Chapter 05

Yoko had to admit to himself that Hiei was looking more and more like the perfect candidate. He had a fighter’s temperament and if the kitsune was honest with himself, he made good eye candy. Still, there were some things that had to be addressed before he extended an offer of partnership to the small demon. “Let’s speak hypothetically for a bit,” he said, “and assume that we are going to partner. What do you expect from me?”

Hiei looked momentarily startled, but masked it quickly. Yoko had to admit that the koorime’s ability to completely mask his emotions was pretty impressive and would be useful in a fight. “Hypothetically speaking?” he asked, as if seeking confirmation.

Yoko nodded, allowing a small smile to grace his lips.

Hiei snorted. “Why do I get the feeling some of the others you have asked this have fallen over themselves and sworn not to expect anything from you?”

“Because they did,” Yoko answered, shrugging. He was used to being treated like a legend. Star treatment was only novel for the first few months and then it just became a nuisance. Being noticed all the time wasn’t exactly good for business so he’d had to develop countless bags of tricks to get around his notoriety, which of course, just made him that much more notorious, which in turn forced him to develop even more tricks. It was a vicious cycle.

“Well,” Hiei said, pursing his lips. “I certainly have expectations. It’s ridiculous to claim otherwise.”

“And what would those expectations be?”

“I would expect my solo to protect me to the best of his ability and not to use my abilities for selfish reasons without consulting me first. I expect to be treated with dignity and respect and I expect to be sheltered and provided for.”

Those were all common sense, so Yoko didn’t dispute them. If a solo couldn’t provide that much to his partner, he wasn’t worthy of having a partner. “And in return for those things, what could I expect from you?”

Hiei answered almost immediately. “I would give you my obedience as well as my loyalty. I would protect you to the best of my ability as well, since I am a fighter too.” He hesitated for a moment, then ducked his head, flushing as he spoke. “Depending on how well things worked out between us, I would potentially consider the giving of a tear gem.”

Yoko was silent a moment, digesting that. “How many have taken you on with the simple hope that the last would come true for them?” he asked, his voice almost a murmur.

Hiei raised his head, meeting Yoko’s eyes deliberately. “None,” he said. “I have never voiced the possibility to anyone but you.”

That statement floored Yoko. “I-but why?” he finally asked, unable to find better words to voice his thoughts. What had he done to deserve such an offer, even hypothetically made?

“Because you are the first demon who has ever treated me with respect.”

The honesty in those words made Yoko feel incredibly sad. The demon who sat in front of him was beautiful and more than worthy of being respected. Just because he happened to be born to the wrong set of demons, he’d had to face hardships few others would ever understand. He shook his head, clearing it of those thoughts. They would have to wait until Hiei was his, if that was the road the two of them decided to take.

“What expectations would you have of me?” Hiei asked, voice soft.

The question startled Yoko out of his reflection. No one had ever asked him that. “Mostly, I would expect obedience.”

“And the issue of punishment?” Hiei asked. He wasn’t naive enough to think that he would always follow the rules to the letter. Everyone messed up now and then and he was no exception to that.

Yoko took a deep breath, then sighed as he released it. This was the part that he had been most worried about. “It is not in my nature to be lenient,” he said.

Hiei rolled his eyes. “I knew that about you before I met you,” he said, a bit of snark in his voice.

Yoko smiled wryly. “I suppose I am rather infamous for my ruthlessness.”

“As well as your lack of tolerance for incompetence. Both of which, by the way, I happen to admire.”

Yoko raised an eyebrow. “You admire me?” he asked, unable to help teasing him.

Hiei flushed, scowling. “Yes,” he said, biting off the word like it was painful to say.

Yoko chuckled. “I also expect honesty. Lying is one of the things I consider to be the most insulting, so lying to me would be inviting the harshest punishment I can inflict.”

Hiei took a deep breath. “I am not usually a liar. The truth gets me into enough trouble.”

“Yes, I suppose it would,” Yoko said, musing. Out of all the demons he’d ever met, Hiei probably had the fewest reasons to lie of any of them. “The final expectation I would have of you is sex.”

Hiei blinked. “Considering you’re a kitsune, I figured that was implicit.”

Yoko laughed. “Of course. But some demons came to me with the expectation that I would not want to exercise body rights over them.”

“You rejected them out of hand, of course,” Hiei said, a smile tugging at his lips.

“Of course,” Yoko said. “Can you imagine a kitsune being tied to a partner who doesn’t want to have sex? It’s unthinkable!”

Hiei laughed, then sobered. “What about marking?” he asked.

