Chapter Five
Of Ningen Courtship Rituals

by Talya Firedancer

Kuwabara was on his way to Genkai’s temple to find Yukina.  Today, finally today, was the day he would ask Yukina to marry him.

“Yukina-san, Yukina-san,” he burbled to himself as he pranced up the stairs to the temple, gripping a bouquet of flowers so tightly he nearly crushed their delicate stems.

He ground to a halt as the trees rustled and something dropped from above; he tensed, half-expecting it to be the familiar dark-cloaked, annoying figure of Hiei, who ALWAYS seemed to be hovering whenever he was around Yukina...

But it wasn’t.

A nondescript, brown-haired man gave him a wide, slightly pointy-toothed grin.  “Ohayo.”

Kuwabara frowned.  “Who are you?” he responded instead.  He could sense subtle waves of youki emanating from the... not a man.  A youkai.

“That’s not important,” the man shrugged, snapping up a brown hand.

“K’so!” Kuwabara cursed, throwing himself to the side, rolling and coming up with his rei-ken in his fist.

The man shrugged and flipped over his head as Kuwabara lunged at him, slicing through the air in a burning arc of reiki.  He pivoted and flung his hand out again.

Kuwabara leapt at him, rei-ken poised, then shuddered to a halt as he felt a wave of - something - wash over him.  “Nani!?” he exclaimed, shaking his head.  He wavered briefly on his feet and put a hand to his head.

Then his eyes snapped up wide open and he clutched his weapon firmly in his hand, prepared to meet his attacker and accuse him of not being manly.

“I, Kuwabara Kazuma, will defeat you!” he announced, waving the rei-ken threateningly.  Then he realized he spoke to empty air and suddenly felt foolish.  He shut down his blazing sword, then stooped to pick up the flowers he had bought for Yukina.

They were crushed.  Like his hopes.

“How could I possibly present her with such a sorry excuse for a love token!?” Kuwabara wailed, crestfallen.

He resumed his walk up the stairs, hanging his head.  His body tingled for an instant, an odd sensation that faded quickly.

“I guess I won’t be able to ask her today,” he decided sadly, dropping the ruined bouquet in a nearby bush.

Two figures watched from the top of a nearby building as Yuusuke and Hiei emerged from Kurama’s apartment complex.  Iryoku’s lips upturned in a vicious smile.  She had been there for a while, observing certain events of interest to her.  She had been there long enough to note that Hiei had apparently spent the night.

“I told you the little one was there,” she informed her companion smugly.

Seiki brushed back brown braids from her face, narrowing hate-filled eyes at Hiei.  “He can’t have him!” she pouted angrily.  “That beautiful redheaded ningen should be *mine!*”

Iryoku hissed as a third figure emerged from the building, white-haired and slight of build.  “Ariodh,” she hissed in recognition, her face clamping up tightly like a fist.  She looked over at Seiki.  If she pushed her buttons just right, the fire adept would explode with rage at the rival for her bishonen target, and perhaps finish the betrayer off in the process.  Seiki was an expendable weapon to unleash - and any of them would do for targets.

“They have recently been lovers,” she said in dry, malicious tones.  “Your precious Kurama, and the little one, Hiei.  Why don’t you go eliminate your competition...?”

Seiki nodded fiercely, fire blazing up in her clenched fists.  “I’ll kill him for taking my beautiful Kurama,” she replied with a sadistic grin.  In a puff of smoke she vanished.

Iryoku contemplated the figures of her opponents, rapidly vanishing into the distance. Seiki probably wouldn’t be able to kill more than one of them - not with Ariodh there, and Masamune.  The little traitoress had too much power, even though she barely realized it.  But eventually the Reikai Tantei team would be worn ragged from the carefully-chosen assassins she had selected, brought in by blood-debt.

And then she would have her true revenge.

“He must’ve gone to his mother’s house,” Yuusuke tossed out to the others as they ran.

Hiei merely snorted, blurring as he leapt to the nearest rooftop.  His initial reaction had been to dismiss the whole mess - it was just a bunch of ningen, anyway - but Kurama was involved.  It was Kurama’s family, and his fox would be hurt if *they* were.

