A/N: I intended this as a one-shot, but I'm considering continuing it in a short series-- for now, though, read it assuming it stands alone.
This takes place following Hiei and Kurama's first meeting in Two Shots.
"I have a question for you. Are you arrogant, or is your mother arrogant?"
Kurama turned with surprise to his window. There was--Hiei, that was the name he had given. Sitting on the windowsill like he owned it, one leg propped up and the other dangling, for all the world like he hadn't nearly died at Kurama's hands earlier that afternoon. Kurama had thought he'd seen the last of him when they parted ways at the warehouse--or at the very least, the last of him for tonight.
Kurama raised one eyebrow slightly, betraying only the mildest hint of his surprise. "You'll have to give me more than that before I can answer."
"You told me your name was Kurama. I can only think of three options; you gave me a pseudonym because you didn't want to reveal your real name, you've assumed the name for your own and are arrogant, or it really is your name and the person who named you is arrogant. Which is it?"
Kurama turned away to hide his smile. Nice to know he was still famous. "I'm arrogant. But that is my real name."
"Then your mother was arrogant too."
"The name didn't have any connotations when she gave it to me."
"You expect me to believe that you're that old?"
"If you're telling the truth, then this is the sum total of a thousand years of accumulating power--so you're either pathetic, or a liar."
"You fail to understand me," Kurama said simply, without affront. He recognized this kind of game--provoking anger to learn someone's secrets--and this little demon was no better at it than anyone he had ever played against.
Why, then, do I have every intention of telling him the truth?
"That was not one of your options for an answer."
Kurama turned, one hand extended to point at the exact center of Hiei's forehead. "That eye was acquired less than a year ago. You lost a lot of power when it was put in and you haven't gotten it back yet, and that was only for an eye. I have an entirely new body to cope with, and when I've finished training it to accept demon energy, you will not be so disappointed."
Hiei paused to consider for a moment. "I'll accept that you're telling the truth for a moment, then. But it doesn't have any bearing on your power level now."
"On the contrary. It gives you the vital information that, like yourself, I will be very powerful in a few years."
"And what name will you use then?
"I've already admitted as such."
"Is it honestly your name?"
Kurama couldn't help himself--he lifted a rose from a vase by his desk and started twirling it between his fingers. He had not started carrying one on his person yet, partly because he hadn't re-perfected materializing the whip and partly because there hadn't been a need, but he kept roses nearby nonetheless. Maybe it was time to start growing his hair out to conceal one in--maybe the need to carry one would come sooner than he thought. Maybe that need was sitting in his windowsill and sharply examining the stance he took with the rose, as he had been meant to. "How long ago did Youko Kurama die, exactly?" Kurama asked.
Hiei studied him for a long moment before reluctantly giving the answer Kurama had seen him arrive at immediately. "About as many years as that human body has."
"So you do believe me?"
Hiei shifted restlessly. "Why do you care so much?"
"You're the one who came back," Kurama pointed out. "The only thing it means to me is if you believe me you'll respect me, whereas if you don't you'll underestimate me and I'll likely wind up killing you someday."
"Respect you? A notorious demon thief like that having to flee to the human world to survive and living in their bodies and caring whether a dumb little schoolgirl lives or dies? You'd do better to hope I don't believe you, because if I do I'm going to be sick."
Kurama nearly snapped the rose's stem in annoyance. He had nearly killed this child, and then healed him when he was under no obligation to do so, and then told him he was Youko Kurama--and Hiei's disdain never wavered. Kurama would have liked to see him afraid. "Well, if you really need to engage in theatrics, be kind enough to stick your head out the window before you vomit."
Hiei eyed him. "Hardly the response you had hoped for when revealing that you were the Great Youko Kurama?"
Kurama resisted the urge to smile. That was an error, youngling--you think what you just said will provoke me, but all it does is tell me the response you referred to was also designed to provoke me, and not genuine. "No, not really. But we all suffer disappointments in this life."
"You don't care." Something in Hiei's eyes said that he knew they were playing a game, and enjoying it.
"Not much," Kurama said with a shrug and a shadow of a smile, also acknowledging the game.
"You really are arrogant. Picking out a human body so beau--so easy to identify and remember." Kurama had to work harder not to smile this time. He wondered if Hiei was attracted to men--that would make things even more interesting. "I bet you did that on purpose. And you are the only thief I know so arrogant as to steal someone else's body and inhabit it."
