cover art by Opalsong
Smile Bomb by Mawatari Matsuko
cross posted at amplificathon, my journal, and AO3
1) Kuwabara the Scientist
“Hey guys, you gotta see this! My first scientific breakthrough!”
Kuwabara raced into the room holding a beaker of sloshing liquid.
Yuusuke and the others were sitting around a university lounge that they had taken over for themselves. Only Kuwabara, Keiko and Kurama were students, but Genkei’s temple was too remote for them all to meet there during the week. Besides, none of the university’s staff or students had the courage to kick them out.
Kuwabara was wearing a lab coat that had once been white but was now covered in stains and scorch marks. It went a long way in making Kuwabara look like a legitimate scientist. Of course, Yuusuke knew for a fact that the stains where from the time Kuwabara had tried to eat a cheeseburger and play videogames at the same time, and the scorch marks were from Hiei.
Kuwabara proudly held up the beaker, “I’ve invented a chemical! I broke over two hundred vials and thirty six Bunsen burners to make this baby.”
“Kuwabara,” Botan said concerned, “that kind of equipment isn’t cheap. How can you afford that kind of ... um ... scientific innovation?”
“Yukina,” Kuwabara answered dreamily. “Whenever I run out of money she makes me a teargem.”
“You make Yukina cry?” Hiei asked, dangerously. His left hand moving to unbind the Dragon of the Darkness Flame.
“No!” Kuwabara shouted. “I would never make Yukina cry! She’s my forever-love-bunny!”
Hiei didn’t look convinced. “Then how does she make you teargems?”
“Well, it’s kind of a funny story. I was showing Yukina the internet and all the cat videos of Eikichi I’ve posted. One thing led to another and she started crying.”
Kuwabara saw Hiei’s look and blanched. “Not crying, crying! But her eyes started watering. From the cuteness!”
Kurama put a calming hand on Hiei’s shoulder. “I have seen Kuwabara’s Eikichi videos. They are very cute.”
Hiei stopped unbinding the dragon and Kuwabara sighed in relief.
“What I fail to see,” Kurama continued, “Is how such destruction is warranted at all.”
“It’s my scientific method,” Kuwabara announced proudly, the danger from a moment ago apparently forgotten. “I take a chemical and I punch it until I create a new one.”
This statement was met with a roomful of disbelieving stares.
“And it works!” Kuwabara held up the beaker again. “A brand new chemical! I call it ‘Green’.”
“Kuwabara,” Botan pointed out gently. “That’s blue.”
“Well it doesn’t work every time.”
2) Yuusuke’s Hair Cut
Yuusuke sat impatiently on a chair in the bathroom of his mom’s apartment as Kurama examined his impressive mane of hair, scissors in one hand. The full consequences of Yuusuke’s fight with Sensui and his Mazoku heritage hadn’t sunk in yet, but one thing was clear: the hair had to go.
At least, it was clear to Yuusuke. Kurama seemed to have different ideas.
“What kind of hair cut would you like?” Kurama asked.
“Just cut it like it was,” Yuusuke said, already bored.
“Don’t worry,” Kurama said. “I know exactly what to do.”
Yuusuke closed his eyes and drummed his fingers on the bottom of his chair, trying not to squirm. Squirming was probably a bad idea when someone was going to be holding sharp scissors next to your face.
After barely a few minutes, Kurama announced he was finished.
Yuusuke gave a cursory thanks and was about to stand up when he caught sight of himself in the mirror. Long flowing locks of thick black hair still flowed past his shoulders and down his back, almost down to the floor.
“Kurama.” Yuusuke growled. “This isn’t a haircut, it’s barely a trim.”
“I tidied the ends for you,” Kurama said proudly. “I thought you might want to take advantage of this opportunity.”
“Well I don’t.”
“This is a rare chance to try out any haircut you want,” Kurama pointed out. “Anyone else would have to grow out their hair for years to get hair like this.”
“What I want is my old hairstyle back,” Yuusuke said. “Do it short this time.”
Kurama sighed. “All right, you’re the boss.”
“Damn straight I am,” Yuusuke muttered and closed his eyes again.
This time he could sense Kurama standing in front of him, and the scissors were cutting close to his face.