And what if the shapeshifter showed up again, wearing *Hiei’s* face?  Not only was it an insult not to be borne, but the stupid fox might not suspect him until it was too late...

He shook his head, running lightly along the ledge of the building.  He sensed the malevolent youki a fraction of a second before the gout of fire exploded in his face, and Hiei hissed as he was thrown off his feet.  He twisted, falling off the building and drawing his katana, searching almost automatically for the fire-bitch as he hurtled through the air.

“You won’t escape my wrath!” a warm voice echoed through the fire, rich with malice.  Seiki’s form blossomed in front of him in liquid fire that materialized from air.  She flung handfuls of the fire at him.  “FIERY BLOOMS!”

Hiei ricocheted off the far building and dodged, then twisted to strike.

Her fire flared up and his katana swished through it uselessly, cutting only fiery ribbons.

Seiki’s mocking laugh pierced the air, echoed through a hundred flames, as Hiei fell to the pavement, swiveling cat-quick to face his opponent.  “I’ll kill you,” her rich voice curled around him contemptuously.  “And then I’ll take Kurama for myself!”

Hiei snarled, preparing to strike again.

A white line blazed up behind her back and Seiki staggered forward, a look of astonishment crossing her face.  Ariodh took a step forward behind her, Masamune blazing in her hands, eyes wide and almost uncertain, but her face was determined in spite of that.

“You don’t have the right!” Ariodh declared, mouth set.  “You have no right to interfere between their pure feelings, the beautiful harmony of emotions that they share, and I will punish you!”

Seiki staggered away from the angry youkai, whose soulsword blazed with righteous wrath.

“I won’t forgive you!” Ariodh continued.  “You may be able to elude *them,* Seiki, but you know you can’t avoid *me!*” The sword’s white aura blazed up around her.

A look resembling fear flitted over Seiki’s face.  She stood, clutching at the edge of the slash wound that began at her shoulder, dripping down her arm, and undoubtedly continued down her back.

The fire shot up to enclose her and then bled away across the pavement.  Ariodh swore, spearing a crawling line of it as the orange-red flames died.  The fire was gone.

“It looks like we have more than just a shapeshifter to worry about,” Hiei observed.

“It gets worse.”  Ariodh looked up, pale face set and expressionless.  “But I can handle Seiki.  She’s afraid of my soulsword.  It’s a fire she can’t control.”

“Hn,” he shrugged, uncomfortable.  How had Ariodh known about him and Kurama?  She had mentioned something about pure, beautiful emotion - as if somehow she had experienced what they had - she was an empath...  Hiei stiffened, his cheeks burning.  She must’ve seen, or felt...

“Che.  I can take care of myself,” he snapped at her.

“I’m sorry for interfering,” Ariodh conceded quietly, her little face as intent, guarded, as he’d ever been.  “But I know how to take care of *Seiki.*”

“If Seiki is challenging me for Kurama, I will be the one to answer, is that clear?” he scowled.  Hiei turned without waiting for an answer and in a swift blur reached the top of the next building.  “Hayaku,” he called down to her.  “Yuusuke is ahead of us.  Makes us look bad.”

Ariodh re-absorbed her sword and followed in a single leap, her expression vaguely challenging.

“Not bad,” he allowed, as he began to run again.  “But you could use some training.”

“I didn’t get much, with Hakamura.  Only what he wanted me to know.

Nothing useful.”

Hiei wondered, as they ran, if it would be worth the nuisance to offer her some training.  Easier to just point her to Genkai - then again, able as he was at vanquishing an opponent of Seiki’s level this was technically *twice* she’d saved his life, untrained as she was.  Hiei frowned fiercely.  He supposed he might as well offer, to discharge any possible debts if nothing else.

Kurama burst through the door to Shiori’s house without knocking, nearly out of breath.  “Kaasan!” he called out, frantic.  “Kaasan, are you here?”

Shiori appeared from around the corner to the kitchen, a dishtowel in her hands.  “Shuuichi?”  She looked puzzled.  “Shuu-chan, what are you doing here?  Is something wrong?”