Yoko fought not to wince at the question because this is where he’d had the most trouble with the two or three demons that had come the closest before Hiei to having potential. “If we partner, I will brand you,” he said, keeping his tone emotionless. Internally, he was waiting with baited breath for Hiei’s reaction to that statement.

“Hmm. Brand me? Where? And how?”

“I would use an iron,” Yoko said. “As to where, probably here.” He reached out and traced his fingers along the skin directly behind Hiei’s right earlobe.

Hiei’s breath hitched. “That is said to be the most painful place to be branded.”

Yoko smiled. “It is.” He didn’t offer an explanation for why he’d put the brand there. He didn’t want to scare Hiei off by telling him that he would put his mark there precisely because it was the most painful place and thus the most meaningful. For a partner to sit there and let a solo brand them behind their lobe was an intimacy very few got to enjoy and it demonstrated a level of trust that few pairs managed to obtain.

“Why would you want to brand me there?” Hiei asked, voice small and uncertain. “I am not worth that.”

Yoko frowned. “You don’t think very highly of yourself.”

Hiei looked away. “It’s hard to have high self-esteem when the entire world is always telling me how worthless I am.”

“Then they don’t see what I do.” Saying those words made Hiei look back up at him, which made Yoko smile. Hiei’s red eyes were beautiful; it felt almost like he was staring at a battlefield when he looked at them. And battlefields were where he always had the most fun.

Hiei half-shrugged, uncomfortable with the implied compliment. “I have no problems with branding,” he said. “Actually, I’ve always liked the idea…just never really trusted anyone enough to agree to it.”

“Has anyone ever asked it of you before?” Yoko asked, curious. If they had and been refused, it might explain why the koorime’s past solos had treated him so badly.

“Yeah,” Hiei said softly. “Just one.”

“What happened?”

“He died.”

Yoko was silent for a moment. “Did you agree to being branded by him?” he asked softly.

Hiei shook his head no. “I told him I needed time to think about it, which he was more than willing to give me. But he died before I could give him an answer.”

There was more there, Yoko was sure of it, but he wasn’t going to press. Not when it was something that still obviously bothered the koorime so much. “Were you going to say yes?” he asked instead.

“I don’t know,” Hiei said, pain crossing his eyes. “I was still undecided when he died.”

It was hard to know what to say to that, so Yoko said nothing. He didn’t want to distress Hiei and make him think on painful memories any longer.

“I’m sorry,” Hiei said, shaking his head. “It was a long time ago. I shouldn’t let it affect me the way it does.”

“I understand,” Yoko said. “You never really get over losing someone you love.”

Hiei startled. “How did you know?”

Yoko smiled sadly. “Let’s just say I’ve been through a lot in my life.”

“Fair enough.”

“So you’re okay with branding?”

“I am.”

“Are you sure?” Yoko asked.

Hiei glared at him.

“I’m asking because if we agree to partner, Hiei, it’s the first thing I will do. It will not be something you get a say in. In fact, you will have little say in any possessive markings I decide I want to put on you.”

Hiei took a deep breath, then let it out in a rush of air. “I understand. And yes, I’m sure. The reason you are being so thorough with this is because kitsune partner for life, right?”

Yoko nodded, a small grin gracing his lips. “Indeed. If we partner, it’s for life. I could live up to nearly a million years. Kitsune have an incredibly long lifespan.”

“Koorime usually don’t. But male koorime do. It is said a male can live as long as a kitsune. In fact, our long lifespan is the other reason we are killed at birth-I’m sure you know the first. Such a long life to a koorime is considered an abhorrence.”

Relief washed through Yoko at those words. To partner with someone with a lifespan millenia shorter than his would be torture, but knowing that Hiei could potentially live as long as him was a huge mark in his favor. “Obedience, loyalty, sex, respect. I think that covers almost everything.”

“Almost?” Hiei raised an eyebrow.

“There’s one last thing.”

Hiei looked at him expectantly.

Yoko took a deep, silent, breath and looked Hiei square in the eye. “I am a sadist. I will hurt you for my own pleasure.”

Hiei snorted. “You expect that to be a problem?”

“It isn’t?” Yoko felt winded by his own amazement. In the makai, while ruthlessness towards one’s enemies was expected, to be a solo with sadistic tendencies was still mostly frowned upon.

Hiei pointed to the headband wrapped around his head. “How do you think I managed to survive the incubation process for this thing? It’s pretty much a requirement that you be highly masochistic to even have a chance to live through it with your sanity intact.”

“Highly masochistic?”

Hiei snorted. “You would pick up on that and not how cool it is to have this Jagan.”

