by Talya Firedancer

"Kanpai!" Yuusuke and Kuwabara called out raucously, as they all crashed their cups together. Some unidentifiable green liquid slopped over the rims, a local Makai brew. Despite its vile appearance, it tasted surprisingly sweet and burned pleasantly on the way down.

They drank, Yuusuke and Kuwabara obviously vying for the title of "Who can get most stupidly drunk, the fastest?" So far Kuwabara was winning by virtue of the high-pitched gales of laughter that spilled out of his mouth whenever anything remotely funny was said.

Kurama sipped at his drink more cautiously. He knew that Minamino Shuuichi's body didn't have a whole lot of tolerance; that was why he was always extremely careful with liquor whenever Hiei was around.

Although Hiei had indicated a few weeks ago with that first sweet, fleeting kiss there might be a possibility for a relationship, the Koorime had been avoiding him ever since.

Until now, of course. They were on yet another mission for Koenma, tracking down a small ring of thieves who were operating within the Makai, and they had been searching for two days now. Kurama was lucky it was the weekend, so that he didn't have to make excuses for work, and he'd told Shiori he was going out of town on business (technically true) so that she wouldn't worry.

Their search efforts had turned up nothing so far. The thieves they were pursuing had stolen some artifacts that were "proscribed," according to Koenma. They'd stayed in an inn last night and Yuusuke and Kuwabara had gotten smashingly drunk; they weren't used to potent Makai brew. Tonight looked like a repeat performance. Hiei, however...

He glanced over at the recurring object of his thoughts, glaring sullenly into his tankard of dark green liquid as if he could make it boil and evaporate with a glance. Hell, maybe Hiei *could,* that was a nasty glare. And the way he'd been matching the other two drink for drink, one would think he *was* evaporating it. Actually, Hiei had had more than both of the other boys...

Hiei had been his usual withdrawn self during their search, traveling apart from the group up in the trees, and remaining distanced even when they stopped for the night. Yuusuke had said they would remain together for safety, in the inn, and Hiei had looked as if he would object but chopped it off before saying anything.

Kurama was starting to feel a tiny bit hurt.

Kurama took another swallow of the burning liquid and toyed with the idea of getting drunk. Maybe then something would finally... no. More likely he would just frighten Hiei off forever.

"Ne, Kuwa," Yuusuke said thickly, waving his tankard around. Green liquor sloshed out but he ignored it. "Who would win in a fight... Gatchaman or Ultraman?"

Kuwabara laughed his irritating, high-pitched giggle and Kurama stifled a laugh. He held up a finger, considering the question. His eyes crossed.

"Hn," Hiei snorted contemptuously, pushing himself away from the table, and getting to his feet.

"I'll bet Hiei thinks he could beat them both!" Kuwabara crowed, slapping his leg and laughing hysterically at his own joke. "Little shrimp!"

"Who're you calling a shrimp, you big oaf -" Hiei snarled back, wavering unsteadily on his feet but managing to lurch forward, drawing a fist back.

Uh-oh. He was definitely drunk, and it seemed Hiei made a *nasty* drunk. Kurama got up and grabbed his arms.

"K'rama?" Hiei blinked up at him, then his ruby eyes hardened. "Lemme go. I'm gonna KICK this stupid girly-laughing smartass f-"

"That's enough," Kurama said firmly, pulling him away. Hiei bobbled like a top about to collapse. "Let's get you upstairs. You're about to fall over."

"No 'm not -" Hiei protested in a growl. As they started to walk Hiei grabbed his tankard, swigging it down.

Yuusuke and Kuwabara cheered drunkenly.

When he dropped it to the table, he had a little green liquor moustache. Kurama couldn't help laughing.

"Whasso funny?" Hiei frowned, scowling up at him.

"Nothing," Kurama assured him, resisting the incredible urge to bend over and just *lick* the green moustache off Hiei's skin. He was sure it would taste sweet but peculiar mixed with the saltiness of skin. Instead he wiped it away with a finger, lingering perhaps a little longer than he had to.

