Chapter 04

Hiei looked at the mansion looming before them, hiding his awe. He had never seen a house so big before. Castles and palaces were one thing-they were supposed to be enormous. But it seemed almost wrong for a house to be so large. For one thing, it didn’t speak to the cozy atmosphere he believed it was important to have when at home. And for another, it seemed rather aloof. As if solitude was its preferred state of existence.

An ironic smile twisted his lips. It made sense, then, for Yoko Kurama to live in such a place. After all, there was no one more suited to the solitary lifestyle than the master thief of the makai. Seeing the mansion made Hiei wonder all over again why the kitsune was looking for a partner. Boredom, maybe. It was said that Yoko was over a hundred years old, but no one knew his true age. Rumors suggested anywhere from a hundred to a millenia and it was a topic speculated about quite often. Hiei himself had ventured a guess or two on occasion, but generally found himself uninterested in idle gossip.

He spared a sidelong glance to the tremor demon at his side. Mist seemed to have regained his confidence. He supposed the scaly demon had earned it. He knew he was rather difficult to deal with. He felt his heart twist with a bit of sympathy for the tremor demon and he rolled his eyes at himself. Tremor demons had hunted him mercilessly for years but it figured that the first one who treated him with any semblance of respect would manage to wrangle a bit of sympathy from him. If Hiei had a weakness, it was that he was too soft in his own eyes. He could kill mercilessly, but once someone showed him even a shred of kindness, he had a tendency to blind himself to their faults. Which was how he’d ended up in partnerships where his solo had abused him. He made a face at himself. This time he couldn’t afford to give himself away so easily-he was dealing with Yoko Kurama, after all.

Hiei wondered how Yoko was going to act. It was going to be his first time ever meeting someone of Yoko’s class, which made him a bit nervous. He had never even been in the same room with an S ranked demon before, let alone considered as potential partner material for one. He frowned at the thought. If he ended up accepting Yoko’s proposal, it would create trouble for both of them. After all, he was an imiko, an abomination-his very existence an aberration.

The potential danger didn’t bother him. He had been surrounded by danger since the moment he was born. What concerned him was whether or not Yoko had considered that angle and its implications before requesting his presence. If he hadn’t and Hiei brought it up, would it make Yoko dismiss his potential as a partner out of hand? Hiei sighed. In all his experience, such a thing happening was entirely plausible. Hell, not just plausible, but the most likely scenario.

He would probably walk into Yoko’s mansion, meet the legend, be a disappointment to him, and be dismissed entirely. That was generally his luck. He squared his shoulders as the door to the mansion loomed in front of him. He was a few feet away from meeting the only demon he’d ever respected, even if only from a distance. He began to take a step forward, only to have Mist place a hand on his arm to stop him. Glaring, he turned to face the tremor demon.

Mist scowled at him. “Not yet.”

Hiei yanked his arm away and scowled, tapping his foot as he waited for a reason.

“I must warn you before we go inside.”

“Warn me of what?” Hiei demanded, arms crossed fully over his chest.

Mist began to answer when the sound of the door being opened from the other side silenced him as Yoko stepped out.

“Do go on, Mist. I would love to hear what you wish to warn him about,” the kitsune said, fire flashing in his golden eyes.

Hiei took the time that Yoko was spending glaring at Mist to stare at him. The kitsune in his humanoid form was the most alluring male he’d ever seen. His ears sat in almost perfect symmetry between silver hair that gleamed in the sunlight as it fell down past his shoulders. Speaking of his shoulders, they were broad and firm, his entire upper body muscular and trim. Allowing his eyes to drift lower, Hiei noted the silver tail curled around Yoko’s thighs and that his lower body was just as muscular as the top half. This survey of Yoko’s physical features took no less than half a second, so he didn’t miss the exchange between the two demons.

“Master Yoko,” Mist said, his voice going tight with fear.

“Mist, you are severely trying my patience.” There was no mistaking the menace in Yoko’s tone.

