AN: Wow, I'm really on a roll, it seems. Was not expecting this to get done as well!

Now beta'd by Akayuki Novak. Thank you so much!

Additional thanks to reviewers OkibiKitsune on ao3, and Akayuki Novak (formerly Akayuki Sawada) and DragonBlaze66 on fanfiction dot net. Their conversations and reviews formed a fundamental part of this chapter for me. Will write some of what we covered in the endnotes for this chapter. Unfortunately, I need to fill the beginning with a short notice.

Anonymous reviewer who begs me not to make Hiei gay:

1. I do nothing that is not canon at the moment, so I think you might need different priorities, especially given this story is a general category. Translation: I am not producing or working towards any couples at the moment, gay or otherwise. (With the possible exception, soon, of the canon mutual crush between Keiko and Yusuke).

2. However, since you're so curious, let me remind you that sex is an act of trust. Hiei does not have enough of that in anyone for such a thing to be possible at the moment.

said, I'm aware of the evidence in the last couple chapters, given my comparisons of Kurama to Karin. Let me remind you of two things: First, Karin is not the only Uzumaki Hiei remembers and is comparing Kurama to. Second, I go with what Yu Yu Hakusho's author said when questioned if HieiKurama was a thing: he didn't intend to write it as such, but in retrospect, he saw that given how he set up and developed that relationship, he could certainly have taken it in that direction.

4. I personally write and see Hiei as grey-asexual, as that will hopefully be the least offending to anyone, and Kurama as a sexual kitsune whose natural personality is casual and equal-opportunity flirtation, regardless of personal inclinations. (You may remember an anime scene in the last season between him and Hiei where he pretended to take something Hiei did as a confession. Hiei's face was priceless.)

Now that the rant's over, Enjoy the chapter!

Slight format change: Have split a long song, and put one verse in the beginning, middle and end. Will be back to normal format on the quotes next chapter.

Chapter Thirteen: The Riddle

See the moon sink down in the sky, darling,
Let your fantasies fly, darling,
Life is cold, and the game is old –
Just see how virtue repays you:
You turn and someone betrays you –
Betray him first, and the game's reversed!

For we all are caught in the middle
Of one, long, treacherous riddle –
Can I trust you?
Should you trust me too?
We shamble on through this hell
Taking on more secrets to sell
'Til there comes a day,
When we sell our souls away!

- First Verse and Chorus of "The Riddle," sung by characters Chauvelin, Maugerite and Percy Blakeney, from the musical 'The Scarlet Pimpernel' by Frank Wildhorn

Information first.

"How long has this been going on?" It's curt, and probably rude, given the way the Sakura-voice that he's come to see as one of his mental advisers (What? He never claimed to be sane) is muttering under her breath.

But he needs the redhead to snap out of it.

"She fainted at work two months ago. When they brought her to the doctor's, he realized she'd lost significant muscle tone and nutrient levels were falling rapidly, despite no change in diet, environment, or routine." Kurama's voice is still too distant, and Hiei must sit as close as he can and concentrate on lip-reading to be sure of the words. That Kurama doesn't tease him about it, irritating as such a thing is, tells him precisely how shaken his partner is.

(He'd never thought he'd call someone that – but there is no other term that better encompasses their bond. He trusts Kurama, not blindly, not completely, but more than he does anyone else in this life.)

(Because, for all he is a kitsune, the redhead isn't a betrayer. A liar, yes, but Hiei always knows when he lies, and he never breaks his word, so that's alright. Hiei can deal with showmen, enjoys dealing with this one.)

"He was unable to diagnose beyond the symptoms; multiple testings showed no cause for it," Kurama's breathing would have seemed normal to anyone else, but Hiei knows him. It's ever so slightly faster and less even than normal. For someone like Kurama, who is control of every part of himself at all times, to lose his grip when not needing to make an impression on strangers that he is doing so –

It is honestly a little frightening.

Sakura, who did this to you?

