiddo."

"They were ripped off my back," Karasu hissed. His enraged scarlet eyes fell on Kurama, who met them squarely. "The Youko Kurama ripped them out."

"Oh!" Kurama said, a startled exclamation. A smile crossed his face. "I remember you."

He did, too. A short-haired urchin with a foul mouth who'd tried to bandit the legendary bandit of his food.

"Is that what this has all been about, Karasu?" Kurama asked, patronizng. "Revenge is a fickle, unfulfilling beast." He watched his word choice draw red into white.

Every word Karasu forced out was interrupted by a pant. He had teeth grit, hissing in rage. "Revenge—tastes sweet—and yourswill taste—the sweetest yet. Mark my words, fox."

Yuda piped in, clearly annoyed by the proceedings. "This is highly irregular behavior."

Karasu turned his narrow red eyes onto that edge of the moving bug.

"Enough," Toguro boomed, using battle timber.

Everyone stared at him, except Karasu, whose face he physically turned to meet his.

But he wasn't talking to Karasu.

"A man. Has a right. To his past."

Aniki scoffed, lips lowering into a scowl. "You're just saying that because of father."

Toguro rounded on his brother. "Do you want to air that here? Surrounded by enemies? Is that a good place, brother?"

He let go of Karasu's face. Karasu jumped back and watched them all, transparently planning their deaths, his face mutilated by rage.

They bunked down for the night in a hunting lodge in the middle of the wastes of the Nindrekian swamp. The logs that made up the walls and the floor were aged thick with moss and dust. Every step creaked. After a nearly silent meal, Toguro brought Kurama into his room, an arm over him. It seemed a logical place to keep a valued prisoner.

Despite his human body needing sleep far more than his demon counterpart, Kurama was awake. He knew what dangers lurked tonight.

The creaks were like a nightingale floor where Sakyo walked. No one else made a single sound.

Kurama closed his eyes for a moment, sighing out as Toguro took a small breath in.

Something bizarre happened during that breath. His hand, previously lightly resting on Kurama, was now pinning him, the full weight of Toguro's colossus muscles trapping him to the ground. The great youkai let out a gurgling, noisy snore, while Kurama tried desperately to wriggle his way free. And there was a scent, a familiar scent on the air.

Kurama recognized the smell: Makaian Death Bloom, an extremely dangerous plant. As a plant master, the pollen wouldn't kill Kurama—he neutralized it even as it drifted to his mouth—and it was certainly not powerful enough to kill Toguro. But even an S-class would sleep briefly under its influence, and an A-class would be pushed into sleep for hours with a few breaths.

Kurama had neutralized the danger too late. Toguro was no use to him now.

"Finally," Karasu snickered, looming in the doorway. His scarlet talons were fully extended. "I hope you have a carotid, Toguro, because I'm going to go looking."

Ropy appendages jabbed straight through his arms. Karasu cried out.

"Take the fox, and go," Aniki said.

"You tried to kill him yourself during the tournament! Hell, he tried to kill you—"

"My brother will not meet his end by a lowly underling like you. Take that cute little fox and run. When he brings you back, I must be regaled with the full story of his death."

"I'm never coming back," Karasu snarled, gritting his teeth. He grabbed Kurama by the hair before he'd finished wriggling out.

Kurama's mouth was closed.

"We'll see, Beast," Aniki cackled. He waved merrily to Karasu when he tossed the wriggling fox over one shoulder, and ran.

A mad bomb appeared to clasp Kurama's hands together, the force breaking his wrist, and serving as a makeshift bind. Another cracked over his heels. Everything blurred as Karasu hit max speeds. They went hundreds of miles, the treacherous swamp at night no mystery to Karasu.

A bed of fog clung to the hollows with whispy fingers. Karasu was taking Kurama out into the wastes and wilds, using every trick in the book to erase their trail. For ten hours, Karasu raced at the height of what his body could be pushed to do. They never stopped. They never slowed. Kurama's world was a nauseating blur.

Finally, Kurama was flipped unceremoniously off Karasu's shoulder. Karasu staggered, bracing himself against a tree. He pulled Kurama up against his sleek pants by a grip on his red hair. Karasu was panting and languid with sweat.

Karasu turned Kurama over and kicked him hard, exactly where a heimlich maneuver would hit a human. The breath forced out of Kurama's lungs. A second stomp and he vomited at Karasu's feet.

"Did you honestly think I'd let you gas me with my own weapon?"