That stung ever so slightly--Kurama still felt vaguely guilty over evicting somebody else's soul--but he only shrugged again. "After awhile one runs out of challenges and must invent them."
"Who else knows about this? Who else can match Kurama's name to your body?"
Kurama didn't give an answer--didn't want to, but the bastard took one from his silence and grinned, a malicious, smug grin. "No one." Kurama realized he was scowling and forced himself to stop. "Why do you trust me?"
"I don't. I told you, I'm arrogant. I don't care if you know."
"You wouldn't have lived so long if you let arrogance make stupid mistakes for you. What makes you think I won't kill you now before you recover your strength?"
When he asked that question, Kurama suddenly discovered the answer, an explanation for his own actions, and his smile was suddenly as smooth and sly as Hiei's grin had been smug malicious. "Why would you do that when you could have an ally with a thousand years experience instead, and no one would even realize what kind of power you'd allied yourself to? You have no reason in the world to kill me."
Hiei looked startled at Kurama's statement. It wasn't the fear that Kurama had hoped to see earlier, but he decided to count the visible reaction as a victory nonetheless. He pressed his point. "You can let it slip who I am, Hiei, and one of my old enemies will come and kill me while I'm weakened, but I'd have you killed or kill you myself first, depending on how much I'd come to respect you. You're the only person who knows my name at it will be obvious who betrayed me. On the other hand, you could shut up, sit down, and learn from me. Your fighting style is interesting, I'll admit, but your stealth and strategy leave much to be desired."
"Well--when you put it that way." Said with a complete deadpan, while moving to lean casually back against the windowsill. Kurama wondered if Hiei meant to be as hilarious as he was--he didn't strike Kurama as the type to have a sense of humor, but he consistently said humorous things with such a straight face that it made Kurama want to laugh. That could prove to be an endearing trait, someday. "I do wonder, though, what you think you're getting out of the situation? There has to be a reason you gave me your demon name in the first place."
"Perhaps because you are a demon."
"You don't politely introduce yourself to every demon you meet. There are more of us than that in this world."
Kurama twirled the rose slowly between his fingers. "Well... perhaps I'm sick of always pretending to be human. A little light exercise with the weaklings that usually manage to squeeze through to this world is one thing, but..." But you aren't like that. Things are changing. "Perhaps I'm ready to become a demon again."
There was a steel to Kurama's voice that he had not expected to be there. Ten hours ago, he wouldn't have even been able to conceive of saying something like that. He loved Shiori, liked her human world, enjoyed the goddamn stifling peace--but the slow, feral grin that was Hiei's response to that steel made Kurama want to say it again, shout it, see what more he could get from Hiei. Something about him was producing a response in Kurama, an answering feral readiness, a desire to take the whole world on just to find out how much they could do, just to see what they could make happen together. That was why Kurama had given this dark apparition his real name--because he sensed that the time for action was nearing. And he always worked better with a partner.
Hiei stood. "Well, I have affairs that still need to dealing with--I'll have to push taking fox lessons to later."
There was clear mockery in his voice, but meant only to pique, not enrage--he had a sense of humor, alright. "I couldn't make a fox of you in a million years. But don't despair, we might be able to salvage something anyway."
He nearly smiled! Not a grin, malicious or feral, but a real smile--nearly. "The animal I associate with is not a fox, but a dragon," he informed Kurama, and the fox spared a moment to wonder why he'd picked a dragon. "So 'salvage' is not quite the right word. Technically, Kurama, you are the prey animal, and I am the predator."
Kurama couldn't help himself; he purred when he replied. "Oh, but technicalities are such boring, useless little things, aren't they?"
Half a smile--almost there. He would have to capture the rest of it later, because suddenly Hiei wasn't there and Kurama moved to the window only to see him standing on the lawn. "It'll be a few weeks."
"I'll leave the window open."
"For two weeks?"
"You don't strike me as the type to ring the doorbell. You have to come and go as you please, and damned with everyone else's convenience, isn't that right? Leaving the window open will be easiest. Just mind the plants, they're not exactly vegetarians."
"Any other booby traps I should know about?"
"No." None that you should know about.
"So you rely on your plants. Arrogant."
"I believe we've already established that," Kurama replied, having a sudden premonition that he would be getting used to that accusation. "Go deal with your 'affairs.'" And he shut the window, but stopped his hand before it would have automatically tripped the lock. He had a feeling he would be falling out of that habit soon.