But this is not the Forest of Death, and there are no Oto Genin he can crush to remove that empty shock from a teammate's gaze and make his world balance back into place.

This is not something an assassin or a bandit or an avenger or a ninja or even an imiko can do anything about.

Yukina could. She heals people…

Yukina was half-trained when she left, there are no leads in sight, and Kurama's mother needs help now.

As he told Shigure, he has little enough honor, but he'll not sell what's left cheaply. Though he's no financier, Hiei and Sasuke have always balanced their relationships with others like debt-books. Kurama has come through for him multiple times in the last year, enough for Hiei to offer him a few details on the search, if not why he's doing it or who Yukina is to him. Kurama has guessed a fair bit more, but doesn't pry or push.

For that, Hiei needs to fix this.

But he can't.

Hiei is very, very good at breaking people. Physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. Unfortunately, he is not nearly as good at putting them back together.

And no matter how much Kurama might look like a mix of Karin's hair and Sakura's eyes and have their respective attitudes with an added dose of politeness and ruthless cunning, he's a different person. Just as Hiei is not Sasuke, even if those memories have reshaped him greatly over the years, subconsciously and consciously.

However, if there is one skill that Hiei has learned from the memories, it's the knowledge that he can't do everything – and therefore, how to delegate.

He can't fix Kurama's mom, certainly not when the fox would have already tried everything he knew how, and failed, enough that he's conspicuously neglected his grooming. The hair he'd been growing out in the months since their first battle, now reaching just past his shoulders, is unbrushed and tangled with herbs. His usually carefully hidden window garden is out on the glass table for all to see and run across, next to a pile of notes. No one who didn't know the redhead would call it at all messy, but the little details, the lack of ironing on the usually crisp school uniform, tell Hiei enough.

"I think it might be my fault."

Hiei jerks, and stares at the redhead. "Explain." His tone is flat and uncompromising, the one that would force answers at swordpoint if necessary.

Kurama gives him a bitter smile. "You remember my classmate, the first time we met?"

"Vaguely. Not her name, but that she got kidnapped, and you wiped her memories. Did it not take?" If a human has found a way to revenge herself that Kurama can't counter… but there's no blood on the redhead's claws, and his human mother is one of the few people Kurama would risk breaking his cover and kllling for.

"What? No, it took fine. But the reason she was out there that night…" Kurama sighs. "She was able to see youkai. I sealed her abilities, along with her memories. But she had awakened her own spirit energy – and I suspect the trigger was exposure to my presence. It wasn't much, but it was enough to see youkai and their traces." He chuckled ruefully. "Our classmates thought she was willing to believe in anything. They weren't wrong, but that was because she could see the evidence to back it up."

Hiei scowled. "I trust there is a point to this tangent? What does this have to do with anything?" Even as he says it, he suddenly understands.

Damn it, how did he not notice his partner has a martyr complex?

"Who has been more exposed to me than my mother? In the years before she saved me from the broken glass, I wasn't exactly careful with my youki beyond what was needed for concealing my presence from Reikei's Hunter Division."

…Lovely. He has a bloody Tsunade on his hands – and he's making morbid mental puns about it.

Sasuke might not have met the woman in person except at a distance, given she was absent from the Kage's Council he crashed, but he'd met Sakura before and after she was apprenticed to the woman, and he'd been around Orochimaru long enough for the Sannin to recount a few things. Granted, the stories the Snake Contract-Holder told his apprentice were usually part of tactics lessons, but it was still enough to get an idea of her personality.

Greatest medic nin in history, as every one around her kept informing her. And she couldn't save either her little brother or her fiancée, the latter dying as she struggled to work on him. Is it any wonder that she became unable to handle her own skills in an operating room, or gave herself the excuse of alcohol and gambling to reenforce her own low self-esteem? That Naruto managed to get her to a state where she could actively heal on the battlefield again is one of his former teammate's greatest accomplishments, in the opinion of both Sasuke and Hiei.