"Hhn?" Hiei made it an inquiring noise, scrunching his brows together.

"C'mon," Kurama tugged at his arm, and Hiei reeled, following where he pulled him. Kurama marveled. He was sure if anyone else tried to help Hiei when drunk, they would have ended up fried and crispy on the tavern floor.

They navigated the stairs slowly, as Hiei began to sing a drunken little drinking ditty. Kurama almost burst out laughing, but was surprised at what a nice singing voice Hiei had. Obviously Hiei had put away more than both Yuusuke and Kuwabara combined, and he listed from side to side as they started to walk up the hallway to the room the four of them shared.

Hiei bumped into him, caroling still, and they staggered against the wall. He heard Hiei's rich chuckle as Kurama's arms went involuntarily around him from the force of the impact. But he was shocked when Hiei's arms wrapped firmly around his waist, and crimson eyes glowered up at him.

"Ne, Kurama," Hiei mumbled, as Kurama caught his breath. Hiei was pressing him up against the wall, their bodies awfully close. "I like you." He blinked owlishly. "I like you a whoooole lot."

"Hiei," Kurama murmured, eyes lighting up like green lanterns before he sobered. "I... I've been waiting for you to say that. But you... right now you're drunk. And you won't remember this in the morning."

The Koorime's eyes blazed up at him. "Drunk, huh?" His hand snapped up and Kurama flinched but all the fire demon did was tangle his fingers in a red sidelock of hair, pulling Kurama's head down insistently as Hiei stretched up, and sought his lips.

Kurama sighed and surrendered to the inevitable as Hiei's lips touched his own, a light brush, then firm pressure. He relaxed against Hiei and kissed him back.

*Down, youko!* he thought fiercely to himself, fighting the urge to control the kiss, flick his tongue across Hiei's liquor-sweet lips.

Hiei pulled back, burning eyes growing a touch uncertain. "Kurama... " He seemed a bit less drunk now.

Kurama swallowed hard.

Then Hiei cocked his head, quizzically. "How do you do that thing with your tongue...?"

"I'll show you... " he whispered hoarsely, bending his head. Hiei closed his eyes as their lips met again.

Kurama smiled against his mouth, then nudged at those closed, pliant lips with his parted ones until Hiei was kissing him back, softly, slowly. He caught Hiei's lower lip between his own two, worrying it a little, then ran his tongue along it.

Hiei huffed softly in surprise, breath blowing over Kurama's top lip as he stiffened, but didn't pull away. Not this time.

Kurama covered Hiei's open mouth with his own and licked across both Hiei's lips, tongue flicking briefly into the cavern of his mouth. The Koorime shuddered, the hand in Kurama's hair curling around his neck, the other arm tightening around his waist.

He moved his lips in a slow caress against Hiei's, then dipped his tongue into the little youkai's opened mouth. He fleetingly touched Hiei's tongue with his own then drew back. Hiei's lips moved urgently against his, kissing him almost roughly, and Kurama pulled him closer. He slid his tongue into Hiei's mouth for a more leisurely exploration.

Hiei murmured something incoherent against his tongue, hand moving from around his neck and gliding down Kurama's chest. He rubbed his palm over Kurama's pectoral, brushing a nipple through the cloth and it hardened against his palm.

"Hiei?" Kurama asked in a strangled gasp, breaking the kiss.

"Hn." Hiei's eyes glittered up at him. His lips were parted and he eyed Kurama watchfully as he ran his fingers over that little raised spot of flesh again, looking at it curiously, and Kurama's whole body released a bubbling sigh.

A little wrinkle settled in Hiei's brows as he drew them together, looking concerned but intent. He started to tug Kurama's shirt open then scowled darkly at the buttons.

"Here," Kurama said, breathless, unbuttoning the first top few buttons for him. Hiei pushed his shirt open and eyed Kurama's nipple curiously, brow still creased.