Yoko grinned unabashedly. “Yeah, well, can’t blame me for being single-minded. I am a kitsune, after all.”

Hiei grinned back at him, then took a deep breath of his own before sliding off his seat to kneel in front of Yoko. He placed his hands on the kitsune’s thighs and looked Yoko straight in the eye. “I am yours, if you deem me worthy.”

Yoko almost felt dizzy by how giddy the words made him. He reached down and placed his hands around Hiei’s neck, pressing against his throat carefully but firmly. “I claim you. You are more than worthy.”

They stayed like that, Hiei’s hands clutching Yoko’s thighs as Yoko’s hands encircled Hiei’s throat, for a few minutes, each digesting the severity of the decision they had just made.

When it finally sank in, Yoko moved his hands away from Hiei’s throat and placed them on top of Hiei’s hands. Looking straight at Hiei, with a small grin on his face, he said, “Now that we’ve established our partnership, I think it’s time we make it visible. Hm?”

Hiei grinned. “Whatever you say.”

Yoko grinned back, reaching a hand out to trace the flesh behind Hiei’s right earlobe, relishing in the shiver that ran through the smaller demon’s body. Suddenly feeling mischievous, he pinched that flesh hard, which made Hiei jump and lift his hand as if to swat him away. The smaller demon froze mid-motion, realizing what he was about to do, and lowered his eyes in apology. A thrill ran through Yoko at the sight. “Hands behind your back and keep them there,” he said.

Hiei obeyed instantly.

Yoko sat up on the sofa, finding a position that would allow him to explore just how masochistic his partner really was. Which meant, of course, that it was time to brand him. “Mist!” he yelled.

Mist appeared almost like magic in front of him. “Yes, Master?”

“Bring me the branding iron.”

“Which crest, Master?”

Yoko thought about it for a moment. There were three he could use. One was a general crest he used for business. One was his family crest. And then there was his personal crest, a three-tailed silver fox. “My personal crest.”

“Very well, Master.” The tremor demon disappeared and came back so quickly it would’ve been eerie if Yoko didn’t know that speed was one of the species greatest assets.

He took the iron in his hand, noting with pleasure that Mist had heated the crest to the necessary temperature for branding. Perhaps his aide wasn’t entirely useless. He dismissed the tremor demon with a wave of his hand and then turned to look at Hiei, whose eyes were wide with fearful anticipation.

Yoko smiled. “Keep your hands behind your back. I am not going to tie you down or hold you down. I expect you to keep yourself immobile for the duration of the branding, which will last thirty seconds.”

“Thirty?” Hiei asked. “I thought it was only supposed to take five.”

Yoko bared his teeth at the thought of such a short branding. “Maybe if I only wanted it surface deep. It will be thirty seconds and you will take all of it without moving. If you cannot, we will know that we are incompatible. Do you understand?”

Hiei closed his eyes and took a few deep breaths, regulating his body. “I understand. I will take all thirty.” He gripped his arms tightly in his hands behind his back, keeping his eyes on Yoko as the kitsune began lowering the brand towards him.

When the brand hit Hiei’s neck, Yoko half-expected him to jump away yowling. But he didn’t. The koorime gritted his teeth and glared defiance at Yoko’s hand, as if daring the branding iron to try and best him. He noticed the tears spring up on Hiei’s face when he got to a ten count, but he said nothing. At fifteen, the other demon was crying, but silently as if he were afraid making a noise would count against him. Yoko noted idly that the koorime didn’t cry gems the way females of his kind did. At twenty, Hiei kept taking short, gasping breaths to get through the pain, like he needed to scream but was afraid to do so. “You can scream if you want,” Yoko said. “Actually,” he added, “I prefer to hear your pain than for you to suffer in silence. It’s more fun for me.”

Hiei glared at him then for all he was worth. But at twenty-five he broke and screamed. There was only so much pain one could endure before screaming became necessary. And it was about survival too. Screaming actually increased pain tolerance and not moving while a white hot iron was being pressed into sensitive flesh was almost unbearably painful.

At thirty, Yoko lifted the brand away from Hiei’s neck and smiled down at the koorime. “Do you think you can take a second one?” He had no plans to actually mark the demon a second time, but he wanted to see how his partner would answer.

Hiei took a deep breath, then glanced fearfully at the iron before masking it with iron determination and meeting Yoko’s gaze. “I will take as many of them as you require of me.”

Yoko grinned, then let the branding iron clatter harmlessly to the ground a few feet away from them. “One brand is enough. Tomorrow I will teach you the rest of my requirements.”

Chapter 4     Chapter Index     Chapter 6

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