Chapter 13

Once inside Yoko’s mansion, Hiei dropped to his knees, ignoring the look the other kitsune gave him. He’d already tried Yoko’s temper too far; he wasn’t going to try it further.

“Your room is in the same shape it was when you left it,” Yoko said to Mayai. “I have a matter to attend to, so go ahead and get yourself settled in.”

“Alright,” Mayai said, shifting to kitsune form before bounding upstairs.

Yoko turned to Hiei. “What am I going to do with you? I take you on a hunt and you forget the rules. Do I need to take you back to basics?”

Hiei swallowed, throat dry. Going back to basics after he’d progressed this far would be depressing beyond belief, but he didn’t have the urge to challenge Yoko after the way the evening had gone. So far I’ve come, he thought,from the sullen koorime who refused to partner out of distrust. “If it pleases you, Solo,” he said.

Yoko made a small noise of approval. “It seems you still retain some sense of propriety. I could whip you for your misbehavior, instead of busting you back down. How many lashes do you think your actions warrant, Hiei? Make sure to give me a number.”

Hiei flinched, the motion close to imperceptible. Being asked to provide a number for his own punishment was worse than being on punishment detail. If he was even a single stroke off, he’d receive twice the original number. “May I have a moment to consider the question, Solo?”

“You may.”

A full minute passed before Yoko spoke again. “Give me a number.”

Hiei didn’t hesitate, though there was no way to be sure his guess was accurate. “Sixty-five, Solo.”

“Too bad,” Yoko said. “You went twenty too high. It’s good you expect me to be so harsh, Hiei. It means I’m doing my job as your Solo well.”

Hiei bowed, resting his forehead on the lush carpet. Because he’d guessed wrong, he would be receiving ninety strokes—twice the intended.

“Because I’m addressing your lack of respect,” Yoko said, “I will spread the lashes out. I think fifty to your back and twenty to each of your feet should suffice.”

Hiei drew in a soundless gulp of air. Twenty whip strokes weren’t a joke and his feet were the most sensitive and vital of his extremities. The punishment would affect his ability to balance, to walk, and to fight. But Yoko would expect him to compensate for that weakness with his extraordinary ability to withstand pain.

“Well, Hiei,” Yoko said. “Your choice. The whipping or back to basics?”

“The whipping, please, Solo,” Hiei said, flushing. Participating in his own punishment brought home to him just how badly he’d disappointed Yoko.

“Then get into position. I’ll be whipping your feet first.”

“Yes, Solo.” Hiei hated this part. He laid on his back and lifted his right leg so that the sole of his foot was exposed. He braced it by putting his left foot behind his right knee and grabbed his left foot with his right hand, locking the right leg in place. Moving would anger Yoko and double the strokes, and Hiei was expected to do the seemingly impossible and remain in place without any external restraints.

Yoko unfurled a whip from one of the seeds in his hair. It was a thorn-less whip, as he didn’t wish to embed thorns in his partner’s skin. “Count them.”

“Yes, Solo.”

The whip whistled through the air and split the skin on Hiei’s foot when it landed. He didn’t bother to hold back and shouted in pain as it landed, forcing himself to stay still. “One, Solo,” he said.

The first ten fell in rapid succession, Hiei announcing their arrival with a wavering, but unfaltering, voice. As the tenth landed, he cried, “Ten, Solo,” and then no more fell. It took him a moment to realize that Yoko had stopped. “Solo?” he asked.

“Switch legs.”

Hiei obeyed, even as he wondered why the switch was occurring before twenty strokes had landed. And then the first stroke landed on his left foot and he didn’t have time to wonder anymore as he got lost in the haze of pain.

Like before, Yoko stopped at ten. “Stand up and brace yourself against the wall.”

“Yes, Solo,” Hiei said, hissing as his cracked and bloodied feet made contact with the floor. He positioned himself against the wall and took the fifty strokes, counting as they fell. Every stroke that landed on his back pushed his feet further into the floor and he almost missed the thirty-fifth count as the pain in his feet brought tears to his eyes. But he recovered quickly, having no wish to double the count. Mistakes with Yoko called for double or triple the original punishment, and Hiei was under no illusion of being able to withstand and extended whipping. Not when this one, a light one by Yoko’s standards, was pushing his limits because of the additional pain in his feet.

The fiftieth stroke fell. “Fifty, Solo,” Hiei said, panting with the effort it took to remain standing up.

“Resume the foot whipping position.”

“Yes, Solo.” Hiei dropped to the floor, tears flowing freely down his face. He’d only gotten to the point of tears a few times before, but he made no attempt a hide or prevent them. Yoko loved to see his pain and his emotions expressed openly.

Yoko dealt the last twenty strokes, ten to each foot, and then reduced the whip back to a seed that he tucked into his hair. “Well done, Hiei. Is it safe to assume you’ll mind your manners?”

Hiei gasped as he settled into a kneel at Yoko’s feet, the pain of movement making his eyes water. “Yes, Solo. Thank you for correcting me.”

“I don’t understand why no one else took you on,” Yoko said. “You’re everything everyone could want in a partner. The first of the S-class demons will be here tomorrow. I have no doubt you’ll make me proud.”

“Thank you, Solo,” Hiei said. “I hope I live up to your expectations.”

Chapter 12     Chapter Index

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