“Done,” Kurama announced.
Yuusuke opened his eyes and looked in the mirror.
“Kurama.” Yuusuke was not happy. “This is a mullet. A shaggy mullet.”
Kurama shrugged. “I thought we could try a happy medium between short and long.”
“Do I look ‘happy’?”
“No, you look more murderous. You don’t like it?”
“I don’t like looking like a fashion reject, no.”
“Something stylish. I’m on it.”
“Not ‘stylish’, Kurama. Cut it like it was.”
“I’m on it,” Kurama repeated cheerfully.
After a few more minutes of cutting, including finally losing the bottom three feet of hair from the back, Kurama asked Yuusuke to hand him the hair gel.
Assuming, Kurama was going to slick it back like how Yuusuke usually styled it, he handed the gel over right away. Yuusuke thought Kurama was finally finished, for real this time. Then he saw himself.
For one thing, the hair was still too long. For another it was hideous. Kurama had slicked the sides of Yuusuke’s hair straight up but the front straight down over his eyes.
“What do you think?” Kurama asked. “I can’t remember what this style is called, but it was popularized by a band called ‘Flock of Seagulls’.
“NO!” Yuusuke shouted.
“Hmmm.” Kurama contemplated, oblivious or ignoring the homicidal aura Yuusuke was giving off. “I admit it’s a bit passé. How about something more contemporary?” Without touching the scissors, Kurama used a bit more gel to smooth the hair down, though it still hung over Yuusuke’s face.
“I am literally going to kill you.” Yuusuke warned.
“This one’s very modern,” Kurama said. “I believe it’s called the ‘emo swoop.’”
“Cut it. Like. It. Was.”
Kurama sighed again, seeming even more put upon, picking up the scissors one more time. “I understand. Nothing new, nothing unfamiliar. Really, Yuusuke, where’s you sense of adventure?”
This time, when Kurama finished, Yuusuke didn’t say anything at all, as much as he started screaming incoherently. Kurama had given him a pompadour like Kuwabara’s.
“See. Nothing you haven’t seen a million times.” Kurama said.
Yuusuke grabbed the scissors from Kurama and started hacking at his hair like it, or he, was a rabid animal. In the end Kurama had to smooth out the disaster by cutting it all short. Just like how Yuusuke had wanted it all along.
3) Spirit World Records
Even after working for Koenma for more years than most humans on earth had been alive, George still expected to be greeted with ‘Good morning!’ when he arrived for a day's work. He also expected that Koenma wouldn’t eat his lunch from the break room if he put his name on it. Both expectations were always met with very similar outcomes.
“What took you so long, ogre?” Koenma snapped. “Where’s my tape?”
“Right here.” George put the tape straight into the VCR player. The spirit world had all the best technology.
Koenma’s newest pet project was running a record label called Spirit World Records. (Seeing as Koenma’s regular day job was ruler of the entire spirit world, distribution was guaranteed to be wide.) The video that appeared on the large screen in front of Koenma’s desk showed the latest, and only, band signed to Spirit World Records: The Spirit Detectives.
Koenma watched the tape intently, sucking noisily on his soother as if in deep concentration.
“Koenma,” George said, “Is something wrong?”
“I don’t like the band's line-up,” Koenma said.
“What’s wrong with it, Sir?” George asked.
In addition to Keiko as their manager and Shizuru as head of security, The Spirit Detectives had six members. Yuusuke was the lead singer (he had a tendency to break microphones), Kurama played the face-melting guitar solos (apparently these were popular in the human world), Hiei played bass (fans were already divided on if his plank-of-wood-approach to live performances was endearing or not), Yukina was on rhythm guitar and back up vocals (she already had her own fan club, of which Kuwabara was the president), Botan played drums (her ability to play drums in while flying side-saddle in mid-air was especially impressive). That just left....
“Kuwabara,” Koenma said seriously. “He’s ruining the whole aesthetic. What do you think when you look at him, ogre?”
George hedged as much as he could. “He looks... enthusiastic sir.”
“We can’t fire him,” George said. “He writes most of the songs.”
“Is that why he’s mouthing the words?”
Kuwabara was silently singing along, eyes closed, grooving to the music with his entire body. He was, put as simply as possible: waaaaaay too into it. Especially for a tambourine player.