Kurama nearly went limp with relief.  “Kaasan.”  Yokatta, he added mentally.  That shapechanger didn’t hurt her.  *If she knows about my human side - she knows about my FAMILY; she must’ve seen Shiori to be able to copy her...*

“Ah - oh, nothing’s wrong, kaasan,” he hedged.  “I - did anyone stop by here today, or maybe yesterday, looking for me?”

Shiori’s face brightened as she smiled warmly. “Why yes!  A very nice young lady who said she knew you from school, Shuuichi.  She expressed an interest in getting in touch with you again - ”

“Ano... did she ask anything... personal?”  Kurama must’ve looked distressed, because Shiori chuckled.

“Oh, we just chatted for a bit!  I gave her your address.  A very nice girl.  I sense romance in your future, ne, Shuu-chan?”

Kurama nearly choked.  Then he pondered what her reaction might be if he told her he already *was* involved - and if he told her that it was Hiei... another boy...

“Ah, no, kaasan.  I’m not looking for anyone right now,” he replied faintly.  *Because I already have someone.  And I’m never letting him go.*

Shiori nodded a little.  Then her look became more serious.  “Ne...Shuuichi?”


“Don’t wait forever, ne?  Someday, eventually, I will want grandchildren.”  She smiled again.  “Grandchildren to pamper and spoil shamelessly!”

Kurama contemplated what Hiei’s reaction to this little piece of news might be.

“A-ano, Kaasan!” he stammered, ducking his head as if embarrassed.

Shiori laughed and put a hand on his shoulder.  “Oh, Shuuichi, did you run all the way over here for that?  Baka ne!  Let me fix you some tea.”

They started for the kitchen when there was a knock on the door.  “Hm, who could that be?” Shiori wondered as they turned back.

Kurama had an inkling.

The door opened on the solemn row of faces - Yuusuke, even Hiei and Ariodh.

“Oi, K- “ Yuusuke began, the name turning into a cough as Hiei’s boot heel descended firmly on his foot.  “Ano, Shuuichi-kun, you forgot something when you left for your mother’s house!”  Yuusuke held up the item that resembled a penlight.

Oh.  The shapeshift-detector.

“Arigato, Yuusuke,” Kurama replied, taking it.  He *had* dashed off rather quickly.  And he didn’t even know how this damned thing worked.

Hiei’s impassive red eyes gleamed up at him, and a mischievous notion sprang up in Kurama’s brain.  *Crazy fox,* he scolded himself, but he couldn’t resist.

“Would you like to join us for some tea?  Kaasan was just about to make some.”

“Oh, I insist!” Shiori added with a warm smile.  “It’s not often Shuuichi brings his friends to visit.”

Hiei’s ruby gaze hardened and Kurama had to suppress a chuckle.

Yuusuke brightened.  “Sure!”

Ariodh looked intent.  “Food?”

“Hai, hai,” Shiori laughed.  “Come on it!”

Hiei was ready to disappear; Kurama could tell from his expression. He reached out and brushed the youkai’s sleeve ever so slightly with his fingertips.  “Onegai?”  It was a hopeful exhalation of sound, but with a resigned lilt to let Hiei know he would understand if he left.

“Hn,” Hiei sniffed, but he shrugged, following the others into the kitchen.

Fifteen minutes later they were seated around the kitchen table, Shiori bustling around them making little adjustments while serving tea and food.  Ariodh was scarfing whatever was put down on her plate, while Yuusuke and Shiori made astonished comments.  Hiei was regarding a cup of dark green liquid with suspicion.

Kurama nudged his elbow.  “It’s tea,” he murmured.  “You’ve had it before.”

“Shuu-chan, I remember your friend Yuusuke, and the little one - “

Hiei nearly choked on the tea he was swallowing.

“But who’s this lovely young lady?” Shiori smiled.

The three boys glanced reflexively over at the white-haired youkai, an intent little frown fixed on her face as she continued to gulp down food and tea.  Lovely?  They sweatdropped.

“This is... ano... Hiei’s cousin Ariodh,” Kurama introduced her, thinking fast.  She didn’t seem to have a last name, as far as he knew.  Then again, neither did Hiei.