"Worth a try," Kurama choked, clutching his stomach. His head tilted up to watch Karasu's every move.

Karasu growled, pacing away from Kurama.

"There's no fear in you now," Karasu lamented. He turned back, eyes wide and crazy. "We'll have to work on that."

Thorned vines surged from the ground. Karasu leapt back, but they were quicker, wrapping around Karasu's forearm and piercing the coat, his skin. Bombs removed the vines, but the wound was there.

Karasu staggered, eyes wide. He felt something in his blood, something that shouldn't be there. He sucked the wound like a snake bite, skipping back to the middle of the clearing, farthest from all the plants. Sucking and spitting frantically, he fell to one knee, then backwards. His eyes were still open. The wound still leaked blood into his slack, open mouth. He could still see, and hear.

"You're right," said Kurama, his form lengthening. Long white claws slid out of his hands.

A fanged smile as cruel as Karasu's ever was shone in the pale lightning storm that lit up the bayou day, the night passed some hours ago, though it was a challenge to tell in Gandara.

"There is so little to fear, in you," the husky timber of Youko Kurama's voice told him.

"I beat you in this form once before," Karasu hissed, hallucinations beginning to dance around the edges of his eyes. His eyes flicked, a cat watching ghosts.

"When there was a time limit, Beast. When you were fresh, and ready for battle. When there were no emotions in it—on your end—but so many distracting emotions from dear Shuuichi on mine."

Karasu tipped his head back, and screamed.

Koenma, in teenage form, slammed both hands down on the desk. "Dad, please. We need to rescue Kurama—our fighter. Let me send the SDF—"

"He was hunted by the SDF. Why should we deploy for a criminal?"

"You mean why should we save the human world from being taken over by Yomi?"

"This Sakyo will treat with us. The spirit fox is just—" King Yama flicked his hands, dismissing the idea. "—a criminal, whose rehabilitation I did not approve. And who put your life in danger."

"Sakyo put my life in—! Your version of rehabilitation—" Koenma hissed, "—includes mind control." A pause echoed. "He was worth more to us intact, father."

"I didn't realize you knew about the rehabilitation cases."

"I know more than I let on," Koenma said grimly.

"Koenma, for five hundred years you've kept your nose clean of trouble. Why do you persist in shoving it in filth now?"

"As I said repeatedly to you, Kurama can secure the loyalty of the goat Yomi. You'll have the perfect entrance into Yomi's court. Sakyo is untrustworthy." Koenma swallowed. "Kurama is not."

"A captive spirit fox? A criminal? Hardly."

"A former criminal. He can deliver allegiance with Yomi—true allegiance, with the King himself, not a human stooge. He can deliver the Human Realm, too, unchanged, unsullied. It's worth it, father. Much of our power comes from human souls. Surely you know that by now."

King Yama eyed his son. "If King Yomi agrees to ally with us—" He sighed heavily.

"Yes?" Koenma prompted, elongating the word, a hint of a child's impatience shining through.

"Then—I will get the Spirit Defense Force involved. I will put the weight of the Spirit World behind this fox. He will have carte blanche to act as envoy of the spirit world, though the cameras tell us nothing but that he's still a useless captive."

"I think that will change, soon." Koenma stepped back into a stiff bow. "Thank you, Father."

Koenma left with his back straight. Only when he was in his personal rooms did he walk out into the toilet, and vomit. The greasy, sugary shit he filled his body with was expelled in long, sloppy ropes, burning his throat, his nose.

A knock at the door, a familiar voice. "Come in!" he gasped.

Entering, Botan raced to his side. "Lord Koenma? Did you eat rotten meat?" she scolded.

"No. Go tell Kurama. The plan worked."

For Karasu, things shifted. He was cold. He was bound. His mind was feeding him nightmares and he couldn't see the truth. He couldn't move a single muscle in his body of his own volition.

He had the sensation of wind, and air.

"It's right up ahead. Thanks for the ride, Botan. Remember what I said."

"No talking. Leave immediately. Got it, Kurama."


"Oh right, sorry!"

When Karasu awoke it was to find himself restrained, glyphs crisscrossing his body, cursed ropes. His bombs were inaccessible. He was drooling on marble, into his long windswept hair.

"Yomi!" Kurama cried. Yomi would hear him if he barely whispered, Kurama was pitching this for his advisors, for the larger court, who'd been assembled. "This is one of the prized fighters of the man you want to treat with. A B-class, son of a whore. A mercenary for higher. He's scraping dregs from the bottom of the barrel, and you seek to ally with him?"