Geniuses don't deal well with failure unless they're geniuses whose successes are built on failure. Otherwise, failing throws them off, sometimes permanently, usually for extended time periods without help. And since they don't know how to recover and never needed to work on something that required working with another for success – they can't change. So they die.

Kakashi's first lesson was one Sasuke desperately needed. Even if Sasuke did not bond quite as tightly with the teammates chosen for him as Konoha intended, he still learned it to some extent.

'You can't do everything and be everywhere; not even if you are as much a master of Kage Bushin as Naruto himself. So you need teammates to cover your blind spots.'

Sasuke was not a genius like his brother. But his exposure to Itachi and others raised his intelligence by interacting with them. He didn't have to be the smartest person in the world. He just had to be smart enough.

The same is true of Hiei.

And fortunately, thanks to Naruto, he knows a little of how to deal with this.

He sharply smacks the back of the baka kitsune's head, then does not retaliate when a thorny vine catches his arm before he can draw it back.

"So that's it? You're just going to blame yourself and give up and wallow in your own grief? What happened to the partner who wouldn't stand down even when you thought your classmate was dead and in pieces?"

Kurama stares at him, startled. It's a surprisingly compelling look. He'll have to shock the fox more regularly.

"Are you the greatest thief of the Makai or not? If we can't find the solution here, we can go look elsewhere! Reikei's library has records, and there's nothing new under the sun, so we can find a solution there! Or – Or we'll steal a healer! Or something! There's always another option, even if we have to use magic!"

The fox is still staring at him.



There are so many ways Hiei could take that. He chooses not to be oblivious, even if it's awkward.

"You're my partner. You value her, even if I don't entirely understand why. I owe you more than I can easily repay at the moment. So we're going to find someone or something that can fix her, and I can balance my debt books."

He looks away, unable to say this last bit while looking at his partner's face.

"I don't find my own mother, what I know of her, particularly reliable or worthy. But yours is another story. She raised you, and without you I'd have gotten myself killed against Yatsude. So I owe her too."

And if he's flushing with embarrassment enough to raise the room temperature a couple degrees, it doesn't matter. Because the empty look is, while not gone, faded a bit from Kurama's eyes.

"…Why Reikei?"

Hiei gives him a Look. Why does he always have to explain the obvious? It figures that the being he's mentally classified as an honorary Uzumaki would have his moment of stupid now of all times. Naruto did it the first time Sasuke threw himself between his downed teammate and a hailstorm of needles.

Unlike that time, Hiei actually has a reasoned answer, instead of having to limit his explanation to an observation that neither of them yet understood the implications of. And a listener who will actually understand and appreciate the reasoned answer, rather than screw up his face into his best impression of his wise grandfather figure and pretend to get it.

"You're older and more experienced in both the Makai and Ningenkai's resources. If there were a solution in either of those, we'd have found it. So we need to look in the Reikei for it. … Besides, it's not as if it's out of my way. I've hit another dead end in my search, so I'd like a chance to hack the records. But your mother is more urgent, as far as we know."

He stands. Better to get moving before the baka kitsune gathers his wits enough to protest.

"Pack your bag, fox, and make whatever 'calls' you need." He still doesn't entirely understand how the telephone works, despite Kurama's best efforts to explain, but he knows what it's capable of, and how to break it if necessary; that's enough to go on. "We're going to the Reikei. I'll check in with a few contacts and meet you at the hospital in an hour. And if you're not ready then, I'll track you down and drag you along anyway."

He sounds far too much like Naruto, Hiei decides as he springs out the window and over the rooftops. But given he's borrowing this solution from his teammate's experiences, that can hardly be helped. Rephrasing it like he'd prefer might make it break down. After all, like the telephone, he doesn't know why or how it works, only that it does.

(This time, he doesn't notice, not even in retrospect, that he's referred to Naruto as 'his' teammate rather than 'Sasuke's).