“Eh?” Shiori smiled.  “How long have you known her, Shuu-chan?  Why haven’t you brought her over before?  Are you two dating?”

It was Kurama’s turn to choke on his tea.

Hiei’s eyes gleamed wickedly at him.  He raised an expectant eyebrow.

“Ano... she just recently came to stay,” Kurama explained.

“Arigato,” Ariodh murmured to Shiori, lifting her cup for a refill.

Shiori put more food on her plate.

“It’s nice to se a girl with such a healthy appetite,” Shiori beamed.  “And so pretty!  Shuuichi, you should take her out to dinner sometime.”

Kurama turned a solid shade of red and wished he could slide under the table.  “Kaasan!” he hissed, mortified, glancing over at Hiei.

Ariodh continued to eat, oblivious.

Hiei’s mouth quirked.  “I’m afraid I would have to object,” he said in his deep voice.

Kurama’s neck could’ve snapped with the speed at which his head whipped around to stare in panic at Hiei.  He clamped his teeth down over a hysterical, guilty-sounding exclamation.

“Eh?” Shiori said, appearing a bit surprised.

“She is my cousin, after all,” and Kurama could sense Hiei’s amused eyes on him as he stared into his teacup, pretending to read the leaves, trying to calm his heart, which had seemed to skip a beat or two.  “I must protect her honor during her stay.”

“HIEI!”  Kurama’s voice was a strangled yelp, breaking on an upward note.

“Eh?  Surely you don’t think that my Shuu-chan would act with impropriety.”

“Well - “ Hiei began, that wicked gleam in his eyes.

“Oh, no, no, nothing of the sort,” Yuusuke finally inserted himself into the conversation.  Kurama nearly groaned.

“Hiei’s family has a very strict upbringing; they have very old-fashioned views on courtship rituals - “ Yuusuke continued hastily.  He smiled reassuringly at Kurama.

“Hn,” was Hiei’s reply to *that.*

Kurama restrained himself from burying his head in his hands.  Just exactly *why* had he thought this was a good idea?

The phone rang in the next room, and Shiori excused herself.

Kurama leaned over to Hiei, who wore his normal stoic expression.  “I’m going to kill you,” he whispered almost soundlessly, but loud enough for his lover to hear.

Hiei raised an eyebrow.  “This was all your idea,” he reminded him calmly, picking up his teacup.

“Sou,” Kurama said faintly, trying to think how to get out of this as quickly as possible.

Ariodh continued to eat.

Shiori returned to the room.  “Shuu-chan, it’s for you.”  Her face was a bit puzzled.

Kurama breathed a silent prayer to the fox-god Inari that Hiei wouldn’t perform any more mischief while he answered the call.


“Kurama?  It’s Kuwabara.”

“Ah, Kuwabara.  What’s going on?”

“I’m at Genkai’s.  She wants us all to come. Do you know where Yuusuke and Hiei are?”

“Unh, they’re right here.  We’ll be right over.”

“All right then!  Ja, see you soon.”


“So how well do you know Shuu-chan?” Shiori was asking Hiei, obviously intending to lead the conversation into some kind of invitation regarding Ariodh.  Kurama could sense it.  She seemed to be becoming even more insistent about matchmaking the longer he remained single.

“*Shuuichi* and I - “ Hiei began, a surly edge to his voice, as Kurama stepped into the kitchen quickly, afraid of what his irritated little youkai might say.

“Well, we have to go!” Kurama said brightly.  “Genkai wants us to meet her at the temple.”

“Oh, you’re leaving so soon?” Shiori inquired, disappointed.

“Ah,” Kurama replied, hiding his relief as he gave her a hug and a kiss on the cheek.  “Sorry I can’t stay longer.”  He glared at Hiei over her shoulder.

The fire demon was imperturbable.

“Thank you very much,” Yuusuke said, and Ariodh chimed in.  Hiei just nodded.

On the way out, as Kurama shut the door behind them and Yuusuke and Ariodh were already walking up the path - backs safely turned - he reached over and quite deliberately pinched Hiei’s ass.