"Kurama," a gravelly, forbidding voice said. Karasu looked up to see—a man, like anyone else.

A man who had signed the warrant for Karasu's arrest, for the murder of the nobleman Linaeas. A man who'd pardoned him, given his circumstances.

Had used that word.

Karasu had hated it.

Karasu life was a work of this man's politicized compassion.

"We will discuss this further. Excuse me. I must take my esteemed friend away. There's someone I'd like him to meet."

Kurama—redhaired once more—stood, with the aura of squaring off to go to battle. His boots tapped against the black marble.

Karasu was left reeling, an object of curiosity looked over by A-class guards. Bound, tethered, and forgotten, like an unwanted pet.

Karasu had a moment to think—with clarity tinged with rage—they should never have come here, to try to make an ally out of a demon who had no use for them, and whose psychology they didn't know—and give to him a present who would be a poisonous snake in their grass even if he remained just a bedpet.

And Kurama wasn't presented as a pet—he'd ensured that—so he was not treated as a pet. Karasu, so weak and so frail, had discredited any bargaining position Sakyo might have had.

It was only then—tied by ropes, still woozy and sick and cold, muscles still mostly weak and limp—that Karasu began to feel fear.

The unpleasant scene had happened. The hitman Youko hired had confessed to Youko's plot.

Yomi was still enraged enough to roar as he crushed his head.

But that was hours ago. You'd never know it had happened, the way they sat now, Yomi enjoying a tartare that Kurama, smelling the meat, declined.

"I'd been suspicious," Yomi acknowledged, after the first hour of polite banter changed to strict terms of negotiation—the demon way. The old way.

Kurama's authority as Spirit Realm ambassador hadn't kicked in yet, of course—despite hours of wordplay, Yomi hadn't formally agreed, a process that would happen soon, Kurama believed, and be solidified over the upcoming months.

"They wanted to give you to me—as a bed slave? A whore? I thought how little they knew you, to think keeping you in captivity without killing you was a good idea—or at least maiming you. Hobbling you. Blinding you."


"I know why you never came for me, Kurama. A blind man? I wouldn't last the week."


"And I almost didn't," the King sighed. "You were almost right, friend. I was picked up by slavers, delirious, drinking from a ditch. But there were other uses they could make of me."

"These last few months a slave have been a hell I have never replicated. We are even, then."

Yomi snorted. He reached out. Pressed a thumb on the brow just above Kurama's eyes. "No. Didn't I say? They never maimed you."

Kurama only froze for a moment. He tilted his head, leaving the thumb to slide down over his eyelids, over his cheek, to his lip. He pressed his lip to the pad in a kiss.

"My heart is maimed. I've lost. I've lost everyone, Yomi. All the people I adored. All those who adored me. Let that be crippling enough."

Yomi's ever sightless eyes stayed closed. He smirked.

"You tremble."

"My body is an animal—it feels fear."

"But not you?" Yomi asked. He hadn't moved his thumb. Each word caressed his finger with petal lips. Lips which shivered. "Never did I think I would see the proud Youko quiver in fear of a night with me."

"Do you like it, Yomi? Do you like what they have made me? Craven? A being who fears another's touch?"

Yomi smiled, sadder, this time.

That was when Kurama understood the true cruelty of his decision to force Yomi, so many years removed, to relive his suffering at Kurama's own hands. Kurama knew guilt; it didn't discourage him from his path.

"Collaboration with the Reikai, Yomi. Domination of the Makai—you know the importance of a number two who can augment, who can lead, who can command men and be strong enough to prevail in a fight. I offer you those things, and one more." He tried to downplay this next line. "Me, Yomi. I give you myself."

"You?" the king asked, amused. "The loyalty of a treacherous creature like yourself is worth little."

"Me. To do with as you please. I have learned things in our absence, Yomi." His mother's face. Yusuke's grin. Kuwabara's posturing, showing the muscles. Hiei's pout. "Precious things. I think—" he said it with hesitance, because this was very presumptuous, and could make or break the deal. "—I think I could give them to you."

Yomi could only guess at other motives. For a moment, he wondered what plans Kurama had in reserve. He wondered many things. He wondered why the tells of a liar, so subtle even Kurama couldn't fully hide them, were absent from Kurama's body and face.

Yomi hesitated, then sighed. Better the devil you know.

"I accept your offer, Youko Kurama."