Through the mist your lover is beckoning,
Comes that moment of reckoning,
Faces change, even smiles grow strange.
And we all have so many faces,
The real self often erases
Enticing lies flicker through our eyes.

Feel the Terror draw ever nearer
The more you stare in the mirror,
But hold your own!
Face the wind alone!
Reel on, love, toughen your scars!
Year by year, we're falling like stars
'Til there comes a day
When we sell our souls away!

- Second Verse and Chorus of "The Riddle," from the musical 'The Scarlet Pimpernel' by Frank Wildhorn

In retrospect, entering the Reikei to search for records is much easier than expected. Hiei can't decide if it's the advantage of having a partner who specializes in thieving, the fact that more attention is devoted to the barrier on the Makai side, or a trap. He is twitchy the whole time they're there, so much so that Kurama eventually completely takes over the file snatch-and-copy and leaves him to act as sentry.

Hiei has an energy-overuse headache for hours after they return to the world of humans and he permits himself to crash. When he wakes, his visibly frayed restraint on an actively irritated temper is worse than a demon with a hangover on an empty stomach.

Kurama offers painkillers.

Hiei doesn't bother with words; his handsigns may not channel chakra or ki, but a civilian could easily translate this particular suggestion for where Kurama can shove his damn painkillers along with his tail—and Hiei can assist with his Katana, if Kurama's rose whip isn't long enough.

Kurama takes the hint. He leaves the pitcher of water out where Hiei can grab it and a glass, and goes back to work translating Reikei shorthand while Hiei attempts to nap enough of the pain away to be able to sit up and help comprehend the damned kanji and katakana swimming before his eyes.

By the time he's able to do so, Kurama has managed to work through three quarters of the files. They are being sorted from 'still have to read' into 'promising, but dangerous,' 'only rumor,' 'sounds true but actually propoganda,' 'irrevalent/useless,' and, off to one side, 'Yukina-relevent.' Hiei ignores the temptation for now and moves over to Kurama's side, trying not to notice how many have hit the 'useless' pile.

In the months to come, Hiei will blame his headache and unpracticed reading skills for missing the fox's attention to a particular file, and then the moment he slips a façade of normality and renewed confidence back on.

(It will take many years before he realizes that headache's effects were the Jagan's efforts to warn him of an outside interference, one that penetrated his barriers anyway, and twisted his perceptions just ever so slightly, increasing the tunnel vision he was always prone to and lowering the carefully constructed mental safeguards against that very failing. But King Yomi's plots are far and distant and invisible as tree roots far beneath the soil, and their rot hidden with them, unknown to surface bureaucracy. The only reason the world-domination suggestion doesn't take is because of the memories of Tobi and Madara, memories that thankfully the manipulator does not find.)

But Hiei does not notice, nor does he know enough of Reikei's history to know the truth of the file Kuram presents to him with a nervous smile and eyes hopeful for the first time in hours. To know the exact price that such objects demand. And once more, his paranoia and desperation conspire against him.

Certainly, the Artifacts of Darkness seem a solution, to both his need for more eyes and ears and search minions, and to Kurama's mother's illness. The leftover jewel is useless and attention drawing. Perfect for a final partner – and given part of the Artifact Security is that three beings are needed to unlock the door, they will need a final partner – who will, in actuality, be their fall guy.

Kurama has no immediately noticeable ties to his former identity in this body, and Hiei will likewise be a first-time offender under Reikei law should they get caught. A stupid but cunning criminal with a previous record is therefore the desired partner profile. Good enough not to mess up the job, short-sighted enough to be caught in the immediate investigation and stir up enough ruckus that his quieter partners can slip away unseen.