“I was only going to warn him about your inability to resist killing someone you have in a choke if they struggle,” the gray demon finally muttered.

Hiei rolled his eyes and spoke before Yoko had a chance to respond. “You really like to drama things up, don’t you?” He turned to the kitsune. “Your aide is an idiot. What ever possessed you to use a tremor demon?”

Yoko smothered a laugh, reducing it to a small smile. “Tremor demons are the only ones who are tough enough to handle my temper.”

Hiei raised an eyebrow, deliberately meeting Yoko’s eyes. He was determined to treat this S class demon the same way he would anyone else. “I’m not so sure that’s true.”

Yoko didn’t bother to suppress his laugh this time. “Perhaps,” he acknowledged with a slight grin. “Here, let’s go inside where we can talk more comfortably.” He pushed the door open with his palm and walked inside.

Hiei stared at Yoko’s back for a moment, taking note of the fact the kitsune expected to be obeyed without question. Snorting silently, he followed him into the parlor, keeping his awe at his surroundings in check. He was here to talk business, not ogle the art on the walls.

Yoko settled on a red sofa, curling his feet up underneath him, his tail tucked comfortably around them as he studied the small demon in front of him. Physically, Hiei was incredibly attractive and he could see that his small stature would work in his favor as it would lead enemies to underestimate him. The imiko’s black hair was the darkest shade he’d ever seen with a white starburst that made him itch to run his hands through it and he wondered idly if it was as silky as it looked. The white headband around his head was obviously a barrier sealing in the Jagan and his eyes were red, a color nearly as rare as the gold of Yoko’s own.

Hiei looked around a moment, noting absently that Mist had disappeared, before deciding on the matching chair to Yoko’s right. He didn’t want to appear too aloof by choosing a seat on the opposite side of the room, nor too forward by choosing a seat directly beside the kitsune. He felt Yoko staring at him, probably sizing him up, but didn’t comment on it. He was used to other demons eyeing him, but they were usually trying to decide if he really was as frail as he appeared. He held no illusions about his appearance; he knew he looked weak.

Finally, Yoko spoke. “I assume you know why I requested your presence here.”

“I know you’re looking for a partner,” Hiei said, shrugging. He was still pretty convinced he was going to walk out of here flying solo. That’s how it generally worked for him.

Yoko stared at the demon sitting across from him, trying to read the expressions on the koorime’s face. If he didn’t know better, he could swear that the demon didn’t expect anything to come of this meeting. “I am. Did you see the notice when I first sent it out?”

“I did,” Hiei said.

“Why didn’t you come then?” Yoko asked, curiosity getting the better of him.

Hiei stared at him, then gestured at himself. “Why would I presume to come here without an invitation?” He knew his voice was bitter, but he couldn’t help it. “To most, I am just an imiko, not worth consideration.”

Yoko frowned. “Please do not refer to yourself as an imiko. You are not cursed, nor are you an aberration.”

Hiei snorted, sure the kitsune was just humoring him. But the eyes that met his were deadly serious. He blinked in astonishment. No one had ever denied he was an imiko, but Yoko seemed intent on making sure it was understood he didn’t consider him one. “Why do you say that? There isn’t a single demon out there who would agree with you.”

Yoko tossed his hair back over his shoulder and grinned mischievously. “Why should I care if they agree with me? They can’t touch me.”

Hiei smiled wryly. “True enough. But I still have to know why you don’t consider me an abomination.”

The kitsune shrugged. “That’s easy enough to answer. I don’t hold stock in any superstition and it is only superstition that says a male koorime is an imiko. I personally find it impressive that you survived. No one else has.”

“I don’t know how I survived, if you are asking,” Hiei said. “I know that I was thrown off a cliff when I was an infant and assumed dead. I was taken in by a band of thieves that found me but they abandoned me when I was about five years old because I took a life and it terrified them.”

“You were only five when you killed your first?”