"Kurama, why is it sticking out like that?" he demanded, rubbing his fingers over the little nub again.

Kurama gave him a shaky smile. "You should see what happens when you lick it," he replied wryly. "It's because... it feels... "

Hiei bent his head and Kurama felt the tip of a wet tongue dart out, rolling around his nipple, lapping over it and it felt like his whole body tightened as he inhaled sharply at that tantalizing contact with his bare flesh.

"Ohh... " He sagged. He hadn't expected Hiei to *do* it.

Hiei looked up at him again, eyebrows raised. Kurama smiled at him again, this time more languorously, and said huskily, "That feels *very* good. They're very... hm, sensitive."

Hiei stretched up to kiss him again, working his other hand into Kurama's shirt, and Kurama nipped on his bottom lip lightly, sucking on it. Hiei tensed and growled a little, then bit him back, lightly. The kiss deepened and Kurama began to taste the widening recess of his mouth again. Hiei's tongue moved against his slowly, tentatively, hands tracing over Kurama's hardened nipples sending little shocks of pleasure through him.


*Uh... oh... * He recognized that voice, strangled with shock.

Kurama froze, breaking the kiss, and Hiei turned, his hands still buried in Kurama's shirt.

"HIEI!?" Yuusuke exclaimed loudly, eyes bulging out of his head. "You... you're -" he gasped, pointing at them.

Kurama could've sunk through the floor and died. This was NOT exactly the best way for one's friends to find out one was trying to have a relationship with one's other friend, who happened to be of the same sex...

"Go 'way, Urameshi," Hiei growled. "Can't you see 'm busy?"

"Ano... ano... uh... " Yuusuke stammered, frankly staring at the sight of Hiei and Kurama embraced up against the wall, Hiei's hands inside of Kurama's half-opened shirt.

Kurama closed his eyes and thudded his head against the wall. He did it again, a bit harder. Wishing he would wake up.

Except for the part about Hiei, of course.

Suddenly Yuusuke broke out into violent gales of laughter, doubling over, almost falling to the floor. "You're kissing Kurama!" he howled, forcing it out between gasping chuckles.

Hiei growled deep in his throat and pulled his hands from Kurama's shirt, turning to advance on Yuusuke, death in his eyes.

"Don't you dare!" Kurama said, grabbing him. Hiei struggled, a menacing sound emitting from his throat as he glared at a mirth-stricken Yuusuke. Kurama hung on grimly. He *didn't* think he'd be able to pass it off as "in-the-line-of-duty" if Hiei killed Yuusuke.

"Whasso funny!?" Kuwabara demanded, lurching up the stairs and eyeing the howling, gleefully laughing Urameshi, who had fallen to his knees clutching his gut.

"Hiei -" he began, and Kurama let go of Hiei to dart forward, clamping a hand over Yuusuke's mouth.

"Nothing!" Kurama replied brightly. Yuusuke was one thing, but Kuwabara would NEVER let Hiei hear the end of it. Deaths would result...

"Hey!" Hiei protested, wavering on his feet. Kurama dragged Yuusuke over to Hiei, still unwilling to let go of the wheezing Urameshi who was still giggling, and grabbed Hiei, steadying him. "*I* dinn't think it was nothing...." He blinked up at Kurama, looking offended.

"Shh," Kurama hushed him, as Kuwabara stood and gaped dumbly at them. He scratched his head, pulling a suspicious look, then shrugged.

"I think it's time for all of us to go to bed," Kurama said firmly.

Yuusuke cracked up again, teeth clacking around Kurama's fingers. Kurama ground his own teeth and stifled the exclamation.

"To sleep," he clarified evenly, and Yuusuke laughed harder, turning purple.

"Huh?" Kuwabara said, looking even further confused.

"Forget it," Kurama sighed, turning and dragging two bodies along with him. "Just... forget it."