It all has the taste of a Black Ops mission. Hiei hates it. But Minamino Shiori is fading faster by the day, looking so much like Mikoto, the one parental figure he still holds untainted affection for in his memories. And Kurama looks like Itachi did in the months leading up to the fracture of their world, desperate and potentially very stupidly reckless as a result and doing his best to hide it all. Hiei dare not leave him alone; the thief would do it anyway, and damn the consequences. Shiori is the Sasuke to Kurama's Itachi, and it's all wrong – but he can't dwell on that, not if the mission is to work. There cannot be mistakes here.

Hiei knows the artifacts will have their price. The Gakidama, the Hungry Ghost Gem, takes human souls. The Koma no Ken, the Sword of Demonic invocation, takes humanity and transforms its victims into E-Class cannon fodder. The Ankokukyo, the Mirror of Darkness, takes the user's energy to grant the desired wish, Kurama claims, and Hiei accepts without questioning because the lie matches the tale.

(There is no scent change, no energy shift. Kurama is telling the truth.)

(He just doesn't tell Hiei that it's the sum total of the wisher's life energy it takes, rather than enough to knock one down a power class like the Jagan surgery.)

It's dangerous. It will require breaking a partner out of prison that's actually plausibly interested in the Gakidama and getting that partner to work with them – possible with a combination of drugged suggestibility, the Jagan, and simple intimidation. It will require slipping past high-alert Reikei security, both ways, even if it's lightened while King Enma is on one of his numerous 'business trips' (and shouldn't it be the other way around, a memory questions, but Hiei isn't listening). And it will require fast work to make best use of the items before Spirit World's Private Detective (unfilled job slot currently, but rumors say a candidate is being processed soon) and his backup come running in and make a muck of things.

(And that's his second mistake, in retrospect.)

(He forgot he could be wrong, that he could miscalculate.)

(He forgot he could be manipulated.)

(He's fallen short again.)

(And once more, worst of all – he forgot that he isn't necessarily the one who pays the highest toll for it all.)

So he researches, and backs his partner up, and they look for the 'fall guy.' (Fugaku Uchiha must be rolling in his grave, which is more than acceptable.) They train and exploit the hell out of their powers, pushing each other to new limits – Hiei uncovers a frightening new form as the Jagan's influence spreads over his skin, eyes in every surface, in every direction – if this is what the Byakugan is like, no wonder Hyuuga are arrogant – he refuses to think about the Cursed Seal of Heaven; besides, the energy costs are not efficient enough to be worth it – and Kurama switches from adequate sword skills to a rose whip that is impressive as a control exercise, and so very easy to poison. Kurama also keeps up sword practice; apparently the whip is too connected to his past identity to be useful if he wants to carry off the mostly innocent look.

Eventually, they settle on Gouki (" 'Strong Ogre,' really? Are you sure he's not compensating for something with a name like that?" "He'll do the job. We're looking for a grunt, not a fellow intelligent species to bugger things up." "Your compliments make me swoon, they really do." "You need a regular ego deflation; I'm happy to do the job so you can walk through the doors still."), a Kyūkonki, a Spirit-Sucking Beast, with twelve previous criminal records, currently serving time in a Reikei minimum security cell for murdering and feasting on the souls of both humans and Reikei inhabitants alike, and slaughtering dozens of Reikei hunters sent to subdue him.

Almost like Juugo, but without the redeeming desire to control his homicidal urges. Truly a one-dimensional grunt.

(He ignores every scream in his gut that this is wrong. It's for Kurama and Yukina. And for them, he can do anything.)

(It's a queer riddle, his code of debts and balances. Whatever happened to 'I will not sell my honor so cheaply,' as he told Shigure?)

Just as it seems Shiori's health will take a turn for the worse, Hiei finally receives word from one of his marks.

"Enma has passed the bureaucratic power to his son for ten days. It's time."

The full moon is due in five days, and it's the only time the Mirror of Darkness can work.

(The answer, of course, is that every man, or youkai has his price. It seems Hiei has found his, and if it tastes like ashes, he's a being of fire, so it's not so surprising.)

Time to stage a prison break for their final ally.