Koenma and George watched the video in silence for a few more minutes.
“Ogre?” Koenma asked. “How long is Kuwabara’s tambourine solo going to last?”
George consulted the notes.
It was a Tuesday afternoon and Yuusuke, Kurama and Kuwabara were the only three in their university lounge. They were killing time until Keiko got out of class in an hour so they could all make the trek to Genkai’s temple together. Hiei was also supposed to meet up with them at some point.
Kuwabara was working on writing out the chemical formula for ‘green’ while listening to a tape of The Spirit Detectives on his walkman. (Every once in a while Yuusuke and Kurama had to throw something heavy at his head whenever he started singing along.)
For their own part, Kurama and Yuusuke were passing the time by playing cards. They were stuck playing Go Fish because it was the only game Yuusuke knew.
“Do you have a five?” Yuusuke asked.
Yuusuke groaned and picked up a card from the centre pile. This was his sixth ‘go fish’ in a row and his hand was getting distressingly full.
“Do you think Hiei ever cheats at cards?” Yuusuke said musingly. “With his Jagan eye, I mean.”
“The Jagan eye gives Hiei a psychic advantage, it doesn’t have x-ray vision,” Kurama said. “Do you have a seven?”
Yuusuke passed Kurama the seven of hearts from his hand. “It’s still weird to think Hiei’s got three eyes. That makes him, what, a triclops?”
“Actually, he’s a quadclops. Do you have an ace?”
Yuusuke paused, then passed Kurama the ace of diamonds from his hand. “A what? He’s got four eyes?! You mean when he turns green? Because then he’s get way more than four eyes.”
“No, I mean he’s got four all the time. Two normal ones, one on the forehead and one....” Kurama’s eyes make a significant glance downwards. “Do you have a jack?”
“Go fish,” said Yuusuke automatically. Then added, “You mean he’s....” Yuusuke paused, blushing, “Cockeyed?”
“We probably shouldn’t talk about this anymore,” Kurama said. “It’s a very personal topic, and Hiei is our friend. It’s your turn, by the way.”
“We ARE going to talk about this!” Yuusuke exclaimed. “How does he... is it like crying?”
“Well, I’m sure I wouldn’t know,” Kurama said. “Hiei’s eyeballs certainly are unique.”
“Does it have any special powers?” Yuusuke felt the tug of a smile.
“Actually, from what I understand, the eye suffers from asdickmatism. Do you have a five?”
Yuusuke handed Kurama the five of spades without actually looking at his hand. His shoulders were starting to shake. “Kurama,” he asked, “How do you know all this?”
“We did work together before the incident with the Mirror of Forlorn Hope,” Kurama said. “Are you asking me if I’ve ever seen Hiei’s eyerection?”
“I bet you have, haven’t you?” Yuusuke tried hard not to laugh.
Kurama just smiled. “Do you have a ten?”
Yuusuke passed Kurama the ten of clubs. His hand was suddenly much smaller than it had been a minute ago. He was about to ask Kurama more questions when someone walked into the room. It was too early to be Keiko, it had to be...
(Don’t laugh), Yuusuke thought.
“I wouldn’t mention the quadclops thing,” Kurama whispered as Hiei approached their table. “Unless you want him to give you the dink eye.”
(Damn you, Kurama.)
“So!” Kurama said brightly, addressing Hiei, “Yuusuke and I were just talking. What’s the darkest place you’ve ever seen?”
Hiei crossed his arms. “I’ve seen realms in the demon world that have never seen the light of any sun.” He stopped, staring angrily at Yuusuke and Kurama.
“What’s so funny?”
5) Maes Castle
Yuusuke, Kuwabara, Hiei and Kurama had come to Maes Castle to find a certain whistle, the only way to stop the Makai insects that threatened to spread chaos across the entire human world.
The first challenge had begun second they stepped into the gate of castle. More of a corridor than an actual gate, the stone ceiling had descended steadily and now all four stood braced in the gate, trapped, as they needed all their strength to hold up the roof and keep themselves from being crushed.
“Do you like my Gate of Betrayal?” The lord of Maes Castle, Maes Hughes, stood just outside the gate, a wide grin on his face.