The dark youkai jumped and clamped his lips around a particularly sulfurous oath, then turned on Kurama, fist cocked back reflexively to retaliate, red eyes flashing up at him.

Kurama smiled very sweetly at him and patted him on the rear.

“Next time we visit my mother,” he began, as Hiei re-assumed his normal impassive demeanor, “remind me to bribe you first.  So that you’ll behave.”  He cupped one buttock, fingers kneading into the curve.

“Hn,” was the contemptuous response, but Hiei didn’t jerk away from the caress.  “You would have to bribe me to get me there.”

Kurama chuckled.  “There’s a thought.”

Hiei gave him a wry look, swatting his hand away.  “I’ve been informed that my family has very old-fashioned views on courtship rituals,” he observed.  “And Kurama, you haven’t asked permission to court me.”

Kurama blinked.

Yukina and Kuwabara were having tea together, presided over by Genkai.  Kuwabara communicated in a combination of rambling, abashed blushes and debonair phrases delivered off-pitch, making Yukina giggle. Chagrined by the loss of the flowers at the steps to Genkai’s temple, and that strange encounter with the nameless, nondescript youkai, he hadn’t felt worthy to approach Yukina so boldly with an offer of marriage.  Not yet.

Kuwabara was stammering out something about the weather, intending to turn it towards beautiful flowers and a comparison of Yukina, when Yuusuke and Kurama walked through the door, followed by a white-haired, thin little figure.

“Who’s your guest?” Genkai inquired in her dry rasp, eyes moving at once to assess the girl.  She could sense a strange sort of youki.

“Genkai-san, this is Ariodh,” Kurama began, but the little youkai stepped further into the temple, glaring all around with her sapphire-bright eyes.

“Iie,” she responded.

They blinked at her.  “It’s not?” Kurama inquired doubtfully.

“No,” the white-haired youkai scowled.  “I wanted to wait until you Reikai Tantei were all together because I’m only saying this once.”

Genkai spotted the figure of Hiei shadowing the doorway and raised an eyebrow, but refused to comment on it.  “Go on,” she encouraged.

“I was born as Hakamura Ayumi.  I will only admit this name once.  To you, all of you and myself, I am Ariodh.”  She stopped to give them all a significant glare.

Yukina looked a little confused, then began clearing up the dishes for tea.  She moved quietly to avoid disturbing the youkai’s revelation.

“So you are his daughter,” Kuwabara exclaimed.

Ariodh scowled blackly at him and he sputtered a bit, then fell silent.

“I am saying this to you because he is alive.  Somehow, I could feel his ki.  He’s coming for you.  All of you.  And when he’s tortured and played and killed you to his satisfaction... he’ll come for me.”

“Yoshi!” Yuusuke exclaimed, cracking his knuckles.  “Just let him try!  We’ll set him straight!”

“Idiot!” Ariodh snorted, sounding very nearly like Hiei.  “I know him.”  She shuddered, her eyes turning inward, and it seemed for a moment like she would drown in the self-consuming force of those blue pools.  She shook herself absently, like a cat flicking water off its fur.

“I know him,” she repeated.  “He won’t come for you directly.  He’ll send his people first.”

“The shapeshifter!” Kurama breathed, making the connection.  “A bounty hunter targeted for me!”

Kuwabara peered around, wondering if he should speak up, but it seemed almost like there was a thick extra layer of reality clogging his senses.  He couldn’t quite make out what was going on, nor could he really focus enough to articulate what was bothering him.

“Perhaps Seiki was intended for me,” Hiei interjected from the door.

“Maybe,” Ariodh frowned.  “But I think Hakamura would consider Seiki too personally involved. She might be a feint.”

“Seiki?” Kurama interjected, looking faintly green.

“Whatever she is, I’ll take care of her,” Hiei said dismissively.

Yuusuke gave them all a wide, reckless grin.  “Yeah!  We haven’t defeated all those hard rivals for nothing!  Hakamura is a little tin soldier compared to them,” he grinned.

Genkai raised her eyebrows.  She clapped her hands, focusing their attention on her.

“Ah... Genkai-shihan, sumimasen.  What did you summon us here for?”