But as they all bedded down for the night on their respective sleeping rolls, the three others falling into alcohol-assisted slumber instantly, Kurama lay awake for a long time, still tingling with the resonance of Hiei's sweet, liquory taste on his lips.

He wondered if Hiei would remember in the morning.

He prayed to Inari that Yuusuke *wouldn't.*

* * * * *

Hiei slitted his eyes open, head pounding fitfully, mouth tasting worse than anything Kuwabara could've cooked up using ingredients from an open grave, and croaked a feeble curse as the bright morning sunlight hit his eyes. He squirmed, flopping over on his other side.

He stared into Kurama's wide-open, gem-bright eyes, half a room away but regarding him with a slightly peculiar, tender expression in their depths.

Kurama's face got red and he sat up on his bedroll, looking away from Hiei.

Hiei frowned.

*I got drunk last night.* He tried to review the events from the previous evening, drawing a few blanks. He remembered Yuusuke and Kuwabara giggling fitfully over some stupid human tricks. He recalled stumbling up the stairs with Kurama. He remembered...

*I got VERY drunk,* Hiei concluded to himself, recalling the sensation of Kurama's lips against his, a wet tongue sliding over and between his lips, rubbing his hands over Kurama's smooth, silky skin...  *I liked that,* he noticed in surprise. *It felt... really good. Why was I so scared?*

Kurama had drawn his knees up to his chest on the other side of the room, and was staring off into a corner of the room, green eyes distant and unfathomable. Yuusuke and Kuwabara were still deeply asleep on their bedrolls, snoring in a decidedly discordious duet.

*K'so. Why's he... Oh.* Hiei remembered the sad look on Kurama's face when he'd said *I... I've been waiting for you to say that. But you... right now you're drunk. And you won't remember this in the morning.* So Kurama thought he'd just forgotten in a liquor-hazed fog of lost memories, huh?

Hiei knew why he'd stayed away for so long. After that first kiss, the feelings that had knotted up inside him had been... uncomfortable. He couldn't deny his attraction for that kitsune any more. But he didn't have to LIKE it, like this trapped feeling that compelled him to come back, made him want to kiss him and return his touch, and... and more, making him ache with frustration for all the things he wanted that he couldn't name.

But he *could* put a name to what could satisfy all of that. Kurama.

With one swift fluid motion, clamping down hard on the surge of nausea that roiled his stomach, Hiei got up and sat next to Kurama on his bedroll, so quickly the eye didn't really register it.

Kurama blinked at him. "Hiei?" His tone was polite, reserved, questioning.

He was trying so hard to pretend nothing had happened, knowing, just absolutely certain, that Hiei wouldn't remember anything.

"Hn. Stupid fox," Hiei proclaimed, telling him exactly what he thought of *that.*

"Excuse me?" Kurama's tone was a bit hurt. "What did I do now?"

Hiei leaned forward, brushing his fingers over Kurama's lips. The fox looked wide-eyed and startled. "I remember everything."

"Y-you... you do?" Kurama stammered, looking hopeful. "You still -" He left it hanging, obviously unwilling to press the matter.

Hiei gave him the barest trace of a smile, flashing a bit of fang. He glanced over at Yuusuke and Kuwabara, frowning, checking to make sure they were both soundly asleep.

"I still really like you," he agreed, meeting the fox's wide, trembling green eyes, then looked away, unable to maintain that intense contact. "I... I more than like you, Kurama." He forced out the last part, unwilling to concede anything to drunkenness. He shouldn't have to get drunk to tell the fox how things stood, the way he saw it.

"I know," the fox replied softly, and Hiei's gaze snapped back to him, wary. "I... " he paused, then mimicked the fire demon's phrasing, "I more than like you, too."

Hiei sat there quietly for a moment, his expression unreadable, just looking at Kurama. Studying his features minutely, the way he had before he'd kissed him for the first time. Memorizing every line of that beautiful face.