“You want us to betray each other?” Yuusuke asked, outraged.
“What? No. Why does everyone think that? It’s called the Gate of Betrayal because no one can betray...” Maes paused, reaching into his jacket pocket. Yuusuke wished he could use his spirit gun, but he needed both hands to hold up the ceiling, was this man reaching for a weapon?
“...How wonderful my daughter Elicia is!” Hughes finished. The thing he’d reached into his pocked for was a photograph of a little girl with pigtails, about four years old. She was holding a stuffed bear and smiling brightly.
Hughes was still outside the gate, but he had crouched down and he thrust the picture right up to their faces.
“Isn’t she the most adorable thing you’ve ever seen!? Admit it. No one can deny my Elicia in the Gate of Betrayal.”
“Aw!” said Kuwabara right away. “She’s really cute!”
Damn that Kuwabara. Yuusuke should have seen this coming. Kuwabara might look like a punk, but he couldn’t resist kittens. Or little kids, apparently.
“Yes!” said Maes Hughes. “I knew you would see it right away.”
Just then, Kuwabara vanished in a flash of light and soft pop.
The force of the ceiling crushing down on them doubled without Kuwabara there to help them hold it up. But where did he go? Was he in even bigger trouble now?
“Whoa! That was weird!”
Kuwabara was standing safely next to Maes Hughes, looking as confused as Yuusuke felt.
“You’re going to kill me now?” Kuwabara asked.
“Of course not. I would never hurt anyone who sees how special my Elicia is,” Maes said. “You can keep this one.” He handed Kuwabara the picture of Elicia with a teddy bear and pulled out six more photos from another pocket.
Kurama, meanwhile, got that glint in his eye.
“Mr. Maes,” he said with a smile, “Your daughter is the most sweet, intelligent child I’ve ever seen.”
With a flash and a pop, Kurama disappeared too, reappearing next to Kuwabara.
Yuusuke gasped as the weight of the roof pushed him and Hiei to their knees. Was it really that easy? Yuusuke swallowed his pride. It was better than being crushed to death.
“Yeah, she’s great,” he said.
Another pop and Yuusuke was out of the gate. All his muscles sighed in relief. That only left... Oh no.
Hiei was all alone, bracing the entire weight of the Gate of Betrayal. Maes Hughes was holding up all six photographs in front of Hiei, but he turned his face away, refusing to look at them.
“You can’t resist the Gate of Betrayal,” Hughes said. “Tell me how cute my Elicia is.”
“I won’t say it,” Hiei said through gritted teeth.
“Dammit, Hiei!” Yuusuke shouted. “Just say she’s cute!”
And with that, Hiei passed out.
The gate crashed down.
Hiei woke up slowly. Instead of in a dungeon somewhere, he found himself in what looked like a hospital. Through to corner of his eye, he saw movement by the foot of the bed.
Hiei bolted up, instinctively reaching for his sword. Of course his sword wasn’t there, but a squeak froze him in his tracks.
The movement, and the sound, came from a child. Hiei recognised her instantly as Elicia Hughes. Hiei wanted to spit. He would never admit a mortal child was ‘cute’. But maybe she could useful to him.
“Where are the others?” he asked her sharply.
“They broke Daddy’s whistle,” Elicia answered. “But he said it was OK. So now they’re downstairs, waiting for you to get better.” She was holding both hands behind her back and avoiding eye contact. Like she was hiding something from him.
“And what are you doing here? What are you trying to hide from me?”
Shyly, Elicia brought her hands out from behind her back. She was holding a box of band-aids. They pictures of little flowers and bumblebees on them.
“Your friends are worried about you, so I wanted to help. These are my special band-aids. They always make me feel better.”
Hiei just stared. He felt a strange warmth coming from inside. But he just chalked it up to being a fire demon.
“Can I give you one?” Elicia asked, her courage growing.
(What am I saying?) Hiei thought. But he stayed silent and let Elicia put a flower-and-bumblebee band-aid on his arm. Then she put one on his other arm. She put one on his knee, another on his shoulder, and one on his cheek. She kept giving Hiei band-aids until the box was empty and Hiei made no objections.
No one can resist the Gate of Betrayal.