“To test your training,” Genkai replied dryly.  “It has been a year, you overconfident and foolish boys.  Hiei, I could believe would stay in fighting shape, but the rest of you...?”

“Oh, great,” Yuusuke muttered.  “As if working to Keiko’s specifications isn’t hard enough...”


He blinked and eyed Genkai’s foot, clapped between his hands as he had reflexively caught the kick and automatically raised his ki to counter the invisible force behind it.

“Not bad,” Genkai muttered grudgingly.  “Come on, boys.  Let’s take it onto the training grounds.”

Ariodh looked uncertain as the young men, Yuusuke and Kuwabara complaining loudly, filed out of the temple.  Hiei gave her a long, measuring look.

“Come with us,” he said shortly.  “I can show you a few tricks with that sword of yours.”

Her face was flush with sudden relief... and a look that contemplated gratitude, without knowing what the emotion was.

“Ohh... my aching arms... my legs... my head...” Yuusuke moaned, rubbing at his sore, abused muscles as he sat wearily on a barstool.

“Well, it just goes to show how badly out of shape you are,” Keiko informed him mercilessly, reaching over to sock him lightly in the arm.

“OW!  What was that for!?” he demanded, wincing away.

“Just testing to see how much you can take,” she replied cheerfully.

“Why don’t you do something womanly and rub my back?”

“Why don’t you take your chauvinistic head and ram it into the nearest trash compactor?” Keiko responded, eyes flashing.  “I have a restaurant to run.”

She sniffed and moved off.

Yuusuke grinned once her back was turned.  Then his face was wiped of expression as he remembered he hadn’t told her about Koenma yet, or the fact that he was once again being sucked into the Reikai Tantei business... for who knew how long?

Keiko returned with a drink and some aspirin.

“Here,” she sniffed, eyeing him dubiously.  “For whatever good it will do your thick skull.”

“Ah, it’s good to know you care,” he grinned, popping the top of the bottle.

She brought some food, too, and he considered praising her extravagantly to make up for his earlier remarks.  Then he decided why bother; that would be too inconsistent of him.

“Ne... Keiko-chan?” he said cautiously, warming up to his subject.

Keiko turned on him, her brown eyes beginning to flash.  “Don’t you ‘oh, Keiko-chan’ me, Urameshi Yuusuke; that always means trouble with you!”

Yuusuke grinned uneasily.  Trapped.

“Ano... you know how Botan came to get me the other week?  And we went on that mission?”

Keiko planted her fists on her hips.  “I. Know.”

Yuusuke expected her to haul a mallet out of - somewhere - at any instant.  “Well... Koenma summoned me again this morning.”

Keiko looked at him for a long moment; then abruptly she sighed.

“Spit it out, Urameshi.”

“Well... we’ve kind of restarted the Urameshi team.”

“I figured that, baka.  So how are you going to make it up to me?  And none of your cheap tricks this time, either.  This had better be damned good.”

Yuusuke choked on his drink.

Kurama returned to his apartment, a bit sore but very pleased with how comparatively fit his human body still was.  He was glad he’d kept up with at least attempting an almost-daily exercise program.  Yuusuke and Kuwabara, on the other hand, had suffered hideously from Genkai’s spontaneous workout.

Hiei had vanished somewhere after the review session, and Ariodh with him.

It was funny.  Ariodh seemed like such a puzzling little creature, unwilling to trust anyone... yet for some reason, she was willing to trust Hiei.  They seemed a lot alike, in background at least.

He wondered, as he rummaged around the kitchen, if he should make dinner for three, and decided that he might as well.  He could always store the extra food away for later.

Kurama was just turning off the stove when he heard an ecstatic exclamation of “Food!” behind him, along with a tickling, vibrant sensation in his mind that he’d identified a long time ago as distinctive Hiei.  Ariodh’s youki was a bright flame beside it.

“Hai,” he replied, turning to see Ariodh draped over the counter, eyes alight.  For a withdrawn, closed-off individual, the sight of food seemed to open her up quite a bit.

Hiei stood at a further distance, arms crossed as he looked around the living room as if he’d never been there before.

