"Can I ask you something?"

"You can ask me anything. I seriously doubt that I'll answer, but you're welcome to ask."

"That sounds like something Kurama would say," Yusuke said with a smile.

"You've no need to tell me that, Detective; where do you think I picked it up?"

"Actually, it's about Kurama."

"Then you should probably ask him, don't you think?"

"Yeah, but--I just thought of it, and you're here, and he's not."

That wasn't completely honest--Yusuke was a little hesitant to ask this question of Kurama, because it sounded insulting. And Hiei was in a rare and strange mood today--not only relaxed, but talkative. He had been hanging around Yusuke's apartment all day as though he had nothing better to do, and had already provided several fascinating answers to questions about demons and demon world. Currently, he was draped over the couch, eating ice cream and looking amused. "Yusuke--unless you want me to use the Jagan, you have to actually ask the question."

"I just wondered--I mean, Kurama's how old, exactly?" Hiei only smiled and declined to offer input. "Well, old, at any rate--and he's a really incredible fighter. So you'd think somebody that old and that good would have learned how to cover his whole body, right? But Kurama always gets hit in his stomach--like, every single fight, even the easy ones. And you'd think somebody as smart as him would have realized there was a hole in his guard and fixed it, right? So why does he keep getting hit?"

Hiei grinned--but Yusuke felt like the grin was more a reminiscent one, directed inward, than something directed at him. "At first I wondered the same thing," Hiei admitted. "I even tried to train it out of him by throwing punches when he wasn't expecting it. But I never got a chance to make contact--he always blocked me without even blinking. He didn't need any help."

"If he could block you, how come he can't block his enemies?"

"Of course he can block them," Hiei replied disdainfully. "I can't believe you haven't--he has you fooled, just like all of them. He certainly makes use out of that new body, doesn't he?" Hiei's tone was such that Yusuke couldn't tell if he meant to be admiring or derisive. "Big green eyes and delicate bones and all that hair--he gets away with so much shit."

"What do you mean, he gets away with shit? He keeps getting hit."

"Yusuke, do you really not understand? He gets hit because he wants to. It's one of his most deplorable habits--but at least he has the skill to make it work. Kurama orchestrates a hit from his enemy early on in a fight so that he can pretend to be wounded. Then they start gloating and let their guard down a bit, and Kurama chooses how he wants to end the battle.

"…But….that doesn't make sense! How does he know he's not going get cut in half one of these days?"

Hiei's eyes flashed slightly. "You've underestimated him badly, Yusuke. Haven't you seen how accurate he is with his whip?" Hiei held his hands up to his abdomen, blocking off a small area. "Look. Think about what you've seen, and tell me if I'm right--the wound is always in this area, too low to be a danger to the heart, centered away from the lungs and too high to interfere with his mobility. It is always within a half inch of this depth--" Hiei held up his thumb and forefinger, close together. "Deep enough to bleed profusely, so he can moan and flop around and pretend to be hurt, but never deep enough to reach any organs. He's that precise."

Yusuke thought through all the times he'd seen Kurama get injured. He felt his face growing flushed. "Do you mean--do you mean to say every time I thought he was injured, every time I've been worried out of my mind over him--he's been faking?"

"No, not every time," Hiei replied casually. "Just most of them. But I'm sure he's really gotten his ass kicked a time or two. He wasn't faking with Touya, for example," he said dryly, a sidelong look letting Yusuke know Hiei had guessed what Yusuke was steaming over; the thought that he had put forth so much effort to save Kurama from a tournament ring he might not have needed saving from. "And I, of course, actually stuck my sword straight through him. But you'll note he even took that injury in the location of his choice."

"And Genbu--that one was real?"

"Hell no. Genbu was pathetic. Kurama could have dodged that in his sleep."

"But--you said he did it to lure his enemies into thinking he was hurt. But I remember that time he kept fighting like nothing--he didn't even fall over until after Genbu was already dead!"

"Well--yes--that was for your benefit," Hiei said casually, swirling his melting ice cream around the dish.

"…For my benefit!?"

"And Kuwabara's. You see," Hiei explained, looking like he was enjoying himself entirely too much, "at the time, Kurama and I were hoping our association with the two of you would be as brief as possible. We didn't want either of you to get the idea we could be counted on, or that being demons made us superior fighters. And Kurama knew I wouldn't put forth anything less than my best. So he jumped into the path of Genbu's tail and pretended it was significant--he really looked like an idiot, running around with one arm over his stomach like that. As if he could have run if he'd really been hurt… at any rate, to answer your question, he did it so that the two of you wouldn't start to rely on the two of us."

Hiei ended his explanation on that straightforward note, and finished his ice cream in silence while Yusuke sat there staring stupidly. Then, as Hiei got up to see if there was anything else worth eating in the kitchen, he spoke over his shoulder. "Don't hold it against him. Kurama doesn't fight like you and I do; this is just his style. If you can forgive me for kidnapping your woman, surely you can forgive him a trick or two." He glanced at Yusuke's sour expression, and wondered, "Why are you pissed?"

"I'm not--I'm mad at myself. For not figuring it out."

"Kurama excels at deception, Detective. People closer to him than you have fallen for it. If you want to not be tricked, start believing that everything Kurama does has some meaning to it, and absolutely nothing is accidental. As far as I know, it's true."

"But--he completely had me."

"No, he didn't. You knew something was off. Why else would you have asked me, instead of him?"

And with that final statement, and apparently having decided there was nothing more of interest in the kitchen, Hiei took off and left Yusuke to wonder just how deeply he had, in fact, been deceived.