It took all his willpower not to get up and bolt out of the room.

*He's something that can trap you,* a tiny, but overwhelming voice whispered in his head, inflexible and suspicious. *He's something that can tie you down to a world you hate, and feelings that can weaken you.*

Kurama remained sitting in a cross-legged position, watching Hiei watch him with a small, patient smile on his lips. He was waiting for Hiei to make the first move.

*Maybe, just maybe, he can set me free,* Hiei argued with that voice, the old part of him that was closed off to all comers. *I'm so tired of being alone.*

Hiei reached out before he could stop himself, before that voice could take over the way it always had before, and grabbed Kurama's hand. The fox smiled wider, lacing his fingers in his long, slender human ones.

*He's youko,* the voice snarled. *He's had a hundred plus lovers, and he'll turn around and abandon you too.*

"Kurama," Hiei hesitated, actually torn by the grains of truth in that statement. But he didn't know how to phrase the question. "If we... " His voice shut off, and he clacked his teeth together, frustrated. He knew the words. But it was so damned hard to say it.

"You've had a hundred lovers before," he began again, his voice low and intense.

Kurama's face shifted into a rueful expression. "Oh," he murmured.

Hiei plowed on doggedly. Now that he had started, that train of thought just wouldn't stop. "If we... if we become lovers," he choked that part out, "I'm going to be the last."

He stared defiantly at the gorgeous red-haired kitsune, wondering how he would take that. This was part of the reason he'd stayed away so long. Once he'd made a choice, he knew it was something he would never be able to back away from. And it was terrifying to think that this fox had so much power over him, with just one word.

"Okay," Kurama agreed calmly.

"Oh -what?" Hiei blinked. He'd said it so casually. Hiei looked at him suspiciously.

Kurama laughed, a melodious, happy sound, and moved forward, scooting closer to Hiei, putting his free arm around the Koorime. Hiei remained stiff, but accepted the gesture.

"I said okay, is something wrong with your hearing? Ne?" Kurama teased him, smiling over at him. Then he assumed a more serious look. "Hiei... I agree with you. I... I've had a lot of lovers before. But never *love.*" Kurama fixed him with a peculiarly intense look.

*He said... he said love. He said... * what Hiei was afraid to *think,* even in the privacy of his own thoughts. Still Hiei hesitated, looking away, out the window at the almost obscenely bright and cheerful morning until Kurama tugged on his hand insistently. He met that demanding gaze again.

"I'm not playing with you, Hiei. I really do... " This time it was Kurama who hesitated, emerald eyes suddenly soft and uncertain. The next words slipped from his lips so quietly Hiei had to strain to hear it. "I love you."

Hiei froze. Now was the time to bolt. But Kurama's fingers were twined in his. Kurama's arm was around his waist. Suddenly he felt trapped.

Until he realized what a shattering admission this must be for *Kurama.*

The carefree, wandering youko who had always been the thief, reckless and rakish, lover of whomever he pleased, free as the wind--he was in the exact same position Hiei himself was. Afraid to put himself at risk, but unable to turn away. Unwilling to be alone again...

Hiei turned abruptly, but not to flee. He twisted in the loose half-embrace of Kurama's encircling arm, and reached up to kiss the maddening, beautiful, sexy youko who had somehow managed to steal his heart.

Kurama had tensed, expecting rejection, flight, silence, maybe just Hiei's typical "Hn," but not this. Hiei's lips brushed against his own, a light butterfly kiss, then returned, furious and demanding. Kurama kissed him back with all his considerable skill, parting those lips with his own, starting a little as Hiei's tongue darted into his mouth. But quite pleased.

His lover's lips were pliant and sweet, and Hiei kissed him as if Kurama was some kind of dream or apparition, a fragile bubble of happiness that would vanish in the next instant. Maybe a vestige of the Makai brew still clung to them, because to Hiei, Kurama tasted liquor-sweet.