Hiei nodded, suddenly uncomfortable. Very few had been able to accept that he had become a killer at such a young age.

“I find that impressive.”

Hiei raised an eyebrow. “Most would say terrifying.”

Yoko flashed a grin that was all teeth. “I am not most.”

“That’s good to know. I’d hate to partner with someone afraid of his own shadow.” Shit, the words were out of his mouth before he could stop them. Hiei flushed but didn’t take them back.

Yoko laughed throatily. “I agree with the sentiment entirely. My aide wasn’t sure you were even interested in partnering at all,” he said, changing the subject abruptly.

“I have always been interested,” Hiei admitted reluctantly, “but most of the demons I have attempted partnerships with before have ended up betraying me.”

“And where are these demons now?” Yoko asked.

It was Hiei’s turn to smile with all teeth. “Dead,” he said, unable to hide the satisfaction that thought caused him.

“Ah. So you kill anyone who betrays you?”

Hiei blinked. “Well, no. Just the ones whose betrayal is severe enough to warrant death.”

“And all of these partners in the past have warranted death?” Yoko was curious and a bit concerned. He definitely didn’t want to take on someone with a habit of killing his partner.

Hiei either didn’t notice the hesitation in Yoko’s voice or simply didn’t feel it mattered. “Yes,” he said. “They did.”

“Mind if I ask what they did that was so bad?”

“One of them attempted to sell me to a human bounty hunter, one of them tried to destroy the Jagan the only time I ever used it in front of him, and one of them took on a second partner and assigned him the task of killing me.”

Yoko blinked back his surprise. All of those cases warranted death. To do any of those things to a partner were just unthinkable. And unforgiveable. “Have you had any partners who didn’t betray you in such a severe way?”

Hiei looked away, uncomfortable. “Yes. One.”

Yoko wanted to press, but he could tell that this was a subject Hiei wasn’t quite ready to talk about with him. “Okay.”

Hiei blinked. That was it? Just okay? He was expecting more of an interrogation. His previous partners had all pushed and prodded until they had gotten his entire life story before even considering him.

“Do you have any questions for me?” Yoko asked, pulling Hiei back to the conversation.

“Why are you looking for a partner?”

“Do you want the simple reason or the complex one?”

“Simple is fine for now.”

“Well the simple reason is that I’m bored of flying solo. I’ve spent more than enough time on my own and I am curious to find out what it’s like to have a partner.”

Hiei nodded. He’d thought it might be something like that. “You don’t have to answer, but I am curious as to just how long you have lived.”

Yoko smiled indulgently. “Most are. That’s something I will tell you if, and only if, the two of us decide that we would work as partners.”

“Fair enough.”

“Any other questions before we discuss how partnering would work between us?” “Yeah. Why were you interested in me?”

Yoko laughed softly. “Because you’re nothing I’ve ever experienced before. That grabbed my attention immediately.”

Hiei scowled. “So I’m just a novelty?”

Yoko lost his amusement, eyes flashing dangerously. “I would never have seriously considered you as a partner if I thought all you would be was a novelty.”

Hiei felt himself tense a little at the anger in Yoko’s tone, but it didn’t floor him. “Good,” he said. “Because I would never seriously consider partnering someone who wanted to use me as a trophy.”

Yoko stared at the koorime as he processed the fact that the demon had just stood his ground. No one ever stood their ground. For the first time, he felt hope blossom in his chest. “Of course not,” he said. “Besides, that was only what grabbed my attention. Not what held it.”

“And what was that, then?” Hiei asked, arms crossed stiffly across his chest.

Yoko grinned. “You, of course.”

Hiei faltered, unable to think of anything to say in response. That had been the last thing he’d expected the kitsune to say to him. “Oh,” he said dumbly.

Feeling smug, Yoko asked, “Shall we discuss the implications of partnering now?”

Hiei nodded, motioning with his hand for the kitsune to begin.

Chapter 3     Chapter Index     Chapter 5

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