Can I run to you? Are you true to me?
I'll do unto you, as you do to me!
And we slowly learn, someone has to burn!
Better you than me,

O, every Judas once loved a Jesus,
But finally, treason will seize us!
And only fools, play by golden rules!
We all are caught in the middle
Of one long, treacherous riddle
Of who trusts who –
Maybe I'll trust you –
But can you trust me?
Wait and See!

- Bridge and Third Chorus of "The Riddle," from the musical 'The Scarlet Pimpernel' by Frank Wildhorn

Author's Notes: Next time, the prison break, the actual raid on Reikei, and, hopefully, canon begins. This will take a while even once exams are over – I need to rewatch and reread the source material first before I can start writing.

Now then, conversations with various reviewers, summarizing answers for sake of length:

Okibi_Kitsune on ao3, thanks for reminding me of the importance of energy, especially in a switch of world running on chakra to world running on ki. Look on ao3 if you want to see my full reply to the comment. (if only fanfiction dot net had that feature; I'd need shorter authors notes!)

On fanfiction dot net:

DragonBlaze66: Will Hiei use his old moves? It's a possibility, at least for the moves that don't require chakra, since this dimension is on a ki based system and the change in species switched the energy he's used to using anyway. He might reuse his old sword techniques, and certainly his tactics. Not Katon Jutsu, though he might see if he could recreate something similar.

Probably not for a while, though. He's still on the kick of 'Humans are pathetic and Uchiha Sasuke the most pathetic of the lot' so he's mentally doing everything he can to distance himself from that life on a conscious level. He'll be more willing to compromise with Yukina involved, but up until she arrives I intend to stick very close to canon, albeit with more active and frustrated search attempts on Hiei's part.

Does Hiei considered Naruto pathetic? Will he meet his past self in his mind?

…I don't think Hiei particularly likes thinking about Naruto. Especially given his last chronological memory of him involves Sasuke using Naruto as a witness to his suicide-by-cop with Tenten, Naruto's fiancé.

If he does think of him…Well, have you read Rurouni Kenshin? I think Hiei is a bit of a more cynical Kenshin in Kenshin's initial attitude to Kamiya Kaoru's sword-style, which is meant only to protect and not take life:

Himura Goheh: "…Do you believe in "the sword that protects life" like this little girl?"

Kenshin: "…No. A sword is a weapon. The art of swordsmanship is the art of how to kill. Whatever pretty words you use to speak of it, this is its true nature. What Kaoru-dono says are the words of one that has never bloodied her hands. A utopian ideal. However, when I compare the two, I much prefer Kaoru-dono's idealism to swordsmanship's true nature. If this one had but one wish, it would be that the best of her ideals became the truth of the world."

That's Kenshin, on Kaoru's beliefs. Sasuke and now Hiei is a bit more cynical about Naruto's ideals actually happening; Sasuke was certain they had no chance in a world where the Uchiha still existed. Hiei has no way of knowing what happened after his death. But the essence of the message is the same: "It's a nice dream. Really nice, but a dream. I'm not sure if I'd have a place in the world if you made the dream a reality, but I'd really like it if you could make it a reality."

Will he meet his past self in his mind? No. the closest he came to doing that was during the memory deluge, when he wasn't quite sure who he was for a bit. Rather like a fantasy version of Multiple Personality Disorder, really. But if we go with that comparison, Sasuke-personality is dead/reintegrated, and Hiei is determined to keep him that way. There is not room in his head for a pathetic past-self *and* a Jagan eye.

Conversation with Akayuki Novak involved more of this chapter's development, and a significant discussion of Hiei's and Kurama's sanity. I told my most faithful reviewer (every chapter!) that "I have Hiei awkwardly trying to grief-counsel Kurama and use a variety of what is popularly referred to as Therapy no Jutsu-and he starts comparing the fox to people he knew only at a distance as Sasuke. And is forced to acknowledge the redhead as his own person."