“How did the training go?” he asked, aware of why the two of them had probably been absent.  He’d noticed Hiei sparring with Ariodh on the training ground, and then Hiei stopping her for a bout of intense instruction.

“She learned fast,” Hiei responded shortly, “compared to a few stupid humans I know.  But okay for youkai.”

“Hiei,” Kurama admonished with a smile.

Ariodh practically pounced on the food he set down before her.  Hiei wandered over to the table more slowly, while Kurama regarded her in amazement.  How much... could she tuck away...?

He’d have to go grocery shopping again.  Soon.

“Do you have a place to stay?  For the night, I mean?” Kurama asked, knowing Hiei probably hadn’t inquired into her arrangements.

“Iie.  Well, I stayed in your tree last night.  I could do it again,” she said, looking up doubtfully.

Both Hiei and Kurama choked.  Then Kurama blushed bright red.  “You...  you stayed in the tree?  The one outside my window?”

Ariodh looked back and forth between the pair.  “Why’re you turning red, Kurama?  Oh... was I not supposed to say something?  OH!  Are you embarrassed because of those really strong funny feelings you two were broadcasting last night?  I thought you would explode!  Both of you!” She frowned.  “I guess maybe you did... kinda...”

Hiei opened and closed his mouth like a landed fish, his crimson eyes wild, while  Kurama sputtered.  “Eh... ano... demo... Ar... Ariodh,omae - “

“You’re not staying in the tree tonight!” Hiei burst out, red-faced, eyebrows slanting down.

Ariodh shrank back.  “G-gomen...”

Kurama collected himself.  She didn’t know any better, he had to remind himself firmly.  Being raised by the likes of Hakamura, she probably didn’t fully understand... what had been going on.

“Ariodh, you can stay in the spare bedroom.  But no ‘peeking,’” he added firmly, hoping he was making himself clear.

“H-hai,” she replied, nodding firmly.  “I won’t.”  Suddenly, unaccountably, she blushed too.

Kurama took care of the dishes after asking Hiei to show Ariodh the spare bedroom of his apartment.  He’d used it for books and storage, but was now rather glad he had it.  If Ariodh slept on the living room couch she might still be able to hear...

He bit his lip and stifled the thought.  Hiei would probably vanish anyway, ruffled up by Ariodh’s voyeuristic revelation.  He knew how intensely private his fire demon lover was - then he grinned.  His lover.  He wished he could say it out loud, to savor the sound.

The youko returned to his bedroom expecting to find it empty, and was pleasantly surprised to be greeted with Hiei, sitting casually on the bed with his legs crossed.  He looked up when Kurama entered the room.

“Hiei... I thought you’d probably leave,” he voiced his astonishment.

“Hn,” Hiei snorted.  “Prudishness is for human.”

Kurama raised an eyebrow.

“And I made her lock the door,” Hiei admitted, after Kurama stayed where he was, waiting him out.  “And promise again not to peek.”

Kurama grinned and sat down on the bed beside his surprising, wonderful, sexy new lover.  His hand reached almost automatically to stroke Hiei’s thigh.

Hiei swatted the hand away.

“N-nani?” he stammered, confused, his bright green eyes widening.  “I thought - ”

Hiei was regarding him with a glimmer of amusement in his deep red orbs.  “You have a one-track mind, kitsune.”

“What do you mean?” Kurama frowned, itching to reach out and caress him, to continue what had been so horribly interrupted that morning.

“Courtship, Kurama, courtship,” Hiei raised his eyebrows, adopting the patient tones of a lecturer.  “Don’t you remember?  You have to ask first...”

Kurama blinked.

He considered for a long moment what to say.  Then he grinned.

“Hiei,” he began, dropping to one knee beside the bed as Hiei snorted, crossed his arms, and eyed him with a faint grin, “my own heart’s flame, could you ever find it in your heart... to permit me to court you?”

“Hn. I’ll think about it.”

“And,” Kurama added mischievously, unable to resist, “to grab you, roll you over onto the bed, and screw you silly?”

The faint smile widened.  “Well - “

Hiei never got the chance to finish the reply.  Not in words, anyway.