Akayuki Novak: Oh boy. Hiei trying to counsel Kurama during this time? He's still a bit shaky in his own head, don't know if he should be trying to set someone else straight. *amused* This should be fun.

Author: Believe me, Hiei is much more comfortable when he has a straightforward enemy to kill. That said, he is surprisingly insightful when it comes to people's personalities and the many ways they can break, which means he knows what trouble spots to look for.

And since he knows exactly what kind of trouble an Uzumaki can cause, he really doesn't want to see the fallout of an honorary Uzumaki's breakdown. He knows exactly how badly the members of the Rookie 9 and their various mentors reacted to death of a precious person. Shikamaru to Asuma, Naruto to an apparently dead Sasuke on the Wave mission, Naruto to Pein's destruction of Konoha and near-fatal injuries to Hinata, anyone? And that doesn't even cover what Karin did when you made her mad, if Suigetsu's complaints about experiments are anything to go by.

Plus, Naruto could cut a swath of destruction with only partial demon backup. Kurama is a full youkai in human form, who had a very detailed reputation. Hiei does *not* want to see what this person can do when insane.

(It's probably just as well that he doesn't know the Kyuubi's actual name, or he might have run screaming already.)

Yes, he's a terrible therapist and he knows it. But the alternative of letting Kurama deal with it on his own is too risky to be acceptable.

Consider: the last person he knew who had such a mother-issues-related breakdown is Kabuto (the revelation of Yakushi Nonou's existence and death happened during the fight where zombie Itachi partnered with Sasuke to take down DragonSage!Kabuto, conveniently right before I break from Naruto canon). Hiei does not want to risk it. Scientists that go wrong and don't have anchors to keep them from falling over the edge are very dangerous enemies, neutrals, and allies. Given Kurama's analytical mindset is geared toward plants and security systems with a bit of side-knowledge in medicine and seduction, I feel safe classifying him as a scientist.

Hiei's intelligent, but he knows he's nowhere near genius level. That's people like Shikamaru, Itachi, Orochimaru, Kabuto, Neji, Tsunade - all of them acknowledged geniuses in their own field from very early on, and all of them have some sort of semi-permanent break with reality when their mentor (or, in Tsunade's case, partner and fiancé) is suddenly, permanently gone. Sasuke's breaks with reality, haven't been nearly as self perpetuated. In each case, first Itachi and then Tobi intervened, creating a situation that cracked reality and then fitting the pieces together in the way that furthered their goals while Sasuke was still reeling. Neji and Tsunade are actually the luckiest ones, in some ways; despite having lost their identity anchors, they chose to direct those negative energies inward, and got themselves on a more positive track when Naruto derailed their train of thought (please ignore the unintentional pun).

Because geniuses don't fail, they have no idea how to deal with failure. Given that the definition of insanity is repeating an action but expecting a different result, this is probably why neurotypicals view most geniuses as not entirely sane - a genius' usual response to a first failure is a moment of disbelief, at least one or two repeated tries, and then either continuing to try the same thing or giving up entirely.

Hiei is not a genius. He cannot stop Kurama if something goes wrong. He is very aware of this. It doesn't matter if Kurama has not hit that point yet; if he does, Hiei cannot stop him. And he's not close enough Kurama to be able to serve as a backup anchor on sanity - they're allies, but there isn't enough mutual trust.

Especially when Hiei no longer has the Sharingan - the one weapon he knows for certain can stop an enraged Bijuu in its tracks.

Our conversation was longer than that, but this is already a longer author's note than I feel comfortable with. Also thanks for helping me find a realistic way to deal with how much Hiei is aware of the price of the Mirror of Darkness, and how and why he was willing to let Kurama use it if he was aware of it, given his history with the Mangekyo eyes and their cost. That bit of our conversation… well, I'm not willing to give spoilers, yet. Maybe next chapter's notes.

Next time: Enter Canon territory, with the theft of first a partner in crime, and then the Artifacts themselves!